After several unsuccessful attempts at viewing kiwi birds in the wild, we decided to take advantage of a well recommended kiwi sanctuary in Rotorua.
The Rainbow Springs kiwi sanctuary has hatched 100 chicks this season and has released 1495 kiwi chicks into the wild so far. Due to the sensitive nature of the birds, cameras aren’t allowed into the exhibit. I’m not sure I could have gotten a picture of the little things even if I had been allowed to!
They are absolutely adorable, I will start by saying that. They are also very well camouflaged, fast, and nearly impossible to see in the dark. Even with the advantage of having them confined in an enclosure it was nearly impossible to see them. We were quiet enough and patient enough though that we eventually got to meet all three kiwis that are in the night enclosure.
Ruha, an 8 year old male, came right up to the low fence and I could hear him snuffling around. Their beaks are so long and their feathers look soft and fluffy when they shake. He kept running back and forth along the front wall of his enclosure so I got a really good view of him.
Atara, a one year old male, was really shy and never came anywhere near the front of his enclosure. It was like watching a dark fuzzy blob moving amongst the bushes. I could only really tell where he was by where the bushes were moving around.
Koha, the one year old female also came right to the fence and snuffled around with her long beak, digging for insects. I had my hand on the fence and was leaning over it and she almost put her beak on my hand! Kiwi birds are so cute!
I can definitely understand now why we didn’t have much luck seeing them in the wild though. A small tour group came through and all three birds immediately vanished into the bushes, scared by the sounds of shuffling feet. It was only after they had been gone for about 10 minutes that the kiwi birds started to move about again.
Also at Rainbow springs, we had a chance to meet Jenny the Kea, another local New Zealand bird. She was extremely loud and also rather cute. We also saw Tuatara, a local New Zealand lizard. They had Morepork owls as well, but they were hiding too well for us to spot.
Rainbow Springs allows a few different tiers of entry, which allowed us a discounted rate to visit only for the evening. Since our primary intent was to view the kiwi’s, not go on the ride or see most of the other animals, this worked quite well for us. We entered after 5pm and were able to stay until 9:30pm, which gave us more than enough time to see everything that we wanted to see.
Due to slightly uncooperative weather, we ended up changing our plans and spending an extra day in Rotorua, heading there from Piopio instead of down to the Tongariro national park. Rotorua is a fascinating city, built upon geothermal springs and richly steeped in Maori culture. While there, we visited the Whakarewarewa Living Maori village, which will be described in a future post.
Rotorua is the most geothermally active city in New Zealand. For those who don’t enjoy the sulphur smells, it might be best avoided, but we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. We stayed at the Cozy Kiwi Thermal holiday park, which featured a hangi cooker, geothermal springs that are refilled daily, and warm ground. It was so strange hopping out of the camper and suddenly feeling heat radiating from the ground. It made for very warm and pleasant camping!
We started off with a slightly rainy visit to the Redwood Whakarewarewa Forest. It was originally home to around 170 different tree species, planted in 1899 to see which ones were viable for the forestry industry. While the Radiata pine proved to be the most successful for timber, it is the California redwoods that are still prevalent in the forest that we went to see.
Planted more recently than the redwoods growing naturally in California, these ones were significantly smaller, but still quite impressive. They are growing well and, in another few centuries, should be able to rival the current size of the trees in California. We visited the newly established Redwood Forest walk, an elevated trail through the trees that was constructed near the end of 2015.
It was a pleasant walk, with good informational signs that described the history of the forest, how the trees were established, and other facts about the area. The trees themselves provided enough shelter that we didn’t really get wet beneath the canopy, despite fairly extensive rain showers. Knowing where to stay dry outside is always a handy thing in New Zealand!
After the treetop walk, we decided to wander amongst the redwoods and find somewhere to enjoy a nice picnic lunch. Perhaps as a result of the rain it wasn’t overly busy, giving us a nice break and a very picturesque lunch location.
We also visited some of the geothermally active parks in the area, including Government Gardens and Lake Rotorua. It is a little bit eerie to be able to look around and see the ground randomly steaming. It makes a very visible reminder that the Earth is an ever-changing entity.
In the gardens, some of the vents are small and simply walled off, whereas in other areas the entire pond is a rippling, steaming mass. There are some small ponds that are boiling, the water ever churning. In the Government gardens there was also a pleasant location for a communal foot-soak, which we greatly enjoyed in the cooler weather.
Despite the cool overnight temperatures we were pleasantly toasty in the campervan thanks to the heat absorbed from the geothermally heated ground beneath us. It seems that Rototura might be a very pleasant place for some winter camping!
