Once upon a time, many years ago when Manchester Utd could still beat Manchester City and Mr Blairs heart was fine, a young man embarked upon the journey of a lifetime. A journey that was to change his attitude, lifestyle, and future - forever. New Zealand was his destination – Maoris, Rugby, Kiwis, and Fush and Chups were all awaiting him in the Land of the Long White Cloud (Aotearoa)…
After two years of a (to be honest, tedious) degree in ‘Information Studies’ it was time for a break before the big final year and the all-consuming dissertation. But what to do, where to go, and what to see? Work in a related field for a year? Work in a non-related field for a year? Work in McDonalds for a year? Go to Europe for some travelling? Have a full-on gap year and go around the world? Well, which would you choose? It was the latter for me.
The options for a Working Holiday Visa included Canada, the USA, Australia and, of course, New Zealand. All English speaking countries and also fun places to be. Having looked into all the options;
- Canada – too cold and BIG,
- USA – too clichéd and BIG,
- Oz – too hot and clichéd and BIG
all that was left was New Zealand. It is a reasonable size (similar to the UK), has lots to do (duhh), and I also have a bit of family there to visit (and take advantage of). I suppose it’ll have to do then.
It takes a lot of time, planning and effort to arrange a successful round-the-world working holiday. That is why companies like BUNAC
exist. Bunac arrange your visas, your flights, accommodation in your stopover, and accommodation when you arrive in New Zealand. Easy peasy, and now all that was needed was the money to pay for it all. 6 months at ASDA did the trick along with the sale of my beloved first car – a beautiful red mini that was loved dearly. No tears. Please.
22nd September 2000 was the big day. After many tears (not mine) at the coach depot, a slow trip to Heathrow, and many more tears (not mine either) at the Check-In, the British Airways plane took off for (hopefully) sunnier climes. We arrived in Auckland amid a terrible storm with gusts reaching up to 70mph! My first impressions? “Well,. . . this is nice.”
Bunac also provide a convenient network of like-minded (debatable) travellers who are in the same situation as you. Having met some seemingly nice people on the journey to New Zealand it was decided that we would all find somewhere to live. Together. We set about finding a nice house to live in for a few months until we got bored and wanted to travel the country or try somewhere new. Half an hour after starting to look, two of our eight-strong group had managed to find us a house to look at in the Ponsonby area of Auckland. It was a three-bedroomed, single storey house with a ‘granny annex’ above the garage. Perfect. In we moved. So within two days we had a house and 7 housemates.
Our first encounter with a Kiwi (a New Zealand National, but also a flightless bird and a furry fruit) followed shortly after moving in to ‘the house’ in Richmond Road, Ponsonby, Auckland. While roaming the surrounding area to see what we’d got ourselves into we were approached by two ‘older’ people who invited us into their Industrial Fridge Selling Shop for a cup of tea and a chat. They told us about the area, what was near, who to go to for jobs, and much, much more. I couldn’t believe how friendly, helpful and kind these people had been to total strangers. And English total strangers at that.
Shortly after arriving, it was decided that in order to make the most of the sights nearish to Auckland it would be a good idea to buy a car. We had been told that the best place to get a bargain (apart from The Warehouse
) was in Manakau City – a suburb of Auckland that is renowned for it’s incredible selection of second hand car dealers. We managed to purchase a nice 80’s Honda Accord Automatic 1.8L jobby for just $1200! We had to bid against some non-existent bidders in a special auction tent for some (probably dodgy) reason, but we managed to outbid nobody and get us a car.
Our housemates decided to do the same and on our recommendation decided to use the same car dealers. Having had a good look around they enquired about taking one particular car for a test-drive. “No worries” says the Kiwi version of Arthur Daley. Off we go down on to the only motorway in New Zealand and it seems to be going well so far. After a few minutes the car starts to lose power and we have to pull over on to the hard shoulder. It turns out that he has forgotten to put any petrol in the car. He promptly tries to drive the car 300 metres up the motorway to use the public phone thing, even though he has a mobile phone on the seat next to him! He phones his mate back at the garage and asks him to bring some petrol out in the ‘ute’. Eventually, he arrives with a petrol can and proceeds to fill the car up with petrol. As one, me and my two friends (who are not happy with me at this point) step quickly away from the car. The reason for this sudden aversion to car salesmen is that he has a lit cigarette in his hand as he is sloppily pouring the highly flammable liquid into the tank. Fortunately there is no loud bang and we get back to the car yard safely. They didn’t buy the car, in case you were wondering.
For the first few weeks we all looked for work, but in a half-hearted kind of way. It was a working holiday after all. Every weekend we would skip town and do something interesting. One weekend it would be a trip to Rotorua for the Luge, the lakes, general smellyness, Zorbing and geothermal activity. The next weekend was up to Whangarei for the Rodeo. The weekend after it was off to Waitomo for Quad-biking, glow-worm caves and black-water rafting. Would the fun ever stop…?
