Monthly Archives: July 2012

Adventures in Shantytown

Although my career goal has always been “author,” rather than “historian,” it seems that the following words are my catnip:





So, when I heard about the historic, recreated nineteenth-century mining village that is Shantytown Heritage Park, I knew I’d be making a stop in Greymouth. Greymouth is a town of about 10,000 on the West Coast of the South Island. That makes it considerably bigger than Fox Glacier, which my bus driver described as a “township” (with a total of two streets, even that felt optimistic).

Regardless, Shantytown is the reason I didn’t make a trip straight from Fox Glacier to Nelson. So imagine my dismay when I discovered that the shuttle to Shantytown doesn’t run in the winter, and a return cab would be about $70. At 12 km outside of town, it is just too far to walk. Luckily, my hostel is awesome (PLUG FOR NOAH’S ARK BACKPACKERS). Not only did they look up a route for me on Google Maps, they lent me a bike.

Biking in downtown Toronto forces you to become fairly fearless, but I white-knuckled my way along the main road, spending most of the trip muttering, “On the left, on the left..”  While I mostly managed to avoid veering right (except whe I was really startled or stressed), I still pulled into Shantytown with a soft, “I didn’t die!”

Shantytown itself was fine. There was a decent assortment of buildings, including a church, a jail, and a school, and the Chinatown area was actually really well done. That being said, the lack of interpreters was depressing. It was awfully lonely wandering from building to building, glancing over artifacts in silence. In the “hospital,” I met a young New Zealand couple who felt much the same. “I wish there were people to tell us what we’re looking at,” they said. “Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of old stuff.”

Luckily, the hospital had many of the same instruments as the Doctor’s house at Black Creek. Also lucky: Doctor’s is one of my favourite buildings, and probably the one I’ve been in most.

I was warned this day would come….

So, after a little impromptu interpretation of another museum’s artifacts, I walked around some more, rode the steam train, and then biked 12 km back. I’m glad I went, even just to reaffirm that what we do is important. Living history museums only work if there are, you know, living people in them…

Ah, well. Nelson tomorrow, and then onto Wellington for a third and final time.

10 Things No One Told Me About Backpacking

Hey pals,

Sorry it’s been a while. While I have been lucky with internet lately, it’s been the “check email, check facebook, oops, out of time” kind of internet.

Luckily, there is free internet here in Kerikeri (which is the northernmost town I could get to on the intercity bus system), hence this post.

Without further ado…

10 Things No One Told Me About Backpacking

10. You actually do sleep a lot.

I’d been preparing myself for six weeks of poor sleep, anticipating drunkenly stumbling roommates, roommates that wanted to read at 2 am, and hard beds.

Actually, in many smaller towns, there’s not much to do when the sun goes down, and most people have been out sightseeing all day, so many people turn in early. Add sleeping on long bus rides, and I’m clocking more hours than I have in years.

9. Hostel parties don’t always happen at hostels.

Some of this may be due to my selection process: I was careful to pick “quiet” hostels. Still, most of the time, people who want to go drink don’t stay in the hostel. They go to bars, leaving things relatively quiet.

8. “Clean” and “dirty” are not absolute states, but a spectrum.

Clothing is never just “clean” or “dirty” (nor are you, for that matter). There is a spectrum ranging from “washing-machine clean,” to “I washed it in the sink clean,” to “it still smells ok clean.”

You don’t want to know about the gradations of “dirty.”

7. Internet is everywhere, if you know where to find it.

I thought I’d be mostly disconnected while travelling, but I’ve been able to check things pretty consistently. Most hostels have internet for a price, some have it for free, and you can find it free around cities: in libraries, cafes, and the random “hotspots” in Auckland.

6. You read a lot.

I love the book exchange system in hostels. I love it so much, I may do a separate post on it. For now, suffice it to say that I’ve plowed through several novels already.

5. Kid rules still work.

Remember when you were a kid at a function with lots of adults, and a few other kids? Typically, the kids get sequestered in a basement or rec room and a movie is thrown on. How do these kids, who have never met each other, coexist peacefully?

Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be loud. Play nice.

People slip into movie lounges, watch, and then slip out again. As long as they follow the above rules, no one ever minds.

