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Setting Sail in Northland New Zealand and Being Reminded that Ships are Not Built to Stay in the Safe Harbors

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“You, you want me to do what?” I stammered as I looked up at the captain completely puzzled. “Well I can’t do this all by myself. Raise the sail. Pull that rope; hand over fist.” He commanded loudly as he’s rapidly moving around the deck of the sail boat doing I don’t even know what with other ropes that looked to me like they were haphazardly strewn all over the place. I jumped to my feet with a willingness to help but a startled nervousness not knowing what in the world I had just gotten myself into. “Oh, this sail is heavy.” I thought to myself as I really had to muscle the rope down to move the sail up the pole. “What in the world did I just get myself into” was the thought that was stuck on repeat in my head.

The first place I was eager to see in Northland was the picturesque Bay of Islands and to get to the islands, well you have to go by boat. I walked into the visitors’ center in Paihia to book a ride on a boat. They told me about a handful of boat options and all were very normal touristy options that entailed getting on a larger boat with a bunch of other people and spending the day laying on the beaches, basking in the sun on the peaceful relaxing boat rides along the way, and sitting back and enjoying the scenery. That is exactly what I was looking for, a serene boat ride to the islands and the ability to lay on the beaches. A calm relaxing day on the water sounded perfect… minus all the extra people that would be on the boats and then the beaches. I asked if there was anything smaller to charter to the islands. The woman at the counter told me there wasn’t much else. A gentleman behind the counter who was listening in interrupted, “Well, there is a man who will take out small groups of about five people on his sailboat. I’ll give him a ring and see if he’ll go out tomorrow.” After a quick phone call I was booked, to go on a sailboat.

The others on the sailboat with me were his close friends, a single Maori mother with three young boys. As she was busy keeping up with the boys, I was thrust into learning to sail. “You’re going to have to steer the boat too. I can’t do it the entire time.” I think he sensed I was just now understanding that this was not a sit back and relax ride I’d thought it would be, this was going to be a very hands-on experience.

As we navigated out to and then through the Bay of Islands I learned how to read the depths of the sea and steer. We all took turns and when it wasn’t mine I laid out on the nose of this beautiful sailboat and took in the beautiful sights of all the different islands and sea life.

We anchored in the bay of Waewaetoria Island. There wasn’t another soul in sight. The woman who was on the boat with me took me on a hike to the top of the island; we were barefoot which was another first-time experience, hiking barefoot. We enjoyed the views and the beaches for the rest of the day. It was one of the most beautiful places on earth I have ever laid eyes on. We all talked and laughed together as we enjoyed each others company on this expedition. Doing things together, figuring out how to work together to complete a common goal, even for just a day is a bonding experience; and even with me at the helm steering we all made it back in one piece.

There are few places on earth more magical than Northland New Zealand. This is probably my top travel destination and a place I will explore again. Traveling up one coast line to Cape Reinga and then down the other is a trip that is worth taking as much time as you can. I chose to venture Northland for about three weeks. This meant three weeks far away from most civilization, no Wi-Fi for sometimes days on end, seeing tiny old settlement towns, and lands still rich with Maori culture and history.

Traveling up and down the coast I visited the Waitangi Historic Reserve where the treaty that made New Zealand a British colony was signed, went on several hikes some to waterfalls and others to lookouts and beaches, stopped and enjoyed the water’s edge and bites to eat in small fishing villages, went to old colonial churches, and walked along beaches where if you go at the right time, after lightening as struck, you can dig up glass made by the lightening and sand. I took the risky drive on 90 Mile beach, basked in the almost vacant beaches just before Cape Reinga. (I highly recommend traveling these dirt roads to get to these beaches. All the tourists miss them and go straight to the Cape beaches.) One of my favorite areas to venture on the way back down was the beautiful Opononi area. The walks, the town, the lookouts, and the beaches were jaw-dropping. However, I do think this of the entire area of Northland. I stayed a large portion of my time in an Airbnb in Opua. It was a bit outside of the more touristy Paihia and has perfect trails to jog along to my heart’s content.

