The Treasures of Southern Albania

The last time we were in Albania was 2019 and unfortunately did not spend any time in the southern part.  We came into the port of Saranda, dropped anchor, checked out of Albania, and left bright and early the next morning for Greece.  This time, we decided to spend some quality time in this beautiful town.  It is a short hop from Corfu town, Greece to Saranda in Albania (3 hours).  After running the gauntlet of formalities in Greece, we were underway by 11:30 a.m.  We arrived in Saranda several hours later where we were greeted by our favorite agent, and she quickly handled all our formalities for us…..man, I love Albania!  Not only that, she directed us to the one mooring ball in the bay, told us there was no charge, and we could stay as long as we wanted!  We quickly got the lay of the land along with a multitude of suggested sites to visit and places to go eat.  We arranged for a car the next morning and were super excited for a full day of new adventures!  

Our journey since launch in Preveza. Stops at Two Rock Bay (mainland), Notos (Corfu) and Corfu old town on the way to Sarande, Albania
Tied to a mooring ball in Sarande bay, Albania

That evening we headed off to an authentic Albanian restaurant with very high reviews.  The place was unique in that there was no menu.  The sign at the door stated that you needed to be willing to eat the house preparations of the day.  Why not?!?!  The restaurant was owned and run by a young man named Leo who prided himself on home grown, organic ingredients prepared fresh daily.  We were treated to 14 small plates that offered up amazing and unique flavors of both Albania and Greece.  We then had a baked cheese with marmalade and a spinach Burek….both also very tasty.  We were then given a choice between fish, chicken or pork.  Dan opted for the fish, and I decided to try the pork.  As expected, the dishes were delicious, and the house made wine was also very tasty.  We were then treated to a complimentary dessert unlike anything we have ever had before.  The owner spent a great deal of time talking with us and sharing his background and the building of his special restaurant.  It really was one of the best experiences we have had in a very long time.

Oda e babes – a small restaurant that has a fixed menu of 14 Albanian appetizers. Yum!
Leo, the owner and chef took a selfie with us. He was very friendly and proud of his culinary creations

We got an early start the next morning in order to see as many sights as possible while we had the rental car.  Our first stop was Butrint National Park.  This is one of the most important archaeological sites in the country of Albania. The ruins are nestled into the forest with unusual pockets of water throughout the site.  Butrint was known for being one of the finest and most beautiful cities in the Roman Empire.  There is a picturesque lagoon and high mountains surrounding this park.  We spent two hours wandering this amazing piece of history.  As always, I will let the photographs tell the story.  Fortunately, we made sure to arrive early and often had many of the sites to ourselves.  By the time we left a few hours later, the hordes of tourists from the cruise ships had descended on this magical place.  We were very grateful to have had the peace and solitude to absorb the magnitude of Butrint.

Butrint, an ancient Roman settlement
Exploring the ruins
The grounds were very pretty
Mosaic from antiquity
Ruins of a temple
Roman theater
Original cup holder?
Oh hey!
We enjoyed wandering the grounds and exploring
Freed slaves would have their legal release inscribed for all to see on the walls.
A church was built at the settlement during later stages of the Roman settlement
Castle keep at the top of the hill
A Roman sculpture found on the grounds.
Fortress wall down to Lake Butrint
A gate in the fortress wall. Made small so that it’s easier to defend.
The grounds were filled with ruins

Our next stop was a site known as the Blue-Eye Spring.  After finding a parking spot (it was remarkably crowded), we set off on foot for about 3/4 of a mile up and down the winding road until we got to a path that followed a beautiful light blue river through lush, dense forest.  There is a platform built over the Blue-Eye to give you a better view.  This has become a very popular spot for people to jump into the icy blue hole.  The Blue-Eye is a spring which sends bubbly water up from more than 50 meters of depth (over 150 ft.).  We were told that they don’t know the actual depth because they have not been able to map it any deeper.  The water is crystal clear and icy cold (not that we went in it, but I trust what was written on the sign!).

The “Blue Eye” of Albania. A fresh water spring that flows so hard they can’t measure the depth
The blue eye – 18,400 liters a second of water!
The hike to and from was very scenic

From the Blue-Eye, we had a long and winding drive far up into the mountain region called Gjirokastra.  The drive was over an hour (and sometimes a little hairy with narrow roads and plunging cliffs devoid of guard rails), but the views were spectacular!  Not only that but some seriously wicked thunderstorms were brewing.  We parked our car and started up the roadway into this beautiful little town.  It reminded me of something you might encounter in the Swiss Alps.  The cobblestone streets were lined with all kinds of merchants, cafes and restaurants which we quickly passed by on our mission to get to the castle at the top of the mountain.  It was a long, steep, winding roadway to the very top where we were eventually greeted by the sweet, cold air in the castle entrance.  It always amazes me how hot it can be outside and how shockingly chilly it is within the castle walls.  The castle of Gjirokastra was built in the 4th century A.D., and was by far the most intact castle that we have seen.  It is also the biggest castle in Albania.  Gjirokastra is known as the “Stone City” since all the streets, homes and the bazaar are built of stone.

The town of Gjrokastra
Lovely cobblestoned streets to explore
The town was lined with restaurants and local artisan markets

When you enter the castle, you are greeted by a huge arsenal of weaponry ranging from prehistoric times up until WWII.  After leaving the weapons hall (considered the weapons museum), we wandered through the various rooms of the castle.  Much of it is kept in it’s natural state, as there was no lightening in many of the underground rooms (such as the prison cells).  We did our best to explore all of them but some became a little bit hazardous with only the light of our phone flashlight to illuminate our path.  By the time, we finished exploring the castle, the storm I mentioned earlier had made it’s way overhead.  The wind kicked up violently along with thunder and lightning.  Time to go.  We decided to take the more direct route down, a path through the forest with lots of stairs.  Needless to say, we hustled.  We also raced through the bazaar as rain and hail had begun to fall.  Since we were still pretty far from the car and hadn’t eaten yet today, we ducked into a small restaurant to enjoy some more Albanian food.  We enjoyed a very tasty lunch while the storm raged outside.  By the time we were finished, the storm had died off to a light rain, so we did a little shopping at the bazaar before heading to the car.  By the time we returned to Saranda, we had logged over 8 miles of walking and 22 flights of stairs.  We definitely felt our busy day and were pleasantly exhausted.  We returned the car and headed back to the boat for a relaxing evening.  

The castle’s artillery museum
Monument to soldiers from a bygone era
The castle keep, high on a hill overlooking the valley
Cold war story of an American fighter jet that was either shot down or ran out of fuel and landed in Albania. Story depends on the side who is telling it!
The US Air Force plane on display
Wandering the large castle grounds
Thunderstorm incoming!
Great meal while waiting for the storm to pass. Tave Kose (Lamb in Yogurt) with some appetizers. Tasty!

After taking the next day off, we decided to rent a car once again and head off in a different direction.  This time we made an hour drive down the coastline to a town called Porto Palermo.  Dan had been communicating through one of his Facebook groups with a couple from the U.S. anchored in the bay here, so we decided to meet up in person.  After a quick exploration of another awesome castle (Albania has no shortage of castles), we met our new friends for coffee and the chance to swap stories.  Meeting up with other cruisers is also an awesome way to find the best places to go and things to do (not to mention critical things such as where to anchor and safe places to leave your dinghy).  Soon it was time to head back towards Saranda.  This night, we had a reservation outside of town at a place called “The Mussel House.”  This was another highly reviewed restaurant on Lake Butrint where they raise and harvest their own mussels.  They are the biggest mussel distributor in Albania and are said to have the finest mussels around.  We had booked a private tour which took us out on a motorboat where we learned how the mussels are grown and harvested.  At one point, our guide pulled up a net of growing mussels and plucked a couple off which he then pried open with a knife.  We were handed the mussel and told to enjoy.  As soon as I had mine in hand, I felt a little squeamish.  I don’t eat raw oysters for a reason!  What am I going to do?  I can’t offend our hosts who are eagerly anticipating my thorough enjoyment of their highly touted mussels.  I popped it into my mouth where I was instantly greeted by the taste of salt water (yuck), then came the slimy texture.  Everything in my mouth and throat immediately shut down in protest.  I tried to bite into it, quickly realizing it was alive, and did they only thing I could….I swallowed it whole.  Needless to say, I did NOT enjoy the raw mussel and apologized profusely.  They of course laughed at my facial antics.  When we returned to the dock, our tour included freshly cooked mussels and wine.  Now, we are talking.  The mussels were fabulous!  Another great Albanian experience.

Porto Palermo castle
This was the home fortress for Ali Pasha (pictured on left) who was much feared when he ruled
Top of the castle overlooking the bay. Our new friend’s yacht is in the background on the right
Touring a mussel farm on Lake Butrint. They have a reputation for being the best tasting mussels in all of Albania. They call them the “Queen Mussels’
Our boat captain pulling up a mussel net to show us how they grow
He then pulled one off and shucked it for us
MMMM….raw and very fresh Albanian mussel straight from the lake
Robyn’s turn.. She ate it! A little reluctantly but no international incident!
After the tour, we had a huge bowl of the Mussels prepared in olive oil and wine. They were so good!

Saranda is a very busy beach town with a number of “pirate ships” that take tourists out.  They love to pass by our boat, very close, with their club music blasting.  This goes on very late into the night (or should I say, wee hours of the morning)at which time they are brightly lit up in an array of colors.  The clubs onshore also have their music blasting which is periodically punctuated by the minarets exotically chanting their call to prayer throughout the day and evening.  It’s a very exotic experience here in Saranda, with a cacophony of sights and sounds, and we have thoroughly enjoyed our time here (pretty obvious since we have been here a week!).  It is now Father’s Day, and we are killing time until our departure this evening for Italy.  We will leave Albania tonight around 5 p.m and arrive in Otronto, Italy tomorrow morning around 6 a.m.  Stay tuned for more fun as we make our way around the coast of Italy and Sicily.

This is what visiting by boat in a beach town looks like in Summer.

The 2022 Sailing Season Has Arrived

It’s hard to believe that it has been over 7 months since we left Zoe behind in Greece.  Despite being away for so long, those months did not go by quietly or uneventfully (would you have expected anything less?! Haha).  Here is a quick recap of our off season.  After spending a month and a half back in Phoenix, we headed to Maui for the months of December and January.  Although it was extremely hard being away from family for the holidays, it was a good plan since we no longer had a house to return to in Phoenix (we sold it last April to build new).  In February, we celebrated the marriage of my beautiful daughter Shawn to Mark.  In March, we celebrated our grandson’s 2nd birthday on a wonderful, full family camping trip (family on both sides of the family were there).  In the late hours of the last night, our kids burst into our tent to share the news that my son Ryan had proposed to Samantha (parents of our grandson).  It truly was an exciting and eventful weekend!  In April, Dan and I decided to do a 5 week trip to Australia (which had just opened up to tourists after 2 years of Covid lockdown).  You can read about that amazing adventure in a previous blog post.  When May arrived, we celebrated Dan’s son Jacob’s graduation from Northern Arizona University (woo hoo….all kids are through college)!  We also had the pleasure of celebrating my beautiful niece Carolyn’s graduation, and her wedding to Nathan.  This was a spectacular Romanian wedding, and like nothing we have ever experienced.  It also gave us the opportunity to see friends and family that we haven’t seen in many years.  And a final shout out to my son Richard (hired as a Delta pilot) and nephew Jason (hired as an Envoy/American pilot).  Eventful, right???

Shawn and Mark tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony in Phoenix. Yes that’s what February looks like here!
The new engaged happy couple!
Jacob graduated…last child through school!

On May 24th, we made it back to Zoe!  We were thrilled to be back but dreading the amount of work that lay ahead of us.  We weren’t scheduled to launch for a week, so we had plenty of time to get everything done but living on the hard is not a lot of fun (much more challenging than living in the water).  We have definitely become more proficient at getting the boat in order as it only took us a few days to get her put back together and livable.  One of our favorite tasks is a visit to this very large and colorful roadside farmer’s market.  Here we loaded up with tons of delicious, locally grown vegetables and homemade products.  We also made a trip to the hardware store for a few items including a fly swatter.  I asked the clerk, but he had no clue what I was talking about.  So, I put my fingers together, made a buzzing sound while fluttering my fingers and then took my other hand and went “WAP”!  He busted up laughing but now understood what I was looking for!  It’s always an adventure shopping in foreign places, and we always get a kick out trying to figure it all out and communicate effectively.

