Monday, February 20, 2012

Finlay Park to Cape Reinga

The four-hour prayer session at Taraunga HOP was very different than the morning before. Just two people gave leadership: a young woman led for the first half on the piano, singing her prayers and worship to God. It was quite beautiful, and many of her words were used of God to speak to my heart. I appreciated that her worship led us through some very specific and pertinent themes. The second half was led by a young man, who was very skillful on the guitar but his words were very general in nature, and I found his sampled guitar rhythms distracting after a short time. But we both still appreciated our time there, and wonder how to incorporate this idea into whatever ministry we next find ourselves.

We had an invitation from Quintin, who served at Qwanoes several years ago, to come and visit him at the camp where he has served for the past six years, Finlay Park Adventure Camp. We are so glad we did. On the way we passed through Matamata, and passed up the opportunity to visit the movie site of Hobbiton, for $66 per person. Quintin’s camp is nearby, and was quite enough for us. When we arrived he was still at work, getting ready for a weekend group, so we wandered around and got ourselves settled into the great little house he renovated on site.

When Quintin came home we caught up a bit, and then he made the suggestion that we go for a ski! He didn’t have to ask twice, and though I was a little nervous since I haven’t skied since I wrecked my shoulder, I was excited about the opportunity to get on the water. He has his own boat, a nice Mailbou built for skiers, though he has a wedge for the wakeboarders too. How did it go? Something like this…

So fun, and though it was a bit harder for me to get up, I was fine after that. Then I drove for Quintin, and though the last time I drove a ski boat goes much further back, that was fine too. I squeezed out one more ski before my energy was gone. We went back to his house, where Sarah and I made dinner while Quintin met his guests, and then we had a good couple of hours to chat and hear one another’s stories.

That night, he was taking a group on a glowworm tour and invited us along. This was not a cave tour but a boat tour up a narrow gorge. The stars were brilliant, the air warm, and we passed up a wide creek, under a bridge and into the gorge. The canyon walls were high above us and the stream narrow, so that we bumped the edges occasionally. For about half a kilometer the walls were just covered with the tiny but bright pinpricks of light that are glowworms. It was so beautiful. What I liked best was that the tiny glowworms and the massive stars above them looked just the same. What a wonderful world God has made!

The next morning we made a late start while Quintin worked with his group, and then had lunch together and caught up some more. God is opening doors and giving dreams to this young man, and he is coming to Canada in June for an indefinite time. It was great to hear, and I hope we can reconnect back at home. Then we were on the road again and on our way to Waihi Beach.

If you have been following this blog you might remember the family who hosted us and helped us get organized after we bought the van in Auckland. Mike, Helen and their 10-year-old son David had invited us to join them in February at their “bach” (cabin) at Waihi Beach on our way back up. Waihi Beach is a great little community on a fantastic surf beach, and their bach is WW2 army housing and very comfortable, just a hundred meters from the surf. The first thing we did when we arrived was to join them on a trip to the beach to dig for tuatuas (small clams) and go boogie-boarding. So fun. We found a whole bag of clams, and I discovered that though my shoulder won’t let me surf yet (can’t reach high enough to paddle), boogie-boarding is still really cool. And better suited to the smaller waves we would have over the next few days.

We stayed with them for four wonderful days! The weather was pretty mixed, but didn’t stop us from a pleasant flow of opportunities and just chilling at the bach: walks on the beach under amazing sunsets; a hike to another beach on slippery paths; a small church service with a great preacher; fantastic meals (Mike is a chef and Helen insists on good food and lots of it); more boogie-boarding with David and his cousin Luke; a trip to a huge open-pit gold mine and a series of historic tunnels; another trip to Cathedral Cove where the children enter Narnia in the Prince Caspian movie; a sidetrip to Hotwater Beach where you can dig your own hot tub right in the sand; Valentine’s dinner at a super roast beef buffet; games and long conversations about past memories and future dreams and church life and home life; more boogie-boarding; and many long walks on the beach. Mike and Helen and David blessed us over and over, and we so appreciate their friendship. It was very hard to leave.

