One "Sweet As" Weekend

This weekend, I embarked on an amazing adventure on the North Island, along with eleven other Americans. On this trip, I stayed in a hostel for the first time (and had an amazing experience with it, by the way), hiked miles and miles of beautiful trails, and formed some pretty awesome friendships with the girls in our group. I saw some of the most gorgeous scenery I have ever scene, from misty mountains, to crystal clear waters, to majestic redwood forests. The pictures speak for themselves, although there's nothing like seeing New Zealand in person. I had to keep pinching myself, making sure that I wasn't dreaming! I believe God spent a little extra time creating the beauty that is New Zealand, and I'm so glad He did. :)

Here are some pictures from our weekend adventure!

Put twelve Americans in one minibus on the "wrong side" of the road, add some traffic jams, snowball fights, and old-school navigation and you get unforgettable memories and some friendships to last a lifetime. Props to the drivers for braving roundabouts, merging "like a zip," and being willing to haul this crew around! 
New Zealand weather is definitely one-of-a-kind. Within a matter of minutes (and a few hundred meters in elevation), we went from seeing flat, green pastures filled with New Zealand's most abundant animal to scrubby hills and snowy peaks. (Fun fact: There are about 6 sheep for every person in New Zealand. That's around 24 million sheep!) While Palmerston North stays around 45 degrees in the winter, the mountains to our north are almost always covered in snow, making them a popular skiing destination. 
Tongaririo National Park and Mount Ruapehu were breathtaking! I hope that one day I'll learn how to ski on the (bunny) slopes of these mountains. The pictures don't quite give them justice. 

These were taken at Lake Taupo, a 616 square kilometer lake surrounded by mountains on almost all sides. It was so gorgeous I decided that it deserves two collages. The town of Taupo, which is on the other side of the lake from where these were taken, was so adorable! I believe that it was one of the groups' favorite stops. The town is right on the lake and almost looks like a town you would see on the coast of Italy. (Or so I was told.)
Huka Falls has some of the prettiest blue water ever! Standing over the rapids watching the water power through the gorge is so humbling and somewhat mesmerizing. I could watch it all day long! If you're willing to buy a (rather expensive) ticket, you can ride a speed boat through these rapids. But, we mostly stuck to free adventures this weekend. Maybe some other time. 
Kerosene Creek had multiple hot springs and was the gateway to Rainbow Mountain (my favorite stop.) Walking through the steamy forest felt like wandering through a tropical rainforest!

Rainbow Mountain. What can I say? After a 3.5 kilometer hike up very steep terrain, all we could do was awe at the view from the top. I was swept away by the surrounding mountains and hills, especially the snowy mountains in the distance. God really outdid Himself when He made New Zealand, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to see His handiwork. I wish the pictures or my words could convey how amazing and important this experience was for me. Even standing high on a mountain, God's creation can make you feel so small and yet so blessed and loved. This was one of the most difficult hikes I've ever taken, and there were times when I was wondering if it would all be worth it. It was. 
The Redwood Forest was kind of a last minute stop before we headed back to Palmy. This was the first time I had ever seen redwoods, and the people from California said that it was just like "home." The picture on the top right looks edited, but I promise it is not. The water really is that blue, even though it's stagnant and filled with plant debris. (Even the stagnant water in New Zealand is beautiful!) The trees in this forest were huge, and I've never seen anything like them. When I get back to the States, I'll have to find my way to California to see the American version of these wonders. 
Our final stop was the Aratiatia Rapids near Taupo. Everyday at 10:00, 12:00, and 14:00, the dam releases a huge rush of water, turning this usually calm river into white rapids. We got there a little late and decided to stick around to see the dam open, and we were all so glad we did. If you look at the pictures on the left, they show a before and after shot of the water.  Watching the water change from still pools and lazy streams to a roaring river within a matter of minutes was "sweet as." (Also, a lot of us in the group were excited to visit the first of many filming locations in New Zealand. Remember the barrel scene in the second Hobbit movie? Part of it was filmed here!)

Speaking of which, this is a good time to explain the title of this post. "Sweet as" is New Zealand slang used in the same way we use "cool" or "awesome." (We said it all weekend, kind of as a joke, but I think it's starting to stick in our vocabulary.) A Kiwi explained to us that it's like saying something is "sweet as pie" without the "pie." 

On our way home, we managed to get stuck in traffic. Twice. But with a view like this for a few hours, I don't think anyone minded too much. We watched the sun set over the mountains before we drove back to Palmy to prepare for our first week of school. I'm so thankful I was able to see even a little bit of this stunning country this weekend, and I'm so excited for even more adventures with the close friends I made on this trip. I'm so blessed to have found some friends that I can share my New Zealand experience with.


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