Hopewell, Kenepuru Sound

For the past two and a half weeks I’ve been woofing at Hopewell Lodge, a five star hostel (though I’d argue that it’s barely a hostel) out in the Marlborough sounds, on the tip of the South Island. Woofing, for those of you that aren’t familiar with the term, basically means working for a few hours a day in exchange for a place to stay, so in this case I’ve been doing a bit of housekeeping, making beds etc, in exchange for a little slice of paradise- and I’m not even exaggerating!

To get here, first of all, was a bit of an adventure, as it’s a pretty remote spot. I was collected in Picton by my host Lynley, who then drove us about ninety minutes into the wilderness of winding roads, to a spot called Te Mahia. Waiting for us at the tiny dock there, was Lynley’s husband, Mike, on his little boat. We loaded the boat up with all our kit and set out towards Hopewell, which was about fifteen minutes across the bay. At the other end, we were greeted by the five other woofers (Matt, Cat, Rachel, Heather, all from Canada and Colm from the UK) and given the grand tour. After having been there for about half an hour, I was just beginning to unpack when I was excitedly summoned down to the jetty; the neighbours had called to let us know that there were dolphins in the area!

About eight of us clambered onto Mike’s boat and we steamed out into the middle of the bay, where sure enough, a pod of about fifty bottlenose dolphins were plowing through the water. They seemed to take a liking to our boat, perhaps reacting to the excited squeals of all on board every time one popped out of the water at arm’s length from us. The dusky dolphins I’d seen in Kaikoura had been considerably smaller and I have to say, I was amazed at the size of these ones, audibly gasping every time one caught me by surprise, or as I looked into their eyes as they breached. There was also a baby dolphin amongst the pod which, needless to say, was ridiculously cute.

By now, the rain had set in, making any decent pictures pretty impossible, but you can see a video I took of them here instead. Regardless of the rain, I was exhilarated. On several occasions, I was close enough to feel the spray on my face as they expelled the salt water from their blowholes– a sensation I’m never going to forget, as long as I live. After, I’d say, a good twenty minutes or so, we fell back a little (as tempting as it was to just follow the pod forever) and watched them swimming and jumping off into the distance, amidst the grey haze of the rain looming over the sound.

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Pretty good first impression though, I thought.

The next morning, I was overwhelmed by the view outside of my cabin, having only really seen it in the grey rainy haze the day before. My cabin was pretty basic but it was perfectly nice and I was lucky to be sharing the room with Heather, who’d arrived just hours before me and most importantly does not snore!

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Work-wise, we were expected to do three hours of cleaning every morning which suited me fine, apart from the morning part. Cat set about showing me the ropes and let me tell you, I make a mean bed nowadays. I have to say that I’ve taken great pleasure in making sure to be the first person to reach the common room most mornings, which is the last job on the list, just so that I can force my excellent playlists onto everyone else via the excellent speaker system they’ve got up there. I’m sure everyone else has been thrilled to have my music forced upon them too…

After work we had free use of kayaks, paddle boards, a fishing boat and mountain bikes, and more walking tracks than you could shake a stick at. Having discovered that kayaking was pretty fun back in Kaikoura, I set out on the water in search of the bay’s resident stingrays, which I was told inhabited the shallows around the area. Unfortunately, I never spotted one, but I did see about a million (harmless) jellyfish. Paddling about, aimlessly, on a day when the water is flat as a pancake, was one of my favourite activities during my stay here.

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Another one of my favourite activities has definitely been 24/7 access to the hot tub overlooking the sea (I have spent far too much of my time bathing).

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In the morning and early evening it’s lovely, but boy does that hot tub really come into its own on a clear night; we’ve had some amazingly starry skies whilst I’ve been at Hopewell. Just the other night I was laid in there underneath the Milky Way and spotting shooting stars and satellites; AMAZING!

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On a sunny afternoon during my first week here, a few of us set out in search of a beach that was about a ninety minute drive away. The roads around the sounds aren’t what you’d call ideal, with large stretches of unsealed, winding roads, complete with blind corners and gaping drops where the surface has crumbled into the sea. Not one for the carsick (of which there were two of us). Fortunately, we were eventually rewarded with a view of the beach from the cliff top road which was enough to wipe any sense of motion sickness completely.

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We spent the afternoon lazing around on the beaches’ edge, sheltering from the sea breeze in the sand dunes. I wandered along the beach, to take some photographs and had a little paddle on my way back. It was such a beautiful spot, really peaceful, with probably five or six other people on the beach the entire time we were there. Also, the view looking back upon the surrounding hillside was just about as beautiful as the view looking out to sea.

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Another evening, five of us decided we’d hike up to the nearby phone tower to catch the sunset. Now, I am well and truly sick of walking up bloody hills but even I have to admit that it was worth it for the spectacular views down over the sounds (once I’d caught my breath, of course). The sky changed from blue to orange to pink in a matter of minutes and we stood watching the clouds roll in over the surrounding hills, it was stunning.

