“Will he be back?” inquired the elderly woman dining at the table next to me. “It would be a shame to waste that.”
Mike had stepped outside to capture some photos of another glorious New Zealand sunset, and the residents of Thames were very concerned about his steak dinner, which was growing colder by the minute.
“Yes, he’ll be back,” I reassured her. “He just went to take some photos of the sunset.”
Sure he did, honey, the woman’s expression replied. I’m pretty sure they thought we’d quarreled and that I’d been abandoned at Grahamstown Bar & Diner.
The sunset had been magnificent the night before, but we didn’t have the camera with us at the time. We were content then to simply enjoy it in person as we sipped our beers from Boilerhouse Brewery.
The coastal town of Thames has a beautiful black sand beach that melds into mud flats. When the Firth of Thames recedes with the tide each evening at sunset, thousands of little pools reflect the fiery light.
Having missed it once, Mike was determined to get pictures of it the next time around.
“Are you sure he’s coming back?” asked the woman’s husband as he passed by a few minutes later on his way to the WC, appearing hopeful that he might get to enjoy Mike’s steak after all.
As I finished my salad of roast vegetables with goat cheese and the sun slipped below the horizon, Mike did indeed return. I flashed a quick “see, I told you” glance to my fellow diners before returning my attention to my dinner date, who had captured not only the spectacular seashore sunset but also a rainbow over the ancient wooden church next door.
New Zealand is a country of incredible beauty that often surprises visitors and residents alike. Our Airbnb host was a German woman who’d studied there as an exchange student and returned years later when she couldn’t get the country off her mind.
She told us about canoeing alone down a river when she came upon a waterfall that flowed with hot water, heated by the many underground volcanic springs. “There was no one around. Just me. I couldn’t believe it!” Eva exclaimed. “But when I told friends about it later, they weren’t surprised. There are so many things like that, that there’s enough for everyone to have their own secret places.”
We visited Hot Water Beach, where children learn to surf in the warm waves of the Pacific Ocean and couples walk hand-in-hand along the therapeutic sands.
Along the way, we took in the sweeping vistas of the protected kiwi reserves, where New Zealand’s endangered birds live in the safety of the Whenuakite natural park.
And on the south island of New Zealand, we saw the majestic mountain landscapes where snow lovers ski in the winter and Lord of the Rings fans flock year-round.
And lest you worry that New Zealanders are being overrun by rabid movie fans eager to see the filming locales firsthand, just know that they’ve embraced their status as home to Hobbits.
In New Zealand, Eva assured us, “There’s something around every corner.”