It’s been raining in Motueka pretty much since we arrived. This is supposed to be the sunniest part of the country, but a storm larger than Australia has encamped over New Zealand and doesn’t seem to want to let up. It’s snowing all over both south and north of us, but here it’s just rain. The farm is covered in muck and all the animals are sodden, but we’re eating really well, and we’re happy to have our own little place to ourselves looking over the kiwi orchard.
Mornings here consist of greeting Perry the paradise duck on the porch, then going around to all the hen houses and collecting eggs, refilling feed buckets, and letting the hens out for the day. They’re free range, but they naturally tend to go home to roost at night, so Len and Kate, our hosts, shut them in each evening around sunset so they’re safe from predators, and they don’t develop any bad habits like laying eggs in the woods. We bring the eggs back to the main barn and wipe down any dirty ones, then sort them into cartons for delivery to some of the country stores and restaurants that Orchard View supplies. We get about 25 dozen a day, and Jason and I get to take home enough to make breakfast each morning. I’ve learned all kinds of things about hen habits and the nature of eggs, like the fact that you don’t want to wash eggs before packaging them if you can help it, because they’re naturally covered with a kind of bacteria, referred to as a bloom, that makes them slightly shiny and protects their porous shells from letting in bad bacteria while the eggs await consumption. You can’t always get away with not washing the eggs however, because they sometimes have some less appetizing chicken products on them, or they get muddy if the chickens have come in from mucking about in the mud all day and then go to laying.
Len and Kate also have 3 dogs, 2 cats, 2 llamas, 3 horses, 7 peacocks, a pig, a gaggle of paradise ducks, turkeys, geese, and a number of sheep, including 3 lambs this year. The small number of lambs this season was a disappointment to Len, who feels his ram may need replacing. He seems to have gotten a little lazy.
Orchard View is what Kiwis refer to as a “lifestyle block,” more hobby farming than farming for large profits, but the eggs do bring in some grocery money, and the chickens get sold off after they’re about a year old to other people in the area who are interested in year-old layers. They don’t lay quite as many eggs as the poulets (<1 year but sexually mature), but their eggs tend to be larger. These chickens are better for people who are looking to have some eggs around but aren’t depending on the chickens for maximum production. The sheep also make a little money, but the remaining animals are more “paddock candy” than anything else, say Kate and Len. They are cool to watch, and they keep a person busy, so I understand what they mean.
We’ve also helped with a little bit of raking, some lawn mowing, and helping to restore a piece of furniture that is soon to go in the cottage where we’re staying. I may also help Len to update his in-store signage for his eggs if it doesn’t quit raining. He doesn’t like us doing chores outside in the wet…which is fine with us. We pitch in for about half the day and take afternoons to do whatever we choose, including taking the horses out for a walk (if it ever stops raining) or running into town for a look around. Yesterday we went to the oldest winery on the South Island, called Seifried. It’s owned by an Austrian family and specializes in Austrian-style wines like wurzer and gewurtztraminer.
Kate is an amazing chef and Len’s a flexible and competent crew captain, assigning jobs quickly and clearly, setting expectations, then leaving us to our work. He stops us a couple of times a day for tea and coffee breaks so we can warm up, and he’s full of positive reinforcement, but not afraid to provide guidance if something isn’t quite being done how he’d like it. It set us to wondering what Kate and Len’s backgrounds were, and wouldn’t you know it? They were skipper and chef on private yachts in the Mediterranean and Caribbean for about 30 years. It makes sense when we think about it. After a life lived coaching and supervising teams of diverse crew members doing daily maintenance tasks at sea, living in small spaces with limited privacy, it’s not surprising the couple feels natural housing and feeding travelers who are willing to give them a hand around the property. Funny that out of all the places to stay in Motueka, this is the one we picked.
We hope to have a nice enough day this week to drive out to the Abel Tasman National Park and do some hiking or kayaking. We invested in a complement of “tramping” gear (that’s “hiking” to us North Americans) on sale in Nelson in the hope of having the right stuff to go overnight walking and stay in huts on trails in the national parks. Now if only the weather will start cooperating, we’ll be all set. Jason’s also had to postpone his hang glide until this southerly buster passes, so we’re hoping for light winds and sunny skies soon.