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Friday, 13 October 2017

Epilogue ~ A Memory of Clouds

One month later, I’ve more or less settled back into the life I’ve lived before. Looking back on it now, it’s hard to believe that I’ve travelled halfway around the world, and yet it’s undeniable that it somehow happened.

With that, I figure it is time that I sit back and reflect on all the adventures I’ve had during my year in…

From the very beginning, it has been my plan to travel all over the country, visiting every region at least once, and exploring this beautiful land all my way. Now that my adventure is complete, I can safely say that I managed to do just that.

I stayed in some regions longer than in others, and I’m confident that I was able to see as much as one could hope to see during such a stay –quite possible more than some New Zealanders have seen over their entire lifetime. Here’s a “heatmap” of sorts, showing how long I’ve stayed in each area.

I stuck around the Christchurch area for about two months. After that, my longest stay was in Golden Bay for about a month. For the most part, however, I stayed in a place for about two weeks, give or take a few days. The journeys in between were mostly completed by bus, with the occasional train ride and a few ferry and plane trips. In total, I have travelled about 6,000 km, which is approximately the length of the land route from Munich to Dubai.

But that’s not all. On top of all the motorized transport, I’ve also completed trips equalling a total of 1,620 km either on foot or by bike. And with New Zealand being a rather mountainous country, these trips were by no means cakewalks across flat landscape. Rather, I amassed an additional 16,500 meters of altitude on these hikes and rides – and yes, that’s 16,500 up! So to put it in relation, I’ve completed the equivalent of a pilgrimage from Madrid to Munich while climbing from the Challenger Deep in the Marianna Trench to the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

As for records, my distance-wise longest bike ride was the Plucky Paparoa Pilgrimage in Mangapai (see Chapter 29 ~ Mangapai Mania) at 90km, while my time-wise longest one was the 10-hour-long Collingwood Challenge in Takaka (see Chapter 20 ~ The Golden Getaround), lasting from sunup to sundown.

Regarding strays, my distance-wise longest hike was the exciting Maungatua Madness in Outram (see Chapter 14 ~ Out in Outram) at 25km, which almost ended up with me getting lost in the mountains while trying to find a way down into the valley. Time-wise, my longest stray happened right at the very beginning of my journey with the more relaxed 9-hour-long Auckland Far Stray (see Chapter 2 ~ Absolutely amazing and astoundingly awesome adventures at Auckland).

Fortunately, I survived most of these, and the weather wasn’t too bad either. However, there are a few facets to New Zealand weather which are slightly counterintuitive, so let me briefly talk a bit about…

The Climate

Depending on the definition of “southernmost”, New Zealand is either the, or the third-southernmost country on Earth. Chile and Argentina’s southernmost points are a good 360km south of that of New Zealand. However, with Chile and Argentina being countries of considerable size, the geographical centre of New Zealand is significantly further south than that of either Chile or Argentina. Either way, even the northernmost reaches of New Zealand are still further south than the southernmost reaches of Africa.

While that may sound pretty far south, it falls prey to the beast of relativisation, owing to the fact that the southern hemisphere consists mostly of water. Mirrored to the exact opposite of the globe, New Zealand occupies latitudes equivalent to Spain, southern France and even the northernmost tip of Morocco.

And that’s when things start getting confusing climate-wise. Knowing that New Zealand occupies subtropical latitudes, one might come to expect that the climate there is warm and sunny. However, the truth of the matter is quite different. Owing in part to the fact that Antarctica is one of New Zealand’s closest neighbours, with no bothersome mountains in the way to stop father frost from dropping by whenever the dreaded southerly winds arrive, as well as the lovely circumpolar cold current acting as the southern hemisphere’s private refrigerator, my most prominent memory about the climate in New Zealand is that it’s fucking cold.

This is a deficiency further augmented by the fact that most houses in New Zealand are made from plaster with single-glazed windows and consequently hold heat about as efficiently as the average cooling tower. As a result, most people don’t even bother with having radiators installed, rightly presuming that attempting to keep those heat-inefficient homes sufficiently warm would cause them to incur combined heating costs exceeding the gross national product of Burkina Faso. Instead, most household either keep warm by burning wood in little stoves or by using cutesy little electric heaters (although those tend to be reserved for special occasions).

