A Few Adventures, and The Horrors of Home

It’s been quite a while since I last put anything out for others to read, but I think now is the time to fix that. This post may be a bit different than the last due to everything that’s happening both in my own life, as well as the lives of people from back in the USA. This post in particular will be dealing with the idea of home, what that means to someone who has left it, and what it looks like going into the future. I’ll toss in a brief mention of some of the things that I’ve been up to over the last few months, but if you really want to know details and such, feel free to ask me about it and I can go more into detail.

So for those of you who were looking to hear about some of the exciting bits of New Zealand, I’ll get that out here first so you don’t have to wade through my random thoughts if you don’t want to. If you’re looking for the exciting and fun bits, feel free to read on and I’ll give you a warning before I switch from the happy thoughts into the deeper ones.

Ok! On to my adventures in New Zealand!

Since I last updated you all, I’ve experienced some of the best things New Zealand has to offer. The first of these would be Milford Sound (which, fun fact, is actually a fjord instead of a sound). I’ve done this twice now and had two totally different experiences (both amazing). The first time I went to Milford, I went with my girlfriend Emma. We took a bus service out there and took a cruise from the end of Milford out to the sea before turning around and coming back. It was an awesome experience as the ship pulled nearly underneath thundering waterfalls (yes of course I stood on deck to be completely soaked) and went alongside the fur seals that frequent the area. The misty weather made the whole place look as if I had stumbled into some remote prehistoric place.

The second time at Milford was quite different. My parents and some of their close friends came to New Zealand to visit me and check out the country, so Milford absolutely had to make an appearance in their itinerary. The weather played out perfectly and we were able to kayak, which was incredible. The few hours spent paddling among the penguins and seals was astounding. The kayak at Milford was only the beginning of the itinerary for the trip. We drove up the west coast of the south island, stopping off at various points of interest including massive glaciers, glow worm caves, crazy geological formations, and interesting little towns. The north island proved equally as entertaining with thermal parks filled with multicolored pools, Hobbiton, and random bits around Auckland. Having family here in New Zealand was AMAZING.

Another fun trip I was able to take was out to Mt. Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand. Emma and I decided to take a quick weekend trip out there just to see something new, and we were not disappointed. Mt. Cook was incredible. As a climber, I was able to appreciate just how technical and intense the mountain looked even from a long way off. No wonder this is a training mountain for Everest! The hike out to a good overlook point of the mountain was beautiful, winding through grasslands and over swing bridges with the churning river far below. Mt. Cook has definitely been one of my favorite spots in New Zealand so far. The isolation and peace in that place is something that sticks with you.

I’ve taken countless small adventures throughout the last few months, however those are the two that are probably of the most interest to those back home. As I said, if you want to know anything about either of those trips (plus some extra adventures as well), feel free to reach out and ask. I would be happy to share any and all adventure stories with you all!

So this is the point that I warned you all of. The rest of this post jumps from the happy things, into the deeper and darker sections. If you want to remember this post as an exciting adventure in which everything goes well all the time, stop reading here. What follows is not specific to New Zealand, but it does cover the darker bits of what’s been going on in my life and how that relates to home.

First we must define what “home” is. Is it a place? A people? An idea? Being abroad for an extended period tends to bring up these kinds of thoughts. I must admit that I find home to be a combination of those three. A home is where your people are, the place that you identify with, and the ideas that you have about that place and those people. These three things, to me, are what form a home. This may vary from person to person, but I will always consider my home to be California with my friends and family. That’s where my official home is. That’s not to say that I can’t find a bit of home anywhere else in the world, but until I die I’ll always think of home as where I grew up with those I love. They are my people, and that is my place. Home is not a building. Home is a people and a place that you identify with. Home is a part of you.

So now you understand what “home” is for me. When I discuss what has happened to my home you at least have a small idea of the mental impact that it has. Home is woven into you and is inseparable from you. There’s a few things you should hear about what’s happened to my home recently from the perspective of someone that hasn’t been to their home in a while.

The first thing I’ll be dealing with is something that I’m sure anyone from my home town could tell you about in far greater detail. The fires that terrorized my city are still surreal to me. The things that I remember about Santa Rosa are no longer true. From what I’ve heard, the mental image that I have of my city is no longer even remotely accurate. I can say that being on the other side of the world and watching the devastation is incredibly painful. Flying home immediately to help out in any way that I could was a daily thought. Hourly thought. I thought about it every minute of every day for quite a while. The spotty cell service in Santa Rosa made things even more difficult as it was difficult to communicate with those I love. Only those who have witnessed a natural disaster strike family from afar can understand it. I’ll never understand fully what it was like to be in the flames of the city, just as those who lived through that won’t understand what it was like to watch it from here wanting more than anything to be there to help. The two experiences are extremely different and both are painful.

