Working Holiday in New Zealand: Panniers in a wardrobe

Christchurch's Cardboard Cathedral

Christchurch’s Cardboard Cathedral

Working Holiday in New Zealand: Panniers in a wardrobe

Country: Australia and New Zealand

From Sydney to Christchurch

Lesson learned: Don’t worry too much about missing baggage

Laughed about: Alan who likes to rock his mullet through the kitchen

Most wonderful miracle: A chest of drawers and a wardrobe instead of 12 panniers

Food we ate: Homemade food, burgers, cocktails, fruit, and cherry tomatoes

Greatest challenge: Getting rid of our many kilos

Days on the bike: ½ night

Kilometers cycled: 16.4

Average Kilometers per day: 16.4

Total Kilometers cycled till Christchurch: 16814.47

Total days travelled till Christchurch: 889


We had a great time in Sydney. The city is known for its great sunshine. We got mostly clouds and drizzle, but after those great days on the coast we didn’t mind a bit.

Mark and Chrissie

Mark and Chrissie

In order to enter New Zealand we had to clean all our stuff again. So we scrubbed all soil and seeds off the panniers and tent and rode the bikes to a car wash.

The hardest part came on the day of departure. Fitting all our things into 40 kilos per person – including the bikes. 40 kilos, that’s what the bikes in their boxes alone weighed! Plus quite some Kilos of stuff that we had collected over the time. With the books (we couldn’t stop ourselves on a second hand $1 sale) and the extra clothing (no need for outdoorsy gear in Christchurch) we were even heavier than usual. After weighing everything several times we realized that we were about 10 kilos too heavy.

So we sent some 5 kilos back to Germany, gave Mark and Chrissie some of our gear and I just put on all the clothes that were too heavy and that I didn’t want to give away. Stuff that I wore on my body didn’t count as baggage

A mummy at the airport

Mummie at the airport

In the airport I looked like a mummy. All those layers of clothing and all those heavy items in every single pocket made me sweat a lot. I wore even more clothes than on the ferry to Sumatra (crossing the equator in winter clothes).

Our bags were a few kilos below the limits and the flight was alright. Not too comfy but that’s what you get if you book the cheapest flight available.

At Christchurch airport my heart bet quickly. Would they ask us about our health insurance? Would they let us in without return flights? Would our passports and the printed e-visa be alright? And were our bikes really clean enough?

The sound of happy sheep was the first thing we heard. It came out of several speakers as we walked to the passport control, passing many big images of the beautiful landscape. Somehow that calmed me down quite a bit.

Bicycle in damaged bike box at the airport

This is the reason why we rather ride our bikes than transporting them in boxes.

The passport control went quickly. Too quickly. The officer asked “tourist?” I smiled and handed her my working holiday papers.

„No, working holiday!“

„Oh, that’s nice!“

She had a quick look at my papers and woosh the stamp flew right into my passport. The officer behind her had a startled look in her face. She came closer and whispered something into the first officer’s ear who then as well looked startled. They whispered for a while and grabbed a few more stamps.

Then she pointed towards Roberto. “You come with me”, she said. Then she pointed at me “and you grab all your bags. Then we meet over there again.”.

Bike assembly area at Christchurch Airport

Bicycle Assembly Area at Christchurch Airport!

We still didn’t know what was happening there but at least the bikes had arrived already. But Roberto’s bike box had a big hole in it and pieces of cardboard were spread over the floor. Two airport employees gave me pitiful looks while I tried to move the shabby box and onto a cart, but soon he came to help me out with my bike.

I grabbed another cart to pick up our bags. It was only the backpack missing. So I waited. And waited. After quite a while there were only two stranger’s bags making their circles. Then the baggage claim walkway stopped. By now it was two in the morning and most of the other passengers were probably already asleep in their homes. One other passenger remained, looking for his bag as well. I filled out a form and was sent back with Roberto.

Abgerissenes Ventil

Isn’t this just what you want at 4 am in a new country?

So they had told him, that the border officer had accidentially grabbed the wrong stamp, so now they overstamped it with red capital letters “INVALID” and next to that, placed a third stamp: “Entry”. I think having “invalid” in my passport could bring me a lot of problems at further border crossings, but for now I decided not to worry – it wouldn’t change a thing anyways.

Now we were the very last passengers left and also most of the staff had gone home. I felt guilty because I assumed that the other staff wanted to go home too, but had to wait only for us. The cleanliness control went quickly. We presented our super clean shoes and promised that we had made just as much effort with tent and bikes. Done.

A nice lady showed us the way out towards the Bike assembly area. Yes, you read that right. Christchurch airport has an area specifically for cyclists who need to mount or dismount their bikes. There were two hooks and some basic tools and we started with Roberto’s bike. It seemed not to have taken any further damage. Two policemen came towards us, just to have a little chat. They recommended us nice places to cycle through.

Free bike tools in Christchurch City Centre

More public multitools right in town

So many things just went so wrong, and as the clock showed 4 am we were surprised about our own good mood. We did not argue (too much) assembling the bikes, even though we had a hard time, because some of the tools were in the lost backpack, and we were just so excited that nothing could stop us.

Starving as we were, we biked right towards the first open place with food: a McDonalds. Well, they were open and they accepted credit cards, so we were all in. When we wanted to continue with our bellies full of fast food, Roberto had a flat tire. As we had a closer look, we saw that we had made a major mistake: We had pumped the empty tires without checking if the tubes were still in their original position. As we now found out: they hadn’t been. The valve had moved and with all the pressure, it had fallen off. That was nothing that we could fix with our puncture repair kit. We had left the last spare tube with Mark and Chrissie and our only option was to walk the six kilometers to Anne’s place.