During my time, away from the majority of civilization and forced to do without phone reception and internet service for most of this time, coupled with my unexpected sailing adventure I had time to dig deep and pray about my next steps. Money was dwindling rapidly and the logical answer would be to go back to America and find work, settle back into a routine, and nestle back into the safeness and security of desperately missed friends and family. I had been searching for jobs in New Zealand to no avail. I was forced to think about making some logical decisions for my future and so I was in heavy prayer ever night, listening, waiting for affirmation from God that it was time for me to return home. I didn’t want to give up pursuing writing, but I equally wanted to be able to provide for myself, be a responsible human being able to contribute more to the world than I was taking, and use wisdom in my decision making. Why did I have this unnerving, guttural feeling that my travels weren’t done? Everything logistically was affirming that they were. I went into the town library to check my email and there it was, a three week housesit request in Australia. I immediately thought “Well that’s nice but God, You and I both know three weeks isn’t long enough for me to spend all that money to fly to Australia, rent a car, drive to this house and then have to fly back out of Australia because I wouldn’t be able to afford staying longer.” I randomly put in an application for another housesit that literally started 3 days after this one ended. I went back the next day to check my email… and there it was, a letter from the owner that she chose me to housesit and this one was for four weeks. The wild ride of faith begins where logic ends, and the doors were clearly opening.

I was on my way to Australia.

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Divine Appointments on The Road Less Traveled and Around the Lakes in Rotorua and The Redwood Forrest

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Inspired by the unending beauty of this area, I set out to see as many of the fresh water, pristine lakes as I could. This is one of the many astounding sights God has placed in this small country of New Zealand. The fresh, crisp, yet to be polluted lands and waters of this area continuously give me motivation to start each day earlier than the last with an excitement not knowing exactly what I will see, but confident my mind and heart will be full by the end of the day; mind full by everything my eyes are taking in and heart full because for some reason God has placed this blessing upon me to experience what many never do and not just once but over and over again for several months now on end. And I’m still not exactly sure why me; why the woman who would have been content with staying in Hawaii, getting married, and having 2.5 children (or whatever the average is now). Why this journey, why this girl? I’m still not sure but I love watching His story unfold…

My first stop was the famous Tikitapu (Blue) Lake and Rotokakai (Green) Lake.  There is a look out hill in between the two lakes and when you look to one side you see just how blue the blue lake is and just how green the green lake is. It is quite incredible to see two lakes so close together be such vibrantly different colors. I see that Lake Tikitapu is supposed to have a walking trail the entire way around so I decide to go for a long, long walk. It was a beautiful sunny day out and I think to myself I can find my way. About 20 minutes in I am thoroughly confused as to where I am and if I’m even still on the right track. It had rained for several days on end just prior and I begin wondering if now the lake has pushed its boundaries over the trail. I look around and see a couple coming out from the bush and I ask if they know. It turned out they are guessing their way around the lake as well. We begin talking and I opened up about what I was embarking on and that I was blogging along the way. I talked about how I loved writing but it was something that I had put on the backburner for too long. We ended up talking about travel and life the entire way around the lake. Isn’t it just phenomenal how that happens? Relationships built in mere minutes, and all because we were enjoying nature, open to life, open to talking to each other, and got lost, haha. We stopped and all took photos on our trek and just enjoyed each other’s company learning bits and pieces about each other. They let me know they owned a New Zealand outdoors magazine and the wife, the editor, would take a look at my blog.

We parted ways for the day; I continued my adventure to Lake Tarawera, which out of all the lakes is probably my favorite, its span is broad and the trail around it leads to salmon streams, lots of bush, and a sandy beach area perfect for swimming during the warmer months. I took my picnic lunch to include a celebratory bottle of wine, and a blanket and had my lunch in a near secluded area of the lake front. I watched a man flying fishing from a semi-near dock, and a couple of paddle boarders paddle by. These are the peaceful moments I unendingly crave.

