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.

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/

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.

Consumed by Wanderlust

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”

~J.R.R. Tolkien, from “The Lord of the Rings”

Whither then, Josh and I definitely could not say. All we knew was that, in all honesty, we were quite ready to be leaving the South Island. On to the next adventure! The South Island’s landscape was breathtaking, and we had made friends along our journey. We knew we would be back to visit, for there is so much to explore, but the North seemed more appealing to us in the end, to live. We had several contacts and friends that we had made before coming and that we met our first few days in the country, in Wellington. Our plan (for now) was to go try out the adventure lodge outside of Napier, 4 hours north of Wellington, on the east coast. The idea brought our minds peace knowing that we would be closer, or at least have easier access, to our friends and the church in Welly. It also had a well-established congregation. As we crossed the ocean on the Interislander Kaitaki ferry, I wondered at what Napier would be like and if we would like our new job, and if this was a good idea. The work was for accommodation, something we still felt like we needed to save up a little money. I felt excited; it’s fun and mysterious when everything is just up in the air! A bit nerve-wracking, which Josh seemed more wracked than me about it. Before coming, we talked about traveling and how much better it is when there is no set plan (or so he was trying to convince me), to just go with it and see what happens, because that is the adventure of it all, and truly living like a vagabonder. I felt scared of that idea when thinking about it in Tyler, but now that we were here, our roles seemed to switch and I didn’t mind the not knowing feeling—most of the time. There were days when I just wanted everything to fall in place at that moment and find a place to settle. For the time being, though, I felt positive. “A good traveler has no fixed plan, and is not intent on arriving,” said Lao-Tzu. We will see if I still like that quote by the end of our travels here in New Zealand, and know whether or not Josh and I are good travelers (at least, according to Lao-Tzu).

While on the ferry this time we stayed inside the ship more than out on the deck. We ate in the cafeteria, and I felt the rocking and moving of the vessel . . . made my legs feel shaky and I felt slightly nauseous and I didn’t want to eat. Thankfully I didn’t get sick though J I suddenly remembered something and dug in my purse to see if I still had it. A free pass to the Kaitaki lounge. Antony Raine had given it to us before we left Wellington, and we had completely forgotten about it. I hoped they would let us in the closed door reserved only for VIP. Well, not really on a ferry boat, I exaggerate, but nonetheless I felt sneaky opening the door and relieved when the little old man looked at our card and then treated us like we were something special. Too bad we hadn’t remembered earlier because we already paid for lunch and had just missed a free meal, oh well though. There wasn’t anything too fancy about the room, but it’s all a matter of mind, and I felt quite content. It was very quiet and calming in the lounge, with free drinks, cappuccinos, lattes, snacks and big screen TVs. And comfy couches to just lie on and relax. I had Josh get me a cappuccino and I rested on the couch and read the paper, occasionally looking out the window as we were approaching the North Island. I felt like we were living in the shoes of Jack Dawson in the Titanic, fictional character or not, when he dined with the rich folk in first class where he did not belong and gave his speech about living life to the fullest. Maybe I just sound like a girl who hasn’t been around or seen much of this world, haha, but I felt like a Queen. It’s the little things in life that make you happy.

The captain announced our arrival into the harbor. We left the lounge, hurrying up the stairs and out onto the top deck, crowded with tourists excited to see our destination. I felt my chest well up with happiness and relief seeing the tall buildings and the sprawled out city of Wellington and the houses scattered on the hills. Strange, I had been missing this place. It felt so good to be back, back into “the connect”, as Josh would say. That’s a phrase he taught me, though I have always known that feeling before just not been able to find the right words for it. The connect is in a place that’s alive…where you feel alive. Big cities define the connect. People, cars, buses, trains, planes, ships . . . everything is on the move. There’s action, always something going on, stores and restaurants are open late. There is life. The opposite of that, and how we mostly felt on the South Island, is being in the disconnect. Small towns are usually in the disconnect, or you can really feel that way being out in the country and going for hours not seeing any cars pass by. In really small towns, the shops shut down at five and then the streets are a ghost town. Then you just get that really bad feeling inside sometimes, especially at night in those places, like you are all alone. Everything is quiet. That is what it’s like to be in the disconnect. Or, just watch the movie “Napoleon Dynamite”, and then you will know what I mean. Anyways, so were back where there were people, lots of people, cars, rush hour traffic, and skyscrapers. I never thought of myself as a big city girl and I’ve always wanted to live in the country, but maybe the city is where I belong. Josh and I both automatically felt better inside and we both simultaneously kept sighing out loud, ridding ourselves of any anxiety that was there before.

