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Trip Report Trip Report: The Land Down Under Feb.-March, 2012

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INTRODUCTION: Trip to Sydney and Cairns AUS, South
Island, NEW ZEALAND, FIJI, ending in Santa Monica, CA

By way of background, we began this trip preparation with the idea of using American Airlines FF miles, which we’ve been accumulating over several years, to visit New Zealand. And, while we were traveling such a distance, we wanted to plan our trip to the other side of the world to include some variety in order to feel that long flights were worth it. In addition, our goal was to balance our destinations to have a combination of new city experience, like Sydney, Australia, with a heavy concentration of natural beauty. So, within the possibilities of our airline miles, we decided to spend the first five days in Sydney, the next four days north of Cairns, Australia, in Port Douglas, then two weeks in the South Island, New Zealand, ending with R & R in Fiji. Finally, on our return to the US, we would spend about 3 ½ days in Santa Monica, CA before returning home to the Midwest.

After spending a considerable amount of time researching destinations, and with valuable help from Fodorites, especially regarding the South Island, NZ, we carefully planned the details of our travel. From previous longer trips, we learned that changing locations consumes valuable time in re-packing and travel, so we chose to limit our flights as much as possible. After determining our itinerary and details regarding flights, rental cars, lodging, etc. we made real efforts to plan our packing in order to travel as lightly as possible. For a month + of travel, we knew we’d have four different airlines (American, Qantas, Jet Star, and Air Pacific) to deal with, and would need clothing, shoes, gear, and supplies which ranged from casual everyday wear, to swim suits and beach items to jackets for chilly weather, to appropriate dress for occasional evenings out. In addition, there were basic toiletries, OTC stuff, maps, etc. etc. We planned to get all this into two carry-ons and one medium-sized luggage. We were concerned about the differing luggage allowances on four different airlines, even though we did spend time calling and trying to ascertain their rules. Bottom-line is that packing seemed to be quite a chore!

An additional note about this report: Although we have traveled quite a bit, and have followed Fodor’s Forum for a few years, only more recently have we written any trip reports. After enjoying the accounts of others‘ travels, we decided that writing a report would allow us to amalgamate all the information we had in notebooks, receipts, on scraps of paper, etc. This
report is much longer than intended, so we have divided it into segments.


Part I: AUSTRALIA:
Phase 1: Sydney

February 8th, our departure day, arrived with ideal weather for flying. We were “pressing” until the last minute to take care of all details at home. Trusting that things were under control, as we traveled to the airport, we began to relax. We’re fortunate to have a sister and b-in-law who live near the airport who would park our car in their driveway while we were gone.

Our first flight from home to DFW went off without a hitch. We had purposely booked an earlier flight, just in case there was a problem, because we wanted to be sure that we made a flight from DFW to LAX so as to connect with our Qantas flight to Sydney. We had four hours in Dallas, plenty of time to have a nice pub lunch, get a Starbucks, leisurely peruse the book store, and catch CNN news. Finally, the time came to board our flight from DFW to LAX. After all passengers were settled, an announcement was made that the pilot was “sick”, another pilot had been called up, but he lived a distance away. Upshot: we waited until 5:40, a half-hour late. At least they did turn on the “fresh air” as the plane became hot and stuffy. About 5:50, our flight pushed away from the gate, but with the long line of planes for take off, it was 20 minutes later before we took off. Once in the air, the flight was OK. Only drinks were served, but we had our pretzels and grapes! We were relieved that we’d have three hours in LAX before our Qantas flight. We chose to read on the flight to LAX, hoping to be tired enough to sleep en route to Sydney. Ordinarily, we would have chosen to overnight in LA, but we thought that the ability to check our luggage right on through to Sydney was worth the gruelingly long day. It was quite an experience transferring from the domestic to the international terminal. We had a rather long walk through the domestic terminal down to the ground level of the airport where we were checked in by Qantas agents, and given our boarding passes. We waited in a small, nondescript area to board buses which would drive us all around the back of LAX, past many hangars, repair “stalls”, various aircraft, luggage shuttles, etc. Once we reached the international terminal, a rather old, stark area, the pickings were slim for getting anything to eat. But since we were hungry, a pre-made ham & cheese sandwich and Diet Coke at least satisfied that need. Someone had left a London Times behind, so that consumed our time in the very basic waiting area. One thing of interest: when approaching the Qantas desk before boarding the bus: we asked about the possibility of a seat upgrade. . .like “Premium Economy”. The rep said that there were seats. . .for 5000 or 8000. So we asked, “5000-8000 what? miles???”, and she responded, “No, dollars! $5000-$8000 !!!” Naturally, we declined.

Boarding began about 9:35, but it took until 10:50 to be airborne. For this almost 15-hour flight, we risked selecting back-of-the-plane seats 68A and 68C, hoping that no one would occupy the middle seat. (This was a suggestion of the agent from AA when we booked our flight.) And, luck was in our favor. With no passenger in the center seat, we were able to spread out a bit and get some sleep. . .at least in snatches. Several trips to the restroom helped. The 747 aircraft seemed brand new-and nicer than any American carrier, including AA and Delta, which we had recently experienced. An attendant said that it had recently been refurbished. The crew were all professionally groomed and very personable. After being seated, we were presented with menus of dinner and breakfast, plus snacks and drinks. So it was time for us to make the best of the long haul to the Land Down Under. The flight was lengthy, but it went better than expected. About 4:30-5:00 AM the sun peeped out over the horizon. We spotted a bit of land. . .and we knew that we were getting close. . .only about 3+ hours to go. We would survive the 7724 mi./14+ from LAX, and after crossing the international date line, it was now February 10th.

Friday, February 10, Arrival Day

Immigration was long-50 minutes. We had made an online purchase of the visa needed for entrance. One thing we found notable in Australia is the strictness of any food brought in: “Nada”. Opened bags: “Dispose of in quarantine bins.” Once outside the terminal, luggage in tow, we walked to the taxi line and fairly quickly were on our way to downtown Sydney. We learned our first monetary lesson: Beware! Many services and stores charge an extra 3% when using a credit card. This is on top of the GST (Government Services Tax.)The taxi driver failed to tell us that when he said we could pay with a card. Taxi fare: $60.AUD

Our hotel, the Marriott Circular Quay, was in a perfect location. Because of our early arrival, our room wasn’t ready, so we checked our luggage and talked to the concierge about purchasing tickets for the Saturday night Opera House Symphony. We walked the two blocks to Circular Quay and got our first look at the stunning Opera House, and the Harbor Bridge, called the “old coat hangar” because of its shape. After strolling around the plaza, with its beautiful floral displays, and taking in all the “quays” of the ferries, we walked up to the “Rocks”, Sydney’s original European settlement with a past seedy reputation. Over the years it has been “sanitized” as they say, and is now a popular spot for tourists. Here, we had a great pizza for our late lunch at Zia Pina Pizzeria. We strolled down George Street, the main street in the Rocks area, stopped in a few shops, and happened upon the Ken Done Art Gallery. We would have searched for this gallery as it was requested by a acquaintance “Mel”, a guy who works in the photo dept. at our local store. He had met Ken Done on a former trip to Sydney, admired his work, and struck up a relationship with him. DH found a colorful purse for DW, and we decided to purchase one for our sister also. We bought a bookmark designed by Ken Done for Mel. We attempted to relate the connection of Mel to Ken to the gallery clerk, but she was rather dismissive. We wandered down to the corner of Pitt Street, near our hotel, to enjoy a Starbucks’ cappuccino and hopefully get complementary WiFi. This was our first of many experiences in both Australia and New Zealand, where WiFi was not free. But good ’ol McDonald’s did offer free WiFi! We found a convenience store and a Marche across from our hotel, both of which turned out to be handy for picking up Diet Cokes and sundries.

It was about 4:30 PM, and we felt the need to return to the Marriott and catch a few winks as the jet lag was beginning to take its toll. After sending a few e-mails with our one-day free usage, we set the alarm, intending to take an hour-long nap. However, the hour evolved into a three-hour snooze.
We awoke to shower and walk down to the quay for our first fish & chips with Aussie beers at the City Express Café. The view of the harbor from the restaurant, with the activity of the ferries pulling in and out of the quays, was a nice treat for that first evening. We returned to the Marriott by about 11 PM, and before turning in for the evening, stopped at the concierge desk to purchase tickets for a Saturday evening performance of the symphony at the Opera House. ($116 ea.) There were only a few seats left, so we were happy that we hadn’t waited any longer. Since it was our first night at the hotel, and we were tired, it was a chore to figure out the electric, converter and adapters (220 to 110 conversion) , light/fan switches, etc. The Marriott had its predictable comfortable bedding, and we were each able to enjoy a very restful night’s sleep.




Saturday, February 11th-2nd Day

Saturday dawned with overcast skies. We enjoyed the first of our daily buffet breakfasts in the Marriott. The buffet included every type of food from fresh fruit to made-to-order omelettes, etc., etc. Considering the high prices of food in Sydney restaurants, this turned out to be a fairly good value, and very convenient. As we were discussing the possible options for the day, we met an impressive young server, Fahred, originally from Afghanistan, who had lived in Germany for 20 years when his parents left Afghanistan during the Russian conflict there. We saw Fahred on most days, and found him fascinating and delightful to talk with. We also received a few helpful tips about the area.

