Fell Tops and Dales and Tarns! Oh My!!

After completing our hiking adventures in Ireland, we continued them in England. Having heard of the famous and beautiful Lake District, we were eager to get up those fells of northwestern England and see the views. This blog will be a bit different than the usual narrative with pictures. Today I’m presenting a history lesson followed by vocabulary. Wait! Don’t run off! You’ll be entertained. I promise.

Alfred Wainwright–The Father of Fell Walking

Alfred Wainwright is famous for his seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. He began his love of fell walking in his mid-20’s, and was taken by the unique beauty of the lakes and fells. As he visited each fell, he kept a record of each walk, describing and illustrating unique routes and scenery. In all, there are 214 fells described in his guides, each one handwritten with pencil drawings of the fell tops and surrounding view. The 214 fells are now commonly known as “Wainwrights” and completing all 214 gets your name in the Long Distance Walkers Association registry. Walking and hiking enthusiasts from all over the world, as well as the hardy locals, find their best days hiking the Wainwrights. And so did we…

Fells, Crags, Ghylls, Tarns…

There’s a unique set of vocabulary associated with the topography in and around the Lake District. Although many of the geographic terms are also used in other countries, they are definitely prominent in the Lake District. Here’s your vocabulary lesson.

FellA high and often barren mountain or hill. To an Oregonian, like me, the elevation of the fells hardly feels like a mountain. The lowest Wainwright, Castle Crag, is only 951 ft (290m) high, with the highest being Scafell Pike at 3,209 ft (978m). Don’t let that fool you, however. Most hikes start near sea level, with challenging steep climbs. Most fell walkers plan their days to include “bagging” several fells. Mark’s longest hike was a 14-miler, with 10 fells bagged.

CragA steep, rugged rock face or cliff. Generally, I’m not a huge fan of hiking close to any geographic feature that has the words “rock face” or “cliff” in it as I’m generally afraid of heights. After a few months of hiking fells with the name “crag” in it, I’ve become a bit more brave.

PikeA mountain or hill having a peaked summit. A few of you are saying, “duh!” right now. But, there are a surprising amount of Wainwright fells with rounded or even imperceptible summits. Which brings me to my next vocab word…

Cairn–A pile of rocks marking the fell top, or summit. Sometimes the fell top is marked with a trig point, or concrete pillar erected by the British Ordnance Survey. Other fell tops are are marked by summit cairns, a rough pile of stones. Some are small, some are very large. Cairns are also used to mark paths leading to the summits. These can be especially useful when the clag (fog or mist) is particularly thick.

Stickle–A prominent rocky top to the fell. A pike could be a stickle, but they aren’t necessarily the same. A pike could be a peaked summit without a rocky top. Harrison Stickle and Pike ‘O Stickle are two prominent Wainwrights we have yet to summit.

Dale–A Valley. England has some epically beautiful dales. Great Langdale is one of our favorites in the Lake District. The year-round rainy, mild weather makes for stunning green dales filled with farmhouses and sheep.

Water, Mere, Lake–Basically these are all larger bodies of water. Bassenthwaite Lake is technically the only “lake” in the Lake District. The others are called water or mere. Windemere, Grasmere, and Buttermere are a few examples. A mere is shallow in relation to its size. Derwentwater and Wast Water are beautiful, larger bodies of water. You would not say, “Let’s go boating on Buttermere Lake.” No need to add “lake” after any body of water with mere or water in the name.

Tarn– A small mountain lake. These are a treat after grudging up steep terrain for a few hours. My favorite is Innominate Tarn. It’s name, ironically, means “without a name.” Innominate Tarn is near the summit of Haystacks and is where Alfred Wainwright’s ashes were spread.

Ghyll, Gill, Beck, River, Force– A gyhll is a ravine or narrow valley leading down a mountainside. A gill is a narrow stream. A beck is also a stream that flows down a ghyll. A river is, well, a river. And a force is a waterfall. Aira Force, in the Ullswater area, is the most famous waterfall in the Lake District.

The beauty of the Lake District made me fall in love with the hard work of fell walking, while the place names made me giggle. When we returned to the US in November, we left behind dozens of fell tops left to be “bagged.” We’re returning this spring of to see familiar favorites and discover the rest.

Won’t you….

Go with me?

Photography by Mark Leedom

We Hatched an Escape Plan

Our Return to International Travel

First stop, Ireland!

We did it. After a nearly two-year hiatus from international travel, we ventured outside of North America. As you might guess, it took some planning beyond the normal where are we going to stay? and what are we going to do? We wanted to be responsible travelers, as well as being safe ourselves, so we had a number of considerations, including what Covid precautions were required in the locations we were considering for a visit. We also knew that some folks believed (and still do) that it was too soon to venture out and staying put was the only way to meet those two goals. We felt (and still do) that as understanding of the virus and safe personal habits improved, the vaccines were made available and shown to be effective, and countries opened up to visitors we could travel while minimizing risk to ourselves and others.

Mark and I were fully vaccinated in March. Not wanting to get involved in a case of Covid, we lived our lives carefully, doing our part to stop the spread. We limited our exposure to people in our “Quarenteam,” people who were also vaccinated and with whom we spent the most time. We shopped with masks on and dined outside when eating out. Beyond continuing these behavior no matter where we were, our trip to Ireland and England was to be focused on hiking, so the majority of our time would be outside, away from others.

To fly to the UK directly from the US, vaccination and a negative PCR tests was required. However, if arriving in the UK from Ireland, no test was required, if you had been in Ireland for at least 10 days without symptoms. In addition, Ireland was accepting fully vaccinated US citizens without requiring PCR’s or any quarantine time. So, starting our travels in Ireland made sense, Covid-wise. Besides, as you will see, Ireland is a must see.


Our first four days were spent exploring the energy of Dublin. From quiet streets with their small stone churches to the busy Temple Bar district, Dublin’s liveliness kept us busy. Our hotel was conveniently located within walking distance of the big ticket items: Christ Church Cathedral and St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle, the National Gallery of Ireland, Trinity College and Temple Bar. In addition, we took a walking tour with a local guide. He showed us the iconic markets and landmarks while weaving Ireland’s history throughout. After four days in the “big” city we headed west to County Cork where our hiking adventures would begin.

Sheep’s Head Peninsula

We booked our 8-day hiking tour around the Sheep’s Head peninsula through Hillwalk Tours. The company planned our walking itinerary for each day, as well as arranging our lodging and moving our luggage to the next night’s bed and breakfast. Taking the train from Dublin to Cork and then a bus to the small town of Bantry, we walked to our first B&B. Therese greeted us at her home, Doire Liath, offering us afternoon tea and scones in the sitting room. We’d start our first full day of hiking the next morning, after a full Irish breakfast prepared by Therese.

Bantry to Glanlough–16km. Starting from Bantry along quiet country lanes, our path eventually made its way up a ridge before descending to the village of Glanlough. We walked through pastureland, chatted with sheep and marveled at the lovely stone buildings and fences throughout the day. Little did we know the beautiful sea of purple and yellow flowers (on the heather and gorse plants) would color our views the entire way. Our first day’s journey ended at Seamount Farmhouse B&B, where Julia and Charlie met us with that iconic afternoon tea and goodies.

Glanlough to Finn McCool’s Seat–11km After a hearty breakfast we donned our daypacks and headed out for a more rugged, uphill day. We crossed gullies and climbed up ridges for some fabulous views and lovely wildflowers. We ended this day at Finn McCool’s Seat, the place where the giant, Finn McCool, had a rest from ripping up the coastline and hurling it at Scotland. (We’re still not clear on what exactly he was trying to accomplish…) Our host, Charlie, was waiting to take us back to Seamount for well-earned dinner and sleep.

