New Zealand Adventures Together

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Our adventures, now together, through the northern part of the North Island of New Zealand were endless. I first arrived in New Zealand on my own, unsure of exactly what was going to unfold between us when distance was in place and not a mere thought that we could optimistically conquer. I filled my time with my new job and some adventuring out on my own.

On my own I succumbed to the cover charge and explored Hobbiton, one of the few locations in New Zealand where Lord of the Rings was filmed. We were in a large group as we toured, which isn’t my favorite, but it was still quite fun and the scenery absolutely majestic. With tiny little hobbit houses and gardens that would make any green thumb drool, it was well worth the day and cover.

Though I had plenty to do to pass time, I felt relieved when my new love finally arrived. Now it was my turn to get off by two in the afternoon and take him around to explore of one of my favorite places on earth. We explored every part of Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty as we could, and stayed in a cute cottage on and avocado farm set up in the hills, overlooking the city and bay. We had dinners with dear friends and hiked Mount Manganui multiple times. We squeezed in as much quality fun as we could.

Together we explored daily and weekends were even better, as we could escape for a few days to explore even further away. New Zealand possesses a countless number of pristine lakes and many of them completely swimmable. We endlessly explored waterfalls and trails that led to lakes just waiting for us to jump into.

One of the most worth it weekend trips in this part of New Zealand is the Coromandel peninsula. With hikes leading to several cove beaches and shores home to small towns, it is an ideal trek for a few days. We were finally back together, and in a beautiful waterfall garden just outside Auckland, he got down on one knee. Hand in hand we were now headed out to adventure together.

Exploring Brisbane, My Favorite Large City

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Leaving Mackay and the man I would soon marry wasn’t easy, however beginning a dream job and exploring the world a bit more wasn’t the worst thing to be walking towards. I excitedly hopped back onto a plane and headed south to Brisbane, the city of sunny weather. Some of the best things Australia has to offer are in and around this sizeable city. If anyone were to ask me which large city in Australia they should spend their time in, and I’ve been to both Sydney and Brisbane several times, I would tell them hands down, Brisbane.

Brisbane has a warmer climate and all around, more sunshine than its akin city, Sydney. With so many options to exercise and keep those endorphins flowing, this urban area exudes an outdoorsy vibe. I chose to stay in Kangaroo Point, which is just over the river, outside the city center. My mornings often started with me stepping outside my door and jogging along the beautiful foot path that paralleled the Brisbane river and led to the walking bridge that brings into the city center. No other large city I’ve been to has had this kind of accommodation to access its central business district. Every morning, local folks, in their business attire, would walk out of their homes just outside the city center, wearing their sneakers and backpacks, and walk along these well-groomed sidewalks, to work. These footpaths connect residential areas just outside the CBD, and lead them over a large beautifully built bridge that stretches across the river and was built solely for those on foot. Along these footpaths there are rock-climbing walls and exercise stations with well-kept equipment. Once over the bridge, there are a mass number of restaurants, shopping malls, and my favorite, Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, with an entrance lit up with twinkle lights at The Domain. This city makes living a healthy lifestyle easy and enjoyable.

The free city hopper ferry is another advantage Brisbane has over so many other cities. With several stops along the Brisbane River, it makes sightseeing all over Brisbane easy and affordable. For my foodie and shopper friends, Fortitude Valley is a must visit location if you are even remotely near Brisbane. It holds some of this region’s top restaurants and choice apparel, accessories, and homewares shops. I strolled this district more than once. With greenery winding through trellised ceilings and walls, and large open air windows perfect for people watching and enjoying the breeze, The Chow House was my go-to, affordable restaurant.

Just south of Brisbane lies the well-known Gold Coast. With lots of large built up areas just across the street from beautiful but very crowded beaches and tons of fast fashion shopping, this place attracts those who want to be seen and enjoy being a part of the crowd. I decided to keep driving and spent a bit of time in Burleigh Heads, a city with a bit more of a quaint, family charm. Soon I was off to my next destination, the notable Byron Bay. With a few days to spend in Byron Bay, I was able to do a bit of hiking and lots of strolling the town and beaches. Byron has an eclectic vibe and is filled with healthy eating options and some eco-friendly, sustainable clothing brand shops. The beaches are filled with surfers from all over and the waters are warm and inviting. Though this area is a bit crowded, and I can see why it attracts those from all over. There are many beaches to choose from tucked away in this beach-lover destination.

