Motueka and the pleasures of a small town in New Zealand

We had decided to take the offbeat route to the Golden Bay in the South Island of New Zealand. Accordingly, we had gone from the Interislander ferry terminal to Nelson and done a day trip to the Abel Tasman National Park. We decided to use Motueka as our transit stop en route the Golden Bay.

“Why do you want to stay in the small town of Motueka? There’s more to do at Nelson, and the ticket fare is just 7 NZD more”, the lady at the booking counter had advised us. But small towns have their own lure and any amount isn’t “just small” when converted to INR. We didn’t bother telling the girl about global currency exchange rates, just smiled and told her we would prefer to stay in smaller Motueka.

Hat trick and WWOOF at Motueka

This was the first reference to cricket that we came across in Motueka – our hostel named Hat trick Lodge. The guy at the reception, who turned out to be also the owner of the place gave us a quick tour of the hostel. He showed us the usual – common room, bathrooms, kitchen and the clothes drying area. “The lines are at the back”, he then said.

Lines? We wondered. “If you want to dry any clothes. The weather’s been good these days.” Up until then, at any place outside of India, we had only seen washing machines with dryers. We hadn’t known that the way clothes have always been dried in India – hanging them on the wires in the open and sun-drying them, was known as “line drying”. Websites like the Treehugger had introduced us to this term. In the first world nation of New Zealand, it was heartening to see that they had “the lines” for drying clothes.

Only after we checked into our little hostel in Motueka did we realise that we were famished. During our walk at the Abel Tasman National Park, we hadn’t really stopped to have the lunch that we had packed for ourselves. We had a healthy lunch of multi-grain bread, dressed chicken, luscious cold cuts, hummus and of course apples, which were in season during our visit in the fall. Once we were done with our meal, we put all the foodstuff in a bag, labelled it, and left the bag in the common hostel fridge – as we had got accustomed to doing in the hostels. But here, we saw big plastic boxes filled with stuff like packets of pasta, flour, big egg crates – not the kind of stuff you stock when you are travelling and are constantly on the move.

While eating, we met a young guy from China. His “English name” was John. He removed one of these boxes and started preparing his meal. We took this opportunity to ask him what the deal was with these big boxes.

That’s when we realised that many of these young boys and girls (mostly in their early 20s) were WWOOFing here. WWOOF stands for WorldWide Organisation of Organic Farming. Different countries have their own WWOOF chapters. You need to register by paying a small fee for each country’s WWOOF organisation. Organic farmers of those countries also register here. You work on their farms, and in return for your work, they give you a place to stay and take care of your meals. Wineries, fruit orchards, cheesemakers – are all part of the WWOOF community. You can decide what you would like to do, send out a letter to that farmer, and if they accept you, you work there. Most of them ask you to work for at least 15 days – because that’s the time you would take to learn the skills and then be of help.

To officially work under WWOOF you need a work visa or a working holiday visa. A working holiday visa basically a tourist visa with permission to work for certain hours. As India and New Zealand do not have a working holiday visa arrangement (but soon, might!), we couldn’t have worked under WWOOF (officially!).

So these boxes belonged to the youngsters of all these countries who had a working holiday arrangement with New Zealand. They had either completed their high school or graduation and had travelled to New Zealand – to travel and work simultaneously. They lived in hostels like the one we were staying at and work in the nearby farms. After a few weeks of work, they would have saved enough to travel for a few weeks. Travel. Relocate to a new place. Work at a new farm. Repeat. Until the visa expired or they decided to go back.

Walking through the bush in Motueka

Our bus for the Golden Bay was late in the afternoon, giving us half a day to explore Motueka. The girl at the Motueka i site (which are the tourist centres in New Zealand) suggested we start walking through the bush. We could return by the coastal route. Bush and the coast, right in the middle of a town sounded like a great place to be.

The Thorp bush, and began at the end of the market street. A large open green space, a well-marked walking track lined with trees, a children’s play area and a disabled-friendly toilet – the entrance to this bush itself had all the markings of typical Kiwi life. Our streak of perfect days continued. The sky was spotless blue. We walked further into the Thorp bush. There was a bed of newly planted trees, with a small board saying, “We are really young. Please don’t walk over us.” From here, the well-marked pathway became more of a “maybe the path goes here”. This tentative way led to a small wooden bridge. Signs requesting the walkers to give way to the cyclists and the cyclists to watch out for the walkers were all along the way.

We were now walking next to houses and fields. A not-too-big-not-too-small wooden house, surrounded by a garden on all sides. On the other side of the path were pastures, of course with sheep grazing. Next to it was ground with some boys and girls playing games (they have a concept of mixed teams here in New Zealand).

A picture of a typical day in the life of a Motueka resident flashed before our eyes. You could start your day running or cycling in the bush. Then step out of home, walk for less than ten minutes, have some mochaccino at one of the cafes and meet up with your friends. Then quickly check on your sheep grazing merrily on the meadows before hopping on to the ground to play a game of cricket/basketball/rugby.

