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!

Day Trippin’

On Thursday, while Dusk and Rinda went off in the morning to hike a little of the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali coast, Bill, Machelle, Michael, and I decided to pay a visit to the Kilauea Lighthouse. Kilauea is a small town on the North Shore only about 15 minutes away by car from Hanalei. The lighthouse sits on a point which is the northernmost point in Hawaii. The area surrounding the lighthouse and a small island off the point have been designated a National Wildlife Refuge, primarily for birds. We lucked out with the weather as it was windy, but mostly sunny, when we visited. There were spectacular views up and down the coast and we saw lots of birds and enjoyed a few small exhibits.


A frigate bird (I think)

Looking toward the aptly named Secret Beach

It was quite windy on the point but that is what you would expect when facing the open ocean. We enjoyed watching the waves crash into the cliffs creating dramatic explosions of seawater. Bill even spotted a sea turtle way down below in the water. It was quite a large one. Then Machelle spotted another that was a bit smaller. There were hawaiian geese wandering about as well as some red footed boobies across the way on a hillside. We saw some young wedge-tailed shearwaters hanging about their nests and looking all fuzzy.

This is where Bill spotted the turtle

I love my zoom lens!

After we left the lighthouse, we stopped in Kilauea town to browse in a couple of shops and have a snack. I have been enjoying the local arts and crafts. The beauty of the surroundings here cetainly inspires some lovely artwork!

On the way back toward Hanalei we detoured to Anini Beach and got in a little beach time. Anini is a lovely sand beach with an offshore reef that creates a protected lagoon in which to swim and snorkel. We saw a kite boarder setting up his equipment which was of particular interest to Michael as he has dabbled in kite boarding and would like to do more. It was very windy, so when the kite boarder took off, he went ripping across the water straight out the break in the reef, and played in the waves, all of which were quite advanced maneuvers. Michael and I went in snorkeling. It was not really the best snorkeling as the water was a little choppy, the visibility wasn’t all that great, and there wasn’t a ton to see. However, the highlight for me, which made it all worthwhile, was that we found a turtle and I was able to follow him for a bit. Snorkeling with turtles is one of my favorite things to do!

Beautiful Anini Beach


The Kilauea Lighthouse in the distance.

The kiteboarder setting up.

That evening we had some semblance of a sunset which was a nice change of pace. Dusk and Rinda had enjoyed their hike, though Rinda was a little banged up from a fall during their river crossing. Fortunately it was nothing serious, just some scrapes and bruises. We walked into town for some happy hour Mai Tai’s and cooked ourselves some dinner back at the house. All in all it was an excellent day.




















The Garden Isle

Kauai is beautiful. And yes, that is an understatement. When you stand on the beach at Hanalei Bay and look around, you realize that you have truly arrived at the quintessential tropical paradise that all those movies and fantasies are based on. There are palm trees swaying, waves lapping the shore of a perfect sandy, crescent beach, and steep, jungle clad mountains shrouded in clouds. There are a million shades of green, brightly colored flowers everywhere, and birds calling to one another. Even the telephone poles sport plants growing out of the tops of them. Everything is alive. Of course, in order to have this extraordinary growth, you need rain, and there is plenty of that too. I think we are here in a rainier season, so probably, in the summer it would not rain as frequently as it has now. It has rained everyday, multiple times a day. This might not sound so great, but in reality it's delightful. I never thought I would say that about rain! The rain here can be light as a feather and last 1 minute, or it can be torrential and last 6 minutes. It never seems to last more than 10 minutes. It rains every night which keeps it cool for sleeping. You learn that rain is not something you need to run from. It will pass. You might get a little wet, but you will dry. The clouds add drama to the peaks, although just one day, I would like to see the entire ridgeline just to see what it looks like. The one drawback to the rain is that it makes photos less vibrant. Some things come out well and some don't. I have been using my iPhone for some pictures because it's easier to carry around, but my big camera is really so much better.

