A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out!

Bryon Bay and Country Life in the Hinterlands–Part 1


The beach at Byron Bay. Clean and still undeveloped!

If you measure distance in time, you must be either in the state of Maine or the huge country of Australia.

For some reason, I was thinking that Byron Bay was only a couple of hours north of Sydney… wrong!  It’s about ten hours by car and twelve to thirteen hours by bus or train.  Flying is the best option, but for some reason I found myself, a lone senior, on a Greyhound stuffed to the gills with fresh-faced millennials leaving Sydney at 7:00pm and arriving in Byron Bay at 8:00am the following morning.  Trying to be an optimist, I figured I wouldn’t have to find accommodations for the night.  I could sleep on the bus.  In a stiff, narrow, barely reclining seat….pillowless.  End result…snoozeless! (Yes, I made up these words)

Arriving thirteen hours later, I  wanted to kiss the ground as I stepped off the bus weary and bleary-eyed. But this is a comfortable and soft place to fall.

Byron Bay has a “turn on, tune in, drop out” hippie past, but it still has that “be cool”, laid back vibe, and keeping with the tenor of the times, it is also infused with a healthy dose of New Age. Downing two cups of coffee in quick succession at the Byron Cafe, my eyes scanned a heavily papered wall of posters advertising an array of festivals (Moonlight Mystic, Starlight, Spirit, Writers, Blues) and every imaginable service or class for the mind, body, and soul.

Life style is important to Australians, and this region with its beautiful beaches, warm weather, lush country side, and long growing season is drawing more and more people from the big cities who want to either buy vacation homes or move here permanently.  A  fun and relaxing place to be on my own, I booked an airbnb private room within walking distance to town and the beach for three days until my new hosts were ready for me.

I was planning to be just twenty minutes north of Byron Bay in the hinterlands, known as the Northern Rivers Region, for a month, first house sitting for two weeks and then doing a work exchange for room and board.  Experiencing rural life is another goal of my adventure.

Once again, thanks to the great networking of my friend and travel mentor, Gayl, I was introduced to her young friend Katrina, originally from this region and now a busy lawyer who splits her time between working in Melbourne and coming here on the weekends (did I mention life style?).  Katrina put me in touch with childhood friends who have also moved back to the area from Melbourne, and they offered me a house sitting position while they’d be away on vacation.

This really is God’s country. Still very rural, the rolling hills and lush green landscape is dotted with farms and open pastures. Practically anything can be grown here due to the subtropical climate and rich volcanic soil. Although beef is still a major producer, fresh, local, organic food sourced from local artisan producers have joined the ranks with crops like avocados, macadamia nuts, bamboo, and coffee.  Farmers’ Markets laden with fabulous produce can be found almost any day of the week.

My host family lives in a little village called The Pocket, so named because it is surrounded by foothills. The closest town is Billinudgel a short drive away and home to the historic Billinudgel Hotel, which has been open since 1908. Some other towns close by and part of this region are Mullumbimby (Mullum), New Brighton (Newie), and Brunswick Heads (Bruni). Australians love to shorten words.


Lani and Paul’s lovely home is a restored school house with soaring cathedral ceilings and an open floor plan.  The property also boasts a swimming pool, two small cottages, and three acres of land. Lani, the consummate gardener, has created a landscape of exotic flowers, fruits, and vegetables. My duties for the next two weeks were to water the gardens and plants, vacuum the ever-present cob webs, and haul away the palm fronds (they collect water and breed insects) to the burn pile (everyone here has a burn pile). I was scared out of my wits a few times hearing the sudden BANG of a large palm frond hitting the roof.

Since this is the country where all things poisonous dwell, she also educated me about red back spiders, a host of snakes, and even pythons. Lani related a story –this is firsthand not hearsay–about a young mother who suddenly awakened in the night, went to check on her new infant, only to find a huge python coiled around the crib!

I later found out that there was a python living on Lani and Paul’s property. I never saw it, but on a return visit after their vacation, they told me they found the skin it had shed on the front porch hammock.

I did have a minor spider encounter. One morning I woke up to find a HUGE spider (Huntsman?) on the wall just above the bathroom door.  Too freaked out to kill it AND not knowing how to take it alive, I left it there for two and a half hours, skulking back every few minutes to check to see if it had moved.  Finally, realizing I couldn’t leave it there only to find it later (or not) in some other part of the house, I took out the vacuum cleaner and …

This is just life in the hinterland (rats too!), and I did become acclimated to my new surroundings and found lots of time to paint and write.  But I would still find myself at dusk (when snakes are apt to appear) skittering from building to building like some terrified bug avoiding its prey, trying to make it to safety. (I’m kidding…bit just a little.)

I might have felt a little isolated but for the incredible hospitality of friendly Australians.  Katrina, home for the weekend, took me to lunch and a drive around the area. This resulted in another invitation from Katrina and her parents to a family dinner on Good Friday of Easter Weekend. My special treat was the traditional dessert, Pavlova, consisting of meringue, fresh fruit, and whipped cream.   And yet again, an outing with Katrina’s dad to the Tweed Regional Gallery, and Margaret Olley Art Center, lunch, and a drive to the lovely town of Bangalow, known for some of the region’s best street architecture.