Brisbane and its surrounding areas is worth a stand-alone vacation. Now taking a car north of Brisbane to Noosa, on the Sunshine Coast, to begin my new job training. Noosa, in itself is an astonishing place and one location I loved so much we’d soon call it home. But first, after job training, with no long-term visa in hand for Australia, I would head back to another place I love and have made long standing friendships, New Zealand.

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An Extraordinary Encounter While Exploring Mackay Australia

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As I walked through the doors of this older building that was now a restaurant and karaoke bar, the ex-nun I was with, who was in costume as a streetwalker, introduced me to everyone at the tables where we would be sitting. As the introductions ensued, she came to a man who appeared to be in his late twenties to early thirties. She introduced him as the head chef. As our eyes met I could tell immediately, that my presence made him pretty nervous. He was noticeably uncomfortable, and his impression of me made him a bit flustered. I decided in that instant, I was going to sit right next to him. His name was Mick, a nickname for Michael in Australia, and I noticed that even sitting, he appeared to be quite a large guy.

As the night went on, he hardly said two words to me. I asked him a couple questions and got short, simple answers in return; I guessed he was a man of few words, or at least with me. He was up and down from the bar to our table, sometimes talking with those he knew, and he even got up a few times to sing karaoke. As he gave it his all and belted out Mustang Sally, everyone got up and danced, including me. With his six foot five, strong athletic frame and medium brown hair, he had a considerable presence and didn’t appear to shy away from attention. However, in the next moment, he’d sit back down towards the back of the room a bit removed from everyone else and exuded a more mellow, relaxed presence.  When he spoke had a strong Australian accent and it was abundantly obvious from his rough, rugged exterior, he was very country.  After a few hours, I said goodnight to everyone, and left with the neighbor who brought me.

A couple days later I joined my neighbor for a beach walk and, out of the blue, she casually mentioned Mick knew I wanted to explore Queensland. She advised me it wasn’t the safest to do on my own, so it may be wiser to allow him to show me around a bit. She gave me his number and asked me to give him a call. That evening I decided to give him a quick call before I started to make dinner. I figured it would only take a minute. After all, he hardly had anything to say when we met. He kept me on the phone for an hour, and asked me a million questions! Amongst the million questions, he asked me what kind of things I liked to do and what I wanted to see. We decided he would pick me up at around three in the afternoon the next day, after he got off work. It was quite convenient that he worked an early shift and was off by two in the afternoon.

The next day he showed up in a giant ute, a truck with a flatbed on the back, a popular vehicle in Australia. We went to a lookout with a beach down below, and after exploring the beach we grabbed dinner on the pier. I remember looking at him, as he was inspecting some rocks up at the lookout, and asking myself if I could possibly be attracted to him. I quickly dismissed it and thought nope, he was a nice guy, but not for me. He appeared much too “from the outback”, rough around the edges for me, and I just didn’t feel an attraction. I had a quick, piercing but fleeting thought, “He is your husband’. It jarred me. I quickly silently laughed at myself and thought,” Shut up Melanie, no way! You’re losing it. Oh man, I’ve been traveling solo for so long I’m now hearing things.” I brushed it off and quickly and determined I was thankful for the friendship and the company, but that’s where it ended. As he dropped me off that evening he asked what I wanted to see tomorrow. “Oh, we’re doing something else tomorrow?” I said a bit caught off guard. We quickly planned another adventure for the next afternoon. From then on, he showed up, every day, to pick me up and take me somewhere new.  Every day, he showed up. A few nights in, he offered to make me dinner, crispy skinned salmon with baked crunchy potatoes, chipotle dill aioli, and Thai citrus salad. That’s when the attraction began. It wasn’t just good; it was divine.

