Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011: Jade, Steam, and Living on the Edge!

Another very busy day! We started out by visiting the jade cutter, Nick, learning about the origin and types of jade (nephrite and jadeite) and walked away with some beautiful and meaningful pieces. BTW, Nick loved "Travels with Mater" and helped me take some photos! I love the significance of shapes and designs that help to tell the story and beliefs of the Maori people. The nature of each design is representative of a character trait, worn for protection, or to help fortify or support a relationship. Strength, determination, prosperity and good health are included, along with courage, harmony and growth, to name a few. The promise of safe passage over water or a meaningful relationship is important in these patterns, as well as protection from evil. They have fascinating and unique names, such as heimatua, koru, toki, and manaia, and everyone in the Maori community seems to know them all. The Maori are a naturally spiritual people and they are all connected to each other, either by blood or by life force.

We headed over to Whakarewarewa (remember the full name you’ve been practicing?! How’s it going?). This thermal Maori village gave us a personal insight into the lifestyle of the Maori that reside there. Overall, I found them to be deeply respectful of their elders and their history and this seems to help guide their current lives and the decisions they make. The hot springs, boiling water, bubbling mud, and sulfuric steam all play an influential and meaningful role in the every day life of the resident Maori. They bathe in the naturally hot water, heat their homes, and cook their food using the energy provided by Mother Nature. Throughout the village were four recessed underground communal “ovens” where the village residents cooked their food using the heat from the earth’s steam. Meats, vegetables, and breads were all included and the ovens were shared by one and all. Wrapped in foil or in pots, food was placed in these “ovens” and cooked throughout the day with the family retrieving their meal when cooked to perfection! There were spots where you could feel the heat through your shoes and where the ground was quite warm and, of course, the sulfuric smell was never far away!

We walked through the village to a spot where we could witness the geyser erupt into the blue skies, at times being obscured by the steam that accompanied it. While not the magnitude of Old Faithful, it is still a powerful display of earth’s capacity to slowly change its face as minerals and other colorful elements spew into the air slowly leaving their mark on the rocks and soil surrounding it. Naturally we waited for it to erupt and, collectively, took an obscene number of photos!

We then went to Mt. Ngontongaha, taking the gondola to the top where we rode the luge (some more than once) partially down the mountain. We were treated to a panoramic view of Lake Rotorua and its surroundings as we stopped for lunch in the café enjoying the view. I have to say that we have been incredibly fortunate in regard to the weather. While the temperatures are a bit chilly in the morning and evening here in New Zealand, the sun has been shining in Rotorua and the snow and icy conditions have stayed in the South Island.

Agroventure was our next stop today where we were able to take advantage of some risk-taking, adrenaline producing endeavors! There was the Shweeb, Free Fall Extreme, the Agrojet, Swoop and Bungy. Shweeb is a human powered monorail that you pedal while sitting in a pod racing another “shweeber”. Apparently, you can reach speeds up to 45 mph but we don’t know that for sure because none of us did that! Brendan and Billy did Free Fall Extreme where they were suspended on a giant column of air flying up to @12 feet off the ground. Our group “superheros” loved every minute of their weightlessness. They also did the Swoop free falling towards the ground at 130 MPH, pulling 3 G’s on the way after being cocooned inside a harness before soaring through the air. Lots of us did the Agrojet. This is a 13 ft. sprint boat powered by 450 HP engine that pumps through 11,000 liters of water per minute! They strap you in, buckle you up before taking off in a jet sprint boat that reaches 100 MPH in just 4.5 seconds! Our driver, Matt, was excellent and provided us with a ride of screaming and laughter as he treated us to a 360 degree Hamilton jet spin! That guy has a great job!

Anja suggested we stop at Ogo for some more fun! This time, Anja, Heather, Brendan, and Billy took on the Zorb, a huge ball within a ball that is filled with water and sent hurtling down a hill with a human inside of it! Keep in mind that the temperatures hovered near 50 degrees F. Even though warm water was put into the ball and its occupant emerged soaked to the bone, they loved their rocking and rolling down the green, green hills of New Zealand!

