Sunday, September 29, 2013

Limbo land.

Since arriving in New Zealand we have been all over the place. The trip at first seemed to be following a very linear progression. We got our bank accounts set up, we applied for our IRD numbers, we applied for jobs, we bought a car, I had two promising interviews for well paid jobs related to my education and work experience and since then things have been odd. After having the two interviews (one in Wellington and one in Auckland) we have been trying to occupy ourselves the best we can. Although it sounds like that would be pretty easy it's pretty much expensive to do anything. Gas is $2.24 per litre, eating a meal at a cafe is $15 per person, accommodation in a hostel is usually $35 per person and mostly everything else is pricey and adds up quickly. 

After spending two weeks driving around the North Island and seeing some pretty amazing things (Cathedral Cove, Hot Water Beach, Mt.Mauganui, Rotarua, Lake Taupo, and more) I have only received feedback from the Wellington job and they said that I was barely edged out by someone else who was a little bit more prepared for the work at hand, apparently. It's been nearly three weeks and I'm yet to hear anything back from the position in Auckland despite my phone calls and emails to multiple contacts at this particular organization. This puts Michelle and I in a uncomfortable situation, where we are chewing through our money and having to question the implications of taking on other opportunities.

For many days we questioned whether or not we should try to find work at a hostel or holiday park in exchange for accommodation. We met with a frumpy hostel owner in Mt.Maunagani and never heard back from them and after that we decided to call up a holiday park (motel/ campsite) just outside Tongariro National Park (Mordor). They sounded very warm and we stoked to have us come work 2 hrs a day for 3-4 weeks accommodation. We thought that it would be in or near a little town or village but it’s essentially off by itself in the middle of no where. It’s a 10 km drive to the nearest town Taurangi which is underwhelming to say the least.

Yesterday we were shown how to clean the showers, bathrooms and kitchen and it was as easy as it sounds. Afterwards we went on two small hikes in the National Park which were nice, but the weather was cold, windy and the clouds shrouded all the mountain vistas. The landscape here is very different. It’s a mix of desert and volcanic mountains. Definitely way different than back home, but it’s such a vast empty landscape that really isn’t as inspiring as it sounds.

Today we did our morning cleaning in just over an hour and we are currently the only people aside from the owners who are residing at the holiday park. It feels isolated, rural, cold and lonely out here. Michelle and I have really been wondering if coming out here to work for accommodation was the best decision. Although it’s eliminated the cost of accommodation it isn’t really doing much for helping us find some kind of fun or meaningful work. Finding work hasn't been quite as easy as we thought it had been and Michelle is hesitant to look for teaching work until we find an area that we really want to live in for a good portion or the remainder of our stay here in New Zealand. We are both feeling a bit homesick as well. 

I have come face to face with the fundamentals of what matters the most, having loving friends and family that you can pass your time with and to have a sense of purpose within your community. Although Michelle and I have each other I feel like both of us are yearning for some quality social time and a sense of duty and purpose beyond cleaning a mostly empty holiday park out in the middle of no where. I know this may sound negative, but I feel like it’s just revealing how much we both have back home that we take for granted. I mentioned this sentiment in a conversation about Grande Prairie I had with Michelle yesterday as we were hiking. Grande Prairie isn’t by any means the best and more impressive place i’ve ever been to, but when I was there I had a great job/practicum that had influence on the community and I made some friends that were absolutely outstanding. With just these two attributes I was able to look past some of the short comings of Grande Prairie as a city. So far New Zealand has been in some ways been the opposite. New Zealand has some beautiful cities, amazing sights to see, plenty of activities but without having a social network and a job the experience lacks the depth that I wish it had. Hopefully within the next few weeks we have something figured out and this feeling with have past. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Kiwi As!

Two things Kiwi's are famous for: rugby and hobbits. Two things we did in one day!

