CHURCHILL: The Polar Bears and Northern Lights


CHURCHILL: Polar Bears


October 25, 2014             Winnipeg, Manitoba

My first trip to Churchill and the mind is racing with possibilities. Having done little research on the area I am expectant and open for a great adventure.  Winnipeg, located at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, is the portal for Churchill and the bears. Our hotel, Inn at the Forks, is riverfront to cafes and shops, including the newly opened Museum of Human Rights.   A few guests gathered for a walk to find a spot for an early dinner before the tour orientation.

9:00pm First gathering of like-minded travelers braced to meet the naturalist guide and learn the ends and outs of polar bear spotting. When guide, Hayley Shephard, arrived all smiles and announcements, she easily held a captive audience. From New Zealand with energy to spare, she promised what we wanted to hear and sent us off to bed with great anticipation.

Sunday, October 26, 2014            Boarding the Hudson Bay Rail

It was a clear and brisk morning as we pulled our bags a block to the Winnipeg Union Station and boarded the Hudson Bay Rail. We were assigned our roomettes and waited for the call to the dining car. Seven of us in the singles with the rest in double compartments. Stunned at the tiny space but as we unpacked we discovered shelves, hangers for jackets and small cubbies for books. Much laughter as we practiced using the ceilingen suite sink and toilet and trying to get the bed arranged without falling out into the aisle.
With a jerk, a sputter and clackettey clatter, we are off.

Lunch was taken in two shifts with the dining car serving as the lounge car. Disappointed to learn that the latter had been removed. We visited with each other in passing and nearby roomettes. The landscape was dotted with wheat fields, rolled hay for winter, and grain elevators

Dinner and then off to bed. Clickety clack. With my window shade up for the night, the dark, boreal forest shapes came into view. During the night the Hudson Bay train curled around Manitoba’s many lakes and headed west from Winnipeg for a brief spite into Saskatchewan before heading north into Manitoba and the Hudson Bay.

Monday, October 27, 2014           Manitoba on the Train

Breakfast time and we are in the boreal forests: birches, aspens, spruce and pine. Open to any possibility such a journey can offer, mealtime brought surprises meeting other guests. There was a Korean family along with a Japanese student studying English. He was on his own and after each meal he left the attendant an origami bird formed from his napkin.


On an afternoon stop in Thompson, tapped as Canada’s most violent city, we walked to the Heritage North Museum. The museum housed two giant stuffed bears, Arctic foxes, along with clothing and artifacts of the area that had been occupied as early as 6000 B.C.

As the train rolled along I kept my eyes peeled out the window, searching. Not for anything particular, but just the search of what was there in the forest or ahead…..  A train trip gives one moments to ponder. Our time together was going to be filled with discoveries of nature as well as ourselves. Nearing Churchill the train took a slower pace with stops and starts due to the tracks now on permafrost.

After dinner, Conductor Dave, let us have a private car for Dr. Shostak’s talk on the history of this wide land we were crossing. Fascinated to learn that in earlier times, the area was a huge lake.   Now scattered water routes leave remnants of Arctic ‘s ancient past.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014            Arrival Churchill

Pre-n-DonExpectation doesn’t get any higher. 9:00am arrival Churchill, the portal for the polar bears. Picking up the monthly HUDSON BAY POST with a by-line ‘published occasionally’, gave a few insights of what to expect. You got to love a town that doesn’t take itself seriously.

Our group arrived after two nights on the rails ready for the ‘big boys’. Driver, Paul, proudly shared his living on the edge as he gave us our first tour of Churchill. His house is out in the countryside and often visited by the bears. As we were driving along he spotted a helicopter and knew from the location it was picking up a mischievous polar bear to be brought to the Polar Bear Rehabilitation Center or as the locals call it, the Polar Bear Jail. Paul said that we would be at the jail about the same time as the rescuers.
Indeed we were but they brought the bear in on the opposite side. Here the bears are kept for thirty days then transported out to the north. The bears are painted with different colors each time they are picked up for mischief or venturing too close to town. The bears do outnumber the locals.

