The next chapter sees me in a settled location, much like I have been at Earthskin for the past month. This makes it a little tricky when it comes to blog writing as it all becomes information and sensory overload, also it gives me a hard time remembering all of those smaller details that ultimately play such a part in the overall impression of a place. So, towards the end of my residency at Earthskin I was trying to decide how to spend my time in the last couple of months left in New Zealand, and how to sustain myself for that time (money was getting a little tight after so long without a job). A quick dabble in job searching and I landed upon an un-missable opportunity, to work as a tour guide again, but this time in a cave! But this was also much better as it was a new business, on a family farm with tour groups no larger than 8 people (slightly different to Hobbiton experiences). After an enthusiastic few emails back and forth we arranged to have the first part of the interview, which consisted of joining a tour and seeing what the job really entailed. It was extra important to make a good impression as this was the first person the business were planning to employ outside of their family. The interview involved wading through deep river around the impressive gorge, this was going to be unlike any cave experiences I’d had before, far purer, more natural and unspoilt. With the cold water and mud rushing in my gumboots (wellies) the idea that this could be an ‘office’ was surreal, but exciting. Heath, one of the sons of the caving family was one of two tour guides working for the company. He seemed an easy going, quiet type that took going through the cave in his stride, he had been exploring the family cave as an adventure playground since he was 5. He was also responsible for putting in the roped pathways that ran through the surrounding forest and at the top of the river for the harnessed dry tour, as well as planning the whole guiding route. I enjoyed the tour very much and soaked up the changeable surroundings and challenges, as there was water wading, climbing and crawling though tight squeezes throughout. Feeling optimistic I chatted with the family afterwards and agreed we’d have a follow up interview via phone or Skype, it was time to get on the road (in my wet underwear) and hit the Auckland traffic en-route back to my beautiful abode in Muriwai. Just a couple of days later I had an informal chat with Michelle on the phone and was later offered the position. Thrilled and also reasonably anxious at all the changing of plans for the immediate future. Accommodation was all sorted for me, as the family members living some 5 minutes away from the farm had a cottage/out house that would be just perfect for me to stay in. In deep isolated green rolling hills I found my new home. It is a working farm that has awesome views from my simple deck and also the sounds and smells you’d expect from a farm. There are around 6 farm dogs sharing the land beside me, beneath a beautiful tree that fills my bedroom window lookout. If I’m really lucky the dogs take it upon themselves to form a choir and let me know of their presence (!) It’s simple, but it’s all I need. I have weeded the garden and began to grow a garden of my own complete with veges, herbs and flowers, as it’s now springtime here. I like nothing more than to sit on the deck with a glass of wine of a sunny evening, enjoying the view and feeling grateful for the place I am in and the truly memorable experiences I am having.
I am isolated here, I have very little signal, no Wi-Fi, but honestly I enjoy it. Many of the travelling friends I have met along the way in New Zealand have made their way back home or on to new destinations, it is indeed a new chapter. However, within a couple of days of moving in Hendrik took the trip north to come and stay for a couple of nights. It was again really lovely to be able to share another of these spectacular locations I’d managed to land myself in. I hadn’t began work yet but it made perfect sense for us to join on a tour while he was here, to show him how I would be spending my days underground. This time around we joined the other tour-guide Ash’s tour. Full of cheesy jokes and a very approachable character, it gave a different spin on the tour, and of course it was good for me to view it from another perspective. The cave is a short walk away from the office through lush green woodland towards the gorge which is around 30 metres below ground.
A walk around the gorge begins the tour, negotiating the river and rocks and taking in the sweet surroundings, before heading deep in to the cave. There are parts that the water reaches the upper thigh (you soon learn the technique of emptying water from your gumboot), crawling and climbing over undisturbed rocks, there are no pathways, lights, everything is left just as nature intended. There are a couple of optional ‘squeezes’ to challenge the more eager of the group before we arrive up close and personal with the glow worms. The river then leads us up to the main stunning display of glow worms that we all enjoy in darkness for a good amount of time. The whole tour is unhurried, and is about creating a true experience and memorable escape from reality- can you understand why I enjoy it so much yet?! Buzzing, myself and Hendrik headed back to cook up some food on the BBQ and enjoy some red wine on the deck, a nice start to make a house a home.
Settling into training in both the office and with guiding I’ve fully immersed myself in this experience and feel I am creating a great bond with the family and the interesting people from around the world I get to meet on a daily basis. I love the can-do attitude here and how hands on everything is. I enjoy buzzing around in the mule around the farm, not to mention cutting the grass on the ride on mower. I spend a lot of time in Heath’s company as he has predominantly been the one training me on the tours. We enjoy a healthy amount of piss-taking and jobs around the farm such as fixing rope, laying water pipe, it sounds dull but with him it really is quite fun. We have adventured together through the waterfalls on the river too, it’s nice to get out and around the area with somebody as adventurous and curious as myself. We found the remaining part of his Triumph toy bike he rode as a young boy, just washed up on the side of the river. Michelle predominantly runs the business and is good fun and easy to learn from, she has been filling my brain with all the finer details that keep the business ticking along. Working 10 days on and 4 days off provides me with enough time to get away and enjoy mini breaks, the next one saw me heading back to nearby Raglan to Solscape, where I visited at the start of my New Zealand journey. It was essentially Hendrik’s birthday treat. We booked ourselves into a mud formed Earth Dome for the night and enjoyed the ambience of the gentle light and flowing round structure. The following morning we followed each other driving the windy gravel laden roads around Pirongia and Kawhia (yes there was drifting involved) then onto a hike up Mount Pirongia (ok so the morning fry-up may have affected my walking ability somewhat) on a blazing hot day we took to laying in the grass and soaked up the amazing view that surrounded us, it was never very hard for us to create an enjoyable experience together, it was effortless.
It had become a case of planning the next adventure together and I was very happy to find myself back at his pub in Apiti on my next days off. I was introduced to a traditional South-African braai and had a great time chatting and drinking with his chef/friend Bruce too. It’s fair to say I didn’t need to eat or drink for around 2 days after this visit.
So now, I find myself waiting on the outcome of a visa extension application. The future is very up in the air for me at the moment and if I am fortunate enough to be offered the extra time here I know that I have an amazing job to return to and people I want to spend much more time with. Fingers crossed…
Soundtrack: The Imagined Village – ‘Ouses, ‘Ouses, ‘Ouses, Dreadzone – Cave of Angels, Radiohead – Identikit