Captain’s Orders!

“Captain’s orders!”

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That one line uttered near the end of the movie, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” elicited applause and cheers from the audience. I don’t want to spoil the movie but I cheered just as loudly as everyone else.

Reviewers across the spectrum have been universally positive about the movie calling it a “1970s style spy thriller”. I just finished watching “Three Days of the Condor” starring Robert Redford who plays a major role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I was surprised at the set pieces in both movies that paralleled each other. I wonder if the writers of Captain America: The Winter Soldier intended these parallels as an homage to a “1970s spy thriller”. Give the 1975 movie a chance and pay close attention to the elevator scene. It is every bit as chilling as the similar scene with Captain America.

One thing has amazed me, and yes, encouraged me. Many of the younger movie critics commented on their expectation that in Captain America’s third movie (the second being Avengers) he would have to become cynical and dark in our modern times. These critics were surprised that the movie preserves Captain America’s basic belief in good and manages to “sell it” outright. One reviewer even commented that maybe there is “absolute good and evil after all” and found that prospect “encouraging in our dark, disillusioned times”.

I find this fascinating for our postmodern culture when we are led to believe that all truth is relative and situational. Of course, we don’t function that way in our personal beliefs. If I were to take your money because I thought it was right for me to do so, you would immediately proclaim that I was wrong. When it is inconvenient, we fall back to the default reality that our world is one of absolutes. Choosing not to believe in the law of gravity will not allow you to jump out of an elevator fifteen stories high and survive the fall with only a pulled muscle (even if you had a shield!).

 

Last Sunday, I was in Orlando with my former pastor, Mark Sutton. Mark and I are best friends and we have a new book coming out in September, “Hope Again: A 30 Day Plan for Conquering Depression”. It is an update of our previous book, “Conquering Depression” released in 2001 before 9/11 forever changed our world. Mark and I had gone to his office at First Baptist Orlando to see if we could find our former depression seminar workbook in preparation of updating our new, improved seminar to match our upcoming book.

What is interesting about our new update is the attention we have had to pay to our current social situation. Depression is almost epidemic particularly among our twenty to thirty year olds. This is not something I have made up. It is widely discussed among this age group. I attended an artistic gathering known as Hutchmoot in 2012. Two musical artists led a session on “Recovery Through Song” about their battle with depression. The room was filled with about 80 young adults all under the age of 30. When asked who among them was depressed, almost everyone raised their hands!

Why? Could it be that our cynical and dark times have taken a toll on the hope for our younger generation? Could it be that our postmodern, relativistic society had stressed out our younger generation with this “compartmentalization” spoken of in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”? This extremely important concept plagued Cap. He quickly saw that you could not compartmentalize your morality without deadly consequences. Values and virtues should seep into and permeate all of our conscious decisions. This, if anything, is the ultimate message of that movie.

Mark and I walked down to the auditorium of his church, a huge sprawling room that could easily hold 3000 to 4000 people. He wanted to show me the messages scrawled on every wall. The church was planning on renovating the auditorium and it asked its members to write testimonials of what the church family has meant to them. The walls were covered with quiet, reflective, moving and deeply personal testimonials. As we entered the auditorium, we were surrounded by music. A song boomed over the speakers and I spied two people dressed in shorts and tee shirts standing on the stage. A dozen or so people sat in the front pews. Mark had no idea what was happening but as I watched the people move with the song I realized they were practicing a drama probably for the Palm Sunday service.

Mark took me along the pews toward the opposite side of the room to show me a portrait of Christ someone had freehand drawn on the wall. Suddenly, the music was interrupted by screams and shouts. We whirled and a crowd of people hurried onto the stage shouting “Crucify him!”

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The shock paralyzed me and I watched in utter horror as a young man in shorts and tee short was shoved and kicked and banged across the stage. As the song progressed, the man was thrown to the ground. Two men made motions as if to drive nails through the man’s hands and feet. And then, the man was raised stiffly to his feet and there before us was an image of the crucified Christ. The song grew quiet and reflective and the air filled with electricity and gravitas. I felt tears pouring from my eyes, dripping from my chin. I gasped for air.

