Lake Hawea is situated just northeast of Lake Wanaka, and is a smaller, sleepier, and more mellow version of it’s bigger brother to the south. Lake Wanaka is fast becoming an international adventure destination to the likes of Queenstown, as it is situated just below Mt Aspiring national park and surrounded by the all the rugged beauty of the central Otago landscape. See Outside article here: http://www.outsideonline.com/adventure-travel/australia-pacific/new-zealand/Best-New-Adventure-Hub.html
Lake Hawea, however, is 15-20 minutes of the beaten path, but is possibly more stunning, despite the diminutive size of the township. We had made arrangements to Wwoof here at lake Hawea at a little place simply called ‘The Nook.’
The Nook is, in actuality, a nursery, run by the Urqhart family. I knew little to very little, bordering on nothing, of nurseries besides the mother goose kind. This was the plant kind, a nursery dedicated to dishing out the best in native bush—-flowers, fruit trees, decoratives, even your odd fig tree—-to the surrounding landscaping professionals and green thumbers of the Wanaka region.
We putted our Honda Concerto up the dirt drive and were happily greeted by Anna and her 11 month old daughter, Matilda, hanging out in a carry backpack and welcoming us with a mouthful (and bib full) of toothed apple pieces. They invited us inside to sit down for the first of many home cooked, vegetarian, nearly all-organic meals. It was a classic Indian vegetarian dish, served with yogurt and papdums. Anna has one of those smiles that makes a person feel instantly comfortable and at-ease, and as Meghan and I chowed down, we felt home.
We learned that evening, sitting in the two-story house designed and built by Anna’s husband Lochy, about the Nook. Started in the 70s by Lochy’s parents, Vicky and Jaime, the nook is a converted hunting and tour lodge turned nursery, now housing four generations of Urqharts including wee little Matilda. It sounded strange to me at first to have so much family around, but the dynamic they have at the nook is pretty incredible. They all live in separate, self-contained buildings on the property and all have their own little herb and Vegie gardens. Almost all the food we ate was straight out of these gardens—fresh apples, pears, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, corn, beets, onions, pumpkin, and yellow squash. Anna is a musician, and a wonderful one at that, and has played shows and toured around Australia. Lochy, her husband, is a builder by trade, keen on using recycled material whenever possible. For a few years they both lived and worked in Australia, moving back when they heard of issues with Matilda.
Matilda was born with her gut organs (intestines, stomach, liver) outside of her body, a condition called omphalocele. Doctors in nz did an amazing job with her, using pig skin as a graft, they put everything back in it’s place. We came to find out that many kids in their region of Australia were born with this condition, and it was loosely tied with a pesticide, which really drove them to live a more organic lifestyle. That night, as we ate our dinner, was our first lesson on the benefits of eating organic, or, in this case, straight from the garden.
Lochy was away on a deer huntin trip when we arrived, so Anna showed us the ropes. We stayed in an old piky-esque caravan, like Brad Pitt on Snatch. No heat inside—-just a heap of blankets to keep out the chill of the autumn NZ air. A perfect compliment to our lifestyle the next two weeks.
The next morning we awoke to sunshine, a common theme of the following month, and met Anna for breakfast in the house. She had made an apple/pear/apricot crumble and served it piping hot from the oven alongside drag organic yogurt. Crumble for breakfast was absolutely revolutionary, with oats, fruit, and seeds it is good for you too. Meghan decided this would be all she ever needed for breakfast and learned the recipe by day 3.
We went out into the property that morning and harvested pears, apples, fed the pet dairy cow, and worked a bit on the gardens. With Matilda smiling from the backpack, we went around the property and looked at what jobs we would be doing during our stay.
For the next two weeks, we worked alongside Anna, Lochy and Matilda doing everything from moving dirt to mowing the lawns to cutting and preserving pears. We learned tons about sustainable living, and after eating two weeks without the white death of sugar and flour, we actually felt noticeably healthier.
Lochy returned later in the week and took us rabbit hunting, which we shot in the valley nearby. Each of us snagged one, skinned one, gutted one, and ate one in a fine Indian curry dish a couple days later. Lochy, like his dad who made elderberry wine, also showed us how to make alcoholic cider, which i hope to bring home with me to sunny Denver.
Our time at the Nook was good—-so good in fact that we hung around an extra week to take in more of the fresh Hawea air before we left for a trip south. It was an unforgettable two weeks, and we learned so much about making small changes to better our habits and met lifelong friends. That is what WWOOFing should be—-learning, making connections, working hard, and discovering something new from each side—- a perfect exchange.