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.

Panic in the Peaceful Forest

Ignorance is bliss, they say, and I believe this to be true sometimes. My husband and I were ignorant about this trail we were about to embark upon. The brochure and the sign at the head of the trail said it was 2 1/2 miles. From what I read and interpreted this meant 2 1/2 miles…total. Roundtrip. I thought this trail would be a walk in the park.

 

We began walking on the trail with the adrenaline, energy, enthusiasm, and excitement that awaits hikers as they begin their adventure. A new path…a new forest. A beautiful array of trees covered in moss that our eyes had never beheld, a vast emerald canopy above our heads. Ferns that felt like feathers as that lightly brushed against us as we passed beside them. We didn’t know where this trail would lead us. Would it lead us to the sea?

 

I was ready to accomplish something. I was seeking a challenge – for me, that’s part of what hiking is about. Little did I know, I was certainly about to have my mind and my body challenged.

 

As we walked along in the early morning hours, the cold rain dripped down on us and we could see our frosty breath. The cold air was invigorating. We didn’t see a soul on the trail; we had it to ourselves, something I long for. It was just my husband and I….and the tall, towering trees. It felt magical and I imagined I was in the fairy tale world of Mirkwood where the elves dwell and sing tales of old and have great feasts in the forest. We began to hear a rushing river and finally caught a glimpse of it through an opening in the trees, flowing down below us. We were excited. We were having fun. Every few steps, we would stop to take pictures or use our GoPro. The going was long, but I was okay with this, thinking to myself that we were already about halfway there. The going was also tough, as we dodged tree roots, and thousands of puddles of mud.

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My husband Josh had downloaded an app that tracked our distance. We were hoping this was going to be a loop trail; to see new sights on our way back to the car park, and to not have to retrace our steps.

 

We then heard a sound that made our hearts skip a beat…the sound of the sea. Our pace naturally quickened as we were eager to hopefully catch a glimpse of the roaring waves of the Pacific.

 

At last, we rounded a bend and saw the thundering ocean. The view was breathtaking as the sun had peaked out from behind the clouds and was in its full glory…a rarity for this time of year on the Oregon coast. We paused for a moment to take it all in. There were surfers waiting in the water for the next wave to ride and we could hear their enthusiastic shouts even from where we stood, hundreds of feet above their bobbing heads.

 

All the hiking we had done this beautiful morning had been worth it for this wonderful moment – this view and to feel the warm sun upon our faces.

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But we still weren’t at the end of the trail! I’m not a wildnerness or hiking expert, but I was pretty sure that we had already gone at least two miles and I was beginning to think that this was no loop trail at all, but that we’d have to go the way we had come. This was starting to get to me a little bit, and I was already feeling quite tired. Each step further that we took meant we would have to turn back and take that step back. I love hiking with all of my heart, but today I wasn’t feeling my best physically and something I am quite familiar with was starting to creep in.

 

We were about to turn back, as we looked at the map on our hiking app, and thinking that perhaps we had already made it to the end point of the Cape Falcon trail, and that now we were on the Oregon Coast Trail (which leads north up the Pacific Northwestern coast to Canada).

 

Just as I turned to walk back, we finally saw a couple of other people headed our way on the trail. They informed us that “yes, you are still on the Cape Falcon trail, and yes, you must keep going … just 10 more minutes until you reach the amazing viewpoint.”

 

Ok. Keep going.

 

That gave us a little push to continue onwards. It lit a fire, albeit a small one, within me. At this point, for me it was a bit of pride to be able to say that we had completed the trail, and, of course, we had come this far, so we had to keep going, even though I was starting to feel physically taxed. We finally made it to the lookout point of the trail, and the view of the expansive sea thousands of feet below us was phenomenal. It was unnerving to see a massive drop off and only a few bushes that served as a barrier between us. We continued on to another viewing point, which was a steep path downwards in order to get to the spot. I felt vertigo start to settle in somewhere within me and I was beginning to feel a little bit of fear. The waves thundered angrily, slamming against the massive rocks and boulders with such loud force, sending foamy waves raging down onto the other side of the rocks. I was amazed and in awe by the strength of the ocean. I was intimidated by its power.

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By this time, I was ready to go back. I wanted to be off this trail. I wanted to be back in town, back to Cannon Beach, where all the people were. I was beginning to feel that we were isolated, and I wasn’t liking the thought of that.

 

I had barely stopped for a moment’s breath the entire hike, as I was just in the mode of “Go, go, go!” We had to hike back up the steep paths and my heart was racing and pounding. Josh was a little behind me, and I was a girl on a mission: “Just make it back to the car.”

 

It was happening. I was starting to panic.

 

I became aware of the fact that I had been holding my breath most of the hike. I had a cold, too, making it hard to breathe through my nose. I was thinking to myself, “I feel so weird. I feel so weird.” I began to feel lightheaded and dizzy. I felt weak.

 

I think the panic and anxiety had started to set in once I found out that we had to go back the way we had come – I was finally certain this was no loop trail. The app said we had walked four miles. That meant four miles back the way we had come. As I said, ignorance had been our bliss, but when reality set in that this was going to be an 8 miler as opposed to the 2 miles we had originally thought, I immediately felt disheartened and discouraged. I didn’t feel prepared for this.

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My mind was two steps ahead of me and I walked as fast as I could, knowing each step I made would get me closer to where I wanted to be. Just back at that car park. I was envisioning and replaying what lay before us. And I knew how long it had taken to get to the viewing point, and that it would take us that long to get back to the car. The roaring of the ocean could still be heard, and I wanted to get away from it.

