Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand’

Wanaka, New Zealand. Sometimes I hate typing the comma after a place-name, especially ‘Wanaka’ As far as I know there is only one Wanaka, but I insert the comma for clarity. I also use the comma, and insert New Zealand because I didn’t really know about Wanaka until I was there. If I didn’t know then I presume many others won’t know either.

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It’s at the southern end of Lake Wanaka and serves as the base camp for the Mount Aspiring National Park. Wanaka has the tangible excitement of most resort towns, but it is still quaint and laid back. The town is part of the Queenstown-LakesDistrict and is often overlooked due to the proximity of the hugely famous Queenstown. If some people overlook Wanaka then I underlooked Queenstown. To underlook, is not a word as far as I know, but let me explain further.

One of my main reservations about New Zealand was the number of ‘adventure tourists’. I imagined really loud people with crass manners and a wardrobe similar to that of the old ‘Pepsi Max’ adverts. A common sight is white people with dreadlocks – which I’ve never been sure of. They spend so much time and energy seeking out carefully controlled fun, that they often forget there is an unfranchised world of excitement beyond the buses and bungee cords. I’ve never trusted manufactured fun. I believe fun is a spontaneous feeling which is driven by s state of mind and can exist in the most mundane places. If you have to travel from the UK or the Midwest to find fun then I think you need to have a long hard look at your life. A famous and venerated Zen Monk once said to me (whist tutting despairingly)

‘The only fun you find at a fun fair is that which you bring within yourself.’

Adrenaline junkies are genuinely hooked on their drug of choice. I would like to say ‘literally’ hooked but I don’t have enough science to back that up.

“Have you done a bungee jump? Really? I did two at the same time, in the dark, into a pit of cobras.”

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Adrenaline tourism is great for the economy of New Zealand. However, after working two jobs and having to cope with adrenaline numpties for too long I decided that Queenstown was not for me. I read about Wanaka being a smaller and quieter version of Queenstown, so I stayed there instead. I was happy, not just with the town and surrounding scenery; I was also happy with the demographic who chose to stay there. I met a few people who had underlooked Queenstown to get somewhere more relaxing. I only passed through Queenstown briefly so I cannot really comment upon the place. What I can say, is that Wanaka was one of the unexpected gems of New Zealand’s South Island.

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My pleasant hostel opened out to a lawn which ambled down to the Lake. I decided in Wanaka that promenades and waterfronts are nice but Lakeside proms are much nicer. The breeze is gentle and you don’t get salt and sand trapped between your toes all the time. The town has all the tourist infrastructure you would need for both seasons, you can ski here too! I was mainly interested in doing some hiking but I couldn’t be bothered waiting for the bus and I didn’t have enough time to do a multiday hike. In the end, I opted to go to Roy’s Peak to get a good view of the Lake and some of the bigger mountains. I walked along the road to Roy’s Peak which was interesting in the sense of seeing how people live outside the tourist centre. However, I strongly recommend not walking unless you plan on going round the lake; I was pretty tired upon reaching the start of the trail.

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This part of New Zealand was exactly what I had imagined. There were straw coloured grasses and turquoise lakes. The mountains unfolded as if they had just been laid by the god of terraforming. I had my back to the view while walking, so when I eventually reached the peak I felt very happy with the last vista. My only regret was not being organized enough to re plan and stay longer in this mountain paradise. Despite my creeping envy of everyone who passed me to continue hiking, I had one of my most memorable days here. I needed the rest, not just from working, but from others. Depending on your personality type, hiking can be a great escape from all of life’s distractions. Looking back I think I was always fond of hiking and walking but my experience in Wanaka started me on a gentle quest to always walk to the top of any nearby peak. This has reached a point where if I don’t walk a serious length each week I feel genuinely down. Mountains, lakes and forests always restore my humours, none more so than Wanaka.

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Akaroa is a township and little harbour on the Banks Peninsula. When you look at a map of New Zealand’s South Island it’s a little nib jutting out into an otherwise straight-edged coast. The name Akaroa means ‘Long Harbour’. The peninsula, first thought to be an island by Captain Cook, is named after the famous botanist Joseph Banks who sailed with Cook on the Endeavour.

