Ten favourite photos

I could have agonised over this selection for much longer, but I’ve given myself the length of the train journey from Newcastle to Grantham to choose my ten favourite photos from our year away.

There were a few points where I wondered whether we should have bought a fancy camera but our pocket Kodak served us pretty well.

Our stops in China and the (rainy, rainy) Cook islands did not make the cut, but NZ, USA and Oz are represented.

So, in no particular order (but with some logic applied)…

1. The Robs by the Lake

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A couple of our friends came over from the UK to tour around the south island with us. Halfway through our time away it was lovely to see some familiar faces and we had a fantastic time together.

This was taken at one of many scenic photo stops, I think around the lakes in Otago. It’s one of the most stunning parts of NZ, with its combination of mountains and light blue water. Right after this we were attacked by vicious sand flies.

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Volunteering at Splore Festival

We’re currently recovering from our first NZ festival and the first time volunteering for a ticket.

Splore is held in a simply glorious setting of an Auckland regional park, with its stages right on the beach. Starting on Valentine’s Day, this year’s theme was love and the crowd was definitely feeling it. In the main the music came from UK dance and hip hop performers, my highlights were: Cuban Brothers, Blak Twang and Ebony Bones.

Splore

We hitched a ride with a couple of fellow volunteers and arrived on Thursday night, ready to start our duties bright & early on Friday.

We were allocated to Front of House roles and our job was to check car pooling at the entry gates. The festival organisers were encouraging punters to share rides and were refunding parking for cars with 3+ passengers.

We greeted people and gave a sticker to those who had car pooled. Most people had bought parking passes in advance while other had (non-refundable) parking included in their camping/campervan/glamping tickets, which caused confusion all round. Nevertheless, everyone was excited and in good spirits as they arrived and were relieved that we weren’t searching them for booze!

After 9.5 hrs standing in the sun, we were pretty much ruined for Friday night. We met some friends, had much-needed food & a couple of beers and lasted until about 10.30pm.

Splore FOH

Saturday wasn’t as gruelling but we had to learn the ropes of the admissions tent. There were seemingly endless types of tickets with associated clipboard lists, wristbands and post its. Chaotic. We muddled through the shift and were set free for the evening. We also had Sunday off, which was the sunniest day, to rest on the beach.

The festival organisers were striving for a ‘zero waste’ event; allocating reusable plastic cups, manning recycling bins and encouraging people to take their rubbish home. With only 7000 people, this seemed to largely be achieved and it was startling how clean the arena and the campsite were when we left.

Splore had a very friendly crowd in excellent costumes, big beats and tasty food in the perfect festival setting. We had our grumpy and tired moments but I would definitely volunteer at a festival again and recommend it to others.

Have you volunteered at any events on your travels?

Back to Waiheke for wine

Waiheke

High on our list of things to do before we leave Auckland was to return to Waiheke island for some winetasting.

On our first trip to the island we enjoyed archery, clay bird shooting and cider, but somehow missed the wine! At the weekend we took the ferry back and had chosen vineyards in walking distance of Matiatia harbour.

Waiheke

Our first stop was Cable Bay for lunch with a view. After some tapas style dishes and a glass of their Pinot Gris we descended to the cellar door for a $10 tasting of three whites, a rose and a red. We asked the staff about the difference between Pinot Gris & Pinot Grigio… turns out there is very little. Feeling a little tipsy we blew our weekly budget on bottle of their finest P-Gris and one of their reds. Oops.

5 minutes up the road is Jurassic Ridge (great name for a winery!), which had also been recommended to us. It provides a notable contrast to the bigger vineyards as it seemed to be a one-man show. We had a short sit in the sun and look around while we overheard him lecturing a group of Americans. After 10 mins we got tired of not being acknowledged and headed next door to Mudbrick for a glass of their bubbles and more glorious views.

Waiheke

Both vineyards are pretty decadent and offer a relaxing slice of island luxury. There’s no need to book ahead, although when we visited they were both closing early for weddings. For getting further around Waiheke you can hire bikes/scooters and their are various vineyard hopper buses.

Cheers!

Working and not working in Auckland

For me, working in Auckland has been positively patchy.

My NZ job hunt started off promisingly enough before I left home; I used LinkedIn to make valuable recruitment contacts and set up meetings for my first week in the country. I had a phone interview with another recruiter and was feeling buoyed by the prospects that lay ahead. I was happy to consider any kind of office temp work, but if I could make use of my marketing/comms background, even better.

