I returned to Nelson under the impression I had approximately one week to sort my life out. In the car park on the edge of town emergency sirens began to wail. Each mobile phone sounding off a slightly different alert. The government had announced a new lockdown in Auckland. The rest of the country would move in to a higher Alert Level. This, I hoped, would have little to no impact on my anticipated future. The problem with leaving your country, your life, and everything else to go and start again somewhere new is you have to start again. Start all over again. Somethings might be urgent, like figuring out what the hell you’re going to do with your new found freedom. Maybe buy a van, explore the country for a while. Worry about everything else later. There were things I had to do, which in hindsight may have been better to have considered urgent when I first arrived. Almost a year ago. If I was going to start work I would need a sequence of numbers that would allow the transfer of another number equivalent to a cash value from somebody else’s sequence of numbers. I needed to open a bank account, then I needed to apply for an IRD number so I could ensure the New Zealand government had the sequence of numbers to enable them to take a slice of my number equivalent to a cash value. These would mark my first steps towards ending the infinite holiday and returning to something more closely resembling normal society. There are no plans for further trips into the wilderness. I do not even have a serious day hike scheduled. There were more pressing problems, like did I need a permanent address in New Zealand to open a bank account? The answer of course was completely unclear. I made an appointment with whichever bank appeared to have the easiest account set up process. Waited over a week for nobody to call me back and made the phone call myself. Over the phone I asked if my UK address would be sufficient and amongst the obvious sounds that implied the answer was unknown I was also told yes, it would be ok. I had my passport, I had a bank statement, luckily I even had my National Insurance card. I emailed a copy of my e-Visa to the woman who would be opening my account.
In the morning I arrived at the local branch of ANZ minutes before opening. There always seems to be one person at a bank before it has opened, stood directly in front of the doors as if to question why the bank hasn’t already opened. Can’t they see I’m waiting? I stood a little further away, conscious of the fact we’re again required to maintain what should already be a normalised distance from total strangers. The doors opened and the small crowd tried to rush in. A member of staff stood at the door insisting anyone coming in either scanned the mobile track and trace sign or filled in their personal details. I joined the orderly queue and explained I had an appointment and was promptly seated at a desk. Alani of ANZ took my identification, confirmed which account was required, did I need a savings account as well? I might as well try to keep hold of some of my future earnings. Did I want my card issued today? What? “Today, I can get you a card now.” Alani said to my shocked expression. Banking has come along way since the 7-10 days for a card to be dispatched to your home address. A card today would be ideal, as having it sent to the UK would probably cause me a few problems. Within 45 minutes I had opened a debit account, a savings account, had set up my security details for online and telephone banking and had a card ready for use. That was a lot easier than expected. Next up, applying for my IRD number. First I had to go to the library, connect to the WiFi, then follow the instruction and submit an application. I faltered at the first stage. Are you a new arrival or a resident? Technically, neither. I read the small print. If applying after the date of latest possible entry into the country apply as a resident. OK, will do. The rest of the application was smooth. I submitted my personal details, including my home address in the UK. I had a small receipt from ANZ confirming I had an account. I uploaded copies of my ID. Now all I needed to do was go to the AA and get them to verify the ID did in fact belong to me.