 

This is just a drama, I tried to reassure myself. But, in that moment, the shock of the crowd screaming; the power of the words of that song; the site of a man hanging as if from a cross hair draped across a face etched in pain was more than I could handle. Here before me was truth, killed, nailed, crucified. Is it any wonder we live in an age of relativism? We killed Truth on that day and our world; our hearts; our minds; our future is the worse for it. I felt Mark’s hand on my shoulder. He was just as moved as I was as we watched the crowd freeze and the song drew to a climax.

 

Like the cracking of ice under great stress, the crowd broke and relaxed. The drama director waved his hands and began giving some last minute advice and the air returned to normal. I was stunned at what had just happened and it reminded me once again of the power of drama to bring stories to life! I wiped the tears from my face and frankly felt somewhat embarrassed that a drama rehearsal would be so moving. I followed Mark out of the auditorium. He informed me that the actor who played Jesus was on the church staff and his passion was ministering to the homeless and the addicts and the broken people on the streets.

 

What does this have to do with Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Steve Rogers is far from a Christ figure. But, Captain America does retain a belief in the best that we have ever been. He believes that we are whole and even the smallest lie taints our whole self. We are not the sum of our parts. We are whole, unique, entire souls who must answer for each thought and each discretion no matter how meaningless we may think it to be.

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Jesus Christ died on the cross because the world around Him could not stand to look at the awful truth of our broken condition. When we are confronted with truth; perfection; ultimate good we cannot stand in its light without getting burned. So, we snuff it out and choose to live in the shadows. This Easter, take a moment and think on truth and goodness and the wholeness of your being. Dare to hope that maybe, just maybe Truth does exist in this universe and Truth can be known. And, once you know the Truth, it will set you free! When we look into the eyes of Truth, we will see our whole self in a new light. Look upon the crucified and risen Savior and your life will be changed forever.

 

Captain’s Orders!

The Perfect Place to Write!

Check out my blog post on Just the Write Charisma about the most inspiring place to write:

http://justthewritecharisma.blogspot.com/2014/04/a-simple-writing-life.html

Don’t forget to check out the adventures of Jonathan Steel at www.steelchronicles.com or 11thdemon.com for book orders.

 

Final Thoughts on Kiwis

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Our tour guide at Hobbiton, Sean, offers me some apple cider. Incredibly friendly the Kiwis are!

It has been a week since we returned from New Zealand. Getting back into our normal time zone has been challenging. I find myself wide awake until 3 in the morning! When you have to get up at 6 for work, that isn’t a good thing! But, gradually, I’ve been able to find that other part of me that seems to be hovering in the corner ala out of body experience style and like Peter Pan and his shadow, I’m finally getting the two of us back together. I discovered I do have at least one broken rib from my fall and my elbow is so painful I am sure there is a tear of my triceps tendon which is not a good thing!

Now that is a cup of coffee! Witness the awesomeness of a flat white!

Now that is a cup of coffee! Witness the awesomeness of a flat white!

I am slowly and painfully withdrawing from my daily dose of flat whites, that most remarkable coffee confection that is not found in the states. I miss my daily cup of flat white and my chicken and cheese pie. Thursday at physical therapy, I decided to get on the treadmill since my broken rib had finally become tolerable. Normally, I can only walk about 3 MPH because of my back. But, I found myself loping along at 4 MPH. All that walking in New Zealand uphill, both ways seemed to have paid off. I also lost 10 pounds while there. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I saw nary an obese native New Zelander during my visit.

It has also taken me a week to sift through my over 2500 photographs and I have yet to sort through all the videos. The photos help keep all of the stops and sites straight in my head. When I pause and reflect on our trip, we covered the entire country of New Zealand and saw probably 80% of the sites in less than three weeks! It’s no wonder I keep getting Queenstown and Wellington confused! That’s like confusing San Diego and Panama City!

