Great Barrier Reef (Last post for this adventure)

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I am sitting on my deck at home in Barrie as I write this last post. I am happy to be home but so thankful for the great adventure Bruce and I had. Although it seems a little after the fact, I feel that the story of our adventure would not be complete without something on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). It was, after all, Bruce’s bucket list item of diving the GBR that drew us to northern Queensland.

The Story – Part 1

We arrived in Townsville where I was to start my stint at the university and Bruce was all set to have 4 weeks to explore the Great Barrier Reef with other retired guys and fulfill his dream of diving this part of the world. Unfortunately, even after lots of reading and watching videos on the reef, we had lots of misconceptions about this activity that we had been quite excited about. Here are a few of them:

1. The edge of the reef is actually a 2 hour boat ride out into the ocean. This makes heading out to the reef for a diving quite expensive and it means spending 4 hours in a boat for a couple of dives. Bruce had thought he would be able to dive from the shore for some of his diving time.

2. During the time of year we were there – fall in the Southern Hemisphere – the southeasterly winds are strong and persistent. As a result, there were weeks where no dive boats were heading out from Townsville and when they did, it was two hours in 2-3 metre swells with lots of people on board getting seasick.

If you haven’t seen it, here is Bruce’s video on his first trip to the reef – to Loadstone Reef

3. The diving itself is quite challenging given the combination of rough surface water, currents, and the fact that you do not have divemasters leading you around so you are on your own to navigate under water.

So, to make a long story short, Bruce got out for two dives while we were in Townsville, both of which were very challenging and I did not pass the dive medical so ended up not even being allowed to dive. Given the stories I was hearing from Bruce, I wasn’t really that upset about not diving but it was kind of a pain that we had lugged our gear halfway around the world. Alas!

The Story – Part 2

After 4 weeks in Townsville, we went up to Cairns where we had another 2 weeks. Not IMG_0731being people that easily give up on our dreams, we decided that Bruce should go out on a liveaboard.

These are boats that you live on for a number of days. This way you can be out on the reef without having to travel there each day. Bruce went for 3 full days (4 nights). He flew from Cairns to Lizard Island and the boat picked them up there. Bruce did 9 dives in the 3 days and they were all in the outer reef in green zone areas (areas of the reef protected from fishing). He had an amazing time and saw the reef of the documentaries. His15-18th may 2017-59 dream was fulfilled. He hasn’t had a chance to make his video yet since he has so much material that he is overwhelmed. It will happen though.

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That left me to figure out how to feel like I had experienced the reef. After all, I was working at the university while Bruce was out “living the dream” :). We started with a snorkeling day trip out to Hastings Reef which was spectacular. Here I got to swim with a turtle – something I have always wanted to do.

If you haven’t seen it, here is Bruce’s video of that day – “Q the Turtle

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Next, since Bruce had seen the reef from a plane. I wanted to as well. So, we got an hour plane ride over the reef – a private charter in a small plane turned out to be the same price as a 30 minute helicopter ride. It was awesome!  Then, since my parents had given us money for something special on our trip, we decided to finish things off with one night at the Green e8ce27e1-cfb0-4929-a443-ddeb941286c3Island Resort. It was amazing and I too felt like I got to “live the dream”.

  • Beautiful dinner overlooking the pool
  • Spectacular sunset on the pier
  • Snorkelling with several turtles
  • Swimming and sunbathing on a beach with 4d6e96e8-96a0-4732-8b27-e15e14fa058faquamarine water
  • Massages

Life is good! It was an amazing two days and the perfect way to finish our adventure. We could now both go home with our GBR dreams fulfilled.

Cheers!

James Cook University (JCU) – Strategic Leadership in Teaching Enhancement

I am writing this post as we sit in a cafe in Port Douglas. Coffee culture is big here and people drink cappuccinos on a daily basis. Bruce loves it. I’m a Long Black girl but really enjoy the frothed milk. We stayed in wonderful airbandb apartments in both Townsville and Cairns, but now we are back to camping. Since there is no internet at our campsite, we have to scope out coffee shops or pubs where we can sit. It is the last leg of our trip and I apologize for not keeping up my blog. Bruce has been much better with his videos. Still to come is a post on our adventures on the Great Barrier Reef .

