Note: The events in this post and the posts to follow happened before COVID-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic. I’m only getting around to writing them now, after the pandemic’s been in full swing. I look back on these times with an ambivalent mix of happiness and grief — for what was and what could have been. In these uncertain times, I hope the last few weeks of my travels bring others as much joy as they brought me in the moment.
February 21, 2020: With a magical trip to Golden Bay under my belt, I returned to Nelson refreshed and ready to round out my time working at Tasman Bay Backpackers hostel. The first week and a half at the hostel had involved getting to know the ropes of work and social life, and I was excited to see where the next two weeks would lead.
It was a rare rainy day in Nelson, so lots of people were sitting around the hostel despondently as I began work, making beds. That afternoon I decided to attend another class at Kindred Yoga, this time a wind-down flow taught by a lady named Jo.
It was a Friday evening and the hostel was poppin’ with people when I returned. I’d been craving a trip to the cinema and had heard great things about the new war film 1917, so I invited my new friend Nans (the one who looks like Andrew Garfield) for an impromptu movie date. The movie was quite gorgeously filmed — definitely worth it.
Discussing the horrors of 20th century war, Nans and I walked around downtown Nelson, grabbing a drink at Sprig & Fern (one of the only bars open at 11pm). They played live music on the back patio and we danced to somewhat cringe-y covers of Jolene and Wagon Wheel. There’s nothing like bad Americana songs to dissuade me from dancing, but Nans was a good sport about it and eventually agreed to sit away from the music.
The next day, Nans and his friend Mikey were departing to work on a nearby hops farm in Tapawera, so I insisted his last hours in Nelson should be spent at the beloved Nelson Market. I grabbed a Dutch coffee (duh!) and a vegan kofta burger from another food vendor — I clearly didn’t realize the burger would be deep-fried, but it was still pretty good. We wandered around the market and Nans told me to stop trying all the free samples. 😦
Bidding adieu to Nans, I did my usual work for the day as the woofer crew made plans to go to a gypsy fair in Richmond, a 20-minute drive outside of Nelson. After tea and cookie time, we all hopped in the car and arrived at a much smaller event than expected. Also, the use of the term “gypsy” to describe something is pretty suspect anyway.
We joined a circle of hippie-lookin’ kids who had a hang drum, a mysterious instrument shaped like a flying saucer that emanates beautiful frequencies when struck. I think the hang drum lulled us all into a sense of strange calm as we ate pavlova one of the hippies had found while dumpster diving. I am truly living my best life.
After our fill of the “gypsy” fair, we drove over to Tahunanui Beach to soak up some sparse rays of sun. Lou, Sophia and I grabbed a snack at the beach cafe before meeting Annelies and Martina on the sand. I decided this was a very good beach.
That night, the whole gang was keen for a proper night out on the town since it was one of Martina’s last nights here. If you know where to go — and as a bonafide Nelson resident, Fran knows where to go — you can even pretend you’re clubbin’ in a bigger city.
Our first stop was The Free House, a pub hosting a splendid selection of craft beers from the area. I believe it was an old church, too. Call me enchanted. I ordered a half-pint of Es Buah, a Japanese fruit cocktail sour brewed by the Garage Project (of course).
The Free House closed up shop at 11pm (typical New Zealand) so we ventured over to Sprig & Fern, where I ordered a pint of British Best — I find most of Sprig & Fern’s hoppy brews to be quite boring, so I went out to left field with a British bitter. Fun choice!
We played a game of Never Have I Ever, which usually involves saying something you’ve never done — “Never have I ever enjoyed Sprig & Fern’s IPAs” — while those who have done that thing take a drink. But instead, Jake ended up spouting out a bunch of scenarios that he had and hadn’t done. One involved accidentally killing his pet hamster, which I’ve been told actually happens a lot. Maybe they just aren’t a resilient species.
Then it was time to ramp it up. We walked to the Rattle Inn, a full-on Americana bar that would normally be my worst nightmare. Luckily, I was in a fun mood and took the various Harley Davidson and Bourbon Street signs in stride. They have $5 pints of a lager whose foul taste you can ignore for the cheap price tag. Let’s dance to covers of Sweet Home Alabama, folks!
I soon realized that men in Nelson clubs can be total creepy weirdos who don’t respect personal space while dancing. When Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” came on, I tried to un-subtly elbow a few creeps with some explosive drunk dance moves.
We moved next door to Bamboo Tiger, a club with a little indoor dance floor and a larger outdoor patio. I switched between dancing and looking at the books featured in their small library at the front of the bar. Despite the ever-present creepy weirdos, I was able to Get Low when Lil Jon came on.
Back at the hostel, we devoured a bunch of pizza brought home by Carlos, a long term hostel guest who works at Domino’s. Bless you, Carlos.
The next morning I woke up dehydrated, to say the least. I made myself a positively giant plate of egg & cheese toasties and slumped through my work for the day. That afternoon I drove back to Tahunanui to catch some sun and a Mr. Whippy ice cream, dipped in chocolate with peanuts. It reminded me of childhood, except I was less hungover as a child.
