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Trip Report Trip Report: A blitz tour of NZ and Oz in 3 Weeks

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Here's my report (at last) on our trip to Australia-NZ. The first part is a summary of practical stuff, for those interested solely with help with planning. The second part is my impressions, which can get long-winded, so be forewarned.

Most people have more sense than to try to do both NZ and Oz in a trip of barely three weeks duration, but you know, sometimes life is enjoyable even if lived in the nuthouse! As it was, the amazing thing is that this 22 night itinerary (including a night on the plane) actually worked. It worked because we didn't even attempt to 'see' New Zealand or Australia in a geographic sense, we just went to have fun doing a few specific things. NZ we visited as "Lord of the Rings' fans. For Oz, we confined ourselves (this trip) to only Sydney and the Melbourne area.

Summary:
**1. We first flew to Los Angeles, where we relaxed for 2 nights.

**2. From LA, we flew to the south island of NZ (Queenstown/ZQN, 3 nights)

**3. We then flew direct from Queenstown (ZQN) to Sydney for the Australia section of the trip (9 nights total: 4 Sydney, then flew to Melbourne and area for 5 more nights.)

**4. We then flew back from Melbourne to NZ, this time to spend 5 nights on the north Island of NZ (Wellington for 2 nights, then on to Auckland where we picked up a rental car and did a slight backtrack to Taupo -2 nights, and then back to Auckland - 1 night.

**5. Finally, we flew back to LA and another 2 nights to relax before heading home.
This involved three air tickets; a roundtrip to LA; a one way ticket connecting Sydney and Melbourne; and an open jaw ticket LA to Sydney via ZQN, returning from MEL to LA via WLG and AKL.

We also rented cars in three places: for three days in Queenstown (pickup downtown, dropoff airport); for three days Melbourne (pickup downtown, dropoff airport); and four days Auckland (pickup airport, dropoff airport.) In most cases public transit alternatives are available for our itinerary, although you will need to plan more time if that's the case.

Special thanks to 'indiancouple' who posted a wonderful trip report of 16 days in New Zealand. After reading that report, I knew how we wanted to allocate our own 8 nights and 8 days in New Zealand. And special thanks to the folks at Great Ocean Ecolodge in Cape Otway, and those who recommended them on Tripadvisor; this place was the highlight of the trip. And last but not least, thanks to all the regular contributors on this forum, I read a lot of your posts even if I don't contribute to the threads in question.

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    General tips for prospective travelers:

    **1. If you plan on doing the Tongariro crossing (North I, NZ), try to read a few blog accounts of others who have done so; this will help you decide if the hike is right for you. The descriptions of scree (loose volcanic gravel) convinced me that as spouse's knee was acting up, we should not attempt this hike as it is such that one can't just cop out halfway. The good news is that there are plenty of alternative short walks to do in the park.

    **2. It is a simple matter to arrange your own Blue Mountains tour from Sydney, using the local train system. You can buy a roundtrip ticket from your local commuter rail station (e.g. Town Hall, Museum, wherever) to Katoomba via Central Rail station; it should cost (off peak, i.e. departing after 9:00 a.m weekdays, anytime weekends) around $12AUS per person. Here's the link: http://www.cityrail.info/ If you time your arrival for 11:00 ish a.m, you can enjoy a picnic in Katoomba, then hike the "Prince Henry Cliff Walk" from the Three sisters lookout, do a loop on the Giant Stairs down as far as the honeymoon bridge and back up to the cliff walk, on to the Leura cascades, and then hike on up to Leura in time to grab a coffee before catching a 3:30ish train back to Sydney, returning by 5:30ish p.m. A grand day out. And WAAAY cheaper than the tours.

    **3. We spent 3 days between Melbourne and Port Campbell and left wishing we'd had at least one day more. Don't rush this area! Aside from the ocean scenery, there are kangaroos and koalas and even the odd echidna and penguin to be seen.

    **4. Even those who are not great fans of Lord of the Rings might enjoy the half day LOTR tour in Wellington. The tour includes an excursion to a park lovely in its own right, not just as a site of filming. The tour also takes you up Mount Victoria where the view of Wellington is splendid. Note that the actual sets are long gone, but with the aid of photos and stories, the guide explains how each location figured into the film. Here's the link: http://www.wellingtonrover.co.nz/rover_rings_tour.htm

    **5. The National Gallery of Victoria(International) in Melbourne is absolutely fabulous. A great selection ranging from aboriginal to European art.