We returned to the hotel and went to the Hangi dinner, a traditional Maori feast complete with music that accompanied the time-honored Maori dances and performances. It began with a customary greeting and accepting of peace between the clans, in this case the Maori and the audience. Our “chief” was Bradley, chosen from the men in the room. It was also an audience participation event and many of us ended up on stage along with the performers and a good time was had by all. I left the evening believing that the Maori are a happy people, even though they shared with us some traditional warrior customs. Listening to the music, one can hear a Hawaiian influence (or vice versa with the Maori influencing the Hawaiian songs!), and seeing their joyful smiles as they perform, I left the performance feeling that perhaps it is the simple lifestyle the Maoris live that makes them so happy and content. Either way, they are a joyful and satisfied people and it is a delight to spend time with them and to get to know them and their culture better.

This is a visual test. Can you pick out the genuine Maori native?

Wed., July 27, 2011
Lots of steam, a nautical rodeo, from Thailand to la Dolce Vita

Ok, people…RUN, don’t walk, to the nearest opportunity you have to visit White Island, a submarine volcano, off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand! Not kidding! So inconceivably awesome! It was like walking on the moon with giant spewing fumaroles and steam puffing out of holes and fissures on this barren landscape almost devoid of vegetation. Here are some words from our group to describe today…almost all of them referring to White Island: amazing, gaseous, unique, outrageous, yellow, stunk (in reference to the sulfur smell, which was quite strong at times!), thought-provoking, volcanic, steamy, eerily breathtaking, sci-fi, serious, caldera, sweeeeeeeeeeet, rock-n-rollin”, and “craterrific”!… and then there was "abduction" and "conspiratorial" but more about that later - and fattening - later!

We loaded onto the boat this morning where we received some safety tips along with the location of the life jackets…just in case, you know! We then started our almost 2 hour trip out to White Island in the Bay of Plenty through choppy waters and large swells. White Island, New Zealand’s only active volcano, is believed to be between 150,000-200,000 years old It was once the site of sulfur mining activity but in 1914 an eruption killed 10 men when ash and a lahar collapsed the building they were in (no trace of them was ever found) and mining was finally curtailed in 1923. BTW, a cat named “Peter the Great” survived. Legend has it that he sired all of the cats in Whakatane today! But men did come there to work, especially during the Depression when employment was almost impossible to find. This is the kind of place that you either love or hate. One man came for 2 years and stayed for 8 while another, upon seeing the island, climbed the mast of his ship, tied himself to it and refused to come down until the ship was on its return journey away from the island! Apparently he had a different idea of an island in the South Pacific!

Just before arrival at White Island, the crew took out yellow hard hats and gas masks for us to wear during or visit , a real fashion statement for sure! We left the boat and climbed into an inflatable dingy that took us to a crude ladder which we climbed to a landing and then navigated our way across a garden of boulders to the beach. More safety tips here as we were informed that today was the 11th anniversary of the last eruption but not to worry. They had plans - sort of - just in case - and that as soon as our boat had a chance to return safely from fleeing the falling ash and debris from said explosion, it would be back to pick us up. Of course, since it was already so awesome to be there, we ventured forth and never looked back! Seriously, the pictures tell it all and just as soon as I have an internet connection, I promise to share them with you but suffice it to say, “IT WAS AWE-INSPIRING!“ The power of the earth is not to be understated.

So much color in the rocks here. The sulfur, gypsum, and iron ore all contribute to the rainbow of hues that can be found, as well as the sun, rain, and cloud cover. Again, Mother Nature, thank you!

Ever heard of a nautical rodeo? Me, neither, but we experienced all the bucking and excitement of a land rodeo cowboy on our return trip to Whakatane. The captain told me he expected it to be windier on this trip and his prediction did not disappoint. While he thought the swells were only about a meter high, the water was consistently washing over both the lower and upper decks of the boat and the windows, blocking all visibility. Being a passenger on this boat was like riding a bucking bronco and was yet another example of how powerless humans really are, despite their belief of just the opposite! I loved every minute of it and it the perfect end to a flawless excursion! There were times that the waves we encountered, washed over the TOP deck of the boat! Some of us were invoking the protection of a higher power!

