SUNDAY 2/3 Pest-free sleeping!
Spent the night at my non-bedbug location ;), and it was good. In the morning at breakfast I met two ladies from the US, and we all went to the electronics store. I replaced my dead ‘waterproof’ camera, and am ready to capture pictures for the rest of the trip. I also obtained a SIM for my phone, since I was going to be driving, couchsurfing, and didn’t have my accomodations set up in advance. Interestingly, the first SIM didn’t work with my phone, so I had to return that and go with another carrier, and that one worked just fine. It sure is a convenience to be able to make calls wherever I am (for getting in touch with the fellowship folks, campervan arrangements, etcetera).
I then walked down to the waterfront/viaduct, and enjoyed getting information, perusing a sculpture park, watching kids and sailboats, and eating gelatto with an 80 year old named Albert. Albert shared about working down in Te Anua, and that he is just coming from church on this Sunday afternoon. Sweet time, to be sure. In the evening, I earned my dinner at the Indian restaurant by providing bodywork to the staff (owner, chef and server). They were very grateful as the place just opened last week, and their bodies were kind of wrecked from all the preparations. The whole interaction was fun and encouraging as they were extraordinarally complimentary. I also got set up for a Campervan relocation, which means I can drive to the South Island at very low cost (thanks, Julie, for that tip!). For anyone interested, basically you provide a service to the company by relocating a vehicle that is needed at another site, and you pay a very low rate (+deposit) and the gas. In the case of New Zealand, the rental company also paid for the vehicle to go on the inter-island ferry.
While I knew this would be an affordable journey, I was a bit worried about the cost of fuel. So, as I went to bed, I said a prayer that I could find some people to share the ride (either from Jayride ride-sharing site, by going back over to the hostel, or another way).
MONDAY 2/4 God sends van buddies
In the morning, as I went down for breakfast, I saw two girls with backpacks at the front desk. I asked ‘are you by any chance wanting to head south?’, and their answer was, ‘actually, yes!’. The two actually had a third friend, who had a medical condition necessitating minimal flying if possble, so this was a God-send for all of us. I quickly learned that all three young ladies just recently completed their service with the IDF, and they are spending a few months in NZ and a couple other countries before heading to university. The great part was we had the same 2-3 top priorities in the north island, so the itinerary worked. My only concern was bringing 4 of us instead of 1 to the couchsurfer’s home.
Atalia, Shai and Hen had a few errands they needed to do, so we parted for the day, arranged value cost for the night at the econolodge, and planned to connect for dinner. I walked across town to the Auckland Domain, gardens, and museum. It was a sweet and leisurely day. I reached Cherry, my couchsurfing contact, and she said it is no problem to park the van, hook up for electricity and have all of us come over. The only sad thing was that because we have to get to Auckland quickly, I would only be there for one night and not the two or three I had initially planned. There was a bit of rain, had a wee nap, and then we met up and went to Japanese food for dinner.
On a side note, one reader mentioned to me ‘you talk about food in your blog often.’ Well, hello–don’t you know how I love gastrological experiences?? hehehe, they are kind of touchpoints for me. I am experiencing sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feel, and emotions; and they are all wonderful. Please just skip over it if the references are making you too hungry. In the meantime know that I am trying to convey things that I know will stick with me.
TUESDAY 2/5 Driving Down Under, into the Shire…
So, in the morning we headed over to the airport to pick up the campervan, and due to construction at the airport it took a while to locate the shuttle. All in all, it was about three hours until we were in our vehicle and heading out, but we had a nice adventure figuring out how to get there. At the rental place, I also had a couple of conversations with people in different languages using my quick-reference app on the phone :).
Driving on the left. This experience is not terrible, but it definitely takes concentrated attention–especially in a 7 meter long van! I have driving in Ireland on the left, and the challenge there were constant one-way streets and non-striped roads. In Auckland, I was grateful to have Shai with me as I acclimated. We picked up the other girls who had done a little food shopping and proceeded to drive south from Auckland to MataMata, and here visited Hobbitown! What an amazing afternoon to see and walk around the place of our heroes from the Lord of the Rings movies.
After a tour, and a pint at the dragon’s end pub, we then headed to Hamilton and I proceeded to get us a wee bit lost here, not realizing the roundabout we turned off at was the one we were supposed to keep going on… After a bit of a delay, we got to Cherry and Chris’ homestead, and oh what a beautiful welcome they and their pup gave us!! They hooked up the electricity, and Cherry brought me to Hell. Yes, Hell. The pizza restaurant–haha. We ordered up gluttony and something else, pizzas with venison pepperoni and peaches on them, it was a wild food experience. We watched some British television, and then played a fun game of Monopoly cards (yes, I proceeded to buy this before leaving the country!). Sleep came easily when we eventually got there.
WEDNESDAY 2/6 What is that smell?? And a Moari experience..
In the morning before we left Hamilton, we enjoyed home-cooked biscuits and gravy, fresh fruit, and then a full tour of the homestead. This included time with the sheep, the cows, plum trees, birds, and the dog, of course. I know I have a home here whenever I return (they even keep a USA flag out front). Though we wanted to stay, we needed to get some miles under us for the day, so we drove on to Rotorua.
If you were with me in Saratoga Springs for college, or have been to Yellowstone, you know the smell. Sulfur. As we pulled into Rotorua, I was a little concerned something was wrong with the van, and the girls reminded me we are in a hot springs town. Oh, right!… As we got here, we checked in with the visitor center about the Maori performances. There was one starting in 15 Minutes!! So, I had to rush over to get there (the girls decided to spend some time on the water), and I made it just in time. The performers shared traditional greetings and ceremonies as well as dance, uniform, and song. After the performance, I toured the weaving and jade-carving shops on site and saw the geyser erupt. Wonderful times.
