A Travellerspoint blog

Milford Sound

"Watch out for sandflies!"

Before I came to New Zealand I asked a number of friends who had already been here, "What can't I miss?" Most of them straight away told me to get to Milford Sound. To the Maori it's Piopiotahi, a place to gather greenstone to be carved and traded; to the tourism industry it's the most-visited attraction in New Zealand at half a million a year, and of course a serious money maker; and to the sandflies it's a massive feeding ground until all the tourists go home for the day. But for me it's the most beautiful place I've ever dried my socks on a log.

I left Queenstown expecting it would be an easy hitch to Milford Sound, what with all the tourists going that way anyway, but there was already a couple in the spot I scouted out the day before. Keeping in line with proper hitchhiking etiquette I walked down the road a bit so they would get the first shot at a ride, they were there first after all. I was banking on being picked up by a car with only enough space for one, and sure enough, in less than an hour that's exactly what happened. It was a brother and sister from Malaysia who pulled over for me, and there were a couple great things about this ride. First of all, they were great people - nice, talkative, full of good stories. Second, they wanted to stop at every scenic lookout (and what a scenic drive it was!) and short hike along the way, just like I would have done if I were driving myself. And lastly, they were going all the way to the sound - a straight shot!

Greetings from the Southern Alps in beautiful Fiordland National Park!

Cleddau Valley, Fiordland National Park.

Mt. Tutoku, highest peak in Fiordland National Park at 2746m.

It's hard to describe Milford Sound, the mountains rising right out of the water, glowworms hanging around after dark, the relative remoteness and the road out there... The grandeur and beauty of the place is overwhelming and I ended up camping for three days to take it all in. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

Milford Sound at last!

Milford Sound, in color! Mitre Peak on the left at 1692m.

Bowen Falls spill into the sound.

Others have been here before...

Sheer walls rise right out of the water.

Proof I was actually there. It was cold...

Posted by axcordion 19:08 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mount park new valley national zealand sound milford alps southern hitchhiking fiordland tutoku cleddau Comments (0)

Operation: Find a Mo


Seemed like a good time to leave Hastings when we started working fifteen-hour days in the apple packhouse. Yikes... So I packed up my staff, made up a sign reading 'WELLINGTON - I HAVE CHOCOLATE!' and hit the road. Normally a little over three hours, I got there in about seven. Four rides, a little walking and a Tui brewery later I found myself in Wellington. I stayed with Brendan and Urs, friends from Kiwiburn who gave me a ride to Hastings in the first place, in their amazing apartment with their exceptionally fluffy cat and stunning views of the city and the harbour. Turns our I really like the city, reminds me a lot of Portland, but a day and a half later I caught the ferry across the Cook Straight anyway. Sticking with the plan this time, I gotta find a Mo in Queenstown soon.

My friend John told me to do this and it worked perfectly.

The six and a half meter tall Tripod sculpture, a tribute to Wellington's film industry.

Some of my favorite graffiti in Te Aro, Wellington.

The three federal government buildings from left to right, the Beehive, Parliament House, and the Parliament Library.

So long, Wellington, until we meet again...

I stayed in Picton, a small town in the Marlborough Sounds that would nearly cease to exist if it weren't for the ferry from Wellington. Picton, my introduction to the South Island. I stayed for a day and a half, drank beer with Belgians and Germans, and caught a cheap bus towards Christchurch. We stopped for lunch halfway there in a town called Kaikoura and I just didn't get back on, the town was so nice. Beaches full of fur seals backed by the Southern Alps, just starting to get some snow on those high peaks. Snow? Better keep moving south...

Marlborough Sound.


Picton's cemetery sits on a hill with a nice view of the sound - a damn good place to rest, if you ask me.

The Southern Alps and the Pacific Ocean from Kaikoura.