The Story

My 6 weeks at James Cook University (JCU) were an incredible professional learning opportunity. I went there on an Endeavour Executive Fellowship to learn about strategic leadership in the enhancement of teaching practice. 

I chose James Cook because it has a large teaching centre with clear strategic direction and some awesome women leaders – and because Bruce could pursue his dream of diving the Great Barrier Reef (more on the reef experience in another post). 

Here is the link to the JCU website for the Directorate of Learning, Teaching and Student Engagement (LTSE)

https://www.jcu.edu.au/learning-and-teaching

I spent 4 weeks at the Townsville campus and 2 weeks at the Cairns campus. Everyone was so hospitable and friendly. During most of the time, I just talked to people, both on the front line and in leadership roles about the evolution of the directorate and its leadership. I asked people questions such as:

  • What was key in developing the LTSE?
  • What were some challenges in bringing the student facing and faculty facing supports together under one umbrella?
  • What are the key aspects of leadership that help everyone to do their best work?


JCU Townsville Campus (4 weeks)

Townsville is a city in the dry tropics of Queensland. It has a beautiful esplanade along the beach. No one swims at the beaches here becuase of jellyfish and crocodiles. We enjoyed gelato on the beach on a regular basis, found some craft beer pubs, and enjoyed a few nice meals. We made two trips to Magnetic Island – once to search for koala bears in the wild, and once to go snorkelling. If you haven’t already seen them, here is Bruce’s video on the Fitzroy Isalnd adventure.

Maggie Island snorkelling day – https://youtu.be/FHt99GutelY

At the Townsville campus, I was able to speak with the Vice-Chancellor Academic, the Director of IT,  the former Dean of the Teaching and Learning unit (she was moving on to a new job as I was starting), managers of all four  parts of the LTSE, and educational designers, multi-media specialists,  and LMS support. Here ere are a few insights on strategic leadership that I gleaned through my conversations.

  • A clear vision from the leader (both at the VP level and the manager level) that canbe succinctly communicated.
  • Clear role descriptions with an understanding of how one’s work fits into the overall vision
  • A three year plan at all levels seems to be important in today’s climate of constant change
  • A clear sense of what work helps move the department towards its goals (and what work does not) and a way to navigate that given everyone’s abilities and interests
  • Constant cuts are the norm in higher education around the world. Some managers focus primarily on cost cutting; others try to find other sources of funding for important projects

I learned that at higher levels in the organization, one has a more horizontal perspective of how everything in the instruction interrelated. The further down you are on one of the vertical lines, the further removed you are from the overall picture. 

JCU Cairns Campus (2 weeks)

Cairns is a city in the wet tropics of Queensland. It also has a long esplanade along the shore but no real beach. We stayed in a little community north of Cairns called Palm Cove –  a peaceful holiday community. We did one day trip out to Fitroy Island to do some snorkeling and visited a crocodile park

If you haven’t already seen it, here is Bruce’s video on our trip to Fitzroy Island – https://youtu.be/9VbKzIGLMEc 

As well, I had my birthday dinner in Cairns on May 13th and Bruce made a video of our seafood dinner outing. If you haven’t seen it, here is the link. https://youtu.be/Mq3iW9r8bew 

The focus of my conversations at the Cairns campus was with the quality assurance team and the interim director of the LTSE. JCU is using Learning Analytics and Predictive Analytics in a big way. The focus is on data informed continuous improvement processes. Here are a few insights.