After breakfast, we were off to the Opera House for a 45-minute tour ($32.AUD each) We enjoyed learning about the history of this iconic symbol of Sydney, which we view on TV every New Year’s Eve to witness the first fireworks from around the world. We found it interesting to learn that. after design submissions by many architects, the one chosen was that of a Danish architect, Jorn Utzon. That was 1956. A predicted four-year construction began in 1959. There was significant under-estimation of costs ($7 million estimate to complete; $102 million-actual amount) and construction fell way behind schedule. As with many novel ideas, there were multiple naysayers, ego clashes, and politicking which interfered with financing and construction. It was finally completed in 1973, but we found it sad to learn that Utzon had quit in disgust in 1966. Once again, in 2004, Jorn Utzon and his son were commissioned for renovations. But Jorn died in 2008, never having seen the project on which he had devoted so much of his time and energy. But the Opera House serves as a focal point in the Sydney harbor, a recognizable symbol of the city and the hub of entertainment. In touring the Opera House, we learned that it is includes six venues: opera, concerts, theatre, and dance, and, in addition, a studio for emerging artists. Even though it’s referred to as the “Opera House”, the largest venue, known for its superb acoustics, is the concert hall. The tour included three videos and many, many steps to climb.

After the Opera House tour, we were eager to catch a boat from Captain Cook Cruises for a Harbor Tour. (1 ¼ hours) Soon after boarding the boat, drizzle turned into a rain shower, which lasted until about the last twenty minutes. Did we indicate that the tour was narrated? However, the passengers on this tour were very noisy, along with crew moving about setting up for a dinner to follow. So the narration was difficult to follow. But the sun came out for the last twenty minutes, and we did enjoy some great views. And the now beautiful weather enticed us to sit on the harbor and have a chicken souvlaki on a stick for a late lunch before we headed back to the Marriott to get ready for the evening’s symphony: Beethoven’s ODE TO JOY. As we made our way along the harbor to the Opera House, we witnessed seemingly hundreds of people along the walk, and in the many cafes and restaurants. The closer we got to the Opera House, the more hordes of people were gathered, mostly dressed up. The area in and around the Circular Quay, with the soft evening sun, was beautiful, and many people were making use of the benches all along the walkway to enjoy it. We found a chicken and avocado wrap with a Tiger draft that was perfect as our pre-concert meal, with an eye to a dessert afterward. We had sufficient time to enjoy the awesome view before heading in to pick up our tickets at “Will Call” and find our seats in “peanut heaven”; literally, almost at the top of the concert hall. On the way in, we purchased a CD ($20 AUD) with Beethoven’s 9th as a memento of our experience, and made our way up what seemed to be 100’s of steps. The first part of the concert was a heavy Strauss composition, reflecting all the destruction and death of World War II, (not too enjoyable for us) but was chosen, it was explained, to juxtapose Beethoven’s ODE TO JOY, which was awesome. Accompanying the symphony were 150+ members of the Sydney Choral group, and 4 sopranos, who all performed in German without any music. As we left the concert hall, there was a fireworks show on the side of the Opera House. It was a real party atmosphere! Aussies do love to party! As anticipated, we stopped at Guylian’s to share a Belgian waffle with ice cream & fruit, ($31 AUD) and a cappucino. It’s now close to midnight, the crowd is thinning a bit, and the last boats are leaving to other locations around the harbor. So we head back to our Marriott, feeling that we had had a good day and a wonderful evening.




Sunday, February 12th-3rd Day

At breakfast, we again meet Fahred, plus a couple of other nice servers: Ashlee and Jenny. They are very engaging, offering us ideas about Sydney, and very interested in the US.

We enjoy the uniqueness of Sydney in its location all around the harbor, with transportation from one part to the other by boat. Today we decide to purchase a “Hop On-Hop Off” Boat Pass and explore other areas. Apparently, others had the same idea as the first boat was full. While we were waiting for the next one, we met a couple, Beverly and Peter, who lived in Perth. Originally, Beverly was from England and he from New Zealand. A good discussion about Australian politics, especially with their elections coming up and interest in Julia Gillard’s re-election helped pass the time. We got off at the Taronga Zoo stop and walked up the long hill and turned right for a walk offering fantastic views of Sydney Harbor. We decided that $44.AUD each was more than we wanted to shell out, since our interest was mainly to see a kangaroo, koala, and platypus, all unique to Australia. We thought (wrongly as it turned out) that as we traveled farther north into Queensland, and went into some forest areas, we would see one or the other of these. We learned that locals have rarely seen them “in the wild.” But at the time we were happy to enjoy the beautiful walk, and hop back on the boat for our next destination: Watson’s Bay, a harbor side eastern suburb of Sydney. We had heard that having lunch at Doyle’s Fish Restaurant was a quintessential thing to do, and planned to do just that. Upon arrival, we discovered Camp Cove Beach, backed by a large, green hilly park, and Doyle’s. However, since we did not have a reservation at the white-tablecloth restaurant, it would be a couple of hours until we could get served. When considered the wait, we decided to try the restaurant/bar on the hill beside it, and enjoy our meal at the outdoor place under the umbrellas. Two friendly English ladies, who were ready to leave their seats, stayed there to save them for us while we picked up our lunch. (1 order fish & chips: $21.50 AUD, 2 beers $6 AUD each) Nice people all around! We had a conversation with these ladies, and learned that the son of one woman was a student in Montana. She raved about the kindness of the the lady in the house where he rented space. . .even doing his laundry for him, no charge. As we finished our lunch, we gave over our table to a couple who lived in the local area, he from Sydney and she from Croatia. We had an interesting exchange with them as well.

We made our way up the long, grassy slope as we sensed that a series of steps and a wall at the top must be some attraction. And we were not disappointed. The area, called “Watson’s Bay Gap”, is an ocean cliff, part of the South Headlands, with a steep drop-off and waves crashing against the rocks. It was impressive, and reminded us of a mini-version of the Cliffs of Mohr in Ireland.

Down at the dock, there were several boat companies which pulled in. We knew the time schedule of ours, and headed down the long hill in time to make the next one. However, we learned from others waiting for a different company’s boat that ours had pulled in at an area not visible from the wharf entry, and we missed it. UGH! At this point, we were tired and eager to get going, especially since the sky suddenly became dark and cloudy. The next boat arrived about 35 minutes later, and we luckily boarded just before the downpour came. At least sitting undercover on the boat, we were able to somewhat enjoy the ride back to the Circular Quay, making a stop at their amusement park and at the popular Darling Harbor, an area we had yet to explore. After being out all day, we not only felt tired, but disheveled, and returned to to our hotel to stretch out and freshen up for dinner.

We again headed for the “Rocks” area for dinner. It was a pleasant stroll up a side “walking” street, called “Herald Square”, filled with beautiful sculptures and flowers. We learned that it was named in honor of Sydney’s paper, the “Morning Herald“. We walked along George St., where the Four Seasons’ Hotel, plus some other nice hotels, restaurants, and classy shops are located, The “Rocks Café”, an attractive little Italian place, seemed like a perfect spot have dinner. All seemed to go fine as we ordered our drinks with salad and spaghetti bolognaise to share. Then, we had a most unusual experience! After hearing loud noises from the open kitchen (pans being banged, angry outbursts) with DH witnessing an obviously upset chef, we waited. . .and waited. . . and waited. . .and waited. No food. No one stopped by our table. Finally, we caught the eye of our waiter who, in a very hushed voice, said that the chef had walked out, and that they had called in another chef in the neighborhood, a former employee, who knew their menu. The waiter brought us a basket of bread, an offer of a complimentary dessert and coffee, and a profuse apology. Finally, we got our meals, which were very tasty. With a free dessert and cappuccinos, our meal was our least expensive yet. But patience was a part of the price! We arrived back at the Marriott about 10 PM, looking forward to a night of rest.

Monday, February 13th-4th Day

Today was Manly Beach Day for us. Manly is not only a beautiful beach, but a high-end residential area. Quay 3 in Sydney is busy all day and evening with the Manly Beach Ferry. On the evening we attended the Opera House Symphony , we had witnessed people dressed up, some women with long dresses and men in suits, getting off the ferry heading for the performance. We caught the 11:30 ferry and had a beautiful trip out to Manly, as the day was picture-perfect. En route we met a couple, she from Toronto and he from South Island, New Zealand. who were planning to be married and live in Sydney. He shared some details about the South Island, which will be our destination in a week or so.

