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  • Writer's picturewanderingmiles

A message from the vineyard

Updated: Feb 26, 2023

So when I last took the time to write about what I've been up to I had just started a job as Hostel Manager at Bridge Backpackers in Nelson, well now I am writing to you from Akarua Wines where I work in the vineyard - big change. When I started the job as Manager at Bridge we had just found out that all visitors in New Zealand who were on a working Holiday Visa due to expire between the start of October and the 31st March 2021 were to automatically move onto a seasonal visa which meant we were still able to work but only in horticultural or agricultural jobs. My visa was due to expire on 10th January 2021 so I knew that the manager job would only be for a few months as on the SSE visa I would not be able to work in hospitality. I decided I would find a job in a vineyard or an orchard in Cromwell, which is in Central Otago further down the South Island. I got an offer from a cherry orchard and a vineyard whilst I was in Nelson but as with a lot of jobs over here, I took it with a pinch of salt as I know how brutal they can be and a job offer means nothing until you've started - I know one girl who got a job offer, drove one hour to start her first day and because she wasn't one of the first 15 people to show up, they told her there was no jobs and she had to go home - brutal and unreliable, that's just how it is (before covid anyway). At some point in December I think, the NZ government announced that those still on the working holiday visa due to expire before 31st March would not move onto the SSE visa and would actually get a 6 month extension of their working holiday visa instead. So I would remain on my WHV and could work in any area of work I wanted. But I still wanted to work in agriculture as for the first year of my time in NZ I had worked in a supervisory role, with people management and stress and I wanted a job outside, with no stress, that I wouldn't think about as soon as the working day ended. And that is exactly what I got.

I wouldn't get confirmation of either jobs until after New Year so on the 3rd January I left Nelson for Cromwell with the hope of a job offer on my arrival. I drove down the West Coast, stopping in Fox Glacier to stay with Maggie for one night before finishing the drive to Cromwell the next day.

The day I arrived in Cromwell, I received an email from the cherry company who had offered me a job informing me that bad weather and heavy rainfall meant they had lost half their crop of cherries and therefore would not be hiring anyone. Not a great start. But, as you will know if you read the first sentence of this, I was lucky enough (thanks to Sacha) to get a job with Akarua Wines on their vineyard and I started 2 days after I arrived in Cromwell. I live in my van round the back of the house which I share the bathroom, toilet, kitchen and living room with 8 lads - 5 French and 3 Kiwi. for my first 3 weeks Marie was here as my female companion and it was great, we got on so well and had a lot to talk about! But Marie and her partner left to walk the length of New Zealand (an amazing achievement once completed wow) and so now it's me and the 8 boys. I've gone from a bed in a 7 bed dorm, to an entire 3 room apartment to myself, to sleeping in my van and sharing a small house with 8 other people (and a cockerel who pecks my toes and is probably the noisiest housemate I have) it's a big change but surprisingly 9 people sharing one shower and one toilet isn't as much stress as you would think, in the morning the toilet can be a bit busy and if we all have somewhere to be after work then the shower can be a long wait but in general it's fine. The team I work with are great, the company is fab - they even bring us ice lollies on the really hot days and Andra, Ines, Darren and Alex work 15 mins away on a different vineyard so I have some of NZ family down here with me which is amazing.

The work itself is fine, literally the word fine perfectly fits the work, you don't need to think, you can listen to podcasts or music all day and we have regular breaks for water/suncream top up/stretching. I would say, as someone who hasn't done a physical job before, that it is physically tiring. We work outside 8.5 hours a day - plus a 30 minute lunch break and two 15 minute breaks and a lot of the work requires some form of squat to complete meaning you are squatting sometimes 8.5 hours a day - I better have a great bum and thighs after this job I swear. I am also using my hands CONSTANTLY for something other than a computer. We use secateurs a lot to cut the vines down and this is what is gonna kill me off because in week 2 I managed to get repetitive strain injury and a trapped nerve from constant use of them in a movement my hand is not used to and omg it hurts. My right hand palm swelled to twice the size and one morning I woke up with pins and needles so bad I couldn't feel my hand for 30 minutes. This means my daily routine now consists of regular hand stretches and massages which is something I never thought I would have to do. I don't think I am particularly good at this job - I'm not super fast but I'm not super slow either, I just cruise along, do what I am told and get through each day. This is the kind of chill job I want for myself right now, it's not a career, but it's good money in a peaceful remote area surrounded by mountains. Not everything is a dream thought...they spray the vines with many things but the worst is sulphur and we STINK of it, not like hardcore rotten eggs pure sulphur kind of smell but a diluted kind as we aren't directly sprayed by it obviously. I'm used to it now but I am so paranoid that when I enter the real world outside the vineyard that everyone can just smell the sulphur on me. My nails are gross, I can't wear jewellery because it turns back due to the sulphur and my hair and hands always smell of the vines but I am happy and the working day ends by 4.15pm which in summer means we have about 6 hours of sun left every day that we can enjoy.

Each weekend is spent exploring. So far we have driven to Wanaka for the night, cooked by Lake Wanaka and slept next to Lake Hawea, treated ourselves to Onsen Hot Pools where we relaxed in a hot tub with wine and chocolate and a beaut river view and visited Milford Sound for the first time and went kayaking and on a cruise through the fiord. Milford Sound is as beautiful as everyone says, so big and impressive and we went on the most perfect day where the sky was clear blue and the water was clear and calm. We saw bottle nose dolphins and sailed out into the Tasman Sea, further than they usually can because the weather was so good. Sooo amazing. Me and Sacha shared a double kayak and I had to sit in the back because he is a giant and doesn't fit in the back seat. That means I had to be in control of steering the kayak and I'm not saying I've crashed 3 cars but...I've crashed 3 cars. Long story short I was not good and we ended the kayaking trip crashing full speed into a rock because I forgot to direct us in the right direction. This last weekend I went to Queenstown with Ash and Michael and we did a day trip to Glenorchy where it was 30 degrees and we jumped off the pier into the lake and had a picnic, I want to go back and do one of the walks around there as it is such a beautiful area! We are so lucky that Cromwell is between 2-3 hours from so many amazing places and we can drive off on a Friday after work, spend the weekend somewhere new and sleep in my van. The freedom to do whatever we want is one of the best feelings. While the rest of the world continues to battle covid, we are able to travel New Zealand in what would usually be its busiest period, and explore and live a normal life but with way less tourists, it's a very unique experience and one I am trying to make the most of as much as possible.

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