Saturday, February 23, 2008

Autumn Farm

I can't believe that its been quite so long since i logged on to my blog, though i have been busy, enjoying myself and not that close to internet access.

Have been at Autumn Farm, a gay retreat in beautiful grounds near Golden Bay in the north of South Island, for two weeks now, a return visit after having a great time here last year. I had heard that their event weeks were really good fun so decided to come and helpX during this years' Naked Week. Arrived early and settled in before things really kicked off and have had a wonderful time.

Having not really done much nudity before, it was quite strange to see everyone wondering about without any clothes on, but soon got used to it. The atmosphere was very relaxed and people all really friendly in a good way. Autumn Farm is a very special place and folk return year on year to have fun, chill in the sun and meet new faces. There were several helpers here that i knew from last year and also a few guests, so it was great to catch up with all the goings on.

During the week trips, parties and events were arranged for the guests and where possible we, the helpers, were able to go along too. A couple of trips to the beach, visits to town and two wonderfully outrageous fancy dress parties. I won first prize in one for wrapping myself in sellotape!!!! though no photos will be shown of that one.

The group of 5 helpers and the owners made a great team, dealing with all the catering, cleaning and housekeeping chores, preparing and serving dinner for 50 hungry men every evening was a challenge, made much more pleasurable by sharing a bottle or two of vino before and during service, dispensing plates of food, clearing tables and ploughing through mountains of washing up, though the view from the kitchen window was so magical it didn't seem to take much time at all. Breakfasts were a self service affair whilst a team prepared sandwiches for lunch

The week went by so fast and most of the guests had left by last wednesday and there was a bit more time to wind down and relax. The laundry is all done for now and its back to gardening and general maintenance. I have met some wonderful people and some excellent new friends, had some brilliant times, moments of laughter that i thought would never stop, learned new card games, gotten a suntanned butt and bits for the first time ever, have loads of places to go and stay, learned loads more about New Zealand and how many people end up staying here, i discovered things about myself way beyond the expected and have a bit of serious thinking to do now.

I shall stay for a few more days and enjoy the quiet and tranquility of the house and grounds and hopefully get to go to the beach a few more times, continue building friendships with the guys here and enjoy sleeping in a tipi in the gardens in a double bed and hopefully get the vegetable garden to the weed free state i left it in when i departed last year.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Doubtful Sound

After visiting Milford Sound last year, i have been looking forward to this trip for ages. A real treat and a bit of luxury i hoped. An overnight boat trip onto the largest accessable fjord in the country. To get there we took a 1 hour boat trip across lake Manapouri, followed by a 40 minute coach drive through the mountains on a road that was constructed purely to install a hydro electricity station back in the 60's, it doesn't join any other roads and is reached only by boat.Then down to the sea, miles from the coast in the most majestic landscape i have ever experienced.
The ship was better than i had imagined and the whole trip flowed with effortless organisation that included every little detail for comfort and enjoyment.
The other passengers were not the usual types i have become accustomed to mixing with and it was quite agreeable to spend time with older more well to do travellers, they fitted the location well, although now back on dry land i do prefer the choices i have made.
I could write for hours about the landscape and scenery, how we stopped for a kayak experience and swim in one of the bays, close up to the waterfalls and wildlife, navigating out into the Tasman Sea and rolling on the huge sea swell for a while, watching seals, dolphins(bottlenose this time), and countless sea birds, the huge buffet dinner with more delicious food than the passengers could possibly hope to consume. Mooring up for the night and lying out on deck stargazing into the early hours, sleeping so soundly before continuing at daybreak the next morning, tucking away a hearty breakfast, and, the most amazing part of all, stopping in a quiet and tranquil bay surrounded by huge mountains and the whole craft shutting down for 5 minutes. Everyone remained completely still and quiet and the there wasn't a sound, the water calmed to mirror flat and the atmosphere was indiscribibly scerene, the landscape inaccessable and unchanged since the last ice age and just one small ship floating there. Awesome, no, really.

to Lake Te Anau

Another exciting day of speed tourism, stopping for the minimum time at the maximum of locations, i've now discovered how people manage to 'see' the whole of New Zealand in 2 weeks and it's not the most pleasurable of experiences.

We squeezed in several more beaches, a stop to make a pendant out of Paua shell and buy souveneirs, a photo opportunity at McCrackens Rest, although we refrained from the Kiwi experience tradition of actually bearing all, and a really great farm visit where we watched sheep dogs at work and actually got to shear part of a sheep. The farmer managed to cut his demonstration sheep quite badly so everyone was really weary of doing the same, it was quite difficult and i can't imagine how the professionals manage to get through over 400 a day during the main shearing season.

Then finally to our next nights accomodation. The Lake Front Backpackers, it sounded good and it was. I was fortunate to get a forward facing room overlooking the lake with a balcony, sitting room, en suite and kitchen just for the 6 of us. A real treat for $25 a night.

We had another great evening together before heading off on our own again. It was great to travel with other folk for a while, we exchanged email addresses and headed off into the filthy wet morning on our own adventures.

Curio bay and petrified forest

to the catlins

I was a bit unsure about the journey ahead, it was on a guided tour bus with a notorious reputation for rowdy drunken student backpackers, but it was going in the direction that i wanted and included stops at interesting places along the way. The company, Kiwi Experience, locally known as Kiwi Experiment or the F**k bus runs an 'add on' trip through the catlins area (south east corner of the island) on the Bottom Bus, a 20 seater and it turned out to be excellent fun. My fellow passengers did not fit the expected category and were great, i ended up being slightly disappointed that i was only with them for a day before arriving at Curio Bay.

The scheduled stops included a 30min walk to the McLean waterfalls, a lighthouse, the craziest house truck containing hundreds of interactive, minature inventions put together from scrap bits and pieces - several beaches for a quick photo and coastline that included a petrified forest - see above.

I arrived at my destination at 5pm and was in the sea having a real surfing lesson within the hour. The waves were perfect for learning, the sun was still warm and the beach all but deserted. As our lesson progressed, there were 6 of us learning, the resident pod of dolphins decided to join us to surf the waves. They stayed for about 15 minutes and had much more fun than us, catching every wave and really showing off. They live in the bay and can be seen from the coast almost all the time, so i watched them from the balcony of the backpackers whilst eating my tea, in the morning before my next surf lesson and later on whilst walking along the seemingly neverending beach.

If the bus hadn't been booked i would have stayed another couple of days, but it was, so i headed off with another Kiwi experience group back to the lovely Invercargill for the overnight stop on the way to Te Anau. Ange, Shopa and Julian were heading for the same destination, so, in true traveller style, we gravitated together and made the best of the town that evening. We tried to get lost on the grid of streets, saw the prison and a wonderful sunset, had Pizza Hut for dinner and used our discount beer vouchers to their maximum capacity in the pub next door.

A fairly early start and we headed out of town, not a moment too soon, on the next leg of our journey on the bus.