As I was getting ready to meet everyone in the lobby for dinner, I realized that Mater was missing! I tore through my pockets, my camera case, my suitcase and then my memory trying to remember when was the last time I saw him! Good grief! What will I tell Liam if I can’t find our lovable little tow truck?! I realized that he must have fallen out of my pocket either on the boat or on the bus and now my mind was in full blown problem solving mode! When I told Anja she volunteered to call the boat company and send him home if that was where he was but assured me he must be on the bus. Donna and Branden were shocked at Mater’s absence and Jane appropriately expressed her dismay, as well. The rest of the group joined in my anguish, as well,which, as it turns out, was all an act! .. and then…on our way to dinner…I was called to the front desk of the hotel and was given a note…FROM MATER! It read: “NuNu - Awhina! (Help!) Kia Tupato! (Be careful!) You forgot me! You will be “towed” what to do. Mater”…then on the bottom was written: “Kitonu tak waka topaki I te tuna.” I will ask Richard, our bus driver, for a translation tomorrow. (My hovercraft is full of eels!) This is where “abduction” comes into play. Poor Mater! He must be worried that he will be left behind in New Zealand but not me! I know he must be well cared for and will patiently wait for his return while doing whatever the notes tell me to do! Stay tuned…..

Since we did not want the hotel food again we ventured out to a local Thai restaurant. Excellent food (an opinion shared by most of us, anyway!) and lots of fun. Of course, I missed Mater but when I looked at the pictures on my camera….THERE HE WAS! Such a mystery! They had these little funky animals with propeller navels with clips sticking out of their heads that were used to hold the table numbers. One was a cow and I decided I needed to have it for Amy. The woman at the desk was a bit taken aback when I asked if I could purchase this little cow but I was able to broker a deal and left with the cow…but not Mater!

We then went to an Italian restaurant for dessert - la dolce vita! OMG! There was caramel chocolate cheesecake, Donatello fudge ice cream concoction, little chocolate covered pineapple cake pops, and it all was scrum-diddlee-umptious and quite beautiful to boot! All this food left us in a food coma! Good thing we’ve been doing lots of walking!

Tomorrow we leave for Auckland and then we are off to Fiji!

Auckland to Rotorua: July 25, 2011

Nau mai, Haere mai ki Aotearoa! Welcome to New Zealand! Kia hora! After a bit of a delay due to snow in the south island in Wellington, NZ we arrived in Auckland, NZ, the Land of the Long White Cloud. New Zealand is quite serious about their airport security and searched a number of bags in customs looking for whatever it is that threatens homeland security but also for food! It must all be claimed upfront. Meats, fresh fruits, breads are not allowed and dirty golf shoes that are not claimed could all get you a fine of $400.00! It’s the bacteria, etc. that could be in the food and the dirt on the shoes that could be carrying an environmental threat to this beautiful and pristine environment. Years ago they introduced possums to help rid the country of something else and now those possums number in the millions and the saying goes, “The only good possum is a dead possum!”. Being the inventive and creative people they are, the Kiwis have learned to use possum fur mixed with merino wool to create a soft, warm garment so those deceased little rodents don’t go to waste!

I love flying into this country with its rugged coastline and its lush green gently rolling hills and flowering plants, even in the winter! The North Island is not home to the glaciers and higher mountains but is the island with the bulk of the Maori population and history. It’s all beautif
ul with some of us commenting that it reminded us of Ireland or even Sussex County!

Richard, our coach driver and of Maori descent, took us to Rotorua, a trip of @3 hours and we were able to see more of the countryside as we left one of the only multi-lane highways on the island for a double lane road for most of the trip. Rotorua means “ 2 lakes” or “second lake”, with “roto” signifying “lake” and “rua” meaning “2” or “second” and is the spiritual home to the Maori. It was given this name by the Maori explorer, Ihenga around 1350 AD. Rotorua sits on one of the most active geothermal and volcanic regions in the world. This geothermal field contains 1,200 geothermal features including geysers, hot springs, bubbling mud pools and fumaroles, silica terraces and flats. The people population of New Zealand is @4 million. The sheep population is @40 million! So it was sheep we saw along with cows grazing on the hillsid
es as the sun set on our first night here and Richard told us a bit of New Zealand and Maori history. Rotorua is the center of Maori language and culture as well as an active geothermal area with the distinct smell of sulfur in the air. You can see steam rising out of bushes and in parks all around the area as we drove into town. Tomorrow we go to Whakarewarewa, a Maori village and geothermal park. "Whaka" is the shortened name for a very long one which is quite difficult to pronounce. If you just say every letter with “wh” sounding like “f”, you’ve got it! Go ahead. Try it! Let me know how this works out for you!

