Trees, Rocks, Lakes and Prairie Potholes

After 9 years of travelling in and through various and amazing countries around the world I had a different idea for our summer travels.  This time our journey would take us through Ontario right to Alberta. The idea of travelling through parts of our wonderful Canadian  landscape came to fruition in the beginning of February. I came across a posting concerning the Tar Sands Healing Walk.  After asking my son Derek about it my first and only thought was I wanted to participate.

For that past 20 years Stephen has written about the Tar Sands but never had he seen first hand what was happening in our backyard far away. It was time to see the monstrosity plundering through our mural of forests, rivers and creatures great and small. I felt and hoped this travel would renew his determination to continue the fight through his writing.  As for myself I was not sure at the time what it would do for me. I just knew I had to go.

It was not long after deciding about our summer travel plans that  I spoke to our daughter Katrina who was in New Zealand at the time about it. I barely finished telling her all the details and she said “I would like to come as well”. Now there would be three of us embarking on this adventure. With Derek the decision  to join us came about 2 months later. Having arrived home only a few months ago finding work had been on his mind. Would it surprise you that he did find work by way of writing for the award winning website Desmog Blog (for which Stephen writes for as well).

With now four us travelling in little over a month as we had to arrive in Albert by July 4th we had lots of decisions to make apart from making sure we paid a visit to Stephen’s nephew and his fiancee in Edmonton.

Our first thought was to travel by train but the cost of one ticket was definitely way beyond what we were expecting. Then I thought we could rent a small RV camper van for two people to sleep in while the other two slept in our 2 man tent, but that was a big no as well. Thus we were down to asking my father for the use of his van and putting out an all points bulletin for camping equipment. Without a second thought my father said yes to loaning us the van. I was not too sure if my mother was going to regret that decision as we would be leaving them our car with no air conditioning for them to use.

Our all points bulletin worked well except the tent loaned to us was missing poles. With just three days before leaving Stephen was in research mode for buying a tent. To all you outdoor adventure types do not start laughing, we bought a Coleman instant pop up tent. As we would be not staying long in one spot and probably arriving late to each campsite this was the logical choice. There was another camping item we did not buy but would soon regret within a few days of our travels that topic will come up later.

After much packing and shopping for supplies, we finally left our driveway at 1:00 pm on July 29th with the van packed to the maximum. We drove for 5 minutes realizing we were all getting hungry. Without a second thought we decided to lunch at the best gluten free restaurant in Ontario Frankie’s Ristorante.  We are very lucky to have this great restaurant in Uxbridge. Finally after our delicious meals we embarked around 2:30 pm for our first destination Chutes Provincial Park a five hour drive away.

The five hour drive was a good break in for what lay ahead in the coming days of very long drives. We arrived with enough daylight to set up our tent and start up the camp stove. Within minutes of our set up the beasties arrived – little blooding sucking insects that had us cover up from head to toe while doing the slap dance. We lit up some coils gaining  some relief but after a couple of hours of blooding letting it was time to jump into our sleeping bags as we had a early start the next day.

As I had not camped in over 20 years I was not to sure how my body would take to not sleeping on a nice comfy mattress. I am happy to say that when I crawled out of my sleeping bag the next morning I was able to stand up straight with no kinks. Mind you my sleep was not the most restful given the fact there were 4 of us in the tent with no room to sprawl. Word of warning when they say it’s a six man tent they really mean 4 with no room to spare.

Katrina and I arose before the alarm went off giving us  time before breakfast to check out the falls not too far away from our campsite. Now an early start for the Leahys does not always mean being up at the crack of dawn.   We all were pretty tired from some very late nights getting ready for this trip so it seemed reasonable to set the alarm for  7:30 am and leave our site by 8:30 am. Easy enough right?  The problem… when you get the four of us sitting around a table the conversations begin.  To our shock after eating, talking and packing up it was nearly 9:30 am and we till had a 8 to 9 hour drive ahead of us to Rainbow Falls Provincial Park in Rossport, Ontario.

By the time we arrived at Rainbow Falls (7:30 pm) our behinds had deflated. We were all definitely feeling stiff and hungry but thanks to the pop up tent it took us very little time to set up and get dinner started. There were other little creatures that were hungry as well, no matter how well you cover up mosquitoes still manage to find one bare spot of skin. To get some relief we walked down to the lake (Whitesand Lake). We found a walking trail where I came across some Ladyslippers. Unfortunately I had not brought my camera with me which meant I had to be up by the crack of dawn. Why you ask, well due to our late departure that morning from our campsite we were determined to leave Rainbow Falls by 8:00 am.

Surprisingly I was relatively conscious when I woke at 6:30 am okay not the crack of dawn. I quickly dressed grabbed my camera and snuck out as quietly as possible. A note on that there is no way one can open or close a tent zipper without it making that lovely zzzzip sound. Time someone invented noiseless tent zippers. With camera in hand  I barrelled down the road to the lake. I was determined to get there as quickly as possible no way was the rest of the gang going to blame be for any late departure. With my focus on speed I was an orange blaze (wearing orange raincoat) with my eyes looking down on the road and not ahead of me . Rounding the bend I was suddenly taken a back by a huge brown object. To my utter astonishment a moose was walking right towards me. It took a few seconds to register what was before me and for the moose as well. But once the dots connected for the moose he did a 180 in four seconds flat which was quite a  feat considering he was turning on asphalt. Alas I was not quick enough to get a shot but I did find the Ladyslippers. I walked back to the campsite with the biggest smile on my face. Katrina knew right away I had seen a moose. We did not manage to leave by 8:00 am missed our target by a half hour not bad for us.

Oh my God will we ever get out of Ontario! July 1st two and half days later we were still working our way out the second largest province in Canada. Mind you we all agreed it was a terrific way to spend Canada Day seeing our wondrous and beautiful Canadian landscape. While taken in the beautiful vista of Ontario the Rocks and Trees lyrics from The Arrogant Worms immediately came to mind.

We’ve got Rocks and trees >And trees and rocks>And rocks and trees> And trees and rocks>And rocks and trees>And trees and rocks>And rocks and trees>And trees and rocks> And water

Many hours later there was great shout of celebration we crossed into Manitoba …the land of 100,000 lakes and Prairie Potholes or wetlands. At one time many of these wetlands were drained by farmers to provide more workable land. Now however this practice has stopped as it has been recognized that the potholes are important habitats for migratory waterfowl. Which we saw plenty of, every pothole was dotted with ducks enjoying their alluring oasis. By 9:00 pm we arrived at our campsite disappointingly were not in a provincial park but at a KOA campsite not far from the highway. One thing that was not different at this site were the  mosquitoes. We were engulfed by them making setting up and cooking a nightmare. That was the last straw for us. Remember I had said there was one camping item we would regret not buying? Well that was a screened in dinning tent. Our mission for the coming days of travel was to find a Canadian Tire store and buy that tent.

Before I continue one thing I should mention that finding a perfect campsite is a monumental task these days because most sites are geared for the heavy RVs that come rolling in. This means very rarely do you find soft ground to pitch your tent on. I am pretty sure that the Rangers at various Provincial Parks thought we were nuts for the number of times we came back and changed our site location. But the back and forth to the registration office did have a plus side on one of our trips when we discovered a great horned owl that had just caught it’s meal.

Well it’s Tuesday July 2d and we are in Saskatchewan and armed with a dinning tent. Like Manitoba the farmlands were dotted with prairie potholes with paddling ducks of all shapes and size.  Another sight we were seeing more of upon entering Manitoba and Saskatchewan was conventional oil drills on farmlands. These drills had me pondering some thoughts which I will come back to in the next posting.

We arrived at Battlefords Provincial Park by Jackfish Lake with a peace of mine knowing that no longer would we be doing the slap dance while trying to cook and eat our meals. Yes we bought a dining tent!

After travelling through tar sands country around Cold Lake, Alberta and next camp stop was the very lovely Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park outside of Lac La Biche.  Sir Winston is an island in the middle of the lake providing a nice breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

After our evening meal we enjoyed a lovely evening stroll to the lake where a Killdeer was very working hard to distract me in order to steer me away from it’s young ones. One thing we had to adjust to being in the Western provinces was how long it stayed light.  Many a time we thought it was only 9:00 pm but in reality it was closer to 11:00 pm. We went to sleep that night knowing that tomorrow we would finally hit our destination.

That my friends is the end of our crazy 4 and half day journey to Alberta.

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Next will come a journey or a walk I feel everyone should experience. So long for now.

Kia Orana – May you live long

Kia Orana or island greetings to everyone.

It seems going back in time is not all that difficult. We departed Auckland Sunday afternoon to arrive yesterday (Saturday evening) evening around 9:00 pm.

After weeks of  wearing winter clothing we touched down to warm and humid weather conditions. Though it was late eveing  I was stripping several layers of clothing off pretty fast  while waiting to go through customs. No worries did not get charged with “public nudity”  made sure to stop at the tank top. While doing this stripping in the background I could hear music being played by the airport singer aka Jake Numga Senior. But this was not for my benefit rather for all the arrivals to Rarotonga. Sitting in the corner of the arrivals section wearing a straw hat playing his banjo and singing Polynesian love songs Jake as been welcoming visitors with his music for the past 20 years. Makes waiting in the queque to get  your passport stamped very pleasant even if it is only for a few minutes. Not like in the USA where you queque up for hours, perhaps they should have an “airport singer” maybe singing “Leaving on a jet plane”.