But it was time to head north. The end of this journey is drawing near. We decided to make the trek back up to Kerikeri in just one day, which anyone living in Auckland just wouldn’t understand. But hey, we are simply not city people. We crawled through the City on State Highway 1, enjoyed the view and kept on going. Actually, we made one stop: we spent a pleasant hour at a white sand beach just south of Whangarei, soaking in the sun and the views of brilliant blue water.

We arrived in Kerikeri like we promised, in time for dinner, and spent the evening telling stories with John and Michelle, Josh and Ellie, Daniel and Lana, of all our adventures over these seven weeks that we have been gone. It is good to be with them again – it felt like coming home. So now we are catching up on correspondence, writing (finished the first draft of my novel!), photos, visits with friends, laundry and getting the van ready to sell, all before we leave for Canada on Friday. But I am still restless for adventure and beaches, I think. The day after we got back, I did a 10 km trek into a favourite beach from the last time we were here, and the next day we took the girls to another favourite surf beach where we went boogie-boarding. I was going back in the water for one more ride when I saw the dark shapes of two large stingrays in the waves, so with Steve Irwin in mind I went a little way down the beach to catch my last wave.

We decided on one last adventure, so on Sunday after pulling ourselves away from all the questions of friends at church, we left for Cape Reinga at the very top of New Zealand. We had a beautiful day to drive and decided to do most of our sightseeing on the way back, so we got up there by about 4:00 PM. I had forgotten how very beautiful it was up north. And so different from the other times we had visited in the winter. There was no wind, and it was warm and sunny, unlike the hurricane winds and chill we experienced before. This is where the blue Pacific Ocean meets the aqua-green Tasman Sea, and it was incredible to watch huge waves meet one another and burst straight up in the air. I wouldn’t want to take a boat through them! 

Sarah managed to walk all the way down to the lighthouse, though she paid for it the next day. It was nice to know that we are only 11,222 km from home, and that we will be making the journey soon.

We drove down to a campsite nearby, which was nearly full but we found a nice spot near the beach. Great waves – I was sorely tempted to go in but didn’t. Should have. Instead I walked down the beach and up a hill and took photos, then came back and made a fabulous beef stew – from scratch – which we enjoyed very much as we watched the waves. That small white dot on the far right is us.

Unfortunately, we didn’t find out until we went to bed that while we were making dinner, about 200 mosquitos (no exaggeration) had entered the van and hidden under the bed. As we tried to go to sleep, out they came a few at a time. At first we just squished them thinking there were only a few, but about 1:00 AM and a hundred kills later, I abandoned ship, grabbed the spare blanket and slept outside, leaving Sarah to the battle. Sounds mean, but somebody had to drive the next day. It goes without saying that we both slept badly.

So the next day, though it was still mostly sunny, we didn’t feel up to much. We slept as long as we could, hung out at the beach for a while, then returned to Cape Reinga. 

I walked down the craggy trail toward the long beach we had walked six years ago, and then we drove to the sand dunes, wondering of we dared to drive Ninety-Mile Beach in our little van (we didn’t), and instead found another beach of fine, pure white sand to have lunch. It was all we could do to visit a couple shops we enjoyed before, sustain ourselves with marvelous NZ ice cream, and head back home.

Home! Where is home? Well, we don’t really know yet. Kinda expected to by this point, and there are some opportunities possibly opening up. But God’s word to us is still to wait and expect great things from him before we attempt great things for him. I guess that is the next chapter. See you there.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Wellington to Mount Maunganui

Our ferry ride this time was grey, and I spent much less time on deck – I even watched a bit of each of the movies being played – Mr. Bean’s Holiday and Charlotte’s Web. The two most expensive movies I have ever watched! I think we are tired of sight-seeing. We went to Hannah’s house (she was home this time!) to find that the family would be out for the evening. They felt badly about it, but really it was nice just to be in a home and sit on couches again, after two weeks of camping.