Here is the name in its entirety:


A couple of pictures from our hotel along Lake Rotorua:

Haere mai until tomorrow!

Monday, July 25, 2011

This is what they call a "frosty" morning here in Rotorua. There is ice on car windows and it is expected to be no warmer than @48 degrees F today. You can see your breath outside! Our hotel is right on the lake where there is a constant steam cloud floating up from the water... and, of course. the sulfur smell!

We are actually quite fortunate to be in the North Island as the South Island, specifically Christchurch and Wellington, have been hammered with snow, delaying flights, interrupting all sorts of services, and generally making life difficult while maintaining the top news story like a nor'easter might do.

I am having some trouble connecting in my room and therefore cannot upload photos right now but will do so ASAP. It really is beautiful and there ought to be some excellent photos after todya's excursions.

Time is up online for me so let's chat later!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Good morning as we prepare to leave for New Zealand. We will be landing in Auckland and going to Rotorua in the North Island. Not sure how much access I'll have once we arrive but I will do my best to keep posting. Otherwise, stay tuned and I will update once we get to Honolulu.

Hooroo, Australia!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Another day in Paradise! This was a free day for us in Sydney to explore, shop, relax, climb know...the usual! We slept in a bit today and then we went off in different directions. Some took the train to the Rocks, some went back to the Opera House, some walked to church and then to the Rocks, some went to the Sydney Harbor Bridge to take a walk - up the bridge!

The Rocks is an area down by the harbor where the convicts landed when sent from England. The youngest of these law breakers was 9 years old and the oldest was 83. Hardened criminals along with bread thieves were treated the same with there being just 2 sentences - a 7 year term of imprisonment or a 14 year incarceration. The area became one of crime and rundown buildings and the city planned to knock down everything to build high rises. There was a major uproar by the citizens to preserve the history and the buildings by the harbor and, eventually, the town father's saw the light and acquiesced to the demand of its citizens and The Rocks was born! It is now full of boutiques, art shops, restaurants and cafes. You can walk along the harbor to the Opera House, take a boat ride, both fast ones and leisurely, enjoy the entertainment of contemporary musicians and that of some aborigines...or you can just people watch. It's all good!

I am so blessed to have friends here in Sydney through a variety of avenues. I had a friend who taught in Australia for a couple of years and, on her way back to the states, she went via Fiji. Graeme was on his way around the world and met my friend while he was in Fiji, as well. They exchanged addresses and when Graeme arrived in the New York area, he stayed with us for a few weeks, exploring our area, Philadelphia, and, his favorite, New York City. He then left for London but couldn't resist returning to us on his way back bringing another friend, Lorna, with him and, after another couple of weeks, we were all fast friends. That was in 1976! Graeme is one of those people with a sneaky sense of humor who can talk to anyone and does! Our laugh-fests were legendary! It was wonderful seeing him again and we plan on getting together in November when he comes back to N
ew York. We got so caught up in conversation that I did not get a new picture of Graeme nor did I get one with Mater! However, there will be pictures in November! Meanwhile, here is a picture of my friend, Graeme, from a previous post.

Katie was our tour manager when we came to Australia in 1999. She and her husband, Paul, did this work on school holidays and, typical of the Aussies we've met, they are both open and friendly and interesting. Katie was always so kind to the us on that first tour and was easy-going and full of stories and ideas to keep us all busy. We became friends on that trip and, when I came back in 2001, she and Paul had a son, Sam. We have kept in touch through the birth of their daughter, Holly, and so it was natural to see them this time, as well, getting to know their beautiful children a bit in the process.

It was so good to see them all, even if only for a few hours. The time apart did not lessen that connection and we had relaxed, natural conversation throughout dinner. Sam and Holly were the bonus at dinner, loving that I had Mater with me and, of course, photos were taken! Are they simply delicious young Aussies?! :)

This was just another reminder to be kind to the friends you have and be open to new friendships wherever you go. You just never know how each new person will enrich your life!