We arrived in the darkness of night to what would be our home for the  next week at Ari Mango an upscale hostel. Luckily a german couple was still up and able to show us around and explain the dos and don’ts  within the hostel. As well as pointing out on a map where the local grocer was and where to catch the bus.The next day  we relived Sunday over again starting off the morning with a lovely breakfast outdoors followed by a tropical storm. I was most happy that storm had passed relatively quick otherwise we would have become soaking wet while waiting to catch the bus to the media workshop for the 43rd annual Pacific Islands Forum.

To say this news assignment literally fell into Steve’s lap is understatement. While trying to book accommodations for us Steve could not understand why everything was booked up. It was not until he spoke with the manager of Ari Mango did he discover that this forum was being held. A forum that promised the appearance of Hilary Clinton herself, no wonder there were no vacancies.

At the workshop we were provided  with the schedule of events for the coming week . Thus seeing clearly there would be no lying on the beach for that week. As it turned out it I would also be on assignment providing photos on the forum for IPS News Agency.

Steve and I were really kept busy going from events, meetings and press releases. Good thing we had the late night starlight walks along the beach after a hectic day of running around. Luckily the media co-ordinator arranged some transportation to some of these things otherwise getting to various places would have been a nightmare. I learned alot, gained alot of respect for Conservation International for their  work with the island leaders and their vision to protection the ocean.  I totally fell in love with the kids who put on a fantastic dance performance for the opening ceremonies. But what stuck with me the most is what the Prime Minister of Rarotonga (Henry Puna) said at the Pacific Oceanscape Leaders’ Dinner. He spoke of living on the island that one always hears the ocean waves day and night. He came to understand that the ocean was talking to the people of the island and it was now time to listen. The Cook Islands Marine Park is a step in the right direction.   More than 1 million square kilometers of ocean and island ecosystems in the Southern Cook Island has been designate as a sanctuary  making it  the world’s largest  marine park. The south pacific island leaders are showing that the oceans do matter and need to be cared for.

Once the conference was over we had about two days to find another place to stay for our last week on the island. After many phone calls I had just about given up. But once again the tourist people came through for us and managed to find us a wonderful place. Funny thing the place they found was one I called the day before and was told they couldn’t take us. But after hanging up the owners Mere and Jean-Marc realized they could but could not get in touch with us. Steve and I were extremely grateful that the tourist office called the  Aito apartments  as we felt  a gem was given to  us. Mere and Jean-Marc were like family and they  made our last week on Rarotonga seem like heavenly bliss.

Rarotonga  is one (also youngest) of  15 Cook islands which are spread over a large area in the South Pacific about the size of western Europe . I am sure you have guessed that the Cook Islands are so named because British explorer Captain James Cook visited the islands during the years 1773-1777. The main islands are Atiu, Mauke, Mangaia and Rarotonga these 4 islands have growing communities whose economy depend on tourism.   Of the other 11 islands there are some that allow tourists, giving visitors the opportunity to experience true Polynesian island life. One interesting  fact is that on Palmerston 50 people inhabit this island and they are descended from William Marsters and his three Polynesian wives. Other islands have caves to explore, while other are breeding sites and sanctuaries for seabirds. Suwarrow island was declared a National Heritage Park in 2002 and is the breeding ground for a rare species of turtle.

Rarotonga literally means down south Raro=down and tonga=south. The island is encircled by their main road where one can catch the bus very easily has there are only two routes Clockwise and Counter Clockwise. So if you miss the bus in one direction you can just walk across the street and get the bus coming in the other direction. The buses usually were on time and if not it meant they were running on island time. Because the interior is mountainous there are no roads crossing the island but there is a foot path across the island. Which Steve and I did not do we were enjoying our beach walks too much.  A lagoon surrounds the island where in some locations it extends more than a hundred metres to the reef. The reef  itself lies in front of the island’s north  shore  where one can watch an amazing display of waves crashing against it. The south eastern part of the island especially around Muri beach where we were stayed for two weeks the lagoon is at its widest and deepest. Here there are four small coral islets not far from shore  and  like Ningaloo Reef the reef is a fringing one. Making it any easy few strokes in the water  to see coral and tropical fish. With such an easy access to the underwater marine life we of course went snorkelling. Seeing beautiful and colourful fish had me once again wishing for a underwater camera. I did manage of few above water shots during our walks along the. These I have included in the slideshow and they give  you some of idea of what we saw. Yet sadly the number of fish our down in the lagoon as a good portion of the coral was dead. For those who are not inclined to go snorkelling, diving etc. enjoying island life by simply relaxing on the tropical island beach can be sublime. One thing though if you go for a walk along the beach here one can expect to be escorted by  one the local dogs. The stray dog population had at one time run a muck.  Through the spay and neuter program along with efforts to find homes for the abandoned dogs the population went down from 6,000 to 1,600. However when walking along the beach it is hard to tell a stray from those that homes as they all wander freely on the island. All the dogs enjoy romping on the beach while waiting for a tourist they can walk with and if you happen to have a treat that’s even better. Steve and I did manage to tear ourselves away from the beach one day and checked out a whale museum privately owned and operated. Everything you ever wanted to know about whales can be found in science researcher Nan Hauser’s small but info/display packed museum.

How the  people here are  able to pay the high food prices let alone gas at $2.30 per liter which is about $1.85 Canadian dollars when minimum wage is $5.00 ($4.03 Cdn.) is really puzzling. One thing that helps is that the majority of the people retain traditional rights to their  lands. These parcels of land are large enough to enable farming of fruits, vegetables and small livestock. Mind you they need to enforce where one can raise their livestock and what materials they have to use to keep them fenced in. As someone had decided to keep mama and baby piglets on the property next to the Aito apartments, being kept in by a piece of sheet metal and mama tied to a stake. By the end of our stay  the piglets had found an escape route and were scampering along the road. The crazy thing the owner lived just across the road on a nice piece land where he could have built a proper pen and kept them safe. Jean-Marc after two more piggy escapes had enough and walked mama and family across the road. As we were leaving that same day not to sure what became of that but I am certain it will be an on going saga for awhile. The piggies did make great composters though threw them all our kitchens scraps and they loved it.

One other sight that is very common here on the island is that practically everyone drives a small motor scooter I am sure due to the cost of gas. Even tourists can rent them and at minimal cost get a drivers license. This makes for some interesting times on the road. Yet the islanders have gotten so accustomed to using the scooters that a 500 meter distance we were told was too far to walk. Sadly for them this lack of exercise and trying to take on an American lifestyle is costing them in health. But I think slowly people are seeing that and  are trying to make changes.

Our only regret we had about our two week stay on the island is that it will probably be our last. As this beautiful island of paradise with its wonderful people is sadly a very long plane flight away.

Well that is the end of our travel adventures for the summer of 2012. What 2013 holds for us in adventure will  be another story.

Kia Orana and thanks for joining me in our great adventures.


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Magical and Mystical

It seems early birds do not always catch the worm. On our second morning in Picton we rose early in order to catch the 10:30 am ferry (remember sea bearing legs)  to Wellington capital of New Zealand (North Island) also know as windy Welly. We were told to be at the docks by 9:30 am for boarding. Wouldn’t you know it one of the few times we are out the door before 10:00 am we are stuck waiting 45 minutes before we can drive the car onto the ferry. For me it was a mystical Ferry ride when I saw the Fjords, the cold weather was the only thing stopping me from staying on deck throughout the whole trip. Wellington upon arrival struck us as a very welcoming city. Perhaps do in part that there are no skyscrapers looming over you. To ensure less damage against earthquakes buildings are only allowed between 10-12 floors . This  in my opinion provides for a much more open atmosphere on the waterfront and in the city center. Unlike many other cities when looking skywards or to the water front all you see is one tower after another.

Our stay in Windy Welly was only for a few hours as Katrina was meeting up with someone she had met in the east coast . While she caught up with her friend the three of us went to the Te Papa (mother earth) Museum. What a surprise we had upon passing through the doors of the museum, the entry was free. We learned of New Zealand’s history concerning the Maori and the first European settlers who arrived on Jan. 22 1840. A history that keeps repeating itself, of lands being taken, treaties not being honoured or still to be fulfilled such as the treaty of Waitangi. Very little land belongs to the Maori people now most of it taken by the settlers for the purposes of pastures to be grazed upon by sheep . One can easily see how the clearing of the land for pasture and sale of lumber totally reshaped the landscape and is still doing so. Many landslides occurred then and are still, in fact one can see ripples on the grassy hillsides  that one day will become a wave of mud.

One bit of information that astounded both Steve and I was that during the years of settlement Europeans tried introducing 25thousand differents species that there is any native wildlife, trees or plants is amazing. Another point of interest is that New Zealand never had any mammals ones that are seen now were introduced had have caused the death of many of their birds. After walking through the museum I felt how lucky the children and the people of New Zealand are to have such a great museum where many can experience and learn interesting things without the burden of expensive entrance fees.

With another few hours of driving behind us the following day from Wellington we hoped to put dark clouds behind us once in New Plymouth our hopes were dashed they were now rain clouds. The plan was to spend a day or two to see the volcano Mt. Taranaki and walk on one of the trails in the surrounding National park. Mt. Taranaki last showed its might 250 years ago for now it is a sleeping giant that one day will wake. Keeping a watchful eye are 5 seismic monitors that will measure even the slightest stirrings in Mt. Taranaki ensuring that people can be safely evacuated from the area. We waited patiently for two days for the weather to clear but it was not to be which meant it was time to enter into the darkness of caves. Our drive to the Waitomo Caves was through what seemed like never ending pasture lands and hills dotted with cattle and sheep. We arrived at the Waitomo Caves with an hour to spare before taking a tour in the Glow Worm Cave.