Launch day is finally here…

Unfortunately, despite having our boat for over 7 months, the yard did not do any of our service work until the day before and the day of launch.  Of course, everyone showed up at the same time and chaos ensued!  In the end, Zoe looked beautiful and went back into the water without a hitch.  We spent two nights side tied to the marina quay trying to get our insurance sorted out.  Apparently, Greece was now requiring a large liability policy in addition to our normal insurance, so Dan was sent scrambling trying to find coverage before we set sail (get caught without it and big fines are involved).  We did end up finding coverage out of the UK.  Unfortunately, they were closing for a 4 day weekend to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee, so we were stuck for at least another week.

Zoe looking good in her element.

Our second night on the dock, we were startled awake at 4:00 a.m. by this loud thumping on the boat.  My immediate thought was that someone had climbed onto our boat.  Dan got up and looked around, but there was no one.  As we lay in bed, the sound got more intense.  Dan said, “it’s probably just a fish slapping the hull”.  In my head I said, “that’s gotta be a pretty big ass fish”!  The sound continued to get louder and more frenetic, so we both jumped up and went out on deck.  The sea was boiling with these 6 inch fish going absolutely crazy.  They were leaping out of the water and on to the dock where they were flopping around helplessly.  Dan jumped down off the boat and started flipping them back into the water.  It was the craziest thing we’ve ever seen.  We found out from the marinero the next morning that they were being hunted by some very large amberjack.  They basically herd them creating this disorganized chaos.  Apparently  some of the seagulls got in on the action, plucking fish off the dock.  What a crazy night!

Post launch celebration, taverna style
We moved to the anchorage next to the marina and had our first grill of the season

After a week on the hard, 2 nights on the marina wall, and one night on anchor in the bay next to the marina, we decided to just take our chances with the insurance.  Worst case, we had the emails showing that we would have the coverage just not the official paperwork until the Tuesday after the Queen’s Jubilee.  So, we set sail for one of our favorite bays to while away a few days.  We timed our arrival in Two Rock Bay for Friday knowing that charter boats (which usually swarm here) would need to be back to base, and the bay should be pretty wide open.  It was, and we landed a gorgeous spot near the cliffs in pristine sand.  We were quickly greeted by my little fish friends who love to hang out around the boat waiting for handouts.  We also had our first swim of the season.  It was a little chilly but well worth it.  

Back to the serene Two Rock Bay as we work our way north
We anchored in 2 meters (a little over 6 feet) of water – the bottom looks like you can touch it!
The two rocks that give the bay it’s name

After several days in the bay, it was time to get moving again (and no, still no insurance paperwork yet).  We headed to another of our favorite bays, Petriti on the island of Corfu.  This turned out to be a very good decision since it wasn’t more than a few days before the mother of all storms blew through (at least from our personal experiences).  By the time the forecasts showed the magnitude, and the news stations actually gave the storm a name, it was too late for us to duck into a marina.  Greece does not have a lot of marinas to begin with, and one of our two options is a charter base making it impossible to get a spot on Fridays since the charter boats are due back.  This meant riding it out on the water and trusting our anchor (and my anchoring skills….which have come a long way, by the way!).   Not to toot my own horn, but I have become eagle-eyed at picking out the sand spots and highly adept at landing the anchor and setting it in a small sand spot surrounded by weed and/or rock (weed and rock are not your friend when anchoring).  Okay, I guess I tooted.  Never mind I’ve probably pissed off the sea gods now!  I take it back, I take it back!

Anchoring out means a never ending search for a place to park the dinghy. Even if the dock is rusty, decrepit and bird poop stained!

We had already prepped the boat earlier in the evening by letting out a lot more anchor chain and stowing everything that could blow away or come crashing down.   It wasn’t long before the wind started kicking up, so from 2:30 a.m. to 5:00 a.m I stayed up in the salon keeping an eye on things.  We had already been through 33 knots of gusts the day before, and nothing was approaching that, so I headed down to bed.  At 9:00 a.m., I heard the wind kicking up yet again (another one of my superpowers 🤣)and told Dan that it was time to get up, the storm was here.  Within a half hour, the wind was howling, rain pouring, hail, and thunder and lightning simultaneously.  Every year, we get hit with a storm, and I foolishly think it’s the scariest storm I have ever been in on the boat.  Every year, I am proven wrong!  We managed to come through the storm completely unscathed (at least physically…..not so sure about mentally!).  The rest of the day was calm but rainy.  Just when we thought we were in for a nice, peaceful evening, the wind switched direction.  Before we knew it, the boat was bucking like a bronco from a large swell.  We watched the shoreline behind us soar up 4-5 feet and then disappear completely.  Luckily, we don’t get seasick, but it was violent enough to make us both incredibly dizzy.  Fortunately, it was over after a few hours.  Ahh, the joys of sailing.

Ominous warning!
The biblically named Storm Genesis. Forty knots of wind, hail, lightning and thunder!

Since our plan is to head over to Italy and then Sicily, we decided it was time to get moving north again (and no, we STILL don’t have our insurance sorted out!  Now, just to be clear, our umbrella policy in America covers the boat’s liability requirements but try explaining that to a Greek official).  The winds in the channel between Greece and Italy can get very interesting, so we have been carefully watching the forecasts to find our best window (this will require an overnight passage….my favorite….not).  We decided to spend a couple days anchored off the castle wall in Corfu town since this is where we will need to check out of the country and take care of formalities.  If you followed our blog last year, then you know that we are in the same spot as last year where we witnessed two deaths in the same day (one a drowning and one a suicide by jumping from the castle wall).  Needless to say, we still feel scarred from that experience and don’t find the same degree of joy in this spot anymore.  We also found this spot incredibly crowded this year (after we anchored, of course).  We had two boats that anchored way too close (one had to pull up chain to keep from hitting us when he swung around!)  Yeah, definitely time to go!  

Corfu Old Fortress
This anchorage is very atmospheric
Wandering the New Fortress in Corfu

We only spent 2 nights here which is unusual for us, but between playing bumper boats and the hordes of people in town (the cruise ships are back in full swing!), we were ready to go.  Our last night, we spent a fun evening with some new friends from the UK who happened to be on a boat like ours before checking out of Greece the following morning.  From there, we had a 3 hour sail (more like motor) to Sarande, Albania.  Stay tuned for some new adventures (finally!) from this beautiful country!

Heading north to Albania!

Sydney Here We Come!

We bid a sad farewell to our very cool Cassowary friend.  Okay, not really a friend since he’d happily gut you if you made him angry, but he was cool addition to our camping experience.  Etty Bay was a small but beautiful little camp spot, but there really wasn’t a lot to do close by (and swimming was not an option), so it was time to hit the road.

Once last cassowary encounter before heading out. The four inch razor sharp claws were crazy.

Our next stop was the beachside town of Townsville (clever name, I know) on the Coral Sea.  Since we were now rolling into Easter weekend, the campgrounds on the water were quite filled with large groups and families.  We managed to score a nice spot across the street from the beach with a really nice boardwalk for strolling.  Our plan was to take the ferry across the sea to Magnetic Island where we had a 4 x 4 rented (the last vehicle available on the whole island) to go explore the sights.

Headed out on a ferry ride for an island adventure
Most of Magnetic Island is preserved as park. It got it’s name because Captain Cook’s compass stopped working when sailing by. It never happened again.

After a quick 20 minute ferry ride, we headed out on foot to go get the car.  Before long, we were off and running before 9:00 a.m.  Our first point of interest was Geoffrey Bay which is home to numerous rock wallabies.  We had stopped and purchased a carrot in order to feed them an “approved” treat.  Since we were there early, there were hardly any people around, so we had the experience all to ourselves.  We saw momma’s with joeys in their pouch (and miscellaneous body parts hanging out at an given time) along with some youngsters.  The youngsters were the most brazen of the bunch (kind of like human teenagers).  They had no qualms about coming up and grabbing the carrot pieces out of our hands.  At one point, I pulled my hand back to draw one closer, and he grabbed my finger with his tiny little clawed fingers and pulled my hand back towards him.  They were so unbelievably cute!  Oh how I wish I could bring one home!

Wild rock wallabies that have gotten used to handouts
The younger ones were bolder
What fun!

As more and more cars flooded in, we took that as our cue to leave.  We were then headed to a hike that took you through the eucalyptus forest (with wild koalas) and up to a fort used during WWII.  As we drove through, both the parking lot and the overflow lot were packed full.  There was nowhere to park.  We decided to move along and come back for a try later.

We headed to one end of the island and a beach called Horseshoe Beach.  Despite having to swim within the netted areas to avoid box jellyfish stings, the beach was packed with visitors.  We wandered around a bit taking in the sights and trying to figure out our next move.  We had specifically rented a 4 x 4 to check out some amazing views in hard to reach places.  Unfortunately, the one road with all the best views had been closed because no one wanted to bother fixing the 3 foot deep potholes that riddled it.  Such a bummer.

From there, we decided to check out the fort hike one more time.  This time we lucked out and scored a spot as someone was leaving.  The downside is it was later in the day and quite toasty out.  The hike was only a couple of miles, but getting up to the sights of the fort was a lot of ascent on rocks and steps.  We were definitely a little worn out and sweaty by the time we got to the top, but the views were amazing.  From the very top, you could look out the gun slot for a full view of the Coral Sea and any approaching enemies.  Along the way, we were able to spot a few koalas up napping in the trees.

View from the shore artillery emplacement. Probably unchanged since WW2
Remnants of artillery installed to protect against a Japanese invasion that never materialized.
Artillery storage magazine
Wild Koalas surround the fort
Koala watching us from his nap spot
So adorable!
Koala fast asleep on his gumtree perch

We finished our exploration of the island by driving to the west end, down a 4 x 4 road to some very remote beaches.  Here, there were no lifeguards or nets.  We were told by the rental car agent NOT to swim here due to sharks.  Yep, no problem there!  Sorry, I will not be treating you to any up close and personal pictures of Great White Sharks….I know, disappointing.  We quickly discovered it didn’t take long to explore the charms of this island, and after about 5 hours, we headed back to the ferry and camp.

Beers on the beach to celebrate a fun day on the island
We went to seven of the eleven points on this sign this trip!

We still had Easter Sunday booked at this campground, but we were finding that it was too far to walk to any sort of restaurants or entertainment.  Other than walking the beach or sitting in the campground, that was about it.  We were booked for a beach spot about 4 1/2 hours away on Monday but started discussing pulling up camp a little early.  Dan made some phone calls and we lucked into a real campground (not a spot on the beach with no amenities or power) on Easter Sunday and Monday.  Since we have been winging this entire trip, we have been very fortunate!  Unfortunately, the campgrounds are very good about getting their money up front, so we did eat two nights in two different places by changing our plan, but it was sooooo worth it.

On Easter Sunday, we arrived in Cape Hillsborough and our spot right off the beach.  This was on our list because the wallabies and kangaroos come up on the beach before sunrise to eat.  They have also been known to wander the camp foraging.  Here, the tidal shifts are quite dramatic, and we were warned to make sure we were attentive to the tides on our beach hikes.  It was low tide when we arrived so we took a nice long stroll down the beach.  The campground was packed to the gills with large groups and families yet again.

Walking the tidal flats of the beach. All of this is covered by sea water at high tide. Hikers sometimes get stranded if they haven’t paid attention.
Kangaroo visitor to our campsite
Kangaroo and kookaburra bird that stopped by.

Monday morning, we were up by 5:30 a.m. and headed to the beach.  The wallabies and kangaroos were already there chowing down.  It was such a cool treat to watch them along with the sun coming up over the rock formations.  Since the holiday weekend was over, most of the campsite had emptied out so we jumped on the chance to move to a prime spot with no one around us.  The next morning, Dan decided to head to the beach once again to see the kangaroos.  I opted to stay in my less than cozy bed.  It worked out in my favor anyway since two kangaroos decided to hang out and graze near the edge of our camp spot!