Our new friends AND family, Alex and Grant!

Our new friends AND family, Alex and Grant!

I am also trying to wrap my brain around the best way to tell my friends and family what it was like in New Zealand. Their questions are legion. And, to try and summarize our experience in a short period of time is impossible. Yesterday, I spent a few hours with my friend Raymond who is building the website for www.steelchronicles.com and our upcoming depression rewrite www.conqueringdepression.com. He is the pastor of a mission church and I shared with him my experience with my Christian brothers and sisters in Christ in New Zealand. I told him it was uncanny how easily we dwelt in each other’s company as if we had known each other for years! Even though our language was different (WE have an accent, can you believe it?) in some of its conventions, we could easily communicate not only on a superficial level but also on a spiritual level.

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Kiwis LOVE to laugh! Kiwis LOVE life!

In my posts I have commented on what New Zealand still has that we as a nation have lost. I am still proud to be an American. But, I am not always proud of how our country has changed in the past century. The growing hostility toward Christianity, and for that matter, any public display of religious conviction is alarming. You do not see this in New Zealand. I see in our culture an intolerance to spiritual matters and a growing movement that says only science can give us real, true answers to our problems. The new series Cosmos even took a swing at Christianity in its opening show once again pouring gasoline (that is petrol for my Kiwi friends) on the battle between faith and science.

I think it is time to pour water on this fiery debate. As a Christian, I can no longer look at my atheistic or agnostic scientific colleagues and truly say they are without moral conviction or a humane way of life. Also, it is time for my colleagues to back off and allow those of us who have religious convictions to keep them and to RESPECT our choices! The key here is respect.

1 Peter 3:16 says that Christians should “always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us but to do so with gentleness and respect”. The vast majority of Christians have no intellectual or academic foundation for why the Christian worldview reflects ultimate truth. We have only a thimble full of knowledge and it is time for us to truly become “prepared” to give a reason for what we believe. But, more importantly, it is time for us to act with gentleness and respect towards those we disagree with. This is called tolerance and it was a concept invented by the early church to reflect this very verse in scripture.

One thing I found in abundance in New Zealand was gentleness and respect. As troubled as America is and as contentious as our reputation can be throughout the world, I NEVER felt criticized or looked down upon by my Kiwi friends. They were always gentle and respectful. A lesson we can learn on both sides of the issue of faith versus science. So, let us put our gauntlets away and let us instead shake hands over this issue and agree to disagree with cordial respect. If you are a Christian, I plead with you to take 1 Peter 3:16 literally. Delve into the foundation of truth that underlies our faith. Learn some “apologetics” that is defense of the Christian faith. There are thousands of websites. Just look under my “Apologetics” tab to find some good resources.

But, most importantly, take the lesson I have learned from my Kiwi friends, and yes, now family to heart. Treat everyone with gentleness and respect.

A very friendly guide in Shantytown!

A very friendly guide in Shantytown!

Don’t forget to check out my book sales for all three Jonathan Steel books at www.steelchronicles.com and get the current edition of “Conquering Depression” at www.conqueringdepression.com before it goes out of print. I’ll share with you in the coming months of a new book about depression I and Mark Sutton have written that will be available in the fall.

Next week, it’s back on the airplane to Orlando. Mark Sutton and I will be tweaking our website for our new book release in the fall. So, come back in the near future to hear about “Hope Again: A 30 Day Plan for Conquering Depression”!

