The time has flown by and living in 90 sf never seemed to be a problem. Even when it rained. Even when the temperature dropped into the 30’s.
Abel Tasman New Zealand
There is no better way to explore New Zealand than in a camper van and we loved every minute. I would do it again without hesitation – and go pursue those few roads we missed. Hard to believe we did miss anything, but we did.
Napier New Zealand
We still have a week left before we fly to the Seychelles Islands, and during these final days of Chapter Six we will explore the city of Auckland.
But the Kiwi
Karavan has been our friend to drive, to sleep, to cook, to eat, to read, to play scrabble – to live. For a month.
On the South Island we covered 2083 miles going as far south as Opia/Nightcaps were we learned about sheep farming and to the far north of the South Island where we hiked the Abel Tasman Trek and
kayaked in the Queen Charlotte Sound. I’ve included a map of where we traveled.
We then took the Kiwi Karavan on the ferry from Picton to Wellington on the North Island and began our trek North. On the North Island we covered
1820 miles from Wellington all the way to Cape Reinga – as far north as you can possibly go without jumping into the sea.
I’ve also included a map of our route on the North Island.
It became a joke as we traveled – every time we looked at Google maps for a distance to a destination it was two hours. Every time. So we decided no matter where you are in New Zealand, it’s two hours to wherever you want to be.
I recommend seeing New Zealand this way. The country’s government has gone out of its way to make this a lifestyle option for locals and visitors with free campsites, free dump sites, free water, free garbage drop off, free bathrooms. The South Island had a significantly larger number of camper vans on the road ( as well as many, many more tour busses) than the North Island. This even though the roads
Firth of Thames
on the North Island, while still windy and narrow, were much bettter.
We went days without paying for camping, only when it was time to shower or do laundry did we pull into a holiday park that cost. When all was said and done we spent 14 nights at free camping and 14 at pay camping.
We walked a total number of 200 miles with seven days where we walked more than ten miles. Our longest day was 17 miles. We averaged just under 5 mi per day
It was fabulous.
I’ve included in this blog some of my best photos
from the past six weeks. The feature photo at the top is a lucky shot. One of
my favorites of many sunrise photos. If you would like to see more of the best images from our world tour please follow our Instagram account. There is a link at the top of this page. Or search My Fab Fifties Life.
It’s on to New Zealand’s largest city Auckland – to see what we can see! I will certainly let you know what we find!
I expected living in the camper van (caravan) to be similar to our six weeks living in beautiful pink Betty last fall as we traveled across the United States. It does have some similarities, but to be honest, I think I enjoyed Betty more. The most important reason is we could set up Betty at a campsite and then take the car and go off to tour or do whatever we needed to do. With the van, the entire campsite moves with you no matter if you need to run to the store or travel 500 miles. But we are getting used to that. I slept really poorly the first few nights but I’m getting used to the van bed now and we made some adjustments to the cushions that has helped. Arne finds he sleeps much better in the van than he ever did in Betty – but I loved the custom foam mattress we had made for Betty. Wish I had that now.
The kitchen in the van is small, a bit smaller than the kitchen I had to work with in Betty, but I do prefer the propane stove in the van over the electric stove we had in Betty. And the van has a working sink which Betty did not. I make a point to cook good, healthy colorful meals, no matter how small the kitchen. I believe just because we are essentially “camping” we don’t have to eat bland or instant food. Since I love to cook and try creative things its just as fun to try that in a tiny kitchen. We have had everything from Chicken Tacos to Swedish Meatballs. Our system is Arne sits at the table with the cutting board. I hand him things to chop while I stand at the stove and cook. It works and its fun too.
But alas the van does not have a toilet, just a port-a-potty.
New Zealand has an amazing caravan culture and caravan tourism is huge business. No matter where you drive in New Zealand hundreds of caravans and campers are driving with you – as are rental cars and tour busses. Even in March which is past the peak season and well into Fall.
Along with the caravan culture comes fabulous services provided by the government including restroom facilities frequently along any and all roads as well as FREE campsites through out the country. Some of these sites have services but most don’t. We spent our first two nights in free sites. The first one had no services (no bathroom or running water) but the spectacular view made it worth it. The second night had sanikans only, and not as nice of a view, but just down the road was a visitor center where we headed first thing in the morning for coffee and a “flush”.
We spent the next three nights in a beautiful campground in Milford Sound that we paid for, about $25 US. It was very pretty, had power and water and we had access to bathrooms, showers, laundry, restaurant and bar. But no wifi or cell service in this very remote area.
