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Trip Report AWESOME first trip to Australia and New Zealand

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Australia /New Zealand

Thanks to Fodorites’ great trip reports and helpful comments on my planning posts, DH and I had an AWESOME trip to Australia and New Zealand for 5 ½ weeks from mid October to late November. I will post this TR in different segments so that no single part is too long to read. But first, here’s the itinerary, not a “typical” first trip, especially for Australia, but these were the places that I found most appealing in doing my research.

By way of quick introduction, we are a "just beyond middle age" couple (can't use the word "old" yet, we're 67 and 72), who travel more slowly than we used to. We don’t normally schedule as many “one-nighters” but since we would be having our own car everywhere except Sydney, we thought a few would be OK, especially in some of the smaller places and when there were short distances between stops. For this trip, we had a mix of hotels, lodges and B&Bs, ranging from mid-level to high-end. When selecting a place to stay, I would usually focus on whether the accommodation has a nice view since we do spend time relaxing and resting.

Australia
Oct 15: arrive Darwin
Oct 16& 17: Mary River Wetlands and Kakadu
Oct 18: overnight in Darwin
Oct 19-21: Daintree
Oct 22: Atherton Tablelands area
Oct 23: Cairns
Oct 24-Nov 1: Tasmania (1 night outside Launceston, 2 nights Cradle Mountain, 3 nights Freycinet Peninsula, 1 night Port Arthur, 2 nights Hobart)
Nov 2-6: Sydney

New Zealand
Nov 7-9: Glenorchy
Nov 10-11: Lake Moeraki
Nov 12: Hokitika
Nov 13-14: Arthurs Pass
Nov 15: Kaikoura
Nov 16-17: Blenheim
Nov 18: Tongariro
Nov 19-21: Rotorua environs
Nov 22: flight back


The Trip
I was able to secure business class FF award seats 11 months in advance, first for the outbound, then 6 weeks later for the return. Our first flight on American from DC to Los Angeles left on time and we landed a little early. After a few hours in the Qantas Lounge, we boarded our flight to Brisbane. It was 3am for us, so we skipped supper and slept very well for about 8 hours on the comfy lie flat seats, wearing cute Qantas PJs. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Brisbane, the jet way would not connect to the plane. This was the third time this has happened to us in the last year and it has always delayed our disembarking by about an hour. With long lines at immigration, we missed our connection to Darwin. While we were in the queue, there was lots of grumbling around us about the slow moving, long lines. The re-checkin process was more confusing at Brisbane than at other airports we've been to, but we now had a long wait between flights, so it didn't matter. But with a tight connection, you've got to know your way around. There was a shuttle bus to take us to the domestic terminal.

We were put on the next flight so we had almost 3 hours to spare and used the time to buy a SIM card for our old, unlocked iPhone. Not sure if this is always the case, but the Vodaphone agent told us there was a special promotion going on and we got a pocket Wi-Fi and a second SIM card for the other iPhone for no extra charge. It turned out the pocket Wi-Fi was something we used quite a lot and it will also come in handy for all of our travels.

We finally boarded the last leg to our first. Flying from Brisbane to Darwin, which took 4 hours, reinforced our understanding of how great the remote areas of Australia are, thousands of miles of red outback and bush.

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    First Stop: DARWIN and environs

    Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territories, and a relatively small city of 150,000. It is quite close to Indonesia and our trip would probably have taken less time if we'd flown to Bali and then to Darwin! It is a tropical place and reminded us of the smaller cities we visited in Malaysia in climate and topography. However the buildings are all quite new, as most of the city was destroyed in a cyclone several decades ago.

    First impression: Hot. We arrived during the "build up" when the heat and humidity increase in anticipation of "the wet". A taxi took us to the Doubletree by Hilton on the Esplanade and we had a room on the 9th floor with a grand view of the water. We took a little walk around the area, trying to find the waterfront precinct. It was still very hot at 4:30 and we realized that the wharfs were not as close as we thought (I was still experimenting with the portable Wi-Fi, Google maps and the phone), so we turned back. Along the way, there was a plaque describing the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese on February 19, 1942, only a couple of months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This was the first of several similar monuments we saw during our brief stay. We also saw lots of advertisements for WWII tours and there is a museum devoted to the defense of Darwin. We were wandering around the Parliament area and were pretty shocked at how quiet it was, almost no cars or other street traffic. After a nice dinner at Hanuman, only a 5 minute walk from our hotel, we crashed until around 7am the next morning.

    On Friday morning (Oct 16), we walked a few blocks to the Budget Car rental office, picked up a nice RAV4, and began our drive to Wildman Wilderness Lodge for 2 days in the outback. DH did a great job driving, getting used to the right hand drive vehicle (we are used to driving on the left because we live almost half a year in the British West Indies - - which also explains why our itinerary didn’t include any beach time). Luckily the roads are uncrowded and we had a nice trip on the Arnhem Highway. I was excited to see the mango groves, not realizing that we would be there at the height of mango season. Although the facilities on the road are few, we saw a sign for a place called the Purple Mango cafe, down a road off the highway. It was close to lunchtime, the name called to me, and we turned at the sign. What good luck! A small restaurant in the middle of the bush, only open since March, I asked for a sliced mango as soon as we walked in and got an enormous plate full of really delicious fruit. Since there is a wood fired pizza oven there, we decided to order one with Gorgonzola and speck. Yum. We had our first flat white to top off the meal and we were back on our way. After another hour or so, we turned onto the Stuart Point Road, then onto the unsealed road to Wildman Wilderness Lodge.

    This small resort has around 15 tented rooms and 10 "Habitat" permanent structures with a/c. There is a small swimming pool and lodge area with dining room and bar. We were in Habitat 9, with a nice porch where we could sit and watch the wildlife right in front of us, lots of birds and wallabies. It was just the place for us to relax after the combination of jet lag, driving and heat. We sat by the pool and watched the birds, walked to the billabong for a look at the ducks, watched the sunset on our porch with a glass of Australian (non oaked) Chardonnay, feeling that this was just the right place to come. We decided to have a drink before dinner around the fire pit outside the bar area, then sat down to a really delicious dinner: fresh arugula and beet salad, prawn cocktail, crispy skin barramundi, lamb rump, apple strudel and tiramisu for dessert. It was also our first encounter with many young Americans who are working in Australia in the hospitality sector on work/visit visas. The first person behind the bar was from Minnesota and his partner from North Dakota. Apparently it is difficult to get Australians to work these jobs, but they are perfect for 20-somethings who want a year of travel and adventure. Most people we talked to had only been working wherever they were for a couple of weeks (not just at Wildman, but most places we went). We could barely keep our eyes open by the end of dinner and were asleep within 5 minutes of getting back to our room (which had no door locks and no safe, which initially bothered me but not for long).

    After a quick breakfast the next morning, we met our guide, Brad, for our daylong tour of Kakadu National Park, a World Heritage Site. During the 2 hour drive to our first stop, Brad described various aspects of Aborigine life and culture, and we learned quite a bit about the weather patterns, flora and fauna. For example, during the current period, there is quite a bit of controlled burning to stave off wildfires. The area is home to an enormous variety of birds, insects and plants. Some grasses grow to a height of 5 meters during the wet season, in exactly the same spots where we saw no vegetation at all.

    We arrived at Ubirr, which has some of the best examples of Aborigine art "in place". Most of the art sites are off limits to tourists but we saw the 3 that are open. The rock paintings were still vibrant red orange colors after long years of exposure. After the "galleries" we climbed the rocks to get a fabulous view of the surrounding area. By then it was over 100 degrees with little shade and we were really feeling the heat. After a quick picnic lunch, we made a few other stops (about a dozen crocodiles on one of the river tributaries), and our favorite at the Mulalaki observation area where we saw thousands of birds on the wetlands. Because we are at the end of the dry season, the birds come to this particular area, which is rich in food for them, especially the geese. Arriving back at the lodge after 4, we were exhausted but thrilled to have had the experience of visiting this relatively remote area with an excellent guide.

    We had a leisurely drive back to Darwin the next morning, stopping at "Mistake Billabong" for a walk to the observation platform to see more birds, staying just until the flies started to buzz as the temperature rose. Checking back into the Doubletree hotel, we needed some rest time and knew that we couldn't go back and wander around Darwin when it was 95 degrees. Just before 5pm, when it was beginning to cool down, we drove to the Stokes Hill wharf area to have a look around, then made our way to Mindil Beach for the famous sunset markets (held only on Thursdays and Sunday's until the end of October). It was great fun, probably 100 stalls set up selling food, clothing and souvenirs. We grazed on some delicious food-fresh mango, fresh oysters, spring rolls, laksa and banana crepes. We weren't smart enough to buy wine or beer in advance - sale but not consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited- but all the locals do BYOB. Finally it was time for the sunset and hundreds or people moved to the sand to watch the spectacular sunset. What a fitting ending to our time in Darwin. We are really happy about our decision to start our trip at the Top End and get a glimpse of this interesting part of the world.

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    I'm tagging along here too - we did a 5 week trip to Aus and NZ a couple of years ago and i'm already seeing that you did a lot of things that we didn't do so it'll be interesting to read about your experiences.

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    There is a brief story behind how we ended up at WWL. I knew we would only have 3 full days in Darwin (although i was browsing award seats on a daily basis to see if we could arrive a few days earlier, no luck). Originally, I thought we would do day trips, one to Litchfield and one to Mary River Wetlands. But a few months before our trip, DH had a really bad flare up of Achilles tendinitis which did not clear up before we left, so I knew we would not be able to hike in Litchfield. I began looking into a couple of nights in the Kakadu area. WWL was more the type of place we like, but I thought it was too expensive, especially given some of the reviews on TA. But about 3 weeks before we left, there was a flash sale on their website, a big discount on the half board and room rate. So I grabbed it. We ended up really liking it, the ownership recently changed so I think the service issues some reviewers were complaining about were dealt with. I rarely wait so long to book accommodations but in this case, it worked out well and we were very happy there.

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    Part two for Australia began with a 7:20am flight on small plane on Air North (such a small airline that Hertz didn't have it on the list of airlines to indicate incoming flight arrivals) that stopped at Gove on the way to Cairns. Gove? There’s a little airfield in East Arnhem land with nothing there that we could determine. Upon arrival in Cairns, Hertz gave us an upgrade to a very large SUV, which turned out to be a mixed blessing. We loved the safety and power (which we needed to manage the very steep hill to our next lodging) but it was large for the narrow roads. And on the way to our next stop, the roads were very winding as we drove along the coastal highway north towards Daintree.

    We couldn't miss the Great Barrier Reef on a trip to Australia but didn't want a whole lot of beach time, so we found a great solution: the Daintree/Cape Tribulation area, the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites meet -Reef and Rainforest side by side. Everyone knows about the Great Barrier Reef in Australia but the Daintree Rainforest is not well known at all. It happens to be the oldest rainforest in the world and is actually the only remaining area that exists as it did 300 million years ago before the supercontinent of Gondwana broke apart into what is now most of the land masses of the Southern Hemisphere (at least according to one of our guides). So this is a pretty remarkable place.

