Monday, April 18, 2011

80 Million Shades of Beautiful

Mr Joe and Jaques

Photo by Judith Kitzes
jmnh Two weeks on the North Island of New Zealand, and I feel infused with peace. Green, both in energy use and the abundance of trees; clean (ditto); serene - I love New Zealand. So, a quick overview of the details: Flew Air New Zealand, Premium Economy arriving Auckland April 3. Two nights Auckland at the hip Hotel De Brett. Picked up car; drove (via the back of beyond on a twisty gravel road) to Russell in the Bay of Islands, two nights at Eagles Nest in a 3 bedroom villa (entry level). Drove back to Auckland (the sensible route, via Ferry to a real road) for one night at the charming Mollies Boutique Hotel. Drove on to Taupo for one night at the iconic Huka Lodge. Drove on to Wellington for two nights at the well-located Intercontinental. Drove to Palliser Bay for two nights at Wharekauhau, a working sheep & cattle station with amazing accommodation and the warmest people. Drove on to Cape Kidnappers for one night at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers (with a world-class golf course in the top 10). And then ended back in Rotorua at the peaceful Treetops Lodge and Estate. Then flew home to LAX in Air New Zealand's new Space Seat Premium economy. It was a road trip. We put a lot of miles on the car, and by the end of the trip, the car was so covered in road dust, I could barely see it. My friend put I Love NZ (the heart shape) in the dusty back - when the car was washed rinsed, that remained for all to see. All the accommodations were amazing, not just because they are all luxury, unique and in magnificent locations. People make the difference, and New Zealanders are real, kind, and decent. They are much like MidWestern Americans in their down-to-earth nature. I found this experience to be true in each location; each restaurant; each shop. I've yet to meet an unpleasant Kiwi. I don't think they exist. That said, nothing is perfect and there were the occassional hiccups. The shower at Hotel De Brett leaks out the door - it's not set at a deep enough angle. The Intercontinental is well located but it's not a great hotel - the staff, on the other hand, is terrific. The rooms are a bit tired, the bathrooms small, but the Concierge is great, and so is overall management. The trip was well-timed: I was ready to leave a job for a new beginning. Where better to sort out the emotions of this than in the youngest (geographically) country on Earth? So many symbols of new beginnings, from active volcanoes spewing new land, to the Maori symbol of new beginning


Photo by Judith Kitzes

the Koro, the new growth on a fern. For me, everything was renewing and refreshing. But the closer the end of the trip came, the more anxious I became about returning to a job that was draining me of all energy. I had to find a way to a decision about how to leave, and I had to find a way to stay in the moment while I was in New Zealand or I would go insane. So I took photos. Lots of them. And I hope the peace stays with me when I begin my next phase this week.

May your heart always be full. Wish me luck!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Discover the Heart of the Flinders

Air Adventure Australia has a four day air safari to one of the most amazing parts of Australia:  The Flinders Ranges.  They are one of the oldest land formations on earth and at one point, would have been higher than Mt. Everest is today - that is until time, and the elements, whittled them down to their present size.

My first trip to this region was not by air, but by coach and driver.  Among the surprises delights in store for me was a couple of nights at Arkaroola Station, owned by Renaissance man Doug Sprigg.  Pilot, astronomer, geologist, and raconteur, Doug has the largest privately owned telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.  That, along with no light pollution, means Arkaroola is a perfect place for sky-watching. 

In August, 2003, Mars was the closest it had been to Earth in 50,000 years.  What better place to see it then from Doug's telescope? Except, it was too cloudy to see anything.  So we sat around long after dinner was over, listening to Doug tell story after story (including a massive engineering project he was consulting on to create electricity from superheated underground water.).  Finally, exhausted (late) I said good night and walked out of the dining hall.  And immediately ran back in screaming "There aren't any clouds!" 

We loaded up into Doug's Ute, drove to the telescope, he fixed on Mars and we all got a view.  It was quite amazing, mystical, powerful.  Time - at least our human time - is so insignificant when put into the lense of our expanding universe.

The next morning, we went out on the Ridgetop Tour, a hair-raising drive along narrow dirt tracks with hair-pin turns in this great expanse of red pocked by silvery-green scrub grasses.  Vast doesn't begin to describe it.   I mention this because Air Adventure has several itineraries to remote parts of Australia - places that would take months to see by land.  Places that are barely accessible, hardly seen by humans, places of such rare beauty that we can barely find words.  The Flinders Ranges are only one option they, and other air operators, offer.

The opening photo is of The Prairie Hotel in Parachilna.  The town has an official population of 7 people, which actually went up by one when I was there (someone gave birth.)  I love this hotel.  Really, it's amazingly bizarre, beautifully put together, and a great restaurant.  They feature Flinders Feral Food - yes, feral - Bush food or Australian native cuisine or as they call it in the Flinders Ranges, Flinders Feral Food - kangaroo, emu, yabbie, quandongs, native limes and bush tomatoes are just some of their fresh ingredients.  Just because you're beyond the back of beyond, it doesn't mean you don't get to eat well.