We drove off the ferry and into the parking lot where Keith Copeland was awaiting our arrival. He was graciously going to let us stay at he and his wife Elsa’s house for the night, before we drove up to Napier the next day. And, Keith was there to take us to Red Rocks. We rode with him in his 4 x 4 Longhorn SUV out to his favorite place. The day was exceptional as we arrived late in the afternoon. The clouds had been chased away and nothing but blue skies to lighten our spirits as we passed through the city streets bustling with people and energy. Keith told us that there are not a whole lot of sunny days in Wellington, as it is generally cloudy and rainy (and windy), but he supposed it makes days like this one all the more glorious. We drove out to Red Rocks beach, as it is called, because of the red (obviously) and purple rocks from volcanoes—or as the history from the native Maori of New Zealand say, blood. I found an article on http://www.newzealand.com that describes the history a little more that I thought I would include:

“The Red Rocks are ancient pillow lava formed 200 million years ago by undersea volcanic eruptions. Small amounts of iron oxides give the rocks their distinctive colouring.

Maori folklore tells two stories relating to the colour of the rocks. In one, Kupe – the famous Polynesian explorer – was gathering paua (shellfish) here when one clamped his hand. He bled and stained the rocks red. In the other story, the red is the blood of Kupe’s daughters. Fearing for their father’s safety on a long voyage, they gashed themselves in grief over his absence.”

Now, we were going off-roading! I’ve only done this like once and I was leery of my stomach since I had just gotten off the ferry, but it was exciting too. Josh sat up front and I sat in the back holding on for dear life and laughing as we hit the rocks hard and fast and sped through puddles, jolting our bodies up and down and sideways. I didn’t like that the road was so close to a steep edge leading to the beach below, but I tried not to think about it. And I prayed. The scariest part was Devil’s Gate, a narrow crevice between two, menacing boulders, attainable up a steep slope and only if driven by careful and experienced drivers with the correct vehicle. The warning sign posted at the entrance of this crafty maneuver made me suggest, “You know, I can let you guys do this, and I’ll just wait on the beach for y’all to come back.” No, no, that wouldn’t be any fun! So I held on tight and closed my eyes. We got stuck at one point and I opened my eyes seeing how frightfully close the boulders were and one wrong move or spinout and . . .then the truck went for it and the truck sped up over the rocky hump (pretty sure we were up in the air for a second or two) and then I opened my eyes to see that we were safely through Devil’s Gate. My heart was pounding, but I was laughing and smiling to have done something brave and new. We got out and walked along the rocks collecting paua shells. That’s a New Zealand trademark, and a huge source of income. It was my first time to find one in the wild. The shells are rainbow glistened inside, and are polished and sold or turned into jewelry and sculptures. I looked around and once again felt myself so happy. “I really like Wellington,” I said to myself. I almost didn’t want to leave it. The smell of the salty sea air, the blue water, the mountains, the countless bays, the big city feeling; so much diverse landscape in one area.

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We finally left Red Rocks and then followed Keith out to the suburb they lived in (Elsa had left a few days earlier to go back home to Mexico for the holidays and Keith would join her later). The menu tonight was creating our own homemade pizza, so we went grocery shopping together. Keith gave us a tour of the Countdown, telling us what all was different from back home (he’s from the States too) so that was interesting and very helpful. Well, while we were shopping, we had paused for a moment and looking up at the shelf about something Keith was explaining, when suddenly, I heard a loud noise and then the ground beneath me started shaking and swaying. . . just moving! The shelves shook a little bit, and I thought maybe a huge grocery ladder or a big box of crates had fallen in the back of the store. Now let me tell you, the floor moving like that, the earth itself . . . one of the weirdest feelings I’ve ever had. We all looked at each other and were thinking, “Surely not?” Yep. We had just been in an earthquake. When we got to Keith’s house, our theory was confirmed by news on the Internet. The earthquake had actually hit in Picton, on the South Island, where our ferry had departed from earlier that day. A 5.8, which is reasonable for one to raise their eyebrows at that number. It was the highest magnitude Wellington had felt in several years. The news said that people riding on the ferry when it happened had said it felt like the boat had hit something like a big rock in the ocean and that the ship jolted. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep too well that night, I just had a really bad feeling. I didn’t like feeling helpless as the earth just moved underneath my feet, and I kept thinking about the earthquakes in Christchurch earlier that year. Great, they never have earthquakes in Wellington, until we get here!

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The next day, Sunday, we went to church at the Wellington Church of Christ. It was so great to see everyone again and I was encouraged to hear the singing filling the small building and listening to the lesson. Afterwards was a potluck lunch, which we stayed for and filled our bellies with delicious food before hitting the road. Everyone seemed surprised to see us again, so soon, but we told of our plans of going to Napier and trying that out; if that didn’t work, we said we would definitely come back here.

