Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.


Kerikeri: WWOOFing Finale

My days in New Zealand are coming to an end. It's felt like a year! My last week is being spent in Kerikeri, in the Northland region of New Zealand. This area is famous for its beaches, avocadoes, kiwifruit, and oranges. It's the warmer part of the country, and I'd say it's the equivalent to Florida in some ways– where seniors come to retire, orange groves everywhere… And then there's a touch of Hawaii, too, with macadamia nuts, surfing, and diving in some areas.

I'm staying with a wonderful couple who are hard workers who have been on the land here for over 20 years. They've really built up the place to be their dream oasis. She with her sprawling and beautiful gardens, he with a workshop full of tools and equipment for woodworking, tinkering, engineering, and doing all kinds of things with his hands.

Top: pond that they made with some of her many plants. Bottom left: her veggie garden. Bottom right: more of her plants.

The WWOOFing here entails some weeding and working in their orchards. The orange grove is seeing its last fruit (winter is their season), and my co-WWOOFer and I are thinning feijoa trees. Thinning means snipping off the excess buds and flowers so that the remaining fruit can grow bigger. Feijoas are fruits that are native to parts of South America and are now grown quite extensively in New Zealand. They're also known as pineapple guava or guavasteen. here's a photo:

Unfortunately, I will not be able to try one because they don't get ripe until March. I've heard they're amazing. But I'm starting to see buds in my sleep because it's quite tedious– looking through the trees for excess buds and blossoms to snip off:

The work here isn't too hard, and the house is lovely, the couple is lovely, and I've been able to cook and bake for them which has been great fun. They really appreciate good food, and I've been able to be creative. There's another WWOOFer staying here, a Chinese young woman, and we've done some cooking together, too, although she doesn't know how to cook so much.

Here's a sampling of what I've made:

Korean BBQ with beef from their cow, sesame-dressing salad, and broccoli with sesame oil.

Carrot-ginger-raisin-range quick bread with oranges from their grove.

Pizzas with homemade wheat-white crust. Various toppings-- veggies and meats. And even a Hawaiian pizza at the bottom!

Made with my co-WWOOFer: beef and pork dumplings and scallion pancakes. Everything, including the wrappers, from scratch. Beef and scallions from their farm.

I'm seriously gaining some weight here– my pants fit a little tighter. The feijoa-thinning isn't as much exercise as weeding and other work that I've done on other farms. But it's great fun being in a nice kitchen, cooking and baking. I haven't really done it for so long– basically since I started packing almost three months ago! I realize how much I love to cook and bake, especially for others. I think this IS one of my passions that I need to do for my future career/ job/ worklife.

Besides eating and enjoying a beautiful room and house, I went on an easy hike, again with the other WWOOFer to Rainbow Falls and then following the Kerikeri river to the town of Kerikeri. It was a beautiful day and we saw some really nice sights along the way.

And we also went to Puketi Forest where there is a stand of Kauri trees, famous trees for their largeness and their oldness. Beautiful tall, straight trees. They were used for their timber until they became endangered, and now they're protected. Huge!

The man of the family used to do a lot of woodworking, and he used Kauri tree scraps to make things like cutting boards– they're a beautiful wood with interesting lines and designs in them.

Bowl made by the man of the house. It's from the resin knot of a Kauri tree. Beautiful.

Just a few more days here before heading out to Bali! I'm getting excited. I've booked my first accommodation in Ubud for a few days. And then hoping to get in a diving course!! It's getting into rainy season there, but I hope it's nice and warm so I can swim, snorkel, and enjoy the beaches.


Halfway Point

As of yesterday, I'm at the halfway mark of my overseas traveling adventure/ extravaganza/ pilgrimage/ experience… I don't think any of those words are quite right, but anyways.

I thought it would be good to just do a check in at this point to reflect on the last 6 weeks. Wow, six weeks. What are fetuses up to at six weeks? What about infants? What's going on in a new relationship at six weeks? Or a new job?

Six weeks is so short in some ways, and in other ways it feels like so much has happened on my journey.

