South America 2019 -Part Two-Galapagos Island

Part Two – The Galapagos Islands – UNESCO Heritage Site

  • Situated in the Pacific Ocean – 1000km from the Ecuadorian coast of South America,
  • Approx. 30,000 people live on the islands which make up the Galapagos Marine Reserve.
  • In 1959, approx. 97% of the emerged surface was declared a National Park.

Leaving Quito, we fly to Seymour Ecological Airport, where all travellers pass through an inspection point to ensure no foreign plants or animal matter are introduced to the island.  A guide was to meet us and drive us to the harbour.  When we arrived, we had to wait for our bags to be inspected and headed outside the terminal. There was a multitude of buses waiting and guides hustling everyone aboard.  We met up with a couple of guys from London whom we found out were going on the same catamaran we were on. We had our tickets and headed for the bus that looked like ours. He took our tickets and hoarded us on the bus. We took off on a bumpy, lengthy drive to the water’s edge. They then hurried us all onto a ferry, hurtling all our bags onto the roof. This all looked a bit dodgy, but everyone seemed to be going with the flow. The ferry boat was very crowded, and it stopped when we were about halfway across the waterway.

Someone passed by everyone asking for a couple of dollars to keep going. It was at this point that we were getting a little worried. We had no cash, so our newly acquainted friends kindly paid for us. The boat continued and pulled up at a jetty, where everyone alighted. No signs and no instruction came our way. Most of the travellers headed off to a bus waiting nearby. We were sure this was not where we should be. Everyone up untill now spoke no English, but we approached a female guide who indicated we were in the wrong place. She would fix it for us and told us to wait on the dock and not go with anyone else.  So, we waited, and we waited. We could not get any reception on our phones, so after discussing together, we approached what looked like a security person mingling with a few suspicious-looking gentlemen around a simple timber structure. He spoke very little English but said he would try to call someone. I am not sure how long we waited, but eventually, a second ferry arrived and shuttled us on board. Again, halfway across, they stopped to collect more money. I am guessing they would toss us in the water if we did not pay.  Arriving at the dock again, they indicated a bus would take us back to the airport. The only problem was we had no ticket for the bus to return, so we had to pay again.  At long last, we unloaded back at the airport and were approached by a guy holding a sign with the name of our catamaran on it. He had been waiting there the whole time.  We breathed a heavyy sigh of relief and eagerly jumped onto the correct bus this time.

A short bus drive to the waters’ edge, and we could see our catamaran “The Archipell” safely anchored, waiting for us to board. We were happily greeted by the other guests (two other couples) who had been patiently waiting for the lost party to arrive. The boat was extremely comfortable and beautifully outfitted, and a friendly and experienced crew was looking after us.  That afternoon we settled into our room, chatted with the other guests, and waited for the chef to prepare our dinner. The weather was superb, and the ocean was serene.  A few drinks, an excellent meal and a few more drinks before we settled down to a peaceful sleep to the rhythm of the sea lapping on the sides of the hull.

While we were sound asleep, the crew were in full force travelling and preparing for our first destination.  After a great breakfast, we were allocated our respective inflatable dinghy and started on our journey along the eastern arm of the caldera of Genovesa Island, shouldering the massive 80ft high walls. Landing on a natural platform of rock, we are led up the  Prince Phillip Steps, a steep climb to reach the plateau of the crater. We could see and hear the birds overhead, but nothing prepared us for the experience of standing on the surface of  natural and unspoilt land.

The birds and animals that inhabit were in abundance. I had been hoping to get just a glimpse of something rare but ended up overwhelmed by the sheer number of birds we could see in a matter of minutes. Our first sightings were that of the silky black feathers of the male Frigate bird contrasted by his vibrant red pouch. The sheer size of these birds soaring through the air is magnificent. Then, sitting and watching the intricate antics the male and female exhibit while mating is quite captivating.  Cameras clicked feverishly, thinking this may be our only opportunity. We crept behind the guard, ensuring we stayed on the crude track to avoid disturbing anything. Amazingly we came across a pair of blue-footed Boobies courting each other on the trail. Their ritual is unique; the male lifting his blue webbed feet up and down, waiting for a response, arching, and spreading their wings high over the back, they dance for the female’s attention. They are oblivious of the mere humans standing nearby, this is their turf, and they are not to be disturbed.

We were mesmerised and could have stood there for hours. With more to see, we moved on. Glancing to my right, I saw what looked like a colourful statue of an Iguana. It was within a few feet, maybe two feet long, with a sizeable scaley body. The colour was multiple browns, gold, and yellow. No scurrying away as we stooped to photograph; he just stood, looked at us, and waited for us to move on. This was his land, and we were passing through. Everywhere we looked, there was something to catch your eye. More  Nazca Boobies, red, blue, and grey footed, some mating, and many were resting and watching. We came across more Frigates, iguanas and lizards and then, as the area opened a little more, we saw the Cormorants, little Finches, and a few colourful insects. A rough sandy beach stretched between the scrub and the rocks, with the sea spray from the ocean heralding the rocky surface. To our surprise, there was a small colony of fur Seals idling away the day, lazing in the sun and playing in the ocean. More birds, too many to name flew overhead as we started our return journey.

Heading back to the steps to our waiting dinghy was full of thoughts of what we had been privileged to see. The crew were ready and waiting. A light lunch was devoured, and the prospect of seeing all the wonders of the sea below was ahead. Our boat was heading to Darwin Bay. First, the adventurous would be kayaking in the calm and pristine waters surrounding us. I forego this exercise as I did not think I could manage to get in and out of the kayaks. Ken braved it, and with the guides close behind, they all took off briskly, gliding through the water with ease. We waited and watched as they faded from sight. Eventually, returning at what I felt was a much slower pace. Watching their manoeuvre as they pulled closer to the boat, we saw some exhausted and sore bodies. The next challenge, at least for me, was to try my hand at snorkelling. I have never done this before, but I was determined to give it a go. Once again, the guides were so patient and helpful that it was no time before I had it mastered and was transcended to another place. It is stunning to observe a whole world where there appears to be no sense of time passing.  My only regret, there were no photos to be able to show the absolute beauty and intrigue of what is just beneath the surface. We all returned to the boat to settle down with a glass of wine, a beautiful sunset, a nourishing three-course meal and a well-earned sleep—what a way to finish our day.  If we had to go home right then, we would have been happy, but this was day one with two more full days to come.

Day two – A Day to learn and explore

Bartolome Island, named after Sir Bartholomew James Sullivan, a friend of Charles Darwin, is one of the archipelago’s most visited islands. We landed across a small bay opposite what is known as Pinnacle Rock, a small volcanic cone. Ahead is a 600-metre trail to the summit, some 114 metres up a wooden staircase. Looking up is pretty daunting; however, as you move up the stairway, accompanied by a knowledgeable guide, you are given a running commentary of the plant life, the lizards, and geological wonders along the way. It helps keep you preoccupied and a little more capable of moving onward and upward. I am grateful there was no pressure to hurry and much encouragement to keep going. Reaching the summit is worth the effort. The feeling of accomplishment is substantial, and the view is phenomenal. Looking back down to a panorama of the entire archipelago is a site to behold. The isolation, untouched beauty and the bright blue the ocean gently lapping the rugged volcanic rock is very easy on the eyes.  The walk back down was a lot easier but still lengthy, so we were all ready for some refreshments. We returned to the catamaran for another array of delicious snacks and beverages.

 Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island was our next stop. It is the youngest of the islands. Geologically it is a volcano islet born out of fire. When stepping on what appears to be a lifeless stretch of rock, one imagines stepping onto the surface of the moon. It looks barren and eerie. The lava flow formations are varied and can look like twisted ropes or giant seashells with swirls on their back. There were broken rocks that resembled petrified wood with circular rings covering the surface. Walking on the surface is safe but tricky as we noticed where the rocks were severed like in an earthquake, and one could see a range of colours deep in the crevices.  There are huge hidden holes, and jagged areas butting up against smooth flowing waterfalls of rock.  We were wrong in thinking it was a lifeless area as it was alive with various plant life and cactus peering out from among the shiny lava. An occasional lizard would scurry past. We came across a beautiful piece of white driftwood sitting on the black rock, a photographer’s paradise.

 We then headed to the beach area for a refreshing swim and a wander along the shore. If you are lucky, you will see the Galapagos giant tortoise heading out from the ocean to their hiding place in the shrubs. Unfortunately, we missed them, but we did see the tracks in the sand on their morning escape to the water’s edge. We also saw a couple of cute lava lizards sun-baking on the rocks. We watched a mother-and-child penguin playing in the water close to the shore.  For the next hour, we passed the time by photographing various crabs, frolicking, fighting, building, and resting all over the sand and rocks. Stunning to watch the varying colours of bright reds, vivid orange and mixed burgundy and purple running quickly in and out of the rocks. They range in size from thumbnails to ones larger than the width of your hand. It is captivating to watch the complex behaviour of each one. 

