Monthly Archives: March 2014
Sunday and Monday in New Zealand saw our intrepid travelers leaving the fair city of Napier and journeying southward to Palmerston North. There we spent the night after visiting with Alex and Grant’s oldest son, Sam. Monday morning we headed into the winding hills and mountains of the southern part of the North Island toward Wellington.
Wellington resides on the sea with a large harbor. We will boarding a ferry in the morning for a three hour journey across the sea to the south island. Pictures below are from Saturday and Sunday in Napier and Monday in Wellington.
Napier is a beautiful and quaint town as I mentioned in my previous posts. We drove southeastward to Te Mata, a large mountain overlooking Hawke’s Bay. It was a beautiful sight as you will notice in the photographs below. We took some time to walk the streets of Napier, do some shopping at a market place and ended up at the beach. Then, we drove to the top of the “bluff” a precipitous cliff in Napier proper overlooking Napier’s harbor. That evening, we had a Kiwi barbecue with grilled chicken kabobs, steak, sausage, patties and “jacketed” potatoes and lovely desserts I mentioned earlier.
Sunday, we had the privilege to worship at Napier Baptist Church. I have met only a handful of New Zealand natives in Napier. But, when Sherry and I walked into the church, we felt instantly at home. When we were greeted by the members, it was like rekindling an old acquaintance. I had an opportunity to talk very briefly about my depression book and had several conversations with members of the church after the service during the “tea”. We sang several worship songs. Two young people were baptized and the pastor invited friends and family to come and stand around the baptistery during the ceremony. He also invited anyone who wanted to share a prayer, Bible verse, or a word of encouragement just before the actual baptism. It was stunningly moving and profoundly beautiful.
It seems the modernized world is now turning against Christianity. Even here in New Zealand, Grant tells me that persecution is beginning. We are already facing persecution in America and I would say the Christian’s greatest mission field IS America. We are called judgmental, intolerant, legalistic, hate mongers, and man other names I will not repeat in this blog. It is true that there are many who claim to be Christians whose behavior warrants such prejudice. But, true followers of Christ; true disciples of Christ are compelled by unconditional love, not hate. It is this love that pulled us into the church family instantly. In fact, I would say that a Christ follower could walk into any real, committed gathering of other believers (called a church) and feel the same kind of caring and acceptance we felt here in New Zealand. Wow! It was a balm to soothe my soul. It tells me that we must press on with our love and devotion to the Creator God of the universe who is also flesh and spirit among us. It tells me that we are more than a footnote in history; more than a cult of strange folk; more than a smokescreen for hateful fundamentalism. We are called Christian because we are like Christ!
On to Wellington. Just a few words about this city. It is much smaller than Auckland but a large city in its own right. It spreads out over lush, green hills overlooking the harbor with tight, narrow streets surrounded by tall modern buildings and preserved historical buildings. I fell in love with Wellington instantly. It reminded me of London while Auckland reminded me more of Paris. I would go back to London and Wellington in a heartbeat.
A small surprise was WETA, the special effects workshop for all of Peter Jackson’s films! I was so excited, but I was not allowed to take pictures in the actual workshop!
I am now sitting in my hotel room, tired, weak, hopefully coming out of this cold I’ve had for five days. I am praying for safe waters in the channel tomorrow as we journey to the south island. I am praying for a healthier tomorrow. More will come in the days ahead as we hit the South Island. We me a couple returning from the south island today and they told us to be prepared for “scenery overload”. Bring it on!
Below are pictures from Te Mata, the highest peak overlooking Hawke’s Bay and Napier. Followed by this are photos of Sherry at the beach. And Alex’s favorite flower. Finally, the sheep you see are right across the street from the Stitchbury house!
