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!

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…