Earn your keep on holiday

By Danielle Wright

Some holidays are hard work, but, as Danielle Wright finds out, that can be the point.

Travellers exchange their diverse skills, from tractor driving and other farm work to photography and website development, for free board and lodging.
Travellers exchange their diverse skills, from tractor driving and other farm work to photography and website development, for free board and lodging.

In a recent survey by Expedia, more than half of New Zealanders admitted feeling "holiday deprived", often stockpiling annual leave because of the expense or organisation needed for a trip. If you really can't bear to completely switch off, or need help with affording a holiday, there are working holiday options around the country.

You don't have to be a cash-strapped young student to embark on a working holiday, many programmes now also welcome families or cater for professionals who want to offer more than manual labour.

Here's our round-up:

WWOOF NEW ZEALAND

If you've always dreamt of making organic wine, cheese or bread, immerse yourself in the lifestyle on a WWOOF (an acronym for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) adventure in beautiful locations across New Zealand.

"We met a couple of guys from Germany who were just tourists picking apples," says Jane Bryan-Strange, WWOOF NZ co-ordinator.

"They joined up with WWOOF and learnt about fishing, farming and milking - it's about more than paying your way around the world."

For singles, there is a service to find a WWOOF travel companion before departure and families are welcomed at many properties - you can teach the children about a life that is both organic and sustainable, a good lesson for the next generation.

"It's also a chance to meet people from around the world," says Jane. "Sometimes we're a bit isolated in New Zealand and many of our hosts comment on how it brings the world to them."

Families often stay with other families so the children can play together and WWOOF kids can also have jobs, such as animal care or planting.

Jane adds that WWOOF also attracts corporate people who have often bought rural land and changed their focus after a WWOOF vacation.

"Holidays are no longer just about consuming and observing," she says . "Tourists want to become involved."

How does it work? WWOOF is a way for people to live and learn on a variety of organic and sustainable properties. Volunteers participate in daily farming and family life.

How long can I stay? One week up to many months.

What will I do? Anything from chopping firewood to shearing llamas, extracting honey to making bread.

Is it safe? WWOOF has policies in place if there is a problem.

Advice for hosts? Give it a go, you may enjoy it. Hosting people from around the world and sharing your skills and lifestyle is a rewarding experience.

Advice for potential WWOOFERS? Give it a go, you may enjoy it. Living with local families and learning new skills has changed lives.

FARM HELPERS NEW ZEALAND (FHiNZ)

In 1994, husband-and-wife team Heather and Warwick Grady started offering free farm stays on their property in exchange for board.

"The idea was to treat visitors like part of the family so they could experience a real Kiwi farming way of life and join in both the highs and lows of living on a farm," says Heather, who now has more than 400 rural properties throughout New Zealand listed.

Over the past 20 years, one thing that sticks out most is the number of weddings they've attended.

"Love blossomed on a dairy farm near New Plymouth," says Warwick. "I remember there were two people who met while farm helpers there and they ended up marrying and emigrating to New Zealand from Denmark."

"Another time a bachelor farmer hosted a group of young ladies and ended up marrying one of them," says Warwick. "Before email and the internet, farmers often married someone on the next farm - it was hard to meet someone."

FHiNZ has hosted men from the Israeli army, who "were really good bulldozer drivers - they wanted to build and bulldoze all day long". Others included an airline pilot for Lufthansa who returns annually to "get his hands dirty".

"We once had an Amish man who was a hoof trimmer. He ended up going through all the dairy farms and curing the lame animals - he could tell just by the way they walked.

"He was a world authority on the subject and the farm ended up sponsoring him into New Zealand," says Warwick. "He now drives around New Zealand fixing hooves. In a way, we've changed agriculture in this country through hosting some of these people who have since immigrated with their specialist knowledge."

As an ex-school principal, Warwick always took his farm helpers to the school for a few days to experience the New Zealand way of life, as well as inviting them to church, dinner parties, the tennis club and barbecues.

"They become like a cousin who comes to stay," says Warwick. "It's much better than being at a backpackers where no one speaks to you much."

How does it work? Buy a book listing all the host properties for $25 from FHiNZ. The hosts offer board in exchange for four to six hours work each day.

How long can I stay? Three days to months.

What will I do? The work depends on the type of farm, the season and abilities. Many farms don't require farming experience for work such as gardening or minding children. Choose from sheep, beef, dairy, pig, goat, deer and horse farms.

Is it safe? There's a zero tolerance for complaints involving safety of visitors, and hosts will be removed from the site.

Advice for hosts? Inform visitors about what they are coming to - just about anything is okay as long as visitors know in advance.

Any advice for potential FHiNZ travellers? Call before 8am or from 6-8pm as otherwise the hosts may be out working on their farms.

WORKAWAY

For low-cost travel and immersion in the local community, Workaway offers everything from gardening help in return for an ocean-view room on Waiheke Island, volunteering on an eco-farm in Golden Bay or - if the idea of 1000 stuffed toy monkeys and gorillas doesn't put you off - volunteering your agricultural skills in the Waikato.

How does it work? In return for up to five hours of voluntary work, five days a week, you'll receive board, as well as the experience of living with locals. Once signed up, you're able to contact hosts directly.

Who does it suit? Workaway is a cultural exchange programme for people interested in travelling on a budget, learning a language or contributing to a cause.

How long can I stay? There is no minimum or maximum stay.

What will I do? The choice is yours - everything from farm help to IT support, art projects to eco-building, sailing to sheep-shearing, or contribute to a cause.

Is it safe? Getting to know each other beforehand through email and Skype is advised. Workaway has a feedback system - if a host or volunteer receives more than two negative feedbacks they're removed.

Advice for hosts? Anyone can host and it's free to register. You're expected to make "Workawayers" feel at home and encourage cultural exchange.

Any advice for potential Workawayers? When you write your profile, describe all the skills you offer and include a good photo.

So, where do I sign up? workaway.info

OTHER SITES TO TRY

HelpX

HelpX was launched in 2001 by Rob Prince, who worked his way around New Zealand and Australia before becoming a website developer. There are two levels of membership and a host can upgrade a helper to premier membership if they do great work. There are opportunities all over New Zealand for helpers on varied projects such as on marae, sausage making and gardening near Muriwai or conservation work at a homestay in the Waitakeres.

Quid Pro Go

"The whole work-for-accommodation thing is really taking off all over the world," says Vanessa Owen, who has just launched her own working holiday website after years of having assistance on her Kerikeri property from the likes of HelpX.

Vanessa says the hosting experience has enriched family life. Her teenage daughters now have contacts all over the world when they're ready to travel.

"About six months ago, we realised some of our helpers were at the peak of their professions and we had them plucking leaves in the vineyard. I could have used their expertise to improve my business instead," says Vanessa. "I changed my listing on HelpX and was inundated with emails from photographers, web designers, marketing specialists, you name it!" Vanessa's new site will be about "giving what you've got and going where you want" and targets professionals with skills to trade for free boutique accommodation.

Backpacker noticeboards

It's also worth searching forums and noticeboards, such as BBH Budget Backpacker Hostels NZ, which advertises for staff to work in backpacker hostels in return for accommodation - a great option if you don't want to live with a local and would prefer a reception or cleaning job.

- NZ Herald

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