Monday, 24 December 2012

It's not what you know, it's who you know

This blog post has been written an unintentional follow up to my original post about working in New Zealand. One of the biggest attractions about working in Queenstown is that it's the place to be in New Zealand; it has stunning mountain scenery, year-round adventure activities and hedonistic nightlife - all in all its a town driven by tourism.

So, apart from the main cities (Auckland and Wellington) and regional seasonal work, Queenstown is a good place to look for temporary work. The best time to look for work is before the two main seasons, summer and winter (with spring and autumn being the shoulder seasons), where you can get jobs such as working for local adventure activity companies, jobs at Coronet Peak and the Remarkables ski fields, or even general work in the hospitality sector. It is possible to find other jobs in the town during the main seasons because of the high turnover of backpackers passing through with working holiday visas. As long as your prepared to work unsociable hours for the minimum wage, there are plenty of jobs in bars, restaurants, convenience stores, retail shops, etc.

Personally, I've found it quite a difficult experience to find work in Queenstown having dropped off lots of CVs into shops, hotels, the local cinema - basically anywhere which had a job going and for work which isn't particularly challenging, especially when it would be easy to pick up quickly with some on-the-job training. So far I've had trials at a pizza restaurant and a convenience store both with their own "interesting experiences".

My first trial was at The Cow pizzeria on Cow Lane, working as a kitchen hand. I found out that there was a job available through the hostel we were staying at - this can often be the best way of finding out about jobs in Queenstown, through word of mouth as well as checking out the Lakes Weekly Bulletin, and job search websites such as Seek or Indeed. Having arranged a trial with the chef, I spent three hours in the kitchen rolling out pizza bases till my arms ached, as well as being shown the ropes by the current kitchen hand. Having impressed enough to be asked back the next day, I was given the impression that the job was mine for the taking as I was asked to bring my IRD number (for paying tax) and bank details with me. Returning to the kitchen the following day it was another arduous exercise of making pizza dough and rolling out bases to within an inch of their life. However, after three hours I was told that I could go as the restaurant had some more people they wanted to trial and they would be in touch soon having taken my contact details - a complete turn around from the day before when I thought I had bagged the job!

The Cow restaurant on Cow Lane

It came as no surprise that after a week I still hadn't received a phone call, not even to say "thanks, but no thanks" - a text message might have even sufficed! So I decided to go back to The Cow to get an explanation, however, I was fobbed off with a convenient excuse from the main chef that they were still trialling another person and that he had lost my phone number but would let me know soon. What really drives me mad is when people can't even be up front about not wanting you for the job. If the chef had at least been honest and said "I'm sorry but you're not the right person for the job" then that would have been fine, it's worse when people string you along and toy with your emotions especially when you're dependent on finding a job to get some stability. To be fair I'm not sure if I would have been suited for the job as it was quite hectic with all the tasks that needed doing, and in all honesty the kitchen hygiene standards left a lot to be desired, with the regular kitchen hand eating the soggy salad with his fingers before preparing the next set of pizzas. The boards that the pizzas were served on weren't even washed between servings, just the remnants of the last meal scraped off, and last but not least the gluten free pizzas were just frozen pizzas bases!

My other experience was at one of the City Express convenience stores in town. The job was advertised in store and the manager was keen to meet potential applicants after screening their CVs. Personally, this was my least preferable choice of job as the hours were largely unsociable and the store manager was very condescending at the best of times. Having worked a couple of 3pm - 1am shifts, to say it was quiet would be an understatement  - it was pretty much the ghost shift! However, this is possibly due to the lack of people visiting Queenstown because of the shortfall of snow throughout the winter season, which has had a big impact on all the ski fields and local businesses, but that's another story...

City Express on Church Street a.k.a. the Kwik-E-Mart

Its a pretty soul destroying experience working into the early hours of the morning on your own whilst the rest of Queenstown is having fun, but needs must! Every so often you might get a group of customers break up the monotony but as the evening progressed they'd be getting more and more wasted. Pretty much all the products in the store are unashamedly overpriced (although the prices aren't on display so it's like your stereotypical corner shop from the 90's!) but the tourists who use the store are too lazy to shop around and are frivolous with their money as they're on holiday. The tedious list of staff rules were a joke, with one particular rule stating "No friends or family to visit whilst you are working".