    **6. If you are going to try the civic bike scheme in Melbourne, be aware that near the Flinders St rail station (the iconic Victorian era one you will recognize from many photos) is a small shop - a 7/11 if memory serves - where helmets can be rented. I anticipated - correctly as it turned out - that smaller sizes would be sold out and only one size would be available (large) and so brought my own helmet from home. As for the civic rental bikes themselves, they are wonderful machines that are designed for even the most timid rider. Note you will need a credit card to use this self-service bike rental scheme, which is very, very reasonable in price.

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    **7. Budget tip: (warning, fairly long)

    Hotel Budget: For any trip, not just one to Oz or NZ, I suggest the following: If you study the foreign per diem expenditure allowances for US government employees, you can get an idea of how expensive a location is in relative terms, even if you expect to travel less (or more) luxuriously than the typical government employee. Note that this trick only works for large cities; data on smaller places is missing. But the cities are where your budget will be most under threat, and so where you most need to prepare.

    http://aoprals.state.gov/web920/per_diem.asp

    From these tables, you should be able to find out whether the destination you are considering is more or less expensive than a city in your own (home) territory. As for absolute estimates, my suggestion if you are a (pair of) backpackers is to multiply the hotel allowance by 40 to 60 per cent of the government standard; if you are in the 'moderate' category of travel, try multiplying the allowance by 80 to 100 per cent.

    So for example, Australia: Sydney gives a (2012) accommodation allowance of US$225, which suggests a pair of backpackers would need to pay from ($225 * .40) = $88, to ($225 * .60) = US$135 for two beds in a hostel in Sydney. (This in fact turns out to be a reasonable estimate, with the lower amount corresponding to a dorm room as opposed to a twin share.) The moderate budget rule of 80 to 100 per cent of the government maximum for a Sydney hotel yields an estimate of US$180 to US$225. To get a hotel of moderate category in that price range, I found we had to look south of the Circular Quay area of Sydney which seems to be the most popular area of the CBD.

    I haven't found the food and incidentals allowances for government employees to be as useful as the accommodation rates for budget planning. Those traveling on business are far more apt to eat all their meals out, and in the hotel restaurant at that. So the figure given (which is per person) for the 'meals and incidentals' column is much more than what a tourist needs to spend to have tasty food, especially if you've opted for an apartment. Complicating things further is the fact that appetite sizes as well as preferences and drinking habits vary. That said, for a minimum I would not bet on spending less than 30 per cent of the government meals allowance, per person, per day. This will allow even those who plan to self cater to occasionally splurge on a meal out. Note than in my case, 'self cater' is a little misleading since I don't actually cook on vacation, but cheat: i.e., I look for good 'food to go' from supermarkets and delicatessens. All the places we visited in Australia and NZ were well prepared for self-catering tourists, so good food-to-go was easy to find.

    After accommodation and food, our next biggest per diem expense was local transport, because we had a very active itinerary, i.e, we moved around a lot. We had three short term car rentals - effective, but on a daily basis, fairly pricey (with gas, etc. around $70 per day for a small car.) Our entertainment expenses were higher than for our trips to Europe because there are lots of tempting things to do in New Zealand that are fairly expensive, such as a bus/cruise/fly tour of Milford Sound out of Queenstown (the flight portion comprising the major expense.) On the other hand, lots of things were inexpensive, like the Katoomba trip described above. Your best option is to research in advance the cost of the things in which you're interested.

    All feedback is welcome, although feedback of the 'you're a bonehead, Sue' type is going to be redundant, as I already know this....

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    Great report! Glad to hear you loved the Great Ocean Ecolodge. We are going to New Zealand in December and will spend a couple of days in Sydney on the front end of the trip. Your info on the daytrip to the Blue Mountains is very helpful. Thanks for sharing.

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    Warning. You are embarking on a eight page long section of the report. I will neither confirm nor deny rumours that I will accept cash payments in return for stopping....

