the mouse that quibbles

the mouse that quibbles

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

How NOT To Move to New Zealand – Part Two

(or ‘Things To Do in New Zealand While You Wait to See If The Sky is About To Fall’)

Not too long ago, I learned some rather difficult lessons on how not to move to New Zealand, due to the capricious and unreasonable motives of a now former boss. It also has put me in a steep learning curve on Part Two of my personal saga, how to survive in a foreign country with no home, no job, and no work visa – on only limited personal resources of my own and the massive generosity of new friends and allies (some of those even in the New Zealand Immigration Department itself, I’m astonished, and incredibly grateful, to report), the majority of Kiwis I’ve met appalled that any of their fellow countrymen would ever do such a thing to anyone.

It’s been complicated, finding inventive ways to survive without actually living out of the back of my car (the first thing I had to buy after I’d been unceremoniously chucked out on the street right before Christmas), and without either violating Immigration regulations or overtaxing the kindness of friends who’ve opened not just their hearts but their guest room doors for me. I highly recommend house sitting. It’s not a permanent solution, and hardly a seamless or steady one, but it’s been a great way to live in lovely places all over New Zealand, rent free, allowing me to stretch my limited budget to the max. It's also been a conduit to some wonderful friendships as well.

I recently spent a few weeks down in Wellington, and got to see the south end of the North Island, then bought a small tent and a sleeping bag, and a copy of Gay Kerr’s enormously helpful book, New Zealand Camping Guide, before wending my way back up the east coast to Auckland.

I stopped for a couple days in fabulous downtown Foxton, a small town on the west coast where a good mate from my Ceroc group is renovating his house. There, I learned quite a lot about a popular Kiwi obsession – renovating houses for fun and profit. Who knows? Even in the current housing market crisis, there are hundreds of small towns with thousands of the distinctive New Zealand houses in need of a bit of paint and TLC; there might be one just waiting for me around the next corner...
Napier was lovely, but I breezed through it far too quickly to do it justice – nowhere to park, as Tom Jones was in town for a concert at a local winery and half of the North Island seemed to have migrated to this gorgeous coastal town. I highly recommend a quick stop off at the Crab Farm Winery (a rival to the one hosting Mr Sex Machine) in Hawke’s Bay, just outside Napier, for a bottle of their Sauvignon blanc and a delicious Reserve Malbec.

I stopped for a day on a nearly deserted beach on the Bay of Plenty, ate a steak seared to perfection on a BBQ, swam in the surf while watching the sun slowly set, then lay on my back with the tent flap open to stare up at a clear, night sky with more stars than I’ve seen since I was a kid. (And for a Certain Idiot in Britain who asked me didn’t I miss the stars, yes, dear, you can see the Milky Way in the Southern Hemisphere, as well as Orion and a couple other constellations I vaguely remember from Girl Scouts but can’t name. Still hunting for the Southern Cross, though…)

I spent another incredible night huddled with two other refugees from a raging thunderstorm, wind and rain lashing down, sheltered in a quite comfortable backpacker’s camp in Te Araroa at the tip of the East Cape – my own room, shared kitchen and bathrooms, and a very well-stocked library. One of my fellow 'backpackers' (which seems to mean something different in New Zealand than I thought) was a ranch hand/cowboy from North Dakota who had rented a car while on a break from Kiwi Tours, the other a biker lad from Islington. And a very pleasant evening was had by all.

The next morning, the weather was still sullen, but safe to venture out in again. The storm had triggered several slips on the road, both rock slides onto the road, or the road simply washed away, all along the coastal motorway, making driving an – erm – interesting if rather slow experience. At one point, I noticed a large four-wheel-drive pickup that stopped behind me, the Maori driver waiting to be sure my little definitely-not-four-wheel-drive car actually made it onto the other side of a partial washed-out road before turning around and driving away with a smile and a wave. This is a place where the impulse to help thy neighbour is ingrained, a matter of mutual survival in a beautiful but often unpredictable countryside.

I’m now back in Auckland, my transcripts have finally arrived from the UK, and I’m well on my way to filing my application to a PhD course with Massey University, having already met my supervisor who is almost as excited about my thesis as I am. I’m hoping to soon write Part Three of How NOT to Move to New Zealand, with a happy ending. So stayed tuned. There are worse ways to spend your time while biting your nails, isn’t there…?

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