The Manly Ferry Terminal was very clean and organized. As we exited, we passed a large enclosed area of food stalls lined up. But we were interested in the beach. After leaving the food stall area, we crossed a street onto the “Corso”, a walking street with a variety of shops and more restaurants. Finally, the beach. Beautiful! Surfers. . .although the surf wasn’t that high on this day. The Manly Beach is long with white sand, with walks on either end leading to “overlooks” out to the ocean. Not far from here are the North Headlands, a “channel” through which the boats pass to the ocean in the famous Sydney-Hobart, Tasmania sailboat race, said to be the longest in the world: 900+ miles. As we were sitting on one of the many benches along the beachfront, shaded by palm trees, we got involved in a rather long conversation with a couple who lived in Sydney: Dot & Mack. We learned quite a bit about their travels, which were many and varied.

We had lunch at a delightful Italian (again!) Restaurant: “Cicella” located right across from the beach. Shared salad and spaghetti entrée, beer/wine, cappuccino, and cookie: ($50.AUD with drinks) Our server was from Sweden and the hostess from Manchester, England. We had a nice encounter with each. After a leisurely lunch, we returned to the beach area. Skies were darkening. We lost interest in removing our shoes to walk in the sand, thinking that it looked like rain might be imminent. We decided to catch the 3:45 ferry back to Circular Quay. A good move, allowing time to return to the hotel, check travel docs for Cairns flight on Wednesday, and begin organizing luggage.

Dinner this evening was at Guglian’s at the “Rocks”: a tasty beef bourguignon pie followed by a chocolate dessert and cappuccino. ($60. AUD) After dinner, we enjoyed a great stroll on the walkway at the Circular Quay Harbor. Beautiful evening. . .the night lights, boats coming and going, Opera House across the harbor. We’re glad we have 5 days in Sydney!

Tuesday, February 14th, 5th Day

Although there were still many attractions to explore within close proximity to the harbor, we thought that we’d like to see some of the surrounding city. We decided on the “Hop On/Hop Off Bus” as our most practical means to get at least a birds’ eye view of Sydney away from the harbor. The itinerary included 90-minute trips on two different buses, with routes covering different parts of the city. The weather cooperated, so we were able to get an overview of the city, including some of the wealthier residential areas where each home had an ocean view. In addition, we saw St. Mary’s Cathedral in Hyde Park, King’s Cross, and the very large Bondi Beach, known for its surfing. Due to time constraints, we decided not to spend time there, having been to Manly Beach yesterday. An area we really liked was Rose Harbor, a beautiful neighborhood right on the level of the water. Having completed most of the second route, we got off at Darling Harbor, a large tourist hub marina with lots of restaurants and shops, including a Hard Rock Café. The convention center is located here. We had lunch at Olivio’s: finally a deal: two entrees for the price of one. We walked over the large pedestrian bridge which overlooks all the boats in the harbor. After descending the bridge on the opposite side, we were fairly close to our bus stop, and within a short time, we heading back to our hotel area. We arrived at about 5 PM. Since tomorrow was the day for our early AM flight to Cairns, we needed to do our flight check-in, pack bags, including our swimming stuff and snorkel tubes, and prepare the remainder of our luggage for checking at the Marriott until our February 18th return. This being Valentine’s evening, we wanted to celebrate! In order to conserve time, we decided to opt for a a taxi instead of the ferry, and head over to Cockle Bay at the end of Darling Harbor where we knew that there would be a 9 PM fireworks show. The Harbor was hopping with activity! We met a couple from San Pedro, CA who had just gotten off a Queen Mary Around the World Tour beginning in Capetown, South Africa and traveling around Australia. We learned from them that it’s possible to purchase a part of an “Around the World” tour, which is what they had done. There were huge crowds at the harbor for the fireworks, and this couple was nice enough to make room for us on the top row of steps to view the show. After a few minutes of chatting, the fireworks began, and quite a show it was! The restaurants were all packed, and we didn’t want to hang around too long as we wanted to get back to our hotel to finish packing and be ready for a 5 AM wake up. So dinner was a salad and pizza at “Eat, Love, Pizza”. Our waitress was a Parisian girl, and since we had just returned from Paris a month earlier, we had fun sharing ideas. We caught a taxi back to the Marriott by 11:30, eager for our next day’s trip to explore the Great Barrier Reef area.




PHASE 2: AUSTRALIA:
Pt. Douglas-Great Barrier Reef

Wednesday, February 15th, 6th Day
5 AM came early. Even though we had prepared as much as possible the previous evening, we found that we needed the allotted 1 ½ hours to take care of last-minute details, including hotel check-out, luggage storage, etc. We opened the breakfast buffet, and quickly ate some goodies. Guys at the porter’s desk weighed our luggage; a good double-check to our luggage scale. A cab was waiting for us, and by 7:20 we were off. We were happy that we had left a bit early as we ran into a “traffic incident” (as they called it) causing a major back-up on the freeway en route to the airport.
Additionally, our flight itinerary indicated “Jet Star” in the domestic terminal, but we found out that it was a Qantas flight (better!) and had to transfer to the international terminal, fortunately only a short walk. In contrast to the $60 AUD charge for our initial taxi into the city, using our credit card, the charge for this trip was $30 AUD cash. We thought he deserved a nice tip!

Flight check-in in went smoothly. Luggage was self-loaded onto a conveyor belt as a Qantas rep watched the weight. Security was fairly fast. We were happy to finally be in our gate area when it was announced that the flight was delayed because something had happened in the cargo hold which caused the staff to move all the contents. Finally inside the plane, there was a confusion with seating. Some passengers discovered that their assigned seats were occupied because others were in the wrong seats. The attendants had to really “assert themselves” to get all passengers to take their assigned seats before the plane could be ready for take-off. Once in the air, the flight was smooth: great aircraft, breakfast served, and pretty good seats. We enjoyed the interactions with the flight attendants who seemed very interested in talking about the US.

After landing and retrieving our luggage, rental car pick-up went smoothly and we began our driving-on-the-left experience heading north to Port Douglas. It’s the turns and round-abouts which present the challenges. It had been about three years since we’d driven under the “English rules”, so we took our time getting into the groove with DH, the driver and DW, the navigator. Not far north from Cairns, the highway began hugging the coast, which, to our surprise, in addition to gorgeous turquoise water, had a backdrop of mountains. Because we couldn’t resist frequent stops, and having lunch at a beach pub along the way, it took us about three hours to do a one-hour drive. A section of the highway had only one lane due to a landslide which completely covered the other lane. Construction crews were out in full force.

As we left the main highway to head into Port Douglas, we were impressed with the pretty “boulevard-like” road, and in a short time found the “Pepper’s Beach Club”, our place for the next three evenings. It was a bit disappointing to find out that the “water view” indicated on the website was not of the ocean, but of the hotel swimming pool. But the place was very nice, and our room was attractive, private and well-appointed.

One of our main interests in visiting this area was a snorkeling venture on the Great Barrier Reef. From previous diving and snorkeling experiences, we did not want to go on a boat carrying large crowds of passengers. The attendant at the hotel was talking up such a company which would pick us up at 8 AM. After our rush and activity of the past few days, we did not want another “early rise day.” So we drove down to the Mirage Marina and found a company with a smaller boat, the “Reef Sprinter“, which carried only 12 passengers, and left at 11:30 AM. This was perfect for our needs. So we locked in our reservations for the next day.

Port Douglas is a small resort town with restaurants and shops on one main streets and several side streets. We drove the couple of blocks from the marina into town and had dinner at what turned out to be a favorite restaurant: “The Iron Bar”. We enjoyed a grilled fish which was unfamiliar to us: barramundi, and great draft beer. There was musical entertainment, but perhaps of a kind which many would not enjoy: hundreds of starlings hanging out in the trees which lined the middle of the street. After our meal, we stopped at the local grocery to pick up drinks and muffins for breakfast.
We headed back to our hotel ready for a good night’s sleep.


Thursday, February 16th, 7th Day

For the first time in several days, it was nice to “sleep in” ‘til 7:30. Sitting out on our deck overlooking the pool, even freeze-dried instant coffee and muffins were a treat. We decided to jump into the pool and get a taste of the water before our snorkel trip. The time went quickly until it was time to leave for our venture. ($110. each: including skins (“stinger suits” to them), masks, and fins. We brought our own snorkel tubes or they would have been provided. The driver and guide, Steve, had a fast “jet” boat which provided an exciting 9 km ride out to the reef in about 15 minutes. With so few snorklers, the water remained very calm and we were able to see gorgeous-colored coral and a multitude of beautiful fish. We could have rented underwater cameras for $40. NZD, but we decided to take our photos on the boat, and purchase pictures of the fish and coral, so we could just relax and take in the beauty we saw when snorkeling.

After a wonderful experience, we enjoyed the exciting boat ride back and looked forward to a lunch of barramundi & chips at a restaurant overlooking the marina. By this time, we felt “starved”. We picked up some souvenir shirts and headed back to Pepper’s Beach Club to catch a quick nap and shower for the evening in town. As we checked out all the restaurants, last evening’s experience at the Iron Bar had us longing for that draft beer and their evening “special”: grilled black angus rump steak, which we shared. Together with cappucinos, our bill was $47.50 NZD.

