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Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Stewart Island, Inspiration for Protecting the Bride

Stewart Island is the third-largest island in New Zealand, and it sits around thirty kilometers south of the South Island. Mr. Munro and I visited in 2020 and enjoyed our visit so much that I decided to set a book on the island. After percolating the idea for a few months, PROTECTING THE BRIDE sprang to life on the page.

Plane at Stewart Island
Transport to the island is via ferry across Foveaux Strait, which can be decidedly rough and rocky and not for the faint-hearted or poor sailors. The other method to get to the island is a quick fifteen-minute hop on a plane.

We traveled by both methods, taking the ferry over and the plane back to Invercargill. We had fantastic weather and didn’t experience the rock and roll that can give even those with a strong stomach big trouble.

Oban, the only township on the island, is small and quaint with a pub, a museum, a supermarket, a few other shops and tourism-related companies, a school, a café, and the Kai Kart, which does takeout food. It takes minutes to walk from one end to the other, but the setting is pretty with a white sandy beach and lots of native bush.

Pub and Oban township

Kai Kart for Delicious takeaway food

With only thirty-two kilometers of road, there aren’t many vehicles on the island. We walked a lot and learned to take a torch with us at night since the streetlamps are also limited.

Our accommodation was at the top of the hill. We had an incredible view of the township, the bay, and the sea beyond. The only downside was the steep hill that we had to climb each time we returned from sightseeing. I suspect my fitness levels improved during our holiday.

The steep hill

I used lots of our experiences in PROTECTING THE BRIDE, including that steep hill. Since I had to huff and puff up this hill, so did my heroine! Protecting the Bride is due for release on 17 Aug. Learn more details, read an excerpt, or pre-order here.

Cape Reinga, NZ – The Northernmost Point

Shelley at Cape Reinga

Last weekend, Mr. Munro and I visited Cape Reinga, a place I’d never gone to before. Cape Reinga is at the northern end of the North Island of New Zealand, and from here it’s possible to see where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide with currents going in different directions.

I’ve mentioned Cape Reinga in an earlier post, and it has cultural significance for the Māori people.

Lighthouse at Cape Reinga

Sign Post at Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga

The drive up to the cape offers some lovely views, but the road is twisty with countless turns and many one-lane bridges. The nearest town is Kaitaia, which is more than 100 kilometers south. Since it’s winter down this end of the world, everything was very lush and green. I enjoyed my visit to the far North very much, and I now have a bubbling book plot–an addition to my Dragon Investigator series featuring taniwha shifters. Watch this space!

Antarctic Icebergs

Icebergs are chunks of ice that have calved off glaciers and ice shelves. They vary in size from small to large enough to sink a ship. The Titanic, for example.

New icebergs are white while the older ones are blue or sometimes green. An iceberg comprises fresh snow and compressed ice. The light hits the iceberg particles and bubbles and is bent and scattered. If there are lots of bubbles, all the light scatters before it gets absorbed. If there are no or few bubbles, the red light gets absorbed and the blue light escapes the iceberg, making us see a blue iceberg.

During our time in Antarctica, we saw lots of icebergs, some of which dwarfed our ship. We zipped around some of the icebergs in zodiacs to get up-close views of them. The blue ones were my favorites.

Our Ship and Iceberg

Le Soleal, our ship, is dwarfed by this beautiful iceberg, and they can be much bigger!

Blue Iceberg

A beautiful blue iceberg.

Zodiac and Iceberg

We did a zodiac trip around the icebergs and checked out the wildlife and birds that lazed on the different icebergs.

Blue Iceberg

Another blue iceberg.

Lazing Seal

Some of the local fauna lazing on one of the smaller icebergs.

Champagne on the Zodiacs

We finished our zodiac tour around the icebergs with a glass of French champagne. The perfect end!

Meet the King Penguin: Ten Facts About the King Penguin

One of the things I was most looking forward to seeing when we visited the Antarctica region was the penguins. Penguins are fascinating birds, and I never tired of seeing them or watching their antics.

A king Penguin Colony

Facts about King Penguins

1. They’re the second-largest species of penguin.

Close Up of a King Penguin

2. They weigh up to 15kg and grow to around 3.1 feet in height.

3. It’s estimated there are around 2 million breeding pairs, but some say there are far more than this.

King Penguins on the Beach

4. The largest colony is found on the island of South Georgia, although they also live in Antarctica and on the south coast of Argentina.

5. King penguins eat fish and squid.

6. Penguins have two chicks every three years, and their varied breeding season means that there are always a few chicks within a colony.

A King Penguin Chick

7. The penguin chicks have wooly brown coats before they molt and the adult feathers grow. Early explorers thought they were a different species of penguin.

King Penguin chicks and adults in the background

8. King penguins don’t make nests but carry their eggs around in a brood patch.

9. King penguins will change partners for each breeding season.

10. Leopard seals hunt the adult penguins while the skua bird attacks both the eggs and chicks.

Source: Cool Antarctica

King Penguins on South Georgia

Some of the many King penguins on one of South Georgia’s beaches.

Snow Moon Dragon, book 4 in the Dragon Investigators series, is coming out soon. Snow Moon Dragon is set on South Georgia and King penguins are mentioned a time or two.

A Visit to South Georgia Island

South Georgia is a small island in the southern Atlantic Ocean. It’s a British territory, and the island’s nearest neighbors are Antarctica and the Falkland Islands.

Until I visited the region in early 2020, I’d never even heard of South Georgia. Now I know what I missed out on! South Georgia is a nature lover’s paradise and will be forever linked with Sir Ernest Shackleton, the great explorer since Grytviken is his final resting place.

It’s not an easy place to reach, and we visited as part of our journey to Antarctica. My upcoming release, SNOW MOON DRAGON, is set mainly in South Georgia.

Our first stop was Fortuna Bay. We went ashore via zodiacs and watched some of the thousands of residents. The air is so crisp and clean, although you do get a whiff of penguin poo. It’s quite a unique scent, but I didn’t mind the aroma. I was too busy checking out the local characters.

Fortuna Bay, South Georgia

This is the view of the bay from our ship, Le Soleal, which is part of the Ponant fleet.

Seal pups hanging out on beach

We saw lots of Antarctic Fur seal pups. They hang around on the beach and in the shallows, playing together and waiting for Mum to come home. They’re cute and very curious. It was very hard not to get too close since they seemed to have no fear of the two-legged creatures wearing bright orange coats.

King Penguins

We visited Fortuna Bay to see the King penguins and see them we did. They are magnificent birds. On land, they can be clumsy, but they are graceful blurs of speed in the water. Very difficult to get a photo of a speeding penguin!

King Penguin

A close-up of one of the handsome penguins. They are striking with their yellow coloring.

Penguins and glacier

The scenery is gorgeous, despite the lack of trees. Grasses and lichen stud the lower slopes while craggy peaks, some of them covered in snow even during the summer, tower above. In the distance is the König Glacier.

König Glacier

A close-up of the glacier at Fortuna Bay.

King Penguin colony

This is a photo of the King penguin colony at Fortuna Bay. It’s said there are over 7000 pairs that make this area their home.

King Penguins

Several of the King penguins strutting their stuff with our ship in the background. Access to the area is limited to one ship and a maximum of one hundred people ashore at the time. We took care to clean our boots and make sure our clothing and footwear were free of foreign seeds and anything that might harm the pristine environment.

Boot Cleaning

Boot cleaning in action. This also helped limit the “penguin pong,” but after a day ashore, we’d all leave our boots outside our doors. The passages continued to hold the penguin fragrance!

Snow Moon Dragon will release on 18 May 2021.

Nemrut Dagi, Turkey ~ Inspiration for Star-Crossed with Scarlett

Nemrut Dagi, Turkey

Back in the early 1990s, Mr. Munro and I did an overland trip from England to Kathmandu. The trip proper started once we reached Turkey. It was my first visit to Turkey, the country where the west and east meet, and I loved the food, the beaches, the history, and the people we met.