    Day 1 - Flight to L.A. We arrive in our airport hotel exhausted from a long travel day. When room service arrives, it is the best burger and fries I ever had. It is also the only burger I ever had eaten off a linen cloth topped trolley.

    Day 2 - Day trip to Laguna Beach.
    The 405 freeway approaches 16 lanes \(8 each direction) in places. But our ever patient GPS lady guides us safely to the small beach town of Laguna Beach, south of L.A., in around an hour. Laguna Beach is almost as charming as Carmel, another California coast town we saw on a different trip. Laguna's cove beaches, tucked into cliffs, are carpeted at the perimeter with flowers in stunning colours – primrose yellow, bright pink, and my personal favourite, sand vellum featuring mauve and white globes. The day is mild and sunny, a few surfers out (in wetsuits, mind; it's only April) We stroll ‘Heisler park’ which looks down on the shoreline. At a lookoff, we spy a flock of pelicans gliding on the thermals with their massive wings. They fly past in formation, ww2 fighter-pilot style, wings straight as if made of aluminum and not feathers, their odd-shaped beaks giving them a comical flair.

    Back at the City of Planes, the jets are swooping in at a rate of one every two minutes. Our drive to a local eatery for supper takes us under the approach path for a view of the undercarriage of a Boeing 767 I don’t often get to see.

    We drop the car. Tomorrow we’re heading into town, but on public transportation this time. That decision turns out to show us a side to L.A I knew about in the planning stage, but would not really appreciate, until the moment of truth, as it were.

    Day 3 - Monday 4 April. A Day in Downtown L.A. Flight to Auckland.

    I'll be brutally brief. Oh, all right, not brief, but brutal. You know all those nay sayers who warn you against public transit in LA? Well, the nay sayers are right. Getting to Central Station from the airport is easy. After that, things get rather interesting. Our destination is Graumann’s Chinese Theatre, not a desire of mine (I'd rather make a dash for an art gallery) but marriage requires certain compromises. So, Graumann it is. And Graumann is about all it is. Because by the time we got there, had lunch, viewed the handprints in concrete, and walked all the way to the Paramount gates, necks constantly craned for a bus, we were out of time. Finally, at Paramount, a bus appears to take us back to Central Station, there to catch the 'Flyaway' bus back to the airport, and then the hotel shuttle, and then time to organize for our shuttle once again to the airport to check in for our evening flight.

    In the airport lounge we meet a father and his two young daughters who are emigrating to Australia (Brisbane) to start a new life, like so many before them. I wonder what Mark Twain would make of airport lounges...

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    Day 4 - (Tuesday 5th - in flight, to Wednesday 6th)

    I don't know how they fare up there in first class, those guys don't know the, shall we say, intimacy, of a twelve hour flight in economy. Back here, all up and down the darkened aisles, various body parts have leaked out of the seats. An arm dangles over an armrest here, a foot has broken loose into the aisle here, whilst over here, a tall man is all but swan-diving out of his seat into the aisle, head at a crazy angle, whilst still asleep. But the attendants good naturedly just weave their way around the human debris, careful not to disturb it. As for my fellow passengers, they are gems. My theory: people in economy are more civilized, as a rule, than those in business class. You have to be civilized back here, or else all are doomed. Even the little boy in front of us seems to understand this - and if anyone has cause to be grumpy on a 12 hour plus flight, it's a four year old. As it is, he's a champion aviator - we don't hear a peep from him the entire flight.

    Meanwhile, I awaken for the umpteenth time and start to watch "Driving Miss Daisy" when the welcome words are announced: "We will be landing soon."

    And we do. We make it into Auckland by 6:07 a.m, ahead of schedule.

    Surprisingly, the flight didn't seem as long as I feared - perhaps because I feared it would seem long. If that makes any sense. Air New Zealand, with its long experience in long haul flights, kindly provided many, many choices of movies to watch on the seatback screens. I watched 'Hill 60' and I dozed. I watch 'Heavenly Creatures' and I dozed. I watched the 'where is the airplane now' simulator. I dozed.

    Now we're in the immigration line, I catch sight of the father and his two young girls who are emigrating to Australia. They are off to catch a Brisbane bound plane. Us, we're off to Queenstown, so we are headed to the domestic terminal. The girls wave. We wave back. I catch myself wondering about them later in the trip. Did they make friends at the new school? Is the father making out okay in his new job? Is their new life turning out as hoped? But for now, we have a gate to find, and another plane to catch.

    And just a few hours later, we are making the spectacular approach to the Queenstown airport, past the 'Remarkables' mountains that are sporting a light dusting of snow. The mountains otherwise look covered in what looks like lichen. Yup, they are green.

    Barely thirty minutes after landing, we hop a bus into town, where we check in, rest a bit (whew!), pick up our car, and then head for the 'skyline' gondola. As our gondola rises to about halfway up the mountain, I spy sheep on the slopes below. How'd they get up so high? I have a mental image of sheep going up each morning in the gondola, two to a car, to alight on the slopes where they will spend the remainder of the day posing for tourists....

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    day 4, cont'd) Up on the mountain, I find indisputable evidence that it is fall here in New Zealand. The wind is letting my fingers know they should have worn gloves up here, it is that cold.

    But the view is still breathtaking, and well worth shivering a bit outside of the warm gift shop/cafe gondola station.

    Back down on terra firma, we head to a supermarket, where we spy a hot half roasted chicken and a deli counter full of veggie goodies to choose to go with it. Nothing makes one hungry like travel. The chicken is doomed.

    Day 5 - Friday April 8th. Queenstown, Glenorchy trip

    I owe it to poster 'indiancouple' for our pilgrimage out to Glenorchy (we in fact end up going almost as far as Kinloch.) After a morning spent exploring Queenstown, during which we booked our Milford Sound tour for the following day, we head out.

    First we head for a short hike to a place called the "lime kilns" - and there are, in fact, some restored old lime kilns to be found along the trail. It's a pleasant short walk of about an hour or so. Back on the road, we note that the leaves of the trees are turning - gold, for the most part, although the odd scarlet is seen. The clouds scud across the sky, leaving a patchwork quilt of light on the lake's surface. All the way to Glenorchy, we find it hard to stop stopping for photos.

    At Glenorchy we stop and for the first time partake in the cafe culture of the Pacific. This is the first time I've seen coffee served with a design worked into the milky foam top. It's so pretty, we take a photograph. The price is less pretty - but at least we're on vacation.

    Further on, we pass marshes, which remind us of the scene in LOTR where Gollum guides Sam and Frodo. Out at the Dart River, we hear screams. No orcs in sight, just a jet boat load of tourists.

    We return to our hotel by early evening, and once again feast on supermarket deli fare for supper. We also make use of the apartment's laundry facilities. Then we turn in early, because tomorrow will be a full day.

    Day 6 - (Friday 7th) Day trip to Milford Sound (bus) with flight back.


    It's a spectacularly beautiful day - clear skies, and above all, given the bus-fly package we bought, light winds. (Pilots of small planes won't fly in high winds.)

    I enjoyed the bus trip and the cruise well enough, but if I'd had my druthers, I'd have liked a tad more time to do this route, and do more of the many enticing hiking trails. Note to self: pack druthers next time.

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    Day 6 (continued) But if we'd had more time, we'd never have booked the 'fly' leg back to Queenstown. It's my first time in a nine seater prop plane. We fly low, much lower than our flight in Day 4 did. I look down, and see a lake high, high in the mountains emptying, like a bathtub, into a waterfall that falls, down and down and down. I see the road we drove to Glenorchy yesterday. I see what appears to be a small glacier. And any more of this, and it's gonna sound like "I Spy With My Little Eye", that game we played as kids on long car trips. And forty all too short minutes later, we're back in Queenstown.

    Day 7. Saturday the 9th. Arrowtown, Kawarau Gorge, and on to Sydney, Australia

    It's a lovely early fall day; bright blue sky, bright golden maples lining the Arrow river. Just beyond the main street of Arrowtown we find a place called the 'Chinese camp', featuring the vestiges of the very, very humble dwellings in which lived young Chinese men who immigrated to Arrowtown, hoping to strike it rich mining gold, and staying to grow and market vegetables instead. Their stories as told in the displays are sad: many had families they'd hoped to bring over after them, and many never managed to save enough to do so. Their heartbreak is all the more poignant on this beautiful day, in this beautiful little town.

    Out at the Kawarau Gorge, the ratio of spectators to bungee jumpers is about 100 to one. When we arrive, we make it 102 to one. The view of the gorge is just fine from up here on the bridge, thank you.

    Back in Queenstown, we eat a hasty picnic lunch in the town park, then head for the airport and our flight to Sydney. By the time the airport train delivers us to our station (Town Hall) it is dark. Sydney is warmer than Queenstown, much warmer. The walk to our hotel is a sweaty one.

    It's Saturday night, and downtown Sydney is hopping. I'm glad we're up on around the twelfth floor, because otherwise the din of cars cruising up and down George St. would keep us awake.

    Day 8. Sunday the 10th. Sydney. Ferry excursion to Manly, a 'day off'.

    Which is pretty well what it is. A leisurely day with a picnic at Manly, with sumptuous views of the Sydney opera house and bridge en route. Back 'home', we do some light chores: grocery shopping, some bus transit planning ,and a laundry back at the hotel. And a nap. And a swim. Darn, vacations can be hard work.

    Day 9. Monday the 11th Sydney. The Opera House, the Rocks, the Bridge.

    We drop by the Town Hall and pick up some leaflets detailing various DIY walking tours of Sydney (all leaflets were free). Next stop was the Opera house and booked the next

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    Day 9 (continued) available tour, which happened to be leaving in about 30 minutes. Alas, no chance of seeing an actual performance of 'Madame Butterfly' this evening as all seats are sold out.

    After the tour and a picnic lunch on this fine day, we took one of our leaflets and spent the afternoon following the DIY tour of the Rocks area, culminating in a walk up onto the Sydney bridge platform for a fine view. For a future trip, I'd consider doing the actual 'bridge walk' and also spend more time in this area, which is very charming.

    Day 10. Tuesday the 12th. Sydney. Trip to the Blue Mountains.

    The downside to this day is that four hours of it were spent on the train coming and going. The upside is that on the Prince Henry Cliff walk (described in the Summary, above) I finally got to see a kookaburra sitting on the old gum tree....eee...(You'd have to know the song for this to make any sense....) We also enjoyed chatting with many Sydney siders (?) out for the day themselves. When I come back....yes, I'm already planning, I want more time in the Blue mountains region. By the way, you Aussies that describe the sound a kookaburra makes as 'laughing' have a real sense of humour. To me, it sounded like the sound of a broken screen door being opened....Aw....rAwwwwwwck! I was so startled, I darn near fell off the cliff.

    Day 11. Wednesday the 13th. Again using our leaflets picked up from the Town Hall, we did a self guided walking tour of Sydney, from the War Memorial to the Botanic Gardens, and back via Darling harbour. In the afternoon we made our way to the airport for the flight to Melbourne. TIP: the airport bus to Southern Cross station works very well, the hotel pickup buses less so. You are better off walking, if possible, to your hotel, or taking a cab from here.

    Day 12. Thursday 14th. Melbourne.
    I'd dragged my bike helmet all the way from home just for this day, when we made use of Melbourne's wonderful civic bike system. It's the same system used by Montreal. You find a bike rack, and with a credit card, buy yourself a one day 'membership' from the machine that you'll find there. The fee is an absurd $5 each. This entitles you to use a bike for no further charge, providing you turn it in within half an hour at any of the racks scattered around the downtown core. Otherwise, your card will be charged for successively higher amounts per hour, as this system is intended to be for short commutes. But there is no limit to how many half hour rentals you wish to do, provided there are bikes available.

    We 'cycle commute' to the Victoria Art Gallery, a feast of everything from Monet to Aboriginal. In the afternoon, we grab a free tram tour of Melbourne. I note that comparing Sydney and Melbourne is like comparing apples and oranges. Both are lovely cities, but very different in character. I'd pick Sydney for its spectacular ocean setting, but Melbourne for its proximity to the Great Ocean Road. Which is where we're headed next.

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    Day 13. Friday 15th. Port Campbell.
    After picking up our rental car, we are off. Our final destination will be the Twelve Apostles, which thanks to many photo stops en route, and a stop to check into our hotel and grab some supplies for the night's dinner, we only just manage to see as the sun is setting. For those not headed to Cape Otway, there are kangaroos to be seen on the golf course of the Anglesea Golf club (non-members are asked not to go on the course itself, but this is no problem as the roos can be seen from the parking lot of the club.)

