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Oceania Travel

    Oceania Travel

    The Great Barrier Reef Australia

    Just Keep Swimming

    Location: The Great Barrier Reef Australia

    “Hey, Mr. Grumpy Gills… When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.” – Dory the Fish from Disney’s Finding Nemo

    The Great Barriee Reef


    Finding Nemo is one of my favorite Disney/Pixar movies, and this past week I have had endless Finding Nemo moments and quotes running through my head.  Being

    in Australia and finally snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, my thoughts have wandered to the

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Reef and fish

    adventures of that movie and I have smiled to myself underwater and thought “Just keep swimming.”

    Although going out on a snorkel trip on The Great Barrier Reef took us way over our Grand Adventure daily budget (actually everything in Australia is

    The Great Barrier Reef

    Birdseye view

    taking us over budget), we could not come here to beautiful Cairns and not see the reef.  It’s another one of those “I don’t have a bucket list” bucket list items.  I love snorkeling and I wanted to have that once in a lifetime opportunity.

    The weather on the day we went wasn’t great – grey and overcast and we even saw some rain.  I am in constant worry about my motion sickness

    The Great Barriee Reef


    problem, so I stood outside and watched the horizon the entire hour and half boat trip out to the reef, even when the rain started to come down.  Hey I was gonna get wet anyway right?  Luckily, thanks to massive amounts of drugs, my sea sickness problem did not materialize while on the boat.  That was a good sign!

    “You got a problem, buddy? Huh? Huh? Do ya, do ya, do ya?” Dory

    We booked our reef tour with Reef Magic out of

    The Great Barrier Reef

    Marine World of Reef Magic

    Cairns which took us to the outer reef and a pontoon platform stationed there called Marine World.  We disembarked the boat to the pontoon and here we were outfitted with our snorkels, fins, masks and Lycra “stinger” suits to protect us from

    Great Barriee Reef



    “I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy.” Dory

    Reef Magic offers many options from the pontoon, all at an additional charge including snorkel safari, snuba, scuba, glass bottom boat, semi-submersible boat and helicopter rides.  But since

    Great Barriee Reef

    That’s us!

    we had already exceeded our budget (for two of us we paid $426 Australian about $330 US), we were just interested in snorkeling.  We were dressed and ready to go pretty quickly and one of the first people in the water.

    Great Barrier Reef

    Us with Wally

    We immediately encountered “Wally”, one of the biggest fish on the reef.  Luckily Reef Magic’s professional photographer was on hand as we entered the water and she got some amazing shots of us with Wally.  All the photos in this blog are from Reef Magic’s professional photographer.  Since we don’t have an underwater camera we have never gotten underwater photos on any of our snorkel trips on the Grand Adventure.  So, despite the fact my husband almost wet his pants when I told him the price, we bit the bullet and bought the photos for an additional $75 (about

    Great Barrier Reef

    Hey Wally

    $60 US).

    “Ahh you guys made me ink.” Pearl

    Wally is a resident fish of this part of the reef.  He is an amazing species called Maori Wrasse.  This fish is a female for the first eight years of its life.  And then poof.  It’s a male.  I know – what the heck?  Isn’t that nuts?  Some times I think Mother Nature is menopausal!

    Great Barrier Reef


    After our encounter with Wally we began to explore the reef.  Marine World has a cordoned off section of the reef for its guests to enjoy.  Within this area there was a huge variety of corals; big, small, blue, green, orange, white.  Some are soft and rounded, others spikey and dangerous looking.  In all the

    Great Barriee Reef


    snorkeling I have done, I had never seen coral that waved in the current like it did here.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch.  Most of the coral we see in our lives is dead.  And while its pretty even when it is dead and dry, the beauty of live coral is spectacular.  Yes this is an incredible living

    Great Barriee Reef


    creature and we surely must protect it.