Just south of Kaikoura, as the highway follows the coast, I saw a few penguins sitting on the beach, apparently stunned and confused. They just stand there, looking around as if wondering how they got there. Simultaneously adorable and hilarious. I got in to Christchurch and stayed in one of the hostels still open - there aren't many and the ones that are are half full of relief workers. The city, though, the city is an interesting place right now. Granted, not much to see, what with the army restricting access to the city center and all, but there are still these beautiful, ornate old Victorian houses on every block. Some seem fine, some are missing a few shingles and windows, some are half demolished... Seems like every block has a house or two that's uninhabitable and its very own brand new pile of rubble. Red, yellow, green notices on every building in the city; large cracks cutting through sidewalks and roads and yards; water and sand, liquefaction, pushing up to the surface through cracks and covering yards and roads. The earthquake wasn't kind to the old cemetery. Nothing ever is, really, but a lot more headstones are toppled and mangled these days. Like I said, this is an interesting place right now. This time around it was just a place for me to sleep since the bus schedule wouldn't work in my favor, wouldn't let me continue south after I arrived. But that's okay. I had a long wander, survived a 4.0 aftershock, got a real cheap bus ticket to Queenstown and headed straight there in the morning.

Knox Church in the Saint Albans neighborhood.

Liquefaction in the Barbados Street cemetery, Christchurch.

There were only a handful of us on the bus and our driver, Roger, was great. We convinced him to let us linger in one town on the way so we could visit a cheese factory (he joined us shortly) and later he stopped the bus on the side of a road so we could pick pears! Awesome. Nine hours and NZ$35 (US$27) later I got to Queenstown, dubbed the adventure capitol of New Zealand. Yes, it's beautiful and exquisitely picturesque, but it's also full of all these loud, obnoxious tourists. Including me. And nobody likes a tourist. Think of Tahoe and there you have it. Some people love it but it's a money hole, catering to blood richer than mine. Bungee jumping, skydiving, jet boats... But that's all okay, because in Queenstown I found the Mo I'd been looking for. My travel partner from January, Jen (short for Mo), was leaving for Australia and this was our last chance to hang out for a while. We got a good day and a half in before she left and I had to make plans for the next two weeks. South? How far south can I go?! Milford Sound is as good of start as any.

Lake Tekapo. The lake is a wonderful turquoise because glaciers have left rock flour suspended in the water, which apparently reflects the color of the sky differently.

Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu from the garden where I pitched my tent.

Operation: Find a Mo - one week and 1200 kilometers later - was a resounding, drunken success.


Posted by axcordion 00:33 Archived in New Zealand Tagged queenstown new zealand christchurch picton kaikoura wellington hastings brewery tui Comments (1)

Dispatch from Hastings, Part II

"Can the police do nothing about this insanity?"

The Hastings cemetery sprawls over the northwest part of the town, just down the street from my hostel, but somehow it took me almost a month to explore it. The old section has a number of graves from the 1880s, 90s and early 1900s, including the first one pictured below, marked by a wooden headstone. Hard to say just when this person died but their grave is surrounded by a few others from the early 1890s, so presumably they passed around the same time. There is one other wooden grave marker in the cemetery, surrounded by a rusted wrought iron fence. While the top one still has some barely legible writing, even after 120 years, any information or memorial on the second has long since disappeared.

Wooden grave marker in the Hastings cemetery, circa 1890

Wooden grave marker in the Hastings cemetery

The oldest marked grave in the cemetery belongs to Albert Ernest Lincoln. Albert died in 1882. I was thinking about Albert, wondering what his life was like. What was Hastings like when he died? What was Hastings like for Percy Armstrong (1884), Leslie Thomas (1884), Frank Arthur Duddy (1885), M. McCloud (1886), and Annie and William McConnell (1886 and 1888, respectively). What about the person in the grave covered in Japanese characters and marked with the name SAM (1898)? And then there's Brother S. Baddeley, 1885, who's monument was "erected by the members of Courts Sir Charles Napier. Captain Cook. Ruahine. Heretaunga. Robin Hood. Rising Sun and Little John. Hawke's Bay District A.O.F. As a token of his valuable services to the Order." The AOF, the Ancient Order of Foresters, a friendly society formed in the UK in 1834. Who were these people? Needless to say, a trip to the library was in order.