Just to have a bit more structure, I'll go with my usual debrief questions that I use after meetings, workshops, trainings:

  • Highlights
  • Lowlights
  • Lessons learned
  • For future thought, action, consideration

I'm going to go out of order, starting with LOWLIGHTS:

Honestly, there have been very very few lowlights. If any, the lowlights have been momentary things that got resolved or little things that are negligible:

  • Maybe the worst (if I rack my brain) is that I have developed two blisters on two toes on my right foot. Bummer! I think it's really due to 1) not great walking/ hiking socks and 2) walking way more than I'm used to. It takes some of the joy out of all the walking and hiking I've been doing, but I'm trying to grin and bear it. The blisters made their appearance gradually starting a week ago, and today, on a 6 mile hike, I was having some trouble, even after wrapping them up with blister tape. I'm hoping I'll get a break from walking so much as I'm transitioning into WWOOFing soon. So then my blister can heal and I'll be ready for Indonesia.
  • Another momentary lowlight was one of my WWOOF host homes that I didn't really talk much about in my blog. But I got that resolved within a day and a half and was able to move on to a great place right away.
  • I could call this one a lowlight (but it's not really THAT bad)– co-ed dorm hostels where 1) boys' body odor (sweat, feet, etc) is stinky; 2) people (mostly boys, I've noticed) snore; 3) it's kind of tight quarters. (Sorry, I'm calling them boys because I think the guys I come across in my travels at hostels are probably mostly 20-somethings.)

So far, then, the lowlights have been totally tolerable. Someone's been looking out for me! Thanks for all the prayers and well-wishes, friends and family back home!


There are too many to really document here, so I'll just draw out a few that stick out in my mind:

  • Humans have a tremendous capacity to give, to be generous, to be loving, and to share. I have seen this firsthand with the families and people I have WWOOFed with, with hostel owners, with people I have met randomly who have opened their hearts and minds to me, a transient stranger. It's been amazing to see this.
  • Gardening is about starting with a passion and a desire to grow one's own food and then just making mistakes and learning along the way. It's a commitment for the long haul.
  • Cooking oil, salt, and some kind of herbs and spices are essential to make food taste good. Thanks to the early chefs who discovered these additions to basic foods!!
  • Organic and farm-raised produce and animal meat are superior to the crap we get in the supermarkets that are shipped from states and countries that are far away.
  • It's important to be honest to oneself and others with how one feels about a situation. It isn't healthy to keep these things inside just to be polite. Honesty with respect and tact are important.

The list goes on, but these are some key learnings for me.


My first WWOOFing placement near Mt. Taranaki was by far the biggest highlight for me for so many reasons all wrapped up into one great experience: making a difference with all my weeding, the views, learning about permaculture and so many other things, the food, and most of all- the family.

My second WWOOFing placement at Seresin Estate was definitely another huge highlight, again for a multitude of reasons: the variety of work and experiences, learning about biodynamics and organics in the context of a business, the food, and of course, again, the people.

I guess WWOOFing could count as one big highlight by itself, but I had to separate the two because they were so different and both so wonderful.

Then another big highlight is the incredible, mouth-dropping scenery of this gorgeous country. I am just in awe. My love of nature is heightened in this place where every view is spectacular and pristine. I'm going to always be searching for a parallel back in the U.S., but I know I'm going to be disappointed. Here are a few favorite images:

On coastal track in New Plymouth with views of Mt Taranaki and cool bridge in the distance

Tulips at botanical gardens in Wellington

Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps in the distance

Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki

Sunset over the Tasman Sea in Punakaiki


These thoughts are kind of random and off-the-cuff at this point, just whatever's at the top of my head:

  • I'd like to come back to New Zealand someday with 1 or 2 people, to re-connect with my WWOOF hosts, to do some overnight hikes, and to see areas that I wasn't able to on this trip (Coromandel, Fjordland, Rotorua, the tippy top of the North Island…).
  • I'm going to start my own garden whenever/ wherever I get settled next. I want to use permaculture principles and possibly some biodynamics practices.
  • I want to do more hiking and outdoor activities when I return to the U.S., something that I used to do when younger but let go of when I moved to the city. It's a great way to exercise and stay connected to nature.
  • I'm going to find more ways to reduce my carbon footprint when I return– line-dry clothes, use more organic cleaning products, buy organic food, get connected with a farm to get produce and meats and dairy and eggs.

So I'm at a good place, six weeks in. Feeling a little tug of homesickness (for which home?) and the stability of having my own place and kitchen (!). But I'm going to gear myself up for another six weeks.


The only bit of anxiety I have is about tomorrow's presidential election. The next time I post, we'll know who's to be our next president. Yikes!!!

The Power of Community and Culture

I've been at the Seresin Estate for a little under a week, and each day has been different. What a change from my previous place where I was pretty much weeding a home garden everyday, which was really nice and rewarding, of course! Here, there has been a lot of variety, which has also been really educational and interesting. And I've been eating self-cooked meals everyday which has been nice for a change.

Front view of the house where I'm staying. Cozy, quaint. In the middle of vineyards!

