From South Africa to Apprentice of the Year
Luke Bottriell admits he couldn’t keep the smile from his face when he received the Central Otago Apprentice of the Year award last month.
Luke (27), originally from South Africa, and his wife Jordon live on one of three Hinton family orchards at Earnscleugh near Alexandra.
“Technically I’m not doing a formal apprenticeship but the Hintons are teaching me and I’m also studying for my Level Four Certificate in Horticulture through the Central Otago campus of the Otago Polytechnic. I learn better practically but I’m not so keen on theory.”
He works for Nigel, Howie and Sarah Hinton and appreciates the opportunities the family has given him.
When the position of supervisor was advertised at Hintons, Luke, then working on a Taranaki dairy farm, applied and was accepted.
“I owe the Hintons because they took me on even though I was so inexperienced. I just knew how to grow grass.”
Luke started as “an ordinary worker” doing everything – pruning, thinning, spraying, harvesting, everything really” – as he picked up the skills necessary to work as a supervisor.
“The Hintons taught me but then they would let me learn from my mistakes and I appreciate that.” He was doing a GrowSafe course with Cromwell based Otago Polytechnic senior horticulture lecturer Wayne King, and credits Wayne with encouraging him to investigate studying for Level 4 in horticulture.
“He told me to contact Rachel Petrie [Horticultural lecturer] and it’s gone from there. I’ve about a third left to go to complete Level 4.”
The Hintons own three orchards and Luke says this has given him wide experience across cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums and grapes.The cherries and the apricots are exported and as Hintons have their own exporting company this had also given Luke additional experience.
Luke has done his stint at frost fighting duty. Howie Hinton flies the helicopter which is used to bring the inversion layer down. There are no wind machines on the orchard.
“I’ve been so lucky because the Hintons do everything. We make our own structures for cherry covering.”
He plans to complete his Horticulture Diploma, followed by the challenge of a Horticulture Degree.
“My father has a degree in Grass Science, so I cannot let him beat me,” he joked.
“The Hintons have been a wonderful family to work for and I’m sad to be leaving, but Jordon is pregnant and we’re moving to the North Island to be closer to her family. I’m going to be a foreman for Sunfruit Orchards Ltd. Sarah and Nigel organised this for me.”
When Luke arrived from South Africa in May 2011 he was required to work on a dairy farm so he was based at Reefton “in, like, the middle of nowhere” for the first two years but it was a lonely life and he decided to look north to meet other people and work on a Taranaki dairy farm.
“My friend’s hairdresser was Jordan’s hairdresser and introduced me to Jordan and we just went on from there,” he says.
In South Africa his parents owned a farm and Luke started school in the first year’s after the end of apartheid.
“I was the first in my family to go to school with mixed races and I’ve remained friends with many of them.”
However, after apartheid social conditions changed and robberies increased.
“We stopped locking our cars because the robbers kept breaking the windows. They weren’t interested in the cars, just whatever they could steal from inside.”
“In our home we put up gates in hallways to deter robbers from coming down to where the family was sleeping. It directed them to an easier way to steal. They weren’t interested in us they just wanted money. So many lived in poverty.” About six years ago his father (who was originally from Rhodesia) decided it was time to move and offered Luke the money to go overseas. He told Luke: “You decide.”
“My brother, who is nine years older than me, had been in England for five years. We all came to New Zealand. My parents are now in Alexandra as well and they will move with us to Hawke’s Bay.”
He appreciates the lifestyle he now has in New Zealand, especially Central Otago, and admits he is never happier than when working outdoors.
Yes, he has returned to South Africa and for a very significant reason.
Before he proposed to Jordan he took her to South Africa to meet his family and Jordon was unaware of the main reason for the visit. She now wears Luke’s great-grandmother’s engagement ring.
“My grandmother who had the ring said she needed to do it properly and give it to my mother first, but my parents were coming out about a month behind me. So they came early and now Jordon has a ring that is over 100 years old.”