A summer day in July, in Dordogne, France. I’m on holiday, cicadas are singing, I’ve just failed the entrance exam for journalism school and I keep on thinking about my plans (or lack thereof) for the upcoming academic year. I have an internship lineup in September, that’s it. I wanted to bounce back and put myself out of the funk I fell into as fast as possible.
I put my Japanese textbook away—I’ve been studying the language for a few months—and I consider my option. Light bulb moment. I go online and check out the price of a Paris-Auckland round-trip ticket. The cheapest one is €1,000 euros. I ask around on pvtistes.net’s forum and I find out that the lowest price is usually €900 euros. It sounds like a deal and I don’t hesitate for a minute. And this is how an amazingly awesome adventure started.
I left on October 3rd with fear in my stomach because it was my first big trip. I bought my ticket, there is no turning back—I made sure to hold myself hostage. Later on, I developed Stockholm syndrome—the hostage, my terrified self, ended up worshiping the captor, the other me who bought the ticket on a whim.
Living One Day at the Time
After a quick stopover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and two ten-hour flights, I finally landed in Auckland at 3 am, local time. The customs officer took me off guard when he asked me how I was doing—I wasn’t expecting such a kind and friendly question. A few minutes later, I stepped out of the airport with my two bags and a suitcase. I’m on my own.
Then, I decided to take a three-week English class at the English Language Academy (ELA). It was certainly one of the most rewarding learning experiences of my life. I met a few wonderful teachers with great educational tools. Students from all around the world were divided in small groups of 8 to 10 so we could get to know new people and chat during and after classes. Basically, this was the perfect environment to take my English level from “what did you say?” to intermediate. I made quick progress and gained confidence.
I took a four-hour class every day and I stayed with a Kiwi family in one of Auckland’s suburbs (Middlemore, for those familiar with this part of the world) through HelpX. As part of the program, I worked 3 to 6 hours a day in exchange for a bed, meals, Internet access and shower access.
I was living with a 60-year-old widow, his 6-year-old grandson and two Malaysian and Indian guests—no, I’m not making it up! It wasn’t a farm but a residential house with a big backyard that kept us busy. On top of gardening chores (grass cutting, logging, weeding) and house cleaning, my main task was to build a small stone path from scratch. So, I had to make the path weed-free before levelling the ground with a tool I can’t remember the name of, then I laid bricks and poured concrete on the edges to solidify the structure. I can proudly say that now, I’m bricklayer with experience!
From time to time, I spotted pūkeko (local birds) in the yard. During my breaks, I drank freshly squeezed lemon juice and orange juice, made with fruits picked in the yard. Every morning, I rode the train with kiwis schoolboys wearing their uniforms and long socks. It was paradise on earth and I strongly recommend volunteering to everyone!
Roaming Around Freely
Then I took the bus (the cheapest mode of transportation) to Hastings, then Wellington to see the city and attend the soccer game between New Zealand and Mexico at the end of November 2013. The Kiwis team lost—oh well!
I stayed in different youth hostels and I met all kinds of people: passionate travellers, easy-going backpackers, students on a gap year before entering the job market, people with a drinking problem, and even retired globetrotters. This unique mix of people can only be found in hostels and the memories of these meetings are unique.
Then I went back to Auckland to take free English lessons with teachers-in-training. That’s a really sweet deal—students are like guinea pigs doing teachers a favour so there is no charge. I met people from the entire world at ELA—Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Chileans, Colombians, Palestinians, Pakistanis, Spanish and Brazilians!
I spent most of the rest of my stay in Auckland where I hung out at the beach or in parks and partied in festivals on the islands with my Japanese friends from the language school.
Many Europeans backpackers I met in hostels think Auckland is an unremarkable city. I get that, but I find it has its charm with easy access to the beach and a multicultural population.
I came back to France in February with tons of projects—learning Japanese, becoming a flight attendant, taking the entry exam to journalism school again in June, and most importantly, T-R-A-V-E-L-L-I-N-G again as soon as possible.
Budget = Freedom
You probably noticed I mostly focused my trip on studying English and meeting people. But New Zealand is also the place to be for thrill seekers who will enjoy activities like skydiving, bungee jumping, scuba diving or zorbing (a local sport of rolling downhill inside an orb).
Even if there is nothing wrong with applying for a WHV at the last minute (99.9% trip satisfaction guaranteed, data approved by the kiwi bird I saw at the zoo and myself), try to figure out what you want to do. I mean, go with the flow for the most part but budget accordingly so that you’ll be able to do what you feel like doing.
The best way to travel around New Zealand is to buy a camper van or a car. Considering there is no train network (except a few tourist lines), driving is by far the best way to discover the most beautiful places of The Land of the Long White Cloud.
Except for the Kiwis’ slight English accent, travelling—booking a room, renting a vehicle, buying food, etc.—is relatively easy in New Zealand. Kiwis are friendly and super helpful. Don’t be surprised if they give you directions before being asked, it happened several times to me!
My WHV experience helped me grow as a person and obviously, I also improved my English skills. I have contacts in several countries as well as precious memories and I discovered a beautiful country. I’m already considering travelling again and applying for another WHV soon, probably for Japan.
Sweet as, bro!