The Final Countdown

It was around this time last year I wrote something similar, except the countdown was to my adventure and after almost a year what an adventure it’s been.

Now with just 27 days left (as I write this) I look back at my time in New Zealand and think back to how scared and nervous I was. Any regrets? Only that I hadn’t done it earlier in my life and applied for a two year visa with visas to other countries along the way.

It’s no secret that I’m happy here, my Kiwi mates and traveller friends all know this is where I belong and while I won’t go into those reasons you can rest assured that NZ like snowdonia is a spiritual home of mine, one in which I will return and one that people who know me know it’s where I belong.

After months of trying to find a way to stay or extend my visa it seems that fate is telling me to go home, and maybe with good reason. I’ll be able to sip a nice pint of warm ale with my bestie and see my family again but at the moment that is all that England has to offer.

If I was to describe the sensation or my feelings at the thought of leaving in 27 days it would be to compare it to a warm bed. Imagine the alarm going off on a cold wet dark winter Monday morning, with the thought of a hard depressing day stuck in your office cubical. How much nicer is it to just roll over and hit the snooze button and bury yourself beneath the warm sheets and have a sick day. Well the bed is NZ and the journey and work is going back to the UK.

Sure I miss elements of the UK, off course I do it’s my country, but I’ve gotten use to NZ, the shops, money, food, lifestyle, brands, shops, adverts you name it I’m living it. The thought of adjusting back into English life does not excite or thrill me. I’ve seen what the world has to offer, I’ve seen what other opportunities there are, I’ve experienced a new way if life, and you know what I rather like it.

The countdown however has begun and while the nerves tingle and the thoughts of not wanting to say goodbye along with the fear of forgetting the experience and returning to the life I had. I know that it is I and I alone who needs to hold on to this experience and forge a new life. I never wanted to leave Manchester or change my job for the fear of the unknown, but now after a year away living from a bag meeting new people living in several communities that fear I once held onto as an excuse for living the old life seems pretty lame.

Oh well we will see what happens UK.

The countdown has started.

Mt Doom V’s Cook

It’s no secret, but then it could be I’m not sure… I think I have shouted it off the rooftops a good many times. Maybe I only whispered it to myself and forged an expression of excitement and enjoyment at the prospect of reaching summits and letting my soul be absorbed into the open wilderness that is The Great Outdoors. But I think I have and now I come to think long and hard my social networks and posts are fulfilled with entries and retweets about the outdoors and my love for the natural power of Mother Earth and her trophy cabinet of mountains. Yes I love mountains. Love to look at them, photograph, walk, climb you name it I’m in love with these rocky growths.

So with that being the case a trip to New Zealand was just what was needed. In part The Land of The Long White Cloud is known for its rugged landscape in part thanks to The Lord of the Rings films and this brings us to our first stop. I have been dreaming of doing the Tongariro Crossing from when I first started planning my trip. Yet another good reason to fuel my love for volcanos and the power that our planet has. I’m not and never will be a LOTR fan and so Mt Doom or Mt Ngauruhoe was always on the cards as it was a big hill, with an added bonus that it was an active crater volcano.

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Mt Cook on the other hand could never be climbed. Well not by me. A full on mountain experience with all the gear and very much more than just an idea of how you use it. Over 200 people have lost their lives to Aoraki, many unaccounted for, many just fallen. In recent years Mt Cook has shrunk, first a massive 10 meter rock and ice fell from its peak in 1991 and then in 2013 some boffins re measured the tallest mountain only to make it smaller still by 30 meters. But still standing proud and measuring in at 3724 meters or 12,000 feet in UK money it’s NZ tallest mountain and one I have longed to see.

Sure I could climb Mt doom and it was a tough hill to conquer, with scree and scrambles the 2,291 meters was the highest I have climbed (double the height of Ben Nevis UKs highest mountains) the view of the volcanic waste land of the centre plateau restored the energy banks and washed away any exhaustion my body felt. Staring into the main body of the crater surrounded by several active volcanoes soon wiped the fatigue from my legs. The crossing with its blue and emerald lakes and barren alpine rocky Mars like setting did more than evoke the senses. If it wasn’t for the herd of fellow walkers marvelling at this unique spectacular then I would feel like I was in another world.

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Mt Cook will be a mountain I’ll climb one day and as I walked to the glacier lake at its foot, the impressive imposing structure towering into the sky hiding behind his blanket of cloud only to uncloaks himself enough to spur me on to get that golden photo opportunity. Mt Cook has a wonderful tale connected to it which makes seeing the mountain so more magical.