After exploring the lakes, I went into the nearby Redwoods forest that is filled with treks that will fill anyone’s day and potentially get you very lost. I headed into the woods and soon felt lost. There were families and people passing by so I wasn’t too worried. I stopped and asked a man who was bent over putting creek water into a test tube which way was out. I was intrigued at what he was doing and found out he is a German scientist who coming once a year to study this area of New Zealand and monitor it. He told me all about it but if you asked me to regurgitate any of it, well that wouldn’t happen. I admired the scenery of the way back out and decided to have dinner then come back for the lantern and lights canopy tree walk they do at night, and oh was it more than worth it. This is something I highly recommend if you’re in this area and it’s not too crowded. It truly magical.

When I got home late that night I checked my email and the couple who own the New Zealand magazine had emailed me. The editor told me one of my articles greatly touched her and I had a gift; she loved my writing. This couple, the editor and owner of New Zealand’s longest standing magazine, were soon to become one of my greatest encouragers and advocates for taking steps to become a writer. One simple chance meeting, with an open heart, leads to further divine moments of destiny.

My Journey Through the Waimangu Volcanic Valley of New Zealand

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With its striking presence, rock formations so grand they tower over the boiling thermal lakes, the Waimangu Volcanic Valley is the youngest geothermal system on earth and the only one entirely created within written history. Nothing compares to trekking through these unabashed lands. On foot this trek takes about two hours to each way; it is a longer walk but with very clear paths and not much uphill unless you decide to take the cut-off which leads to an extraordinary uphill workout with an eye-catching view of Inferno Crater. With this much time walking along, surrounded by nature, there is plenty of time to walk, think, reflect, and to take in all that surrounds you.

For the entire two-hour trek to the lake I only passed one other couple who were taking this journey on foot. I was in complete solitude for most of my walk. I was thankful for the solitude in part due to the complete uphill trek to Inferno Crater left me panting for air and dripping sweat. There is nothing like being surrounded by nature with little human interference. This walk left me feeling at complete peace and invigorated.

Inferno Crater is filled with an aquamarine jewel toned lake that is a jaw-dropping treat at the end the uphill climb. Along the way there are a few lookout points where you can see just how far this park stretches. Filled densely with trees you can see just how far you are going to walk and where the park ends at the lakes edge.

At this point I am five months in to traveling solo, exploring this earth, and discovering more of what it is I feel passionate about. As I round the corner I see constant steam arising from a lake. It literally looks like the lake water is boiling, it was. Frying Pan Lake was given its name very fittingly. And shooting up from its edges stands Cathedral Rock. This is the moment I was so lost in thought and wonderment I turned to say “Wow, Incredible…”  out loud and there was no one there. This is the point I realized I have traveled to so many places and for most of my journey I maybe had a stranger to share in the experiences with, and through that I’ve made so many connections, but I’ve craved a partner to share with all there is to marvel. Someone to do this walk with and gazed with astoundment at all that has been created. Someone to listen when I decide to say something out loud and then after pieces of this journey, to sit, have lunch and converse, ask questions, talk, or just be with companionship.

I continued my trek all the way to the lake, passing streams that were steaming with heat and geothermal activity, a lake so black to me it looked like the gateway to the pits of hell, terraces marbles with different colors from iodine and I don’t know what else, but I was more just lost in thought. I could now see and feel clearly, with a much greater depth than before, of what is most important, partnership.

The Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

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This title is only semi-descriptive of the jaw-dropping amazement this naturally thermal landscape in Rotorua brings to the eyes and imaginations of both young and old alike. Pools of vivid colors I have never before seen naturally appearing through these lands, sprinkle this trek with abundance. This fascinating destination quite impressive if you find yourself anywhere on the North Island of New Zealand.

The trek itself is just under 2 km and very easy, however due to the changing terrain you may want to still opt to wear your tennis shoes. The popular attraction, Lady Geyser, is just before the trek starts and she erupts every morning at a prescheduled specific time, so I highly recommend getting there early and not missing out on that experience. It is a man induced eruption which was a bit of a disappointment, but in all fairness, there would be no other way to guarantee the, what starts as bubbling over then quickly changes to a rocketing eruption shooting several meters into the air, show for the anticipating audience.

