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.

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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!

Napier: The Art Deco Capital


On the waterfront promenade along the Marine Parade.


It’s amazing how attached you can become to a place after spending a few days and regret leaving when it is time to move on. But then I arrived in Napier. Is it possible  you can fall in love with one town or city only to find that the next is even better?

Napier is a city seaport of about 58,0000 people located in what’s called Hawke’s Bay, a large, semi-circular bay that dominates the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island.  In 1931, it suffered a devastating earthquake that took 265 lives and destroyed the vast majority of buildings in the commercial district. (Nine thousand eight hundred acres of now Napier were undersea before the earth quake raised it above sea level!)  Rebuilding began almost immediately and reflected the popular architectural style of the times, Art Deco.  As a result, Napier has the most comprehensive collection of inner city Art Deco buildings in the world.

Getting off the bus and trying to locate accommodations in any new place can be somewhat daunting, especially shouldering a heavy backpack, toting a handbag, and wheeling a suitcase. I knew the hostel in town was close by, so without a map I spied a young cab driver sitting in his car and asked directions.  Maybe it was information overload–all this “newness” again– but my mind just couldn’t make the call; I was dialing up a busy signal. What I wanted was someone to simply take control and deposit me there!  Five bucks later, I got a few sight seeing tips and was plunked right at the front door of the Criterion Backpackers.

Formerly a hotel built in the Art Deco style with a second floor balcony running across the front, I found a “weathered” albeit  welcoming place. I was taken to my single room with a double bed and sink located right across the hall from the shared bathrooms, then shown the living room with pool table, kitchen facilities, and, best of all, a large dining room where in off hours, I could practice being extroverted or just work comfortably alone. Oh… this place also offered a breakfast of all the toast you can eat with butter, jam, peanut butter,  dry and hot cereal, and tea and coffee (instant, but who cares). Best of all, it was a minute’s walk up the street to the i Site Visitor’s Center and the tree-lined waterfront promenade on the Marine Parade.


Criterion Backpackers on the guided walking tour of the Art Deco inner city.


The dining room at the Criterion Backpackers

Napier feels very much like a resort with palm trees that line the city, and the Marine Parade, with its various parks, gardens, and memorials, that runs along the shore of the city.  This makes it perfect for long walks, people-watching, and one of my favorite things to do– lounge, ponder, and drink coffee– at one of the many cafes. My pick for best cafe is the Cafe Divine whose motto is: Coffee is our lover.”


The Cafe Divine is divine.

When you pay and place an order at any of the cafes in New Zealand, you are given a number which you place on a small, metal stand and take to your seat, so your order can be delivered. There is no tipping here (including cab drivers and house keeping staff). People make a decent minimum wage.

Every city has its criticisms, whether it be a sculpture considered “art” or some other expenditure of taxpayer dollars that residents find questionable. Napier has its “viewing platform.”  Completed recently to the tune of 1.4 million to cover an unsightly storm water pipe on the shoreline, it looks like a pier, but it isn’t one and will always sit on dry land except when there’s a storm.  To extend it further out in the ocean and allow fishing and boating opportunities would cost the city significantly. The local news did a humorous piece on this the other day emphasizing the play on words Napier–Na  pier (no pier) and funny quips from interviews with different residents. Kiwis have a great sense of humor and can laugh at themselves.  People either love the platform or hate it. I rather liked it.


Napier’s “viewing platform..”

Since Napier is all about Art Deco style ( stream-lined and geometric shapes), the first thing I did was to take a two and a half hour guided tour around the city to view the architecture discovering that many examples incorporated Maori motifs. The tours cost $20. (NZ), and guides appeared to be retirees with a passion for history and their city.  Maybe we should offer tours like these in Hallowell during the summer months?!  If you happen to be here in mid February, there is the Art Deco  Weekend, a whole week of celebrations and events where everyone dresses up in 1930s styles.

Napier and the whole Hawke’s Bay area is wine country with dozens and dozens of wineries including the oldest, The Mission Estate–recommended by that earlier cab driver. Wine tours are very popular and would have been interesting to visit, but since I don’t drink, I didn’t see the point when I couldn’t participate in all that tasting (my apologies to all my southern Maine wine-tasting-group-friends who would have loved a NZ Sav Blanc!).

One thing I was intrigued to see was Cape Kidnappers.  An agent at the i Site Center highly recommended an overland, guided tour run by Gannet Safaris, that included seeing not only the 5000 acre Cape Kidnappers Station, but also the largest mainland nesting place of gannets (20,000) in the world. Gannets are members of the Booby family(!) with distinctive black eye markings and a pale gold crown and live to be on average 25 to 40 years old!

