How to tackle New Zealand without a plan
And more importantly...
How to tell the story.
by Ryan Deininger
obstacles. It makes for a fun season and has the potential to inspire great stories. And make no mistake, this is our entire goal: to live through incredible experiences and tell those stories to you, the audience, in the most exciting and entertaining way possible.
In storytelling, there is what is called a plot outline. This is the structure by which every single great story must adhere to.
The Seasonals editors spent our entire 2016-2017 winter season in New Zealand to bring you this incredible true story. Pay attention. Buckle up. Get ready for Kamikaze Kiwis.
Exposition: The beginning of the story where characters, setting, and the central conflict(s) are introduced.
Rising Action: The attempts and failures of the characters to solve the conflict(s)
Climax: The most important part of every story. This is where the greatest suspense lies. Where the audience clenches so hard, the seat cushions need replaced.
Resolution: Where all conflicts and problems are solved. The End.
s editors of The Seasonals, Joey Rovinsky and I attempt to place ourselves in challenging situations so we can write compelling and interesting stories about our triumphs or failures over these
Buy a one-way ticket to an island paradise. Forget about lining up a job beforehand. Don’t worry about finding a vehicle or a place to sleep. Just go. Remember: you are smart, charismatic, resourceful, employable, devilishly handsome – hell, you’re invincible. This is the kamikaze approach. And this is how Joey and I find ourselves as we land at Auckland International Airport in New Zealand on December 6th, 2016.
We pass through New Zealand customs with incredible ease. No one asks for proof of health insurance. Nobody asks for proof that we each have $4200 in the bank. In fact, no one even asks to see our working holiday visas. They basically just glance at our passports and wave us through. This kind of cavalier attitude from customs is almost surreal in the post-9/11 world. Something is clearly different about New Zealand. We grab our bags and make our way toward the exit. We take our first breath of sweet, sweet New Zealand air. Breath it in.
This is when we remember: we do not have a plan. At all.
Surely, we talked about it on the 15 hour flight…right? As it turns out, we didn’t. Joey is happily amused when I point this out to him. How can two adult men not even discuss a single plan for arriving in a foreign country?
Perhaps we were too enthralled with the never-ending movie choices Quantas provides for free on international flights. Perhaps we got a little too cozy with the pillows and blankets and surprisingly good food Quantas provides for free on international flights. Maybe we indulged in one-too-many Irish coffees…which Quantas provides for free on international flights. I’m certain our stewardess thought so. If New Zealand is anywhere near as good as flying international with Quantas, we’re in for the time of our lives.
We brainstorm for about an hour outside of the airport. We could buy a campervan and live in it for the entire summer. We could find a cheap place to stay and begin our job search right here in Auckland. We could immediately go to the ocean marinas and stalk the docks until we find a boat that needs a crew. Finally, we make a decision.
"There are one-way tickets to Queenstown for $111 leaving in an hour. Tempting. Very Tempting."
We decide to go to Wanaka on the South Island as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Joey and I haven’t researched this place at all, but literally every single person we have talked to who has been to New Zealand tells us we need to go there. Every single person. Wanaka is apparently some mythical paradise on a lake near Queenstown, an area that is billed as the “adrenaline tourism capital of the world." At the ticket counter we see one-way tickets to Queenstown for $111 leaving in an hour. Tempting. Very Tempting.
Joey and I also have an ace up our sleeves. We have two friends, Andy and Brianne who we know live in Wanaka. We met them two summers before in Alaska and have stayed in moderate contact ever since. They know we are coming to NZ and have told us we need to visit at some point during our travels. We try contacting them via Facebook. We get no reply.
We buy the tickets anyway and cross our fingers.
About five minutes before we board the airplane, Andy calls us back on Facetime. Andy is decked out in sunglasses and a bandana on his head – if Joey and I are Ohio, Andy IS California. Andy is shocked to hear we are flying to his neck of the woods. He then tells us that NOT ONLY can he pick us up from the airport that night – but, he also has a free place for us to crash for a week while we get our feet on the ground: an indescribable luxury for two kamikaze Seasonals.
So we have our first plan: meet Andy at the Queenstown airport, grab a few beers and catch up with an old friend, stay in an incredible house for free for a week while we look for jobs and a more-permanent living situation.
Side note: I don’t know of any airport in the world that has a better welcoming view than the Remarkables mountain range in Queenstown.
We need a vehicle – Joey and I learned this lesson the hard way when we kamikaze’d St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands. Because we had been too cheap to buy a vehicle in St. Thomas, it severely limited our exploration and most-of-all it led directly to our being held up and mugged at gunpoint. Granted, New Zealand isn’t exactly known for its high rate of muggings, murders, thefts, or its role in the international cocaine trade…but we learned the lesson: Always get a vehicle. It's safer, more fun, and doesn't limit housing and job opportunities to walking distance.