We leave Australia tomorrow for New Zealand. I, for one, will be sad to be leaving this captivating country with its life-loving people and will return again someday. One story goes that it is a traditional aboriginal way of saying good bye to wipe your hands under your armpits and then wipe the cheeks of the person to whom you are saying farewell... while this all sounds very exotic and exceptional, I will go with "Hooroo, Australia!"

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sydney: Saturday, July 23, 2011

We had an amazing day in Sydney today touring the city, including Bondi Beach, visiting the opal factory, taking a harbor cruise, touring the Opera House and having dinner at the Blackbird Cafe.

Sydney is full of interesting history with the British, the convicts, and the aborigines. we hopped in and out of the coach between rain showers this morning, some heavy at times and other times simply annoying. But we remained hopeful that it would clear up and it did!

The Opera House is the identifying face of Sydney Harbor. It sits out on a peninsula of land, Bennelong Point, surrounded on three sides by the harbor dominating the shape of the skyline despite its diminutive size compared to the taller buildings in the city. This icon was designed by Jorn Utzon and opened in 1973, after 16 years of construction and controversy with a 1,400 percent cost overrun. It is Australia's most popular tourist attraction with over 7 million visitors a year. It really is a breathtaking structure with its shell-like outline and glass curtain walls. The shell ribs add dimension and depth to the interior and each performance hall is created to be acoustically perfect. Simply grand!

For all you Barbie fans: They had a collector Barbie designed to represent the opera house, as well! There was actually a pretty big campaign advertising her with posters and doll displays. Here is a visual in case you want to get one!

Part of the history of the harbor area is that some of it is reclaimed land. They have placed markers in the walkway that runs along the water to delineate the borders of the land as it stood in 1788. Beyond that point is the reclaimed land.

The opal factory was our next stop. We skipped the introductory film and little chat with the staff and got right down to business! So much to choose from and so! There were opals of every grade and type ranging from doublets and triplets to the coveted black and fire opals. There were necklaces, bracelets, rings, brooches, and free from opals for the choosing! All beautiful! Everyone managed to find an opal that suited them, some more than others, and we all walked away happy, if not a bit less financially secure! :)

We also went to Bondi Beach, the famous playground of surfers and bikinis. In fact, in 2007, the Guinness World Record confirmed that the largest swimsuit photo shoot was set at Bondi Beach with 1,010 women wearing bikinis! We did not see any though since it was raining off and on at this point and...oh, was winter there! FYI: In Aborigine, "Bondi" means "water hitting rocks" of "place where the flight of nullas took place". Boy, was it ever hitting the rocks and living up to its name today!

We stopped at an outcropping during our tour that has, apparently, been a location for a number of desperate actions taken by despondent people. We were told that the man across the street has had a hand in talking many people down off of the rocks before it was too late. He is known for returning hope to the lives of these people and hence - the sign.

Our dinner was at the Blackbird Cafe in the harbor area. Delicious food and good friends - wonderful way to start our stay in Sydney!

The weather was off and on all day but finally cleared up and it looks like we are going to have a perfectly clear day here in Sydney for Sunday.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011

Amid sunshine and winds, we reluctantly left Tangalooma. It was an uneventful ferry ride to Brisbane where we arrived along with @100 PTP student ambassadors. Collecting luggage took a bit of time but then we were off to Lone Pine Koala sanctuary.

Of course, the big draw there was the chance to hold a koala so we went to them “straight away”! Koalas are very docile marsupials who tolerate being placed in the hands of countless visitors all wanting a photo for posterity. Me, too! We all lined up and smiled as our photo was taken by the staff and the rest of us took photos, as well. Holding a koala is not unlike holding a human baby. After being placed in your cupped hands, they sink comfortably into your chest with its arms up on your shoulders. They are furry with a unique eucalyptus scent and because of their size and weight, you might even tend to rock back and forth like you do when you hold a baby! While koalas are the main attraction, there are lots of other animals that live there, too. There are those large bats the size of cats, platypus, reptiles, wombats, cassowary, emus, dingoes, and, of course, kangaroos and wallabies. Since Australia has lots of birds native to the country, there were lorikeets, cockatoos, cockatiels, budgie birds, a number of different parrots and more. We went into the kangaroo enclosure where we were treated to free wandering emu, wallaby, and red and grey kangaroo. Since it was late morning/early afternoon the kangaroo were pretty lazy and very easily approachable. Most of us bought kangaroo food so had something to entice them to interact but so did every other visitor and some of the roos were in a virtual food coma! But they did take food from our hands, allow us to pet them, and sit while we took photos and photos and more photos! Some were jumping and hopping around giving us the true kangaroo experience!