Back at Pepper’s Beach Club, we stopped at the reception to talk about reservations for the Scenic Railway/Skyrail to Kuranda Rainforest. Dylan, at the front desk, was extremely helpful in getting us all lined up to do the trip the following day, and providing us with a map detailing directions for reaching the meeting point at the Skyrail station.


Friday, February 17th, 8th Day

The Kuranda Rainforest experience involved rising at 6:00 AM to get going so as to make the hour-long drive south along the beautiful coast to arrive at the Skyrail Office to make our connection. The $99. package price included all day parking, a shuttle to the train station, reserved seats on the train to ascend to Kuranda, and a Skyrail gondola to return. Ascending on the train, we saw beautiful mountain scenery with a few waterfalls.

We would rate the Kuranda Experience a 6 or 7 on a 10-point scale. A recorded narration on the train was difficult to hear, overpowered by noisy kids and other chatter. The top of Kuranda was very touristy. In addition to Bird & Animal “Parks”, there were little cafes and many gift and souvenir shops. After getting a bite to eat, and DH purchasing a leather belt and souvenir boomerang, we didn’t feel the need to spend more time at the top, so we caught the shuttle bus for the Skyrail. The gondola provided great vistas from atop the rainforest, and we could observe the variety and humongous sizes of some of the trees. The Skyrail is said to be the longest in the world; in fact, to do the complete descent, it was necessary to ride two gondolas, each doing a part of the mountain. This gondola ride was a worthwhile experience. After a snack at the little gondola café, we were eager to head north away from Cairns before the afternoon work traffic build-up, and again enjoy the beautiful coastal scenery. We stopped at Palm Cove, a quaint resort right on the coast. Quite a few little hotels and restaurants lined the main, and seemingly only, street. Interesting that the Palm Cove Beach, which was immaculately clean, had a “sectioned off” area in the water with a sign indicating something to the effect: “Warning: Crocodiles. Stay within cordoned area.” After enjoying Palm Cove, we traveled north up the coastal road back to Port Douglas, and explored the beach area there. Although the beach isn’t as pristine as Palm Cove, we discovered a phenomenal outlook at the top of “Island Top Drive” which had views in all directions, and a copper compass indicating the distances to many popular areas of the world. We realized why we refer to the area as the “Land Down Under”.

We found it difficult to believe that this was our final evening in Port Douglas. With no free WiFi access, Dylan at reception was helpful in checking us in for our flight on Jet Star, and printing our boarding passes. Again, with a different airline, there was the concern about luggage.

Having taken care our flight details, we went into town and attempted to explore other restaurants. It was Friday evening . . .lots of crowds, loud music, partying, and long waits at several places. Since we had to leave early in the morning, we again seemed drawn to the “Iron Bar” where we could be seated quickly. We upped our meal choice to an “Eye fillet”; 200 mg., and a salad, which we shared. Again, our jug of Pure Blonde! A treat for a last evening! We wanted to return to our hotel to prepare for our early morning travel.


Saturday, February 18th, 9th Day

We were up at 5:45 AM in order to check out, load the car, and make the 1 ½ hour drive to the Cairns Airport, allowing for a stop for gas. For the rental car return, we had to park it, fill out the mileage, (270 km), and take the keys to the desk inside. . .a bit more time consuming than most car rental returns. Then followed the walk with our luggage to the domestic terminal.

All went according to our allotted time frame. And the lady at the Jet Star service count “got it” about our international itinerary, that the luggage rules were vague, and let us check two bags, both carry-on size. We were off at 9:30 for the 3-hour flight. We lost an hour from Cairns to Sydney, and arrived at 1:30.

The flight time passed quickly, especially as DH had an interesting conversation with a guy Jim, originally from the Netherlands, now an Australian citizen who has lived in Cairns for the past twenty years. He talked about his business ventures, Australian economy, politics, etc. and relayed how at the age of 6, while in the Netherlands, he witnessed a Nazi soldier shoot 30+ men. Because of the fear of the Nazis, his parents split the family apart for safety. Jim bought us an orange juice. . .$3.00 each.

After arrival, we took the Shuttle Bus ($15. Each) to downtown Sydney for a one last night at the Marriott Circular Quay. Our hotel stop was the last one, so it was 2:40 ’til we arrived. For this last evening, we were able to use Marriott points. They assigned us to a nice room with a view of the harbor. After check-in, we headed down to Circular Quay for a pizza and special dessert cannelloni at Rosselli’s. As suggested earlier, changing locations requires use of valuable time. Such was the case on this day, as we had to take care of our flight check-in for the following day, gather all of our luggage and re-pack for our “international flight” to Christchurch, NZ in the morning. We decided to forego our plans to ferry over to Darling Harbor, as we had to prepare for another early-rise day to catch the flight. It wouldn’t have been our choice to return to Sydney only for an overnight, but that was the only arrangement offered by American Airlines using our FF miles.

We spent that last beautiful evening “close to home” by having dinner at the harbor, strolling the area around the Opera House, taking a few last photos, and enjoying one last cappuccino. We recounted all the wonderful things we had experienced while in Australia, knowing that we had but scratched the surface of the attractions in that large country. We appreciated the sense of humor, easy laughter, and super-friendliness of the people we had met during the past 11 days. We enjoyed many Aussie expressions, but our favorite was, “No worries!, which seemed to be a response to any concern.

We knew that the past several days were the most hectic of our trip, and had ourselves geared up for them. Now we were beginning to look forward to the change of pace which we anticipated in New Zealand. After tomorrow’s flight from Sydney into Christchurch, we’d have a couple of weeks without early AM wake-ups, and the opportunity to plan our own daily rhythms, since we would have our rental car.

We intend to post the report of our New Zealand experience soon!

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    Thanks, Melnq8. We were hoping you'd catch us with us via our report. You were so helpful with the SI portion of our trip. . .from itinerary to places to stay and activities. We appreciated it so much as we enjoyed our time there. We'll work on that report ASAP. Thanks,again!

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    Your report was very interesting and thorough! We are planning a trip to Australia & New Zealand in September. They aren't kidding when they say food is high over there!

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    Marsh, thanks for your response to our report. Yes. . .we found food to be very expensive. In fact, in order to control costs (and calories) we frequently shared meals. Most of the meal costs in our report reflect that. Also, we just noticed that toward the end of our Australian report, we were inadvertently stating prices in NZD instead of AUD! Guess we're eager to get to the New Zealand portion of our report.

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    A long report but so interesting I read every word even though it was mainly about my hometown. You seem to have made the most of your time and I love the way you communicated with the locals at every opportunity. The temprimental chef was unfortunate as was the initial taxi fare ( I fear you were ripped off there! ). Looking forward to reading the rest.

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    Thanks, Peteralan. Since you are a local, your response is really appreciated. The tempermental chef incident just added a little spice to our experience! As you might have guessed from our report, we really liked Sydney, and hope to return to OZ and explore more of your country; maybe Tazmania included.

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    How was the weather when you were in the Port Douglas area? I am going to NZ and Australia next February and after reading about how much rain falls that time of year, I don't know if I should include it in this trip, even though I may never return to Australia.

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    Raelond, when we were there in February, the weather was beautiful. It rained overnight once, and we had a small shower on one day; otherwise, it was sunny, with surprisingly pleasant temperatures. We knew that February is supposed to be the rainy season, but we just decided to "go for it", and must have really lucked out.

    We think you'll find plenty to do no matter what the weather. We really enjoyed both Australia and New Zealand.

    Finally, we've had time to finish our report of New Zealand and are ready to post it!

    Happy planning to you!

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    Pt. 2 South Island, New Zealand

    Sunday, February19, 2012 Day 10

    We’re up at 4:45 AM to make our 8:30 AM Qantas flight to Christchurch. The efficient Marriott staff had a taxi waiting. Being Sunday, there was little traffic. ($50.AUD to International Terminal). The agent at the Qantas ticket counter must have sensed that we liked to travel, and gave us a great lead to a destination in Mexico, which we will definitely keep in mind for 2013! We had a nice exchange with the agent, which he seemed to enjoy. But it may have been enough of a distraction to cause a little snafu a bit later. We thought we had plenty of time, so we stopped in the Terrace Coffee Shop, recommended by the agent as a quiet spot for breakfast. After a tasty little meal, we made our way to immigration and discovered long lines, and the extra little wrinkle of filling out a special card indicating your destination after departure before proceeding through the line. It was the agent at the desk for the passport/boarding pass check who noticed that we had two boarding passes for DH, and none for DW. Was this a trick by DH? (LOL) We think our conversation may have distracted the ticket agent. So we then had to return to the ticket counter. But, thankfully, we could go to the “Assistance Desk” to secure a boarding pass for DW. That agent gave us a “Pass” to return through the Express Lane and by-pass the long lines. Moral of the story: check the names on our boarding passes.

    After clearing security, we followed the signs to our gate, which led us down an escalator. An airline agent was waiting at the bottom asking us our name, and telling us that a bus was waiting outside to take the passengers for our flight directly to our plane. A first for us. Our seats were OK, and the flight was comfortable. As we were ready to land in Christchurch, the pilot announced that the temps were 15’cooler than in Sydney and that showers were predicted. . .but would stop in the PM. We hoped so!