While I sat safe in New Zealand, friends and family battled the fires. The powerlessness that comes along with that was one of the most uncomfortable things I have yet experienced. I will get to see exactly what my home looks like at the end of January, and I’m not quite sure what to expect.

Early on in my travels, I was able to quickly come to the realization that I was going to miss some awesome things happening at home. While that has been unfortunate to say the least, I was able to make my peace with that. I didn’t count on missing the horrors of home though. The idea of my home no longer matches what is real. My people are there, but the place I imagine doesn’t exist anymore. There is room to grow and rebuild what was once my home, and this moving forward is an exciting idea, yet until I can see the land with my own eyes I know that the home in my mind is not there anymore.

The next thing that I need to touch on is, regrettably, political. So if you don’t want to deal with politics, feel free to skip over a few sections or merely stop right here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I must admit, the USA doesn’t sound at all like home from here. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard my country referred to as a joke. While nobody denies that the US still has power, I often hear far more negative things than positive things. A large portion of this is due to our new choice of leader. The way in which our nation has been conducting itself has led it to become the reality TV show for the world. An incredibly entertaining reality TV show since there’s lots of action and drama, yet a horrifying one to watch when you realize that the people and place is real. I know people from other countries that are far more up to date on the States than I am solely because they find it entertaining to watch. I just find it painful. Yes, I’m sure there are good things happening at home, but the overwhelming message that is being sent to everyone is that the United States of America is a bit of a joke. A dangerous joke, but a joke nonetheless.

When I run into other backpackers from the US here, 99% of them agree. People will often ask if I’m from Canada not because I have a Canadian accent, but because it’s more polite than asking if I’m from the States. Someone not from the US could be insulted if they were assumed to be from there. That speaks volumes for the attitude towards the States right now. The idea of my country is being destroyed because of the man who sits at the head of it. I’ve apologized for my country many times over, but now am forced to wonder if it’s worth apologizing for.

The natural, social, political, spiritual, and economic destruction that seems to run rampant across the nation has removed a large portion of goodwill that I feel towards the United States. It is becoming more and more evident that people would rather fight than love, and rather follow blindly than stand up. I do hear stories of some rising up to stand up for love, yet those voices are far harder to hear on this side of the world. The shouts of hatred are heard much clearer over here.

For those of you who are in support of the leader of our nation, I don’t hate you in the least and I’m sure you’ve heard many others who disagree with your views. I understand that it’s possible to love someone without the necessity of loving all of their ideas, views, and actions. You have your right to support the president, and I have the right to disagree with him. Greater fools than he have come to wisdom, and I hope that will be the case here though I cannot support him. He has destroyed the image of my people for me. I view the United States now as more of a dysfunctional family on the brink of disaster than anything positive. Thanks for that.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t hope to one day return to my country of origin (and for those of you wondering, I’ll be back for a short while soon). I do have family there, and while my city has burned they will rise from the ashes. There is enough for me to return. I can only hope that upon my return, my country will prove these ideas wrong. One day I hope to be proud to be from the USA, though for now I feel that moment is a long way off.

I’ll be coming back to family, friends, and a city rising out of the ashes. I can’t wait to be able to come back to these things since they are my home and are a part of me. As for the rest of the country, I’ll have to wait until some cleaning up is done before I’m ready to say that I’m proud I live there.

What is home?

My home is a burned city, an enraged nation, and a bit of shame mixed in for good measure.

My home is my loving family, my loyal friends, and the hope for a new future.

Confused? Yeah, me too.


Yes, It’s Been a While

Yes, I’m aware that it’s been quite a while since I updated any of you on the goings on of my life. This is mostly due to the fact that nothing of particular interest has happened. I found that it would probably be pretty boring for most of you to read about the same things over and over again, as my weeks do tend to be basically the same now. I’m still working both jobs (housekeeping and Fear Factory), and am now up to 5 days a week for each of them. It keeps me busy and makes the weeks go by quickly, but I find that I really don’t mind this type of busy. My weekends have been fairly uneventful for a while now, as I basically try to catch up on some lost sleep or run errands. However I figured that an explanation was in order as to why I haven’t been updating you all, since I have received a few curious messages from people wondering what has happened to me.

Don’t get me wrong, my life hasn’t become boring. Plenty of small things have happened to me that make my life more exciting, just nothing major to write about. Since not too much has been going on with me, I will fill you in on the future plans that I have begun to make. I suppose that these plans may change, but I may as well let you all know where my head is at.

I have been in Queenstown for about 4 months now and have loved it. However, all good things must come to an end eventually. I will be leaving this area at the beginning of November, and I won’t be doing it alone. My parents (and some of their friends) will be flying to New Zealand, so I’ll be leaving the city with them. Conveniently, this is just about the time that I will have to stop working according to my visa. The exact things that we will do after leaving Queenstown are still being figured out, but it will involve traveling both the islands and finishing in Auckland after a few weeks. I have about a month and a half of time to fill between my parent’s departure, and my next adventure (If any of my New Zealand friends want to see me for a while before I leave the country, let me know so I can visit you during this time).