4. Backpacking is like a constant frosh week.

Ah, frosh week, that magical time when people are so desperate for friends, they’ll talk to anyone. Solo backpackers are the same way. Eye contact made? Instant conversation!

3. Fight Club was right. They are “single serving friends.”

Nonetheless, you know you’ll probably never see them again. While random conversation provides enough social contact to keep you on this side of sanity, it doesn’t last long.

2. Always, always ask for student rates.

This is less in regards to hostels, and more for general travelling. An adult ticket to the top of Auckland’s Sky Tower is $28, which feels like a lot. A student’s is $18, which feels much better. A student ticket on Wellington’s cable car is $1. The only catch is that you do need an ID. I have two, from Toronto and Otago. Since the latter is a New Zealand university, I’ve been using it to avoid hassles. Thus far, I’ve been so glad to have it.

1. You develop a rhythm.

A new city every few days, no longer than three nights in a bed, constantly changing people? How do you develop a rhythm?

Get into town; find the hostel; drop your stuff; locate the supermarket, i-Site, and library; sightsee; write; sleep; wake up early; sightsee; write; sleep (repeat until departure); get on the bus…

And do it all over.

And there you have it: 10 Things No One Told Me About Backpacking, or, 10TNOTMAB. 😛

Fiji Time


I’m in Nandi airport, waiting to return to the Land of the Long White Cloud after a week-long sojourn to Fiji. When I initially planned my South Pacific gallivanting, I hadn’t really considered much other than NZ, Australia, and the Cook Islands. Then, a few months ago, my friend asked, “Hey, want to go to Fiji?”

Against my better judgement, perhaps, I agreed.

We booked ourselves onto a tour promising adventure, culture, and beach time. The one snag was that scheduling conflicts left us with one day in Nandi by ourselves.

Culture shock is putting it mildly.

Nandi is a huge tourist town, but we stood out like the proverbial sore thumbs. We couldn’t walk more than a few paces without offers of more tours, souvenirs, souvenirs for all our siblings and friends, taxi rides…Add to that the fact that we really hadn’t given our free day much thought other than, “Fiji! Whooo!” and you have one incredibly exhausting and stressful day.

But, after three bus rides, two nights in a tiny hostel, and an impromptu kava ceremony, we finally boarded our tour bus. There were thirteen of us, mostly from various parts of Great Britain, Canada, and the States. Our guide promised that we would get wet every day, which sounded fine by us.

Day One was mostly a beach day. Day Two was nothing short of amazing. We trekked through the jungle to swim in waterfalls. Fijian jungle, as it happens, is full of rich, reddish mud. At first, we daintily hopped from dry patch to dry patch, but by the halfway point, we’d given up. River crossings became nothing more than a opportunity to wash your shoes…temporarily. Cleanliness and jungle don’t really mix.

But oh, man, that waterfall was worth it.

Day Three was our culture day. We visited a secondary school and spent some time chatting with the kids (one was quite impressed that Justin Bieber grew up about two hours from my hometown). Then off to Nausautoka village for kava and dancing – I have never experienced such a warm welcome.

I do apologize for the tone of “then we did this, and then we did that,” but I think I’m still trying to process everything. Fiji is a poor country. Looking at the school, and looking at the village, I was struck by what was lacking (water sanitation comes to mind), but also by what they had. The high schoolers kept asking us to add them on Facebook. People, in general, looked happy and healthy.

I think the most striking image, and perhaps the one that best captures the day, is that of two boys playing rugby at Nasautoka. They were around five, and ran up and down the road, tossing a half-filled plastic water bottle back and forth, and occasionally tackling each other in a fit of giggles.

Kelly from Ireland summed it up well: “Kids will play anywhere, with anything. These kids don’t have much, but at least they have the chance to play.”

Certainly an experience that will stay with me…

As it was a hop-on, hop-off tour, we then bailed for a few days of snorkelling and poolside relaxation. I needed it. While I lay in a hammock, under palm trees, watching the sun go down over the South Pacific, I finally breathed a sigh of relief.
It was a long road to get there. And when I get back to Canada, I hit the ground running and don’t stop for even longer. So it was nice to lie in that golden, addictive sunlight, and store up some rest for the months to come.

And as soon as the weather clears, WELLINGTON!