  • Monday afternoon: I arrived and we weeded. By “we” I mean the two other WWOOFers, the head gardener, and his apprentice. A nice team of five with lots of chatting, storytelling, and jokes. Made chickpeas and veggies with rice for dinner.
  • Tuesday: in the morning, we did more weeding (a different area from the day before– maybe it was onions?) and then all afternoon we did the biodynamic preparation 500 that I explained in my previous blog post. And that “we” included our team and about 20 other volunteers and employees from the vineyards and winery. Made swiss chard and pasta with feta and colby cheese and cooked up some lamb sausage from the farm for dinner.
  • Wednesday: we continued weeding onion plants, a challenging job because the onion shoots were not much bigger than the weeds! And that was it for that day. This was the most tedious work we've done so far, but enjoyable because of lots of conversation and nice weather. Made falafel and pita with the others in our house for dinner. YUMMM!!!
  • Thursday: we prepped a section of land to plant potatoes using stakes and string. And in the afternoon we planted a few hundred potatoes in teams of two with a few more additions to our team of five. That was cool– planting all these spuds by hand (most people nowadays do it by machines, especially when doing on the scale we were– a lot!). Made grilled cheese sandwiches with swiss chard and spinach for dinner.
  • Friday: planted more potatoes, the rest for the land that had been prepped. Good morning's work. Filled some packets of wonderful composted soil for tomato plants which will be planted in a few weeks. Then after lunch did the preparation 500 again at the other estate, Raupo, which is the biggest area and where the best grapes are grown. Extra long day but felt quite accomplished at the end! Had some pancakes that one of the other WWOOFers made for dinner.

Strawberry patches in one of the garden areas on the estate.

To give you an idea of how each day works here, here's a typical day's schedule:

  • Wake up with the sun (I have my shades open for this reason) around 6:30 or 7am.
  • Lounge in bed a little.
  • Do my morning routine.
  • Eat breakfast– usually some muesli and yogurt or milk and a piece of toast with tea.
  • Read or take a morning walk.
  • Go to the estate (which is about 3 miles up the road) by one of the WWOOFers van or by walking (about an hour walk) or by bike (about 20 minutes).
  • Arrive at the estate by 10:30am-ish just as the employees are finishing up their morning tea time– a break where they eat snacks and drink coffee and tea. They start at 7:30am, but not us!
  • Get started working. Go until about 1pm when we break for lunch in their “smoko” room– basically the break room which is called “smoko” because it used to be where people would take a smoke for breaks; but people don't smoke here.
  • After a half hour lunch, work some more until about 4:30pm. And then head home.
  • Get home and relax a bit.
  • Make dinner with the other WWOOFers.
  • Take a shower. And then relax for a few hours– read, write, check email, just sit and chill.
  • Go to bed by about 9:30 or 10pm.

I'm outdoors all day which is wonderful. Such a reversal from life before where I'd be in an office all day with a glimpse of the outdoors on my walk to and from the train station and maybe during lunch if I had to go buy my lunch that day. Being outside for at least 6 hours a day is really do-able here in New Zealand. Even if it's a little cold or cloudy (or rainy), it's so beautiful. And there are the sounds of the wind, the birds, nature.

One thing I'm really getting exposed to here at the vineyards is the power of community. Even though it's a company– producing wines for sale all over the world– there is a feeling of family and closeness among the employees and even with the managers and higher ups.

Every Wednesday, they have a company smoko where all the winery and vineyard staff get together with the managers to give updates over some kind of food that they take turn preparing. Last week, the person on made amazing cheesy scones. So everyone hears the company updates and gets familiar with how the business is running. They also hear updates about the garden, which isn't so much part of the company side but is really about keeping some biodiversity and using the land for positive and meaningful things. The WWOOFers are also acknowledged at this meeting, which was held, not at a stuffy conference table, but standing around on an outdoor patio, over coffee and scones.

In addition to that meeting, I get the sense from the people I see daily over morning tea and lunch, those who work in the vineyards, that they all have each other's back and enjoy each other's company and respect each other. They truly believe in the organic and biodynamic principles. They really value each other as individuals. They value the earth and the animals on the farm. And they get paid doing this!

I've learned that the winemaking/ vineyard industry is really that, an industry as any other, and that few growers and winemakers think about the impact on the earth as Seresin does. Why do we have to rip up and destroy the earth to get what we want out of it? If we take an approach of respecting and giving back to the earth in exchange of what we take out of her, everything is more beautiful, sustainable, harmonious and productive.

