How do I explain this place? It’s almost impossible without any common frame of reference. But I will try, by breaking it into it’s most simple parts.

The Beach

White sand rings the Island with views out to the blue green lagoon and the reef with the dark blue ocean in the distance separated by gentle breaking waves.

The Water:

Crystal clear, perfect temperature not to warm not too cool. Shallow enough to walk almost anywhere in the lagoon, but swimmable too.

The Coral and Sea Life:

First, thing you notice in the sand are all the black sea slugs. They are and irrelevant as long as you wear beach shoes and they are responsible for making all the beautiful sand. This huge lagoon is filled with remarkable amounts of hard and soft coral, white, yellow, purple and violet. They are teaming with lots of little fish and a few big ones too. The colorful sea shell mollusks are scattered around and a buoy marks an extremely large one at lest a meter long. It would take days of just swimming to explore it all.

The Island Population

Very small, only less than 1000 residents and it doesn’t seem like that many. Every couple of days the small plane makes an exchange of about 30 travelers. People are very calm and accommodating.

There is a nice paved ring road and some paved crossed island roads, less than a dozen restaurants and a few lagoon tour, fishing and dive boats. The mode of transportation just like in Rarotonga is scooter.

Needless to say you feel that you are far away from most civilization.

The Accommodations:

There are two large, somewhat fancy places, but we are in a fantastic private bungalow with a sunset view right on the beach. The air conditioning is good the bathrooms and sheets are very nice and he covered front porch heaven. After having explored the others, we are glad we are here.

The internet:

Sometimes strong. Sometimes non existent. You buy time in 15 minute increments at different and the speed and availability is dependent on the number of people trying to use it at the same time. During a good session we even got to video with Jasmine, David and James at bath time. He’s gotten so big and he’s such a good walker! He’s talking and even said Grandpa! We can’t wait to see him next week.

The Food:

Very simple and contingent on when the last shipment came in. The menu isn’t really what is written. As you drive the island you find that they are struggling to grow some crops in small areas, but not very successfully except for the papayas and coconuts.

The Wildlife:

There are some birds, land crabs, but the only animals you see are wild chickens, roasters and small cats. Dogs were banned by someone on the Island early on and the ban stuck. Thankfully, there are no sand flies like in New Zealand, but there are little Mosquitos especially at dusk. These are mostly a nuisance for Jim, but controlled by OFF.

The Sounds
Quiet. The surf in the distance on the coral reef. Roosters crowing.

The Pace:

Very, very slow. It takes a couple of days to adapt to it even when coming from Rarotonga. You can tell the newbies from the people who have been here. The newbies walk faster and dress more stylishly. Some people go on the tours that keep you busy all day. We choose mostly to scooter the Island and stop for internet and lunch at the little places around the Island to entertain us. Otherwise, we snorkeled, rested, kayaked, read and watched many spectacular sunsets.

The Ending of our South Pacific Adventure:

We were going to dive today, but Jim got a little stomach thing, so we passed and are enjoying the day quietly at the beach. Tomorrow is a strange travel day. The plan, check out in the morning hang around here most of the day, travel to Rarotonga, store our bags, have dinner, and board the plane late for an overnight 10 hour flight to LA. There we go through customs and then make the final flight home to Seattle where we should arrive around 7:30 PM. It should be quite the culture shock after Aitutaki.





The Cook Islands


Our flight overnight to Rarotonga was uneventful. We each took a half of an ambian with a small glass of wine and slept soundly. Too soundly. It was hard to wake up when we arrived at Rarotonga and we were both pretty dopey as we found our driver to take us to the hotel. When we arrived to our lovely room all we could do was go to sleep. So we did.

When we woke up about midday we got our bearings and really took a look at our surroundings. We are in a beautiful villa (much larger than the one bedroom we were expecting) with a lovely view of Muri lagoon. It was pretty stormy our first day with tropical rains and winds. When the sun came out we did some snorkeling in the lagoon. There isn’t much to see until you get closer to the protective reef where the big ocean waves were crashing onto the other side. The big ocean waves breaking create such an interesting contrast with the calm lagoon water . I was definitely affected by the time difference and passing through the space-time-continuum from Saturday evening to Saturday morning. Combined with the weather it made for a very mellow day.

Sunday the weather was much nicer which was perfect because we had planned a scuba dive with Pacific Divers. We didn’t know what to expect. This dive group was very easy going. No need to see our dive cards, the check in was very casual. Six of us piled into an extremely old van. Really, it was amazing that it still ran, complete with plywood floors. The dive boat was small, simple and in much better shape than the van.

The dive site is only 5 minutes from shore which was wonderful. No big-bumpy excursion. We could see from the boat that the clarity was very good and we weren’t disappointed. It was a bit nerve racking doing a back role into the water because the the sides of the boat were several feet above the water. Jim had no problem, but it took me a minute to just go for it. No problem!

