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