    I'm not sure how to advise anyone hoping to do this trip by public transit. The 'Do it in a Day' tours out of Melbourne are at least an option, but even as one who is not averse to fast paced travel, I think such a tour will be very rushed, with likely no chance to do even the short walks available along the route that take one through pretty stands of gum (eucalyptus) trees. But taking such a tour will beat missing this area entirely.

    Day 14. Saturday 16th. Morning in Port Campbell area (rock formations), afternoon to Cape Otway.

    The beachcombing was fun, but the highlight of the trip awaited us at Cape Otway Great Ocean Ecolodge. I must say, even as one accustomed to winding roads, that the G.O.R is VERY winding. Don't expect to roar down this route in record time.

    At the ecolodge, we met our charming hosts, and were given a sumptuous tea to fortify us for our guided hike. I should mention that included in the night's rate was a 90 minute guided hike around the property, during which we learned from our hosts (both of whom are doing active, government-sponsored research on local fauna and flora) a great deal about the kangaroos and koala bears that live on the property.

    My one regret is that I forgot to ask our hosts for detailed directions on star-gazing. I am embarrassed to confess that despite looking on several nights throughout the trip, we never did manage to find the famous 'Southern Cross' constellation. Note to self: next time, invest in stargazer's map of southern hemisphere skies.

    Day 15. Sunday 17th. After a sumptuous breakfast at Great Ocean, we watched our hosts caring for some of the orphaned animals they hope to eventually release back into the wild, including 'Angela' the wallaby. Then, we started on a leisurely drive with much stopping en route, with the result that we made it to Melbourne Airport only by early evening.

    Day 16. Monday 18th. Flight to Wellington (three hours, plus lose two hours due to time difference between NZ and Oz.) On arrival at our apartment hotel, the Bolton, I, a once and former little girl who loved to play with doll houses, was entranced. The kitchen was the most ingeniously arranged of any I've seen. In a small space, they managed to cram in a one drawer dishwasher with a small toaster oven atop this, plus a full fridge, a sink, a two burner cooktop, a combination washer/dryer, and a drawer containing sample items for sale of just about anything one might need - everything from cold remedies to shaving cream to toothpaste to emergency chocolate. We set about at once putting just about every appliance into good use....

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    Day 17. Tuesday 19th. Wellington, North Island, NZ.

    The LOTR half day tour as described earlier, was lovely. It helped that there were only two other passengers on board the small minivan that day, two women from Sri Lanka, and both were good sports willing to get into the spirit of the tour (at one point, one is invited to try on a pair of hobbit ears, which gives you an idea....)

    Around noon, we are dropped off at our apartment, where we relax a bit over lunch. Then we stroll downtown to the 'Te Papa' museum. I have to confess, that later in the trip we will see the Auckland museum, which I liked better. But the building of this one is very well designed, and it IS most definitely worth a visit, especially the earthquake simulator.

    We very wisely pack up the night before. It is very wise, because......

    Day 18. Wednesday 20th. Flight to Auckland, drive to Taupo via Rotorua.

    ....we oversleep, the alarms we set for some reason didn't go off. We awaken by chance at 6 a.m, and to the mental strains of 'the William Tell Overture' make the fastest exit from a hotel I've ever done in my life. If that was you we darn near ran down as we charged for the local airport bus stop, in time for a 6:30 a.m bus, my apologies. At any rate, we make our 8 a.m plane, and by 9 a.m, we're in Auckland, and by 10:30 a.m we are making a leisurely drive via Rotorua for Taupo. In Rotorua, we stroll through the free civic thermal park in the centre of town, pick up some groceries, and enjoy a picnic. The day is clear enough that as we approach Taupo, we can see tomorrow's destination, Mount Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park, on the horizon. In the early evening, we have a pleasant time strolling the shores of Lake Taupo, which is actually the caldera (?) of a dormant volcano.

    Day 19. Thursday 21st Day trip to Tongariro National Park.