I had mixed feelings about leaving Wellington this time. I was eager to see more of the country and our new possibility at the adventure lodge, but felt a bit sad again to be leaving the city and the church. At least we would be closer and could come visit on weekends. We began our journey down a road we had yet to travel and headed north on the North Island. About an hour outside of Wellington we passed through the Rimutaka Ranges; a curvy, winding road through the mountains that makes you hold your breath the whole time. Thankfully, neither of us got carsick. The views were incredible though, of these bush covered, green mountains. The next three hours of our trip seemed long, but the scenery was beautiful as we encountered more green rolling hills covered with hungry, grass-eating sheep. When we approached Napier, the land flattened out a bit and I almost felt like I was in West Texas again except for the apple tree orchards and vineyards. At last, we arrived in Napier. We got there Sunday evening, and it was cloudy, not a good combination after a long trip and arriving at a new destination. I will be honest, and maybe I’m just weird, I was trying to be positive in my head and open, but I wasn’t too impressed with what we saw. As we drove into the downtown though, I liked it more and then we drove onto the Marine Parade and saw the ocean. I love seeing the ocean, if I haven’t already said that J We were worn out and tired physically and emotionally, and hungry. We found a motel on the Parade and grabbed a bite to eat. Tomorrow, we would be going to the adventure lodge, to our new job.

The next morning, we drove around and went to different hotels to see if they had any jobs available; our thinking was that we would work at the adventure lodge for a while and save money by staying there for free, then get paid work in town and find a place to live. That was just frustrating though as we had no luck the places we tried, and we didn’t really know what to do since the lodge was 45 minutes out of town and would be hard to drive in every day if we did get a job at the time. So, we decided to stick to our plan, and go to the lodge. Though the drive was stunning and through mountains, each mile we drove just meant further and further away from the store, and McDonalds. We were still trying to be optimistic; at least putting on a happy face for each other. Where is this place? We thought. After about an hour’s drive, we saw a big sign for the adventure lodge and turned off onto a dirt road. A dirt road out in the boonies leading to our new home? Man, we were far away from the rest of the world. The landscape was picture perfect, though, with the green covered mountains, pine trees, a river running alongside our car in the valley and we even saw a waterfall!

Finally, we approached the office, which was located right next to a horse stable. Maybe I would learn to be a horse whisperer during our time in isolation. There was the cutest dog (besides my Pomeranian, Rusty, RIP) I’ve ever seen sitting on the front porch of the office, a little snow-white Maltese that came running up to me and Josh as soon as we got out of the car, like he had been waiting for us, and a golden retriever to welcome our arrival. We were introduced to the owners and greeted warmly by them, shown a map of the area, and told that our caravan was ready for us. Oh dear. I did not have high expectations knowing it was a caravan (a camper), but was hoping that maybe it was a nice one, or maybe would have a little bathroom inside. We drove down another dirt road, and had to share the road with some horse back riders, then turned a corner and saw the campground far down below in a deep valley with the river we had seen earlier running beside it. Wow. When we drove down the road into the valley, we passed by the cabins and I was praying the owners would let us stay in one of those. Well, we rounded the bend and saw our new home. Three little caravan camper trailers–we were told we would know which one was ours . . . “it’s the bigger one,” they had said. What bigger one?! They were all the same . . . tiny. Silver aluminum exterior tastefully accented with bright orange, straight from the 70’s, or again, Uncle Rico’s nice little crib in Napoleon Dynamite. I didn’t even want to look inside! I did, however, have to look inside eventually. I stepped up into it, and well, what you see is what you get! One little room . . .to the left was the “bigger” bed or mattress, against the window, in the middle was the “kitchen” with a couple cabinets, a faucet over a covered up sink (which obviously didn’t work), and a mini fridge that wasn’t cold. A few feet over were two more mattresses against the wall. Orange carpet and red-orange curtains. No bathroom; instead, we had to walk up a hill to shared facilities. There was a little nightstand table in between the two twin mattresses that had a lovely decoration to add to the mood; a dead flower in an empty beer bottle. Which is exactly how I felt, after seeing our new home.

