28 November 2015

Wandering Otari-Wilton's

Otari-Wilton's Bush
Gratitude list for 2015:

Grateful for my son's health. His curiosity. His charm. Wit. Snuggles. Sleeping. Preschool.

My husband's insight. Humour. Intellect. Openness. Bravery. Love.

My mom and dad's willingness to travel twice to New Zealand to visit us. Their health. Healing. Their genuine interest in their grandson, son-in-law and their flexibility. Their love.

My brother's easy communication. Connection. Genuine care for his nephew. His perseverance in completing his doctorate. Being a fantastic father to his children. His compassion.

My mother-in-law's love. Her helpful advice. Support, encouragement and easygoing mentality about having to have a relationship with her grandson over the Internet.

Grateful for my friends near and far who allow me to be imperfect. Forgiving and encouraging and kind. Who gently challenge me. Who accept people for who they are- never willing anyone to be someone they're not. Their passion for life, love, others. Loyalty.

I have a true appreciation for our new home and the safety it has provided. Our new landlords, the 'angels' they are- helping us to make a home, offering us a sense of security during an uncertain time. God was listening to my prayers for guidance. I continue to listen to Her messages, too.

Grateful to live in New Zealand. For the tui, the toetoe, the rimu, the flax, the pohutukawa, the pongas. The sea. The colours in the sky. The people.

A ponga tree (silver fern)

The writing. The editing. The writing community. The readers. The passion. The resilience.

I hope to never forget the things I've learned.

The Tasman Sea

Full of grace, this is what I think of as I wander Otari-Wilton's. And I hope you have also found what you're looking for this year and then some.

I wonder what Joe Wellington is thankful for?

24 October 2015

Traipsing Taupo

Craters of the Moon, Taupo

All right, Joe Wellington. Are you in Taupo?

Taupo (means 'The great cloak of Tia', the one who discovered the lake) is a town in the middle of the North Island of New Zealand. It's bordered by the largest lake in the country and a volcano. With a population of 24,000 people, surely Joe could be there?

My search began at Craters of the Moon, a geothermal walk known to be rather touristy but an easy little trek for any preschoolers in tow. The bubbling, steaming pools of mud and geysers along the walkway provided an eerie sort of soundtrack to the otherwise gorgeous view.

We wandered along, oohing and awing that just below our feet, earth is doing its thing, with magma ready to burst and burn us all (ok, maybe it doesn't work that way but fun to be spooky near Halloween, right?). A few people, most with young kids, stopped for photos among the craters but none who resembled Joe Wellington. Still, it was nice to brush up on our geology.

Craters of the Moon, Taupo

Next up, we drove to Huka Falls (Huka means 'foam'). According to the web site, they are the largest waterfalls on the Waikato River, and empties into Lake Taupo. Another tourist destination, I was quite confident I'd have a good chance at finding my Kiwi mate here. The entrance was overwhelmed with crowds and I gave a good up and down glance to as many as I could. One man in particular caught my eye with his light red hair and beard, but as I was about to ask him if his name was Joe, I got completely distracted by this intense rushing sound and a vibrant turquoise hue with foam splashing atop! Huka Falls! I ran to the viewing platform to attempt a photo; I had to try to capture the power of the falls. Impossible. A jet boat full of people on a tour approached the falls only to get forced away by the angry current.

Huka Falls, Taupo

When I turned away from the falls, my possible Joe sighting had vanished. I figured. Oh well. It probably wasn't him, anyway. I mean, if he lives in New Zealand, why would he want to visit tourist attractions, right?

Onward to Wai-O-Tapu, a 'thermal wonderland' near Rotorua. It was a bit of a drive, 40 min from Taupo, but long enough to let my kid have a sleep and ponder yet again how I've not found Joe in the two years of living in this small country. Some people suggest he doesn't want to be found. And I suppose there may be some truth to that. It'd probably weird me out, too if some acquaintance from years ago had a blog about trying to find me. Maybe this is as far as I'm supposed to get in my search.

So, I decide, instead of looking for Joe Wellington at our next stop, I'm going to stay in the moment and just enjoy the sights.

I pull into our next tourist attraction and instantly pinch my nose. I even try to hold my breath so the sulphur won't seep into my lungs. Or pores. Ew. The stench of rotten eggs is overwhelming and my son thinks his dad is passing gas. Eventually, I just get used to it because this place is awesome!

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, Rotorua
pretty but so stinky!

It's said that back before there were kitchens and stoves, Maori women would place their food on the rocks near the volcanoes/geysers to cook! Mother Earth always giving back...

Gollum? Are you in there?

So, no, Joe Wellington didn't pop out from any volcanoes, nor did Gollum from Lord of the Rings. But I came away with an even deeper appreciation for what this small country has to offer. It's pretty wild to drive from the ocean, through the desert, to a lake, to waterfalls, and to volcanoes (!) within hours. Anyone would be lucky to grow up here. Every day, I look out my window at home and see the Cook Strait. Never in a million years would I believe that I'd be living here. Yet, I am. So, I best appreciate the moment rather than looking for some dude.