    “Righteous! Righteous! ” Crush

    So I loved the corals and kept going back for more of that but of course there were the fish. Many, many fish.  I don’t know all their names, but they really are beautiful to watch.  Some of the fish are very solitary, just going along and doing their

    Great Barrier Reef


    business, feeding and swimming and doing what fish do.  Other fish keep in groups, large schools that move together almost as one, weaving above and around the coral mountains.  There are some fish that are so tiny you don’t even see them until you are swimming right through them, while others

    Great Barrier Reef

    Giant Clam

    are so big that they freak you out a bit.  Many fish are shy and you need to look inside the coral to find them.  There are also beautiful giant clams, sea slugs, squid, eels and rays.  And no we did not see any sharks.

    Great Barrier Reef


    From this moment on, you shall now be known as Sharkbait.” Gill

    We swam to the outer edge of the roped off area and we were alone in this section just as a beautiful turtle swam by on the surface.  We

    Great Barrier Reef


    almost missed him because we were looking down and he was swimming right next to us on the surface.  But then he dived and we watched him swim to the bottom looking for a snack.  I believe this was a loggerhead turtle.  We had seen this kind in Sri Lanka. Beautiful brown bodies and not too large.  We watched him swim away beyond the area we were confined to and into the great wide ocean.

    “Saw the whole thing, dude. First you were all like “whoa”, and we were like “whoa”, and you were like “whoa…” Crush

    After about an hour we went back to the pontoon to have a rest.  Reef Magic served a buffet lunch

    Great Barrier Reef


    that included salads and fruit, bread, chicken, sushi, lasagna, curry and roast beef.  But I only ate a little cause I continued to worry about my motion sickness.  Arne ate my share.  It all looked good.  Great Barrier ReefCoffee, tea and water was also available and a bar on the boat was open when we weren’t underway.  Clearly they have had motion sensitive passengers before and they were well stocked with ginger beer (like ginger ale, non-alcoholic). My beverage of choice.

    “I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine.” Bruce the Great White Shark

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Fish in all sizes

    We headed back out to snorkel more after lunch.  The water seemed a bit calmer but it was also more cloudy so not as easy to see – but that was okay.  We tried to swim to all the areas and to the far-reaching parts of the swimming area.  We noticed most snorkelers stayed very close to the boat.  Understandably if you are an inexperienced snorkeler or not comfortable in the water.  Reef Magic had life jackets as well as float noodles and other devices for anyone looking for a little more reassurance.

    Great Barrier Reef

    Some are shy

    We snorkeled for about 30 minutes and then decided to call it a day.  We went back on the pontoon and stretched out on a lounge chair for the next hour and a half.  Surprisingly, despite the overcast sky, it was warm and we both got a bit of a sunburn.

    Great Barrier Reef

    My Fab Fifties Life!

    Finally it was time to turn in our gear and make our way off the pontoon and back to the vessel for the hour and half ride back.  Once again I stood and watched the horizon the entire way, including during a deluge about half way home.

    But I did it.  I did not get sick.  I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef.  I can check that off the “I don’t have a bucket list”

    Great Barrier Reef


    bucket list.  And remembered to just keep swimming.

    “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.” Dory

    Thanks goes to the wonderful photography of Reef Magic!

    Read more of our Australia adventure here



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    Oceania Travel

    Guam – Where America’s Day Begins

    A tiny spot in the Pacific Ocean

    Location: Guam

    A tiny spot in the Pacific – Where America’s Day Begins.

    There are no American tourists here.  There are Americans – a lot of them.  Air Force, Navy and Civilians.  But we have seen no American tourists.  Curious that.

    colorful flower

    Tropical Flower Guam

    Don’t misunderstand – there are a lot of tourists, all Japanese or Korean.  It takes about 3 and half hours to fly here from Tokyo and about four and half from Seoul.  But to fly here from Seattle you need to either go to Tokyo first, or Manila and it’s going to take about 16 or 17 hours or more.

