A Travellerspoint blog

A Barefoot Existence

I have been in New Zealand for exactly 131 days. I have taken approximately 750 photographs. I have seen close to 8000 sheep. Everything I have experienced in this country so far, every city, town or place I’ve been, every hour I’ve worked, and especially every person I have met, have all affected me in some way. After living for 4 months on the South Island in Queenstown, it is time for me to continue on my travels, and it has really got me thinking.

The people you meet when you leave the comforts of your home and venture out into the world are the kind of people that you remember. Everyone you meet has a story to tell, and while some people leave your life as easily as they came in, they still make a lasting impression on you. It’s amazing how easily some friendships are forged amongst travelers, and though your time together may be brief before either party goes their own way, you will never forget what that person was like. Memories that bring a smile to your face now still will in 5 years. I find that some people I have met so far have affected me in such a way it would be too weird to think of what my New Zealand life would have been like if I had never met them. When I walk down the streets of Queenstown, barefoot just as the locals do, I see so many familiar faces it is like I’ve lived here my whole life. I have come to regard my flatmates as my adopted family, my big brothers away from home. The concept of possibly never seeing them - or any of the other people I have met here - again, is almost a surreal concept. How can someone who was such a big part of your life just suddenly not be in it anymore? I suppose that is the heartbreaking part of travelling, or even life in general: some things come with an expiration date, and there's really nothing you can do about it.

Something that has really affected Queenstown, and all of New Zealand, has been the earthquakes in Christchurch. The city is completely devastated; as of March 2nd, there were 160 people confirmed dead and hundreds more still missing. Rescue and relief teams from all over New Zealand and Australia are working day and night to try to save as many people as possible while others are attempting to restore the city to a livable condition for residents. The people of Christchurch have endured pain, loss, and fear, and many of them are still holding on to hope that their missing loved ones will be found. All of New Zealand has banded together over their suffering; everywhere you look there are earthquake relief funds and support groups. I was fortunate not to be in Christchurch during the earthquake, but I have met a lot of people this past week who were, and their stories are etched on their faces. When I fly into Christchurch this weekend, I will see a broken city, and all the news stories and articles I have read will become real. As a side note, I thank all of you who either called or emailed my parents or myself to make sure that I was safe and sound. I appreciate your concern, and I encourage your thoughts and prayers to go to the people of Christchurch.

Being so close to the earthquake has really made me realize the true frailty of our existence. It has further cemented my belief that you have to take every chance you get, seize every opportunity .... it sounds so cliche, but it is so important to live life to the absolute fullest. Mark Twain once said, "twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do then by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." I think he was on to something.

On Saturday, March 5th, I will be flying from Queenstown to Christchurch, then from Christchurch to Auckland. From Auckland I will take a bus North to Dargaville and from there head to Glinks Gully, a very small beach town where I will be living on the longest surf beach in New Zealand. My job will be something completely out of my comfort zone, or my "safe harbour" ... I am going to be spending 40 hours a week picking Kumara (sweet potatoes) and spending my weekends surfing. This will be my life for the next 6 weeks!

Posted by bgriffs 12:46 Archived in New Zealand Comments (4)

Free Fallin'

Kawarau River Bungy

As the ropes are tightened around your ankles, you experience an influx of different emotions: excitement, anxiety, fear, and a general sense of disbelief that you are willingly about to hurl yourself off of a bridge into a river 43 meters below. You shuffle towards the edge of the platform, trying not to betray any sense of fear you are feeling, and even though you know it’s the stupidest thing you can do, you look down. The water is an icy-looking turquoise and seems far below where you now stand, a million thoughts racing through your brain. You turn and give the watching crowd and cameraman a nervous smile and a thumbs-up, and as the jump crew counts down to 1 you try to empty your mind of fear and inhibition. On 2, you bend your knees and prepare yourself to leap, and on 1, you feel your feet leave solid ground as you fall and spin towards the waiting water below. You hear nothing, not the gasps and cheers of the crowd or even your own voice. Your arms break the surface first and you are dunked in all the way to your ankles, then a split second later you are back in the air as the crowd applauds your bravery. After being hoisted into a raft and freed of your harness, the level of adrenaline coursing through your veins starts to slow and is replaced with a feeling of accomplishment and a smile so huge it isn’t likely to be fading anytime soon. Your first bungy jumping experience is over, and as you laugh at the pictures and DVD of your experience, you simply can’t wait to take the leap again.

