Adventure between rain and snow in New Zealand
Just to make it clear about Australia and I’ll not talk about it anymore…
Don’t go there unless it’s about making money and DON’T waste time and money in touring around with a Van. Totally not worth it… Stick with the east coast and don’t listen at people telling you how the west or the north is nice, it’s not nice enough to justify this burning of gas and money necessary to go there… Beware of western Australian, they will tell you that’s they know some amaaazing places but remember that they live in a flat area of red dirt and will get excited with a small hills and a green patch of vegetation. I’m guessing that you probably don’t have the same level of expectation, right ? So, save that money to go to New Zealand and rush to the south island. You’ll not regret it and maybe be like “Why did I even bother going to Australia?”.
So now, let’s talk about NZ now that I’m in Argentina…
When I booked my flight, I was not sure about using the all-time allowed by a touristic VISA in New Zealand, three months, or flight a bit before. My idea was that’s this country is not that big and I might be able to visit most of it in two months. Well, either I was wrong or I didn’t manage my time properly because I left with not enough time to visit places that I heard about once I was back in the north island. So Northland, sorry but it will be for another time and Tongariro pass, well, bad timing with the volcano who decided to erupt. But anyway, my last two months were great. I did more than a month of Helpx with different families, got to put my hand in the ground, planting and harvesting veggies, riding horses, petting lambs, pigs, calves, chicken, doing a mosaic on the floor of a greenhouse and installing an automatic watering system, cutting woods (Never used an axe before, sure that I was going to get it on my feet but I didn’t… hurray!). To sum up, I was putting in practice all the theories about permaculture and organic farming that I have been learning through books. That’s how I was choosing which family I was sending some requests to : Places going toward self-sufficiency, practicing permaculture concepts or able to teach me a skill potentially useful in my quest to self-sufficient the day, if it’s happening, where I decide to buy a piece of land and settle down.
So, I had a really good time, working 4 to 5 hours a day in exchange of accommodation and, almost every day, delicious meals.
In between two Helpx places, I was going to trek around. The most impressive places I’ve seen is Milford sound (picture above). Covered with snow, the pass to go there was beautiful. Too much snow prevented me to do the 3 days trek on the Milford track but I did the Kepler track close by. There is a hut by this lake…
Well, I actually did half of it as I got stuck in the snow at the top. I knew that it was going to be hard and I was kind of ready for it but the snow was at least waist deep (so, yes, I was not that ready because I needed snow boots and I had my trail shoes with 3 plastic bags inside for the snow, but mentally, oh man, I was into it) and after fighting for an hour or so, I looked back to check on the ridiculous 100m I managed to make through.
Realistic and after sharing my lunch with a bird (cf. picture), I decided to go back two huts down in the valley instead of getting stuck on the top and freeze to death.
The great thing about it (other than the great landscape) was that for 3 days, I met no one on the track and the only foot prints in the snow on the way back were mine crossed sometimes by some deer’s and kiwi bird’s tracks. I spotted a couple of deer at dawn while I was going back and I walked couple of hours under the moon light (yes, I have a torch but it’s killing all the fun) to arrive at the previous hut after a twelve hours walk. I was fatigued but very happy for being on my own in that mountain.
The second place on my ranking of « My Best of NZ » is the Arthur’s Pass.
I stopped there for two days and went for an icy walk to spend the night in a very old and small hut.
Great views over there. At that time, I was totally into “the hunger game” trilogy (BTW, the movie sucks compare to the books and it makes people feel bad about themselves, check this guy’s post ) and was just dreaming and thinking about it all the time. I wanted to get rid of it but not before finishing it so, I spend the all-day reading in between some failing attempts to build a fire with wet wood and I finally finished it! Freedom for my mind! But then, I realized that the “Ender’s game”, a book who got me too, is also a trilogy and very smartly, I started to read the second book, “Speaker for the dead”… and, same thing again and again. Well, today, I’m good, no captivating story under the pillow and I can read more serious books.
The weather was globally very bad for the last months (but hey! that’s what you get by coming in Winter), either freezing (you get used to it and wear thermals layers, bottom and top, all the time) or rainy (Gum boots… It’s almost fashion on the West Coast). It started to get better 2 weeks ago, right when I went back to the north island. I visited Rotorua and a Maori (« – Hey bro! how are you bro ? Liked the village bro ? cool bro!) village full of geothermal activities (they cook everything in the boiling water… doesn’t keep the smell of sulfur they said) to learn a bit more about their culture, got a good dance and song demo
Tongue on the side = welcome, Tongue hanging = » I’ll smash your head with my spear » or « I’ll win the next rugby world cup! »
Then, while hitch-hiking, I changed all my plan (staying to do some walk around rotorua) thanks to the advices of a couple of drivers who motivated me to see the Coromandel range.I hitch-hiked all around and did a two days hike to a place named “the Pinnacles” and it was almost as beautiful as some place on the south island. Then, the 25th, I was back in Auckland to get my flight the 27th.
About my first impression of New Zealander as friendly people, well, after 2 more months, that totally confirmed: Kiwis are very friendly and helpful. Example: I was looking for a place to sleep and I usually sneak into someone’s shed but this time, maybe because the house looks pretty, I decided to ask for the authorization to do it. The guy said “- No, you can’t stay in my shed” and I was like “- Ok, no worries, Bye” and then, he invited for dinner with the family and offered me to stay in his caravan parked in the garden. You can’t refuse such an offer especially when it’s snowing outside. So I stayed there and he offered me the possibility to come back after my trek. I read a story to the kids, “the dragon soup”, great moral at the end (It’s better to work together than against each other), and that’s was cool because I don’t remember if I have ever read a bed-story. It seems that I was not too bad at it as they ask me to do it again on my second visit J
Like every great places in the world, it threatened somehow. Most of the indigenous species are gone or survive only thanks to some active politics of conservation (killing the imported predators… yes even the cut ones) but are still on the decline. The kiwi bird can’t fly, is an easy prey and with the actual trend, should be gone in fifty years…
Other issue : For a long time, kiwis said “- No” to the mining industry and the islands have a lot of unexploited resources… There is more pressure lately and, all over the country, you can find on the side of the roads some board with messages against mining projects. I have seen how destructive this industry can be and I understand why so many people are against it. I’m just wondering for how long they can hold it if the economic situation doesn’t improve and if the government thinks about making some profit out of it.
Finally, so far GMO Free, Monsanto start to put his people on some key positions to open the country to his GMO crops. Monsanto did a study few years ago to identify the obstacle to the introduction of GMO in NZ and the results were that organic farming and the brand “100% pure” used by the country to communicate about his touristic product was not “GMO friendly”. The year after, the government stopped his financial helps to the organic farmers and changed the brand in “100% pure YOU” … With a government listening so carefully the industry, I’m sure that GMO crops are coming slowly but surely to contaminate the country especially because the product Monsanto want to sell is hard to contain. It’s a ryegrass supposed to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions coming from cow’s gas (Check this article in the NZherald)
So, New Zealand while being threatened is not far from being a perfect place to live with such beautiful nature, fairly nice weather and all these friendly and relaxed people. The main issue is that life is crazy expensive and really hard to save any money if you earn the average income… You just have to forget also a bit about the fact that you are living on a fault line with a high risk of earthquake, volcano eruption or tsunami… But hey, that’s the price to pay to live like a hobbit in the middle earth.