Archive for the Category New Zealand
February 10th, 2010
Even though we haven’t done much bike and brew specific things in the past few months, the twig is still with us. During one of our trips into Blenheim with our WWOOFing hosts at the blueberry farm, we found ourselves wandering around town trying to find one of the local breweries that we’d heard about – Renaissance Brewing Company . (In New Zealand, that’s pronounced “re-NAY-sonce”.) Our somewhat random visit turned out to be perfect timing. We arrived late in the day and asked if we could get a tour of the brewery. The only person who was still there just happened to be Brian Thiel, co-owner and operations manager at the brewery. He not only gave us a great tour of the place, he also mentioned that he could use a few extra hands at the Blues, Brews and BBQs festival happening the following weekend – the exact festival that we’d been planning to attend and had been trying to find a way to volunteer at. The serendipity was astounding.
After a bit of chit chat, we found out that Brian’s usual “keg monkey” – the guy who does things like clean kegs, clean out kettles, help bottle and prepare shipments, pretty much anything they tell him to do, most of it manual labor – was leaving soon to go to university. We told him that it was pretty much our dream job to be keg monkeys for the next week. I don’t know if he totally believed us, but he told us if we wanted to come in on Tuesday at 11am, we were welcome.
We had 2 weeks left in New Zealand, we had already seen a great deal of the country and we were running low on cash. Helping out at a brewery sounded like the perfect way to finish up our trip before heading to Melbourne. So we signed up to be keg monkeys.
It was AWESOME. Brian and the brewery co-owner and head brewer Andy Deuchars thought we were a bit nuts, getting excited about cleaning the beer filter and climbing in the kettle to shovel out spent grain, but it really was cool. After going on around 60 brewery tours in the last few months, it was exciting to actually be making beer. And bottling. And cleaning. Lots and lots of cleaning. Andy says there are 5 rules of beer making. Pretty much all of them use some combination of the words cleaning, sanitizing, or sterilizing. We followed Andy’s rules a T though, because he knows a thing or two about making tasty brews. While at the farm, we’d tasted as many different New Zealand beers as possible (doing penance for all the Speights and Tui’s we’d imbibed on the backpacker bus) and Renaissance was definitely one of the best. They make 7 different beers and we liked all of them. Not surprisingly, we are especially fond of their Discovery American Pale Ale, but we definitely wouldn’t turn down one of their award-winning Stonecutter Scotch Ales or the beer currently voted best beer in New Zealand (on ratebeer.com), their Elemental Porter.
Also, we DID end up helping out at Blues, Brews and BBQs. We poured beer, chatted up the locals and were given the power of the stamp – they let us give free beer to anyone we thought was cute that would let us stamp them with the Renaissance “R”. On their nipple. It was good times.
After a few days, we got the hang of many brewery tasks. We got to the point where we could operate the bottling line MOSTLY by ourselves and we were able to learn a bit about New Zealand geography while helping with their new website. Though there is still so much to learn, the world of professional brewing now feels like a world we can be a part of. It breaks our hearts to leave New Zealand just when we are really getting involved in things, but hopefully something serendipitous will happen in Australia. And hopefully we can use Brian and Andy as references! Cheers guys!
February 6th, 2010
After the backpacker bus, our New Zealand travels slowed down a bit. We did our second WWOOFing job, this time at a blueberry and plum orchard in Renwick, right in the middle of all the Marlborough vineyards. We spent 8 lovely days with our hosts, Jennie and Bob at Windsong Orchard, picked lots of blueberries, went to the farmers market with them 3 times and had some amazing food from the garden.
Our first night at the orchard, Jennie and Bob invited us over for dinner with the two other WWOOFers from Germany who were just finishing up their week. It was such a change of pace from being on a bus everyday and staying at different hostels every night, being out all the time. That night we had a home cooked meal, chatted about politics and then went to bed early in our own little blueberry cottage. We immediately fell in love with the place.
