travel

A Ski Season in New Zealand’s North Island…

Hey all, sorry for the complete lack of posting the last few months, I’ve been busy living, working and playing at New Zealand’s largest ski area Mount Ruapehu. If you’ve ever done a ski season you’ll probably know how ridiculously intense, crazy and awesome it is. If you haven’t you should really fucking do one!

To be fair I went in with a little bit of trepidation to say the least. The day I arrived it was pissing down with rain as I, quite literally, drove through Mordor to the lodge in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere that was to be my home and I panicked. Big time. I really worried for those first couple of days what the hell I had got myself in to.

But although National Park is pretty tiny and Slalom Lodge, my home, was 5km outside, it turned out to be the best of places, full of crazy beautiful people and weird, weird happenings.

It took a week or so but as the lodge filled up for the season, the work kicked in and the snow came to the slopes I fell head over heels in love with the mountain.

Customer Services it turns out is not for the faint of heart. Three weeks into the job the crazy busy school holidays hit us and I found myself working all the hours, seeing very little of the snow or my skis and sobbing into my housemates shoulder after one too many beers at the stress of it all. Because, don’t ya know, everything and I mean everything is customer services fault, the busy queues, the ticket prices, the bad weather, the car parks being full… literally everything. Even without the mania of the school holidays there were some rough days to be had. Turoa, the ski field on the other side of the mountain lost their highest chairlift due to an avalanche and that bought a ton more customers to our side of the mountain and on busy days we were getting at least 2000 more customers than we were equipped to deal with. It became all hands on deck and after getting the 5.45am bus up the mountain, dealing with the epic queues and yelling guests for the first half of the day, I spent afternoons up at the schuss bar helping run food and make margaritas, and getting bought down the mountain by the cats after all the lifts had closed off to get the very last of the buses home.

Honestly work was chaotic. But we still had our fun. After one particularly hectic weekend the big bosses gathered us all after the slopes had closed and dished out beers. On another morning mid crazy school holidays we were all greeted off the bus at 6.30 am with breakfast burgers. We had staff appreciation every month which varied from beers and burgers to sledging on the beginner slopes, to night skiing, to full blown parties at Tussocks pub. We had our lows (and they got pretty damn low) but at the end of it all they just made the highs all the more sweeter and despite the chaos and frustration there were oh so many highs!

When we did get the days off it turned out that even though we seemingly lived in the middle of nowhere there is heaps to be doing. First and foremost there is of course the skiing, and with Mount Ruapehu having the best snow in years there was some epic fun to be had. Here you can “Ride the Maunga” and ski on an active volcano! Bonus there are two sides of the mountain to enjoy. Whakapapa, where I worked, which is obviously the best, has a wider range of runs and gullies whereas Turoa is amazingly wide and open and cruisey. Enough fun to satisfy any skier.

I was lucky enough to be living with some bloody lovely ski instructors who put up skiing with me and my rusty skills and one of whom was kind enough to even let me wangle myself a private ski lesson with him. As a result my skiing got to improve crazy amounts after a nearly five year gap off the skis. Even without the instructor friends, the mountain offered free group lessons to all staff which meant I got to spend a fun afternoon mostly on my ass attempting to learn snowboarding and eventually discovering that I am most definitely a skier!

Off the mountain there was, with a little help from the car, plenty to fill the closed mountain days (and the days when you just needed a break from the slopes) with. This area is packed full of adventures, there are glow worms, hikes, waterfalls, an alpaca farm, carrot town (or to give it’s real name Ohakune) which has a giant carrot and a carrot park that provided us with far more entertainment than was normal! There’s a pretty challenging golf course to be taken on in National Park village as well as a climbing wall that thoroughly defeated me and my lack of upper body strength!

For the nights, Schnapps it turns out is where it’s at, and tight ass Tuesday is the night to gather and drink and eat cheap ribs! And, as there always is with ski seasons, there was a fair few house parties to be attended.

