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Gore A & P Show (Feb 4)

The Gore A&P Show was held on Saturday February 4th, just a couple of days after we had returned home from our trip to The Catlins. The A&P stands for Agriculture and Pastoral. In scale, it’s similar to a county fair but a little smaller than what I grew up with at the Hardin County Fair when it comes to amount of total livestock, project displays, and carnival rides. Most of the show was focused around Dairy, Equestrian, and fun family activities. One key difference was that people of all ages were showing livestock, not just younger ones.

Michael and I brought one of the younger boys, Casey, from our congregation along for the day so he could be our tour guide at the show. He is a farm boy to the core and loves animals! It was such a treat to spend the day with him.

We watched some of the dairy judging and saw the Supreme Grand Champion Friesian Dairy Cow earn her ribbon. We also caught the “Large Breed” and Small Breed” heifer judging. The large breeds (i.e Black Angus) were much smaller than their US cousins. The small breed heifers included white galloways, belted galloways, riggit galloways, and what I think were highland breeds. Many of these breeds originate from Scotland, as do many people who live in Southland, NZ!

Michael and I were impressed by something we saw in one of the smaller barns. It was the largest sheep we had ever seen! He was massive! The top of his back was even with Michael’s belt when they stood side by side, and it’s head was huge! We saw some Angora rabbits, piggies, miniature horses, baby lambs, baby cows, chickens, fancy pigeons, ducks, and even some kitties being displayed for adoption by the local SPCA.

As with every fair or festival, there are plenty of places to get overpriced, unhealthy food along with rides and games to waste your good money on. While we decided to take a lunch break, Casey’s family joined us for the afternoon at the show. This is the same family that Michael works for milking cows and they have become very dear friends to us!

An A&P Show in Southland wouldn’t be complete without a performance by a Celtic Pipe and Drum Band. And just the other day, Michael and I drove past a Pipe and Drum competition between the local schools. Southlanders take their heritage very seriously!

A large part of the day was centered around Equestrian classes and judging. Most classes were English-styled riding. I think “western style” is kept more to the ranch work and trail rides, because I did not see one piece of western tack during the entire show! There was everything from Working Hunter, Show jumping, Pinto Horse judging, Hunter Jumping events, In-Hand Horse Classes (similar to Showmanship I think), and a Six Bar Jumping Competition.

There was even a driving class for little ponies pulling carts with women wearing fancy hats!

During the middle of the day there was a demonstration by the Eastern Southland Hunt Club and their hounds in the main ring. It was led by three riders in the traditional red jackets and a group of riders tagged along behind them to run around the ring with the hounds. It was a cool event to witness and we were so impressed by the tiniest rider on her fat, little miniature paint horse keeping up with the group!

One of the last events to wrap up the Gore A&P Show was a parade through the main ring of all the livestock and horses that had earned ribbons throughout the day, along with a parade of all the machinery and show cars. Last but not least there was even a gum boot throwing competition! Just about every single person in New Zealand owns a pair of gum boots (rubber boots/muck boots). They even have a gum boot song…I’ll try to find it for everyone’s enjoyment for a later post. Even though we did encounter a little rain, it was a great day spent outside with good friends and learning more about what it means to be a New Zealander.

Exploring Clutha and The Catlins (Feb 1-2)

There’s no better way to kick off the month of February to welcome summer than to go camping! It has been a very mild and wet start to summer, even the sheep farmers are whining about it. Thankfully for our short 2 day/1 night camping trip to The Catlins we had sunny and relatively warm weather. Below is one of the simple maps we used to find our way through the Clutha region (I added the stars next to each place we visited on this trip).

The Catlins are located in the southeastern corner of the South Island. Being this far south, the long summer days allow for more time to explore. There is still a little light in the sky after 10:30pm! The Catlins encompasses an area with rolling green rural farmsteads, podocarp forests, dotted with hidden lakes and waterfalls, and ending in rugged coastlines sculpted by the rough southern seas. These coastlines, despite the harsh conditions, are home to myriads of birds, fur seals, and the rare yellow-eyed penguin. On this trip we did have the fortune of seeing some fur seals, but no penguins. We are hoping our future trip down to Stewart Island will give us the opportunity to see some of New Zealand’s rarest bird life.

We left early on February 1st and took the scenic way down to Curio Bay, which would be the starting point for our 2 day trip. The main road that parallels the coastline in The Catlins is known as the Southern Scenic Highway. Off of this main road is numerous dirt roads that take you to all the sights to see along the way. On our way to Curio Bay, we made a stop at the Niagara Falls Cafe. After a quick bathroom break and enjoying possibly the most delicious brownie we have ever had, we hopped back in the car for our first “sight-seeing” stop. Only a few hundred yards away from the cafe is the “other” Niagara Falls, where the cafe gets its name. Now we can say we have seen the Niagara Falls of the Southern Hemisphere. Ha!

Curio Bay was our first stop. It was important that we arrived here during low-tide because we wanted to be able to see the Petrified Forest. With the tide out, we were able to walk among the fossilized stumps and logs that were embedded in the Jurassic age rock. There were white caps out to sea and the waves were quite rough that day due to the strong winds, but it made for a spectacular atmosphere to explore the area.

Along the jagged rocks at the ocean’s edge were masses of thick, rubbery, brown and green kelp. This was our first time seeing this kind of seaweed up close and able to touch it. To me, it almost felt like the material of a neoprene wetsuit. These immense kelp shoots are very well attached to the rock to withstand the continual pounding of ocean waves, and yet they are super flexible and moved thru the water like cooked spaghetti. It never fails, I compare things to food when I decide to write when I’m hungry.

 

After Curio Bay, we drove a short distance to Porpoise Bay. This is a large cove that has calm waters and is a great place to see the very rare Hector’s Dolphins playing in the gentle waves. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any at the time we visited, but the beach looked like a great place to relax on a hot, sunny day and be on the watch for dolphins.

