Month: September 2007

Wanaka, New Zealand: From The Garden To A Backyard Dress-Up Party

I woke up the next morning and was treated to this:

I had seen few towns in this trip of mine that offered such a beautiful view. Wanaka was situated on Lake Wanaka, surrounded by the mountains of Mt. Aspiring National Park. The hills glowed a bright gold which contrasted magnificently with the blue sky and water.

The woman would pick us up around 9:30 in the morning and drive us to her house for the gardening work. Joining me would be Anke (not sure about the spelling, but she was an older German woman and called “Ank-uh”) and Dan, a guy from Manchester. Gayle swung into the parking lot and we piled into her BMW. She lived a short drive out of town, in a beautiful house atop the hilly, residential part of Wanaka.

Gayle’s house was an ultra-modern, spacious property with an incredible view. The garden slheoped down the back and side of the house and was primarily small bushes. The work involved mulching around the bushes and plants. Gayle had also asked a young girl named Kate to help. Kate had done gardening for Gayle in the past and also used to run a small landscaping service. The four of us got started and worked hard until lunchtime, when Gayle treated us to scones, sandwiches and cups of tea. Her son, Stu, stopped by for a bit while on break from his job as a sparky (electrician — I hadn’t heard the term ‘sparky’ until I came to NZ).

Kate had to leave early, and Anke left with her, but Dan and I stayed until 4. At the end of the day Gayle drove us back to the hostel and asked if we would be free to finish the job the next day. Both of us agreed. On the way back to the Lodge (what our hostel would become affectionately known to us), I mentioned to Gayle about my need to find a job soon. She swung by town and pointed out some of the lakefront bars and cafes, and told me that they would be needing employees for the winter season soon.

I met up with Carlos and Timo for dinner at the Purple Cow, where Carlos had moved. Carlos was cooking some meat and potatoes in a traditional Argentinian way. We had a few beers, chatted with other backpackers and enjoyed our food. They had been to Puzzling World that morning, which is a museum of sorts showcasing visual illusions.

The next morning we were back at Gayle’s, without Anke and Katie, but we were joined by Justin and another Katie, a couple also staying at the Lodge. Stu, Gayle’s son, also joined us on mulching duties. Lunch was homemade pizza and Speight’s beers. We mulched as much as we could given the amount of time we had. Stu said he would finish up the rest with a fresh delivery the next day. Stu was a great guy, really friendly and easy to talk to.

Stu and I got started talking about motorcycles and dirt bikes, and about how the roads around New Zealand would be perfect for two-wheelers. It seems he had an old, beat-up dirt bike sitting in the garage, which he would take around the open fields near the house from time to time. He invited me to ride if after the gardening. So, at the end of the day, he started the bike up for me, and I happily went tearing around the neighborhood. I went off-road into some hilly and high-brush land, and even caught a couple small jumps. Justin tried next, but he had never been on a bike before, and that fact was immediately apparent when the bike took off towards a small tree with him still on it. Before it went too far, he laid it down. Kate and Gayle were noticably concerned — Kate was shaking and slapping her forehead — but us boys could barely contain ourselves. Justin tried again and managed to get around the area until he gave up. Dan went last, and rocketed away from us until he figured out how to control his speed. He also learned quickly and ended up getting some good time on that bike. Stu told me I could come by anytime to ride it around.

He also told us about a going away party that night for a friend of his who was leaving Wanaka for a firefighter position in Australia. He asked the four of us to come with him, including Dan’s friend Phil.

When we got back Dan and Phil had enough time to go to the op-shop (donated clothes, etc.) to find costumes for the party. When I realized everyone was actually dressing up I rushed over to the op-shop and found the only thing dress-up party worthy: work overalls for a New World (New Zealand supermarket chain) warehouse employee. Justin, Katie, Dan, Phil and I got ready and waited for Stu to come by and pick us up.

Stu’s friend Arthur and his dad Tim had turned their backyard into a small outdoor pub, complete with a bar, pool table and small stage for a band. He had even sawed off the back half of an old-time truck, stuck a chimney on the roof and converted the hood/front cabin into a fireplace. Hard to describe, but actually really cool. As a hobby, Tim built musical instruments, mainly guitars. He wasn’t so good at playing them, but got into the construction aspect. Indeed, he built a steel guitar for an ex-wife, which he luckily got back after the split. His next project was a copper one. When I told him of my background in playing the violin, he got very excited and started describing future projects with string instruments.