That afternoon we stayed on the boat and mingled with the other seven couples. Four of us were leaving the next day, so a slap-up dinner was being prepared for us all. While relaxing on the deck with a much-needed beer, we watched overhead as several  Albatross showed us the way, dipping and swerving perfectly with the boat’s movements.

On our last morning, the boat took us to Isla Santa Cruz. We sadly said our goodbyes to those lucky enough to stay longer and headed for our tour bus, which would take us to The Van Straelen Exhibition Centre. Here we visited the breeding and rearing centre for young and adult Galapagos giant tortoises in captivity. The centre provides opportunities to observe 11 subspecies of tortoises up close. In the rearing centre, hatchlings are nurtured and, when possible, released, around four years old,  back onto their home islands. Those that cannot be released will find their home at the centre with the adult tortoises. We were able to visit Lonesome George, estimated at 100 to 150 years old.  Our time here was over, and the bus took us back to the dinghy, where we made our last boat trip back to the Seymour Ecological Airport. Our luggage had been sent ahead, and our guides once again looked after our transfers, tickets, and flights.  We had nothing to do but marvel over the last four days.  I would love to say this was the highlight of our trip, but I would be mistaken as we still had so much more to see. What I will say is go if you can. There are several ways to stay and see the Galapagos Islands, and I can safely say whichever you choose would be worth it. It is an extraordinary experience.

I hope you have enjoyed our trip so far. Next we visit Peru-Lima, The Incas and Machu Picchu

Feel free to comment and be sure to follow if you would like to see more.

South America 2019

Late in 2018, my husband turned 70 and we reached our 50th wedding anniversary. We treated ourselves to this trip to celebrate in style. I personally cannot speak highly enough about the whole experience. From day one we were amazed at the culture, the beautiful people and the spectacular scenery in every country we visited. As this was a non-English speaking continent, we decided to go with a tour company. After a few inquiries we settled with South American Tours www.southamericantours.com.au  They work with Condor Travel in South America. I would highly recommend this tour company. Our liaison with them was all via email, they were extremely helpful, versatile and obliging while planning the trip. They were also honest with the advice they gave. Once arriving in SA we found each individual guide was friendly, informative, always on time and immaculately presented throughout the entire trip. We really could not fault them.

Part One Santiago-Valparaiso-Quito

  • Flight Sydney to Santiago Chile is approx. 14 hours no stops, crossing the international date line.
  • Santiago is  the capital of Chile. The official language is Spanish, and the currency is Peso.
  • Avge width of Chile is 120miles, length is 3230miles. Population is 15,400,000-36% live in Santiago.
  • Highlights- Experiencing a new culture, The variety of architecture, the uniqueness of  Galapagos.

We arrived at Santiago airport tired but excited and a little wary. We had been given some tips on the potential dangers of arriving in a foreign country.

There are several exit gates, so we followed the crowd which turned out to be a mistake. This was where the dodgy taxi drivers hounded the passengers for a quick dollar. We anxiously scoured the crowds looking for a tour guide holding up our name. Unfortunately, this took a while and a few tense moments. Once we returned at the correct exit, we saw our guide and were immediately relieved. We were whisked away to a comfortable vehicle and an easy, although busy drive to our hotel. We were then left to our own devices for the afternoon/evening to discover a little of the area where we were staying.  We quickly settled in and took off to pound the pavements. Such a vast difference to what we were used to. It was a busy town, with many churches, alley ways, old buildings crowded into every available space.Horns honking frequently and the driving was at the least erratic. We noticed electrical cables dangling outside apartment windows with no apparent destination. Windows with broken shutters, some with curtains flapping in the hot air and washing dangling from the ledges. Following our crude map we eventually came across the massive, large city square. The meeting and resting place of all the city dwellers.There was a long corridor of eating places on the side and a massive area to congregate. We were led to believe, after lunch it was common for the workers to siesta on the benches in the square. Hence what we thought may have been the homeless were just those surviving the normal work day. We could understand this as pounding the pavements in the heat of the day is quite draining. After wandering for a few hours, we headed back to our hotel for some much-needed food and rest. The following day a walking and driving tour of the city was booked in, showing us the different aspects of the new and the old, the rich and the poor. Up to San Cristóbal Hill for a panoramic view of the city and its vast array of old and modern architecture. A very informative tour with plenty of time left in the day to explore the many parks and museums of Santiago. That evening we found an area nearby made up of tiny alleys and small streets housing a multitude of cafés from which to choose . Finally selecting one, we scoured the menu to find a few words that we could recognise sufficiently to be able to order a meal. So far, we were doing ok as far as choosing our food and drink. It was early days though and our knowledge was very limited.   

The next morning, I awoke feeling little unwell. Was it the sip of water I had or that apple I pilfered from the foyer, I am not sure, but my stomach was feeling a little queasy. However, our car was ready and waiting and so we departed on time for Val Paraiso. Unfortunately, I remember little about the drive as I was very desperately trying to prevent the unleashing of my breakfast all over this very clean car. Thankfully I was able to hold off until we reached our destination. A quick visit to the restroom seemed to help. The residence, namely La Sebastiana, was the home of the Nobel prize winning poet Pablo Neruda. This unique three story building set high on the hill was worth the visit. The stories and artefacts displayed, portrayed a very quaint and artistic personality. Afterward a drive through the colourful labyrinth of hills, which make up Val Paraiso was special and entertaining. It is a university town full of creative people, displaying their art on many of the buildings. We were then left to meander down the hillside and to experience the uniqueness of the funicular railways (two counterbalanced carriages permanently attached to opposite ends of a haulage cable). We then travelled with our tour guide to Vina del Mar, Chile’s fashionable beach resort for lunch and a walk around the town. Our last afternoon and night finished with another great meal sitting on the sidewalk with some wine and street entertainment. An early night due to an early flight the next morning.

Quito is the capital of Ecuador which has a total population of approx 14mill. Language spoken is Spanish and Kichwa.

  • Quito is the capital of Ecuador which has a total population of approx 14mill.
  • Language spoken is Spanish and Kichwa. English is widely spoken
  • Main cities are Quito, Quayaquil and Cuenca. Currency is USDollars.

Quito is a city where modern architecture meets the beauty and the strength of colonial buildings. On first arriving it appears a little old and poor but when you look more carefully the creativity can be seen everywhere. After settling into our hotel, we took a walk around the nearby streets and parks. Quite modern and everything you may want is available. We went to the large impressive museum, there was a couple of very interesting exhibitions and the grounds are quite beautiful. We then wandered through the expansive central park looking at the artworks and the street performers all within a few city blocks of our hotel.

The following day we were guided by car and foot to the older side of Quito, visiting the well preserved colonial centre. We first stopped at the Virgin of the Panecillo, because whether religious or not it is something to behold. The view from the top shows the whole of Quito and beyond. Moving onto the tourist hotspot you are greeted with magnificently well preserved, grand buildings of intricate 16th century architecture. The Plaza de San Francisco is a huge area for the people to relax and mingle surrounded by churches and and many highly distinguished buildings. It has a party atmosphere and a great place to rest your tired limbs. Further on, a highlight was the “Church of the Society of Jesus” the interior richly decorated with gold ornamentation. It is overwhelming and one feels quite humble in its grandeur. Walking up and down the streets and alleys we saw some beautiful quaint little streets, dotted with flower pots and colourful flags. Continuing on, we came across plenty of cafes, boutique shops, more churches and the occasional park. Many hills later, we arrived back at our hotel pretty exhausted.

More walking the next day to see the “Basilica del Voto Nacional” the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas, building began in 1892. A magnificent church with Gargoyles and spirals reaching to the heavens. Ken tells me the view from high in one of the spirals, reached via a dodgy looking bridge of scaffolding, and a steep ladder to the top, was worth the effort.

There is so much more to see and do in Ecuador. If time permits it would be good to stay for longer than a couple of days. That afternoon we organised our washing and packing, as we were off to Galapagos Island tomorrow. This very special place deserves a blog of its own so watch this space for Part 2.

Ballarat/The Grampians/Mungo National Park

Ballarat to Mungo National Park 30th March to 6th April 2022

In April 2018 Ken was attending the NACAA (National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers) held bi-annually over Easter. That particular year it was held at Ballarat, NSW from 30th March to 2nd April. I decided to join him, and we extended our trip to encompass The Grampians in Victoria and Mungo National Park in NSW.

We had not been to Ballarat for quite some time. We arrived at the Mecure Hotel at Ballarat the day before the start of the conference. We first went for a drive to a local area called Lal Lal Falls. This town originated in 1885 as a sheep station. It is only 20 mins out of Ballarat with a tiny population of under 500. The waterfall was not flowing but there were a couple of very easy walks close by. It is a very pretty countryside with an abundance of kangaroos leaping through the trees. The conference is a series of talks on varying astronomical subjects and a visit to the local Ballarat Astronomical Society’s clubhouse to meet up with the local astronomers and view their facilities. We met some friendly, interesting people and enjoyed a  light dinner before wandering back to the hotel with an early start the next morning.

