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.

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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.