2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,400 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 40 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

May 31 Final Thoughts

I’m struggling to find something to add to my May 11 Almost Final comments.  They still feel very relevant, and I’m afraid I have not come up with anything more creative.

Not surprisingly, it remains difficult to blend our 2-month adventure with our ongoing “home life” – two different worlds, with different ways of existing in them.  We tend to think and talk about one or the other, never both at the same time.

I am printing up this blog so Peter and I can remind ourselves of all the adventures we experienced and especially so that we remember and remain proud of what we accomplished together.

And now it’s time to think about our next adventure – albeit shorter and less dramatic.

Almost Final Thoughts

The last week has definitely been focused on settling back into Toronto and home, renewing relationships and routines.  The weather has thrown a bit of a curve ball since it feels more like mid-June than early May, so we’ve had to concentrate on remembering what season it really is here at home, plus hustle to get the lawn and garden caught up with the weather!

The trip was such an all-encompassing experience that I have had some trouble organizing my thoughts.  Truthfully, it all feels like a dream at this point!  As time passes, it starts to become more real so here are some initial conclusions.

The Highlights:

New Zealand

  • The scenery generally
  • The Alpine Crossing hike
  • Mount Taranaki hike through rain forest into the clouds
  • Kayaking and hiking in Abel Tasman National Park
  • Hiking and climbing in Mount Cook
  • Boat cruises in Milford and Doubtful Sounds
  • Christchurch, and seeing firsthand the earthquake devastation and reconstruction


  • Hiking and flying over the Tasman Peninsula
  • Sydney
  • The Bungles in Purnulula
  • Kayaking, snorkelling and boat cruise in Great Barrier Reef/Hamilton Island


  • The scenery generally – it was visually stunning
  • Kayaking, swimming and snorkelling (and of course the over-ocean bungalow!)

Reviewing my highlights, I realize most of them have to do with physical activity outdoors!  So clearly it’s more impactful for me to be participating in the landscape than merely viewing it.

The Lowlights

Are very few and far between but definitely the major one was the 4WD camper van in the Kimberley.

How did the trip compare with our expectations?

Exceeded expectations:

  • How much went right!
  • How well Peter and I got along – incredibly well for being together 24/7 for 9 weeks in a lot of challenging circumstances.

Didn’t meet expectations:

  • The Driving – it was a lot more tiring and took up much more time and energy than we had anticipated
  • Australia Itinerary – it did not show us as much of the country as it could have.  With hindsight, we’d have done a lot less driving and a lot more flying.

I’m very grateful that:

  • Peter and I have the ability to have planned and completed this trip so successfully.
  • neither of us got sick before or during the trip.
  • my brother and sister were able to care for my parents while we were gone.
  • my parents remained hale and hearty while we were away.
  • we were able to maintain connectivity with home through Facebook, email and Skype.
  • we did so much planning and strategizing early on, including packing lists and acquiring the right gear a few months in advance.
  • all our flights and hotel reservations proceeded without any issues.
  • we used a travel agent as little as possible (and next time will not use one at all!)
  • any mistakes we made could only have been identified with hindsight.

Generally, we did this trip the right way for the two of us – with 8 of 9 weeks under our own steam – despite the extra effort it required.  Neither of us enjoys being shuttled around, waiting for slow or late people, getting to airports or ferry terminals hours in advance of when it’s actually necessary.  Plus even though we were often overwhelmed by busloads of tourists at different tourist attractions, it was nice to know we could get in our own car and leave whenever we wanted.

As a little more time passes, I hope I will have more insight and be able to more creatively sum up such a unique and remarkable experience!

susie at ALTITUDE  At the Mueller Hut, Mount Cook, NZ

_DSC2064 copy  The Bungles in Purnululu National Park, OZ

2222270Z-HEDKD6A150419WA~HE51092222270ZRU  Kayaking in the Great Barrier Reef OZ

_DSC0097  Snorkelling off our deck in Moorea

Alice Down the Rabbit Hole

And back up again.

That is exactly how I feel!  (I’d like to claim creative credit for that analogy but it comes courtesy of old friend Roger.)

I lived for 9 weeks in a strange world which felt completely separate from my regular world. And now I’ve hiked back up from Wonderland and into my regular world, but still working on how to correlate the two!

Thank goodness for email and Facebook which helped us stay current on people and places so we could come home feeling a little less displaced.

Next post (honest!) will have some final thoughts.

Our Trip “Down Under” by Peter

Sue and I enjoyed two great months travelling New Zealand and Australia or ‘OZ’.

This was a trip we long prepared for and anticipated. We could not do it sooner because of the amount of time we needed to be away. Because this was our first trip ‘Down Under’ we were sometimes surprised by unforseen challenges and at one point: in Broome Australia, things went off the rails and we had to change our plans. The issues were: the stifling heat, the need to have a four wheel drive, unexpected road closures and the volume of the luggage we had. The Kimberley has very special appeal but is at the same time a very tough place in which to travel, and photograph. This we found out the hard way. If we return to see the parts we missed it will be under different conditions, providing a higher level of personal comfort and by that I’m not referring to wheelchairs.