I have been unable to post for several days. The wifi is spotty at best and there are limits on uploads and downloads. We left Napier this past weekend and set out for the south island. Below are some photos of Wellington and the trip across Cook Strait to the south island where we landed at Picton. We set out on the “mail run”, a four hour boat trip through the coves and bays of Queen Charlotte Sound. Truly a wondrous site, I am already suffering from scenery overload. I’ll bring more notes on our trip later. I have a narrow window to post these photos. Oh, yes, we visited the WETA workshop in Wellington where all of the props for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie were made. I met Bilbo’s trolls while there.
“We spent two days in Auckland when we could have been here?”
Sherry nailed our reaction once we arrived Friday evening in Napier. We’ve spent the last two days at “home” with Alex and Grant’s family here in a city known for its art Deco appearance. In 1931, an earthquake hit Napier and the city rose several feet above sea level. Much of it was rebuilt in the current architectural style leaving behind a delightful town perched on the emerald green waters of Hawke’s Bay. The moment we saw the ocean, we knew we should have been here long ago. Don’t get me wrong. Auckland was exciting and bracing and something to be seen. But, in all of our travels, Sherry and I have always found the smaller towns more inviting than the busy, bustling cities. My one exception would be New York City and London. We loved both cities but they are creatures unto themselves.
Napier resides on the eastern coast of the North Island tucked into Hawke’s Bay. Just south of Napier is Hastings and surrounding this area are mountains and wine country. We passed through orchards and vineyards and more rolling hills dotted with sheep. As we drew closer to the east coast winding our way up and down through these wonderful mountains, the hills grew greener and more lush. The tall, waving fronds of the silver fern — the symbol of New Zealand — were soon replaced with tall pine trees. We instantly felt at home with my thoughts drawn back to the pines of our Louisiana. The only difference would be the lack of a thick film of yellow pollen we would hopefully miss out on this year. March is the autumn for New Zealand.
We met the family at a Kiwi barbecue on Saturday. The meal was sumptuous, delicious and capped off with several huge desserts ranging from trifle to banana cream and upside down chocolate pudding cake and cupcakes. Everyone here is so friendly and so open and accepting. As I mentioned in my last post, this is the culture we have lost in America. Grant assured me New Zealand was about 15 years behind America in adopting our ways. Let us hope and pray New Zealand does not catch up with us. Here, civility, manners, kindness, friendliness, hospitality are all a way of life. In our own country, we are in danger of forgetting these virtues.
Before I go on about our trip in Napier to the mountaintop of Te Mata or to the beach in downtown Napier I want to finish out our first week in New Zealand with a few photographs from the past seven days.
It is Saturday morning here in New Zealand, Friday America time and I just witnessed one of the most moving and beautiful sunrises I have ever seen. We are now in Napier at Alex and Grant’s house. I’ve gotten behind on my blogging so I wanted to catch up on the photographs.
Let’s see, on Tuesday we drove to Waitomo cave area and went through the cave with the glowworm grotto. The glow worm is a fascinating insect. The female lays an egg in the caves then dies since the adult male and female insects have no mouths! The egg hatches and the larva emerges as the glow worm. The worm has a bioluminescent tip that glows in the dark. The worm spins a long single thread. The thread is sticky and the light attracts moths and insects in the cave. When the insects fly toward the glowing light (and this also includes the aforementioned adult insects) they get stuck on the thread. The glow worm then pulls the thread up and feasts on the insects. This fat and happy life lasts for 9 months. But, eventually, every larva turns into an adult. The male adult is waiting patiently for the females to emerge from their cocoon and impregnates them immediately before they die from starvation. What a life!!!
I could not take an photos within the glow worm grotto. A river passes through the cave and at the bottom of the cave we loaded onto a boat in almost total darkness. Our hostess, Dorene then pulled us quietly through the grotto. In the hushed silence where only the occasionally tinkling of water drops from the stalactites broke the dark solace, we moved through the grotto like the Phantom of the Opera gliding his boat across the waters of Paris underground. Above us were thousands of tiny blue green glowing dots. To me it was a wondrous site. To the glowworm, it was just life. Just a passing through this world from egg to larva to pupae to adult. All on a 10 month cycle. The difference between the glowworm and me, of course, lay in my ability to appreciate the beauty of what I was seeing. More on that later.
