As I approach the end of my working holiday in NZ, it dawns on me how time has passed by in the blink of an eye. This tends to happen when you’re enjoying every moment of it. New Zealand is fucking amazing! I clearly remember first setting foot here, touching down in Auckland International Airport. Apprehensive; I knew that soon I would be facing a horde of challenges. Mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness arose in me. Fast forwarding to the present, Wanaka is where you can find me. 3 months have passed since arriving in June, commemorating the start of winter. Choosing to spend the freezing Otago nights sleeping in my Fargo camper. Having a house available to use gave me the option of occasionally maintaining some level of mediocre hygiene and also the ability to cook decent meals. Also managing to wangle my way into a double bed situated in Lake Hawea some nights a week for those bitterly cold nights. Sharing the house with 4 really great people, Timmy, James, Albert and Nelly, I developed life-long friends. Wanaka has come to be my home. A place where I have grown tremendously and a place where I am truly comfortable in my own skin.
When first deciding to do a snowboarding season in NZ, I was unsure as to where I would spend my winter; Queenstown or Wanaka. Queenstown is a gorgeous lakeside town surrounded by mountains. Famous for its lively night scene, although infested with verging alcoholic Brit and Irish travellers. Also well known for the copious amounts of adrenaline junky activities that it has to offer such as the Nevis bungee and canyon swing, among numerous others, you’ll be sure to leave with your wallet feeling as empty as a sparrow’s nest in December. There are an astonishing number of foreigners living in Queenstown that one would be lucky to stumble upon a Kiwi. In spite of all of this there is somehow a shockingly poor setup to accommodate all of these aliens. Wanaka is the smaller, laid back, but experienced older brother of Queenstown. With less people, more local kiwis and a real sense of a community, Wanaka has a picturesque lake setting with a low key chilled out vibe. Everyone knows everyone and people tend to be incredibly kind and helpful. This mentality seems to be infectious around the town. Maybe I’m being slightly biased towards Wanaka, having lived here for 3 months. Upon arriving after a long journey down the west coast, I immediately knew that this was the place that I wanted to spend my winter. I hadn’t even been to Queenstown yet, but somehow already knew that it couldn’t get any better than this. The town is located beside lake Wanaka with spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding snow capped mountains which never seem to grow old. The lakefront is dotted with lively bars, modern cafes and snowsport retail stores. There is a really special buzz about the place. Most bars have live music every night as well as happy hour which many indulge in after a day on the mountain. Wanaka is situated on the border of Mount Aspiring National Park. One of the most beautiful and untouched places I have ever visited. There are an endless number of hikes available in Aspiring as well as hundreds of massive rock faces for those bold enough to risk their lives dangling from a rope at ominous heights. For a small town Wanaka has a hell of a lot to offer. The 3 months that I have spent here so far are high contenders for the best months of my life. Upon my arrival to Wanaka, I luckily landed into a job almost immediately in base hostel, doing housekeeping for a couple of hours 5 days per week in exchange for accomodation. The work was piss easy and a bit of fun. I met heaps of other travellers doing the same thing as me and within a few days Wanaka started to feel like a familiar place. I picked up a second hand snowboard, a pair of snowboarding boots and my season pass for Cardrona alpine resort. After 2 weeks of working in the hostel I decided to leave as I had been hired for a kitchen hand job in an Irish bar called Fitzpatricks. I was more or less in charge of the kitchen; Prepping food, cooking, cleaning dishes, taking in the kegs, chopping firewood and whatever else there was that needed doing. Despite the repetition in the job, I enjoyed it a lot. The food was pretty basic and mostly fried so there was no real skill needed. There was a small team of 6 including me. It was super easy going in there. I could do my thing in the kitchen, blaring tunes through the speakers, a pint of Guinness in one hand while working the fryer with the other. Being the only Irish person actually working there, I played a solid performance as the token Irish guy drinking Guinness in the back.
Each day is different in Wanaka. Every personality is catered for. There are endless hikes with unrivalled views as a result of Wanaka being surrounded by massive mountains. Kayaking across lake Wanaka to Ruby island is an excellent way to spend a sunny day. Lake Hawea, a short drive from Wanaka, is like stepping into the past when Lake Wanaka had not been developed a great deal. There is a frisbee golf course, free for public use only 100 metres from our house. There is a weekly futsal scrimmage in the recreational centre every Thursday as well as a winter league, with matches played every Sunday night. One of our friends, Maoz, hosted bi-weekly poetry nights in town up until recently when he left. (This was definitely a new experience for me. I was taken aback at the extraordinary talent some people had with writing. It was a comfortable environment for people to get out there and speak about their interests. What they believed in. Some chose to recite self-authored poetry. Some recited pieces from poets that caught their eye. Others shared memories and stories. One of my favourite was from my Californian friend Hoff who liked to freestyle rap). There’s a big skate park in the middle of town that entertains some pretty amazing skaters. The hills around town are perfect for a long boarder like me who enjoys speed. Lake Hawea has a river wave that me and Albert tried out a few months ago. It can get pretty gnarly looking when the river is in full flow. It’s a completely different sensation to surfing in the ocean but great fun nonetheless. We managed to make it to our feet a couple of times. We regularly hosted jamming sessions in our house. There has been some epic sessions; Complete with drums, several guitars, a saxophone and shakers. (I have been playing guitar on and off since my teenage years. Though I tend lose interest very easily. I lack the motivation and can’t seem to play for months at a time. I decided to buy a guitar when living in Gisborne as I had been lacking that musical part of my life. A beautiful Greg Bennett with a body designed with stained wood. I have been playing a lot since making the purchase. But my passion was truly reignited in Wanaka. I was in complete awe of the amazing musicians that play locally. Inspired by their talent, I promised myself that I would give guitar a proper go. I started to practice a lot more than usual. I began learning how to play solos and immersed myself into some musical theory. I even decided to try my hand at busking one day as well as playing at open mic). The best thing about Wanaka, in my opinion, are the people. They have made my time here unforgettable and definitely deserve a mention. My French mate Yvan who somehow knows how to speak 5 languages and is constantly a happy guy. Guillaum the super chill sax player. All of the staff in Base kitchen who make work very enjoyable. Two of my favourite people and climbing buddies, Eric and Hoff. Sam the Mexican kiwi. Mason the photographer and previous naked dating tv star. The 2 walking casualties; Alex the alcoholic & Parlie my Irish nordie bud. My fabulous housemates Albert, Nelly, Tim and James. And Robyn, a part time housemate, from Jersey in the Channel Islands. She’s weirdly wonderful and apparently claims to be a volcanologist. All of these people and many others , have made for me, the unforgettable experience that Wanaka has been.