 

It didn’t take long. You see, it didn’t take long at all for the panic to set in. I was aware of everything and fear was overtaking me. These were some of my thoughts: I’d only seen about five people on this whole trail; where was everybody? We were so far away from our car, and away from civilization. What if I needed medical attention? How would they get to me? Why was my heart beating so fast? Why do I feel so weak? Why am I so exhausted? What if I can’t make it back to the car?

 

I finally stopped, turned around and told Josh that I felt weird. That I felt scared. I was feeling emotional and wanting to cry.

 

I told him all my symptoms. He was like, “Just stop baby. Stop and take a break. Breathe.”

 

No. I didn’t want to stop. I felt this urgency that we had to get back to the car. I wanted to be in our lodge, in our cozy room, away from the elements, and just sitting by the warm fire. I imagined this scene and this was my beacon of light to press onward, was thinking of the comforts of our “home away from home”. I realized how ravenous I was, and I dreamed up a feast waiting for me.

 

Josh, being the practical one, and me not being levelheaded at that moment, said, “Baby, you need to drink some water! You’re probably dehydrated.” Maybe he was right. Had I drank any water this entire time? Maybe a couple sips now that I thought about it. I said I was hungry, too, but I didn’t think we had packed any snacks. I felt like I was going to pass out.

 

Those moments were scary. Those moments of panic. I wanted so desperately to be out of that forest. “Get me out of here!” I felt like screaming, if I had had the strength. I couldn’t remember any of the “tools” I’ve learned along the way of how to deal with a panic attack. I grabbed the water bottle and guzzled down what I could, which helped me focus on trying to breathe through my nose. I had to calm myself down. I had some anxiety medicine in my backpack, but that didn’t even cross my mind at that moment. We did thankfully have some snacks in our packs, (thanks to Southwest Airlines for the peanuts and crackers) which I inhaled and I found an old protein bar. I said to Josh, “Let’s keep going.” The panic was still there and my only hope of escaping it was escaping this quiet, peaceful forest.

 

I started focusing on my breathing as we walked along and I continued eating my protein bar. My pace started to slow. I thought of how I would breathe in yoga, and focused as hard as I could on trying to have rhythmic breath and breathing slowly in and out through my nose. My breath deepened.

 

As we continued at a slower pace along the trail, the sound of the ocean subsided and was replaced by the quiet of the forest, and I felt a calm finally wash over my mind and body. I became suddenly aware of the beauty around me. The sun rays shining down into the forest around us, making the ferns and moss-covered trees an even more vibrant green than when we had seen them earlier that morning. The light and warmth from the sun brought me peace and comfort. I heard a bird singing for the first time I’d heard on the entire hike. The sound of quiet streams filled my ears. Strength was being renewed to my body.

 

I had gained some confidence in myself and felt proud that I didn’t need medicine to get through those moments. I was thankful that it had passed, those moments of panic. It wasn’t a full-on panic attack like I’ve had before, but it got pretty close.

 

It doesn’t take long for our minds to get ahead of us. For our thoughts to start racing. For the fear to take over all rational.

 

When you are in a state of panic, you can’t think clearly.

 

But I had made it through. And now, the forest was peaceful again, and I was calm.

 

As Josh and I continued walking at a slow pace back to the car, I found an energy I can’t explain take over. I was relieved and elated that the panic and anxiety had left me. I began thinking about what had just happened and all the reasons why I had gotten to that point.

 

When you’re hiking, there’s something about knowing you have to go back the way you came. You know the trail . . . you know what it looked like – you know all the obstacles that you encountered. A mighty tree that had fallen across our path before we came upon it, blocking our way. The lengths we had to go through to get past the tree. The river we had to cross – the feeling I had holding my breath walking steadily and cautiously on a fallen tree that was a bridge to cross the river. I knew the methodical steps I had to take as I stepped carefully around the deep, sloshy puddles of mud and the care I had to take to not trip over the endless tree roots springing up across the path.

 

I knew how long it had taken. That it had not been easy. That some parts of it had been challenging and made me want to give up and just turn back and not finish the trail.

 

And so, as I walked back, I thought about my moments of panic, and how it related to life. I thought to myself, “Don’t look too far ahead into the future.” For one thing, it can overwhelm you. Take one step at a time. Focus on the here and now. Don’t get ahead of the game. Be present in this moment.

 

You see, I had the whole journey back played out in my head, and in my head I remembered every little obstacle. Life is sometimes about perspective, to dwell on the puddles of mud and the steep and challenging parts, instead of thinking about the gentle sound of the streams as we passed beside them. I forgot about the magnificent tree at the start of the trail that was completely covered in soft moss that felt like a cloud to the touch of my hand.

 

And, then, I thought of something else.

 

I thought back to a dark time in my life. I thought about a journey that I had taken. A long and difficult one. I reflected back to when my daughter was first born, and I suffered from postpartum depression/anxiety. It reminded me of the “out and back” trail that we were currently on. I already knew what that journey (or, more rather, “battle”) looked like. I know that trail now, because I’ve walked down it. I remember every obstacle that stood in my way from reaching recovery – from getting to the end of my journey and back to where I wanted to be -which was to be healed. I know how long it took, and how hard it was; that it nearly took me down. I don’t ever want to walk that dark path again.

 

I have that fear. Why would one want to go back down the same path again, when they know how treacherous it had been? There are some days when that fear is very real and present, of having to go back there.

 

Perhaps we all have our times in life that we would not want to re-live and that we’d do just about anything to not have to go through it again. For we know what it looks like; what it felt like. What it did.

 

For us, on this particular trail called Cape Falcon, there wasn’t a new trail that suddenly or miraculously appeared on our way back to the car park. We took the same trail. But, I found that the way back wasn’t so bad after all. The obstacles I remembered from before weren’t as threatening. Maybe it was divine intervention, but the steps back to our car seemed to be quicker, thus getting us to the car park quicker. The path leveled out and we soon were in sight of our destination, where we had started from.