We climbed to an outcrop overlooking Prince of Wales Fort and passed St. Paul’s Anglican Church, the first pre-fab building in Canada and where the memorial Franklin window is located. The Franklin window is in memory of Sir John Franklin and the forty men who lost their lives in 1847 in the Arctic Expedition for the Church-WindowNorthwest Passage. Lady Franklin gave the window to St. John’s York Factory but in 1967 the window was air lifted by Pan Am Airways to St. Paul’s in Churchill.

After checking-in at the Tundra Inn, our home for the next three nights, we crossed the street for lunch at the Tundra Café.

This afternoon was exhilarating with dog sledding. We first met Big Dog Dave Daley, heard his personal stories of dog sledding and learned about the special breed of dogs, Dave’s breed, and how the dogs were treated and trained. Then outside to the anxious barking ready to run. Due to lack of snow, two at a time, we rode on a wheeled-cart for our Ididamile. Great, great fun as our musher raced through the boreal. Hot chocolate after to warm up.


Following dinner we returned to the Tundra Inn where Dr. Seth Shostak entertained with science.

It was Tuesday Night Plaid and Country at the Tundra watering hole. All the locals gathered for social and song. Our two twenty-somethings represented the USA group in favorable style.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014                         Tundra Buggy

Early up and out. This was the day! Like astronauts readying a lau14_13_D tundra buggies_3 PPRnch we rode out to the tundra buggies in silence. These white buggies with four giant wheels lifted us above the bears and facilitated easy access to good viewing across the tundra. Driver, Eric, proudly announced that his buggy now offered flush facilities along with a heater. Hayley gave instructions about riding and viewing on the tundra. She’s a brillant spotter and had us early camera ready with bears. We watched as the bears slept, rolled over, did their morning yoga and cuddled their little ones. Not bothered by human intrusion they walked right up to the buggy and stood a full ten feet tall.

Dune And, there was the Snowy Owl and Ptarmigan, with a silent P., a beautiful sight and easy to find as there was little snow. We tried to behave calmly but the experience was more than just a check off your list.

A slide show after dinner by noted Arctic north photographer, Mike Macri, raised the envy level.


Thursday, October 30, 2014                  A Day in Churchill

Breakfast today wasssGypsy-cafe at the Gypsy Café. Delicious and hearty with real oatmeal. Afterwards we visited the Eskimo Museum, which housed an excellent collection of artifacts including arrowheads, implements and beautiful Inuit art of bone, ivory and stone to present day serpentine sculptures. The family images, much like sub-Sahara African sculptures, are predominant in both old and new pieces.

Walked around the town and visited the Town Center which encompassed the school, hospital and library. We stopped at the Anglican Church to get a close up of the Franklin window. The doors were locked but immediately the husband of the priest came out and invited us inside. He regaled with stories of how the church had been moved three times across town as the town morphed from one side to the other. Shared with us the story of the Reverend Joseph Lofthouse, the first priest who arrived in 1882. Lofthouse wrote back to England that he would stay and set up a church community if they sent him a wife. All was arranged and he walked for eight days through swamp and insects to meet the ship. On arrival, the captain informed him that there were no accommodations for a female and she was not on board. On the second attempt, bride-to-be arrived but announced that unless they were legally married (oh those Victorians) she would return to England. As he was the only priest, a new dilemma arose; however, the captain came to the rescue. They returned to Churchill the Reverend and Mrs. Lofthouse. In 1902 Lofthouse was appointed bishop of Canada.

14_13_D polar bear and tundra buggy_3 PPRAfter lunch a presentation at the Parks Canada Interpretive Center offered a beautiful film of the wildlife and culture.

Back at the Tundra Inn after dinner, Dr. Shostak expanded our science with the expansion of the universe.

One more day on the tundra tomorrow and then homeward.

Friday, October 31, 2014                    Churchill – Halloween

A good snowfall last night. The spruces are Christmas snow laden; the town is alight with Halloween. Our day on the tundra buggy and what a day! Bears, bears, and bears, a gyrfalcon, five Ptarmigan but now white-on-white. At 3:00pm the sun came out and those on the helicopter had a great ride. A pink and orange sunset brought our trip in the subarctic into perspective. It is true. Don’t search for one thing particular; just search and the extraordinary will be found.

The group’s camaraderie and intense single mindedness with the polar bears and birds elevated each of our special moments.

