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Polar Bear Jail, Churchill, Canada #travel #animals

The locals in Churchill do their best to deter polar bears from wandering into town. Conservation officers patrol during the season and attempt to scare bears away from the Churchill township if they get too close. They use noise to scare them such as fire crackers and air horns and as a last resort set traps.

Once a bear is trapped, the conservation officers take them back to the polar bear holding facility, also known as polar bear jail. Here they stay until the end of the season when they are relocated. During their incarceration, the bears are not fed. Originally, the bears were fed, but this seemed to draw more bears to town, so the decision was made to follow nature and only give the bears water.

Guard

This was our guard at the the parking lot where we transferred from the tundra buggy to the bus.

Bear Trap

Bear Trap

These are the traps used to catch bears that come too close to town. Once the bear walks inside the trap, the door comes down behind it.

The polar bear jail

Hubby and I posing outside the polar bear jail. The public are not allowed inside to ensure as little contact with the bears as possible. They want the bears to remain wary of humans and stay away.

Polar Bear Jail

This is the mural painted on the side of the polar bear jail. Cool, isn’t it?

Polar Bear

A final photo of a polar bear. This one stayed far away from the traps!

Fiona’s Mates: The idea behind the story and Cover Reveal #paranormal #romance #reverseharem

In October 2017, hubby and I visited the small town of Churchill in Canada to see polar bears. The remote town and its relationship with the polar bears fascinated me. When I learned that the town was only accessible by plane, due to the storm damage of the railway, ideas for stories flew through my mind.

Our trip ended in Fort Lauderdale in Florida and we went sightseeing via water taxis when we were there. That destination also made an impression on me, and got tossed into my story idea pot.

My paranormal romance Fiona’s Mates is the result of my visit to Churchill, the polar bears and hearing about the ice road. I also added in Fort Lauderdale, since the journey on the water taxis was so much fun.

Fiona's Mates

Here is the blurb for Fiona’s Mates:

A woman seeking change meets five sexy brothers…

When Fiona catches her callous, chauvinistic husband with another woman, she puts a full stop on their marriage. No longer prepared to put up with his abusive behavior, she kicks him out the door, determined to start afresh. A vacation is the perfect way to attack her adventurous new life.

Stig is the youngest of five polar bear shifters, and his scheme to start an ice trucking business puts him and his brothers on an untraditional path. With everyone in Churchill against them—humans and shifters plus their matriarch—it’s a challenge to get their ice trucks on the road.

Fiona meets the sexy Stig and his gorgeous brother in Gillam. With their bulging muscles and stunning Nordic looks, something about the smiling duo imbues trust. Then, she meets their three older brothers, each charming and handsome, and her libido is in overdrive. She has a dilemma since they’re openly interested in her, and it is impossible to choose one.

Now that Fiona’s vacation is ending, she’s talking about returning to Florida, but that might not be the worse of the trouble when danger stalks into Churchill and threatens to end their reverse harem forever…

Coming 22 March at Amazon.

Other Animals on the Tundra #travel #Churchill #animals

The tundra has plenty of wildlife. It’s finding and seeing the birds and animals that is the tricky thing.
Along with polar bears, we saw Arctic hare, ptarmigan, Arctic fox and an owl.

Here are some pics of the animals we saw during our visit.Ptarmigan

This is a Ptarmigan. We saw quite a few, some whiter than others. The ones that weren’t white yet still had some of their summer plummage.

Owl

An owl. So majestic.

Arctic hare

The Arctic hares were very cool. They just sat there in the snow and stared back at us. They were hard to spot in the snow.

Arctic Fox

This little Arctic fox just wanted to snooze but he had a buggy full of tourists wanting his picture.

Polar Bear

And finally, a polar bear, the animal we traveled all the way to Churchill to see.

Exploring the Tundra #travel #Churchill

Most people who visit Churchill to view the polar bears go on an organized tour. The tour companies have special vehicles known as tundra buggies. They have huge wheels and are high enough off the ground for tourists to view curious bears without putting themselves in danger.

The roads through the tundra are not maintained and can be quite rough but the tundra buggies slog through the mud and deep ruts, mostly without problem.

The cabins of the buggies are heated and set out like the interior of a bus. There are toilet facilities. At the rear of the vehicle there is a deck area, which is perfect for taking photos.

I found the buggies comfortable and because of their height, they’re perfect for photographers. We had morning and afternoon tea plus lunch during our day-long trips.

Here are some photos…

Tundra Buggy

See the big tires of the tundra buggies? They’re perfect for dealing with the conditions and for keeping passengers safe from bears.