During these early conversations the resident recruiters warned me that arriving in mid Oct didn’t leave much time before the Christmas lull over the holidays, which lasts until the end of Jan. Therefore I was pretty relieved to have an interview in my second week for a contract through until the end of Feb, which paid well and seemed to suit my experience in the UK to a tea. After a 20 minute interview, it didn’t go my way and has lingered as an unwelcome NZ ‘what if’ or ‘if only’. A completely wasted thought but it doesn’t stop you beating yourself with it.

Things looked up after another couple of weeks when I was hired for holiday cover by one of the recruitment companies I was registered with (probably taking pity on me by this point!) and I worked for two weeks straight on new client proposals. As well as being my first experience of working in NZ, this was also my first taste of the private sector. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and met some great people.

From there, my consultant found a digital marketing role at Auckland’s tourism and events agency, helping to launch their new website. I was thrilled to be offered this position and relieved that it took me through until Christmas. I was glad to put some of my comms experience and it was perfect for doing some Auckland research.

I met more great people and was there for a team-building treasure hunt and through the Christmas festivities. My month long contract ended just before the break and I struggled on the job hunt again through January. Kiwis take a long Christmas break (like summer hols in the UK), so it’s slim pickings at the start of the year. I am relieved to have started another short digital marketing contract this week that will hopefully take us through to the end of our stay in the city.

Being a temp isn’t easy – new faces, offices and systems can be tiring – but I’ve found the periods when I haven’t been working harder. It’s difficult to ‘make the most of every day’ when you’re feeling useless, skint and self-indulgent. Conversely (and luckily!), my partner Rob has sailed through Auckland, finding work as soon as we arrived and continuing on contract extensions.

I think it would have been easier to travel NZ while using Auckland as a base for the year to be able to commit to longer job opportunities. I’m also reminding myself that this trip isn’t about working and, in many ways, Auckland is poles apart from the rest of the country we came to experience. Who knows what’s in store when we move onto Wellington and I’ll approach it as positively as I can.

If you’ve had a similar experience or have any Q’s, please comment below.

SkyTower

Tips & observations about working and looking for work in Auckland:

  • There are plenty of good recruitment agencies and I’d register with as many as you can. I have found Madison, OCG and Gaulter Russell to be the most effective.
  • Auckland offices are diverse places – there are heaps of Brits and other migrants.
  • Have reliable references – I’ve been v.lucky to have previous managers with saintly patience at filling in forms and responding to emails.
  • Friday afternoon is drinks time in the office (in private companies anyway).

Related stuff:

  • Beyond Blighty: I found this blog post and its comments about finding working in OZ reassuring while on the job hunt
  • WellingtonNZ.com: Useful info about finding work and list of recruitment agencies
  • The Guardian: Working your way around NZ – a few years old but something food for thought

Auckland anniversary weekend

Australia day hasn’t been the only celebration down under this weekend! We’ve been enjoying a bank holiday to mark the founding of Auckland city and the waterfront where we live has been a hive of activity.

Here’s a few of the things we’ve been up to…

Wandering around the Silo Park markets

Silo Park (1) Silo park market

Sampling seafood and trying not to get blown away at Auckland Seafood Festival

Seafood festival

Cheering on international buskers

International Buskers Festival (1) International Buskers Festival (2)

Taking in the views of Point to Point walk – St Heliers to Pt England

Walk to Pt England (10) Walk to Pt England (3)

Watching the dragon boat racing and tug boat display in the Anniversary Day Regatta

Auckland anniversary day 27 Jan (2) Auckland anniversary day 27 Jan (1)

Happy Auckland anniversary day! 

Scaling a volcano: Rangitoto island

30 minutes ferry-ride from downtown Auckland took us to the island that casts its majestic silhouette over the harbour. Rangitoto is an dormant volcano that erupted 600 years ago and most recently reopened to the public in 2011.

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The island really is other-worldly and mostly covered in black lava rocks. It has no natural soil or surface water and yet, thanks to a water source deep beneath ground, it is covered in trees and bush. We visited on a very hot day and joined the volcanic explorer tour. This was a bumpy, tractor-pulled train that takes you on a loop of the island, stopping halfway at the base of a boardwalk leading to the summit. This was definitely the most gentle way to see the island and reach the summit, which (from a higher point than the Sky Tower) gives cracking views across the Hauraki Gulf.

The crater itself is now completely covered in trees – thanks to the porous ground, which also stops it from flooding.

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Rangitoto crater

The tour was a great introduction to the island and its history. There are no permanent residents on Rangitoto, just a few remaining ‘baches’ (holiday homes) that have been passed down through generations and survived various government disputes. There are also no shops on the island, so you need to take all supplies with you.