That is not to say that it never gets warm in New Zealand. Quite the contrary: Being in subtropical latitudes and with the southern ozone hole well and alive, it quickly gets nice and toasty outside during sunny days. However, unlike in Europe, where the perceived warmth is mostly thanks to the air temperature, in New Zealand, it’s mostly due to the solar radiation, meaning that as soon as you step from the sun into the shade, or as soon as a cloud covers the sun, the perceived temperature instantly drops by approximately 20°C. Another side nasty effect of the ozone hole is that you can’t even stay out in the sun for 5 minutes without being protected by factor 9000 sun screen without risking the sunburn of your lifetime – and believe me, on some days re-applying the sun screen a total of 3 times is simply not enough.

But enough of that, let me now proceed to give you a short overview about…

The Places I’ve Been To

Chapters 1 & 2 ~ Auckland

Duration of Stay: 7 days

My journey started off on a sour note as I was crammed together with a bunch of immature German chumps, but the situation improved once I was on my own, forging my own path. Within a single week, I found more Geocaches than ever before.

Chapters 3 & 4 ~ Oakura & New Plymouth

Duration of Stay: 20 days

My first WWOOFing experience in Oakura should turn out to be not quite as pleasant as I hoped it might be, but I was a good sport about it and did not complain about the sparse meals or the cold room. In the end my efforts and patience were rewarded with a good review by my host.

Later on, I was taken in by a pack of nice furries in New Plymouth, whom I had gotten acquainted with prior to my arrival to New Zealand, and celebrated my 29th birthday with them. I’ll never forget the kindness they showed me.

Chapters 5 & 6 ~ Marton & Bulls

Duration of Stay: 18 days

My bad luck with WWOOFing host continued in Marton as I ran into a family who kicked me out after 12 days for no good reason despite my hard work and best efforts. Their two kids were especially sad to see me go.

Afterwards, I stayed in a motel in the nearby town of Bulls for another 6 days since I had already made arrangements with my next host and booked the bus tickets. While that impacted on my budget, it also gave me plenty of time to work on my novel about the Chronicles of Ceal.

Chapter 7 ~ Te Horo

Duration of Stay: 9 days

Almost two months into my journey, I found the first nice WWOOFing place in Te Horo. It was still quite a lot of work, but at the very least, this time I felt that it was worth it. I’m going to miss Koru, the cute border collie.

Chapter 8 ~ Wellington

Duration of Stay: 6 days

Since I could not find my next host by the time I had to leave Te Hero, I ended up sticking around Wellington for 6 days. I came to like the capital of mountains, sea and wind for its incredible diversity, although the prices were as steep as most streets.

Chapter 9 ~ Blenheim

Duration of Stay: 5 days

After crossing over to the South Island by ferry, I spent my first WWOOFing experience here on a remote country manor southwest of Blenheim, surrounded by miles and miles of vineyards in all directions. Using a bike I borrowed from my host, I was able to explore the Wairau Valley, and by chauffeuring my host around, I was also able to get my first driving experience here in New Zealand.

Chapter 10 ~ Island Hills Station

Duration of Stay: 8 days

On a remote sheep and cattle farm in the mountains east of Culverden, I should become a prime witness of the legendary magnitude 7.8 Kaikoura earthquake of 2016. Originating a mere 20km east of my location, the disaster shook my humble cottage to the core, but by some miracle, no one got hurt.

Chapters 11 & 12 ~ Christchurch

Duration of Stay: 75 days

I arrived in the city, crashing at another furry place, and sleeping in the cupboard under the stairs for a night.

The next day, I continued to my next WWOOFing place in the suburb of Woolston, where I helped an energetic entrepreneur set up a community centre until he was betrayed by his business partner. I also looked for a job, but the one time I actually found work, the conditions were rather poor, and on top of it, I was fired after a few days for not meeting the supervisor’s outrageous expectations.

I spent Christmas at another furry’s place, and had an amazing time there while lavishing him and other furries with delicious home-made food and pizza.

I picked a horrible place for my last WWOOFing experience – at least as far as the work hours were concerned. Working for over 50 hours a week just for food and (rather poor) accommodation was a humbling experience, but at the very least the llamas were nice. Nonetheless, this incident should finally convince me to ditch WWOOFing once and for all.

Chapter 13 ~ Taupo

Duration of Stay: 5 days

I attended New Zealand’s Furry Convention at the shore of Lake Taupo, and it was the most amazing convention I’ve ever been to. Not only did I have a lot of fun, but I met a number of nice people, one of whom should in time become a host of mine.