Dizzy with the joy of all!  Till next time,



 **Photos provided courtesy of Seth Shostak & Melita Thorpe









KENYA – Total Solar Eclipse Tour

Into Africa                                                                         October 31, 2013


The Fairmont Norfolk – Nairobi


Our group of thirty-one eclipse chasers, headed up by Astronomy magazine Senior Editor, Rich Talcott, arrived at the historic Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi last night.  Now operated by Fairmont, no other hotel in Africa has such a history and long list of luminaries.  The open verandah was the watering hole for such personalities as Karen Blixen, Denys Fitch Hatton, Beryl Markham, Lord Delamere, whom the terrace is now named.  All safaris began and ended at the Norfolk, including President Teddy Roosevelt’s.

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Today we drove out to Karen and visited the Giraffe Manor and learned about the different types of giraffes and their conservation.  Some got their giraffe kiss.



At the former home of Karen Blixen, we were treated to early Colonial history and Karen’s struggle with her coffee plantation in Kenya.  At the National Museum we viewed the  paleontological exhibit of Early Man, including the near complete skeleton of Turkana Boy.

The Outspan, Treetops and Mount Kenya Safari Club            November 1 – 2, 2013

Today we headed up into the highlands and the dense forests and cooler weather of the Abedares. Our lunch stop was at the Outspan, once the home of Lord and Lady Baden Powell, founders of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.  The sprawling lawns and lush grounds are surrounded by the tea and coffee farms nearby.

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We continued on to the legendary Treetops, where Princess Elizabeth, learned that her father had passed.  She went up the steps a princess and came down as the new Queen of England.   Built in 1932 on stilts over a watering hole and salt lick where the elephants and buffalos visit during the night.

After an early breakfast we headed to the Mount Kenya Safari Club, the elegant 100 acre resort, once owned by William Holden, offers lush gardens with peacocks strolling on the grounds and a view of Mount Kenya, considered sacred by the Kikuyu.  Golf carts transported some to their cottages complete with a sitting room, spacious bedroom and copy 15

This afternoon we visited Sweetwaters’ Ol Pejeta Game Conservancy.  Although it was pouring rain, we were able to get close to large chimpanzees.  One big guy unhappy to see us kept tossing mud in our direction.

Back at the MKSC we found that the fire had been lit in our suite. Romantic!!  We dined at the restaurant and enjoyed tales of our adventure so far.

Eclipse Day                                                            November 3, 2013

Leaving the Mount Kenya Safari Club excitement brimmed for the total eclipse at Lake Turkana.  Our three charter planes floated over the barren, northern desert before landing at Alia Bay airstrip at the edge of Lake Turkana’s wind blown shoreline in the remote Sibiloi National Park, home to the very first man and woman on earth.  The terrain is a semi-desert, dry open land.  Here in this paleontological site, where the story of mankind is protected, shelter three million years of Homo erectus hominid fossils.  The fossils discovered here have confirmed the evolutionary hominid, the direct descendant of Homo sapiens: copy 4

The air choked our breath as we stepped off the planes into the hot, dusty wind and only a small shelter in sight.   Destination Kenya guides loaded everyone into the rangers’ jeeps and shuffled us to the ridge overlooking the lake.   Colorful Kenyan cloths were spread on the ground under a tin roof as we waited.  The photographers braced the heat to set up cameras.  The Sky and Tel group was below nearer the lake.  The NASA guys were back at the airstrip.

A picnic lunch was passed around along with welcomed iced water and cold wet towels.   The heat was relentless.  All began to notice the dark cloud from the north, but tried not to believe it was moving west.  But it did.  We waited.  This wasn’t happening but it copy 18

4:13pm,  First Contact, dark cloud looming. Cameras clicked. We celebrated the beginning.  Dark cloud nearer but this time from the east; a dark sand storm was roaring directly toward us.  “Cover cameras”. “Take shelter”. The wind was a stinging, biting beast as some hovered in the shelter nearby.

As it passed we looked westward and that menacing darkness was hovering like a helicopter over the Sun/Moon dance. We waited; we wished; we prayed. It hung there like an African vulture that had not eaten in days. As time raced toward our 14 seconds totality, Rich Talcott encouraged us to observe the changes.  Long streamers peaked from through the clouds as he sky darkened. Darker than any other totality. Counting, shorter than any other, it was still an exhilarating one-of-a-kind experience.

