Karen and Gary’s trip of a lifetime

A shared love

A shared love

Karen and Gary’s shared love of animals is the daily inspiration behind their dream retirement.

They have just returned from the trip of a lifetime to South America where they encountered Galapagos tortoises, marine iguanas and Karen’s favourite, the Andean condors.

The couple are now enjoying the retired life they started planning twenty years ago.

Their wonderfully busy lives are a perfect example of how planning early can allow you to live the dream retirement you didn’t think was possible.

We spoke to Karen and Gary about their world travels, favourite animals, volunteering, veterans’ cricket and their gorgeous grandchildren.

South American dream

South American dream

Gary and Karen both have a deep love of animals; they have travelled the world to see them in the wild and they both volunteer weekly at Healesville Sanctuary. Their latest trip to South America was a four-week tour that took them to Ecuador, Peru and Chile.

“We chose South America because we love the environment and seeing animals in the wild,” says Karen.

“We wanted to see Galapagos and then the Amazon … We travelled south and saw the condors – the condor birds – and also experienced Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca.”

Animal encounters

Animal encounters

The South American trip was the culmination of several other trips the couple had undertaken to see animals in the wild.

“It was a dream that we never thought that we’d be able to afford to do,” explains Karen.

The couple are now working with First Financial principal Ben Rossi and adviser Stefanie Costa who help monitor their cash flow and manage their investments so Karen and Gary can enjoy their travels without worrying about their spending.

“We’d been to Alaska once looking at animals,” says Gary.

“That was our first trip. Then we’ve been to Africa a couple of times, but we sort of put this one off. Then we lost a friend unexpectedly and it really made us focus on what we wanted to do”



The Galapagos Islands, an archipelago off the coast of Ecuador, are a must-do for any true animal lover.

Famous for being the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s historic work, ‘On the Origin of Species’ the Galapagos Islands are home to over twenty species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

For Gary, the wildlife encounters on Galapagos were a highlight of the trip:

“The animals were totally uninhibited. They’re not afraid of you at all,” says Gary. “I was standing with about 150 marine iguanas behind me. There was just a total lack of fear in the animals.”

The Andean Condor

The Andean Condor

Gary and Karen both have a particular passion for birds and seeing the Andean condor in full flight was an incredible experience.

“The birds were a big attraction to both of us,” says Gary. “To see the condors flying in South America – you’re seeing a bird with a wingspan of three metres; they free fly on the thermals.”

The Andean Condor is one of the largest flying birds in the world and is a symbol of power, health and liberty for the people of Patagonia.

“We saw them at Colca Canyon, which is the size of the Grand Canyon, but even deeper. It’s 4000 metres deep,” says Gary.

“And it’s just pot luck whether you see them or not,” explains Karen. “We were there for nearly an hour, and we saw four or five.”

Healesville Sanctuary

Healesville Sanctuary

Closer to home, both Gary and Karen channel their love of animals by volunteering weekly at Healesville Sanctuary.

Karen wanted to give back to society and started volunteering when she was still working part time, knowing that it would be something she’d want to continue with in retirement.

When Gary retired three years ago, he also started volunteering in the horticulture department. They both also help with Animal Encounters.

“Our role is to engage the visitors as we provide an enrichment experience for the wildlife.” says Gary.

“If you arrive as a visitor, you will meet us as you wander the grounds. We provide opportunities for close interactions between the visitors and the Australian wildlife.”

“A lot of the animals that we work with are endangered in the wild,” explains Karen, “so it gives us the opportunity to inform people about them, the reasons why they are endangered and what Zoo Victoria is doing to help protect them with their conservation and breeding programs.”

While Karen would never pick favourites, she has a special soft spot for the wallabies:

“I love the wallabies, especially when they’ve got joeys.

The joeys develop and a little head comes out first and then a few months later they emerge from the pouch.”

Meeting other volunteers

Meeting other volunteers

While Gary and Karen love getting close to the animals, they also really enjoy meeting and working with other volunteers.

“There are volunteers from all walks of life,” says Karen.

Some are involved in the animal hospital, others guide visitors around the Sanctuary and a group also assisting in school education programs.

There are retired people, but also people who are employed elsewhere and there’s a group of younger volunteers, especially university students.”

“As a volunteer it’s great, because you get to interact with the young guys, you interact with the older members and then we have the international tourists coming to the sanctuary, so you get this universal mix,” says Gary. “It’s an interesting area to volunteer in.”

Full and meaningful lives

Full and meaningful lives

There’s no doubt that Karen and Gary have been smart in the way they have approached retirement. They are both busy and active people and have made it a priority to pursue their own interests.

“The one thing we decided right from the word go, is that we’d stick with our own interests.” says Gary. “I love my cricket and I’m still playing in the over 60’s competitions.

When I turned 61, I represented my state for the first time in the Victoria Team playing in the Australian Veterans Cricket Over 60’s Championships. Something I have been fortunate to repeat every year since.”

Plus, they make sure there is plenty of time for family.

“We have four beautiful grandchildren,” says Karen, “and we spend time each week with them… We’re lucky we’ve got a great family.”

Planning the dream retirement

Planning the dream retirement

Karen and Gary’s lives are a ringing endorsement of how a well-planned retirement can change the life of everyday Australians.

“It’s been 20 years, we’ve been involved with First Financial,” says Gary. “We’re now working with Ben Rossi and Stef Costa… Karen was a kindergarten teacher and I was working with a Design and Printing Company. When we had the opportunity as a couple to buy into that company, First Financial were terrific, because they helped us do things that we wouldn’t have thought of doing. They took the risk out of it, because we didn’t have enough experience.”

By working with a trusted financial adviser the couple have been able to travel the world and enjoy experiences they’d once thought they could never afford.

“Where we thought we’d be when we retired and where we actually ended up was dramatically different. First Financial are planning people – they opened our eyes to things we could do, like investing correctly and salary sacrificing in areas that I hadn’t thought. It assisted us in managing our money better and planning for the future.”

The end result of all that hard work and planning is the retirement they’d always hoped for.

“As you can gather,” says Gary. “Our life is pretty busy and it’s a lot of fun.”

Where to next?

Where to next?

Next year the couple are off to England for Gary’s cricket tour. Then there are more wildlife encounters to plan. They are keen to head north to Kakadu and the Kimberley and visit the Komodo dragons at some stage.

The team at First Financial are so proud to have been a part of Karen and Gary’s retirement journey. We wish them all the best with their travels and are looking forward to hearing about the next animal adventure.

If you’re ready to take the first steps towards setting up a comfortable retirement, a face-to- face conversation with one of our financial advisers is a good place to start. Contact First Financial today. Read more Retirement Planning articles.

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