Here are some pictures from our cave trip.
On Thursday and Friday, we traveled to Rotorua where the lake filled a huge extinct volcano crater. But, the volcanic activity was far from dormant. Below are numerous photos of the thermal “playground” around Rotorua. The air was cool and crisp but tainted with the odor of sulphur. Our room was situated overlooking the beautiful lake. By now, I was getting Sherry’s cold and I spent the first night in Rotorua shaking with a high fever. Alex, a more than capable nurse, watched over me as we sat on the patio overlooking the lake beneath a billion glowing stars. I was shocked to recognize Orion’s belt and Scorpio and there, above me was the Southern Cross ruling the southern hemisphere sky as our Big Dipper and Polaris, the north star, ruled the northern sky. Alex talked me through my fear of having some kind seizure due to my high fever. Here I was sick in a foreign country my mind filled with fears that most people would never think about (as a doctor, I know too much!) and yet, I was at ease with Alex just a few meters away. I was very thankful she was there to watch over me. I made it through that first night. Thursday and Friday were busy days visiting Rotorua and its many hot springs, geysers, and steam vents. Here are some photos from that visit.
I will pause now for a day or two. We are resting up here at home in Napier before tackling the South Island. Tomorrow (Sunday) we will go to church with Alex, Grant, and their boys and I’ll have more to say then. For now, I am resting and trying to heal.
It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.
There are those among you who occasionally read my blog and, hopefully, are waiting for my daily reports regarding my trip to New Zealand. I realize I have missed two days but this was due to circumstances beyond my control. Namely being somewhat exhausted and having a limit on data transfer at our hotel, I was not able to sit down and sift through over 500 photos I have taken in the last two days.
On Day 3 we left the bustling metropolis of Auckland and set off bravely into the countryside. Or, I should say with great relief as our most excellent hosts assured us that the REAL New Zealand was NOT Auckland. How true that proved to be!
If you have seen any of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit movies you might recall scenes of rolling, green hills covered with sheep and cows and, of course, hobbits. Or, you may recall rolling hills dotted with huge boulders as the wargs and the orcs and the goblins came after the fellowship of the ring or the company of dwarves. Well, for the next couple of hours we passed through dozens of these rolling hills undulating around us from the foot of majestic mountains. I was enthralled as we passed through these magnificent hills. Of course, the road became winding and hilly as we passed through these wondrous sites. Each town we moved through was so quaint and lovely with storefronts abounding and, of course, lots of small coffee shops. The Kiwis LOVE their coffee!
We stopped in Waitomo and toured two caves, one with the famous glow worm grotto. I’ll come back to that later because I want to move on to Wednesday (Tuesday American time) because I spent the most wonderful two hours with hobbits. Yes, with hobbits!
In the rolling hills between Waitomo and Hamilton New Zealand there is a sheep farm, a quite large sheep farm. And, hidden away in these rolling hills dotted with grazing sheep and large boulders that seemed poised to roll down the hill and tall, feather like trees pointing to heaven and tall, green hedges to block the nonstop wind there is a tiny village that is truly magical. It is Hobbiton.
After driving for almost an hour from Alex and Grant’s dear friends’ house, we paused on a lonely hillside so I could hop out and take a photograph. I just had to stop. Every turn brought new vistas of this quaint countryside. I stood on the side of the highway and took some photographs and imagined that idyllic scene in the very first Lord of the Rings movie, Fellowship of the Rings, when the camera shows just such a scene with rolling green hills and tall feathery trees and an early morning fog. Only that scene was ruined by the arrival of one of the Nine on his hideous black horse. I whirled around to see if a Morgal blade was poised to pierce my heart and saw only Alex smiling behind the wheel of our minivan. Right then, let’s get on to Hobbiton, I thought.