The Hairy Feet Tour near Piopio is an absolutely fantastic experience for Lord of the Rings fans. For those who aren’t fans…well…the scenery is still beautiful. The tour starts at the reception area and shop, which also happens to be a great place for a picnic with some nice picnic tables available.
The shop stocks a small selection of snacks, as well as a decent selection of Weta and LOTR merchandise. The fun started right away, with Suzie (our host and the farm owner) offering us the opportunity to play with some prop replicas of Orcrist, Glamdring, the Morgal blade, and Gandalf’s staff.
Suzie is very passionate about her farm, which has been in her family for four generations. It was fun listening to her sharing her stories and excitement over having her family’s farm get the most screen time of any single film location in the Hobbit movies.
The area was used in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for the deserted farm where the dwarves meet the trolls, the location of the troll caves, where Bilbo first receives Sting, where Radagast arrives with his rabbits to tell Gandalf of the dangers in the forest, and the start of the Warg chase. Quite a few scenes in a relatively small area!
Suzie took us in her van up to the film locations. Since Andrew, Jen, and I are all fans of the movies, she offered us the opportunity to pose precisely where certain scenes were shot, even posing as the actors themselves posed in screenshots. She was quite well prepared and had several screenshots from the movie that helped us to visualize the scenes and identify the scenery around us.
The forest on the farm apparently looked too tropical for the movies, although the rest of the area was perfect for the filming. The solution? It was someone’s job in post production to go through each scene and digitally replace every single fern with a less tropical bush. The attention to detail in those movies is just crazy!
The scenery in the area, with soaring limestone cliffs, immense karsts, and rich green forests was beautiful. I had to stop myself from taking a photo every five steps. Suzie led us down into the forest and took us to the spot where Gandalf presented Bilbo with Sting. Of course, she had a replica of Sting for us to re-enact the scene with! The troll cave is apparently not actually a cave, either, merely a small depression under a rock that was made to appear much larger on screen. They had originally constructed a large round door to use as the entrance to the troll cave but, upon arriving, Peter Jackson suggested that it looked to perfect and that they could probably find something better nearby.
Suzie led us further into the forest, taking us to the location where Radagast arrives on his rabbit sleigh. It was fun listening to her talk about the actors, explaining how Radagast was slightly odd and that his personality was a perfect fit for the actor and how Thorin kept himself separate from the other actors so that he could stay in character between takes.
Apparently I might have survived a Warg attack since I’m the only one who noticed the silhouette of the warg! Suzie had placed a large wood cutout in the location where the party first sees the Warg to make it easier to visualize the scene in the movie. Nearby there was also a foot marker where Martin Freeman (Bilbo) would have stood. The apparently missed removing the marker when they were done filming. Of course, we had to get a picture where he stood! We had fun re-enacting the scenes and posing, geeky though it was. We also had a chance to just wander along the road for a bit, taking in the scenery and enjoying the incredible views.
Suzie was also quite knowledgeable about the local plants, answering many questions and showing us Manui trees, Manuka, Kanuka, and the New Zealand sliverfern, to name a few. She was endlessly patient and, when Jen mentioned that she wouldn’t mind being able to meet some New Zealand sheep, Suzie stopped on the way back to the reception area and called her two pet sheep (Coffee and Polly) over so that we could meet them!
It is a bit out of the way, but certainly worth the drive! Andrew, Jen, and I all thoroughly enjoyed our experience at the Hairy Feet tour near Piopio.
Andrew, Jen, and I visited the Glowworm caves in Waitomo, NZ and took part in the Black Abyss tour from the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. In operation since 1987, they have an excellent safety record and are a great adventure company.
With the aid of our awesome guide Dominic, we traversed the stunning Ruakuri cave network. The Black Abyss tour is the second longest tour, taking us deeper into the caves on a nearly five hour adventure. It seriously didn’t feel like anywhere near five hours!
The trip started with getting us all into wetsuits and then donning climbing harnesses. Wetsuits are awkward
enough to move around in, but adding gum boots and a climbing harness just made things really awkward. It was manageable enough, although I really felt like I was waddling like a penguin for most of the dry land experience.
Once we were all kitted up we hopped in a van that took us up to the cave entrance. Apparently I picked a good time for us to go because it ended up just being the three of us on the tour! It was great having it be just us since we didn’t have to
worry about holding anyone up if we asked Dom to get a picture of us or anything.
At the cave entrance we were given a brief safety talk and then practiced the abseiling down a small hill before doing it in the cave. Those first moments where you have to lean back in the harness and step off the edge, putting complete trust in the equipment that you are not going to simply plunge into the dark abyss is always somewhat nerve wracking.