Though Tahunanui Beach tends to be sandy and windy, I found it relaxing to catch up on journaling and reading. It quickly became a place of comfort for me in my last week in Nelson.
Back at the hostel, I prepped for that night’s BBQ — it’s sort of a tradition to throw a BBQ/potluck every so often, especially before a woofer or long term guest leaves. In this case, Martina and Sophia were both about to leave. We grilled sausages, halloumi and veges, accompanied by salmon & brie on crackers and some killer salads.
Martina and I were both dressed in double-denim that day (or as I like to say, Canadian tuxedos). Chalking it up to our common Czech heritage, we had to document the event.
My friend Kai (who I traveled with in Coromandel) was spending a few nights at the hostel and joined us at the BBQ. Upon Kai’s insistence, I showed the group an iconic artifact of my hometown — a rap song from 2010 fittingly called Omaha Nebraska. I’m actually related to one of the rappers featured, but I don’t know how he feels about work done ten years ago so I’ll just drop the video link without further comment.
The next day I met Samantha, a new woofer from the San Francisco Bay Area. It was fun to have another American around — she was taking a year off after her freshman year of college, which is a rare and very cool decision for a young American.
After work I drove to Tahunanui Beach once again, realizing that autumn in New Zealand was coming and who knows how much more sun I’ll get.
That night we went to an open mic at Vic’s. During one set, they had a few girls with absolutely no sense of rhythm shake some maracas in the background. One of them looked like Ruby, but I have much more faith in Ruby’s musical abilities.
The next morning while cleaning hostel rooms, I found a giant pile of empty water bottles in one of the private rooms. I was confused and concerned. Just another day on the job.
That afternoon, my friend Maarten arrived with his girlfriend Sanne, who I’d heard so much about and was excited to finally meet. They were cycling through the South Island together. We sat outside and ate dinner with a big group of hostel guests from all over — Kai, Laura (German), Quentin (Canadian), Steve (Luxembourg), another Steve (British), Hannah (Swiss), and a few others. Luxembourg Steve shared his story of nearly burning down a hostel in Paihia while frying some eggs.
I stayed up chatting with Kai, Annelies and Carlos in the lounge. We talked about how much we complicate life, and how simple it can be. Maybe it just seems that way when we’re all traveling, suspended in a fantasy. Still to be determined.
The next morning I walked to 7010 Cafe with Annelies, our friend Charlotte and Luxembourg Steve. I ordered a golden milk latte, made with turmeric, before heading back to start work once again.
I made myself some lunch — tomato, corn, pepper and black bean salad — and Lou found some Camembert in the free food bin to share during tea time.
As a sunshine addict, I had a hankering to go to the beach again. Annelies joined me and we grabbed real fruit ice cream, like the fruits we are. Then we spent the next few hours lying on the sand. A dream.
Back at the ranch, Maarten and Sanne had offered to make dinner — a very welcome spread of salmon and baked potatoes with salad. Why am I surrounded by such good human beings?
That night, we drank white wine and talked about the absurdity of Dutch royalty, along with discussing how travel has changed our ways of thinking about our career possibilities. I caught myself wondering where my career path would go at the end of my yearlong travels… looking back now, it’s funny what life ended up giving me instead.
Coronavirus had been on my mind — it had successfully taken over parts of China and was rapidly spreading to Italy. One of the woofers at the hostel, Ying, was finishing up her working holiday visa but couldn’t return home to China because of the virus. So she had to get a work visa from an old employer and stay in NZ another year. Another year away from her family and friends who were all quarantined back home.
Ying asked if I’d seen Parasite — I had — and quoted one part of the dialogue toward the end of the film:
“You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan. No plan at all. You know why? Because life cannot be planned. Look around you. Did you think these people made a plan to sleep in the sports hall with you? But here we are now, sleeping together on the floor. So, there’s no need for a plan. You can’t go wrong with no plans. We don’t need to make a plan for anything. It doesn’t matter what will happen next.”— Parasite, 2019
This placated me as I tried not to worry about the future. I was here, in New Zealand, and I would take it day by day. In light of all that’s happened since this conversation, I am still taking it day by day. But that’s for another post.
The next morning I had a day off, and I was determined to work out! I walked back down to the park and filmed another Park Workout on Instagram, ever-accountable to my half-hearted fitness routine.
I grabbed breakfast with Maarten and Sanne, enjoying my morning off of hostel work. Opting for a hip restaurant called Hardy St, we all chose salmon on rye — a swell decision indeed.
I split up with my lovely Dutchies to grab a coffee and catch up on journaling at Kush, a cafe whose unintentionally 420-friendly name went severely unappreciated by everyone except Americans. Their mochacchino, though? So appreciated.
I took a slight detour into a random shopping center downtown, coming upon some really cool specimens of bugs and spiders. As a former tarantula owner and the reigning Spider Queen, I was obligated to take photos. You’ve been warned about spider pics — sorry folks.