Our house is well laid out. There are three bedrooms and three and a half bathrooms. Two bedroom and bath combos are on the first floor where there is a porch, entryway, and off the porch, a laundry room. On the second floor there is a third bed/bath and a huge living/dining room and open kitchen and half bath. Windows surround the big living area and there is a wrap around lanai (porch) with additional dining space. This lanai has views of the mountains and always has a wonderful breeze. Whenever it rains, the waterfalls come streaming down the mountains. I think I counted 5 or 6 at one time. The kitchen is well equipped and there is plenty of seating for the 6 of us. Next door is a cottage that is similar, but smaller, and owned by the same people. So far no one has been there that we can tell. For anyone who is interested, this is Ileina's Hanalei House and Cottage. http://www.hanalei-cottage.com

One morning we looked out the window and saw this fellow perched at eye level. Michael saw him hop down a branch and scoop up a gecko. Breakfast!











Our other friends arrived Monday afternoon and quickly acclimated with a walk on the beach. That evening we walked into the village and had dinner at Tahiti Nui, a local bar/restaurant/wine bar/pizza joint. I guess they cater to everyone! They had some entertainment which was quite good – a couple who played guitar and sang traiditional hawaiian songs. It was a fun evening.

On Tuesday, despite the possibility of rain (you just have to ignore it), 4 of us went up to the end of the road to see what we could see. Hanalei is only a few miles from the north end of the main road that follows the coast of Kauai. Because of the Na Pali coast, there are no roads that circumnavigate the entire island. I like being on the North Shore. The towns are small and less developed. It's a bit wetter than the South Shore, but that makes it more green and lush. Up the road from Hanalei are several beaches and, at the end, the start of the Kalalau Trail which runs 11 miles along the Na Pali coast. We stopped at a couple of beaches along the way. The first one had powerful waves and the second one was more calm and had snorkeling.

At the end of the road, at Ke'e Beach, we couln't find parking due to its popularity and the limited parking spaces. As we headed back down the road looking for a parking space, the one we found happened to be right by the entrance to Limahuli Gardens. The Gardens are part of the National Botanical Tropical Garden system. We took a look and decided that it might be worth our time. What we found was spectacular! It was cloudy but never rained hard on us. We walked the 3/4 mile trail slowly up the hillside and down again. There were many plants and sights described in the self guided tour and we found it very informative. The walk taught us about the subsistence habits of the early Hawaiians. What we did on spec turned out to be a real winner. I loved the feel of the place. We strolled through restored native forest, traditional Hawaiian terraced plantings, and more modern forest, including introduced species. There was a lovely stream, lush landscape, and nice views. I took some photos of various plants and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.



A breadfruit tree near the visitor center


There were many hibiscus of different colors.













I called this the Braille plant because of all the dots you could feel.



















We saw this beautiful purple flower but weren't quite sure whether it was an orchid, an iris, or something else.

The adventures continue, but I will leave you there for now.



Agenda? What agenda?

So far we have had a pretty relaxing and leisurely time on Kauai. Yesterday we whiled away the afternoon sitting on our lanai (the hawaiian term for a porch), sipping wine or beer and playing dominos. We play a game called Mexican Train and it is a lot of fun with from 3 to 8 people. 8 is a lot and makes it a little slow, but still works. We have often played with our good friends the Richburgs, so the four of us have a strong tradition, especially on vacation. As we played we enjoyed watching local birds flit by to entertain us. We saw a beautiful red crested cardinal and a tropic bird that had a split tail. 


The cardinal

In the early evening we rallied and freshened up, then headed out to go to a Friday evening Art Walk in Hanapepe, a town just down the coast. We arrived just as things were getting set up. There were numerous art galleries, a few boutiques and gift shops, and various food trucks. Pretty soon there were many other people strolling the street, enjoying the evening, perusing the art, and finding some supper. It was a pleasant evening and felt like we were seeing a bit of the real Hawaii. There were a lot of different one or two person musical offerings in front of the stores. It seemed that most stores of any size hired someone to entertain for the evening, or at least welcomed them. It made for some competing sounds along the street. Nevertheless, we had a good time and enjoyed ourselves. Afterwards, back at our condo, we enjoyed seeing shooting stars and some unfamiliar constellations in the night sky before turning in.

