Sault Ste. Marie on Day 3

With a takeaway decaf coffee from Robin’s Donuts in hand, we left Villa Bianca Inn early in the morning on day 3 of our Great Lakes Road Trip 2017. We weren’t driving far but I was anxious to depart our 2.5-star accommodations. Our goal for the day was to reach Sault Ste. Marie, a mere 308 miles away, but who knew what adventures we might find along the way?

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Our first stop at Aguasabon River Gorge, where we discovered our third waterfall in as many days, convinced us this trip would be as much about waterfalls as it was about the Great Lakes. We would soon also add lighthouses to our list of highlights.

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Aguasabon Falls and Gorge

The walk to the viewing platform provided us with gorgeous views of autumn color just beginning to appear. The walkway is wheelchair accessible to allow people with mobility issues to enjoy this beautiful place, too.

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Walkway to Aguasabon Falls and Gorge

The Trans-Canada Highway, Provincial Hwy 17, offers stunning panoramas of Lake Superior along this stretch from Schreiber to Sault Ste. Marie. We didn’t pull over at every opportunity but we looked forward to every spectacular view like the one below.

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View of Lake Superior

At our next stop at Old Woman Bay in Lake Superior Provincial Park, I tried a panorama photo to capture the size of this bay with limited success. I’ll have to practice this feature on my iPhone more to achieve mastery.

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Old Woman Bay

As Jim drove on, I read in my AAA Ontario Tour Book about the Agawa Canyon Tour Train which departs from Sault Ste. Marie to tour this area. They strongly recommended advance reservations so I called on my smartphone to reserve for the following day. At $1 per minute through AT&T while traveling internationally, I was anxiously watching the minutes fly by as I sat on hold. I finally reached a customer service person and provided all the required information and then the call failed. I called back to discover I had to repeat all the information I had previously provided. I figured our tickets cost about $12 extra for the phone call, but we finally had a reservation for the following morning.

We arrived in Sault Ste. Marie around 3 pm and found a Holiday Inn Express right downtown across the street from the mall and close to St. Mary’s River Boardwalk. We immediately loved this hotel and planned to stay for two nights. The customer service was terrific and because we had to wait briefly for a room, they gave us an upgrade to a suite.

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Kitchenette through the doorway

The Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site was within walking distance from our hotel and we had plenty of time to explore St. Mary’s River Boardwalk and the locks before dusk. The boardwalk is a mile long scenic walkway following the river and leading to the historic site.

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St. Mary’s River Boardwalk

Built in 1895 to connect Lake Huron to Lake Superior, the Sault Ste. Marie Canal completed an all Canadian waterway from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean.  The Canadian canal became necessary when a ship transporting British troops was denied passage on the US side. When opened, it was the world’s longest lock and the first to operate by use of electricity which incidentally was generated on-site. Today, the world’s only remaining swing bridge dam is located here. The swing bridge dam is located upstream and can be deployed to protect the lock in the event of an accident. It was used once and worked successfully.

The visitor’s center is currently in a temporary building and while it was nearly closing time, the Park ranger stayed and visited with us, providing a wealth of information. She was obviously very knowledgeable and engaged in her position.

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The old Administration Building at Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site

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The lock at Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site

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The Canadian lock with the International Bridge linking Canada and the US

Today the lock is used primarily for recreational craft. I remember visiting the canal with my family as a kid in the 60’s. At the time, I didn’t understand why the adults were so interested in the lock but today I understand their enthusiasm. It really is an engineering marvel.

Following our visit to the canal, I asked the staff at our hotel where I could get local fish for dinner and was directed just down the street to Gliss Steak and Seafood. After sub-standard meals the previous two nights, we felt we’d finally hit pay dirt. We were both satisfied with our choices.

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First course: Greek salad for me and garden salad for Jim

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Prime rib and Yorkshire pudding with sweet potato fries

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Local white fish with sweet potato fries and veggies

 

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Day 3 successfully completed

Satisfied with day 3, we looked forward to the Agawa Canyon Tour Train tour the following morning. Come back to see and hear all about it.

 

 

Based on events from September 2017.

 

 

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Silver Bay to Schreiber, Day 2 of GLRT 2017

We drove just 302 miles from Silver Bay, Minnesota to Schreiber, Ontario, on day 2 of our Great Lakes Road Trip 2017 but we saw some amazing sights along the way and we missed a few, too. We like to get an early start and after a complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we hit the road but soon thereafter made a brief stop at mile 78 on Hwy 61 at Father Baraga’s Cross.  Here the Slovenian priest erected a cross to offer thanks to God for his survival in 1846 when his small boat was blown ashore during a terrible storm on Lake Superior. He had dedicated his life to minister to the Ojibwe Native Americans and came to this area to offer assistance when he heard of a possible epidemic.