With a name like Cape Kidnappers, there has to be a story… In 1767 a young Tahitian servant on board Captain Cook’s ship Endeavor, which was landed at the headland, was kidnapped while swimming and taken on board a  Maori fishing canoe. Shots were fired and several Maori were killed and the boy was rescued, hence the name.

I was picked up at the i Site Center and met Jo, a get-right-to-business, wiry, handsome woman, who would serve as our tour guide.  Along with four other couples and another single woman from New Zealand, we boarded the small coach with me riding shot gun getting the best view.  (One guy worked somewhere in northern Canada, and for every three years of work he puts in, he gets one year off with pay. His wife told me she agreed to marry him with the stipulation that he takes her somewhere warm each winter.  Must be cold…and isolated!)

It was a half hour’s drive to the base at TeAwanga, and since this is private property, we had to be buzzed in at the gate. Cape Kidnappers Station is a “farm” of over 5000 acres with ocean boundaries on two sides. What followed was a three hour trip traversing riverbeds, broad rolling pastures, through stands of native bush, steep gullies, and really scary inclines… there are always scary inclines…all accompanied by Jo’s fascinating commentary.

Jo, herself, was intriguing. There was something I intuited about this woman’s intense affect and look in her eyes when she was describing this rugged coastal property that suggested this was more than just a job: she knew and loved the land. I ended up being right when I found out from the other single woman on board that Jo had confided to her during our tea/coffee break that her brother had been the previous owner. After a year of negotiations, he sold the place to a New York billionaire named Julius Robertson, with the provision that the family continue to have access over the land to continue their  Gannet Safaris business.

The new owner has built an eighteen hole golf course ranked 16th in the world. I think it was sarcasm when Jo mentioned that she’d heard there was a greenskeeper for each hole! The course is open to the public with a greens fee that runs $400. (NZ); Kiwis can play for $200. The views are absolutely spectacular. The new owner also funds a bird sanctuary on the property and erected an elaborate fence created to keep predators out. Feral cats have joined the list that also includes rats, possum, and stoats( part of the weasel/ferret family) that have contributed to the decline of many native birds including the kiwi.

Later, back in town, it was walking, walking, and more walking just soaking up the sunshine and beautiful landscapes.  I recently read this quote from a blog that aptly sums up how I am feeling these days:

“There are three things we cry for in life: things that are lost, things that are found, and things that are magnificent.”
― Douglas Coupland


A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out!

Rotorua: New Kiwi Friends & A Hotbed of Activity in the North Island


Okere Falls, Rotorua , one of the best rafting places in NZ, boasts the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall at almost 23 feet and is a short hike from Mal and Jen’s home!

One of the reasons I decided to travel alone was that I wanted to meet people and explore the culture. If I was traveling with one or two other friends, I don’t think I would have had the invitation to come and spend a few days with Kiwi natives, Malcolm and Jenny, who I met during my visit with Val in Whakatane.

Mal and Jenny are world travelers who rent their home or do house exchanges which enable them to experience a new place for months at a time. They are both a wealth of information and tell insightful travel stories not only about their native country, but also about  Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States. On a visit to D.C. they were hijacked by a taxi driver who threatened to drop them off in a bad part of town unless they paid ten times the fare, and because of a bad experience at L.A.X. airport with an incredibly rude customs agent who treated these intelligent people like morons, they now fly into Vancouver, British Columbia, when entering the U.S. or Canada (this doesn’t speak well, does it). And yes, when I reveal I’m an American, I get asked about “The Donald.” It’s embarrassing.

Mal and Jen's home on Lake Rotoriti in Okere Falls, Rotoru

Mal and Jen’s home on Lake Rotoiti (meaning little lake–13 miles!) in Okere Falls, Rotoru. Glad I brought my togs (swimsuit)!

Enjoying another great meal prepared by Jenny

Enjoying another great meal prepared by Jenny. I do the clean-up!

Malcolm’s expertise is in transportation, overseeing and maintaining the painting of those yellow and white stripe, highway markings (Kiwis have emotionally intelligent road signs like: Other people make mistakes. Slow down  Eyes on the road. Focus on the drive), while Jenny is a retired elementary teacher/principal, who really knows how to get kids to problem solve on their own with fun, hands-on lessons. Judging by her beautiful flower, fruit, and vegetable gardens, she nurtures nature as well as young minds.