Filled with names like ‘Artists Palette’, ‘Devil’s Ink Pots’, ‘Champagne Pool’, and ‘Devils Bath’, there is literally another stunning sight to see around every corner. There is a small spur off the main path to take that leads to Lake Ngakoro; a vibrant seafoam green lake to rest your eyes on after taking a few stairs to get there. I was completely enthralled with its aesthetic. Along this trek take a moment to notice that even the foliage has bright greens, coppers, and rust colors dripping from every branch. Once done with the trek there is an option to walk or drive over to the mud pools, another unique thermal experience to view with spouting pools sometimes in unison as if they were choreographed.

This path through Waiotapu is truly a wonderland, but is also touristy and usually quite populated. The experience, however, of seeing the myriad of native sceneries holds its value, as there is none other like it.

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Things To Do in Mount Maunganui

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Although the South Island, with all of its grand beauty, is any outdoor enthusiasts dream, it is whipping with southerly winds blowing in from Antarctica that bring a startling chill, and I was ready for some warmer weather. My North Island discovery began with the explorations of Mount Maunganui.

This little beach town has become quite a popular surf spot and its soft sand beaches with warmer summer waters bring in tourists from all over the world. As I strolled through the main stretch of shops I heard European accents from the student workers behind the counters of several privately-owned shops and cafes. This place does draw a younger, energetic crowd that fills the atmosphere with a youthful upbeat vibe.

A must do while on The Mount is to hike up to the top. The hike itself is beautifully line with shrubbery and green foliage which also helpfully provides a bit of shade from the intense sun this mountain can get. The panoramic views of the multiple shorelines, various inlets, and the city of Tauranga are a more than worth it reward. Many people do this hike for either daily exercise or simply for the views as a visitor, so I highly recommend going early. While at the top venture out a bit and explore the various paths along the peak that will take you to different viewpoints.

The Mount has multiple hikes going around the base and to the peak; there are days filled with exploring at various fitness levels so a leisurely scenic walk with an ice cream from one of the various ice cream shops is a fun way to end the day and watch a sunset. Coming down from the hike puts you right on the main beach and the beginning of side streets filled with shops. The main beach is beautiful and full of activity from volleyball to kayaking to surfing and of course, lots of people watching.

The multitude of restaurants and cafes make where to eat a perplexing decision. The mount has food choices for every desire, from vegan cuisine, to Mediterranean to Thai this place leaves a hungry person bursting with decisions. The Mount is a great getaway for beachgoers looking for a small but lively surf town to explore and enjoy.

Leaving Room for Miracles

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Fear of failure, the gaping black hole that steals so many promising dreams. What my life will look like in six months I truly have no idea, and the amount of conversations I’ve had about this very concept are plentiful; most look at me in either complete awestruck amazement due to the amount of courage this takes, or I get a look of bewilderment and incomprehension of why anyone would risk everything. I have no exact end date to my world travels, and as I step forward into what often times feels like deep waters, a single stepping stone appears sometimes the split moment before I feel like I’m going to lose balance, tumble in, probably hit my head on the way down, and drown. I was like most for a good long while, in that I had an idea of what my life would be and I had created a pretty cozy safe life for myself. The problem was no matter how much I attempted to convince myself that I could feel content with my life the way it was I couldn’t shake an unquenched desire to search for more, to find the gold in life with the unique life I was given.

For those who are venturing out and pursuing a new goal or direction in life because internally you know it fills your soul and has the ability to touch others you come in contact with, take the risk, step out in faith and courage. When you step out in faith you are creating a space for miracles to happen.

This is where God works mightily, in the appearingly void spaces of the unknown, in the risk. I’ve had several conversations with those of you, my readers, my friends, who feel void in one way or another, but you have this one amazing idea that would bless so many around you. I wonder if that is where God is waiting to show you just how mightily He will work in your life, on your behalf. He is waiting for you to move, to step out in complete blind faith, not knowing the outcome. He wants you to choose the possibility that could lead great failure and no provision, a crushing fear for many, because this is where His great sovereignty lies, over outcomes only He can control. This is where this piece of His Greatness is revealed and He desperately wants you to see Him, to trust Him. My pastor once said it is easier to turn the steering wheel of a truck when the truck is moving, but have you ever tried to turn the steering wheel of a truck that is in park, it’s not so easy. God wants you to be courageous and move, even in the struggle, He may be calling you to keep moving. If you have a heaviness in your heart that you want more, that you want to see the gold in life, this maybe you.