There are so many places in Australia I'd love to send you - please contact me for your own experience.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

But My Lip Gloss Was Confiscated!

TSA missed 3 boxcutters on flight from JFK and the TSA said the screeners will get "remedial training."  The TSA, which is very task-driven, loves to enforce rules, which is why they confiscated my favorite lip gloss a few years ago - it was, apparently, in too large a tube.  I was flying with a friend who happened to have a Swiss Army Knife in her handbag and that got through, but my very dangerous lip gloss did not.

I suppose I could have used this gloss to build a make-shift weapon of mass destruction using duct tape and my friend's knife, but I am not very scientifically oriented.  The color was a lovely neutral shade that made me look sun-tan.  Because I eschew tanning to maintain my ivory white complexion, I love using cosmetics to fake it. 

I did have to go through a pat-down at LAX once, and also had to go through the full body scan another time.  They must have word of my lip gloss use, or else it is quite random.  I mean, I'm 62, a grandmother, and kind of short.  Clearly this makes me a threat.  Like most Americans, TSA treats me like a criminal while their own employees tend to get remedial training for various mistakes. 

Let's make sure nobody threatens us with lip gloss again.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Is There Ever Enough Garlic?

Photo by Bill Strange

The Gilroy Garlic Festival proves that garlic can be a way of life!

10 tons of beef... 4 tons of pasta... 4 tons of calamari... 2 tons of scampi
2 TONS of fresh Christopher Ranch garlic
& $8.5 million raised for local charity

The July festival (July 29-31, 2011 this year) celebrates garlic with recipe & cooking contests, entertainment, a gourmet alley food & beverage area, a children's area, arts & crafts, and, of course, a Miss Gilroy Garlic Festival Queen contest.

Not far from Santa Cruz, California, this is a wonderful stop on a California Vacation.  California is a beautiful state, with much to explore - and the aroma from Gilroy at the end of July is amazing.  Yes, Gilroy is the Garlic Capital of the World!  Try it, c'mon down!

Monday, March 7, 2011


Gadling is one of my favorite travel sites.  It is eccelctic, informative, and practical. Always newsworthy, image rich, and frequently playful.  One of today's posts was about National Geographic Channel's new show, "How Hard Can It Be?" 

For an upcoming episode, the crew attached 300 helium-filled balloons to a house, which then flew to 10,000 feet.  They filmed the house, which remained airborne for an hour, as it floated over the Southern California desert.  Inspired by the wonderful film, Up, "How Hard Can It Be?" might have stumbled upon the next great mode of travel.  Thanks, Gadling, for bringing a smile to my face!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wildman Wilderness Lodge

Welcome to the best example of recycling in Australian Tourism.    Wildman Wilderness Lodge is set to open in April, 2011, and I can't wait to see it.  Set in the lush Mary River Wetlands of the Northern Territory, the lodge is the remains and rebuild of Wrotham Park Lodge.  Wildman Wilderness Lodge is owned in partnership with Anthology and Indigenous Business Australia (IBA), bringing the best of tourism together. 

The Anthology Collection is passionate
about connecting remarkable Australian places - wilderness, outback, heritage - with the dreams and desires of travellers to this country.
And IBA says

Our vision is for a nation in which the First Australians are economically independent and an integral part of the economy.

This region, the Top End of the Northern Territory, is impossibly beautiful.  Each time I've been in the region, my heart feels full and I weep like a baby when I leave.  It's as if I lived there in another lifetime, somehow I'm deeply connected to this land.  The Wetlands are a haven for incredible wildlife, history, and Indigenous Culture.  Mary River Wetlands is remote, but easily accessible year round.  While the dry season (May to September) is more comfortable, the wet season brings a plethora of rare birds - it's a brilliant destination for bird watching.

Back to Wildman Wilderness Lodge.  In November 2009, the buildings that made up Wrotham Park Lodge were dismantled and trucked from their location in Queensland to the Northern Territory.  And then, they were rebuilt and added to to create this new lodge.  Comprised of 10 cabins called Habitats, and 15 Safari Tents, the lodge promises to deliver a pampered wilderness experience.  It looks great, I hope it delivers!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Christchurch Affected by 6.3 Magnitude Earthquake

A devastating earthquake occured about 5 miles southeast of Christchurch, New Zealand, at 12:50 PM local time Feb. 22.  The Central Business District has sustained considerable damage, and there are fears that the death toll could climb to 300.  On September 4, 2010 a 7.1 Magnitude Quake hit about 19 miles from Christchurch, however, it was before business hours and there were no deaths despite extensive damage. 

Still, Seismologists have ruled this event as an aftershock (one of thousands) from the September quake.  This new quake was about 5 km more shallow, and about 9 km closer to the city center, hit during the lunch hour when the city center was full.  In September, the event occured just before 5 AM. 

If you have travel plans to Christchurch, please check with your airline and your travel agent.  If you have plans to travel to other parts of New Zealand, please do NOT cancel.  They need your support, your presence, and your prayers.