The Adventures of Housesitting in New Zealand

An old barn in Masterton, New Zealand. When Daniel told me we received an e-mail from a family asking us to housesit for five weeks, I didn’t need much convincing to say yes. What was even better was the fact it wasn’t just any old house (well, it was old). This was a farmhouse. And you know what that means? Farm animals. Daniel said there would be cows, sheep, chickens, a horse, dog, and cat.

“But wait, we don’t have any experience with farm animals,” I whined.Apparently it didn’t matter. Even a woman like me, who wasn’t often found outdoors, could manage the simple task of housesitting on a farm. Our main task would be to feed the animals and make sure they were still alive. The cows, sheep, and horse would be left alone to graze in the field. (Except for the occasional treat of hay for the latter.) The other animals would be easy enough to feed.

A girl petting a horse in New Zealand.So it was set. After a week in New Plymouth working on a magnolia tree farm, we were going to Masterton to housesit on another farm.

The Routine

Housesitting was everything I imagined it to be. It was the perfect retreat for us as introverts. There weren’t any university students living above to wake us up in the middle of the night. (Fun fact: The nearest neighbor did own a bunch of miniature horses.) There wasn’t unlimited Internet though, which meant we were somewhat productive. Actually, it was then when we decided to start Anxious Travelers together.

A calico cat running on a farm. When we arrived, we were given the basic rules.

  • Dog stays outside.
  • Don’t use the tumble dryer.
  • Mop the kitchen floor once a week.
  • Keep the microwave cleaned.
  • Don’t burn the place down.

Settling in wasn’t hard to do. After nearly two months of camping around the North Island, we were ready to stay put for awhile. It seemed fortuitous receiving that e-mail. 

Traveling long term makes you appreciate the everyday mundane things: Going to the grocery store, doing the laundry, and sleeping in the same bed each night.

Simply put–it was nice.

A dog and chicken on a farm. We quickly developed a routine. In the morning, I’d feed the chickens and the stray kitten living underneath the house while at the same time making sure all eight cows were still accounted for.

Muc (Irish for pig), the dog, would usually accompany me. Daniel would gather or chop any wood for our late afternoon fire. We’d drink our preferred caffeinated drinks and begin our writing for the day. Lunchtime would arrive and we’d share a pot of tea and continue to write.

A girl holding a stack of hay in New Zealand.Soon enough, it was dinnertime. Feed the dog, give the horse his hay, check that the cows were still there, snuggle by the fire and watch re-runs of Come Dine with Me, go to sleep and repeat the following day.

It was when the problems started happening that I realized housesitting wasn’t all it was cracked out to be.

Farm Life Problems

The thing with housesitting is that it isn’t like staying in a hotel. This was someone else’s house, and if anything were to happen, it’d be all our fault, we’d have to take care of it, and we’d never be able to housesit again.

A gray kitten eating food.Although we were told nothing should happen, there was a list of emergency numbers on the fridge, just in case.

The first problem was the water, which was supplied by a well. If the water ever got too low, we’d have to turn the pump on to raise the water level. Though unlikely we’d have to ever do this (as we were told), the house owner gave us a brief rundown on the well before they left.

Seeing as this wasn’t likely to happen, I didn’t much pay attention. I hoped Daniel was. He wasn’t, because as soon as the water stopped working in the house one day, we were both stumped.

Then we experienced our first earthquake. And then the propane tank for the stove had to be replaced. (We paid attention that time.)

Cows staring after knocking fence over. Next were the cows that kept jumping over the garden fence. We weren’t really ready for that to happen. But we taught ourselves how to corral cows quick enough.

It just seemed that it was one thing after the other. But what we weren’t prepared for most was when Muc got hit by a car.

The Missing Dog

A black lab with a stick.We spoiled that dog. We even got him a squeaky pig toy. I felt sorry for him. The owners of the house were a family of five and the youngest was a one-year-old. I think Muc was put on the back burner after the kids came along. Fair enough, I suppose.

He had to be kept outside most nights, unless it was a cold and/or rainy night, then we could put him up in the laundry room. Even Daniel, someone I thought didn’t even like dogs, had grown to adore the big black lab.

We broke one rule religiously though. We kept him inside (even if it wasn’t raining and/or cold).

Walking the dog in New Zealand. Even though Muc was used to being an outdoor dog, I wasn’t used to taking care of an outdoor dog. The house was surrounded by a busy road in the front with train tracks in the back. It made me nervous that I would wake up and he wouldn’t be in his bed. Or worse–on the side of the road or on the train tracks. He had apparently learned his lesson when he was a puppy and avoided both of the areas (or so we were told).

“If you don’t see him during the day he’s probably next door with the neighbor’s dog,” Alice, the owner said.

Most mornings we did wake up to Muc gone, and like we were told, he was running around with the farm dog next door among the miniature horses. He’d normally come back around dinner time looking for his food.

The day he went missing was like most days, except this time we didn’t see him running among the miniature horses. Morning passed, then the afternoon, and it was already time for dinner and still no Muc.

Daniel kept asking me what we should do.

Dog guarding some cows. “I don’t know. I’m sure he’s fine. He always comes back,” I said. All the while in the back of my mind I was thinking the absolute worse.

I went for my evening routine of giving the horse his hay, sans Muc. I took the squeaky pig with me to see if he’d come running toward it. Nothing. I looked over toward the neighbor’s house. Nothing. I walked to the train tracks. Nothing. 

When I returned, Daniel told me the neighbor came by to say that Muc had been hit by a car. Oh, no.

The worse had (almost) happened. Fortunately he was all right, but would stay at the neighbor’s house for the night.

A horse in Masterton, New Zealand. We had two weeks left on the farm, and we continued to keep Muc inside. At least this time we had an excuse if the family questioned why there was a bunch of dog hair in the house.

One Year Later

Before leaving New Zealand for good, we were passing through Masterton and happened to drive by that farmhouse. I noticed there was a for-sale sign out front. For some reason, I felt sad or maybe it was just nostalgia. If you’ve ever driven past an old house, you’ll know what I mean. Even though we spent only five weeks there, it became our home.

A sunset on a farm in New Zealand.Days later, and I kept wondering why they were selling the house. It seemed absolutely perfect, despite all the problems we encountered.

Would I housesit again? Absolutely. Would I live on a farm? Daniel actually just suggested it to me the other day. I said as long as there would be alpacas, sheep, and chickens. He promised there would be.

I am tempted by the offer.

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