 

I know that I can’t live in fear, captive to the thought of having to go down that path of postpartum depression again. We cannot live in fear. For, maybe, if I do have to go down it again, I pray that the path will be easier than the one I’ve already seen and been on. That there will be a bridge across the puddles of mud. That there will be a railing along the tree that crosses the river, to bring me comfort and to keep me safe. That the trees blocking my way, causing me to want to give up, will have been removed from my way. That God will have straightened my path.

 

Or, maybe He will provide a fork in the road; a new path entirely – one in which I will not have to know that darkness again.

 

No, we can’t live in fear. We have to keep on going. We can’t turn back. It is worth every step you take, even if you have to drag yourself through the mud to get there to your destination.

 

And so it was for me.

 

We finally saw the moss-covered tree that we had seen earlier that morning and I felt rejoicing in my heart, as this beautiful tree meant we had made it! I was thankful to see this majestic tower reaching high up to the sky.

 

I then wrapped my arms around its trunk as far as they would go, and I hugged that tree with all of my might.

 

I was smiling and laughing.

 

I had made it.

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This picture is from a photoshoot we had done at the beginning of the hike.

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.

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!

Napier

It was Tuesday, the sixth of December. We didn’t say much on the road back to Napier, just kept thinking about our latest experience. I actually had an interview that afternoon, at a hotel that I had e-mailed the week before, when we knew we were coming to Napier. I had dropped my resume off the day before, and they called asking for me to stop by. That did not go so well. Maybe we were not meant to be in Napier either. I felt horribly depressed and extremely emotional; I didn’t know what we were to do. We drove around again going to different hotels asking if they needed any reception or housekeeping positions available. Still no luck. This hadn’t been a good past couple of days, and Josh knew how upset I was, and knew I needed to rest because I also didn’t feel good. We checked into the motel we had stayed in our first night in Napier, and I had never been so happy to lie on a huge, soft, clean, comfortable bed and have a nice, relaxing, hot shower. I already felt so much better.

We had earlier contacted an elder from the church of Christ in Napier, John Shepherd, to let him know of our situation and that we were thinking of living in this city. He wanted to meet with us during the week sometime, and he called again that day and said he could drive us around and that he also maybe found a place we could rent. We didn’t have a job yet, which is probably what you need first before looking for a home, haha, but we couldn’t keep spending our money on a motel, and we were somehow hopeful we would find a job here. There were orchards and vineyards out the wazoo, so there had to be something; we just had to look hard. It was almost like our situation in Hanmer Springs again; once we are in a place, we hit the ground running to make it work out, sometimes without really thinking too hard about if we really like the place or not. If we weren’t desperate before, we definitely were now, we felt we needed to make this work. Mr. Shepherd picked us up, and I was so happy to meet him, he was so nice and easy to talk to and had quite a sense of humor. I enjoyed listening to him and Josh talk; he was like a grandpa-type figure in our story. He showed us a place for rent he had seen in the paper that was pretty cheap, which we drove by but found the location not in a good area. He then took us to meet his wife, Anne, at their home. We stayed there for a few minutes just chatting, getting to know each other, and talking about ideas of finding jobs for us. I really liked both of them so much, and felt comfortable with them. They said we would be in touch and then he dropped us back off at our motel. That night, Josh made dinner in our room and we sat on the balcony, feeling a little better about our situation. We had been surprised though to learn, when we were talking to the Shepherds, about the congregation in Napier, that it was an older generation church, with no one near our age. Our friends in Wellington had given us contact info for a couple around our age who went to that church, which we were glad to know but I guess they had stopped going there in the past few months and were now attending elsewhere. We hadn’t met up with them yet, but I was hoping we would still be able to be friends and hang out with this couple. This was a bit discouraging in a way, to be the youngest couple by a long shot at the church there. Well, maybe that can be a good thing, and we can help this church out by helping with community outreach and help bring in younger families. Josh and I walked to the beach after dinner, and talked about this and talking about the pros and cons of Napier. We decided to still give it a go, and continue job-hunting again in the morning.

The next day, Mr. Shepherd called us and offered for us to stay in their spare bedroom while we were looking for a job and place to rent. How nice! We graciously accepted their offer, and moved all our stuff to their home. We had become quite the vagabonders! Then we went looking for jobs. Now it was like being in Nelson again, stopping at every orchard and vineyard we passed by. We found one vineyard with a café that sounded promising of possible upcoming positions in the café. After looking all day, we drove by a flat (that is what they are called here when there are two or three houses in one building, like a duplex, but most of them here are stacked up on each other as they are built in stair-step design on top of the mountains) that was a very reasonable price. It had a great view with an ocean in the far distance, and we peeked in the windows. I love looking at houses! I think I should be a real estate agent one day. Growing up, my mom and I would love going to open houses together, I remember whenever we were looking to move across town. I had been looking on the Trade Me website (like Craigslists, but with houses for sale/rent also) for months leading up to our move over here, always looking at the houses and excited to see the pictures and dreaming what we would live in when we got here. I always hoped to have a view, but didn’t think that would be too likely because of the extreme higher cost of living in this country.

