Ukulele Songbook

Before I left Melbourne I created this collection of sing along songs for the Ukulele. After only 2months it already looks like it had a great life, which it did :) It's wonderful to have for camp fires, sitting on the beach, getting together in a hostel or camp site or whereever really.

You can download the screen version (double pages) here

And the print version (single pages) here

I tried to proof read it as best as I could, but I'm sure there are still mistakes. So please let me know ;)
Hope you'll have as much fun with it as I do!

Top 10 New Zealand Souvenirs

It's been five months now that I've left New Zealand.
Finally I came around to finish this list of my top 10 souvenirs. Have a look what I collected :)

10. Native Timber Bookmark

I saw these in many tourist shops, and there is other nice things made of native timber all over the place mostly related to kitchen utensils…Kiwis are in general very proud of all native – flora and fauna – and grateful about the species that are still left. It is indeed beautiful wood and I was given it by friends in New Plymouth, which makes it a beautiful memento of my time with them.

9. Festival Shirt

For New Years I volunteered at a music festival, Rhythm and Vines, and my remuneration was this shirt and a great time!

8. Shell Rings

Found these cool shells, while walking on a beach in Northland with my then couchsurfing host and now friend Dion, whose family has welcomed me several times. So again the meaning is created through good memories rather than the actual souvenir, in this case shells.

 7. Signed Book

When I was in Queenstown I met Craig, who happened to be a gifted musician, children's book author and genuinely great guy. He was the housemate of my couchsurfing host and I happened to bump into him a couple of times, when coming back to town. Although most famous for his book "The Wonkey Donkey", I chose to get "Willbee the Bumblebee", the story is just adorable and his signature tops it off as a wonderful souvenir. Listen to the song here.

6. (useful) Kiwiana Kitsch

There is some beautiful souvenirs and as a graphic designer I appreciate well made patterns and illustrations. To be found in shops like f.e. Pauanesia, which I stumbled upon because my first Auckland couchsurfing host, Olivia, was the graphic designer for this cute little store. They have these unique little plush kiwis, which I would have bought for sure if I wasn't still traveling and just cannot need any useless items in my backpack.
Whereas the tea towel made the cut, because I can actually use it during my travels. And the little wallet was given to me for my birthday and also last day in New Zealand by the wonderful friends I made (read their story here) in Auckland.

5. Mānuka honey

This is a very typical NZ souvenir, which I bought on the South Island in a little road shop between Cromwell and Queenstown. Mānuka is a native plant and the honey made from it enjoys a really good reputation. I could tell you the reasons behind its high quality, but as I'm too lazy if you're interested just read about it here :) And get honey here.

This one actually caused me quite some trouble at the post office as they didn't want to let me send the honey in a parcel to Germany, because they were in the wrong believe it would be against German customs regulations. I emailed the German customs later and they confirmed it's legal as long as there is no trace of honeycomb or bees. But anyway I had to take the honey on a journey to India, passed it on to my friend, who brought it to Germany for me, as I was certainly not allowed to bring it to Australia,  thanks New Zealand Post!

4. Paua Shell

For me, one of the things representing New Zealand are paua (there is no plural -s in the Māori language). An iconic sea shell with thick black flesh and beautiful colourful marbling behind it. It is very popular kai moana (sea food) for kiwis.
On my way south from Marlborough Sounds to Christchurch I got a ride with a bunch of awesome lads (how I met them). Just before Kaikoura they decided to have a little dive to see if they can find some Paua, which they did. They were all happy to bring home some good food that night, I was thrilled to get the shells. I have seen them quite often, used as soap holders or ash trays. I decided to smash one up and make pendants out of the pieces and keep one as a whole. A couple of months later I got another even bigger one from the guys on Stuart Island.
I couldn't resist keeping that one as well :) You can also buy paua in tourist shops with a coat of varnish, but it's just not the same without that connection to the people who dived for it.

