New Zealand Adventure: Working at a Vineyard

Welcome to post #3 in the series on my son’s adventure in New Zealand (as told by mom). My 25-year-old son got out of his comfort zone and has immersed himself in the Kiwi culture. If you missed the first two posts (or just want to take another look at the interesting photos), they are linked at the bottom of this post.

On the Job at the Vineyard

In my last post, I mentioned he got a seasonal job at a vineyard in Blenheim, New Zealand. The position description stated the tasks include “all aspects of vineyard tasks from development to harvest.”

Day one on the job was a partial day just for orientation. He filled out paperwork and they shuttled the newbies to different vineyards. The other employees seemed cool, so he was feeling good about how things were working out.

Blenheim, New Zealand vineyard
Vineyard in Blenheim, New Zealand. His new “office.”

Day two on the job he pruned grape vines from 7am – 5:30pm. He did the same task on days 2 and 3, but got done a little earlier in the day – maybe around 4pm. It’s definitely manual labor, but he said it’s not too bad and he’s getting in better shape.

Pruning grape vines sounds like it could have a delicious benefit of popping delicious fruit into your mouth…but nope. No snacking on the grapes because they have pesticides on them. 😕

Grape vines at the vineyard in Blenheim, New Zealand

Chris mostly works with four other people who are from Germany, one gal from China, and about 25 people from Thailand. The people from Thailand are contracted-type employees who went to New Zealand specifically to work at a vineyard, and most speak very little or no English. Other than on breaks, there’s not a lot of opportunity to talk with people, and he’s ok with that.

There was one day that was a  complete rain out day, and the vineyards had their vine-trimming employees not work that day. Since there are several people staying at the hostel who work at various vineyards, Chris played cards with a small group that day. The rainy day turned out to be a very fun day, so he reported. (I didn’t ask if drinking was involved because….well, I’m his mom and I try to not be all mommy-like.)

Overall, work is fine. Working at a New Zealand vineyard is something he wanted to be part of his whole adventure, so he can check it off the list. Will he stay there until the end of the season (end of March-ish)? Only time will tell!

Life at the Hostel

He’s staying in a hostel near his job. It costs $140 NZD/week, which is about $102 USD. From what he’s told us, it reminds me a little of a college dorm. The rooms are very basic with two beds and a tv. Chris’ first room mate was a 19-year-old guy from Germany, and they got along very good both as room mates and as friends just hanging out. Just this week, that room mate left the hostel. Chris’ new room mate is from Belgium.

The hostel is U-shaped. The two long lines are sleeping rooms, and the middle has the communal areas including two sets of bathrooms, one for each wing. (Guys and gals bathrooms are separate, not co-ed.) There are also recreational facilities, communal lounges with televisions, and a pay-per-use laundry room is also available right at the hostel.

Two well-equipped kitchens are shared by all who stay at the hostel, so he is able to cook meals (assuming noodles qualify as cooking). There’s a walk-in cooler in which each person has a cubby  for their food. There’s a large dining area, and that’s where he enjoys his meals.

Duncannon hostel dining room

There are 100 rooms at the hostel, so 200 residents. About half of the residents are people from Vanuatu, a South Pacific Ocean nation made up of about 80 islands. These islanders are in New Zealand as contracted employees to work at various vineyards. They speak no English and are very difficult for most other residents to communicate with since their language is so unique. However, they are friendly and everyone manages to interact at least with a friendly hello.

Below is a photo of the Vanuatu people celebrating their public holiday, Father Lini Day. The day is meant to honor the late Father Walter Lini, who was not only an Anglican priest but also the first prime minister of the nation.

Vanuatu Islanders holiday celebration
Vanuatu Islanders holiday celebration. Due to language barriers, it was difficult to learn the entire tradition.

The other half of the people in the hostel are mostly from Germany, United Kingdom, and France.  There is only one other American staying there, and she’s from Texas. Most of this half of the residents are able to speak some English.

Meeting People

So far Chris has not had much opportunity to meet locals. His friends are the guys and gals staying at the hostel who have the common language of English (although certainly it’s not the primary language for many.) They generally work at vineyards and hang out together during off-work hours. If someone is going somewhere, they tend to say “hey, come along” to whoever, and they end up with a little group for the event.

Germany has a gap year between high school and college, so he’s met lots of German people – both at work and leisure time – who are traveling during that one year. Chris has five years of high school/college German language classes and they’re serving him well as he is able to pick up the gist of conversations. However, the Germans are generally good with English but they also want to improve their English. So it seems that English is the most spoken language.


To sum it up, New Zealand is expensive! But he knew that before going, so he didn’t go to live a life of the rich and famous. Chris rarely goes out for dinner as it is so expensive. He has to prioritize spending and he’s decided that PB&J sandwiches and apples do just fine.