We loved the easiness of the dive and beauty of the coral. Unfortunately, I forgot to charge my GoPro battery so I didn’t get very many photos or video. We saw some very pretty fish we hadn’t seen before and enjoyed the freedom of swimming around under the boat. Because we had done so much diving recently we were the best in the group for air consumption so we were the last to return to the surface.

Our second dive site was again only 5 minutes away and we went back to the dock to pick up some new divers who were doing their last test to earn their “open water” certification. How exciting! The second dive site was just as good as the first and we saw a very large lion fish as well as other cool stuff.

We had a bit of drama when I came up the ladder. Their rental fins don’t work with our dive booties so we didn’t wear our booties for these dives. Booties offer protection and a no slip surface coming up the ladder. I wasn’t focusing enough and unfortunately, I slipped, jamming my shin and foot in an extremely weird way between two rungs of the ladder. I was stuck and it took some maneuvering to get my gear off and delicately remove myself. But, with Jim and the Captain’s help I got in the boat. Luckily, I didn’t break anything and I only had a few scrapes and bruises on my left leg.

I spent the rest of the evening using a lot of ice on my leg and foot and I’m walking much better this morning. I should be fine to snorkel and enjoy the rest of the trip: no worries, just a little drama, it’s all good.

As I write the blog on our deck, a local Island music show has begun next door with some great drumming and singing.

Today we are going to rent a scooter and explore some snorkel sites on other parts of Rarotonga and get a massage at a small local spa.

What can we say, Jim and I love scooters! Because of my sore foot we rented just one scooter and I rode on the back. We were both a bit nervous at first, but Jim did a great job. This small Island is very scooter friendly. It’s the main mode of transportation. No one uses helmets even though the law is you can’t drive faster than 40 kph without a helmet. Silly, but that’s the way it is. We were careful never to drive faster than 40 (the speed limit ranged from 30 to 50 kph, depending on whether you were in a little town or retail center or in the “country”). It was easy to navigate — there was only one paved road and you traveled either clockwise or “anti-clockwise” (they don’t say “counter-clockwise” here).

Being on the back of the scooter holding on to Jim is so romantic. It makes me feel young and delicate and a Jim feels young and strong! It’s magical! The weather was a bit tropical yesterday with some really big thunderstorms.

We circumnavigated the Island (clockwise), timing our stops around the tropical weather perfectly. We sat out one 15-minute rain storm over coffee and a super big thunderstorm (lasting 30 minutes) over lunch.

Yesterday was also massage day and we had two great massages at the Rumors Waterfall Spa. We both fell asleep (which almost never happens to me) and were totally relaxed. We made it back to our hotel and enjoyed some quiet reading time.

We decided to ride our scooter out again for sunset and find some dinner. The sunset thunder clouds in the distance were pink and glowing. Our original goal, the Fish House, was closed, so we continued on and stopped at Tamarind House. It was empty, but apparently they were pretty booked up for the evening. The receptionist found us an unused table and we had a great dinner with a pretty sunset view. Now we had to scooter at night back to our hotel, but it was no problem.

Rarotonga has grown on us. You just have to adapt to the slow pace and adjust your activities to the ever changing weather. Now we are on a small plane to Aitutaki (“eye-two-talk-ee”), a smaller island with a much bigger lagoon and a lot of little beach resorts. Our last big adventure of this trip begins in about an hour, and we’re really looking forward to it!

We have arrived in Aitutuki at our lovely beach front condo. It’s pretty awesome. The water is beautiful and the coral In the lagoon is amazingly diverse. We don’t have very impressive internet so no photos until we get back in LA on Mother’s Day.

Final Days in Australia






It’s hard to believe this is our last day in Aussie Land. As I write this we are eating breakfast in Ulladullah at a lovely little Inn by the beach about 3 hours south of Sydney. Unfortunately, we are feeling the full effects of Autumn and it is cool and cloudy. We will still do a beach walk and generally relax before we head to the airport and continue on to our exploration of the Cook Islands as we head east back across the “space time continuum” toward the United States.

It’s been three days and almost 1200 kilometers since I last wrote. We spent our last day in Melbourne walking and grazing the cafés and restaurants. Besides eating and walking we toured the very ornate Parliment building which is particularly glorious due to all the gold paint. Because Melbourne was the center of a huge gold rush in the early 1850’s there was plenty of gold around to decorate the building; and it isn’t just gold leaf it’s 23 carrot gold paint. The tour guide was quite good and we even met someone else on the tour who was from the states. Her daughter lives in Edmonds and the first place she took her Mom to eat there was Dick’s Drive In! It really is a small world. Her daughter is also a scuba diver and we look forward to sharing our dive experience of the Great Barrier Reef with her.

Thursday morning we woke up, caught up on news back home and headed out for breakfast and walked to pick up our rental car. But before picking out our last Melbourne cafe we took a quick look into the Cathedral and walked the grounds. It was typically grand. But the outside grounds with water elements and statues were unusual and really beautiful. I’m including a picture of one statue where the movement of the nun walking down stairs is remarkable.

