The day we left Akaroa the sun finally showed its face. As we were headed for Dunedin, at least a five-hour drive away, we made an effort to be up and out at a decent hour. After leaving the steep hills and winding roads of the Banks Peninsula, the coastal Canterbury plains, south of Christchurch, were flat and the motorway straight. We made it to Timaru and pulled off into the town for some lunch at a café overlooking the waterfront. It felt odd to see Christmas decorations lining the main street. Further down the coast in Oamaru, we stopped to buy a soft sided cooler and to stock up on groceries. Our last stop was in Moeraki to see the boulders on the beach that are so often written about and pictured in guide books. They are a geologic feature that fires the imagination and we found them amusing, but not quite the big deal we anticipated from so much publicity.




A boulder broken open, showing the inner structure


Dinosaur eggs? Giant’s marbles?

As the day wore on and we got closer to Dunedin, the weather deteriorated and we encountered some rain. Nevertheless, we made it to our rented house in St. Clair, a beachside suburb of Dunedin, and were pleased to find the views from it just as spectacular as we had hoped. The house overlooked the beach at St. Clair as well as the harbor and city of Dunedin, with the Otago Peninsula in the distance.


Dunedin harbor with city center just off to the left


Dunedin harbor to the left, Otago peninsula straight ahead, St. Clair beach to the right


St. Clair Beach

It was nice to spread out and relax for a few days, cooking for ourselves, and enjoying our own space. We had some decent weather and some mixed weather in Dunedin. It was windy, but that seems to be the norm there. We never tired of staring out at the view! For a lot of tourists in New Zealand, Dunedin doesn’t quite make it into their itinerary. It’s just a little further out of the way if you are trying to visit the biggest and most popular attractions, and with so much to see in the country, it often gets left out. That’s a shame as it is a lovely, manageable city, and there are a variety of things to do and see. For one, there are excellent botanic gardens. The Dunedin Botanic Gardens are easy to access on the north side of the city, and on our first afternoon we went for a visit. Much to our delight, once again, the rose garden was in full bloom!









We also enjoyed other areas in the gardens, including the impressive Rhododendron Glen. There was even an aviary with parrots, parakeets, cockatoos, and many other interesting birds, many of which are native to New Zealand. Unfortunately, the birds were difficult to photograph due to the visual interference of the enclosures.







The Rhododendron glen


A local resident



On the way home we passed by the iconic Dunedin Railway Station. I managed to snap a photo from the car.


The beach at St. Clair is known for its surfing, which is one reason we chose to stay there. Michael was hoping to get in some surfing, even if we were about as close to the Antarctic as you can get in a surf spot! Our first day in Dunedin, we checked out the esplanade in St. Clair and he found a surf shop and browsed their boards. We also found a nice seaside saltwater swimming pool. So our second day there, Michael went off in the morning to swim in the pool for exercise and came back a couple of hours later with a surfboard! This wasn’t so surprising because his plan all along was to purchase a surfboard to use in New Zealand. Since it was a beautiful sunny day, we set off to explore the Otago Peninsula with the thought of stopping so Michael could surf on the way back.


St. Clair beach on a sunny day from the house


The Otago Peninsula creates a well-protected harbor for the city of Dunedin and is known for its wildlife. The road out to the end follows closely along the shoreline on the harbor side. As we drove out, we stopped to admire the birds on the flats. There were White-faced herons, a Royal spoonbill, Shags, seagulls, Oyster catchers, and Black swans among others.


Heron and Oystercatcher




Black swans with goslings


I loved this Royal spoonbill!







Like the Banks Peninsula, this one also had steep, grass covered hills, and lots of sheep. At the end of the peninsula is the Royal Albatross Center. The only land based breeding colony of Royal albatross in the world is located here, along with a colony of Blue penguins. The center has a museum and exhibits about the albatross as well as Fort Taiaroa, an historical military installation. They study and protect the birds, and run tours where you can observe them from a protected location. We decided to skip the tour, but we did have a look at the exhibits. It was extremely windy at the end of the peninsula. Nevertheless, we walked over to a viewpoint where we could see hundreds of birds wheeling in the wind off the cliff tops. Most were gulls, but we did catch sight of one or two albatross gliding over the water, which was exciting. The wind was so strong, however, that it was all we could do to stand upright!


I could barely hold the camera still to take this photo!

On the way back down the peninsula, we stopped to have a picnic and then took the high road the rest of the way. The views were spectacular as we wound along the tops of the ridges and looked down to the outer side of the peninsula.




As planned, we stopped at Smail’s Beach, a local surf spot, so that Michael could try out his new board. The wind was howling and the conditions weren’t ideal, be he got wet anyway. I enjoyed the flowers along the path to the beach. The extreme wind made it very difficult to catch waves. Still, at least the sun was shining.


Michael waxing his new board by the car


Setting off down the path




Smail’s beach




Waiting for the right wave


That evening we had a gorgeous view of the city lights from the house.




The day we left Dunedin we went into the city center to poke around a bit. We walked around an area of the city known as The Octagon and enjoyed the architecture. Having parked by a coffee shop which provided delicious coffee and other treats, we found that there were also some murals nearby. Dunedin has a collection of murals by various artists sprinkled around the city. Another time, I would make a point of searching them out on a walking tour. I guess I’ll just have to go back!


A Dunedin street



The café with our car and surfboard in front and murals



As we left Dunedin headed for Queenstown, we both agreed that we liked the city and would willingly go back to spend more time there. It has a down to earth vibe, is unpretentious, and the people we met were friendly. We were glad we chose to go there.

Next stop is Queenstown, so stay tuned for more!

See you down the road.






Chistchurch and Akaroa

Our journey around the South Island of New Zealand began in Christchurch. A morning flight from Auckland went smoothly and our luggage arrived without mishap, so that was a good start. Interestingly enough, no one checked our identification even once during the trip! As the car rental company I had chosen didn’t have a desk at the airport, we telephoned them and their van came to pick us up without delay. About New Zealand is the slightly lower budget version of Apex Car Rental– same ownership and facility, just slightly older cars. Our Toyota Rav 4 was a little scuffed around the edges but seemed in decent working order. I had requested a vehicle with side rails on the roof to make carrying a surfboard easier, but that wasn’t to be. Michael assured me it would be fine and he could cope, so off we went.

The last time I had been in Christchurch was in February of 2009, almost two years before the devastating earthquakes in September, 2010 and February, 2011, which shook the region and caused extensive damage in the city. Though the city has progressed mightily in its long, slow recovery, some things will never be the same. In particular, ChristChurch Cathedral, a major landmark, was severely damaged and its tower later demolished. However, the Botanic Gardens are alive and well, and as I had so enjoyed them the first time, we set off to pay them a visit.

With cloudy weather and occasional threats of rain, we found the temperature much colder than on the North Island. None of the trees, flowers, or birds seemed to mind however, and the gardens were looking lovely. The Christchurch Botanic Gardens form a spacious city park with walking paths cradled in a great u-shaped bend of the Avon River, which borders it on three sides. One thing I like about the Gardens is the trees. The park is as much arboretum as garden, with huge, mature specimens of trees from all over, including California Redwood and Giant Sequoia. We wandered the paths for a bit until we came to the rose garden, which was in full bloom. It might have felt more like spring than our hoped-for summer, but we had arrived at the perfect time to enjoy the multi-colored splendor of this large and well-tended display. The sights and smells were delightful!















After enjoying the roses, we stopped in to the gift shop and café to poke around. The café was too busy, so, feeling peckish, we wandered out the other side of the Gardens into the city center to find sustenance. We found a cheese monger who provided delicious, bespoke cheese sandwiches on fresh rolls, and also went next door to a Spanish delicatessen where we found some outstanding Salchichon salami. Armed with our picnicn and some steps to sit on, out of the wind, we munched happily. Lunch was followed by a bit of wandering, a look in a few craft shops, and a peek at the Canterbury Museum. We enjoyed more trees and birds on our stroll back through the Botanic Gardens to the car again.



Song thrush

Having navigated our way out of Christchurch’s city center, we drove out to the Banks Peninsula and the town of Akaroa, our destination for two nights. The drive is beautiful as the peninsula is made up of undulating hills which provide lovely views down to the many coves and inlets that form the coastline. Akaroa is situated on a natural harbor, well protected from the open ocean. It was settled by French colonists who claimed the area for France around the same time it was being claimed for England as well. Consequently, the area retains some French influences with place names and cultural identity. Unfortunately, since the weather was not cooperating, it was cold and damp while we were there. Instead of going out on the water on a sailing tour as I had hoped, we chose to stay closer to shore. We did venture out to Okains Bay on the other side of the peninsula and enjoyed spectacular views on the drive over.


