A hobbit house in Hobbiton, New Zealand, preserved from the movie set.

A hobbit house in Hobbiton, New Zealand.

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. . . . If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”
J.R.R. Tolkien

New Zealand reminded me over and over again of a fairy land. It was the perfect setting for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies. Stuart and I spent Feb. 11-27, 2016, traveling to and from the north and south islands of this mystical place.

We left a lot of political noise behind us and found a place that seems more innocent. All travelers go through a “honeymoon” stage, and our trip was too short for any other stage to emerge. But that was part of its value.

Here are some nuggets we discovered. New Zealand is:

  • the last landmass on earth to be discovered by human beings

  • a place without bears, snakes, or crocodiles
  • a place filled by birds of all sizes, shapes, and colors
  • where 75 percent of the people vote in elections
  • where guns and ammunition are not banned but are heavily controlled and separated from each other
  • where most people have enough to live on and where billionaires can be counted on one hand
  • where the Maori, the first human inhabitants, have a place in the politics, culture, and language. For example, watch as the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team shouts traditional Maori haka chants to intimidate their opponents. Listen to the crowd in London roar. It’s not surprising that New Zealand claims the world championship in this sport.
  • where the varied landscapes and topologies of the entire globe seem to be preserved next to each other in cascading variety and beauty: oceans, lakes, rivers, geysers, swamps, mountains, deserts, gorges, farmland, vineyards,
  • where sheep outnumber people at least six to one
  • where women have voted since 1893, the first country in the world to grant the right
  • where the energy of the country seems young, optimistic, and creative, just like native son Sir Edmund Hillary when he climbed Mt. Cook and then Mt. Everest.
The mountain range next to Mt. Cook.

The mountain range next to Mt. Cook.

It’s our duty to escape if we value liberty, says Tolkien.

In Hobbiton all paths lead to enchantment.

In Hobbiton all paths lead to enchantment.

The challenge we face now is to bring the amazing landscapes, the calming sights of sheep and cows grazing, the variety of people we met, the sound of young boys singing in the “Cardboard Cathedral” in Christchurch, and even the thrill of two luge rides down the mountain in Queenstown, back home. How do we move from private reverie to collective gain? How do we take as many people with us as we can?

Do you agree with Tolkien that escape is a good thing? If so, where do you go to escape? How do you share your insights with others?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Melodie Davis on March 9, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    Oh Shirley, what a wonderful reminder of the need to escape, if only to a spot on my father’s farm, a secret place known only to me at the time. It’s been too long, but now with a small small woods on our place, we have dreams of making a green path through the thickets that overtake it in summer, especially with grandkids in mind. I may have to claim a certain spot for me in retirement. 🙂 (And I love you marvelous photos!)

    • Shirley Showalter on March 9, 2016 at 2:33 pm

      Thank you, Melodie, for these thoughts and for starting the conversation. You understand completely. We lived next to a small woods in Kalamazoo, MI, for six years. Stuart took the lawn mower and made a wonderful path from our back door, through an arbor we built, around the wild flowers we planted, to connect with another path already in the woods. We loved that feature of our place, and we didn’t have to travel far to find it!

      I like the idea of a secret place, a secret garden, perhaps, that you can help grandchildren discover. So exciting. Best wishes for many escapes both now and in the future.

  2. Loretta Willems on March 9, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    I love the Tolkien quote, and yes I agree. Where is my place of escape now? The book I’m writing, my daily activities–and perhaps the realization that there is such a place as New Zealand. Thank you for this post and the photos.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 10, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      Loretta, I hope you can indeed escape into your writing. When you the author can do this — get deeply drawn in to another world — the reader is likely to do the same. Many blessings on that wild and wonderful journey. Glad to know the photos and post inspired you too. I like the idea that just the knowledge that such a place exists can be inspiring.

  3. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on March 9, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    “Forever young!” How bitter-sweet that sounds! Lovely video. So happy for you that you can “escape” to such a “fairyland” kind of a place! My brother and his family live in Sydney, Australia and I would love to go there for a visit some day. Right now I’m just dreaming of escaping into spring! The snow is melting here in the frozen Manitoba wasteland, and that makes me happy. I saw the first Canada Goose return today!

    • Shirley Showalter on March 10, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      Elfrieda,how ironic that the average age of people on our trip was probably closer to 70 than to 20. We didn’t get any younger by being there, but we did do one thing we would not have done without younger people around us. We took luge rides and felt just enough danger and speed to forget our age. I hope you get to go to both Australia and New Zealand some day. I believe in traveling with native guides, which we were fortunate enough to have.

      Spring has arrived this week in Virginia. Hope the warm winds blow your way soon. You can escape with the daffodils. Many warm thoughts come your way also.

  4. Robert Martin on March 10, 2016 at 8:28 am

    And now you know why I read fantasy lit…Tolkien espcially. 🙂

    • Shirley Showalter on March 10, 2016 at 2:00 pm

      Robert, I thought of you so often! You would be in seventh heaven in New Zealand.

      Also, do you know Sofia Samatar? She is a rapidly rising fantasy writer winning many awards. She is profiled here: http://weird-sister.com/2016/03/08/an-interview-with-sofia-samatar/ She is a Goshen and MCC alumna. Maybe you would like to interview her for Mennonerds. Would love to hear how the two of you might connect fantasy and Anabaptism. Or not. Fun to think about at any rate.

  5. Merril Smith on March 10, 2016 at 9:00 am

    It sounds like a wonderful trip–a bit of escape–as you say. Every photo I’ve ever seen of New Zealand is spectacular–that includes yours, of course!

    I suppose my escapes are generally within my home and mind–going off to read a novel for a bit. When our girls were younger, we went to the same B&B in Ocean City, NJ for a few days in June every year. Nothing exotic, but we would simply relax–walk everywhere, go to the beach, sit on the porch, and I read stacks of books in a few days. 🙂

    • Shirley Showalter on March 10, 2016 at 2:04 pm

      Merril, thanks for the compliment on the photos. It’s hard to take a bad one in such dramatic landscapes.

      I love your quiet version of escape to the beach and relaxed life style. And of course reading is a transcendent escape available to all. “There is no frigate like a book.” Thanks for pointing out the ultimate escape for readers and writers!

  6. Carol Bodensteiner on March 10, 2016 at 11:11 am

    I look forward to talking with you more about your trip next week, Shirley. New Zealand looks and sounds enchanting. Travel just about anywhere is often my escape. I enjoy home and our prairie, which is an escape for me and our grandchildren, and I enjoy getting away to meet new people, see new places, think new thoughts.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 10, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      I look forward to the same, Carol. I whittled my photo album down to 290 pictures and can either give you the ten-minute slide show version or the one-hour commentary version. Your choice!

      You move fluidly between home and new vistas, taking your inner prairie with you. Isn’t it wonderful to be able to escape anywhere, anytime?

  7. Phyllis on March 10, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Ahh, to escape. Your account and photos are wonderful and entices me to consider a trip to NZ. Thank you!

    • Shirley Showalter on March 10, 2016 at 2:45 pm

      Phyllis, I love your quilts and your comment. I know you and Bud would love New Zealand. Maybe our guides, Ross and Allison Collingwood, who grew up in New Zealand, will take another group. They enjoyed this one so much they might do another. I can give you contact info if you want to join a possible wait list.

  8. Mary Gottschalk on March 10, 2016 at 11:21 am

    NZ is one of my favorite places … I lived there for 18 months, and loved the amazing variety of landscapes. Kent and I went back for three weeks last year, and he loved it too!

    • Shirley Showalter on March 10, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      Lucky you, Mary! I’ll be interested in your comments when you see the complete set of slides. You are much more expert than I. Looking forward to your visit.

  9. Joan Z. Rough on March 10, 2016 at 11:40 am

    I agree Shirley and envy you. After the year of the Bill’s knee it is time for us to escape and get win touch again with our big, wonderful world. I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand. I want to get together with you two and talk about your trip!!

    • Shirley Showalter on March 10, 2016 at 2:53 pm

      Ooh, this sounds like fun. So glad to you and Bill are up for new adventures. Thank God for modern medicine.

      And I see that the famous Virginia Festival of the Book is about to take place. Haven’t made any plans for this year. Still trying to catch up. Travel recovery always takes longer than anticipated, but all part of the journey. Let’s talk soon.

  10. Laurie Buchanan on March 10, 2016 at 11:54 am

    Shirley –

    I love, absolutely love, the little hobbit house photograph. Len and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your nugget list of discoveries. Watching the video clip of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team doing their pre-game “chant.” Holy Toledo — I’m fairly confident that if I were on the opposing team, I’d turn tail and be in a different zip code by the time they’d finished!

    I don’t have far to go to escape. My writing space in our itty-bitty cottage house has five — almost floor-to-ceiling — windows that overlook the landscaped yard/garden of the Russell Mansion (http://www.boisearchitecture.org/structuredetail.php?id=1621). Len hops into a little Cesna 182 and heads up into the clouds…

    • Shirley Showalter on March 10, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      You and Len would love New Zealand, Laurie. Hobbiton was one of the highlights of the trip. This photo only scratches the surface.

      And you have such great escape places. I can visualize both. Would love to experience both some day, but have no idea how that would happen.

      As you get closer to the launch of your book, you will launch FROM your places of escape. Whee!

  11. Audrey on March 10, 2016 at 1:32 pm


    New Zealand’s lush wilderness calls to me. Thank you for both your descriptors and photos. When I want to escape or need to enliven my creative spirit, I do seek wild spaces. Fortunately, Wisconsin has its’ wild and secret places to discover; albeit not quite as stunning as New Zealand.
    I’ve recently returned to a practice I adopted some time ago to discover secret places. In truth, it is more about re-discovering or reawakening one’s creative spirit. It is simply a practice exercised on the date of one’s birth each month (i.e. the 16th) to explore someplace I’ve never been to before, or to do something or try something new. It usually is something simple. Last night on my way home from a client meeting up north, I took an exit and route off the normal Expressway path (early birthdate exploration). It took me down a windy country road with small classic farm buildings and cows returning to their barns, wide open spaces, and a gorgeous pink sky sunset. I was glad for this everyday escape.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 10, 2016 at 5:32 pm

      Audrey, I never heard of this practice before, but I love it. I hope I will remember to search for my own “everyday escape” to “secret places” on March 30.

      The idea is the same, whether the distance is great or small: “In truth, it is more about re-discovering or reawakening one’s creative spirit.” Yes!

      Thank you so much. I’m sure other readers will apply this idea in their own lives.

  12. Marylin Warner on March 10, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    Such a delightful escape this is, Shirley! I was hooked from the first picture of the hobbit house, and six of the facts I hadn’t known, so I loved learning. Well done!
    Thanks for this post.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 10, 2016 at 9:37 pm

      I’m so glad you enjoyed, Marylin. We teachers aren’t finished with any experience until we can say what we learned and share it. 🙂

  13. Sharon Lippincott on March 10, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    I share your love of New Zealand, Shirley. Eleven years ago we went there and saw many of the same places as you. One more feature you didn’t mention was the high percentage of power in NZ that comes from geothermal energy.

    For personal escape I’ve almost always lived on the edge of the woods, or within a short walk of the Columbia River. Finding a home that backs on a greenbelt was a high priority when we moved to Austin. Mostly I enjoy the view, but now and then I slip through the gate to wander. Even a stroll through the yard restores me.

    How can we give the world nature breaks?

    • Shirley Showalter on March 10, 2016 at 9:47 pm

      Oh yes, Sharon. Thanks for adding that fact. Here is more info for those who are interested. Geothermal provides 13 percent of the electricity in NZ. It was amazing to feel the heat under our feet and see the earth bubbling in the Taupo area.

      I’m so glad you’ve found a greenbelt oasis in Austin.

      And I love that last question. Wouldn’t it be great if we could mandate that goal in the curriculum — of school and of life??

  14. Marian Beaman on March 10, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    Thank you for distilling two weeks into a vibrant 2-minute bit of armchair anthropology. When I hear “New Zealand” I think of The Hobbit of course and of a close friend whose daughter lives in NZ and has made the trip once or twice annually for the last 12-15 years. Though the journey is daunting she also has a sweet granddaughter to greet her on arrival.

    Where do I/we go to escape? The short answer is Mt. Mary’s, Georgia, a lazy haven just 40 minutes north without the hubbub of daily city life. We’re in discussion mode now about how/where to celebrate our golden anniversary coming up next year. It probably won’t be NZ but somewhere else we’ve never been.

    I like Audrey’s monthly practice of escaping triggered by her birthdate. Though it’s not yet the 24th, I escaped into my patio garden this morning and planted fresh beds of impatiens.

    You are eternally altruistic as you pose the question of how to move from private reverie to collective gain. I believe you have begun doing that in this space.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 10, 2016 at 10:02 pm

      Thanks, Marian. “Armchair anthropology.” Great phrase. Since I’m not trained in the field, I offer what I can from a short visit.

      You will get to the golden anniversary ahead of us, but we too have been dreaming. We will probably go back to Nova Scotia, where we spent our honeymoon.

      Your escape place at Mt. Mary’s sounds wonderful. Close at hand, familiar, and restful. I hope you get to escape their often this summer.

      Thanks for the compliment. The best reward of blogging is having a conversation with others about subjects one cares about. I know you know the feeling.

  15. Marian Beaman on March 11, 2016 at 11:33 am

    Actually, Nova Scotia is on our short list of anniversary possibilities, a new place for us.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 11, 2016 at 11:37 am

      Why am I not surprised? 🙂

    • Laurie Buchanan on March 11, 2016 at 1:18 pm

      Marian — Len and I spent two weeks at Trout Point Lodge on Nova Scotia a few years ago and loved (absolutely loved!) every moment of it. Here’s a link so you can check it out: http://www.troutpoint.com

      • Shirley Showalter on March 11, 2016 at 2:49 pm

        Thank you for the tip, Laurie.

  16. Janet Givens on March 11, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    I love the Tolkien quote, though I see “taking as many people with you as possible” as more of a gift than a duty. And thank you for that gift this morning.

    Your pictures were spectacular, Shirley, and I enjoyed the video. New Zealand, because of it’s distance, is no longer on my list. There are just so many beautiful places in this world. I’m glad you got to experience one of them and that you shared them too. Thank you.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 11, 2016 at 4:04 pm

      Janet, I love the contrast of gift and duty. I’ve always admired your gift for treading lightly and laughing a lot through your life.
      I need friends like you who help me realize playfulness is a better gift than duty.

      Yes, NZ is very far away. I estimate that I traveled more than 20,000 miles from beginning to end of my trip. That’s almost circumnavigating the globe. I can understand if you pass up that kind of distance, and I admit I felt a little guilty adding to the ecological footprint. Maybe that’s where that idea of duty got its start.

      You are so right about beauty being all around us. May you find an abundant measure of it, pressed down and overflowing, with our mutual friends there on Chincoteague. I’ll miss all of you.

  17. Barbara Longoria on March 12, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    When I retired from Nursing I treated myself with a trip with Mennonite Your Way to Australia and New Zealand. 2 weeks in Australia and 1 week in NZ. That was a special time. We were able to see Mt Cook! We Visited a Sheep Ranch. I even got to try shearing a sheep. When we pulled into the parking lot the owner and his corgy came onto the bus to welcome us. Lots of good memorys.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 15, 2016 at 8:39 pm

      Barbara, welcome to this space. I am glad you have had the chance to visit NZ also — and I envy you the chance to be in Australia also. We were tempted to add Australia but surprised by how far apart the two countries actually are. In the end it boiled down to time.

      You tried to shear a sheep. I’ll bet you will never forget that experience! We saw a farmer do it in amazingly short order.

      Thanks for sharing your experience and your memories. We can extend the many blessings of travel with each other in this way.

  18. April Yamasaki on March 15, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    Hi Shirley – what a wonderful escape! New Zealand looks fantastic, and the details you’ve picked out to share make it sound like a wonderful place to visit and live. Thank you so much for sharing, April

    • Shirley Showalter on March 15, 2016 at 8:34 pm

      April, you would probably feel a lot of resonance in NZ, another UK country, if you get the chance to visit. I loved visiting your home in Canada also and seeing the lovely landscapes of the Abbotsford area. Many of the qualities I enjoyed in New Zealand were evident in both places. May you too have good escapes in the best sense, sacred pauses, as we near the end of Lent.

  19. Elaine Mansfield on March 19, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    A wonderful escape. Thank you, Shirley. Maybe some of us take people with us through our writing and that’s the duty? I haven’t been good at traveling for pure delight since my travel partner died. And my chaotic hearing makes places like airports ten times as difficult as they used to be. My happiest traveling is at home, walking my trails, watching flowers bud and seeing my first bluebird this morning. I can’t imagine traveling now without a specific destination for a specific purpose, but I’m glad I did some wandering in the past.

    I loved those delicious facts about NZ, many of which I didn’t know. Thanks again.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 19, 2016 at 8:35 pm

      Elaine, yes the “duty” to take others with us and the gifts we can give with words are the same.

      Having my travel partner was a large part of the enjoyment, to be sure. Stuart and I have always enjoyed going on the road together. I also have had wonderful trips with women friends.

      The hearing loss must be very frustrating and sometimes infuriating. My mother is experiencing this loss, among others, and I can tell it makes her world smaller.

      You travel less widely now, but you continue to travel deeply. I hope readers will read your last blog post to experience how you overcame the handicap of hearing loss through the sheer power of love.

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