Goodbye for now. I'll have to come back to Taupo again soon. You know, to see if I can find Joe Wellington...

Lake Taupo

30 September 2015

Searching the South Island:Te Waikoropūpū Springs

Looking down into the main spring

While searching for Joe Wellington in the north part of the South Island, I stumbled upon Te Waikoropūpū Springs. I wasn't sure what I'd find here, having only seen the sign for it along the road with a large dirt car park and barely any vehicles, I was certain it'd be 'just another tourist destination'. 

My son and I walked hand in hand toward the entrance and to my delight, I saw the word 'hine' (girl, daughter) in several of the brief explanations about the area. Perhaps Joe Wellington has a deep appreciation for Māori mythology? Worth a check, anyway.

Maroon posts of the marae were carved with the legends of strong wahine (women) and descriptions on each one. There's too many for me to name, but while reading about Hine Ahu One (the first mother of the land), I knew this stop wouldn't be trivial. Having to chase after a preschooler, I wasn't able to linger and read more. What I did understand before taking to the path was this: the grounds and water are sacred. Don't dump anything in the spring. Don't take water from the spring. Don't smoke or eat or drink. Respect the guardians and the Papatūānuku (earth mother).

Once on the dirt path sheltered by Manuka trees, it was stop and go several times due to a pebble hitching a ride in my boy's shoe. He was in good spirits, his playfulness refreshing. But I couldn't shake the feeling like we were being watched. Not in an eerie sort of way (although, that'd make a good story), but there was a definite presence. Joe Wellington of the Wind? Right. Joking aside, you could just tell you were in a special place.

We approached the main spring that looked like a normal, quiet pond with flax plants and pebbles lining the shore. But when I peered straight down into it, the colours were none I've ever seen of water before. It was like a Monet (see above photo).

the waters represent the lifeblood of the Earth Mother & tears of the Sky Father

My boy gazed into the water, too, mesmerised by the eels and trout living beneath 'the submerged garden of Eden' while his grandparents explained as best they could the importance of not disturbing the sacred water. This was a place full of history, spirit, and conservation.

According to Māori mythology (forgive me if I'm misunderstanding), these springs are  protected by female guardian Huriawa. I've not had time to research as much as I'd like, and to be sure I don't get it wrong, I'll offer Wikipedia's explanation on Huriawa: 

"She is a diver of land and sea, travelling deep beneath the earth to clear blocked waterways. She is brave and wise and believed to still rest in the waters of Waikoropūpū, when she is not away attending to business.

It's said to be an honour to gain guardianship over such sacred places as this. The role has been passed down over several generations from the ancestors to "ensure that the matauranga (knowledge and legends) and aroha (love) of our sacred place is not lost."

'the tears of the spirit ancestors'

Aha! So it's the female guardians whose presence I felt along the path; now making it a spiritual experience for me. Geez, I can't give up knowing more now... These mythological taniwha's are the 'dawn maidens', the 'mothers', the 'keepers', the 'sisters', the 'protectors'. They are described as brave, wise, strong, but also full of knowledge and love.

I'm finding in my mid-thirties, I'm appreciating what an honour it is to be a woman; grateful to the women before me who've fought to have their voices heard and to the women who've stayed silent but with a loud spirit. I'm in awe of the women who've carried shame, and the women who've not had time for it. I weep for the women who've suffered and applaud the women who've persevered even when silenced. I adore the women who dare to have an opinion and the women who laugh when insulted for speaking up. I join in solidarity for the sacred stillness we long for within.

Let no one take our power or the life-force we protect. I only hope I can pass on to younger generations (such as my son) a devotion to all things fragile, breathing, connecting us all.

It says at the entrance to the sacred grounds, "Because the physical and the spiritual are inseparable, the health of the whole system reflects the well-being of our community”.

Well, I can't deny that.

Sorry, Joe. Maybe we'll connect at the next stop. And this concludes my search on the South Island (until next time). Right now, I'm too busy protecting my womanhood.

20 September 2015

A Dream Year

Edward professes his love for Elinor, as do I for the
written word


I actually have no idea what I'm doing.

The only comforting response I can offer: Do any of us really know what we're doing?

I began this blog because it's a really good story. It's entertaining and true. Maybe I'll find the guy. But maybe I won't. Now that I've had the blog for two years and am not any closer to finding Joe Wellington, I'm accepting that I probably won't find him. That's ok.

Because this blog has become something more for me.

It has awakened a calling that didn't surface until I began this New Zealand journey. Writing was a secret passion. I loved doing it; wrote stories for friends in middle school, won a short story contest as a tween, and often it was the only way I could cope through my angsty teen years. But I never took it seriously. I never thought it was a realistic dream. Only a childhood fantasy.

But then I wrote a manuscript. A very awful, horribly written work of women's fiction. But it was finished. I did it.

So now what?