Here's an example:

Notice the difference in these two unedited photos of vineyards. The top photo is of a conventional vineyard which uses herbicides and chemicals. The bottom photo is of one of Seresin's vineyard rows. Notice the color difference– brown grass on top, green grass on the bottom. Notice the feel you get– dry, brittle, a bit barren on top; lush, gentle, relaxed on the bottom.

So good wine here is about a holistic view– from the soil to the plant to the grape to the production to the people to the gardens amongst the vines to the treatment of their animals and people. It's about building a culture of sustainability, of respect, of value and love. Something I also really believe in and want to bring to anywhere I go and work and live.

I'm learning to read the earth these last few weeks. It's like learning a new language: what are edible plants, what are natives versus exotics, what is herbicided versus organic, what different birds are, etc. I can't wait to come home and see if I'm able to read the earth as I'm doing here.

A view outside the house where I'm staying. Hello, tree, said the bush.


Last Days in Taranaki and Permaculture

Argh. Just wrote a whole entry and then Blogsy froze up and I lost everything. Oh well, I'll just start over.

I'm back at the New Plymouth library, using their free wi-fi. Another day off after days of working. I extended my stay at the current (first) farm because I really have been enjoying being with the family and learning from them. Also, it seemed the next farm I was lined up for was a bit sketchy (or “dodgy” as my hosts said), so I cancelled with them and chose to stay on this place for a few more days before heading down to Wellington.

It's really been a wonderful week with this family at this farm. I've learned a tremendous amount about New Zealand, about permaculture and sustainable living and agriculture, about parenting, about living life off the grid. The family is so generous and willing to share their lives with me, and I've really really enjoyed it. I'll be sad to leave them. I'm kind of tempted to come back and see them again, to see the things they are just now starting to plant come to fruition in the summer and fall! But I'm also ready to move on to see another place and way of living.

I feel a little better about posting some photos of their farm, while keeping them anonymous. Here are some before and after shots of what I weeded:

a garden bed to be used for strawberries. I hadn't quite finished up, but you can see how much I pulled out in a few hours!

A view of the house from atop a hill on the family's property. Love the rolling hills and green! They have planted a bunch of trees to help to restore the earth by fixing excess carbon in the atmosphere.

I've learned quite a bit about permaculture, too. For those of you who don't know (I had never heard of it before looking into WWOOFing), permaculture is a concept/ set of principles developed by two Aussies, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, in the 1970s. Their definition then was “an integrated, evolving system of perennial or self perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man.” A more updated definition is “consciously designed landscape which mimics the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre, and energy for provision of local needs.” It's basically a way of desining a garden or space that is in harmony with nature and the environment and uses a closed system approach to living. The garden seems to be somewhat central to permaculture practices but it also bleeds over into all ways of life that seek to restore the earth and provide alternatives to using fossil fuels and non-regenerating sources of energy which just suck the earth dry of all resources.

I've had lots of talks with the couple that own this “lifestyle bloc” as they call these small plots of land where people live and just grow as they will. We've talked about how the current industrial systems and dependence on fossil fuels is just not sustainable and will end sooner or later. We've talked about what kinds of alternatives exist to those oil-dependent systems. We've talked about the importance of closed ecological systems which restore energy back to the earth. It's really inspiring to see what this family has done only in about 5 years.

They talk a lot about learning from their mistakes– what grows well, what doesn't; how best to compost; how many garden beds to have; how to grow their orchard; where to keep the livestock. The mother is the master permaculturist, so within the principles of what she learned from a permaculture design course, they have really made it all their own.

A view of the main garden beds in front of the house. You can see some of the paths hadn't been weeded yet. But this is the abundance even after winter! A year-round growing seasons down here!

Another view of the garden beds. You can see the greenhouse they built where they grow tomatoes.

This is a compost heap which they just put right on one of their garden beds that they keep fallow. They do a fallow bed rotation. This compost heap was where I dumped all my weeding! Those big stalks with flowers are weeds, not veggies.

It's always amazing how things converge in life when you pay attention. In the last week, I have been thinking of some recent conversations and visits with friends that I had who were involved with concepts like edible gardens, Steiner education and Waldorf schools, action research, CSAs and growing one's own garden; and I'm really starting to think seriously about what I make of all this information. And how to apply that to social change in some aspects when I get back to the states. More to think about and reflect on.

For now, I leave this post with a picture of one of the meals I had (I would have loved to take photos of every meal because they've all been delicious, but I felt too self conscious. So suffice it to say, the food is amazing. I've had steak from their cow, soups and stews from veggies from their garden, coleslaw, porridge, homemade goat cheese… all so good and healthy and ORGANIC in the truest sense.)