Paul’s mother, Jeanette and a friend stopped by for the night to attend the Blues Festival. (The Byron Bay Blues Festival this year featured 82 bands, a total of 633 artists and their touring crews, and recorded over 100,000 attendees over the Easter weekend. Brother Jake’s band, Kaleo also headlined.) Jeanette raised four boys, and at the age of 55 decided to become a nomad of the sea. For the past fifteen years, she has been living on her boat “Ariel,” a Down Easter, 38 foot sloop and migrating up and down the Queensland coast. Simply amazing. Simply the best.

Pretty idyllic all around, but as we all know too well, “Into each life some rain must fall.”  Literally, this is the rain forest. It rains.  Metaphorically, this is life.  Shit happens.  The day after Paul and Lani left for vacation, I drove Paul’s car to a busy gas station and … backed into the car behind me.  Not just any dumpy, beater car, it had to some bloke’s just restored 1971 Camaro.  He was not happy.  I felt really stupid, but I had to learn (once more) to forgive myself. We all do stupid things. It’s part of the human condition.

Several hundreds of dollars and a bartered painting later(I decided to be gracious about it), I tried to figure out what I was supposed to learn from this.  The best I can figure is this: first, if you are offered the use of a car, be sure to check that your name has been added to the insurance policy; second, I realized that I can be rather cheap with myself in an effort to save money, but I control nothing! Life deals you a hand and you have to play it, or in this case pay it.

Needless to say I was a little skittish about driving again (but I did…staying left).


Part 2: Finding a Sanctuary at Sanctuary in the Pocket–stay tuned 🙂






A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out!

Australia’s Beautiful beaches: Ettalong Beach, a quaint vacation spot, just north of Sydney.


The 2016 Surf Life-Saving Championships at Umina/Ocean Beach, in Ettalong  just north of Sydney.

There is no shortage of beaches in this part of the world, and Australia is home to approximately 10,000!  Popular beaches to visit in Sydney are Manly and Bondi, both beautiful but very crowded. A little further north and just an hour’s drive from Sydney’s CBD is Ettalong Beach, a relaxed little enclave, and for many Sydney natives, a favorite summer vacation spot growing up.

I had plans to do some house sitting further north in Byron Bay, but I wasn’t expected for another week. A couple of friends confirmed that this was a nice place to visit, so I checked the BroadsAbroad.net site and found Ally.

My trip involved taking the train from Wynyard Station in Sydney to Woy Woy then  catching  a bus to Ocean Road in Ettalong.  Ally wasn’t expecting me until after 4pm, and always early, I had time to kill in Woy Woy.

A byproduct of this nine month adventure has been an exercise in patience– not one of my strong suits. Waiting for flights, trains, buses, hosts, check in times…waiting, waiting, waiting. It’s been a real lesson in acceptance and letting go.  I’ve also become quite comfortable dealing with new and novel situations.  That feral cat fear is slowly being tamed a little more each day.

When I did arrive, I was greeted by Vic, Ally’s husband,  who informed me that she was in  bed suffering from a severe migraine. An affable guy, we chatted a while, and then he showed me to my room with its own private bath.  Not wanting to be in the way, I decided to take a walk and explore the area.

The town of Ettalong is set right on the waterfront and a short walk from Vic and Ally’s place. The esplanade takes you along one side of a lovely cove where boats lazily cruise about. Enjoying this tranquil scene after the brash, noisy city of Sydney, and hearing the low, murmuring sounds of boat engines off in the distance, made me a little wistful and nostalgic for my long ago, childhood summers spent on Lake Cobbosseeconte in Maine.

When I returned, Ally materialized, and I was met with a tall, willowy blonde draped in brightly printed shorts and tank top–the proverbial surfer girl!  My first impression was a good one, as I found out that becoming a surfer is a long term goal of hers.  For many years, she and Vic longed to move from the colder climate west of Canberra to the warmer central coast of New South Wales, and they made that happen three years ago taking out a  substantial mortgage to realize their dream, yet not compromising their life style which includes working part-time. It’s worked for them.  They love it here.

I’m reminded of my brother Jake and sister-in-law Lauryn’s three life rules to live by: 1. always write a thank-you note; 2. always wear a good pair of shoes; and 3. never let money get in the way of what you really want.  I’ve embraced these rules myself (except my shoes at this writing are looking a little shoddy).  There’s never enough money, there’s never the right time. You have to listen to that voice deep inside and just DO IT!  And then prepare yourself to make new friends. They will appear.


Taken by Vic, a selfie of me, Tarni (Ally) and Vic.

True to her ever expanding self, Ally decided she wanted a new name and has chosen the Maori name Tarni, which means salty water. An array of interesting new friends have entered into Tarni’s life, and feeling better the next morning, she invited me to join her and her group, who call themselves Waves of Wisdom or WOW for short, for a swim at Avoca Beach, famous for its great surfing.