After Dave's interview in Wellington, we made the seven and a half hour trek (524 km) back to Hamilton. Hamilton is a city that is landlocked (too bad...) but still has some beautiful walks along the Waikato River.

Dave and I stayed at a holiday park there, which is a very common thing in New Zealand. They are places where you can mostly park your RV, but you can also stay in little cabins with our without bathrooms or you can stay in your own little apartment style cabin with a kitchen and bathroom. We chose to car camp, which as the receptionist told us, was very 'brave' of us. It was after all the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring, and a balmy 15 degrees Celsius during the day.  When you camp, you can use the communal kitchen and bathroom facilities. Some holiday parks (not this one) also have pools, saunas (aka hot tubs), giant bouncy pillows and nice cozy lounges.

After a cozy night in the back of our Subaru, we headed to a little family farm outside of a town called Matamata (so good they named it twice!). On our way there, I almost killed Dave and I by taking a corner too quickly... and veered a little too far over to the right. That's the scary thing about driving in New Zealand. A lot of their car accidents involve tourists driving. It was definitely a wake up call!!

When you arrive at Hobbiton, it looks very much like a farm, which it is. It was a farm converted into a movie set (for Lord of the Rings), back to a farm, and then back to a movie set/tourist attraction (for the Hobbit).  The family that owns it actually has three sons, one looks after the farm, the other looks after the movie set business, and the third is an accountant.

After we secured our seat on the tour bus, Dave and I sat down to have second breakfast at the cafe at the entrance. There is also a store where you can buy set goodies, like Gandalf's staff, the Evenstar (Arwen's jewel), and The Ring in various forms of metals.  I REALLY REALLY wanted a ring, but they were insanely expensive... $185 for the basic ring, no chain...or you could get a legit gold ring on a gold necklace for a measly $800... one day... my precious...

Gandalf's Gap and our guide. Frodo and Gandalf ride through here on a cart in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Our guide was named Sam (Haha!!) and he had a ring, on a necklace.  He was a great guide and made sure we all had plenty of time to take pictures.  Everyone on the tour was quite excited, including Dave and I. It was everything we had hoped it would be.

Some interesting facts about Hobbiton:
  • The set is maintained by the people who actually worked on it for the films. 
  • The family who owns the farm is working on the rights for their guides to dress up as hobbits. As of right now, the licensing agreement is too expensive (in the millions...)

Hobbit holes! Look at that garden!

  • The set is worth $80 million. The set is still owned by the film company. 
  • There is a $2 million tree on set that was handmade for the Hobbit. It sits on top of Bag End. It was handmade for the Hobbit. 
  • None of the Hobbit holes are developed, all interior shots were shot in Wellington.

More of Hobbiton. Bag End is under the scraggly looking tree.

  • It took Peter Jackson two years to find the location for shooting.  All the fences and buildings in the distance were edited out during shooting.
  • We were not allowed to get too close to Bag End in case they had to do some emergency filming for the Hobbit.
  • The Green Dragon serves beer and cider exclusively brewed for the set location. 

Something for the tourists.

  • It will blow your mind!
  • The party tree is turning 111 years old next year, when the third Hobbit movie comes out. That's the same age as Bilbo! 

From the Party Field.

Bag End!

Inside the Green Dragon

Green Dragon

After Hobbiton, we headed back to town for lunch. Dave and I had bought tickets to the All Black's game in Hamilton that evening. It was actually the first sporting event Dave and I have ever been to together. We've been dating for four and a half years! 

We walked to the stadium and were amazed by how many Argentinian fans there were!  The atmosphere was quite electric!  We also bought All Black's toques to try to fit in. Everyone was sporting some sort of fan gear. When we got there I decided to have an 'All American hot dog'. This consisted of an odd tasting hot dog covered in fried onions and a bit of cheese. It was not what I was expecting.  Dave and I splurged on covered seats that were a little further back, which turned out well because it rained for 80% of the game. Of course, I also missed the awesome pre-game fireworks while I was waiting in line at the bathroom. 