Final Thoughts

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Kia ora (Hello)

A famous walk at midnight took place in Oxford, England. J. R. R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was trying to convince his atheist friend that God exists. This may surprise some of you. Recently, someone commented they had not watched the “Lord of the Ring” or “Hobbit” movies because they were “demonic”. Tolkien, however, was a devout Christian and he wrote his stories to create a mythology that honored the ideals of the Christian worldview. But, Tolkien was careful to make certain his fictional creations, stories and ideas did not overtly speak to the existence of God but worked through imagery and imagination. But, his devotion to Christ and the basic tenets of Christianity resonated throughout the Lord of the Rings in spite of his refusal to make such ideas blatant. Tolkien decided to use this idea of imagination as a key to converting his friend and colleague, C. S. Lewis, to Christianity.That night as they walked through the garden, Lewis rebuffed all of Tolkien’s arguments for God’s existence. Finally, Tolkien told Lewis what he lacked was imagination, the capacity to see beyond the natural into a realm that is truly supernatural — that is above and beyond the five senses. Lewis was intrigued by this comment and soon became not only a devout Christian, but the leading defender of the truth of the Christian faith in the mid twentieth century.

The rest is history and in contrast to Tolkien’s more subtle inclusion of Christian ideals in his works, Lewis was more obvious as can be seen in the Christ figure of Aslan in his Narnia books.

I recall sitting in the theater in 2001 and being absolutely stunned and blown away by the movie, The Fellowship of the Ring. The story resonated with themes of self sacrifice, the existence of evil, the importance of companionship, unconditional love, and the battle for good. But, more than that, the movie was stunning in its visuals and its settings. I have touched on New Zealand’s beauty in previous posts as the setting for all of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien movies. The natural beauty is there to behold — raw and undeniable. But, there is also here among its people a love for goodness and hard work and the land and, yes, God.

In the Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo Baggins has this to say about Hobbits: “Hobbits must seem of little importance. In fact, it has been remarked by some that Hobbits’ only real passion is for food. And, this is a rather unfair observation. But where our hearts truly lie is in peace and quiet and good tilled earth.” As seen in the book and the movies, Hobbits are the most amazing and surprising folk filled with unexpected bravery and self sacrifice and committed to working very hard and finishing well. Tolkien never visited New Zealand, but it is the most powerful compliment in the world that this nation was chosen to be the setting for these remarkable movies. For, the people I have come to know and love here share all of these admirable traits: a love of food; a desire for true peace and contentment; a durable work ethic and nary a complaint when confronted with a long, arduous walk or a difficult journey. The land here sings with joy for being tilled and milled and cared for. Every twist and turn along the highway reveals farms and cows and sheep and carefully tended land. In the garden, God gave Adam a simple job: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Here in this beautiful land, the men and women of New Zealand are doing just that — caring for God’s creation. And, a love for God overflows from my new friends and family here.

I will be leaving this fair land in a day and I will carry with me fond memories of incredible sights but also of warm hearts and new friendships. I find it so odd that I can feel an instant bond with a fellow believe in Christ. This phenomenon defies imagination. In fact most of New Zealand’s beauty defies imagination.

Ah, there is that word again. Imagination. Here are two definitions of the word imagination:

“the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses AND the ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful.”

New ideas formed from images or concepts NOT PRESENT TO THE SENSES (that is superseding the senses or, frankly, supernatural). I can assure you that my senses have been overwhelmed by breathtaking sights that defy human imagination. I cannot, could not, and would not ever be able to imagine what I have seen and heard. The towering mountains. The endless blue depths of the sounds and fjords. The haunting song of the bellbird. And so much more I still have yet to process. But, there is one thing I know. If imagination is truly “the ability of the mind to be creative and resourceful” and the human mind is woefully inadequate to conceive of the beauty I have seen then there must be a Mind behind it all; an Intellect of staggering proportion; a Designer with the heart of an artist who painted these hills in greens and browns and blues and dashes of red and yellow; a Mind whose creativity is echoed weakly in our own creative impulses. If C. S. Lewis had walked the hills and gardens of New Zealand with Tolkien, perhaps he would have been more easily persuaded. I cannot imagine a world like this where there is no God!

What have I learned here? We are God’s greatest creation and there is no beauty of the land to match the beauty of a human heart! The friends we have made here will resonate on into eternity and I hope to one day return to this wondrous land. So, just to pique your imagination, a simple slideshow of some of my favorite photos.

Hei konei ra (expressing good wishes on parting).