From a planning point-of-view Sue had done an incredible job and we had no major problems to speak off with numerous reservations and travel arrangements. This part was all smooth sailing. The blog Sue produced hopefully will get printed and for anyone interested in doing ‘Down Under’ as well: it would be a good read to start with.

If there are any issues about this experience which I would love to share with people, here they are. Some may know I’ve always been interested in conservation and how it’s done. I have strong feelings about that and watching what is happening down under has not reassured me, if anything, it has heightened my anxiety about how homo sapiens is doing. Part of my interest in conservation stems from personal experiences as a nature photographer and from the fact that my images were published in several environmental books: Endangered spaces (Monte Hummel, WWF), Islands of Hope (Lori Labatt) and Last Wilderness (Freeman Patterson).  These books were accompanied by the writings of several experts in the field on conservation.


Fyodor Dostoyevski once said: “Beauty Will Save the World”

When a beautiful area is discovered, my first question about it would be: how do we keep it beautiful? How do we prevent a chain of events that – to give an extreme example – led to the travesty that is the Niagara Falls area today. What we’ve discovered over and over in New Zealand and Australia is that the commercialization of conservation is well under way and it looks like little has been learned from the North American experience.

There is the issue of signs. The most obvious and in-your-face- sign of commercial activity is the billboard. The more you have of these the more you feel like you’re in Times Square. I love the blunt humour of the Kiwi signs though: “If you step off this trail you will fall and die”. But really the message is: good conservation tries to perpetuate the awareness that we’re in a wild place, untouched by Mankind. So signs, if absolutely necessary, should be small and unobtrusive. Structures, if any, should be painted in natural colours like brown and green. Trail maintenance should be minimal and concrete should not be used. Parking lots should remain small and outside the park if at all possible. Commercial venues should absolutely be banned within parks. Park entrance fees should be non profit.

Australia and New Zealand are unquestionably beautiful places.

If you want to come to these countries and enjoy their real beauty: there is plenty of unspoiled beauty to be found, but not in the places which all the books tell you are a: “Must See”. We fell into that trap and will not do it again. “Must See” has, for me, become synonymous with: “Avoid.”

Yes, Mr. Dostoyevski, Beauty May Save the World, but commercial exploitation of nature’s beauty might just make that very difficult. Let’s carefully reflect on how conservation can really help educate people and thereby help protect nature. And then consider the many ways the almighty dollar might corrupt those attempts. “Is capitalism not part of nature?”, you ask. I don’t think so. Nature would not give you a loan. It would feed you to a lion.

Invasive Species?

Another, smaller part, has to do with what in my eyes seems to be a deplorable waste of time, resources and effort in management of invasive species. This is not specific to ‘Down Under’ but seemed more visible in Oz and New Zealand than anywhere else in the world. I would simply refer to the recent book “Where do Camels Belong” by British ecologist Professor Ken Thompson. I totally agree with its contents. It downplays the seriousness of invasive species and emphasizes that the presence of species in certain geographical locations has never been a static thing: Dutch researchers have demonstrated clearly that there is normally a natural steady succession of different species in a given area. If there is one invasive species which we really need to regard with great suspicion it is Homo Sapiens.

Sun May 2 – Home but Majorly Jetlagged!

PS – just noticed I couldn’t even get today’s date right!

We arrived back HOME (to our actual front door!) about 11:00pm on Friday night. It was a very long trip home – 32 hours in total, although 18 of those were spent sitting around waiting in various buses and airport lounges! The last two flights of the trip, from Papeete to LAX and LAX to Toronto, seemed to take longer and be more challenging than any of the prior 12 flights but I suspect that was just our head space about returning home. But I’m very happy to report that we made it and so did our luggage!

Got to give BIG kudos to the airlines. Over the past 2 months, we had 14 flights and not one left late or was rescheduled, and not one lost or misplaced our luggage!

I spent most of yesterday in a daze, almost felt like I had vertigo. Trying to connect the strange experiences of the last 2 months, with our familiar home turf where all the old routines and habits fell into place almost immediately, with the warm (hot) weather here where we had left full-on winter behind. I have SO much to do and am struggling to get my energy to a productive level.

My mind is also still mushy I’m going to continue working on my final thoughts to post in a few days. Meanwhile, Peter is much more productive so the next Post is entirely his!

Wed April 29 / Thurs Apr 30 – Last Post from Afar

It’s Thursday afternoon and we’re waiting in the hotel lobby for our shuttle to begin the long trip home.

Yesterday was a nice hot and sunny day, and we got in a great kayak outing – broke all the rules with respect to staying within the boundaries and paddled to and around the island offshore from the hotel.  It was a gorgeous paddle in bright turquoise water.

For dinner, we left the resort and went to Le Coco sur la Colline, which is a lovely restaurant higher up than the resort so with a much broader view.   It is apparently a very famous restaurant in Papeete but they just opened this Moorea location 30 days ago.  It’s too bad they can’t get the Intercontinental to refer guests to them because it makes a wonderful change from the resort restaurant.  Peter was most excited because it had 2 geckos that wandered around upside down on the ceiling, busy catching flies. We had a terrific dinner there, nicely memorable for the last one of the trip (except for airports and airplanes.)