Finn McCool’s Seat to Tooreen–15km. The third day’s walk brought us closer to the northern coast of the peninsula. Thick, low clouds settled on the ridge tops, so we took an alternate route avoiding the higher elevations. We passed an old copper mine and negotiated our way along cliff edges. The day was damp with a bit of drizzle and more clag, but we still enjoyed the views along the way. Reaching our goal for the day, the small lighthouse at the end of the peninsula, we stopped for a few pictures. Continuing on a bit farther to the Sheep’s Head Cafe’, Katie from the Bridgeview B&B was waiting to take us to our home for the night.

Tooreen to Kilcrohane–13km After yet another huge, tasty breakfast, Katie took us back to the Sheep’s Head Cafe at Tooreen where we would begin the day’s walk. Following waymarkers over mountain terrain and grassy slopes, we made our way east along the south coast of the peninsula. The weather gods decided we didn’t have enough of a challenge and so opened up the clouds with heavy rain. We delayed our start a bit, but finally decided to just jump in and start the day’s wet walk. Our waterproofs (read: raingear) helped, but we still ended up getting a bit drenched! We enjoyed the limited view we had, however. The last bit of walking took us into Kilcrohane for another delicious dinner and night’s sleep at the Bridgeport B&B.

Kilcrohane to Durrus–18km We continued along rugged mountain trails, making our way to the southern coast of the peninsula, and further inland. We passed the remains of the Bardic School founded by one of the oldest clans in Ireland, as well as ancient stone circles and marriage stones, and a memorial bench to Tom Whitty, the American who was instrumental in developing the Sheep’s Head Way trail system.

When we reached the village of Durrus we drank a pint while waiting for Andy from Ballycommane House and Gardens B&B to pick us up. Hosts Andy and Ingolf have several acres of lovely gardens they meticulously tend, with plants from many parts of the world. After cleaning up and enjoying tea and biscuits, we spent an hour or more just enjoying the gardens.

Durrus to Bantry 20km Our last day of walking took us back up the hills on the south side of the peninsula toward our starting point in Bantry. Up through forest lands, along ancient country lanes and a few more amazing views. While still on the ridgeline we took in the stunning views of three bays–Bantry, Dunmanus and Roaringwater. We could even see the Mizen Peninsula and Mount Gabriel. Eventually, our tired bodies brought us back to Doire Liath for a final night of the Hillwalk Sheep’s Head Peninsula tour. After serving tea and goodies, Therese visited with us in the sitting room. We fell in to bed exhausted, yet proud of our 6 days of walking adventures.

Sleeping in and Resting Up With our hiking week completed we rented a car and headed to another B&B we found online. Tucked away in the hamlet of Caheragh, Streamside Cottage is a haven for garden enthusiasts. Owners and Hosts, Stephen and Ke Yu provided lovely breakfasts, conversation, and a quiet, streamside rest in their back garden. The sun was shinning and I even wore a sundress.

Before leaving the US we received an insider tip from our youngest son about an iconic bar in Leap, a village not too far from Caheragh. Andrew had been to Ireland with his California Irish friends a few years previous. His buddy’s cousin owns a bar/music venue called Connelly’s of Leap. It’s well known in Ireland for live music, good brew and pizza. Our B&B hosts joined us for a pizza and a pint, and good conversation.

With the weather improving, we took a day trip back to the peninsula to see a few sights we missed and view the Sheep’s Head Lighthouse without the fog. Our first stop was Dunlough Castle. Founded in 1207, Dunlough is one of the oldest castles in southern Ireland. Tucked away from the ocean beside a lough (lake), these impressive ruins give visitors a glimpse of Norman architecture. Next, we took a short drive back to the lighthouse for a lovely, warm hike and sunnier pictures.

Hop the Pond Our time in County Cork had sadly come to a close. We made our way back to Dublin to catch a puddle jumper to Newcastle, England, and then on to the Lake District. Although I was eager to start our fell-walking adventures, I have to admit I was sad to bid Ireland farewell. Her people are friendly, helpful and chatty. Her tea and scones are delicious. Her natural beauty will make you fall in love. We will be back!

Let’s Make Lemonade

When last we met, nearly a year ago, Mark and I had interrupted our expat journeys due to Covid. We had just hunkered down in Oregon, leaving behind at least two months of planned adventures. No picturesque English countryside. No hiking the Fells. No meeting new friends. It was a heart wrenching decision.

But, it did mean reconnecting with family and peace of mind. In the year since we’ve been sheltering in place and hiding from Covid in the US, little blessings have popped up everyday.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

The Essentials… Remember back to the beginning of our big adventure? We sold our house and car? Returning to the US meant we had no place to live and no car to get there in. When we began alerting our family that we were coming home, people began offering needed items. For example, Mark’s brother offered the use of his extra car, even meeting us at the airport with our “new” set of wheels. (Enterprise has nothing on him…!)

In the meantime, my sister said she would love to have us live on her property in her newly acquired travel trailer. We didn’t know how long we would stay, but took up her offer and drove straight to our new digs from the airport. For our two week quarantine, my sister did all of our grocery shopping. We could only just wave at each other during that time, but what a joy to be there. When quarantine was over, she and I began our daily walks or bike rides. Our 2 week stay ended up lasting 5 months!

Our 5 months in the trailer. Beautiful views and biking!

Our “rent” payments came in the form of helping with home improvement projects. We’ve helped with yard work and construction of a retaining wall and her fencing project. What a blessing this time was.

Sweet Reunions… My dad! Family! Friends! Taking Covid precautions seriously, we were still able to see people via masking, social distancing, meeting outside, and quarantine periods in specific cases.

Dad lived alone in Coos Bay, with precious few interactions with others aside from my sister. After our quarantine period, I was elated that we were able to add him to our Quaran-team! He’d visit us at my sister’s, we’d go for rides to the beach, and I even took him fishing, one of his life’s passions.

Didn’t catch anything but happiness and sunshine!

Exercising care, we were able to occasionally see our older son and his family in Roseburg and our younger son on a trip from SoCal to Roseburg. We also were able to see our daughter and her family. And finally, when Mark’s mom was fully vaccinated, we busted her out of her care center and were able to sit down with her. While we were able to visit her occasionally via Skype, it had been over a year since our last face-to-face with her.

When life gives you lemons, try to find ways to see your family!

A quick, but sweet, masked “hello” with our youngest son! Later, we were able to spend time with him and his lovely wife.

Grandma Teacher… In early September I received a rather earnest phone call from our daughter asking if I missed teaching. Like families around the country, hers was hunkered down at home for the schoolyear. Mom and dad were working from home and the 3 school-aged children were learning remotely via Zoom. Somewhat hesitantly, she asked, “How would you feel about a temporary stay in Utah, just long enough to get these homeschooled kids settled in their studies?” “Are you kidding!?”, I replied. I was beyond thrilled!

So, Mark and I packed up the little we still owned and made a short-term move to Utah. The idea was to quarantine once here and then start helping with the kids’ schooling. We planned to stay through February and then head back to England to restart our travels. Of course, you’re all laughing now, aren’t you? Yup. When life gives you lemons, stick around and teach a little longer.

We’re still currently in our short-term housing and I’m still Grandma Teacher weekday mornings, assisting with the already excellent lessons they are receiving from their Zoom teachers. The growth in their learning has been fabulous, and I’m so encouraged I can’t leave yet.

When life gives you lemons, teach!

Go Outside…! Covid doesn’t keep us inside. In fact, we’ve always believed outside is healthier! I backpacked a short section of the Pacific Crest Trail with my sister. We often went to the beach. We hiked the Sierra’s, with Mark finishing a section of the John Muir Trail and finally completing his quest to make it up Mt. Whitney. Utah provided us with numerous hikes including Maybird Gulch and Lake Blanche in the Wasatch Mountains, Canyonlands National Park, and Zion National Park. We also walk or bike nearly everyday around the lovely neighborhood where we’re currently staying.

When life gives you lemons, go outside!

