New Zealand Working Holiday

Girl on Beach, Punakaiki, New Zealand.

Strolling on the beach at Punakaiki, New Zealand

New Zealand is teeming with backpackers because it’s, well, one of the best places to be a backpacker.  As a young traveler you can stay here for ages and even US citizens can snag up a working-holiday visa, meaning you won’t have to be quite as tight with your money.  I only applied for one because when I wrote Weta Workshop about working for them and they were very clear that only those with valid working visas had any chance at getting a job.  They were probably talking about the real work visa, but they saved me a lot of trouble down the road.

Chances of getting a job a Weta, unless you’re a Kiwi are basically slim to none given the popularity of the franchise, but there’s still plenty of jobs you can get as a backpacker.  The most common jobs are working in a cafes, picking fruit, or at a hostel.   Somehow I ended up working at one of the most convenient travel positions — canvassing for Greenpeace.  It was work I obtained out of desperation, a happy accident… and pure luck (or knack for argument) that allowed me to keep the job.  Believe me it isn’t for everyone and I spent almost 100% of my time working for them wondering if I would be fired the next week.  If you’ve ever done fundraising you know what I mean.  Even in the nature loving land of New Zealand walking around and asking people to sign up to save the environment isn’t a piece of cake and it can start to wear on your spirits. However, if  you can stick it out, you’re basically guaranteed to be working with some really awesome people, most likely fellow travelers, and have the opportunity to go on travel trips around the islands.  The gas and rental vehicle are on Greenpeace’s dime as long as you continue to bring in new supporters for them.  Working for them was the most defining experience of my time in New Zealand and the best friends I made were part of the team and I have since visited them in Argentina and Germany.  Hopefully I’ll make it to the UK and China someday to see others.

The good news is they are always looking to hire new people because their primary employees at the fundraising level are backpackers and their turnaround is quick.  If you’re good at talking to people and want to travel around with a source of income, I would suggest at least trying it out – after all I wasn’t sure I could do it, but ended up being one of the top fundraisers.

Greenpeace New Zealand

Fundraising crew at the office in Auckland, NZ

What you need to know about fundraising for Greenpeace…

You will work for the Street Team or Door Team.  If  you go door to door you’ll be walking a lot and you’ll probably have a lot of doors slammed in your face (even some of the typically friendly Kiwis get turned off by fundraisers).

You work in the rain or shine. It’s great being outdoors when you’re working, but having lived in Los Angeles three years before moving to New Zealand, I was unpleasantly surprised by the changeable weather — it’s often wet and windy (especially in Wellington) and it will completely destroy your shoes.  A common joke was to look up at the completely cloudless blue sky and say, ‘Looks like it’s gonna rain’… and it almost always did!

Memorizing as many facts about the campaigns helps you – if you have an answer or an endless stream of statistics you have a good chance at convincing even the most stubborn resistors.

Strictly speaking we weren’t ever supposed to go into people’s houses, but the Kiwis are so damn friendly they always want you to step in for a cup of tea.  People invited me to dinner even if they were totally disinterested in Greenpeace

Chances are if you stick around long enough you’ll be able to participate is some amazing campaign actions – I spent a couple of afternoons as a shark and one of the guys I worked with was arrested with Lucy Lawless when they were protesting oil drilling in the arctic.

Turns out you don’t have to be super into Greenpeace; one of the guys who was the leader for the team in Dunedin really didn’t care at all about the environment when he started (he cared a bit more when he finished).

If you really love New Zealand and want to stay there for a long time Greenpeace can get you a real one-year work visa.  You’ll have to be really good at fundraising, of course, but they have around 5 visas they can hand out every year.

Final Thoughts

That was the best and worst job I ever had.  I’m happy I did it and even happier I will never have to do it again.

And of course, I could beat Stephen Colbert at Lord of the Rings trivia.


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