Monthly Archives: November 2016

Extreme Endeavors

One thing interesting that we learned about New Zealand is that, with the exception of maybe fish and chips shops or the lonely Chinese restaurant,  everything closes at 5:00 p.m.  It’s like what life must have been like in the U.S. in the 1950’s.  Big box chain stores are a rarity; businesses are mostly owned by mom and pop.  At quitting time, everyone closes shop and heads home for the night.  So, there’s absolutely nothing to do except cook dinner, eat and then go to bed.  For the week, it was kind of nice to be able to just lay around and do nothing, but I don’t think I could live like that forever.

Our next stop was Greymouth, population of around 13,000.  New Zealand is known for its extreme sports, so we decided to get a taste of it by going off-roading in a dune buggy.


We sloshed around in the mud and muck for a few hours and had great fun.

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We pressed onward towards our last stop, Queenstown.  On the way, the scenery was gorgeous.  I made Benjy pull over several times so I could get some shots.  Because the scenery was so picturesque, at one stop there were several other vehicles pulled over as well with groups piling in and out to get photos.  We took our turn and rushed back to our camper.  Another van was pulling away as Webley was climbing in and it suddenly came to a screeching halt directly behind us blocking us from backing up.

A group of middle-aged Chinese ladies piled out of the van and ran towards Webley.  Who could it be but the group of ladies I blogged about in my last post who Webley had helped at the airport!  What are the chances that we would run into them again 6 days and around 600 miles later at some random road-side pull off in the middle of nowhere???  I was just glad to see that they had gotten this far!




We don’t know their names or where they are from and its doubtful we’ll ever see them again (but who knows, right?).  I thought it was just so sweet that they remembered Webley and her kindness to them.  It’s probably one of my favorite memories from the trip!

Here are some of the shots I took on our descent down the mountains  into Queenstown.

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Our last few days with the Kiwis ended in Queenstown where Benjy decided in celebration of his 45th birthday, he would do this…


No, I didn’t watch.  I wasn’t even there.  I couldn’t stomach the idea of watching him walk to the edge and intentionally taking a plunge off with just a rubber band keeping him from getting splatted.  Benjy told me that when he was waiting his turn, there was an Indian guy.  For several minutes which I’m sure seemed like an eternity to both him and everyone else behind him, he hemmed and hawed, wrung his hands and waved off multiple times before finally jumping feet first.  He got whipsawed by the bunjy cord and flailed around like a worm at the end of a fishing line.  In Benjy’s mind, this dude got a big fat 0 for style points.  In contrast, the lady directly before Benjy was this tiny little old Chinese lady.  Without hesitation and no fanfare, she walk to the edge and swan dived off.  After watching the differences between the 2 approaches, Benjy decided that there was no way he could follow her jump with an inelegant feet first go.  So, he took a deep breath and went for it head first.  I’m so glad I wasn’t there!

Our last extreme endeavor was our ride in a jet boat.


The boat zooms down a river at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour in only about 18 inches of water.  We darted in and out of the canyons and turned on a pin.  The boat drivers had amazing skills.


I will wrap our trip down under with some brilliant shots of Queenstown.

nz-fly-over-mountain nz-mountain-2And I will end with one of my fav shots of Queenstown…


Notice the bunjy platform on the right side of the picture.  I suppose if this view were the last thing you saw before plunging to your death, it wouldn’t be such a bad way to end it.


The Land of Kiwis

Since we were in that area of the world, we would have been remiss to skip New Zealand.  Still, it was a 4-hour flight from Sydney to the south island!  While we were waiting for a shuttle to collect us from the airport, we noticed this group of middle-aged Chinese ladies wandering around the parking lot.  They were obviously lost and it seemed their English skills were minimal.  Folks, traveling in New Zealand is much like traveling in the U.S.   There’s nothing but English everywhere and really no one around who can help if you don’t have a translator.  Knowing what it’s like not to understand or be understood, Webley steps up and boldly starts speaking to them in Mandarin.  She finds out what they are looking for and then she and Benjy try as best as they could to help them find their way.  They were finally able to direct the ladies to the right shuttle to pick up their rental car.  I can remember thinking, “phew it’s going to be a long trip and quite an adventure for these ladies.  They must really want to see New Zealand.”  Little did we know at the time, that this wouldn’t be the last we’d see of them.