On January 11th, I’ll be taking a flight from Auckland to Japan. This is another country that I’ve always wanted to visit, and finally have the chance to see before I head back to the USA. It will only be a short trip, but I hope to make the most of it. I’ll be traveling with my friend Stephen who will fly from the States to meet me in Tokyo. We have yet to make a full plan of what we want to do in Japan, so if anyone has any ideas you can feel free to let me know!

I know that I’ll be continuing to work and live in Queenstown until the beginning of November, however I have no idea what the rest of my time in New Zealand will look like. I will continue to try to explore new places, meet new people, and try spend my time here wisely. I don’t know what’s around the corner, but as you may know, I would have it no other way. Is an adventure really an adventure if you know the whole route?

I cannot promise that I will continue to update you all weekly since, as I said, my weeks tend to look pretty similar and it would be boring to tell you the same things over and over again. I will try to keep you all informed on some of the more exciting aspects of my life though when they happen!

Thanks to all of you who have displayed interest in reading the rambling thoughts of a traveler, and as always, feel free to send me some kind of message if you feel like chatting.

The Budding Psychopath

I am still unused to seeing my schedule so packed. Between working two jobs, visiting with friends, exploring, and trying to catch up on lost sleep, I hardly have time to sit and pursue the random hobbies I enjoy (writing being one of those things). As the busy working-backpacker life devours me, I am growing to appreciate the down-time in Queenstown, as well as the satisfaction in the work I accomplish.

The two jobs (as I have mentioned in my last post) are housekeeping in a hostel, and working at a place called Fear Factory (a job referred to by a friend as “the perfect job for the budding psychopath”).

As hostel work goes, it’s actually fantastic so far. I cannot claim that housekeeping is my passion in life, yet I still find satisfaction in a good days work cleaning up my Queenstown home. Comparing my work with other hostel workers in the area, I can fully appreciate exactly how awesome my situation there is. Not only is it one of the nicest hostels in Queenstown (I’ll claim partial credit for keeping it clean), but it is genuinely an enjoyable experience working with the entire staff. I particularly appreciate the warm bed and a roof over my head right now as I’m a bit sick (apparently working two jobs and not getting enough sleep tends to make one sick). Every day working there is remarkably similar, and the role of housekeeping is fairly self-explanatory, so I won’t bore you with the details of my work there.

Fear Factory, however, is another story entirely. As I exit main training and become a fully functioning member of the team, I have realized exactly what an amazing job this is. This is a type job that I will probably only get once in my life, and I can’t be grateful enough for it. The simplified version of my job is this:

I scare the crap out of people.

I don’t think I realized how much this work appeals to me until I actually started doing it (hence the reason my friend refers to me as “the budding psychopath”). The work is stretching me in new ways that I never thought I would have to use in the workplace. Whether I am practicing creepy voices, new types of sounds or screams, moving stealthily, or makeup, every day is a new exercise in creativity. I‘m constantly working to expand my repertoire of acting/entertainment skills here. I am also getting good use out of my communication studies degree as I have had to get better at reading body language/nonverbal communication in general in order to better understand guests. I never thought I would be using my university degree to terrify people, but life throws all kinds of unexpected things in the way sometimes.

Besides work, my life has been extraordinarily similar in the day-to-day activities. One fortunate and exciting new experience that took place last night though was the opportunity to see the southern lights. Seeing the Aurora Australis was a bucket list item for me here in New Zealand, though one I didn’t think I would get to check off. The lights made an appearance in the sky along the mountain range just outside town. I walked a few minutes outside the light-polluted city and settled down for an hour to watch the natural light show in the sky. The lights were visible to the naked eye at a low altitude (a rarity, from what I have heard), and provided a spectacular show. The mountains across the water were silhouetted in bright green beams of light that wove their way under the Milky Way, interspersed with nearly white bursts of color throughout. The hour that I spent watching the display is not something I will soon forget. Nothing makes you feel smaller than a night sky ablaze with stars, and the aurora shining along the mountains.

New Zealand has been amazing for me thus far. As June quickly approaches, I can hardly believe how fast the time has gone by. It’s odd to think how much I have experienced in such a short time, and exciting to see how much I have grown as an individual. I feel like I only have a vague idea of the changes I have gone through personally while here, yet it is something that will become apparent upon my return to the states. I can’t wait to see how I interact with the world differently after this. Queenstown has already become a huge formational part of my time in New Zealand, and I can’t wait to spend the next few months here figuring out more about myself.

As always, thanks for reading, and I’m always open to chat if anyone from home (or from anywhere really) wants to!

Whistle While You Work

Since last we spoke (yes, I’m aware that it’s been a while), life has been a beautifully chaotic maelstrom of activity. At the heart of this is one thing.

Something I have been waiting nearly a month for.


