January 14th (late)
We caught the 5:00pm bus from Te Anau and arrived back in Queenstown a little before 7pm. We had made a reservation at Nomads hostel for the night. As soon as we were checked into our room, we had to run up to the Flaming Kiwi hostel to pick up the bags that they were storing for us before the reception office closed.
Back at Nomads, we made a pile of laundry to be done (all our really smelly clothes haha) which I started at about 9:15pm (45 minutes before the laundry room was supposed to close). While the laundry was in the wash, I realized I had to run out and get the appropriate change from somewhere other than the hostel front desk because the guy there was unapologetically clear that he didn’t have any change for the laundry even though the laundry room has a sign that says something like “see reception for change.” Went to a convenience store next door that was able to help me out.
Back at the laundry, it was almost ready to go to the dryer. I resolved that I would stay with the laundry once it was in the dryer so that if anyone came to close the laundry room, I would protest vigorously saying “but I just got back from a long multi-day hiking trip and I desperately need clean laundry before I wake up tomorrow.” Basically I was hoping that the person who was going to close the laundry room would take pity on me and let me finish. But no one ever came to close it and other people came to start their laundry later than I started mine and so thought “oh goodie, more people doing laundry = more people to protest the laundry room being closed.”
Laundry finished at approximately 10:30-11:00pm. I was getting super tired.
Earlier in the day (technically a lot earlier), George had started thinking of how he would get to Christchurch; his flight home to the Netherlands was out of the Christchurch Airport. He had considered using his bus pass with Stray Travel to get there, but it would take too long (two days and one night in Mount Cook) to get there and wanted some time to explore the city of Christchurch. He looked at Intercity buses from Queenstown to Christchurch but by the time he was ready to buy one, all passes were booked; none were available. Then, we thought about renting a car. The one option neither of us thought of was looking at regional flights. Oh well.
We decided to proceed with renting a car and driving to Christchurch. It would extend our adventure for a couple more days. We got online, rented a car to be picked up late morning on the 15th and returned late afternoon on the 17th; paid, reservation confirmed. Bedtime at about midnight.
So, part of the story I left out until now: I’ve sort of been keeping my eyes and ears open for some temporary/seasonal work; either paid or work-exchange (working in exchange for accommodation and maybe some food). When we were staying in Te Anau, George said I should ask the folks there if they needed some additional seasonal help. I was dragging my feet about it a bit but finally asked one of the young ladies that I saw doing the morning housekeeping in the backpackers building and she promptly said yes they needed help and that I should go talk to the folks in reception. So, later that afternoon I went to reception and said I was possibly interested in working there. The folks there gave me an application, the manager talked to me very briefly, I filled out the couple of papers, then handed them back (this was on the 13th).
The morning of January 14th, I went back to the office to see if they had made a decision and the manager said “Well, we had some concerns on your application.” and I thought “What the heck?” Out of the companies and people I’ve worked for (much higher intensity and seriousness of work) and I’ve never had any “concerns on your application” responses. I said hmmmm, ok… I’ve never had that before. Basically it concerned the hours that I indicated I could be available. They didn’t match up with the schedule they normally have people work and so that was very easily addressed.
So, basically I had the offer. I had to set up a bank account and get a NZ tax ID number and he was going to “send the contract” to my email. Now, initially, absolutely none of what I just wrote about freaked me out in the slightest. I thought cool; I’ll stay here in this beautiful place and work for 8 weeks, earn and save basically as much money as I had spent here in New Zealand so far, have a couple more adventures while I was there, and then move on to Nepal when I was finished at the end of March. This was my mental plan that had developed and I was fine with it; or so I thought.
So, the morning of the 15th, before we would go to pick up the rental car, I had to go to the Kiwi Bank and Post shop to figure out what it takes to open a bank account. I was wishing a little bit that I was staying in Queenstown until the 18th (when I would catch the Stray bus back to Te Anau to start work the 19th) so that I didn’t have to rush through this slightly intimidating task. Anyway, I went to the Kiwi Bank, talked to the ladies at the desk and said that I needed to open a bank account in order to get an IRD number so that I could work and receive pay. They said “Oh, sorry, we don’t have any appointments until the 26th.” Huh? You need an appointment? But they also asked if I already had a job and I said yes I do. The lady that sets up bank accounts was in the office that morning and made time to help me since I had a job.
