Road Trip Day 17 – One Last Stop and some reflection

My first flight on my journey home should leave in exactly 34 hours. 34 hours. . .  – it is so hard to believe that this life changing, perspective changing, educational philosophy shifting experience is really at a close. I know that I have grown in ways that I never imagined through this experience – and I am so grateful to the Fulbright Program, IIE and Fulbright New Zealand for making this opportunity possible.

I am also beyond thankful for my people – those of you that encouraged me, nudged me, prayed for me, loved me and supported me when I wasn’t sure I could make this happen (and kicked me in the tail when I needed it). You helped me work through the “muck” of being gone for 6 months, the random little things that popped up along the way, and the financial quirks of being on an unpaid extended leave of absence from work and managing obligations back home and abroad. There were times when I questioned if it was really worth it – and you all were there – to give me an encouraging word, a kick in the side, or just to listen to me vent when I was frustrated that things had changed again – or there were things that were just plain annoying – or problems that I thought were resolved that changed again. I know I don’t say it enough – but even from almost 9,000 (or more) miles away – my village rocks!

After being in New Zealand (and a week in Australia) for 170 amazing days – this experience is over – and with that comes lots of changes – I know that I have grown and changed in the time I have been gone – and so have my people. I have missed funerals, events, weddings, birthdays, celebrations, loss and disappointments and all of those things that make up everyday life – for 6 whole months. At our orientation, one of the topics we talked about was the culture shock that you will experience – both going and coming – and many of the Fulbrighters remarked that going home was often harder than setting out – be it the thrill of a new adventure, or the adjustment to finding how people and systems have changed in your absence – reverse culture shock is a real thing. But, while there are things I will miss, there are lots of things to be excited to come home to, and if the past 5 or so years have taught me anything it is that change can be icky, hard and can really stretch you as a person – but it can also be wonderful, liberating and exciting – sometimes all at the same time – and honestly – not to sound too cliche –  everything does really work out in the end – somehow – so sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, embrace the change and hold on for the ride.

When I think back to the fact that prior to this experience I had never lived outside of a small bubble in the corners of 3 neighboring counties in Northwest Georgia (and that my current house is actually less than 9 miles from the trailer that I was brought home from the hospital to when I was a baby), it is kind of amazing. Those of you who know my story understand even more why this is really such a big thing for me – and the fact is that I could go on about that – but I think it is enough to say that I know the odds, and I  know how incredibly blessed I am.

But enough about that. 🙂

This morning I began my adventure with breakfast and a lovely chat with Kay, my AirBnB host – I truly have  met the most amazing blend of people during this journey. The benefit of travel on the cheap is the amazing people and experiences you can have if you just let yourself enjoy the ride. I mean really – in the past 6 months I have shared meals, coffee, tea, dorm rooms, game nights and movies with people of all ages – all professions (from nuns to adult entertainers) –  folks at all stages of their lives – (gap years to retirement and everything in between) – and all nationalities imaginable – Kiwis, and Americans, Europeans, Canadians, Argentinians, Aussies, Indians, Asians, Islanders, and people from countries I had to look up on a map. A global network of travelers sharing experiences, sharing their life journey – and bonding over small similarities in culture, custom, beliefs and place. It is a beautiful thing – one I would have missed out on if I had traveled in a different way. I have stayed in converted jails, garages, barns and guest rooms, hotels, dorms, rvs and even a Marae. All experiences that have built this journey into the beautiful adventure it is.

After breakfast with Kay I set out – I had a short drive – only about 2 hours – but I wanted to get settled in before the rain came – so I had one planned stop early – then it was off.

My stop was at the Bason Botanic Gardens outside of Whanganui – in a rural area called Westmere. What a GORGEOUS place. I counted at least 5 gazebos – and could have been lost for the entire day in the paths, greenhouses and other spaces. (and like most botanic gardens I have visited in NZ – it was totally free!)

I spent a few hours just wandering around – and saw some amazing flowers I am going to need Mike Green and Google to help me identify! 🙂

It was a tranquil way to spend the morning!

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After that, I headed to Levin, where I got settled in while the rain began to fall.

I was able to get set up, and watch Game of Thrones (we won’t talk about how) (which was important – because people were spoiling it in Facebook from the word go!).

After that, I got to know my hosts for the evening, they shared a lovely meal with me and now I am just getting ready to head back to Welly early in the morning, return my Rental Car – adjust my suitcases, close out my bank account and savor my last evening in this beautiful country before flying back to the USA.

On the docket for tomorrow? A flat white (or 2), a stroll along the Waterfront – probably a stop at House of Dumplings, tasting the offerings on Tap at Garage Project and really just saying goodbye to the Coolest Little Capital in the World. After all – new adventures await, right?

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Road Trip Day 16 – Wandering around Whanganui (or Wanganui)

First off – yes, the city name is spelled two different ways! I had to look it up, because I kept getting confuzzled. http://www.visitwhanganui.nz/ explains it this way:

‘WHANGANUI’ AND ‘WANGANUI’

You may notice two different spellings of ‘Whanganui’, or ‘Wanganui’. Since the mid-1800s there have been two different spellings in use for the name of our area. The different spellings arose from the way in which local iwi pronounce the word ‘Whanganui’ (the ‘wh’ creating a barely aspirated sound), and the way in which European settlers wrote down the word as they heard it – ‘Wanganui’.

More recently, the name of our district was deemed by the Government to be ‘Whanganui’. This is why you will see the name of our city spelt with and without an H as you travel around. Either way – it is still the same place, Whanganui or Wanganui!

I will also own the fact that I totally took advantage of a very lazy Sunday morning here at Rose Cottage – but I did shower before noon – if barely. 🙂

A little on this lovely Air Bnb – I got it for 2 nights for less than $50 total and that is in NZ dollars, so about 37.00 – what a bargain. I have my own room with a lovely sitting area, and an ensuite bathroom with a fantastic rain shower – and MY OWN kitchen – like full totally stocked kitchen. That NEVER happens! My host, the lovely Kay is adorable, and just lovely to chat with as well – so triple bonus!

Once I shook off my laziness, I headed out to wander around. Being Sunday, and the winter,  the downtown area was dead – there was a bargain store and a few restaurants open, but that was it.

I decided to start hitting the scenic route, starting with Virginia Lake, which I had passed coming into town, and was struck by the Gazebo. I wandered around the lake and the meandering paths – enjoying the swans, ducks, and the very cool, and very blue Pukekos – which are just fascinating bright blue birds. The lake was peaceful and the trails were the perfect place to just get lost. I could, and did, spend several hours just wandering around.

After wandering around the lake trails, I decided to check out the Winter Gardens, a little building up the hill – I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was so impressed. The flowers, the colors and the garden art just made me smile – and it was 100% free – always a good little treat. (and I might have gone overboard with the flower pictures, but the colors made me happy!)

 

After hitting the garden, I stopped in the little cafe – for my daily “what am I going to do without NZ flat whites” fix – and took a picture of the quintessential Kiwi cafe selection. There are some pretty unique kiwi cafe treats in there!

I sat outside as it got dark watching the people and the birds, until I was just too chilled, then headed back to my air bnb to plan my route for tomorrow – I have a short drive and no deadline for arrival in my next stop, quaint little Levin, so I am planning some stops and wanders.