Wanaka, New Zealand: Yeah, I Don’t Care About Testing Space Station Software, All I Want To Know Is, How Good Are You With A Squeegee?

Dan and Phil were a little more certain of their plans than I was. Phil was going to stick around town for a while and had picked Wanaka because of it’s beauty and the lifestyle. He was keen on getting into outdoor activties such as rock climbing, skiing, tramping (read: hiking), etc. Dan was only around for the short term, and had a girlfriend back home who was putting increasing pressure on him to come back.

So after I got the job at the bar, Phil and I started talking about moving out of the hostel and trying to find a house. Of course, such a step meant I would have to commit to some kind of long term plan, and after 5 months of backpacking, it was hard to do. Phil was talking about staying for the winter and learning to snowboard or ski. From what the locals had been telling me, the winter season in Wanaka is a hell of a time.

One day I finally decided to stay for the season, and Phil and I began looking for a house (literally, we were walking down the street, past the snowboard shop and I turned to fill and said “@$#& it, I’ll stay”). First things first, we went to Base, a local ski/snowboard shop, and geared up. We bought boards and bindings and stored them in our rooms at the Lodge.

Most houses around town were multi-bedroom, of course, so we found a third person with whom to share a place. And in that weird, circular, twist-of-fate kind of way in which things seem to happen around here, the third was Nina, the hitchhiker who lead me to Wanaka in the first place. Phil had gotten a housekeeping job at another hostel, the Purple Cow, and Nina was a co-worker.

After work one evening I walked in to the kitchen at the Lodge and immediately Louise pointed to me and told another traveller, “if you’re looking for a job, he’s the man to talk to. You name it, he’s done it in this town.” The other backpacker she was talking to was Nick, and American from Tahoe. He had just finished a trip of some serious hiking and had also chosen Wanaka as a home base for the next several months. I told him everything I knew about securing work in town and wished him luck. As we spent more time together in the hostel — and as he was also looking for accomodation — Nick, Phil and I became friends, and we found a fourth for our house.

We looked at ads in the Messenger, a local newsletter for classifieds, and visited rental agents. Property was being snatched up pretty quickly by all the skiiers and snowboarders who travel the world chasing winters, so it became apparent that finding one for us would be hard work.

After repeated failures — finding a house that was the size of a college dorm, several that were out of our budget, and losing Nina as a housemate — we were starting to worry. On one Wednesday, however, we saw an ad for a house in the Messenger that was exactly what we wanted. It was within walking distance of town, three bedroom, and fully furnished. I called up early in the morning and spoke to Norman, who was managing the property for his son, the owner. When I walked into the house, I knew that we had to have it. The main room was large, with a high ceiling, and it was surrounded by huge windows. In fact, two of the walls were almost all windows. The kitchen was also quite big with a lot of counter space. There was a master bedroom with it’s own bathroom and two other bedrooms that would share another bathroom. A driveway ran along the side of the house leading to a huge garage. Off the garage was another basement room with yet another bathroom. Norman was quite insistent on only having 3 people in the house, but said that if we wanted, we could have short-term dormers stay in the basement room.

Norman was quite a character himself. He spoke in a very well articulated, polite, but to-the-point manner. At end of the tour he said something along the lines of, “You know, we’ve had a lot of other people ring up about the house, so I’ll be showing the house more today, but I like to go with my instinct and I’ve got a good feeling about you two.” As we left Phil and I looked at each other dumbfounded, “what the hell just happened in there?” We found out later that we were the first of 14 people who called and visited the house that day, but in the end, it was between us and a few girls. The girls then dropped out and we got the good news that the house was ours. When signing the paperwork and giving Norman the money, Norman said, “You know, my son wanted me to get some references from you, but I told him that I had a good feeling about you two and it wouldn’t be necessary.” Again, both of us were quite perplexed about this feel-good vibe we were giving off.

Dan left before we moved in. His girlfriend back home was quite insistent on him coming back and it was starting to stress him out. So in the end, he booked a ticket and left. It was sad to see him go, I’m sure he would’ve had a great time with us, but I knew that we’d meet up again when I end up in the UK.

Since this post has been a bit boring with all the talk of house-hunting and such, I’ll end with what I think is an amusing story: In my efforts to get a job, I even stopped by the local BP gas station and put in an application. Dan and Phil were in stitches about the fact that I handed in my resume with NASA all over it, interviewing for a job as a gas station attendant. They said I would be the most over-qualified pump man of all time. The interview went well and I got the feeling that the manager was keen on hiring me. It was my backup plan in case I didn’t get the bar job, and even if I did, I could supplement my income until I got full-time hours at Barluga. However, a few days later, I found out that I lost the BP job to a local who would be in town longer than just a winter season. Fair enough. Months later, I was at the station getting gas when the manager walked out. “Man, I screwed up not hiring you. The person we took instead turned out to be a big mistake.” Of course it was a mistake, you fool.

A word of advice to all hiring managers: if you’re trying to decide who to hire for a job, whatever the position is, go with the guy who was a rocket scientist, ’cause chances are he’s gonna be pretty alright at it.

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