Tag Archives: Working holiday visa

Wandering Eye

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Wowowowowow

So far I’m loving summer on the North Island. On our way to the Coromandel we stopped at various crags to rock climb, passing through lots of charming little towns full of extraordinarily nice people. In fact, everyone we’ve met here has been so friendly that I’ve actually started to wonder if they aren’t all secretly just a little crazy. 

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Gary in his element

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Suffering on weird, balancy, volcanic fun

Whakapapa was the most scenic spot we climbed at, and the most fun to say. After a little hike across weird Martian-meets-alpine terrain, we spent the day multi-pitching, a distant cinder cone serving as the perfect backdrop. A bit further north we found our favorite campsite yet, nestled alongside a peaceful little lake that we had entirely to ourselves. The next couple days were spent avoiding a heatwave that rolled through the valley. Mornings were spent climbing, the echoing bleats of distant goats somehow managing to make the entire area sound like a wild frat party. Afternoons we floated in the lake and played Monopoly Deal in the shade, before miserable nights sweating and swatting mosquitos in the van. 

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World’s greatest place to camp. Took this picture while lying in bed.

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Sheridan Hills, monopockets for daysss

Feeling pretty destroyed and in need of a rest, we at last reached the Coromandel Peninsula, our home for the next six weeks. The road to our first campsite wound and wound, through dense jungle and past giant ferns. Our arrival felt like the potential storyline for a horror movie: there wasn’t another soul around for miles, and we were completely out of cell service; we had accepted this job without interviewing and had been told very little prior information; and we’d just discovered that we were located in an old mining settlement, the hillsides full of of abandoned shafts and tunnels. As the sun set we nervously cooked dinner in a secluded clearing next to the river, hoping we wouldn’t be those dumb tourists you read about in the paper.

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Four-legged friends

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Still haven’t managed to spot one!

The next day we had job training, and were relieved to find out that we hadn’t been set up for some Kiwi version of the Blair Witch Project. Currently in New Zealand kauri trees are dying en masse thanks to the spread of a fungus-like pathogen that lives in soil. During the mining boom the forest was heavily milled, so already it had been struggling to bounce back, making it even more challenging to fight this new threat. Kauris are the biggest trees in New Zealand, as well as a keystone species, so their well-being is crucial to the preservation of the entire forest. To stop the spread, the Department of Conservation has created cleaning stations at the beginning of each trail, with the hopes that people will clean the dirt off their shoes before and after walking in the area. 

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Emerging from a 500 meter long mineshaft, creepy and amazing

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Glow worms! They live in some of the old mining tunnels. Their butts glow neon blue, and they make these little mini chandeliers that are extremely sticky. What a weird, weird creature. 

Our job is working as research assistants on a behavioral study. Week one we simply observe how people clean their feet and record that data, then ask them to fill out a short survey. Week two one of us will be an “ambassador,” standing in front of the station and basically acting as an educator for all things kauri related. The other person records that data and gives the same survey, to see if the ambassador has a positive effect on people’s behavior. We will complete this process at three different locations, over the course of the next six weeks. Eventually these cleaning stations will be rolled out on all DOC trails in the kauri zone, and this research ultimately will be used to help perfect the final cleaning station prototype. It’s actually a job I enjoy and that I think is valuable, so I feel incredibly lucky to have basically fallen into it. 

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The Lookout. Green, green, green

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The kauri dieback cleaning station!

Finishing up this first week, life already has fallen into a routine. After grumbling my way out of bed, we eat a quick breakfast and walk to the trailhead just as the first light is hitting the tips of the trees on the highest ridge line. Katabatic winds keep us hunkered in our fleeces for the first couple hours, which is fine because so far we haven’t seen a single person for at least the first two and a half hours of work. Even once people show up they are still usually few and far between- on our busiest day there was only a total of 50 people over the course of 12 hours. 