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So this was the worker’s accommodation. Free accommodation in exchange for three hours of work a day; the rest of the day is yours. To do what in this forsaken place? My good, positive attitude was going out the window. I stepped out of our caravan and looked up at the mountainside looming over head and heard something I didn’t like. Quiet. Where was everybody? Where were all the campers and people . . . life? We should have known though, I guess, coming here blindly as we had done since our time in New Zealand, driving to new places and promises of good-sounding jobs and set-up, but not at all what we envisioned. There were two other workers there that day; one girl from Germany, Sophie, who lived in the opposite caravan, and a Canadian girl, Dakota, who apparently we unintentionally kicked her out of her caravan. She had been staying in the one we were in and I guess hadn’t moved out yet, but Sophie met us first and moved her stuff out for her, as they would now be sharing a camper so that Josh and I could have the bigger one. The middle caravan was occupied by another male worker, but he was not at the camp then. Our caravan was right by the kitchen/restaurant. Dakota was surprised and not too happy I think, when she found her stuff gone, replaced by our suitcases, when she walked up to our caravan after leading a group of riders on a horse trail. I felt bad for her and could sense her loneliness of being in this place.

Josh and I had bought an ice chest (or chilly bin, as they are called here) and we made sandwiches and ate at a picnic table and listened to the quiet all around us. I could tell he was not feeling well being there, haha. We kept saying we were trying to be positive about it, but we both knew we felt super anxious and not liking the idea of this at all. We’ll give it a try, though, and stay here a few days and just see how it goes, I’m sure it will get better. We had time to ourselves until later that afternoon, when the owner lady would meet with us to talk about our duties here. So we took our time looking around; we walked down to the river, skipped rocks on the river, waded in the river, took pictures of the river, listened to the river, thought about the river . . . yep, we were pretty bored. I could do this for a couple days to get away from everything, but day in and day out? We were told that the camp was about to get full with, the New Zealand Air Force. The vans filled with guys and a few girls arrived later in the afternoon, and then it was not so quiet anymore. They were pretty loud and obnoxious, but we were glad for the break in the silence. We met with the lady and she told us about the arrangement; basically what we already knew, two to three hours of work a day. The staff kitchen was ours to use, lunch and breakfast was up to us, though dinner we could eat at the restaurant in exchange for helping cleanup in the kitchen afterwards. That didn’t sound so bad, and I had a feeling this lady was a really good cook. She said the weekends get super busy and that there might be paid work upcoming with Josh helping out on the river rafting and paintball events, and for me working at the front office as a receptionist. That sounded a little promising, to actually get paid, but Josh and I were still thinking about our little caravan waiting for us outside. She was saying how Sundays are busy too, which wasn’t good because of church. Hmmm, what to do? As you can imagine, this was all quite stressful and didn’t seem like we had too many options. Maybe we should just do this for a while to at least save what money we did have and eventually get the paid work in town. Our hearts were troubled, as they would say, haha.

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There were some beautiful moments we had there that day though. We had also spent some time on top of the hill by the front office (where we had to stand in one spot to hopefully find reception on our cell phone) and looking at the beauty around us. I loved seeing the horses in the pastures, looking so elegant and graceful. Also, playing with the little Maltese; he was so soft and would lay in my lap and playfully bite my hand and growl, he was a feisty little thing and it was so cute because I have no idea how he was able to see with his white fur covering his eyes. Another moment I will always remember was while we were waiting for dinner, I walked down the pathway towards the river for a little alone time. I felt God’s presence all around me so very strongly. That is why I love being outside, and it reminded me of my times at church camp growing up. It was my favorite time of the day, nearing sunset when the sunlight is in its golden moment and you can feel its warmth and comfort and the hope that it brings to your soul. There was a fence on either side of the path, which I love fences out in the country, and yellow flowers and tall grass just waving in the breeze. Not a bad view with the mountains surrounding us and hearing the sound of the river and birds singing. “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music . . .” it felt like. Or alive with God’s voice quietly saying and reminding me, “I am here. Look at what I have made!” It was a glorious moment. I sang a couple of youth group songs out loud, which just made me feel so good. Josh then joined me and we stood there for a few minutes taking in the sights and sounds.

 

Then, it was dinner time! We helped in the kitchen a little bit before it was ready, washing dishes as they were being used to make the meal. Our chore was to do all the dishes after the Air Force guys were done eating . . . there were about 50 to 60 of them altogether I think. We had a nice little chat with the owner as she was cooking and learned a lot about the hard work they put into making and running the camp. It was a pretty good set up for the campers who came to stay and all the activities they had to offer and the freedom people need to get away from the city life sometimes. I just didn’t feel too pleasant on the living situation for the workers. The food looked and smelled delicious; we were starving. I felt awkward when the army guys stood in line getting their food and Josh and I were in the kitchen with our aprons on. I felt like a dork! At last, though, we got to eat out on the porch; it was a pretty night. We sat with Sophie, and the owners. The vegetable and meat lasagna and garlic bread hit the spot, as did the apple crumb for dessert. A free meal; that was tasty! All that food was burned off very soon when we washed the dishes after dinner. I’ve never washed and dried so many dishes in my life; it was never-ending! Josh and I made a pretty good team, I was proud of us. It was quite funny, though, and I would laugh to myself at the sight of Josh and I in our oversized (on me) aprons, frantically working to wash all the dishes and get a good system going. I’d rather pay 50 bucks for a meal than to have to do that every night!

