Sometimes, life treats you to a gem. We found one in the shape of the Hoban Family. It was with a little trepidation that we set out from Auckland to Albany where the Hobans live. Who would want travellers just to rock up at their house, having communicated only by email to check our compatibility, not knowing you from Adam? The Hoban’s, apparently.
New Zealanders are big on showing off their country and even bigger in welcoming visitors. We had been pleased and surprised in Auckland when Lou, in having her eyebrows done at a beauty parlour, had fallen into conversation with a lady and her daughter who were getting their nails done. It turned out she lived up in the direction we were going and “would love for us to camp in her garden” when we reached her area. She handed us her phone number and address and instructions to find the house. We left slightly stunned with the sheer in your face-ness of her friendliness. We have found the same basic characteristic everywhere we have gone.
Both workaway and woofing (working on an organic farm) are a big deal and established practises here. It is a great way for typically poor young backpackers to get around NZ. You live at a farm or a house and work there, earning your bed and board. We, as a travelling family, are a bit of an oddity but the Hobans read our blog and decided they wanted to meet us.
We arrived and the first word out of our mouth was “wow”. The house is a new build that they completed two years ago. Maurice and Sarah designed it themselves to be as energy efficient and economical as possible. They equipped it with very efficient double glazing and a huge array of solar panels which feeds back to the grid and brings their electricity bill down by a large amount. Maurice reckons that they paid for their installation in 18 months. It is, typical of housing in New Zealand, a bungalow. Lots of land space and lots of earthquakes have taught them the value of wooden framed houses close to the ground! The design at the back of the house incorporates massive floor to ceiling windows giving the kitchen and main living area fantastic views all around. Throw in a large decked area and sitting in a couple of acres plot, you have a glorious living space.
Maurice and Sarah had been travellers themselves and having travelled from the UK to NZ, where Maurice was from to settle, they decided to be as accommodating and helpful to folk of the same ilk as they had found themselves treated by strangers on their journey. They have three kids, Finn, Amalie and Theo who are great and didn’t seem to mind being invaded by us. Our two, of course, threw themselves in to the kids action with wild abandonment. They have been missing kids’ company and 3+2 became a very happy feral mix.
I did some little projects for them, rebuilding a door frame, clearing the garage up and putting up wire for their climbing plant frames around the back of the house which cost me a squashed finger when I cocked up and tried to swage my finger in with the wire. I felt a right prat. I also had a great time with a petrol strimmer, clearing one of the slopes too steep for a mower over a couple of days. It was so nice to do land based projects with boys toys tools! Lou did work around the house and the kids helped to walk Frodo. We would normally work in the morning and then head out to explore places suggested by Sarah. And what places, all within an hour of the house, both sides of the country. The weather had been wild and the seas at the beaches were spectacular. Lou and the girls visited a gannet colony and beach at the Muriwai Regional Park, The pathway took you very close to the birds who were not bothered by you at all.
Amalie guided us to the less well known Lake Wainamua, an inland lake on the W coast which, due to the prevailing winds has huge black volcanic sand dunes, drifting up a valley. It was closer to powder than sand and you couldn’t help coming away black. There we were introduced to the delight of sand dune boarding. It all went well until Hannah got on, forgot to brake and hit the bottom going way too fast, wiping out spectacularly in true cartoon cartwheel style. There were tears.
Walking down towards the beach took us past an excellent little mobile cafe. Hot chocolate and a lolly took precedence over another beach view and Lou and I were heartlessly deserted after the wallet had been fleeced.
Talking about fleecing, we finally found a decent number of sheep on one of our walks. Hannah, of course, needed a photo.
The NZ philosophy of life includes a need for being busy outside and I’d suggest is far less sedentary than the typical UK lifestyle. There are bike tracks and walks taking you to endless great views everywhere you go . There is a constant reference to sport, boating, hunting, camping, trail walks or just being out and about. And the facilities are there for you to be able to do so. There are huge national and regional parks, well run and looked after, set aside for people to disappear in to and explore.
And the playparks inside towns? Wonderful places with great toys for the kids to run riot on.
Eleanor and Hannah both got to go to Amalie’s and Theo’s school for a day too. I think they were both secretly glad that they found themselves easily able to deal with the work they were set. They were pleased and surprised to learn that it is still enshrined in law that NZ kids in the summer months are allowed to come to school in bare feet! There was also the schools swimming pool to play in. You buy a family key for access and it is a great meeting place to cool down in the hot afternoon sun. Note the inappropriate sides that no-one injures themselves on. Health and Safety morons haven’t really managed to break in to NZ society yet. Long may it last. On another civilised NZ trait – did you know it is not possible to sue over personal injury? You use a facility on your own assessment of its danger to you. You have to think of the consequences of your actions and there is little sympathy if you are a prat. Your fault if you screw up. However, the state will pick up any medical bills to fix you. Same goes for car accidents. Whoever causes the accident simply gets hammered by the courts and the state pays out a reasonable compensation. Whilst some would argue they are not perfect, laws like this would put half the current legal professions of the USA and UK out of work and might change the disastrous blame culture that seems to be prevalent in both countries. An idea to look at, I’d suggest.
All told, we spent just over a week with the wonderful Hoban family. And we loved it. They are marvellously welcoming and I think they provided us with just about the perfect reintroduction to family living on land. We said our goodbyes and left for the drive up towards Opua and the Bay of Islands where our sailing friends were about to arrive in to after finishing their long Pacific crossing to the safety of NZ waters.
We are hoping we will get the chance to see the Hobans again before we leave. There is a golf game that would be great to get to but may not be possible due to the travel plans to go to but we are hopeful we will see them in the New Year, possibly even down on the S island where they will be camping. Either way, I am hoping that we will be able to reciprocate their hospitality one day.
For anyone thinking about trying workaway or woofing, there are sites that you can find people interested in hosting you. Expect a bit of too and fro as you nail down what each party want out of the arrangement but if you go in to it with an open mind, you will find yourself well rewarded, having the chance to meet some great people and being able to experience true local culture far better than any package holiday.
For woofing in New Zealand only, look HERE or
For international woofing, look HERE instead.