Daily Archives: December 12, 2011

A mission: Travel to Dunedin, fix my visa, and get an IRD number. Or: Why am I putting in effort to register to pay taxes? PART 2


Part 2

I slept like a log; fortunately I have a pretty high tolerance for snoring, as it seemed like our roommate liked sawing logs more than a lumberjack. How did I know this if I was asleep, you may ask? Well… Carla didn’t quite have this ability I’m afraid. However, she more than made up for it with her ability to wake up early, be fully mobile, and her perfect aim with pillows. Seriously… she hit me from across the room with a pillow, through a bunk bed, right on the face. That, while slightly startling, was definitely skill.

After finally getting myself out of bed and mobile Carla and I ate down some breakfast, thanks to the free breakfast that the backpackers offered, checked out of our room, and rolled out. We packed up our gear into the car before moving on the Immigration office, but still made it there at about 9:05… right in time to stand in the line that had already formed. Seriously. Luckily it wasn’t too deep and I was at the counter without too much stress, where I started chatting with the woman in charge. We discussed how my visa was still attached to my old passport, and she laid it out pretty simply for me – I could definitely get it transferred (and even have a sticker in place in my passport), but it would take an hour or two and cost $90. Honestly… not that bad. But then came the depressing part…

The reason for me actually getting it transferred was so that I could get an IRD number. When I mentioned this to the woman, she hit me with the biggest gut-punch of the week, “What? No, you don’t need to set up the visa to do that. Just walk over to their office next door and they’ll set you up”. Yep… I didn’t actually need the transferred visa. Bleh.

So Carla and I walked over to the IRD’s office, walked in, and started filling out the forms. Surprising to me, since I’m used to the IRS offices in the states being walled fortresses with guns and tanks, but this was just… an office. With an elevator, a receptionist, and a few chairs for me to sit and fill out the forms. No guards, no guns, no metal detectors… just a woman who looked a bit bored. I’ll never get used to the “not living in fear of explosives” culture that prevails outside of the central western world.

Anyways, I quickly filled out the forms, showed her my passport and drivers license, and got the whole mess figured out. They wouldn’t have my ID number right away, but they would get it filed and sent to me within a week, most likely by the following Monday (Ed Note: They did. At exactly 11:00AM on Monday they called, told me the number, and we went on our ways. Simple and efficient). With that we headed back to the Immigration office where I handed over my passport to get the stamp, since I figured it’d be better to get it now then later, and then walked out with the rest of the day ahead of us.

First order of business was to see the world steepest street. See… I had always thought that the worlds steepest street was in San Francisco, but according to a well-placed signpost that isn’t actually the case, this street in Dunedin was. I was thinking to myself, “Well now… I’ve walked up the switchbacks of Lombard street… lets see what this “Baldwin street” place has to offer.” and boy… did it bring its A-game. Baldwin street is long, steep, and terminates in a street that’s only accessible from Baldwin… and Baldwin doesn’t have switchbacks. No… you just drive straight upwards, and hopefully your car has enough oomph to get it up there.

After tramping up and down Baldwin we headed to the Botanical Gardens of Dunedin, a place that Carla remembered from when she was much younger and visited the city. We stopped in at a New World supermarket (yeah, that’s the name. Creepy, right?) first to grab some snacks, then headed into the garden to explore. And it was beautiful… tall hills, huge trees, an amazing tropical greenhouse and even an Aviary full of exotic birds. See… something I didn’t know about New Zealand is that they only have a single native mammal – a Bat. All the natural life of the islands is avian, and the only large mammals around are those brought by Europeans for hunting. But the diversity of birds is amazing, and supposedly there are some that will actually hike with you on trips, staying beside a tramper for hours, and sometimes even hitching rides on backpacks. Not trying to get food or anything, just because their curious.

After we had explored the gardens to our hearts content we jumped back in the car, ate a quick bite of lunch, and headed back towards the city center. We picked up my passport in record time, and were back on the road to Christchurch before we knew it. The long drive ahead had been giving us a bit of a push to get going, but once we actually hit the road we started remembering all of the amazing places that we wanted to stop in at… so we pulled off to get some petrol (instead of gas, they call it Petrol here, FYI), and did a spontaneous beach trip while trying to find our way back to the main road.