We visited the Ballarat Botanical Gardens, one of Australia’s most significant cool climate gardens. The grounds are beautifully kept with many features such as a conservatorium and a hothouse together with many statues including the avenue of prime ministers. Lunch in their café and then off to walk the six kilometres around Lake Wendouree. The lake is an artificial man-made shallow lake opposite the gardens. It has a paved walking track completely around the perimeter which can be taken at your own speed. It is long but easy with many different views to be taken in. The ducks and swans, birds and artifacts surrounding the water are very pleasing. A very relaxing day overall.

The Great Ocean Road is the next leg of the trip. From Torquay to Allansford. The road is over 100 years old and is 243 km of ocean views. We have been on this road many years prior, in fact, I think there may have been 12 apostles the last time we were there (some had collapsed in the intervening years). This time however a lot less. The road is easy, the views are fantastic and it with now improved facilities, tourists are well catered for. This is a good thing for the country but obviously more people and more traffic frequent the area.  We still loved it and highly recommend it. Whether it is sunny, cloudy, or rainy the beauty of the coastline is not diminished. There are many things besides the ocean to see, lighthouses, artifacts, walking tracks and activities are plentiful. On this trip, we were not stopping off too much as we had more to see.

After visiting the highlights along the road, we turned off and head to The Grampians National Park. This park spans an area of 413 thousand acres. It is a series of low angled sandstone ridges. The area has bushwalking, hiking, rock climbing, fishing, canoeing, camping, animals, pubs, café, lookouts and much more. It is peaceful, spacious, and the animals are friendly and plentiful. We were there for the great walks and lookouts. Hopefully, the photos below give you an idea of its beauty and its accessibility.

We spent a couple of beautiful days here and then headed on our way to Mildura and the start of our short stay in Mungo National Park around 115 km from the town centre.

There is approx. 80 km of dirt road into the park and then a further 80 km out the other side to exit.  We had arranged to stay at the lodge in Mungo for two nights. The worry with this entry is that if the road is not accessible then you are stuck at the lodge. It is a bit of a concern but everything we had read indicated it was worth the effort. Go to mungolodge.com.au for information on accommodation and tours. According to Wikipedia, the park is part of the Unesco World Heritage-listed Willandra lakes region. It covers an area of 274,210 acres. The main feature of the park is Lake Mungo, the second largest of the ancient dry lakes. The Park is noted for the archaeological remains discovered in the park.

We grabbed a takeaway coffee and drove out of Mildura with some trepidation about the quality of the road we were about to endure. The long and wide dusty road stretches in front of you with the typical low lying Australian bush lining the sides of the road. Looking ahead the vast blue skies, green foliage, and deep orange of the road project a stunning view into the wilderness. The road was deserted, we passed the odd vehicle heading back to town. About an hour and a half into the drive we come across the Mungo Lodge. What a pleasant sight. The lodge area and the cabins are laid out in a large circle dotted with shady green trees. The lodge itself is clean, bright, and welcoming. Once registered we headed to our cabin. It was just perfect, large, clean, and very comfortable. A beautiful breeze flows from front to back and a quaint veranda out front and a small porch out the back. All the comforts for a relaxing couple of days. We had booked tours so unpacked and headed over to the lodge for more details. The owners and the staff are super friendly and helpful, and we find ourselves on the Walls of China Sunset Tour.

A small group of people, an excellent guide and a perfect night resulted in a very awe-inspiring evening followed by dinner and drinks. I am hoping the photos say enough as words do little to describe the beauty of the area. The changing colours of the landscape minute by minute were awesome to see. 

The following day after a quiet relaxing evening was very interesting. We did a small drive and a walk to the surrounding area. The landscape is lunar-like, featuring dried up lake beds and sand dunes for miles. Scrub and berries, small trees, and desolate areas where you think nothing could live. Keeping our eyes alert, we found a small kangaroo and her baby, lizards, and other crawling beings. 

After morning tea another organised tour began. The Mungo Woolshed and Visitors centre, the Zanci Station Homestead. Once again, our guide was very knowledgeable, easy to listen to and had many stories to tell. The land is harsh and from the stories told, the people that lived on it were warm, resourceful, and very resilient. We were told The Mungo Lady story, of bones that were discovered in 1968 by a geologist named Jim Bowler. They are said to be about 40,000 years old and show clear signs of intentional cremation and a ritual burial. A further search in 1974 disclosed the bones of a man, buried on his back with hands crossed in his lap and red ochre sprinkled on his body. The details of this ritual showed signs of an advanced culture.

To finish the day a walk around the grounds of the lodge had some interesting moments. Emus, birdlife, lizards, and kangaroos. Dinner and some wine under the stars saw us heading to bed, happy and content with our visit.

An early breakfast before packing and heading the opposite way out of Mungo along another dirt road toward Balranald approx. 2 hrs away.  From here we headed to Orange to meet up with some friends for dinner and an overnight stay. 

That ends our extended trip and we head home to normality once again. I encourage you all to travel around this beautiful country of ours. There is so much to see. I look forward to reading your comments below. Have you been to any of these places and what did you like or dislike about them?

Thank you for reading.

Crackenback Snowy Mountains NSW

Today we started on our way to experience the snowy mountains in summer.  Ken bought me a short stay of four nights in Crackenback Resort for Xmas. It has been raining continuously here at home so we have made sure we packed some wet weather gear and lots to do if we have to stay indoors. The drive which is around 5-6 hrs depending on stops can be mostly highway or like us you can go via Mulgoa road, through Narellan and then onto the main highway toward Canberra. This way you see a few smaller towns and the major development happening at Badgery Creek airport. Highways of course are quicker but can be boring. We were lucky as the sun shone the whole way. Actually the most sun we have seen in quite some time. We stopped off to photograph Lake George because there was water. A rare event I do not remember seeing in my lifetime. It is interesting to see the fence posts poking out just a couple of inches from the waterline. Certainly changes the outlook from the road.  A quick lunch and grocery pickup and we were on our way again. We arrived at the resort and of course as we alighted to take a couple of photos within the grounds of the resort, the rain saw us coming and graced us with its presence once again. Just lightly, but enough to make us scurry back to the car. Driving on a little way we looked for our accommodation nestled at the foothills of the mountain in walking distance to Lake Crackenback. After spending 15 minutes trying to find the key we eventually located the front door. The place was small but perfectly clean, modern, and with every amenity on board. We unpacked and tried to venture down to the lake when the rain decided to visit once again. Back indoors, a glass of wine and some dinner as we watched the clouds and mist settle around the lower part of the mountains making a stunning backdrop. The rain cleared and the cool crisp air was very pleasant. We encountered some very large Pied Currawong’s, a couple of Kangaroos including a Joey and some beautiful Fallow Dear wandering the base of the hills just behind the unit. Movie and an early night are on the agenda before a big day tomorrow. 

Day 2- Roughly 28 years ago we took our six-year-old daughter to the Snowy Mountains and proudly completed the walk to the summit of Mt Kosciusko. What possessed us today to it again I will never know. What we knew but did not realise would add to our kilometres travelled by foot, was that the mountain bike festival/racing was being held in Thredbo and every parking place was taken quite early in the day. Never mind we opted for a car park quite some distance from the chairlift. No shuttles running, not a worry when you are starting out the day. We walked a good kilometre to the chairlift and bought our tickets. Jumped on the open chairlift and away we went. Straight up for 15 minutes with views everywhere. The rain decided to stay at home today so we were afforded some lovely sights. Once alighting from the lift we prepared ourselves for the walk, telling ourselves we can turn around at any time. The first kilometre and a half are pretty steep, so very taxing at the beginning. Having done it before we were able to stay motivated as we remembered the walkway levelled out further afar. Well, we found out that was not exactly the correct recollection. We heard a guide say to another senior couple, “Congratulations, the hard part is done. It is quite undulating and not so difficult for the next few kilometres.” Spoken like a true hiker, who only recognises hard. We continued and my feet started to burn a little. Undulating yes but there is still a lot of uphills to contend with, and did we mention the wind? The boardwalk makes it a little easier but when you look ahead and see nothing but mountains and a small red boardwalk winding around, up and down and seemingly into the unknown, it is very daunting. The positive is, on the entire walk you are surrounded by mountainous hillsides, varying wild flowers in many colours, boulders of every shape and size and babbling brooks meandering under bridges and throughout the hills. You pass by the highest lake in Australia before you reach the highest point in Australia. When the sun shines at the right angle the blue of the water in the lake sparkles against the few patches of white snow spotted here and there. Eventually after a lot, and I mean a lot of self-talk, pauses and groans you will reach Rawsons Point. You would have covered many steps, with pretty strong winds and the sun beating on your forehead. Here a longer rest was needed mainly to psych oneself into continuing on. The sign says 45 mins to the peak( 1.5 kilometres) That sounds easy but is it? The quick answer, not when you are 70 plus. It is an uneven gravel road winding up and around many bends and as you approach each one you are convinced the top is around the next turn only to be confronted with another stretch of gravel. My feet burned, my chest was tight, my legs were objecting severely but my head kept saying you cannot turn back now. I gave in and listened to my head and now I am very glad I did. There is a massive sense of achievement when you round the bend for the last time and see the cairn, which marks the peak, staring back at you. You did it, you beat the challenge and all that was left was to sit and ponder and enjoy the crisp air that is the summit. The hard part is done or so I thought. We took a little time and ate our sandwich, some chocolate and rehydrated. We relaxed for a bit and took the token photo of ourselves standing next to the cairn. Admittedly the views from the top are certainly not stunning if you choose to compare them with other spectacular mountains of the world, however, the vastness of what is The Snowy Mountains, the history of Strzelecki’s work followed by many other explorers braving the elements and the personal achievement of getting there is without argument very rewarding. You can see it and hear it emitting from those who are there waiting their turn to take that one photo. The picture captures each persons face of self-satisfaction.

