Gae's first photo, from hotel

Monday, January 3, 2011

 We have had a very busy three weeks since our last post. On December 7th through 9th, we went to Hastings to meet with the public affairs council there, and to teach them some of the things that we have learned in the last few months. Sharon Roberts is the director of public affairs for the Hastings Stake and for the Hastings-Gisborne multi-stake council, which adds Flexmere and Gisborne stakes to her responsibilities. We had a very good meeting and we were very happy with the response from those attending. It is about an eight-hour drive from Takapuna (where we live) to Hastings, so we stayed over one night on the way down and one night in Napier (near Hastings) after our evening meeting. Driving in New Zealand is not all freeways that allow the driver to relax. Most of the roads wind through mountains. Gae does not like mountain roads, as many of our readers will know, so we slow down to the yellow advisory speeds around curves. This is a good idea, but most drivers are impatient with us as they are used to driving much faster. Fortunately there are frequent passing lanes. We go slow through the passing lanes as well, so the queue behind us can go ahead.
Gae Pearce at Waipunga Falls off the highway from Taupo to Hastings
Gae Pearce yelling at a rock - and winning!
On the day after we got home from Hastings, we flew to Australia for training meetings and team building exercises with our counterparts from Sydney. There are two couples and one paid directors in Sydney and, although we have had three couples in Auckland, we will only have two couples and our director going forward. Our good friends Pat and Paul Streiff are preparing to leave us and will not be replaced. I think that this is because of over 40 percent fewer senior couples signing up for missions over the last year – which is due to the poor economy.

We met at a hotel on the Gold Coast. Stan and Rosalie Nance spent a significant amount of time taking care of reservations and organizing our activities. We learned much from our directors and from the other couples. There was a new couple there, Vic and Judy Gibb, who had only arrived in Sydney a week before. They asked many questions which brought out good discussions and helped us learn even more. They are accompanied by their daughter Amanda, aged 25, who was a delight to meet and be with. 

In addition to the invaluable knowledge we obtained, we attended and visited several interesting places in the evenings, or before and after the training days:

    • Brisbane Temple. We attended the Temple and went to an endowment session as a group. This is a relatively new temple and is small and beautiful. There is a fountain in the courtyard which is lit from underwater at night and gives the entry to the temple a special feeling.

      • Outback Spectacular. This is a show in a large arena involving horses and cowboys. We enjoyed it very much. A significant portion of the show was dedicated to a ‘reenactment’ of the Australian Cavalry’s brave victory in a battle in Beersheba, now in Israel, but then part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. It made Terry homesick for his horses.

     • Natural Bridge. This was a wonderful surprise. Terry convinced the Streiffs and Gae to simply drive west, away from the coast, to see if and how the foliage changed. It did change, but was still very green and lush. The entire coastal area is very green and beautiful – not like the desert that is the outback in the center of Australia. That is why most of the population is concentrated in coastal areas. In any case we came upon a small sign that said “Natural Bridge” so we turned off the highway into Springbrook National Park. There was a short hike to the bridge, where a fairly good-sized river dumps down into a cavern near the entrance to the cavern, which is about 30 feet high. It was very interesting to see the falls and also the native vegetation along the pathways. Most of the hike was a looped track, so we found new things all along the way. Terry swung on a natural vine; there is a first time for everything.

Waterfall from river above into cavern at Natural Bridge, Australia, Dec 2010

     • Australia Zoo. This is the zoo that the famous Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, who was killed a few years ago. It was truly an interesting place and far exceeded our expectations. We were able to pet kangaroos and koalas, among other things. They had many large crocodiles – imagine that. All in all this is one of the great tourist places in the world.

Picture by Terry Pearce - Gold Coast Australia Dec 2010

     • Snorkeling. Terry, Stan Nance, and Paul Streiff went on a boat to snorkel. When we first arrived at the dive site, we were a little skeptical because it was not a true reef, but was a breakwater for a beach. When we got into the water and swam to the location the hosts directed us to we were very pleased with the wide variety of colorful fish. Most of the time we were followed by schools of fish. The host told us to use a small rock to smash a couple of barnacles, of which there were many, to attract the fish. This cost only $45, gear included, and was well worth the money.

After we flew back to Auckland, we caught things up at work during for the week before Christmas, as things were winding down for the holidays. New Zealand has quite a system for Christmas and New Year holidays. There are two public holidays for each. Added to this being within the summer vacation for all of the schools, there is practically no one working on the three days between. Richard Hunter, our director, told us to take the time away from the office to recharge.

Richard and Laura Hunter kindly invited us for Christmas Eve at their home with their young children and her parents. Three other couples joined us. We had a great night and it helped take some of the sting out of being away from home. It is far too easy to get down in the dumps wishing for family. We did a nativity and Terry was a wise man. Gae was a stage hand and photographer.

We enjoyed a couple of days at Rotorua with our friends the Streiffs and also with Cal and Sue Taylor. The Taylors were in our ward in Sandy for 20 years and it was good to see them. We went fishing three times and caught a few rainbow trout, mostly 18 inches or longer, but the action was a little slow. We went up the east coast through Tauranga on the way back to our flat. New Zealand is a beautiful place. There are lots of flowers blooming. Gae is particularly fond of the blue hydrangeas. We all went on a luge ride; the first time ever for Gae and Terry. The luge comprised a 3-wheel sled with steering and brakes, several concrete tracks from slow to fast (very fast), and gondolas and ‘ski’ lifts. Maybe they are luge lifts there. We had way more fun than we thought we would and will probably go back again.

We were able to talk to most of our family on Christmas via Skype and we enjoyed the visits so much. One of the nice things about our 18-month mission is that we will only miss one Christmas and one Thanksgiving.

After we got home, Gae and I headed down to the Hamilton Temple and enjoyed joining a very few people for an endowment session on New Years Eve.

We have been shadowing the Streiffs on supporting the people called to public affairs in Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Marshall Islands, and Kiribati [keer-uh-bas] for several months. We will continue to support Hastings, Hamilton, and Cook Islands. With the Streiffs gone, we will be changing our focus to working with all these different councils, we will likely be travelling more, and we will be even busier. We are loving life and we are looking forward to our increased responsibilities.