We were surprised to learn that there are about 200 hundred caves in the Waitomo area allowing for all types of cave tours and adventures. Ours was a tame tour of seeing the illuminations from glow worms in the hundreds. Which are in fact not worms but larvae of a fungus gnat which looks similar to a mosquito but without the blood sucking part. The luminescence of the larvae produces a soft greenish light that attracts insects which then become trapped in the numerous sticky strings that have been woven by the larvae. After six-nine months of life the larvae spins a cocoon. The adult gnat lives for only 3 days just long enough to have sex and then lay 40-50 eggs keeping things glowing among the Stalactites.

In case you are wondering we have been travelling for 56 days and on day 57 we planned to be in Piha to visit with a friend of Steve’s for a couple of days. Cindy had told Steve she had a lovely view of the ocean from where her house sat on the hill. What she failed to tell us we would once again be driving up, down and around mountains (okay small ones) with me praying that we would not tumble over the edge or be greeting the front end of a car going around the bend. True to her word the view from her house was great. Yet it was not until we walked onto the beach the next morning did I see that it was iron sand this meant we were walking on a black sandy beach. This area is very popular with the surfers but dangerous at the same time because of the wild surf and heavy currents. Would you believe a popular reality TV  show came to be as a result of the numerous recuses that have happened here in Piha. Oddly enough the show is called Piha Rescue and the best way to be in the show is to ignore the flags showing you where it’s safe to swim. Lions Rock which is the eroded core of an ancient volcano sits in the centre of the beach and has a small walking trail. Unfortunately there have been lethal accidents from this rock as people insist on going off the trail or wear the wrong type of shoes. Which did happen two days after we left Piha for Auckland. But before we left we walked one of the trails in the area which led to a beautiful waterfall it was quiet stunning.

From the serenity of Piha we wound our way back down the hillside to the bustling city life of Auckland. Dad had two more days before he would fly home and rest up for few days then fly to Vienna (he’s 78 and not slowing down). This time around we found a nice backpacker hostel to stay in which was fun for me as I watched the younger crowd looking a little puzzled when my dad came walking into the communal kitchen. Our whole family vacation together surprised quite a few people there but the icing on the cake was always when they heard my dad had come along as well. Their looks went from surprise, to puzzlement and wow that’s great! The hostel was not too far from the many volcanos in the Auckland area. One could say Auckland is a city of volcanos we walked to Mt. Eden which has been quiet for a very long time. Mt. Eden is known as the food bowl of Mataaho (the god of things hidden in the ground). It is the highest cone in Auckland the crater is 50 meters deep.  Mt. Eden is highly sacred you can still see remnants of terraces and storage pits. We spent our last evening with dad drinking wine and going over all the wonderful things we had seen and done.
For Dad it was a trip of a lifetime and his most memorable and favourite moments were the two days he went snorkelling near Ningaloo Reef.

With dad having an evening flight we decided to check out the Auckland museum which happens to sit on the very extinct volcano Pukekaroa. We did our last picnic lunch with him beside and on a huge fallen tree and then took in the romantic beauty of  orchids in the Winter garden  (greenhouse). We had not seen so many different types of orchids before, they took your breath away. Time stood still for awhile in the lovely botanical gardens but as they say “all good things must come to end”. Thus it was time to say good-bye to Opa/Papa it was especially hard for both Katrina and dad as they would not see each other for a year.

Our last two days with Katrina were relatively low key as we knew our time to say good-bye was fast approaching. What would be our last evening together was spent dinning out and enjoying a favourite pass time of the Kiwis here. Watching the All Blacks trounce the Australian rugby team, which must happen a fair number of times considering there was no victory celebrations on the street.

The best part of the game for me is when the All Blacks do their haka. The best way I can describe the haka is that the team performs a chant which is both physical and facial in appearance with the purpose of instilling fear in their opponents. This dates back to when the Maori tribes would battle one another.  However before doing so each tribe would do their haka. Now depending a how well a haka was performed the battle could be won by the tribe whose haka had instilled enough fear into the opposing tribe thereby making them concede best part no bloodshed. Wonder if we could have that incorporated on the Hill (Ottawa) since most of our politicians do more chest beating than anything else.

On the day of our departure we chatted about plans for the future over coffee. Which was at times difficult to do as both Steve and I were living in the present of knowing that this was the day we were to say good-bye to our Katrina. As we said our good-byes I knew the three us felt grateful that we were off onto new adventures to help ease the emptiness that would follow. Katrina through WWOOF would be learning/working on a Permaculture farm far north of Auckland and Steve and I would be off to Cook Islands. Where as it turns out we would have work to do and what better place to do it than in the South Pacific.

Until next time which will be the last posting for this travel adventure.


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Courage, warm springs and ocean beauty

We arrived in the land of the All Blacks (New Zealand’s rugby team) without a hitch. Not to say that before we left Australia I was worried there’d be a tap on my shoulder and the words “come with me”. Arriving in Christchurch in the late afternoon towards evening time meant that we wanted to eat right away and find a grocery store followed by a fairly good night sleep. One of the disadvantages of travelling to many places is that you are always adjusting to your new living space. And just when you start to get comfortable you are on the move once more making a good night sleep not always possible.

Having slept relatively well and nourished by a hearty breakfast we headed towards the city centre to see first hand the damaged that was laid upon Christchurch by the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck the South Island  on  September 4th 2010. The aftershocks continue to this day (we felt two of them :+o ) the biggest occurring on February 22, 2011 with a 6.3 magnitude (another earthquake) this one was very close to Christchurch. As the second quake was nearer to Christchurch it was far more destructive and sadly 185 people were killed. The damage was extensive especially in the central city and eastern suburbs. Many people and business have packed up their bags and left due to bureaucratic red tape with insurance companies while others could not endure any longer the fear they felt with each aftershock. The businesses  who have stuck it out after their place of business was destroyed or not structural sound have become part of what New Zealanders call the pop mall/city. The retailers and cafes have used shipping containers for their popup stores. It looks very unique and in some ways I hope a few stay after the city has been rebuilt. The biggest subject of debate in Christchurch is what to do with the Christchurch Cathedral. The Anglican church diocese wants to tear it down and build new whereas the city of Christchurch wants to repair it for its historical significance. The debate has become heated on both sides it could be sometime before any decision is made.

After a couple days and some great tasting coffee (New Zealand is out doing Australia in this area) we rented a car one more time to continue on with our travels. One thing I was grateful for is that we would be driving shorter distances. As the gas prices here would make your eyes pop out $2.15 – $2.22 per liter. In Australia it was between $1.50 – $1.80 I am looking forward to our low gas prices.

After a three hour leisurely drive and plenty of gas left in the tank we arrived in Hanmer Springs. It is a small town surrounded by mountains and is built around a hot spring that was discovered in the late 19th century. We fell in love with the place right away and decided to stay over night. Luck was on our side, just a half hour before we arrived at the Visitor Centre a accommodation with vacancies had dropped their price — fate was on our side. Having unloaded our things we did a small hike and then relaxed in the thermal pools of which there are 15. The pools so relaxed me that by the time I finished my evening snack and glass of wine I barely was able to keep my eyes open. Probably the earliest I ever went to bed but I am sure for the last 125 years others have gone to bed alot earlier than expected.

After a good nights rest I was ready the next day for a more strenuous walk on one of their steeper trails to a waterfall. Alas we did not see the waterfall after walking almost halfway as the pathway had a small river flowing over it. But the walk was well worth it for the scenic lookouts and being able to walk among the giants of the woodlands. Since our walk was cut short it left us plenty of time to swim in the pools once more before leaving for Kaikoura. It was a good thing we did the pools before our drive in the dark, up, down, around and through mountains to Kaikoura.  It was a heart stopping and edge of your seat ride but thanks to the pools I stayed on my seat and my heart kept beating.

The next morning we found that the sunshine had left us and we would be seeing gray clouds for awhile. Hoping we would not get too wet over the next few days in Kaikoura while looking for seals and perhaps some whale watching. There are many spots along the Kaikoura coast where you can sight a seal colony. In 1894 hunting was banned as the seal population was nearly wiped out. They are still  under protection (New Zealand Department of Conservation) which has enabled a steady comeback of the seals but the populations is still only 10%-20% of what it once was. One of  the best places to see a fur seal colony is at Ohau Point as the adult seals return here and between the months of November and December the females give birth.  Travelling in the area during the month of July meant that the pups would be around 6 months old  when they are more independent and are out looking for some fun. Their favourite spot to play is at a waterfall near Ohau Point. We walked along a pathway beside a stream which the pups work their way up a few hundred metres to reach the waterfall. It was a lovely sight to see as the water tumbled down into a small rocky pool with seal pups happily diving and leaping about in the water.

After two days of rain on and off along with high ocean waves crashing against the seashore two certain ladies were losing hope.  Katrina and I had been keeping our fingers crossed that our third and last day in Kaikoura favourable winds would blow our way. I guess we did a good job of keeping them crossed as we woke up to sunshine and a calmer ocean, this meant Katrina and I could go whale watching.  In Kaikoura you have a better chance (98%) of seeing a whale partly due to the continental shelf conditions.  The sea bed slopes away from the land to a depth 90m then plunges to 800m. If you were to drain the water it would look like a huge crater. Because of this depth the Sperm whale stays permanently in Kairkoura. We saw four sperm whales at different times. To be beside these huge creatures and then watch them dive down to the ocean depths without any fear of us brought joy to my heart. I do hope that one day that all countries with ban hunting whales along with the deep sea fishing nets with their blades that dig through the ocean floor. For I fear whales swimming in the ocean and all the beauty the ocean holds will one day only be seen through the looking glass of aquariums and story books.   Along with the whales we also saw Dusky dolphins, seals, a small blue penguin and lots of Cormorants relaxing on a huge rock. Both Katrina and I came off the boat with smiles on our faces.