But the van doesn’t have heat and the nights have been pretty darn cold – dropping into the thirty’s one night in Milford. We sleep in warm clothes and wool socks and huddle under a warm comforter. In Mount Cook I pulled out my fleece hat for the first time in our four months of travel – and in Milford I pulled out my gloves. I’ve now used every item in my suitcase. It should warm up when we head North.
We are now as far south as we plan to go. This photo shows what territory on the South Island we have covered so far (both in the car and in the caravan) and now it’s time to do an about-face and begin the drive north along New Zealand’s South Island’s West Coast.
We have been in New Zealand 12 days already. Several words come to mind to describe this country in my early impressions;
CHEERFUL – the people here! Wow! They are all so happy and nice. Something in the water? Or maybe they realize how good they’ve got it in this beautiful country.
PATRIOTIC – everyone we talk to loves their
country and wants to tell you all the things you shouldn’t miss while you are here. They actually seem to like tourists.
COURTEOUS – the roads in New Zealand aren’t freeways. And they do drive fast and on the left. But everyone is so courteous. They don’t use their horn, they allow others to pass when it’s safe. Also everywhere there are these one lane bridges. Everyone waits their turn. And it works. It just
Blues and greens
FUNNY – New Zealanders love to give things nicknames and it’s fun to listen to them talk. Of course they call themselves Kiwis; their flip flops are jandles; sunglasses are sunnies; breakfast is brekkie. Clothes are togs, the corner market is the dairy, caravan is a camper and wop-wop is out in the boonies. Ta means thanks, stoked is excited and choka means overflowing. And the one I like the best is “tiki-tour” that’s what we are on – a tour without any real destination.
Interesting finds while tramping
OUTDOORSY – Trekking (or tramping as it is also called) is a national pastime and everyone young and old is out tramping about on the trails everywhere we go. Being on the water is also a national pastime (this is an island after all) and people are on the beach, in the water and on the
water in kayaks, paddle boards, dinghies, sailboats, ski boats, water taxis, cruisers, yachts, ferries and cruise ships. Boats are everywhere.
CLEAN – the water is the clearest and cleanest I have seen anywhere in the entire world. There is not a speck of litter ANYWHERE! The beaches are pristine as are the woods and trails and roads. And everywhere there are clean and efficient FREE public FLUSH toilets WITH TOILET PAPER!!!!
GORGEOUS – we have spent most of our time so far enjoying the stunning scenery of the South Island and have been blessed with sunshine the past seven days. As we begin to journey farther south tomorrow I’m anticipating cooler and wetter weather. But even with the rain comes more waterfalls and beautiful rivers.
COLOR – the multiple hues of green are amazing.
Who knew there could be so many shades of green. And the turquoise of the water is such a surprise.
EXPENSIVE – alas it’s not perfect. New Zealand is expensive. Gas is around $5.50 US per gallon. Groceries are very expensive, but not as expensive as eating out. Our Airbnb’s have been reasonable, but tomorrow we pick up our camper van. It will average about $100 a day (plus gas – yikes!).
So starting tomorrow we are off in our caravan, wearing our sunnies and jandles, headed to the wop-wop on our tiki-tour. And we’re stoked!
Just under four years of nearly non-stop travel, as well as many adventures earlier in my life, has left me with an unbelievable collection of epic adventures around the world memories. Lucky me.
I’m not giving up on resuming our travel life…however I expect we will sit home for a year before we set out on anything too epic. And even if that never happens, what a life we have led.
In my living room I have a large book case that I call “The Museum”. Here I display my world treasures. There are not alot, given the fact that we travel light and I try not to do too much shopping as we travel, but I rarely leave any country without picking up something special. I love looking at “The Museum” and although I appreciate when guests look too, “The Museum” is really for me, a reminder of my blessed and adventurous life.
As I wait to determine what my next chapter in my life is going to look like, I spend a lot of my brain cells reliving some of my life’s greatest epic adventures. Therefore it seemed like a perfect blog to pull together and share. My Epic Adventures Around the World. I hope you enjoy.
The Inca Trail and Machu Pichu – I don’t have a blog about this experience, it was before I began blogging about my travels. But it was a defining experience in my life, opening my eyes to my own physical capabilities. The five day hike on the Inca trail to Machu Pichu took every thing my body had to give, while also providing some of my all -time favorite zen moments. Life changing.
Galapagos Islands – Everything about the Galapagos Islands is unique and memorable – both on land and in the sea. One of our favorite trips of all time. The day we snorkeled in the Galapagos was the only time I have ever swam with seals who danced a playful ballet around us as we swam. We also encountered baby seals, beautiful turtles and small sharks. Just one remarkable event in a very remarkable place.
