New Zealand Working Holidays: Job search and apple picking experience
Out of 6.5 months of our stay in New Zealand, we worked for 5.5 months on an apple farm. That was the only job we had in New Zealand, and in the article below, I would like to share a few facts and experiences related to the job search and working&living on a farm.
Due to the high cost of living, most young Czech people coming to New Zealand under the Working Holiday visa scheme is forced to find a job ASAP.
One of the main requirements for granting Working Holiday visa is to have a minimum of 4200 NZD (2,816 USD). However, let's face it, the reality is a bit different. Many people simply borrow money from family or transfer the requested amount between partners, to have the required amount on the printed bank statement for a possible immigration check.
Moreover, even if you genuinely the owner of 4,000 NZD in your account, you are far from winning. As many travelers experience, later on, the first days in Zealand are critical for your bank account balance. Everything is notably more expensive, and if you are thinking of purchasing a new car right at the beginning, get at least 1,800 NZD ready in your wallet for the first week (per person). We bought our Toyota Estima for NZD 3600 and, after two weeks of traveling on the North Island, we concluded that we must get a job as soon as possible.
Where to look for a job?
It depends on what kind of work you are going to pursue. An easy-to-get is work on orchards and everything related to the agriculture. If it attracts you to a bar, shop, services or constructions, take a look in larger cities like Auckland, Wellington, Queenstown, and Christchurch - especially constructions. From our friends' stories, it turned out that getting a construction job for a guy is relatively straightforward. If you are interested, during the winter season, in working at a hotel (chalet) in the snowy mountains above Queenstown, expect tough competition and ask for work in advance. Getting a job as a waitress or a bartender should not be that complicated.
Easy to get jobs you will find in orchards, packhouses, on farms and vineyards - there are more than enough farms throughout the country. The work is seasonal, but as you can see in our case, you can stay the whole season for up to 6 months.
Find out more information on farming jobs here (agricultural areas, seasons):
This will give you a general idea when and where to go to find seasonal work.
The regions with the highest year-round job offer are:
Hawke's Bay, North Island (vineyards, apples, pears, apricots, plums, etc.)
Bay of Plenty, North Island (kiwi, avocado, feijoa)
Nelson and the surrounding area, South Island (Motueka - apples, pears)
Marlborough, South Island (Blenheim - vineyard)
Central Otago, South Island (Cherries - Cromwell, Apples, Apricots)
How to apply for a job?
Large companies publish a list of vacancies and contacts on their website. You can use Backpackerboard online services (http://www.backpackerboard.co.nz/), job agencies, or watch Facebook groups closely for some occasional interesting job offers.
In fact, the best way is to take a car and go personally around all orchards and packhouses in the area. You give it a try, and you might be lucky. Most travelers are getting their jobs just like that. Farmers are happy to meet with the applicants in person - before offering the position. The great advantage of this sightseeing tour is that you find a lot of family-run farms that you wouldn't otherwise find online. Alternatively, they just might want to fill a vacancy which is not yet published online. Fluctuation in orchards is high. In every Info Center (I-Site) you will find a list of farms in the area with necessary addresses and contacts.
In Motueka and its surroundings, I can recommend the following orchards (mostly apple orchards):
Inglis Orchard (Riwaka on the way to Kaiteriteri and in Motueka)
Moana Orchard (5 km away from Motueka on the way to Richmond)
Three orchards on Umukuri Rd in Brooklyn in Motueka (Anchorage Wines, Fairfield Orchard Limited, Umukuri Orchard, Lee's)
Upon signing the contract, your employer will ask for an IRD number and a bank account. Learn how to get them here.
How long does the apple season last?
The apple season is divided into three main parts: thinning, picking and pruning.
The thinning season in Motueka starts at the beginning of December and ends at the end of January/mid-February depending on the size of the orchard. It's a relatively physically unpretentious work. At first, you pass through the trees and remove the newly grown branch shoots that would later overshadow the ripening fruit. Most of the time, however, you will spend on the ladder high up in the crown of trees, spacing out the apples (removing a few apples and making more space for the others to ripe).
In the beginning, we learned the technique on smaller trees at an hourly minimum wage of NZD 14.75 gross (before taxes 17%). Later, we moved on large trees that were paid per piece ranging from 2 to 3 NZD. Three dollars per tree might seem like big money, but the trees were fully-grown and loaded with fruit. During the first days, you will have to work your ass off to get on minimum wage!
In our orchard, we did not get paid as well as was common elsewhere. Additionally, we were incredibly slow at first, so our daily payout was only 70 NZD/person. Later, we improved at an acceptable 120 NZD per day/person. In 6 business days, after the deductions of taxes and rent, we received 450-500 NZD, while in other orchards was possible to earn 800 - 1000 NZD per week/person.
Thinning of apples and pears: Magduš in action
The picking season starts in Motueka at the end of February and lasts until mid-May/end of May - depending on the size of the orchard. Get ready for a slavery work. You pick all day from morning to dusk. Thinning was a dream job compared to picking. You put apples gently into a plastic bag attached to a harness - sort of a backpack, placed on your front. Entirely filled bag weighs around 15 - 20kg, and it takes a few days to get used to the high ladder and orientation in the heights with a heavy bag pressing on your stomach. If you pick apples on a slope, the ladder tends to tilt but don't be afraid, it's stable enough.