I wait. I read. I learn. I research US literary agents. I buy books about the industry. I research 'how to write a query'. I learn. I meet writer friends. Swap work. I query. I receive rejections. I enter contests. And get rejections. I read. I talk to a select few about the process. Swallow the fear. And borrow that 'thick skin' I developed performing on stage as a kid. I crumble into self-doubt and zone out on movies instead. Then I get more rejections. I learn more. I revise. I write a second manuscript while I wait. I breathe. I get a request. Another rejection. Repeat as needed. But I don't give up. I won't. I can't. Because I believe in the no-longer-horrible story so much that I feel like I'd be betraying my characters if I quit now. That's true love. 

There's this unwavering hope that writers must hold onto tightly. A hope that someday, someone will see the value in the words written and become your champion. A writer must carry that light of possibility at all times. Because with every rejection, the light can dim. But you don't want just anyone to represent your career. You want that very special someone (an Edward and Elinor love story, maybe?) who truly connects with what's produced and believes in you.

Sometimes there might be a tough critique and I think how far off I am from being a published author and that light becomes so clouded it dumps sheets of rain, leaving me to my chai tea and sweatpants (who am I kidding? I love sweatpants) for a while.

After some rejuvenation, revise. Work harder, use any spare second to get lost in my crazy writer mind. Try not to go insane from how fast those stories want to pour out. Neglect dishes. Praise dog for acting as the vacuum and eating the crumbs off the floor. Shower husband with kisses for taking the preschooler so I can write. Oh, and what's a shower? Sleepless nights are inevitable because I'm dreaming of how to restructure a sentence or what adverbs to omit. I'm not a perfect writer but I hope to be better.

Sending my prayers to the gods of fate a year ago

That's what I've been doing the past year. Working my butt off.

While raising my son. And searching for Joe Wellington, who I MUST thank for this when I do find him. All this and trying not to exclude my friends from the process (I love you Bryony, Lacey, and Dan!) or ignore that life is happening outside my windows. Lovely, precious, occasionally cloudy life.

But I really have no idea what I'm doing...

...except living my dream.

16 August 2015

Guest Post: One More Step by Jim Ormonde

This past year, I've met some amazing writers from around the globe. It's been a blessing to learn who they are, where they're from, and why they write. Their stories inspire me. Jim Ormonde is one of those inspiring people. An active member in our online writing community, Jim is honest, quick to offer (excellent) help, cheers us on, and is maybe even considered 'a knight in shining armour  by some. When I asked Jim to write a guest post for Where's Joe Wellington, he didn't hesitate. It's an honour to present Jim's take on this rather odd, but very fun, and quite real search for my long-lost Kiwi mate:

“If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, it stands to reason that I'm going to get there.”

So wrote Rachel Joyce in her beautiful novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. After hearing nothing from his former colleague for twenty years, Harold receives a letter from Queenie Hennessie––she’s in a hospice and wanted to say goodbye.

Harold intends a quick walk to the corner mailbox to post his reply but a chance encounter convinces him of the need to deliver his message to Queenie in person because as long as he keeps walking, Harold believes his friend will not die.

At any point in his six-hundred-mile journey, Harold could call, write, Skype or email and bring his quest to a speedy conclusion but the point of this story is the importance of making the journey and the discovery it brings along the way.

Did he find Queenie, did he not? I’m not sure it matters in the end (besides, you should read the book for yourself). But I was reminded of Harold’s unlikely pilgrimage when Lissa told me of her search for Joe Wellington.

Her story is equally as engaging. In 1998 she went on her own adventure to San Francisco and met, along the way, a guy called Joe. This wasn’t a love story, it was nothing more than a good story, and in many ways an unfinished one as Lissa and Joe lost touch. She thinks his last name was Wellington and that he was from New Zealand because she remembers teasing him.

            So you're Joe Wellington from Wellington?’

As it so often does, life interrupted their friendship, faded memories became loose ends, and important details blurred with time.

But almost twenty years later, like Harold Fry, a new journey has begun, this time fuelled by Lissa’s love affair with writing and her desire to use her search for Joe Wellington as the inspiration for a blog. In this pilgrimage, there are no geographic boundaries, the hard miles are being walked with words, and support is being sought from writers keen to join the hunt.

            ‘Joe! Joe Wellington! Where are you Joe Wellington?!’

I happen to be one of the new characters Lissa has met on her pilgrimage. It was a chance encounter, the ordinary with the potential to be part of something extraordinary––the search for Joe.

            ‘Where are you Joe? Can you hear me Joe?!’ I wonder if he went home to New Zealand after his time in San Francisco all those years ago, or whether, like many Kiwis, he found himself in the UK.

            ‘Joe! Joe Wellington! Where are you Joe Wellington?!’

             Silence. Joe doesn’t hear me. Maybe I need to shout louder, and further.

            ‘Are you listening, Joe? Do you even know we’re looking for you?’

            Nothing. Maybe Joe doesn’t want to be found.

            Who knows. Who knows if we’ll ever know.

But as Rachel Joyce also wrote… ‘The people he met, the places he passed, were all steps in his journey, and he kept a place inside his heart for each of them.’