The abridged version of the prison staff rules - part one...

...part two of the grammatically inconsistent nonsense

I found out quite quickly how serious the company were on enforcing the rules when Lizzie dropped into the store to say "Hi" on her way home from work one evening, after about 10 minutes I got a phone call from the store manager explaining that the security company had called him to say there was a person hanging around by the checkout for too long - FFS talking about taking surveillance to the extreme! I though the security cameras were there to keep an eye on the customers not the staff! In all seriousness I felt that I was being constantly monitored with 7 cameras in the store, especially when I had to open up the store at 7.00am one morning and I got a text message from the store manager at 7.02am trying to find out why the store wasn't open despite having just putting my key in the door...

Fortunately, I have managed to find a better job in the meantime but when I think about the store manager and how he had penny-pinching down to a fine art, with cost cutting measures and a massive mark-up on the goods in the store, it reminded me of Apu from The Simpsons and his Kwik-E-Mart. Especially, when the store manager was justifying that you could still sell microwaved frozen pies which had been put under a heated lamp for 10 hours because "it's what they do in Mobil garages!"

The next time you're tempted by a convenience store pie, think about how long it's been sitting in the heater!

Continuing back on the theme of looking for jobs, one of the best sources of local information is the Lakes Weekly Bulletin, which is published every Monday around 1.30pm on the website and is available in print every Tuesday. However, it's best to be on the internet waiting for the online edition as it seems quite a lot of people are all searching for the same jobs and it can pay to be the first off the block with casual work. Quite a lot of the jobs advertised will be part-time (often 20-30 hours) so you might find yourself trying to juggle two part-time roles at once or even working for accommodation if you're staying a hostel.

Quite often I've found prospective employers don't have time to read through reams of résumés/ CVs very thoroughly so it's worth pointing out your relevant experience and skills when dropping off your CV. Also, if you haven't heard back after 3 or 4 days it's always worth doing a follow up to keep your submission fresh in the employer's mind, plus it makes you seem keen and eager for the job, but you can also come across as annoying if you don't get the balance right.

There are a number of job agencies in Queenstown, however, we've really had mixed experiences with these as they often talk the good talk but rarely go out of their way to push work in your direction. I guess it's because so many people register with these agencies when they first arrive in town that you're often just a name amongst hundreds of others. I got a phone call from the Queenstown Job Agency the other day, 6 weeks after I first registered with them asking if I was still looking for work! What a joke! If we hadn't found a job by then we would have tried our luck back in Wellington or Auckland instead - it's such a waste of time for everyone involved that it takes so long for recruitment staff to actually get back in touch with you just to find out if you're still looking for a job...

However, sometimes finding a job can come down to who you know more than based on your own merits, as I found when I mentioned to a housemate that I applied for a job at a zipline eco-tour adventure company. He kindly offered to put in a good word to the course manager as he was mate, but I felt if I was the right person for the job then I should be offered the job based on that and not anything else. I also had a very different experience when I applied for video editor role at local sky diving company called Nzone. Not only didn't I receive any sort of acknowledgement to confirm receipt of my application (which was submitted a week ahead of the closing date) but also I had to call the General Operations Manager, Jon Rowe, to find out that my application hadn't been considered properly because of my work visa...

After convincing the manager to take another look at my application I asked him when he would be getting back in touch to which he said that he would get back to me the same day. Two days later I phoned up again to find out what he thought of my application only to discover that the position had been filled as New Zealand residents get first priority for full-time jobs and that no one else had even been considered outside of this criteria. I was pretty cheesed off that I had to ring him up twice and so I sent a strongly worded email to express my opinion and make a complaint. A couple of hours later I actually got a phone call from the man himself as he was pissed off that I had called into question his professionalism, which also involved him threatening me, that "Queenstown's a small place" - implying that I shouldn't mess with him as he could make my life difficult here because of who he knows...which comes back to my original point and something that has fast become a cliché from my experiences here: "It's not what you know, it's who you know".

Having gone round and round in circles on the phone I at least got him to concede that the job advert didn't describe the role as being permanent, if it had I wouldn't have wasted my time and he wouldn't have had so many other pointless applications to wade through. This is the actual job description taken directly from the Lakes Weekly Bulletin:

Unless I'm mistaken where does it say "for New Zealand residents only"?