Akaroa Harbor stretches a long way into the body of the peninsula.





Okains Bay is a small settlement with a sandy beach on a bay. We checked out the beach and thought it would have been quite inviting in warm weather. On that day it was mostly deserted, except for some Variable oystercatchers.




Mussel beds


A shopkeeper in Akaroa had recommended the small Okains Bay Museum, so we stopped to have a look. This turned out to be a real find! The museum contains artifacts and displays of both the Maori and colonial history of the area. There was quite a variety of things to see and we had the place all to ourselves. One building contained a collection of Maori waka, the traditional ocean going canoes used by the original settlers of New Zealand. There were other beautiful exhibits on Maori life as well.






Of particular interest to me was a display pertaining to some of the early colonial era settlers in the region. As in Russell, the area was frequented by whalers. I noticed mention of one Seth Howland and felt reasonably sure he was probably some distant ancestral relation of mine!


Then, when we were talking to the curator of the museum about my family’s connection to whaling history, she asked if we had seen the scrimshaw of the Charles W. Morgan, a whaling vessel built in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1841 by my ancestor, for whom it was named. This surprised me as we had missed it! She had been doing some research while working on renovating the exhibit and had learned quite a lot. Michael and I had been on board the Charles W. Morgan when it was visiting New Bedford in 2014 on its historic 38th voyage. The Morgan, which today is the only wooden whaleship left in the world, frequented New Zealand waters from 1846, calling into the Bay of Islands and Mangonui on the North Island for supplies and Maori crew. Talk about a small world moment! We went back in to see the scrimshaw and managed to capture a few photos to share with you.




After our museum adventure, we drove back over to Akaroa enjoying the views again. It might have been chilly while we were on the Banks Peninsula, but it was still beautiful, and Akaroa is a pretty little town.




More roses!



Next up will be Dunedin, so stay tuned!

See you down the road.


Northland Part II

As predicted, the weather had deteriorated by morning, and we were met with fog, grey skies, and rain. As it was Thanksgiving day back home on the other side of the dateline, we made phone calls to family before hitting the road.


Quite a different view from our campsite!

Upon leaving Russell, we took a short car ferry across to Opua and drove through Paihia to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This is the most important historic site in New Zealand as it is where the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document, was signed by the Maori and the British back in 1840. There is a newly refurbished museum, guided tours of the site, and beautiful grounds. I hadn’t actually done much research on it beforehand, which was a mistake on my part, as to visit the Treaty Grounds was a bigger time and money commitment than I had anticipated. Because of this, and the bad weather, we decided not to do the full visit and instead, talked our way into the gift shop for a peek. I would like to visit this site one day, but really, I would want to have a day at leisure to do it justice. I guess I will just have to go back! We needed to get further north that day if we were to make it to Cape Reinga. Consequently, we pushed on and drove through intermittent rain all the way up to Pukenui, which sits about a third of the way up the long peninsula which forms the top of the North Island. As the weather was not cooperating, there didn’t seem to be much point in making a lot of detours to the many beauty spots that I’m sure we passed. Pukenui Holiday Park was small but serviceable and we spent a quiet few hours napping, reading, etc. after we arrived.

Cape Reinga was our destination the next day. The weather had improved somewhat, leaving it windy with some clouds, but no rain. Cape Reinga is the northernmost point in New Zealand and holds a significant place in Maori tradition as the jumping off point of souls heading back to their homeland after death. There is a lighthouse, as you might expect, and it is also a point at which the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet. The views are really pretty good of the ocean and coastline. There are walking tracks around the cape, and not far from the tip, there is a Department of Conservation campground on a beach. Can you guess where we stayed that night? It was quite windy, but we walked out to the lighthouse and enjoyed the view.


On the way to the top of the North Island



At the cape


Cape Reinga


Two oceans meet!







Afterwards, we made our way down the gravel road to the Tapotupotu Campground. It is a primitive campground on a lovely cove with a sand beach, and since we got there pretty early, we got our choice of sites. We spent the afternoon relaxing, exploring the beach, and observing our surroundings as others arrived at the campground. One bit of excitement involved spotting two pairs of New Zealand dotterel. They are shore birds that are endangered and not very common. After I saw them, I found some signage with information about them and warnings about not disturbing their nests. It seems we have become birders without trying to! In Russell we had purchased a book on New Zealand birds because we wanted to identify what we were seeing and hearing. And now we are constantly keeping an eye out for unusual birds. It’s been fun going through the book and checking off the birds we’ve seen. New Zealand has terrific birdlife, which often feels very exotic compared to our songbirds from the back yard at home.


Tapotupotu beach



A look back at the campground while exploring the rocks at the edge of the cove


Our frend the New Zealand dotterel


After battling quite a few pesky mosquitos in the night and having visited the northernmost point, heading south was our next agenda. We legged it the 100 Km back down the peninsula and kept going. I wanted to see the kauri forests along the west coast. So after a brief lunch stop in Ahipara, and a quick peek at 90 Mile Beach, a sixty mile stretch of sand on the western side of the peninsula where it was very windy, we kept going.


Ninety Mile Beach

The weather was mixed, but turned more to rain as we wound our way down to Kohukohu and the car ferry over to Rawene. The landscape, however, was stunning. Everything was so green, and the undulating mountains and valleys we crossed were very lush. We arrived in time for the 2 o’clock ferry, which made a brief crossing of the Hokianga harbor.



On the car ferry




Coming into Rawene


Then we drove on to the mouth of the harbor to a blustery viewpoint. Hokianga forms a huge and winding natural harbor that stretches inland for quite a way. The entrance to the harbor is blocked by a large and treacherous sand bar which, in the old days, having wrecked a few ships,  necessitated the services of pilots to guide them in. I’m not sure what they do these days, but you could see troubled waters from unknown hazards beneath and huge sand dunes across the way.



Further down the road we entered the Waipoua Forest, a large tract of forest preserved to protect the kauri trees that grow within. Kauris are native to New Zealand and forests of them once covered vast parts of the islands. Most of these forests are gone, having been logged for their superior timber, some which went to ships’ masts. Now, what is left is protected. The trees are huge and live thousands of years. They are glorious giants, akin to the giant sequoias in America. We stopped to see the largest living one left, Tane Mahuta. It is estimated at something like 2,000 years old. I would have loved to see a whole forest of these trees!


The giant!



Some perspective

Even though it was rainy, which didn’t invite a lot of stops, traveling through the forest was magical. It was a different world of dense and completely foreign vegetation.


Those are tree ferns, not palm trees!

Late in the afternoon, we found our way to the Kauri Coast Top 10 Holiday Park. It was a really lovely spot situated in the bend of a river. The campground was well equipped with kitchen and bathing facilities and had a park like feel with lots of birds. We took advantage of the laundry machines and did some much needed washing.



The next day we decided to drive to Piha, a beach community with the potential of surfing for Michael. Before leaving the Kauri coast, we stopped at Nelson’s Kaihu Kauri, a gallery and shop for wooden items made from ancient Kauri trees. Some 50,000 years ago, an enormous swath of Kauri trees on the west coast of the North Island were felled at the same time and in the same direction by natural disaster. Neither cyclone, nor tsunami is thought to be the cause of their demise, which remains somewhat of a mystery. Their carcasses are mined for their ancient wood and fossilized resin or gum. The wood is gorgeous, and when shaped and polished, can exude a glow from within. The gum is a bit like amber, a warm golden brown color. This showroom had a large collection of items made from this ancient wood and we succumbed to the temptation of a salad bowl. It has been shipped home for us, so we have that to look forward to later on.


Remnants of ancient kauri trees

The drive to Piha was a bit long and monotonous, if that’s possible to say of the unilaterally beautiful scenery in New Zealand. Just before arriving, we stopped to hike to some waterfalls. The trail to Fairy Falls went steeply down and continued to do so with sections of stairs cut into the hillside. As we continued downward, it was hard not to dwell on the fact that, for us, what goes down must come up! When we reached them, the falls were delightful – a real oasis in the forest. We enjoyed the falls and the Welcome swallows we saw there as well. On the way back up, I counted the number of manmade steps in the trail. My count was 527!






We spent two nights in Piha at the Piha Domain Camp. Piha is a popular surf spot on the Tasman Sea that is about an hour from Auckland and somewhat hard to get to, down a twisty, mountain road.  It was wild and windy while we were there. The first day, the surf was quite large, but also quite unruly. Unfortunately for Michael, the conditions were not favorable for him to surf. Piha can be a dangerous place too, with rip tides and currents. There is even a “reality” television show in New Zealand called Piha Surf Rescue about the Piha Surf Life Saving Club!







Visitors to our campsite!