  • Rubrics aligned with the outcomes for a program, rather than just a single task, can improve alignment and calibration of assessment throughout a program. Course level rubrics might also be useful. 
  • Logic models can be very helpful in deconstructing and evaluating processes, including support processes
  • Learning Analytics can be a powerful tool for reflecting certain aspects of the learning process. At JCU, they are pulling course level data about student interactions in Bb and using them as a discussion tool for program review. Although I see issues in defining learning in this way, it is certainly worth further exploration
  • As a middle manager, you have to learn to accept and work with decisions that are made above you – even if you don’t support them, you have to frame it for your team in a way that appears supportive
  • Policies to guide decision-making and actions ensure a long term trajectory towards goals
  • Discussion papers, proposals, and reports are a key part of a leaders work

Cheers!

The next blog post will be about our adventures on the Great Barrier Reef.

East Coast Australia – Adventure in the Mighty Quinn

I began writing this sitting on the patio of a “Caravan Park” just north of Newcastle, New South Wales (Australia) – Myall Lakes National Park. The night before we were hit with a huge storm that was apparently the tail of Cyclone Debbie that hit the Australian coast north of Brisbane (Bowen to be exact). We were almost 2000 km south of where the cyclone hit and I have never experienced such winds and rain. Over the next 12 days, we were travelling from Sydney to Townsville (2200 km) in a campervan (that Bruce has named the Mighty Quinn – I understand its a song from the 70s 🙂 – quite the adventure!!!

I will come back to a Sydney post, but with the cyclone in the news, I thought this might be more interesting. Since everywhere we stayed had very limited or no internet, it was difficult to keep up and especially to post pictures. I am now finishing this as we sit on the balcony of a lovely condo in Townsville. We survived 🙂 Here is the story.

If you haven’t seen it already, Bruce’s video version is at the link below. He has played rather loosely with the names of places and the order of events but its a good story. 

Grabbing Cyclone Debbie by the Tail
https://youtu.be/vD1B5BJjR-g

Day 1: March 28th (Sydney to Bouddi National Park)

We took the bus in Sydney to the Mighty location to pick up the campervan. It is a very simple van (bed and fridge) but that is what was affordable since we have it rented for the 10 weeks that we are in Australia. After doing all the paperwork and getting an overview of how things worked, we headed out with our GPS on a hair raising trip (standard and driving on the left) back to our apartment in downtown Sydney to pick up our luggage.

All good, we headed north out of town to Bouddi National Park, just an hour north of Sydney. It was awesome – the kind of set up that we had hoped for – simple sites, not busy, beautiful beach. We went to sleep to the sound of the waves and all was good.

Day 2: March 29th (Bouddi National Park)

We woke up to a beautiful sunny day and after a leisurely breakfast we went on a coastal walk. It was stunning with really interesting rock formations called “Tessellated Pavement”. We met a group of retired people that called themselves the “Frigid Digits” They swam the length of the beach in the ocean every day of the year. Several had done extensive camping in Australia. One lady owned a van just like the one we were travelling in. An inspiring group!

We sat on the beach, read, went swimming in a lovely calm cove (after Annique consulting several locals about safety – no jellyfish, stingers in the sand, rip tides). As the day went on, the temperature climbed and by 2pm it was 36 degrees – too hot for the beach and a stinker for sleeping. Oh dear! And in Australia it is suppose to get hotter as you go north – not good.

We drove to a mall for air conditioning, to stock up on camping supplies, and to hopefully get some internet ( 2 out of 3 – not bad).

Day 3/4: March 30th/ 31st (Bouddi to Myall Lakes National Park) 

It was raining when we woke up so we got up early (well early for Annique 🙂 and made our way to Myall Lakes National Park – about 3 hours drive north. The last stretch (15 km) was on gravel roads that had been quite washed out by rain – quite nerve wracking in our little camper. We arrived in the rain to a lovely spot with nice facilities and very few people. We cooked our dinner in a great “camping kitchen” with kangaroos and kookaburras all around.

It gets dark around 7 pm so we did some reading in the van. Around 9 pm, the wind picked up and so did the rain. For the next four hours we experienced the worst wind and rain that I have ever seen. Apparently it was the tail end of the cyclone. Oh my! Now roads were closed between here and Brisbane and no one knew what was going to happen in the next few days. 