What really puzzled me was Mr Rowe's definition of a "full time job", to him this meant it was a permanent role - this is different to my understanding, and was particularly surprising coming from someone who is involved in hiring new employees. He claimed that people on working holiday visas that myself and Lizzie are on couldn't apply for "full time jobs", however, this contradicts the work we did in the Bay of Islands where we working up to 60+ hours a week. For someone who is involved in recruitment he should really get a better understanding of the difference between the terms "permanent" and "full-time" before trying to make someone who has taken an interest in an exciting job opportunity, feel like a second-class citizen. Overall it was a pretty disheartening response, especially considering the current situation with young Kiwis emigrating to Australia for higher wages and a better lifestyle, whilst those travellers who are willing to fill the gap in the market are overlooked.

To add insult to injury, once you've been in New Zealand for more than 183 days on a working holiday visa, you no longer eligible to claim all the tax money you have paid back, but only a proportion on the earnings where you've overpaid tax! So you can't apply for permanent jobs because you're not a New Zealand resident but you're not entitled to a full tax refund because you're considered a New Zealand tax resident - go figure!?!

Last but not least, some jobs tend to carry a gender bias and women might find it easier to get jobs in bars,   cafés or doing housekeeping work, whereas guys might find it easier to find labouring jobs or kicthen-based work. It's technically against the law to employ staff based on their gender, but it seems to happen more or less everywhere.

Queenstown is a fantastic place to live, however, it seems that it's the English expats who have come to New Zealand for a better life and opportunities, are the ones spoiling the experience for everyone else. As one friend quite rightly pointed out, Queenstown can be a bit of a C.U.N.ext T.uesday soup!

Once you've got over the hurdle of finding a job, don't expect to save much money especially with the combination of minimum pay work, part-time shifts and spending your wages straight back into the town. However, I guess its the "Queenstown experience" that attracts people here in the first place!

**Since writing this post, I've been lucky to get a couple of better jobs and although I stand by my original view, at least I've been able to try things that I wouldn't have considered at home, plus there have been some small perks of the job...**

It's not all bad when you're out and about picking up stock from the airport on a beautiful day 

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Glenorchy and Arrowtown

If the hustle and bustle of Queenstown gets too much, then there are a couple of charming, low-key townships which you can visit not too far away. In opposite directions to Queenstown lie the quaint towns of Glenorchy and Arrowtown.

Glenorchy lies at the head of Lake Wakatipu, which is a scenic 40-minute drive (45km) northwest from Queenstown. Glenorchy is the gateway to some of the finest tramping tracks that New Zealand has to offer including a circuit of the Rees and Dart rivers, the Routeburn Track, and the Greenstone and Caples tracks but apart from that, the township itself doesn't really have much to offer.

The area is also the site for the proposed Routeburn tunnel, which would carve an 11km tunnel through Mt Aspiring National Park to provide a more direct route to Milford Sound from Queenstown and reduce the journey times of the day trip, which can currently take up to 12 hours from Queenstown. The proposal has proven controversial as it would threaten the World Heritage Status of both Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks, as well as draw tourism away from Te Anau and increase traffic through Glenorchy, which is essentially an "end of road" destination, thus spoiling the wilderness of the area.

En route to Glenorchy, there are a number of tracks down by Lake Wakatipu for lakeside walks, historic sites, fishing or swimming. We stopped off at Bob's Cove (Te Punatapu) in the Upper Lake Wakatipu Reserve to walk a short nature trail down by the lakeside, which was part of the original bridle track to Glenorchy.

In front of the shore of Bob's Cove with Mt Nicholas and Mt Turnbull

Fortune Cove, or Bob's Cove, derives it's name from Bob Fortune, a boatman who worked for William Rees, who was an early pioneer in the area. It was also the site of a short lived but important lime quarrying and burning industry in Queenstown for agriculture and building materials.

Apparently, Bob's Cove is one of the best places to observe Lake Wakatipu's seiche (a french word, used in the context of an enclosed body of water where it sways back and forth), the phenomenon which causes the lake's level to fluctuate approx. 15cm every 5 minutes, although we didn't really notice anything. However, the tranquil turquoise waters were more what I imagined Lake Tekapo would look like. Getting down to the lake edge we were able to get some nice views of the Remarkables and Walter Peak (1,815m).