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Father Baraga’s Cross

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Early morning view of Lake Superior near Father Baraga’s Cross

Nearby Grand Marais, Minnesota, is a popular tourist town on the North Shore and one of my personal favorites. In fact, I would love to spend a week here as a base to explore the Gunflint Trail and Isle Royale National Park, two places we have skipped previously and missed again on this trip. We spent an enjoyable hour or so in Grand Marais, however, walking out to the lighthouse along the breakwater.

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Lake Superior from Grand Marais with lighthouse on the breakwater

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Grand Marais Light

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Grand Marais Light on the breakwater

It was here we learned that each lighthouse is unique both in design and signal to ensure that sailors don’t get confused and lost by lighthouses looking alike.

Check out the Bear Tree on the photo below. This sculpture was dedicated to the town of Grand Marais and depicts two bear cubs whose mother has ordered them up a tree to stay until the danger below has passed.

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Grand Marais with Bear Tree on the right

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Closeup of the Bear Tree

We haven’t visited Grand Portage National Monument previously but for a couple of history nerds, this was one of many highlights of our trip.

 

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Grand Portage National Monument overlooking Lake Superior

The Heritage Center is a modern building full of creative and informative exhibits.

 

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Heritage Center at Grand Portage National Monument

 

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View of Lake Superior from Heritage Center

 

But the outdoor exhibits and the Park Ranger interpretive walk really brought this monument to life. Grand Portage was the home of the Ojibwe Indians and the tour begins with a reconstructed village. The Ojibwe women built the lodges using a wood frame covered by bark. A fire burned in the center of the lodge in winter.

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Our guide explaining the Ojibwe lodge

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Interior of lodge

After the British defeated the French in 1763 in the French and Indian War, British traders flocked to the area and trading companies sprang up. Based in Montreal, the Northwest Company was established in 1784 and operated the largest fur trading post at the Grand Portage Depot. Here fur traders would bring their pelts and trade for goods transported along the Great Lakes. The depot fell into ruin after the American Revolution when the British company moved buildings and all to Fort William near present-day Thunder Bay, Ontario but the reconstructed depot is archeologically accurate.

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The Warehouse

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Supplies that were packed on a single canoe from Montreal

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Entrance to the Buildings Complex

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The Great Hall

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Pelts in the Great Hall

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Birchbark Canoe

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The Great Hall

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Outside the Buildings Complex

Grand Portage is near the border to Canada and for many years my family traveled to nearby Come By Chance Resort on Whitefish Lake for an annual fishing trip. Jim wanted to stop by and see the place and relive some great memories.

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Turn to Come By Chance

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Cabins at Come By Chance

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Dock at Come By Chance on Whitefish Lake, Ontario

One year I went along with Jim and our kids on the fishing trip and we also visited Kakabeka Falls so we thought a stop there would be fun for old time’s sake. I was surprised to see the sign.

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Entrance to Kakabeka Falls

We thought the falls were created during the last glacial period. (Just kidding. The park was established 60 years ago.) Incidentally, these falls are nicknamed the Niagra of the North and for good reason. They are truly impressive and the extensive accessible walkways allow visitors to enjoy the falls from both sides.

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Kakabeka Falls, Ontario

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Kakabeka Falls, Ontario

We thought we’d spend the night in Thunder Bay but somehow we missed it and we have a semi-rule about continuing on rather than going back. When we found no hotels along our route we thought surely something would appear further along. I was getting nervous, however, seeing these signs as evening approached.

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We stopped at a restaurant blaring hard rock music with rooms to rent above and inquired about hotels further up the road. The young lady assured us we’d find plenty in Nipigon so we drove on. When we reached Nipigon, we found no vacancy anywhere due to all the road construction workers who had rented every room. One kindly inn-keeper offered to call and reserve a room for us in Schreiber, an hour away. We, naturally, agreed. When he told us we had a room at Villa Bianca which we would recognize by the gas pumps out front, I was skeptical but what choice did we have with night danger lurking on the road?

We finally arrived in darkness and regardless of my impressions, we were staying the night. We inquired about restaurants to discover we were limited to the three counters side by side at Bianca Villa selling Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Robin’s Donuts. No wine either. This gluten-free girl settled for pizza and beer. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

 

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Fine dining in Schreiber, Ontario

 

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The next morning at Villa Bianca

These are the chances you take when you don’t plan ahead but all in all, it could have been much worse. We didn’t hit a moose and we didn’t have to sleep in the car.

Come back for Day 3 and more adventures on the Great Lakes Road Trip 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Great Lakes Road Trip (GLRT) 2017: Day 1

We first glimpsed Lake Superior in the background as we approached Duluth, Minnesota in the early afternoon on day 1 of our Great Lakes Road Trip.

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Duluth, MN on Lake Superior

Just 290 miles (467 km) from home, we regarded Duluth as the gateway to the Great Lakes where we would revisit some of our favorite sights in the fourth largest city in Minnesota. We first headed straight to the Aerial Lift Bridge and found free parking on the other side.

