Car Trouble, Hastings, and A New Job

This has been another week of transitions. After having spent three weeks on a dairy farm with an incredibly family, it was time to move on to a new adventure. However, as I found out within 12 hours of leaving the farm, not all adventures start out with smiles and laughs. After attending a church in Rotorua on Sunday morning, it was on to Hawke’s Bay for our job interviews the following morning (or so I thought). Unfortunately, I wouldn’t get more than an hour from Rotorua that day.

As Nate and I drove on towards Hawke’s Bay, passing through Taupō and off onto the unknown roads, we were excited to be in a new area with new experiences awaiting us. About 40 minutes past Taupō was when things took a dark turn. We pulled over after a particularly bumpy part of the road to ensure our side door wasn’t going to fall to pieces (it’s come off the tracks and we are looking to get it fixed shortly), and realized quickly that there was a bigger problem: smoke was coming out from our engine.

Needless to say, smoke is never something you want to see emanating from a car engine.

We quickly checked the engine and found oil all over the place. This in itself wasn’t too unusual due to the fact that the last person that had topped up the oil on the car spilled it everywhere, however the smoking was a new thing that was a bit worrisome. After coming to a decision, we turned around and made for Taupō again, abandoning our plans to make it to Hawke’s Bay. We stayed overnight at a free campsite outside the city that we were familiar with and spent the evening playing poker and laughing with a few other travelers. This lull in stress for the day was much needed, and led to an even better following morning.

We took the car into a shop and instantly got bumped to the top of their list, bypassing all the reservations for the day. After a rather inexpensive engine cleaning, the mechanic said it seemed that nothing was actually wrong except perhaps a slow oil leak, but nothing serious. With this good news, we set out once more for Hawke’s Bay. We drove straight to an apple orchard that we had had some brief contact with, and were hired on the spot. There are 24 workers at the orchard, and 600 applicants, so we are excited to have the opportunity to work at the Willowford Alma Alta orchard. We spent the following two days just outside of Hastings at Te Awanga Holiday Park, a fantastic campground sitting on the best surf spot in the area and enjoyed exploring the area.

We have now officially parked The Banana Van at the accommodation that we will have for the next 10 weeks (provided by the orchard). We are sharing the camp with ten other workers, and have met six of them so far. We are a crazy group from all over the world that have somehow found our way to Hastings for the picking season. We have representatives from Argentina, the UK, Lithuania, Holland, and the USA, with more workers coming in to stay with us later. I can’t wait to see how this season of work and life will change my time here in New Zealand. I can’t wait to start working for pay again, and to be doing so with the friends that I have already made here.

It’s odd to think of how things work out sometimes. Last month, Nate and I were stuck in a campground due to a major storm that blew through the area and forced us to abandon our plans of visiting another city. If it hadn’t been for that storm, we wouldn’t have made a new friend that recommended us to this job.

 I’ve been on the lookout throughout this trip for ways that negative situations are used in positive ways. Every time something goes wrong, I strive to find something good or unusual that happens because of that situation, and remember it. The storm last month was one such situation that has led to our current job, and I’m sure there will be more situations in the future. Call it what you will (God, luck, karma, fate, etc.), but I’m determined to recognize these small acts of God (as I see it) and be grateful. This is something that I’ll take home after my adventures in New Zealand. To find the good, or potential for good in all situations, is one of the most useful mindsets I have been forced to develop here. When things go wrong, and they inevitably will, it is unbelievably useful to find that small positive shard amongst all the terror that’s going on. It’s kept me sane throughout this trip, and I’m sure it will continue to do so.

No matter where you are, continue to look for the good amongst the bad. It’s ironically harder to do while you sit safe within your comfort zone, but it’s a mindset that must be nurtured if you hope to survive any of the twists that life throws at you. If a 25 year old living out of a bright yellow van in a foreign country can find the good in poor situations, so can you.

The Crossing, Luge Tracks, and the Next City

There are certain points in life that become etched in the mind. These can be moments so unbearable that you can hardly breathe, ones so full of joy and wellness that you feel you’ll burst, and nearly everything in between. While it’s foolish to assume that all good moments will become ones that will stick in your memory forever, there can be a hope for such things. This past week has been packed full of moments such as these (ones of the good variety).

Over the weekend, and where I left off with my last blog post, I decided to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with a few friends. This 19km trek is known for the stunning scenery that it provides, and I must say that I wasn’t disappointed. The morning began at 5:00 with a two hour drive through the mist and fog from Rotorua to Tongariro National Park. We started on the trail just after 7:00 with a stunning amount of other hikers and worked our way through the rocky terrain and up hundreds of stairs before coming to the base of an active volcano called Mt. Ngauruhoe (also known as Mt. Doom from Lord of The Rings). We discussed summiting the behemoth before us, and unanimously decided that we would forever regret not climbing it.

Anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of hiking up sand and scree will understand me when I say that literally every step up that volcano was “one step forward, half a step back.” There is no path to the top of the mountain, instead hikers must content themselves with whatever way looks the most stable to them. A procession of wary climbers made their way with us up to the top, stopping every minute or so as someone above shouted “ROCK!” while a rock would come careening down the mountainside towards us all. This may sound like a poor way to spend the day, but I wouldn’t trade that climb for anything in the world. The rough climb was rewarded at the top with incredible views of brightly colored lakes that ranged from the bluest blue that you can imagine, to bright green pools that hardly seem to be possible. Spending a few hours at the top of the mountain eating and talking (and warming ourselves by standing in the steam vents that shot out of the mountain) is a moment that I hope will stay with me forever.

I’m sure you have all heard the saying “what comes up, must come down,” and so it is with climbing. We were all a bit cautious about the descent of Ngauruhoe since it was such a loose and crumbly climb up, yet there was one crucial thing we had forgotten about climbing scree up a mountain…

You can literally sprint down the mountainside on the descent.

Scree running is something I have wanted to do for quite a long time, and this was a chance that I was not about to pass up. I’d run through scree on a few occasions, but nothing on this scale. After the first 20 meters or so of crab walking my way down past a few large boulders, I finally hit the scree and sand of the mountain that had so frustrated me on the ascent. I figured that if I was going to make quick work of getting down the mountain, I may as well go all out. I ran down that mountain as fast as I could, passing many other climbers as they walked carefully with the ground sliding beneath them. I regret that I didn’t time my descent, but what took seemingly forever to climb took mere minutes to get down. Was sprinting down an active volcano a foolish thing to do? Possibly, but sometimes foolish things must be done. While the rest of the hike was insanely gorgeous, I will always associate the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with that mad dash down the side of a volcano.

The rest of the hike was beautiful and took us until around 5PM. We arrived at the car, and drove back to the start of the trail to pick up the car our friends had driven us over in. We hiked 32km that day with the addition of Ngauruhoe (plus a few random trails on the side), almost 20 miles, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

The Crossing wasn’t the only adventure in store for this week though. Two friends drove down from Auckland to hang out on the farm with Nate and myself for a few days earlier this week. It’s Nate’s birthday on Friday, so we decided to celebrate a little early and go do something special. Rotorua Skyline is an adventure area just outside the city that Nate and I had been eyeing since we got to the area. We bought tickets for the gondola to get to the top, and spent the entire day riding the luge tracks down the mountain for his birthday. We finished off the day at the Fat Dog café in town with massive burgers, our appetites and sense of adventure sated for the moment.

While there has been some incredibly good experiences during my stay in Waikite Valley, all things must eventually end. This Sunday, Nate and I will be leaving the area to head southwest to Hawke’s Bay for our next job. Of course we are going to miss the friends that we have made here, but the itch to move has gotten too strong for us to stay in this place. Adventure is waiting in the next city, and we are determined to meet it.

Communities, Conquering Fear, and Self Discovery

When you move to a new area, you hope to have a solid community of people.  I’m incredibly grateful that nearly every place that I have travelled to in this country has had a community of people for me to join. Whether it’s fellow backpackers, firmly established residents of an area, or random strangers met on the street “just passing through.” There’s always someone to befriend. This past week has been a good exploration of those communities that I have already established, plus the creation of another amazing one here in Rotorua (the closest place to Waikite Valley for me).

I have been frequenting a coffee shop in Rotorua for the past few weeks (shout out to Capers Epicurean for free Wi-Fi and delicious food), and Nate made a friend here that recommended a church to us. Figuring we may as well give it a try, we headed over there that Sunday. This random encounter in a coffee shop became the basis for a new friend group in Rotorua. While nobody in New Zealand has been particularly unwelcoming, I have found this group of individuals to be the most welcoming yet. We joined them for a day at the lake about twenty minutes after meeting them at their invitation, which turned into a dinner at a house. They took us to the hot waterfall which turned out to be hidden pretty near the farm we are working on as well.

Side note on the hot waterfall: If you ever have the opportunity to get to experience the glory and majesty of a natural hot spring/waterfall combo, don’t you dare miss out on it.

A few members of this same group are planning on doing the Tongariro Crossing with Nate and myself this weekend as well. This is, from what we’ve heard, the “most New Zealand” hike on the North Island. For my fellow Lord of The Ring’s nerds out there, you may know this area as the place Mt. Doom is found. We plan to be half dead and fully sunburned by the end of the hike, but it’ll be worth it.

I have also had a chance to spend more time with the family that I’m working for, and strengthen the friendship with them. Nate and I decided to cook a meal for the family as a thank you for all they have done for us so far, so we prepared a feast for them. We served sandwiches on croissants (made from scratch), a fruit salad, and deviled eggs. We had some mouthwatering chocolate croissants (again made from scratch) for dessert, and the family could not have been more pleased with the meal. We were surprised it turned out as well as it did, and were pleased to serve them. The entire meal took three days to prepare, and was completely worth it.

Aside from the family, Nate and I also had the opportunity to spend some time with their friends in the valley. One of them took us out fishing at 6AM a few days ago, and it was awesome to be able to spend some time with him and form our own bonds aside from those with the family. I haven’t been fishing since I was a child yet did surprisingly well, bringing home the biggest trout of the group (close to 2 feet). Nate and I are hoping to pick up a few poles to get ourselves some dinner after moving on from this area.