The next day, Hannah was working until mid-afternoon, so we went into Wellington to do the tourist thing. We only made it to the Te Papa museum, but on the way the streets were filled with people dressed up in all kinds of costumes for The Sevens – a world rugby championship taking place in the city with seven players on each team playing two seven minute halfs. It seemed the thing to do to go as a group all dressed the same way, and some of them were pretty amazing. We didn’t do the thing to do. The museum was very good, though we saw only a quarter of it or so, just the natural science, which very appropriately focused on things like earthquakes and volcanoes. One of my favorites was a small house set up to simulate an earthquake, almost enough to knock you off your feet. During the one in Christchurch, people couldn’t even stand.

We spent the evening catching up with Hannah, then having dinner with the family and watching the rugby. Canada did quite well, getting to the quarter-finals for the cup, and I am curious now as to how far they got. New Zealand, of course, always beats everyone.

We decided the next day to continue north, aiming for the volcanoes in Tongariro National Park. Hannah’s dad had recommended that I consider doing the Tongariro Crossing, which is supposed to be the best one-day “tramp” in New Zealand. Upon arrival, we checked at the info centre and the weather looked like it would improve the next day, and found that the shuttle bus left at 7:30 am. So we went to a small campsite and I got ready to hike while drizzle kept us mostly in the van. The next morning the drizzle was still going, so I decided to not go but wait to see what the weather would do. It also gave us the chance to go to church, which turned out to be a good thing.

There seemed to be only one church having a service that morning, a small Anglican one that slowly gathered a handful of friendly seniors. An elderly lady sat right in front of us, and I remember wondering why she would choose that spot when there were so many others. It was a very Anglican service, and at one point it was the little old lady’s role to read a rather long prayer. But she read it with such passion and conviction it was quite beautiful. One of the passages read was the end of Isaiah 40, about rising up with wings like eagles. I wondered what God was saying to me.

Then there was a time for everyone to get up and say, “Peace be with you” to one another. The little lady in front of us turned around, looked straight at me and said, “The best is yet to come!” I was rather astonished, because it was the very thing God has said to me all through the year, and I think I had forgotten. We talked with her for a while later – 87 years old, a widow for 12, and very much looking forward to heaven. “It is so good to be a believer, isn’t it?” she said.

Thinking about it later, I realized that God was reminding me about the “waiting” part of Isaiah 40 – “those who wait on the Lord.” Waiting is what I am doing right now, but it is not purposeless. Through it, God will renew my strength. It is intended that I not wait impatiently, or become pre-occupied with other things as I wait. It is waiting with anticipation, expectation. I think my anticipation has waned, like when someone says they are going to go off a jump or something and it is taking too long. I think my expectations are reduced, to the point that sometimes I feel I could just retire, or get a job selling insurance like I dreamed recently. God, fill me with anticipation, and may I dream big again!

Well, I am going to try the mountain again tomorrow, hoping that the weather will clear. Bus leaves at 7:00 am. Better get some sleep.

So this is tomorrow, and I have now done something that Sam and Frodo never did – I climbed to the top of Mount Doom. The shuttle dropped me and several others off at 7:30 AM, and I had in mind that if I was going to be sure of catching the last pick-up on the other side of the Tongariro Crossing at 5:00 PM, I would need to be at the Saddle at 9:00 AM and at the top of Mount Ngauruhoe at 10:30 AM, which I wasn’t sure was possible. A good hundred or so people were leaving the parking lot about the same time as me, but the numbers dwindled as each found their pace, and mine was pretty quick.

The first section is deceptively easy – wide trail, boardwalk, just a few rises, with good views of Mount Ruepehu. Then suddenly it climbs steeply up to the saddle between the two volcanoes, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. It was cold when I started, but I was getting warm by the time I reached the saddle – at 9:00 AM! I noticed that a few people were taking the side-trip up Ngauruhoe, which really is Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings movie, and I decided to go for it.