Yes, I am sure Harold did. Like Lissa. Like all of us touched by this remarkable story. Wherever this pilgrimage happens to take us next.

I hope it leads us to Joe. But, in the end, I’m not sure it matters. It’s the journey that counts. And I’m happy to play my part.

            ‘Can you hear us Joe?’ we write. 

Because if we keep writing one word after the other, it stands to reason that we’re going to get there.

Jim Ormonde fell in love with writing as a youngster and decided to make a career from words while still at school when a week’s work experience at his local newspaper made him realise that writing about real life was almost as good as the made up stuff. He progressed from news reporter with provincial titles to broadcast journalist with the BBC when a chance interview with a former motorcycle champion kidnapped him from journalism and led him to an accidental career in financial services. He become CEO of a large technology company sold 72 hours before the credit crises, after which he returned to writing for pleasure, this time from a black desk in his study overlooking the family garden in rural Lincolnshire. He is engaged, with two young daughters, and would be blissfully happy were it not for the compelling need to write at least one more chapter. You can find out more about Jim on twitter @jimormonde or visit his web site: www.jamesormonde.com 

19 July 2015

Guest Post: Searching South Australia by Léonie C. Kelsall

I am excited for Where's Joe Wellington's first guest post! Allow me to introduce you to my friend, my critique partner 'across the ditch', Léonie C. Kelsall. I'm honoured she agreed to not only do a search for Joe, but to write about the experience and share it with us. I had a good laugh while reading this, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Thank you, Lee, for contributing and for all the other stuff. Friends, here's Lee's search for Joe Wellington...

Hailing me from the other side of the ditch - known to non Kiwis/Aussies as the Tasman Sea - my lovely American-transplant friend sends a message, “Would you like to do a guest blog for me?”

“Sure,” I reply blithely, not knowing what I'm committing to.

We exchange a few more positive words via Twitter - we’re several thousand kilometres apart, and met via a mutual desire to air our trials and tribulations on the road to becoming published authors. Hey, how negative is that phrase? Shouldn’t it be ‘Triumphs, trials and tribulations’?  I move for change.

Anyway, I digress. Lissa asks if I can assist in the search for Joe Wellington. Of course I can. Mind you, I’ve already tried to make more of the tale . . . young love lost; angry husband pretending to assist in search, so he can ‘off’ the rival; lover proves to be father of illegitimate child. None of which, Lissa assures me, is anything like the truth; but, like I said, aspiring authors – any story has potential.

Mindful of my promise, and having procrastinated for close to 24 hours, I knuckle down, standing in front of the laptop at the kitchen bench. I hear you; “Health conscious, Lee? New form of workout?” No, not at all. It’s camouflage. If I’m standing at the bench, I could be doing house-wifely type duties. The laptop can be closed down in a millisecond. “Writing? Who, me? No, I’m doing the dishes.” Mind you, stuffing the Christmas turkey whilst employing this form of multi-tasking was interesting. By New Years, plagued by images of botulism, I did disinfect my keyboard.

So, laptop booted up, I must check social media (it’s a warm up for my keyboard, I swear!) And I get to thinking – do I just put Joe Wellington’s picture up on social media, let it go viral? Surely he could be found this way? Or perhaps the thrill of the chase lends intrigue to the story? Maybe Lissa prefers the journey to the destination?

I’ve obviously eaten gluten in the last few days, because I’m finding it increasingly difficult to keep on track. Instead, my mind is wandering, the idea of searching the Net for past lovers calling to me (oh come on, don’t pretend you haven’t!). The reasonably well-known artist I had a fling with at 18 should be easy enough to find, even with my limited skills. FaceBook, here I come . . .

Oh, wow, my ex-flame's name is actually quite common.
Realisation dawns slowly – Jim was more than twice my age, which would now make him... Gulp. Maybe I need to look in the obituaries, not social media. My partner wanders in and, despite my bragging about swift cover-ups, catches me browsing Google.

Him: “What are you looking at?”
Me: “Um. Just old lovers.”
Him: “Oh. I see. Had many?”
Me: (Opting for smart-arse in an attempt to sound offhand) “Well, obviously, that would depend on definitions. Of ‘lovers’ and ‘many.’”
Quick change of screen, and I try to look absorbed in work-type stuff, projecting a “please don’t interrupt my concentration” aura.

Okay, so back to Joe Wellington. If Lissa wanted to find him via the interwebby stuff, I’m sure she could – I mean, the girl knows how to set up a blog!  I haven’t even managed to work out those funny facey things everyone else inserts into messages. Obviously, I’m going to have to put in the hard yards: I’m going to hit the streets. Well, I live in a country town in the Adelaide Hills, so it’s more like hit the edges of the paddocks. 

I woggle (that’s my cross between a jog and a waddle, with rather more of the latter) 6km and encounter one person. Female, petite and twentyish. Definitely not Joe Wellington. Probably best if I don’t stop her to ask his whereabouts, given I’m huffing and moaning in a most inappropriate manner (you got the Adelaide HILLS bit, right?). I may have to go where there are more people. Inspiration: the top of Mt Barker. I’ll have a stunning view from there.