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We loaded up immediately and drove to the awaiting planes. As Tropic Air pilot, Charlie, lifted off so did the cloud and we watched the final minutes of eclipse from the sky.  Birds flew across the orange fire sunset which  seemed to linger a bit longer just for us before melting into the hot, dry land. The dark sky began to twinkle as we flew toward Nairobi and the Mara.

Governor’s Camp – Maasai Mara                        November 4 – 6, 2013

The Maasai Mara has long been the home of the Big Five and up to half a million of migrating wildebeests with almost equal number of zebras leading the tromp into Tanzania and back again to the Mara.  A personal favorite, Governor’s Camp, welcomed our group once more.  Friendly and clever drivers met us at the air strip.  After hellos a short drive to Governor’s began our amazing three days of game viewing.

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We were greeted by manager, Katy, and our personal camp stewards who escorted each to the respective tents which were luxuriously appointed with a sitting-area, en suite facilities and a most comfortable bed.  We were reminded that Governor’s is unfenced and the game freely roam through the grounds.  An escort must always accompany after sunset.  On my return one evening after dinner, the guard and I discovered an elephant in front of my tent.

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Thrilled to again be back in the Mara where the early morning bird calls awaken you just before a soft voice at your tent says, “Madam, I have your coffee.  Your game driver is waiting.”

The days filled with:  Game drive, breakfast, rest, lunch, rest, game drive, dinner.  We were divided with five each into open land rovers.  Our driver. Sopia, had  stocked ice water.  We headed out.   Judith, who was on the 2010 annular eclipse tour once again rode with her favorite driver, Moses.  Happy reunion.  Excitement mounted as we motored on to the vast plain.

Early in the drive we came on a small pond where a saddle beaked stork stood statue still. Cameras clicked as his beak flew into the water withdrawing a foot long fish.  He pounded it to death on a rock before swallowing it whole as his audience watched it slowly slide down the narrow neck.

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Lions protecting a recent kill as the hyena and vultures circling; zebras and wildebeasts drinking from the river as a pre-historic looking giant crocodile slowly stalks its prey. The days were filled with elephants with their young, lions at love and kill.  The Maasai Mara cycle of life is ever present.

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A Bush Dinner was secretly planned for our last night.  All the staff was sworn to secrecy.  Sopia told our jeep members that we were going out at 7:30 pm to look for an aardvark.   As we arrived at the site on the levy, it was apparent that the hippos would be dinner music.  Lit by luminaries on the path and a blazing fire, we were greeted by the smiling staff from Governor’s.


During pre-dinner drinks we sat around the fire and shared a story begun by Astronomy magazine, senior editor, Rich, and each member added to the hilarious tale.

Dinner was a feast beginning with a Moroccan BBQ.  When dessert time came the Maasai staged a mock attack and pulled all those having birthdays and anniversaries into circle for celebration.

The hippos continued to bellow as we drifted back to our smiling drivers and home to our tents greatly regretting that we were leaving tomorrow. 

Zanzibar                                                November 6 – 9, 2013

Zanzibar.  As you say the name, one can almost smell the spices.  While eight of our group continued game viewing in Tanzania, the remainder took the flight across the Indian ocean to the island where we had three nights to relax and enjoy the white sand beach, water sports, and at the all inclusive Melia Beach Resort.   However, mother nature was not with us and a tropical storm blew in, which cancelled swimming and diving, but cooled the air to a more pleasant level.

The following morning we toured a spice farm.  Our guide crushed the leaves in our hands as we guessed the actual spice. Grown there were cloves, cinnamon, peppers, turmeric, allspice. The spices were followed by a fruit tasting of papaya , orange and coconut. One felt as if we had wandered into a Garden of Eden, shaded by grey-green, tall coconut

After lunch, we drove to the heart of Stonetown. Our guide led us through Christ Church Anglican Cathedral built over the slave auction block then in to the cells where the Africans were held before auction. Slavery was outlawed in 1883.

Continuing through the narrow labyrinth of streets to the Palace where rooms were as they left them years past. En route to a market we stopped at the yellow house of Freddie Mercury’s early childhood. Many publicity photos were posted under glass on the walls.