I'm not usually one for sitting and watching sports, but rugby (and occasionally hockey) is an exception!! It's so much fun to watch, and to hear the crowd react to all the plays. Dave and I didn't really know the rules, but we oo'ed, aah'ed and boo'ed along with the crowd.  The result was not surprising, because apparently the All Black's haven't lost since 2009.  Overall, a really fun experience. There is only one game left in the season, but there is always next year! Oh, and did you know Canada has a rugby team? Who knew?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

So you want to do a working holiday, eh? 14 useful travel tips.

( Beware, I haven't written for a while and you could encounter some dreadful grammatical errors. Please read at own discretion.)

1.) Take your money with you!..(or an adequate amount for large planned purchases)

If you are planning on making a purchase of over $2000 on say a car, you are going to come across some difficulties when trying to make an online transfer from you Canadian bank account to your new foreign account. Either it will limit the amount of money you can transfer per day, week or month, or it will cost a lot of money to make an international transfer. Plus you may not be able to transfer from your domestic account to your international account at all. This can all be surpassed if you just take your money with you. Risky it may seem, but if you are traveling to a relatively safe country baring the risk surpasses the inconveniences it creates. You can also use third party international transfer companies to transfer your money but it seems to be less safe and takes upwards of 2-3 business days. Plus, it just feels sketchy to be handing off your hard earned cash to some unknown third party even if they are a legitimate business.

2.) The post office

Michelle and I spent some time online trying to find the correct forms to get our IRD (SIN) numbers once we found them we printed them at the local library for 50cents a page. Little did we know if we walked a block to the local post office they were free. I think between the two of us there was about 12 pages that we printed for no reason. Also New Zealand post offices have other useful and free resources that are actually useful. We also picked up a sheet that is kinda like a bill of sale/registration sheet for the car which was also free. So, make sure you stop at a post office it could be useful.

3.) Unlock your phone

Before leaving I never really understood what unlocking really even meant. This essentially is a fee you pay your cell phone provider and it allows your phone to then be hooked up to any cellular provider around the world. I had to pay about $30 with telus to have my iphone 4 unlocked and allowed me to use the same phone which is great. Didn’t need to buy a new phone, didn’t have to re-add a million numbers, still have all my music etc etc. It’s just a good thing. 

4.) Day old pies

This is very New Zealand specific but it’s still a good tip regardless of where you’re traveling. Here in NZ pies are the medium of choice for eating food. Chicken pies, Steak pies, vegetable pies, and they are all pretty awesome, and best of all you can usually find day old pies for cheap. I’ve found them for as low as $2nz, which is cheap considering the average cheap lunch in NZ runs about $14. These pies are usually the size of your fist and are a good(ish) meal replacement, which is perfect if you are on the go trying to save money. I’m sure you can find other day old goodies as well in any country. I know for a fact in Canmore, Ab you can always get awesome day old bagels for cheap. 

                                                    A day old meat pie makes this girl smile.

5.) Rain Jacket

Coming from the prairies rain isn’t really a thing we have to deal with. Even if it does rain it’s usually for short intense bursts and everyone just wings it. We run from car to building or building to building and hopefully it’s finished raining by the next time we go outside and most times it’s done within 30mins. Elsewhere in the world rain can be an everyday ongoing occurrence and NZ is no exception, especially in the ‘winter’ time. Having a nice comfortable water proof jacket, and ideally one made from gortex material goes a long way. It’s ultimately makes a huge difference in the quality of your experience and general mood. Plus with a few layers underneath it can be used in very harsh cold conditions which may save you from having to pack a winter jacket. 

                                               My relatively new Arc'terxy Beta has been superb

6.) Permanent address 

There is a sequence of events that needs to happen if you want to live and work in another country. If you want to work abroad you need to have an IRD(SIN) number and a bank account and for all that to happen you need a permanent address. Contact the hostel you will be staying at for the first few days/weeks and confirm that they will write you a letter confirming that their address is your permanent address, otherwise find a different hostel.

