To mark my 23rd birthday several months back I decided to jump out of a perfectly good plane. That's not exactly something I would have particularly considered back in my small town in Canada however when you're abroad there is no better time to do something you thought impossible before. On top of a great experience to share with people back home who will be positively green with envy doing things like skydiving or bungee jumping overpowers any points in your trip that maybe felt lacklustre. I barely remember living off of Maagi (instant noodles) for two weeks because I did so many other things so I'm going to tell you about my particularly adventurous events abroad, starting with the latest skydiving in Wanaka, New Zealand.
Wanaka is a gorgeous lakefront city that is nearby ski hills and is generally a spot for vacationers. It's actually overrun with tourists most of the time so there isn't much local charm like smaller cities in the country and is pretty expensive so as a budget backpacker you'd think I'd never step foot there however Wanaka is perfect for those who want to see different perspectives, literally. There is hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, and paragliding to be done which allows for the popular beach town to feel more than just a hot spot for tourists. The backdrops of the mountains and Lake Wanaka are peaceful, gorgeous and if you're in a plane 15,000ft in the air you can see so much more of the surrounding region. It's also a great place to jump out of said plane.
After a very anxiety-filled drive over to the Wanaka airport I arrived, filled out my basic information and signed a form for insurance. So far, it had started to be the biggest birthday celebration I'd ever had and I was with a bunch of strangers - just as I was for my 21st which is a story for another time. This time the strangers were all sorts of people ready to do something that I was fairly certain we were all insane to want to do the more I waited. It felt like hours but was probably more like ten minutes until I met Cassie, an American woman who I would be strapped to and would have to trust with my life essentially. She seemed nice but most importantly she seemed diligent which eased my nerves as I was put onto a plane with other people who would be jumping.
Although I was already in the air I wanted to stop myself but a kid no more than sixteen was jumping too so I dared myself to do it because if a teenager could do this without fear I would have to. Otherwise how could I be Adventurous Alexis, right? Finally the time came that we jumped out of the plane. Below me I could see farmlands, mountains and Lake Wanaka as well as the equally lovely Balclutha River. However, I didn't have much time to process this because before I knew it I was out of the plane. There was probably a good couple seconds before I completely registered what was actually happening. Those few seconds felt quiet - even if they weren't. Then I felt my stomach drop about as fast as I was falling. I know I screamed about ten expletives during this time because what else could you really do but swear?
It took a moment before I could actually enjoy the free fall because I was in such a state of shock. I could feel my face flap about and I really regretted not properly putting on the gloves given because they could be off my hands at any moment. More than that the air was so cold that even if I didn't have chills running down my spine and goosebumps on my arms they would have been there anyway. It was so much to take in all at once that I was relieved in more ways than one when the parachute was pulled open and I could regulate myself and actually enjoy the views with the knowledge that I definitely was not going to die whilst skydiving. That'd be a rubbish way to start being 23.
As I soared through the air I was able to actually enjoy what was going on though my stomach was in knots. I'd flown hundreds of times before this but never actually felt like I saw the Earth in such a way. It felt vast and unending in the way the planet is. Mostly though, I knew from that moment that I loved skydiving ad would eventually want to get my solo dive license because it seems to be worthwhile to learn to do.
After touching down to the ground and finding my legs I felt shocked that I'd actually gone through it and felt visceral excitement all throughout my body as I watched others land. I felt like a child wanting to do it again and again but shortly thereafter the adrenaline left my body and I was more exhausted than I'd ever really felt before in my adult life. Which is saying a lot for an insomniac.
Would I do it again? Hell yes! Would I do it at Skydive Wanaka again? Hell yes but I want to Skydive elsewhere too! Dubai, please! All in all I can tell you that Skydiving was quite the adventure and I've hardly done it justice so please go find out for yourselves. It's really worth it. If you've already Skydived where did you do it?
Living in Dunedin has allowed me to travel the south extensively thus far, however I had yet to visit the North Island of New Zealand unless we're counting Auckland Airport (let's not) so with a remarkably cheap roundtrip ticket on a Jetstar flight and little more than my camera and a carry-on backpack I decided to go to Windy Wellington - the capital city of New Zealand. The city was not just a great escape from my home but it was a lot of fun too - so although you might be lead to believe that it's just like any other city I'm here to assure you that Welly is anything but that.
Even if you're not much one for nature (firstly what are you doing in New Zealand?!) I would really suggest taking a walk to the top of Mt. Victoria in Wellington. It isn't very long or particularly tough (kids can do it easily) but the views of the city and all in between are to die for. On your way to the summit you will walk through rose gardens, fields of succulents, and other plants I don't know the names of because I'm hopeless. If you don't particularly feel like walking you can take a trolly to the top for 4$ so don't despair.
