A Furry Farmstay
Once upon a time, there was a mighty pirate at a furry convention at Lake Taupo...
We did not talk back then, but ironically, it was my unique apparel that caught her attention. In the aftermath of the FurCoNZ, we ended up chatting with one another, and somehow, the topic of HelpX came up. She told me they take helpers at their farm, I asked if she'd like my vulpine prowess at her disposal, etc. etc. And here I am now!
Sparky runs the farm together with her husband Bryce. Or more accurately, she makes fursuits while Bryce works at a construction company, and helpers like me take care of the bulk of thee farm work.
Apart from them, there's also a number of other people around, such as the flatmates Vinny, Keely and Olivia, as well as Sparky's Italian best friend and co-worker Maria, who is also a furry and helps with fursuit construction.
And then, there's the critters. Lot's of them! First, let's introduce our feline friends: Hopper the grey tabby - who is a young tomcat and rather easily scared (yet still can be quite affectionate) - Minijoe the light orange - a slightly older tomcat and half-brother of Hopper, who is very affectionate, and can often be found on my lap while I'm working on my blog - Chai the dark orange - an older female who likes to make herself scarce, yet is the only cat in the house who doesn't routinely attempt to steal food from your plate - and finally Tayla the black - another old female who likes to hide in the shadows for most of the time.
Next, there's also a number of canine companions living in and around the house, and getting along with the cats just fine - more or less. We have Tahi, the hyperactive, one-eared New Zealand Sheepdog (she was born with only one ear, and her name means "one" in Māori), Rocky the Bull Terrier, who doesn't get along well with the other dogs, and Keri the black Poodle, who is a proper lapdog and regularly occupies somebody's lap during car rides. Finally, a few days before I leave this place, we also get another dog - Stella of the waggy tail - to look after while Sparky's sister visits Australia. Still recovering from an operation, Stella has to spend most of her time in a cage, lest she jumps around the place excitedly and risks jeopardizing the healing process.
With this being a farm, we naturally also have quite a bit of livestock around. First, there's a herd of cows which has the luxury of being allowed to roam not only its own paddock, but also the garden behind the house. As a result, it's necessary to watch your step when walking through the garden.
Then, this place also has untamed house pigs of various sizes...
...as well as horses, who have been pre-emptively armoured against the increasingly cold temperatures...
...and also a flock of sheep, who have grown their own thermal armour.
But enough about the inhabitants, let me now talk about...
As I already mentioned, Sparky's business is crafting fursuits. As such, relevant materials can be found all over the place.
Her workshop, however, is definitely the furriest place in the entire house, with fur and fluff and fursuit parts lying around all over the place.
As for the rest of the farm... Why don't you join me for a quick tour?
Perhaps most importantly of all, this place has a cosy fireplace, which attracts two- and four-legged suitors alike...
...though there is also a mobile heating unit available, which I can use to heat my room at night.
Finally, the weather in these parts is quite inconsistent, and although we do get a number of sunny days, there are also quite some downpours, one of which even features hail, much to Rocky's excitement.
Much to my delight, we also get morning mists quite regularly...
...and one dawn, just as the sun makes a brief appearance between the northeastern horizon and the sheet of nimbostratus clouds above, I am able to capture a fantastic rainbow arcing over the entire width of the Wairarapa Valley.
Speaking of dawn, with the days getting shorter by the minute, I usually wake up before sunrise, enabling me to get some amazing pictures of the photon blaster just as it peeks over the horizon and proceeds to showering this side of the planet with a relentless stream of electromagnetic radiation.
Interlude: The Catastrophe XXVI
Some things are simply not meant to be, and my first attempt for a bike ride around the area was among them. Sparky offered me access to two bikes: One of them had flat tires, and without a bike pump to be found I had the use the other one, which should turn out to be a catastrophic mistake.
It's hard to find a point where to start with this mistake of a ride. First of all, the bike's front brakes are barely responsive, which is still better than the back brakes, which do not work at all. Fortunately, however, that makes little difference, as since the bike is permanently locked in a low gear and has twisted tyres that terminally trod the two brakes, I am incapable of exceeding a speed of 9 km/h, even downhills. If I ever find myself wanting to come to a stop, all I need to do is cease pedalling, and the bike comes to a complete standstill within 5 metres. All of these things combined make even cycling down a straight road a veritable workout.