Together, they spent a year in Ontario, Canada, while Jenny was on a teacher exchange and got to experience a full season of winter.  A really good question they often ask people when abroad is, ” What makes you a Canadian/Italian/Croatian”? By the way, asking, and just plain creating questions is really important. According to the book The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, authors Edward Burger and Michael Starbird state:

Constantly formulating and raising questions is a mind-opening habit that forces you to have a deeper engagement with the world and a different inner experience.  Asking yourself challenging questions can help you reveal hidden assumptions, avoid bias, expose vagueness, identify errors, and consider alternatives. Generating questions can help direct your next steps toward deeper understanding and creative problem solving. (74)

When they put that question (What makes you a Canadian?) to Canadians, nine times out of ten, their first response was, “Well, we’re not American.” Canadians are proud of their heritage and don’t like being seen as just a northern appendage of the US.  Mal and Jenny put that challenging question –What makes you an American ?– to me, and I have to tell you, I really had to think about it and came up with:  We have a real can do attitude, we’re creative entrepreneurs and have a great system of democracy, but we’re also a little self absorbed with blinders on and don’t know a whole lot about other cultures or the rest of the world. If a foreigner were to ask you that question, how would you respond?  I’d like to know!  I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions lately, but I digress….

Rotorua, famous for its sparkling lakes, mountain biking terrain, and geothermal attractions, is just a twenty minute drive from Jen and Mal’s home in Okere Falls. Right in the city center is a park on the shore of Lake Rotorua, dotted with geothermal hot spots and bubbling mud holes. Driving into town on most days, you can really notice the “unique” eggy smell, which is associated with hydrogen sulphide (H2S).


City park in Rotorua featuring one of geothermal spots.

A recommended, guided tour I took was to Wai-O-Tapu (Sacred Waters) dubbed the “thermal wonderland.” It’s about a twenty minute ride from Rotorua city center and well worth it. To view all twenty-five sights takes about an hour and a half and includes such attractions as various craters, mud pools, explosive geysers, and thermal pools of startling colors including Champagne Pool, and Devil’s bath ( the color is the result of excess water from the Champagne Pool mixing with sulphur and ferrous salts. Cloud cover and reflected light affect the color also).


The multi-hued Champagne Pool.


Devil’s Bath

Jenny and Mal generously let me borrow one of their cars during my stay, so on their recommendations, I had a chance to explore two other landmarks.  Lake Tikitapu is known as Blue Lake by the locals because of its striking blue color. Legend has it that in ancient times, the daughter of a chief lost her tiki, a sacred greenstone neck ornament while swimming, and it still remains hidden beneath the blue waters of the lake.  While there, I walked the track around the perimeter of lake and watched families swimming, water-skiing, and enjoying the last days of their summer vacation. It really is this color!


On the walking track, an hour’s walk, with Blue Lake peeking through.

Another great place to visit for free and only five minutes from town is Whakarewarewa Forest or “The Redwoods.” Originally established as a test site to grow different native and exotic forest species, it is now known for its array of walking, running, biking, and horse trails that start off in the imposing Redwood Grove. I opted for a two hour walk on one of the many trails and met with all of the above sport’s enthusiasts, many accompanied by man’s best friend.


A view of The Redwood Grove on a walking hike.

There is just so much to do here, I barely scratched the surface. I didn’t get to the Hobbiton movie set which was a little expensive and generally poo-pooed by the locals I met who considered it too touristy.  I still would have liked to see it though. I also would add to the next to-do list the myriad of spa and wellness options available like mud baths and alkaline sulphur soaks. Who wants to come back with me?!

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again. The visitor iSite centers located in almost every town are just amazing and staffed with friendly and knowledgeable folks who can take care of your every need.  Most buses stop right at the sites or close by, and it’s a comfort knowing there is someone to help whether it’s for directions or a much needed bathroom break. The buses here in NZ are plentiful and dependable. I really like the Intercity Bus service (air conditioned, free Wifi, run on time) which links all the major towns and cities, but you have to book ahead as it’s a popular mode of transportation.

I hated to leave my new Kiwi friends–and Jenny’s excellent cooking! She introduced me to a new fruit called feijoa (fee jo a) originally from South America which she made as a feijoa crisp. Hard to describe. Maybe a fragrant taste? Delicious. And the ice cream……

On my own again and off to Hawke’s Bay and the Art Deco capital, Napier!









A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out!

Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty: Beautiful Beaches & Art Enclave


Ohope Beach, voted NZ’s Most Loved Beach (AA Traveler poll 2014), sweeps 11 km along the Pacific!

New Zealand is in the process of completing a bike path (mountain biking is big here) that will run from the top of the North Island all the way down to the end of the South Island (NZ is comparable lengthwise to driving from Maine to Florida). It is no wonder why the tourism industry has overtaken dairy as New Zealand’s largest export earner. Every where there is public access to beaches, walking/hiking trails, and most them free with bathroom facilities that are plentiful, clean, and spacious. Kiwis Love the outdoors

Whakatane is no different with great sunny weather, extensive beaches, fantastic fishing, and a great arts and culture scene, which culminates with the popular Summer Arts Festival. A national art competition of painting and drawing mediums is held at the end of January, and in February there is Shakespeare in the Park under the stars at the Riverbank Amphitheater, and the Fresh Market Jazz in the Park at the Whakatane Gardens.  I was lucky to be there to see the annual stone carving symposium, where artists set up on the riverbank in town and have a week to complete a sculpture typically done in sandstone, which is then entered in a show where it can be purchased.  I got to meet sculptor Trevor Nathan and later visited his outdoor sculpture garden.


