Jobs on the Road
Kiwi Packing in Keri Keri
Kiwi packing was a test of endurance. It made me think that perhaps I would do well for myself if I were ever serving a long prison sentence.
We arrived in Keri Keri months before there was any work and found ourselves trapped in a hostel-cum-mouse infested house-cum-shack in the middle of nowhere. You can read more about that here.
On our first day in the world of kiwi packing, we had the luck to be chosen as graders, a much-coveted position in the kiwi packing field.
The three of us worked with two other ladies, in a slightly secluded section of the packhouse. One was Mauri and really kind and funny. Then there was a nice, if slightly anxious woman who kept making sure she reminded us that her husband owned a yacht, so that we would know she wasn’t a career kiwi grader.
Kiwi grading involved staring at a conveyor belt of kiwis and pulling out the ones that were really deformed looking. There were a lot of those. Kiwis are graded in three divisions, first, seconds and thirds.
Shifts at the kiwi packing factory were torturously long. Staring at kiwis for 10-12 hours a day can get a little dull. Okay, it can get really dull.
Luckily, the shifts were broken up by breaks every couple of hours, this made the long stretch appear more manageable, and gave us a shorter countdown to work with. We took things section by section, so instead of thinking we had 11 hours left, we just counted down to the next ‘smoko’ or lunch break.
To pass the time we would do some exercise, by moving from one foot to another, and sometimes even discreetly squatting or lifting our legs.
This was a good way to distract ourselves from the monotony of kiwi grading. Ipods were forbidden, but technically, because we were graders we weren’t on the floor and so the main reason for the ban, that we could be run over by a forklift while bopping to tunes, didn’t really hold up.
The sexy hairnets we had to wear came in handy for covering the one ear that was listening to the headphone that was hidden under our clothes. We were always careful to remove it before each break. If they never saw us with them, then we could pretend we didn’t know the no headphone rule applied to the grading section, but once we were told to remove them, it would have been bye bye sanity.
On my ipod I also wrote out all the countries and capitals that we had started to learn during our imprisonment in Keri Keri. We would quiz each other to pass the time, and sometimes I’d sneak a peek to try do some learning during the shift.
Some days, we all had to sort limes. In the strange world of fruit packing, this was met with major excitement. Limes were so nice and different after the never-ending parade of hairy kiwis. They offered our tired eyes a different shade of green, and they smelled lovely.
Other times, everyone had to pack little oranges. Oranges and limes didn’t require grading, so we would all stand at the end of a conveyor chute, and rapidly box oranges that flew at us, making snap decisions on their appearance. Some would have broken skin, others might have too much green. Oranges smelled nice too, but the loud, busy atmosphere of the main floor made us happy to return to the grading section once we were done.
Although a test of endurance, we had some laughs in the kiwi packing factory.
We used to save the really deformed kiwis and bring them home. There was a camel, giraffe type and of course, plenty of phallic and boob-shaped ones too. The best one of all was a mutant double kiwi with what looked like an asshole. We turned it into an exact replica of our landlady, who turned out to be a dangerous alcoholic maniac, but again, that’s another story from crazy Keri Keri.
Once our shift was over, we would pour outside, spirits high at the thought of hours free from kiwis. Once we had eventually left our nightmare accommodation and were staying at a lovely caravan park with the nicest couple running it, we would walk back to town, past the fruit trees and crop fields in the golden light of the slowly setting sun.
There was an amazing chocolate shop and factory on the main road back into town. On more than one occassion we would take a detour there and watch the chocolatiers at work.
After about two months of long days and (eventually) peaceful nights, we had built up some savings and were ready to say goodbye to Keri Keri.
Keri Keri was at times a challenge, and kiwi packing was tedious, but looking back on our time spent in Keri Keri, it’s the beautiful surroundings, the small town living and the quality time spent with my two travel friends that make me remember it all with fondness. I’d do it all again, 12 hour kiwi packing shifts and all.
Jobs on the Road