It all started with LookSee Wellington.
This program offered all-expense-paid trips for 100 people working in the Tech industry to come and visit Wellington, the capital of New Zealand.
48,000 people applied. Only 0.2% of those who applied were invited, and I was not one of them.
Still, applying for a trip to New Zealand got us thinking about that place. And right now, the country I am in is a mess. We had some family members interested in leaving the US, and since the Huntress Clan has expatriated before, we started scheming.
Step 1: My Lady Wife Scouts
When we moved to Costa Rica all those years ago, Johanna went first. She toured the country to see where the cool places were, where we needed to avoid, and ask the locals about things we wouldn’t discover from Internet research.
This time, she did the same thing. She went from town to town, city to city, and thankfully, she was wrong about Wellington.
See, I loved the idea of Wellington from the start. It’s very cultured, theater is a big deal, all the best food and tech is there, and it’s the capital.
But, my wife worried, it’s right next to the bay. Tsunamis, and earthquakes, and a direct breeze from Antarctica. Hamilton, she thought, was the right strategic place to move.
She met Hamilton, and was nonplussed. She met Wellington, and was entranced.
So suddenly, I moved up my timetables.
Step 2: Take a trip to TechWeekNZ
Only four days after my wife returned, I left for New Zealand. We stayed together long enough to finish out birthday season (my oldest daughter turned 11!) and the day after, I got on a plane to make it to The Sales And Marketing Jam just in the nick of time.
A full 2 weeks before LookSee Wellington, the job recruiting event I was not invited to attend, there was a country-wide conference called TechWeekNZ. From Auckland to Christchurch, organizations and agencies in the technology field opened their doors and held workshops and panels. I showed up with business cards and resumes, looking to meet people and get a foothold in this faraway country.
Step 3: Dig Roots
We once applied for permanent residency in Costa Rica, because one of my sons is a natural born citizen there. But when it came time for us to leave this time, Costa Rica didn’t appeal to us. It’s very rustic, and so many things in the jungle want to eat you.
New Zealand, on the other hand, has no natural predators. It was only touched by human hands (according to some sources) one thousand years ago. Spiders and snakes will not surprise and kill you in New Zealand, but in Costa Rica it was a constant threat.
Leaving threats behind is what we are in the mood for right now, so New Zealand satisfied a lot of our requirements. I went there for three weeks, and took notes and made videos every day of my trip.
Day 1: Auckland
I left on a Friday, and after 24 hours of travel, landed on a Sunday, because New Zealand is in the future.
When you cross the International Date Line, you skip a day ahead. This makes time zone conversion very confusing; while we are technically nineteen hours ahead in Portland, what this practically means is New Zealand is five hours behind and a day ahead.
Leaving Portland was, I was surprised to notice, the first time I had traveled in 2 years. I’ve done lots of traveling in-state, but since returning from Costa Rica nearly 3 years ago, I haven’t even left the state of Oregon – so to make up for it, I went nearly as far across the globe as it is possible to go.
I remember looking out the window of the plane, after leaving PDX Airport, and seeing the St John’s Bridge crossing the river below. I smiled a big, goofy grin, as I recalled that climbing to the pinnacle of that bridge was once my greatest goal – and now, here I was, so very far above it.
Day 2: TechWeekNZ starts
After landing in Auckland, I caught a short flight down to Wellington, the capital. At the southern end of the North Island, next to a large bay, Wellington is also the capital of culture, food, and art in the country.
There were #TechWeekNZ events in many cities that day, but I targeted the Sales & Marketing Jam, hosted by the Kiwi Launch Pad. This organization helps New Zealanders transition into the US market through their San Francisco office, and into the rest of the world as needed.
You can read more details about the event in my blog post about #NZSMJ. TL;DR – great conversations on the movement of revenue through technical platforms and companies. Moral of the Story: It’s always all about the customer.
Day 3: I mispronounce things
New Zealanders are not prone to practical jokes, I assume, but I must have been the victim of one.