For those of you who have a friend in the midst of taking huge risks in life, show up. Be there. Love them when they are celebrating even the smallest of milestones and achievements, and love them even more in their failures, reminding them of who they are and celebrating that. Love them more when they are completely discouraged and their heart is hanging on by a thread; when they are down to one mustard seed of faith. When they want to give up remind them of how God sees them and be a listening ear for their pain and then their new ideas. This has been my saving grace in this journey, my friends and family overflowing with so much loves it spills onto me. Those who get excited with me over the smallest of things, and celebrate with me through words, calls, or messages, the astonishing adventures I’m embarking on and relationships that have been built. The (mostly women) in my life who have sent me constant encouraging words and reminders of truth, and have been a listening ear, your strength and perseverance is humbling. Thank you is an insufficient phrase. I love you does not express enough.

For those of you who have opened up to me, I will always write back. I am thinking about you, I am praying for you, and I am rooting for your success through Jesus. In the unknown, in the risk, the miracles lie. Step out, and leave room for miracles.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching. ” Hebrews 10:24-25

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus did.” Romans 15:5

“If you can?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

“but if I were you, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before Him. He preforms wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” Job 5:8-9

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Stopping to Smell the Roses in Christchurch

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Botanical gardens that will make any flower lover swoon with delight and bustling outdoor cafes filled with life is what I discovered and where I spent most of my time in Christchurch. This larger city, the largest in New Zealand’s South Island, is still recovering and rebuilding from the major earthquakes that rattled its core and caused some buildings to crack and crumble in its wake. The steadfast determination of this city and the persistent drive of its construction workers is an invigorating sight to see and be in the midst of while this city is being revitalized.

I was able to stay right in the heart of the city center, and what I loved about this city is it wasn’t so big and spread out that I couldn’t walk anywhere I wanted to go. I was blessed to enjoy beautiful sunny weather with a crisp breeze cool enough to not feel overheated on the longer walks. Cafes, pubs, food trucks, art stands, and musicians singing tunes while playing their instruments, lined the streets and created a welcoming and vibrant surrounding while enjoying all the sights of the central business district. High Street, Cathedral Square, and New Regent Street with a train running through, are the must-sees of this area. For more upscale shopping The Tannery is the place to visit. My favorite indoor/outdoor place to sip coffee or wine and eat delicious fresh food while working away on my laptop was the Arbo Café. With its unlimited Wi-Fi, perfect location on High Street for people watching, beautiful but simple décor, and outdoor seating options, I spent hours here in between walks around the city. Also for a quick bite, the food trucks in Cathedral Square are a worth it stop when the weather is nice.

Walking a bit further, past all the hustle and bustle of the inner city and into a peaceful, floral, fragrant ambiance is Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens. These gardens are an endless sensory wonderland abounding with all kinds of flowers in full bloom during its spring season. With the Avon river calmly flowing thru and gondola rides to tour part of the gardens via water, there are numerous ways and paths to take. These gardens are so large it is easy to find a quiet spot to enjoy a bit of silence, apart from the sounds of nature. I am a woman who loves flowers, and being in the midst of the bountiful lavishness of this expansive enchanted paradise I was in complete elation. Needless to say, I came to the gardens almost on a daily basis just to sit amidst the gardens and enjoy a good read or a quiet walk.

Adjacent to the gardens is the Canterbury Museum, another deserving visit. A museum dedicated to Maori culture and history, its excellent displays are truly educational of this region of the world. While walking in to some of the rooms you hear authentic Maori music and language and view the authentic clothing, artifacts, and replicas of the housing.

Christchurch did not disappoint, and being in the midst of the rebuilding of this city added a sense of rejuvenation and determination to this much-needed experience.