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.

The Bay of Islands: Kerikeri and Cape Reinga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auckland

(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!