3. Travel Journal

I reckon it is good to write a diary on any kind of journey. Unless you have impeccable memory, it is the only way to preserve those thoughts, special moments, interesting characters… I can't wait to read them again in 50 years or let my grand children find them and discover what an adventurous Oma they have :)

2. Tui my Ukulele

This is not particularly a NZ souvenir, rather something I picked up along my journey. But as it is a very popular instrument in New Zealand, it was just a matter of time I came across it. I played the recorder in primary school, Kiwi kids play the Ukulele...
My friends in Wellington showed me the first chords and I was hooked immediately. After thinking about it daily for three weeks straight, I finally bought my Uke in Christchurch. NZ$100 – the most I have spent on one object in that whole year (excluding air fares) and it was a decision I will never regret. Tui is the best little travel companion I could wish for, it is impossible for me to ever be bored again :)

1. Pounamu (=Greenstone, Jade) Necklace

For Māori pounamou is a treasure (taonga) and has strong spiritual meaning. Amongst others it is a symbol of peace and is said to bring bad luck if you buy it for yourself. It is only found on the South Island and small Hokitika calls itself the Greenstone capital of New Zealand.
In late summer 2013 when I hitched down the West Coast, Tom from Hokitika happened to pick me up. A 60-something ex NZSAS – half Māori with plenty of interesting stories – invited me to stay over night. Before I continued my journey the next day (not without getting a little guitar serenade and self made bread), he introduced me to one of his friends – a greenstone carver – who grabbed a handful of jade left overs from inside his car and gave them to me. I had them in my backpack for half a year, always looking at them, trying to decide which one would be the best to make into a bracelet, unsuccessfully asking around who had the tools to drill a hole in this hard stone…before finally I returned to Hokitika (which wasn't planned before). I stayed at Toms again and visited his friend, who was happy to help me make a necklace.

This is my favourite keepsake of NZ. I wear it every day and it reminds me of this beautiful country, its people and the wonderful year I spent there. I suppose it's a very symbolic way of having a piece of New Zealand always close to my heart, but that's way to cheesy and spiritual for me to write this without feeling awkward and surprised that my head could produce those kind of thoughts…

Anyway…Of course the best souvenirs are not the ones you blindly buy in a shop but the ones with meaning, those that have memories attached to them.

With this in mind, happy travels, happy memory creating!

Cape Brett and the Catamaran

I'm just back in Auckland after half a year on the South Island of New Zealand. But now as I'm waiting for Fraser to finish work, I'll tell you the story of how I met him and his wonderful friends...

Back in early December 2012 – I'm in the Bay of Islands which is pretty much at the top of New Zealand, not most creatively but appropriately named 'Northland' and as I look at the map I find a jagged looking peninsula, which looks very promising for divine views. There is a DOC tramping (Kiwi word for hiking) track too and although people tell me it's quite a long and hard walk, it's already set: I'm gonna walk to Cape Brett. There is a hut at the end where I can stay for 15$, which I book in Pahia. But what do I do with my backpack? I can't possibly carry it with me so I contact a couchsurfer and I'm happy about a quick and positive reply.

In Russell

After a ferry ride from Pahia to Russell with a lot of old people, I hand my backpack over to a friendly looking bearded man who takes tourists out on his sailing boat and will keep my belongings safe until I return. He seems a little surprised that I trust him with all my stuff, mh why shouldn't I? Couchsurfing in general is based on trust on both sides, so is hitchhiking and that's one of the reasons why I like both. I don't like this cautious world where everybody is staying home, afraid to go outside thinking that every stranger is a possible threat...

I start hitching. It's only 30 odd km, shouldn't be too hard, but Russell is tiny and a dead end, thus the road deserted. I wait quite a bit and need a couple of rides but in the end I make it to Rawhiti, where I find a small mainly Maori settlement. I'm not sure if I can stay here, would they welcome me friendly or tell me to piss off? I think of asking in the marae (Maori meeting house/community centre). Too insecure and not really accustomed with the people of New Zealand yet, I decide to start hiking and to camp somewhere in the bush. After all I still have plenty of time until the sun goes down. After the first little hill I find a beautiful beach with a family walking around. Thinking they're local I don't want them to find out what I'm doing, as it's 'illegal' in two ways. Firstly camping is not permitted on the track and secondly I'm not paying the 30$ that I should to be allowed to walk over the private land. I mean what the hell, 30 bucks to get permission to walk through nature and sweating my arse off?

