Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Cost of living in Queenstown for a season

A very long time ago, somebody asked me how much money does it cost to live in Queenstown for a season?  How much money do you need to set yourself up?
So let’s say you've decided to move to Queenstown for the winter. Maybe you're a veteran snow bunny or a total newbie. Perhaps you’re not even sure you want to Ski/board, you just want to come over at that time. It doesn’t matter.  All people are the same; you need somewhere to sleep at night and put your stuff.  Everybody needs a home, it’s too cold to sleep on the streets so don’t even think about it. First cost on the list is;
A decent home
Unless you want to stay living in a hostel for the duration for your stay, most long term accommodation, whether you’re leasing a whole house or just renting one room, requires upfront cash.  Getting something decent can also seem daunting.  In an ideal world you’ll have time to pick out the right rental, but that’s easier said than done.  When you’re living in a hostel, working 14 hour shifts, you become desperate for a home of your own. And at certain times of year, like the beginning of the ski season, competition can be fierce.

 The first place I went to view was a house I can only liken to squat.  Suffice to say I jumped at the next premises out of fear I’d end up somewhere dark, dirty and loud.

In Queenstown, I rented a room with Zim in a three bedroom house. It was located in the centre of town, had a spacious bedroom, big TV and a great view of the lake.
For this we paid $275 per week including internet, water, TV channels and a cleaner once a week.
Before moving we had a bond of $550, which worked out to be two weeks rent.
In addition to this we paid a power bond too, which was a round $200

After the bonds (which if you are a good tenant you will get back!) and weekly rent, most places do not include your power.  It’s my opinion that this is the real pain in the bum when living in Queenstown for winter.  In recent years, this town’s population has boomed, and to accommodate a large temporary population, a lot of cheap builds took place.  Houses that are fine in summer but once the days get shorter and the temperature plummets you realise your mistake. There is no insulation, central heating is unheard of and double glazing is nowhere to be seen.  We moved into such a house, with nothing but expensive electric powered heaters in the bedrooms and a heat pump for the living room.  And don’t rely on the sun to warm your home. It rises late and hides behind the mountains from as early as 3pm.
Our bills ranged from $70 per person to $400, per month so watch out.  I’ve heard of people racking up power bills as high as $1000 bucks per person.

Queenstown is a small town that you can easily navigate by foot. It is only if you are living in the outer areas like Frankton, fern hill, sunshine bay and Arthur’s point that you’ll need to heavily rely on your own car or public transport.
Local buses in the Queenstown area are expensive. To get from Queenstown centre to the out of town shopping centre and airport cost $15 return.  Last season this was also the price of buying a bus ticket from town to the local ski fields.
A lot of people hitch hike and if you’re comfortable doing this is a way to save money. However, its not a reliable way if you’re in a hurry.

Food in Queenstown seems to be more expensive than the rest of New Zealand, even from the supermarket.  Cheapest place is new world, however this is at the out of town shopping centre and therefore requires an expensive bus ride if you don't have you own car.  I think I budgeted around $70 a week per person for food, but you can do it for less or more.  Note that the price of some veg and fruit fluctuates, so pick your time to buy them. I saw the price of Capsicums go as high as $8 and tomatoes can also fetch a high price. Go seasonal.

Ski Field
It will be no shock to you guys when I say skiing is a big financial commitment, but if you’re in town for a season, it can work out relatively modest. I won’t go into too much detail on the costs of setting yourself up snowboarding or skiing (another blog post perhaps), but the big expense is the season pass.  If you’re not working at the ski field, buying an early bird pass helps cut down the cost by a few hundred.  Take into account the price of buying a board or getting yours shipped here, and insurance for any broken bones. Cheapest season pass is about $800.

Going out and having fun
Saying how much socializing costs in Queenstown is like asking how long a piece of string is.  It’s down to personal preference. But as a party town you’ll probably end up spending more than you’d like.  However, as a set up price, I’d say leave the hard core partying until you’ve got a job. That doesn’t mean you should spend your first few weeks hiding away, I’d recommend everyone to make the most of the town.  Have enough in your budget to have a few drinks once a week or to go out and have a coffee or two. So let’s say add $30 minimum per week for a little luxury.

So in Summary….
If you’re smart you’ll turn up with enough dough to get you through job searching and committing to a home. You’ll need over $1000 ($500 per person) to move into a leased room.  A clever person will also have enough dosh to get them through at least a month or two of job searching. So with it all added together (except ski prices) its another $2000 per person, and you’ll probably want to add more just in case. So in answer to the question, for peace of mind turn up with $3000, as long as you’re hoping to find work in a few months.