This morning Michael and I woke fairly early – a somewhat happy side effect of the time change – and went out for a walk to explore the beach in the direction we hadn’t yet been. We made our way to Shipwreck Beach where we found the surf had drawn some people into the water to boogie board, surf, and body surf, all of which was of interest top Michael. It was a cloudy morning with occasional spitting sprinkles of rain, but that didn’t stop any of the folks enjoying the beach or out for a walk, including us. The conditions were such that only an experienced surfer or swimmer would want to go in the water. Any others would be foolhardy. Nevertheless, we saw a man take a swan dive off the big rock at the end of the beach (without incident) and swim along the bay. We deemed him a very strong swimmer, even if the currents were in his favor. 


Shipwreck Beach


After a nice invigorating outing we returned to our condo and cooked a nice breakfast with the Richburgs, who had since woken up. Since the weather was not looking great, we postponed our trip up Waimea Canyon and rearranged our intentions for the day. Instead, Michael explored the beach a bit more, checking out the snorkeling, and Bill, Machelle, and I toured the shops in the local area. We were forced to indulge in some island ice cream in order to avoid a deluge – a rough job, but somebody’s got to do it, right? Later in the afternoon, Machelle and I drove up to Lihue to do the major grocery shopping for the week. We took one for the team while Michael and Bill went to the local Happy Hour and made us some dinner reservations. Our chores accomplished, dinner was a short stroll away at Brenneke’s Beach Grill. The Macadamia Nut crusted Mahi Mahi was delicious! 

Tommorrow we hope to drive up Waimea Canyon to enjoy the views before heading North to our next home base, Hanalei Bay. 

Final Days in Africa

Life at Vumbura Plains was pretty plush. There were lots of little touches that contributed. When we first arrived, we were asked during our orientation what drinks we preferred for sundowners. We said gin and tonic, please. Then they asked what sort of gin we’d like! Upon returning from each game drive we were greeted with a cool or warm (depending on the weather), moist, scented towel to wipe the dust from our faces and hands. The service was excellent. The kitchen produced delicious food and we enjoyed having some of our dinners and all of our lunches at private tables. Meals were less time structured than at Chitabe, which was relaxing. They had some delicious house roasted nuts at sundowners which we also found in the mini-bar in our room. In an effort to be more sustainable and cut down on the use of disposable plastic water bottles, Wilderness Safaris gives each guest a stainless steel water bottle to use during their stay, and of course to take home as a souvenir. As at Chitabe, all the buildings and walkways were raised off the ground, and the common areas looked out over the watery plain. The guest bathroom near the “lobby” also faced the view, which you could see quite easily from the throne since there was no wall on that side! The wildlife was everywhere. While being escorted after dark back to our room to freshen up for dinner one evening, our flashlights lit up a hippo grazing in the grass just below us. At night the sounds of the bush were everywhere, including right outside our tent.

On a couple of occasions the elephants made an appearance in camp during the day. Elephants are mezmerizing. They exude a sense of peace and a slow and steady rhythm in everything they do. It’s infectious. I was thrilled when one afternoon, as we were lazing about on our deck, I saw some elephants making their way along the camp heading towards us. They were eating and walking at a leisurely pace and soon they were right in front of us. Not only was it a fun photographic opportunity, but it was exciting to be so close to simply observe them.



Michael viewing the elephants from the comfort of our plunge pool!

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Bath time!

Bath time!

The time of year we visited the Okavango Delta was not the wet season despite the fact that the rains were just starting. The wettest time is from June to August when the waters of the Okavango river flood the delta. There is water in parts of the Delta all year long, but when the floods come, it increases dramatically. Even though it was not flood season, we still travelled through water sometimes in the vehicles and you could get an idea of what it would be like with a lot more water.

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Here are some more of the birds we saw.

Ground hornbill

Ground hornbill

African fish eagle

African fish eagle



Slaty egret

Slaty egret

Helmeted guinea fowl or "bush chicken"

Helmeted guinea fowl or “bush chicken”

Marabou stork. He was hanging around the lions waiting for his turn at the kill.