The last Chairlift down leaves at 4.30pm meaning, if you miss it a further 550 metres of walking almost vertically downhill would be required to get down the mountain. With this in mind, we started our return journey down the mountain thinking to ourselves that it should be a breeze, as it was mainly downhill with a few ups and downs in the middle. I am laughing to myself as I write this. When one uses muscles that have been dormant for some time, forcing them to walk uphill for a lengthy period of time, I believe they must be supported by many parts of the body supported by the mind motivation that helps you along. When you reverse that process and try to use another set of muscles to go down you will discover the result is quite a painful reaction. The kilometre back to Rawson’s pass is straight down on that same gravel road. My sock on one foot was creating friction on my little toe, my hip and thigh muscles complaining immensely and my body tensing from keeping oneself from giving in and slipping the whole way down. This turned out to be quite a frightening and challenging experience. Ken was not much better with his hips objecting loudly. All we could think of was how in hell were we going to get back the 6.5 kilometres to the chairlift and do it by 4.30. What we thought was going to be quick was now looming as impossible. Finally, we reached the last bend where the Rawsons’ pass could be seen.  Our first sigh of relief. The adjacent toilet block allowed a short stay, repositioning of my shoes and socks and a welcome easing of the tension and pain. The muscles were feeling manageable so we decided if we could just keep a steady pace the rest of the way we should be ok. Time was ticking so off we went, we were overtaken by many which were pretty disheartening but we soldiered on. There was still a lot of downhill sections of course which were gruelling but the many flatter sections allow the body to recoup each time. At last, we saw the workmen who were relaying some of the boardwalk. We knew once we got up this hill we only had 1.5 kilometres to go. Checking the watch we also knew we were under pressure. That little hill climb was very taxing and took up valuable time. We reached the top and saw the next downhill section and not far into that section we were very relieved to see the roof of the chairlift building. Motivation increased and a fine sprinkle of rain was with us now so we found ourselves at the pace of a near jog all the way down this next section ( jogging seemed to be easier on the muscles than dragging the body along at a slow pace). Not quite believing it ourselves we made it with 10 minutes to spare. Jumped (on reflection I would say, heaved would be more accurate) on that chairlift and let our bodies relax enough to enjoy the feeling of the cool rain on our aching limbs. Watching all the bike riders weaving in and around the many tracks, some tricky, some muddy, they made it look easy. It is quite fascinating to see young children to seasoned veterans, many in the bright team colours, doing exactly what they love.

Alighting with a heavy thud and our legs frozen from the short spell of inaction we had to stop for a few minutes to enable the blood to flow once again. All that was left was the kilometre walk back to the car. OMG, the last straw. We started and I think I made it 2/3rds of the way until Ken pointed out how long to go. There was no more fuel in my tank. I stopped and could not continue. Poor Ken had to go get the car and come back for me. After a short wait the car pulled up, Ken looked at me and said are you able to manage as I cannot get out to help. I laughed, struggled to move but got the backpacks in the car and flopped onto the seat with absolute exhaustion. We drove back to our accommodation in silence, showered and had a cup of tea. Surprisingly we were ready to hit the road to find the wine and the steak our body was yelling for. Afterwards feeling refreshed and accomplished we happily returned home to sleep.

Day 3. We woke this morning with a little pain which was quite surprising. Both of us expected to be immobile. We thought we would be flat on our back for the whole day.  After taking our time over breakfast we decided to test the limbs and do the walk around our resort while the weather was good.  We started off and not very far onto the walk, Ken stopped abruptly as a snake crossed his path heading away from him. We later investigated to find out it was a Highland Copperhead. We were able to watch it slithering along heading to the river edge. It was a shiny black with distinct yellow markings along the underside. Quite beautiful to watch. We ventured on to see a very young duckling sitting together with his sibling on the edge of the lake. After only a short time one ventured into the water leaving one little fluffy body seated alone. We watched for a few minutes and after what appeared to be much trepidation he faltered and eventually hit the water. Once in, there was no catching him. It was only a short time before he caught up with mum and the sibling and continued on safely. Moving on watching the ducks, of which there were many and all very active we crossed a small footbridge heading to the start of the walk that had ironwork sculptures dotted along the track. The grounds are kept clean and neatly laid out but still allowing them to look quite natural. The facilities in the park areas are extensive for all ages, walking tracks, bike tracks, fitness tracks, children’s trampolines, canoes and kayaks, archery, a cafe, a restaurant, and of course the gift and ski shop. The resort boasts an indoor pool and spa and gym so there is little to complain about. We finished the lake circuit taking in all the unique iron sculptures and headed back to our unit. We decided to drive into Jindabyne to obtain our national park pass, have lunch and take a slow wander around the lake. Lunch was fine and the pass was secured, however, our body was now telling us enough is enough. We were both now feeling the effects of yesterday. A quick decision to take a drive to Perisher and Charlotte Pass instead. It is such a pretty drive with many sweeping views of the surrounding vegetation and waterways.  We got to the end of the road and what faced us was a short 15-minute boardwalk. Should we, should we not. Of course we did and found ourselves among some beauitful ancient snow gums. It was a superb and simple walk but of course at the end, a looming staircase.  Once again you cannot leave without reaching the top. So up we go and again not disappointed. The hills and mountain ranges reached far and wide. Heading back we concentrated on the snow gums which were hundreds of years old. Over the many years of existence, the wind had moulded and twisted them into remarkable shapes. A small area but some fantastic specimens all together to be marvelled at. Walking back to the car we were quickly convinced that a horizontal position at home was needed quickly. Some recovery time was vital. After a few hours rest, we headed off to the resort cafe for a beer and pizza.  I decided I could manage the little walk home so took myself off while Ken took the car home. The wind had dropped and the air was clean and nice. I encountered many birds and three kangaroos who appeared to object to me being in their space regardless of the fact it was a human walking track they were grazing on. I moved aside and skirted around them. I am sure they were wondering why I was in their space. Looking at me with a look of bother in their eyes. Quickly hurrying on as the sky was darkening with nightfall, just a few metres from our accommodation a large mass moved suddenly in front of me. Before I could get the camera activated it scurried to the right and down the hill. A large wombat I believe heading to the hole in the gully we had seen earlier in the day. A nice way to end the walk. Another glass of wine and an early night to rest this very tired but satisfied body. 

Day 4 – It is the last day of our stay at Crackenback and we discussed last night that we would take it easy and just lounge around all day. Well, that was the plan and you know what they say. We started out slow and then Ken came across a waterfall walk which looked pretty flat and easy. We decided why not, let’s do it. Our legs had restored and we just did not want to waste a day. We donned our walking gear and drove up toward Perisher Valley, parked the car and started off. We knew it was a 6-kilometre return easy walk with few stairs. We had no time limit so we went slow. The walk was a pretty, natural bush track surrounded by unbelievably tall snow gums. Straight up with fantastic colours and craggy trunks. The water droplets from the mist hung on the leaves making the bush sparkle. The many spider webs twinkling in the sun. Not far in we see a medium-sized kangaroo sitting on the walking track. He raised his ears, looked at us intently for several minutes and then quickly moved a few metres into the bush. We followed his eyes and noticed him still watching as we passed by.  A little further along a joey was watching inquisitively and not far behind, his mum was guarding quietly. No matter how many times I see them in the wild, I find them intriguing. Maybe it is something to do with my feet bungling through the bush and watching their boundless leaps which seem effortless.  

