TRAVEL & LIFESTYLE

Traveling New Zealand By House Sit

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

I’m not sure who has the most fun me, or them.

It’s no secret, New Zealand is expensive. An island nation at “the end of the world” it’s one of the most expensive places I’ve ever been. That’s why I planned 3 – 4 weeks, originally. Then Covid hit, and, well. I’ve been fortunate to pick up a lot of house sits. Not only have they allowed me to reduce accomodation costs to virtually zero, they’ve also allowed me to see many places and feel more of a local than I otherwise would have. Another advantage is feeling like I have a semblance of home, instead of a hotel or hostel, which can be comforting when on the road for long periods of time. The only problem is falling in love with pets that aren’t mine, and then having to leave.

Frank with one of his favorite toys

Christchurch With Frank

One of my first house sits was for Frank. He’s a labrador and lives in a lovely home in Christchurch. I was warned that when I arrived, he’d have a scary bark, but if I spoke nicely to him, he’d quickly accept me and let me open the house gate. Frank taught me a lot about boundaries and sticking to my guns. He has some of the most compelling puppy dog eyes I’ve ever experienced. He knew when I was leaving his house without him and looked like he would cry. I had to persevere. I was told he sleeps outside, but when I put him out, he ran to the front door and tried to come in the house. Gulp. When he came in the house by day, he wanted to play and cuddle, and one day stole my unripe avocado from my bag and ate it. I gave him a stern talking to, and he expressed remorse for a good two minutes. Frank also let me discover more of Christchurch with friends. I got to the International Antarctica Center which was a real highlight, discovered new neighborhoods via the tram and learned how earthquake-ready the new Christchurch is, and walked through the beautiful parks around the city. I saw a more residential side of the city than I had before, as well as getting to sites and activities I really enjoyed, including the Christchurch Adventure Park which displayed one of those crazy alien monoliths at the time!

“Traveling through the country, surrounded by love.”

New Plymouth With Meg And Wave

House sits are harder to come by in the rest of the South Island. I guess nobody leaves home. So, my next house sit was in New Plymouth. I had the pleasure of looking after Meg, an elderly cat, and Wave, an elderly dog whose gone senile. Despite their quirks, they were absolutely lovely. Meg is very chatty, and we’d spend a lot of time talking over a TV show and hanging out on the couch. She’s a very picky eater, so I followed her like a Jewish mama after each meal asking her to please eat some more. She obliged, a little. In between cuddles and meals, I discovered the town of New Plymouth. Perhaps even more important, I conquered a fear.

Meg the cat, and Wave the dog

Photograph by Heather Markel, Copyright 2021

In 2018, I used a rental bike, a normal bike, in a small village in Vietnam. I fell off it in between a huge truck and a drop into a stream below. It could have been a bad accident. Luckily, it was worse mentally than physically. However, since then, I haven’t been able to use a bike. New Plymouth is full of scooters. I signed up to use one through the Blip app, and unlocked the nearest one, along the boardwalk, which is flat! Very helpful. I had to ask a cute young guy to show me how to get the thing started since there were no control buttons. I was very wobbly and almost gave up. And then, after a few minutes, I’m not sure what happened, but I was putting the pedal to the metal (maybe a few kilometers per hour at max speed) and loving it.
I went from one side of the boardwalk to the other. I stopped for a coffee at Paris Plage, a lovely hut overlooking the water, explored much more than I could have on foot. I found a wonderful dock from which I got a boat to see the Sugar Loaf islands. I met a couple of guys who caught a huge Marlin that weighed over 112 kilos. Because of Meg and Wave, I visited Mount Taranaki, (and learned the hike up is grueling and I’m in no shape to attempt it!) and the beautiful Pukekura Park in the center of town.  I figured out the local bus system and rode to town to enjoy a coffee someplace local. New Plymouth began to feel like someplace I could hang out instead of a touristy town.

Napier And Luca

Next up was Luca, in Napier. Funnily enough, I’ve been a dog person most of my life, and am highly allergic to cats. (I’ve been popping lots of allergy medicine while here.) It turns out, day-to-day, cats are much lower maintenance than dogs. However, Luca, it would appear, thinks he’s a dog. Rather than run off when I was home, he liked my company as well as some cuddles. He would oversee my garden watering duties, and, when I cooked at the stove, put his front paws on the counter-top to see what I was making, and surely wanted to eat it. Luca’s mom left me the use of her eBike. This was a step up from the scooter, and I was quite nervous about it. Somehow, the scooter in New Plymouth, combined with the mostly flat ground that makes up much of downtown Napier, gave me the courage to get back on a bike! One that can scoot off at warp speed, no less!

I was wobbly at steering to start off, and ultimately began to feel much more confidence! I rode an hour out to see the Star Compass, a highlight of my trip. It’s a Maori compass I had missed on my Christmas visit. Staying with Luca also meant an easy ride on Sunday morning to do a sunrise yoga class by the sea. I even rode that bike to neighboring Ahuriri for a dentist appointment and enjoyed a drink and some tapas at The Urban Winery….I got to go to the modified Art Deco festival and hike Te Mata peak with friends. I even got out to Cape Kidnappers to see the local Gannet colony, a beautiful site.

Auckland With Schengen

Most recently, I looked after Schengen, a young kitten, in Auckland. She is an absolute love. I believe she thinks she’s human. She drank water from my glass, stared at my silverware as if trying to figure out how I was eating with the fork and knife, and wanted to know what was happening in the room with the toilet. Not only is she outrageously cute, she’s also a complete love muffin. I carried her in my arms a lot, and when home, she slept on my lap much of the time, and put a protective paw on my arm when cuddling, and even slept by my head. She was the hardest to leave, and I still miss her.
It was difficult to leave her, but my time with her allowed me to discover Devenport, a lovely town where you can stare out to the sea, or meander in boutique shops. Nearby I walked up Mt Maungauika and found stunning views of Auckland as well as old military canons. Another day I found the delightful town of Howick. In some ways, it reminded me of Kerikeri, quaint, full of locals, and very laid back.  These are suburbs I would never have heard of if not for my time with her. I’ve been to Auckland before, and yet it felt like being there for the first time, all over again.
I’ve found that my house-sitting experiences have introduced me to the hidden neighborhoods I wouldn’t have seen as a tourist, to new neighbors I would never have otherwise met, and beautiful views I might never have seen.

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