There are so many cafés in Melbourne you never have to go to the same one twice and we didn’t. Our last one announced that it had proudly been serving coffee since 1863. The coffee was yummy as well as the omelette.

Picking up the car and driving back to the hotel was a breeze. No Worries! Getting to the freeway out was simple. No Drama! We were on our way up the coast from Melbourne to Sydney on a 3 day road trip.

Within an hour the freeway is gone, replaced by a mostly undivided 2-lane road that goes through farmland, then ranch land, then forests, and you don’t see another stoplight for 2 days (although there are lots of traffic circles in the many small towns along the way). We were really surprised that the main road up the coast between two major cities is first not really on the coast and second more like California’s Highway 1 vs H-101 (and nothing like Interstate 5).

But we still had a blast. There was a bus stop made from a section of very large pipe that was painted green with nice benches inside. There were many mail boxes made out of large farm storage containers that had been painted and fixed up with a hinged front access door. There was a lady at a cafe who looked and sounded just like Daphne’s mother from the TV show Frazier.

As we made our way east, then north we were regularly entertained by the wonderful town and park names. You know there is the funny comedy sketch about the fact that some words just sound funny. Well these are funny! (At least to non-Aussie ears). Go ahead say them out loud.

Day 1

Nar Nar Goon
Mt. Ba Ba
Buln Buln
Wirilda Park
Cowwarr Weir
Den of Nargun
Nyerimilang Park

Day 2

Nowa Nowa
Croajingolong Park

There were several other great names but we drove by too fast to remember how to spell them!

Other highlights:

On our way to our first night’s motel, we passed a large flock of Cockatoos in a farm pasture.

Our first night on the drive was spent in a magical little place called Metung. This is a little slice of heaven in the Lakes district where 7 rivers meet the Tasmanian Sea to form brackish lakes behind a 100 kilometer isthmus. We were here during a very quiet time which was marvelous.

We met some lovely people in our short time in Metung and we would like to return. We met one couple who is boating along the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia this summer. I hope we can connect when we are cruising the same coastline this July.

After checking into our hotel we took a long walk, watched the sunset and the many birds and then headed to a remarkable little restaurant, the Metung Galley, where we drank a whole bottle of local wine over our third favorite meal of the trip.

Needless to say we slept well and took a walk before heading out on our long drive up the coast to Ulladulla. We really had no idea how long this drive was going to be as we wove through spectacularly lush country. The drive is made extra long because every extra excursion to the nearby coast off the “main road” takes quite a bit of time. The travel agent tried to warn us, and they were right, we needed another day. But we had a good time, stopped often and finally saw a small mob of Kangaroos at Gypsy Point which is a good thing, because we couldn’t leave Australia without seeing a Kangaroo. You’ll also see the photo of a guy on his motorcycle which his dog in the back in a milk crate wearing sunglasses and clearly enjoy the ride.

Today we woke up and took some walks around Ulladulla before hitting the road. The views are lovely but it was a bit cold today.

The proprietor of the Metung Galley suggested we stop in Mollymook and eat at Rick Stein’s restaurant at Bannisters Hotel. She said it would be Devine, and it was a perfect last meal in Australia. The view was fantastic too. Bannisters also looks like a very good hotel choice for the future.

Our 3 hour drive to the airport was pretty and we saw a large mob of over 100 Kangaroos, a giant flock of cockatoos in a tree near a park and unfortunately a big and very dead wombat on the side of the road. But, the cockatoos were remarkable and took flight in mass when a crow scared them away. Jim posted the video on Facebook.

There were also a few more great names for the funny sounding name game:

We fly overnight to Roratunga this evening and, after crossing back over the International Date Line, will wake up in the tropics this morning and enjoy a second Saturday. We plan to do some more scuba diving over the next week before flying back to Seattle late on Mothers Day.

We truly have loved Australia and will return. It’s so big, the people are friendly, hardy and generally libertarian. It’s got good food, great coffee, yummy wine, passable whiskey and too much nature to experience in one visit.

It’s all good!

PS — Happy Birthday Nan!

















Melbourne Days 1 and 2




We arrived in Melbourne mid-afternoon on April 28 and checked into our room at the Hyatt. It is a very pretty hotel. Our first room was a bit dark, but they quickly moved us to a great room with a view of the cathedral.

We dropped off our stuff and headed out for a little exploration before settling in at The European, a little restaurant across from this region’s Parliament. The cafe was recommended by friends we met on our dive trip, Taryn and Tom. Boy were they spot on! We thought we would just have appi’s but the duck and fig salad and merlot were so good, we then shared incredibly delicate sautéed gnocchi with peas and leeks and then a whole cooked snapper with some Sauvignon Blanc. At this point we were totally satiated and totally exhausted. We came back to our room and found the bed was so comfortable we read and soon fell asleep.

This morning, April 29, we woke to a glorious sunrise and I quickly threw on some clothes to take some photos. I wasn’t able to capture it in all its glory, but the photos of the glow on the cathedral came out pretty well.

