Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

Australia, New Zealand & the South Pacific!

Ayers Rock during our first spectacular night in the great Outback of Australia.


Be sure to visit our Photo Galleries for more spectacular images of our travels! (Pbase Galleries)


If I were to ever pinpoint a time in my life when my addiction to travel began, there were definitely two experiences:  The first was the three month road trip across the USA with my dad and Rose back in 1972.  The other was my trip to Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Fiji with my grandparents in 1976!

I was blessed with phenomenal grandparents.  They took a very active role in my life and were very instrumental in my upbringing.  I spent many of my summers growing up living with them in Chicago.  I always thought of them as more than my grandparents.  They were my mentors and my second parents.  I could always go to them when I needed advice and, no matter how much trouble I got in to (which was sometimes quite a lot…), I always knew that I could go to them for advice and help.  They supported everything I did.  I always knew they had my back and that I could count on them.  Now that they are gone, I miss them dearly, but I use their example in how I treat and raise my own son.

In 1976, my grandparents Liebenow took me on a four-week trip to the South Pacific.  It was the goal of my grandparents to take all of their 13 grandchildren somewhere special.  I was the eldest so I was the first to go!  And what a trip it was. 

The trip was divided in to four countries and a couple stop-overs in Hawaii and Samoa.  The trip started with a few days in Tahiti.  We mainly explored the main island of Tahiti, visiting many of the Heiau and sacred sites.  We also visited the Gauguin Museum during a spectacular circum-island drive.  I sampled my first filet mignon at a fancy restaurant on top of a mountain with a sweeping view of the entire island and Papeete.  I remember my first afternoon in Papeete when my grandpa took me to a local ice cream shop where I ordered a root beer float, and the locals had no idea what a root beer float was let alone how to make one.  I described what I wanted and before long, I noticed a room full of locals staring and pointing. They were giggling as they saw me put this stuff in my mouth!  Grandpa and I often joked that we probably started a new fad in Tahiti.  We also spent a couple days traveling by boat to Morea and another island nearby.  That was one heckl of a boat trip.  Only about twenty nautical miles, but the passage between the main island of Tahiti and the smaller island of Morea was extremely rough.  I was literally the only traveler not puking his brains out during this "three hour tour".   I loved my stay in Tahiti.

We spent another week in New Zealand’s north island visiting such amazing places as Rotorua with its great hot springs, mud pots and geysers.  We explored many of the Maori cultural sights and villages on the island.  We experienced the amazing Glow-worm Grottos filled with the galaxy of glow worm larvae.  What I remember the most was the spectacular New Zealand countryside filled with verdent meadows and sheep. 

Next came Australia!  What an amazing place.  We spent time exploring the great cities of Sydney and Melbourne.  We traveled outside Melbourne to a wildlife reserve in the hills where we viewed many species of Kangaroos and other mammals from the "Land Down Under".  I cannot remember many of the critters’ names that we saw so I cannot count them on my life list.  Moreover, I really cannot remember how “wild” they were…  I was still very impressed with the wildlife experience nonetheless.  Perhaps this was the start of my love of wildlife, who knows.

After Melbourne, we broke away from our group for a few days in Australia’s great Outback.  I will never forget the amazing flight across this desert-filled continent.  The five or so hour flight from Melbourne to Alice Springs was spectacular.  While landing in Alice, we flew directly above a herd of springing Red Kangaroos!  My first definitely wild Roos!

Alice was amazing.  Back in the 70’s this was basically an outpost town in the middle of the largest desert anywhere (except for the Sahara…).  There were no real tar roads connecting this town with the rest of Australia, and it was really pretty wild.  There were drunken people everywhere on the streets in the middle of the day, and it reminded me of a Wild West town.  My grandpa and I even had a beer with some local aboriginal folks getting loaded in a park in the center of town.  I was impressed with my grandpa’s ability to just hang with the locals.

Our main goal for Alice was to get out and see the great Uluru.  We had to catch a small plane to fly further out in to the Outback to see the largest rock in the world.  I will never forget landing our tiny plane directly next to the giant Ayers Rock!  We passed the “Great Brain” of the rock on approach.  Spectacular! 

Our first night in this vast desert was sublime.  I had never seen so many stars in my life.  From one horizon to the other, the stars filled the night with enough light for my grandpa to read his newspaper without the aid of a flashlight!  He did it mostly for show but it was a spectacular sight for sure.

