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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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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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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My Welcome to New Zealand Begins in the South Island’s Otago Peninsula

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It is true; there are more sheep than people. If you can’t sleep, you will never run out of sheep to count and these sheep don’t have to be purely a figment of your imagination. They are on every hillside I laid eyes on. If my excitement was bound into a bubble that bubble would’ve burst as I flew over rolling green hills that didn’t end until they either dropped into the crisp blue sea or turned into snow-capped mountains. I could taste the clean crisp air through my small oval airplane window. The greens were true greens and all the blues were rich, true blues. To say New Zealand is clean and beautiful wouldn’t do justice to these majestic pieces of land so small in comparison to its giant land mass neighbor Australia.

The Otago peninsula is home to cooler weather beaches, penguins, fur seals, albatross, sheep of course, Larnach Castle, and eye catching beauty in every direction you look. Cold or warm temps, I am a lover and enjoyer of the beach so along the coast is where I spent the majority of my time. I was able to stay in a home that overlooked the sound in Port Chalmers. A five-minute walk down the steep hill my home was perched on led to a running/bike path along water. It was my motivation to jog every day. Of course, I was there in the winter so they were jogs that only lasted as long as my frozen nose and cheeks could take. The air in the winter has an Arctic bite. I woke up early enough most mornings to see the lavender to violet beauty the sunrise was and most nights watched the sunset with the same level of astonishment. Only God himself could create a beauty of this magnitude.

One of my favorite beaches was Anderson’s beach with waves that broke clean and very few people. I searched and searched this beach for the penguins that come up from the sea and nest in the hillside bushes at night but it was to no avail. This was one of my goals while visiting all the beaches, to see a penguin in its natural habitat. It was one of my cold weather travel encouragements, and as those who have traveled for longer periods of time know you need some encouraging moments of astonishment that leave you in remembrance that this is the very reason for embarking on this venture. I was having several moments of things not falling into place and missing my friends and family. I was near the beach searching for penguins once again on a crisp sunny day and talking to God about my life and what to do next. My frustration was pretty high and I just told God, “Look, I just need to know that you are still here with me, that You still want me to go forward with this. It’s been weeks and the single thing I wanted to see in this cold climate and have been searching for daily was a penguin. I haven’t even been given that. If You are still in this with me if You are still here, please show me a penguin. I walked about ten steps forward and it was within three minutes, if that, there, right before my eyes was a penguin. My eyes welled with tears. God answered. This penguin looked at me with the same peace-filled gaze I was giving him. As I walked closer he wasn’t jarred in the least. He widened his belly, sat on his feet and got ready for his nap under a bush. I just stood there and watched for about fifteen minutes thanking God for His presence and just hearing me. This moment was such a comfort I won’t even attempt to put into words.

Otago peninsula, you are glorious.

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