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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.

The Southern Coastlines of New Zealand

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Where civilization is at your back, the endless array of possibilities lies in front of you, and the healing of the salty air is all around you, are the coastlines. I will admit, most of my venturing entails quite a bit of ocean therapy. I was born in a coastal state, and my entire life has been lived within close driving distance to the sea. Being without feels foreign, and when I’m away from it for a period of time, it is something I crave. Traveling down some of the coastal areas of the South Island brought a vast array of changing landscapes and ocean creatures coming up from the waters for a rest from the tumultuous cold waters.

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I’m going to start, right off the bat, with my favorite found location in these regions. The Katiki Lighthouse is hardly talked about, and there were no people there when I went. The lighthouse was built in 1878, I was told, because there were ships crashing into the dangerous reef that surrounds, while on their way to Port Chalmers. This is one of those hidden, not so talked about gems I discovered during my explorations. There are yellow-eyed penguins you may be able to spot, dozens upon dozens of seals, birds of all kinds, rabbits hopping right across your path, and red sand beaches that are probably untouched because they would be difficult to get to. The lighthouse itself is a stunning sight as well.

From Katiki, the Moeraki Boulders aren’t far; just make sure to plan this around low tide for some great photos and beachcombing. These boulders are giant spherical shaped formations that have been there for hundreds of years, and I’m not sure there is an agreement on how they got here, but there are definitely some local legends attached. The beach goes on for a good stretch, and though there are plenty of people there is also plenty space at low tide. I will say that the sand isn’t like a soft gritty sand that would feel good between yours toes, it’s more like a clay, muddy sand that you will want to wash from your feet right after walking on it. I wore shoes.

From here traveling up north to the smaller towns of Omaru and Timaru are great stops for the cozy cafes to warm up in and fill your stomach. Sitting along the harbors will be docks filled with birds, and Omaru will have the tiny blue penguins coming onto the land during sunset. There is a viewing fee to enter the area where one can actually see them. There is also a fence that is down in an area behind the viewing building that leads to a decent view as well, not that that’s what I did or would ever recommend.

Just outside Dunedin rest some of the most stunning cold water beaches. St. Claire to St. Kilda is filled with surfers ready to brave the waves in there thick full-body wetsuits. And then there is the staggering sight of Tunnels Beach with giant drop off cliffs, a waterfall when the rains have come, and of course a whole in the rock in the form of a tunnel where the sea crashes and swirls around.

The variety of landscapes alone, just along the coastlines of South Island, are magnificent and plentiful. The best method to get to all these places and to be sure you have the time to enjoy them is to have your own transportation, possibly even a camper van.

The Battlefield between Forces of Nature, Where Glaciers have Seceded, FIORDLAND

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These mighty mountains, with scale so large any man or animal would be left aghast and know its place, have been forced to bow into the sprawling valleys, who have demanded their space to be, left buy glaciers compelled to secede. Where the sun, God to many, has had difficulty conquering the indomitable ice and snow with skin so thick no force has been completely able to penetrate, and its thick build up is left to plummet in an avalanche destroying everything in its path. Where water, in any form, is plentiful, and its liquid form is showering over every mass with a drop it can find. Where these masses submit to the tumultuous emotions of the sea, is Fiordland.

Daring to travel Fiordland in the middle of winter, though the days were chosen wisely, the sun was shining and there wasn’t a snow flurry in sight for at least the next couple nights, the carpool departed from Queenstown in the wee hours of the morning before the sun had awaken. With layer upon layer, we were ready to venture out into what I was told was a majestic wilderness. Rounding Lake Wakatipu were kayakers determined to paddle despite the cold. With this lake so still, kayaks glided with ease through these scenic, cold waters. Rounding every icy turn Highway 6 had, down through Devil’s Staircase provides endless sights of this lake, though with breath sometimes held through some of the slick turns.

From there to Lake Manapouri lies endless native bush to explore, and some ranchlands. Lake Manapouri is also a great place for an overnight stay. With sandy shores against this massive lake and islands sprinkled throughout, it has endless trekking options. It really is an outdoor enthusiast dream that most have yet to discover. The next town is Te Anau which is a bit more populated and has its own lake filled with its own sights and allure. From here be sure to fill up on petrol, food, warmth, and anything else you might need because what lies ahead is pure wilderness.