While we’ve heard a few horror stories about some WWOOFing sites where people get treated like indentured servants, we were very well taken care of at the orchard. We started our day at 8:30am, walked out of the cottage and about 10 steps right into the blueberry field (best commute ever!). We picked berries by the kilo into little buckets strapped to our waists for 4 hours (during which we listened to podcasts of Democracy Now, This American Life and All Songs Considered) and then we went in for our lunch prepared by our lovely hosts. We had things like fresh baked bread and homemade peach chutney and hummus and almost every day we had the option of artichokes. For breakfast and dinner, unless we all ate together, we got to cook up a storm with greens and herbs from the garden, all the plums and blueberries we could handle and any thing else we needed we just had to ask. Well worth our 4 hours of work.
We spent our afternoons doing whatever we wanted. Mostly we spent time reading and hanging out in the sun. We borrowed their bikes and did a few expeditions, one to a biodynamic winery called Seresin, another to the local swimming hole in the river. Every ride was nice – flat and grapevines as far as the eye can see.
Besides picking berries, we also helped sell fruit at the two farmer’s markets in town. It was very interesting learning about the ins and outs of the community from the eyes of the farmers. In the end, we couldn’t help but think that they had a pretty sweet life, spending their days doing work they love, living a healthy, educated life in a beautiful place. Makes you wonder why people live in huge cities doing jobs they don’t love…
Much love to Jennie and Bob and thanks for having us!
January 28th, 2010
Dec 22, 2009 – Jan 22, 2010
Getting on the Stray bus, one of many backpacker buses that does loops around New Zealand’s north and south islands, was like stepping into another world of travel. Unlike my previous travel experiences, where the majority of the day is taken up by figuring out where to go, how to get there, where to stay, what to eat and what to do once you’ve got that figured out, the backpacker bus turned New Zealand into a traveler’s playground. Though I’m a big fan of figuring things out on my own, I also loved letting go of that stress and just focusing on enjoying the scenery, the activities and the many new found friends.
Since it was a month of almost non-stop adventure, we’ll stick mostly to the highlights. When you feel like somethings been left out, just assume that we are:
A) at a barbeque
B) consuming cans of Tui and Speight’s (think along the lines of Coors, only with more flavor)
C) playing games of Shithead, Asshole or Bullshit (such nice sounding games…)
D) all of the above.
The trip started in Aukland with an awesome driver named Rob. We had about a dozen people on the bus to start, and the closer it got to xmas, the less people we had, which made things even more fun as we became a close knit group. We kayaked at Cathedral Cove, dug our own jacuzzi’s at Hot Water Beach, ran on the beach in Ragland and abseiled down caves Waitomo. Then I got in a big plastic ball with a guy I’d known for 2 days, we had water tossed in and we were pushed down a big hill. Only in New Zealand…
For xmas, we had a big dinner in Lake Taupo, played some frisbee at the beach and then Tracy had her very first Jagerbomb. Good thing we got that out of the way because they love that drink here! On Boxing Day we had the option of leaving on 7am to get on the bus and go on a 8 hour hike, or leave at 10am and go jump off a waterfall. We chose the latter. We spent the night in Tongariro National Park and won our first trivia night. Then it was off to Wellington, New Zealand’s second largest city, where we spent three days unsuccessfully trying to find a place to go dancing. It was a nice place though, we managed to see all the major sights (the Te Papa museum, the top of Mt. Victoria, the botanical garden, the cable car) in one day thanks to a random stranger who was nice enough to drive 6 of us around for a bit. We did NOT however, see any unicyclists competing. The city was overrun by single wheels for the world unicyclists championships, but we couldn’t find the venue for the life of us. Sigh.
After Wellington there was a beautiful ferry ride to the south island and a new bus driver named Nipples. One of the great things about Stray bus drivers (Rob being an exception) is that they all have silly names, and we get to use them and wonder how they earned them. Nipples was a great guy and he didn’t even freak out when we had to push start the bus after we got off the ferry. It was a long drive to our next stop, Abel Tasman National Park, but we did manager to hit a brewery along the way, Sprig and Fern, who had a very good IPA, and many beers on tap. The real hits though were the bulk spirits and the cider, called the Scrumpy. We also stocked up on some white wine from a Nelson winery (amid the many acres of hops that we drove through) before heading into the park for new years. New Zealand’s biggest band, Fat Freddy’s Drop was playing a show only 10k from our campground, and we got tickets. It was a great show. I just wish someone would have told us that getting a ride home might take a while…
After Abel Tasman, and the best weather that NZ has to offer, we worked our way down the west coast – where its rains pretty much every day – with our new driver Seagull. Seagull was an odd duck but he kept us in good spirits with his funny way of knowing, to the second, when we’d arrive at a given location. Our fellow travelers quickly turned into our good friends, which meant that even when we were checking out the “special” waterfall in the middle of the pouring rain, we were still having a great time. We walked on a glacier, we carved necklaces out of jade and bone, sang some karaoke, and then partied it up in Queenstown, drinking random concoctions out of teapots.
