Top free things to do around New Zealand

It’s true: New Zealand can be an expensive place to visit. But there are definitely some free natural attractions to add to your itinerary. Here’s 9 free things to do/sights to see that I can vouch for.

Tane Mahuta, lord of the Waipoua Forest in Northland, NZ - NZ Muse

Northland

See Tāne Mahuta, our largest living kauri tree

It’s just a short walk through the Waipoua Forest to Tāne Mahuta, aka, Lord of the Forest. Stick to the walking tracks; the environment is delicate.

It’s free to visit; that said, the Footprints Waipoua tour is quite amazing, with Māori guides sharing songs, stories and insights.
Mt Eden summit crater - Climb a volcano!

Auckland

Climb a volcanic cone

You can absolutely take your pick, but Mt Eden is a popular one close to the CBD, complete with panoramic views and a neat crater at the summit.

Cathedral Cove - a must-visit in the Coromandel

Coromandel

Cathedral Cove

Magical is the only word to describe this beach. It’s a bit of a hike to get to Cathedral Cove, but more than worth it.

And a little further down the Coromandel coastline lies Hot Water Beach. At low tide you can dig your own hot water spa pool in the sand. But get there early and stake out your patch. Maybe bring a gang.

Huka Falls
By: Rick Rowland

Taupo

Huka Falls

The Huka Falls are our most-visited natural attraction. The roar and spectacle of the thundering waterfalls are just spectacular.

Te Papa Tongarewa - National Museum of NZ in Wellington
By: Jodie Wilson

Wellington

Te Papa

Our national museum is an absolute must-see, and entry is free. DO IT.

Milford Road State Highway 94
By: macronix

Fiordland

Milford Rd/Milford Sound

The Milford Rd leading into Milford Sound is just bursting with amazing sights around every corner. Waterfalls, the Homer Tunnel, the Mirror Lakes, the Chasm … the journey itself really is half the pleasure.

That said, you really need to take a cruise to see the best of Milford Sound (or a scenic flight, perhaps?), otherwise you’re just chilling at the end of a really long dead end, picturesque as it is. More on that part of our South Island road trip.

Pancake rocks at Punakaiki - NZ Muse

West Coast

Punakaiki

At high tide, the ocean sprays up through blowholes at the ‘Pancake Rocks’. There’s a lovely cafe across the road, too. Then drive north along the Great Coast Road; the stretch between Westport and Greymouth has been voted one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world by Lonely Planet. More on that part of our South Island road trip.

The "Nuggets" at Nugget Point
By: Will Ellis

Catlins

Nugget Point

Around Nugget Point you can spot yellow eyed penguins if you time it right. Plus, the coastline is magnificent. More on that part of our South Island trip.

 

Baldwin St Dunedin
By: Stine Homann

Dunedin

Baldwin St

Said to be the world’s steepest street, the sheer angle of Baldwin St is a bit mind-boggling.

What constitutes ‘real’ savings?

What is 'real' savings anyway?

I recognise this will vary. When we were broke uni students, a grand or two in the bank qualified as a little nest egg. These days, it’s probably something in the five-figure range.

The other day, though, I was carrying out a mystery shopping assignment at a bank. Part of my fake scenario was having ‘no real savings’, which was specified as no more than $30k max.

Call me crazy, but is that not sufficient to qualify as ‘real’ savings? That is a significant chunk of money. Particularly as I was also supposed to have a ridiculously small amount left on my fictional mortgage ($200k) so it’s not like I’d be saving hard for a down payment in this scenario. And, if you had much more than $30k, you’d most likely be investing it rather than have it sitting in a savings account anyway.

I tell you, I felt ridiculous sitting across from that bank staffer. I wound up specifying that I had $10k in the bank (the best lies are those that stick closely to the truth!) which she sort of chuckled/snorted at and said ‘that’s a lot!’ And I felt like apologetically adding ‘yep, had some help from the parents’ or ‘married a rich dude’ since there’s no way I would have that small of a mortgage balance at this age. It didn’t help that I think she thought I was even younger than I actually am.

