Is that an Emu on the Road?

We’ve had five full weeks of travel between house-sits and every day has been an adventure. Before departing New Zealand we walked the Queen Charlotte trail and marveled at the stunning views.

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Walking along the ridge of Marlborough Sound in New Zealand

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After walking five days and fifty miles we considered hanging up our shoes.

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Wellington is a beautiful city with amazing photo opportunities.

After our time in Wellington we landed in Perth and immediately started driving up the west coast of Australia.  Our destination was Ningaloo Marine Park where we swam with whale sharks and fed the dolphins.

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Thank you Joseph for sharing your new automatic 4WD

This natural window is perched atop a huge canyon.  We planned to hike around the canyon rim but high temps made it unsafe.

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Natures Window in Kalbarri National Park

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Termite hills are enormous in Western Australia

On our driving tour we stayed in the same hotel as a Chinese film star and his entourage.  Stephen and I were invited to join this group for dinner and taste the fish they caught earlier in the day. Google translator saved the night.  The food was spectacular!

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We are now settled in Perth for a month and continue to walk and explore everyday.

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Little Lagoon

The Dwellington Hostel

We did it!  We jumped from our comfort zone and stayed in a hostel.  Stephen and I were not brave enough to stay in the dorm style room (which was quite economical) but we did forgo the comforts of an en-suite.  This means I had to walk down the hall in search of a bathroom at midnight and 2:00 am.  Due to a well-known rock concert in town, hotel rooms were at a premium in Wellington.  This left us without affordable accommodations and an opportunity to try hosteling.

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The Dwellington In Wellington

I did some research before booking and picked The Dwellington, which had very high ratings on TripAdvisor and was an easy walk from the city center.  Our room was small with the bed pushed up against the wall but the sheets were clean and towels were provided.

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Double Room

To our surprise the internet was the best we experienced in New Zealand.  We could catch up on emails, pay bills and even watch Netflix.  There were plenty of washing machines for our dirty laundry and the kitchen was fully stocked with space for many guests.

Although it was not a problem for Stephen, I was bothered at night by noisy neighbors and slamming doors.  Probably a good pair of earplugs would remedy this.

We were pleasantly surprised by our first experience in a hostel.  Stephen and I both enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow travellers and would consider this mode of travel again.  Perth is our next stop with another house-sit beginning soon.

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A Long Walk to the Toilet

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

We anticipated this hike in New Zealand for several years as it is listed in National Geographic’s Worlds Best Day Hikes.  Weather is a big determiner and we were thrilled with a forecast of 75 degrees and sunny.   A pre-dawn departure was necessary to beat the  heat so headlamps were helpful on the trail until the sun peeked over the mountain.  The Tongariro Alpine crossing is a twelve-mile trek through ancient lava fields and active volcanos.

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Start of Devils Staircase

Steam rises from vents all across the mountain which adds to the  beauty and eeriness of this stark area. After an hour of easy hiking a steep climb aptly named The Devils Staircase has numerous posted warning signs before the ascent. Are you really prepared for this hike?

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Consider Turning Back

Stephen and I trained for months in anticipation but the signs were a reminder that this is no walk in the park!

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Mount Doom

The climb was difficult but the view made up for our pounding chests and shortness of breath. Our first photo opportunity was in front of Mount Ngauruhoe (also named Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings).  We continued slowly across loose falling rock and I watched as young and old alike lost their footing and tumbled down the scree.

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Toe Squishing Scree

As we continued the trek we got our first glimpse of Emerald Lake. 

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Emerald Lake

It was stunning and a perfect place to picnic.  

The food and the rest were both delicious but we still had another four hours of hiking. By hour six my toes were smashed and screaming for relief.  The constant downhill motion was taking its toll on my feet and knees.  My only option was to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. And then just before the end of the hike when I was at my lowest, a lush green waterfall appeared.  I tore off my shoes and set my feet in the cool water and soaked for an hour. 

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Waterfall Relief!!

There are no words to describe this moment but I hope the photo embraces my relief and pleasure.  

Stephen and I both agree this hike is worthy of its many accolades.  It’s a tough climb with striking beautiful scenery.

Another Look at Sydney

With our responsibilities complete in Palm Cove, we bid farewell to homeowners Robert and Diane and took a three-hour flight to Sydney. Although we spent a few days in this city last year, both Stephen and I decided we needed a second look.  

We set aside two days to hike the Blue Mountains west of Sydney,

and then purchased tickets to attend a performance at the iconic opera house.

F277DE2A-7907-43F8-9A18-F24BD8C86B62Earlier in our travels we met Toby who captains a private yacht moored at Rushcutters Bay in the Sydney Harbor. He graciously gave us a tour of this well known yacht and then took us for a spin on a beautiful, sunny morning.