We traveled around the Western coast, hitting the gorgeous beaches and then drove up the east coast of Turkey.

I’d never heard of Nemrut Dagi before, and to be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with our game plan once we arrived. We had to get up early to see the sunrise. I’d been promised a brilliant show before, and each time I’ve regretted the early start to get to the top of a mountain/hill to be in the perfect position to enjoy this magical time. The sunrise has never lived up to my expectations.

Mountains near Nemrut Dagi, Turkey

So, a little about Nemrut Dagi before I get back to the sunrise. You’ll find it in the Eastern Taurus mountains, and it’s a man-made funerary mound. The late Hellenistic King Antiochos I of Commagene (69-34 B.C.) made the mound, which consists of stone chips. The king had the structure constructed for his own use. Huge limestone statues face outward from terraces, and guardian animal statues stand at each end. Some of the giant heads have toppled while others stand in their original positions.

As I mentioned, I had no expectations of our visit, but I loved the weathered heads that stand taller than a person. I enjoyed wandering around the site. We were lucky because there were only a few of us—our group of eight in fact.

Heads at Nemrut Dagi, Turkey

Nemrut Dagi

Photos of some of the enormous heads at Nemrut Dagi. Note – it was still pre-dawn when the bottom photo was taken.

I remember feeling the cold, but for once the sunrise was pretty, the sky a wash of pink and pale blue. This time, the person who informed me a pre-sunrise slog up a mountain was a good thing was entirely right. Nemrut Dagi has remained as a bright memory, and when I started writing Star-Crossed with Scarlett, it was the perfect inspiration to add to the action and adventure of my plot.

Funerary Mound and statues

This is a shot of the burial mound and some of the statues (parts of them).

Sunrise at Nemrut Dagi

Sunrise at Nemrut Dagi

Two pics taken during sunrise. Of all the sunrises I’ve seen, this was my favorite!

Star-Crossed with Scarlett My memories of Nemrut Dagi inspired part of the plot for Star-Crossed with Scarlett, a paranormal, action-adventure romance. I don’t want to say too much. Spoilers, you know!

The Scarlet Macaw #research #travel

One of seventeen species of macaws, the Scarlet Macaw is becoming increasingly rare. In Costa Rica, Central America, we visited the Natuwa Macaw Sanctuary where they rescue, breed, and release the Scarlet Macaw.

I was very excited at the thought of seeing macaws. When our tour around the reserve started, my anticipation turned to disappointment because the Scarlet Macaw and the Blue and Yellow Macaw were in a huge aviary. Not great for photographic opportunities, although their aviary is HUGE.

But it turned out the sanctuary releases some of their macaws. Some of these pairs have returned and nest in boxes placed around the grounds. The Scarlet Macaw come and go as they please and have been successfully breeding, adding to the population. These ones provided excellent photographic opportunities.

The sanctuary houses many other animals such as jaguar, sloth, deer and other birds. Many of the animals are recovered from poachers or rescued when the animal butts up against man encroaching on habitat. Our guide was passionate and knowledgeable, and I enjoyed our visit very much.

Scarlet Macaw

Facts about Scarlet Macaws.

Scarlet Macaw

1. They live in the rainforest.

2. Their beak is perfect for cracking nuts and seeds.

3. The male and female look the same with white faces, scarlet and yellow.

4. They live to around 50 years of age in the wild. In captivity, they are known to live much longer than this.

5. They are intelligent birds and are popular pets but can be quite aggressive.

6. They usually mate for life.

7. Both the male and female look after the young.

8. Their bright colors help them to blend in the rainforest.

Scarlet Macaw Pair and Nesting Box

Star-Crossed with ScarlettI spent ages watching the macaws and found them fascinating. Already, they’ve found their way into my upcoming release Star-crossed with Scarlett. The birds make an appearance in the story and, of course, there is the heroine’s name, which is Scarlett.

The Adorable Sloth

The Adorable Sloth

Before our visit to Costa Rica, my knowledge of sloths was limited to the Ice Age cartoons. I thought of sloths as adorable and a little clumsy but with a great deal of charm.