Banks Peninsula

Banks Peninsula

The village is an easy day trip from Christchurch, just over an hour if my memory serves. I went on an organised tour from Christchurch and had a pleasant and relaxing day The coach journey was through the winding roads but the scenery was so good I barely noticed. We visited a famous beachcomber who has collected the flotsam of the entire southern hemisphere by the looks of it, there was also a stop at a famous cheese manufacturer. The most impressive thing the tour guide told us was about the Manuka Honey, this truly is a wonder food of unbelievable power. You can find Manuka Honey in various strengths in most health food shops; it’s expensive for a reason! I befriended a Japanese girl at the coffee stop. After photographing nearly everything I jokingly said that she forgot to take a picture of her cappuccino. She couldn’t believe her error. After a quick snap she showed me all the photos of coffees throughout New Zealand. I have since learnt that this is by no means eccentric behaviour in the Far East. I feel that with the Japanese and Koreans I met, memories aren’t real unless they have been documented by camera. I wish I could take more pictures sometimes, but not as many as some people.

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As we descended down into the protected harbour I was taken back by how pleasant the place was. It seems like a film set devised to lure people from the British Isles to emigrate. I think this is the place people have in their minds when they think of the new life on the other side of the World. The air is crisp and clear in that antipodean way, the only thing to interrupt the serenity is an occasional icy breeze from the Antarctic. Once you have seen the blues of the sky and ocean and the greens of the fields, it’s as if the rest of the world is seen through a veil. Nearly all the buildings of Akaroa are of the colonial wooden panelled variety. This type of architecture can sometimes look a bit tacky and temporary. However, the wooden clap-board houses of Akaroa are impossibly quaint and full of wholesome charm. Like an entire neighbourhood of the Walton family relocated to the South Pacific.

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There is something distinct about Akaroa, it’s not immediately clear but it adds a slightly different hue to the surroundings and makes the place unique. The distinction is one of those fascinating ‘what if?’ stories. Akaroa has been influenced by the French and was very nearly the first step into a possible French colonization of New Zealand. Captain Jean François L’Anglois made a provisional purchase of land in this area. After returning to France he advertised for settlers and ceded his interest in the land to the Nanto-Bordelaise Company. On 9 March 1840, 63 emigrants left from Rochefort, the maritime town in the South West of France. Unfortunately, the Banks Peninsula had already been claimed by the British. Despite this, the French did arrive here, and there is a distinct French influence. The French settlement was known as Port Louis-Philippe, named after the French King. Whether it’s just my mind filling in the gaps I don’t know, but Akaroa has an undertone of a pleasant fishing village in Normandy or on the Atlantic seaboard. This slightly unusual claim to fame makes Akaroa very popular for tourists and I imagine many residents of the Canterbury area have second homes here for summer months.

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After a brief tour from Wellington up to Tongariro crossing I had the eventual intention of finding work in Hastings and Napier. These two places are joined together on the East Coast of North Island. Although Napier is a bit smaller it gets much more attention because of its fully intact Art Deco centre. I had read about this place when I studied History of Art, I never really dreamed of making it there.

Napier had the extreme misfortune of being wiped out by an earthquake in 1931. It also had the extreme fortune of being rebuilt in an interesting period, architecturally speaking. The whole centre was built (or rebuilt) in the Art Deco style which was peaking in the 30’s. This style of architecture, although not my favourite, is interesting as being truly international. There are examples of Art Deco worldwide. What makes Napier so special is the fact that as the buildings were built simultaneously we have been given a unique snapshot of Art Deco. Outside of theme parks or Movie Sets it’s hard to find examples of towns which are so uniformly built. I believe Napier was lucky to have been constructed at a time when there was such attention to aesthetics. This was urban planning before the Liberal Utopians of the 50’s and 60’s tried to force us all to live in concrete tower blocks and multi story car parks. To look at places rebuilt after the bombings of World War II is a great compare and contrast exercise for anyone interested in architecture or urban design. You only have to look at Coventry or Warsaw to know that Napier was saved.

As I mentioned, Art Deco is by no means my favourite type of architecture. It makes for interesting underground transport murals and theatre posters. However, when it comes to buildings I often find it borrows from so many things that it seems a bit pastiche. I can often see Pseudo Egyptian elements in the motifs and decorations. Unlike the blatant stealing of Classical designs for some of the larger Victorian buildings, Art Deco seems to just fold elements into the design so they are lost. My only exception would be the Chrysler building which stands out as a silver cathedral in New York’s skyline. The main problem, at least for some parts of the world, is light. The pastel shades of Art Deco look best in the warm light of Mediterranean and Caribbean locations, especially those by the seaside. This is why Miami always looks so glamorous and glitzy. Some of the buildings in Northern Europe just look dated and naff.