Everyone in the campground was a bit shell shocked the next morning. Not a lot of damage anywhere but lots of water and everyone was talking about the wind. We met a couple (Sam and Reiner) over “breakfast” that were our age, from Brisbane and had been travelling in their camper for a month. We had a lovely chat and decided to have drinks together after dinner. It was so fun! We had so much in common (except that they have pythons living in their roof to keep mice and other critters in check – Oh my!!! Apparently, they don’t bother humans. Hmmm! We learned alot about camping in Australia. We drank too much wine and stayed up too late but it was great! They have invited us to visit when we pass through Brisbane on the way home – not sure about sleeping in a house with pythons.

Day 4: April 1st (Myall Lakes to Coffs Harbour/Emerald Beach)

We woke up a little foggy but headed off to try and get some kilometres behind us. We headed for Coffs Harbour and stayed at a little campground just north of there (Emerald Beach). It was a long day of driving and we hadn’t booked anything ahead – not my preferred method but highly recommended by our new friends. 

Large expanses of beach with lots of wind and big waves was something we saw right up the coast. Apparently the stingers and crocodiles are not really an issue until a couple hours north of Brisbane so we had fun playing the waves and watching surfers at the various beaches. 

Halfway through the day, I realized it was Bruce’s birthday – Oh my! That is terrible. It is really hard to keep track of the days and times when travelling this much. Poor guy – long drive with a bit of a hangover. We stopped for a nice dinner but were not impressed at all by Coffs Harbour. We ended up choosing Mexican – nice but not exactly special. We’ll have to make that up at some point.

Day 5: April 2nd (Emerald Beach to Bundjalung) 

We couldn’t face another 5 hour day with unknowns at the end so we drove about 2 hours to Bundjalung National Park and got a camping site. We were wondering why there were so many families camping on a school day and found out that it was the beginning of the Queensland school break. Hmmm. We headed into the little town and found a great little cafe “The Laneway Cafe”. There was great internet, great wine (and an owner who loved to share about Australian wines), a server who was headed to the jazz festival in New Orleans as a jazz singer (Cieorgina Chorley). Hung there until the 4 pm closing and then back to our campsite overlooking the ocean – a good day!

Day 6/7 April 3rd/4th (Bundjalung to Noosa Heads)

We drove from Bundjalung to Noosa Heads. Noosa Heads had been highly recommended by several people. The main beach in Noosa was very busy but we made our way to the National Park campground on the North Shore. It was spectacular and probably our most idyllic spot on the whole trip so far. We got a site right next to the dunes with hardly anyone else around and although the wind on the beach was quite strong (i.e. The sand hurt on your skin as it was blowing when you walked) we had a great time swimming in the waves. Not exactly suntanning whether but very memorable!
We drove 300 km from Noosa to here since several people had told us what a lovely place it was to camp. Unfortunately again, becuase of the school holiday, the main campground was jammed – not at all our cup of tea. We had really begun to relish our quiet camp spots. We looked for another place in the area and found something. It had a 20 minute walk to the beach but we preferred that. Another beautiful open beach where we played in the waves. Unfortunately, we both got some kind of bites that showed up the next day and lasted for almost a week. Someone said sea lice. Who knows. It seems there is a lot here that can bite you. 

Day 10: April 7th (Seventeen Seventy to MacKay)

Big driving day (600 km). Started out with the hope of making it through Rockhampton which was completely flooded out. Luckily, they had enough roads that had been built at a higher elevation and they were able to reroute people through the city. It was quite unbelievable how much water there was everywhere. I guess the people of that town were not only having water issues, but lots of snakes and crocodiles were “floating in”. Oh my!!!

We stayed at Black’s beach just north of MacKay. Lovely tropical beach but beware – we are in crocodile and jellyfish territory now! No one swims outside the stinger nets.