We thought it was beautiful, even if our time there was pretty quiet, with cloudy, windy weather, and some rain. We walked the beach, read books, and I blogged.  Unfortunately, I also had a crown come loose from a tooth. So the day we left to return our campervan, I looked up some dentists and made an appointment to see one in Christchurch, our next destination.






Piha from above

The drive back to Auckland did not take us very long so, with time to kill, we went back to the shopping center where we had first provisioned and did a little shopping. After checking into our motel, we returned the camper to the Britz depot and walked back to the motel. On the way, we stopped to check out a couple of restaurant options for dinner and noticed a dentist in the same strip mall. Thinking I had little chance of success, I popped in to see if they could fix my tooth. It was about 4:30 p.m. by this time. Lo and behold, they could see me in twenty minutes! I couldn’t believe my luck! Michael went back to our room and I waited for the dentist, who was a woman and very capable. In no time, she had my crown re-cemented and I was on my way. It wasn’t cheap, but I got what I needed. I was happy to have that accomplished and to call and cancel the appointment scheduled for after our flight to Christchurch the next day.


At the Kiwi Airport Motel

We enjoyed our camper adventure, though I don’t think I’d want to spend three months in one. It was fun to stay in some really beautiful spots we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise. For anyone considering a tour by campervan in New Zealand, here is my advice.

  • Go with the smallest vehicle you think you can be comfortable in. The roads are small and larger vehicles are just more cumbersome.
  • You will find New Zealand is VERY well equipped to cater to your needs. All the services you need for camping and campervans are readily available, almost everywhere, from campgrounds and dump stations to grocery stores and petrol or diesel to hot showers and cooking facilities.
  • Don’t bring a lot of stuff. There isn’t much storage in a campervan and the smaller the vehicle, the less there is.
  • Don’t plan on going very far in any one day. It takes longer than you think and driving around in the camper is not the best part of the journey, the stops are.
  • Driving on the left is not that hard. You get used to it. Just be sure to look right first when pulling out!

Our adventures in New Zealand continued on the South Island, but that will be the subject of a different post.

Until then, see you down the road!

Northland Part I

Happy holidays dear readers! However you celebrate, may you find peace and joy in the new year. This post grew so long that I have divided it in two.

New Zealand does not disappoint. In 2009, I took a solo trip to the South Island for a month and loved it, so I was quite excited to be returning to the land of the long white cloud for more exploration. Aside from being a bit delayed, the flight from Rarotonga to Auckland was uneventful. We had reserved a hotel room near the airport for that evening, so, unlike others on our flight, we were not anxious about making any connections. After getting our luggage and clearing customs, we went to one of the telecom outlets so that I could purchase a sim card for my mobile WiFi hotspot. Then we called the motel for our pick up. The motel turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Best Western BKs Pioneer Motor Lodge was clean and well equipped. Our bathroom even had a large jacuzzi tub! It was too late to get any dinner, so I took a bath instead, and we filled in a card to have our breakfast order delivered to our room in the morning. This was another unexpected bonus, and the breakfast was actually pretty good.

Our first adventure in New Zealand involved driving a rented campervan around the northern part of the North Island, known as Northland, for ten days of camping. We had not outlined an itinerary for this, but rather, were planning to wing it, one day at a time. For those of you who might be considering a trip such as this or those who want to get out a map and follow along, I will outline our overnight stops. In the end, we drove up the east coast and down the west, starting in Auckland.

Day 1 Auckland to Orewa Top 10 Holiday Park

Day 2 Orewa to Oakaru via Mangawhai Heads– Whangaruru Beach Camp

Day 3 Oakaru to Russell – Russell Top 10 Holiday Park

Day 4 same

Day 5 Russell to Pukenui Holiday Park

Day 6 Pukenui to Cape Reinga and Tapotupotu DOC campground

Day 7 Tapotupotu via Hokianga and Waipoua Forest to Kaihu – Kauri Coast Top 10 Holiday Park

Day 8 Kauri Coast to Piha Domain campground

Day 9 same

Day 10 Piha to Auckland airport depot to return campervan

We had some good weather, some rainy weather, some long days of driving, some spectacular campsites, and a lot of amazing scenery. So all in all, I think we did pretty well. We found it quite easy to find grocery stores to meet our needs, and were mindful of getting fuel before it was an issue. Though the campervan we were given was not what I had booked, and was bigger than we wanted, it performed well enough and was reasonably comfortable. We had no road incidents, thank goodness, and pretty quickly got used to driving on the left, despite the sometimes narrow, and winding roads.

Our first day was mostly taken up with picking up the campervan, provisioning ourselves at the supermarket, and driving through Auckland heading north. Michael did the driving that first day, which was the most congested and urban driving we saw. Talk about trial by fire! When we reached Orewa late in the afternoon, we thought it best to stop for the night, unpack our things, and get to know the camper.

The Orewa Top 10 Holiday Park fronts right on the beach at one end of a long stretch of sand where an inlet joins a bay. It has good kitchen and bathroom facilities, and nice flat sites under the trees, a few steps from the beach. After some unpacking, a walk on the beach, and getting ourselves and the camper sorted, we had a nice supper of grilled salmon and zucchini with rice. It was so nice to cook for ourselves and eat the foods we like! The Cook Islands were lovely, but food was quite expensive there and the cheap stuff was mostly fried.


Orewa beach – great for walking!


The beast

To our delight, the morning dawned sunny again. After a leisurely morning that included breakfast, another walk on the beach, and hot showers in the campground bathrooms, we set out to make our way further north. After a stint on the highway, we turned off toward Mangawhai Heads. There we found another beautiful beach and bay. It was a bit windy, so we picnicked in the camper, but then enjoyed another beach walk.


Mangawhai Heads beach entrance





Back on the road, we travelled up the coast through rolling green hills and farmland, across flats, and over little mountains, on small and winding roads. The scenery was mesmerizing and the plants and trees new to us. Finally, we made our way to a tiny village on a sheltered harbor and a mostly empty campground overlooking the water. It was a perfect evening at the Whangaruru Beach Camp in Oakaru and we enjoyed our sundowners while watching the shorebirds and listening to the sounds of unfamiliar birdcalls from the surrounding bush.


The view from our campsite


This is a Pohutukawa tree about to bloom. It was just around the corner down the beach.



In the morning, we backtracked just a bit to check out an establishment we had passed on the way in. Helena Bay Hill Gallery and Café had a lovely and varied collection of artwork from New Zealand artists. One of the things I remember enjoying from my previous trip to New Zealand was the local artwork, so I hated to pass up a good gallery! There was a mixture of painting, sculpture, jewelry, glass, cards etc., in many different materials and styles. After a look around, we continued on along the coast. When our stomachs were rumbling, we just happened to be passing a diminutive little cove that screamed picnic spot. So we pulled off into the one conveniently located parking spot and took our picnic down to the beach. Tapiri Cove was a little gem and we were tempted to while away the entire afternoon sampling its delights. However we had ground to cover, so on we pressed.


The coastline near our picnic spot




As we drove we passed cows, sheep, turkeys, pigs, pheasant, quail, and alpaca, winding our way through the landscape to the historic town of Russell, in the Bay of Islands. Russell is a lovely small town on the water, which played a significant, historic role as one of the first permanent settlements of Europeans in New Zealand. American and British sperm whalers, who arrived in the early 19th century, gave the port its English name and a reputation for debauchery from their activities during shore leave, much to the dismay of the missionaries, who comprised some of the other early settlers. After looking into activities in the area, checking the weather, and having driven for two days, we decided to stay put for two nights. Our camp spot that night, at the Russell Top 10 Holiday Park, had a smashing view across the bay toward Paihia, which didn’t hurt either. The campground was well located in easy walking distance to the village and had excellent facilities. We wanted to get out on the water the next day, so we booked a tour with Explore Cruises which promised dolphin spotting, among other things. A stroll through town, which netted a very handy bird book, was followed by camembert and Sauvignon Blanc before sunset to round out another beautiful day.


The Russell foreshore





The view from our campsite




Waiting for the boat

Our boat tour of the Bay of Islands the next day turned out to be a big success. It was a gorgeous, sunny day again, with calm seas and not too much wind. We were happy the boat was not full to capacity, so it was easy to get a good viewing spot. As we set out through the bay toward more open water, we got a view of the hilly terrain, small coves and beaches, and rock formations that make up the convoluted Bay of Islands coastline.


The Tucker S. Thompson – another option for cruising the Bay of Islands


Leaving Russell




b-of-i-2As the name would suggest, there are also a number of islands in the bay, and our itinerary included a lunch stop on one of them. But first, we were treated to a sighting of a pod of common dolphins. They are smaller than the well-known bottlenose dolphins and have white and black or dark grey markings. The water was beautifully clear, so it was easy to see them swimming underwater as well as when they surfaced.