We walked to a local cafe for a quick breakfast before being picked up by Jeff Barnard for our tour. Jeff shared a wealth of information and local history. We went everywhere from the expansive sports facilities (were we got a great lesson on the rules of “Australian Rules” football) to the impressive war memorial (where we got a heartfelt tour from a local “digger” – an older veteran) and then to Federation Square and a wonderful walking tour of some of the great little “lanes” or alleyways of Melbourne. This is what I liked the best.

I loved the creativity and ingenuity used to shoehorn all kinds of mini bars, restaurants and shops into these little retail pedestrian only alleyways, which had previously been used to mostly store garbage cans. I thought the Seattle Chamber of Commerce should come see this and incorporate this wonderful aspect of Melbourne in Seattle. Jim said the chamber did come here once and brought back an old trolley car that used to serve the Seattle waterfront before it was retired a few years back. Good grief. I suppose with all our daunting regulations you would need a lot of “out-of-the box thinking” and renewed flexibility to make this work in Seattle.

Jeff took us to his favorite coffee place which is wedged into a tiny space in the first steel skyscraper built in Melbourne (in the early 1930’s). We also tasted a local treat Lamingtons and learned the saying “fair dincum” which means absolute truth. This building also had Australia’s first escalator, although at that time it was called “magic stairs” and the stair steps were made of wood.

We walked some more past some fun street art, where the city has designated pro tagging areas and a really fun water sculpture that people decorate with leaves.

We ended our tour by stopping at a tiny opal shop (95% of the world’s opal comes from Australia and opal is the Australia’s national gemstone). The store represents the Lightening Mine. We met the son of the founder and he also has a collection of snakes, lizards and spiders. Quite interesting.

Then Jeff dropped us of at the Melbourne Museum. I wasn’t that interested but Jim wanted to go and I’m glad we did. We arrived just in time for a tour and it was very well done. They have the real bones of a Pygmy Blue Whale that washed up on shore in the 1990’s and a fantastic brain exhibit as well as many others.

Unfortunately, the threatened storm arrived in full force as we made our way back to the hotel. We walked a bit and then grabbed a cab. We are resting and drying off before dinner. Next we are going to head out for some Greek food at a restaurant that Jeff suggested. Apparently, Melbourne has a the third most Greek citizens of any city in the world. Greeks who live in Australia enjoy duel citizenship, can vote in both nations and even have their own Greek Senator that lives right here in Melbourne. Those crazy Greeks!

As I write this the cathedral bells have been ringing for almost 90 minutes. we assume they are either testing the bells or that it had something to do with the film crew that is parked on the street between our hotel and the cathedral. They are filming the locally popular TV show “House Husbands of Melbourne”. When I laughed at the name, one of the crew told me “it’s a very good show in it’s third season!”

Correction, the front desks says this is a regular Tuesday afternoon event where they practice ringing the bells from 5 to 6:30. It’s a lot of bell ringing!

History note for the day: On this day, April 29, 1770 British Capt. James Cook landed in Botany Bay, near Sydney, “discovering” Australia. 250 years later, it’s evolved into a modern nation full of creative, friendly people.

Well done Captain Cook!

Gazi, the Greek Restaurant, was hopping and we sat at the communal table. We got to do some ouzo tasting and settled on the Plomari. First, we got to chat with one of the employees, Petro, who was having dinner on his day off. He was a delightful young man and one of the many young, enterprising Europeans who have had to leave Europe to find work. He’s from Greece. Everywhere you go in Australia you meet 20 somethings from France, Italy, Spain, Greece and England who are working here and lament the economic mess in Europe.

Then we shared some really fun conversation with two lovely young ladies from England who turned out to be young physicians doing their residencies in Melbourne. It’s gotten to that point in our lives where we couldn’t believe they were old enough to be doctors. But we talked, laughed and chatted about the world, travel, scuba diving and the crazy Melbourne “hook turn”. Yes, here in Melbourne (and apparently only in Melbourne) because the trollies use both center lanes of every major street, to make a right turn across oncoming traffic you have to first cue all the way over in the far left lane and then wait for the light to turn red and the special “hook-turn light” to illuminate before turning right across all lanes of traffic where the oncoming traffic is supposed to yield. I’m not making this up. The ladies also pointed out that Gazi’s celebrity chef George Calombaris was in the house. They were quite excited about it.

Yesterday’s rain has turned to showers this morning (April 30) and is supposed to taper off. Today we are going to do more walking and exploring especially on the promenade along the “south bank” of the Yarra River which runs through downtown Melbourne.

The Adventure Continues!













Road Trip in Tasmania








For some reason my last blog entry cut off the end of our Cairns experience and the beginning of our time n Tasmania. As Jim says, there are a few bugs in the WordPress IPad App.
Nevertheless, we had a great flight out of Lizard Island back to Cairns. We got to ride in the small plane with Taryn, Tom, Captain Sam and the first mate, Hamish. The plane gave us a great view of the coastline as we flew down.