Mother nature held the rain off during our 4 hour whale watching adventure and for our drive to Picton after a late lunch. Even though it was a late lunch we did manage to have part of our drive by daylight. Allowing us to see the well known wine region of Marlborough, with sheep grazing in amongst the grapevines keeping everything nice and trim.  We did however arrive in Picton by dark of the night and with no place to stay. We split up into two groups and walked up down the streets looking for accommodations. Katrina’s Lonely Planet guide book did its job once again, she and I found a lovely studio unit at Harbour View Motel. Yes as the name suggests we did have a view of the harbour. It was quite the sight first thing in the morning but we were not to impressed by the dark gray clouds that had settled in for the day. Bundled up in our rain gear we did manage to walk one the trails along the Queen Charlotte’s Track. The rain geared worked as it did not start to rain until we arrived back at the car park. As always when walking through beautiful terrain there are no thoughts of food but once you have finished your hike the stomach starts talking. Luckily for us we were not too far away from a small town of 400 people named Havelock where we able to quieten our stomachs with meals of hot soups, fish and pasta.

I will leave you here on the south island as it seems only fitting to write a part two on our travels through New Zealand. Plus the fact I had a hard time choosing just 25 pictures out of the hundreds I took.

Our next adventure starts pretty early in the morning and requires sea bearing legs, till then.


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Published in: on September 7, 2012 at 8:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Guess what’s for dinner

After spending a couple hours with Derek in Coral Bay then saying our good-byes we planned on making a relatively straight run for Carnarvon for a one night stay. However we did make coffee stop in Geraldton in the Dome Cafe not so much for the coffee more for the 45 min. of free wifi if you purchased a coffee. They gave us two password slips however Steve was trying to book our flights to Melbourne we definitely needed more slips. I went up to the counter saying I forgot to get a slip for myself while my dad bought a cake as he must have a sweet with his coffee and said he needed internet access. With the extra slips Steve was under less time pressure to book flights  and we could use my laptop to find a place to stay in Carnarvon and send a email to my mom letting her know internet acces would once again be limited (spoiled in Exmouth). Steve having booked our  flights we stepped outside and searched for a picnic table along the waterfront.  Geraldton has a fairly large waterfront with many open public spaces so finding a table did not take long. An aside here for you would be travellers who want to save money by making their own meals. Save all large and small containers from yogourt, hummus etc. They make great containers for pasta salads or other various cold salads you would make for a picnic lunch. Between Katrina, Derek and myself we were able to make some good stomach filling lunches, kept our food expenses down by having theses containers. Having finished our meal of pasta salad, cheese and veggies we were on the hwy. to Carnarvon once more. Our drive to Carnarvon would be the only part that was going to be retraced from our route up to Exmouth. The rest of the drive back to Perth would be closer to the coast line. Even though school holidays were over we almost unable to find a place to spend the night Can. Seems Seniors were heading for warmth and the beauty of the wildflowers that were just starting to bloom. That’s the great thing in Australia if you are feeling too cold in the winter all you do is drive north and you are back into beach weather. Oddly enough the place we managed to get is right beside the caravon park we stayed in on our way up to Exmouth.

By the time we unpacked we were definitely ready for supper or as they say here tea. We tried the local pizzeria/restaurant as it offered gluten-free pizza what a wonderful surprise we had.   We ordered two pizzas to share, Steve with my dad  and I with Katrina. My father who is not a big fan of pizza declared it was the best pizza he ever had eaten. The real wow was the gluten-free pizza Katrina and I shared. My hat goes off to the chef as I have made gluten-free pizza dough and it is no easy task to make it taste like regular pizza dough. But this chef has it down pack I would say it was the best pizza period I ever had. We felt we could not go wrong with the desserts that were on the menu and we were absolutely right.

On a Friday night one would stay out late enjoy another glass off wine this was not the case for us. As we wanted to be up bright and early to check out the Farmer’s market which we were unable to do the last time we were here. The Farmer’s market was a bit of a let done after dreaming about all the wonderful fruits and vegetables we could buy. It was half Flea market so there was not quite the array I was hoping for but Katrina was delighted to see that fresh herbs were being sold. With our arms filled fresh eggs,vegetables and herbs we left for the car knowing we had plenty of time enjoy coffee one more time at River Gum’s cafe. Another aside sometimes it is best to visit a place only once. The great tasting coffee we enjoyed last time definitely lost it’s good flavour this time around. But one good thing came out of our second visit I was able to find out where I could buy fresh papaya.

After buying the papaya we should have left town but as it was well past lunch time we need a fairly filling meal before leaving for our next destination. What happened next is I found myself in a game of musical lunch bowls. As we often do when eating out we taste the other person’s meal. Katrina offered a taste to Steve of her chicken noodle meal whereupon Steve says it’s nice but tastes fishy. For your information Katrina is allergic to shellfish so the alarm bells went off and I was asked to taste. While I was tasting Katrina starts digging through her meal and discovered little brown things. Upon which I grabbed the bowl from and said those are shrimp I will eat your meal you can have mine. All seemed to be well after a couple of fork fulls of Katrian’s meal Steve then says his throat feels itchy. Katrina then jumps up grabs her and Steve’s meal to question the cook. After much hand waving Katrina was able to find out that her chicken meal was done with a fish sauce and Steve’s done in a Satay sauce which is a peanut sauce. Musical bowls started again this time I am given  Steve’s meal, Kat. has mine and Steve was to eat Kat’s. By now both  Steve and Kat are just staring at the food hoping they won’t become severely ill. Unfortunately we had become a bit complacent with asking questions concerning their allergies as we had not run into any difficulties. Big mistake I kept saying while I am running down the grocery aisle looking for ginger beer to help settle their stomachs. After a 3 hour wait, Steve having eaten a meal from another restaurant and no major reactions from either one of them we felt it was safe to make our way southward. For me it will always be the day of musical bowls with me waiting to see what meal would finally be mine to eat and it wasn’t the one I ordered.

The 3 hour delay made our drive into the interior an interesting one as it was pitch dark, no lights on the the road and it was not smoothly paved think the old mid-west days. We were headed to the Riverside Sanctuary which is near a section of the  Murchison River that is protected. It once was a sheep farm of up to 15,000 sheep, still an operational farm but now offering farmstay  accommodations. Former shearer lodgings that have been transformed to 1 or 3 bedroom self-contained units and in our case the actually lodgings. These were refurbished and had two nice sized bunk beds. The 4 of us felt quite cozy sleeping in our sleeping bags. Luckily no else was staying in the other lodgings so we could grab some extra sleeping bags which we definitely needed as it was quite a cold night. We cooked out dinner and breakfast in the former shearing camp kitchen which is actually inside the shearing shed/barn. The owners set up the barn with many historical news items and many articles of the shearing life. One news photo that caught my eye was a photo taken during 1999 draught. It showed thousands of Emu running along the Emu barrier trying to find water which was on the other side of the fence for the farmers and their crop. The death toll must have been huge.

The next day we walked through 10,000 acre property that the family have been rehabilitating by planting over 100,000 over 30 years and protecting the natural landscape. Once we reached the river both Katrina and I were wanting to get out of there. We were feeling such sadness and I was feeling such tension in my chest that felt my heart was going to jump out. I truly believe many terribly things happened here to the first people of the land and to the native wildlife itself. Both Katrina and I were feeling that and I think perhaps the family who owned the farm. Perhaps this why they have spent the last 30 years giving back what was taken away.

After weeks of driving on the dry open lands of Western Australia (WA) where one had to worry that sheep or cows were going to cross the highway yes I said cross. We did during part of our drive out of Exmouth come across cows that had been killed hate think what the car looked like. Here in the WA fencing in is not a operative word which is quite odd after having spoken with a lady whose property is beside River Gum’s Cafe. In 2010 there was huge flood (Gascoyne River) which caused a fair amount of damage. When it was safe to go back to her home the lady discovered a huge cement mixing trunk just on the edge of property (her kids painted it as a sign for the Cafe) but off the road. Recently she received a letter that stated she would have to remove it as there was potential for a serious car accident. Who would of thought that a cow crossing the main highway had less probability of causing serious harm than a cement mixer that is not even on the road. I know there is logic in there somewhere just haven’t found it yet. But as I was saying it was nice to be heading toward the coastal roads.

Cervantes would be our next stop for a two night stay. The point of interest here was the Pinnacles Desert, a desert where rocks have erupted out the sands. It is believed that they formed underground 500,000 years ago. Scientist believe they either remained buried or went through a cycle of being exposed then buried again. Research also seems to show that about 6,000 years ago they appeared but were buried again until a few hundred years ago. It was a stunning site to see and to walk amongst these mysteries that stand in the sands. What had me perplexed was if these Pinnacles are such natural wonders why are cars and small buses aloud to drive through the area. It was abit surreal to watch from the lookout platform the cars/buses drive around stop, people jump out take a picture get in their transport and drive on to repeat the whole process.  It makes sense to allow people who have a physical disability to drive on the sands but everybody else who can walk should go out and enjoy it for all it’s wonder. Not sure how you can truly appreciate what you are seeing by doing jump out and snap. It serves more the purpose I been there and seen it here’s the picture.