We spent the first kilometer arguing and being mad with each other. As that did not better the situation, we made peace and decided to enjoy the stroll. And believe it or not – we did. It was dawn when we arrived at Anne’s place.

Besuch des Japan Tages in Christchurch. Anne liebt solche kulturellen Veranstaltungen genauso wie wir

Japan Day in Christchurch. Anne loves those cultural events just as much as we do

It had been about two years ago, in Tbilisi, Georgia, when we met Robin, a very nice Kiwi (funny story). On our third day with him, he told us “If you ever happen to get to New Zealand you must come to Christchurch and meet my family.” That was the reason, why we picked Christchurch to be our future home. And Anne, who we would be staying with for the first week, was his mother.

Anne had hid the keys for us, and when we entered the house, she was already awake. She had been quite excited for us to come. She talked and talked and we could have gone on all day if only we hadn’t been so tired.

Cookie Monster Cake

Roberto’s 31st birthday

From the first moment on we realized what a great luck we had with meeting Anne. She showed us all second hand shops to get clothing, furniture and household items. She drove us past the Eco store where they sold great condition bulk refuse for few dollars, showed us the cheapest vegetable stores and bakeries, the library and the Sunday flea market. She always wrote job openings down that she read or heard about and she made us feel home right away.

Generally she really took a lot of time for us. And Anne is quite a busy woman. Every morning she visited the gym, where she went for aqua gymnastics as well as for the big machines with weight on them. She spends many of her afternoons with her book club, the film club, the play reading club or some of her many friends who she promised to help with something.

This is Anne. Helping others first and thinking of herself last. She’s over 75 years old and takes great care for her 90 year old neighbor. After the big earthquakes in Christchurch, Anne went out, checked if the neighbors were okay, and donated most of her quilts, warm clothing and sheets. She waited very long for her own home to be fixed, but she never complained. “Many people had no electricity for weeks, others were stuck without walls. I think for me it was okay to wait a bit longer for those cracks in the walls to be fixed.”

Robertos Geburtstagsessen. Leider regnet es drei Tage ununterbrochen durch, daher können wir nicht auf der Terrasse sitzen.

For the first time in his life, Roberto can celebrate his birthday in summer. Unfortunately it didn’t stop raining for three days straight.

Anne cooked delicious meals and I mixed a different cocktail every night. We spent the evenings with chats about her childhood in Africa and great movies and I am sure we would never get bored with Anne.

After some days our missing backpack was found and we started with the paperwork. In order to get a job you need a tax number, in order to get a tax number you need several English documents with your picture in them (which we didn’t have) or a local bank account (because they give you a proof of address). In order to get your proof of address you need to live somewhere. In order to live somewhere you need to pay the rent and in order to pay the rent you need a job.

But somehow you always get around things. So we printed our CVs and just walked through town with them. It didn’t take long until we both got hired. Roberto found a job at Kathmandu, in the South Island’s biggest branch, where he sold hiking boots, tents, waterproof jackets and sleeping bags, and I got two part time jobs, one at the Kathmandu Outlet and one in a Japanese Restaurant and Sushi shop called Hachi Hachi.

Nach Feierabend wird das geklimper ausgeschaltet und wir machen unsere eigene Musik zum Putzen an

When the doors closed, we changed the boring Japanese music for something more dancy. Far better motivation for cleaning.

Very soon after that we found a room as well. It was situated just five minutes away from Anne’s place and right between both my jobs. Our flatmate was the 56 year old Kiwi Alan (when I say Kiwi I don’t mean the bird or the fruit – which by the way is called “kiwi fruit” in New Zealand to avoid confusion – but about a person from New Zealand). Alan is an extremely talented wood turner, a very clean person and a fan of burgers, hot dogs, fast cars, faster motor bikes (he won several races in the nineties!) and likes to swing his blonde mullet dancing through the kitchen to loud rock music. In the living room there’s 14 pictures of him on his bike. Alan grows the best cherry tomatoes I have ever tried. His daughter and 16-year old granddaughter lived just two neighborhoods away.

Der Dienstags-Dinner-Club

The Tuesday-Dinner-Club

So we grabbed our bikes and rode to the flea market, visited garage sales, and explored the Opportunity Shops, where we bought clothes for work, some pieces of furniture and the odd other item for our new life indoors.

We even signed up for the local University’s cheap dance classes, and spent our first St Patrick’s day with our new friends Fabi and Lalo from Mexico.

Lalo und Fabi wohnen auch in Cristchurch und werden bald zu festen Mitgliedern des Dienstags-Kochwettbewerbs

Lalo und Fabi lived not too far away and soom turned into important Tuesday-Dinner-members

After a month and a half we had officially reached what is generally known as every-day life. We cooked with several spices and herbs from the garden, showered with normal-sized shampoos, washed our laundry whenever it was dirty. It was only the lack of a bed (we just slept on our foam mats and some quilts) that reminded us of the very different lifestyle that we had lived not too long ago. But a few weeks later we bought the cheapest second hand bed we could get. We realized too late that it had more the shape of a bowl than a flat surface, but that was fine. The previous owners, Roberto’s workmate Kat and her boyfriend Dan, had warned us often enough.

Unser provisorisches Zimmerchen hat vier Wände und ein Dach. Wir fühlen uns pudelwohl.

Four walls and a roof. What else could we ask for?

The bikes brought us to work, to see friends and to go shopping, but we did not rider out of town even once. In a town with 340,000 habitants we had everything we needed just around us.

We both made friends with our workmates and with a roof over our heads we felt like we were prepared for the upcoming winter. Christchurch was going to be our home for an entire year. We needed money in order to continue our travels, and we were also in need of a little break of biking. The camping stove got all dusty in the furthest corner of the kitchen and we enjoyed free leftover sushi and cheap fish and chips.

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