Working 5-9 evening shifts, 5 days per week, meant that I had a lot of free time to kill during the day. Most of it was spent up at Cardrona, getting to grips with snowboarding. It took a week or two to ride confidently. By the third week, and after a lot of frustrating days I could shoot down slopes at top speed while trying some basic tricks and kickers. Cardrona isn’t a very big resort, comprising of only 4 chair lifts, so it can become very familiar in a short space of time. Half of the resort is a park, encompassing several kickers in a variety of sizes as well as an impressive collection of ever changing rails, boxes and half pipes that riders can use to showcase their repertoire of tricks. The other half, captains, is a large basin with some of the best on and off piste slopes in the resort. The snow on that side tends to be a little better as it is more exposed to the elements. Although a small resort compared to those in Europe and Canada, Cardies does a good job of keeping you interested and challenged enough so you don’t get bored too quickly. Treble cone is the other ski resort situated in close proximity to Wanaka. The terrain here is much steeper than Cardies, and has more of a backcountry feel to it. It even has some amazing naturally formed half pipes that are a lot of fun to ride. There are only 2 chair lifts operating which give access to a good variety of on and off piste riding. However some of the best riding is accessed by means of short hikes. Queenstown,which is less than an hours drive from Wanaka, has two ski resorts: The Remarkables and Coronet peak. Coronet has night skiing, which I did on a super foggy night in mid August. (Snowboarding in low light obviously means that the visibility is quite poor, making it somewhat of a challenge to navigate through moguls and steep terrain, especially with the presence of fog). Looking back on the season, my snowboarding has reached a level that has exceeded my initial expectations without a doubt. I pushed myself a lot at the beginning and toward the middle of the season. Hitting tricks like 180s & 360s, practicing some sharp carving and developing my switch stance riding skills. My progress slowed a lot towards the end of the season as the snow began to melt. I left my job at Fitzpatricks bar for a kitchen hand position in base cafe at Cardies. This meant that I had less time to ride as I worked 8-5 shifts. I did get an hour and a half ride break every day but I would generally end up boarding solo which meant that I wasn’t really trying anything new as there was nobody to push me on. My motivation to go riding slowly faded. There are certain challenging tricks that I regret not trying this season for sure. On the other hand I’m quite glad that I finished the season relatively unscathed apart from some minor tendon damage that put me out of action for a week or two. I think everyone knows at least one person who has been unlucky enough to suffer a fracture as a result of an accident on the mountain. I have developed a massive passion for snowboarding this winter. One of the most enjoyable sports out there in my opinion. It’s hard to beat snowboarding with a group of friends for the entire day. Getting an incredible workout in, while constantly having a brilliant time. Another season is definitely on the cards. Perhaps a bigger mountain and better gear next time around. Canada, Japan, Europe. They all appeal to me. For now it’s the beach and tropical weather that I’m craving. Melbourne is next on the list, followed by Indonesia and Thailand. Robyn will be leaving NZ in October also to join me for the next big adventure. With a bit of luck we won’t kill each other by the end of it. Honestly I’m thrilled to have someone else to travel with who I get on with so well and share similar interests.
My mind is full of ideas about what I want to do over the next few years. This first year of travelling has taught me so much about myself and others. It has instilled in me a self confidence that I did not know was there. My entire mindset on life has morphed drastically thanks to the many interesting people that I have had the pleasure of meeting. All of which have had their own unique and interesting stories to tell. There are so many paths in life to follow. So much to see and learn on this miraculous planet. It can be slightly overwhelming at times. At the moment I am content with sustaining my happiness and self growth. I have no firm plan as to what I will pursue as a long term career. It does worry me sometimes of my uncertainty. Nothing stands out for me so clearly that I am sure I want to devote all of my time to it. I want to try my hand at as many different things as I can. A time will come when I desire that stability and routine. However that’s not on the radar for me right now. Maybe I haven’t yet found that which will trigger in me such a response. For now I am young, healthy and full of energy. I only know one thing for sure…. there is a cascade of exciting adventures awaiting me on the horizon. Each day brings for me a new start with a multitude of possibilities.
“Not all those who wander are lost” – J.R.R Tolkein