As we approached Cairns the tropical rains began and they really didn’t stop. It’s probably still raining there today. Our pilot, Nicki, was fantastic and gave us a very smooth flight with a gentle landing.

After we checked back into the hotel we took a long shower before heading out for a walk around town, some food and a movie. We dodged the heaviest tropical rainstorms by taking refuge in shops and eateries around town. Cairns is a strange town with both high end shops and rundown vacant areas. We saw the Grand Budapest Hotel which is a strange little movie befitting our location.

We flew to Hobart, changing planes in Melbourne; picked up our car, got our bearings and whilst chanting “stay left” we headed to our hotel: The Henry Jones Art Hotel. It’s a former jam factory that has been remodeled into a great boutique hotel, with lots of old wood paneling and sandstone. Our room was originally Henry Jones’ office and our bathroom the waiting room for the conference area.

After dropping of our bags we headed to the bar and drank local scotch whiskey and ate a yummy antipasto plate while listening to a local musician playing Johnny Cash type music.

This area is a bit like Scotland and South England with town names like Glenorchy, Brighten and Devonport.

In the morning we explored more of the wonderful architecture of our hotel. They have added a glass roof to the huge inner courtyard where we had breakfast, safe and warm from the passing showers. The architects did a fantastic job. This is a great concept for Seattle.

Surrounding the courtyard are a few shops and an art gallery. The hotel is decorated with lots of art from local artists. We slept In a bit (no 6:30 wake up call this morning), enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the courtyard, read the local paper and looked at art before hitting the road around noon for a 3 hour drive to Freycinet National Park. We drove through forested coastline, including curvy fun sections, forests of peppermint trees (they look like Dr. Seuss Pom Pom trees), wine country and then along the shore of Great Oyster Bay to the miniature red granite mountains of the National Park that includes all of the Freycinet Peninsula southeast of Coles Bay.

We saw our first “beware of wildlife sign” with an animal drawing that looked like a kangaroo. But, alas no kangaroo sitings today. We did see lots of road kill, sheep, what had to be the world’s largest back Angus bull, a few coyotes and we think what might be wallabies (small kangaroos) in a field.

Check that. They were definitely wallabies and one just hopped around the corner of our cabin as I write this. Cool!

We checked in at the lodge and drove a short distance to our cabin just in time to enjoy the sunset. Tomorrow we are going to do some hiking for sure.

As the sun goes down today here we want to wish Julie Spady a very happy birthday from down under!

We enjoyed a quick dinner at the lodge with a special scotch/whiskey tasting. The local single malt whiskies are quite good. We especially like the Lark. Chris, our scotch whiskey tasting guide was adorable.

Freycinet National Park

We slept well and woke up a bit late and headed out for our buffet breakfast. Really the only bad food we have had our entire trip. But the croissants were adequate and we had some yogurt and coffee. Then we headed out for our hike with some fruit and other snacks along the way.

Freycinet National Park is named after the French sub-lieutenant on a ship sent by Napoleon in 1802 to explore the “Great South Land.” Not bad for a Sub-Lieutenant!

We decided to do the full 11 kilometer (6 mile) hike over the small mountains to Wine Glass Bay on the Tasman Sea, back across the isthmus to Hazard Beach on Great Oyster Bay, and then along the hills above the shore back to the parking lot. It really was an awesome hike.

To begin, you hike up about 1000 feet through unusual red granite formations and interesting foliage including lots of peppermint and tea trees to a spectacular overlook above wine glass bay. Then you leave the crowds behind as you descend down do the beautiful beach of Wineglass Bay were we put our feet in the Tasman Sea and waved toward New Zealand. We saw a very friendly Wallaby, dolphins, oyster catchers and of course seagulls. We sat in the warm sun and ate some snacks before heading for the isthmus trail to Hazard Beach. The bird song was lovely and we heard all kinds of elusive flying creatures. After repeated attempts we did finally get get a fuzzy photo of one of the very large black cockatoos. As we walked through Hazard Beach we also saw a scampering Tasmania Pademelon.

We still had quite of bit of the hike left and as usual for us we were cutting it tight for daylight. It also appeared we were the last ones on the trail. I did pack one headlamp, but left the other behind because of weight, which was ridiculous. At this point Jim and I are both thinking to ourselves (but not voicing out loud) “what were we thinking?”

So, we picked up the pace and made it out just fine while watching the beautiful late sun as we walked above Great Oyster Bay (almost as big as San Francisco Bay but almost completely undeveloped). As the Aussies say “no worries, no drama, it’s all good!”

When we exited the trail we were famished and decided to head past our cabin another 10 minutes to the little town of Coles Bay. We passed a quaint little restaurant that advertised wood-fired pizza with a view of the bay. The proprietor was cleaning the windows and told us he opened in 30 minutes. He handed us a “takeaway” menu (they don’t say “takeout” here) and it looked perfect so we drove on to the end of the road and parked at a little warf to watch the sunset and stretch.

