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Campground home for pickers

Tristan Ernst [Germany], Cedrice Wanjek [Germany], Emilie Martens [Belgium], Leonie Fischer [Germany] and Emma Dittmann [Germany] arrived in Wairarapa one week before the lockdown began and are staying at the Greytown Campground. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

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The picking industry was left with massive shortages as hundreds of overseas backpackers returned home due to covid-19.

However, those who stayed behind were left with the challenge of finding places to spend the month-long lockdown period.

While the Greytown Campground was closed to the public and any new people, several backpackers had formed their own bubble on the site, general manager Ken Ryan said.

He said the campground emptied out after the move to Level 4, and only 12 of the original occupants had remained.

Seven backpackers had returned home to Germany while others left for other regions where they hoped to find more work.

“Some went down south to Marlborough before the lockdown. Some are also looking to go north for the kiwifruit picking.”

There would also be backpackers freedom camping in vineyards or staying in homes owned by the contactors, he said.

Leonie Fischer, of Germany, is one of five backpackers who chose to stay on.

She and her four travelling companions arrived in New Zealand in mid-February and made it around the North Island before arriving in Wairarapa one week before the lockdown was announced.

She said a lot of other campers left after this, but they chose to stay in Wairarapa as they knew they had accommodation and work sorted.

They didn’t want to risk moving to a different region where things were more unknown,” she said. “We felt comfortable staying on.”

Cedrice Wanjek, of Germany, said he didn’t want to go home because he had only been in the country two months and didn’t know when he’d be able to get back.

Wanjek said it was New Zealand’s natural landscape which brought him over.

Belgian Emilie Martens agreed, saying, “There is so much to see and experience by working while travelling.”

She was frustrated that things were so uncertain and was eager to continue her travels as she had earlier planned to return home after June.

“I might stay longer now though.”

Fischer said the Martinborough vineyard they worked on had been adhering to social distancing, and the four bubbles which made up the workforce had been made into teams.

“I feel safer working outside,” she said.

Emma Dittmann, of Germany, said it was annoying at first as it meant they had to relearn how to pick as a group and were a bit slower.

“We had to change our picking technique, so we move all together now.”

With the grape harvesting season over, they were enjoying some downtime before corn picking gets under way.

They kept busy by going for regular runs and baking when they could get flour.

“The weekly trip to the Pak’nSave is the highlight of the week,” Martens said.

Pannada Wall of Wall Horticulture Service Ltd said she had put up three backpackers in a property she owned in Martinborough, and another couple in Featherston.

“They started with me from before the lockdown and had nowhere else to go,” she said. “When we started working with them we asked to see how long they had been in the country and where they had been before.

“It’s been working very well.”

She had struggled to find enough pickers for the work though, as “a lot of people had left” – she normally has a team of 30 but was down to 12 this year.

“This is a very important time of year for wineries.”

She was especially worried as they moved into the pruning season and encouraged local residents to apply.

“We will be looking for lots of people.”

Masterton-based Nick Hoskins, of Vine Managers, agreed that it had been harder to find pickers in areas like Martinborough and Marlborough.

“Most of the people we use are local and they have carried on.”

The weather had been good though, and this year was looking like a good harvest, he said.


  1. Great to see young one’s willing to wait it out, and ready for work.
    Many locals could learn from them

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