What a year 2018 was! I came back to New Zealand after nearly two years in Latin America and the adjustment was more difficult than I expected. It wasn’t only the fact that I could now drink water directly from the tap or that I needed to remember to put toilet paper in the toilet (rather than in a separate bucket).
My two main reasons for coming back were that I missed having a community and I wanted to get a part-time or contract job to boost my savings (going to Antarctica was amazing but it wasn’t cheap!).
The original plan was to house sit for a few months, try out some areas then rent or buy a home base. What actually happened was a year of house sitting (with no base in sight).
Meeting new friends in a new place proved trickier than I thought it would be. The job never happened as the Christchurch job market is vastly different to the Wellington market.
Let’s start from the beginning . . .
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
My year started off in the sea side town of Puerto Vallarta. I had done a wonderful house sit here the year before and wanted to come back and visit friends – both four legged and furry.
I was staying with a friend of a friend, who I was helping with the care of the rescue dogs that she looks after.
2019 started with me falling for Lucy – a beauty of a sheep dog. If I could’ve bought her with me to New Zealand if I would’ve.
I wanted to like Mexico City, I really did. But I didn’t. It might’ve been that I was now on my journey back to New Zealand or that I was leaving behind lots of lovely people in Puerto Vallarta. It might also have been that my first walk in the city saw me stroll past the prostitutes lined up a block away from my apartment (a bit unsettling) or the fact that I got yelled at because I wouldn’t give money to a random guy who demanded it from me.
Never a good way to start.
It wasn’t all bad news as I got to see some beautiful buildings, catch up with a friend and see the Mexico police in full riot gear.
One of my main focuses while in the city was to find a pair of covered shoes. I’d given all but one pair of open weave shoes away while in Puerto Vallarta and I was about to head to the chilly US for a conference for a couple of days.
I didn’t have any luck so I rocked the stylish look of socks with sandals when I went to the conference. Boy do you wish I’d taken a photo of that look!
Annapolis, Maryland (US)
During the previous year I’d been part of an online business group. The group program finishes with a live event. Living as I do I usually miss out on these events so I was determined to go to this one.
The weather had other plans…
There was a snow storm in one of the airline hubs which meant that the air hostesses weren’t where they were meant to be. Despite many of the passengers volunteering to fill this role we had to wait a few hours for the second hostess to arrive then we were off!
My plans of meeting my online friends in the hotel bar were dashed but a friendly local, who I’d been chatting to while waiting for our flight, gave me a lift to my hotel. I arrived rather bedraggled and grateful for one of the most of comfortable hotel beds I’ve ever slept in.
Between talks I got to explore Annapolis. That sandals and shoes combo worked a treat even though the streets were icy.
I couldn’t head back to New Zealand without an adventure in a completely new place. Hong Kong!
The hotel staff kindly upgraded me to a sea view room which was a real treat.
The next few days were spent exploring, eating dumplings and doing a spot of shopping. I even tracked down a Pret a Manger, a favourite café from my time in the London, and treated myself to a lobster sandwich and a love bar (think chocolate, caramel and pistachios).
My quest for a new pair of running shoes continued. Well until the eyes of the young sales guy I spoke widened and he exclaimed “We don’t stock anything that big here!” For the record I only wanted 9.5 US so not exactly elephant feet. I decided to end the search there.
Back to New Zealand after nearly two years in Latin America
Auckland was my first stop. Coming out of the arrivals hall I expected to be met by my brother or his partner, maybe my nieces. My expectations were sorely let down when no-one was there. It turns out they hadn’t even left home yet!
So I did what any jet lagged traveller does and found a comfy piece of floor to lie down on while I waited.
In my absence my nieces have grown a lot! The eldest (who was about to turn 13) is nearly as tall as me and I’m no shortie. It was wonderful to hang out with them and be there when the eldest started her first day of high school.
Road Trip to Raglan, Cambridge, Rotorua and Wellington
Part of my mission while back in New Zealand is to find myself a base, at least for part of the year. I’d always wanted to check out the small sea side town of Raglan so I decided that a road trip was in order.
After I’d left the chaos of Auckland traffic the driving was smooth. Well as smooth as it could be in a little automatic car that didn’t charge gear when you expected it to, especially when going up steep hills. When I returned it I mentioned there were a few moments when I didn’t feel safe driving it as it slowed down dramatically when I hit a hill. The staffs’ response? “Oh that car is rubbish! Why did you hire that one?” Grrrr.
Raglan was a lovely place but not for me as the road out to the nearest city is twisty and not so nice to drive. I did get to meet up with a friend I’d met online, have some fantastic fish n chips and visit the studio of my favourite potter. I bought myself an early birthday present of a beautiful coffee mug.
From Raglan I drove to Cambridge to have lunch with a friend in her lovely new home. It was great to see people I know after so long away.
