Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Temporary Kiwi

A few days ago I was granted my Working Holiday Visa in New Zealand!  It came at an expensive cost and having to jump through all of the required hoops but ultimately I have come out on top and it was well worth it.  While waiting for the final ok on my visa i was hesitant to make any plans for the future in case it did not work out but now my mind is absolutely racing with possibilities.  For the moment I have a perfect situation and could not ask for more but soon I will want to be back on the road exploring more of the beautiful country.

With the working visa I am legally allowed to work in all capacities so I will be applying for jobs from ski lift operator to biological technician.  I plan to keep my options open and, hopefully, to continue broadening my horizons with new jobs and experiences.

I just received word from a fellow Oregonian that I met here.  She in possession of a camper van and has actually offered to give it to me. Not sell... but give.  As I've said before if you follow your heart and stay a positive person the universe will provide.  Typically I am man of reason and fairly pragmatic in action but I can not argue with evidence and according to the recent events in my life things do fall into place.  In the meantime I work very hard and try to return the generosity I am shown.  Suddenly I can hear the locks lift and the world begins to open doors ahead of me.

Now I am not interested in taking advantage of anyone so I will insist that I pay her some amount fro the van, though it will likely not be much due to my own restraints.  A free car would be great but a clear conscience and a wide smile across both our faces would be better.  Is it New Zealand's atmosphere or travel in general that brings out these virtues in all the people I meet here?  These virtues that I imagine are not often found in the United States... or is that my own misconception?  Is it a question of expression instead?

"It's a characteristic of human nature that the best qualities, called up quickly in a crisis, are often the hardest to find in a prosperous calm."

~Gregory David Roberts~

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Making Wine at Antill Estate

The Weka Pass steam engine pushes uphill across from Antill Estate,  "I think I can... I think I can"

The great grape harvest is now upon us at Antill Estate.  The Pinot Noir grapes are at their peak ripeness and ready to turn sugar to alcohol. The grapes are cared for meticulously by hand, nurtured and protected organically from start to finish. They only wait to be plucked bunch by bunch from the vines that they now burden.  Julian and Janice, the owners/operators of this estate, produce a small quantity of wine with an emphasis on quality and a strong passion for both the science and art of wine making.  They have a thorough knowledge of the science underlying wine production but truly theirs is an art incorporating the environment and the community into their own specific brand of terrior.  The Pinot Noir produced through the efforts at Antill Estate has a rich full bodied flavor that appreciates with familiarity and strengthens over time as do the relationships forged by the community-minded wine makers. Though still a small operation with little publicity, relying instead upon word-of-mouth marketing, the Antill Estate label will undoubtedly gain national recognition in the upcoming years as each vintage approaches it's matured state.


Clean as a whistle

Clean, Clean, Clean is all you think before embarking on a voyage in fermentation.  We must do away with any competing bacteria or fungi that would take hold of the process and send it awry. Sterilization is a potentially difficult task when following organic and eco-concious practices.  Luckily as the french perfected wine production over the course of hundreds of years they came upon some fantastic techniques.  One of these techniques is the use of sulfur as an antibiotic cleansing agent and environmentally safe option.  Everything the grapes might touch is first scrubbed and treated with a sulfur solution.

Awaiting the big day.  These tables live year round for harvest day.

The press standing sentry over packed-up past vintages.

After the complete sulfur cleanse Antill's focus shifts to last years vintage.  Growing in complexity and character the wine has matured within these oaken barrels until the moment we drop in the "bulldog" or wine extractor. Now it is off to be bottled and prepared for the masses.

The 2011 vintage waiting to be bottled for the masses.

The scientist/artist hard at work in his laboratory and shrine to Dionysus, God of wine.


The grape harvest is a ritual and sacred time for the wine industry.  Most of the year, grapes are looked after with a relatively heavy hand pruning, thinning and nurturing them to their full potential.  Now when they reach that final stage and the sugars are just right they must be handled with grace and sympathetic hands.  We do no want to bruise and batter them before the fermentation. They use a whole berry fermentation in which the grapes undergo fermentation while still intact imparting more fruitful flavor to the resulting wine.  All of the grapes are picked, sorted and de-stemmed by hand giving Antill Estate wine the highest possible quality and a purely authentic and wine making process. This is the way wine has been made for centuries by those who set the standards of excellence in the field.

Sweet and plump.

A solid lunch break recharging the invaluable workers.

The vines unburdened.

Father and son.

Roald working hard and loving life.