Koalas were everywhere and easy to see as they, too, are passive and sleepy. Koalas eat only eucalyptus leaves and therefore smell like the plant. They eat and sleep, with very little wandering about and they cling to the trunks of the eucalyptus while their babies cling to them. So darn cute…just couldn’t get enough!

As you leave Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, there is a pair of cockatoos that say “good bye” in a voice eerily similar to human beings! Every person that passed laughed and stopped to "talk" to the birds trying to get them to say other things...not all appropriate, I might add! :)

Update: Ken has had a number of “incidents” this trip! Remember his encounter with a fish at the reef resulting in his finger being bitten? Well, while sand surfing, Ken took the most dramatic spill and managed to get a bruise onhis arm the size of a small coconut…ok…a very small coconut…maybe a kiwi sized coconut… but he was still the only one with this honor! Then today at Lone Pine while holding the koala to have his photo taken, his
koala reached out and grabbed his lip scraping his cheek in the process! I'll let you be the judge but that’s three times, Ken! May I suggest you steer clear of the volcano on White Island?

As we head to Sydney, we are coming into the worst rain they have had for 61 years! The
surfers are pretty happy although some beaches have banned them from the water with waves over 12 ft. We are hopeful that this storm will break and give us some drier weather. Sunday looks like our best bet.

FYI: Our snack on the plane from Brisbane to Sydney was sea salt grissini with spiced pumpkin dip - quite delicious! And an apple. Apparently, pumpkins are pretty big in Australia, too! In Goomeria, Queensland there is the Annual Goomeri Pumpkin Festival, including the Great Australian Pumpkin roll! and Check out for more about this little snack! I forgot to mention that on our Qantas flights, passengers are given a bag to help them recycle. Of course, one might muse that the extra bag is just more garbage but hey…it’s the thought, really! I’m just sayin’…

Saw a guy in Brisbane airport with a Superman shirt on and had to introduce him to Mater. I explained that Liam just had a Superhero party and that his shirt would be perfect to join Mater in a photo. Luca was so excited to meet Liam's traveling tow truck and happily posed for a super picture with him, too. Yet another friendly and life-loving Aussie!

At our gate was an arriving flight filled with students who had gone on a trip to Sydney and Canberra. Their families were all waiting at the gate - anyone old enough to remember when we used to do that, too? A group of younger brothers and sisters were squealing with delight at the thought of their siblings returning from such an adventure so far away. Many had not been on a plane before this trip and would surely bring home exciting tales of their week away from home and supervision. The children formed a receiving line of sorts and there was much revelry as their brothers and sisters, sons and daughters deplaned welcomed by hugs and kisses and even awkward adolescent joy as they saw their families once again. After all, how could they act excited at their age just to see Mom and Dad and annoying little brothers and sisters? But their delight was impossible to hide and smiles sneaked onto their lips as they happily walked with their families to return to the comfort of home and their own pillows tonight. One little boy, probably about 18 months old, refused to let go of his sister as he buried his little head in her neck and had a shameless, blissful smile on his face as they walked away. If you are fortunate enough to have one, love your family a little bit more tonight.

I sat next to a young man on the flight to Sydney whose name was Darrel. He was 25 and an engineer of sorts traveling around the world for his company. He has been to NYC, Boston, and New Jersey, to name a few of the places he has seen! He is not opposed to a quick stop in Las Vegas, either, or of relocating if anyone wants to offer him a job! Then, Stewart sat between us and he also works for an insurance company as an engineer so they really had an interesting conversation. But, not before I told them the tale of Mater’s travels and they wanted their picture to be added to the collection!

I managed to get a few pictures up but now must go off for the day! Check back later, mates!