This golden, sandy beach is patrolled by members of the Avoca Beach Surf Life Saving Club who put up a set of flags each day indicating where it is safe to swim. On this day the seas were roiling, and we were only allowed to swim between a very narrow section.  While Tarni’s friend Chris, a life long surfer, tackled the high waves, a few of us went swimming and were not only dragged outward by the strong undertow but also pummeled by high breaking walls of water, tossed ashore like so much abandoned cargo. I’ve never taken in so much sand or had so much fun!  What a workout.


A shot of Avoca Beach and flags showing the safe swimming area.

After swimming, others joined us for coffee and conversation, reminding me of my own special group of dear friends back home dubbed The Coffee Girls.

Since Tarni had to take it easy for the rest of the day, her friend Nikki offered to take me to Bouddi National Park nearby for a hike and a picnic. Armed with great snacks and lots of sunscreen,  we climbed up to spectacular views of cliffs and more golden beaches below while Nikki educated me about the many different species of trees and the diverse landscape.

I was lucky that during my three day stay, the New South Wales Surf Life Saving Championships were going on in Ettalong on Umina Beach, another short walk away.

Surf Life Saving is one of Australia’s largest volunteer organizations. These volunteer, life guard groups help keep beaches safe. A whole sport has developed as a result, and for nine days every year, up to 7000 members from Australia’s 313 surf clubs, along with over 600 volunteer officials come together to compete. This uniquely Australian organization brings together people of all ages and looks like a great way to make new friends and do important work.

Making new friends has certainly been a hallmark of this trip.  I regretted leaving this relaxing paradise and saying goodbye to Tarni and Vic and their wonderful hospitality, but they assured me I was welcome anytime should I make my way back to the Sydney area.

I continue to stay in touch with Tarni on Facebook and was delighted to read recently that she caught her first “green wave,” an unbroken wave and not just white wash.  I wish I could have been there to witness her unbridled enthusiasm and excitement.  Once again, I end with a quote. This one is dedicated to Tarni:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”



A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains out!

Australia:  It’s BIG ASS and BAD ASS

(Australian friends, Bad Ass is slang in US for a good/cool thing!).


How do you keep her down on the farm after she’s seen Sydney?!

The city of Sydney, Australia, has a population of about 4.2 million people.  That’s a little daunting coming from New Zealand, whose total population is about 4.5 million.  I was faced with flying into Sydney at 8:30 in the evening, and after getting through customs, it would put me at 9:30 at night trying to figure out how to get from the airport to the Bounce Sydney Hostel. (It’s a good idea to book flights that arrive during the day—even if you have to pay a little more, I’ve learned).

Since this whole scenario was anxiety producing, I decided to check the Broadsabroad.net  site for hosts in Sydney. Low and behold, I got in touch with Colleen who immediately responded that I could cancel my hostel reservations and stay with her in the central business district (CBD) at her inner city apartment. She also stated we could break the three night stay rule and offered three additional nights while she was away for the weekend.  Wait.  There’s more: she volunteered to meet me at the airport!  This from a total stranger who’d I’d only messaged a few times. I’ve always thought I’d like to win the lottery, but, in fact, I have won—the lottery of meeting remarkable people.


Colleen, always ready for an adventure.

As I made my way through customs, there she was sporting a big grin; I liked her immediately. Colleen directed me to the train and we enjoyed a short ride stopping at many points of interest like Town Hall and the Circular Quay (the Sydney Harbor stop) before reaching our destination at Wynyard Station and Colleen’s tony apartment on the 4th floor of a former Presbyterian Church. Here I was in the ideal location and a short, five minute walk to the famous Sydney Harbor.

Colleen is a woman after my own hart.  A divorced, middle school math teacher with three grown children, she decided that the city is where she wanted to be, so she rented her home in the suburbs and made it happen. Colleen is bigger than life and beautifully bohemian in her attire and accessories.  If there is one word to describe her, it’s unflappable.

Having met her, I recalled a quote from Leonardo DiCaprio I’d read recently that resonated (and made me like him more):  “Every next level of your life will demand a different you.”  He’s right.  As we get older, our vision of ourselves should expand, not contract. Colleen…and, actually, all the women I’ve met… seem to embody that philosophy.

The next morning after Colleen headed to work, I headed out to explore.   Sydney’s happy vibe quickly cast its spell.

The harbor is smaller than I had imagined. It doesn’t overwhelm.  I actually felt like a kid again taking in, with childlike wonder, the bustling activity of ferries toting passengers to and fro, the latest cruise ship docked for a couple of days, tourists taking in the sights along the harbor promenade, outdoor cafes serving flat white coffees, buskers entertaining, and presiding majestically over all, the iconic Sydney Opera House.  Maybe it’s the warm weather and the fact that everything appears so clean, or maybe it’s the huge expanse of sunny skies over sparkling blue water…a feeling of lightness permeates this city.

Wanting a picture of myself with the Opera House behind me, I stopped and asked a young man, who seemed to be showing his mother and sister the sights. He flashed me a huge smile and enthusiastically told me he was from Thailand, and after five years, had just gotten his Australian passport. Australia has a universal visa system. All non citizens (excluding New Zealanders), must have a visa to get into the country.  Getting one can be tough, but I can see why people come visit and then want to stay.