Aoraki and his brothers while visiting their fathers (god of sky) new wife (god of land) was sailing trying to find land when their boat capsized in the ocean and turned to rock, forming the South Island. Aoraki and his brothers climbed up, only to also be turned to stone forming the mountains that go to make up some of the Southern Alps.

Mt Cook is a special place and to be in his shadow is a breath-taking awe-inspiring experience, the Crossing is as breath-taking but only when you walk the track. Aoraki gas the same power and commands the same respect by just sitting there, when I do return to climb him I know I’m going to be over powered by his charm, and true organic beauty.

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Both have been an experience to treasure and I feel lucky enough to have said that I’ve stood in their shadows. If anything my love has grown stronger and I want to explore more terrains of our planets wonders.

The Road to The Land with the Long White Cloud

Maybe I should explain the title, or maybe not. Wigan is well known for it’s pies but lets be honest anyone who know’s anything about New Zealand and I’m not calling my self an expert but I am able after eight months to speak with some authority on the subject of this land that Wigan as nothing on the residents of these three Islands. (North/South/Stewart)

Yes my friends, after several months it’s time to write about the parallels and differences of my two favorite nations. I have once already jotted down some comparisons and given you the delighted reader an opportunity to see what is so wonderful about this nation but now I am about to do it all again and with an outlook of what I will miss but also look forward to on my return.

Pies, pies and more pies. New Zealand puts Britain to shame when it comes to these tasty treats. Breakfast, after pub snack, or just a meal you will find anyone and everyone grabbing a pie at some point during the day and why not… they do after all have a lot to choose from and most it will seem come with cheese. If you think the North has the taste for ‘Pie’ then you really have not seen what a true nation addicted to this warm parcel of meat, veg, cheese really is. Every shop or so it appears has a hot cabinet filled with pies, imagine W H Smiths, or your corner shop selling hot pies. Maybe you would like to buy a book or some shoes, well why not buy a pie as well. Yes my friends, NZ has the loving of pies tied up more than Wigan.

Off course the way of life is what you come for, the place is so relaxed and it seems that you can’t go throughout the day without talking to a random stranger. North of the Watford gap has the reputation of being friendly but really compared to some of the towns I’ve frequented then the North of England seems like the London Underground compared to Kiwi life. You need to pop out and buy some milk or bread you need to allow at least an hour as you will end up talking to everyone you meet and being that the places (Auckland excluded) are small the chances of bumping into some one isn’t even in the bookmakers interest to put odds on it.

Off course lets be honest there are downsides, the T.V is pretty shit and has not really improved over the years, most shows are imported and the several free stations stop broadcasting any watchable stuff by 2am, and then its over to infomercials until the afternoon when ‘Come Dine’ and ’30 Minute Make Over’ begin. It’s like they’ve just purchased ITV 3’s entire back catalogue. The brands you would have grown up with and love are not in the supermarkets, NZ seem to have their own brands. Heinz is replaced with Watties, that were brought out by the mega beans giant some years back but the market for NZ products and loyalty is so strong that they kept the branding. Imagine that in England when Europe changes our brands to tie in with the global market. Jif would never have become Cif and we would still be munching on Opal Fruits.

Everything in the supermarket is from New Zealand, all apples, oranges, pineapples are all grown here, fish is all caught from the coast and sold in the markets, off course the supermarkets do have monopolies like the UK and you can draw direct links with which supermarkets over here correspond with the the UK ones, and while food it costly, you can go to Sunday food markets and walk away with fruit and veg for the week all for under five bucks. There is no money to help farmers out, they are all businessmen here and survive on their own profit and not subsidies which explains why many have started to move into dairy farming from sheep which in itself is no cheap conversion.

The political system is like any other and being that it is based on ours this is one of the biggest comparisons, all be it there are several parties and its more of a democracy than the shambles that is currently crowded around the statute book situated in Westminster. Were talking about a country that moved its capital on the basis that it was not located centrally to everyone… UK could take a note of this.

Off course, the road is the king here, but with the equivalent of the greyhounds running a good service if not just for the tourists you can get to many locations even if they are remote by our standards, over here they would be buzzing important economic centers of commerce.  The train network seemed to arrive to late to make any kind of impact, but still remains to transport heavy goods and tourist on some of the most scenic railway journeys in the world, going where the road can not, as it cuts through the Southern Alps and volcanic wildness of this almost pre-historic landscape.