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thursday, July 20, 2011

Sand tobogganing rocks! Paul, our driver to the desert, was a typical Ozzie with a nonstop sense of humor and the inborn ability to laugh at himself. He goes to the United States every 2 years, buys a truck, drives coast to coast for a few weeks and then returns home to Australia. He then brings the truck home, changes the steering wheel to the other side of the car and off he goes for another 2 years! He seems to have a particular fondness for Texas, as well! Now, none of this may be true...we really don't know for sure! But he was entertaining as he drove us to the sand dunes in the desert to try our hand at sand tobogganing.

After entering the desert area, we reach a place called Lightning Ridge. It is really just a mound of sand that is filled with what looks like thousands of tiny rocks. In reality, they each represent a lightning strike! As the lightning hits the sand, it melts the silica in the sand to create these little lightning rocks. Amazing how much lightning hits in this area! You are not allowed to take any of these rocks, but Paul got out and picked one up to show us. He promised us he would put it back in the exact spot from which he took it...again, who knows!?

Back to sand tobogganing: For some, it goes like this: you hike up a pretty serious hill of sand...all sand...after all, it is a sand dune...have your picture taken by a young, smiling photographer (who is going to New York in a couple of weeks) has hiked up the hill and is not out of breath. She tells you that you are doing fine, just like she is paid to do! When finally at the top, it is a glorious view of the desert from where you've just come and to where you are now going, much more quickly and with very little effort! As instructed, you lie down on a piece of board, rough on one side to prevent you from sliding off and waxed on the other so you can reach speeds of up to 35 mph as you torpedo headlong down the gritty incline toward an uncertain landing. Hurtling oneself willy-nilly down a sand hill with no visible means of stopping that does not involve tumbling head over heels in fine grain sand that will end up EVERYWHERE must be on everyone's bucket list! The alternate scenario goes something like this: "Cool!", you say to yourself, "Let's go!", not noticing the angle and height of the sand as you race up the hill to the top with nary a bead of sweat and plenty of oxygen to spare. You passed the little photographer girl because you were going too fast to notice her or she says something like, "How many times is this for ya, hey?" You lie down on the board, race down the hill at breakneck speed and rush to repeat it all over again! The point isjust doing it! Such wild abandon and fleeting freedom! Beware: you MUST keep the front of the board up lest you find yourself with a mouthful of grit, which many of us did! So much fun! Some of us did it once, some did it 6 times but either way it was awesome! Now for some pictures of us in various stages of victory and defeat!

Anja went on a helicopter ride with a couple of us and it provided us with breathtaking views of the island and the surrounding water! The pilot took us around the island to the east side of the island showing us the desert where we had just been sand tobogganing along with indescribably turquoise and green water along the shore. The depth of the water dictated the colors and there was a rainbowof greens, turquoise, myriad shades of blues, indigo, jade...Mother Nature was working overtime here!

The winds died down today and we could really enjoy the perfect temperatures, sit on the beach, walk without jackets, and be glad we are not in temperatures too extreme in either way! Some went kayaking while others took the opportunity to relax or explore the island.

Later in the afternoon, Bissy came to visit. Bissy is an older dolphin who doesn't go out too far from the island anymore and is quite comfortable around people. She was swimming around in very shallow water giving all who saw her a very close encounter with her. She left all too soon and we spent some time on the beach looking out into the sea in the hopes that Bissy would return. It was not to be. This was one of those special times that will not be forgotten but neither can it be replicated in exactly the same way.

Brendan, however, wandered into the water and was so close to another dolphin that he was able to touch her! Naturally, we all wanted to have the same experience but it was Brendan's alone. Brendan is our group "didgeridude"!

Today as the winds died down the family of kookaburras returned to be fed. They wait patiently for very lean beef as meat with a high fat content is not digestible and may make them sick or result in their death. (Hmmmm....maybe humans should take note here!) Kookaburras are very noisy, round birds with a long sharp beak and their screams and calls could be heard all over the island. They are very family-oriented, mating for life, and warning other kookaburras to stay away if they interfere with an expected food source. Very cute birds full of personality and noise!

Some of us went to Karen and Ken's room before dinner and to see the sunset from their balcony. They have a knack for getting a room with a beautiful view!

We are off to the ferry leaving Tangalooma (so sad, really!) and headed to Brisbane and the koalas!!! then it's off to Sydney...let's hope the rains have stopped!