A kiwi Christmas for the memory books

It started like many good stories start. With some Clamato. What's Clamato, you ask? It's a kind of tomato juice, but better. What makes it better? The clam juice in it, of course. Yep, sounds gross but don't knock it till you try it. 

As a uniquely Canadian drink, it's nearly impossible to find abroad unless you're in the popular tourist destinations of Las Vegas or Florida. It's most certainly not in New Zealand, or at least I didn't think so. Then I was told about Martha's Backyard, a American store and thought, surely, they might also have some Canadian products too. And sure enough, there it was. In the middle of the floor, pretty sure with a ray of light streaming down upon it, waiting for me. The price? Not cheap, but it came a long way to get here. $13.50 NZD, or $12.30 CDN. Worth every penny (not that New Zealand or Canada have pennies...).


So I had my Clamato and was on my way to my first Christmas stop. For the holidays, Pauanui, an ocean-side village in the Corromandel and the summer home of my friend Anna and her family, would be my home. Tomorrow was Christmas but it certainly didn't feel like it with the sun shining and the temps in the mid-20s. This would be my second Christmas in New Zealand and my second one away from home. Last year, it felt strange. This year, it was feeling more normal. 

The full house and full bellies at Anna's made it even easier to enjoy. Ruby, Penny, Hugo and Annabelle kept the house humming and Anna's dad told me stories that I'm sure his own kids had heard many times. He seemed happy to have a new audience.

With the beach only a stone's throw away, we moseyed down on Christmas Day for a swim. Life could be worse. 

New Zealand treats were abundant at Anna's. On Christmas morning, I got several boxes of Scorched Almonds (chocolate covered almonds), Anna served up delicious corn fritters and her brother bbq'd bacon for breakfast, and her Dad steamed some pipis or tuatua's - a small mussel-like shellfish that we dug out of the beach at low tide. Of course, I brought some of my family's traditions along including champagne and orange juice at breakfast, some caesars in the afternoon, and of course a puzzel. By Boxing Day, I was ready to hit the trail. I needed a good walk to burn off the extra calories consumed over Christmas. Luckily, I had a walk planned to do just that. 

It's hard to live in two places at once

It’s hard to live in two places at once. For 31 years, Canada was my home. In 2016, I travelled but for the most part I still lived and breathed Canada, albeit remotely. I dedicated a significant portion of every day to facetiming, blogging, emailing, writing postcards, and sending texts to people I missed and cared about back home. It was easy to do since I didn't really have friend obligations where I was. Whether I was in Canggu or Canberra, friends came in and out of my life like the tide. Staying just long enough to make a few memories but moving on with their own travels soon enough. I collected people like baseball cards, knowing the highlights – name, country, travel plans, career ambitions, but never needing to fully immerse myself in their life leaving me with all the time I needed to remain up to date with those back home. I seemed to be living in two places at once. For the most part. Naturally, I lost a few Canadian friends along the way – the connection not strong enough to bridge a 10, 000+ kilometer divide. But I managed to keep the really good ones close and I actually became even closer to those that meant the most.

When I arrived in New Zealand a year ago today, living in two places got harder. As you may have read in my blog last December, I felt pulled in several directions. My travels were winding down and while I was tired of going from hostel to hostel, the fact that the adventure was coming to an end was depressing. I’d soon be looking for my next job and despite having a year-long break, I had not experienced any major career revelations along my journey. Hollywood movies had led me astray. To make matters worse, I also felt drawn back to Australia where I’d just spent three months with some amazing people. The natural inclination was to consider going home. But I wasn't ready.

The last time I blogged, I had just returned from an amazing trip home in June where I got to reconnect with all my family and friends. I returned feeling lonesome. I realized that I really missed having people around me who knew me, who were there for me and who I cared about. No longer did I want to be a tourist. I wanted people to invest their time getting to know me and I wanted to spend more time getting to know them. To do this, I knew I would have to spend less time in front of my computer screen and more time actually living abroad. 