Posted by bgriffs 17:28 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Queenstown

For the first time since we came to New Zealand, we acted somewhat impulsively and headed to Queenstown without a job or a real place to live; we had arranged to move into a flat share that we found on a roommate website, but upon our arrival to the house we found that it was scarcely better than the accommodation we had just left. There were ten people already inhabiting the house and it was obvious from the less-than-warm welcome we received and the poor condition that the house was in that we would be quickly seeking accommodation elsewhere. Homeless and jobless, we checked into a hostel and took to the streets to begin our job search. After dropping off resumes at every possible location, we had found ourselves employment of a hilarious nature: we were joining the telemarketing game selling funeral insurance. Being of the “try anything once” mindset, we thought it would be an interesting departure from the jobs we were used to working, and the next day we headed to the call centre. It quickly transpired that we were both rather ill-equipped for the job, as we ourselves are the type of people who hang up on telemarketers, and lacked the ability to keep a potential client on the phone long enough to get through our script. Still, we had some good laughs at the expense of those we phoned when they swore at us or told us to “get real jobs”. We kept tallies of how many times we got hung up on and wrote down the most entertaining comments that people made to us, including “I don’t plan on dying” and “how DARE you try to sell me something like that?!” Our time at the call centre lasted a mere 4 days, as we were terrible sales people and we both had the feeling we were going to be asked to seek employment elsewhere.

However, we had a very successful first week in Queenstown, as we had moved out of the hostel and into a very enviable flat right in the centre of town. Situated above an Indian restaurant, the flat had a large deck that caught the sun for about 12 hours a day, 4 bedrooms, a second smaller deck in the back, and an open kitchen/living room area. To put it bluntly, we hit the real estate jackpot. Our flat mates Mark, Virjoe and Will were three of the most laid-back, awesome guys we’d ever met, and we quickly became a makeshift, multicultural family. By the time we were settled into the flat, we had both found new jobs: I was working at a pizza place called Winnie’s and Erika was working at the airport. Our days were spent on the beach or having cold Corona’s on the deck, activities enjoyed all the more knowing that back home it is ungodly cold; nights were spent at work, and when the shift was done, having either quiet “family movie nights” or crazy nights on the town, often accompanied by friends of the guys that regularly stopped by the flat. Summer was starting in Queenstown, and the weather was getting hot, our tans were progressing nicely, and life in New Zealand has proven to be even more awesome than we expected.

Posted by bgriffs 14:45 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Milford Sound

About a two-hour drive away from Te Anau is Milford Sound, an extremely tiny town with an extremely large tourist attraction: the Milford Sound cruises. A busy wharf launches two-hour tour cruises that bring patrons within touching distance of waterfalls and gives extremely close views of sunbathing seals and waddling crested penguins. (Dolphins are also known to frolic in the waters of the Sound, but on the particular day we took the cruise, we were not fortunate enough to see any.) As you sit on the top level of the boat, strong winds whipping your hair around your face, cruising through Milford Sound is a totally surreal experience. Gigantic, rocky cliffs rise out of the dark waters. Waterfalls higher than Niagra Falls pound into the water, leaving a chilly mist in their wake, while smaller waterfalls trickle down to the water’s surface through dense vegetation. Once you have passed the immense mountains and cliffs, you are faced with a seemingly endless, undisturbed ocean. The only word I can think of to properly describe the whole ordeal is “epic” – you are completed dumbfounded by the natural beauty of the area, and even if there is another cruise ship out on the water, as you look around you, you are overcome with the feeling that there is no one else around. You can’t help feeling insignificant next to the forest-covered cliffs that have been there since before you were born and will continue to stand long after you are gone. While some people may cruise Milford Sound and only see mountains and ocean, others see an area that is so powerfully beautiful it almost feels wrong to disturb it with tourism. Places like Milford Sound make you really wonder what the world would look like without mankind’s footprints all over it….