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How most of the day is spent

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The mamaku I sit under all day, the best shade umbrella

A lot of the passing trampers (see my use of local lingo here?! I’m trying to adapt!) grimace when I tell them how I’ll be spending nine hours a day at the same spot for the next couple weeks, but I actually love it. The cicadas are so loud my chair practically vibrates from the sound of them, and I find their discarded husks everywhere. There’s one bird that sounds exactly like a phone notification, a constant reminder that service is absolutely zero. Occasionally little fan tails will come dance around for our entertainment, and stick insects crossing the road become our play things.

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I’m still creeped out by cicadas, even though upon closer inspection they are really beautiful!

This is most likely the most remote I will be the entire time I’m in New Zealand, and I’m trying to take advantage of it. Being disconnected and forced to be stationary provides the perfect place to think and to read, free from all distractions. I’m working my way through When Women Were Birds on my Kindle, and I finally decided to tackle Murakami’s IQ84, an author I love, but a book length I’ve been intimidated by for years. I’ve also been slowly savoring a paper copy of Braiding Sweetgrass, sent to me by one of my best friends as a parting gift just before I left. So far it is one of my favorite things I’ve ever put in my brain, and I can’t stop singing the author’s praises. I’m only allowing myself a couple chapters a day, like a little treat to look forward to. 

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I will never stop being amazed by just how many ferns there are in this country

Once I’m finished for the day I’ll walk down trail and pick blackberries for a snack, then practice yoga. Afterwards I wade out to the middle of the river where I lay on my back, letting the current gently carry me down stream while I commune with the day’s clouds. Dripping, I then tenderly walk barefoot back to our campsite, where I cook dinner listening to Cat Stevens, or a podcast if I need voices to break up the babble of birds. Once Gary’s off we sit in our little camp chairs, passing a pot back and forth before a little evening walk to search for kiwis (still no luck!) and then crawl into the van and curl up for the night. The stars out here are insane, emerging shivering from the van into the inky blackness and looking up to find the Milky Way slashing dramatically across our clearing feels like the best kind of gift. Honestly, it feels like magic. 

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Letting this little waterfall beat its frozen drum on my head during my lunch break counts as a shower these days

Just when I thought this might be the perfect country, it seems Gary has developed an allergy to New Zealand in general, and we’re both kept up by his sneezing throughout the night. My penance has arrived in the form of sandflies. I heard about them before arriving, but for some reason I was under the impression that they only lived on the beaches of the West Coast. I am very aware now that they love being near flowing water, so our prime riverside campsite means trouble. 

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Our river, ten steps from where I lay my head and a harbinger of sandflies

To make them even more insulting, they are tiny. They look like little flecks of pepper, smaller even than fruit flies. But their bites are killer, they really like to dig in, and I have to pluck each one forcibly from my skin after they bite. Luckily they don’t leave any visible mark… until about 8 hours later, when the bites swell up to about the size of a nickel, and start to itch and burn. The current count is 26 bites on my right foot, and 20 on my left… and that’s just my feet. I’ve never hated any living creature more. 

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A Trick of the Light

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First night in our new home! Can you see her?

After getting everything squared away, we had two weeks to be tourists before work started. For Gary’s 30th I bought tickets to a mini festival in Christchurch where we partied with all ages, from little babies with noise blocking headphones to scantily clad octogenarians. I didn’t know the headliner but still danced like a maniac for two hours, the eight piece ensemble put on an amazing show. 

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Castle Hill!

I “felt a bit dusty” the next day, my new favorite kiwi phrase, but after spending a day in repose nursing a hangover we managed to get out to Castle Hill for a weekend. Leaving Christchurch we wound through the middle of mossy green mountains, their tops obscured by cottony grey clouds. I half expected to see a dragon flapping overhead, or round a bend to find a knight galloping down a hillside. Eventually the mountains opened to a tranquil valley, criss-crossed by streams and dotted with wildflowers, hulking grey boulders scattered across the hillsides. The climbing was not my favorite (too hard!) but the location really couldn’t be beat. For the first time since our arrival the sun finally came out, and while Gary tired himself out, I dozed on the grass surrounded by perfectly sweet little white daisies and soft pink clover.

