To honour this month’s theme of travel, you lucky readers can read my ramblings about the year out I took prior to starting University. I want to show how travelling around with a ragtag group of friends turned out to be one of your most valuable adventures; one I’d recommend to anybody. No, I didn’t achieve this by feeding the burgeoning voluntourism machine to bulk up yet another Westerners’ CV. Nor did I take advantage of the bank of Mummy and Daddy to do a whistle-stop tour of various countries. What I did do, however, was say bon voyage to my little hometown and fucked off for 9 months to work and travel in New Zealand.
I guess the idea initially came out of a conversation I had with a good friend, Jonny, a year and a half before we ended up leaving. With my mental health pretty shaky at the time, he suggested planning something to look forward to. At the time, University was by no means a certainty and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life even if I did get in. We ended up with the idea of travelling. Our hometown, Macclesfield, is hardly a place to go to embrace different cultures. In fact, unless you’re looking to experience the – quite frankly underrepresented in our country – culture of the conservative white middle class, you’ll be sorely disappointed. So the wish to experience something, anything, different was certainly a factor. After watching Lord of the Rings for the umpteenth time After doing some research, this wish led us to settle on the furthest possible place we could get from the UK: New Zealand.
Very, very quickly I came to realise that travel was expensive. As has been explored elsewhere this month, travel is a luxury. At the minimum, we (stretching now to 4 people) needed to buy a £500 flight, a £75 Working Holiday Visa and provide proof that we had at least £2,500 in funds before we even entered the country. Add on top of that a 2 week stay in a hostel and there were a whole lot of expenses to save up for, especially for a 17 year old. Thank God we had a dogged determination to see this through, then. Working extra shifts in my local Costcutter at the time seemed like a small price to pay, especially with cries of “you won’t last till Christmas” coming from friends and family. I’m more than happy to say we proved them wrong. But anyway, small personal issues aside, this trip was only possible on my end due to working my ass off while studying to get into University. It wasn’t easy, but I had something to look forward to and knew it would pay off in the end.
So, the actual time spent in New Zealand. We got there, unpacked, and for the next couple of weeks lived off Subways and alcohol. Man, what a fun mistake that was. After the initial blowout, we managed to rent ourselves out a place in the suburbs of Auckland, got a great little car called Sam and went up to the most northern point of the North Island: Cape Reinga. After learning how to drift on the Ninety Mile Beach and just about learning how not to drive off the edge of a mountain, we arrived. With it being a disappointingly foggy day, we could just about make out the point where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. That was cool. But being the sheltered little conservative I was, the thing that surprised and interested me most about Cape Reinga was the fact that in Māori culture it is believed that that is where spirits entered the underworld. It shames me a little now to think I was surprised, but this was the first time I’d genuinely been exposed to a new culture first hand.
Thankfully this trend continued throughout my trip. While we were based in Auckland, I got myself a waiting on job in a family run establishment called Neptune Café and Bar. Within a short amount of time I was cruising round Auckland (using my newly learnt longboarding skills, might I add) with those of New Zealand, Filipino, Vietnamese and Swedish descent. Obviously, me being a newly-born culture vulture, I was loving this and learnt so much. Meanwhile, the job itself was great and the best I have ever had. Having no experience as a waiter I started off rusty… actually, I’m going to make no bones about it: I was shit. You would not want to have been served by me. I fluctuated between being overly eager and annoyingly distant in my waiting, while the smashed crockery and messed up orders certainly weren’t welcomed either. On the plus side, the more empathetic customers were kind enough to tip me if I kept on using the long overused ‘oh, I’m new to this’ line. But I digress. I improved and quickly got into the habit of working throughout the day followed by longboarding with those I worked with at night. And that basically sums up my 4 month stint in Auckland. As a group we settled down and worked in various places, earning enough dollar to move on and experience New Zealand.
2 week road trip! Except… maybe not. Our faithful steed up till this point, Sam, failed on us at the side of a motorway about 50km outside of Auckland. Tearfully abandoning him, we got a lift back to Auckland, bought a new car called Rodney and proceeded as planned.
2 week road trip (take 2)! To save on money and see more of the country, we decided to camp out as much as we could. Would recommend, by the way, as this was a great way to wake up to beautiful vistas of lakes, mountains and forests. On our way round, we visited the Waitomo Caves (which were lit up a fantastic blue by the resident glow worms); stopped off for a cheeky Hobbit-themed pint in the Green Dragon Inn; visited a Māori village and experienced the geysers of Rotorua. As a side note: these very geysers made camping in Rotorua particularly enjoyable, as it meant we had a lovely and warm heated floor to sleep on. Little things like this is what makes travelling worthwhile for me. Unlike a routine-filled home life, experiencing new places every day is an enriching experience.
Alas, the road trip had to come to an end. Reaching Wellington, one person unfortunately had to drop out. Likewise, after taking a ferry to the South Island, another of our initial group of 4 decided to travel further round the South and then go home. Running low on funds and finding ourselves in a strange new town (Blenheim), the 2 of us remaining joined a working hostel. If I thought I was a culture vulture back in Auckland, I don’t know what I considered myself here. If anything, I felt wholly inadequate. Every member of this rather jam-packed hostel could speak English fluently, putting my reluctance to even learn French in school to shame. Inadequacy aside, this hostel was great. In hindsight, it kind of served as a preview of student life for me. Working in the day, getting drunk at night? Check. Having a near-universally disliked landlord? Check. Gathering round the telly every week to watch a new Game of Thrones? Check. Even LAN parties were a thing. Some things just don’t change wherever you are in the world, it seems.
Like the need to work. Turns out having Rodney was very beneficial, as I could drive myself and a few others to various vineyards around Blenheim to harvest grapes. That is, until I lost my key to the during a particularly long day’s work and ended up leaving him on a vineyard for a couple of months. Oops. Anyway, the harvesting work required long days for little pay, but I didn’t mind. It was kind of a fun novelty knowing that my work here would be sold in shops back home (ever drank wine from Marlborough, New Zealand? You’re welcome). I had other, less permanent jobs while in the hostel too. I worked in a sweets factory, for example, but it is not nearly as fun as you might assume. Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory it was not.
And unfortunately that’s where the story ends. When writing it out like this, it sounds like it came to an abrupt stop, and it kind of did. My flight home was sometime in mid-June, and I simply didn’t raise enough money in the hostel to afford going round travelling again before I had to go home. At the time it didn’t feel like it though; I’d just lived in a hostel for a couple of months and met a wide variety of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I was more than satisfied with my year out and was looking forward to actually heading home. I harbour a regret of not properly travelling through the South Island, but this just makes me want to go back even more and finish off a job half done.
So where did this whole experience leave me? As I said, my mental health was pretty shaky before going abroad. Living in a whole new country also meant that I could see another facet of the world outside of small-town life in England. Sure, I had to work hard whilst abroad, but this meant I could properly experience New Zealand, rather than flit from one sterile tourist hotspot to the other.
There is a world out there and it should be everybody’s priority to go and see it while we’re here. In writing this, I wanted to show how – while the financial hurdle can be difficult to overcome – travelling provides an enriching experience that is priceless.
Now excuse me while I plan my next trip.
Andrew Evans is one of those student types. New to this whole writing thing. Eager traveller and avid gamer; can also be found facepalming at the state of politics today.