Back to the Melia for dinner and dancing before retiring.

The exit out at the airport was dampened with the surprise announcement of the newly added Departure Tax of $48.  Add to the frustration of heat and demand, they did not take credit cards nor did the ATM function in the terminal nor was the Bureau de Change able to assist.  A guard took several of us around the building to an ATM, guarded by an unhappy self-empowered woman who would only let us near the machine, one at a time, after being waned. But first we had to wait a few minutes after each transaction before another could go. It became humorous, wondering what the Daily Show might have done with our scenario.

Off back across the ocean to Nairobi for one last night in the spacious Norfolk before heading out of Africa.

There are two kinds of people who leave Africa, those who return and those who wish they could. This was my sixth trip to Kenya and twenty-third to the African Continent. Each have its own story and exotic memories. And, yes, if given the opportunity, I will return.

til’ the next time

Melita Signature


MWT Color Logo blurb

London: English Astronomers


Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Tower, Thames, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tea at Harrod’s

The MWT group accompanied by Astronomy magazine editor, Dave Eicher, had an early start to discover London where history reigns:  The Tower of London. Built in 1067 by the Norman conqueror, William, useful to Henry VIII as he changed the Anglo history forever by abandoning the Roman Catholic Church and forming the Anglican one. Two of Henry’s wives were beheaded in the courtyard.  Before him the two princes were imprisoned by Richard III, and now, the Royal Crown jewels are Yeomen guarded and on display. There’s the Koh-I-Noor and Great Star of Africa diamonds as well as the Imperial Crowns. The black Ravens still guard the Tower.




From the Tower we cruised down the Thames to Buckingham Palace where our guide strategically placed the group for an up close watch of the Changing of the Guard.






After a traditional pub lunch we strolled to Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Astronomer, architect and political strategist Wren had his plans in front of King Charles II just nine days after the Great Fire. He built an additional fifty churches, the army hospital and observatory at Greenwich, the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford and much more. Genius astronomer/architect left his mark on Restoration England.


Cameras and heads filled with sites and histories of England we closed the day at the landmark Harrods for High Tea.

Friday, August 9, 2013                        Greenwich – Where the Day Begins and Ends

Lecturer, Dave Eicher, Astronomy magazine editor, gave an illuminating talk: Comets, Visitors from Deep Space with special information on Comet ISON. He further enhanced our visit to Greenwich by highlighting the lives of the English Astronomers whom we were here to honor.

On arrival at Greenwich, we strolled first to Flamsteed House, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and constructed by Sir Thomas Moore. Here is where Harrison began his quest for Longitude.

The Harrison clocks I – IV, reveal a grand artistry and genius of their creator. The Octagon Room with its long windows were great for viewing but not for observing the eclipses because they were not aligned with the meridian. The astronomers built a shed nearby with correct coordinates and the King never knew. Outside everyone stood on the Prime Meridian.


    The Queen’s House, designed by Inigo Jones for Charles I wife.


It houses the elegantly beautiful Tulip Staircase.



   The house is filled with one of the greatest exhibitions of marine paintings, including the portraits of great seaman.

A painting of the 1832 Great Comet hangs in the gallery.

After a day replete with astronomy, dinner was appropriately served at 16 Seconds West Restaurant before returning to our hotel.



Saturday, August 10, 2013            National Portrait Gallery & The Doll’s House

Today was a third visit to an old favorite, The National Portrait Gallery, where art brings history alive. Each section is grouped with magnificent portraits of the Royals along with the scientists, artists, poets and actors of the period. The winners and losers of each era are grouped together as they lived. There is Charles I, who was the greatest art collector and the only English king to lose his head. His son, Charles II, is displayed with two of his mistresses, actresses of the Restoration stage, Nell Gwen and Barbara Villiers but also with Sir Isaac Newton and Samuel Pepys.

Across the street is St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church whose Crypt Café offers fresh food for lunch while your feet dangle over a burial site. Ironically mine was dated 1776.

Closed the day with the inimitable London stage: Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. It was the very best of drama! The award winning performance by Hattie Morahan as Nora is not to be missed.

