A Beach Ate My Jandal: Travelling New Zealand’s Southland:


Sunset in Te Anau

After Christchurch, it was time to head right to the far south of New Zealand, where I had arranged a little Workaway job for a few days.

For anyone not aware of Workaway, it is where you work for a few hours a day in return for free bed and food. The concept is a bit like WWOOFing (willing workers on organic farms) but for all kinds of work rather than just on farms.


The very bottom of New Zealand.  There’s nothing much beyond here except for Antartica.

I have been trying for a while to get something together on the Workaway site, ever since Argentina more than a year ago. Everyone I contacted last year either didn’t bother to message back, or if they did they already had somebody lined up.

I was beginning to think it was me; I am effectively unemployable even when I’m giving my work for free. So it was quite reassuring to meet a few other Workawayers with the same story to tell. It might not be me after all; it might just be that there are more (potential) volunteers than there are hosts.

Anyway this is how I ended up pretty much as far south as you can get in New Zealand, to an area unimaginatively called Southland, helping a retired teacher to dead-head roses. A week ago I wouldn’t have even known what that meant.


The area where I stayed.  Without a car there wasn’t a lot to do there, and this walk with a view of the little town was pretty much it.

It was an interesting five days. I got to chat with some other volunteers, which made for some inspiring ideas.

As for the work itself, I can’t help thinking that gardening may not be my calling in life. I’ve lived in flats for as long as I can remember; my entire knowledge of gardening consists of a little window box of herbs that I kept briefly in the old flat.


The garden where I put my newly learned dead-heading skills into practice

I would certainly try Workaway again but I would be more choosy, instead of taking anything because I was so desperate to be able to say that I’d managed to put something together finally to justify my €25 joining fee.

One of the other Workawayers was able to dazzle her with sheer brawn, mastering the electric hedge cutters and trimming back all her hedges (‘that has saved me $500’ she said). Another was a biologist, able to tell her about her plants, and took to the garden like an expert. I was just the mad hippie who had never had a garden and didn’t appear to have ever had a job either. She didn’t like me very much, but she left me an ok review so whatever. Not everyone has to like me.


This was the beach that stole my ‘jandal’ (we call them flip-flops and Australians call them thongs, however in New Zealand they are jandals).  I sunk into some quick-sand, pulled my feet out but lost the flip-flop.  Some other volunteers dug with tin cans but we couldn’t retrieve it.  The beach had taken if for itself.  That means that of the three pairs I bought in Brazil last July, only one pair still survives now.


The biggest city in Southland is Invercargill. It isn’t the most exciting of places. There is a huge park, which is very nice, and a Tuatarium, home to a couple of Tuataras. What? Yes I’d never heard of them either so here is a tuatara.


Ah, it’s a lizard you’re thinking.  Well, no.  It is in fact the only remaining relative of a group of reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs.  All its relatives died out 60 million years ago but the tuatara survived.  Therefore it is of huge significance for biologists.  It lives only in New Zealand.  

And here is a real one.  They are a photographers dream really because they don’t move a lot.


They survive in the wild on a few outlying islands (significantly, where rodents have been eradicated).  

Really, there isn’t much else to see in Invercargill, although I heard rumours of a Starbucks (I didn’t see it with my own eyes but somebody told me there was one).

Whilst I was there the international sheep-shearing competition was being held in the city. Yes that’s a real thing. Contestants arrive from all over the world (well the places where sheep-shearing is popular at least: New Zealand and Australia, The Falkland Islands, those kinds of places). It made for a great shortage of accommodation in a place where normally there isn’t that much demand : ‘you’re getting a good deal staying for free this week’ my Workaway host said, as if attending a sheep-shearing contest was, of course, my real reason for being there).

It also led to a bit of a shortage of budget accommodation generally in the area, as all the sheep shearers and their fans took the opportunity to combine the ‘sport’ with a little holiday.


Yes, it’s pretty.  There is a surfing beach, but you need a wet suit.  Even when it’s not so cold (February is summer remember) there is often a bitter wind.

I’d had some plans to go back via the West coast to Greymouth and then scoot back to Christchurch and the airport from there. However things changed abruptly (more on that another time) and after a brief stop at Te Anau I headed back to Brisbane.