Wild kangaroos and wallabies the come to feed on the beach at sunrise.
What was that sound?
Enjoying the sunrise views
This kangaroo came to play in the water at the beach
Had the good luck to take a picture of one with a rainbow!

The next day we had an extremely long drive to Hervey Bay (8 hours) which meant I had to do some of the driving too 🙁  Once we got settled in, we took a long walk on a very long pier and took in the sights.  We then headed to the only restaurant open (as you can imagine, that did not turn out well). We really didn’t see much to hold our interest here, so we left the following morning and headed to Noosa Heads. This was my nightmare in living color.  It was very clearly School Break.  The streets became parking lots and every sidewalk was wall to wall people.  We hopped out in the nature park (Dan made me….I just wanted to get as far away from the chaos as possible) and did another hillside boardwalk through the eucalyptus trees and overlooking the ocean.  We covered a few miles, enjoyed the sights, and then quickly made our way out of town.  In a quieter time of the year, this place looked like it could be a lot of fun.

Urangan pier at sunset. It’s over a half mile long (868 meters) and makes a great sunset stroll
Noosa heads national park
Beautiful beaches of Eastern Australia

After leaving Noosa Heads, we arrived in Alex Beach and our next campground.  It was a very pretty campground with a great boardwalk that went on for miles.  We took in some of the memorial sites from various wars that we found along the boardwalk.  Once again, we did not find a big draw here (we had begun to find that the remainder of our journey was highlighted by very popular beach towns which really wasn’t on our “A” list of things to do and see).  As I am sure you guessed, we headed out bright and early the very next morning.

Alex Beach campground
Views from the highway to Brisbane

The next leg of our journey would bring us to Brisbane and the chance to catch up with some very special friends.  We met up with a couple that we got to know in Greece (our boats are in the same boatyard) and spent a few hours catching up over lunch.  This was definitely a highlight on our journey since they had been locked down and away from their boat for the last two years.  It was really great getting to catch up.  Since we still had a two hour drive to our next campsite, we were forced to say goodbye sooner than we would have liked.  Between road construction and traffic, our two hour drive took us 3 hours!  We were now in Byron Bay.

At this point, we have come to the conclusion that we have hit all of our bucket list points of interest.  We were both feeling quite worn out, very homesick (me), and not looking forward to the upcoming week of rain in our little camper van.  We decided to make our way to Sydney as quickly as possible and head home several days earlier than originally planned.  Before we left Byron Bay, we decided to hike to the lighthouse on the point.  Now that was a rough one!  No one mentioned the relentless hills and stairs that went on for miles to get to the lighthouse!  Once our hike was complete, we hit the road once again.  

Easternmost point of Australia at Byron Bay
Hiking to the lighthouse
Cape Byron lighthouse. Australia’s most powerful lighthouse and protecting the coast since 1901

We headed to the town of Port Macquarie for our last night of camping.  This was a very nice, quiet camp area with very few visitors.  The highlight of this visit was a visit to the koala hospital where orphaned and injured koalas are taken in to be rehabilitated before going back to the wild (if they can).  These are koalas that were injured in the big fires or hit by cars, etc. Some of the joeys (baby koalas) go to foster homes for more intensive care.  I so wanted to be a joey foster mom!

Koala that had been struck by a car and being tended to by volunteers at the Koala hospital
This koala was blind and is a permanent guest of the hospital

We were now on the last leg of our adventure (I bet you thought this post was never going to end)!  We spent most of this drive in relentless, pouring rain…..not fun!  After 4 hours, we finally arrived in the town of Clovelly.  We were very excited for this part of our journey as well because we would be meeting up with a distant cousin of Dan’s whose family was from the same island in Croatia as Dan’s dad.  We had never met him before, but he generously opened up his home to us and shuttled us around to some amazing areas.  We started across the river from the Sydney Opera House at sunset where we were treated to a fireworks show.  The next day we visited some of the very popular and famous surf beaches in the area.  Once again, our visit was far shorter than we would’ve liked, but it was time to get home.

Famous Sydney harbor with the opera house and harbor bridge at sunset
Reunion of Muzich’s from the Croatia island of Cres in Australia

We left at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday and arrived in Phoenix at 10:00 a.m. on……Tuesday!  Gotta love the international date line, now my days of the week are ALL screwed up!  All I can say is that it was a magical trip, but I am happy to be home once again (even if it is for only a month).  In the end, we drove over 4500 miles in a little less than 5 weeks.  For those of you in the U.S., that is the equivalent of driving from  Boston to Anchorage, Alaska!  

For now, we will say good-bye until the end of May when we return to our boat in Greece.  We hope you will join us on this year’s sailing adventures which will hopefully take us to Sicily and the surrounding islands.

Bound for the Australian Rainforests

After turning in our very comfy motorhome in Alice Springs, we hopped on two flights (Alice Springs to Brisbane, then Brisbane to Cairns) totaling about 5 hours in the air.  We were very excited for this next phase of our adventure down under.  I was treated to 2 nights in a motel when we arrived in Cairns.  Yes, I said treated.  After 16 days sleeping on a dinette turned bed, I was thrilled to sleep in a regular bed.  Since we arrived somewhat late on Saturday, and were scheduled to pick up our next camper van on Monday morning, we really only had 1 full day to explore Cairns (which we did in full)!

The beautiful city of Cairns in the northeast of Australia
The city has a lush tropical feel
Cairns by night. This tree had dozens of parrots roosted for the evening

We started our day early with a visit to Rusty’s Market which only takes place on Saturdays and Sundays.  Here there were a variety of food carts, craft stalls, and a huge assortment of farm fresh fruits and veggies (the whole reason we went).  We made it a mission to stock up on a variety of fruits we either couldn’t get at home or had never even heard of.  We had rambutans, passion fruit, dragon fruit, mangosteens, and custard apples.  Needless to say, we had to be taught how to eat several of these treats.  The custard apples were by far the ugliest fruit we had ever seen (and totally clueless as to how you would eat one), but they turned out to be one of our favorites.  It was quite a fun fruit adventure!  

All kinds of tropical delectables to try
Which one first? Hmm…

After taking our haul back to the hotel, we headed out on foot to the boardwalk down along the ocean.  Cairns is a beautiful little beachside town with great walking/biking paths and an awesome children’s water park that goes on and on.  Later that evening, we had an amazing dinner overlooking the ocean.  Our first real meal out….and a fancy one at that!  The next morning was going to be a big day.

Dinner views of the marina

We decided to try and pick up our camper van a little early, so we headed out on foot in the morning.  We didn’t even get a block before it started pouring rain….time to call an Uber.  We arrived at the rental place the same time as several other groups, and wouldn’t you know, we could not check out early.  On top of that, we couldn’t stay inside because there were too many people per the Covid rules.  So, several of us stood outside, under a small awning to shield us from the rain, for close to an hour.  Finally, it was our turn to check out our camper van.  This was not going to be easy after getting super comfy with our big RV.  We were back to living in a van 🙁  This time, for 3 weeks!!!  Ugh….just shoot me now.  As we were telling the woman at the rental place where we were headed, she asked if we planned to swim or snorkel.  We told her probably not.  She then replied, “Good. Don’t.”  We were headed to the home of Box Jellyfish, Great White Sharks, and Saltwater Crocodiles!  She basically told us that if no one was on the beach or in the water, then we should not be either.  Gulp! I just found even more ways to die in Australia!

Guess how many empty beaches we saw?  ALL OF THEM!!!

From Cairns, we headed north to the Daintree Rainforest.  To get here, you have to take your vehicle onto a river barge to get to the other side of the Daintree River (did I mention the river is infested with Saltwater Crocodiles?).  We weren’t entirely prepared for the heat and humidity that greeted us (shocking, I know).  It was also pouring rain, and we no longer had a rig equipped with air conditioning or space to hang out when the weather was bad.  This was not going to be fun!  Luckily, Dan found us a campground that had beautiful grassy grounds and a few covered campsites.  We opted for the covered spot so that we could at least sit outside despite the rain.  Unfortunately, the cover did nothing for the wicked heat and humidity (it actually made it worse).  We had originally planned to spend several days up in this area, but it was not looking like that was going to be a possibility given my lack of heat tolerance.

Ferry across the salt water croc infested Daintree river
We followed this road to it’s end in Cape Tribulation
Surreal drive through a tropical rainforest
Views of the Coral Sea
Campground number one for this part of the trip
We found a campground with rain protection which came in handy!

We left our site in the morning and headed out to do several different walks and skywalks through the rainforest.  On one skywalk in particular, we were in search of the famous Cassowary.  This is a giant, prehistoric bird that looks somewhat like an ostrich, except it is far more colorful.  It also has this odd, solid structure on the top of it’s head and a razor, sharp claw on it’s feet.  The Cassowary has been labeled the world’s most dangerous bird (go figure) and is capable of eviscerating you with those claws.  Unfortunately, we did not find any Cassowaries (but I did see way more spiders than I ever wanted to).  

Orb Weaver and it’s spider web. These things are huge.
Every where you look, there is a spider not far away
Wandering the Daintree rainforest
Climbing an observation tower to get a rainforest canopy view
Incredibly lush
There are cassowary birds in this forest but this is the only one we “found”

From there, we headed to Cape Tribulation, the furthest point north that you can drive following the coast.  We headed down to the water for a quick peek (also watching for crocodiles), then did another rainforest canopy walk.  As we made our way back to the van, Dan decided to take a short cut between two trees.  I almost followed, but then decided my good sense dictated I stay on the path to the correct walkway to the car (only another 20 feet or so).  When I got to  the car, Dan was dancing around frantically like his head was on fire.  He had managed to walk through THE BIGGEST spider web ever and was terrified that the spider had come with it.  Luckily the spider was still up in his web (and by far the biggest spider we have seen so far!  He was like the size of an adult hand)!  The web was nearly impossible to get off of Dan because it was so sticky and filled with yellow goo!  ACK!  So glad I didn’t follow him (insert big shiver here).

Tarzan made this look easy
Empty beach deep in saltwater crocodile territory
This spider and it’s huge web ensnared Dan much to both of our chagrin!

We headed back across the river barge down to a riverboat tour on the Daintree River.  Here we would be searching for the Saltwater Crocodile.  The Daintree River is a 120 kilometer river that is freshwater at low tide and salt water at high tide.  When the tide comes in from the ocean, the water level goes up by 2.5 meters (8.3 feet)!  It is very brackish which makes it the perfect hangout for the Saltwater Croc.  We motored around the river and came across 1 large male croc and a few babies, but that was about it.  It definitely wasn’t the most impressive crocodile tour we’ve done.

Daintree river salt water croc tour
Fifteen foot long salt water crocodile
Baby salt water croc

Next, we drove to the Kuranda Rainforest.  At this point, all of our campgrounds have been quite nice….until now.  This one was tucked deep into the rainforest (nice) but the facilities were not so great, and the permanent residents far outnumbered those of us camping.  After my cold shower in the dark (no, not my choice), this was a one and done.  We headed off bright and early for Kuranda Village.  This was a great little town with all kinds of cute little shops and touristy things.  We decided to do the Koala Gardens.  This was basically a glorified, miniature zoo.  However, we did get to see the koalas up close as well as a number of other animals.

Barron gorge near Kuranda
Our campsite in the Kuranda rainforest
Feeding some wallabies in the local nature park
It’s the kangaroos turn!
This one gave Robyn the cold shoulder
Koala bear!

At this point, we decided it was time to come down out of the rainforest and head to the Atherton Tablelands.  We found this awesome camp area that catered to “gray nomads”.  Yep, that is literally what they call themselves (not sure I care to be called that).  It was a beautiful spot and meticulously clean and well kept.  The camp kitchen had everything you could imagine and was a unique experience in and of itself.  