    Our flight was somewhat late in arriving, and following luggage pick-up, we had to wait in line for our Hertz rental car pick-up. We were concerned that there may not be any place to stop for lunch on our journey over “Arthur’s Pass”, so we picked up a sandwich, chips, and drink at the airport to have along the way. (Good thing we did!) It was 3 PM as we got on the road for our 4 ½ drive. Fortunately, darkness doesn’t come in NZ until about 8:30-9:00.

    Although the skies were overcast as we left the airport in Christchurch, as we started over the mountainous terrain of the Great Alpine Highway on Rt. 73 toward Greymouth, the sun did begin to show itself, and more blue skies began to appear. The road over Arthur’s Pass, which runs close to the tracks of the Trans-Alpine train used by many tourist groups, is the highest of the three roads that cross NZ’s “Southern Alps”, as they are called. The “Southern Alps” refers to the mountain range that runs almost the full length of the South Island, and includes Mt. Cook, the highest peak. The mountains were beautiful! Although we’ve spent a considerable amount time in various mountainous areas of the US, Canada and Europe, we found the appearance of these mountains to be very different. They ranged from granite, to heavily wooded with huge evergreens, to yellowed, grassy sides, similar to California’s Sierra Nevada’s in the summer. The gorgeous scenery made it difficult to avoid frequent stops, so we made them short, because we knew that we had a limited amount of time to make the drive over the mountains, and north on the coast to Punakaiki for our 1st night’s lodging. We were impressed not only with the beauty of the mountains, but also by the excellent condition of the road. Although very curvy and steep, with many one-lane bridges, the roads were lined and well-signposted. Of particular interest was the Otira Viaduct, about 500 yards long, apparently built in the late 1990’s to replace a section of road prone to rockslides. We felt that the speed limit, 100 km, was too fast for us, and pulled over a number of times to allow cars to pass.

    Near the pass was “Arthur’s Pass Village” which provided a long-awaited stop at the “Wobbly Kea Café“. A sign “Fresh baked pies” hung in the front window. We were hungry, and began salivating for either cherry or apple. Seeing none in the display case, we asked the worker who said that the pies were either mince or chicken. We soon learned that these meat pies were a popular item in New Zealand, but not exactly what we had in mind for our late afternoon snack! They did have carrot cake, and that, with our cappuccinos, gave us a needed pick-up. We also got our introduction to the activities of the “kea” bird, as we noticed that all the geraniums in the window boxes, as well as other greenery around, were covered with hardware cloth. We were told that this was necessary or all would be destroyed by these birds. As we made the remainder of the drive over the mountains, the shadows were getting longer, and the layers of mountains became even more beautiful. We got our first glimpses of merino sheep, grazing on some of the green meadows, and as we traveled through New Zealand, we saw herd after herd of sheep, and knew why a sheep was one symbol of the country.

    It was near 8 PM when we reached Greymouth. Although it is a very small place, we would learn that, compared to other towns along the West Coast, it’s referred to as “the city”, as it has features like a library, hospital, and other services and stores not available in other towns. But, to us, on this particular evening, it looked like a ghost town. Probably being a Sunday evening contributed to that feeling. We needed a light dinner, as we figured that there would be nothing farther north. We were lucky to be the last customers of Jones Café, the one place still open, excepting a McDonald’s which we purposely bypassed. We ate quickly, as we still had a drive north of about 40 km. along the coast to our lodging. And we had no idea of the character of the drive!

    As with most rental cars, there was no manual for our Ford Focus, and we had difficulty finding the bright lights. Just outside of Greymouth, a beautiful sunset over the sea attracted us to an overview parking area. It was here that we took time and figured out the bright lights. And these turned out to be critical for our drive, as the road, which began seeming very level, curved and banked along the coast. We didn’t realize until the next day that the road, while following the coastline on our left, was hugging the mountain sides on our right, and did not provide much margin for error. It wasn’t until the next day that we realized that we had missed some outstanding beauty by driving it after dark. We were headed to Punakaiki, where we had booked the Rocks Homestay, a B & B type place, looking out to the Tasman Sea. Our room, the “Art Room” had a sea view. When we e-mailed the owner for directions, he said that finding it was “a piece of cake”. We responded that we would probably be tired and it may be dusk, and that we would appreciate more specific directions with a few landmarks. Those more detailed directions proved to be vital, as it was getting close to 10 PM when we arrived, and finding this place involved a couple of turns off the main road onto gravel side roads. It was a good thing that we had stopped for dinner in Greymouth, as we passed nothing else en route to our lodging.




    Monday, February 20, 2012 Day 11

    It was great to sleep ‘til 8 AM! At breakfast we met two other couples: one from Paris and the other from Germany, and enjoyed sharing experiences with them. The owners of the Rocks Homestay were originally from Zurich, Switzerland. So the experience had a real international flavor. Interesting to note that the owners, Roli and Eva, had given up careers in Zurich, he as an auditor in a large international firm, and she as a foreign language teacher, in order to move to the West Coast of New Zealand. They discussed the “trade-offs” of a big city with all its attractions and conveniences with the beauty and laid-back atmosphere of a small town.

    Today was our day to explore Paparoa National Park, which included the “Pancake Rocks”, and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect: blue skies, soft sun, and mild temperatures. Our stay was within a few miles of Dolomite Point, near the entrance to the pathway to view the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. The Pancake Rocks are remarkable pieces of limestone sculpture, resembling towers and crevices, created by pressure from the sea and erosion. At high tide, which we missed, waves are forced up through blowholes in the rocks, similar, we guessed, to the ones in Kauai. It was late morning, and with a only a few visitors around, we had a leisurely walk, enjoying the various overlooks. The path is designed so that the overlooks bring you “up close and personal” to many of the most outstanding sights. Suddenly, the stillness of the surroundings seemed broken with a din of voices. And, to be sure, a tour bus had arrived. We concluded that if we’d just hang back and wait, the crowd would take pictures and quickly move on. And that is what happened. So we were able to spend another half-hour or so, during which time we witnessed whales leaping out of the waves. As we completed the path on our way to pick up lunch, we discussed how the name “Pancake Rocks” seemed to aptly describe the limestone layers which one could visualize as a giant stack of pancakes.

    Of course, a stop in the National Park shop to check out maps, other pertinent info, and items for purchase was a must. DW found a lightweight hoodie with a “New Zealand Kiwi” design on front. The salesman cautioned us that we would probably not see a kiwi as they were nocturnal birds. A bit disappointing. We had a lunch of. . .what else. . .pot pie, and discovered that the sign “Wi Fi here” did not mean that it was free.

    After a short lunch stop, we continued down the coast toward Greymouth, making many stops and enjoying short walks along the seacoast. Around every corner was another awesome view. It was now getting to be late afternoon, and as we inched closer to Greymouth, a cappucino at McD’s McCafe, was calling. We had intended to avoid McD’s in NZ, but the offer of free Wi Fi was enough to lure us. When we entered, we saw groups of school kids sitting in clusters, chatting and laughing, and it felt like we were back in the US.

    Onward south to Hokitika, our stop for the night. (Since we weren’t able to book two nights at the Rocks Homestay, this was a convenient stop along our way.) Our reservation was at the “Shining Star Beachfront Hotel“, where had a nice chalet facing the sea, though set a “cow pasture back” from the beach. A nice place to relax. And, conveniently, there was a laundry on the premises, not far from our chalet. So we were able to load the washers/dryers, and keep track of the time, while having wine on our deck overlooking the sea. We were happy to take care of this necessary chore without wasting valuable enjoyment time. ($12.00 NZD for 2 loads)

    It was getting close to sunset. . .8:15 PM. . .and we decided to travel through this small town to “Sunset Point” to enjoy the view, and then have a little dinner. Although clouds had begun to gather on the horizon, and the sunset wasn’t as outstanding as on other evenings, it was still a pretty sight, and a fair number of people were enjoying it with us. Next came the interesting part of our evening! We drove the three or so squares into the middle of this small town to eat at a restaurant recommended by the staff at the Shining Star. The place appeared lively with diners, but upon entering, we were told that they were finished serving for the evening. OK. . .it’s not even quite dark yet! We drove around to a few other restaurants which were all closed. Then, why not a pizza? Well, that place, too, was mopping the floor and closed for the evening. OK. . .the supermarket. . .we’ll find something. No! It, too, was closed. What to do??? Our gas tank was half-full, so we decided to stop at a service station, fill up, and hope that they sold some kind of food. And, sure enough, they did. Those famous pot pies, frozen! So after being shocked at the price $66.00 for a half tank of gas, we made our way back to our little chalet, which fortunately had a microwave, and enjoyed a good laugh as we ate our dinner of steak pot pies with Sprite Zero. This was truly a vacation “first” for us.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2012 Day 12

    The impending clouds of last evening had turned into full blown overcast and showers. We hoped that this didn’t mean that we may have just pushed our luck on the good weather days. We drove the few blocks from our hotel into town to catch breakfast at another place, the “Clock Tower Café“, recommended by the hotel staff. We were longing for a regular ol’ breakfast. . .eggs, bacon, and toast. Nothing special. Except the price! With a 10% discount from the hotel, this simple breakfast, though tasty, cost $29.20 NZD. As we were eating, the restaurant began to crowd up, and guests were pushing tables together. We then we realized that, as it was next to the Jade Factory, a bus tour had delivered a large group who used the restrooms and hung around until it was time for their bus to leave.