Day 11: April 8th (MacKay to Townsville)

Last stretch (400 km) to Townsville. Drove through the areas where the eye of the cyclone hit. Lots of houses without roofs and structural damage, especially in the Proserpine area which is near a big tourist area – Airlie Beach and Whitsunday Islands. Apparently lots of tourists got stranded whiteout water or hydro and much of the area was still without power a week later. 

We arrived in Townsville and, although we had a great adventure and really got to see the east coast of Australia, we are happy to be in a nice condo for the next 4 weeks and just enjoy being in one place, having our own bathroom and cooking meals in a kitchen 🙂

Cheers from Bundjalung National Park and the windy surf on Australia’s East coast!

Last week I started my 6 week stint at James Cook University (4 weeks in Townsville; 2 weeks in Cairns). The next post will be about that. 

 

NZ South Island Part 2 – In Search of the Ultimate Adventure

I started writing this on the patio in Sydney – having moved from coffee to wine.  It was a great spot with good wifi (which is very hard to find). I am now finishing it in Illuca, Australia – a little town outside Bundjalung National Park (south of Byron Bay). The worst of the cyclone weather has passed – now just intermittent rain and lots of wind more on the cyclone in the next post.

Sorry – pictures are wonky on this post but with so little good internet, I just wanted to get it posted.

The Story of our Search for the Ultimate Adventure

Adventure 1: Swim with the Seals

We left the beach at Hokitika marking that as a place we would happily return to.  We wanted to “Swim with the Seals” in Kaikoura, which meant a 6 hour drive (plus stops) through the mountains (via the Lewis Pass). When we were planning this trip, we had discussed whether this was worth it but had decided it was. We had never heard of this adventure opportunity elsewhere. Bruce was getting his driving legs and was up for it. 

We arrived in Kaikoura, excited for our adventure the next day but got an e-mail that it was cancelled because the seas were too rough and the visibility was too low. Argh!!! We were told that the weather was turning and that we should go out immediately for a walk on the point where we could see seals on the rocks.

If you haven’t seen it, here is Bruce’s video on our search for the seals. Despite our disappointment, he had some fun with it. 

https://youtu.be/OfIlwrvoRv4

This is what we were hoping for – https://www.sealswimkaikoura.co.nz/

Living with Earthquakes: The next day was terrible weather so we explored the town that had been devastated by the earthquake in December 2015. We experienced a small tremor (4.5) in our motel unit and evidence of the damage was everywhere.  It was good to talk to some of the local business owners. Every building had a posted sign indicating whether it was safe to be in or not. There were hardly any tourists since the highway north to Picton had been closed since the quake and wasn’t due to open for a year. The highway south to Christchurch was opened the day we arrived but closed now becuase of a slide. The only route in and out of this town was through the mountains. On the upside, several of the craft breweries in the area had organized a Craft Beer Festival in an effort to re-energize the community. Kegkoura – fun event!  

Adventure 2: Abel Tasman National Park
Because of the closed roads, it was another 7 hour drive (back through the mountains) to get to the Nelson area where we wanted to hike the trails of Abel Tasman National Park. We were thrilled when we arrived at our airbandb to have a private hot tub to enjoy. Just as an aside, our hosts were two retired teachers with a great story – Kiwi meets Alaskan online, they fall in love, live in Alaska for 7 years, then move to NZ. They invited us for wine and we had a lovely evening. She has published three books on their story – http://www.walkingonice.co.nz/

The weather had turned and we set out on a boat ride up the coast in huge waves and rain. We could hardly see the coast and within 30 minutes people started getting sick. Oh dear! We opted to go ashore early which was a great call. We had more time to enjoy the hike and even in the rain, the beaches and trails were beautiful. 

When the boat picked us up, the seas had calmed down a bit and the shoreline views were awesome. When we had to disembark, the boat couldn’t land at its regular spot becuase of the waves and tides. 100 tourists were dropped off about 1/2 km down the beach and had to cross over rocks and streams to get back to their cars. I was quite impressed by the number of elderly people who just made the best of what was not an easy walk.

