When I first arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, I was surprised how similar it was to the city I just came from – Toronto, Canada. There is food from every corner of the world, a thriving business district, impressive waterfront, great restaurants, and oh yeah – there’s a really big tower in the middle of it.
As I adventured through the streets over the past couple weeks, I’ve been able to dive into the sensory delights it has to offer. The food is delicious. The architecture is gorgeous. The city is bursting with energy and things to do. As John - one of the volunteers who’s been here and immersed himself said, “If you can’t find something to do here, it’s because you’re not looking”. In the hub of an urban city there’s plenty to do downtown, and even more to do if you venture from the city centre and take a journey through the rest of the country.
Just a short ferry ride away is Waiheke Island, which is where one of the volunteers decided to rent a house with her family while she volunteers. We cruised over one day and spent the day between a sunny beach, a great beachside lunch spot, hiking up to the top of the island, and ziplining down. We stopped by one of the many vineyards as well, before enjoying a sunset ferry back to the mainland.
I spent the first few days filming the IVHQ New Zealand program. One of the projects was freshwater reclamation, which consisted of various gardening type initiatives to filter the water into the waterbed underneath. This project takes place on one of the most peaceful parts of Auckland – on Maori land that is now being worked upon to bring it back to how it looked pre-assimilation. The volunteers are a big part of this – planting trees, removing weeds and dead plants, etc (all using resources native to the land, and no chemicals). The Maori presence on this land helps make this project extremely rich in history and culture, greeting everyone with a proper ceremony and being some of the most immediately open souls I’ve met.
The second project I visited was coastline conservation. We took a scenic drive out to a remote stretch of beach where the volunteers picked up as much trash as they could find, including over 10 car tires. Gloves on and bags in hand, the volunteers spent the morning cleaning up the beach and bringing it back to the natural beauty it is. We drove around to a couple other spots that were badly affected by garbage, and continued on working.
The last of the projects is NGO support, which is a lot of administrative and office work behind the scenes of the volunteer projects, helping things run smoothly and collaborating on new initiatives.
As I wrapped up shooting on the Auckland project, Jordan McFadyen, part of the communications team at IVHQ, joined me and brought me along to New Plymouth, where the HQ of IVHQ is located. Ever since I volunteered in Nepal back in 2010, I’ve been curious to see where all the action takes place. All spiffed up with a new location complete with living walls and some Google-office-worthy features, it was a very cool spot to spend a couple days.
It was great to meet the team and put names to faces with all the people who’ve been coordinating the programs I’ve visited over the past couple years. With a crew as young and fun as the office itself, it was exciting to see where all the gears spin.
New Plymouth itself is quite different from Auckland, and it helped give me a better grasp on New Zealand as a whole. It’s a much more laid back city, with significantly less geographic spread, and more nature surrounding it. The black sand beaches framed the iconic Sugar Loaf Islands, and just a few minutes in the other direction are forests of impressive giants of trees, and lush farmland all around.
I spent a few days here, where I got to know the IVHQ staff, Jordan and his beautiful family, and a few of the other locals. Everyone welcomed me in and showed me generosity that made my trip here so incredible and memorable.
Getting to know this country has put me in a great mood, and has been such an excellent start to this new chapter. I’m grateful for all the people I’ve encountered here, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of this video tour will bring!
To see footage from previous IVHQ Video Tours check out the playlist on Youtube and stay tuned on Andrew’s wherabouts by following IVHQ on Instagram, Twitter, or the International Volunteer HQ Facebook page.