Once you reach the summit of Mt. Vic you can actually go to the observatory of Wellington as well. Aside from a planetarium you can also look through the Thomas Cooke telescope and see so many of the stars that you probably wouldn't be able to catch otherwise.
Like any other capital city there is Parliament in Wellington but instead of being solely centred on political drama the city has a culture of it's own which oddly enough does correlate at the same time as distinct itself from the government. That's because the government of New Zealand sits in a place called the Beehive because, you guessed it, it looks like a Beehive in structure. Although no pictures are to be taken inside the building for security, the views really are very interesting and nothing like Canada's Parliament Hill or The White House. With rooms decorated by Iwi's (Maori tribes), portraits of Kiwis I'd never heard of before, tokens of remembrance to battles fought and the general landscape of the Parliament it's certainly a good place to start with a tour of Welly because you can get an insight into how the city and the country came to be what it is today. Luckily tours of the Beehive are FREE so you won't have to dip into your budget for this one.
In contrast to Parliament, Cuba Street during the weekend is a little slice of Havana Heaven with all sorts of people salsa dancing, enjoying drinks and amazing street food. With cute second hand bookstores in hidden alcoves it makes Wellington feel smaller than it is. My personal favourite was having great coffee and conversations with a someone who made coffee out of his van - which was the perfect start to a Saturday night, pictures of said Saturday night are excluded but know that there was a lot to drink.
On the final full day of my weekend in Wellington, I went to Te Papa which is a museum. In Te Papa there were a lot of Polynesian artifacts but it was mostly centred around Maori artifacts with exhibitions on battles fought by Kiwis of all sorts. If museums really aren't your thing I'd go simply for the views and the free wifi. More than that I found Wellington was perfect for a coffee, a drink and a relaxing weekend.
To continue in the theme of teaching you lovelies the best ways to move abroad I thought that after having lived in New Zealand for the past seven months I feel confident in being able to share with you the things I did right and the things I did wrong during this move so if you decide to move to this beautiful country you can do things without error and with as much ease as possible.
As I am from a country with a working holiday scheme with New Zealand I had this option for one year or two years. As I wasn’t sure if I would like it here I did only choose one year but I’ve since decided to go through the process of extending because I do know that it is particularly worthwhile. I’ve found it to be a very enriching place for me personally. To get the extension I have to prove that I am in good health, which is a requirement of the first visa but no actual medical test was done for me to get the first visa because I got it electronically. However this is a risk because TSA can stop you at the border to look at your medical check. I was just lucky enough to have not gotten stopped, possibly due to my country of origin. I hate to say it but the state of the world is that if you come from a less affluent nation or one with a bit more conflict or even if your name sounds different you will be ‘randomly selected’. I am just lucky enough to not be the sort although this is a double edged sword because the more you travel the more suspicious you can become. It’s really a game of chance, in all honesty.
For more information about whether or not you are able to get the working holiday visa and all it entails the New Zealand immigration website is actually the only immigration website I've ever seen that is a) user friendly and b) clear about how you can apply. It helps that it is in plain English too so there is no need for an immigration lawyer at this stage!
Congratulations! You’ve got your visa and now you have to choose where to move. The country is separated by two different islands and from there, states. I haven’t been to the North Island yet but from what I can gather I’ve made the right choice for me personally. The South has a lot of natural beauty and cities are easily accessible as well which can make activities like hiking, camping and tramping easy to do as well as finding work. If you are in any way interested in skiing, snowboarding, skydiving and even bungee-jumping this would also be the place to do it because of the scenic views you have while you’re doing this. However, if none of that appeals to you the North is much more city oriented. Auckland is often said to be the most expensive city to live in throughout the whole of New Zealand but is also the largest so there are more job opportunities so you must weigh the cost vs the benefit as with any other place, thing or activity you live in, buy or do.
I moved to Dunedin which is a student city which means that during the school year there are a lot of people around and it can be a lot of fun for very little however during the time that the university students are away it can feel very small and more family oriented. For a traveller, like myself, this might not appeal if you enjoy an active social life during all times. Still as everything in New Zealand is fairly close together (compared to Canada) you can easily get to other places that can bring you either closer to nature or further depending upon your wishes. Currently I am in a camp ground, without wifi, near the sea and it didn’t take me very long to get here.
Something I do regret is that I don’t have a driver’s license because in most cities it hasn’t been necessary around the world but the freedom to go and do anything at any time is particularly noticeable in New Zealand strictly because of the options to see natural beauty which can either be a drive away or a bus - sometimes not even accessible without the ability to drive yourself. However hitchhiking is very prevalent in the culture of the country so don’t fret if you can’t drive abroad either but if you have the ability to get your license I would recommend it for New Zealand anyway. The road less travelled can be the most beautiful one, after all.