Porpoise Bay

Our next planned stop was to the Cathedral Caves. Not to be confused with Cathedral Cove, which we visited during our trip though the North Island. These caves can only be accessed during low-tide for a short time each day. Since we spent our time at the petrified forest during low-tide, we missed the opportunity to visit Cathedral Caves, so we are planning to go back down on a day trip to see them. Just up the road from the caves is McLean Falls, which made up for missing our on the caves. There has been so much rainfall lately, which makes for great waterfall pictures!

McLean Falls

On our way to our campsite, we stopped at a lookout point at Florence Hill overlooking Tautuku Beach. What a pristine and beautiful beach! Just a little too cold to be jumping in the water!

Florence Hill Lookout and Tautuku Beach

Our last stop before we camped for the night was a short 20 minute hike up to Purakaunui Falls. This was another full-flowing waterfall due to the recent rains and we enjoyed every minute of exploring the area. At this waterfall, I played around with some longer exposure shots to practice my camera skills. I’m pretty pleased with the results, and had to do very little editing, but next time I will definitely bring my tripod to make sure I get the best quality with a long exposure shot. My hands are not as steady as I think they are, even at 1/4 second!

Purakaunui Falls

The DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite we stayed at was located at Purakaunui Bay, and was quite remote. We drove what seemed like forever down narrow, winding, dirt roads. The camping area was right off the beach with sheep pastures all around us on the high green hills sheltering the mouth of a river that was slowly making it’s way into the South Pacific. Out of all the the campsites and holiday parks we have camped at in New Zealand, this one was definitely a favorite despite no powered sites or showers. It’s all about location! We even spotted a few surfers, with wetsuits of course, taking advantage of the waves produced by the strong winds that had blown all day.

Our view from our campsite at Purakaunui Bay. Close to Paradise!

After cooking a simple dinner on our portable camp stove, I relaxed and did some reading inside the tent since the wind was picking up. Michael chilled out in a camp chair down on the beach. In the twilight hours, he called me out of the tent to come meet him on the beach. There, lumbering out of the grass and making its way to the ocean, was a massive fur seal! We were hoping that was a good sign for seeing some wildlife the next day.

Run Fur Seal, Run!

Day 2 included only two stops: Jack’s Blowhole and Nugget Point Lighthouse. We were able to sleep in and had a relaxing morning before hitting the road, but I regret not bringing any instant coffee or tea. We will remember that for the Kepler Track trip next month. If it’s one thing that New Zealanders know about, it’s good coffee, even the instant stuff. Yum!

We hit the road and headed for Jack’s Blowhole. The hiking track traverses through private farmland but was well marked and had amazing views of the coast. It was overcast that day, but the wind had subsided and the rain hadn’t arrived yet, so we were still pleased with the weather turnout. The blowhole is 200m inland from the coast and is about 55m deep. It was formed when the roof of a large subterranean cave was eroded away and fell in. Sadly, we were a little underwhelmed due to calm seas and slack tide, but the hike there and back was beautiful regardless. We later found out that visiting the blowhole during a king tide with rough seas yields the best results.

The final stop was at Nugget Point Lighthouse. This was the place we finally saw some fur seals and their pups hiding from the waves among the rocks below. We were quite high up on a cliff on the track that led to the lighthouse, so I am glad I brought a telephoto lens and some binoculars so we could see them better. And boy, are they noisy! Screaming like banshees!

After awhile the rain started rolling in and we took that as our cue to call it a day and head for home, but not before stopping for a Thai dinner in the town of Balclutha.

Now, during this trip, there were plenty of cliff ledges and sketchy places to lose your footing. Being a loving and protective husband, Michael is always kind enough to remind me to “be careful” and “don’t get too close to the edge” of wherever I am standing. But this trip I had the chance to snap a couple pictures of Michael not heeding his own advice. If you follow us on Facebook or Instagram, then you are familiar with this photo of Michael at Curio Bay. He honestly never saw the ‘Beware of Cliff’ sign and thankfully wasn’t that close to the edge…but it’s still pretty funny to see his reaction once he realized I caught him on camera.

Going through our pictures from this trip, I found yet another instance of him standing in a place that he probably shouldn’t be. What a naughty boy!! In the end, we had some good laughs and made some great memories while keeping each other safe. I’m thankful for a husband who can do both.

 

NZ Roadtrip Part 2: Missing Trolls, Moody Glaciers, and the Giant Trout.

We have been in Gore for about a month now, and I’m finally getting around to sitting my butt down and writing about everything we’ve been up to, along with going back and editing tons of pictures. The sitting down and concentrating part is harder than it sounds when there is so much happening! But I’ll do my best to get you up to date since we left Wellington.

Sidenote: I ended up not getting my DSLR camera sensor professionally cleaned in Wellington since it was going to cost me $80. Once we reached Gore, I bought a cleaning kit and did it myself (Youtube tutorials are the best!). Now I have a clean camera sensor and don’t have to waste my life editing out little black specks of dust from my photos.

Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand and is a growing city with an artsy-creative-fresh vibe goin’ on. Honestly, maybe even a bit hipster since they are really into their micro breweries. The Te Papa Museum was huge and I’m so glad we were able to check it out. No pictures of the inside, but if you are ever in Wellington definitely spend a day here. Plus it’s free admission! Another stop while we were in Wellington was to check out the Weta Workshop. This is a special effects company that made their name known with The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit, but have actually worked on tons of films since then. Weta Cave is the gift shop attached to Weta Workshop and they offer a 30 minute video on everything that goes on in the workshop, plus lots of cool souvenirs, movie prop replicas, and figurines for sale. This is what we decided to do since the Behind-the-Scenes Workshop tour was $25 per person and we had a tight budget…ya know, with no jobs and all. Perhaps my biggest disappointment was not getting to see the 3 giant trolls (Bert, Tom, and Will) that hang out in front of Weta Cave. They were GONE! Actually, they were put in storage a few days before our visit since there were renovations being done to the building…but still, I was quite sad that we literally missed them by a few days.