    Well that explains a lot.

    tropical beach

    Beautiful Guam Beaches

    But we are here. Just shy of the international dateline – Guam is where America’s day begins.   On this tiny tropical island (13.5 degrees N) I feel like I’m in Hawaii, but without the bling.  Sure there are hotels, geared to the Asian tourists with some nice beaches and LOTS of shopping and even Vegas style shows at the resorts. But most of Guam is more of a low-budget bar and nightclub scene, geared to the military.  And massage parlors – where maybe you can get a massage but probably a lot more.

    guam beaches

    Interesting rock formations

    But look past these things and you find a remarkably beautiful place, with a fascinating history.  The beaches we have gone to are mostly deserted.  Stunning white sand, sparkling turquoise water and not a soul in sight.

    Mount Lam Lam

    On top of Lam Lam mountain

    We’ve walked through a nature reserve with thousands of butterflies, giant spiders and teeny lizards.  We visited caves where ancient people lived and left cave drawings.

    We climbed Guam’s highest peak Mount Lam Lam where local Catholics (75% of the population) make a pilgrimage each Easter.

    We hiked along an ancient and sharp volcanic flow to a beautiful beach called Sharks Cove.  No sharks but some of the prettiest blue water I have ever seen.

    We took a drive to the south end of the island and up the cliff lined east side and enjoyed amazing views of the never-ending Pacific.

    Guam Sunset

    On of several beautiful sunsets

    We saw some of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever witnessed from our west-facing condo in the town of Tamuning.  As the sun sets on this island the US Mainland is nearly a full day behind.  It’s prompted the local slogan ‘Guam: Where America’s Day Begins’.

    Two Lovers Point Guam

    The view from Two Lovers Point

    We visited Two Lovers Point, where the local “Romeo and Juliet” style legend of two lovers jumping to their death has created one of the islands busiest tourist spots. The Japanese love this kind of stuff and they swarm to it.

    We learned about the ancient Chamorro people, their tribal caste system that goes back 4000 years.  We learned that Magellan came here in the 15th century followed by the Spanish who occupied until the United States took control after the Spanish-American War in 1898.

    Sharks Cove Guam

    The deserted beach at Sharks Cove

    Japanese gun

    Japanese gun from WWII

    On December 7th 1941, just hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor the Japanese took control of Guam.  For nearly three years the native people were held in concentration camps, tortured, raped and beheaded before US troops recaptured Guam on July 21st 1944 – celebrated every year as Independence Day.

    Today Guam is an independent territory of the United States.  Residents are US Citizens but they do not have a vote.  Tourism and military are the base of the island’s economy, both which are thriving. It feels American – most of the time.  Lots of familiar businesses, and yet, it doesn’t quit feel like the USA.

    MahiMahi in a Miso mushroom gravy

    We found a delicious and eclectic food scene on Guam and we ate some amazing food.  Chamorro comfort food is rich and hearty and similar at times to Hawaiian

    Inarajan Pools south island

    food with lots of fish, rice and fruit as well as mashed potatoes and gravy and shrimp and octopus.  We enjoyed Mahi-Mahi, bulgogi beef, ahi poke, pork skewers, tacos, Ramen, German food and takoyaki (octopus fritters).  A varied and scrumptious blend of all the influences this tiny (30 miles by 12 miles) island has seen.

    And we enjoyed spending time with family.  Our reason for coming to Guam on the Grand Adventure to visit my niece and her husband.  They have been on the island for a year.  They have learned to like it despite the fact it is expensive and there are some  quirks (no Target, my niece complains).  Spending time with them was a joy, especially as we watch them prepare for their first baby.

    In Guam

    Davy and Rebekah

    So that was the real highlight of our time here.  Everything else was fluff.  Getting a family fix helps me focus on the coming ten weeks.  Ten weeks until we return to

    Chomarro Market Guam

    With my niece Bekah

    the Pacific Northwest for a two month visit.  But meanwhile we have some more adventures ahead – starting with a month in Australia.