 Sunday, August 11, 2013                                     Oxford

Excitement built as we walked the paths of Oxford’s great scientists and writers. We began our stroll at the Bodleian, opened in 1602 with the books donated by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, brother to Henry V. For lunch our guide reserved one of Chief Detective Morse’s favorite pubs, the White Horse.





Afterwards we crossed the street for a visit to the History of Science Museum, where bone chilling, early instruments of medicine and astronomy including astrolabes, sundials, even Einstein’s blackboard reside.




The HSM is a small but overflowing museum with early science instruments.                   Down the street is The Eagle and Child Pub where the Inklings C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and a crowd of erudite writers held heady discussions and read each other’s works.



Topping the day was Christ Church College:  soaring spires and high ceiling dinning hall where the voices of a learned past still whisper. Long tables set awaiting the eager students and perhaps a Harry Potter. We paused in the chapel to listen the choir rehearse for today’s Evensong.

Before returning to London, a stop to pay homage to the late CD Morse at his favorite watering hole, the Randolph Hotel.


Monday, August 12, 2013               Stonehenge, Claverton Pumping Station, Bath

A ride through England’s rolling hills and fertile plains led to Stonehenge where we met Heritage Guide and astronomer, Simon, and astronomer, Andy, who set up solar scopes while we walked around the ancient stones with Simon.



A stop was added at the Claverton Pumping Station on the river Avon to celebrate the 200th Anniversary. Ron Rennie, a member of the group and the great, great, great grandson of John Rennie, designer and builder of the Pumping Station was welcomed by the Station’s staff and members of his family.  Claverton opened the same year Pride and Prejudice was published.



On to the beautiful city of Bath we visited Sir William and Carolyn Herschel’s home and garden.  Herschel, along with is sister, observed and recorded their research and discovery of Uranus.  Carolyn was the first female comet hunter.












A stroll along the streets filled with beautiful floral hanging baskets and aged cobbled stones where once Austin, the Herschels, Newton and the Romans walked.  Baths’ healing soaks have been taken since the Romans first arrived.





We closed the day appropriately in the Pump Room with a delicious and elegant High Tea of cakes, scones, sandwiches and choices of teas accompanied by classical music.








Tuesday, August 13, 2013                                                Kensington Palace

Today a stroll from the hotel to Kensington Palace for the morning where the young Prince George and his parents’ now reside. They are out while their suite (former Princess Margaret’s suit) is being renovated. The Queen Victoria Apartments and King’s Hall were open for tours. The King’s Hall offers a wonderful exhibit of historic paintings.

A special fashion exhibit was featuring evening dresses of the Queen, her sister Margaret and Princess Diana.

For something truly British, the 60th Anniversary of Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap called tonight.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013            National Gallery – Book of Mormon

Trafalgar Square was filled with Scots today. Here to play England for the first time in twenty years.  Their past rowdiness had caused them to be banned. Today men in tartans were everywhere but the pubs showed signs of “Football Free Pub Today”.  England won.

 The National Gallery has a wonderful exhibit of Impressionists paintings including Van Gogh and Monet.  There is plenty of Rubens as well who was introduced to England by the great collector, King Charles I.

 London:  English Astronomers tour will be repeated in 2015.

Until Next TimeMelita Wade Thorpe

In the words of Tigger:  “Ta, Ta for now.”

Australia: November 19-23, 2012. Crossing Australia

Australia:  November 19-23, 2012   Perth to Sydney

Outside the the Indian Pacific windows the far horizon offers Australia’s arid land of no mountains and a few bushes, scattered sheep and emus.

Our stop in the ghost town of Cook gave us time to stretch outside before the dry, 101 degrees sent us back inside the train.  We began to have longer stops but no place to go.  It was revealed that we were having mechanical trouble and eventually  lost a locomotive.  Our tour of Broken Hill was cancelled but we were allowed 30 minutes to stroll through a bit of the town.

A morning tour of Adelaide offered a cooler climate and tour of this flower filled city.

By the 21st we realized the arrival into Sydney would be three hours late but we celebrated in the fact that we would then travel through the Blue Mountains in daylight.  Well worth the delay.  As we climbed, the beautiful pines and eucalyptus came into view along with small towns with 19th century  architecture of brick-a-brack porches and cast iron fences.