If I’d been in her shoes, I would’ve hated me so much. She scored awesomely on the assignment, so at least there’s that. And who knows, she might have found out that I was the surveyor, and not a real customer.

How much would you say counts as ‘real’ savings, in your world?

 

Sometimes the best parts of life are also the hardest

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  Sometimes the most awesome chapters in life are also the hardest

A friend and I were recently bemoaning the fact that life never feels settled. We would quite like things to be stable and boring for awhile, thanks. But it seems adulthood involves accepting that things are never quite that easy.

In fact, some of the best times in my life have also been the toughest in other ways.

A couple of examples:

Last year felt good for me professionally, but was decidedly terrible for him workwise. I didn’t get to enjoy my hefty raise, as it went towards supporting us both.

Italy was my favourite European country to visit – yes, for the sights, but mainly for the food. Oh, the food – it changed both of our lives forever. And yet, it was also incredibly hard at times. We hit two real low points there: an awful train ride where I honestly thought I would need to continue on the rest of the trip alone, and getting lost looking for our first hotel in Naples, ending with a thrown backpack and a subsequent water leak. Oh, and  a couple of days later (still in Naples) I found myself crying on the street … the last straw was something like being unable to find anywhere that would sell me the train ticket I wanted.

Fate – it gives with one hand and takes with the other.

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I’m feeling a bit ranty today, guys. Bear with me.

  • Methinks we could build a hell of a lot of houses on a single golf course. (There are 3 within 5 minutes’ drive of my house, though I think we’re in a bit of a hotspot.) Why do we need multiple golf courses in the city? Move them further out!

 

  • WTF is up with the cost of building houses here? Yes, land is blood-curdlingly expensive, and the main component of house prices … BUT you can buy freehold houses for dirt cheap in, say, parts of America, and they cost a fraction of what a house alone here costs (at least a couple hundred grand). In short: house + land in some parts of the world < a house without land here.

 

  •  So, there’s going to be a study done on housing that includes a trial of minimum rental standards to gauge the effect on children’s health. FFS people, do we really need to test something like this?! I despair.

This week’s links

Our darkest financial fears

The plight of the blue collar male (in rich countries)

No big surprise: working at the Huffington Post is hell

Leaving radio, embracing podcasting

A few reasons to ignore Google

May eats: Mi Vietnamese, De Post, Ashoka, Salash Deli

There’s a definite theme to this month’s eats: value for money! Ain’t nothing I hate more than stingy portions. All of the below fall in the sufficient to generous range, getting our greedy guts seal of approval.

I rate this. Slightly soggy cucumber though. #lunch #nom #banhmi #latergram

A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

Mi Vietnamese, CBD

Lately there’s been a wave of Vietnamese eateries popping up in town! This one is the closest to my office and it’s not half bad. Huge banh mi (the mini size will probably do you fine) sandwiches bursting with freshness. My nitpicks: while I like the crisp baguettes, the bread to filling ratio is slightly off, and the cucumber is definitely on the soggy side. That said – I’ve yet to get over to Viet Sandwich, but for now these are probably my favourite in town.

Can’t forget the squid. #latergram A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

Mmm, mussels. #latergram

A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

De Post, Mt Eden

Although it’s known as the Belgian beer café, De Post also does casual seafood really well. Our simple salt and pepper squid was on the peppery side (which I like) and silky like rice noodles – we couldn’t eat them fast enough. The portion was just right for 2 as an entrée: generous but not enough to overdo it. But mussels are the star of the show here, and we ordered the Thai coconut curry version (our usual, it’s the best). This time it seemed like the mussel pot had been sitting a bit too long – it was a busy night – but still passed muster. Fun surprise: tiny little crabs hidden away inside a few of the mussels!