There were many tiny bush flowers and many snow gums to take our eye along the way. After nearly 3 kilometres and a few muddy spots to manoeuvre we came across the waterfall. It was quite pretty and flowing freely. Worth the effort and my legs were feeling ok. We were both however a little tired and Ken’s face was showing the grief of his unyielding hip pain. The track headed up a little which was a bit gruelling but nothing we could not handle. We located a large fallen tree trunk to sit and rest our bones and enjoy our rissole sandwiches and fruit with a little chocolate for energy. Once rested we took off again. There were a few mutters along the way as we did seem to be climbing quite a bit. So much so that we questioned ourselves as to whether we had missed a turn and were on the wrong track. Ken found a faint signal on the mobile and located our whereabouts to determine if we were going in the right direction. There was no sun at this point to guide us so we took note, tramped along for about what we thought was a kilometre and checked the map. We were a little relieved as it looked like we were making progress in the right direction. Turning a bend we saw a plethoria of magnificent boulders on the side of the track. It is a little strange when you are walking among bush and trees and suddenly from the ground, massive rock structures impede your way. Like giants forbidding you to go further. They stand immovable, imposing and intriguing. Children would relish the challenge of mastering these natural monsters. The track wound on but it was starting to feel like we were heading down now. A couple more kilometres and we reached the bottom without incident.  By now my legs were feeling the strain and Ken was certainly battling the pain. Back to our car and a quick drive to Jindabyne for some much needed Tiger Balm ointment and even better a beer and a glass of wine. Some takeaway Chinese food for dinner and home to settle in for the night. A pat on the back for both of us for making the effort. It is interesting as Ken and I have been doing this type of walk and adventure throughout all of our married life. I constantly say it is not my thing but I go with him trekking through the bush many times and I always finish up feeling accomplished and satisfied. Why I complain, I have no idea, a habit I guess. If you asked me what I like, I would say sitting on the rocks at the beach, watching and listening to the waves tumbling, or sitting with friends in a cafe with non-stop conversation, both of which are just a tad different to bushwalking. I guess I just like doing something.

Day 5-We have to head back home today, our short stay in the Snowy Mountains finished. We had breakfast, packed our bags, removed the rubbish and we were on the road again. We stopped briefly at Jindabyne to photograph a memorial and the many seagulls lining the shore of the lake. We had intended to do a small walk but our physical bodies were not agreeing. We headed off to Cooma to visit the graveyard. I have been doing some ancestry investigations on our families and I know both my mother’s parents lived in Cooma and surrounding areas at some point. It is a very laborious task researching birth certificates etc and trying to substantiate the connections. I wanted to see if there was an old section in the cemetery where I might find some relatives. I managed to find one very old grave of the wife of my Great Great Grandfather who died in November 1902 at just 40yrs old. I will now have to connect it to a death certificate so I can be sure.  Pretty happy I was able to find anything at all.  We drove onto Queanbeyan for lunch which was pretty ordinary.  Ready now to return to our haven at Hazelbrook. Overall a really great five days which we vowed we will do a similar trip again while we are still able. I have also added a few photos of the animals roaming free at the resort at Crackenback. Would definitely recommend this place for everyone.

Hope you have enjoyed following us around and will come back and visit again soon. Please feel free to comment and follow my blog for further travel and life experiences. Enjoy your day.

50th Wedding Anniversary Holiday

23rd November 2018, 50 years to the day we married at the Sydney Registry office NSW.  During this time, we had experienced trips to New Zealand, Hong Kong, North and Sth America and different states of Australia. We have enjoyed all of our trips.New Zealand was a particular favourite of ours as it is a short plane ride, inexpensive with very beautiful countryside and friendly accommodating people. 

As a complete surprise to me Ken decided our next trip to NZ would be to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in my style of holiday. Normally I organise everything with discussions with him about modes of transport and particular interests. Our normal way of seeing a country is to move daily from town to town visiting the vast array of scenery and specific highlights on offer for the region. During our travels we cover a lot of ground on the premise that we may not get back to the place again and therefore want to see as much as we can. I have found myself on occasions expressing a desire to stay put for a few days and visit more of the city. I was about to get my wish. On this occasion, Ken organised everything, unbeknown to me. This is a  massive undertaking  for him as he is not used to the whole process. He booked the flights, organised an air B&B, planned and booked tickets for our excursions. It was very organised, and I did not have to lift a finger. I had no idea where I was going until we had to check in at the airport.  As it was, he had to reveal to me that  we were flying somewhere as he had encountered a small problem when booking the airfare. Apparently, he had been doing really well with the plans until he had to produce the passports.  He scrounged everywhere not knowing where I had stored them, luckily came across them and proceeded to enter the details. To his horror he discovered that my passport had expired. With great disappointment he had to tell me what was happening, with the hope that I could renew my passport quickly to avoid cancelling the whole idea.

He was so disappointed in having to tell me this and as happy as I was to find out about this surprise event, I was more concerned about what he was saying as I was positive my passport was in order.  As the story unfolds’ we discovered he indeed had my passport, but it was an old one which had most definitely expired. What he did not know was that weeks earlier I had needed my passport to prove identity for something and had my current passport in my handbag.  It was well and truly up to date and the catastrophe was averted.  I know knew something but not everything, part of his surprise was still in a secret.

We headed off on the train to the airport when I finally discovered our destination as we checked in for the flight. Once seated he handed me the itinerary all neatly presented in a folder. I was so surprised and felt very special that he had managed to do this and keep it a secret. We could have been going to the next town and I would have been happy. The surprise was the doing.

So we arrived in Christchurch airport very late 12.30 am, picked up a hire car and headed to the city. Our accommodation was at the Heritage Hotel, Cathedral Square in the middle of downtown Christchurch. It is a grand and opulent building designed by Joseph Clark Maddison in 1909.  It is a restored Italia High Renaissance palazzo style building. Originally designed to centralise various government departments. It opened in 1913 and housed those government departments until 1980. The building sat idle and was in threat of being demolished when it was purchased and resold in 1995 at which time it was converted into a hotel. It is now made up of fully self-contained apartments. Our particular air B&B was immaculately clean, modern but still with the heritage air about it. Luxuriously comfortable for our weeks stay.  We had the next seven days to leisurely make our way around the city taking our time seeing the sites.

Walking around the city you are faced with both destruction and beauty. The massive effort from the locals to restore their city is very noticeable, as is the love exhibited in the beauty of the memorial wall built for those who lost their lives to the earthquake of 2011. Not only is Christchurch a wealth of heritage buildings and beautiful churches it is also a modern town with modern structures, plenty of eating and entertainment areas and at the same time it is quiet and peaceful wandering the streets.

The following day we visited the Botanical Gardens and the Mona Vale Gardens. Both of these gardens are in the city and very accessible. The Mona Vale Gardens show many flower varieties in full bloom and in plentiful supply. The grounds are in exemplary condition with a river running through the centre and a glorious house open to the public. After spending a couple of hours, wandering and photographing we headed back into the city to check out the Botanical Gardens. Equally as impressive. The grounds are extensive, with lots of grand old trees and the River Avon running through the centre. There is a stunning conservatory with a very intense display of a variety of flowers and plants and some very interesting Cacti. We had lunch in the gardens and wandered back to rest a little before our planned anniversary dinner that night. My legs and feet had survived a massive walking day and were looking forward to a relaxing evening.

It is the night of our anniversary and a special dinner has been organised by Ken. I did not know where the venue was so got ready assuming it would be an upmarket restaurant. I was told we would be picked up from inside the Mall at Cathedral Junction to be taken to our destination. To my surprise an elegant looking tram arrived and our name was called to join the other passengers. What a lovely treat. The tram had been converted to a fine dining restaurant which weaved its way in and around the city of Christchurch while serving a beautiful three course meal and matching wine. The service was impeccable and the food delectable. It is amazing how much of the city you are able to see without using ones legs. A happy relief on my part. We were not hurried and when we finished the tour we wandered across the road for a nightcap at the bar attached to our hotel before retiring to the luxury of our accommodation. It was a beautiful day and night.

It is day four, a Saturday and time to venture outside of the the CBD. We are heading to Akaroa to experience the only French settlement in NZ. It’s about a 90 minute drive from Christchurch . Akaroa is a small sleepy little village on the Banks Peninsula, a town deep in Maori  and settler history. It is such a pretty place made up of holiday places, cafes, gift shops  and the main wharf area. While we waited for our boat to arrive we sat with coffee on the boardwalk watching the cute little seagulls searching for handouts. They are totally different in their habits than the seagulls you will find on the coast of Australia. They have a distinct red beak and red feet. They seem to create their own little territory so that if another mate comes near their source of food they chase them away. Quite cute to watch. The boat arrives to start our two and half journey around the waters of the Banks Peninsula. It was overcast and quite cool but even though a little disappointing that the sun had not joined us we were rugged up and ready to go. The water is calm, the surroundings are magical and once we were underway and out of the bay area we were escorted by a couple of playful dolphins. Always a joy to watch. The next thing that caught my eye was the brilliance of the water with bright turquoise and green tones  lapping against the rocks. There are several water falls cascading down the green hillsides surrounding us. A little further on we approached an inlet where the boat sat quiet so we could watch the many seals sunbathing in various precarious positions on the rock ledges. They were surrounded by several different species of birds. Our guide was informative and as we were part of a small group we were able to see and experience everything close hand. We both enjoyed ourselves immensely. On our return we wandered through the village checking out the many souvenirs on offer and settling down at one of the cafes for lunch.  Before heading back to Christchurch we visited the Lighthouse and the Garden of Tane.

Sunday arrived and we were tired but relaxed. Time to use our very relaxed limbs and have a bit of a stroll through the alpine mountain pass called Arthurs Pass. A haven for walkers and skiers. We headed off early to the visitors centre. It is about a two hour drive from Christchurch. We had travelled across the magnificent Otira Gorge in a camper-van many years ago and more recently in the Tranz-alpine Train. It is the highest and most spectacular pass across the Southern Alps.The views were to say the least stunning on both occasions and we would both recommend the trip to everyone. I am sure I will be mentioning it in a future travel blog. For now, on this day we travelled by car with the intent of walking one of the many tracks near the village centre. Initially passing the village we headed up to the Otira Viaduct lookout which gives a great view of an ingenious piece of engineering involving bridges, viaducts, rock shelters and guided waterfalls. Photo’s do not do it justice. If you are lucky you will see a beautiful bird called the Kea known as the naughty alpine Parrot. There are many videos on the internet showing its level intelligence and its playful habits. We were thrilled to have one walk by very close to us. Certainly he was not afraid of us.

We then headed back to the visitors centre. Once there you have the option of several walks. We chose the Devils Punchbowl walking track which starts at the northern end of the village. It is only 2km return trip with easy walking. You will cross the river by footbridge and then wander for a while passing many Beech trees, listening to the chatter of the many birds. You then come across a fairly steep set of stairs heading upwards for around 150 meters. At the top you reach a platform to view the falls in all their glory. Absolutely stunning and very accessible. We took our time climbing around the waterfall, photographing and enjoying it’s many aspects and then wandered back slowly. The weather was not great for walking or photography so we decided to take our time looking at the surrounding area, namely the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve. We chose not to walk through the cave due to the rain. Hopefully we will get to do this another trip. As the road follows the Waimakariri river back down to the golden tussock covered lands at the foothills you will come across Castle HIll. Take the time to stop and wander across to look closer at the massive array of boulders dotting the landscape. Surrounded by hills and mountains it is quite a majestic scene. We stopped at a roadside hotel for lunch and then headed back to Christchurch to wander a little more through the shops of Christchurch. Ending the night at an Irish pub called The Bog which had a great atmosphere led by a very lively Irish band.

The second last day of our trip we took a drive to Lake Tekapo, Good Shephard Church and Mount Johns observatory (The token Observatory visit ). Lake Tekapo’s bright blue waters set against the contrasting green lands with snow topped mountains rising in the background is a very relaxing scene. We have had the pleasure of witnessing it when the sun was shining brightly helping to capture its natural beauty. Today was overcast and certainly not as beautiful but we were blessed with a stillness in the air. A place to sit and ponder ones thoughts in peace with only the occasional bleating of the sheep to break the silence.

A short visit to the University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory. Situated 1029 meters and overlooks Lake Tekapo. The clear skies and low levels of local light pollution have helped put the observatory on the international map with observations and discoveries of the southern sky. The dome houses a 1.8 prime focus reflector being the largest telescope in New Zealand. Visiting during daylight presents you with a great view of Lake Tekapo and the surrounding farmlands. An iconic landmark at Lake Tekapl is the Church of the Good Shephard. Easily found sitting on the foreshore flanked by glorious pink, purple, yellow and white lupins. These are an introduced flora species to New Zealand and considered invasive. Having said that they are also a very attractive tourist asset. Being there at the end of November was just at the start of the season. They were sparser then we have seen before but together with the yellow gold of the tussocks spotted throughout it was a beautiful scene. The Church itself was built in 1935 with the instruction that the site was to be left undisturbed. Close by is a bronze sheepdog statue, erected in 1968 being a tribute to the sheepdogs used in developing the farmlands in the Mackenzie region. Heading back along the state highway 79 we stopped for a coffee at a tiny place called Three Creeks. You will see from the photos a sign on the store says “Lost in the 50’s ” So true and so quaint. Many hours could be lost just rummaging through the amazing piles of stuff. Well worth stopping. The road takes us now through the continuing beauty that is the South Island. We detoured a little to drive via Mt Hutt. The town is nestled in a small valley surrounded by mountains. A very popular ski area and a thoroughly serene and picturesque place to drive through in the summer months. Then a pleasant drive through the outer suburbs of Christchurch and a wander around the city before settling down for dinner and a glass of wine to end the day.

The last day but definitely not the least. We started off early heading up the east coast to the Kaikouri Peninsula. Again another easy beautiful 180 km drive through the green hills, farmland and then hugging the coastline watching the waves crash on the rocks.

The roadworks nearer to Kaikouri were intense due to much damage from the earthqake. It was not a bother and actually pleasing to see the improvements under way. Arriving in the small seaside town we parked and headed to where the seals were lounging around claiming the rocks as home. One old fellow who was very large had claimed his spot under the seat on the side of the road totally oblivious to the humans nearby. Those who had taken up residence on the rocks closer to the shore would let you know when you were too close by emitting a low guttural roar. Scary enough to make one take heed and move on. The birds are in abundance and great to watch as they soar through the sky, swim in the ocean or waddle across the rocks. We decided to take a walk up to the point where the Ocean meets the Forest. A taxing walk uphill but paved, making it a little easier. Worth the trip as it is quite exhilarating at the top where the view of the mountains, the birdlife and the surrounding bushland blend together naturally. Really glad I made the effort. It was drizzling rain some of the way but it added to the experience. We made sure we headed over to the town for some fish and chips. After eating and wandering around the shops and the shoreline we made our way to our next destination, Hanmer Springs. This part of our trip was a total surprise to me. Going to a spa is something I have done before but only in a closed-in resort style spa and sauna. This was an outdoor spa which Ken had investigated and had on the itinerary. It was not something we would normally do. So the town on Hanmer springs is all about relaxation. There is accommodation, many outdoor activities, food, alcohol and thermal pools. We headed to the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools right in the centre of the town. Changed into our costumes and ventured into the first spa. It was raining lightly and just 10 degrees, so we agreed if not comfortable we would not stay long. Several hours later after trying out the many pools available we had to drag ourselves away. The pools were all different heat levels and had different specialties. Some were very hot with no activity needed, others not as warm but with jets hitting you on various parts of the body, bringing alive muscles which had been asleep for some time. Each pool had its own appeal. It was so relaxing, so indulgent and very invigorating.The light rain added to the experience. It is something that will now be added to our future trips whenever possible. It was time to leave and head back to our temporary home for one more night. The drive back mid to late afternoon took us through the Balmoral Forest and across the Jurunui River. Passing farms, rich with crops, vineyards and olive groves which the Waipara region is known for and the continuous rolling green hills of the South Island. The last part of the journey returns to the beaches of Amberley, Waikuku and Woodend. Such a beautiful day to end our time in the South Island. We finished the night with a lovely dinner and drinks at the hotel restaurant. Packed up for an early flight the next day. It will be a holiday I think we will both remember for a long time and my wonderful hubby deserves more than full marks for his effort.

USA 2017 Part 3

Our next leg of this trip is centred around New Mexico. The highlights were White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns Roswell and up to Colorado to visit Manitou Springs.

After spending the night in La Cruces New Mexico we headed to White Sands National Park. On the way we stopped off at Dripping Springs Natural Area. there is a small visitors centre where the many walks are shown on detailed maps. We were limited in time so did the smallest and closest walk. We visited a cave occupied in the 1800s by a priest with healing powers known as The Hermit. An interesting story in the plagues below.

Continuing onto White Sands National Park, a natural landscape of brilliant tiny particles that reflect the sun, making the crystals shine “white” to the human eye. It covers an area of 275 sq miles (590 km) and is situated in the southeastern part of the state. The wave-like mounds are made predominantly of gypsum crystals, making this the world’s largest gypsum dune field. There is an easy drive about 15 km into the centre of the area. There are some parts of the drive where you feel like you are in another world. Surrounded only by white with the occasional drop of colour spotted on humans experimenting with the landscape. Other areas present more texture and colour with small shrubs and plants protruding. You can walk up and over the dunes or ride a sled down the embankments. We ventured onto the Interdune Boardwalk which is approx 600 metres of easy walking. We were lucky enough to see a couple of lizards along the way and I have to say with no overhead coverage the walk was quite hot. As you can imagine August, even though near the end of summer in the US it is still very hot in this type of environment. In slightly cooler weather you could spend more time simply wandering around, gazing at this natural wonder.

Time for some astronomy of course. It would not be a Wallace trip without visits to the local observatories. Located within the Lincoln National Forest, south of Cloudcroft, is Sunspot. Here you will find the National Solar Observatory on Sacramento Peak. It is at an elevation of 9200 feet (2800 m). I have included a link here to explain its purpose https://sunspot.solar/about I think this will give you more insight than I could give. Unfortunately, we are unable to enter the actual observatories but there were viewing windows showing you the very interesting inner workings of the site. At least the surrounding grounds were quite pleasant to wander through and presented some stunning views of the countryside.