We successfully made it onto the enormous Interislander Ferry with Samson the Subaru packed with all of our stuff and enjoyed the 3hr ride from Wellington to Picton. Once the ferry reached Picton, we drove a little ways to our campsite which was peaceful, scenic, and home to lots of bunnies!

Since we wanted to be in Gore before Nov 30th, we decided to cut out some stops along our way down the West coast. Milford Sound and Fjordland National Park were cut out temporarily because honestly the weather was not the best for camping and being outside. We do plan on checking out those places sometime in February or March when it will be warmest. Abel Tasman National Park was unfortunately cut out completely because of weather. Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier thankfully were on the way down the west coast and we were going to see them no matter the weather! It was totally worth it despite the rain because there were plenty of waterfalls all around us. The downside to the weather was that we could not walk the full length of the trail at Fox Glacier that brings you right up to the face of the glacier. On our way back to the car at Fox Glacier, the weather quickly went from dreary rain to “run-for-your-life!” Hail was starting to fall as we made it into the car and for the next 10 minutes we waited for it to let up, all while thinking about the poor people we walked past who were definitely not prepared for ice balls falling from the sky. Hopefully they were fast runners! New Zealand weather can change from one extreme to the other in a matter of minutes. No. Joke.

Queenstown was another must-see stop on our drive through the South Island. Queenstown is tucked away in a mountain range called The Remarkables. Yep, they were definitely remarkable! The tourist season in Queenstown can get pretty crazy which is the only downside we could see to prevent us from moving there right away! While checking out the town, Michael and I did a very challenging hike up a trail called Queenstown Hill Walking Track. This “hill” was steeper than Clingman’s Dome in Tennessee which we hiked back in September. We like to think we are in pretty good shape, but this was a toughie just due to the sheer grade of the path. Despite all that, the view at the top was worth every grueling step.

After we left Queenstown we camped in a tiny town called Lumsden. The great part was that we could pick up free wifi from the library right next door and no camp fees. The not-so-great part was that it was incredibly cold with high winds, so we decided not to pitch the tent and instead slept in our car. Yeah, not such a good idea since we aren’t exactly young anymore. Thankfully, since we had wifi we emailed our host family, Doug and Robyn Waters, about possibly arriving in Gore sooner than expected and they said come on over! So our camping adventure across the country was over and we could settle in for the next few months. Staying with the Waters family has been a blessing in so many ways. Instead of trying to find a small place to rent within our very tight budget, we worked out a rental agreement with them. Not only do we have a cozy place to stay but we have a wonderful family to spend time and share spiritual encouragement with!

The town of Gore is similar to Brooksville, Florida in that it is small town surrounded by farm land. But the farm land is beautiful rolling green hills with sheep. Gore is not as populated as Brooksville and is a quiet and “old-fashioned” town. What I mean by that is most shops are closed up by 5 or 6pm and not much is open on Sundays. And Gore is known for their trout fishing, so there is the giant trout statue we drive past all the time.

One of the things keeping us so busy has been our new jobs!  I’m working at a busy café in town called The Green Room Café. I found the job posting online, but ended up walking in and handing my résumé to the owner. The coffee is amazing and the food is freshly made, so it’s no wonder why it is popular with the locals. A big plus is that I can walk to work, which takes me about 10 minutes, and helps us save on gas (suuuuuper expensive here). It’s over $2 per litre and there are 3.78 litres in a gallon. Back home gas was about $2.50 per gallon when we left, so even with the exchange rate we are still paying over $6 a gallon!!! Ouch. Anyways, I have been working close to full time hours during the crazy holiday season, but now my schedule is easing back to 20-25 hours a week to make room for other things.

Michael is working on a Dairy Farm about 10 min outside of town. He didn’t grow up on a farm, but he is a fast learner and hard worker, plus loves animals. The best part is that he will be working alongside a family from the Gore congregation. Jason and Lisa are the main hands on this dairy farm of about 425 cows. Many of the dairy farms that were hiring wanted workers with prior milking experience, which we didn’t have. Thankfully, Lisa and Jason were able to secure a spot for Michael and will show him the ropes! It will be a learning experience for the both of us, but we are thankful to Jehovah and our friends in the congregation for all their support!

Another activity that has kept us on the go is the ministry work helping the Gore congregation. Jesus said the harvest is great and the workers would be few, and it has been a blessing to get a taste of what he meant! What a wonderful place to meet the locals, see the countryside, and assist the local congregation in sharing the Bible with others. We are still trying to get used to how NICE people are. Seriously, we have been invited inside by complete strangers to chat, even if they aren’t super interested in the Bible. Most are willing to listen to what we have to say and even accept our free Bible literature. It’s quite a contrast to some of the experiences we have had back home (doors slamming in your face, people screaming at you, attack dogs, etc.). Even the roadblocks here are different…as most of the time its a sheep herd on the move! So our ministry has been very rewarding in this first month and we are excited to see what the next few months will bring!

The vastness of certain places, the intensity of specific experiences, the grandeur of landscapes so beautiful it doesn’t seem possible for them to be real puts into perspective our own self, our priorities, and our lack of understanding when compared to the one who created all of it. He truly deserves all the credit and praise!