 

South Island Highlights

One more day to go here in New Zealand. We are winding down and catching our breath before coming back to America. Yesterday, we spent some time shopping and played a family card game last night called “Presidents and Scum”. I’m still not completely clear on what happened but it was a lot of fun. I was Scum three times in a row. Properly speaking, that is not a good thing!

Recapping our tour of the south island, we took the ferry from Wellington across the Cook Strait to Picton. Immediately, we boarded a smaller boat for the famous “mail run” and spent 4 hours touring Queen Charlotte Sound.

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On the ferry crossing the strait.

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Making the “mail run”.

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Ship’s Cove

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That night we made a harrowing journey through dark, winding roads in rain and fog over 13 one lane brides to Hamner Springs. The next morning we got up and headed for the outskirts of Christchurch but did not visit the city as it was recovering from a huge storm. Instead, we drove through the gorgeous countryside to Akaroa.

 

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SANY0234That night we arrived at the farm in Geraldine and spent the evening riding on ATV’s, chasing deer, and eating over an open fire.

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The next morning we set off for Alexandra and our final destination, Queenstown. Along the way we passed by some interesting sites along the side of the road such as “Salmon World”. I finally got that fish that Gollum wouldn’t relinquish!

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In Queenstown, we had a wonderful visit in the city underneath the grandeur of the Remarkable mountain range. And, of course, we took the trip to Milford Sound. Along the way we encountered a huge open grass field surrounded by mountains and this is where I fell off the infamous boulder.

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From atop the Syline we watched paragliders.

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Leaving Queenstown, we headed north and west for Hasst. Along the way, we found more interesting sites.

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We arrived in Haast and had “tea” at the Hard Antler Restaurant and then headed up the west coast toward Greymouth, pausing at the glaciers and the pancake rocks.

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The next day, we left Greymouth and visited Shantytown on our way back to Blenheim and the ferry from Picton back to the north island.

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Overhanging rock over our road.

Now, we are here in Napier resting after crossing the strait to the north island. Tomorrow, my summary of what this trip has meant to Sherry and to me.

At Home With the Stitchbury’s

We slept well in Blenheim and arose at a leisurely pace. We shared a two bedroom suite and had a lovely time visiting before we packed up Lucy for the final run up the coast. We stopped in Blenheim to visit Grant’s uncle in a rest home. We had a nice visit and I must say New Zealand takes excellent care of its elderly.

We then headed for Picton to catch the 2 PM ferry across the strait back to the north island. We checked in at the pier and had two mile “stroll” from the ferry checkin station toward downtown Picton to find lunch. After lunch, we drove onto the ferry and we were told to park right next to a cattle truck. The smell was, shall we say, atrocious!

The trip across the ferry took almost 4 hours and the strait was a bit rougher than our earlier trip. By now, I was familiar with the continuous parade of turquoise water and towering mountain peaks and rolling mountainous hills. I didn’t take a single picture the entire day. Our goal was to get home to Napier.

We arrived in Wellington without incident and set out along the west coast in a fine, misty rain. Eventually, we headed inland toward Palmerston North and arrived around 9 PM. We made a quick stop at the New World market (a grocery store) to see Sam and then Alex took the wheel with a promise to get us home by 1130 PM. The night was clear with a full moon and a sky full of foreign constellations. I sat in the back seat with the moon roof open to the sky and marveled again at the wondrous sites of the past two and a half weeks.

I began to dream of starting my own New Zealand themed coffee/“pie” shop called Pukeko’s (Poooooh-keck-ohs) and introduce America to “flat white” coffee and “savory” pies and lovely pastries. Then, the clouds, like reality moved back in on my fantasies and I realized with a heavy heart that our time in New Zealand was drawing to a close. The clouds thickens and hid the full moon and the sky became gray and dull.

We arrived at 1130 PM just as Alex promised and the boys were waiting for our arrival. After greeting their parents, the boys dispersed to their rooms and I fell into our bed.

