White Tiger Tattoo. Queenstown. | Getting a tattoo in New Zealand.
To better understand my story, you have to understand how I got my first tattoo and what it meant for me. It is a story about my mistake that lead me to end up in White Tiger Tattoo studio years later. This is a tribute to my old tattoo.
But If you just want to learn about my experience there just jump right into the next paragraph. If you are interested where and how to get inked in New Zealand scroll all the way down. :)
My first tattoo
So one personal fact about me – I had my first tattoo when I was just 17 years old. I felt obligated to mark my body and to be different. As the teenage years flourished and I kept showing to the world my most rebellious side, tattoo was just an inevitable choice for me. The guy who tattooed me was a beginner (that explains why I didn’t need any permission from my parents, because I wasn’t 18 yet). Also I could never be able to afford to go to a real tattoo studio. So I did what I could to get my tattoo for less money (this already sounds like a bad idea).
I thought about what to get and where and my first choice was a huge spider (tarantula) on my neck. The idea was good in theory, but I could never hide it. I would probably look like a part of some kind of gang, for the rest of my life. So it was good that the guy told me that it really going to hurt to make a tattoo on my neck. So I asked him – which spots on the body hurts less (this is so not the way how to choose a place for your tattoo). I chose one – on my upper arm/shoulder. The most typical place for a tattoo you can think of.
The way I chose my tattoo design was very simple. He just showed me some designs online and I just picked one, without much of a thinking (No no no.....).
It was a dragon. At least for me it was badass enough. It was very simple, just black dragon, who spits flames.
I didn’t want it too big, so I could easily cover it with a sleeve of a normal t-shirt if needed. It wasn’t as painful as I thought it’s going to be. And for my little tattoo it took more than 4 hours to be made. I paid 10 EUR for it. It may sound ridiculous, but that’s how it was. It healed well, but unfortunately I could tell it wasn’t made by professional. It wasn’t too bad either and I didn’t hate it right away. Of course my family was devastated. This was a first time someone yelled at me like that. I will never forget that day. But I can understand their reaction now, but not at that moment. I lied that it’s not permanent and will fade away after 2-3 years.
Of course it didn’t. It took me around a year to realize that I don’t really like my tattoo. It looked more like a snake than dragon and it was a bit blurry. I started to cover it whenever it was possible. Sometimes I forgot about having it, but whenever I saw my photos with bare shoulders or looked in the mirror, it was still there.
I changed. I wasn’t that crazy rebellious chick that I was as a teen. Of course I still was the same person, but I had different visions and I lived much more purposeful life than before. So the purpose and the meaning of the whole tattoo was blurry. Actually my tattoo never had a deeper meaning. It was just an act of young teenager, showing the world that she is different, but the dragon itself didn’t have any meaning whatsoever.
I thought about removing it, reading about all sorts of laser procedures, about the scaring after them and how much they will cost. But I never had enough money for it. I could of saved, but I spent my little salary on clothes and other things I couldn’t afford as a teenager. As a young adult in my early twenties my priorities wasn’t the most logical.
That’s when I met my boyfriend. And as I sat in a real tattoo studio while he was getting his first tattoo, I learned that it is such a better feeling to put something meaningful on your body, like he did. He had a good idea, that he was thinking about for a long time. There was a thought behind everything, from design to a placement and so on. That whole thing was missing in my case. A year later he was getting his second tattoo, but I was still stuck with my ugly dragon. I was lucky that my boyfriend didn’t care much about it.
A lot of people told me to make a cover-up, maybe some roses on top of my dragon. I hated that idea. For some reason those roses felt as meaningless as the creature I already had… And I don’t even like roses as flowers. So why would I cover something meaningless with more meaningless.
White Tiger tattoo studio
Couple years later my boyfriend become my fiancé and we were on our biggest journey, spending more than a year in New Zealand (You can read about it HERE). And here in this wonderful country getting a tattoo was such a normal thing. Every other person had them. There was a lot of tattoo salons and a lot of really professional artists. Most travelers got a tattoo as a souvenir from NZ to take back home. As they say – New Zealand is one of the best places to get inked.
I decided I want a souvenir too. I instantly knew what I want and it was meaningful to me as the whole backpacking experience. I wanted it on the top of my foot. First I tried Seventh Day Tattoo Studio in Auckland. They had really particular style of tattoos what they made, with delicate lines and beautiful feminine designs. The waiting was 3 months. I could understand why, but I knew, I will be long gone by then. We were travelers, and we didn’t spend more than 2 months in one place.
I started to accept the fact that I may not get my souvenir after all if the waiting lines will be as long as this one.