However, I will leave you to bear this in mind.  When we got to town, we didn't have this much for the pair of us. We were in a hurry to be reunited and came to Queenstown a little ill prepared. Enough for bonds and a few weeks surviving, but that’s it.  But because we weren't too fussy what jobs we initially took, we got work pretty soon and lots of hours.  It could've gone the other way, the one where we’d find ourselves homeless in a cold and lonely Queenstown. Down to sheer luck it didn't happen that way, but just goes to show it can be done…

Monday, 14 April 2014

Four years of Travel

For four years of being ‘on the road,’ my list of countries is pretty modest.  In total, I’ve spent time in 10 nations, not including airport stops  or my native England.  Of the four years since I boarded a plane to Delhi, four months of that has been spent back in England. This was made up of two trips; my month stay between Indian travels and the dash to Australia, and then my three month stay over the 2012/13 winter. These dates I always count in my travel time as I was never settled or planning to stay long in the U.K.  It was always a visit, an excuse to see much loved family and friends, but not to settle.
It’s funny to think I’ve spent half my twenties under the title ‘travelling.’ On the most part it’s not felt that way.  In Australia and New Zealand I’ve spent the bulk of my time working to support myself and future plans.  However, it has been through my work and volunteering that I’ve felt I’ve gained the best experiences.  Much of what I've done  would never have crossed my pretty head in a million years.  Sailing over 8000 nautical miles in a tallship, living in New Zealand’s great wilderness and travelling India to Nepal via land, ?  I don’t think the 2010 version of me would ever believe it. 

My time in India and Nepal was really the catalyst for everything that has been made possible over the last few years.  Without the culture shock,  the severe heat and terrible sickness that followed me around these incredible countries, I would never have gained a craving for another life.  I would never have learnt how once you start, independent travel can be the most liberating thing.

Of my four years away, Australia dominants the length of time spent in one place.  For a year and  a half this country gave me some of the funiest, care free moments of my life. From hitting the laneway bars with my friends in Melbourne to working in Crocodile Dundee country for four months, Oz was vibrant and fun.  It  was where I roadtriped across country with two of my oldest friends and also introduced me to two more ladies that would change my life forever.  The Southern swan gave me a fantastic bunch of people I now consider family and the man I consider 'my partner'. The Soren Larsen also gave me another 'ship' family, but also the extra bonus of taking me  to the South Pacific.
By far, my six month voyage throughout the South Pacific remains one of the most mind blowing experiences of my life.  Not all moments were good. Infact, some were down right hard to get through.  I've never been so tired, so mentally and physically exhausted that sleep would be all I'd fanasised about.  Yet, the rewards were worth double the hardships and even with hindsight, I'd do it all again.
Sailing the seas, visiting remote islands and sighting beautiful marine creatures are memories I will treasure for the rest of my life.

With just over a year spent in New Zealand,  it is very easy to get attached to this country.  Most of the time I've felt like I lived on  a movie set, with its snow capped moutnains and stunning coast line.  Getting a job on a ski field, made me the happiest person in Queenstown.  And  coming out to Fiorldland national park,  I think I actually fell in love with New Zealand. At times I am left in a state of wonder, that somewhere so beautiful and untouched can exist.

After all these years, my C.V has ended up a rather surreal and disjointed document.  I've been a sailor, a hostel receptionist, a cook, , a cattle station hand, a warehouse worker, a pre-school teacher and a hiking lodge attendent.  I've worked on tall ships and a ski field and  entered ways of life I didn't know existed.

The list of experiences has amazed me. I've bungee jumped in Nepal, swam with wild humpback whales, turtles and seals, rode horses, paraglided in Queenstown, snowboarded, taken my fair share of helicopter rides, Surfed, crossed oceans  and dived the great barrier reef. 
Along the way I've met too many incredible, beautiful people to keep count of, who have really made my life awesome.  Everytime I've had to say goodbye, its actually broke my heart.  Whether its been my volunteer family in the Indian himalyas, my melbourne hostel buddies or my tall ship family.  I felt such sorrow in the knowledge that even if we met again, we'd never share this family feeling in exacty the same way.  Things move on and evolve. Its the way things are but it doesn't stop it from sucking.
And within this knit of amazing people, I've met one who has stuck with me for two and a half years.  A person who has listened to my crazy ideas without judgement, given me support and love, has travelled with me and kept me company.  I don't pretend that we're one of these couples that finish each others sentences and spend all day sighing and looking into one another eyes.  We are two individuals learning our balance together.  Yet through our learning has been crazy, stupid, happy times and so much love. I am thankful for every second.