Depending upon your field back in your home country it can be either easy or hard to find an incoming cash flow. Like most backpackers I have a huge variety of job experience, mostly dealing in retail and hospitality, however I came to New Zealand at the wrong time of year to find a job. It is best to arrive in late Spring or early Summer to find jobs in those fields as this is the time when businesses are busiest - especially in hot tourist spots. Mostly though employment is based on who you know rather than your schools so get out there and network. You have to pitch people like you’re in sales and if you can’t do that it’ll be hard for you to find a job. Otherwise, I recommend you push through it and just have the minimum amount of money to cushion you before you find a job.
Important yet Forgettable
One of the most important things you will do when you get to the country is getting a new bank account and a tax number. They are both fairly easy to get but you must have a flat first because as with any other country the banks require proof of address. Don't forget to bring your photo I.D. when you sign up for the bank to! I'm with Kiwibank because I like supporting smaller, locally run businesses and banks are no exception. They did require that I had proof of address and since I hadn't signed a lease I was able to find a Doctor who would take me as their patient and also write a letter stating my address and that I was who I claimed to be. Essentially he was my guarantour.
As far as my tax number was concerned, this was a bit more of a difficult process partially because the application changed halfway through me filling out the application and because I had already gotten a job by that point and was waiting on pay. Boy was that not fun. The most important thing in this application is that you clearly state you are a temporary resident because otherwise the taxation changes. As I am self-employed and a contractor my abilities for work are different than most others so I won't go through the entire step-by-step process but any post shop will be able to give you information about the process specific to you if you ask nice enough for help.
Afterwards I would recommend getting an 18+ card because many driver's licenses aren't accepted in New Zealand when you're going out and it's not nice to haul around your most valuable possession everywhere (hint: it's your passport) because of the risk, especially as visas are now primarily electronically administered.
Everything past this point it packing your items and finding a flat in your city of choice. Be sure to take lots of photos from your time in New Zealand once you move to the small country.
Part of The Problem
It is my firm belief that as a traveller or really as a consumer we have the obligation to choose what is best for the environment and those that live around it, which in the past has meant that I avoided elephant riding or the truly abhorrent Tiger Kingdom and even cage diving with sharks as well as avoiding certain countries due to the treatment of locals by their government. I'll admit that it's not always the most fun of situations to have to avoid the choice Instagram shots that could easily earn a few hundred likes but when my choices are for likes over the well being of others I feel that I know most certainly that I've done something wrong with my own life.
Sadly, this leads me into saying that we are all a part of the learning process because yesterday I was part of the problem. After careful deliberation with fellow backpackers, I had decided to attend the Sydney Aquarium as the cost was fair (28 AUD) if I booked it online. I had also heard that it wasn't nearly as bad as Marine Land and they worked with conservation but unfortunately I was part of the problem and the continuation of animal abuse that is supported by capitalism. As embarrassed as I am to admit this, it's necessary so perhaps you will make a more informed decision upon your trip to Sydney or any other city with an aquarium or zoo as most have them in one way or another.
While I am, in no way, a marine biologist or a vet it is very easily to see how small the quarters are for all life there with excess space being used to create large dinosaur heads, clearly a necessary thing for animal conservation or keeping too many fish in one tank at a time which is harmful at best.
Specifically at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium there are two Dugongs, Pig and Wuru, which are vulnerable in the wild due to hunting. Naturally they swim for long distances and live a long life, with the oldest recorded wild Dugong being 73 at the time of death. They naturally do not spend time together unless they are mating but are forced to be within the same enclosure which is open so that the screaming children and the staff announcements disturb them because they are sensitive animals as well as disturb their calls to one another and the other fish around. It has been proven that the marine life which live in captivity are likely to be underfed, most likely to be unable to be rehabilitated, mate properly or even reject their calves should they be forced into a mating program. They are also likely to become depressed which can cause depression and this is not just with the Dugongs but the dolphin Sea Life has is just as likely to show these symptoms as well as the large variety of sea life captive there. I could go on explaining more issues with aquariums and lying to tourist and local alike for money to go into the pockets of the undeserving abusers.
This is made worse as the Sydney Aquarium is currently in the works to have a ride for guests to ride a boat to interrupt the little blue penguins which have enough issues already from pollution to culling. The use of this is hardly conservation or education but instead to continue with unfair distribution of wealth to the already wealthy at the expense of our planets creatures. I ask now if your Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook feed is more important than the well-beings of all these beautiful animals that have done nothing to deserve this suffering except existing? Certainly not so how can we fix that? It's not simple but it's through trial and error that we'll figure out.
Part of The Solution