5pm on Monday and I’m standing at the top of Mt. Victoria in Wellington, New Zealand.
Beautiful 360 degree view of the harbor and the controversial site of the wellywood sign.
To get there I trekked up a narrow winding path through the forest from the city centre (yes, that’s how they spell it everywhere but the US). I’m standing at the top platform chatting with some very tattoo’d Maoris – think aggressive face tattoos. Despite their appearance drawing up thoughts of Mike Tyson, they are some of the most friendly people I have known.
Out of the blue a familiar face from the basketball courts at Santa Clara University shows up. He ever-so-casually walked out of the same forested path I had come from earlier as I was walking away from the hill top. We did a, “Wait a minute… I know you… And what the hell are you doing all the way up here?!” I had no idea he was traveling in the same country, let alone the same city. Alex Ritcheson has been through New Zealand for the past few months working odd jobs and enjoying his time. We exchanged stories and updates at Chow’s; a favorite for the cast of the Lord of the Rings actors.
Backing up… I started in Auckland disoriented, dazed, aimless and spent most of the first day drinking coffees and getting everything in order. Just as bars in NYC stay open all night, Auckland’s night life is endless. Auckland has got some interesting architecture, it’s clean, scenic, but is pretty much like other big cities.
So fast forward through two late nights of revelry and I found my way on a bus down to Rotorua which is famous for the geothermal baths. Originally it was built as the World Famous South Pacific Healing Spa known for the health benefits of the minerals in the naturally occurring volcanic bath waters. It ultimately failed: One, because the water is highly corrosive and wreaked havoc on any and all structures that tried to pump it into bath houses. And Two, the place has a constant sulfery stench that, on the spectrum of smells, falls somewhere between eggs and fertilizer. This main bathhouse used to be the big attraction for the upper echelon of the tourist crowd in the early 1900′s.
The town as a whole thrives now with geothermal attractions, local maori cultural experiences, and some of the best mountain biking paths in the world.
Backpackers dominate the scene in most of the towns throughout New Zealand. Nine percent of New Zealand’s GDP comes from tourism. These backpackers may be poor but where they lack in funds they make up in volume. It’s about $20 per night to stay in any one of the hundreds of hostels in the country. Many of the workers in these hostels are travelers themselves who decided to stay to work for free lodging.
New Zealand has a very high quality of life and it’s generally easy to find work here. Minimum wage is $13.50 (compared with $7.25 in the US). They have great wine here, specifically Pinot Noir, which is produced locally. Actually it feels a lot like California: picturesque, it’s got its wine country, potential for a lot of outdoor activity, and lots of good looking blondes (although here they all have european accents). Speaking of blondes, here are some words of wisdom from famous boxing writer Bert Sugar, “Just as Gentlemen prefer Blondes, Blondes prefer Gentlemen.”
Off to the South Island…