From Queenstown, we did the less traveled lower part of the South Island. We saw the famous Milford Sound (albeit, in the rain) and then got on a ferry down to Stewart Island, the REAL south island. There, we did a 3-day tramp through some amazing scenery and a lot of mud.
Heading back north with a fun driver named Chook (kiwi for Chicken), we stopped in Dunedin and did tours at Speight’s Brewery and Cadbury chocolate. Then it was back to Queenstown where we stayed for another 4 days. Queenstown kind of surprised me because of its reputation for being the party town of the backpacker experience. It is that, but it’s also just a beautiful city, surrounded by mountains and right on a lake. We did a breathtaking (in more ways that one) hike to the Ben Lomond Summit, looking down on the city on quite possibly the most beautiful day of the entire trip. Then we spent the evening playing celebrity and hanging out with our bus buddies. Most nights we did go out dancing, but the days were filled with Frisbee golf and picnics and swimming. It was kind of idyllic.
From Queenstown, we took a bus with Nat (a female bus driver) to Christchurch. It was an uneventful ride and Christchurch didn’t blow our minds, but it was a nice enough place to unwind after a month of go, go, go. Along with the different drivers, we had friends who came and went, and in Christchurch we had to say goodbye to the last of them. Even though we weren’t all on the same buses at the same time, I want to give a shout out to Team Awesome (as Seagull would say, you know who you are). You made the trip, well, awesome.
January 6th, 2010
12/21/2009 Monday morning our alarms went off at 6:30am and we begrudgingly packed up our huge backpacks for our journey back to Auckland. Our bus picked us up right on time at 7:45am, and we made the 6 hour journey back to the big smoke. It was sort of frustrating, having to go there at all, which is funny coming from two New Yorkers. Auckland seems like a nice enough city but its much more expensive to entertain yourself in a city then out in nature. We did see Avatar in 3D, the new James Cameron film they shot here in New Zealand. It was amazing!
Then we had dinner and a sampler at the Galbraith’s Ale House. Galbraith’s is an English style brewery, so there were many cask beers on tap which were served warmer and flatter than we’re used to (especially coming from Oz – the land of cold and fizzy beer!). They also had one very flavorful Belgium style ale. It was a tasty stop at our second NZ brewery. But all in all we are still missing our American beers. Show us the hops!
January 4th, 2010
Friday at the brewery was an insightful day. We were labeling again, but this time working side by side with Ron, Jill’s husband and co-owner of the brewery. Being a smaller operation, it was cool to see how everyone chips in, be it washing dishes, labeling bottles, or restocking fridges. They finished up bottling the inaugural batch of their newest beer, Mike’s Organic Strawberry Blonde (which took a while to bottle because of a carbonation issue. We didn’t get all the details, but we learned that even the smallest glitch can add a whole lot of extra man hours in this hands on situation) and moved over to their hop loaded Pilsner. This switchover created a special blend that we got to try at lunch called “The Pilsberry” made from the combination of the two beers while they changed the lines over for bottling. We’d tried both of the beers on their own before and enjoyed them, but the combo was actually the perfect mid-day refresher.
The day went quickly and by lunch we were ready to go out and play. Tracy and I went on a little ride to nowhere in particular just to get some pedaling in and burn off a few calories before our next meal. Our buddy Paul had stayed at home to pack up his stuff, as he was moving on the next day. When we got back, we played some afternoon cards and tried to download a movie (to no avail). We had just started to feel a little out of things to do when two touring cyclist rolled up looking for beer and a place to camp. Tracy and I all but ran to greet them, excited to see who they were, what their story was, and generally get more information about cycle touring in NZ.