When we settled down in Cromwell I knew I could try to find a tattoo artist in Queenstown (also known as one of the most expensive cities in NZ). I already knew about the famous White Tiger Tattoo studio that is open since 1987, but I was realistic and didn’t have much hopes, that the line there will be shorter than in Auckland.
I contacted them and turned out there is no waiting. This place was more like a walk in kind of studio. I made an appointment for the next week just to make sure they will have time for me when I will be in the city. This time I did my homework. I checked the artists and their work online. Originally I wanted Chloe (you can check her work HERE. She is actually relocating to Northisland this year) to do the job, but as I had a phone conversation with Scott (while discussing the idea and making the appointment), I decided that he will be the one to make my tattoo.
Just when the day came closer and closer I had a thought in my head. Why would I make a new tattoo, when I still have this ugliness on my arm? I should finally fix it! 11 Years later I finally got my answer. Our wedding was just months away and I couldn’t bear the thought of still having the dragon on my skin in my wedding pictures.
On the day I came into the studio confident and proud. I told Scott my Idea and he was skeptical. First of all, no artist likes to fix another artists work (unless that’s what they specialize at). Second of all, my dragon was more like a black ink stain, and how can you cover black with more black. That was a concern. But I was determined that this is the day I will fix my awful mistake once for all. So I told how the new tattoo could be placed, so it would cover the old one. Scott took a deep breath and said – I think that might even work! I was relieved.
My artist was Scott McFarlaine (Check his work HERE, and yes he has tattooed Ed Sheeran ;) ). A bulky guy with wide shoulders and friendly smile. I instantly felt connection with him, and I knew I am in good hands. He also make beautiful greenstone carvings (one he even gave to Ed).
It took 30 minutes for him to draw a design for me and I was ready to sit in his chair. I was a bit scared, but as soon as the needle touched my skin I remember the pain and it definitely wasn’t that bad.
I told Scott and the other artists around about how I got my original tattoo, like I told you and they couldn’t stop laughing. I guess now it was finally funny even for me.
He even called one of his friends to come over - a fellow Latvian living in Queenstown who kept company to Aldis.
Just hour and a half later on January 22nd 2019 my dragon was gone. I was beyond happy. And to be honest I cried. I couldn’t believe that it was finally done. My ugly, meaningless, cheap ink stain was covered with something I cared for, something that will always remind me of New Zealand – a Fantail.
A bird that often followed us in hikes, a bird I learned to call making a whistling sound, a bird wild and free like my spirit. And most of all - a bird that slayed the dragon (well Scott technically did, but you know what I mean).
And even though this fantail had so many meanings already, it was somehow even more special, because of that dragon that was hidden behind it’s feathers. So even if others have this bird tattooed on their skin, mine will always be different. My fantail has a dragons heart.
After two weeks of healing I returned to show Scott his work. We had a friendly chat and as we said our goodbyes, I felt a little happy-and sad.
This is a place I would love to return. And hopefully I will.
Thanks to Scott 6 months later, on my wedding day, I felt awesome and beautiful. I will be forever greatful.
How and where to get your own Tattoo in New Zealand?
There are many tattoo artists in New Zealand. It's part of their life and very normal to have a tattoo, so there shouldn't be much of a problem to find the right tattoo artist for you.
Decide what to get;
Google tatoo studios nearby and check the customer feedbacks;
Find artists and check out their portfolios. Most of them have instagram or they have their work posted on studios webpage;
Contact the studio and make an apointment for the consultation;
Tell them your idea, size and color and ask the approximate price (Most places have minimum spent, for the small tattoo around the size of a match box it costs around 400NZD);
Make an appointment for your tattoo (it might take more then one day if it's big or difficult);
Take possible waiting time into consideration (a lot of places have a long waiting list, so don't be surprised).
Enjoy your new artpiece!
Some Places To Get A Tattoo (with shorter waiting lines):
White Tiger Tattoo
Left Hand Path
City of Ink
Ship Shape Tattoo
Sacred Tattoo Shop
Traditional Maori Tattoo or Tatu
The traditional Maori Tattoo or Tatu is made with a bone and wooden stick instead of a contemporary tattoo machines. If you are looking for a tattoo done traditionaly a great place to start is Moko Ink (an artist that even did a tattoo for Rihanna). This is a unique form of art so it is taken very seriously here in New Zealand.
Real Tatu lives with its owner, it tells its story, the story of its family, and the story of its iwi (tribe). With almost no written history, most of the legends, cultures and stories of the Maori people were passed on orally and through their tatus. Every Maori that you will meet proudly wears their tatu and it is personalized indivudually. The owner can tell the story behind every line on their skin. For this reason, only you can design an authentic tatu that will tell your story. You can do so along with an artist but this will take time (and money). This kind of tattoo is very pricey, sometimes risky and a lot more painful.