An Indian feast. #nom #nofilter #latergram A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

Ashoka, Hillsborough

At our local Indian restaurant – which is on the fancy side – we went for the banquet option: entrees, mains (four curries) and dessert. Quantity edged out quality – the meats were on the dry side – but everything was still reasonably good and hit the spot. And although I basically always have a sore stomach the morning after Indian food, that was not the case here. Win!

 

Messiest most delicious burger ever. #nom #nofilter #lunch #auckland

A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

Salash Delicatessen, Victoria Park

Two words: Messy yet incredible. My burger with chorizo patty and slaw was perfection oozing from every bite, beautifully tender and with hints of sweet and spice. I practically inhaled it all. Take more napkins than you think you’ll need.

Careers, compromise and capitalism

just a girl in a capitalist world

Time for the latest installment in the ‘loving your work’ series! (Previously: Can we all realistically expect to love our jobs? and The job-that-you-wake-up-excited-for propaganda.)

The TLDR version: It’s hard to not feel a bit hypocritical whenever I write about this, since I’ve always known basically what I wanted to do, followed it where it led and had it work out. BUT! I am married to a textbook Scanner who still doesn’t know what he wants to do for the rest of his life. At last, thankfully, I think we’ve weaned him off the ‘find your passion’ Kool-Aid (it’s so ridiculously pervasive). At some point I think you need to choose: spend a lifetime chasing that elusive and possibly nonexistent thing, or stick with something and be able to fund the other things in life you enjoy or aspire to, such as having a family, playing sports, travel.

We all know money matters

It may not always buy happiness, but a lack of it is a surefire path to unhappiness. Money, (or lack thereof) more than job dissatisfaction, sex, housework or any other issue you can name,  has always been the toughest issue for us. It’s no coincidence the two times that nearly broke us were during times of unemployment.

As this excellent Aeon piece on happiness/meaningfulness (worth a read in its entirety) observes, “Happy people say they have enough money to buy the things they want and the things they need.”  Security of employment/resources falls in the second most important tier of Maslow’s hierarchy; ‘self-actualisation’ is just the cherry at the very top. 

The intersection of money + career has reared its head for me again recently, with my change of direction and T finding, then losing what seemed to be a 90% dream job, followed by a good job that turned toxic.

T has always worked to live, rather than lived to work.  Certain material things and being able to spend somewhat freely are important. Dog, kids, motorbike, project car – these things all cost money. And here, they boil down to needing to buy a house (not to mention all the other things that make renting here a genuine nightmare). Oh, and that in turn ties back into needing even more money. We cannot afford to wait around for years for my husband to figure out a dream job (which I doubt exists for him), and he knows it.

In short, we have dreams, and none of those dreams come for free.

Find a job that lights your fire? Fantastic, but if not, well, you’re not getting any younger and at some point you need to stick with something. The recession and layoffs aside, you can’t afford to bounce around from low level job to low level job forever, never increasing your income, or your earning potential.

What if you don’t have a passion?

When you know how you like to spend your money, but not what you want to do to earn that money, to me it only makes sense to search out a job that fits your lifestyle.

I rather like the plan laid out by Marty Nemko in Kiplinger:

My advice? Unless you’re a driven superstar, pick a non-glam career that you’d be good at… Pick the one offering as many of these characteristics as possible:

  • Moderately challenging
  • Meaningful work
  • A kind, competent boss
  • Pleasant co-workers
  • Learning opportunities
  • Reasonable pay
  • Reasonable work hours
  • A short commute

At one point in his job hunt last year, I came across an advice letter penned by Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame, which seemed like it could have been written just for him. Here’s Mike’s response to a guy seeking excitement and flexibility but with steady pay; a hands-on type of person who hates offices and gets bored easily but wants to have a family at some point. No big ask, huh?

Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later, and be no worse off than you are today. But don’t waste another year looking for a career that doesn’t exist. And most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.