Mt Barker, South Australia 

And it’s a beautiful day for a hike. Yes, it is bang smack in the middle of winter, but this is South Australia, driest state on the driest continent. Actually, I don’t even know if that’s true. We had it drummed into us at school, years before the internet could be used to dispute and verify such ‘facts’. However, as it is one of very few things I recall from my schooling, I’m not about to challenge that knowledge. Please leave me in my little bubble - I’ve taught it to my kids so, by the power of numbers, we shall make it ‘fact’.

The mountain is beautiful.

Any kiwi jumping the ditch is sure to come here.  And the weather is breathtaking – one of those clear, crisp days that sear your lungs, making your heart ache with unfulfilled promise. Or maybe that pain is just the lack of exercise? 

It rained overnight, breaking a long, dry spell, and the sides of the rough dirt track have turned to clay. Rivulets of cold water cascade alongside, miniature waterfalls washing dusty pebbles until they assume the shine of gemstones. I stop frequently, stooping to collect the treasures. Well, actually, I have to stop, because this mountain is ALL uphill, dammit.

The only other person on top of my mountain is a man with three young children. Immediately he has a story; single father, weekly access visit, determined to do better than the traditional visit to Maccas. Possibly regretting his decision now, in light of the snot-faced recalcitrance of his daughter.

I decide to do the circumnavigation of the peak. Largely because, having huffed my way into a male presence, I now feel the need to prove my vigour. Mind you, he drove up here in a 4-wheel drive, so I’m winning anyway...

The track is narrow, winding between the naked trunks of boxbark eucalypts, and bordered by bright pink native orchids. In the purity of silence broken only by bell-birds and magpies (okay, and my stentorian breathing, but I’m sure that doesn’t add anything to the visual!), I hear the other visitor’s car departing. Excellent. Time to find Joe. 

Moving to a fairly dangerous rocky outcrop (pay attention, Lissa, the risks I take for you) I bellow for Joe. Okay, I’m actually shy, so it was more of a timid murmur. Oh, what the Hell, there’s no one else around. Cupping my hands around my mouth, I let it rip, “JOE WELLINGTON, WHERE ARE YOU?!” 

The words echo around the valley. I’m pretty impressed at my output. However the only thing that answers is a kookaburra, and even he seems uncertain whether it’s safe to laugh at this maniacal, red-faced woman. Anyway, I’ve discharged my duty. I can go back down the mountain now. Heavy emphasis on ‘down’. 

I complete my circumnavigation of the peak, back to the car park entrance, where the down track is located. And stop in horror.

I may have found Joe Wellington.

There’s a pretty good chance I have. The vehicle I heard was not the single-father’s 4 wheel drive departing, but a minibus arriving.

A minibus full of people.

A minibus full of people looking at me. Apparently, the kookaburra is not the only one who thinks I may be crazy.

Time to employ my best Mr Bean impersonation. Jerking a thumb over my shoulder, I lift my eyebrows and shrug, “Did you hear that? Wonder if someone is lost?”

I’m sure the tourists totally bought it. However, I’m unable to bring myself to look closely enough to assess if one is Joe Wellington. It’s possible, had he been there, he may not have chosen that moment to disclose himself.

Trudging down the mountain, I realise three things.

1.     Down is far easier
2.     My buscles (that’s butt muscles) are gonna hurt tomorrow.
3.     I’m suddenly, ridiculously, invested in finding Joe Wellington. I’ve spent hours walking and thinking about him, and now I care. I want to locate him, to discover that he’s healthy and happy, to know that his dreams are realised and that he harbors fond memories of his time with Lissa.

Next week, I’m off to a travel expo. I’m pretty sure he’ll be there...

Léonie C. Kelsall is a qualified mental health practitioner with a passion for writing upmarket romantic suspense. She is currently seeking publication for two completed novels. You can follow Lee on twitter @leehotline, or read more about her on Writer Pitch.

6 July 2015

Searching the South Island: Wharariki Beach

Who knows where the path will lead?


I searched for Joe Wellington at one of New Zealand's best beaches!

Back in December, I packed up my family and forced them to keep their eyes peeled while we went on holiday to the South Island. One stop was at Wharariki Beach near the Farewell Spit, the northernmost part of the South Island. It was a trek that reminded me of The Goonies and The Princess Bride movies, which offered a healthy dose of nostalgia.

After a slew of rainy days, we had to get out. So the five of us piled into the car and drove around the area, desperate to see some sights even if it would be through the fog. We missed the tour for the bus that goes out to the Farewell Spit (no cars allowed), but we found an awesome little farm that had a sign for a walking track to a beach. At the time, none of us were aware it was one of the best in New Zealand.

A beautiful male peacock greeted us in the parking lot, begging visitors for food. A gate led to a green hill section with a narrow gravel path to follow, one foot in front of the other. When we reached the top of the hill we were among roaming sheep and cows. I could've sworn I heard Wesley from The Princess Bride call out, "As you wiiiisssh!" but it was only my son repeating, "I'm a fisssh!".