Before our trip, we did a lot of research into the best way to see the south island.  Benjy was convinced that hiring a camper van was the preferred method.  I, on the other hand, wasn’t so keen.  After much cajoling, we finally settled on this number:

nz-britz-van-front nz-britz-van It came complete with a kitchen, frig and allegedly enough room to sleep 4 people, no potty however.  Since camping is quite popular in New Zealand, there are loads of camper sites called holiday parks.  Some are quite “nice.” So, this (or sites like it), was our home for the week.


At each park, we could plug in for power.  We actually had no need for the kitchen inside our camper because there was always a community kitchen available for use.  There were also shower and restroom facilities, laundry, playgrounds and even wifi.

The kids slept up top and Benjy and I slept on a fold down bed in the back.



No, it wasn’t the Ritz Carlton (nor a Motel 8, for that matter), but you really couldn’t beat the views, the convenience and, of course, the cost of it.  As Benjy kept reminding me, “it’s an adventure!”

We spent our first night in the camper in Kaikoura.  At about 2:00 a.m. we are all suddenly awakened by this screeching siren that sounded like the air bombing alert horns from World War II.  All of us woke with a start and I said, “are we being invaded?”  We laid there for a few minutes; the sirens stopped; and we didn’t see anyone else running for a bomb shelter, so we went back to sleep.  Later, we discovered that New Zealand has a volunteer fire brigade.  The sirens are sounded to call in the volunteers when help is needed.

Our first excursion in New Zealand was a dolphin encounter.  We suited up in wetsuits because the water was a bit chilly, about 60 degrees Fahrenheit.


Our guides found a pod of about 200 dolphins.  These are wild dolphins and our guides do nothing to attract them.  They just take us to the location where they know the dolphins are feeding in the morning.


They were so playful and jumping around, doing flips in the air.



It was so much fun to watch!  And then we got to jump into the water and swim with them!


The water was freezing (even with the wetsuits on), but I was undeterred.  The dolphins were so curious about us and swam around us in circles.  It was like they were laughing at us and saying, “oh look, it’s those goofy looking humans again.  Bless their hearts, they can’t even swim properly.”  I loved every minute of it and didn’t want to get out of the water.  Benjy and the kids, on the other hand, thought the experience was just “meh.”

We continued on our way and saw lots of beautiful landscapes.

dsc_4508 dsc_4513We would drive for hours at a time passing nary a soul.  The thought occurred to me a couple of times, “what would happen if we broke down in the middle of nowhere?”  We’d be walking for miles before we found anyone who could help. Luckily, we never had to worry about that.

Along the way, we stumbled upon this hidden beach.  It had really interesting driftwood and a picturesque forest next to it.



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Our next stop was Greymouth.

The Land Down Under

Now that I’ve covered our summer, I will do a re-wind back to our travels during the spring.  I’m almost all caught up now!

When we moved to Hong Kong, Webley’s biggest travel wish was to visit Australia.  So, last April her wish was granted.  We began our trip down under by flying into Sydney.  Even from Hong Kong, it was an 8-hour flight.  One of the first things Aaron said to me when we arrived (which I was actually thinking to myself at the same time as he said it), “wow, I can understand what people are saying again!”  Yes, folks, it’s the small things in life we have come to greatly enjoy and appreciate from our time living in Asia–understanding and being understood.

Of course a trip to Sydney would not be complete without pictures of the opera house and bridge, arguably two of the country’s most iconic images.

Both at night




and during the day






We spent a day at a sheep farm and learned about all things sheep, threw boomerangs and enjoyed lunch with 100 of our fellow Chinese tourists.  The farm had 2 awesome sheep dogs who clearly love their jobs herding the sheep and other animals on the farm.  They were truly amazing pooches to watch.

