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roadtrip

Unforgettable & Affordable Campervan Adventure! Melbourne to Sydney

Getting there can be half the fun!

campervan

There she is! Many adventures are about to happen with the aid of this cute campervan!

According to Wikipedia, a campervan is a self-propelled vehicle that provides both transport and sleeping accommodation. That sterile definition needs to be more elaborate as our beloved campervan was our fun hot rod during the day time, a kitchen at meal time, a mule train hauling our baggage, and most importantly our ticket to a wonderful four day romp through the incredible Australian countryside! Unbelievably, this great experience was an economic bargain as well, as through the resourcefulness of my wife (oh why oh why do I sometimes doubt her?) the campervan cost us only $5 a day!

JT_camper

Campervan = enjoyable and relaxing way to visit a country as vast and beautiful as Australia…as long as you listen to your navigator!

You read that right, $5 a day!

Others are free or they could charge anywhere from $1 to $50 or more a day, it varies by company. How does this work? There is a thriving rental business for camper-vans and motor-homes (the larger more luxurious cousin – these might have showers and sleep 6 people). People pay $100-$250/day to rent in major cities and then go to their chosen destinations. Once their destinations are reached the campers need to be relocated to the more desirable rental sites. These relocation trips have been formalized and enable the bargain booking that benefits the rental company and the renter, a win/win situation!

Britz_office

Checking out the campervan was a breeze. Happy, friendly and knowledgeable Britz employees at the Melbourne location helped get us on the road with a smile! Until we have to turn right. 

We were able to take a train from our recently completed Melbourne house sit to the Britz rental Melbourne office. It was a busy place with multiple employees walking renters through the paperwork and giving them brief demonstrations of the camper van’s features. We had a brand new Toyota Hi-Ace (6 KM) ready to take us out on adventure. Our van is the smallest available, which is good as there is just the two of us and it will be easier to drive than a bigger coach. We have never driven on the left side and, as anticipated, it takes a while to get used to a massive change of ingrained driving habits. This minivan features comfortable seats up front with bench seats in the back that convert to a bed.

wrong_way

Driving on the left side of the road takes some getting used to, if you do make a mistake there are plenty of reminders along the road, as well as in the passenger seat.

Accessible from the back is a small, powerful refrigerator, a 25 L water bladder feeding a small sink, and storage for the butane powered stove burner. The van is well equipped with crockery, pans, and cutlery. We nervously drive out of the lot and use Google to direct us to a Coles grocery store. We stock up with simple items plus a key necessity, bug repellent.  The soundtrack for the open road here is easy, Australia’s own AC/DC (sort of – our music streaming service, Amazon Prime, does not have the actual AC/DC, but it does have an excellent tribute band, Australian Thunder, who rock our campervan’s playlist sufficiently). It is time to get the road trip started!

Day 1 Kangaroo Spotting, Sculptures & Beaches

roo sign

Its exciting to see our first Kangaroo road sign. We can’t wait to see our first Kangaroo in the wild!

We have four days and three nights to turn in our van in Sydney (550 miles / 880 KM). It is an easy but boring direct drive. Australia is a massive country, the 6th largest in the world (as well as being the largest island). Australia is almost exactly the same size as the continental US, with only the population of Texas. The area we will travel is liberally sprinkled with many state and national parks. The beauty of the campervan is the flexibility in route and prioritizing your stops.

roadtrip

One example of the scenic drive we really enjoyed.

There are many options for a scenic route with mountain passes, beach roads, and rolling hills through the bush country. We tentatively have a route that incorporates a variety of scenery, starting with a drive to the ocean. Terry is a great navigator, helping me get through the awkward feeling of driving on the left as we work through the traffic on our way to the coast. Our eyes are scanning for our first view of a kangaroo.

McClelland Sculpture Park

mcclelland

Glad this is a sculpture, it’ll be pretty scary otherwise!

A sign for the McClelland Sculpture Park grabs our attention.  Do we like art? Yes. Do we have full bladders and a desperate need for a quick break? Absolutely. The McClelland Sculpture Park, a state funded enterprise, is a fascinating complex covering 40 acres (16 hectares) with over 100 outdoor sculptures connected by paths through both groomed grounds and natural greenery. A large visitor center with indoor galleries and cafe houses clean bathrooms decorated with art and tropical flowers.

Sculpture_Collage

A few of the eye-catching sculptures, on the top right is the kinetic sculpture called Tree of Life.

We spent over an hour wandering the trails, enjoying a variety of sculptures from that varied from a massive ape head and ram skull to a simulated bike wreck and falling climber.  Visually arresting, it was fun to turn corners in heavy brush and then be surprised by the next art installation. A favorite was a tall Phil Price Kinetic Sculpture called Tree of Life with circular rotating branches.

Mornington to SeaSpray

mornington

Colorful bathing boxes found along the beautiful beaches of Mornington Peninsula. These are similar to sheds with no electricity or water, however they have become a symbol of summer for the Peninsula and are now tourists attraction on their own!

Refreshed, we pushed on to nearby Mornington. This small town is known for its nice beaches, bathing boxes (above) and village atmosphere. Enjoying the views of the sea and sand, we also visit our first tourist information office.  A great asset for travelers, these volunteer staffed locations directed us to some of our favorite spots. Seeking to camp on the beach, we were directed towards Seaspray.  This tiny hamlet would be our entrance to Shoreline drive, a 18 mile stretch that follows Golden Beach along the Tasman Sea. Along this remote road there are 60 plus campsites and so far, in the diminishing day light, only 8 sets of campers. Now it is up to Mrs. Offpeaker to affirm a choice.

campervan_spot

Ahh finally…the perfect spot!

We will fast forward now to a time where the little van is easing into a parking spot in the dark. We are happy because we are parking, a site has been finally endorsed, we are a bit giddy upon having had a couple brief but satisfying views of shy kangaroos in our headlights, and we have experienced a full day motoring on Australian highways and we have not been attached by any rogue motorcycle gangs or brigands. My key research for our trip (which consisted of watching the “Mad Max” and “Roadgames” movies) indicated that homicidal maniacs would make an appearance at least as often as trees.  Glad that has not happened, but perhaps the killers are shy and will be emboldened now that it is dark.  Our camper is easy to set up, and by the time we have converted our car into our bedroom, we have recovered our good moods and are ready for our first night in the bush.

sunrise3

Pictures cannot do justice to this magnificent sunrise we witnessed over the Tasman Sea.  It really took our breath away! 

We are rewarded with both a restful night’s sleep and then a spectacular sunrise over Golden Beach. We have the beach to ourselves and are inundated with brilliant colors. It is our first morning on the Tasman Sea and we could not imagine one more beautiful or a better celebration that we were not murdered in our sleep.  Perhaps the danger was overstated in the movies or perhaps Mel Gibson chased the bad guys into the interior.  We decide to drive down to a visitor area to have breakfast. On our way we get to see additional kangaroos AND beautiful wild birds. In a short span we see our first Kookaburra and Scarlet Rosellas. Our little kitchen enables us to enjoy bush coffee and a quick breakfast. New friends are made with campers from New Zealand that gratefully use our bug repellent to dissuade the ravenous clouds of “Mozzies” (mosquitoes) that magically appear when you leave the comforts of the campervan.

loriku

(Top) Kookabara (bottom) 2 Scarlet Rosellas.  Even though they are fairly common, it is exciting to see these uniquely Australian birds up close in their natural habitat. 

Soon we are on the road towards Longford.  We sight a mother kangaroo and joey that do not run off.  Easing the van off the road, Terry gets out to take a photo, inexplicably turning back to the van to slam her door, with the kangaroo then bounding off before getting photographed.  With her typically good timing, Terry redeems herself by soon sighting a flock of yellow tailed black cockatoos.

black_cuckatoo

It’s fun to see these noisy yellow-tailed black cockatoos. Once you hear them, you will easily recognize them flying overhead (that and they are big as a kite!)

This interesting band of big birds is feeding in trees along the road.  The cockatoos prove to be more noteworthy than our stops at a historic suspension bridge or a 4 KM nature walk that featured grass and more mozzies.  Now we pull into Barnsdale’s information center.  While I get details on free camping spots in the region, Terry hits gold! When jokingly sharing that we have not seen any Koala’s, the volunteer excitedly tells us she knows just where to send us, and it is only 15 minutes away!

raymond_isle

Truth in advertising? We are really going to see KOALAS! In their natural habitat!

Koalas At Last

Just south of us, off of Paynesville, is Raymond Island. Koalas were introduced to the six square mile island in 1953 to help avert the fear of their extinction.  This has been a successful transplant operation as the original 32 now number over three hundred. Just two hundred yards from the mainland, we excitedly waited for the ferry boat.

wildlife_sign

We made it to the Island! Super stoked to start exploring and made a bet on who will spot the first Koala!