    As we drove towards the Daintree River crossing, the views towards the sea were magnificent. After driving for almost 2 hours, we reached the the cable ferry that takes cars across, then another hour until we reached our accommodation for the next three nights, the Cockatoo Hill Retreat. Well, we almost reached it when we got to the mile maker on the side of the road, but then we had the steepest quarter mile drive up a dirt road that we've ever experienced, we probably would not have made it up without the SUV. At the top of the hill were 4 small cottages built in Balinese style overlooking the mountains and the sea, simply stunning. We were warmly greeted by Carmen, the owner, born in Provence but lived all over the world until she and her (now deceased) husband built this lovely place about 15 years ago.

    The area north of the Daintree River ferry is quite remote from other tourist facilities in North Queensland, no cell service, no internet and no electricity. That's right, the government, in trying to protect the rainforest, forced all facilities off the grid, so power is by solar or hydro or a generator. Consequently, there are very few tourist facilities and they are all quite small. Exhausted from our early flight and long drive, we had a quick dinner at the closest cafe (up and down that hill again) and were asleep by 7:30pm.

    Tuesday morning was our exciting adventure on the Great Barrier Reef. Part of the plan for this part of the trip was that we could take a SMALL boat to a less crowded part of the reef. Ocean Safaris runs the only boat from this northern area, with only 20 passengers. The boat leaves from a beach area, about a 7 minute walk from their office on the main road. I was really happy that they provided prescription snorkeling masks, it made a huge difference. We were definitely the oldest people on board but we weren't the first ones back to the boat after the snorkeling. We were taken to two different spots, the coral especially was incredible. If there is any place I'd really like to return to fairly soon, it would be the GBR, before it becomes too difficult for us to swim, as I found the water to be a bit choppier than I expected, we were told that it had rained the past three days.

    When we returned to the beach, we waded to shore and took our time walking on the beach back to the car in order to savor the gorgeous surroundings. After lunch at a cute local place, we drove about 10 miles towards a deep rainforest boardwalk that Carmen especially recommended we see. Just as we were getting there, a couple of cars were stopped on one of the curves in the road, also in the opposite direction, with everyone out of their cars, cameras in hand. It was to be our lucky day-a daddy cassowary was crossing the road with 3 chicks. Cassowary sightings are very rare as they are an endangered species The large bird is quite elusive and there is a great story behind them. They are the second heaviest and third largest bird in the world, and the Southern Cassowary is now found only in this area. They have a gorgeous head of bright blue, large eyes and an imperial strut. The dads take care of the chicks until they are able to function on their own. But the cassowaries are considered a keystone species and have an important role in maintaining the rainforest. They eat enormous amounts of fruit, which then passes through their digestive systems with the seeds still in tact. As they wander through the forest, they pass through the seeds in huge piles of their "waste" which eventually turns into new vegetation. The birds walk hunched over but when they are upright, they are a bit taller than I am. I was able to get some great photos until they crossed the road into the forest again.

    After our Boardwalk, we went to the local ice creamery and had a delicious gelato called Daintree Mix with lemon myrtle, ginger, coconut and some other tropical flavors. We got back to Cockatoo Retreat in time for an hour at the lovely pool (which reminded us so much of the one in the villa we rented in Bali), then cheese, crackers and a nice bottle of wine on our balcony was all we needed for dinner.

    The next morning, we drove to another spot in the rainforest at Cooper Creek for a 4 hour wilderness hike (DH’s Achilles was getting better). A small group of us (there we're 9) were taken around by one of the owners of the property. What is significant about the area, besides it being withinin the oldest rainforest in the world, is that it is also the only privately owned World Heritage Site. We obviously had an incredibly knowledgeable person guiding us and we heard some fascinating stories involving the Aborigine's uses of the forest, not only the history and dynamics of the rainforest but also about the unintended consequences of government regulation. Damn bureaucrats everywhere!! It was a pretty exhausting hike for us to the base of the mountain on the slippery rainforest floor, walking over ancient exposed tree roots, etc., but worth the experience. One of the more interesting stories we heard was how pythons seem to “know” when there is a newborn human baby in a house. Apparently they stalk the area, trying to slither in and snatch them so people in the area are especially vigilant when they deliver at home.

    The next morning we drove south and west to the Mossman Gorge on our way to meet Del Richards, the ornithologist would be our guide for the next two days. When we arrived in Julatten at Friendsnfeathers cottage, the owners Fred and Jeanette asked if they could come along with us during our afternoon walk and we were happy to say yes. Fred and Jeanette are in their early 70s and retired in Julatten on a magnificent property that used to be a nursery. They remodeled one of the buildings into a cute rental cottage, which is surrounded by great trees, plantings, and wildlife. We had dinner with them that evening at the local tavern, it was great fun to spend time with them and hope to stay in touch.

    Our excursions with Del were great, he is a wonderful guide. We saw dozens of endemic bird species, including one that stands on one foot and scratches the ground horizontally with the other, and heard the calls and songs of so many others. We saw a rare green possum curled up on a tree and visited a family of kangaroos on a golf course. Driving through the Atherton Tablelands the next day, we saw miles and miles of farms growing all kinds of fruit trees, coffee, sugar cane, corn, blueberries, etc. The most amazing variety of farming we have ever seen.

    We finished our tours with Del and drove to Cairns, checking into a lovely room with a view over the marina at the Shangri-La Hotel and had an evening stroll on the Esplanade. Because we were on the Executive Level floor, we ate dinner in the lounge during their complimentary cocktail and hors d'oeuvre hour.

    Our 5 days in the Daintree and Tablelands area were wonderful. It is a remarkable area with so much unique topography and history, visually beautiful in quite a variety of ways and with exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable people.

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    Really enjoying your report, FromDC. Kakadu and FNQ are two parts of Australia that we haven't visited during our prior trips to Australia; someday! And aren't the mangoes just delicious? So much better than what we typically get here in the DC area.

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    Enjoying your tr - esp hearing my own country through the eyes of tourists esp about the top end.
    It's been a poor mango season this year - son had much less on his tree than usual - My fav fruit .

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    I loved the Daintree too (sounds like we have similar interests)! We did our boat trip out to the reef from there on a very windy day--just under the wind limit for trips--and I was convinced the big zodiac we were on was going to flip. But the snorkel spots we visited when we finally got out there were unforgettable. Stayed in a cottage at the Exotic Fruit Farm--so great. Must go back!

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    Tasmania part one:

    When I was little, Tasmania conjured up images of being at the end of the earth. I'm not sure I even knew that Tasmania was part of Australia until well into adulthood and I didn't envision it as a destination for our first trip to Australia. But when I began to do research for this trip, Tasmania seemed particularly appealing. It has great geographical diversity with stunning scenery and it seemed relatively easy to get around. With the sea always close by, it means great seafood and apparently it has terrific wine growing areas. It is also well known for its harsh penal colony, now turned into an important historic site. The more I read about it, the more days I kept adding to the stop and we ended up staying 9 nights.

    Getting here from Cairns was an all day affair; we left our hotel at 7:30am, dropped off that car and went to the Jetstar check-in area. A Jetstar staff member helped us check our bags. I asked why the tag only noted Melbourne as we were going to Launceston. She explained that Jetstar is a “point to point” airline, which meant that we had to pick up our bags in Melbourne and check in again for Launceston. Had no idea about that. We had a long layover, I guess that’s part of the their flight scheduling. We finally landed at Launceston, picked up our car at Europcar (later to be subjected to the Europcar damage scam) and drove off. We arrived at Relbia Lodge outside Launceston at 6pm (we turned the clocks AHEAD one hour even though we were further west!) We got to the stunning cottage and were immediately sorry we hadn't booked 2 nights. The lodge, consisting of two, two-bedroom apartments (we only used one bedroom in one apartment and the other one was vacant) and abuts a pond. The interior is sleek and sophisticated, and won an architectural award for the best renovation in 2013. We got a warm greeting from the owner, Phil, and enjoyed chatting with him. We settled in and got ready for dinner. Months in advance, I made a dinner reservation at the Josef Chromy winery next door - it only serves dinner on weekends - and that was a great decision, we had an outstanding meal that included a dozen fresh oysters from the east coast of Tasmania, some of the best we ever had. To accompany our lamb and smoked trout dinners, we enjoyed a bottle of rose from the winery, very dry and perfect with our meal.

    In the morning we started off for Cradle Mountain in the northwest part of Tasmania, first with a stop at the nearby Evandale Sunday Market. It was mostly a flea market but with some local food. Because our next accommodation was a self-catering cottage, we picked up fresh eggs, salad makings, meat pies, breakfast pastries and a few other goodies, which turned out to be really delicious. The two-hour, windy drive turned into 4 hours as we drove slowly and stopped at the small town of Sheffield for lunch and a walk. Sheffield is known as the "mural town" because there are around 40 large murals painted on buildings scattered around the town, depicting the town’s history. It was a gorgeous drive most of the way, with rolling green hills and farmland. We arrived at Cradle Mountain Highlander Cottages and checked into our little cabin, "Myrtle". By now it was almost 4pm and starting to drizzle so we decided to just stay put for the evening, built a fire, watched the pademelons (very small marsupials) and birds from our patio and relax.

    The primary reason for coming to Cradle Mountain was to do one of the walks in the famous National Park (yet another World Heritage Site). We decided to do the Dove Lake Circuit, which is the most famous (and most photographed), a 6-kilometer walk around Dove Lake with a good trail and a few moderately steep climbs. We drove through the park to the starting point and registered our walk (tourists are asked to do this in case of emergencies) beginning at around 8:45am and it was quite chilly (maybe 45 degrees), windy and cloudy. We were quite cold at the beginning of the walk but after 2 hours the sun came out and the last hour and a quarter were very pleasant. We saw beautiful alpine forests and some gorgeous views of the lake with the mountain peaks in the background, especially towards the end with the clear sky and bright sun. We were pretty wiped out by the end of the walk but it was most worthwhile. We had the trail mostly to ourselves. Towards the end of the circuit, there is a little shack that is highly photographed, lots of people in that area (and the weather was improving so I guess more people were coming out. We walked clockwise but others seemed to be starting counterclockwise). We also saw another couple midway through our walk, sitting on a bench at a view point and we took photos of each other (camera switch) so DH and I have a nice souvenir picture of the excursion.

    After a quick lunch at the Cradle Mountain Visitors Center and a brief rest at the cottage, we went to one of the tourist center buildings for a look around. There was an interesting exhibit about a tragedy that occurred 50 years ago. A group of high school students and two of their teachers went on a multi day hike in late May 1965 near where we were that morning. One student and one teacher died when a sudden blizzard began and groups became separated. Money was raised and a hut was built commemorating the two who died. As we were reading about it, one of the Rangers came around to lock up the building. He told us that more than 100 people have died in the area since then and that about an hour after we began our walk that morning, a woman fell and had to be taken to the hospital. He also told us that we were very lucky with the weather- there is sunshine in the park only 63 days a year! After we left the building, we went on two short walks, one to a waterfall and another called "The Enchanted Walk". I think the name comes from the change in the terrain when you cross a stream, forest on one side and plains on the other. Both sides were quite lovely. We had dinner that night at Peppers Lodge, nothing special but expensive, however there is not much else around if you want to dine out.

