One of my new year’s resolutions is to complete writing the text for the third book in my nautical trilogy, In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: The Long Way Back. This sailing/travel odyssey covers the final third of our circumnavigation: Australia, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian peninsula, the Middle East, and on to Turkey and the other Mediterranean countries we sailed through until we “crossed the line” back in France where it all began.

I spent most of yesterday writing just one of the many sidebars in the book: Did You Know? Australia. And I’m stuck. Australia is awesome! I fell in love with the land and the people. I could write an entire book on the year we spent there. But to give other countries a chance, I must be selective in the stories I tell. As for sidebars, each country in my books gets only one Did You Know of 750 words or so.

HELP! Which part(s) of this list below do you think is either not important or not interesting? I appreciate your comments.

Did You Know?

  1. Australia is about the size of the contiguous United States, but with less than ten percent of the population; it is an elliptically-shaped mass about 2500 miles in length from east to west, and 2000 from north to south.
  2.  “Australia is the world’s sixth largest country and its largest island. It is the only island that is also a continent, and is the only continent that is also a country. It was the first continent conquered from the sea, and the last. It is the only nation that began as a prison,” writes Bill Bryson in Down Under.
  3. The Boomerang Coast, the curved southeastern corner of the country, covers 5% of the land surface but contains 80 % of its population of about 23 million. It contains nearly all of its key cities, including Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide.
  4. Australia is a land of extremes, from alpine snowfields to searing deserts and lush tropical rainforests. Of the continents, it is the lowest and flattest; it has the oldest soils and fossils. Only Antarctica experiences a lower rainfall.
  5. The largest living thing on earth—the Great Barrier Reef—grows in Australia. This country also contains what I believe to be the most remarkable monolith in the world: Ayers Rock (Uluru).
  6. Australia is quite dangerous to humans, no matter what their station in life. “What other country could just lose a prime minister?” Bryson asks.  He reports that in 1967 the Prime Minister, Harold Holt, was just walking along a Victoria beach when he dashed into the surf and disappeared, never to be seen again.
  7. Australia has been called the home of the deadly.  It hosts five of the world’s ten most poisonous snakes.  The country’s saltwater crocodile has the most powerful bite of any species. The pain of its stinging stonefish alone can be lethal. The bites of the blue-ringed octopus can cause paralysis within minutes and lead to heart failure. The Sydney funnel web is one of the world’s most dangerous spiders. But the box jellyfish is rated the most dangerous threat to visitors, based on the likelihood of encountering one. Be careful! Pick up a cute cone shell on a Queensland beach, and you may be stung by the venomous snail inside. Step into the water and you could be chomped on by a shark. Go to a zoo, and you could get bit by a fierce and aggressive cassowary!
  8. There’s no place like Australia. Eighty per cent of the flora and fauna in Australia exists nowhere else. Its creatures evidently did not read the script. Mammals bounce like basketballs across the vast landscape, fish climb trees, foxes (large bats) fly, and crustaceans, like whales, grow large enough to contain a grown man. Termites ingest houses, fences, and electric poles which they regurgitate to form tall, catacombed structures to house their pampered queens. “Darwin, after his visit to Australia, wondered for a while if the country’s bizarre flora and fauna pointed to the possibility of two parallel creations,” claims Australian-born writer, Peter Conrad. “Had rival gods designed the northern and southern hemispheres? Conrad speculates. “Such creatures must, after all, have a creator, a designer of almost rococo wit and grace.”
  9. The Australian outback is so large and remote that only a few lonely souls in the Great Victoria Desert of Western Australia witnessed  an explosion that set seismograph needles twitching all over the Pacific region.  Yet on May 28, 1993 the seismograph traces did not fit the profile for an earthquake and the blast was 170 times more powerful than any recorded mining explosion. There was no crater showing a meteor strike. The incident remained an unexplained curiosity until in 1995 Aum Shinrikyo gained sudden notoriety when it released huge quantities of the nerve gas sarin into the Tokyo underground, killing 12. Investigators found that Aum owned a 500,000-acre plot in Western Australia near the mystery event. There, they found evidence that the cult members had been mining uranium and had built a sophisticated laboratory staffed with two engineers from the former Soviet Union. The cult’s goal was the destruction of the world.  The event in the desert may have been a dry run for blowing up Tokyo!
  10. Compounding all the mysteries of Australia are the enigmatic aborigines. When Cook arrived in Australia in 1770, he encountered a race that seemed unrelated to any of their neighbors in the region—the Polynesians, Melanesians, and Micronesians. Could they have invented and mastered ocean-going craft 30,000 years before anyone else, then abandoned all they learned to settle the interior and to forget about the sea?

