A couple of weekends ago we saw the most amazing thing: 12 Southern Right Whales
Six mother and calf pairs lounged about on the surface of the water, seeming basking in the late winter sun. Their great puffs of breath sending salt spray high into the air. The babies lolling about and splashing in the shallow water. It was the most spectacular whale sighting we’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing, and it was from shore.
Warrnambool is not high on anyone’s tour list in southern Australia. It’s a little beach town just past the western end of the Great Ocean Road. In the summer it’s hopping with beach goers and holiday makers, but in the winter it seems to roll up in it’s sidewalks for a nap. It’s in the winter that the whales come.
July through September the mothers can be relied upon to turn up in “nursery bay” as the locals call it, to calve and raise their young until they’re strong enough to make the long swim to their far off feeding grounds. This particular bay is shallow and protected, so their is less risk of sharks and orca preying on their young. For three whole months they hang out and watch the people watching them.
Here’s the spectacular part: They can be seen from shore!! The whales are only a few hundred meters off of the beach. So close that I spent my morning worrying a bit about them becoming beached, but apparently that’s not a problem. There are no boats in the water harassing them, only a few surfers riding the breaks that are well inside the whales’ nursery. A viewing platform has been built and folks come from far and wide to watch the whales and celebrate the return of a species that was hunted almost to extinction!
I often feel conflicted, writing about places to go and see wildlife or “eco-tourism” as it seems to just increase the risk to the animals. In this case, I’m so excited to tell every traveler I know about this quiet little corner of Australia with a very big secret. There is no risk to the animals and it may just be your best chance ever to see many whales, mother and calf pairings, at close proximity with absolutely no stress or danger to the animals whatsoever.
We took some video of one of the baby whales having a play:
We just finished up a long, slow, six month wander New Zealand. I have to say, it’s been one of the pleasantest places we’ve had the privilege to travel. It definitely falls near the top of our “easy to travel” countries list.
Even if you’re a very new traveler, or have special needs, you’re going to find NZ a pleasure.
This is also a country made to be driven.
If you head to NZ and don’t hire a car and hit the roads, you’ll have missed some of the best the country has to offer. The cities (small by international standards) are wonderful, but it’s the countryside and the small towns that hold the real charm and the real adventure.
Lots and lots of people come to New Zealand every year to see the country by camper van or RV. My parents did, ten years ago, and their raving about their adventures here were a large part of why we decided to stay for so long. While the famous “free camping” that New Zealand has been known for, has been ratcheted down on somewhat in the last couple of years, due to abuse and misuse of public properties, there are still some free and very good low cost options. The catch: most tourists never find them.
If you google “camper vanning New Zealand” or some such, what will come up is a long list of camper van and RV hire sites. Everything from the more than a little dodgy “Wicked” vans to the very efficiently marketed “Jucy” fleet, to the big “Kea” RVs (which is what we would have needed for our family of six with big kids.)
Knowing that the best way to see this country is by camping, it’s really tempting to hire a van. We know lots of people who have, with varying degrees of happiness with the service and results. It doesn’t seem like it will be *that much* more expensive than staying in a hotel, perhaps it will even be cheaper if you are used to staying in nice places and you’re only coming for a couple of weeks.
A few myths to be debunked:
Interested in how to get around much of that? There are options for the patient and the creative thinkers out there I wrote a very long explanation of how to make it happen without spending an arm and a leg and getting the “local” intel as the cherry on top!
“You really have to want to do this, don’t you, Dear?”
Ann’s words have echoed in my mind as her sweet, octogenarian face has pleasantly haunted my afternoon walks. We wandered slowly through the natural bridge outside of Waitomo, NZ, with her and her husband, Ross. I quietly got the kids’ attention and encouraged them to walk more slowly behind him, and not press forward as he did his aged best to step over tree roots and up the rocky stairs to the high meadow where we laughed together about the crazy idea of standing in the presence of 3 million year old oysters. Tony gave him a leg up over the fences. He laughed, good-naturedly, when the boys leapt out from behind blackberry bushes with a roar, as he had undoubtedly done forty years before I took my first breath.
Ann was hand washing for the two of them in a little tub out the back of her camper van, using water that Ross was bringing, one bucket at a time from the bridge. He’d lower the bucket the twenty or so feet to the surface with a long rope and then haul it up, mostly full, hand over hand before delivering it to his white haired wife. By the time she was done rinsing he was there to help her wring out his trousers, one on each end, twisting hard, and hang the clothes from a line he’s strung under the awning.
She commiserated with me over hand washing for six, producing meals for an army on two burners in a three foot square space, and the difficulties of adventuring with children. She’d raised a tribe too, in her day, and they’d camped the length and breadth of their island home. Perhaps she’s a premonition of myself.
