Wanaka, New Zealand: Good Looks And A Winning Personality Will Get You Only So Far

Done. Settled. I’m staying in Wanaka. Before I left Brisbane I told Brad and Phil that I would be back in a couple months to finish the rest of my Oz experience. I figured I’d work somewhere in NZ for about a month, travel the country for another and be back in Oz by the end of June. And why not Wanaka? The view is magnificent, the people are really friendly, and from what I heard, this is the right time to be looking for work.

You see, Wanaka is a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders. With two mountains in close proximity, Wanaka is the home base for a culture of snow enthusiasts from around the world. So not surprisingly, all the businesses in town hire extra staff for the winter season. If I wanted a job, I would have to get in now.

First stop was the job agency. I filled out an application for general work, but specifically in the hospitality industry. Wanaka was a town of restaurants, cafes and bars, so there shouldn’t be a lack of work in that area. Unfortunately, many of those business didn’t register with the agency, so I would have to approach them directly. It was the harvest time at the vineyards, so the agency was in dire need of fruit pickers. I wanted to avoid grape picking, so I settled for general work around town. However, I resolved to work in the vineyards one day that week.

And so began the week that the other backpackers at the Lodge would never stop talking about. In fact, whenever a new traveler came into town and started inquiring about work, everyone would immediately defer to me. Many were in awe and few could recall witnessing greater dedication.

For the first two days of that first week I was in town, after helping Gayle with her garden, I worked for Robert — Stu’s stepfather — on his building site. Robert only needed someone to sand down the exterior of a garage before he applied a coat of varnish. It was easy work and it was outside, at a house right on the lake.

My next job was the next day, when the job agency notified me that the local home improvement store, Mitre 10, needed someone to work in the warehouse for the day. I reported for duty in the morning and was introduced to John. Again, the work was quite easy: move these boxes from the warehouse to the shop floor, load sheets onto this customer’s truck bed, tidy up the outdoor storage area and the warehouse itself. Most of the time, John would just chat while carrying out the manual labor. His is an interesting story: he worked as an undercover cop in London for 30 years, specializing in drug deals. He retired to the area with his wife and last summer worked as a liftie at one of the mountain resorts.

The day after that was my day at the vineyard. A van came and picked us up in town early in the morning. Although it was shaping up to be a clear day, it was still quite chilly. This, after all, was New Zealand’s autumn. They drove us out to the Mt. Edward vineyard and explained how the day’s activities would go: there were several rows of grapes to be picked; we would be supplied with gloves, shears and baskets; the game is to walk down the row, clipping off grapes and tossing it in the basket. We would have to watch out for grapes that had been picked out by birds and ones that had succumbed to a fungus disease that had affected a portion of the vineyard. The morning was spent picking in the shade, so after just an hour I was shivering and my hands were numb. To say the work was tedious would be insulting to both the word ‘tedious’ and the unforgivingly mundane work itself. The worst part was having to stoop down to pick the grape bunches; it was killer on my back. The best part was my ‘one for me, one for you’ approach to grape picking. We all would frequently pop several grapes into our mouths before sharing the harvest with the baskets. By lunchtime I had eaten more grapes than in the past several months. When we broke for lunch, I picked a sunny spot on a large rock to enjoy my sandwich. Now, I have a system with meals, in that I always eat some fruit afterwards. I had thrown together a sandwich before running out the door that morning, and grabbed the first piece of fruit I could see. When I opened my lunchbag and was reminded of that choice, I groaned: grapes. I brought grapes. The others had a good laugh about it too. Apparently the vineyard was on a tight picking schedule, and expected to have a certain amount complete by the end of the day. They had figured that the amount of work would take 8 hours, and *that alone* is what they were paying us for. Which means, if we took 9 hours to do the job, we would still only get money for 8 hours. They notified us of this fact after a stern talking-to about the speed of our picking. So after lunch we all picked up the pace and ended up finishing with about 45 minutes to spare (and NO, we don’t get paid for 8 hours if we finish early … greedy bastards …). They graciously paid us for 7 1/2 hours. Grape picking had really taken it out of me. I was tired, my back hurt, and if I never saw another grape in non-alcoholic form I’d be a happy man.

It’d probably be wise to take a break now and finish the story of that week in another post, as it could get quite lengthy. So stay tuned to find out what else Wanaka would have me do for her. Let’s just say a girl gets punched in the face, a 17-year old dressed as Duffman passes out in the middle of a soccer pitch, and a load of garbage is dumped on me.


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