Reminiscing of Aotearoa

I remember slowly drifting down from the sky and looking out of the airplane window. White clouds shrouded our view, briefly, to tease us, and our eyes would catch a glimpse of emerald green, rolling hills. I was looking upon Middle Earth – floating from a dream in the clouds into a real life tangible dream as the wheels touched the ground and we landed in a place I had dreamed of going to nearly my entire life. We had arrived in The Land of the Long White Cloud. Aotearoa. New Zealand.

We weren’t here to just spend a short two week vacation. We were here to live. Our working holiday visas we had been granted allowed us to live in the country for a year. 

Josh and I had just been married a mere 5 months before embarking on this journey together. We had sold pretty much everything we had, quit our jobs, and the hardest part was saying goodbye to our families. I’m so thankful to this day that our parents allowed and encouraged us to follow our dreams. 

I will never forget that day of landing through the long white clouds and into a breathtakingly beautiful country that I know God must smile upon, for He did a grand job when he created that place. 

Arriving in Wellington felt like it was just yesterday, although, in reality, it has been nearly six years ago that our feet first touched that soil. 

I have a fondness for travel. It’s in my blood. It’s in my husband’s blood. We crave it. Our hearts leap within our chests just imagining and dreaming up our next adventure. We’re always asking and wondering to ourselves, “Where to, next?” 

We are wanderers. We grow restless when we are in the same place for too long. 

Our wanderlust spirit sent us to New Zealand. I remember the first day of walking around Wellington, or “Windy Welly” as it is often called by the locals, and I felt so alive. I felt like my heart was in my chest and I was on a high. For those who love to travel, you understand this feeling. You can’t believe it. You can’t believe that you are there. You want to soak it all in. Savor it. You can hardly wait to explore every nook and cranny of this newfound place. This place that is new to you. There’s something invigorating about that. Knowing your eyes are about to behold sights they have never seen. It’s unnerving but also exhilarating to be out of your element, and to be away from your dull routine you just left behind. The possibilities are endless when you travel. The world is yours. 

This is how I felt in New Zealand. 

The people of New Zealand truly have my heart and admiration, for they are the most hospitable people I have ever met. I noticed our first day there that they are proud of their country. They have a passion for life. 

While living there, our first year of marriage (I must mention that again) we found ourselves growing. Not only growing up as we were figuring life and marriage out on our own, away from our family, but growing as individuals. Josh and I had days where I found myself walking down the street, “running away” from home because of a fight we had just had (though I was really only running away to the nearest Starbucks). There were days when I think both of us wondered how in the world we were going to do this, and there were other days when we cleaved to each other. I am so thankful for that experience, of living in a foreign country away from everything we both knew, so that, in reality, we were forced to cling to one another. As Lucy tells her friend Ethel in one episode of “I Love Lucy”, Which I often thought that it applied to us – “We’re all we’ve got!” And these two wanderers found delight and happiness in sharing in so many adventures together. Arriving there and not really having a plan. Just winging it those first couple months. Driving around all over the North and the South Island. Doing odd, “backpacker” jobs like apple picking. Cleaning houses. Working at an adventure lodge, albeit one day, but… that one’s a long story!

Our love for each other grew as we were trying to make our way through the first year of marriage. It grew despite this force against us. And it grew because of God. I believe with all of my heart that God sent us to New Zealand and that he had a purpose for it. He wanted us to share in this marvelous adventure together, especially in the midst of a time as being known for being hard – marriage – especially the first year. I think God was sitting back and smiling as he watched our year unfold in New Zealand. 

There were so many close calls, where we didn’t have a job lined up or money was running low, in those first couple months of being there, and we were so afraid that we were going to have to give up and go back home. I truly thank God that that didn’t happen. And at those close call moments, people would magically step into our lives and literally say, “I have a job for you!” This happened more than once. And after the couple of months of vagabonding, God blessed Josh with an amazing job back in the city where we had first arrived in. Wellington. This is where our friends were. Our church family. We soon found a flat that became our home. It had sweeping, panoramic views overlooking the very southern edge of the North Island. We could see ferries coming in from the South and watch them make their way into the harbor. Our flat overlooked the airport, and we’d watch planes come and go from distant lands, perhaps from our own home that was nearly 8,000 miles away. 

It was in this land that I felt like Bilbo Baggins from the trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. I had been afraid to leave my comfortable hobbit hole, my home. But the call for adventure was louder than the thought of sitting in my home, looking out my window, wondering what was out there. It was more enticing than sitting down with my books, and reading about travels, instead of being the character myself and living out my own story. 

And adventures did I have. With my husband – my best friend. One of my favorite memories was hiking 19.4 kilometers in one day on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It was overcoming myself – my thoughts of self doubt and that, many times on the hike, I’d tell myself, “I can’t do this!” It was extremely physically taxing and challenging and tested your endurance and your belief in yourself. But, because I pushed on, with the help and encouragement of my husband, I traversed across volcanoes (not dormant volcanoes, by the way) and gasped in awe as I saw the magnificent, turquoise blue of the three pools of sulphuric water. The views were phenomenal, and the clear blue skies gave us a vantage point to see as far as the eye could see. And the best part is, that I did it. I didn’t turn back. They didn’t have to bring a helicopter to get me. I didn’t give up. I will never forget the sacrifice my husband made as he, weary as he was, gently took my heavy backpack from me and carried both his and mine. It was towards the end of the hike and I, like many times along the way, felt like giving up. His sacrifice gave me strength to finish. I will never forget the tears I cried as we were on the last mile and I didn’t know if I could take another step. And the feeling of arriving at the end of the trail and seeing all the other fellow hikers who were just as excited – it was a glorious sight and a feeling of relief washed over me. And I was proud. So proud of us. 

This is just one of countless adventures that we had during the course of our year of living in New Zealand. 

New Zealand felt like home. I felt like I belonged there. And that, my friend, is a good feeling to have. 

I miss it. My heart longs to see The Land of the Long White Cloud again. 

That’s what traveling and living abroad can do to you. It makes you feel a little unsettled or discontent with where you are living and what you are doing. This is one of the hard parts of having a wanderlust spirit, and I strive to be content with where I’m at and make the most out of where we are, wherever that may be. But when you’ve been to a place like New Zealand, your mind can’t help but drift off to those beautiful memories. Those picturesque pastures dotted with sheep. The green rolling hills. The snow capped mountain peaks. And your heart can never forget the warm, kind people that you met along the way and that are now forever a part of your story. 

One of my favorite travel quotes sums it up quite well: 

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends… The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy 

New Zealand will forever be imprinted upon our hearts. I long for the day when, through the airplane window, my eyes catch a glimpse of the emerald green, rolling hills. And, at last, Middle Earth will be my home again.

Confidence

If you have it — you can do anything. No one can stop you. Nothing. You can walk into the conference room with your head held up high, papers in hand, and give a presentation of a lifetime. You can hop on a plane and fly across the globe to a foreign country — where the language barrier is just one of the many odds against you. When you have it — you can climb a 14’er — summit the mountain without even thinking twice about all the dangers. When you have confidence, you can do brave things.

 

But what if you woke up one day and realized that it was gone? You didn’t have it anymore. Your confidence had left the building.

 

First, you might ask yourself and wonder, “How did that happen?” and “Where did it go?”

 

I came to a realization one day that I had indeed lost my confidence. I’m not talking about “self-confidence” in regards to how you view yourself, but the confidence you have in your ability to do things.

 

And I knew why. Why I’d lost it.

 

I’ve always been a girl who loves adventure. Who loves to do things that are brave and to be seen as brave. I wasn’t a wild daredevil, but I found exhilaration, when I was a little girl, to take my shoes off and run around barefoot — risking the chance of getting a “sticker” in my foot. Over the hot, Texas, summer days, I’d run across the street barefoot to my friend’s house — the black pavement burning my feet —but also toughening them up so they became hardened and resilient — perhaps even more resistant to getting those pesky thorns in my foot. I was a “girly-girl”, but I was also a tomboy. I loved climbing high up in the trees that grew in our backyard and sitting there feeling like I was Pocahontas and that I had a connection with the spirit of the tree.

 

As I grew up into a young woman, adventure was still on my heart and wanderlust filled my soul. I dreamed of traveling the world.

 

I met my husband Josh in December 2009. I loved this man — his passion for life and that we shared an affinity for travel. He had already traveled abroad and his stories filled my heart with a longing to see these things. But, more importantly, to see these sights with him.

 

We married in the Spring of 2011.

 

I had confidence back then. Oh yes, I had my doubts and my fears, yes — that is only natural for all of us. But I knew I could do things. I had a mindset, perhaps a bit of pride, that I could do anything.

 

And so, within the first few months of marrying, my husband and I quit our jobs, sold almost everything, packed our bags, said our goodbyes to family, and we moved across the world — from Texas to New Zealand.

 

This was brave indeed and it took a huge amount of confidence in oneself to be able to do this. With our working holiday visa, we were able to live in New Zealand for a year. And, along the way, I got to climb trees again! Well, not technically, but climbed a ladder and picked apples from the trees. It was like being a kid again. Wild and free. Yet working. So, I’ll admit, I didn’t like apple-thinning too much. I hated it. Josh heard me moan and groan a lot. It took only four days to figure out that Lindsey wasn’t meant for manual labor. But I had had my hand at apple-picking. I had tried it.

 

While in New Zealand, Josh and I hiked several trails — that’s one of my favorite activities in life to do is hike. Our greatest accomplishment was hiking the 19.4 kilometer Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I had confidence enough to do this treacherous day-long hike and to climb across volcanoes.

 

And, in New Zealand, I finally overcame my fear of driving on the opposite side of the road, and, after trying it, my heart swelled with pride and confidence. As the saying by Eleanor Roosevelt goes, “You must do the things you think you cannot do.”

 

I had a nickname growing up, given to me by my youth minister who later became my brother-in-law. It was “Linzena – Warrior Princess.”

 

New Zealand was a time when I truly felt like I was a warrior princess.

 

We eventually had to move back to the States, and our next destination became Colorado — so that we could continue to breathe in mountain air and revel in God’s creation. I “bagged” (the term used in Colorado when you accomplish summiting a peak) three “14’er”s as they are called in Colorado — meaning mountain peaks where the summit is over 14,000 feet.

 

To climb a mountain, it takes courage and bravery. It requires confidence in yourself.

 

Little did I know I was about to climb the biggest mountain — the most rugged, treacherous, dangerous one I would ever have to attempt to conquer. And I’m not talking about Long’s Peak.

 

I’m talking about postpartum depression.

 

Our first daughter, Isabella, was born to us on a sunny October day while we were still living in Colorado. It was one of the happiest days of my life. A flood of tears poured from my eyes when I saw her for the first time and heard her first cry. Everything was good — despite the anxiety that I felt intensely every day from the moment she was born.

 

A month after she was born — my mountain appeared. Postpartum depression hit me full force as I woke up on a Monday morning and had my first of what would soon be countless panic attacks.

 

I couldn’t take care of myself. I couldn’t take care of my baby. I was a wreck. The depression and anxiety debilitated me to the point where I could barely eat or drink, and I had thoughts of just wanting to end it all.

 

That is when it happened. Postpartum depression grabbed my confidence, my dignity, my pride, and it ripped it away from me.

 

I had no confidence that the “mountain climbing, world-traveler, Linzena Warrior Princess” could “bag” this foreboding summit that towered above me. That laughed at me. That made me say things like, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t!”

 

It made me feel weak. I couldn’t do anything. And I needed someone to be by my side 24/7, because I was afraid of being alone. I was afraid of the scary thoughts in my head.

 

But, amazingly, after four months of inching my way up this mountain towards recovery, I finally reached the summit! I conquered that which tried to take my life. I won. Postpartum depression and anxiety had been defeated.

 

When I found healing, you can imagine how my life changed. I was on fire! So thankful to be alive. Thank you, God! I had a deep appreciation for life again; for my life. A deep appreciation for my family. A bond that grew between my husband and I as we weathered this storm together. As we, like all the real mountains we climbed together before, this time, my husband carried me on his back many times along the way. I know he did. Our love for each other grew tenfold. I started connecting with my baby daughter again and not feeling so scared of her. It was all so beautiful.

 

It’s in the aftermath, after a battle as intense as the one I went through, that I realized I had suffered many wounds. One of those being, that I lost my confidence. There were ways in which I actually gained confidence after going through that. But, I felt robbed — like something was missing that I once had.

 

Even after recovery, I doubted myself.

 

That’s one of the worst feelings. And it keeps you from doing things. From doing what you used to be able to do.

 

Fear and anxiety still remain with me, even after recovery, and I struggle with anxiety to this day.

 

They say that, after falling off a horse, you have to get right back on. Shake the dust off and keep on.

 

And I have to do the same.

 

And so that is what I do. I “do the things you think you cannot do”. It’s not easy, and I’m still struggling to get a better hold of my anxiety, so that it doesn’t control my life. It’s not easy. But I’m trying.

 

I will continue to climb those beautiful mountains. I will do it with confidence —despite my fears and anxieties. I will and have continued to board those planes to foreign places that light my heart on fire.

 

And I will, despite the wounds I carry, live my life with courage and adventure. I will regain my confidence and, with hardened, tough feet — I will carry on as Linzena Warrior Princess, living out my life Wild and Free.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Day 11 of our North Island holiday (April 10th, 2012)

“Don’t dance on a volcano.” ~French proverb

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So I was going to be Bilbo, and get to climb my big mountains after all. Or, shall I say, volcanoes. There has always been something so alluring to me in the journey of climbing a mountain, and the breathtaking, rewarding view from the top after a wearisome and exhausting struggle. When I was a little girl, I was always outside playing in the dirt and climbing trees, I’ve always had the need to be in the wild, appreciating God’s creation. I feel like a different person when surrounded by the quiet solitude of nature. Being outdoors heightens your senses; you can breathe more deeply and you notice all the little smells—every flower, every weed, tree bark, every pine needle that falls from the trees, and every grain of sand you trample beneath your feet. I remember saying to myself growing up, “I’m going to climb Mt. Everest one day!” Piece of cake. And I would summit Kilimanjaro in Africa; with a lion, tiger, leopard, and cheetah all by my side (for moral support). Going to church camp every summer, the highlight was always hike day when we would climb Mt. Sinai in the mountains of New Mexico. It was always super tough and I thought I would never make it, but I always pushed myself hard, and to be in front. I wanted to lead the pack; I did not want to be in second…I hated being passed. If it killed me, I would be in front, by George! I didn’t ever end up being first, however, but by the end of the steep climb, it was enough just to make it to the top. I will never forget those moments that impacted my life forever standing high above the world, gasping at the view of the valley spread out below me and being above the other mountain ranges. There was a God. I felt him up there on that mountain and felt him hold my hand as the goose bumps formed on my skin after hearing the resounding echo of all the camper’s voices shouting “PRAISE GOD!” in the youth group song, “Pass It On.” I have climbed mountains in Colorado, with peaks reaching over 14,000 feet, passing wildflowers of pink, purple, yellow, and blue along the way and seeing remnants of the winter snow slowly melting away. I think that is one of the prettiest scenes I’ve ever seen. The rush you get, still puffing and gasping for breath, heart pounding, as you see how far you came and the reward in knowing you did that; you conquered the mountain—that feeling is something I feel is hard to surpass.

 
Josh and I were ready to conquer our mountain. To conquer a mountain in New Zealand, Wow! The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the most popular day hike in all of New Zealand, and we had been waiting to climb this months before arriving in the country from the pictures and videos we saw online and the emerald and turquoise pools lying in the middle of the volcanic wasteland. The Discovery Lodge we were staying at, when we were checking in the night before, the owner was trying to convince us to book our transportation to the crossing with their van. We thought that would be quite convenient until she said that it would be leaving at 5:45 in the morning. Say what?? It was a little more expensive than the transport we had actually already booked with Adventure HQ that we had stopped by a few minutes the previous day and chatted with the nice lady who gave us tips on hiking the crossing. We had considered cancelling, but imagining us having to wake up that early seemed insane and pointless. She had a pretty good argument saying we would beat all the other people (there would be busloads and vanloads of people arriving at the crossing the same time we would) and have time to enjoy and not be in a rush to get back to the bus. We would remember her words . . . later.

 
We got up still pretty early on Tuesday morning and we had already packed our daypacks and loaded up with food. I was so ready to embark on this new adventure and feel like true explorers and trampers. It was a little cloudy that morning, but the forecast was expecting clear skies that afternoon; absolutely perfect hiking weather to provide ample views. We left our lodge and drove to the crossing transport, then loaded up in the van with three other adventurous trampers. The waiting part is what can get to us; in whatever situation that may be; waiting for an answer, waiting for the airplane, waiting in an emergency room for news of your loved one, waiting to find out whether or not you passed that test. It’s the unknowing part . . . encountering a place you’ve never been before . . . a mountain we were told is fairly easy to climb, and wondering if you will be able to conquer this beast after all as it looms above you. It had looked much smaller the evening before as we stared at it from our lodge. I started thinking again all the things I do before doing something like this, what if, what if. Thankfully the drive wasn’t too long. Once we turned onto the dirt road and were driving straight towards the mountains, then the adrenaline and excitement started kicking in. We arrived at the car park to see loads of other hikers being dropped off, and we got out, smelling the fresh, pure morning air, and seeing the clouds hugging the mountains and slowly streaming away to give us a view of its grandeur. At that moment I found it reassuring to be surrounded by so many people; made me feel safe and like this had to be attainable. Everyone’s enthusiasm was infectious…adventurers in search of lofty heights to stake their claim.

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Let me tell you, first of all, how much distance this day-long hike covered. 19.4 kilometers. That means 12 miles. We knew this beforehand, and what did this sound like to us? Easy as pie. It was estimated that on average it takes between 6 to 8 hours to complete, including stopping for breaks and to eat lunch. We arrived at 8:00 a.m.; our transport had three departing times: 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00. Pickup times were: 3:00, 4:00 and 5:30.

