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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Gallier

NZ Adventure Chapter 7: “This is beautiful and all but I thought I was getting paid”

So much of travel writing is basically romanticizing something that is inherently uncomfortable. No matter how hard you try to make it feel natural, you’ll still wake up some days surrounded by strangers in a hostel, wondering where you can get some decent coffee and wishing you had your coffee maker from home. You’ll still stand in the bathroom, dazed and caffeine-deprived, staring at all your toiletries on the ground that you dropped due to the inevitably non-existent counter space that is so standard in hostels.

Yes, it’s worth it for all the happy, surreal, adrenaline-filled, and stupidly-funny moments that you can only acquire by being really far from home, but I’m not going to bullshit you here- sometimes it just straight-up sucks. Sometimes you want friends that don’t leave as soon as you get to know them, to live in one place for more than a couple weeks, and to have room for actual towels in your life (quick-dry towels are great and all but they’re just not the same…)

I bring all this up because although it’s only been a little more than two months, I’m ready to find a place to call my own for more than two weeks at a time. Fox Glacier was meant to temporarily cure my travel fatigue, but after a few confusing days I got a solid answer- I would not get paid in actual money like the WorkAway page stated but solely in accommodation. Because it was still cheaper for me to stay than to leave, and because I had traveled ten hours to get to the town I decided to stay for two weeks rather than the month I originally had planned on. I may have been scammed, but I’m glad I stayed.

I mean just look at this view....

The journey from Christchurch to Fox Glacier was one of those scenic, important-feeling journeys that really made travel feel as freeing as the hopeless romantics make it sound. The first part of my journey was on the TranzAlpine train. The roomy seats and spectacular views really made me understand why Paul Theroux was so fascinated by those giant chunks of machinery.

The second part of my journey from Greymouth to Fox Glacier was still scenic, but with the added rhythm of the bus driver’s microphone-amplified congested breathing (seemed like a nice guy and all but didn’t turn his mike off for the entire 5-hour drive. I have never been more thankful that headphones exist).

I arrived in the two-street town of Fox Glacier as the last person to step off the once-packed bus and up the road I trudged to Fox Pod Hostel and Inn. I checked in, bought some groceries at the extremely overpriced general store (the only grocery store in town), and was happily anti-social for the rest of the night.

The rest of my time at Fox Glacier was truly a testament to the saying “the people make the place”. While there were some truly beautiful sights in and around Fox Glacier (like viewing Mount Cook from the mirror-like Lake Matheson, the wave-weathered rocks at Gillespies and Galway Beach, GLOW WORMS, and Franz Josef Glacier from afar) I still would not have made it two weeks in the town without my fellow WorkAway volunteers.

There were hikes and the constant promise of mountainous views, but the town itself was pretty bare. It didn’t help that my phone broke a couple days into my two weeks. The shifts alternated from easy mindless work to work that made you lose your mind (like cleaning black and crusty oven racks with potentially dangerous chemicals).

The rainy days and long nights were survived with movie/TV show marathons, music sessions, cards, a game called ‘SpaceTeam’ (which is actually hilarious), and beers and games of pool at the bar downstairs.

After powering through our last shift we decided to hike Mount Fox, where I learned a very important lesson that I would like to bestow you with as well: Don’t be an idiot and try to do an advanced hike in tennis shoes…. Dumbass.

I tend to end things dramatically, so it only seemed fitting for me to almost slip and fall to my death on a tree root (at least I think that’s what I tripped on). It was near the end of the hike and I had already come to the conclusion that I was a dumbass for not bring my hiking boots (but they took up SO much room in my bag…) when I slipped and fell. I didn’t even have time to mentally register that I was falling before I was face down on a rock. Luckily, I didn’t break anything or die hitting my head on a rock, but it was not a subtle fall… (Something similar to this actually…except I flew forward a little more I think...)

I rolled back over and sat on the rock for a solid 10 minutes considering the fact that I could’ve died without even having time to register that I had fallen. I wouldn’t have even had time to watch my life flash before my eyes. Of course the best way to end any chapter is to have a near-death experience and to spiral hopelessly into an existential crisis…

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