My feet left Canadian soil on October 10, 2018, and 40+ hours of travel later, took their first steps into the beautiful country of New Zealand.
My girlfriend Uschi and I arrived in Auckland with our one-year Working Holiday Visas in hand (well, on phone) close to two months ago, and I cannot believe how fast this time has passed. Time doesn't just fly by when you're having fun, it zooms by on a supersonic jet!
We've already done and seen so much during this brief time!
Here is a list of (almost) everything we've done in our first two months in New Zealand:
1.) Couchsurfed for the First Time
I have to admit, when I first heard of Couchsurfing, the idea of staying in the home of someone I'd never met on the other side of the world for no cost sounded way too good to be true. But Uschi had done it a few times in Europe, and like in most situations, she encouraged me to have a little faith in people. This new found faith coupled with the fact that we needed to live as cheaply as possible because we were broke, resulted in me messaging prospective hosts for our arrival in Auckland, and very quickly finding one.
And what an amazing first host he was!
Our host Noel, was messaging us with travel tips and tricks before we had even entered the country! It turned out that we were actually unable to stay with him because of unforeseen issues with renovations at his house, but never fear, he arranged for us to stay with his son who also lives in Auckland and is an active Couchsurfing host.
Noel picked us up from the airport, and we arrived, tired and smelly, at his son Paul's home where we were to stay for the next few days until we had gotten all of our affairs in order.
We were immediately offered a beer, and Paul cooked us all a delicious meal of grilled salmon, scalloped potatoes and broccoli - a vast improvement from the two days' worth of airplane food we had just ingested.
Noel knew we were looking to buy a campervan ASAP, and he suggested that we check out the Ellerslie Car Fair on Sunday morning, a popular place to buy and sell vehicles. This suggestion resulted in us finding and purchasing our beloved Toyota Hiace, Jack.
Paul let us crash in his house for a week, longer than we originally intended to stay, so that we were able to get our phone plan, bank accounts, and IRD numbers set up, as well as arrange a mechanical check for Jack. Paul constantly offered us food (clearly feeling bad after watching us eat instant noodles for the fourth night in a row...), drove us into the city, and made us feel welcome in his home.
I realized that Couchsurfing is a fantastic travel resource, and an incredible way to experience new places. People have different reasons for joining, be it saving costs on accommodation, the desire to meet new people and swap travel stories, or seeking a little good travel karma, but whatever the reasons, I'm happy it exists.
10/10 will do again.
2.) Bought a Campervan
We found our Toyota Hiace at the Ellerslie Car Fair in Auckland, and although it was the first van we looked at, in the interest of being savvy shoppers, we spent all morning examining van after van, and questioning seller after seller.
It was exhausting!
One of the most convenient and popular ways to travel New Zealand is by campervan, common not only for backpackers, but also for vacationers who are in New Zealand on holiday. Depending on the duration of the trip, it can be the most efficient and cost effective way to see the country.
So when I found myself at a car fair with countless multi-generational campervans with 200 & 300, 000 km's + for sale, I was a little intimidated by the prospect of spending a huge chunk of change on a vehicle that could very well break down the second we got it on the highway. The majority of these vans have changed hands multiple times, and we know almost nothing about vehicles (me more so than Uschi), how were we going to tell a good deal from a rip off?
Eventually, after a LOT of humming and hawing, nervous deliberation and excited whispering, we decided to take the plunge and make an offer on Jack.
We took Jack for a test drive, and got an inspection done at AA. Everything came back positive, so we exchanged keys for cash and away we went! The world was an open road, and we had the wheels to explore it!
Buying a self contained campervan allows us to freedom camp almost anywhere in New Zealand for no cost. However, in order to be self contained a van needs to have a fresh water tank, grey water tank, working sink, toilet, and rubbish bin. These amenities make life in a van SO much easier, cleaner, and more environmentally friendly.
Buying a van with the self contained certification allows us to stay in beautiful places like this:
And wake up to views like this:
Our first additions to Jack were the strings of twinkly Christmas lights that we hung (pictured above), but those additions will not be our last. We are preparing to spend a couple weeks in December insulating and renovating Jack so that he is dressed to impress, and ready for life on the road. I will post updates on our progress (if Uschi and I don't kill each other first during the process...)
3.) Worked on a Kiwi Orchard
Ever dreamt of working on a kiwi orchard? Spending all day outside in the sun getting a lovely tan, just you, your iPod, and your thoughts?
Well stop. Stop right now. Squash those dreams down. Stomp on them. Dig a hole and bury them. Do whatever you have to do, just don't, I repeat don't work on a kiwi orchard.
Okay, obviously I'm kidding. If it is your dream to work on a kiwi orchard then by god you go work on a kiwi orchard! And really, it's not thaaaat bad...
After spending a week or so beach hopping and making our way to the east coast of the North Island, we arrived in Te Puke, eager to earn some money after having spent all ours purchasing our new home on wheels.
We had acquired a job bud thinning on a kiwi orchard through a Facebook backpacker group, and a friend of Uschi's who she had met previously on her travels. We were to start work for a man called Happy, although on the morning we were supposed to start, we had yet to discover where or when we would be working, nevermind actually knowing what bud thinning was.