It is now late morning and there is nothing pressing on our agenda other than a “leisurely” walk to the top of the hill across the road from the Sitchbury home. I’ve looked up at the tiny matchstick figures of other walkers on this hill with some dread, but as long as my cracked ribs will let me, I will soldier on. I have discovered there are very few obese people in New Zealand. Everyone walks everywhere constantly and this had given this country a very healthy lifestyle. America could learn from the dietary and daily walking habits of the Kiwis. 

I am looking out the dining room window at the brown grass covered hill we are about to attack. Two and a half weeks ago, I would have fainted at the prospect of tackling such a hill. Now, it has become a “leisurely stroll”. I will continue when I return!

Well! That was far more than a leisurely stroll. Across from the house a brown, grassy hill rises into the overcast morning sky. In the far distance, I can see two people passing over the apex of the hill. They are very small and this one face made me realize this was a very large hill. My chest was hurting more than the day before and I was even more convinced I had a least two broken ribs. Each breath was an agony but I was determined to press on.

We started across the green grass toward a path leading up the hill. It was slow going as parts of the path were very rocky with rolling stones. I did not want to fall again! in some places, the path was little more than a shallow rut where the sheep had worn out the grass on the own wanderings up the hill. In other places, the path was very steep. But, we made it to the top with much complaining and huffing and puffing.

At one point Sherry paused to give Alex a hard time and two fascinated sheep looked on. We ended up at a bench placed in memory of Alex’s sister who passed away in 1996 from ovarian cancer. Later on after recovering from the walk, we went to downtown Taradale, a suburb of Napier where we found some more sheep much more sedate and immobile. All in all, the day was restful and the pain in my ribs improved as the day passed on. We ended up around the dinner table at “tea” cooked by Sherry. Not sure how that will be received, but we shall see. Here are some photos from our trek up the hill.

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Now for some more rest as we contemplate the return to America.

New Zealand South Island — Final 2 Days

Our last two days on the south island began Sunday morning as we set off from Hasst to travel up the west coast of the south island. Our destination was Greymouth for the night. I wasn’t feeling well either day with worsening chest wall pain but improving elbow pain. I had a persistent cough that made the pain in my chest worse. Also, the pain kept me from having a deep cough so I was coughing more often!

We drove down the coast and paused to walk out to the beach. The Tasman sea is that part of the Pacific between New Zealand and Australia. And, a cyclone had come through New Zealand recently. The seas were very rough. It was obvious from the driftwood thrown up on the beach it was NOT safe to go swimming! Here are some photos of the beach just north of Haast.

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We spent most of the day driving northward and stopped to view two glaciers in the area, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. The walk up to the glaciers was long and uphill and the pain in my chest prevented me from making the entire journey. But, here are some photos of the Fox Glacier. Look carefully and you will see a tiny line of red and blue dots mid way up the glacier. Those are a separate party of brave individuals hiking across this massive glacier.

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As we traveled on toward the north we encountered the snow covered peaks of the Southern Alps.

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That night we arrived at Greymouth, a city at the mouth of the Grey River. The next morning (today— Monday, St. Patrick’s day) we arose and headed for Shantytown. Shantytown is a recreation of an old gold mining and lumbering town that flourished from the late 1800’s to the mid 1900’s. Here are some photos from our visit. Some are serious. Others, well I’ll let you be the judge!

 

 

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Waiting on the train to take us out into the bush.

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A public toilet.

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Once we left Shantytown, we headed up the coast to Punikaiki to the pancake rocks and blowholes. This very unusual arrangement of rocks along the coast was fascinating.

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We drew closer to our final destination on the south island, Blenheim but saw a sign for “the longest swing bridge in New Zealand”. How can anyone resist?

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Our final two hours of driving took us across the north of the south island from west coast to east coast through winery country. Once again, I was stunned by the awesome beauty of this country. At every turn, there are sights that defy description.

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North Island Highlights

We are now heading up the west coast of the south island back toward Napier. I have many pictures I did not share because of wifi access and time pressure. Today, I want to show a map of each area of our journey and a few pictures I haven’t shared before.