For the next week, my days began at the Circular Quay (it’s addictive; you really just want to hang here and soak up the atmosphere) frequenting Starbucks (yes, I broke my own rule) because there is great internet and the employees don’t care how long you stay. There’s lots to do close by including the Botanical Gardens right on the edge of the harbor, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, and one of my favorites, the Museum of Contemporary Art and a terrific exhibition of work by Grayson Perry, Britain’s most acclaimed contemporary artist known for his ceramics and large scale tapestries.  A visual chronicler of popular culture, Perry has a shrewd humor and his work reflects many themes about what it is to be human.

I had to take a ferry ride, so I went to Luna Park on Sydney’s North shore and then strolled over to Lavender Bay and Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden. The widow of Australian artist Brett Whiteley, she has transformed what was originally a railway garbage dump into a sculpture garden and sanctuary right in the middle of the city.

Being in the city necessitates walking, and it felt like I clocked ten mile days that often stretched into evenings. But I always felt safe. In conversations with other foreign travelers, I’ve heard the same sentiment:  Australia feels safe. With strict gun laws and new alcohol initiatives enforced across Sydney and New South Wales (ie. a ban on takeaway alcohol sales after 10pm and 1:30am lockouts), I never felt uneasy. The threat of terrorism doesn’t seem to loom as heavily as it does in the US and Europe. People are friendly and accommodating, hence the lightness again.

Speaking of walking, I trekked from Wynyard Station all the way to Chinatown to get to the Powerhouse Museum, a trip well worth it. This museum of applied arts and sciences holds a wide array of treasures. On view was the world premier of an exhibition by artist Nathan Sawaya using hundreds of thousands of LEGO pieces, a beautiful exhibition of 70 garments designed by Australian fashion pioneer, Collette Dinnigan whose signature lace dresses have been favored by celebrities like Cate Blanchette and Taylor Swift, and a exhibition celebrating jewelry dating from antiquity to the present.

These wonderful places are available to any tourist with a brochure and the internet, but meeting  Colleen was what really enriched my stay.  After work one night, we took a ferry, this time from Darling Harbor, all the way to Sydney Olympic Park, built for the 2000 Olympics and now a suburb 10 miles west of Sydney, to have dinner with a couple of her friends.

While Colleen was away for the weekend, her friend Cecilia, who I’d met earlier in the week, invited me to the magical Blue Mountains, home to some of the most incredible scenery in Australia and less than two hours from Sydney by car. Having worked in this area for many years, Cecilia knew the region well and showed me the best viewing spots to see the blue-hazed beauty at Echo Point.

After a visit to Scenic World and a late lunch in Katoomba, Cecilia zoomed me back to my doorstep in Sydney in her Mazda sport’s convertible (I so appreciate great driving).  It just doesn’t get better than this.

I had to leave Colleen’s place, but I wasn’t ready to leave Sydney, so I booked a three day stay through airbnb  in nearby “chic, metro”Surrey Hills, right next to busy Central Station. Surrey Hills has a wonderful mix of cultures and a strong sense of community.  I was really excited to meet up with my young friend, Victoria on holiday from the Northern Territory in Kununurra, where I will be in June. I felt quite urbane meeting up for a drink in another neighborhood of this fabulous city.

WOWED is how I would describe my initial visit to this vast country with so much to see and experience (and I haven’t even mentioned the beaches yet).  This quote from Mark Twain comes to mind:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Cut the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Sailing from my safe harbor…what a good idea.

A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out!

Christchurch, Akaroa, and, sadly, goodbye to New Zealand!


The TranzAlpine Train from Greymouth on the west coast back to Christchurch and east coast.

My trip across the country and visits to Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph Glacier were a bit of a bust as it poured buckets my entire stay. When I mentioned the weather to a clerk at the general store at Fox, his apt response was, “What do you expect; It’s the rain forest.”  Holed up at the Holiday Park resort in a small cabin for two days, I looked at the bright side and decided it was a good time to read and quietly reflect!  Still raining as I headed north to Greymouth for two additional days, I looked forward to the scenic and relaxing ride on the TransAlpine Train back east to Christchurch.

Christchurch was not a much anticipated city to visit on my itinerary of what to see in the South Island.  It was simply a destination because it was where I would fly out of NZ to Sydney, Australia. To confirm this indifference, I had met a couple of travelers who had recently been there, and they kind of made a face and shrugged it off as being still in ruins  and still very much under construction.  And then I met Ashley who showed me the real Christchurch and the strong and hopeful people who call it home.

I was ready for a little company, and since I had such great experiences with the “Broads Abroad” friends I had made in Wellington, I contacted Ashley–who had recently relocated to her home town– and requested a stay. She readily agreed and mentioned that the next day was the fifth anniversary of the 2011 earthquake, and would I like to go with her to the River of Flowers memorial where she would be speaking, one of many memorials being held in different parts of the city.  Indeed, I would.

On February 22, 2011, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake occurred on a fault line that was shallow and close to the city of Christchurch killing 182 people, 115 of whom died when the six story Canterbury Television (CTV) building collapsed. It was particularly devastating because it happened at 12:55 PM while people were still at work and children were at school.  As a result of the quake, 7000 people lost their homes and many still have unresolved insurance claims. More than half of the buildings in the central business district have since had to be demolished.