    We saw few live animals in the Cradle Mountain area. There were a couple of pademelons living near our cottage and they were frequent visitors. Most of the animals we saw were road kill and we saw LOTS of unfortunate creatures on the side of the road. DH drove very carefully through the twisting roads. It was more difficult to reach the area than we expected but our hike around Dove Lake made it worthwhile.

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    Cradle Mountain sounds great and glad you were able to see it on a sunny day. It's high on my Tasmania list for next year.>>

    Tasmania itself is high on our list for our next trip to aus, tp - it sounds just like our sort of place and i suspect that the weather would make us feel at home too!


    FromDC - the Tablelands are something that we had in common, and we did a guided trip too, but with a different guide who was also excellent. It is such a fascinating area and I'd love to go back and see it again one day.

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    no trip really being thought about yet, TP, except possibly to co-incide with the Lions tour of NZ which is June/july 2017 - not a good time for Tasmania, but excellent [I think] for the "top end" Daintree, GBR, etc.

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    Ann and anyone else reading this: We tried two different guides who were booked before we found Del. Because he hadn't been mentioned on the forum, I wasn't sure how it would work out but we were very happy. He is currently on a trip with a guy who holds one of the world records in spotting bird species, so I think he is pretty highly regarded. Even though we are complete novices, he was great to work with. Del also helped us find accommodations in Julatten and we were more than pleased with Fred and Jeanette's place.

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    Glad you found someone good, FromDC. it's always a risk with something like that, isn't it, and DH was quite sceptical that spending what was quite a lot of our holiday budget on a private tour would be worth it, but he had to eat his words! it's definitely something that we would do again, in a new area.

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    I agree that having a good guide / driver can make or break a trip. We had the best guides in Peru and Indonesia, and got more out of those visits than if we went on our own.

    FromDC, did you use a guide when you were in Tasmania? Also did you feel that 2 nights was good for you for Cradle Mountain? We're thinking about 3.

    Ann, June and July would be perfect for Uluru and Kata Tjuta if that interests you. I haven't been to the GBR yet but it's on my list. We took it out of consideration for this trip #3 given the time of year.

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    FromDC,
    Enjoying your report. Lucky you on the cassowary with chicks no less! Glad you had 9 nights in Tassie. On our first trip I only planned 5 there and found it far too short. We fell in love with Tassie! Looking forward to more.

    annhig,
    Both of our Tassie trips were in winter and we didn't find it to be that cold. The advantage was very few other visitors and we were easily able to get our first choice of accommodations everywhere even booking fairly last minute.

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    TP - I've been put off Uluru and other similar places [i know there aren't any that are similar but you know what I mean] because of the heat so that time of year would be ideal.

    We saw the GBR when we went to Queensland or at least DH did but I got ill on the first night in PD [the only think I could think it was was a rogue pizza!] so DH went by himself. the chance to go again, perhaps in a small group like the OP did, would be very welcome, and I think DH would like it too.

    Thanks for the advice about Tassie, Patty. I'd written it off as a possibility for our possible 2017 "winter" trip but I'll put it back on the list.

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    TP, thanks for mentioning Kata Tjuta - I'd never heard of it before but I just had a look on the web and it looks like a great place to visit - it's definitely going on my list for 2017.

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    TP - no private guides in Tassie but the next installment of the TR is about our 3 nights at a luxury lodge where many "experiences" were included (very small groups with fabulous guides). And 2 nights in Cradle Mtn were fine for us. I originally hoped to be there for 3 nights but had to cut it back to fit in 3 nights in Freycinet. We are not so much into hiking, so the one big (for us) walk around Dove Lake was the max we could handle. We also went there for the scenery but then we went to New Zealand, which was WOW, WOW. If we had done Cradle Mtn after NZ, we might have been a wee bit disappointed. So 2 nights worked out for us.

    I don't want to come off sounding negative about Cradle Mountain because we did enjoy it a lot. But in retrospect, because we followed with a trip to NZ, it might have made sense to skip Cradle Mountain and spend time further north in Tassie instead, for example maybe Devonport to Stanley. So look at the whole itinerary and see what makes the most sense.

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    <<We also went there for the scenery but then we went to New Zealand, which was WOW, WOW. If we had done Cradle Mtn after NZ, we might have been a wee bit disappointed.>>

    I know exactly what you mean FromDC - as many times as I've been to NZ, I just can't get enough. But then TAS has all that lovely wildlife. It's a trade off I guess.

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    Yes, Mel, don't get me wrong, I wish we'd had 2 weeks in Tassie, we loved it so much! But just maybe our 9 night itinerary wasn't optimal, given that we were also doing NZ. Anyway, for us the best part of Tassie is "coming next".

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    FromDC, thank you. The comparison between Cradle and NZ is helpful, although for three weeks, we will limit ourselves to Australia and save NZ for another trip. During our last visit to Australia, we managed 5 nights in the Auckland region, which we enjoyed but probably not as beautiful as some of the places you visited.

    Ann, Kata Tjuta and Uluru are part of the same national park. The scenery at Kata Tjuta was much more beautiful IMHO.

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    Such an interesting report--love all the details. Regarding the NZ/Tas comparison, we spent 3 weeks in NZ (mostly south island) followed by 2 weeks in Tasmania, and I was a bit worried that the latter would be a letdown after the amazing scenery of NZ. For us, however, it hasn't been at all. Tasmania is really charming, with so much variety--all beautiful. Great seafood, abundant animals (saw wallabies, pademelons, echidnas, and wombats at Cradle), friendly people, historical sites, beautiful scenery, Hobart...so no disappointment even after the high standard set by the South Island.

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    Great report!!

    I LOVED Tassie. I was there last December and thought Cradle Mountain was stunning. The wildlife was awesome. I couldn't count how many wombats we saw, and we had wallabies right outside our cabin. Freycinet was incredible, too. Photographer's paradise!

    I've been to NZ many times and I truly love it there. But for me ... it's a completely different experience from Tasmania. You can check out my many trip reports.

    I'm jealous that the poster saw cassowaries!!! I saw lots of "Cassowary Crossing" signs around the Daintree area -- but sadly, no cassowaries :-(. I guess I'll have to go back! :-)

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    Songdoc, thanks for following along, Your TRs were very helpful to me in planning our trip. We did not see a lot of wildlife in Cradle Mountain, unfortunately, and I think that is part of my reflection combaring it to NZ. Could have been where we were staying, our cabin's backyard was closer to the highway than I would have liked.

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    We left Cradle Mountain for a 4-hour drive to our next destination, the Freycinet Peninsula on the east coast of Tasmania. Along the way we stopped at the "famous" Christmas Hills Raspberry farm and cafe for a look and had a raspberry muffin and coffee. They sell all things raspberry here but we only bought some chocolate covered raspberries. It wasn't yet raspberry season so everything was made from frozen stock. The staff was very friendly and the muffin was very yummy.

    Our next stop was our big blowout, luxury experience for this trip. We’ve read and heard from some friends about the fabulous lodges in Australia and New Zealand. So we decided to spend some of the kids’ inheritance for a special experience. As we turned into the driveway to Saffire Freycinet, we knew that it would be worth it. Our "guest manager" was waiting to greet us at the entrance to the lodge at the top of the hill (alerted by camera). As we walked towards the glass doors, we stopped in our tracks at the magnificent view of the Hazards Mountains (named after the pirate, Billy Jack Hazard) and the clear blue water ahead. Since it was close to 2pm when we arrived, we decided to have a quick lunch at the lodge before going to our room. There was a spread of about 6 different salads and light dishes, cheese, desserts and a choice of a few hot dishes, prepared on order.

    The lodge is only about 4 years old and is an architectural gem, floor to ceiling glass everywhere, and wood and granite and curves and water features. There are only 20 individual suites, they are all enormous with 15 foot glass walls, two outdoor seating areas, large sectional couch, chairs, desks, tables, all furnished in immaculate taste in earth tones. There is a bathroom hallway with a double shower, toilet area, double vanity and tub (next to a window with a view of the mountains). The minibar is completely complimentary and included some fine wines, spirits, and decision snacks. There were plenty of pods for the Nespresso coffee maker, a jar of cookies, fresh fruit and flowers. There was a big TV but we never used it.

    The food and wines were incredible and everything was included in the price, even drinks and wine. Everything is locally sourced and we had nothing but outstanding Tasmanian wines, almost impossible to find outside of Australia (we passed at least half a dozen wineries within just a few miles. We were booked for several activities (included in the price) that made the time pass very quickly. When my massage finished our first afternoon, DH was already at the mixology class where he learned several new techniques. It was fun to see him sampling a Cosmopolitan, he’d never be caught dead drinking one elsewhere. Afterwards, we used the time to catch up on email; this was by far the best Internet we've had during the trip. At dinnertime, the ritual was to first order a cocktail from the best stocked bar we've ever seen and take a seat in the lounge overlooking the mountains and bay. Your drinks and some small snacks (nuts, etc.) are brought over, then some delicious canapés. Whenever you feel ready, you move to the dining room which is floor to ceiling glass, soft lighting on two levels. The outstanding menu has a choice of 3 or 4 appetizers, same for main courses, 2 or 3 desserts and cheeses, wines to match every course (many from the wineries we passed on the road to the lodge). Very leisurely service, lots of good conversations with the wait staff and sometimes other guests, gave us three lovely evenings.

    Our first morning, we embarked on the lodge’s boat for a half day cruise to Scheuten Island. We went along the bay side of the peninsula and saw such beautiful scenery of the granite rocks, caves, and the area of some of the early settlements. There were whalers in the area in the mid 1800s, former prisoners who took to fishing for Southern right whales in the area. 4 or 5 would go out in a small boat with one harpooning and then drag their catch back to shore. The industry was wiped out, of course, but later Italians who tried to quarry the beautiful pink and black granite, not too successfully, settled the area. The area has been national parkland for almost 100 years so it is quite pristine and still mostly wilderness. When we reached Scheuten Island, we got close to the shore and saw a couple of seal colonies. I got some good videos of the seals sliding down the rocks into the water. On the way back to the peninsula, we were "caught" in the middle of a migration of shearwater seabirds. There were thousands of them flying very low over the Tasman Sea. Apparently, these birds have the longest migration path of any other birds, going from Alaska to Japan to Tasmania! Our guide Annie and our skipper Steve were both terrific and gave us great insights into the geology and history of the Freycinet peninsula.