After finally receiving the address, we showed up at an orchard, along with another couple from The Netherlands, and were very quickly put to work picking kiwi buds off vines, a task that requires about five seconds of training.
Now, I know what you're thinking, 'Oh that doesn't sound so bad. Easy work, getting to work outside, make new friends, earn good money...'
And you're right. It WAS very nice to work outside, make new friends, and earn money. Truly. If only I didn't have to crane my neck upwards, reaching into the vines for nine hours to do it. After a nine hour shift your bank account might be rejoicing, but your back, neck, shoulders, and arms sure won't be (especially if you're short like me).
We worked on the orchard for a week, and it was very cool to work in the "Kiwi Fruit Capital of the World." We got to spend time outside, Uschi got to reconnect with an old friend, and we made some quick cash. All in all, it was a good experience, and I suppose I'll have to get used to doing fruit picking work. I'm sure it won't be the last time we work on a farm during our travels!
4.) Visited SO MANY BEACHES
Pretty self explanatory.
In our two months we have already visited so many ridiculously beautiful beaches. West coast, east coast, you name it, we've been there.
And yet there are so many to see!
We've booked the Abel Tasman Coastal Track for the end of January, and safe to safe I am nearly unable to contain my excitement and anticipation for this Great Walk. If you've never heard of this multi-day treck, Google it. Trust me.
6.) Worked as a Housekeeper at a Boutique Hotel in Franz Josef
We found jobs working as housekeepers at a small, boutique hotel in Franz Josef on the South Island through a backpacker board online. After making enough money working on the kiwi orchard to fund our travel to the South Island, we embarked on a vomit-inducing ferry ride, and made our way down the west coast to Franz Josef.
Franz Josef is a small town in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, home to Franz Josef Glacier, and the neighbouring Fox Glacier. It is a beautiful area surrounded by miles of coast, lush rainforest, and towering mountain peaks. The area itself is heaven, working as a housekeeper, as it turns out, is not.
Okay, it's not as bad as the kiwi job.
Uschi and I were trained as housekeepers, working 4-5 hours a day between 9am-2pm cleaning rooms. It's not so bad. Perks of the job include FINALLY learning the right way to make a bed, free toilet paper, and getting to keep any food/wine we find in the rooms. Sure makes grocery shopping a lot easier...
Uschi was also trained in the kitchen as a cook, and I was trained to work in the reception and dining room.
It's a relatively easy job, we get good hours, and have plenty of time to explore the area. I enjoy working in the reception because I get to meet people from all over the world. I've met people vacationing from Ireland, Belgium, Brazil, Mexico, England, The USA, Canada, The Netherlands, China, India, France, South Africa, Australia, and more! I even met a woman originally from South Africa who now lives in The Philippines, who is taking her 79-year-old mother-in-law on her first ever road trip. So cool! I've been invited to Australia numerous times now (despite my protests that I am terrified of all of the dangerous critters), and was given the contact info from a couple from Perth "In case I'm ever in the area and need a place to stay."
Many people have commented on Uschi's cooking saying that "It was one of the best meals I've had in New Zealand," and despite how stressed it makes her, I think she could have a very promising future in the culinary arts.
7.) Flew over a Glacier in a Helicopter
Using our connections at the hotel, we were able to book ourselves a helicopter ride over Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.
Unfortunately, we had to take separate flights, but as we were getting to FLY IN A FREAKING HELICOPTER, we let it slide (okay I pouted a little bit).
The morning we took our flights was perfect, sun shining, bright blue sky, minimal wind. Uschi got to take her flight first, and lucky for her she got the opportunity to fly over both Franz Josef, AND Fox Glacier. Her ride was a little longer than mine, and (again) lucky for her she had the camera.
Lucky for me, between the two of us, she's the better photographer.
I embarked on my flight the old fashioned way, camera-less. But you don't need a camera to enjoy views that beautiful. And when all was said and done, it was pretty cool to experience something like that without a camera.
A father and daughter who were on my flight offered to take a photo of me on their phone and email it to me. And although, I'm still patiently waiting for it to arrive, I appreciated the kind gesture.
8.) Hit the Trails
One of the many benefits to working in Franz Josef is the many day hikes and walks accessible in the area. So far we have had the opportunity to enjoy quite a few of them during our time off.
Franz Josef Glacier
Three Mile Lagoon
Douglas Bridge/Peter's Pool
Other notable accomplishments include:
-My newfound ability to drive a manual, and having successfully driven on my own without Uschi in the van (while not hitting any pedestrians).
-Building a consistent on-the-road yoga practise which has resulted in Uschi's newfound ability to touch her toes, and our mutual accomplishment of learning how to do headstands.
Soon we will be leaving Franz Josef, our home for the past month, and heading to Christchurch where we have confirmed our second Couchsurfing host.
Our next plans include renovating our van, hiking the Abel Tasman Track, and meeting up with my parents to travel the South Island when they visit in January.
My birthday and Christmas are quickly approaching, and as I have never celebrated either outside of Canada (or without snow) I am looking forward to what these days will bring. If anyone has any suggestions let me know!
I'm thinking sun, sand, santa hats, and maybe even a beer or two...