The alarm goes off, it’s 6:00 a.m. But wait—that’s right— we’re in New Zealand, or paradise as we kiwi visitors came to call this beautiful country. So, up at 6:00, have breakfast, get packed up and loaded on the bus for another exciting day of travel.
I was honestly dreading the 13-hour flight from L.A., but it was overnight and not bad at all. After being fed a delicious meal (which included New Zealand wine) you could sleep or view a large selection of movies or tv on your own private screen in the back of the seat in front of you, or you could listen to music. Upon waking in the morning we were served an equally delicious breakfast and before long we were landing in Auckland.
It was also my birthday, so what a great way to start the day. It ended with us getting to see a comet at the restaurant where we had dinner. Pretty special.
It was 80 degrees and humid, overcast with a little drizzle of rain but not enough to dampen our spirits. Leslie, the bus driver we would spend the next 4 days with on the North Island, had to be the best bus driver in all of New Zealand. He was so gracious in answering all of our questions and trying to make sure we saw as many local interesting sights as we could in between all the farm stops we had scheduled. He was interesting, knowledgeable, courteous, and helpful and we all felt very lucky to have him as our escort.
The farms were fabulous! Sandersonia, calla, hydrangea, hellebores, viburnum, rosehips, weigela, phormium, etc., all planted in paddocks. These were plots of land anywhere from 2 to 10 acres or so surrounded by very tall, sheared evergreen hedges. Constant high winds were the reason, but we never really experienced them until the last day in Christchurch. They reminded me of formal gardens on grand English estates. Other crops such as kiwi, orchards, olives, etc. are sometimes planted in paddocks as well.
Most of the flowers we saw were exported, mainly to Japan, but some to the U.S. Most farms specialized in one to two varieties of crops. Exports are done through a broker and it really seemed to make marketing a breeze. The other side is, everything has to be top quality and fumigated because of course, if one bunch has bugs, they all do and so much for that shipment.
The two farmers’ markets we got to go to were the half-market, half-flea market type, but still interesting and fun. One was a small local Saturday market in Kaikours. No flowers, but fruits, jams, baked goods, a lady with knitted goods from local wool, a lunch wagon, and a little music to top it all off. The other was a large Sunday market in Christchurch with everything you could think of. There was only one flower vendor with some different sized bouquets, but looked like they were from a local wholesaler, not a local grower. Very reasonable prices. A supermarket in Wellington had a fabulous floral department. Lots of variety including greens, and getting good prices for them too.
There were “Flowers for Sale” signs at farms along all the roads and Leslie Garcia and I ran back to one farm just down the road from a break stop. He was growing only callas and lilies in crates, but that day he was more concerned about his sorry tomatoes, which Leslie was kind enough to offer advice on. His hundreds of callas were going to a Saturday market and he said he would have no problem selling them all in a very short time.
Speaking of callas, in New Zealand they are grown in beds of only fertigated pine sawdust. Fabric is laid down first to make the bed, then a couple inches of sawdust, bulbs come next, and another 4 inches of sawdust. This helps to keep the bulbs cool and decreases the chance of Erwinia getting the bulbs.
And as long as I’m on the subject of callas, we got to walk through a breeder’s normally off-limits greenhouse that had a breathtaking display of up and coming new varieties. Every size, color, or combination thereof you could imagine. No pictures please!
Agapanthus were blooming everywhere and are considered a weed, if you can believe that. Also lots of blue hydrangea, crocosmia, borage, and other flowers blooming along the roadsides that we had no idea what they were. Leslie (bus driver) was very helpful with providing names and info for a lot of plant life.
One other “crop” grown in New Zealand is radiata pine. It reaches maturity in 25 years and there were forests of it everywhere. Sections would be “toppled” all at once and then replanted. Native timber varieties are protected, though, and a permit is required to cut, even if it’s on your own land.
The American influence seemed to be mostly TV and movies. 99% of movies were the same ones we could see at home. All pictures of American shows on the covers of the TV guides, but not all channels were U.S. The Maori (native people) had their own station, spoken in their native language with English subtitles. That was very interesting. Otherwise a McDonalds or Subway here or there, but not too much.
Downtowns seemed to be thriving even in smaller communities. We saw hardly any malls. Most stores are closed on Sundays and evenings. 20% sales tax is included in the price you pay, so you don’t even realize you’re paying it. Minimum wage is $10.50 an hour. Average price for a 3-bedroom ranch is $350,000. Land prices are equally high. We didn’t see much new housing development like you see here. Lots of California bungalow-type houses with tile (cement) roofs. Many houses, especially farms have their own rain collection systems with big tanks in the yards.
Lots and lots of sheep, also cows and deer. Venison was on most of the restaurant menus. The food was excellent. Baked tomato slices served with all our breakfasts, as well as vegemite in packets right along with the jelly. Vegemite is a barley product which a lot of us smelled, but few had the courage to taste!
I could go on and on, it was such an unforgettable trip! And the group that went made it really enjoyable and fun. I’d encourage anyone who’s ever dreamed of going to New Zealand, like I had for many years, to GO! I’d never hesitate to go again.
A side note: I’m in the process of moving my farm this year, so if you are trying to get a hold of me, you’ll have to contact the ASCFG office. I’ll be getting all my new information to Judy as soon as I have it.