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Here are a few pictures from my new home!
So I’ve found myself in Wanaka – a very small town on a very beautiful lake. It sits, sleepily, amid mountains and rugged hills, on the southern end of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s beautiful; Charming even. It’s sucked me in and hasn’t let go!
After a few days in windy Wellington (first with a really nice Canucks fan who put me up for a few nights, and then at the worst hostel [backpackers’] I’ve ever stayed at. It was like a loud, messy frat house… one must learn quickly that there is a real divide in the world of hostels in this small country. Each type, each company, has a specific feel. Some are home-like, some are sterile, some are boring, some are frat houses filled with eighteen year olds that don’t do their dishes and have trouble cooking rice. I haven’t had the chance to do this interesting research in my previous travels because I haven’t been staying at hostels very often. After my few days in Wellington, I can see why I’ve avoided them…) I decided to head down to Christchurch where I had arranged to pick up a free rental car. I was given three days to make the ~500km trip from Christchurch to Queenstown. EASY! This was long enough, I reckoned, that I could forego the more direct route. Instead I would make my way along the wonderful, windy, wet west coast to explore some glaciers and some forests and get a little nostalgic at the similarity to our own west coast in British Columbia. It was a good decision.
My mind was clear after driving and music and I pulled into Wanaka on a sunny St. Paddy’s Day. I found myself a beer and a local paper and figured that I could see myself living in this little corner for a while. I just had to find a job and a place to stay. Where to sleep, where to sleep? A hostel would have to do.. at least for a night, then I’d find my own place. Right.
I picked a backpackers’ that looked nice, friendly… more-or-less at random, and I checked in. I haven’t checked out!
I couldn’t say no to an invitation to hear some Irish music, eat some Irish stew and drink some Irish beer (it was mostly Kiwi beer and Dutch beer, but who keeps track of these things?). It’s cool ’cause that invite paved the way for me; I found a place to stay, a bit of work, and even ended up with a few new friends as well. Good things always happen while celebrating the Patron Saint of Ireland.
Remember how I mentioned that some hostels are home-like? Yeah, this one tops that. It’s home! The people here are fantastic, the card games never-ending. There’s a hot tub… enough said. I haven’t necessarily met a lot of locals, but there are a lot of people who stick around for a while and a few people who keep coming back. I’ve found my little corner of the world to settle in for a little while and it’s comfy and it’s fun and it’s oh, so nice to unpack.
Who hasn’t always wanted to stay at a “BAR/Hotel/Campsite” in the middle of small town in New Zealand? Well, we stumbled across exactly this. We had been sent on a bit of a wild goose chase by a local….promises of the best campsite in town had us driving around aimlessly for half an hour. Only after realizing there were multiple bridges over the river (we had assumed there would be only one) did we decide we needed to stop for sustenance. A beer would work. Well, look at that – Bar/Hotel/Campsite….perfect!
We made our temporary home amongst the more permanent residences: the converted buses, the odd trailer, derelict vehicles, the goat tied to a rope. We skipped setting up camp and went straight for the bar. Our evening was spent playing pool with the locals, meeting a few characters, and learning the finer points of sheep shearing. Did you know that it’s someones job just to shave around the nether-regions of the sheep? This person has to do the dirty work so that the other shearers can get some “clean sweeps”…not having to worry about the messy bits. Makes sense hey? We spent some time asking all the questions that you, yourself, would want to ask. What a fitting and fantastic ending to our road trip across the North Island.
When Missy and I had set out from Wellington a week earlier we had high hopes of hitting all the Conservation (free) campsites. Just us, our tent, abounding nature…living off the land (canned tuna notwithstanding). So good!
So our reluctance to buy a proper map may have led to our downfall. That’s where I pinpoint the beginning of the end…the constant roaming; the U-turns. Although I’m not sure that either of us even considered using anything but the crappy maps they give out free at information centers. And actually – getting lost proved to be half the fun!
What’s a good road trip without a lot of unnecessary driving?
Our first night was epic. We drove up the windy roads on the East Coast…dusk was setting in, we had planned to be somewhere camp-able hours earlier, but due to a little bit of misinformation, shotty navigation (re: the aforementioned maps) and badly predicted driving time, we were miles from anywhere. We did consider just setting up camp on the side of the road, but the rolling hills enveloped the small road in an oppressive manner and were less than ideal. We persisted. After some swearing and some uncontrollable laughter, we were finally rewarded with a stunning sight. We wound our way down the cliffs to see the rocky beach and the surf and a few fisherman who would be our neighbours for the night. Could it be more perfect? It was cool and windy, but we were able to build a fire…ahh. Never mind that our cushy air mattress had a massive hole in it, and we ended up sleeping in the back of the station-wagon. The achy backs were worth it.
Our trip had many highlights, a few low-lights and an overall feeling of relaxed chaos. We walked away from our adventure with a better understanding of the Kiwi culture, pictures and memories of the beautiful and natural scenery, a few hearty laughs, sore backs, and a personal injury (trampolines are surely a death-trap)! Oh yeah, we also saw a hedgehog – he approached us in our camp – and I think that might be the cutest animal I’ve ever seen. They make sniffy sounds!
You know those times in your life where you can tell you’re making memories as the event is actually taking place? I have a lot of these…maybe it comes with going through something traumatic? Realizing the preciousness of each moment? I think we all do it at times, but I also think that we have more of an opportunity to do it at certain times in our lives. When we travel, our time is perceived as finite; we are experiencing so much in such a concentrated timespan. Every so often it’s nice to step back and get some perspective.
I’ve found from personal experience, that this is harder to do this when trudging through the routines of daily life, but I guess that’s the trick… NOT waiting for your life to start…you know that whole thing we all do? The thought process that confirms we aren’t quite living our real lives until some arbitrary date in the future? That whole: “when I finally get my promotion,” or “when I meet the right person” or “when the kids are older, and we’ve sold the house.” Even worse is when these life-starting events are so small as to border on ridiculousness… “once I get that new car” … “when I have my vacation,”….“when I lose 10lbs.”
Let’s try to enjoy our health, wealth (don’t forget your friends and family as the bigger part of this category) and happiness as it stands now.
We’re always waiting for the future, but it’s a pattern of thought that holds us back from enjoying our lives in the present. The future it so unpredictable, let’s just ride the wave!