In the end I learn they're tourists and don't really care what I'm up to... A good hour within the track I put my tent up on a little clearing I couldn't imagine any more scenic. And can you believe? In the middle of seemingly nowhere I've got good Internet connection on my phone, I'm surprised and impressed. It can be quite lonely to be there just by yourself, you want to share your experiences and as I haven't had a travel partner at the time to show and point out “Look isn't that beautiful”, I shared it with my friends at home. I fall asleep early and have an even earlier start the next morning. Because packing up the tent at 6 in the morning is a guarantee for moisture, I take a break as soon as I reach a sunny spot to fold out the tent and sleeping bag on the bushes to let them dry.

I'm a little disappointed with the walk as most of it is through thick bush that doesn't give view to the beautiful bays and islands that I assume behind it. In addition the walk is hard, I know – they told me so. It goes up and down and up and down and ...I'm just happy about my fully charged Ipod. There is not much traffic on the track that could distract me either– I meet one family coming back, but they take a boat half way to skip the long part through the bush, one guy coming back as well who is not interested in small talk and one crazy person running the whole thing return!

It's Marko, he passes me once, we have a little chat, we meet again at Deep Water Cove, we have a little chat and finally we meet a third time on his way back out, where I offer him to stay at the hut, because I believe he is crazy to do what he does! I'm almost dying just walking, sometimes crawling let alone running! In addition he has a 6h drive back home to Mt Maunganui to work the next day. He's out of his mind, I think to myself, but what don't people do to train for a half Iron Man... He gives me his number and I will visit him three times and watch him perform beyond his expectations at the Iron Man competition later that month (and January). He will also tell me that he should have accepted my offer, as he missed a turn, did a big detour and strained his ankle.

Before he parts he tells me it's only getting better after this, and he shall be right, because I finally leave the bush and reach a stony path which exposes magnificent views down cliffs, onto the ocean with tiny sailing ships and down the forrest I just came out of. The up and down doesn't stop though and the blazing sun doesn't make things easier. I take my time – no pressure – lucky I started so early. After the last hill a cute white lighthouse comes into view and at the bottom I see the hut. 23 bunks and I am the only one that night. I'm sleeping before sunset, I think I'm exhausted.

Again an early start the next morning, I have a long way before me, but fortunately not the same. There is a fork junction (where Marko took his wrong turn) and I take the other track. It's not as well kept, I have to climb over fallen trees and wind my way through narrow patches but I will soon discover one of the prettiest beaches in NZ (see photo at top – the fact that it comes so sudden and unexpected probably plays a role). But with its white sand, turquoise water and no foot print in sight it is truly marvellous and I stay and have a swim. I don't want to leave, but if I still want to reach Russell today I need to get going. I continue walking and after some thinking, considering the time and traffic on the road I decide to camp in the next bay, instead of rushing it and then ending up in Russell with nowhere to stay. That will turn out as a very good decision, after some short regret that I didn't stay in the dream bay, because this one was a stony beach.

As I sit down on the stones, thinking of where I could put my tent, I meet three guys that sit on their paddle boards. When they leave, a woman and her son come onto the beach and take the place as my chat partners. Finally when I just put my tent flat down and dream of the wonderful white sanded beach just an 1½-2 hrs away and think what I could eat because I had only packed for 2 nights, one of the paddle board guys comes back in a rubber motor boat and asks if I want to come on their catamaran. Slightly confused but already hoping for something good I ask: “What do you mean?” “Well, we have a spare bed and fresh sea food. We thought that's nicer than camping here by yourself. Wanna come?” Hell Yeah!

That's how I met Fraser and his friends (3 couples and 2 kids from Auckland and 1 couple from Wellington), who chartered a big ass catamaran to sail around for a week. Because they were heading to Russell the next day I sailed with them around the Hole in the Rock, which is just off Cape Brett, and could see the whole track from another perspective and without the sweat. It was a wonderful day – spoilt by the sun, fresh fish, cold beer, and incredibly nice people. Two of them left the boat in Russell, I shortly hopped off to get my backpack just to get on again for another night on the boat. I heard dolphins that night or that's what I thought anyway. It turns out it was the kiwi call, a very funny distinctive noise.