The next stop was a trip through the Hole in the Rock, a local landmark, which also afforded us a view of the Cape Brett Lighthouse.


Cape Brett



The aptly named Hole in the Rock


The boat actually travelled through the hole



Cape Brett Lighthouse


Then it was back into the bay to Urupukapuka, the largest of its islands. The color of the water was fantastic in multiple shades of blue and turquoise and we passed many idyllic anchorages and camp spots on various islands. This is definitely a sailor’s paradise!



At Urupukapuka, we disembarked to have our lunch sitting at a picnic table on the lawn overlooking the cove. We chatted with some young German backpackers, whose main focus seemed to be the acquisition of free food wherever they could find it. Fortunately for us, they were distracted by the included lunch on the tour, tickets for which they had been gifted, so our lunches were safe from their scrutiny! Really, they were very nice and we enjoyed hearing about their travels.  After lunch we made a quick ascent of the nearby hilltop to get the spectacular 360° view before re-boarding the boat.



Looking back down on the cove. The hill is much steeper and higher than it looks!


The view from the top was spectacular in every direction!








Our boat

On the way back to Russell we passed a pod of bottlenose dolphins and enjoyed another encounter with these lovely creatures.






Back in Russell we had another look around town before succumbing to a nap. For dinner, we went to the Duke of Marlborough Hotel on the waterfront. The food was excellent and we enjoyed dining on the porch. It had been a lovely day and a novel way to spend Thanksgiving!


Some of the local birdlife – a Tui


Another view of the Tui


a Weka visiting our campsite

We really enjoyed Russell and the Bay of Islands and were glad we had decided to stay a second night and get out on the water. The weather had been so perfect, but that was about to change. We feel lucky we had those glorious days to get acclimated to New Zealand.

Our campervan tour continues in my next post.




Our last day in Rarotonga, we went back to Bella beach on the bus so that Michael could fish. There is a nice shady park along the beachfront with picnic benches and palm trees. I admired the local chickens and scenery, and read a book while Michael tried his luck.


The beach park


The rest of the day was spent running errands on the bus and packing up to head onwards. In the morning, we took the bus into town to go to the Punanga Nui Market. Saturday is the biggest market day when the market has fruits, vegetables, prepared foods, crafts and artwork, and local entertainment. We saw a drumming and dancing demonstration, perused the market, and also checked out the local port next door. The people watching was great and the food was inexpensive. After taking the bus back to the Tree House, Carlo took us to the airport to catch our afternoon flight to Aitutaki.



Entrance to the market




View of the port

The skies were a bit overcast, but I managed a few shots of the lagoon on the way in to Aitutaki. We were picked up by a staff member from Paradise Cove Lodge and driven to the resort. It’s small, having only 10 rooms, and a bit rustic. However, you can’t beat the location. Our A-frame bungalow faced directly on the beach, which was one of the nicest on the island. Aitutaki is a good deal smaller than Rarotonga, and much flatter. It lies at the northern edge of the southern group of the Cook Islands and is the second most visited, after Rarotonga. The attraction here is the lagoon, which includes a number of small islets.


Our plane


The view from our bungalow


Our bungalow is on the left


The beach at fairly high tide


On one of our walks, looking back toward Paradise Cove

Sunset on our second night looked like this:




Our time on Aitutaki was pretty low key. For the most part, we had terrific weather. We walked the beach almost daily, snorkeled in front of our hotel, and rented a scooter to tour the island on our own. On the one morning it rained for a short while, we played cribbage. Food was expensive, as on Rarotonga, but we managed to have some light meals in our room, which had a kitchenette. The hotel included breakfast in the morning which helped. However, it was pretty much the exact same thing every day, so by the end of the week, I was pretty tired of papaya, passionfruit, instant coffee (yuck!) and toast. The cereal wasn’t worth trying. I know the fresh fruits sound appealing, and they were, but by day 6, I was very grateful for a banana instead of more papaya! Michael gobbled up the fruit as he loves fruit for breakfast anyway. I tend to gravitate more toward eggs, so the lack of protein took its toll. Here are some photos from our adventures, including some of a vaka, a traditional sailing canoe. The islanders still build and sail these long distances on the open ocean. We saw one at the harbor in the main town on the island. It was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship!




The vaka




Detail of carving on vaka



I enjoyed having the scooter and being able to go where we wanted at our leisure. Neither of us is a small person, so we drove carefully with both of us on one scooter! I did most of the driving as Michael’s legs are so long, it wasn’t very comfortable for him to sit on the front with me in the back!


One of the highlights of our stay was a lagoon cruise and snorkel tour we did with Teking Lagoon Cruises. They picked us up at our lodge and drove us to the launch point, picking up two other couples along the way. The boat was smaller than some of the other operators, which allowed us to go to places in the lagoon the bigger boats can’t get to. We had a tour of the lagoon, snorkeled at three different spots, stopped at Honeymoon Island, had a barbeque lunch on another island, and even got our passport stamped at One Foot Island. It was a fantastic day and we enjoyed all of it. Our companions were an Aussie couple on their honeymoon and an Italian couple. Our guide was Captain Oops! At the first stop, we snorkeled with some Giant trevally and Napoleon wrasse. These were huge fish! They get fed some scraps by the snorkel boats, so they hang around a certain spot. That’s not a practice I usually support as it’s not natural fish behavior. However, I have to admit it was super cool to swim with them! The reef and other fish in the area were terrific too. Visibility was great and we saw plenty of nice coral, colorful fish, and tiny, fascinating, sea creatures. As usual, there were bright blue starfish, but also bright green or blue or purple lipped clams, some with spots too. Our second stop was another snorkel spot with giant clams and huge, two-thousand-year old brain coral formations. The giant clams were really neat, but the visibility wasn’t as good and there wasn’t as much marine life, so that one was just so-so. Afterwards we were dropped at Honeymoon Island where we could walk on the beach and sand spit before being ferried over to the adjacent island for our lunch.


Honeymoon Island on the left and our lunch stop on the right






I couldn’t stop photographing the incredible hues of blue!

Lunch was delicious! We had grilled chicken, eggplant, banana, and pumpkin, with quite a few cold salads and fruit. A papaya salad was particularly good, as were the grilled bananas. After lunch, Captain Oops showed us how to weave a plate with coconut palm fronds. It was simple, yet so effective! We were the only ones on that little atoll.


A Giant clam at our lunch stop


Our little boat

Our third snorkel stop proved to be the best one of all. We swam around some incredible blue and purple coral formations and saw a lot of amazing fish, coral, colorful clams, and one spectacular green/blue/purple spotted lipped Giant clam. Its color changed depending on your viewing angle. That place would have been a good justification for a waterproof camera. Sadly, I don’t have one, so you’ll just have to use your imagination. It was some of the best snorkeling I have ever experienced.

After our last snorkel, we went to One Foot Island and walked around a bit, gawking at the mind blowing variety of blues in the color of the water and sky. It really was just like all the fantasy photographs you see of a South Pacific paradise. A great way to end a fun day. Then we cruised back to our waiting return shuttle.




The Vaka tour boat at One Foot Island


That night, Michael and I took the scooter down the road at dusk to go to dinner and encountered a few hundred of the land crabs that march down to the sea at night, when the moon is full, in order to spawn. Trying to avoid them on the road was quite a challenge! They are not small, and looked as if they were chasing us when they threw up their big claws and started scuttling back across the road at our approach. Oddly, on the way back, in full dark, there were only a few. We saw these creatures on the beach, by the road and in the forest for several days as we were there over a full moon. Here’s a photo of one we saw in a little creek during the day. They live in burrows in the forest.





Here is some of the bird life we spotted right on our own beach. These guys were regulars!




Our last evening in Aitutaki we walked down the beach to the Tamani Beach Resort for an Island Night. This included a buffet feast of traditional Cook Island foods and a performance of dancing and drumming, including fire dancing. There was a lovely sunset that evening and we enjoyed the show and dinner.





On our day of departure, the skies were sunnier than on arrival, so I got some decent shots of the lagoon and island from the plane.




Honeymoon Island on the right with the sand spit



Coming into Rarotonga

The flight back to Rarotonga takes about an hour. We overnighted in Rarotonga before flying on to New Zealand because I didn’t want to risk missing the connection on separate tickets. Our extra day was spent doing laundry, going to the beach, and getting ourselves sorted for the next phase of our journey. It rained pretty steadily from about 4pm onwards, so our excursion out for dinner was a rather soggy one. The next day, our flight to Auckland was delayed a bit, but otherwise it all went as planned. We left Rarotonga on a Saturday afternoon and arrived in Auckland on a Sunday evening, having crossed the dateline en route during the four-hour flight!

My next post will be about our ten-day tour of Northland in a camper.

Stay tuned and I’ll see you down the road!

Island Life

N.B. We are now in New Zealand and having a marvelous time. To my great frustration, I have had trouble finding reliable connections with which to upload photos and work on blog editing, not to mention computer programs that are making me do extra work. Hence the delay in posting about our time in the Cook Islands. Rest assured, I am working to keep the story going. Thanks for your patience and I hope you enjoy!

Our time in Rarotonga was spent alternating between walking the beach, swimming, lounging in our apartment, napping, and various activities out and about. We enjoyed our accommodation at the Tree House B and B. I found it on Airbnb, but it’s also on Tripadvisor. There are two one bedroom apartments in the ground floor of the host’s home. They can also be rented as one larger unit. Ours had a bedroom, bathroom, small living area and kitchenette with microwave, mini fridge, and two-burner electric hob. There was also a shaded porch with a gas bbq, and a small table and chairs. It was well supplied with cutlery, plates, glasses, and pots and pans, so we were able to do a bit of cooking for ourselves. I think the other unit has a full kitchen, but I’m not sure as we didn’t see it. A real bonus was the filtered water from the bathroom tap and the Brita pitcher in the fridge. Elsewhere, we were told not to drink the tap water in the Cook Islands and so had to purchase bottled or filtered water. But at the Tree House, this was not an issue. I could refill my water bottle to my heart’s content!

The beach

The beach


tree-house-signThe location of our accommodation was excellent. The Tree House is down a driveway just off the main road, about 5 or 6 kilometers out of the main town of Avarua on the western side of the island. There is only one main road on the island which follows the coastline right around the whole thing. There is also a smaller ring road that is a bit further inland, but it’s more of a side road. The whole circumnavigation of the island on the main road is about 32 kilometers, so it’s totally manageable, however you choose to travel. There is a very convenient bus service that runs in both directions around the island every hour. It stops anywhere you like – you just flag it down. beach-selfie-1-raroThis was our chosen means of transport. So the first morning after our arrival day, we walked out to the road and waited for the bus. Before the bus had a chance to arrive, a local woman pulled over in her car and offered us a lift! She was very nice and drove us into town where she was headed as well. It was a great start to our experience of the friendly, helpful, and downright lovely people of the Cook Islands. In town, we stopped at the iSite information centre to ask some questions, checked out some shops, had a delicious breakfast at Salsa Café, and bought a voucher for WiFi at the Bluesky telecom office. The Tree House has a Bluesky WiFi hotspot but you need to purchase a voucher to login. At the Foodland grocery store, we got some supplies and then found the bus again. Your choices for buses are Clockwise and Anti-Clockwise. We decided to take the long way around the island to get the lay of the land and see a bit of the scenery. The whole trip only takes about 50 minutes. Though there seem to be more tourists than locals on the bus, there is a mix of both. The drivers are quite accommodating and attentive to their passengers’ needs. One of them even likes to sing and tell stories while he’s driving! I think he fancies himself a tour guide. Though there is a written schedule for the bus, as you can imagine, sometimes it is running on island time. It really worked quite well for us, but you have to be prepared for some waiting if you plan to use it as your main means of transportation. That night we walked down the road to the Kikau Hut restaurant for dinner. It was a good meal, especially the gluten free, orange almond coconut cake we had for desert. We also enjoyed watching a gecko warm himself on a globe light while taking advantage of the tasty bugs the light attracted!

gecko-1 gecko-2


At dinner

The next morning was windy and overcast, not the best beach weather. So we decided it might be a good day to do the Raemaru Track. There are several hiking trails on the island, including a cross island track which takes 3 – 5 hours and can also be done as a guided hike. We opted for a shorter hike to the top of a mountain, closer to home. We started by walking about 1.5 Km down the road to the trailhead. The scenery was very tropical. We passed pigs and goats in fields, saw many of the wild chickens so ubiquitous to these Pacific islands, admired the colorful flowers, and coveted the various fruits in the trees.




Church with graveyard in front



Pig and goat in a roadside field


raro-down-the-road-m raro-down-the-road-s

Then it was up, up, up into the jungle, along a knife-edge ridge, and finally, a climb with ropes and metal hand holds to the very top of Raemaru Peak. The sun came out making it a lovely day with spectacular views. We were grateful that the canopy of the forest provided shade for most of the trek as it was relatively steep and strenuous. Switchbacks were not an option in a lot of places, so there weren’t any! We were also glad to have brought along a pair of trekking poles, which we shared.


Near the start of the trail, a tunnel of sorts













I am not a big fan of the edge of any cliff, finding it to produce rather unsettling sensations, so the walk along the ridgeline with slope on both sides was a bit exciting for me. I made it though, and eventually we found ourselves, hot and sweaty, at the almost top of the mountain. When I first saw the ropes hanging down, and beyond them, permanent metal rungs for assisted climbing up the rock wall to the very top, I thought “No thank you! Not my cup of tea.” After a brief rest, Michael went up the climb while I stayed below.



On his way up, he met some other people coming down. We hadn’t been able to tell there was anyone else up there! The others were a middle aged couple with a local guide. The guide was wearing flip flops! I can’t imagine how he did the trek in those, never mind the climbing! He was instructing the lady exactly where to place her hands and feet as she came down, so I got a tutorial from below. It really didn’t look so hard. So after they had left, I decided I should give it a go. Time to test my limits, suck it up, and not let fear rule my choices! I left my pack behind and started to climb the rock with the assistance of the ropes. As I went up, I heard Michael calling down that he was on his way back. I yelled back “No, no! I’m on my way up!”.


After the ropes and rungs, there was a steep bit of trail where I hung on to roots and trees, and then it opened up to a gently sloping, wide, open area with footpaths. The mountain had a little flat top! The view was indeed excellent, however I had left my camera with my backpack, so I didn’t get any good photos from the top. Sorry! We stayed long enough to admire the view and catch our breath. Then we started back down. I was a bit worried about the descent, thinking it could be scarier than going up, but it really wasn’t too bad. I had a huge sense of accomplishment as we geared up for the walk back down the trail and the impending sensations of jelly legs and sore knees. Even the ridgeline seemed like child’s play after my daring adventures on the rock wall! A rock climber I will never be, but I was glad I had pushed myself. At the bottom of the hill, we started up the main road back to our rooms feeling quite worn out. An ice cream from a local shop helped, and we also picked up a chicken to cook for dinner that night. Michael did an excellent job grilling it on our deck.

Raemaru Peak doesn't look so big from a distance, but it's deceiving!

Raemaru Peak doesn’t look so big from the road but it’s deceiving!

The rock climb to the flat top

The rock climb to the flat top

The next night we celebrated Michael’s birthday with a special meal prepared by our host, Carlo, who is an Italian chef. Carlo retired from a restaurant at a nearby, high end resort. He and Roberta, his wife, also had another restaurant on the island at one time. They have been in Rarotonga for fifteen years. A candlelit table was set on our porch where Roberta served us. For a starter Carlo prepared bruschetta with eggplant, tomato, and onion, followed by broadbill fish with lemon caper sauce and vegetables.



For desert, he made a special chocolate birthday cake in the shape of a scallop shell. Delicious! I’m so glad I arranged this special birthday treat for us. After dinner we enjoyed talking with Carlo and Roberta for a while.


Our next adventure was a 4-wheel drive tour of the island with Raro Mountain Safari Tours. I’m not really into a lot of tours, but this one was fantastic. We had a really special morning and it was a good value with the included lunch, given the price of food on the island. We met our tour guides next door at the Edgewater Resort and, after some confusion about where we belonged, ended up in a vehicle with 3 children and 3 adults who were part of a larger school group from New Zealand. In all, there were four vehicles. One of the other vehicles also had some Chinese, some Australians, and another American. Normally, the idea of going on tour with a bunch of kids might not have appealed to me (no offense to children). But as it turned out, sharing our tour with the Kiwi school group only enhanced the experience. They were from the Te Kao elementary school, which is the furthest north school in the country! It’s a small school with perhaps 30 or so students I think. The “field trip” to the Cook Islands involved the whole school. I think the youngest children did not come, but most of them did. They were absolutely lovely people. We had some good laughs with the ladies and children in our vehicle and all the children were really well behaved. At the end of our tour, they even sang a traditional song for us, all together, with hand motions too. We enjoyed spending time with them, and when they found out we were coming to New Zealand, they invited us to visit the school!