    So stay tuned – the grand adventure continues.

    Signing off for now from Guam – Where America’s Day Begins.




    Oceania Travel

    A Fond Farewell to New Zealand

    Chapter Six comes to an End

    Location: New Zealand


    That’s the best word I can come up with to describe the last seven weeks in New Zealand.  Wow.

    I hope to be back some day. This little country packs a powerful punch and we have enjoyed our seven weeks here thoroughly.  Thumbs up all around as a visitor to the beautiful island nation.

    People keep asking me what was the best?  What was my favorite?  It’s a difficult question.  If I had to come up with one thing it would probably be our
    three days on the Abel Tasman trail – although I fell in love with so many other places we visited and things we saw as well. Milford Sound was magnificent.  Tongariro Crossing was spectacular.  Cape Reinga was beautiful.  The sun, the rain, the ocean, the lakes, the rivers.  The volcanoes, the valleys, the farms, the mountains, the fjords.   The stars – they are amazing. The sunrises and sunsets.  And in the last days of our visit finally seeing a kiwi in the wild.  Oh my goodness.  How can you choose a favorite?

    And of course the people.  New Zealand is the only country we have been in so far where we were invited into people’s homes.  What a treat that was – new friends on the South Island who welcomed us overnight at their home on a 700 acre sheep farm and new friends on the North Island who made us a spectacular dinner in their beautiful home overlooking a caldera in Auckland.  Two special experiences not every visitor gets to have.  Fabulous.

    We have spent the last five days in the city of Auckland, a bit of a recovery phase after four weeks in the Kiwi Karavan.  Auckland is a beautiful city – sparkling white boats on the sparkling turquoise water beneath the sparkling blue sky.  An easy city to love and to imagine living here….maybe…??  We did a lot of
    walking in the city, enjoyed the adjacent towns of Devenport and St. Heliers and loved the local museum.  But our favorite thing by far was our day
    on Tiritiri Matangi Island Bird Sanctuary where we saw many endangered birds as well as the elusive kiwi.  What a treat.

    New Zealand has made a major commitment to
    conservation, restoration and preservation of wildlife, native species and Maori culture.  They also have great reverence  for their veterans – in particular the entire generation of men who died in WWI leaving a huge gap.   I appreciate all of this and have a great deal of respect for a country that puts culture, arts, nature, sacrifice and history on a pedestal.  My kind of place.

    Our time in New Zealand has been very busy.  In fact we have broken all of our rules about taking it slow and easy and trying to stay in one place for
    extended period of time.  We have been on the go for seven weeks seeing one end of this country to the other.  And now we are looking forward to some real down time.  Chapter Seven will be a complete 180 from our time in New Zealand.

    Chapter Seven begins tomorrow, with what will be a hellish travel day.  Actually it will be nearly 48 hours from the time I wake up tomorrow to the time I lay by head on the pillow on the other end.  Four flights, four countries as we make our way to the very remote, very small, very sunny and hopefully, very relaxing island of Praslin in the Seychelles Islands.

    We will spend 33 days in the same Airbnb.  Downtime.  Ahhhhh.

    But, our Airbnb does not have wifi, and we will likely not have the same access we have had to social media, internet and email.  But I will blog as often as I can, and post on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter when I have the opportunity.  Between gin and

    A bit of a rest.

    tonics that is.

    So with that, we say farewell.  A fond farewell to New Zealand – where I leave a piece of my heart.  Thanks for a wonderful time.

    Seychelles here we come!


    Oceania Travel

    Tiki Tour Comes to an End

    Time to say farewell to the Kiwi Karavan

    Location: New Zealand

    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

    New Zealand

    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

    Cape Reinga

    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!

    The final week of Chapter Six begins now.