Marabou stork. He was hanging around the lions waiting for his turn at the kill.

One afternoon we watched a giraffe take a drink. That may not sound like much but it’s a bit of an ordeal for the giraffe. First, because they are very vulnerable with their heads down low, they are very cautious about where and when they drink. This giraffe was constantly looking around for predators. Also, because of their long necks and the blood pressure that builds up when their heads are down, they can’t stay in that position for long. So giraffes tend to take a drink, stand up, take another drink, stand up, etc. They also don’t lower or raise their heads very quickly because that might wreak havoc with their blood pressure as well. The giraffe doesn’t want to pass out because he stood up too quickly!

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We saw more elephants on our game drives, including a mom and her baby and a big bull elephant who we watched methodically eating the bark off some branches.

Mom, looking to see if the coast is clear.

Mom, looking to see if the coast is clear.

Baby peaks out

Baby peaks out



Grabbing branches





Here are some photos of the sausage tree which I described earlier. Salami anyone?!

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On our last visit to see the lion family with their buffalo kill we saw them lounging and playing in a very peaceful scene. The cubs were so playful and tried to engage their uncle, who was really quite patient with them.

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Starting to wake up

Starting to wake up


Everyone wants a good relaxing stretch

Everyone wants a good stretch

The cubs can't resist jumping their uncle

The cubs can’t resist jumping on their uncle

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taking a drink

Taking a drink. She did this about 3 ft. from our vehicle.

All that was left of the carcass.

All that was left of the carcass.

Here is an elephant that came into camp one morning just as we were getting ready to go out on our game drive. We are in the vehicle waiting until it is safe to drive off. It’s amazing that the elephants don’t do more damage to the structures, but they’re pretty good at avoiding them.


On our last game drive we saw a lovely herd of elephants with young in tow.

Notice the baby you can see through her legs.

Notice the baby you can see through her legs.

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I really loved the elephants and could have watched them for hours. Particularly pleasing were the low rumbling noises they made to communicate with each other. It was an incredible sound.

The view from our deck.

The view from our deck.

On our very last morning we opted not to get up at 5:30am and go out on a game drive. We had seen so much already and had a very long journey ahead. So instead, we slept in and packed our things, had brunch and said our farewells. We were driven to the airstrip around 11am to catch our plane to Maun. Here is the pane that took us there. It was the largest of the three we took around the Delta.


On the way to Maun, we stopped off at another camp to exchange a few passengers. Here are a few photos of the flight as well as one of Maun as we were coming in.

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The tiny airport in Maun was crowded and hot as we waited for our flight to Johannesburg. We had retrieved the extra luggage left with Wilderness Safaris without incident and finally boarded the plane for an uneventful flight back to South Africa. During our layover  in Jo’burg we managed to change into some clean clothes for our transatlantic flight and re-packed our bags a bit. We found our gate and boarded the plane for the 16+ hour trip to Atlanta. It was a long flight and a bit of a blur. We watched some movies, tried to sleep, and simply endured. In Atlanta we had plenty of time to catch our flight to Albuquerque, so there was no stress getting through customs, re-checking our bags onwards, and finding a proper breakfast. I think we slept some more on the flight to New Mexico and arrived in early afternoon after about 33 hours of travel. At that point we had to decide if we were going to make the 3 1/2 hour car journey to Durango or get a hotel room and rest up first. We decided to go for it and used our last burst of energy to drive home. Our dog was very happy to see us and our house sitter had kindly left a pot of soup on the stove. Whew! It was a relief to take a hot shower and relax after our travel marathon.

Long journeys by plane are always a bit surreal. Your body is confused about what time it is and you have the sense of being in limbo when you’re on the plane. It is always a bit of a miracle to arrive someplace knowing you woke up that morning somewhere else, very far away. The long journey to Africa was well worth it. What a fantastic time we had. I think about it all the time and try to remember the details and nuances of what we experienced. I’m so glad I have the photos to look over as a reminder, but they are not the whole of it. The sounds and smells and tastes and people are there too in my memory. Thanks for following along as I chronicled our journey. Your encouragement and support has been a real help. I’m not sure what’s on the horizon for my next adventure, but I’ll be sure to let you know.