Adventure 3: Crossing the Cook Strait

The ferry crossing from Picton (South Island) to Wellington (North Island) is billed as quite spectacular. When we arrived at the gate, they asked us if we were sure we wanted to cross since the seas were “rough”. We said, no problem. When we got on board, a kiwi said we were in for quite a ride – swells of 6-8 metres in the strait. We naively said – “Cool!”

For the first hour, the ferry went through stunning channels. It was windy on the outside deck but we loved it. Slowly, people disappeared from the decks and it was only Bruce, I, our local friend, and two crew members. The one young crew member said he had been on the boat for six months and had never seen this kind of weather. 

Well, if you haven’t seen it, Bruce’s video tells the story best. I sat in a quiet room listening to classical music with my earbuds and worked on a blog post. I had taken ginger tablets and felt fine. However, when I tried to walk around once, I realized how bad it really was.

https://youtu.be/J-RM9Z7M86o

Bruce’s version of the seas – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUWascqCBe0 (Warning – contains “alternative facts”)
Anniques version – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coWfvO_SMJk

What is your best travel adventure story?

Learning and Growth

  • I loved the Motueka area (west of Nelson) and would love to come back and spend a week. I think staying  in Mapua would be great. Great mix of nature and foodie stuff in this area
  • Sometimes, when things don’t go as planned, you have other experiences that our rich in a different way. Talking to the local people in each place we visited was great. 
  • I want to find a way to frame our travel experiences so that it goes beyond “been here, did this”. I want to have a different conversation about travelling. Not sure what that looks like or sounds like yet. I think it involves more of the things ou learn about how people live, what they love about the places they live, and what are the challenges

When you read about people’s travels, what is it that interests you the most? What would you like to know about our adventure?

Cheers! 

The next post will be about our first week in the campervan driving from Sydney to Brisbane while a cyclone hit Australia north of Brisbane, causing flooding a road closures all up the coast.

NZ South Island – The West Coast: A Step Back in Time

I am writing this blog post in Sydney, Australia. I am obviously behind but I am having trouble finding the time and energy. I am sitting on a patio just down the street from our very small apartment in Potts Point and drinking a long black coffee. A Sydney post will come later.

The South Island Story

From Queenstown, Bruce and I rented a car and set off on our own up the West Coast of the South Island. Bruce’s driving on the left hand side of the road is getting better and the South Island is a good place to practice becuase there are no busy cities. I have fallen in love with Google Maps and it now gets us everywhere we need to go – stress free 🙂

We chose the West Coast because the scenery is spectacular and because it isn’t as busy  with tourists – both things we love. What we didn’t anticipate was the things that go with rather remote, rural areas:

  • Very limited access to the internet, and mostly dial-up. Oh my! This is an issue because I am still trying to get a book chapter done and finalize things for my time at the Australian university
  • Limited interesting eating options – we don’t eat dinner out that much but we love fun happy hour snacks. 

Can’t have it all! The nature was spectacular. Here was our route and some highlights:

1. Haast Pass – This spectacular drive through the mountains that goes along Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. Our first night was at the top of the pass in Makarora, just outside Mount Aspiring National Park. A very simple cabin with an amazing view of the mountains all around. Access to wifi cost $10 for 500 MB (which I used up in about 10 minutes becuase I hadn’t closed the apps running in the background). Definitely a big step back in technology time.

2. Frank Josef (town and glacier) – Even though this was billed as very touristy, it wasn’t at all by North American standards. Walking up to the glacier was an incredible walk through the ages. The glacier is quickly receding and local businesses predict that the tourist business here will be in trouble in the next 20 years. In Frank Josef we actually stayed in a motel unit in a backpackers lodge (that was all that was in our price range). I was quite worried but it was a positive experience (for one night :). There was a nice feel amongst all the young backpackers, it was quiet at a reasonable hour, and there was wifi (shared but reasonable for e-mail).

3. Hokitika – The beach here is know for its driftwood art and was amazing – not busy, beautiful sunsets (my favorite), great for walking, beautiful rocks (collected a few). Our unit was steps from the beach and I enjoyed some great down time (except when a creepy guy bothered me when I was reading and no one else was around so I had to pack up and leave). Too bad.