Their sailing trip was over the next day, so I left the boat with them in Opua. Not without exchanging numbers we part and I believe I'm not the only one to tell a story now: Later I overheard that they like to tell about their trip where they picked up a German hitchhiker on the beach. Fine by me :)

First try with a SUP (stand up paddle board)

Delicious food

Since then it's my third time back in/through Auckland, and always did I find a home at one of their places and even celebrated Christmas with them. I also stayed both of my times in Wellington with Tiff and Woody, where I picked up a ukulele for the first time too. And now mine just turned 6months :)

The reason I'm in Auckland now is a plane I need to catch in two days. I'm off to India for 7 weeks – very excited, very different, I think I dreamt of Tandoori chicken tonight.

Cape Brett Walk on a bigger map

My first Wwoofing Experience

Still in Wellington I was searching the web for a job. What I found wasn't really a job but a pretty cool sounding wwoofing place at the top of the South Island – Marlborough Sounds. They were looking for a nice German girl and I thought “Hey that's me” :) Te Rawa, a tourist accommodation place, was looking for help with the garden. Situated in Pelorus Sound and only accessible by boat, I thought that sounded quite intriguing. Also it was still summer, so what could be better than being so close to the water and nature? I applied and was told I could start early February.

To clarify the situation: Wwoof means “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms” and is an organisation that “links volunteers with organic farmers, and helps people share more sustainable ways of living.” But it is commonly used as a term to describe work in return for accommodation and food, no matter if it's on farms, in private houses or hotels. Usually you're supposed to work 4 hours a day, of course everybody handles that differently.

Living in Pelorus Sound, her mail is delivered by boat.
Naively I assumed I wouldn't have to pay the boat to get there as I was a worker. To be sure though I asked a few days before, just to find out I had to pay 40NZ$ each way. Quite a lot I thought to be a free worker and also I wondered why they didn't tell me before. Anyway I made sure I had enough money on me and set off on a Tuesday on the mailboat, which actually delivers the mail to all the places out there. It also serves as a tourist cruise through the sound to generate more money as the post service isn't all that profitable.

Dropped off in the middle of nowhere, I found Te Rawa included a couple of batches, a little shop, restaurant/bar and the German couple that own it. As well as another German wwoofer girl, Verena, who arrived a week earlier. It was pretty much paradise, you can go fishing, kayaking and soaking sun all day long and usually these places are very busy in summer. I found Kiwis like to spend their holiday either in their own wee batch somewhere in wild nature, with the family on one of the thousands of campgrounds or in a nice remote self contained place like Te Rawa. But surprisingly I had to discover that this place was struggling with decreasing guest numbers.

Glow worms just a 5 minute walk away from our batch

As a result there wasn't actually that much to do for us wwoofers. We did some weeding in the manageable size of a garden, did the dishes and cleaned the rooms when a guest was leaving. As a graphic designer I also offered them to refine their menu layout. They didn't want to spend any money, otherwise I would have liked to renew their website as well, which looks very much outdated at the moment. I believe it would have been a necessary investment for their struggling businesses, but anyway...

That's a thing I'll never understand. People don't want to spend money (on design in this case), therefore they probably think it's not an important issue. But when they get it for free, it all of a sudden is important enough to make demands. Instead of being happy that it has improved, they're complaining. They're not satisfied although it's definitely better than what they used to have. Pay me and I'm happy to make all the changes (as long as they're sensible) you want. Don't pay me, take what you get! Isn't that reasonable?

I should probably mention the fact that the overall atmosphere wasn't very good. There were hardly any customers, which made it a pretty boring and unsocial place to hang around. In addition the German owners, Erika and Walter, were miserable, stingy and didn't stop complaining, moaning, griping – any word that describes this pessimistic view and behaviour that seems to hamper the ability to enjoy and value all the good little things in life. To give you an example: One of the few guests was a single woman. One day she was laying on the jetty reading a book. Erika looked out the kitchen window commenting in a derogatorily manner “Die hat wohl nichts besseres zu tun, als den ganzen Tag zu lesen.” Which translates as: “She has about nothing better to do than to read all day.” Why? Why and how could you possibly make this into a bad situation? A kiwi would say “Good on her, she seems to really enjoy the sun and her book.” There is nothing bad about it, it's her holiday, she's in an idyllic countryside where there is not much action anyway. Give me one reason why she shouldn't read that book all day! Walter didn't talk a lot and was always out and about doing stuff around the batches anyway. So naturally our permanent contact was with Erika, who never seemed to be content. Anything we did wasn't quite good enough for her.
I won't tell you about all the awkward, mood-driven and illogical situations that we went through every day, but naturally there was a bit of a conflict. As you might know I don't just put up with all the random crap I get, so unlike Verena who just took it in, I made myself clear when I thought something is not right.

