The plane was just about to land in Auckland when I woke up. I looked down and the landscape seemed like that The Lord of the Rings movie makers really didn’t use much special effects, if any at all. Only after passing all controls and getting out of the airport I realized it’s one of the happiest moments of my life. And things are upside down. It’s a spring day in November. Let me tell you something about my first days in Kiwi land. The land where the grass is greener, the sky bluer and landscape sceneries will awaken a new zeal inside of you.
My first feelings in the new country, which was supposed to become my home for the whole year, were confusing. Auckland seemed to be a mix of European and American city, though full of Asian and Indian people. An odd multicultural impression. To get in touch with other newcomers in the huge YHA hostel required a great effort and I didn’t really catch the city vibe in the streets either. An administration shum, that’s how we call when the paperwork gets frustrating, while getting a bank account and a tax number set me back. This won’t be an easy start. Fortunately, walking around the city’s parks and attractions brought me to the main Aotea square. There was a message I needed to find. The big wooden Maori gate said stop your snivelling creek bed; come rain hail & flood-water laugh again. It took me some time until I got the point, but from there on I fought my way through. So stop your snivelling you little foreigner, the world doesn’t spin around you. Or does it?
Even though I was forced to stay in Auckland couple days more, I finished the paperwork, changed the hostel to make first connections with nice fellow backpackers and booked the bus ticket to Mount Maunganui. This place I chose simply because I fell in love with an idea of spending New Zealand’s summer by the ocean on the east coast perfectly located for early morning sunrises.
Advice #1: Don’t waste your time in Auckland, waste it on the beach.
Felix qui nihil debet. (Happy is he who owes nothing.) By using a debt metaphor I want to express my essential rule, thus to always earn plenty of money for travels first, so then I don’t owe anything to myself when it comes to traveling. In other words, I already spent my money on getting here so didn’t have other choice but finding a job. On the Day number 8 after the landing I was ready to start a fight for my next existence. I arrived to Mount Maunganui and set my basecamp at Seagull’s hostel. From there I performed several counterattacks to find a summer job and also a long-term accommodation. Unsuccessfully. Maybe lack of luck, maybe karma. In any case I overrated my intentions of existing without a car and taking over the local people’s stable full-time jobs. But in the meantime, I was enjoying sunrises and sunsets, adapting to the new environment and stereotypes. In the hostel I got along with Kira, a German girl working there in exchange for accommodation. During my two weeks stay we talked, laughed, cooked and ate together. On the Day 18 we visited geysers and volcanic pools at Wai-O-Tapu which was my very first encounter with natural wonders of New Zealand. Kira became the first great local friend and we stayed in touch. See you in Hannover.
Finally I had to leave the frontline and found a living in Welcome Bay, a small Tauranga suburb. Far from the beach and sunrises but close to the ideal. After 5 years of shared students’ rooms I did wish to live by myself. It was a small caravan on the garden of Ian and Sheena’s house where I settled down. Day 22: The Magic Caravan. That was exactly what it was. I loved that place.
Advice #2: Do your homework and try to find a job in advance. It saves you a lot of money.
The first success with the caravan was soon followed by the second one concerning the job. I found a part-time in a small motel nearby. Although I intended to work there only until I find something steady, I eventually stayed almost all summer. How typical. You start the job you are not really confident about and you end up realizing it has become the steady one. Nevertheless, it was an easy housekeeping job with some free-leftover-food benefits and pleasant company of Jude and Marianne, two elderly Kiwi cleaning ladies. I also enjoyed riding my newly purchased bike to get to work. And there I was, living alone in a caravan, without a car, with no Wi-Fi, saving money cooking and biking, reading and running a lot. I knew that will be truly rewarding period of my life. And it was. But there was one but. If I wanted to travel this country I needed much more money. So I kept looking for another job and stayed a bit stressed. Only until I stopped avoiding asking for a work in restaurants. Day 56: Two jobs. It was painful but from a waiter level zero I got better with English and customers and sometimes even liked the job. Level pro? I have to thank Lisa, my manager for making my waiter experience as pleasant as it was. Finally I made it. My new zeal made it. The zeal for traveling kept me going to overcome all obstacles. I earned enough to buy a car so my travel imagination took over and transformed the map of North Island into a roadtrip coloring book.