Once on the island, we headed for the established koala walk.  The walk starts in a city park, goes through a neighborhood of nice homes, then goes into a wooded forest. We ask an exiting tourist if they had any luck and they excitedly tell us they saw 12!  This amps up our adrenaline even more and we head down the trail ahead of a noisy approaching family. Probably we did not need to, as koalas prove to be sound sleepers.

JB_winner

And we have a winner! Those beautiful blue eyes are as sharp as can be especially when spotting cuties!

Our first sighting is a big fellow wedged in the crotch of a tree, perhaps 8 feet off the ground. It is exciting to see him, and truly looks so adorably cute that you want to grab him and hold him. Soon we see others, normally higher up. Their chosen eucalyptus trees have rather sparse foliage, so it is easy to spot them and watch them…sleep. We did see a few look around with drowsy eyes, shift into a better position then drift off again.  The limited nutrition in eucalyptus means that koalas sleep 20 hours or more a day.

koalas_sleeping

And here they are in various poses showing their prowess in sleeping.

The stocky creatures weigh from 9-33 pounds (4-15 kg) and live 15-18 years in the wild. They have one of the smallest brain size to weight ratios which makes them poorly adapt to change.  An example given is that koala cannot recognize picked leaves as food, they must be attached to the branch. We excitedly bounded along the trail to find more.  We would eventually see 16 koala (yes, we were striving to see more than the other travelers.)

Other wildlife spotted at Raymond Island

Left top to bottom: Echidna, Galah. Right top to bottom: Eastern Rosella, Tawny Frog mouth, Rainbow Lorikeet.  A tiny island with a vast array of wildlife.

We scan from the ground up as we excitedly see two echidnas along the trail. Echidnae are an egg laying mammal (like a platypus) that have a hedgehog like quills.  Cute and unflappable, they don’t care we are in the neighborhood. Terry’s keen eye finds beautiful birds along with the marsupials.  A flock of Galahs (rose breasted cockatoos) are a bright pink, vocal bird that are enjoying a meal in a nearby tree.  A well camouflaged family of 3 tawny frog mouth was fun to see. As well as more of the dazzling Rainbow Lorikeets, thankfully these colorful and playful birds are plentiful and will be a recurring companion in our travels.

dog_kayak

Towards the end of our walk we see the unusual sight of a dog in a kayak being pursued by a pair of large (8-20 lbs / 4-9 kilo) black swans.

We think the pair of black swans are no stranger to visitors, they swiftly and confidently swam up to us hoping for a handout. Raymond Island is a magical destination. It is surprising that it is not better known as many of our new Australian friends have never heard of it and have had very few opportunities to see koalas in action (at rest?). We are reluctant to leave but we want to get some additional traveling in before nightfall.

emu

Here’s looking at Emu!

Snowy River Basin

Mealtime is fun with the camper-van.  The area is generously populated with inviting picnic areas with views of mountains, beaches, rivers or just a quiet spot in the shade. As we head towards Orbost/Marlo to see the Snowy River basin, we see the interesting emu running in a sheep pasture. The national bird of Australia, at up to 6’4″ (1.9 meters) and weighing 45-130 pounds (20-60 kilos) this is the second largest species on earth. It looks to be a wild emu as the fence is quite low for the sheep. We watch it feed although the other (rare) cars that pass do not seem to find it of particular interest.

kangaroo

Finally a picture of Roos and these two seems to not mind being photographed!

Just outside Orbost we happen upon a slow thinking/reacting/moving kangaroos and get our treasured photo. We hope this unlocks the key to enhanced sightings in the future, but not too close. We cannot drive at night (no insurance coverage) due to the high frequency of kangaroo collisions. We are surprised by the size of both the Snowy River and of the huge pelicans that congregate around the area. There are few cars, and we are by now semi-experienced in driving on the left hand side of the road.

pelican

Your looking at a bird with largest bill in the Avian world, the Australian Pelican. The record-sized bill was 50 cm (20 in) long! 

The Barnsdale tourist center had also told us of a great free camping area in Genoa. It turns out an opportune place to stop for the night, getting there 30 minutes before dusk. A tiny hamlet with a population of 300, this camping area is lush, well designed as has a nice bathroom and plumbing (yeah!). Our second night out is peaceful and restorative.

genoa

Free campsites can be found throughout Australia, but remember to make a donation for upkeep!

We rise with the sun and are quickly on the road.  We have decided to have brekkie after we have driven a distance. The road rewards us with interesting views. We see dead wombats, and these nocturnal cousins of the koala would be a terrible accident.  Looking like large barrels with stumpy legs, they can be 40 inches long (1 meter) and weigh 85 pounds.

rockpool at the stop

What a find, if its warm enough the rock pool would’ve been great but it was a cool morning.

In two hours we drive through parts of two National Parks (Nalbaugh and Nungatta) and a state park.  We find a nice, but empty rest stop that has covered picnic tables.  Rest areas can have a scenic trail to the outhouse. We are consistently surprised how nice the outhouse toilets are:clean and fresh/no smelling. We would do well to discover the housekeeping practices of their forest service.

sheep

Plenty of grass, clean air, blue skies and sunshine, no wonder Australia’s lamb is topnotch.

After breakfast we look over the rock pool indicated on the sign and use our on board sink to wash dishes. After climbing through an interesting mix of pines and ferns, we break out on table land on top and see beautiful pastures home to the largest sheep we have ever seen.

To Australia’s Capital, Canberra

bombala

The platypus proved to be elusive, we spoke to locals who have never seen them in the wild.

We work into a lovely little town, Bombala, that labels itself as “Platypus Country”. We detour to the platypus reserve. Beautifully landscaped along the river, we see flowers and birds but none of the elusive platypus. We spend an enjoyable 30 minutes at the town’s tourist center, learning much about the area and the ranching as one of the staff raises Merino sheep. The Snowy River Scheme, a huge series of 16 major dams on the river’s upper reaches is highly recommended to us as a must see. We just do not have time as we must turn in the van in Sydney the following day.

flying_foxes

The noise stops when they are resting, otherwise, these Australian Flying Foxes or Giant Fruit bats can make some noise.

Our path is the direct road through the capital city of Canberra, and inland city of 403,000.  Canberra was a compromise choice as capital between the two large cities of Sydney and Melbourne.  We only spent an afternoon in the capital, but we happily saw the National Museum and a flock of frenzied flying foxes.  The flying foxes had been disturbed from their nesting trees by construction workers taking down stages and fencing from a festival.  That same work had the area directly by the foxes closed off, but we loved seeing the terrifying but harmless bats shrieking and winging around.  Flying foxes eat (in order) nectar, pollen and fruit.  They do not have sonar but adults have an average wingspan of 3.5 feet (1.2 m).  The museum was nice but two things disappointed me.

nma

The National Museum of Australia preserves and interprets Australia’s social history, exploring the key issues, people and events that have shaped the nation. Notice the Braille on the wall? I don’t know what it means, apparently there are hidden Braille messages scattered in the building. 

The natural science (think platypus) was closed for work and the remaining, admittedly massive, well lit, modern space seemed to be haphazardly organized with very short descriptions and no consistency of content  You might see a few things about tennis and then information on Holden Motors then something about a telescope. Almost like items at a garage sale. Canberra itself looks clean, sleek and brand new.  Sort of like an Ikea store municipality.  It was interesting to see Captain Cook’s cannon rescued from the reef where he was temporarily stranded, hear about an incredible sheep shearer Jack Howe who sheared 321 sheep manually in 7 hours, and the cart that Warren Bonythorn used to traverse immense desert regions by foot.

Last Night at Wingello

wingelo

Our last night was spent in this secluded spot.

The 5:00 PM closing of the museum sent us towards the village of Wingello.  Terry had researched a highly rated campground in the Wingello State Forest.  A lovely drive drive through wooded pastures turned into heavy timber and a dirt road.  Driving through a clear cut we saw a number of kangaroo up close that were curious about us and did not flee.  Our campground, that had a sink and an outhouse, only had one other occupant.  We set up our final camp under the watchful eye of a group of magpies.  Later we were happy to hear the complex cries of the kookaburra in nearby trees.  Early the next morning we were off to Sydney for our 3:00 PM return deadline.

yellow_flowers

We had to stop to admire this large field of wild yellow flowers.

Fitzroy Falls

A field of bright yellow flowers and pine trees called on us to halt for a look, as did an amazing flock of 75 or more yellow crested cockatoo that were cleaning up the spilled grain in a recently harvested field.

cockatoo

We happened upon this Sulphur-crested cockatoo field party! More than 70 gorgeous birds!