The beach we found was actually quite nice, but was only fronting on a small channel used to dock fishing boats… a short way in the distance we could see a sandbar which protected the little cove from the actual ocean. A short way… a SWIMMABLE short way! So I threw on my swimtrunks, Carla stripped down to her underwear (she forgot to bring swimgear), and we waded in, ready for a marathon swim. Instead… the sandbar actually went longer than we thought, and we only had to swim across a 20meter channel instead of the 100meter straight we were expecting. It was nice, and we spent almost an hour wandering around the sand bar taking in the scenery and snapping pictures of cool driftwood.

After the swim back (where I bashed my knee into a rock… owwww) we rolled back onto the open road, finding our next stop at a place called the “Maoraki Boulders”… a place that Carla refused to explain, saying that it would be better for me to see them on my own. And… wow. Cool! The Maoraki boulders are a series of giant marbles strewn across the beach; literally gigantic spheres of rock just sitting on the sand. Logically they must be attached to something below, or else they’d be swept out to sea, but they look unbelievably cool as the water rushes up to kiss the edges of the spheres. We spent a while photographing them and relaxing in the sun – we even met up with a few other travelers and shared a few stories about traveling New Zealand and South America.

After the boulders the rest of the drive quickly flew by. We made a quick stop into the town of Oamaru, since it’s known as “the steampunk capitol of New Zealand”… but unfortunately most of the sights were closes by the time we arrived… and the few that weren’t closed were a bit of a disapointment. Steampunk HQ was the only full place we were able to get into, and I still have mixed feelings about it. For one, they had an amazing art piece out front – a locomotive engine that, when you put a $2 coin in, would rev up and belch flames out its smokestack. On the other side, the $10 admission museum was… lackluster. It had cool art pieces, but not nearly enough of them… and the “videos” were simply slowly-panning images of artwork that we had already seen. A cool place, but not worth the $10… I got more enjoyment out of the $3 ice cream that we bought on our way out.

What’s left… the rest of the drive was just eating up the miles until we got back to Christchurch… stopping to take a picture at the National Salmon Museum was the only real point of note. It was a good relaxing was home, without much incident or excitement, and before we knew it we were pulling into the drive, our adventure completed successfully.

A mission: Travel to Dunedin, fix my visa, and get an IRD number. Or: Why am I putting in effort to register to pay taxes? PART 1


Part 1

I got a new job! Within two weeks of landing in New Zealand one of my new friends put up a post on their facebook wall asking if anyone was looking for a short-term job – 2 weeks working at a liquor store helping uncrate product in prep for the holidays. Well… I didn’t really have anything better to do, and since I was already looking for a job I figured I may as well earn some money while looking. We chatted, I interviewed, and the guy offered me a position.

Ed Note: Holy crap New Zealand has excellent wages – over $13 as the lowest you can be paid. Downside though… taxes are a bitch. Upside though… Healthcare is free.

However, once Paul (the manager) and I started talking about what he needed from me, I found out that I needed a special IRD number… the equivalent of a Social Security number back in the states, from what I can tell. And IRD number is your personal tax number, and it proves that you’re paying into the national tax if you’re actually working in the country. Not that you need to be in order to receive benefits like healthcare or anything, but it seems to be quite key if you plan on earning money the legit way. And so I started in on a quest to get myself an IRD number.

I did my basic online research first, and found out that I needed two forms of ID – a passport with a valid working visa, and a photo ID. The ID I was good on, thanks to my US drivers license, but the passport… that would be tough. And so I looked into getting the visa actually transferred over to my new passport (See story about getting into NZ), and found out that my two options were to mail it to the Christchurch office, or to drive down to the closest real office in Dunedin. See.. the earthquake leveled the Christchurch office, so it would take between 3 and 4 weeks for them to get the passport back to me. 3-4 weeks that I wouldn’t have any valid form of ID, which means no going to bars. Nope, screw that. Driving time.

I asked around and found someone who sort of knew the area and who was interested in coming along – a girl named Carla that I had met through friends a few weeks back. It was perfect, actually, since she was effectively a newcomer to this area of New Zealand as well… she grew up in a city at the very base of the south island, and just returned from a year abroad living in Japan. So with many topics of conversation (and two fully charged iPods) we set up our directions, double checked the gear we needed, and hit the open road southbound.