Advice #3: Nothing works out according to the plan, but it always works out. Don’t lose faith.
As days and weeks passed I could finally judge New Zealand based on my own experiences. In short, if you are looking for a perfect country to live in, come here and have a look. The wealth and prosperity just flow out from every corner. An abundant land has turned New Zealand into an agricultural superpower and made people rich. Population 4.5 million with the size smaller than Italy, almost no criminality and far from the problems we face in Europe or anywhere in the world. Add the wonderful nature and you get the desired home destination. In case you don’t mind stereotypes and 40-hours working weeks, it doesn’t take too much effort to reach a higher standard of living. But. I found it too perfect. People seem they got too comfy and they don’t look happy. How is that?!
I hope everybody could get rich and famous and will have everything they ever dreamed of, so they will know it’s not the answer. (Jim Carrey)
It’s like a disease. A syndrome of consumerism. When you have nothing you appreciate everything. When you have everything you appreciate nothing. People drive nice cars and if not nice than just cars. I have never seen so busy roads like here. They own houses. It’s really hard to find blocks of flats. And they need to spend money to entertain themselves. It feels like something is missing. A bit of appreciation, gratefulness, humility? Something you can’t touch. Happiness within perhaps. Day 94: How are you?
How are you? They ask automatically when you enter the door.
Eh? Me? I’m okay.
Just okay? You’re not good?
To be honest I don’t know. I don’t really think about it.
Ah, we say we’re good.
Almost 25 years I’ve lived in a culture where good morning is polite enough. I guess I will never get used to how are you? because my mind always begins to rationally wander for the honest answer. I don’t have automatical good mechanism installed. Okay wasn’t enough, although when I tried excellent I sounded weird and sarcastic. To be good is a standard. Is that possible? I can’t believe that nobody is having a bad day when I ask them how they are. For me there must be a reason to be or feel good or bad. And happy. There must be an answer for why are you good or bad. Or happy. Therefore, I suggest to upgrade the most used and at the same time sense missing question how are you today? into are you happy today? It would make you think about why much more and might bring more sense and gratitude, too.
In my long quite nights in the caravan I was left in a company of books and myself. I guess that is where all this happiness and gratefulness thinking come from. As a conclusion, I would like to get philosophical here and say that there is an ultimate recommendation or life rule about how to live a happy life. I’ve read it and heard it so many times. It says live each day as if it was your last. It sounds like a bad cliché and still it instantly feels good to think about a living this way. The interesting change happens when you actually start playing with this idea and keep it in your head. You are not going to fly or see unicorns, but it will definitely surprise you. On days when I wake up and remind myself this ultimate idea the world is brighter. I’m happy for what I have and the never-ending desire to have something more is paralyzed close to level zero. People don’t piss me off, on the contrary I like to get into conversations and on the question how are you? I finally know the answer. I feel determined and even though according to the idea this day might be my last I tend to do more sustainable activities than daily necessities. Try to keep this fake thought that you are facing the death for the rest of your day and see what happens…
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid a trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked, there is no reason not to follow your heart. (Steve Jobs)
I spent most of the summer working, but as I mentioned I also did some reading and running. These two elements merged in the book Born to Run which inspired me and gave running a higher meaning. On this running vibe I decided to sign up for my first half marathon at the end of the summer. I struggled with training as I sometimes couldn’t wake up after long shifts in the restaurant. Day 99: Race Day. I have never run continuously for more than two hours before. The difficult track up, down and around the hill Mauao in Mount Maunganui didn’t help my beginner’s experience either. But I surprised my mind and body, too. 13th out of 90 runners and an incredibly good feeling was worth legs soreness for next five days. Running has become an important driver in my self-development story.
Advice #4: Turn inspiring books into actions.
Suddenly, final day of work was ahead. To sum up my first days I would say it wasn’t easy. Here I realized I’m no longer a student with a place to come back after summer. I graduated and dedicated my further life journey to an unknown, insecure life of a traveler. After this experience I’m again a bit stronger and I got to the point where I like not knowing where I’m gonna travel next. Day 107: Ready to take off. At the end of February I packed my backpack and left for a roadtrip around North Island. The amount of wonders I found and troubles I got into is enough for the next blog post…