Paperwork I needed and didn’t have: proof of the job or proof of an address in New Zealand (which I don’t have because I haven’t gotten the contract yet). I did have my passport and US tax info with me so that was good. Basically, I could have a hostel reservation, get a letter from the hostel saying that I was staying there and that could be my proof of address. So, since I needed a place to stay the night of the 17th when I would be back in Queenstown, I made that reservation, walked to the hostel, paid for the reservation and got the “proof of address” letter.
Back to the bank, I went to the window and said I had the paperwork needed to set up the bank account. The lady brought me to her office where we had an account set up and an IRD number requested in about 20 minutes or so. She was so friendly and helpful. It really helped resolve a morning that had sort of turned into a whirlwind of back and forth, paperwork gathering, feeling like I was racing around.
All the while, my mind is stressing about the fact that I thought I had put the pick-up time for our rental car at 10am. By the time I got the bank account settled and we were even ready to leave the hostel was around 11 or 11:30am. I don’t know what US rental companies do about people who pick up cars much later than their estimated pickup time; who knows what NZ car rental companies do. My mind went to “what if they assume the people aren’t going to show up and rent the car to someone else!” What if we lose the rental car and end up with no way to get George to Christchurch!?!?! Oh NOOOO.” I did look at my rental confirmation and saw that I put 11am, not 10AM which provided a little bit of relief. Even still, we didn’t get to the airport (we had to catch a bus to the airport for $10/person) until about 12:30 I think. Some of the rental car companies were easy to spot; Hertz, Avis, etc. I look at my rental confirmation and it says “Snap Rentals.” Ok, where is Snap Rentals and why don’t we see that place anywhere here at the Airport? It says “Pickup Location: Queenstown Airport.” Well, we did notice yesterday but didn’t take much thought to it: somewhere it had said that we should call and schedule a shuttle pickup from the airport to pick up the vehicle. But late last night when my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders I was thinking that was only for people arriving by airplane and didn’t have any transportation. We had the bus to the airport so who needs to schedule a pick-up… we don’t! Hah!!
There was a number to call so we had to go into the airport to connect to the free wi-fi, find the number, attempt to call that number for the Snap Rental office several times only to have the call not answered. Super aggravating. So my next move was to stop calling and figure out exactly where Snap Rental’s business location was; they couldn’t be too awfully far from the airport. I noticed that my google maps had noticed my car reservation (like it does my hostel reservations) and added it to my calendar and put a little icon on my map where the reservation was; approximately 3 kilometers away. That’s not terrible. It’s a beautiful day, the Snap Rental shuttle is not answering the phone and is nowhere to be seen, so we’re wasting time just standing here fretting. Let’s start walking to the location. We’ve just walked almost 100 kilometers….I think we can handle three more carrying only our small daypacks.
We reached the rental location and promptly informed them that their number they provided to schedule the shuttle for pickup was not working or that no one answered it. They were sort of apologetic and worked to get us all set with our rental car. We ended up paying a bit more money than anticipated to get a bit of insurance coverage for it. Being foreigners not used to driving on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car, I wanted some sort of coverage even though it would cost a bit more than hoped.
Finally, at about 1:30 or so, we were all set ready to drive back to the hostel to pick up our big packs from storage. George decided to drive first; I would be his hyper-vigilant co-pilot. I had to remind him a few times to drive on the left side of the road, hahaha. It was weird for sure. We couldn’t park right in front of the hostel and so George stayed with the car in a handicapped spot (the closest spot we could find to the hostel) and I ran to the hostel and back a couple of times to pickup both of our big packs and the bags we stored while hiking. Finally, everything loaded, bottle filled with water, we could head out; much later than my “rigid mental schedule” would have liked being about 2:00pm. Neither of us had had lunch (granted we had a late breakfast) and at least I was still in this anxious mental racing mode that is hard to shift out of.
Once we were on the road though, heading out-of-town and leaving all the busy Queenstown traffic behind and getting out into the countryside, I started to relax (I think). We stopped at a lovely little cafe called Tarras Country Cafe; a little joint on the side of the road in an area called Tarras for “coffee time.” Back on the road, we continued driving for a couple of hours until we reached the turn-off to go to Mount Cook. George wanted to stop and do a short hike to be able to say he’d been to and seen Mount Cook.
As you drive on Route 80 (off of Route 8), you pass a pretty large lavender field, some other beautiful scenery, and then you go around a corner and maybe down a hill or something and then you see it: this literally almost electric (yet natural) blue lake. This lake (Lake Pukaki – search it on Google maps) is the bluest of blue lakes I have ever seen in my life. The pictures you will see below do not appropriately capture the color of the lake. It was totally incredible. We had to stop and just stare at it for a few minutes because it was so breathtaking. The color of the lake as it looks on Google Maps is basically the color we were amazed by. It was a blue between the color on Google Maps and the color in my pictures.