Ashley was kind enough to meet me at the train station(we were an hour late!), and then took me on a tour of the city. It was immediately evident that this vibrant person loved her city, was very civic minded, and was committed to seeing it restored to its former glory. My first impression was that this city was one big construction zone with many buildings left standing in the same condition since the quake. It will take years to completely restore the city’s electricity and water networks to pre earthquake  standards. Huge cranes fill the sky, street access changes daily, and what was unsettling was the fact that the city had just experienced a 4.5 quake the week before! This shook up quite a few people.


The crumbled remains of Christchurch Cathedral. The debate continues whether it should be restored.

At the River of Flowers memorial the next day, people gathered for a moment of silence at 12:51. Ashley said a few words and then invited people to toss flowers into the river and write small notes of hope and remembrance. It was moving to listen to first hand accounts of that day from several local residents. Across the street was a former neighborhood, now empty land designated as the red zone. There are several of these “red zones” throughout the city, and the council has yet to figure out what to do  with these large tracks of land.

I spent the next two days exploring the CBD (central business district), a nice 25 minute walk or short bus ride from Ashley’s home. The city gets an A+ for resilience:  Amidst the rebuilding, life goes on. Who would have thought to construct a new retail section called The Re:Start Mall out of colorful shipping containers?

There is plenty of work available in Christchurch. Approximately 1,100 commercial buildings were lost in the quake.  If the number of cranes is any indication, New Zealand’s second largest city has lots of employment opportunities and has drawn workers from other countries.  As an interesting aside, an article in the local paper caught my eye: ” Late-Night Crane Climbers Putting Themselves at Risk.” It seems that all those cranes at all those construction sites inspire selfies.  Alcohol is usually involved.  Isn’t is comforting to know that we are just one big human family. To quote Maya Angelou: “…we are more alike than we are unalike.”


Don’t we just love heavy equipment.

Christchurch can still be called the Garden City of New Zealand. Hagley Park, roughly 400 acres, is home to the Botanical Gardens left seemingly untouched by the damage. At the edge of the park is the Canterbury Museum, a good place to explore the country’s cultural and natural heritage. It’s also a good place for school kids to hang out. While I was there, a group of boys from Christ’s College were running about in their distinctive uniforms (all school children wear uniforms).  Coupled with the building’s Gothic Revival character, it felt like scene out of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 8.31.26 PM

Would we have fewer behavior problems in school with uniforms like this?

Right in the same neighborhood I was lucky find the newly reopened public Christchurch Art Gallery. The gallery became the Civil Defense headquarters for seven months after the earthquake and then needed extensive work. Housing one of the largest art collections in New Zealand, it has everything from contemporary sculptures to twentieth century Canterbury landscape paintings. Just as impressive and a work of art is the building itself, a massive metal and glass structure with front courtyard.


Christchurch Art Gallery.

What a difference it made seeing this bustling city with Ashley.  She provided me with a more intricate and personal perspective and shared interesting anecdotes like the one that pulled at my lapsed- Catholic heart strings.  Legend has it that the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, also severely damaged by the earthquake, had a statue of the Blessed Virgin in front of the middle window on the second floor, facing into the church with outstretched arms. After the quake, she, remarkably, was completely turned around–undamaged–facing out leading people to believe she now protects the city!


Catholic Cathedral generally held to be the finest renaissance-style building in NZ.

I had a few more days in NZ before leaving for Sydney, so I opted to go back to Akaroa and the Banks peninsula for four days, one of my favorite places. Just an hour and a half south of Christchurch, Akaroa is a historic French settlement and a weekend getaway for many in Christchurch. It’s an enchanting place, and I was able to rent the same second story, self contained unit with French doors that open up to a private little  balcony in the turret.  Akaroa has a scenic harbor and beach, and the village has a lovely harbor promenade with cafes, boutiques, and galleries that showcase local arts and crafts. It even has its own cooking school in town.

There’s plenty to do including harbor cruises to see dolphins, great walking tracks, a movie theater and library. I would have been happy to stay another week, but it was time to head back to Christchurch.

Ashley was kind enough to have me back for another night in Christchurch, so I could get my flight to Sydney the next day. How incredibly lucky to have met such an intelligent, beautiful, and accomplished woman. How incredibly lucky to now call her my friend.

Although I was excited…and a little anxious…. to be flying to the big city of Sydney (4.2 million people), it was with sadness that I was leaving this tiny country with the big heart I have come to know and love. This quote by Lawrence Durrell says it best:

“It is a pity indeed to travel and not get this essential sense of landscape values. You do not need a sixth sense for it. It is there if you just close your eyes and breathe softly through your nose; you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I am watching you — are you watching yourself in me?’ Most travelers hurry too much…the great thing is to try and travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open, and not too much factual information. To tune in, without reverence, idly — but with real inward attention. It is to be had for the feeling…you can extract the essence of a place once you know how. If you just get as still as a needle, you’ll be there.”
Lawrence Durrell, Spirit Of Place: Letters And Essays On Travel

New Zealand is a magical place.  I will be back.

