Working Man Blues

My training was six words long.

“Three buds, remove the outside ones.”

I waited patiently for further instructions, only to realize I was waiting in vain.

The work itself is easy enough. As easy a getting hired was. One short text message, and signing some paperwork the next day. $18NZ an hour to thin kiwifruit buds.

My compatriots in the field are an ecclectic mix. The stoners, who immedietly took me in upon hearing I’m from Colorado. The poor girl who has a nervous breakdown upon finding a spider. The German who had enough after three days that he left for good mid-shift. Two down to earth British lads. The migrant worker group from Thailand who comes during the season kitted out looking as though they are about to rob a bank in Chicago in February.

Together we stand in a field covered in kiwifruit buds and raise our arms for nine hours a day, becomimg sore in half the places Khia talks about in her one hit wonder from the early 2000s.

Center of the flower is the kiwifruit, and they will be ready to pick around March.

The workers and the managers don’t expect people to stay long. Someone who makes it a month is elevated to legend status.

Will I have a mental breakdown tomorrow?

Only time will tell.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

I headed to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in a Jeep with a teacup Yorkie on my lap trying to snuggle it’s nose into my jacket and go back to sleep. 6am was a little earlier than we all were used to waking up. Our original shuttle had some issues, and the noble woman who ran the campground decided that it was unacceptable for me to wait and took me herself.

Mount Doom loomed in the horizon. At least, it did after I wiped the condensation off the window.

I had been warned by many Kiwis not to underestimate the hike, each one citing the story of the poor Indian fellow who died a few weeks ago. Apparently, he and three of his friends decided to go in poor weather conditions, against all warnings. They ended up getting separated, and the man’s t-shirt, jeans, and old tennis shoes were no match for the negative temperatures.

I was overprepared, bringing a gallon of water, many layers, and food to last two days, determined not to be the next warning story.

We got to the starting point of the hike (Mangatepopo parking lot) just in time to see the sun crest the hills adjacent to Mount Doom.

The hike is 19.4km start to finish.
The first section of the hike is an easy walk on well formed paths through fields of yellow. There were four of us out that early, including a German woman and a couple from France. We leapfrogged back and forth depending on who was taking pictures of the landscape at that moment.

After about thirty minutes, we reached the first uphill section of the hike. There were already people at this section, some eating, some resting, some staring off in the distance. I continued onwards and upwards, going on autopilot. I passed a group of seven early twenty-somethings opting to explore New Zealand on a hop-on hop-off bus. The leader of the group, a young Irish fellow, was determined to completer the hike in record time, much to the chagrin of those stuck keeping the pace.

Eventually the trail leads into a snowy section (at least in October). We walked along the snow between a few beautiful mountains.

A short trudge in the snow gave way to another steep uphill section that led to a red crater, as well as the highest point of the hike.

A precarious and loose downhill slide gave way to three beautiful lakes, the first of which was still covered in ice.

I took a break and ate the many snack bars which I brought with me. I had meant to pack a lunch the night before, but the decision to hike had been made the day before, and I got distracted talking to some interesting people at the campsite.

After this point, the trail meanders up and down more through snow and rock, and eventually leads to the last downhill section. You cross down yellow fields built into a hillside, which lands in a cabin and the first bathrooms for miles. Afterwards, a green forest that seems a little out of place given the previous landscapes.

When I arrived back at the campsite, the Swiss girls left me a beer to celebrate finishing the hike. They were long gone, but I really appreciated that beer.

I also checked my email and saw that I was supposed to report for my first day of work today. Whoops.

Volcano Valley

I keep telling myself I need to get a job; then I go off traveling. Hasn’t been great for my wallet, but it’s been wonderful for my state of mind.

I went to Waimangu and paid the hefty $40NZ entrance fee. There is a path that leads downhill, and crosses all sorts of interesting geothermal pools.

Steam can be seen coming off the water, in some cases obscuring the view.

The Echo Crater and Frying Pan Lake are the first features you cross.

In 1917, the western basin of Echo Crater erupted killing two people. The crater accumulated water and grew into Frying Pan Lake.

The most striking of the features is the Inferno Crater Lake. Today, it was a sky blue color. It’s temps can reach 80°C (176°F).

The road follows along many other, smaller pools. A mischievous child (or adult) could get into some hot water (I’m sorry) here without supervision.

Along the way, there is a memorial to four people who happened to be standing in the wrong spot when one erupted back in the early 1900s. In fact, there were a few places detailing people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The second half of the trail was closed, unfortunately. Some heavy rains washed out a bridge necessary to reach the end by foot.

Mount Maunganui and the Unprounouncable Language

I felt as though I had aged six years by the time I found a parking spot. I also had a kilometer-long walk to ruminate on my mistake of being in a car anywhere in New Zealand during a holiday.

The city of Tauranga was packed to the brim, both with travelers looking to see the next view, as well as Kiwis looking to drag their kids to the beach.

“Packed to the brim” in New Zealand means that you can see twenty unrelated people at the same time.

I also saw a cool graffito.

Mountains Beyond Mountains

I forwent my plan to go to Coromandel because it is labor day weekend, and I have it on good authority that half the population of Auckland floods there on any school/work break.

Instead, I made my way toward Tauranga. I have been seeing some fantastic things lately, and am getting to the point where the impressiveness is lost on me. As such, I will plant in this region and look for a Kiwifruit picking job. I think it will be good to work for a few weeks to make traveling feel now again.

In the meantime, I made it to the Dickey Flats DoC campsite. Nearby, there is a mountain you can summit called Karangahake. The hike up to the summit from the flats took about an hour and a half.

This little trophy awaits you at the summit.

The view from the top is lovely, offering a 360° view of the area.

My favorite part of these hikes had been the creeks.

Be well!