A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out! My Solo Adventure at 63 Down Under…On a Budget.

Byron Bay and the Hinterland, Part 2:  Finding a Sanctuary at Sanctuary in The Pocket (WWoofing?!)


Entering The Sanctuary in the Pocket retreat.

What a surprise to find out that my next exploit in the Byron Bay Hinterland was also in The Pocket, literally just up the road from my housesitting hosts, and since Lani knew the address, she offered to drive me there.  As we pulled off the dirt road and entered through the gates of the Sanctuary, we both let out a slight gasp. A little disoriented, I could have sworn we had been magically transported to some tranquil, exotic, Balinese retreat. My blood pressure must have immediately dropped because my physical body registered: peace.

If I had any quandaries about my new situation and who I’d be working for, they were quickly dispelled when I met Susie, one of the owners. Susie is dazzling with bright blue eyes that smile and an infectious, ready laugh that is instantly both welcoming and endearing. Her husband Jonathan was away in Sydney where he works four days a week, and I wouldn’t meet him until later.

My quarters would be the cabin, a charming, little house with all the modern conveniences (including a big screen TV with Net Flicks) that they often rent. My initial impression was akin to being eleven again and taking in with delight new and unfamiliar surroundings and imagining all the exciting  adventures in store–even more pythons, spiders, and snakes.

This stay at the Sanctuary came about, once again, through the great networking of my friend Gayl. Several years ago, Gayl spent three months living in NYC, and while there she became involved with an organization called Australian Women Living in NY. Gayl put me in touch with BJ, who is married to an American and currently lives in Brooklyn.  While in Brooklyn celebrating a family birthday in November, I met BJ, and she recommended a work exchange stay with her friends Jonathan and Susie. She made the introduction through email and sent them a copy of my profile.

Jonathan and Susie are transplants from Sydney where they ran a much smaller retreat. Wanting to locate closer to relatives, they spent ten years looking to find the perfect property. It took a year of renovating the three rental units and their home, in addition to creating the desired gardens. During this time they hired wwoofers , who often stayed for up to three months, for landscape work and small building projects.

WWoofing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) is a loose network of national organizations that facilitate placement of volunteers, who work four to six hours a day on a host’s farm in exchange for meals and accommodation. Hosts do the hiring, and wwoofers often stay anywhere from a few days to three or more months. People (typically young) from all over the world who want to experience a place and maybe learn a new skill and save money, leave the tourist trail behind and live with the locals.

Jonathan and Susie emailed to say that as long as I brought a positive attitude,  I could wwoof as long as I wanted, so prior to my arriving, I agreed to a two week stay.  But after only two days with Susie’s great company (Jon was in Sydney) and generous, delicious cooking, I quickly asked to stay for three weeks!

My work schedule consisted of six hour days Monday through Friday with the remainder of the day free and weekends off. Work days started with breakfast with Susie around 7:30, work commenced at 8:00, followed by a mid morning break, a lunch break, and finishing  at 3:00. Most of my time was spent working on the five acres of botanical gardens weeding, pruning, transplanting, and hauling palm fronds to the burn pile. To break things up, I also did interior painting, pool cleaning, mowing with Jonathan’s big riding lawn mower :), and helping Susie with cleaning the guest cottages. (And to think I was paying big bucks back home lifting weights and doing squats with a trainer.)

I worked hard, but they both work a lot harder! Susie’s days never end. After hours of cleaning, doing laundry, preparing me a nice lunch, doing more laundry, she’d have a home cooked dinner ready for us at seven. This was when we could relax and talk about the world and life in general.  I think she enjoyed having me, a contemporary, for company.

Jonathan and Susie have hosted may young wwoofers from around the world, most of them of great people, but life would not be complete with out a few intermittent bouts of drama, most often the broken heart kind. One Canadian young woman called Susie and Jonathan in the middle of the night in tears because she was not only heart sick missing her new German boyfriend who had returned home, but also because she was living in squalid conditions at a new host farm. They promptly went up north to pick her up.

They are both still in touch with several young people who worked for them, and while I was there, Susie played matchmaker and fixed up a Brazilian woman now living in Sydney with a guest also from Brazil who was relocating there.  Many a Friday night wwoofers would find themselves treated to pizza and music in town with Susie and Jon.  Anyone would be extremely lucky to find themselves wwoofing at Sanctuary in the Pocket. And then there is the beauty of the place and the peace and quiet.

Each morning donned with rubber boots, gardening gloves, and hat, I grabbed my wheelbarrow and entered a sub tropical world of exotic plants and manicured gardens surrounded in the distance by lush pastures and the rolling hills of the hinterland. But most of all, I relished the silence--intruded on only by the lilting trills and warbles of the Australian butcherbird, the occasional raucous, staccato laugh of the kookaburra, and depending on where the neighboring farmer was grazing his herd, the occasional, lowly baritone moo of a cow.

There is something so satisfying about doing physical work, particularly working the land.  I’m the kind of person who tends to be in my head a majority of the time.  Having worked as a high school English teacher for many years, papers to correct and constant planning always came home with me.  I savored summer vacation and the meditative time working in my gardens. I am reminded of Antaeus, the giant wrestler in Greek mythology, who tapped his power from the earth and was invincible as long as he kept his feet firmly planted on the ground. Heracles defeated him by locking him in a bear hug and lifting both feet off the ground, crushing him. Feeling a little crushed and dinged up myself after months of traveling and city life, I felt restored (and slept like a rock at night).  Jonathan (as genial as his wife), an accomplished gardener, with a keen eye for landscape design, was happy with my work and glad that I knew what I was doing.

Two weeks into my stay, I was joined by Victor and Cleaya, a young French couple from Lyon.  On vacation for three months in Australia, they came to wwoof for four days having worked on a bamboo farm nearby the previous four days. A little older and more mature, they were both looking to make career changes, and since the job market is tough in France right now, are even considering making a move to Australia. Like- minded travelers, they wanted to experience all aspects of life in a different part of the world.

Looking back, it is beautiful how we all touched each other in some way having come together from different countries, backgrounds, and age groups, living and working in tandem for a few short days and doing simple, physical but satisfying work bringing us closer to nature  without modern distractions.  I am forever thankful to Susie and Jonathan and many of their friends who welcomed me and shared little slices of their lives.

As life in The Pocket was quickly coming to an end, it was time to figure out where I was off to next.  At this point, I only knew my next stop was south to Melbourne, and I had already booked a flight from Darwin in the Northern Territories to Kununurra in  Western Australia on May 31st where I would be spending the month of June. But what was I going to do with the five weeks in between?  This kind of thing really throws me as I can become overwhelmed easily when faced with making concrete plans, arranging plane reservations, and figuring out accommodations. And doing all this online, navigating web sites, juggling credit cards and bank accounts–and keeping it all straight. But this is about growth, right?! And panic is a natural part of the process of growth.

I had to move forward. I couldn’t stay stuck.  So I went back and re-read  Steven Pressfield’s powerful little book, Do the Work, and called on stubbornnes and blind faith, a couple of champions on my side, and “slayed that dragon resistance.”  The end result….pretty amazing…. the adventure continues.


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.

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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!

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.