You have to really want to do this.
I’ve been thinking about that statement, and the layers of meaning it embodies.
Truth be told, living this way is a lot of work. Staying home is far and away easier. But the best things in life are always the things that require the most from us, that we have to work our rear-ends off to achieve. The things we are proudest of mean so much to us because they’ve cost us the most.
Marriage is like that.
Raising kids is like that.
Traveling is like that.
All three together is the perfect storm of all that and two bags of chips.
There was so much encouragement in Ann’s face as we talked and washed and shared “mama” stories. The older I get the more I appreciate the stories of old women. I think because I’m just beginning to understand the many-layered thing that a woman’s life is, stretched thin over the better part of a century. Perhaps it’s because I can see myself in their eyes more clearly than I could at twenty, or thirty.
You have to really want to do this.
So many people give up. They give up on the thing they really, really want to do. There are so many reasons: It gets too hard. It costs too much. It hurts too badly. It isn’t what we signed up for. Someone else fails us. We fail ourselves. It’s inconvenient. It’s easier to stay home, in some capacity. We feel that we don’t deserve it, aren’t “worth” it. It’s a fight.
I’ve been thinking lots about the things I really want to do. The big things and the small things. The hard things and the harder things. The things that seem mundane, like staying married until I’m in my eighties, raising kids who are productive citizens and learning to write. The things that seem like pipe dreams too: seeing Antarctica, changing the world, and successfully handing my parents’ legacy to my grandkids. I really, really want to do these things.
For tonight, the things I really want to do included cooking 3 kilos of meat, enough potatoes, cheesy cauliflower & salad for an army, making a double batch of ginger cookies in a 16″ square camper oven and two gas burners, and making my husband laugh until he was squirming to get away from me, which is an accomplishment. I want to sit and sip my tea, munch my still warm ginger treat and thank the gods that be for friends who love me enough to mail me the exact type of tea that keeps me from killing the children who I want so desperately to strangle sometimes when we all are living in 126 square feet. And I’m willing to live in 126 square feet of rolling space because I really, really want, quite desperately, to make their childhood epic and not to miss a moment of it.
What do you really want to do?
Twenty two kilometers is a good hike. It’s not a full day’s walk, by any means, but it’s a solid start at a leisurely pace. After a month in Paraparaumu it seemed the perfect way to honor the Kapiti Coast and thank her for the gift of rest, recuperation, and peaceful joy. To walk is to pay careful homage, one footstep at a time, to a landscape, and to give the world back the very thing she gave us: life.
It was at my first break that I realized there was a problem. I felt a slight pinch along the outside of both of my big toes. By lunch my toes were tender with each step.
About an hour before I got to Pukerua Bay I seriously considered calling my husband and asking him to pick me up. But then, my determination won out over common sense and in my characteristic, bull headed manner, I decided to finish the task at hand and do what I’d set out to do. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that there is always a point in any adventure that you just want to quit. It hurts. Your heart fails. You question your own ability. It seems as if it’s not worth it to follow through. I’ve also learned that those difficulties can be pushed through, passed over, and the hardships borne, and the victory of accomplishing the hard thing is always worth the passing pain. So, I kept walking.
Days later, I was still paying the price. My feet were in bad shape. I had matching 2×1 cm blisters on the outside of my big toes. My pinkie toe on my left foot was swollen like a sausage. The tips of my toes were so sore that I could barely stand to wear socks… this was fully two days after my walk. Three weeks later and I’ve got blood blisters, black, beneath four of my toenails, pushing up in such a way that I’m worried about losing the nails.
Tony asked me the next day, after I teared up from banging my toes into a cabbage that was rolling around on the floor of the camper, “So, was it worth it?”
Of course it was worth it! I had a fantastic day. It was a walk, and an adventure that will live in my mind forever. The blisters will pass, the toenails will regrow if I lose them. The memories will last forever.
Here’s the thing: Anything worth doing, hurts. Several times a week I get emails from folks who express envy, or their desire to do some of the things that we get to do, traveling as a lifestyle.
The reality is, most people aren’t willing to push through the hard spots. They call in their safety net the moment it gets tough. They aren’t willing to do without or give up the things they would have to in order to get the postcard moment they want from my world. Dreams come with a cost. If you want to live epically, if you want to do the big things that you dream of, that will pull you out of your status quo and into something bigger and more authentically “you,” it’s going to cost you. If you’re feeling the angst of midlife and asking, “Wasn’t there supposed to be more than this?” The answer is yes… but it won’t be comfortable. The status quo is easy because it is comfortable, it doesn’t hurt that much. If you want your dreams, you can have them, but you’ll have to work, you’ll have to push, and you’ll have to learn how to suffer.
That’s what I spent the second half of my walk thinking about. It was worth every step.