Bob's Cove looking across the Tweleve Mile Bush

The remains of a lime kiln and gum trees possibly used for fuel 

Limestone hill on the right with the Remarkables and Walter Peak

Continuing along the Glenorchy Road, we passed some opportune lookouts for stunning views up towards the head of the lake with Pigeon Island (Wāwāhi Waka) and Pig Island (Matau) in the centre of the lake and the snow-capped Humbolt and Forbes Mountains on the horizon reflecting the sunlight back at us.

The view from Bennett's Bluff towards the head of the lake

Looking west to the Hummocks and Round Peaks

Pig Island is the long and flat one and Pigeon Island has the mound

Starting off at the waterfront near the wharf, we walked the Glenorchy Walkway along the edge of the lake and through some wetlands along a boardwalk around the lagoon, north of the township.

The wharf at Glenorhcy with Bold Peak (2,118m) in the background

Stone Peak (2,130m) towering over Glenorchy

The twin peaks of Mt Earnslaw dominate over the head of the lake

Lizzie in front of Mt Alfred (Ari) and Mt Earnslaw (Pikirakatahi)

The general area has a strong connection with Lord of the Rings as it's provided a number of landscapes for the trilogy including Isengard, Lothlórien, and Ithilien among others.

View across to the Humboldt Mountains

Taking advantage of the first weekend we've had since the end of the ski season we drove back to Glenorchy as we wanted to walk the Diamond Creek track and see Diamond Lake (14.5 km north of Glenorchy), as well as venture into Paradise. The Department of Conservation has a fantastic leaflet called "The Head of the Wakatipu" with details on all the tracks around Glenorchy.

Second time round in Glenorchy, there was far less snow on the mountains but this didn't make them any less picturesque. Following the Glenorchy-Paradise road past the lagoon, we crossed the Rees River over a bridge before turning left, in the direction heading towards the starting points for the Routeburn, Caples and Green tracks.

Starting off at the car park from the Glenorchy-Routeburn road, the track was really soggy underfoot and I wasn't happy when my feet got soaked in the boggy marsh despite wearing Gore-Tex walking trainers! However, despite my complaining we were warned by the Department of Conservation office in Queenstown that there had been a lot of rain in the area recently.

Downstream from Diamond Creek towards the Humboldt Mountains

Lizzie with Mt Earnslaw behind her

The walk to Lake Reid took us approx. 45 mins, following the bank of the creek with Mt. Alfred opposite us and amazing views of Mt Earnslaw (2,830m) straight ahead. Towering over the Rees and Dart Valleys, Mt Earnslaw lies on the southern end of the Forbes Range.

Lake Reid looking across to Paradise and the Dart Valley

Clockwise: the West Peak of Mt  Earnslaw (2,820m), the Comsos Peaks (above) and, Mt Nox (1,940m) and Mt Chaos (1,995m)

Once we reached Lake Reid it was really windy with gusts blowing from the Dart Valley and across the lake. Looking across to Mt Alfred, Lizzie spotted a waterfall on the mountain on the opposite side of the creek. Having had enough of being blown around and getting our feet soggy we headed back through the swampy track to where we parked the car.

Sometimes photos don't really do the scenery justice

As we were on the edge of Mt Aspiring National Park I was particularly interested in checking out Diamond Lake and Paradise, as the area was used for some of the Middle Earth locations such as Parth Galen and Lothlórien in the Lord of the Rings films.

Driving back along the Glenorchy-Paradise road in the direction towards Paradise, the road became an unsealed gravel road suitable for most vehicles, unlike some of the other backcountry roads as you venture deeper into Mt Aspiring National Park. Crossing Earnslaw Burn, we approached the entrance to the national park where there were some signs warning us about possible vehicle damage on the road and deep fords, however, we weren't really sure what to expect.

Earnlsaw Burn looking over to Cockburns Bush and Reef Spur

Sounds ominous!

Driving alongside Diamond Lake we climbed up above the beech forest eventually reaching the River Jordan, a small crossing to negotiate in the car but we decided to heed the earlier warning and walked on from this point, however, there were quite a few people crossing the ford in your run of the mill, everyday vehicles - I guess as they say "He who dares, wins"...