Richard, the owner of our lodge turned out to be quite the legend and he threw us some pretty epic events, including but not limited to a seventies themed party with insane amounts of jelly shots and a snow jam where we literally had a ski jump off the roof of the lodge! As I sat one night around a banquet table full of roast dinner pissed off my face on whisky shots, cheering to Slalom lodge’s greatness and planned storming of National Park and surrounded by some of the loveliest (and craziest) people I’ve had the luck to call friends, I knew I got it pretty damn good.

By far the biggest downside of doing a ski season is the heartbreak when it all comes to an end. And true to form a whole heap of tears were shed as all the goodbyes were said. Because we really did get the best bunch of weirdos. A crazy whanau and a crazy season that despite all the emotional meltdowns I would do all over again in a heartbeat.

Seriously guys if you’re thinking of taking some time out, go do a ski season! You’ll learn some new skills, make some wonderful friends, have a whole heap of insane fun and maybe kill your liver a little in the process! And if you do decide to do a season, try New Zealand on for size trust me you won’t regret it!

travel

What to do when you first move to New Zealand (besides killing your liver)…

If I’m quite honest with you I spent the first couple of weeks of my adventure, in Auckland consuming a whole lot of alcohol. So besides being able to tell you the best backpacker bar to hit up each night of the week I can’t really give you a very great guide to Auckland! What I can do though is tell you all about the actual process of getting ready to start work in New Zealand.

First things first, step off the plane and take a moment to breath. I was completely knackered, and insanely stressed from a ridiculous propeller plane ride across from Tasmania to mainland Australia in the early hours of the morning! After surviving that, my connecting flight to Auckland, the nerves of passport control (where I inexplicably was convinced they were going to tell me my visa was fake), the bus ride into the city and dragging my insane bags to the hostel I was just about ready to collapse and or cry. See Perth and Tasmania had kind of just been holidays and this, this was the big move. So I needed to gather myself for a moment, venture out into the city and get my bearings, find a McDonald’s and stuff my face with comfort food. Never, I have now discovered, underestimate the need for a breather.

I threw myself into Auckland pretty hard and fast. Night one after my McDonald’s I wound up in the hostel bar drinking beers and playing inappropriate bingo (yes this is hostel life), Day two hungover and soaked through from torrential rain I went to orientation where my travel company threw a whole heap of information at me and then gripping my piles of papers and leaflets I took myself off to see the city. Day three I desperately searched the city for a car to buy, took on the glass floor up the Sky Tower and drank all the alcohol on a pub crawl. Day four with a killer hangover I tackled early morning bank appointments and a ton of car paperwork, then again took to the alcohol and headed out to a silent disco. Day five… yeah you get the picture. I didn’t really stop or sleep which is how I found myself 10 days later horribly homesick curled up in the corner of Starbucks sobbing into my English breakfast tea! Seriously make sure you give yourself space for a breather!

On the practical side there a couple of absolute musts when you first land in the country. Number one get a bank appointment, they’ll set you up with your account, online banking, give you your card and it’ll be active within 15 minutes. It’s all pretty simple just take in copies of your documents and maybe don’t go with a horrific hangover! Once this is done you can transfer money across from your home account. Top tip guys use TransferWise, I love them, it takes a few hours for the money to transfer but they give you the best rates and you can transfer so easily via the app. You don’t have to do this of course, but it’s cheaper to pay with your NZ card of course, plus you need a few transactions on your account to get a bank statement to get your IRD number. This is number two of the musts. Again it’s all pretty easy you need your visa, passport, NZ bank statement and national insurance number and you can just apply online. It’s super quick, I had mine emailed to me within a couple of days, and once that’s through you’re all set to work yey!