This morning after getting all packed up, we got in one last snorkel all around the resort and it was just lovely.  Saw even more new fish including some that are coloured in incredibly complicated patterns, and I kicked myself for the last time for not having an underwater camera.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been away for 9 weeks.  It sure flew by and I’m so glad I did this blog (over 70 entries!) because it will take us a while to process all that has happened.  Once we’re home, I’ll do one more entry on our final Final Thoughts, which we’ll be accumulating over the next couple of days.

IMG_3568  Farewell view of the South Pacific.

Tues Apr 28 – Oh, This is the Life!

Glad to say I’m feeling back to normal today, with my energy back.

We rented a double outrigger canoe this morning and went for a good long outing.  The water here is very turquoise and very clear and as we paddled, we could see all kinds of colourful fish swimming around beneath the boat.  It was really pretty awesome. (Once we figured out how to steer, that is!)  Unfortunately, because I was also paddling, I couldn’t take any pictures of us!  Where is that darn selfie stick anyway?!

This afternoon we picked up some snorkeling gear and jumped off our deck and went for another swim with the fishies.  The resort is surrounded by coral (even right under our deck!) and I have to say the varieties of fish we see here are almost as good as when we snorkeled off the Great Barrier Reef.  Today we saw several different angel fish, parrot fish, small vivid blue ones, big schools of orange roughy, big schools of some really pretty yellow ones, some almost transparent large white ones, etc etc. The only problem is that the snorkeling gear is not very good and I had a real fight with my mask. I eventually gave up and went back to the bungalow but Peter kept on for another hour or more.  Really really wish that we had an underwater camera with us.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on the deck, gazing out over the Pacific Ocean and we both agree that there is no better way to relax.  The weather is perfect now – hot in the sun but pleasant in the shade, not too humid.  We have had some nice accommodations throughout our trip, but this over-ocean bungalow in Moorea is the clear winner.

However both of us are definitely thinking of home.  We had a nice Skype with my parents first thing this morning, firming up our dinner plans with them for Saturday night. And it sounds like the weather is improving in Toronto so that’s good news too.  I’m really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again, not because it’s my own bed, but because it represents a return to normality and routine. I think it’s safe to say that both Peter and I are ready for that.

_DSC0036  Moorea landscape taken by Peter during his drive yesterday.

_DSC0097  Swimming in the ocean, right off our deck.

_DSC0135  Tonight’s sunset, shot from the deck.  (I’m trying to figure out how to pack up this deck and bring it home with me!)

Mon April 27 – Bump on a Log in Moorea

Or more precisely, lump on a deck!  I spent the whole day today lying on a chaise on our bungalow deck looking out over the Pacific Ocean.

I was not feeling very well, basically felt very tired and somewhat physically ill.  So I had no energy or motivation to accompany Peter on his hiking outing, and I literally did not move off the deck except to jump into the ocean every once in a while.

I suspect that I am having a huge letdown of the energy levels I have fought to sustain for 8 weeks to make sure all our plans played out as expected, and that I had some contingencies in mind in case there were any problems.  There is now nothing left to worry about except our 2 flights home and there’s not much to worry about with them – even if they do go haywire, there aren’t really any repercussions to deal with or plans to re-jig that can’t be solved by a quick email home.

So I’m not feeling too guilty about wimping out for one day!  And the best thing:  I was able to Skype with Rebeccah and Charlotte (and Ken) for about ½ hour in the afternoon.  It was terrific to catch up with them, it’s been such a long time since we’ve talked (8 ½ weeks to be precise!)

Peter was off hiking and driving and seems to have had a good afternoon, so that’s another reason I’m glad I stayed home – I didn’t interfere with his (much higher!) energy levels.

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be feeling more perky and we can take advantage of some of the activities the resort has to offer.  Peter is anxious to try paddling an outrigger canoe – if it happens, I’ll take pictures for sure!

IMG_3552  What I did today – view to the west.

IMG_3553  What I did today – view to the north.

IMG_3556  My swimming companions – right off our deck.

IMG_3560  Peter enjoying a swim after his much more energetic day.

Sun April 26 – Lying Low in Moorea

Quiet day in Moorea.  The weather is still cloudy and windy, with a little rain thrown in for good measure, so we didn’t do too much today.  Spent the morning on our computers – Peter editing his pictures and me watching the Diane Sawyer-Bruce Jenner interview!

In the afternoon, Peter went out photographing on his own and I read a book and then went paddle-boarding for the first time!  I actually really enjoyed it, and was surprised how much work it is!

After that, we jumped off the deck and went for a nice ocean swim before watching the sun go down. We were rewarded for our slothful day with our first dramatic sunset on Moorea.

Truthfully, I was happy to chill out today and I was happy to take advantage of a very private deck, watching the ocean and listening to the waves. Who knows when I’ll have the same opportunity again.

Pictures below are courtesy of Peter who seemed to have quite a bit more energy than me today!

Moorea scene  Some of the mountain scenery on Moorea.

Moorea Sunset  Our first dramatic Moorea sunset – captured from the deck of our bungalow!