Once again I apologize for the lack of updates but I assure you that this will be worth the wait and it is for good reason that I have not been able to write. When we last left you, we had just departed Fiji and were on route to Auckland New Zealand which is where I will pick up.
As soon as we landed we were struck with pure elation and a bit of cold air, as we were arriving at the tail end of winter. In the airport we cleared customs and bought a pre-paid phone right away so we could get in contact with the friends we were going to be staying with. We took a shuttle into the city from the airport and this shuttle was nice enough to take us directly to the place we were staying at, which was better than any bus would have done. Once we arrived, our gracious host Chris, who is Austrian, met us at the gate to let us into the student housing complex that he lives in. Chris is studying at the University of Auckland and had a sweet apartment that he was nice enough to let us stay in for a bit. We set our things down and met his roommates and later that night met a bunch more cool and fun people, mostly Americans studying abroad, but people from other countries as well.
|Matt desperately searching for a van|
Our first few nights were spent hanging out with our new friends, attending a college class (and participating in a pure lecture, but we got a few good laughs), and watching rugby. We found out very quickly that Rugby in New Zealand is basically a religion. I would compare it to the obsession that most Americans have for Football. This Rugby frenzy is also being magnified due to the Rugby World Cup being held in New Zealand right now. All of which is great! Its a ton of fun to take part in the festivities and join in the craze, despite my indifference to the sport.
|Karaoke: Serenading a nice young man|
|Karaoke: Jeff killin the harmonies|
|Karaoke: Ariel and Matt take center stage|
|Friends making friends|
However, in the mornings it was always right back to our van search. It got to a point where we were losing hope of finding a van in our price range that actually worked. So after a few days, we started just handing out resumes to anyone and everyone in Auckland. We focused on the service industry (ie: restaurants, bars, etc.) but didn't get any bites. Then one day we walked around the entire downtown Auckland and went to literally every backpackers hostel in search of work, selling ourselves as expert hostel workers having just worked the last 4 months in Hawaii. Despite our best efforts, we were turned away because the hostels had filled their staffs weeks ago for the World Cup. Bad timing on our part. So there we were, slowly going broke, and sleeping on a floor in a student apartment quickly over staying our welcome. One night, we were all in the apartment, we had made pizza for everyone as a token of our appreciation, and I get a text message from a potential van. He told us earlier that day that someone had just beat us to it and was going to give him a good price. After much back and forth we settle on a price and tell him we will be there tonight to pick it up with cash in hand if he gives us the van. In the end, he agreed to pick US up and take us to the van and all we had to do was go into town and meet him. So we did. He was about 30 minutes late meeting us and at first I was a little on edge being that he was going to take us to the van and we had no idea where it was or who he was. He finally shows up and turns out to be a harmless looking Indian man who ended up driving us about 20 minutes outside of Auckland city to his Aunt's house where he lives. Once we pulled in the driveway and saw the van we immediately fell in love. He showed us everything it could do and the little things that were wrong with it, but the pros heavily out weighed the cons of this ol hog. It even came with a bunch of camping gear that wasn't even included in the price but we got it thrown in with the van. Needless to say we were ECSTATIC to finally get our van.
Two days later we put the van to the test and road tripped to a small town called Kawerau, which is south east of Auckland. We were following up on a house-sitting job that we came across while trying to buy the van. The man's name was Markus and he told us to come down and check out his house because he was leaving for a while. We got a bit lost and it took us about 5 hours to get there, but once we got into the town, we were stuck by a very potent stench that was similar to that of rotten eggs and human flatulence. Once we pulled up to the house we were all immediately skeptical. We walk in, and Markus is having a conversation with an old lady neighbor of his. Markus has all of 3 teeth and is a chain smoker who is moving out to live with his mistress in Thailand and getting driven by one of his 7 kids to the airport so he could stay with his ex-wife in Australia before going to Asia. It was extremely uncomfortable sitting there trying to have a conversation with the man. There were numerous silences that dragged on for at least 45-60 seconds. After the 4th or 5th silence I broke it saying we would call him in a week or so and work out details and we made up an excuse that our friends were waiting for us back in Auckland. When we finally made it back into the van we all broke out laughing at the hilarious-ness of the whole situation. We were sitting in a complete strangers house and pulling anything we could out to make a conversation, but in the end we don't owe him anything. We were the ones that drove hours out of our way to do him a favor. So we drove back home and crawled back to our beds on the floor.