-Me

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Mount Ngaurahoe

After days and days of rain, wind, snow, and freezing cold we finally caught a break! On Wednesday we decided to pack up the tent and stay in warm, cozy beds at the ski hotel up the road since temps were dropping near freezing at our altitude. That really enabled us to be fully rested for our hike. Friday ended up sunny, dry, warm-ish, and perfect for a long hike! Since the shuttles cancelled the day before to transport hikers to and from the trail, we drove ourselves to the starting point of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The total length of the trail is 19.4km (12 miles) but we decided to do an out-and-back hike, again because no shuttle service back to the car.

Our hike took us along the base of Mount Ngaurahoe (pronounced Nara-ho-ee) and up, up, up to the edge of Red Crater. From the vantage point of 1900 meters we could see Crater Lake below us and Lake Taupo in the far distance. Our total hike out and back ended up being just over 12 miles and took us about 5 hours. We encountered a decent layer of snow cover once we reached an altitude around 1400 meters, which made for a slippery hike back down. We dressed in layers, including heavy winter coats, had our hiking boots on, and wore sun and eye protection. Michael forgot to put sunscreen on his face so his nose and cheeks got a little red!

For all you Lord of the Ring fans out there, Mount Ngaurahoe is the mountain used as the inspiration for Mount Doom in LoTR (with plenty of CGI thrown in of course). There was a side trail that took you to the summit of Mount Ngaurahoe, but with all the snow, we did not have the proper equipment (or skill) to climb the steep slopes in those conditions. Mount Ngaurahoe is actually what is called a “parasitic volcano” of the larger Mount Tongariro. The most recent eruption came from Mount Tongariro in 2012, while Mount Ngaurahoe’s last eruption was in 1977. A little further away is Mount Ruapehu and it lasted erupted in 2007.

 

We are so happy we waited out the weather and made it up as far as we did. Another bucket list item checked off!

Currently, we arrived today (Tuesday) at our Airbnb in Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand. Our ferry ride to the South Island is not until Thursday afternoon so we have some time to explore. One stop I need to make is to a camera shop to get the sensor cleaned. Dust specks are really annoying when I’m editing photos!! After that we are taking a tour of the Weta Workshop, which is the special effects props company used for movies like Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, District 9, and many more. A must-do in Wellington is to visit the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. It is the national museum and art gallery with all sorts of exhibits, but best of all, it’s free! And we love free stuff!

That’s all for now. I’ll keep you up to date with our travels through FB and instagram until I write Part 2 of our NZ Roadtrip! 

NZ Roadtrip – Part 1: Earthquakes, Hobbits, and Weather Woes

As I am writing this post, Michael and I are hunkered down in the communal kitchen area of the Whakapapa campground at our own table staying warm and dry. We are joined by hikers and campers from all over the world. Austria, Switzerland, France, Germany, and the US. And just like them, we are waiting out the cold, rainy, miserable weather to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It’s known as one of the greatest one day hikes in the world. Our original plan was to camp here for two nights while completing the 12 mile hike during our stay. Well, we all know what happens when you try to plan ahead….so we spent a couple hours today re-working our travel itinerary. The weather is supposed to be nicer tomorrow (Friday) and clear up by Sunday, so we are going to attempt a short trail section tomorrow and possibly do the full hike on Sunday. Then we will finally head back out on the road, but we can’t waste too much more time waiting out the weather.

As most of you know, there was a very strong (7.8 magnitude) earthquake that took place near Kaikoura on the South Island on Nov 14th, which not only caused major damage on the South Island, but was also felt in parts of the North Island. We were far enough north that we didn’t feel anything while we were sleeping in our tent. It also meant trouble for the ferry services that go between the North and South island. Amidst the tsunami warnings, landslides, aftershocks, and road closures there was also major damage to the docks at the wharfs in Wellington and Picton. Our plans to take the ferry across to the South island on Nov 20th got bumped back to Nov 24th. Hopefully that does not change. Also, since we are incurring extra camping costs staying longer in Tongariro National Park and an extra night in Wellington, we needed to find a way to offset those costs. So we are doing what’s called “freedom camping” in a few spots between Tongariro and Wellington (since it’s a pretty far drive). We are also cutting out a few stops on the south island and driving a bit longer each day. The plan is to drive 4-5 hours instead of our usual 2-3 we have averaged. Some campsites throughout New Zealand offer varying primitive amenities and are completely free to stay at for a few nights. We have found a few along our route that are free of charge, have a source of drinking water, and toilets (usually the non-flush kind). Virtually no freedom campsites have showers, so we will be hippie-travelers for a couple days until we get to our nice, cozy Airbnb in Wellington. If you aren’t sure what Airbnb is, check it out here. We stayed at one in Sydney and loved it!

So far we are enjoying our road trip through the North Island. We are grateful to our friends Nicole and Barry for giving us a place to stay and good travel advice!  The driving requires a lot of concentration on both our parts so we have not been driving more than 4 hours per day. Roads here can twist and wind their way through mountain ranges or they can be gravel roads for long stretches. Before heading out on our journey though, we were able to spend some time with our friend Xairah, a Filipino sister in the Auckland Central congregation, and new friends the two days prior to our departure. We walked around downtown Auckland, had yummy Korean food one night, Thai food the following night, and our favorite treat Boba Milk Tea two days in a row! I could totally go for some Boba right now actually…

Anyways, our first stop on the road was a campsite in the Coromandel Peninsula. This is where we stopped by Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. Hot Water Beach exists due to heated rocks deep under the beach. The groundwater is forced up through the sand and comes up quite hot. It’s recommended to dig your sandy hot tub within +/-2 hours of low tide, otherwise that area of the beach is under ocean waves. A short 15 minutes drive away is Cathedral Cove. This place is known for a huge cave tunnel that stretches over a beautiful beach. The carpark was quite full when we arrived, but we luckily snagged a parking spot, then made the 45 minute trek down to the beach. It was completely worth it!

