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Oceania » Australia » Queensland » Cairns » Cairns City » Inn The Tropics
July 13th 2011
Published: July 13th 2011
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After travelling about half the South Island, we ventured to the North Island. It was an instant shock. After being on an Island with ¼ of the countries population, and where each town has a nominal population and everything shuts down at 5:00 pm, landing in Wellington on the North Island was a cheap high! The lights, the cars and the diversity of food was a welcome surprise. The North Island even has true highways! Our final destination was just North of Auckland where we would be wwoofing for a couple, named Lily and Steve. We took our time getting there and stopped in national parks and tried to hike but it rained so bad that we weren’t allowed to hike. A much-needed stop was in Rotaura, famous for their hot springs. They even have a hot springs river! Of course it rained every day.

One day, after being stuck in the van all day, spirits low and not being able to find a hostel that would let us park our van and sleep in it, but still using the facilities, Patrick was starting to loose his patients. Very rare indeed. Just as we pulled up to the hostel, the rain began literally pouring into our van, right on top of Patrick’s head. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud which really didn’t make the situation any better.

It was a welcome relief landing at Steve and Lily’s. Their laid back mentality, combined with their super amazing, high class, industrial coffee maker was just what I needed. They showed us around their place and all the animals which included, two pigs, chickens, 6 highlander cows two of which would have a baby ‘any day’, a jersey cow, also about to have a baby ‘any day’, a bunch of sheep and Sid – the Emu. The Emu was nuts-o! If you started to run through the field Sid, who was still a teenager, would get so excited that she was run as fast as she could and throw her legs up in the air like a leprechaun. It turned out to be our daily routine with her. How hyper could we get Sid?

We soon learned that Steve and Lily are loaded! Twelve years ago, they started a motorcycle touring company through India. They take about 20 people at a time for three weeks and make a shit load of cash. They literally only work 6 weeks a year, 5 of which they are riding motorcycles throughout India. Pretty, pretty, pretty good!

One day, Steve and Lily had us weeding the field for thistles. My mood instantly turned from happy to completely pissed off in seconds. What a waste of bloody time! The whole reason they have thistles is because the soil quality in that area was poor and compacted. Duh permaculture! What are the weeds telling us? Also, why the hell were we weeding, the pigs should be working for their food. Patrick suggested to Steve that we make a temporary enclosure for the pigs and let them root around the soil and pull out all the thistle while at the same time eating any unwanted roots, while shitting on the soil and fertilizing it. After, Steve and Lily could go through and plant comfrey seeds which when mature, the cows would devour! Steve loved it! And we were finally able to implement some of our permaculture knowledge.
A week later, Patrick stood witness to a full on pig slaughter. It was time to butcher the pig. They hired a mobile abattoir and killed the pig before it knew what hit him. No stress on the guy what so ever. I of course, couldn’t watch, as I really loved that little piggy.

Finally on the day we were leaving it happened. It was the first sunny morning in a long time and Steve called us out of bed, “Fanta is having her baby!” I’ve never jumped out of bed and gotten dressed so quickly. We’ve been waiting for this every day since we arrived. Camera in hand, I ran down to the paddock. About thirty minutes of clear un-comfortableness, a little baby was born! Fanta who usually would never let us close, allowed us to get as close as we wanted. She licked and licked and licked that little guy clean and after about an hour, he was already up and staggering around. A pig dies and a cow is born.

While at Steve and Lily’s we decided that our feet were getting a little itchy, the rain was a real drag (still it was raining every day), and we needed to begin making some money. With the Australian dollar at an all time high, jobs were relatively easy to get, or so we thought, and it was much warmer and less rainy than New Zealand, we decided to go to tropical Cairns for three months then come back to New Zealand. Steve offered to let us keep our van at his place too! Before we crossed the ditch, we had to make one more wwoofing stop at Klaus’s and Vanessa’s even further north.

We loved it at Klaus and Vanessa’s! As a homeopath, Vanessa is totally into local, and organic food. We literally ate whatever was in season from their farm. The best part, Klaus was a professional permaculturalist who teaches at the local college. We learned so much there is was unreal! Klaus taught us all about growing mushrooms, terracing, garlic growing, heating a green house with goats, composting like I’ve never seen it, and best of all we got to use machetes. I loved the concepts that Klaus had. He had pine nut trees that were being shaded out by the eucalyptus trees, and the pine trees were growing on a very steep incline, which was causing run off issues. We cut down the eucalyptus and instead of hauling them up an enormous hill, we chopped them up, laid them down to create terraces and piled them with goat and horse shit to add fertilizer. Later, when soil has been created, Klaus will come by and plant banana trees! ‘Work is a failure in design’ and this was total permaculture in action. Love it.

One day as I was scrounging around for some bananas to pick from the trees, Patrick came up to me and meekly said, “I’m bleeding. The only thing that stopped the machete from going through my finger was my bone!” Gross. Still, Patrick loved using the machete whenever possible.

For our anniversary, we borrowed Vanessa and Klaus’s ocean kayak and did a weekend trip out to the beautiful Bay of Islands! It was so fun. Patrick brought along a fishing rod and was trawling behind the kayak. He made a big mistake by allowing me to tie the lure on, because he caught a huge fish that I thought was going to pull him out of the kayak but it got away because the lure came undone. My bad.

So here we are in Cairns. It was a huge struggle for me at the beginning. I think it was the first time in years that I was truly depressed. Upon arrival at the hostel, everyone kept telling us that because the place is so bustling with backpackers it is almost impossible to find work or a place to stay. People were looking for jobs for over a month with nothing. It had cost us a lot in visas and airfare to get there. We were paying a ton of money on hostels and food and all our funds are in New Zealand dollars being eaten up by the insanely high exchange rate. I felt we had made a terrible decision and I again, I kept questioning why we were doing this?

Things did begin looking up. Luckily, before arriving I signed up to attend a perma-blitz two days after we arrived. There I met Maddie who mentioned she was looking for a roommate! Somehow I was able to find a job serving in a restaurant. Patrick didn’t have so much luck. Cairns is going through a 15% unemployment rate with the majority of the unemployed in the trades. He called every electrician in the phone book and no one would hire him. Just yesterday he found a job working as a kitchen hand at a really cool and fun restaurant. At least he has a job.

I’ve been loving life though. My days are filled with getting up when I want, making a huge breakfast, sitting outside in the 25 degree sun, hopping on my bike and either heading down town or hitching to the beach. Cairns has a wonderful esplanade right on the ocean with live music all day, free bbq to use everywhere, and tons of people just enjoying the sun. I've only been here a week and I’m already volunteering with the local organic food co-op, the local non-profit in town that is very similar to Green Calgary, the permaculture group and today we just picked up our first local food box!

Its funny how life works out sometimes. Its so confusing when you’re in the middle of it, but time and time again I am constantly reminded that I need to trust the process and everything will work out. It always does. Now if only this damn country had good beer, we’d be set.


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