    Oceania Travel

    North by Northwest

    Chapter Six

    Location: New Zealand

    For a full week we have been wandering north of Auckland enjoying yet another remarkable area of New Zealand.  This place. It is ceaselessly full of surprises.

    More times than I can count I have mentioned how much it reminds me of my home state of Washington.  But only when it isn’t reminding me of
    my other favorite state of Hawaii.  Or California.  Or Norway. Or Ireland.  All of this, while being completely and utterly, uniquely New Zealand.

    One of the best things about this country is how unpopulated it is.  Fewer people in the entire country than in Washington State.  Washington state has over 7 million and New Zealand just over 4 million. The largest city of Auckland is home to  1.4 million of those people.  New Zealand overall is a bit smaller than Italy. Throughout the country the number of teeny but thriving towns and little weather ecosystems is amazing.

    And green.  Everything is so green.

    The “Northland”, the area of the North Island that lies North of Auckland is a water lovers wonderland, although most of the water we saw came falling from the sky.  We even experienced a cyclone, but at the time we didn’t know that was what it was. But as the Kiwi’s say “no worries”.  We enjoyed the winding roads, we strolled on the beach and watched the full moon rise.  We swam in the ocean, got up to watch the sunrise and went exploring for Glowworms in a cave.  We went to the very northern tip of the country and gazed out to where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean.  We dined on exceptional seafood and as always, we walked and walked and walked.

    Northland.  Fabulous.


    Oceania Travel

    Torrential to Triumph – Three Days on the North Island

    Rain, Wind, Sun and Hiking the Tongarui Crossing

    Location: New Zealand

    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.

    Lava tube

    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.

    Feeling accomplished

    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.

    The Tiki Tour continues – and it is fabulous.



    Oceania Travel

    Kia Ora – Welcome!

    Chapter Six – The Maori

    Location: New Zealand

    We have been in New Zealand for a month already, but surprisingly have seen very little Maori cultural life. For some reason I was expecting to. But here in the thermally active Rotorua area we have finally found it.

    In fact there are several competing Maori Cultural Centers. At least five, which made it a bit confusing as to which to visit.

    Even though I’m always saying we try not to behave like tourists, I still find myself drawn to activities such as these. Because it’s the only way you really can learn about the cultural history – even if it is a bit touristy.

    And it was. But it was also a lot of fun and I’m glad we did it. I was expecting the Mitai Maori Village (the one we chose for no particular reason) to be like a Luau. And it was exactly like that – except for the fact it was pouring down rain!

    Some of the highlights included the fact they picked us up at the park we are staying at, the Cultural performance was wonderful- especially the musical selections, watching the tribe makes arrive by traditional canoe and the food was abundant and delicious. Worth the money.

    My favorite was the performance. The native performers were very talented singers and dancers. The show included explanations on history. We learned there are still 80 Maori tribes in New Zealand. The Maori arrived on the islands, which they call Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud) 2000 years ago. The Tearawa tribe (which we watched perform) moved to the thermal Rotorua area 500 years later.

    For hundreds of years the warring tribes battled each other over two things – women and territory.  The Maori were cannibals, killing and eating their enemies. Today their battles take place at the annual Maori Tribes Rugby tournament. 

    But we were assured we weren’t eating any other tribes – just chicken, lamb, sweet potatoes, seafood chowder and bread, Rowena, the traditional sweet bread.  The meat and potatoes were cooked in a pit over hot stones very similar to the imu the Hawaiians use for roast Kalua pork.

    There were definitely other similarities to the Hawaiian culture as well as to the Rapanui culture we enjoyed on Easter Island.  The dance and language has some aspects that are similar while the dress is more dependent for each culture on the local plant and animal life.  But there is no question there is a connection amongst the Polynesian people who history believes all originated somewhere in Africa

    I am glad we took the time to visit the Mitai Maori Center and I recommend it if you visit the area.  Very fun and interesting, even if it is for the tourists.