A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out! Traveling Solo at 63 for Nine Months in New Zealand and Australia…on a Budget!

To the South Island of New Zealand on the Interislander Ferry!


The stunning harbor of Picton in the South Island with the Interislander Ferry in the background.


In order to get to the South Island of New Zealand, you can either fly or take a cruise on one the world’s great ferry rides from Wellington to Picton. This three hour journey across Cook Strait has something for everyone including food and beverage facilities, children play areas, WiFi, and, of course, spectacular sight seeing. Aratere is one of three ships that carries up to 600 people, 31 staff, 32 train cars, and 1000 vehicles. Fortunately, it was a sunny, calm day for the crossing as it can become quite rough when windy and stormy!

Friends in both Wellington and Rotorua advised me where to visit while in the South Island, and the city of Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park nearby were high on their lists.  I had made arrangements to spend the night in Picton and then possibly rent a car to get to Nelson, but there wasn’t a car to be had upon arriving in Picton. I know I wanted to stay in Nelson for a few days and visit Abel Tasman National Park, so I booked an interesting accommodation called the INNBetween Lodge and Backpackers. After visiting the i Site center and setting up a combination boat cruise and day hike to Tasman and a car rental for after my stay in Nelson, it was back on the bus.

Nelson’s population runs about 60,000 and is known as an artsy kind of place attracting  creative people who work with glass, stone, metal, wood, clay, paint, fabric, and paper. The city center has a beautiful, pedestrian-friendly Trafalgar Street lined with cafes, restaurants, shops, galleries, and boasts the shop of the gold and silversmith, Jens Hanson, creator of THE ring for the Lord of the Rings movies.  At the end of the street is the imposing Nelson Christ Church Cathedral.


I was happy to find that the INNBetween Lodge was right around the corner from the cathedral close to everything.  Wayne and his wife Ann own the lodge and take pride in what they’ve created. Having under gone a big renovation recently and decorated by Ann, I  was shown my small but beautifully appointed single room with shared bath for the night. My remaining nights would be a bunk bed( I made sure I got the bottom bunk)  in a six bed dorm room aptly entitled the “Audrey Hepburn” room done in shades of turquoise and lavender. Sharing a hostel dorm room was a first for me, and my lucky day, as I got to meet two young women solo travelers, Nina from Iceland and Emily from France. Later in the week there were two women my age who joined us late in the night, so hostel dorms  are not just for the young.

At one point I decided I wanted a single room to myself for a night and booked another small motel operated by a woman with ties to Maine and whose family had owned the French and Brawn store in Camden. Small world. She also happened to be a blessing in disguise as the next morning while trying to open a plastic shampoo packet with my teeth, I chipped a front tooth!  She knew to call the hospital emergency room to locate the dentist on call for Saturday–yes the weekend!  I had a sinking feeling this might be expensive, but imagine my amazement when I got an appointment early that very afternoon and my front tooth expertly repaired to the tune of $100! That’s $67.00 USD.

Nelson really is a lovely place. Only a short walk from the city center is the Queen’s Gardens, opened in 1891 to commemorate the 50th jubilee of Queen Victoria’s coronation. This Victorian styled garden with paths that meander through a combination of native tall trees and formal plantings of annuals and perennials that edge the serpentine Eel Pond, once considered an ugly mud hole, is a refuge for many city dwellers.  On the other side of the pond is the Suter Gallery, closed for renovation, but there is a temporary location in the city center.  Just beyond the Gardens is what’s called the Center of New Zealand, a short hike up to a fabulous look-out of the city and beyond and considered the geographical center of the country.


Nelson claims having the sunniest weather in the country (Whakatane and Napier in the North Island claim this also!), and that was certainly the case when I visited. It was another perfect day of sunshine to visit Abel Tasman National Park. The Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle picked me and another guest up at the lodge to take us to Kaiteriteri to catch our boat for a full day combination cruise up the park, and a four hour hike to the South Head lookout, over the magical Falls River Swing Bridge, and to Cleopatra’s Pool before being picked up at Anchorage Beach. Many hiking enthusiasts do a five day hike of the park with overnights at huts or camping out along the way.  I think I’ve discovered where Gilligan, Skipper, Maryann and crew were ship wrecked all those years long ago!

Nelson also has a great movie theater, so I decided to see The Revenant, touted as being “violence porn” by some critics ( a Game of Thrones fan… not deterred).  But I loved it because the cinematography was so visually stunning and rivaled its human counter parts for the leading role.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been exposed to such dramatic vistas everyday here in NZ.  I feel my senses are more acute since being on the road. I’m in my head less and in my heart more.

Since I needed to plan the remainder of my South Island visit, I was back at the ubiquitous Site center for some help. I was hoping to continue west and then head south to Franz Joseph Glacier and Queenstown but quickly found out that lodging was booked in these popular areas.  Still the high summer season, there was some big triathlon going on, and it was Chinese New Year to boot. I had read recently in a local paper that holiday arrivals in NZ were up 16.2 percent this year bringing in 220,000 extra visitors. The South Island demographic has also changed with Chinese tourism up 50 percent! With the helpful agent’s assistance and what we could find for lodging, I planned to head down the east coast to Kaikoura for two nights at the Lady Shagg hostel (the name should have been a warning), on past the city of Christchurch for a night in Akaroa (a great find!).  I would then drive across the South Island over the famous Arthur’s Pass to the west coast and spend two nights at Fox Glacier before heading north to Greymouth and taking the TranzAlpine Train back east to Christchurch.

