When I first determined that I was definitely headed to New Zealand, it was right around the time that my brother, Keith, and sister-in-law, Cristin, were on their honeymoon. They spent three weeks traveling around New Zealand, and upon their return had quite a slideshow to present! They were able to explain their impressions of different areas of the country, and seemed eager to tell me where to live. Of all the places they visited, they recommended a town called Wanaka.
Wa-Na-Ka. It sounded so foreign at the time! The only way for me to remember it was by noting how it rhymed with Hanukkah. Keith described how it was similar to Queenstown (the adrenaline capital of the world) but less touristy. They assured me there were just as many outdoor adventure activities, but not quite as many shops or tourists. Cristin talked about the spectacular views and both showed off pictures from their visit. The town sits right on Lake Wanaka, nestled in some beautiful mountains, and, upon a bit more research, I discovered it has heaps of climbing crags quite close to town!
I was sold. Though, I continued to consider alternate places to spend a good portion of my time. I found that Nelson was also in close proximity to some outdoor climbing, and was also attracted by its location in wine country. Nelson is at the top of the South Island and competes with another nearby town for the most sunshine days in the country. I determined that both Nelson and Wanaka were going to be places to spend some time, and decided that Nelson’s weather sounded ideal in the summer, and Wanaka looked like the perfect ski town to spend my winter!
After spending a bit of time in New Zealand, I decided I didn’t want to arrive in Wanaka too late for the ski season. I wanted to get a good amount of climbing in before it got too cold, so decided to arrive in the autumn. I figured this would also give me time to get a job sorted out for the winter!
After hopping off the bus and settling into my backpacker’s, I wandered town over the next day or two handing out CVs (resumes) and inquiring about potential positions. I soon discovered that I had arrived in town just in time for Wanaka’s “shoulder season.” Just as any touristy town, Wanaka thrives in the summer and, being a ski town, the population expands dramatically in the winter months as well. Between these two seasons, however, the town becomes quite sleepy and some restaurants even shut down for a month or so! I had arrived when summer was fading away and there were not enough patrons in town to hire new staff just yet. Everyone I talked to said to come back in a couple months when they would start hiring for winter.
One of my stops in town was to venture out to Basecamp, Wanaka’s indoor(/outdoor) rock climbing center. They, too, were not hiring at the moment, but suggested I could volunteer to help with the youth climbing club that meets after school. They needed help on Thursdays and it was arranged I would start the next day! I also inquired about finding climbing partners to head outdoors with and the guys who run the place made a few suggestions where I might look. There was a couple who apparently overheard this conversation, and called me over to chat about getting together and exchange numbers. They were from Colorado and though they usually climbed together, were on month 10 of their round-the-world trip and might be able to use some time apart once in a while. They would be in town for the next month, so I was pretty excited to already have someone to climb with!
I wandered town a bit more, finding myself on the lakefront, walking along the rocky beach. There is a long line of trees, and I discovered a couple good ones for climbing! I found a favorite perch and watched numerous dogs and their owners out for walks/swims in front of the stunning backdrop. Yes, I could spend some time in this town for sure!
I found out the next morning that the backpackers where I was staying was looking for someone to work for accommodation. Now, typically I haven’t jumped at the chance to do this at a hostel because most of the time it involves cleaning a few hours a day. This position, however, was for an evening receptionist! I would be required to stay in on weeknights due to the fire code, but would only have to sit at the desk for a few hours in the evenings and would still have weekends to myself. I would have heaps of time to update my blog and get to know some of my fellow travelers. It sounded ideal and I began looking at my options for daytime jobs in order to pay for food and make a little spending cash.
After thinking on it for a day or so, I told the hostel owner that I would like to take the position and would definitely be able to commit to the one month minimum. I was candid about the fact that I would continue looking for a job but would focus on finding one that didn’t interfere with the hours I had just committed to spending at the hostel. I perused my copy of The Messenger (local weekly advertising publication) and altered my focus from any job, to one that would allow me to work during the daytime. I hoped to find something for the next couple months, and then get a job at a ski field in the winter (which would also be during the day). I figured if I was working for accommodation in the evenings, my schedule was fitting together perfectly and I would be able to save much more quickly than living in a flat would allow! There was only one catch to taking the hostel position, and that was that it didn’t start for 2 weeks.