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We parked on this gravel road just across the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth

Just as we walked onto to the bridge, we heard the announcement that the bridge was about to raise. Rather than hurry across, we retraced our steps and watched from the far side.

The landmark opened in 1905 and was modified in 1929. It raises an average of 26 times per day to a clearance of 138 ft. to accommodate large ships, pleasure craft, and sailboats entering the harbor. It’s really quite a sight to watch the bridge raise and lower.

Having now checked off the number one sight on our list for Duluth, we proceeded across the bridge to Canal Park where lighthouse lovers can view not one but a lighthouse trifecta.  Lighthouses have long fascinated me so, of course, I was drawn like a moth to the flame.

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Duluth South Breakwater Inner Lighthouse with the other 2 in the background

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Duluth South Breakwater Outer Lighthouse

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Duluth Harbor North Pier Lighthouse

We have fond memories of the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center in Canal Park and made for the museum after a walk out to the South Breakwater Outer Lighthouse. Here we were reminded Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes and contains more water than all the other Great Lakes combined. It is the world’s largest freshwater lake containing 10% of all the earth’s fresh water. In addition to information about Lake Superior and regional history, this little gem also displays photos and artifacts from maritime disasters and recovery efforts. And, admission is free.

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Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, Duluth, MN

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Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, Duluth, MN

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Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, Duluth, MN

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Canal Park, Duluth, MN

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Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth, MN

There are many other attractions in Duluth including a great aquarium, Glennsheen Mansion, and the 7.5-mile Lakewalk among others but we were anxious to commence our drive along Lake Superior. Near Brighton Beach just outside Duluth where Minnesota State Highway 61 splits from old 61, we continued along the old scenic highway following the lake more closely and captured views like this.

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Brighton Beach on Lake Superior

I remarked over and over that I’ve never seen Lake Superior as calm as it was on this lovely day in September. Jim, however, has seen it like this but he used to drive along the lake every year on his way to Canada for the family fishing trip.

We stopped at every historical marker we spotted and the site where the town of Buchanan, named after President Buchanan, once stood intrigued us. Laid out in 1856, the town existed until the land office was removed in 1859 when it disappeared.

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View from the site where the town of Buchanan once existed 

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Selfie at Buchanan on Lake Superior

Old 61 rejoins the new highway just outside Two Harbors, MN and 12 miles further we pulled into Gooseberry Falls State Park. With easy paved trails, this park is very accessible and gets lots of visitors in the summer but we shared it with few other tourists late in the afternoon in September.

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Middle Falls at Gooseberry Falls State Park

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Upper Gooseberry Falls

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Lower Gooseberry Falls

Our final stop on day 1 at Split Rock Lighthouse is one of my favorites and many must agree with me because it’s one of the most photographed sites in Minnesota. We’ve been there before but this time we paid $10 for the tour and access to the restored lighthouse and keeper’s home.

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Split Rock Lighthouse from inside the visitor center

Built in response to a terrible storm in 1905 that damaged or destroyed 29 ships, construction of Split Rock Lighthouse was an engineering challenge with no roads to this remote location. Materials, supplies, and workers were delivered by boat and lifted to the top of the 110 ft cliffside using a steam-powered hoist and derrick.  Commissioned in 1910, it would be 20 years before a road reached the lighthouse.

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Split Rock Lighthouse with keeper in period costume out front

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Beacon inside Split Rock Lighthouse

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Stairwell inside lighthouse

The lighthouse keeper and two assistant keepers lived on-site from May to December in three identical houses. Families typically stayed during the summer months until children had to return to school. One of the homes is open for visits.

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Light Keeper’s House at Split Rock Lighthouse

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Interior of restored Keeper’s home

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Interior of Keeper’s home

Our tour guide told us we could take the path down to the shoreline after visiting the lighthouse and the keeper’s home. As we hiked down the trail, I spotted the stairs in the photo below and thought maybe it was a shortcut. About halfway down, I saw a sign explaining this was the site of the tramway that was built in 1916 to transport supplies up to the lighthouse. I decided maybe the path led somewhere else and not wanting to get lost, I retraced my steps and took the path to the shore. At the bottom, we saw the stairs and climbed them for our return trip. Unless you’re craving a workout, I would suggest other visitors do this in reverse–take the stairs down and walk the gently sloping trail to go back up. 😬

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Stairway where tram once stood

The views of the lighthouse from the shore were sublime and the light at this time of day was perfect.

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Split Rock Lighthouse

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Split Rock Lighthouse

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We spent the night at a nice hotel, AmericInn, in the town of Silver Bay which struck me as mostly industrial and we ate a disappointing meal at an unnamed restaurant. I wanted local fish which wasn’t offered and Jim ordered a half chicken that was so small I said it had to be a Cornish hen. Nevertheless, it was a busy and fulfilling first day and we were looking forward to day 2 with enthusiasm.