Left Cervantes first thing in the morning as we had a plane to catch in Perth that would bring us to Melbourne. Just when I think there are no more National Parks to be seen we discover one less than  a hour north of Perth Yanchep National Park and Koala Sanctuary.  I was almost beside myself when I found out about the Koala sanctuary.  When we came to Oz the first time we did not get a chance to see any. Steve barely had parked and I was already out of the car camera in hand. The park itself has 9 walking trails we walked the wetlands trail (2 km) after having lunch in a Inn (a former estate) which was celebrating Xmas in July. After having a nice relaxing time in the park it was time for me to be stressed out again. When we checked in with the ticket agent I discovered that Steve had purchased my ticket using Renee Leahy and not my legal name Renate.  Thought here I go again if security looks at both my passport and ticket they would say you are not boarding the plane. A 110 additional gray hairs later with my business cards in hand where I use Renee Leahy I am ready to give the spiel of my life. My boarding card is taken I calmly (ha ha) await “passport please” but wait minute he doesn’t ask run onto the plane as fast as you can.  One word of advice aside from making sure that name on passport and ticket match. Tiger Airways if they can find a way to charge you extra they will. In our case the online booking tickets did not go through properly for the 3 us we were unable to check our baggage in. This resulted in us paying an extra $90.00 per ticket did not matter that their website screwed up. It is a battle we still have to fight once we get home.

The 3 hours of flying time we landed in Melbourne after 10:30 pm to be greeted by cousin (3rd) Barbara. It was great to see her again. By the time we arrived at her home in the suburb of Altona we were almost ready for bed did chit chat for an hour. We enjoyed a wonderful few days with them in fact one evening we had a wonderful dinner with some of their friends who belong to a VW car club. Think hoarders and then visualize a shed filled with Kombis (Bus), Beetles along with10 other classic/antique cars, another shed with an original designed Meyers fiberglass Dune Buggy and all the tools and parts to build or re-build cars or engines. Next in the living room a floor to ceiling show case about 8 feet long with every vw toy you can imagine. I believe that evening was every VW owners dream especially since I got to see one of Herbie’s stand-ins as well.

My cousin and her husband Andrew were kind enough to loan us their car for a weekend. We put the  car on the Great Ocean Drive Road heading for Apollo Bay. The road was built by soldiers who returned from World War I between 1919 and 1932 and is the world’s largest war memorial to the fallen soldiers of that war. The problem with this unbelievably curvy road is built for cars that did have tremendous. Drivers would not be able zoom around the bends the way they try to now. This time you had to pry my fingers of the arm rest after we reached our destination. It is a small coastal town on the eastern side of Otway Cape. From here one can go to the Otway National Park to see glow worms in the dark of night and in another area Koalas way up high either eating or sleeping so that they can digest their meal of eucalyptus leaves. The next time you put your about to decorate your Xmas tree do something for me especially if you have the miniature white lights. Before putting on the tree set a couple or strings on the floor plug them in turn off your lights step back abit and say to yourself the following.  This what Renee and her family saw the night they went stumbling in the dark looking for glow worms. If this doesn’t give you an idea of the magical moments we had that night. Then you will just have to fly to Oz drive the crazy Great Ocean road and go to Otway National Park and enjoy the experience first hand. I am pretty sure James Cameron did going by some scenes in Avatar.

Another attraction in this area are the 12 Apostles which are limestone rock stacks protruding out of the water. Sadly due to wave erosion there are only 8 left but still a wonder see even if you are about to be blown off the walkway (very, very stormy that day). A few kilometers further one can view the beauty of Lock Ard Gorge just as stunning.

The most interesting and bizarre thing I saw in Melbourne was in a police museum. In fact I never thought I would ever see such a thing. Three guesses……no, no and maybe the answer a 18th century Vampire Slaying Kit which the police obtained during a 1994 drug raid. A lovely wooden box containing pistols, wooden stake, crucifix, silver bullets and holy water.  Melbourne’s botanical garden had changed since we were there 8 years ago by adding a wetlands area which just adds to it’s beauty. The best part about being in Melbourne was having the chance to unwind for awhile after many so long drives on the WA highway. But most importantly being able to  spend time with my cousin and her husband.

The question you have to ask now is did Renee have any surprises awaiting her at the airport before the plane flying to Christchurch, New Zealand.

The answer awaits in my next installment.


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Giant Slalom Australian Style

Heading towards our final northerly destination where the sun shines for almost 320 days year one could easily see why it is described as the place where the “outback meets the ocean”. In no other area does this occur but in north western Australia which Coral Bay and Exmouth are part of.

We had decided that we would not do a lay over in Coral Bay in order stay longer in Exmouth. After having a lunch break there we were glad to have made that decision. Coral Bay has become a over priced tourist resort. As a one day outing  with your own packed meal, sunbathers, swimmers and snorkelers can spend a wonderful time on the lovely beach and in the ocean waters.   Swimming  in the beautiful turquoise colured waters is ideal as there are very  few high waves or heavy under currents. Thankfully they don’t charge for using the beach as the rest of the resort area is all about charging the highest prices possible. My dad just about fell over when he saw the price for 1 liter of  bottled mineral water $4.00.  It is a good thing minimum wage in Australia is around $16.00 per hour with exchange that we would be $16.78 cdn.  Me thinks Ontario and  the rest the provinces can do better.  Another thing that I say kudos to Australia for is even people working  in the service industry i.e. waitress/waitor are paid either minimum wage or more. They do not have to rely on tips to keep themselves out of poverty. Unlike our poor souls who make below minimum wage. The restaurants and cafes are doing quite well here with no or little mention of being unable to make a profit due to the hourly wage they pay their employees.

Our arrival in Exmouth was around 4:00 pm at the Sea Breeze Resort/Apartment. It was formerly Chief Petty Officers Quarters to the US Navy which sits inside a active naval base. The land is still own by the US government for whatever reason the US decided to sell the quarters to a family. Which they turned into a very nice resort that has about 28 individual apartments or in OZ speak self-contained units.The rest of the base is like walking through a ghost town with shuttered up bars, restaurants, businesses and and a unused sport fields. Mind you the kangaroos are not complaining the land surrounding the resort is fenced off  with a sign reading no trespassing and no shooting over the fence.  About 200 naval people are still running the base which includes a naval communication station. One thing we started noticing upon our arrival is that entire building was well lit. Even units that were empty the lights and air conditioning were left on to help the US Navy out. Due to the fact that the generators for the communication station are producing an abundance of electricity which needs to be used up or the generators will sit idle causing the engines to “glass up” and that is  an expensive repair. Of course my first thought is can’t one generator be shut down permanently. The logic of asking the owners of the resort to keep all lights and air conditioning running because they are producing too much escapes me. The building materials for the Quarters came from the states so for the Oz citizens all switches are upside down which is normal for us.  All the units are one large room with a kitchenette and a separate bathroom. It was a bit cozy but we managed quite well. Something most resorts, caravan parks and even public parks do here is provide a barbeque area. The barbeque was  pretty top notch which was great as I put Derek to work soon after unpacking. He grilled up a fantastic tasting vegetable dinner yummy.

The next day was one of relaxation and doing laundry before things started smelling ripe. After doing such hard work one has to  re-energize with a hearty lunch. So while doing laundry I put Derek once again to work on the barbeque.  In the meantime I went to hang up the second load around back of the building  stopping dead in my tracks as right before my very eyes was a Emu with her 2 baby chicks. No I did not drop the laundry but came very close when I ran back to our room to grab my camera. I later found out that the people who work at resort  have over the past few years left water filled buckets on their grounds for the Emus.  For the wildlife in the outback, finding water is very difficult and during a drought almost impossible. We would later discover how important a single drop water can be.

With our stomachs full once again and me having taken plenty of Emu photos and I mean plenty we drove to Cape Range National park. The park  is about 50,581 hectares with striking panoramic views of the rugged limestone terrain, several stunning canyons and to top it all off 50 km of enticing and immaculate beaches with the spectacular Ningaloo Reef not to far off in the distance. We thoroughly enjoyed our late afternoon/early evening walk along the beach discovering interesting things such as sea cucumbers while the tide was out and a sea shell with an interesting occupant. By the way sea cucumbers are not aquatic plants but a actual marine animal.  The drive out of the park by night was story of a different colour. It had all the drama of playing chicken on the road however it was not us playing rather it was the kangaroos. Once twilight hits the kangaroos come out to forage along the road and then play chicken. Picture this 4 sets of eyes  kangaroo spotting for Derek, blinking headlights, car horn honking and Derek yelling out. After all that especially Derek’s shouting at the Roos, they would just look at you with have a facial expression that said “like what’s happening man”. Many times Derek had to come to a complete stop. Their other game was “changed my mind” when Derek saw them heading to the side he started moving the car forward then all of sudden the kangaroo would change direction and hop across to other side. With these crazy antics going on it was a miracle we didn’t hit one of them  only twice did we have a close call. By the time we arrived back we had to peel Derek’s fingers off the steering wheel.