Gathering for a picture

Gathering for a picture

The tour itself was excellent. Our guide and driver was Captain Useless. They like to use nicknames here such as Useless, Hopeless, and Oops! It took some effort to tune into his speech patterns, but he was very knowledgeable, had a good sense of humor, and kept us entertained. On the tour we stopped at a waterfall, a beautiful beach, a couple of culturally significant spots, and drove up into the mountains to view the Needle which is a rock spire at the center of the island. Along the way we learned about the plants of the area, the local culture and history, and heard some great stories. The tour finished off with a bbq lunch of local foods by the beach. The food was delicious and our guides entertained us by playing guitars and ukuleles and singing. One of the things I hadn’t realized is the close cultural connection between the Cook Islanders and the Maori of New Zealand. One of our stops was at the launching point of seven canoes of Cook Islanders which sailed to New Zealand sometime around 1350.


A wooden plaque commemorating the canoe launch

Since most of the school group appeared to be Maori, the guides did a great job of explaining and highlighting the connections between the Cook Islanders and the Maori. It was fascinating. There are similarities in language and cultural tradition, and quite a few common place names.


Our beach stop – Bella beach. Michael saw bonefish in the water so we returned another day so he could fish.


The island interior

The island interior

The Needle

The Needle


Captain Useless

Breaking open a coconut

Husking a coconut








Our vehicles

All in all it was a fantastic time and we were glad we did this tour. After 6 nights on Rarotonga, we took a small plane to another of the Cook Islands, Aitutaki. There we found an incredibly blue lagoon, white sand beaches, and a slow pace of life. I have many photos to share from that lovely place so stay tuned for the next installment.

Until then, see you down the road!


First Stop: Rarotonga

Well, we are finally on our way! We are now in the Cook Islands and having to get into travel mode with our electronic tethers. Actually, it has not been that hard. Spending a few days without cell service, internet, or WiFi is a good way to shift gears at the beginning of a trip I think. We finally got our WiFi sorted just in time to cry over the U.S. presidential election results. Enough said.

The last couple of weeks before leaving San Diego were a whirlwind which included a lovely 5 day trip up the coast to visit friends in the Santa Barbara and Los Angeles areas. Navigating through Los Angeles made San Diego seem like a breeze! We enjoyed three awesome days with friends who live up on Rincon Mountain, south of Santa Barbara. The weather was hot and sunny providing a good backdrop for surfing, hiking, visiting Ojai, and generally enjoying the incredible views from their mountaintop retreat. It was fantastic to catch up with our good friends Kim and Steve, whom we don’t often get to see. Here are some photos from that time.


The view from the house – Wow!



Rincon Point sunset



After that, we stopped to see a friend in Santa Monica and then went on to spend a night in Burbank with another of  Michael’s college friends. Anders and his lovely wife Anki gave us a quick tour, and we took a walk with their dog in Runyon Canyon Park. The views were great and there was a nice off leash dog park! We saw the Hollywood sign along the way and passed all kinds of landmarks. It was an all too brief visit, but wonderful to reconnect with them. Here we are on our walk.


Michael and Anders with Goucho

The next day we spent the afternoon in Newport Beach with yet more college friends before finding our way back to San Diego. Here is Michael with some early college roommates. We definitely took the college buddy tour on this trip and it was great!


Brian, Jeff, and Michael



Once back in San Diego, we spent a fun evening at the opera enjoying Cinderella. The people watching at the opera was terrific, as was the performance!





The following weekend we jetted off to Chicago to attend the wedding of Michael’s oldest niece. The wedding was lovely, the weather cooperated, and it was nice to have a large group of the extended family together. The events were held at the University of Chicago, my alma mater. I had not returned there since I graduated a very long time ago, so it was interesting to see the changes that had taken place at the school and in the neighborhood. It felt a bit like being in a dream – everything was familiar, but fuzzy. I struggled to tug some forgotten memories out of my brain to make the picture come into focus.


Here I am in front of my old apartment building

Finally it was time for us to be on our way. Since we were to fly out of Los Angeles, we had to get to L.A. from San Diego. This proved to be easier than we thought. I highly recommend taking the train! We boarded the train in Solana Beach and rode it into Union Station in L.A. It was easy and comfortable. Our business class seats came with free WiFi, a terrific view of the beaches we passed, and even snacks and a drink! And no one had to deal with traffic.

In Union Station we transferred to a bus that goes directly to the airport every half hour. This also was easy, and inexpensive at $9 per person. LAX was a bit of a mess, but we got through it all okay. Our gate was about as far out as you can go in the Tom Bradley International Terminal. And then, when we boarded our Air New Zealand flight, we still had to take a bus even further! I had purchased exit row seating for the 10 hour flight to Rarotonga in the hopes of giving us, and especially Michael, whose legs are so long, a little more comfortable flight. It was nice to have the extra leg room, but the seats were slightly narrower due to the tray table being in the arm rest. Still, I guess it was worth it. A meal, a movie or two, some sleep, another meal, and the next thing you know we were landing.

Rarotonga is the gateway to the Cook Islands chain of islands. All the international flights land here. However, it is still a small airport and we deplaned via stairs from the jet and walked across the tarmac. The immigration line wasn’t too bad. We filled out the forms while we waited since the ground crew in L.A. had neglected to supply the flight crew with the forms to give us in flight. Our luggage arrived safely (Whew!) and customs declined to inspect it. Meanwhile, we were being serenaded by an older gentleman playing a ukulele and singing traditional songs in the airport. Not a bad start! Our Airbnb host, Carlo, was there to meet us despite the early hour, for which we were grateful.  There was another couple on our plane who also were staying at the Tree House B & B. We waited a while for them and it turned out their luggage had been lost. Oh no! So glad it wasn’t us. Fortunately, it was found in L.A. and sent on to them via New Zealand, arriving two days later. We all piled into Carlo’s van and off we went. Carlo gave us a little tour on our way to his house and also obliged us by stopping at the ATM.

After settling in and unpacking a bit, we went off for a walk on the beach. Since we had arrived just after 7 a.m., it was still pretty early in the day, though it didn’t feel that way to me! The beach was just a short walk down a jungle path and we were there in about 3 minutes. Aaaaah, paradise! Rarotonga has a coral reef that surrounds the island creating a lagoon of varying width all the way around its circular shape. This creates a perfect place for snorkeling and swimming while being protected from the open ocean. Because of all the coral however, I immediately understood why reef shoes were recommended for walking on the beach. Flip flops also serve the purpose. There is white sand, but also many chunks of coral mixed in, which are quite sharp. Waves crashed on the reef, the water was warm, and there was an ocean breeze stirring the palm trees, so we had nothing to complain about. We walked the beach down to Black Rock, a local landmark, at which point I was starting to feel the effects of a rather poor night’s sleep. After a little rest on the beach, we started back. Michael was excited to see bonefish in the water.



Bonefish in the water!


Sea urchin in a pool

At the Edgewater Beach Resort, next door to our own accommodation, we decided to stop for an early lunch and a drink. There is nothing quite like a Piña Colada to make you feel like you are on a tropical vacation! Though usually a bit sweet for me, having one seemed like the appropriate thing to do. Properly fortified, we returned to our rooms for a nap.


In the afternoon, we went down to the beach for a snorkel. The water was clear and warm and we swam down the beach in the lagoon and around various coral heads and outcroppings. There were lots of sea cucumbers and black tentacle-looking things stretching out from the rocks. We saw many colorful fish, some we didn’t recognize, and even a large grayish-white eel! He came out from under his rock and swam around near us so we got a good view. One of my favorites was the bright blue starfish! There were quite a few and the color was so dramatic against the more muted coral and sand. I also saw purple coral and sea urchins. All in all we had a wonderful time. I’ve snorkeled quite a bit in a lot of different places. This might not have been the best ever, but the conditions were pretty darn good with excellent visibility and easy access. After our swim we rinsed off by poaching the freshwater shower at the Edgewater next door, then dried off on the rocks. Later, after a shower and change in our room, we returned to the beach for sunset. It was a beautiful evening and a lovely sunset. For dinner we strolled back to the main road at the end of our driveway and ate at Tumunu, one of the oldest restaurants on the island. It was ok, but nothing to write home about, so I won’t bore you with the details. As you can imagine, we fell into bed exhausted that night and slept soundly.


The view from our porch





Since then we have been acclimating to island life and exploring this beautiful place. For now I will sign off, but I’ll fill you in on our adventures with taking the bus, hiking, and a tour in my next post.

Until then, see you down the road!

Kia Orana!