We stayed off the main expressway and took back roads into Sydney.  Curiosity made us stop to look at Fitzroy Falls when we saw the sign in Morton National Park.  As we saw with Raymond Island, the falls at Fitzroy deserve much more press. At 266 feet (81 meters) high and falling over a cliff into a Jurassic Park like immense canyon, this beauty comes out of nowhere to stun the viewer.  It is a must see if you are in the area.

fitzroy_falls

Fitzroy Falls is in a pristine valley obscured here by early morning mist. It would make a great setting for the next King Kong film.

We continued our purposeful drive through the stunning Southern Highlands of New South Wales.  Google directed us to one of the most diligent car washes we could imagine.  The automatic car wash was preceded by ten minutes of soaking, spraying, and scrubbing of our only a little dirty campervan. We fueled up and after a last picnic in Sydney’s Josef Banks Park, we reluctantly returned our dream machine ahead of the looming deadline.

van_living

Unforgettable memories happen in small spaces & campervans, what a great time!

Relocation Websites

A holiday driving to destinations does not have to be a Griswold family disaster. We had one of the best trips ever in our camper-van sourced through a relocation website. This enabled a tremendous bargain. Below are a few of the sites that can be used to research available vehicles so you too can have a grand camper-van trip! Remember that you have to be flexible and that some deals only show up a few days to two weeks prior to availability. Depending on route you may get some fuel, a toll tag or other inducements.  It is not too good to be true, these are real options for an exciting get away!

https://www.coseats.com/campervan-relocation

https://www.transfercar.com.au/search

https://www.apollocamper.com/reloc.aspx

https://imoova.com/imoova/relocations

If you do nab a trip or have previously done so, please let us know where you went and how your experience was. We would love to know more and learn from your experiences. Lets all be happy campers!

 

 

 

 

library

Magic Melbourne

G’Day Melbourne!

melbourne

Excited to finally arrive at the Land Down Under, now we need coffee!

Magic Melbourne normally refers to the exponential growth experienced by Melbourne, Australia due to the influx of money and settlers during the 1850’s Victorian Gold Rush. We found it can also refer to the lure of the city and its people. Melbourne is the site of our first Australian house sit. We arrived on an  overnight red eye flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A quick breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s (gotta love the wifi) provided us with fuel as well as our first exposure to the Australian coffee culture. Aussies seriously LOVE their coffee, no $.99 cent large brew with free refill here.

Flat_white

Mmm just the right amount of kick to get our day started!

The drink of choice is the Flat White, an espresso based drink with plenty of microfoam and a near $5 price tag. A little fancy, but tasty. Soon we were back at the airport in line to get Skybus tickets. $16 gets you transported to the busy Southern Cross train station. Fun lively people on board included a young couple from Adelaide and a business man from Brisbane.  Our house sit is 4 KM southeast of the CBD in the South Yarra neighborhood, which we read is a fun & trendy neighborhood.

tram

A fun way to see Melbourne is by tram, just make sure someone slips you a Myki card first!

Australia does its mass transit right, and we had bus, tram, and train options. We bungled all three and had to wing our way, but we were glad to get to our destination.  Our hosts are warm, fun people who match the personality of the two amazing dogs and one strong willed cat, who actually happens to have her own passport (she traveled all the way from England with her mama).  We made fast friends with Rolo the chocolate lab and Ginny the Staffordshire Terrier (and NZ Hog Hunter!), love bugs who are a bit fearsome in appearance but extremely well trained.

rologiny

Not sure who is happier to go for a walk, the man or the dogs. 

About Melbourne

Melbourne, located on the south easterly coast, is Australia’s second largest city with a population of 4.7 million. Melbourne (pronounced locally as “Melbun”) boasts moderate weather with a summer (February) average high of 80F/27C and winter (July) average low 45F/7C.  The modern skyline includes 5 of the country’s 6 tallest buildings. The host of the 1956 Summer Olympic Games (dominated by Betty Cuthbert aka the “Sydney Streak”), Melbourne is an international city (38 % of residents born overseas) and a key player in the Asia financial markets.

cricket

Batman takes you to Gotham City, a Batsman takes you to a cricket game. Image c/o Pixabay

Melbourne hosted the cricket match with the highest paid attendance (91,092 – no figures on how many died of boredom or demanded refunds!). There are more Greek speaking people here than any other place outside of Europe. Many Aussies enjoy a cold beer, and Foster’s was first brewed here by a pair of Americans!  Australia’s iconic (and pungent) Vegemite was invented here and remains its place of manufacture.  If you try it once, you probably will not forget the strong impact on your senses.  And if nothing else, it is a significant source of Vitamin B. Click the link for tons of Mitey recipes, vegemite pizza…yum!

leonards

Tasty beer, yummy burgers and fun friendly atmosphere at Leonard’s

Rollo and Ginny (along with our gracious host) showed us around the area.  The dogs were friends around town.  We enjoyed a fun hamburger and beer dinner at Leonard’s House of Love. This is a comfortable fun pub with excellent beer choices combined with a hell of a burger. Yeah, a recipe for a good time.  We will not be lonely as people are friendly and our dogs are magnets for good will and interaction with interesting people.

Melbourne Friends

Davyollay

Thankful for these two who spent their day with us.

Our first full day in town is highlighted by the generosity of friends. Yolly (Terry’s college mate) and her husband David took us for a drive northwest of the city.  We get to do this in a high powered rally car (WRX) in the hands of a skilled and aggressive driver. Adding to my fun up front in the co-pilot seat is that Australians drive on the left hand side of the road. I feel thrilled and vulnerable as we tear around traffic circles in non-intuitive directions. In order to avoid turbo lag, it is important to keep the revs up. David’s feet dance on the gas and clutch (I am not sure he purchased brakes as they were seldom/ever used). When we leave the pavement and tear down gravel roads, I give him credit for not babying the beautiful car and staying on the gas as we rocketed along. Shrill screaming from the back seat continued until I realized that they were echoes from my yelling in the front seat.

turpin

We admired the beautiful countryside and heeded the warning sign too!

The countryside could be from Montana if we traded pine and cottonwoods for the gum trees. We end up at Turpins Falls, a striking area on the Campaspe River.  A tall waterfall with large scenic pools makes this a relaxing special area. Our only companions was a young family trying out a new drone.  The drone skipped along dangerously over the water like an over sized dragon fly, thankfully staying dry.

sea_road

freighter ship “Sea Road’ off to Tasmania.

On our way back we stopped to look at the bay, not far from infamous Cheviot Beach, site of the famous 1967 disappearance of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt.  We did not find him nor did we see the aliens or Chinese submarine that are part of the fun conspiracy theories.

Remembrance

The Shrine of  Remembrance, created to meet the needs of a grieving community after the extensive loss of lives in the First World War (1914 –18).

There are numerous ANZAC memorials throughout Australia to commemorate the tremendous losses experienced by people from Australia and New Zealand in World War I and later campaigns.  While large in size (Australia is the 6th largest country in land mass) the small population has been disproportionately represented with war casualties.

mlbskyline-01

Magic Melbourne’s Skyline from the top floor of the Remembrance building.

The shrine overlooks the Botanical Gardens and provides panoramic views of the skyline.  Many interested visitors affirm that the sacrifices of these veterans is not forgotten.  After paying our respects we continued on to the Royal Botanic Gardens whose massive manicured grounds extend 90 acres (36 hectares). On display are 50,000 plants of 8,500 different species which are incorporated into 31 major areas of display.

botanic_collage

A feast for the eyes. The botanic gardens have one beautiful garden after another with a huge variety of plants/flowers to admire.

These include the Fern Gully, Arid Garden, California Collection, Bamboo Collection, Cycad Collection, Australian Forest Walk, the Grey Garden, Wetlands Park, Rare and Threatened Species and the Rose Garden.  All have their own charms and highlights.  We spent a great deal of enjoying certain areas and buzzed through others depending on our level of interest and how badly we needed a restroom.

botanic2

This attraction is called ‘Punting on the Lake’ yes, still at RBG. The punt carries up to eight people and allows guest an up-close view of the bird life and aquatic plants.

The enormous collections are separated with hidden  meandering paths that allow the parks many visitors to enjoy the park at their own pace.  Large public areas housed family and company picnics.  The gardens are a real treasure and with no admittance charge, we stopped by several times during our brief stay.

ngv

A delightful day is guaranteed in both locations of NGV Melbourne. Make sure you wear comfy shoes, because you will want to see all exhibits. Above is the lobby of Ian Potter Centre, NGV.

