Thursday, February 17, 2011

Of Traveling to Hawke's Bay, and 10.5 Hour Work Days....

Thursday, February 17th, 2011
Napier, New Zealand

Our trip from Kerikeri to Napier seems so long ago that it’s difficult for me to remember it! I’m completely braindead and every part of me is physically exhausted, so I apologize ahead of time for any spelling/grammar errors and such. Suffice it to say that we made the trip to Napier in three days of driving, with nice evenings at the end of every one. On Friday afternoon we left the farm and drove back to Snells Beach, just north of Auckland, where we camped at the same place we did on the way north.
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)
 The public toilets in Kawakawa, designed by a Mr. Hundertwasser, who was an Austrian immigrant and the town's adopted son. Pretty cool, eh?

We thought this was awesome. "Te" is Maori for "The"...

On Saturday we drove the looong, hot miles from Auckland (I got the honor of being behind the wheel for the drive through the city) back to our old stomping grounds at Opotiki. We contacted Lyn & Kate a few weeks ago to see if we could crash at their place, as we’ve always wanted to make sure we see them again before leaving New Zealand. They had other guests but were happy to have us as well, although our accommodations were our van due to the overflowing house! Unfortunately Lyn was away while we were there, but we had a great dinner, Scrabble game (with giant tiles on Kate’s new patio that was purpose built as a mammoth Scrabble  board!) and card games with Kate, a visiting friend, and a young British couple who were there as Workawayers like we were. It was a really great time, and felt a bit like coming home. It was really cool to see how different the place looked three months after our visit. The little chicks that hatched while we were there are now gangly teenage chickens, the tiny seedlings I planted with Lyn are now massive, productive tomato plants and massive cabbages.

 The chicken run is full of greenery we didn't have in the early spring!

It was very cool to see all my hard work from back in October, come to fruition (literally!)

On Sunday morning we left Opotiki and drove two straight hours through the beautiful Motu country to Gisborne, whose claim to fame is being the site where Captain Cook first came ashore in New Zealand in 1769. Unfortunately, on that occasion Cook was a bit jumpy and when he met the local Maori, their traditional challenges were misinterpreted and his crew killed several men and the HMS Endeavour sailed without proper provisions, hence the local body of water being called Poverty Bay.

 The monument at the site where Captain Cook came ashore from the Endeavour

 Poverty Bay.

Monument to "Young Nick," Cook's cabin boy who was the first on the crew to sight New Zealand.

With no surf in sight, we drove straight through to Napier, another 3 ½ hours down the coast. Our first view of the city was this:

We pulled into Aqua Lodge Backpackers around 5 PM and became residents of the veritable tent city in one of the big lawn/courtyards. More on our accommodations later, but suffice it to say that Tony, the kindly owner/operator of the backpackers, finds employment for his guests. He knows several local contractors who only hire people from Aqua Lodge, and we came here hoping to work in the apple trees, but alas, that did not transpire. Several friends of ours here are doing picking, but the companies that Tony knows aren’t hiring more pickers for awhile, and they like to hire people who can stay the whole season (through the end of April). We had a nice lazy day on Monday (Valentine’s Day), exploring Napier (the Art Deco Capital of the World…more on that later), and then Tony told us that it might not be until the next Monday that more pickers would be needed, and we’re only planning to stay in Napier until mid-March (more on this later too), so that work was looking relatively unlikely. Then, on Tuesday morning, Tony came and found us, and told us that a local packhouse was looking for a guy and a girl to start immediately. After a short, dread-filled deliberation, we took it, spurred on by our very minimal bank balances. So, we pack apples. Or rather, I pack apples, which is probably preferable to Matt’s job, which is stacking 25-35lb boxes of apples onto pallets in stacks over 8 feet high. Me, I work on the packing lines with about 40 other people (Matt works with two burly Samoan guys), including many from the hostel here, putting apples into trays and then into boxes, racing against the conveyors to get the fruit packed before it goes off the end of the belt! It’s backbreaking work, bending over, pulling heavy trays down the belts, swinging the filled boxes onto the conveyor that takes them to the stackers. Surprisingly, it’s not boring. It’s repetitive, but you have to keep your mind engaged or things rapidly get out of control. If it weren’t for the physical pain and 9 ½ hours a day on my feet, I wouldn’t really mind it. We work from 7 AM to 5:30 PM, with 1 hour of unpaid breaks, Monday through Saturday. We wake up at 5:45 in the morning, fall into bed before 10, and have constantly aching backs. But we are making money, and unfortunately that’s what it comes down to right now. But I’ll just let you know that every image you’ve ever seen of a conveyor-style packhouse or factory, right down to the ugly smocks and the hairnets, that’s us now. Yeah. But we’re ok, we have a comfy place to live for pretty cheap, and are surrounded by good people. Nonetheless, our life at the moment feels completely disconnected and at odds with the relatively glamorous experience that has been New Zealand for us up until now.

No comments: