Gold Coast Singles’ Retreat

So in something a bit different, I want to post a short recap and some takeaways from the retreat I attended. There won’t be many pictures here, so apologies in advance if that’s what you’re here for.

The theme of the conference was “Refined as Gold”, taken from 1 Peter 1:6-7, which reads:

In all this you greatly rejoice,though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

It’s also a bit of a double entendre, since the host city is the Gold Coast. See what they did there? But kidding aside, it’s a relevant verse that’s important for Christians to hold on to.

I feel like it can be challenging explaining the idea of a singles retreat to people, just because the common idea is that a singles retreat is designed for finding a romantic partner (or, for the less spiritually-minded, temporary hook-ups). This retreat was not that. In fact, there were no lessons on dating or romance or sexual purity or really any of the typical singles topics, which I found refreshing (having been to plenty of singles retreats and conferences where those topics are front and center!). Which is not to say that those are unimportant lessons to learn, but I was glad the sessions had a bit more meat to them.

Image credit goes to an unnamed photographer who posted this on Facebook; I didn’t take it

My favorite lesson was the one Saturday night on worship and praise. I believe glorifying God is one of our primary roles, and one way we bring God glory is through song. James Coker, a song leader from the Sydney church, did a great job teaching us about worship. One cool verse he highlighted was Zephaniah 3:17, which reads:

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

This is, to the best of my knowledge, the only verse which talks about God Himself singing. The book of Zephaniah, as with many of the prophets, is about God’s disappointment and anger toward Israel for their continual disobedience. But (as in Hosea 11) Zephaniah stops the prophecies of destruction to declare in God’s own words His continued love for those who repent and are not soiled by the world. I love to think of God being so fired up about our faith and repentance that instead of being angry over our past deeds He rejoices in song! It’s definitely a foreshadow of the story Jesus tells in Luke 15 of the good father and the wayward son. What an amazing picture of God’s love!

On Sunday morning, the sermon was preached by Felix Tokwepota, leader of the church in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Felix is a single man (and is younger than me, I must add :) and has stepped up to lead this church in a very challenging area (side note: there is a serious drought going on in PNG right now. It’s not making the news very much, even around here, but any relief or prayers you can give would be appreciated).

Felix reminded us that we are refined for a purpose. We don’t suffer trials so that we can just grow and be more experienced for the sake of growth. We are being refined so that we can then go forth and do greater things than we could have done before. This is a super important point that I personally must not forget. Any troubles or difficulties I face are absolutely wasted if all they do is give me more wisdom, experience, or character. So what? It’s only when I use those gifts — the results of my refinement — that I’m proving the value of the work that’s been done in me.

So that’s my summary of the retreat. There were many more great lessons and experiences than I have time or space to share here, but I wanted to post at least some highlights before moving on to more bird pictures and photos of Auckland.

Speaking of which, next time we’ll be back in NZ! Look forward to it!

Miscellaneous Australia thoughts and photos, pt 2

As I was taking photos off my point-n-shoot, I discovered that I had (uncharacteristically) used my proper camera to take a couple of photos from the resort balcony. It’s too late to use them in the post, so I’m sticking them here:

Both of these incorporate nigh-microscopic birds, which will become relevant in a moment.

I do quite like the above one.

At one point during my childhood I decided I was going to be a bird photographer. Armed with a positively ancient 35mm camera I found at my grandma’s house and absolutely no subtlety whatsoever, I went around the wooded areas of our neighborhood taking photos that, when examined with a magnifying glass (or possibly an electron microscope) contained a small blur which could conceivably be a bird.

Eventually, paying for the archaic type of film the camera required got to be too much for my fragile adolescent budget and my brother’s (entirely justifiable) mockery of the terrible photos got to be too much for my fragile adolescent ego, so I stopped. But inside my soul, lurking like the lamest Call of the Wild to ever touch the heart of man or beast, is still the desire to photograph me some birds.

This is, as near as I can tell, a rather large Bush Stone-Curlew. They make a rather weird warble, and when annoyed will also make a strange, raspy half-hiss half-growl. I typed “hissing Queensland bird” into Google and that’s what I got, which is about as much ornithological research as I am willing to do.

This is an Australian Bush Turkey, and sadly the quality of this photo is reminiscent of my previous efforts. I note that the Australian Turkey is just as ugly as the common variety.

Perhaps related to my rubbish nature photography, I am also terrible at spotting speed cameras. I would occasionally see signs warning of a speed camera ahead, but I never actually saw the cameras themselves! I’m half convinced there weren’t any and just like a homeowner who puts the sticker of a security system in the window without installing the system itself, the Queensland government is hoping the signs alone will be effective deterrents.