I cross a few brooks, which after days of rainfall have swollen to the size of rivers and are leaking out of their beds...
...but eventually, after toiling for three quarters of an hour and covering barely 4 kilometres in that time, I have a decision to make. Do I want to keep going with this wreck of a bike, or do I return back to Sparky's farm and leave it be?
Figuring that I might very well be faster on foot, I decide to call it a day for now, and return to the farm, coming across Parkvale Hall, and the Parkvale Mushroom Factory as I cycle down the shallow hill.
This must have been my shortest, and yet possibly one of the most exhausting trips so far. Even with the added speed downhills, I barely averaged out at 6 km/h for the entire 2-hour trip.
Since both Sparky and Bryce have full-time jobs, things have a tendency to get left undone at this place. For helpers like me that's a great thing, since it means there's always some sort of work to do, such as vacuuming and scrubbing the house...
...or cleaning the veranda of leaves, dirt and cobwebs.
Then, there is the fireplace, which needs to be cleared of all the ash that has accumulated in there...
...and playing the part of the kitchen fairy is a duty which I perform quite regularly.
As for outdoor jobs, there are the pig stables which are in dire need of a mucking...
...and also a garbage burning site, which needs to be dismantled and cleaned up.
Next, it is up to me to prove my cleaning prowess by polishing the windows...
...and shifting hay bales to diversify the cows' diet (and provide an incentive for them to stay in their own paddock, since the fence separating the cow's paddock from the house's garden is kinda broken).
Naturally, the pigs also need to be fed. Fortunately, the local NewWorld supermarket is happy to supply farmers like Sparky & Bryce with their expired products for free, and judging by how eagerly the pigs chow down the bread and vegetables, they don't mind a bit of mold at all.
Next, my hereditary packing skills are required, as the task is to gather up a rather large pile of junk, and stack it onto a trailer in a stable manner.
And after that, I continue in a similar category by transporting wood from the woodshed to the house...
...where I stack it up against the wall in a (hopefully) cat-proof manner.
Subsequently, I spend some days harvesting potatoes from a field by hand...
...before manually washing each and every single one of them. In the end, it takes me a total of 10 hours to harvest and wash 12kg of potatoes. If you were to recompense that at minimum wage, it would come to about 15$ per kilo of potatoes - a stark contrast to the 2.99$ which a kilo of potatoes costs at the local supermarket thanks to the wonders of automated agriculture.
But without a doubt the most unusual part is when Sparky and I get together to craft a Nyancat costume for an upcoming convention in Auckland. Putting all the skills I learned by crafting my various board game prototypes, I'm happy to assist her as we occupy the lounge and start cutting and gluing the cardboard into a meowmerical shape.
Interlude: The Gladstone Getaway
Eventually, the long-lost bike pump is found in an unnamed flatmate's backpack, enabling me to pump up the tires of the other bike, which - while having the same colour as the Catastrophe XXVI - should prove to be significantly more adequate for making extended trips.
As a consequence, I soon set out on my second attempt to explore the countryside, which should eventually take me all the way into the eastern hills, the town of Gladstone, and back again.
The sky may seem a tidbit threatening, but I decide to give it a shot anyway...
...and so I soon cross the great Ruamahanga River, which is the defining waterway of the Wairarapa Valley. Quite ironically, this river does not flow into Lake Wairarapa, but rather passes it by with the waters from the lake draining into the river through a series of natural channels.
It's not long after that when I realize that somehow I must have overshot my intended target by several thousand kilometres and ended up in Wiltshire, England.
Imagine my relief when I find out that I am indeed still in New Zealand - or Aotearoa, as the Māori call it.
Well, I don't know how it got here, but it would certainly explain why every city here has its own monument. Meanwhile, I continue on past very private driveways...
...and up into the eastern hills.
There, I work my way up a saddle road...
...where, after clearing the saddle, I am rewarded with a marvellous view of the seemingly endless pastures beyond, with barely a single human habitat in sight.
Subsequently, I zoom down the downhill portion of the road, and soon find myself cycling past a pasture with quite a few deer in it, and I wonder: If you put deer in a pasture, does that make it pasteurised deer?