From there, we drove to Matamata and camped at a holiday park that had thermal hot spring pools. That was a real treat since it was quite chilly that day. The area around Matamata has lush, rolling green hills and lots of sheep. This is where Peter Jackson built the set of Hobbiton for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit films. The Alexander family that owns the land that Hobbiton lies within is an actual working sheep farm with 13,000 sheep! It was an amazing experience seeing the same hobbit holes that were used in the films. I was finally able to check that off my bucket list!

To find out more about taking a tour of Hobbiton, click here.

After leaving Hobbiton, we camped at a Holiday park in Rotorua, which is famously known for its geothermal activity and tourist attractions. Local kiwis call it Roto-Vegas because it becomes packed with tourists during the high season. It was rainy the entire time we stayed here, so we did not get to see any bubbling mud pools or geysers. We did do a short hike near some Sulphur steam vents (smelled like rotten eggs) and later went to check out the Whakarewarewa Redwoods Forest. Now that place was totally worth hiking in the cold and rain. To learn more about the Redwoods in New Zealand, click here.

Once we left Rotorua, we headed further south and into the mountains of Tongariro National Forest. And this is where we are still waiting for the rain to stop. I am hoping for some breathtaking photos since we were robbed of any while hiking in the Blue Mountains back in Australia due to the thick fog and rain. We can only wait and see if the weather cooperates on Friday!

We are so grateful to our friends and family who checked in after the earthquake and who follow us along our journey. We love you all and think about you often! But ultimately, we give all of our thanks to Jehovah God who has put so many wonderful people into our lives and given us some amazing experiences. It has been faith-building to meet new friends in a completely different country who feel like family. There are occasions where something will happen, and Michael and I will glance at each other with the look, “Whoa. That definitely came from Jehovah.” In all honesty though, it has been hard to stay on a spiritual routine since we are travelling and are not settled into a new congregation just yet. But we are keeping to our study on Sundays and Thursdays, and reflect on the daily scriptural text.  We can’t wait to see what else this trip has in store for us and dive into the ministry – minus any more earthquakes!

Our next blog will post will reveal whether we were successful in hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing or if the rain and cold defeated us. Stay tuned!

It’s All South From Here!

We are getting ready to make our way to our final destination on the south island of New Zealand. But first, I have to tell you all about our time in Sydney, Australia! This post is a little overdue I know, seeing as how we have been in New Zealand now for over a week, thanks to the fact that airplanes are big, flying germ palaces. The day after we landed I started feeling weird body aches and thought maybe it was just from throwing around our heavy luggage. Then the sore throat came. And the fever. And the coughing. Thankfully, I brought some of my essential oils with me which seemed to help the coughing, and feeling much more like myself.

Our stay in Sydney was only 5 days, so a return trip will have to happen in the future to see the rest of the country. Despite the short stay, we saw alot of the city and surrounding area thanks to their amazing public transportation. Seriously, Sydney has it together. Trains, buses, and ferries can take you anywhere within a matter of minutes. And as of just a few months ago, all you need is an Opal card to ride any form of city transportation. Just “tap on” or “tap off” and it takes the appropriate fare. What’s even better is once you hit a certain dollar cap for the week, even if its only say Wednesday, you get to ride free the rest of the week.

Here is our Itinerary for the rest of our week once we settled in at our Airbnb:

Tuesday

We unpacked (partially) and got settled in after a busy day getting off the cruise ship. Our host’s brother took us to the grocery to pick up a few things and get our Opal cards to get around the city since we didn’t have a car. Then we rested up for our week ahead.

Wednesday

Rode the train out to the JW Australasia Branch and took a tour. Outside were wild roseate Cockatoos and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos playing in the trees. Later that evening we walked from our Airbnb to a local Kingdom Hall (Bondi Congregation) for mid-week Bible Study.

Thursday

Explored famous Bondi Beach, picked up a few souvenirs and postcards, then grabbed fish n chips for lunch. We checked out lots of weird art in an installation called Sculptures by the Sea. Definitely interesting to check out, even if you aren’t really into art. It’s only here for 2 weeks out of the year so we timed it pretty good.

Friday

Rode train for 2 hours out to Blue Mountains National Park in Katoomba. The weather wasn’t the best (rainy, cold, and foggy) so we didn’t get good pictures of the “blue haze” that give the Blue Mountains their name, or the famous Three Sisters peak.

However, we did get to see the rare Lyre Bird, along with Rosellas and lots of Sulphur-crested cockatoos in the eucalyptus trees. (If you’ve never heard of a Lyre Bird, Google “Lyre Bird David Attenborough” and prepare to be entertained.)

We also climbed The Great Stairway. It’s 900 steps to the bottom, and then 900 steps all the way back up. It’s supposed to take over an hour to climb back up, but I’m proud to say we did it in less than 35 minutes. Definitely a booty workout!

Saturday

We went for a bike ride through Centennial Park in the morning. It has a 2 mile, one-way driving loop, so lots of cyclists were out too. The park has something for everyone. Running tracks, Equestrian area, Playgrounds, Cricket fields, Cafes, and lots of trees and ponds. I even saw a kookaburra up close! Spent the rest of the day checking out the CBD (central business district), took ferry to Manly Beach, and walked around Circular Quay (pronounced “key”) taking in the sights of Sydney Harbor. I think the weirdest thing we saw were some Aboriginal men playing didgeridoo to techno remix, but it was catchy music I must admit.