The interior is like a bus. It’s warm and comfortable with big windows for keen photographers. Each buggy comes with an experienced guide and a driver. As well as seeing polar bears, we learned a lot about the bears and their behavior.

Me on the rear platform. When the wind was blowing, it was pretty cold out there!

In Fiona’s Mates, Fiona doesn’t sightsee from a tundra buggy, although she does see the buggies when the Swenson brothers take her on a tour of the area.

Polar Bears – Things I Learned During My Churchill Visit #travel #bookresearch

One of the things I love about travel is learning new things. Travel is an excellent educator. Before our visit to Churchill I knew nothing about polar bears, apart from the fact they are white. I even got that wrong because while the cubs can be quite white the adults are a vanilla color.

Things I learned about Polar Bears:

1. Polar bears inhabit the Arctic in areas where they have easy access to sea ice such as Canada, Alaska, Russia, Norway and Greenland.

2. Around 60% of polar bears live in Canada.

3. Polar bears are perfectly adapted for the cold weather of the Arctic from their fur, their black skin to their claws.

4. Polar bears rely on the sea ice since they feed on seals and they are strong swimmers.

5. Polar bears communicate with body language, the way they vocalize and with scent

6. Polar bears keep themselves clean, which helps keep them insulated and warm.

7. The bears sleep for seven to eight hours at a time, much like humans.

8. They sleep in shallow pits or sheltered areas. During the summer, they’ll seek out ice to keep cool.

9. Mating takes place between April and June while the bears are on the sea ice.

10. The eggs do not implant until the following fall. If the mother does not have enough body fat to sustain her cubs and herself, then the eggs do not implant at all.

11. Most cubs are born in December. A mother can have 1 – 4 cubs. Twins are common.

12. Newborns are blind, toothless and covered with short fur. They are completely dependent on their mother and nurse for around 20 months.

13. Cubs stay with their mother for 2 – 3 years and she teaches them to hunt, feed and swim.

14. The ringed seal is their main prey, although they will eat whales, eggs, and other small mammals.

15. Polar bears don’t hibernate, apart from pregnant females who den up to have their cubs and stay in the den until the cubs are strong enough to leave.

16. Polar bears can go up to eight months without eating.

Source: Polar Bear International

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Where is the Town of Churchill? #travel #bookresearch

Ask most people living in Canada or the United States and they have problems stating the exact location of the town of Churchill. As a New Zealander, I didn’t know anything about Churchill until I picked up a National Geographic Travel magazine. I flicked through and stopped at the pictures of polar bears.

“We should do this,” I said to my husband when he came home from work.

I half expected him to say, “No, that doesn’t sound very appealing.”

I was wrong. We investigated further and booked. This was my introduction to the remote Churchill, the town billed as the polar bear capital of the world.

Churchill is a small town, situated on the Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada. The town can only be reached by plane. (They used to have a railroad but storms damaged the line and the owners have decided not to fix the track)

Each year, the polar bears congregate in the area to wait for the sea ice to form on the bay. The bears sometimes wander into town, searching for food, which makes life in Churchill dangerous for the unwary.

The town started life as an outpost. It grew in the 1920s once the railroad brought people into town and the addition of a shipping port. The military came to town in the 1950s and 1960s, further bolstering the population.
These days the permanent residents number around 1000. This number is boosted by tourists who come to visit the polar bears (Oct – Nov) or the beluga whales that mass in the warmer waters of the Hudson river during the June – September period.

Although remote, the town has cell phone coverage and internet. They even have great coffee!
We enjoyed our visit very much, although I suspect it isn’t as pleasant during the dead of winter. We had snow during our visit but found the temperatures comfortable. The locals are friendly and hospitable, and hubby and I are eager to visit again during the summer to see the beluga whales.

Source: Everything Churchill

Churchill Town from Air

This is a view of the town and the bay from a helicopter.

Churchill

Churchill and my fave cafe

These are both views of the main street of Churchill – Kelsey Boulevard.

View of the Tundra outside the town

A view of the tundra outside the town of Churchill.

Murder at The Breakers by Alyssa Maxwell #mystery #review

Murder at The BreakersMURDER AT THE BREAKERS by Alyssa Maxwell
Guilded Newport Mysteries 1

Newport, Rhode Island, August 1895: She may be a less well-heeled relation, but as second cousin to millionaire patriarch Cornelius Vanderbilt, twenty-one-year-old Emma Cross is on the guest list for a grand ball at the Breakers, the Vanderbilts’ summer home. She also has a job to do—report on the event for the society page of the Newport Observer.