After all, living abroad won't be a permanent thing. This decision became clear to me when a very special Aunt fell ill this past August and being 30 hours away was simply too far. With information unclear about how dire the situation was, it was hard to know if and when I should consider going home. I had just been home a month before and had no annual leave left. And while I had the money, the cost of a flight home was exorbitant on that short of notice. I'll be forever grateful that my firm made my decision easy and urged me to go without delay. I arrived a few hours before she passed away so I was able to see her one last time and more importantly, support her daughters, my Dad and my other Aunt who were at her bedside.

As sad as it was, the trip home was one of the most fulfilling family visits that I can remember. I think we all valued our time together more after seeing such a wonderful life slip away so quickly. I was able to reconnect with my extended family, in particular my Aunt Liz who had also flown home from England. She moved away from Canada when she was just 19 and although we've spent many holidays, anniversaries, and weddings together, I felt I reconnected with her as an adult. It was clear that we have a lot in common including an adventurous spirit. 

So while the trip was as good as I could have hoped for, I know I will not always be so lucky to make it back in time. Even if I lived in Canada, this still may not be the case. However, I never want a flight or distance to be the reason I can’t be with the people I love, especially when it matters. So I will go back to Canada eventually. But if I am to be 30 hours by plane away from Canada, I had best make the most of it and actually, live abroad.

So for the last few months, I've put my computer down (kindly pointed out by Adrien - a loyal blog follower and one of the best Aussie's I know). I’ve still been writing when I get the bug but not to the same extent as before. When I haven't been blogging, I've made a good group of friends. I have a house search to thank for it. While looking for a new flat in a more lively neighbourhood, I went to see a three-bedroom house where two girls were looking for a third. I got on immediately with one of the girls – Kelley - an American from California. I joked that even if I didn’t get the room maybe we could still be friends! Turns out, I didn’t get the room but she did take me up on the offer to be friends! A few weeks later, the house I had moved into needed to fill another room so in and out came the candidates. A kiwi girl, Emma, had just returned from California. She liked the place and we liked her, but she wanted to see a few more houses before she committed. Unfortunately, we had to choose someone else to fill the room before she was able to come back. Nevertheless, I stayed in touch as we bonded instantly over our love of wine.

So one day, I thought I’d invite both ladies to go on a hike. I picked up Emma and we made our way to Kelley's. As I pulled up to Kelley's house, Emma realized that she too had looked at the same room and had been rejected! Ha ha ha To make it more interesting, Kelley invited the new, successful roommate Rose on the hike! Two months later, we’re all inseparable and have even expanded the circle to include Jemima – a Brit who I met travelling and who recently moved to Auckland. Small world, eh?!

It feels very small each time I meet up with a Canadian who's passing through. In the last few months, I’ve met up with five people from Canada. It’s been a treat to see a familiar face from my Masters programme, regale ourselves with stories from the political years, and catch up with old friends and colleagues who really know me. No small talk needed; we just pick up where we left off. I’m already looking forward to my parents' visit next year and I’m also making a list of things I still want to do while I'm here. It's hard to live in two places at once so for the time being, I'm going to try to live life to the fullest here. 

2017/2018 To Do List

  1. More half-marathons - just did my first one ever across the Auckland bridge and it was awesome. I'm signed up for one on Waiheke Island next May but I'm thinking I need to find another in January or February. 
  2. I want to do at least three of the nine Great Walks, maybe more! I had put off buying camping gear given I wanted to be really mobile over the last few years but it's time to invest in a bit of gear so that my adventures can continue. I've done Tongariro Alpine Crossing twice and can't wait to do more walks in this beautiful country. 
  3. I also want to do more scuba diving in this corner of the world. Being in New Zealand means that I'm only a stones throw away from some of the world’s most remote dive spots in Fiji and French Polynesia. I'd best make the most of it!