The picking may take a few days with the help of many friends, family and the odd wwoofer or two.  Crate after crate of ripened grapes are stacked for de-stemming moving ever closer to the fermentation tank. Finally upon meeting the last quality check each bunch passes through able hands and is stripped of its supportive stem, keeping the grape whole, and dropped into a tank where all of the magic will happen.

Crates of grapes.

Each bunch worked over by hand to remove, without breaking, as many grapes as possible for whole-berry fermentation.

No machine will ever match the quality and heart that comes from the hands.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Past is History and the Future is a Mystery

Adios mi amiga.

As our time as travel companions wound down Adriana and I became aware that we had to start planning for the future again.  She had been accepted into a veterinary graduate degree program with  St. George's University in Grenada.  Congratulations are in order for her because getting into vet school is no small accomplishment and she certainly deserves it.  She is hoping to go on to become a marine vet working with the unusual and often more challenging types of animals such as dolphins, turtles and even whales.  Now thats a serious ambition.  Best of luck Adriana!

Fun in the moment (Adriana Weil)
As for me the future remains a bit more uncertain.  I have been applying for all sorts of research jobs in the states as their field season will just now be starting up.  I have even been offered a few positions but none of them felt right to me and at first I couldn't figure out why.  Why, when I was offered a bird survey position in Oregon, did I feel as though I would have to force myself to accept it when that is exactly the type of position I had been searching for?

Now I know that this is because I am not ready to leave New Zealand.  As much as I do want that job and crave to continue this just blossoming career of mine which is becoming more and more of an ideal life for me I want to explore New Zealand more and to see where this path takes me. This country has swept me off my feet and I find myself enthralled with each new sight... absorbing every experience... living in a way that excites me constantly but still manages to hold me firmly rooted in reality.

As I was saying, I turned down the position reluctantly but confident in my decision.  When in my life will I be in such a place with the opportunity to take full advantage of what is around me without suffering the regret and repercussions of broken commitments?  Now is the time for me to follow my heart on a whim and to see where it takes me.  I have nothing to hold me back at this moment.  The world feels open to me and I am finding that as long as I remain positive and keep hold of what is truly important to me then things seem to fall into place one after another.

This reminds me of home (Adriana Weil)

Passion is worth living for and worth following into the unknown.  My passion for biology will never lapse and that I know. My passion to travel freely and to experience all that I can may only be plausible during the earlier part of my life so I plan to take full advantage while I can.

The people at Antill Estate Winery found a temporary job for me working on vineyards and are allowing me to stay at their place for free in exchange for a bit of work here and there when I have time.  I couldn't ask a for a better way to get situated in a new place.  After my time here I will either head up north to Takaka and the Bay Subtropical farm again or else move on elsewhere to find another job.  There is always work in the orchards, ski mountains and construction but ideally I will be applying for environmental jobs through the Department of Conservation or the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

At the moment my focus is squarely upon working out the visa and making a bit of money to support myself. After that is secured New Zealand will once again be an open book for me and I plan to read every page.

After catching a ride in this truck we watched them load some sheep

Andre the truck driver.

Eclairs.  This was a good day.

Delicious and easy to make.

Post-earthquake Christchurch set up a storage container shopping area.  A creative solution for shop owners in hard times.

Thanks for the experience as a painter dad. (Adriana Weil)

Painting the Cottage at Antill Estate

What was once downtown Christchurch

(Adriana Weil)

Adriana and I playing the happily married couple on her last night in New Zealand.  We were hoping to get a free dessert, but no luck.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Hitchhiker's guide to New Zealand

Happy Hitcher
Adriana and I have now spent a month hitch hiking all around the South island of New Zealand and learned a lot in our time spent doing it.  First and foremost as I have mentioned before is that the world is full of good people with genuine care in their hearts that show compassion through their actions.  Second, is that it is important not to forget this first lesson or to let the few inevitable bad examples become an expectation.  Third, is how to hitch effectively and that is what I am going to chat about now.

In the beginning we were given the advice to have a sign with a destination written on it. It does not matter if it is  hours or minutes away only that you use the few seconds you have to communicate with someone driving past you as efficiently as possible.  In this moment you want them to know something about you and the destination is the most important part.  We have caught several rides from people who claimed that the only reason they really stopped is because they knew we had a common destination.

What a crew.
This next part may seem obvious but stand their with a smile on your face.  Don't be discouraged when people pass you by.  Give them a wave and they will nearly always respond with a smile and a wave back.  Who knows?... The car behind them might be trying to decide whether or not to pick you up and friendly wave with a good attitude aimed at the person in front could be the deciding factor.  Either way it helps keep you in good spirits after standing on the roadside for an hour.