Hastings was founded in 1873 as a railway station, chosen because it was in the center of a large agricultural plain. There was a small township called Karamu there already - essentially a store and a post office. The history books offer varying accounts and nobody, it seems, is sure of who renamed Karamu or why they chose to call it Hastings. The town's business district never really developed until after 1879, and it wasn't until January 2, 1884, with 617 residents, that it was officially declared a town. Up through the formation of a town government the region had been under the jurisdiction of the Hawkes Bay County Council and the Heretaunga Road Board, which essentially put in bridges and built roads from farmers' gates to the nearest road or port. Between 1884 and 1886 the new town government passed several laws to regulate nuisances caused by "night soil, dung, ashes, slops, filth, refuse and rubbish of any kind." People found guilty of violations were fined up to five pounds. In 1886 the population of Hastings reached 1000 and it officially became a borough - the largest and fastest growing borough in the country, in fact. That same year a volunteer fire department was formed, but without a high-pressure water system in place much of the central business district burned in 1893. Everything on the blocks along Heretaunga Street between Market and the railway line was lost - nine shops, the Hastings Hotel, the Bank of New Zealand, a drapery, a restaurant and a store. Bicycles became popular in the 1890s, upsetting some older conservatives. One person wrote to the newspaper, the Standard, asking "Can the police do nothing about this insanity?" after seeing a "scorching" cyclist "spinning along the main street at the rate of cannon shot" before falling off outside the Albert Hotel.

Then, as now, the main business in the region was agriculture. Grapes were grown extensively by 1884, though just as much for eating as for wine-making. Tabacco and hops were grown for a while around 1885 and apple orchards were producing from around 1874. In addition to produce the town also had a freezing works for freezing and exporting meat to England. Establised in 1884 the freezing works was owned by Fred and JN Williams. But since local farmers preferred cooperative ventures they opened the North British and Hawkes Bay Farmers' Freezing Company nearby at Westshore in 1888. Along similar lines the Hastings Farmers' Association dairy cooperative formed in 1890, soon followed by a competitor, the Heretaunga Co-operative Daity in 1892. And after that? Nothing happened after that. This is Hastings...

As much as I enjoy picking blueberries, it's hard to make much money. Fortunately, a week after starting that one I picked up a second job working in an apple packhouse. Supposedly twelve hours a day (7a-7p), five days a week, plus a short eight hour day on Saturday (leaves plenty of time for blueberry pickin') and Sunday off, it's actually ended up being an average of eight hours a day, six days a week. My job is as a grader, pouring over the apples as they come into the packhouse and removing any that don't meet export-quality standards. Sunburn? Out. Blackspot? Out. Bruises? Out. Cuts? Out. Blemishes larger than one square centimeter? Out. These apples hold a different fate. Rather than being shipped across the world so people can eat fruit out of season, these apples head straight to the juicer or straight home with my friends and I.

Blueberry farm outside of Hastings

But I've been having trouble sticking around Hastings. I had a realization that as a traveler I've been in one place too damn long. Getting antsy, going stir crazy. Gotta get out of here… So where to next? I have one week to figure it out.

Posted by axcordion 14:06 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new packing zealand picking apple hastings blueberry Comments (0)

Dispatch from Hastings, Part I

"I'm telling you, I love corn - just not this corn."

My plan, so much as I actually had a plan, was to find seasonal work picking fruit when I began to worry about running short on money. I never had much money to begin with, since I ended up in New Zealand pretty much on a whim, and in two short months of easy living with a net income of zero I figured this was as good of time as any.

I caught a ride to Hawkes Bay with Brendan and Urs. They were actually from Wellington but were going home via Hastings, my ultimate destination. Hastings is a lovely little town, charming in that way that most small towns that die after 5pm tend to be. There are a lot of Spanish mission style and art deco architecture, as in Napier just up the road but here to a lesser degree, because a large earthquake devastated the region in 1931. Since the styles were popular at the time of rebuilding we now have what is likely the country's largest architectural anomaly, and it is lovely. It's spawned an annual festival here in Hastings called Deco Days, complete with vaudeville shows, Marx Brothers films, and tractor pulls. Tractor pulls? A boy can dream, can't he?

Typical architecture in central Hastings

The earthquake was pretty massive. It registered 7.8 on the richter scale, leveled most of central Hastings and Napier, raised low-lying land upwards of 2.7 meters, and killed 256 people when it was all said and done. In Napier much of the downtown area was destroyed by fire, unstoppable because the water mains had broken, and a number of people burned to death. But the legacy of the quake is a beautiful one, indeed.