Sunday

Fly to New Zealand and start our adventure!

the do’s and don’ts of visiting Sydney
  • DO use the public transportation. It’s more affordable than renting a car or paying for a taxi. Super easy to use and you can see more of the city this way. The trains were our favorite. Just don’t forget to keep your Opal card topped up.
  • DON’T book tours through expensive tourism agencies. There is a ton of free stuff to do in the city and different walking tours to take in the iconic sites. Sydney is a very pedestrian/bicycle friendly city, so wear a comfortable pair of walking shoes.
  • DO expect to pay more for food. The portions are smaller than in the US and it will cost you 25-50% more than what you’re used to paying.
  • DON”T leave the house without a raincoat. Check the weather conditions where you are going and plan for the weather to change quickly and unexpectedly. This rule applies to Sydney and New Zealand.
  • DO take lots of pictures! It’s a beautiful city with alot to offer, so make sure to capture those memories.
  • DON’T expect to see it all in 5 days. This country is huge! We would recommend spending a few weeks here and to get out of the city to really explore the wild bush life of Australia. Add variety to your itinerary by doing some diving or taking a road trip out to Uluru in the “Red Center” of the country. We already want to go back and see more!

 

We have spent the first 2 weeks here in New Zealand staying with a friend of mine just outside Auckland. In those 2 weeks, we have bought a used car, set up our bank accounts and tax ID numbers for employment, planned out our route, and got used to driving on the other side of the road. We are spending a little under 2 weeks to do a driving/camping tour of the North Island, then we will take a 3 hour ferry ride across to the South Island. Once there, we will camp in Abel Tasman National Park for a couple days, then make the drive to the southern end to the small town of Gore (1 hour North of Invercargill) where we will be assisting the congregation for the next 5-6 months. It’s wild, rugged country down there, and the closest to Antarctica we will ever want to be. But we are excited to get started and be back in the ministry preaching about God’s Kingdom, even if it’s near the bottom of the world!

We will keep you all posted on our progress while on the road and try to post as many pictures as possible to Facebook and Instagram (emilymichaelattard)!

The Pacific Islands

Well, we are finally off the boat. It was enjoyable and we came away with alot of fun, new memories and experiences. However, being greatly outnumbered by people old enough to be our parents, or even grandparents, was an interesting experience in itself. We love ya, but 29 days stuck on a boat with ya is beyond our limit. Now we know! I’ll probably post a full write up of what we thought of Holland America Cruise Line in a future post, but first, I have to catch you up on everything between Hawaii  and now! (I’m technically skipping what we did in Hawaii on this trip because I plan on writing a post solely on the Hawaiian Islands and what to do there).

Pago Pago, American Samoa

Five days of straight sailing from Hawaii took us to our first port (pronounced “Pango Pango”) outside of the 50 states. It was a loooong 5 days of cruising, but thankfully the seas were calm the entire way. American Samoa is the easternmost island of the group and has been Americanized since April 17, 1900. The islands of western Samoa have been controlled by Germany, Great Britain, and New Zealand in the past, before finally declaring their own independence in 1962. We hiked a section of the WWII Heritage Trail in the morning before we were rained out. While out exploring, we encountered “wild mountain chickens” and friendly stray dogs around the island.

There is a rich culture here and the Samoans are a very resourceful and happy people. Although it is becoming a lost art among younger generations, women get together to weave fine grass mats for weddings, funerals, and various ceremonies. It is a very labor intensive process that takes days to prepare the leaves, dry them, and finally start weaving. Large mats can take up to a year to weave with many women working on them, but the results are amazing. The practice of weaving can be found among all the Pacific Island nations today. We stopped into the National Park Visitor Center to learn more about the park (and get Emily a lapel pin for her collection). Sam was the Park Ranger on duty and we talked to him for almost 45 minutes about Samoa’s history, culture, and the park. We learned that the US National Park Service doesn’t actually own the land. It’s the only National Park in their system that leases the land (and ocean) from the native people, which we thought was pretty awesome. Oh, and right before the ship left port we saw what looked like large birds circling and making a racket in the trees right across the road from the port. Well, they turned out to be GIANT fruit bats! They were eating bread fruit which is common in the tropics. For size comparison, they are larger than your average beach seagull. They are everywhere in the islands and we have actually seen them in the trees in the suburbs of Sydney as well.

Suva, Fiji

Suva is the largest city on the main island of Fiji. Very busy roads, no traffic lights, and they drive on the opposite side of the road. A little hectic but survivable. We went on our own walking tour of Suva to see some of the sights and to find free internet. Let’s just say there is no such thing as “free internet”… not even at McDonald’s. Man, where is a Starbucks when you need one? We walked through a botanical garden and to the Fiji Museum, but decided not take a tour ($10 Fiji). Stopped at ATM and took out $20 Fiji for afternoon snacks, their money is beautiful and we decided to keep a $5 note as a souvenir.

We were on the hunt for our favorite drink Boba (Bubble) Tea from Thailand. A Fijian lady overheard us asking for directions and said she knew what we were looking for and could lead the way. A little skeptical at first, we decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.  Her name was Mila and she is a kindergarten teacher. Following Mila to the city mall called Tappoo City, she showed us to the food court and there was a little kiosk that offered Boba Milk Tea. Exactly what we were craving!

While enjoying our drinks, Mila told us about herself and her family, and we told her about our trip and showed her some of our Bible Literature. She knew of Jehovah’s Witnesses and some of the local Kingdom Halls, but not much more than that. We informed her that we were headed to the local branch office for a tour that afternoon and asked if she’d like to join us. And she did! It was such a treat to bring her with us. The Fiji Branch houses around 80 full-time volunteers and mainly focuses on translation work for 6 languages that are spoken in the surrounding islands. The printing is then completed in either Australia or Japan, depending on the type of publication. There is ALOT of unassigned territory in Fiji and the surrounding islands. So if anyone wants to expand their ministry to a tropical island nation, Fiji is the place to go!

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We thoroughly enjoyed getting a tour and meeting some of our “extended spiritual family.” Mila seemed to really enjoy learning more about the work being done and meeting some Fijian Jehovah’s Witnesses as well. We hope to visit them all again one day soon!