Weekend with the Monks South Korea – spending the weekend at a Korean Buddhist monastery was a unique and slightly painful experience. Living as a monk, mostly in silence, sleeping on the concrete, up before the sun and hours of meditative prayer was certainly memorable. But my favorite part was meeting the female monks at this monastery, hearing their story and gaining such an admiration for such a devout life.
Easter Island Chile – Everything about Rapa Nui was stunning, but like most visitors I had my favorites. And like most visitors my two favorite sites were the Ranu Raraku quarry site and the Ahu Tongariki. Upon laying your eyes on these two sites for the first time you conjure a list of adjectives; breathtaking, fascinating, interesting, surprising, remarkable. At one point I had to just stop and breathe deep – and remind myself how remarkable it all was, and how remarkable it was that I was standing there.
Namibia – Arne and I both have Namibia on our top five list of one of the most beautiful countries and most incredible experiences ever. That is saying a lot in 110 countries. Unspoiled, incredibly diverse and still remarkably authentic, Namibia is astonishing. I have two excellent blogs about our experience there. The link above is the first one. Here is the second.
Burkina Faso – who goes to Burkina Faso? Well apparently I do. I didn’t really want to go, but in hindsight spending three weeks there visiting our Peace Corps son was one of the most remarkable and eye-opening travel experiences of my life. And doing it with my grown sons made such fantastic family memories. I will never regret having gone.
Inle to Kalaw Hike Myanmar – I don’t have a blog about this experience, but it did win one of our 2019 Travel Awards for it’s uniqueness. This two day hike was longer and harder than I thought it would be (I should read the fine print) but the experience was amazing. Our guide was great, the food was surprisingly abundant and delicious and even sleeping on the floor in the home of a local Myanmar family with no electricity or running water was a memorable experience.
Camino de Santiago Spain – Hands down one of the best, most spiritual, most life affirming experiences of my life. Walking 500 miles across Spain – 40 days, thousands of memories, one incredible experience. I hold this memory very, very dear.
Gorilla Trek Uganda – a life-long dream for me to trek to see the elusive Mountain Gorilla, for me this has also become a marker for the Corona world-crisis. Doing this tour was the last “normal” thing we did, before the world spiraled out of control, and came to a screeching halt. I will be forever grateful that Covid-19 did not stop us from doing this experience, and I will remember these creatures fondly.
Tiki Tour in New Zealand– who knew living in 90 square feet could be so much fun? What a remarkable way to see one of my top favorite countries, New Zealand. I would do this again…and have also considered doing it in Australia. To really see all that is fabulous about New Zealand, a Tiki Tour is the way to go.
The Great Barrier Reef Australia – I had to really convince my husband that snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef off of the east coast of Australia was worth the money. But I wasn’t visiting Australia without seeing the reef, and despite a crappy weather day, our experience in the ocean was amazing. A pinch me moment, in a life of pinch me moments.
Alps Hike Switzerland – with total honesty and without hyperbole, this day hiking the Schilthorn was one of the best days of my life. The physical challenge of it was astonishing, the beauty of it was heavenly and the satisfation on a travel scale of 1-10 was a million. Blessed day.
Camel Trek in Morocco – incredibly painful, incredibly memorable. Our overnight camel trek in the dessert of Morocco was quirky and special, despite how uncomfortable riding a camel can be…who knew? But I’m so glad we did it; overnighting in the Bedouin camp, drinking wine around the camp fire in the chilly dessert night air, then rising again and clamoring back onto the beast for the trek back. I’ll never forget it.
Bangladesh– we would have never gone to Bangladesh, except our friend Natalie was teaching there…so why not? A quick stop in this untouristed country to see what we can see. Wow. I would never imagined that we would have enjoyed it so much and have one of the most authentic travel experiences of our life.
Above it all – we paid a ridiculous amount of money to have two separate experiences in our travels – both taking us high above it all. It’s always hard to know if these things are worth the money, especially when we travel on a fairly strict budget. But for me, both of these experiences were worth every penny. Climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Sydney Australia and flying in a Hot Air Balloon over Bagan Myanmar. These both will go down in our travel life as phenomenal.
So the Grand Adventure is on sabbatical until further notice. I continue to hope we will travel again…but the brake is firmly set until further notice and we turn our attention to other inspiring adventures…stay tuned, and don’t give up.
Thank you for continuing to support our blog – we promise lots of interesting and inspiring articles coming your way. Be safe. Be healthy.
It was only a few days ago we sat in the 81 degree sunshine in the town of Napier, New Zealand. The forecast warned of impending rain but it was hard to imagine on that day. But kudos to the weather forecasters in New Zealand. They nailed it.