We move on now to Whites City where we stayed for a couple of days to visit Carlsbad Caverns. There are two ways of entering the monstrous limestone mountain. One was the traditional way which is to walk the natural entrance trail down into the massive main cavern. The second was to ride via a lift down 750 feet to reach the underground gift centre and then explore from there. Certainly not the same as the many stairs on offer in the Jenolan Caves system here in NSW Australia. On the first day we chose the lift as it was different. It is quite surprising alighting from the steel interior of the lift, expecting to see a dark and damp space, you are confronted with a huge open cavern with a large brightly lit gift shop with refreshments. It is just not what you expect at all. From here you can do either a quided tour or a self quided tour. As we have been in quite a few caving systems in our time we chose the self-quided. What I remember most was the size of the vast caverns and the ease to access them. The lighting was superb and walkways wound in and out showing all aspects of the limestone. Hopefully this sprinkling of photo’s will give you an idea of the size and beauty. The second day Ken decided to do the walk into the cave. Having scaled many a cave wall in Australian caves over the years this was more natural to him. A very tired but happy person returned relating the experience as being spectacular with another ridiculous amount of photo’s added to the camera.

The next town we visited is one which had come up in conversations many times. Being involved in Astronomy the subject of UFO’s is often broached. Roswell was a town well known for a supposed flying saucer crash in 1947 (it was actually a US Army Air Force balloon). We had to stop out of sheer curiosity. The entire town is decked out in a UFO theme. Everything is greatly embellished, sometimes to the point of ugly. The museum exists of models of aliens, flying saucers, a multitude of newspaper articles and other various things relating to the “visit”. Even the street lights are of an alien nature. I am not sure what we expected but this town is certainly worth a look.

We move a little north now to Santa Fe, still in New Mexico. This town was founded as a Spanish colony in 1610. It is known for its Pueblo style architecture. The town has a main plaza dotted with many grand buildings and churches. The buildings are predominantly made from adobe (sun dried mud) with massive heavy timber doors and dark ceiling beams. There are many churches dotting the horizon in Santa Fe. I believe the main church in the plaza is the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi more commonly known as St Frances Cathedral. Another very interesting piece of architecture is The Loretto Chapel, where the Miraculous Spiral Staircase can be found. The history of its origins can easily be researched on the internet along with much advertising for weddings etc. The surrounding narrow streets with all the nooks and crannies, markets, galleries and eating places are quite a treat to wander through. I found this town to be one of the prettier in New Mexico that we experienced. Not far out of Santa Fe we stopped at the Rio Grande Gorge bridge, locally known as the “High Bridge”, being a steel deck arch bridge across the Rio Grande Gorge 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Taos, New Mexico, US. The gorge depth is 800 feet (240 m) over the Rio Grande river. More importantly this is the bridge featured in the movie “Natural Born Killers” where Mickey and Mallory Knox marry. We then moved onto Taos Pueblo, a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is a living village and considered a sacred place where life continues from the earliest of human existence. There are approx. 150 people living within the Taos village. You can wander around the grounds and into the buildings. We noticed people living and working around their homes, of which many were artists selling handmade goods. We found them forthcoming with conversation and interesting people.

We take off early passing via the palisades sill marker. Spectacular cliffs and palisades (fine-grained porphyritic dacite sill) in the Cimarron River canyon in Northern New Mexico. It is a beautiful drive on our way to the Capulin Volcano. The volcano is a cinder cone Volcano and this one is considered a perfect example of the larger ones in USA. From the top of the volcano, four different states can be viewed. The drive up is pleasant and takes only 10-15 minutes to reach the car park. We then took one of the trails to explore more closely. The Crater Rim Trail is a steep paved one mile loop around the rim with fantastic views. The thing I remember most was the lady bugs. Thousands of bright orange and black ladybugs hugging the tree trunks and rocks as you reach higher on the volcano. To see so many in one place is quite spectacular. I believe the bugs feed all summer and then hibernate throughout the winter so we were lucky to be there just at the right time. I had no expectations about this visit and ended up enjoying my time there immensely.

We are finally close to Manitou Springs in Colorado. The part of the trip which I have been looking forward to. The countryside is beautiful everywhere you look. The town is a picturesque tourist town with a variety of old and new shops, eating houses, parks, river walks. We are staying at a motel in the middle of town for a couple of days. The first place on our agenda was Pikes Peak. Part of the Rocky Mountain Range, Pikes Peak stands 14,115 ft above sea level. The road continuously winds through stunning tall pine trees, rocky outcrops with snowy edges and wide open mountainous hills. The road is 19 miles long, has 156 turns and climbs 6,715 ft from the entrance of the highway. Driving is a little scary with steep climbs, sharp turns and death drops on both sides. Very few guard rails and quite a bit of fast moving traffic. It is a long breath holding hour up the mountainside, but once the top is reached the fear is quickly replaced with awe. The air is clean and thin but very chilly and you need a minute or two to adjust for the altitude. Everything is picturesque. For me personally it was overwhelming, I found myself mesmerised by its beauty with a few tears wetting my cheeks. I have seen many beautiful views from very high mountains previously but the contrasting colours of the green trees, the bright blue lakes, the white snow, red rocks and blue and white skies was breathtaking. Maybe it was the combination of the scary drive and the sharp air filling my lungs I really cannot say but it is not a view I will forget easily. We spent some time walking the summit with Ken photographing from every angle. For the feint hearted or time poor there is a cog railway train that will take you to the peak. It does not stop for long but enough to take in the view and of course visit the gift shop. It happened to arrive while we were there so we were able to get a few photo’s and watch it take off on the return trip. We spent some time in the gift shop and cafe before departing for the return trip. What we found interesting just over half way down the mountain there is a compulsory pit stop where every car has to have their brakes checked for overheating. If the brakes were hot you were made to pull over and wait in the car park until they return to normal before continuing the journey. My husband expressed concern quite a few times at other drivers excessive use of their brakes on the way down so it was a very necessary safety stop and there were many cars patiently waiting.

The Manitou cliff dwelling museum was our next stop. I know we have seen quite a few dwellings up till now and the thought of another was not exciting us a lot. These dwellings were original near Mesa Verde but were moved to Manitou in 1907 with the purpose of saving the 40 room structure from vandalism. They were reconstructed with concrete mortar as opposed to the original mud clay to allow human traffic to explore the ruins for many years to come. They have constructed a huge 3 level museum of interesting facts, many stories and some exquisite pieces of art along with the normal touristy gift ideas and restaurant.

The last stop for this leg of the trip is Garden of the Gods. This was unplanned for in our itinerary. We arrived here mid to late afternoon driving through and marvelling at our surrounds. You are able to park in varying places and wander off on side trails stopping for views or to climb some rocks, We were so surprised at the ease of the walking trails and the beauty surrounding us. The park can be navigated in many ways, eg; by car, foot, segway, jeep or even horseback. Most of the pathways are paved and easy walking. There is a trading post with maps, gifts, coffee and snacks. Garden of the Gods is an area gifted to Colorado Springs by Charles Elliott Perkins and his family on the condition that the whole area be free to all visitors forever after his death. He absolutely cherished the place and his legacy was for as many people as possible to see and enjoy what he loved and treasured. Once you have seen it you will agree with his sentiments. We decided to come back the following morning to see the sun shine and highlight the true nature of the many large rock formations. Both red and white boulders jut out from the ground commanding attention. We also walked a lot further this time and Ken climbed one of the taller rock formations. What a peaceful and tranquil way to finish our stay in Colorado.

Hopefully I have not bored anyone too much as I know holidays are really only special to those who are experiencing them. I have to say here, by doing this blog I am certainly reliving our adventure and highly recommend the process. We are not yet finished as we head to The Rocky Mountains National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mt Rushmore and The Badlands in South Dakota. I invite you to like and follow my blog. Bye for now.

USA 2017 Part Two

Leaving  Lake Powell, Page behind us, we headed toward Monument Valley. First stop is to view the cliff dwellings at Navajo National Monument in Arizona. Navajo lands cover over 27,000 square miles. The cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) people of the Southwestern United States are just a tiny part of the wonderous varying landscape. Once at the visitors centre it is a reasonable walk to the overhanging  platform. Here you can view the dwellings surrounded by beautiful countryside. At 66yrs I found the walk quite easy and well worth the effort. I believe there are also several walks which take you down further into the valley floor.

We move on now toward our next destination. On the drive approaching Monument Valley you get a little taste of the magnificence of the Buttes (flat-topped, steep-sided towers of rock) reaching toward the sky. Buttes are created through the process of erosion, the gradual wearing of earth by water, wind, and ice. There are several accommodation options outside Tribal Park, but we chose this time to stay up close and booked 2 nights at The View Hotel. It is situated on the edge of the park blending in with the natural red earth and towering buttes surrounding it. Our room was at the south end, it was beautiful and spacious with a huge balcony looking straight onto the brilliance of the park. We then ventured out to master the valley drive, a 17-mile loop road of dirt and gravel within the confines of the park. It is difficult to describe the uniqueness of the area. The colours and shadows change completely at every angle. The stark red against the cloudless blue sky is magic. The earth is desolate and yet seems alive and active. There is a spattering of primitive homes throughout the area and a small trading post shop. With every twist and turn in the road a new and amazing view is revealed.