We went back to the Shepherd’s house that evening and ate pizza and ice cream with them. We really enjoyed their company and hospitality. They left for a while, and Josh and I sat in our room, which was the office filled with bookshelves of spiritual books. It was time to have a talk, again. We had a heart to heart honest talk about what we should do, and what we felt like we both needed. Didn’t have a job here yet, maybe a couple of possibilities, especially with all the work Josh had also been doing in calling and e-mailing different possible employers in an attempt to get us a job as soon as possible. We hadn’t attended the congregation here yet, but I said how I was feeling about the lack of people our age. I said how I need to have friends and Josh said he really wanted that for me (he is always looking out for my well-being, I love him); girl buddies I can talk to. It would be a plus to both have Christian friends our age to relate to and help our Christian walk. Felt like that was something I was really needing at the time, we both knew that is what we needed and to help us grow. We could stay and help the church here as we had said and we considered that, but after talking for an hour about it, we knew the final decision, and in our hearts what was the overall best thing to do. Go back to Wellington! And stay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It felt so good after talking about it and coming to that decision; I felt overwhelmed with relief and happiness. We had already made friends with people in the church in Wellington, and I had a feeling that I would become closer friends with Adeline and Elsa. Josh had guys his age too, and that made me feel good to think about for him. Also, I didn’t mention this earlier, but when we had stayed with Keith that night, he had told us that if it doesn’t work out in Napier and we want to come back to Wellington, that Josh and I could stay at their house for a month, for free! I don’t think I have ever met as such hospitable people as we have in New Zealand. Keith would be at his house a couple more weeks he had said, working until he headed to Mexico for the Christmas holidays to meet up with his wife Elsa, and then they were to stay the rest of the holidays in the States, until they came back the second week of January. I couldn’t believe he had offered that and thought that was so kind, and also didn’t think we would need to take him up on it at the time. However, we knew this might be a lifesaver to us now, as we were wanting to finally find a place to settle down, and we knew where that was. It would also save us so much money while we tried to find a job and place to live in Wellington. We called Keith to see if the invitation was still open, and offered to pay. We were very welcome as the invite was still extended and to not worry about paying.

The next morning, Thursday, Josh got up early and told Mr. and Mrs. Shepherd what we had decided to do. He said they thought that was a good decision for us, so that was really great. I am so glad that we met them and am grateful for their welcoming spirits and the help they gave us.

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Me driving for the second time since we’d arrived…on the busy road this time, though. Aghhh! 

We said goodbye, and this time as we hit the road, we felt better than we ever had. We finally knew what we were doing now. I couldn’t wait to get back to Wellington. Relief, peace, and happiness filled our hearts. The four-hour drive back was a piece of cake and seemed much shorter than our journey a few days earlier. When we arrived in Wellington and saw the harbor sprawled out and the open sea, and the tall buildings, we felt like we were home. At last, we had found it; our new home away from home.

“Time I was on my way . . . Ramble On—North to South”

Tuesday morning (November 15th) we woke up feeling quite rejuvenated and excited. We liked what we had seen so far of Nelson, but our job offers of working at a camp and resort/lodge in Hanmer Springs (an hour and a half away from Christchurch) were calling our name and we wanted to drive down there and check the town out and make a decision to either stay there or come back up to Nelson. Josh had been e-mailing and making several contacts and job possibilities in preparing us to come here, so we had a good place to start upon arriving. We met up with Cameron and Alison, a couple who worked with the church in Nelson and who we had been talking to for a while before coming as we thought we might possibly live in Nelson. It was so great meeting them. They showed us around Nelson…we walked the streets of the cute little town and the weather was perfectly warm and sunny. Nelson is known as being one of the sunniest places in all of New Zealand. We ate at Burger King . . . oh yeah, by the way, they do have a few American chain restaurants here which is good to see. McDonalds (which we eat at like every day!), Subway, and KFC. Anyways, and they also took us up to a lookout point on a big hill overlooking the beach and ocean. I couldn’t believe my eyes! That is one of the prettiest views I’ve ever seen. The water was sky blue and off in the distance we saw mountains . . . the tops dusted with alabaster white snow. It was neat that we had made new friends; Cameron was a native New Zealander and Alison was actually from the States so that was cool since we had a lot to talk about. Went back to their house for a bit and they gave us a wonderful gift, a pretty picture book (my favorite!) of New Zealand’s National Parks. Alison also made us chocolate chip cookies, I think probably some of the best I’ve ever had! We chatted for a while, then Josh and I told of our plans to check out Hanmer Springs to see if we liked it and if not we would come back there.

So we were off . . . Again. I tell you, we really hit the ground running as soon as we got here. Needing to find the right place to settle, with good jobs and most importantly, a good church home we could worship with and help out and who would help us grow spiritually as well. The drive southeast to Hanmer I think was supposed to take like two hours. We left at 2:00 in the afternoon. We were hyper and happy driving along the scenic road to Hanmer, at least for the first half of the journey. We passed through several mountain ranges and more curvy, windy roads with the cliff right beside you and of course the huge logging trucks rounding the corner fast and making us gasp each time. You never come upon those trucks when the road is straight and safe, just when you are turning those sharp corners high above the valleys below. We made several pit stops to take pictures and take in the views. And the SHEEP!!!!! Don’t think I’ve mentioned those yet, but I’d never seen so many, well, really any! They are so cute! They just cover the green pastures and you can see them up in the mountains and hills. I couldn’t help but laugh every time I saw a sheep. Josh and I just wanted to hop the fence and go catch one and hug it. The fields were also covered in flowers too . . .yellow and pink. The closer we started getting to Hanmer, the colder it was getting, and the clouds rolled in. We saw rain in the distance and I begrudged the thought of us having to drive on the mountain roads through that. I got lost in my music listening to The Lord of the Rings soundtrack on my I-Pod, haha. I’ve always loved getting lost in my imagination on road trips. It’s okay to talk every now and then, but even growing up and going on vacation with my family, I would just listen to my own music, (I guess most kids/teenagers do that anyways) look out the window the whole time and just think and imagine adventurous tales. I looked up at the mountains and could see Frodo running away from the Orcs. I’m a nerd, I know, but that’s okay, I admit that when it comes to LOTR.