After the convention, I spent one night in Taupo, and another one in Christchurch before continuing to my next destination.

Chapter 14 ~ Outram

Duration of Stay: 14 days

My first stay with a HelpX host in Outram near Dunedin turned out to be one of the best stays I had during my entire time in New Zealand. Not only was my host one of the nicest persons I’ve met during my journey, but she also had a number of lovely cats and dogs. Apart from that, I learned how to steer a wooden horse sled, mildly squashed my finger while splitting wood and almost got lost in the Maungatua Mountains. An unforgettable experience indeed!

Chapter 15 ~ Oban

Duration of Stay: 16 days

Coming to Rakiura – or Steward Island – had been one of my explicit goals. Finding a host in a community of only 200 people was not easy, but after a bit of search I managed to find someone in need of assistance. Helping an employed single mother with her three little rascals kept me quite busy, but I nonetheless found time to explore the untouched wilderness of this unique island.

Chapters 16 & 17 ~ West Coast Trip & Woodstock

Duration of Stay: 20 days

I passed through Queenstown and Fox Glacier on my way up to Woodstock near Hokitika, where I was confronted with a furious German witch of a helper who assaulted me with a bucket of steak knives. Fortunately I managed to escape unharmed, but the quality of my stay there suffered greatly as a result. However, I was also able to take in the natural beauty of Hokitika Gorge, as well as a nearby Glowworm Dell.

Chapters 18, 19 & 20 ~ Nelson & Takaka

Duration of Stay: 29 days

The journey to Takaka should take me through the Wharepapa Range, and the bus trip through there should be one of the shakiest on my entire journey. Afterwards, I spent a night in Nelson before continuing to Takaka.

Once in Takaka – and with it the Golden Bay – I helped out in a retreat a little ways up the valley, exploring the landscape and the mountains while enjoying the tranquillity of this place, as well as the company of many cute Fantail birds.

Later on I was summoned by a local backpacker’s, and ended up extending my stay as a result. The accommodation was only a cold, shared caravan, but the free bicycles that were included in the deal allowed me to explore a huge part of Golden Bay, and one day I ended up cycling all the way to Collingwood and back, while also taking a number of side trips.

Chapter 21 ~ Cable Bay

Duration of Stay: 18 days

It was by pure chance that I ended up in Cable Bay, a secluded bay 20km north of Nelson, and it turned out to be the most beautiful place on earth. The land, the sky, the hills, the sea… everything is in perfect harmony with one another, and my walks and cycling expeditions here were without a doubt the most memorable ones in my entire stay.

Chapters 22 & 23 ~ Crossover & Carterton

Duration of Stay: 15 days

Getting from Cable Bay to Carterton was a multi-legged journey that involved the use of bus, ferry and train. During my stopover in Wellington, I met with a fellow fox and visited the Lux Festival.

In Carterton, I ended up on a farm run by a furry I met on the FurCoNZ in Taupo. Helping out with all the farm animals while being surrounded by a host of affectionate cats and dogs was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had, and that’s not even accounting for the great company of my hosts and their house mates.

Chapter 24 ~ Waipukurau

Duration of Stay: 14 days

Since my host in Waipukurau had a lot of stuff to be done, she offered to pay me for whatever extra work I was willing to perform. Glad for the opportunity to earn some extra funds, I took her up on her offer and literally worked my tail off, giving both me and my host something to be happy about. Nonetheless, I also allowed myself some time to explore the countryside.

Chapter 25 ~ Waipaoa

Duration of Stay: 14 days

Helping out another single mother with her two children, as well as a bunch of chickens, was quite fulfilling in itself, but my host was also kind enough to take me out on family activities of various kinds. We had fun with Kaitaia Fire, a really, really spicy sauce, and I also embarked on a number of daring bike trips to the ocean and into the nearby mountains.

Chapter 26 ~ Opotiki

Duration of Stay: 18 days

Creating a detailed map of a 130 hectare farm for 280 organic milk cows made me realize how much I really liked cartography. Apart from that, I also helped out with a whole bunch of other farm-related tasks, and accompanied my host and his entourage onto a hike up into the mountains. Notably, this was the only place in New Zealand where my host took me out dining into an actual restaurant.

Chapter 27 ~ Cambridge

Duration of Stay: 12 days

Once again, I was busy splitting and stacking generous amounts of firewood. However, I also got to walk a pair of energetic dogs, and after a demonstration of my culinary skills was also awarded the position of chef. My hard-working hosts were incredibly grateful to find a tasty dinner awaiting them at home after returning from their shifts late at night.

