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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

When looking at potential WWOOF or HelpX hosts, I had always avoided those seeking assistance with hard, manual labor and opted for easy work instead. A good friend of mine from Hawaii put me in contact with Daniel, a Dutch friend of his who has been living in New Zealand for a few years. For the last month, Daniel has been living at a place called Red Gate on the Coromandel peninsula. A young family originally from the UK purchased the property just 4 months ago and need quite a bit of help to transform the land. I’m very happy I got in touch with Daniel because it ended up in one of the most rewarding WWOOF/Helping experiences I’ve had.

I got to stay in a caravan that had a heater and wifi. Daniel and I shared the camp kitchen, where we cooked meals when we didn’t eat with Tony and Rebecca, the owner’s of the property. There is also a bush shower that has a sawdust toilet, sink, and hot shower. Additional features include a teepee and a bush bath. Despite being in a very rural setting, Red Gate had all of the amenities I look for and then some.

Tony and Rebecca envision Red Gate as a place to “facilitate gatherings, workshops and retreats. With a range of accommodation options and facilities that are in harmony with our natural surroundings.” And “welcome conscious people to be on the land who are enthusiastic, positive, flexible and who want to be here for the vision of the land.” Granted, it sounds a little like a hippie utopia, but what’s wrong with that? It’s incredibly refreshing to see young, smart, capable people who have their priorities in order working to achieve something that can benefit so many. Rebecca is a traveller, a free spirit, an awesome mom, and the heart and soul of Red Gate. Tony works as a construction site manager and uses those skills for work at Red Gate. He’s incredibly smart, treats Helpers as equals, a hard worker, and probably the best father I’ve come across. Their daughter Amber is very strong willed (in a good way) and may be the cutest little girl on the planet.

While the mission and goal for the property are dreamy, the work required to get there is far from it. The first day I was there, they had pretty significant rain that took a toll on the property, particularly the driveway/road. The next day was our work day, which was spent mostly digging a variety of drainage ditches. I can easily say that this was the most physically demanding day of work I’ve ever done. I can also say that I enjoyed every second of it. Rather than give Daniel and I a list of tasks and take off, Tony worked along side us the entire day. The only time he did disappear was to make us some amazing coffee (he used to train baristas). It was extremely gratifying to see the results of our work. We turned an ugly, flood damaged road into a downright sexy gravel top with beautiful drainage channels. At the end of the day I was actually hoping for rain to test our ingenuity.

Coromandel town is about a 40 minute drive from the property and I went for a visit on my last full day there. This was my first time hitching a ride, but, from what I’m told, it’s pretty common and easy in New Zealand. The ride to town was one of the prettiest rides I’ve ever been on. The road hugs the ocean and you also get views of brilliant green pastures and drastic changes in elevation.

The town itself is small, quaint, and charming. It’s a coastal retreat for many New Zealanders during the summer and was more or less deserted in July. On Rebecca’s recommendation, I stopped by the House of Chai Tea for a chai latte and picked up smoked fish at the Coromandel Smoking Co. I walked from town to the Mussel Kitchen, which is supposed to be incredible, but they had closed for the winter. Undeterred and quite hungry, I continued to walk down the road and ended up at the Coromandel Oyster Company. I had the special of the day, which was a smoked fish chowder with fried bread as well as a few raw oysters and mussels. The food was great, the service was awesome and it was only $12.50 NZD. In addition to selling oysters that are farmed right on the property, they also sell green lipped mussels. A kilo of mussels cost just $3 and 5 kilos was $5!

There are many more things to see and do in the area. Around New Year there is a big music festival called Prana, which is where Daniel first met Tony and Rebecca. A famous square kauri tree is located about 10k from Red Gate and there are several treks that begin fairly close to the property as well. Although brief, my stay in the Coromandel was the first time on this trip that I felt like I found what I’m looking for. This is exactly why I travel and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to meet such wonderful people and visit this truly special place.

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