The Natuwa Macaw Sanctuary is a refuge for other animals as well as the Red Macaw, and this is where I had a close-up view of two orphan sloths.

Natuwa Sanctuary

Sloth

They are the cutest things, and I spent ages watching them.

Here are some facts about Two-toe Sloths:

1. Sloths are herbivores and eat mainly leaves. Their diet is low-energy, so they don’t move around very much.

2. Their natural habitat is the rainforest in Central and South America.

Sloth

3. They are called two-toed sloths because of the two claws on their forearms. In fact, all sloths actually have three toes!

4. Predators such as the ocelot, the jaguar, and eagles are their enemies.

5. A sloth sleeps for around 15 hours a day.

6. They spend most of their time hanging upside down in their tree.

7. They go down to the ground to toilet and usually do this around once a week.

8. They are excellent swimmers and enjoy the water.

Sloth

Sloth

Sloth

Sloth

Sloth

As I said, I loved the sloths. They are mega-cute, and I am determined to write a sloth into an upcoming romance. Watch this space!

Hobbiton, Part Two

This is a continuation of my post about my visit to Hobbiton in Matamata. Part one is here.

Pheasant in the Vegetable Garden

I was busy taking photos of Hobbit holes and my surroundings and saw something moving. It took me a moment to realize the pheasant was real and it was busy feasting on the vegetables.

The Frog Pond

This is the frog pond. During filming the frogs made it challenging to hear the actors. Sir Peter Jackson paid someone to catch all the frogs and relocate them elsewhere so filming could continue without issue. The frogs found their way back…

The fake tree

This tree, which grows above Bilbo Baggin’s home in Bagshot Row is the only fake tree. All the rest are real. A few days before filming Peter Jackson visited the site and decided the tree’s leaves had faded to the wrong color. A man spent two days spraypainting each leaf. The trees are resprayed every few years.

Bilbo Baggin's Home

Bilbo Baggins is one of the more prosperous hobbits. We know this because his home has lots of windows, and Hobbits are taxed by the number of windows in a dwelling.

Shelley and the Hobbit Hole

There are two different sizes of Hobbit holes. I think the guide said they were 60 and 90 respectively. The Hobbit characters were filmed in front of the large doors, and the tall characters such as Gandalf were filmed in front of the small doors. I’m standing in front of a small door.

Each of the Hobbit holes is empty inside since the interior shots were all filmed at studios in Wellington.

Green Dragon Inn

This is the view of the Mill and the Green Dragon Inn. We walked across the bridge to the Green Dragon and finished our tour with a drink.

Drinks at the Green Dragon Inn

The drinks are all brewed especially for Hobbiton. I tried the apple cider, which was delicious.

If you’re ever near Matamata, I recommend a visit to Hobbiton. It’s pure fun and whimsey, and I loved every moment of my visit.

The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, New Zealand

Whenever we have friends visiting from overseas, we take them to the Waitakere Regional Park. A short drive from the inner city and you’re in the middle of nature. The views from the visitor center are gorgeous, and it’s an interesting place for kids of all ages!

Waitakere View from Lookout

This is the view from the lookout at the rear of the visitor center. On a clear day, you can see for miles.

View of Auckland

It was a little hazy on the day I took this photo, but you can make out the Sky Tower and the other highrise buildings in the central city.

Native NZ trees

These are some of the native trees. The punga ferns were striking and pretty this day.

About the kauri tree

A Young Kauri Tree

A young kauri tree. This native tree is in danger from kauri dieback. It’s incurable, and currently, many of our tracks in the park are closed in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.

The bush and river

Another view of the bush and the river.

Maori carving

Maori carving

Maori carving

These are some of the Maori carvings at the visitor center.

Shelley at Waitakere

And finally, this is me hamming it up with a view of the bush and sea behind me.

I’ve used the Waitakere area in my book Black Moon Dragon, and the heroine lives on the coast at Piha, which is not far away.

I highly recommend a visit to the Waitakere Ranges if you’re a visitor to Auckland. You won’t be disappointed!