For whatever reason the AA in New Zealand insists on form filling. There is a small cubicle dedicated to the various services you may wish to apply for. I had a look and the IRD applications seemed to be for a new application so I didn’t take one and joined the queue. At the front the first woman on the left of three counter positions asked me “how can I help?” “I need to verify my ID for my IRD application please,” “Ok, are you a new arrival or a resident?” Being an idiot I told the truth. “I’m neither. I arrived a year ago but I don’t live here.” She gives me a look like I’m rotting fruit. “Do you have an application number?” “Nope, I’ve just submitted my application online. Let me check.” No email, no confirmation. One of those classic here we go sighs from the woman behind the counter. “What’s your surname.” We go through the motions and she find my application. Then she takes my ID. Alright, we are on our way. “Where’s your bank statement?” “I don’t have a bank statement, I’ve only just opened it.” “I need a bank statement.” Frustration simmers. Nowhere on the IRD application does it say I need a bank statement, it states only proof of account which I provided. “You need to go to the bank, pay some money in and go and buy a bottle of milk or something then go back to the bank and get a statement.” Brilliant. “Ok, great so I’ll do that and come back.” “Wait, where’s your visa?” Again, nowhere on the IRD application does it ask for a copy of my visa. I start to wonder what the benefit of the e-Visa is seeing as everyone wants to see it. Why not stick it in my passport, what else did I pay all that money for? Off I go, depositing a $5 note into an ATM, going in to the nearest Night & Day convenience store to buy a single serving of orange juice. Instead of going back to the bank I go back to the library to get a copy of my visa and an online statement. Then I go back to the AA. This time I get the middle woman of the three counter positions. Of course, now we go through the whole process again. “What’s your application number?” Nope, still don’t have one. Her colleague advises they found me by my name earlier. I hand over the rest of my supporting documents. “You need to upload these online,” I pre-empted this. Checking my application again in the library to see if I could add additional information. I couldn’t. “I need to reject your application first so you can add the statement and visa.” I wonder why your colleague didn’t do that the first time I came in. The frustration remains but it is easing. Nobody here is at fault for the completely useless application process. I might have made things easier had I applied on day one. The government might make things easier for everyone by asking the public and the AA to check the same things. I go back to the library for the third time. Go back to the AA again. This time standing in a queue for almost 45 minutes as I’m now caught in the lunch rush I had tried to avoid. The final lady on the right of three counter positions laughs. I laugh too because it couldn’t have happened any other way. The only thing she says to me is “You should receive confirmation of your IRD number in 7-10 days.” The IRD website advises two days because of course it does.Utterly fed up with normal life I park my van in a car park in Nelson. I take a hot shower at the Superloo feeling somewhat relieved that the worst at least was over.
I took a trip up the road to my soon to be employers at Kentishman Hops. Guy and Krista had one man in with a dump truck spreading fresh gravel over the roadways. “They’re going to see a lot of traffic over the next few weeks,” Guy informs me. Another man, supposedly an electrician has his head in part of the barn. Krista shows me around, shows me the equipment, walks me through one of the hop gardens. She plucks a single cone, tears it in half, gives it a rub and sticks it under my nose. “They’re not quiet ready yet, but hopefully they will be by the end of the week.” Guy tells me what my job will entail, which he can obviously see makes no sense to me. “Don’t worry he says, it won’t take you long to get the hang of things once you get started.” I notice a pub in Upper Moutere on the way out, there’s also a garage so I might be able to get the Warrant of Fitness done on my van without having to take a day off. Then I move on towards Motueka. I catch up with old mates Kelly and Pike. Everyone I know is headed for the hop harvest. Either it’s the best job around or people have been influenced by my chat. We meet up at Kina Beach and walk along the shore to and from the vans. We stop in at the Motueka Beach Reserve, early enough to get two spots to spend the night. In the morning we head to the Smoking Barrel for lunch. Our start dates for work have been rolled back. The hops still aren’t ready. “What shall we do today?” I ask my friends. “Another beach day?” suggests Kelly. A proper beach day. We drive for half an hour to Marahau and start walking the end of the Abel Tasman Coast Track. We walk past the first few beaches until we reach Coquille Bay which looks nice enough for us to stop, swim, soak up the sun and then swim again. Kelly and Pike start talking about where to go for the night, what to eat for dinner. We’ll be too late to get in at Motueka but there’s another freedom camp behind town on the river. They say it’s good. I’ve never been. In the supermarket I’m inspired to buy better food, to make quesadillas. I definitely don’t eat as well as I could, maybe even as well as I’d like in the van. It isn’t that it’s particularly hard, just a pain in the arse. Without a fridge, the summer heat makes keeping leftovers impossible. Still, I have a small plastic tub with some mince in. That should be alright for one day. The three of us relax in a field on the bank of the Motueka River. There’s what looks like a semi-permanent hippy camp in one of the corners. “We’re all sort of hippy,” Pike states, profound like all of his truths.
