So my time at the valley has come to an end, and I am off to the next phase of my epic trip. I spent a couple months in the Coromandel and shared time with some really good people. I think I'll miss the food the most, especially the daily fresh baked bread, and the lemon honey. There were some truly incredible and rewarding things done in the valley, as well as some aspects that really got on my nerves, but I'm quite happy I chose to spend a couple months there. Honestly, it would have probably been better if I had started the same time as the others. Most of them arrived in early January, while I arrived a little before the midpoint. As a result it took some time to find my place in the group. But I lucked out in that all the volunteers, who I spent almost every waking moment with, were good people and easy to get along with.
Some of the projects I didn't write about included building a dog pen for our delightful poochies. They were living in the van (they just bought the house a month before the program started) before that, which was sometimes a rather gross predicament. I helped build an earth oven, which fortunately Bexie has made a lovely and detailed blog about, so check it out: http://wordsbybexie.blogspot.com/2010/04/earthwise-valley-earth-oven.html And I helped build a composting toilet (which we named Jorge, to go along with the composting toilet on the land named Sonya).
Jorge, and a project build before I got there known as the worm bath, were both really interesting. The collection buckets in both were full of, obviously, worms. The worm bath was literally an old bathtub full of rather fertile soil, lots of compost (worm food!), probably over 1000 worms (heaps and heaps), a blanket to keep them warm, and a lid to keep them dry. The worm poop is apparently super powerful fertilizer, plus it cuts down on any rotting smell. With Jorge, while most outdoor toilets usually smell awful and are full of flies and leeches, you could hardly notice even after constant usage. The worms would convert it all to usable fertile soil and the mulch we threw on top when we were done with business kept the flies at bay.
In the valley, we planted (and harvested) 400 flax, and 200 more before I got there. This involved driving to a swampy area, where the palm/grass like 10ft tall flax thrived and attacking them with spades. We would cut "blades" of flax off the main plant, and as long as we got some of the roots, they could be transplanted the next day in the valley. The flax will provide seeds for birds which can then do our job for us for other species. We also set up stakes for another 500 or so Acacia trees, but since we were in a pretty severe drought, we never had a chance to plan them. Acacias are from Australia, but they grow quickly and pull nitrogen up, plus will provide plenty of shade to kill the smothering (and foreign) grass covering the valley. Those two plants would really help speed up the recovery by a few years, and it was neat to see just how long term planning something like forest regeneration really was. It's a 15 year or longer commitment and we were in year two,
Other fun trips we had were heading out for a sea kayaking trip on Easter. We set out from the bay right by the valley and paddled about 16km or so down to Kennedy Bay, where we collected a bunch of muscles, and set out for a tiny beach across the bay. The beach was only accessible by the sea (or crazy rock climbers like Dave) where we played some hodgepodge mix of baseball and cricket. We also spent plenty of time at various beaches, and went on a neat 3 hour nature walk through the back of the valley.
So what's next? I'm already on the South Island, in the splendidly British town of Christchurch. I spent a few days in Auckland before arriving here five days ago. Tomorrow I begin a tour around the south island. There are a few bus companies in NZ that are tailored to backpackers to visit sights around the country. I chose the Stray Bus, which will take me up to the north of the south island on the 19th, and along the western side during the next week or so. Along the way I'll get to do plenty of more hiking, probably a horseback riding trip, and maybe some more sea kayaking. The two activities I'm most looking forward to (and lamenting the big price tags) will be a helicopter ride to the top of a glacier where we'll hike around for a few house, climb through some ice caves, and experience the alien blue ice landscape of a glacier. I also hope to go hang gliding in the next couple weeks. NZ is the adventure capital, and things like bungy jumping were invented here. But hang gliding is more up my alley, so I'm really looking forward to it.
I hope everyone back home is having a nice spring. I miss you all quite a bit, but I'll visit soon.