Once again, I am also privy to fantastic cloudscapes perpetually forming and dispersing high above my head.
Also, I know that churches are often referred to as the dwelling places of the good shepherd, but isn't this taking the analogy a bit far?
After passing the historic Gladstone Church, I continue onto the return leg of my round trip, and soon arrive at a monument erected in honour of one of the first airplanes to fly in New Zealand.
On the way back, I make a short side-trip into the Carter Scenic Reserve...
...which in effect is a restoration program for an endangered wetland, and as such has plenty of slippery walkways to take one across the marshland.
Finally, it's time to return home - and not a minute to soon. Even though the time is only 6:30pm, the sun is already setting behind the Tararua Range in the west, and I arrive back at Sparky's farm just in time to witness the setting sun painting the sky in a palette of passion.
The last thing to do for the day, being quite exhausted after this long trip, is to lie down on the sofa and relax. Minijoe concurs that that's a great Idea, and promptly joins me for a shared catnap.
With all that work and long bike rides, I make sure to start my days with a big bowl of müsli and a cup of tea to stay energized...
...a tasty dietary decision, which surprisingly seems to appeal to the cats as well. It's not uncommon to see especially Hopper and Minijoe straying around the breakfast table, hoping to get a bite, and they can at times become bold to the point where it gets hard to keep them at arm's length.
Lunch is a kind of random meal, featuring dishes such as hot dogs, pancakes with Nutella (Sparky loves that stuff, and I can only concur), pies and cake, or simply leftovers of last night's dinner warmed up.
And dinner is once again the best meal of the day. With Bryce being a hobbyist chef, we get served all kinds of tasty meals, ranging from simple yet savoury stew over a New Zealand versino of Gamm Ligeral with venison, mushrooms, onion and pumpkin, to a hearty steak with pasta and salad.
Also, on a couple of occasions, I get served a bowl of ice cream after dinner. It's not the first time during my journey, and apparently is a typical New Zealand thing. In fact, I think during the last year I've now eaten more ice cream than during the last decade.
Finally, I also get around to prepare my legendary tri-Tail Pizza for Sparky and her flatmates. In fact, Maria helps me prepare it, honouring her Italian lineage. Once again, everyone is delighted by the result, but the culmination of praise arrives only a few days later when Maria tells me that her Italian grandmother ate the leftovers of my pizza, and praised it as "the way pizza should be". With this, my legendary tri-Tail Pizza now officially has the Italian seal of approval!
Interlude: The Carterton Circuit
My second ride is a little bit less ambitious, taking me on a little lap through the fields around Carterton, before finally taking me through the town itself.
This time, I set out on a road painted in a multitude of vibrant colours by autumn's brilliant brush...
...but soon find myself stuck in a traffic jam as 211 heads (or tails) of cattle crossing over congest the road.
After patiently trodding behind them for a while, they finally clear the way by entering their destination paddock, allowing me to continue on my way, passing by the former site of the Hikurangi College as I do.
It's about here that my metal mount messes up, forcing me to turn it upside down and make some makeshift repairs. Better than it sibling it may be, yet it still has some issues. For one, the spring of the back gearbox is broken, meaning that I can only shift into lower gears, but have to stop and manually adjust the gears if I want to shift into a higher gear. The bigger problem - however - is, that when I use the front gearbox, there's a chance that the chain gets stuck in between two gears, forcing me to painstakingly peel and twist it out again. As a consequence, I have to shift gears extremely carefully, and only use the back gearbox when absolutely necessary.
My next stop is a memorial commemorating the scenic hot air balloon crash of 2012, which at 11 casualties was the deadliest aircraft accident in New Zealand since the November 1979 crash of Air New Zealand flight 901 into Mount Erebus, as well as the third-deadliest hot air balloon crash worldwide. Fittingly, the memorial comes in the shape of a great, big rock. After all, how else could you possibly commemorate a hot air balloon crash?
Subsequently, I reach the entrance of Carterton, the heart of the Wairarapa...
And even though I don't know who Thomas Ray was, I now know where I can find a tree dedicated to his great-great-great-great-grandson.
After that, I continue my way through the streets and parks of Carterton..