Not only did it rain – it poured. For more than 48 hours straight. We were in Rotorua, where we managed a nice afternoon walk on arrival but then nothing beyond that. Once it started it was a deluge. So, we hunkered down for two days.
The morning star
We then headed West from Rotorua to visit the famous Glowworm Caves in Waitomo, only to discover on arrival they were closed due to flooding. We realized the storm had been bad, but hadn’t realized how bad until we began to drive. Roads flooded and mudslides and trees down all over. Poor livestock in flooded fields and swollen rivers. Work crews around every corner trying to
19.5km to go
Since we couldn’t do the Glowworm Caves, we had to be spontaneous. We drove south to the town of New Plymouth, which was not originally on our radar. I’m glad we did. It is a beautiful little beach town and we enjoyed a portion of their 25km coastal walk. It was a heavy wind that day and the windsurfers were really taking advantage.
The weather improved markedly overnight and we awoke to sunny skies and calm seas. We headed North and east again with a stellar forecast making us hopeful to hike the Tongariro Crossing on Saturday. We now do not take the forecasting lightly, they seem to nail it everyday.
Overnight Friday night we stayed in a beautiful lakefront free campground on Lake Taupo. It was a frigid night with crystal clear skies. Our alarm clocks (which don’t get much use anymore) were set for 5am
It was really cold at the start – we eventually peeled off layers.
and we planned to hike the Tongariro Crossing.
Five am came early; after a very chilly night we awoke to Venus low in the sky as the sun was just starting to show pink on the horizon. A good omen for a good day. We had booked a bus to take us from a parking area to the trail head, and then pick us up again at the end of the 20km hike. We caught the bus and headed to the start of the hike.
19.5km to go
Due to the weather having been so bad for the past three days, we weren’t the only ones who had been waiting to do this hike – literally 1000 people joined us on the trail. But honestly it wasn’t a problem. It was pretty crowded at the start – but eventually people spread out and it wasn’t so bad. And we had an amazing time.
The 20km Tongariro Crossing is one of the most scenic yet stark and stunning things I have ever done. The crossing goes through craters, past active volcanoes, and over a pass. It peaks at 6000 foot level and skirts gorgeous sacred emerald-green thermal pools. It was hard. It was exhausting. It was amazing.
What a workout. And an accomplishment. Every time we tackle and succeed in one of these amazing treks I wonder out loud “why don’t I weigh 100 lbs?” Sheesh.
But that said, I feel strong and fit and fabulous. My Fab Fifties Life in New Zealand has been good to the old body.
We still have another two weeks, a little more than one week still in the Kiwi Karavan. So, now that we have completed our goals of hiking the Tongariro Crossing, we head to the farthest north reaching finger of the north island to see what we can see.
Diani Beach Kenya – It’s been a year since the deadly Nairobi hotel terrorism attack that took 21 lives. Kenya has had its share of terrorism over the past decade, mostly attributed to Al Shabab, an African Islamic group associated with Al Qaeda.
During this same year 40000 people died in the United States from gun-related violence.
I share this comparison not to advocate against guns but to make a point; media accounts of violence around the world create a fear of faraway places, even while violence at home is often just as severe.
It’s a dilemma to decide how to travel safely around the globe. And though we take our personal safety seriously, we do not believe we are in any more danger in Kenya, with its history of terrorist hits, than in the USA, with its history of domestic and international terrorism as well as rampant gun violence.
And so we came to Kenya – specifically Diani Beach Kenya.
Diani Beach Kenya is both a dilemma and a delight. This beautiful coastal town on the Indian Ocean has seen its own share of violence including murder and bombings.
The larger image of Kenya as a violent place over the past decade has been disastrous for the tourism industry, especially in Diani. Like other places we have visited (Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and Central America), war, coups, violent crimes and terrorism – and the media accounts of these- can devastate tourism overnight, and the damage takes decades to recover.
Think about it.
But what of places like Paris, Las Vegas, London or Boston? All places that have had terrorism attacks over the past few years but visitors still flock there. Why do we feel safer from terrorism in a “western” culture?
Diani Beach Kenya, touted as the most beautiful beach in Africa, deserves a chance to rebuild its tourism program. Within the 17 mile stretch of white sandy beach sit several abandoned hotels, bars and even an amusement park – places unable to hold on when the tourists stopped coming.
Today, and particularly during the holiday season when we were visiting, tourism is on an uptick. Europeans from Germany, Scandinavia and Britain were abundant on the beach, in restaurants and bars and in the shopping areas.
Convincing Americans to travel here will take more time, and hopefully there will be no more attacks. Meanwhile we feel safe and happy to have enjoyed this beautiful, affordable and incredibly friendly place.