The success and riches of Melbourne are demonstrated by the architecture, gardens, and excellent public transit options.  It is underlined by the amazing public art collections centered around the National Gallery Victoria.  Housed in two separate equally impressive buildings (one for international, one for Australian art), each collection has its own attractions.

ngv4

Amazing display of artwork by local Australian artists can be found at NGV Federation Square. Here John is seen alongside some of Helen Maudsley’s exhibit “Our Knowing and Not Knowing”

We took advantage of the free guided tours where you get an informed enthusiastic host to show you a few of their favorite works and the associated stories over an all too fast 90 minutes.  Then, armed with a bit of knowledge, we dove back into the collections. By the end of our visit we had spent a full day in each building.  The collections are impressive partially due to the fact they received large endowments at the beginning of the 20th century funded by the tycoons of Magic Melbourne.

pixcell_art

Pixcell Red Deer, created by Japanese artist Kohei Nawa. At its core is an actual preserved deer that is covered with resin and clear glass beads. The result is this remarkable piece!

Australia did not suffer the terrible property damage of the Great War and therefore was in a position to be buyers as Europe struggled to rebuild. Works on display include European work from contemporary times back to medieval works.  Australian indigenous work has equally wide breadth and representation.

yarra_rowers

Yes this looks like big fun! No, we do not want to try it.

There is much to see and do around the walkable downtown that is criss crossed with trains and trams to aid your travel. The scenic Yarra river meanders through the CBD.  Nice walks follow the banks.  We enjoyed seeing the various rowing teams zooming by or the ride sharing bikes being utilized. The Immigration museum, aquarium, and St. Paul’s Cathedral are in close proximity to Federation Square.  Our location south of the equator was emphasized when we saw the Christmas decorations being installed in the warm sunny weather.

library

Inside the State Library Victoria with a partial view of the La Trobe reading room. One of us is in this picture (hint: not sitting or reading!)

We enjoyed lunch in the large Chinatown and looked through the State Library of Victoria.  Beyond the interesting architecture, the armor of Ned Kelly is displayed. Ned Kelly (1854-1880) was an outlaw as famous in Australia as our own Jesse James. Beyond banditry, he is known for the suits of armor his gang developed and wore during and infamous prolonged gunfight with authorities. Finally wounded in his vulnerable legs, he was taken prisoner and eventually hung.

rolofetch

See two intelligent beings struggle for the same slobbery ball!

Our favorite activities were much closer to our temporary home.  The dogs walked us to their favorite dog park. There we would play fetch with Rolo (Ginny cannot be bothered). He is especially energetic if he has other dogs in competition. Rolo is a big lumbering sweetheart with a baseball bat of a wildly swinging tail that thinks he is a pint sized lap dog. He needs to run up and greet all other humans at the dog park.  He would make a great politician with his methodical meet and greet habits.

meal

Delicious home-cooked meal made with fresh and top grade Australian products.

The lovely shops in the the neighborhood allowed us source beautiful Australian grown produce and meat. Lamb here is less expensive than chicken or beef, and it is fabulous. Our home cooked meals were enjoyed in the beautiful back garden enjoying the mild weather.

streetart

Melbourne is home to some gorgeous street art. It makes walking this exciting city such a joy!

We are convinced that Melbourne would be one of the world’s destination cities if it had a signature landmark such as the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House, or Christ the Redeemer statue.  As it is we really enjoyed the city and loved our dogs. We were sad when it was time to say good bye. What a wonderful introduction to Australia.

Have you visited Melbourne? What are some of your favorite Offpeak activities? Please drop us a note, we’d love to hear it! Thanks for reading!

Kl_feature

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Hello, Kuala Lumpur!

love_kl

It is easy to fall in love with Kuala Lumpur.  If you do, go ahead and take a photo!

A “muddy river confluence” does not sound like a particularly exotic destination.  In the Malay language its equivalent, Kuala Lumpur, is an interesting, affordable and easy admission to the beauties and romance of South East Asia.  KL , the world’s seventh most visited international city, is a dynamic place worthy of a visit on its own.  The metro population is 7.2 million people and is home to three of the world’s ten largest malls. Maybe the best known feature of the city are its signature twin skyscrapers, Petronas Towers.

Malaysia’s KLIA2

klia

In front of the lift to the KLIA ekspress train, fast & convenient but does not run until 6 am.

We choose this massive airport as a transit stop because Kuala Lumpur International Airport or KLIA2, although located more than 30 miles outside of town, is a popular hub for travel throughout the region.  Once in KL an amazing array of destinations throughout Asia, South East Asia, and Australia are available for an $80-$160 airline ticket.  Equally intriguing, budget bus and rail tickets can quickly get you to exotic locales such as Singapore or Thailand economically while giving you a view of the lush landscape.

airport wait

The big airport have areas for waiting passengers to sit, and in this case, sleep. Here Terry was trying to charge our phone in between two snoozing passengers.

Selamat Pagi (Good Morning) Malaysia

We arrived just after 2:00 AM to a very modern but quiet airport.  Once through the efficient customs process, we needed transportation into the city and our much anticipated hotel room.  Taxis and Uber rides are available at a cost of $45-$60. The budget friendly mass transit options are not available between the hours of midnight and 5:30 AM.  We decided to wait for the early bus.  Total transit cost for both of us was $5.  While waiting, we met some interesting tourists, including a group of college students from Indonesia in town for a conference. A feature that reinforces KL’s appeal to foreign tourists is that many residents and visitors speak English and it also appears on signs and attractions.

kl_bus

Several bus companies operates from the airport. And signs in English too!

Malaysia did not become fully independent of Great Britain until 1957.  While we were in the bus station, and in fact during our entire visit and rambles through the city we felt completely safe and secure.  The bus station is connected to the airport.  The buses were modern, clean, and comfortable. We had a 35 minute bus ride into the city.  It was pretty dark so we missed out on a scenic drive through a lush tropical forest that we were able to enjoy on the return trip.  The central bus station left us a short walk from our lodging, the Avenue J Hotel.  The ten minute walk took us past China Town and the Central Market the adjoins our hotel.  We make mental notes to return to both these sites.

Tiny But Modern

hotel_avej

Behind John, our centrally located hotel. Close to shops, sights and transport.

Arranged through Booking.com, the recently renovated 74 room Avenue J Hotel is centrally located to interesting locations and mass transit.  The rooms, while small, are modern, clean and comfortable.  An excellent breakfast is included in the $25 daily price.  Excellent service from the great staff and the stylish decor makes this a fun base to explore KL.

lobby

A dashing traveler in an interesting lobby.

We reach our room at 6:40 AM.  Breakfast is served at 7:00 and from the reviews and our empty stomachs we are looking forward to the meal.  We briefly enjoy the excellent WIFI and then head down to the lobby.  It is a lively place as there is a large tour group from China in a rush to eat before the 7:30 tour bus departure.  We enjoy several excellent choices from the elaborate coffee machines and a fine breakfast.  Our comfortable room calls us for a shower and a power nap.  We don’t burn too much daylight as there is so much to see.

Transportation Within KL

train

KL’s trains were impressive; clean, modern, roomy and on time! Photos from KL Sentral Station.

KL is a walkable city but the heat and convenient transport options might make you a rider.  There is a free bus route circling the downtown as well as other clearly marked routes throughout the city.  The trains are as nice as any we have encountered and include signage on when the next car will appear.  All mass transit is clean and free of graffiti.  We traveled day and night and found the stations (and city streets) well lit and routinely patrolled.

The Petronas Towers

jt_petronas

Tourists and locals enjoyed watching the light show at KLCC park

Petronas Towers stretch 1,483 feet (452 meters) into the Malaysian sky, the tallest buildings in the world from 1998-2004.  Constructed mainly of reinforced concrete, liberal uses of stainless steel and glass make these shining imposing landmarks for the city.  Viewed by day they tower over the region. Day and night the towers are best seen from beautiful KLCC Park.  This attractive 50 acre park with a long bridge and water features  face the towers and surrounding fountains and sculptures. The park was designed to integrate architecture into the natural environment. At night it is home to a light show (8 PM) which rivals those in Las Vegas with accompanying music and synchronized water jets.

Short Visit at The National Mosque

prayer_hall

John with visitors from India in front of the National Mosque’s Main Prayer Hall.

Malaysia is a Muslim country.  We were really only reminded of this by the hijab worn by many women.  Terry and I toured the large National Mosque of Malaysia.  Its sleek modern style will hold 15,000 people and opened in 1965.  While this is a quick tour and fun photo op we were impressed with the inclusiveness and felt welcome in this house of worship.

sign

A great reminder at the mosque entrance.