We went into the bush to hike in Eungella National Park, and swim in its cold waterfall to escape the hot, scorching sun. We surveyed for platypus and fresh water crocodiles. We drove further north to Cape Hillsboro for more beautiful hikes and views, while also able to enjoy crocodile free beaches with kangaroos and wallabies bouncing around everywhere.

While coming to The Leap, a giant hike-able cliff, he told me the story of The Leap Massacre. In the 1800s Australian “police” were known to capture and sometimes murder Aboriginals. While being pursued, an Aboriginal mother, holding her baby, ran up The Leap, a cliff dropping hundreds of feet below, to escape. Holding her baby, she jumped. Story has it that her baby survived and grew up to marry, have children, and she lived a long life.

Mick took me too his family’s property for an Australian barbeque. We spent every day together during my time in this part of Australia, and we were able to explore so much of the area. I was at a crossroads of needing to find a job in the U.S. and spending more time here. With a bit of help from Mick’s persuasion, I decided to extend my stay a couple weeks and he helped to put me up in a beautiful hotel overlooking the beach.

My time in Australia was winding down and I began planning my way back to the states, when I got a phone call from a friend whom I hadn’t spoken too in a couple years. She worked for an online resort travel company, and they needed a new content director. She had read my blog and forwarded it to her boss. After a couple phone calls and negotiations, I landed my new job as a content director and could work remotely. The timing was, well, it was miraculous. I would be starting in three weeks. Training would be in Noosa, Queensland just north of Brisbane, so I’d be flying out soon. My long-term visa was for New Zealand so that’s where I’d be based once training was complete.

On the second to the last evening in this part of Australia, we decided to have dinner out with Mick’s family. As we sat in the parking lot of the local pub, winding up the windows of his old ute. I turned to him and hesitantly asked him, “So, what are we? What are we doing? I mean, I’m leaving in two days, and I don’t have a plan to come back.” His immediate reply was “We’re together.” And then there was an awkward pause. I was so uncomfortable asking but I needed to know. I continued, “Okay, but… if we’re together then what’s the plan? I mean, I won’t be here. What’s the point of doing long distance if there’s no plan to be together in the future? We’re not even going to be in the same country. What are your thinking about all this?” He sat there listening to me and I uncomfortably shifted in my seat as I got to the cringe-worthy part of the question I needed an answer too. “If we stayed together long distance…do you see this as like possibly leading to marriage or…” I loathed that I even asked that but with me about to leave the country I needed finality, a simple yes or no.

“Yes, I definitely see that happening.” He said without hesitation. “Okay, so we’re just going to date long distance a while and see how it goes.” I say as I’m wrapping my head around how in the world this would even logistically work. “Like how long are you comfortable dating long distance?” I asked before really thinking about what was coming out of my mouth. “I don’t know, like two years?” “Two years?! I’m not only dating you, and be in a long-distance relationship, for two whole years!” I immediately replied. “Well I don’t know! I’d marry you tomorrow! I just thought that’s what you’d want!” We both just sat there shocked, and in complete disbelief of the direction this conversation turned and what was just said. “Well… definitely not tomorrow, but… Okay everyone is waiting for us inside so let’s stop talking about this. And let’s not bring this up to anyone that we even talked about getting married yet.” I quietly said a bit shaken by this entire talk. “Okay.” he agreed.

We walked inside and sat down with his whole family. Mick, his brother, his mom, and his brother’s girlfriend went up to the bar to get drinks for the table. When they came back, the mood had changed and they all were trying to hide their smiles. Mick sat down next to me and I had a feeling he’d said something. I whispered to him reminding him that I we agreed not to tell them anything. He responded, “I didn’t tell them we ARE getting married. I told them we MIGHT get married.” I had no words.

Two days later I was on a plane to Brisbane to train for my new job, and then on a flight back to New Zealand. We kept in contact daily. Two months later he flew over to New Zealand to visit. We ventured around the north island a bit while I worked remotely, and he proposed while we were on a picnic near a small waterfall. Three months after that we got married in Hawaii.

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On the Brink of a Life-changing Event as I Explore the Great Barrier Reef and the World-Famous Whitehaven Beach

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“As I saw you through the large windows, walking towards the door from across the road, all I could think was… Wow… I just couldn’t believe how beautiful you were.”