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For more on our Australian adventure, visit the Pacific Bliss website Log & Journal:

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased for the holidays on Amazon.

Part I of the “Northern Bliss/Heritage Home” blog series

August 2012, Balsam Lake, Wisconsin

“What will happen to all your beautiful flowers when we leave here in three weeks?” Gunter asks as he watches me just a’diggin’ in the dirt.

I’ve been gardening for over two hours this morning. Enhancing the flower gardens here at our lake home is more than just a chore.  I am returning to my roots. I was born in Polk County, Wisconsin—in Cushing, less than 30 miles from here.

I set my tools down and move my kneeling pad over to the next clump of weeds to be pulled. “Leave? I’m just settling in, marking my territory.”

Digging in the dirt has become a compulsion since we moved many of our belongings from San Diego in mid-July.

“This reminds me of carrying pails and pails of water for my mother’s and grandmother’s gardens,” Gunter answers.  He points to the foxgloves. “The flowers in Bavaria were very similar to these. Only the flowers had different names.”

Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea)

Huge hydrangea

Tiger lilies grow well in Wisconsin

I’m not sure how to explain this drive to dig in the dirt, to go back to one’s roots. The compulsion comes from deep within and the process provides deep satisfaction. And when I’m all tired out, my chores completed for the morning, Gunter says I always return with a smile on my face. So it must be good for me.

Even though I’ve been a sailor throughout much of my life, and made my home on the sea for eight years, as a farmer’s daughter, the need to return to the land is a primal instinct. This is not unusual. Captain Cook, who sailed farther than any man had sailed before, retired on a farm in England near where he grew up, that is, until he was called back to sea again for his final voyage.

This land also provides for me a sense of completion. My family lost its dairy farm to foreclosure after the dreaded Bang’s Disease swept through the herd and the milk could not be sold. I was a freshman in college at the time, and I never had an opportunity to say good-bye to that land. It all happened so fast. Perhaps that created a longing in me that I’ve buried as deep as the foxgloves I have planted here.

If so, that longing didn’t surface until I attended my 50th class reunion in St. Croix Falls in September, 2010. I rarely attended reunions, and may not have come to this one had not my granddaughter scheduled her wedding the week prior. During the event, a classmate of mine asked me, “Are you here to look at a summer home?” Her question startled me. “Lake homes here are selling for half of what they were before the 2008 crash.”

That comment set the process in motion.

For the next two days, Gunter and I drove through the countryside admiring the fall foliage.  “I love all the deep blue lakes, the lush rolling hills, and the wonderful colors. It reminds me of my own roots in Bavaria,” Gunter exclaimed.

“That’s probably why so many German immigrants settled in Wisconsin,” I replied.  “They must have thought the same thing.”

“Lots of FOR SALE signs around here,” he noted. “Interested?”

My heart skipped a beat. “Yes! The home should be here in Polk County.”

Now why did I say that? I’ve never even thought of buying a home here. Not sure I want this. Too many memories—not all of them pleasant.

But the die was cast. Actually, the die had been cast two years earlier, when we completed our world circumnavigation. The planned trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss,” would cover the eight years of our sailing adventures. But even then, I thought about writing a book about what happened in the years before we left to go sailing.

During presentations promoting the first book in the series, MAIDEN VOYAGE, many readers asked about our lives before sailing. That would make an interesting story: how did a farm girl from Wisconsin who wanted to escape her past and succeed at business and a boy from Munich who loved math and science meet each other—after many wrong turns in life—and become soul mates?

What would I need to do to write such a book?

I would need to pick up the dialect I’d forgotten. I would need to stay where I grew up for a while to re-acquaint myself with the farming culture again, to regain that sense of place.

OK, I can do that!

Beware of setting a goal. It just may have a way of happening before you know it! I had only a goal. I had no strategy in mind, not even a plan. My writing goal, however, seemed to fit with our shared goal of providing ways to keep our families in touch with each other. Since both of our parents died, Gunter and I have taken seriously the responsibilities of being the matriarch and patriarch of our respective families. We sponsor family reunions where all the children, grandchildren and cousins can get together. Could having one central property for those reunions—sort of a Heritage Home—work for us?

The following year, 2011, we organized a family reunion by renting a cabin on the shores of Balsam Lake, the largest lake in Polk County, to market test the idea.

