When I lived in Australia, I frequently heard horror stories of orchard and farm work. At the time, doing 88 days of farm or orchard work would qualify you for an extra year’s working holiday visa. It seemed like 9/10 people had one hair-raising experience or another while completing their 88 days, but many persevered towards the light at the end of the tunnel – that coveted extra year in the land Down Under. However, the sheer number of negative accounts put me off so much that I forfeited the opportunity, and left Oz after a year.
I am no stranger to hard work, and I like a challenge. But the tales of 12-hour shifts in 42 degree heat, of sexual abuse, and systematic racism and sexism – no thanks. A Belgian backpacker even died of heat stress while working on a Queensland farm (you can read more about this here). And while some claimed seriously money could be made, despite the hardships – well, I had a friend who made a single dollar after a whole day’s work, so I had evidence to the contrary as well. Of course, some people had positive experiences, but not an inspiring amount.
With this in mind, it never really occurred to me that I would end up working on an orchard in New Zealand. My first two jobs here were amazing adventure tourism roles – one on a boat doing tours of an incredibly beautiful national park, and the other in the ticket office of a ski field – but here I am, picking stone fruit in Cromwell (and living out of my car – more on that here!)
Guess what? I really, really enjoy it. And here’s a few reasons why:
1. You get to be outside in the lovely orchard sun
Ok, so this is really only valid in summer – but still. Feeling the warm air brush your skin as you stroll around in the dappled shade of the apricot trees is bliss. Yes, it can be hot and sweaty on those 30 degree days, but luckily I do not work on a vineyard where you are exposed to the baking sun for the day. I can take refuge under the shadows of the grand, overhanging branches, and reflect on the on-going novelty – for any Irish person – that is being too hot for a sweater in the middle of December.
2. You can listen to podcasts all day
I genuinely think this is my favourite perk of the job. I am now a podcast guru. I dabble in podcasts of all genres, and spend my days listening to horrible true crime stories, or self-help advice, or personal stories, interviews with celebrities..the possibilities are endless. And if a member of the crew finds a good episode of something, they share – so we can all dissect it together on break (or ‘smoko’, as it is called here).
3. You learn to drive cool orchard machinery
I had never set foot on a tractor before – but I can now bomb around the tree-lined rows on a tractor like a boss. My latest new set of wheels is a hydralada, which we used mainly for cherry picking. It’s a sort of three-wheeled tank, for lack of a better word, which attaches to a long arm. The driver stands in a small box at the end of this arm. It is controlled solely by three foot pedals, and it can raise you up to five metres. It takes a while to get used to, but when you do – oh boy, the fun is endless.
4. You get quite fit
The days are fairly long (nine hours, ish) and you are on your feet for the majority, if not all, of this time. So while it’s not exactly a cardio workout – you get in some decent heavy lifting, and are always moving to some extent. I always feel like I’ve had a good amount of exercise when the working day is done, and it’s a great feeling!
5. You have great chats with great people
Tractor chats are great. Those long shifts fly by when you are having a conversation with a colleague about the meaning of life, as you pluck peaches from the branches above. Or if the mood is right, a nice sing-song through the trees can open the heart and lift the soul. Or you can combine this with Point #1 and listen to a podcast while having tractor chats – the best!
Have you worked in an orchard? Do you agree with the above, or is there something else you loved about it? Let me know in the comments below!