(What would be a more effective deterrent is mandated cruise control. I’ve had four different cars in Australia and New Zealand, three of them rentals and one that I bought, and none of them have had cruise control. The motorways in both countries are clogged by drivers accelerating and then quickly braking once they realized they’re going too fast. But that’s none of my business…)

This would probably be a bad idea even if it wasn’t right outside the shower…

Pretty much every EFTPOS system in Australia (the card-processing point of sale system) supports Paywave, which is super convenient. Very, very few of them in New Zealand do. I believe it’s because Australia only started using EFTPOS a few years ago, while New Zealand has much more legacy hardware from before Paywave was a thing.

Flying domestically is a much more pleasant experience in nearly every non-USA country. Flying internationally tends to be a bit stricter, and unfortunately I think a lot of that is our fault. But I will say that even though the policies are strict, the people are still a lot nicer. Not that I haven’t met a few nice TSA folks, but everywhere other than the US it seems like they don’t actually expect everyone traveling overseas to be a terrorist.

And with that bit of wisdom (?), we’re almost done with Australia. Just one more post to go!

Miscellaneous Australia thoughts and photos, pt 1

This is the post for random miscellany I didn’t want to stick in any of the other posts. It’s going to be a lot more words and a lot less focused than the stuff I usually post. You have been warned :)

Australia and New Zealand enjoy a fairly promiscuous political relationship. Traveling between the two countries is easy for citizens of either. Some Aussies told me that Australians can even come to New Zealand and vote in national elections here, though I’m not entirely sure I believe that. If you see something wonky in New Zealand, the explanation is frequently “oh, Australia does it that way and we copied them”. But despite how it seems like the two countries should just go ahead and get a room, if you ever want to see a Kiwi angry just call him an Aussie. Basically, New Zealand is Australia’s Canada.

It’s also quite easy for an American to get a tourist visa for Australia, but it does require advance work. Australia do not seem to offer visa on arrival. Be aware of this in case you intend to travel there and are an American citizen.

It’s difficult to find root beer, especially good root beer, in New Zealand. It is equally difficult in Australia, but they seem to have a national love of Sarsaparilla. Until this trip, I had erroneously assumed that it was spelled Sasparilla, as it’s pronounced, but I have learned the error of my ways! Sarsaparilla is not exactly root beer, but it’s similarly tasty.

I believe this is the only time I’ve ever exited from the rear of an airplane. I guess it’s because the Gold Coast airport is too small to have a jetway. Or maybe it’s because I’m usually a smarmy jerk whose airline status lets him sit up front so I don’t get to see the rear passengers deplaning. I thought it was cool enough that I took a photo of it even though you’re not supposed to take your phone out on the tarmac.

The international terminal of the Auckland airport is effectively a shopping mall. I know this is fairly common amongst airports, but while I normally find shopping malls (and airports, for that matter) stressful to the point of being angst-inducing, for some reason I find myself much more favorably disposed toward the Auckland airport.

Burger King is called Hungry Jack’s in Australia, sort of like a Hardee’s / Carl’s Jr. situation. There was already a burger takeaway place called Burger King in place when the big BK tried to move in to Australia.

King is a quite common surname in Australia, and there’s an urban legend that there was a curmudgeonly old man living out in the bush named Burger King who came in to the city and saw a restaurant bearing his name. He sued the company saying that they can’t use his name to sell rubbish food and won. Even though he is now dead, his legacy lives on in the Hungry Jack name all Burger King franchises have to take in Oz. Delightful as this story is, it is also sadly untrue.

Nobody tell Queensland that Florida is also called the Sunshine State, or else they might change their name to the Hungry Jack’s State.

This is my fellow Kiwi, Jordan, in Broadbeach in Gold Coast. He struck what is quite possibly the best pose ever struck by a human being. I hear that Queensland is going to create a statue of the pose in this precise location to commemorate the event. I have a few other photos of Broadbeach, but as it was dark they are pretty boring so I didn’t post them in any of the Gold Coast posts.

I had so many miscellaneous thoughts and photos I made it into two posts! Pt 2 coming soon!

Australia Pt. 4: Mt. Coot-tha and Kangaroo Point

Mt. Coot-tha (which was previously called One Tree Hill, not to be confused with New Zealand’s One Tree Hill, neither of which still have the one tree remaining) is a large hill overlooking Brisbane from the Southwest. It is, as my guides told me, the highest peak in the Brisbane area.