We arrived at the ticket center and gift shop and the surrounding scenery alone would have been worth the trip. I kept asking myself if Sherry and I were really here in New Zealand. Gone were the bustling streets and harbor of Auckland. Here was peace and contentment and I could easily see how someone could settle into a leather chair by the fire with some fine apple cider and just . . . BE!
Some facts about the set. There are 44 Hobbit holes in all, that is, houses built into the hillsides. Some are large enough to give the impression that a full grown human can be a small hobbit. Others were true to scale so that Gandalf could look tall next to the tiny houses. The center area is a real garden complete with vegetables and a scarecrow. And overlooking it all is Bilbo Baggin’s house at the very top of the hill. By the way, the tree you’ll see in the photos is not a real tree. The real tree from Lord of the Rings had to be moved (don’t worry, it was moved there in pieces to begin with and never survived) and replace with an artificial tree, hand made down to each leaf because the Hobbit takes place 60 years before LOTR and the tree had to look smaller and younger. Only two Hobbit holes had a door with a small inside. And, only Bilbo’s door had a small chamber that appeared to be the inside of his house. The house interior was shot on a set in Wellington.
But, the Green Dragon was a real standing building and was converted into a pub for visitors. We spent two hours wandering around Hobbiton arriving at the Green Dragon pub for some cider and a moment to rest before the fireplace since it was a bit windy and cool outside. Then, we boarded our bus to return to reality. Ah, the simple life!
Below are a few pictures of Hobbiton. The place was truly peaceful and calming. Much like our friends we have met in New Zealand. America is a fast paced, pedal to the metal juggernaut and I fear our culture has lost so much in the rush to be the best and the fastest and the richest and the greatest. Sometimes, it pays to simply slow down and watch the butterflies and sip some cider with good friends. Ah, this place could be my new home in a heart beat. Bilbo, pass me some of that bread and cheese!
DAY 2 — Auckland Sky Tower and Devonport
After finally sleeping through a New Zealand night, we woke up at 645 AM New Zealand Time on Monday morning (Sunday in the States as they say). It was 1145 AM Shreveport time. But, I slept for eight straight hours without waking up and I felt like it was truly early morning and not nearly noon! I was almost acclimated to being down under! I have to stop for a moment to digress. We are down under. I don’t recognize the stars. The water swirls the wrong way in the toilet. And, it gets warmer the further north you go, not south! Also, sitting in the front seat of the minivan whilst Grant or Alex bustle about this metropolis known as Auckland can be a bit disorienting. They drive on the other side of the street here and every time we turn, I panic because I think we are heading into traffic going the wrong way! Also, you have to train yourself to look to the right for oncoming traffic before crossing the street.
We loaded up the luggage and left one hotel and drove downtown toward Auckland on the “motorway” to our final hotel our last day in this city. Our room overlooked the harbor but we set out toward downtwon for Victoria Market. Little did I realize that what was to be a simple walk to the bank to exchange US dollars for NZ dollars and then on to the marketplace would be such a challenge. Why? It was uphill. Both ways!
Seriously, we walked about a mile up a steep incline through downtown Auckland surrounded by tall buildings and bustling citizens. We paused at the foot of the Sky Tower and were relieved to see that the next mile to the marketplace was downhill. But, when we arrived at what was once a busy, bustling marketplace filled with small shops, we discovered that the economic downturn (global it seems) had forced most of the shops to close. It was still a nice experience shopping but now we had to walk back uphill to the Sky Tower.
By the time we reached the base of the Sky Tower, both Sherry and I were exhausted. In spite of getting plenty of sleep, it seemed our bodies were lagging behind our relatively rested minds. Alex refused to take the elevator to the top of the tower (at least she admitted a fear of heights) but Sherry, Grant, and I bravely soldiered on. I pause for a moment to comment on what I can only assume is a prelude to insanity. We passed a gift shop on the way down an escalator to the ticket counter. Hanging from the ceiling of the gift shop was a mannequin dressed in blue overalls, arms outstretched, hanging from a cord. Grant pointed it out to me and told me there was a free fall from the tower on a vertical sort of zip line if I was interested. I have never jumped out of a perfectly good airplane or off of a perfectly good building! I did not plan on changing that record!