Beauty in the Wasatch Range of the Rockies

Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Photos by Mark


Zion National Park. Photos by Mark

In Memoriam… For several years now my father’s health had been failing. We really started noticing it after our mom died in 2016. From weekly blood transfusions to stage 4 kidney failure, dad was always on the precipice. You can imagine my trepidation regarding long-distance travel. When we left in October, 2019, dad encouraged us to pursue our international adventures. “I’m not going anywhere,” he promised. I assured him we’d return at a moment’s notice if need be. In the meantime, my sister’s daily care and his doctors kept him patched up. Plus, dad was a fighter. He resisted any notion of decline or dying, and it worked for a long time. We called him our Energizer Bunny!

A few days before Christmas, my sister alerted me that dad was in the hospital again. This time, however, it was end-stage kidney failure. To stay alive dad would require dialysis nearly every day. It was then that dad finally felt at peace going in to hospice care, allowing his body the natural process of crossing over. My sister moved him to her house for the last 8 days of his life.

He spent his last Christmas with his daughters, son-in-law and granddaughters (my nieces) by his side. He even had great-grandchildren and their parents (my daughter and son-in-law) from Utah visit him. Extended family members and dear friends stopped by for a final visit. Dad could see the river from his bed and watch the birds at the birdfeeder. His last days were spent with Mark, my sister and I by his side.

Early New Year’s day, daddy passed with his girls and son-in-law with him. We are saddened to have him gone, but realize that he’s in a better place. My sister and her friend organized a wonderful Zoom memorial service for our daddy; celebrating his tender heart, giving spirit and mischievous adventures.

When life gives you lemons, love on your parents.

Daddy and his girls

Next Adventures Lord willing and the creek don’t rise (or Covid resurge), we’ll be flying to the UK this fall to resume our adventures. We’ll be staying in England’s Lake District and walking as many Fells as we can from September to early November. Any plans beyond November are on hold, pending the opening of other European countries.

For those that are able to travel, I’ll leave you with a couple pieces of advice we’ve learned:

  1. Book refundable, or changeable, flights and lodging. You’ll likely pay more, but it’s worth it.
  2. Always buy travel insurance with medical and travel expenses covered and no-cause cancelation. Our travel insurance paid for our last minute flight home last March.

And in the future, whether life gives you lemons or lemonade, Go With Me….

This Christmas, the Wise Men came with me

“How I Spent My Covid Vacation”

“My goodness, Ms Susan! Your writing assignment is three months overdue!”

“I’m so sorry, Professor Blogreader. But I have a note from home explaining why. Here…”

“Dear Professor Blogreader. Please excuse Susan’s late assignment. You see, the world is ill and Susan has been otherwise occupied. She’s only now been able to give her full attention to the assignment. Please see attached. Sincerely, Susan’s Psyche.”

Better Late Than Never

I’m currently writing to you from the comforts of our 21′ travel trailer (a caravan for our NZ and UK friends) overlooking a lovely slough just outside of Coos Bay, Oregon. We managed to not get Covid-19 in Portugal and therefore did not take it to England. We managed to not get Covid-19 in England and therefore did not bring it to the United States. We concluded our 14-day mandatory CDC quarantine at our lovely rural spot, hosted by my gracious sister. With alarming news feeds everyday, I realize I am fortunate to write this blog at all, albeit somewhat late.

When Last We Met

Back in February, from the comfort of our apartment in Porto, Portugal, I shared our whirlwind adventures in Australia and Thailand. Feeling confident in our future plans, I held off journaling about our then-current experiences in Portugal. This was our second visit to Portugal in three years. Our purpose this time around was to investigate different regions and cities with a critical eye toward potentially moving there. My next blog was to be an evaluation of each area we stayed in. Since this is my next blog, here we go…

Could we live here…?

Our first visit to Portugal was during summer, and we were tourists. Summer and tourists—every place is enchanting with that criteria. This time around we purposely went in the winter and stayed in areas that were more residential, asking Could we live here…? We landed in Lisbon on January 15th.

Lisbon – The first thing I did in Lisbon was buy a sweater and a wool coat! We had just flown in from 90 degree weather in Thailand and my trousseau was mainly sundresses and swimsuits. Although Lisbon’s weather was still drier and warmer than typical Oregon January days, it wasn’t the 90 degrees we’d just left.

We settled into a upper-floor flat in a busy section of Lisbon. It had a lovely view and a cozy café around the corner. We enjoyed experiencing some of our favorite aspect of the city and surrounding area: tiled cathedrals, the Tagus River, the narrow streets and the castles of Sintra.

We took a day trip to Setubal, an hour’s train ride south of Lisbon. There we met up with some expats from various countries that I had contacted through social media. It was a fun and informative day meeting with people who had taken the plunge and moved to Portugal.

Evaluation: Lisbon is busy and full of rich experiences. Lisbon is also a bigger city than we’d prefer to live in. It would be a great place to escape for short vacations, however. But…in summer!

Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

Nazare – This lovely town nestled along the Atlantic Ocean is famous for its big wave surfing. For us, Nazare has a sweet human connection as well. During our previous visit we met a young lady and her father. Diana and I have kept in touch via social media and made plans to get together on this trip. Our reunion was sweet! We were invited to their home for a traditional Portuguese meal, prepared by Diana’s mother. We were treated like royalty, although all in Portuguese. Diana speaks lovely English and was a godsend translator as we attempted to communicate with her mother, father and grandfather.

The next day our adopted Portuguese family invited us to visit the historical monastery in Alcobaca with them. Having our own private tour guides has it’s advantages. As well as sharing the wonder and beauty of the monastery, Diana’s family knew the best place for desert and coffee afterwards!

Evaluation: Nazare comes complete with a ready-made family. The town is simply breathtaking and the waves are spectacular. Fishwives wear their thick, colorful skirts and visit each other along the streets. Nazare is as Portuguese as Portugal gets. But… Nazare is COLD in January. Lovely, but cold. If we do move to Portugal, we will definitely be visiting Nazare and our adopted family for summertime holidays.

Alcobaca Monastery
Praia do Norte

Lagos – Lagos is in the Algarve, or southern region of Portugal. The Algarve is popular with sun-seeking retirees. (At this point, the teacher in me would interject that foreshadowing is a technique writers use to give their readers hints and clues about possible story outcomes…) I wore shorts and sundresses while in Lagos. We walked the beautiful cliffs and beaches. We ate outside. The weather in the Algarve spoiled us. Apparently, we are sun-seeking retirees.

Evaluation:Lagos has numerous trails along the ocean cliffs. It has abundant sunshine and friendly people. We discovered a new, favorite restaurant as well. We were originally skeptical about settling in the Algarve as it tends to have higher housing costs and can be overrun with, well, retirees like us! However, in the winter months it tends to be more peaceful and authentically Portuguese. Its biggest selling point for us is definitely the weather. We could likely call Lagos home, at least for the winter months.

What’s not to love?

Coimbra – Three years ago our visit to this old university town was only hours long. This year we spent a busy, energetic week in a small flat in the middle of the city close to the action. Coimbra is Portugal’s former capital city with history dating back to medieval times. The University of Coimbra is built on the grounds of a former palace, and a guided tour is definitely necessary. Our tour guide was a former university student. His knowledge of history and his pride for his school enriched our experience.

Evaluation: Coimbra is the perfect sized city for us. We’ve lived in a university town before and know the energy and politics that comes along with that experience. Coimbra was noisy, but in an unusual way. The university students congregate in the city square a few evenings a week, dressed in their school uniforms, including their capes. (Imagine Harry Potter. JK Rowling spent time here). Meeting fellow students of the same academic school they were studying in, students would walk the streets singing and chanting into the wee hours. It was fascinating and entertaining for a while. But, at some point Grandma Susan needs to sleep. If we were to move there, we wouldn’t live near the University.

