During an extended tour of New Zealand, I decided I wanted to spend some time WWOOFing. I chose to revisit Franz Josef after enjoying my time on the Kiwi Experience tour which took us along the West Coast of the South Island, and realised this tiny glacier town hadn’t seen the last of me. If you’re looking for where to WWOOF in New Zealand, check out what Franz Josef has to offer!
What is WWOOFing?
WWOOF can stand for a number of things, but in this instance it’s used to mean Willing Workers On Organic Farms. Other organisations refer to WWOOF as WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or similar variations. In actuality, WWOOFing can range from genuine farm work and fruit picking to housekeeping and work for board schemes with hostels and hotels. There is no strict rules on what the exchange might be, so work varies greatly between businesses and individuals.
I took the long journey from Christchurch to Franz Josef by using the InterCity and Naked bus services. For prices as low as $1NZD, it’s a real bargain and a cost-effective way of getting between towns, plus they buses are comfy with plenty of room, plus USB chargers for the long stretch of road! Staying one night in Queenstown was a chance to revisit a few of the sights on the brief stops along the way, and on the second leg enjoy the scenic drive through Central Otago and over to the West Coast.
I reached Franz in the early afternoon and went straight to check into my new room at the Rainforest Retreat, where I would be living and working for the next couple of weeks. I unknowingly arrived at just the time when all the current WWOOFers were finishing work and eating lunch, so my moving into the room was a quiet one but I slowly met each of the fellow working travellers and very quickly felt like the new kid at school trying to remember everyone’s names (even though there was only 8 of them!).
Luckily for me, I already knew another WWOOFer working at a nearby hostel who I had previously met on my travels. To re-familiarise myself with the area we went for a short walk and then checked out on the bars for an open mic night to see what talent the locals had to offer! This was a great chance for a catch up and to enjoy getting used to my new but old surroundings.
The two weeks spent in Franz aren’t really identifiable as individual days, but more can be combined into a general idea of what life is like as a WWOOFing housekeeper at a hostel. After being guided by the other WWOOFers and the full-time staff who make up the housekeeping team, I soon got the hang of the routine.
Our pattern of each day was pretty much the same thanks to the simply organised system of pairing workers and allocating tasks; get up for a sleepy breakfast and hope that it’ll be an easy day. Head to the laundry to report for duty and find out the damage for the mornings work, get paired up and frantically fight over the best cleaning products before they disappear, work for a couple of hours, have a tea and snack break while moaning about your task/ bragging about what goodies you’ve found/ thinking too much about what meal to pick for dinner, do a couple more hours, try to get off even just 5 minutes early if possible. It sounds tedious, but for a short term solution to accommodation it was ideal, and we were able to have a laugh and chat during our work which meant the hours tended to fly by.
When 2pm hits and we were free people once more we’d always take a nice slow lunch and decide what to do that afternoon. Leisure activities in Franz are pretty limited, so usually this was relatively weather dependant. I, for some miraculous reason, was lucky enough to get mostly beautiful warm and sunny afternoons, a rare treat for the west coast I am assured. When the weather was good it would be a short drive to Lake Mapourika for a swim and playing an eternally long game of tag with sand flies (spoilers, they ALWAYS win). These are definitely my preferred afternoons as it meant the drive both to and from gives you the most fantastic view of the beautiful glacier. If the weather was bad things were a little slower. We’d maybe nap, play cards, chat, catch up on tasks like postcard writing, and generally waiting for an appropriate time to suggest dinner.
The food at Rainforest Retreat is what we were all really there for. Our work as a WWOOFer meant as well as free accommodation, wifi and laundry we were entitled to one free meal from the staff options and two free drinks vouchers per shift worked. And when you look at the prices of the dinner in the Monsoon bar and restaurant we were extremely appreciative of our deal! The absolutely delicious pizzas alone were around $30, and they weren’t tiny portions either so frequently were saved as lunches for the following day. This meant that for about two weeks straight the WWOOFers spent our evening eating amazing food and drinking all sorts of cocktails for absolutely free… There are worst jobs to have for sure!
Hanging out in the bar of a hostel which also seems to be a hit with the locals meant that we met a variety of people while enjoying our hard earned drinks. This includes helicopter pilots who are a little too liberal in their choice (or lack of) clothes in public, Kiwi bus drivers who are the life and soul of the party, and even more surprisingly for me a couple of friends from home who happened to be passing through!
The actual work a WWOOFer is required to do can vary a lot, but generally we were in the housekeeping department, which meant a lot of cleaning, a lot of bed stripping and a LOT of folding (for me anyway, I always ended up folding…). Our manager tended to assign me the task of cleaning the bars toilets and courtyard, and then the reception which was fine by me as it meant working alone and time to listen to my music and take my time washing windows until they sparkled. It’s strangely satisfying work! After that I’d usually head back and fold for a while until some other task comes up that I can help out with. I’m not sure if I had that job because I wasn’t trusted to do anything else, or if I was trusted enough to work alone… Either way it suited me fine!
The full time workers were an interesting bunch to get to know. They all liked things done a certain way and had different quirks with how they worked. My first day I worked with someone who showed me things very quickly and without wanting to hang around much, then working with another who’s happy to let you get on with your task, Generally people were chatty and fun to get to know, people always have an interesting story! Strangely enough I managed to pick up a few variations on my name including Cece, Sushi (I was commonly asked “like Japanese food??” When I said my name) and a sweet name one friendly full-timer would exclaim when he saw me: “Susu”!
So there you have it, the not so interesting life of a WOOFer. Of course there was the occasional gross room that needed cleaning, but on the whole it really wasn’t that bad at all. The only time I didn’t enjoy the work much was during my one and only night shift. The night shift is done by one volunteer from 5-10pm in exchange for a day off. Now not everyone wants to do this, and I tried to avoid it as much as possible until I was effectively ambushed into it. But it meant I got to choose my day off so it actually works out fine! The way I got through the night shift of pacing around the kitchen and communal areas jingling keys, was to be brought some excellent sangria the others kindly made for us, taking an hour and half break for dinner and progressively drinking more throughout the evening. So in fact it turned out to be a lot of fun, and probably the most I’ll ever be allowed to drink while working!
Without too much to do and with most workers saving money, some activities that weren’t in our usual regime that we got up to included attempting to play cricket with a frying pan and learning the German drinking/ball game of “flankyball”. Plus some more civilised evenings of a boat BBQ party on the lake for a friend leaving Franz (including a gorgeous sunset!) and a great walk into Tatare Tunnels to see the glow worms, even though it meant trudging through ankle deep glacier freezing waters all the way, it was still worth it!
The people I met while WWOOFing were certainly the highlight of the experience (obviously aside from that invaluable folding technique know-how) I feel I made friends that I definitely hope to see again in the future, and we just felt so lucky to have all clicked straight away! The girls I shared a room with were so welcoming, generous and knowledgeable. We talked for hours about all topics, and laughed easily as if we were old friends. I loved all my Franz Friends and very much hope I can see them again.
A few of the Franz Friends