Then we needed to pay rent, bills, buy food, and
have fun. We had to get jobs, so it was off to the temping agencies in town to find some sort of paid employment. Some were very lucky and got reasonably paid office work or telesales (maybe not so lucky). Depending on how you look at it, I was lucky too. My first job in New Zealand was working for an independent postal company. My mission (I had no choice but to accept it) was to stamp envelopes with an ‘Airmail’ stamp solidly for two days. That was fun. My next job was over on the North Shore at a brand new Westfield Shopping Centre in Glenfield. Me and three other English travellers had been hand picked for a very special job. We were to stand at the front of the shopping centre and give all the customers free cups of coffee (I won’t name the brand as I feel I have done enough work on their behalf already!). Now, I can hear you thinking ‘that’s easy enough – people love free stuff’. Well, yes, they do. The thing is the coffee was ready mixed and hot. In a metal urn. With a hose, a cup dispenser … and straps. If you just kind of squint and let all the pictures merge into one you will see what I had to carry around on my back all day. There was an obvious incentive to give away the coffee quickly as the more we gave away the lighter the urn got. Aaaahhh, those were the days. The Prime Minister, Helen Clarke, actually popped by while we were working there. We were very surprised to see that she had no police escort and seemingly very little security. I guess that is a significant difference between the UK and NZ – people generally don’t feel threatened, or at least not as often as in the UK.
Having had a few temporary jobs, I was hoping to get something a little more long-term. Fortunately, one of our housemates had got a job at Kathmandu
opposite Victoria Park Market, and she told us that there might be jobs for a few more of us in the upcoming ‘X-maSummer
’ sale. I was very pleased as it meant coming into contact and working with some genuine Kiwis rather than the smelly English people I had been working with up until now. The job was great – the work wasn’t too taxing, the other employees were great company, and the pay covered the bills. On the first day of the sale I was required to stand at the front door and stop too many people coming in at once. A bouncer for an Outdoor Clothes shop! Generally the customers were polite and friendly. I had to refuse a few that used the old lines: “My sister is in there.” or “I just need to use the phone.”, but there was no trouble. And it was a beautiful sunny day. I was beginning to like New Zealand…
After four awesome months in Auckland it was time to see more of this beautiful country. Our first move was to go up north to the area ingeniously entitled Northland. We visited Russel and Paihia, and while in the north decided to take part in some clichéd work experience. I was lucky enough to get a job on a local vineyard for four days. My job was to staple nets over the vines so that the birds couldn’t eat the grapes. As you can probably imagine, it wasn’t much fun having to keep your arms above your head for 10 hours a day. Not only that, but it was a hot summer and the temperature ranged from 30 to 40 degrees each day. Phew! At least we got a free bottle of wine at the end of it all. But seriously, the vineyard owner was no ordinary boss. He would come out among the vines with us and worked just as hard, for just as long – it’s the Kiwi way.
Having had that wonderful experience it was time to move on. Over a period of about a month we travelled to Christchurch, stopping at various places and doing various things along the way. We stayed in The Coromandel (hot-water beach, mmm), Napier, Taupo (awesome skydive), Palmerston North, and Wellington (te papa is fascinating) among other places on the North and South Islands all of which are beautifully described and photographed on the official tourism New Zealand
Having done some fun travelling we were running out of cash again and it was time to do some more work, and where better than in Christchurch. Having lived in Aucks for the summer, we ended up in Christchurch at a much colder time of year. Our spirits weren’t dampened, however, as we quickly found a flat to live in and I got a job at another Kathmandu for another sale. Every morning I would walk across the golf course in the park on the way to Riccarton knowing that at any moment I could hear the word ‘FORE!’ and be clobbered on the noggin with a nomadic golf ball. On the weekends we would once again depart for pastures fun and discover places like Hamner Springs where we did White-water rafting, Kaikora (Whales), and nearby Lyttelton where some friends got to swim with dolphins (I had to work) .
While I was working at Kathmandu, I noticed that instead of ranting about how little money they made or how rich they wanted to be or what they would do if they won the lottery, they boasted about what they had and made the most of it. They talked (argued, really) about rugby and
discussed their plans for the weekend – i.e. kayaking, cycling, running, skiing. Very few people mentioned that their car was a brand new BMW or their house was huge, as these things are not as important to a kiwi as they are to a Brit . . . sadly. They made the most of their beautiful surroundings and almost all of them said that they wanted to see more of New Zealand before they went on their OE (Overseas Expedition). They weren’t always right, though. One girl was very proud of the fact that Cadbury was a New Zealand company and that the most famous chocolate in the world was made in her own back yard. Being from Birmingham (the REAL home of Cadbury), I politely informed her that although Dunedin does have an imitation Cadbury World, England is the birthplace of the greatest chocolate manufacturers in the world.
From Christchurch we hired a car as ours hadn’t quite lasted the distance. It was a gorgeous orange Nissan Sunny, that stopped whenever it rained, but it did only cost $19 a day! We travelled to Dunedin, Lake Tekapo, Wanaka (puzzling world is great fun), Invercargill, Queenstown, and of course Milford Sound. After that it was up the west coast via Westport, Greymouth, and Nelson before finally arriving in Picton for the InterIslander
ferry back to North Island. The end of my trip is nearing as we simply caught the overnight train from Wellington to Auckland (not
a comfortable journey), and flew away to Sydney for the rest of our adventure – but that is another story.
Having spent all that time in New Zealand I was captivated, and in love. I’d had very few unpleasant experiences and the majority of those were involving English housemates! The kiwis I had met had been exceptionally friendly and hospitable. The people I had worked with had been helpful and hard working. Their way of life impressed me. People are not so financially driven as they seem to be in the UK. They are not obsessed with consumerism. Their success is measured by the number of insane sports they have taken part in, or how well their children are doing at school, or how happy they are on a daily basis. That seems like a much better way of looking at it to me. That’s why I want to live there. That’s why I want to start and raise a family there. One day…