Shoes are not allowed but bare feet and socks are; the floors are very clean btw. Women are loaned hooded robes to wear.  These same purple robes are given to men who are in shorts, so make sure you have your long pants on prior to a visit.

KL Day Trips

big_leaves

One of the unique plants we saw at the Botanic Garden was this Licuala Grandis palm. 

City officials had the foresight to preserve many public spaces.  The huge Perdana Botanical Gardens (226 acres, 92 hectares) provides ample space for ball fields, picnic areas, biking/jogging paths, and numerous gardens as well as the site for the Islamic art, planetarium, and police museums.  Free exhibits include the impressive Orchid (up to 800 species displayed) and Hibiscus (Malaysia’s national flower) gardens as well as the Deer Park which is home to a variety of local deer.

butterflies

A few photos of several big and beautiful butterfly varieties from KL’s Butterfly Park.

The Butterfly Park ($5) at 80,000 square feet, is one of the world’s largest butterfly houses.  It is home to over 5,000 butterflies as well as interesting plants and flowers and a large insect museum.  Our favorite component of the Botanical Garden was the KL Bird Park ($16), one of the largest covered bird parks in the world (20 acres/8.5 hectare).  Featuring over 3,000 birds of over 200 species, we enjoyed seeing both local and exotic birds up close and in brilliant color.

children

It was fun to observe groups of orderly school-aged children on their school outing.  They were singing and laughing as they walked around the park.

We visited on a rainy day, which made the birds less active, but made us , other than some VERY enthusiastic school children, some of the few visitors.  We were rewarded with a long tour from a curator for the Park who pointed out interesting birds and gave us fascinating background on the species and displays.  It is easy to make friends in Malaysia.

birds

A few of our favorites: the Mandarin Wood duck, a Red Ibis, Emus featuring Nippy which we hand fed, the Crowned Pigeon and the Bitey the Southern Cassowary from New Guinea & Australia.

Batu Caves

batu_cave

It was a hot and humid day when we visited but the crowds doesn’t seem to mind.

One of our special destinations was just outside the city, Batu Caves.  An easy train ride away, these are limestone caves in hills overlooking the city.  Into these caves a popular elaborate Hindu shrine is constructed.  At the base of the complex is a towering, gold covered 140 foot (42.7 meter) statue of Lord Murugan.  This is one of the most impressive statues we have ever seen. Behind the statue is a steep flight of 272 stairs to reach the initial caves and temples.

brick

Almost at the top, we both decided to carry bricks which coincidentally made the very observant macaque monkeys less interested in us.

Visitors are asked to carry up bricks to aid in construction and feel part of the process.  You are rewarded at the top with more than a feeling of accomplishment.  There is a phenomenal view of the city along with a troop of rowdy macaque monkeys.  These large primates happily pose for pictures.  They also happily pilfer treats from guests, including a bag of peanuts from the Offpeakers.

King of Fruit Anyone?

Our hotel was in close proximity to art galleries, public squares and adjoined the bustling Central Market.  The main building features four floors of local clothing, art, and handicrafts along with interesting and affordable food options.  You can even soak your feet in a pool filled with small fish that will nibble away old skin.  Judging from the the giggles of those who try, it is not unpleasant, just very unusual.

central_market

So many things to see and try at the Central Market and Chinatown

The surrounding area features many stalls with fruit and things to eat.  It is a good place to purchase name brand knock offs as well as sample the legendary Durian fruit.  The Durian, known as the King of Fruit or the stinky fruit can have an intimidating aroma and sulfuric aftertaste and is often banned from hotels to avoid offending residents.  The spike covered fruit has sections of edible meat with a custard like consistency.  I found it a pleasant taste if you ignored the smell reminiscent of sulfur rich hot springs or geysers.

durian

He tried the fresh Durian as well as the ice cream, he said it’s better than Balut!  Our Filipino friends might disagree! Btw, the Durian Kafe sells everything Durian…coffee, candy, shirts, pens, postcards, etc.

We also tried the more mainstream Durian ice cream which was delicious. KL’s Chinatown, was a rapid paced, jam packed amalgamation of booths selling clothes, cologne, phone accessories, shoes, handbags and jewelry.  It was frenetic and claustrophobic so we didn’t spend much time.  We toured the National Museum and while we enjoyed the displays I would not prioritize a visit as part of a quick visit to KL.

kl friends

With a group of happy & friendly Japanese tourists at the popular Central Market food court.

Kuala Lumpur is exciting, welcoming and exotic.  It is also very affordable, safe, and easy to get around.  We were late to the game here but we will return (our return tickets in April route us through this beautiful capital city).  If you get a chance we predict you will fall for this lovely city’s charms too.

 

Aquaman and the Mermaid

For the vast majority of our adult life we were land bound. While we enjoyed the occasional paddle in a canoe, raft or kayak we never gave much thought to being in the water beyond regular showering. No prolonged soaks in a tub for us, unless its the hot bubbly kind. We have learned to appreciate the unknown and different which goes along with travelling and exploring new places.  As 75% of the globe is covered with water, it was time to go aquatic.

man on rock

Lets go exploring!

The beauty of the ocean, the sense of discovery, danger, anticipation as well as the previously unknown sense of fun splashing around weightlessly has made us shed our landlubber status.

2 divers

John during his open water dive course with our friend Silas in Roatan Island.

We were convinced by fellow travelers to visit Roatan Island, Honduras during previous travels. There we learned to dive and were entranced and coached on snorkeling by our great friends Naomi and Robert (thank you for your generosity and inspiration!) It was on Roatan we heard about Corn Island for the first time, having it be described as being “like Roatan was 30 years ago”. Preparing for an extended visit to Corn Island meant we would need to bring our own gear even though we want to travel light.  In this case, we got travel flippers to go along with our masks and snorkels.

Spotted eagle ray

This is a spotted eagle ray photographed by John. Mature rays can be up to 5 meters (16 ft) in length; the largest have a wingspan of up to 3 meters (10 ft) and a mass of 230 kilograms (507 lb).

My flippers in particular were abbreviated versions of the long flippers you typically would use for diving. Our friend (and diving instructor) Sherine loved to laugh and tease me about my little tiny flippers (try to imagine it in her French accent). Thankfully my wife has given me extensive experience handling good natured abuse from a beautiful talented lady. The proper response is to just walk away!  Big John is comfortable in his skin and his swim suit.  Unless it is cold.

Beach

After a fun day of snorkeling at Sally Peachy beach.

My little flippers accompanied us into the water almost every morning on Corn Island. The north portion of Corn Island, approximately 1 1/2 miles across, provides the best snorkeling. Comprised of two neighborhoods, Sally Peachie and the North End,this stretch, is completely open to swimmers (as is all of the island).  The beach is not fenced off for developments.  The road follows along the shore, providing great access. As we were on the island for an extended period, we explored to see our favorite spot. Our conclusion, hop into the water and enjoy.

Coral reef

A gorgeous reef complete with a Queen Angel fish and other fish friends. What a great find!

The coral follows the entire stretch with small, easily breached interruptions. Some spots had better soft coral.  In other areas the reef was closer to shore. Our favorite spot was the extreme northeast by the manta ray bus stop. There are examples of reef within 10 yards of shore, with the main reef 100 yards out.

staghorn_coral

John found and shot this beautiful healthy elkhorn coral off Sally Peachie

The snorkeling was great and there are no fishermen traveling through this area in motorized boats, just the occasional ocean going canoe. We had a couple close calls with motor boats in other locations.  In order to locate the reef, look for the white breaking waves offshore where the current coming in hits the reefs that are only submerged by 6-10 inches of water. Using a small GoPro camera, we enjoyed taking photos and short film clips of the underwater world. Unfortunately our camera died and apparently took the images on the SD card. Terry had saved a few we had captured with screen shots and those are primarily what we are sharing here.

golfball and brain corals

Some healthy golf-ball and brain corals.

Spending 2 to 3 hours in the water every day, we found the haunts of large eagle rays that would soar over and around the reef structures. Sherine taught us how to best view and interact. As excited are you are, if you swim out after the large rays in a frenzy, they will normally swim away from you and your thrashing little fins. If you act cool, the rays may very well swim around you, letting you watch in amazement as they swoop like a bird of prey. We also found favored retreats of nurse sharks. These are very skittish, and once they saw you were observing them, they would change time zones.

Nurse sharks

Nurse sharks spotted in their favorite hiding place.

The mermaid and I have different approaches to viewing the mysteries of the sea. I am in a rush to see what is ahead, around the corner, on the next reef. Terry preferred technique is an analytical approach. A slow swim while she studiously scans the contours and crevices.