If we build it, will they come?

It worked!  During the main event, a barbeque on the cabin’s big deck, I counted 28 attendees; they were all related. So the search for an appropriate lake home began.

If it all proceeds smoothly, it’s meant to be.

By the time we left the cabin, Gunter and I had made an offer on a home on nearby White Ash Lake.  After returning to San Diego, and negotiating back and forth, we soon found ourselves the proud owners of a family home.

But the task of remodeling it to make room for our four children and their spouses, five grandchildren (two with spouses), and two great grandchildren was just beginning. We would knock out three walls to make a massive Great Room. I planned the kitchen and dining area to seat 17, the patios to seat 16 and all the bedrooms—including a bunk room we would build—to sleep 16, with space for additional air mattresses. Not all would always come at the same time, but there are always a few extras in any gathering! I am the eldest of ten (nine living), visits by siblings needed to considered as well.

As my readers know by now, Gunter and I love to travel! We had already committed to two international trips—to India and South America—when we purchased the home. In between trips, Mike, my son-in-law, and I managed the remodeling (he did most of the work himself). It was an amazing process and a tight schedule, but a mere two hours before the first visitors arrived in July, the carpet had been laid in the bunk room and the bunk beds installed! (For those readers asking why the India and South America travel blogs remain unfinished, this is my excuse. They will be completed sometime this winter!)

When all the hub-bub becomes too much, I retreat to my garden to dig in the dirt. The birds chirp merrily as they perch on their feeders and splash in their birdbath. The breeze whispers through the pines, birch and oak—so different from the palms in Southern California. And across our dead end street near the woods, a doe stands and stares, daring me to chase her from my hostas.

Life is good here.

She dares me to chase her away from my hostas


Yellow Goldfinch at the bird feeder









Over the weekend, I worked on a chapter in the second book in my nautical trilogy In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: SAILING THE SOUTH PACIFIC.  This chapter is titled  New Zealand Adventure. While writing a section called “Following in the Wake of Ancient Explorers,” I came across a statistic related to my hero, Captain James Cook.  That he “discovered” more of the earth’s surface than any other explorer is indisputable. Cook’s three epic voyages, though, are said to be the equivalent of sailing from the earth to the moon. Could that be true?   I fact checked the statement. Yes, indeed. The distance from the earth to the moon is 238,857 miles (384,403 km) but since the orbit is elliptical, this distance at the closest point is only 225,622 miles.

From my book (to be published in 2012):

“Ambition leads me not only further than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it is possible for a man to go,” said James Cook on January 30, 1774…His maps were so accurate that some are still used in our paper charts that we have on board Pacific Bliss.

“Cook’s Voyage of Discovery on the HMS Endeavor was launched in order to observe the transit of Venus, when the disc of Venus would pass over the face of the sun. Based on the length of time it took to do this, astronomers could calculate the distance between the earth and the sun, which it was thought would help to gauge the size and scale of the universe. Tahiti was perfectly positioned in the Southern Ocean to observe the Transit. When given command of the Endeavor in 1768, Cook was not even a lieutenant, let alone a captain. But Cook was an astronomer who was also known for his superb navigational skills, an ideal balance of seaman and scientist. The Transit observations proved disappointing, so Cook used his remaining time to survey Tahiti.”

“Cook was an amazing man! No wonder he is my hero.

“Sailing from Tahiti, Cook opened a sealed packet of orders from the British Admiralty: he was to sail to 40° south in search of the great Southern Continent. His men’s hands were freezing as Cook pushed on to 40° without sighting land, so he headed north and west to the coastline charted by Tasman over a hundred years earlier.

“Cook sighted land on October 1769. Although skeptical that this was the Great Southern Continent, Cook made a thorough survey of what turned out to be the two islands of New Zealand, which he claimed for King George III.  By the time he departed, he had established a life-long friendship with the local Maori, dashed the hope of a southern continent, and charted 2,400 miles (3860 km) of coastline—all this in less than three months of sailing.”

At the New Zealand Maritime Museum’s Store in Auckland, I purchased a few books about my hero. You may be interested in these: Captain’s Log, New Zealand’s Maritime History, by Gavin McLean; The Explorations of Captain James Cook in the Pacific, as Told by Selections of His Own Journals, Edited by A. Grenfell Price; and Captain James Cook by Richard Hough.

Cook’s First Voyage of Discovery 1768-1771

Image source:  Clip Art from Florida Educational Technology Clearing House