 

Based on events from September 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Great Lakes Road Trip 2017

We like to take a road trip in the fall. The kids are back in school so there are fewer tourists competing for views, roads, hotels, etc. The weather is usually pleasant. We try to plan our trip around our anniversary in September but we also have to work around home football games at Iowa State where we’ve held season tickets for over 30 years. We had planned to circle the Great Lakes in late September 2016 but when a good deal on a river cruise in France came up, we canceled the Great Lakes trip. We rescheduled the Great Lakes for 2017 when we had a 2-week window of opportunity in September.

I’m normally a careful trip planner but frankly, very little advance planning went into this trip. Here’s what we knew: we would begin by heading north to Duluth; we wanted to see all five Great Lakes; we wanted to drive along the lakes whenever possible; we wanted to stop at Jim’s former fishing spot in Canada and visit Niagra Falls and Mackinac Island; we wanted to avoid Toronto having read about the traffic; we also wanted to avoid Chicago traffic. Beyond those parameters, we had no plan. We weren’t sure how far we would travel each day or how many stops we’d make so we didn’t want to reserve lodging ahead and we had not even plotted the route.

With maps, AAA Tour Books, and my smartphone, we planned as we went. We didn’t use my phone for the internet while driving in Canada, however, because data charges through my provider are high. (We did have wifi in hotels at night.) While Jim drove, we watched signs and I studied the AAA books or internet to find places of interest and we stopped at anything that struck our fancy. When we were tired or just felt like stopping, we found a hotel for the night.

How did it turn out? We visited the places on our list, we discovered some amazing places, and we missed a few due to lack of advance planning. We saw all five Great Lakes, we have a new appreciation for them, and we definitely want to return to some areas for further exploration. We got off the beaten path and drove a lot of two-lane roads with little traffic, beautiful views, and road construction. One night we did have a problem finding lodging but we’d brought an air mattress and sleeping bag in case we had to sleep in the car and didn’t use them in the end. Not having internet access in the car while in Canada was a mistake I’ll not repeat. We have these and many more stories to tell about our experience so watch this space.

Would we do it again? Absolutely! The sense of adventure and freedom it gave us was priceless.

 

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Embarking on our road trip

 

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Our route

 

 

 

Based on events from September 2017.

 

 

Categories: Canada, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , | 3 Comments

American Gothic Visited

Tiny Eldon, Iowa (population 916) is home to the backdrop of one of America’s most famous paintings. The artist, Grant Wood, visited the town in 1930 and sketched the Dibble farmhouse which would later appear in the painting, American Gothic. Today the original painting resides at the Art Institute of Chicago but Eldon is worth a visit to see the inspiration that led Grant Wood to create this iconic piece.

We’ve passed nearby many times on our way to and from St. Louis via Des Moines. Eldon is just 6 miles off highway 34 between Ottumwa and Fairfield. Once you reach Eldon, signs direct you quite easily to the American Gothic House.

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The center contains an informative collection of exhibits about the house, Grant Wood, and Art Regionalism. Charles and Catherine Dibble built the house in 1881-1882. The style, called Carpenter Gothic, used somewhat incongruous fancy details on a plain farmhouse. The gothic windows in the gables of the house would normally be used in a church but were chosen from the Sears catalog to grace the Dibble home. Incidentally, my husband’s mother’s maiden name was Dibble and the Dibbles came from New York state as did my mother-in-law’s relatives. That, however, is a subject for future research and possibly another blog post.

 

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American Gothic House

 

According to information at the center, the couple never posed together for the painting and didn’t actually meet until 12 years later when the photograph below was taken. The woman was Grant Wood’s sister, Nan Wood Graham, and the man was his dentist, Dr. B.H. McKeeby. The artist assured them they wouldn’t be recognized in his painting but that turned out to be incorrect and caused some hard feelings especially with his dentist.

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Photograph of Nan Wood Graham and Dr. B.H. McKeeby at the American Gothic House Center

 

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This is our dour look

 

Grant Wood was an Iowa native, born in 1891 on a farm outside Anamosa where he lived until his father died when he was 10. His mother then moved the family to Cedar Rapids where he won third place in his first art contest at the age of 14. Following graduation, he spent a short time studying art in Minneapolis but returned to the Cedar Rapids area to teach school and lived in that area most of his short life. During a trip to Munich, he came to the realization that he needed to paint from his own experience. In 1929, he painted a portrait of his mother called Woman with Plants, launching his new style and taking his place in the Regionalist movement. The following year he painted American Gothic and, as they say, the rest is history.

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Except for one more interesting side note: Grant Wood spent the summer of 1941 painting in Clear Lake, Iowa (which is 8 miles west of our home). I found this article in our local paper written in 2008 about the artist’s stay in Clear Lake.

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Information at American Gothic House Center

Grant Wood died the following February of cancer at the age of 50.

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References: All information was found in displays at the American Gothic House Center.

Based on events from July 2017.