Following the path organically unfolding before me, I was on my next flight. After a quick stay back up in Sydney, I hopped further north, taking flights to Brisbane then Mackay, a smaller city in northern Queensland. From there I was picked up by the sweet older couple I would be housesitting for in the cutest home for the next several weeks, just two blocks from a beautiful beach in Shoal Point. Their home was a gorgeous tropical garden complete with wild exotic birds coming and going freely, and the semi frequent appearance from quite large, sometimes lethal snakes. It was once again a peace-filled escape. And, as money was dwindling, it was now time for me to contemplate making my way back to America to make a living.

This was not at all what my heart desired, and not at all the way I thought this journey would end, but it was time for me to be sensible and realize I hadn’t landed an overseas job that would keep me going. Decent online jobs were few and far between. With disappointment penetrating my heart, I made a few phone calls to friends to discuss and get feedback on the options that lay before me. I reluctantly agreed that it seemed it was time to begin applying for jobs in that states… but, the phrase “keep writing” continued to pursue the overtaking of my thoughts.

Shoal Point, with its huge tides, hot coastal weather, and endless sugar cane fields, has deceitfully alluring beaches that would appeal to any living soul, surviving in the heat of the sun, to take a dip. Many of these beautiful beaches are also home to salt water crocodiles waiting to stalk their next meal, and the infamous box jellyfish. It is an intoxicatingly beautiful landscape hiding an array of deadly creatures both on its land and in its sea.

I was determined to explore it all so I hired a boat and jetted out to the Great Barrier Reef. With my fins in hand and full protective wetsuit suit on, I dove in and it was pure magic. Swimming into the depths along a sea trench, it quickly got so dark I could barely see what was in front of me. A bit of fear sunk in and I quickly decided it only made sense to stay shallow enough so I could see the beauty around me. Encircled in various coral, mollusks, giant sea turtles, and a variety of colorful fish, I was in my element feeling grateful for this life. As I boated back to shore I asked around about a swimmable beach. I got in my car and drove to what appeared to be another secluded sandy beach cove.

As I walked along the shoreline, I was in deep thought and prayer. I noticed there weren’t many shells at all, mostly just driftwood pieces, rocks, and some very broken shell pieces. As I strolled, I wondered if I would ever have a partner in this life, someone to share these experiences with and grow with. Not really expecting an answer, in that moment, I half-heartedly asked God, that if I He did have that for me in the near future, that He would tell me now by giving me the biggest whole shell I have ever found on any beach in this world. I immediately got a flash of an image in my mind of a whole, light orange patterned, cone shell. I walked maybe 6 more feet and there it was. With no other whole shells around it, lay the largest, fully intact shell I have ever randomly come upon, and it happened to be a cone shell with a light orange pattern on it. I was in disbelief. I immediately went to the thought that this could be the craziest coincidence to happen to me; so, I asked again. I asked that if this wasn’t a coincidence that God show me by giving me another large, fully intact shell. And again, about ten more feet away there was another very large, fully intact shell. I walked the rest of the beach more than once and these were in fact, the only whole shells I ever found.

The next day a neighbor came over and introduced herself to me. She worked in a professional kitchen and had been a nun for 30 years prior. We went on a few short beach walks together as she told me stories of her past and what led her to become a nun. She invited me to a karaoke night her workplace was hosting at a local restaurant bar the coming Friday evening. I wasn’t quite sure about going, but she assured me it wasn’t just work people but their friends and families as well. I agreed.

My next expedition from this part of the world was to the Whitsunday Islands. This small cluster of tiny islands lies off the coast of Arlie Beach in North Eastern Australia, and these islands, are what heaven must look like. Home to the world-famous Whitehaven Beach, with the whitest and finest sand I’ve ever seen. Many of these beaches are secluded and appear untouched. These were by far the most beautiful, tranquil beaches I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen many. With waters so clear and in places shallow enough I could walk to my own private sand bar to escape even the few who arrived on the boat with me. Australia has done an exceptional job of keeping these islands free from pollution and all the ramifications that occur when natural beauty is ravaged by allowance of human inhabitance. Very few of these islands allow for any type of dwelling or residence.