Back in Sydney, the Queen Victoria Building is decorated for the Holidays and shopping is supreme.  Our finale with the Indian Pacific friends gave a memorable Wow factor:  Dinner at the O Bar & Dining.  A revolving restaurant atop the 47th floor overlooking Sydney, the harbor, Sydney Opera House, and the Bridge.  We toasted our last night with Australia’s fine red.  The Sydney panorama  revolving each hour seemed fitting for the close of our Great DreamTime Total Eclipse Tour.

Until the next one,

Melita after 23 days in Australia




Australia: Sunday, November 18, 2012 The Indian Pacific

Sunday, November 18, 2012                     Three nights on The Indian Pacific

Perth:  gorgeous city with  great weather where The Cricket is king.  Small carry-on packed for our three-night journey on the legendary Indian Pacific.  Larger piece will be stored in a separate car and we will not see it until arriving in Sydney on the 21st.

Our coach arrived with the usual Australian friendly, No Worries driver and transferred the nine of us to the Perth train station.  The super long Indian Pacific was waiting for us.  Easy check-in, no worries with the weight.  The group boarded car L while I am with the singles In I.  Tom,, traveling for seven months, is across the aisle, Deanna from Sydney, is two doors down.  We enjoyed each others vagabond stories.  Surprise to find my wonderful attendant, Yasmin, from the Ghan here on the IP.

Lovely views as we climb into the hills with Avon River gurugling along our left side.  We’re on the Early Dining, so lunch was right after boarding.  Later in the afgternoon a welcome champagne reception was held in the Lounge Car.

Lots of conversation as you meet everyone, mostly Australian, though I dined with a couple from Dresden and later lunched with a couple from Scotland.  Went right to bed and slept throught the Whistle Stop at Kalgoorlie at 10:30pm

With the blinds open to there are clear sky outside saying,  ‘sleep tight’, ‘no worries’.

Melita from the Indian Pacific


Australia: Friday, November 16, 2012 Alice to Uluru

Friday, November 16, 2012                   Alice to Uluru

The road from Lasseter’s Casino, Alice Springs to Uluru redefines long and flat.  Either side the landscape is dotted with red sand, brush, an occasional outcropping.

Good conversation with Dava Sobel (Galileo’s Daughter) and David Levy (Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9) at the Rock.  One of the best things about traveling to see an eclipse is sharing the experience with fascinating guests.  An eclipse tour is like a family reunion.  Many of our guests have traveled with us since 1986 (Halley’s Comet), 1991(Total eclipse), and others joining along the way.

There it is:  The Big Red Rock.  Again we take the group on a base walk before toasting the magic hour.  Vibrant colors.  Nature’s fine creation.  What a piece of work is this mighty land.

Fun dinner at the Outback Pioneer where we selected and Bar-B-Qued our own meat from a selection of kangaroo, crocodile, prawns, T-bone ++.   Sandy and Lucille, Dr. Seth and Karen Shostak grill their own.

Tomorrow Dr. Seth Shostak, wife, Karen and I jump from this tour to join the Indian Pacific group in Perth.  Then for three nights we will cross back this wide continent to Sydney.

Melita from Uluru

Australia: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 Perfect Eclipse Green Island

Wednesday, November Eclipse 14, 2012

1:30am  Group 1 boarded our chartered vessel, Ocean Freedom, and sailed across rocky seas to Green Island.  Early start to get a good spot for photographers  and join the 68 guests from our group already staying on Green Island.

Arrived:  2:30am.  We were met by Daniel, Julie, Sue and Matt at the Pier and were led through the dark rain forrest to our viewing site on the beach.  The dark and clear Southern Hemisphere sky rewarded us with the Southern Cross, Magellanic Cloud, and an organza ribbon of Milky Way.

Tensions mounted as the Eastern horizon began to pink heralding the Sun’s arrival.  Cameras and telescopes poised and thankfully the clouds were blown away by the wind.  Group II arrived just prior to First Contact.

Clear Skies!  We wait! 

5:45am.  First bite at the top end and the blood is pumping.  It’s like waiting for the Rock Star to arrive.
6:38am.  Diamond Ring.  Screams, moans, oohs and ahhs.  Then silence and we watch.  The experience is as much where it happens as it is we are what is happening.  We are bonded and sealed by eclipse addiction.  Dr. William Sheehan tells us that eclipses give our brain a rush of dopamine.  Sublime and an incomparable feeling of pleasure and fear.
6:40am.  Diamond Ring.  Is that all there is?  Too short, two minutes ++ seemed like two seconds.
7:40am.  And the shadow moved onward till November 2013 in Gabon.