Back at the hostel, I cooked myself dinner and sat outside talking to Sophia, who had arrived back from her 4-day hike on the Heaphy Track, another hike in the area. Even after a multi-day trek she still looked impossibly put-together.
Later on, Lou told me some people from the Fat Cat were coming through Nelson to visit us — Lou had worked in Waihi picking fruit for the Fat Cat, so she and I both knew Karin, a wonderful Dutchie with a big heart. We sat out on the back patio and drank wine, per usual. New Zealand is a small place, and friends always come back around.
The next morning I woke up with an increased sense of purpose: I was going to climb to the geographical centre of New Zealand! Good thing there’s a well-worn walking path and monument to guide me. The hike is about 45 minutes return, mostly at a gradual slope (happy for my still-healing ankle). The view of Nelson from the top is pretty rad! Going at sunrise or sunset would be equally beautiful.
I walked back to the hostel along the Maitai River, which runs through town and features a lot of tropical foliage. People also like to swim in it, but at the moment there was some concern over dangerous algae in the river. Good thing I didn’t bring my swimsuit, I suppose.
After the day’s work, I sat around feeling restless. The perceived threat of the Coronavirus had increased — there was one confirmed case in New Zealand, but most people didn’t seem too concerned about it. Adding to my low-level anxiety was the fact that I would leave for the Abel Tasman track in a few days, meaning I’d have to plan what to pack for a four-day, 50+ kilometer hike, including all my food and shelter necessities. But I was exhausted by the prospect and put it off till tomorrow, opting to once again kill time at Tahunanui Beach.
After enjoying a long walk along the beach, watching parasailers and swimmers and careless, happy families, I decided it was an opportune solo night at the cinema. Little Women was showing at 8:15pm. Consider it done.
The movie made me tear up a few times, and it was a perfect antidote to so many of my lingering fears. Walking back from the movie, the air felt dark and alive and strange. In just three days I was about to leave my simple life at the Tasman Bay hostel and embark on another part of my journey, which brought both excitement and uncertainty.
The only person sitting outside at 11pm when I got back was a Texan named Todd. His calm demeanor automatically chilled me out, and we talked about his long stint in New Zealand farm work, along with laughing at the fact that nearly every foreigner assumes he has a large Texas gun collection (he doesn’t). Todd, you’ll never know how much our little convo helped me put my anxieties aside.
The next morning was February 29 — Leap Day. Lou, Ying and I walked to the Nelson Market, a happy Saturday ritual that I’d be sad to give up. We got hemp burgers from D’Hondt’s, a kindly Belgian dude with who sells honey and vegetarian specialties. And also… I got the Dutch coffee again.
Later that day, Annelies stopped by while I was catching up on my journal. Being the earth angel that she is, she gifted me a New Zealand greenstone necklace — it’s supposed to bring you good luck, although you should have it given to you by someone else. Buying one for yourself is considered bad luck.
Annelies and I were both leaving Tasman Bay in a few days, as she was going to Motueka to look for a long term fruit picking job. The greenstone was a special gift to me — but even more special was the friendship we’d cultivated over the last few weeks. Sometimes a blog can’t quite put the nuance into words.
Restlessness still stirring, I walked into town to pick up a few groceries for the evening, as Annelies had organized a send-off BBQ in honor of both of us leaving the hostel. An actual angel. On the way I saw some cool art and a randomly placed shopping cart, which I laughed at maniacally.
I came back and started prepping for the BBQ, assembling a cheeseboard with assistance from Samantha’s bell peppers and Ruby’s beetroot hummus. Righteous. I also picked up a crazy Garage Project beer at the store — flavored with none other than beetroot. This life is good.
The BBQ was probably the best yet — I’m biased, as it was my own going-away party. But still! The friends and the foodstuffs were out in full force, and my heart was happy. I ate so much. It was so good.
The next morning was my last official day of hostel work. I showed the newest woofer, Theresa, how to clean bathrooms and showers (my favorite!), and I relished in one last tea & cookie time after work.
Annelies was leaving for Motueka that day, and we all decided to make it a group trip. Annelies, Ruby, Lou, Theresa and I hopped in my little car and drove up to Bloom Cafe — if you remember from the last post, it’s our absolute favorite place in Motueka and perhaps the entire planet. We ordered a ton of desserts to share. Bloom was bliss.
We then visited the Janie Seddon Shipwreck, watching the tides splash around an old rusted ship that was apparently stranded long ago. Ruby and I talked about Zoolander. We all sat and looked pretty pensive, knowing that the tides of our lives were going to change soon.
And then… it was time to drop off Annelies at her new home, the Hat Trick Lodge. It was sad to see her leave, but I knew it was the beginning of a new chapter.
Back at Tasman Bay that night, I ate one last ceremonial chocolate pudding & ice cream (well, sort of — I would be returning for a night or two after I finished the hike). Regardless, it was delicious.
That night I packed my bag for the three-night, four-day hike in Abel Tasman National Park, just an hour away from Nelson. It had been a blissful, crazy few weeks working at Tasman Bay Backpackers, but I was on to the next adventure.
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