Fanciest camp kitchen of the trip so far

After leaving the camp early the next morning, we headed out in search of a platypus.  There were 3 specific areas where they were known to be found.  Unfortunately, it was raining again.  We walked the banks of the first river….no platypus.  We walked the banks for another river….no platypus.  We finally went to a pond area and paid to go in.  After standing in the pouring rain, we finally got to see this elusive little guy.  They are quite odd looking.  If you have never seen one, they are a mash up of a venomous, egg laying, duck billed, beaver tailed, otter footed mammal.

Searching for platypus in the river
If you say so!
Found one!

The Tablelands are also known for their abundance of mango plantations, banana plantations, creameries, tea plantations, coffee plantations, and wineries specializing in exotic fruit wines and liqueurs.  So, that adventure was next on our list for the day.  Since there weren’t enough hours in our day, we chose to visit a coffee roaster/chocolatier, 2 creameries for cheeses, and a tea plantation.  I know….you’re speechless that we skipped the wineries!  We propped up the Aussie economy by buying treasures from each and every place.

Tasting a variety of hand cut teas
Tea plants as far as they eye can see
Millaa Millaa waterfall

We made our way out of the Tablelands by early afternoon and drove down the coast to a place called Etty Bay.  We were extremely lucky to be able to score a camp spot at this tiny beach area on Thursday because they were completely booked up for the entire Easter weekend.  This spot was a very important score for Dan since he read that you were sure to see Cassowaries roaming the beach at dusk and dawn.  No sooner had we parked our van and opened the door, and a Cassowary wandered by our van.  Holy crap!!  He was right there!  He was obviously very use to people as he freely roamed all over the campground trying to steal food.  At one point, a large group of people were sitting under their awning, and he strolled right in.  That sent the entire group scattering and squealing (he may be comfortable with people, but he is still dangerous).  We were beyond excited to finally get to see one up close and personal.  I came really close to walking into him the next morning as I distractedly talked on the phone.  I looked up just in time to stop dead in my tracks.

Giant cassowary bird in the campground!
The prehistoric looking bird came right by our beachside camp!
They have razor sharp claws and a few Aussies get injured every year.
Rain soaked laughing Kookaburra bird. Neither of us were laughing at all of the rain we had!

Down on the beach, there was a big net out in the water.  We quickly learned that this was a jellyfish net, designed to offer a protected area for people to swim and play in the water.  This was a big no thanks!  There was a crocodile warning sign here too.  We spoke with the lifeguard who informed us that a croc had been caught in the net the day before.  She proceeded to tell us it was a small one….only 2 meters!  Ummmm, 2 meters is way bigger than I want to encounter!  We asked about walking on the beach and whether or not it was safe.  She basically told us it was okay to walk on the beach but stay away during dusk and dawn.  She said that was like feeding time at the zoo.  Ooookay, note to self…..STAY OFF THE BEACH!!

A salt water crocodile got entangled in the beach safety net the day before.
Warning signs at the beach. Umm yeah no need to go in the water for us!

So, that brings us to the end our rainforest and tablelands excursion.  We have seen and experienced some amazing things in this incredible country.  We have 2 more weeks in our camper van to make our way along the east coast back to Sydney, so stayed tuned for more adventures in Australia.

Adventures in the Outback….Australia Part 2

Welcome back!  After 8 days with our tiny home, we pulled into Melbourne to drop off our little caravan and pick up our next “home.”  This was truly a luxury vehicle!  A class C RV motorhome that sleeps 6 (mind you, not overly comfortable if you are 6….but plenty spacious for 2).  Here is the crazy part….we signed up for a relocation deal which has some definite perks, as well as at least one big downside.  So what this boiled down to was we got this amazing “home” for 8 days, for the whopping sum of $1 dollar a day.  Yep, you read that right….$1 dollar per day to rent this baby!  But, let’s not forget the aforementioned downside 🙁  The downside was that we had to move the vehicle 1700 miles over 8 days….yikes!

Moving day! From small to much larger!

At this point, I have not driven here in Australia.  For those who know me well, you know how much I hate to drive in my own country where I have a firm grasp on what I am doing!  Since this leg of our journey required many long hours behind the wheel, we agreed that I would share in some of the driving….gulp.  Dan and I decided to log as many miles as we could up front, so that we could have some down days to enjoy this beautiful country.  Since it was somewhat late in the day by the time we did all the vehicle switching, we decided to drive 2 hours and grab a camp spot for the night.

Robyn’s turn at the wheel. “Look right and drive right” was our mantra!

The next day we got an early start from our spot in Nhill and drove 8 hours straight into the outback via the Barossa wine country.  I took the first shift which worked out well since we were one of the very few cars on the road.  After “backseat” driving Dan for the last week, I felt pretty skilled driving my big rig from the right seat on the left side of the road!  One of the freakiest things we’ve encountered on our drives are these rigs called Road Trains.  They are basically a semi with 3 attached cargo trailers.  They are scary to pass since they are so long, and when they blow by you, you feel like you are going to be blown off the road.  Needless to say, we tend to hug the shoulder when we see one approaching and hang on tight!  The terrain in the outback is quite spectacular with it’s wide array of colors and features.  We expected to encounter a lot of wildlife, but unfortunately everything we saw on this day was road kill 🙁  At this point, the only wombat and kangaroo I’d seen were deceased…..so heartbreaking.  After our long drive, we opted for a “wild” camping spot which was down a red dirt road, in the middle of nowhere.  Knowing all the deadly things that lurk in the outback waiting for me, I wasn’t overly keen to go exploring on foot or hang out outside.  I know….what a wimp!

Welcome to the Outback!
Wish you could tie off the wheel and set the cruise control.
Our first wilderness camp spot in the Outback. Kangaroo and snake tracks were everywhere but we didn’t see a Roo until with we left the next morning.
Can’t complain about the locale!
Sunset from our camp spot

We were up with the sun the following morning and on the road again.  Once again, I took first shift.  I kind of liked having the road all to myself.  Since we were out and about at sunrise, we were treated to some kangaroos and a number of emu.  The kangaroos were messing around in the roadway, so by the time we got close enough (very slowly), they had disappeared into the brush.  It was very cool to finally get to see some alive and well.  On this day, we planned to cover 5 hours to the town of Coober Pedy.  Along the way, we stopped at a salt lake (we’ve seen quite few of these here) and walked out onto if for some pictures.  They are really an unusual landform out here in the middle of nowhere.

“Lake” Hart – a salt lake used in movies like Mad Max
An Emu couple in front of the secretive Woomera missile test facility.

Before long, we were approaching the town of Coober Pedy.  Before you even arrive, you are surrounded by very odd piles of dirt that cover the landscape as far as the eye can see.  There are also a multitude of signs warning you of the dangers surrounding these big dirt hills.  We have now entered Coober Pedy which claims to be the Opal mining capital of the world and home to over 70 fields.  The name Coober Pedy means White Man in a Hole.  Seems rather appropriate!  In addition to all the mines, much of the town is built underground and tunneled into hillsides.  We took some time to go explore an old mine turned tourist attraction which housed many artifacts and recreated the life and times of a miner and his family.  We then hiked to the top of Big Winch 360 where we were treated to 360 degree views of the countryside.

Coober Pedy – started as “Kupa Piti”, which is aborigine for “White Man Holes”
There are thousands of mineshafts in the area- and they are not marked!
Felt a bit like Mos Eisley from Star wars to us.
Some old mining equipment rusting away
A former Opal mine turned tourist exhibit.
Exploring the mine shafts that miners looked for Opal treasure.
The area is scorching hot in summer so miners lived underground with their familes. Here Robyn is in a kid’s bedroom in use until the 1960s
The underground homes had multiple bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms.
Miners had to exit the mines via vertical shafts with footholds chopped in the sandstone
There are miles and miles of mine shafts under the ground. All dug to look for Opal.
Waffles and Opals. Why not?

The other draw to this small town is the landscapes which are certainly out of this world.  Many movies have used this unusual landscape for their shoots, including Mad Max, The Red Planet, and Ground Zero just to name a few.  A short drive out of town had us clanging down a washboard, red dirt road to some of the craziest landforms imaginable.  This was an Aboriginal heritage site known as the Breakaways which boasts unusual land formations and a wide range of colors that change with the light of the sun.  Along one part of the site is the world’s longest fence.  Here you will find part of a 5300km dog fence that was built to keep the Dingos out of the south where the cattle and sheep roam free (unfortunately, it didn’t stop a few cows from encounters with high speed trucks).  After thoroughly exploring the Breakaways, we followed the bone jarring dirt road back to the highway to continue our trek.  Our next stop was the town of Kulgera in the Northern Territory.  Here we spent another creepy night out in the bush (it was a beautiful site despite the thousand ways I conjured up to die painfully in Australia….haha!)  At one point, I even yelled at Dan who was busy wandering around in the brush at dusk.  Crazy man!

The desert landscape was used for many movies, for which some props were left behind.
Piles of rubble from the thousands of Opal mine shaft in the area
We took the motorhome down a long stretch of teeth rattling washboard dirt roads
Looking out over the “Breakaways’, a surreal landscape.
Longest fence in the world. Built to keep the dingoes (wild dogs) away from the sheep
After hours and hours of driving finally made it the Northern Territory border
Camping in the wilderness near Kulgera, Northern Territories.

Once again, we hit the road at sun up.  Our next destination was the famous world heritage site of Uluru.  As we drove there, we were treated to  hills and soil that ranged in color from grays, to deep purples, to fiery reds which changed as the sun moved in the sky.  We arrived at our campsite nestled in amongst some very nice hotels and one lowly gas station.  As you can imagine, filling up this big RV at that particular gas station was quite painful!  It was $2.90/liter or $9.00/gallon!  OUCH!!!

Ouch – over $9 US dollars a gallon to fill up!
The first rock feature on the road to Uluru – “Fool-uru” Fool’s Uluru. Just a mesa.
Camping near Uluru at the Yulara campground
First view of Uluru. Quite the beauty!

Our first full day in Uluru/Ayer’s Rock, we headed out to the monolith itself.  This is known as the world’s largest monolith and is sacred to the Aborigines.  We decided to do the almost 7 mile walk around the circumference of this giant rock.  The colors changed with the movement of the sun and clouds, and we were treated to a variety of unique features.  Luckily we had bought some head nets the day before because the flys were horrendous.  They hover around your head trying to get into your ears, nose, eyes, and mouth.  They are so relentless it nearly drives you insane.  There were numerous areas where photos were forbidden because the rocks tell the stories of the aboriginal people to be handed down in person to their future generations and not shared through photographs.  In addition, there are sections strictly for the men and others for the women.  We were not able to get up close to any of these areas.  Later that evening, we headed to a spot dedicated to watching the sunset over Ayer’s Rock.  Once again, we were treated to the changing colors of this giant monolith as the sun set over the horizon.

View on the drive to the trailhead
Part of the magic of Uluru is how it changes color throughout the day.
Mutijuju Walterhole nestled against the rock
The “Kitchen” where aborigine woman prepared meals
The rock changes form and look as you hike around it.
Aborigine rock art
The flies can be pesky so a net can help.
It was magical to hike around the base.
The walk around Uluru was surprisingly lush at times
Banksia flowers
Before and after sunset pictures
A great finish to a special day

The next morning, we were up super early in order to drive a 1/2 hour to a sunrise viewing spot to witness sunrise over Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) another rock formation.  Coincidentally, we could also see sunrise over Uluru as well.  Once the sun was up, we headed up close to Kata Tjuta to do a little bit of hiking.  We didn’t last very long as the wind was just howling (ironically named Valley of the Winds), and the terrain was a little bit treacherous.  Thanks to the wind, the flys were not near as bad.  After the our short exploration of Kata Tjuta, we decided to end our stay in the outback and head to Alice Springs since our time in the RV was coming to an end.

Sunrise over the Olgas – Kata Tjuta
Sunrise next to Uluru in the distance
Starting the “Valley of the Winds” hike

After 5 hours of driving, we found a lovely little campground outside Alice Springs.  A super friendly campground host guided us to our spot, and I jumped out to guide   Dan into the spot since there were many trees.  As I directed him as close to the tree as possible, making sure he didn’t hit the top on the low branches, I looked up and saw the biggest spider I’ve ever seen right above my head.  Needless to say, I squealed and did my “eww, creepy spider” dance out from under him only to find myself under and even bigger one!  The camp host and all our neighbors busted up laughing at the goofy American girl terrified of spiders.  The camp host repeatedly assured me that these Orb spiders were not dangerous.  Ummm…..don’t care!  Ewwww!  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more spiders in this campground than anywhere else on our journey so far.  Once settled and chores completed, we walked next door to this really fun brewery for some dinner and local beers.  It was a great way to end the day.