...where I once again come across a lovingly painted broadband cabinet. This time around, a Geocache's description serves to shed some light on why I keep running into those all over the country: Apprently, these broadband cabinets - which have sprung up around the country - have proven highly susceptible to graffiti, and are often re-targeted soon after the graffiti is cleaned off. The broadband companies, in conjunction with local councils, run a program of beautifying these boxes, with the hope this will discourage graffiti, as well as giving the local community a piece of artwork to enjoy. I'd say this program has turned out to be a huge success.
With that, I wrap up my ride for today, and return back to Sparky's farm just as the sun sets behind the northwestern hill.
As a result of me practically being surrounded by the cute critters, this section is probably going to end up being mostly about the cat's funny antics.
In spite of that, let's not forget our regular category. As in: That's not a cup...
...that's a cup!
This new dishwasher comes with a brand-new organic pre-wash programme.
In fact, it comes in multiple adjustable stages, ranging from superficial single, to all-around, and finally triple deluxe cat-and-dog cleanliness.
Other interesting things to be found in the kitchen include this skewer-rapier...
...and whatever the hell that is used for. Maybe cutting onions from a distance?
I'm at UR window, watching U blog...
...which is still preferable to blockading my laptop with a sit-down strike.
Kudos to Sparky by the way. Sewing fursuits for a living, she was happy to help me patch up my rather ragged trousers. I'll definitely have to get some new ones when I return back to Germany.
With the cows roaming around the garden quite freely, you shouldn't be surprised to see them drop by for breakfast...
...as opposed to the cats, whom you can count on to drop by for every single meal, as long as they're in the house.
Yes, animals and their food, constantly sticking their heads where it doesn't belong.
Sometimes it can drive you right up the wall, but not enough to set off the bomb.
In case you're wondering why I'm mostly showing you pictures of Hopper and Minijoe, there are reasons for that. Tayla's reason is called "camouflage"...
...and Chai is simply too cool of a cat to be bothered.
We already covered this, but let me clarify it once more: For some weird reason, cats really do like müsli.
An effective countermeasure to having a cat trying to steal your müsli from your lap during breakfast is to have the position prematurely occupied by a conveniently placed lapdog.
Continuing on to our collection of curious mailboxes, here's one you can do if you have a spare milk pail or two.
And if you're more into metal beer barrels and high voltage, this might be more down your lane.
Also, here's a nice voucher from the local western BBQ place.
I realize I've gone on for about three pictures without showing a cat, so to counteract that, here's a real-life cat next to the picture of a cat reclining on a giant cardboard cat.
And more often than not, the cats also like curling up on my bed. I can totally understand why: I like curling up on my bed too.
One day, as Sparky prepares pancakes, she brings out a special pancake-pan. I didn't even know they made those! How are they made? No clue, but it might involve a regular frying pan and a steamroller.
Even though the cats and dogs get along just fine for the most part, they do occasionally have their cat-and-dog moments.
Yes, I'll most certainly miss these cuddly cats...
...as well as the delightful dogs.
And finally, that's not a potato...
...that's a potato!
Interlude: The Dalefield Drive
After having been to the eastern end of the valley already, I naturally also want to reach the western end now. My ride there should take me to the township of Dalefield on a roundabout way, and then up into a valley, before taking me back to Sparky's Farm via Dalefield and Carterton.
On my way there I come across the most pointless gate in the history of time (which is actually bigger than it looks at first glance)...
...as well as a freshly fashioned cow underpass. Remember the cataclysmic Carterton Circuit cattle congestion? To avoid such jams (and to make life easier for them), many farmers in New Zealand invest in such underpasses to get their livestock safely to the other side of the road at all times.
And once again, I come across an ingeniously hidden geocache.
Afterwards, I continue cycling towards the Tararua Range, where the rain clouds still hang threateningly low...
...and soon reach the end of pavement. Fortunately, since my current wire steed technically is a mountain bike, I am still able to continue with little difficulty.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this route was literally made for mountain bikes. What makes me think that? Oh, call it a hunch...
From there, the trail continues through the forest for some time, and up into the slightly rainy valley, the name of which consists mostly of vowels.