With all these thoughts in mind I headed out on an extremely sunny day to photograph all the best examples of Napier’s Art Deco structures. The ones I have captured are by no means the only ones there. It was a period just before I started working at an orchard to make money for a trip to Chile. I see this period as a calm before the storm, a last chance to relax before working crappy jobs. Unlike many tourist resorts in New Zealand you are left to wander round freely with no real goal or destination. The only disappointment I met was beneath the canopies of the buildings. This is provincial New Zealand so there were not quite the street cafes and breezy bars of Miami or St. Tropez. Beneath the facades were many junk shops and cheap clothing stores, they were kept safe from sunlight by ugly plastic verandas. I tried not to photograph these which meant I got serious neck ache by the time I was finished. I enjoyed Napier as an unexpected and unhyped pleasure. I recommend that if anyone is in New Zealand they should take a little detour from Auckland or Wellington to visit.

Due to harvest delays, poor time management, and a series of other unfortunate events I found myself in Kaikoura with no money. When I say no money, I mean no access to a little used credit card back and around 20 dollars which was already needed to pay for accommodation. This left me in a back to front situation in which I needed money to pay for things I had already taken. After much searching, a lady who ran the local Subway sandwich shop offered me the most hours, she also contacted the owner of the hostel where I was trying to stay and arranged some kind of advance. After a couple of weeks I realised that it would take far too long to save any money so I took a cleaning job in a hostel which paid for my accommodation. With the two jobs varying in length I generally worked between 55 and 75 hours a week. The 75 hour weeks were exceptional and a combination holiday peak season and sacrificing  1 day off to have a two-day weekend every fortnight. It was a little soul-destroying to have so little time and I was envious to the extreme of tourists and locals alike who seemed to amble round leisurely whilst I was on my work mission.
Dusky Lodge, Kaikoura
As a feat which I never wanted to repeat I decided to document the mundane events which made up my life at that point. I tried to justify my low wage and low status jobs by what I could learn from being in that situation. I also tried to maximise the small periods of time I had between the hostel and the sandwich shop. Below is the e-mail I sent recounting what made up an average day. It was written shortly after the busy holiday season which is why it’s in present perfect tense.
I have been working in Subway for 35 hours a week and I also have a job in Dusky Lodge hostel over the road from Subway. The hostel job is in exchange for accommodation. I have two days off per week from Subway and one day off a week from Dusky Lodge. After a lot of diplomacy, discussion, and charm (a new skill I have been trying to develop) I have managed to get two full days off both jobs every other week. Two full days meant I was able to visit a hot spa in the mountains called Hanmer Springs. I have very little time to read or do anything interesting so I have decided to write about an average day. This has the unique point of being the only time in my travels where i have had such a fixed routine. Before this I have never stayed anywhere more than 7 nights on the trot.
View from the decking
I usually wake up about 6ish with various bizarre dreams, I then doze up until 8ish. After a few stretches (I’m not into that whole ‘scene’ but it has become necessary’) I make my way upstairs to the kitchen to have breakfast. At the moment I am on Weet-Bix, but usually I have porridge with a little honey. Sometimes I also have some Nutella on whole meal bread, it depends what mood I’m in and how my colon is behaving. I always have a cup of tea though, there are two cups I favour; one is a large green cup with an orange rim the other is also green with pictures of butterflies. For some reason when I drink green tea I usually use one of the transparent cups. The only other person to use the green cup is a German guy, he is also called Michael so I decided it was ok. I take my tea on the deck area which overlooks the pool and in the far distance the seaward Kaikoura range of mountains ,  is still snow-capped despite recent high temperatures. It usually takes me about 10 mins to go through the tea process, after which I make my way  to the Living room/reception area to await instructions on the morning’s tasks. The briefing begins about 9:15 but I am usually there about 9ish just to sit. I prefer to sit without the tv but sometimes it’s on. I usually make a couple of jokes at this stage, not really jokes with punch lines but just little comments to keep me entertained. For example, when there are Germans there I sometimes say ‘Ich bin ein ………….’  using whichever swear word I learnt. Backpacking is the best way to extend a global vocabulary of offensive comments in varying tongues. I have also made a point of saying good morning to everybody in their native tongue, thus far I have had to learn Chinese, Hebrew, German and Japanese (I already knew the Japanese).
