Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Traveler's Way - Part 1 - Destination: New Zealand

I am a traveler. A person who enjoys experiencing new places, seeing new views, eating different food.

I do not enjoy, however, being a tourist. I find that the majority of tourist destinations are boring and overpriced. When I was at the Louvre in Paris I decided to spend my hour looking at all the other wonderful items they have there rather than spend that hour waiting in line to look at the Mona Lisa for ten seconds.

The problem with tourist destinations and the reason I am libel to pass them by is that they often have nothing to do with a sense of place. What I am most interested in at a destination is the experience of that place.

The highlight of my traveling experience was the year I studied abroad in New Zealand. It is partially due to the fact that I spent so much time there that I really was able to experience the place. That, and the week I spent on the llama farm.

In this short series of blog posts on traveling I will give you some advice should you find tourism as overpriced and boring as I do.

First, go to New Zealand. Out of the major cities, many of the places are very down to earth and easy to access as long as you can manage to drive on the other side of the road.

For example, my geography class on Rivers and Slopes took a field trip and hiked to the place where they filmed part of the Lord of the Rings. There was no one else there but our class and we were able to see where they filmed the scene where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are heading into the cursed mountain where the dead reside. Remember that part? Geek alert!

Second, sign up for WWOOF and stay on a farm for a week. New Zealand is a largely agricultural economy. Much of their recent history is agricultural in nature and much of their culture is wrapped in sheep and cows. To give you an idea, last time I checked there were 4 million people in New Zealand and 40 million sheep. That's 10 sheep for every 1 person.

It fits then that to really experience New Zealand, staying on a working farm would give you the best taste of what the country is all about. WWOOF stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms and is an organization that connects travelers and organic farms together. In exchange for lodging and food from the farm host the traveler agrees to give the farm 4-6 hours of work each day.

"WWOOF New Zealand is part of a world wide community that promotes awareness of ecological farming practices by providing volunteers with the opportunity to live and learn on organic properties. WWOOF is an enjoyable, educational and safe way to explore and get to know the people in the country."

There is a fee to sign up as a traveler and after you have done that you can look at postings by farms looking for help. There are all kinds of farms and all kinds of people. This would be a great way to finally learn about composting or organic farming practices if you have always been curious.

I was fortunate enough to sign up and stay on a llama and alpaca farm. The second day I was there the host, Elise, and I went to a nearby elementary school's farm day. The children each had an animal, either a calf or a lamb that they were to have trained. It was very cute to see the different personalities of the children and how they interacted with their animals.

Elise was asked to bring some of her llamas to the fair day, mostly because it's cool to have llamas around. I was in charge of Cesar all day. It was one of the highlights of my trip because I love animals, Cesar was a sweetie, and I got to talk to New Zealanders all day about llamas.

It was a very kiwi experience, my week on that farm, and I highly recommend it to anyone considering traveling to New Zealand.

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