A Seasonal Job on a Farm in New Zealand
by Jules Bass
|The grape harvest in New Zealand lasts two months of the year and there are many fruit picking jobs as well.
Whether you are already traveling and in
need of replenishing your funds, or you are trapped by unemployment
with only daydreams of escaping on a trip, one option is to
look towards the international countryside as a refreshing change
of scenery in order to ride any recessions or lack of interesting
work at home.
New Zealand is a great place to start. With flexible visa regulations, and an economy heavily reliant on agriculture, the country has a steady demand for seasonal labor. It is possible to land a tourist visa or apply for a “variation of stay” and work legally—an ideal solution for travelers wanting to prolong life on the road. There are a number of other visas available such as “Recognized Seasonal Worker” or the “Working Holiday Scheme.” Visit the New Zealand Immigration website for full details.
A Great Climate in New Zealand
The climate in New Zealand is temperate with a moderately high rainfall. In the summer months from December to March, which is the main fruit picking season, the average maximum temperature ranges between 20-30ºC (68-86ºF) and in winter between 10-15ºC (50-60ºF). The weather can make all the difference considering you will spend up to 8-10 hours a day out in the fields and orchards. Any sign of rainfall and fruit picking stops and an additional day in bed is welcome relief for aching muscles.
Another, often overlooked benefit of working in New Zealand is the fact there are no poisonous snakes, spiders, or other nasty beasts to contend with, other than savage sand flies in a few isolated areas. Ask anyone who has braved the farms of Australia and they will more than likely have a story of confrontation with one of Australia's deadly inhabitants.
Enjoying the Natural Beauty of New
The natural beauty of both North and South Island is astounding, with volcanoes, glaciers, gushing rivers, mountains, and stunning beaches. If you are in search of thrills and adventure, South Island is home to the extreme sports capital of the world—Queenstown. Just one of many activities includes the famous AJ Hackett bungy jumps, offering a dizzying array of heights and platforms to dive off, such as with Bungy Jumping New Zealand.
To indulge in all New Zealand has to offer, the salary earned from fruit picking is modest, though with some effort it is possible to walk away with a few thousand US dollars in your bank account. Working in the orchard and living on the farm becomes a whole new way of life, and money becomes less important in the bigger picture.
Added Bonus: Get into Great Physical
A daily fitness routine, team building, problem solving, endurance training, character building—it all sounds like an extract from a corporate training program or military recruitment brochure. Welcome to some positive benefits gained from a stint of employment as a fruit picker, a surprisingly rewarding seasonal job for those with a reasonable level of fitness, and enough determination to stick it out when the going gets tough. Such work does sort the men out from the boys, and in my case proved a slight-built 5’6 “ woman can also do it. Fruit picking is not brute strength, it is agility and endurance.
The Job: Picking Apples
My own personal experience was with apples—thousands and thousands of apples. I happened on this illustrious career opportunity during a round the world trip, whereby I was down to my last US$1,000 and only half way around the world with several countries ahead of me. Not happy with bypassing the rest of my trip to return home due to lack of funds, I came across a town called Motueka in Nelson district, located at the northern tip of South Island. Having never been anywhere near a farm or orchard before, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.
Parking the tractor in the barn was the first task to overcome. Ascending the wooden ladders to where the free accommodation was located, I was greeted by thin plywood walls scrawled with doodles and paintings from past occupants. I had officially arrived at the fruit farm.
My fellow farm-hands were a mix of travelers from Europe and a couple of local New Zealanders—six of us in all. Shown to my room, comprising of a bench and thin mattress, I laid down my backpack and made myself at home.
The first couple of days were hell. The art of throwing a spike-tipped ladder into a tree fully laden with apples took a little getting used to. After toppling over a couple of times crashing through branches to earth, it was a painful learning curb. Once mastered, it is all about a keen eye for ripe apples and speed....up, pick, down, drop...up, pick down, drop. Back and forth you fill the padded basket strapped to your front like a baby carrier, and then drop them gently into the wooden crate on the tractor trailer. Four crates were achieved on day one, then five on the second. It was enough effort to earn me the right to work the following week.
Developing a familiarity with the area was a godsend from heaven and brought a welcome relief from backbreaking, muscle-popping fruit picking. Motueka is in close proximity to stunning Kaiteriteri beach and Abel Tasman National Park, making weekends an adventure all by themselves. Hiking, caving, rock climbing, and kayaking with dolphins, were just a few activities available, and all just a 15-30 minute drive away—that is if you had any energy left after a week of climbing up and down trees.
Eating Well Communally from Nature’s
Mother Nature provided everything to eat except for snack foods, rice, and noodles. A couple of my fellow farm-hands enjoyed fishing for supper, and they were always successful in bringing home a catch. Another fellow worker—a vegetarian and part-time musician with a flair for cooking—soon became "Head Chef." I helped by foraging for herbs, vegetables, and fungi to add to the table, until the farmer discovered I had some scuba diving gear with me. With great excitement, he found some air-tanks and we went out on his boat diving for lobster and crabs on a few occasions. When reunited from our various food gathering trips, dinners in the barn at weekends were always very happy healthy communal feasts.
Music and Drinking
Saturday nights we would normally head out in a worn-out VW van looking for entertainment, whether a live reggae band in town or DJ’s spinning tunes in a forest by the river. With so many apples, grapes, and hops in the Motueka valley, the local landlords have taken well to brewing their own, including chili-infused beer, fruit twist cider, and herb scented wine with a kick. As all ingredients were organic, the hangover the next day was surprisingly mild.
Weekends also brought local farmers markets to Motueka, setting up to sell their fresh produce, which was a great time to stock up on supplies for the working week ahead. A popular topic of conversation was the unbelievable amount of food consumed. One past worker had scrawled on the barn wall next to the cooker “Today I have eaten”....followed by a comprehensive weekly shopping list fit for a family of five. Nothing tastes better than a meal after a hard day of manual labor, nor is there a better night’s sleep to be had—all healthy ingredients for mind, body, and soul.
There is something special about toiling the land and living so closely in nature. Despite the agonizing muscle aches, exhaustion, and mental strength required to push through the pain barrier, it is all worth it in a very humbling kind of way.
You perversely persevere, causing calluses on your hands, and battered and bruised you continue to “up, pick, down, drop.” It is certainly not the money that drives you on, but rather the laughs, the camaraderie you share with fellow farm-hands, and the incredibly natural way of living—where any cares in the world disappear as soon as you become in sync with the rhythm of life in the orchard.
Fruit picking for three months funded a
further three months of extensive travel throughout New Zealand.
The strength and stamina gained made any other adventures that
much easier physically, and in turn more enjoyment was that
much easier. Using the money earned to purchase a van, I was
able to save costs on transport, and occasionally accommodations.
On leaving New Zealand, my beloved van was sold on at a profit.
For the most up-to-date information on
opportunities, working conditions, salaries, and local accommodation
in New Zealand, try PickNZ.
Originally from England, Jules Bass is a passionate overland traveler, having spent most of the past decade exploring Asia and beyond. Most recently based in Hong Kong, she has a successful career as a Headhunter (Recruitment Consultant) when not on the road. For Jules, it is not just about visiting a place...it is about the journey and people you meet on the way.