The next morning we decided it was time to move out of the apartment. We said our good byes and packed up our van. We didn't exactly have a place to go but we knew it was time to leave. The following days were filled with a lot of nothing. We would walk around the city, spend money on expensive meals and sleep in a park parking lot in our van. It got to a point where every night we spent in the van, the sleep got a little bit better. Everyday we went in search of jobs/internet and spent a lot of time in cafes trying to find WWOOF work and such. We stumbled upon a teachers library that turned out to be a gem, because they let us use their internet and the library hardly ever had people in it. So we used that a bunch looking for jobs and surfing the web until it was time to go back Vome (van home) and sleep in the park.
We sent out emails to everyone we could all over New Zealand and finally got a response from a place called the Havelock Motel. I made contact with them and they said they would be happy to have all 3 of us and would be able to give us accommodation in exchange for our work. As luck would have it, as soon as we confirmed our arrangements to work there, we get responses from ALL other places we tried to contact and never heard back from saying they would love to have our help...well too little too late....our services have been taken off the market. This confirmation was made on Thursday, and we decided to leave Friday and make it down to Havelock (which is on the north end of the south island) in 3 days time, enough time for us to see the sights in between. So when the library closed we went back out into the city and had our last dumpster dinner in Auckland (and hopefully last one for a while) and we were almost too excited to sleep. The next day we slept in and went to the library to hash out some last minute details. We also found out that the library had a shower, so we took turns showering for the first time in many days which was a much welcomed luxury. We were already behind schedule but hit the road anyway around 5pm.
Road life was exactly what we all expected, long hours on the road, incredible scenery, and even a little bit of mischief. Since we got a late start, we only had about 4-5 hours before our first stop which was in Rotorua, another smelling town near Kawerau. We stopped in a western themed bar and watched America get dominated by the Australians in rugby, much to everyone's dismay (because the Kiwi's (New Zealander) hate Australia). We ordered some disgusting excuse for food there and immediately wished we had not. So after the game we rolled ourselves to the van and drove until we found a small lake to park next to so we could sleep. We set up the van and passed out.
(some pictures from the first leg of the road trip)
|Lake Number One|
The next day we got up and had our normal bum life breakfast which was some combination of gummy bears, M&M's, and Salt and Vinegar Chips, then we hit the road. Our target for the end of the day was a town called New Plymouth but we made a quick stop at the Waitomo Caves. Here is a quick video account of what happened:
(video coming soon)
We drove through cow, sheep, and farm country on our drive to New Plymouth, going down the western coast to get there. Along the way we noticed that even though there are a bunch of seemingly big towns on the map, New Zealand is made up of many small towns separated by many miles of open space in between.
On the way to New Plymouth we stopped at a place called "The Three Sisters" which is a bay area where there are 3 caves. The bay was at low tide and there was a lot of black sand to be played in. We continued on from there and arrived in New Plymouth in the evening and found some food then went to a local Irish pub to watch New Zealand play France. New Zealand dominated as everyone expected. Met some cool Australians and hung out into the night. We drove to the outskirts of town and found an infrequently used road that lead to another lake that we parked next to and slept.
|Lake Number Two|
Woke up at the crack of dawn and hit the road. Drove through the morning and early afternoon and finally made it to the city of Wellington, which is a smaller version of Auckland but still very cool. As it turned out, nothing is open before 5pm on Sundays in Wellington. We found an Indian restaurant and ate there until it was time to watch rugby. We watched rugby the rest of the day and into the night, following around hoards of Argentinians and Scotland folk as they were playing in the stadium right down the road from where we were. Again, we stopped at an Irish pub and watch a band play before we called it a night and went back to the van.