As I was leaving the first rain drops fell. There was torrential rain for almost my entire drive to Rotorua. Well at least the car got clean.
I was here for a couple of nights catching up with a dance buddy who had recently moved from Wellington to Rotorua. After catch ups via social media and video chats it’s made my heart happy to be able to see friends in person.
I planned to be in Wellington for a week but ended up staying three. It was lovely to see old friends and to explore all of the things that I liked about Wellington.
It did make me question my decision to investigate Christchurch as my home base. The garden city was where I went to University so I know the city a little, that and the beauty of the South Island was calling me.
Moving to Christchurch
The start was a bit bumpy as the home owner I’d been talking to about house sitting changed their dates (more than once!) which meant that their sit clashed with another sit I’d agreed to. That left me with no-where to live with only a week or so until I arrived in Christchurch.
As luck would have it I found a short term let of a fully furnished flat in a suburb in Fendalton. The down side was that it didn’t have internet although after some quick research I found easy options to get around this.
I’d been planning to catch the ferry across the Cook Strait, then a bus down to Christchurch, so I could see more of the country. The weather had other plans and a massive storm caused slips on the roads so the buses were all cancelled. I quickly booked a pricey last minute flight so I could still make my journey.
One thing about Christchurch that I hadn’t really considered is that it’s flat. REALLY flat! An obvious thing you might think but not something I’d really thought through. While flat has its advantages (easy parking) I really did miss having a big view.
Part of my move involved buying a car. This didn’t turn out to be a simple experience (dealing with used car sales people lived up to the stereotype!) and I was really relieved when I found a car to suit me and take me on my adventures.
With all of these bumps I was wondering why on earth I’d decided to move to Christchurch! It was a lonely and stressful time for me.
The year of housesitting begins!
My first four house sits were all in the village of Ohoka, a pretty area 30 minutes drive north of Christchurch city.
I started out with a wonderful long sit in a beautiful home caring for two cats called Zoom and Shane, 15 chickens and 5 baby chicks.
Next Beau Cat and a dog named Dexter, 5 chickens and 5 sheep were my companions. We had a long stretch of cold, foggy days that had me wondering about the weather here!
A short sit with a dog called Tess then onto my favourite sit in this area in a stunning home and some fabulous animals. There was a dog called Clem, 3 puppies, 2 rabbits, 2 cats and 50 odd sheep.
I had to feed baleage (a smelly wet kind of hay) to the sheep every second day so I dusted off my rusty motorbike skills. I’d never driven a motorbike with a trailer before so it took a couple of goes to get the hang of it.
Clem loved to come out on the bike and hog most of the seat!
Road trip to Wanaka and Mt Cook
I often get asked what I do between sits. One of my favourite things to do is head off an adventure.
Between sit #1 and 2 I had five days spare so I drove to Wanaka and Mt Cook, two places I’ve not visited before.
Wanaka is an area of stunning natural beauty but while I was there it was also an area of low fog so I left feeling quite underwhelmed. Luckily Mt Cook more than made up for it!
The drive from the main road is gorgeous – I stopped five times to take photos! Mt Cook itself is awe inspiring. I’ll definitely go back to explore more.
A repeat house sit in Wellington
I had planned on doing another long sit in Ohoka but after letting the home owner know that I’d arranged two short sits to work in with their holiday, they decided not to go on holiday.
I’ve never had this happen before so it did leave me bewildered at the way that some people communicate.
As luck would have it this meant that house sit # 5 was a repeat sit up in Wellington.
The owner has no animals but a big garden. I joked that this was a house sitting holiday with no animals to care for. In reality the sit was a bit bumpy with an extraction fan breaking down, then the washing machine (thankfully the neighbours were wonderful and let me do a load of washing each weekend I was there) and finally a flat battery in her car. It turned out that you need to drive her car every second day or the battery goes flat. Odd.
Once again I enjoyed seeing friends and visiting familiar places.
I was also able to volunteer at a local cat shelter. I’ve really missed being able to do this while being back in Christchurch but I’ve found that the shelters want a minimum commitment of 6 months and a certain day of the week committed to which doesn’t fit in well with my nomadic lifestyle.
An adventure on the Otago Peninsula
Every now and then a home owner will contact me privately, after seeing my house sitting profile. I was intrigued by a request to consider a sit on the Otago Peninsula, where I’ve never been before. After some research I found out that is one of the best areas for wild life spotting in New Zealand! That alone nearly decided me but it was the opportunity to care for horses (and chickens, dogs and sheep) that won me over.
I loved this area. I felt so spoiled to do a walk about their hilly paddocks each morning, with the inlet spread in front of me and the sea in the distance. Even collecting the mail from the letter box was a delight as the inlet was just across the road from the letter box.
This was one of my favourite house sits in New Zealand.
