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.

Our First Day in New Zealand

Our day began, as I was saying, at 2:00 in the morning. I loved sitting out on the balcony seeing the lights reflecting in the water and the glowing moon above. Whenever I see the moon and stars, I really feel like God is there. That was comforting.

Wellington wakes when the rest of the world pushes the snooze button. 5:30 in the morning, and the city was alive. People running, walking, riding their bikes, skateboarding, kayaking, rowing their boats in the bay…each of them welcoming the new day. I would wake as early as possible too, living here. Felt like I didn’t want to waste a moment being asleep. The sun came up orange and bright onto the water and the buildings of downtown. And then we saw the sea…the ocean in the distance as far as our eyes could see and mountains. I felt so alive that morning. Ready to face the day and begin our adventure and explore the city. My soul was awake.

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Josh was ready to go! He is usually always patient with me as those who know me, it takes forever for me to get ready. He had the camera, his backpack on…I thought he was about to run out the door without me. But he waited, and we finally left our hotel and crossed the street to the dock. We slowly walked all along the harbor, taking in each moment. I just can’t even describe how great those moments felt. Every one around us was walking…saw so many people walking to work. Could be because petrol is so expensive here, but I like to think it’s because people are active here because they want to be. The weather was perfect…barely a breeze and not a cloud in the sky, just the warm sun on my face. We walked slow and took pictures of every thing. That is something I will always remember. The world was slow and still, and I felt so alive and happy to be there. It was real and I was a little girl walking in a garden full of flowers for the first time. We walked down to the beach and my heart felt like it was going to burst from my chest, full of joy.

 

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Later that morning, we checked out of our hotel and waited for Kevin Moore to pick us up. He was the preacher at the church in Porirua, a suburb of Wellington, and one of our first contacts we made here before we came. He had kindly offered for us to stay at his house for a few days while we got settled in with our paperwork and banking before we moved on else where to where our jobs were. He picked us up and then drove us to the famous look-out point, a hill overlooking all of Wellington. Wow, that view took your breath away. The day was beautiful and the colors were vibrant. The blue sea, the green land, the colorful boats and houses and flowers every where.

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We drove to his house and I sat in the backseat listening to Kevin talk about New Zealand life and gazing at the green hills covered in flowers, and saying to myself “This is New Zealand. I’m in New Zealand!” I have to keep telling myself that over and over again because it doesn’t seem real sometimes. We arrived at his house and unloaded all our bags to what would be our home for the next few days. The view from his house was incredible!

We did a lot that day, and were exhausted from the jet lag. Kevin told us that for some people it takes two weeks to get over jet lag, which surprised me but that is certainly no stretch of the truth. Everything worked out, because one of our contacts we had made with a missionary from NZ my home church had supported, his daughter was selling her car to move to Australia. So we had bought it from her while still in the states, at a very reasonable price. Our car was waiting for us in the driveway at Kevin’s house! Kevin had lunch for us at the house, and then he helped us get all the paperwork ready for that and drove us to town to register the car, and we also got a banking account set up! That’s big people stuff! Haha. I’m glad I was with Josh and that he was in control of it all; he sure knew what he was doing. It’s funny because when we were planning for this trip, which Josh did all of that….we joked how he focuses on all the financial, practical logistics of it all (the boring stuff) and I just wanted to look at the pretty pictures of New Zealand.

Then we drove our car around…well Josh drove us around as Kevin was the Driver’s Ed teacher. That is something very foreign, since driving is complete opposite over here! They drive on the wrong side of the road! And roundabouts, roundabouts…what a mess. Thank goodness Josh was driving; which he did amazing! It came so natural for him, I was very impressed. “Well, looks like I won’t be driving for a year” I said to myself. Looked too scary and complicated.

That night we met up with friends we had made while making contacts through the church before coming here. Antony and Jeanette Raine had Josh, me and Kevin over to their house for fish and chips. The Raines were so nice; they had really kept up with us before coming over and given advice and really helping us out. It was neat to finally meet them. Jeanette took Josh and I for a walk in her neighborhood to the dog park, which used to be the city dump, but looked like a paradise. The panoramic views of the ocean and emerald green landscape just kept stunning both of us. We had a great time and were gracious of their hospitality. I’d never had fish and chips before (not a big seafood fan) but I actually loved it. After a long, tiring, eventful first day…we headed home and went to bed.

Dated: November 11, 2011

A New World

“Then the time came when the risk it took to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~Anais Nin

The reality finally sunk in today. We were leaving. Not leaving just this city I had lived in for two years and where I met my husband, and where he had lived his entire life, and not leaving just the state of Texas. Nope. We were leaving the country! And not just for a short two week vacay, but we were MOVING to New Zealand. I told Josh the night before as we lay in our empty house without our beloved pets, “Are we sure about this?” and then, “This is nuts! This is crazy!” Both of our stomachs felt quite queasy, I thought I was going to hurl, but I kept trying to not to think about it. I’m a worry wart if there ever was one, oh my!

Our lives were packed into two suitcases. Well, and a duffle bag, two backpacks, my purse, and after jumping up and down on my suitcase, Josh finally managed to close it. That was a chore…picking my clothes out to take. And shoes?! Haha…pretty difficult for a girl like me. I gave away pretty much every outfit I had.