The abseil into the caves was hour glass shaped, with one very narrow squeeze to shimmy through on the way down. Trying to shimmy and abseil at the same time was a somewhat interesting prospect, but I managed it with only a small amount of wriggling.
Once we were all safely at the bottom of the cave, Dom suggested that we turn off the lights and we got our first glimpse of the glow worms! It was so much more spectacular than the glow worms that Andrew and I saw at Abby caves near Whangerei.
The first part of the cave was a simple walk on dry ground where we could see the cave coral, curtains, stalagmites, and stalactites growing in the cave. Next came the completely awesome zipline through the cave! Compared to other ziplines I’ve done it was remarkably short. The catch was that it was through a gap in the cave down a cliff…
with the lights all off so that everyone could see the glow worms whizzing past. The complete blackness (apart from the tiny specks created by the worms) made the ride feel a lot longer.
Once we were all down, Dom suggested we sit on the small cliff overlooking the underwater river while we enjoyed our snack of honey oatcakes and hot chocolate.
Then came the actual blackwater rafting! Dominic handed each of us
a black inner tube and then we stepped up to the edge of the cliff, positioned the tube behind us, and jumped. Luckily we all landed in the tubes and simply floated.
To start with, we swam up the river, which didn’t have much of a current. I kept turning my light off to see the stunning cave better. It was a completely surreal experience to be surrounded by utter blackness except for the tiny specks of light twinkling directly above in this small tunnel. As we got to the top of the river the cave narrowed slightly so that it was like walking
through a tunnel of glowing light that also reflected off of the black water of the underground river. So beautiful! We were lucky it was such a small group since we were able to actually walk all the way up.
At the top we all hopped in our tubes, hooked our feet under the arms of the person in front of us, and Dominic pulled us down back down the cave, letting us relax and enjoy the amazing views. Even pictures can’t really do it justice; you simply have to see the
otherworld that is those caves.
Once the water got shallower we left the tubes, walking along the cave until we got to a small waterfall slide. Dom had us go down…backwards! It was a bit of a trust fall situation but it was a lot of fun. A little further down he encouraged us to swim through a narrow tunnel for the fun of it. Further still he found a deep pool that we could jump into and play in for a bit (he encouraged nice bellyflops since we were wearing very thick neoprene). The water temperature was only about 14C, but I really didn’t feel cold at any point thanks to the nice thick wetsuits.
At the end, we were given a choice: take the easy walk out (if we were tired) or climb up a set of waterfalls to reach the entrance. Waterfalls of course! It was a little bit of a challenging free climb, but Dom was
very helpful and very supportive, occasionally giving a spot or suggesting a hold if I got stuck.
It was such an amazing experience and I loved the chance to share it with Jen and Andrew.
Seeing the glow worms was beautiful and the whole caving experience was simply incredible. I would definitely say the blackwater rafting should be on any New Zealand ‘must-do’ list.
Andrew and I visited the Hamilton Gardens with our friend from Medicine Hat, Jen. Usually I’m not much of a ‘wander in the gardens’ type person, but I figured it would be a great place for a picnic at the very least.
I was pleasantly surprised. The gardens were much more extensive than I thought they would be and were quite enjoyable to walk through.
The gardens were first established in 1960 as a reclamation of the rubbish dump that had previously had a rich and varied history, first as a pre-European Maori Pa site, and then successively as a British Military Post, a Victorian Rifle Range, and a dog Dosing station. Measuring just four acres when it opened, the gardens now encompass 54 hectares in the centre of Hamilton. It’s certainly come a long ways to be names the International Garden of the year in 2014. More information about the gardens can be found at their website.
We started off with a nice picnic lunch by the river of seaweed rice crackers (surprisingly good!), pastrami, and granola bars. Not a huge lunch, but still nice.
We were all feeling a little bit tired but wanted to wander the gardens so we asked at the information site what their preference would be if they were only to see a few of the gardens. They recommended the Paradise collection of gardens, which is basically the set of gardens that won them international awards.
We started with the Japanese Gardens, which had a beautiful Zen garden and a nice pavilion.
We then went through the Chinese Scholars Garden, the English Flower Garden, the Italian Renaissance Garden, and the Indian Char Bagh Garden.
The Modernist Garden was a little bit odd. It felt like they basically put a kiddie pool in a garden of mostly glass with a strange sculpture.
We had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and had fun wandering through the gardens before heading home for a nice Easter dinner. I’m really glad we took the time to check out the gardens since it was very peaceful and beautiful.
