Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Home Sweet Home!

I realize that I've been slacking in the updating department, thanks to a few "friendly" reminders from friends and family!

The nomadic vacation has come to an end and Kevin and I have settled ourselves nicely in Wellington. We moved into a cute little flat in Hataitai, just a block off the water--we wouldn't have it any other way! Moving in was pretty easy. Unfortunately, I did not pay attention to the detergent label when I decided to run the dishwasher for the first time and ended up putting in dishwashing detergent and not dishwasher detergent...

 Oopsies!
This is our first dinner in our new home. Please note that vacuum was left in the apartment, it is not ours. In fact, we had nothing other than a mattress--easiest move in ever!

Here are some of the views from our flat, day and night. No balcony (although we do have a small communal backyard), but we sure can't complain.



Eventually, we did pick up some furniture and are slowly making our little house a home. It isn't, however, easy to buy furniture without a vehicle. So clearly, we are holding out on some non-essential furniture (e.g. dresser, bookshelves, etc.) until further notice. Elaine and Dean were kind and patient enough to send us some of our belongings from home that were not able to fit in our luggage.


And now, please allow me to take you on the grand tour:

 Walking into our flat, welcome to our kitchen.
 Strangely enough, apartments in NZ do not come with appliances (or "whiteware", as they call it), other than a stove. So we are currently renting our whiteware. Apparently most people move from house to house with their fridges...

 We have what is probably the world's tiniest sink, with faucets that are barely long enough to put your hand under, let alone both. Also, it's impossible to get warm water, as the hot and cold faucets are so far apart. Probably the worst sink ever.
 We wanted to see if the water flushed the wrong way in the toilet, but were disappointed to see that all over NZ the toilets are those lo-flo versions that just gush down. Now we'll never know...
 This is our lounge, complete with second-hand seating that was broken and had to be reinforced with yarn (the only material that I had available to work with), appliance boxes as end tables, and stolen pallets as a coffee table/shoe rack. The story behind the table is actually quite funny: Kevin saw this in one of the flats we viewed and was committed to replicate it. We found some pallets behind a store about 1.5km away from our place and since we lack suitable transportation, he stole a shopping cart, took his skateboard, and wheeled the pallets home, to many bystanders' amusement. But hey, they were free!

This pile of wires will hopefully be hidden one day. But for now, it remains a ridiculous, and I mean ridiculous, pile of wires.
In the secret door is a large storage closet for our belongings, complete with Kevin's batman suit and fishing vest.
 This is our bedroom, which is much too large for our lack of furniture. Please make note of what we are using as a nightstand (a prize Kevin won from corporate golf day at work, full of vodka and RedBull). 
 Elaine, Doogie made it safe and sound. He survived the vacuum-sealed transport unscathed!
 A nice, huge closet and empty side space that, once again, needs filling. 

Kevin now works as a real-life Structural Engineer with Aurecon, a large engineering firm in the CBD, and has probably spent equal time playing and working (work-life balance at its finest!). Drinking, golfing, playing darts, drinking, fishing, drinking, daily tea and biscuits, you catch my drift. I'm continuing my search for employment in a city that clearly does not require the abundance of social services that a city like Vancouver does. I hate to admit that my career path prospers from other people's social problems. So on with the hunt. 

On the other hand, being a housewife (my lifelong dream career) has been everything I hoped it to be: daily yoga, cooking, cleaning, catching up on my TV series streaming. A little lonely, I admit (I miss you friends!), but all in all, having a sugar-daddy ain't so bad.

Monday, 19 March 2012

On the road again.

Picture this: Kevin's interview is at 3:30PM, he's showered and shaved (well, not entirely--yes, Stephen, apparently you can get a job in New Zealand with a beard; in fact, they're everywhere!), and we pull up to a roadside parking spot in the middle of the CBD. The only thing left to do is change into 'business' attire. Since you can't exactly stand up in the van, and it's kind of cramped, we figured what's the harm in changing in a 24-hour public bathroom downtown. In he went with shorts, a tankini, and canvas shoes, looking like a regular beach bum hippy. And, in a matter of minutes, out came a well-groomed, fully-suited, hair-gelled, belted and tied business professional! I wished him good luck, plopped myself in the closet Starbucks with wifi access, and waited him out.