For those who have done the hike up Mount Albert-Edward in Strathcona Park, think about that last section up the steep slope to the top, multiply it by five or six, and make it steeper, and that was the climb up Ngauruhoe. No wonder Frodo had such trouble! Not only steep, but very unstable, as this mountain has blown its top several times in the past fifty years or so, and in places it was step up one, slide down two. About halfway up, there is a ridge that is better footing, but now you are dealing with very large rocks that move, so you have to be very careful. Many times you would hear people yelling “Rock!” above you and you watched until you were sure it wasn’t coming your way.

It got tough at the top (2287 meters or 7500 feet) with less oxygen and ridges that were not really the top at all. But suddenly there it was – a rim of about 3 meters wide, circling a crater about 200 meters across and at least that deep, with snow at the bottom. It was red and black and very scorched, and steam rose from the ground in various places. There are signs at the start of the trail telling you what to do if it starts erupting. I think there is little that one could do if they were standing where I was. I spent about an hour at the top, taking lots of photos and walking all the way around the rim. Pretty spectacular. For perspective, the tiny dots on the far rim are people.

The trip down was more hazardous that the one up, as it consisted of plunging straight down the very steep scree, like walking down the longest escalator you have ever seen. Usually it was quite manageable, because your feet sank so deep in the rocky soil, but occasionally the bones of the mountain were suddenly near the surface, and if you were moving too fast you found yourself sliding rapidly, as if on marbles on steep pavement. But I got to the bottom safely, found a place to sit and had my lunch (after emptying my boots of half the mountain).

I have to say, that was the best part of the Tongariro Crossing. The rest was cool though, with big, wide craters to walk through, vivid green lakes and vents of steam all over. I put my hand on the ground once, and it was hot. But the walk out was long, down a fairly easy slope but the trail meandered back and forth without losing much elevation so it took a long while. Just before 3:00 PM I reached a shelter that our driver said was two hours from the parking lot and that a sign said was 1.5 hours. I decided suddenly that I really wanted to catch the 4:00 PM shuttle, so off I went! And a few others with me. We reached the shuttle right at 4:00 PM, and it left a few minutes after we got there. Not that I saw nothing on the way down – good views of Lake Taupo and area, and a huge vent of steam where there are some hot springs.

I decided I really needed a shower, so we sprung for our most expensive campground so far ($38, or about $30 Canadian) and it was a wonderful one. We both had a shower that evening and another in the morning just because we could. Sarah had spent the day checking out the exhibits about volcanoes at the visitor centre and doing the walks she was able to manage. That evening we drove up Ruepehu (the tallest one at 2797 meters or 9200 feet, but not as cone-shaped) and watched the sun setting on Ngauruhoe and the surrounding area. Very tired feet, but a very good day.

We had some general idea of going to Lake Taupo and possibly on to Rotarua the next day. Lake Taupo is very beautiful, and made me wish we had a boat. We stopped on the shores for a while, which are lined with pebbles and rocks of pumice! It was kinda fun to throw rocks in the water and watch them float away from you. We enjoyed the view all morning, and then decided to head for a campground near Rotarua and see what thermal activity we could find on the way, as this is the Thermal Highway. That part was a bit disappointing, as all of the places have pretty steep entrance fees. So we saw what we could for free and went to the campsite, a nice one by a lake. It filled up quickly after we got there, and many vans came in and had to leave again. Wonderful to sit by the lake in the sun and just enjoy it. Wonderful not to drive any further. We are at 6400 km and still have a way to go!

That night I had an interesting dream. We plan to go to the International House of Prayer soon in Taraunga, and I dreamt that we were there, and a man was at the front leading a discussion. He asked someone to give him a word that they were given by God, so they could discuss it, and a young girl gave the word, “Leader.” It was very vivid, but as dreams go, suddenly I was the one at the front, and I took the word “leader” and began teaching for about twenty minutes from the Bible, focusing on calling others to become disciples of Christ. I woke up and remembered the dream clearly, and realized that this is what I want to do. Maybe not in Tauranga, but somewhere. I want to have the freedom to teach young adults in a setting like that. Interesting, because the day before I had asked God again what I am to be anticipating.