    Later in the afternoon, we paid a visit to the Tasmanian Devil sanctuary on the property. The largest of the carnivore marsupials, they are an endangered species because of a facial cancer that is spreading among the population. This cancer is transmitted between animals during their mating rituals. There are sanctuaries in various parts of Tasmania, which try to save these keystone animals from extinction. We watched a feeding and saw the very aggressive behavior of the females. They have quite a screech and look quite scary when they open their jaws wide, which they do when they feel threatened. After the tour, we walked down to the beach, just in time to be there for the Lowest of Low Lunar Tides (we were told by the boat captain that it would be occurring at around 5:30pm that day). It is a beautiful, isolated beach and if it had been a bit warner and/or earlier in the day, I might have taken a quick dip.

    The next morning we hiked to the Wineglass Bay lookout. This is one of the iconic scenes of Tasmania. It took about 45 minutes to get to the lookout, using 301 steps. I was the laggard among our group, of one other couple and our guide Emma. But I did make it to the top and it is truly a beautiful viewpoint. Later in the afternoon, this same group went on an excursion to the local oyster farm, where we waded into the water in rubber suits. Emma set up a table about 100 feet from shore, spread out a white tablecloth, then picked oysters out of the bay and shucked as many oysters as we could eat. She brought along great local champagne to drink with them. We've never had such fresh and delicious oysters ever! On the way back to the lodge, we saw some wombats on the side of the road and stopped for another great photo op.

    Our final dinner at Safire was the best of the many meals we enjoyed there. We had our first taste of the local crayfish and they were as sweet as the best of what we eat in the British West Indies. I had my first taste of spatchcock (as you can probably guess, a small chicken) and DH's lamb was terrific. We both had passion fruit soufflé and a great dessert wine to top it off.

    Our stay at Saffire Freycinet was one of the best times we've had in our travels. We loved our activities (even though there were some other things we wanted to do, so I wish we’d had even more time there), the food, the sumptuous room and lodge. In the short tIme we were there, we had many great conversations not only with other guests but also with the staff. We even exchanged email addresses with several. Our main concern about this part of the visit was whether we'd be disappointed by what followed, after an almost perfect three days.

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    Your visit to Freycinet sounds amazing, in no small part due to where you called home while you were there. Thanks for sharing. Gives me something to think about in our own Tasmania planning.

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    That's a wonderfully detailed & interesting description of Saffire & the activities. It's one thing to read a website, quite another to follow someone's stay vicariously, as you've allowed us to do.

    I hope you do a review on TA for them.

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    Yup, it was really amazing, one of the very top travel experiences we've had. Ranks up there with our South African safari lodges, almost as pricey - -the strong US dollar helped. With activities and the high quality food and beverages included, you can rationalize the price a bit. Still, I realize it isn't is everyone's budget, by a long shot. It certainly explains why we loved the Freycinet Peninsula so much but these activities can also be done independently (as therefore less expensively). There is a seafood farm that welcomes visitors, for example. And I saw ads for boat excursions from the main dock in town. Also saw a few cute restaurants. And anyone can climb to the Wineglass Bay viewpoint.

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    We took our leave from the Freycinet peninsula and made our way to Port Arthur, further down the south east part of Tasmania. Along the way we stopped at a little place called the Bark Hut Inn, recommended by one of the staff members at Saffire. We were told they had the best "pies". We had two different types of lamb pies for lunch and they were both delicious. Very flaky crusts, nothing like the Swanson’s chicken potpies we used to eat growing up.

    As usual, It took us longer than expected to reach the Port Arthur area, it was close to 3pm when we found our little b&b called Sea Change Safety Cove, just one simple room in a house next to a local beach. Although I was worried about the let down in accommodations after Saffire, the place had such a fabulous view of the water and sea cliffs that we were very happy with it. We overlooked the Tasman Sea and faced the highest sea cliffs in the Southern Hemisphere! Because it was getting late, we dropped off our bags and drove directly to the Port Arthur historical site (5 minutes away) for a visit to yet another World Heritage park, this one is part of 12 sites that reflect on the convict experience in Australia. Port Arthur was an important part of the convict trail. A large complex of prisons, and barracks for the guards and officers were built on this particular site. We spent several hours walking around the grounds and reading about the rise and fall of the prison there as well as the experiments in solitary confinement that took place. Although we missed some of the museums and tours because of the late hour, we felt we got a very good sense of the site and its history. However, I would have preferred that we had been in time for the complimentary tour, but we just couldn’t get there in time. We had thought about doing the evening Ghost Tour and Dinner, but honestly I think it might have been difficult for us to walk around there in the dark. I’m especially insecure in my footing and I would have been worried the whole time about tripping. Instead, we did "take away" from the bistro there and ate in our little room with the bottle of wine we bought from the Josef Chromy vineyard that we'd been carrying around all week.

    In the morning, we had a glorious walk along the beach next to the house and to the Remarkable Cave down the road. The views from that walk were simply breathtaking. The cave is a part of a cliff that has been hollowed out by the sea and has a truly remarkable view out to the sea. We never thought we'd see water as beautiful as we have in Anguilla anywhere else in the world but we did all over the eastern part of Tasmania, some of the best of it here and on our last day on Bruny Island.

    We drove to Hobart and immediately went to the Salamanca area for their famous Saturday market. It was fun to browse the stalls, there were many similarities to the Mindl Beach market in Darwin except for the one thing I was looking for.... we saw some beautiful aboriginal art at the Mindl market but I didn't buy any because it was our first stop and I had no basis for comparison. Well, two weeks later I did, everywhere else the prices were about 4 times higher and the artwork not as much to my taste. I did buy some chocolate covered Turkish delight...what a find! Later we checked into our hotel, the Old Woolstore Apartment Hotel, which had a kitchenette and a washing machine and dryer. Finally, all clean clothes again. We walked around the harbor area, and then ate dinner in our rooms with things we bought at Salamanca and the local Woolworths, watched a Kevin Costner movie and went to sleep.

    The next morning, we drove to Bruny Island and what a great day we had. It took about half an hour on this Sunday morning to drive to where we lined up for the car ferry from Kettering to North Bruny. Bruny Island is off the south east coast of Tasmania, with the d'Entercasteaux channel in between (Bruny Island is named after the explorer Bruny d'Entrecasteaux.) Only about 500 people live year round on Bruny and it is mainly geared toward agriculture and tourism. We drove off the ferry and the road meandered through the island with stunning views, deep green hills and gorgeous aquamarine water everywhere. There were lots of fat sheep grazing on the grass, and many places to pull over and admire the landscape. Our first stop was the Bruny Island Oyster Company, also known as "Get Shucked". We had great oysters at their little shop, just like the ones we had on our first meal on Tasmania. The funny thing about this place is that there is also a drive-in oyster window; you don't even need to get out of your car to get oysters! Our next stop was the Bruny Island Cheese Company. We bought some of their cheese at the Salamanca market the previous day and thought it was terrific, so we stopped and ordered a ploughmans lunch which was just a small plate of some cheese, ham, smoked trout and olives. We passed by the berry farm next but were too stuffed to eat anymore. We continued our drive to the South Island, over a causeway. We picked a walk at our level, to Adventure Bay. This is where Captain Bligh (of mutiny on the bounty fame) landed in 1788. It took us a couple of hours, beginning on a small beach and going through forest right by the shore. There were some markers along the way, apparently there were a couple of whaling piers set up right there during the early 1800s. The walk ended at a beautiful lookout point right on the water. We turned back and just as we were about to step back onto the beach at the end of the trail, a couple who were a bit ahead of us started waving to us. They came upon a rare white kangaroo in the bush. We slowly walked over to the spot and were so lucky to be able to watch it for the next 10 minutes before it hopped away. There are very few of these animals anywhere and we saw one "in the wild". Amazing. We then started back to the north island with a slight detour to Alonnah point for another lovely view. By the time we got back to the ferry area, the line of cars was quite long and we knew we would have a long wait. Luck was with us as we were the next to the last car allowed on the ferry an hour later. If we had missed that one, it would have been another hour wait (after all, it was Sunday night and a day of perfect weather, so lots of people had the same idea of spending a day on Bruny Island). We returned to Hobart and had a delicious dinner at a South American themed restaurant called Frank's, on Franklin Wharf.

    We had just completed 10 days in Tasmania, every day was wonderful. We could easily have spent at least two full weeks or more. There were several parts we didn't get to and we would have loved to have stayed longer on the Freycinet Peninsula. But we packed up on Sunday night to get ready for our big city experience, onto Sydney in the morning.

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    Glad you saw a white wallaby at Adventure Bay. They seemed to mainly hang out near the Adventure Bay Holiday Village which was defunct at the time of our visit but the grounds of the property were still accessible. We were able to see quite a few of them while walking around the area at dawn and dusk.

    Most of the wildlife we saw at Cradle Mountain was near the vicinity of Cradle Mountain Lodge where we saw wombats, pademelons and in the evening, some possums. We did see pademelons and a wallaby on the grounds of Highlanders as well.

    Your time in Freycinet sounded wonderful!

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    Saffire's discreet entrance off the road to Coles Bay belies the luxury awaiting just up the way--thanks for the description of what we were missing! But Freycinet is awesome no matter where one stays. Beautiful place.

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    Your description of Freycinet has made me more determined to get there.
    Not sure if you realize that Port Arthur was the scene of the shootings in 1996 i.e. Deaths of 35 and 23 wounded that resulted in the incredible changes in Australian gun laws . One of the ghost tour guides was killed as were her 2 daughters .

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    My mother & I were in Port Arthur in 1990. A surprise birthday present for her, we had 10 days in Tasmania & loved it.

    That day was one of those "blue -bag"
    days that those of my & her vintage will recognise as being heart-stoppingly beautiful. We walked around the site for a while; the impossible beauty of the bay in stark relief to the ruins of the gaol & settlement on the hill.

    We grew quieter as we walked until, under an arch, we turned to each other & said in unrehearsed unison, "Let's go". The unremitting sadness of that place was too much for us - and that was 6 years almost to the day, before that mad bastard did what he did.

    The juxtaposition of such beauty & the spirits of the cruelty & despair was so stark, that it took our breath away - and we were very different women in many ways.

    I make no comment whatsoever on how other people experience it - just sharing how it was for us. And it was a surprise for us both, I think.

    .

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    Northie, we did hear quite a lot about the massacre at Port Arthur, including lots of "quizzing" about US gun laws, especially given all the recent episodes. Bokhara, thanks for sharing the story, all that emotion is clearly still with you, unsurprisingly. And my husband and I remarked to each other about the contrast between the incredible landscape and the original purpose of the site.

    Port Arthur was the first place we saw any details about the convict experience in Australia. We knew little about it before we arrived, other than the general knowledge that Australia was where the UK sent many convicts. So it started to come alive to us, in some small way, especially when we went through the building with the solitary confinement cells.

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    SYDNEY
    We took a Virgin Australia flight for the 2-hour trip to Sydney and had a funny thing happen. I was browsing through the in-flight magazine and saw an article about Yukari Sakamoto, who was our great guide in Tokyo last June. She was interviewed about that city and made recommendations about where to stay, eat, etc. When I got to Sydney, I emailed her to let her know about it, she hadn't even seen the article yet.