I spent the better part of last week working on the deep clean and refurbishment of the hostel that I’m staying, and now working, in (shout out to Absoloot). I had a chance to work with the housekeeping staff here for the duration of the refurbishment, and am happy to announce I have officially joined their ranks now. This allows me to work for my accommodation, something that severely cuts down on my expenses while living in Queenstown. It’s not a bad job overall, and I have the benefit of working with some of the most fun-loving and generally enjoyable people around.

As of today, I’m finally living in the staff accommodation in the hostel. I get the opportunity to live with and get to know these incredible people for the next while. As we bond over the job of cleaning up after the other guests, we cannot help but grow closer. I can’t wait to see what is going to happen with this new Absoloot family formally represented by: Irish, German, American, Chilean, English, and Swedish members (with a few more honorary members from England, Ireland, and Australia as well).

After the refurbishment was finished on the hostel and I joined the crew, I was also given a trial and a job at one of the local businesses as well. This may be one of my strangest jobs yet, and I can’t wait to get into the full swing of things. I have begun my employment at Fear Factory, ranked in the top 5 scariest haunted houses in the world. The best way to describe it is thus:

You walk through an old Victorian hotel in the pitch blackness as you follow a trail of small lights (laser pointers).

Oh, and you are being chased by the dead (yours truly).

I am proud to join the team at Fear Factory, and can’t wait to begin my work with them in earnest. So far, I’ve only had one wild day of training, and am eager for more. Undoubtedly, more will follow on my work life later. I’ll leave you all in a bit of suspense on that for now.

One thing I have learned lately is to appreciate every bit of work that I have. After going nearly a month without an income, I appreciate simply the fact of being a productive human being again. I have learned to whistle while I work (that varies between figurative and literal), and have found joy in the unexpected. I have gotten to make new friends, say goodbye to briefly formed friendships, and generally build my life Queenstown. Having a paying job, a place to stay, and friends to stay with, all finally make this place feel a bit more like home.

I’ve been busy and admittedly slacking a bit on writing these blog posts lately (and for that I apologize). I shall strive to keep you all updated on my life, and can’t wait to discuss it with anyone interested. Don’t forget that I’m only a Skype call away! Get a message to me (Facebook, Instagram, comment on this, smoke signals, message in a bottle, etc.) if you feel up for a chat. I’ve been missing the faces from home quite a bit lately. Despite being all the way across the world, I still want to be able to keep in contact with those of you who have any interest in talking. Though I do understand it’s hard to find a time, rest assured that I’ll find time if you do.

For now, I approach the next week of whistle-filled work with anticipation. Time to clean some rooms with some ridiculous friends, and scare the life out of people at my night job. I have a feeling things are just getting started here in Queenstown.

Exploring The Area

The past week (and a bit) have been awesome overall. I have had the chance to get out of Queenstown for a few days here and there, and have gotten to see a bit more of the surrounding areas. While Queenstown is amazing, sometimes it’s nice to escape the “bubble” that such places create.

The first escapade was a hike out in the mountains surrounding the area. I drove with a few friends out along Lake Wakatipu (which was one of the most gorgeous drives I have ever done), and out into the wilderness. We journeyed through Lord of The Rings country, and also places where Narnia was filmed. This country seems to be packed with various places like this where something was filmed.

After a little over an hour of driving we arrived at The Invincible Mine, a hike through the forest out to an abandoned gold mine. While the actual mine itself was collapsed, the remnants of the work areas were not. There were huge skeletons of old mining equipment to explore, not to mention the incredible views of the glacier across the valley. We explored the forest surrounding the area, drinking straight from the glacial river thundering down through the hills when we got thirsty from our hike (usually not a great idea to drink straight from a river, but I figured I had to at least try. I’m still alive so far, so I’m guessing the danger has passed). In total, we probably spent about three or four hours investigating the area for any sort of adventure while getting to know each other. We had a quick lunch of sushi and some fancy bread (I feel like whenever bread is sprinkled with sea salt, it instantly becomes somehow fancier?) before heading back down through the mountains.

After the hike, we spent a bit of time grabbing a drink in Glenorchy before driving back. This was my first taste of some of the hiking in the Queenstown/Otago area, and I’m pretty sure I’m already addicted. When I get a car at some point here, you can bet I’ll spend every spare moment exploring the mountains around here.

The next adventure happened yesterday, this being the reason I waited a bit to make another blog post and include it in here.

One of the surrounding cities, Arrowtown, is an old gold mining village that is probably one of the most small town picturesque places I have ever had the privilege of going. The town is nestled in amongst the surrounding hills, giving the impression that it’s a bit cut off from the busyness of Queenstown. With autumn in full swing, the hills were all different shades of red, yellow, orange, and green. The entire place almost looked fake, with a movie-like quality that I rarely encounter (which is odd to say considering everything in this country seems to have been featured in some film or another).