I’ll leave you with some photos of Lake Te Anau:

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20 replies »

  1. i get the impression new zealand looks like britain , except for fewer people and omnivorous beaches. even the places have british names. i tried to find out why they call it the jandal. i used to know it as japanese sandals, as we call them such in malaysia. i think the japanese invented it. and then everyone else copied it and called it flip flop, thongs, and now u say the new zealanders call it jandals ( that is a new one on me) and say they invented it. ha! i suppose no one have copyrighted the design.

    • Yes I’d never heard it called jandal before but New Zealanders are a strange bunch. Apparently it’s slip-slop in south africa.
      It is very similar to England; well they have a similar climate too so that helps. All that rain is what makes it look so green and lush. I do like the space though, without people getting in your way all the time. I’m getting very used to having more space, living in bigger houses and such. I think London will be hard to adapt to now.

  2. Hello Sarah. Oh I like this jandal thing, I will remember this so I can actually speak some of the language before I get to NZ. I think you will find it difficult when you get back to London. But at least you have had a great adventure. I will email you later on in the weekend. Take care xx

  3. The rumor about Starbucks makes me laugh so hard as I am sitting in Starbucks while reading this! I have always thought WWOOFing was the only option to exchange work and accommodation, but now that I know Workaway, I will give it a try next time! Seems like a great opportunity to explore different parts of the country.

    • Workaway works for some people but I’ve struggled to get accepted anywhere.
      It’s ok I won’t tell anyone; Starbucks is my guilty secret too 😄

  4. Workaway is a great way to travel and earn and keep oneself busy as well and also get to interact with locals and the local culture. As for the host, don’t worry about that, as you said everyonw has their own thinking and not everyone has to be pleased. A sheep shearing sounds exciting and i’ve seen it on tv, but must be a fun activity to watch in NZ especially.

  5. You took some really great photos of the sights at South Island, especially the wildlife. They are the most difficult subject for photography. I haven’t heard much about the concept of workaway but it is really interesting. A great idea for those who want to travel but budget is an issue.

    • Yes I had this idea of travelling from place to place and not having to pay for any accommodation. It hasn’t quite worked out like that. The popular places are always booked out and other places are often miles from anywhere and really difficult if you don’t drive. But it’s all experience.

  6. I’ve just joined Workaway. I really wished I had read your post first about it being difficult to find a host. I think it is becoming more and more poplar as a way to travel on a budget.
    I love that you ended up in a situation that you didn’t know much about . . . gardening. But it seems like you did try your best and I am glad that you didn’t get a bad review. And as for thinking you were there for the Sheep sheering! 🙂 Although it is interesting to watch a few, I wouldn’t go somewhere especially to see it.

    • I think it works for some people, mainly if you have a particular skill that people want. But there are too many volunteers and not enough jobs in most countries and the hosts can be very fussy. But I will give it another try if I get an opportunity

  7. I would have no idea what dead-heading roses was either! I’ve never had much of a green thumb. I’m glad you got some work through the program, even if it wasn’t exactly what you were looking for. And I agree with Kathy above, that as it becomes more and more popular there are less and less opportunities and everything becomes more competitive. You took some great photographs of the South Island though – and I’m sorry the beach took your jandal/flip flop/thong. Guard your last pair with your life!

    • Yes I’m still annoyed about the flip-flops. I bought 3 pairs in Brazil and had to physically restrain myself from buying a 4th because ‘I had enough’. Turns out you can never have too many.

  8. How very interesting. I love tuataras and their legend in NZ. I can sympathize with you about the gardening. I cannot grow flowers to save my life. Christchurch does look amazing though! I have only been to Queenstown.

    • I never got to queenstown although I’m told it’s a bit touristy anyway. Christchurch was interesting to see how they’re rebuilding it but 2 days is enough really.

  9. Isn’t NZ one of the most beautiful places on earth? I tried to go surfing there but it didn’t really work out as there were not many surf rentals and well.. would have also needed a wet suit! Should have known about Workaway when I was there!

  10. Ohhhh your workaway experience! I almost took a farming style job just to justify my joining fee too!! But at least it was 5 days of gardening. Who knows, one day you might move into a house with a garden and remind yourself of your time in NZ. And I would love to see a sheep sheering comp!! I reckon it’d be a fun atmosphere.

    • Yes there are better jobs on Workaway,but they tend to get snapped up quickly. I would do it again, but only if I find something that is a good fit for me.

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