Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Dunedin - Hostel Managing, working life, Manor Crew and the best 6 months!

As our time in Dunedin and the ‘work’ part of our ‘Working Holiday’ experience draws to an end, I thought I’d better write a small blog post to sum up the highlights and low-lights of our time here – our little Edinburgh-away-from-home.

Travelling through Dunedin way back in Feb/March, we always knew it would be a high contender for the live and work part of our visa. And when we saw the opportunity of a lifetime – Night Managers at a hostel there – we applied immediately, and pretty much was accepted immediately.

This made up our mind, we would spend the next 5 months working for accommodation, as Night Managers of Manor House Backpackers, this in turn would leave our daytime hours free to then find work in Dunedin city, and any money we earned would be saved, as our only out-goings would be food. So after our short final travels through Queenstown-Mount Cook-Christchurch-Kaikoura, we took a bus down to our final destination for our time in New Zealand.

And boy has it been a good one! So our time at the backpackers has been great, it’s expanded our knowledge of a larger working backpackers, we’ve worked paid shifts during the days too for when the day manager or weekend manager have been off. It’s developed more skills on top of where we worked in Surat Bay and we’ve brought skills we learnt there, to the backpackers here. It started off a bit iffy as we wasn’t sure if we would be staying as Mario (the previous Night Manager) had decided not to go to Australia and stay. Which meant we would have to move to the sister hostel in Christchurch. Once we had researched it and accepted our fate, Mario then changed his mind and said he wanted to go to Christchurch – gah! So the first week was a bit up and down on the stress scale, but once we knew we were staying we could begin to settle in!

Manor House is a home-away-from-home, split over two houses, it allows for around 75 guests when at full capacity – so it’s a pretty big responsibility! We had our own bedroom in exchange for 4 hours work in the evenings 5-9pm, and then we are ‘on call’ for late check-ins/emergencies, which luckily wasn’t so bad – just the odd drunk phone call at 3am as they’ve forgotten the code for the door, or because guests can’t sleep due to other guests having a loud party; that kind of thing! Our key responsibilities were to check people in, finish off laundry if it had been busy during the day, make sure people adhered to the noise and alcohol rules after 11pm, a general clean-up of common areas and just be around for help or information about Dunedin. So it hasn’t been too hard, and it’s been great meeting lots of different people! We were accepted immediately by the hostel manager Carolyn who became a friend by the end of our stay, and by the owner Belinda (Manor House was one of 3 hostels she owned) who was again more of a friend than a manager whenever she came to visit.

We’ve had some amazing people who have become friends for life pass through and we’ve had some characters and a half, come through and luckily leave pretty swiftly! Our main group has been the cleaners, who also work for accommodation, and the long-termers, who live at the backpackers while working. We’ve all had some great moments, whether it was a rare night on the town or baking Sundays, and towards the end we started doing weekly ‘Around the world’ dinners, where everyone would cook something traditional from where they come from. We had Chilean, French, Korean, UK, German, Japanese. It’s crazy but when you live and work with people you build such an intense friendship they kind of become your adopted family, everyone’s personalities just fit together and we miss everyone terribly, we had such an awesome family, and even just the people who passed through for a few nights tended to fit into our little group. It was the kind of hostel you came to for just a night and never wanted to leave, so you end up extending and then just staying! Sophie my little Frenchie bestie, even moved out into student accommodation and missed it so much she paid a large fee to get out of her bond after a week and come back to Manor House to live in a dorm for the duration of her internship.

While we were in Dunedin we had various day jobs. We signed up to job agencies and at first just took what we could. Our first job was taking email addresses at Race day. Then pretty much a week after we arrived I was offered one of my best jobs as a receptionist for the biggest Law Firm in New Zealand, Galloway Cook Allan, which was only a 5min walk from the hostel. They were known for taking on high profile and big money cases and also lawyers for famous people. In fact even two of the lawyers who worked there were high profile people themselves. One was a former Wales and All Blacks Rugby player, the other was a famous Cricket player who worked at the firm during the off-season months. I worked alongside Heather, who became a very good friend during my time in Dunedin, and the position paid pretty damn well for a temp position. 

Unfortunately it was only for a month while they waited for a new starter, but it was a fantastic month and one that proved how welcoming, interested and friendly the Kiwi’s were. They were such lovely people and the whole company made an effort to really get to know you, on my last day during post rounds it actually took me an hour to get back to the desk because everyone wanted to just stop working and talk to me about my next ventures and my previous travel etc. Even the top lawyers and CEO of the company. They gave me a lovely gift at the end to say thank you and it really was a pleasurable job, I actually didn’t mind getting up for work everyday; the highlight?! I got to meet pretty much every high profile All Blacks Rugby player! Their lawyer worked at the firm and they were playing against Wales in Dunedin (which we managed to get tickets for!). So of course while here, they visited their Lawyer, and I was even making chit chat with one in the lift! My god they were handsome, however I wasn’t really sure who any of them were, so when each one came in me and Heather would take their name, perve, and once they were in with their lawyer, frantically research them online. Unfortunately as we had to be professional, I couldn’t take pictures, but I got to see them daily load their tour bus as the hotel was also opposite the office.  

Then I was unemployed for around 3 days, and on my birthday of all days, was called in for a 3 week stint at an Apple-Packing factory. It was possibly the worst 3 weeks of my life, mainly because due to the working conditions (working in 1-2 degrees, standing all-day and repetitive motions) my back completely gave in and i was in agony, subsequently having to seek a chiropractor for the rest of my time in Dunedin. However, it allowed us to continue saving and was a job after all. My job was to basically check apples that had been packed at an apple orchard, to check for deformities before we re-packaged the good ones to send off for shipping to places like Asia, the US and the UK – in fact we packaged apples that were to be sold in M&S! I also had to wear about 5 layers of clothing, hat, scarf and two pairs of gloves because it was so god-damn cold in the warehouse!!

