Well, we have arrived! Five days in New Zealand, and now seven in Tonga. Both islands are exhilarating in very different ways, and we’ve had some great experiences in both places. We know this is where we belong, this is where we’re supposed to be. This is our new home – and it already feels like it. Maybe that's because it feels a LOT like the military housing we lived in when we were in Japan and Korea. Certainly looks similar, adjusting for the trees!
Our little one-bedroom missionary apartment – it might only be 400 square feet, but that means it’s quick to clean!
From Salt Lake City, we flew to Los Angeles and then boarded Air New Zealand for the thirteen-hour flight to Auckland. We were packed in like sardines – 13 seats per row in economy, and there was actually a prompt to “raise your seat back to its upright position so that the person in back of you, because otherwise the person in back of you will have their food in their lap” – if you had space to find your lap! But the service was nice, and the food was pretty good. And the back of each seat had a video menu, so you could watch your own personal display. You could check on the progress of the flight, you could listen to music, you could play video games, you could watch TV episodes or movies – all for free. Helped pass the time between naps.
The best part of the flight, though, was the safety briefing. It was done on the video displays, and it was done by the All Blacks, the New Zealand national rugby team (who just won the world championship – if you listen closely, you can still hear New Zealanders celebrating!). “Don’t cinch your seat belt so closely that you can’t feel your legs” was one bit of advice, and we were warned that if we chose to smoke, we’d be dropped (from the team, hopefully, not the airplane). Got to hear it again on the flight to Tonga, and it was fun to pay attention. Maybe some American airlines ought to try that – but I’m afraid there’d be some rioting on board if the safety briefing out of D.C. featured the Dallas Cowboys.
Looking from the main North Island out to Rangitoto Island.
And who could get tired of this view?
New Zealand is completely built of many, many volcanic vents that rose above the ocean eons ago. The climate varies from semi-tropical at the north to temperate in the south, and though we didn’t have much time for sightseeing, our hosts made sure we saw a few remarkable sights. The beaches are dazzling, along with the water, and trees are far too close to the water to grow there, but they’re huge – star pines that are a hundred feet tall, deciduous trees that look like a South Pacific version of a baobab, and everywhere there are bushes that flash silver as the underside of their leaves are fluttered by the wind. Remarkable place.
From this summit in an area called Devonport, you can see Auckland Harbor with its teal water, and miles beyond. This is also where New Zealand placed gun batteries in WWII, to defend the harbor in case of attack. Fortunately, the attacks never came, but the batteries are still in place. These are our hosts and supervisors, Elder and Sister Ronnenkamp, from north of Salt Lake City.
Then there’s Auckland Harbor. Windy, as a harbor should be. Busy working place – we saw tugs, police boats, sailboats, ferries – everything that makes a harbor proper. But the water was simply the wrong color. Every other harbor I’ve been to has gray water. This harbor’s water is teal. Impressive.
We got to Tonga late Thursday night (tried to slip us in under cover of darkness!) and were met by every single senior missionary in the mission – they all serve in the mission home or at Liahona Middle and High Schools. They fussed over us like we were long-lost family, and I was a bit confused – until the next day, when the Tongans did the same thing. And by the following Tuesday, I was fully immersed in the culture – a young sister missionary who had been on the same flight from New Zealand to Tonga (returning home after serving for 18 months in the Phoenix Arizona mission) showed up in our office, and we both hugged and squealed like long-lost sisters! She came to get some help in applying to BYU-Hawaii. I scheduled her for her English proficiency test, and joked that serving a mission in Arizona didn’t help her English any – she needs to take a Spanglish proficiency test!
You know those paintings by Manet of all the South Pacific women with the huge flowers in their hair? Well, those flowers are growing right outside my front door now. The season here is spring, and the flowers are beginning to bloom, including this tree. There are hibiscus everywhere, but the flowers get picked pretty quickly, so you’d better enjoy them while you can!
Look carefully at the “rock”, and you will see plant imprints
and sea animal skeletons embedded - it’s black coral.
Beautiful turquoise waters cover and uncover reef layers. The Tongans have a saying: "the reefs of today are the islands of tomorrow." Simple and profound at the same time.
Our second morning in Tonga, we had an earthquake. It was recorded as a 7.4, but the epicenter was 544 miles south of Tonga, and we hardly felt it. No worries, as the Kiwis (New Zealanders) would say – Tonga is not built of volcanic rock, but of coral. The island is a coral rise. I’ve been told that Tonga, under the water line, assumes the shape of a rectangle more than a triangle, which helps reduce the danger of tsunamis as well. It appears that would take a lot of rocking and rolling to damage this little solid piece of real estate.
That vertical spray is the product of teamwork
between the coral and the waves.
The reefs at the shore turn combers into beautiful breakers, and the water in turn creates holes in the coral, through which water rushes in as each wave comes ashore. This produces a “blowhole”, and Tonga’s southwestern coast has blowholes for miles. I could watch this horizon for days.
We are figuring out our assignments. Jim has already been asked by the high school principal to be a mentor, since he is still not comfortable in his position. And teachers are asking for classes, so we’d better get to work! First courses begin November 14! But who could complain about work when you get this at the end of each day?