After the tour we made our way back towards the cruise ship and wandered through a market full of fresh fruits, vegetables, taro, exotic flowers, and the leaves used in making grass mats. It had been overcast all day, but the rain finally cut loose and was coming down in buckets. We said goodbye to Mila and put on our rain ponchos. We were so grateful we decided to pack them in our backpack before leaving the ship!

Dravuni Island, Fiji

The day started off rainy and did not look promising for a snorkel, but we went out on the first tender boat anyways. Dravuni Island is tiny, being approximately 1 mile long and less than a 1/2 mile wide. We met some new JW friends on the ship, Bryan & Catherine, and their nephew Zeppelin, who moved to Tijuana Mexico 12 years ago to help in the field ministry. We also met a young guy named Dave who was on the cruise headed home to Australia. They joined us snorkeling and it didn’t take long for the sun to come out and light up the turquoise blue water. We have seen some pretty amazing creatures while diving or snorkeling in the past, but these waters teemed with life! We saw giant clams, blue starfish, sea cucumbers, lobster, tons of juvenile reef fish and coral every color of the rainbow. After snorkeling, Zeppelin, Dave, Michael and I hiked to the top of the island and took in the amazing view. On our hike up to the top there were coconut trees and mango trees everywhere. Afterwards, we got back into the water to cool off one last time and check out more of the marine life before heading back to the ship.

Port Vila, Vanuatu

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We decided to only do one excursion through the cruise for budget reasons and it was here in Vanuatu. Technically we were supposed to hike up to a waterfall, but since they have had extreme drought for the past 8 months, there wasn’t an actual flowing waterfall. For this reason, they gave us a small refund since the excursion would be modified slightly. On the excursion we hiked up to a high point on one side of the island to take in the views and swam in a refreshing spring-fed pool. On the hike up we saw more coconut trees, breadfruit trees, taro, and tapioca plants. We wished we could have spent more time here, but it was a short stay on the schedule. Guess we will just have to come back some day!

Easo, Lifou, New Caledonia

The small village of Easo is located on Lifou, part of New Caledonia. French is the primary language on the islands of New Caledonia. This small island offered up some beautiful snorkeling and picturesque scenery. We napped on the beach after we had taken a walk up to an old church with a beautiful cliff overlook. It’s a small population on this island and many of the locals lived in grass huts that were very well built. We have learned the simple life is a happy life.

Noumea, New Caledonia

If you plan on visiting New Caledonia, it would be a good idea to brush up on some basic French word and phrases. We made it around town just fine on our own since most people speak English as a second language here, but it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more fluent. After taking a shuttle bus from the busy port to a tourist center, we grabbed a map of the city and headed out to explore. There was a strong sea breeze that day which made the weather near perfect, with bright blue skies and warm temperatures. Definitely wear a hat and sun screen while traveling in the Pacific Islands. We are used to Florida sun beating down on us like a heat lamp, but out here with a constant sea breeze you can’t always “feel the burn.” We developed tropical tans even with applying sunscreen diligently along our way. We really enjoyed using the French currency here and kept about $1.65 CFP as souvenirs. We checked out the Museum of New Caledonia (only $2 CFP per person) and learned all about the native culture before French colonization took over, as well as artifacts from New Caledonia and surrounding islands.

We checked out the local market down by the marina, bought some French pastries for lunch, and took advantage of the FREE WIFI that was available all over the city. FINALLY! I guess we are a little spoiled with fast internet and free wifi around every corner.

We had 2 final sea days to Sydney and on the last day we encountered some rough seas. We have been very lucky to have such a smooth sailing this whole time, but on Monday the ship was slamming through 10-12ft swells with winds at 40-50 knots (46-57mph) and wind gusts at 68 knots (80mph). Just a bit windy! Most passengers stayed in their cabins on that last day, ourselves included apart from a couple of onboard events. Like I said, we had a great experience overall, but we were glad to finally get off the boat.

So, I hope you made it here to the end. This was a long one! We only have a few days left here in Sydney before heading to our final destination: New Zealand! Be on the lookout for a post all about our visit to Sydney. It will include everything we did while on short holiday, travel tips on getting around, itinerary and sightseeing recommendations, and of course lots of pictures of the beautiful city.

Take care and thanks for reading!

Vancouver and Holland America Part 1

I will try to keep this blog post to a reasonable length, but I have a lot to catch you all up on since we left Ohio on September 23rd. After 3 separate plane rides (and a couple of in-flight movies) we made it to Vancouver, BC. We stayed at a cozy little hotel called The Grouse Inn located in North Vancouver. This metropolis is a lot bigger than we anticipated, and its nickname “The Glass City” comes from the multitude of high-rise condominiums that dominate the skyline. Despite its population of almost 2.5 million people, it is also super expensive to live there. So we won’t be building our dream home here anytime soon.

Vancouver sky line from cruise terminal

Vancouver sky line from cruise terminal

Even though we only spent a short time here we were treated to an amazing day tour by our friends Jeremiah and Dana and their two boys. They were the best tour guides and we’re so happy we have them as new friends! Without them, we would not have seen much of this beautiful city, mainly because it is so huge!

Stopping for a quick group pic with a view of the harbor and Lions Gate Bridge in the background.

Stopping for a quick group pic with a view of the harbor and Lions Gate Bridge in the background.

Our tour of Vancouver included walking the Capilano Suspension Bridge, driving across the Lions Gate Bridge through Stanley Park, seeing the Inukshuk monument, cruising through downtown Vancouver, and grabbing lunch at The White Spot. (Travel Tip: If you happen to be in a Canadian restaurant, you must try poutine. Fries + Cheese curd + brown gravy = Delicious!) A real treat was walking in the canopy of lush Red Cedars, Douglas Firs, and Bigleaf Maples along the catwalks that were set up near the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

The next day we took a taxi down to the cruise terminal and successfully made it through all the different check-in lines. It was a little crazy due to the fact that there were 3 cruise ships loading up at the same time. But we made it onto the correct boat!