Made it! 3094 kms (1922 miles) from Melbourne.
Our last camp spot with this motorhome. Alice Springs and lots of spiders!
The Australian Giant Orb weaver spider – and source of Robyn’s Giant nightmares!
Our campground was next door to a nice craft brewery with local Barrmundi fish and chips.

We had now arrived at the end of this leg of our journey.  We needed to prep the RV for turn in and check into our hotel room for the night.  The following day we would be flying to Brisbane and then Cairns for the final 3 weeks of our journey.  We arrived at our hotel around 12:30 but were told we could not check in until 2:00, so we dropped our bags and headed out to turn in the RV.  We walked back to the hotel around 1:30 and asked once again.  Still no rooms were ready, so the girl handed us 2 free drink coupons for the bar onsite.  We headed over and grabbed a beer and burger.  Long story short, our room was not ready until nearly 4:30 and we were given 6 drink coupons to keep us occupied….lol.  Not a bad way to while away the afternoon!

Free beers (courtesy of hotel) and Australian Rules Football.

That night was opening night of Parrtjima Festival which is an annual Aboriginal Cultural Festival.  We hopped on a very crowded shuttle bus (standing room only and my most favorite thing in the world to do) and headed to the festival as darkness set in.  As we entered the outdoor venue, we were treated to some beautiful light displays throughout the desert.  The centerpiece of the festival was a light and sound show that took place on the McDowell Mountain Range displaying aboriginal art, music and story canvased on the mountain.  After exploring the festival, we stood in a long line to once again crowd on to an overstuffed shuttle bus home.  Tomorrow would be an early start and a long day of standby flying….2 flights totaling over 5 hours 🙁

Alice Springs desert park kangaroo
Wedge tailed eagle
Same eagle showing us how it breaks open hard Emu eggs with rocks
Australian Emu
Joining the hordes for a nighttime light show in Alice Springs
They did a great job translating Aboriginal legends into light
Very impressed!
Bamboo turned into a tunnel of light
The McDonnell mountain range ringing Alice Springs was lit up as well!
Met a local Aborigine woman and enjoyed leaning her culture first hand.

When we meet again, we will take you back to the sea and through the rainforests of Australia!

Adventures in Australia: Part 1 (with Hawaii bonus)

It’s been some time since we’ve had a true adventure to write about. Since leaving Greece last October, we’ve spent time reconnecting with family before heading off to Maui for the months of December and January. The house that we are having built has fallen very far behind schedule which has left us scrambling to find alternate living accommodations so as not to be too big of a burden living with very generous family members and friends. I chose not to blog about our time in Maui, since we basically lived like residents….cooking meals at home, going to the gym, going for walks, and sitting by the water reading. We did have a great time there doing lots of hiking and enjoying daily visits from the Humpback whales and sea turtles. Here are a few pictures of some of our favorite moments.

Hiking the martian landscape of Haleakala volcano
Aptly named Sliding Sands trail.
Makawao Rainforest Reserve
Primordial views
Humpback whale breaching off Maui.
Dan took a free diving class and learned how to dive down past 30 feet in depth

That brings us to now, the last week of March, and Dan’s clever crafting of another wild adventure.  After many, many hours of research, Dan devised a plan in which we pick up 3 different one-way camper vans throughout Australia and drive/explore a circumnavigation of the Southern and Eastern part of Australia over a 5 week period of time.  When it is all said and done, we will have driven 3600 miles not including the side diversions to explore the surrounding areas.

Long day to get from Phoenix to Los Angeles to Sydney….luckily we got upgraded (as standbys) to Premium Economy

So, let’s get started!  It took us 16 1/2 hours on airplanes (and the complete loss of one day due to the international date line) to arrive in Sydney.  Since we ended up leaving 4 days earlier than our original plan, we did not have anything booked.  As soon as we were on the ground, Dan began making phone calls to secure us a camper van.  By late morning, we were tucked into our tiny home and on our way to our first stop in the Blue Mountains.  It was pouring rain and very foggy.  We spent two hours driving with me regularly chanting, “look to the right, drive to the left.” You may be asking yourself why I was doing such a strange thing?  Well, not only was Dan having to drive from the opposite side of the car, but you also drive on the opposite side of road here, something with which we have very little experience.  Kudos to me for not saying “the wrong side of the road.”  Before long, we were at our camp spot surrounded by lush, green forests, low hanging clouds, and a very odd cacophony of wild bird sounds (very Jurassic Park sounding).

Our little campervan for the next eight days

We headed out on foot to explore a variety of lookout points at a place called Katoomba Falls.  The views were amazing and quite eerie.  The cliff walls plummeted deep beyond the ability to see bottom, and the clouds whooshed up from below on the wind.  The waterfalls were spectacular to say the least, and unfortunately the pictures just don’t even come close to demonstrating the beauty we observed.

The beautiful Blue Mountains outside Sydney
Waterfalls everywhere
Making the most of the rain and fog!
The views were stupendous once the clouds cleared

The next morning, we were awake at 4:45 a.m. (thanks jet lag), so we decided to head to the Three Sisters rock formation for sunrise.  According to Aboriginal legend, 3 sisters were turned to stone because the 3 girls fell in love with 3 brothers from a rival tribe.  When the 2 tribes went to war, a witch doctor turned them to stone in order to protect them, but the witch doctor was killed in battle thereby leaving the 3 sisters forever in stone and creating this very unique rock formation.  The view is suppose to be spectacular.  Why did I say “suppose to be?”  Did I forget to mention that since we have arrived, we have had non-stop, pouring rain?  Needless to say, the entire area was so clouded in that we could barely see our hand in front of our face.  We were quite disappointed.

From the Blue Mountains, we headed south to the coastal town of Shell Harbour where we managed to score a camp spot right on the ocean.  Again, we had lots and lots of pouring rain but were treated to about 8 waterspouts of varying size out on the ocean.  It was fascinating and a little terrifying watching them grow bigger and more powerful (very glad we weren’t out on a boat!)

Some serious waterspouts!
There are four active waterspouts in this picture!
The birds are gorgeous down under
Oceanside dinner for two!
Rain, rain go away come back some other day!

After 2 days in Shell Harbour, we drove 4 1/2 hours to the town of Merimbula and our cliff side camp spot.  This was another quaint little beachside town.  Unfortunately, this was a quick one night stop before another 4 1/2 hour drive further south.  We made a quick stop at a town called Lakes Entrance where we bought fresh prawns right off the boat.  We literally walked up to the fishing vessel and purchased a kilo of prawns.  We had the choice of raw or freshly cooked, so we chose the cooked ones.  They were delicious.  After walking the boardwalk, we headed to our next camp spot in the town of Paynesville.  We planned for a two night stay here (thankfully….I’m getting a little tired of all the driving….or more accurately, passengering).

Friendly fellow who sold us a kilo of fresh caught prawns
Yum!

This was a 2 day stop so that we had time to go across the river to Raymond Island.  There is a free ferry ride that takes you across the river (a whooping 2 minute ride) where there is an abundance of amazing wildlife.  Raymond Island draws a lot of nature lovers because it is one of the best places to spot koalas in the wild.  So, a koala spotting we did go.  We walked 6 1/2 miles all over the island looking for koalas.  They are a lot tougher to find than you might think!  In the end, we did end up spotting 8.  Most were sleeping since they are nocturnal, but we did encounter 3 that were alert and 1 was busy eating eucalyptus leaves.  Our necks were definitely tired by the time we were done.  We also spotted a kookaburra, pelicans, and an endless array of wild parrots.  Sadly, we did not see any kangaroos this time.  After that adventure, we treated ourselves to a local fish and chips place for a late lunch.  Unfamiliar with the local fish by name, the cook suggested we get one whiting and one gummy shark.  They were both pretty good, but I much preferred the whiting.  The shark was much thicker and denser than the delicate flake of the whiting.

Ferry to Raymond Island
Start of the Koala walk. They are wild but plentiful enough that if you look around hard enough you will find some
Hello there! Hope we didn’t wake you up from your nap!
They are surprisingly hard to find high up in the gum trees.
Kookaburra bird
Snug as a bug
So. Many. Parrots!
Can you spot the Koala?

Our next stop was this awesome beach town of Phillips Island.  Unfortunately this was only going to be an overnight stop, so our day was cram packed with activities after a very long drive.  After pulling into our beach front camping spot, we walked the beach to town and explored for a few hours.  Not long after, we headed up to a place called Nobbies.  This is a spectacular cliff top view of the Bass Strait.  The wind was absolutely wicked, and I have never seen seas as violent and churned up as I saw here.  As the sailors once said (back during the age of the clipper ships), below 40 degrees latitude there are no rules and below 50 degree, there is no god.  We stood at 39 degrees south, so you get the picture.

The beautiful Nobbies
Nobbies blowhole
The winds were a bit rough on the point!

After enduring the high winds on the cliff side boardwalk, we took a back dirt road to our next adventure, the penguin parade.  Along the way, we were treated to tons of wallabys and one very shy echidna (also known as a spiny anteater).  We then made our way to the penguin parade.  This is a nightly event in which thousands of Little Blue Penguins (the world’s smallest penguin) come ashore after feeding from before sunrise to just after sunset.  These adorable little guys come into shore in droves (for self protection) and waddle their way up and across the beach where they head to their “bungalows.”  They are the cutest things you will ever see as they waddle their way past your viewing spot, stopping to check you out.  Unfortunately, taking photos was strictly forbidden so as not to disrupt their natural behavior, so you will have to settle for a photo of them from inside the visitor center.

An echidna (a spiny anteater – one of the few mammals that lats eggs). Poor guy saw us coming with the camera and tried to hide
Cute wallaby by the side of the road
Found this little guy on the way to the Penguin Parade
The above ground viewing area overlooking the beach. People have started to arrive to be ready for the penguin parade at sunset
We went with the underground viewing experience to make the most of our time there. Given the really high winds we were happy with the decision!
That’s a lot of Penguins!
Stock picture showing the viewing area (as photos were strictly prohibited lest some one let a flash go) (Credit: https://bunyiptours.com/blog/phillip-island-penguin-parade/)
Penguin Parade stock photo (credit: https://www.birdspot.co.uk/bird-watching-destinations/phillip-island-penguin-parade)

So, this brings us to the end of the first part of our journey.  We picked up our tiny home on Friday, March 25th in Sydney and drove 1023 miles to Melbourne to drop our tiny home on Friday, April 1.  We then picked up our much bigger tiny home to start the second leg of our journey.  Stay tuned to see what kind of mischief we get into next!

2021 Season Finale of Adventures with Zoe

They say better late than never, and I am definitely late with this one.  It’s hard to believe that another sailing season has come and gone, but here we are.  In a normal year, our sailing season will go 6-7 months.  Unfortunately, between Covid restrictions, a home purchase, and parental health issues, our season has been a brief 3 1/2 months.  So, here is how we wrapped things up.

When we left you last, we were hanging out near the city of Split in Croatia, and awaiting the arrival of my daughter and her fiancé.  We anchored our boat in a bay very close to the airport, and walked to the terminal to meet them.  It was exciting to watch their plane approach the airport, flying right over top of us.  We soon had them gathered up, loaded into the dinghy, and on our way back to the boat.  Since it was late in the evening, we stayed the night on anchor.

We picked up Shawn and Mark at the Split airport

The next morning, we headed across to the other side of the bay and anchored closer to the city of Split.  We headed into shore and straight into the old city.  Our main point of interest here was Diocletian’s Palace.  This was built for the Roman emperor, Diocletian, around the 4th century A.D. and makes up about half of the old city of Split.  On a side note, the palace was used in filming Game of Thrones, season 4.  See if you recognize any of the sites!