    We had an easy taxi ride to the city. Loved the location of our hotel, the Four Seasons, in The Rocks area, where Sydney was founded. Did not love the hotel itself, more like a convention hotel than what we were expecting of the FS group. Staff and food not particularly good. But enough said about that.

    Based on the weather forecast, we knew that our first day in Sydney might be our only day with sun, so we took a ferry to Manly, which is one of the famous Sydney beaches. We loved the half hour ferry ride, the short walk on the Corso to the beach, and then the hour or so we spent walking on the path by the beach. Lots of surfers and even a few beach volleyball players of varying skill levels. We had a late afternoon glass of wine at one of the little cafes right on the beach side, then the ferry back to the main wharf. We had a terrific dinner that evening at Pony, grilled meats and very fresh salad on an outdoor porch in the Rocks area, jumping with lots of cafes, restaurants and bars.

    On Tuesday morning, the weather gods stopped smiling on us and we faced drizzle and rain all day. In the morning we went on a tour of the opera house – you go to the tour office and get assigned to the next tour. it was jam packed with many tours, in different languages, going on at once. Our guide wasn’t great, talking clearly from a memorized script and had difficulty with questions, but the tour was very interesting nonetheless. We learned all about the structural problems in building the opera house, walked into all of the halls and even got to see 5 minutes of an Australian Ballet rehearsal. The exterior of the building is much more impressive than the interior, although the acoustics are good and the seats in all of the theaters are very comfortable. But after the tour, I felt I couldn't leave without going to a performance there, so we bought tickets for Audra McDonald sings Broadway with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for Thursday night (I think we were there during the only week of the year when there were no classical music concerts, which would have been my preference). I got kind of choked up during the tour when I saw a portrait of Joan Sutherland and a plaque commemorating the naming of the opera theater after her. I remembered seeing her so many times at the Met and what a thrill it was, one of the very best. I still listen to some of her recordings; one of my favorites is Daughter of the Regiment, in which she starred with Luciano Pavarotti. I can still see them in my minds eye on the stage of the Met, looking so out of character but singing so gloriously.

    We had lunch at the one of the cafes at the opera house, and then started walking back to the hotel to dry off. When we first began our tour of the opera house, we noticed quite a few spaces were cordoned off for private parties and then we began to see people showing up in fancy dress. Every woman was wearing a hat, most of them small with lots of ribbons. We realized then that it was connected to all the signs we'd been seeing since we arrived in Sydney, that it was Melbourne Cup day. Apparently, it is the biggest horse race in Australia and it seemed like everyone stopped working (except the bartenders and waiters) and was attending a party, drinking champagne, eating, laughing with friends and waiting for the race. As we walked back to the hotel, we passed a betting parlor set up right on the wharf so we decided to pick 2 horses, just by the names. We picked The United States and Excess Knowledge, put $10 on each to win and place. In this city full of bars, cafes and restaurants, everyone was packed! We watched the race from our hotel room; Excess Knowledge was in 3rd place for most of the race so we were hopeful. But towards the end, Prince of Penzance, 100 to 1 odds, make a run and won the race. Turned out it was a female jockey, the first one ever to win the Melbourne Cup, so there was lots of celebrating. Wish we had known something about the jockeys, DH said we definitely would have put money on the horse with the female jockey. Maybe. Anyway, people continued to stay at the bars after the race ended at 3:15, not sure when the parties broke up.

    Later in the afternoon, the rain stopped for a bit so we walked to the Harbor Bridge (and half way across and back), then did a walking tour of The Rocks. We stood on Bunkers Hill, which is where the very first settlement in Sydney was established. That night we went to dinner at Billy Kwong's restaurant in Potts Point. The owner, Kylie Kwong is a famous TV chef here, and we had sort of modern Chinese food, it was terrific but DH ordered the tasting menu, which was WAY too much food.

    On Wednesday morning, DH had a doctor’s appointment at a local dermatologist for a toe infection, so that was an interesting experience, visiting a local clinic. Afterwards, we had a great visit through the Australian Currency Museum located at the Reserve Bank of Australia, the equivalent to our Federal Reserve. Of course, we were the only visitors, but it was to us (two economists), a wonderful exhibit about the history of currency in Australia. The most interesting part was learning that Australia developed polymer (plastic) currency as a way to deter counterfeiting and many countries around the world now use that process. We also learned about how the designs on the currency changed over time to better reflect the economic base of the country and to honor important Australians. We learned that Nellie Melba, the most famous soprano of the late 19th century and the very early 20th century, was on the $100 bill and that her stage name is based on her home city, Melbourne. If you've ever eaten the dessert, peach Melba, it's named after her. We had a great talk with the man at the front desk at the museum about the Australian economy and got some very good insights. This is what economists do for fun, BTW,

    We then went across the street to the Hyde Park Barracks museum, which was an important place in Sydney history. In its first iteration, it housed convicts arriving from the UK. When Sydney was first established, the convicts who worked in hard labor to construct the city. The museum had some excellent exhibits describing their lives. Eventually, these "transports" grew out of favor but many convicts who were released after serving their time stayed in Australia. The next wave of residents in the building was female immigrants, mostly Irish orphans, who struggled with the poverty in their country and were sent here. Finally, the complex was turned over to the military establishment.

    We walked back to the hotel through the Royal Botanical Gardens, a really gorgeous park with beautiful grounds, as you would expect. But we had no idea that we'd see an amazing collection of palm trees, most we didn't recognize and were surprised that they grew so well in Sydney. It began to rain again and we got back to the hotel in time to rest a bit and get ready for our big night out.

    I made a reservation at Quay Restaurant, rated in the top 50 in the world, several months in advance of our trip. In my email to them, I wrote that it would be a dream come true for us to have a waterside table with a view of the opera house and bridge. That's exactly what we got, I think the position was the best seat in the house, right at the tip of the glass enclosed ship-shaped restaurant where we had views to 2 sides of the harbor. The meal was incredible, the flavors and textures of each dish were complex yet the freshness of everything came through. My favorite dishes were Congee of mud crab, palm heart, egg yolk emulsion and then Southern uni, koshihikari rice,salted yolk, maw, sweet prawn in umami broth. We had wines pairs with each course and the service was incredible. We had three heavenly hours at quay, which we will never forget.

    The next morning, it was my turn to go to the doctor, in this case the watch doctor because the battery on my watch stopped. We were told to go to a little sketchy place, on the 3rd floor of an old building, where in a one room office was master Swiss watch repairer Max Schweiser. After a nice chat with Mrs Schweiser while her husband worked on my watch, we left for our next stop, the QVB which stands for the Queen Victoria Building. Basically, it is a shopping mall housed in a magnificent old building in the center of downtown Sydney. You see the same shops in every major city in the world but it seemed very classy here. We then walked to Darling Harbor, a major tourist entertainment center that includes the aquarium, maritime museum, etc. But a 15-minute walk beyond that was our destination- the Sydney Fish Market. We weren't able to get tickets to the early morning auction and tour - they were sold out for the week when we arrived on Monday. I was particularly interested in attending the auction because the fish is sold in a Dutch auction model. That is, prices start high and are lowered until someone buys, which is different from what most of us, think of in auctions where the price is bid UP (again, this is a thrill for economists). But we had a terrific time, browsing all the retail markets and buying lots of different fish, which we consumed on the spot. I had a live sea urchin which one of the market workers opened for me and I slurped it down. We had Balmian bugs, scallops, prawns, oysters, sashimi, sushi, octopus, salmon and I'm sure I'm missing some other things.

    We took a taxi back to the hotel and rested until it was time to go back to the opera house for a performance by Audra McDonald. We enjoyed it a lot (despite the amplification) and she sang some of my favorite songs, including Moon River, I could have danced all night, and Climb every Mountain.

    We thought about doing a day trip to the Blue Mountains but the weather forecast was iffy so we decided to stay in Sydney. Our last day in Australia started out sunny and warm so we decided to go to the most famous of all Sydney beaches, Bondi, and do the walk between Bondi and Bronte. We thought taking a taxi there would save time. But after about 20 minutes in the taxi, we were approaching the airport when all of us realized that we were not going to the right place. The taxi driver sort of zoned out and automatically drove to the airport, not anywhere near Bondi beach. He was pretty upset (and so were we) but turned around and eventually we got there. At that point it made more sense to start at Bronte and walk towards Bondi. There were a few reasons we wanted to do this walk. First, it is supposed to be one of the great walks in Australia. But second, for a month every year at this time, there is a sculpture exhibit of 100 works on the sea between Bronte and Bondi. The walk turned out to be quite crowded but nonetheless, it was a great walk. The sea has a very strong current there, with lots of high waves, the sea rocks are beautiful and the sculptures added to the beauty of the landscape quite fittingly. At the end of the north Bondi walkway, we found a cute cafe and had a light lunch. Then the skies opened up and wow, what a storm with incredible cloud formations. Taxis were nowhere to be found. So what did we do? I clicked on my Uber app and within 5 minutes a car picked us up and took us back to the hotel (it was 2.8 times the normal fare but hey, that's supply and demand).

    Our final dinner in Sydney was at a cute French bistro, Ananas, in The Rocks area. A few minutes after we sat down, two complimentary glasses of champagne arrived...the hotel made our reservations so I think they were very happy to welcome us. I ordered ocean trout and also steak tartare, DH had king prawns en papilotte and chicken that was Bresse-like but not really from Bresse (the menu said Bresse chicken but we quizzed the waiter). Authentic tarte tartin for dessert and we polished off a bottle of Tasmanian Pinot noir, probably the last bottle we will ever enjoy, since Tasmanian wines are not exported.

    We enjoyed our time in Sydney, a great capstone to our fabulous time in Australia. We did somewhat less sightseeing than we’d hoped because of the weather, but still had a good time. It is certainly one of the most beautiful harbors we’ve ever seen, for me that was the high point.

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    Glad you enjoyed Sydney, FromDC. Isn't the harbor just gorgeous?! We fell in love with it during our first trip in 2006 and are coming back for a third time next year. Hope you get to go back and enjoy it again too.

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    The funny thing about this place is that there is also a drive-in oyster window; you don't even need to get out of your car to get oysters! >>

    wow, great idea. I must see if I can mention it to any of the oyster producers around here.

    What I like about this forum is that everyone does something different in these famous places like Sydney so you can always pick up tips for a second or third trip. We had a great time too, but I think the only places we co-incided were the fish market and the botanical gardens. [did you know that you can do a tour of the Governor's Mansion? - it was fasctinating].

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    Ann-didn't you go to the opera house? Even though we had the longest stay of any place in our trip, we actually didn't do a huge amount of sightseeing. A few things kept us from doing more - - the weather (it rained really heavily at times and DH had a hard time walking much (his toe and heel both hurting, city streets seem to make the achilles much worse in his case). So if we every go back, there will be lots more to see.

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    Great report. It's really interesting to hear how other people see our country.