Andrew and I have been enjoying the learning process of surfing. In my previous post, I shared what I have learned about how to surf (here) . You can also purchase surfing items at the Online Surf Shop.
Andrew and I decided to invest in a surfboard mount for our GoPro. The first one didn’t work very well, but I have to say, GoPro customer service is FANTASTIC! I contacted them and they confirmed that I had followed all of the instructions properly, making sure that the surfboard surface is clean and allowing the adhesive to sit for 24 hours before taking it into the water. A picture of the mount and my receipt and I had a two new surfboard mounts within a few days. This has let me get some fun and new video of Andrew and I surfing (well, Andrew surfing, me falling off the board a bunch).
Surfing has a ridiculously long learning curve. Learning the basics can be accomplished in a single lesson. Learning what to do to become an intermediate surfer can be accomplished in a week. Being able to consistently perform these skills, however, is a completely different matter. Though I know where my body needs to be positioned and what the theory is, actually doing many of these things has continued to elude me.
Thankfully I love the water! Regardless of surfing success, who can say no to an afternoon spent in the sun and sand, relaxing and playing in the water? Certainly not me!
Most of the time, I can tell what I did wrong when I wipe out. Weight too far back on the board so I didn’t catch the wave, feet to far to one side or the other making me tip, etc. Sometimes though, the board just leaves.
Definitely something I intend to keep practising. There aren’t many sports that I know of that, if you assess the risks first and stay away from rocks and shallow water, the biggest risk of a huge wipeout is going for a swim and perhaps getting water up your nose. For some reason I have very clear sinuses since starting to learn to surf.
If you want to purchase surf items, you can buy them at SurfShop.com and support me in the process! Happy shopping! Online Surf Shop
One would think that working in one country is much like working in any other country. A job at the supermarket as a cashier entails scanning items, putting them in bags, taking money from the customer, and providing them with correct change. In essence, that is all it is, but I have found that working in New Zealand (or Raglan, at least) is quite different from working at home.
Of course, to work in another country, you require, first and foremost, a work visa. Andrew and I have the working holiday visa, which entitles us to work for 12 of our 23 months in New Zealand in any non-permanent position.
We also had to set up New Zealand bank accounts and obtain IRD numbers, which is basically the same thing as the SIN in Canada.
Taxes are different here though. Like in Canada, tax comes off of your paycheck as usual, but everything is taxed on an “As you go basis”, which means that there really aren’t any income tax returns to fill out at the end of the year. The government knows what you have been taxed and adjusts your taxes accordingly.
Or Resumes, as we normally call them. Andrew and I struggled with our CV’s at first and were very glad that we used the Working Holiday Starter and got assistance updating our CV’s to local standards.
In New Zealand, a resume generally contains every job you have ever had, mostly in chronological order. It is fairly common to highlight a job at the top of your resume as being most relevant to the position applied for. For each job, it is normal to include a brief sentence stating what you learned and accomplished there, followed by bullet points of transferable skills.
It is also common to include an interests or outside activities heading. Talking to the managers at work, people here genuinely seem to want to know if their potential new employee is in a knitting club or kayaks for fun.
I’ve mentioned before that the Kiwi lifestyle is very laid back; this applies to interviews as well. It’s quite common to show up for an interview and have the manager invite you for a cup of coffee.
It is also quite common for informal interviews at the pub over a liter of beer to result in jobs. This actually seems to be the most common and preferred method of obtaining a job in New Zealand.
Andrew’s interview for his job at the Harbour view as a cook pretty much consisted of “Hey, can you come in today for a trial?”. My interview at the Supervalu was a little more involved. The manager called and asked if I had time to drop by for some questions sometime in the next few days and to just show up when I had a chance. I met with him and he asked whether I had ever committed a crime, what my availability was, and…yeah, that’s about it. He then offered me the job pending my trial.
In addition to the normal 2 week to 3 month probation period, most
jobs in New Zealand require a trial. Both Andrew and I experienced this and were told by our fellow colleagues that it is standard practice for nearly any position here.
The manager requires the employee to come in for a 2-4 hour unpaid trial in which the employee is provided with basic training and is then allowed to work under the managers supervision to ensure both that they are capable of performing the job and that they fit in with the team.
The Actual Work
The minimum wage in New Zealand is surprisingly high, at $14.75 per hour. This is actually a working wage, which is quite nice actually. There is no tipping, so restaurant staff aren’t required to rely on their tips to make their wage.