We gasp, laugh, hug one another, cry and agree to see the next one.  With prominences reaching toward infinity it was one of the most spectacular totalities.  Photo:  Kirk Palmer

Back across, the ocean is much calmer now.  The eclipse has it’s own weather pattern.  Ours was a stunner.

Napped for two hours then headed to Hartley’s Crocodile  Reserve for our Eclipse celebration.  Champagne and passed Hors d’ouveres greeted the group before dividing the group for cruise among the crocodiles and feeding presentation.  Sean could be the next standup comic as he entertained us with predator lore.

Lavish dinner on white linen set, long tables was the perfect ending to an absolutely perfect eclipse day.

Happy Melita …all is well….


Stargaze Team:  Claudia, Daniel, Julie & Melita

 Totality Photo:  Les Anderson

Complete eclipse photo:  Kirk Palmer

Australia: November 11. 12, 13, 2012 Cairns

Australia:  November 11, 12, 13, 2012            Cairns

The entire group of 187 came together tonight at our welcome reception at the Oasis Novotel.  The reception was lovely with drinks and a bountiful spread of hot and cold hors d’ouevres.  The staff, Claudia, Daniel, Julie and Glenn were introduced to the group followed by our lecturers:  David Eicher, editor, Astronomy magazine, David Levy, comet chaser, Dennis Mammana, sky photographer, Rich Talcott, Sr. editor, astronomy magazine, with Seth Shostak, Sr. astronomer, SETI Institute giving the key note lecture “Is it safe to send signals into space?

On the 12th and 13th we alternated between the two excursions:  Yesterday was the Rain Forest Aboriginal Day.  Wanted a real experience for everyone with Aboriginals and the Brothers Link and Brandon served it up.

We learned to spear our food, hiked the mango grove forest with mud oozing up between our toes, listened to the digeredoo.   Afterwards went on a river cruise along the Daintree in search of crocodiles.  The day ended with a deep rain forest walk with blue butterfiles, giant Jurassic ferns, and crashing waterfalls.  Amazing.

Dennis Mammana, sky photographer, gave an exuberant talk on viewing the eclipse and protective glasses were handed out to the group

Today is was the Great Barrier Reef for the Kangaroo group.  A boat out to the Reef for 3 stops to snorkle and dive.   Swimming with Nemo, a few sharks and sea turtles.  Awesome.

Tomorrow begins at 1:00am as we cross to Green Island for the viewing.

Melita with Expectation of Clear Skies

Photo:  Dennis at the beach on Green Island awaiting the eclipse.


Photo:  Hunter Gatherers:  Kirk Palmer

Australia: Saturday, November 10, 2012 SYDNEY

Australia:  Saturday, November 10, 2012              SYDNEY

The Grace Hotel is an elegant, arte deco centrally located hotel. Our full day of touring took us throught the Botanical Gardens, Bondi Beach, naughty King’s Cross with lunch on a harbor cruise.  Afterwards we walked to the Sydney Opera House for a full inside tour of this architectural gem.

Friends, Julie Markem and David Smith were surprised to meet each other in Sydney after years of separation since childhood.  It truly is a small world.

Afterwards dropped by fellow Skalleague’s opal place, Costello’s.  Everyone picked up a special gift and did some opal shopping.

The food scene is extraordinary:  Great fresh food, expensive, new age design restaurants and all worth it.

Melita from Sydney

Australia: Friday, November 9, 2012 Kata Tjuta – Sydney

Out early for Kata Tjuta and Walk of the Winds. Weather cool when it could have been 110 degrees as it was last week. Mars-like giant red rocks tower over us as we follow the footpath to the rock art.

Uluru and Kata Tjuta have to be seen, stood next to, touched, and if you can, feel the spiritualness of nature here. They speak to you.

After a delayed flight to Sydney we were a late for dinner at Cyrene’s at the harbor. Boomerang group arrived from Tasmania and joined us for dinner. All is well.