Split knows how to do candy shops
FaceTime call back home
Palace of Diocletian basement (used in Game of Thrones for dragon storage)

After spending a few hours in the old city, we headed back on board and set sail for the island of Šolta.  This is home to one of our all time favorite bays with an amazing restaurant set high on the hilltop.  We made sure we had a reservation and ordered the lamb peka (slow cooked lamb and vegetables under a metal dome, covered in coals).  The marinero greeted us when we arrived and got us tied up on the mooring lines.  Shawn and Mark took the kayak out to explore the beauty of the bay before heading into dinner.  We had an amazing 3 course dinner overlooking the bay and the 2 other boats there with us (gotta love getting into late season).

Kayak fun in Uvala Jorja, Island of Solta
Pre dinner shots of Rakija
Wonderful view to go with our slow cooked Lamb Peka dinner

We left early the next morning for Stari Grad on the island of Hvar.  We tied up to the town quay and rented a car for the next two days of exploration.  First stop, the town of Jelsa which is a fun little seaside village.  We wandered around here until it was time for our visit to one of Dan’s favorite wineries on the island of Hvar (this island is very well known for producing excellent wines).  The winery was in the midst of harvesting and production, so there was lots of activity.  They took us into the cellar which was kept very dark and only lit by candles.  We had a great time tasting their custom infused olive oils and a variety of wines.  From there we headed back to the boat and spent some time exploring the town of Stari Grad (old city) Hvar.  We found an interesting monastery which we explored and then hiked to the top of a hill with an outdoor area for church and great views of the island.  They are in the process of gathering donations to create a stations of the cross that lines the hike up to the top of the hill.  

Dubokovic Winery cellar
Our sommelier and Mark mixing their own dessert wine
Trvdalj Castle, Stari Grad Island of Hvar

The next day we explored the city of Hvar.  We drove up to the Venetian fortress that overlooked the old city.  Construction of the fortress began in 1282 and was completed in 1551.  This multi-level fortification has been really well restored and easily takes you back in time.  The entire population took shelter in the fortress in 1571 when the Turks attacked, plundered the town, and set it on fire. The fortress was composed of four circular bastions, a tower and walls with battlements, pieces of which are still present. There are cannons pointed out to the sea, and you can descend into the “prison” to check out the cells and their torture devices as well as visit the collection of amphorae collected from the surrounding sea.

Fortress high over Hvar town
Hvar town by night

Since it was Dan’s birthday, we had a reservation in the old town of Hvar at an amazing restaurant overlooking the waterfront.  We enjoyed a 7 course  tasting menu paired with wines, and it was out of this world.  It was definitely a great way to celebrate Dan’s birthday.

Great view and dinner to ring in Dan’s 54th birthday

Once again, we left bright and early to cover the most amount of miles.  We made a quick overnight stop on the island of Scedro to help break up the very long journey.  Here, we did some swimming and hanging out.  Later in the evening a local boat came cruising by offering up homemade wines and brandies as well as assorted other items to purchase.  After tasting a couple of the brandies, we settled on some fig brandy and ordered some fresh made bread and pastries to be delivered in the morning!  How fun was that?!

Boat delivery of local liquors on the Island of Scedro

We set off in the morning bound for the island of Korčula.  We anchored off the island of Badija just like last time and were shocked at how few boats were here compared to our summer time visit.  We headed into the island to walk around the grounds of the monastery and find the deer.  This time we brought a bag full of carrots.  It wasn’t long before my daughter had several deer following her around.  I think this might’ve been her favorite part of the trip…..well, that and all the stray kitties.  That evening we took the high speed water taxi to old town Korčula where we had dinner along the fortress wall overlooking the sea.

Free range deer of Badija island
Once they know you have carrots it can be hard to get away!
High speed water taxi to old town Korcula from the anchorage

From Korčula, we headed to the island of Mlijet and the town of Polace.  This time we tied to a restaurant’s dock that sat right under some Roman ruins.  Talk about some great backyard scenery.  We scurried off and jumped on some e-bikes for another exploration of the salt lake and monastery on the island in the middle.  This was our second time doing this excursion this year, and we highly recommend it.  We had such a good time yet again.

Ancient roman ruins in Polace, Island of Mljet
Rented E-bikes and explored the salt lakes on Mljet island
Found a cave along the way
And some bridges we had to haul the bikes over
Mark flagging down the island monastery shuttle taxi
At the foot of the Roman fortress wall
A wonderful dinner (mixed grilled meats) to cap off a great day.

At this point, we were reaching the end of Shawn and Mark’s trip, so we were headed to their final stop and the holy grail of their visit.  They are both huge Game of Thrones fans (as is Dan), so we were headed to Dubrovnik.  Here we pulled into a really awesome marina to spend the next couple of days.  The first day, we headed into the old city of Dubrovnik to walk around and explore the castle walls.  We then took a tram straight up the face of the mountain to a fortress on the top of the hill.  Here, you had amazing views of the entire city and the surrounding sea.  In the evening, we went back to the boat and walked to Sunset Beach which is the largest beach in Dubrovnik.  There is a beautiful boardwalk the runs along the coast, and you can find many restaurants, beach bars, and even a bar set into a cave.

Old town Dubrovnik
View of Dubrovnik from the tram to the moutaintop
Timelapse of the incredible views from the tram

Our second day was the highlight.  Dan had booked a private Game of Thrones tour.  We spent 3 hours wandering the grounds while our guide pointed out the various sites that were used in the show.  While he pointed out the sites, he held up a photo book with the actual scenes as they were portrayed in the show.  This allowed us to see where CGI was used to enhance the backdrop for the scene.  It was a great tour, and we really enjoyed our guide and his humor.

Game of Thrones tour

We had reached the end of Shawn and Mark’s visit and were approaching our window to make our way back to Greece before some really nasty weather was due to arrive.  We decided it would be fun to tick off one more country for them, while getting us a little further south.  Off we went to Montenegro!

The next morning, Dan and I pulled out of the Marina before the sun was even up.  We went across the channel to the customs dock and took care of the formalities of checking all of us and Zoe out of Croatia.  Before long, we were underway and headed south.  Dan and I were somewhat on edge since we checked out a little further north than Croatia wants you to, but we hate trying to check out in the town of Cavtat.  We had asked the officials of both locations and were told it was okay provided we stayed to the outside of the islands and did not meander through the islands on our departure.  We had heard numerous stories about people getting fined for doing what we just did (but we don’t know if they may have broken the rules and cruised around the islands and walls on their way out).

Early morning check out of Croatia at the Gruz Customs dock

The seas were up a bit, so the ride was bumpy.  We were a little worried about Shawn and Mark since they were fast asleep in their cabin which is one of the worst places to be when it comes to feeling the movement of the boat.  If you are prone to seasickness (they were not), this is NOT the place you want to be.  As we passed the last town on the Croatian coast, we saw a large police boat cruising down the coastline.  In the end, they left us alone, and we left Croatia without any issues.

We arrived at a marina in Montenegro by early afternoon and took care of formalities before picking up a rental car and driving the coast of Montenegro to the Bay of Kotor.  This area has been inhabited since the times of antiquity.  The bay is surrounded by towering mountains and surrounded by some of the most well preserved medieval towns.  

Portonovi Marina, Montenegro
Wandering old town Kotor
Last night in Europe for these two!

Before we knew it, Shawn and Mark’s visit had come to an end.  We hopped in the car and drove them from Montenegro back to Dubrovnik, Croatia to catch their flight home (it’s only a 40 minute drive).  Once we were back to the boat, we cast lines to fill up with duty free fuel and then make our way back to Greece.  This would involve our longest passage yet…..44 hours non-stop.  Our weather window was now, and it was only 2 days long before things got really dicey.  We NEEDED to go!  We were on our way at 3:00 p.m.  

Our 48 hour passage plan south to Greece

By the time darkness surrounded us, the seas had picked up and we were pounding into the swell.  Dan and I took 4 hour shifts, so while one is at the helm on watch, the other is sleeping….well, in theory.  I seem to struggle with being able to sleep when I am off shift.  This first night was even tougher as the seas slammed into the bridge deck making a great deal of noise.  As I came running up the steps from below deck, I slammed my bare foot into the stool which was then followed by 3 distinct cracks.  Three toes went in a direction that was different from the others.  Yep, pretty sure we’re looking at 3 broken toes.  Ahhhh boat life!  It is definitely not for the fragile.

Albania has concrete pillboxes by the hundreds lining the coast for defense
Albanian Coast guard towing a local fishing boat

We cruised down the coast of Montenegro and Albania without incident.  By the second night, we had entered Greek waters and were coming in to the northern part of Corfu.  Here the island is widest and creates a rather narrow channel between itself and mainland Greece.  Between the lights on land, the lights on boats, and the known hazards in the water, I felt very uneasy navigating this in the pitch black.  I called Dan up to take over this more visually challenging area.  I then took the 1 a.m to 5 a.m. shift down the coast of the island.  The first big ferry I spotted was over 600 feet long.  I adjusted course a little more to the starboard side (right side).  Soon came another big ferry…..eesh.  He was over 800 feet long.  I slid a little more to the right.  Distances are deceiving in the dark (even when your radar shows that you have plenty of room!).  Then came the behemoth…..a 1000 foot cruise ship in a blaze of lights.  Yes, I moved further right yet again!

Big cruise ship in the Corfu Channel

As the sun peeked over the horizon, the seas and wind began to build.  Once again, none of the weather forecasts had called for this.  By the time we got to Preveza boats were circling outside of the marinas.  Well, this was interesting.  We radioed the Preveza marina where we had planned to tie up for a few days while getting Zoe ready to be hauled out.  They were full!  Everyone was ducking for cover for the impending storm that would arrive later this evening.  We asked if we could come in for fuel.  There was an hour wait!  All those boats out circling in the bay were waiting for their turn to come in.  We headed across the bay to Cleopatra marina where Zoe is stored for the winter.  After a long, stressful wait, they radioed back that they could make room for us.  Whew!  We had a safe home until haul out.

The storm came in, as predicted.  We had one good day of weather which we used to get the sails down and stored and filled up the fuel tanks.  The last couple of days we worked in the pouring rain and howling wind.  Wouldn’t you know, the day we hauled out was the day the weather was at it’s worst.  According to the marineros, the current in the marina was the worst they had ever seen it.  Between that and the wind, getting off the dock and into the haul out bay was extremely stressful.  At one point, the marinero in the large rib, rammed us super hard (harder than necessary) which just about sent me overboard (I was at the front of the boat waiting to toss the line).  The current swiftly carried us to the entrance of the haul out bay and we were in.  Oh, and soaking wet from the pouring rain.  Not fun!

Summer is over!
Hauling Zoe out for storage on land
Zoe parked for winter on catamaran row

So, that marked the end our 2021 sailing season.  We had the opportunity to have one last dinner with our Swiss and Kiwi friends before saying good-bye until next season.  Other than the brutal 36 hour trip home, sleeping in the airport and having to wear a mask the entire time, we are now home safe and sound.  This will be our last blog post for a little while as we reconnect with family and friends.  However, when December rolls around, we will be on the move again, and you are welcome to join our travels!  As always, thanks for being a part of our adventures!

End of season dinner at Panos Taverna with some Kiwi and Swiss friends

Some stats for the season:

Total miles sailed: 1585 Nautical miles
Total nights onboard: 107
Nights at anchor: 49
Nights on mooring ball: 30
Nights in a marina: 25
Nights at sea: 3
Countries visited: 3 (Greece, Montenegro, Croatia)
Ports, marinas and anchorages visited: 51
Total guests: 8

Zoomable map of our wanderings this season:

Highlights of Central Croatia and the Adriatic

Once the weather cleared, Dan and I said a sad good-bye to ACI Cres Marina one final time.  We headed south down the island of Cres to the anchorage of Uvala Vela Slatina.  The bay was wide open with a great sand bottom and crystal clear water.  Unfortunately the weather system that had come through had dropped the temperatures enough that the thought of swimming was very unappealing.  We had the bay all to ourselves (except for all the naked sunbathers who liked to SUP and kayak past our boat….no, I am not kidding!).  We are always curious when we have an anchorage all to ourselves….why was no one else here?  The weather was settled and calm, but at 9:00 p.m. our tranquil bay became horrid as giant swell came rolling in from all directions.  We pitched around like we had just jumped on a bucking bronco.  We rocked wildly from side to side, front to back, this way and that.  Things slid around the boat, dishes rattling and clanging as they banged around in the cabinets.  It was unbelievable.  This went on for 9 hours!  It was impossible to sleep.  Thankfully, when it finally ended, all was well (except my nerves).  We made the uneasy decision to stay one more night.  Luckily, we did not have a repeat of the night before.