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The first few minutes we started our Great Walk I was gloating; I felt so happy and brave as we were walking on straight, flat paths as the volcano was getting closer in view and seeing the clouds slowly vanish. We both were using our walking sticks that Antony had given us, and knew that we looked like the epitome of a New Zealand tramper. Except for the fact that everyone was passing us. Everyone. That didn’t bother me, in fact, I wanted them to pass and I said, “Good grief, what is their hurry?!” And smiled as I kept stopping to take videos. Josh was patient with me, though he is always in a hurry and, as I’ve mentioned before, we are quite opposite in this. He’s a speed walker and I hop and skip around and do little twirls as I throw daisies in the air, just wanting to take it all in and savor each moment. “I want to enjoy this!” I said, which he actually agreed to, and I said, “There’s no need to rush! What is wrong with these people?” Josh and I were both going camera crazy, of course, and just smiled as all the hikers passed us. We were impressed with ourselves when we came upon the marker that announced we had already reached one kilometer . . . wow, we were doing good!

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We had walked about thirty minutes, when we approached our first uphill battle. It’s all fun and games until you start climbing uphill! And then, I started doubting myself. I should have prepared more for this, I was thinking. I thought I had gotten in better shape since we’d arrived in New Zealand and been here a few months, and was thinking of the times I had hiked up the trails by our flat. “I am so out of shape!” I said to Josh, already huffing and puffing as we climbed up and carefully around the rocks alongside a stream. My heart was pounding. We made it through that little patch, and then saw a long stretch of a boardwalk. Flat. Hooray! My love for the outdoors and my thrill-seeking self left me after only forty-five minutes of starting the hike, which I realized when a group of young high-school looking kids basically ran past us and I almost snarled and hissed at them like Gollum. Who do you think you are? And what are you trying to prove, you little young whippersnappers?! I thought to myself. I was beginning to feel old at 25.

 
As we edged closer and closer to the base of the volcano, we realized what a barren wasteland this was, and, in the fall of New Zealand, we were in the open sun and felt the temperature rising swiftly, increased all the more by us expending our energy. We were in the land of Mordor; seriously. I will never forget the moment, when, already feeling tired, I looked up at the volcano and saw tiny dots way up high. What is that? Ohhh Nooooo!!! Those dots were people! For some reason, we had heard and I guess what all we had read about it and the pictures I’d seen, I was expecting this to be a fairly easy hike. I thought it would be just a little uphill, kind of more like our experience at Rangitoto Island, a gradual, easy ascent, and that we would be walking more along the base of the volcano. Looking at those specks, how small they looked in comparison to the towering volcano, and where we were being at the base and how far we had to go, I felt incredibly tempted to turn around. We were staring at Mount Ngauruhoe, which, for you Lord of the Rings fans, is MOUNT DOOM!! I felt dread, probably just as much dread as Sam and Frodo had when they stared up at Mount Doom, carrying also with them the burdensome One Ring. Many hikers were stopped at this point in the track called Soda Springs for a bathroom break, as these port-a-potties were the last toilet facilities for a long time. That of course was not a pleasant experience, but can’t be too picky when you are in the outdoors. Josh and I stopped in that area to eat with fellow hikers to give us some protein before the grueling struggle we were about to partake in. I had part of a banana and ate a chocolate/nut protein bar with raisins; that was actually quite yummy for being so healthy. We finally strapped our packs on again, put on a brave face and headed towards the first steps of the straight up climb. There was a big warning sign at the start of the steps, saying if you doubt your fitness then turn back now, and all the dangers we were about to encounter…you know, like walking along two volcanic craters, that last erupted not too long ago; these were definitely not extinct. I kept imagining how screwed we would be if it erupted, especially me, as a few minutes ago I could have imagined myself sprinting away from the lava, but not now as I dragged my heavy legs up the first steps. I am a pretty determined individual, after all is said and done, and despite my inner struggle, the thought of giving up and turning back would only make me a coward.

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It was straight up, and each movement of my legs up to the next step hurt. My thighs were burning, and felt like I barely had the strength to lift myself up. The walking stick didn’t seem to provide much help in the conditions, but it was better than nothing. I was so out of breath, and could hear my heart loud in my ears. Josh and I had to stop quite frequently, though I would have stopped a lot more if I were alone; sometimes I want to appear more brave for him, too, I think. I want him to think I’m a tough cookie. It helped seeing him and hearing him express how hard this was for him as well, and I know he was definitely putting on a brave face for me. He was always ahead though, but would wait for me and give me time to catch my breath. And he’d encourage me, for I kept saying, over and over again, “I can’t do this.” And then after the next round of steps, “No, I really can’t do this!” It was never-ending. After we rounded a corner, and Josh predicted this was the last part we had to climb and then it would be flat, well, then we’d round the bend and groan heavily to see that we had only just begun. A few of those little high-schoolers, the girls in the pack, who had been so eager and arrogantly pushed past us before, were now slouched on the rocks and panting for breath, looking like they weren’t so fit after all. We took turns passing them the next several moments, as many other hikers seemed to slow down during this exhausting part of the ascent. We passed a few people, but then we’d stop for a while and they were ahead again. It was slightly annoying since I am very competitive, especially when it comes to climbing mountains, but in all reality, at the time I couldn’t care less if the Dalai Lama passed by me on his portable carpet carried by his servants. We were really starting to feel bad, though, whenever we saw some quite older people, as in they looked like they were in their 60’s, possibly older, were beginning to pass us up. We couldn’t let that happen! But they soon became our competition. I was expecting to see a Granny on a motorized wheelchair lift come zooming past us yelling, “Wheee! Yippee!!!!”
In retrospect, I haven’t felt too bad as we’ve researched the hike even more, and looking on their website it does say that some parts of the walk are pretty treacherous. The part we were hiking then is described on the site as follows:

 

Soda Springs to South Crater
“Grade: Moderate – Difficult, allow 40 minutes to an hour.

This section of the track, known as the Devil’s Staircase, is steep – climbing from 1400 to 1600 metres above sea level. You will need to take your time on this section, but on a clear day the view down the valley and out across the surrounding countryside is well worth it.”

After reading about it in that factual context, I feel even more proud of us. So there we were, climbing Devil’s Staircase onto Mount Doom! If that doesn’t sound intimidating, I don’t know what would. We at last reached the top of that section, and were now very close to Mt. Doom. Now this was a volcano, what you really imagine one looking like; a red mountain with its top blown off. I looked up at the massive formation, and saw that people were climbing it, but fortunately and quickly learned that summiting Mount Ngauruhoe was optional; a side trip you could take if you were up to it. On any other day, perhaps, or if we had been in better shape and had more time, we would have followed the overachievers, but the sign said 2 ½ hours return, and, the height at it which it still towered above us didn’t make me cry in my soup that we didn’t summit that mountain. It would be impossible to have summited, though, unless we had been dropped off at 6:00 in the morning, or some people break it up and stay in one of the huts as it would make the total trip 11 to 12 hours.

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We walked a little further and joined others who were stopped to take a break and to take in the incredible views. It was quite rewarding to look down and see the path so far away and small below that we had amazingly tread and conquered. We saw a few people, that were now dots from this angle looking down, and I felt quite sorry for them. Those were the ones who obviously were dropped off an hour later than us, and I knew they’d soon be catching up with us! It was nice to be around the people again, though, and we all seemed to share something; a bond in that we had all defeated the volcano. And bonded that everyone else around us looked beat. We didn’t tarry too long there, as the journey had really just begun when looking at the sign and how much further we had to go. We did stop and talk to another married couple our age, he was from the States and she was Kiwi, and we took pictures for each other. Josh and I were so relieved to see the path ahead of us was flat for quite a while; it stretched on for what looked like miles. We needed this. It looked like we were in the barren desert in Arizona as we walked the dusty trail of this lifeless land. Felt like we were on the moon. The sun was beating down, but it thankfully wasn’t too hot. Our bodies went through temperature changes quite frequently as we would get worked up and have to shed layers of clothes, then, put them on again when reaching the great heights. As we were walking through no man’s land, the flat lands gave rest to the muscles in our legs and we felt the confidence return and the adrenaline in our bodies push us forward again. We were so small walking beneath these towering, violent mountains, and I envisioned the lava flowing down and the mountain spewing smoke miles into the sky.

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“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
~Nelson Mandela

 

Nelson Mandela was sure right. The flat lands did not last too long, and my heart dropped when I saw the tiny silhouettes of people again climbing up far ahead of us. This almost looked worse than the hike up to the South Crater! As we got closer, the terrain looked much more dangerous and rocky, and I began to regret wearing my tennis shoes instead of buying hiking boots. The lady at the transport place told me I would be fine with these, my runners, if I was used to them and had them broken in. She said it wasn’t as bad as they make it sound in the brochures. I wasn’t so sure now, though. The next several minutes I do believe were one of the worst of all the hike (but not the only, haha) and if I had to rate it between the last uphill battle we had done earlier, I honestly would have to say this one was harder. It wasn’t as long having to climb this straight uphill part, but it was rocky and you had to be very careful. I felt pretty scared, too, and did not want to fall (of course) and so the fear magnifies the experience and your nerves can overwhelm you. Of course, you are supposed to remain calm, but I certainly felt nothing of the sort, especially as the wind had picked up here pretty strong, and I was worn out. The wind was brutally cold and I had to put all my layers on again. We stopped a couple times here, but I didn’t want to pause too long as the heights and lack of secure foot holdings made us feel the urgency to carry on. We caught up with many people here and the congestion of hikers made me feel like I didn’t have to rush so much and made me feel better again that I wasn’t the only one struggling; this was really tough! There were no railings, of course, and our feet would slip a couple of times. I was quite annoyed at this point, and beginning to feel like Bilbo: “Why O why did I ever leave my hobbit-hole?” said poor Mr. Baggins, bumping up and down on Bombur’s back.” I was wishing to be back in the Shire, or back on solid ground, with my feet propped up, snuggled up next to the fire, away from all this danger and exhausting journey. I heard one girl struggling near us say, “I have more sympathy for Frodo and Sam, now.” And I laughed to myself, making a mental note to remember that and write about it. At this point, with the wind blowing fiercely, and the never-ending goal of reaching the top of this cragged precipice, I almost started crawling like Sam and Frodo do up Mount Doom. Where is Sam when you need him? I thought to myself. When Frodo was exhausted beyond all imagining and had fought against the burden physically and mentally with carrying the One Ring, he could not go one step further and collapsed on the mountainside, just feet away from his goal, the chasm where he must throw in the ring and destroy it. Sam sees his friend’s defeat, and cries out, “Come on Mr. Frodo, I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!” That scene in the movie always gets me, and I can’t help but cry. Talk about a true blue friend. I needed him to give me that pep talk right then and call out, “Come on Mrs. Lindsey, don’t give up! I’m here . . . I can carry you!”

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The heavens seemed to open and the angels gathered around to sing “Hallelujah!” when we finally made it up those rocks and saw the flat place where several other people were stopped and eating lunch. We definitely needed to take a big rest after our battle. The hikers were happy, proud to have accomplished the two hardest parts of the crossing. The views were unsurpassable and we could see for miles and miles. I turned around and looked where we had just come and my jaw dropped open at seeing how high up we were and how truly ginormous the volcano was that we just passed and could have summited. It really put me in my place . . . God’s creation; so powerful and humbling to see the mountains and volcanoes, this land he created. Josh and I found us a spot facing the volcano and ate our lunch. We were exhausted and not talking much; we were beat. I gazed in wonder at the volcano and its width and height, wishing I could stay there much longer to really take in this magnificent site. I ate my sandwich, another protein bar, and beef jerky. We had brought plenty of water, which really added to the weight of our packs, but better to be safe than sorry. We only stayed there a few minutes as we knew we still had much further to go and everyone else was moving on as well. It was fun to watch the people as they appeared to this safety zone, and seeing their weary faces turn into smiles of relief. There was always that sense of urgency to carry on, being on top of a volcano that we were, but also we did not want to be left behind and miss our van, though we still guesstimated we had plenty of time. With the time change occurring that previous week, night was falling early, and we definitely did not want to be caught on the mountain in the dark without a flashlight or for any reason.

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We carried on, and looking ahead saw that we just had a little more uphill to go. Goodness gracious! It looked very easy though and just a small slope. This was amazing! Now, we were walking right alongside a crater, the red crater as it is called. It was massive, and we were seriously walking along the edge with a straight drop off just inches away into the hole of the volcano. For some reason, I didn’t feel that scared, I was just amazed and in awe. We took our time here, looking at the panoramic views and taking pictures and videos. At last, we walked a few more feet and our eyes got wide with excitement when we saw the infamous Emerald Lakes down below. What we had seen in pictures and thought how cool it would be to go hike and see that when we went to New Zealand! And here we were! It made us feel so proud, and it was hard to believe that we were now living out those images by being here in the flesh. It seemed random, that in this wasteland, in the middle of a barren, plant-less landscape, that there were pools of water…not just brown, lake water but bright turquoise, green, and blue (I find it hard to describe in one color haha), three pools of water that are filled with minerals from the rocks. We could smell the sulfur, rotten-egg odor, and steam was coming up from the ground in several places. I wouldn’t be filling my bottle with that water, nor would I be touching it. All I could think of was the old grandma in Dante’s Peak, when she got in the water and pushed the boat with her family inside to shore, and her legs were all burned. Yikes. Going down from the red crater down to the emerald lakes was also somewhat of a challenge but also fun, and scary. It was a lot of loose sand (actually scoria) and loose pebbles so you had to be really careful. It was quite a steep descent and I was going very slow as I didn’t want to fall. I hate that feeling when your feet just come out from underneath you and you have no control. That happened quite a few times; I would laugh at Josh as he almost fell in front of me, and then it would happen to me seconds later. Everyone around us was uncool in those moments though, it didn’t matter who you were, how fit you were, or what kind of shoes you had on, we all were slipping around and feeling embarrassed. I was going down very slowly, but sometimes just slid a few inches down, which was quite fun. It made me nervous though, and my legs started feeling shaky. I was extremely happy when we got to the bottom and were finally at the lakes. We walked around them and were just amazed and trying, once again, to take in the reality of the situation. The color of the water was beautiful and rare. Many people were stopped here and eating. We didn’t stay long, just about five minutes for pictures, as we were really wanting this hike to be OVER!

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I was relieved to see flat lands again and these several minutes gave our legs a vacation. I wished I had blinders on like a horse, however, and I groaned angrily when I saw we still had more climbing to do. This is ridiculous! I had no idea it was going to be like this, and I couldn’t imagine my legs being able to lift up anymore. They were killing me. It was getting warm again as there was not a cloud in the sky…climbing those rocks was tough, but not near as bad as what we’d already encountered. It still took quite a while, and Josh and I were getting in worse moods with each staggering movement. Once we reached the top of that section, we had reached another lake called Blue Lake, a huge pool of water, this time with dark colors. It was silent and still; quite eerie. According to Maori, these waters are sacred and it is a disgrace to eat at the water’s edge. Looking down into the valley on the other side that we had walked from, to the side we saw a huge forest of black . . . an old lava trail. Crazy! Once we passed the Blue Lake and rounded another corner and a few more steps upwards, we came upon a place in the hike that I thought was the best view of all. We could see all the way to Africa! It felt like we were on top of the world, and we could see Lake Taupo and who knows what all bodies of water we were seeing. It was breathtaking. We had lost a lot of the people and were alone to enjoy the views and the quiet. It was nice to not have a crowd swarmed around us. Josh said, “It’s all downhill from here!” And, he was right this time. I could not have imagined one more step up, I would not have been able to do it. For a while, our paths were straight and level, and we were now on the other side of the volcano, and this part of the land was now covered with plant life, which was wonderful to see for a change. The air felt cooler again but the sun was beating down on us making me start to feel nauseous and from the exhaustion my body was feeling. Walking along the edge of that trail we took in the views, and I just wanted to pitch a tent there and call it a day. No wonder some people break up this trek; some people do a four or five day hike around the mountains, covering many more miles than we were of course. I’m sure they wouldn’t have been going 19 kilometers in one day, either. “What is that?” I asked, as in the distance, we thought we saw a volcano erupting. I never found out what it was, I guess a grass fire, but it seriously looked like smoke coming from the top of a mountain. Standing up there, with the world far below, we felt pretty accomplished, and yet our eyes couldn’t really take all of it in, there was so much to see, such a panoramic view, our eyes were in information overload, “Woah, what’s going on here!” We were so small and the world was stretched out before us seemingly infinite. It was similar to standing at the Grand Canyon and your eyes not being able to take in the grand magnitude of it all. I didn’t feel as proud as I normally have in the past when climbing a mountain, mainly because I knew it wasn’t over and we felt like we were in a race against time to get back before nightfall and our van leaving. I was in a lot of pain, too. Josh was complaining quite frequently as well.