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The kids and Benjy tried their hands at throwing boomerangs.  Benjy’s throw was textbook.  It soared in the air and, as advertised, circled around and landed within 10 feet of him.  Webley’s throw, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as elegant.  Well, I suppose if she were trying to kill a critter 2 feet in front of her, she would have been deadly since she spiked it into the ground like it was a football.  Bless her heart, she got her athletic ability from her mom.


We also spent some time at Bondi Beach.

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dsc_4471Had lunch of fish and chips with a spectacular view.  Aaron was in full on hangry mode at this point and, as you can see, was in no mood for photos.


After Sydney, we headed up to Cairns so we could do some snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef–another item on Webley’s bucket list.  The boat that took us out there was this giant sailboat.


I have to admit that I was a little underwhelmed by the snorkeling there.  Don’t get me wrong, there were loads of colorful fish and coral, but in my humble opinion, the Maldives was heads and shoulders above the Great Barrier Reef and I’d put the locations we have snorkeled in the Philippines ahead of it as well.  Just my 2 cents worth.

Sadly, our camera went kaput on this part of our trip, so we don’t really have a lot of photos from our snorkeling excursion.  Just a few shots from the sailboat.

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And this pic of us in our goofy wetsuits, which we had to wear to protect us from jellyfish.


While in Cairn, we spent some time at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures.  It’s a crocodile farm/animal rescue/petting zoo.  We, of course, saw lots of crocs, but I was more enthralled with all the kangaroos in the petting zoo.


Here’s a mama kanga and you can see her joey peeking out of the pouch.

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We also got to pet these cute wallabies, which look like mini-kangas.  This one followed me around the petting area.  He was so cute.


After we left the petting zoo, we passed an Aussie lady who asked me if the petting zoo was any good.  I excitedly said, “oh yes, there’s lots of kangaroos and wallabies to pet.”  She said to me, “oh those are nothing special.”  I guess in these parts kangaroos are the equivalent to the tired old goats and sheep we get in the petting zoos in the U.S.  This thought was confirmed later on when we saw a kangaroo crossing sign as we drove back to our hotel.


The crocodile farms also had rescued koalas.  Koalas are Webley’s favorite animal, so she was thrilled to get up close to one.



I was pretty excited too!


Wrapping it up

We continued our way through South Dakota and made a quick stop at the Mitchell Corn Palace.  In case you were wondering if there could possibly be more than one, it is in fact the world’s one and only corn palace.  The murals and designs covering the building are made from corn and other grains.  Of course we had to stop!

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We drove through Nebraska and onwards.  I was relieved to finally make it to Iowa where some of our old friends live.  After a series of unfortunate motel choices, I was so thrilled to spend a couple of days at the home of Jeremy and Leigh Jorgenson and to finally meet their beautiful daughters.



The Jorgensons are always the ultimate hosts and this visit was no exception.  We had stayed in some pretty dodgy places for the past several nights, so Casa Jorgenson felt like a 5-star hotel.


dsc_0276They have quite the set up on their back porch:

firewood pizza oven and green egg grill

jorgy-pizza-oven dsc_0275Teppanyaki grill!


The views from their backyard were beautiful too.

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It was a wonderful place to reconnect with friends and recharge our batteries!

We ended our roadtrip in Kansas and flew to Washington D.C. where we spent our last week in the U.S.  We hit all the likely tourist spots.


We walked around the mall and visited all of the war memorials: World War I, World War II, Vietnam War, Korean War.  It saddened me to think about all the people who died in these wars.


Was it worth it?  Probably not to those whose loved one perished.


Team Woods comes from a long line of veterans on both sides of the family.  I suppose it’s possible to admire and appreciate their service without condoning the conflict itself.

We were also reminded of the great leaders the U.S. has had in the past which caused me to further bemoan and resent the choice of leaders currently before us.  It’s been quite a fall from the likes of Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt and Eisenhower.  How did we get to this place?

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This pic was taken atop the Washington Monument.


And this was as close as we got to the White House.  No tour tickets for us!!

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Benjy has quite a few friends from the Navy who continued with their Navy careers after he got out.  Many are now working in and around the capital.  We were able to spend some time with them as well.  It’s hard to believe it has been nearly 20 years since we were all together in VP-16.


And so ends our summer of 2016.