The beautiful waters of Uvala Vela Slatina from our drone

We made a quick stop in Mali Losinj for the night to take care of some business on the island house, and then made our way to the island of Ilovik.  Dan’s Aunt, Uncle and cousins own a restaurant on the island, and we wanted to go visit them.  As it turned out, our Kiwi friends and their new American friend were headed there also, so we agreed to meet up for drinks later that day.  Dan and I spent a couple hours hiking the island, visited with family, and had dinner and drinks with Jeremy, Chrissy and Mitch.  It was a great day and evening catching up with everyone.

The family restaurant on the island of Ilovik
Uncles, aunts and cousins!
Ilovik and Zoe from our drone

The next day we headed to the island of Vir where we anchored near some castle ruins.  As it turned out, our new American friend, Mitch, anchored nearby and we were able to share drinks and stories on board.  Unfortunately, we didn’t do much exploring since this was a stopover on our journey south in preparation for our next guests.  We took the opportunity to take a cab into town to visit one of our favorite sporting goods stores in the hopes of replacing our blown up SUP.  We had no luck. To make matters worse, we could not find a cab back to the boat.  Multiple times a car would be on the way only to cancel at the last minute.  After 30 minutes of sitting outside the store, we finally found a cab…..for 3 times the price we paid to get there!  Grrrr!!!

Vir Castle at sunset

Once our guests, Josef and Lisa, were onboard, we headed to the island of Murter.  What a treat we had when we sailed into the bay, and discovered our sailing friends all anchored here as well.  We wandered the old town and then headed up to the top of a hill with great views all around.  From there, we headed down to an old church and graveyard on our way to some Roman ruins.  A lot of the ruins are submerged, so you can snorkel the area and explore them.  Later that night, we had our friends from 3 different boats join us for drinks and stories.  Sailors do love their stories!  Sailing friends are also an amazing resource to share best places to anchor, sights that should  not be missed, and many other things of value.  With 9 of us on board, this was the biggest group we have ever hosted on Zoe.

We ask guests to bring a flag we can fly that means something to them. Here Josef proudly hoists the Bavarian flag, from where he was born.
Dinghy ride to town
Octopus salad, local cheeses and Prociutto on Murter
Cruiser get togethers are always fun and filled with stories. Represented here are USA, Germany, Canada and New Zealand
View of Murter from the hilltop with roman ruins at it’s base
Submerged ruins of the Roman city of Colentum
Ruins of Ancient Colentum

The next day, we were on our way again.  By the afternoon, we arrived at the south end of Dugi Otok, in the bay of Telašćica.  We grabbed a restaurant mooring ball for dinner that evening, and quickly jumped in the dinghy to head to the opposite side of the bay to explore.  As we rounded the corner from our bay, a huge powerboat came flying by us.  As luck would have it (NOT), we hit the trough of his wake just as his wake began to curl.  The huge wake crested over the top of the dinghy leaving us all soaking wet.  We continued on despite looking like a bunch of drowned rats. We took a beautiful hike along a saltwater lake, stopping at this amazing rock garden overlooking the sea.  Here, many people have passed by adding their contributions to the stone structures that cover the landscape.  From there we headed to the cliff tops that tower over the sea.  The views were amazing.  We returned to Zoe without any more powerboat incidents.  Once we were all fresh and clean, we took the dinghy over to a lovely restaurant overlooking the bay.  We had a very nice fish dinner.  Unfortunately, we felt a little taken advantage of in the end.  Of course, there was no menu, and our choice was fish or a pork filet.  With no menu, it meant no prices either.  We were stunned when the bill arrived.  It was a nice dinner but not worth the exorbitant price we paid…..and we only ordered their house wine (which was crappy, by the way)!

The mysterious cairns of Luka Telascica
You pick your dinner from the fresh catch of the day
Dinnerof fresh fish at an island konoba
The wild side of Dugi Otok

Our final island on this part of our journey was the island of Molat.  On our way there, we cruised past the towering Veli Rat lighthouse.  This is the highest lighthouse in the Adriatic at 42 meters high (138 feet).  By the lighthouse is a small, beautiful chapel.  Not far from the lighthouse, we came upon our lunch stop, the shipwreck of the San Michelle.  We anchored nearby and hopped in the water to snorkel this shallow wreck.  The wreck was an Italian merchant ship that sank in 1984, and part of it still peeks above the surface of the sea.  The water was crisp and the current a bit strong, so we made sure to swim over to it with our fins on (getting back to the boat was a piece of cake since the current drove us there).  The water was crystal clear, and the wreck was amazingly intact.  We spent quite a bit of time swimming over, around, and through parts of it.  

Sailing the wild windward side of Dugi Otok.
Veli Rat Lighthouse
Wreck of swimmable San Michelle from our drone
Robyn swimming the shallow waters of the wreck

Before long, we were on our way again.  Since Josef and Lisa were coming to the end of their visit, Molat was a stopover before returning to the mainland city of Zadar.  We grabbed a mooring ball next to a beautiful, wooded island and took the dinghy into town for a walk.  We found a great walk that took us to the top of the hill with great views of the surrounding sea and the bay where Zoe was tied up.

The mooring ball field in Molat.
Exploring a former submarine bunker on Dugi Otok enroute to Zadar

In the morning, we dropped lines for our 5 hour journey back to Zadar.  This time we anchored right outside the city itself.  Zadar is an amazing city to visit.  It is known for it’s Roman and Venetian ruins that surround the Old Town.  As you walk around, there are several Venetian gates in the city walls.  There are numerous churches and cathedrals throughout the city and since it was Friday night, we were treated to witnessing several weddings take place.  The fun began with the church bells chiming, Croatian flags waving and live music playing, and everyone singing.  When the bride and groom emerged from the church,  there were cannon blasts of confetti, colored smoke, and flaring light.  Croatians definitely know how to put on a wedding spectacular.  After wandering the inside of the old city, we headed to the riva (waterfront walk).  Here, they have created a sea organ.  Along the stepped walkway are a number of holes, at various levels, that run down the walk.  As the sea water crashes into the wall, the holes create a musical treat that sounds just like an organ.  Here you will find many, many people crowded around listening to the sounds of the sea and watching the spectacular sunset over the sea.  Afterwards we had an amazing dinner in an intimate courtyard surrounded by a towering Venetian wall.  This was our last night with our friends Josef and Lisa. 

Ruins of the Roman Forum in Zadar
Wedding fireworks
Wedding smoke bombs!
Click to check out the festive way they celebrate weddings in Croatia
Fantastic view of times past from the restaurant
The famous sea organ of Zadar
Click to hear the Zadar Sea Organ in action
Sunset crowds at the sea organ

We left Zadar the next morning on our 6 1/2 hour journey to Otok Bosnajak.  This was a brief overnight stop as we continued to make our way south.  We made an overnight stop in Uvala Mirine on the mainland.  He lies the fortress ruins of Ostrica…..which of course we had to go hike!  The fortress walls are amazing to see.  The real fun came when we reached the fenced off area and had to climb this homemade wooden ladder to get to the other side to explore.  I don’t do ladders!  As I climbed this rickety old thing, I could feel it swaying beneath me.  Oh man!  Needless to say, I crawled across the top platform before heading down the other side.  Can’t wait to do this again when we come back from exploring!  Check out the cool pictures of this incredible fortress wall.

Climbing over the fence to get access to the park
The walls of Ostrica, some of the longest intact fortifications in Croatia
Getting ready to weigh anchor after a great stop

At this point, we have hopped our way down the coast and are currently outside of the city of Split.  We have been switching between a couple of different bays as we wait for some sunscreens to be made for the windows, and hideout from thunderstorms and wind.  You gotta love transition season in Croatia.  We will be hanging out in this area for a week awaiting the arrival of my daughter and her fiancé.  Our next post will bring you some more sights and adventures as we make our way through some more islands, eventually landing in the amazing city of Dubrovnik.

The town of Marina Agana and it’s ancient fortress keep

Back To Where It All Began

With bad weather moving in, we tied up in a marina near Primosten Croatia for 4 days.  It’s near the middle of the country’s coastline and offers good opportunities for land exploration and other adventures, but there was not a rental car to be found!  It has been one of the busiest years we can remember, and finding a rental car in August has been nearly impossible.  We did manage to do some nice hikes from the marina, both along the coastline and up through a grapevine terraced hillside to the very top of the point overlooking the sea.  At the very top, is a monument (Our Lady of Loreto Statue) to the Virgin Mary which stands 17 meters (55.77 feet) high and is visible from Italy on a clear day.  There wasn’t much more exploring we could do without a vehicle, so we were eager to get underway once the weather cleared.

Our Lady of Loreto statue, near Primosten Croatia
You can’t beat the views from the statue. The peninsular town of Primosten is a beauty!

From there, we headed to the island of Pašman.  We were making our way pretty far north, so this was a convenient rest stop for the night.  We still had a fair amount of wind (15-20 knots), so we grabbed a mooring ball and settled in for the night.  It wasn’t long before every spot was taken.  Since we were anxious to get more miles under our belt, we got moving early for our 7 hour journey.  The downside of our journey north is that the prevailing wind is pretty much always from the north which means very little opportunity to sail 🙁  Our next stop was the island of Olib, and a large anchorage on the southern end of the island.  We still had some residual wind creating a bit of chop in the anchorage, but we did manage to get in a swim for some exercise.

Moonrise over the anchorage
We enjoy the wild and remote anchorages to mix things up. The water was super clear but water was chilly!

Olib was another one night stop before heading to the island of Silba.  This has been one of our favorite islands, and you can access town via a 20-30 minute walk through the countryside.  We tried a new bay this time which had been filled with mooring balls.  The balls were uncomfortably close to one another, but there weren’t many boats so it was okay.  We quickly learned why there weren’t many boats.  The wasps were insane here.  We started out using our zapping racket, and that soon became futile.  We ended up hiding inside the boat because they were so bad.  Before heading to town, we constructed a wasp catcher using a water bottle and some watermelon juice.  By the time we got back, there were over 60 dead wasps in the bottle….a special treat for the fish.  It still didn’t deter them!  Needless to say, we only lasted one night here as well.

We enjoyed strolling through Silba Old town. No cars and the wooded setting is unusual for the area
The northern part of the Adriatic is notorious with sailors due to it’s feared Bura wind.

Once again, we were tracking another weather system (ahhh, you gotta love northern Croatia).  We headed up to the island and town of Mali Losinj.  This has always been one of our favorite places, fairly close to Dan’s family home.  We spent 4 nights here enjoying the town and visiting with one of Dan’s cousins and our friend Magrit, from the town of Stivan.  We found some more great hikes including one to Vela Straza (Monte Baston), an ancient hilltop fort.  This was considered to be of strategic importance thanks to the wide views which allowed for the protection of the town of Mali Losinj.  Once again, no rental cars available!

The town of Mali Losinj. Largest island town in Croatia
Hiking and exploring the area
Vela Straza. Ancient lookout for signs of trouble.
A tunnel to explore. Perhaps for guards?
The views of Losinj Bay were great.

Before long, we were on our way again.  Destination:  The island of Cres and home of Dan’s father and his ancestral roots. This would be our final stop in the northern Adriatic and where it all began for us with Zoe.  If you’ve been following our blog from the beginning, you will recall that we had Zoe moved to the island and town of Cres after we purchased her in Tunisia.  I lived in the marina on Zoe, alone, for 5-6 weeks getting her ready to become our home.  Dan was still working at the time back in the US.  I stayed on Zoe during the spring while monitoring the exterior renovations that were being done on Dan’s ancestral home on the island.  So, here we were, back at our favorite marina (ACI Cres) after several years away.  It felt like coming home.  Unfortunately, this will probably be our last visit up here with Zoe (we will always come back by land) as we are feeling the pull to explore farther afield on the boat.  We spent another 4 days here (and yes, there was weather AGAIN!)  We explored all of our favorite haunts and hikes, visited with friends in the town of Stivan, checked on the house, and visited the crypt of Dan’s dad, aunt, uncle, grandparents, and great grandfather.  As you can imagine, visiting the small village of Stivan is bittersweet for us, but it always calls us back.