I talked to Gayle and Robert about what was traditional Kiwi food, and Gayle immediately told me that they had to have all of us over for a Sunday roast. Traditional Kiwi food is, apparently, taking a large slab of meat and some veggies, and roasting them in the oven. We agreed to be back at her house the next night for dinner.

Stu, Justin, Kate, Phil, Dan and I caught a cab back into Wanaka that night and immediately headed for bed. It had been a great day, and this town was quickly growing on me.

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Wanaka, New Zealand: Frodo Should Have Just Stuck His Thumb Out Too

On the way, Carlos asked us about religion, government and our travels. They were both really nice and friendly guys. Carlos was going home soon to join his father’s business. He showed us pictures of his girlfriend back home and told us about picking up Argentinian girls.

Our first stop was a town called Timaru. The town didn’t boast much by way of tourist activities, so after chatting with the information center worker for a bit, we headed out of town and towards Mt. Cook. On the way, we stopped near the water for lunch. The day was overcast, but the weather was pleasant. I had packed a sandwich, and Timo made one in the back of the van while cranking up the music and singing the praises of sweet chili sauce.

Our journey continued westward through towns such as Fairlie, which featured some sort of old church. Again, I was using my guide — this time a Frommer’s — and it wasn’t telling me anything interesting about these towns.

At one point, we passed two hitchhikers standing on the side of the road with their backpacks. Timo said, “I think we can fit them in”, and pulled over. The young girls were Nina, a German, and Erin, a Canadian. They crammed their bags and themselves in the back with Carlos and we kept going towards Lake Tekapo. The girls had just spent some time in an area called Arthur’s Pass, west of Christchurch, and were headed to Wanaka, where Nina was staying with her boyfriend.

During my time with Charlie in Melbourne, we went out to a bar in Brunswick with some of Charlie’s friends. One of them brought another friend named Jen who was from Wanaka. That night, when Jen found out about my inevitable trip to NZ, she kept telling me that I must go to Wanaka and how wonderful a town it is.

We reached Lake Tekapo and snapped several pictures. There was another really old church here and we caught a couple pictures of it too.

The next stop was Lake Pukaki, and by the time we got there it had started to rain lightly. One was supposed to be able to see Mt. Cook from the lake, but it was hidden in a thick layer of clouds. The view was truly inspirational. Timo and I agreed that we could spend days here taking pictures. And it didn’t even matter that there was a thick layer of clouds, in fact I think it made it more mystical.

Despite the incredible view, a trip to Mt. Cook would be foolish. We started reconsidering the destination of this road trip and thought about finding a town in which to wait out the storm.

When the girls found out that we were waffling in our original plans, they immediately started telling us to go to Wanaka. Despite being a fine place to stay, it is one of the closest towns to Mt. Cook (and of course, it would mean they wouldn’t have to hitch anymore).

We finally all agreed that it would be best to skip Mt. Cook and find a place to stay in Wanaka. We would wait until the weather got better, then head towards the mountain.

Soon after it got dark we pulled into Wanaka. Without many streetlights or late-night businesses, it was hard to figure out what the town center looked like. We headed towards the backpackers where the girls were staying. There was no more room at The Purple Cow, but Erin told us of another hostel a few houses down the road called Fern Lodge. Carlos and I found a room there and Timo decided to find a place to park and camp in the van.

We all ate at Fern Lodge’s small kitchen and I chatted with Josh and Sarah, an American couple who were biking around New Zealand. There was a sign outside the kitchen asking if anyone wanted to do some work in the morning. I inquired and found out a local woman needed some gardeners for mulching work in her backyard. Gardening? Yeah, I can do that.

She would come the next morning to pick me up. I told Carlos and Timo that I may not be able to go sightseeing with them the next morning, but that I would meet up with them that evening.

Stay tuned to find out why Timo, Carlos and I would part ways, and why I never saw Mt. Cook. Click for the pictures from Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki.