Chapters 28, 29 & 30 ~ Mangapai & Spirits Bay

Duration of Stay: 14 days

On my way north, I stopped over in Auckland for a night to stay with a nice dragon, and together we consumed generous amounts of pizza.

In Mangapai, my final HelpX experience should be the one and only truly bad one. The food wasn’t very tasty, the accommodation was only acceptable, the atmosphere was not-so-good, the work was meh, and there was a lot of it too. So after a long series of fantastic places, this last one turned out to be quite the disappointment, and I was glad when I could finally leave this place behind.

I explored Northland in a rental car – the one and only time I allowed myself such a luxury ¬¬– and generally kept off the main roads. On my way up north, I rescued a lost dog, and consequentially incurred a hefty fee for having the car cleaned. I made my way all the way up to the amazing Spirits Bay, and on my way back south drove along the shore of Hokianga Harbour and through the mighty Waipoua Forest. It was the longest road trip I had ever taken and an unforgettable experience indeed.

Final Chapter ~ The Joruney Home

Duration of Journey: 4 days

After staying with the nice dragon in Auckland for another two days, I boarded the plane back home, leaving this wonderful country behind with a heavy heart. I’ll forever cherish the memories I made here, and I hope that one day I might be able to see the amazing friends I made again. I am most grateful I was able to make this journey, and even though I had to depart, I will forever carry a piece of this wonderful place within my heart.

Total Duration: 344 days
Districts visited: 56%

Some Statistics

Being the data-loving fox that I am, I’ve naturally gathered and evaluated a large amount of data about my stay in New Zealand. If you’re not into statistics, then feel free to skip this section. But if you are, then here’s a rundown of the things that I did, the time that I spent, and the costs that all of this incurred.

First off, here’s a graphical representation of the time I spent in New Zealand and where I spent it, including hostels, WWOOFing Places, HelpX places and the occasional furry place. The huge segments I spent in Christchurch make up almost a quarter of the time.

And how good a time was that? Naturally, that is also something I continuously surveyed, and looking back on it, I can now say with absolute certainty that the switch from WWOOFing to HelpX was a great idea.

Next, to answer the question what I did during my time here. I know it’s called “Work & Travel” or “Working Holiday”, but both the amount of travelling and working I’ve done here are not significantly different from what I did back in Germany. My 335 hours of travelling roughly equal the amount of time I spent commuting back in Munich, and at 1481 hours of work I do not fall terribly short of the average of 1512 hours which an average German office worker would have worked in the same amount of time.

4 hours and 19 minutes of work each day might not sound like a lot at first glance, but keep in mind that this is calculated for 7 days a week, without any vacation or holidays. As for exactly what I did in that time… really, it was mostly gardening, but there were also a number more enjoyable jobs such as animal care or cartography.

And now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for.

Yup, it’s time to see just how much this venture ended up costing me, and looking at those expenses, I can say two things for certain, namely:

1.) This working holiday turned out a good deal more expensive than I imagined it would be and…

2.) The WWOOFing and HelpX hosts are getting great value on this. Had I had my 1481 hours of work in New Zealand paid at minimum wage, I would have earned the equivalent of about 12,000€, which is offset by 8,500€ worth of food and accommodation which I would have had to provide for myself, but still leaves me with a balance that is 3,500€ better than what I ended up with. However, in order to land a job in New Zealand, a car is almost indispensable, and even though there were some not-so-nice hosts, I overall do not regret having worked for food and accommodation.

As for exactly what I spent my money on… the largest part of it was spent in preparation with the costs for the working holiday program, the flights, as well as the necessary equipment. Once in New Zealand the majority of my spending was for long-distance travel and grocery shopping. At the beginning of my trip, Stray tried to sell me a 1,500 $ round-trip ticket for their buses around New Zealand. Unsure about whether it was worth it, I declined and decided to explore New Zealand on my own volition, and I came out ahead: Even though it might look like I spent almost 2,000 $ on long-distance travel, that does not account for the fact that a whopping 750 $ of that were spent on my flights to and from the FurCoNZ – a wasteful expenditure in retrospective, as I could easily have taken the scenic route, travelling by bus and ferry while sleeping in hostels and would still have come out several hundred dollars ahead. Oh well… maybe next time…

