Something I wanted to try while I was in New Zealand was house sitting. It was actually one of several ways I traveled the country while saving money and keeping it local. I also tried coachsurfing for the first time and while on South Island I used transfercar to get around, at times this included sleeping in the car (since freedom camping is a welcomed option in NZ). Otherwise I did airbnb or hostels (paid).
*(Of my 3 months in NZ, about 1 month of housing cost were saved in these ways)
I knew in more affluent countries house sitting was a thing and thought well then why not try in New Zealand! I looked at house sitting websites and decided to become a member of kiwihousesitters.co.nz for more options for houses locally. There are more international websites (like trustedhousesitters.com) to use but I wasn’t sure how many ads I would find specific to NZ and you need to pay to be a member of each site so the local page with the more listings seemed to me the best and most successful route for getting a sit.
Unfortunately being new to it I had zero references and had to just cross my fingers it all worked out…that and I should have looked at ads way earlier. Out of sheer laziness I started my search upon arrival to NZ which was stupid since I actually knew I was planning to housesit months prior and I’d even searched on several sites without commiting to be a member yet…avoiding a useless payment of the membership fees (about 80USD$). Big mistake because those looking for a sit are usually looking at least a month or more before to have it all secured before their trip. So instead of finding sits for a month or 3 months straight I had mostly week and weekend sits available to me. The longer ones did still exist but they were odd dates and I wouldn’t be nearby. Another problem was this, now that I was in the country I had an idea of where I wanted to go so not all ads were of interest for me anymore. If instead I had found a sit before arriving it would have been easier for me to start housesitting right off the bat wherever instead of guessing where I might be at…mind you NZ is fairly small and you can move around pretty quickly (as long as you’re on the right island).
In the end I managed to get 2 sits that worked for me. Remember… I was training triathlon so I had to make sure there was always a place to swim and at least a decent road to bike on….other than that I was open to any type of sit.
I got lucky, my first sit was actually on a farm..legit house sitting! It was a 5 day sit in Fairlie, a small town on the South Island known for it’s meat pies…ha ha aka quiet except at lunch. Then again the farm was set back from town off a dirt road about 1.5 miles out. The owners of the house were quite active and had bikes so that was my means of commuting to town (10 minutes) plus I was training and not with my bike at this time so they were what I used to train too. I worked my trainings around animal feeding times. It was almost like having a job while I was there…always running around between the two.
I was in charge of 5 dogs, 3 chicken coops, 1 cat and 5 show sheep. Although there were also some goats who pleaded for treats and tons of reindeer (as this was a reindeer farm, something common in NZ…) I didn’t have to do much with these extra animals…just make sure they hadn’t escaped and were still alive…ha ha.
This was my first time in my life that I’ve had farm animals to care for and I absolutely loved it. I now want my own chicken coop! My dad grew up on a farm so I often thought of him and even called to ask questions….
I learned a lot about farm animals, their food, how busy of a life it really is on the farm and obviously the joys of having animals. I am very thankful for the opportunity I was given to sit for them since they wanted more experienced sitters but took my offer because of my attitude of being down to give it a try.
By the way the house was gorgeous and what ever extra time I found I spent it in the massive kitchen trying new recipes. My favorite being some healthy oat muffins that I’d always wanted to bake…delicious!
Oh and the pets I cared for were so lovely, each with their personality and quirks. The best was Fleur who would jump high farm fences with all her energy, went for a run with me and somehow thought her big self could lay on me like a bed…the sheep dogs were well trained such gentle animals but would dart off like the wind if you let them…then there was the mother and son…the mother barked at everything but was the sweetest and the son well he was the trouble maker lol. The chickens were like clock work…out of the coup all day in by sundown…water/food…yes please! The fresh eggs were fun too except when the dogs got them first…oh boy! The sheep after 1 day knew who I was and would come say hello lead by the captain of the group he he…I was the food master lol…then the goats on the opposite were just funny because they all gathered just to watch in hopes that they got some treats (aka not just grass)!
My second sit was in Dunedin, a nice city almost at the end of the South Island. I arrived a few days early because the owners wanted me to meet their pets and understand the house before they headed out. This I found common to housesitting, many owners wanted to meet beforehand, some even before even selecting a sitter and often they offer a night extra to stay before and after the sit.
This sit was a bit simpler after the farm. They had a dog and a cat (Buster and Alfie)…both attention whores but great animals. My free time here was spent getting to know the city and the beautiful area…sometimes this was included in my trainings, other times not…the difference of sitting a house in a city. I also cooked here but one night I forgot some eggs (boiling) on the stove then left the house for dinner with a friend. Luckily I only came back to a smokey room and some exploded eggs …and nearly destroyed pot….Lesson learned, near fail at house sit #2, ouch.
Again pets here were awesome…very straight forward and simple caring for them (no meds or anything special…obviously some sits require this and clearly state it in the ad and do look for more experience sitters) who just wanted food and cuddles. I took Buster on several walks which he loved…as if he never goes out, dogs! One of the owners here is an artist and had lots of creative wood sculptures everywhere…the neighborhood was nice with lovely homes…my favorite was the house that changed flags daily, a new country every day…I passed every day to read the sign stating it’s location, and usually left thinking I would visit it..especially if the flag was cool.
Since I arrived early to Dunedin for the sit I decided to do couchsurfing for the second time. The concept of couchsurfing is supposed to be a cultural exchange in the form most commonly known as a free place to stay. You can also just meet with local people and add a more in depth experience to your visit but most travelers do it for housing, some because it is a free place to crash while others maintain the emersion into the culture element. It was here on my second surf that I truly understood this concept as I found a triathlete who hosts surfers (the couch type lol). It was the best match ever…we became instant friends, we trained together, understood each other, learned from each other and just lived the couchsurfing concept to the max! This host had invested plenty in the sport and literally saved my life before my Ironman…he lent me a bike while visiting, let me try aerobats, wider tires and a comfier seat then even let me borrow some of these for my race. Lol
I have only done couchsurfing a few other times on my trip, obviously not just because it is free (though I enjoy that aspect too) but more for a cultural emersion when no local friends can explain because this is what truly drives me to travel…the cultures!
Matching interests and passions together is the way to go for an amazing couchsurf…all hosts have been great, no uncomfortable experiences (yet), sharing environment, nice places (no couch yet), super helpful and sometimes activities include your new friends too :). By the way it isn’t just for solo travelers!
Besides these I used airbnb quite often because it felt safer with my bike and can also be another great cultural immersion (as long as owners are around…airbnb seems to be loosing this edge now)! Last but not least I slept in the cars I had from transfercar…read about this sweet deal here.
I always say visiting someones home tells you a lot about a society; how one lives tells you A Lot….if invited into a home (in a non creepy way) —> always go. Both sits were great ways to be a part of a community (see different residential neighborhoods, see how they live etc), get some culture from the families even if you only met a short while and well I love animals, haven’t had them since I was a teen, so having some temporarily made me sooo happy…the energy…the companionship! For example in Fairlie the family set me up with a local run/hiking group and I went on a very untouristy hike (unknown to crazy instagram world) with them…stuff like this you only do if you know someone who lives there…or as you arrive to each house you are shown their coffee machine and how it works…which tells you how important good coffee is to a Kiwi.
I totally recommend giving house sitting a try on your next long vacation!