Harsh? Yes. But there’s truth in it. Job satisfaction is complex and happiness is not going to come from trying to figure out some inchoate passion. Every single job where he’s enjoyed the actual work has had major, potentially unsustainable inherent downsides. Lack of money/potential advancement. Physical exhaustion/danger. Less than ideal hours/schedule. And that’s before even getting to peripheral things like bad managers/colleagues.

As Penelope Trunk once wrote of his personality type, or very close to it: “The key to being a successful ENTP is followthrough. Because lack of followthrough is such a huge risk factor for an ENTP, it’s almost more important to followthrough on anything than to followthrough on the right thing.”

Finding happiness at work

Work is about so much more than your actual duties. There’s the environmental factors – commute, your physical surroundings, dress code, etc. The people factors – are you treated like an adult, does your boss micromanage, do you get along with colleagues? All these  intangible elements that can make or break working conditions, and that’s before we even get to whether the job offers variety, autonomy, challenge.

What we’ve come to realise is that in a way, this is a bit of a crapshoot. As my career hero Ask A Manager lays out:

I’d even go so far as to say that there’s no such thing as a dream job that you can truly recognize from the outside. Because as much as you think you might love doing that work for that company, it might turn out that the boss is a nightmare, or your coworkers are horrible, or the company makes you sign out for bathroom breaks and bring in a doctor’s note every time you have a cold, or you’re abused daily by clients, or your workload is so unreasonably high that you end up having panic attacks every morning.

Dream jobs do exist — when it’s work you love, at a company that treats employees well, working for a great manager, alongside coworkers who are competent and kind, or at least unobjectionable — but it’s dangerous to think something is your dream job before you’re really in a position to know.

It doesn’t have to be a choice between extremes – a $150k job you hate and a $40k job you love – there’s usually options in between. It’s hard to place any hard and fast rules on this kind of thing, but for example, I’d personally trade a ‘dreamy’ $50k job up to an ‘okay’ $80k job any day. (Adjust the numbers accordingly for your area’s cost of living…)

‘Do what you love’ is a nice philosophy and it works for some of us, but I absolutely detest it as blanket advice. At the risk of aiming too low, perhaps – just don’t do something you hate.

We rarely hear the advice of the person who did what they loved and stayed poor or was horribly injured for it. Professional gamblers, stuntmen, washed up cartoonists like myself: we don’t give speeches at corporate events. We aren’t paid to go to the World Domination Summit and make people feel bad. We don’t land book deals or speak on Good Morning America.

 
lthough my friends sometimes accuse me of being unromantic, I don’t believe in the concept of soulmates.  I just don’t think that there is one person out there with whom we are destined to spend our lives.  Rather, I feel that there are a number of people out there who could make us happy – See more at: http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/2013/09/23/how-to-love-what-you-do/?priorityCode=3969702399&cid=aff_cj_6150161#sthash.Sfp4gCaa.dpufAt the risk of aiming too low, perhaps – just don’t do something you hate.

Or how about letting your passion follow you? There is so much goodness to unpack in this Billfold piece on discovering job satisfaction, written by someone who was toying with taking up fulltime work in a field she volunteered in but came to realise that mission and purpose are not everything:

While I had always believed generally in the cause I was working for, it didn’t speak to a deep part of my identity. The day to day tasks, however, did excite me. I liked the variety, the creativity, the people I worked with, and the latitude I had in my role. I recognized that I had a lot more control and flexibility around my responsibilities than I had previously thought. I also loved my work environment, which included wonderful colleagues, a predictable schedule, and natural light. Ultimately, I realized that these elements were far more influential to my overall satisfaction and emotional health than working for a cause I’d believed in since I was a kid, but whose day-to-day responsibilities were a poor fit for my personality.

Life’s too short to starve for passion’s sake. It can be fun when you’re young but it gets old fast. Trading glamour/ego for more money/a normal workload is something I do not regret one iota. It’s also nice being on the side of a growing niche, rather than a struggling one – feeling positive and hopeful about lifetime career prospects rather than depressed.