Dinner was scrumptious and the local wine Devine. We shared a thin crust pizza, some local fresh fish and chips, salad and sorbet. Yum!

When we got back to our cabin, we packed for today’s early drive and flight out of Launceston (north-central Tasmania) and then soaked in our tub before bed.

Our itinerary for today told us it was a 2.5 hour drive to the airport and we needed to check in by 9:50 AM. We grabbed some fruit, coffee and croissants for the drive and headed out for a drive along the north end of Great Oyster Bay and then across some beautiful high plateau ranch land on the way to the airport.

It was early morning and the soft pastel light bathed the trees and the countryside. We also so a lot of road kill. Jim coined the game, “Guess that road kill!” Wallaby, Possum, Wallaby, wallaby, unknown, pademelon. Not surprisingly given the large amount of road kill we saw an extremely large vulture-like bird – as big as any giant Condor either of us had ever seen. This bird was much bigger than an Eagle and appeared to be very well fed.

We thought this would be a great place to sell a t-shirt we once bought at a truck stop in the middle-of-nowhere Arizona, that said “Road-kill Cafe – you kill ’em, we cook ’em!” Gruesome.

We made it to the airport with time to spare and avoided adding to the roadside carnage.

We are now on the plane to Melbourne. Our last Qantas flight. As we sat down we were serenaded by the expressive and loud sounds of two very large parrots in the bay behind us. That’s a first.

We are looking forward to our exploration of Melbourne over the next 3 days before driving up the coast to Sydney for our flight to the Cook Islands – our last stop on the way home.

It’s a little overcast here in Melbourne with rain forecast for tomorrow , but we had fantastic warm weather in Tasmania, which is really lucky for that far south in late fall. It should be perfect weather for museums.

We also need to wish John Spady and Alan Middleton a very happy birthday too!











The Great Barrier Reef



The Great Barrier Reef is always listed as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World and as a diver it is one of the “bucket list” diving experiences.

When Jim and I were planning the trip to Australia we weighed our different scuba diving options (an Island Resort near the outer reef or a live-aboard diving boat). It became clear that an “authentic” reef experience required one of those two options because the best coral reefs are many miles off shore.

We thought hard about Lizard Island, but it was very expensive and it would limit our possible dive sites. As it turns out this was a good decision for many reasons. While we were in New Zealand a category 5 typhoon came through the area and directly hit Lizard Island. So, it would not have been an option. We got to see he damage yesterday because we flew back to Cairns from Lizard Island and, although the small airstrip was open, the resort itself was heavily damaged and will not open again for at least 6 months, probably more.

Regardless, we had such a fantastic experience on the Spirit of Freedom (a 120 ‘ long, 250 ton displacement dive boat) and now having seen both options we would have chosen it, especially for a pure scuba diving experience.

Our excursion began on Monday at noon. Once on board we were introduced to the crew, the other passengers and our room. We knew ahead of time that we didn’t have a great room. It was low and didn’t have any windows. We would soon learn it was actually a good choice.

The plan for the first day eat lunch, gather equipment, dive briefing and check out dive about here hours from Cairns, then dinner and bed while sailing overnight (12 hours to the reef). Sounded good at the time. But, when we left the protection of the inner waters the waves began.

The Spirit of Freedom is a beautiful 120 foot ship, but it’s narrow and although it has stabilizers to reduce rocking, it was a little rocky. I was not excited about going inside for the dive briefing. Jim had no problem, but I rallied and got through the briefing and the first dive pretty well. We learned how to use the “safety sausage” to attract attention at the surface if we had to come up early and also how to use the emergency radio all the divers carried in our pockets. We were checked in when we got on the boat had to sign ourselves back on board on the dive log. After that there was a final head count before the boat moved. No one was going to be left behind, which was reassuring.

But the waves and wind were getting worse and I was really beginning to feel sick. So I took one and then two sea sickness pills. The memories of childhood motion sickness and he icky effects of Dramamine quickly overcame me and I really got sick.

Dinner was a no go for me. I huddled in a ball on the back dive deck and tried to leave my body. I suggested that Jim go in for dinner. As his point I was thinking 3 things: “OMG what have I gotten us into, how am I going to survive 3 days of this, and this boat has lousy stabilizers!”

Meanwhile, I learned later that dinner was quite the adventure. Dishes, food and people were flying around and other passengers were joining me on the back deck. It turns out that earlier when we had briefly lost power that the stabilizers had turned off at the fuse even though the indicator lights at the ship’s helm told the captain, incorrectly, that the stabilizers were working.

As the night progressed, and the stabilizers came back online and the crew and Jim helped me make my way from the back dive deck to the dining room benches and finally to our room. I slept through the night and woke up a new person at our first dive site ready for breakfast and a new day.