Damage to the Hastings post office after the quake

This region lovingly refers to itself as the fruit bowl of New Zealand, simply because the climate is ideal for growing, and grow they do. Apple season was to begin about a week after I arrived so I figured I would stay at a hostel with cheap weekly rates and wait for work, but the work found me. My second day in town the owner of the hostel told me about seasonal work packing corn for a multinational frozen food company called McCain's, best known for their french fries, apparently. I took it, figuring immediate work would help me earn enough to get out of here in a month or so, but quit after a couple of weeks for a number of reasons, namely safety, poor communication and overwhelming isolation. I'd like to point out that the hostel where I'm staying is called A1 Backpackers. I have to give them credit for actually choosing to name their hostel A1 for the sole purpose of being the first to be listed in the phonebook. It's a bold business decision.

Now, what exactly did I do at McCain's? I'm glad you asked. The short answer is that I did nothing of significance. In fact, what I did will most likely make you feel better about what you do. Essentially I would stand over any number of conveyor belts and either turn good ears of corn to ensure they get cut properly, or throw out bad ears of corn to ensure they wouldn't make it to the market. Bad corn is loosely defined as corn that people wouldn't want to eat. Hard to pin down what exactly that means but I have an idea that the swine who buy ears of corn that have been husked, cut in half and frozen probably don't want to eat it if it doesn't look perfect, as corn ought to. So this is the standard we were ordered to go by, what people want to eat. In the end McCain's waste an astronomical amount of food, as expected.

At McCain's I would wear a white jumper with a large reflective green stripe around the middle, rubber gumboots, rubber gloves (conveniently designed to fill with sweat), safety goggles (watch out for projectile corn!), and noise dampening headphones. Because it's so loud in the shop workers are, thankfully, required to wear the headphones, which cut off about 20 dB. Unfortunately this means you can't communicate with anybody, which had to be the most difficult aspect of the job for me. You stand next to somebody for eight hours a day, on average six days a week and you only talk to them for a few minutes on your break? What else? I had two immediate supervisors - one was a jerk, a born supervisor, and the other was a real asshole when he wanted to be. Naturally I took it upon myself to help him become a better person, a more respectful person, one who could recognize it's the workers who make the business a success. Non-violent communication? Well, the best course of action, I figured, was to spray him with a hose and, needless to say, hilarity ensued. He thought it was the other supervisor who was spraying down another machine nearby and oh, the look on his face! He acted like he'd been assaulted, couldn't figure out why this was happening to him. He is, after all, the boss… So maybe in the end I didn't convince him to change but it made me feel good and, damnit, that counts for something.

The fruits of my labor, about 1% of the contents of these bags is human sweat… literally.

I just started picking blueberries where I can work for as many hours as I want, as often as I want. Turns out I really enjoy picking blueberries - I'm outside, it's quiet, not too warm, I can talk to people or listen to music or sing songs as I wish, free blueberries, etc - and ten hour days are easy. The worst bit of this job is that the pay isn't very good and it's tough to pick enough to really save much money. So we'll see what happens.

At A1 I have met a lot of amazing kids and carried on the greatest conversations into the early hours of the morning. For example, today I was asked to explain the difference between being cute, being pretty, and being hot to a Japanese girl, a Chinese girl, and a Frenchman - truly deep. Everybody here has something in common - we all left behind what we had, to some degree, and are traveling around a foreign country. I've also started a spanish language conversation group here in Hastings with a local girl who recently came back from South America and wanted to keep up her language skills. I'm not quite back to the level I was at five years ago in Guatemala but I'm working on it. Good, meaningful work, the best work I've done in Hastings.

The rough plan from here is to finish up a month or more of work and hitchhike to Wellington or over to a west coast surf town called Raglan and meet up with a friend who invited me to visit. But, of course, these plans are subject to change. As all plans should be. Best not stick to an idea for too long or you may end up following through at the expense of spontaneity.

Posted by axcordion 22:43 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new corn zealand nz hastings mccains Comments (0)


"Oh my god, it's on fire!"

