About Us

Contact Us





First Chapters
September Issue
October Issue
November Issue
December Issue

by Helen Gilchrist

Photo: H Gilchrist
Before leaving home in October, I sat looking out on grey, wet and windy Cornish landscapes trying to imagine how this trip would be and how things would work out for me after Sarah left. I always seemed to end up living in some sunny, laid-back beach town, or surrounded by mountains, lakes and forests... Obviously these were but hopeful fantasies as I contemplated the unknown, and I knew there was no telling what might happen, who I might meet, and where I would end up. But it's certainly fair to say that I never thought I would settle in a 'transit centre'... a 'glorified interchange'... Yes, I'm back in the delightful city of Hamilton.

After all the picture-postcard panoramas, mighty snow-capped mountains reflected in mirror-like lakes, glaciers sliding down to sub-tropical rainforests, deserted white sandy beaches and translucent turquoise seas... I've laid down my bags and parked up a weary little sea-green Toyota outside a nice little white wooden house in the leafy suburbs of Hamilton - the motor-repair, shopping mall, furniture warehouse, building suppliers and billboard capital of New Zealand. And it looks like I'm here to stay - well, for a while at least.

Exhausted after a manic agenda charging around all the usual tourist highlights of the South Island in three and a half weeks, a whole night sitting in the car park in Picton waiting for the 5am ferry with our new Canadian friend Jim and a couple of bottles of red wine (we couldn't afford the luxury of a hostel!), and an 8-hour drive up from Wellington (with only a brief stop in Te Kuiti - 'the Sheep Shearing Capital of the World'), we arrived back here at our friend Craig's house absolutely shattered. We planned to kick back and relax for a few days while he and Ben showed us around some prime secret spots we would never have found in The Lonely Planet. And that was a month and a half ago. After Sarah left in early December, I decided to stay with them for a bit while I worked out what I was going to do next... and then 'a bit' became a week, then a fortnight, then a month... So, Hamilton is my temporary home, and I'm living with some people we met walking home at four-thirty in the morning.

Photo H. Gilchrist

The Kiwi festive season: different from anything I have ever experienced, yet familiar at the same time. It's hot, about 26 degrees, and the evenings are long, light and warm. Christmas Eve: slapping on the sunscreen, lazing about in the hot sun on a boat in the middle of a lake, leaping around on a wakeboard on the cool clear water... but there's still the last-minute chaos in town, no parking spaces, huge sticky hot-and-bothered queues at the check-outs, panic searching ('what the hell can I get Uncle Jock?') - fortunately for me I can avoid all this as the vast distances between me and my family, combined with the prohibitive cost of international postage, have excused me of the stresses of Christmas shopping this year.
And then there are the parties: they're going off all over town, celebrating the beginning of the holiday, old friends back home for Christmas catching up with each other - no different from England really, except that everyone's out in their gardens, on the beaches, suntans and summer styles, bar-b-ques fired up, and wheelbarrows stacked full with ice and cold beers...

Christmas Day: my friend Ben and his family have kindly taken me in, and it amazes me how strangely familiar it all is - it seems to me that family Christmas is the same the world over. OK, so the weather's different and we're sitting outside rather than inside, eating salads and strawberry pavlova rather than turkey and Christmas pudding... but there's still the age-old ritual of oohing and ahhing at presents (socks, sweets and soap alike), eating and drinking too much, afternoon naps and generation gaps (nana and grandad wincing over grandaughter's new belly-button piercing; the 'young-uns' disappearing to the park for a game of frisbee just as mum and auntie are beginning to talk about washing-up, and their restless itching to escape and hook up with mates and crack open a few beers as early evening approaches...) But its all good to me; never before on Christmas Day have I paddled along the beach at Raglan, watched the surfers in the spray-hazy golden evening light, o! r sat on a bar terrace in a T-shirt.