We met both of our parents at Cracker Barrel as well as Josh’s grandparents for our last meal together. Then we hit the road for Dallas. Josh rode with his parents, and I drove with mine. My mom was quite emotional, I was too, but nervous about the plane rides and about what we were doing. We finally arrived at DFW airport and walked in with our parents.

Now that was hard. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done I think. It was sad seeing Josh’s mom crying as she hugged him goodbye and seeing the sad look on his face. So very difficult hugging my mommy and daddy goodbye. The longest I’ve been apart from them at a time is probably like 3 months…maybe more. But just the idea that we were moving across the globe…as far away from our small town life in Texas as you could possibly get, yeah that’ll make the tears run down your cheek. Our parents have been so supportive and encouraging of Josh and I doing this, and that has been such a blessing. We are so thankful to them for that…they want us to pursue our dreams, even knowing how difficult it is to let us go.

We said our last goodbyes, then got in line to check our bags and get our tickets to go to New Zealand. Whew! After waving one more time to our parents, we left their sight and were now on our own, about to enter a brave new world.

“THIS is crazy!” I said to Josh as we waited for our plane to fly to San Francisco. I hate the waiting part…ahhh! Josh and I both felt pretty anxious as flying is not our favorite thing to do.

Our plane arrived and we flew the three hours to California. I’ve never been there before. I said again on the plane as I looked at my husband, feeling excited and still nervous, and hundreds of other emotions, “This is CRAZY!” But I felt more excited at that moment, especially after the goodbye part was over. We arrived in Cali, which was fun as we flew in over the bay. I like busy airports and seeing the people run around like mad men. People of every nationality going to and coming from all corners of the world. What is their story? I always wonder to myself. Airports are places where people’s hearts are broken and where people fall in love all over again.

We had a long layover in San Fran. Which I don’t think was really a good thing, haha. Now we had time to think . . . and time to back out. I’d been having a few little panic attacks over the past couple days, and this one was a doozy. We were about to get on the plane for thirteen hours and forever far away from those we love and all that we know. It had come down to, “No…Josh, this IS crazy” with fear and panic in my voice. Josh comforted me with his optimistic attitude…something I loved from the very beginning about him; how positive he is. He believes in me and sees the good in this world and in people. I know he was feeling the same way and feeling sad about leaving home, but his words brought comfort and we prayed about it. God had led us this far…He would continue to be with us.

I finally felt better and then we saw what made my heart feel so happy and made the moment real…looking out the window and seeing the huge, Air New Zealand plane. That was awesome. I had seen that in ads on the internet for years, and just dreamed of getting to go there one day. Well what do ya know? It was happening!

Our plane left San Francisco and began its journey across the Pacific Ocean at 7 p.m., Tuesday. What do you do for thirteen hours in a plane? Fidget. One time I had restless legs and arms so bad I thought I would just have to risk being arrested and run up and down the aisles screaming at the top of my lungs. I slept a little…very little. The old little Chinese lady behind me kept putting her toes (yes, she had no shoes on) on MY armrests and my elbows kept touching this stranger’s toes. That’s always my luck. The New Zealand guy across the aisle found our situation quite amusing and said to just knock her feet off. So I did, with my elbows, and then got cussed out in a different language. Oh well, those were my armrests. haha

Finally…thirteen hours later, we arrived in Auckland. It was early in the morning and a cold and cloudy day. We had to walk outside to the other terminal, a fifteen minute walk and the wind was blowing fierce. We had all our bags too, that was weird to have to recheck them. We went through customs, which they asked a lot of questions and I was scared, but we passed. I didn’t think we were going to get in, haha. We barely made our next flight…the short one hour flight to Wellington. We were tired, but super excited; the adrenaline was still kickin’. That was one of the best flights ever…and flying into Wellington was like a dream. It was cloudy and as we got out of the clouds I finally saw the land of New Zealand for the first time…well the view like I had imagined it would look like. The mountains and hills were greener than the greenest lawn in Texas I’d ever seen. It looked just like the Shire in the Lord of the Rings. We had been hearing the NZ accent on the plane rides, which was awesome; I definitely want to talk like that.
We made it! We had arrived!!! We were in NEW ZEALAND! That was soooo exciting…we held hands walking through the airport and felt so happy. We found a taxi and the driver was so nice and proud telling about his country. He gave a lot of advice. It was cloudy and rainy, but still beautiful. We drove along the coast to our hotel, soaking it all in. I couldn’t stop smiling.

 

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We drove up to the Copthorne Hotel Oriental Bay, and couldn’t have been more happy. We had requested a room with a view, which thankfully we did. It was perfect…a balcony overlooking the bay with the boats anchored in the harbor. What a view. It was Thursday, 8:00 a.m. (Wellington time) when we arrived. We were pooped! We ate lunch at the hotel then went back to our room. You are supposed to stay up late to avoid jet lag so bad, but we couldn’t help it and went to bed at 4:00 in the afternoon. I thought I had slept for just a couple hours but awoke to the dark and Josh standing on the balcony taking pictures of the harbor. It was 2 in the morning! Couldn’t go back to sleep after that, which worked out, because we got to watch the sun rise and start a new day in a new country.

 

 

Dated: November 8, 2011