The interview went well, and all we could do now was wait. We spent the rest of the week in Wellington searching for a flat to rent, which is a difficult endeavour when free internet is only accessible in McDonalds. We also decided that we were spending too much money on staying in a campground ($20 a night that we could be spending on better things, i.e. wine), so we started camping out on top of the Mount Victoria lookout, which oversees the entire city. This also meant that we were giving up our amenities (toilets, showers, water), so we started poaching that off of McDonalds as well.

The view from the top of Mt Vic.

We met up with Mara and her partner Ali (thank you Kayla!), who host a weekly acoustic night at the Southern Cross Bar. They were both so lovely and really helped us get acquainted with Wellington. The summer weather came out, despite the intense winds (they don't call it Windy Welly for nothing), and we were able catch some rays at Oriental Bay between flat viewings before making our way down south. This time, we applied enough sunscreen!

 Oriental Bay.
Kevin getting his swim on.

So Friday rolls around and we have secured both a flat and a job (well, Kevin has), and Tuesday is both our move-in day as well as when Kevin has to go in for his orientation. We booked a spot on the Bluebridge Ferry to the South Island, extended our caravan rental until Monday for drop-off in Christchurch, and arranged for one-way flights back to Wellington. Mara and Ali were kind enough to let us drop off most of our luggage at their flat so that we didn't have to travel back with so much stuff. Once again I stress that travelling is WAY easier than travel-moving!

So we drove onto the ferry Saturday afternoon and clearly lucked out weather-wise. It was a perfect blue-bird day! The 3.5 hour ferry ride was accompanied with the most spectacular views, especially when we entered the Malborough Sounds in the last part of the expedition. The following pictures are all from the ferry:










From Picton, instead of going straight down to Christchurch, we decided to take a detour over to Nelson to meet up with more friends of friends. We drove through Malborough, which is another vast wine region. We probably drove through 50 km of grapevines! We had heard such great things about Nelson, but unfortunately only spent one evening there, camped in the driveway of Phil and Vanessa's new place (thanks to Sean for the intro!). The view from their deck was unbelievable! I'm kicking myself now for not taking any pictures while there. Instead, we spent the evening outside drinking local wine and beer, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes.

The next morning, the weather was cloudy and grey, so we hit the road again, en route to Christchurch. No pictures were taken on this stretch, as the wind and rain prevented us from even opening the windows. We drove right along the east coast of the South Island, which was pretty incredible. We even saw some sea otters on the rocks! We also played russian roulette with our gas tank, driving over 40 km with the gas light on... Stupid GPS telling us there was a gas station, where clearly no gas station had existed for quite some time!

But alas, we made it to Christchurch by late afternoon on Sunday. Since our Lonely Planet guide was printed in late-2010, the information was obviously outdated. What we came across instead of a vibrant British-influenced city was essentially the remnants of a ghost town. We were coming up to the 1-year anniversary of the February 22 earthquake and the entire CBD continued to be fenced off, guarded by military. The streets were scattered with office furniture, bricks, glass, and other debris. Windows were smashed in, inventory laid dormant inside the stores. It was so eerie. The fact that it was Sunday afternoon with grey cloudy skies definitely added to the ambience.


The light grey is evidence of the restoration of all of the cracks in the building.



This building is literally being held up by cargo containers.











You can see the huge cracks in the wall of this church.

We spent the night on what we thought was a quiet street, only to find out at 7:30AM that we were parked right beside a school. We awoke to giggling, chattering, and a few screeches here and there. We reluctantly returned the caravan to the rental shop (goodbye home!) and caught a shuttle to the airport. It was discovered that Kiwis are in no way at all worried about domestic travelers... We walked through the security section of the airport a grand total of 3 times without so much as a glance! Makes you realize how big of a deal we North Americans make of something that may not really be such a big deal.