There’s still time for one more day on a beach together. Having worked up here previously, Kelly and Pike know all the good spots. We go to Rabbit Island, get lost in the forest looking for a disc-golf course that sort of exists but sort of doesn’t. We give up and head for the sand. By now there’s sand between my toes, sand in my teeth. My clothes smell of sunscreen. My skin sticky with salt. We spread our towels over the sand. What else can we do when the weather is hot and the sea is warm? A steady breeze rolls over the beach preventing the temperature from getting out of control. I have to keep my t-shirt on. After a few hours on the beach in the Able Tasman my whitest man alive skin has burned. I could feel the tingling heat in my shoulders. Not enough sunscreen, too little too late. This is one of the reasons my hiking tan lines are so strong. Allowing the rest of my body to be exposed only ever ends in a minor disaster. Kelly and Pike strip down to their swimwear, the olive brown skin seasoned, able to soak up yet more of the sun. As the heat sinks in so the ocean calls. The large, shallow bay slopes gently North. Small waves ride the incoming tide, splashing up legs, over waist until at last the water is deep enough to dive in to. The sea is much warmer than the snow melt rivers I’ve become accustomed to. I stay in a while, swimming between the waves, trying to ride them along the beach. They’re not quite big enough. Soon the cool begins to deepen. Time to get out. I wade back to the towels wondering which part of me I will have burned today? Pike asks an important question “do you like to have a cold beer after a day on the beach?” “I do,” which settles another important question, what next? We head to Toad Hall for a pint. The end of our holiday on our holiday. Tomorrow is meant to be the final day off. I have plenty of things still to do, the list of chores seemingly endless. The important task is laundry but of course tomorrow is Sunday. Maybe I can get up and go. How many times have I said that and then not. I drift back to the Motueka River and put up with an errant football and algorithm driven dance music. I realise I’m tired of the still here summer crowd. I don’t want winter but I do miss how quiet places were.
In the morning I can’t find anywhere to park in Motueka so put off my laundry for another day. Which is possible because I’ve had another delay to my start date. I find somewhere quiet to park in the shade and read my book. An anticlimactic end to a half witnessed summer of adventure. I return to Kentishman Hops, a day early but if we’re having an induction tomorrow I don’t want to be late. As I arrive I expect to find some of my to-be colleagues already on site. Beside me are two vacant caravans and enough space for two more vans at a push. I am the first and only one who came for the night. I walk around the farm. Hard with it’s metal barn and fields not to think of those distant days in Curlwaa, or green trees filled with glowing orbs of orange. This barn doesn’t appear to have anyone living in it. There’s the smell of dust, and more faintly of hops. There’s home brew gear filling one corner. I put my cheese and chutney in the fridge. Setting down a small claim to important territory. There’s a chemical toilet, an outdoor shower. a couple of sinks. There’s a kettle in the break room, which is also in the barn. There isn’t a lot here but it’s a lot more than I would usually have. I listen to the cicadas buzzing in the trees. Wheels turn on gravel. Guy and Krista come and check in, make sure I’ve found everything. “See you in the morning,” they say and drive off up the road to their home. In the fields of hanging vines I look at the hops, smaller than I imagined but to my untrained eye there appear to be a lot of them. I hope for a strong, fast and dry harvest, with a healthy cash injection for the end. I come back to the van, watching the dying light paint a final masterpiece of orange and pink over the heavy blacks and lighter greys. I go to bed for the night. The first of what will be my longest stay anywhere since the first, and only national lockdown of March last year.