Yesterday’s road trip…Mount Taranaki, a rain forest and a botanical garden…More garden photos tomorrow…

Our favorite photo of the day.  Zoom in to see this bee’s facial features.  Amazing!

After writing yesterday’s post which we uploaded by 10 am after a very early start, we looked at one another and said, “Let’s head out!” We’d written about how little we’ve been traveling while living here in New Zealand enjoying our surroundings to the degree that we haven’t been motivated to leave for even a day.

We crossed numerous streams and rivers on our way up the mountain, including driving over this one-lane bridge.

When we do travel, we prefer sunny days for better photos and viewing scenery, but after being in for many days after Tom’s over-week-long illness, except for a night out for dinner and another outing for grocery shopping, we were excited to get on the road. 

We read this sign to get a lay of the land.  Inside this building, we were able to grab a map of the gardens to assist us on our walk.

Without a big plan in mind, we headed on to the long drive through winding country roads to steep winding mountain roads, not unlike those we experienced long ago when we spent three months in Boveglio, Tuscany, Italy in 2013. 

We got a kick out of this display for free coffee.  With no receptionist in attendance, one could help themselves.

By far, those mountains in Italy had some of the steepest winding roads we’d driven in our travels, except for the Atlas Mountains we traveled in Morocco in April 2014. 

Not a huge fan of driving through mountainous roads, yesterday I was at ease with the automatic transmission of our rental car and the lack of the necessity to pass slow-moving vehicles in front of us. We didn’t encounter more than a half dozen vehicles through the mountains making the drive relatively easy and comfortable.

As we commenced our walk, we spotted this gardener at work.

We hoped to get to the Visitors Centre partway up Mount Taranaki but when it began to rain during our walk through the Pukeiti Gardens and rainforest we decided it might be wise to head back down the mountain, realizing that scenic views would be impossible on the cloudy rainy day.

The Pukeiti Gardens is known for its world-class rhododendron collection exquisitely set within a rainforest with the flowering season from July through March. We were grateful to have arrived during the season to be able to see and take photos of the beautiful flowers and gardens. Every so often, the sun peeked out, allowing us a few better quality photos as shown here.

The rhododendrons are in full bloom at this time of the year, summer in New Zealand.

Here’s a little info from the Taranaki Regional Council’s website about the origination of the beautiful gardens:

“A vision fulfilled:
One man’s dream has literally flowered at Pukeiti on the slopes of Mount Taranaki — a garden renowned worldwide for its stunning collection of rhododendrons and other plants, and an institution that is much a part of the region as the mountain itself.

Founder William Douglas Cook’s vision was a vast natural garden of rhododendrons. Today that vision is a reality, thanks to the efforts of Cook and countless volunteers and members of the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust through the decades since the garden opened in 1951.
(To read some stories from the early days, click on “History and culture” in the navigation panel at left.)

Pukeiti has the largest collection of rhododendrons in New Zealand, its sub-tropical vireyas known as the world’s finest. It also boasts major displays of cardiocrinum, hostas, hydrangeas, magnolias, primulas, liliums, bulbs, and alpine and herbaceous plants, all against a backdrop of luscious native bush and dramatic Mount Taranaki.

The Taranaki Regional Council assumed ownership of and responsibility for Pukeiti on 1 July 2010, as a result of an approach from the Trust. The move secures the future for Pukeiti and its unique collection of plants.

The Council also owns and operates Tupare, and Hollard Gardens, Kaponga, on behalf of the people of the region.”

The walkways were easy at the beginning of our walk.

Had it not rained, we’d certainly have stayed longer walking further along the many kilometers of trails. But soon, as we began trekking through mud and slippery rocks, we knew it was time to get back on the road.

We continue to be in awe of the maintenance and care in this lovely country. There appear to be few, if any, rundown properties, bad roads, or trash on the sides of the road. We’ve yet to encounter a “bad” or unsafe-feeling area in the Taranaki Region. At public venues, such as Pukeiti Gardens, clean restrooms are readily available. No fees are required to enter the gardens and rainforest.

The rainforest is beautiful. Well coated with repellent I never received a bite. Tom, without the use of any repellent, was never bitten. Surprisingly, we didn’t sense any biting flies, mosquitos, or sandflies in the rainforest.

We only encountered two other parties and one gardener in the gardens on the less-than-ideal day but never felt ill at ease in the secluded rainforest. Back home in the later afternoon we were pleased for the experiences and look forward to more similar outings.

Today is by far, the rainiest day since our arrival, much-needed rain to provide a greener pasture for the grazing alpacas and other grazing animals throughout the country. 

Unable to find the name of this structure online (metered wifi), we assume it may be a Maori (indigenous people to NZ) tribute. Please correct us if we are wrong.

As I listened to the pelting rain pounding on the metal roof during the night, I thought about the alpacas. This morning, as I stepped outdoors to see how they’re doing in the heavy rain, they were all busy munching on the grass picking up their heads to look at me, with the adorable funny little smirk on their faces, none the worse for the wear.

Feeling relieved, I wiped my bare feet and returned back indoors for what will surely be a quiet day at home.  We don’t mind a bit. Each day is a treasure.