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Well, what was supposed to be like two hours was becoming a road that never seemed to end. I remember what the Wellingtonians told us of the South Island . . . desolate . . . barren . . . rural. I definitely was feeling that we were entering no man’s land, and feeling it hard. Guess that’s what we have been wanting though, but it really is intimidating once you are in the situation, and not used to it. Maybe I am a city girl at heart? We entered the rain storm, which was brief and wasn’t too bad, but still scary. We passed by a huge river that kept following us along the road and was so beautiful. At last, about 4 ½ hours later, around 6:30 in the evening, we crossed the rickety bridge and into the town, or shall I say, village, of Hanmer Springs. Population: 660. Yep. One of those places where you blink and then it’s gone. Can’t say I was the happiest camper at that moment when we drove into town. This is IT? I thought. We were exhausted and hungry, and both feeling anxious about its extreme remoteness. The towering mountains were hovering over us and I had that suffocating feeling. That might sound weird, but remember, I am a girl born and raised in a land that’s flatter than a pancake, called West Texas. I felt that way for a long time when I first moved to East Texas and the trees blocked my view of the sunsets. The town itself was cute with the little shops, definitely a ski town. That’s where people from Christchurch go to vacation, and it is known for the hot thermal pools. The weather was cloudy and cold and windy and it was sprinkling too, so that didn’t help the mood. Josh and I were, needless to say, irritated and cranky. If I’m in a bad mood, I don’t hide it . . . well, I guess I do except to those closest to me. Since the few months we’ve been husband and wife now, Josh has come to know the good, the bad, and the devil in me! Haha. We had a little spat, as they would say in the old days, and then he asked what was wrong because I was just being mad and couldn’t explain why. The anger then turned to the truth as he kept asking what was wrong, and then I just started crying and said, “I don’t like it here!” haha. It’s funny now, looking back. I sounded like a baby saying that. But it was true. He pulled over to the side of the road and hugged me and we had a sweet moment. We both needed to take a chill pill. And maybe get some sleep . . . and food to fill our tummies. We were probably still a bit jet lagged too, as it had just been a week from that day that we said goodbye to our families and boarded the jet plane!

We decided that everything would be better in the morning, and we would have a fresh approach and better attitude and not judge the place yet. So, next day, we went to the camp that we were to work at, and which was the reason for us coming. In New Zealand they have a ton of work for accommodation jobs as backpackers flock here to travel and explore the country. The camp was one of those types of situations, which we knew would be great for us just starting out until we found more steady, paid work or saved up more money and moved elsewhere. We had figured we would just stay there a couple months at the most anyways. Or . . . maybe not. We went to the camp, which had beautiful views and the cabins and layout of the camp was really good. I grew up going to church camp, so the idea had appealed to me, plus we would really like to start a camp some day. I guess you never really know until you get there, what something is going to be like. The accommodation that was going to be provided to Josh and I for our two hours of work a day was a 3 x 3 little box. There were two twin mattresses on a board, and those mattresses weren’t even beside each other! And that was it. I think a couple shelves on the wall, maybe. I couldn’t have even fit my purse in there. Oh dear. I was wondering what Josh was thinking as we were shown our “accommodation” and hoping he wasn’t going to make us stay. We left the parking lot and Josh was like “Well there’s no way I’m doing that!” Thank goodness! We felt like chickens with our heads cut off as we went to the other hotels and resorts he had been e-mailing that had offered us jobs or possibilities before coming, and asked if they had any work for accommodation offers and no one did. Maybe we would have to stay at that camp. Or find a place to rent, which didn’t look too promising of finding in such a small place. We both get determined to have something work, though, at least for a few hours that morning, haha. But, after going to the different lodges and still thinking about how remote we were from civilization and feeling like the mountains were closing in on us each minute, we got back in the car and left Hanmer in our rear-view mirror.

And we didn’t look back.

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Our only picture of Hanmer Springs, haha

What a sigh of relief! Guess it was time to head back to Nelson. We took a different route this time and headed east to drive along the coast back north. It was a long drive from Hanmer to the ocean and I felt a little nauseous driving through more mountains again but thankfully still hadn’t gotten car sick the whole trip. Though this was all nerve wracking and stressful as everything was up in the air, overall I have been amazed with myself for feeling so calm since we’ve been here in New Zealand, unlike how I felt every day back home in Tyler. I guess that’s what working in a stressful law firm all day long will do to you. And the recent life-changing event of just getting married and adjusting to that. My anxiety and stress-levels have been lower here than they have been since, well I guess since the day Josh proposed to me on August 30, 2010 . . . life got pretty crazy the day after that! But that’s all just a little side note from me J

Josh and I both felt better when the road met the sea again. We love the ocean and decided we need to be by it. Makes us feel better. NZ is pretty sweet because even if you are smack dab in the middle of the island, you are never more than 2 ½ hours away from the ocean. We could have made the trip all the way back up to Nelson that day, but Kaikoura was too breathtaking a sight to see and our hearts felt at peace there. Kaikoura is a small, seaside town with books of things to do. Wish we could have stayed there a long time. We booked a room in a motel with a view of the turquoise blue waters and those snow-capped mountains we had seen from Nelson, which were much closer now. What a sight to behold! I love seeing the fishing boats just sitting there, anchored in the water, patiently awaiting her captain to take her out to sea.
Kaikoura is the place to see dolphins, seals, albatross and whales. We got to see a seal. We walked out to this rocky shoreline and suddenly came upon one taking a nap. Josh wanted to touch it, but I don’t think they let you do that. There are whale-watching tours and such, which we didn’t get to do, but will hopefully go back to do one day. We needed that day to just relax in a room with a view and with the sound of the ocean to put us to sleep.