Back to Christchurch
I was really sad to leave Otago. It didn’t help that the two dogs I was looking after sat by the car while I was packing it, with the younger one repeatedly trying to jump in.
My 7th sit was back up in Christchurch, around the corner from my house sits in Ohoka. On arriving to this flat property, it confirmed to me that I need hills around me. I love the variety in the landscape and the effort needed to get a great view.
A cat called Max, three fluffy bunnies, three funny chickens and four cheeky miniature horses were my companions for this sit. I had thought that miniature horses would have the same characteristics as their larger cousins. They were so much cheekier! The youngest one was always trying to nibble me when I went to visit – a typical teenager pushing their luck.
Diamond Harbour, Banks Peninsula
My next sit in Christchurch couldn’t have been more different! I was over an hour’s drive away from Ohoka, surrounded by hills and the sea. Such bliss.
For a month I looked after two small dogs, Stu and Bean, and two chickens. The dogs loved their walks so we’d head out a couple of times a day to explore.
There were two cafes close by that allowed dogs so we’d head there for coffee a couple of times a week (the dogs preferred tea…). These two lovely pups were well known in the village so it was lovely to see them get excited when they saw their favourites.
A gap between sits – off to Lake Brunner
There are certain times of the year in New Zealand where the house sits dry up. Just before, and just after, the summer break. Kiwis like to take a decent break over the summer which means they’re saving up their leave (or have used it all up) at these times of the year.
I prefer to do sits of at least a month as it gives me time to get to know the area and the pets. It also means less moving around while running a business.
I was chatting this gap over with a new friend in Christchurch and she mentioned they had a holiday home on Lake Brunner that I’d be welcome to use for three weeks. I had no idea where that was so got researching. Wow! An incredible area, half an hour from the West Coast which meant there was wilderness galore.
Their holiday home was right on the lake and was so peaceful (except for when the train came through as the track was between the lake and the house).
I loved being able to stay here. Such a beautiful spot to live and to explore the West Coast from.
Last sit of the year! Back to Wellington
Another private request, this time to come to Wellington to look after a cat called Possum for 6 weeks. This sit worked in perfectly as it meant I could spend Christmas with family, something I haven’t done for two years while in Latin America.
An added bonus is that this house overlooks the bay, the view is well worth the 100 steps I need to walk to in order to get to the house.
The numbers . . .
All up I had 9 house sits in New Zealand and cared for:
5 baby chicks
90 sheep (give or take a couple).
What a year!
Highs of My Year of Housesitting
Friends and family
Spending time with friends and family has been a highlight of this year. It’s wonderful to be able to see people face to face.
Exploring New Zealand
I explored many places I haven’t been to before. From Raglan to Wanaka, Mt Cook to the Otago Peninsula, Oamaru to Lake Brunner – what a beauty of a country we have!
Growing my business
This year I focused on strategy and systems and that has made a big difference to the number of clients I’ve been attracting. Even better those clients are all fantastic people to work with.
No matter times you hear “find a niche” it doesn’t really sink in until you see the results.
44 books read
My goal at the start of the year was to read a book a week. Even though I didn’t met my goal I loved reading more books and discovering new authors.
Lows of My Year of Housesitting
This little fellow was my companion for much of the year. He’s a right royal pain in the back side. He’d sit there quietly when everything was going well but when the bumps happened he’d make them all the more painful by chiming in with his unwelcome thoughts.
We all have self-doubt at one time or another but that self-doubt (and his buddy Fear) took the drivers seat a few too many times. 2019 will see me back in the drivers seat.
I’m having a bit of a run on injuries at the moment. No sooner than the Plantar Fasciitis in my foot disappeared, than I strained the rotator cuff in my shoulder. At the same time an old back injury flared up.
My back calmed down after a couple of months at the physio but the shoulder gave me trouble for the next 6 months. Teasing me that it was better then failing me again.
Given how much I like to move, whether that’s hiking, trail running or dancing, having injuries is a sure fire way to mess with my mind.
Thankfully I’m ending the year with only one little niggle and I’ve been able to start building up my strength again to avoid issues in the future.
No home base
My plan for the year was to find a base of my own. I haven’t been successful there but I’ve had a lot of adventures that I might not otherwise have had.
Still I do dream of cottage by the water, where friends can come and stay, where I don’t need to pack up every month and where I can grow my own food .
I find myself in a funny place. I love the variety of house sitting but I crave my own place to settle for a while. I know that my life would be so much simpler if I wasn’t having to constantly find a new place to live.
My issue (and cause of much over thinking) is that I don’t know where I want to settle. I’ve ruled some places out but haven’t found the place that has the balance of features that I want.
I do know that I want to step up my photography in the new year (a new camera will be purchased soon!) and do more creative writing.
There are many parts of my life that I want to make simpler. So if I had to choose a word for 2019 it would be Simplify.