Vacation time is amazing as well. As a cashier at a grocery store I am entitled to six days of paid sick leave and three weeks of vacation. This is the minimum that is considered to be acceptable to offer an employee in any position! Surprisingly, it is also the same as I was offered in Canada as an engineer.
Have I mentioned that New Zealand, as a whole, is very laid back? This applies to work as well. Yes, you still have to show up on time and take your breaks when you are supposed to, but the whole nature is really chill. One guy showed up for work without his shoes one day and the manager just shrugged and suggested he go get them on his first break.
The dress code is also quite relaxed. Those who work in downtown offices are encouraged to wear dress pants and dress shirts, but for the most part, coming to work in any dark coloured pants is acceptable. I was told by my manager that workout shorts, as long as they were black, were completely acceptable work attire, especially when I was doing stock.
Everyone is really fun, the managers are approachable, and we are encouraged to goof off (within reason), chat with each other, and enjoy work. Employees are also encouraged to socialize with each other after work hours by the management. I have even been told about manager arranged beer nights where employees are encouraged to come out for a good time and to get to know the people that they work with, although I haven’t experienced one of these yet.
I’m actually rather sad to be leaving Raglan. I’ve had the chance to meet and work with an incredible group of people who have made me feel very welcome. They tolerated strange questions, like me pointing at something and asking what the right NZ word is, have made me laugh, and have brightened my day many times. Although it might seem silly to some, it was quite difficult for me not to get emotional on my last day there, especially when my colleagues were so kind and sweet.
I am really hoping that work in Raglan is not a strange phenomenon and that other places we find to work feel similar. From stories I have heard from other travelers, it seems that our experience is more the norm than the exception!
Driving in New Zealand is much like driving in any country. You sit behind the wheel of the vehicle, you obey the rules of the road, you go places. Simple, right? Well….not quite. For starters, New Zealand drives on the left side of the road, not the right, like Canada. They also love their roundabouts!
Andrew and I have also been having some interesting (and slightly less than pleasant) adventures with our campervan in regards to the WOF.
Van Repairs – Rego and WOF
In New Zealand, every vehicle must have a safety inspection, or a Warrant of Fitness (WOF) performed every six months. New cars are exempt for the first 3 years, but every other vehicle requires these inspections to be able to renew the registration (Rego).
While this does mean that every vehicle on the road in NZ has passed a safety inspection within the previous 6 months (or they risk a hefty fine!), it is a little bit of a hassle to deal with while travelling around. Once the vehicle is inspected, you have 28 days to get any required repairs done and then it can be re-inspected for free.
Thankfully, you can also get a second opinion on inspections. The first inspection that Andrew took the van to went over the top, finding issues that the van was sold to us with. Considering the van passed probably a dozen inspections with the previous owner including an inspection a few days before we picked the van up, we were quite surprised. We decided to seek a second opinion and the results were much more realistic and to be expected.
We had to repair the rust spots and replace the wiper blades. We also chose to get an oil change done; we discovered at this point one of the things in New Zealand that is significantly more expensive than in Canada! $175 for an oil change and we were told by others in town that it was actually a really reasonable price. I think I might be buying myself an oil pan and finding somewhere to get under the campervan every few months.
The repairs were done without too much difficulty, the rust spots are all nicely fixed, and the panel beater (autobody repair technician) even showed Andrew how to do some of the basic repairs so that we can keep any new spots from getting too bad in between inspections. I guess rust is the price you pay for living near the salty corrosive seaside.
Van Upgrades – Just for fun!
In addition to the necessary repairs, we decided to make some improvements to our campervan.
First off, we knew that we needed somewhere to keep our new surfboard. At 8 feet long and 22 inches wide, it takes up a lot of floor space!
Roof mounting it wasn’t an option because of the roof vents and the lack of a roof rack on the campervan. We considered mounting it sideways across the back with the bikes, but the campervan was definitely not 8 feet wide and we didn’t want to do an airplane imitations.
I had seen a mount that sat along the outside of the campervan on the side, but I wasn’t able to find one to purchase. Thus, we came up with our own solution. The surfboard was just short enough that we were able to install hooks into the ceiling of the campervan and then weave a hammock for it to sit in. I can still stand up too, although Andrew can’t. This also gave us somewhere to keep our bodyboards and other long, awkward objects that had previously been cluttering up the floor.
The second project involved taking out the ugly carpet and replacing the flooring. While carpet might be warmer, it just wasn’t practical for the interior of the van. We’d walk in wet from surfing or swimming and drip all over it, or drop food while cooking, or splash water from the sink and end up with a carpet that was just gross after a few weeks. We now have pretty new black laminate flooring in the camper!