We hurried back so as not to miss the opportunity for a little sunset photography. Before venturing out we opened a bottle of wine and stood on the balcony marvelling at the vision before us. We meandered through the grounds, photographing, and waiting for the sunset which did not disappoint. Absolutely mesmerising and stealthily quiet atmosphere as the Sun slowly headed to the other side of the world and allowed the gigantic rocks to sleep for the night. Dinner in the hotel restaurant was simple but tasty food with a casual atmosphere, (note no alcohol as the Navajo have a strict policy regarding the serving of alcohol).

The next day we were booked on a tour with a Navajo guide. We were wondering if we had wasted our money as we thought we had seen the park already. Our young guide led us to an open windowed jeep and headed off to the gated parts of the park we had not previously seen. It was interesting to hear of the structure of the Navajo community regarding their laws and the expectations of their people. We were part of a small group, only six of us and therefore we were able to experience the Navajo ways up closely. We were able to visit a typical hut dwelling and see some authentic weaving. Watched the Navajo ponies in their natural environment and visited some sacred sites. Discovering more details about the archaeology and the anthropology of the landscape proved very interesting. The guide was informative, easy to relate to and a wealth of knowledge. We were thoroughly entertained and educated the whole time. We returned to the hotel, on the way watching the Sun setting slowly behind the Buttes. Early the next morning we were able to witness a spectacular sunrise. The atmosphere was beautiful. Everyone waiting for the first light to hit the ground. Anyone who has watched a sunrise will know the calmness that envelopes you.

It was sad to leave such a captivating place. A quick trip to the Visitors Centre to purchase something to remember the experience and back on the road again.

We head up to cross the border again into Utah making our way to The Mexican Hat (a huge pile of red rock with a large flat rock sitting on top). Close by we visited Gooseneck State reserve which sits  about a 1000 ft above the San Juan River. It is a fantastic place, quite vast, dry, and deserted with the river weaving in and out of huge grey rock structures. After this we drove via the Moki Dugway which is a steep, gravel road traversing 1,200 feet from the valley floor to the top of Cedar Mesa. It is not very wide and zig zags back and forth continuously. Quite a scary drive fearing the presence of a large RV or truck heading toward us with nowhere to go. I have included a photo from the internet as we were unable to stop to photograph on the way up. We lived to tell the tale and headed straight onto the Natural Bridges National Monument again crossing over into Utah.

Declared a National Monument in 1908, the bridges are named “Kachina,” “Owachomo” and “Sipapu” in honour of the ancestral Puebloans who once made this place their home. There is a great little visitor centre which was very informative. On the road again, we headed to Colorado to visit Mesa Verde National Park. The park has some of the best preserved ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites in the US. You will find a lot of information on the history of this area on google which is fascinating reading. We were booked on a  guided tour the next day which was superb.

Starting with a bus drive around the surrounding area, visiting ancient Pit Houses and Pueblos (AD700-795). After a reasonably easy descent to the ruins, we were able to wander through the site and photograph the cliff dwellings. Once again, we were fortunate to have a great guide who offered plenty of information and amusing stories about the ancient inhabitants. We completed taking our photographs and headed to the way out. They had warned us at the beginning that the exit from the ruins may be difficult, so we were prepared for a challenge. It turned out to be straight up several daunting ladders, squeezed in between the rocks weaving through some very tight spots. I must admit the ordeal was a little harrowing but extremely rewarding once we reached the top.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and after a shower we headed to the lodge restaurant for a well-earned scrumptious meal by the window overlooking the surrounding area, finishing with a cocktail on the outside rooftop platform. The next morning, we headed to Window Rock in Arizona. This is a beautifully designed park with interesting monuments and a great walk to view the large natural opening known as Window Rock.

The next step in our journey required us to travel to Socorro in New Mexico via Albuquerque. There was a couple of little walks and displays we discovered on the way, but the main attraction was The VLA (Very Large Array, a radio telescope). Astronomy is a passion of my husbands and to see this site was quite amazing. In a sparse area on the plains of San Agustin, 50 miles west of Socorro, stands one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories. It consists of  27 radio antennas in a Y shaped configuration with each antenna being 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. The first antenna arrived at the site in 1975. When the moveable antennas are spaced furthest apart that they can be, it is able to make very high-resolution measurements that can pinpoint objects in space very accurately.

The VLA is a monumental site which you are not likely to forget easily. There is a self-guided tour which allows a close look at one of the antennas. After a multitude of photographs had been secured, we took a quick look around the visitor’s centre ending our visit very satisfied.

PHOTOS Inserted here.

Come back and join me on the next blog where Ken and I visit White Sands, some observatories, Carlsbad Caverns and Santa Fe, New Mexico.  

Lightening Ridge, Opal Mining

A week away with friends at Grawin

We are spending this extended long weekend with some of our friends from the astronomical crowd. We have all journeyed to Northern NSW to visit Frances and Brett who own mines at Grawin, west of Lightening Ridge. On the way is certainly interesting landscape. Lengthy flat roads , bright yellow canola fields ,the wide expanses of farmlands splattered by trees and red clay areas. Hills in the distances and quaint country towns to break the silence and stop for coffee or lunch. It is somewhat sad but thought provoking to see the uninhabited homesteads left to ruin. So many stories left to our imagination. The once vibrant shops now empty and forlorn. We are pleasantly surprised that the grounds show signs of recent rain and green pastures increasing. Lands that were surely brown a few months back. 

Friday night we all arrived at the Opal caravan park. we had booked a small cabin on line and were really happy to see it was in very good condition, clean and comfortable. With some friends already there our first night started with wine and cheese moved onto a makeshift barbecue dinner with whatever we had to contribute and lots of catch up conversation. We all chatted about the varying routes we took to get here and relaxed under the perfect serene country dark sky. A good clear night sky is always a priority for this group.

The following morning we headed to Grawin Opal fields to experience life as an opal miner. Certainly a new experience for us. The drive there is pleasant with a few homesteads dotting the countryside, some native flora and fauna along the way. The small quaint town of Cumborah with a population of roughly 500 indicates we are close to our destination. Driving a little further on bitumen we get to a dirt road to our left. Our first amusement came with the sign for the golf course. Advising us to be wary of flying golf balls.There were no green pastures, no buggies or men in golf shirts. We had trees, bushes, dirt and rickety signs depicting which hole you were on. We thought it was a bit of humour but in fact it is an active used golf course. Next we were to find our meeting place.There are no streets to speak of in Grawin and no Macca’s for direction so our friends told us to meet at the local, the Club in the Scrub, and they would direct us from there. I will fill you in on this unique abode when we come back for lunch.

Once everyone had arrived and we had used the pubs facilities we got back in our vehicles to follow our hosts. They were wise with this decision as we would never have found their dwelling. The first thing that strikes you as unexpected is the multitude of inhabitants scattered all over the area in makeshift dwellings, partially built homes, sheds and wrought iron buildings. We are surrounded with much corrugated iron, rock mounds, trucks, rusted out cars and abandoned mine shafts. We arrive at their humble home for a cold drink and some nibbles. Outside their home is no different to the others, it is iron and wood and whatever else is available. Inside we are greeted with a very cool, quirky comfortable kitchen with a mixture of old and new. A beautiful old ceramic /iron stove complete with cast iron pots and special iron heat fans for warming the air on the cold winter nights, Separate comfortable bedroom and a work in progress shower recess. Living room with flat screen, wifi and a working Hot tub in progress. All the comfort you need after a hard day down the mines or noodling for those elusive opals in the hot day sun. Brett has built a very unique astronomical observatory on the top of one of those rock piles. He is a miner but also an astronomer and the clear black skies and the absence of suburban street lights allows him the luxury of doing what he loves after a day of hard labour. Frances then takes us outdoors to explain and to try our hand at noodling. This is the process of searching, selecting and washing the rocks with the express hope of finding glittering colour amongst the white mounds we are surrounded by. You are hooked immediately. It is fun, scrounging through buckets of rocks looking for those shiny sparkles which catch your eye, then rinsing them off to see what you have discovered. A very mindful exercise which takes you away from the continued jumbled thoughts which tend to crowd our heads daily. The quiet achiever comes to the surface as you strive to be the one who makes the discovery. Is this my lucky day! They provided us with little jars so we could take home our findings. I have put my in a cupboard of treasures and each time I notice it, I am reminded of this trip.

It is time for lunch so we head back to the starting point for a mean hamburger and a cool drink. The club is a work of art with gregarious structures and subtle sprinkles of outback humour. Numerous historical photographs and stories scattered throughout. It is worn, it is old and the walls reek of stories of the past. Outside there is a pleasant beer garden, and further afar a large cactus garden to wander through. Your imagination goes to the miners after sweltering in the days heat or isolated in the depths of the mines eagerly joining their friends for a cold beer and a hearty laugh to bring them back to normality. A couple of handwritten signs on the trees leaving the car park of the club caught my attention as I felt they depicted the true blue Aussie spirit.