chilling feet

chilling feet

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Sulphur Awakening to the Nostrils

(Geyser galore - they do use some detergent of some kind to get this guy
started but they swore up and down that it is not bad for the environment
or the geyser to do so.  I guess we will take their word)
Rotorua, or second lake in Maori, is quite the magical place.  In all of my attempts at finding a way to combine some other portion of our North Island Blitz with this post I failed. There is just too much to talk about in reference to our time spent here.

Gordon and Miriam and traversed these lands before us and had warned us of the one overwhelmingly noticeable fact about Rotorua - it smells a little funny.  Rotorua is home to a lot, and I mean a lot, of geothermal activity.  There are hot pools bubbling up out of almost every nook and cranny imaginable. The first few pictures are taken from the Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland - yes that is a real place and yes it is a thermal wonderland.
(Seriously, just because there is sulphur involved doesn't mean we need to
associate everything with the devil do we?  It was pretty scary though and
I could understand why this name was chosen)
We arrived at this thermal wonderland in a race to beat the clock.  Everyday at 10:15am they set off the Lady Knox geyser, which is named after Lady Constance Knox.  You can click on the link for more information if you're interested.  We were unaware that the park sets off the geyser (well I was unaware but Sarah suspected as much from her pre-Rotorua trip reading) by dumping some environmentally safe detergent into it each day. Otherwise Lady Knox is apparently temperamental and one can never tell when she is going to "go off" so to speak. I shall resist making any references to any females I know who are likewise temperamental as I have never met such a one - I swear.  No really this is not some way of talking about anyone passive aggressively. Seriously, stop it.

(There was an urge to want to jump in and experience these hot pools. But
some of them are way too hot while others have arsenic and other deterrent
reasons to suggest diving in might be a bad idea)
There really was something quite unique about being around so many thermal phenomenons.  And I'll tell you who could not get enough of this was Sarah - she loved just stopping and looking out at the steam, bubbling mud, and boiling water.  It was all entrancing to look at for certain and there is a strange rawness to the entire deal.  It feels so primeval and powerful, as if nature is saying, "Hey I know you think you're something special and all of that, but I'm not sure if you noticed I'm flippin' amazing."  The thermal park was about a two hour long walk vast display of nature's amazingness and we enjoyed our time there for certain!

(The Redwood forrest - yep - they brought them over here too.  Not quite
as big as the CA Redwoods yet but they are growing)
So perhaps you're asking yourself, "Self, is that all Rotorua has to offer?  A bunch of kind of stinky thermal experiences?"  Well I'm glad you were wondering because the answer is a resounding "no."  As seen in this next photo, Rotorua also hosts a fantastic forrest which is host to some massive Redwood trees.  Clearly seen in the photo, Sarah and I enjoyed ourselves immensely as we spent time walking past these behemoths!  Another must on our list from our scouts and another great suggestion on their part as if anyone ever finds themselves in this area the Redwoods are a must!

(Hangi - or the word the Maori use to describe their underground cooking
technique.  It was quite delicious and very traditional)
(We're at the top of the world, ay, the top of the world, ay)
So that's quite a bit for one area and surely there is no more anyone could possibly fit into one spot right?  Wrong.  Not only is the North Island a home to many natural wonders but it also has the majority of Maori people living on it as well - this was where most of the Maori lived back in the day because as they say it's just too "darn cold" down on that South Island.  Apparently this is what most Kiwis think as well.  We were a little hesitant to engage in a Maori experience as we were afraid the overall deal would be a little "cheesy" as opposed to serious and respectful.  Out of all the options that exist we decided on the Matai family Maori experience mostly due to their use of the Waka (war canoe/boat) in their evening experience .  Not only did it end up being worth the cost of the experience, but we ended up feeling that it would have been terrible if we had left New Zealand without having truly experienced the Maori (there will be some videos at the bottom we took that night).