7.) Update your Resume/CV

When moving abroad employers are going to notice your phone number, and address straight away as it's usually right next to your name on the front page. This is a huge determinant of who is going to make the short list for interviews. Most employers aren't going to be willing to jump though the many hoops (time zones, long distance charges, people without proper visas, people without IRD numbers etc) to hire you even if you are highly qualified. Even if you are within the country if you don't update these two simple things it's going to make finding a worthwhile job very difficult.

8.) Bring your outdoor gear

In NZ specialized imported goods are pricey. A petzl climbing harness back home is usually about $70cnd and here it is $180nz. This is simply redonkulous, and it's well worth it to pay for an extra checked bag even if you only go climbing/hiking/etc a few times. 

                                             An amazing day out climbing at Mt.Maunganui.

9.) Compression Bags

Buy some compression bags. I prefer to have one for each type of clothing to create a simple organized backpack and you can bring a lot more clothing. Plus with compression bags there is the added benefit of having them in another bag that is either water resistant or water proof, which will come in handy if you plan on doing any camping or trekking around.

10.) Don’t let other people touch your shit! 

When you travel your life is dependent on what you have in your bags. When Michelle and I sluggishly slopped off the plane in Honolulu a very keen caffeinated Japanese shuttle driver was stoked to have won our business as we agreed to use his shuttle. He then continued to grab Michelle’s bag and quickly walked ahead of us not telling us where exactly we were going with her bag. I was busy carrying two backpacks weighing in at about 55lbs and Michelle was wearing her backpack and carrying a 20lbs duffel bag and we were completely at his mercy at this point. Sure if bad came to worse I could drop everything and tackle the guy, but then I would have literally left all of my stuff randomly in a dark American parking lot, which isn’t ideal. So just say NO! to people who want to touch your stuff.

11.) Bring the macbook

You don’t need to buy a special converter or a new cord just get the slide in plug that is appropriate for your region. Sure you will have less reach with your charger but it will cost you way less. Our new plug was $10nz. A converter at a drug store is $35+nz and full new cord is over $120nz

12.) Visit a museum

Museums provide useful insight to local culture, history, geography, flora/fauna and more. It's good to familiarize yourself with your surroundings and this is a great way to do it. In my case I was even asked about my understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi (a founding New Zealand treaty with the Maori ) which I learnt all about for free at the Museum of New Zealand/Te Papa in Wellington.

13.) Bring in-ear/noise cancelling headphones and a few mellow podcasts or audiobooks. 

Not only are they nice for cancelling out the drone from airplane engines it''s a great way to block out any unwanted noise and distractions which can dramatically increase the quality of your sleep. Hostels can be full of 18 year olds looking to get drunk and no one wants to hear about how many shots of jager they had last weekend. I find podcasts are a nice way to distract me from my surroundings and allow me to escape from my own dialogue and stressors.

                                                       Sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
14.) Make Lists/Notes 

Traveling can be hectic chaotic and overwhelming but it doesn’t need to be always. Keeping notes and making lists can really help. It helps to keep you focused, it helps you to remember things and also allows your to become more creative. Now if you could buy that in a pill you’d be all over that. Keeping notes compensates for being tired, not being able to remember things people said with thick accents or just to remember small details, numbers and perhaps fun creative ideas that are fleeting. Lists are also great for motivation. It feels great to work towards having everything crossed off a list of things to do by the end of the day. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Rollercoaster ride in the Silver Bullet

After we bought our car, Dave and I immediately left Auckland. We left on a Saturday morning, bright and early, quite apprehensive about driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. Our mantra was "wide rights and tight lefts".  They also LOVE roundabouts here...something we have rarely seen in Canada.  Dave and I get so unbelievably confused in them. Good thing they have lots of arrows and lines painted on the ground for us confused tourists.

