After a few wonderful days in Wellington, I was finally ready to begin my adventures on New Zealand’s South Island. Besides flying, one of the only ways to get from North to South is a three-hour ferry ride from Wellington to Picton, a small town on the tip of the South Island.
Begrudgingly handing over $56 NZ, I did enjoy passing through the Marlborough Sounds near the end of the ferry ride. There’s also a movie theater and some restaurants on the ferry, so it’s not a bad trip at all.
Arriving in Picton, I picked up my new rental car — it costs a pretty penny to bring a car onto the ferry, and nearly all rental companies will allow you to drop off your car in Wellington, take the ferry, and pick up a new rental in Picton for no extra cost. My new car was still a Mazda, although it was white and a few years older with no remote lock. No complaints, though.
And we were off! There isn’t much to do in Picton besides a few treks outside of town, so I just made a quick pitstop for a donut at the Picton Village Bakery. If you’re a fan of sugary donuts and whipped cream, it’s pretty good, though I was all sugared out at this point.
I made the two-hour drive to Nelson, where I’d found another job on Workaway working at the Tasman Bay Backpackers hostel for three weeks. Nelson’s a cute city of about 40,000 people, known for being one of the sunniest places in New Zealand with many surrounding beaches.
For 2-3 hours of hostel work a day, I’d get free accommodation, breakfast, and a chance to stop feeling like such a damn tourist all the time. Every night at 8pm, they also serve chocolate pudding and ice cream — a dangerous combination for Molly.
When I got to Tasman Bay, I was greeted by Uli, the hostel manager who’s originally from Germany but has lived in NZ for over 30 years. The hostel has two other staff members, Fran (from the UK) and Henk-Jan (from the Netherlands). They have six WWOOFers at a time — woofers are just another word for someone working for accommodation, like myself. I met a few other members of the crew and settled into my new living quarters.
As new woofers arrive all the time, there’s a rotating cast. When I got there, I met Femke (Dutch), Anneleis (also Dutch), Sophia (British), Ruby (Aussie/British), and Dana (German). All were on working holiday in one way or another.
That night I also had my first taste of the famed chocolate pudding — for the American homies, by “pudding” they mean a bread pudding with sauce on top. Much better than our Jello stuff.
The next morn, it was time to officially begin my new job. Work for the woofers starts at 10am every day, so we have the early morning to chill. My first day’s assignment was to clean bathrooms, which is straightforward enough.
The hostel was in a unique situation — every February a youth orchestra rents out the entire hostel for a week, so there aren’t many normal hostelgoers besides longtermers. Since the orchestra is gone most of the day, it’s a less social environment, but it also makes for less intensive cleaning.
Around 12:30pm, everyone’s chores are usually finished and we have tea and cookie time. This ritual is very important to the woofer crew — some days Georgie, the hostel owner, even brings muffins.
After that, we have the rest of the day to chill. The hostel’s only a few minutes’ walk from town, so I decided to explore a bit. My first impressions of Nelson: crossing a pleasant green bridge. Appreciating the views of the surrounding hills. Scoping out a few cafes. I found a little grocery store, Halifax Fresh, and talked to the owner a bit — she’s from India, living in Nelson for the last few years.
Once at the hostel (henceforth referred to as “home”), I ate some veggies and sat reading in the hammock for the afternoon.
I spent another night sitting around, being happily bored, meeting people and eating chocolate pudding. Even then, I knew I’d made the right move coming to Tasman Bay.
The next morning, I woke up early to get in some exercise, walking down to one of those outdoor exercise stations and attempting to use an elliptical-like machine. It was immediately dumb and I did some body weight exercises instead. I felt good being active again! And my bum ankle from the Tongariro Crossing was healing quite nicely.
After that, it was back to work! I was on bathroom duty once again, happy to feel useful to the rest of humanity, even if it’s just cleaning a hostel.
After cookie time and lunch, the woofers took a road trip! First stop was Motueka, a little town an hour north of Nelson with an incredible little restaurant called Bloom Cafe. It’s the unofficial favorite of the Tasman Bay woof crew. I got a beetroot latte because BEETS.
After reveling at Bloom and slyly asking about employment opportunities, we drove over to Kaiteriteri Beach, an absolute gem of a place with perfectly turquoise water. We all hopped into the rapids, which carried us out toward the open sea. Possibly dangerous, definitely the most fun I had that day.