Section of artists working in sandstone during the Sculptor’s Symposium, Whakatane, NZ


Sculpture from Trevor Nathan’s garden gallery

This area is the perfect place for Val, from Mt. Vernon, Maine, who along with her husband Gerry, have made NZ their home six months of the year since about 1989. Val and Gerry are artists who create intricate, hand- carved moose bone jewelry under the name Maine Bone Carving . It was Val who first took up traditional Maori bone carving from a local artist, and then Gerry, also a stone sculptor, followed suit. Val is a vivacious, quick-witted woman who sports a constant twinkle in her eyes.  She had to have been one of those naughty kids growing up who always encouraged you to try something daring! Introduced by a mutual friend back in Maine, I was scheduled to meet up with Val on my travels, but upon arriving in Auckland, I discovered she had suffered a foot injury, and Gerry was still in Maine until mid February. Fortunately, she was on the mend when I arrived with the help of her long-time Kiwi friends Jenny and Malcolm, who, as luck would have it, invited me after to their lake house in Rotorua.


A welcome dinner with (left to right) Val, Malcolm, and Jenny.

Located in what’s called the Bay of Plenty, Whakatane is on a major fault line and is one of the most seismically active areas in New Zealand. I found that out firsthand Sunday night. At around 10 pm, Val and I were deep in conversation when there was a sudden knock on the door. It was a neighbor who asked if we had just heard the earthquake. We looked at each other both thinking what earthquake? when there was a sudden rumble then a loud bang!  Val let out a scream and we all jumped, stunned and saucer-eyed.  We decided to leave the house for the street and met another neighbor lingering outside. There continued to be several more tremors, and suddenly I remembered the big earthquake in Christchurch in 2011 that registered a 6.3 on the Richter scale. Lucky me.  I later went to bed that night–still staying in my room on the second floor–and heard one final shake and rumble.  The next morning it was reported that there had been 18 tremors/earthquakes, with the largest registering a 3.4.  The bang we heard was probably the chimney separating from then hitting the house. I wanted the full Kiwi experience. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for!

I had hit the road running since my arrival in New Zealand, so it was nice to relax and visit local landmarks, hike a little, and go to the beach. Whakatane was a Maori settlement that spanned hundreds of years, and many of the important historic sites can still be visited. Val and Gerry are lucky to have a beautiful beach a short walk from their home that stretches for several miles. The day I went there were only a handful of solitary souls–and this was their summer/school vacation season.  Maybe it’s because water is accessible everywhere here.


Waterfall historic site that helped Maori identify Whafatane settlement.


Lone rider at the beach in Val’s neighborhood with volcano in the background.

My visit wouldn’t be complete without a day hike, and a particularly beautiful one is the Nga Tapuwai o Toi Track (forget Luminosity brain games; try pronouncing these Maori words), a stunning coastal walkway between Whakatane and Ohope.  We checked the tides because there is one section that can only be crossed when the tide is low. Val dropped me off and planned to pick me up at Ohope Beach three hours later where the track ended.

As I waved goodbye, I turned and noticed what neither of us had noticed before: a sign that read that the track had been closed due to rough seas.  And Val had no cell phone. And I was a little panicky. And I wondered what the hell I was going to do. Ah, one of those moments when your physical body registers a slight tremor –of a different kind. I was thrown out of my comfort zone but didn’t relish staying there for too long.  I had to look discomfort and uncertainty in the face and stare them down, and on some level, I knew it would be OK.

So, I started down the path and met up with two teenagers who gave me directions to Ohope Beach a few miles away. As I resigned myself to a long walk on a desolate road in the hot sun, a lone car drove up the dirt road. I waved it over, and inside was a young mother and her son who were probably wondering what I was doing. When I explained my predicament, and, without a moments hesitation, she offered to drive me down to Ohope Beach.  An angel perhaps?  I do remember invoking the protection of these divine beings at the onset of this trip. My St. Christopher medal, given to me by friends Chris and Julie is always in my bag, and my sister Gigi and devout Catholic mom have sent a guardian angel to travel with me.

I did meet Val later in the day, but not without another minor wrinkle in the plan. But don’t bad experiences often turn into good stories?  I think it was Frederich Neitzche who believed bad experiences are required for us to experience the good; we grow stronger for having them. He was probably right… and since traveling can have its mine-field moments, I’m sure I’ll be stepping on a few more along the way.