761F371C-E44E-450A-B34C-85D7180D26B2 It was an unforgettable experience.

We also happened upon the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations with festivals scattered throughout the city.  We attended boat races, ate lots of noodles and enjoyed the colorful decor.

 Finally,  we jumped on a small prop plane and headed for New Zealand where we prepared for some intense hiking.  Stephen and I are full to the brim with wonderful experiences.

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Life in the Tropics

Although we are not natives, Stephen and I have lived in Minnesota for 25 years. We call the Twin Cities home and are grateful that we could raise our children in such a wonderful place. Public schools are fantastic and the bike trails are the best in the country. Even with all that Minnesota has to offer, I admit that I’ve never fully embraced a Minnesota winter.  Skiing, ice fishing or any winter sport is just too cold for me.  The best I can do is cope with the deep freeze until the snow melts and then hope for an early spring.  Possibly a childhood in California robbed me of appreciating a true winter but at any rate, I’m always looking for a way to escape the Minnesota cold.  When an opportunity to house-sit in the Australian tropics was presented, we jumped and now that we’ve been here for a month, here’s what I’ve learned; I love the warmth and humidity that allows for walking outside anytime day or night without a coat.  I love the open-air restaurants with light ocean breezes creating the perfect air conditioner.  I love walking out my front door and picking passion fruit directly from the vine.  I love a daily dip in the pool for a quick cool down. Soft and smooth skin that requires no lotion is sublime.  Tropics life is less cumbersome… a pair of sandals and a bathing suit will do for most occasions.

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Psssion fruit vine at the end of the driveway

On the other hand…I’ve discovered some challenges of tropical living that rival those of cold temperature climates. It can rain for days with no breaks, leaving the streets and sidewalks overflowing with water.

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Soggy doggy

 Staying indoors is the best option with cyclone rains but after a while that stir crazy feeling begins to take over.  Torrential rains over the last five days have left us trapped and wondering if there’s such a thing as tropical cabin fever? With high humidity the laundry never quite dries, leaving the clothes feeling damp and clammy.  Ants love humidity and will parade across the kitchen lest you tightly secure all food in plastic containers. Sometimes the humidity is so oppressive that the only thing to do is take a nap. Snakes love the tropics.  Look what I nearly stepped on yesterday. Yep, I screamed!

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Extra-long scary snake

 This may be a case where literally the “grass is greener” but figuratively…not so much!  I’m not ready to face another Minnesota winter but the tropics with monsoonal rains, humidity and cyclones does present its own challenges.

Hello to all my Midwest friends and family… I’m  with you in spirit as you endure this winter of cold and colder.    

Great Barrier Reef

We knew a visit to Tropical North Queensland would not be complete without a trip to the Great Barrier Reef.  It’s the world’s largest coral reef with vast amounts of exotic fish and colorful marine life. Our first ten days in Palm Cove were spent acquainting ourselves with the area and recovering from a bad bout of food poisoning… presumably from an airplane meal.  Ugh.  We also had to learn the ropes of caring for a young puppy and protocol if a cyclone hits.  With all this behind us we finally had the perfect day to experience a day on the reef.

A bus collected us from our home in Palm Cove and drove us 25 miles south to the Cairns Marina.  From here we boarded a catamaran with other passengers and sailed 26 miles off the coast to Michaelmas Cay National Park.  It was a two-hour ride and rather bumpy but Stephen and I found seats on the deck with the wind at our back and a beautiful view.  A thirty minute orientation informed us of reef etiquette as well as hazards and then we received all gear necessary for a day of snorkeling.  Besides fins, mask and snorkel we were given a full-body Lycra suit to protect from stingers. The stingers are life threatening jelly fish that inhabit the tropical waters during the summer season.  We were glad to have the Lycra suit not only for sting protection but also from the strong UV rays.

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All suited up for a day of snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef.

Stephen and I collected all our gear and were ready to explore as soon as the boat anchored.  We discovered it takes some coordination to maneuver with fins, snorkel and a mask but with trial and error we figured out a rhythm.  The beauty below the surface was astonishing.  There were fish of all colors and coral in every size and shape.  It was like swimming in a gigantic aquarium and every where we turned there was amazing beauty.  Fish, turtles, and coral were at our fingertips….we had a front row seat and it was a spectacular show. 

Our little condo in Palm Cove is just steps from the beach.

We walk along the shore several times per day with Carmen the nine month old puppy.  She is a bundle of energy and needs a LOT of potty breaks. Tropical living is a new experience.  We’re enjoying the warm weather, the daily rain showers and the beautiful sunrises. We’re also discovering a few drawbacks and heeding the warning signs posted up and down the beach.

