After a month full of visitors in February, it’s been a quiet sort of easing in to March. Much as we adore having visitors, the quiet is nice too. It’s especially good at the moment as it’s a serious time for reflection for me as I approach the anniversary of my arrival in New Zealand. What a year! There’s added reflection too, since we’re now in our final month at Toi Toi Manawa. It’s a time both for looking back and looking ahead. Actually, it’s feeling sort of like New Year’s. But in March.
February began with an incredible visit from my dear friend Mel and her lovely boyfriend Steve. The two of them came over from Melbourne and we spent a week together catching up and exploring New Zealand. It was the first visit for both of them! It became a great opportunity for Andy and I to check out some spots that we hadn’t been to yet either. Any excuse for a road trip! We visited the glaciers of Westland National Park – Franz Josef and Fox. We kayaked into a mangrove forest with Mt. Cook (NZ’s highest peak) overlooking us. We marvelled at the Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki and camped amongst the unique, cave-riddled landscapes of Bullock Creek. On the way back to Whitecliffs, there was a stop in at the ever-admired Castle Hill. And then – the icing on the cake – we played on the high ropes course at the Adrenalin Forest, which included flying foxes at 20m. What fun!
After Mel’s visit, we had another round of WWOOFers come to stay. There were Mike, Bennett and Cassandra from the US and Susi from Italy, as well as a return from Justine, another American WWOOFer who volunteered with us back in December. And Andy’s traceur friend Ryan came to lend his hands too – it was camping room only by this point! To top it off, there was the lovely Tina. Tina (also arriving from Melbourne) is a friend of mine from my days on the farm in Guelph. She was a super volunteer on the farm there – and she was a super volunteer here too. A traveling ray of sunshine! Tina’s short visit included a trip to Castle Hill on Valentine’s Day and watching the sun set over the boulders. Que romántico!
Back on the farm, we bounced between work in the garden and preparing to host a soil workshop by the Dirt Doctor, Jim O’Gorman. Jim ran a weekend long workshop covering bed preparation, compost and compost teas, tools, and lots more. Never before had I looked at all of the microbial life in a compost tea under a microscope. So cool! I was mesmerised by this whole world that had been just about unknown to me but is so critical to the health and well-being of our soils – and us! The workshop gave us a lot of food for thought. And literal food too – Jim brought some amazing heirloom tomatoes for us. The same tomatoes, in fact, that Jim was asked to provide to Kate and William on their recent royal visit to NZ. This is all part of fulfilling Andy’s goal to “work like a peasant, live like a king”.
On the Whitecliffs Township Committee, I’ve recently come into a fascinating job as part of a historical sub-committee. There was some concern among the committee members that some of the oldest residents in Whitecliffs – the ones who had been around the longest and knew the most about the history of the place – are really getting on in years and many of their stories are unrecorded. Our sub-committee is now busily preparing to interview, collect maps and photos, sift through archives, and develop a mini-museum at the old train station in the village. It’s a great chance for me to learn a little bit more about Whitecliffs – and another reminder of how sorry we’ll be to say goodbye in a month’s time. We’ve warned them already that we will be back to visit!
At the end of February, we celebrated in the usual way at the monthly community picnic and Free Day. Once again, we brought A LOT of veggies and I had a great time chatting to people about ways to prepare kohlrabi and the wonders of perennial bunching onions.
Andy and I ducked out of the Free Day early this time, because we had a second February road trip set to go. This time, we pointed ourselves south instead of west and took a meandering drive to Wanaka, with brief stops at Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki. Jaw-dropping sort of scenery. In Wanaka, we were hosted by our friend Jon – a permaculture consultant from Dunedin. Together with Jon, we traveled to Queenstown and Glenorchy to visit the construction site of Aro Ha – a wellness retreat set to open in 2014. It’s an incredible project set in one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen. Check out the beautiful vision of Aro Ha here.
Back in Wanaka, we also had a chance to visit with our lovely friend Kate who has been living there for the last handful of months. Kate swept us away to one of her preferred spots in the area – Lake Hawea. After an incredible afternoon, it is now a serious contender for my favourite place in New Zealand. So far. I’ve never seen fresh water so clear. A lake so swimmable. Surrounded by mountains. And no people! It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.
As if I haven’t been spoiled enough lately with visits from old friends, last night Andy and I went out for dinner in Lyttelton with my friend Emily and her mom. Emily and I were fellow Rotaractors back at Queen’s and travelled to El Salvador together in 2006. Now Emily is a doctor and is spending a few weeks working at a hospital in Christchurch. So lovely to have more familiar faces around!
As we round out our final month at Toi Toi Manawa, we are working from what may very well be our most giant To Do List yet. It’s a behemoth. We’re aiming to leave the program and the land in really stellar shape for those who will take over. Luckily, we’ll have the help of a another crew of WWOOFers – Kiwi, German and Canadian – next week.
It remains to be seen exactly what direction Toi Toi Manawa will take after we leave, but you can always stay updated on their website. Over the past year, Andy and I have done a lot of learning here, have met some incredible people, and have had an opportunity to settle into a really nice working rhythm together. We’ll miss the place very much, I’m sure, but we’re also looking forward to the new adventures that lie ahead. Not sure yet what those adventures are going to be, but we’ve got a few ideas up our sleeves…