Categories: History, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Cruising the Tasman Sea

I know this post is long overdue. Honestly, I’ve had a hard time writing about this trip because it was so traumatic. My husband counseled me to skip it and just move on but I felt a need to finish writing about it for closure. If you just wandered into my blog, my mother died early into this cruise and you can read about it here. Anyway, here’s my feeble attempt to wrap things up.

We’ve always enjoyed days at sea while on a cruise. In fact, Jim has been keen to book a repositioning cruise because they include more days at sea than in port but we haven’t found one yet that fits our schedule. We departed from the Bay of Islands in New Zealand at the end of day-2 of our 19-day cruise to sail 1300 mi (2100 km) across the Tasman Sea to Sydney, Australia. We would spend three nights and two full days at sea before our arrival in Sydney, where we left the cruise early to fly home.

The first evening we went to dinner at Cagney’s, one of the specialty restaurants which charge extra. We wouldn’t normally pay extra for a restaurant but we’ve attained platinum status on Norwegian which provides some perqs like waiving the cover charge at specialty restaurants. The food was very good but I’m not enough of a foodie to tell you whether it would be worth the extra cost. The young couple seated at the next table, Derek and Emma from Australia, were delightful company, too.

 

While I may not have the most discriminating palate, I definitely knew our experience another evening at Moderno Churrascaria was a cut above. This specialty restaurant, modeled after a traditional Brazilian steakhouse, showcases meat. Diners are given a card with a red side and a green side. If your card is green side up, the waiter will continue to bring more meat, including beef, pork, lamb, and chicken, until you change it to red. Incidentally, the buffet of cheeses, salads, and vegetables was equally impressive.

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Cheese and vegetable buffet

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My selection from the buffet

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The star of the show

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Green side up

It’s always fun to meet people when traveling and this trip was no exception. One evening we had dinner with the two couples we met while working through the visa debacle which occurred when we boarded the ship. I love the fact that we’ve since connected on Facebook and can keep up with one another’s travels.

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Jim and me with Dale, Michelle, Debbie, and Jerry

And in case you haven’t yet figured out that food plays a central role in any cruise, you can even watch the food as it’s prepared on deck. I especially enjoyed watching the preparation of this seafood dish for lunch poolside.

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My share–Yum!

I tried to walk off some of the abundant food each morning on the promenade deck and encountered many others doing the same. Admittedly, we didn’t use the fitness center this time but on most cruises we do.

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Promenade deck

Lots of activities keep cruisers busy during a day at sea. Fitness and dance classes attract many of the women and cooking demonstrations are popular, too. Or relaxation is also an option, whether reading or simply sunning on the deck.

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Jim reading on deck

If you forgot to bring a book, you can find one in the library. And if sunshine and warmth on deck don’t suit you, you can find a seat in the library, too.

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The library

I’m not a much of a swimmer but the hot tub beckons to me every time. Soothing away all that stress, the hot tub is almost as good as therapy.

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The Norwegian Star is an attractive ship and it’s a pleasure to explore the public areas. While I didn’t take as many photos on this trip, here are a couple of the atrium to give you an idea.

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And since this post is titled “Cruising the Tasman Sea,” a photo of the sea is required.

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Tasman Sea

We arrived in Sydney, Australia early on day-5 of our cruise. We were packed and ready to disembark so we watched our arrival on deck beginning at dawn. The views were outstanding.

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Sydney Harbour at dawn

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Sydney, Australia at dawn

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Sydney Opera House with a cruise ship behind

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Sydney Opera House

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Our last view of the Sydney Opera House as we disembarked from the Norwegian Star

Although this trip ended in tragedy, we are travelers at heart. We will return to Australia and one day visit the other ports we missed on this itinerary.  Life is short; travel like you mean it.

 

 

Based on events from February 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Named Bay of Islands by Captain Cook in 1769 for its 144 islands, this archipelago was previously discovered in the 10th century by the Polynesian explorer, Kupe, who named it Aotearoa.  Inhabited by the Maori when Europeans arrived, today the area is known as the birthplace of the nation for the treaty signed by Maori chiefs and the British.

When our cruise ship, the Norwegian Star, anchored around 8 a.m., we were on the first tender boat to Waitangi Pier. We were especially keen to see the town of Russell, so we immediately took the complimentary shuttle from Waitangi Pier to Paihia Wharf where we caught the ferry to Russell. The map below shows where cruise ships anchor, Waitangi Pier, and the towns of Paihia and Russell.

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Map of Waitangi, Paihia, and Russell

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Paihia Wharf

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View of Paihia from the wharf

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View from the ferry to Russell

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Norwegian Star from the ferry

Once called the ‘hell hole of the Pacific,” it’s hard to imagine the drinking, brawling, and prostitution which were commonplace in historic Russell, the largest whaling port in the southern hemisphere and the first capital of New Zealand. Today, little of its wicked past is evident in this charming seaside town.