So, here is a picture of the Sky Tower from street level. Next is the platform at the base. A person is clipped into this vertical wire assembly and quickly pulled up to the top of the tower. Then, the person is released and plummets to the ground. All very controlled, of course. The third picture shows the harness on its way back up without a person clipped in. I watched one young man land on the platform and the way in which he was walking, hunched over and stiff legged led me to believe he should have been wearing Depends. It would seem he had, shall we say, “soiled himself” as Alex commented. Not a reliable cure for constipation, I would conclude!
Here are some pictures from the top of the Sky Tower of Auckland and the harbor area. The many hills you see not covered by buildings including the largest across the harbor are relatively young volcanoes that shaped Auckland. Also, there were glass panels in the floor allowing one to look downward at the ground and to contemplate the overwhelming mastery that gravity has over our lives. Sherry was brave enough to monkey around on the panels. I refused to even look down them! Grant was as reluctant as I was but did stand on one of the panels. Sherry promptly grabbed him and he latched onto a nearby handrail as if he were about to plunge through the glass lending credibility to my strong belief that Sherry would have done the same thing to me if I had agreed to stand on a panel. I can assure you someone would have been performing CPR on me! We almost had to do so to Grant. But, the view was breathtaking as the photos reveal and well worth my trepidation. Sherry did comment once during our time at the top of the tower that I seemed a “little pale”. You think!
Let me pause for a moment and acquaint you with some Kiwi phrases. You go to the “loo”, not the bathroom. You throw trash in the “rubbish” can. Vanilla ice cream with caramel and toffee is called “hokey pokey” ice cream. While still thinking of the Sky Tower, a funeral parlor here is known as a funeral “cottage”. An expresso with a little less milk than a latte is known as a “flat white”. I had two of these today and I am now convinced Starbucks should add this to their menu. New Zealand loves coffee shops. There must be a thousand little niche coffee shops all over the city each with their own unique brand of coffee. The young man on the Sky Tower Free Fall must have soiled his “nickers”. Don’t call your belted travel pack a “fanny” pack. Fanny refers to something to do with anatomy that I cannot speak of in mixed company. You don’t tip in New Zealand. Rather, you say “Thank you very much for your service.” and that is sufficient. Also, the check isn’t brought to your table. You must go to the “registration desk” and pay for the check. Grant had what we would call a chicken fried steak only with pork known as a “pork schnitzel” with “chips” meaning french fries. Carbonated water is “moving” water and non carbonated is “still” water. There is no such thing as ice tea in New Zealand we discovered and is sorely missed by this Southern couple. Enough for now. I’m sure I will share more of these words in the future.
We set off downhill after the Sky Tower, thank you Jesus and I mean that reverently, back toward the harbor. We bought a ticket for the ferry to take us across the harbor to the far peninsula to an exclusive area known as Devonport. Built during the Victorian era, the village has retained its architecture and is now filled with small, exclusive shops and restaurants and, yes, dozens of coffee shops. To finish off today’s post, here are some photos from Devonport including one area of a small beach overlooking Auckland downtown and, of course, the Sky Tower.