A collage

Some of Terry’s finds. Top L – The Magnifica Anemone, Top R – a Puffer fish & a Four eye Butterfly fish, bottom L – inside of a broken Conch shell, Bottom R – A Spotted Sea Hare (Sea Slug) 

She sees coral worms, tiny crabs, and sea hares that eluded my more cursory review. Terry is a quick study on identifying what we have seen. Internet allowing, she enjoys researching the species and sharing the details. Her keen observational skills also extend to people passing on the road. I no longer was surprised to return to land to find us stocked with mangoes, avocados, fish or guava jelly that she had purchased from passing merchants.

Collage of Terry's scavenger finds

Other finds: 1) Avocados, 2) Fresh yellow-tail fish ready for dinner, 3) A bag of mangoes 4) Eggs with mango & avocado for breakfast

Terry’s best find was new friends. Special places attract special people. The beach at Sally Peachie introduced us to a fun couple from Germany on their honeymoon. Thomas and Angelina specialized in finding large eagle rays and generating smiles. Two good features to have in island friends. We wish them continued happiness.

Friends

With our friends Tom and Angie at the beach in Long Bay, Big Corn Island, Nicaragua.

Our view is that the reefs are easy and safe to find and you can explore them on their own. Of course not everyone has a great deal of time to get comfortable in the water. If you visit the island without snorkel gear or feel more comfortable with a guide, we see there are three options. We loved Sherine and Matteo at Corn Island Dive Center.

Friends

With our friends and swin instructors Sharine and Matteo.

Whether you are diving or snorkeling, they will get you in the water and make it a safe, fun, memorable time. If Corn Island Dive Center is booked, we also heard good things about Dos Tiburones Dive shop. Dorsey Campbell gives snorkeling tours and rents equipment based from his home on the Sally Peachie beach right next to the Victoria Comedor (and across the street from our favorite snorkel spot at Sally Peachie).

Terry at the beach

Another beach day. Crystal clear water and white sands with just us or in this case just Terry.

If you go to Yellowstone, you should see the Old Faithful geyser, if you visit Paris, you should see the Eiffel Tower. If you go to Corn Island, get in the water and enjoy the amazing work of nature. Beaches and warm weather are available all over the world. Isolated coral reefs are something special. You may discover your inner Aquaman and Mermaid. We are glad we made it part of our life and we will never forget the experience.

Do you have a favorite or suggested spot to see underwater beauty? Please share it with us, we’d love to hear all about it!

BCI beach at Long Bay

Introduction to Corn Island, Nicaragua

Opportunity Knocked

When we were kids, Terry and I both dreamed of living on a tropical island. The kind of place you see on TV with clean beaches, warm blue water, tropical fish and plenty of coconuts (can we include Ginger and Maryann?).  While you are at it, get rid of the tourist infrastructure, the people trying to sell you souvenirs and beaches choked with chaise lounges and incontinent kids. That dream came true when we found an opportunity to house sit on Corn Island.

A photo of a beach with a quote from H C Anderson

The background picture is the beach in front of the house we house sat.

Where is Corn Island?

Map of Corn Island

Corn Island is circled in Orange. Map c/o wikipedia

Corn Island is located 43 miles off of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.  The island is about 5 square miles (10 square kilometers) with a high point of 371 feet (Mount Pleasant Hill).

Picture of Long Bay in Big Corn Island

View of Long Bay, Big Corn Island, Nicaragua from Pleasant Hill.

This tropical isle is home to around 5,000 people, most of which are of a English speaking Creole background that could have you think you are in Jamaica with their distinctive accents and lively music (unless their second favorite music playing – classic old country.  What a surprise to see young people enjoying Conway Twitty’s greatest hits!)  The main driver to the economy is commercial lobster fishing.  This replaced the coconut farms that were destroyed 25 years ago in a major hurricane.

Lobsters and a queen triggerfish

Immature spiny lobster (or Langusta) and sadly a Queen Triggerfish caught by one of the locals.  Spiny lobster have no claws but a tasty tail.  There are size limitations for legal catch but these are seldom respected in our experience.

Island Life

Life is a bit isolated on Corn Island.  There is a twice a week ferry arriving from a remote Nicaraguan coastal community, Bluefields.  Most tourists arrive on a La Costeña flight.  People excitedly emerge from the little planes.

Guy and the planes

He thought we were riding the plane on his left…wrong! It was the tiny 8 seater on his right! Yikes!!!

This may be due to the intoxicating view of the Caribbean you enjoy in your approach or you know you pushed your luck in a rough sounding little single engine craft that is as easy to board and exit as a tight pair of jeans.  The airfield bisects the small island. Conveniently, in between the three daily flights you are allowed to short cut across the airfield to reach destinations on the other side of the island, saving over a mile in the process.

Crossing airfield

We crossed the airport runway to get to the other side of the island.

Island Transportation

Getting around the island is convenient.  There is a paved loop approximately 6 miles long that generally follows the beach.  Taxis, in the form of small economy cars, circle regularly.  Customers have a flat rate of 20 cordobas (66 cents US) for your destination.  The car will be shared with any other passengers the driver encounters.  An even more economical approach is to take the bus.  The bus circles in a clockwise direction, taking people for the rock bottom fare of 10 cordobas (33 cents).

Bus and taxis

Several modes of island transportation is pictured, 2 taxis, a motorcycle, a bicycle and the torquoise bus aptly labeled ‘My Bus” in the front.

The bus is a fun way to meet people as well as get the insider information on needed supplies or destination.  Dexter the bus driver knows the island like few others and will point out (and drop you off in front of) a barber, good hardware store, or yell out to fishermen unloading their canoe when you want VERY fresh fish.  Walking or riding a bike are also efficient ways to get around if you get started early or later in the day as the sun is intense.  There is always something to see with great views over the water, diverse fruit trees, and people that became friends.

Low hanging fruits

John showing off some of the island’s “low hanging fruits”! Not a metaphor but the real thing 🙂

Our Temporary Home

Home during our over 9-week stay is on the appropriately titled “Long Bay”. Beautiful sand and little development makes this half mile long beach facing the rising sun a lovely location to start the day.

Housesit front porch

Enjoying the front porch while listening to the waves.

This beach features bigger waves super for boogie boarding or a cool dip on an always hot day, but protected beaches with exceptional snorkeling and swimming are only a short distance away.  We are in a  comfortable home with not one but two cute lively beach dogs that enjoy treats even more than they want attention.

Girl and dog

Terry with one of our temporary pets Sweeney during one of our afternoon beach walks.

Sweeney and Brownie are great company with one small exception.  They feel the beach in front of the house is theirs, and any man, child, dog, horse or cow that attempts to walk past is chased and intimidated.

Chasing Cows

Here are Sweeney and Brownie in action against the cows!

Island life is relaxed and is unique from other places we have visited. Groceries are different. While there are many tiny stores here and a few markets/commisarios that would be similar to what we know, the choices are limited and it is common to run out of staple items in between boat arrivals.

Island stores

One of the local pulperia or variety store besides a clothing store.

Produce is mainly limited to old potatoes, cabbage that has had better days, onions, tomatoes, and squash.  Bananas surprisingly are one of the items not always available.  Sliced bread is at the store, but the island is blessed with home based bakeries that produce excellent coconut bread (pan de coco).  But without an official distribution cycle, you have to know where to knock to see if today is a baking day and what is still in stock.

Islanders are  passionate about baseball, and as small as the island is, it features one of the finest stadiums in Central America.  Home games are lively and are the center of island activity.  A great place to enjoy the loud fans, tasty treats, and cold Toña beer.  Terry watched over three innings before she gave up on baseball and headed home.  That is longer than she gave the New York Yankees.

Beach

After a fun day of snorkeling at Sally Peachy beach.

Our real passion is the water and its coral reefs.  Corn Island is a dream come true if your dreams involves warm water, private beaches with white sands, viewing abandoned ship wreck, tons of colorful fish, warm clear water and easily obtainable reefs. We will talk about that in our next post.

Have you been to to the Corn Islands?  Do you agree with our description? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

Olympic Mountains

Time to Say Goodbye to Port Angeles…for now

Leaving Port Angeles

Reluctant exits are in a way better than those times you are just glad to be down the road.  When we left New Jersey it was with glee to be on the road off to new adventures.  Our recent departure from the beautiful Olympic Peninsula was much more subdued.   Our year in Port Angeles, Washington was a wonderful experience.

School campus

The yellow/gold building is where Terry’s Multimedia classes are held.

