What to expect… when you’re heading home?

1 month today we’ll leave NZ. After almost a year away, I absolutely can’t wait to see family & friends and I’m looking forward to home comforts and the end of living out of a bag! This milestone has also prompted thoughts about what it’ll be like to return home.

How much will have changed?

When you’ve been out of everything for a while, you feel like you’ve missed a lot and wonder how much will be different to what you remember. The big things like births, deaths, birthdays, weddings and engagements, but also just a year’s worth of the everyday.

However most people have said that, beyond the surface, very little really changes when you’ve been away. A friend of mine recently returned home after 5 years living abroad, and even then, most things felt the same as when she’d left. Hopefully it won’t take too long to catch up and get back into the swing of things.

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Getting to know the Wairarapa

An hour north of Wellington you’ll find the good life of the Wairarapa. Farm and wine country punctuated by small towns with big character. We’ve just spent a whistle-stop weekend in the region celebrating our birthdays.

Greytown

Our first stop was Greytown, which we’d stopped in briefly before and was worth a revisit. Its refined main street is lined with antiques and boutiques and beautiful Victorian buildings. We enjoyed brunch in Cahoots Cafe, who were proudly displaying their Dominion Post review from last week. For a pit stop, the cafe is a great place where the owners know all their locals.

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Planning our final 3 months in NZ

As expected, our trip has flown by in many ways and we only have approx 3 months to go. I should probably add a disclaimer to the name of this blog, as it’ll actually only be 10 months we spend in New Zealand, book-ended by other travel.

We’ve got some decisions to make about what we want to do before we leave and how to stretch the budget!

These are a few things we have in mind…

Return to Queenstown

We packed in as much as we could to our 2 day stop in Queenstown during our south island tour, but it just wasn’t long enough. If money was no object we’d love to spend a fortnight on the slopes, as the region’s ski season starts in June. Unfortunately as beginners the cost just seems to rack up too quickly.

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The Road to New Plymouth

After a 3 day working week, we were lucky enough to have another long weekend to commemorate ANZAC day.

Our weekend was a bit of a Plan B thrown together at the last minute and we traveled North East up the country from Wellington, with New Plymouth as our final destination.

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6 months away: lists of sixs

We left the UK on 1 October 2013. Instead of a big state of the nations post, we’re going to reflect on our time away in list form.

6 fantastic places we’ve visited:

1. Russell in the Bay of Islands – The first capital of NZ; a beautiful coastal town with boat tours, great restaurants and a pebble beach.
2. Abel Tasman National Park – Spent two nights staying near the show-stealing beach of Kaiteriteri and an afternoon kayaking. Could have spent a week.
3. Marlborough – stayed on a vineyard and spend the day cycling around wineries and tasting their produce. Simply sublime.
4. Queenstown – only spent one night there (so far) but a great atmosphere in the town, beautiful scenery all around and exciting activities.
5. Kaikoura – even though we didn’t get to see any whales we had a great time in this little town, lovely food, beer and a great pebbly beach.
6. Monteith’s Brewery – lots of delicious beer – enough said.

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First impressions of Wellington

We arrived in the NZ capital a week ago and these are some of my first impressions…

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At the top of the cable car track

There are heaps of coffee shops, bars and restaurants to explore.

Tired, hungry and fresh from our flight, we stumbled upon Viva Mexico in Newtown. A taco shop with outdoor tables and great food. It was really busy for a Sunday and after we ate a band started up. They got the crowd dancing and a couple of the bravest joining in with freestyle vocals. Another early favourite is Fidel’s cafe on Cuba Street – we dropped in for coffee and came back the next day for brunch. They have an extensive menu and Rob had a great breakfast burrito.

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South island tour: Abel Tasman – Kaikoura

For our stop at Abel Tasman national park we stayed in the small town of Kaiteriteri. Just a short strip of accommodation and shops along a beautiful beach.

Kaiteriteri  Kaiteriteri beach
Kaiteriteri – proudly displaying their inclusion in  Guardian Travel top 5 along the seafront.

The park is accessible by water taxi from here but we drove up the winding roads to the next township of Motueka to hire kayaks. There are various different guided tours you can take from half a day to 4 days but we decided to brave it alone for a half day around the park’s azure waters.

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Off down south

The time has come to bid Auckland farewell and head out on the road to NZ’s south island.

We had originally sort of been planning to save this until the end of our trip, but had a rethink as sleeping in a camper van will surely be more fun during summer!

We’re spending 2.5 weeks and splitting the island into 2 loops: north and south.

North loop:

  • Starting in Christchurch – we’ve heard and read so much about this city and its rebuilding, looking forward to seeing it for ourselves.
  • Transalpine train to Greymouth – apparently one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world.
  • Pick up a car and head to Hokitika for some gorge walking
  • Up to Abel Tasman national park for walking and kayaking – staying in Kaiteriteri and we’ve also had bays around Farewell Spit recommended

    Abel Tasman - photo by Wilsons Abel Tasman

    Abel Tasman – photo by Wilsons Abel Tasman

  • Nelson and Blenheim for winetasting – we’re staying on a vineyard in Blenheim found through Airbnb
  • Kaikoura – for whale and seal watching
  • Ferry from Picton to Wellington – spending a few days in our prospective home city to get a feel for it
  • Fly back to Christchurch

South loop:

  • Meet friends from home and pick up campervans
  • Down to Dunedin via Timaru – hoping to visit Tunnel beach after seeing this pic yesterday
  • Onto Te Anau – Milford Sound trip
  • Across to Queenstown – to bungy or not to bungy?!
  • Onto Wanaka and its beautiful lake by the Crown Range route – the highest main road in NZ
  • Fox Glacier and Mount Cook – glacier walking and I’d love a helicopter ride here if the budget allows
  • Back to Christchurch
  • Fly to Wellington to try and find temporary homes and jobs!

I’ll try to share updates when I can, you can follow me @misslucy_p on Twitter and Instagram.

This is a well-traveled route and if you have any tips for us, please share!

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?

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