    We finished our meal, and by now, it was raining. . .and raining. We decided to pay a visit to the Visitors’ Center. We had an interesting conversation with a lady at the counter there about the beautiful natural surroundings, but also about the outrageously high price of gas, the early closing of restaurants, etc. If the high gas prices hurt us, as visitors, they must really hurt the locals who deal with these prices on a daily basis. The lady said that she just doesn’t look at the pump price! As we prepared to leave Hokitika, and looked at the small towns ahead indicated on the map, we thought it might be a good idea to stop in the supermarket and pick up a few items for lunch, just in case we would find nothing along the way.

    Today was our travel day to the Glacier area. . .about 133 km. from Hokitika. As we left the town, we were resigned to a day of clouds, fog, rain, and would consider any sunshine to be a welcome bonus. We would be passing through rainforests, lakes, rugged mountains, and wild beaches. En route, we stopped for cappucino at two places so small that we wondered about their history: Ross and Hari Hari. Ross developed in the 1860’s, during the heyday of gold mining, with the population soaring to 2500. Even today, that tradition of gold mining is continued by the “Burchfield Ross Mining Co.” When we passed by, excavation was in progress. However, today the population of Ross has dwindled to about 300, with a timber mill and farming being the sources of income there.

    Our stop at the supermarket in Hokitika proved to be a practical one. We found a nice parking space beside Lake Ianthe, but the rain prevented us from eating at a picnic table. The car seats were at least dry. After our lunch, we traveled a few miles to Hari Hari for our cappuccinos.

    Hari Hari was developed as a logging town, but since efforts have been made to preserve the timberlands in NZ, its population is now about 350. At Hari Hari we were really touched when hearing that the little “general store” which was immaculately clean and well-stocked, was being sold because the owner’s husband had passed away. We met the lady and complimented her on her beautiful house, located next to the store, and the great little store. She seemed to really appreciate it that someone noticed. It was a nice little encounter.

    As we drove on in the rain, with beautiful, lush greenery lining much of the the route, our big entertainment of the day was being stopped by a herd of cows crossing the road, and witnessing the rancher on his horse calling out, “C’mon girls!” We had a brief conversation with him. He told us that his cows ordinarily crossed a creek, but because the water was too high, crossing the road was their alternative route. Two drivers and a dog were bringing up the rear of the cattle line. The rancher apologized for holding us up, but we replied that we were thoroughly enjoying the experience.

    We arrived in “Glacier Country” about 4 PM, and easily found the “Glen Fern Villas“, our lodging for the next two nights. This accommodation was a bit outside of the town of Franz Josef. At the reception desk, we met Caesar, from Argentina, who was very helpful in offering tips for the area. He also told us about the 6-hours free Wi Fi for guests. A real bonus! We were happy to settle into our nice 2-bedroom villa (because there were no 1-bedrooms available at the time of booking) for two nights. Our unit looked out onto a beautiful mountain range; that is, when we could get a glimpse between the clouds. Caesar lent us a DVD of the glacier area which we viewed that evening on the outside chance that the weather continued to be an impediment to our viewing the glaciers. We had been looking forward to a possible flight into the area, but at the cost of $ 200-300 per person, we were resigned to passing on that option unless the weather cleared.

    Because of the rain and overcast, it seemed to be much later than 6 PM. We made our way into the town of Franz Josef, and chose the restaurant “The Landing” as it seemed to have a lively crowd. A shared salad and pot roast, with some cold beer, came to a total of $83.50 NZD. It’s 8:30, and beginning to get dark, and raining very hard. When asking one of the restaurant employees about the weather, and tomorrow’s prediction, her response was, “We’re in a rainforest. What do you expect?“ We returned to our Glen Fern Villas in the driving rain, happy to have a comfortable place for two nights.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012 Day 13

    We slept in ‘til 8:30. After returning to “The Landing” in Franz Josef for a standard eggs, breakfast, toast, and coffee breakfast ($11.50 NZD each), we were off to the Visitors’ Center. At this point, the weather was overcast, but not raining . We decided, after speaking to a person at the Visitors’ Center, that a good activity would be a hike to the “base” of Franz Josef Glacier. It didn’t seem to us that any helicopters were in the sky.

    After returning from the hike, we decided to make the half-hour drive on Rt. 6 south to Fox Glacier and have lunch at Lake Mathieson. From our table, we caught just glimpses of the mountains in the distance, as the clouds and rain were still hanging around. Since we had our rain ponchos with us, we thought we’d take the walk around the lake. . .or at least as far as we could, go before the rain got too intense. We made it as far as the “jetty overlook“, and felt fortunate to catch a clearing with a view of Mt. Tasman on the left and Mt. Cook on the right. At this point, the rain was starting to come down a bit harder, so we returned to the Café for cappuccinos. We learned from a discussion of WiFi with the café waitress that she pays $50.00 a month for 2 GB of data, and that there’s no such thing in NZ as an unlimited data plan. We’ve been very curious about the WiFi in NZ. After a brief visit to the gift shop, we headed north on Rt. 6, returning to our Glen Fern Villas for a little freshening up before dinner. As we were driving from Fox Glacier, we were comparing the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier areas, and agreed that we prefer Fox Glacier. The lodging and restaurants seem newer, and the town better kept. However, we were very happy that we were staying at the Glen Fern Villas.

    Dinner this evening was at “Alice May’s Restaurant” in Franz Josef, one of the favorites recommended. We shared a lamb shank meal, which we agreed was OK, but not our favorite. Lamb chops would be our preference. But, all in all, this restaurant was a pleasant experience. The rainy weather was not conducive to any outside enjoyment, so we returned to Glen Fern Villas and enjoyed a dessert of coffee and cookies, and some time to use our 6 hrs. of WiFi.

    We heard that storms and heavy rains were predicted for the overnight, but the reality was a night of lightning, thunder, winds, and HEAVY RAIN, RAIN, RAIN, which never seemed to stop. We had an electrical outage! To put it mildly, it was not a restful night. DW had difficulty sleeping, worried about the long drive through the mountains which was in store for the following day. Since we had reservations locked in, it was difficult to find a way to change our itinerary.


    Thursday, February 23, 2012 Day 14

    By morning, the harsh rains and wind had subsided quite a bit. Although it was still raining, the man in the office assured us that Rt. 6 was clear. . .no flooding. That gave us confidence, so we began the mountainous drive over to Fox Glacier where we returned to Lake Mathieson Restaurant for breakfast before tackling the long drive to Wanaka. As we left Glen Fern Villa, we agreed that it was a very nice, comfortable lodging. It was roomy and clean, with a great view. . .which, unfortunately, we enjoyed for only a couple of short snatches. In view of the stormy weather, it was a cozy place to spend two nights.

    The wet mountain roads from the glacier area to Wanaka made driving more of a challenge. We made a few stops along the way in very small “towns”. The largest one, Haast, has been described as “a small dot on the map“. It has a population under 300. We did stop at a café there for lunch, but because of the fog and rain did not get to enjoy Haast Beach. As we continued on toward Wanaka, we passed more beautiful scenery, including water falls, and had hopes that the skies would clear as we moved on toward Wanaka.

    We hoped that we had paid our dues with a couple days of inclement weather. As we approached Wanaka, passing the beautiful Lake Wanaka for a few miles on our right, and Lake Hawea on our left, the rain had stopped and the skies were clearing a bit. It was about 5PM as we arrived at the “Alpine View Lodge”. What a pleasant surprise this place was! We immediately liked the owners, Michele and Craig, and were thrilled to get a room with a lovely mountain view. The two large lakes, Wanaka and Hawea, provide plenty recreational activities. We knew as we drove through town that we would enjoy this place. The main streets of the town, fronted by Lake Wanaka, were attractively landscaped, had nice stores, and many restaurants. After getting settled into our room, we returned to town to eat at a local pizza restaurant: “Kai Wha Pa Pai.”

    One unique feature of the “Alpine View Lodge” is that a continental breakfast is brought to your room at a time of your choice. So that evening we were asked to mark a form indicating our preferences. As we turned in for the night, we looked forward to a comfortable sleep with a morning breakfast overlooking the mountain view from our room.

    Friday, February 24, 2012 Day 15

    As expected, we had a very restful night, and awoke to a beautiful, sunny day. We enjoyed our “room service breakfast” as we looked out onto the mountain view from our room. When we went to the office to check out, we had another lengthy conversation with Michele and Craig. We enjoyed discussing their travels, which will include a trip to Paris in May where they will meet their daughter who lives in London. We told them about the movie, “Midnight in Paris”, and they were very interested. We especially liked the city of Wanaka, and Michele and Craig’s place, in particular. Our itinerary for the next five days included traveling south to Queenstown and Te Anau, but in planning our travels, we did leave one night “free”: February 29th. We thought we’d like to return to Wanaka, and were happy that Michele and Craig could accommodate us for that date. So as we left to enjoy this near picture-perfect day, we were happy that we would return in a few days.