 Marlborough Sounds and its oyster farms
Fortunately, Verena and I got along quite well. One lovely sunny afternoon we set off for a hike over the hills and sheep paddocks with amazing views over Pelorus Sound and the many oyster farms. As we were just talking about how quiet it is in the New Zealand bush and that you can't really hear a lot of animals – except for in the mornings, when the birds can be deafening – we heard a noise in the bush. A grunt, suspiciously close to the path. I got a hell of a fright, not from the first noise but from the second, which was Verena screaming and almost jumping on my arms.
Although there are no native mammals in New Zealand, settlers have brought in several animals as a food and trade source or by accident. Literally all mammals (except for one bat that lived here before) were introduced... including pigs. Most of them have caused huge problems for the natural balance. The absence of natural enemies and abundance of feed makes them bread like rabbits – not only the rabbits that is. Possums, rats, wild cats, deer, goats, pigs – they eat native birds and plants, which are not adapted to having enemies (thus the most flightless bird species in the world), and struggle badly with the predators.
Enough education though, back to the story. So there was a pig in the bush. Right next to us. We froze and listened. I've seen these huge snorting kune kune pigs before and I wouldn't want to meet one in the wild. What could we do when it actually comes out and attacks us? We didn't bring anything but our cameras and since it wouldn't be a good idea to throw those, I suggested picking up rocks as weapons, whereupon Verena immediately picked one up and didn't let it go until we were in sight of the house. We continued cautiously but didn't hear the pig again.

Verena hiding the defense rock behind her back :)
The next day, as we were washing up, a couple of lads were having a drink in the bar, a rare sight, as it was usually quiet. They waved to us through the window and asked if we wanted to join them later for a beer at their batch, which was located in another bay across the sound. I was really happy about this opportunity as I couldn't wait to get out of there and get some distraction, but I knew it would be work to convince Verena to join. After I assured her it's gonna be fun, that they looked like nice guys and that you get nowhere when you're scared and say no to everything, she came along. I would have gone alone, no worries, but I actually didn't want her to miss out. So we left in a motorboat with 5 guys, thinking to have a few beers and then drive back the same night, because we had to work the next morning. As you can probably imagine, things worked out a little different. We arrived at the holiday batch and were welcomed by all in all 12 guys, who came up there from Blenheim and Christchurch for a fishing trip. It turned into a great night with of course more than just a few beers, freshly prepared seafood and us ending up sleeping on their couches.

I had a terrible morning the next day, and why was my ankle so sore? Anyway at least I knew now I would be able to leave soon. The boys had offered to take me back with them to the mainland the following day. That meant 2 days less waiting for the mail boat and saving 40 bucks.

I always say I have all the time in the world, because it feels quite long to spend a whole year here. Especially compared with some other people rushing through both islands in as little as two weeks. But I really only have time to be happy, I don't want to waste it in a miserable place with depressed, unmotivated people that have given up and create an unpleasant atmosphere for everyone. If I don't enjoy it, I'm out of there.
Isn't it wonderful to have this freedom?!


I've spent the last couple of days in Te Anau with daily excursions into the Fiordland National Park. But since my fellow traveller Ryan was so quick in writing it all down, I'm just gonna be lazy and link you to his blog :)
Click here to read about our days in this breath taking part of New Zealand.

Mitre Peak – Milford Sound

View from Gertrude Sattle

How lucky can one be?

Stuart Island/Rakiura

From getting kicked out of a hostel
and hitching in a helicopter 

(Early April 2013)
I am on my way from Wanaka to Queenstown. I don't mind the drizzle. I'm excited – two weeks ago I walked into a graphic design agency to say hello. I wanted to hand in my CV for any upcoming vacancies and immediately had an interview – I have a trial job there for the next two days...