The other big thing I had to sort was buying a car. This isn’t for everyone, there are plenty of bus companies that’ll take you all around New Zealand, but given that I was going to be working and living in a pretty isolated location for the winter I wanted a car for the first 6 months at least. So maybe for you it’ll be easier to just head into a travel company and buy yourself a travel pass. But if you do want to buy a car here’s the how to. Firstly I am not at all mechanical so I read every single thing I could find about what to look at when viewing a car because I’m really not so good at coping with a breakdown! Then I headed online there’s plenty of backpacker sites where people post cars and campers for sale so somewhere like backpackerboard is your best bet. I messaged a few posts and then trawled around the city checking them out until I found a cheap and pretty beat up car but one that was running well and most importantly had a valid warrant of fitness for another 6 months woohoo! Once you’ve found a car you need to do all the paperwork. It’s pretty simple but again best not to do it with a horrific hangover! Three things to do here. One; you and the person you’re buying it from need to fill out change of ownership forms. Head to a post office they have all the forms and you can hand them in and make the payments there on the spot. Two; whilst you’re at the post office get the car registered, this is essentially the road tax and crazy cheap. The forms are at the post office, pick how many months you want to register it for, pay your money and get the car registered straight away. Three; the car needs to have a valid warrant of fitness, depending on the age of the car it either needs to renewed every 6 months or every year. Luckily mine isn’t due for a while so I don’t need to worry about it for a few months (unless the car breaks down) and the magic car people helpfully send you a letter when it’s due. When it is due just take it to any garage and they’ll sort it for you pretty much like your standard MOT. And there you have it your car.

So with the paperwork out of the way and your transport around the country sorted grab your bags and get out of Auckland. It’s a great city for a day or two but it’s not New Zealand. (Plus it’ll give you a pretty wretched and constant hangover!) There’s a whole wide and beautiful country to explore so head off into it and get exploring!

travel

How to (ineffectively) prepare for a year away…

It took me right up until the moment the plane lifted off into the air to believe that I was really jetting off to the other side of the world for a year. I was so wrapped up in getting everything moved out of my flat in time and drinking with all my friends whilst I still could, my brain didn’t really register what was going on. So in short very little preparation actually occurred. Which to be honest I think is probably the best way, it gave my brain very little opportunity to start panicking, meltdown and ultimately rethink my entire decision. Truthfully I think there is no particular way to prepare for a trip this big, everybody will have their own ways of getting ready, but let me give you a little insight into my, limited, preparations for my journeys to New Zealand.

Step one I arranged all the big ones before even telling anyone I was going, I booked my flights, sent off my visa application, applied for a job and arranged my first few nights of accommodation. At least with these done I could rest easy and not panic about arranging things last minute, also when people asked I could give them solid answers about my plans as opposed to having people look at me with an unnerving look of terror like my boss did when I told him my job hadn’t yet been confirmed. (It has since been so panic over.)

Step two with the big things pre-arranged I then kind of stopped planning. I still had a couple of arrangements to make such as confirming my job and arranging my long term accommodation but bar that I didn’t want to get too set into a plan, because guess what they tend to change, especially when travelling! So I know I’m dropping by Australia on the way, first Perth and then Tasmania, and I know I’m heading out to New Zealand to work a ski season in Mount Ruapehu but after that who knows. The ski season ends in October and I have a year long visa a whole country to explore, a passport crying for some stamps and an awful long way back home. I have a rough plan of what I want to do and where I want to go but I don’t want to set it in stone because that’s half the fun of travelling making things up as you go along and this is going to be an adventure.