We returned to the wharf at lunchtime. Wanting to feel like intrepid explorers, we then headed out on a 3 hour coastal walk to a bay across the island. Along the unforgiving rocky terrain of the track we saw more fantastic views and a chance to see the resident seagull colony up close.

Rangitoto is remote and you knew that in the (very possible) event that you twisted an ankle on the rocks, you’d be stuffed. As we were about to surrender to the midday heat and turn around, a passing man reassured us that we were only 20 minutes away from the wharf. Reaching the sea felt like the equivalent of our Ironman (happening in Auckland on the same day).

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As with our trip to Waiheke island, we had to run for the ferry and made it back by the skin our teeth. We had a brilliant day on Rangitoto and were astounded by this natural wonder looming just across the harbour.

Wherever I hang my hat…

As the more practical half of our travelling pair, I’ll hand over to Rob for our experience of setting up in Auckland and some (hopefully handy) hints.

We’ve been in New Zealand for about 2 months now and have managed to get ourselves set up with bank accounts, jobs, phones etc. This didn’t always feel easy or quick, so here are some things we ran into that caused delays and problems; hopefully this will help you sidestep these issues and get to the having fun bit quicker.

Landing card
When you complete your landing card on arrival, really concentrate. You’ve probably been on a long flight (ours was 11 hours) and you’re tired, but if you complete the card incorrectly you’ll be further delayed. New Zealand is very careful about disease, animals and plants being brought into the country so the form asks about items in your luggage. We fell foul of this when I ticked the wrong box to the question about footwear and apparently there was a risk that the British soil attached to my boots could have introduced Foot & Mouth to New Zealand. The customs officers take this very seriously.

Proof of address
Without proof of address, you can’t open a bank account. This can be tricky when you first arrive. We managed to get a phone company to send us a letter that worked for opening a bank account. The bank can then provide you with a proof of address (in store) which can be used for everything else.

Banking
Once you have proof of address, opening a bank account is pretty easy except for a couple of things. Firstly, some banks don’t open on Saturdays which caught us out especially when I began to work Monday to Friday. It seems that in Auckland, the banks in the city centre close on Saturday whilst the banks in shopping centres/malls are open. Just check the opening times before you go and you’ll be fine. Also you have to go into the bank to set up a PIN on your cards.

Another thing to bear in mind is that EFTPOS cards let you take money out of ATMs and pay by swiping in shops. If you want to buy anything online, use contactless payments or pay by chip and PIN you need a Visa Debit card (referred to as credit cards) which banks charge you a small amount for.

IRD number
An IRD number is the equivalent of an NI number in the UK, you need one to be paid for work and pay the right amount of tax. Apply for one with an IR595 form you can get from the Post Shop, if you return your documents here they will check you’ve done everything right and send it off for you. The IRD number took about 2 weeks to arrive after the application so if you’re planning on working when you arrive in New Zealand then I’d recommend applying as soon as you can.
You don’t need proof of address to apply, a passport and UK driving license worked for us.

Art in the Dark

Finding work
Recruitment companies seem very similar to the UK and we both found temp office work within a few weeks of arriving (through Madison and Hays). You’ll need your bank details and IRD number to get paid but we had no trouble in supplying this information after our initial meetings. It was helpful to make contact with recruitment consultants before we arrived and have meetings set up for when we got here.

Working
Kiwis are quite a lot more relaxed at work than I was used to from working in the UK. Friday afternoon drinks in the office seem very common and more casual dress seems the norm. This has been our experience so far in the companies we’ve worked for in Auckland, but other companies and work places may well be different.

Finding somewhere to live
We were lucky to be able to stay with friends for a couple of weeks when we arrived. This gave us time to find out feet get a sense of the city. You could equally do this in a hostel and would also be great for meeting people. We looked for house shares on Trade Me and Gum Tree (where we posted a free ad) and found plenty of properties but that many adverts stated ‘no couples’. We found the apartment we’re staying in through our friend tweeting and subsequently being put in touch with the family we’re staying with.

Food and Drink
We moved to central Auckland and found food and drink quite expensive to begin with. Not much you can do about it except shop around, you do seem to get paid more than at home (for comparable work) and I hear that it’s cheaper in other parts of the country.

There are companies, such as Bunac and STA Travel, who offer packages to support you during these first few weeks – including proof of address and job search. I think I would have felt happier doing this if I was younger or traveling alone. It comes down to personal preference to whether you feel that it is worth the money, but definitely worth considering.

Have you had a similar experience when setting up in a new city? Anything you’d add?