This is as far as I can go with the sunlight waning already, so I turn back at this point and make my way back again, stopping to note a reasonably pointless pipe, as well as a bush of lovely death stars (gorse) in full bloom. If I had a proton torpedo mounted on my bike, I'd almost be tempted to drop it down the pipe just to see what happens.
On my way out of the wet side valley I stop atop a small rise to take in the panoramic view of the much greater Wairarapa Valley before me...
...and stop to marvel at a rare partial rainbow, reflecting the light of the setting sun from rain that does not reach the ground.
Much to my delight, the road from here is mostly straight and downhill, making for one amazing speed rush.
Passing by the Dalefield school, and the abandoned Dalefield dairy factory...
...I reach the outskirts of Carterton just as twilight drapes the landscape with a mythical flair.
A lone cow welcomes me back as I close the last distance between there and Sparky's farm...
...and the crescent moon is already visible against the dim shades of twilight by the time I finally arrive back home.
When I left Te Hero, basking in the afterglow of what I figured would have been the most beautiful stay in New Zealand, it was up to me to award that place a whooping ★★★★★.
Then, after I departed from Cable Bay, the most beautiful place on earth, it was up to me to award ★★★★★ again.
And then - no one saw it coming - one more time!
From the maker of "Honouring Te Horo" and "A Slice of Heaven" comes an epic tale of comfortable accommodation, divine food, varied and interesting work, unparalleled atmosphere, great facilities, and a great area with a bike to explore it. Featuring Sparky Bites and Bryce Johnston in their roles as the HelpX hosts, and co-starring Kira Resari as the helpful fox, this amazing tale of friendship, homeliness and productivity deserves nothing short of ★★★★★.
It goes without saying that I'm only all too happy to prepare a piece of gift artwork for them, featuring Sparky the sabre-tooth tiger and Bryce the dog, together with all their lovely critters.
The Road Ahead
The day of my departure arrives much too soon. Had it been up to me, I would have stayed for longer. But the winds of change are blowing, and the great metal bird which will ultimately take me back to Germany has already been summoned for mid-August. So from now on, I'm on a tight schedule, and can only spend two weeks in each of the areas I still want to see.
My next destination is Hawke's Bay, where I'm going to stay quite a bit inland in the town of Waipukurau. The trip there turns out to be another three-fold journey. However, this time around, all the legs of my trip can be completed in a single day, and it's all going to be by bus.
It's bryllyg and ye slythy toves by the time I depart, the sun not yet having risen quite this early in the morning.
Sparky drops me off at the bus station in Carterton, from where I witness the first rays of the sun piercing the mists on the eastern horizon.
The first part of my trip takes me from Carterton to Masterton by means of a regional bus line. In fact, there is not only one bus going at this time, but three: Two school buses, and a third bus which is mostly full of school children, yet also has room left for me.
And thus begins my journey from the Wairarapa Valley to Waipukurau, across a stretch of farmland in between, and into Masterton.
In Masterton, I alight at the Tranzit station, where I wait for my next bus to arrive.
My second bus for the day is a shuttle of the Tranzit Coachlines, which operate the local bus services here in the Wairarapa.
This one should take me out of the Wairarapa Valley by means of the Mount Bruce pass, and to the mist-covered town of Woodville, where I would have to change buses one more time.
There, I have to wait in the cool fog for but a few minutes...
...before my next bus arrives. Despite the name on the bus, this actually is an InterCity service...
...which would then take me out of the mists, away from the mountains and all the way to Waipukurau.
There, my next host is already waiting for me at the local station, ready to take me to her place - albeit in a slightly unconventional manner.
Have you ever wondered what it feels like for a horse riding in the back of a horse float? Well, now I know. This unique experience was provided to me by curtsey of my new host being hard-pressed to empty out one of her properties for lease, and consequently having the car full of stuff. Fortunately, the horse float has conveniently placed bars to hold on to, so the ride isn't much rougher than a trip spent standing in an average city bus.
The place I'll be staying at for the next two weeks already looks pretty nice from the outside...
...and whether by chance or intentionally, my designated quarters are garbed in quite appealing colours.
Since the day is only half-over, I should be put to work right away, but that is a story for another time. So stay tuned for more Tales of the Travelling Fox!