The same issues affect the young, with it taking an average Kiwi 7 years to save a deposit for a house and the lack of affordable housing is not getting any better. Employment opportunities are not equal across the country and like the UK the very North finds it self with high unemployment and little industry. For some their is a keen aspiration to leave and head to Oz, for many they prefer to stay paying some what high tax, but what seems to be slightly more equal than our own. While I can’t comment on benefits the opinion is they do exist, but like our own, there is not enough money going to those who really need it.

The banking is just amazing, as in just under three months on $600 I have earnt $2.46 interest on my savings and when I use my card, the money leaves my account straight away, off course if I wish to have postal statements or different accounts or a debit card I have bank fee’s to pay but if I go over drawn by $20 I’m not fined. Back in England I get free accounts but I would never have come close to being paid that kind of interest.  Eftpos is such a big thing over here, it’s like plastic cash that everyone uses it to pay for papers to cars, all you need to do is remember to select your account all be it Cheque, Savings or Credit and a night in the local bar can soon add up.

Sure there are poor people, but they seem to sit on the street with a sign asking for funds, rather than bothering you selling a shitty rag or asking for their bus fare.

When I first arrived I would never say I had a culture shock, or was surprised by many things, but spending time here and living as a Kiwi, I would say that looking back I have got use to the way of life and forgotten how life runs in the UK, I know that the way I’m living now is different and sometimes I will have a flash back to Britain thinking ‘I wouldn’t be able to do a big shop at 8pm on a Sunday in a supermarket’ or trying to work out what I had used my debit card for and thus what payments were waiting to show up on my account. The idea that the high street is like those we had, a place for electricals, clothes and so on. Sure NZ is slowly changing and is becoming more Europe with supermarkets selling more than just food. In fact the very idea of our ‘High Street’ is a notion I have had to explain to several people.

I know I’m going to miss this place, which is why I’m determined to remain, or at the very least make a promise to return. Like George Orwell, with The Road to Wigan Pier, I have been both shocked, amazed, in love and confused by my time in New Zealand, but unlike his essay I don’t think New Zealand needs to change anything about it’s self.

Packing and unpacking the trouble with OCD

So today is the day, and so far it has shaped up pretty well. I have finished packing, then I unpacked only to repack in the same order to suddenly realise that I had decided to unpack to make sure that I had packed everything on the list, even tho said list had ticks next to said items that were being packed and unpacked more times than united have won the league.

Travelling for someone with OCD may not be a good idea. When I work away from home, I would often phone ahead or check google maps to see the where abouts of the hotel my business had selected for me to spend the night. Once I arrived, I would check shower facilities as if it was low pressure I’d have to wake early, but a high pressure shower means I can have a lie in as the shower would wake me up with its jet wash pressure. From here I would then walk the route to the breakfast bar, and back to my room, and then I would walk to the theatre to time how Long the journey took, thus making sure I knew what time I had to wake.

Chatting to my best mate in the pub, I confessed that I had not planned anything. Did not know where I wanted to go, or where I wanted to get to this time next week. That is not who I am as his girlfriend was very shocked that I had not even flicked through a travel book or made a list of places to visit. He suggested maybe it’s because I am trying to be free, and really explore the country. But this does not wash with me, it sits uneasy. I like to plan.

And so after I cleaned the kitchen I began to empty my bag only to re pack before I cleaned the bathroom where I had a new wave of ideas on how I could pack my bag, and so with bleach covered hands so began the task of unpacking only to pack it the same way before realising the only reason why I unpacked was to pack it in a different way.

Did I tell you that I have to pull down on the handle and push the door to make sure it’s locked! The number of pulls and pushes depends on the day and if I’m the only one in the house, or if no one is returning to he house within a couple of days. I have been known to get of the bus or turn the car round to make sure the door is locked, and a simple push is not good enough, as I have to follow this with unlocking it to lock it. I’m the same with light switches, I need to press them off, but then will turn them on to make sure I have turned them off. Same with taps. If I leave the house to go away, and my flat mate is also away it can take me an hour to check all taps, switches and windows. Only to leave the apartment, after five pulls and two pushes of the door, to unlock and renter and check again. To lock up walk away and get back in the lift to check the front door.

So I went out to pick up last-minute supplies, and odds and sods only to return and repack and unpack. Then I emptied my rubbish, threw away the last remains of Manchester life and then I repacked.

After shutting down and locking the building once, I got home to think did I lock up and promptly returned. I once stopped working and asked colleagues to cover for me as I couldn’t remember switching the stove off, even thou that’s more of a religious ceremony than leaving the house.