After a night of dreaming kangaroo chicken we were ready for snorkeling in Ningaloo Marine Park. Ningaloo Reef has over 200 species of hard corals and about 50 species of soft coral. It is home to about 500 species of fish, manta rays, turtles and humpback whales. It is one of two places where the whale shark migrate annually.  The coral spawning of the Ningaloo Reef is what brings the Whale Shark in large numbers as there is a high quantity of plankton which they mainly feed on. This 260 km long reef is the only large reef that is located very close to an area of land as it is a fringing reef. This means the reef may grow not to far from shore  making it a wonderful place for snorkeling. Just walk into the water and within a few strokes there are wonders to behold.  This would be the first time that my father ever snorkeled in ocean water. He would soon find out that snorkeling around the cottage would pale in comparison. But first we had the fun of on putting on our full length wet suits to keep us warm in the water. The best part was watching Derek zip up my father his Opa, he was doing it with such caution. As you know with age comes loose skin and this worried Derek when he pulled up my dad’s zipper that is in back of the suit. You can envision what Derek was thinking it definitely gave us all a chuckle. How to describe the sight we  beheld while snorkeling. Imagine you are listening to Louis Armstrong and he is singing What A Wonderful World. The line that says it best for me is this “The colours of a rainbow so pretty in the sky.” We saw the colours of the rainbow in the ocean and I did “think to myself what a wonderful world.” In this wonderful I saw so many different fish and to my amazement a couple stingrays and octopus. I came out the water that day just saying wow, wow and wow. My father I know had an unforgettable experience.

As the sun was hiding behind the clouds another day of snorkeling was put aside for a hike above Yardi Creek in Cape Range National Park. After centuries of erosion there is now a spectacular gorge. The walls of the gorge is home to a colony of black-footed rock wallabies. This is one time I wished I had a long range zoom lens of at least 700 mm (hope Santa is listening). They were a sight to behold with there giant leaps from one rock to another. The clouds held till the end of our hike it wasn’t until we entered the parking lot did raindrops begin. As it was still an hour before sunset we thought it would be fairly kangaroo free on the drive back. Remember I had written earlier “we would later discover how important a single drop can be”. Barely had we driven on the  Park road  to discover that we had just entered the kangaroo slalom. There were kangaroo everywhere on the road and to make things more difficult it was also raining pretty steady hampering our visibility (so photo through front window a bit fuzzy bit gives you an idea). As we slowly made our way through the course we kept wondering why so many were out and why they were not moving off the road and their noses were almost touching the road. We soon realized the road had become their drinking fountain every puddle that formed and every droplet of rain that landed on the road the roos were lapping up.   As nerve wracking as it was we also had the delightful sightings of mother kangaroos with a Joey in her pouch. Thanks to the rain the roos were able to get much needed water and we had the opportunity to see mom with her baby.

I was very grateful that mother nature was looking after us during our walk the next day through Charles Knife Road Canyons. It was a fairly warm day and we arrived at the our starting point around noon time after a 11 km drive up the canyon on a narrow gravel pot holed road. A jaw clenching drive would best describe it. After that drive I understood why there local governments didn’t spend much on infrastructure as most of the outbackers drive 4×4’s.  Our guide book recommended one should do their hike in the morning as it could get quite warm in the outback terrain with very little shade to get a break from the sun. With gentle breezes blowing across the dry lands of the gorge we kept a slow but steady pace. Wisely Derek packed extra water so we had plenty of water to drink during our walk and for our snack breaks. During our walk I could not imagine how anyone would even attempt walking in this area during their summer time as temperatures reach 50 degrees celsius. I am not sure how breezy it normally gets in these canyons but I am pretty sure mother nature sent a few extra our way. As with all the gorges we have seen during our trip these were just as stunning. Just in case you are wondering our 11 km drive down the road was just as hair raising. Beer and wine were definitely required once we made it to the bottom especially for Derek.

Two days of seeing wonderful sights and enduring some nail biting drives a rest day was in order. With an easy drive into town we wandered through the town centre and had a full course meal for lunch. As we planned to do a late night picnic in the National Park on the beach near the Jurabi Turtle Centre. At the turtle centre there is a covered outdoor display providing information on the three species of sea turtles that inhabit the waters of Ningaloo Reef  the Green, Loggerhead and Hawsbill. Their nesting season is from November to February so we did not have to worry too much when running onto the beach as Steve had spotted some whales. There were at least 4 to 6 frolicking in the ocean. Even though they were far off there was no mistaking their big splash.  After our whale entertainment we walked along the rocky shore for awhile watching  crabs scurry back to their hiding places and finding many different coloured shells.  After watching the sunset  we put out our picnic and enjoyed a late evening snack with wine  on the beach and waited for the stars to come out. The night sky was not totally clear of clouds but eventually they partially broke open and we were to the see splendour of the milky way.

We had two days remaining before leaving Exmouth and bringing Derek to Coral Bay in order for him to catch his bus to Broome. It also meant we would be heading back to cooler weather too cold for jumping in to the ocean.  It was unanimous we would spend another day snorkelling. The Cape Range National Park has many snorkelling sites we hoped to try two sites. The first is called Oyster Stacks as the coral was fairly close to shore in this spot it was recommended to be there when the tide was at it’s highest lessening the chances of us touching the coral. The wait was worth it as there was a double rainbow of colours.

Our next stop was at Torquoise Bay where you could drift snorkel. You start at the south end of the beach swim out a few strokes and just let the current take you along to north end while seeing colourful coral and fish. But thanks to Derek who had yelled out to me I saw a fantastic site. A sea turtle feeding on the aquatic plants, it was so close that I thought I could reach out and touch this wonderful marine creature. I gave Derek big hug thank you when we came out of the water. It is something I will not forget for a long time.

We all spent a relatively quiet last day except for myself everyone went in town for coffee. Later in the day Steve and Derek, Katrina and Dad enjoyed their books while to some photos of Galah’s doing their version of speeding dating.

After spending almost a month with Derek it was time to drive to Coral Bay and say good bye once again. A little of my heart is taken away everytime I have to say good-bye to my children. Raising kids to fly like a bird so they can see the world for all it’s beauty and yes ugliness is alot seems to me alot harder on that parent compared  to the parent who raises their children to fly like a kite as they are never far away it just takes a pull of the string. In another months time a little bit more of my heart will be taken as my other tiny bird Katrina will do her flying in New Zealand.

The road back to Perth had a few exciting moments thanks to Steve and Katrina. Till next time bye for now.


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Published in: on August 14, 2012 at 7:59 am  Leave a Comment  

Whales and Dolphins

I ended my last entry with a sunset with this one I will begin with a energetic 1073 meter high walk in Stirling Range on Bluff Knoll. In the tour book the walk is described as being long and strenuous however is suitable for most people of reasonable fitness. It is also went on to to say 20,000 people attempt the climb every year but only half make it to the top. We all felt up to the challenge an embarked on our walk. What the book failed to mention was that a good portion of the climb would involve stairs made from the mountain side itself. This would have been fine however the stairs were designed for 7 feet tall basketball players. Most often for Katrina and myself the height of the stair was past our knees. Many times on the climb we all had to remind ourselves to use our other leg when stepping up. Upon starting the ascent we were all bundled in our warm clothing after a few rounds with the stairs the clothes started coming off. The view throughout the walk was impressive and beautiful. One could see the coastline near Albany and the eastern peaks of Stirling.  The waterfall that was mentioned in the book gave us a giggle though when we saw it. Having grown up with the Niagara Falls one has a certain expectation. In this case I think someone turned off the water tap. This is not the first time in Steve’s and my travels we come across a write up or big sign about a waterfall and discover that our shower has more water flowing. I think the people of Mount Barker would be blown away with Niagara Falls. After two hours we made it to the summit and quickly put our clothes back on as it was unbelievably cold up there. Food always tastes terrific when eaten outdoors this time after our stair fitness walk our lunch seemed like a gourmet meal. The only thing that was missing was a nice hot cup of tea to keep us warm. Since we had none we quickly packed up as our fingertips were starting to go numb. Going down was just as strenuous as going up which meant it was not long before we once again started taking our clothes off. I am sure if anybody was watching us they would have thought Canadians are a strange bunch their either taking off layers of clothing or putting then on. We have come to realize it’s not so much we can tolerate the cold better we just know how to dress for it. Good thing unlike Australia Canada has extreme temperature changes which gives us no to time adapt hence we always dress in layers. Though Aussies are willing to tough out their colder weather nothing scares them more when you mention minus ten to twenty degrees. Then they start throwing more wood on the fire and look at you with great pity. But I digress, all in all our walk including our lunch break took about 5 hours. What we saw that day was worth every step we climbed. Mind you we all felt a few twinges in our leg muscles the next day. We were happy to spend the following day in Albany planning for the next leg of our northern of our trip. Which for us meant getting up at 5:45 in the morning in order to bring to Steve back to Perth. As he was flying out to Cairns for the Coral Reef conference.
After dropping Steve off at the airport we continued on with our nearly 800 km odyssey to Dongara/Port Denison (Shire of Irwin). We managed to find a place in a Caravan Park. Dad and Derek had the squeaky bunk beds while Katrina and I slept oh so soft double bed. It did have a fairly nice sized kitchen but more importantly it was clean. Having endured such a long drive the only thing we unpacked was our food with team effort we produced a wonderful pasta dinner. All four us hit the sack pretty quick our 5:45 wake up and long drive made 9:00 pm seem like 1:00 am (we are such party animals).

