Back in March we skipped a whole day flying twenty hours ahead to a land filled with emerald green hills, no trash, umbrella ferns waving in the air and the kindest people. We had to pinch ourselves because it was a pretty huge bucket list item for both me and Dave. We traveled there with three other couples we love and the BEST guide named Pete. This guy served his mission in New Zealand thirty years ago and he has kept loyal friends there and so many ties to all the goodness that place offers. I want to share how we visited both New Zealand islands in ten days. Keep in mind two of those days were travel days, and also that there is a LOT to see in New Zealand. Needless to say, we left some things on the docket for if we get to go back some day…gotta keep the dream going you know?

Here are the three awesome couples we traveled with, Queenstown (South Island) as our backdrop:

And here’s Pete, our fearless leader:

Adventure and Culture in New Zealand

For today I’m just going to do an overview of all the things we did to have it all in one post. Then I’ll get into more specifics in future posts. The two islands were incredibly different experiences I tell you! One full of green and deep culture (North):

The other full of endless mountain ranges and adrenaline rushes (South):

Ok, well one of the biggest adrenaline rushes was on the North island, but we’ll get to that!

Ok, here we go.


First of all, as we flew into New Zealand I sure felt my heartstrings pull as on my little airplane map it showed how CLOSE we were to my missionary girl Claire. Oh it felt good to be in her same time zone even.

We hopped in our big travel van…

…and drove straight from the airport through endless fields of cows and sheep to get to the coast and a little beach town called Whangamata.


We got our first meat pies (not my very favorite, ha! but cultural to be sure) and headed out to kayak to Whenuakura Island (nicknamed “Donut Island” since it’s round with a little lagoon inside). It was rainy and cold, but felt so good to be in nature paddling our hearts out against the wind. See that island ahead of us?

Here’s Dave showing it off:

And the “mouth” of that island:

Upon arrival:

Sometimes the waves are so big it’s treacherous to get in, but this was a flat, awesome day and we basked in all that calm beauty inside.

Looking up:

En route back to the shore we made one stop on a sandy beach and a moment of sun:

Then back to brave the wind and rain where we got dumped out of our boats on the shore. Ha!

We were a sight to be seen trying to change in the parking lot and coming back completely drenched, but it was such a good adventure.


A town called Rotorua was our homebase in the North island. It was surrounded by smoldering natural hot springs which made for lots of beauty, but not the most gorgeous smell. Ha!


We drove for an hour and a half to get to church in Hamilton, which is where lots of members of our church live. It’s where the temple is too.

It’s one of my favorite things to go to church in different countries and this was no exception. The church itself was an architectural wonder, almost all glass with beautiful stone, warm woods and steel mixed in.

Seriously why does architecture make something feel so very sacred? It was testimony meeting and I loved the earnest thoughts shared.

We took a walk around the temple in the rain, which was so tiny and plain compared to the church, but still so beautiful in it’s simplicity.


We made a stop at Hamilton Gardens. For some reason we didn’t expect a lot from this place but it was incredible! It is acres of curated gardens with all kinds of themes from whimsical Alice in Wonderland to gardens representing everywhere from India to Egypt to an English country garden.

You could get completely lost in that place and just love it all. (And we kind of did.)


For Sunday dinner we got to take part in a “hangi” put on by some of Pete’s friends and their friends.

This is a Māori tradition where they cook food in underground steam ovens called “hāngī”

Then they take off the layers and voila!

Deliciously cooked chicken, lamb and pork…and some veggies too.

These incredible people gave us royal treatment as they fed us and put on a whole song and dance on for us.


And man alive, I loved it. There is so much to be said about the beauty of culture. This culture specifically in a future post because there are parts of it that really hit me hard.

But for now I’ll just share the overall ambiance. It was not fancy. We ate at plastic tables in their large “shed” with odds and ends piled up on the shelves all around us.

But it was one of the most special meals to me, everyone working together to make a feast.

The men were all over this task, and the women carried out tray after tray of sides and desserts from the house.

But maybe what I loved most was when they cleared out the tables and the singing and dancing began. All these kids, probably ranging from three to 20, dancing and singing traditional Maori songs, the men in the back doing their best hacka “growls” to go along with whatever they were singing.

It was honestly so beautiful. Makes me wonder about the role of singing and music to keep families (and cultures) whole and in tact.


On Monday morning we took a canoe ride on a “Waka” canoe (this is a Maori war ship). The one we went on was really just a glorified canoe since the “real-deal” war ships are gorgeously carved and actually don’t allow women to ride in them (yikes). But man, we learned so much and it was honestly one of my favorite parts of the whole trip.

There is so much tradition and “soul” in the rhythm of the rowing, the unity, the respect of the earth.

They taught us how it’s done.

This deserves a post of it’s own soon along with the other deep cultural things I loved so much so I’ll stop there for now.


We went to a “sheep show” at the Agrodome. A very “New Zealand” thing to do, right? This experience was kind of a “beauty for ashes” experience. It was cold, rainy and stinky. Ha!