Endless Summer

Life is pretty rewarding in the pursuit of an endless summer. Quite frequently, Michael declares gleefully that “endless summer” is the goal of our trip. Whenever the weather seems a little cooler, he says we’ll have to move further south soon! Indeed we have been blessed with warm days, sunny skies, and nary a need for a jacket. For the last month we have been basking in the autumn warmth of southern California, specifically La Jolla, near San Diego. Michael’s parents still live here in the house he grew up in, and we have taken over the basement guest room. Pretty nice digs if you can come by them! Most mornings I go for a walk along the cove and cliff tops to see what the ocean has to offer that day. Sea lions, pelicans, sea gulls, cormorants, and harbor seals are frequent companions, as well as a plethora of multilingual tourists. Michael goes off to surf at one of the nearby spots whenever the conditions are to his liking. Many afternoons we make time to go to the beach to top up our tans and breathe in the ocean air and sound of the waves. It’s a rough life, I know! In between these leisure pursuits, we’ve been spending quality time with family, reconnecting with old friends, and preparing to go overseas.

Here are some scenes from my morning walks.img_2007


Children’s Pool on a super clear day



Children’s Pool on a very different day!



High tides and heavy surf make for a dramatic coastline!

While we’ve been lolligagging in San Diego, we’ve had a few small adventures of note. One weekend we camped at San Elijo State Beach in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. The campground is run by the state and the sites start booking out 6 months in advance, which is when they become available in the system. We had a stroke of luck back in March and secured a prime campsite right above the beach, close to the beach access, and just the right distance from the toilets.

The view from our campsite.

The view from our campsite, #52

The campground also has showers, a camp store, and a taco shop. It is situated just across the road from eateries, a coffee shop, and a fantastic gourmet market called Seaside Market. So if you want to go minimalist on the cooking, as we did, it’s easy to eat well. The beach has a good surf break, so Michael was happy to have such easy access. It really was lovely to have the sound of the waves lull us to sleep and to witness  incredible sunsets each evening from the comfort of our picnic table or the beach below!

The only downside was the noise from the trains that blow through at regular intervals, including at night. During the day it was pretty easy to tune them out, but their whistles seemed incredibly loud at night when they woke us from a sound sleep! Our second night there, my friend Sandy joined us with her sweet dog Jax. We had a fun time roasting marshmallows and making s’mores by the campfire!


Shaking the tent out…Atlas holds up the world!

Another fun adventure consisted of riding our bicycles down to Pacific Beach from La Jolla. When we got to the boardwalk, we found a beach festival in progress with all manner of booths, crafts, beach volleyball tournaments, a surf contest, food, and bands playing. There was a “Best of the Beach” fish taco contest with entrants from local restaurants which caught our eye– $10 to sample 7 different tacos and vote on your favorite. What a deal! Of course we had to do it. Wow was it good!



Last year’s champion – mmmm, very tasty!


The beach scene


After sampling some tacos, we rode slowly down the boardwalk through Mission Beach all the way to the jetty at the end by the entrance to Mission Bay. The boardwalk was teeming with people and colorful characters, so it made for some superb people watching. That evening we went to a friend’s house for a barbecue.

Michael has been calling and catching up with old friends from high school, college, and even as far back as kindergarten! It’s been a particular pleasure to reconnect and get to know these people. There have been barbeques and snorkeling expeditions and we have plans for more visits next week. One Sunday we drove up to Newport Beach for the day to see one of Michael’s college friends. We really enjoyed spending the day with him and his family, going to the beach, and hearing about their lives.

A couple of times we have been in snorkeling by the La Jolla cove. The first was not so great due to poor visibility, but we did get inspected by a sea lion or two while in the water. The second time, the visibility was pretty good and the water quite calm. The cove is part of a marine preserve. There is a deep canyon in the ocean floor that comes quite close to shore at that spot, causing an upwelling, and making the marine life abundant. I spotted a leopard shark swimming  by. They are small and harmless and come to breed right off the cliffs there. As you may have guessed, they have spots! We also saw plenty of garibaldi, which are bright orange and look like very large goldfish. The young ones are greyish, with bright, electric blue spots! I spied a large abalone as well as a calico bass too. In addition to snorkeling, we have been enjoying regular trips to our favorite beaches, sometimes at sunset.


Horseshoe Beach




In three weeks we leave the country. Our first destination is the Cook Islands in the South Pacific, where we will visit both Rarotonga and Aitutaki, two of the many islands. We’ll be there about two weeks before flying on to New Zealand. In New Zealand we have about three months. We have made plans for roughly three-quarters of that time, primarily because it will be the summer high season when accommodation and transportation can book out. We’ll visit both the North and South Islands using a combination of holiday houses, airbnbs, backpackers, motels, bed and breakfasts, car, camper, ferry, and airplane. Just this week, we booked our onward flight from New Zealand to Melbourne, Australia using miles. That is as far out as we have planned, although we don’t foresee coming back to the U.S. for at least a further 3 months after that. Tentatively, we’ll visit Australia, Bali and Lombok in Indonesia, and wherever else may strike our fancy.

It’s hard to believe it’s mid October already! We have certainly been having fun and have tried to soak up every minute of our sabbatical from work. Now, as our departure on the big overseas trip approaches, we have been taking care of the final details of what we will take with us, how we’ll carry it, how we’ll manage our technology, and getting excited for the adventures to come!

See you down the road…



From the Mountains through the Desert to the Sea

Friends are such an important ingredient in the recipe for a good life and we are blessed with some great ones! On our return to Denver, Colorado, we were met by a dear friend who graciously picked us up at the airport and delivered us to our car, which had been stored at their house. After a brief “Hello, how are you, how was your trip?” we were on our way to the foothills above Golden, Codorado, to overnight with other friends. It was a beautiful evening and we enjoyed the view from their house, as well as a fire outside with them after dinner.


The gorgeous view!



Michael and Dusk

The morning proved just as beautiful with abundant sunshine, so we made plans to take a little detour on our way to our hometown of Durango, Colorado. Neither Michael, nor I had ever been over Guanella Pass, west of Denver, and now that the whole road is paved, it really is quite easy. The road crosses a high mountain pass linking Georgetown on I-70 with Rt. 285 north of Jefferson, so it was only a small detour from our usual route. We were treated to a hint of fall color starting to show in the trees and spectacular mountain views.




The drive to Durango was as beautiful as ever. We saw two moose in a pond at the top of Kenosha pass, very close to the continental divide! The white mass of Great Sand Dunes National Park shimmered in the distance as we drove down the San Luis Valley, and the San Juan River sparkled when we pulled into Pagosa Springs to stop for a soak at the hot springs.


The pond on Kenosha with moose


The view from Kenosha pass

Pagosa Hot Springs has 23 outdoor soaking pools to choose from in a riverfront location, and it’s one of our favorite indulgences. There is nothing quite like slipping into the hot water of the Overlook pool and taking in the view of the river and other pools below. You can stay overnight if you wish, or partake of some of their spa treatments and massages if you want to go all out. Here’s their website if you’re curious or want to see photos. I didn’t take my phone or camera in with me. Pagosa Hot Springs

We languished there, sampling various pools, for more than an hour before cleaning up and finishing the drive to Durango into the setting sun. Although perhaps it felt a little strange not to be driving up to our own house down the street, we received a characteristically warm welcome from our dear friends Bill and Machelle. It was good to be home, albeit for a short visit.

We spent three days in Durango getting organized and geared up for the next leg of our trip – driving to San Diego, California, with camping and scenery stops along the way. Our tenants were gracious about our comings and goings to the garage to retrieve camping gear, other belongings, and returning what we decided not to take. Michael did a little maintenance on the house and garden and we enjoyed visiting with friends and fine weather.


The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad on my morning walk along the Animas river.

In the end, after some trial and error, we loaded up the Subaru with about as much stuff as you could possibly fit! We had a box on top, one bicycle, and no rear view from the inside. Our tentative plan was to head to Monument Valley and then on to Page, Arizona to camp for a couple of nights. By the time we had breakfast with Bill, said our goodbyes, shopped for some camping groceries, fueled up and hit the road, it was late morning.


The drive to Monument Valley was mostly familiar as it follows a similar route through the four corners region as we took when we rafted a section of the San Juan river some years ago. However, neither of us had ever actually been to Monument Valley, so it was fun to recognize some of those iconic buttes and vistas as we approached, and hard not to stop every quarter mile to take more pictures!




When we arrived and paid the entrance fee to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, we found it to be VERY windy. Since it was later than we had originally planned to be there, we thought we might just camp at Monument Valley and head to Page in the morning. However, after checking out the campground, we decided against that. Although the campsites had a fantastic view of the valley, we didn’t like the prospect of trying to set up in high winds or huddling in our car or the tent to get out of a sandstorm. Oh well. We did look at the visitor center and take the scenic drive around the loop in the valley. The scenery was awesome but with the wind, we limited our vehicle exits. Nevertheless, it was fun to finally see it in person and to take some photos. One couldn’t help but recall the many western movies that have made that scenery iconic on the big screen.