While learning to fish all over again and looking forward to Tongariro Crossing are incredibly exciting outdoor activities, there are plenty of other new things that I have experienced while here. One example of this is mountain biking, which I’m terrified of. Those who know me well may understand my background and fear on this, yet I’m proud to say that I’ve spent the last week working to overcome it. This may sound like a tame activity to some of you, but it’s been a constant fear of mine for years and I’m nervously defeating my fear it hill by hill.

Taking on new challenges is something that I am striving to do this year. The entire move to a new country is a challenge in itself, yet I have been trying to push my own boundaries further during this time. If I’m already outside my comfort zone, I may as well continue to walk further away from those comfortable boundaries to grow to the fullest extent. When it all comes down to it, that’s what this whole adventure is all about. Growing and pushing myself to the fullest extent in every capacity that I can think of (mentally, physically, spiritually, etc.).

Often it is stated that travel changes you. While I understand the idea behind this, I would phrase it quite differently. I believe that travel reveals you. It pulls to the surface all the imperfections, impossibilities, and intricacies of yourself. It pushes aside all the unnecessary pieces of life so that you can truly focus on completely understanding who you are. I don’t believe that people come back a “different person” after travel, I believe that they come back a truer version of who they are.

Do I expect to come back a different person from New Zealand? No, I do not. I expect to come back more myself than when I left.

Working For My Food

I have begun work at my first job in New Zealand! I’m currently working on a dairy farm in the incredibly beautiful Waikite Valley, found between Rotorua and Taupō. The work is unpaid, yet food and accommodation are provided in exchange for four hours of work each day. I’m doing land maintenance on the 377 hectare farm (which, in case you were curious, is a MASSIVE piece of land, about 930 acres). The majority of my time is spent walking across the land pulling up ragwort, a toxic plant that sprouts up in the fields and can become pretty unmanageable if left unattended. Though unpaid, it feels incredible to actually be a productive human being again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to be able to travel and not have any particular responsibilities, but I have found that too much vacation is actually pretty awful.

What I appreciate more than the simple act of work though, is the family that I have had the privilege to get to know. The young couple that I’m working for is unbelievably welcoming. They have really done a fantastic job of making Nate and I feel truly at home here. We have our own little separate house (nothing “flash” but luxurious to those who have been living in a van), and three meals a day. The couple has two young children (ages 6 and 8) who are constantly asking questions and want to spend every moment they can with us. The entire family (two parents, two children, two dogs, a cat, a sheep, and 1100 cows) has fully embraced us two insane foreigners wholeheartedly.

I have found that having only spent a few days in this valley, I’ve already come to appreciate it as more than just a place to work. The community here is incredible. Being able to have simple and real connections is one of the main things I was looking forward to when I came to this country. Yes, I was excited for the scenery and the touristy things that can be done, but the everyday connections is what I was looking forward to. To have a personal interaction with someone, an interaction that is so very human, is one of the greatest joys I have had in New Zealand thus far. The opportunity to live with a family and trade a bit of work for a conversation over a meal is far more valuable to me than any sort of paid job.

Despite the fact that this job is incredible, I do recognize that eventually I’ll have to start making some money to survive. This job at the dairy farm only lasts for another week and a half (it’s already flying by), then it’s down to Hawke’s Bay to try to get a paid job picking fruit on an orchard. Before Nate and I head down further south though, we have decided it is high time we gave our van a much needed face lift. The paint is a bit worn (and is actually multiple shades of yellow), the interior can do with a bit of customization, and some extra personality can be added to make it truly our own. The two of us have begun the process of sanding down the rougher sections of paint on the car and should be repainting soon! The Banana Van, as it’s formally known, soon won’t just be a hippie van, it’ll be our hippie van (don’t worry, pictures will come eventually).

I think that after the completely crazy first few weeks that I have had here (refer to previous posts for details), I at last feel more settled. However, as we enter into February, I have felt the changes that a new month brings now more than ever before. Each new month brings an entirely new rush of feelings for me that I haven’t quite felt before. As this is not my first time having moved away from my hometown, it’s not a total shock to me. It is however the first time I’ve moved away without the option of simply jumping on a plane to go home for a weekend or a holiday. I have found that this makes all the difference in the way I consider time here.

Each month is one month closer to having to leave New Zealand. It’s one month closer to getting to go home. One month closer to seeing family. One month closer to seeing old friends, but leaving new ones. One month closer to “starting life” in the traditional American sense.

I never thought that the simple changing of a page on the calendar would inspire such thoughts in me, but I guess that’s one of the things you learn while traveling for an extended period of time.

My time is flying by here, and I still feel like I have so much left to experience here. I don’t know what adventures await me in the coming months, but I’m determined to meet them with a smile on my face, friends at my side, and a bright yellow van to carry me there.

Today, I’m working for my food and a place to sleep on a dairy farm pulling weeds.

Next month, who knows? But I’m ok with that.