Next day we took things pretty easy, with a walk in an unusual city park in Rotarua – pools of boiling water steaming up in various spots, a massive museum building straight from the 30’s, bowling and croquet greens everywhere, and the constant smell of rotten eggs from all the thermal activity. Then we carried on to the coast and arrived at our campsite at noon, which proved to be next to a gorgeous surf beach on the east coast, where we sat and watched the waves (looking directly toward Canada) and the plume of smoke pouring out of White Island offshore, and walked and read all afternoon, plus the better part of the evening. I can’t figure out DOC sites though. The one last night didn’t even have running water and it was $16.20. This one was $12.00 and it had a hot shower! Go figure.

Today, we were up at 6:15 AM and away by 7:00, hoping to reach the IHOP in Tauranga by 8:00 AM. Nope, not for pancakes – the International House of Prayer. Danny had told us about it, and we arrived right at 8:00, not knowing what to expect. For the first two hours, a fellow who was one of Danny’s teachers at YWAM led in worship, which in this case meant that he sang and played guitar, very skillfully, and wove together songs of worship along with teaching and some instrumental, for two hours without stopping. It was amazing how God spoke to us both in that time, reaffirming words he has said before and taking us further.

Then a worship team took his place and led in intercessory prayer through mostly music and some spoken participation by others. Most of the prayer had to do with New Zealand and revival, and especially the Tauranga area, but there was also prayer for healing and other things, and it was good just to devote time to our own intercession. We spent the afternoon on the beach at Mount Maunganui – very famous NZ spot – and decided to stay and go back to IHOP tomorrow morning as well.

I feel anticipation growing as to what God has next for us. Wait on him with us. And enjoy the sunset over Tauranga Harbour.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Pancake Rocks to Picton

One of our favorite spots so far is the area around Pancake Rocks. Except for the pancakes, it is not so very different than the rest of the West Coast, but it has a campground we enjoy and a marvelous beach. With YWAM plans changed, we decided to return that way and spend a couple of nights there. As we passed by Pancake Rocks, we asked about the best time to see the blowhole in action, which was at high tide after 2:00 PM.

It was good to relax, good to walk the beach, and I spent a fair bit of time writing as there is power in the little kitchen area. I have written the ending to my novel and have just two sections to finish up, both of which require a little Internet research. But I am within about 1500 words of being done, plus all the adjusting and editing that will be necessary. My brother, who is also a writer (he has six books published, I believe), has told me that getting it published by a publishing company is pretty tough these days, and I would likely need an agent. We’ll see. If not, there are lots of other means these days, and I have some plans. If you want to read it, check back here sometime in the next few months and I will let you know how.

We spent a relaxing morning, not needing to go anywhere. Because the wind was strong from the southwest and the waves huge, the conditions were perfect for the blowhole, and we went there early. Enough wind to take your skin off, but we found a great spot out of the spray that was drenching most other people, and our raingear took care of the wind. At first there was only the occasional gusher, but around 2:00 the blowhole let loose a number of times, which was spectacular. We also enjoyed the “Chimney Pot” nearby, and a “Sudden Sound” that was like the earth breathing.

We took a drive after dinner and sat in the van with a good view of the setting sun and the beach. Maybe you are getting tired of my sunset shots, but this one is pretty good. 

Imagine, God is painting scenes like this, not once a day but 24 hours a day, seven days a week, somewhere in the world. Obviously he likes sunsets too.

We were a little uncertain where to go the next day. We have a few more days than we really need for getting to the ferry on time. So we set off for Westport for gas and groceries, stopping at Cape Foulwind on the way. Maybe we have seen too much, because in spite of its wild name we found it quite tame, though the baby seals were cute. Unfortunately too far away for my zoom lens. 

Then we headed east through the Buller Gorge (think Lord of the Rings) and camped in a big grassy field with misty mountains all around. There is a wall that they built here right over the fault line, to see if it would move. It hasn’t, in 47 years, so they are expecting a Big One like we are on the West Coast of Canada. Still, I was taking a nap in the van and was awakened by a gentle swaying that lasted about a minute. Probably not the fault line we were sitting on, but poor Christchurch again, a hundred km away.

It was Sunday morning, and we set off to see if we could find a church in Hanmer Springs, another tourist destination nearby. We came in a little late to a Presbyterian service (the equivalent of a typical Baptist service in Canada, which was friendly and nice but I think we have enjoyed the slightly-more-alive services at the Baptist and New Life churches here. We also have found that we are not much interested in tourist destinations. A pretty area, but the main attraction is the hot springs, at $18 a person. We stopped at one the day before just to look, and if I had gone for any of them it would be that one – a Japanese one with rock pools and gardens, for $19. In any case, Sarah was not up to going in, and I didn’t feel like going by myself at that price.

So we carried on that afternoon, through mountains and hills and twisty roads and over blue rivers, arriving at Kaikoura on the east coast. We felt it was time for showers and the chance to make dinner out of the misty rain, so we found a private campsite, a little more than we wanted to pay but clean and on a nice beach. After dinner and dishes, we pulled out the computer and watched a movie for the first time in ages, Letters to Juliet, and then went to bed with the roar of surf on one side of us and the occasional roar of the highway on the other.

We really didn’t have far to go the next day, so we took our time, and I watched surfers as I ate breakfast, wishing I was one of them. The stretch of highway to the south of us looked interesting, so we took it, even though it was the opposite way to where we needed to go. So worth it – rocky headlands with very narrow tunnels to go through, rocks with seals on them everywhere. It was a good warm-up to the highway we eventually took north, which was more of the same. We stopped for lunch and I went to take a photo of a seal on a rock, and found as I walked through the grass that there were seals everywhere, who sleepily made sounds at me as I passed.

Our destination was another DOC site on a beach near Cape Campbell. All the Kiwi’s were as usual all stacked together in one section near the washrooms, so we camped down a ways where we had the view to ourselves. I went for a hike, finding a good view of the big lighthouse at the Cape, and when I came back there was another van parked a little way from us. The few sentences we heard and the fact that they too wanted a more secluded spot made us think that they might be Canadians, so after dinner and walk we introduced ourselves. Canadians. From the West Coast. Vancouver Island. Cobble Hill.

They are here for almost the same time frame as us, but they explored the North Island first. We had a good talk, sharing favorite spots we had seen and best campground locations. We found out that our kids are about the same age and probably went to school together. And we exchanged addresses and phone numbers for when we get back. Very cool. As we talked, the color came into the sky and we could see bits of the North Island in the distance.

We had a lazy morning, then debated back and forth whether we should stay there another night or move on a little closer to Picton. In the end we decided to go, but it may have better to stay. First, we stopped at the McDonald’s in Blenheim to check email and stuff (the ONLY reason we ever go to McDonald’s!), and I managed to do something that only happens to other people: overwrite a file with an older version and delete three days worth of writing and editing on my novel. It was hard to take, but I have a sense that it was used as discipline from God and that it will be okay. But I know there are bits of the book that will simply never be the same.

We arrived at our next campsite, and found that it didn’t really compare with the last one. I think we are getting very picky about our campsites, because this really was nice – beautiful calm beach and cool places to explore – but we couldn’t park with a beach view. Anyway, we ended up liking it after a while, and in the morning Sarah even managed a longer walk out on some rocks to a rock arch, which she really enjoyed. Sheesh, we are spoiled!

Then we drove to Picton, found a campground with showers (yeah!) and a used book store with decent books and not-crazy prices. Got a one-volume version of Lord of the Rings that should last me until Canada. Our last day on the South Island – hard to believe!