Aotearoa – Te Wai Pounamu

Jumping Belgian along the East Coast of the South Island

After spending a final supper -taco’s-cheese-spicy sauce and beans- with my beloved Mexicans friends I was finally ready for the South Island of New Zealand.  My job as a waiter (YES boss I asked if they want more wine at that table, and no, they did not change their mind after disturbing them for the 65th time) and the city of Auckland were wearing me out big time. Flying to the South was a well-deserved change of both scenery and excitement-level.

A sleepless night later (yep, the cheapest flights always fly off at the worst time possible) I arrived in Christchurch, the most English of all towns in New Zealand. With a small delay I met up with the ruling world champion in the noble discipline of “missing flights” Kerry :-). We spent a relaxing and sun-soaked weekend in the city and decided to rent a car to head in the direction of the Frans Jozef and Fox glaciers.

We hiked up towards a good viewpoint on Frans Jozef, only to discover a fog-covered version of the great chunk of ice. Not really as rewarding as expected, but still a nice walk.

Next day at Fox glacier more or less the same story in what can be categorized as the worst hike ever performed in the history of tramping. As Kerry’s muscles were aching severely I headed out alone launching myself up the Mt. Fox route. I quickly glanced at the warning sign explaining the walk is steep, for experienced hikers only and that bad weather conditions can occur every time of year. I grinned, cursed the weather gods and took off for the 8-hr return walk. 4 hours later, I got back down. It rained all the time. I lost my belt buckle and pants several times. I slipped and hurt my shoulder, back, knee and well… buttocks.  After tearing my favorite pair of trousers apart while slipping for what must have been the 148th time, I decided to head back down. I cursed the weather gods one more time, and got immediate punishment as I continued the walk down in my boxers.

I got back home, very very irritated. But after seeing the smile on Kerry’s face, I warmed up again. 5 beers later, I forgot about the misery, pain and cold.

Next day a long drive and more of the one thing I cannot get used to while traveling: saying goodbye. Sometimes you just have to keep going and carry on, and that’s exactly what I did.

Mt. Fox route highest point

So there I was, on my own again driving the rental car on the left side of the road towards Christchurch. I did not have a driving license on me as it was stolen in Bolivia. And as I was cruising -forgetting to watch the odometer from time to time- there he was again. Mr. Murphy and his miserable law. A police car passed me, turned on its flashing lights before making a U-turn. With a severe panicky feeling hitting my stomach, bowels and other parts of my body I pulled over and waited for the judgment.  As far as I can recall the scene, it went like this:

– What’s the rush for young man?

– I am sorry sir, I was not really paying attention on this flat bit of road

– Drivers license please!

– Well, I’m afraid I only have a copy on me, a second, I’ll go and grab it sir

At this point, I expected the friendly police officer to get out his handcuffs and cudgel, reading me my rights while searching my pockets and car for drugs, weapons and illegal immigrants. But after presenting the crappy copy of my license :

– Is that you??

– Yes, that’s me sir

– Okay, looks like you’re going to have to pay some money to the black hole called New Zealand government. (grins)

Saying that I was excited to only have to pay the fine would be an overstatement, but still. I got back on the road without being extradited or executed at the spot and drove the car safely (and slowly) back to Christchurch.

A couple days later I decided to get back on the road for the second leg of my South Island trip. I bought a roadmap and went out to rent the same car again. The plan: a road trip along the most interesting and beautiful spots in the South Island only camping out mainly surviving on basic food.  For the itinerary of the little trip, click here.

Scary sea lions, stinky seals and prudent penguins

I stopped by in Oamaru, a town completely built around the two penguin colonies that can be spotted near the waterfront. There are two types of the fascinating little creatures: the blue-eyed and yellow-eyed. The latter is very rare and can only be observed in New Zealand.

I arrived at Bushy beach where the yellow-eyed penguin colony comes back from the ocean to retreat in the bushes ashore. It was freeeezing cold and the only thing these shy and selfish penguins do is testing your patience. Or it must have been the Dutch woman producing 120 decibel with her slightly annoying comments on how she once saw some Penguins in a zoo. Two hours later, I finally spotted a waddling penguin on the beautiful strip of beach. As I forgot my glasses in the car, it might have well been a pink panther.

Looking at the blue eyed penguins requires buying a ticket at the visitor center. One is not allowed to take pictures, as apparently the birds are pretty keen on having a bit of privacy. Or it could also be the flash and the effect on the penguin’s sensitive eyes. Anyways,  the blue eyed ones are way more “observable” than their yellow eyed colleagues and got ashore in huge amounts. I wrapped my camera in a scarf and tried to get a few shots. But unfortunately the two grumpy Germans (is that a tautology?) sitting next to me were not appreciating my efforts. One of them eventually threatened to notify the guide, so I put my camera away again.

Luckily more penguins to spot in my later expeditions towards the Otago peninsula.

Blue eyed penguins at the Otago Peninsula

Another creature I had only seen on pictures before travelling to New Zealand is the fur seal. You’d expect a furry and sweet little fellow as the image stored in my brain was mainly based on Seabert (the nostalgia!!) an animation series I used to watch as a kid. In reality they are a somehow aggressive and have a smell that would give my hiking boots a quite enjoyable bouquet.