Speaking of roadsides... don't forget what country you are in.  Over here you need to be on the left side of the road.  Walking across the street can be pretty dangerous when you look first left then right but the cars actually come right then left.

Once in the car you must be personable and willing to chat.  To many times to count did we end up with a place to stay and a meal because we would hold a good conversation and the time would pass quickly for both us and the driver.

A name supplied by us after staying for 3 nights.
Don't fall asleep in the car.  This is not so much for safety reasons as for simple polite behavior.  Often when someone picks you up they either want to hear about you and your story or would really like to tell you about their own and remaining attentive can make them go that extra mile for you instead of just dumping you at the first chance they get.

It makes a big difference where you get dropped off.  Some spots are good and some are bad.  You want an area where the cars have not yet gained too much speed but still somewhere along the main road with a pull over lane to make it easy for the driver.  The idea is to make it as easy a choice for them as possible.  Your are essentially selling yourself and your image to the driver and as a realtor might say, "Location, Location, Location!"

A bit too much to carry.
Something I think is important is to get information about the place you are in from the people driving you about.  We have been given many tips and ideas on what to do from the rides we got.  These are often people who live in the area or may only be passing through but if they are able to tell you a good restaurant or possibly a cheap way to get admission here or their why not go for it.  I always make it a point to ask more questions than I am answering.  People like to chat about their interests and if you get them talking about a subject that they are keen on then you might just find yourself getting one of those aforementioned bonuses which in my experience does include cookies.

When a destination wont do.


Nashi Pear
On our trip up north along the west coast we met a very friendly fellow named Adrian who lives in the town of Nelson.  When we mentioned to him that we were hoping to be Wwoofing up north he gave us the name and number of a friend of his who owns Bay Subtropical Orchard and takes on Wwoofers for her avocado, madarin, nashi pear, normal pear, lemon, lime, apple, and orange orchard.  I am pretty sure I missed a few of the things they grow here but I am still figuring it all out.  They have an organic garden and chickens as well.  Its a nice place well known to the locals of the area who would always come here first or find them at the market to buy their produce.

The owner Debbie is a fantastic wwoof host who only asks that you work hard and do your best.  The food is amazing, fresh and never in short supply.  Once a week she has a pizza party for the wwoofers in which everyone crafts their own pizza and gets to bake it in the outdoor clay pizza oven.  There is room for around 6-8 wwoofers at a time to stay in a separate quarters attached to a large shed.  We have access to 2 working kitchens and a lounging area.  We are also encouraged to come visit her, her husband Lex, and their dog Robbie in their house a hundred meters away anytime we want.  All in all this is a good place to be.


Just outside of town you can find yourself in several amazing outdoor recreation areas.  Closest are a few climbing spots; one on the beach and the other next to a swimming hole.  A little farther down the way is Able Tasman National Park, widely regarded as one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand according to the many visitors we have met and with whom I often ask this question.  If you were to head north from Takaka instead it would take about an hour by car to arrive at Farewell Spit.  The northernmost point of the South Island.  Here on a beach called Wharariki are fur seals that are fond of human contact and often quite curious to meet newcomers.  I have yet to visit this beach but I am looking forward to it.

I was able to spend a couple days in a cabin (called a "batch" in NZ) that was located in West Haven a bit southwest of Farewell Spit along the Whanganui Inlet.  The batch was out in the woods and secluded from the world.  Here we planned to go kayaking but it rained nearly the whole day we were there.  At night it calmed down enough for us to have some fun outside around the campfire.  Debbies daughter, Amy, is a fire dancer and put on a show twirling around the staff with two flaming ends.   It is a beautiful place and a unique setting but next time I hope to get out and adventure around a bit more.

The town of Takaka itself reminds me a bit of Eugene, Oregon, which is one of my favorite places in the United States.  They are both associated with an alternative lifestyle and extremely friendly people.  In both places you will find the slightly hippy mixed in with the outdoor enthusiast.  Most important to me in both of these places I feel like I belong and that I am among friends.

Dancing in one of the moments of sun

Amy fire dancing at the batch

Amy fire dancing at the batch

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Heading North on the West Coast of the South Island

Franz Josef Glacier

My tent has had a lot of good views recently.

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier with a few climbers on the bottom


Adriana and I with Lindsey and Josh, another couple friendly travelers willing to offer a ride to some hitchers for a day.

The Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki

Faces in the Rocks