But Emma observes much more than glitz and gaiety when she witnesses a murder. The victim is Cornelius Vanderbilt’s financial secretary, who plunges off a balcony faster than falling stock prices. Emma’s black sheep brother Brady is found in Cornelius’s bedroom passed out next to a bottle of bourbon and stolen plans for a new railroad line. Brady has barely come to before the police have arrested him for the murder. But Emma is sure someone is trying to railroad her brother and resolves to find the real killer at any cost…
 
 

The Breakers

View of The Breakers from the cliff path

 
Why?

I picked Murder at the Breakers to read after visiting The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island. They were selling the book in the gift shop, and I decided I had to read it since I enjoyed my visit so much.

Quick highlights: This is a historical mystery set in Newport during the heyday of the Vanderbilts and it contains a slight romantic element. There are lots of suspects and the main character does a wonderful job of ferreting out clues. I enjoyed it, especially since I’d visited the property.

The Story: Cornelius Vanderbilt’s secretary is murdered during a ball at The Breakers, and Emma’s brother Brady is blamed for the death. Everyone believes the murderer is now in jail, but Emma is determined to clear her brother’s name.

The Characters: Emma is the main sleuth. She is a poor cousin of the Vanderbilts and must scrimp and save to survive. Her parents are overseas, and Brady is her only other family. She’s determined, resourceful and clever. To some readers, her actions might tip into the TSTL category, but I enjoyed this facet of her character.

The Vanderbilts feature too—her uncle, aunt and cousins. The police and several family friends, members of the 400 (the top echelon of society) and servants also form part of the mystery.

The Writing: I enjoyed this story, although I found the start a little slow. The setting is strong and places the reader right in the period. The romantic element totally worked for me. Obviously, we’ll see more development of this in the later stories in the series. I wasn’t certain who the murderer was until the end.

Conclusion: This mystery is the perfect souvenir of a visit to The Breakers. It’s a trip back to the time of the Vanderbilts and the wealth of the period. I recommend this first book in the Gilded Newport series.

Rating: 4 stars

Amazon | Goodreads

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island #travel

The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island was the “summer cottage” of Cornelius Vanderbilt II. Fire destroyed the original cottage, and Cornelius ordered the existing mansion built on the same site in 1893. It took several years, and Cornelius didn’t spend much time in his new mansion before he died in 1899.

The mansion overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and it takes it name from the waves pounding the cliff below—The Breakers.
In a word—it’s impressive. It’s full of marble, beautiful wallpapers and furnishings. The marble bath tubs are something to be seen (evidently, the servants had to fill the tub to warm the marble, then refill it for their master’s use). The butler’s pantry and the kitchens were the best I’ve ever seen. My photos don’t do them justice.

My husband wasn’t keen when I dragged him off for his daily dose of culture, but he enjoyed The Breakers and later thanked me. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we visited the White Horse Inn for drinks and a snack—reputably America’s oldest inn since it opened in 1673.

I highly recommend a visit to The Breakers and the White Horse Inn, should you ever find yourself in Newport.

Me at The Breakers

This is me at the front of The Breakers.

The Grand Staircase

This photo is taken in the ballroom, looking toward the grand staircase. It’s said that it was a tradition for the Vanderbilts and their guests to slide down the bannisters on trays.

Interior

One of the many decadently decorated rooms.

Interior

Another room interior.

Mr Vanderbilt's Room

Mr. Vanderbilt’s room.

Mr Vanderbilt's Bathroom

The amazing marble bath that required filling twice so that the marble heated and didn’t freeze a backside!

The kitchen

The kitchen was amazing and full of all sorts of mod-cons for the time.

View from Side

A view of The Breakers from the side.

The White Horse Inn

Hubby at the White Horse Inn. Our last bit of “culture” for the day and a welcome break with local beer and a bowl of clam chowder.

Old St Pauls, Wellington, New Zealand #travel

Nestled in the heart of the commercial center of Wellington, not far from New Zealand’s parliament buildings, is an old church with a lot of history.

St Paul's, Wellington

Old St Paul’s is plain from the outside, a white building and dark spire, set in a large section and surrounded by giant pohutukawa trees. I wasn’t expecting much but the interior stole my breath. During my first visit, I stood inside the entrance, breathed in the rich, fragrant scent of the old wood from which the church is constructed, and fell in love with the place. It’s both peaceful and beautiful with the glowing colors of the aged timber. The ceiling curves above, looking like a timber rib cage and the light coming through the stained glass windows throws jewel-like patterns on the interior. Everyone speaks in hushed tones and the place feels special.