My boys following the path.
Photo by Steve Waller
My dad meets a native
photo by Steve Waller

At this point, judging by the grassy landscape covered in steaming cow pies, I was in disbelief that a beach would greet us in the end. The sheep baa'ed and the cows moo'ed but otherwise, they left us alone. I asked one cow if he happened to know anyone named Joe but he didn't seem amused so I stayed out of his way.

Before we knew it the track turned to soft, fine sand and we were surrounded by woods. The landscape went from pastureland, to a paddock in steep hills, and now bush! Only in New Zealand. I could smell the salt of the sea and hear the crash of the waves so I figured we must be close. The others in my party went on ahead but I hung back to snap photos.

Um, wow. 

The sight was a scene from Goonies: the movie with Chunk and the scary old lady and the weird Baby Ruth-guy named Sloth. Complete with Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" song in my head, I chuckled at the thought that perhaps I am now living a life movies are made from.

The past few years have been the most enriching. And that's only because I ran full speed ahead into a life that I knew I always wanted, plus some surprises. That's not to say it hasn't been difficult, because it has. But there has been a lot of difficult things in my life that I've had to endure, and I'm grateful for those experiences that have taught me how to keep going. I guess I could say I needed the cow pies to get to the white sand beach that offers more than I ever could have dreamed.

Catching up with my whanau (family), I ran to the beach toward the sand dunes. My son, who leapt for joy and offered the sea his dance of youth, was so happy. I was so happy. This world was ours to discover, cow pies and all.

Like the movies from my childhood, I try to embrace the challenges of adventure and risk-taking. It's  about fighting the giant, which might seem impossible because of its size. But if I try with all my might I may just be able to conquer. In order to outsmart the narcissistic scientist whose poison can get the better of me, with enough training and experience, maybe I can become immune. If I take my time to calculate my way around the booby traps, I might recognise the patterns in order to find the treasure at the end. And no amount of shock treatment can keep me from the one (or what) I love if that love is true.

Returning to our car, I was again in awe that one narrow path led us through such different landscape to this magnificent beach. As someone who has taken a few different paths in her life, it's nice to know I've finally found the right one.

The seal is not Joe Wellington. Sorry.
Photo by Steve Waller
Alas, I'm still searching for Joe Wellington. But I found Wharariki Beach, which HuffPost calls, "Heaven on Earth"!

To be continued...

19 June 2015

Searching the South Island: Rawhiti Cave

View from our bach

Previously, I wrote about my search for Joe Wellington on the Interislander ferry on my way to the South Island (he wasn't aboard). But maybe, just maybe, our paths would cross on a trek up to Rawhiti Cave? While I'm searching for my long-lost Kiwi friend (easy to forget this is a TRUE STORY), I'm discovering some wonderful places and the Rawhiti Cave is probably my favourite thus far.

If you don't remember, my parents were visiting over the Christmas holiday. The five of us traveled to Golden Bay. Our bach had epic views of the Tasman Sea, only a few feet from our doorstep. We enjoyed daily and nightly walks over the rocks when tide was out with white/golden sand that stretched for miles. Seashells washed ashore kept us on our tip toes as we combed the beach for the perfect one.

Endless sea shells

Low tide treasures

Pretty close to perfect!

The sand flies were obnoxious and their bites were not only itchy but painful. So when we'd finally had enough of the lazy beach-bum life (ok, we never got tired of that), we figured we should do some exploring. We plopped the kid into the back pack carrier and headed toward Rawhiti Cave. Locals said it would be an "easy" trek that school children visit as a field trip. If school kids can do it then so can we, aye? 

After driving a bit in circles to find the car park (a pasture), we were ready to set off. The bottom of the hike was fairly flat as we crossed the Dry River's boulders and snapped photos of the Nikau trees that cue the "Golden Girl's" TV show theme song in my head whenever I pass them.

A slight incline here and there, we managed to stick together quite well, with my husband and toddler leading the pack. We heard a lost sheep calling for its mates somewhere in the bush. I wanted to rescue it but decided to stick with my own herd. As the terrain began to get a bit more steep, a young couple was walking down. We stepped aside on the narrow path as best we could, and asked how high up it was to get to the cave.

"Aw, it's not too bad," the guy said. With no resemblance to Joe Wellington at all, I allowed him to pass. Encouraged by their not-so-sweaty state, we carried on.

The Dry River at beginning of trek

About a quarter of the way up, we navigated the trail that zigzagged as we climbed. We had to stop a few times to catch our breath- I don't know how my husband did it with our boy on his back! We snapped a few more photos as best we could, albeit a bit light headed from the altitude change. 

My parents decided to return down the trail after steep jackknifing made all our stomachs wobble. It had rained earlier in the week so part of the trail was slick with mud. Fulfilled enough by the mountaintop views, they agreed to meet us back at the pasture after we found the cave. I wasn't happy to let them go alone down the muddy slide, but they insisted we finish out the hike.

