This is a guest post from Kelly and Lee of Global Goose about how they met in a little slice of our own backyard in New Zealand.
“So, how did you two meet?”
This is a common question for Lee and me, since it is unusual for a lad from Lancashire, England to be with a girl from middle-of-nowhere Alberta, Canada.
When people ask us how we met, we chuckle to each other and say, “in prison”.
The response is usually disbelief, confusion, or nervous terror. “You met in prison?” people ask incredulously.
“Yes. In a haunted prison in New Zealand.”
This is usually when we get accused of making up tall tales, but this story is absolutely true. Lee and I fell in love in the dreary halls and courtyards of the oldest prison in New Zealand, a spooky and dilapidated structure which was built in the 1860s and is perched on a windy bluff overlooking the ocean.
Don’t worry we weren’t serving time! In fact, we were living there on the rickety bunk beds in claustrophobic dark prison cells out of our own free will!
Let’s back it up a bit and explain from the beginning…
Back in 2009 I was living in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and I had it pretty good. I had my own place and a rewarding and well paid job as a children’s art and drama instructor. I loved my job and my life. However, I just couldn’t help the thoughts of travel that kept bubbling up in my head. I wondered what else was out there, and I daydreamed about leaving everything familiar behind and seeing different sights, experiencing foreign cultures and meeting new people.
Unbeknownst to me, Lee was experiencing the exact same if you only replace “Victoria, BC” with “Accrington, UK” and “children’s art and drama instructor” with “football club shop manager”.
So on a whim, we both followed that voice in our heads and booked a working holiday in New Zealand. I knew I wanted to do a working holiday so that I could have the chance to travel for several months rather than just take a short holiday. I could find work as I went along to fund my travels.
As I was preparing to leave, I saw a job posting for tour guides of a historical prison on the New Zealand backpackers job board website.
Napier Prison is the oldest prison in New Zealand, and was built in 1862. It was used as a prison until the 1990s, when it was officially decommissioned. It was reopened in 2002 as a tourist attraction and since then it has been a popular stop on the path of many travellers on the North Island of New Zealand.
I had previous experience giving architectural history tours of Victoria and so I applied. I found out that I had gotten the job only the day before I left for New Zealand, and so I booked a bus down to Napier from Auckland. When I spoke to Marion, the owner of the prison, on the phone she told me that backpackers worked for accommodation and lived within the prison cells. I knew I was getting myself into a once in a lifetime adventure!
I arrived in Napier on a Saturday evening and the sky was already dark. I sat on my huge backpack at the bus stop and waited, gazing at the illuminated art deco architecture of this beautiful east coast North Island town.
Suddenly, an old white van pulled up in front of me and two tall good looking blond German guys got out, dressed in blood-spattered prison jumpsuits and ghoulish white face paint.
“Are you Kelly?” they asked, in a “Come with me if you want to live” sort of way.
“Yes…” I stammered in a dorky, bewildered Canadian sort of way.
I threw my backpack in the van and a few minutes later we turned up a dark road leading up a steep hill. I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into. The prison hosts “Dead Hill” scary night tours on Saturdays and I was arriving right in the middle of the action. As I stood outside of the heavy wooden door to the prison walls I could hear terrified screams coming from inside and horrible cackles of laughter. I gulped nervously as I was pulled inside the dark walls and taken through the eerie courtyards to a door which was glowing with a warm and welcoming light, the prison staff lounge. This is where I would wait until the actors and guides were finished scaring the living daylights out of tourists so that I could find the prison cell where I would end up spending the next two months.
As I opened the door to the staff lounge there he was, sitting on a long plastic table and kicking his feet. Lee was tall, dark and handsome, and looked like the beat up zombie corpse of a dead prisoner. He was wearing a torn white jumpsuit and caked on face paint and was bleeding fake blood from a gory gash to his forehead. I’m not sure if it was love at first sight, but he certainly made a memorable first impression.
Over the next month in Napier we had many adventures together, climbing scenic waterfalls, taking underwater photos at the swimming pool, “breaking out of prison” by climbing up onto the wall, eating at Burger Fuel, drinking beers in the courtyard, and walking hand in hand through the Napier Botanical Gardens.
Our travel plans sent us in different directions for about six weeks, but we kept in touch and eventually ended up renting an apartment together in Christchurch on the South Island for about three months. It was a strange situation, as we didn’t know what would come out of our travel romance and what the future would hold for us when we finally had to go home.
The day finally came that Lee needed to go back home to England. We looked at each other, neither of us wanting to say goodbye. Then he said, “Do you want to come with me?”
Two years later we are still travelling the world together with no intention of stopping any time soon. Before we left New Zealand we took a tour of the South Island, hitting up Queenstown, Dunedin, white-water rafting on the Rangitata River and taking the TransAlpine scenic rail journey.
We have lived and traveled in England, Italy, Portugal, and backpacked across Canada and are currently planning trips to the USA, Southeast Asia and Australia for 2012. I learned a lot from my working holiday in New Zealand, but one of the most important things that I learned was that travel romances can evolve into something more and that I am so glad that my answer to that question was “Yes.”
So open up your heart to love on the road and keep your life flexible so that love can jump out and surprise you when you least expect it. That travel romance just might be something worth holding on to.
Lee and Kelly are two creative and passionate travelers who have teamed up to create an unconventional life together working as digital nomads and exploring this big and beautiful world. Everything they own fits in their backpacks and with no permanent address they are perpetual wanderers on not just a Gap Year but a “Gap Decade”.