Vines in the Valley

Looking for the one-time experience in your working life, sure not to boost your CV but your insanity? Try horticultural work.Free tans and sunburns, a new aversion against the fruit of your choice but lots of fresh air.Sole purpose? Funding for another big trip and possibly an extension of your visa in the long run.

Few things in life come for free, unfortunately backpacking and travel don’t. Sooner or later the money aspect needs to be considered. Businesses know about the high job demand in this country so popular with backpackers, so why wouldn’t they offer the most ridiculous employment opportunities? For once, that can mean the most boring jobs in the world. Or working for a day and being redundant the next. Or back-breaking work in the extreme climate. No matter what, there’s always some crazy people out there to sell their soul and sanity for a couple hundred dollars.

Apricot Madness

Since most of those ridiculous jobs are associated with fruit and wine growing regions, we headed into Central Otago right at the peak of harvest season. The little town of Alexandra, right by the Clutha River and surrounded by mighty mountains, ended up being our home for over a month. A bit of luck and a bit of organization meant getting a job from the first day, lasting us two weeks. A packing shed for dried apricots, a time to remember. Six days a week we got up when the sun only started rising behind the mountains. Six to eight hours of apricots guarantee a certain degree of madness… Despite the “varied positions”, grading (picking out bad ones), splitting (taking the halves apart after the cutting machine does an awful job) and picking out the pits I couldn’t deny that it amazed me how slowly time can pass. Rarely have I ever looked forward to a spare day more than in those weeks…

In the vines

However, getting fired as the apricot season wound down (or was it about us tossing the fruit around?) meant a few days of sitting around occupation-less and moneyless, of course. Since our hostel wasn’t the cheapest we were glad about the next job. Putting up nets on a vineyard was way more enjoyable for a day, thanks to amazing views over the valley. The next day, another vineyard, we started pruning, or “dressing up” grapes for harvest. That included cutting off smaller and green grapes plus plucking leaves. Not bad work, just another bad employer that didn’t need us any more after two days of work and still hasn’t paid the wages. Bottom line, it’s all life experience. No need to repeat but something to do once.

Last job, last week, was a major workaholic experience. Seven days, 58 hours out in the vines between 2°C in the morning and 34°C at noon, showed up our limits of work motivation. At least we got to ride our bikes through the forest to work and home every day. After the last shift the vineyard people invited us over for a few glasses of wine – a final confirmation this job was worth it at least. Seldom have I enjoyed Pinot Gris any more.

Riding the valley and beyond

Apart from work these weeks boasted a few fine times  Alexandra calls itself a mountainbike mecca, so it wasn’t long until I had to get myself one. Put it through its paces regularly and hit more than the odd stone – the rocky terrain can’t be underestimated. Some rides took me over hills I hadn’t thought to attempt but only the trail knows where it’s going. This is an adventure, every single time. Even the seemingly harmless Roxburgh Canyon trail included some nasty serpents, well worth the vistas though.

On another note, a travel mate turns out to be a major asset, that’s Daniel. Shared mad jobs, pizza, spare day adventures and simply the comfort of a good friend is something I wouldn’t give away for the world right now.  Our travel companionship has developed more and more deeply and I am glad we are planning to venture on the next stages of our journey together. Both of us got bikes so we’re all set for the next big challenge, New Zealand’s longest bike trail.

Next: All Downhill (?) from the mountains to the sea

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