    This was another highlight day. When I think of New Zealand in future, the memory of the perfect volcanic peak of Tongariro, a black conical cake crowned with a 'dripping' of snow, on this perfect of sunny April (fall) days, will come to mind.

    We stop off at the parking lot entrance to the crossing, which is already full of parked buses; the hikers doing the crossing have left long since. But there is much to do here in the park even for one not doing the crossing. Lots of fun short walks, for example to see the 'mounds'; another to see a small waterfall; a lunchtime tea taken in the lounge of the Chateau Tongariro, from which the aforesaid peak is splendidly visible. After lunch, we drive up to the Whakapapa ski fields which is another filming location of LOTR. Then back down the slopes of Ruapehu to explore the gift shop and exhibits in the small park information centre. Finally, by four o'clock ish, we start heading back on the ninety minute drive back to Taupo.

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    Day 20 . Friday 22nd. Taupo to Auckland via Huka Falls and Orakei Korako

    A misty morning greets us, one of the few we've had this trip. But no actual rain, wonder of wonders in this, the "Land of the Long White Cloud". We check out and head for the blue, blue waters of Huka Falls.

    Not far from here is one of several thermal parks in the area:
    http://www.orakeikorako.co.nz/

    I picked this park partly for reasons of practicality - it was near to Taupo - and partly because it featured small geysers as well as bubbling mud and colourful pools. Having done it I can say that it does have a certain 'Jurassic Park' quality about it, as it is heavily wooded, and furthermore must be reached by taking a very short motor launch trip across a lake. The whole experience took about ninety minutes. I found it much nicer than Kuirau park in Rotorua, since it lacked strong sulfur fumes. ( I didn't expect these fumes to bother me, but they did.) Others speak highly of Wai-o-tapu, and if we'd had time, we might have undertaken to visit this park as well.

    We had lunch in a diner at a lumber town en route to Auckland, where spouse confused the cashier by trying to pay with Australian dollars. Too many currencies this trip, one of the few drawbacks of a blitz tour like this. We drove onward, arriving to a subdued Auckland as this is the start of a holiday weekend (April 25th is ANZAC day.)

    Day 21. Saturday 23 Auckland. Excursion to Devonport, Auckland museum, and to the airport for evening flight.

    I'm glad we had a car this day as the morning trip to a fortress viewpoint in Devonport was mainly possible on such a tight schedule because we had wheels. The good weather had returned and we enjoyed the sight of the splendid harbour from the fortress. We returned back across the bridge to have lunch at the Auckland museum, which we thoroughly enjoyed. And then, alas, it was time to drop the car at the airport and make ready for boarding our flight to LA.

    Day 22. Saturday 23 (yup, cuz we crossed the dateline in flight.) Arrived back in LA, and collapsed at the hotel for the balance of the day.

    Day 23. Sunday 24. Drive via Venice Beach and Santa Monica to Malibu. Return via Brentwood.

    Today we are smart enough to rent a car for the day. I just had to get us out to Malibu, where as it turns out a surprise was waiting, the 'Adamson House.' The house itself was closed for visits (Sunday) but we were able to stroll around the gardens, and imagine that we lived here.
    Going back, we drove up onto Mullholland Drive (because I LOVE that movie) and were also reminded of the film 'Chinatown' when we caught a view of a large dam and a splendid view of the San Fernando (?) valley. L.A., once you get used to its sprawling size, seems to be full of such treats. Can anyone tell us exactly what that overlook is called?

    Day 24. Monday 25. And here's where it ends.... our flight home.

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    Lee Ann

    Flattery will get you everywhere with me. Seriously, I am glad you enjoyed it.

    One last thing to add: if I had had more time, as in 3 more days or so, I would not have added any other destinations, but just expanded on the ones we visited. In particular I would have added a night in Queenstown, because had our inbound flight from LA been late, we would have had no 'buffer room' to make up lost time...and we needed ALL the time we had in Queenstown. Another night in Melbourne/the G.O.R. would have been nice, and also another night/day in Taupo; this would have given us some flexibility in case we were less lucky with the weather than we were. (Tongariro was fabulous, but rain/cloud would have obscured the peaks.)

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    Loved your trip report Sue. You managed to pack so much in the time you had. Just wondering though why you flew between countries a couple of times and not just spend time in one and then fly to the other.