The next day, Wednesday, we finished our journey back to Nelson. Along the way, we saw several colonies of seals, which made us both happy, especially Josh who was even more eager to see them than me, haha. It was cute seeing the wild seals hop around; they are so goofy. Some of them looked up at us as we stopped to take pictures, and they looked mad. Those things are pretty big! I don’t think I would want one chasing me, even if they might seem to be slower on land. We passed through Marlborough again and the city of Blenheim, and stopped there to maybe look at working in a vineyard. Blenheim wasn’t my favorite though, and Nelson was still in our minds. I’ve never seen so many backpackers and backpacker vans. That would be fun in a way, but I just don’t think I could do that, even though we currently were being vagabonds living out of our bags at the time. I was starting to get tired of staying in a different place each night and digging through my suitcase. We both were feeling that way, of needing to find a place to settle.

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After another day of traveling, we made it back again to Nelson. The next day, Thursday, we applied for our IRD numbers, which we have to have to legally work here, I guess for tax stuff. I am so glad Josh is handling all that mumbo jumbo, I wouldn’t know the first thing what to do without him! Haha. Things started feeling a bit stressful again the next couple days as the places we had contacted before with possible work said they didn’t need anyone at the moment, or to check again in a month. The past couple days my throat had been scratchy, and this day was feeling a lot worse and I just felt so run down and exhausted. I knew I was trying to come down with something and was coughing a lot. Josh drove us around and he stopped at nearly every orchard and vineyard outside of Nelson asking if they needed any work. No, not yet. Bummer. The season for working in a vineyard wasn’t very busy yet, at least they were saying that, but to check back. Hmmm…we both were liking Nelson though, how come we weren’t finding a job? Staying in a motel every night was costing a lot of money too, we needed to start making some mula and saving up so we could rent a place. God has been helping us out all along the way, that is for sure. Especially in every person we have met, who have helped us out and just been our friend. That’s something I know I will treasure, is all the characters in this story. Josh got an e-mail that Friday from Paul, someone he had somehow made contact with a long time ago, one of our first contacts, before coming. Still not quite sure how we made connection with him, I think someone from church had passed his info along. Anyways, he e-mailed Josh and said that he had just got back home to Nelson from visiting the States, and to call him. Josh called him and Paul said he had a job for him. Hooray! He was a contractor working on building houses and landscaping, so that’s what Josh would be doing, and it was good pay too. Wow! They also invited us over to their house for lunch the next day. We went over there Saturday afternoon, and just had a lovely time with Paul and his wife Lynn. They were such friendly, funny, happy, and just good people. Their house was beautiful too, and Lynn had a talent for decorating and I felt more at home because my mom has always been such a great decorator and made our houses feel so homey. The two of them were true Kiwis, I loved their thick NZ accents. We were so relieved too that Josh had a job.

After we left their house, my ear got clogged up and I could not hear at all out of my left ear, it was so muffled like I was underwater. Oh great! Josh and I went back to our motel and I felt horrible. Then my ear starting hurting so bad, man it was so painful! I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way before. I was pretty worried and just depressed that I was getting sick. My cough was still really bad too, the kind that just itches and is annoying. My husband went and got me some ear drops, which really helped, but it was awful not being able to hear out of one ear. Guess I would have to go to the doctor on Monday, yikes, in a foreign country!

The next morning, Cameron and Alison invited us to have church with them in their home. That was really good and so was the discussion. I still felt miserable, and obviously looked miserable, and they said I should really go to the doctor. Nelson had an after-hours clinic, so went there. If you aren’t already sick, you know you will be after you leave the doctor’s office filled with people just hacking away. It was a pretty expensive visit and the receptionist was rude and acted like we were dumb Americans who didn’t know anything, but oh well. The doctor examined me (I made Josh go in with me, I was scared haha) and said I had an ear infection. We had been warned about people usually getting sick when they first come here, I hated that I had to succumb. She prescribed amoxycillin antibiotics, but didn’t say anything about my throat or even look down it! Which felt pretty swollen…I probably had strep too and didn’t even know it. So we then went to the pharmacy and got the medicine and cough syrup and cough drops. No fun. Anyways, Paul had called the night before after we got back from visiting with them and offered for us to stay at their house for a while to help us out until we found a place to live. What a blessing! People have just really been so hospitable and wanting to help. We brought all our stuff with us Sunday afternoon, and settled in to our room in their home. I stayed to myself that evening and slept a lot as I was sick.

We spent a week in their home. Josh went to work with Paul every day, and I stayed at home with Lynn. I slept a lot of the day the first part of the week, I couldn’t hear all week long, ugh! My cough did finally get better as the week progressed. Josh said his work with Paul was really tough labor. He was getting tanned being out in the sun all day. I missed him when he was gone. This was a good situation job wise for him, but I couldn’t help but think that I didn’t want to be apart from him all day long, we came here wanting to hopefully work together if we could. That felt like part of the stress back in Tyler and how it usually is I guess, working 8 hours a day in a cramped up office, coming home stressed and exhausted and empty with seemingly nothing left to give to each other as husband and wife. I did have an interview coming up with the Morocco Resort, which would be fun, but I really wanted us to work together. I felt lonely without him and was so happy when he came home each day. The interview didn’t pan out though after all, at least not then, because they said they were fully staffed at the moment, but wanted to meet Josh and I. They said they might be having work come up at Christmas, but that wasn’t helpful to us then. Speaking of Christmas, Lynn was a fan of keeping the holiday season alive. Her house became a winter wonderland as she put up ten Christmas trees, each with a different theme. I even helped her decorate one, and it was really fun. My mom always went all out for Christmas too, and I would spend all my money if I had any on decorations.

