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.

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.

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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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.

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.

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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