Experiencing New Zealand the ‘Servas Way’
by Patti and Davis
Kia Ora! After completing our wonderful month in lovely New Zealand in November of 2012, we took time to reflect on the great joy brought to us by our visits with eight delightful Servas hosts along the way. From Auckland to Christchurch, we were greeted and treated and wrapped in goodness by our hosts.
It all began with the ultimate Servas gift of a 6:00 a.m. airport pick up by Leo, husband of our first host couple. After getting settled at their lovely and very comfortable Mt. Eden home, our hosts, Leo and Roz, treated us to a fine Kiwi picnic in North Auckland where we discovered a nesting colony of gannets along the coast. Getting to know our hosts meant learning about Leo’s 75-year rugby passion and Roz’s volunteer work mentoring a young Ethiopian woman in a leadership program. Delicious meals and electric bed warmers topped off our first warm and friendly Servas stay.
Our second Auckland host couple opened the door to more unique experiences. Our hosts, Chris and Marijke, introduced us to their friend and professor from Wellington who was also staying at their home. Ralph was in town to present a lecture on climate change at the university. This lecture series was established in honor of Ralph’s father several years ago and we were kindly invited to attend the stimulating presentation given by the son. Chris provided us drives into the city center for our adventuring, and both he and Marijke treated us to lovely homemade meals and interesting conversation regarding project facilitation, mindfulness, and counseling.
Our next stop, after leaving Auckland, was the town of Rotorua. We decided to ride the “NakedBus,” whose motto happens to be…can you guess…”It’s Great to Ride Naked.” Our hosts, Grant and Shirley, really came through for us when our initial host had to cancel on short notice. What a kind gesture and blessing to receive a warm welcome from Shirley in the beautiful home she shares with her partner, Grant. We learned of the tragedy “underlying” the lovely home as it was built, with local government approval, on land that should have required special foundation preparation. Later in our travels we met others who knew (through TV coverage) of Grant and Shirley’s struggle with their local council for compensation for the damage being caused by the subsidence. This is the kind of real-life experience Servas allows us to share, and we now wish them the best of outcomes. Meanwhile their lives are packed with this conflict as well as their daily work – Grant pursuing his safety-inspections business and Shirley keeping a doctor’s office in tip-top order.
After another bus ride through NZ’s gorgeous terrain, we arrived at Napier to an open-arms, joy-filled greeting from Melanie. We had hosted Mel and David in Honolulu five years ago, had since seen them in Australia and again on Oahu, and were now finally able to visit them on their home turf. We had several days of relaxation in their comfortable home and gardens, and we were treated to healthy veggie-laden meals, good ‘catch-up’, knowledge of the local area, and ruthlessly competitive (not!) card games for evening pleasure. In addition, Patti learned to make Mel’s lentil-garbanzo hummus and easy-bake grain bread – takeaway learning for our times back home. At the end of our visit, Mel and David were kind enough to drive us to a resort in Turangi where we enjoyed a restful timeshare week. We are ever-grateful for David’s willingness to drive the gorgeous and far-less-than-direct route through the fantastic North Island countryside, a sight to behold! After a brief one-night stay, Mel and David said their good-byes and returned home. This lovely couple, whom we first met as Servas travelers had, over the past five years, become our dear friends – and are willing to be silly besides!
Our most unusual Servas connection happened at the Rotarua timeshare where we were able to host Jack and Anne, very sweet Servas hosts from the nearby town of Tokoroa. We had contacted them about a possible stay in their area and they were unavailable, but then we invited them to join us at the timeshare – thus giving us the opportunity to act as Servas hosts in their country. This ‘twist’ quickly became our new and unique Servas story! The four us had fantastic times together exploring the nearby volcanic mountains, frequenting the local trout-fishing river walk, and sharing some wonderful meals together! Both Jack and Anne have been active volunteers with the NZ Forest and Bird agency, were quite familiar with the Rotorua area, and had contagious enthusiasm for the NZ ‘bush’.
The final stop on North Island was in windy, scenic, weather-changeable town of Wellington. Our hosts, Lisa and Moritz, live in a cliff-top home that boasts astounding views toward the bay and South Island. A delightful part of our visit was time spent with Lisa’s 15 year old daughter, Lilleet, who was engaging, bubbly, and quite enthused about her involvement with dance and with earning money for her French-class trip to New Caledonia.
After a brief flight to Nelson, we again received the hard-to-overstate gift of an airport greeting and a grand welcome from Brian and Gillian. After settling in their art-filled, light-filled, warmth-filled home, we ambled on a fine evening river walk and enjoyed the sunny outdoors together. In the amazing two full days we spent with this caring couple we had wonderful talks, learned of their supportive relationships with their children, shared interests and heart stories, and gathered up many Brian ‘bear hug’ for good measure. One highlight we encountered while exploring in town was the gourmet tea shop run by a delightful French woman, who gave us a thorough education on the finer points of growing and selecting tea.
Our final Servas visit was in Christchurch where we stayed with Sally and Chendra. Again we enjoyed fine Kiwi hospitality and their lovely home and garden setting. We were treated to some spot-on local information and perspective as Sally is a 6-term City Councilor, who has been dealing with the aftermath of Christchurch’s devastating earthquakes. Sally was also kind enough to lead us on a personal tour of the Council building with amazing views overlooking the City. At home, she and Chendra demonstrated their skills of cooking fine Indian dishes, including us in a dinner party with fellow board members of a local non-profit, and a warm feel-at-home atmosphere. Being dropped off for our daily outings around town topped off the gifts they shared.
As ever, our Servas times proved rich and varied, enabled us to feel the “real New Zealand,” and built the kind of friendship and rapport that solidify grass-roots peace around the world. Go, Servas!
-Patti and Davis