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New waves in New Zealand

Betsy Welch
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily
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Editor’s note: Betsy Welch, a former Spanish teacher at Vail Mountain School, is traveling to New Zealand and points beyond this winter. Each week, we’re running an article and photos about her travels.

My first job at the Karioi Lodge is weeding. Generally in a garden setting, weeding is straightforward: Look for the plant that doesn’t belong. When veggies or flowers are the desired outcomes in the garden, spotting the undesirables is a relatively uninspiring task, but it’s one that leaves the green thumb feeling satisfied and hopeful for the future harvest. In New Zealand, however, I have no idea what a weed looks like. In my opinion, there are no weeds ” each stalk, stem and shoot of flora seems integral to the circle of life. So when I do begin weeding, it is no surprise that the soft-leaved little plant that I begin to attack with the passion of someone who is hellbent on impressing her new employer is not in fact a weed but rather the beginnings of a lovely pinkish-purple flowering plant called foxtail. Oops.

I learned that what I was picking was a flower and not a weed from Charlie, one of the proprietors of the lodge. He’s a surfer dude from California who moved to New Zealand eight years ago and started the Raglan Surf School. I’m staying about 7.5 miles from Raglan, up the road in Whale Bay. A fortunate connection via an employer of mine led me up the driveway to the Karioi Lodge, where Charlie and his wife offered me cheap lodging and the chance to pay it off by doing odd jobs around the camp. I feel spoiled to have landed in such a spectacular spot. My day yesterday: cleaning the Lava Lounge, one of the luxury accommodations here at camp, with three other girls (one English, one Kiwi and another American) and then celebrating our accomplishment by digging into a healthy spread of leftovers courtesy of the last guests and raising a glass of New Zealand red wine to our multinational cleaning effort. After that, I went surfing.



I have never traveled anywhere ” domestic or abroad ” with the ease I have experienced here in New Zealand. People whose job it is to offer assistance in any way ” the people at the airport desk where the sign simply reads “Airport Help,” for example ” actually do want to help you. At the library, I was given a 30-day membership with no background check or inquires into my legal status or past library history. Each time I have extended my thumb for a ride into town or to the beach, somebody has pulled over and opened the door to me, probably having been carless once themselves. My confidence is heightened with experiences like these, especially because I have managed to escape the backpacker scene so early in my journey. I have climbed up and over the oft-repeated conversations and questions that naturally arise when you are meeting people in a foreign country for the first time, and now I am perched on top of the fence, the horizon pregnant with the possibility of meaningful relationships in this new place.

And so I wake up each day, ready to tackle a new job at the Lodge ” brushing the cobwebs from the rafters of the backpackers’ kitchen or changing the sheets on one of the beds or even mistaking flowers for weeds ” or to take on a bigger wave out in the sea, and then it’s easier to hop over that once-intimidating fence and hang out on the other side.



Contact Betsy Welch with suggestions, comments and publishing contracts at betsyjwelch@gmail.com.


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