A long drive up the Land of the Long White Cloud

Saturday, April 29 @ 9:30pm - Fox Glacier

The next adventure: 23 hours and 1, 600 kms 

The next adventure: 23 hours and 1, 600 kms 

My drive from the bottom to the top of "the land of the long white cloud" has begun. I landed in Queenstown at 2:30pm this afternoon and by 4pm I was in my car filled with fuel ($2.12/L - ouch!!), Maccas (MacDonald's in New Zealand or Australian) in hand, and the GPS was set to Fox Glacier - my first stop of a three day journey. Why am I doing this, you ask? That's a good question. 

You see, just over two months ago, I was living in Queenstown but went for a job interview in Auckland. A few days later the recruiter called. "You got the job" she said, "but there's a hitch". Uh oh, I thought. "They'd like you to go to Australia for the first two months." To nobody's surprise - I replied, "Sure. When?" A few days later, I packed up my things, left my car in Queenstown, and flew to Melbourne. I arrived back in Queenstown today still feeling the effects of last night's well-stocked send-off by my Australian colleagues and cherished new friends. You see, the four of us started on the same day with a brand new client. With a variety of work experience - a Kiwi from a small business association in the U.K., two Aussies who worked together for the Melbourne Cup (the horse race "that stops a nation") and one who dealt with the craziness that ensues from the triple zero emergency dispatch line in Melbourne, and of course, a Canadian from government and politics - we all had so much to bring to the table. It was a team effort right from the outset. A breakup, horrible roommates, a family emergency, and even when one of us crashed a car (cough...Ana...cough) - we flung into action. Luckily, we didn't have to fling ourselves too far for Ana. ;) These ladies, plus our fearless leader and always positive champion Kylie, have become such amazing friends. Already looking forward to our next wine session...

But for now, I had to get to Auckland. My first few kilometres included the Crown Range Road - one of my favourite roads in New Zealand as it comes with a bevy of switchbacks. At the top you're rewarded with a stunning view of the valley and the Remarkables. 

Before the sun set, I got a few more amazing photos. Finally, I got a pic of sheep grazing. So often I see the field of sheep and can't pull over in time to snap a photo. I also caught the sun hitting a mountain ridge - it looked more magnificent in person.

And the piece de resistance - Bradona. Yep, a fence of bras located in Cardrona. I honestly had to Google why the hell this fence exists and I'm sorry to say that Wikipedia was not enlightening about the bra fence. I had driven by it before but had never felt the need to stop and snap a photo. Today was the day. I mean, who knows when I might be back! I didn't want to regret not taking a photo of all the bras! And no, I did not leave one behind. I'm still living out of a suitcase - there are no extra bras to just go leaving willy nilly on a fence.  



Five hours and three "trim" flat whites later, I arrived in Fox Glacier with only a few nerves intact and two pretty sore eyes. Given it's autumn, the darkness set in soon after leaving Queenstown. Then the rain started. I slowed my speed considerably as the road began to twist and turn through Mount Aspiring National Park and over the Haast pass towards the west coast. If that wasn't enough, I was met by an army of suicidal possums. There they were, just sitting in the middle of the road, looking longingly into my high-beams with their beady red eyes. If I were a Kiwi, I would have taken great joy in connecting my front tires with said possums. Heck, if I were a Kiwi, I would have swerved to make it a certainty. But having already blown a tyre during my first week of car ownership and now with four brand spanking new tyres, I gave the breaks, horn and steering a good workout instead. Plus, I have a bit of a phobia when it comes to rodents, dead or alive so the last thing I wanted was their guts splattered on my pretty white car. Now, you may be rolling your eyes. Perhaps even cursing me for risking my own life for theirs but let me be clear - these were no small possums. Their mouse-like head sits on top of a body that would have made my Grandma's tabby cat T.C. look thin. Hitting one of these possums would not be a case of "bumpbump" but rather a "BADUMP! BADUMP!" I was not doing it. 