Helen Skiing

Christmas and New Year have always been renowned as the party season - but try mixing the party season, the beginning of the summer holidays, a beautiful beach town, hundreds of hormonal teenagers staying in 'baches' (the Kiwi word for a small beach house / shack) without their parents, weather hot enough for even the most modest to be forced to expose a fair measure of bare flesh... and you have a wicked and very amusing cocktail! We, along with this 'cray-zee' party crew, headed to the town of Whangamata (at the base of the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula) for a week over New Year. About twenty of us ended up staying at Craig's family's beach house, hanging out, eating and drinking (more!), messing about on the beach, surfing, fishing, kite-flying, petanque... but one of the most entertaining activities was watching the teeny-boppers (gosh I sound old don't I ?!) out in force, hormones raging, tanned flesh flashing, checking each other out in view of a quick 'pash' later on ('pash' = snog). Basically, if you're a young Kiwi male between the ages of 16 and 22, you ain't nothing without a pimped-out set of wheels loaded up with your cool mates giving out the vibe from behind their mirrored designer-label sunglasses. Shiny chrome, roaring exhausts, blacked-out windows and throbbing base are a valuable currency in the teenage mating game - these make the crucial difference between getting not! iced or not by the groups of girls in short shorts and low-cut tops as you cruise up and down the main strip clocking up your 'lazy laps'...

Sitting out on the deck one lunchtime we counted the same souped-up campervan roar past fourteen times in one hour! We also laughed at the even more blatant approach of six lads sitting out in their front yard on a sofa, watching the chicks walk past and giving them marks out of ten using large painted number cards they had made.

But us 'oldies' (over the age of 22) managed to enjoy ourselves too - even if we weren't 'pashing' on the beach outside the Surf Club, we were still mixing it up in Craig's basement and garden, getting creative with the cocktails (traditionally everyone brings a different bottle of something), dancing to some good tunes, and even a spot of limbo...

And then, midday on New Year's Day: sitting on the beach feeling a little fuzzy and delicate, super-sensitive to the relentless sun beating down, diving into the sea in an attempt to wash away the hangover... and thinking of my friends, twelve hours behind on the other side of the world, who would be just about at the peak of their revelries, drunken hugs, kisses, and the clinking of glasses as midnight strikes and everyone starts wishing each other a happy 2001.


Early January and I found myself still suffering from a hangover... only this one was metaphorical. After another fantastic week's holiday, camping, wakeboarding and bar-b-queing up at the lakes (in one of the most scenic, rugged and unspoilt spots my tent has ever been lucky enough to be pitched in), I'm back 'home' in glorious Hamilton with no money, no job, my friends have all gone back to work, and only because of their kindness and generosity do I have a roof over my head. It's hot and sticky outside and in, but I can't even afford to put petrol in my car and drive to the beach. It's not really my fault - everything grinds to a halt and shuts up over Christmas and New Year, making job-hunting near impossible - but, as I rattle around in an empty house, distract myself by swatting flies, there's no question that now is definitely the time to do something about it.

Desperate times seek desperate measures: the next day I'm out labouring for my friend's landscaping business - cap on head, spade in hand, shovelling soil in the hot sun. Once again, any feminist beliefs I might once have had are called into question: I don't think I want equality - there's no way I would choose to do such harsh, physically demanding work for a living if I wasn't struggling to earn my daily 2-Minute Noodles. However, I'm proud to say that I stuck with it for a good few days (well, three, to be precise) - until I saw in the local paper that the university was looking for teachers to give English lessons to its foreign students. Somehow, the idea of an air-conditioned classroom appealed more than a hot dusty construction site...
So now, for the moment, I'm a fully-fledged Hamilton resident and worker; paying rent, teaching our fair tongue to students from Asia and South America each day, saving up for my next adventure, shopping in Hamilton's many malls, drinking in Hamilton's many bars... and at least once a day someone asks me, 'so why did you end up in Hamilton of all places?'
© Helen Gilchrist 2001

< Back to Index
< Reply to this Article