Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Australia and New Zealand in January

1.I didn't realize how ugly kangaroos were.
2.Milford Sound was used in Lord of the Rings.

It's taken me a long time to get back to this blog; somehow other things kept me away from the computer or at the computer doing other things. Below is the synopsis I sent to family and friends. It truly was a wonderful experience, especially New Zealand ---if only it were closer. Getting older has meant that it takes longer to recover from this kind of trip. I wanted to do everything and we did a lot. I had a ball on an 8-wheel drive vehicle to see the seals and penguins in New Zealand and wish I had one of those 8-wheel carts for here in Taos now with all the snow, slush and mud.
We had a wonderful time.
New Zealand Air is great, but the trip is still very long.
We arrived in Sydney early with 3 days to explore then we boarded our ship, Oceania's Nautica which is identical to the Regatta which we've sailed on a couple times preveiously. We met some crew and staff that we've known from other tracels with Oceania so it felt like we were returning to something familiar and comfortable.
Sydney harbor is charming and huge. We took a Middle Harbour Coffee Cruise harbor tour and heard about all of the inlets, smaller harbors and islands. Then we took a harbor ferry to a Wildlife World with all of hte unique creatures from bugs to cassowary birds, koalas and kangaroos. It had the world's largest crocodile and a great walk-in butterfly exhibit where they would land on you. The colors and shapes of the butterflies were completely different from any that John and I have seen. Of course we walked around the opera house and ate at a sidewalk cafe there. No operas while we were there for which John was very grateful.
We walked around The Rocks, the site of the first European settlement in Australia, and shopped, of course we bought hats. Our suppers we ate at the Circular Quay in some of the sidewalk restaurants.
As Julia, our niece says, Melbourne is just a city. We went to the Sunday arts and crafts show and the HUGE Queen Victoria Market. The second day we were there, the temperature was 111 F so we never left the ship.
Our next stop was Hobart, Tasmania. We walked around the town and stopped in some stores including a bookstore. It's a pleasant, charming port. (In some ways, it reminded me of the new little shops being developed in the Fells point area of Baltimore.)
The shock of Australia was the price of things, where the US dolloar equals the Australian dollar. Our niece said that the minimum wage is $20/ hour, so people weren't worried about tips (there's no tipping) and they don't have to work 2 or 3 jobs to get and adequate income. Everyone treated us very well. we were impressed with Australia.
Our first exposure to New Zealand was the Milford Sound. As a fjord it was not impressive and there were not many waterfalls the day we sailed in and out, but I enjoyed it because a portion of The Lord of the Rings was filmed there.
Our first stop in New Zealand was Dunedin which has a very Scotish flare - in people's accents and other things - bag pipes- and more. Here we took a shore excursion called 'Wet 'n' Wild', a hilarious ride in an 8 wheeldrive open vehicle through deep mud and narrow trails to see New Zealand fur seals and their cubs and yellow-eyed penguins. It was a fun time.
In Lyttelton, we took another all-day excursion to a sheep farm where Ross Miller showed us how a sheepdog could round up a herd of sheep - amazing. An indication of the tremendous hospitality that we experienced everywhere in New Zealand was that Mary Miller got up at dawn to make fresh shortbread, a kind of fruit teacake and tea for all of us in four buses - over 120 people. she served us in her house and gardens. It was just the two of them on the farm Ross and Mary for all of us. He answered questions and also demonstrated how to shear sheep while Mary served refreshments inside. The tour included several other things, but this gives you a sample.
In Wellington, we went to the Te Papa museum on our own. What a fantastic museum with free admission for locals unless they were going to a special exhibit. We'd heard from our friends, Beth and Alice that this was a not-to-be-missed experience and they were right. It has a very modern design, open from the first floor through the top 3rd floor. Most of it was devoted to a wonderful presentation of Maori culture and arts with videos of how 'green stone' (New Zealand jade) is carved and other things. We saw people working in the city would meet colleagues to discuss business in the comfortable Te Papa cafe on the 3rd floor.
Napier was fun being an Art Deco style town and easily walkable. The art deco differs from other places in that designs are derived from Maori art. Our main stop here, thanks ot Beth and Alice, was the Opossum Museum shop. Here they sell marvelous scarves, sweaters, etc. made of a blend of merino wool and possum fur. The items are quite warm, but very light weight.
In Rotorua we woke to a light drizzle. We had another all day tour here to go to the Waiotapu Thermal Reserve. At the reserve, the rain became more serious. by the time we entered the 3/4 mile trail it was a major downpour that came up to fast that I couldn't get my hooded rainjacket on in time. The colours of the thermal pools were brillant despite the rain. Fortunately there was a gift shop at the end of the trail and I bought 2 T-shirts changing into one immediately in the fitting room. We did other things here, but the rain really got our attention.
In Auckland, we disembarked the ship and transferred to a hotel for a couple days. We went to the Auckland Museum which is a former war memorial building in a huge park. It had another more extensive display of Maori couture as well as items from the European history of New Zealand. The most fascinating thing to me was the section desinged for children of all ages with places for little children to crawl through, hands-on activities for them and large drawers of mounted insects, etc under glass for them to pull out. While not as spacious as the TePapa museum, it fulfilled the recommendation from our friends Jan and Charles.
We did much more, but this gives you some highlights of our trip. The summer was cooler than we expected, but very pleasant except for the one rainy day. We can't say enough about the graciousness and hospitality of the New Zealand people - known as Kiwis and the sheer beauty of the two islands. If it were closer, we'd go back in a heartbeat.
I haven't said anything about the ship or the sea days. We enjoy the Oceania line very much and will sail on them again.
I hope you enjoy this brief synopsis of our trip.
I'll try not to be absent so long for my next post.

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