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Approach to Russell

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Russell, NZ

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Because it’s flightless, the national bird is threatened especially by dogs

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Russell Wharf from the Strand

The Duke of Marlborough Hotel was the first licensed bar in New Zealand. I’m sure the old Victorian has many stories to tell.

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Jim at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel

Next to the hotel is the former Customs House and Police Station, today a private home.

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This majestic Morton Bay Fig Tree was planted by E.B. Laing, the first customs collector who served from 1870 to 1886.

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The oldest remaining church in New Zealand, Christ Church, built in 1836, still holds services every Sunday and since we arrived just as services began, we attended.

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Interior of Christ Church

A bullet hole from the Maori Wars is still evident on the exterior of the church.

 

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Remnant of Maori Wars

 

We strolled around town; I shopped for a Christmas ornament as a souvenir; and we stopped at Sally’s for coffee.

 

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Sally’s

 

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Cannon at Russell

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When we headed back to catch the return ferry to Paihia, I spied these two fishing from the pier. We also watched young people jumping off the pier into the water for a swim causing me to wonder whether they scared away all the fish. I guess that’s why they call it fishing rather than catching.

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Ferry that runs from Paihia to Russell

 

On the short ride back to Paihia, we enjoyed more beautiful views of the islands dotting the turquoise waters.

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Back in Paihia, we wandered around a bit. A local art and craft show briefly attracted my attention but Jim, not much of a shopper, stayed seated while people watching…and bird watching. A sign announced the red-billed gull as the most photographed bird in the sea bird capital of the world (New Zealand) so of course, I had to take several photos. Normally a prolific species, the gull has suffered a decline of over 50% in recent years. The sign admonished, “Love them. Protect them.” Okay.

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Red-billed gull

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Sculpture at Paihia

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Water view from Paihia

We hopped on the complimentary shuttle back to Waitangi for a stop at the treaty grounds. It was here the Maori chiefs and the British signed the Treaty of Waitangi establishing New Zealand as a British colony in 1840. Interestingly, the Maori version and the English version contain different language. The English text gives Britain sovereignty but the Maori text translates to governance which the Maori interpreted to allow self-determination. Both texts are currently used to make present-day decisions.

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Waitangi Treaty Grounds

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Copy of the treaty which is now housed in Wellington

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Waitangi Treaty Grounds

As we walked back to the pier to catch a tender boat back to our ship, I took a few more photos of this incredible paradise.

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View from Waitangi

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View from Waitangi

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Photo from our tender boat, Bay of Islands, NZ

 

Based on events from February 2017.

 

 

 

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The Great American Eclipse

I first heard about the eclipse from my 11-year-old niece while we were visiting my brother’s family in May of this year. She told me a full solar eclipse would occur in August, it could be seen from her town, and her school was giving all the kids special glasses to view it. That sounded pretty cool to me.

As the date, August 21, approached, more and more information appeared about this eclipse and before I knew it, I had eclipse fever. And since my brother lives in the zone of totality, I had a destination in mind to view the event. Once he confirmed we were welcome, I began to plan in earnest. I found viewing glasses online at Amazon and ordered a dozen just to be sure I had a sufficient supply for family and friends.

But as the event drew closer, warnings began to appear. I’m pretty much a scaredy cat, never much of a risk taker, so the warnings got me worried. “Don’t look at the sun without proper eye protection or you’ll go blind.” Amazon issued a recall on unsafe glasses–not the ones I had purchased but that got me more worried. I read compulsively all the safety tips and forwarded everything I read to my adult children cautioning them to be careful and not to go blind. In response to my Facebook post with cautionary information from an optometrist, a friend of mine wrote, “I remember the eclipse of my childhood (July 20, 1963, central Illinois). My grandmother kept me safely in the house while yelling “you’re going to go blind! You’re going to go blind!” at my grandfather who was in the yard with black glass looking at the eclipse.” Honestly, I have plenty in common with her grandmother.

I took my eclipse glasses to my eye doctor’s office seeking reassurance about their safety. My glasses contained the proper ISO numbers and were issued by American Paper Optics, one of the approved companies but I wanted an expert to calm my fears. They were fairly noncommittal at the clinic, probably not wanting to be liable for my safety. One of the optometrists told me not to look continuously at the sun even with the glasses so at least I felt better armed with more information. I passed this information to my adult children as well.  One of them told me the warnings were similar to dentists saying if you don’t floss, your teeth will fall out. The other told me he would close one eye so his blindness would be limited to the other eye. See what I put up with?

The news informing us all the hotels in the zone of totality would be full and the traffic was expected to be horrible, added another element of worry. We left for my brother’s in the St. Louis area on the 20th and the traffic on the Avenue of the Saints looked like this. My first concern was thus alleviated.

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Eclipse Day -1: Avenue of the Saints on August 20, 2017

My friend, Lori, who accompanied us worried about the weather. My worry plate was already full so that one didn’t affect me but the next morning luckily dawned clear but HOT. In fact by 11:48, when the partial eclipse began, it was over 90 degrees.