Learning and Growth

  • The World is Spectacular – The South Island of New Zealand is absolutely spectacular. There are so many corners of it that I would still love to explore. We are blessed to be able to experience it.
  • Progress – Yes or No! Although we often wish for simpler times, I realize that I really like my high speed internet and my wine bars. Nature is awesome! But so are some of our urban pleasures. 
  • In Hokitika, we talked to some local business people and they don’t really want progress – they like it just the way it is.

What are the urban pleasures and conveniences that you would have trouble doing without for more than a week?

Cheers!

The next post will be about our “pursuit of the ultimate adventure” in our last stretch on the South Island. 













Queenstown NZ – Nature’s Majesty – Oh My!

IMG_20170304_093838He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains.
(Psalm 95:4 )

The Story

My niece’s Kiwi husband had never IMG_20170302_192009been to Queenstown and Milford Sound so
we decide to do this trip with the four of us. Oh My!

Many reviews of the Milford Sound excursions describe it as bucket list material and it certainly is. The views everywhere are absolutely amazing.

We flew down from Auckland and started our five day tour of the Queenstown area, which is surrounded by mountains. A view from the top of the  gondola on the first night was spectacular enough. The next day we drove to Te Anau (2 hours) and went to Milford Sound from there. Milford Sound (Piopiotahi) is another 2 hours drive from Te Anau and is one of many fjords (the most 20160620_045842accessible) on the southwestern coast. Our morning drive from Te Anau into Milford Sound had unbelievable views of mountains all around, probably some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen.

After much deliberation as to  which tour (of many) to book,  we had chosen a smaller boat and an excursion that included kayaking. It was a good choice. – no tour bus, friendly personal staff, kayaking in small groups, great views, and extra time in the sound with the kayaking. As. you will see in Bruce’s video,  it was spectacular.

Bruce’s video of Piopiotahi – https://youtu.be/JIEtYBsoAmM

On our final day in the Queenstown area we did a bike ride along the Queenstown Trail inIMG_20170305_131841 the Gibbstown area which had 6 wineries on route. Needless to say our group was a little light headed on the return ride – uphill and against the wind – cruel. Another spectacular afternoon.

Learning and Growth

  • The incredible majesty of nature, not just its immensity but also its existence for thousands/millions of years reminds us of how our human existence is temporary and rather small in the big scheme of things. I feel very blessed to be able to experience the grandeur in this part of the world.
  • Re accommodations: Booking accommodations for me is quite a stressful part of travelling since I need to sleep well if I am going to enjoy the days’ activities. Things I have learned about  booking accommodations in NZ are:

1) Booking.com (recommended by my 30 something step children)) was very good because most places give you the option of cancelling up to a few days ahead in case you find something better or change your plans. This worked quite well since I could book things from home knowing we had something and could spend more time looking if I had a chance.
2) Book a Bach. (Recommended by my 20 something niece) is an airbandb type site for New Zealand.  The accommodations are really like cottages though so quite basic. I think I prefer the airbandb standards.
3) Accommodation is expensive in NZ so with a budget of $150 a night and wanting the option of being able to cook our own food – and if possible a separate sleeping area –  we are staying mostly in one-bedroom motel style units with a kitchenette. Everywhere we have stayed has had comfortable beds with nice bedding. Everything else about the units has been fairly basic but has met our needs.

What are your strategies and tips for booking decent and reasonable accommodation in places you have never been to before?

  • Re Travel planning: I suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). This was a label my niece gave to the state that I experience when I am travelling and get quite uptight about “the plan” and what we are going to do. It’s true. I tend to overplan and over think things with the goal of maximizing every moment and experience. Seems to be a bit exhausting for my travel mates 🙂 Some of you with whom I have traveled in the past may have had the pleasure of this experience with me 🙂 IMG_20170303_194458
  • Re New Zealand’s South Island. In the South Island of NZ in March, anything  that is not on the tour bus trail is not busy at all. In Te Anau,  we watched a beautiful sunset on the beach and there wasn’t another person around. img_1001
  • When the sun isn’t out, it is chilly. I had left my down coat at home at the last minute but I needed it. I ended up buying another one and have worn it a lot.  Layers are the key.