The next day we climbed all the way up the great Ayer’s Rock!  We were the first ones on the rock. Grandpa and I met a single Japanese lady, Junko Tagawa, while on the transport to the rock.  We struck up a conversation with her that would lead to a friendship that would last for the rest of my grandparents’ lives.  I will never forget meeting Junco in Chicago several times many years later. 

While starting our ascent up the rock, the winds kicked in and my grandfather could no longer make it any further.  Initially he would not allow me to go any further but I pleaded with him to allow me finish our trek.  After some serious soul searching, he finally let me go.  I looked back to see him struggling below, and I will never forget the look on his face.  He was right before my very eyes, coming to terms with his old age.  In later years, he confided in me that this moment was the first time he noticed the downturn of his body’s strength.  He became aware for the first time his own mortality.  He and I often talked about that day and what it meant in both of our lives.  He said he knew he could not make it himself but he knew he had to let me go, even though he was concerned for my safety.  He knew he had to let me go on my own adventure and feel my own youth and strength and find my own limits.  My grandfather was one of the wisest men I have ever had the pleasure to know. I love him dearly and miss him even more.  I am thankful that he visits me often in my dreams.

I will cherish my time with my grandparents in the Uluru for all times.  Once we left Australia, we had one final week or so in the Fiji Islands.  Here we sailed a beautiful cutter to private islands and spent time in the remote villages and markets of these amazing islands.  On our last day, I went out on my own to the local market to explore and just hang out.  I went up to a stall that was selling a muddy-looking liquid.  I asked what the liquid was and the merchant told me that it was local “Fiji beer”.  He asked if I wanted some and the next thing I knew, I was on my third glass on this musty-tasting home brew.  I was pretty drunk when I finally found my way back to the hotel.  If grandma and grandpa noticed, they never said a thing.  That same day I was invited to play a game of rugby with some local boys.  I enjoyed the sport but I could tell they were playing pretty light with me.

This trip was no doubt one of the most important events in my young life.  This travel experience set the stage for a life-long addiction to the art of travel.  Thanks to my grandparents, I have become an “experience-junky”. 

My grandparents gave me so much, but there is no doubt in my mind that this was one of the greatest gifts ever.  And it is in this same vein that I am introducing the the passion and art of travel to my son, Cokie. I sincerely hope he appreciates what I am doing for him as much as I appreciate what my grandparents and parents did for me. 


Be sure to visit our Photo Galleries for more spectacular images of our travels! (Pbase Galleries)


Here are some scanned images from this trip (Remember - these were taken by a 12-year-old!)!




Morea's Mount Bali Hi.  The day I spent on this spectacular island will be remembered always! (As will the boat ride over where everyone except me was puking thier brains out!)



An old lighthouse located at the beach near the Gauguin Museum on the far side of the island.



This was my first picture in another country!  This is the view from our room in Papeete.  What a pad!



I think this was the precise event in my life that made me attracted to dark-skinned women!  I am not joking.  These girls were hot!



I took this image of a little lost child in New Zealand's Rotorua hotsprings.



These Maori dancers were part of our "cultural exposure" to the local indigenous peoples of New Zealand. I actually got a chance to meet several Maori folks and truly enjoyed learning about their culture through our conversations.



One of the many races with my grandpa!  I cannot remember if he let me win or if I let him win...



Me as goofy 13-year-old teenager bow riding my way through the seas of the Fiji Islands.  This was a blast!



Dancing with a couple local ladies in the Fiji Islands!



Mark Hallet and I discussing politics in the Fiji Islands.  His one the first of many funerals I attended in the ensuing years after as the folks from this aging group slowly passed away.  Thankfully my grandparents were around longer than most.



Grandpa "buffing up" while walking past on a Fiji beach.



The dusty town of Alice Springs in 1976!



I think this Aboriginal Autralian chap called himself "Bush Bill".  Grandpa and shared drink with this already loaded friend in Alice one afternoon.



Ayers Rock at sunset. 



I am sure my grandparents would be thrilled that I have posted a picture of them in their underwear on the internet!  Sorry!  I miss you so much.

Be sure to visit our Photo Galleries for more spectacular images of our travels! (Pbase Galleries)