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Thus began our slow descent. And I mean slow . . . slow and painful. We had begun noticing that the signs along the way saying the next destination and how long it would take to get there were wrong. Dead wrong. If the sign said it would take 45 minutes to an hour to get to Red Crater, in reality, it took two hours. We were going at a normal speed, too, actually we felt we were going pretty fast. At first, I kept dreaming about the downhill part and how great that would be and was relieved when I saw the path leading downwards, but after a few minutes, I felt like this was worse than going up. Our legs were not used to this trauma, and we were pushing our bodies to the limits; that is no exaggeration from me, but the honest truth. You would think going down would be easier, but, not so. What muscles in our legs we didn’t use going up, we were certainly using now, and the back of my thighs and legs and my calves and my knees were burning and felt like jello. When we rounded a bend, and saw the Ketetehai Hut far down below, with a zigzag trail of switchbacks leading down to it, I groaned yet felt relieved. It took a long time to get there, however, and I just could not believe how much my legs were screaming at me, and was scared that I wouldn’t be able to complete this hike. There seemed no way that I would be able to; we still had hours left to go…an estimated three more at that point. It was during this section of our hike, that once again seemed to be never-ending, and trying desperately to keep up with the long, fast strides of my husband, that I had a little hissy fit. I had been complaining quite frequently throughout the duration of the day, but then again, so had Josh, and it really helped me mentally to complain out loud to him for some reason…most of the time he would encourage me and motivate me to keep on going, that I was doing great. By this time, however, I was worn out, and it was the worst time to be a girl that day, to boot. Always perfect timing, I tell you. My hormones were therefore also my excuse, and I started ranting…I felt so angry. “Why are you in such a rush anyways, you’re just like all these other people, it’s like your in a race against the clock!” I snarled. “Because we have to make it back in time for our van, I’m worried; you don’t want to be left behind on this mountain, DO YOU?” He snapped back. “Well, look at your watch! We got plenty of time…calm down and SLOW DOWN!” I yelled. There were a couple of name-callings on my part, very mature and a good wife of me to be, and then he was no longer patient with me and said how I’d been complaining the entire time. “Well excuse me, but so have YOU!” I had the wrath of Khan in me, and I was ready to defeat any enemy on this side of the mountain. I was so mad and angry at all the people who kept passing us, one after another, and they were all practically running past us, which Josh mentioned that we weren’t even going fast, look at all these other people, and none of these girls were complaining. That was it. I was so sick of all these trampers and my ego being lowered and confidence in myself to conquer this mountain after all with each one that I had to stop for or move to the side so they could pass me. “This isn’t the Olympics!” I felt like shouting. A couple times I stopped dramatically and abruptly and just let a couple of them pass, and kind of rolled my eyes and acted really put out that they were passing me, haha, I wasn’t being very nice, I admit. With all the people passing us, it reminded me of the panicky feeling you get when taking an exam, and you aren’t doing so great and it’s taking you a long time, and you look up and everyone is already finishing and leaving the room, leaving you and only a couple others behind. Oh no, I better hurry! Anyways, so my ranting at my husband lasted for several minutes and I’m sure a few people heard me, but I couldn’t care less at that moment. I needed to get off this mountain, and I needed to get off NOW. Anger and adrenaline can keep you going, though, and to prove a point, I started powerwalking and left Josh behind in the dust. That wore me out, though, and I was happy to finally, eventually, let him pass me and take the lead again. By that time we had almost reached the hut and he slowed down his pace significantly, almost too dramatically, in order to spite me, or to make a point, or to be nice, not sure which. The bathroom break was needed at that time, and was quite a relief, though those port-a-potties were just horrible, ugh.

 

Josh and I sat on the porch of the hut along with quite a few other trampers, who all seemed to be feeling the same pain and loss of motivation that we were. I wanted to stay and sleep in the hut, apparently that was one that trampers use who do the around the mountain tracks. Wished we had gone inside to look at what it looked like, but we didn’t…Josh was ready to get back on the trail. He didn’t remember what the pick-up times were, which I had them mentally in my head, as it was, by this time, almost 3:00, and he was thinking the next time that we could make was like 3:30. I said I don’t know why you are aiming for that, we have plenty of time, it actually picks up at 3:00, 4:00, and 5:30…I guarantee you! But he didn’t really believe me and I told him to get out our info sheet that told us, but he was being hard-headed (as we both seem to be with each other haha) and stuck to what he believed. By this time, we had lost a lot of the fellow hikers again, and were alone and not being tailed by the overachievers. The sun was getting much lower in the sky, and according to the sign at the hut, it would take us 1 to 1 ½ hours to get down to the car park from there. We kept descending, and descending, and every step was more agonizingly painful than the last. We wanted this to end, and were now both hurrying as much as we could, not because we felt up to it, but we needed to reach the goal and be done with this ridiculous torture. Whose idea was this? What were we thinking? Never again. There were so many steps going down, and then a few more uphill steps, randomly, that I detested. I couldn’t carry on much further; my legs were about to give out. Thankfully, I have a good husband; I was slowing down and being serious when I said, “Baby, I really can’t do this anymore”, Josh was sweet and grabbed my heavy pack from my shoulders, strapped it across his chest, along with his heavy backpack, and I felt like a free woman with that burden lifted off. And, I was in love with him again! Haha. That was so sweet and sacrificial of him, shows what a great man he is, and strong, and loving and protective, and patient despite my earlier mean behavior. I was able to get another rush of energy and adrenaline and started running down the path with this newfound freedom, and it helped my legs for a while.

 

We reached our next sign, and my heart dropped, as did our morale when we saw the sign said 45 more minutes. Are you kidding me? How could that be? I told you those signs were wrong…we had been going fast and thought we were nearly there, I couldn’t imagine. At this point, I was thinking that the sign in the beginning said 17 kilometers, and we were at the 16 mark, so I was like, “oh only 1 more kilometer to go!”, but as we kept going downhill and down more steps that I felt my legs wobble with each excruciatingly painful movement of my leg down onto the next step, then I realized that it was 19.4, not 17. That makes a world of difference. By now, we were in a forest, and walking alongside streams. Normally I would have been pausing and taking in the beauty and enjoying the reprieve from the sun that had been making me feel ill, but by now all I could think was, Survive, Just survive. I was carrying my pack again, and I will never forget these next few moments. I had slowed down significantly and was dragging every step forward . . . Josh was so far ahead of me, he seemed to be doing just fine, and I felt so alone and abandoned in these few moments when everything just finally got to me. He wasn’t that far ahead of me, but with the sun behind the trees and the darkness of the forest around us, and no people but their faint voices catching up from behind, I became completely overwhelmed. I was defeated. I felt completely defeated by the mountain; my body could not carry on, I was utterly spent. I had wanted to remain and had been tough for so long, being so competitive and strong-willed, especially when it comes to hiking, but that was all over now. With night coming upon us quickly, I knew there was no way I would make it back to the car park in time, or ever. A few minutes ago Josh and I had been aiming for the 4:00, but by now we had long passed that. I told myself, they are going to have to have a helicopter come get me. And then I thought, Josh is going to just have to leave me behind, and I imagined myself laying on the forest floor and lifting my arm weakly in the air and whispering, “It’s okay . . . go on without me.” And waving goodbye to him. Two kilometers seemed absolutely impossible. If I saw another set of steps going down, I knew I was just going to collapse. I thought of the verse, “and he will make your paths straight”, and I prayed that God would do that, but I only saw more steps. After what seemed like eternity, Josh noticed me trailing way behind, and slowed down. I couldn’t help it; by then, the tears just clouded my eyes, blurring my vision, and started streaming down my face. I felt like a baby, so helpless and sad and scared and defeated and weak. “Baby, are you okay, what’s wrong?” and then he saw my tears, “I can’t do this anymore, I really can’t…” as I cried on his shoulder as he hugged me and wiped away my tears. “It’s okay baby, I know, we are almost there, it’s right around the corner, you’ve been doing SO good!” A few people walked by at that moment and this one lady turned and looked at me funny and I tried to hide my tears. What are you staring at lady? I thought to myself. Josh then took my pack from me again, which I felt bad for but grateful to him because I knew he was just as exhausted. Those kilometers were one of the worst moments of my life, seriously. I was basically limping and I will never forget and cannot describe the fire burning in my legs, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Around each bend we kept hoping to see the car park, but the path before us was infinite. I was reminded of Bilbo again, and visions of laying in my bed in my comfortable imaginary hobbit-hole after eating a huge meal brought some comfort:

 

“To think it will soon be June,” grumbled Bilbo, as he splashed along behind the others in a very muddy track. It was after tea-time; it was pouring with rain, and had been all day; his hood was dripping into his eyes, his cloak was full of water; the pony was tired and stumbled on stones; the others were too grumpy. “And I’m sure the rain has got into the dry clothes and into the food-bags,” thought Bilbo. “Bother burgling and everything to do with it! I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!” It was not the last time that he wished that!” -The Hobbit

 

At last, and I mean at last, we rounded a bend and just ahead of us I saw what was the most glorious sight in all the world . . . cars! We had made it to the car park! My whole body ached. A few more steps and we finally arrived! We heard a lot of cheers as we had caught up with people who were approaching the finish line every few minutes. Vans and buses were waiting, and I was hoping ours was there, but it wasn’t yet. It was 5:00. Good thing we had rushed, for in 30 minutes our last ride would be coming. Josh and I found a spot on the deck, and laboriously sat down, and then lay down and didn’t move. I ate a banana and another protein bar, and we didn’t say anything, but just sat in silence. The look on his face said he was in a lot of pain, and couldn’t believe what we had just gone through either. It had taken us exactly 8 hours to complete that monster.

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And we had!! We did it! Josh and I conquered the mountain . . . the volcanoes! It would take us days after the fact to feel grateful for it, because then, sitting there staring blankly ahead not being able to move a muscle, it did not seem worth it, at all.

 

After a few minutes of finally having my heart rate calm down and getting more nutrition and resting my legs, my mood cheered up as more people reached the car park, and dragged themselves and collapsed on the floor. A lot of them laughed at each other, and I smiled to myself as they were all groaning. It was like we had just climbed Mount Everest. It helped a lot, and I felt tons better seeing all the pain people were in around me. Maybe I wasn’t such a pansy after all.

 

Our van was another site for sore eyes at five-thirty. The sun was almost completely gone, and so, when the van arrived, the air was getting significantly colder. I dreaded the part of getting up from our spot, which was no picnic for the legs; thankfully we were able to rise up and carry ourselves to the van. We were joined by two other couples, and waited for another guy, who we hadn’t heard from and waited for five minutes, but he didn’t show up, so the driver of the van just left. Poor guy, I hope he somehow got a ride back. When the driver was checking us in and about to slide the van door closed, he asked us how it was, and we all kind of moaned. He was a tough looking outdoorsy guy, and he said, “Now time for a beer a two…you guys definitely earned it!” And we all just laughed. There was silence the whole way back, and I felt so happy to be sitting beside my husband in this van, and couldn’t wait to shower and stuff my face with food. We got back to the transport, got into our car, and then talked and vented about how tired and hungry we were. It was about a ten-minute drive back to our lodge, and that was the best hot shower ever. Felt so good to be clean and the heat helped my aching muscles. We drove back into the village to another lodge as there were only a couple restaurants open at that hour, and ate at the restaurant. I don’t even remember what I ate, all I know is that it was good, and I didn’t leave a single thing on my plate. Familiar faces surrounded us as we saw many of those we had met along the way on the track, and heard them telling their stories. We even saw those older couples that had passed us right on up, and they were laughing heartily…man those old folk put us to shame! Haha.

 

What a great, eventful, rewarding way to end our anniversary trip! That night, it took me forever to fall asleep, which was so annoying, but I was just in so much agony and re-living the events of that day. We felt truly accomplished, more so the next day, Wednesday, despite the intense aching in our bodies and the drive back to a cloudy and rainy Wellington was fast. We were actually quite ready to be back to familiar territory again, and be able to rest and relax in our flat. We’d had an amazing, North Island expedition, and the best one year anniversary trip I could have ever asked for. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is something we will always remember and be proud of ourselves for, and the teamwork in helping each other survive it (well more on Josh’s part for me anyways, haha.) And we can both honestly say; that was the hardest thing we have ever done. They call the walk a once in a lifetime experience, boy, ain’t that the truth. We will never, ever be doing that again!

Interesting facts:

“The most recent confirmed volcanic activity from Red Crater was reported between 1855 and 1890. The dike on the Southern Wall has been exposed by erosion. Lava would have flowed through this dike and poured into the Oturere Valley.
Mount Ngauruhoe is the youngest volcano in the area and started to form about 2500 years ago. It is the most active vent in the Tongariro area with its last eruption recorded in 1975. The most recent flows from Mount Ngauruhoe are easily visible on the way to South Crater.”

http://www.tongarirocrossing.org.nz/

***
How fit do I have to be?
“The true answer is fit enough. A moderate to good level of fitness is required. It is a 19.4km walk which starts with a staged climb to Red Crater. The thing to consider is that you will be climbing nearly 800m in altitude to 1900m above sea level and as a result you may feel the effects of oxygen deficiency (hard to breath, slight dizziness) This is not common but needs to be considered. The decent from Red Crater requires some coordination and balance due to the volcanic ash and scree that is underfoot. From this point you will be descending just over 1000m in altitude most of which is a good steady gradient. At all times you should consider the possibility that if you do not feel you can do it, turn back! It is better to return to the start (if you have not already passed the Red Crater) than to try and continue and be caught out in the dark requiring rescue.”
http://www.tongarirocrossing.org.nz/

New Plymouth and National Park Village

Days 8, 9, & 10 of our North Island holiday (April 7th, 8th, and 9th, 2012)

We left Matamata that Saturday afternoon and headed southwest towards New Plymouth. Every year the New Plymouth Church of Christ hosts the Easter Camp, and speakers come from across the world. I had learned previously that my old preacher from the church I grew up in Midland, Mike Vestal, was going to be one of the speakers. It was pretty neat that I would be seeing my preacher from West Texas across the globe in New Zealand! I remembered again the slideshows he would present to the congregation after taking mission trips throughout the years to NZ, and the reports we would hear back from Rod Kyle, the missionary from New Plymouth that our church supported.

 
The drive was long to New Plymouth, but we enjoyed every minute it and I never wanted to take for granted the scenery. I remember one moment when my heart just welled up with joy as we were listening to Josh Groban, “So She Dances” and being surrounded by green hills and valleys, and sheep, and golden sunlight dancing all around us. And, I was sitting there beside my husband. I felt so grateful and blessed for these amazing moments. Thank you, God.

 
We rounded a bend of slow, windy roads and both exclaimed, “Woah!” when we saw a mountain that looked like Mount Fuji…towering miles and miles into the sky. We were far away, but its grandiose height was captured despite our distance…behold, Mount Taranaki. The coast spread out before us again, a relieving sight as we’d been landlocked the past few days, and white, billowy clouds hovered underneath the top of the volcano.

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Josh and I reached New Plymouth in the evening, and found ourselves a decent hotel to rest our weary, car-driven bodies. I was excited to be some place new…always craving different sights.

 
The next morning, Easter Sunday, we drove to the campus where they were holding the Easter Camp. It did not feel like Easter, not one bit. It almost felt like we were in a different world in that small city. I was glad to see preacher Mike, again, and for him to get to meet my husband. We talked for a few minutes and caught up with life’s happenings. I got to see my friend Adeline, as she and Carl had come up for the weekend for it, so that was good. We listened to a great sermon from Mike, and I was happy to hear a familiar preaching style that I had listened to for years growing up; he’s a really good preacher and I like that I am easily able to take notes. Josh and I stayed for class as well, which Mike likes to call on people to read, so my hubby had to stand up and read a few verses on the spot. Mike said that he knew that this young man had to be a good guy, because he is married to one of the sweetest girls I know. I thought that was nice. It was great to get to see preacher Mike again.

 
Josh and I left after it was over and were trying to figure out our plans, whether or not to hit the road or stay a couple days here. We went and ate lunch; I ate my first Turkish kebab, which I inhaled, as we sat on the boardwalk by the beach. We wanted desperately to climb Mt. Taranaki, to summit that huge mountain, or volcano, whatever it was. In fact, it was filmed to represent Mt. Fuji, and Tom Cruise was quite famous with the locals in this area when he filmed The Last Samurai a few years ago. We had talked to another couple from church that said that they had summited it, but that it was hard—it took them like 4 to 6 hours. We felt like we were in a race against time, and not sure really what we were thinking, but after going to the I-site and learning more and getting some brochures, we headed towards Mt. Taranaki. It was already mid-day so there was no way we could have made it to the top, I guess we were just wanting to get a good look at it and maybe even walk a little ways on a shorter trail. I could not believe how tall it was! We kept driving through the trees and would see it appear, but we’re noticing the gas light on our car and I was like “this is pointless, what are we doing? We can’t do anything now anyways,” and, “We are about to run out of gas, why didn’t you get gas?” Haha. So we turned back around and decided that, since we were competitive and ready for a challenge, that we would stay another night, get up early in the morning, and summit. I didn’t have any hiking boots, which I was quite worried about, but we said we would buy a pair early in the morning.

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We got a different hotel this night, and readied ourselves with brochures and talk of our hike the next day. I felt pretty scared about it, actually, and pretty sure I dreamt about us climbing. That was no small mountain, were we really fit enough to climb? We read all the warnings and the significant loss of life of people attempting to climb it, but the weather forecast for the next day was sunny.

 
We did not wake up early. And when we did wake up, Josh convinced me pretty easily that we shouldn’t do it. Maybe later on during our time in NZ we would come back up here, when we were more prepared and possibly more fit. I was a little disappointed, and wondering what we were going to do now, I had been ready for a physical challenge, and was not ready to go back to Wellington. We had been talking all along about, if we had time and still felt up to it, to go to Tongariro National Park and do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. So, we decided that would be the best thing to do, and easier. Yipee! I was so excited!

 
I felt more than ready; both of us did, to leave New Plymouth mid-day on Monday, April 9th. We had noticed the disconnect feeling by then in that city, and realized how much we did not care for New Plymouth at all. On to new places again!

 
We took the Forgotten World Highway, a “shortcut”, but not really after all, as it made our trip extra long, and I’d never seen such slow speed markers and so many curve road signs…it was fun at first as we really were in a forgotten world with few houses, just farmland and hills and sheep and trees and horses, but after awhile, I didn’t like the feeling of not seeing cars. It warned of there being no gas for 150 kilometers, so glad we stocked up beforehand, because that was certainly no lie. I would have liked to have stayed in a farm-stay accommodation out there somewhere, it was quite peaceful. There was even a long stretch of road beneath the mountains that was unpaved and unmarked, just gravel and you really had to share the road carefully when a car did appear around the sharp bend.