We would soon learn the pattern of the live aboard routine. Wake up at 6:30 am and eat first breakfast ( yogurt, cereal, fruit juice and coffee); 1st dive and come up to the smells of 2nd “brekky”, bacons other meats, eggs, toast, veggie choices and more coffee and juice, 3rd dive followed by a hearty lunch; rest a bit and move the boat to another dive site followed by a 4th dive, and then a shower and dinner, followed by a night dive for those who were interested. The great part of diving other than the experience is that you burn a billion calories and can eat anything without gaining weight.

The crew were amazingly calm, knowledgeable and supportive. We experienced so much over our 8 dives in two days. The sites and experiences were almost too much to take in. I used my GoPro and the crew took fantastic pictures for us with great cameras. Everyone worked so hard.

Kaz our fantastic chef. She cooked amazing meals for 26 guests and 15 crew with unbelievable variety in a very small galley. By he end of the night everyone collapsed in bed by 10, except for Captain Sam, who guided the ship through the reefs to our next destination.

Our favorite dive the first day was Pinnacle Reef. A small pinnacle of coral that attracted all sorts of sea life, had great visibility and very pretty coral. It was also a simple dive around the pinnacle with no need for underwater navigation. So on our second dive Jim and I went on our own, instead of following a dive master. We went at our own pace and felt a great accomplishment and freedom.

It’s important to know that the safety steps and rules are very strict on the Spirit Freedom. Dive Masters are always in the water even if we aren’t following them. There are two lookouts from the boat tracing our bubbles and a tender in the water on all dives as well as very strict rules for decompression safety stops and depths.

By the second day we were ready for another great 4 dives beginning with the famous Cod Hole dive. This was why we came on the boat. There are only 2 boats that come out here. At Code Hole the water is clear, the coral lovely and you get to swim with the giant, gentle cod. We did two dives at Cod Hole and they were both amazing.

The next two dives were a bit different. First we did a drift dive which we usually enjoy a lot. But this was a tough one. We were dropped off by tender at the beginning of the dive in groups. Instead of our usual stepping off the dive platform, six of us set on the edge of the tender and on the count of three we tumbled back into the water navy seal style. It worked perfectly.

Once in the water we descended following a dive master, the reef on our left as we rode the current to a rope that then led us to the boat. The current was inconsistent as we swam pass the coral wall. It made it hard to get a rhythm and it was hard work making it back to the boat on the rope while fighting the current.

Unfortunately, this area had been effected by the typhoon. Most of the delicate coral had been destroyed by the storm, but of of course the fish were still there.

The moved once again for our final dive of the trip, Snake Pit. I wasn’t sure if I was going to do the last dive. It was getting late and Jim decided to pass. But Nick the lead diver said I should do it. The coral and sea life were spectacular and this was a very unusual spot to dive. So, on the final dive Nick and I paired up with Tom. His wife, Taryn stayed behind as well. We dove with them quite a bit on he trip and we knew our air consumption was about the same.

Snake Pit is in the middle of the ocean between the outer reefs and Lizard Island. It’s a deep pinnacle, so Nick suspected it was safe from the effects of the typhoon. When we got to the dive spot the stern of the boat and the platform faced the waves. It was a bit unnerving watching the waves crash on the back of the boat, but the crew were calm and positive. They were safety first people, so I figured I should just go for it!

Tom and I got to dive with Nick. For most of he trip Nick was busy doing a million things and he doesn’t lead many dives. I felt privileged to get the opportunity to dive with him. The sea is Nick’s sanctuary, much like our leader Hamish in the Hollyford Track. Nick was a calm, wonderful dive guide. Entering the water was pretty easy and we descended quickly. Nick led us through the ocean down to the pinnacle. There was no current so the visibility wasn’t as good, but the swimming was easy. Nick was right — the coral was diverse (fan, antler and others) and the sea life amazing (turtles, big angle fish, white tipped shark). We even saw a sea snake at the end of the dive.

When it was time to head back Nick expertly navigated us back through the open ocean to the boat. We did our decompression safety stop on the swim back (5 minutes at 5 meters) and he deposited Tom and me on a rope while we waited our turn to use the swim ladder at the back of the boat between the big waves that crashed against it. Nick wrote us a note on his underwater pad, “timing is very important”. Then he gently took my hand and positioned me I front of the ladder. He got a sense of the waves, counted to three with his fingers and then deposited me calmly on the bottom of the ladder and made sure my fins were safely in place as I climbed up. Piece of cake! Thank you Nick!

Taryn and Jim were waiting as we ascended on the ladder.

We all showered and did our final count before moving the boat to Lizard Island. The sky cleared and the stars came out as we waited for dinner. Jim and I headed to the bow of the boat and spent time with the captain as he and the crew set the heavy chain anchor with a 7-1 scope.

Our final night on the boat was a feast with prawns, kangaroo, other proteins and yummy salads. We shared stories and drank wine before some final briefings. Everyone was anxious to see the typhoon’s impact on Lizard Island and the resort in daylight. The day ended with us collapsing into bed by 10.

The next morning the early schedule was maintained even though we weren’t diving. We were to be packed and ready to go ashore by 7:00. We gathered for breakfast at 6:30 and the crew gathered our bags for transfer by tender to Lizard Island.