On our third day in New Zealand, I see an ad on Facebook for a 1984 Daihatsu Charade for $300. I immediately reply to the posting, and the lady tells me to swing by and pick it up if I’m interested. So, I swing by, give her $300 and she transfers the title online and the car is officially mine. I own it. It only took five minutes. My US driver’s license is valid on NZ roads. Insurance is not required. It is honestly that easy. Like I said earlier, something is clearly different about New Zealand.
The Charade faithfully carries us all around the South Island. Milford Sound, Christchurch, Haast,
Papatowai...over mountains, through valleys…everywhere. She never has a single problem, never once fails or complains. Perhaps there really is no climax to Conflict #1. But it’s just a car and a little bit of good luck. Joey and I have bigger fish to fry.
We need a permanent place to stay – the most distinguishable difference between backpackers and Seasonals (other than the smell) is that Seasonals live in their exotic locations instead of passing through them. Finding appropriate accommodation in a world-class tourism Mecca like Wanaka, New Zealand is not easy. It’s utterly expensive if you can even manage to find a flat to rent at all. Can the intrepid kamikaze Seasonals overcome this impossible hurdle?
Deep down, Joey and I know we should be actively looking for a place to stay. But instead of house-searching we decide to play disc golf with Andy at an incredible course in Wanaka. Neither Joey nor I have ever really played this sport before but any excuse to be outside and spend quality time with Andy is good enough for us.
We basically forget to even look for housing
We don’t just play the course once or even a couple times. We become engrossed with disc golf. We play for hours and hours every day. We basically forget to even look for housing until the day before we can’t stay with Andy any longer.
Through playing disc golf, Joey and I meet the other locals who are also obsessed with the game (Martin, Robyn, Ed, Dom, Kyle, Hayley, Paz, Scottish Ben). One of the locals is a history teacher at the local high school named Ed. In passing, Andy mentions to him that we are looking for a place to live. He says he has an apartment above his garage we can crash in rent-free. He only asks that we help him out with some projects around the house and kick in some money for utilities.
Our first week with Andy and Brianne comes to an end. We drive the Daihatsu Charade a few kilometres down the road and move into our new apartment at Ed’s place.
Ed and his wife Mia have four amazing children ages 5, 7, 10, and 12. They basically adopt the two new Americans and graciously welcome us as a part of the family. We hang out with the kids when we can, we help paint the house (not as often as we should), we have dinner with the family a few times a week, and we play disc golf with Ed almost every single day. It is truly difficult to express the generosity we received from this family.
There is definitely something different about New Zealand.
We need jobs – not only is it our goal to “break even” monetarily on our trip, but finding employment is the single best way to meet great people and make local connections.
Joey and I historically have different approaches to the jobs problem. Joey’s signature move is to identify the best bar or restaurant in town, walk in and ask the management when they need him to start. It works every time.
Personally, I will not serve tables ever again. I would do absolutely deplorable things before becoming a waiter again. My preference is always to become a tour guide of some kind. What will Wanaka have in store for me?
Joey walks in to the Bistro Gentil, by far the most expensive restaurant in town. The two managers offer him a job on the spot. It works every time. Unfortunately, Joey doesn’t know that the majority of kitchen staff is in the middle of a mutiny against the head chef. With the kitchen on fire, the restaurant is forced to cut their staff’s hours. Joey isn’t going down with the ship. He jumps overboard.
- Burrito Craft -
Wanaka New Zealand
If you think there are better burritos anywhere in the world, you should probably write your own article about it.
The next day while playing disc golf, we meet a guy on the course that we haven’t played with yet. After playing a few holes together, we find out he’s the chef at the next-most expensive restaurant in town. He pauses mid-game and calls the restaurant from the disc golf course and basically tells the management that Joey is going to start working for them.
My story is much simpler. One day, while I’m searching for tour guiding jobs, Andy and Brianne take me to their favorite food place in Wanaka – a food truck called Burrito Craft. Admittedly, I am not as excited as they are for a food truck burrito, but they haven’t steered me wrong yet. The guy at the truck hands me a burrito so large it looks like a small child wrapped in tinfoil. After one bite, I’m hooked. It’s ridiculous.
I walk back up to the counter and ask if they’re hiring. They are and they ask me if I can start the next day. I can and I do.
ithin our first ten days, Joey and I have jobs, housing, a vehicle, wonderful old friends, incredible new friends, and by playing disc golf, we also have a new hobby we’re slightly obsessed with.
Wait a minute. What happened to the climax?
Wasn’t the point of this entire experiment to experience ups and downs, triumphs and failures, rise, fall, and redemption? Well, dear reader, the Shayamalan-twist to this narrative is that New Zealand smiled on us from the day we landed until the day we left. The world fell into our laps. She made it easy on us. There is clearly something different about New Zealand.
I am aware that it doesn’t make for a good story.
But it’s a fine way to live.