Sunbathing on the beach, Dana and I talked about the frustration of being identified by your country rather than by who you are as a person. I can be really guilty of this — even on this blog, I introduce people by their country of origin. It’s a strange line to walk, eh?
We made the drive back home around sunset, just in time for chocolate pudding and more hard chillin before going to bed.
In the morning, Femke taught me how to clean the kitchen and do laundry, and I made myself a smorgasbord of veggie stew and salad for lunch before planning my next laughably, blissfully uneventful afternoon.
I walked into town, spending the afternoon journaling at East St, an all-vegan restaurant/cafe/bar. Even though I only got a chili-spiced latte (v recommended), I knew this was my favorite eatery in Nelson.
Nelson’s also got a cinema with an impressive selection of films. It felt like a movie night, so I walked over to catch a showing of Richard Jewell in the afternoon. The film was pretty good, but even better? I was the only one in the cinema. Private screening, as the usher told me.
The next morning, I woke up early yet again to film my new Instagram series, Park Workouts, which consists of me making a fool of myself trying to stay in shape while traveling. It keeps me somewhat accountable to strength training at least once a week, especially since running is still a no-no for my ankle.
The walk back over the green bridge was gorgeous, and yet again I felt that sense of the ineffable — the joy of waking up to work out, to do a job, to take photos of flowers like a tourist dork. The equation is so simple.
I worked as usual — washing windows, drinking tea, cooking lunch. Seeing as it was February 14, Dana and I agreed to have a Galentine’s date at nearby Tahunanui Beach. We grabbed a couple $8 Domino’s pizzas, some candy bars, and a liter of good ole Scrumpy’s raspberry cider. We arrived after sunset and stayed till after dark, wandering back into town.
The next morning, I went to the Nelson Market with Femke — the market is probably my favorite thing about Nelson, featuring dozens of fruit and vege stands along with food vendors and artisan goods. Femke insisted we visit the Dutch booth to get proper coffee, poffertjes (mini pancakes), and apple pie with whipped cream. Incredible.
We also stopped by the Rainbow Kitchen’s booth to buy takeaway vegan pies — as a bonafide vegan, Femke recommended the scrambled eggs pie. The color was crazy, but eating it for lunch later was a vegan dream.
After work and lunch, the woofer crew voted once again to drive to Motueka and Bloom Cafe. This time Femke and I split a carrot cake — making this the best food day I’d had in a long time.
Femke, Sophia and I drove to the Motueka Sandspit, a nice jaunt along a sandy beach. I still don’t know what a “spit” technically is, and I annoyingly still say “split” instead. Whatever! English.
About an hour in, we met a couple middle-aged women who both live in NZ on eco farms. We had a pretty in-depth conversation about conservation and the image New Zealand has of being a green country, while in reality there’s so much waste going on behind the scenes. Being from the US, I’m pretty impressed by any other country’s efforts in the way of conservation.
Exhausted from the day’s adventures, we came home to Tasman Bay and ate pizza with the rest of the woofer crew. No photos of the pizza, because it was gone in about three seconds.
The next morning, it was my day off! To celebrate, I went to breakfast at a cafe called DeVille’s with Martina, a long term guest at Tasman Bay. Martina’s from the Czech Republic and part of my heritage is Czech, so we joke that we’re cousins. Or sisters. Maybe both? I got a cheese scone and thought the butter on the side was a piece of cheese.
Walking through town on a cloudy day, we passed by graffiti that said “Yeet the Rich,” and I attempted to explain to Martina what yeet means. I didn’t succeed.
We walked to the Nelson Market once more, which is significantly smaller on Sundays than on Saturdays. It was also rainier, so there weren’t too many vendors. I still got a Dutch coffee while we talked to Martina’s old coworkers, Sara and Nikki, who were visiting from Auckland.
We met the rest of the gang in the center of town at Burger Culture, an absolutely slammin’ joint. I got a peanut butter burger with bacon on it and some sort of cheese substance. Hold UP, this seemingly touristy place is truly a gem.
I stopped next door at The Vic, a brew bar serving taps from Mac’s brewing. To be honest I’m not a huge fan of Mac’s beer, but it was a cozy spot where I could catch up on journaling on a cloudy day.