I do have to apologize to Brisbane. I was so bored with its status as “not Auckland” that I didn’t even bother to get my Canon out. All I have to offer is a phone picture. Australia is definitely on point in the sky department, though. Ignore the lower half of the picture and look at that gradient of blues!

The lookout offers a nice panoramic view. To the left is more Brisbane, to the right is less Brisbane.

The next day we drove out to Kangaroo Point, which is not too far from South Bank. Sadly, there were no actual Kangaroos in attendance.

It’s a nice little park, full of joggers, walkers, picnickers, and even a rock climber (not pictured).

For those who want to get up the cliff but don’t want to climb, there are these cool stairs. They’re popular among athletes training their endurance, and we had to dodge a number of people who were running up and down the stairs. We, needless to say, walked.

(I might not be able to photograph Auckland or Rangatoto from here, but I can still photograph stairs!)

Atop the stairs there is a nice little cafe featuring an overlook. For those of us who are photographically challenged, it’s much easier to get a nice shot of Brissy from the cafe than from Mt. Coot-tha!

We had lunch in the cafe, after which we went back down the stairs, drove back to their house, and then I drove back to Gold Coast and got on an airplane back to Auckland!

So that’s Brisbane! We’re not quite done with the Australia posts yet, though. I’ve got some that are…a little different. Stay tuned!

Australia Pt. 3: Brisbane South Bank

After the retreat ended, I drove up to Brisbane for a few days. While there I stayed with some guys from the church. They also gave me a tour of the city! It was super great to spend time with those brothers and see what’s up in Brissy.

Brisbane’s South Bank is a flashy, fancy area, which as the name implies is to the South of the city on the bank of the Brisbane River (the Brisbane River, incidentally, is most notable for being brown).

South Bank certainly has a sort of colorful charm.

The area also features possibly the nicest pool I’ve ever seen, which is really more of a man-made beach!

Walking past the beach takes you to the river, where we see why locals prefer to swim in an artificial beach. An informative plaque near the waterfront answers the question of why it’s so brown; apparently it was heavily dredged many years ago to increase its navigability, which stirred up silt and turned it into Willy Wonka’s chocolate river. The sign claims that eventually the river will clear up. Here’s hoping.

A short jaunt from the waterfront is the Wheel of Brisbane, which is not actually a game show but rather a ride similar to (but a far cry from) the London Eye. (When I was in London in early 2014 I asked a friend why it was called the London Eye. She wasn’t sure. She did comment that calling it a ferris wheel sounded like something from a cheap carnival, but London Eye sounds classy. Fair enough, I suppose.)

Of course we rode it! (The opening photo of this post is one of the better photos I got from the gondola. They’re all sadly marred by reflections on the glass).

Brisbane is pretty snazzy looking from up here, but Auckland is still more photogenic in my book (and the Harbour Bridge is far more majestic than this one, whatever it’s called). I do like that funky tubular building though.

We also found this interesting thing (as I recall it’s referred to as the Peace Pagoda). I had the opportunity to demonstrate my photographic ineptitude yet again. And I’m not sure what my friend is doing there, but I think he’s trying to walk on water.

Have another equally oversaturated photo of the Peace Pagoda. Want more? Let me know. I’ve got heaps.

There was also this nifty Rainforest Walk on the way to the Peace Pagoda. I shocked my guides by jumping over the railing to explore the creek bed. They reminded me I was in Australia, where approximately everything wants to kill me. I did see a couple of quite large spiders down there, so perhaps they were right. You know, I’ll take New Zealand after all!

So that’s Brissy’s South Bank! There are still a few more Australia posts to go, but fear not! There will be some great photos of Auckland coming up after that :)

Australia, Pt. 2: Tallebudgera Beach and related shenanigans

Upon our departure from Surfer’s Paradise, we made our way to the Tallebudgera Creek Active Recreation Centre, located in the Burleigh Heads area. To be honest I didn’t take the time to completely grasp the local geography, but I did learn that tallebudgera means “good fish”!

The Centre, which was the location of the retreat, borders the beach to the Northeast, a river to the Northwest, and the Gold Coast Highway to the Southwest. It is pretty neatly situated.

A game of beach volleyball did break out at one point.

Between the beach and the river is a large rock berm. In the far distance, you can see the city.

I did eventually climb the rocks up to the top, but I stopped about halfway through where the rocks provided a surprisingly comfortable chair of sorts to lounge in while overlooking the ocean.

This is the river on the other side of the berm. I discovered after climbing up the side that there was actually a well-maintained trail leading to the top, had I just chosen to walk around. I’d rather climb up the side than walk along the path any day though!