Carla and I trucked our way southward steadily and relentlessly, taking pictures and chatting as the miles wore on. The drive wasn’t as perfectly picturesque as the drive Mike and I had taken up to Takaka, but it was still the bucolic landscape that I had started to expect from New Zealand. We chatted about this and that, traveling and kendo (turns out she’s a ranked black belt, yay for a sparring partner!) and general life, the universe, and everything. We stopped in at a town called Timaru for a quick lunch of pizza and Chinese, picked me up a massive bottle of Mountain Dew for the road, and continued trucking onwards.

The rest of the ride went the same as the first half, though we did see a few really cool Cairns on the hills off the side of the road, and soon enough we were pulling into Dunedin. First things first, we drove around a bit trying to find the right street, but once we did we locked down the car and ran into the immigration office, getting to the door just 15min before they closed. Or… 15 before they USED to close. Turned out that they had changed hours in the last month or two, and the hours that I had been given at Immigration in Aukland was off by an hour – instead of closing at 4:00, they shut their doors at 3:00 now. Damn.

Fortunately Carla knew the city pretty well, so we parked the car in one of the public lots and then started walking around the city trying to decide what to do with ourselves. First order of business was to figure out where we were and where everything else was – a task made quite simple by New Zealand policy of helpfulness. We walked into one of the visitors centers, called “i-Sites”, got ourselves a map and got a few reviews on “backpackers” in the area… the equivalent of a Hostel in South America or Europe. We walked around and visited a few of the backpackers before finally choosing one for the night, a pretty solid place called “On Top backpackers”, since it was located right on top of a pool hall. After check in and looking through our rooms we wandered into the city, starting our tour with a Chinese Scholars garden.

And, I have to admit it, that garden was one of the best places I’ve been. Ever. As soon as I started walking through I knew that I wanted one, and it became a life goal of mine to have one built. See… these gardens were designed for a scholar, philosopher, or ruler to walk around and focus themselves, exploring the garden and loosing themselves in the myriad pathways the lead through the space. The idea seemed to be the unexpected, where paths opened up and terminated when you least expected it, and there was no singular way to “correctly” walk through the area. My favorite part was the amount of perfect little meditation spots; areas where one can overlook the entirety of the garden and just reflect upon the nature of the area. (Ed note: Yes, I am fully aware that I sound like a 13 year old boy after meeting his first “true love”. I don’t care. I am infatuated with this garden and its honestly one of the coolest spaces I’ve ever been in.) For one last piece of awesomeness before we moved on Carla and I stopped into the puzzle room for a quick spot of brain teasing… and I have to admit that I layed out a rather epic smackdown to the puzzle that I chose; It was one of those “make this cool shape out of all of these pieces of wood with notches cut into them”, and I was able to get it together pretty quick… though I’ll admit that undoing it afterward was a pretty impressive challenge as well.

After the garden we went onto the town for some R&R and dinner, finding ourselves making a tough decision between an amazing looking gourmet burger joint and a really cool traditional sushi restaurant. In the end we kept our nights theme oriental and took in the sushi… mostly for the deliciousness, but partially because Carla actually knew what to order there, and could tell me all about the cultural aspects of the food thanks to her stay in Japan. The restaurant was cool and the food was spectacular, although I admit that the service left a bit to be desired… the waitress didn’t speak English (or Japanese, annoyingly), and wasn’t really sure what order to bring our food out in – Carla got her soup first, followed our drinks and my main meal, followed by her main meal, and finished up with the appetizer that we ordered for the two of us. Interesting… but acceptable, since it was so delicious.

After eating, paying, and wandering for a bit we headed back to the Backpackers for the night, planning on taking a quick nap and then playing some pool in the hall downstairs. The nap went quick for Carla, a bit longer for me, but the pool never materialized, thanks to some folks hanging out in the common area watching the Hangover 2. We stayed up ’till about eleven watching the movie, and by the time we headed downstairs the pool hall had already closed. Thats right… a pool hall in a university city closed at 11:00. Seriously… WTF. Double-Ewe. Tee. Eff. Mate. So back to the room we went, and fell asleep pretty quickly, aiming to be awake early as sin to make sure that I got to the Passport office right as they opened.