Stewed tamarillos in the small glass bowl; cup of black tea; and lentil, lamb, veggie summer stew. Yum!!


Resurfacing in New Plymouth, New Zealand

I've been in this part of New Zealand since Tuesday (Monday, for U.S. time). So that puts me at three or so days that I've been WWOOFing! This is where I am– where the red pin is:

At this current moment, I'm at the New Plymouth public library, making use of their free wi-fi. Woohoo! New Plymouth is in the Taranaki region of New Zealand, which is the southwest coast of the North Island. It's the center of oil and gas production in the country, so not the prettiest city, but there's a beautiful view of Mt. Taranaki, an old (but still active– the last eruption was 250 years ago) volcano. It's famous because it was used as a stand-in for Mt. Fuji in The Last Samurai. It's really breathtaking. You can see it way in the distance in this shot. It's snow covered most of the year.

Bridge over a stream on the Coastal Walkway from Bell Block to New Plymouth, which I rode by bike today.

I've been WWOOFing in a tiny town about 15 minutes north of New Plymouth. The host family asked that I not blog about them for the sake of their privacy, so I'm not going to talk about the family and their life. Instead, I'll just talk about what I've been doing and general statements about where I'm staying.

Getting here was a 6 hour bus ride from Auckland. It was a beautiful ride through the part of New Zealand that was used for Hobbiton and the Shire – the Waikato region. Beautiful rolling green hillls, stunning scenery wherever you turn. I tried to take some photos while on the bus but they just didn't turn out. You can google “Waikato” and see the landscape. Here's a pic I took that I doctored a bit with Instagram, but it gives you somewhat of an idea of the region:

I got in Tuesday night and then started right away the next day. Because it's spring, it's the time for weeding and preparing gardens for planting. So the last two days, I just weeded. How WWOOFing generally seems to work is that you “work” for 4-6 hours, as arranged with your host. And in this case, I was given the choice of 4 hours each day or 6 hours for two days and then a day off, and on for the week. So I chose to do more work on the two days so I could get a day off. Also, our farm is not close to anything, so if I just did 4 hours, I'd have a whole day of not much to do.

The family is completely off the grid– using solar and wind power for all their electricity and power. They built all those systems. The house was here when they bought the place, but they've added all the sustainable living components– garden (which supplies most of what they eat except for grains, cheese… and some other things); grazing land for chickens (which provide eggs), sheep (which provide meat), goats (which provide milk), cows (which provide meat), and the random goose here and there; a wind turbine; and trees for burning wood. They eat 95% organic and really are living a sustainable (or durable) lifestyle.

I'm learning a ton from the couple (they have two school-aged kids) about how to live a sustainable life. They really uphold the principles of getting off the industrial systems of food, energy, etc. This is a great place to start my WWOOFing experience.

The food is also delicious. Even though it's not real harvest yet (we're just coming off of the winter), we've been eating great meals– meat from their livestock, potatoes, pumpkins, porridge. As they say, it's a real “peasant diet”– simple, hearty, and tasty. They're both great cooks and bakers. And they're really living life as I would like– with critiques of the current system and an attempt to live simply and protect, value, and live in harmony with the earth and environment.

The weeding has been kind of fun in a weird way. Weeding is addictive for me, especially as the neat freak that I am. Once I start, I want to go till I finish a row or an area. I love the feeling of satisfaction you get when you weed an area and see how clean and open it is. My fingers are a bit sensitive, but the hosts said that weeding with gloves makes it hard to really feel where you're working, which I totally get. So I've been getting lots of dirt under my fingernails. I feel like a real farmer. 🙂 Haha.

I'll be here until Tuesday of next week (just a week stay here) and then off to another farm, actually in the same region. It wasn't the best planning on my part, but it's got an interesting description, so I wanted to check that place out. From there, I'll keep moving south.

So I'm having a nice afternoon. I got to this town by bike. My host dropped me off about 9km (5.4 miles, I think) at a Coastal Walkway entry, and I borrowed their bike to come out here. Breathtaking views of the Tasman Sea.

The bridge above is on the walkway that I rode. It's been about 50 plus degrees here. Sunny, sometimes cloudy. A bit chilly at night. There's no heat in the house– that's just how New Zealand homes are built, apparently. And I'm sleeping in a part of the garage that they made into a room with a bathroom. Nice private facilities. So I have a really thick down comforter and a hot water bottle. Very cute– it's for their WWOOFers, especially. I'll have to post a photo of that.

So very much enjoying my first week here. Can't believe it's not even been a full week. Feels like I've been here for a long time already! If all my WWOOFing experiences are like this, I'll be a happy camper.

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