Working Holidays

Odd Jobs at an Eco Village

January 2005 | Kirsty Henderson

I went to New Zealand without many plans and the only major goal I had was to get off the backpacker trail a bit and meet some locals. I discovered a program called Help Exchange which puts travellers in touch with people who are willing to offer food and board in exchange for a bit of work. There are similar programs out there but this one was free and as a cheap backpacker that was all I needed to know to get me signed up for it.

I browsed through the website without really caring where I ended up as long as it was on the way to where I was going next and stumbled onto an ad for Otamatea Eco Village. At first I was a bit apprehensive because the idea of an eco village sounded a bit flaky but choosing to head there for a week was one of the best decisions I made during my time in New Zealand.

The place is located a couple hours north of Auckland on the way to Paihia which is where I was headed next. The eco village is basically a big bit of land in a stunning setting that is divided into about 15 individual lots. Some are still vacant but most have been bought up by individuals or families who are looking to escape the rat race and become more self sufficient.

I stayed with Marijke and Robert and their two sons. They were all really laid back and friendly and almost more eager to just share their way of life with me than they were to put me to work. I helped out in the garden, picked veggies for dinner, helped with the cooking, did the dishes, helped out with the animals and built a website for the Eco Village to help promote their permaculture course.

I never really felt like I was working the whole time I was there. I was just another helper with the day to day chores and I had plenty of time to relax, chat or explore the huge property. I got to go out on a boat too to pull in some fishing nets with our dinner.

The place tries to be as environmentally friendly as possible but is still hooked up to the electricity grid and has phones and the internet so I didnít feel totally isolated or pressured into becoming an eco warrior. They aren't even vegetarians! The sense of community is great and other families would meet up each week for a meal and to discuss any issues facing the community as a whole like whether to buy a new milking cow etc.

The setting was stunning and Mirijke and Robert were just about to start the construction of a new house with a really creative design. Many of the houses are built with hay bales and have fantastic designs.

Anyone interested in this sort of construction, simple living or permaculture should definitely make a stop here for a week or so. The atmosphere is really friendly and I really enjoyed my time here. Iíll definitely stop in if I make it back to New Zealand anytime soon.




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