A Horrific Help Exchange on the Banks Peninsula

burlington bay from above

The Banks Peninsula is a small, hilly circle of land that juts out into the sea close to Christchurch. Due to the large amount of beautiful bays and little villages, the peninsula seems to be the perfect weekend getaway for Christchurchers. For the same reason, we thought it would be a great place to base ourselves in our last week in New Zealand.

It’s close to the city, I told myself while typing out an email to a HelpX host. We’ll be able to pop into Christchurch in the day or do some sightseeing on the peninsula. That’s what I thought.

Until we found ourselves sitting in The Bloody Legend looking up on a steep road heading right into the hills. Nothing on the website said anything about this.

The road climbed ever upwards, narrowing into one lane. Then one lane turned into half a lane. A sharp drop to the side ever welcoming us. I love a good view and as we found ourselves getting higher, we were blessed with an expansive look at the valleys hundreds of metres below. In this case I just felt an overwhelming sense of dread. We could fall off the edge at any moment and we’d be dead.

lake forsyth banks peninsula above

Best not to think about that though. So we ploughed on. The road turning to gravel, our car struggling its way up into the clouds. It’s about then that I got an ominous feeling. We hadn’t seen another car pass us in twenty minutes. Christchurch was only 40 kilometres away but it may as well have been 40 billion. We were truly in the middle of nowhere. Alone. We knew we’d never leave our host all week as we feared our car wouldn’t make the trip a second time.

We finally made it to the house. A large modern building built onto the side of the hill. A few trees and bushes surrounding it. The next house half a mile away. We walked timidly into the garden and knocked on the front door. A tall bearded man appeared with a smile, introducing himself as Brian our host.

He gave us a tour. Our own guest room in a separate building. A fridge stocked with delicious foods. “Help yourself to anything you like.” Large TV. Kitchen with two ovens, two sinks and two stoves. Three bedrooms, three bathrooms, two lounges. Fields filled with happy sheep and a beautiful garden.

sheep with tail in new zealand

It’s about here in most help exchanges where I always start to wonder – what’s the catch? Brian assured us the work would be easy enough. Doing a bit of gardening and tidying up the house. Four hours a day for all the food we could eat and a place to sleep.

But really, what’s the catch? That night as we lay in bed I started to think about it. Up here, all alone in the countryside. Just us and Brian. Maybe Brian would want to sleep with Jamie? Maybe he’d offer us a million dollars for one night of passion with her? I went to bed chewing over the dilemma.

The next day we were set to work on the garden. Weeding. Trimming. Cutting.

jamie using weed whacker

Four hours later we were eating lunch. Done for the day. Where’s the catch? For dinner that night we ate steak, as Brian spoke about his life. He was born in the Caribbean but sent to school in England as a boy. Later he ended up in America, learning to be a chiropractor. Then he was off to Berlin before finally settling in New Zealand. The result of this crazy life was an accent almost hard to place. The twang of America above the Queen’s English of a posh private school.

Brian proved to have an outspoken opinion of everything. Chinese tourists. Trees. Birds. New Zealand politics. Christchurch. Scientology. Gangs. With each discussion he showed us a vast range of knowledge and proved to be a typical HelpX host.

It takes a certain type of person to be a host on HelpX. The type that loves to learn new things and meet different people. Travelling from their own home. As I shoved a slice of plum cake into my mouth though, I continued to wonder. Is there a catch?

In bed, I started to put the puzzle together. A Barbara Streisand CD in the lounge. A photo on the wall of a topless young man riding a horse. Up here, all alone in the countryside. Just us and Brian. Maybe Brian didn’t want to sleep with Jamie. Maybe he wanted to sleep with me!

The next day we spent sawing the branches off pine trees. Four hours later we were relaxing in the sun. Dinner – enchiladas with rice, beans, and corn. I’d mentioned that we liked Mexican food. Brian duly delivered with a delicious meal. Where’s the catch?

jamie cutting pine tree branches

That night. Lying in bed. Maybe all the good food is to fatten us up? Maybe Brian is going to murder us both, freeze our bodies and eat us for the rest of the year. I realised that the door to our room wouldn’t lock properly. Anybody could come in while we’re in bed. I tried to sleep, but I swore I could hear footsteps outside our door. Was Brian coming to get us? Soon fatigue took me and I drifted into an uneasy sleep.

I survived to the next day. We spent some time setting some possum traps. “You didn’t hear them on your roof last night, did you?” asked Brian. Explaining that a bunch of possums had taken over his property. Everywhere you go in New Zealand, you hear about the damn things. But we’d never seen one. I was starting to think they were a myth like the bigfoot.

Four hours done. A day of relaxing. Dinner – chicken tikka massala, more cake. Brian mentions a party in a few days which we need to prepare for. A few friends are coming over.

banks peninsula new zealand sunset

That night. Bed. Maybe his friends are a Satanic cult. Maybe we’re both to be sacrificed during the party. Our blood spilled over a giant pentacle. I jumped as a large crash came from our roof. We went to the window to investigate, expecting to see Brian with a knife. Instead we could see a small possum walking around on the deck. The bigfoot is real!

Four hours of cleaning the house. Relaxing. Another amazing dinner. Brian pulls out some Easter Eggs and hands them to us. We’d been talking about Creme Eggs a few days ago. While he was in town he’d picked some up. What’s the catch?

In bed. Maybe the crème eggs are actually filled with sedatives and we’ll wake up in a bath tub of ice without our kidneys. I fall asleep. Wake up and my organs all seem to be in place.

That day we mow the grass and I start to think about how much such a thing would cost. Brian lives in the middle of nowhere, somebody would have to travel for half an hour just to get there. I guess it wouldn’t be cheap. Plus he lives in this huge house all alone, I guess that could be lonely. And it couldn’t be too easy to maintain such a big property by himself.

daniel using a lawnmower

I guess there is no catch. We get good food, a place to stay. Brian gets some company and cheap labour. Win win.

But still. That night. Maybe he’s going to let us loose on his land then hunt us down. Maybe his friends will make wagers on who will survive the longest.

The next day is the party. Our work will be to clean up and help. The friends show up. Old folks. The same age as your grandma. One of them brings a cat. Brian spends all day cooking, but it’s all salads. Potato salad. Corn salad. Coleslaw. Beetroot salad. No meat. Are we the meat?

He preheats the oven, but there’s nothing to throw in. When Brian stomps into the room I push Jamie towards him, “Take her! She’s juicier!” Brian asks me to get the tenderloin of beef from the fridge.

daniel-sitting-with-cat-on-lap
Partying

We drink some beers. Eat a shit load of food. And all we have to do is put the dishes in the washing machine. An easy day. But is there a catch?

No catch. We leave the next day, sad to go, but relieved to go back to society – where there’s no chance of us ending up in a horror movie.

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