Posted by bgriffs 20:06 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Te Anau

Our one-night stay in Queenstown was enough to ensure that we wanted to return: the town is the perfect size, with the friendliest locals, a great selection of waterfront dining, and enough activity to keep everyone entertained. However, our destination on the South Island remained farther south still, in Te Anau, where serving jobs awaited us at the Distinction hotel. The drive down was as scenic as any we had seen yet, with the usual copious amounts of sheep – the sheep population is literally 10 times the human population. Our arrival in Te Anau had us mildly apprehensive, both at the aspect of working a job identical to the one we just left in Jasper and the staff accommodation we were moving into upon arrival. Relieved though we were to unpack our backpacks and finally halt the nomadic nature of the past two weeks, we were disappointed to discover our closet-sized rooms, shared bathroom and kitchen. Normally we would have no problems with the sharing of facilities and we weren’t planning on spending much time in the rooms anyway (we are in New Zealand, after all), but a couple key aspects of this particular staff accommodation were more than enough to have us dreaming of our beautiful room at Lochiel Estates, and even the hostels we had stayed in so far. The rooms had a strong smell I can only describe as a “musk”, with sinks where turning the hot water tap caused it to come off in your hand; a drain nearly clogged with the previous tenant’s hair; lights in the bathroom and kitchen covered in some unidentifiable fuzzy substance; kitchen appliances so ancient we were surprised they worked, complete with a foul-smelling fridge and rusty stove; overflowing garbage cans; a bent hanger jammed into the wall upon which a dirty dishrag hung; dead flies on the counter and a general feeling of disrepair that immediately made us certain we were never cooking in it. As we looked around the accommodation we have come to refer to as “The Ghetto”, Erika dropped the line that we have repeated about 50 times a day in order to keep ourselves laughing: “Home sweet home!”
A walk around town showed us what Te Anau has to offer: a store with apparently exceptional meat pies (Erika begs to differ), a weird amount of Italian food, a library that wouldn’t let us take out books, a couple of supermarkets and a decent amount of restaurants doubling as bars. The Distinction is a lakefront hotel with a nice view, and it is a short walk from a rather rocky beach beside the local conservation centre. There are several nice looking hotels along the lakefront and the locals are friendly and helpful. The biggest downside of the town at this time of year is the weather: it is absolutely freezing at night, and when the weather is unpleasant during the day, there is very little to do. Colder days have found us barricaded in our closet-rooms (which is rather depressing, as the closed door gives one the feeling of being in a cage) while the miniature heater warms the room.
We were looking forward to starting work so that we could start making money to support the drinking problems we would surely develop in such a small town (just kidding!) Coming from the Jasper Park Lodge, we expected this experience to be somewhat similar, what with the copious amounts of staff our age who were friendly and made the job fun. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that this was absolutely no Jasper. The hotel has less than 40 staff members, most of which are middle-aged or retired, and almost all of which we came in contact with apparently quite keen on correcting every aspect of our working habits. Our first shift had us both frustrated with the lack of respect the staff members show each other and the old-fashioned way that the restaurant functioned (not to mention a pretty unsanitary working environment). Our new work place had now become known to us as “Shitty Fairmont” - pardon my language – and the fact that we had people trying to tell us we didn’t know how to work in fine dining, originally a source of extreme annoyance, became the inspiration for yet another amusing oft-repeated expression: “We LOVE our jobs!!!!!”
Our ability to find humor in almost any situation is practically the only thing keeping us sane – we have literally not stopped laughing since we arrived in our 2x2 rooms and balked at the communal bar of soap in the bathroom. However, we didn’t fly across the world to live in what Erika describes as a “trailer park” (that is making me rather sick with the amount of dust and mould) and work at jobs we don’t enjoy. We plan to spend our remaining days in Te Anau enjoying the town and the beach (weather permitting) while we find another living and working situation, hopefully in Queenstown. Until then, you can bet we will be laughing as we enjoy our glamorous life … home sweet home!

Posted by bgriffs 17:31 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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