Tim Byl was at a friend’s place in New Zealand when his friend Jessica Arthur called him up.
“Do you want to come to Canada,” she said. “There’s a sale on tonight. It ends, ah, tonight.”
Six months later Byl, Arthur and their friend Mike Pascall were on a plane headed to Vancouver, with visions of snow covered slopes, log cabins and lumberjacks dancing in their heads.
The truth, as they soon found out, was, well, almost exactly that.
Despite landing in a snowless Vancouver on Jan. 16, the trio soon made their way to Squamish, the Rockies and, eventually, the South Cariboo.
Originally, the Kiwis, who are in their early 20s, had planned on staying and working in the Calgary area, but they soon found that finding a job there was harder than they anticipated.
After a couple of weeks “WOOFing” (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms — an international organization that allows people to trade work in exchange for room and board on different properties around the world) at a property in Black Diamond, south of Calgary, the trio got a hit on their House Sitters Canada profile — a couple from Canim Lake were headed on vacation to Hawaii and needed someone to look after their place for three weeks.
Soon enough, using the car they purchased in Vancouver, the trio was on their way to the “wop-wops” — Kiwi slang for the middle of nowhere. They’ve been here ever since.
Now, the group is living in a cabin on Davis Lake, helping cut lumber in exchange for a place to stay. They’re looking for part-time work as well, hoping to take in the area in the summer, before either heading home or making their way back to the ski hills for the winter.
“Everyone raves about what this area is like in the summer, so now that snow season has finished, we’ve really got no reason to be anywhere,” says Arthur.
The group has also built some connections in the area.
“People are quite happy to show us some cool places or teach us how to do things properly, rather than us just winging it on our own where we might be a little more unsuccessful.”
So far the group has learned to snowmobile, chop wood and, thanks to their house sitting host, how to get a fishing license before they attempt ice fishing.
The three are able to work in Canada thanks to the International Experience Canada travel and work permit. While they applied for a 6-month visa, they were given a two-year visa upon arrival in Canada.
They say they haven’t had a lot of surprises so far, but their experience in Canada has solidified the impression they had before they came.
“Everyone back home, everywhere you go, everyone thinks Canadians are super polite and lovely and always apologizing for everything, and, yeah, I’d say they pretty much are,” says Pascall.
“It’s quite ironic where we are staying, in a log cabin, by a lake. It’s exactly how we pictured Canada,” says Byl.
Their experience also confirms some myths Canadians hold about themselves.
“Canadians probably hate this, but I just assumed they were like Americans, just as people assume we’re just like Australians,” says Jess. “We’re not too different from Aussies but you guys are definitely a lot different than Americans.”
While the landscape in British Columbia conjures up images of New Zealand’s South Island for the Kiwis, just on a larger scale, the trio says it’s the little things they really enjoy.
“Occasionally we’ll be driving around town and we’ll see someone in your classic Canadian wool overcoat with a woolly hat on — what do they call them here? Tooks? Toques! — and big boots and we’re like, that is a classic Canadian look.”
The group says they are also drawn to the wildlife, New Zealand has no native land mammals, so even seeing a deer or a fox is something the group loves.
Aside from a few mechanical failures in their car, and learning the hard way to check to make sure the ice is solid enough to walk on, the trio has loved their time in Canada, although they do say they don’t like the coffee at Tim Hortons.
While the group has yet to experience a -40 C day and packed all of their warmest clothing for the trip, they even say they prefer the cold here, because it’s dryer than at home.
“I wish more Canadians would come and explore New Zealand. It’s still far away for a lot of people, but I find that they’d enjoy it a whole lot. It’s pretty similar to here,” says Arthur.
As for what the group is bringing home:
“The experience and the memories,” says Byl.
“And a few litres of maple syrup,” adds Arthur.