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The next Glowing chapter

Glow Worm Caving AdventuresThe 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. p1090326 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. img_20161002_111909 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.

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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.

p1080768A 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.

p1000387Settling 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. p1090421 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. p1090145The 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.

p1090171It 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.

glowing-adventures2So 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

 

 

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Into The Great Snowy South ❆

DSC_0519As previously mentioned in the last blog, I finally made it back to Auckland, despite the cancelled flight and the best part of 2 days spent in the airport terminal. It was all ok really, I wound up staying in much smarter accommodation than I had booked , complete with room service (4 toasties at 2am no less) I was in no rush to get back to Christchurch either, but I was getting pangs of helplessness and just wanted to get back into my trusty car and drive off.

The next port of call on this southern trip was leading me towards Lake Tekapo, this worked out well as Hobbiton friends were working on Mount Dobson ski field and living nearby in Fairlie – their adopted second home. Hannah and Luke had been in New Zealand for getting on for 2 years now, and this is the place they spent their last winter – they loved the community atmosphere there. It was great to arrive at their cute little home they were sharing with 3 cool flatmates. It wasn’t long before we greeted each other with a hug and a cheer and began to fill in on our time after Hobbiton.

Hannah was a fellow tour guide and Luke worked in the Green Dragon Inn. They began working at Hobbiton around the same time and also left Hobbiton shortly after myself. They are a great fun-loving couple from ‘up-north’ in the UK (everything is ‘up-north’ to people from Southampton) complete with good strong accents we got on immediately and I’m sure we will share some wine and beers when we all get back home (probably in The Hobbit pub of course).P1080010

As we began to catch up over some lush NZ navy rum it was apparent they had been through a fair bit, with lingering illness issues and a recent car crash giving them prolonged insurance grief, loss of their car, but thankfully they were fine. We were hoping to ski the following day, due to a fresh bout of snow arriving, although sadly the road up to the mountain was closed, due to ever-changing weather conditions, it just wasn’t meant to be! We took a trip out to Mount John instead taking in some of those amazing snowy mountains I had so far only had mere glimpses of. We stopped at a discreet art gallery shack, which wound up to house some incredible pieces by a local artist that Hannah and Luke knew, although they did not know the talent he was hiding! (often the case for creatives). After a day of eating, drinking, chilling and being merry I drove off into the night to the Geraldine Observatory. Now I have a deep lack of knowledge when it comes to astronomy, but what I do have is a deep fascination and curiosity. I was greeted by fellow brit Peter who offered the chance to star gaze from his garden’s observatory (that’s such a lovely word too) Peter has a lifetime experience of astronomy and still works closely with NASA in search of supernovas. He houses 2 observatories, one solely robotic set up with a Celestron C14 specifically for supernova hunting. The two observatories are 2 of 7 that he has built over the years. I was drawn to stargaze here as it is one of the ‘dark sky’ areas of the world, also because Peter offers the tours out of pure passion and loves to share his experience and findings, and his photographs? they’re mind-blowing. With the help of Luke and Hannah I began to have a plan for the next couple of weeks, including the best places to visit and stay. That is the beauty with meeting new people all the time is that you can be selective as to where to visit due to their experiences and of course, what you personally feel like doing at the time. I left Fairlie early (see what I did there?) back towards Tekapo as this is a usual scenic route, picking up some good photos of the well photographed Church of the Good Shepherd. DSC_0492I was heading towards Mount Cook, wow what a landscape. All of this beautiful fresh snow had really painted a picture, I was staying at a wooden clad youth hostel, one of only a handful of accommodation in the area. I began a hike the following day along the Hooker Valley Track. It was beautiful sunlight that day, becoming very cool indeed when traversing swing bridges closer and closer to the glaciers. This day will forever be in my memory, it was so unlike anything I’d experienced before, lacking in colour, the landscape was a stunning charcoal sketch I’d dreamt of experiencing.

P1080143Senses fulfilled, it was on to Wanaka for the night. I made a pit stop at the touristy Puzzling World exhibition. It was rather kid-tastic as expected, but provided some decent holograms and a particularly strange wonky room experience. I was happy I visited, I’ll try anything once, but I was also happy to be leaving the kids in there :). Wanaka was very ski orientated, as it would be this time of year, I found myself wandering aimlessly but did crave a bit of company I must admit, especially in a sociable town environment. P1080230Finding the balance of enough of a plan to look forward to and aim for, and not scheduling things down to a tee is tricky. I work well knowing that I have somewhere to go the next day, but at the same time I end up making it up as I go along anyway. This seems to work most of the time, I have had moments of anxiety, particularly on my drive down to Queenstown. Signs were up reminding me to carry snow chains (something I had no experience with and certainly didn’t own) I was approaching the famously picturesque Crown Range Road and I started to doubt my rather powerless automatic (sorry car). I turned back and headed down a not-so pretty road to Queenstown.

Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town, not far from Queenstown, and was worth a stop. A really dreamy feel to this place, up-market shops and restaurants, everything had style. I had a cuppa, walked around the nearby historic Chinese settlement which was pretty interesting and got back on the road down to Queenstown.P1080257I arrived in the evening and after a beer and awkward moment with an over-enthusiastic Swiss guy at the pub, I started to do the rounds on the ski shops and garages for advice (they opened late). The advice was rather conflicting! a big load of snow was due the next day, so after a demo or two I decided to rent some chains just in case. I found time to also sample the famous Fergburger, the place was heaving, apparently this is pretty common, oh my, what a mighty fine burger it was! The kind of food you crave from that day onward even when you’re not hungry! I enjoyed the buzz of Queenstown, not so much the sweaty ‘young person’ hostel I stayed in, but hey you have to take the rough with the smooth.

The next day held yet another scenic drive (you can’t really go wrong on the south it seemed) up towards Glenorchy. This is a drive I had researched last year, sadly for me it was the most overcast and rainy day yet! I made the drive anyway due to time constraints and hoped for better weather on the way back. On the advice from Hannah and Luke I stopped at the Glenorchy General Store and picked up a rather delicious arty mug souvenir before continuing onto Kinloch Lodge- a serenely beautiful stay for a night in the middle of nowhere it seemed. The best thing about the stay, apart from the great company from room mate Lucas, was that snow started to fall overnight, meaning I woke up like a giddy child to a winter wonderland.P1080311Due south some more I made my way to Te Anau, which is basically the place you start in and return to after a trip to Milford Sound. Milford Sound is a fiord in the south west of the island and a World Heritage Site. It is one of New Zealand’s must-sees and people travel from worldwide to experience a cruise around the spectacular rock forms, countless waterfalls, varied sea life and awesome atmosphere. I had a boat cruise booked for the next day and in the meantime I was in a town with a pretty lake and about 3 shops, oh but it did boast a cave the other side of the lake. Now it’s preferable that I locate a cave, with nobody else around so I can explore and soak it up in my own time, but the Aurora cave network did lure me in with an interesting story, complete with evening boat ride, I was sold. After a few worried minutes being on a boat with so many people, I escaped to top deck where it was cold, windy, empty and the sky was full of stars. We were split of into groups of around 8, where we witnessed incredibly powerful cave waterfalls (Te Anau literally means cave of rushing water) alongside a silent drift through to the glow worm filled grotto. Feeling warm and fuzzy back at the nice hostel, I peacefully drifted off into sleep ready to wake up early and hope the Te Anau road was open to Milford Sound. The road hadn’t been open for 9 days, but much to my delight it re-opened on the following morning. The 2.5hr road trip to Milford is known for being just as picturesque and sometimes more remarkable than the boat ride itself. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. Our driver Frank took us through a damp lush green landscape until we hit the snow, approaching the Homer Tunnel, you can’t stop due to avalanche risk, in fact it’s one of the most dangerous roads in the world.

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Absolutely stunning.

It was a Mount Cook moment all over again, I could actually begin to see avalanches forming as we wound our way down what seemed like an impossibly high road. Again, everything was like a beautiful drawing, my eyes couldn’t comprehend where the mountains ended and the sky began. The boat trip was serene, once again after people left the top deck that is. A little overcast, but we saw dolphins and seals swimming around us as soon as we departed, it was 2 hours of peaceful drifting taking in the awesome scale. Top deck got me pretty cold and I looked forward to the ride back to be honest, to see all the amazing sights from a different perspective. Frank made many stops to and from Milford, my absolute stand out was at a place called The Chasm (do you love it already?) Everything on this adventure was messing with my perception and the camera can’t do the scale any justice! Sometimes though, you get those winning shots that are worth the risk, like this mystical waterfall cascade that yes, I got drenched taking, but it captured it, that feeling.

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Time for a Western adventure…(not John Wayne style)

Soundtrack: Mark Pritchard – Sad Alron, Lamb – Lusty