The bar tender who poured me what I thought was a much deserved beer in Fox was unimpressed. After all, the possum is public enemy number one, just barely ahead of Australians. It's estimated that there are 30 million possums for a country with just 4.6 million people. It's part of the national identity to hate the possum just as it's customary for 98% of Canadians to hate the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although you don't risk your life meeting a possum on the road as you do with a great Canadian moose, the rodent threatens the future of many bird species (the only native species to New Zealand!!) by eating the eggs and attacking the adults. They also spread diseases, including the devastating bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) between cows. Even with this knowledge, I am unable to swerve towards them. I guess I'll have to stick to daytime driving. 

Sunday, April 30 @Westport 7pm

Today was such an amazing day of driving. I purposefully chose the longer route up the west coast of New Zealand instead of crossing over to Christchurch and heading up the middle - and for good reason. The west coast of New Zealand is jaw-dropping beautiful. For nearly 300 kilometres I was surrounded by dense, diverse and deep green forest. This region would give the Amazon a run for its money. I felt like I was in the 90's animated movie "Fern Gully". I started in Fox Glacier and drove north through Mount Cook National Park. As far as the eye could see, there were ferns, palms, deciduous, conifers, and moss. If pink and purple didn't exist, green would be my favourite colour; I love it. But do you know what makes things green? Rain. And lots of it. The west coast of NZ gets more than its fair share of rain. As you can see from the photos below, it's a blessing in disguise.

While I need to get to Auckland ASAP, I'm bound and determined to make the most of my 23 hour drive. With my new travel list growing by the day, I have to accept that I may never be in these parts again so I'm making a few touristy stops along the way. I even detoured inland 20 minutes to see the beautiful Hokitika Gorge. I had seen other backpackers' photos and knew I needed to see it for myself. When I did, wow. Just wow. Doug Cameron appropriately asked on Facebook whether the colour of the water really was that bluish green colour. It is, Doug. It really is. Today was a dreary rainy day and the sandflies were out for murder. I can't imagine how magical it would have been in the sunshine... 

After this detour, it was time to drive out of the forest and farmer fields and towards the coast. From there, I would head north towards my next destination - Westport. The trees thinned and the road straightened out. As I pulled the wheel to the right and my car followed the curve around the bend, the stunning Tasman Sea opened up in front of me. Thankfully, nobody was behind me because I pulled over immediately to get a few pictures. 

As I travelled up the coastline, I stopped at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. Looking like tall pancake stacks out of something like a Dr. Seus book or WhooVille, the limestone formations sit curiously alone with the sea lapping at them, especially at high tide. The Pancake Rocks were apparently formed 30 million years ago. Small pieces of dead sea creatures and plants landed on the seabed about 2 km below the surface. Immense water pressure caused the fragments to solidify into hard and soft layers. Gradually seismic events lifted the limestone above the seabed. Rain, wind and seawater sculpted the bizarre shapes.

By the time I left the Pancake Rocks, the sun was falling. I didn't want to be on the roads again at night so it was time to get to Westport. However, just on edge of Westport was Cape Foulwind and a Seal Colony. As the sun began to set, I stopped in for a quick walk around the cape. I did see the seals but since the light was so dim and they were far below playing in the water, my photos of them didn't turn out very well. I really enjoyed watching the sunset here, especially as the sun fell below the cloud line and started to hit the range of mountains at the end of the beach. It was a great way to end such a beautiful day on the road. Tomorrow had a lot to measure up to. 

Monday, May 1 @ Westport to Wellington via Interislander Ferry from Picton


Ok, my butt is getting sore. So far I've driven 620 kilometres but I am not even half way to Auckland yet. Thankfully, I only have 4 hours of driving today and the ferry take me the rest of the way. Unfortunately, even though I'm driving through Blenheim, I won't get to see my friend Blair who I met on a Contiki trip in the Australian outback last August. She's always an absolute gem to visit which is why I spent both my birthday and Christmas with her last year. It doesn't hurt that she also works in the wine industry which means that I get free tastings in the amazing Marlborough wine region. Yum! However, it's the end of harvest which means that up until now she has been working incredibly long hours. As a reward, staff are given an "end of harvest" party. And today's that day. It's ok though because having decided to stay in New Zealand for the foreseeable future, we can always plan to meet up in Auckland or in Blenheim real soon.