Back in Shoal Point I got ready to be picked up by my 62-year-old neighbor for my first night out, and what I consider a cringe-worthy event- karaoke. She called to warn me that she wanted to make all her coworkers laugh so she would be arriving in full costume, as a streetwalker. I couldn’t contain my laughter as she arrived in a bright red wig, fishnet stockings, bright blue eyeshadow, and sparkling pink lips. She swung her feather boa over her shoulders and she teetered to the door in sky-high platform sandals, a knee-length black dress with strands of pearls and bedazzled fake jewels draped around her neck. We pulled up across the street from an older building in the Mackay city center. On this warm summer evening I stepped out of the passenger side, in my casual, long, semi-fitted, navy t-shirt dress with thigh high slits on both sides. My long blonde hair was down, as it usually was, as I turned to face the building with the large windows, and I began walking across the road…

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Australia: Her Ethereal Beauty Caught in the Flames of Relentless Bushfires

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Australia with all her beauty is now burning with so much at stake. A place in this world so loved by those who live and have the pleasure of taking in her allure, is now in complete ashes with potentially 1 billion, and counting, of her animal population burned alive. Here the kangaroos were plentiful with their joeys as they’d  freely hop by out in the open or just lay under a tree for protection from the warm sun during another hot Australian day. Flocks of various intelligent and colorful parrots, cockatoos, and even a Kookaburra here and there who would proudly sing their morning song, are now falling victim to the blaze of the wild Australian bushfires that are more out of control today than ever in her history. The koalas, who I rarely saw in the wild, and when I spotted one it was always with her baby clinging to her like all sweet babies do, now charred together as one. You see, majority of Australia isn’t built up in the way the United States or other first world countries are. You don’t peer outside to see cement, stores, or other giant buildings in most of this country. The human population is far less per area of land. This country is still very much beloved, rugged country. The animals and people live amongst each other, together.

This brings me to an uncertainty of how to write about this tragedy that is continuing, but I find myself naturally gravitating towards her natural exquisiteness, and what was once sprawling bush filled land with all the beloved animals that call her home. It is a country filled with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, mountain ranges with great diversity in character, and a vast array of climates, flora, and fauna.

The south coast of New South Wales, which is now in flames or threatened, Nowra, Shoalhaven, Bateman’s Bay, and the endless drive down the scenic Princes Highway to Ulladula, Mollymook, and Pebbly Beach, is where I captured my first experience of hanging out with a troop of kangaroos on a local the beach. It’s where I first crossed paths with a lethal brown snake that continued to slither by unbothered by my existence. Then, far north to the hotter drier lands of Queensland where salt water crocs, that can measure 15 feet, are roaming some of the salt water beaches while the smaller “freshies” are in the creeks and rivers; both are ready for their next meal. Where snakes are plentiful along with wallabies, kangaroos, brushtail possums, and even some platypus here and there. These are the animals who are in dire need of help.

Neighborhoods that house people with homes they’ve grown families in, loved in, fought in, cried in, and forgave in, now engulfed of these unruly flames. Thousands upon thousands of people displaced will go back to see their lives amongst the ashes, and possible their loved ones too.

Through tragedy arises hope. Hope that people will unify for a common goal. Hope that in a world of constant need and disparity, these needs and disparities have not caused us to become calloused. Sometimes it is easier to read or listen to the news, feel a moment of compassion, and then look away isn’t it? I am a big proponent that compassion needs to lead to action. It is unchanging unless coupled with movement. Let compassion lead us to feel the calling and the responsibility to one another when tragedy strikes. Let’s grasp onto the hope that in this world infiltrated by loss and brokenness, there is still so much more that is worth the fight to save and the effort to heal.

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”  Howard Zinn

There are several charities you can donate directly to: Red Cross Australia, Australia Wildlife Fund, Salvation Army Australia, St. Vincent de Paul Society (Australia), New South Wales Rural Fire Service, Country Fire Authority, World Wildlife Fund Australia, RSPCA New South Wales, WIRES (rescuing thousands of animals), and many more.