    ...and we've always wondered what economists do for fun! :)


    Come back and see the rest of the place.

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    <<What I like about this forum is that everyone does something different in these famous places like Sydney so you can always pick up tips for a second or third trip.>>

    So true, Ann. We've been to Sydney twice, and almost for a week during our last visit, and we feel like we've only covered a small portion of what the city has the offer. Both the fish market and the governor's mansion are on my list for my next visit.

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    Ann-didn't you go to the opera house?>>

    we saw it from the outside, but didn't do a tour or see a performance - I'd looked at that and there wasn't anything on at the time that we wanted to see and by the looks of it, the tour wasn't anything to get excited about.

    We spent quite a lot of time exploring the harbour on the boats, seeing a few galleries, the fish market, the botanical gardens and the Governor's Mansion, etc.

    As with any great city, we left a lot unseen, but that gives us a good excuse to go back!

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    Margo, everyone we met was so friendly, it's another reason we can't wait to return. We'll easily need another 3-4 weeks just to see some of the things we missed this time.

    Ann, I guess I forget that not everyone is as enthralled with opera as I am, it's a very important part of my life, so the opera house was the #1 item on my agenda. It was a major disappointment to me that we couldn't see an opera there. In fact, my daughter said to me: "I can't believe you planned this trip for a time when there wasn't an opera at the Sydney Opera House".

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    <<Ann, I guess I forget that not everyone is as enthralled with opera as I am,>>

    I suspect that I'm not, but I would have been more interested in seeing a performance [which wasn't possible when we were there, we timed it wrong like you did] rather than doing a tour of the inside. looks like we made a good choice!

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    FromDC, I feel for your frustration at not being able to see an opera here. I've managed to be in Milan twice just at the end of LaScala's season & not been able to get a ticket.

    You're right about the 4 Seasons, it's not representative of the brand's usual properties. It was built for the Daikyo Group & opened as The Regent in 1983.

    This was a time when the Japanese company was investing heavily in tourism & accommodation in Australia ( Gold Coast, Cairns & other Qld properties).

    Since opening, The Regent ( as locals still call it) has had several ownership changes, the most recent being the 2013 purchase by Korean financial institute, Mirae Asset Global Investments. It was rebranded as Four Seasons Hotel Sydney in 2002.

    I'm sorry the weather rained a little on your parade while you were here - it does make a difference, doesn't it? Even as a 30+ year local, I still catch my breath on the Harbour on those sparkling sunny Sydney days.

    I've so enjoyed your culinary adventures - and yes, I think you did get the best table at Quay. Friends has their wedding reception in the top part and I've had some memorable meals there over the years.

    You were lucky there wasn't a hulking great cruise liner parked in front of the view.

    You may be interested to know that Peter Gilmour has extended his operation to Benelong, the premier restaurant at the Opera House.

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    Awesome report FromDC, and great to hear you enjoyed our country.

    Gove - aboriginal name Nhulunbuy is a mining town for bauxite (aluminium ore) although maybe not for much longer. There's great fishing and wilderness experiences. The prawn trawlers which work the Gulf of Carpentaria call in to resupply.

    Looking forward to reading about the land of the long white cloud !

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    We didn't tour the opera house until our second trip but were lucky enough to see a performance on our first. You might want to give the Park Hyatt a try if you return. Looking forward to the NZ portion.

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    Bokhara, yes, AFTER the fact, I read some reviews on flyertalk about the 4S. Despite all my research for the trip, I wasn't careful enough about the Sydney stop. The hotel was OK, nothing bad, just not what you expect of the brand, as I said.

    Ah, Satoric, thanks for the info on Gove. I didn't read about it in any guidebook or see it referenced anywhere. Patty, PH is just so super expensive, we gave it a pass.

    NZ coming up.

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    NEW ZEALAND PART 1: GLENORCHY

    Wow. Sitting on the right side of the plane as we flew from Sydney into Queenstown, as we neared the airport you could already see the gorgeous mountainous landscape. Couldn't wait to get started on our 2 weeks here.

    However, we were slowed down quite a bit at the airport. Three large planes landed at about the same time (unfortunately ours was the last one) so it was at least 45 minutes to get through immigration, then the customs and bioscan. When it was our turn, the customs officer made DH lift up his shoes to prove there was no dirt on the soles!

    After picking up our car at the APEX lot and being given lots of instructions about driving in New Zealand, we started the 45 minute drive to Glenorchy, stopping about a dozen times to gawk at the views along Lake Wakatipu with the Southern Alps as backdrop. We arrived at close to 6pm. We had left our hotel at 7:15am that morning plus there was 2 hour time change going ahead, so it was a full travel day. Fortunately, the sun sets very late so we had time to appreciate the surroundings.

    Our B&B, Precipice Creek Station, was fabulous. The guest cottage is two rooms (bedroom and living room area) with light kitchenette facilities, beautifully furnished and very comfortable, From our rooms we the most awesome view of the Humboldt Mountains, and we had many wonderful conversations with owner Vladka, who is originally from the Czech Republic. She is a great hostess (and photographer). After showing us around a bit, she told us that we were really lucky to be there on a Saturday night because the cafe in town is only open for dinner on Saturdays for a special pizza night (there are two other restaurants in town associated with small hotels). Ok, easy decision about where to go for dinner and in fact the pizza was really delicious.

    Glenorchy is a small village so we didn’t see many tourists but we did see a lot of sheep...thousands and thousands of big, fluffy, wooly sheep. It’s quite a sight, watching them graze freely on the beautiful deep green grass, up on the hillsides, almost everywhere you look. On Sunday, we were driving back from our first hike, when we saw some activity on the side of the road. There were about 5 or 6 people, in assembly line fashion, lifting up baby sheep onto an angled table and doing something to them. At first I thought they were being marked with red paint. But when we got out of the car and walked over, it turned out the red wasn't paint, but blood. The sheep were being "relieved" of their tails and, for the males, castrated as well. It couldn't have hurt them too much because as they were released, they walked a couple of steps, jumped up once, then trotted back to their mothers. There were hundreds of baby sheep going through the process; it was petty fascinating to watch, a little gory too.

    On Sunday morning, we were supposed to take a short flight over the mountain to Milford Sound, one of the iconic trips in the South Island. However, the weather was not cooperating and the trip was postponed to Monday morning. So instead we went on a hike to the beginning of the Routeburn track. This is one of the more famous hiking trails in NZ (and there are many, many). I was very excited about this walk because I didn't know that you could do just a short distance on it, since it is famous for being a multi day hike with overnight stops in little huts. We walked for almost 2 hours through a lovely beech tree rainforest. Yes, a rainforest, it rained for about the first half of our walk. Later in the afternoon, we did a walk around the village of Glenorchy, including the wharf area. Although we were expecting to do only a short walk, there were so many lovely spots, we decided to go all the way around the lagoon. On a little drive by the famous Glenorchy hut, we spent some time watching a bride being photographed. Those pictures will be gorgeous. That evening we had dinner in our cottage with takeout that we bought from the General Store. They do have some interesting dishes, it was a very good meal.

    We woke up Monday expecting to fly to Milford Sound in the morning but again we had weather delay. Finally at 11:30am, we were given the word to show up at the Glenorchy airstrip at noon. The flights to and from Milford Sound (which is really a fjord) were unquestionably the highlight of our trip, and that's saying a lot. Flying over the mountains, seeing the peaks close up and the river valleys below was simply breathtaking. Since our return, whenever we are asked by friends what our favorite things were about the trip, the flight to Milford Sound from Glenorchy and back is what we always mention. When we landed, we waited a few minutes and boarded one of the boats for the Milford Sound cruise. We rode out to the Tasman Sea and gazed at the magnificent scenery, waterfalls and all. Just as we were getting to the open sea, a whale was sighted. Apparently this is an extremely low probability event, so we stayed put at Anita Point for about 15 minutes, watching it spout and breach. We flew back to Glenorchy, gushing to Vladka about the flight and talking about our upcoming plans. For dinner, we went to one of the local restaurants and had a nice meal, sitting outside and enjoying the weather. I was a bit concerned after making our initial plans, that Glenorchy would be too remote, but it was a great choice for us, we really loved it there.

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    great idea to fly into QT and base yourselves in Glenorchy for the start of your trip and i envy you the helicopter trip - I can imagine it being a real highlight.

    looking forward to reading about more of your trip.

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    I agree, the scenery of that area of the South Island is truly beautiful. Glad you were able to walk a bit of the Routeburn--we did the whole 3-day hike and it was definitely the highlight of our trip (hard work but so rewarding!).

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    Not a helicopter. It was a fixed wing plane, DH didn't want to go on a helicopter. There is a small airstrip in Glenorchy, the plane took off from there. When we arrived at the airstrip for the flight, we had fun watching people skydive. The airstrip also serves those folks. They cleared off when they knew our plane was coming (it started off in Queenstown and stopped to pick us up, Glenorchy Air).

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    Your Milford Sound experience with the weather delay underlines the value of building in a couple of days buffer & being flexible in our travels.

    Glenorchy is charming, isn't it?

    The procedure you saw is called, "Lamb marking". Tails are docked to prevent fly-strike and males castrated.
    In Australia, the owner's registered earmark is clipped into the off-side (right) ear for ewes & on-side for weathers (males), using specifically designed ear-marking pliers.

    We also have a NLIS ( National Livestock Identification Scheme), whereby owners are issued with a number which is engraved into ear tags. This tag identifies the owner & property, must be inserted into the ear of all stock.. Different colours denote the year of birth of the sheep. When a sheep is sold, a pink tag is inserted in the opposite ear by the purchaser.

    At a glance, I would be able to identify a sheep with a purple tag in the right ear & a pink one in the left, as a ewe born in 2012 & not now on the property on which she was born.

    There is a similar scheme in NZ. Those portable cradles are a great invention.

    More than you ever needed to know about sheep husbandry!

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    Thanks, Bpkhara, yes, loved Glenorchy. Always interested in learning something new, I remember seeing different color ear tags on sheep but didn't know the specifics of the ID process.

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    We were sorry to leave Glenorchy but excited about what was ahead: a long but beautiful drive back down Lake Wakipitu, then up the west coast to Lake Moeraki, a specially designated wilderness area and home to a rare breed of penguins, the crested Fiordland penguin, with the hope of seeing them in the wild. Our plan was to spend two nights at the Wilderness Lodge there, owned by a couple who have spent most of their lives helping to protect the fragile ecosystem in the area. The lodge is very remote. It must generate its own electricity, and is the middle of about a 100 km stretch without a gas station.