Award-Winning Hosts

As mentioned above, the quality of WWOOFing and HelpX places I’ve been to varied wildly. Some were great, while others were… not-so-good. At this point, I don’t want to worry about the less ideal experiences I’ve had. Much rather, I would like to honour those places that gave me an especially nice time, and made me enjoy my stay with them to an extent that deserves my explicit thanks, starting with…

The Fifth-Best Place

Location: Cable Bay, Nelson
Hosts: Cher Williscroft and John Campbell
As seen in: Chapter 21 ~ A Slice of Heaven

Located in the most beautiful place on earth, Cher’s and John’s place leaves little to be desired, and it is only due to the competition of four other amazing place which I had the great luck of visiting. With a bike to explore the place, I could make the most of the amazing scenery, and my room was big, comfortable, private, and – most importantly – nicely warm. If there was one drawback to this place it would be that I don’t really like gardening, but for the sheer awesomeness of this place, I was more than willing to jump over my own shadow on that account. With that, I am happy to grant Cher and John a well-earned 5th place.

The Fourth-Best Place

Location: Outram, near Dunedin, Otago
Hosts: Jennie Edmonds
As seen in: Chapter 14 ~ Out in Outram

Jennies place was my first HelpX experience, and she wasted no time in propelling it right into the top 5! Interestingly, it was also her first experience as a host, and after two weeks, we were both quite happy with the exchange and looking forward to new hosts and helpers respectively. Granted, the accommodation was only a sleep-out with no sanitary facilities, but the food was great, the atmosphere was fantastic, and Jennie even took me on a trip to Dunedin on one occasion, where I walked the world’s steepest street. All of this combined easily earns her 4th place.

The Third-Best Place

Location: Carterton, Greater Wellington
Hosts: Sparky and Bryce Johnston
As seen in: Chapter 23 ~ The Critters of Carterton

It was literally fate that brought me to this place. I wouldn’t have come here had I not incidentally crossed paths with Sparky on the FurCoNZ, which was the reason why we ended up chatting later on, which in turn caused the topic of HelpX to come up. I actually planned my stay at Sparky’s Farm ever since my stay in Outram, and when I finally came here, I was happy that I did. Great food and facilities, an absolutely fair work-value ratio, but most importantly of all, between all the house mates, pets and farm animals, the atmosphere was the very best I experienced during my entire stay in New Zealand. Thank you, Spark and Bryce, for such a wonderful time, and here is your well-earned bronze medal!

The Second-Best Place

Location: Cambridge, Waikato
Hosts: Craig and Viki Johnson
As seen in: Chapter 27 ~ The Circuits of Cambridge

If it’s not the Johnstons, it’s the Johnsons. Either way, I had a great time at their house in Cambridge too, taking care of dogs, firewood and food. The facilities and the work-value ratio left nothing to be desired, and all of the other categories were very nearly maxed out as well. The one exception was food: The one thing I learned in this place was that I really like the recipes I learned from my father and grandmother, and since Craig and Viki were happy to have me prepare those for them as part of my duties, the food in this place ended up being the best I’ve ever tasted. With this, it is only fair that the two of them should be awarded 2nd place!

The Ultimate Bestest Place

Location: Waipaoa, Gisborne
Hosts: Karen Mayhew
As seen in: Chapter 25 ~ Wonderful Waipaoa

There must be something special about first-timing HelpX hosts, since just like Jennie, Karen, too, was hosting me as her very first helper. Naturally, I did all that I could to make myself useful, and she in turn did all she could to make me feel welcome, which I did. Over the course of two weeks, I very much became a part of her family, bonding with her two boys Rowan and Finn and their newly adopted dog Maple. I was quite sad when I had to leave this place behind, but also very happy to have found my way there. Thank you very much for this most amazing of all experiences, Karen! I will never forget the amazing time I had with you and your family, and going wandering and geocaching with your kids, as well as attending various cultural events together made this experience only all the more unique. With that being said, it is my greatest pleasure to award not only the 1st place to Karen, but also the award for best recreation. You’ve truly and thoroughly earned it!