A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out!


                   View heading up the east coast of Coromandel near Whitianga

The Coromandel Peninsula

You do not visit New Zealand without taking a trip up the Coromandel Peninsula. This is what I’d been told by many, and here I was sitting in my sub compact, rental car ready to pull out onto the road for the first time.  I kinda sat there paralyzed for several minutes wondering if I was going to be able to handle this driving.  For extra support and peace of mind, I skulked back to the Thrifty office and got the extra insurance in case the worst happened–which it does. By the way, there are no more car accidents caused by tourists than there are caused by Kiwis; it’s about four percent either way.

Once I got over the initial fright and finally pulled out onto the highway, I was exhilarated and excited to be the master of my own little blue Suzuki.  As I’ve mentioned before, the roads are well marked and easy to navigate with lots of round-abouts (traffic circles) and big, blue double arrow signs at ground level pointing to stay left. No GPS for me. I’m using maps! And I’ve made a game of folding them back up again correctly.

The roads driving north beyond Waihi really become fun and at the same time harrowing. I was glad I was driving up the east side of the peninsula hugging the inside because on these narrow, winding, two lane roads there is relatively no shoulder and there are few sections of guard rails!  At the same time, as you round a sharp corner, there’s a quick in-take of breath as you gasp at the stunning view thrown at you! You gotta look–but you gotta keep your eyes on the road too!  Add to this the occasional cyclist. Cycling up these roads has got to be some form of extreme NZ sport– or a death wish. I’m not sure which.

I’ve also taken to talking –out loud– to myself a lot exclaiming “OMG! Look at that!  HOLY SHIT/COW  that’s incredible!”   Fortunately, there are places along the way that allow you to pull over and stare mesmerized at the surreal scenery in various shades of aquamarine, turquoise, and green.  To be honest, I’ve asked myself a few times why I’m doing this alone? I would so enjoy this with family and friends. When I’ve told people I’m doing this trip solo, I get two different reactions. One: That’s really cool, bold, and  exciting! Two: They just sort of stare blankly, and you know they’re probably thinking Why would anyone want to do that!? 

Driving up the peninsula only takes roughly two and a half hours, so I leisurely took my time stopping at a couple of beaches to… you know… just sit in the sun and sand and think how glad I was to be enjoying summer in January…  Before reaching my first day’s destination in Whitianga, I made sure I visited Hot Water Beach.  The tide was in, so no thermal hot water soaks, but it was beautiful just the same.  Also close by in Hahei is Cathedral Cove It’s about a thirty-five minute walk to the beach from the car park, or you can take a shuttle for 5 dollars. Although the day was cloudy, the beach and cave formations were worth seeing in any weather.

When arriving in Whitianga, I pulled into a Countdown grocery store to get directions to the YHA Backpackers Hostel.  I stopped the first person coming out of the store and asked directions, and the next thing I knew, he told me to just follow him, as he was going that way. Kiwis are amazing.


My single room with slider to patio.

This was my first experience at a hostel, and for $40. ($26.US) a night, I was impressed. This place had such a friendly and happy feel to it, and to top it off, the beach with a lovely esplanade was right across the street. On the way to my private room with shared kitchen, bathroom, and sitting area, I passed a couch full of young German kids cuddling together watching a movie. It could have been a scene right out of my sister and brother-in-law’s home with their two daughters and posses after a long day of fun. My room was teeny-tiny with a single bed and resembled the kiddie room from a Playmobil vacation beach house. I loved it. The best place to access free WiFi was in the office, and I got to chat with other guests, who were, surprisingly, comprised of various ages, families, and older poor people (just kidding).

The next morning I headed west across the peninsula to the actual town of Coromandel and found a small and upbeat downtown (city center) with the iSite tourist center, stores, and several wonderful cafes. Small cafes are every where in NZ and most have free WiFi. I’ve learned to order my coffee–long black–a shot of espresso diluted with hot water, and then settle in for a while checking emails, observing people, and listening to the melodious sounds of accents and languages from all over the world. I checked into the Anchor Motel, where for about $60 ($44.US), I got another great single room, though this time much bigger with a double bed and sliders to a private porch area, along with a shared kitchen and huge separate bathrooms for men and women.  Recommended was the Driving Creek Railway and Potteries . I was lucky to catch a ride without a reservation at the last minute (a solo bene) and later visited one of the potter’s studios whose work was featured in the Railway gift shop. I was saddened to hear that Barry Brickel, New Zealand’s first Kiwi-born, fulltime handcraft-potter and creator of this inspiring narrow-guage railway track had died shortly after my trip there.

I finished the day with a two hour hike close by and a meal of steamed mussels, a Coromandel favorite.