Feeling festive, just a bit differently

One of the things we wondered before coming to NZ was how the Kiwis do Christmas.
Celebrating at the start of summer, do they  have the same traditions and use the same imagery as the UK? 

In short, yes. Yes, they do. Things are very familiar as we enter the festive season, with the weather prompting the only noticeable differences.

Last week, we were starting to feel festive by…

Watching a Christmas classic
But outside, on a balmy evening. We watched It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen at Silo Park on the waterfront. If you haven’t seen it, make this year the year you do! With fresh popcorn, red wine and a cracking line-up of festive films, we’ll struggle to find an better Friday night alternative.

Silo Park is also home to Santa, but not in his grotto – in his bach (summer-house in a silo).

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Buying my Secret Santa present
I only started at work 2 weeks ago, so I really hope the woman I’m buying for likes Lush!

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Having a roast dinner
With our British friends – impromptu, with a hangover and one cracker…
‘Q. Why does the golfer have 2 pairs of trousers?’ – answers below please.
Ho, ho, ho.

There are an array of Christmas markets for us still to visit. Next weekend we have our Christmas show – Chicago (Auckland Theatre Company’s rather than Leicester Curve’s at home) to come.

I’m sure everyone who experiences Christmas in Australasia (not matter how long they’ve lived here) finds the sunshine pretty jarring alongside carols, fir trees and santa in his big red suit. And obviously planning for Christmas already doesn’t feel the same knowing that we’ll be away from friends and family… but we’re hoping good food, wine and some Skyping will make us feel festive.

Apologies for the clumsy title of this post, originally I’d thought ‘feeling festive down under’ but it just didn’t work… for multiple reasons.

Camping in the Waitakeres

We took a trip to West Auckland last weekend and camped out in the Waitakere Ranges.

We pulled on our walking boots and headed out into the wild landscape of beach and bush. The forest felt to us like a mix of tropical plants and greenery, like bracken, that you’d see in England.

We camped in a small, secluded spot and were the only ones on site. We would have preferred a couple more tents in the campground for our first NZ camp but, after a few beers and lamb burgers, we had a peaceful night despite the rain. Not even a growling possum to disturb us.

Waitakere Ranges - Opanuku Campground

Some of our highlights were:

A walk to Fairy Falls
The many (many) steps were worth it for the views and falls.

Waitakere Ranges - Fairy Falls (2)   Waitakere Ranges -Fairy falls stairs, first of many

Karekare
The wild beach that was the setting for The Piano. The wind lifted up the black sand so that it was whirling towards the sea (& whipping us in the face!)

Karekare beach (2)   Karekare beach (4)

Upper Nihotupu Dam
short walk to a vast dam that provides millions of litres of water a day to the city of Auckland.
It was built between 1915-23 – such an impressive human construction.

Waitakere Ranges - Nihotupu dam (2)   Waitakere Ranges - track to Nihotupu dam (2)

The waves of Piha beach
When we visited there was a clean up taking place – Jack Johnson was helping out but we failed to spot him.

Piha Beach (3)   Piha Beach (4)

We returned to the city a little weary, achy and covered in bites…
The weekend outdoors was worth it and hopefully we’ll have time to return to see more.

  • The Arataki Visitor Centre gave us advice on walks and has some breathtaking views. A good place to start a visit to the Waitakere Ranges.

New Zealand Music Awards

Last night, we had an education in Kiwi music at NZ’s answer to the Brits (and thanks to Vodafone sponsorship, the longest acronym for an event: ‘VNZMA’s’).

We arrived at Auckland’s Vector Arena just before the doors were about to close, so headed straight to our seats:

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The show opened in style with Lorde performing Royals, which became the anthem of our night, She went on to win 4 awards including Best Single and International Achievement. Her acceptance speeches were warm and gracious – when winning breakthrough act, she thanked her parents ‘because when you’re 17 its hard to break out without permission’ – and you could feel the nation’s pride for the young singer.

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by Ingrid Grenar: KUWNZ

The live performances were dominated by a array of fantastic female artists, our favourites were Aardhna and Iva Lamkum. We were also excited to see Bret McKenzie collect is award for ‘Highest Selling Single’ Flight of the Conchords’ Feel Inside (and stuff like that).

Despite the alcohol flowing, everyone was pretty well behaved and there weren’t any fights or wardrobe malfunctions.

It was a brilliant introduction to the breadth of Kiwi music and I’m sure it’ll be a memorable night for us… I’m working on our NZ playlist as I type.

For a review, all the winners and red carpet snaps, hop over to Keeping Up with NZ.