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Both of us sighed when we finally got off the Forgotten World Highway, and joined more cars. We were stoked when we saw the mountain ranges or Mt. Ngauruhoe, Tongariro, and Mt. Ruapehu, the first two mountains of which were part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Tomorrow, we would be climbing those mountains! On our way to Auckland, we had passed down this stretch of road and by this National Park, but it had been cloudy and rainy during that part of the day, so we hadn’t seen these mountains until now.
As we approached the National Park Village, we groaned when we saw a line of cars and the police stopping everyone. Josh hadn’t done the warrant of fitness yet on our car, which is like the inspection (you have to pay to get it done every six months), and I had told him to do this, but we didn’t have the money he said, he would do it after our trip. Well that came back to bite us, and so we got a ridiculously expensive ticket from the lady cop. It was embarrassing when we were sitting on the side of the road and everybody was passing us and staring. Another ticket. More money.

 
That was a damper, but then we drove around and looked for us a place to stay after we stopped at the transport shop, called Adventure HQ, that we had called along our trip down to book a seat on the van to the Crossing in the morning. In my brochures I had been looking at accommodation and had seen this one place on the Internet previously when looking in this area, so we stayed at Discovery Lodge, which had outstanding views of the mountains in front of us. We had a wonderful meal at a rustic, mountain-lodge restaurant, and it was so beautiful watching the sunset creating an orange and red and purple hue on the mountains. Mt. Ruapehu, which we wouldn’t be hiking that one, had a few patches of snow covering the top. National Park Village was pretty quiet at the time, and it was a quaint little ski village as, in winter, the mountains are covered in snows and skis and snowboards. We went to the only open grocery mart and stocked up on food for our hike, then went to bed early and dreamt of the adventures we’d be having the next day.

Hobbiton…The Shire!

Day 8 of our North Island holiday (April 7th, 2012)

“It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots of lots of pegs for hats and coats — the hobbit was fond of visitors.” -The Hobbit

I was about to live out my dream; my dream that I had the very first time I watched as the camera was following behind Gandalf in his cart and as it peered over the hill; I gasped when I saw the Shire with its green hills, flowers, and hobbit-holes come to life onto the big screen. From that moment, I knew that I wanted to go to New Zealand one day and walk through the Shire. To know that someone had created this place–made what I had only imagined in my head and dreamed of a mythical land like this existing–and actually turned it into a tangible place you could see with your own eyes . . . that was truly amazing. I was in 10th grade when I had that dream, and the ten or so years that have passed since then have not diminished this desire, but it has stayed within me. I should have prefaced this blog with, “Nerd Alert!”, but I really find no sense in being ashamed in my zeal, so, I’m gonna lay it on thick and tell you all my imaginative thoughts; hopefully you won’t think less of me.

 

Josh had promised me we would go to Hobbiton and I had been anticipating this moment for, well, you already know, forever! As we left Rotorua on Saturday morning, I just didn’t know what to do with myself driving down the road, with each kilometer bringing us closer to my dream. The countryside brought peace to my anxious/excited self, and I thought that at any moment a hobbit might pop out from behind the fence. And, there were sheep, sheep, sheep everywhere! I was starting to feel very nervous. Josh thought this was funny, because he could tell I had butterflies in my stomach since I was being quiet, and, he likes to make fun of me for my obsession. At last, we arrived at the quaint and cute town of Matamata. I can imagine how proud the townsfolk must feel that Bilbo’s house is right down the road. A few of the shops took advantage and milked it for what it was worth; I saw one shoe store called Strider. We drove up to the I-site visitor’s center that was painted and designed to resemble a hobbit hole with signs advertising the Hobbiton tours. We thought we were going to go to the later tour time, which is why we arrived about an hour and a half early, but as we walked in to sign up and pay for the tour, the lady asked if we wanted to go to the one that was leaving in ten minutes. I hate having to make split second decisions, and I didn’t know what to do as I wanted more time to prepare myself mentally and just make sure we had everything ready, but then again did we really want to wait that long and that might make me more nervous? We decided to go, but we had to run back to the car and get all our cameras ready…I was kind of freaking out and saying we should have waited. I had a few moments of being a pill, but I guess I’ll blame it on my nerves and what a huge deal this was to me and that I wanted it to be perfect.

 

So, Josh and I grabbed our cameras and our brochures, and walked up into the Hobbiton tour bus, sitting by our very short tour guide who could have been a hobbit himself. Wow, they really do make this an authentic experience! I thought to myself. I couldn’t believe I was on this tour bus! I don’t know if I can handle this, this is too much for me, I thought and wanted to just jump out the window. As the bus pulled out and we headed a few miles out into the countryside, I finally started gaining composure again and I looked happily at my brochure with a map of Hobbiton inside. Josh kept asking me, “Can you believe this is happening? Can you believe you are doing this?!”

 

Peter Jackson could not have picked a more perfect place. Apparently, he has scouts who go out across the country to find ideal locations for different scenes in the movie. I would’ve liked to have had their job! I don’t know who found this place, whether it was Peter or one of his scouts, but they must be commended. Just when I thought that the grass couldn’t possibly be greener on the other side, I found that over here, it was. The green color is hard to describe in words to really convey its vibrancy; it was so lively. The emerald grass just seemed to bounce and wave in the wind, as if it truly was alive. It seemed to possess life; like it had feelings, and that, out here in this beautiful country, ‘neath the shining sun and far away from any steel buildings or freeways or pollution or crime or wars or any danger, that it was happy and free. The grass was dancing.

 

We arrived at The Shire’s Rest, a café and gift shop, and a pick-up spot for other tourists. We were to trade buses and luckily Josh and I didn’t have to get on the overcrowded one, but into a small van named Frodo. I would say we lucked out, as we were with our tour guide and just a couple other guys and got to listen to their inquisitive questions. Our tour guide hopped out of the van and opened the locked gate. We are about to go where no man has gone before! I thought to myself . . . a forbidden land. Later, we learned from our guide that the fence blocking this real-life movie set is electrified in order to scare off any overenthusiastic fans (like me); when filming, they had guards set up along the fence as well. As we rolled down the gravel road, bumping up and down like we were truly off-roading, and I realized that I was where THE Lord of the Rings was filmed . . . oh man, there just aren’t enough words to describe how I felt. It took several minutes to get there, and I couldn’t wait! I gasped when I saw The Green Dragon, with the pond and watermill, but was sad to hear our guide say he couldn’t take us to that part yet. Oh well. We were getting lower down the hill, and we still hadn’t seen the movie set yet as the trees and hills were blocking the view. And then, at last . . . I saw the Shire.

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I had just entered magical, magical, fairyland, and, it is safe to say, I was off in la-la land for the next hour and a half. I was beaming from ear to ear! My favorite moment was looking up and, at the top of the hill, beside a flourishing tree, seeing Bilbo and Frodo’s house, with the green door and golden knob in the middle. I just could not believe it. It was real! The Shire really exists! We gathered around our tour guide, which, at the moment, I couldn’t care less about him, no offense, for I just wanted to run away and frolic through the flowers and chase the butterflies and make grass angels and sit on the porch of my very own hobbit hole and smoke a pipe. For the time-being, we had to stick fairly close to him, which was all right after all, because he was an excellent tour guide, providing great information I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and he was funny and good-humoured. The New Zealand accent, of course, was the cherry on top. I listened to him off and on, and sometimes wandered away a little bit, as I wanted to be alone so I could pretend! I had the video camera, and it’s funny listening to me, because I was talking very softly and quietly, almost like I was keeping a secret and didn’t want to disturb the peace of the Shire, and talking like I was really taking in the magical-ness of it all. Being there, amongst all the beauty and just how I felt, I knew there had to be a God, and that there is so much goodness and beauty in this world. Being there made me feel thankful for fiction; for imaginations, for our creative minds that God created us to have; and how some people use them to create an amazing story. A story that has affected throngs of people throughout the years and that will continue to until the end of time. I am thankful for this story, and I think God would like this tale told by J.R.R. Tolkien; in fact, God is probably quite impressed! The story has made me relate to God and Christianity, too, which is awesome, I think, that fictional characters and stories can do that, such as The Chronicles of Narnia.

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Those moments in the Shire could not have been more perfect; I know I keep using that word, but there’s no other way to describe it! The weather was absolutely gorgeous with the temperature being almost too good to be true, with barely a breeze, and the warm sun just felt so good and invigorating. It was so quiet except for the songs of a few birds and the soft hum of crickets. The sun was shining brightly with just a few clouds passing by every now and then, so that we couldn’t have asked for anything more as this was the best setting we could possibly have when taking pictures. As we approached the first hobbit hole, something moved in the grass, and what would you know, but one of my favorite things in the world? A CAT!!! A common housecat was living in the Shire. And it was a calico! Okay, what’s going on here? I was thinking to myself. I then started expecting the clouds to open at any moment and to hold out my hands to manna coming down from the heavens. Or lembas bread. In fact, that is the only suggestion I could give for this tour, is that they hand out elvish lembas bread, wrapped in a big leaf.
When I was face to face with our very first hobbit hole, I could barely contain my enthusiasm; I felt like I could jump up in the air and fly I was so happy. It was exactly how I imagined a hobbit hole would look like. A bright blue, round door built against the side of a hill and tiny wooden framed, rustic, earthen windows. I had never seen so many flowers; hobbits may be lazy, but not enough to tend to their gardens, creating a haven for butterflies. Wooden picket fences that were worn and looked like they had been there for centuries added to the effect. It was all in the nitty-gritty details, and our guide told us that Peter Jackson made sure of it. We noticed on the fence posts there was lichen moss, which Josh said that he bet they sprayed that on there, and sure enough, we learned about the lucky man whose only job was to spray the moss onto the picket fences. The windows even had curtains and a couple vases and jars in the windowsill so they looked lived in. Atop this home’s grassy hill was a brick chimney, and a wooden bench that would have been a good spot to read. We walked on some more and there was a young lady about our age with headphones in her ear watering the grass and gardens of the homes. Can you imagine being in her shoes, getting to come to the Shire every day and just watering the grass? How peaceful and amazing. Then we saw the stone road that Gandalf rides into town in his cart in The Fellowship of the Ring, and I walked down to the end and took the same path into town. I walked slowly and just wanted all the people to go away so I could take in these moments. Here I was, standing in the very place and beholding the scene that once caused my heart to leap up into my chest with glee many years ago, when I watched the film for the first time. The Shire was spread out before me and I was living in a painting, chimneys rising from the hills, and with Bag End being the center of the artwork. I was in the land of the hobbits; it was all real; I was walking through what my mind had imagined when I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was all quite surreal, and those moments will be sketched in my memory forever.

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Our guide took us down to the lake where we saw more hobbit homes and one of the main backgrounds from the film. Behind the lake and in the distance, where we were not allowed to go, for some reason, was the Green Dragon. The stone building and thatched roof made me feel like we were in a village in Ireland. We walked by one hobbit hole with a bright yellow door and a hand-painted red mailbox with designs on it, and behind the fence, was our friend the Calico cat. The sun was shining on him as he stood statuesque on the front porch, as if it were his home. I even saw him smiling! You could see he was happy in the Shire, and enjoyed the attention. Our guide said the cat was so popular, it had its own website. I was lucky that earlier I had been able to pet the cat, which always brightens my world to pet a kitty cat.

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An elaborate garden lay in the center of the Shire, blossoming bountifully as the white butterflies had also found their heaven. A scarecrow stood tall and proud to protect from any unwanted guests. We took our time savoring the moments and I gazed in wonder up at the magnificent party tree. It was massive! The sun was shining through the leaves and it was so magical. So this is where Bilbo celebrated his one hundred and eleventh birthday. I imagined the scene at night, with the twinkling lights hanging from the boughs and Bilbo’s birthday cake covered in 111 candles. How I would have liked to have been at that party, eaten all the food and ate that birthday cake. Haha, what did I tell you? I was not on earth the entire time we were there. Looking at all the people around me though, laughing and as happy as little hobbit children, I knew I was surrounded by my fellow nerds. The tree was roped off, but I was tempted to sneak off and climb it and hide. Our guide mentioned that one old man had come for one of the tours and asked if the guide would kindly let this dear old sir sit beside the tree. Our guide said, “So I just let him”, and the old man sat with his back against the tree the entire time reading The Lord of the Rings. The old fellow was quite content and so the guide of course just let him be. I thought that was a cute story.

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As we stood underneath the party tree and the huge lawn, our guide said that this is the spot where some of the fans who come on the tour dress up like hobbits and start dancing around! As in, they really have done that! He said if you are keen on doing so, you are more than welcome to! That got a roaring laughter from the crowd. And then, I grabbed Josh’s hand and ran out onto the open field, clapped my hands in the air, and then we started dancing. Haha, not really, but that would have been funny.

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We went further down the pathways and came upon Sam Gamgee’s abode. It, of course, had the most beautiful and elaborate flower garden, and I had never seen so many butterflies in one place. This was the last scene of the entire trilogy, when Sam comes back from his sad farewell to his dear Mr. Frodo, and comes back to his hobbit hole with the yellow door, kisses his beloved wife Rosie, and says, “Well, I’m back.” I thought to myself, “Well, I’m here!”

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My other favorite part (can’t choose one I guess) was walking up the path to Bag End, and this made the whole thing complete, standing in front of Bilbo’s green door, the door that Gandalf tapped his staff upon. I was disappointed that Bilbo wasn’t sitting in his chair on the porch blowing smoke rings on his pipe. The door was cracked open, but a rope blocked off the few steps leading to the door. Bummer. I so desperately wanted to go and take a peek; how could we not go inside? I’m not sure what it would have looked like; I guess it would have been empty. I could only see in my head, though, the scenes from the film combined with what I have always envisioned the inside of a hobbit hole to look like and from the picture painted by Tolkien:

“The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill — The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it — and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, diningrooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the lefthand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.” –The Hobbit

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A hobbit hole means comfort, which is also how Tolkien described it, and this is why I love to imagine living in one of these. I like their lifestyle, too, relaxed, peaceful, and pretty lazy. I don’t imagine hobbits being stressed . . . Ever. How cozy a hobbit hole would be! I have often gone to bed dreaming of dwelling within a hobbit hole; sitting in a nice big chair, reading a book by the fire, listening to the crackling of the wood and smelling the intoxicatingly soothing smell of burning pine, my belly full after my six meals I had that day, and topping it off with dark rye bread with butter, a glass of milk and tea, a crumpet and scone and cakes, and perhaps a couple of grapes. I would soon go to bed in my hobbit hole bedroom, that overlooked the Shire, with the faint lights of the Green Dragon pub still burning brightly as the diamond stars above. My bed would be as luxurious and fit for the King of England, and I would sleep with such peace in my soul as the wood burning in my fireplace in my room slowly went to sleep for the night. Until the next day, when I would eat a breakfast that could have been spread upon the banquet table of a King and Queen’s castle, and then tend to my garden, talk to the neighbors, and sleep in the grass after watching the clouds turn into different shapes for hours. I would be an artistic hobbit, and would be known for my poetry and stories I had written and was working on; the children would love to gather ‘round me at night and hear my tales.

Being there, in front of Bilbo’s home, looking out upon the land and the people, Er . . . imaginative hobbits in my head I mean, seeing the green hills, gardens, flowers, lake and mountains in the distance, I then knew why Bilbo loved the Shire so dearly. No bad thing, no evil could ever possibly come to this place; it could not even be imagined looking out from the hill of Bag End. And, like Bilbo and Frodo, I understood their need and passion to save the Shire.

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But, standing there, I also felt the same longings Bilbo had as he sat smoking his pipe. . . “What lies beyond these peaceful borders?” I’m sure he thought to himself. “I want to see the world, and have adventures!” As idyllic and perfect as the Shire seemed, and as comfortable as our homes can be, and safe, we sometimes are like Bilbo and cannot be confined, but must broaden our horizons, hunt for treasure, stumble upon the unexpected, become friends with dwarves, elves, and a wizard, climb towering mountains, and fight a dragon.

 

“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.” –The Hobbit

I did not want that moment to end, looking out upon the Shire.

 

Along the tour, and gazing at each door and garden, I tried to think which hobbit hole would be mine…where would I like to live? I thought long and hard about it, but Bag End definitely took the cake. Our tour guide was watching out for all of us, especially when we were at Bilbo’s door, as I’m sure he could sense the plots of the nerds planning their subtle sneak-off. Josh asked if anyone had ever tried to be left behind, and he took a second, smiled and said, “Yep.” I thought that was hilarious and Josh really laughed loud. If only he knew what I was thinking . . .

 

I did not rebel, however, so you should be quite proud of my self-control. The tour was better than I could have dreamed, and I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough time, which of course we all wanted more, but realistically, we had plenty of time to listen to our tour guide and had several chances to have moments to ourselves and wander off not too far. Josh and I did get “gotten onto” once, along with a couple other people, because we got a little too excited and started going ahead and he told us to wait. Oops! Haha. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world that day; how many people get to do that? And did I ever think I really would be in the Shire? I also felt lucky because, after The Lord of the Rings film, this land was owned by a farmer, and as New Zealand has had the rule to bring everything back to its original state and Jackson had to take down his movie sets on location after filming was done, well, they had to take Hobbiton apart, too. The only thing that was left was the white walls and doorframes, so you just had to really imagine. The tour was like that for years, and when I first learned about that back in the day, I was quite disappointed because I wanted it to look like it did in the movie. Well, the timing was providential, because, after filming The Hobbit, they left it exactly the way it was. Woo hoo! Our guide said that this is going to be here forever, so we can bring our children, grandchildren, and just keep coming back. I thought that was awesome, and I already plan on our kids being LOTR nerds, whether they like it or not, and we will come back here as a family one day! I could have learned a lot more things from our tour guide, but I did wander off quite frequently. One interesting fact I did overhear, however, was that the tree on top of Bag End was FAKE!!! As we had stood at the lake, he said that if you look closely, and the wind blows, the branches don’t sway. Crazy!

 

There was another busload of people; that place is busy as the tours overlap each other. Being Easter weekend too, I’m sure this helped with the influx as well. I did not want to leave, and was very sad to say goodbye to my dear Shire. I said goodbye several times.

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We rode back to the Shire’s Rest to buy souvenirs. As if my Hobbiton experience couldn’t have gotten any better, there was a fence filled with hungry sheep, and when I walked out there I saw my husband feeding a sheep with a milk bottle! I let out a shriek and ran over there and took over the bottle and laughed as the cute as a button young sheep sucked on the bottle dramatically and loudly. It made my heart melt and made me even happier. Who could ask for anything more?
“Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.”