Mussels at The Kitchen Restaurant, Coromandel

This trip really helped me get into the groove. My heart was purring! I was feeling really good, except for the occasional reflection in a mirror or shop window of my upper crepey arms! When the hell did that happen?  The next day I headed south down the peninsula to the town of Thames for a cafe stop and got to meet Peter from France, who was on a four month work visa. We chatted and then took turns watching each others belongings for a quick loo visit.


Solo Traveler Peter from France

After musing about why I’m doing this alone, a couple of things have occurred to me. First, I can see what “me” really looks like. The ego begins to fade, as I’m in my own little social vacuum.  And, Second, traveling alone also shines a light on the kindness of strangers: new friends are every where.

A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out!


View of the Emerald Lakes–Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Call of the Great Outdoors

How incredibly fortunate for me to have such a wonderful host on the first leg of my journey after leaving Auckland.  Janelle is a busy oncologist and mother of two grown daughters from Perth, Australia, who after 35 years in a busy private practice, decided to take a job in New Zealand for a couple of years.

This woman embodies the term “free spirit.” Since coming to New Zealand a year ago, Janelle typically jumps in her car on the weekends and heads to scenic destinations all over New Zealand, most often hiking and then camping overnight.  When back in Perth, her passion is four wheeling in the outback in her retrofitted Toyota SUV.  Joined by other like-minded friends, they journey together for weeks at a time staying in touch via car radios and established road rules. Not only is she accomplished, independent, generous, and fit, she’s also beautiful to boot in a natural, Cheryl Tiegs sort of way. Janelle overwhelmingly gets my award for “Coolest Person Ever!”

Not wanting to duplicate anything she had already seen, we decided to drive from her home in Tauranga in what’s called The Bay of Plenty, south to Tongariro National Park, about three and a half hours away, to do The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, considered the best one-day hike in New Zealand, 19.4 kilometers and 7-8 hours to complete.

Heading out early Saturday morning, we made our way south to Rotorua, down to Taupo, around one side of the immense Lake Taupo, the largest fresh water lake in Oceania and roughly the size of Singapore. One minute you are driving by rolling hills of greenery and pastures, and the next, the roads narrow–with no shoulder on either side– and sharply curve around deep gorges with huge silver fern. As we drove closer to the Tongariro National Park area, Mt. Ruapehu, the largest active volcano, came into view still covered with snow, flanked by two other volcanoes Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. Volcanoes.  There are Active volcanoes here!

I know this landscape has become famous for the filming of the  Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I somehow felt I was smack dab in the middle of Jurassic Park, albeit a benign one!

It’s hard to believe that there is skiing during the winter months here in New Zealand, so Janelle stopped to show me the Whakapapa Ski resort where she often comes.  Ski places often an otherworldly feel off season, but this place resembles a kind of mining town on steroids. The place is littered with huge black boulders and volcanic rock as far as the eye can see, and it’s hard to imagine there is enough snow in winter months to cover it all!

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a spectacular day hike not to be missed.  Although not a particularly difficult hike, there are sections of very steep climbing, but these climbing sections consist of staircases of packed earth.   As long as you’ve kept up regular squats or stair master, no problem.


Heading for the Saddle section of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

One of the most beautiful and tricky sections is the steep descent down to the Emerald Lakes area, which is like skiing down an expert trail of very dark ,grey, volcanic sand. Janelle and I kept up a steady pace, stopping occasionally for a quick drink and rest, and managed to finish the trek in about six and a half hours. Tired but happy, we were met by a shuttle that took us back to the car park.  After spending another night in the small ski town of Ohakune, we headed back to Tauranga.


On the Strand back in Tauranga

Janelle’s generosity with her free time was above and beyond the call of duty, and I knew it was time for me to: Strike. Out. On My. Own…  I had driven enough with her to feel acclimated. But driving up the Coromandel Peninsula–a must see destination–can be treacherous. I was a little fraught with worry.

Janelle assured me I’d be fine, and once I was on the road in my own car, I’d love the freedom of going at my own pace and stopping where ever my heart desired. I had to believe she was right. So after an uneasy night, Janelle dropped me off in town on her way to work the next morning.  I rented a car at tourist iSite Center for the next three days and then later got myself back to her place via the local bus. I realized I had no choice but to move forward and was reminded of a quote I’d recently read:

“It makes no sense to worry about things you have no control over because there’s nothing you can do about them, and why worry about things you do control?  The activity of worrying keeps you immobilized.”

Wayne Dyer


I have to bypass worry because I can’t be immobilized. I have to push on when it gets tough or uncertain trusting that this is the way.

A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out

IMG_0371My airbnb home tucked away in the greenery

Welcome to New Zealand!

