Four Weeks in Paradise

We began our journey to the South Island by taking an enormous ferry across Cook Strait. We got on the so boat early that Caitlin and I found a really nice table with a window, but soon every seat was filled. Lounge chairs dotted the auburn carpets and the sounds of soft chatter mingled with the distant hum of large motors. Somewhere a TV was playing a rugby game and there was a movie theater playing the latest Bridget Jones movie. I had expected rows of forward-facing felted chairs, not this kind of luxury. However, we were soon to discover that no amount of grandeur can prevent seasickness.

At first the ferry’s gentle rocking was barely noticeable. We drifted slowly through the water, leaving a white trail of bubbles spiraling back towards Wellington as the squat white houses in the hills faded into the early morning mist. But once we rounded a corner into the open sea the water became dramatically choppier. Our massive vessel attacked the waves, rising and falling with enough force to squash and stretch my brain. Soapy white waves fanned out from the side of our ship and spewed drops of water high into the air. As I walked across the room, the floor would disappear between every other step and suspend my stomach.

Caitlin and I both felt sick almost immediately and resorted to taking turns out on the deck. The water was gray and the narrow outdoor area along the side of the ship was slick with rain, but the fresh air was magical. I stood out there, in my teal sweater, relishing the seawater on my face, watching green islands creep by. We were given advice to stare at the horizon, and that seemed to help, so I spent the last hour watching the South Island drift closer. As we pulled into Marlborough Sounds, rugged cliffs jutted out on either side and pierced the clouds.

We stepped off the ferry in Picton after fours hours of sea travel, still a little wobbly and instantly soaked with rain. We trudged through the slanting showers with one massive backpack on our backs and a smaller one covering our fronts. We had to keep our heads low in order to be able to see, but we were in good spirits and laughing our way into town. We had about five hours to kill in Picton until Mike, one of our future hosts at Hopewell Lodge, was to pick us up in front of the supermarket. Picton is a very cute town in an inlet with houses spreading up into the foothills of the Sounds and I’m sure it would have been a very nice place to hang out on a sunny day. However, the rain was so intense that we were forced to find the only open bar and nurse two cokes over the course of three hours.

Mike found us loitering outside of the supermarket and then drove us through Marlborough Sounds on our way to Kenepuru Sounds. The road twisted around narrow cliff edges and over dramatic inclines. Eventually we took a final turn down a steep gravel road towards the sea. The car slowed down as we reached a car park by the dock, but there were no buildings and no sign of Hopewell Lodge. Mike parked and got out, so we imitated him. He opened the trunk and soon we were all lugging backpacks, groceries and supplies along the dock to a little speedboat bobbing up and down as rain whipped through our wool sweaters. When everything was packed up, Caitlin and I hesitated on the dock, unsure of whether we were getting in the boat or driving somewhere else, but then Mike lifted up a hand to help us into the boat. We stepped onto the lip of the back of the boat to hop in and moments later we were speeding across the water through the Kenepuru Sounds to our home for the next four weeks.

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Kenepuru Sounds.

Lynley, our other host, and Laure, a French WorkAwayer, met us at the dock and we all carried the supplies up the path to Hopewell Lodge. The sun was beginning to set, bathing the trees along the path in golden light. We came to a veranda with flowers hanging over the doorway and met many guests basking in the warmth of the fireplace. It turns out Hopewell isn’t actually a lodge as much as a cluster of little one-room cottages forming a semi-circle around a beautiful beach that reveals oysters and mussels at low tide. Our shared room next to the side of the house that overlooks this beach and opens to huge lemon trees. Rising above the water and on all sides of us were green and auburn hills blanketed in clouds.

From our first day at Hopewell I felt very much at home and quickly fell into a daily routine. We start work at 9:30 a.m. each morning, giving us at least two and a half hours beforehand to read, write, paddle board or chat to early morning tourists. At 9:30 a.m. we help out in whatever way possible, often doing jobs like scrubbing the two bathrooms and showers, stripping sheets, doing laundry, cleaning rooms and remaking the beds. Lynley is self-deprecating about her dedication to cleanliness, but I found that it was a source of pride to make a room crisp, clean and beautiful. And many guests commented on how pristine Hopewell was, so the effort was worthwhile.

We finish work in time for lunch every day without fail. We always try, in vain, to offer help throughout the afternoon and in the evenings, but Lynley and Mike are determined that we should also enjoy our time here. This leaves plenty of time in the afternoons to go on long hikes in the mountains, ride bikes to a nearby shipwreck, kayak among the jellyfish, attempt to paddle board in rocky waters, or just sit by the beach and read. Between the two of us, we have currently read 33 books on this trip.

Almost immediately Mike and Lynley welcomed us into their home and made us feel like a part of their family. They frequently have us over to their little kitchen, along with multiple friends and neighbors, to have dinner. Lynley makes elaborate and delicious meals while Mike is always refilling our wine glasses. They adopted the two of us along with Laure and the four of us became like a family. Their warmth alone has made our four week stay at Hopewell the highlight of my entire time in New Zealand this far. They inspire the type of loyalty that makes me want to come back and visit every year, and indeed many of their WorkAwayers over the last 17 years have returned multiple times.

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Mike preparing for Mussel Night.

A strong sense of community is an integral part of Hopewell, and many of these social interactions involved mussels. A couple of times a week, Mike and Lynley host Mussel Nights for the guests to gather together and socialize. Mike goes out to the nearby mussel farms floating in the sea and rips some mature ones off the rope to bring back and boil for supper. Then we all gather at a long table out on the veranda, drink wine and eat mussels until late at night. I look forward to these nights now, but my very first one was a bit intimidating. I had never had a mussel before I came to Hopewell and I wasn’t sure if I would like it. I watched nervously as Mike walked along the length of the table and dumped huge piles of steaming mussels over the newspaper tablecloth. I ended up with a heaping pile in front of me, daring me to try one. As everyone was digging in, I delicately picked up the green oblong shell and eyed it with apprehension. I squeezed the shell and pulled out the beard, just as Lynley had instructed me, and dipped the blubbery tan oval into a generous amount of garlic butter before popping the whole thing into my mouth. It squished and crunched a little then slid down my throat. I didn’t love it, but I also didn’t hate it. It was fishy and the texture was rubbery, but I surprised myself by trying three more. I never have many more than that, but I now love the passionate conversations that occur during those Mussel Nights. We stay and chat long after the mussels are gone until we suddenly realize that it is dark outside and our wine has disappeared.

At this time, most people walk back to their rooms, but every once in a while Caitlin and I stay up later to hang out in the hot tub. The little pool sits among some tropical trees and looks out over the sea where little mussel boats bob up and down in the twilight and the water glitters. Shooting stars flash across the night sky and eery Tui bird calls echo through the trees. It is in these quiet moments when I remind myself just how lucky I am to be living in a remote paradise.

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Dawn at Hopewell Lodge.

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