With this article we make a beginning at reporting to you some of our experiences and impressions of our tour to Australasia. The Rev. Hanko and I have completed a lengthy and detailed report to the denominational Committee for Contact With Other Churches; and what we report here will be substantially the same as our official report. Only I will try to include some sidelights and some additional information which might serve to make these articles a bit more interesting than our official report. I am only sorry that we cannot include with these articles the multitude of pictures which we took along the way. A public program is being arranged for the Grand Rapids area; and there we plan to show a selection of our slides (about half of them) as we take our audience on tour with us. If some of our outlying churches are interested, perhaps similar programs can be arranged elsewhere. For the rest, you will have to be satisfied with word pictures.
Meanwhile, I also have to be careful how I express myself: for the Standard Bearer goes down under, too; and this means that our friends there will be seeing themselves through my eyes. Well, I will tell the truth as best I can.
For the proper understanding of our tour a little geography lesson is necessary. This will at least give you some understanding of the places to which we are referring, and it will help in understanding the circumstances of our tour.
Everything is different down under. Mind you, I didn’t say “topsy turvy”!
Auckland, New Zealand is some 8500 miles from Grand Rapids. And that 8500 miles involves many changes. In the first place, it involves time changes. Mrs. Hoeksema and I left Grand Rapids on Saturday, June 14. We flew to Chicago, and from there nonstop to Honolulu, Hawaii. That was our first experience of “jet lag.” In Honolulu it was 3:30 p.m. when we arrived at our lodging; in Grand-Rapids, however, it was 9:30 p.m.—only a couple hours before bedtime. Well, we learned that this thing called jet lag is real; it involves not only your sleep, but all the timing of your body. And it is a matter of discretion to give yourself time along the way to adjust to the change. This was the purpose of our stops at Honolulu and Fiji. The trouble is that we also lost a day! Crossing the ocean from Honolulu to Fiji, we picked up another couple hours and skipped an entire day. When we left Honolulu, it was Sunday night, June 15. On the way we crossed the International Dateline, with the result that when we disembarked at Nadi, Fiji, it was 4:30 A.M., Tuesday, June 17. And while we picked up many more hours before returning home, we never slipped back a day. Hence, while we were in New Zealand, whenever we wanted to figure out the time in Grand Rapids, we had to add 8 hours and subtract a day. By the way, did it ever occur to you that when we pray on Sunday for the church and the preaching of the Word in other lands, it is already Monday in places like New Zealand and Australia? And when we remembered our home churches on Sunday in New Zealand, it was not yet Sunday here at home!
The climate is different, too. We were in the Southern Hemisphere, which means that the seasons are the opposite of ours. We left Grand Rapids on a beautiful summer day; when we arrived in Auckland, it was top-coat weather. We finally shipped some winter clothes home when we were about to leave Sidney, Australia. And if any of our readers is thinking about traveling to Australasia, let me advise you strongly to go when it is winter here and summer there! And with all apologies to my Kiwi and Aussie friends, it was cold!!! They told us in New Zeeland—and we believe them—that their winter season is rather short and that this was an unusually cold winter (they said in Christchurch that it was the coldest in 100 years). Nevertheless, it was cold. Frankly, I think they could take some lessons from us on how to heat their houses and churches! Central heating is a rarity there; and when it becomes cold, the little space-heaters are not adequate to heat their homes and churches, especially not when the electrical voltage is reduced! An electric bed-warmer or even a hot water bottle in bed was most welcome. And once the Rev. Hanko even welcomed a sheepskin throw rug which he could wrap around his ice-cold feet in bed! Yes, it’s quite an experience to have snow on the Fourth of July, as we did the morning we left Christchurch! Nevertheless, I hasten to add that the warm, warm hospitality more than compensated for the cold weather.
The heavens are different down under, too. Dominant in the night skies is the Southern Cross. And I don’t know whether it was only because we were in the bush country, completely away from the city lights, and on an exceptionally clear night; but down on the Taranna Peninsula in Tasmania we all remarked that the stars seemed to hang especially low in the firmament, shining like bright lanterns. One thing, however, we never learned. There was a very bright evening star in the Southern Hemisphere. We noticed it repeatedly, and we asked about it. Mr. Ian Morgan, who is experienced in navigation and who therefore has some knowledge of these things, assured us, when we were in Melbourne, that it was a star, not a planet. But no one could name this star for us. Any amateur astronomers who could enlighten us?
The language is different down under, too. I suppose we Americans have to concede that it is closer to true English than is our language. But the New Zealanders tend to speak with a rather clipped, English accent; by the time we left New Zealand we were becoming more adept at understanding and even attempting to imitate. And although we had to listen closely, the language presented no obstacle; and it seems our American accent was no great obstacle. We only had to get accustomed to some of the New Zealand idioms. This was even true of the road signs. How do you like “deceptive bend” for dangerous curve; or “greasy when wet” for slippery when wet; or “metal surface” for gravel road? Or how do you like “tea” as the name for evening dinner, and “supper” for late-night coffee time?
The country of New Zealand is delightfully picturesque. We did not have very much opportunity to see the country; but what we saw was beautiful. Both islands are mountainous. The North Island is very much like the lower mountains along our East Coast, while the South Island is rather famous for its lofty and snowcapped Southern Alps, which, however, we could view only from our plane one afternoon. The climate is actually relatively mild. Through much of the North Island we saw oranges and grapefruit growing, which testifies to the fact that the winters cannot be severe. On most days when there are a few degrees of frost at night, the temperature gets above the freezing point during the daylight hours. And especially in the northern part of the North Island the grass in the hilly pastures (called “paddocks” there) was lush and green; and it was a beautiful sight to see the thousands of sheep grazing peacefully. The South Island is very rugged, with a range of mountains running the length of the island, for the most part leaving only a rather narrow belt of farm country along the eastern coastal areas. Distances are rather great; because of the mountains and hills the roads are rather winding and slow. And so, because of our full schedule, most of our travel was by air.
To furnish some idea of where we were and how far we traveled, let me give a few facts and figures. Auckland, at the north end of the North Island, is New Zealand’s largest city, with ports on both the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea. It is about as far south of the equator as the city of Norfolk, Virginia is north of it. Wellington, at the south end of the North Island, is the capital city. It is some 300 air miles from, Auckland. From Wellington to Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island, is around 200 miles by air. And from Dunedin at the south end of the South Island to Nelson at the north end is roughly 400 miles. Wellington is about as far south of the equator as New York City is north of it. Christchurch is about as far south of the equator as Grand Rapids is north of it. And Dunedin would compare in southern latitude with the Straits of Mackinac in northern Michigan.
One more fact of geography. We “top-siders” tend to think of New Zealand and Australia as being rather close. But they are two distinct countries, each with its own culture and customs; and there are more than 1300 miles of the Tasman Sea separating Auckland, N.Z. from Sidney, Australia.
For the rest, you may refer to the accompanying outline-map to gain some idea of where we went during the New Zealand portion of our tour. We have marked on the map the various places where we held meetings.
Next time we will try to sketch the church-situation in New Zealand and tell you something about our contacts.