~The Hobbit

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Rotorua

Days 6 & 7 of our North Island holiday (April 5th & 6th, 2012)

I was very sad the next day to leave our cottage. I only regretted that it rained both days we were there as I had been looking forward to using the kayak they had to paddle down the inlet. I could have stayed there a month; it gave me ideas of having a home like that one day, in the country and just a romantic little cottage. It also made me dream of being like my parents one day, and maybe Josh and I running our own B & B. The price we paid to stay there did not include breakfast, that was extra, which we did not pay for, but maybe the next B & B we stay in we will have breakfast served to us on a tray. We had met the owner Adrian the day before, who was really nice and he was willing to help us with any planning, but we unfortunately didn’t ever get to meet Sharon, as they had had a family emergency and had to leave early.

 

Before Josh and I left the town of Kerikeri, we stopped by their historic landmark, the Stone Store, and into the gift shop. It is the oldest stone building in all of New Zealand, built 1832-36. I loved going inside there, it had stone floors and walls, and just smelled ancient and rustic. It felt like we had really stepped back in time and I imagined living back then; days when our home would have a wood burning stove, I would be sweeping with a wooden broom, baking biscuits in an iron skillet pan and cooking a pot of beef stew over the open fire. Later that evening, I would listen to my husband Josh tell of his day working in the fields as I knitted next to the candlelight. Haha. We could have taken a tour of the upstairs and the historical, old house next door, but we didn’t want to pay and it was time to go on our journey; we had a long ways to go. Josh did buy a hessian, or burlap, sack as a souvenir, which I found that to be amusing.


Originally, we had planned to stay one or two days in Paihia and visit Russell in the Bay of Islands, but due to the weather, we knew we had to carry on. So we were heading to Rotorua. We had looked it up and been encouraged by our Lonely Planet guidebook to give this place a visit. It was a long day of driving, but once we got closer to Auckland the clouds parted and the sun came out which was a sight for sore eyes. I am a sucker for sunny weather. We arrived in Rotorua at night, and were greeted by the smell of rotten eggs. Bleh. That was something to get used to; the sulfur smell of the thermal springs; Rotorua is known as the thermal village. We were looking forward to taking a dip in a hot pool and learning more about the traditions of the Maori people. Rotorua is also known as RotoVegas, as the main drag was lined with cheap motels with blinking lights. At last we found a very cheap motel that had the funniest smell inside, but it had a big Jacuzzi tub which is always a selling point for me. We were glad to be away from the rain and relieved to see a sunny forecast for the next day. Off to bed and on to new adventures the next morning!

 
Friday, April 6th, we checked out of our hotel and drove around to see the city in the daylight. We wanted to go on one of the tours to see the geysers, so we got tickets to Whakarewarewa: The Living Thermal Village. It was incredible to see the steam rising all around us and the bubbling hot pools as an older Maori woman gave us and several other tourists a narrative and history of her people. It was very cool to see the geyser in the distance spout water out of its mouth high up into the air. The day was chilly and sunny, but in the village we felt the warmth rising up from the earth. The coolest part was that we were able to watch a performance of the Maori; singing and dancing. They kind of scare me when they make their eyes get really big and bug-eyed and stick their tongues out and make funny noises. Josh was like, “What if one of them came up and did that to you? You’d be so scared!” and we laughed. It was awesome to partake in cultural education and see people proud to share their traditions with others.

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There was so much to do in Rotorua; so much to choose from, which we unfortunately couldn’t do everything because of time and money, but we got to pick what stood out to us more. We had heard from our friends about this thing called The Zorb, and Josh was like a little kid wanting to go on a roller coaster. So, we drove a few miles outside of town and laughed when we saw these big, see-through plastic balls rolling down the green hill; with people inside of it! I thought Josh was going to jump out the window; he was so enthusiastic about rolling down a hill in a ball. It was quite an expensive ride, and I wasn’t chomping at the bits to ride it, so I stayed behind as Josh got into the back of a jeep with a bunch of strangers, looking as if he was about to get taken to prison. I watched and had the video camera and saw him wave from way at the top of the hill and waited for his turn. I saw him jump through the air into the ball and laughed and continued to do so the entire time I watched the plastic Zorb slowly roll down; with my husband inside of it! What a weird and random thing someone made up! Haha. It was hilarious, though, and entertaining and I was glad Josh got to do something he really wanted to do.

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After that, we then drove down a peaceful, country road out to Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park. We love animals, and were convinced to go when we saw that you could “pat” a lion cub. That was the best zoo experience I’ve ever had and was worth every penny. I didn’t think they would really let us, because I’ve never seen that before, but we went into the enclosed cage area and gasped when we saw Benji and Bella, that had been little newborn cubs in the pictures, but now they almost looked as big as Mufasa! They must grow up fast! The two trainers were inside the cage with them, petting and soothing them as people reached in to give the cubs a pat. They weren’t so little baby cubs anymore, but were now 7 months old. I couldn’t believe I was this close to one! When I was a little girl, I used to dream of going to Africa and living among the lions, cheetahs, and leopards; I would be an animal whisperer and they would know me and we would be friends. We’d run through the tall grass together and they wouldn’t eat me or any other animal; I would just feed them a bunch of cat food and they’d be happy. Now, as I stood so close to these young lions, I felt fearful of this great beast and its innate nature to kill. I was so afraid as I reached my hand in through the holes in the wire, and, for the first time in my life, I touched a lion! The lion tamer said to be sure and pat the lion hard and firm, not softly as it would get jumpy and find it to be an annoying itch it had to scratch and take care of. I was surprised when I touched the lion’s fur; I was expecting it to be soft like my pet cats I’ve always had, but instead, it was extremely rough and course. I wondered if he felt the goodness in me through my touch; if Benji knew that I was an animal lover and have loved every species related to the cat family from the day I was born. The very first word I ever learned to write was “Cat.” I still remember that day when I was in the backyard playing in the dirt, drawing in the sand, and I was amazed at myself when I saw the letters I formed, jumped up and down, and ran inside to tell my Mommy. This lion was not interested in me and could not read my thoughts, unfortunately, but was distracted by something else. His and Bella’s eyes were wide and glued to something moving in the bushes in the distance, and darting their heads from side to side; one of them even got up and started pacing around in the small cage. We were like “what’s going on?” along with the couple other people in the enclosed area, and the lion handlers said they spotted little kids playing, which sparked their curiosity immensely. I don’t know if they said this, or were getting at the fact that the lions thought the kids were prey to them and they wanted to go chase and eat them; I hope not. Or maybe they meant they saw them playing and wanted to get out of the cage and go play with them, too. They probably didn’t mean the latter part, though, and this gave me a little more fear towards these predatory creatures. Those same kids eventually ran into the caged in area with us, and the handlers called out to them to please stop running and to calm down a bit as them playing had really excited the lions. We stayed there for several minutes and watched as some people didn’t grasp the concept of petting the lions firmly, and a couple times Benji and Bella got kind of mad and turned their heads fast like they were about to bite their hands off and the handlers got strong with them and kind of had to like hold them down. One of the handlers didn’t look that much bigger than me, so I was pretty amazed; I wished I had her job.

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Josh and I had such a fun time together in the wildlife park. He and I have both grown up being surrounded by animals. We meandered down the pathways and looked at all the wildlife and trees and exotic plant life we had never encountered at any zoo in Texas. We saw the lion feeding and once again I felt in awe of the king of the jungle; these mighty fierce and strong animals that God created. There were a few lionesses and one lion and we watched as they leaped in the air to grab the meat the zookeeper threw over the fence. How crazy that those lion cubs grow up to be that; I definitely didn’t see any handler in there giving those lions a pat!

 
We hurried back to the enclosed lion area because they had mentioned that later in the afternoon we would be able to see the newly born lion cubs. Yay! I had wanted to see some newborn cubs, and they had them after all! We had to wait in line a long time, but when we finally got inside my heart just melted when I saw the handlers holding the two, tiny, 6 week old cubs like babies in their arms. Josh and I got to pet each cub, and they were soft, just like I would have imagined. Oh my goodness, they were so cute! They looked like Simba when he was newly born . . . I just almost couldn’t handle it and thought Josh was going to have to pull me away! On the outside of the cage was a clipboard where you could write down ideas you had for what they could name the cubs; we wrote down, “Rusty” and “Lucy” for our former beloved pets.

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Our wildlife experience was complete when we got to hand feed the farm animals over the fence. It was hilarious and I just could not stop laughing as the Billy goats were going crazy and standing on the fence and reaching up for the food in our hands. They were not shy at all! Their dotted eyes looked so funny and cute; they were really hungry and just comical! And there was an obnoxiously loud goose trying to get the food too and was reaching his head through the holes and I was screaming as I was trying to feed him from my hand; I kept chickening out and would just throw it on the ground because I didn’t want him to bite me; geese have always scared me. And then there was this little miniature horse that I fed, and then I got frightened when it grabbed my shirt and started pulling me towards him! I screamed again, but then started laughing. It was the hardest I had laughed in a long time. I think one day you will hear Josh and I say, “We bought a zoo!”

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Eventually we left and went back into town. We got worried as we were driving down the strip and were seeing No Vacancy on every motel. We hadn’t been too sure of our plans earlier in the day and couldn’t have checked in anyways, but now we wished we had booked another night at the motel we stayed in the night before, as even that had no rooms available. Of all those motels, and no vacancy! It was Easter weekend, so we should have been more prepared, didn’t plan that it would be that crowded here. Originally, we were going to go to the Coromandel Peninsula as well, which is where we were going to do our camping, but the rainy weather had deterred us from that plan, so now we were thinking maybe we would have to pitch our borrowed tent at a holiday park here. Those looked crowded and we didn’t like the holiday parks that much, and so we kept searching for a motel. It was stressful as Josh was going into every single one, and they were all booked. We didn’t know what we were going to do, unless drive to Lake Taupo which wasn’t too far away but I knew that popular holiday destination definitely would have been booked. It was getting late in the day, too. At last, we amazingly got the last room at Kingsgate Hotel Rotorua (thankfully better than the one in Auckland) for a very reasonable rate, and I was glad to be in a hotel with four stories as opposed to a motel. I really wanted to go the popular Polynesian Spa and soak in the natural thermal springs, but we had limited time and money, and we were going somewhere the next day that I was completely psyched out of my mind about. We did get to swim in the outdoor heated pool of our hotel, which was nice, but just freezing getting out into the cold air! Brrr!! It had been an eventful time in Rotorua and we got a taste of culture, history, animals, geothermal wonders, and, for Josh, the adventure of rolling down a hill in a ball in New Zealand.

The Bay of Islands: Kerikeri and Cape Reinga

Days 4 & 5 of our North Island holiday (April 3rd & 4th, 2012)

I don’t think I could ever handle living downtown in a big city. By the time we left Auckland, my body felt tense again. With the likelihood of earthquakes in New Zealand and all the potential disasters and us being way up in the sky the night before, and way above the ground in our hotel overlooking the street far down below, and the traffic, I felt relieved to be leaving the big city behind. I couldn’t wait for our next destination; a little town called Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands, where we had booked a couple nights at a Bed & Breakfast. I slowly felt myself become less uptight as we drove further and further away from Auckland; but not completely. It started raining on us, which was slightly disheartening; we had seen this gloomy weather predicted on the forecast, but had been hoping it wouldn’t be true. The 3-hour drive to Kerikeri was peaceful and I realized again how much I love the green countryside, and we were satisfied with more glimpses of the rolling hills and grazing sheep. As we approached the Northern Gateway Road, it warned us that it was a toll road. There was another route I think you could take to not pay, but we had no idea where and how long that would take us to our destination, if it even took you there. It was annoying to us as we saw like 3 signs; obnoxiously screaming out in blinking lights, “You have 5 days to pay!” We were like, “Oh really? Good grief!” Then we started laughing about the tickets we had received and all the fees this country had been seeking from us; just how expensive we had found this country to be. I made a joke and said, “Imagine a cartoon of New Zealand, like it’s a person with a gun in its hand pointed at us and it yells in a mean, authoritative voice, “Stick ‘em up and give me all you got!” Josh thought that was quite funny.

 
At last, we approached the small town of Kerikeri, and I do believe that is now one of my favorite places in all of New Zealand. It reminded me of a cozy town like Fredericksburg, Texas, where you could get lost in the small town charm life and forget all your former troubles. We took the road that was just a few miles outside of town, down a country road and I felt overjoyed when we saw the sign that said “Lyness Accommodation”. It was like a dream as we pulled down the long drive and a brown and white horse galloped enthusiastically to the fence to welcome us home. We stopped the car, and I felt a rush of glee. Was this planned? What a special little addition to have a horse greet us! I talked to him through the rolled down windows and the horse’s eyes were an icy blue color. I’d never seen that before; it was so beautiful. We passed underneath the pine trees and drove down the wet, gravel road covered in pine needles. The smell was comforting. We pulled into the driveway to the house and I exclaimed at how pretty the home was. Josh and I got out of the car and I was anxious to meet the innkeepers. I had talked to the lady on the phone and she was so sweet and gave us tips on what to do while we were in the area. I was about to ring the doorbell, but saw a handwritten note on the door addressed to me from the innkeepers saying they left the cottage unlocked for us and to make ourselves at home. I cannot express the excitement I felt. I’ve never stayed in a B & B before (except at my parents and one in Lubbock many moons ago) and I was so happy to be with my husband Josh to share in this romantic experience together. What was even cooler, was that I had known about Lyness Cottage for a long time now, when we had first been planning our honeymoon and originally been thinking about coming to New Zealand for our honeymoon, this was one of the places I had looked at online and dreamed of going to. And now, here we were, celebrating our one year wedding anniversary!

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We walked down the stone pathway through a garden and underneath a tree with huge, flowers hanging upside down, looking like light bulbs, and casting the sweetest smelling aroma I think I’ve ever encountered. I couldn’t wait to see the cottage! We passed around a corner, through the green grass, and I gasped. I saw a long pathway with a wooden fence beside it, flowers lining the walkway, and a picture-perfect, romantic white cottage waiting for me at the end of the path. Green rolling hills were the backdrop along with an inlet of water that led out to the Bay of Islands. After I pinched myself and recovered from my state of shock, we continued walking down the path and I was just going on and on about how amazing this was, and Josh was delighted to see my happiness. Then we saw two sheep by the fence; it was the innkeepers’ pet sheep! What a deal! They stared at us with their dotted goat-looking eyes, and we must have scared them because they both took a leak, at the same time, when we walked by, haha (it seemed later like they did this every time we walked by). We walked up the steps onto the wooden front porch and I could not get over the view; it was straight from the best fairy tale I’ve imagined in my mind. And inside, I gasped and said “Oh my!” a million times, squealing with delight as it was a country style home with a wooden table for two, a candlestick that I couldn’t wait to light, a couch with a view out the French doors overlooking the countryside, and a bookshelf covered in travel books and adventures for the guest to get lost in. The bedroom was simple, yet so romantic. The white, green, and yellow hues of the bedroom brought even more peace to my soul. I walked into the large bathroom and saw the claw foot bathtub with a window overlooking the inlet and green pastures. It was misty and softly raining, but this did not dampen my mood in the slightest; in fact, I said how it made being there even more romantic. Josh lay on the bed as he watched me looking around; I was like Belle in Beauty in the Beast, having the same enthusiasm and wonder she had when the Beast showed her the library. Josh was laughing and smiling so big at me; all the stress that I still had left in my body from the big city, I honestly felt it melt away in those moments. I even started tearing up and might have shed a couple tears; I could have just boo-hooed like a baby because I was so happy. Josh and I held each other and felt complete and utter happiness and love for one another. He said, “I think this is the happiest I’ve ever seen you!” And this is coming from the guy who once told me that I was the happiest person they’ve ever known, haha; so yeah, I was in heaven!

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We took it easy that night, and Josh was again tired of driving through the rain and down windy roads, and we were happy to have time to slow our pace. We ate at a little pizza place in town, and then came back and looked at the books and magazines and planned our next day. And that bed was the most comfortable bed I think I’ve ever slept on, too. I don’t think I moved once all night, we slept like babies.

 
The following morning, Wednesday, April 4th, we awoke somewhat early and drove three hours north to the furthest point you could possibly get on the North Island; Cape Reinga. It rained again off and on the whole way, which was a bummer. The further we drove, the more and more isolated the road became. Except for the logging trucks. I swear; they wait until you have to round a bend before they appear, and they come hurtling around the corner, always scaring me half to death. I will never understand that; why we never saw them on the straight long stretches of road. I also didn’t understand why we were seeing them when we were this far north and in no man’s land; we were like, “Where are they coming from?” We laughed when I was being overly dramatic about it and said and motioned with my hands, “The logging trucks shoot out from underneath the sea, ‘Shzoooom!’ straight up into the sky with the ocean still dripping off, seaweed hanging from the tires, and clams sticking to the windshield, and jump onto the road as King Triton the merman sits atop the truck with his golden trident and yells out in a booming voice, ‘Onward! I command thee . . . GO GET THEM’!” haha. Josh was like, and says this a lot, “They’re coming to get me, I’m little Lindsey, and they’re coming to get me!” Or “don’t mess with little Lindsey, or she’ll get mad”. It was funny and we just hoped we wouldn’t see any more of those huge trucks with the Redwood forest tree trunks strapped in the back of the long bed; and strapped in probably not very well.