A metallic blue Pick-up picks me up. Zane, the driver, is a born and bred Stuart Islander. One of only 400 inhabitants of Rakiura (Māori name), a big island at the southern tip of New Zealand. He's going to Queenstown as well, which gives us an hour worth of chatting. We talk about life on the island, his travels, my travels, his family, my family. Zane turns out to be a pilot, who had to bring his helicopter to Wanaka for maintenance. I prick up my ears when he tells me he's flying back in a couple of days. Curiously I ask him how big that helicopter is and if he's allowed to take passengers. The deal is set, I'm flying back to Stuart Island with him. This day can not get any better!

I have 4 options to stay with people, 2 in town and 2 outside with arranged lifts to work. I pick the 5th option – hostel. For the first time I intentionally decide to stay in a hostel, usually I try to avoid it. But today is different, not only because I have a job but mainly because of a gut feeling. Zane drops me off in front of the Bungi Backpackers. The welcome is not very welcoming, I expected something else. I don't actually know what I'm expecting. Maybe because it is so unusual and special for me to go to a hostel and spend that kind of money (27NZ$/night), I imagine an incredibly warm welcome and thank you. There must be an icing on the cake, seeing that I am paying for it. Of course for them I'm just another backpacker, one among many who check in every day and out the next. 2 Hostels later – I decide to stay at the Alpine Lodge. I don't really like the reception guy either, to be honest, he appears really unfriendly and offhand, but they have free wifi and I slowly start to think it's not going to get any better. Not the best decision I made that day, as I was going to find out.

Since I have one hour left before work, I decide to use the spare time and free wifi to skype. Now here it comes, when I ask if I can have the wifi password, the guy in charge tells me I can't get it until I've checked in. He very well knows that I have to work at 12, which happens to be the earliest check-in time. I'm confused, I already gave him my credit card details, so I am obviously not going to leave. Or that's what I thought...
Me:"Can I please have it now (instead of later), I'd like to skype before I go to work"
Guy: "I told you I can't do anything for you, except store your luggage. You're not allowed to use any of the facilities." 
(As a joke) I say: "What about that table over there, am I allowed to use that?" (pointing to the place I just sat before)
Guy: "Actually no, I am cleaning and you're in the way. You should really be waiting outside" (note that it was still drizzling outside)
Me(baffled): "Well am I theoretically allowed to cancel the reservation again, I thought it's binding?"
Guy: "Yes sure, grab your bag." (taking the keys going to the luggage room)
Me: "Wait a second, I said theoretically." 
Guy: "No, I want you to leave now" 
Me: "Are you serious?"
Guy:"Yes, if you want to argue, you can leave"

...not quite comprehending what just happened, I leave saying “You know, you're not really a nice person” (holding back what I'm actually thinking “This is fucking ridiculous, you're the biggest asshole I've met”). “I think the same about you”. I haven't been this agitated and furious since I came to NZ. Suddenly I realize how mellow and happy I've been the last 5 months. Kiwis are just too nice, it wouldn't cross their mind to be offensive. I bet that this guy is not from here.

40 minutes left to find a bed for the night, shake off the bad mood and go to work. I end up back at the first place, the Bungi Backpackers, which seems to be alright after all. I was quickly brought back down to earth with my utopian hostel-hospitality-expectations. Fortunately the job is awesome and I'm really enjoying the rest of my day laying out the Queenstown Winter Festival brochure.

In the evening I'm surrounded by 19-years-old Germans. Ah right, that's why I don't go to hostels, how could I forget? I meet up with Ben for a beer and cheap chicken wings. I know him from the Wild Food Festival in Hokitika, where he and his friends were pirates and my customers. On that weekend I was widely known as “the airbrush-tattoo-girl” (I'll tell you that story another time)...