Kiwiburn. How does one describe an indescribable event? If it's indescribable does it make sense to try? The organizers simply call it "New Zealand's regional Burning Man event" and describe a "collective experience" in which there are two significant responsibilities we all hold: Do No Harm and Look After Each Other. Easy enough. Two responsibilities I think we can all get behind, with perhaps a few exceptions here and there among the more misanthropically-inclined. The, er, burning question in my mind was would we burn a man, a kiwibird, or a kiwifruit? Or would we burn something else entirely? There would be only one way to find out.

Ah, Kiwiburn. This story begins in Taupo with Jen and I drying out from our tramp around Lake Waikaremoana. After a bit of confusion and miscommunication we got a ride out with a few other couchsurfers to the festival on the Whakamaru Domain near Mangakino. We arrived well after dark, were greeted by the lovely welcoming committee, and I began wandering around near where I knew some friends from Auckland were camped. Never did find them that night but we ended up just a few tents away, and in the process I met another Jen, this one a fellow union organizer from Spokane, and then shortly after I met Patrick from Eugene who said he didn't know the people I was looking for but would I like a beer? I certainly would! And so it began.

Whakamaru Domain invaded by burners

Kiwiburn is based on a gift economy and the idea that if you gift things to other people it will all come back around. Reciprocation isn't expected, these aren't the Hare Krishnas you meet at the bus stop… Primarily, the gifts seemed to consist of alcohol but more generally they were anything a person had to share - a song, a snack, sunscreen, you name it. In line with the motto Participate Don't Spectate, there were a number of theme camps that held workshops on and off over the course of the week: Shambala for drumming; Balrog's Playpen for spinning fire; Wildeburn for relaxing on pillows and drinking chai; and a number of places blasting dance music and competing for you - yes, YOU - to take up space on their dance floor. The Headless Duck (dustep), the Green Fairy (free absinthe every Thursday, tell your friends), Illuminati (uh, maybe something to do with Dan Brown?), and so on.

Homemade absinthe with homegrown ingredients, complements the Green Fairy

Aside from workshops the days were generally spent in the shade avoiding the sun, in the sun avoiding the chilly wind, under shelter avoiding the rain, or in the lake avoiding being dry. There were also common activities like nursing a hangover (for the suckers), helping build things that would eventually burn, taking a spin in the pirate ship, meeting all sorts of amazing new people and talking to them for hours, or just waiting for the sun to finally dip below the horizon and the real festivities to begin.

The man, which isn't meant to symbolize anything, awaiting his eventual doom

Yes, this cow is indeed carrying an uzi. Dana Lyons, anyone?

The Temple, holding a similar fate as the man and the cow, but with actual symbolism

Who was the pirates' favorite late night talk show host? ARRRRsenio Hall!

Campmates Irish Owen, Canadian Jesse, Arizonan Jen, and Canadian Emma

After dark on the fourth night we burned the man. Drums and fire spinning and the poor guy goes up in flames. I think he saw it coming though, or at least he was resigned to his fate - he didn't put up a fight at all. We all gathered around the embers to warm up until, ironically, we were herded like cattle to watch the cow burn. Eventually it too was decimated, turned to smoke and ash to be carried to the rest of the cattle on the paddock, a reminder of what will surely happen if they, too, rise up in arms against their human captors. While the cow was burning, burning for maybe ten minutes at this point, somebody exclaimed, "Oh my god, it's on fire!" Amazing.

The man burns

The cow follows

The fifth and final night of Kiwiburn we were treated to a lovely sunset before the torching of the temple. Unlike the man and the cow, the temple means something. It has different significance to different people, as those of us who chose to do so wrote anything we wanted on the temple to disappear in the flames, to float away in the breeze with the smoke. Apologies, burdens, obsessions, and the like. Whereas the other burns were a big party, this was subdued, serious and contemplative.

The temple burns

So long, temple

Following Kiwiburn I finally parted ways with my travel partner for the past month, Jen from Flagstaff. Adventure Crew dissolved. Temporarily, I reckon. She went south with some friends to hike the Tongariro Crossing while I caught a ride east to find seasonal work in Hawkes Bay. Rumor has it she went a bit crazy and moved in with a flock of kiwis, but it's hard to say how much truth there is to the story. These things tend to get blown a bit out of proportion. In the end we may never know…

Posted by axcordion 01:48 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new man zealand burning 2011 kiwiburn whakamaru Comments (0)

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