There was nothing left to do after that but walk out into the pitch black darkness to our awful caravan. We snuggled, as there was no other choice but to be wedged together close on our little mattress. It was very cold. The air force guys’ laughter filled the night air for a while, followed by the sound of complete and utter silence, interrupted only occasionally by buzzing insects. These insects dwelled with us in our home sweet home; we both kept slapping ourselves and itching, getting that creepy-crawly, tingling feeling you get after seeing a spider. This is just not going to work, I said to myself. It was neat at least looking out our window and seeing the diamond stars dazzling brightly above. Our weariness was probably a good thing that night. It helped very little, however, in the end, for we both kept tossing and turning and felt very cold, restless, and uneasy.

In the morning, after about two hours of sleep, we woke up to each other and did what any married couple would do in our situation; we fought. I’m surprised we didn’t wake up the whole camp as we were basically outside and not behind closed doors in your own home like it should be when you need to fight with your spouse, for it’s hard to keep your voices down when you are downright angry. The situation was neither one of our faults; we all know that, but who better to blame in the moment and take out the frustration on than the one you love the most and the one you should be supporting in a tough time as this? In hindsight, we can all say that, which is how we should have been, but the wrath of the gods seemed to have been unleashed. It was also the worst possible time to be a girl, which magnifies the situation a hundred times more. So, after yelling, tears, stomping away angrily, and a few minutes apart to cool down, we came back to each other feeling horrible, and sorry. After talking, apologizing, hugging, and me crying a few more tears, we came to a mutual understanding . . . time to hit the road Jack! Well, not for Josh to hit the road Jack and leave me, but for us together to get the heck out of dodge.

But how would we tell the owners? We felt bad about that, as they were needing our help, especially with the upcoming busy weekend and motorcycle rally. There was no other choice, though, we had to leave. We walked to the kitchen together and asked if we could speak to the owner privately. Thankfully Josh did the talking, saying our situation and how sorry we are, but that this was just not going to be able to work for us. If the accommodation had been better, it might have been a possibility, but considering that, the remoteness, not being able to get away for church, no paid work at the moment, and all the feelings mentioned above, we were sorry but we had to leave (we didn’t tell her all those reasons). We said we would stay that morning to do our three hours of work, though. She looked quite surprised and disappointed, but was nice and understanding about it. So, after that awkward talk, I was left to more awkwardness by Josh leaving me to go mow the property, and I had to stay with her in the kitchen as she made breakfast. Sophie later came in the kitchen and I watched as the two of them cooked and I helped with the dishes. I didn’t say much, I just felt really bad and hoped the owner wasn’t too upset.

After breakfast was made (which I so wanted to eat it, but couldn’t), then the owner left and said Sophie would show me how to do our duties and I would help. I would have done anything to have swapped places with Josh even though I don’t think I have every mowed a lawn in my entire life. We had bathroom duty. Yuck. And remember who we were cleaning up after too. Thankfully, the guests were quite tidy, so it wasn’t too bad. It was no fun, and I was thanking my lucky stars that in an hour or two, we were out of there! Sophie was shocked when I said we were leaving; “Oh, when?” I guess she thought I meant we would get paid work in town eventually and later leave like in a month and I said, “Today”. Haha. Yep, Josh and I don’t play around!

I feel like I should be paid to have to stay in that camper, but instead I was doing the dirty work, and not getting any cash. After two hours of cleaning floors, sinks, and showers (I am happy to say I didn’t have to do the toilets), we were finally done. And I was so relieved to see our red car parked by our caravan, meaning Josh was finished too. I walked up to him loading up our suitcases in the car, and he smiled and we both laughed and hugged each other. We cleaned up our caravan, emptied out our food from the shared kitchen fridge, and spit on the ground beside the aluminum and orange camper to show how we felt about that. We drove up the road to the office, said goodbye to the pretty valley, and goodbye to the owners. Another beautifully awkward moment. It was bittersweet to leave the snow-white Maltese whom I had befriended, but it was even sweeter to leave that bitter place. It’s a good thing we left, because if we hadn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing and you wouldn’t be sitting there reading this blog because Josh and I would have killed each other!

Dates: Saturday, December 3, 2011—Tuesday, December 6, 2011