Step three took the most time and stress of all… packing! I both simultaneously hate it and love it. Weirdly I really enjoy making detailed packing lists (I have a bit of a list fetish) and I love gradually purchasing items to take on my travels, but I hate cramming everything into a bag and I hate hate hate having to decide what to leave behind because there just isn’t room. Here’s the problem I’ve been backpacking before, spent a few months at a time trekking around various different continents, but I’ve ever been away for such a length of time. The other problem? I needed to pack for all seasons, I’m going to be enjoying some Australian sunshine first and hopefully later on some New Zealand sunshine but I am also going to be spending a few months in the snow, which means packing for all seasons and my god ski gear is bulky! So with my old backpack on the verge of falling to pieces I purchased a new one and set out to cram it full with all my shit, and let me assure you it is very much crammed full. I wouldn’t like to say I’ve over packed but I have most definitely over packed! It’s probably going to turn out that I will not wear any of these items at all I’ll probably end up living in the same one or two outfits and I have a sneaking suspicion that a fair amount of stuff is going to get thrown out along the way but you know always better to be prepared! Seriously though, if you have a couple of tops, some underwear, your toothbrush, bank card and passport you’re probably golden. Ok well maybe you need a couple of other bits but remember other countries have shops as well and I can absolutely guarantee you will find a h&m in any country you go to! I promise I’ll let you know successful/unsuccessful my packing has been at the end of my trip, I have a feeling it’ll err on the unsuccessful side, but who knows you might get some (what not to do) packing tips from me!

And the final step? Get excited! In between all the shopping, panicking, packing, farewell drinks and tears (trust me there were a few of those) there were these odd time out moments where I just sat and appreciated what I was about to experience. The only real preparation advice I can give you is to make sure you enjoy those giddy excited moments because trust me there is nothing quite like the fizzy, slightly nauseous, anticipation you get before embarking on an adventure!

travel

I bought a one way ticket to New Zealand…

Following on from a statement in an earlier post that I make rash decisions, this may be the biggest of them all.

I am moving by myself to the other side of the world with just a backpack (albeit a pretty large and pretty full one) with no return ticket and no real date of return. What crazy thought making process went through my head to get me into this position? Honestly I’m not so sure. A couple of months ago I was sat wondering what the hell I was doing with my life. My sister had just flown back out to Australia and I remained in London mindlessly working in a restaurant, living in a house share with one of the most annoying house mates of all time with a pretty non-existent love life. I knew that I needed a change, I was restless, my feet were itching for an adventure and I had a big old bucket list to be ticking off. If I’m going to be working in hospitality and attempting to write on the side then I can do that anywhere in the world I reasoned, so why not try something new. I love London and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll wind my way back but I’d gotten a little tired, everything felt a little stale. Perhaps it is my quarter life crisis. I looked around and saw my school friends settling down and having families or achieving their crazy dreams and I am nowhere close to where I thought I’d be ten years ago. And yes I know this is not necessarily a bad thing I don’t think I even want to be where my 16 year old self dreamed me all those years ago. But what I did need was a big kick up the ass to stop myself floundering around and wasting my life away on drunken tequila fuelled nights and Netflix binges in bed.

So after muddling through a few options my mind jumped to New Zealand, I’d always planned to return to New Zealand and spend more time there, I was planning to go visit my sister in Australia this year so that tied in, and after working a ski season in Canada on my gap year between high school and university I’d always vowed to work another one once finishing uni. And so with shockingly little research it was decided I was taking another gap year and moving my ass to New Zealand to freeze myself working on the ski slopes.

Fast forward a couple of months and I have my work visa, flights are booked, initial accommodation arranged, job interviews set up, I finished my final shift at work and moved all of my crap out of my London flat. I am flying out in a few days time and truth be told I’m little freaked out.

All my friends have repeatedly told me I’m crazy and I have serious guts but I’m not so sure I do. This is the biggest gamble I’ve ever taken. Maybe I’ll be lonely, miss my friends, miss my family, maybe I’ll hate New Zealand and the people I meet there, maybe I’ll break a leg my first day on the slopes, maybe I’ll be broke and miserable and on a plane home in a matter of months. Maybe some awful thing will happen and I’ll never make it home, believe me my mind has run through every possible terrible scenario, BUT, here’s the big one… maybe I’ll have the best goddamn time of my life! Who knows what will happen over the course of the next year, I just know that I will always regret the journeys I didn’t take far far more than the ones I did. So wish me luck and stay tuned for tales of my new adventure!