Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Finally home!

We arrived home to Montana on February 12th after being gone almost 13 months.  It felt great to be home but also strange after all of our experiences in the time that we were gone.  We are enjoying catching up with family and friends and getting back into American life.  We are looking forward to what God has for us in our next phase of life.

Thank you once again for all of your prayers and support for us throughout this last year.  They mean more than you will ever know.  God bless you!

To the mainland US!

We didn't know what to think as we landed in the mainland US.  We had spent so much time thinking about what it would feel like and now here we were.  We stopped in Los Angeles for a few days to see Kim's sister, Tammy.

Tammy and her friend, Ashley, took us out for cupcakes at "Sprinkles" close to Rodeo Drive.

We had a visitor while at "Sprinkles".  It was a long haired chihuahua named  Topper  with a pearl necklace and, you guessed it, painted toenails.

Jake was comparing his fashion sense to that of the people who shop on Rodeo Drive.

It was a beautiful day.  We walked around by the ritzy stores and stopped in at Tiffany's just for fun.

Here is proof that we were there.

Walking back to our car.

We took a drive through Beverly Hills on the way home.

Some of the houses were amazing!

Notice Kim's new haircut.  Tammy gave Kim a new haircut for her birthday.  It felt great for Kim to get a haircut after months of traveling.

We were able to meet with Kim's friends, Denise and Jacob, and their family at Downtown Disney for lunch.  It was fun to see the whole family.

We had a great time visiting Tammy and it was hard to say goodbye but we were ready to get home to Montana!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

On to our last New Zealand stop... Auckland!

We had to return the rental car the same day that we saw Hobbiton.  So after our tour there, we had to get in the car and drive like crazy to get to Auckland in time to drop the car off.

Kim did not do much driving throughout our trip but she had to put some time behind the wheel before we turned the car in.  (It is amazing how different it can be driving on the opposite side of the road!)

Welcome to Auckland!

Experience the Sky Tower from which you can have a 360 degree view of the city, eat at a restaurant, buy souvenirs, or jump off of it and get that nice feeling of losing your stomach.  (Out of all of the options, Jake and I opted to stay at the bottom and enjoy the views from there.)

The view of the Sky Tower from our hostel.

The inside of St. Mary's Church in downtown Auckland.

Jake posing by a local kiwi statue while we were doing some last minute souvenir shopping.

The two of us next to the harbor.  Some of the boats were amazing!

There just happened to be a 'buskers" street festival in town.  We had no idea what that meant until we walked around and found street entertainers from all over the world on various corners throughout downtown.  Apparently, in New Zealand/Aussie English "to busk" is to entertain others on the street (hoping they will give you a donation).  Who knew?

Our view of downtown during our dinner the last night we were in Auckland.  

We were eating our last "foreign" meal.  We ordered kebabs and were eating them on the lawn of a building close to our hostel.  We couldn't believe that the next day we were finally going home to the United States!

Friday, May 20, 2011

A relaxing stop in Hawaii

We landed in Honolulu, gaining 23 hours...i.e. we landed into Hawaii setting our clocks back one hour and it was the day before.  It was strange to not have jetlag...and to be back in America after 13 months of being gone.  

Our whole goal with stopping in Hawaii was just to relax before coming home.  The first night we spent in Honolulu at a hostel right close to Waikiki Beach. My friend Carina and her husband live in Honolulu so they picked us up from the airport.   They greeted us in the Hawaiian way...with flower leis.

We went out to dinner and then they dropped us off at our hostel.

The next day we spent the day walking around Waikiki Beach and reliving some memories from our honeymoon.

This is a picture of us in front of the hotel that we stayed in almost 3 years ago.  We had a great time reliving some great memories.

Kim is excited because this is her first taste of "Mexican" food.  She has been missing Mexican food for the last year!

Later on in the afternoon, Carina came and picked us up to take us to where we would be for the next week.  We had rented an apartment for a week that was connected to a mansion on Lanikai Beach (30 mins. outside of Honolulu.  (We found it on www.affordableparadise.com, where there are various apartments and houses that people rent out, often cheaper than hotel rooms.)

Here was our front door.  The beach is in the distance.

Not a bad view from the backyard.

This is a photo on the inside.  We had to take a photo of the first time that we had American pizza again. (Papa John's pizza with garlic sauce was missed quite a bit in the last year.)

Our plan for the week was just to relax and hang out on the beach but we did have one day full of adventures.  A few days before Kim's birthday, she decided to use some birthday money that she received to rent a convertible mustang and drive around the island.