Oh at first it was good.

A lady sheered a huge sheep in front of us (fascinating)…

…and taught us all about like 20 different sheep stacked up on stands on that stage with her.

But then came the miserable part: our tractor farm tour. Ha!

It was pouring rain…not the warm kind. The kind that comes in sideways into where you’re sitting on a little tractor trailer.

But it was SO memorable!

Our guide driving the tractor was giggling with happiness and completely out of breath explaining everything to us on the loudspeaker all the way. She got out at every stop to feed the animals, still giggling just absolutely DRENCHED in that cold rain, coming back to give us handfuls of food for the drenched sheep and llamas crowded around our open-sided trailer.

She was awesome!

All the while that rain just kept coming. It was all very memorable but my favorite was these friends laughing their guts out under umbrellas en route back to the car, recounting all the funny things that happened on that adventure.


One morning I was introduced to my newest “thin place” as we zipped through the most gorgeous (and at times quite treacherous) trails weaving through giant redwood trees on huge electric mountain bikes. Oh the beauty was unfathomable to me I was whooping and hollering the whole time.

Just sharing a few photos today, because this new “thin place” has a post of it’s own.


This was adventure at it’s finest. I don’t know that there could be better river rafting with a perfect mix of scaring your pants off (the largest commercially operated class five two-story waterfall) and so many other rapids mixed in. I had seen photos of when Tom and Melissa did this last time they were here, and this was one of the things I was most excited about. My legs cramped up at one point from shaking so much (both from fear and cold).

More on that coming in a different post…too much to say!


We made a stop at the Redwood forest walk en route to the It was a series of suspension bridges through the redwoods and it was incredibly beautiful. Redwoods were brought to New Zealand from California in 1901 and they thrive here.

There’s a whole post dedicated to this walk and our redwood mountain biking.

South Island

Ok, yes, I had high hopes I was going to get to the South Island on this post, but I’m hopelessly out of time…and I’m sure you are too!

All the details about the South Island have now been added on another post, so go check that one out.

For this post, so grateful for all this North island beauty we got to experience!


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  1. Did Dave Retire? I’m sure you are aware that this is not normal life?
    Looks wonderful, but when most people can’t afford to feed their families right now, it seems a little off with the amount of “ quick trips “ around the world you are taking.

    1. Don’t be a hater. Just because this isn’t real life for you doesn’t mean you need to shame Shawni for taking vacations.

    2. Hi Emily! Dave isn’t retired, just lucky enough to be able to work from anywhere (although these time zones were a little tricky!). We do realize this is a huge blessing and are so grateful to be able to take advantage of that flexibility. I realize not everyone is able to do this, so in some ways I hope my posting can help me “take people with me” if others want to see that part of the world. But if it’s not for you, I completely understand. Sending love.

  2. Your blog is so totally unrelatable. My husband and I both work full time and it’s a treat when we eat out for dinner on the weekend.

    1. Tara, you are right that poverty in the US is off the charts with the bottom half of the country not recieving a pay rise in the past 30 years while corporations make record profits and pay little tax and tiny wages. This is not the fault of Shawni, who has a moderately wealthy family life that she expresses gratitude for on the regular.
      Let’s all work for a more prosperous future for all of us without dragging down those who are still fortunate enough to enjoy some travel and a lovely home.

    2. Hi Tara! I’m sorry if it feels unrelatable, and I so respect you finding something different if in any way this blog doesn’t uplift you. We’re all just in such different stages and phases of life. Hopefully the non-travel posts are ones that may relate to you more, but if not, I hope you find something to read that makes you happy and uplifts. Sending you love!

      1. Just to clarify:
        The “different stages and phases of life” you speak of is a little off. I won’t be in a different stage or phase of life that allows me to afford to travel to extensively. It’s more that we are all in different financial brackets in life than “phases of life”.

  3. The redwood forest in Rotorua was my favorite place in New Zealand. Don’t those giant trees make you feel so grounded? I found it so peaceful and restorative. In fact, above our bed here at home hangs three photos: one of Lake Powell, one of the desert in Arizona, and one of that redwood forest in Rotorua. So glad you made it there!

    1. Oh I love that Rachel! I need to get some of these printed like you did so I can fondly remember it all. Sounds like you have three of my fav. places on your wall! Thank you for your well-wishes.

  4. We went to Australia and New Zealand for our honey moon a little more than 20 years ago now. One of my favorite trips ever! We still have these three blown up pictures on canvas of one of the glaciers in New Zealand on our wall. We got to take a helicopter ride up to the top of the glacier and land on it. Absolutely incredible!

    Thanks for sharing. Brings back some awesome memories! I’m glad you guys had a wonderful time.

    1. I’m so glad it could bring back those memories. What a honeymoon that must have been! And I love that you also have canvas prints of New Zealand (just like Rachel above). I better get busy with my walls too:) Sending love your way.

