Yes Yes, this post is to testify that we are in fact still alive and kicking down here in the southern hemisphere. We haven't exactly had our keesters parked in real comfortable-like rocking chairs, sipping iced tea on the front porch of our countryside cottage and thinking of how we could keep you all in the dark regarding our goings about. No, actually we've been pushing ourselves to the brink physically, mentally, and olfactorily via a hodge podge of strenuous activity including but not limited to mountain climbing, hard core trekking, remote camping, kiwi picking for a ruthless commercial enterprise abetted by villainous henchmen (only half kidding), and cyclone endurance (not kidding at all). We last left you loyal blog monitors with a post summarily expressing our experience in Auckland -- after such, due to a last minute cancellation on behalf of our to-be hosts on Kawhua Island (near Auckland), we had to improvise and decided to channel our inner Edmund Hillary by hiking the 5 day trail in the Waitakere Range that bears his name.
Little did we know that we were drastically both under and over prepared for the trek. Under because it was extremely physically demanding, often requiring 2 hour long 45-60 degree switchback inclines that at times required pulling yourself up a chain bolted into the rock, then descending an equally imposing rock face with little margin for error ( steep plunges on either side of the meter wide trail) -- add to this loose footing, rain, and mud in varying combinations, and you've got a situation that calls for refined mountaineering technique. We were over prepared because we had to bring our whole packs (nowhere to leave stuff) which included approximately 25 unnecessary pounds each in the form of excess clothing, laptop, books, kitchenware etc. All that, coupled with the lack of water due to "unfit for drinking unless treated" signs at our first campsite, and you've got a serious military training style exercise as opposed to a jolly frolic through gentle rolling sheep dotted hills ( that's more what we were shooting for). We persevered, oh did we ever, and made it to the aptly named "Watipu" ( pronounced 'what a poo') camp ground and lodge that was way off the beaten track. Wayne,the owner, wore a shirt that gave the executive summary of the Watipu ethos: "No cell service, no wi fi, no problem". Most importantly, we had a clean water source that was so much more appreciated than almost ever before at any point in our lives, and a pristine beach right next door. We hitched a ride out of there after 2 days of recuperating and licking our "tramping wounds" , then were fortunate enough to catch a free all day music festival in the town of Titirangi -- fortune smiled upon us, and we ate epic hamburgers at one of the food stalls near the main stage.
We then spent 2 nights at Surf n' Snow Hotel in Auckland, a very centrally located and efficiently run operation just across the street from the famous Auckland Sky Tower. We woke up early one morning and noticed Queen st. (main st. in downtown Auckland) was closed off, then realized that we were at the starting line ( near the amazing Auckland harbor front) for the Auckland Triathlon, an event showcasing many world class athletes and olympians from dozens of countries. That was cool!!! I think doing 2 back to back triathlons would still be easier than the way we did the Hillary Trail.
After Auckland, we caught a bus to Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands. We spent the last 2 weeks there, camped out in our tent next to a river in a "holiday park" called Aranga Backpackers. We elected to go to Aranga mainly because they facilitate seasonal employment positions for Working Holiday Visa holders such as ourselves, and they delivered. We had only been there 2 days before we were asked to join a kiwi harvesting team run by "LD Packers". We started immediately, and believe me when I tell you it was WORK. Other than the first day, which caught us both totally off guard (didn't expect to be picking that day, just signing paperwork), we found that the picking was pretty fun. At least I did -- I compared it to being paid for a work out. Picking is a pretty mindless enterprise, but it's cool to talk to the other people on your team who are mostly local Maori and kiwi guys. Becca was designated as one of the premier kiwi pickers and often was showered with praise by the foremen for her swift technique and careful deposit of fruit into the communal bins. I was so jealous, as I usually received criticism from the same foremen -- mostly because I am not Becca. After one pay cycle though, we noticed LD Packers propensity to cut corners and blatantly disregard contractual agreements that they were bound to. The only answer we heard when questioning the orchard manager about their labor practices was 'if someone doesn't like it then they can find another job' -- this is most likely a widespread approach to labor in the agribusiness industry, i.e. "marginalized" communities composed of temporary laborers and immigrants who are taken advantage of by those that rely upon their contributions in the field. We were mainly doing it for the experience, and to bankroll our expedition just a little bit, so when the same circumstances were repeated ( no breaks while picking 6 hours straight, asked to wait around in uniform for up to 1.5 hours at a time without pay because we weren't picking yet, called to work on easter sunday then sent home almost 2 hours later without pay because of rain, misrepresentation of wages/ actual earnings, etc.) we just cut out and felt blessed that it was only a fleeting choice we had made to work in such an industry and not something that we were reliant upon. Whole groups of immigrants from Tonga, Vana Atu, and elsewhere flew in to work the harvest for months at a time -- what recourse does a population like that have with a company that exploits their eagerness towards, but ultimately unfulfilled earning potential? After 2 weeks, we will forever be in solidarity with all the countless fruit pickers and agri-laborers the world over who's hands have picked the succulent strawberries, ripe avocados, and ... killer kiwis that rest peacefully in your big ol' fruit bowl in the corner of the kitchen. Super glad we did it, super glad we're done.
So now we rented a car for 4 days to drive from Auckland to Wellington ( at the southernmost tip of the north island), stopping in some of NZ's most treasured and naturally beautiful locations en route. We are currently in the town Otorohanga ( all their names sound the same after a while) 8 km away from the hallowed Waitomo Glow Worm Caves -- our cave tour begins promptly at 10 am manana. long update, to be sure, but when internet is scarce and your adventures are many, sometimes it's the only way. Intend to be more regular / less intensive with future postings. However, as we are ever finding out, the map is NOT the territory.