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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

In going from the Coromandel to the Bay of Islands, I went from one popular summer destination to another (in the dead of winter). Luckily, the weather was as good as it can get in July and I had another wonderful HelpX experience.

I Helped at the Ferry Landing Backpackers and spent some time with my amazing host Andrea. Andrea is a farm girl, a tough mama, and a true Kiwi. I couldn’t have asked for a better host. It was great visiting during the slow season because, in addition to not having much work for me to do, she also had free time to show me around. She took me to a few places that are definitely off of the tourist map and showed me a glimpse of what life is like for locals. Let me tell you, like is good in Russell.

We went on several very scenic hikes through the bush as well as long walks on beautiful, untouched coastline. The shades of green and blue were brilliant and I particularly enjoyed seeing bulls grazing on the beach. Andrea took me to visit her parents who happen to be hardcore gardeners. The surprise of my visit was seeing ohia lehua growing in their garden.

During my stay, Andrea’s son Curt attended the Mean As Boys’ Camp at her friend’s place, which is simply called The Farm. Mike and Ellen, a veterinarian and a “horse whisperer” who own the property, are doing something truly special with their 400 hectares located just outside of Russell. In addition to raising their four biological and three foster children, they also operate a dairy farm and horse training/riding facility, welcome backpackers, WWOOFers, and HelpXers, and frequently host camps for between a dozen and over a hundred kids. Needless to say, there is never a dull moment at The Farm and a great deal of work is involved in keeping the place running. The Mean As Camp sounded like the coolest thing ever for a 12 year old boy. They got to ride dirt bikes, hunt, fish, play paintball, kayak, trek, learn bushcraft, and do about every other fun – and not so safe – thing you can imagine. The only real rules of the camp are to be safe and treat one another with respect. You also have to do 10 pushups if you use the word “mine.” If I had more time in the Bay of Islands, it definitely would have been spent Helping at The Farm.

As I was preparing to upload pics, it dawned on me that this was my first photo album in a while with no food pictures. This wasn’t because I didn’t eat well during my stay in the Bay. There aren’t many options for dining out in town and they are all expensive. My meals were had either at Ferry Landing or on the beach. Andrea’s partner loves to fish and provides her with a share of his catch, which is usually snapper. She is also part of a network that shares and trades different foodstuffs like oysters, scallops, smoked fish, kiwifruit, avocados, and all sorts of other great local deliciousness.

Andrea’s positive outlook on life and work/play balance left a significant impression on me. She takes the time to enjoy the beautiful place she is fortunate enough to live, while managing to run a great backpackers and consult for a few other local businesses. Andrea truly “gets it” and it was an absolute pleasure to spend a few days in her piece of paradise. Summer or winter, there is always something beautiful to see and great people to meet in the Bay of Islands. If you’re on the North Island, I definitely recommend hitting up Andrea and finding out for yourself!

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