Due to limited accommodations in the south, I happily spent another night in Nelson and was able to attend The Nelson Opera in the Park event. Camped out in the early evening with about 7,000 others, I got to experience a real family- friendly show that not only featured six opera numbers accompanied by the Wellington Symphony Orchestra, but also showcased the popular Modern Maori Quartet, the Wellington Choir, and several contemporary numbers that included the Beach Boys and the Moody Blues.  All this under the lights with a grand finale fireworks show.

It was finally time to say goodby to Nelson and the INNBetween Lodge (where a number of young guests were staying on) but not before Wayne advised me to go to the WOW (World of WearableaArt) & Classic Cars Museum.  This unique museum has on display the winning entries from the annual international design competition and exhibition extravaganza  held in Wellington each year.  Artists from around the world compete for over $165,000 in prize money and internships with leading creative companies like Weta Workshop, and will likely become costume and set designers of the future. Check out the WOW video of a spectacular exhibition. An exhibition tour this year includes a stop at the EMP Museum in Seattle in July 2016! ( Oh, the collection of classic cars was impressive too.)

It was great to be at the helm of a rented car again, taking my time with only check -in and check-out times to consider.  But it wasn’t long before I was reminded of the white-knuckle driving in store as I headed across the country on a narrow, two lane highway through Arthur’s Pass….in the pouring rain…with monster trucks as company. I’m not a gamer, but this was like PlayStation Driver trying to avoid sudden hazards ahead all the while being distracted by the panoramic views. Take your eyes off the road for a few seconds, and it’s GAME OVER!

I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “Do one thing everyday that scares you.”

It’s good advice. I met the challenge that day.


A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out!



On the waterfront in the city center of Wellington on a summer afternoon.

Wellington is one cool city. Located at the southern most tip of the North Island, New Zealand’s compact capital city has a population of about 254,000 people and is the third largest city after Auckland, also in the North Island, and Christchurch in the South Island.  It is home to Peter Jackson and to booming digital technology businesses like Weta Workhop and Weta Digital , and Wellingtonians even brag that they have more cafes, bars, and restaurants per capita than New York City. What’s more, the drinking age is eighteen and prostitution is legal. Wellington is also where you take the Interislander Ferry across Cook’s Strait to Picton and the South Island.


Since I had been on my own for several days and heading to a “big” city, I thought it might be a good idea to access a social media site called “Broads Abroad” I discovered just before leaving the states. Created by an Aussie woman, this female only online social network lists opportunities for members traveling solo to stay free of charge with other like-minded women all over the world. Since this sounded like the kind of authentic travel experience I was after, I applied to the site and was accepted.

I emailed and requested a two night stay with Ellie and a three night(maximum )stay with  Katie before continuing my journey on the ferry to the South Island.  They both readily agreed to host me!  Ellie even offered to pick me up at the station when I arrived and invited me to dinner with a friend of hers who happened to be celebrating a birthday. I can’t tell you what a comfort it was to be greeted by the beautiful, smiling face of a friendly local! Rob and Ellie chauffeured me around the city showing me the landmarks and then took me to dinner at a favorite spot located on the iconic Cuba Street. Call it serendipity: we three Aquarians celebrated birthdays on the third, fourth, and sixth of February!


Celebrating birthdays with Rob and and my host,Ellie.

Ellie’s lovely home in Khandallah, is just outside the city center and up in the hills with a spectacular view. Ellie has an advanced degree in journalism and now works in her “dream job” writing, revising, and editing documents for members of Parliament. In addition to Ellie’s great company, I got to meet her gracious kids, eighteen-year-old son Max and twenty-three-year-old daughter Maddie who helped me with bus schedules and places to see. A must see in Wellington is the city’s world famous, national museum Te Papa (it’s free), a recognized leader in “interactive and visitor focused experiences.” I spent almost five hours visiting the five different levels that featured the geological, cultural, and social history of the country, a Dreamworks Animation exhibit, and a moving exhibit marking the centenary of the WWl  Gallipoli campaign with spectacular, life-like sculptures created by Weta Workshop.


Te Papa, Wellington’s world famous national museum.


Giant Sculptures at the Gallipoli:The Scale of Our War exhibit (2.4 times human size) created by Weta Workhop.


The City Gallery, Wellington


A short walk from the museum took me to the City Gallery of contemporary art and an interesting show of 1960s Auckland when its population had just surpassed half a million (now almost a half of the entire population of NZ lives in Auckland!) seen in photographs, film, and paintings, condemned at the time for being “too gritty and bohemian.” After making my way back to Khandallah, Ellie made me a great dinner, and we enjoyed a visit with her brother, Hamish and neighbor, George. The next morning before I left and Ellie went to work, I also met her father. Experiencing this small slice of her close family life made saying goodby all the more poignant… I was leaving a friend.

