“Feed the birds…”

“It’s so…..developed!” I commented to Peter as we walked along the perfectly smooth pavement eyeing up the perfectly smooth road with perfectly painted lines next to perfect little bungalows. It was such a far cry from Cambodia that it felt completely alien. The street was an average New Zealand suburbia street which you could easily see a replication of in England and yet it felt so wrong somehow. I hadn’t realised how used to Cambodian streets I had become in such a short space of time. Further along this street we were greeted with the most kiwi thing you could think of…..an actual Kiwi! A ginormous model of a Kiwi stood on top of a building at the end of the street, beckoning our tired legs and aching backs to head towards it.

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Photo kindly donated by Peter Bonser

We stayed in the Kiwi hostel for a night before attempting the public transport route to get to our workaway hosts. Thankfully (and unusually for our trip so far) everything was in English but we probably still wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t for some very helpful bus drivers we encountered en route. Eventually though we were welcomed to New Zealand by arriving at our hosts “lifestyle block.”

Within 3 minutes we were wrestling a sheep.

It was fantastic to be back where we belonged, helping an animal in need and working off our prior knowledge. We were immediately plucking parasites, restraining Sheep, feeding Goats and helping with hospitalised Hedgehogs, what an introduction to New Zealand!

Our Workaway hosts raise Goats and a few Sheep, more as a hobby than anything else. But they also have over 200 birds and 30 Hedgehogs. The hogs are part of a rescue network which seems to be growing in urgency by the day as more and more of the prickly ones come in, many covered in mange and so crusty they are unable to curl up to protect themselves. There are also a few babies. They are tiny and live in the bath.

The work with the birds is our primary purpose as they have so many aviaries that need servicing every day, most with low beams, high steps and birds with attitude problems. After a few pecks, many bumps on the head and the occasional poo in an unfortunate place we have gradually learned the routine and are surviving with fewer injuries than when we first arrived. However our eardrums may never fully recover.

Feeding baby birds is possibly one of the loudest things I have ever done in my career. Peter has genuinely considered wearing ear defenders whilst we do it. First thing in the morning we ensure the curtains are closed, make up the warm sticky brown sludge and brace ourselves for a loud awakening. A mixture of baby Budgies, Cockatiels, Barraband and Quaker parrots all squawking at the top of their lungs, right by your face, for their breakfast. And whilst you feed them, drip by drip with a syringe, you would think they would quieten down and settle into a contented feeling of fullness as the spillage dribbled endlessly through their feathers, but no. They continue calling whilst the syringe is in their mouth, whilst you are wiping them up and even after you’ve put them back they are still asking for more! It’s relentless! But wonderful to see them grow and progress.

As a zoo keeper I am very aware that I still have so much to learn and even when my body is broken from the work and my brain is full of knowledge I will still concede I will have so much more to learn. And the amount I’ve learnt whilst being here is amazing. Despite working with birds in several different capacities before I had never fed baby birds. I had also never oiled a Hedgehog (to treat the mange problem) or helped prevent wax build up in the ear of an elderly goat. So I am certainly enjoying all of these opportunities.

And the introduction to New Zealand itself has been full of green rolling fields and sunshine. A wonderfully comfortable temperature (without the humidity that makes you question how much of your body weight is currently sliding down your back in beads of sweat) has graced us every day and we’ve had the opportunity to meet many new characters (both animal and human).

Being here marks a new form of travel for Peter and I, especially with it being a new year too. We have not planned it out. We have this one Workaway stay and then it’s a giant question mark. We have a year long working holiday visa each and lots of dots on maps we would like to visit but aside from that no definite plan (unlike the rest of our travel so far). I am hoping this way of travel suits us too but I know one thing for sure and that is that whatever happens we will constantly be learning.

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