At some point in my 20s, I came to the conclusion that I don’t believe in soulmates. I believe there are a lot of people out there we could be happy with.  If we waited for total perfection, nobody would ever get married. And likewise I suspect there are a lot of jobs out there that many of us could be perfectly happy with. I was pretty excited about all the possibilities when I started job hunting a year ago, and I hope I get to explore all those paths over the coming years (unless of course I lose interest in some of them, which is always a possibility).

Because don’t get me wrong: I need a lot of variety.  Honestly, even if traditional publishing wasn’t in the state it is in now, I’m not sure I would’ve stuck around forever. I was ready for a change.

Having grown up in this era, I started out with rose-tinted visions of some unicorn of a dream job. Now I’m older and wiser and perhaps a tad more cynical and mercenary.

“The work world has become a battleground for the struggle between the boring and the stimulating. The emphasis on intensity has seeped into our value system. We still cling to the idea that work should not only be challenging and meaningful — but also invigorating and entertaining. But really, work should be like life: sometimes fun, sometimes moving, often frustrating, and defined by meaningful events.” –  Po Bronson

Did you always know what you wanted to be/do?

Although my friends sometimes accuse me of being unromantic, I don’t believe in the concept of soulmates.  I just don’t think that there is one person out there with whom we are destined to spend our lives.  Rather, I feel that there are a number of people out there who could make us happy. – See more at: http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/2013/09/23/how-to-love-what-you-do/?priorityCode=3969702399&cid=aff_cj_6150161#sthash.Sfp4gCaa.dpuf

It’s not about what you DESERVE

It's not about what you DESERVE

The other day, I had to talk myself out of booking flights to Niue for next month. I tell ya, at less than $100 each one way, it was a tough call. After all, travel is my weakness.

Niue is one of the destinations on my bucket list, but ultimately it just isn’t the right time. Cheap flights are great, but accommodation is pricey (remote island, whoo! Niue tourism is pretty young still from what I can tell). And I’d like to go in whale watching season, which starts in July.

We already have a Japan trip later this year, T isn’t really in a position to take any time off, June will be busy at my job, and hello, recovering from a financial trainwreck. Niue is fairly close, I often see good package deals and I’m sure there will be more in the future.

But man, sometimes it’s hard to make the smart choice.

Don’t I deserve a break after a nightmare year?

If only life worked that way.

Doesn’t T deserve an awesome, secure, full time job?

Don’t I deserve a decent home to live in after enduring years of terrible rentals?

Hell fucking yes. But this ain’t the movies and people don’t always get what they deserve.  (It’s particularly galling when people around us have houses bought for them when/because they only have four grand banked or an unplanned kid on the way. That’s never going to happen for us.)

It goes both ways, too.

Did I really deserve to get paid more per hour to run around and stick up flyers at my first office job, compared to when I typed documents and made up invoices back at the office?

Did I really deserve double pay on weekend shifts at my first editorial job? (God bless unions.)

Did I really deserve not 1, not 2, but 3 dream jobs in a row?

But back to my original point. Much as I’d like to indulge in a tropical getaway right about now, working towards getting into a stable home where we can have a family and pets is way more important. EYES ON THE PRIZE.

When you get right down to it, we all deserve better – a better car, a better house, a better holiday – whatever does it for you. You deserve better. We all do.

That said, we also need to make savvy decisions about what and when we’re going to spend. The timing’s got to be right – otherwise we end up dissolving money in the near term and turning our backs on the opportunities we can take up for the long term.

– Sorted.org.nz

Wise words, right there. It’s hard to say no, but Future Me will be grateful for it.

What’s your ‘big prize’ right now?

Let’s be friends:


Is it time to start planning for kids?

Is it time to start planning for kids?

It’s really hit me that one of my best friends will most likely be off overseas post PhD – quite probably for good. ALL THE SADS.

I’ll miss him dearly, and he would be such a rad uncle, it’s painful to think he’ll miss out on that.

