Where the Kiwis are

New Zealand is beautiful. It should definitely be a must-see for all travellers, especially those interested in outdoor activities, great natural scenery, cultural influence, great food and friendly people. The people are so lovely and welcoming. I am constantly being invited out for rides, sight seeing, surfing, drinks, hikes, beach camping, volleyball, rock climbing, and wake boarding - so fun. I’m so grateful for my time here and how everything has finally fallen into place. 

I was staying at lovely Sheryle’s for the first few weeks at NZ so I could get settled and have a base for applying for jobs in Rotorua and the South Island. Mid-way through applications, I found out there was a gravity bike park 15min away from Sheryle’s home called Four Forty (440). Of course, once my bike arrived and got a new derailleur hanger, I had to try it out. The tracks were dry, hard and fast due to the packed clay (I was used to looser dirt, rocks and roots), but eventually I got in the groove of it. Big sweaty smiles after each run. I rested in between shuttles at the shop and got talking to the manager. After explaining my experience and availability, he offered me the shop position right there. I went riding on a Wednesday and started work that Saturday.

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On my first day of work, the bike park was hosting a Downhill race. I love the race atmosphere, but I ended up calling two ambulances. Everyone was fine and it was an exciting way start to the job. My responsibilities here include selling passes, bike parts, tools, food, drink and other merchandise, restocking supplies, administering first aid if required, renting out bikes, doing minor bike repairs and cleaning rentals. My third week on the job, my boss and manager asked if I would be comfortable running the shop for a week or so while they were both on holiday over Christmas and New Years. I said yes, and set up camp at the park so it was easy to work the shop everyday. Working at 440 has been a super cruisie, low stress job. I enjoy being in the bike community and learning more about bike mechanics. It’s so great to see everyone stoked about riding bikes.

While staying here at the park, I have been enjoying the peace of the dirt-bag and wilderness lifestyle. My boss even let me stay in his caravan while he was away. Living in there made me realize that I could actually adopt the caravan/tiny house lifestyle - it really is all you need.  The less you have, the more room you have for happiness. I love being surrounded by the trees and birds and I even get to feed possums in the evenings. There are three possums here that come out each night as dusk turns to dark and they get a little treat of apple or some other fruit. Their names are Steve, Paul and Joey. Joey is a grabby little thing- he reaches with his little hands trying to grab my fingers along with the fruit. Then he runs away to eat it by the base of a tree. Paul is Joey’s mom but the name stuck. Steve is the nicest and he sits right by my feet and lets me pet him when he’s chewing his apple. They are all a little skittish around each other and will sometimes attack each other while eating. They definitely need their space. I know they are pests here and eating the birds and trees, but it’s not their fault they are pests, these three dudes are just trying to live their life.

 

 

Two weeks ago we had a tropical storm hit Auckland and the surrounding area. My first experience with a tropical storm was shocking - I’d gone through torrential downpour and thunder and lightening in Alberta, Victoria and Peru, but this was different. We ended up closing the park for two days due to the rain; clay turns slick and slippery so it’s too dangerous to ride. The first day was rain - it alternated between sideways mist walls and torrential downpour. That day, I also got my first experience trail building. We had to get ready for the National DH race that Saturday. What they do is use the same trail, but create new lines so that the locals don’t have as much of an advantage. It was fun, hard and dirty work - we were all soaked and covered in dirt and tree bits. The water ran down the trees, forming little foam pyramids at the bottom, which looked really cool. The second day was all wind, and it was nuts. I had the day off so I had planned to go to Auckland for food shopping and a climb, but only got about 20km before having to turn back from ocean/tide-flooded roads. The waves were crashing and blowing right over the entire road, bringing up logs, seaweed, sand, and gunk. The poor residents living beside the ocean had flooding in their homes and their yards were all ruined. While I was away, my two bosses were doing more trail maintenance; they were bracing themselves against a big gust of wind when they heard a huge crack of a tree snapping from up the hill. They turned and witness 3 treetops cracking right off. They said it sounded like thunder cracking and that they couldn’t help but gape at the sight. They decided to call it quits for trail building after that almighty tree-episode. The wind is quite frightening sometimes - big branches snap and tumble down, the caravan’s tent pegs got ripped up from the ground; the trees and bushes look like their roots are holding on as tightly as possible as the leaves and branches bend over to tickle the ground. But it is still warm for the most part; the wind is a little chilly but it’s not the wind and rain chill that I’m used to in Canada.

After not being able to get into town, I turned around and went to Sheryle’s house to shower and wait for the tide to go down. About 2 minutes into the shower, the power cut...I was covered in conditioner and soap...I swore, laughed and got out in the dark and headed back to the park swimming hole by the park to rinse off. You get surprisingly itchy when you dry yourself covered in soap. I’m so grateful for that swimming hole across the road from the park - it’s a little paradise.

As in any job, I’ve met a lot of different personalities. Most people are super kind and genuine, asking where I’m from and talking bike-talk. I feel so welcomed by the kiwis wanting to include me in their activities. I’ve gone wake boarding with a group of 5 kiwis I met at the park. I’ve water-skied before, which was hard, but wake boarding was probably one of the trickiest things for me to pick up. My body is used to being unilateral, hands out in front, and it took forever for me to make the connection to move my hands sideways to my hip in order to straighten the board out. Being sideways was weird, and I was sore for days after, partially from just getting smashed and dragged through the water over a dozen times while trying to get the hang of standing on the board, but also because standing sideways in that position, steering and holding on is super hard and demanding. They were all so patient and one even got in the water with me to try to help me understand the technique. Another guy invited me to go climbing with him - I had missed doing ropes. He was fairly new to climbing so I was coaching him for the most part, but it was still fun to have a climbing partner. A couple weeks later, he offered to show me around some beaches and viewpoints around the Waitakere ranges and west coast of Auckland. Piha beach and Fairy Falls are beautiful and if you’re out in the Titirangi area, definitely go check those out. I'm currently hanging out in Raglan with a good friend from school - it is such a treat to see a familiar face and think about memories stored way back in my brain. We checked out Bridal Falls with her mates from NZ who are living in Aus. They are super funny and knowledgeable about the Maori culture - I learned that my name in Maori is Ranginui (the Sky God). 

At this point, I have been in New Zealand for 2 months, and I have loved every minute of it (except for the getting settled part which was a lot of stress, but that’s passed now). It feels like home and I love the connections I’ve made so far. My mom comes to visit in a couple weeks and I’m so excited to explore more and share this place with her.

Skye Irwin3 Comments