Do NOT fly to New Zealand the way I did! I guess I wanted my son, brother, and sister in NY to wish me farewell, and then have my brother drive me to the airport.  As a result, I booked my flight from JFK to Dubai, Dubai to Brisbane, Australia, and finally Brisbane to Auckland–a total of about 30 hours of travel time! Fortunately, the plentiful meals, three movies, and the seventh season of Mad Men saved me.

I arrived in Auckland on Wednesday, Jan 13th, to pleasant sun, after which I’ve been told has been an unusually rainy, cloudy, and windy summer season.  I’ve quickly learned to chat it up and ask lots of questions.  It’s true what people say: Kiwis are some the friendliest people happy to assist and make recommendations.

After getting myself by bus and cab to my airbnb stay just outside Auckland city center, I had a chance to relax and take in the scenery.  New Zealand is a temperate rain forest. Every where you look are rounded hills and lush, emerald-green vegetation that appears velvety to the touch.  In the midst of this are the immaculate and well marked road ways seemingly pretty easy to navigate–with the exception of driving on the opposite side of the road–and all of this surrounded by water–everywhere.

I highly recommend using airbnb. I rented a lovely room from two young hosts–Rania a Kiwi, and Sebastian from France– for two nights, and they were extremely helpful with bus schedules, local shopping, sim cards, and morning coffee. The other guests were mostly young people from France curious about New York City.  It seemed that every time I opened the door to my room to head to the bathroom, I was met by a young, handsome twenty- something in boxers!

A short walk in the neighborhood led me up a path behind residential homes to hills and  elaborately paved walking and biking trails in the midst of rolling pastures dotted with cows and a panoramic view that stretched over Auckland out to the water.  Traveling truly slows down time and holds you spellbound in the present moment.

Two days later, while waiting for the bus to Tauranga, I sat next to a young teenager reading the John Greene novel, Paper Towns.  I exclaimed that I knew the author and stated how popular he was with young people in the United States.  He gave me a brilliant smile– braces flashing in the sun–and then asked me about New York City.

I’m a little sorry that I didn’t plan to spend an additional two days in what’s called Auckland City Center since I missed seeing both the Auckland Museum and the Auckland Art Gallery, but bus schedules fill quickly, and I needed to be off to meet a friend about three and a half hours away.

If I appear cool, calm, and collected, I can assure you it is only a facade. Under the surface, tiny bubbles of doubt arise here and there and I wonder if I can really do this.  I am reminded again of The Alchemist:

“Once you get into the desert, there’s no going back.  And when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward. The rest is up to Allah, including the danger.”

OKAY then….

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

photo-1444090542259-0af8fa96557e“Buy the ticket. Take the ride.”

                                                    Hunter S. Thompson

My departure is only two weeks away! Funny how the anticipation of a trip, or any adventure that requires us being out of our comfort zone, suddenly creeps up. It’s like the sudden tap from behind given in surprise by a long- awaited friend;  it startles you at first, and then the surprise of it only deepens the feeling of excitement of what is to come.  But… there’s also a wee bit of uncertainty too, and that’s a good thing because it means that we are venturing outside of the safety bubble we’ve been living in.  Suddenly it POPS!  The moment has come, we’re exposed to the unknown, and the question, Can I do this? has to be answered.

The older we get, we tend to like things a little predictable and safe. The older we get, we’re less likely to take risks, and we limit ourselves and potential opportunities.  This was made clear to me recently as I was staying in Brooklyn spending time with my son, who decided to stay in NYC after college and was lucky to find work in his field.  Watching him navigate this busy metropolis —even commuting by bicycle from Manhattan to Red Hook— is impressive.  Young people live life with passion.  It’s why we love their company.  So, fellow aging population–let’s not lend credence to the saying, Youth is wasted on the youth!  Instead, let’s embody the quote by Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

I’ve often thought I would like to live in Brooklyn for a year, but all the uncertainties about a move like this paved the way with pot holes of doubt and held me back. This trip, I’ve been implementing the practice of facing the unknown in little ways like driving my son to his job in Red Hook and finding my way back alone, taking the subway, switching trains, and arriving at the right place, learning you can’t be afraid to ask for help. People in New York love giving directions.  If you ask someone who doesn’t know the answer, nine times out of ten, someone else will over hear you and chime right in!  I’m rewarded with a small hit of dopamine each time I learn something new. If we cultivate curiosity, new things, and confidence, our lives will be enriched.

So, I’ve also figured out that all I’m going to bring on this adventure is a 25 inch suitcase and a Pacsafe shoulder bag that will house my Mac air, travel documents, iPhone etc.  There is lots of information out there on what to bring on a lengthy trip including these tips from How I Planned for Nine Months of Travel. Rolling your clothing also seems to be the best way to utilize limited packing space.