The next morning my I-want-to-stay-in-a-hostel-gut-feeling has disappeared and I decide to pack my bag and take it to work. After all I don't know yet, when Zane will call me. I hope he does call anyway, because I don't have his number. Oh no. I really hope he doesn't forget me, why didn't I take his number?! I'm getting a bad feeling but at least I know that I can stay at Giovanni's place. He's a really nice Italian traveller, that I stayed with two weeks ago via couchsurfing. Another great day at work passes, but no sign of the pilot. I slowly start loosing hope.
As I enter Giovanni's house – which by the way has an incredible view over the lake, which you have to earn by walking up a very steep street – Zane texts me that he'll leave tomorrow morning. You can imagine how thrilled I was!
View from Gio's living room

Next day I'm hitching back to Wanaka and I'm extremely excited. It doesn't seem to be that big of a deal here, everybody I'm talking to has flown in a helicopter before. New Zealand has the highest number of helicopters per capita in the world. But I have never been in one so nothing can detract from my childish joy. I immediately recognize the car that stops, it's a Volkswagen Passat (I've once worked on its assembly line in Emden, Germany). I know this door knob by heart and the driver knows Zane. Of course, we are in New Zealand and supposedly Kiwis are connected with 2 degrees of separation instead of 6 like in the rest of the world. I get dropped off at the airport, where Zane is still waiting for the technicians to give their ok. It won't come today, which is alright with me. I'm happy to wait another day, so I stay with Zane in the empty holiday house of his mate.

The helicopter is ready to go at noon and Zane tells me he can only take me to Bluff, because he has to pick up clients from there. I don't mind, I've already planned my stay in Invercargill with a couchsurfer anyway. After putting in 500NZ$ worth of fuel, we take off. It's a funny, unknown feeling to just go up straight in comparison to the “normal” run-up a plane takes. We fly over mountains with fresh snow, I recognize Lake Wanaka and Cromwell. Tiny sheep here and there, I can't stop taking pictures, it's amazing.

Incredible how lucky I am. Over the headset I ask Zane about our speed, it's strange to hear myself over the headphones. 200Kph is the answer, I can hardly believe it, it certainly doesn't feel that fast – until he drops us down closer to the ground and holy shit that makes a big difference. That's how it's always being filmed and shown on TV. I feel like taking part in a highland search and rescue show and my mission is to find a lost sheep that is hiding from the shearer. 

It takes about 1:15h to Bluff (3:30h by car) of which the last 40 minutes are solely pasture. We arrive in Bluff, what a wonderful day, it's sunny, I got a free helicopter ride, I have a place to sleep at night. Nothing to worry about, I couldn't be any happier. I start to believe that good things happen to happy people. As I get out of the heli, Zane's customers are already waiting. They welcome us with a smile. One of them turns towards me and says “Hey, who are you? Do you want to come with us to Stewart Island?” Hell yeah!

Next thing I know, I'm back in the helicopter with James, JD, John and Tom, two fathers and their sons from Hawkes Bay. They want to surprise a group of friends that has gone on a fishing/camping trip. After some fish'n'chips in Oban, the main and only settlement on Rakiura, we head off down the west coast to find their friends. They could be anywhere, no cellphone service out here, which leaves us flying from bay to bay and to our luck we find one of their boats pretty much at the very south end of the island. That way we had the chance to see a lot of the island. Their camp is deserted, they have gone on a tramping trip. But is it actually them? We're not quite sure, we nose around a little and try to find name tags to confirm that we've found the right fishing party. Yes, we have. Zane leaves us to come pick us up the next day. We try to find a spot to squeeze in the enormous tent the guys brought. Seriously, I have never seen a tent that size – I had my own 'room' in which I could have set up my own tent three times! And I'm not even joking.

We hear a boat motor and hide as the group comes back from their trip. They're confused, we're in the middle of freaking nowhere and suddenly there is a gigantic tent in their camp that wasn't there before. We jump out of the bush and the surprise is perfect. It's a group of maybe 12 people and two kids, mainly from Hawkes Bay and Queenstown.

We're sitting around the fire – drinking, smoking (*I'll address that subject some other time), joking and even dancing. The camp is extremely well thought through, they brought everything. There even is a generator that provides us with endless Ipod playlists. Or maybe there is an end, but who cares, I take out my Ukulele and play some tunes. It's a good night...

Porridge for everybody in the morning and off we go fishing. They all have their diving gear, which includes wetsuit, snorkel, knives, spear-gun and a bag to collect the found goodies. And they do find a lot. The scallops are huge, so are the paua and oysters. Plenty of fish get caught, too. It's not just fun and games though, they actually fish for food. If you're out there for two weeks, it's impossible to bring all the food. And you have to go out everyday, because there is no fridge. Which means if you don't catch anything, you're going to bed hungry. But having said that, you must be very untalented to not catch anything here. It's usually a rough area which not many people visit, so plenty of seafood for everybody who does find his way down here...