Peninsula College provided challenging classes, new skills, fun activities, and dynamic class mates.  The small apartment we called home with its own ocean view actually came with extensive grounds.  Olympic National Park was a terrific back yard.  With tremendous hiking, snowshoeing, camping, biking, migrating salmon and scenic opportunities. We were never reluctant to go out for our required yard work.   The Pacific Ocean/Strait of Juan de Fuca was our front yard and gave us a chance to wander the coast, investigate tide pools, watch otters and seals, and even complete John’s first Marathon on the beautiful Olympic Discovery trail.

JB crossing the finish line

Under 5 1/2 hrs for his 1st full marathon! Amazing said his wife 🙂

Yes, there were LOTS of cloudy days (from November to March?) but the weather was mild and almost always allowed us to be outside, being neither too cold or too hot. Wanting to be more active, we tried to use the Subaru only one day a week, otherwise relying on our new found biking skills and walking.

Terry and classmates

Terry with her professor and classmates at the College’s Moving Pictures Festival

Through our classmates and the welcoming small town atmosphere we made fun interesting friends who we miss. As we exited Port Angeles, our Dad was kind enough to let us store our U-Haul trailer of belongings in his barn.

Uhaul and Subaru

The U-haul trailer is pack and we’re ready to go.

He also continues to provide an eight acre empire to our cat Milo who loves patrolling his world to control the mice and vole population.

Family

Fun times with our Montana family.familfriends,

While back in Montana we were happy to spend time with family (our nieces and nephews continue to amaze us with their skills and energy) and even utilize new carpentry skills on the back deck (Grandpa is ready for a big party).

Deck

Go to the light!

While we love the Olympic Peninsula, and may return in the future, we left to pursue wanderlust.  We have enjoyed our house-sitting adventures in Florida, Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver Island.  We made great friends with homeowners, neighbors and loved the pets as well as enjoyed new locations.

Collage

Some of our friends from Port Angeles

Next Stop Corn Island

The Offpeakers will now be going for a new adventure.  We will spend the next three 1/2 months on Big Corn Island. This five square mile isle is 50 miles off the east coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean.  Growing up land locked, we did not feel we could pass up this opportunity to live next to warm (83 F) water and catch up on the diving and snorkeling of which we have been dreaming.  The plan is to use this blog as our trip scrapbook and perhaps share what we learn and special experiences.  We hope you travel along with the Offpeakers.

 

Snowshoeing uphill

Snowshoeing on Hurricane Ridge

The Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge is a mountainous region in the Olympic National Park that overlooks Port Angeles and the adjacent Pacific Ocean.  Only 30 minutes from town, the road climbs from sea level to over 5,000 feet (1,600 m) where there is an average of over 400 inches of snow fall a year.

 

J&T

The post in-front of us is normally 10 feet tall. 

Terry by the pole.

Terry standing by the same pole. This was taken when we hiked the ‘hill’ last July.

School Hike

Terry and I jumped at the opportunity to join a school group to spend a day floating over the 70 + inches of snow currently on the trails.  Our fellow adventure seekers are primarily foreign students from China, Malaysia, and Vietnam.  Our fun was enhanced by their enthusiasm to see so much deep snow and unique scenery.

T with student

Terry with SJ, a Peninsula College student from Malaysia.

Snowshoes have been used for 4,000 to 6,000 years.  The equipment we rented is for the same purpose but is definitely from modern times as we had polished aluminum, plastic, and composites shoes rather than the hide, sinew, and wood of the classic models.  Hurricane Ridge turns out to be almost as active in the winter (although only open Friday through Sunday) as it is in the summer.

John holding poles

John about to embark in another adventure!

Chains are often required for the trip, but we had no issues and enjoyed the van ride joking with our fellow students, even though most are younger than our kids.  Terry even knew a few of their songs!  The mountain top visitor center hosts a small ski area with a tow rope, an overflowing parking lot and miles of snowshoeing trails.

Terry snowshoe

On top of the hill, cold but sweaty.

Thankfully snowshoeing is easier to learn than other winter sports (I am pointing my finger at you ice skating and downhill skiing!) and after adjusting a few straps we were plodding and darting across the snow.  Effective traction plates makes climbing steep hillsides a breeze.  You are only limited by your lungs, nerves, or sense of good judgement.

Soccer players snowshoeing

Three members of PC women’s champion soccer team enjoying the day.

Our group started out together up the Hurricane Hill Trail.  Soon we lost sight of our fast contingent of the NWAC Champion Female Soccer team.  During stops for water or photo opportunities we were approached by fluttering Camp Robbers (Gray Jays).

grayjay

A Gray Jay bird.   Photo: wikimedia commons

These beautiful birds were cute enough that I hardly minded that Terry fed them most of my peanut butter sandwich.  A great day was had by all.  On the return trip the quiet bus full of sleeping Peninsula College students was proof positive that although snowshoeing is fun, it is also hard work!

And below is a short video of the trip

Have you ever gone snowshoeing? Did you enjoy it? We’d love to know some of your favorite spots. Thanks for reading!

Panama Viejo

Panama 2016

Last year January 12 we celebrated Mr. Offpeaker’s birthday Off-peak style (meaning free or frugal, is there any other way?) in Panama City, Panama. After a restful sleep we enjoyed a sumptuous all-you-can-eat breakfast included with our stay at the beautiful hotel Country Inn Panama Canal Hotel.

Breakfast at the hotel

Our agenda for the day: 1)learn the bus system in preparation for our trip to the Miraflores Locks(Panama Canal) the following day 2)Explore Panama Viejo Ruins (more on this later) 3)Splurge on the birthday boy!

Dressed in our well-worn shorts, shirts and tennis shoes, we took the free hotel shuttle to Albrook Mall the largest mall in the Americas. The megamall happens to be right across the enormous regional bus terminal.

Buses of all kinds waiting for passenger at Panama City Bus Terminal

Public Transportation in Panama City

Taxis are plentiful in Panama City, they are convenient but you have to haggle and agree on the price first before you board the car otherwise you will be fleeced big time. Each ride will cost you anywhere from $5 to $25 depending on distance/destination. But if you’re looking for an adventure and you’re an Offpeaker like us, we suggest the public transportation. For $0.35 cents you can take any buses or the subway train, just make sure you do your homework and keep your city map handy.

Inside the Albrook Mall, it looks just like any mall in N. America.

Finding our way around the mall was easy, there were plenty of maps and directions are in Spanish and English. Once at the terminal, bus tickets are available via vending machine and ticket booths. Buses do not take cash. Finding the proper bus was facilitated by asking people “Donde esta el bus para Panama Viejo?”. Once we found the proper location we follow the queue.

The view of the modern city by bus.

The buses were nice, modern clean and air-conditioned. The ride to the old capital gave us a nice view of the very modern and vibrant city.

By a church ruins.

The Old Capital

Panama Viejo which is in the suburbs of the city, is the old capital of the country. The Spanish established the settlement in the 1500’s and was an important base where gold and silver from the south was sent to Spain. The city suffered a number of fires, earthquake and pirate attacks but it was believed that attack led by Welsh pirate Henry Morgan in 1671 led to the destruction of the city.

Ruins of the courtyard.

We enjoyed our visit to the UNESCO designated Heritage site.  Catching the bus back to the city was easy as there were plenty of bus stops along the way and we just head back where we came from. We have explored the city seafood market and have read reviews that the restaurant in the market is a must. Well we have been there twice already and today the birthday boy wanted to go back there again. The place is simple, but the food was fresh, tasty and reasonably priced. We both love the seafood soup, fried whole fish, yucca fries and coconut rice. Yum, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. We head back to the mall, catch our shuttle back to our hotel so we can hit the pool. Panama City is exciting, fun and full of history. We are excited for we are going to see the historical Locks tomorrow!

 

 

Ediz Hook

We’re Baack!

Wow! It’s Finals week! Team Offpeakers survived our first quarter of being back to school! It is/was everything we had hoped for and more!

Peninsula College

Free coffee and muffins welcomed the students during the first day of the quarter.

Our experiences at Peninsula College proved to be nothing but wonderful right from the start. A picturesque campus with great facilities, combined with knowledgeable and caring staff. What a fun, satisfying and fulfilling experience. We also love that we get to ride our bikes to school!

Bike

We enjoy riding our bikes to school and exploring new trails  around the area.

Since it’s been so long since our last post, some of you may have already forgotten why we are back at school and what we are studying.  John is taking the Construction/Green Building Course and Terry is focusing on Multimedia Communications. Why are we doing this? Because it’s fun, challenging and serves as a preparation for our next adventures, wherever or whatever that may be.

Terry, PASC

Terry enjoyed teaching Facebook to members of Port Angeles Senior Center.

Terry has learned and done so much, she learned how to code using HTML, CSS and bootstrap. She developed and published 2 websites, a personal portfolio and a country website, where she focused on one of our favorite country, Colombia. Please click on the provided link to see her work.