    Here I am thinking have we got time to visit Bay of Islands when we go to Auckland in April when we have a spare three days after the show we are going too. I know that if I was travelling overseas we would make the most of every minute but for some reason travelling in your own country you seem to view it differently!!.

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    SUPERB report!!! It brought back wonderful memories -- and provided a few suggestions for next time. Thanks for writing such a wonderfully informative, and entertaining report.

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    What a great report, Sue, thank you for sharing. I'm so delighted you visited Melbourne's fabulous art galleries. Melbournians themselves often seriously underestimate how good they are. Any tourist I have had the pleasure of hosting (have a lot from North America) has really enjoyed them and invariably has been surprised by the whole Melbourne art scene.

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    Brilliant! I loved every minute of it, even the taxonomically incorrect description of the koala as a 'bear'.

    No worries, just about every non-Australian does the same thing (myself included, until I was set straight).

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    " I look down, and see a lake high, high in the mountains emptying, like a bathtub, into a waterfall that falls, down and down and down. "

    Sue: Fantastic trip report! Love this bit of imagery, as I am sure this is a description of Lake Quill and Sutherland Falls as seen from the air. Brings back fond memories of NZ, the Milford Track, and our 2010 excursion to the base the falls, the highest in NZ at nearly 2000 feet.

    Also appreciate your impressions of the Great Ocean Road, which we will be exploring this November.

    Ralph

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    nelsonian

    It actually worked out quite well to enter NZ twice. On such a short trip, we were going to be flying between the north and south islands anyway. Then, since we were flying mainly on Air NZ which connects all of its North American flights via AKL, we'd have to work our way back to AKL for the inbound to LAX anyway (flights to/from Australia from/to LAX stop in AKL.)

    An added bonus was that stopping in NZ both outbound and inbound gave us more chance to adjust our biological time clocks, since NZ is two hours closer to LA time than is Oz.

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    Songdoc, Libretto, glad you enjoyed it. Libretto, I would love to know who arranged to acquire such a collection for the gallery. All I can say is, WOW.

    Melnq8 - argh! I can't believe I let that slip - you can bet our hosts at the ecolodge got the naming correct. All I can say to explain my goof is that the little fellows looked just so cute, like teddy bears.

    margo_oz, I would love to hurry back. Unfortunately the piggy bank has been damaged by recent global economic volatility. Meanwhile I can dream of the next trip. Enjoy your birthday. I promise you will be well fed at the Ecolodge.

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    Congrats Sue....

    Well done, and I can especially relate to the flight over this way, having done it a few time ourselves, and good to see that, in the end...it all proved worthwhile for you.

    Great trip report, excellent coverage/visual imagery, and hopefully you'll do it all again one day soon, and even get some time in, up here, on the GBR etc.

    Well done & cheers, mate,

    Rick
    Cairns & PNG

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    Greetings RalphR, I went to youtube and looked for a clip of Lake Quill and found this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IpBtpNw2fs

    Around 0.44 one does indeed see a lake that looked like the one I saw (the footage is from a helicopter that passed right over the lake, as opposed to a plane that flew past it, so the angle is a bit different, but it certainly looks the same.)Thanks for giving me a name to put to place.

    RickPorgera

    Glad you liked the report. I would indeed like to see Queensland, and also Kakadu national park and Darwin some day. The bird life to be seen sounds amazing. On the other hand I'd like to see Tasmania, but that of course is in the opposite direction. Decisions, decisions.

    Now that I've done it, the flights are no longer so intimidating. I have friends one of whom goes regularly to visit family in Tasmania, and they don't even overnight in LA but do the whole thing in one go, as it were. Not to mention that plenty of people from Oz/NZ visit Europe, by taking marathon 22 hour flight itineraries with only time to change planes in Hong Kong or Singapore. Now, that is what I call being a road, or should that be, sky warrior. (Hmmn, best not to use that term within earshot of airport security...)

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    Sue, your report was so enjoyable. We just returned from a month-long trip to Sydney & Cairns(Pt. Douglas),South Island, NZ, and Fiji and are in the process of writing a report. We really enjoyed all the details in your report. Thanks so much!

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