And then I met Katie…. and had what I call my first travel disaster.

Katie asked me to meet her just outside the city, so I took the local bus and hoped I was getting off at the right stop. I had a moments conscious thought that I should keep my arm through the strap of my backpack.  With all my gear, I didn’t want to leave anything behind.  But anxiety got the better of me. My arm came out of the strap, and that heedful thought became an undetected blip off the radar. When I got to my stop, I just grabbed my suitcase, handbag, and lumbered quickly off the bus.  Moments later standing on the busy highway, a strong physical tremor of shock registered (about a 5.8);  I realized I had left my backpack–containing my laptop– on the bus! Dread overtook me. My laptop was my lifeline these many months! But the funny thing is, at the same time another thought popped into my head that this was somehow going to be OK?!  Angel speak?

Having never met Katie, I ran to her car and met her with the panicked words that I’d screwed up and left my backpack on the bus.  Without missing a beat, she punched some numbers into her cell, got connected to the Metro, identified the bus driver from the number on my ticket, and found they had my backpack! (When I mentioned this later to other New Zealanders, they were not surprised it was turned in.)

That’s Katie–a -take- charge-competent-“no flies on her”- kind of person. Active in her community, a busy realtor, and a part-time guide at Zealandia, the world’s first fully fenced urban ecosanctuary, Katie was not only hosting me for three days, but was also hosting a young Japanese student Tamami studying at the university for two weeks.


With my host Katie at her Brooklyn home in the suburbs of Wellington.


At Katie’s home with Tamami from Japan.

Katie’s home is located in the Wellington suburb of Brooklyn (they have a  Central Park), a short walk to the central business district. Also located right down the street is a great movie theater called the Penthouse with nine theaters, a great selection of movies, and, of course, a terrific cafe. I satisfied my movie cravings and saw the movie Brooklyn and The Big Short. Another special treat was a unique night tour of Zealandia set up by Katie. Armed with torch lights with red filters, our guide took us through the special predator exclusion fence and we looked at birds and listed to birdsong that has been absent on mainland New Zealand for more than a century. The big thrill was actually seeing the nearly extinct, flightless, nocturnal Kiwi bird.

Wanting to be useful, the following night I went with Katie to a “client appreciation” party she was giving in town and helped out by selling raffle tickets. I met her aunt and several of her friends who were genuinely interested in what I was doing and extremely helpful  giving me the inside scoop of where to stay and what to see when in the South Island.

Experiencing all these wonderful places has been exciting, but what has really moved me are these exceptional women who have invited me, a perfect stranger, into their lives and homes. I feel like the ancient traveler experiencing the tradition of stopping in a strange city, and when asking for a room for the night, given unconditional hospitality.

It has taught me to trust people. I don’t mean be naive about it. But trust people until they give you a reason not to because the majority of people are good and want to give and be of service in some way. When you just let go, remain open, and become a little vulnerable, some amazing things happen.

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
― Ernest Hemingway







A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out!

After a couple of years of deep contemplation, I decided that I was tired of living a life of quiet desperation. So after 18 years of teaching English at a public high school, I took my retirement( probably not the best idea financially) and set myself free—free to do what??

I don’t like to use the word “retired” because I am far from being retired, but rather reinventing myself once again. As Of October 1, I rented my home for a year and have taken the advice of a well-traveled friend from Down Under and decided to do some solo traveling to New Zealand, Australia, and possibly Bali. Real traveling, where you go slowly, get to meet people, and explore the culture.

According to my friend, traveling solo is the way to go at our age. It seems like a gutsy move, yet on the other hand, you aren’t hindered by others’ schedules, quirks, and annoying habits; you’re only hindered by your own—and there’s the rub.  Can you live with yourself and your behaviors when faced with a stressful situation and no one else to rely on? That is part of the challenge and the thrill of adventure that is calling me–a real exercise in mindfullness.  I want to shake things up, I want to become more conscious of the beauty around me, I want to test the mettle.

I guess I was ready to undertake this. It was only one week into September when I decided to notify a few realtors about renting my home( my original mixed media painting above). The next thing I knew, the first people who looked at it wanted it, and I had to be out in two and a half weeks. One yard sale later and my belongings stored hither and thither, I find myself sharing the home of a generous girlfriend and making concrete plans. My new tenants even have a friend and connection living in Bali.  The universe is complying.

My Aussie friend has been a huge help sending lots of interesting web sites and putting me in touch with contacts in New Zealand and Australia. There are also an abundance of travel resources for solo women travelers. A particularly good one is Women on the Road, www.women-on-the-road.com. This site has everything from the 10 essentials you need to have ( Pacsafe Citysafe bag) to what and how to pack.  Another site of interest is Workaway.info where hosts from around the world offer food and lodging in exchange for 4 to 5 hours of work each day. It is probably geared more for the 18 to 30 crowd, but what the heck! I joined the site and created a profile. I have an interesting anecdote to tell but will save that for next time.

In the meantime, my friends are a bit blown away by my sudden plans, and a few are even inspired. When my 25 year-old son learned of my plans, he responded with “Go for it, Mom!” I’m going for it.