Lighthouse on our passage north.
ACI Marina Cres. Where our sailing adventure began in 2018. Full circle!
Wandering the Old Town
Monastery in Cres Town
Lighthouse showing the way into Cres Bay
Nighttime views in the marina. We always enjoy the bleating sheep at sunset. So peaceful and serene.

We said farewell to Cres this morning and have begun our journey south again.  We have 3 more sets of visitors over the next month and a half, each arriving further south in Croatia.  We will be taking them through more of the islands of Croatia, sprinkled with some land adventures, before we make our way back to Greece and Zoe’s winter resting place.  As always, we hope to bring you some new and exciting adventures during our explorations with our guests!

Island Adventures in Southern Croatia

When we wrapped up our last post, we were at anchor in a bay awaiting the winds to die down for the night, and our guests to arrive the next day.  Well, wouldn’t you know it, the winds only got worse (and the anchorage got much more crowded).  By midnight winds were pushing 25 knots and gusting more, so Dan and I took turns keeping an eye on things all night long.  Ahhh, the not so joyous part of sailing.  At one point, our Italian neighbor had come ridiculously close to our boat as we all moved around on our chains.  At 3:00 a.m., a nearby gulet (a small, piratey looking cruise ship) must’ve dragged anchor as he was busy trying to re-anchor in the dark.  You are probably discovering that this kind of fun and mayhem rarely occurs during daylight hours….it always seems to happen in the middle of the night.

Believe me that anchored sailboat looked much closer that night than the picture shows!

We survived our night, had a morning nap when all was calm, and went for a refreshing swim.  By mid-afternoon, our guests had arrived, and Dan took the dinghy across the bay to pick them up.  With everyone back on board, we set out for our next destination…..the bay of Okokulje on the island of Mlijet.  It was about a 2-3 hour motor north (of course, no wind to sail with….only at night when we want to sleep!).  We pulled into the bay with the most pristine water I have ever seen.  The water was crystal clear with amazing visibility.  It was as if the water had been covered with glass….you could see everything with 3D clarity.  We tied up to a wooden dock, near the entrance of the bay, belonging to the restaurant Maestral.  By arranging to eat dinner at their restaurant, we were able to tie to their dock free of charge.  We had also read very good reviews and were  eager to share Croatian cuisine with our friends.  It had been a very hot day, so we were all eager to cool off in this amazing water.  After a great swim, we wandered into town for an excellent dinner with very friendly proprietors.  That night, as we were all settled in for a restful night of sleep, Dan decided to do one last sweep of the deck and lines.  That’s when he just about stepped on a mouse!  A mouse had scampered up our dock lines and was now somewhere on our boat…..great!  So here I am at midnight scampering around, cutting up water bottles to try and make mouse funnel deterrents to put on our dock lines.  At this point, we have still not found the mouse.  I’m really hoping he found his own way off the boat that night.

Arrival of our next set of guests – Marcial and Allysen!

We wanted to get an early start to our next bay, so we dropped our mooring lines and released our dock lines.  That’s when one of the lines became tangled between the wood planks of the dock….great….not a good situation.  We released the line from our boat, so we could move the boat away from the rocky shallows, and our friend Marcial jumped in and swam to retrieve our line. 

Entering Mljet National Park
Arrival in Mljet on a somewhat rickety restaurant dock
Konoba Maestral in Okokulje, Mljet Island
Marcial swims back our stranded dock line
Leaving the dock in our wake now that we have departed safely

Once Marcial and our line were back on board, we were off to our next stop, the town of Polače.  We tied up to one of the restaurant mooring balls and made a reservation for their island specialty, goat peka.  Chunks of young goat (don’t judge!), potatoes, carrots, olive oil and herbs are cooked for many hours under a metal dome (bell) surrounded from top to bottom in hot coals.  Croatian pekas are absolutely amazing.  Throughout our journeys, we have had goat, lamb and octopus….all have been amazing.

Entering the channel enroute to our next stop
Our spot for the night, on a mooring ball near town

Once we were settled in, we headed to shore to rent some e-bikes for a journey to a saltwater lake.  The hills on this island are quite intense, so the e-bike was a real treat for tackling that steep terrain.  I started out ahead of the group and as the terrain got steeper, it was getting harder.  Wow!  Am I that big of dumb ass that I can’t figure out an e-bike after instructions???  As I continued on, I kicked it up to medium assist.  It got harder!  So I went to high…..even harder.  What was happening?!?  In the meantime, I hear everyone behind me shouting “weeeeee.”  When they caught up to me, I told Dan I didn’t think my bike was working.  He hopped on to check it out and then rode back down to the stand to get me a new one.  I hopped on and started pedaling up the steep hill, and “weeeeeee!”  I got my “wee” on.  The bikes were definitely a lot of fun!  We arrived at this beautiful saltwater lake surrounded by forest vegetation.  Once in the park, no cars were allowed which made for an awesome bike ride around the shores.  We stopped at one point where the water was rushing through a channel, under a bridge.  People were jumping in and riding the current out the other side.  Our friends, Allysen and Marcial, decided to have a go at it.  They had so much fun, they did it again.  Afterwards, we hopped back on our bikes and continued our journey around the lake.

The e-bike gang at the entrance to Saltwater lakes
Serene bike ride around the lakes.

Before long, we came upon a spot with a number of bikes parked on the side of the path.  There was a sign with a flag stuck to it that said to wave the flag, and a boat would come get you to take you to this small island in the lake.  So, of course we did!  It wasn’t long before a small motor boat pulled up and ferried us to the island.  First order of business was some ice cold beverages.  After, we walked the grounds of this 12th century monastery which was shut down my Napoleon in 1909.  The church did not get it back until 1998.  The island was small, so it didn’t take long for us to explore it, and soon we were headed back to our bikes.  In the end, we biked over 9 miles and had a great time.

“Our Lady of the Lake” church on an island in the middle of island
Waving the flag sends a small boat to bring you to the island
Ancient Franciscan Monastery
Exploring the church and the surrounding grounds
Beautful stained glass in the church
Seen on an island stable
Lighting a candle of remembrance for loved ones
Marcial and Allysen trying to beat the Soline Rapids – not a chance!
Through the rapids
A portion of the old Roman walls that encircled the town
A view of Zoe through the walls. Note the swim line very close to the boat. Uh oh!
Dinghy ride back to Zoe!!

It was time to get moving to our next destination.  Once again, departure came with some challenges.  First, the float on the buoy we were tied to managed to twist itself repeatedly on the line.  If it wasn’t untangled, we would have no hope of pulling our lines free of the mooring ball.  Once again, Marcial came to the rescue and swam out to untangle it.  With that problem solved, we had one more issue to consider.  Because of the placement of the ball, strong wind, and the direction of the wind, our props were now less than a foot (.3 meters) to a swim line (a large roped off area to protect swimmers from boat traffic).  This meant that Marcial and I had to get the lines free from the ball very quickly while Dan kept us off the line.  Any snag or hang up could end in disaster with our prop wrapped in the swim line.  Did I mention we had a knucklehead who had anchored way to close as well.  As I’m sure you suspected, we got our lines off super fast, and Dan expertly maneuvered us away from the swim line and other boat.

Getting Zoe unwrapped from the mooring ball float before departure

Our next stop (and final stop with our friends) was the island of Korčula.  We anchored off another little island known as Badija.  Fortunately, we were actually able to sail almost the whole way there which was a nice treat.  On the small island beside us was a beautiful monastery and lush forest grounds.  The Franciscan monastery was built in the 14th and 15th centuries.  In 1909, it opened a grammar school to educate local boys from less privileged backgrounds, as well as others.  The school was in operation until 1943.  The island and monastery were seized by Tito’s government after WWII, and the monastery was not returned to the monks until 2004.  The island is very popular with day trippers, boats and swimmers (there is a non-stop flow of taxi boats from Korčula bringing in visitors).  The island itself is a beautiful place to walk and is home to many friendly deer.  They have grown quite accustomed to human interaction and the treats that people provide to them.

These guys were really tame and used to island visitors
Trying hard for treats – I had none!
We tied our dinghy up on the dock and started to explore the island
Wandering the grounds of the monastery

The following day, we took a high speed water taxi into Korčula town.  This was another beautiful town with its medieval squares, churches, and palaces.  You can’t help but be transported back in time.  We spent several hours exploring the treasures here before making our way back to the boat and a much needed cool down swim.  Unfortunately, Marcial and Allysen would be leaving us the next day, and the only way to get them back to the airport in Dubrovnik was to catch a 7:30 a.m. ferry out of Korčula.  This meant taking the high speed water taxi at 6:45 a.m. followed by a two hour high speed ferry to the outskirts of Dubrovnik.  Since their flight was not until 6:30 p.m., they ended up with a day to spend exploring the beautiful city of Dubrovnik.  Since Dan and I were up to say good-bye and see them off, we decided it was probably best for us to get underway as well since we had a 5 hour day ahead of us to our next destination, Vela Luka, on the opposite end of the island of Korčula.  This spot turned out to be a one and done.  The winds were high and the swell was pretty bad which made for no fun swimming or much else.  We blew out of there very quickly the next morning.

Water taxi to Korcula old town from Badija Anchorage
Entrance to the old city
Marco Polo house – purported to be the birthplace of Marco Polo himself
Climbing the steep and claustrophobic stairs of the bell tower
The views were amazing from the top!
Korcula town from the water
The old fortifications are stunning and very well preserved
Lovely old city of Korcula and it’s charms

Next stop:  The island of Vis.  This was another 5 1/2 hour motor since there was no wind.  We spent 2 nights on a mooring ball off the town of Komiža.  If you are a fan of Mama Mia 2, a fair amount of the movie was filmed here.  A few boats away from us was an Australian couple we had met not long after checking into Croatia.  We spent a great evening with them onboard sharing drinks and great stories.  The next day we headed into the town itself to walk along the waterfront and up the hill to a beautiful church and cemetery.  The cemetery was stepped on the hillside with beautiful headstones, flowers and candles.  Croatian cemeteries are pretty unique from my perspective.  They typically house the bodies of multiple family members and each person has their picture on the headstone.  The gravesites are always very pristine and well tended to, and this one had amazing views overlooking the islands and bay.

View from the church over the town.
Komiza town, Island of Vix

At this point, we have been rapidly making our way north in order to meet our next round of guests over the next few months.  We made a brief, overnight stop outside the town of Rogoznica.  We had once again motored for over 6 hours and had planned to anchor deep in the bay.  When we arrived, the wind was funneling through and the best spots to anchor were snarled up with fishing traps.  We gave up in frustration and headed for a mooring ball outside the marina.  It was a very pleasant atmosphere aside from the mooring balls being uncomfortably close together.  I’m talking 2 meters (about 6 feet between us an the monohull that tied up next to us)….never mind the mooring balls were kind of expensive!  

So, that brings us to today.  We have been tracking 2 big weather systems due to come in this week.  There is a jako jugo (strong southerly wind) due in tomorrow and a jaka bura (strong northeasterly blow) two days later.  Did I forget to mention the 2-3 days of thunderstorms that are coming with these winds?  We had a dilemma.  Some of the marinas further north were already booked up for the impending storms, and others were just outrageously expensive.  We knew of a safe marina with reasonable rates just 45 minutes from where we were currently moored.  Needless to say, we decided to ride things out in Marina Kremik.  We figure we will use this time to do a hard reset on the boat (deep, deep cleaning both inside and out, big re-provisioning, lots of laundry….you know, the fun stuff!)  We do hope to do some land exploration while we wait out the weather, so I will leave you here until next time!

We’re the white dot and keeping an eye on a windy week coming up