    We drove up the road toward Mt. Aspiring Peak, with many stops along the way. From the trailhead of Roy’s Peak Track we shot some outstanding pictures. There were several walks along Lake Wanaka, along with a drive to Waterfalls Creek, which were very enjoyable. A real highlight of the morning was a visit to Rippon Vineyard, a gorgeous winery set on the top of a hill overlooking their vineyards and Lake Wanaka. This is a perfect setting for weddings and concerts. In the summer, they sponsor a local concert with 5000+ in attendance. We did tastings, really liked their Sauvignon Blanc, and purchased a bottle to enjoy on one of the coming evenings. It was now after noon, so we headed back to Wanaka to pick up sandwiches and drinks for a farewell picnic along Lake Wanaka. Afterward, we walked around the town and stopped in a café for cappuccinos before heading south toward Queenstown. We learned from talking to Michele and Craig at the Alpine View Lodge that a beautiful alternate route from Wanaka to Queenstown was over the Crown Range. The road is very scenic, but challenging to drive, as it has many tight curves, S’s, hairpin turns, and is very narrow. We made a few stops to enjoy the overlooks, especially as we got closer to Queenstown. From an overview, the whole of Queenstown and the surrounding areas were visible. Quite impressive! The drive over the Crown Range took about an hour, and with our directions to the “Kawarau Hotel“, we comfortably arrived about 4:15 PM. This hotel is managed by Hilton, and we had booked a “Deluxe Lakeview Room“. However, the guy at the desk seemed to be new, though nice, and didn’t have a real awareness of the location of the rooms. Our assigned room wasn’t exactly what we had anticipated, but when we returned to the desk to possibly get another one, a large group was checking in. A large flight had been cancelled because of mechanical problems, and the hotel was getting an unexpected influx. We felt that our concerns were relegated to the bottom. So we accepted their offer of complimentary WiFi and made the best of our room. The hotel is very new, so the room was very well appointed. We were very satisfied with the condition of the room, and we liked the idea of being close to Queenstown, but not in the downtown.

    With several restaurants on the premises, we decided that the Asian “Me Mee Noodle Bar” would be good, and decided to have our dinner right there. We would take time to get settled in our room, where we’re booked for three nights, and prepare to get an early start in the morning.


    Saturday, February 25, 2012 Day 16

    Among the restaurants on the hotel property was a little bakery with fresh baked croissants. On each of our mornings here, DH brought our breakfast of coffee and croissants back to the room.

    This first morning we got an early start to make the beautiful drive to Glenorchy, near Paradise of LOTR fame. We felt fortunate to have a crystal clear day for this drive all along Lake Wakatipu with the stunning mountains in the background. We made many stops along the way. On the right side of the road we saw a sign: “Little Paradise Tea Garden”. As we pulled in the lot, which was right off the highway, we caught a glimpse of the gorgeous flower gardens, and the sign “$9.00 per person for tea (or coffee) and cookies, and a tour of the gardens“. We found out that the husband had designed and landscaped the whole area. There were unique sculptures, garden furniture, ponds, and many varieties of flowers. We had an interesting conversation with two couples from New Zealand. These people had traveled from neighboring Arrowtown specifically to see this garden, whereas we had just happened upon it as we were making our way to Glenorchy. What a delightful find!

    We finally reached Glenorchy, and had fish ‘n chips at the “Glenorchy Lodge” restaurant. We learned from talking to the restaurant employees that the road to Paradise was partially paved, with the rest being gravel, and that it was comfortably drivable to the Kinloch house used in filming James Cameron‘s “Lord of the Rings”. Since we were so close, we decided to drive slowly and take in the beauty of “Paradise.” Upon our return, we stopped in Glenorchy for cappuccinos before we started our trip back to Queenstown. It took about an hour to make the leisurely drive back. We were lucky to find a parking space in Queenstown near the marina, and enjoyed the activity going on there. For our dinner, we walked to the “Devil Burger” for a beer and burger. A girl at the Hilton Kawarau told us that although a lot of the young crowd hangs out at Fergburger, she thought the burgers at “Devil Burger” were better. We enjoyed the sunset, bought a couple of souvenir t-shirts, stopped in the town pharmacy, and made our way back to our hotel, having had a great day.

    Sunday, February 26, 2012 Day 17

    With our tasty morning croissants and coffee, by 10:30 we were on our way to Arrowtown. At this early hour we were able to get a convenient 2-hr. parking spot. Arrowtown encompasses a couple of small streets, mostly cobblestone, with many little cafes & restaurants, and a large variety of shops, mostly selling merino wool products and gold. We stopped in a café for cappuccino, wandered down to the museum, checked out books and brochures of area activities, and decided that wanted to focus on outdoor activities on this gorgeous day. We eyed a restaurant, the “Postmaster’s Residence” with an outside porch and garden. Their special of chicken/spinach pasta sounded tasty for lunch. Afterward, we followed an alternate scenic route back to Queenstown. We strolled along the marina, and set our sights on a 4:00, 90-minute “Million Dollar Harbor Cruise” for $25.00 each. The weather was picture-perfect. As one local said, “It doesn’t get any better than this!” We were lucky to get seats on the top deck of the boat facing the front. The boat tour went all around the Queenstown Bay and down the Kawarau River, past the Kelvin Peninsula, as far as the Hilton Hotel. The commentary on the history of Queenstown’s development during the mid 1800’s gold rush, and its not becoming a popular tourist destination until the 1980’s-1990’s, was very informative and entertaining because of the personality of the boat captain. We found it interesting to learn that houses facing the South are shaded; and vice versa, the North facing homes have sun. Just the opposite of the northern hemisphere. Consequently, homes facing the North are more expensive. On board we met some ladies from England who had been visiting their brother in Wellington, and had an interesting exchange with them. After the delightful harbor boat cruise, we had a beer and some fries at the “Ballarat Trading Company”, located in the center strip of the pedestrian street. We found the
    ample bowl of fries to be quite filling, and so decided to stroll along the wharf and listen to a musician entertaining with his recorder. In the process, we witnessed a wedding party, led by a bagpiper, passing by. We did a bit of window-shopping, and thought about just having some light soup for supper, since neither of us felt that hungry. Our efforts to find soup weren’t successful, so we again ended up at the “Devil Burger” where we shared a steak wrap with Diet Cokes, just enough for an evening light bite. By now, we felt fairly comfortable finding our way around Queenstown, and headed back to our hotel via a gas station, getting prepared for the following day’s drive to Te Anau. Overall, we had a super two days in Queenstown, helped out tremendously by ideal weather.


    Monday, February 27, Day 18

    On our last morning at the Kawarau Village Hilton, we awoke to a promise of another beautiful weather day. We were dressed, packed, had our croissants and coffee, and were ready to check out by 10:20. Francisco, the manager, told us that he had spotted us at the “Devil Burger” the evening previous, where he and his wife were eating. He remembered that he had given us complimentary WiFi! After the check-out routine, we were on our way to Te Anau.

    The scenery on the drive from Queenstown to Te Anau didn‘t disappoint. We drove all along the opposite side of Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown until the little town of Kingston, where we stopped for our cappuccinos. We met a delightful couple from England, and in the course of conversation about a variety of subjects, discovered that when we were traveling in the southwestern part of England a few years ago, we passed within a “stone’s throw” of their home near Salisbury. Small world! Our cappuccino break turned out to be quite a bit longer than anticipated; however, we were on no time schedule. We took our time enjoying the scenery, with many green fields and hillsides dotted with lots and lots of sheep. Upon reaching Te Anau in the late afternoon, we pulled out our trusty little Yahoo directions, which we had looked up while still at home, and easily found our way to the Croft B & B. Just as the description had read, our lodging for the next two nights was outside of town, in a blue cabin, with a porch which looked out to Lake Te Anau. The gracious hostess, Jane, was there to greet us, and we immediately felt comfortable being there. After a little getting- acquainted conversation, Jane offered to book a cruise onto Milford Sound for us for the following morning. We all agreed that the weather looked very promising for tomorrow, but later in the day rain was supposed to move in. When we expressed that we preferred a smaller boat, and an earlier time so as to avoid the tour groups as much as possible, she booked us with the Mitre Peaks Co.-a good choice for us. As we relaxed on the porch with some chocolate fudge cake which Jane brought over to our cabin, we were serenaded by the baa-ing of sheep on the neighboring hill. The scene was almost “out of a picture book”, as the expression goes. Green meadows flanked by tall evergreens, the peaceful, shimmering lake, backed by a gorgeous layering of mountains with a variety of shapes and textures. As we sat thoroughly enjoying the relaxation on the deck, we discussed our early morning venture to Milford Sound, and made plans for picking up lunch items for a picnic on our return trip. Jane had offered to bring us a tray of breakfast items to facilitate our early departure for Milford Sound. We were planning to make stops along the way to enjoy the beauty, and still have an early arrival at the boat terminal.