New Zealand fur seals chilling out

Agitated sea lion at Purakanui Bay

And it gets better! As I was continuing my journey alongside the east coast I encountered several sea lions. They are bigger, smellier and more combative than the seals. I was chased by one of them, and even though they are dopey and heavy I actually had to run to avoid being eaten alive.

The steepest street in the world and other claims to fame

New Zealanders have  a couple of (questionable) claims to fame.

the steepest street in the world  (Baldwin street)

Some of you might know that my abilities to orientate myself are poor. Very poor. I took a quick glance at the map and drove towards the steepest street in the world. After driving around for 15 minutes, still no sign of that damn avenue. I noticed people staring at me as I parked on top of a dead-end alley (did I hit something? Am I not wearing clothes maybe? Am I driving on the wrong side of the road again?), got out of the car, and asked directions only to discover that I had accidentally driven up Baldwin street. The driveway to my parents’ castle is way steeper,  as are most drives in San Francisco. The advise the friendly lady in the visitor center had given me seemed somehow ridiculous at this point (don’t drive up there, you’ll break your car. Unless you have a powerful 4WD).

The steepest street in the world

– the second most photographed building in the southern hemisphere, the Dunedin Railway Station

The garden house behind my parent’s castle is nearly as pretty, but nobody ever comes and takes pictures. The building is actually the most “unphotographable” building in the world. Seriously. You need a wide angle lens to frame the whole thing. In an attempt to transform the construction into the “most photographed unphotographable building in the world” I did my very best to get some good shots.

Dunedin railway station

And finally, there’s one thing New Zealanders could easily claim to have:

the world’s most annoying bugs

Sandflies. What is the purpose of these little horrible flies on planet earth? Where can they be found in the food chain? Which disgusting animal is actually interested in eating them? Just a few questions popping up when thinking about my 300 000 bites resulting in itchy and sleepless nights. In the whole of Fiordland, you just cannot stay outside for longer than 3 seconds without being surrounded by a couple of dozen of these little innocent-looking but extremely persisting bastards. Hooray for mosquitoes!

Lunatic landscapes, silky sunsets and sublime scenery

It is undeniably true that the scenery is absolutely stunning in New Zealand. You can randomly take a shot with the crappiest camera and still you’d end up with a marvelous picture. Driving in New Zealand is not only big fun (cutting curves Toyota Corolla style!!) but pretty much feels like cruising in a postcard the whole time.

Stunning NZ view

As I was sleeping in a tent, every morning I’d be awake at 4 am, freezing cold and covered with bites. Only thinkable advantage of waking up that ridiculously early are the various sunrises I was able to capture.

Sunrise over Purakanui Bay

Moeraki boulders early in the morning

New Zealand is a mecca for hikers and trampers of all sorts. There are 9 great walks, official circuits maintained by the department of conservation (DOC).

I opted for the Kepler track, down in sandfly-infected Fiordland. The trek covers more or less 60 km and is a good alternative for more popular (read: way more expensive) tramps. After meeting up with Canadian Kelly, we decided to do the hike in 2 days. Along the road we met two other Canadians, and pretty soon we were “oot and aboot”.

It was a very nice walk, but being spoiled by the amazing vista’s in South America my enthusiasm was a bit more tempered compared to the excitement of my fellow hikers.

Jumping Belgian on the Kepler track

Skoajdoajving

When it comes to living on a budget, I am a bit of a disaster. I would save 10 cents comparing 5 different types of oatmeal in a supermarket but end up spending 25 dollars on wine later that day. But I did well, so I decided to go for something that has been on my “things-I-have-to-do-at-least-once-in-a-lifetime-list” for a long time.  I drove up towards Wanaka and went for a skydive (for correct NZ pronunciation, see title). I won’t overload readers with a full description on how awesome  the experience was.  Only thing I would love to mention is that the first 5 seconds are amazing, as you feel your body accelerating up to  200 km/h jumping out of a tiny airplane at an altitude of 12000 feet (3,7km).

View from the small aircraft

Just look at my excitement in the small video fragment here. And yes, in a way it is better than… (you know what I mean. Yep, a bungee jump of course).

Back to the future revisited

I am all set for what will be the third and last part of my little trip. One week of Melbourne followed by two final months of travelling in SE-Asia.

End of February I will be back home, bankrupt but a man rich with experience and happy. Allthough I might have to revise the concept “home” a little bit.

All the best to everyone that actually takes time to read through all this nonsense. If you did get to this very last paragraph,  you are awesome.

High five!

Tom

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“Stuck” in Auckland

Hi everybody,

More or less one month ago I arrived in Auckland. With a slight feeling of panic, first thing on my to-do-list was finding a job. If not, budgetary reasons would have forced me coming back, which would be a sad sad thing.  I decided not to move back to my euhm beloved home country before a stable government is formed. Well, seems like I’ll be gone for another couple of months (decades).

Tips for tips

I have been working as a waiter/bartender for the last month, so please allow me to share a few of my experiences .