A quiet night in Coimbra

Porto – Ah, Porto! The lovely Douro River graces its southern border. Porto is known as the “City of Bridges.” The most iconic, the Dom Luis I, was built by a disciple of Eiffel and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Porto is also known for its street art, Azulejos tiled churches and port wine. As a side note, the hilly streets and stairs are a great work out. One new experience we added to our visit was an Azulejos tile class. We spent a morning learning the history of, and then painting, the famous Portuguese blue tiles. I now have a piece of Portugal with me no matter where I roam.

Evaluation: Porto ranks at the top of the list for us. It always has, though. However, (can you guess what I’m going to say?) it was a bit cold in January and the wind off of the Douro can be quite “invigorating.” But, Porto isn’t off the list quite yet.

Best Laid Plans

After Porto we were going to visit northern Spain for about 3 weeks; walking parts of the Camino de Santiago and ending in Santiago de Compostela. We then planned to head up to England for two months of fell walking in the Lake District. That was the “before times”, or life before Covid.

When we arrived in Porto, however, the threat of the pandemic was beginning to ramp up. Italy was locked down and Spain looked like it was next. We had no idea what life in Covid-world would look like, but decided to adjust our plans, skip Spain and head to England early.

Since we were about three weeks ahead of schedule, we decided to visit the Cornwall area before heading north to the Lake Distract. Besides, southern UK would be warmer, right? The village of St Just is about as south as you can get, being just a few kilometers from Land’s End. Nestled in the farmland in Poldark country, St Just proved to the be perfect place for us to hide from Covid and plan our next steps. With a population around 2,000, social distancing was easy, and our daily walks along the ocean cliffs were invigorating.

Botallack Mine, Cornwall.
The mine shafts in this area can extend as much as a half mile under the ocean.

The world as we knew it was crumbling fast. Travel in and out of Europe was shutting down. The UK government was discouraging leisure travel, while the US was just beginning to feel the devastating effects of the virus. We struggled with our next steps. Do we continue with our travel plans possibly risking getting “stuck” in the UK due travel restrictions, or return home? Everyday the headlines were more dire and I was getting fussy about family. With both relief and regret we boarded a plane at Heathrow Airport and headed home in mid-March.


Bloom where you’re planted. Outside my window, right this minute, high tide is coming back in. I see the slough filling up. Every so often a river otter plays hide and seek with me. The songbirds serenade me. The sun is shining. When it rains the cedars smell amazing. My sister and I rode bikes this morning along enchanting country roads. It’s not Europe, but it’s home and it’s family. Our home is tiny, but the love is big.

I realize how fortunate we are. We experienced five blessed months of unforgettable adventures. We walked up to glaciers. I held a koala. We swam in warm oceans. We watched penguins waddle back to their nests. We walked with a baby elephant down to a stream to bathe. We saw ancient ruins. We met wonderful people. Whenever we’re finally able, we will return.

Hold your adventures close to your heart, be they exotic or right in your backyard. Our future plans are up in the air at present. It could be up to a year before we resume our international travels. In the meantime, if we do happen to seek closer adventures here in North America I hope you’ll…

Go With Me!

Photos by Mark Leedom

Down Under & Far East

With over a month of wonderful memories made in New Zealand, we headed west to continue our international adventures. We had originally planned on tucking a three week visit to Australia in between New Zealand and Portugal. But, after watching the fires in Australia grow in area and intensity, we cancelled our Australia plans altogether.

However, after some reassurance from an old high school friend who lives near Brisbane, we decided to spend a few days on the Gold Coast. And boy, are we glad we did. Brisbane is a vibrant, clean, friendly, and toasty city! After the rain and cool temperatures of New Zealand, we were looking forward to the sunshine and heat.

Brisbane summer skyline

Before we began our international travels, I did a fair amount of research on koalas–those wonderfully fuzzy, sleepy marsupials. My goal in going to Australia was to see one. Imagine my delight when I found out one of the most notable koala sanctuaries is in Brisbane!

I was like a kid in a candy store the day we took the bus to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Lone Pine opened in 1927 as a sanctuary for injured, sick and orphaned koalas. They have since expanded to include kangaroos, wallabies, and other animals native to Australia. Their signature experience is for visitors to hold a koala. You betcha I signed up for that! After a bit of a wait in line with all the other koala cuddlers, I stepped up to hold my little buddy, a youngster named Chester. I can report koalas are as sleepy and soft as they look.

My new BFF, Chester

Having ready-made tour guides in Australia was certainly a bonus. My friend, Corey and his wife, Leanne, picked us up at our apartment and drove us into Brisbane for lunch at a sidewalk bistro in the downtown. It was great to meet Leanne and get caught up with Corey (has it really been more than 40 years!?) It also wasn’t lost on me that it was December and I was sitting outside in a sundress, drinking iced tea. That kind of December could grow on a girl who hates being cold!

The following day, Leanne and Corey invited us down to their neck of the woods on the Gold Coast for a New Year’s Eve day full of beaches, sunshine, and more great conversation. Packing a swimsuit with the expressed purpose of swimming in the ocean on December 31st felt like madness to this Oregon Coast native. However, I’m happy to report that the water was a refreshing break after walking along the coastline in the full Australian summer heat.

Mark and I with Corey, our awesome American/Aussie friend

Far East

January 1, 2020 found us winging our way to Thailand! We hadn’t originally planned on visiting South East Asia, but we had two weeks to kill before heading to Portugal. Why not spend it somewhere even warmer than Australia?

We quickly threw together a plan to visit Chang Mai in northern Thailand and the southern island of Phuket, with a day or two in Bangkok. We figured that would be plenty of Big City for us, and we were right. It was everything you watch and read and hear about.


The Big Buddha

The mass of people, the wild traffic, and the constant assault by vendors just trying to eke out a subsistence living were overwhelming. Fortunately, we’d chosen to only spend one full day there. We toured a few different Buddhist temples (called Wats). There are temples everywhere in Thailand, ranging from huge complexes that take up multiple city blocks to little 1’ x 1’ shrines next to the sidewalk. A couple different times, locals took the time to explain what various elements and rituals meant. Very much appreciated…

Getting around the city included a tuk tuk ride, which was pretty much exactly as we’d heard it would be—dodging in and out of traffic; battling countless scooters, cars and trucks for space; passing cars via the parking lane (or the on-coming lane) whenever possible.

Check out this video we found on YouTube. This wasn’t our ride, but very similar. You’ll get a good feel for it.

Video by Zspot 1 YouTube

The ride also included the requisite stops at the suit shops. The drivers have a deal with the shop owners and are compensated for dropping tourists off to listen to the sales pitch and peruse the wares. We listened to the hard sell, but didn’t walk away with any suits…

Chiang Mai

Next, it was a quick flight to the city of Chiang Mai, which was a lot less crazy and a little less smoggy. We stayed in the old city with its remnants of the centuries-old protective walls and moats. The city is made up of a few straight primary streets and umpteen narrow, winding, minor streets. Thankfully, Google Maps had them all figured out, otherwise we’d still be wandering around trying to find our hotel.

Looking down the street from our hotel in Chiang Mai

Beyond just exploring our way around, we sprang for some fun tours involving bikes, food, hiking, temples and elephants. Our first tour was an evening bicycle foodie tour around Chang Mai’s old town. We rode to several little “hole in wall” restaurants enjoying the traditional foods of northern Thailand such as grilled red tilapia, sticky rice, wrapped mince pork with red curry, Pickled Tea leaf salad, and, of course, Phad Thai. A quick stop at the night-market led to snacking on fried bamboo worms (yes, I ate one!), and finally a stop at the dessert shop for samples of just a few of over 40 different colorful, fruity toppings over shaved ice.

Fried bamboo worms have a soft crunch with a subtle, nutty taste

A few days after our culinary bike adventure we hired a hiking guide. As it turned out Mark and I were the only ones signed up for the day so we had our guide, “Mr. Bond,” as he preferred to be called, all to ourselves. Our goal was the summit of Doi Pui, with a stop along the way at Wat Doi Suthep. The temple was first established in the 1300s and the pagoda purportedly contains some of the Buddha’s remains.