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I had the sweatiest palms watching Gary climb this beast

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Views for days over Akaroa

After our trial weekend living in the van we set out to work our way north. The challenges of van life became evident pretty quickly, these next five months are sure to be full of high highs and low lows. Our first day driving back the scenic way from Akaroa after swimming with Hector’s dolphins (the smallest and rarest in the world, endemic to New Zealand) we got a flat tire. To access the spare we had to take apart our entire setup, and this process slowed us down so much that we opted to stay an additional night at a different friend’s place to reconnoiter. As frustrated as we felt, that extra night wound up being really wonderful. We were spoiled and treated like family, fed freshly caught smoked fish and venison (I was told you could taste how happy the meat was, and Bambi really was delicious), presented with a fancy cheese plate, and I had my first ever pavlova, which was basically like eating a cloud. 

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Boy it was fun getting all this organized and then taking it all out again! It’s also neat seeing all your worldly possessions in a pile on the sidewalk.

On our second official attempt to leave we spent the night on the coast in Kaikoura. After a sunset dinner we sat on our roof watching thunderheads pass across the full moon, enjoying the warm breeze off the water. When we got back in the car to sleep for the night, we found it brimming with mosquitos, hovering hungrily overhead around our twinkle lights. After committing mosquito genocide we calmed down with the help of the waves singing us to sleep, and waking  up maybe twenty steps from the ocean was wonderful, but then gale force winds made cooking breakfast miserable. Later while driving up towards the Tasman our aircondition-less vehicle became a sauna, eventually causing us to resort to stripping down to our underwear. Finally we gave up trying to drive through the heat and stopped to stand in a wide, meandering river, staining our lips red with freshly picked cherries and skipping stones in the shade. 

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So many rivers in one little country

I feel like we are really getting a full experience, seeing plenty of sweet and just as much sour. I will say that on our drive north we were able to start to appreciate the country, it feels somehow like the  Pacific Northwest and Hawaii had a love child. The water is a shocking electric blue that butts up against lush volcanic mountains. The roads are lined by towering ferns that run along black beaches, the sand like millions of tiny chia seeds. But then you’ll round a corner and be in a pine forest, alive with humming insects, encircled by wide, lazy rivers. And in between all that, tons of agriculture (sheep outnumber people!). Lucky for us right now pastures are filled with baby animals, horses and cows and sheep, sometimes even deer. It is a magical and slightly disorienting combination. 

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Gary at the mouth of Rawhiti Cave

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Morning stretches at Dancing Sand Spring

In an effort to skip the tourist mayhem of Abel Tasman National Park we instead spent five days rock climbing nearby. The crags were some of the most scenic I’ve been to, after belaying between ferns at Payne’s Ford or alongside dramatic ocean cliffs at Pohara, there were plenty of refreshing clear swimming holes to cool off in at the end of the day. On our rest day we did a short but challenging hike to Rawhiti Cave. Pronounced raw-feety (wh’s sounds like f’s here, just for an added challenge), it was full of phytokarsts, basically stalactites covered in lichen that actually causes the rock to grow towards the sun. Nature is so neat! We also visited the crystal clear Dancing Sand Springs (aka Pupu Springs, heehee), so sacred to the Maori that you’re asked not to even touch the water. Finally, we drove out to Cape Farewell, the northernmost point on South Island, and after watching the sea lions surfing the waves spent the day getting blown around on the sand dunes of Whariki Beach. 

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Cape Farewell

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Whariki Beach

Some of our nights have been spent in meadows surrounded by the sounds of chirping birds or on beaches where we enjoyed the fresh sea breeze and starry nights, but an equal number have been spent in super glamorous stripmall parking lots or in the alley alongside a bar. You haven’t lived until you’ve shaved your legs in public, or used a converted port-a-potty cold shower (which I actually loved), or tried to fall asleep while listening to people drunkenly warble “The Girl From Ipanema” on karaoke night. 

