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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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.

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 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.