Lions, Leopards, and Cheetah, Oh My!

Vumbura Plains delivered on the big cats in a big way. Not only did we get to see the lion family with the buffalo carcass on a daily basis, but we saw several leopards, a couple of cheetah, and other lions, including some that were hunting. It was a big cat fest as far as we were concerned, and we realized just how lucky we were when we met an American man stationed in Gabarone, Botswana, who had been on safari numerous times, and still had never seen a leopard, despite his fervent wish to do so.

One of our leopard sightings was a beautiful female lounging in a tree. The light was decent for once, at least until she turned the other way! After watching her for a bit we got to see her climb down the tree and go hide in the bushes. An approaching troupe of baboons was the cause. You would think a leopard in a tree would not have reason to fear a few baboons, but in reality, she was in grave danger as they could easily have overcome her. Baboons can be fierce aggressors and a lone leopard is wise to seek cover. Here are some photos of that gorgeous lady.

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One of my favorite photos from the whole trip.

One of my favorite photos from the whole trip.



On the way down.

On the way down.

Peaking out from her hideaway.

Peaking out from her hideaway.

We also came across two cheetah brothers who were having a siesta on a termite mound. We watched as they stretched and moved off through the grass to a different termite mound in search of more shade. Though they looked very relaxed, it was clear they were keeping a keen eye on their surroundings.

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Shade was the order of the day.

Shade was the order of the day.

Me and my cheetah friends!

Me and my cheetah friends!

There were, of course, other wonderful things to see besides the big cats. We had a lovely experience in a watery plain watching as two male kudu made their way towards us. With the engine off, we sat in silence, listening to the splash, splash of their steps and admiring the reflections of these magnificent beasts in the water. It was very peaceful.



Another favorite photo.

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Another time, while out on the western edge of the concession that is used by Vumbura Plains, we had just spotted a secretary bird, which I was trying to photograph, when a sable antelope dashed out from behind a bush and ran away. I missed the secretary bird, but just managed to catch the sable. They are very rare so I was quite pleased to see one, even if only briefly!


Here is a smattering of other lovely creatures we saw while at Vumbura Plains.

Mongoose living in a termite mound behind our tent.

Banded mongoose living in a termite mound behind our tent.


A bachelor herd of impala.


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A bateleur

A bateleur


A vervet monkey

A yellow-billed kite

A yellow-billed kite

Crocodile amongst the flowers.

Crocodile amongst the flowers.


Cape buffalo


Red-billed oxpecker

Red-billed oxpecker


One morning after transferring our English companions to another vehicle so they could go to the airstrip, we had Ben all to ourselves. He had heard there were some lions who had been following a herd of buffalo for some time, so we went in search of them. First we found the very large herd of buffalo who were accompanied by many birds taking advantage of the bugs stirred up by their passage. Then we found the lions. There were three of them perched on a termite mound keeping an eye on the herd, or more likely the older male stragglers.

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As we sat and watched them, a couple of older male buffalo got closer and closer. Ben told us that if the lions took off in pursuit, we should be ready to hold on tight as he would try to follow. Not long after, the lions got up and started off into the long grass. It was hard to believe the buffalo weren’t aware of their presence as they were so close. We saw them spread out and slink through the grass, incredibly well camouflaged.


The males watch as the female closes in.


Finally, it all happened in a flash. The lions charged, the buffalo took off, and so did we. That was a wild ride! – two hands on the roll bars and big grins on our faces. The lions missed and the buffalo lived to graze another day, but it was very exciting to see first hand.

After the chase.

After the chase.

The next day we came upon yet another male lion waiting out the heat under the shade of a tree. He was a splendid sight and posed quite obligingly.

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Next time I will share some photos of the incredible elephants we saw and heard and other fun things from our time at Vumbura Plains. Until then, be well and thanks for reading.