The part of the trail where we parted ways with the 'rents

My husband, son, and I pressed on, securing our footing with each steep bend. We stopped for a few hydrating breaks until all of a sudden, BAM. There appeared to be a dark hole in front of us, blocking the trail. 

Jagged, rounded spikes greeted us at the opening of the massive cave. We stopped in our tracks, unsure of where we were to step next. There was only one option: enter the cave. The signs posted warned us not to linger at the opening of the cave for fear of falling rocks. My husband was desperate to get our 35 pound boy off his back, but this was no place for a toddler to toddle. Our son, still learning the difference between loud and soft, very loudly yelled, "Is that the cave?". We laughed as his little voice echoed around us. 

One at a time, my husband and I took turns walking the path toward a wooden platform that looked to be floating in mid air, surrounded by stalactite and the sound of dripping water. My legs wobbling as I held on to the edge of the deck, I stepped into the cold darkness and remembered to breathe.

Uh, guys? Where are you going?

Trying to fight the wobblies 

Surely if Joe Wellington wouldn't pop out of there, Gollum would?

I couldn't stay on the platform for long, only long enough for a photo. Paralysed by the empty darkness surrounding me, I had to work hard to focus my thoughts and be really present in the moment. When would I ever be in the mouth of a cave again? Probably never. Especially never in one of the largest in New Zealand.

When I stepped away, stalactite longer than the size of me, hung above. Dizzy, I sat to catch my breath and take in one of nature's finest creations. I am so small. You are so much greater than I. Your magnificence is now a part of my very tiny story and I am whole again. Thank you.

In Maori, the word Rawhiti means "sunrise". This makes perfect sense. We knew the goal of the hike was to see the cave but we really had no idea where on the trail it would be, until right then- the massive opening showed itself like a "black hole sun" offering us the promise of a new day.

I exhaled into the darkness of the cave that has probably heard many a visitor's breath. I sat at the edge of its expansive opening, ready for it to swallow my fears whole.

Unable to keep our boy strapped into his carrier for much more, we steadied ourselves and left. Heading down the mountain was almost more of a challenge with the slick mud hindering the steps of our fatigued legs. We were thrilled to find my parents at the car basking in the sun with their feet up, waiting for us to tell them about it.

Yet all I could think of to say was, "Aw, it's not too bad."

Truth is, it took more than my breath away.

"Thank you for being a friend..."

And so, I'm still searching for Joe Wellington.

To Be Continued...

p.s. For anyone who wants an even better visual of this magnificent cave, someone in the cyber-world actually took a video!
p.p.s. Thanks, Chris Cornell for the "black hole sun"  image/reference.

28 May 2015

Possible (sort-of) Sighting No. 5

The only photo of Joe Wellington (in red) San Francisco 1998

Well, this doesn't necessarily count as a sighting because I spotted him in my dream. 

I was in my hometown in the Midwest. At first, I appeared as a little girl, visiting a favourite music store with my mom. I was wandering around the instruments on the floor, much like what I actually did as a little girl waiting for piano lessons.

Like most dreams, it fast-forwarded to my current adult age. My husband appeared in that same music store and we were playing with different instruments. My hubs started playing jazz on the keyboard (not uncommon in real life) & another man in the store joined in on the guitar. Not sure what this specific part meant but I remember I loved hearing Hubs play.

At some point I wandered over to the next store- one of my favourite "has every record you could imagine" stores and recognised the owner. He said hi to me and remembered my name, something I was often impressed with in real life as a teenager. When I stopped to talk to him, he said something to me about Joe Wellington. 

He knew Joe! He thought Joe and I took a class together at the store (no classes were ever offered at this store in real life). In my dream I remembered that we attended a workshop together (the only thing close to a 'class' we took together was a visit to a psychic in San Francisco, so here's where the dream becomes really, uh, well, dream-like). I asked the owner if he had an attendance record from the workshop and while he looked for it, I became really excited. Giddy. This was my chance to find him! The closest I've been yet to finding Joe Wellington! The roster could also confirm whether or not his surname is Wellington!

While waiting for the attendance sheet, like all dreams do, I was suddenly transported to the audience seating of a performing arts theatre. Folding chairs were set up on the stage in a half circle and a handful of people sat in them. 

Who was sitting in one? Joe! He looked just like he does in the photos I have of him, only with an extremely long hipster beard. 

"That's him!" I yelled to no one in particular. "He's right there, why can't we find him?"

A news camera and reporter was brought in on the spot to cover the story about my search for the mysterious Joe. My husband appeared by my side and encouraged me to go on camera. He said that would be my best chance to find Joe. Meanwhile, the Joe I saw sitting on the stage was fading off into the distance, almost out of view now.

The idea to go on camera made me nervous and I was certain if I saw the roster for the workshop that I would find him that way. I scanned through the names on the attendance sheet and found someone with the name Joe, but not Wellington. I wasn't able to read what the last name was. Darn, so close.

But I woke up still feeling hopeful. 

Stay tuned for more about my continued search on the South Island of New Zealand... 