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My nephew and niece before school on Eclipse Day

My sister-in-law, Sarah, asked where we wanted to view the eclipse and offered their yard, the golf course where they live, or the school the kids attend. My brother couldn’t join us since he was headed to Milwaukee. We decided we’d volunteer to help at the school and we all later agreed it was a good decision. We enjoyed the excitement of the kids and appreciated the information shared by the teachers.

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Armed and ready

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Our ride to the school on Eclipse Day

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Outside the school ready for the eclipse

What did we see? My photos certainly don’t capture well what we viewed which was truly amazing. The first sliver disappeared from the upper right corner of the sun at 11:48. Through our glasses, the sun appeared orange against a black sky. With the glasses held up to cover the lens on my phone, this is what I got, but no sliver is missing.

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Partial Eclipse

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Jim and Lori with the kids at the school

One of the third-grade teachers showed us how to see the eclipse shadow on white paper by making a waffle with our fingers.

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Shadow of the eclipse

I’d read shadows were darker and more distinct during the eclipse and that seemed true to me. Look at the shadows of the trees below.

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By this time, it was 92 degrees. I was a hot mess.

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My sister-in-law’s photo of my niece with her friends

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Another of Sarah’s photos

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Sarah’s photo of Jim, Lori, and me with my nephew

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Sarah’s photo of me, my s-i-l and nephew

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My best effort at the partial eclipse

I can’t tell you whether the cicadas went silent at totality because the kids didn’t. Their noisy excitement grew as totality approached and continued while we viewed it. It didn’t get as dark as I expected but the street lights did come on. We saw Venus, a rainbow, and the diamond ring. The experience of seeing the corona is unforgettable.

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Jim looking at the sun at total eclipse

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The sun with Venus

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Total eclipse

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Total eclipse

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Total eclipse

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My total eclipse photo enlarged

As totality ended, the kids went quiet and I again noticed the sound of the cicadas.

Several times in the night I woke up and was grateful my vision was still intact. The next morning I said to my 9-year-old nephew, “How’s your sight this morning, Buddy?” “Fine”, he responded, “but my hearing’s kind of messed up.”

 

 

Categories: Family, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Auckland War Memorial Museum

The Auckland Museum was founded in 1852 as the first museum in New Zealand,. After several moves through the years to increase space for exhibits, the new and renamed Auckland War Memorial Museum opened in 1929 on the highest point in Auckland’s oldest park, the Auckland Domain.

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Auckland Domain

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View of Sky Tower from Auckland War Memorial Museum

We set off on foot with umbrellas in our backpack in case of rain.  Fortunately, we arrived dry at the museum in spite of the dark clouds that dogged us for most of our stay in Auckland. After a brief discussion, we decided to purchase the Moa package for NZ$55 (US$40) which included museum entry, highlights tour, and Maori cultural performance.

The highlights tour, while short, oriented us to the best exhibits in the museum. Without it, we may have missed important highlights simply due to the size of the museum. After the tour, we went back to spend more time in areas that interested us most.

We began on level 2 with New Zealand’s War Stories including exhibits from WWI, WWII, New Zealand civil wars, and other conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries. The WWI Hall of Memories was especially moving to me. New Zealand sent more troops per capita to fight in WWI than any other country which meant every family in the country was personally affected by the war. Nearly all of the 18,166 who died were buried overseas and almost one-third of them are buried in unknown graves.

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WWI Hall of Memories with Roll of Honour listing those who died in service from Auckland Province

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WWI Sanctuary with bronze wreath of kawakawa leaves, a symbol of mourning

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Stained glass ceiling with coats of arms of all British dominions serving in WWI

The Pacific Lifeways gallery contained exhibits with information about island groups in the Pacific. Of particular interest to me was our guide’s explanation of the spread of plants and animals throughout the Pacific which indicated the migration patterns of the people in the area. New Zealand was the last area discovered and settled, probably as late as 1300 A.D. by Polynesians from Southeast Asia who became the indigenous Maori people.

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Migration routes in the Pacific

A carved statue of Kave, an evil goddess from the island of Nukuoro, greeted us at the entrance to the gallery. She was brought to New Zealand in the 1870s by a trader.

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Carved statue of Kave

An outrigger canoe in the Pacific Masterpieces gallery came from the Solomon Islands as a gift from the Melanesian Mission.

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The Red Feather Cloak from Hawaii was worn only by the highest chief for religious ceremonies or in war. The nearby sign explained a cloak similar to this belonging to King Kamehameha in Hawaii contained a half million feathers from as many as 80,000 birds.

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Red Feather Cloak

All of level 1 in the museum is devoted to natural history. The highlights on this floor for me were the moa and the kiwi. The tallest known bird, this 1913 reconstruction of the extinct moa is from the South Island.

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Reconstructed moa

The kiwi is the unofficial national symbol for New Zealand and the nickname for New Zealanders. They are unique to New Zealand but how they arrived is unclear since they can’t fly.  Because they can’t fly, the kiwi is under constant threat especially by predators such as dogs and the population has shrunk to around 68,000.

