New Zealand [week 3]

Merry Christmas! Week three wasn't quite as photogenic as the first two, but here are some highlights anyway.


The Moeraki Boulders are a group of large, unusually spherical rocks on a beach between Dunedin and Oamaru. They look like a community of giant, partially-buried turtles.


Our second couchsurfing experience was a bit different to our first. Our accommodation lacked luxuries like intact windows, bins (all waste - including plastic - was burnt for heat) and lighting (head torches had to be worn at night). Our hosts had as much character as the house they occupied and shared some incredible stories I will never forget, even after the necessary counselling.


Oamaru has an excellent children's playground which includes an extremely disorientating hamster wheel-style device I'm sure has claimed a few front teeth in its time.


"Historic Oamaru" is an attractive precinct of Oamaru built in Victorian times from locally-quarried limestone known cleverly as "Oamaru Stone". The area hasn't changed much in a hundred years and still features many lovely boutiques and specialty stores selling grain and wool and timber and other things that aren't iPads.


Oamaru also has a nice harbour with a nice pier you can't access for nice safety reasons.


Little Blue Penguins, the smallest species of penguin in the world, are common around New Zealand's coastline. Oamaru has a special penguin sanctuary and viewing dock which tourists can pay 28 dollars to enter and watch the penguins return from the ocean every night at dusk. Fortunately, we were tipped off by a local that the penguins are also visible crossing the road just outside the sanctuary for free. Great to watch!


My third Christmas Day abroad was spent back in Christchurch, having been invited to a couple of gatherings by different groups of friends. Pictured are the attendees of the first party, orphans from an impressive nine different countries. Sam and I had a brilliant time. (Photo credit: Marc Plato)


A seemingly easy hitch from Christchurch to Blenheim quickly became the low point of our trip so far as we spent an hour getting completely drenched and completely ignored. I'd normally expect a bit of rain to improve our chances but not this time. Our problems really started when we crossed the line from "aww look at them" wet to "I don't want something that wet in my car" wet.


We ended up catching a bus the next day, which was much nicer.

New Zealand [week 2]

I have a feeling someone has been tampering with my calendar because what feels like 6-8 weeks has passed in the space of just two. Here are some photos from this suspiciously short period of time.


In a stroke of blind luck, we arrived in Invercargill the day before the biggest event of the year: The Races. Our couchsurfing host, Gary, was due to attend and he was kind enough to invite us along. The idea was to meet some of his mates (whom he warned us were "a bit rough round the edges") and get a real taste of Southland hospitality. On arriving at his friend Nicola's house at 11am, we were handed shots of liqueur, which set the bar for the rest of the day. It was lots of fun and we were treated very well by our new friends.


The secondary attraction at The Races is horse racing. The primary attraction is getting completely wasted. I wanted to bet, but the more I drank, the less the endless sequence of numbers and names made any sense, so I gave up.


Standing by the side of the road for long periods of time brings out your creative side. Decorating a hitchhiking sign with flowers is a great idea because, if you think about it, cars are very much like bees. I won't elaborate any further because the parallel is obvious.


About halfway to Dunedin from Invercargill lies the small farming town of Gore, where we were deposited by our first ride. Soon after arriving, we discovered the Gore Christmas Parade in full swing, another stroke of blind scheduling luck. In any other part of the world, anyone claiming to celebrate 150 years of Gore would be a real cause for concern.


I had wanted to visit Gore's famous brown trout statue ever since watching this video on youtube.


Dunedin is a excellent city with lots of nice old buildings and a bustling octagonal core. It houses New Zealand's first university which gives the place a nice young feel. I think Christchurch probably once resembled Dunedin before everything happened.


Sam spent some time pondering fluorescent tubes at the Public Art Gallery.


While I looked like a massive idiot pouring glasses of beer at the finale of the Speight's brewery tour.


We both found the expression on the face of this unfortunate statue as he came to terms with the sheer volume of bird shit dripping down his face completely hilarious.


From Dunedin we were taken to our first helpx placement at the Sinclair Wetlands in rural Otago. We spent 4 days there working with the manager who taught us all kinds of amazing stuff about New Zealand conservation. His job is to try desperately to reverse the terrible decisions made by the early European settlers who introduced rabbits, stoats, ferrets and weasels into New Zealand to make it feel more like home. These predators went on to wipe out entire species of native birds which had evolved in a completely mammal-free environment (the only mammals in New Zealand until a few hundred years ago were bats).