After the Maori exhibit, we all headed on down to Tuapo via Huia falls–just before sundown. This glacial falls is such a beautiful blue! Had a nice time there, and then went in search of wifi for calls to Israel. We ended up at different places for wifi, and I met Bianca, who I would reconnect with the following week. Oh, and we camped for the night right on the lake–that was nice.
THURSDAY 2/7 Look where I’m sitting, ma!!
In the morning, our departure time has to do with getting to Wellington to see The Hobbit at the Embassy theater. I thought I had scheduled enough time, but we ended up there again just in time.. Unfortunately, because I got my ticket before the girls, they were put on a different ferry from me, so they had to leave early. I watched the movie, sitting in Elijah Wood’s seat for the preview! I then went to the museum, checked out the gardens and the city a bit, grabbed some groceries, and then headed to the ferry. Turns out the great thing about an 8pm ferry is that there are very few people on it, mostly truckers. So, I got some sleep. The down side was I didn’t get to see the appoach to Picton, but I had enough energy when I got there to drive us a bit further south for the night.
FRIDAY 2/8 Coffee Talk and oceanside driving
Most of today was driving down along the coast, but the four of us had some great conversation at the coffee shop along the way, which made me sad we would not have more time together. At the same time, it affirmed there was a reason our paths had crossed. The drive was beautiful, and we got to Christchurch in time to drop off the vehicle. They headed out to rent a car, and I was looking forward to some laundry. So, I headed to a hotel that had laundry and a gym, and treated myself a bit. It was also nice to have a large bed (not sharing a campervan sleeping area), and place to dry out all my laundry.
SATURDAY 2/9 Shabbat in the gardens
Sadly, the Messianic fellowship that used to be in Christchurch is no longer there after the earthquake, so I spent the day in the gardens as my fellowship and rest, and also resolved to find church on Sunday. The Christchurch botanic gardens were dazzlingly busy with families, bikers, some kids making a valentines day video, and others. I also visited the revitalization area where shipping containers are being used as temporary cafes and stores. The central business district is still devastated. I did find a great restaurant for dinner, though… Mosiac by Simo’s.
In the evening, I skyped a couple of folks, and took a bath. Wow, what a wild thing to do when travelling. I almost never think of hotel tubs as clean enough, but this one was shiny, it just begged for that bit of home. As I enjoyed soaking, I was again reminded how often we may take for granted some of the conveniences and familiarities of home. I got to bed early, because I have a 5:30am appointment to swim with dolphins tomorrow!!
SUNDAY 2/10 DD-day (Dusky Dolphins)
I woke at 2:45 to drive north to Kaikoura. I know, I could have made an appointment for a later swim, but the sunrise sounded great, and plus, I can nap whenever I want. The drive north was full of my favorite music and worship songs, as well as a few stops to look up and admire the southern hemisphere’s star-gazing. There was a fair deal of fog and haze, and the temperature was very brisk. Driving along the ocean was salty, and I could (when I got out to stargaze) hear the crashing of the waves, though I couldn’t see them below. I arrived at Dolphin Encounter about 5:10, and took a 15 minute nap. We all were then welcomed in, suited up, and watched a video. The video was great, because it talked about how there are no promises of interaction, that the dusky dolphins are in their natural environment, and we are here to entertain them–I loved this! The video showed how diving down, making noises, and swimming in circles are the most likely to engage the dolphins, and warned against reaching out to touch them.
We got on the bus, which took us to the boat. The fog was heavy and we could barely see in front of the boat out the harbor. How were we going to spot these guys?? Sunlight was just starting to rise, and the gentle contrast of the sky and the mountains in the distance began to distinguish–oh, there is hope yet. By about 6:15am, the fog lifted, and the team spotted the dolphins. As the sun rose, we were already in the water, and we had our snorkels on–so I look up and see the dolphins beneath me and the golden glow of the rising sun just above them. I thought to myself at least a couple of dozen times this morning thinking ‘is this really happening? This is my life! I am so grateful’. Swimming with dolphins was surreal… To have them on every side, jumping over me, and so simply amused by my presence was an amazing gift.
I have to admit, as we played with these dolphins, which are smaller than the bottle-nose variety, I thought of my nephew, Dusty. When he was little he was playful and full off tons of energy, just like these guys. Made me wish my entire family was with me on this particular day of my trip. Although I can write about this, I feel it is something I wish I could share in actual experience with many people.
We were allowed to get in five seperate times, for about 5-10 minutes each time. On the second swim—I had seven dolphins around my at one time. On the third time in, I spent at least 3 or so minutes with one dolphin, staring at me and us both swimming in circles. On the last dive, I shed my head and coat wetsuit, much chillier, but it was fun to feel the actual temperature (I still had farmer johns on, I wasn’t just in my bathing suit). I think they said it was about 17 degrees celcius!
After the swim, I had coffee and breakfast, and then headed over to the local church for worship. The church was small and felt like a combination of my Concord, MA home church and Englewood fellowship family. Then I took a nap. After napping a while I drove up through wine country, stopping at one, and headed up to Hanmer Springs. Went to the springs, and then enjoyed the bottle of wine with a friend at the hostel.
I’m working on catching up, can you tell?? 🙂