The Autumn Festival was going on while we were there, which just made the whole thing more enjoyable. The sheer small town-ness of it all was charming to say the least. There were scarecrow contests (the scarecrows being built by the children in the town), guided walks around town, and free entertainment for the public.

The entertainment for the town ended up being a bit more than I expected. A traveling juggler/comedian by the name of “Mullet Man” was the first act of the day. He and his admittedly impressive flowing mullet were hilarious. Near the end of the show he decided to pull a few audience members on stage, myself being one of them. What was our task on stage you may ask? To wear a wig/fake mullet and do a sexy dance for the crowd to spice up the act.

A few minutes of dancing and laughing later, and I’ve now been referred to as “the sexy man” multiple times in Arrowtown. I guess this is how reputations are made? I can’t say I’m unhappy about this as it at least makes my walks around town more interesting. My admirers are, admittedly, usually women in their 40s or 50s without much of a verbal filter (reminding me of my time working at a wine tasting bar), but at least it makes me laugh.

As for the rest of life in Queenstown so far, not too much has changed. While I am (for the most part) now sleeping with a roof over my head in the hostel, the job search is still on. The frustrations of the delays in hearing back from places are a bit high, but I’m confident I’ll find something. Adventures like the ones this past week keep my spirits high despite these work related frustrations. Queenstown is still being good to me as I continue to explore my options here and create communities of friends, locals and fellow backpackers alike. I’m keen to see what new things there are to explore in this place, and can’t wait to do so with the new friends I’ve made here.

A Local In Queenstown

Apologies for being a bit late on this post, but I’ve been caught into the full swing of trying to establish myself in Queenstown for the last while. There have been a few speedbumps in my time in Queenstown so far. While some people may see these speedbumps as an obstacle, I just see them as a chance to catch some air and enjoy the ride (though admittedly have a bit of a rough landing).

I came down to Queenstown on a lead from a recruitment agency to work at a call center. It turns out that the call center is pretty much all that the recruitment agency does, and that it’s definitely not a place that I enjoy working. I have a whole new respect for telemarketers now after having been one for a few days. I’m fairly certain that all the nice people in the world have been taken off the telemarketing lists, and only the cruel and horrible people in this world are left on them to torment the poor souls that have to call them. There was a training period at the call center for a few days that I pushed through, and decided that at the end of that time the job was really not for me. A trial period is, after all, just as much about the potential employee testing the company as it is about the company testing a potential employee. One of the reasons I decided to take a year abroad was to escape the feeling of simply working for the sake of earning a paycheck, so I couldn’t rightly stay at that job knowing it was precisely what I was trying to avoid.

Also, it was a soul-devouring-terror-infested-nest-of-dead-dreams, so yeah there’s that. For those of you who can survive call centers and enjoy your job, I will unceasingly applaud you for as long as you work there.

After the exodus from the call center, I have been searching for another job. I have my CV/resume out to quite a few places and hope to hear back from someone by the end of the week. I was intentional to apply to places that I felt I would truly enjoy working at (which is still a substantial amount of places). I have also been on the hunt for a new place to live, as sometimes this city is so full to bursting that there is nowhere to stay.

On the bright side of this, I have discovered that sleeping on the side of the road is not nearly as bad as I thought! There’s a silver lining in everything I guess?

After checking out three potential places to live, two of them have fallen through. One of them was solely because the housemates got along better with another potential roommate (I guess speaking the same language is a plus), and the other was such a horribly uncomfortable experience that I simply didn’t get back to the people renting the room. As for the last place, it remains to be seen what will happen with it.

Overall, Queenstown is one of the most stunning places I have ever been able to live. Though I’ve only been here a short time, I can already appreciate the atmosphere of the place. There is constantly something going on here. It may be a Saturday morning art market, an impromptu concert started by the busking community, or a random fortune teller setting up shop in the town center. One never knows what they will find in Queenstown, but they can be sure it will be interesting and unexpected.

As I continue to search for a job that won’t destroy me and a place to sleep that isn’t the bushes on the outside of town, I can’t help but feel that all these initial speedbumps in Queenstown will eventually lead me to have one of my best experiences yet. I have made plenty of friends here, backpackers and locals alike, and feel I am finally starting to become a more familiar face in this place. I now have actual answers when someone asks me “as a local here, what would you say about…” and no longer have to wander aimlessly through the alleys of the city to find the good places to eat.

Queenstown has been a bit of a rough start for me, but it’s also been one of the best times I’ve had in New Zealand so far. I’m constantly learning about myself and how I deal with stress, and am incredibly grateful for the difficulties that I have been faced with since I’ve been here. This trip has been a long string of difficulties, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The South Island Begins

This week has been, all things considered, one of the wildest weeks I have had yet in New Zealand thus far (and that’s saying quite a bit considering how my first week went). In the past week, I have traveled the majority of the length of the country, and loved every second of it.