While we stayed at their house, two American girls (Jenny and Katie) and a German girl (Toni) came and stayed a couple nights too, so that was cool. They were here visiting NZ too and had been working on Paul’s family farm up north. This week, by the way, was the week of Thanksgiving. Paul and Lynn had a novel ideal and Lynn was excited to make us feel at home and for the girls to work together and create a Thanksgiving meal. I forgot they don’t celebrate that holiday over here! Haha. That was awesome, and so thoughtful of them. We all pitched in and I made my Granny’s sweet potato casserole. Last year was the first time I’ve ever made it, and it turned out great I must say and I loved it. I wasn’t too sure at first how it would turn out here, because they don’t have canned sweet potatoes, and it is different…it’s called kumara, and it’s not orange, it looks like a regular potato. When I was making it I thought I put too much sugar in it and had ruined the dish, but after baking it, well it turned out quite well J We had a fancy chicken (they don’t really sell Turkeys only around Christmas and it’s like 70 to 100 bucks). The menu also consisted of homemade rolls made by the fellow Americans, German Spätzle, salad, cranberry sauce, dressing, and a delicious sparkling cranberry drink. We all went around the table and told what we were thankful for, which was really neat. We said how thankful we were to be here in New Zealand, and thankful for our families and for each other. Josh and I both did miss our families… I did get to Skype with my parents that day, and I really felt homesick to be with my family. It was pretty emotional, I’ve never not been with my parents on Turkey day. Anyways, this was so good that we got to do this, though, and we were so thankful that we had such a unique Thanksgiving Day in New Zealand. As we finished our meal around the festive table, Lynn asked if Paul had any words of wisdom, and he laughed heartily and said, “Have lots of kids—my only regret is not having more kids.” They have four children, and their daughter Bekka was there to celebrate with us. Josh and I both really liked Paul and Lynn a lot, they have such good hearts and were so gracious to us and fun to be around. We stayed at their house until Saturday, as we didn’t want to impose on them anymore, we checked into a motel that offered a cheap, weekly rate. It helped us out so much by them allowing us to stay and eat with them that past week, which we are forever grateful to them for.

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Sunday Josh and I had church on the beach. Cameron and Alison were on vacation for the week, so Josh and I bought crackers and grape juice for communion and headed to the beach. That was really neat, though kind of hard to focus fully since there were a lot of people there. It was cool to hear the waves as we had a bible study and sat there and were quiet to take it all in. Made me think of the song, “Have You Seen Jesus My Lord, He’s here in plain view . . . Have you ever stood at the ocean, with the white foam at your feet? Felt the endless, thundering motion, then I say you’ve seen, Jesus My Lord.” I love that song. We used to always sing that at camp and in youth group. We walked along the shore and we could both sense that we felt distressed. Earlier that week we had found an apartment overlooking the entire harbor, it was an awesome place, and we were really thinking about settling in Nelson. That Sunday, though, we talked about how we were feeling as we finally found us a quiet, secluded area on the beach. This was paradise, and one of the prime places to live in NZ. There was something missing though, that we felt like we both needed. For us spiritually, we needed to live somewhere with a strong, solid congregation to worship with that would help us grow and who we could also hopefully do some type of mission outreach as well, whatever that may be, or just serving in the church itself and being involved. We were beginning to think that Nelson might not be that place for us. We felt pretty lost as to what we should do. Wellington was sounding really good to me, because of the church there. It was a pretty good size (for NZ standards, the churches are definitely smaller here) with around 50 members or less. We had both enjoyed our time with the church members for the few days we had first arrived to the country, and plus most of our contacts and friends we had made were mainly there. We still didn’t know though. We would think about it and pray.

There’s always been a feeling that God has a purpose in us being here, bringing us to New Zealand. I remember in a bible class back home, this married couple was trying to have a baby but were having problems with infertility. They were heartbroken and frustrated, but still faithful. One day, the two of them weren’t there, and I remember this older, wise lady said a prayer request for them and said, “I really believe that God has plans for them, and I feel that they are going to be parents,” she said, “but we just don’t know what that looks like yet.” I loved how she eloquently voiced her thoughts and think that can be applied and said about many situations, including ours. I know that God has blessed us and has been working behind the scenes in so many ways in us getting to come to New Zealand and I really feel like he wants us to be where we are, or maybe it’s just me who wanted to come and thought God wanted it. But I really felt that way when we first got the idea to come to this country that God was maybe even telling me to. I have always been so passionate about mission work, especially after mission trips in high school and college. Of course we also both wanted to come to NZ because of the beauty, it’s a land of adventure and for the outdoorsy type people, which fits us both to a tee. Like I’ve said, I wanted to come here since first watching the movies LOTR in high school. My church home in Midland, Westside church of Christ, supported a missionary in New Plymouth and our preacher would come over and preach and then go back home and have a slide show report to our church. What I’m saying is, yes, Josh and I came here for our own reasons including our love and passion of traveling and wanting to explore and experience different parts of the world. And we also came with the hope of a greater and deeper purpose as well; to help people and to help the church. We aren’t here to “be missionaries” or I guess I mean by being paid or supported to do that; we don’t want any one’s money. We came knowing that we are getting jobs, paid work, and to hopefully do some type of mission/church work and/or social outreach on the side. I can’t guarantee we even will end up doing any of that, but I pray and we both feel in our hearts that we are meant to be here to do something. So, to relate that to what the lady said, we both feel like we are meant to be in New Zealand for some greater purpose, to do some kind of mission work . . . but we just don’t know what that looks like yet. And who knows? But that is exciting. And it may even simply be attending church some where and encouraging the Christians there. I do think we are here to grow too, both Josh and I, spiritually.