Boulders that appear larger than the largest buildings have resigned to the flat lands of Eglinton Valley, left by an enormous glacier that once called this its home. This glacier that is now just a distant memory, was once hugged by the sloping mountains that surround; you can see its former size by looking around to see the width of this now extended valley. Down the road, a bit lie lakes so pristine and still, the neighboring Earl Mountains see their reflections with crisp clarity and vivid colors. These mirrored lakes are so clean and untouched when leaning over to see your reflection, not only do you see an exact mirror image but you will be able to make out the color of your features and the clothing you are wearing.

From here on, at every turn, when looking into the mountains, is an opportunity to see the remains of an avalanche. Some set off purposely by man to save men who are traveling through, and others, the mountains just could not bear the weight of the relentless snow and ice. These beginnings start at Knobs Flat, yet another picturesque sight. Be sure to walk across to Monkey Creek with its water so clean it’s safe to filled up on water straight from the creek. I did. In the middle of all this, Lake Gunn has made its claim to a natural rain forest with red beech trees and a variety of birds. Another perfect stop for a walk along the way, and keep an eye open for the Kea bird, a colorful mountain parrot both in sight and personality.

And now every piece of land is succumbed to the fourteen fiords where the sea holds its monopoly. The most popular and easiest to get too being Milford Sound. The term easy is used loosely due to it also being unreachable when any given avalanche decided to claim the inhabitants below, or the ice covers the road so thick nothing will provide enough traction to pass through. The only way to really experience the greatness of Milford Sound is by sea. Via boat you can see the deep cuts the ocean has gouged into the land to make its way through. Waterfalls are endless and cascading over every cliff side when rain has made has been present or the sun is forcing the snow to become water. The most well-known waterfall being Crystal Falls is consistently flowing, and if aboard a boat, you can get so close you can feel the spray.

Though these forces of nature may have contended with each other for hundreds of years, the combination of all has materialized into a great harmony allowing all to exist, composing Fiordland.

Women Empowering Women

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During my explorations in New Zealand’s South Island, where I spent over a month exploring, I decided to visit local churches and walked into Elim Church in Dunedin. I was immediately welcomed and befriend by some loving, extraordinary women. They invited me into their homes, fed me, and together we shared pieces of our lives and stories. I was asked to share my story to a women’s group within the church; I’m usually not much for any form of public speaking, but I felt prompted and said yes before the words “no way” could escape my mouth. This was one of those raw moments that, like a domino effect, led to other women opening up, sometimes despite the tears streaming down their cheeks. These are the pivotal points in time we as women can choose to really support, uplift, and empower each other in both emotional and practical ways.

I started out feeling nervous and realizing that no one in this room really knew me. In those first moments, I was unsure how I would be able to relate to all these different women when I had no idea who they were and what their experiences have been.

“My life hasn’t turned out the way I wanted or ever expected it to go, and I thought I’d share a piece of my story with you, and why I’m doing what I’m doing.” As I began with those first words to just lay it all on the line, I saw every woman’s eyes I looked into, looking back with complete connection, understanding, and waiting with expectancy for what I was going to say next. I went on and talked about my achievements, my heartaches, my disappointments, and why I walked away from a good paying career to explore the world and at least give myself a chance to pursue things that fill me with passion and a sense of purpose. (If you want to know more about this please read my “About” page, and feel free to contact me with any questions.)  I talked about faith and what that looks like when God hasn’t given you the life everyone else seems to have and you so badly wanted. I talked about how I hear God, how I’ve listened to Him asking me to step out of the boat, then feeling like I am sinking. How in this entire adventure I am stepping out not knowing where the next stepping stone will be or when it will show up. Similarly, how the Israelites were called into the wilderness and continually cried out to God wondering if He brought them there to die because they too felt like they were walking blindly with everything resting on their faith and trust. How Hagar was cast into the desert with a child and had to lay Ishmael down under a bush to die because they didn’t even have water. I shared about my confusion in this season and how here I sit, amongst a group of women speaking about faith, and I myself am unsure how I am going to keep a roof over my head.

