Our next homehelp assignment sees us at a luxury Bed and Breakfast (B&B). In fact at one of NZ’s highest rated B&Bs, run by an energetic couple Ann and Blyth. The property is located about 20ks South of Wanaka, in a mountainous valley of just 38 residents (most of whom we’ve met since we arrived!). Although the B&B only has 3 bedrooms, the grounds extend for 10 acres, and hence the reason that Ann and Blyth need help. In addition to running the guesthouse they have other jobs – Ann with a senior civil service post in Queenstown, and Blyth as a chef in the nearby hotel. They had ‘retired’ here 5 years ago from busy city jobs, but i doubt they were ever as busy as they are now.
Their day typically starts before 7am, with the preparation and serving of up to 6 breakfasts for the guests. Then one of them dashes to work (they try to arrange their schedules such that one of them is at home on any given day) while the other gets on with cleaning the rooms, and an endless cycle of laundry (typically 6 or 7 loads a day). Plus the pool needs cleaning, the massive garden needs weeding and mowing, the business admin needs doing, bedsheets need ironing, and rooms need making up. Meanwhile new guests are arriving to check-in, who then need drinks and hospitality (sometimes HOURS of chit chat), and by then its time to start the 3-course silver service dinner they offer. With such busy days it is no wonder they need help!
Our work was mostly maintenance of the grounds of the property, primarily the pine tree forest, followed by some weeding and pruning in the garden and some odd jobs of painting and cleaning. We started with the ground either side of the 300m long driveway, chopping dead trees, sawing or snapping dead branches, clearing years of rotten wood from the ground and raking and collecting pine cones. In some areas the pine cones were knee-deep and we spent hours shoveling these into sacks or wheelbarrows and dumping them. Our goal was to clear through the forest just as far as could be seen from the driveway. Sometimes to clear a narrow section took a whole morning, depending on how many dead trees there were, or how many thorn bushes had wrapped themselves around living trees. Some of the trees on the ground were rotten, and i was thankful to work in a place which has almost no insect life. I could pull heaps of dead branches and stack them against my chest for carrying to the trailer without worrying about beetles or wood lice or any other nasties. It was dirty, physical work, and it was a revelation to us how much we enjoyed it. Who knew hacking and slashing branches could be so much fun? And it has been very satisfying to see the dark dense forest gradually transforming into an attractive light-filled area. Our contribution was instantly visible – a morning’s work always revealed a more beautiful forest – and we headed for lunch (and our afternoon of leisure) satisfied with what we had achieved.
We also worked clearing a steep hill behind the house and pool. Two large gum trees had been cut down just before we arrived, and in between everything else, Blyth spent about 20 hours chainsawing the trunks and branches. (He did most of this under 30 degree sun, on a steep unstable slope, and at 63 years of age, is as fit and strong a sexagenarian as i have ever seen.) These huge chunks (weighing about 50kgs each) were rolled down the slope to the driveway below, before being split into smaller sizes suitable for the fireplace. Daniel and i then cleared up the remaining smaller bits of wood, stacking them against the house as a Winter wood supply, and dumping the dead wood that lay all around. It was tricky sometimes to keep our balance on the steep slopes, and particular care was always called for when carrying a shovel, axe or other sharp implements. After several weeks of on-off work on the slope, it was fantastic to finish the work there and everytime we walk past it we admire how good it looks 🙂
What we collected from the forest and the slope we transferred to a trailer, attached to a Land Rover truck. We dumped our loads in a big hole, ready for burning when the countryside fire ban is lifted in Autumn. In total we must have dumped close to 100 loads of wood and pine cones and driving the truck to the burnhole was one of the highlights of our day. I was a bit apprehesive at first when i realised we would need to reverse the trailer into all kinds of tight spots, but it proved straightforward enough. With no more than 10 attempts i can usually manage to reverse the trailer in a straight line, and by mutual agreement Daniel handles all the tricky reversing 🙂
After spending days hacking and carrying dead branches, we ended up with scores of cuts on our arms and legs. In fact, by the end of the third day we looked like we had been in a fight with a thorn bush 🙂 We were generally oblivious to the cuts while working but once we stood under the shower they announced themselves! All our cuts, even the deep ones, have healed very quickly, and we concluded we must be in good health.
