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~New Zealand has no bandits and the relaxed lifestyle is second to none~
I had been planning my gap year since I was ten years old, and if I could have dropped out of Primary School then and travelled I certainly would have. Looking back now, those next eight years of school and then college flew by. Everyone around me began to pick Universities and courses they wanted to study after summer break, seeing this as the obvious next step in their lives. But not me, I knew I was free. I had been stuck in the same town and School since I was three years old and it was time to see the world. The idea of travelling to New Zealand (NZ) had been stuck in my head since I was young, due to a family friend having moved there. She was working for the Department of Conservation (DOC) in Turangi, and her partner ran the Tongariro Natural History Society (TNHS) in the same building. All I knew was that both their jobs involved working in the outdoors, and that was me hooked. I applied for a position with TNHS, and after being accepted set about applying for a working holiday visa. A working holiday visa for NZ can last up to 23 months, although you can actually only work for 12 of these months. I applied online for mine through STA Travel, and received it within weeks. I also booked my flights and travel insurance with them too. In recent years I have used Flight Centre to book all my flights, as they thoroughly search for the cheapest deals. When choosing travel insurance, be sure to note what you want it to cover. NZ is full of adventure activities such as sky diving, bungee jumping and white water rafting. Basic travel insurance covers grade three white water, so if you injure yourself on a grade five river you cannot claim. Travel insurance can be expensive, but is certainly necessary. After four months in Ethiopia with a friend, I flew to NZ, arriving in Auckland airport at the end of December. That first notion of being on your own is crazy, after eighteen years of being told what to do and then suddenly it is all up to you. Fight or flight. I remember feeling quite pleased with myself when I discovered the Airbus that went direct to Auckland city centre, and stopped outside the backpackers I had booked into. (It was actually the only mode of transport into the city apart from a taxi)! If in doubt with anything in an airport, just ask at airport information or tourist information as there are lots of staff around to help, and they are perfect at dealing with people new to travelling and airports. On the bus my body began to crash from lack of sleep, as I attempted to concentrate on the sights and sounds of Auckland. I had been flying for twenty something hours and had not slept much, but luckily I did not have to wait long for my stop. There is an abundance of backpackers, hotels and motels in Auckland, looking online shows a wide variety of places to stay who cater for all your required needs. Popular chains around NZ include Base Backpackers and YHA, both offering discount cards and nightly events for cheap prices. Last year I had the pleasure of escorting my sister to NZ, and our flight arrived in Auckland at the ridiculous time of 12.30 at night. I searched for a backpackers close to the airport, and found the Skyway Lodge. I emailed them in advance, and they were happy to pick us up even though it was late. Upon checking in at the backpackers, I discovered that I had left my passport on the bus...”oh ****”, what an idiot. I frantically phoned Airbus’s office and the airport police in a frantic attempt to find it, but to no avail. It was New Year’s Eve and everywhere was in party mode, so instead of freaking out I decided to just go with the flow and managed to befriend some kiwi girls to go drinking with. I hung around in Auckland for a few days after that trying to find my passport, but with limited places to look and the probability of it containing a new photograph of a supposed me; I jumped on an Intercity bus to Turangi. www.intercity.co.nz Turangi is the trout fishing capital of New Zealand, or so the sign claims, (suspiciously the town of Gore states the same). The Rough Guide to New Zealand says that it “is a small, flat and characterless place”, and I guess it may be to the untrained eye, but I love Turangi. I spent just over three months there tramping around its bush, conserving its wildlife and swimming in the glacial river. A definite must do is walk the hour long circular track around lake Rotopounamu, at the base of Mount Pihanga . TNHS volunteers have made this piece of bush what it is today by working hard to eradicate foreign predators, and keeping native bird numbers up. I did eventually get my passport back, and felt very guilty about making assumptions about it being stolen. Not every country is made of bandits! It happened days after arriving in Turangi and because I had not had any luck in those first few days, I had cancelled it and started making arrangements to get an emergency one. (This can all easily be done online or by telephone, do not panic)! Literally a few hours later, a PC Bradley from the Auckland airport police phoned TNHS (after phoning my parents in the UK their 2am) and said it had been handed in and what address to send it on to. It gave my parents quite a shock as I had not actually told them about the passport drama, and having the NZ police phone randomly during the night cannot have been very comforting. Oops lesson learnt, luckily everyone saw the funny side. For travellers I would say Turangi would be more of a brief stop off, than a place to stay with it being only half an