Back at home that night, it was time to celebrate (and mourn) Femke’s last day as a woofer before she departed for the four-day-long Heaphy Track. I picked up sprinkles from the grocery store to adorn the night’s chocolate pudding — a smashing success and (possibly?) a new Tasman Bay tradition in the making.
The next morning was rainy — obviously the earth mourning sweet Femke’s departure — and I felt like doing nothing after making beds for that day’s work. The orchestra was departing that morning, so I was excited for normal hostel guests to come back. I did manage to craft a pumpkin and kale salad for lunch in an effort to offset the copious amount of excellently sugary food I’d consumed over the weekend.
Deciding I’d put on a jacket and mobilize, I walked over to 7010 Cafe for a hot chocolate with coconut milk (so much for my health). I then meandered to Suter Art Gallery, free to the public with both rotating and permanent exhibitions, along with a cafe and garden paths.
The Suter’s collection is small but impressive — I especially loved the art of Cathy Jones, a botanist-turned-acrylic artist who interweaves themes of botany and feminism.
I also walked into a disco ball room and meditated for a few minutes before ordering a kombucha at the cafe and running into Sara and Nikki once again — their flight to Auckland was cancelled due to fog, so they were stuck in Nelson another day and ended up staying at Tasman Bay for the evening.
That night, I reveled in the fact that we had a full hostel of guests again! Despite the chilly evening, I sat outside talking to Sara and Nikki, along with Rebecca (a fiercely funny Aussie), Holly (a wonderful Brit) and Ian, an older Kiwi dude who’d been traveling for decades and had a heap of good wisdom to impart. Mostly centered around not paying a bunch of money for “spiritual retreats” in New Zealand.
The next morning I awoke to heavy rain — no park workout today. It was uncharacteristically rainy for Nelson, and all the guests were lounging around the hostel with nothing to do, increasing the humidity and unrest in the building.
Thankfully, my friend Emma (who I’d hung out with in Coromandel, among other places) was passing through town. We got brunch at Morrison’s, a stellar cafe where Ruby’s boyfriend Jake is a cook. (Should I create a social web diagram at this point?) Anyway, Jake made me a killer plate of Turkish eggs.
After lunch, I bid Emma adieu and met Martina and Anneleis at the Nelson Provincial Museum, a local museum that costs $5 NZ and currently features an exhibit about the moon. I’m not sure what it has to do with New Zealand, but we walked through a tunnel of Magellanic Clouds and took photos by a giant moon recreation. Martina’s a better photographer than I am.
I was still tired from all the gloominess, so I walked to the nearby Kindred Yoga studio to catch a Hatha yoga class. It’s $15 drop-in, not a bad rate for notoriously expensive yoga classes. This session was taught by Jane, an intense Eastern European woman who called me out for bad form but then helped me correct it. The studio looks out to a calm view of the harbour, and they offer eye pillows during shavasana. I decided I’d come back to this place.
It was my turn to serve the night’s chocolate pudding/ice cream, with guests lining up to be on time at 8pm as always. After getting my chocolate fill, I sat down to play a game of Avalon with a big group of guests — Avalon is basically a board game version of Mafia/Werewolf, where there are silent, secret killers and innocent townsfolk. Amid confusion and deceit, it was a lot of fun.
I continued playing a game of gin rummy with Caroline, a fellow American studying in Wellington, and Mikey and Nans — a Quebecois and French duo who’d been traveling together since meeting in Auckland. We all determined (loosely) that Mikey looked like Shia LaBeouf with a hat and Nans looked like Andrew Garfield with a mustache. I made them take photos with their celeb doppelgangers, then I made everyone watch Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf.
The next day after work, I planned to leave for a road trip to Takaka, a town in Golden Bay, to take advantage of my day off. Before heading out, a big group of us went to East St for a proper vegan lunch (yay!). I met Lou, the newest woofer, an intimidatingly cool human being who accompanied us to East St and showed her self-drawn henna tattoos. I took an absolutely stellar photo of my patty stack with Lou & Sophia looking pouty in the background.
Halfway through my three-week stay in Nelson, I was ready for a mini-vacation in Golden Bay, a hippie haven a couple hours north of Nelson.
Next up: so many beachy cave pics, folks.