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.



  1. have you gone back to that dude’s place to ride dirt bikes? its probably tough now with the winter and what not, but you should definitely take him up on that offer. let me know when you do, i’m going to fly to wanaka and leave a mattress in the middle of a random dirt trail.

  2. Yeah, Phil and I went, and Stu took us out to the paddocks behind his house. There were a lot of jumps there, and I actually got some pretty good air. Granted, I went kinda sideways, almost fell off and nearly ran into a tree — and Stu and Phil who were watching were certain I didn’t make it — but I stuck the landing! It was awesome.

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