Our lodgings was not too far from Irwin which made for a nice after breakfast walk the following day. Water birds and ducks were in abundance they were enjoying the sunshine just as much as we were. Towards the end our walk we came towards a rock cliff made of sandstone. This type of stone is fairly porous allowing for many small creatures to create a home or in this case a bee hive. The hive was totally exposed to us we watched the bees zooming in out not in the less bothered by us being there. To me bee hives are a remarkable craftmanship an inspiring sight the only thing missing was the honey and I wasn’t asking the bees for any.
Aside from the Irwin rive Dongara is also know for it many fig trees as well as coral reefs. When I looked at the map showing all the reefs, it was no wonder that so many shipping vessels wound up on the bottom of the ocean.

After two days we continued our journey northward to Kalbarri. On route we stopped off at Geraldton too see the memorial for the HMS Sydney. A light cruiser class ship originally owned by the British she was bought in 1933 by the Australian Commonwealth. Sent to action during World War II to the Mediterranean on June 21, 1940 . Between June 28th and July 19th she sank the Italian Destroyer Espero, disabled the Italian Cruiser, Barolomeo Colleoni and set off in pursuit of another ship having to give up as they had little ammunition left. Her last battle was fought on November 19, 1941 returning home from the Sunda Straits. HMAS Sydney encountered the German Raider HSK Kormoran an clash that would result in the loss of both ships. 645 crew members gave up their lives to which the memorial is dedicated to in memory of their valiant effort. With each wartime memorial I visit I often wonder if the men and women who gave up their lives to ensure a better future for all who were to come next. Are not in some way disappointed in what we have done with the lessons they have taught us.

By early afternoon we arrived in Kalbarri where we went to the Visitor Information Center to inquire about accommodations. Here in Australia the Info Centers are where you find out what’s available, the staff will enquire on your behalf if the price can come down, do booking and sometimes pay for your accommodations is done through them as well. The lady who helped us found a very nice place and enabled us to get the 5 night discount price even though we were staying for 4. After settling in, cooking and eating we wonder over to one of the local cafes. What do I see on the grass but a large flock of Galahs I went into action immediately. But back to the cafe, one thing we have discovered in the last two weeks if you do not get to a cafe before the magic hour 4 or 5 pm you are out of luck. This has proven to be frustrating but on our second day in Kalbarri we were not disappointed that missed the magic hour as we then decided to walk along the beach to their lookout. Within in about 15 minutes of staring out onto the ocean we were told there was a whale jumping up into the waves. Well I spun around faster than you can say Whale and waited. Then all of sudden fairly close to shore up she/he cam and then down with a big splash what a wonderful moment that was. It ended our day beautifully and is was the start of an amazing 2 days of hiking.

Our first hike was the Murchison Gorge in Kalbarri National Park. We walked a 8 kilometer loop where we saw the spectacular Tumblagooda Sandstone carved Gorge. At one point we were climbing along the ridge of the gorge like mountain goats. I am sure at the point my dad thought we were trying to do him in. Another part of the walk was down by the the Murchison river where we enjoyed a picnic lunch while being watched by a small lizzard. The kangaroos also kept their eyes on us when walking by. In all the walk took us about 5 hours.

The next day instead of doing less we did more. I am thinking we must have suffered sunstroke at the gorge. How else can you explain us doing a 16 kilometer coastal walk. We spent 8 hours walking in the sun, feeling the ocean breeze, spotting whales and dolphins in the distance. As tired as we were we enjoyed every step we took and yes we did a picnic lunch. Seems since we have been on our northerly road trip all our lunches have been outdoors and tasting great. You can imagine we were pretty hungry after our 16 k walk but we sussed out a local fish and chip eatery which was packed with customers. We definitely understood why after eating our fish dinner, the best part they provided a gluten free pan fried fish for Katrina.

Next stop Denham.

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Giants, elephants and a lonely seal

By now most of you have read my first blog entry and are probably wondering if I am still suffering from jet lag. As I had written about Hardey Park and the great discovery of birds and waterfowl without providing photos. Let me take you back to the night I posted the blog under the cover of darkness.  It has proven difficult to find cafes in the small towns of Australia that offer  internet access let own free access. Even the library makes you pay at a cost of $3.00 for a half. It so happened while grocery shopping with the family in the Mount Barker IGA Steve was on a re-con mission for internet. He discovered that he could access the internet coming from the municipal offices from the public parking area.Yes he was walking around with his laptop aiming it in different directions till he could lock on. Now picture me two nights later after a day of hiking sitting in the car with everyone, both Steve and my laptop glowing in the dark trying to post my blog and up load pictures. Convinced that at any moment a cop was going to come by with us trying very hard to explain to him that we were not Canadian spies trying to access secret town documents. Wanting to post things fast I missed uploading the park photos (they are now in the beginning of the slide show). If you ever read about two Canadians suspected of spying in Mount Baker you now know why.

The day we picked up Derek the sun was shining brightly not a cloud in the sky. This did not help Steve any as he was about to embark on the city roads driving on the other side with Katrina as navigator. A couple of times we almost rode the curbs, windshield wipers were running when signaling (remember everything is opposite)  and all the while dad and I were silently  steering the car with Steve.  We did get to Derek in one piece. We decide to do coffee at the King Park cafe to give Steve a chance to calm his nerves along with everyone else’s. Plus we had a 4-5 hour drive ahead of to Kendenup, Western Australia.

We arrived at our digs for the next 7 days Big Bird and Wolf Chalets at around 8:00 pm. As it is winter here we arrived in the pitch dark very tired and stiff legged as we had little room left in the car to even move our legs from all our bags etc. As with car rentals what they show you on the website and what you get can be two different things. The owner of the Chalet was kind of to await our somewhat late arrival. When we walked into our Chalet called Eagle’s Nest we did so with a smile. In the case what we saw on their website is exactly what we got. A wonderful clean and charming unit with a nice sized living room, huge well supplied kitchen, two large bedrooms and a shower that had plenty of hot water. The best part was the view Katrina and I woke up to bright early the next morning.  With our hot drinks in hand we watched the sunrise over Stirling Range it’s highest peak being 1,073 m high. After watching the wonderful sunrise we  enjoyed a morning breakfast of farm fresh eggs and bacon provided by the owners of the Chalet. One good thing about arriving here during the winter months is that we don’t have to worry about snakes. I am quite happy to worry about keeping warm.

Kendenup is definitely the land of sheep farming, wether  driving or walking in all directions you nothing but fields filled with sheep. This might a explain the lack of kangaroos as the farmers are not to keen to have them around as they destroy their fences when moving from one area to another making it possible for their livestock to escape. Sadly I have seen more road kill than live kangaroo.

Over the next few days we did day trips to Albany, Pemberton (Warren National Park) and Denmark/Walpole (Nornalup National Park. The whale migration season is in full steam here on the western side of Australia. The whales leave the cooler waters of the southern ocean and swim north for the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean. Thus one our trips was to the coastal waters of Albany in hopes of spotting one of these wonderful beast. Alas none were to be seen that day however a lovely scenic coastal walk along Marine Dr. where I  spotted a bit of wildlife. One being the bandicoot a small omnivorous marsupial and a tiny bird known as the New Holland Honey Eater. We also visited the war memorial on Mount Clarence here I learned that from the ports of Albany is where the Australian troops embarked to go to battle in World War I.

Our walk along Warren River in Warren National Park gave us a small clue to the magnificence of the Tingle Tree which we would experience the very next day at Nornalup National Park Tingle Forest. There we did the tree top walk among the valley of the giants and after a picnic lunch did the Ancient Empire walk. The valley of the giants are the Tingle trees which grow up to 75 meters and the measurement around can be as much as 20 meter. The most notable point about the Tingle tree is the hollow that develops through fire, fungal disease and insects. The hollow can be large enough for a person to walk through. What is unbelievable about this is that the tree remains alive and well for hundreds of years. This we discovered during our Ancient Empire walk there was one tree there known as Grandma Tingle. It is said she is over a 400 hundred years old and that she keeps a watchful eye on all who enter the forest.

After spending most of day in the Tingle forest we drove out to the coast once again in Denmark to see the Elephant Rocks. These huge boulders have the appearance of a herd  elephants gazing out to the Southern Ocean. I was mesmerized by the powers of the waves crashing against the rocks then later enjoying the sunset and being checked out by a seal.

Two days left in this lovely place and we still have a mountain to climb.Seems fitting that I end here with the coastal sunset.

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Always make a hard copy

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A little voice in my head said make a hard copy on the day I received my Aussie visa. Which was with in 10 minutes of the credit card payment having gone through. I was sent a message that my application was accepted and during the whole process no red flags came up. But that little voice just kept nagging me to print a copy. As I don’t really have great faith or trust in online services I did exactly that and printed a copy.

All was going well  in the ticket line everything checked out okay for Steve, Katrina and my father. Then came my turn as the ticket agent swiped my passport I watched with intrepedation as the startled looking agent said to me according to Australian immigration you are already in Australia. After I picked up my heart off the floor I showed her the email message I received saying that I have a visa. After a few minutes what the immigration message meant she decided to see if my boarding passes would print up. If they did it meant there really wasn’t a problem. They all printed out and we went on our merry way thinking all is well in the world.

Our six hour flight to London was uneventful not that I managed much sleep. Whatever position I slept in my back and shoulders muscles would scream at me to assume another position. Fortunately for all us Steve in his travel wisdom booked rooms for us at Heathrow airport in a Yotel as we had a very long lay over. What is a Yotel you may ask. Unlike a hotel it provides small sized accommodations with everything in it but the kitchen sink. Aside from my father we all managed to catch a few ZZ’s. Feeling somewhat rested we chowed down on a hearty breakfast ready to endure the next leg our flight  11 hours to Singapore.