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You can listen to the kiwi here.

The most surprising exhibit to me was the axe used by Sir Edmund Hillary in his 1953 ascent of Mt. Everest. The famous Aucklander died here in 2008.

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Mountain axe and painting of Sir Edmund Hillary

I especially wanted to learn more about the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, in our visit to this museum and our desire was satisfied. There are over 1000 artifacts original to the Maori. The gateway Kaitaia carving at the entrance to the Maori Court dates from the 14th to 16th century and is the oldest Maori carving still in existence.

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Kaitaia gateway

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I was fascinated by the Hotunui Preservation Project, a collaboration of museum staff, local experts, and descendants to restore a meeting house built in 1878.

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Entrance to Hotunui Meeting House

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Restoration in progress

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Painted and woven restoration

But by far, for me, the high point of this museum was the Maori Cultural Performance. Lasting about 30 minutes, the performance ended with the haka, the traditional war dance.

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It was an educational day orienting us to the natural and political history of New Zealand. With this background, we felt better prepared for our visit the following day to the Bay of Islands.

As we strolled back to our hotel, we found Solo Kitchen, a Turkish and Mediterranean restaurant, and stopped in for a late lunch/early dinner. The lamb kofta with salad and three dips (sun-dried tomato, cacik, and baba ghanoush) was delicious.

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Solo Kitchen

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And the music added beautifully to an authentic ethnic experience.

 

Come back next week for my post about Bay of Islands.

 

Based on events from February 2017.

 

 

 

 

Categories: History, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves were at the top of my list of things to see near Auckland. I looked at various tour companies and frankly, the coach tours were considerably more expensive than I thought they’d be. A group day tour to Waitomo and the Hobbiton movie set cost about $250 per person and if we added Rotorua to see the Maori cultural show, we were looking at $300 each. We considered renting a car to drive ourselves but we’ve driven on the left in the UK and Ireland and that didn’t especially appeal to me. With a distance of 193 km (119 mi) each way, we’d spend half the day driving ourselves with the attendant stress. In the end, we decided to eliminate Hobbiton and Rotorua since the reviews of Hobbiton weren’t that good and we could see a Maori cultural show in Auckland. Most companies charged around $180 for the tour to Waitomo alone but I found a no frills deal through InterCity for just $105 per person that I jumped on. When I found out later the entrance tickets to Waitomo were $50, that deal looked even better.

We definitely made the right choice by not driving ourselves. Auckland is in the midst of a transportation crisis caused by a combination of rapid city growth and poor planning. Our bus driver told us 40 years ago politicians refused to implement a comprehensive mass transit plan and the city has been paying the price ever since. Getting out of Auckland was extremely slow with frequent stops on the Southern Motorway. The only thing worse was the traffic into the city which was backed up for more than 30 miles.

A rainy day was perfect for a drive and cave tour since we wouldn’t be outside in the elements for either. My photos from the bus suffered a bit from the rain but the countryside was beautiful nonetheless.

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Rainy countryside

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Countryside outside Auckland

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New Zealand countryside

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Countryside outside Auckland

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Pastoral scene in New Zealand

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North Island, New Zealand

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Near Waitomo, New Zealand

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Drive near Waitomo, New Zealand

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Scene from the bus on North Island

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Flax growing next to the roadway in New Zealand

According to our tour guide, Waitomo Glowworm Caves were discovered by the local Maori Chief, Tanetinorau, on his own land and explored by him and a surveyor, Fred Mace, in 1887 on a raft made of flax stalks. Two years later the caves opened for tours led by local Maori guides but in 1904 the government took over the administration. They were finally returned to the family of Tanetinorau in 1989.

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Entrance to Waitomo Glowworm Caves with flax growing in the foreground

The glowworm, Arachnocampa luminosa, is unique to New Zealand. They are actually the larvae of a fungus gnat whose bioluminescence attracts insects. The glowworms produce a long sticky thread which hangs from the roof of the cave and ensnares passing insects, thus providing a meal for the glowworm.

The 45-minute guided tour through the cave included views of stalactites, stalagmites, glowworms, and ended with a boat-ride through the Glowworm Grotto.

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Walking to the entrance of the caves

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Entrance to the caves

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Disembarking from the boats through Glowworm Grotto

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Selfie after our boat ride

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Photography isn’t allowed inside the caves so I found this National Geographic YouTube video for your enjoyment.

We also bought the photos taken at the caves. Although they are just our photo superimposed over a background picture, they remind us of the amazing sights we enjoyed at Waitomo.

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Inside the entrance

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Sticky threads to catch a meal

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Surrounded by glowworms

This was definitely a heavily visited tourist attraction, but nevertheless, we are glad we went. The glowworms are a unique natural attraction in New Zealand and as such, should not be missed.

 

Based on events from February 2017.

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