One of the main triggers for exploring options of alternative lifestyles was the initial trip to New Zealand. I had travelled there alone to visit my son over his first Christmas away, the air fare was rather expensive so I planned to keep costs down to a minimum whilst there but not to diminish the holiday of a lifetime (I’m fortunate to have had several of those).
Hostels are common and comfortable in this previous colony. In the cities some can be places for young hedonists but there are plenty which are more sedate. I spent the first week in one near Paihia in The Bay of Islands whilst my son finished his work at an ‘ice factory’. His plan was to leave that job after Christmas to travel around the North Island with me and be deposited at a place of his choosing prior to my departure. I had been a regular youth hosteler in my younger days and with his encouragement that this form of accommodation really was quite civilised, I found a cheap but lovely looking establishment in Keri Keri, 2 miles from where he was living and working. There was a variety of rooms from which to select a preference, ranging from doubles with en suite right through to shared dorm and bathroom. I bravely opted for the latter at £10 a night which included tea, coffee, fruit and washing facilities all located in an orange grove which also housed some kunikuni pigs. The hostel itself was beautifully appointed, wood panelled throughout with extensive decking supporting a couple of hammocks, what’s not to like? I stayed for a week in a shared dorm, mostly housing young men who must have wondered what on earth this middle aged woman, apparently travelling on her own, was doing there. I had not been able to adopt that demeanour of someone, of any age, who gives the impression of being entirely comfortable with the nomadic, anti-materialistic lifestyle, because I wasn’t.
By the end of our subsequent 2 week road trip, staying in twin rooms in a wide variety of hostels, I felt much more at ease and quietly attracted to this existence. In the hostels and on the BBH website – essential if you are thinking of hostelling in NZ – there were adverts for in-house jobs, temporary, for the season and open. My offspring managed to find a great place in Nelson where he settled for the best part of his second year, starting with general cleaning and washing duties but evolving into rebuilding retaining walls, repairing the roof, driving the minibus to drum up business from the new arrivals at the bus station, dropping people off at the airport and collecting the left over pastries from the bakery at closing. He also took on the role of ‘receptionist’ which actually involved being duty manager. Payment was only made when the hours worked exceeded a certain amount; the initial time contributing towards the cost of the room. So far this sounds good, we could do all or any of that and with a 6 month holiday visa entitlement for GB nationals it is an attractive prospect, the only downside is the location!
We travelled there again to attend my nephew’s wedding. This time I wanted to explore the South Island. As he had not been to either I was able to choose. My son was now based in Nelson in the north and would join us at the wedding in Taranaki on the North Island so would travel back with us in the campervan we decided to hire for the purpose. It was fantastic, you could loose yourself in the outback as it is so remote once outside the main cities, no houses, no cars just sheep and cows and sheep and cows and sheep and cows and sheep and cows and the occasional deer (thanks Fascinating Aida). With stunning scenery, clement weather and only a hint of the recurrent earthquakes we were so content. Wild camping is allowed outside the urban areas and there is plenty of provision for waste disposal and water supplies. It was difficult to leave the Land of the Long White Cloud. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qb42Jb8jxfY)
This initial experience started the itchy feet, the other factors just added to the feeling that we were missing out on something staying in our own little rat race. The hostels were certainly utilised by a wide variety of age groups, some appearing to be more orientated towards the slightly older market. The jobs which were advertised did not appear to favour younger people, particularly in the places in which we were interested and we were assured that sometimes those of more mature years could be considered more reliable and perhaps have a greater familiarity with work. We could actually be preferable to the bright young things we assumed were the desired demographic. Hostels tend to be located in places of beauty or interest of which there is no shortage. I was amazed at how much geological variety there could be in a place not much bigger than the UK, from glaciers to hot springs, rain forests to volcanoes, rolling hills to Mount Doom. Lord of the Rings barely does it justice, watch it again for the scenery and then there is so much more.
I think, as I’m writing this, that I’m talking myself into another trip back there even if I have exceeded the age-limit for both a 2 year Young Persons Working Visa and even professional residency. Unfortunately we can’t quite amass the amount required to just live there but I’ll keep doing the lottery for now.