Sadly, the conservation woes don't stop with animals. Many introduced plant species like broom and gorse are capable of growing significantly faster than their more relaxed native cousins, starving them of light and suffocating them. Our main job on the first day was to hack away at broom in areas where it threatened native plants. At one point it rained and we took shelter in an old hunter's hut. (Photo credit: Glen Riley)


Another job was individually plucking hundreds of worms from decaying food waste which was ready to be used as compost. Sorry if you were eating.


We had plenty of downtime and one evening our host treated us to a BBQ/kayaking extravaganza with our fellow volunteers, an Italian couple and a German couple.


In summary, our first helpx experience was really awesome. I can't wait to get more involved in this stuff later in the trip.

New Zealand [week 1]

Welcome to the first weekly batch of photos from my trip around New Zealand with Sam. It's been a busy week so let's not dilly dally any longer.


Despite my recent betrayal, I was still invited to the SLI Systems Christmas Party, which is just another measure of how awesome my ex-employer is. It was hosted in Lake Tekapo and involved staying in a fancy hotel, eating free food, and getting very drunk in a barn. I will miss this bunch. (Photo courtesy: Wayne Munro)


While in Tekapo we climbed Mount John which has a famous observatory at its peak. Tekapo is known for its dark night sky and all street lights in the town are shielded from above to minimise light pollution. The view from the top was incredible. Here is Sam looking introspective.


I also took some time to ask myself the bigger questions.


Queenstown was next, home to the Kawarau Bridge Bungy, the world's first commercial bungy jump. It was terrifying and wonderful. Instead of hoisting you back to safety after jumping, two men on an inflatable raft float down the river with a large stick you have to grab. Easier said than done while dangling upside down with a head full of blood and adrenaline.


Our first hitchhike from Queenstown to Te Anau was a huge success. We waited less than 30 minutes in total for two separate rides.


The second car didn't have seatbelts or even seats. It was like an extremely downmarket limousine. The German girls behind the wheel were very considerate though and promised not to crash.


Te Anau is a quaint little lake town used by most as an access point to Fjiordland, one of New Zealand's least populated and most naturally beautiful regions.


Milford Sound is the region's main tourist attraction and we spent a day exploring the area by bus and ship. It was one of the most unique and stunning places I have ever visited. Everywhere you looked, giant waterfalls spilled over rainforest-covered cliff faces, fuelled by nearly constant year-round rainfall.



Milford has some of the tallest mountains in the world to ascend directly from the sea floor. It's tricky to get your head around the scale of this place.


Everything you've heard about sheep and New Zealand is true.


After another successful hitch from Te Anau to Invercargill, we met up with my friend Beccy, who gave us a brief tour around her often-mocked hometown. We established that Invercargill "wasn't that bad", which I think would be an excellent town slogan if the mayor happens to be reading this.


After nearly a week of paying for accommodation like suckers, we decided to try something new. Couchsurfing is a website that allows "hosts" all around the world to list any sleeping surface (generally a couch) they happen to have available for travellers to sleep on for free. In our case, the couch turned out to be a double bed in a beautiful house on a small farm just outside town, owned by a lovely man called Gary.


We shared 2 relaxing days on the "farmlet" with two dogs, many sheep, and a two-headed cow.

More photos next week!

Loose ends

Sixteen happy months after I first arrived in Christchurch, I find myself with less than a week left on the clock. Let's face it: this blog has been pretty desolate while I've been living here. I had a feeling this would happen as I made the transition from ski bum to office drone, but I did at least hope to continue the weekly photos, something I have utterly failed at. This post attempts to catch up on some recent events, ponder my time in Christchurch as a whole, and set out what you can expect to hear from me over the next few months.

First thing's first: I made a new video. It's about winter - a sequel to the one I made about summer. You've all seen it but here's a link for the record.


Second thing's second, some photos. These don't correspond to the weeks I've missed, they're just a random assortment of ten things I've pointed my camera at recently.


Like everything else in the area, the Christchurch Gondola broke during the 2011 earthquakes and only got fixed fairly recently. I visited with my mum who was here for three weeks in October. We had a lovely time.