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Jelly fish and crocodiles keep humans from swimming in the ocean

We haven’t set eyes on a crocodile yet and just like the grizzly bears… I’d prefer not to have a run-in with one of these critters.

 

 

All Things Luggage

In late October we wrapped up our house-sit in Ponte Vedra, Florida and returned to Minnesota to prepare for the holidays.  Along with prepping for Thanksgiving and Christmas we also began making arrangements for three house-sits starting in January 2019. Often we have our camper with us and we keep our clothes in a small chest of drawers stored in the backseat of the car.  When we arrive at a new house, we simply carry the chest of drawers inside and no unpacking is necessary.  With our upcoming house-sits we won’t have our vehicle or camper in tow.  We are heading to Australia again and Stephen and I each need a small and sturdy suitcase. Frayed zippers and shaky wheels describe our current luggage so with some reluctance we decided it was time for both of us to upgrade. 

For several weeks I have been obsessed with all things luggage, searching and reading multiple travel articles about the perfect carry-on suitcase. There are a plethora of options with reviews about brand, size and price.  Does a higher price equal a better quality product?  Is it really necessary to spend $450 on a small piece of luggage?  My head was swimming with too much information so I finally set four parameters and made the leap.  Here is the criteria I set for our luggage purchase:

  1. Must fit in the overhead bin 
  2. Must cost around $100
  3. Must weigh under 5.5 pounds
  4. Must receive at least four-stars on Amazon reviews

Even though we are not traveling in our teardrop camper we made the decision to continue traveling light. It takes some extra planning and forethought but we’ve pared our wardrobes to the basics.  With the criteria set we finally settled on the Travelpro Maxlite 5 Expandable Carryon Rollaboard suitcase . What a mouthful!  We have used our new purchase on the first leg of our trip from MSP to SFO and my first impression is positive. The weight was much lighter and lifting the suitcase to the overhead bin was less cumbersome. I will hold my full evaluation until we have a few trips under way and the luggage has been put to the full test. Can we really function for five months with just a carry-on suitcase?3F5DDB40-24BD-426E-99B6-632D137FBAF4

Check out the map below with three circled cities…this is where  we will be house-sitting in Australia. We depart in early January and our first stop is Cairns in Far North Queensland.  With some trepidation we chose to purchase a one-way ticket to allow for flexibility and more spontaneous travel.  We are packed and ready to explore.

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Stay tuned for news from the Great Barrier Reef.

Happy New Year

Southern Snack Food

When flight attendants pass out peanuts on the airplane I usually turn them down or give my bag to Stephen.  If I get a box of Cracker Jacks, I eat the caramel popcorn and ditch the peanuts.  And when Stephen buys a bag of peanuts at the ballpark he eats most of them…I’m just not a fan of peanuts.  While exploring the inner coastal waterway this week Stephen and I spotted a road sign advertising boiled peanuts. We were curious about this iconic southern snack but honestlyI was more interested in the photo opportunity than actually eating the peanuts.  The sign was at the edge of town as we drove into Amelia Island, a charming area north of Jacksonville.

The island is rich with history and quite picturesque with its antebellum architecture and grand estates.  The entire town oozed southern charm and the boiled peanut sign moved the charm factor up a notch.  We just had to pull off the road for a photo and maybe a small taste of this famous southern snack.  I learned from Wikipedia that peanuts are harvested in the fall and while most farmers send out their peanuts for roasting others take a portion of the raw or “green” legumes and boil them in salt water.  There is a specific window of time for eating fresh boiled peanuts and we hit the bullseye.   E2D95E75-E4D4-47B6-AC9A-8482F559757F As Stephen and I stepped from the car the woman behind the farm stand offered us a sample.  She said with a thick southern drawl that her peanuts had been boiling for twelve hours and were ready to eat.  With her handmade colander she dipped into the pot and strained out a dozen soggy brown peanuts with shells intact. She explained that boiled peanut etiquette requires that you suck the juice from the shell and then bite it open and dig out the peanuts with your teeth. The peanuts looked rather mushy but I was willing to give them a try.  I bit open the shell and sucked out the hot briny liquid and just like that…I was hooked. They were delicious!!  I loved the salty peanut flavored water while the first bite tasted like baked potatoes infused with butter.  I cracked open several more shells and immediately devoured the little morsels of salty goodness.  While Stephen wasn’t as enamored with the hot peanuts we agreed to buy a bag and I continued to shell and eat half the bag as we drove down the road.

I finished the bag for dinner and now I consider myself a boiled peanut convert. I think baseball parks and the airlines should offer both roasted and boiled.  As for Cracker Jacks…I’m not sure it would be a good idea.