The apples are then carefully being moved out of the bag into the wooden bins. The soft fabric bottom of the bag is attached with a rope to a pair of hooks on the sides of the bag. You approach the bin with your full bag, lean forward deeply over the wall of the bin (how deep it depends on the bin fullness), you unclip the bottom of the bag to create a fabric tunnel through which you let the apples slip in the bin (while applying swinging-sideways bag movements). It's up to the variety, but practically every time it is necessary to take extra caution when emptying the bag to prevent the fruit bruising. The boss's most frequent phrase was: "Nice and easy!"
The weight of a standard full bin ranges from 350 to 380 kg, so you have to throw in it an average of 18 to 22 bags (depending on the variety). When you pick pears, the size of the bin and bag is a bit smaller. Thus picking is considerably easier.
Price per bin also depends on the apple variety. Our farmer didn't pay well - you might expect to earn $ 2 - 5 more on each bin.
For a bin of Royal Gala, we got 24 NZD, Braeburn (Eve, Fuji, etc.) and Jazz 25-26 NZD, for Granny Smith 26 NZD and the most for Pink Lady 30 NZD. The Holiday Pay (8%) was already included in the bin price, taxes to be deducted. For the net rate, deduct 17 - 17.5%.
Picking of each variety has its pros and cons - the picking speed varies. The daily minimum required by the boss was to pick at least 4 full bins. Over time, increasing pain resistance and improving picking technique will accelerate the speed up substantially to 6 or more bins per day. Granny Smith variety was the easiest to pick. Without issues, I could pick easily 7 - 8 bins a day. Nevertheless, a fundamental factor is how well the thinning was performed!
As opposed to the thinning season, we picked regardless of the weather. In the rain and in the morning frost. You get used to it... A regular working week during the high season counts 6 to 6.5 days, at least 8 hours a day. At the beginning of the season, I worked for three consecutive weeks without a single day off. Most employers are motivating workers to stay the entire season with a final bonus (1.5 - 3 NZD per bin).
An alternative to picking especially suitable for girls is a packhouse job. Here is the collected fruit carefully checked, sorted, ejected, packaged and loaded onto pallets. You get paid here per hour, i.e., 14.75 NZD plus holiday pay (8%). Large packhouses (Riverlock, Eastpack) pay an extra dollar for working at night.
In Motueka, once the apple picking is over, kiwi picking season starts.
Last day of picking - the best feeling ever
Picking at full speed
Working over the winter, trimming branches to the desired shape, the number of levels, etc. More experienced local workers are required.
You are legally entitled to a minimum wage of 14.75 NZD per hour before deducting taxes (plus 8% holiday pay). Therefore, the employer MUST pay this wage. Payouts are paid by bank transfer weekly (mostly on Wednesdays, Thursdays). If you earn less than a minimum wage a week, the employer must pay the rest to the minimum required by law (top up). However, the reality is different. If you earn less, you are doomed. If you start coming up with the paragraphs, your employer will usually pay the rest but also fire you at the same time. It is clear as day to all farmers that many young tourists holding Working Holiday visa arrive in Zealand every day. Farmers do not have to face the lack of workforce (but the situation is slowly flipping). The orchard owners receive several emails asking for a job every day, so they know that crowds of people willing to work for a minimum wage are waiting outside. This fact does not at all contribute to the ethical behavior of farmers towards their employees, which sometimes reminds of exploitation and slavery (beware of Indian contractors).
If your only goal is to make loads of money in New Zeland, forget it. If you plan to travel around New Zealand, you will spend most of your earned money. Also, saving it is not that easy... Every farmer pays only the minimum he is obliged to.
Many times happened to us that the previously agreed thinning rate had been mysteriously reduced on the paycheck - once the farmer found out that we worked too fast. If you have in your row a half-tree, you may be only happy if they even count it as half the rate. If you manage to bruise your picked apples, you, of course, get fined or fired (on the spot) for that.
Watch out how holiday pay is being calculated. Whether it is included in the rate per tree/bin or paid separately - so you're not surprised afterward. Classic farmers rip off are additional payments charged for accommodation on the farm. We paid 20 NZD a day (plus utility bill at the end of the month) for an elementary but nice apartment unit (bedroom, kitchen, and toilet). Sometimes greedy farmers don't have mercy to ask for
30-60 NZD per week for a place in a half-ruined dark barn or parking spot in the garden.
Finally, I would like to mention that half a year living on the farm was a wonderful experience, the work was hard (they say that apple picking is the hardest job in New Zeland), yet the more I was motivated to pull off more bins, overcome myself, endure and last until the end of the season but most importantly - not give up as most young men did. You're going to meet a lot of great people, get an authentic experience of living in the village. In the end, now you will know how much effort it takes to get one apple you buy in every supermarket.