We hope today will be a treasured day for YOU!

Photo from one year ago today, February 17, 2015:

The Nene Bird is the Hawaiian Island state bird, evolved from the Canadian Goose with which we’re very familiar after living in Minnesota. These geese are commonly seen in Kauai, where we lived for four months a year ago. Please click here for more details.

Long road trip to the Atlas mountains…Beautiful scenery…Mother Nature did it again…Expectations?

As we began the ascent to the Atlas Mountains, we realized it was the first snow we’d seen in a very long time.

It’s 5:00 pm Thursday. A short time ago we checked in at the Hotel du Vieux du Dades, Ouarzazate, Morocco after an eight-hour drive through the Atlas Mountains and valleys.

At the lower elevations, we passed many small villages. The higher the elevation, the more modern the villages.

The hotel? Clean, modest. Not what we’d normally choose. But, it’s situated on a river gorge presenting a beautiful backdrop as we sit here now on the veranda, the sound of the rushing water music to our ears.

The sales as a result of tourist trade are what sustains many of the villagers.

As world travelers, having left the US a mere 15 months ago, our expectations when we travel from the vacation home of the month, are outrageously high. After all, we’ve seen exquisite Petra in Jordan, been on an extraordinary Big 5 safari in the Maasai Mara, Kenya, and lived in the free-roaming wildlife area of Marloth Park, South Africa. How does anything else compare?

Periodically, we cross a river or a creek. Many of our photos today were taken through the car window glass as we zoomed by.  I didn’t want to keep dealing with opening and closing the window during the eight-hour drive. Cloudy most of the day, we did our best to take photos.

For us, nothing else can. Nor, as we enthusiastically continue on, do we expect to top those experiences. If we do, we’ll call it “safari luck” and feel grateful. It is from this perspective that we write over these next few days, putting our expectations aside viewing today’s journey through the eyes of travelers perhaps don’t have this outlandish frame of reference.

With the snow melting at the summit, many creek beds and rivers consisted of fast-moving water.

By no means, do we imply that the beauty we witnessed today is any less than the terrain we’ve seen in many of our travels? In many ways, Morocco offers some astounding scenery that many may never see in a lifetime. And, for those who may have seen it, have it etched in their memories, relived in stories and photos they proudly share for years to come.

Of course, I squealed with delight when seeing these sheep along the side of the road. Grass-fed lamb is a frequently served dish in Morocco which we’ve enjoyed every few nights when Madame Zahra cooks for us. Tom, never a fan of eating lamb, actually likes it here for its mild flavor, tasting more like beef pot roast than lamb.

As for the hotel; the room is small, minimally appointed with the barest of essentials. If the bed, pillows, and blankets prove to be comfortable, the water is hot for the morning shower, the WiFi continues to work as well as it is at the moment and the food is reasonably good, we’ll hardly complain. 

The contrast of the clay-colored hills against the lush greenery creating a picturesque setting.

Oh, expectations! Would that they could waft away from our lives to make each new experience blissful instead of wrought with shades of the past?

In some areas, the color of the hills was a deep pink and they were orange in others.

Our goal had been to visit the Atlas Mountains, which we’ve done. Tomorrow, we’ll head to the Sahara Desert to experience the sand dunes and, if we feel ambitious, we’ll ride camels. Saturday, we’ll head back to Marrakech arriving in the late afternoon. 

Many small farms, richly green, dotted the landscape.

Over the next several days, we’ll post our zillions of photos, doing our best to describe where and what we’ve seen. Today, we reached a maximum elevation of 9708 feet, 2959 meters, above sea level, suffering no ill effects. I gasped for air once, when we were up that elevation when we stopped at an overlook rest stop filled with tourists, most of whom were smoking. Smoking is allowed everywhere in Morocco, as is the case in many countries.

The hills and mountains had endless housing areas such as this, with most of the homes occupied, as we determined from clothes hanging on lines to dry.

Another new experience befell us today. We used a co-ed restroom in a public venue, a first for both of us. 

Stopping at a popular overlook, we spotted what appeared to be a soccer field at a local school.

As for the actual driving experience, it was flawless.  Mohamed is an excellent driver for which we made a point of commending him. The two-lane mountain roads were often tricky to navigate when passing slow-moving vehicles and he exercised diligent safety in each instance putting me, particularly, at ease.  Our readers know how I love those hairpin turns, right?

Can you spot the waterfall in this photo of the Atlas Mountains? 

Tonight, Mohamed will also stay at this hotel meeting up with us in the morning after the included breakfast as we begin another day of travel making our way to the Sahara desert while hopefully putting aside those pesky expectations, to enjoy yet another day in our travels.


Photo from one year ago today, April 10, 2013:

One year ago today was when we boarded the Carnival Liberty in Belize when our bag of vitamins was confiscated by security, none of which required a prescription, all of which may be purchased over the counter. What an experience it was as we were treated like drug smugglers. This never occurred again when we’ve since used or disposed of most of the supplements to lighten our load. See Part 1 for the details by clicking here.