Redwood Valley: My first WWOOFing experience

My short stay in Redwood Valley is also my only WWOOFing experience to date. If you don’t know what WWOOFing is, click here to check out the site, as I’m too lazy to explain it. I know several people who have had fantastic WWOOFing experiences, so do not think the blog is meant to try and deter you from doing it yourself one day. My first time didn’t go so well, and it’s made me a bit gun-shy about the whole thing. But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t enjoy it!

I’ll start at the beginning. I was pulling out of Mount Cook Village by 7am. It was still dark outside, and I watched the valley get lighter and lighter as I drove. A few cars passed me going the other way, but besides that the road was empty. I took in the view of Lake Pukaki’s stunning blue water once more before I took a turn and started driving along a new road.

The day before I’d plotted out locations to stop for gas. (Mount Cook brings back memories that make me extra cautious about gas, primarily how much of it is in my car and where I can get more.) I was soon making my first stop in Tekapo. This was the first placed I’d seen some snow that wasn’t on the top of a mountain. It was also the last place, which has continued to mess with my brain for the last month. How can it be winter when there is no snow?!

The road stretched on ahead of me. My only company was my music. Sometimes long drives are nice, but they usually come to a point where they are just tedious and boring. Things got better once I got into Lewis Pass. There is a lovely braided river that runs through the valley below, so there were lots of nice views to see along the way. I considered stopping to take a picture or two, but I was on the wrong side of the road for turn offs.

The majority of my 9 hour drive went just fine. There was one doofus GPS move when I made my second stop for gas. Don’t ask me why I followed it, but Google Maps took me off the highway, had me drive through some back roads only to bring me back to the same highway, where I then had to turn back the way I’d come to reach the gas station. *insert frustrated eye roll here*

But it was the end of the trip, when I was almost there, where things really started to go south. Here’s what happened. I was about fifteen minutes away, according to Google. This is when GPS told me to turn off the highway to a smaller country road. I drove along this for a while, and eventually, after several turns, started to get that feeling like I was gonna be turning around soon. Sure enough, I found myself on a dirt road barred by a gate. The sign on the gate read “Authorized Entry Only.” Fantastic. So I tried to turn around.

Did I mention it had started to rain? No? Well it had. And the road I was on was already quite soggy. So when I tried to turn around, I pulled my car too far into the wet and muddy ditch at the side of the road and got stuck! Son of a biscuit! I spent a few short minutes trying to work myself, gave up, cursed a bit, then got out the car and hoped there was someone at home in one of the houses near by.


There were F-bombs.

I got lucky on my first try. An older chap, who I think was Scottish, answered his door and was kind enough to help pull my car out of the mud. He told me I was the second person he’d had to tow. I guess this made me feel a bit better, but not much. He got a rope secured to our cars and with a bit of tire spinning I was back on solid road. I should’ve gotten out of the car to thank him profusely one more time, but instead I gave him a wave and smile and shouted “Thank  you!” through my window and left Pigeon Valley behind.

By the time I got to the highway again, it was getting dark. I had hoped to arrive with a bit of daylight, but getting stuck in the ditch had destroyed any chance of that. And the fun wasn’t over! I put in my destination on Google Maps again, thinking this time it would take me the right way. But no. This time it took me up a hill and tried to have me get to the house via the forestry road. Which was closed, obviously. By this point I was fed up, so I pulled over and called my hosts.

They gave me the last set of directions I’d needed, and I made my way back down the hill. It was still raining, and was now fully dark, but somehow I managed to navigate the many corner turns in the road and spotted the entrance to my host’s driveway. This is where it got really bad. I didn’t realize it, not knowing the area and never having been to this house before, but the place is basically in the middle of nowhere at the top of a hill. And if you remember, my car hates hills.

I’m not joking when I say this driveway traumatized me, just a bit. It was a dirt drive, uphill pretty much the whole way, and it was wet. And dark. Gah, I’m getting anxious just writing about it! Now, by this time I was just ready to get there, so even though I was terrified I was going to drive off a cliff or that my car wasn’t going to be able to pull itself up the slippery drive,  I knew I just had to keep my foot on the gas and keep going. I could only see a few feet ahead of me. The corners loomed out of the shadows, and the headlights occasionally illuminated hanging tree branches, my only indication where the edge of the road was.

Finally I heard a dog barking and saw the lights of a house. I had made it! There wasn’t much room in front of the house for parking, at least not parking that wouldn’t take a bit of maneuvering. I just pulled up as far as I could and got out of the car. Shaking just a bit, I walked up the wide flight of steps to the door. Rollie, the woman I had been emailing with the last few days, greeted me. She was very nice, and comforting after I told her about my ordeal getting there. She showed me the area I’d be staying in (it was basically a whole apartment to myself) then we went upstairs so I could meet her husband and have a cup of tea.

I didn’t leave that house the entire week I was there. I was that scared of the driveway. Even thinking about driving up or down it made my heart start to pound and I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. It was one of the reasons I left the place. The second was Rollie’s husband, Liam. He’s a nice guy, but is very new age-y and into astrology and numerology and all that junk. He is also a conspiracy believer or whatever the hell you want to call them, and good god, if I never hear the word Illuminate again I will be a happy woman (unknown to me then, it wouldn’t be the last I heard of it).

I could only nod politely and say ‘mhm’ and ‘yep’ so many times in response to Liam’s crazy rambling about things. Rollie had a day job so I didn’t see much of her. The first five hours of my day were spent with Liam. He wasn’t around much when I was working on a project, but he made lunch for us everyday, so I got an earful then. I think I would’ve liked Rollie though. I got the sense she didn’t buy into that stuff as much as Liam did. I did at least get to spend a morning picking mandarins with her before I left.

Most of my week was spent shut up in my room reading and watching TV and talking with friends and also trying to figure out what I was going to do at the end of the week. I was running out of money, didn’t want to find another job, but I needed a place to stay. I had a few options, most that didn’t work out. But eventually something came up and I no longer had to worry about living out of my car. I’ll get to that later.

The work I did was pretty easy. I mean, it was work, but it wasn’t challenging. The first day I painted coats of oil onto a staircase, a few sections of baseboards and some door frames, giving them a nice honey glow. I spent a few days in the greenhouse, weeding like crazy. And I got to spend a couple days sorting through Liam’s collection of books, rolling my eyes at several of them. My last day was when the three of us went out to their property closer to Richmond and picked mandarins.


That was probably my favorite thing. It was tough on my back and arms, but it was nice being out in the sun, in the orchard, listening to the sounds of birds and the rustling of leaves as Rollie and Liam picked fruit near by. I had a brief moment where I thought to reconsider my plan to leave. Driving with Liam and Rollie down the driveway in the day made it seem less scary. But when we drove back up the drive later that afternoon, my resolve came back. Lucky Mark 2 would hate me if I made her do that drive every time I went somewhere.

I was as honest as I could be with Liam and Rollie about why I wanted to leave. They accepted it, though I heard them through the floor afterwards and I’m sure they didn’t totally believe me. But it didn’t matter. I had to go. Liam and Rollie were up and off early Saturday to sell the mandarins we’d picked at the market in Nelson. I packed up my things, loaded up my car, stole a bit of food, and steeled myself for the journey down the driveway. I was headed back into Nelson. I’d booked a few nights in a hostel and had made an appointment about housekeeping for accommodation.

This wasn’t where I thought I’d end up when my time at Hobbiton had finished. It was a bit scary, but I felt prepared to start my next adventure, wherever that might be.



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