Here I am trying to take a selfie in the wind!




At one spot on the loop drive there was a native american man on a horse posing for photos on a ledge. By the viewpoint he had a sign asking for a dollar for photos and a jar beside it. Kind of cheesy, but I couldn’t resist the photos, so I guess it worked! Up by the visitor center I saw a native american man in traditional dress and paint looking at his cell phone. An illustration of our times I suppose.











After the scenic drive, we debated where to go for the night. Our original plan was to camp in Page for a couple of nights to visit Antelope Canyon and then head up to Bryce Canyon. However, there was a high wind advisory for Page for the next day and we would be setting up camp after dark. So in the end, we bagged that idea and drove down to Flagstaff, Arizona, and got a motel room. The motel rooms in Flagstaff were about half the price of what was available in Page!

I had been looking forward to going to Bryce Canyon National Park because I hadn’t been there since I worked there as a Park Ranger 27 years ago. With our new trajectory, however, it just didn’t make sense to head back up to Utah. Maybe we’ll go there on the way back to Durango. In the meantime, we had figured out that Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona might be nice places to explore. After our motel stay, we drove down the scenic Rt. 89A into Oak Creek Canyon. The road follows the creek and becomes progressively more scenic as you get closer to Sedona. Along the way we checked out a couple of the campgrounds that lie by the creek. They are listed as some of the most popular in Arizona and I can see why. We chose a spot in Cave Springs Campground which has nice sites with good shade, well spaced, with some along the creek and some amongst the pines. There are vault toilets, showers, water spigots, and a camp store that sells firewood and sundries. The campground was not full our first two nights since it was mid-week. This made it quiet and spacious. On our third night, we noticed it began to fill up more with families come to camp for the weekend. This campground typically fills every night in season, so we felt pretty lucky to catch it at the right time. Cave Springs is about a 20 minute drive north of Sedona. We went back and forth a few times during our explorations and found it pretty convenient. As there was no cell service in the canyon, we had to drive down the road if we wanted to check our digital tethers or do any research, but for, us this was not really a problem. Here is our campsite.



Sedona is a town nestled in the embrace of red rock canyons, cliffs, and valleys in the pine forested high desert of Arizona.  Every direction you look there are stunning views. The main tourist area is replete with shops, restaurants, art galleries, and peddlers of new age paraphernalia. We walked around town, went for a beautiful hike up Brins Mesa, admired the incredible red rock scenery, and had a meal or two. Here are a few photos of the Sedona scenery, including some art installations in town showing painted javelinas. When you click on the photos you can see a larger version, if you wish.

Our hike up Brins Mesa was pretty spectacular. The view from the top in all directions was worth the climb.





One day we spent the afternoon at Slide Rock State Park, which has a series of rock slides and pools you can swim in. It’s a good thing it was hot out because the water was COLD!! There were quite a few people enjoying the water and relaxing on the rocks and it was a pleasant way to while away the afternoon.

Our last evening in Sedona, we were driving back through town after dinner when we saw the harvest moon rise above the canyon rim at twilight. We managed to find a high spot to snap some photos before stopping in town for an ice cream and a different viewpoint. Gorgeous!



After three nights in Oak Creek Canyon, we decided it was time to head for San Diego. So after packing up our campsite and shoehorning everything back into the car, we hit the road for the 7 to 8 hour drive to La Jolla, California. Most of the drive is through desert and very hot, but we managed it with minimal stops and not too much wind. Upon arriving at the Pacific Ocean, we couldn’t resist a quick stop at the beach to watch the sun set before ending the day at our next “home away from home” – Michael’s parents’ house.







A New England Late Summer Idyl

Patience is a virtue, or so they say. If this is the case, then you, dear readers, are all quite virtuous! We are now in San Diego, having crossed the country by plane and car with adventures and stops along the way. Unfortunately, I also encountered some technical difficulties which have delayed my posting to this blog. When your laptop no longer functions as a laptop but requires an outlet to plug into, and your campground has no cell signal, you just have to surrender to being truly unplugged! Nevertheless, I promise to catch you up on the comings and goings and share some of the beauty we’ve encountered on our journey from the Northeast to the Southwest of our country.

We spent at least another ten days in Massachusetts. The time was filled with more family visits and some weather dodging. One weekend we drove up to Cambridge to visit my brother-in-law and enjoyed a couple of days filled with excellent food, fine and abundant conversation, and a visit to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusets. Two small museums – The Peabody Museum and The Essex Institue were combined to create the Peabody Essex Museum.  My maternal grandfather, a Boston historian, was an assistant director at The Peabody Museum beginning in 1936, so it has family significance. I had not been to the museum in many, many years and in the intervening time, it has been overhauled to wondrous effect. There is an incredible, light filled atrium designed by Moshe Safdie, which gives the feeling of being on a ship with sails overhead. Even now, they are preparing to add another new wing! The museum contains a huge collection of maritime art and history; American art; Asian, Oceanic, and African art; Asian export art; books and manuscripts; and historic buildings. It’s origins draw from The East India Marine Society, founded in 1799 and described thus by the museum:

“…an organization of Salem captains and supercargoes who had sailed beyond either the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn. The society’s charter included a provision for the establishment of a “cabinet of natural and artificial curiosities,” which is what we today would call a museum. Society members brought to Salem a diverse collection of objects from the northwest coast of America, Asia, Africa, Oceania, India and elsewhere.

What was most memorable from my childhood visits to the museum were the extraordinary number of shrunken heads! Now it has a broader scope and you can find galleries devoted to Chinese Export Art, Japanese Art, an Art and Nature Center, and special exhibitions. They have gotten rid of a lot of the shrunken heads. I suppose they were not terribly p-c! We wandered through a gallery of maritime art which had some fantastic model ships of varying shapes and sizes. We also visited a special exhibit of Childe Hassam, an American Impressionist. We didn’t make it to the Rodin exhibit. However, the main attraction of our visit was the Yin Yu Tang house. This is an antique Chinese house built around 1800 that stood for 200 years in a rural village in the region of Huizhou in southeastern China. It was dismantled piece by piece and reassembled at the museum. It is the only such house outside of China! This feat was accomplished through a cultural exchange agreement and a collaboration of Chinese and American experts. Now you can tour the house, learn about its history, and see it as it was last inhabited in the 1980’s by the Huang family, whose ancestral home it was. If you are interested in the Peabody Essex Museum, you can find more information at http://www.pem.org. It’s a pretty neat place!

Before leaving Boston to head back to my family’s summer home, we stopped on the waterfront to visit some old haunts from my years of living in “Beantown.” Here is the view of the harbor and the Long Wharf from the parking garage. We had sticker shock at the price of parking, but at least we got a view!

Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market were as busy as ever so we didn’t stay too long. We found the plaque dedicated to my grandfather, the same one from the Peabody Museum, at the foot of the statue of Sam Adams by Faneuil Hall.



We also walked through the North End, Boston’s old world Italian neighborhood, and passed by one of the places I used to live. It was the feast of St. Anthony, so there were parades with drum and bugle corps!

Michael spotted a boat with a name that epitomizes his dream for our sabbatical. We had to get a photo!


A lot has changed in that city but it still feels like home to a certain extent. I spent the better part of 10 years living there and then returned for a couple more later on, so it was fun to take a walk down memory lane!


After returning to Nonquitt, we had a quiet week with my mother punctuated by dinner with old family friends at the house, and an evening out at The Back Eddy in Westport, a lovely waterfront seafood restaurant. The sunset was incredible that evening.



The weather continued fine, so we had many walks on the beach. We also rode bicycles down to Padanaram Harbor to view the boats and see how the causeway and bridge repairs were coming along. Closure of the bridge across the harbor, for what will be a multi-year project, was the subject of much discussion as it forces everyone in the vacinity of Nonquitt to take the long way around.


Super clear water one day!


Padanaram Harbor


Over the busy Labor Day weekend we became rather more social, with cousins in residence next door and a communal beach barbeque. My nephew joined us along with my brother and his family, so the house was full. The weather forecast was less than encouraging with the remnants of what had been hurricane Hermine bearing down on us. The wind picked up, but the rain held off until Monday, which allowed the barbeque to go forward. We chose the prudent course and pulled my brother’s small sailboat off the beach. Here you can see the men performing their heroic duty with black skies in the background!

The storm brought choppy waters and high tides. Here are some shots of the newly enlarged inlet for the saltwater marsh which stretches behind our house and in back of the South Beach. Good thing they made it bigger as it seems to be at capacity already!

All in all, our time in Massachusetts was a pretty typical New England late summer idyl. We flew back to Denver after a rainy Labor Day and began the next stage of our adventure, which I will detail for you in my next post.

Until then, take care and I will see you down the road!