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Pictures just don’t do this ferry ride justice

Right now I’m writing from a laundromat in windy Wellington while Gary buys groceries at the cheap shop on the other side of town, this is practically the first time in 2.5 weeks here that we’ve been farther than an arms reach from one another. Taking the Interisland Ferry across the channel this morning was basically a religious experience, the sun rising to greet a clear, cloudless summer day, our boat nestled between emerald mountains as we glided serenely across placid turquoise waters, gently scattering the occasional group of sea birds nestled together on the water. Today will definitely be chalked up in the ‘sweet’ category, and I’m looking forward to exploring a little of the North Island in our final five days before work begins. 

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Unshaken

Kia Ora from New Zealand, land of the long white cloud! The 13 hour flight from Los Angeles to Auckland was actually not so bad, and as an added bonus, neither was the jet lag. Time wise California is technically only three hours ahead… except it’s yesterday… which means I’m living in the future? 

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The first picture I took in N. Zed. Also the first of many sheep that I have seen.

Before we left I was in my normal pre-departure state of shambles, except this time I had basically planned nothing, and my inner control freak was extremely stressed out. It turns out I didn’t need to worry, as everything every step of the way has been incredibly easy. Gary’s friends graciously picked us up from the airport in Christchurch, and in that first week staying with them we managed to set up a bank account, get our tax numbers required for work, set up our phones, and buy a van to live in. We also were basically handed a job for six weeks with the Department of Conservation helping to research Kauri dieback in the Coromandel. See? Almost too easy. 

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Home for the next five months! #minivanlife, amirite?!

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The inside

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… and our little outdoor kitchen!

While sorting our lives we were able to see a lot of cute little Christchurch, even with the cold, rainy, “summer” weather. I was surprised to see how much evidence there still was of the 2011 earthquake, tons of construction and crumbling buildings. Another surprise was how many people I saw walking around without shoes throughout the city in practically every setting. We also kept musing about how little traffic there was, until we realized that the entirety of the country is the same size as California, except with the same population size as Los Angeles spread throughout. No wonder everything feels so easy!

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Godley Head, nice little getaway just outside Christchurch

Food has been pretty whatever. Shopping for ourselves has been great, because of the season there is lots of delicious stone fruit, and the best arugula I’ve ever tasted. Every grocery store carries this kumara (sweet potato) and coconut hummus that I can’t stop smearing on everything I eat, although it’s especially delicious on Peckish brand rice crackers. Eating out, however, has yet to wow me. On one menu I saw a cheese and pineapple sandwich, and on another a Brie, cranberry and chicken pizza, highly irregular. While working through a mediocre plate of fish n chips I decided to wash it down with an LnP (“World famous in New Zealand!”) and now they’re all I want to drink, zesty lemony bubbly perfection. 

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“Put a bird on it!” I think having birds on your money makes buying things more fun

Of course, I am loving the coffee culture. I discovered flat whites at the many kiwi-run cafes when I was living in NYC, but it has been a treat to get my daily dose straight from the source. Plus, nearly every grocery store has a little cafe, as does practically every block, so basically life has been a highly-caffeinated dream. My only complaint is how tiny portion sizes seem, a large drink here is an American small. We’re not one of the most obese nations on the planet for nothin’, rah rah, pew pew, freedom, ‘merica!

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Experimenting with portrait mode

Speaking kiwi has been a bit of an adjustment- people are so smiley and really helpful, but, they also talk fast and every vowel seems wrong. Dad becomes Ded, pen is now pin, it’s dick instead of deck, and on and on. Other things? Bodegas are called dairies. Sandals are jandals. Hiking is tramping. A lot is heaps. Z is zed. People actually say crickey. And I hear “sweet as” constantly, although I’ve also heard “shit as” and even “kiwi as.” I don’t love it, mostly because I keep thinking “as WHAT?”, but I’m learning to be tolerant.

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Bye now!

To conclude, remembering to walk on the left is a challenge, and I keep bumping into people. This does not bode well for driving… and I will report back once I finally work up the courage to give it a try. 

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