So I reached for my iPad and wrote this blog. Looking at my bag, thinking should I check. I know I will before I leave but the thoughts of my up coming travels. It’s taken me a day to pack, all be it I’ve done 30 times, maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t plan, but it does worry me I have no idea what I’m going to do. Don’t know where I will start. All I know is end of August I have to be back in Auckland to drop of the van. Maybe while in Auckland for four days I will be able to plan a rough route. Know that I have to reach Christchurch by the 3rd week etc. Or I may just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Either way I know I’ll be spending most of my time packing only to unpack.

My New Toy

I’ve got myself a new toy. Go me.

With 65 days to go until I board the plane, not that I’m counting. I have manged to sell all my DVDs and CDs that I wanted to get rid off. Some off them I have exchanged for a new toy. Constant thoughts about whether I take my computer or not have been playing repeatedly. Sure I will need it as I am planning to work, but a MacBook is an expensive bulky item to have in your backpack.

A friend suggested a tablet, I can Skype, tweet, Facebook, and read books and do all the other fun stuff with the added bonus of having a lightweight portable piece of kit that can easily be hidden away.

So with this I exchanged some of my DVDs for an iPad mini. While I still don’t see the point of them at the moment as I am still very much attached to my laptop I feel that this toy will certainly be my new friend and will keep me company for the first two months of my travels.

And yes, I did use the WordPress app to write this blog entry. I’d be a fool not too.

Being Rooted

A while ago I did a play where the over all theme was how young people deal with a death of a friend. One of the characters had moved on after a year where the others were still coming to terms with the loss. The director gave the note that the character was grounded. He was rooted like an oak tree. He knew who he was and the direction of his life.

Turn the focus to me and a number of text messages between my best mate and myself with the subject New Zealand and I slowly reveal why New Zealand is on the cards. You all know I have a strong dislike for my job which is getting stronger by the week. But after so many years I still feel lost. My life is not what I want it to be. I have not found myself. Sure I know I like running, hills and Wales. I know what I would like to do… But as all my friends are settling down and buying houses or getting married I still find myself alone and spinning in circles.

New Zealand is an extension to the running. Running has helped me to keep far enough away from the black dog biting and taking hold, it has helped me become happier and more confident but yet my life is still missing pieces to make it whole.

So New Zealand is in some ways a way to escape, and rediscover who I am and what I want to be. Spending time away to think about me. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but NZ is hopefully going to be a life changing event. Maybe if I come back I will know who I am and may even begin to settle down. Maybe move to Wales and walk the hills. Maybe I will be just like the character out of the play. Some one who is strong and knows who they are.

Several people have commented and made similar statements to the one below that was made by a work colleague and friend.

“No offence… But you’re not happy in here, NZ will do you good. It’s good to get away from people and places that don’t make you happy”

Leaving Party

I have already touched on this briefly, but as I look at pictures on Pinterest I find myself thinking that I need to go to Wales again.

We all know I love the place. But how cool would a weekend away in a cottage with just the couple of best mates that I have. Drinking, walking and talking. Exploring all the North West Castles for one last time.

At the moment it is a dream and will stay as such as they will all have excuses as to why they couldn’t possibly attend. Some with good reason others because they can’t take time out.

While I’m missing people now (not seen some for months)… I think it is good practice for when I do leave. After all I won’t be seeing these people for a year and who knows I might not even chat or talk to them again. For me this trip is a big deal… bigger than getting married, having a child. I want my friends to be there for me. This is only going to happen the once and while I am doing this for myself, I still need the comfort of my mates.

But it would be nice to have one last good bye…just in case I didn’t see them again. But maybe that’s just me… Maybe I know I won’t be seeing these people again. They may well be under the impression that in a years time we will be drinking again in the local (not that we have local). However anything can happen in a year.

It would be good to do a proper leaving party… and maybe my friends have it under control but I do fear that I may end up exiting quietly only to log on to Facebook in NZ to find messages of ‘Have you gone? We didn’t get to say goodbye’

The real question is should I bother to organise my own party. I suggested this to a friend, who said ‘You can’t do that!’ a couple of weeks later he sent a text asking what I wanted to do? To me that was as good as organising it…

If I am honest, then I don’t want a fuss. I want those who are close to me, and spend as much time as possible with them… Doing the things we have done together like drinking, walking, camping, cycling all just for one last time. If we really get to it, then there is only a handful of people I would like to attend, and I can count them off on one hand.

Off course I wouldn’t object to a big piss up as well, in a bar with everyone who I know.