I flew out from Auckland last week and landed in Christchurch. I was lucky enough to have a friend studying at a university in the city, and spent a few days living with him and his 7 other roommates (all incredibly fantastic, generous, and hospitable people). I was able to see the sights of Christchurch, spending my time aimlessly/productively (because sometimes they are the same thing) wandering about the city and simply taking in the atmosphere of the place. While there is still recovery work being done in the city following the earthquake a few years back, the reconstruction is beautiful in a way. Where some saw destruction, they can now see healing. Where death was seen, new and vibrant life is starting to find its way to the surface. It was an interesting experience to visit a city that was in the middle of this healing process.

While seeing the sights and various museums in the city was great, I tend to value relationships more so than I do the physical places. I stayed outside the city, commuting in by bus, with a friend I met in Rotorua and his roommates. The welcome I received upon walking into the house was legendary. Considering it was a last minute decision to stay with this friend, I expect many of the roommates had only heard of my arrival the day before (possibly even the day of) my arrival. Despite this, I walked in to a room full of people around a dinner table, with an empty plate waiting for me and encouragements to eat with them. I slept on the floor of their living room, so got to spend a decent amount of time talking with them and getting to know them. These are the times I will remember in Christchurch, far more so than the random art or buildings that I saw.

After about a day or two in Christchurch, I decided that I was going to simply get on a bus and head down to Queenstown. While unfortunately I was turned down from a job that I had expected to get, I had found a potential job in Queenstown that would help my bank account recover a bit. Without further hesitation, I bought a ticket to go out the next morning. I left early and drove the major part of the south island in about 8 hours, savoring the chance to see the views from the drive without having to actually pay attention to the road. A few brief food and bathroom stops, some incredible views, and plenty of rain, soon found me in Queenstown in the late afternoon. After checking in to a surprisingly nice hostel, I began my exploration of the city.

Queenstown is significantly smaller than I thought it was going to be. I have heard multiple times how much people love the city, yet I really didn’t know what to expect. After spending a few days here though, I can understand why people love it so much. It may be expensive, but the natural beauty surrounding the city is astounding, and the general friendliness of everyone here is refreshing. This is a city that has two main classes of people: travelers and wealthy people. There are of course some locals that aren’t extremely wealthy, yet it does seem that this is a city filled with only those two groups of people for the most part. As I happen to fall into former of these groupings, cheaper accommodation was a priority for me. I spent most of my first night in this city searching for a place to stay, and job searching throughout the streets.

While I have been searching for work, it does seem that the initial job I came down here for is going to work out. I will be employed at a call center (not the most glamorous work, but it’s the type of work backpackers are used for), and start my trial period for the job on Monday. I’m incredibly grateful for this work, and can’t wait to start having a bit of income again since, as I said, this place is pretty expensive. I’m still working on the accommodation bit, but I’m hopeful that something will come along. I’m living out of hostels right now, but at least it gives me a chance to meet some people in the area! This is an amazing city that I hope to get to know very well over the next few months. I’ll still be making trips out to the surrounding places on weekends, but I am equally as excited to start having a presence in this small city. My plans for now are to stay here for quite a while, but I guess we’ll see what happens. After all, I rather enjoy having my plans disrupted. It makes for a more interesting time, wilder stories, and better memories.

Farewell, North Island

In contrast to the past few weeks, the last few days have been a whirlwind of activity. I have now officially left Hawke’s Bay, and am now in Auckland for the next few days. Prior to coming back to this city, I spent the week traveling with my fellow American (Nate), as well as some groups from Argentina and France. We were able to complete most of the major places on the North Island that I missed the first time I drove through.

We left Hawke’s Bay early on Monday morning, and headed out on a four hour drive to Tauranga in order to summit Mount Maunganui. While not a particularly difficult climb, it is an incredibly scenic one and quite popular for both locals and visitors. The views from the top are outstanding and well worth the short climb. This was the type of casual hike that I could probably do every day and never get tired of. It’s a fantastic place to take it easy and talk while you hike. The trail itself is so relaxing in fact, that one of the Argentinians and I took a nap on top of the mountain (which I highly recommend!).

After the climb, we drove another hour and a half to Ngatea and stayed in a free campground. This “camp” ended up actually just being a parking lot, which was just fine for us. We felt very “backpacker” as we cooked our dinner sitting on the damp pavement in a parking lot. As backpackers, we all figured this was an experience that had to at least happen once (although it happened a few times throughout the week to be honest). We chose this spot to camp because of its position to Coromandel, our next destination.

The following morning, we left for Coromandel to camp out and visit the major sights. The first of these was Cathedral Cove. We parked at the beach and walked along through the trees and along the clifftops until we reached the main cove. It was an absolutely breathtaking scene, and a jaw-dropping display of the power of nature. I spent quite a few hours simply wandering over every inch of the area and exploring. I honestly can’t recommend this place enough! The trail leading to the cove has a few other bays as well that provided an hour or so of exploration, yet Cathedral Cove was the main highlight of the area. An added bonus was that it was one of the places that Narnia was filmed, so it of course felt as if it had a bit of extra magic in it.