Please take action in any way you can.

An Under-Rated Slice of Wonderland in Australia

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Southern bound and driving down the coast from Sydney, I was soon to discover a not so talked about gem in Australia, Callala Bay. Nestled slightly north of the larger Jervis Bay, lies near white sand beaches with many times, no one else in sight on these large stretches of fine sand. It seems only the residents here enjoy their beaches and so of course, I was in heaven.

The scenic drive to this part of New South Wales is half the fun and stopping to explore along the way is, without a doubt, a must. The small shops speckled about in towns like Thirroul and Gerrigong are worth the stop, especially if you’re wanting to lunch at a local café. Enjoying the beaches, even for a fifteen-minute break, in Kiama and Wollongong was un-regrettable.

There are so many smaller towns along this coastal stretch of Australia that it makes day-tripping endless. I spent many days starting off with a morning jog and the rest of the day basking in the sun on a local beach or adventuring out a bit to discover a new treasured beach. The options for beaches here never cease. From Honeymoon Bay and Long Beach, on the Beecroft Peninsula, to Hyams, Chinaman’s, Blenheim beaches in the greater Jervis Bay area, you just cannot go wrong while exploring Currarong, Huskisson, Vincentia, and Hyams Beach. Huskisson also has some fun eateries and small coastal shopping.

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Taking a break from the beach, a historic village that should not be missed in this area is Berry. With award-winning restaurants, and the best deli, with amazing sandwiches, I’ve been to to-date, this small country town is so cute and quaint but jam-packed with boutiques, eateries, and even a free museum to showcase the villages history. I had to visit this town more than once to take it all in, and of course delight in more than one sandwich.

During my time in this area, I was feeling the heaviness of being alone and my thoughts of almost turning 36 and still being single weighed. It’s interesting how that is, isn’t it? You could be in a place with flourishing boundless beauty, feel grateful for the blessings of travel that some only dream of, and at the end of the day, if there is an empty space next to you, the loneliness is amplified by the void of experiencing all of this alone. Not to mention, once again, I was in a part of the world where internet was limited and I financially needed to look for work, but, oh darn, it would have to be put on hold just a bit longer while I explored. As the sun set on my time here, I knew I would think of my time spent in this part of the world and how truly peaceful it was.

Experiencing Sydney and the Harbour

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My next stop had me entering the hustle and bustle of city life. I entered Sydney not knowing what to expect but only knowing that God opened the door for me to travel through Australia and so here I was, a country girl at heart, beginning this leg of my journey smack-dab in one of the world’s largest cities. I didn’t have much time to ponder this due to the mass amount of people in suits hurriedly power walking past me to get to their assumed appointments. The streets were filled with taxis and just a few blocks away ferries were continuously going from one Sydney harbor to the next. The Central Business District (CBD) is filled with food options from small sidewalk carts for those on the go, to fancy fine dining restaurants with world renowned chefs, and the shopping… oh I wish I could really let loose and go on a shopping spree. However, due to a travel budget I reminded myself the pretty dresses aren’t worth the sacrifice of travel experiences to come.

This was also the first time in my travels I chose an Airbnb that was a room with a shared bathroom in someone’s home. I would be sharing a living space with a complete stranger and not just a living space but HER living space. I was hoping and praying that this would forge a friendship and not be too awkward.

As fate would have it I roomed with a soon to be friend named Claire. She too was single and slightly older than I. We stayed up talking about our lives and how we found them so different than we ever thought they would be. I shared my faith and my belief that though very different than most women’s lives my age, there must be purpose in the difference. She too had traveled around the world quite a bit. These talks and the company was the much-needed girl time that I had been craving.

The weather was warmer than I had just come from in New Zealand and I welcomed it. Sydney has many beaches and I went to several. I was also quite impressed with The Royal Botanical Gardens with its views of the harbor and the art museum that is right next to it.  It is a perfect spot to go for a long walk and have lunch, as the walk is right along the harbor which is lined with restaurants next to the Sydney Opera House.

Sydney, with its newfound friendship and sun drenched beaches, did not disappoint. And then, I was ready to leave the city and drive south.

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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.