  5. Hello Shawni,
    I don’t comment often, but have been following along for years 🙂
    Your trip looks super exciting. Thank you for taking us along.
    I have noticed that travellers from North America tend to take trips of a shorter duration, even when travelling to different continents and to “once in a lifetime” destinations. “Europeans” – if there is such a thing 😉 – tend to opt for longer trips and meander more. This is obviously a vast generalisation, but still a fascinating cultural difference.
    I wonder what lies behind this? Perhaps the limited vacation days? (In Europe, 20-25 vacation days seem to be the norm.)
    I am genuinely curious in your viewpoint. (This is by no means intended to come across as criticism 🙂

    1. Hi Steph, this is a really interesting observation! You’re so right, I think in general North Americans take shorter trips, but maybe it’s more of the personality of the traveler too? I am a “runner” and love to see as much as I can, but there’s just so much beauty and peace with taking real time in a place. I do think life is kind of more fast-paced here, so perhaps that lends to quicker travel, but I think you’re right, limited vacation days are a big deal. Those are just my thoughts, maybe others have more vantage points.

      Dave and I are hoping to meander more in the future if we’re ever empty nesters. So many unknowns on that but we’ll see how it all pans out.

      1. Hi Shawni,
        Good point about the faster-paced life across the pond :).
        One slow-paced empty nester Euro route I can highly recommend is a car journey between London and Tuscany (via France, Switzerland and perhaps also Austria), with lots of local stops for sightseeing, walking and of course sampling the delicious food along the way.
        In any case, I am looking forward to catching a glimpse of all your fun travels via the web.

  6. It looks incredible!! Thank you for sharing your trips with us! Years ago (I think it was 2016?), you shared your trip to Paris. I loved it but I was in no position to afford a trip like that AT ALL! But I loved the pictures and saved the post, and guess what? I’m finally going next month!! Thank you for inspiring us and giving us a glimpse of what the world looks like – we all deserve to experience it!

    1. WooHoo!! I’m SO excited for you to travel to Paris! I hope you have the best time there! Sending so much love your way.

  7. What a dreamy trip! New Zealand is definitely a bucket list travel destination for me, too. Thanks for sharing!
    I noticed you said “yikes” about women not being allowed on Māori war ships… would love to know more about your thoughts about that! There are certainly lots of things women aren’t allowed to do in our church (I’m also a member) and I’m curious how you weigh these different ideas about women’s roles in different cultures/traditions/faiths if you’re willing to share more.

    1. Oh Ruth! I have so much on my mind about that these days! It’s interesting because five of the last books I’ve read have touched on this as well, so these kinds of thoughts are all around me. I think we live in a society that is catching up, but very slowly, and I want to help in any way I can. I have realized that part of that responsibility as a woman is to glory in the things that we CAN do as women. Sometimes we’re so in the comparison game that we forget to celebrate that beauty. I think two things are true: We should push for the strength of women and the things that need to change to make our society better, AND we should work to be humble enough to appreciate the good. Sometimes it’s tricky to find that balance. I’d love to hear your ideas too!

      1. Thanks for replying! I think a lot of us are thinking similar thoughts these days. I do feel hope for change, while being braced for it not to happen in my lifetime in our particular church. I’ve really appreciated learning from our foremothers in this faith and seeing the ways they magnified their roles and exercised divine power by following inspiration without being cowed by social (or institutional!) expectations. After all, the Relief Society founders created it to do something extraordinary.

  8. Beautiful post and pics!! Love ALL the things you share. Even if I couldn’t travel, I am so happy you share and document so I can get ideas and figure out a place I would love to travel to!!

    I know ultimately, your blog is for you, and your posterity. And I also know, you have inspired many people with the writing, insight and encouragement you give. Please don’t let the negative comments get you down. People have a choice to visit your page and to read, or not to read. I for one, still find you very relatable and love seeing the things you share and places you go. When people struggle to read about others positive experiences that they themselves wouldn’t be able to enjoy, they need to look internally and decide if it’s time to unfollow completely, or just not read the posts that discuss travel.

    1. Thank you for this, Jen. I appreciate the positive feedback and love. I also appreciate, and agree that we should all find things that uplift us. If this blog isn’t it for people, I hope they can find something wonderful that is. Thanks again for this kind comment, sending so much love right on back!

  9. Was it winter/fall in NZ? It all looks gorgeous – have never had a desire to travel there, but am rethinking it now! And Mexican food, too – I definitely rethinking.
    You are so gracious to the commenters who try to make you feel apologetic. I don’t follow people I can’t relate to, and presume everyone does so. Why read something voluntarily if it makes you feel bad?

    1. It was fall there, and so beautiful! I hope you make it there some day…yes, on the Mexican food!! Thanks for this kindness.

  10. How do you go about finding a guide? I’ve noticed on several of your last travel posts that you’ve had a guide at least in part. My family and I are taking our first ever international trip this year and for a portion of it, I’m interested in having a guide, but have no clue how to go about finding one that will be a gods match for us. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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