Most importantly I shared how I saw God show up, sometimes at the very last minute, every time I made the first move to step out, and take these huge risks. I’ve always chosen to walk forward until I see God close the door; and then sometimes He opens a window and I crawl my way through that. He is always there, and He always answers in some form. God always provided for the Israelites and a spring of water for Hagar, in the last moments. Ishmael thrived and grew into a great nation. God ALWAYS provides when we follow His promptings in our journeys; sometimes it just looks a bit different than we expected. I shared that I really do believe our lives are made to be stories of God’s mighty work, and for there to be room for Him to truly reveal Himself there has to be great imperfection, lack, and despair. There has to be a need, a deficit, for Him to fulfill. Our stories aren’t just for us to have this outwardly appearance of a good life. Our stories aren’t just for us at all, but for God to reveal Himself through us to the world. Our ultimate goal shouldn’t be to have a cookie cutter “good” life, but to connect with others through the life we have and share our stories.

After I shared my stories we had great discussion. Multiple women opened up about the heart-wrenching struggles they are facing and have faced in their own lives, and how they too have lives that don’t look like they’d ever imagined. Stories of husbands leaving, having no means to support themselves let alone their children, struggles of depression, and just not being where they thought they would be in life. These are the moments we as women can speak life and hope into each other, reminding each other of who God is and His love and sovereignty over our lives, or we can completely miss this opportunity. We all have shortcomings, but these are the times we can really connect and push each other forward in our faith and in our lives. It is a beautiful thing, when women allow themselves be completely be striped of any pride and share their struggles. Take these opportunities, when we see the needs right in front of us. Be conscious that sometimes we are called to not just listen and embrace, but to act in any way we can provide help. Empowering isn’t just verbal but sometimes requires action and provision. So, there I was the next day, with no income myself, no knowledge of where the next roof over my head was going to be, arms filled with grocery bags, walking up to a doorstep I was seeing for the first time, and leaving all the groceries for someone who’s need was greater than mine.

Women empowering women.

Deeply Rooted in Wanaka New Zealand

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When I look back to the places I’ve cherished most around the world they all have a common thread that ties them together. They are places where I was able to sit and just be. Places where all I could hear were the sounds of nature, and the voices of man were rare if existent at all. I found these spots all around Wanaka. I could’ve lumped a Wanaka post in with my Queenstown trip but it wouldn’t have given Wanaka the notoriety it deserves and unique identity it has. This is a place where I just walked for hours along the lake.

 

About 10 minutes into my walk I saw a man taking several photos of a tree that was surrounded by muddy water. The tree didn’t have any leaves on it and it didn’t seem that pretty to me, so I was having a hard time reconciling why out of all the beautiful scenery that surrounded the both of us he was obsessively photographing this tree. It literally looked like a giant stick in the mud to me. I looked at this tree and immediately had thoughts that it would probably end up dying. It was rooted in an area that will be covered in the lake waters as soon as the lake rises and it’ll probably drown, get uprooted, and eventually wash ashore. For now, it just stood there all by itself.

 

I walked up to the guy taking the photos of the lonesome, bare tree and said “I wonder if it’ll survive much longer?” He responded, “Well, I guess there’s no telling, but the locals call it a weed, and this weed has survived over 30 years, sometimes half submerged in lake water. I bet its roots are deep into the soil below, and its branches are always ready to absorb the sunlight. This tree has gotten quite a bit of tourist attention recently.”

 

“This tree has gotten quite a bit of tourist attention lately.” This statement had me thinking about this tree for a large part of my continued walk. What made this tree so special was not its eye-catching beauty or massive impressive size, but simply because it was making it through difficult environmental conditions time and time again. And, through these conditions it has still been able to push through only God knows what under this lake to grow roots deep enough to keep its stability. This tree is sometimes up too its branches in water and it has still been able to grow enough to always touch the sunlight and not completely drown.

 

It was such a parallel to the season my life is today and probably seasons that at one point or another many of us get to. Where we are completely out of our natural element and comfortable environment, plucked and placed far away from those who usually console us or give us advice and feedback, and left to decide what we are going to dig our roots into so that our soul gains stability. And, in these moments, when we feel the cold waters rising to our necks, are we going to choose to raised our hands in anticipation of the moments of sun made just for us to soak in its beneficial nutrients, provide comfortable warmth, and eventually cause the waters to recede.

When Jesus spoke again to the people He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death a light in dawned.” Matthew 4:16

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify the Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

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The Road to Queenstown is as Beautiful as Queenstown Itself

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Pulling my tiny rental car over to the shoulder became a much too frequent occurrence on the way to Queenstown, but I just couldn’t help myself. The scenery had an untouched beauty that is rarely scene in more developed areas. I was planning on the drive being about four hours due to icy conditions but it turned into about eight, and I don’t regret a single second. Dressed warmly for the snow thanks to my dad who sent me some money because he knew all I has was summer clothes, I was well prepared for some freezing weather sightseeing and snow- filled experiences, cold weather hiking boots, wool socks, and all.