Cheers from the Queenstown area!

The next post will be about our travels up the West Coast of the South Island.

Auckland – City of Harmonius Contrasts

The Story 
Arriving in. Auckland. The flight from LA to Auckland went quite smoothly after good advice from my niece who lives in Auckland:

  • Take a late evening flight (We left LA at 9:30 pm)
  • Treat the flight like a long night(watch a movie, have dinner, take a sleeping pill and sleep as long as you can, wake up, read, have breakfast) and before you know it, you’re in Auckland with almost no jet lag and a whole day ahead of you. Very cool! 

We spent our first week in NZ in Auckland with my niece and her Kiwi husband. As well, I met another cousin (of Dutch heritage) for the first time who grew up in NZ.  They all have travelled quite a bit and describe Auckland as the best place in the world to live. It is an amazing place with so many harmonious contrasts.

Pakeha (NZ European) and Maori. New Zealand has done a better job than most countries of co-habitating with its indigineous population (or maybe vice versa). Maori is a second official language; many towns are named in Maori and it is common to see both languages on signs. My niece works in a social service organization where she is 1 of 6 white people in a staff of 100. Both her and her husband have spent lots of time with Maori and Pacifika (people from Pacific Islands. They are teaching us to pronounce the Maori language. The first lesson was the alphabet song, which is quite catchy. The story on One Tree Hill in Auckland is a good example of the tensions

Maori Alphabet Song – https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9081U86Ylf4

Story of One Tree Hill in Auckland (also inspired a U2 song)- http://stuff.co.nz/auckland/72814077/new-one-tree-hill-grove-safe-from-chainsaw-attacker

Tasman Sea (West Coast – Rugged) and Pacific Ocean (East Coast – Tropical). Auckland is surrounded by water and at one spot in the city, the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean are less than 5 km apart. On our second day, we got to go on a friend’s sailing yacht to a lovely tropical beach island (Motuihe) just outside the Auckland harbour. What an amazing way to start our visit! A couple days later we drove to an awesome beach on the west coast (Te Henga / Bethells). Every time you head out in the car, there are amazing ocean views.

Bruce’s videos of Motuihe and Te Henga. 

Motuihe (East Coast)
Te Henga  (West Coast)
 

Socialism and Capitalism. Just like Canada, there are many tensions in this country as they try to upload socialist principles in a world that is capitalist. Real estate prices have gone through the roof. Social programs and education budgets are being cut or under incredible scrutiny for “effectiveness and efficiency”. The gap between the rich and everyone else continues to grow. In this country of only 4 million, food costs are almost double of that in Canada yet they have a “living wage” standard that is much better than our minimum wage. We are finding it very expensive but are happy to spend our dollars on local wines and craft beer. Cheers from Hallertau brewery.

Learning and Growing

  • Re Technology:
  • Taking decent selfies is hard. Those of us over 30 need some lessons on how to look good in a selfie.
  • The under 30s have a grasp on using  technology  that we need to learn from.  My niece helped us get a NZ SIM card set  up on an  old  phone.  It is now loaded. with data and phone capability for NZ. Very cool. My cousin showed us an app called Navigator which is a GPS that runs from satellite so you can use it without data
  • Re Culture
  • My husband is learning to drive on the left hand side of the road. It is hard on his brain and scary for the passenger. 
  • Crazy house prices in cities all over the world are making it very difficult for our young people to get started
  • Re Self and Others
  • It is so wonderful to have friends or family to “show you the ropes” in a new country. 
  • The more you push yourself out  of your comfort zone,  the easier it becomes.

What technology tools and apps have you found helpful/useful for travelling?

    Cheers!

    Next stop: Queenstown – NZ South Island