When I first told people that I would be doing a HelpX for 3 weeks in essentially the middle of nowhere, and that the main thing that I would be helping with was looking after a 2 year old, reactions ranged from sceptical to outright laughter. I’m fairly sure that everyone who knew what I would be doing expected me to hate it and not to last the whole three weeks. I’m very pleased to say that I’ve proved them all wrong. I actually had a great time. I would do it again (although maybe not for a few weeks). It has, however, reinforced the fact that I am nowhere near ready to have any children of my own just yet. There are only so many nursery rhymes a person can take!
So, what the hell is a HelpX? Have you heard of WWOOFing? If you have, it’s essentially the same concept just with a bit more variety in the types of work. It’s not necessarily on a farm, and even if it is on a farm, you won’t necessarily be helping out with typical farm labour. If you haven’t heard of WWOOFing, HelpX is an organisation that allows you to arrange work in exchange for accommodation and food. It’s a worldwide organisation, although it was originally started in the Canterbury region of New Zealand. What you do and what you get for your efforts varies greatly from host to host, so anyone considering HelpX for their working holiday (in Australia, NZ, Canada, the UK and elsewhere) should make sure that they know how many hours a day they will be working, what tasks they would be expected to complete and what facilities they will have access to before they agree to stay with a host. For instance, the average amount of work you would be expected to do is 4-5 hours per day, but some people might want you to work longer hours, work alternate days or split that time up over different parts of the day. If you’re on a dairy farm, chances are you will be working very early in the morning but then have the rest of the day free. With facilities, some places may only provide accommodation, meaning you would need to pay for your own food (not ideal on a farm out in the sticks!). Quite a number of hosts, especially those wanting to live ” off the grid,” may not have internet access, so maybe don’t agree to stay there for a month if you want to skype home every day. Some hosts might allow you to do laundry, others may not. Some might be happy to spend the evenings with you, others may want you to make yourself scarce. Some hosts may let you use their car, others may expect you to have your own car and not consider helpers who don’t have their own transport. Every host is different.
For me, I was staying with a lovely couple and their young children about 15 minutes away from Mount Hutt ski field. I knew that they had a 2 year old, and would have a newborn baby by the time I arrived (said baby not having been born yet when I arranged to stay), and that I would mostly be expected to help out looking after the older child. As they have a walkway open to the public on their land, I also knew that I might be expected to help out with greeting the walkers, amongst other tasks as and when required. In exchange, I would have accommodation and food provided, as well as being able to use their internet and laundry facilities. They were happy to pick me up and drop me off from the hostel in Christchurch, and let me use their car to get their daughter to playgroup and back or to take her on outings.
Before heading out there, I was a little bit nervous about my ability to entertain a toddler. My experience with pre-school children was pretty limited, and I didn’t have a clue what they would be interested in. My parents gave me some advice that seemed pretty unhelpful at the time, but actually turned out to be the most important thing I needed: just be enthusiastic about whatever it is they are doing at any particular moment. Having just turned 2, she was still a little bit young for any activities requiring planning, so I seemed to spend most of my time chasing after her and making sure there were no disasters. OK, that’s simplifying it a little bit, but anyone who has had a toddler will know exactly what I mean. There was also a lot of singing. I think I’m now in competition for world Incy Wincy Spider champion (possibly up against my sister-in-law). By the end of the first week and right up until I left, I found myself trying to drift off to sleep and suddenly getting a random nursery rhyme stuck in my head.
Oh, yes. They also had a pet sheep. Mustn’t forget that one.
Other exciting tasks I had, that will probably make you laugh if you know me, included cleaning the car (a 4X4 about 2 feet taller than me), changing nappies, going to playgroup and music, and cooking a roast dinner (complete with roast potatoes and gravy from scratch but no Yorkshire Puddings. In my defence, it was lamb, not beef, and I couldn’t find the flour…). Mainly, though, I was looking after their daughter (who, you may have noticed, shall remain nameless along with the rest of the family. I don’t think it’s very fair on them to immortalise them in blog form without permission) and greeting the walkers who came to see the waterfall.
Greeting visitors and getting them to pay to do the walk and giving them the spiel (and the all-important track guide) is, it turns out, a lot like working in a shop that sells both Bakewell Tarts and Bakewell Puddings to tourists. Although a lot more enjoyable than that one. I’m now just as good at telling people to follow the arrows and that number 12 is water out of the creek that we use in the house for drinking water as I am at explaining the difference between a Bakewell Tart and a Bakewell Pudding (do it. I dare you).
Of course, if I was going to give endless talks to visitors about the walk, I needed to do it myself. Problem was, most of the time the weather was bloody awful. It was almost a week before we had a good enough day that also had enough spare time for me to do the 2-hour loop. It’s amazing what you can learn from the track guide, though! The walk takes you uphill (up, up, up. It’s quite steep and, on the day I did it, quite muddy) into the woods, then along the cliffside of the valley (formed by a volcanic eruption waaaaaay back when. No volcano any more), past some caves, out onto the bluff, back into the woods to the falls and lagoon, through to the lake. Ok, I’ve definitely missed some bits out there, but I forgot to pick up a guide when I left. You’ll just have to go if you ever come to New Zealand.
Overall, I had a great time staying in the middle of nowhere in the Canterbury high country, and I would definitely recommend HelpX as an option for any prospective Working Holiday-ers to anywhere that has it! My opinion is that the best way to get to see and know a country is by spending time with the people that come from there. Staying in hostels and travelling around a lot certainly has its advantages (maybe not the top bunk, though…), but you tend to mostly only meet other travellers. How can you know whether you want to make a life in this new country unless you get to know the people who’ve grown up there? (If you’re wondering, my position on that last one is “still undecided”).
Now, this post is about a week and a half late being posted, so it might mean that you get a couple more posts very soon. I’d suggest that you don’t get used to that, as we all know what I’m like with a schedule… or a plan of any kind… or, knowing me, I won’t get those up for another 2 weeks, either, so this paragraph is pointless.
Coming soon: Marlborough (wine, wine, wine, oh look – a seal!), and Nelson (wherein Sophie cancelled her car hire because of money and the weather forecast, and then the weather was actually fine)