hour away from Taupo. The Mustard Seed Cafe makes a good lunch stop, and the Liquorice Cafe (just outside of Turangi on the Taupo side), does an amazing iced coffee. For a bit more adventure, contact the Tongariro River rafting office. Turangi is situated in the Tongariro National Park, and from the town you can carry on to National Park, Whakapapa and Mountains Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom, Lord of the Rings). A must do for walkers is the Tongariro crossing, and for those who are extra keen, a jaunt up the scree that is Ngauruhoe is fun if only for the slide back down! TNHS’s season ended at the beginning of April, and I found myself on an Intercity bus to Taihape in search of River Valley: I was to be their new bar girl. River Valley is located a forty minute drive out of Taihape, which proves difficult to get to if you arrive without a car. Luckily the day I arrived a member of staff was in town getting gas as the staff assured me I would have been left there until something from town was required! The Kiwi Experience bus also stops there nightly. River Valley is a big lodge nestled at the bottom of a lush, green valley, with the mighty Rangitikei flowing through. It is a beautiful, serene place with a great vibe: a perfect contrast of relaxation and adventure. White water rafting was a new concept to me entirely; I had not seen much grade 5 white water before then. The first time I mentally prepared myself for rafting, we got halfway up to a lookout point and discovered the river was too high for our trip to be adjured safe, and we had to abort. The second trip was better as we actually got the rafts into the river, but the water level was really low. I remember thinking rafting was not really all that, even ‘boring’ may have crossed my mind. It was definitely third time lucky for me, and this trip completely nullified my previous thoughts. The river had risen to a very substantial level, and at the bottom of a rather ‘extreme’ rapid our raft was caught on a rock and another raft ploughed into and over the top of the bow. Literally a minute before a friend had asked if I wanted to swap places, and the place that had doomed to be mine was now empty, and people were in the water, cavorting downstream. I just sat there staring at the emptiness, vaguely hearing our guide Darryn yelling back paddle. Now I am addicted! River Valley has been in the press a lot lately, for an incident that occurred a few years ago. The guides are highly trained, but it is an adventurous activity and there are obviously elements of risk that occur, especially in Grade 5 white water. On a lighter note the Rangitikei is an amazing river to experience, and the gorge it winds through holds beautiful New Zealand fauna and flora with the extra special opportunity of maybe spotting a deer or pig. There are not many rafting companies arranged in such a way that you finish at the lodge, and are able to jump straight into a hot shower. Everyone has their own unique memories of River Valley, mine were definitely the people. I met some amazing friends from all over the world who I have gone on to work, live, party and even fall in love with. From the Rangitikei River I went to Mount Ruapehu, and slept on a friend’s floor for a few months and attempted learning to snowboard. Ruapehu opens its doors for the ski season around June/July, and remains open until early Spring offering many job opportunities. Many avid snow orientated travellers work in rentals, operate the ski lifts, serve in its cafes and even teach people to ski and board. Both the north and south islands have ski fields, and are always looking for workers, and even on occasion offering visas to those who keep returning. As summer approached and the snow melted, I decided to follow some raft guides to the south island and the Rangitata River, which runs through Peel Forest. The village of Peel Forest is about a two hour drive from Christchurch, turning off at Ashburton or a twenty minute drive from Geraldine if you come up from the south. The road in is flanked by farm land, field upon field of cattle, sheep deer and swede. The village is a consecutive line of houses occasionally interrupted by a native tree, with the Musterer’s Bar and Cafe at the centre, which is also the local store. Driving further on you reach the bottom of Little Mount Peel, and the start of an array of beautiful walks. A main reason for people visiting Peel Forest is for its DOC walking tracks, which vary in length and difficulty from a half hour walk to discover Peel Forests “Big Tree”, to a six hour hike up Little Mount Peel and back. Doc also owns a large campground near the river, which is open from late August to April. Other outdoor activities in Peel Forest include horse trekking, and white water rafting. White water rafting on the Rangitata River is a very different experience from the mighty Rangitikei. The Rangitikei is low volume and technical, where as the Rangitata is high volume grade 5. Meaning no matter what the river flow, the Rangitata always has two grade 5 rapids. It also holds the longest grade five white water rapid in New Zealand, which goes by the name of ‘the pinch’. Expect action packed, and yes, you are going to get wet! I left New Zealand at the start of winter that year, and headed back home. Two years later and I am back again, I missed the relaxed lifestyle, endless rainforests and mountain ranges too much. What began for me as a travelling adventure has turned into a way of life; New Zealand will always hold a special place and a home for me.
Submitted by: Sarah Kate Ferry Date submitted: 14/05/2010 8:29:11 p.m.