Although not far from Chiang Mai, the hike would take all day as the temple is at the top of a very steep climb. Mark and Mr. Bond had no trouble on the hike. I, on the other hand, felt like I was coming down with stomach flu and took it much slower than hoped. Perhaps those fried worms were seeking revenge… Mr. Bond patched me up with some smelling salts (no joke) and I slowly felt better.

Once on the Wat Suthep grounds Mark and Mr. Bond did their stair climb for the day up to the site of the temple itself. After that stop, we continued to the summit and views of the extremely steep valleys dotted with tiny villages. We stopped at one at the end of the hike and Mr. Bond made us a delicious hot lunch. Yummy!

Our last, and most exotic tour, was to an elephant sanctuary. There are several organizations in the hill country around Chiang Mai that care for elephants who have been rescued from circuses and other performance venues. At these sanctuaries the elephants are allowed to roam the jungles without being whipped or being required to carry humans.

We rode a jeep filled with a few visitors from all over the globe up to a remote village an hour from Chiang Mai. We changed in to the tribe’s traditional tunics and set out to meet our elephant buddies. Our first task was to feed them big chunks of raw squash. They were eager and loved snatching the food from our hands. Or, they would open wide for the squash to be placed in their mouths. That was a bit intimidating!

Our next task was to walk with our buddies down to the river to bathe. This was a hoot! The adolescent female had a bit of a crush on Mark and wouldn’t leave his side. At least until the sack of squash he was carrying was empty… At the river, the elephants went in first and we joined them, splashing and “bathing” them.

Best friends. Maybe because one of them is carrying food!

After our swim with some BIG friends, we walked back to the village and were treated to the traditional foods of the area. The hill people of Thailand fed us well and provided a day we’ll cherish forever.

Sunny Phuket

With lasting memories made in Chiang Mai, our next adventure was much more typical “touristy”. We flew south to Phuket Island (pronounced “Poo-ket”). We definitely enjoyed the sun and beaches, but were less than impressed by the tourist hordes. Yes, we realize we were counted among those hordes, but the focus was now less on Thai culture and more on making the foreigners happy at all times. Many of those foreigners from across the globe were self-absorbed and embarrassing. It confirmed to us that America doesn’t have the market cornered on entitled behavior. But, despite them, we had a blast doing mostly nothing but swimming and people watching on the beach.

We did manage a couple days of special activities. First, we took a boat tour to the iconic Phi Phi islands east of Phuket. While the clear, warm ocean water was wonderful, one major annoyance were the stinging jellyfish larvae. Whenever we got in the water, I couldn’t figure out what the occasional small zaps to my skin were. Our boat tour guide said it was “sea lice.” My Google search clarified that sea lice are actually microscopic jellyfish larvae. As a bonus, once you’ve been stung by them they leave an enzyme that makes you easier to find next time you’re in the water, thereby making you their favorite thing to sting. No more swimming laps from one end of the beach to the other for me.

Our time in Thailand was quickly coming to a close. We decided one way to take a piece of the yummy fun with us was to learn how to cook a few traditional dishes. We hired a chef for an evening of Thai cooking. She took us to the outdoor market to buy fresh ingredients for our 3 main courses and desert: Shrimp Phad Thai, cashew chicken, and green curry, and mango sticky rice. Back in her kitchen she walked us through each step of preparations and cooking. And then we ate, of course! We have copies of the recipes with us, but I’m not entirely sure we’ll be able to replicate the dishes. I’m looking forward to giving it my level best, though.

All-in-all Thailand was a fun side-trip on our way to Europe. We’d consider going back to northern Thailand to see a couple smaller cities. While the constant mosquito watch gets a little tiresome, the sun, people, beaches, elephants and temples made it a trip for the memory books.

Go With Me Kiddos….


Remember when going to a foreign country you are a visitor. You’ll find that at least some English is spoken by people throughout the world. But, you shouldn’t expect it. You should arrive prepared to speak a least a few simple phrases such as please, thank you, you are welcome, hello and goodbye are a good start.

New Zealand

When we visited New Zealand we knew we wouldn’t have a language barrier to be concerned with because their main language is English. Easy peasey, right? We quickly found out that there are a few differences. Try some of these out for yourself:

Car park–a parking lot

Trundler–shopping cart (also called a Trolley)

I always return my trundler. Do you?

Takeaway–a “to go” order

Toilet–you don’t ask “May I go to the bathroom?” or “Where is your restroom?” You ask for the “toilet.” Which makes a bunch of sense since that’s what you’re likely going to use there. You’re not necessarily going to bathe or rest in that room. Right?

Cheers–goodbye and have a good day


Track–a trail that you hike (tramp) on

Mrs. Leedom, tramping on the Routeburn Track

Mate–a friend

Buggered/knackered–really tired


New Zealanders also use many words from the language of the first people who lived there, the Maori. A few Maori words and phrases:

Kia ora (Key-or-a)–Hello

Haere Ra (High-reh-reh)–Goodbye

Ka Pai (Kah pie)–Good work

Can you guess what the sign says in the Maori language?


The Thai language was VERY hard for us to learn. To begin, Thailand has their own alphabet that is completely different than what most western countiries use. Below is an example of Thai writing.

The Thai writing is on top with the English translation below it. We tried to not let the Thai language make us anxious

We basically kept our conversation to “Hello” and “Thank you.” But, there are two ways to say thank you. Males say, “Khob khun kob”. Females say, “Khob khun ka.”

Go online to find examples of the Thai language. What are your observations about their alphabet?


We’re headed to Portugal next. Come with me prepared to know how to say these words and phrases: Hello. Goodbye. Thank you. You’re welcome. Do you speak English?

Here’s a helpful hint when looking these up on the internet: there are two types of Portuguese, Brazilian and European. We will be in Portugal. Is Portugal in South America or Europe? Which type of Portuguese will we need to learn then?

Until next time…

Go With Me…

Little Susan in a Big World

Small country, great big nature. That’s what we discovered as we finished up our excursion on the South Island. We had three big goals left, all on the west coast: Milford Sound, the Routeburn Track and Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Back to the Rain

There was no avoiding it now. We had hut reservations with the Department of Conservation along the Routeburn Track for our 3 day backpacking trip. (“Track” is Kiwi for trail.) Rain or shine, we had to travel back to Fiordland to do one of New Zealand’s most spectacular hikes. The small town of Te Anau would be our home base for the week leading up to our trek.

When we arrived in Te Anau the lake was spilling over its banks. The rain of the previous weeks was causing flooding here and across the South Island. Our hope for a day-hike on the Kepler Track, another premier trail, was washed away with the rains. We later heard from someone who was on the Kepler that one section of the trail was flooded waist-deep, with no way around. Kepler is designated as one of the Great Walks in Fiordland, with stunning views and waterfalls in abundance. We had high hopes of day trips along her trail. However, with water crossings necessary in places we chose to hunker down inside our motorhome, instead, and listen to it rain…and rain.. and rain. “Backpacking is certainly going to be a joy”, I said sarcastically.

Routeburn here we come…we hope.

Milford Sound Times Two

The famed Milford Sound is about a 2 hour drive from Te Anau. We studied the weather and Googled the forecast for the best window of opportunity for our boat tour, hoping to avoid getting soaked. We found a day! Not really sunny, but promising not to rain. That worked for us.

However, this meant sitting in our home on wheels for another day. Mark suggested we make use of those wheels and drive to Milford Sound the day before our boat tour just to kill time and see some of the beauty ahead of time. We had read that Milford Sound has a completely different look when it’s raining. We had no idea. After winding our way through lovely farmland and the national park entrance, the road began to gain altitude and we started noticing the waterfalls. “Look! There’s another one!” “Wow, those are big.” Reaching the summit and through a long tunnel, the landscape immediately changes to sheer mountain sides with little vegetation. And waterfall, after waterfall, after waterfall. It was stunning! I was hanging my head out of the window, pointing and squealing to Mark about each one. Unfortunately, he was driving the long, narrow, winding, steep decent…so, he had to pay attention to keep us alive. We made it to the Sound and noted the location of the campervan parking lots and the ferry docks, but mostly marveled at the scenery and looked forward to or tour the next day.