A little ahead, we hit the road. We crossed it and the bush continued. We now had two choices – take a route along the lake that was in front of us or a pathway through the lake. Some herons caught our attention on the side of the lake, so we decided to walk on the sides. Here we could spot most of the birds that were displayed on the board saying “Birds of this swamp”. We saw the cormorant (commonly called “shag” in New Zealand), black swans, herons and gulls.

The coastal road of Motueka

From this lakeside, we headed to the beachside. It was the ANZAC weekend, so people were out on the beach for a holiday. We saw families celebrating a holiday outdoors as we walked on the sand. Kids and their furry dogs jumping in and out of the water, friends having a picnic lunch on the benches nearby. Across the beach were the golf lawns. Many elderly people were gathered here, making use of the sunny day playing a round of golf.

An interesting structure caught our attention. It was the remains of a boat that got stranded on the Motueka bay. They couldn’t get it out. So now, the rusted eroded remains of the boat have become a spot for birds to hide their catch or to dry themselves. It has also become an attraction of the people visiting Motueka. Even the map of Motueka is marked with “stranded boat”. Trust the Kiwis to turn a potential eyesore into a quirky little attraction. The boat is eroded in such a way now, it doesn’t really look bad at all. It could, in fact, be passed off as an art installation!

The Motueka market

The Motueka market also reflected the pleasures of living in a small town in New Zealand. While there were regular cafes and steakhouses, geared mainly for the tourists, there were shops selling toys. What’s the big deal about that, you might wonder. But these were handmade toys – made by the people and artists in and around Motueka. In fact, they even had a toy competition going on, and the window display proudly announced this. You could choose your material – wool, metal, wood – anything was allowed. You make your toy and it would be displayed in the shop here for everyone to see.

Who had thought of such a unique competition? It wasn’t any commercial establishment organising this activity for marketing purposes. It was all arranged by the Art Council of Motueka (imagine having an active art council for your town!)

Then there was a workshop for kids for lapidary – we didn’t even know what it meant, till we read further. It is an art of engraving on stones. Imagine making such a specific beautiful art accessible to kids of the town as their after school activity! It further went on to say that the children would learn about silversmithy, copper filing and a whole range of these highly creative sounding activities.

Life in the town of Motueka

We were amazed at the thin line between rural and urban New Zealand. We wondered if there really was any urban New Zealand, outside of Auckland and Wellington. At this point, after having spent over 2 weeks in this special country, we were beginning to realise that most of New Zealand was actually rural in nature. Where farms and pastures are a means of earning your livelihood. And walks around lakes and beaches an integral part of your neighbourhood. It was a modern utopian life – you were growing your own fruits (and many vegetables), you owned a big herd of animals (sheep or cows), you were breathing the cleanest air, hills/forest/beach/river – some natural body was always less than a 10 minute walk from your town – if not your home. And at the same time, you had all the modern amenities of a good education and healthcare.

We were glad we had stayed back in Motueka instead of returning back to Nelson (even when the girl had said there was more to do in Nelson). Staying in smaller towns, away from the attractions, gives you a chance to unobtrusively observe the local life and try and get a better understanding of the place that you are visiting.

The lake or the bush or the beach of Motueka wasn’t the most spectacular one we have seen. But when you think about all of these together, being an integral part of a regular town – it makes the town of Motueka spectacular. And it makes life in New Zealand spectacular.



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8 thoughts on “Motueka and the pleasures of a small town in New Zealand”

  1. What an offbeat post! We love reading your blogs specifically for the local anecdotes you bring. Who knew we were not the only ones hanging clothes out to dry haha. And thanks a ton for the WWOOF details, will be checking this out when we plan for NZ and hopefully we can work with them for a while! Cheers and keep posting such gems!

  2. Small towns sure have their own lure and you do perfect justice to them by capturing them in your lens and weaving stories like none other!
    This post has been an eye opener of sorts! The concept of Wwoofing is so AMAZINg. It is something I would love to do. So lovely to know about drying lines at the Hat trick hostel 😉
    The parks with well defined walk ways, the water bodies with birds galore and the toy making competition caught my eye instantly! 🙂 Loved the read. So good to read about the simple , rural pleasures of Motueka!

    1. It’s so important to spend some time in these small towns, no? Away from the tourist action. Where daily life just happens. It’s these places which give a real flavour of the country, I feel, more that the tourist destinations.

  3. Wow I am loving your stories from New Zealand. The slow loving, the countryside , the people. It’s all so fascinating. And WWOOF really sounds so cool ! 🙂 very refreshing blog post ! Loved reading it.

  4. I somehow always thought of New Zealand as a busy and urban country. Your blog post and posts on Instagram have made me see the rural side of New Zealand and it’s every bit fascinating! I guess most of us have known NZ only through Auckland and Wellington. It’s refreshing to see this side of the country. It reminded me of the conversation I had with you guys about joy of slow travels!

  5. Motueka blog read like a poem. An epitome of slow living where beautiful things unfolds as you live your daily life! This is why you should not be day tripping to such gem of destinations. Loved the idea of farming. Even though our country dont provide those typical work visa, I feel we should run them even for a short time basis. Wheer new people from developed nation comes and shares knowhow with our farmers. I take immense pride in our farming land even though by the stroke of luck, they remain one of the most impoverished and ignored sector. Even though they feed us.

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