Shad and Rory, our two new friends, were Americans from Nebraska. One was a just out of the military, had been working for a bit to save to travel, the other was studying religion in Chicago. Their backgrounds were very different from ours and it was cool to meet some more crazy Americans in the middle of NZ. We spent the night having a few beers and chatting about cycling and traveling as they managed to polish off an entire loaf of bread and tub of nutella while we all sat around (impressive!) It seemed a bit ridiculous at the time but looking back to our own bike touring days, we would have eaten just as much and thought nothing of it.
December 20th, 2009
Its funny, even working half day we sleep a lot more than when we were just chillin’ all day. We woke up just before we had to start working, grabbed some coffee and then finished us some gardening from the day before. In fact, we finished that so quickly that Jill wasn’t sure what to do with us. She ended up asking us to clean up the area around our little cabin, which we turned into a full landscaping event. We cleared the tall grass around the porch and cleaned all the random building material off so that we had a nice place to put our little lawn chairs. Then we dug up the area around the porch, found some wild lilies and planted a cute garden.
Again Jill asked us to prepare the lunch for the crew. This time she gave me a sack of potatoes and left over ham and said: “Make whatever you’d like.” So I fried up the ham and made home fries and a green salad. It was very American, which I think Jill kind of enjoyed- a little cultural exchange.
After our post lunch lounge, we hopped on our bikes to the nearby town of Urenui. We bought chocolate and juice and then went to the beach to begin our search for sea treasures for our cottage mobile. It was a disappointing beach for shells but there were some beautiful cliffs and black sand.
For dinner, we made savory crepes stuffed with mushrooms, cheese and carmelized onions and a little salad. We saved one crepe each for after dinner and filled it with nutella and banana. Our groceries seemed to be lasting quite well and the food is tasty.
It was another rough morning to wake up, at least until Tracy did a nice flip (or flop) off her bunk bed that woke everyone up. Today we were back in the brewery bottling because it was brewing day! Thomas, their young brewer gave us a nice tour and run down of the Mike’s Organic brew process, which was pretty cool. They are a small operation, so it was interesting to see everything up close and personal as it was happening. We bottled for almost 4 hours straight, with a quick break when the helicopter landed! Some American tourists were doing their own brewery tour by air. I think they’ve got the right idea!
The afternoon was another day of a bit of biking, and a bit of hanging out. We biked out into the countryside and then back with Mount Taranaki looming over the brewery. For dinner it was crepes again, but this time filled with avocados. Did we mention that the brewery also has an avocado grove? Life is good.
December 20th, 2009
12/15/2009 We were a bit exhausted in the morning, some animals – presumably possums – had a party around 2am on the tin roof of our little cottage while we were sleeping. It not only woke us up, it was kind of creepy. By the time we got back to sleep, it was time to get up for our second day of work. We made ourselves a lovely breakfast of fresh croissants, apricot jam and strawberries, sipped some coffee and had a little giggle at how beautiful our surroundings were. Then it was time to get crackin’.
A little bit disappointing, we didn’t get to work inside the brewery today, instead we did some gardening. It was good to be working hard in the fresh air though and the newly planted beds looked pretty nice, thanks to Tracy, by the time we ate lunch. I missed out on some of the back breaking work when Jill asked if one of us could throw together a traditional New Zealand pumpkin soup for lunch. Cook for a big group? I’m your gal. It wasn’t perfect, but it did plant the idea in my head for a New Zealand dinner party…
After our meal, we were in a bit of a food coma. We did the dishes and laid down on the couches for a bit of a nap. We had big plans of biking to the beach, but we just couldn’t motivate ourselves to get going. Instead, we finally got some free internet time! It may sound a little silly, but for this past month, we’ve had very limited opportunities to just surf the net, most situations there is either no internet, or we have had to pay for it, so we haven’t been on much (you may have noticed the lack of posts…). I know that being unplugged is supposed to be relaxing but for us, being away from our friends and family for so long, it feels a little isolating.