We want the best for the Kenyan people and our new friends in Diani Beach. Hardworking people who for the most part want jobs to support their families and have a good life. Tourism is the vehicle for that and they want it to thrive once again.
So here are some recommendations from our three weeks in Diani, for you to consider when planning your Kenyan adventure.
Where to stay – Frangipani Cottages – very affordable, beautiful pool and 700 meters to the beach.
Our favorite bars and restaurants – Tiki Bar, Havana Bar, The Edge, Nomad Bar and Restaurant, Kokkos, Java House, Oasis Bar, Salty Squid, Piri Piri.
My Fab Fifties Life is enjoying a summer in Washington State, USA, where I was born and raised. As much as I love my life of full-time travel, coming home to familiar ground where my family is brings a sense of stability to our nomad world.
When we return to the USA most summers, my focus is always family, but we also get out at least once a week and play tourists in our own backyard. And that is what we did this past weekend in celebration of both Father’s Day and my husband’s birthday.
McMenamins Elks Lodge Tacoma
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest the blue-collar town of Tacoma always had a bit of a “smelly” reputation because of the pulp and paper mill that cast an odor over the town for several generations. Today however Tacoma has become a renaissance town, with gorgeous views, multiple incredible museums, beautiful parks, and delicious dining.
And the newest little gem to open in Tacoma is the McMenamins franchise masterpiece in the historic and beautifully restored Elks Temple in downtown Tacoma.
If you aren’t from around these parts you might not be familiar with the vision of Mike and Brian McMenamin, Oregon brothers who have built a legendary business of turning historic and dilapidated properties into spectacularly quirky and fun hotels, restaurants, breweries, distilleries,
Elks Lodge Pub & Restaurant
and event venues. For the past 20 years my husband and I, (on many occasions with our kids in tow), have made one of the dozens of McMenamins properties a destination weekend.
The latest addition to the McMenamins dynasty is the opening of the Tacoma Elks Temple after several years of extensive restoration. The building had sat abandoned for thirty-five years, and time, weather and graffiti all had taken a toll.
And yet, this is what McMenamins does best – breathe life into old structures all while digging deep into the silent history of a building to awaken both the known and unknown stories of the people and events that were there. The Elks Temple does just that.
Art everywhere you look
Built in 1916 for the Fraternal Order of Elks, the building was home to one of the nation’s largest Elks organizations until the 1960’s. It was then used as an event venue and, unlike the all-white Elks organization, the building welcomed anyone of any race and held many of the local African-American Rose Cotillion Balls for several years. But times changed and so did the building as it fell into disrepair for 33 years until the visionary McMenamins saw its potential.
We arrived in the afternoon on a very crowded Father’s Day and proceeded to taste our way through all of the properties five bars. Each bar named appropriately, decorated with fun and interesting relics including menu’s that reflect the individual personality of each bar. For instance in
Hand crafted beer and tapas at the Spanish Steps Bar
the Spanish Steps bar (named for Tacoma’s beautiful Spanish Steps that run along the south edge of the building) Tapas are featured on the menu, while in The Old Hangout, a throwback to Trader Vic’s style 1950’s Tiki Bar serves everything from Mai Tai to Singapore Sling, grilled Pineapple Sundae or Salt and Pepper Squid.u
True to the McMenamins model, guests must try to find the “hidden” bar called The Vault. We found it, actually cheated a little because someone was coming out…and I don’t think we would have found it otherwise. Cleverly disguised. That’s all I’m gonna say.
We had both dinner and breakfast in the Elks Pub and Restaurant where we enjoyed pizza, salad and soup for dinner with more McMenamin
The Old Hang Out Bar throwback to old style Tiki
hand-crafted beer. For breakfast I had an amazing Eggs Benedict that included artichoke hearts and spinach and included cheese jalapeño grits. Wow.
The Elks Lodge now has 45 rooms, each and every one named for a person or group of persons who had something to do with the building or the surrounding area. Everyone from Robert Cray (musician) to Bill Baarsma (former mayor) to Hattie Lund (no relation to me but a long-time Tacoma philanthropist) to the Puyallup Native American Tribe.
I have two small complaints about our visit. Our room which opened to
an atrium and did not have an outside window, was a bit stuffy and I wished for a window. If I return I’ll pay a little more for a room on the perimeter of the building. My other complaint is that although the wifi worked great throughout the building in bars and public spaces, it was non-existent in our room.
Rooms start around $140 per night. Food and beverage is very reasonably priced. If you come, allow plenty of time to just explore…it’s like a museum of both art and history as well as a wonderful place to people watch Tacoma’s eclectic and proud residents. So much fun. We will be back.