Aside from a few months back there when I was still on a post-travel high, for most of my 20s I’ve been sure I wanted kids. That’s really ramped up in the past few months. I can only assume it’s largely driven by the ever growing number of people around me getting pregnant and having babies – we’re entering that phase in life, I suppose.

I ain’t got baby fever yet … but to be quite honest, if our circumstances were different, I think I’d be just about ready to try. (Cannot believe I just admitted that.) It is so weird – like a switch flipped almost overnight.

But it’ll have to wait till we get many practicalities ironed out, which is still a while away, since I like being free of money stress a shitload more than I like, well,  just about anything else in life. (Yes, I know, there will never be a good time to have kids, but right now is definitely down the bottom of the charts. Regular readers know.)

I wholly believe reproducing is a privilege, not a right. That said, I was pretty horrified to realise that New Zealand does pretty poorly on the paid parental leave front – some other countries put us to shame.

Here, to the best of my research, are the parental allowances for NZ, Australia, UK and Canada compared. It’s all super confusing, so any corrections/clarifications gratefully accepted. (And yes, of course there are employers here and around the world that offer additional benefits privately – this is only the minimum allowances as per legislation.)

Parental leave - NZ, Australia, UK and Canada compared

** I don’t know any women here who haven’t taken at least a full year off

Sources: NZ / Australia / UK / Canada

The older I get the more I realise NZ doesn’t actually do very well on this whole welfare state thing. But I’ve known that ever since 2009, when T’s employer went out of business. I was a student making maybe $15-20k a year between student allowance and work, absolutely nothing in a city like Auckland, yet he couldn’t get unemployment. There was no way I could support a partner too on that kind of money, but basically if one person is working at all, the other is SOL. (Thankfully he got a sympathetic case manager and something was worked out.)

Anyway, circling back to my original point… The prospect of kids is still terrifying in oh so many ways.  But I’m starting to feel ready to tackle it. If nothing else, this was oddly reassuring.

Choose both. Choose the career AND choose the baby. Don’t put off one for the other. Choose both now and later and accept that you’ll be juggling for years no matter what you do. Even if you never have a career, you’re going to feel like you’re juggling. Parents juggle. Why not juggle things you love? Sure, you’ll have to work hard and make some sacrifices. Accept it and move forward.

 

The hysteria around these choices is off the charts. People will say, “Oh lots of parents regret having kids, they just don’t tell you about it.” Or “Working women are miserable” or “Kids with working mothers are anxious and unhappy” or “Kids will destroy your career” or “If you can’t give your children every ounce of your energy you shouldn’t have kids at all” or “You can’t be a real artist and have kids” and all kinds of other completely black-and-white, fearful, conflicted nonsense. I’m not inside other people’s heads, but the close friends I have who are in good marriages (like yours) and have kids AND engaging careers are some of the happiest people I know.

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NZMuse - Link love roundup with awesome reads from the week

 

Mad Max is the best action movie EVER. (I haven’t seen the originals and now I definitely don’t want to.) #thatisall

This week’s links

The state of patriotism in NZ. So true.

Privilege, illustrated

A super insightful into the different types of work stress

How to transition into a new job like a boss

Would you choose your education/career path all over again?

How to stop worrying and embrace the future

It’s so dang hard to just be happy/enjoy the moment

Happy weekends!

Introducing: The Blue Spring/Te Waihou (aka I live in paradise)

I had no idea this place even existed until recently. Know how I found out about it? Instagram! All in the name of work, of course.

Near the Waikato town of Putaruru, the Blue Spring is so ridiculously pure it supplies the majority of New Zealand’s bottled water. Photos don’t do the blue, clear water justice.

This was a quick stop for us on the way to Taupo so we parked at the Leslie Rd carpark to make it a 10 minute walk to the stream. (There’s another track from Whites Rd to the downstream part, which apparently takes 90 minutes to walk.)

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru