This beautiful place is the Bay of Islands. North-eastern coast of New Zealand.
We drove into Paihia late. A quaint but busy coastal town where we spent half an hour driving around trying to find a room. After dropping our luggage, we hit a fish n' chips spot right on the water for their last meal of the night.
When we woke in the morning, we drew the curtains to find this gorgeous view, right outside our door.
Island, upon island, upon island. Scattered across the bay.
Hello morning sun!
Doug and I slipped on our runners and hit the running path for a few miles. When we returned to this stretch of sand near our hotel, we were hot enough that the water looked inviting. So we kicked off our shoes and waded in.
Holy Moly! Was it FRIGID! But determined to say we swam in the Bay, I dared Doug to dive in. He did. So I did. We slipped under the water for a split second, then emerged, gasping for air. You know that rapid-fire inhale-exhale because you can't catch your breath?
We were out of the water like lightning. Brrrrrrr. But a funny memory nonetheless.
An hour later we boarded this boat for a trip out into the islands.
This is historic Russell. NZ's earliest European settlement and the country's first capital. Nestled into the hills, it was initially a whaling base. You can stop here to shop and explore, visit a few historic landmarks, but we stayed aboard to see the rest of the islands.
We sailed past private beaches like this. I can't remember who owns this one. Someone famous. But how would you like to hang out here with no one to bother you for a week? Okay, I'd take a day.
We were told we might happen upon a pod of dolphins. If we were lucky.
And we were.
Alexandra is crazy for dolphins. So I snapped photos like a mad-woman, hoping for good shot to share with her.
The dolphins were so friendly, so social. They swam all around our boat for fifteen minutes. You couldn't help but fall in love. It was absolutely magical.
Random trivia: Did you know dolphins can choose when they ovulate?? If only fertility could be so predictable. Maybe someday, in my world, women will not only choose when they ovulate, but when they menstruate. Better yet, let's make menstruation optional. :)
Doug and Renae.
This is Hole in the Rock. A landmark that indicates you are at the edge of the Bay. Also known as Cape Brett.
On days when the sea is calm, the captain will sail right through this hole. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), ours was not one of those days. 'Twould be a tight squeeze!
Paihia had all kinds of fun benches, painted brightly with ocean life. This is Jim, throwing some attitude for the grandkids.
Paihia was one of my favorite places to shop. Note to self: when you see something you like, buy it then. Don't wait, thinking you'll see it again somewhere else. I'm notorious for this. For having non-buyer's remorse, rather than buyer's remorse.
This interesting pit-stop is exactly that. A pit-stop. Or a restroom. In fact, it's one of the most famous restrooms in the world. You can find it in the town of Kawa Kawa. And it's called the Hundertwasser Toilets. Designed and painted by the contemporary artist, Freidensrich Hundertwasser, these toilets (believe it or not) are the main attraction in Kawa Kawa. The painted ceramic and use of mosaic tiles are typical of his style.
And he used recycled glass bottles for the windows inside.
While waiting for our team to use the toilets, I discovered this little red library around the corner. Was hoping it might be open, but it wasn't.
Next to it was this beautiful mural of Maori art. Mixed with Maori and English phrases.
This was my favorite: Auaa Keana. "Let the children lead the way."
While heading back to Auckland we stopped in Whangarei to see the Falls.
Now pause for just a minute and pronounce that word. Whangarei. Here's how we tackled it fresh out of the gate (the airport gate). Wan-gar-ee. Jim laughed at us. Here's the actual pronunciation: Fong-a-ray. The "wh" makes an "f" sound. And mastering the soft non-twangy "g" is also tricky. We had a hoot of a time trying to pronounce all the Maori signage we saw.
This gorgeous curve of land is Mahurangi Regional Park. As we walked through an old shepherd's fence and out onto this hillside, I couldn't decide if I was in New Zealand, or a Jane Austen novel.
It felt like England to me.
Especially this tree. Where I wanted to plop down in my french rose dress and read or write until the pink light was gone. Can't you just see Elizabeth Bennet, her hands full of skirt, walking over the knoll to this fantastic destination of a tree?
After our trek north we headed south, past Auckland, to Hamilton. Doug's parents had some meetings to attend so we hit the mall. And look what I found? The second of two souvenirs I wanted to bring home. Priority parking for mothers with children! Seriously, America, let's get on this! (The first souvenir I wanted to take home was a New Zealand accent. Truly. Charming.)
This lovely group of people make up the local LDS Public Affairs group for the Hamilton area. Doug's parents are the only Americans. The rest are New Zealanders who have full-time jobs and families to provide for, but devote an enormous amount of free time to help the church grow and progress in NZ.
Standing in the middle is Rangi Parker. She might not be a household name for you, but in NZ, everyone knows her name. She was a famous singer in her day, a Maori native who joined the church as a young girl, married Vic (behind her) and together they raised five children. And during all of that? She sang her way to the top of the charts. Here's my favorite hit of hers. Every Day is Sunday.
I asked her if she'd sing for us and she graciously complied. We ate lunch with her husband, Vic, in the temple earlier that day. Such a charming couple. Before we left them to their business, I mentioned how wonderful it was that they would give their time to the church so generously. Rangi (who has kept a meticulous history of the LDS church coming to NZ), took Jim's hand in hers and said to Doug, "We wouldn't be here if it weren't for missionaries like your Dad who brought the gospel to our land." You could feel and see the love she had for Jim and those early missionaries who came to NZ. An incredible story of its own.
This is the Hamilton New Zealand temple. Dedicated in 1955.
Sister missionaries from the MTC (Mission Training Center) in Auckland were there the same time we were to attend a session. They were from all over the Pacific Islands. Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, Samoa, Vanuatu. And they were all kinds of gorgeous skin colors, long dark hair tied up or flowing thick with humid curls. I was in awe as I watched them chat with each other, swish in and out of dressing rooms, smile and laugh. Happy girls, who have set aside their own desires for eighteen months to serve the Lord.
I thought of the miracles they have seen and will see in their lives, and was reminded of this verse of scripture.
"Great are the promises of the Lord unto them who are upon the isles of the sea."
- 2 Nephi 10:21 (Book of Mormon)
Royal palms in front of the temple.
For those of you who aren't familiar with LDS temples, they are sacred places of worship for church members and we build them all over the world. Inside, members dress in white to participate in ordinances for those who have already died (called proxy work) while also renewing or making those covenants for ourselves. In the temple, we learn about more about the creation story and God's plan for his children. All of it is centered around Christ.
I love the temple. It's a place of spiritual renewal for me. A place I go to seek direction and peace.
View from Temple hill.
Spring trees in bloom.
Doug's parents, walking arm in arm.
While talking with some sister missionaries in Hamilton, I learned a new phrase. Kia Ngawari. Which means "Be changeable." Or in another translation, "Humility. And all its surrounding characteristics."
I've thought about those words a lot. And what it means to be maleable, open to new paths, open to God moving you and changing you. Much easier said than done. Most of the time I resist change. I resist being open to some new chapter of life, some new path I ought to go down. And some changes, the ones that require turning over your will, your poor habits, your lesser self. Those are hard. But as I've thought about change. About openness. And all its definitions and possibilities. I've realized it's how we're meant to be. It's how our lives can be filled with the most light and the most purpose. Because it allows to be used, remodeled, connected, and fully blessed by the heavens.
Kia Ngawari. A good mantra to have.