We started out spending two days in the largest city in New Zealand, Auckland high up on the northern tip of the north island.

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Here we are in the Skytower.

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My new friend, Grant.

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With Alex and Grant on the ferry from Auckland to Devonport.

On Day 3 we traveled to the Waitamo Caves where we were not allowed to take any pictures. Then on to Alex and Grant’s friends house — Russell and Linda. We spent the night there just out of Hamilton/Cambridge area in the midst of farmland and then set off the next morning for my most anticipated destination, Hobbiton.

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In the real garden at Hobbiton.

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The bridge to the Green Dragon pub.

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Our guide, Shawn handing out cider at the Green Dragon Pub.

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We left the Hobbiton area and headed for the thermal playground of Rotorua.

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Here we spent two days in the area seeing the sights and sounds while I got sick from the virus that had shut down Sherry for the past two days.

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In our “shared” condo in Rotorua.

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Riding the gondola in Rotorua and then riding back down on the Luge.

After two days, we headed out of Rotorua toward “home” to the Sitchbury household in Napier. Along the way, we stopped at several thermal “playgrounds” with hot bubbling mud pits, volcanic steam vents, and colorful chemical pools.

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We arrived for our first weekend in Napier and settled in for two nights at home. Here we traveled up to Te Mata, the high peak overlooking Hawke’s Bay and Napier.

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Sunday evening, we headed out for Palmerston North to meet with the Stitchbury’s oldest son, Sam. We spent the night there and got up on Monday morning and headed on into Wellington.

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Here we visited the WETA workshop and rode the cable car up the side of the mountain overlooking Wellington and its harbor. On Tuesday, we boarded the ferry to cross the strait to the south island.

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And there I will stop for today and continue our review of the south island later. For now, my feet feel as tired as Bilbo’s feet.

The Gates of Haast — 2nd Saturday New Zealand

Beware intrepid traveler for you have little time to reach the Gates of Haast before the road is closed. Night is coming and there is the falling of the frost which will make your journey filled with danger and snares.

Our second Saturday, and 14th day in New Zealand started out with bad news. Our loyal steed, Lucy, the car was ailing. Grant had called in AA (New Zealand’s AAA) to check out the car to make sure it could travel on. The verdict — be gentle with it as Lucy will overheat on mountain roads. Really? Guess where we were going today? On mountain roads. In fact, it’s hard to go anywhere in New Zealand without traveling along a mountain road!

We spent the late morning and afternoon in Queenstown. We rode the Skyline gondola up the mountain and watched intrepid souls paragliding over the lake. It was gorgeous and beautiful in spite of a slightly overcast sky. Grant gave me the news that a cyclone (or for us in the US a hurricane) was moving in over Auckland and would move down one of the coasts. We were planning on heading back up the western coast so we prayed for our car and for the weather.

Here are some photos of the view from the Skyline gondola of Queenstown.

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An old cemetery at the base of the gondola. No, I don’t think the paragliders and bungee jumpers end up there.

We spent the day wandering the shops of Queenstown and a local art fair. Queenstown is just a lovely place. The air was crisp and cool. We finally loaded up in the car and headed for Arrowtown. Arrowtown, another quaint little town that once boasted a gold rush was filled with little shops and outdoor cafes. There was this park surrounded by trees just changing to yellows and reds (this is New Zealand’s autumn) and I could have slid into a hammock and read a good book with a cup of their best coffee.

But, we pressed on to Wanaka, a slightly larger town on Lake Wanaka and discovered that the road to our destination on the west coast, Haast, would be closed by 530 PM because of a “frost”. It was already 4 PM and the drive was a little over two hours. We reluctantly put Wanaka in the rear view mirror, said a prayer for our little intrepid Lucy car and headed west toward the coast.

Along the way, we saw mountain and valley after mountain and valley. We drove past two huge lakes, Lake Hawea and back to Lake Wanaka. Both lakes were huge as you will see in these photos taken from the highway of both lakes and the mountains surrounding them.