That night, we slept at a campsite owned by a winery and restaurant. The rule there is that as long as you spend $20 on food or drink, you can stay for free at their offsite camp (complete with a shower made from a hose attached to a tree). The food and drinks were amazing, and we were even given a taste of the world’s hottest pepper (the Carolina Reaper) for free. I’m fairly convinced the owner just wanted to see a strong reaction, but the free taste was appreciated nonetheless!

The next morning, the weather was pretty poor so we headed into Coromandel town. The town itself is pretty small, yet charming in the way that remote small towns are. We spent the majority of the day in the Success Café enjoying soup and coffee while we watched the rain outside. A brief break in the rain provided an opportunity to make our way over to Hot Water Beach. This was one of the sights in Coromandel that I was most keen to see, as it is something I have never heard of anywhere else. Hot Water Beach is, at first glance, a regular beach. However, when one digs a hole in the sand in a certain area, thermal waters fill up the hole and create a hot spring in the sand. It was an odd, yet extremely enjoyable, experience to bask in the hot water while watching the cool waves crash against the shore a few feet away.

The final adventure that I had left on the North Island was the glow worm caves. This was an incredible experience, and quite unlike anything I have ever seen before. While the majority of tourists head to the Waitomo Caves (which doubtless are very impressive), the group and I decided to head to the Waipu Caves just north of Auckland. The caves were pretty far out in the middle of nowhere, and provided us with the opportunity of being the only ones there.

Describing the caves is actually quite difficult. Wading through chest deep and murky water in an underground river, slipping and sliding our way across muddy rocks, and basking in the silence of the cave can only partially encompass the adventure. The glowworms themselves are breathtaking in the pitch-blackness. You could swear that you are looking up at the bright night sky as you stand on the cavern floor in the darkness. I was able to make my way up to a higher point in the main cavern, and it honestly feels as if you’re standing in the middle of the galaxy with the small glowing points of light around you.

While I can attempt to describe it, words will always fall short of the experience of this last week. Even to myself, the descriptions seems weak and cannot really convey what it was like to be in each of these places. They are places that need to be experienced and felt to be truly understood.

After these adventures, it was finally time for Nate and I to part ways and begin our own adventures. As he travels the north more with another group of friends, I will be flying to Christchurch to hopefully begin work (still waiting on a few responses for jobs). We parted on great terms, and while it’s sad that we will no longer be traveling together, we both recognize that it is for the best that we go our own ways (particularly because he’ll be going home in June, whilst I will be staying on for the remainder of the year). We stayed a night at the house of one of our friends in Auckland, and he headed out the next morning. I have spent a few days enjoying time with my friends and their families here in Auckland, yet tomorrow beings my journey south. The north island of New Zealand has been good to me (and even when it’s been bad, I’ve appreciated the learning experience), so I can’t wait to see what a new place has in store. I’ll be traveling on my own from now on, yet relish the idea of the challenges and different experiences this will provide.

Part of travel means dealing with the unexpected. While this turn of events certainly falls into that category, I find myself ready and willing to accept these unforeseen changes. Diving into the unknown is becoming a normal thing for me in this new country it seems, and I love that I’m being forced to grow and develop in new ways. Tonight, I bid goodbye to the north island of New Zealand, and eagerly approach my adventures on the south island.

Breaking Patterns

As I sit in my usual coffee shop (it’s strange to think that I have a “usual” place in a foreign country), I must admit that I have fallen into a pattern. Patterns, while sometimes unavoidable or downright beneficial, are something that I had hoped to avoid on this trip. I was hoping to consistently have new experiences and meet new people, yet that has not been the case for the past few weeks. As I’m still jobless I will give myself some measure of grace on this, knowing that I should not drive to far off destinations for fear of wasting too much money on gas (though this will change when I have some form of income). I have had a few Skype interviews for jobs across the islands, and hopefully will hear back early next week about a position, yet for now I am stuck in my patterns of frequenting coffee shops for free Wi-Fi and spending countless hours reading or researching different topics.

Fortunately, this past week has offered me a slight amount of desperately needed variance in my usual routine. One of my old coworkers on the apple orchard also has an injury (we call ourselves the Crippled Crew), and was unable to work for a few days, so we decided we couldn’t waste the beautifully sunny day in a coffee shop. We headed out to do a few hikes about an hour and a half north of Hastings. Our goal was to conquer Shine Falls, and Bell Rock. Both hikes were extraordinary, and it felt amazing to get back out on the trails to test my knee (which proved to be quite capable and gave me no troubles!).

The simple act of getting outside the city has rejuvenated me. I haven’t realized how trapped I have felt here in my pattern of coffee and reading (usually a routine I would love, but too much of a good thing becomes unbearable).