    Arriving in late afternoon, we were able to join the guided rainforest walk, which ended at a steam where our guide fed eels. They were pretty large and slimy. Although given the opportunity to pet them, none of us took up the offer. The next morning, we headed out to a secret beach, which Gerry (the owner of the lodge and our guide) refers to as the Robinson Crusoe beach. They try to keep the beach a secret so that the penguins won’t be disturbed. Gerry drove the four of us to the start of a trail that goes through the forest and ends up at the beach. He left us there while he drove the van to another spot, and then biked back to us. He did that so no one would see the van and decide to follow our trail. After a 15-minute walk we emerged onto the gorgeous beach and Gerry led us to a specific place on the far end of the beach to sit in the rocks, next to a cave. The penguins nest in the mountains behind the beach and come down to the beach through the rocky area where we were sitting. We waited about 10 minutes before we began to see the Penguins, some waddling around the middle of the beach, others coming quite close to us, within about 10 feet. Although penguins are very shy and skittish, we stayed still and quiet so they did not feel threatened and pretty much ignored us. We watched them for over an hour and saw 18 in total. Gerry kept track of when each one emerged (some from the cave and others from the water). Gerry and this group have done quite a lot to protect this group of endangered created fjord land penguins. It was amazing to see them in the wild.

    Later on Wednesday afternoon, DH and I drove to Ships Creek observation point and walk. The sea was incredibly rough and we had a fantastic walk along the gorgeous beach with the waves rolling and tons of driftwood scattered about. Back to the lodge for a very brief rest, we then went kayaking at 5 pm on Lake Moeraki. I was in front of the double kayak.... Gerry was in the drivers seat in the back. I finally got a bit better at the technique of paddling. DH did a great job on his own and was able to get a photo or two of the calm, clear lake with the mountains as backdrop, blue sky and just a couple of fluffy white clouds. What a glorious end to a very special day.

    On Thursday morning we made the 3.5 hour drive to Hokitika in 5.5 hours with a couple of stops on the way. We did a short walk to the Fox glacier valley to get as close to Fox glacier as possible, then drove to the tourist town of Franz Joseph where the second glacier is the star. We had a quick lunch, and finally arrived at our little B&B in Hokitika, called Teichelman's, named after a famous doctor and conservationist from the early 20th century. Frances and Brian warmly greeted us. I had previously corresponded with Brian about arranging a "Luminaries" tour. The reason for our overnight in Hokitika was to see the setting of the book (it won the Booker prize a couple of years ago, I absolutely loved the book and read it twice even though it is more than 800 pages). The Luminaries takes place during the gold rush in 1865. I wanted to walk through the streets and imagine what it was like for the characters in the novel. Brian assured me that there would be a tour I could take, but we had no idea that he would be doing it himself. Half an hour after we arrived, he changed into a costume of a well dressed man of 1865 New Zealand and spent the next 2 hours taking us all around town. It was a hoot! Great fun for us and we learned so much about the history of Hokitika and the gold rush days. For a brief time, Hokitika was the largest port in New Zealand and on the Main Street we saw the reproduction of a photograph from 1867, which showed 41 ships in the harbor. The town just sprang up from nothing when the gold rush began. There are no buildings left from that time period because of the many fires through the 1940s. But apparently Hokitika has the oldest volunteer fire squad in New Zealand and it recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of its founding. Brian wouldn't take a cent for us for the tour so instead we made a donation to the little Hokitika museum (which I also briefly toured, another one of those little gems). That night we had dinner at a local restaurant and I had a whitebait omelet. Whitebait is a tiny translucent fish (like a little guppy) and whitebait fishing is a BIG pastime in this area. The fishing season ended on Nov 15, so I figured it would be my only opportunity to try it. It was delicious.

    We spent a couple of hours on Friday morning browsing through the shops in Hokitika, which is known as the greenstone town. Greenstone is the name given to the local Jade, and it was a very important part of Maori life. We bought some pieces and other small souvenirs, then started the drive to Arthurs Pass.

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    ARTHUR'S PASS:
    Although not a long one, the drive to Arthurs Pass was a very twisty, narrow road in many parts. Arthur's Pass is the connection between the east and west coasts of New Zealand's South Island, a pretty dramatic area surrounded by mountains and most of it has been designated as a national park. We planned our stay at the Wilderness Lodge at Arthur's Pass, owned by the same folks as the one in Lake Moeraki. The lodge is set in a farm area, with a working sheep farm. Our room had a breathtaking view of the mountains in the distance and the Waimakariri River in front. A couple of hours after we arrived, we did a walk with Alan, the lodge's guide, to the Broad Stream River Gorge to see the glacial landscapes and mossy forest. We were accompanied part of the way by the farms sheepdogs who herded sheep to follow us part of the way. After dinner, we went in the van to the pasture to do some stargazing and saw Alpha Centuri (the brightest star in the southern hemisphere), the Southern Cross, and Orion's Belt.

    We awoke on Saturday morning to freezing temperature but we weren't going to miss the 10am tour with Alan to see the waterfalls and alpine plants of Arthur's pass. It was a rigorous walk for us, but well worth it. Another couple was with us. The "giant" buttercups were in bloom (they are small but still, the largest in the world) and we saw a few clusters of them. We had very interesting conversations with Alan about ecology, including the pricing of non-priced goods. Alan was involved in writing many of the regulations on road construction in the South Island and we learned a lot about the struggles between the farmers and the conservationists. We made a couple of stops in the van to see the Otari viaduct and a precious chapel, which has a stunning view of a waterfall and mountains. You sit on the pews and stare up at the gorgeous scenery, I wonder if anyone can concentrate on the sermons.

    After lunch and a rest, we met up with other guests for the 5pm Sheep Station tour, which was another one of those "highlights". Neil, the farm manager, spent a couple of hours with us. First, he demonstrated how the very well trained sheep dogs round up and herd the sheep on the farm. Apparently, the sheep view the dogs as predators because dogs have been known to kill and eat lambs. We were told that 90% of what the dogs do is instinctive, but they get trained to turn in different directions at the sound of whistles and calls. The farm raises mostly merino sheep but also some cross breeds and some cattle. Everyone got to feed a 5 day old lamb who couldn't stay with its mother, with a bottle of warm formula. We then walked to the sheering shed where Neil hand clipped a sheep, leaving the wool in one piece. The wool has a very rich layer of lanolin, we all rubbed our hands in it and they felt very soft and well moisturized. Neil talked about the virtues of New Zealand wool (of course, it's the very best in the world) and we learned that the farm supplies wool to Icebreaker, one of NZ's top sports clothing company, and Loro Piana, the famous Italian wool fashion company. I didn't know this in advance and it was quite a coincidence because I bought two Icebreaker tops from Amazon for our trip before we left....and now I was on the very farm where the wool was grown (but the wool is then shipped to China and the clothing is manufactured there).

    We had a lovely dinner that night with rack of lamb from the farm and great conversations with the three other couples who were staying at the lodge ( we ate at a common table at this lodge which was a lot of fun). Some of us were going from south to north and we gave suggestions to the others who were going north to south, and vice versa. It was nice to have restaurant and tour recommendations for the last week of our trip from like-minded travelers.

    These 5 days in the mid section of the South Island's west coast and center were terrific. Although surrounded by mountains at all times, our activities were quite varied: penguins and lakes and the sea around Moeraki, history in Hokitika, and farming in Arthur's Pass and of course lots of walking everywhere. We've really enjoyed any amount of physical activity because the food and wine have been delicious and plentiful. We left out some of the more popular stops around here because of our limited time and we could easily have spent several more days in the Westland.

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    <<Our B&B, Precipice Creek Station, was fabulous.>>

    Glad you enjoyed our favorite place on the SI and our favorite B&B of all time. Vladka is a wonderful host and her husband a fountain of information about the walking tracks (he works for DOC).

    Have they built their new units yet? They have plans to extend.

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    Last stops on the South Island: Kaikoura and Blenheim

    We woke up to a cold and wet Sunday morning in Arthur's Pass. The drive to our next stop, Kaikoura, was supposed to be around 3.5 hours and we didn't lag too far behind that. It rained much of the way there, going to the east coast and bypassing Christchurch. We arrived at our B&B before 3pm after a twisting but beautiful drive, despite the weather. We stayed at Hampton’s B&B, right on the Esplanade, and could see the water across the street. Great location, just at the edge of town and a very comfortable room with good kitchen facilities. We walked the length of the town and back, stopping to admire the flowers and trees in the Garden of Memories in the center of town, a memorial to the soldiers from Kaikoura who died in various wars. That night we had a delicious dinner at the Golden Dolphin restaurant, the best seafood chowder we've ever had and one of the most expensive crayfish we've ever had. Apparently the Chinese are buying up the local crayfish so the price has risen dramatically.

    Kaikoura is in a very special location on the northern part of the east coast of the South Island. It is now a tourist town that has many excursions to view wildlife, mostly whales and dolphins. However, we wanted to stop there for a different reason – to see albatrosses. I had a very clear memory of reading the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (I think it was junior high school). It is a haunting piece and I've never forgotten the role of the albatross in that poem. So we signed up for the "Albatross Encounter" at 9am Monday morning. Fortunately the weather was clear but it was a bit chilly and the seas were very rough. Ten of us went out on a boat and were lucky to see several different species of albatross, including the Royal, the largest of them all. After the boat ride, we began our drive to wine country. Although the drive was supposed to be less than two hours, it took us longer because we made a few stops.

    First, we stopped to get fish and chips, which we took in the car and ate at a deserted beach about 15 minutes outside of Kaikoura. About 10 miles up the road, we stopped again at Ohau Falls, where there is a colony of fur seals. A short walk took us up to a waterfall where seal pups were frolicking in the ponds at the base of the falls. What a thrill to see them. About half an hour later we stopped for coffee and finally arrived at our "homestay" in the middle of a vineyard in Blenheim just after 3pm. After a little rest, we visited our first winery, Withering Hills that is right next door to where we were staying and tasted some wonderful wines, bought a bottle of Pinot Noir. We wanted to eat in so we found the local supermarket and bought some NZ salmon to roast in the oven. After returning "home" we had visits from some neighbors and great conversations with them.

    The next morning we went to the air museum which houses reproductions of WWI planes with exhibits about the lives of the airmen. Mostly Sir Peter Jackson, the filmmaker of Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, has funded this gem of a place. Soon they will be expanding to include WWII aircraft as well. We loved this place! Just after noon, a local tour company picked us up for our winery tour. Good decision not to do this with self drive. We actually got to enjoy sampling many different wines, probably 4-5 each at 5 different wineries. My favorite was Cloudy Bay for the beautiful setting. DH enjoyed Forrest because of the quality of the wines. One of the stops included a champagne-only winery and to top everything off we stopped at Makana confectioners factory. As we were entering the place, I noticed that EVERY person who was exiting was leaving with a purchase. We were no different, and got a box of toffee and another of chocolate covered ginger. Fabulous.

    Dinner that night was at the Hans Herzog winery, our only real disappointing dinner of the trip. It was a Tuesday night and usually only the bistro is open, with a small but interesting menu. When we got there, we were told that dinner would be served in the main dining room because of the large crowd. When we got there, it turned out that it was a group function of maybe 30 people spread over several tables, all getting served the same meal. We were seated at a table at the rear of the room, with the wait staff giving us very little attention. There was one excellent dish - - a lamb confit - - the rest was ordinary. It was a real letdown after the great experience we had at the Josef Chromy winery restaurant in Tasmania. Nothing bad about the food but one of those “not worth the price” dinners.