 
At last, after a long drive, we made it to Cape Reinga. As we were driving up the mountain, it got very foggy and we could barely see in front of us. “Oh great! We won’t be able to see anything!” We were feeling pretty disappointed in the weather. We got out of the car and I thought the iconic lighthouse would be right there, but we had to walk down a long pathway out to it. It was pretty windy, of course, and raining big drops of cold rain. I felt miserable and almost didn’t want to go see it and just stay in the car, but that would have been dumb. We trudged through, and it was eerie, when, being alone and hearing the wind and waves crashing far down below, as we were high up on the cliff, we saw the faint outline of the lighthouse off in the distance. We stopped along the way and stood on the edge of the cliff; oh my, that was a long drop! The lighthouse stood tall and proud, and there was a marker saying different names of big cities, pointing to the direction where they lie and the distance. I was so glad we went there, and it was nice that we only encountered a couple people the whole time. I can only imagine what it looks like on a clear day; wish we could have seen it like that. It was still absolutely awe-inspiring, though, as we beheld the two seas clashing ferociously into one another; the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. I felt so small, standing there, and staring at the power and hearing the seas collide. There, out in the middle of the ocean, the waves were leaping high into the air, white foam swirling around; they weren’t crashing into rocks, but each other. It was crazy! We would have stayed longer if not for the weather, and we really wanted to walk down the paths to the beach. There are apparently day long treks you can go along this stretch of shore and on the 90 mile beach; we had hoped to ride the sand dunes there or go quad-biking, but not so with the weather like this.

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It definitely caused for a long day trip; and we took another route back to Kerikeri, which gave a good view of the Bay of Islands area. The route was shorter, and we wish we had taken that way up there; we were quite weary when we arrived back to the B & B in the rain, especially since the last hour of our journey we had been driving in the dark.
Josh then went and got us takeaway and we had a romantic candlelit dinner at our table, listening to Harry Connick, Jr. love songs on the CD player. It was a romantic evening and we got to enjoy the antique claw foot bathtub together, with the glow of the candle’s flame and listening to the rain falling down softly on the windows. What a perfect way to spend our anniversary.

Auckland & Rangitoto Island

Day 3 of our North Island holiday (April 2, 2012)

We awoke to a cloudy sky on Monday, April 2nd, and were hoping that it wasn’t going to rain for our plan that day to hike a volcano. Can’t say I’ve ever hiked through the remains of a dormant volcano; that’s not something I do every day. Our packs were ready to be carried and our feet were restless to walk new paths in the wild outdoors. Of course, we had to encounter some stress before our adventure; perhaps these moments arise just to keep us on our toes. We checked out of our hotel and climbed into our overcrowded car. I do believe I left behind only two articles of clothing in Wellington for our trip; one has to be prepared for all the weather elements. So I brought my whole wardrobe with me, even though my wardrobe is about one-fourth of what it used to be before we left the States.
We had a time limit as we had looked up the ferry departure times to go out to Rangitoto Island. The last one was leaving at 9:45. We only had about 20 minutes when we left the hotel before it would depart. Josh drove up to the ferry station, and after a confrontation with a security officer who thankfully let us park our car at the curb for a few minutes, Josh went inside to book our tickets and find out where to park. There was a massive parking lot beside the ferry terminal, which would have been extremely convenient, and logical, for us to park at. But no, that wasn’t for us, the people at the ferry station told my husband, and they pointed to a parking garage a couple blocks down the road where we would have to hightail it back in order to make our ferry. Josh was freaking out and saying there was no way we were going to make it back; I hate seeing him stressed out like that…why couldn’t this just be easy; a calm and peaceful experience? I hate rushing and being rushed. The parking wasn’t going to be cheap either, and he had asked me what I wanted to do before he bought the tickets; a split second decision, but we didn’t want to miss out on this hike. So we screeched the tires and zoomed down the road to the parking garage and Josh frantically searched for an open space. Nothing on ground one, nor the second level. He was freaking out. It was quite funny, especially in retrospect we laugh at ourselves and how we react in certain situations. I was going crazy in my head too, though, because for one thing I was hoping I wouldn’t get sick on the ferry or when we were on the Island and stranded, and also I hadn’t packed all I needed to yet into my day pack. We only had like 10 minutes left before our ferry was to leave. We at last found a spot, threw our daypacks together, slung them on our shoulders and ran through the garage looking for the elevator. We went into the elevator and I could swear I heard the song playing in the background, “It’s like rain, on your wedding day, a green light when you’re already late, isn’t it ironic,”; you know, that song by Alanis Morrissette. Except for the fact that we were getting no green lights when we were already late; things weren’t cooperating. They were out to get us, as I like to say. We walked into this elevator that seemed very futuristic, and waited for the doors to close and take us to the ground floor. It wouldn’t close. The elevator started talking to us. Josh pushed the door close button and to take us to ground floor, and the doors did finally close but the elevator just sat there and did not move. He was definitely about to have a melt down, and this time I was being the one to tell him to calm down (it’s usually me getting all bent out of shape). Don’t you love when things like that happen? It’s like the elevator was laughing at us, and knew we were late, and was playing games with us. We were like, “forget this!” And opened the doors and ran out and scurried down the stairs.

 
We walked super fast and were basically running down the street to get back to the ferry terminal and I was really hoping we were going to make it. I was already feeling so tired, though, and knew this wouldn’t be good for us, especially if this hike we were about to go on was difficult. My body doesn’t seem to handle stress too well, and it can really make it feel hard to breathe and my muscles tense up and stuff; kind of hard to explain. So anyways, it was still kind of comical though, and I was seeing the movie “One Fine Day” play in my head; Josh was George Clooney and I was the cool Michelle Pfeiffer, rushing around the big city, thriving on stress and deadlines and hoping to get the kids to the ferry on time for their field trip, all while holding a bowl with a goldfish in it and running in high heels. I slowed us down when we got to the terminal because we didn’t have a chance to get a water bottle and I thought it might be our last time to get one. Despite his stress and hurriedness, Josh pulled out some coins from his pocket to get me a water bottle. Sold out. Then it wouldn’t give him his money back. He pushed a coke button, and so we got a canned coke to take with us on a grueling hike; very healthy. We hurried over to our ferry, and thankfully it was still there. We walked inside the small Fuller’s ferry, and onto the bottom floor cabin area and took our seats. I was worried about not having a water bottle for our hike, plus water bottles our like my comfort “blankie”, and, fortunately, there was a little shop and I at last got my confounded water bottle that was causing so much trouble to obtain. I wasn’t used to being in this kind of boat, the ferry from the North to South Island was huge, this was just a small vessel, and the sea was pretty choppy and we could really feel the boat just a rocking. I am not up for this kind of stuff after all, I was thinking to myself, and thinking our fun was going to have to be ruined by me, with me afraid I was going to get sick or just backing out completely. Funny how fear and anxiety can really hinder you sometimes, if you let it. Thankfully we learned they had an upper deck, so we climbed up the stairs out onto the open aired platform. All the people turned their heads to look as we climbed up and they all seemed to smile at us. These were our kind of people; out here to get an authentic, non-sheltered experience. They weren’t afraid to get wet. It also helped me not feel motion sickness at all, and I felt calm again. I had nothing to be afraid of, I realized, once the boat started going. In fact, it was quite fun, and Josh and I felt like kids as we jumped up and down as it hit bigger waves and we almost fell down a couple times. It was a little disappointing that it was cloudy, but we didn’t mind that much; we were ready to go explore this volcano. We even had a tour guide over the loud speaker, so that was a bonus, and provided interesting information. It was awesome watching the boat slowly leave Auckland, and beholding the skyline with the Sky Tower, and taking in, once again, where we were and what we were doing. I felt pretty lucky. We watched the city get smaller, then, turned our heads to watch a deserted island get closer and closer to us. The spray of the water on our faces was invigorating and made us feel alive, along with the strong wind hitting us, whipping my air all about me. Watching the gulls fly around us, peacefully drifting on their own journey, and knowing we were about to have a remote island to discover and explore, it was truly a breath of fresh air.

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“And forget not that the Earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”
~ Kahlil Gibran

We at last reached the pier and the boat dropped us off at Rangitoto Island. The island was ours to explore. We were warned to be back at 3:45, the last ferry of the day, otherwise we would be left behind on the isolated island. Oooh, that would be scary, but kind of fun, and I was imagining if that happened to us, what would we do? There were a couple dozen of people and different tracks to go on; we, of course, were aiming to get to the summit, and see the crater of the volcano. We at last abandoned the groups of people, and were alone to walk along the rocky path and stare in wonder at the black volcanic rocks covering the ground all around us. It was so quiet, except for the few birds we’d hear along the way in the trees. It was pretty sweet, and we got to use our imaginations and pretend we were marooned on an island and trying to survive (at least that’s what was going on in my head, not sure about Josh, haha). It wasn’t too difficult of a trek, though when we saw the top of the summit through the trees, it did look pretty far still and high up. It really did expend our energy, though, and we stopped at a bench area to eat our, yes, sandwiches. We were giving each other funny looks and trying not to laugh as we were eating our bread, and every body and their mother (literally, families with children were there as well) wanted to read the fact marker in that moment by our bench as we sat there. It was awkward. We took our time, and loved to be outdoors, doing something. Every now and again we would catch a glimpse of the city through an opening.

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The closer we reached the summit, we approached the heavily wooded area, and it felt like we were in a rainforest; the green moss covered the trees and the air smelled of wet, rich earth. I love that smell. We finally reached one of the viewing areas that overlooked the cone of the volcano. That was so weird to see. Instead of a mountain having a peak at the top and rising up towards the sky, it was pointed inward down into the earth. Life had regrown since the explosion green plants and thriving trees with birds flying across from tree to tree. Listening to the silence was quite eerie and I was hoping it wasn’t planning on becoming un-dormant anytime soon. We continued on, further up to the very top of the island, up wooden stairs that they had built for easier access. The view was amazing. I can imagine what it would look like on a sunny day; for we were captivated by the panoramic views from this island in the middle of the sea, and I wondered what all the places were I was seeing. I know we saw and actually passed Waiheke Island on our way there, and perhaps I saw Australia from up there, too. Haha. Josh carved our initials with a heart on the wooden railing, which made me happy. We got to the top just in time to have a good view, and we got a rush when we saw the rain coming across and falling down on the Sky Tower and other high rises far in the distance in front of us. It looked so small from here. To our left, we saw another wall of rain heading straight our way, and we were already feeling the mist hitting us. We were about to get drenched! That gets your blood pumping and filled us with an even more sense of daring and adventure. We stayed up there a few moments getting videos and pictures while we could. There was a building up there that we walked into, and was pretty cool; it had something to do with a war shelter. I pretended for a few moments if we had been stranded, that we could stay here and it would protect us from the elements. I have an active imagination, and I like to use it any chance I can get.

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We headed off the summit and back into the trees to protect us from the rain, which was lightly falling now. We still had plenty of time before the last ferry, and so we went down another path this time to the lava caves. That sounded thrilling and mysterious; there was no way we could miss that. Along our way up the summit, a girl around our age and her grandmother talked to us for a moment about the lava caves and how cool they were. They were really nice and friendly. So, Josh and I went exploring some more, in search of these caves. We hadn’t passed by any people in quite a while, and I just followed behind Josh, lost in my thoughts and imagination. I love doing that, feeling in one with nature, and talking to God too, in different moments. It was fun, and very bonding for Josh and I, without having to talk. The path was packed down, wet earth, with tree roots and stones scattered across, feeling very natural and rustic . . . so much better than a man made path with gravel rocks or cement. We came across one little cavern, which I thought was what the lava caves were, and I was quite impressed. Josh saw a silver light coming from the pitch-black tunnel, and got his camera out and started taking pictures so the flash would reveal what creature it was. It was so scary; I had no idea what it was; what kind of wild or mythical animal we had encountered and what might leap out at us. We finally realized what it was; a candy wrapper. Haha. I was filming one of the caves and then Josh, of course, scared me by throwing a rock close by me. I nearly jumped out of my skin! The tree roots were growing up out of the split earth and above our heads as we ducked in looking at the small caves. Well, I thought that’s what all the fuss was about, which was cool enough for me, but we walked further on and finally found the real lava caves. We had found that girl and her grandma along the way again, who told us that you can actually walk through the caves, just be sure you have a flashlight. The cave you had to walk down into and you could barely see through to the other side. I wasn’t too sure about this; but then again, I had to do this! We had no flashlight, only the beam of light that was a “flashlight” on our little ghetto Vodafone cell. I got the video camera out and started rolling. That was definitely scary; walking into pitch darkness, having to duck your head, and not knowing what you are walking on and what is sticking out of the earth on either side of you. It was cold. I had the feeling a million eyes were watching me; that I had just walked into the Mines of Moria and was about to be grabbed by an Orc. Or, that I would see the pale lights of Gollum’s eyes staring at me, asking to give him his precious. Josh was in front of me, holding the nearly worthless hint of light in the blackness, and holding my hand, helping me crawl over the rocks. As we were halfway through, I felt a bit panicky, and was ready to get out. I slipped a couple times and was praying to God to forgive me my sins and for going in there, and asking if He would please not cause the volcano to erupt again or there to be an earthquake. I was so jumpy, I screamed when another couple had found the cave and the young man called down making a scary noise from behind as we were walking through. I don’t think he knew we were there but was trying to scare his wife, haha. At last, we approached the light at the end of the tunnel, and we were out into the safe daylight again. That was fun, and I felt brave and accomplished after that escapade.

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The rest of our trek back down the volcano we passed through the dark, rainforest-like trees again, and I felt in tune with nature. Josh laughed at me as I started singing, “Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest, come taste the sun sweet berries of the earth, come roll in all the riches all around you, and for once never wonder what they’re worth . . .”. That song gets stuck in my head a lot, especially if I’m out in the wild. Oh, how I wanted to be Pocahontas so bad growing up!

 
We had about thirty minutes left until our departing ferry was to arrive, and it was taking a long while to get back down. The closer we got to the bottom, then it started raining more heavily and once we were out of the shade of the trees it started pouring. Thankfully we had our rain jackets, which didn’t seem to do much good when my hood kept flying off with the wind, but it felt thrilling nonetheless and exciting to be daring the natural elements. We could hear the sea again, and the waves were really crashing against the shore. What if we got stranded here, in a tropical cyclone? It was not hard to pretend again, as I watched the waves leaping in the air and my eyes were squinting through the cold, sticky, salty rain. We gathered underneath a shelter with a few other people and we were so starving and ate another sandwich as we waited. At last, our ferry arrived, so we all braved the cold, pelting rain and stood out on the pier, feeling the boards underneath us sway with the waves; I knew this was going to be a rough ride going back, and was hoping we would make it.

 
The ride back was actually pretty relaxing (minus the part of sitting across from strangers, both not knowing where to look and just feeling awkward) and we sat inside this time, obviously, right behind the captain’s quarters. That was cool to peek in the window at all the computers and feel like we were somehow manning the boat ourselves. Everyone in the ferry looked weary from the day’s hike. Josh and I were tired, wet and cold with our soggy clothes clinging to our bodies, but I still felt extremely invigorated.

 
When we pulled into the terminal and were waiting to dock, I nudged Josh and said, “Look!” We both laughed. We saw where we had been the night before, looking for that restaurant. We saw the Mexican sign again, and the café/bar we had mistaken it for . . . and right beside it? The Mexican Restaurant. Yep, RIGHT beside it. Haha. We felt so dumb.
We were quite weary after that adventure and were ready to go check into our new hotel. Oh yes, and by the way, I forgot to mention this earlier, but while we were hiking up the volcano, our cell phone rang. It was the manager of the Copthorne. She talked to Josh for several minutes about the overbooking situation and apologized profusely to us, and asked us how long we were staying in Auckland. We said this was our last night, and that for our final night we were staying at the Copthorne Harbour City Hotel. We had a regular room, which when I had read reviews, I was a bit skeptical of this hotel because the reviews said the bathrooms were really old and in need of serious renovation and to make it more modern. Well, lucky for us after all, because the manager then upgraded us to a suite! We heard that before, obviously with the Kingsgate, but we knew for this hotel that would be quite a treat! I couldn’t wait to see our room. So we walked back, slowly this time, to our car in the parking garage, and after many confusing and frustrating moments of not being able to find what level we had parked, and after successfully going up and down the elevator that fully cooperated this time, we finally found our car and drove to the Copthorne just a couple blocks down the road. Josh checked us in and we even got free parking which was nice after the hefty price we had to pay in the previous parking garage. Our suite was on the top floor, the seventh! We went up to our room, and I was quite happy! It was a sigh of relief to see a squeaky clean and modern bedroom with a luxurious King bed and a view overlooking the harbor. It was so wonderful. I guess the suite bathrooms had been upgraded, because there were no complaints from me on that . . . it was just beautiful! Glass shower with marble stone walls and a spa bath. Woo Hoo! We had made a booking to eat at The Orbit in the Sky Tower that night, which I had been looking forward to going into the tower for ages.

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I felt like a girly girl again as I spent the next three hours getting ready for our fancy date night; a unique dining experience to celebrate our anniversary, in the Auckland Sky Tower of all places! Haha. I got all dressed up for my hubby, and then we opened our door and out in the hallway we said, “Woah!” when we saw the Sky Tower from the hall window glowing brilliantly white against the night sky. Since it was just a few blocks away, we’d figure we would just have ourselves a nice stroll downtown instead of paying for parking or getting a taxi. It was quite romantic and we took our time and took several pictures and videos as we approached and kept craning our heads to look up at its incredible height.