Our faith is a journey, one through valleys and mountain highs. I’m definitely not where I would like to be at all and haven’t been for awhile, I used to be so strong in college while I was at Lubbock Christian University. It helps going to school where you have chapel every morning and teachers who pray for you during class. But anyways, I want to be back on fire again. We are all on a journey, which is encouraging I think. Who are you going to meet along the way? Who am I going to meet? Am I going to help them, or just knock them down? Will the people I meet along the road help me, or just be out to get me? Wow, I told you or I’m telling you now at least, I can really go off on some tangents. Lol. What I’m saying is….Josh and I had a lot to think about that day on the beach. I was definitely proud of him for saying that the most important thing is the church; we could live in a paradise place but what we need is a place that is going to help us grow. We said we would think about it and what to do and see how this week went and maybe start looking on the Internet and his list of contacts at going elsewhere. We also were still feeling a little weird being on the South Island. That might not make a whole lot of sense, and it’s probably mainly psychological, but the idea of living on the North Island where there are more cities and more people just sounded good to us. We like the connect.

The day that we had driven around the week before looking for orchard and vineyard work, we had come upon one orchard (an apple orchard on a hill overlooking the valley and ocean in the distance, so pretty!) that had said he might have work come up in a couple weeks. He called us that weekend and said he had work starting up on Monday doing apple thinning. Josh’s job was good that he was doing, but we both wanted to try the apple thinning out and we would be working together. I’ve always seen pictures of people picking apples in New Zealand and have wondered in fascination at how fun that would be. It was on our mental bucket list of things to do here. Josh got the okay from Paul and his boss to try this work out, so we started our first day of work out in the orchard thinning apples on Monday morning. Oh, and I forgot to mention that while we were on the beach the day before, I was wearing shorts and was stupid and didn’t put sun screen on my legs. The sun is harsh. So, my legs were burnt to a little crispy. The elements didn’t seem to be in my favor; I still couldn’t fully hear out of my ear, I was still coughing and my throat was really swollen, and I could barely move my legs with the pain from the burn. What a combo! But, we trudged along. There were about ten other apple thinners, most of them our age, boasting from different parts of the world . . . another American, a few Germans, and some Kiwis. Josh and I got to share our apple tree rows, which made me happy because we got to be together and I didn’t want to have to carry around a ladder. Josh was nice to me and did all the ladder work, trimming the tops of the trees. Apple thinning is not apple picking . . . I guess that’s pretty obvious but it’s when they are about the size of big grapes and you have to go through the branches and just thin them out and take out the clumps, leaving a hand-widths space so they can grow to be big Granny Smith apples. I’d rather just pick the apples when they are full grown, but this way you had to have a method. The bosses kept coming around and checking our work like slavemasters and would tell us if we were doing it right or wrong, haha. We were either taking too many off, or not enough. That day was cloudy and rainy, which helped us go faster. It’s not paid by the hour work, but by how many trees you do. They said everyone generally goes slower at the beginning, starting off at $13 NZD per hour. Our bosses said some make it up to $20 an hour. Well, I would like to meet that person! We tried to go as fast as we could, but it was a slow work. Orchard work, I decided, is only glamorous in the pictures. We started at 8:30 in the morning, had a 30 minute lunch break eating sandwiches (gross! Haha) and then off at 4:30. That’s a normal 8 hour day, but we were on our feet all day long in the hot sun. I couldn’t imagine doing that another day! How do the backpackers and hippies do that their whole time in NZ? Josh didn’t like it either, haha, it wasn’t just me. The apple thinning in the three orchards the boss owned he said could be three weeks worth of work for all of us. Goodness gracious! By the end of each day, I felt myself just nearly collapsing with exhaustion and I would keep walking over to Josh and stand underneath him on the ladder and pout, “Baby, I can’t do it anymore.” He’d encourage me and lie about how much time we had left until 4:30. The day itself did go by pretty fast doing that, which was a plus. The middle of the week, though, in our search back at the motel on the internet for work somewhere else, Josh had found a job, another place he contacted before coming here. Guess it was good to make different contacts for options when we came in various parts of the country. It was another work for accommodation job at a resort in the mountains, outside of the city of Napier, up on the North Island at an adventure lodge. Our accommodation was a caravan, which is basically a camper trailer. That didn’t sound too appealing to me, but we were desperate and wanting to be on the North Island, and we had heard that Napier had a good church. We still were needing a free place to stay as the money we had saved coming here was slowly running out. I guess we sound pretty impulsive, but we did come here to travel and we were trying out our different options until we found a place where it all fit.

 

We told our apple thinning boss about the new work we found and us wanting to live on the North Island after all, which he didn’t seem too happy about. Every one also is very proud of where they live, we noticed, which I would be too. The North defends the North, and vice versa. He had said when we started the work earlier that week that we only needed to give a day’s notice if we wanted to quit, so that’s what we did. Thursday was our last day to thin apples in Nelson. Goodbye and good riddance to that, I say! We booked our ferry ride on the Interislander for Saturday, December 3, 2011. After two weeks on the South Island, we were already heading back to the North! I felt that this was the right thing to do, and we were actually pretty ready to get back. It was sad to leave Cameron and Alison, though. We hadn’t been able to spend much time with them considering the circumstances and us trying to find jobs and figure out what we were supposed to do, and that was the hard thing was knowing we were leaving them and I know or at least I think they wanted us to be there too. We will be back to visit for sure though, and hopefully we can maybe take a trip with them sometime while we are here. We said our goodbyes to them and to Paul and Lynn, who we were going to miss as well, on Saturday morning and then drove two hours to Picton and waited for the ferry to come take us back to civilization.