Along the way, the landscape is continually changing. There are dry, rocky areas that have boulders the size of large houses strewn long the fields, lakes that seem to have no end to them, and quaint towns that sit along the shores. The architecturally impressive bridges allow passage over rivers with such clears water you can see the stones that lie at the very bottom. Though it was cold and icy, the sun was shining and I could feel its warmth as I took breaks to walk along the lakes and rivers. The small little cafes were worth the stops as well, for their fresh brewed coffee and homemade baked goods. There are wineries, vineyards, farms, and orchards all along the way and they are all fun places to stop and buy goods for the stay in Queenstown.

And alas Queenstown, a town that sits among snowcapped mountains and is filled with snowboarders and skiers all along the streets walking with all their equipment to the buses that come every twenty minutes to take them to the lifts. In the town center the narrow streets are lined with restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops for every need. As for me, I skipped the tourist trap shopping and went straight for the snow.

Skiing and snowboarding is a given must do while you’re up here but one of the free and usually missed and incredible experiences is the hiking that starts right in Queenstown. It is a cold climb however it is such an uphill climb I warmed up rather quickly. The mountainous views from hiking were stunning and the fact that most of the time there was no one else on the trail was astonishing to me. I passed the occasional guys carrying their skis up a trail to apparently back country ski but that was about it. I had found the beauty of Queenstown away from the crowds.

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And Wanaka is a treasure all its own, therefore owed its own blog post.

My Welcome to New Zealand Begins in the South Island’s Otago Peninsula

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It is true; there are more sheep than people. If you can’t sleep, you will never run out of sheep to count and these sheep don’t have to be purely a figment of your imagination. They are on every hillside I laid eyes on. If my excitement was bound into a bubble that bubble would’ve burst as I flew over rolling green hills that didn’t end until they either dropped into the crisp blue sea or turned into snow-capped mountains. I could taste the clean crisp air through my small oval airplane window. The greens were true greens and all the blues were rich, true blues. To say New Zealand is clean and beautiful wouldn’t do justice to these majestic pieces of land so small in comparison to its giant land mass neighbor Australia.

The Otago peninsula is home to cooler weather beaches, penguins, fur seals, albatross, sheep of course, Larnach Castle, and eye catching beauty in every direction you look. Cold or warm temps, I am a lover and enjoyer of the beach so along the coast is where I spent the majority of my time. I was able to stay in a home that overlooked the sound in Port Chalmers. A five-minute walk down the steep hill my home was perched on led to a running/bike path along water. It was my motivation to jog every day. Of course, I was there in the winter so they were jogs that only lasted as long as my frozen nose and cheeks could take. The air in the winter has an Arctic bite. I woke up early enough most mornings to see the lavender to violet beauty the sunrise was and most nights watched the sunset with the same level of astonishment. Only God himself could create a beauty of this magnitude.

One of my favorite beaches was Anderson’s beach with waves that broke clean and very few people. I searched and searched this beach for the penguins that come up from the sea and nest in the hillside bushes at night but it was to no avail. This was one of my goals while visiting all the beaches, to see a penguin in its natural habitat. It was one of my cold weather travel encouragements, and as those who have traveled for longer periods of time know you need some encouraging moments of astonishment that leave you in remembrance that this is the very reason for embarking on this venture. I was having several moments of things not falling into place and missing my friends and family. I was near the beach searching for penguins once again on a crisp sunny day and talking to God about my life and what to do next. My frustration was pretty high and I just told God, “Look, I just need to know that you are still here with me, that You still want me to go forward with this. It’s been weeks and the single thing I wanted to see in this cold climate and have been searching for daily was a penguin. I haven’t even been given that. If You are still in this with me if You are still here, please show me a penguin. I walked about ten steps forward and it was within three minutes, if that, there, right before my eyes was a penguin. My eyes welled with tears. God answered. This penguin looked at me with the same peace-filled gaze I was giving him. As I walked closer he wasn’t jarred in the least. He widened his belly, sat on his feet and got ready for his nap under a bush. I just stood there and watched for about fifteen minutes thanking God for His presence and just hearing me. This moment was such a comfort I won’t even attempt to put into words.

Otago peninsula, you are glorious.