We returned to New Zealand on March 16 with mixed emotions. While it is good to get back to our flat and the company of the other senior missionaries we are serving with, we were sad to say goodbye to our dear Samoan friends, the Ah Hoys. We truly fell in love with that beautiful country and the wonderful people there..
We were just home a few days before we took off again, this time for a get-away weekend with friends. Our boss has suggested we take some time off when we got back, so when one of the other missionary couples invited us for a road trip, we decided to take them up on it.
We traveled to the Central Plains of New Zealand. Elder and Sister Winters had planned a special trip down that way with family members who had come from the USA to visit. However, due to the recent cyclone in Vanuatu, Elder Winters was not able to go. He is a specialist with the Welfare / Humanitarian Aid efforts for the Pacific. Since he has strong past experience in disaster relief, he was just the right person to go with the team that would asses the damage there and make plans for how the Church could best help those in need. (More on that later). Unfortunately, it came right at the same time that he had reservations for this special trip with his family.
With Elder Winters unable to go on their planned trip, they had no driver. Like me, Sister Winters has deferred driving in this country to her husband. Even if she had decided to brave driving on the left hand side of the road, that option had disappeared for her since she fell and broke her wrist shortly before we took off for Samoa. She had to have surgery to get it put back together with pins and plates, and her hand is still in a cast. So no driving for her. The van they drive is one of the church fleet vehicles that any missionary can drive, but no "civilians" are covered on the insurance. So her visitors were not allowed behind the wheel. Since her daughter and son-in-law had just a narrow window of opportunity to see New Zealand during their two week visit, they wanted to make the most of each day they would be here. Knowing we are usually up for an adventure, Elder and Sister Winters invited us to go along in Gary's place. Larry was able to do the driving. Their planned for trip was salvaged and we got a few days of seeing new parts of the country we had not anticipated. So really it was a win-win.
Our first stop was near Matamata, where we went to tour the Hobbiton movie set.
Having been an avid fan of J.R.R.Tolkein's work, this was a lot of fun. It's expensive, so it is not something we would ordinarily choose to do on our own. But since we were on the trip with the others, we decided to splurge. It was way more fun than I had expected and all of us had a great time wandering around "the Shire". We especially enjoyed the stories we heard about the making of the movie. It was interesting to learn about things like "forced perspective" and different things they did to create the illusions in the movies we found so captivating.
Next we headed on to Rotorua where we got to visit a Maori village. We had a great dinner and got to watch a demonstration of their culture.
After that we got a walk through nearby Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park. Kiwi are very shy nocturnal birds so getting a glimpse of them in the wild is rare. Here though they have incubator raised birds living in large enclosures so by standing quietly for a while we got to watch them walk around. They are bigger than I expected, standing about a foot high and looking to be about the size of a long legged fat chicken. We walked through big redwood trees and jungle plants, gazed at the Southern Cross and generally had a pretty amazing evening.
We spent that first night at Wylie Court hotel where I was delighted to see a luxury I have missed mightily - a bath! This was no ordinary bathtub, however. We had a large soaking pool that was heated by local geothermal currents. It was plenty hot and big enough for the both of us to wallow in till we got pruney. It was delicious!
The next day we did a bit of exploring around Rotorua. We visited Kuirau Park where we got to see (and smell) the very active geothermal activity. There are many bubbling, steaming pools and mud pots that smell like rotten eggs with their releasing sulpher. We found some geocache and generally enjoyed the area.
After the park we found one more geocache across town that was hidden in an amazing tree that had been very colorfully covered in a knitted wrap adorned with flowers, spiderwebs and other decor:
That tree led us to a cool art gallery where we enjoyed the work of local painters, sculptors and fiber artists.
Then we walked along the "Sulpher Lake Sculpture Trail" that was nearby.
We enjoyed the artwork and the lovely trail, but the lake was pretty stinky so we did not stay long. So on we went to the next part of our adventure, down to Turangi.
We drove along Lake Tapo where in the distance we could see the peak that was used for "Mt Doom" in the Fellowship of the Ring movies (with some generous computer enhancements).
Lake Tapo is huge - and beautiful.
When we got to Turangi we stayed at a cute fishing cabin near the Tongoria River.
On Sunday we went to church and then stopped by the National Trout Center to walk through the
river trails and view the fish at the observation deck. It was a beautiful place we thoroughly enjoyed.
Then finally we were ready to head back to Auckland. We had a delightful trip and very much enjoyed seeing more of the country. I'm glad we went, but it's good to be back home.