I wanted to leave you with a more light-hearted photo I took inside a mall in Christchurch where, once again, we were poaching wifi. This may not make sense to anyone but my brother and sister, and probably my two cousins who live next door to my grandmother... If I could've fit, I would've. No questions!

It's Postman Pat! And his black and white cat!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Gypsies

Packing all of our worldly belongings into the caravan on Friday, the anticipation of the adventure to come started brewing. Up to this point, I think we both had been a wee apprehensive about the trip, the stress of trying to find work and staying within our budget (hostels and restaurants in NZ are extremely expensive) was taking its toll. We were definitely looking forward to the vacation portion of our journey. So Kevin hopped in the drivers seat and I took charge as the GPS navigator. Come to think of it, Kevin did not hesitate when he said "Only one." to the rental staff, who asked how many drivers there would be. He knows I'm barely comfortable driving on right-hand side of the road, let alone the left-hand side...

 What a happy driver!
 Summertime!
Home sweet home.

The Department of Conservation in NZ has an extensive list of free or cheap campsites throughout the country. Our plan was to drive two to four hours per day, set up shop for the night, and hit the road again the next day, in order to make it to Wellington by Sunday afternoon.

They say there are 40+ million sheep and almost 10 million cattle (and under 4.5 million humans) in New Zealand. On the first leg of our trip (Auckland to Rotorua), there were a heck of a lot more cows than sheep. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed. The legend did, however, redeem itself on the second day, where we probably saw about 39 million sheep, give or take.

 Moo!
 Tunnel of trees.
Heeps of Sheeps!

On Saturday we drove from Rotorua to Napier, which is one of New Zealand's many wine valleys. We stopped in at the Esk Valley and Crab Farm wineries for some tastings and learned that NZ has a far more extensive and notorious white selection than red. This statistic is just a drop in the bucket once you find out that NZ produces on average more than 200 million litres of wine annually (compared to 13 million in BC, which is both larger in population and land).

 More beautiful landscapes.
 Esk Valley Vineyard. 
 Cloudy day in Napier.
Black sand beach in Napier.

We spent part of the afternoon in a cloudy downtown Napier, an art-deco town on the east coast that was rebuilt in the 1930s after an earthquake. Unfortunately, we were one weekend too early for Napier's infamous Art Deco Weekend, where everyone in town dresses up Great Gatsby-style for the entire weekend. Rats! I left my two-toned broque shoes at home.

We set up camp again for the night, but this time, it was pouring rain. I was silly enough not to bring one single pair of waterproof shoes on my journey (out of 50 pairs of shoes... not one!). I was able to get a few good pictures of our caravan, which we were both attaching ourselves to very quickly.

 Peekaboo!
 Who says gypsies don't travel with suits hung up in the back?
 Welcome to our living room/bedroom/kitchen/foyer.
Good boy, making me dinner!

Sunday morning, the sun came out, and we packed up our home for another day on the road. We stopped at a rest stop north of Wellington, and went on a little tramp (Kiwi for hike) through this Jurassic Park-looking mountain to stretch our legs. The view was phenomenal! 

 The Napier coast, much prettier when it's sunny.
 Jurassic Park!
 Okay, I said this is one of the few pictures together... It may be the only one!
Driving into Wellington.

From there, we drove into Wellington to try and find the campsite that we had previously saved into our GPS. We spent 45 minutes driving up and down this huge mountain in the middle of the Wellington CBD, trying to following the directions of the GPS, our tires skidding because the hills were so steep, only to discover that the place we were trying to get to did not exist! Our cell phone was dead, but we were lucky enough to have an inkling of power left in one of our laptops to connect it and try calling the campsite, which ended up being in TAUPO, which is 3 hours away! Damn Google Maps! This was, to say the least, a tad stressful for the both of us. But, on we went, found another campground in Porirua, 15 minutes north of Wellington that had much needed showers, running water, and a kitchen (all which were lacking in the other campsites). Kevin's interview was the following afternoon, so a shave may also have been warranted.

I'll leave you with a video we shot at our first campsite outside of Rotorua. We were playing some music in the van and the birdies started dancing outside! One of them (on the bottom left) seemed to have some rhythm in his step (or hop):

video