The Silver Bullet hanging out on 90 Mile Beach

Driving North, the motorway quickly ended, and turned into a windy, twisty road with random animals (turkeys, possums, dogs etc.) thrown in that you had to dodge. It was like driving in a video game.  If you've ever driven to Tofino, New Zealand roads are very similar.  Dave and I were going around tight corners at 25 km/h and making ourselves car sick...

NOT a typical road up North. But pretty nonetheless. This is in Tongariro National Park.

The South African man who sold us our car said to budge about one hour for every 50 kilometres you need to drive and he was right.

We decided to take the more scenic way to Whangeri, which took you along the coast... Just when we thought it couldn't get any windier... It did.  Our first stop was at Surfer's Beach.  It was beautiful, and windy. The sand was partially black from all the volcanic rock.

Surfer's Beach

Afterwards, we arrived in Whangeri and had a quick lunch before we set off for Abbey Caves.  These caves were a few kilometers outside the city and are self-guided, meaning you go at your own risk.  It felt quite adventurous even though they were quite easy to navigate. There was no way you would get lost... But it was definitely difficult terrain to navigate and they were full of water.

The first cave we went in, we ran into two Taiwanese people who only brought a key chain flashlight with them, so we invited them to come explore with us.  The four of us probably went in about 50 meters. It was super creepy not being able to see any daylight when we looked back at where we came from.  It also had the most glow worms in it, which was so interesting!

We explored two more caves after that, which were bigger, but didn't have as many glow worms.  The landscape in the area was quite alien looking too. We were walking through farm land to get to the caves. There were tons of boulders, small and big, scattered around the area.

Rock formations on the way to the caves

Paihia was our next stop. It is a small resort town right on the Bay of Islands. It was absolutely beautiful.

We stayed at a hostel called the Pickled Parrot. 'Pickled' is another word for being drunk. We were the only people staying in the hostel so we had the whole place to ourselves! We were visited occasionally by the owner's dogs named Noodle and Truffle. There was also unlimited wifi at this place so we hunkered down and continued to look for jobs online. 

Dave and I bought some kumara at the local grocery store and baked them up. At the Auckland Museum we were told they are a New Zealand specialty. They look like sweet potatoes, but taste nothing like them. 

This was also the day I decided to do laundry. Of course, the machine ate some of my money, so it cost me $10 NZD to do a miniature load. 

The next day we set off for New Zealand's most northerly point, Cape Reinga. Our first stop was 90 Mile Beach. It's actually only about 60 miles long... But who's counting? The beach is used as a highway so we drove our car a couple hundred meters in and had some lunch.

The weather and the scenery was stunning. A local man also came over and gave us some shellfish to try. You can dig for them in the beach during low tide, so we followed him into the surf and helped ourselves!

Learning how to find the shellfish.

Tuatua shellfish fresh from the ocean!

Mixing with the locals and digging for my dinner!  

He and his friends invited us to have a beer with them and we watched them pull in their fishing line. They launched it with a torpedo into the ocean with some bait attached. The torpedo stopped about one kilometer out in the ocean and is slowly pulled back into the beach by a motorized reel. We headed back to their house for some snacks and for some advice on driving on 90 Mile Beach. Apparently many tourists die on it after hydroplaning and many people get stuck. 

Reeling in the Torpedo

We headed out after about an hour and drove on the beach for about a kilometre before getting completely sketched out and turned around. No cell service and an incoming tide made it seem like a bad idea.

Beach driving!!

We made it to Cape Reinga about an hour later. It is a sacred spot where souls go to jump off the cliffs to return 'home'.  It was another beautiful spot and quite a spiritual place.  

Looking back at 90 Mile Beach

The lighthouse at Cape Reinga.

We are closer to the South Pole than we are to home right now!!

Where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet. You can actually see the line!!