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It’s been quite a novelty to be in such a remote little spot, with Mike or Lynley usually only doing one weekly trip to the nearest town (about two and a half hours from us) armed with each woofer’s complex grocery list. That being said, Lynley has kept us extremely well fed whilst we’ve been here, treating us to her home cooking several times to thank us for our “hard” work. Honestly, I feel like it’s us that should’ve been thanking her because Hopewell is just too good to be true (and oh my god, her homemade pizzas!!). Another thing Hopewell is famous for, is their bi-weekly mussel nights, where everyone helps themselves to a mountain of fresh, green-lipped mussels, accompanied by delicious dips and homemade flat bread.

I also made full use of having such a nice, big, clean, well-equipped kitchen by baking several crumbles, all of which cost me nothing thanks to all the free ingredients Lynley would give us. It’s safe to say, my crumbles were a hit with the fellow woofers (because if you can’t buy friends with delicious desserts, then how the hell can you?)

One of the best things about having no distractions (I mean, if you ignore all of the nature and stuff) is that I finally had chance to sit and have a draw. I’m a creative person and as such, I’ve definitely been missing having use of all my paints and pens back home, so it’s been nice to have the time, and more importantly the space, to just spend an afternoon or two with my head in my sketchbook.

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On one particularly nice afternoon, after work, we were all treated to a sailing trip with Mike’s brother Phil and his wife Deb, aboard their sailboat. I’ve never been sailing before so it was a real treat (if a little terrifying when the wind sent us way over on one side). We stopped for a swim in a beautiful bay and generally just lounged about the boat all afternoon, it was lovely.

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After a week or so in the seclusion of Hopewell, me and my fellow woofers were able to take a day trip into Nelson, our nearest city (though it feels like a town), to each run a few errands. When we’d all seen to our individual life-admin tasks, we reunited for a lunch of Chinese food, sat out in the sunshine. After that we perused a couple of the city’s great artsy shops, where I found a cushion that I’m definitely going to have to go back and buy because I can’t stop thinking about it. After lunch, we set out on foot, in search of the geographical centre of New Zealand, which was incidentally another hill-based activity. My favourite. As usual though, the hill climb resulted in bloody lovely 360 views over the city. Hills win again, I guess.

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After our walk it was generally decided that, being such a lovely afternoon, we deserved to reward ourselves with a nice cold beverage in the sunshine. Everyone set about getting the beers in and I have no shame in saying that a reward for me was a delicious big Fanta!! (Admittedly I’m on a tight budget at the moment, nevertheless a big Fanta is genuinely what I craved!)

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Later that night we arrived back, armed with groceries and so many snacks, to find the communal kitchen crawling with Americans! Luckily, they were three nice chaps; Nick 1, Nick 2 and Wesley. It was nice to have some fresh faces to hangout with, especially when they were people who appreciated good music and indulged me when I talked about films in nerd terms. They were a good bunch. Fellow woofer, Rachel, had made plans to move on from Hopewell and so, on her penultimate night with us, Lynley made her a beautiful chocolate cake, which she had no choice but to share with us all!

Fuelled by cake, a bunch of us decided it was about time for a dip in the hot tub. Some opted for a pre-hot tub swim in the ocean, though obviously I didn’t because I’m not INSANE. I don’t care how old I am, dark water will never not be scary. The swimmers were rewarded with a magical experience though, as the sea was glowing with bioluminescent phytoplankton (or basically sparkly blue organisms in the sea). Not wanting to miss out completely, I bravely dipped my feet in the water, of the end of the jetty. In a moment of excitement, as the water around my feet glowed electric turquoise, I kicked and splashed water ahead of me, squealing as it sparkled upon impact. Suddenly, my paranoid brain kicked in and said “hey Laura, remember that scene from Jaws?” and I was done. I enjoyed the safety of the hot tub.

In an act of total greatness, Alaskan Nick offered to make me pancakes for breakfast one morning and I very quickly accepted that offer, thank you very much. For someone who’s not at all a morning person, I am a huge fan of breakfast food, so I could hardly decline. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve eaten exceptionally well whilst staying at Hopewell. In fact, for my last night, Lynley absolutely pulled it out of the bag and offered to make me my favourite meal; LASAGNE. I don’t know if it was the fact that I haven’t had Lasagne since I left home or because I’d spent the whole day fantasising about it, but with the first bite I truly thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I had two and a half pieces and I could’ve carried on all night.

Hopewell has been a great spot for sunrises and sunsets, the former of which I was treated to one last time on my final morning there. After a night spent in one of the king size guest bedrooms (a final treat from Lynley), I opened my curtains to the sight of the most beautiful calm ocean, with a single beam of sunlight shining across it like a spotlight, obstructed by the hillside. I’d sort of hoped that, on my final morning, the weather might be a bit rubbish, so that leaving wouldn’t be quite so painful. No such luck. It was a perfect morning, and as we powered across the bay on the boat to to Te Mahia, I definitely felt gutted to be leaving.

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A truly unforgettable place run by the loveliest people you could ever have the pleasure of meeting, I can’t thank Mike and Lynley enough for having me.

(Thanks to Heather for the panorama shot, too!)

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