Little Susan in a Big, Wet World

What a difference a day makes! The next day: a glimpse of sun! Rain gear packed, nonetheless, we headed back to Milford Sound. We noticed along the way that the waterfalls weren’t flowing as strongly as the day before. They were still beautiful, but the volume of water had diminished significantly. Boy, were we glad we had seen the show the day before.

On board our small tour boat, we quickly found a prime spot on the bow. Milford Sound is everything you’ve heard of; stunning blue water, sheer mountain sides, unbelievable waterfalls, the Tasman Sea. We even saw sea lions and a few more penguins. We never did see the dolphins that were promised, though. During the tour we met up with a young couple from France. We chatted, shared travel stories and experienced the wonders of the Sound together. And…it didn’t rain! In fact, the sun came out. We were blessed, indeed.

Blue sky, blue waters, big mountains

Routeburn Bound!

“The Day” had arrived. Come hell or high water, we were going to hike the Routeburn Track, another one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Along the way there are huts–communal bunk houses–available to sleep in. Aside from the sleeping area, each hut provides common dining and kitchen areas, complete with gas hobs (stovetops) and sinks.

Day One began at The Divide trailhead on the west end, heading to MacKenzie Hut where we’d spend our first night. The morning hung onto the clouds and drizzle from the previous days, so we dressed in our full rain gear, including our backpack rainflies. Even with all the weeks’ rain, the track was in great shape. Along the way, we passed waterfalls, walked along steep drop offs, caught glimpses of the peaks above us, came across an old orchard, and made our way down a steep decent to the MacKenzie Hut in the late afternoon.

Rain jacket and pants. Nothing is gunna make me cold and wet! As it turns out, it wasn’t rainy.

Along the way we met the MacKenzie’s (YUP!) taking a breather at the orchard. We had a brief exchange of pleasantries and then continued on our way. Once we’d settled into the hut, we started to get to know them a little more. Bryan and Helen MacKenzie were backpacking with family and friends. Unfortunately, over the passage of time we’ve “misplaced” a few of their names, but do recall Outdoorsman Dave, Anthony, Rosie, and… We’re still trying to remember Helen’s brother and sister’s names… So embarrassing–please forgive us!

We started out as “the Americans.” They invited the Americans to eat dinner with them. They invited the Americans to hop in the lake with them. (We politely declined a dip in the glacial waters…) They invited the Americans to hike with them. Bryan even talked politics with the Americans. By the next morning, we were simply Mark and Susan.

MacKenzie Hut
Clear water of Lake MacKenzie reflecting the green surroundings

Day two started with a slight detour. The rains had raised the lake level enough to flood the trail and make it impassable. The detour wasn’t particularly long, but it took us over and around the boulders the glaciers deposited at the lake’s end. Once past that, we started to climb from the lake up to the higher ridges. We hiked along the ridges and down mountain valleys, past waterfalls and along mountain sides.

I was hugging the edge, but not terrified. I’ve come a long way, baby!

We also seemed to be wherever the MacKenzie’s were. We’d catch up and pass them, exchanging friendly banter. They would catch and pass us. More banter. Eventually, they adopted us in to their hiking group. Mark was invited by Outdoorsman Dave to go off-trail for some more picture taking opportunities up the Valley of the Trolls. Leaving me in the solid care of Bryan and Helen, I continued to the day’s destination: Routeburn Falls Hut. We arrived a few hours before Mark and Dave, but they eventually made it with big smiles having survived the trolls.

Little Susan in the Big World
Picture by Bryan MacKenzie
Helen and Me
Picture by Bryan MacKenzie

Day Three. There was no hiding it now, we were part of the family! The MacKenzies (and company) and the Leedoms. We packed our backpacks, said one last goodbye to the mountain parrots who had been chattering and dropping rocks on our hut roof, and headed out for our easiest day yet. Getting out was pretty much all downhill and along a beautiful river. We took our time, chatting with our new BFF’s, resting by the Route Burn (River), and taking lots of pictures. By now it was fabulous short sleeve weather!

We rode the shuttle back together, exchanged email addresses and promised to stay in touch, which we have. The scenery is great and the Department of Conservation does impressive work with their Great Walks. But, for me the experience was made even more spectacular by the connections we made with this eager group of North Island Kiwis.

A meeting of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres
A lovely walk along the amazing turquoise water of Route Burn


Our last big adventure in New Zealand was to spend a day in and around Aoraki, New Zealand’s tallest mountain (aka Mt Cook). The DOC has a lovely campground tucked in near Aoraki’s neighbors. But, to see the mighty guy you have to hike over 10km return (that’s “roundtrip” for most of you) down a lovely trail near the campground. We had planned to do that at sunrise the next day to see the alpenglow. We had arrived in a rainy downpour (of course) and hunkered down in our motorhome to hide from the weather. In the late afternoon the weather cleared and we were a bit stir crazy, so we decided to just see a little of the trail we’d be going on the next day. We ended up hiking the whole thing!

Sunrise at Aoraki/Mt Cook

Of course, we still hiked the trail the next day as well…at dawn! It was a magical experience and seemed faster and easier the second time around. We missed the alpenglow on Cook, but did enjoy it on the ridges along the way. Sunrise on Aoraki was stunning nonetheless!

Alpen glow on the neighboring mountains
Good morning, world!!

After thousands of kilometers, our adventures in New Zealand were coming to a close. Time to turn in our motorhome. Next, we laid low in an Airbnb in Christchurch and then another in Auckland, allowing us to slow life down a bit. We connected once again with dear friends Garth and Elizabeth for Christmas dinner. And we appreciated how awesome it is to be able to shower in your own home, how terrific a flush toilet can be, and thanked life for how great it is.

There’s more to see in this world, though, so…

Go With Us…

Pictures by Mark Leedom unless otherwise noted

South Island Adventures

Our first night on the South Island

When last we met, our North Island travels were coming to a close and South Island adventures lay before us. We had turned in our smaller campervan in Auckland, hopped on a flight to Christchurch and picked up our next campervan. The South Island proved to be as lush and full of spring as the North, with rhododendrons and lupine greeting us on the roadsides.

Our big draw to the South Island, however, was the mountains: The Southern Alps and Fiordland. We headed west toward Arthur’s Pass, spending the night in Springfield where we met Lee’s Friend. (See my last post 😉) It was soon obvious that the weather on the west side was a bit “crankier” than the east. Arthur’s Pass was socked in with clouds, but beautiful, nonetheless.

Those clouds hold a lot of rain!

Franz Joseph Glacier

Once on the west coast, we made our way to the community of Franz Josef, just below the Franz Josef Glacier. Even though it was a bit drippy out we were making the best of it. We hiked to the glacier through the rain forest and along the river rocks. Franz Joseph has receded significantly over the years, but the New Zealand Department of Conservation has pushed the trail out to an easy viewing area. Easy, that is, if it were a brilliant blue sky. The clouds lifted now and again, and I stood amazed at the blue tinted ice. Another bucket list item…

Franz Josef Glacier

We’re 21 hours ahead of Oregon, so we celebrated Thanksgiving a day “early.” Having no turkey or oven to cook it in, we went to the local pub! After dark, we walked quietly into the rainforest behind our campground to see the glow worms tucked in the branches. Whispering to avoid disturbing them, we walked along the path, amazed at the pin pricks of light surrounding us.