And indeed we do sleep and eat well here. We sleep in a converted pool house (yip, there is a swimming pool here, as well as an outdoor hot tub :-)). We have our own bathroom and kitchenette where we eat breakfast and take our morning coffee break. Afternoons and evenings we spend in the garden, by the pool, or in the main house chatting with Ann and Blyth. As for eating well, with the kitchen fully stocked to serve fine dining to the guests, and a professional 5-star chef who regularly cooks dinner for us, it is no surprise we eat well. We really appreciate the quality and variety of food in the fridge and the cupboards, and after a hard morning’s work, have no qualms about helping ourselves to the overflowing fruit bowl, or the salad and vegetables in the fridge. After our first week here, despite the hard physical work, we both gained weight as we overindulged, unused as we were to easy access to such food. But apart from expanding our girth, we have also gained strength. I could swear Daniel’s shoulders and arms have doubled in size, and since i told him this, he has been offering to do all the heavy work, in between flexing his muscles in front of the mirror 🙂 Every evening we collapse into bed, marveling at how many parts of our bodies are stiff and sore! But we love it! We start working around 7.30, when the air is cool and fresh, listening to the birds and enjoying the stunning mountain views around us. And recently we have had several hundred maa-ing sheep in the neighbouring field.
The neighbour is a sheep farmer, with over 15,000 sheep. One day recently he rang Blyth to ask for all available hands to come and help with the transfer of sheep from a mountain on the other side of the valley. Our role was to stop the traffic while about a thousand sheep were brought across the road. It was an awesome sight to see the sheep come pouring over the hill above us, herded by 15 (FIFTEEN) dogs and 3 shepherds. How the dogs raced this way and that, guided by the shepherds’ whistles and their own instinct. They were tireless, circling quickly up the steep hill to chase a renegade sheep back to the flock, and dashing to the side to return another breakaway group. Incredible creatures and it was awesome to see them at work. There was a hitch in proceedings when the shepherds realised the sheep wouldn’t pass out the gate of the field and onto the road because there was a little hut (bus-stop) too close to the gate. So, they radioed for a tractor which came and moved the shed … Finally one sheep moved out the gate, and the rest followed and in they went smoothly to their new pasture. The dogs, their job done, came bounding over to greet us, and this old dog, lay down and melted under our touch. It’s clear they don’t get too much affection of this nature in their regular day!
2 other dogs which are not short of affection, and who have never done a day’s work in their lives are Basil and Bebe, the house dogs. They enjoy a life of supreme ease, sleeping 20 hours a day and eating 5-star scraps from the guests’ plates. With the large number of sheep nearby they are not allowed outside except on a lead. Sometimes they do escape though and inevitably they find a dead animal and bring something back … Here is Basil with a rotten sheep leg. What an ungodly stink! After this photo he was taken straight to the shower to be hosed down!
While looking at Ann sorting through a mound of post recently, most of which were bills, it struck us that for the first time since we left home as teenagers, we have no bills to pay. No bills, and while we are doing these home help assignments, no costs of any kind. While it is true that we also have no income(!), we now know that we can live very happily and very well on zero dollars a day!
We arrived here on 24 January, and apart from a handful of days off, have gradually been working our way through the property, clearing and tidying, and turning unkempt forest into pretty woodland. Most of the priority jobs are now taken care of, and the place looks beautiful. Indeed when we first arrived we thought the whole place was immaculate, so several weeks later, it has really reached a “5-star” level of manicuring. A wedding will be hosted here next weekend and we will depart before then knowing that the place is looking its best. Next up for us is a hike for 5 or 6 days in the mountains nearby. We are keen again to spend time in the mountains, to maintain our hiking fitness, and to give a break to our arms and hands. After our hike, we will return again to Ann and Blyth to help prepare the stack of Winter firewood, and a few other chores, before striking out again on our own.