Personal Journeys


April 13, 2003|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

Returning to New Zealand 'home'

By Kathy Durkee


In 1960 I sailed with 30 other 16-year-old exchange students on a three-week cruise from San Francisco to New Zealand. There I met my host family and arrived in Te Awamutu, a small town amid dairy and sheep farms and beautiful green hills.

I attended school there for seven months. I often toured the North Island with my host family and the field hockey and rugby teams. I grew to love my new family and this beautiful country. Leaving was very difficult. My daughter and parents visited my host family in later years, but I never returned.

Fast-forward 43 years. My 34-year-old son Brooks had been working in Australia and New Zealand for two years. Missing him more every day, I finally decided to go "home" again.

I took a 12-hour flight from Los Angeles to Auckland. After a 20-minute connecting flight, I was in Brooks' arms in Tauranga airport. Also there was my former host sister in New Zealand, Diane -- a surprise Brooks had planned.

Diane and I had kept in touch sporadically, but the fact that my son was living and working 15 minutes from her home seemed almost beyond comprehension. She plays golf every Tuesday at a course that borders the area where Brooks rides horses.

Diane drove me to visit our old house and school, and we even had lunch with two of our former classmates. We were four graying grandmothers who reminisced with giggles and old photos. The 43 years were gone in a time warp.

Later, at Diane's home, I was wowed by her grapefruit and orange orchards and roses growing 10 feet high. It was spring in November, and blossoms were bursting.

After my visit with Diane, Brooks, his friend and I took a five-day holiday to the South Island. We landed in Queenstown after flying over the Southern Alps. In Queenstown, we hiked around the harbor and rode a gondola for a panoramic view of Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by snow-capped mountains called the Remarkables.

The next day we drove to Lake Wanaka, where we kayaked and enjoyed the quiet town. Next we viewed the 12,000-foot Mount Cook from the terrace of our hotel, the Hermitage. I remembered Diane telling me that she was related to Sir Edmund Hillary, who climbed Mount Cook as practice on his way to conquering Mount Everest.

After a stop in lovely Christchurch, we flew north. Finally, it was time to bid farewell to my beloved New Zealand and my son. Diane and family were again at Tauranga airport. Hugging Brooks and Diane brought many tears on such a sad day. Yet they were also tears of joy for a truly wonderful time. I won't forget this visit home.

Kathy Durkee lives in Monkton.

My Best Shot

Jennifer Stile, Ellicott City

Roman spectacle

My husband and I took this picture of the Colosseum at dusk on the day we arrived in Rome. We toured the Colosseum the next day, and it was just as spectacular on the inside as it was from the outside. The amphitheater was dedicated in A.D. 80, and was used to stage wild-animal fights and gladiator combat. It could hold up to 55,000 people.

Readers Recommend

St. Bart's, French West Indies

Michael Gary Sr., Ellicott City

St. Bart's is a magical island with fantastic beaches, fine food and French islanders who are very friendly. My wife and I have traveled to St. Bart's five times over the last four years and can't find another island to match its beauty and ambience. From mega-yachts, models and celebrities to quiet, breathtaking sunsets, St. Bart's is truly a paradise.

Yellowstone National Park

Katie Barry, Forest Hill

As you walk along the boardwalks that meander through Yellowstone Park's springs and geysers, it's common to see signs reading: "Stay on boards -- surface extremely hot." You can also see many hats carried by the wind off the heads of tourists and now unreachable in the steaming hot water.

Let Us Hear From You

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* My Best Shot -- Send us a terrific travel photo with a description of when and where you took it. (Cash value: $50.)

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* Readers Recommend -- Briefly tell us about places you've recently visited that you'd recommend to other readers. (50 words or less; photos are welcome.)

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