Emails checked, we finally got on our bikes. It was a short ride over to the closest beach, and scenic all the way!. We met a sow, and a bunch of calves before getting down to the cliffs along the water. Just as we rolled to a stop through, I took a tumble over the handle bars going a little too fast over a rut in the clearly marked “unstable ground”. Fade to black, and then the next thing I know, Tracy and Paul we’re leaning over me saying “Sara! Sara!” It was a little creepy passing out for a second but I got up without a problem, no bumps on the head (I was of course wearing a helmet), just some banged up elbows. Luckily, the only thing left to do was to enjoy the view and walk on the beach, which I did just fine.
After an exhausting afternoon of horsing around at the beach, we made ourselves a steak and broccoli stirfry with couscous and some more pumpkin soup. This meal was complimented by some tasty Mike’s Organic Ale – a hearty brew with a surprising amount of coffee and chocolate flavor. Just another exciting day working at the brewery!
December 20th, 2009
We rolled out of bed at our hostel in New Plymouth, NZ excited to not only be off the typical tourist track, but also going to work at a BREWERY! We had arranged to work at Mike’s Organic (also know at the White Cliffs Brewery) for 1 week and we were eager to get started. Our alarm went off at 6am, unfortunately waking all 4 of our bunkmates. We grabbed all of our stuff and drug it to the the bus stop. The brewery was covering lunch but otherwise we were 4km from the closest store, which seemed like pretty far for carrying rations. So we lugged our huge packs and six bags of groceries to the bus, and after a short ride got to our new home at 7:40am, about an hour before anyone else.
As the brewery workers strolled in, none seemed particularly interested in the two American girls hanging out in front. In fact, one guy was chatting with the chickens roaming the grounds instead of to us. We figured we’d just wait until the WWOOFer manager Jill arrived, since she was the one we’d be emailing with. In the meantime, we met the WWOOFer’s we were replacing, an American and Kiwi couple who were currently traveling by car – but the guy was a cyclist who had biked down the west coast of the US all the way down to Guatemala recently (we = a bit jealous!) Also, we found out that one more WWOOFer was sticking around with us, a Texan named Paul who was traveling New Zealand by bike! That pretty much sealed the deal, the twig was taking us down the right path.
We spent the morning labeling bottles, a surprisingly satisfying endeavor since we haven’t done any job-like activities in a while. Just when we were getting the hang of things, our job was over for the day. We spent lunch chatting up the staff, including their new head brewer who had just graduated from college 9 months ago- not a bad start! Maybe we should also start our brewing careers here??
After lunch we had big plans to walk to the beach with Paul but then one of our new coworkers offered us a ride to her house where we could borrow two bikes for the week. So we hung out, labeled some more bottles and then picked up our new rides. Pedaling down the other side of the road for the first time, we were high as kites, ecstatic to be back on two wheels, the best way to travel.
December 20th, 2009
12/12-13/09 After the Bay of Islands, we spent another day in Auckland, this time at the hostel next up on the financial scale. The extra few bucks was totally worth it, as our new digs had a roof-deck with the hot tub, a big kitchen and much more friendly staff. We found ourselves a grocery store, made a nice Greek salad and commended ourselves on getting a better handle on the traveling life. The next morning, we packed up our bags, spent an hour or so enjoying lattes and internet and then hopped on the bus to Taranaki. an area on the North Island of New Zealand that wasn’t on the typical tour route. It was a beautiful 5 hour drive through farm land and some amazing mountains and our bus driver was a real sweetheart. Not only did he pass out little treats at the stops, he also made a few phone calls to help us figure out how to get to and from the brewery for our WWOOFing job.
The end of our bus ride was a little seaside town called New Plymouth, where we stayed in a hostel for a couple days before our brewery work was scheduled to start. Since it wasn’t on the usual backpacker route, we were very curious about the backpackers we would meet. Chatting with the guys as we made our dinner (nearly all guys- not many girls) we met a couple Frenchies and a few Germans – all traveling solo – and they were either about to start or had just finished a trek around Mt. Taranaki. They were backpackers in the traditional sense of the word. They were surprised we’d arrived by bus because in their minds the best way to get around was to hitchhike. It was a very different crowd than the backpacker tour bus, in some ways more rigid in their travel philosophy, and in other ways more relaxed. But as always everyone was nice and ready to chat and drink beers.
The next day we spent walking around town, going for a seaside jog, cooking and then watching a movie. It felt kind of like hanging out at a college dorm.