You can read the whole story here
What are you doing (have you done) that hurts, but is worth it?
Serendipity is a funny thing. The mind-blowing intersections of fate and intention that lead a person down paths heretofore unconsidered is, without question, my favourite aspect of travel.
We sat, last evening, in the formal dining room of Sir James Wallace, a Knight of the Realm, so honored for his philanthropy. How did we come to be sitting there, eating off his privately commissioned silver, discussing art and opera? We picked up a hitchhiker.
In this case, a hitchhiker who turned out to be a micro-biologist and one of the most interesting travelers we’ve run across in a long while. He tossed his pack into our van and regaled us with stories of crossing China, a protein-per-penny breakdown on the nutritional value of chickpeas, and how Shakespeare and the Brownian theory related to travel. It seems he impressed Sir James as well. He’s now ensconced in the Knight’s mansion-cum-art gallery as the “artist in residence.” He’s creating a planetary mood ring on commission. I can’t tell you how, that would spoil the surprise and endanger his beautiful idea, the intersection of art and computer science.
When considering who he might share his good fortune with, he thought of us, and so we were invited to a private piano concert earlier this week, and dinner last night.
This has got me thinking:
The path would have been entirely different if we’d said, “No,” to any number of tiny questions along the way.
I’m a believer that the Universe conspires to help us, but we have to give her some material to work with.
Serendipity is one of the reasons we travel: in search of those unexpected, delightful connections between worlds that we would not otherwise have a door into.
Have you experienced this? Talk to me about serendipity and where it’s taken you!
Cost/day: $75-250 (depending on lodging and meals)
Hello and g-day from down under! How are you going? That last bit, “how are you going” always trips me up – I never know whether to answer to “how are you doing” or “where are you going”. I’ve been living in Sydney since September, and here are a few of the things that I have learned… (more…)
Recently I’ve been reading, “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. When the author was in her mid-twenties she solo hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. Her book unfolds as she treks north, nursing her blistered feet and cumbersome heavy pack along a majority of the 2,663mi (4,286km) trail. It initially begins at the Mexican border, passes through California, Oregon, and Washington in the USA and over the border into Canada. Several years ago I’d been gearing up to ride my horses along the same trail, but heavy snows in high mountain ranges and challenges with support team coordination threw a wrench in the trip–so it never happen. But I did ride sections of that trail, along with parts of the Continental Divide Trail, Chilkoot Trail, and the historic Oregon Trail. On foot I’ve graced sections of several other long paths, and driven a dog cart on one pulled by twelve huskies.
Reading Strayed’s book got me thinking about other long-distance footpaths around the world. A popular one in Europe that comes to mind is El Camino de Santiago which starts many different places but ultimately ends at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I first heard of the trail in a novel by Paulo Coelho called, “The Pilgrimage.” Other countries in Europe such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have quite a lot of paths. In Asia I’d looked into hiking the Annapurna Circuit in central Nepal. But it appears that Israel and Japan have many for the choosing as well; Japan’s most popular being the 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
Here are the worlds’ best hikes according to National Geographic.
Mark Moxon has an extensive website of information and stories from his long walking adventures.
The UK has a Long Walkers Association.
One Canadian man even walked around the world in eleven years.
Have you ever hiked or ridden on a long-distance path? Or do you have plans to do so?
Please share your stories or plans in the comments!
Cost/day: FREE (airfare not included – ha!)
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
As I write this, it is now 3:40am and I’m bunking in the San Francisco Airport after 16 hours of flight changes, delays and one emergency turn-around. Some of the things I’ve seen tonight include:
Cost:$37 a day
This isn’t a true reflection of expenses in Perth as I have been staying and eating with relatives. A large chunk of my costs are beer related and I am not a heavy drinker so expect to pay two to three times this much if you aren’t couch surfing and eating in.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
On a beautiful, sunny day at Cottesloe beach a friend of mine pointed out the aircraft carrier ship USS Carl Vinson docked off the coast. This warship was the one that Osama Bin Laden’s body was brought to in the Arabian gulf, prior to being disposed of at sea. This man-made behemoth was a reminder that not all is well in other parts of the world and was in stark contrast to the calm and peaceful surroundings.
It’s that time of year again when STA travel picks this summers World Traveler Interns and the two lucky candidates have been announced. The 2011 interns are Brigette Muller and Dutch Simpson. You can read more about who they are and what inspired them to apply for the position here, on the STA website.
This years itinerary takes us across 17 countries. The journey starts with a long winding path across Europe, through a bit of Asia, and finally touches down in Australia, New Zealand, and parts of South America. STA’s World Travel Interns are always fresh and fun to watch. Be sure to check out their progress this summer on what is sure to be an exhilarating journey.