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Josh and I walked into the lobby that was filled with people, lights, casinos, restaurants, and a contagious livelihood. “We should have stayed here!” we both said to each other. It felt like we were in Vegas or something, but it was still very classy as we walked into the atrium and to the hostess station. We had to give our name and we were allowed to be up taken up to the viewing deck 45 minutes before our restaurant experience to give us time to take in the sights. Our elevator bell person called for the elevator and we waited patiently for it to come all the way back down to earth. Then she sent us on our merry way. The viewing deck was on the 51st floor! What was even better, or perhaps worse, was that, on the way up, there was a large portion of the floor of the elevator being completely see-through glass! Our stomachs definitely dropped to the floor as the elevator zipped up in the air and I instantly felt my legs get shaky as I looked down and saw the world get smaller and I prayed I wouldn’t fall through. It didn’t help my equilibrium balance or psychological peace of mind that I was wearing high stiletto heels, either. We’d already been slowly determining that Josh believes he has a fear of heights, and this experience definitely confirmed that theory. I can handle climbing mountains and stand on the edge and it not bother me that much, but this was maybe going to be a little too much for me.
We got to the very top, quickly, I might add, and walked slowly out into the enclosed viewing deck. Our reservation was at 8:00 and we got there around 7:15, so the city lights were glowing bright which you could see for miles as it had stopped raining and the sky was clear. It really took your breath away, literally, being up there. I walked slowly around in my heels and was trying to get a hold of my psyche and convince myself that this wasn’t so bad. It helped to look at Josh’s wide eyes and at him nervously chewing his gum so that I could laugh, uneasily of course, but it helped me relax. There was another platform area that had the see-through glass for you to walk across, which after much probing, I did as Josh videotaped me. I couldn’t believe that some people have the nerve to do the walk on the balcony outside, and that some bungee jump off the tower! This was enough for me, behind this glass. It’s amazing how knowing you are up that high and your mind getting away from you and how it can make you feel so nervous. Obviously this thing was quite sturdy, but I had to wonder when it was just a narrow tower, and to imagine if there was an earthquake or even a whisper of wind, it had to just collapse! Josh and I were feeling super anxious by now, and feeling the effects of a long, tiring day and somewhat fairly stressful experience since we’d arrived in this big city with all the little miss haps. We still had a while to go before dinner, and I was thinking about us actually eating; would I be able to do this? Could Josh handle it? We sat down for a while on the benches and were groaning and making a big deal to each other about how weird we both felt and super anxious, and just kind of laughing at ourselves. I was feeling dizzy. We tried to take our minds off it by looking at all the interesting facts which I learned quite a few things:

 
-At 328 metres (1,076 ft) tall Sky Tower is the 12th tallest tower in the world (taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris).
-The tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
-The elevators travel at 18km per hour and the ride takes only 40 seconds.
-On a clear day you can see approximately 82 kilometres (51 miles) from Sky Tower.
-It has been designed to remain essentially undamaged during storms with winds gusting to 200 km/hr (125 mph), which can result in sway at the top of the concrete shaft of approximately one metre

-In the extreme event of a magnitude 8.0 earthquake occurring within 20 kilometres of the tower, analysis shows that Sky Tower would remain standing.


Some of those facts were quite reassuring. We finally went up to The Orbit restaurant, and felt even more nervous and skeptical that we could handle this when we saw the outside floor where the tables were was slowly rotating! We already knew it would do this, but being up close and personal and really experiencing it, now that didn’t seem like a good idea. On the 52nd floor, spinning around while eating food?! That is definitely enough to make you lose your lunch. The hostess took us to our table and I felt scared I was gonna fall as we walked off the stable “landlocked” part of the restaurant and out onto the rotating platform and to our table. We weren’t right beside the window, which was fine with Josh, but almost felt worse as from the corner of your eye you could see that you were moving. Of course it doesn’t go very fast at all, but Josh and I were ready to order and get ‘er done! I ordered steak and he got fish, which was pretty good but definitely overpriced…guess it was all for the experience. I looked up one time and was like, “where are we?” Because we had started off by the hostess stand and now we were looking into the kitchen. When we had a few moments that we felt somewhat calm we talked about how cool this was and we never would have imagined we’d be sitting up here, in the Southern Hemisphere, in New Zealand, on our one year anniversary. We laughed at each other still for we could tell how anxious we were, but Josh most especially. We didn’t tarry too long after our meal, we practically dashed out, and felt so relieved when our feet were back on solid ground.

 

 

I felt like I could breathe again and we stopped by the Weta Cave shop where I was able to see more Lord of the Rings gifts and memorabilia. I saw Frodo’s cloak for $1,300.00, and was very tempted to buy it.

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We enjoyed our walk back to our hotel, and felt giddy after that tense dinner. Auckland had been an experience, but we were glad this was our last night, and couldn’t wait to hit the road on to the Bay of Islands the next morning!

Auckland

(Day 2 of our North Island holiday. April 1, 2012) 

The next morning was better, though, and I wanted Josh to hurry and wake up so we could go see everything. It’s funny how the sun and daylight can make everything better. When we had checked in the night before, the lady told Josh our room had an ocean and garden view from the window. I didn’t believe her, but she was right after all. I was so happy to look out down below and see a colorful rose garden park. And, we could see the ocean in the distance! It was a beautiful day, and the weather was perfect and sunny. We ate breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, which was actually pretty good, especially the muesli. It was all for free, too, considering our overbooking misfortune, so that was a bonus, and it overlooked the rose garden.

 
We were eager to see the city in daylight. The population of Auckland is 1.5 million, so it was nice, at first, to be in a really big city again. We drove around downtown for a while and then were trying to figure out what we wanted to do; all those ideas I had written down, and we had no clue which one we should choose. We had learned that there was going to be an event called the Auckland International Cultural Festival at Mt. Roskill Memorial Park, so we went on a scavenger hunt looking for that. I really don’t know why we didn’t ask to borrow someone’s GPS before our trip (or why we didn’t think to bring the ones we both had from back home that we left behind in Texas) because we searched aimlessly for over an hour and just could not find this park. Auckland is quite spread out with all the suburbs but it was nice to see the flat land and just a few small hills. We had a map and were trying to figure out where it was…I thought it was going to be on top of a mountain, or hill, considering it was called “Mt. Roskill”, so we were looking at the two hills we saw and one had a tall tower on it which I knew had to be it. We kept aiming for that, and had even stopped to ask for directions, but it was taking us forever and we were losing time and starting to get slightly stressed as we wanted to make use of the good weather and little time we had in Auckland. At last we found the venue, which was not even close to the tall hills we thought it might be. It was a large field and cars were packed on the side of the street and we could tell we were going to have to park forever far away. With great difficulty, we at last parked, then grabbed our blanket and cameras and walked over to the field.

 
It was so exciting as we walked up and the first thing we saw were two teams, one Kiwi and another which appeared to be an African team, playing Rugby. Beyond the game, we saw a vast array of brightly colored banners and flags over each tent set up to represent its country. The music was enough to get one’s blood pumping and curious to see what each tent had to offer in terms of their traditional food for the culture-hungry people to try. I know Josh was super happy and that he felt alive because he enjoys that kind of stuff and has a deep love and appreciation for different cultures. I know I felt pretty awesome being there, and just cool. It was really neat and it made me wish and think that this is how the world SHOULD be. “Red and yellow black and white, they are precious in His sight . . . ”, as the young children’s Bible song goes. People of all different nationalities were here in this place together, smiling and happy and proud to share with others and teach them about their culture and learn about theirs as well. There was no hatred or airs of superiority; just peace and happiness. I believe that is how God wishes we were, instead of wars and killing people because they are different and they think their way is better. And imagine if there was not this variety of cultures? Of language, cuisine, clothing, music and dance, and traditions? How boring! We saw a lot of hippies there, and I kind of felt like we were hippies too, in those few hours we were there. I just wanted to go up to every person representing a different country, give them a smile and a hug, and say, “World Peace, Man!” with my two fingers in the shape of a peace sign. But, I didn’t do that.

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It was invigorating for the soul and mind, and we watched the cultural dance shows they had and even saw little girls doing the Maypole song dance with the rainbow colored ribbons! That was cute, and I especially like that song because my birthday is in May. We tried different sorts of food, which was really cheap, and watched a woman from Ethiopia make some beverage as thick as molasses pouring from a porcelain teapot. I almost tried some, but didn’t. I bet that stuff was strong. I didn’t eat anything too different, as I had some peanut satay chicken from the Malaysia tent, which I’ve had something like that before, but it was still more foreign to me than usual, and it was so yummy! The weather was warm and sunny, so we were quite content. I also got a big bag of sweet kettle corn, which I hadn’t had in forever, and made me feel like I was at a country fair back in Texas. That was so delicious and addicting, and ended up lasting us nearly our whole trip for a snack in the car. We savored our time there as we didn’t rush it, but just enjoyed being in the midst of all the people and hearing the lively music.

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After that we drove around and crossed the Auckland Harbor Bridge. Auckland, aka “The City of Sails”, does live up to its nickname well, for we saw hundreds of sailboats in the marina, tied up and anchored, waiting until their sailor took them out for another adventure. We were up for exploring ourselves, and drove around to the different suburbs. It was getting partially cloudy and the wind was a pretty cool breeze as we found a walking path by the sea at Takapuna Beach. We got out and walked along the smooth sanded shore, yelping as the icy cold waves hit our feet. I love the smell of the salty sea, and the sound of the waves rushing in and back out again. The salty air is not so overpowering in New Zealand as in certain places I have been to like the Gulf of Mexico; maybe because it’s more humid and muggy there, not quite sure. I will never get over the beauty of the water though, changing from sapphire blue to green to aqua in just a few moments. I really wished we could swim in the ocean, but it was way too cold. We took our time walking along the path, encountering many other couples, young and old, and friends getting their exercise. In the distance, we saw Rangitoto Island, a dormant volcanic island you reach by ferry, which we were planning on hiking the next day. This was a little bit of a different walking park than the parks I’m used to back home! We both said, “Man, this ain’t Rose Rudman!”, a park in Tyler which I always believed to be beautiful with all the pine trees, but quite different from the view we were beholding now. The path was in front of luxurious beachfront homes; I can imagine the price tag on those mansions. To have the ocean as your backyard would be amazing. I loved looking in at the houses from where we walked. People leave their curtains drawn during the day and most have panoramic floor to ceiling windows, so it was appealing to catch a glimpse of the lifestyles of the rich and the famous. I’ve noticed that rich homes wherever I go always seem to have their blinds open; perhaps they want people to stare at all their fancy possessions and be like a dog drooling at the window. I know I always sigh to myself and think briefly of how nice that would be if that were my home, and those were my things, and what kind of fancy dinner parties I could host. After we left the beach, we passed again through the suburb of Takapuna Beach with all of its cafes and expensive looking stores, and one could tell that this area was quite posh. We liked that area; the sense of modernity and it was just nice, and not run down or overshadowed by high rises.

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Then we drove to another suburb that our traveling book guide we’ve been using to help reference us on places to go, Devonport. That was definitely my favorite place in Auckland. It was approaching the time of the golden sunlight hour, and the small town suburb with its shops and the view of the city from being across the harbor really slowed down the pace for us. After driving around all day and in downtown earlier that morning, I had begun feeling what our friends had told us about Auckland; that it’s just a big city. No one sounded too impressed by it and recommended we not spend a lot of time there. Being in Devonport though, time and traffic came to a halt; the people walking slowly along the sidewalks with their shopping bags seemed to have thrown off their watches into the sea. I certainly felt that way, and wanted to stay there as long as we could. “We should have stayed here!” we both said to each other. Josh really liked Devonport, and I knew he was tired from driving around all day in an unfamiliar big city with no GPS. It seems that I contradict myself a lot in things I say, but though we sometimes missed having a GPS, at the same time we both said how it was kind of nice to just figure it out on our own. Josh especially felt that way, being the driver (and the man), leading the way and feeling like the hunter-gatherer, watching the sun and using that as his guide and compass. Well, not really that primitive, but using the signs and context clues for finding things as opposed to technology. It was pretty hard to really get lost there anyways, since it was flat and you could always see the Sky Tower and buildings in case you lost your bearings. We stopped at a parking lot for a while and ate our sandwiches, laughing that we were breaking our vow, again.

 
Josh and I wanted to get a good hill top panoramic view of the city and harbor, so we drove up Mount Victoria, which is in the same suburb of Devonport. Perfect timing. It was definitely the place to be at that moment, as we noticed several cars parked at top and we heard music playing. They were having a concert! This made me happy, and the views were amazing. I sat on the grassy knoll for a few moments, feeling the warm sun on my face, as it was slowly getting lower in the sky and listening to the music in the background. The band wasn’t Pink Floyd or anything, but I guess they weren’t too shabby, and it just really enhanced our mountaintop, or hill top experience. I sat there and looked out onto the harbor far down below and serenely watched the sail boats gliding peacefully through the water, the wind in tune with the sails, giving them wings to drift calmly like an ice skater gracefully gliding across an ice pond in winter.

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We explored the hill, and climbed down these stairs where there was an old canon; a BL 8 inch gun Mk VII. A couple interesting facts I shall quote from Wikipedia concerning this historical landmark:

“Mount Victoria (known to the Māori as Takarunga)[1] is the highest volcano on Auckland’s North Shore, rising to 87 m. . . . Named after Queen Victoria, the hill provides panoramic views of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour and the inner Hauraki Gulf. Over the years the peak and upper slopes have housed a signal station for shipping,[3], artillery emplacements, farmland, and various concrete army bunkers, some from as early as the 1870s.”

 
After looking at the canon, we went back up to the hill and sat and listened to the band for a few moments. I’ve never been to a concert where the blue ocean, sailboats and rich green land were the background; it was pretty sweet!


After a long day, Josh was ready for a nap, so we went back to our hotel. I was antsy and couldn’t bear the thought of taking a snooze on a vacation, so I let Josh take a nap and I said I was going to the rose garden across the street. I really wanted to go with him because I thought that would be so romantic, and plus we never even went to the Rose Garden in Tyler, which is what that city is famous for. I didn’t have time to wait for him, though, and I needed to be out and about still. The weather had changed suddenly, and was cloudy and smelled of rain. I wandered through the rose garden, getting drunk on the strong, sweet, intoxicating smell of the full-blossomed flowers. I walked around, just daydreaming. It’s the little things that make me happy, as I’ve said many times before. I had fun exploring and found a gated courtyard area with a water fountain in its center. A robin was in the fountain splishin’ and a splashin’ and I laughed at it to myself for a minute before I walked in the courtyard and he flew away. I sat on a bench and listened to the water trickling out of the fountain and just took in the beauty and enjoyed the time to myself. But, then, I was missing someone.

 
As I was walking out of the courtyard and about to explore a new path, I saw a young man walking with his hands in his pockets towards me. It was my husband! He was smiling at me. I hadn’t been in the rose garden that long, just a few minutes. “What are you doing here?! You missed me didn’t you?” And we joked that we just couldn’t get away from each other, and he said he didn’t want me to be out here alone either. He thought I was cute, and said he had seen me from our hotel window just walking out here among the roses, and wondered what I was thinking. I led Josh to the courtyard and saw that the bird had been hiding in the tree and had returned to its bath, which we both laughed at the bird and thought it was funny. We hugged each other and walked hand in hand through the garden and down the path that led to an inlet and just acted silly. It was fun; we were both hyper and happy. Then it started sprinkling and as we started walking back to our hotel, I was like, “Wait, we have to kiss in the rose garden, in the pouring rain!” And so we did . . . awww. Sigh. It was all so very romantic. Felt like we were in our very own Jane Austen movie, in a different time and place, somewhere in England.

 
It started raining pretty hard and by now it was dark as we drove around looking for a Mexican food restaurant where Antony had suggested we eat. Our snack food we had that day and sandwiches were not enough to tie us over and by now we were starving. We looked in the area where Antony had told us the restaurant was, and we were excited to have some yummy Mexican food, something we had been missing. We parked in a nearly vacant parking lot and walked along the Viaduct Harbor, which I had been excited to go to because of its popularity . . . a strip of restaurants right along the waterfront. The weather was quite disappointing, and I had dressed up a bit and was wearing my heels (the price I pay to look good for my husband) which I was regretting now as it was holding us up and I was so scared I was going to trip in front of all the people eating on the patio. Normally, the area probably would have been a lot more crowded, but there were still quite a few people enjoying their meals out on the patios. Some of the restaurants looked quite fancy and expensive. We didn’t know the name of the place, but just that it had a full menu Mexican, so we looked at all the menus and were not finding what we thought would be it. We asked a lady and she pointed us to where it was we were talking about, and where Antony had told us, right across from the Copthorne Harbour City Hotel (where we were going to be staying our next night).

 
So, we retraced our steps and walked a lot further as the rain was lightly pouring on us. I could tell Josh was getting slightly annoyed, and it was another one of those occasions we had been encountering where everything turns out being harder than it should be. We turned the corner and saw a place that was opened and a neon sign beside it that said Mexican! We were like, yay! We found it! We walked past the people on the covered patio and I felt the warmth of the heat lamps and was so happy we were finally about to eat. We went to the bar to get the menu and Josh asked, “Are you serving dinner?” They looked at us weirdly, and said no, but they have a snacks menu. What gives? I think I mentioned this before in another post, but this was certainly not the first time. But it was like 7:30, why wouldn’t you be serving dinner? We looked at the snack menu and there was nothing on there that resembled Mexican food, and good luck satisfying your tummy with a piece of bread. We walked out and now Josh was really upset; I was too, but he was doing the venting this time, and I was hurrying to keep up with his stride. That restaurant didn’t seem right, and I was wondering if that wasn’t the place or not that Antony had told us about; that couldn’t have been it, because if it had, why would a restaurant not serve dinner at normal dinner hours? Even though we had already encountered that, but also the menu didn’t have any Mexican dishes. We were confused, and tired, hungry, frustrated, wet and cold. At first, we were going to go back to one of the restaurants we had passed along the way, but then I saw one on the other side of the bridge that had twinkling lights strung out across the patio; it looked romantic, which is what I’m all for. Josh of course wanted to make me happy, so we went there. We were relieved to find on the menu that this random place we found actually had a couple Mexican dishes, and so we both ordered fajitas. It certainly wasn’t authentic, and tasted more like a tomato-based recipe, but I still really liked it; though Josh wasn’t too impressed. A girl growing up in West Texas, and a boy growing up in East Texas, eating Tex-Mex your whole life….enchiladas, tacos, beans, and rice at least two meals a week…we have been having a little bit of some withdrawals. The meal was actually satisfying I thought, and our bellies were quite full. We sat on the enclosed patio with the twinkling white lights above us and the heat lamps to keep us warm, which was very romantic.