Here's to living another jammed packed four years.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A Bird's Life in Fiordland

Its finally happened. After going through all the stages; denial, shame, confusion. I have come to accept and love a change in me.  Granted, I have never been one of the cool kids and perhaps its a sign of my age, but there is no going back from this.

It turns out I'm really into birds. Say hello to a new bird watching recruit.
Frankly I blame New Zealand and Fiordland. Because before the move there I would of never have realised how awesome birds are.  Being set apart from the rest of the world for so long, new Zealand has a unique ecosystem.  For except for some bats and sea mammals, new Zealand's native animals are made up of birds and lizards.

From the crafty Kea, the world's only alpine parrot, to the whistling blue duck, the forest is filled with wonderful bird life.

I've begun appreciating the smallest feathered friends. Ones like the fantail and black robin, who'll dart around you trying to warn you off their patch.  They are so tiny and yet have a lot of guts. I like that.

Then there are the flightless birds, the chicken like Weka and the reclusive Kiwi bird.  One of my fellow bush workers was able to get this photo but so far I've been unsuccessful - they are just too quick for me!

My favourite of them all has to be the incredibly cheeky Kea. These birds are so smart its scary.  But they have such character and will happily pose for photographs (while its friends still the distracted photographers lunch!)

My photo success with Fiorldand birds has been limited to the less shy birds.  I only have one zoom lens for my cannon and its not all that.  Also, contending with sand flies means standing still can be a little tricky.  But let these photos be a testament of my inner bird-geekness and love of all things feathered. Except, ostriches.  They're just creepy.

Picture of Kiwi by  Andrew Knowles. All others by me.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Milford Track

Just a few from the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of photos I've taken whilst living on the track.  On one of our leaves from the lodge (we do go into civilization every now and again before cabin fever set in), me and Zim decided to walk the entire track as a walker.  As well as getting envious of all the people describing areas we couldn't walk to in a day, it was also a great way to experience everything the walkers have to go through before reaching us.

I cannot express how jaw dropping the scenery is on this track, so perhaps I should just show you. It is amazing how much the scenery changes in just one track.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The time I fell apart in Christchurch

Before I reached Christchurch, I thought I had a good understanding of what I'd find.  It may have been three years since the infamous earthquake hit the city, but local news had informed me that this place was still knee deep in rubble, insurance backlog and major construction.

We arrived in the early evening, travelling all day by coach.  After walking (what seemed like miles) to our motel, me and Zim decided to go for a walk around the city centre, or the 'red zone' as it has become known.   It was a beautiful Sunday evening; a sure sign that summer was on its way.  In this once bustling city centre, the scene was the closest to apocalyptic I have ever seen. Some areas were completely cleared, you'd never of suspected a multi-story building, filled with busy offices, once lived.  Other areas were just mounds of rubble, chaperoned by bull dozers and cranes.  Then there were the derelict buildings, with half missing chunks.  Some buildings seemed totally intact, and yet, they were completely abandoned.

As all the construction workers were away from this scene, the place was deserted.  We shared the streets with a few people, just shapes in the distance. This, in the biggest city in the South Island.  Perhaps it was due to the time and day we came to Christchurch and the still weather, but my first impression of Christchurch was eerie.

Over the next few days we went about our business and got things done. I had my breast biopsy and ultrasound, we found a cool 'scaffold' bar to drink in and hung out in the botanical gardens, which I must say, are the most beautiful public gardens I've been to in a long time.  But it’s an incident near a busy road that will stay with me forever...

So being the tourists we are, we went looking for the Cardboard Cathedral.  After the demise of the Cathedral, a pop up one was quickly constructed to help the community in their time of need.  It’s not every day you see a cardboard building, so we went off through the devastated city.
About a block from the Cathedral, we found the memorial. There are many memorials in Christchurch but this one stopped me in my tracks.  On a cleared area stood nearly 200 white chairs; 185 to be exact. It seemed every type of chair possible stood in that area. Stools, rocking chairs, modern style and antique all placed together.

Its when I saw the baby seat that I just lost my shit and begun to cry; in broad daylight, in the middle of the street.  Try as I might, the tears wouldn't stop.
A chair for every person who lost their lives, tailored to their age, personality and lifestyle.

The abandoned red zone was creepy, but this was the real tragedy from the earthquake.
I have seen many memorials throughout the world, whether its for a great battle praising sacrefice and valor, or a dedication to a local legend, but nothing has hit me as hard as this one.  The artist showed such dedication and care for the victims, to show that they were not just a number, that they lived, breathed, felt and loved.

In that moment I felt the unfairness of it all, that this could happen and there was no one to blame.

I would never take away my visit to Christchurch. A wounded city, that has lost so much but felt so very human, with its regeneration, ongoing construction and wish to honor its loved ones

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