Running From the Rain

A girl can only handle so much rain, though. And rain it did. There was yet another front coming in from the west, carrying the promise of extended downpours. Several of the trails we were hoping to hike in the Southern Alps were closed, or carried warnings of dangers from the rain, so we bailed and drove to the east coast to enjoy the south Pacific sunshine. South of Dunedin and north of Milton we found a park right along the beach. Brilliant blue skies during the day and the most stars you’ve ever seen at night. Mark grabbed his camera and tripod and we headed out to the beach at midnight. Orion’s Belt was there to greet us as a familiar friend. We were introduced to new sights as well. The Southern Cross was likely there somewhere, but all we saw was the Fake Cross. We also saw two other galaxies visible to the naked eye!

The night sky over Dunedin. The smudge in the upper center of the picture is a satellite galaxy to the Milky Way.


Back over on the Tasman shore, before we bailed on the weather, we had caught a glimpse of the Fiordland crested penguins. Now, we were biding our time on the Pacific coast, where I knew the famed blue penguins lived. To say the least, I was antsy to see them, so we headed to Oamaru, home of one of the largest blue penguin colonies. Blue penguins are the smallest of their kind in the world. Heading out to the ocean in the morning, they feed all day, and return to their nests about 30 minutes after sundown. The evening of our visit, a smattering of people lined up along the shore waiting for their quiet arrival. One by one, slowly, they began to emerge from the water and waddle onshore. They are, indeed, little and adorable. And noisy!! As soon as they meet up with their buddies, they are noisy little buggers. We stuck around till about 11pm watching the little guys make their way home, being one of the last groups to leave. When we returned to our campground little blue penguins greeted us there, too. A larger one just sat on some stairs leading up to the toilets and communal kitchen. And, they talked noisily all night long, until around 5am when they waddled back to the ocean.

Cute and noisy! Little blue penguins

Far From Home

Next, we hopped in our motorhome and waddled ourselves further and further south. Eventually we made it to the southernmost point of the South Island. We were closer to Antarctica than the Equator! The point is windy and stark and oddly understated. Strangely, I was the most homesick I’ve been at that very point. I was the most removed from my friends and family. Thankfully we’d be heading back north again soon.

Waving at Antarctica

Milford Sound and our big backpacking adventure awaits us, so we motor on…Northwest…

A Glimpse of What’s To Come…

Our adventures are grand, but I still miss you, so….

Go With Me!

Go With Me, Kiddos

Welcome to the special edition of Go With Me. This one is for those little adventurers who went with me to discover the Kiwi bird. When I last visited with you I had expressed interest in knowing more about this national bird of New Zealand. At that point, I had not seen one yet. But now…

At Te Puia Maori Village I had the opportunity to quietly observe several Kiwi birds. The Maori have built a nocturnal enclosure where visitors can silently watch their movements. It was dark in there and finding them was quite a trick, but that’s kind of the point! They don’t want to be seen.

What I know and What I Learned

When we last chatted I left you with some questions to research about Kiwi like where they live, what type of animal they are and how they behave. Now I have some information for you to analyze. Before you read any further, make 2-column notes to compare what you know to what you’re going to learn. On the left side is what you already know. Go ahead and list what you’ve found out about Kiwi birds since we last visited. Go ahead….I’ll wait for you…

Done? Nice! Now on the right side you’ll start listing things you’ve learned from the pictures below.

Honorary Mammal

I found the information about their course feathers interesting. Their feathers are more like hair. What surprised you from this info picture?

Kiwi Characteristics

I already knew that kiwi foraged for food at night. But, I didn’t know they got most of their water from what they eat, like earthworms. Eewww… Tell me what you found fascinating from this info picture.

Threats to Kiwi

During our hikes my husband and I would see stoat traps along the trails. They were rectangular boxes with a small hole in the corner for the animal to enter. We had no idea what a stoat was until a Department of Conservation Ranger explained that they are a small weasel. They were brought over to New Zealand years ago for people to hunt for their furs. Now the buggers are destroying the kiwi population. But, the trapping efforts are beginning to help.

Helping Kiwi

During our road trips we saw those distinctive yellow signs warning us of kiwi habitats nearby. Thankfully we never saw any dead or injured ones on the road. Those signs must be helping!

Kiwi Conservation

Thankfully, many good people are working hard to ensure successful kiwi recovery.

What Did You Learn?

What knowledge did you gain from these info pictures? Remember to add those facts to the right side of your 2-column notes. I’d love to hear from you either directly to this blog or in a private email. When responding directly make sure you leave your name off of your work and you get parental approval since this is a public blog.

And remember…..

Go With Me Somewhere…

Packing in a Bucket Load of Bucket List

It feels like we’ve been on our journey for months now. We’ve seen so many new and interesting things. Often when time feels longer than it is, it’s because people are doing boring or loathsome tasks. For us, that is not the case. I’m pretty sure the sheer volume of adventures makes this feel like it’s been longer than it has been. When I last left you, we had been bouncing back and forth between the east and west coasts of the North Island.

Te Puia: An Explosive Experience

Puhutu overachieving

Some of our biggest North Island adventures were still ahead.  After visiting the northlands, we set out to explore the central part of the island, which features geothermal activity and volcanoes. A stop in Rotorura gave us a chance to visit Te Puia, a Maori cultural center that also includes geysers, mud pots, and other geothermal activity. They also have an arts and crafts institute, dedicated to teaching and preserving the Maori culture. We started our visit with a beautiful Maori welcoming ceremony and tour of the traditional arts institute. We then ventured on our own to view the geothermal theatrics. We’ve been to Yellowstone, so mud pots and steam vents aren’t new to us. However, Te Puia takes geysers to an entirely different level. Their “Old Faithful” geyser, Pohutu, erupts about every hour. However, she’s quite the overachiever. We watched her erupt for nearly 45 minutes before we said, “Sheesh! Give it a rest, girl!” and moved on.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Our adventures in the North Island were coming to a close, but we had two Hobbit Geek related stops to make first. The first one was the epic hike on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, where Frodo threw the Ring of Power into Mt Doom. The Crossing is considered one of the top day hikes in the world in an area with dual World Heritage Site status. It’s 19.4 km (12 miles) across an active volcanic zone. I was blissfully ignorant about what lie before me. It ended up being one of the hardest and most rewarding tasks of my life.

The view of Mt Nguaruhoe (Mt. Doom) at the start of the hike.

It wasn’t the 12 miles, the volcanos, the altitude gain, or the high winds. I’ve done harder hikes along the John Muir Trail in California. My nemesis is heights. I’ve come a long way over the years, but trails that climb high along a sheer drop off still freak me out. ” To tears” kind of freak out.

We were doing good. Hiking steadily upwards along the flanks of the South Crater towards Mt Doom, the wind started picking up. We still had to climb to the Central Crater, then up to the summit of Red Crater. The winds reached a steady 25-30 MPH while we climbed the narrow ridge. Mark had to walk on the other side of me to keep me from falling during gusts that knocked me over. The trail up the crater hugs the edge. The drop off is precipitous. I am freaking out, but I can’t bail. I can’t. I HAVE to go forward. One step in front of the other, Mark is my encourager. I didn’t stop to catch my breath because I wanted the damn thing over with.

Volcanic scree slopes that freak me out

The top! Mark held me close, telling me how proud he was of me. I started crying, relieved that the hard part was over. So, next was the climb down to the gorgeous blue and green pools with views of Mt. Nguaruhoe (Mt. Doom) and Red Crater. Easy peasy, right? We turned the corner to make our descent and I let out a stream of expletives! A LONG, narrow, steep decent on volcanic scree. No trail. Just loose rock on a narrow ledge with certain death on either side, or so I perceived it to be.

It took about 45 minutes, but I made it down because Mark was there. The other hikers passing me were thrilled at all the fun of “sledding” down the rockslide. I was shaking, but not crying (maybe a little on the inside).

We made it down. I relaxed and began to enjoy the otherworldly views. Mark walked around the emerald pools and I met him on the other side. As I hiked, I started crying, again. This time because I was so danged proud of myself.