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Here is the strange thing. These mountains and the hillsides were brown and dotted with low growing flora. But, we passed over the Haas pass and suddenly everything changed. Suddenly, the hillsides were green and filled with lush trees, ferns, and all kinds of green vegetation. Streams were everywhere. Take a look at these trees.

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Is my precious in that cave/

I often wondered where Peter Jackson found the thick forests and huge trees we see in both of the movie trilogies. Well, New Zealand has everything you can imagine. And, finally we reached the Gates of Haas by 530!

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And there, perched on an empty stream bed was Gandalf and the dwarves!

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Now, it was downhill at a leisurely pace with Lucy purring like a kitten toward the west coast. And, just when you thought you had seen everything — all the green and streams and ferns, we literally rounded a curve and saw this:

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IMG 2876We had found the heart of the southern Alps. Imagine along that snowy ridge line is where Frodo dropped the ring into the snow. It is where Boromir retrieved the ring and held it longingly until Frodo, backed by Gandalf took back the burden. There in those high snows is where that scene took place.

We are now in our motel room in one of only two motels in Hass just 7 kilometers from the western beach. Tomorrow, we will visit these snowy mountains and see glaciers. But for now, I can only relax and look at the bruise on my elbow and rejoice that both Lucy and Bruce survived another day in our Kiwi journey.

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My battle scars from defying gravity a strong wind and a large boulder!

New Zealand — Milford Sound

Just a note here. I managed to catch up and post two blog posts in 12 hours so make sure and check out the one before this one!

I don’t know where to start. I’m trying to sift through the 350 photos I took on Friday. We left Queenstown at sunrise on a bus driving 4 hours to Milford Sound. Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful spots on the earth. It is a “sound” carved out of the rock by glaciers thousands of years ago. Properly, it is a fjord. And the entire lower, outer segment of the south island is Fjordland National Park. It was here, while on the way to Milford Sound that we saw the true Southern Alps covered with ice and snow. After arriving at Milford Sound around 130 PM, we set out on the water for a 3 hour tour (don’t go there!). Then, we left Milford Sound for the bus drive back to Queenstown and arrived at 830 PM. A 13 hour day!

I was exhausted from very little sleep the night before. As I mentioned yesterday, I fell off of a really large boulder and the pain in my left elbow and in my chest kept me awake most of the night. Fortunately, the bus ride was sedate and the tour of the sound allowed me to stand or sit so we did very little walking.

Here is a photograph of the map of the national park. Queenstown is in the far upper right hand corner and if you follow the red line down through Te Anau and around and up again to the far left hand corner, you will see the route we took.

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Te Anau on the way to Milford Sound

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The beginning of the Southern Alps

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Sherry and Alex. It was cool especially when we got on the water.

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Along the way, we stopped at the Mirror lakes!

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A river along the way showing the snowy peaks in the distance.

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Finally on the boat on the sound heading out to the Tasman Sea, the part of the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and Australia. The wind was unbelievable here up to 80 knots!

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Words cannot describe this beauty!

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The “Queens of duh woyld!”

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We saw several of these white streaks on the mountain. This is where trees, barely perched on the thin moss and rock, break loose and tumble down in an avalanche or ‘treevalanche”.

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One of several falls on Milford Sound.

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As well as seals sunning on a warm rock.

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Could this be the elven door to the Mines of Morea? Speak “friend” and pass!

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Heading back toward port from the open sea.

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That’s enough scenery overload for today. I am now caught up with my blog posts. Today, here is Saturday, America’s Friday and we are touring Queensland before heading back up the west coast toward the north island. We have now come from tip to tip of this wondrous land and the final leg of our journey is about to begin.

Say a quiet prayer for our vehicle. It was smoking Thursday night upon arrival here and I can’t blame the poor thing!

 Tomorrow, I hope to show you some maps along the way and throw in some photos you haven’t seen yet as I recap the journey so far.

Kia Ora!

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