And now, there are a number of more category awards to distribute, starting out with the award for…

The Best Accommodation

Location: Te Horo, Greater Wellington
Hosts: Pierre Pontbriand and Ian Cawie
As seen in: Chapter 7 ~ Honouring Te Horo

As a former lodge, it comes as no surprise that Pierre’s and Ian’s place would claim the price for the best accommodation, featuring a king-size-bed in a warm room with its own bathroom and shower. Embarrassingly, this is the only WWOOFing place to win an award, which does not exactly make a point in favour of that particular platform. However, the Te Horo Lodge was also the best WWOOFing place I’ve been to, and ranks on place 6 of all the places I’ve visited. I should probably also mention that I was one of the last WWOOFers to stay there since Ian and Pierre sold it, so I was glad I had the chance to stop by there while it was still around.

The Best Work

Location: Opotiki, Bay of Plenty
Hosts: John Donaldson
As seen in: Chapter 26 ~ The Opotiki Opportunity

If it’s not Johnson or Johnston, it’s John himself. After 9 months of trying out all manner of jobs, I sincerely doubted that I’d ever encounter a place where I’d enjoy the work so much as to give it 5 stars. I was proven wrong by John’s farm, where I ended up putting an almost fanatical effort into completing the map of his 130 hectare property since the task was so very fulfilling. Here was a piece of work that was cut out for me and me alone, and by doing it I would be able to provide John with something from which he would profit for years to come. Many-a-day I was out in the fields until the sun set, cartographing fence lines, gates and slopes, and I ended up extending my stay on his farm for several days just so that I might be able to finish the map for him. In the end, he honoured my above-average efforts with a contribution to my travel funds, for which I am very grateful. With all that being said, there can be absolutely no doubt that this was the one place with the best work, and had my time in New Zealand not been so direly limited at this point, I would have gladly stayed for another week or two to help out with some other tasks.

The Best Facilities

Location: Waipukurau, Hawke’s Bay
Hosts: Angela Payne
As seen in: Chapter 24 ~ The Waipukurau Workout

Come to think of it, there was only a single HelpX place on the entire North Island that did not win an award – and rightly so. Suffice it to say that said place was not Angela’s place. With a private bathroom featuring shower and bathtub, as well as a selection of washing machines, dryers and dishwashers, as well as speedy internet, her place was the paragon of great facilities in New Zealand, and I truly can’t imagine any way in which they could be improved further.

The Best Work-Value Ratio

Location: Takaka, Golden Bay, Tasman
Hosts: Henrietta and John Earle
As seen in: Chapter 20 ~ The Golden Getaround

Okay, so I had to share a cold caravan that had no sanitary facilities with up to two other helpers, and the deal included only a single free meal a day. However, all this was compensated by the fact that I was asked only a humble 15 hours of service each week, which left me with plenty of time to explore Golden Bay on the free bicycles which Henrietta and John were happy to provide. This gave me the opportunity to cycle out all the way to Wainui on one day, and go on a record-breaking 10-hour cycling trip to Collingwood and back (with side trips) on another. In the end, I worked for 21 hours a week simply because I felt that this place was giving me so much, and I wanted to return some of it, but despite my best efforts, I was not able to bring the work-value ratio down to below 103%, making the Barefoot Backpackers the place with the best work-value ratio.

And now, to top it off, here’s a collection of…

Curious Bits and Pieces

Various Vehicles

As some of you might now, I did not start making my driver’s licence until I knew I was going to travel to New Zealand, which probably makes me one out of approximately a hundred Germans to make their drivers licence after the age of 20 and pay for it out of their own wallets too. This decision, however, should turn out to be a fortuitous one, since it gave me the opportunity to drive various cars on New Zealand’s roads and farms. Here’s a funny fact: You may know that cars drive on the left side of the road, and that consequently the driver’s seat is on the right side of the car. But did you know that the levers for the turn indicators and windshield wipers are also switched around? It certainly caught me off guard more than once.

Incidentally, I also made a motorcycle licence, and while it did not come in handy quite as often, I eventually got to ride a motorbike around a farm after all.

So much for the ordinary stuff. Working on farms, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that I also got to operate a number of tractors…

…although the bulldozer was a completely different thing altogether (see Chapter 26 ~ The Opotiki Opportunity).

And then there’s the more traditional methods of locomotion, such as the horse sled (see Chapter 14 ~ Out in Outram)...

…as well as the canoe (see Chapter 21 ~ A Slice of Heaven).

Naturally, there was also quite a number of different bicycles which I used to explore my surroundings when I was not walking, and it was during those strays and rides that I came across one of New Zealand’s recurring curiosities, namely…

Memorable Mailboxes

Unlike Germany, where all mail boxes pretty much follow a standard DIN norm pattern, New Zealand appears to have a pretty dedicated fan base for creative mail boxes. Okay, so the fast majority of the mail boxes are still pretty normal, but that only makes those special ones stand out all the more.

