Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Arthur's Pass: Another Inspirational Couple!

Arthurs Pass Village, population 30. Nestled in the mountains, 2 hours away from the nearest city. The town consists of a single cafe, one hotel, and one backpackers. Sound boring to you? I stayed there for 10 days and could have stayed for another month!

I lived with Geoff and Renee at Arthurs Pass Village Bed and Breakfast, which I found on, a website I've been using that helps travelers find places to volunteer in exchange for room and board. While I was there, there were a few other workers with me; Mirium from Spain and and Alex from France.

We would wake up around 8 to a hearty breakfast of whole-wheat pancakes with homemade jams and spreads, or eggs and bacon, or porridge with apples, nuts and coconut. (Lucky for us Geoff and Renee loved to cook!) For the next few hours we would work on the outside of their house, sanding or peeling off old paint or painting. Renee chose a deep green, the the same color of the wings of a kea, the curious and intelligent alpine parrots who only live in New Zealand and frequent Arthurs Pass.

Before I knew it it was "smoko" (what they call breaktime in New Zealand) and Renee would whip us up a hot drink on her expresso machine. We would paint for two or three more hours and then come inside for a delicious lunch, usually cooked by Geoff - rice and curry, homemade bread for sandwiches, roast vegetables; the food was delicious!

The rest of the day we had free to go hiking. There are dozens of amazing local hikes in the area, like Temple Basin, where the local ski field is in the wintertime.  Geoff and Renee let me take a day off to go up to Avalanche Peak, which is the most famous day hike in the area. It was the longest, steepest hike I'd done by myself - 6 hours! I brought a little backpack with food and water.

Sometimes we would come back towards the end of the day and all go out together to pick rosehips, which Geoff and Renee make into a sweet syrup to pour on pancakes.

When I first met Renee and Geoff, they seemed normal enough. Renee works at the Department of Conservation office, trying to get tourists to take safety precations before they go hiking - "Don't wear jeans!" she warns them. There are lots of helicopter rescues for unprepared tourists romping about in the mountains. Geoff is on the volunteer rescue squad, and also works from home for a group working to protect Antarctica from overfishing. He writes editorials that are published in the New Zealand Herald, the biggest paper in NZ.

After living with them for a few days, I began to notice that their lifestyles are much more sustainable than most. Since they live two hours from Christchurch they only make trips to the city once every few weeks where they buy everything in bulk. They always choose free-range eggs, cruelty-free meat, and organic produce.

They store their extra food in their garage, which is quite cold because of the high-altitude climate. They have huge bags of oats, rice, flour, and sugar, a freezer that is always full of meat, and a place for non-perishable vegetables such as apples, broccoli, carrots, and onions.

Buying in bulk saves money and helps the enviornemnt; Geoff and Renee barely produce any trash! They do have to be organized but not obsessively so;  they tend to plan their meals on the day-of, looking to see what they have (everything!) ; but most of their food is non-perishable anyway.

Renee's kitchen is very organized, with labled containers for flour, sugar, oats, and what she needs to bake her own bread which she does almost every day. Renee cooks with cast iron pans, which are extremely heavy but amazing for cooking. They have an impressive spice rack and they pick fresh mint that grows wild in their backyard. Before bed Renee sometimes would make me a delicious soymilk drink with freshly ground nutmeg- so tasty!

There are two bins for any food waste - one for the chickens, one for the garden. they Even though the chickens don't lay eggs when it gets colder they are still treated like royalty. They burn their paper trash in the wood stove that heats their house, and they reuse lots of the containers they buy their bulk food, such as using huge 1-kg yogurt containers again to carry paint.

Like a lot of kiwis, they have a do-it-yourself attitude and take volunteers to help them with projects. They are also working on converting their shed behind their house to a bunk room for volunteers to live.

I learned a lot from staying with them! Someday, when I am living in one place, I want to buy in bulk, have chickens, reuse my containers, make my own jam and bake my own bread!

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