By 530 PM Kiwi time (add 5 for hours plus one day) Sherry was exhausted and we headed back to have “tea” meaning supper at an Irish Pub, O’Hagan’s. This is where Grant had his pork schnitzel and Alex had steak and eggs — a huge slab of steak topped off with two poached eggs and chips (remember, these are french fries. Remember this so I won’t have to keep reminding you!) I had a hamburger with cheese and bacon. But, their bacon is more like our thick cut bacon with lots more meat than fat only not at all fried crispy. But, it was quite tasty as you can imagine. By this point I was pushing six miles of walking and had only eaten a scone with my flat white since breakfast so I indulged. We had nachos with rich New Zealand beef chili, cheddar cheese, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole on top of corn “crisps” (this would be what we recognize as chips) in a skillet. It was MOST yummy! Sherry had chicken quesadillas. Let me just say that I have eaten in Canada, Mexico, France, and England. The food was most bland in the United Kingdom followed closely by Canada. Mexico’s food for me has had the same effect on my body as the Sky Tower Freefall had on the aforementioned young man! France’s food was very buttery and very winey?!?, if that is a word. Sherry packed a can of Tony’s spice in case New Zealand food was similar to the UK. So far, we have had some of the most delicious food! Far too much of it, in fact.
Finally, here are the two girls sitting on the bench waiting for our ferry to take us back to Auckland and the end of a very exciting, but tiring day. Tomorrow, it is off to the cave of the glowworms! Good on you, Mate!
Day 1 New Zealand
The departure time on the monitor changed abruptly. I sighed. Sherry and I sat in the terminal of the Shreveport airport waiting to board our flight to Houston. We had a narrow window to transfer to our flight from Houston to Los Angeles and then from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand. Someone had just tipped over the first domino! Soon, all of our plans could be wrecked.
But, I remained calm. We had wisely planned a seven hour layover in Los Angeles before boarding the flight to down under. Our flight from Shreveport left an hour late at 1141 A. M. and we landed in Houston with ten minutes to journey across the airport to the Los Angeles flight gate. If you’ve never been to the Houston airport, I would say Frodo had a much easier journey getting the ring to Mount Doom than Sherry and I had getting from B14 to C45. We arrived one minute before the flight was scheduled to leave and, of course, they had “closed the door”. But, our agent in Shreveport had been kind enough to schedule us on the next LA flight just 30 minutes after this one. So, we hurried from C45 to C29 which was about three football fields in length!
Our flight to LA was uneventful, if not long — 4 hours. Now, we faced a new hurdle. When we made our flight reservations, we were assured our luggage could be checked into Shreveport and transferred all the way to New Zealand. But, alas, our small airport in Shreveport didn’t “have the app” that would allow them to send our luggage on to Auckland! So, we had to with an hour and a half to pick up our luggage in LA then make it across LAX airport to another terminal where we finally checked in for our flight to New Zealand. Frodo, give ME the ring!
We boarded our flight to New Zealand at 915 P.M. Pacific time, 1115 PM our time. By then, we had been in airports or on an airplane for 12 hours. And, we were facing a 13 hour flight to Auckland. Do the math. More than 24 hours of travel time. The only positive development would be our seats. We had purchased “economy premium” and we had the new “spaceseats”. You couldn’t lay down flat like the seats in business class. But, the price was far more reasonable and the spaceseats were extremely comfortable like being enclosed in a cocoon of comfort and seclusion. Sherry slept for 10 hours of the 13. I watched “The Hobbit — The Desolation of Smaug” in preparation for our arrival in Middle Earth.
The flight was, as they say down here, lovely. As we were descending into Auckland, the sun rose over the high clouds and filled the sky with a fiery display of beauty unlike any had long seen. I couldn’t take a picture because all “electronic devices must be stowed and placed in the off position”. Oh for a simply instamatic again.
We made it safely and quickly through immigration and customs and our friends, Alex and Grant were waiting with a hot pick banner with a Kiwi on it. And, we were off on our first day in New Zealand. It was early, around 830 AM by the time we climbed into their mini-van. We headed to downtown Auckland for a busy and windy cool day. My mistake was not changing out of my work shoes into my running shoes. We covered 5 miles in walking and by 3 P.M. New Zealand time (8 P.M. Shreveport time) my four hours of sleep had long left me weak and tired. But, here are some pictures from our first day. Just check out the captions for details.