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    Mel, I'm eternally grateful to you for recommending Vladka's place. We didn't get to meet her husband but I hope there will be a next time. No new construction but there is a compound being built next to the General Store.

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    FromDC, I am totally with you on the Coleridge poem and the albatrosses, although I've yet to see them in the wild. Really enjoying your report on the South Island; all of it sounds amazing.

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    LAST LEG: The North Island of New Zealand

    The main decision point in planning this part of trip was how to make the transition from South to North. DH really wanted to have the experience of taking the ferry across the Cook Strait between the islands. We have enjoyed many different ferry rides in our travels but this would be the longest one at just over 3 hours. We'd read that the scenery was magnificent and it did not disappoint, even in the fog and rain.

    We began by leaving our B&B in Blenheim just after 7am, arriving at the ferry terminal in Picton just before 8. There are 2 ferry lines that make the crossing and we chose the Interisland because it is larger. Yes, it's VERY large. When we got in the queue, there were dozens of huge trucks, dozens of campers and lots of cars. Our ferry was the Kaiahari, which has 9 decks, a capacity of 550 passengers and 1900 lane meters. We bought seats for the premium lounge, which turned out to be a good deal because not only was it super comfortable but we also got breakfast, lunch and unlimited drinks. The passage was smooth and we were able to admire the views, especially at the beginning when it wasn't raining hard. It took 45 minutes after docking in Wellington before we could drive off because there were so many cars and trucks ahead of us. Even so, I’m glad we decided to rent a car from a company that allowed us to take the car on the ferry, otherwise we would have spent a lot of time returning and picking up cars, checking our bags and waiting for them, those things FOR US are more stressful than waiting extra time to disembark.

    We were then off for another long drive to the Tongariro National Park, where we would spend the night in a hotel called "The Chateau". We thought this would be a reasonable stopping point on the way to Rotorua. Again, the landscape was beautiful and after a few hours, the volcanoes of Mt Tongariro and Mt Ruapehu came into sight. That was a thrill, seeing the snow capped mountains so close up. But it was a longer drive than we expected and didn't arrive at the hotel until close to 6pm. As the name implies, this is a large structure built to look like a French chateau, reminding us of the old grand dame hotels in the US that were built to imitate those in Europe. I wasn't thrilled with the place but it was in a good location and gave us a chance to see the national park. There were lots of German tour groups, most people were there to walk to Tongariro Alpine Crossing, supposedly one of the most beautiful walks in New Zealand. The next morning we did two very short walks, just so that we could get some exercise after having been in the car all the day before.

    By 11am, we were off on the drive to our final destination, the Rotorua area. Along the way, we stopped at Huka Falls, the most famous waterfall in NZ and the most visited natural attraction and wow, it was quite something. The Waikato River narrows from 100 meters wide to 20 meters with just a 20 meter drop, so 220,000 liters of water gush over the falls EVERY SECOND! This generates much of the power to the North Island. Our route followed the eastern shore of Lake Taupo, a major resort destination and the largest lake on the North Island. As with other lakes we saw in NZ, the water had an aquamarine color that I've never seen elsewhere.

    We arrived at Solitaire Lodge, a very small hotel on Lake Tarawera about half an hour past Rotorua. With only 10 rooms and set directly on the lake, it is a place to chill out, just perfect for the end of our trip. When we arrived, two German couples were having lunch on the patio. Apparently the food is so outstanding here, they made a special detour from Auckland just to dine here. We had a light lunch with THE BEST house smoked salmon and THE BEST Caesar salad we've ever eaten. And that was just their simple lunch...small portions but truly outstanding quality. After lunch, we went to our room, which has the most incredible view of the lake, all glass walls overlooking it, a spacious patio, everything beautifully furnished in creams and greys. The wall in the bathroom is all glass, a special privacy glass so you can look out but no one can see in during the daytime. DH declared this to have the best view from the toilet of any place we've ever stayed.

    We took a walk around the property, through the forest out to the shore of the lake where we saw half a dozen black swans. Glad I brought my camera, they were very active and we were very close. Pre dinner drinks at 7 with delicious canapés (a small, fried hard boiled egg, a fresh prawn, and a warm, plump oyster), then a 5 course dinner to follow, a menu printed with our names on it. Sounds like a lot of food but everything was quite light and not large portions (we got many snarky comments during our trip about American Sized portions or American sized seats.... apparently world round we are considered oversized and over eaters).

    Unfortunately, rain was forecast for our last two days so we weren't surprised when we woke up on Friday to heavy clouds. It rained on and off most of the day, so we took the advice of the lodge manager and went to the Rotorua Museum. It was a great place to spend a few hours, and we learned a lot about the culture and history of the Maoris in Aoteraoa, the Maori name for NZ. No one is quite sure when or exactly from where the Maoris arrived here, only that it was from somewhere in Polynesia, possibly Hawaii. Most places here have names written in both an English name and a Maori name and you can really feel their influence everywhere.

    Upon entering the city of Rotorua, something hits you immediately - the smell of sulphur. The mineral springs are everywhere here and there is no escaping the odor, which bothers you a lot or doesn't. I kinda liked it. Anyway, one of my two goals for this last part of to trip was to soak in a mineral bath, which is what we did after the museum. The best one in town is called The Polynesian Spa, which made me almost not go there because the name is so awfully kitschy but the lodge told us it was very nice and it was. We took the private deluxe bath, which meant we had a small outdoor in ground tub (made with natural stones and rocks) where water was piped in at the natural temperature of 38.5degrees Celsius (101.3 degrees Fahrenheit). We had half and hour to soak but we could only stay in for 25 minutes because it was so hot. I loved it; we had a view of the lake while a drizzly, light rain fell on us as we soaked in the smelly mineral water.

    From our room at the lodge, and everywhere else on this lake, you have a view of Mt Tarawera. In the mid to late 1800s, the area was famous for the Pink and White terraces, which were silica pools built up over time where people bathed in mineral waters. The lodge has some prints from the 1870s, showing how beautiful the terraces were. Visitors came from all over the world; someone named them one of the Wonders of the World at the time. But in 1886, the volcano erupted and caused massive destruction of the area, including entire villages and the terrace pools. It's one of those themes here and still gets written and talked about. It's estimated that 2 billion cubic yards of ash were scattered over an area of 6000 square miles. Mt. Tarawera sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, and actually could erupt again.

    On Friday night, we had another superb meal and I will only write about one part of it. On our menu, the second course was listed as "goat cheese tempura". What came was an incredible dish of a very large zucchini blossom stuffed with goat cheese and attached to a baby sized zucchini, the entire thing fried tempura style. Now, I often make stuffed zucchini blossoms and they are difficult to make without the flowers tearing when stuffed and then the cheese oozing our while being fried. Well, these were PERFECT and after the meal I got some tips from the chef. The dish just bowled me over.

    Although we woke to sunshine on Saturday morning, the last full day of our trip, the forecast was for rain beginning at noon. The agenda was to see the other phenomenon I came here for: a tour to view geothermal activity. We had a few choices and decided to go to the one furthest away but reportedly the least commercial: Wai-O-Tapu, the "thermal wonderland". It was an hour and a half walk through the largest area of surface thermal activity in the Taupo Volcanic Zone and is administered by the Dept of Conservation. The area is covered with collapsed craters, boiling pools of mud and lots of steam. The craters and pools were very colorful, there was green, orange, purple, white, yellow and black, depending on the mineral present. Just as we were at the furthest point from the visitor’s center, after walking for about an hour, it began to rain, just as predicted. We walked back as quickly as we could, very satisfied with the range of thermal activity we saw. We got back to the lodge in time for a light lunch, then a nap, then starting to pack up for the long trip home.

    New Zealand was awesome! As far as we can tell, there is no place in the country where you can't see magnificent mountains, and you are never more than 2 hours from the ocean. We had 2 glorious weeks here, loving every minute of it. The highlight for both of us was the flight from Glenorchy to Milford and back but every day we had at least one very memorable experience. Now the difficult task of editing my photos is ahead.

    The flights home was uneventful. Eleven months in advance, I was able to book business class award seats from Auckland to Richmond (where we were going to visit our kids for Thanksgiving). We took Air Tahiti to Tahiti, and then to Los Angeles, American Airlines from LAX to Charlotte, then to Richmond. I think because the flights were broken into 4 shorter segments, we suffered no jet lag at all on the return. We left Auckland at 5pm on Sunday Nov 22 and arrive in Richmond at 9pm on Sunday, and fell asleep easily at a natural bedtime on Sunday night.

    Thanks for listening, everyone and thanks for your help and advice in planning. When we tell friends and family about the trip, they ask who planned it all. The response is always that I planned it with the help of my friends on the Fodor travel forum. And writing this TR is a great way to for me to relive the trip.

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    Thank you so much, FromDC, for sharing your fascinating trip with us. You've helped me relive some of my own experiences in Australia, given me some food for thought for my return trip next year, and encouraged me to go back to NZ sooner rather than later. I've truly enjoyed being able to share in the journey with you.

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    Nice report on what sounds like a great trip.YOu seem to have fermented out some excellent and unique places to stay. Thanks for the thorough reportage.

    I know what you mean about American-size portions, but I found that most portion sizes in restaurants in NZ and Australia were equivalent to those in the U.S., and the populace seemed to have similar weight issues.

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    The older we get, the more slowly we travel. This means we really have to prioritize what we want to fit in as far as sightseeing and activities. It also means we spend more time at our accommodations, so it is more important for us to find a place that really suits us. Generally, this means the place must have a lovely view of something and decent size space. This explains why we were perfectly content with Sea Change Safety Cove in Pt Arthur (for example) but not so much at Chateau Tongariro (even though the latter was much more expensive).

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    Yes, thanks again, FromDC - I've thoroughly enjoyed your reports .

    Agree, Aprilliacs. Regrettably our portion sizes have become much larger than necessary. Appallingly, we have now matched or overtaken the US in the obesity stakes.

    I usually just order an entree* or an entree size of a main, which fortunately is available at many places.

    For North American readers - " entree" in Australia & NZ is exactly that - the entree to the meal. Main courses are called "Mains".

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    Kudos for a great thread FromDC. You've almost convinced me to revisit NZ.
    If seafood chowder is on a menu, I must have it. I had six in our fourteen day trip.

    Also didn't mind the smell in Rotarua....

    Thanks for sharing, I've enjoyed your experiences.

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    Bokhara and fromDC - as I have ancestors who were in Port Arthur as convicts and family friends who were murdered it is I agree a specially moving beautiful place .
    FromDC - your trip has encouraged me to return to NZ - something I have never had the desire too . Thanks

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    Loved your report, you write so well. Thank you for sharing! I especially liked reading about your stay at Freycinet, I think it's probably out of our budget but you never know! Maybe for a special occasion one day.

    Kay

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