Christchurch, New Zealand: It’s Not The Toyota Lexcen, And His Name Ain’t Steffen, But It’ll Do

My brief stay in Christchurch was enjoyable, yet I knew something was missing. I started the first day with a quick jog around the neighborhood. The surrounding area was highly residential and unspectacular. The city was divided into your average grid, with the exception of a diamond-shaped courtyard in the center called Cathedral Square. Cath Square (OK, I don’t know if that’s what they call it, but after Melbourne’s Fed Square, I can’t be asked to pronounce the whole thing each time) is home to some kind of really old cathedral, hence the name. Granted, it had been a while since I made the historical monument and museum tours, but this thing just really didn’t excite me. I was keen on visiting the Botanic Gardens, the cultural museum and the art museum.

View from the road leading to the Botanic Gardens, with Cathedral Square in the distance

The Canterbury Museum borders the Botanic Gardens and is delightfully free. I was prepared for a great onslaught of Maori history and culture, but was given only a brief history of Christchurch, a few canoes and recreated huts and a description of a geological survey of the area. I was greatly disappointed. Even the smallest Australian towns were chock-ful of Aboriginal history, both past and present. I would later come up with the following explanation: the Aussies had more to atone for. The Maoris and European New Zealanders have a monumentally better relationship with each other than the Aussies-Aborigines. They are well represented in government, and all official signs must be in both Maori and English. There is even considerable Maori-language-only television programming.

Apart from the first morning in Chch, every other day was pretty overcast with mild drizzling. Although a bummer, it made the Botanic Gardens look fantastic. The gardens were quite large with a well-covered canopy.

The walk around the grounds was refreshing and breathtaking at times. I headed for the rose garden and was treated to a display of hundreds of different gorgeous rose varieties.

It made Sydney’s rose garden look weak. Walking back, I spied what looked like a UFO sitting beyond a row of trees. And yes, it was actually a UFO. There weren’t any signs explaining the object or why it was there, and no one else seemed to be as bothered by it. I like to think that budget cuts by the alien government forced cutbacks in the stealth technology sector, or maybe the gardens are that good that they would travel all that way for them.

The art museum was entertaining as well, showcasing a range of contemporary as well as classic art.

After All, I’m Supposed To Be Traveling, Right?
Don’t get me wrong, Christchurch is a fine city, but after wandering the hostel notice boards and not seeing many jobs available, I was getting tired of just sitting around, finding things to do. On most of those boards were advertisements of people going to different parts of the South Island, which made me reminisce about my the road trips with Steffen. I decided to get into it and find someone who would drive me around the island.

At the same time, I was also looking for cheaper accomodation. Around the corner from Stonehurst was Charlie B’s Backpackers, which offered a $19 dorm room. I realized later that it was a cordoned-off area of a large super-dorm. Kinda like The Church, but divided into cubicle-like sets of 4 bunk beds, about 30 in total. It smelled like mud, sweat and beers, but hey, it was cheap.

On the notice board of Charlie B’s was an offer from someone named Timo who was looking for people with whom to travel the west coast, especially Mt. Cook, a popular hiking destination. We texted back and forth and agreed to meet at the hostel to talk about the trip. When he arrived, we chatted about what we expected: he needed to head back to the North Island soon to meet his girlfriend, but wanted to drive up the west coast to the ferry point in Nelson. I mainly wanted to check out some good hiking spots and maybe look for jobs in a more entertaining place, like Queenstown, the party and adventure sport capital of New Zealand. Timo was an outdoor activities guide back home in Germany and spent some time in New Zealand doing similar sort of volunteer work. He was looking for a similar paid position and was also doing photography work. He showed me some of his pictures from travels in Australia and New Zealand and I gave him laptop advice. We agreed to set off the following morning. He had found another person to join us, an Argentinian.

We met the next morning at the hostel and packed my stuff into Timo’s van. He had a standard campervan with a bed in the back. Since I took the shotgun seat, the Argentinian would have to sit on the bed in the back. We picked Carlos up from his hostel and set out. Timo asked me if I was good at reading maps. Good? Ha! I navigated Sheila around Australia for two months without once getting lost, this would be a piece of cake.

Check out all the Christchurch pics here. Stay tuned for the road trip to end all road trips – at least for the next 8 months – and how two hitchhikers would change my life.