There is so much to experience in the Rotorua area and we were game for as much of it as possible.  If you ever find yourself in New Zealand make sure and plan a few days around the activities in, around, and near Rotorua.  As always a few pics to show the true trip.
(The wonderful walkway through the thermal park - see how happy Sarah is in this place)
(One of my favorites - if not - is the fantail.  They are so amazing and they are constantly chirping, looking for insects to eat.  I picture them as little ninja birds looking for the next meal)
(One of the trails through the thermal park - I sort of wished I was running it.  Amazing)
(Not even sure what we were taking a picture of here.  The earth is truly a spectacular place)
(The arsenic I mentioned earlier - the orangish color shows the arsenic.  Make sure you jump past that if you're going to get in this bad boy)
(Hot pools are one thing, but green pools of straight up awesomeness??  Wow)
(This trail through the Redwood forest captured my entire being somehow - it just went so far in one direction!!)
(Fanciest outdoor bathrooms I've ever seen - seriously - they are sculptures)
(The Blue Lake)
(The Green Lake)
(The Rainbow Rock)
(The trail up to the top of the hill up Rainbow Rock)
(The view from the top!!)
(The amazingly strange pool on the way back down)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

North Island - Wellington and Wanganui

(For breakfast we took the advice of our Wellington hosts and went to
Maranui, a really cool place set in the old life saving club.  Great food
and especially unique atmosphere with a view over the water)
To begin our North Island trip summary, we would have to start in the capital of New Zealand - Wellington, which also makes sense as this is where our journey began. After a short flight in from the deep South we picked up our rental car and headed in to Cuba street for some food per the directions of our trusty car rental guy's advice. We were not to be disappointed with the choice as it offered us free live music, a bustling night of street vendors (which landed us some amazing Moroccan wraps), and countless cute little shops for Sarah to browse and for me to feign contempt at as we walked through (I actually quite liked the shops and usually do as long as we are not stuck shopping for hours).

(Old St. Paul's Church in Welly - I was quite surprised
to find a marine flag let alone the US Marine flag on
display in this church.  Such an ornate and peaceful
place to spend some time)
One of my favorite parts of Wellington was finally meeting Dan.  Dan is a friend of none other than my good pal +Bryce Ashby in +MEMPHIS TN.  They know each other from back in the day when they were both being amazing and volunteering through the Peace Corp (yes people are really that awesome still).  I have stayed at Dan's house before even when he was out of the country visiting family back in the States.  This does not mean we have not spent good amounts of cyber chatter discussing the illustrious movie The Big Lebowski (not for underaged viewers or anyone shy of language - basically ask me if you should watch it and I'll tell you on a case by case basis).  It was a real treat to not only meet Dan but also his wife and daughter as we stayed two nights in their wonderful home.  We were blessed by their kind hospitality, drank their tasty coffee which was so graciously made for us, and of course took any advice they had to offer on what we should do in the city.  Armed with their advice we ate in places we would have definitely missed otherwise (the first picture in this post is from one of their recs), we drove more of the scenic waterway which helps make Wellington so special, and definitely saw much more of the real city than we would have on our own.

(They have an amazing museum in Welly and we both loved this modern
interpretation of a traditional Maori building.  The attention to detail is
staggering.  I will add another photo below of a more up close shot)
The second picture is from Old St. Paul's Church, which as you can see, interestingly enough has a United States Marine flag hanging in the sanctuary - quite odd I thought. This has to do with the history of this building and it's unique role during WWII.  During this time United States Marines were deployed to New Zealand to help protect it's shores from invaders, and it was neat to learn that the women of NZ thought of these young men as their "sons" during this time.  A good number of them would gather for worship at this location and by visiting the church one can enjoy watching actual footage from the time.  We thought this was a cool connection being Americans in New Zealand.

(If you have not put this together yet - NZ has a lot to do with the history
of Antarctica.  Not only close in proximity, they have many explorers who
have been a huge part.  Here Sarah is pointing to the part of Antarctica she
will be in for six months coming this next March!)
We looked over the city from awesome lookouts, checked out a few breweries we discovered nearby, hit up the museum (as you can see from the last picture), ate some delicious sushi, walked around the town popping into shops, went to a few key locations for the Lord of the Rings movies (of course), and started an unfortunate trend we discovered we would be making again and again on our North Island trip - not having nearly enough time in any one place.  I think we could have spent weeks in Wellington and would have continued to find more exciting things to do.  Although our hosts may have tired of us by then! Seriously though, thanks Dan!!

