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So what are you waiting for?!
Landing in New Zealand is unlike landing in any other country. As I descended over the glacially blue tongues of water cutting into the relatively untouched magnificence of the South Island and down through kilometres of thick tumultuous cloud to the green expanse of Dunedin, I knew things were about to change for me, and so they have. I was blessed enough to start with people I knew, who are thoroughly Kiwi and have a deep love for and appreciation of the land.
I have had so many life-changing experiences in the 4 months I have been in this country – involving people, the land and never a lot of money. This is in itself a reflection of the greatness of the country, where you do not need a goldmine to have an amazing time. In fact, following the well-worn tourist tracks spending all your hard-earned shanks and franks on various activities may be fun but may also see you ride rough-shot right over the splendour that lurks beneath. And let me tell you – there is immeasurable splendour beneath. So get out your spade or borrow one and get scratching through the surface!
I will start with a story from the start of my journey. I was staying with 3 wonderful people 20 minutes out of Dunedin in a magnificent area called Hamilton Bay. They had helped their neighbour shear his sheep the day before and as an exchange, he gave them some meat, which we cooked and ate gratefully. As many people do in New Zealand, this household had their own bountiful garden and loved it dearly. The next day we went down to the beach to explore some caves, run along the empty beach and collect mussels which we steamed and ate with malt vinegar – delicious! The land of New Zealand is very generous – Be good to the land and she will be good to you. We went out to watch a band one night – get out to see some local New Zealand bands: there is so much musical talent in this country, it would be a tragedy to leave here without hearing and learning from it. Get to the free concerts in summer, pay for some of the local favourites and make sure you go to at least one tiny little gig somewhere in an obscure area with not necessarily such a large crowd – the outcome is irrelevant, but I have been the only one dancing to some of the best DJ’s I have ever known until the early hours of the morning in this beloved country. ATTENDANCE DOES NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT TALENT.
Handy Tip # 1: Stay with locals, even for just some of your stay in the country. I cannot emphasise this enough. They give insights into the country, help you avoid unnecessary “tourist red tape” and can themselves give the best handy tips you could ask for, which you should pass on to others. So too, in the last 4 months in New Zealand I have met some of the best people I have ever known. The way they open there homes, are keen to share their knowledge of recipes for pickle, homebrew and various other wonderful edibles and quenchers is both humbling and thrilling. They generally welcome helping hands and let you get stuck right in – so do!
Handy tip # 2: When arriving in the country, if you intend to stay for a while and need a NZ mobile number, use 2 degrees. They are the underdogs, their service is great and their prices are cheaper. No more convincing should be necessary.
Handy Tip # 3: Getting off the beaten track gives you more bang for your buck. Note, however, that this should not be done without awareness – take a friend or make a new one to go with you or go with some locals. Otherwise – just make sure you are safe. This is the world we live in.
Handy Tip # 4: Get out of the cities. It is easy to get caught up in them, and that is all good and well, but make sure that you take the time and make the effort to spend some time in the tiny towns tourists do not often frequent – I can almost guarantee that something will happen there to expand your mind, you may well find something delicious that could not be found anywhere else in the country and are likely to meet some phenomenal people who are not chasing city things but are rather more satisfied with a more sustainable life.
Handy Tip # 5: I cannot recommend Wwoofing (Willing workers On Organic Farms) highly enough. Before you come to New Zealand or when you get here, sign up, get the book, and get calling. But only if you are prepared to get dirty, do a bit of manual labour and are prepared to work for a few hours every day. Wwoofing is not about just getting a free bed and a feed – it is about an exchange. The more you put in, the more you get out. Get your hands into the land, and you will experience a whole different depth to the country. You will spend time weeding (“The Garden of Weedin’” as one Wwoof host called it), learning about planting the right things at the right times, little tricks of how to keep your plants as happy as possible and there is nothing more satisfying than walking with gummies into the garden, spade, bucket and cutters in hand, to choose what you would like for dinner, knowing that your hands had a part in the process. I have Wwoofed in a number of places spanning both islands and they have been my favourite times.
For example, I stayed with one Wwoofing host in Harihari for 8 days. We went tramping for 2 days to go hunting, did their bi-annual “honey run”, made capsicum chutney and caught the start of the fishing season for one certain kind of fish, where I spent the evening running up and down the beach from fisherman to fisherman freeing their hooks from the fish, bashing them on the head and getting them to the truck. 3 hours and 42 fish later, we 3 were exhausted and energised at the same time and stayed filleting fish until the wee hours of the morning, finished off with a moonlit bath in the natural hotpools down the road. Note: DO NOT spend money in mainstream “hotpools” that are chlorinated and overly popular. Take the time to find a local hotpool where you will have more privacy, can stay as long as you want and can melt into the morning at your leisure. While I am speaking about Harihari, I will emphasize: If you are coming to New Zealand, you need to see the South Island. Whether you do it first or last is up to you, but it is essential. The beauty, the lifestyle, the land, the people – all extraordinarily beautiful in ways that will continue to reveal themselves to you in waves.
I have never loved anyone or anything as much as I love this country and I implore you – if you are here, get stuck in. For this land is new, has more zeal than most and there are always seeds ready to be planted and fruit ripe to be picked.
Submitted by: Gabriella Garnett Date submitted: 28/02/2011 9:19:43 p.m.