While I was eager to try the cuisine of this land, somebody said that Fish & Chips, a very popular local dish, were also called ‘Sharks & Greasies.’ I loved this name, and included it in the video above, as one of the 3 things I learned on my 3rd day. Afterwards, every Kiwi unanimously told me they had never heard of the phrase; but many of them called it the same thing: ‘fush & chups.’
Day 4: Meeting all the people
Drop my off in a room full of strangers with a pocket full of business cards, and I’m a happy man.
When those strangers work in a field I like, such as technology, I find myself having a jolly good time.
Day 5: Lost in a Grocery Store
This was the only real moment of culture shock that I experienced.
So many things in New Zealand are so similar to the States. Details are different, but for the most part, it’s similar.
The eggs – they were not similar. They tasted…much, much better.
Day 6: I get really high
While I had been networking so heavily, I hadn’t really been looking for jobs.
When I heard about a job fair at University of Victoria – Wellington, aimed at graduating students considering the tech industry, I showed up to see what it was like.
It turns out, ‘walking to the University’ means something very different when said University is nestled in the cliffs above the city.
Day 7: I take a trippy trip
There was, of course, a much better way to scale the mountains surrounding Wellington.
The Wellington Cable Car is a charming experience, taking students and pedestrians up and down the mountain.
For some reason, they have lined their tunnels with these trippy sets of light.
Day 8: Nourishing my inner introvert
After working so diligently on my networking, I needed to catch up on my client work. In addition to looking for people to meet and a place to live, I also had to take on additional clients to help fund my travels, and my nose needed to get on the proverbial grindstone.
I took a train north out of Wellington, found a small beach town on the coast, and set up shop in a hotel for a couple of days.
Day 9: It’s only work if you can’t leave
I wish I could say my weekend was mostly about relaxing, but with unlimited wifi, I spent most of my time at my laptop. I did get a few minutes of respite for this sunset view.
The sales funnels I made this weekend were really elegant, and I am particularly proud of them.
Day 10: Back to Wellington
The day was taken up with trains and buses. I took the train line into Wellington Station, then immediately hopped on a bus to explore the outlying suburbs. I went to Island Bay and Miramar, finding cafes to work from easily, with good wifi and great coffee.
At the end of the evening, I gratefully went back to YHA Wellington. This is, hands down, the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in. Excellent accommodations, friendly staff, great location, and superior in every way to the other hostels in town I tried during my stay.
I was a bit out of place there, with everyone else in backpacks and travel gear, and me in my dress shoes and pressed shirts (hey, I was looking to meet businesspeople), but in the true Wellingtonian fashion of tolerance, everyone was accepting of the weirdo that didn’t fit in.
Day 11: Cultural Education
My guilt had been growing with every day: after all this time in New Zealand, I still hadn’t been to any museums!
Not only are the museums excellent, they are all free, and open to the community at any time. Coming from America, where every organization has to make a buck off the populace in as many ways as it can, it was refreshing and comforting to see these cultural institutions perpetually open for public interaction.
Te Papa (‘Our Place‘ in Maori) told the story of New Zealand, geologically, botanically, and culturally. I learned of the Maori calendar, and the rise of the Pleiades, and the peculiarities of an ecology that was sheltered from the rest of the world for millions of years.
Like Madagascar, New Zealand evolved independently, without cross-contamination from the outside world. It is truly unique.
Day 12: Illuminations Galore
I went on interviews, met new people, and worked on client projects at the BizDojo for many hours.
When I walked into the BizDojo, Wellington’s premiere co-working space, I immediately felt like I was home. The layout, the people, and the quirkiness of the place enabled me to settle in like it was my office across the world.
Day 13: The Best View In Town
Before leaving Wellington, I wanted to climb Mount Victoria.
At this point in my trip, I did not yet know if I would return, or if I would continue to Auckland and back to Portland. So I took a hike in the early morning hours, and discovered the foolishness of my plan.