The effects of the typhoon were dramatic. The buildings were intact but heavily damaged. The trees were broken and stripped bare. Captain Sam had worked on the Island for two years and was shocked by the change.

We were all transferred to the Island by tender. Half of our group were leaving and half were staying on for three more days of diving and the boat trip back to Cairns.

Although the resort was closed, the park boardwalk was open and Nick led us through a tour explaining the history of the early settlers and the aborigines.

We walked along the beach as we waited for our small, 8-seated plane to arrive at the small airstrip. The plane was delivering new passengers and some new crew for the dive boat as well as flying us back to Cairns.








Saturday Afternoon in Sydney



It’s hard to believe we have only been in Sydney for 2 days. We arrived pretty late on Thursday night after an easy flight from Christchurch. We are staying at a hotel across the street from the gardens with a view of the Harbour east towards the Pacific. We dropped off our bags and headed out to the Circle Quay ( Pronounced “key” not “quay”, go figure) to take in the quintessential Sydney Harbor view at night and grab a late snack. It was beautiful, and romantic.

Friday morning we took another walk on the Quay for some breakfast at one of the many sidewalk cafes. No need for Starbucks here. The coffee was yummy and we were entertained by wild parakeets. We had no idea there were wild parakeets in Sydney! Then we headed to the truly phenomenal Royal Botanical Gardens. They are more than gardens, they are a museum of plants and flowers from all over the world with gardening tips for locals, beautiful views, interesting birds and a welcoming sign that says “hug the trees, smell the flowers and please walk on the grass”.

After our morning walk we were picked up by Bob from a local sightseeing company and swept off on a whirlwind car tour of Sydney. There is no way we could have seen everything ourselves. It’s such a beautiful and interesting city. Those who arrived in 1788 on the “First Fleet” of English settlers and convicts (sentenced to 7 years of labor in Australia for nonviolent property crimes such as theft or forgery) struggled to eke out an existence in the sandstone quarries (now the trendy “Rocks” district next to Circle Quay) . 60 years later, the population in Australia was only 400,000. But when gold was discovered in 1850, the population tripled in 10 years. Today, over 5 million live in Sydney alone, a beautiful, modern, expensive city with 1/5 the population of all of Australia. Sydney is a nice combination of San Francisco & Los Angeles, with warm sunny weather, a large lovely harbor (with 200 miles of coastline inside the harbor) and both surfer grunge inland and multi-million dollar mansions overlooking the water.

After our tour we took one of the many inner harbor ferries to the local favorite beach at Manly, for a walk on the 2-mile long sandy beach there. Unfortunately, the Royal couple (who followed us here from New Zealand) had the same idea. The beach was beautiful but it was just too crowded. So we escaped the crowds and after walking up the beach tried a different route to get back to the ferry. We definitely left the crowds behind as we wandered, got lost and turned around in the residential areas of Manly (which is on a narrow spit of land between the ocean and Sydney Harbor, near the north side of the harbor entrance).

We finally found someone to ask for directions, turned around and headed off in the right direction. It was certainly the path less traveled. After our unexpected hike around the suburbs of Manly we grabbed some pizza before taking the ferry back. It was quite a day.

We chose a more leisurely day Saturday and walked around the gardens some more, and visited the Provincial library which had a great exhibit on the early drawings documenting the local wildlife by the artists among the First Fleet convicts. They are beautiful pieces of art, although many are anonymous. Then we wandered back down to the Rocks district to peruse the Saturday arts & crafts market and enjoy a lovely lunch by the water.

We took a break this afternoon, before heading out for a tour of the Sydney Opera house and the evening ballet .

We saw the Manon Ballet which was really quite good. It was Jim’s first ballet (other than the nutcracker). It was a romantic tragedy set in the same time period as Les Miserables. The ballet was composed in 1974 so the choreography, although classical, has some modern twists and some humor, before the tragic ending. The leads were extremely good. We both agreed to go to the ballet more often when we return to Seattle.

Flying to Cairns on Easter Sunday

It’s already Easter Sunday here on the other side of the world and we are flying to Cairns in a plane filled with parents and children. Tomorrow we’ll board a “live aboard” scuba diving boat and head out for 3 days of scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

We really haven’t bought much of anything, but for some unknown reason it’s getting progressively more challenging to close our suite cases. So far, the zippers are holding, but if they ever break we will be in big trouble,

This trip has been great, but we have learned as we enter our travel phase of life that we won’t travel again during Passover and Easter. I miss gathering with the kids and of course little James.

Being that it is Easter and a vacation week for school children here, our plane is full of adorable children. And our Quantas flight has an IPad for entertainment in every seat. The exclamations of glee “look Mom we all get iPads” echoed throughout the cabin when we boarded.

We send everyone our love and best wishes for a wonderful Passover week and Easter Sunday. We are deeply grateful for God’s many blessings, particularly our dear family & friends.