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Lasting Impressions of Blenheim, Second Impressions of Welly

"On strike, on the piss, and on a boat."

Not much changed in Blenheim after the last blog, with one significant exception; working conditions on the vineyard. Our contractor, Kiwi Bunkhouse, refused to pay workers minimum wage if they were too slow, but didn’t give anybody the opportunity to leave without facing the stiff penalties for breaking the contract. At the same time they were real hard up for workers and refused to fire people, so we had no way to get out of a job that was illegally paying less than required. So we went on strike, about forty of us, and by the end of the day had a written agreement that the wrappers would earn a higher rate per plant (they were the ones more heavily exploited, most of the pruners were making more than the minimum) and a guaranteed minimum wage for the remainder of the season.

I left the job a couple weeks later, grumbling about the pain in my elbows. Turns out I’m not built for pruning grapevines... But it got me out of the contract and I spent the next few days kicking around Blenheim, just like when I first arrived. It was a comfortable routine - I’d wake up early, drink coffee and head to the library until afternoon rolled around. Then I’d head back to the hostel to meet everybody coming back from the vineyard – the grumpy, filthy troops coming back from the front. These days were largely uneventful, but in the end the beard came off under heavy pressure from the Koanui Crew.

Dude Beard Crew.

The dumbest joke of the season.

Sunday rolled around, my last day in Blenheim, my last day on the South Island, and a handful of us drove up to Picton for a day hike. A couple hours out to the tip of a peninsula in the Marlborough Sound to spot the typical shapes in the clouds - faces, dragons, birds… you know, the usual. Then back to the ferry terminal to catch out for Wellington. Finally. Three long, miserable months in Blenheim, finally drawing to a close.

Marlborough Sound from the end of the Snout Track, a couple hours before my South Island farewell.

The mustache didn't even last a full day, thank god.

Truly and honestly, I hated Blenheim. The place and the shenanigans that go on in the wine industry, the stress I put my body through and having nothing to do for months but eat and drink. The kids in the hostel are what made it tolerable. I’ve said it before and I’ll maintain it to the day I die (no hyperbole here, folks) – Koanui Crew almost made Blenheim worth it.

A queasy ride across the Cook Straight, three long, miserable hours, and I stumbled off the ferry to meet some Irish friends from Kiwiburn. They offered their couch for a few nights and it was hard to leave, given the heat pump (conspicuously absent from most houses in this country). But I moved on; from their apartment on the Terrace to a tent in a warehouse behind Cuba Street, back to their place for a couple of days (heat pump!), and finally up into a loft in a radical community centre in Te Aro called 128, where I share the space with a bike shop, a lending library, a seed exchange, a community internet space, a couple of caretakers and a cat named Michel. It’s good to live with a cat again. I started looking for work but mostly just found myself wandering around the city, walking back and forth between the library and the massive free museum that houses the café with free unlimited refills (!), climbing mossy staircases and getting lost in the dark in the hills that surround central Wellington, catching up with old friends and making soup and having 24-hour movie marathons. I’m doing a bit of laboring work here and there but really it’s mostly fun and games.

128 Radical Social Centre, where I currently live.

128 Community Space mission statement.

Wellington CBD.

The warehouse where I pitched my tent.

Boat sheds and Mt. Victoria.

Obligatory photo of the Cuba Street Mall.

Back towards the city center from Oriental Bay.

Matiu/Somes Island, where Wellington interned Japanese and German citizens - nazi and anti-fascist alike - during WWII.

Houses built into the steep hills surrounding the harbor at Oriental Bay.

Quake breakers underneath Te Pap Museum. The Wellington region has six active faults running through it, including one right down the middle of the city. Yikes!

Wellington… the city reminds me of Portland, really. The second impression is similar to the first, you know, when I passed through on my way south back in April. This is why I came back and surely one reason why I’ve fallen in love with the place. The architecture, the weather, the filthy streets and graffiti-covered alleyways, the punk shows and bookstores and DIY bike workshops... I’m smitten.

Posted by axcordion 21:04 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new centre zealand te wellington community kiwi blenheim strike aro koanui 128 bunkhouse

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