Wednesday, December 31, 2014

On To the South Island: Wellington to Mt. Sunday-December 13-14, 2014

Several times over the first week of the New Zealand trip, people mentioned how beautiful the South Island was compared to the North Island. "Just wait," they would say, "till you get to the South Island." I was skeptical, because I'd found the North Island wholly enchanting. I suppose some of that was because everything was so gloriously new, and I love newness. I suppose it could be because it was winter at home and not winter here. I got a sunburn in my first few hours off the plane! I visited Hobbiton and saw live volcanoes and some of the newest land and rocks on the planet. What could be better?

And so, on Saturday the 13th,  I got on the ferry to cross the Cook Strait with both high expectations and a set of amazing new travel memories. I was prepared to love the South Island, but my time from Auckland to Wellington was completely worthwhile, so even now I refuse to say one part of the trip was "better" than the other. It was already the trip of a lifetime. Looking back, I can say that the South Island is different, with some higher peaks and more variance in the scenery. I can understand the comments now, but still, I'd go back to the North Island to explore more in a heartbeat.

The misty view from the ferry on the way to Picton

A magic moment on the open water during the crossing.
The sound of waves, albatrosses soaring overhead, and
 The ferry ride itself was fun for me. I met some fellow Mormons, both in the Fellowship and without. I got to hear workers from the ship play their ukes and sing in foreign tongues while I watched albatrosses soar overhead. I had a truly lovely and long conversation with Ben, one of the guides on my bus. He told me the story of how he came to have a home in New Zealand. I can completely understand why and how that could happen. He's a special man and he and his equally special wife have added warmth, insight and depth to the tour.

When we got to Picton and boarded our busses, we began the journey to Christchurch. Along the way we saw new landscapes and heard the gorgeous sound of the Pacific surf filtering away through volcanic rock instead of sand. Ben described it as being like a rainstick, and it was: a softly receding wavesound unlike any I'd ever heard before. I recorded a video, but the old phone I took as my travel phone would not properly record sound, so I'm left with only a memory, but it's a sweet one. If I listen very closely in my maimed little movie, I can hear enough of the softness of the surf to remind me.

We also stopped to look at Sea Lions, and I got out the 70-200 lens for that outing. I'm glad I did as I got some great shots of these interesting creatures congregating on the rocky shore. In spite of my own focal powers, I became impressed anew with Bronwyn's lovely little Samsung Galaxy internet-connected camera with optical zoom. She was getting great shots and getting them right online for us to see, over and over again. Well done, Bron! I may just have to look into one of those little beauties!

The rocky coast with the Pacific Ocean pounding away on a rocky shore. 

Fur seals at Ohua Seal Colony, Kaikoura, NZ

In Christchurch, we saw some lingering effects of the earthquake of 2011, with the hotel still somewhat jerry-rigged and evidence of reconstruction in plain sight. That was sobering, but the Kiwis are a positive group and there was no apology, just practicality.

After a good dinner, some browsing of handmade cloaks and other costume garb, and a good night's sleep, we awoke on Sunday for one of the most anticipated days of the tour for many of the fellowship: Mt. Sunday, the location of the Golden Hall of King Theoden. It was quite a drive off the beaten path to this place, and it was stunning. Carved glacial valleys lead the eye to dramatic vistas in every direction. A few peaks are still showing off their snowy caps just for us. As we drove in, mist and clouds threatened to obscure the views, but by the time we got there and climbed the bluff, the clouds were gone and it was clear for miles and miles.

One of the views I captured from the top of Mt. Sunday. It's a bluff set in
the center of a mighty valley. On all sides are great peaks, both far and near. 

We did not get tons of time at any of these locations and if I had one tiny sniff about this trip, that would be it. I was constantly holding up our bus and being the last to reboard because I wanted one last photo or a minute to simply sit. I would have loved to just linger on this lovely bluff and think or pray and more fully drink in the scenes before me. I had a couple of minutes alone, and I made an effort to pause and be in the moment, to realize where I was standing and experience all the sensations fully. Of course, the people I was with were outstanding, fun and pleasant to be near, so it wasn't by any stretch a loss to be with them rather than on my own. This majestic place, however, did have a palpable spirit present. It was a peaceful spirit, a clean spirit, a refreshing spirit. I feel blessed and grateful to have truly felt it, even for a few minutes.
Our bus group. We were the Purple Bus and we were
awesome. Aren't they gorgeous?

In addition to the physical and spiritual value of this place, it was, as always, a treat to learn about the movie magic and know about the construction of sets, the care PJ's team took to leave locations pristine or improved, and what it was like to be part of the film. Two of our tour guides were extras in the film and what fun it was to hear of their experiences!

So, while we traveled far and spent a lot of time in the bus, this was a memorable weekend for me filled with sights and sounds that I'll treasure. As I write this, over two weeks later, it still seems unreal that I was actually standing in all these places, but I was, actually. Life is good.

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