The Hilltop Tavern is an incredible restaurant overlooking picturesque Akaroa Harbour. The scenery was so perfect I began to suspect it was merely a giant postcard erected by the manager every morning to cover up the actual backdrop of a disused oil refinery.


My first ever professional basketball fixture ended in bitter disappointment as the New Zealand Breakers narrowly lost to the Melbourne Tigers. It might seem odd that a country was playing against a city, but apparently that's how basketball works over here.


The port town of Lyttelton is separated from Christchurch by the Port Hills, which I was standing atop when this photo was taken. The port accounts for 61% of imports into the South Island, which is a boring fact but I really wanted this caption to be two sentences long.


Diwali is the biggest Hindu festival of the year. I crashed the celebrations because I suspected there would be a lot of good Indian food, and I was right. There was also ice carvings, speeches from dignitaries, dancing, live music, and pyrotechnics. Very cool.


Akaroa Harbour a bit closer up.


Pictured: Just about anywhere on the South Island. Every time I leave Christchurch, I'm reminded of how ridiculously beautiful and uninhabited this place is.


The Nelson Jazz Club played a gig in the Cardboard Cathedral as part of the Christchurch Big Band Festival. Having built a number of buildings out of cardboard during my childhood, sitting inside a real one was quite an unnerving experience.


Strolling around the Port Hills with Pollyane and Marcos, a couple of Brazilians from work.


I didn't actually take this photo but I needed an excuse to mention the event somehow. It was taken during "Canterbury Tales", a bizarre and wonderful Middle Ages-themed procession through the centre of Christchurch late one night. The utter weirdness of it, coupled with my complete lack of expectations made the whole experience very surreal and dreamlike. Look at the official website for a more coherent description.

***

With my time in Christchurch rapidly drawing to a close, it's time to reflect on the last sixteen months. Much like a football match, my time here has been split into two quite different halves. These halves lasted around eight months each, considerably longer than most regulation football matches. There were also no goals or free kicks and the analogy only goes downhill from there.

I spent the first half living in a large, creaky wooden house on the east side of town with earthquake damage and poor insulation. My six housemates changed on an almost-weekly basis as they arrived in Christchurch, found short-term jobs on farms and building sites, and left again. None of them were from New Zealand and we spent many weekends exploring the South Island together. We built a BBQ in the garden out of bricks and it was used continuously. I really liked the lifestyle but the house itself was a bit crap and I decided to move.

The second half was spent living in a fancy apartment in the centre of town with a couple of kiwi mates from work. No longer surrounded by foreigners, I started behaving less like a tourist and more like a local. Life in my new house was more stable and I sometimes missed the chaos of the first one. I travelled less, aside from a couple of big trips to England and California.

Something which has remained constant between halves has been my job at SLI Systems. When I first arrived in New Zealand, I never expected to end up working a "proper job" (i.e. one related to my degree). The threat of getting a proper job was one of the main reasons I fled England in the first place. It only started to seem like a legitimate option during my disastrous time in Auckland where I spent a lonely month being rejected from every shop, cafĂ© and bar in the city.

I held many prejudices against "proper jobs" from a year-long work placement I did at university. Suits, cubicles, managers, photocopiers, politics, words like "proactive", water coolers, all that Wernham Hogg bollocks. Working at SLI has made me rethink all that. I won't go into details (you don't care) except to express how very lucky I feel to have landed in a job where I was treated so well and got to work alongside such wonderful, smart people. In future, I will be far less cynical about working in the industry I spent three years studying towards thanks to good old SLI.

Christchurch is known as "The City that Rocks" and during my stay it's done its fair share of rocking. While none of the regular aftershocks have compared to the huge shakes of 2010 and 2011, mother nature has been careful to ensure everyone knows she is still the boss. Earthquakes creep into everyday life through conversations and almost-daily headlines in the local papers. They wake you up at silly hours and inconvenience every journey you ever attempt through the medium of roadworks. Having missed out on the trauma of the horrible ones, I've always found them very exciting and will almost miss living in a city where the ground isn't static.

I think that's probably enough for now. Before I go, a quick note about what you can expect to hear from me over the next four months. In the spirit of packing light, I've decided not to take my laptop around New Zealand with me. Instead, I've bought a tablet and the machinery required to siphon photos from my camera onto it. So, with any luck, photos of my travels will materialise here periodically with the usual silly captions. Hopefully weekly, but we've all heard that before.

Bye!