We got to Mount Cook village and found a place to park and decided to hike the Kea Point trail (one hour return). It was a bit cloudy but was still beautiful. Back from the trail, we decided to finish our muesli and yogurt, orange juice, and coffee, and then get back on the road and find where we were going to stay the night.
It gets dark pretty late here and so by the time we got to Tekapo (pronounced like “tikapoo” – I get a kick out of that for some reason), it was pitch dark, reception offices are closed, and it’s hard to see any campgrounds, let alone set up a tent. We stopped to ask one hotel (whose reception office was closing in about 3 minutes) said we could probably find space at a holiday park about half an hour up the road in Fairlie. Tekapo was a pretty popular spot and so the campgrounds would probably be all full. So, we continued up the road to Fairlie. It was now about 11:30pm when we pulled into the holiday park and thankfully they had a sign on their reception door saying that any after-hours arrivals could camp in any open spot and pay in the morning as soon as the reception office opened. So, trying to be as quiet as possible in order not to wake anyone who may think “who the heck just got here and is setting up this late at night in potentially not exactly a camp site?” we pulled in, set up camp really quickly, used the nearby restrooms, and then passed out for the night.
Tekapo is home to a space observatory and so have to meet light pollution regulations at night. This means that it is really, really dark at night and therefore the stars are particularly visible. I don’t remember where exactly (I think it was in Tekapo) but I happened to just see a really bright shooting star from the car… it was amazing.
Woke up late since we went to bed late… but (reminder to myself) we’re on holiday so there is no real deadline to wake up. We stopped for breakfast at the local cafe in town, then headed out-of-town. Shortly after we got outside of town, I remembered that we needed to fill the gas tank. So I turned around, went the short distance pack to town, and stopped at the gas station. I was initially confused with the pump; you don’t pay first here; you don’t swipe a credit card or pay the clerk before fueling up. You pull up, fill the tank, and then go in and pay. Remember those good old days when it used to be like that in the US? Fueled up, we hit the road, again, to Christchurch.
Since we had the freedom of a rental car, we went to check out a beach a little north of the main city. There were several people fishing; for what type of fish I really don’t know. I didn’t ask. Possibly salmon.
Back towards Christchurch, we stopped at a coffee shop to use the wi-fi so that I could find a hostel for the night. It wasn’t too hard and ended up staying at the Old Country House Backpackers. Quite a nice place to stay.
We spent the afternoon walking around Christchurch. There is a lot of construction going on and clear and visible remnants of the damage from the earthquakes that struck the city. Later that day, we were walking and at this one intersection, we passed a guy that George looked back at and said “isn’t that your friend?” It was Tanner; the person I hiked up Roy’s Peak in Wanaka with. Seriously what are the chances! Last time I saw him was in Queenstown on January 2nd before we caught our shuttle to the Greenstone Track and he caught the Stray bus to go further south. Couldn’t believe it. We three spent the rest of the evening together catching up which was really nice.
We had a really nice last dinner together at a sweet Spanish restaurant right next to the Botanical Gardens. Everyone in the restaurant was quite dressed up and there we were in our quite casual attire (being backpackers you don’t have room for fancy clothes). Hahaha, oh well. It was delicious and so worth it!
Back at the hostel, I got ready for bed and went to sleep since I wanted to be rested for the long drive back to Queenstown in the morning.
I was up and about pretty early, getting ready for the day and packing my stuff to load the car. George and I went out and went through his stuff, organizing and packing it all into his backpack so that he only had that and his daypack to carry to the airport later that day. His flight was leaving around 10pm so he had basically the whole day to spend in Christchurch. I on the other hand, had to get on the road no later than 10am in order to have some wiggle room and still be back to Queenstown before 5:15pm, the latest I could bring the car back and not be charged a bit more money for it.
We brought George’s stuff to the storage room, had one more cup of coffee on the porch, and then it was time to say goodbye. Hopped in the car, put some of my favorite tunes on, and headed on down the road.
I hate goodbyes and in traveling you are constantly saying goodbye to people you meet because you obviously aren’t traveling together (long-term I mean). That generally leads to high highs, and low lows, as with anything in life; good days and bad days. I knew after having such a great time, after having such a “high high,” that there would be a “low low” afterwards.