Since this is our very first cruise, we are impressed by nearly everything. The service, the food, the fitness center, the amenities, and literally the best pillows I’ve ever slept on. Before this trip, we had talked with some friends who were frequent cruisers on what to expect, but there have still been pleasant surprises. For example, the ship has an incredibly extensive movie rental collection. That came in handy during the 5 loooooong sea days between San Diego and Honolulu. Time seems to really drag when you are on a boat. During those 5 sea days we enjoyed a guest lecture series by a Marine Zoologist. Now a lecture may sound boring, but this guy was extremely entertaining and we loved attending each one covering a different topic about ocean life.

Michael and I also signed up for the “Olympics” on board during the sea days. Each sea day there is an “event” at 2pm. The events so far have included a ping-pong serve challenge, putt-putt golf, and basketball free throw. I will try to get some pictures of us participating when I post more about the ship (Maas Noordam, Holland America Line). Anyways, depending on how well you do at each event you accumulate points. At the end of the cruise you can win prizes based on your points. This has been a really fun way to get to know some of the others on board and getting out of our room! In case some of you might be wondering, we are NOT the youngest people on the boat, but we are greatly out-numbered by the older generations. We have seen a few kids here and there, but they are mostly kept up on deck 10 in prison…I mean, Club HAL.

Since this ship stops in Sydney, and eventually in Auckland, we have bumped into a lot of Aussies and New Zealanders heading back home. This has been a real treat to get to know some of them. One older couple in particular, John and Carol, are from New Zealand but now live outside of Brisbane in Australia. John is an excellent chess player and I have yet to beat him in a game, but I’m getting better. Apart from playing chess in the library, there is a casino on board, multiple bars, shopping, a performance hall, an art gallery, 2 pools, Spa and fitness center, multiple places to eat way too much food, a basketball court, and an onboard culinary show. I will try to cover all of that in a separate post in the future about what we learned on our first cruise.

Wednesday night we were able to attend the mid-week Bible study at a congregation here in Central Honolulu. We will admit, it has been a little weird not having an actual Kingdom Hall to attend while we are sailing around on a boat, but we have done our best to keep to our normal schedule of study, reading, and family worship. Plenty of down time when you are in the middle of the ocean!

At the time of this post we are in Honolulu, Hawaii. We will be here in the islands until Saturday – with cell signal – and then headed south to American Samoa – with no cell signal. I will try to catch up on emails and Facebook while we have a connection to civilization. I’m also planning on posting a San Diego Zoo Picture Gallery before we leave Hawaii, so stay tuned for that one if you love animals!

Pictures coming soon!

Pictures coming soon!

Today is the Day!

We leave Ohio this afternoon and land in Vancouver by dinnertime their time. The first step of this trip will be taken and a million more will follow as we embark on this grand adventure. The culmination of almost 2 year of researching, planning, praying, saving, and researching some more have led up to this day. We are as excited as we were on our wedding day!

Our time here has been relaxing. For me it’s always nostalgic.Cuddling with our Ohio critters. Fried green tomatoes made by mom (hers are the best). Driving past the brand new K-12 school for the Ridgemont School District. The old elementary school has been torn down. Parts of the old high school are left for event purposes. Stopping in for a bite at Jitterz in Kenton and the owner still remembering me from over 10 years ago. It’s the same coffee shop that my best friend and I would visit on a weekly basis before school started. Now I feel old.

I did get to take Michael to the Hardin County Fair on one of the last days. Sorry Hernando Co. FL, you’ve got nothing compared to the county fairs in the midwest. It was nice to remember some of my childhood showing pigs and horses, running around like a crazy kid for a week, performing in the H.S. Marching Band Show, eating fair food, and loving every minute of it. There were not as many steers and dairy cows as in years past, but I found out that is due to the cost of raising them has sky rocketed. (Now you know why beef and milk is so expensive!) I was really happy to see improved stalls in the horse barn and every stall was full, although we did miss the horse show on Saturday 🙁

Some of our time here was spent out in the ministry. We made some wonderful new friends and look forward to hearing from them during our travels. The Kingdom Hall in Kenton is the only one in the entire county! It’s a pretty big territory for one hall, but we could tell they really loved meeting and talking with people in their community. We didn’t get a chance to visit with any Amish, but we did buy some authentic Amish baked goodies before we left Ohio. For our Florida friends, Amish pies are 100x better than even a Publix pie. Just speakin’ the truth.

Michael and I also were able to spend some time with my best friend and her husband. They just bought their first house in Westerville, Ohio and couldn’t be more excited for them. We played disc golf in a nearby park and on a separate occasion we had dinner at German restaurant called Wurst and Bier (highly recommend) and topped off the evening next door at Level One. You have to be 21 or older to get in, but it’s basically a classic arcade with a bar equipped with everything from pinball machines, skeeball, and any old-school arcade game you remember playing. Tron. Mortal Kombat. PacMan. Frogger. Galaga. Space Invaders. Qbert. X-men. TMNT (Michael and I kicked butt on this one!) and the list goes on! All the games are free except the pinball  machines which will cost you 50 cents to play. Still totally worth it.

We had such a wonderful time in Ohio visiting with family, meeting up with old friends and making some new ones. This was the entire point of coming back for a few weeks. Quality time with ones we love. We have set up Skype with our parents and will use facetime on our iPhones when we can, but it’s not the same as being able to give that person a good hug when you miss them. That’s why we plan on making short pit-stop in Ohio on our way back to Florida.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

Our adventure is just beginning. This is the biggest thing we have ever done individually or as a couple. We will face challenges and we will experience victories. We will do our best to keep you posted every step of the way…well, as long as we have reliable internet!