It also means that instead of taking an evening ferry to Wellington, I can catch an early one and get to my hostel in Wellington before dark. I'll also get to enjoy the ferry ride in the sunshine and according to my mom who looked it up, it's also one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world. I find it hard to imagine a more beautiful ferry ride than the one to Vancouver Island but I guess we'll see. Best get on the road now....

4:30pm @Interislander Ferry

Ferry left at 2:15pm and I arrived with plenty of time to both tidy my car, get a coffee and Facetime my parents. From the moment I boarded the ferry and climbed up to the passenger decks, it was clear that the journey through the Cook Strait would be a fantastic ride. Not only was it beautiful but as soon as the ferry pulled out into the open waters, the infamous character of Cook Strait became apparent. 

Lying between the narrow gap of the North Island and the South Island of New Zealand is where the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific Ocean meet. In 1769, the strait was found by James Cook, a very famous British explorer in this corner of the world. At its most narrow point, the gap closes to just 22 kilometers. It's a similar trench as is the Bay of Fundy except that this one opens up on the other end to another body of water with its own characteristics. What makes it even more peculiar is the tide at either end is almost exactly out of sync with one another, so high water on one side meets low water on the other. Strong currents result with almost zero tide change in the centre of the strait. Due to the strong tidal flows and varying underwater topography, violent eddys are created and this strait is known as one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waterways in the world. 

As the ferry exits the bay, the captain announces that the three metre swell that we are encountering is "less than ideal" reminds passengers to stay seated as much as possible and where to locate sick bags. Midway through the trip, Captain Obvious comes over the speakers to inform passengers that "the vessel is experiencing some movement". A round of laughter erupts in unison from the passengers. Ya, we noticed as we sway violently in our seats. Although I haven't been diving lately, my sea legs are firmly intact and I nap like a baby in a swing. 

After my nap, I head out to the open deck to check out the swell - it is awesome! 

Before long, the swell settled and the ferry approaches the Wellington harbour. Those passengers who are not green go back out to the deck to see a beautiful sunset over Wellington. 

Tuesday, May 2 @Wellington - Last Day!! (Wellington to Auckland)

It's an early one this morning. At 6am I rolled out of bed determined to make an early start. I want to be in Auckland as early as possible but given it's an eight hour drive and I'll need to stop at least three times, it's going to be a long day. While I didn't want to drive in the dark again, the sun is not yet up. Hopefully by the time I get fuel for the car and myself, it will be. 

I've just stopped for a bite to eat. I'm making good time as I know this road well having travelled it either on my own already or with my Contiki tour. I just drove the town of Bulls - what a place. Somehow the entire town has decided to include "bull" puns in the names of their businesses, restaurants, and centres. I kid you not. Even the sign for the local police station says "Const-a-bull". It's...unique. I, of course, took a moment to send Monique, my Contiki tour guide, a pun-filled note to say hello from Bulls. 

Made it to the stunning Tongariro National Park by 10am. Gosh, I love this place. I hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing back in December. Although it was beautiful, it was cloudy that day. I can't wait to do it again on a crisp sunny day. Today was just that but unfortunately, I couldn't fit in a 19km hike. I did have time to stop to take a few photos of Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings). The latter has always been cloaked in a a heavy blanket of cloud so I was excited to see it for the first time today. 


Finally, I've made it to Auckland - my new home for the foreseeable future. Wow. Tomorrow, I start working for a new client - Fonterra. In a way it feels like I'm going back to the familiarity of the agriculture sector but this will be a whole new world to learn. The New Zealand dairy industry runs very differently than its Canada counterpart. I'll also be approaching it from outside government. I've been reading annual reports and all the news I can find to try to get up to speed as quickly as possible. I can't wait to get working and back into the weeds of it all. 

For now, I'm tired of driving! At least until my next adventure, that is.