It’s funny what can qualify as a mail box once you put your house number on it, and the sense of individuality it projects is absolutely unparalleled. I’ve also seen old microwaves and even refrigerators repurposed into mail boxes, as well as those sculpted in the shape of fish.

Staying on the topic of public creativity, let’s now continue on to…

Marvellous Murals

New Zealand used to have a serious graffiti problem. Now, there are two ways to combat this: Either, you can pay loads of money to have the surface re-painted every single time it gets sprayed, or you can hire professional artists or start a community project to turn the blank areas in question into beautiful artworks. Surprisingly, the second approach turned out to be spectacularly more effective at combating graffiti than the first one.

And it doesn’t just stop with walls: All around New Zealand’s towns and cities, the ever-prevalent transistor boxes have also become public beautification projects, adding a note of bright colour and individuality to every neighbourhood.

Back on the roads, I also come across quite a number of…

Strange Signs

Halfway around the world from Germany, the road signage regulations are somewhat more lax, which makes it sort of hard to decide on where to start. But since we just came from the topic of artistic murals, why make a smooth transition by mentioning a number of the more artistic road signs.

Now, I wonder if car drivers actually slow down as they drive by to fully appreciate the effort that went into these little masterpieces (presumably knocking over a couple of bicyclists and penguins as they look out of the window, mesmerized). It makes me wonder if the more “boring” standardised traffic signs are not better at getting the job done. Then again, I’m not entirely sure about how meaningful signs such as the “left-right zig-zag curve with various concealed exits”-sign actually are in practice.

But then again, I guess even they get more use than the “Historic Burial Tree” sign. This is one of those terms that when put into quotation marks does not yield any results whatsoever on Google, so I imagine the number of copies made for this sign has to be rather limited.

Now here’s one sign which would probably be extremely meaningful if placed at the exit of an international airport’s rental car garage. However, finding it on a small backroad in the boondocks of Golden Bay which I only so happened to explore because there was a Geocache waiting for me at the top of a hill is questionable at best. I can only imagine that the community pitched in to have that sign erected there after getting fed up with an obstinate immigrant from Germany for constantly running Granny Smith over on her bike as he sped down the hill in his Lamborghini trying to make it in time for a meeting half the island away.

And speaking about being bat-in-the-face obvious, I suppose there’s those stretches of roads where people just don’t seem to slow down no matter how many “50” signs you put up. Here’s a suggestion: Why not skip the three extra signs next time and just put up a good old speed camera right away. With the rates the New Zealand police charges in those rare few cases when they actually catch someone they would not only make a tidy profit, but might actually train people not to drive that fast on this road by means of good old classical conditioning.

My absolute favourite road sign, however, is the good old “watch out for horses with riders, bicycles without riders, pedestrians chasing after their runaway bicycles, as well as giant exclamation marks that are easily bigger than pedestrians and horses"-sign.

It doesn’t stop on the roads either. Even if you venture off the pavement, there’s just no escaping the unorthodox signage.

And naturally, the “watch for animals” signs are quite a bit different on this end of the world as well – although of all those animals depicted, ducks were the only ones capable of satisfactory proofing their existence to me. I figure Kiwis and Penguins are probably already long-extinct, and the whole “oh, come to New Zealand to see Kiwis and Penguins” is all just a scam set up by the tourism industry to attract tourists. Odds are all those Kiwis and Penguins seen in captivity or during special tours are just fancifully dressed chickens and misshapen geese.

Oh well, if that’s the case, I suppose the best one can do is…

…and then continue on to a place with…

Speaking of which, let’s not forget that I also had the honour of working with some…

Amazing Animals

I certainly had no shortage in the fauna department during my trip, which was one aspect I particularly enjoyed. First and foremost, there’s naturally men’s best friend, whom I encountered in over half the places I visited. The most common race here is the heading dog, which is a sturdy, long-legged and even-haired breed bred from border collies. They share the remarkable intelligence of their ancestors, but are somewhat more lithe and have thinner fur.

Number two in terms of prevalence – and my personal favourites – are yours truly friendly felines, which have a habit of stealing your müsli and curling up on your lap at decidedly inopportune moments. Naturally, one of them also managed to switch my laptop off by accurately placing her little paw exactly on the power button. But oh well, they know I love them anyway.