 
We were both in better spirits with our bellies full as we walked slowly back to our car and the rain had stopped. Until, we got to our car. Josh let out an angry noise as he picked up something from the windshield; a ticket. A wet and soggy parking ticket. Stupid me, I had seen a sign that said about paying and displaying as we walked by, and I vaguely remember seeing weekend times on it; but I just ignored it and really didn’t even think about it. Besides, it was the weekend, a SUNDAY night, in this big, empty parking lot, and we hadn’t even been gone that long. Grrrrr. That made us both angry. What loser parking police had been sitting there, staking out his territory, and jumping at the chance to catch us? And how much was the penalty??? 65 buckaroos!!!! That is insane. Josh was so mad, and he was saying he wasn’t going to pay it, which I was agreeing with him. It was Sunday night, come on! It was either 8:00 or 9:00, there was a huge parking lot that was nearly completely empty except for a couple cars . . . AND, it was raining! I don’t know why, but I think it’s even worse if police give tickets when it’s raining or storming, like seriously? That really dampened Josh’s mood, as this was not our first ticket in New Zealand either, unfortunately.
We already knew that we had to stay another night at the Kingsgate hotel, which we didn’t like, but there wasn’t anything to really do about it now, so we just had to deal with it, and hope the Copthorne manager would call us back the next day with some kind of good news. It had been an eventful first day of our trip in Auckland; we were worn out and went straight to bed.

North Island Holiday: Day 1 (March 31, 2012)

I love planning trips. Obviously, because I love traveling, but it’s always so exciting to have something to look forward to and think about and imagine where your next adventure will be. With the convenience and helpfulness of the Internet these days, it is very easy to become lost in research of planning and overwhelmed by the variety of options on where to stay and what to do, and good deals you can find as well. That’s how I felt when planning our “one year anniversary” trip. Stressed, overwhelmed at times, full of ideas and then just wanting to say, “Forget it! It’s easier to not go anywhere and just stay here!” I’m sure many can relate to this feeling, unless I’m just a stressed-out person who likes to have everything planned, but then again, not really because sometimes I would find myself just wanting to go and not think about it but figure out our plans when we got there. I think the majority of people and families get stressed out when planning their vacations. Except for hippies and backpackers, which I used to think that was me, but since coming here, I am not so sure if I fit into this free-spirited mindset as much I thought.

 
First of all, it was hard to believe that Josh and I were even thinking about the historical and monumental achievement of celebrating our one year wedding anniversary. It was quite exciting and we felt very proud and happy. You mean to tell me it’s here . . . already? We’ve been married a year??! Time has flown by. And, at the same time, it does seem like it has been a long year. A long first year of marriage. Haha. That is quite a feat, and we’d been told all along how the first year is the hardest, so we were quite happy to be approaching that hurdle. It was pretty tough, we ain’t gonna lie, haha, but Josh and I have grown so much closer and I think learned more about each other, in a faster amount of time even than we might have if we just continued on with our normal, routine lives in Tyler. I guess that might be an obvious observation and a no-brainer considering that it’s just been me and him, him and me, or grammatically correct, Josh and I, for the past four or five months. Every day. Together. Day in and day out. 24/7. Haha, just kidding, but really we have been pretty inseparable, which has been great, but of course, as every person knows and if we had been back home we might would have had more of that separate time apart that couples supposedly need, for “girl’s nights out” and “guy’s nights”. We have experienced a few of those times apart from each other with our new friends in New Zealand, but I assume it would have been a lot more by staying home and with our familiar circle of friends. With Josh gone at work all day, that’s our time apart also I guess, which is sometimes good, but sometimes I miss him a lot, and feel sad, especially on Sunday nights, that our fun is over together and he must go to work the next day. What am I going to do? I think to myself, biting my fingernails and twirling my hair. That could be because I’m not working, and have a lot of free time on my hands, but part of that is us being here in NZ, and originally wanting to have a lot of free time to do fun stuff together and travel around more frequently, which hasn’t been quite that way with Josh’s full-time job. However, as much as we inadvertently (or maybe intentionally) tend to annoy each other after awhile of being together all the time, and though a break can be good, I think I’d much rather have Josh around to mess with than be without him. I’ve learned a lot about him, and he knows me just as well as he knows the different hot sauces to put on his chicken wings at Wingstop. Most days. We’ve come a long way together; literally! Been through a lot of changes within our first few months of marriage, by moving to a foreign country far away from friends and family. It has had its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything. I am very thankful to God for this adventure he has sent us on, and I feel that we have been very lucky to do this, and to grow closer to each other. I love him!

 
Anyways, so our plans and ideas changed from day to day of where we were going to go to celebrate our one year anniversary. It would have been cool enough to stay put in our flat in Wellington, because being here is basically a gift and wonder in and of itself! Most plans change, and we aim high first, and maybe others can relate to this as well. It went from:
“Baby, let’s go to Fiji!!!! And get a beach bungalow with rose petals on our bed, chocolates, and breakfast served to us in bed. Or . . . yeah, maybe we could even do that thing where you rent your own island!”
The next day, we’d say:
“Fiji.”
Notice the enthusiasm is no longer there. And then it went to saying it like:
“Fiji?”
Nope, sorry, couldn’t afford that luxurious, tropical island paradise, not yet. Then we lowered our expectations a bit and became more realistic, and said, “AUSTRALIA!” We became excited with this new idea, and even found an outdoor symphony concert they would be having outside the Sydney Opera House overlooking the harbor, complete with fireworks. That sounded awesome, and so romantic. Why not go there, either? We wouldn’t mind seeing Australia since we were currently so close, closer than we probably ever will be to the land down under.

 
Well, and then, at last, we realized . . . “New Zealand!” Woo hoo! Haha, that made the most sense, and we were relieved when we finally had it narrowed down, and realistically. We were here in NZ to explore THIS country, and it was time to do that now. Then we had to decide between the North and the South Island. Oh decisions, decisions; they can really drive you mad! Since we were planning our trip for April, we knew and researched that it would still be fairly warm up North, and I was desperately wanting us to finally be able to swim in the ocean together in this country, so we decided we would take a nice little tour of the North Island. Destination: Auckland, Northland, the Bay of Islands, and the Coromandel Peninsula. Once that was confirmed, I spent the next days typing my little fingers off and wearing out the computer looking for places to stay and things to do. The options were endless! TripAdvisor I love and I’d spend hours reading reviews and looking up vacation homes, hotels and Bed & Breakfasts. I wrote lists in my notebooks, confusing myself and filling my head all the more with choices.

 
Waiting for and planning our trip kept us excited for the next few weeks. It’s always great to have something to look forward to and we couldn’t wait to explore more of this country we were living in. I would like to be able to just sum up our trip in a paragraph, but if you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you know me pretty well by now and know that is impossible for me. My family and friends have always laughed at me saying how long it takes me to tell stories sometimes, because I tell every single descriptive detail; I can’t just sum things up. I don’t like when people interrupt my stories with questions to get to the point or would make me have to go out of order with my story . . . it must be told in chronological order! That’s why I like this blog because I have the freedom to write however long I want to, no school assignment with a word count or page number limit. And I also want to remember all of this, and for you as the reader to hopefully feel like you are with me.

 
It’s funny because growing up, whenever our family would go on vacations, the night before my parents announced our departure time for the following morning. Without fail, we never made it. They’d always say, “We are leaving early this time!” That we would leave at like 6:00 or 7:00, but it was usually noon before we finally saw the tall buildings of Midland in our rearview mirror and drove into the discouraging endless horizon. In West Texas, the dry, barren flatlands, you had to drive days to go anywhere cool or pretty.
Well, this time I told Josh, with me being the wife now and telling my husband with whom I was celebrating our first year of marriage together (sometimes I just have to keep telling myself that to really take all of it in still) that we were leaving early because we just want to get to Auckland, no diddle-daddling. I said we are leaving at 8, the latest at 9:00 a.m. We woke up at 9:00. I had become my mother, and we were now waiting on me. Josh was slow getting around too, though, but we eventually got everything together and left around 11:00. I have really liked having Josh around, especially when I go to the store and the times we’ve gone on trips together; he is so handy! He helps carry the groceries and he loads all our bags and suitcases in the car, so I don’t have to lift a finger! That used to always take me forever and was my greatest grievance, like when I’d come home from college for the weekend . . . loading and unloading my car. My dad always did help me, though, do that whenever I would come home.

 
We were excited now! Here we were, on a road trip together again, in New Zealand, celebrating our anniversary, and about to drive down roads we had yet to tread. Driving in New Zealand sure ain’t like driving in Texas. There was no way I’d be sleeping. Too much beauty to behold, and changing landscapes within a few minutes. We drove north up State Highway 1, down a familiar road as we had been already been to the Kapiti Coast area before with Carl, Adeline and Abbekah one day a few months ago where we had gone to a famous ice cream and candy store and a chocolate factory. We had also been on that route before when going to Camp Kilsby in Palmerston North at a church camp back in January. When we had passed that turnoff and continued on the road we both exclaimed in excitement that we were finally on a road we hadn’t been on yet. That is one of the most exciting things ever, I think; a new road and a place you’ve never been before to discover and explore.

 
The max speed limit anywhere in NZ is 100 km/h, which is 60 mph. I guess this is one of the reasons any time we’d ever gone driving, especially on the South Island when we first arrived, that it took much longer than you thought it would to get to your destination. Plus, the roads are windy and curvy nearly everywhere and you have to slow down a lot through all the mountain ranges. We got held up in Ohakea, where there was an airshow and everyone and their pet rabbit obviously wanted to see the action, so we were stuck in non-moving traffic for nearly an hour.

 
Josh and I groaned and laughed at ourselves at what we had to resort to in order to save money and what we had vowed to each other we would never do: eat sandwiches. Eat sandwiches while you are on the road and traveling on vacation. We told stories of how we always loathed when our moms made sandwiches and put them in the ice chest along with bags of chips and bottled water, and the whole family would get out of the car at a Rest Stop and pause our trip to sit at a picnic table and eat a boring sandwich. We said how both our parents used to say, “Gotta save time and money!” as sometimes we wouldn’t even stop! We just ate in the car in order to get to our destination quicker. I don’t know which was worse, stopping and eating at a picnic table and feeling like we were the Griswolds in Family Vacation, or just having to stare out the window as you chewed on the dry bread. Josh said how he used to beg his parents to let them just stop at a restaurant and sit down and eat, or even go to a drive-thru. I know I can probably count on one hand the times we ever did that either.

 
I thought Josh and I would possibly have to succumb and dishonor our vow to each other and eat sandwiches in the car maybe one day when we had kids crying in the backseat and beating each other up. I couldn’t believe we were already doing this now! Here we were, grabbing our bread, lunchmeat, mustard and chips out of the Chilly Bin in the backseat, and eating our tasteless sandwiches in the car. We made a big deal about it to each other, and laughed and exaggerated about how horrible this was. I bit into the sandwich and acted like I was gagging and made a scrunched up, disgusted face. We had quite fun actually, our windows rolled down just sitting there laughing together and watching the fighter planes dance and dive through the air leaving behind colorful trails of smoke, and feeling the warm sun on my neck and face as we waited for the traffic to move.

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At last we passed through the air show traffic, and continued on our way to Auckland. Before leaving, we had stopped by Jeanette and Antony’s house, who let us borrow their tent and gave us directions. We already had planned that we would be camping a few nights at a holiday park when we went to the Coromandel Peninsula, in order to save money and to “rough it” a little bit. I’d been wanting to camp for a long time, and we had yet to do that together.

 
Once we passed through Wanganui, which I thought was pretty with the river and cabins along the bank, we arrived to an area that really took my breath away and made me feel like a giddy schoolgirl passing a love note to her crush. That’s what God’s landscapes can do to me. He is quite the artist! We spent the next moments admiring what we imagined and love about the natural beauty of New Zealand as we passed through the mountain ranges known as the Parapara’s. Jeanette had told me I would love driving through these ranges, and boy, was she right! I thought we had stepped into the Shire, and we were both just amazed and happy and excited. We stopped several times along the road to take pictures and videos of the green rolling hills. The lighting was so perfect; just a few clouds and when the sun shined through them, the emerald color reminded of the rich green hills in Ireland. The grazing sheep completed the idyllic scene, and the shadows created by the sun shining on the hills made for a photographer’s dream.

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There was so much beauty to behold on our journey. I just stared out the window the entire time, not wanting to miss a thing. We were starting to get tired of being in the car, though, once the sun went down and we hadn’t made it to Auckland yet. It’s an 8-hour drive normally, but with the traffic jam it had set us behind an hour. We were so eager to get to Auckland and stay in our hotel, and I know Josh was super tired from driving all day. It’s a lot different than a long stretch of straight highway in Texas where you can put your car in cruise control the whole time; you definitely cannot do that here.

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Finally, around 8:00 p.m., we saw the bright city lights of Auckland, New Zealand. I’ve seen pictures of it before, and we had flown into Auckland, but didn’t get to see the city, so we felt quite privileged to be approaching our first destination. We were ecstatic when we faintly saw the glowing Sky Tower and realized how tall it really was, looming what seemed like miles above the other tall buildings. The roads were wider and more lanes and it felt familiar, almost like we were in Dallas or Houston. I don’t know why, but we didn’t print off a map to our hotel or even look up directions to where our hotel was, which was pretty dumb. We drove downtown aimlessly, just knowing the address and the street name, but no idea where, just that it was downtown. We felt alive and happy to see all the people out and about at night walking the streets; it was a hip happenin’ joint. I was like, “Woaahhhh!” when we passed underneath the Sky Tower; it was ginormous! Josh finally stopped at a gas station and asked a man in a nice business suit and a fancy car where the street was, and he was kind enough to give us directions. We knew it; the only road we had seen that we had passed along the way and wondered about that didn’t have a street name on it, haha.

 
I am always ready to stay in hotels, I just think they are fun and it’s someplace new to lay your head; and usually a heavenly mattress and pillows. I had been researching where to stay and we had booked our nights for Auckland and another place for the Bay of Islands later in the week. The plan was to stay in the Copthorne Hotel downtown our first two nights, and then there was actually another Copthorne Hotel Harbour City on the waterfront, which was for our third and final night there. We had a pretty good experience with this hotel chain as we had stayed in one our first night in New Zealand, in Wellington. So, we finally found the hotel, which looked so pretty and had rod-iron balconies. I have usually stayed in the car when Josh goes to check us in places, but this time I wanted to go inside. I was so anxious to get inside and see this place. I walked in and it wasn’t too fancy or anything, but it was still quite nice. The reviews on Trip Advisor had all been pretty good for this place, and like it was kept up well and modern. We got to the front desk and the reservationist said there had been a problem. Maybe that’s why you don’t book through a third party that promises you cheaper rates; guess it causes problems. He was very nice about it, and explained that they had overbooked, and so someone else was staying in the room that we were supposed to be in. That was disappointing. He said what they could do for us, and Josh and I were just like, “yeah, okay that sounds great!” when he said they would send us over to their sister hotel, the Kingsgate. He made it sound like a better deal when he said they had upgraded us to a suite and that we would get a complimentary breakfast and free parking (not very common in the big city). We should have known right there, and I did think to myself, well I wonder what the other place looks like if they are upgrading us to a suite, meaning it probably wouldn’t be as good as this one. But I just hoped for the best and was still excited to see where our new hotel would be. We got in the car and were saying “Wow, we’re gonna be in a suite! Awesome, I bet it will have a big spa bath, too!”

 
Well, we finally found our new hotel, and pulling up to it, I was just like, “Oh no…”, you already got the feeling this was some kind of joke. It was definitely no Hilton, and then when we walked inside it was even worse. The carpet looked old and stained and it had an odd, funny smell. My mood had instantly changed, “I knew this was gonna happen, something like this” I said. But I was hoping somehow our room would still be nice. We walked into our room, and it was like stepping back in time and that they hadn’t changed the décor since the 70’s. I did not like it and was not happy. It shouldn’t have been that big of a deal, I guess, any other time we would have been thankful for it, but we were both disappointed with what we had been expecting and what we should have had, which was a night and day difference when comparing the two hotels…the other was modern and renovated, this was like a motel from a horror film. And we were on a trip to celebrate our anniversary, we wanted a place romantic, and that felt like home and was clean, but I just felt like “Ewww”, with stains on the carpet and fabric couches that look like they came from a nursing home. One of those places where you just don’t want to touch anything because you get the feeling it’s not clean. Oh yeah, and it was a suite after all because it had two rooms, the bedroom and living area and a kitchen. I shudder to think what the normal rooms looked like. Man, that place is in need of a renovation, or just tear it down. I would like to say I put on a smiley face and was a happy camper, I guess we were tired too, and I hate when you have high expectations and you are let down, so I griped about it for quite a while when we first got there to Josh. It wasn’t his fault of course, and he just let me vent and he felt the same way, too, and wanted this trip to be just perfect for us celebrating our anniversary. It was kind of back and forth, I guess, because then I’d try and have a better attitude about it after I felt bad for making him feel bad, haha, and said it would be okay. The Kingsgate was away from the city, so we weren’t in that feeling of the connect that we like so much. Josh called the reservations guy at the Copthorne and tactfully told him the problem we had with this place and if we could get our room back at the Copthorne for the following night, instead of a second in this place. It was several calls made between the two hotels, and the guy told Josh that he was sorry but he couldn’t do that since we had already went ahead and booked this hotel for our second night due to the overbooking. That made me so mad, and I was just ranting in the background when he was on the phone; it was a good thing I wasn’t on there, because I wouldn’t have been as nice as Josh was. Or maybe I should have, and then we would have gotten our way and stayed in the Copthorne the second night, in a suite with a spa bath J Josh really did try though, and one can see how that can happen sometimes; an honest mistake and especially with all the different booking sites. He made sure the guy would talk to his manager, though, and call us back to see if an arrangement could be made, so that was good. Eventually, we got over it, and knew we would just have to make the best of it. Josh is really great for me, and tries to get me back in a positive mood so we can both be happy. We’d had a long day, and it was time to rest our weary bodies. Oh yeah, after a late night room service snack; that will do the trick to cheer anybody up! I had a chocolate cake that was heavenly!