It was the kiwis that brought us to Keri Keri. Those brown furry fruits with the bright green guts. We laughed at the fact that we were going to be be kiwi pickers in New Zealand, where both the people and the native wingless birds are known as kiwis.
As many a backpacker or Working Holiday Visa carrier will know, seasonal work in Australia and New Zealand is a common way to save some money, and in the case of Australia, extend your stay.
We heard the stories, accounts of grueling hours spent working in the burning sun, being paid by weight and by how fast you can pick. People would talk about what fruits were the easiest, and the most difficult. They spoke about how it was an opportunity to save for further travels. Some said it would be the best fun ever, spending time in the great outdoors, bonding with fellow pickers who shared a love for travel and a need for cash. Then there were the horror stories of farmers not paying wages, of early morning starts and long days, of war wounds as a result of thorns and branches, and of creepy crawlies nestled in branches.
After months living in Auckland, we were finally ready to move on. We were ready to earn some money! We wanted to explore New Zealand, and sadly, working two part-time jobs in Auckland just wouldn’t cut it.
The time had come to head up north, to beat the crowds and claim our new roles as fruit workers.
Before we left, we did some research and had arranged accommodation with a place that promised to find us a job. They urged us to get up there as soon as possible.
And so, we packed up our hostel room and took a bus to Keri Keri.
We arrived at a country town that at first glance appeared to be made up of wide open spaces, with few people and very, very quiet. We sat on our backpacks, swotting mozzies and flies as we waited for our ride in the fading light.
Eventually, he came, in a beat up old car that smelled like dog. Two tinnies gathered condensation by the gear stick, and he guzzled one down as we drove outside Keri Keri to our new home.
On a country road surrounded by fields, we turned into our new home. We were shown to newly decorated rooms that looked inviting. We were surprised to find we were the only guests.
Turns out, we were the only ones there for a while. It soon transpired, in drips and drabs, that the urgency communicated to us by the owners to get up in time to snag the good jobs was just a ploy to get our custom.
Eventually, we came to the realisation that we had essentially been duped into coming up to Keri Keri, leaving our Auckland jobs and paid-for accommodation in the hostel to spend what little money we had on rent. Weeks passed, other people came to stay, and more excuses were given about the kiwis. The weather, the crop and the farmers were all offered as varying excuses as to why we had no jobs.
Our accommodation, while appearing inviting on the surface, turned out to be the worst place we had ever stayed, due to the behaviour of the owners. Although the entire experience would make for an entertaining post, I’ll hold off for now, and instead focus on the waiting for the kiwis.
Each time we asked about our promised jobs, we were fobbed off. As I watched my pathetically small savings dwindle on rent, I grew more anxious. When we spoke to owner about our concerns, particularly the fact we had spent 6 weeks on rent without our promised jobs, she pretended to share our frustration, and suggested I ask my parents if they could send me money to cover the next rent installment. No offer for us to hold off on the next month’s rent until we got our jobs, even though we were essentially prisoners in the sticks and had nowhere to go.
Killing time in Keri Keri
In retrospect, the waiting wasn’t all bad. No, really. It gave us a taste of country living, and an exercise in amusing ourselves.
The days were long, and the town of Keri Keri was 6 kms away from our semi-prison.
We busied ourselves with plenty of tea drinking, and in my case, reading absolutely anything I could get my hands on. I had been devastated to discover that the Keri Keri library didn’t allow outsiders to become members.
After weeks of boredom, false promises and rain, we made the effort to fill our time with worthy pursuits. We took up knitting. We were so broke, we bought our wool from charity shops and had to work with lots of little balls of wool that probably belonged to some recently deceased granny who never got to finish that jumper.
We all decided to make scarves, with varying degrees of success. I made some gloves and A made a fine headband!
We decided that we should feed our brains too, and so somehow decided to learn all the countries and capitals. I also tried to improve my Spanish and read up on all those things I had been meaning to educate myself about. I had the time to learn about the history of Syria and Tunisia. This mental exercise really came in handy when we finally began working.
My favourite thing to do was to cycle the 6 km into town and hit the Mc Donalds where there were cheap cappuccinos, muffins and wifi.
Another favourite pastime was to raid the many charity shops for very cheap bargains. I found a camera bag for a couple of dollars that I still use.
We did some exploring of the surrounding area, on the rare occasions we were allowed to borrow the car.
We hung out by a lake, and cycled around the rolling green hills. Once, we went on a long drive and discovered some stunning beaches.
We became heavily invested in the lives of the characters from New Zealand soap, Shortland Street.
After a while, we got two room mates, from China and Japan. Then came a gang of Germans, and then some South Americans and eventually some Norwegians.
Obviously, the later arrivals hadn’t been duped into arriving weeks before the season started. We had some nights where we had barbecues and drinks.
Perhaps the best part of our almost-confinement was spending time with my two travel partners. We were together 24/7. We kept each other company, we cooked together, slept and woke together. We tried to learn the world capitals to spend all of our free time productively.
Eventually, those kiwis did come. We finally got jobs. Somehow, the three of us ended up together, working in a kiwi packing factory as kiwi graders.
Waiting for the kiwis was an endurance test. It taught us stress management, boredom busting skills and not to just believe people without doing our own research.
As is always the way with travel, those long days in Keri Keri now form part of a story, something to tell and something which, now that I am no longer imprisoned in the outskirts of Keri Keri, I can appreciate as being all part of the adventure!