New Zealand is the land of Lord of the Rings, home of the All Blacks, and, according to the writer Rudyard Kipling, the eighth Wonder of the World (Milford Sound). If you’ve always dreamt of visiting and are looking for a unique way to travel – or find yourself daunted by the high prices – then you might want to consider WWOOFing.

WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a global organisation that creates opportunities for people to work on organic farms around the world, and there is no shortage of great experiences to be had in New Zealand.

Reflection of snow-capped peaks in the still waters of Lake Matheson.
New Zealand's astounding natural beauty makes it the perfect place for a WWOOFing experience

How WWOOFing works

WWOOFing is based on a simple concept: Put in a half day’s work (usually four to five hours) at your host site in exchange for free room and board (three meals a day) for the duration of your stay. At its best, WWOOFing is a reciprocal relationship where you’re learning from your host and they’re benefitting from the work you provide.

In a place like New Zealand, there are plenty of WWOOF hosts to choose from. With its rich agricultural heritage, the country’s farms are plentiful and diverse, and the economy is highly dependent on seasonal labour (much of which comes from tourists), so many families and farmers are looking for help.

WWOOF New Zealand hosts can range from a family of small backyard gardeners looking for help keeping up with the weeds and processing the summer’s bounty, to owners of a large dairy cow operation who need help with daily milking and chores.

As a WWOOFer, you might be an apprentice to a cheesemaker, learn the ins and outs of animal husbandry, or help your host manage a crop rotation schedule for organic vegetables. No matter what you want to learn, there is likely a WWOOF host in New Zealand to suit you.

When you're not working, there are plenty of ways to get out and discover this beautiful country © Naruedom Yaempongsa/Lonely Planet
When you're not working, there are plenty of ways to get out and discover this beautiful country © Naruedom Yaempongsa/Lonely Planet

Where to WWOOF in New Zealand

Whether you WWOOF at an eco village, organic farm or retreat, you’ll be participating in a unique experience that not every traveller will have. You’ll have the opportunity to explore areas of New Zealand you might not otherwise travel to, and have the chance to meet other travellers as well as local families.

Want to visit the adrenaline capital of the world? Queenstown is the place to head to. Want to ride your bike from the alps to the ocean? New Zealand’s famous Alps2Ocean trail can make that dream a reality. Want to surf iconic waves? WWOOF in the laid-back beach town of Raglan for easy access. Is hiking or backpacking more your thing? New Zealand's Great Walks will keep you busy.

There are no shortage of WWOOF hosts in New Zealand offering a number of diverse experiences.
There is no shortage of WWOOF hosts in New Zealand offering a number of diverse experiences

Know before you go

WWOOFing sounds simple, but the specifics can vary quite a lot from host to host. 'Half a day' is interpreted loosely in many cases, as is the idea of a reciprocal relationship. And while some WWOOF hosts will give you free range of the kitchen and facilities, others will greet you with a binder full of rules, which might include a page dedicated to which teabags you’re allowed to use and how many pieces of fruit you’re permitted per day!

Tips for success

  • Clearly define expectations and boundaries before committing to any WWOOF site. Confirm how many hours a day you’ll be required to work, what the accommodation is like, and what type of food you can expect to eat. You’ll not only know what to expect but also be less likely to be taken advantage of.
  • Although any host who is signed up through the official WWOOF organisation should be vetted, some places that advertise themselves as a WWOOF host aren’t really agriculturally focused at all and are just looking for free labour. Do your research.
  • There are inherent risks involved with agricultural work. Be sure to let your host know if you feel uncomfortable using any tools, equipment or machinery, or if you don’t feel comfortable around animals and livestock. Your safety should always be a priority.
  • If you have any doubts, you can propose a contract where you and your host clearly outline the terms of your agreement. That way, you have a written record if anything goes awry.
WWOOFing is a great way to meet locals...and some of their cute creatures.
WWOOFing is a great way to meet locals...and some of their cute creatures

Make it happen

Immigration NZ requires you to have a working holiday visa or another type of work visa to WWOOF in New Zealand. A tourist visa will not suffice. Visa requirements and fees vary from country to country, so be sure to check out the specifics as they relate to you. To get a working holiday visa, you must be between 18 and 30 years of age. If you are older, you’ll need to apply for a regular working visa to WWOOF in New Zealand. Most WWOOF hosts require you to be at least 18 years of age, however there is no maximum age.

To be granted a working holiday visa, you’ll need to show sufficient funds as well. This generally means NZ$350 for each month you’ll be in the country, or NZ$4200 for a whole year. Additionally, some visas require you to have medical insurance and be in good health.

You must also purchase a WWOOF NZ membership for NZ$40. This gives you access to the directory of WWOOF hosts in New Zealand, and gives you an avenue of communication if you run into any problems with hosts along the way. The first step in finding a host is to make contact. Email the host you wish to stay with telling them a bit about yourself, the skills you can offer, what you wish to learn, and for how long you’d like to stay. Many hosts have a minimum and maximum length of stay, however these timeframes vary greatly between hosts and can range from a few weeks to a few months.

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