New Zealand : Cold and happy
There is this kind of country where you just spend an hour and you already feel that you’ll love it. Slovenia and Nepal were the first who gave me this feeling; New Zealand is the new one on this list.
My first hour, I had to deal with the customs, the seller in a shop to buy my NZ sum card and get in the bus from the airport to the center of Auckland. All the people I interact with were smiling and helpful. They were doing more than just there job as it feel that they were actually caring about you in a friendly, relax but professional manners. You can get that in Western Australia but something was more pleasant here… It’s maybe just because I prefer the use of the “Bro” instead of the “Mate” ? Anyway, the Kiwis who gave me lift liked telling me that they were a nation of friendly people and after almost a month, I agree.
And then, just out of the airport, I met what I was a bit afraid of: The cold. And it was not that terrible. It’s not that cold in Auckland, it’s just windy. It’s like being back in my city in France. Furthermore, after Australia and the heat, I actually enjoyed the cold and the rain as it seems that it was the price to pay to see such an incredible nature. I spend my first 2 days in Auckland walking around in the parks and I saw some amazing trees. It feels so good to see that the nature in the city was full of life.
Then, after 3 days in Auckland, I hitchhiked to Wellington (southern city of the north island). The first day was pretty easy and I arrived at night in Topau, a town half way between Auckland and Wellington, a place knows for its geothermal hot pools. I found a park, camp on a hill under a tree and wake up in a freezing but amazing landscape. To give you an idea, all the area down the hill was cover with frost and some smoke were coming from the river. The sun was just coming up when I went to have a closer look and found a bridge passing over a spring of hot water. In this cold, it was like a white cloud coming out of the ground and the surface of the river was covered by a thick mist.
Once in Wellington, I catch up with an old friend met 2 years ago in Kyrgyzstan. The national museum is excellent and will keep you busy for a good part of the day while the numerous street art around wellington make a walk around the city pleasant. We went to see some kind of experimental free jazz, theatre… Drinking wine probably helped me a lot to appreciate the performance. A detail but I also found out something that will be verified many times later: The houses in NZ (except the one build before 2005) have a very poor isolation and it’s freezing inside! People lived inside with wool jacket and warm socks…
Two days after, I took the ferry to the south island.
I started to hitchhike along the west coast. My first stop was the Abel Tasman NP and I went for a 3 days trek. The weather was fine the first two days but the third one, some heavy rain came. The ranger advised me to stay in a hut for the night but as I would be short on food doing that, I decided to go on an alternative path who would bring me faster to a town. Not the best decision as you’ll see. I crossed a bay at low tide but the water was still arriving at my hips… the ranger told me to take my clothes off (just the bottom part) to cross… Not that I enjoyed crossing naked a freezing river under a heavy rain but it was a good advice to keep my underwear dry. After many hours walking in the dark, I found a shed close to a farm. It was looking dry inside when I came but after a little while, the wind was bringing the rain in the shed. To protect my sleeping bag from the rain, I pitched my tent inside the shed, using some heavy rocks to hold the corners. Obviously not heavy enough as the tent collapse on me couple of time because of the wind. I finally found a way to make it work. But then as the ground was made of earth, all my gears already wet started to get quite muddy. Trying to put them inside the tent, I moved the weight, the tent collapse again and some water came in… I decided to laugh about it and I finally manage to fall asleep. My sleeping bag was warm even if my foot part was soaking in water.
I learned a fair bit from this experience : I found out that the rain cover of my back was quite useless after a while because the rain soaked the back of my bag and the cover is stoking the water in the bottom of my bag (expected but as I don’t see myself using a poncho with windy condition and trekking poles, I’ll stick with it and empty the water stuck in the cover before putting my bag on the ground). The sea to summit waterproof bag is not that water proof when it’s under a bit of pressure (bottom of the bag with all the weight on it). Finally, my rain jacket is waterproof but it’s not breathing under the belt of the bag and it’s get wet with sweat after a while. The good news, if there is one : my thermals in wool and the fleece jacket do a great job to keep me warm even when it’s wet.
The rain stopped in the morning and I walked 10km to the main road and got a lift to Takaka. I went straight to a hostel, wash and dry all my gear. I met there Lola, a French girl who invited me to go with her and two friends to visit golden bay (cf photo).
I ended spending 3 days with them and they gave me a lift till « the pancake rocks ». I decided to keep going south by myself and hitchhike again to get the surprise of meeting some new people. Three nice people later, I met a Brazilian guy, travelling on his own with a van. We walked together to a view point on the Franz joseph glacier. The nature was beautiful over there. Later, I ask him to drop me in fox glacier. It was freezing but luckily, I found a shop that let me use a microwave to warm my favorite canned meal: pumpkin soup… Then, I looked for a shelter and I found the veranda of an empty house. No wind, no rain, quite a nice spot with no neighbor around to spot me.
Next freezing morning, I found a way to make every freezing morning enjoyable by having a shower on the tap outside of the house with an almost freezing water. Then, the outside temperature will quickly feel very warm.
A guy specialist in curing vineyards diseased gave me a lift to Kingstown (cf picture).
His approached was interesting: He is trying to reproduce the original living condition of a wine tree which is a forest. Even if it would be complicated to harvest grapes if the wine was climbing a tree, one can still try to improve the ground and associate the wine with some other plant to make it feel more like « home ».
After two more lift and the loss of my hat and ear phone in one car, I arrived in the evening at my first Helpx farm. It’s like woofing but not necessarily always in organic farm. You work for 4h in exchange of food and accommodation. The purpose of my subscription to the helpx website is financial as I wanted to balance my budget after overspending for the first 15 days and secondly, I want to learn more and gain some skills who will allow me to be self-sufficient if I decide to settle one day somewhere. Furthermore, I have been interested by permaculture for a couple of years and read a lot of theory. I can hopefully get the practice through woofing.
During this week of work (Chasing sheep with a jeep in the 400ha property, repairing a shed and trying to pin some nail without twisting them, trying with no success to find a way to communicate with sheep without yelling ) I lived with a lovely family, got really well fed and learn a lot about organic farming and got to learn a bit more about biodynamic (you know…cultivating with the moon or burying cows corn to cultivate microorganism beneficial to the ground ).
Living with the family was a great way to discover a bit of kiwi culture like the TV show « country calendar » (documentary about different way of farming around new Zealand), some local expression like « she is doing her possum » and join the three kids to their rugby and field hockey practice. I also did for the first time in my life some « baby sitting » (6 and 7 years old). Unexpectedly, the kids loved it and it was a lot of fun playing hide and seek, dancing or trying to do some headstand.
After a week, I went to another farm in Clinton, an hour far from the first one, producing some organics veggies. I was not the only volunteer and it feels good to meet 4 others people sharing the same interest for organics. The farmer, Shaun, has a great experience in organic culture and is good at sharing his knowledge’s. I don’t remember if I ever had to use an axe to cut some wood in my life and I was probably a kid the last time I spend hours hands in the grounds or return the ground looking for yams or planting garlic but it feels good and I’m learning a bit more about agriculture (and preparing meat and veggies…) every day. I’m writing this post from this farm that I’ll leave in two days to do some trek in Milford sound. The weather will be very cold and some snow is expected. It’s going to be interesting…
That’s it for now. It’s been almost a month that I’m in New Zealand and I have two more months before my flight to Buenos Aires. I think that my time is likely to be split between woof experiences and trekking.