Then I was called in by another agency after about a week of being unemployed, to be an administrator for WellSouth – a mental health practise. Again the wages were super high, but the work to begin with was pretty dull – basically data entry of patients from a surgery that had been closed. It was originally for only around 1 week, but they ended up extending me for a further month and a half, and then they were like, sod it, you may as well stay til you leave! So they just found me any kind of jobs they needed doing, like reception cover, clearing out and sorting a cupboard that had become a dumping ground and odd admin and HR roles. They were also just as good to me, I got two sets of gifts as they never knew when my last day would actually be. My manager, Kim, was awesome, again became a friend more than a manager, and the staff were all super friendly. Again it was just opposite my favourite coffee place down from the hostel and round the corner from Galloway Cook Allan, so all my roles really had been perfect! During this time I also worked some 7-day weeks (plus coming home to then also work in the backpackers in the evening as Pierrick often had evening work!!) as the other agency found me some weekend cleaning at the student accommodation up at Dunedin University, and I was a traffic controller at the Cadbury Chocolate Festival (they have a Cadbury factory in Dunedin). We also between us worked weekend shifts at the Hostel if the weekend manager was off. So for a period it was pretty intense work-wise but we were racking the money in so it was all worth it – we still have half of that money in the bank, even after all the travel since!  In total, due to saving on accommodation, we left Dunedin with around $18,000 NZD.

Pierrick managed to find odd temp roles, such as in a coffee factory, removals, and at a chicken farm – which was his worst job ever! Basically all day shoving chickens into cages to produce eggs. He then found a more permanent role at two cleaning firms around the town, one specialised in public areas and private office spaces, the other was based at the university buildings. He also was the main one to work the day shifts at the hostel, if ever Carolyn needed us, so he got a lot of experience there.

Part of the fun of the hostel as well, was that we got to go on all the tours we sold at the hostel – for free! Obviously, in the hopes we would sell some. So we got a Cadbury Chocolate tour, a Speight’s Brewery tour with a tasting (basically all you could drink beer and cider in half an hour!), and a Dunedin City Sights, Otago Peninsula and Larnach Castle day-tour. They were amazing and it was such a cool thing to have as perks of the job!

Dunedin itself was such a wonderful city to live and work in. It’s classed as the 2nd largest city on the south island after Christchurch, however it feels more like a town! It was settled by the Scottish, hence it’s name (means Edin on the hill – the other name for Edinburgh) and has the oldest church and oldest university in New Zealand and the steepest street in the world. It’s got two beaches, plenty of hills and local hikes, plus it’s close to Tunnel Beach (some stunning coastline), the Catlins where we had just come from, and it has the Otago Peninsula – which is home to some of New Zealand’s best wildlife! Albatross, Seals, Sea Lions, Blue and Yellow Penguins, and in the right seasons, Whales and Dolphins! Even the people speak with a Scottish twang – they roll their ‘r’s’ more than others in New Zealand. Its true they have a very distinct accent. In fact, I think it was living there that has given me the ‘twang’ everyone keeps saying I have! In fact, if I could choose anywhere to settle in New Zealand, it would be Dunedin. It’s beautiful, it’s small, the house pricing is low, it’s off the major earthquake fault-lines, it’s got great beaches, an airport and it’s close to most places on the South Island – especially Central Otago and the Mount Cook area. It also has some pretty epic street art, coffee houses, a great Farmers market and some cool events each year. Am I selling it yet?!

I have to say the 5-6 months we spent in Dunedin were just as epic as the months we spent travelling, and we gained a family, a home, jobs and memories for a lifetime. When we left, our family gave us a great art piece full of some of the best memories at the hostel, I couldn’t list them all but here’s some of my favourites; the gallons of Mojito and Sangria we used to make on our rare one night off a month to have a hostel party, seriously, we had about 14 litres plus beer one night (Sophie’s leaving party) and making Pavlovas, our baking days too. Nights down at the Pool House. Per the crazy German in his tent (he camped outside in his tent instead of staying in the hostel as he preferred it), he was working too – madman! Nik falling asleep on the toilet one night as he had so much to drink. The Irish gang who came over the Rugby period and destroyed the place/were loud/sick everywhere. Trying to go up to Mount Cargill but ending up getting lost and going the other side of it, with two car loads of us! Jamie the OCD cleaner who we often clashed with, who was also super camp and used to annoy the hell out of everyone with his hyperactiveness; one of his finer moments, getting in bed with a poor guy and shouting ‘the door is open!’ Mario the old manager’s bad choice of music in the kitchen every night. The characters who stayed at the hostel; Rainbow man – a hippie who was doing the marathon and who dressed in colourful clothes and was like a wizard, Teacher woman who was from England and kept saying how the UK was better than New Zealand (even though she hadn’t been home for 10yrs and she knew best and also decided to sleep in the corridor as people outside her room were ‘too loud’, Porno Man, who was in his 50’s and used to watch escort sites outside the female only dorm room. And just so many more!

Dunedin will always hold a special place in my heart and I miss it so much, however I don’t think it would be the same without the people we met, our Manor House crew; Sophie, Consuelo, Nik, Eri, Clare, Rob, Lee, Luisa, Laura, Ana, Luke, Per, Harry, Marine, Carolyn, YeonJi, Camille and everyone in between no matter how small a time you were with us – You guys made our year!

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