Halloween, PC

The pirate and his sailor girl attended PC’s Halloween dance.

She also learned how to make animation, edit videos, create animated banners, multi-page publications, edit & enhance photographs.  She even took a photojournalism class and her photographs were published in the school’s award-winning newspaper!  Terry’s photography allowed us to become avid fans of our school’s championship women’s soccer team.  All of these on top of volunteering at our local Habitat for Humanity store and teaching Facebook classes at the Port Angeles Senior Center.

The green-builders figuring out the framing for the dog house.

John has been quite busy as well. He is now a member of the Construction Committee for our local Habitat for Humanity. They have built decks, install doors and siding, replaced a window with a slider and painted a volunteer’s home. On Saturday’s John volunteer’s at the Habitat store preparing donated furniture for sale as Terry works the cash register making the sale.  For his construction/green-building program, this first quarter focused on framing work and basic woodworking.  The class also built a media/photographer’s platform at the school’s soccer field and what may be the world’s strongest dog houses!

dog, green building

Ta daaa! They finished this and 4 others…lucky dogs will stay warm this winter.

We are really enjoying our Off-peak life in Port Angeles, which is the headquarters of the Olympic National Park. We don’t have cable so our entertainment nowadays are mostly books and the great outdoors. Our apartment is within walking distance of couple of hiking trails and grocery stores.

From the Salmon cascades near Sol Duc Hot Springs.

We get to walk to the beach almost everyday. A few weeks ago, we got to observe Salmon swimming upstream on a couple of occasions.  We’ve seen family of otters playing in the ocean and on the beach.  We’ve yet to see an Orca, but we will one day.

The school quarter went fast, we are wrapping up for finals this week. And we woke up to a winter wonderland this morning. The whole place looks magical with the fresh snow.

Snow covered Peninsula College looks magical.

Snow covered Peninsula College looks magical. Terry’s Media class is in that building.

It is a reminder that it is the holiday season.  Life goes by so fast, we are happy with our decision to downsize, pursue our dreams and live an Offpeaker life.  We are thankful that you are reading this post.  We hope you are all well, enjoying and  loving whatever you are doing. If not, we wish you the courage to pursue and live the life that you want.  We leave you with a line from one of Eminem’s song “Look, if you have one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, would you capture it or let it slip?”

 

 

Fort Clatsop & The Oregon Coast

Even the toughest people need to take a rest.  Fort Clatsop was an encampment where the 33 hale and hearty members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent a fairly miserable winter waiting for better weather to return home back east.

Photographs of Rossevelt, Lweis & Clark

Photographs of (L to R) Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis & William Clark

Located near the mouth of the Columbia River, the Fort Clatsop National Memorial houses a striking replica of the fort along with an interesting museum of the region and the Corp of Discovery.

We witness the flag lowering at the end of the day

We witnessed the flag lowering at the end of the day

A visit to the fort is enhanced by a group that in period costume that answers questions about life in the camp and in part reenact life as it may have been in this remote outpost.

Standing at corner of the rebuilt fort

Standing at corner of the rebuilt fort

Fort Clatsop was an encampment forced on the expedition in the winter of 1805-1806.  The heavy rains and limited food sources were less than ideal but the journey back had to be delayed waiting for snow melt in the Rocky Mountains.  After some investigation and even a vote that include all races and sexes, the Fort Clatsop site was chosen.  Construction by the party took three weeks.

A painting in the museum of the fort

A painting in the museum depicts a possible scene with the fort in the background

This is another of the indicators of what hard working people comprised the expedition.  The work force, not even the full 33 person team as there was a party gathering salt and another getting food during construction, completed most of the fort in three weeks.  Move in date was Christmas Eve, 1805.  The current replica of the fort, built in 2006, took over 700 people three months to construct.

A Bull Elk

A Bull Elk like this one provided sustenance to the expeditioners. Photo was taken at the Dean Creek Wildlife area.

The men ate a diet of mostly elk meat and roots.  The elk meat proved to be harder and harder to get and it spoiled quickly. Elk still inhabit the area in great numbers.

Beautiful elk grazing in the field

Bull elk grazing in the protected wildlife area in Dean Creek. So exciting to see them up close in a safe environment.

We enjoyed stopping at the Dean Creek Wildlife Area, an important habitat administered by the BLM.  Over 100 head of Roosevelt elk call this home.  It was exciting to see groups of large bulls in velvet up close.

A look at the inside of the fort

A look at the inside of the barebones fort

For most of the members, the three months in Fort Clatsop was the least favorite of the entire 2 year 4 month journey.  Besides tight quarters and poor food, many of the men had colds, influenza, and venereal diseases along with irritating skin conditions from the continual wet weather.  The team happily left the Fort on March 22, 1806 heading upstream in several canoes including one stolen from the neighboring Native Americans.  The Fort was left to the Indians for their use.  It rotted away in the wet weather, with no mention of it past the mid 1800’s.

We enjoyed walking on the empty beach

We enjoyed walking on the empty beach. We picked some shells that John just rinsed in this photo. 

Much like Lewis and Clark, we enjoyed Oregon’s gorgeous coastline.  Our 3 mile round trip hike on the Tahkenitch Trails tooks us from pine trees to sand dunes across swampy wetlands on to the beautiful beach.  In 45 minutes on the beach we only saw one other person.  We found a few interesting shells but only partial sand dollars.   The plovers were nesting so we had to stay on the wet sand in order to not disturb these tiny little shore birds.

In front of the Sea Lion Cave entrance and store

In front of the Sea Lion Cave entrance and store

Further north of Florence there is an opportunity to visit the privately owned Sea Lion Caves.  For $15 a person, you can take an elevator 208 feet down to see the signature Sea Lions.

We watched sea lions swimming and catching suns rays on the rocks

We watched sea lions swimming and catching suns rays on the rocks

Being frugal Offpeakers, we stood at the top and saw the interesting marine mammals with binoculars and the camera’s zoom lens.

Beautiful view of the Heceta Lighthouse

Beautiful view of the Heceta Lighthouse

Further down the road we had a great view back at the Sea Lions along the coast as well as of the Heceta Head Lighthouse.  This area is one of the most beautiful we have seen.  From this one spot you can see steep cliffs, crashing surf, swimming and sunning sea lions a the spectacular light house.

The coast was breathtaking

The coast was breathtaking

Less than half an hour further north, save time to investigate the Cape Perpetua Scenic area.  Included there is a nice Interpretive center from where you can reportedly see whales swim by earlier  in the year.  There are also short but interesting trails that can lead you down to the shoreline to see the Devil’s Churn, Cape Cove as well as tidal pools.

John found this beautiful starfish in one of the pools

John found this beautiful starfish in one of the pools

Heading north, Tillamook has a massive cheese factory that just cries out for a visit.  In a few minutes you can go on a self guided tour, enjoy nice restrooms, and sample a buffet line of cheeses.

We enjoyed sampling the cheeses at the factory

We enjoyed sampling the cheeses at the Tillamook factory

Of course you can purchase blocks of the cheese or tasty looking ice cream if you can brave the long lines and steep prices.  By now we were near Fort Clatsop, so we hurried on in the tradition of Lewis and Clark.  Our new home base is only a few hours away, so the Offpeakers will be back to see Fort Stevens (you can even hike to a shipwreck!), the Tillamook Aviation Museum among other notable sights in the area.

What an impressive bridge

The longest continuous truss bridge in North America, the impressive Astoria-Megler bridge. 

Our exit from the area was not in a hot canoe but still memorable.  The Astoria-Megler bridge crosses the mighty Columbia, taking us from Oregon to our new home state of Washington.  The towering 4.1 mile long bridge, with a top road height of 215 feet, is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America.  7,100 cars a day take this vertigo inducing trip.

A view from the top of the bridge. Washington Ahoy!

A view from the top of the bridge. Washington Ahoy!

We felt safe despite the height as the bridge was built to withstand windstorms of 150 miles per hour. Reading about the bridge brings to mind how the cost of infrastructure continues to rise.  When bridge construction was completed in 1966, total cost was $24 million.  Just recently the bridge was painted for a cost nearly the same, $21 million!

We loved the Oregon Coast, we want to go back!

Oregon is a diverse state that we must explore more. The Offpeakers will be back.

Whether you are following the Lewis and Clark Trail or just want a fun outing in the area, the Offpeakers endorse a visit to the Fort Clatsop National Memorial and of course the beautiful Oregon coast.  With so many coastal related sight seeing opportunities in the immediate area, try to set aside additional time in order to take more of it in.  What are some of your favorites on the Oregon Coast?  Are you a fan of Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery?

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