An Honest Account of Working in A KiwiFruit Packhouse in New Zealand
Can you imagine yourself travelling to the other side of the world to pack fruit? Clare Balmer couldn’t either while working in her marketing career in the UK. A year later, there she was getting stuck into one of the most popular backpacking jobs in New Zealand. Clare tells us what it’s really like to work in a kiwifruit packhouse in New Zealand…
In my ‘real-life job’ I was a Marketing Executive. I’d sit at my desk for 40 hours a week with my paid lunch break where I would often walk into town and get a coffee. I’d spend my days working on campaigns, drinking tea from my Cath Kidson mug and talking to my work bestie about our horses and cats.
However, when I moved to New Zealand I wanted to do seasonal work, rather than getting another office job. When it dawns on you that you could be sat behind a desk for the next 40 years, you realise two years out will not affect your career, and the experience will be unquantifiable for your CV.
15 Things I Learnt While Working in a Kiwifruit Packhouse
- If you’re from the UK we call kiwifruit ‘kiwis’, but not here in the land of the kiwis; kiwis are people or the bird. Kiwifruit is kiwifruit and don’t forget that.
- There is gold kiwifruit, again I had never seen this in the UK and my family and friends hadn’t seen it either. It tastes great!
- There are so many sizes of kiwifruit! And there is jumbo-sized fruit. Wild.
- Looking at a co-worker and thinking Are they on drugs?
- I can lose myself in my imagination so I went deep into my daydreaming which helped pass the time. You’ll be surprised how much you think of food and sex in an 11-hour window.
- The radio becomes your nemesis. You can’t work without it, but if it plays that song one more time… It becomes at least 30% of your daily conversations.
- Green kiwifruit looks like if Warthogs laid eggs.
- The time becomes the sought after currency: “Ey ey what’s the time? You got the time? Only 20 minutes to smoko, or is it 40? As long as it’s under an hour.” The time either flies or goes slowly.
- Packhouse gossip flies around: “Did you hear we are only working until 1pm? We only have 200 bins of fruit”. It’s like Chinese whispers. The 200 is actually 500 and we are working till 6pm.
- You become a kiwifruit connoisseur. This grower sucks doesn’t it, look at all this square fruit”. “Have you had many soft ones? This is a great grower, yeah, barely got any bad fruit.
- What winning feels like: when it’s a big fruit orchard and you are on the smaller fruit lanes.
- What losing feels like: when other workers have been sent to help on the big fruit lanes and you’re now packing four lanes.
- Riddles and eye spy become a great way to pass the time. Until you realise you don’t think literally enough and riddles take ages to get the answer, and you’re too busy looking at the fruit to fully invest in eye spy.
- By week 7/8 kiwifruit delirium sets in, especially when you say yes to the daytime and twilight shift. 15 hours of kiwifruit and Ed Sheran playing on the radio is enough for anyone.
- The Kiwifruit emoji really comes into its own from April to June.
Why I Chose to Work in a Kiwifruit Packhouse
New Zealand is an expensive country. There is no sugar coating it. My partner and I left England with over 10,000 between us. Three months in, we decided to work rather than letting our funds go to zero. The kiwifruit season was on the horizon so we would work to pay for our winter skiing adventure in August.
Initially, we were going to pick the kiwifruit, however, we changed our minds and went to the packhouse. I was enrolled as Packer and my partner as a Stacker, but he swiftly updated his Forklift license to be NZ recognised and was on the forklift team in no time.
“F Doing This for Two Months”
We handed in our application forms at 12 noon. We were inducted and then on the 1pm afternoon shift. After a whirlwind of a shift we finished. I mainly survived thanks to a Chilean girl who showed me how to pack and helped me when it was really busy.
After just five hours, my back was singing! I couldn’t believe how much my back ached. I got in the van, sent my friends a Snapchat saying “F doing this for two months”. The second shift back, I felt sick as I couldn’t imagine the backache for another afternoon; but I got on with it and it was fine. After the first two weeks, your body adjusts and before you know it, you’re standing over your lane for 11 hours with no backache and with enough energy to play a hockey match after work.
People Make Places
From the first week of packing in April until the last week in June, I learnt a lot. The thing that will stay ingrained in me forever was that people make places. You can have a dull-ass job but the people make it bearable, then enjoyable, then memorable. I met people from around the world, spoke in different languages, sang, danced, laughed, complained, ate and drank with them and it was amazing, the best experience and also a great money-saver. One million miles away from the Snapchat I sent my friends after my first shift.
If you told me a year ago at 5pm after a busy Friday in the office, that in June 2018 I would have completed a 68 hour week stood up in a packhouse… I would have probably raised my eyebrows, laughed and said but did they have tea?
For more information about picking and packing kiwifruit, see Working a Fruit Picking Job in New Zealand.