Working as a waiter is all about collecting as many tips as possible. In the meanwhile, my strategies improved significantly and I am able to lift up the poor payment with some nice extras. Time for some tips for tips!

 

Waiter-style!

 

– Greet foreign costumers in their mother tongue. Especially German and French speaking fellow citizens seem to fall for waiters that switch to their language.

– Give some attention to the opposite sex. Especially when a bit older, that extra bit of eye contact or an extended Colgate smile can make the difference.

– Ask the client if he/she liked YOUR service. If positive, it would be a bit cheeky not to reward your good effort with a small financial compensation.

– Serve Americans. It is a fact that it is very common to tip in the States. Kiwi’s and Australians do not have this habit at all. One night, I was able to collect 250 dollars in one single night, mainly American generosity.

– Do not spill drinks. Dropping a glass of white wine on the customer’s table is not the way to go. As I dropped a full glass on one of the tables, I found out that the poor man actually wanted a glass of red. A blessing in disguise.

– Use humor when possible. Unless the client has no sense of humor that is. A thin line, I must admit. How on earth can you know if someone has (no) sense of humor? When complaining about a black hair on her plate, a complaint was filed by the same customer later that night. Apparently she could not really appreciate my comment (“well, it can’t be one of mine”).

– Act as if you’re the most confident and competent waiter around. Smile, walk with style between the tables simultaneously checking them for every small detail. Even if you’re feeling bad and your confidence reached an all time low (you’re tired, hungover, in a bad mood or don’t feel like speaking with people at all).

Wait(er) a minute

Well, it’s kind of fun to act my way through the hospitality business. But (surprise surprise) it’s not exactly the job of my dreams for various reasons.

– Authority problems: Especially one manager does not like my style. Every evening under his command I get called in his office for another “incident” or action he does not like.”Tom, this place is all about fine dining.” At the same time, a bunch of drunk and joyful Australians call me at their table “ey mate!! Could you get us another 6 beers?”.

– Working behind the bar: Every week I get to serve the same people (mostly spoiled-drunk kids) and the same music is played (a combination of up-beat Spanish/Brazilian salsa and dodgy electronic music). On Fridays and Saturdays, being a bartender means working until 7 am the next morning. Which is kind of exhausting.

– The removal of my sideburns. As I am probably not the most bearded man, it took me ages to save for decent length burnsides. Consequently, shaving them was a near to traumatic experience.

“Stuck in Auckland”

Auckland is the largest and most populous urban area in New Zealand with a population of 1.4 million (31% of total kiwi population). The city scores high on different quality of living rankings. It has to be said, the city is ridiculously clean -especially compared to any South American city- and no signs of poverty at all. Its location by the sea is quite unique, so boats are never far away.

 

The Sapphire Princess

 

The sky tower is one of  the most spectacular buildings forming the skyline.  The tower is 328 meters tall (higher than the Eiffel tower) and the 12th biggest construction in the world (more facts and figures here). Especially when climbing up at night, an amazing view over the Auckland skyline can be witnessed.

 

Nightly view over Auckland from the Skytower

 

Random Auckland/NZ impressions

– I nearly got run over 5 times. Yes, they do drive on the left (wrong) side of the road

– After having tasted South American and Californian wine, it was about time to enjoy the diverse range of New Zealand grape varieties.

– Since Auckland has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world and a higher proportion of people of Asian origin than the rest of New Zealand,  there are a huge amount of Sushi take-away selling delicious yet incredibly cheap food.

– How’s it going, bro?, good on ya mate!, sweet-ass! are only a few examples of the wonderful slang I’ve discovered in the last couple of weeks.

– The unavailability of free internet is striking. In the States every single spot is connected with a free wifi network of some sort. Here in Auckland, paying (way too much) to get connected and data limitations are the standard. Which pretty much explains my prolonged stays in the Auckland Central Library.

– The 2011 rugby World Cup will be hosted by New Zealand. Hence, a huge countdown to the event is set up. The All Blacks are the pre-tournament favourites (allthough they’ve only won the world cup once) and are especially well-known for their Haka (a ritual Maori dance performed by the team prior to a game).

 

The big countdown

 

I just moved into an apartment with co-workers, mainly young Mexicans traveling around the country. Finally I no longer have to stay over in a hostel, having to face the “do you want to join the pub crawl tonight?”-speech twice a week. Next to that, living is a lot cheaper now aaand, it’s tequila time!

However, I am pretty much looking forward to go and explore the wonderful nature on the south island. Settling in a city like Auckland is not the worst, but I’d rather pick up my backpack and get on a surfboard, glacier or mountain again. My hiking boots have not been used for months, and are screaming to get dirty again.

Beginning of november I’ll be visiting some interesting sites around the Auckland-area (Waiheke Island, Volcanic fields, and the Goat Island Marine Reserve). Afterwards I am meeting up with Kerry in Christchurch for a little roadtrip. What will I do with my life after that? Good question! All I can say is that after reading Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy in one week  I was so excited that writing my own thrilling story is very high on the list.

As for now, duty is calling. Another day of serving people as a servant-slave in the wonderful world of “fine dining”. All the best to you all as I am slowly fading into winter oops , I mean another summer!

Tom