Next up, there’s a variety of livestock, including among others sheep (duh!), cows, pigs, chickens, as well as ducks and geese.

But it doesn’t stop there: Starting with “uncommon” and ending with “pretty darn unique”, we also have horses, goats, guinea pigs, rats, llamas, as well as a lone eel. Fortunately I did not let it get into my hovercraft.

As for wild animals, our top contestants would be kakas, pukekos, wekas, and the ever-so-cute fantails, or piwakawakas.

Finally, I also came across a number of uninvited guests, such as a hedgehog taking refuge in the kitchen of the Woodstock Royal Mail Hotel (see Chapter 17 ~ Wild & Woody) who had to be shown out with extreme caution, and a number of mice who eluded the grasps of the cats and needed a fox to catch them instead. And lastly, let’s not forget about those bunnies burrowing in a mound of ash which I unknowingly excavated.

Next up, let’s talk about some really…

Great Geocaches

Geocaching is something I was first introduced to back in 2016 at the Bodensee (see Preamble ~ Therianthrope Adventures at the Bodensee). I didn’t do it a lot back then, but ever since coming to New Zealand, hunting for geocaches has been one of my top motivations for going outside and getting to place I’d never have found otherwise.

You’ve really got to admire the work some people put into creating these caches, and even though they can be quite tricky to find, the satisfaction upon recovering one of those elusive little caches makes it well worth the trouble.

Over time, I even ended up introducing other people to Geocaching, and subsequently hunt for caches together with friends…

…or even families.

During my year in New Zealand, I’ve managed to find a grand total of 366 Geocaches! That’s one for every day of a leap year, spread out over the islands, and with this, I wish to pose a challenge to all the Geocachers among you, and those who want to become Geocachers:

The Travelling Fox Geocaching Challenge

It took me one year to find all those Geocaches. Can you follow in my footsteps?

The following document contains a list of all the Geocaches I’ve found. You can also find a list with links on the Geocaching Website. Once you’ve found one of the caches, send me a message on the Geocaching website, and I will add your name to the “Found By” column.

The Travelling Fox Geocaching Challenge Sheet

I usually found several caches a day, and then had downtimes for a week or two. However, since I just so happen to have a cache for every day of the year, here’s a challenge: I’ve set a target day for every cache I’ve found. Try finding the cache on that day of the year for bonus points! The 20 Golden Caches are those caches which I found on the exact same date as the target date, so finding them on those days – and with it the anniversaries of my finding them – is worth even more bonus points!

Good Luck!

And with that, there’s just one more thing that needs to be mentioned, and by all means, I’d say that this is the most unique thing of them all, for one thing I noticed from the very beginning is that the skies of New Zealand feature…

Considerably Cool Clouds

Aoetearoa ~ The Land of the Long White Cloud. It’s a fitting name, because it draws attention to one of things that makes New Zealand special in the most peculiar way. Owing to the combination of wind fronts clashing in the skies above this land, the clouds I’ve seen here are unlike any I’ve seen before, such as these amazing flowing clouds I observed in the skies above Te Horo in October.

It was on my flight to lake Taupo in February that I witnessed this unusual cloud stack…

…and by the end of March in Takaka, I was able to catch a glimpse of what appeared to be shreds of cirrus clouds being forcibly torn out of an ordinary wall of cumulus clouds.

But that’s by far not all. One April afternoon in Cable Bay, I should by chance spy the rare and elusive Rareware™-cloud…

…and Carterton in May should turn out to be a veritable jewel box of clouds.

In June, as I made my living in Waipukurau, the clouds would frequently scatter all across the sky…

…while in Mangapai on a cold July night, I would see a fantastic glowing sky.

My final glimpse of a stunning cloudscape should occur on my way back home, flying through a turbulent storm cloud above Borneo in the middle of August. For a brief moment we were suspended in the eye of the storm, towering walls of clouds looming on either side, and yet a brief glimpse of both sunlight and the land below was granted to us before we once again entered the gauntlet of turbulence.

And just like that, we have reached…

The End

My adventures in New Zealand have come to a close.

And yet, I shall always carry the memories of this wonderful place within my heart.

My thanks go to all the wonderful people I’ve met on my journey, all the hosts who gave me a place to stay, all the furries whom I encountered you’re the best! Thank you so very, very much!