After Liz and I left the central part of the North Island, we stopped off at National Park (yes, that’s the actual name of the town) so that Liz could hike the Tongariro Crossing and I could bundle up against the cold and damp of the mountains while reading a good book.
A couple days later, we drove south, and once the mountains were in our rearview mirror, the weather improved immediately. We got more than one radio station, we saw other cars on the road, and we started passing through towns. We must be getting closer to Wellington.
About 40 minutes outside of the capital city, we pulled off the highway to a town called Waikanae Beach. Liz dropped me off at my friends’ home and she carried on to Wellington for a few days. We’d meet up later in the week on the South Island. In the meantime, I’d see how the Kiwis celebrate Christmas. Spoiler: in the sun. They celebrate the (northern hemisphere’s) midwinter solstice in the sun.
We went to the most laid-back church service I’ve ever been to (the pastor was in shorts and sandals) and sang a few carols. The words were projected on a screen at the front of the sanctuary and a guitarist led us in song. At the end of the service, ushers handed out Christingles, which are apparently common in the Church of England, though I’d not heard of them before. It’s an orange (the world), wrapped in a red ribbon (Christ’s blood), stuck with four toothpicks holding fruit and candy (the four seasons and the fruits of the earth or the sweetness of Christ’s love), and containing a candle in the center (Jesus, the light of the world). It was fun to watch the kids of the congregation mumble “Silent Night” with the rest of us while sneaking the candies off their Christingles with varying levels of surreptitiousness.
I had a lot of fun with the 9-year-old of the house, a smart, sweet kid who explained to me all about the various things he’s collecting and which Horrible Histories episodes he likes best. We played in the ocean together, and on Christmas day we put together some of his Legos and smashed down an Angry Birds Star Wars imperial ship. We tried to out-weird each other in our Mad Libs choices, and we both dozed off after a big Christmas dinner. Such fun!
Dinner was a massive collection of food, and also delicious. Then came dessert, which also took up a whole dining table, and was also delicious. I had my first taste of pavlova; a light, tasty meringue and fruit dish. New Zealanders and Australians argue about who invented it, but they agree it is their favorite dessert.
The Kapiti coast is a popular place for Kiwis to retire; its positioned east of Kapiti Island and north of the tip of the South Island, so it’s more protected than many other parts of the North Island, and while my hosts said that Christmas was especially hot this year, they also said they always spend at least part of Christmas on the beach. What a great tradition!