Watch out everyone!  Kim has not been driving much in the last year....and this is the first time driving on the "right" side of the road!

A brief snorkel in the famous Hanauma Bay.

We stopped for lunch at this take-out restaurant that we ate at during our honeymoon.  We had mahi-mahi, pulled pork, and other Hawaiian favorites.

A stop at the North Shore, famous for its surfing and big waves.

A day of fun almost over...

A beautiful sunset on the drive home.

While Kim was shopping for her birthday, Jacob looked out the shop window and thought this dog was hilarious!

Carina and her husband, Mike, came and picked us up on Saturday for another adventure.  We went to visit a Buddhist temple named Byodo-In Temple.

The building was amazing and the setting was beautiful!

On the way back to Honolulu and Carina and Mike's apartment, we stopped to have some Hawaiian shave ice.  It was sooooo yummy!

Carina and Mike took us to their church and then we went to Cold Stone afterwards.  We had a really fun day!

Kim's special birthday coffee drink....after a year without Frappuccinos (iced coffee drinks).  It tasted wonderful!   (There were several times when Kim just wanted to have a coffee shop down the street....)

Kim's birthday dinner at Formaggio's, an Italian restaurant with very tasty food.  What a birthday!

On to Hobbiton

So we made a stop on the way to Auckland from Rotorua.  We went to Hobbiton, from Lord of the Rings.  Kim really wanted to stop to see the old movie set, even though there wasn't going to be much left and it was going to be expensive to go to.  (We had been told that there were just a few hobbit holes left and that they just had white plywood with a big hole in the middle as their entrances.)  But we thought that we are only in New Zealand once so we might as well go be tourists.  But were we in for a fun surprise!  When we arrived at The Shire's Rest Cafe to sign-up for our tour, we had to sign our names to an official document that said that we would not share any photos of the tour on any public place on the internet....Hmmm.....

 Here is the official tour bus for Hobbiton.

 The Shire's Rest Cafe where you can eat, buy souvenirs and sign up for a tour of the movie set.

As we went on the tour, we found that Hobbiton had been fully rebuilt down to the growing gardens.  It looked identical to the first movie set.  It was amazing that they let us tour the working set.  They were scheduled to begin shooting on the set in the next few weeks.  As much as we would love to show you the photos, we are unable to on this blog.  We are willing to set up a personal photo showing session, if anyone is interested....

As an added bonus, the tour adds a presentation of the life on a typical sheep farm.   When Hobbiton was merely white plyboards with holes in them, the tour company  had to add something extra to make the tour more worth your money.

 They did a presentation for us about the wool industry in New Zealand and how to shear a sheep.

Kim feeding one of the baby lambs that were brought out after the presentation.


Kim wanted one more photo before we officially left Hobbiton.

What a fun surprise this stop had been!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Geothermal Activity

Rotorua is a town in the only other area of the world that has geothermal activity like that of Yellowstone National Park.  The difference is that the various geothermal areas are privately-owned so you have to decide which features you would like to see the most.  Jake and I chose one that had numerous hot pools, mud pots, and a geyser like Old Faithful (well kind of like it....).  Its name was Wai-O-Tapu, Thermal Wonderland.

Notice the two of us in the reflection.

Here is some of the beautiful scenery that we saw.


At 10 am, we headed to a different area of the "wonderland" to see the Lady Knox Geyser.  This is when it got a little interesting for us...


The Park Ranger came out and talked about geysers and told us that this particular geyser wasn't very predictable.  He went on to explain that he would be adding organic soap to the geyser to make it go off for the tourists.  (Jake and I couldn't believe it.  For people from the Yellowstone Park area, you can understand our surprise that a Park Ranger would put something down a geyser to make it go off.  It seemed tremendously funny to us.)

Here is the park ranger carefully putting the soap down the geyser.

Soap bubbles!

And there she blows!

You can see Jake's excitement!

Kim wanted her photo taken in front of the geyser just like everyone else.

After leaving the "wonderland" park. we stayed in Rotorua for another night.  This time in a hostel.  We were able to dry out all of our gear from the night before so it worked out great.  Before leaving Rotorua, we stopped at the local thermal park that is open to the public.  

 The whole area is geothermal underneath so you had to be careful.

Jake posing next to some geothermal carnage in the park.  They tried to mark a new geothermal spot with orange cones.  They melted.

All in all, Rotorua was definitely worth the stop.