Doing the math, I didn’t want to stretch my funds thin enough to pay for two more weeks of living in a hostel! I had contacted couchsurfing hosts before coming to town, but had not heard back from anyone so did not have any other place to stay. I stopped by the job agency downtown, however, and arranged a few odd jobs for the weekend. Things seemed to be coming together!
I started chatting with Mark, one of the two current people working for accommodation at the hostel. He was planning to switch to weekends when I started and we talked about different things we might do around the hostel. Neither of us were particularly keen on the TV being a main focus in the evenings, and talked about getting game nights going instead of the daily TV that seemed to suck everyone in, preventing any socialization. As solo travelers, we decided it would be fun to cook together sometimes, and I was pretty excited about having someone around who I seemed to get along with! It was a bit of a flashback to my RA (resident assistant) days as I felt as if I were planning programs and brainstorming ways to “build community” in the hostel! We discussed various adventures we might pursue during the daytime, and I was excited to have already made a friend with a car (which I was sure would come in handy from time to time)!
On Friday I heard back from a couchsurfing host and I decided to stay with them for at least the weekend so as to save a few days of accommodation expenses. I could always go back to the hostel if I didn’t find anything else before I began working for them two weeks later. I informed the hostel owner that I would be back at least by the arranged date, but since he couldn’t offer me a discounted rate for staying there in the meantime, I would have to find alternate accommodation until I began working for him.
Mark offered to let me store some things in his car so I wouldn’t have to haul unnecessary weight around town, so I spent the morning sorting through my belongings and stowing a huge bag with him. As I was getting ready to take off for the day, the hostel owner pulled me aside and said he needed to talk.
In short, he told me he no longer wanted me to take the position working for him. I pushed for a reason and he said he was afraid I would find something else and leave him hanging. [Flashback to WWOOFing: Yes, I have done that. But I felt miserable because of it and vowed to never do it again. I have always been told not to burn any bridges and don’t think I quite understood the implications of doing so until I experienced it for myself. It is not a comfortable situation and I was certainly not in a hurry to repeat those feelings!] I had been open with him. I didn’t want to hide the fact that I would still look for a job, especially when I was going out of my way to make it fit into his schedule. I fought for him to reconsider, explaining my intentions again, but he was unconvinced. He had determined I would only be able to find a restaurant job that required evening shifts (because apparently he knew every opportunity available in town) and decided I would leave him as soon as something better came along. Unfortunately, a traveler’s reputation preceded me. He didn’t listen to reason, and my word wasn’t good enough. He told me if I found something that would fit into the schedule I could come back to see if the position was still available. I was fired two weeks before I started to work.
My initial response was to fight for the opportunity. I have learned that while traveling, any time you can exchange your time for accommodation, more often than not you should take advantage of the chance! I had been excited about finding a position so quickly and figured things were just working out as they always seem to do. After the hostel owner declined reconsidering his decision, I realized it was stupid to continue to fight. Why would I want to work for someone who didn’t even give me a chance to prove myself in the first place? Yes, it was a good opportunity, but I’m sure something else will come along; it always does.
Alas, after a few whirlwind days of opportunities being thrown at me and falling nicely into place, I felt as if I were back to square one. Once again I had no job, no place to stay (for very long), and rapidly dwindling funds to maintain myself in this overpriced tourist town. A happy, excited, comfortable feeling was replaced with frustration and uncertainty. I reminded myself I was no worse off than I had been when I arrived a few days prior, but did have to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch all over again. I had never actually been fired from a job before, let alone before I even began working! It caught me off guard, but after a bit of processing I realized it was for the best. I’m not sure I really wanted to live and work in a hostel where there is little continuity and even slighter privacy. I was sure something better would come along; I just had to keep my head up long enough to recognize it when it appeared!