21 May 2015

A Divine Guest Post

Hello, Where's Joe Wellington Friends!

Before we continue our search together for the mysterious (but real!) Joe, I'd like to share with you a guest post I wrote for a wonderful writer friend, Amy. Amy has this AWESOME blog called Divine in the Daily. She is an excellent writer and an outstanding, compassionate person. I've been impressed with Amy's talent for a couple years now. Not just because of her ability to capture all of life's experiences in written form, but because she DOES IT SO WELL.

She puts her life out there- to share with all of us- to remind us all that we are going through this together, so let's share together. Amy's wide range of topics and series always make me think, and usually cry. Her ability to make sense of the chaos is refreshing and something I only wish I could do.

I've learned a great deal from Amy's writing and the people she features. I feel blessed to be included in her "Special Mamas" series.

Click here to read my story about mothering abroad: Adventures in Uncertainty and to meet Amy, click Divine in the Daily .

Thank you followers and stay tuned as the search for Joe continues...


12 April 2015

Searching The South Island: The Interislander

The Interislander ferry travels through the northern Marlborough Sound
Photo by Steve Waller

If you remember from my last post in January, my lovely parents gave me one of the best Christmas gifts ever (okay, aside from the jean jacket in third grade) by travelling to NZ for a visit. Of course the goal was to see us for the holiday, but we were fortunate to have time off to travel with them to the top of the South Island.

Shortly after they arrived, the six of us (four adults, one toddler, and our dog) were on our way to a ten-day trip to Golden Bay. The South Island is a hop, skip, and a jump, err ferry ride across the Cook Strait.

Travelling by ship is a common mode of transport. It runs multiple times a day, along with four other ferries. It’s a much more relaxed way to travel and while it takes three hours, the scenery is epic. My family boarded the Kaitaki (Maori for “challenger”) with 1600 other passengers, for the voyage from Wellington to Picton. I’d only been on two ferries in my life, both small in comparison to the size of this ship. I am not a cruise ship-type of person, so this was about all I could handle.

After waiting in line to check in (much easier than at an airport), there was a small hassle trying to find out where our dog was supposed to board, but soon we were filing up the stairs to the 8th floor. As we scrambled to find comfortable seats together, it occurred to me that perhaps this is where I would find Joe Wellington. Of course!

Eventually we found an open space where we could all sit together and spread out with large windows displaying the massive sea before us. Sea? Schmee. I had work to do.

I scanned for Joe Wellington while I toured the two cafes (a trim flat white, please!), briefly popped into a movie-viewing lounge (is that Robert Downey Jr.?), scoured a spacious lounge with couches (I love purple!), and glanced ever-so nonchalantly around a play area for children (hey, where’d you get the balloon puppets?).

No sighting.

Numerous people braved the wild, chilled wind to find a perch on the upper deck to hear the waves, spot dolphins or birds, and soak in the overall beauty of the New Zealand shoreline. Surely, Joe Wellington could be one of them?

As I made my way up the shiny mahogany stairwell, the seasickness hit me. It’s been over a decade since I’ve drunk to the point of having wobbly knees and a churning stomach, mostly because I don’t like the feeling. The instability of the ship in the Strait was no different. So, I had to put my search on hold while this “drunken sailor” sensation passed.

Finally docked at our destination, stomach settled, we grabbed our bags and stood in line to get off the boat. Once again, I couldn’t help myself from doing a quick scan to see if maybe Joe Wellington was among the thousand.

He wasn’t.

Now piling into a rental car in Picton, we were on our way again toward the Abel Tasman NationalPark. The winding roads led us up and up, with views of The Pelorus and The Queen Charlotte Sound. Our cameras in hand, we snapped as quickly as we could, aware there was no picture that could hold what our eyes could see.

Breathtaking colors and views hypnotised us all the way up and over until finally we arrived in Nelson. The water in Nelson was a color I don’t think I could ever even attempt to describe. 

We found a restaurant along the sea so we could watch as a container ship made its way to port, reminding us of when our things came into Wellington from the USA.

Nelson, New Zealand
Photo by Lissa Carlino

People who strolled by on their bikes, scooters, or boats received a good once-over to see if just maybe I would have a Joe Wellington sighting.

I didn’t.

But what I did see was diverse landscape and a range of weather from cold rain to warm sunshine in just three hours. And, I never thought I would ever say I sailed the Cook Strait. 

I saw happy people, clearly living in the moment and enjoying their- for at least the holiday- carefree life. I saw children eager to be active and families sharing a laugh, including my son with his grandparents. 

Euphoria came over me as I glanced from my parents to the sea green, to my son, to my husband, and then to the sea again. This was a feeling I did like.

Yes, I was drunk on joy. And I stood secure.

Joe Wellington may not have been on the Interislander ship or in Nelson, but searching with my eyes open leads me to discover something that is much more inspirational than I ever imagined.

Clearly drunk on joy in New Zealand
photo by Steve Waller

That Captain Cook was onto something. 
Stay tuned to hear about my search for Joe Wellington in Golden Bay...