(You really cannot believe how long this tunnel goes into the hill where
one simply finds an elevator to the top of a hill - pretty amazing)
To keep from writing twenty-four different posts about our travels, this post will also include the short side trip to Wanganui.  A stop we made on our way North in preparation for getting close to Tongariro National Park, this little town is cute and has a few attractions of its own (though maybe not quite as many as Welly).  The main thing I saw when researching online beforehand, although I could not understand really what it was, is the Durie Hill elevator.  There is a 213 meter long tunnel leading into Durie Hill and at the end of this underground walk is an elevator that will take a person to the top for a fee of two dollars.  After doing some reading at the site the best I can figure is that this elevator is truly just a commuting tool for those who live up on this not so sizable hill.  It would make more sense to me if the hill was a mountain or even a large hill, but after riding to the top and walking down I was baffled.  However, we could not deny the strange and peculiar joy we did receive from walking the mysterious tunnel and riding up in the historic elevator.

(I'm too dazed to make a decision - these were some good cup cakes)
Having experienced the main attraction to Wanganui (not counting the Wanganui Journey which is one of the great walks - and we really wanted to do -  but does not run during the Winter because of its extensive time spent in canoes on the river pretty far out from town and the danger of death is high) we put our priorities straight and went to Cherry Cottage Cupcakes (worth it) and then scored some coffee to go with our cakes.  Being thoroughly sugared and caffeine filled we then blew town in search of Tongariro.  A few more pics are tacked on to the end of this deal - more posts to follow.  Will they be able to do the Tongariro Circuit or will the weather be too bad? Stay tuned...

(I added this to the teaser post last time but added it again here because I really do love this place.  Having first visited the Weta Cave with +Scott Smith, this place is a must for anyone who is into movies and in particular the Lord of the Rings movies.  This is out front of the building where they have life sized versions of the trolls from the Hobbit movies.  Pretty dang cool.  Sarah played along and acted like she really liked it.  I think she did)
(Old St. Pauls from the outside - really really neat church)
(At the museum in Wellington, this is an awesome waka boat of the Maori - they are huge.  We will have more on these in a future post but they are crazy cool)
(As promised an up close look at the modern Maori sculpture/building in the Welly museum.  The attention to details was mind blowing.  We really liked this exhibit) 
(New Zealand has done a good job jumping into the Craft Beer world and Wellington offered a few of them - this is Black Dog and came highly recommended by our scouts +Gordon Paulson and +Miriam Williamson.  Good call on this one guys)
(Not the prettiest day in Wellington.  Dan told me "You can't beat a good day in Wellington.  But getting a good day is the trick."  Apparently when everything comes together Wellington is the nicest city on the face of the planet.  We still enjoyed our time there but this was the sort of weather we had - a little rainy and not making for the best long distance views but we were ok with that as it was still tons of fun)
(Downtown Welly in site - it's a hilly town that reminds me a little bit of towns like SanFrancisco and such)
(I could not resist getting the bowl size.  Don't worry, we split it.  But seriously, that cup of coffee is bigger than Sarah's head!  I love this photo)
(At the top of Durie Hill is a memorial tower you can climb - it has a pretty good 360 view inside of this protective cage.  Again, not the best weather but it was a really fantastic structure to climb - windy!) 
(Here is a shot of the tower from outside.  Narrow and fun to climb.  Similar to climbing a lighthouse)


Monday, August 11, 2014

The Austin Comes to Visit: Amazing Connections

(Kayaking the amazing Milford Sound - really a fjord carved out by a
glacier.  The beauty of this place is indescribable and best seen from a
kayak for certain)
It never fails to impress me when one discovers how people are connected.  New Zealand is one of those places where everyone seems to know everyone, or at least someone's cousin who is friends with the person in mention.  Yet, somehow they just know one another and it's truly amazing.  

When I was in grade school and moving into middle school (in a town where we only had three middle schools feeding into one decent sized high school), I can recall the sense of awe when I would hang out at my friend Matt's house as we would fearlessly make our way into his neighborhood where kids lived I had never met.  It was strange feeling the weird sense of home and otherness all at once, especially at an age when thoughts were way behind understanding many of my feelings.  

Thus when my friend Austin Russell came to visit in New Zealand, 
(Beginning the trip in Sydney, Australia, we went to a park specifically to
pet Koala bears... but don't let that keep us from petting a wallaby!)
worlds collided and I could smell the wholly bizarre odor of unexplainable air about the entirely serendipitous occurrence.  As a former student from a high school ministry at Hope Church in Memphis where I worked for four years from 2006-2010, Austin is now in college and working at the same church as an intern.  It's truly a blessing when those who you work with in the ministry end up deciding they too feel the call to give back. When we originally started talking about a possible New Zealand trip for Austin the main obstacle is the same as it would be for anyone else - money for the plane ticket.  