20 10 Questions

When we text and talk (we use an app called Whatsapp to communicate with him), the conversation is heavily pounded with my “mom-type” questions. To help us all learn more about his adventure, he agreed to answer questions via email. I tried to get him to play 20 questions, and we settled on 10.

What is the most fun thing you’ve done so far during your time in New Zealand?

Probably going to the beach with a bunch of people from my hostel. We loaded up as many cars as we could and went to a nice area about 45 minutes out of town. A little swimming, kicking around a soccer ball, cliff diving and picking some mussels to eat made for a great day.

What do you most look forward to doing?

Either going to Hobbitington, where they shot a lot of the Lord of the Rings films, or working at a ski resort where I get a season pass to snowboard.

What is life like living in a hostel?

It’s interesting. I’ve met a lot of people from all around the world, but mainly Germany, France, Britain and Italy. Many of us are in the same situation, working the same jobs. It becomes kind of a tight knit community that loses and gains a few people every week.

What questions do people from other countries ask you about America?

The number one question is, “Do you like Trump.” Then it’s, “Do you own a gun.” From there it’s pretty scattered. A lot of times they ask if I’ve been to where they traveled in the US or if I like their favorite US artist or movie.

Fishing has been a passion for you… how have your fishing experiences been in New Zealand?

Not great thus far. My rod broke on the plane ride over. That was a bummer. I’ve bought one since then but have only fished once. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch anything. There are pretty much only trout around here and I don’t have a lot of experience catching those finicky fish.

What exactly do you do at the vineyard?

It depends on the day. I switch jobs pretty often. Most the of time I am cutting of what they call “second set” grapes. Basically they are the newly budding grapes that they want to take off so the older, more mature grapes get all the plant’s sugar. Other days I put up nets around the grapes, pluck leaves, lift wires or put protectors around young plants.

Tool used at the vineyard
Tool to trim grapes at vineyard.


How’s the weather been?

It was really hot when I got here, around 30 degrees Celsius every day. Since then it cooled off and rained a lot. Recently a big cyclone hit the south island but most of it missed the area I am in.

How is what you packed working out for you?

Other than the fishing rod, just fine. If I had more space, I’d have brought more clothes and books.

What are the biggest surprises you’ve discovered about New Zealand?

The wifi is terrible everywhere. Kiwi birds only come out at night and are very rare to see. A ton of Germans come here. Everything is expensive. The pictures don’t do the nature justice.

How’s your car working out for you?

Good. It gets me from here to there around the city. When I was traveling, it was a nice home.

What’s Next?

This momma has learned to not even guess what Chris’ next move will be. Check back to catch up with his next adventures in New Zealand. <Update: read the next post in the series, Exploring the North Island.> Feel free to leave a comment!

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Recommended items to pack for your New Zealand Backpacker Trip
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Here are the previous posts (and future posts) in the series:

  1. New Zealand Travel Adventures as Told by Mom
  2. New Zealand Work Visa: First Few Weeks
  3. This post! New Zealand Adventure: Working at a Vineyard
  4. New Zealand Adventure: Exploring the North Island
  5.  New Zealand’s Northland: Hiking & Picking Kiwi
  6. Omanawa Falls: New Zealand Adventure
  7. Mt. Ruapehu: New Zealand’s Epic Winter Playground
  8. New Zealand Travel Adventure: It’s a Wrap!

Pin For Later!

Discover through this 25-year-old American what it's like to work at a New Zealand vineyard, live at a hostel, and figure out how to have fun! Live New Zealand vicariously through this young man who got a work visa and has immersed himself in a new culture.

24 Replies to “New Zealand Adventure: Working at a Vineyard”

  1. What a wonderful life experience for Chris. Hope he enjoys every minute. And thanks Ellen for sharing all this with us. Very interesting.

  2. My husband said cliff diving is probably not what a mother wants to hear,ha marlene

  3. Nice blog Ellen. Cheryl shared it with me. I look forward to seeing more! And I’ll send it to Carson sis she can read about Chris. Have a good week. G

    1. Hi Laura! Thanks for the comment. We’re definitely enjoying keeping up with Christopher!

  4. Great adventures and thanks for sharing it with us. I was way too timid at a young age to even consider going out of country. My mother had trouble with me going 3 hours away.

    1. Hi Carol, you made me laugh about your mother but I think that was true with many of us! I feel like technology has helped make this younger generation so much more aware of the world around them, and maybe that adds to why they have a desire to explore. As a mom, I’m thankful technology makes it easier for me to communicate with my kids regardless of where in this world they are!

  5. Enjoying the reading and hearing about Chris in NZ. We spent 7 weeks in NZ covered both Islands, years ago. Beautiful place friendly people.

    1. Thanks, Dawn! 7 weeks must have been fabulous – enough time to really get to know the culture and see the gorgeous scenery. We’re thinking about going but no solid plans yet.

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