Zane drops us off in Invercargill, after showing us the west coast which has sandy beaches and more openness compared to the thick bush on the rest of the island. John and Tom are taking the bus to Dunedin, I'm planning to visit them, it's on my travel route anyway. Their fathers are taking the plane home to Hastings. And I arrive – with a couple of days delay – at Emerald's, my couchsurf host in Invercargill, but that's another story...

My Helicopter Ride auf einer größeren Karte anzeigen

Hitchhiker's Guide to Happiness

Hitching is a wonderful way to travel. Especially in New Zealand it is extremely easy as there is usually only one way to go, no big highways and Kiwis are incredibly friendly. Furthermore it's as cheap as it can get and flexible – you don't have to get up early to catch the only bus at 7am.
I've had over 200 rides just in NZ, 99% of which I hitch hiked by myself. It enabled me to meet amazing people, kind and generous and it opened great opportunities – from river rafting, over harvesting honey and horse riding, to flying in a helicopter.

Walking backwards in Kaikoura, waiting for a ride to the seal colony.

I've written down some “rules” for hitch hiking. Although all of it is common sense, I regularly watch stupid mistakes being done. Also if you've never hitch hiked before this might give you an introduction on what to pay attention to. You may think some of them are ridiculously logical, but believe me I've seen it all. Others are just my personal opinion.

In general on the road:

1. Smile!
2. Don't hide yourself behind sunnies/hats...(negotiable in the desert) What kind of hitchhiker would you rather pick up, somebody you can fully identify or a mysterious person with hoodie and shades?
3. Have a map. Of course a smartphone with GPS is an advantage, but I reckon a paper map is a must. (What if you're out of battery/signal?)
4. I believe signs are only good in certain situations. If there is only one way to go (95% of the time in NZ) you don't need it and it's rather distracting. If on the other hand you're about to enter a highway that goes north and south, it makes perfect sense to indicate which way you want to go. But please make it readable. Bad typography kills every sign. Take a step back, you are not able to read it from a 5m distance? Nobody will be, especially not while driving.
5. Wear your backpack, you're quicker to get to the car. I believe the impression you give is much more positive than when your baggage is lazily laying next to you.
6. When a car stops, hurry to get to it (see 5). Don't take it for granted that they stop by wasting their time. I consider it very impolite when a hitchhiker approaches slowly.
7. Maximum of two people. Who do you think has space for 3 people and possible their backpacks? Unless you have all the time in the world, because it could take a while...
8. Somebody was there before you? First come first serve. You may ask to hitch together, but if you get only the slightest feeling they don't want it, move on app. 50m behind them. If that's not possible, wait app. 50m far away to avoid cars thinking you belong together.

Ye good ol' paper map


1. Stand on a straight, where cars can see you from a distance. Don't hide behind a hill or bend.
2. Position yourself just before(!) a pull-over possibility. They see you, they think, they pull over.
3. Unless it's 50°C, don't hide in the shade! You want to be seen.
4. Try to be dropped of in a 50km/h zone. Nobody likes to stop when they're travelling 100km/h.
5. Try to anticipate what is going to happen. I know sometimes you can't avoid a bad spot, because you're being dropped off by somebody who claimed to know where it's good. Watch out for spots and trust your gut. How often has it happened that I saw somewhere good, but didn't say anything and got then dropped off two kilometres down the road where it was shit. That also means saying no to somebody that just wants to take you 10km up the road, where you'll know for sure it's gonna be a bad spot. You're better of waiting where you are.
6. When you're at a gas station, it helps to talk to the people. It's much harder to say no to a person than just driving past them.

Hitching in England

Once in the car:

1. Smile
2. Talk
3. Security plan: It can be a good idea to let somebody know where you're travelling. For example you can text a friend the licence plate numbers. Most people that pick you up will approve and say it's a good idea. Bad people might be let off by the thought of being caught. It definitely is an extra thing you need to think of each time a car stops, it might be easier and quicker to first write it onto your map. Once you're in the car you can write the text. But be aware that you might loose signal, you don't want your friend to worry more than necessary.
4. Don't ask for detours. When offered, don't take them for granted.
5. Be thankful!