I mentioned serendipity earlier because there are those moments in life that feel ordained or in the very least fortunate beyond explanation.  Austin and I both share a friend we know from the ministry at Hope who is a person of
(Austin happened to visit at the perfect time to enjoy "Christmas in July" -
or a celebration of Christmas when it's cold and "feels" right.  New
Zealand is home to plenty of folks who are accustomed to having
Christmas when it is cold and so we did just that with a nice dinner)
extreme generosity.  Through the immense kindness of this person's heart people have been exposed to an example of God's boundless support and grace.  In said relationship Austin found himself with plane tickets and a trip "down under" - it is safe to say there are many thanks to be said to this anonymous benefactor!  

(When in Sydney one has to go past the Shell.  Cool)
The trip, as with any, was too short but we thrust ourselves at the mercy of New Zealand's South island with everything we had anyway.  The whole thing began with a quick few days in Sydney, Australia where Koalas were pet, strange pizza waitresses decided they did not quite like Austin's style or maybe his accent and imposed upon his good nature with straight up dominance, Jews for Jesus were met and chatted with, the famous Bondi Beach was visited and enjoyed, and all of the in between things that happen when anyone travels anywhere took place from awkward conversations to randomly awesome experiences with people and/or food.  We could go on and on about Sydney and the many faceted Austen/Brett times that happened there but this is a blog about New Zealand and so we will refocus our attention there.  

It's always fun to have someone like Austin visit after Sarah and I have made a home here for almost a year now.  He has video chatted with me before and has seen the house through the lens of a computer screen, but this was his first time stepping onto the soil of Invercargill, New Zealand - the Southern most city in NZ baby!  We were not there long because he needed to see the sites - The Catlins, Milford, Queenstown to name a few.  

(I've never seen these guys this active - it was cool to watch them wrestle
and play with one another for about ten minutes straight!  They did not
seem to mind the strange humans watching, though they did keep a
watchful eye on us the entire time - you can see the one looking right
at us in this shot)
We saw the local wildlife (seals, penguins, sea lions, birds, etc), kayaked in a fjord, lost control of our car driving back from the fjord on icy mountain roads (but through the skills of a stellar moment on the driver's part regained control before anything bad happened), enjoyed an Invercargill Christmas dinner gathering in the middle of July, sought out the darker and mysterious corners of Queenstown, and all the while taking photos to commemorate said adventures.  It is in thought of all of this I pause to consider how fortunate any of us are to experience anything in the realm of God's glory.  Reading the news lately only makes me feel... well, I guess oddly thankful for any peace we have in our world.  Not only peace but sheer joy and leisure which is becoming more rare than normal.  

My thanks go out to Austin for being willing to come all of this way and even more so to the benefactor who has given us this shared experience we will alway be able to look back on with extreme fondness for years to come (hopefully). It would not have been possible had the heart of one not been poured out so selflessly for others.  Also, thanks to Ali for letting me borrow Austin for a few weeks.  I have added more pictures (as always of course) for the enjoyment of anyone who wishes to look.  It's hard to pick out of the many great shots we came home with but here is an attempt to sum the trip.  
(We climbed to the top of this waterfall and took pics to show the proof - the tree leans out over the falls)
(I'm trying to point to where we were in the last photo - not too far off but a little lower obviously)
(Not a bad shot of the iconic Sydney landmark)
(Bondi Beach where I believe Austin is quote as having said, "Seriously man I could just move here even if it meant I would have to live as a homeless person.  This place is amazing."  It was something like that)
(Having a camera that takes shots while for you is a fun thing - though you never quite know what you're going to get as you can't truly know when it's taking a shot, especially with the one Austin was using. But it made for a fun time)
(Standing on the banks of Milford Sound the day before we went out in Kayaks - what a great look at the sunset as it reflects off the water and shows off a different sort of look to the landscape)
(This was the money shot - getting to pet a live Koala bear and living to tell the tale.  Truly I promise, Cooper the Koala bear was alive and well when we touched him.  He was just sleeping and taking it easy.  We were warned not to touch his head lest he wake... who knows what happens when a person rouses a sleeping Koala bear)
(We did a lot of driving - oh ya)
(A strange sculpture we came upon while in Bondi Beach - we hoped Ali would like it)
(Milford Sound is a place of indescribable beauty - it's like nothing I've ever seen before)