The Emerald Pools

Heading back out of the crater the trail was once again hanging off the side of the mountain. This time, however, I was unphased. I’ve got this!

Who me? Scared? I wasn’t scared!

Big Fun in Hobbiton

Our last big event on the North Island required much less adrenalin. It was time to visit the Hobbits in the their very own Hobbiton. Peter Jackson and his crew have done an amazing job, combining the mythical Hobbiton with the very real countryside. Hobbit holes are  built into the hillsides, complete with round doors and windows, little flower and vegetable gardens, smoke wafting from some chimneys, and laundry hanging out to dry. Some are simple, others more fancy; Bilbo and Frodo’s house is the most impressive, of course. Samwise Gamgee’s is also very enchanting. Since I’m Hobbit-sized myself, I felt right at home. We even enjoyed a pint at the Green Dragon Inn. Even Mark, who apparently doesn’t think Middle Earth exists, was impressed.

Later in the week, we met an entertaining Kiwi gentlemen at one of our campsites on the South Island who shared several stories related to the filming of the movies. He was a retired sheep sheerer whose friend, Lee, had worked as a lead horse wrangler for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. Evidently, Lee was also a stand-in as Gandalf in the scene where Gandalf rides in to Hobbiton on a horse-drawn cart. Unfortunately, we have no idea what our new friend’s name is, so we just refer to him as “Lee’s Friend.”

Bilbo and Frodo’s Hobbit home

Packing in a wallop of adventures in a short period of time once again made us feel like more time had passed than actually had. In a good way, time had slowed down during each individual adventure, allowing us to take it all in and not rush our experiences. As always, you must..

Go With Me!

Go With Me Kiddos

Go With Me Kiddos will be posted as a separate blog this time. Keep an eye out for some Kiwi facts!

Until Next Time…

Let The Adventure Begin!

And it has! After a brief visit with friends, family and favorite places, we boarded a plane in LA and headed off the continent and hemisphere. We left on a Thursday morning and arrived in Auckland on Friday evening, 10pm New Zealand time. This meant that our Friday was only 2 hours long! An easy way to calculate our time difference (if you’re on the west coast) is subtract 3 hours and add a day. So, Grandma Susan is in tomorrow.

What tomorrow looks like!

Just Like Oregon Only With Accents

New Zealand is very much like Oregon, only with accents. It’s rained quite a bit since we’ve arrived. The countryside is green, rolling hills, and there’s a Pacific Ocean. One thing we’ve noticed, however, is that the people are friendlier, very helpful and not cranky. I’m sure there’s a cranky Kiwi somewhere out there, but we haven’t met any. They are proud of their country and thrilled we’re here to experience it.

A Little Getting Used To

North is warmer than the south, and the sun RISES over the Pacific. It’s Spring here, and getting warmer each day. Not that I’m complaining! 😊  Trundlers are shopping carts. The steering wheel is on the right and you drive on the left. You don’t mail letters, you post them. Garbage is rubbish. Light switches go down to turn on. Tramping is hiking. They have “automated” public bathrooms that talk to you and play music (“What the World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love) while you do your business.


Kiwis are helpful. Kiwis are elusive. Kiwis are yummy.

New Zealanders refer to themselves as Kiwis. They are helpful and chatty. Our first night in our caravan (small motorhome) our Kiwi neighbor chatted us up, asking where we were from, what we’ve seen already, and where were we headed. Another Kiwi friend had lived in the US, teaching Rugby. Yet another gave us great advice about what to see in the South Island. A friendly sales clerk admitted she has never left the North Island. Our new “BFF’s” talk to us freely, laughing and sharing as though we’ve been friends.

Kiwis are also the national bird. We have yet to see one. They are elusive, nocturnal and flightless. The government has an active program to protect them since their numbers have seriously declined due to dogs and other predators. I’m hoping to see one of the little rascals soon.

Many reminders as you tramp near their habitat

Kiwi…duh! Are also fruit. And, yes, they grow in New Zealand. I’ve had a few different varieties for breakfast. Yum! There are also avocados, figs and olives galore!

Oh! The Places We’ve Been!

Our first Saturday arrived and we headed to the “Caravan Store.” The thing to do here, whether you’re a Kiwi or a visitor, is to “caravan,” or camp. All set to go in our sprinter style motorhome, we headed  to Paihia and Opua along the Pacific (East) coast, in what’s known as Northland. Our friends, Garth and Elizabeth, are anchored off-shore Opua in their sailboat. We met them on the dock and wandered around looking at the historical sailing ships that were in port that day, then stopped for lunch. Later we took their dingy out to their abode and chatted like the good o’ days. Mark and Elizabeth had been work buddies for years at ODOT. They chatted about TPS reports and other important office gossip.


We stayed in the Paihia/Opua area for a few days walking (tramping) the bay and hiking trails.

One shoreline community we tramped around was Russell. From Paihia you board a passenger ferry for a 15 minute ride across the bay. The guidebook describes Russell this way: “Once known as the ‘hellhole of the Pacific’ Russell is a historic town with cafes and genteel B&B’s.” In the early 19th century the Maori allowed it to become NZ’s first permanent settlement. Apparently, that quickly attracted convicts and other lowlifes. Anywho…it’s a cute little town now and we had fun. 😊


Back on the Paihia side we tramped to Haruru Falls. The trailhead started on the  Maori Treaty Grounds, and wound through a palm and fern tree forest. It was on this “tramp” that I really began to notice the variety of birdsong. New Zealand has some real overachievers in the bird song department. It was fascinating. About 10 minutes in, Mark stopped abruptly. On the path, slightly off to the left, was a quail all puffed out, sitting on the trail, refusing to move. She beeped a few words at us and stayed put. Mark carefully and slowly began to move past her. At that point she freaked out and stood up. Out from underneath her ran at least a dozen tiny chicks. Quail dad came to the rescue from the underbrush and helped herd them to safety. Meanwhile, Mark and I are working like crazy to step lightly and not crush any of the brood. We were successful. Later, we found some type of shore birds nesting in trees along the estuary: Dozens of them. Some of them still on eggs, but most of them with chicklets peeping for food from their nests. I was over the moon excited about our discovery. Spring has sprung in New Zealand!

From the Northland we headed west to the Tasman Sea. It only takes about an hour or two to reach the other coast from Northland. On this trip we didn’t spend much time along that coastline. But we were able to see the lovely, rocky coast and choppy seas.

Tasman Sea

We headed inland again, taking the route along the old growth forest where the kauri trees grow. These trees are sacred to the Maori people and were breathtaking to visit. We visited Tane Mahuta, the biggest kauri tree in New Zealand. He started growing around 2000 years ago. His total height is 51.5 meters. His trunk is 13.8 meters around.  I could feel his spirit and presence. Awe inspiring!

The mighty Tane

We still have about 10 days in the North Island. We’ll go back to the Pacific coast and then turn inland south of Auckland. We’ll be visiting the geothermal areas of Rotorura and the magical Hobbiton!

More to adventures await. Go with me!

 Go With Me Kiddos!

The Kiwi bird fascinates me. I’ve learned a few facts about this flightless, nocturnal creature. I’d like to know more, though. Help me expand my knowledge of New Zealand’s national bird. Here are some questions I have that I need your help with:

* Kiwi are nocturnal. What does that mean? How could being a nocturnal animal help with survival?

* Kiwi are flightless. This means they can’t fly. If they can’t fly, how do they defend themselves?

* What do their homes look like? What do they eat?

* One predator of the kiwi is a stoat. What is a stoat? How do they harm kiwi?

* Kiwi have been called “the mammals of the bird world.” Why?

Do some more research and share it with me, please! I’d love to see your original art creations as well. Go online and find a picture of a Kiwi and recreate it.

Parents and teachers, feel free to post your child/students work here, but leave names off since this is a public blog. Or, you can send them via Messenger or email.

I look forward to your creations and added knowledge.

Until next time….