Mt Alfred on the other side of Diamond Lake

It's getting biblical as Lizzie crosses the River Jordan!

Having said that, there wasn't really much to see once we were in Paradise as it was mainly farmland but we did catch a couple more glimpses of the snow-capped peaks of Mt Nox, Mt Chaos and Poseidon Peak. Again, as with most areas in New Zealand hyped up as worth seeing, it was a bit confusing to know where we should be aiming for.

The striking peaks of Mt Nox and Mt Chaos

The Cosmos Peaks and beyond into the Dart Valley

It was a bit of a disappointing end to the day, as we didn't really find a walk for Diamond Lake but this may have arisen because of some confusion with the research on my part. As it turns out there is also Diamond Lake in Wanaka, which also is on the way to Mt Aspiring National Park. Although a slight irritation, it has given us another walk to try some point in the future, as it offers some amazing views of Lake Wanaka, the Southern Alps (Kā Tiritiri o te Moana) and Mount Aspiring (Tititea).

Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town that is located 20 minutes northeast of Queenstown. The main reason why the frontier town exists today is because of the unwitting discovery of gold in the Arrow Rover in 1862 by Jack Tewa (a.k.a. Māori Jack), and not by William Fox, although it is debatable as to who the first person really was. This quickly brought prospectors along the Crown Range and into the Cardrona Valley where gold was discovered later that year. As a result the population of Arrowtown rapidly swelled from a few lonely settlers to 6,000 fortune hungry prospectors!

Arrowtown is also famous for it's trees, which are spectacular in autumn

The Arrow River became known as the richest for its size in the world - a reputation which drew Chinese settlers to the area, where they were shamefully segregated from the rest of the main Bush Creek community, as part of the inherent discrimination of the time. Many immigrants came with dreams of earning a fortune and returning home to their families, however, the harsh reality was that very few realised their dreams and often died from over working or poor living conditions.

After the initial gold rush, a more permanent town began to establish itself by becoming a farm service town. Although the permanent population declined during the 1950s, Arrowtown gained a reputation as a popular holiday destination. Today, Arrowtown still has the feel of an old gold rush era town, but tourism is now it's main source of economy.

Buckingham Street has a number of beautifully preserved buildings

Historic buildings include the Lakes District Museum and Post Office

As part of the 150th anniversary celebrations, hundreds of local residents took a step back in time by participating in a re-enactment of the discovery of gold in the Arrow River. Watching the action unfold on the bank of the river, there were gold panners, Chinese miners, horses, wagons, dancing girls and even a pop-up saloon and tent village.

Best costume and accessory goes to...
The iconic Post and Telegraph Office

Apparently, a lot of the grand buildings built in Dunedin were built on the back of the gold found in the Otago goldfields. There's still gold to be found in Arrow River if you're prepared to look hard enough for it! Back in 2006, a nugget about the size of a crushed egg was found, fetching approx. $15,000 NZD.

We stayed long enough to watch an official welcome by Arrowtown's Chinese community and the dragon dancers. The Chinese Settlement at the western end of Buckingham Street, has a number of heavily restored buildings, which are the best-preserved gold-era Chinese community buildings in New Zealand. Many of the buildings were only meant to be temporary but the best preserved building is Ah Lum's store (separately registered as an historic place). Ah Lum was highly regarded by both the Chinese and Europeans miners, and he was a pillar of the Chinese community.

The Chinese Settlement is considered an important historic site 

Life must have been tough in one of these huts especially in the winter 

The 150th anniversary celebrations continued into the weekend, coinciding on the same week that the "Lady of the Lake", the TSS Earnslaw celebrated it's 100th birthday. There was also a gold-panning championship over the weekend in Arrowtown, among other events.

One of the horse drawn carriages used in the re-enactment 

A nice walk to do in Arrowntown is the Tobins track, which starts off by the Arrow River near the recreation reserve. Crossing a wooden bridge over the river, it's a brisk walk to the top where you climb to where it plateaus up at the Crown Terrace. After about 40 mins you reach the top of Tobins Track where there is a trig station and some benches for walkers to have a rest and enjoy the spectacular views of the Wakatipu Basin and the surrounding mountains.

A marker in memory to Thomas Tobin
Tobin built the track as a route to Wanaka

View from Tobins Track looking back over Arrowtown and to Queenstown - click here to view in hi-res