Old St Pauls, Wellington

 

Old St Paul's Wellington

Frederick Thatcher designed the church. He was also the first vicar and remained from 1861 – 1864. The style is gothic, and according to experts, it’s one of the finest examples of timber Gothic architecture in the world. The timbers used in the construction include rimu, totara, matai and kauri, some of New Zealand’s finest native wood. The pews are also made from timber and perfect to take a seat and soak in the atmosphere.

Old St Paul's, Wellington

Wander around on your own or listen to one of the guides who will point out all the highlights. The stained glass windows are famous and were added as memorials to several prominent members of the Wellington community. Originally most of the windows were plain frosted glass. The current bells and organ are also new additions, but the baptismal font is an original, made in England from white stone with a carved oak canopy.

Old St Pauls, Wellington

Funerals of former Prime Ministers were held here. The Maori land wars, which took place during the 1860s are remembered in memorials, as is the First World war. The relationship between American marines and the locals during the Second World war is also recognized.

A new church, also named St. Pauls, was built in 1964 to cater to larger numbers. Thankfully, locals fought to keep the old church, because it truly is beautiful and unique now that public buildings are no longer made from timber.

Old St Paul’s may not be a parish church now, but it’s still consecrated and a venue for weddings, funerals, christenings and other cultural events such as concerts. The building is maintained by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

The Facts

Opening hours:
Daily 9.30 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.
Closed Christmas Day, Good Friday, and for short periods during private functions.

Admission fee:
Entry is free. Hourly guided tours of Old St Paul’s: $5 per person.
Private group bookings (8 or more) $3 per person.
School groups: tours $3 per student.
Experience Old St Paul’s education programme: $8 per student.

Location:
34 Mulgrave Street
Wellington 6011
tel: + 64 4 473 6722
email: oldstpauls@historic.org.nz

Dinosaur of the Insect World #travel #NewZealand

The weta – it’s a large and primitive insect, native to New Zealand. The reason I chose to write about wetas today is so more people know what they are. When I used a weta reference in my book Janaya, my editor didn’t know what I was talking about and I had to rewrite slightly to describe a weta as a prehistoric cricket-like insect.

Tree Weta, New Zealand

There are five broad groups of weta:

1. Tree weta
2. Ground weta
3. Cave weta
4. Giant weta
5. Tusked weta

Wetas are nocturnal and live in a variety of habitats including grassland, scrub land, forests and caves. They live under stones and in rotten logs or in pre-formed burrows in trees.

They are mainly herbivores in the wild but are known to eat other insects. They can bite but are not poisonous. Species of weta are still being discovered and several are endangered. In the wild, they were traditionally eaten by the tuatara (a prehistoric reptile native to NZ) but these days many are destroyed by rats, cats and dogs and of course, humans encroaching on their habitat.

The weta sheds its exoskeleton when moulting.

At 18 months the male weta selects a female and they spend time together in the male’s territory. (Romance in the insect world!)

At around two years old, the female will lay 100 – 300 eggs. The parents die before the weta eggs hatch 3 – 5 months later.

The Department of Conservation in New Zealand is currently involved in weta breeding programs and translocation to safe sites such as protected islands like Tiritiri Matangi and Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf. The weta respond well to a captive breeding program.

The following video is of a giant weta.

I’ve never seen a giant weta but have personal experience with both tree and cave wetas. We often find tree wetas in our garden and will return them to live in peace. They can nip and look creepy but I don’t mind them.

My experience with cave wetas is a bit more spooky. When I was a kid, my girlfriend lived on a farm with limestone caves. It was a favorite pastime to visit the caves and wander through them with a candle and maybe a torch to search for stalactites, stalagmites and glow worms. When I think about our cave visits now, I can see how dangerous it was, but for us it was an adventure – an hour or two of wandering through pristine caves. One day we discovered a new tunnel and were all set to charge into it to explore. I happened to shine the torch over the ceiling and it was covered with huge cave wetas! I let out a screech and dropped the torch, and we all decided to explore another part of the cave. I also took to checking my gumboots carefully and shaking vigorously before I put my feet in them. This lasted for a few weeks until the initial horror passed. I’ve never been bitten by a weta, but I’m always careful not to get too close either. I can appreciate them from a distance.

How are you with insects? Do you like them or hate them with a passion? Do you have any insect stories to tell? What do you think of New Zealand’s weta?