Stray driver Beanz regularly traverses our northern circuit and kindly took time out of his busy summer schedule to write us this “little” blog. It turns out beans really are good for your heart, just like the old rhyme says, because he found love on his circuit. So grab a cuppa, put your feet up, it’s time for him to ‘spill the beans’.
Funny the impact small choices can have on your life.
Two years ago I arrived back in New Zealand, after spending eight years as a mental health worker and drug and alcohol support officer in the UK. It was intense, and intensity had been the name of the game for as long as I could remember. I needed a break, so when my best friend mentioned that his cousin ran a backpacker bus company in New Zealand it sounded like a great way to escape and take a break from my career for a while.
I walked out of my first interview with a spring in my step. To this point I had never known anyone who worked in the tourism industry and the whole scenario was a bit of a revolution to me. Here was a new concept to me; buses driving around New Zealand filled with backpackers, with the intent of having a good time, showing off the sights, and throwing down not only new experiences but life changing ones to boot. I thought, count me in!
My first training trip began. For the next 23 days I was to be a new trainee with no guarantee of a job at the end. There were rules, and if they were broken I could expect to be waving goodbye to this new world before it had even begun. The rules included things like: no drinking on tour, no falling asleep on the bus, no sleeping with the passengers, make copious amounts of notes, always carry an orange lighter, and try not to screw up!At first I found these rules to be a bit restrictive, silly even. After all, I was a 31 year young fella who enjoyed the pleasures of a ‘ahem’ beer at the end of a hard day’s work. But as it was explained to me by one of our senior drivers; the fun times are earned by the hard work you put in during your training (well he probably swore more a bit more than that, but that was the essence of what he said) and to this day I 100% agree. This job has loads of perks but they are very much earned out there on the road.
Over the course of that month I had a blast. I had caved, white-water rafted, skydived, walked the Tongariro crossing, bungee jumped, and yes, even snuck in some sly partying while backs were turned. I never claimed to be the perfect trainee after all… and somehow I still had a job at the end of it all.
Finally the moment I had waited for, I was the master of my own ship, captain of a willing crew eager to get out there and sail the high seas of NZ. But that meant the hard work was just beginning. There were a million and one different things to remember, things to do, secret spots to discover, interesting commentary to share, tips on places to get washing done, not to mention passenger names. Everyone has their own plans, goals and things they want to see in NZ and it’s my job to make it all work. Luckily I have the best co-worker anyone could hope to ask for: my country! New Zealand can always be called on to do the hard work for me and never fails to blow everyone’s (including myself) minds.
Day one will always bring with it an eerie silence on the bus as people adjust to being surrounded by strangers. This usually lasts until our first stop at midday when people begin to get comfortable with their surroundings. The trick for the first day is the group meal; nothing brings people together like the process of cooking an enormous meal, shortly after this the beers and the stories begin to flow. Fast forward three weeks and what were strangers are now friends (albeit some of them may still be a little strange). I have had lifelong friendships forged on my bus, some people have met their partners; I am yet to have a marriage from my bus but I have heard of it happening.
Passengers often ask me if I have to deal with many a**holes and I can genuinely say no! In my two years and thousands of passengers, I can count on one hand the amount of truly nasty people I have had to deal with and you can always rely on the pack to sort these people out.
So where does that leave me? Two years of travelling later and I still love my job. Every day is different and the scenery never wears off. One and a half years I drove the main circuit, spent a winter season in the Deep South, and now here I am working the north with the Bay of Islands run. My new favourite spot in NZ is Opononi on the Hokianga harbour, totally remote, totally under visited and virtually unknown by New Zealanders. Fat Freddys Drop’s (legendary NZ band) last tour was called “The Road to Opononi” but no one seems to know where it is!
My path in life has now changed forever. My initial plan of driving for a year, then returning to my career in mental health is now out the window. Tourism is now my career, and the knowledge and passion I have developed for my country will stay with me forever, and… I even found love through my job. My partner was once a traveller on my bus and we have just celebrated our one year anniversary.
Crazy, all stemming from a conversation I had with a mate over a bottle of rum two years ago…
So there we go, hopefully a small peek into the life of a driver. If I can tell you one thing, remember this. No driver does this job because of a love of driving buses. The long hours, the being away from home and family; it’s all made worthwhile when we hear the gasps of our passengers when they see the mountain views, the tears of accomplishment after that bungee jump, the sore legs and big smiles after the Tongariro Crossing. So please, don’t be afraid to come sit up front and tell us your story and if you’re feeling really nice, laugh at our jokes even when they’re not funny.
Chur chur – Beanz
Beanz currently drives the big orange bus between Auckland and the Bay of Islands on Stray’s Jack Pass.