A Glimpse into the World of a Donkey Whisperer: Part II

A Glimpse into the Life of a Donkey Whisperer: Part I

Hey guys! This is the second post in a two-part guest post series about working with donkeys while WWOOFing and glamping in Northern New Zealand. Make sure to read the first post here.

After Pascal and I spent a month of  sleeping in our car, hitchhiking, sightseeing, hiking the Abel Tasman, and yarn shopping (okay maybe that was more me than him), he was ready to head back to our first WWOOFing experience that we so fell in love with, for an extended stay. Here’s the second part of his story.

So there I was again, back in this glamping site-by-the-sea. In a country where the temperature seldom drops below zero, these semi-permanent wall tents are actually quite popular, to the point where the term “glamping” has earned it’s own distinct place in Kiwi slang.

Similar to what Susanne and I were doing during our previous stay at Waitata Bay, my first couple days at the farm were filled with brush cutting, hedge trimming and weeding. This is the kind of work you don’t really need training for. In fact, in the WWOOFing world, where people often stay in one place for short periods of time, training new WWOOFers is always a gamble. And gambling is exactly what the Waitata Bay farm decided to do with me. Indeed, once I made it clear that my intent was to stay for over a month, I was immediately promoted to the donkey walker position.

At the Waitata Bay farm, you can find in an over sized paddock, three young, “tame”, but most of all, happy, living donkeys. Texas, a 3 years old male Mammoth donkey, is the oldest and by far the most easy going of the crowd (in fact, the owner of the farm was often joking about Texas being a bit slow in the head). I have to admit, he was my favorite.

Texas

Then came Mocha, a 2.5 years old male Mammoth donkey. I found Mocha to be the most moody of his kin. One day, I would have an amazing hour-long walk by the beach with him without having to pull on his harness at all. The next day, this bastard would try to break free at every patch of green we would cross on the road. But then again, donkeys are known to be really sensitive to human’s vibes, so some would argue that a moody donkey is just the mirror of your own state.

As a matter of fact, it didn’t take long to realize that a bad night of sleep was a good indicator that I was going to have “one of those days” with Mocha.

And last but not least, Joseph. This donkey, who is named in consideration of a well known story, is also a 2.5 years old male. Considerably smaller than his friends, Joseph is also a Mammoth donkey, but with less Poitou blood (the side of the family that gives the Mammoth their surprising size). As we like to say in French, 

In the small pots, the best ointments.

Side note from Susanne: For those of you who don’t know Pascal, know this: he LOVES to translate Québécois expressions into English. Sometimes they make sense, oftentimes I have no idea what he’s talking about. The above expression is a perfect example of this. But back to his story …

This is particularly true in regard of Joseph’s intelligence. He was the smart one. Always positioning himself to be first at the barley tray for breakfast. Always trying to sneak up behind me when I would open the gate so he could taste a bit of freedom. Yes, I’ll admit it. This 200 kg+ horse shaped animal was able to sneak up on me, and yes, he got out once or twice. Most of all, Joseph would be the one responding best to my command, but even then, it was only whenever he felt like doing so.

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By now you’re probably saying to yourselves, that’s great, but I thought this story was about a donkey whisperer.  Well, my job in all of this was to walk those donkeys as much as I could. It might sound easy but trust me, there is more to it than you think! Since they were young and their training was not yet complete, I had to walk them one by one. And when things went smoothly, i.e. not getting stuck in the middle of the street when Mocha is refusing to budge, this single task would still eat up most of my day. The rest of it would be spent brushing and feeding them, as well as helping on the farm with different chores. On one weekend, I even had to set up a nano-distillery in the barn. The brandy I produced at that time is now soaking in oak chips, and should be ready in a few weeks!

However, I have to be totally honest with you. Although I had a good time with these donkeys, my stay at Waitata Bay farm was far too short to pretend anything else. Donkeys have a surprisingly long lifespan, with some of them able to reach the honorable age of 60! I was also told that it’s not uncommon in Italy to find people who have lived all their life side by side with their donkeys.  Needless to say, there comes a time when they follow you as if they were your own shadow. But although Texas, Mocha and Joseph were pretty independent from my shadow, I still like to think that I formed a special bond with them.

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And now the window that allowed you to get a feeling of my experience in Russell is closing. Whether or not I will see the friends I made in Russell (both on two feet and four feet) in a near future still remains a mystery to this date. But just imagine the story it would make to walk the Te Araroa trail, a 3,000 km trail spanning the full length of New Zealand, with Texas and a couple of homemade bottles of brandy! This 3,000 km walk still makes me dream at night.

Second side note from Susanne: If Pascal does end up doing this 3,000 km, 5 month long, Te Araroa trail across New Zealand, I’m coming with him.

Special thanks to our friend from Russell for letting us use her beautiful pictures of Pascal and the donkeys for this post!

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WWOOFing at the Waitata Bay farm in Russell, New Zealand was an experience of a lifetime. We got to experience glamping with a private ocean view and worked with amazing people. Not to mention, walking the donkeys was an experience in itself.