We turned around and on our way back south we saw a sign that said 'Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes'. Obviously, we had to go check it out. I'm not sure how we missed it in the first place!  Man were they giant!! Picture Nosehill Park... and then turn the grass into sand.  It was insanity. We couldn't even see the ocean...we could hear it in the distance, and you could tell it was quite far away. Dave and I hiked up a super steep one after checking out some neat rock formations that also had tons of broken sea shells layered on it. Again, it was odd because we were quite far from the actual beach.  Apparently the dunes are slowly creeping inland and overtaking farmland though. Insanity!!

Sand dunes and seashells

Are we on Mars?

On top of the first sand dune closest to the parking lot. This is also an exit off 90 Mile Beach. We were told it's quite tricky and treacherous because you are driving on a creek the whole way to the parking lot.

A bit of scale for you. 

This one was steep! It was super fun running back down it though!!

Contemplating how steep this sand dune is. You can see the parking lot off in the distance!

Dave being awesome.

That was our last stop for the day, and we drove all the way back to Kaitaia to stay the night.  Overall, a jam packed day!

The next day was when we decided to head back to Paihia to find jobs. We made it as far as Kerikeri when we got a phone call for Dave to be interviewed for a job in Wellington.  It took us two days, and ten hours to get there. It was also the first night we slept in our car!! Very cozy and warm.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


After a nine hour flight, Dave and I finally arrived in Auckland. We were able to get a new SIM card for one of our phones right away at the airport. After that, we took the shuttle to our hostel, Verandah's. It's quite a nice hostel in a beautiful spot overlooking down town and a park. It was a quick jaunt to get downtown, which we did almost everyday to use the free wifi at the local library. Wifi, as we have discovered, is a hot commodity around here. It is not free and unlimited like it is in Canada, (even at Starbucks!!). Many places have free wifi, but only enough for you to check your email and Facebook. 

We were able to get a lot accomplished in Auckland.  We got our bank accounts (with a note from our hostel owners saying we were 'residents' there). Afterwards, we got IRD numbers and were able to also get our car registered and car insurance. 

Getting our money to NZ was a bit of a hassle. We ended up using a company called Canadian Forex. It operates in many different countries under many names. You basically transfer your Canadian money to their Canadian bank account, and they transfer the new currency that you want from whatever country you want. It's simple, but not as quick as we had hoped.

We found a car on Wednesday, and had started to transfer our money two days before. Little did we know, the sellers were going back to South Africa on the Monday, and needed us to pay them ASAP. Our money wasn't guaranteed to come before they left, but luckily, Dave has some amazing family, who conveniently also happen to be Kiwis, so we were able to pay them on Friday. 

It was especially lucky because the South African family ended up deciding to stay an extra two weeks (and kind of wanted their car back!!).  It was good timing, and good family that got us our 1999 Subaru Legacy!!

Buying a car is ridiculously easy in New Zealand, and car insurance is optional (SERIOUSLY??) to our dismay.  The roads here are insane... but more about that later... 

While we were in Auckland, we went down to the quay, the Auckland Museum and the Sky Tower. It was a little stressful being there because of all the stuff we had to do, but it was also nice to be able to get some touristy things in!

Maori home. One of the most elaborate ever built.

Maori food storage. Also one of the more elaborate ever built.
Chicken bone at the top. Moa bone at the bottom!! These are all drumsticks.
 Dave treated us to a guided tour around the Auckland Museum. We learned a little about how the Pacific Islands were settled, Maori culture, dinosaur history and European settlement of New Zealand.

Chillin 'at the cafe in the Sky Tower

Sky Tower!

New Zealand has on central heating, so we are basically freezing everywhere we go. I'm so glad we brought out sleeping bags!! They are life savers!!!

Overall, Auckland is a nice city, very metropolitan. Not going to lie, we were glad to be able to purchase our car and get the heck out of there. We spent the next few days travelling around the north part of the island but more about that later!