I arrive in Auckland, New Zealand, on January 13th and have a room reserved for two days through the Airbnb site. The hosts may even pick me up at the airport!  I”ll spend a day or so in Auckland before meeting up with friends who live in Tauranga  and Whakatane, also located in the north island.  I’ve been told that visiting the south island is a must, but I haven’t figured out this part of the trip yet. I will also be practicing to expect the unexpected. 

I thought it would be a good idea to reread Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist, the story of Santiago, the shepherd boy on a journey to find his “Personal Legend.” There are many life lessons to be realized from this story, but since I am trying to quell feelings of fear that rise up to overtake me as I bob to the surface for air, this lesson stands out: Fear is a bigger obstacle than the obstacle itself.

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”

I’ve read that great risks are rewarded with great rewards. My sister Janet has instructed me that nerves are excitement without the breath.   So with that said, I’ll leave you with, “See you on the other side!”

A “Boomer” and Tripping my Brains Out: Traveling Solo at 63 to New Zealand and Australia…On a Budget! Dreams of Ocher

The idea of taking a trip like this sounds so romantic and adventurous, but how the heck do you plan for this, especially if you’re on a budget and not a great planner or stickler for detail? My Meyer’s Briggs personality type is INFP–introvert, intuitive, feeling, perceptive–in a nut shell: I’m quiet, I go with my gut, I operate more on feelings than logic, and, finally, I like to “wing it.”  Could be in trouble here, but this is about growth, right?

My friend and travel mentor, Gayl, began by asking me a lot of questions. Questions bring on anxiety and a kind of “fight or flight,” panicky reaction in me. What do you want to do on this trip? Do you want to explore nature, study art, meet people, explore the culture, visit cities and rural areas? Although these questions were overwhelming at first, I realized that, (and what my friend knows) the best tools to unearth buried drives are questions. So after tackling these questions and with a few suggestions from Gayl, I started reading and hit the internet.

Remember the old days when we had to go to the library, study the card catalog, and pour over reference books? According to Daniel Pink, author of the very interesting book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, the challenge today isn’t accessing information, the challenge is curating it. I took the book’s advice and put aside time every day to bookmark the best sources of information, then started taking notes in a journal of the things I needed to have (visas, round-the-world tickets, sim cards for my iPhone) and things  I wanted to do. The clincher is that this is a “practice,” which requires discipline.  Ouch! More growing pains!

The planning of this adventure has also enlightened me about the power of networking. I am currently working on other Workaway sites in New Zealand and Australia, and now hosts are contacting me, validating that we Boomers have much to offer.  My Aussie friend liked the profile I’d written for the Workaway site and suggested I make it a bit more chatty and add a few more pictures. She has since started “marketing” me to other friends and acquaintances.  And it’s working.  My friends and family here and in New York, too, have connected me to their friends Down Under, and all the synapses are firing and creating a rich network of travel stays with exotic names like Tauranga, Whakatane (pronounced fuck a ta ne!), and Kununurra.

Since renting my house in October, I’ve pared down my belongings and have been living a kind of nomadic existence. My gypsy vardo is a 1993 Volvo 240 station wagon that houses a box filled with all my important papers, last minute odds and ends that didn’t get packed, and a blue, plastic tub filled with winter clothes.  Propped up by the kindness of friends and family, I stake my virtual tent from place to place and try not to overstay my welcome. There’s a tremendous feeling of freedom after being so responsible for so many years. The silver lining— there always is one— is that my dysfunctional upbringing has actually served me: I’m very adaptable and enjoying this!

I’ve been doing some travel reading too, and friends and family have suggested great titles like Bill Bryson’s Australian travel book In a Sunburned Country.  Bryson is a funny guy, and his outsider’s perspective evinces not only the quirkiness but also the history and vast beauty of this huge country and continent. It’s an engaging read! My brother-in-law James recommended Bruce Chatwin’s, The Songlines, a very different book, set in the desolate lands of the Australian Outback. A bestseller in 1987, Chatwin is credited with transforming travel writing. His book is part travel adventure and personal philosophy as he explores the meaning and origins of ancient Aboriginal “Dream Tracks,” invisible roadways left by the totem ancestors as they “sang” the natural world into existence. Chatwin postulates that we humans have a “nomadic instinct.”  Staying in one place, sedentary desk jobs, and our excessive accumulation of stuff are unnatural and don’t make us happy.  Hmmm….. Maybe to find yourself, you have to travel?

I’ve since purchased plane tickets.  It’s real now. To steal a couple of quotes from the Notebook section of Chatwin’s book, they read:
“You cannot travel on the path before you have become the path itself.” “Walk on!”

Gautama Buddha


Original oil painting, Connie Ottmann “Jack at Reid State Park” oil on canvas, 24″x 30″


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.