 Here are some other things Stephen and I like about Florida:

-Key Lime pie from Publix grocery store

-Never having to put on a coat and shoes when taking the dog outside

-Beaches with beautiful scenery

 

 

Who is That Pushing a Stroller?

Our latest adventure has taken us to Jacksonville, Florida to care for a sweet Pug named Bella.28584845-2522-41B5-8B3A-7AC6EA1CE486  This dog loves riding in a stroller so yesterday the three of us toured the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine. While Stephen pushed the stroller,  I navigated around the crowds and Bella watched the people.  

When I last posted an update in mid-August we were still house sitting in Alberta Canada …let me rewind and fill in the details. We had a wonderful time in Canada and were sad to see the daily pet parade come to an end but with snow in the forecast it was time to get out of Drayton Valley. We also had a big event to attend in late September and wanted some time at home to prepare. We hoped to visit Glacier National Park en route but fires were still plaguing this area and the smoke was unbearable. Sadly we postponed until another year.

After a lot of discussion and weighing options we decided not to drag the Vistabule back to Minnesota but instead store it in Montana. With more travel in Australia this winter we calculated that it would be at least nine months before we could continue with our western state camping adventures.  It seemed easier to leave the Vistabule in Montana and then continue our travels from this point next year.  We had a challenge locating an indoor storage unit but after numerous phone calls and emails Stephen located a place in Three Forks, Montana and we put the Vistabule “to rest” until next year.

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The Vistabule in storage

We made it home in time for the big event I mentioned earlier and together with family and friends we had a wonderful day celebrating the wedding of our son Tim to Anneli.

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Tim and Anneli

Just after the wedding Stephen and I departed for Florida.  It was a big change to leave both the Vistabule and our car behind but timing required that we travel by plane.  Our house sit is in a 55+ community and we are enjoying all the amenities this place has to offer.  Golf carts are the best way to navigate around the community and activities at the clubhouse keep us occupied. D7E99D10-798B-4CE2-8D78-FD057E60CD48We look forward to exploring both Savannah, and Charleston….cities rich with history while we are here for the next three weeks.

Neither Stephen nor I have had much opportunity to push a baby stroller in the past 20 years (and never with a dog in the stroller) but we are both enjoying it….just sayin’

O Canada

I am embarrassed to admit how little I know of my Canadian neighbors.  I would be hard pressed to list all ten provinces let alone locate them on a map. Even though Minnesota shares a border with two provinces (Ontario and Manitoba), I’ve only crossed the line a handful of times and only for a short period.  Now that we’ve spent a few weeks in Canada,  Stephen and I are acclimating and learning all about our neighbors to the north.

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Drayton Valley, Alberta Canada

We are currently house sitting in Drayton Valley, Alberta a small town known for its oil reserves.  The population is 7,000 but fluctuates when the demand for oil surges.  Higher demand brings lucrative jobs and attracts workers from all parts of the country.  Four years ago during the oil boom this was a hopping town where it was impossible to find a hotel room and the unemployment rate was in the low single digits.  There are still oil rigs throughout the area that pump  24/7 but for now the boom has slowed and life in Drayton Valley is a bit quieter.

While house sitting we are responsible for the care of an 18-year-old dog and a big tabby cat.  Patch the dog is content to sleep most of the time but does insist on a walk everyday at the exact same time.  He has an amazing internal clock and when the clock strikes four Patch steps off his dog bed, stretches and then shakes his whole body while walking to the front door.  Time for the daily stroll!   No leash is required as he ambles four houses up the street, crosses the road, does his business and then returns home.  Gingy the cat who is usually out hunting for mice appears for this walk and accompanies Patch.  They spend ten minutes together on the daily ritual and then the dog returns to bed while the cat does cat things.   We call it the four o’clock pet parade.

Edmonton, which is 85 miles east, is the closest big city to Drayton Valley.  With the population at more than a million,  it is a bustling place.  We spent a few days exploring and searching for typical Canadian food.  The cuisine is not much different than ours  but we had to try the coffee and timbits at Tim Horton’s as well as poutine…French fries drowned in gravy and cheese curds.  

After all this food we walked the city and discovered a beautiful skyline with the Saskatchewan river running though the center.

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Edmonton skyline

Although we did have to show our passports at the border sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m not in the U.S.  Many retailers are the same and fortunately Canadians drive on the right.  The currency is different but I have yet to touch any paper money or coins. It’s easier to use a credit card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Alberta.  Our hosts Dieter and Antoinette have welcomed us and made us feel at home. They are also seasoned travelers and have suggested several new places for us to explore.  Our world is expanding and we can’t wait to see what comes next.