Yesterday I hiked in a more large-scale garden, found at Hanmer Springs in the alpine forest. After a short, yet beautiful drive, I parked the car and headed up Conical Hill. I was shaded from the sun and wind by large pines on the way up. Once at the top, I was rewarded with a spectacular view of the village and the surrounding mountains. As I passed the time up here listening to some new music and reading, I looked out to see a storm heading in. In the distance, ominous clouds slowly rolled in over the tops of the mountain peaks. Once back in the village, I was assured by a few locals that driving home would be no problem - and that I should stay and soak in the thermal pools that Hanmer Springs is known for. I consented and dipped in the warm steaming naturally-heated water while cold rain threatened all around - it was nature's hot tub! Pressing my luck as far as I felt comfortable, I then headed back home so I wouldn't be driving in the dark. Oh to have this at my fingertips forever! This amazing scenery is within hours of these NZ residents. I'm already thinking of where and how to take advantage of what the US has to offer upon my return.
As for Christmas Day, it did end up being a Christmas to remember. I ushered in the day with a candlelit Christmas Eve service. Then Christmas morning I went to two services at the Anglican Cathedral in the centre city. It was a unique experience for me as it's not tradition in our family and the church is unlike anything I'm used to. The boys' choir sang beautiful and slightly eerie melodies, we partook of communion, the large congregation sang traditional carols (with a NZ accent), and we recited lots of stuff - admittedly, I found this a bit annoying, and I felt a bit detached from God. It was neat to do all this in the large cathedral with a massive Christmas tree and stained-glass windows, though. And after the service they rang the bells. I can now officially say "I heard the bells on Christmas Day." I then joined a family for lunch and gift exchange, took a quick nap, then joined another family for their Christmas dinner. This included the traditional Christmas crackers (a cardboard tube wrapped in festive paper and twisted to resemble an oversized candy, you pull one side as the person seated beside you pulls the other end resulting in a loud pop and a treat spilling out with a tissue paper crown which everyone dons for the duration of the meal), turkey and the fixin's, summer dishes, and Christmas pudding complete with charms baked in it (in our case, coins from different countries around the world that we were to pray for). It was a lovely day, albeit no amount of hospitality replaces that of family. I missed them dearly, but was grateful for a phone call to my brother and skype time with the rest the following day.
Ok, enough rambling! Happy New Year everyone!
Note: book quote from Francine River's Leota's Garden - I highly highly recommend it.