The hike out to Shine Falls was empty of all but ourselves, and the birds until we were on our way back to the car. The trails here generally overestimate how long it will take someone to hike, so getting out there took us only about half the time that was estimated. The falls themselves are known to be the largest in the Hawke’s Bay area, rising 58 meters above the ice cold pool that they thunder into. My friend and I spent nearly an hour simply staring at the falls and discussing things of no particular consequence.

These types of moments are the ones that I came to New Zealand for. To share a conversation with a new friend, in a new place, astounded by the nature around me.

Bell Rock was equally as impressive, though took a bit longer. It was nearly an hour and a half of walking to get from one end of the trail to the other (though that is still not very long), and it was worth every step. The views from Bell Rock were incredible. The green hills and mountains stretched away to the distant horizon with hardly any evidence of humans to be seen. My hiking companion and I separated, each seeking out the peace of our own thoughts as we gazed out upon the land. As I sat alone on the edge of a cliff looking out over this vast expanse of land (yes mom, I promise I was relatively safe on the cliff), I could not help but be thoughtful.

I need moments like this. I thrive on them and I will fight to keep them. It’s time for me to leave Hawke’s Bay and seek out adventure after adventure.

At the end of this week, I will be leaving my current city in search of a new place. If I end up being offered one of the jobs I applied for, I will of course go there and seek out the spectacular places found in the area, both hidden and popular. If I am not offered a position, I believe my time in this area has ended regardless. My first post in this blog stated that sometimes one must just jump off the cliff into the unknown, knowing that it’s just as likely that one will hit rocks at the bottom as water. I believe it’s time for that terrifyingly joyful leap again. I’m ready to leave this area, though not without any small measure of sadness.

 I leave dear friends and comfortable coffee shops behind, yet I am determined to leap once again into the unknown. I would prefer this to be with a job and a form of income, yet even without that I can feel that it’s time for me to leave here to search the places I have yet to go. This move also means that Nate (my traveling companion) and I will be splitting ways, and The Banana Van will be sold. There’s a lot of change in the near future for me, but I’m ready to face it.

Alone, and Ok With It?

Occasionally there are weeks where nothing seems to have happened. That is the nature of travel, and the way in which it differs from simply a vacation to a foreign place. Travel means living your daily life in a new land. All the exciting, boring, frustrating, and joy inducing things that come with that place suddenly become your own. There are waterfalls to shower in, mountains to climb, and awe inspiring hikes to lose yourself in. However, there are also café’s to sit in idly, work to do, and locals to talk to. While some of these things may seem more exciting than others, I must say that there is a quality to the simple act of not doing anything that is alluring. Sitting in a café and talking to strangers has proved to be far more entertaining than I thought it would be (and yes, the accents here make it way better).

While I am currently jobless, I have spent countless hours frequenting the coffee shops in the area and getting to know some of the locals and other backpackers alike. The week has passed by quickly despite having no actual “work” to do. I’m still searching and applying for jobs (almost exclusively on the South Island now), but my stress levels are at a minimum. I consistently check the job boards, but have spent enough hours over the last week to have looked at every job at least a thousand times. I have also reached out to my friends and family that know people in the area, so I have quite a few lines tossed out into the ocean of jobs.

This week has been educational for me outside of the job search. While pretty much everyone I know is busy during the day, it has given me more time than usual to be alone. Those of you who know me quite well know that, as an extrovert, I thrive off of human interaction. While I can of course make friends with strangers (which I have done), it is a bit odd to be consistently alone. There is a difference between being alone in a crowd, and being alone on your own, a difference that I have gotten to know quite well throughout this week.

Don’t misunderstand, as this is not a complaint. On the contrary, it is actually quite enlightening to get to know myself on a different level. The fortunate/unfortunate thing about traveling with someone is that you are ALWAYS with that person. While this may be beneficial if you enjoy the company of that person, it also removes any chance of having any time to yourself. I am appreciating this aloneness as a chance to get to know myself in a foreign place. How to I spend my time when there is neither anybody nor anything that requires that time? It’s a strange experience for me. I have never traveled solo before, and am finding that the experience is not quite as bad as I thought it was going to be. Of course there are moments of loneliness during the day, but I have found that being alone isn’t quite as bad as I imagined it would be (extroverts, I know you understand).

While I still would prefer to have a job and a steady income in this place, I am trying to learn to appreciate this season of life. Despite the fact that it isn’t the ideal situation for me, I am determined to use it well. Did I not say earlier that I will find the good in each situation? Particularly the bad ones? This is an excellent opportunity for me to put that into play, and I’m being to find that silver lining in the storm clouds.

Yes, this is a shorter post than usual, but there are times when ones thoughts must stay inside their head. While writing is an amazing outlet and I enjoy filling everyone in on the goings on in my life, there must be times when memories and lessons are reserved for oneself.