The supervisors, of which there are two, give us our instructions. Roughly speaking there are three main divisions; Kitchens, Bathrooms and Beds. I think I prefer beds, when there are not too many, it’s kind of relaxing and I have a rare talent for folding the corners in the perfect way and generally making things look sharp. I give myself a speed challenge for making beds to prevent boredom. I don’t return immediately after completing task because then they will know how much time it takes me and will just give me more tasks. The top floor of the Lodge is basically a hotel so the standards are high, I even have to roll the towels in the correct place and make sure the coffee and tea is stocked up. On a good day I can finish at 11:15 but usually work continues until noon.
If I finish at a reasonable hour I do a few lengths in the pool, the chlorine kills off all the filth
and I have a spa after this then a shower. Unbelievably for a modest hostel there is a sauna, hot tub, and a nice pool area, it has been the main reason I have stayed so long. After finishing we reconvene at the pool table near reception to fold laundry together. Sometimes a new coachload of people arrives on a tour and I make small bets with some Finnish guys about which country they come from. I’ve been getting good at this game. The Sherlock style skills are mostly based on the brands of clothing, especially shoes and backpacks. Americans wear more Northface, British are more likely to wear Reebok Classics etc. I have  lunch at about 12.30. Most of the time I have my special rice dish but sometimes I walk into the town and get some fish. If you go on kitchen duty you can also get free food from people who have left, dates are written on all food items so a quick check at reception means you know if someone has checked out. I do share my spoils though in what I call the ‘binner’s banquet’. I don’t feel bad about this, it’s better than wasting food. If I stay at the hostel i usually have enough time to watch a film. On occasions where there is either a substandard film or a film I have seen often I simply go for a kip or just sit in the
At 14:45 I get changed for work then walk all of 5 mins to Subway. I first clock in on the computer then have a mini chat to whoever is there. At 15:00 there are not many sandwiches to be made so it’s usually just preparation, I like preparing food…it’s simple and repetitive. I seem to be the only one who doesn’t mind chopping onions, I think it’s because I understand the beneficial effects to the sinuses, this is a result of having suffered from rhinitis in the past. The rest of the day is a mixture of making sandwiches and cleaning. I do have a half hour break which I try to coincide with the bakery tray. Let me elaborate…
The bakery next to the hostel has a reciprocal arrangement with my hostel: they use the pool/sauna and we get the leftover cakes and sandwiches. I can usually secure a couple of cakes if I get back at 17:15.
After serving customers I have to clean toilets/mop floors/ clean the coffee machine then do whatever else is left undone. I usually leave the shop at about 22:30 to 23:15 depending on how busy it has been. When I return to the hostel I talk to whoever has stayed awake. Most people who do the cleaning go to bed early, but it seems I form a natural bond with whoever stays up. Last week I befriended two Japanese  who were nice enough to make me a Japanese curry. This week it seems to be only Tsabasa, (also from Japan) and I Ching  from Taiwan. Tsabasa is a quiet guy whose command of English involves repeating the last three words of my previous sentence, whether interrogative or imperative. Sometimes it feels like I’m talking to a cave. He is unremarkable apart from two small facts, he drinks more tea than I do, and he watches more films than I do. Although, I think the latter statistic would be different if I worked less. I ching is a nice Taiwanese girl, there were two other Taiwanese who were a bit homely and miserable, they left me a with a sour image every time I see the ‘made in Taiwan’ sign. On the other hand I Ching (who calls herself Iris) is very sweet and talks to people freely. Most Chinese speakers give themselves an English name as people either struggle to pronounce it, or they cannot remember. I am already on her good side as I refuse to call her by her English name, this is a sometimes confusing because nobody else knows who I am talking about.
I usually get to bed about midnight, I have customized my bunk so that each side of the bed is draped with sheets to give a Bedouin effect. In a hostel environment your bed becomes your room, because I have access to the laundry I took lots of green sheets and put them all round my bed. I also have my cd player hanging above my head so that when I eventually fall asleep the ear phones fall out in the manner of a dog pulling loose from its leash. My watch is tied around my cd case and I also have a bottle water wedged between the bed post and the mattress. The dorm I am in is below the hostel proper and next to the laundry room. There are 10 beds in total which are shared with whoever is cleaning at the time. The cleaners dorm is different from the others in that there is a tv/stereo and bathroom. The tv’s picture is crap and the stereo doesn’t work. It’s quite a nice place to live because it’s separate from the main hostel and it opens out near the pool. Except for an obcessive compulsive German girl who spends three hours folding clothes everyone is considerate and doesn’t make much noise in the evening.
                                       Due to the easy-going and trustful nature of the Kiwis in this part of the world I was able to save enough money to travel the whole of South Island. Although it was tough I look back fondly at this experience. It was rewarding to have no money and dig myself out by my own efforts.