|Operation "3 for 1 Human Cargo"|
The next morning, we had a ferry to catch that was going to take us from north island to south island. The ferry was going to cost us about 350NZD for all of us and the van. So we thought about devising a plan where we would split one ticket for a person and the van and two others would be disguised as cargo (I do not want to incriminate myself in a public forum, so I will not go any further into details of this story, however if you wish to hear the details feel free to contact me in private). The ferry ride was very enjoyable. The ferry rode through the many sounds of north and south island and across the Cook strait. Dolphins were spotted and as we approached south island, we saw snow covered mountains in the distance. We disembarked and hung around Picton (the port town we arrived in).
|A view of Picton from above|
|This picture perfectly encompasses everything New Zealand: scenic, wine, Rugby|
We arrived in Havelock, which is a small town (bigger than most, but smaller than a town that I'm used to) situated on the Pelorous Sound and is the Green Shelled Mussel capital of the world. The tide is low so there is a big mud pit on the backside of town, but the harbor is still filled with boats that lead out into the ocean. We stopped for a a famous Havelock Mussel lunch which was a bit over priced and a bit too "fishy tasting" for me. But we enjoyed it nonetheless. After lunch it was time to go meet the people who were going to be employing us. On the phone conversation with them, we told them we needed work exchange, and were hoping for an opportunity to make a little bit of money if possible. On the phone they said all this was possible, but to us it seemed a little bit too good to be true, so we all had a bit of skeptical reservation about the whole arrangement. We arrive and are met by a nice kiwi named Haley, who promptly shows us to our room...or should I say APARTMENT! Yes, we got to the room and had to contain our excitement/disbelief when she handed over 2 keys to this 2 story, 4 bedded, fully furnished apartment. As soon as she left we went nuts just laughing and hugging and not being able to believe our arrangement. We moved all our stuff in and got settled. We were instructed to go down to the Slip Inn (the restaurant/cafe run by the owners of the motel) at 6pm for dinner. So we did as we were told and walk down the road towards the water. The restaurant is right on the water and we sat down to a booth for ourselves. Within 15 minutes we were served a gourmet lasagna and salad. We scarfed it down because it was the first real meal we had in a while. The best part was...it was free. Now that we were working there, we get breakfast lunch and dinner made for us in exchange for 4 hours of work per day. At 7pm we met the owners who took us to their rental property up the road and showed us our first project. We are cleaning up the property doing gardening, weeding, cleaning, etc. so that they can rent it out as a part of their motel business. That night, we celebrated by getting a local brew 6-pack and watched a rugby game. Needless to say it was the best sleep we've had in a while. Showered, good meal in our bellies, clean sheets, and big cozy beds for us to stretch out on.
Today was our first day of work, which felt amazing after 2 weeks of literally being a bum. Ariel worked down in the restaurant and helped in the kitchen while Jeff and I worked on the rental property. We had breakfast and started work around 11am. Worked until we wanted lunch, at which point we ate our prepared lunches which were gourmet sandwiches, homemade cookies, orange, and a banana. All while sitting on a deck overlooking some of the best landscapes in the world. We sat and marveled at our lives and tried to make ourselves believe that we weren't in a dream and that what we were seeing and doing was in fact real. We sat and pondered these things until we were distracted by a rustle in the bushes below the deck. It looked like a duck. No, no wings. A kiwi. No, too big. It was an Australasian Bittern. The rarest of all pokemon...I mean birds in the land, but they are commonly found in the Havelock region.
So as you can see, we are all doing beyond well right now. We have to keep pinching ourselves to remind us that we're not dreaming right now and are in fact living this. I am fairly certain that these next few months here are going to be incredibly relaxing. Being that we have no expenses other than leisure, and the fact that we are in the countryside with virtually nothing to do after work. We are all very much excited about this much needed respite from the hustle bustle of city life. Having spent 4 months in Waikiki, a day in Nadi, and a couple weeks in Auckland. We were just discussing how a big challenge while being here is going to be getting used to having NOTHING to do. It is a good problem to have and one that I think will take some getting used to, but in the end will be beneficial, seeing as how we plan to work a lot in Australia when we get there.
More updates to come, so stay tuned for the next installment. Can't wait to share it with everyone!
Until Next Time,