Within a few minutes of checking in for boarding the agent comes around the corner and asks me if I have a VISA for Australia as it has come up not to allow me to board. My heart punched out of my chest and dropped to the floor once again with me barely getting out the word YES!! With my hard copy in hand the agent tried to sort things out for me by a having a three way conversation with a ticket agent in Australia who was conversing with someone from immigration at the same time. The problem was that when I visited Australia 8 years ago my departure was never registered hence the reason for the message in Toronto stating I was still in Australia. Now that little voice has turned into a nagging headache knowing our plane was about to depart in 20 minutes. Everyone in my family is telling me to breathe and stay calm but that all went out the window when I was handed the phone to speak with the Australia ticket agent. Her question do I know the exact date when I left Australia otherwise nothing can be done? Now I am ready to crawl through the phone and scream are you kidding me then puke on her feet as I was feeling nauseated by this point. Then my fairy godmother arrives the Supervisor on the London side of things. Once informed about my predicament she starts to work two phones at the same time and within a few minutes tells me Rick of the Immigration department in Canberra has over ridden the don’t allow me to board notice. With about 5 minutes to spare and my stomach starting to do a dance we walked on the plane. A couple of gravols later I am sprawled across Katrina and Steve  sleeping  on and off  during our 11 hour flight. While thanking my little voice that said I should print a hard copy.

In Zombie like fashion I entered the Singapore airport and immediately felt peace. Singapore airport is one of the best airports in the world. Which I can understand why as it’s design and purpose is to provide calm for hectic air travellers. They did so with style by having a beautiful butterfly garden to walk through and enjoy.  Even though I was feeling much better I still wanted to be at the gate well enough in advance to make sure I did not have to do the pick my heart of the floor dance again. Rick from Canberra had done his job, he will never know how indebted I am to him. I am also considering framing my hard copy.

The last leg of our trip was uneventful which was okay by me. Funny the smallest plane provided the best meals and a yummy chocolate fudge/chocolate covered ice cream for dessert. After what I had been through it seemed like a gift from the gods. We arrived in Perth a little before ll:30 pm. Picking up our luggage we still had a half our taxi ride before arriving at our rental which by that time was 1:00 am on July 28th. We all did a swan dive into bed and covered ourselves with lots of blankets as winter was upon us.

Thankfully I managed 8 hours of sleep, I woke up to find that Steve had bought provisions for breakfast. Even though it was cool outside the sun was shinning and the was a good enough invitation for to go for a walk. Luckily for us there was a beautiful park nearby called Hardey Park.  Hardey Park is one many beautiful city parks you find through out Australia. The aptly named Swan river flowed through the park where one can easily see downtown Perth. But to my surprise and delight the park is a haven for water fowl and birds alike within minutes I discovered these wonderful birds.

Perth also has the one of the world’s largest city parks King Park with a botanical which must be absolutely stunning in their spring and summer, have to keep reminding myself it’s winter here. However I did manage to see some flowering plants and shrubs. This is the one thing I do envy the Australians for is the wonderful plant life the can enjoy year round.

Tomorrow we pick Derek up at the bus station in downtown Perth, Steve gets to test out his Australian driving skills as we drive south to Kendenup, Western Australia.

G’day to all until next time.


Into The Jungle We Go

The day before heading off to the jungle Derek, Katrina and myself decided we would go snorkelling. Puerto Morles has the 2nd largest coral reef in the world which is now a national park. Off we went for what was suppose to be 2 hours worth of snorkelling. We saw a great number of fish in all sizes and colours.  Our guide even lifted up a stingray from the ocean floor that was amazing. Unfortunately because the weather for the past week was cooler than normal we only lasted an hour in the water. We came out absolutely frozen with chattering blue lips. I never looked more forward to a hot cup of tea than I did that day. But what we saw was well worth the frozen limbs.

The next day we headed toward Akumal to our new place that we called home for the next 13 days Organic Yoga. In the Mayan jungle this ecological resort offered us solitude while enjoying wildlife outside and inside our huts (get to that later). You could attend  Yoga 3 times a week along with trails to explore, birds, bugs, butterflies and lizards to photograph. One definitely needed a machete for walking in the dense jungle.  As I was not equipped with one and was not keen on getting lost I stuck to the main roads and paths. Taking pictures in this area was a challenge the density made it difficult at times to get a perfectly clear shot of the birds. And they almost always seemed to be in areas that were impossible to get through. All I could do was listen and imagine what the birds looked like. While hoping luck would be on my side to get a shot or two of some of the wildlife.

Had to be very stealthy to even get this shot of  the elusive  Blue Crowned Mot Mot.

Our  main road into our jungle paradise Steve called the butterfly freeway. Like cars on a freeway they went zooming past you however did manage to catch a snap or two. My favourite ones were the ones I dubbed tree bark butterflies you really have to look carefully to spot them. The best thing about where we were staying is that nature came right to your front door step. Many mornings I would be sitting in our screened in porch and hear a flock birds rustling in the leaves on the ground and in the trees.  To my delight it would be the brightly orange coloured Altamira Oriole.

These guys could be just as elusive unless they found a gold mine of seeds.

Learned during our time in the bird filled jungle that even when just reading a book to bring the camera along just never know what bird might drop in for a small snack. Seems I am not the only one who likes papaya. Though this is not woody-woodpecker he sure is a close second.  This hungry fellow is a  Golden-fronted woodpecker.

Before you think I have completely gone bird crazy I did manage to get a couple of green things in my wanderings. This particular guy I thought was a Humming bird because when it flies (yes flies) you see red wings. Otherwise known as a Differential grasshopper quite the appropriate name.

Next we have straight from the Mexican jungle Mr. Green Jeans himself who didn’t mind being photographed.

Where we were located involved about a 5-10 minute walk to the main highway. Upon which you stood at the side of the road and waited for a colectivo to pick you up. Mexico was smart in developing this form of transportation. It is  geared towards moving the population around Mexico’s vast labyrinth of roads and highways. Usually the colectivo is a mini-van. There are no specific stops you just flag them down where ever you are standing and the driver will drop you off at any spot on his route. Now if Ontario would only use this system for our suburb and rural areas. Instead of waiting for a high volume of people requiring transportation before providing a bus route with their monster buses. Just have  several colectivos going up down the back roads and then you would have a transit system that provides for everyone plus inexpensive to start up.

The colectivos we used fairly often in order to get into Akumal to do grocery shopping and hit the beach. There were 3 beach sites we walked to from Akumal. From the town it involved about a 20 minute walk under palm trees. The first one was a haven for swimmers, snorklers and Egrets. This place was wonderful for all level of snorkelers a few strokes out and there was plenty to see.

The second location was Half Moon Bay here the water was very shallow which made snorkeling tricky at times. But if you want peace and quite this is the place. As well if you are lucky you get to spot a sea turtle (we did) and you can find plenty of shells and corals.

The only thing that disappointed me here was the amount of plastic bottle caps and other garbage I found while searching for shells. After seeing that I am convinced we should be banning plastic bottles or at the very least charging a deposit. The only way you would get deposit money back is if the bottle is returned with the cap still on it (that’s my rant). Plus there was alot of  washed up oil from ships that flushed out their tanks.  It really was a sad sight.

The third site was called Yal-ku Lagoon here you did not even have to snorkel plenty of fish could be seen just off the edges of the rocky shore line.

Our other outing was to the Muyil ruins about 25 km south of  Tulum.  These Mayan ruins are not big this meant less tourists which we preferred. But there are a few interesting buildings and most importantly they are looked after by their descendents the Mayan people themselves. The entrance fee went strictly to the people and conservation needs of the area.

Most of the buildings on the site date back to 1100-1200 AD.

The Castle  stands 17 meters high making it taller than any of the buildings in Tulum or elsewhere on the coast.

The buildings are not far from the Muyil lagoon.  A board walk was built for easier access to the lagoon and to the look out tower.

An interesting climb up for those who have a fear of heights but well worth the steep, steep stair climb.

During our walk back on the board walk where you are canopied by the trees.

I again was very stealthy and managed to get this shot of a Toucan to my delight.

Another wonderful find was a short walk away from our huts in the jungle. It is a cenote. There are no visible rivers in the Yucatan Peninsula and as the area is a porous limestone causing caverns and caves to form where water would collect. The water is crystal clear and if  you arrive at the right time you will see the turquoise color.

The water was a very pleasant temperature which Katrina, Cheree and I discovered when we decided to have an impromptu swim minus some clothing.

If you are ever in Mexico the cenotes of  Yucatan are a natural treasure that you should experience it is well worth taking your clothes off for.

As I said before in my previous post to truly experience and see Mexico. One should rent rooms, condos or huts and eat out a the local eateries. Resorts have you locked in their world  with little opportunity to walk down the road and make a few discoveries of your own like I did on several occasions. Plus enjoying Christmas Eve dinner under the stars in the jungle with my family is memory no resort can duplicate.

Ferruginous Pymy-Owl   Yucatan Jay  These last two bird photos are of a Red eyed vireo and a Roadside Hawk.

Oddly enough I was on a small road heading to the cenote when I came upon this hawk.

Good-bye from the jungles and beaches of  Mexico  I hope you will join me on my next adventure where ever that may be.

Oops almost forgot this was some of the wildlife that we would find in our huts especially if the nights were cold. This guy I discovered on the day we left for home in the wee hours of the morning. I could hardly focus on it as it was still pretty dark and my eyes were still half shut. Needless to say after taking this photo my eyes were wide open and I made sure I was not bringing any Scorpions to Ontario.