(Details in the video above.)
Day 14: Road trip!
I arrived in Hamilton to meet one of my oldest friends, an American who has been living in New Zealand for more than a decade.
As any good host who’s proud of his home country would do, he showed me around all of his favorite sites.
Adventure day part 3: Huka Falls, where Lake Taupo drains into the Waikato River, which narrows from 100 meters wide to passing through this canyon 15 meters across, and goes really, really fast. Every minute it spills enough water to fill five Olympic swimming pools. #waterfall #newzealand #bluewaters #hukafalls #taupo
During the road trip, my buddy had an eye infection flare up. He actually played an entire set half-blind, as the drummer in a cover band. So when we woke up at the beach, he gave me my first lesson in driving on the left hand side of the road. In a stick shift.
Day 15: I’m Driving! On the left!
After a while, I got the hang of it, but the windshield wipers were constantly on the go. (See the video above to understand why.)
We got back to Hamilton, I had another couple of meetings, got a haircut, and found a cafe with my two main ingredients: wifi and caffeine.
After a good workday, I had a very international moment when I got a Skype call from my friend Steven Shewach.
“Where in the world are you right now?” I asked him.
“I’m in Nepal! Where the heck are you?”
“I’m in New Zealand!”
We traded adventure stories about our travels, a mere 2 years after we worked side by side in an office in Beaverton. This world, it shakes you up, if you let it.
Day 16: Marmite.
I heard the stories. So I had to know.
Day 17: Geolocation confusion
It’s just not normal. There are redwood trees in New Zealand.
This was my first real experience with what terraforming must be like. In the early 1900s, a bunch of redwood saplings were planted near Rotorua to reforest after a fire.
This forest felt, and smelled, exactly like a redwood forest in Humboldt County, California. And it’s on the other side of the world.
For some people, this is no big surprise. You grow the same plants in a different place, you get the same thing.
But it’s not just about the plants. The energy of a forest, the flavor of silence that it has, the fairies that live there – a forest is more than just the trees, and this redwood forest in New Zealand was a bizarre replica. It felt just like a Northern California forest, and it was more than just the trees.
Maybe it was just the Coriolis effect messing with me.
Day 18: Back in Wellington
After leaving the forest, I went back to Wellington for a few promising interviews. I also tried, unsuccessfully, to crash LookSee Wellington.
Those 100 programmers that were invited, with all-expense paid trips, to come and see Wellington – they were around, getting interviews, and mingling at WREDA events.
I talked my way into one of them, met with some of the actual candidates, and quickly realized why I had not been selected:
These were serious programmers.
The ones that speak technical languages where you don’t realize there’s a language. Like the programming interface for handheld nose trimmers. Or missile guidance technology. Internet-of-Things level stuff.
And here I am, a WordPress website designer who helps people sell more of their stuff on the Internet, without any of these hard coding skills.
Maybe if I had weaseled my way into meeting the interviewing companies, I could have made some progress; but I was intimidated by the technical caliber of the candidates, so I went back to my client work, and the interviews I had lined up for myself independently.
Not only was I not qualified enough to be selected for LookSee Wellington, I also didn’t need it; I was already here in New Zealand, without the enticement all-expense paid trip to get me there.
I’m hoping that demonstrates a level of commitment that people find appealing.
Day 19: Blending In
I had three great interviews back-to-back, and treated myself to a steak dinner on my last night in Wellington.
While I was there, I ruminated on the tipping economy, something unique to the American experience.
Day 20: Back on the road
It takes a little more than a day to make the trip between Portland and Wellington. 28 hours or so. I left on Saturday morning, and arrived on…Saturday afternoon.
During that day out of time, you have to go through multiple security checkpoints, move your stuff from place to place, and spend lots of time sitting in very specific places.
After three weeks on the road, I realized there were just 3 rules I used in traveling, that accounted for most of my efficiency. (See the video above for the 3 tips.)
I’ll continue documenting our adventures on this blog. Stay tuned!