I hesitate to post anything because what I have experienced and seen today, there simply don't seem to be any words for..... I don't know where to begin... (And Blogger won't allow me to download the images - so I apologize for all the rambling on without the eye candy.)
At 11 AM this morning I was picked up by my co-worker Bronwyn, an absolutely delightful South-African lady, who then proceeded to take me around for the next ten hours and showed me some of the local popular spots and the most amazing scenery I have ever seen in my life! I think I was in tears within the first two hours, and simply could not fully take in the fact that this is now our new home! At one point I think I exclaimed to her: "OH, I think I could live here!!!", and she replied: "Darling, you DO live here!". She actually teared up from seeing my reaction to what I was seeing. I wish I could show you what it is I *felt* when viewing the scenery. "Humbling" and "Awe Inspiring" simply don't seem to say enough. I feel I am in the presence of something truly Sacred here. The chills that kept running through me would not stop. I have come home. Now I only need to get my soul mate here.... I hate the thought of another day going by without him being here with me, seeing all of this glorious beauty.
Before we even got going, Bronwyn explained to me that on Monday my orientation would begin with a traditional Maori Welcome Ceremony called "Whakatau". It is led by the Maori elders and promises to be quite special. Once we left the hospital grounds, we headed to Zippy's - a local artsy hangout that had a sticker by its front door stating: "Friends don't let friends go to Starbucks." I was in love already. The "Tall Black" that I had was some of the best coffee I have ever tasted. And I LOOOVE my finnish coffee, so that is a HUGE compliment! The place also shows local artists' work, and Bronwyn was confident that they would love to have some of my work up if I wished to do that. Fortunately I did bring my art supplies so I can begin working on some pieces as soon as the initial whirlwind of everything settles down.
We also visited the local indoor climbing wall - Bronwyn had been very thoughtful in her planning and couldn't wait to show me all the extreme sports opportunities and camping equipment stores. She kept referring to details from my interview (from January!) and recalled all the things I had mentioned as my interests! The wall was 19 meters (roughly 60 feet) tall with MULTIPLE climbing options. Quite impressive. Bronwyn's stepdaughter is a NZ climbing champion and so she promised I would get my share of being up on the wall with her when she is not climbing around the world (literally!)!
We then headed to the building in which I would be working but she did not take me inside as she said that it would be disrespectful to do so before my formal welcome and the Whakatau. She did, however, take me around the immediate vicinity and showed me some of the sulfurous grounds that are simply dead - as if someone had poured acid all over everything. Apparently the fumes can get quite dangerous and some tourists have even died here either touching the toxic pools or sleeping in their campers in areas that are not safe due to the fumes. We are on a very thin crust of earth here and everything below and around us is quite active! It reminds me of Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park a bit - except that this is right outside the front door of my work place! I guess I better watch where I am walking!?
Next we headed a bit out of town toward Lake Tarawera. Along the way there was when I started crying. The natural beauty of the landscape just hit me right in the chest and squeezed my heart so hard that I was left both speechless and almost breathless. Each winding curve in the road revealed more beauty - lakes, hills, mountains, gorges, cliffs, volcanic craters... just endless beauty. It is as if God had just had an absolute heyday trying to one-up himself putting it all together!!! There is simply no way to describe it.
We passed two lakes, Tikitapu (Blue Lake) and Rotokakahi (Green Lake) - although those names are not the translation of the Maori names. It seems most everything in NZ has a Maori legend about it, and these lakes are no exception. I will tell you more about them some other time. Lake Rotokakahi is Sacred to the Maori, so no-one is allowed to touch the water, let alone swim in it. There are several burial mounds on the islands that are in the lake. I do not know what would happen to someone who is caught disrespecting the Maori spirits - and I don't think I ever want to find out!
Mt. Tarawera is a dormant volcano that last erupted in 1886 and did HUGE amounts of damage. Two villages were completely buried and the top of the mountain was scattered all around the north island. Thanks to blowing its top, Mt. Tarawera is now "a mere" 1111 meters tall. You can get a helicopter ride up the mountain and walk down into the crater or you can tramp ("hike") up the mountain with permission, after paying a fee to the Maori tribe. Apparently some Paheka (meaning "pale face" = non-maori people) are a bit miffed about that, but I find it refreshing that something Sacred is being for once protected, unlike for example the Ayer's Rock in Australia. Bronwyn and I sat across the lake from the majestic mountain and enjoyed a picnic lunch.
From the lake we headed to Bronwyn's home. She has two acres just south of the lake, overlooking the lake - a breathtaking view. She also has a dog, a cat, and three donkeys - all of whom are named after Lion King characters. At her house she flooded me with information about the nearby sights and activities - I recall only a fraction, and that includes kayaking at night seeing glow worms, a national park full of wild - yes, WILD - horses, blackwater rafting in caves, mud pools, mineral spas, tramping trails, redwood forests, skydiving, trout lakes where the trout is so plentiful you can pet(!) them, surfing, swimming, motorcycle touring, shopping, artists' studios - all of this within a few minutes to an hour's drive in any given direction! It will take Bruce and I years before we have to worry about seeing the South Island - which is supposedly the more spectacular of the two! I don't think my heart can take it!.....
We finished off the evening at Lovely Indian restaurant (that is the name of it). Apparently the physicians that come from India will only frequent this one restaurant out of the many Indian ones in the area, so the food must be quite authentic. I had my first dish of lamb - and I have to say it was delicious! Bronwyn's partner Martin also joined us for dinner. He is a geological scientist and could tell me quite a bit about the soil and volcanic activity here. Fascinating stuff! There are three larger dormant volcanoes quite near us - with the potential of erupting some time in the future, and with some rather devastating results - but apparently it is sort of like being in Florida and living with the threat of hurricanes... One just comes to accept it. Hmmm..... (Not sure I want to own a home in "zone Red" though..... It doesn't sound good, does it?)
There is so much more that happened today... The conversations about how we each came to choose NZ, the comparing of our cultural backgrounds, the insights into my future work and the multidisciplinary teams at the hospital, the Maori culture and their beautiful language, the less-than-paradise side (apparently it does exist) of NZ, and so much more!.....
I could not have asked for a more gracious hostess and host, and my heart aches from sheer joy and awe of this place and its people. I feel I have spent an entire week here already with everything we saw and all that I learned today. I can't wait for MORE!