Taking the short and simple walk over the bridge and around to the other side puts you in Burleigh Head National Park.

Here you can see the berm from the other side. I didn’t see either the boat or the fishing platform move the entire time I was there. I’m not sure if they’re fairly permanent fixtures or if they just move seldom.

The water in the creek is quite clear.

I also had the chance to take my own advice and go to the Gold Coast Botanical Gardens with some new friends I made at the retreat. These gardens are really more like a park than a botanical garden, as they have plenty of plants but not a lot of…well…botany.

It’s a quite lovely park, if you ignore the fact that it’s supposed to be a botanical garden. Maybe it would be more fair to come in the summertime. Not that I would want to visit Gold Coast in the summer, given how hot it was in the winter!

So that’s all for the Gold Coast! Next time we’ll be traveling to Brisbane!

Australia, Pt. 1: The Gold Coast

I have one more pre-Australia Auckland post queued up, but I decided to call an audible and start with the Australia posts now. I haven’t quite decided how I’m going to divide these up, but I wanted to get the Aussie party started!

So anyway, my trip to Oz. The SPA (South Pacific and Australian) region of the International Churches of Christ held a retreat at the Gold Coast in late August. I wasn’t really planning on heading to Australia this early in my New Zealand adventure, but I wanted to go to the retreat on its own merits, so I figured I might as well make a proper trip of it. The fact that I would be meeting a ton of people I could then use for free lodging and guided tours was also taken into consideration :)

I spent my first night in Gold Coast (a midsize resort and tourist city about an hour South of Brisbane) in a resort hotel with two guys from the church in Sydney. This is the view from our balcony.

I understand that a golf course and artificial pond do not constitute the sort of natural beauty I strive to post here, but as a mountain boy, those peaks in the background are too beautiful to pass up.

The next morning, we drove up to a tourist-spot-within-the-tourist-spot called Surfer’s Paradise, referred to by locals just as Surfer’s — possibly because of the generally laconic Australian elocution, or possibly to avoid having Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” run through their heads every time they say it. Surfer’s is the beach destination, which is a pretty impressive distinction for a town in an island nation. It also features many interesting tall buildings, most of which unsurprisingly seem to be hotels.

Despite it being Winter, we lucked out considerably on the weather. Queensland claims to be the Sunshine State, and having been to both Florida and Queensland, you know what? Queensland can have it.

Not exactly the Burj Khalifa, but it’ll do.

I’m not a surfer, but this area could make a plausible claim at paradise status for any variety of beach lover.

That’s my first impression of Gold Coast! There’s one more GC post coming next (featuring some hiking and rock climbing!) and then we’ll move on to Brisbane. See you then!

A quick look from Bastion Point

Whenever I travel anywhere, people always tell me to take lots of pictures. I like having photos to remember my adventures, but I also like being in the moment. And, truth be told, it’s not first nature for me to whip out my phone or my camera and snap a photo. This post is an example. There’s way more cool things I saw and did at Bastion Point than I recorded photographically. I guess that’s just an excuse to go back!

Bastion Point is one of the many hills dotting the greater Auckland landscape. Unlike many of the other hills, I don’t believe this one is or was a volcano.

The hill is easily accessed by foot from Mission Bay and the surrounding area. It offers a great view of Waitemata Harbor from the Southeast. As you can see, we were blessed with a beautiful day! I could hardly believe it was Winter still.

As you well know, I love taking pictures of Auckland. But I also quite like photos of Rangatoto. For my fellow North Carolinians, it reminds me a little of Pilot Mountain. And would you look at that blue in the harbor!

You knew it was coming! Here’s the world’s most picturesque city peeking over the hill and between the trees.

I actually climbed on top of this stone hut-like thing to get this photo. Are there no lengths I won’t reach to photograph Auckland?

In case you didn’t believe me, here I am on top of the aforementioned stone structure striking a heroic pose.

And here, a more contemplative look (along with a better view of the thing I’m standing on). Perhaps a lookout post, similar to those on North Head? Or perhaps just a convenient platform for cheeky tourists to climb on and strike ridiculous poses.

There’s also a really cool monument and obelisk atop the hill, but I failed to take any pictures of that at all, so hey! Look at these cool kites!

The kites deserve better than to be used as a diversion from my own photographic ineptitude, though. They’re really neat. Did you notice the orange one seems to be wearing shoes?

So there you go, Bastion Point. A great place for a picnic or just a lazy Sunday afternoon.

And since it’s been a couple of posts since a photo of Auckland showed up, you know I’m going to end with yet another one :)