    As we traveled back to town for an early dinner, the gorgeous weather influenced our decision to get some fish ‘n chips from the lakefront portable take-away “Mainly Seafood”, and enjoy the best “window seat” on a bench overlooking the lake. Afterwards, we enjoyed a walk around the small town, which we found to be very clean and attractive, with quite a few restaurants. DH was happy to find a nice lightweight fleece jacket for $33.00 NZD. . .a good deal in this area. We also picked up a few letter-openers with blue paua (abalone) shell handles as mementos for friends/family who were doing favors for us during our trip. With the airline luggage restrictions it’s difficult to find small items to bring home. Before heading back to the Croft Inn, we stopped in the supermarket to pick up food items for tomorrow’s venture to Milford Sound. We were eager to crack that Sauvignon Blanc, which we had purchased at the Rippon Winery in Wanaka, and relax on our little porch as we enjoyed the beautiful colors of the setting sun on the lake and mountains. DH went down the road to get a fill up of gas, while DW organized our stuff for the morning trip to the Sound. By this time, it was dark, and the stars were brilliant. It was interesting to observe that the moon crescent appeared the opposite of how we observe it in the northern hemisphere. It looked like a “backwards C”.
    It was tempting to stay outdoors longer, but with a quick check of e-mail (complimentary Wi Fi here!) we turned in by 11:00.



    Tuesday, February 28, 2012 Day 19

    5:30 AM rolled around, and we were up and at ‘em. Having breakfast in our room, compliments of Jane, facilitated our 7 AM departure for the 120 km. drive to Milford Sound. As we pulled out of the Croft Inn Driveway, it was just about dawn. We began our drive, being the only car on the highway. It was foggy, and the sun was just beginning to be visible over the tops of the mountains, giving off beautiful soft colors. The freshness of the morning, with the gradual appearance of the sun, caused us to make many stops along the way. In the midst of all the natural beauty, there was only one restroom stop. . .an outhouse, at that. But at least it was clean.

    The last 30 km. or so, the road was very windy and narrow. We’ve had a fair amount of experience driving in steep mountains, with lots of hairpin turns, on some very narrow roads with drop-offs close to the edge. However, we weren’t prepared for the Homer Tunnel. . .a narrow, dark, ½ mile long descent, with no lines to indicate edges or guidance for two-way traffic. (We later found out that the weather gets so treacherous there that it’s impossible to keep painted lines on the surface.) As we nervously proceeded through the tunnel, we crossed our fingers that we didn’t meet any traffic coming the opposite way. Once through, we were relieved, and dreaded the thought of repeating this same path later in the day when there was a lot of tour bus traffic. The road took a steep descent as we got closer to the terminal for boarding the tour boats. Once we arrived in the terminal, we found out from a lady who worked there that after 10 AM, there were signals at Homer Tunnel which controlled traffic to turn-taking so that all proceeded through the tunnel in one direction only. (We had just come too early for the signals to be operating.) That eased our minds to enjoy the experience of Milford Sound; which is, as was confirmed by the boat co-captain, technically a “fjord“.

    We had arrived in time for the 9:55 boat, but it was still a bit foggy, and the lady at the ticket window for the Mitre Peak Company suggested we might want to wait until the 11:10 trip to give more time for the sky to clear. We took her suggestion, which turned out to be a valuable one, and whiled our time walking the dock looking at the array of boats. Finally, the time came to board our boat, which held only about 35 people. It was an amazing experience to be in a long,narrow channel on the water, surrounded by huge walls of snow-capped granite on either side. We saw many waterfalls. And because of the maneuverability of our small boat, we were able to get very close to the shore in several spots to enjoy the many seals hanging out on the rocks. We stayed on the top deck for most of time so as not to miss any of the awesome scenery. We took many photos which will help us remember all the beauty of the Milford Sound.

    Upon returning, we made a brief stop in their café, and were eager to get on our way to enjoy stops along the road back to Te Anau. And, there was anticipation of Homer Tunnel. As we wound around the curves of the ascending mountain, we could see in the distance the traffic signals which we were told would be operative. It was about 1:30 PM, and in contrast to the morning when we were the only car entering the dark tunnel, at this time there was quite a line of cars and tour buses waiting to travel through the tunnel. Because the road leading up to the entrance was a steep uphill , a few buses pulled over to the extra lane on the side of the road, instead of taking the chance of over-taxing their brakes.

    Once through the tunnel, the drive was again relaxing and beautiful. Of the stops we made, a most interesting one was the hike to Chasm Falls. An attraction in the parking lot was a large kea perched in a tree, looking down as if he were observing everyone. A discussion ensued among the on-lookers, one of whom appeared to be a park rep of some sort, about the intelligence, as well as destructiveness, of this bird. One guy told about an experiment two guys tried; that is, parking on old car, with food locked inside, on the side of the road with cameras mounted. Two keas systematically dissembled the car, working together on the project. They went so far as to pull the rubber out from the window area in one strip.
    The rubber on the tires and the upholstery inside were torn to shreds. Their photos supported the contention that if left to themselves, keas, though having the appearance of parrots, with beautiful orange on the underside of their wingspans, can be ruthless in destruction. So after this little nature lesson, we enjoyed the walk to Chasm Falls. The trail begins with a walk through a lovely forest. A series of waterfalls have sculpted the granite over thousands of years, and the sound of the roaring water pouring through this chasm becomes more pronounced the farther you walk, until finally you can stand on the bridge and see the torrents of water passing beneath you. Very impressive.

    After several more stops along Milford Sound Road, we arrived back at the Croft about 5 PM, a perfect time to relax on our porch and have our own “happy hour” as we enjoyed the view over the Lake. We had a short conversation with Jane, expressing how we enjoyed our “fjord day”, and got serious about heading into town for a fill-up of gas and dinner. We followed a tip from an English couple whom we had met on the boat and ordered the roasted lamb at Kepler’s Restaurant. Upon returning to our cabin, we remembered the beauty of the night sky from the previous evening, and looked forward to experiencing more of the same. Even though rain was predicted for the morning, the skies were still filled with stars, so we could enjoy that last star-gazing.

    Wednesday, February 29, 2012 Day 20

    We awoke to that predicted rain, and as such, our plans for the day were changed a bit. Instead of visiting Lake Manapouri, we left town for our return to Wanaka. Upon checkout, we had a great conversation with Jane on subjects ranging from health and education in New Zealand to details about their farm and the lives of their now-grown kids. We left the Croft in a fairly heavy downpour, and we were relieved that about an hour into our drive, the sky cleared, and we made another slight switch in our plans for the day. Sunshine attracted us to a stopover in Queenstown for lunch at the Marina. We watched carefully as the “meter guy” went around marking tires, to make sure that a parking ticket wasn’t our departure memento. Lunch at the “Pub on the Wharf” was a tasty farewell to a beautiful town.

    Since the weather was now sunny, we followed Crown Range Road on our return to Wanaka. This time we stopped in the little town of Cardrona for a cappuccino, and arrived at the “Alpine View Inn” about 4:00 PM. When we inquired about laundry, Michele showed us a washer which was in our unit for the evening, and offered to put our clothes in their personal dryer, thinking that since we were leaving in the morning, using the clothes rack provided wouldn’t allow enough time for our things to dry. What a nice service! She also offered to make a reservation for us at a local restaurant which we had eyed on our previous visit: “Relishes”. A delightful experience, and a feeling of our “Last Hurrah” in New Zealand. As we were leaving the restaurant, it was windy and raining, and at this point we thought that our drive tomorrow might not be as beautiful as we had anticipated. When we returned to our room after our meal, we found our laundry in our room, not only dry, but folded.


    Thursday, March 1, 2012 Day 21

    After the storm last night, we were pleasantly surprised to awake to a beautiful, sunny day, and looked forward to spending some time in downtown Wanaka before beginning our drive to the Mt. Cook area. Check-out took a while, as we enjoyed more conversation with Michele and Craig. They gave us some good actions to the Mt. Cook area, as well as a suggestion for a lunch stop at Omarama.

    Before leaving Wanaka, we made one practical purchase from the Vodafone store: a $49. NZD unlocked “dumb” phone to use as our travel phone for future trips. It requires only purchasing a Sims card and minutes in any country we visit.


    When we returned to our car, we found two socks (ours) with a card from the “Alpine View Inn”. Apparently, these had gotten stuck in the dryer and Craig was nice enough to hunt our car in town and return them.

    As we left Wanaka, the skies were cloudless and we had hopes for this ideal weather to continue to the Mt. Cook area. We followed the good lead from Michele & Craig, and stopped at the “Wrinkley Ram Cafe” at Omarama for lunch. We both agreed that their seafood chowder was our best ever. We didn’t stop long, as we wanted to continue the 70 km. drive to the Mt. Cook area in time to enjoy the peaks. What outstanding beauty in all directions the whole way! As we reached the end of the road to the Mt. Cook Area, and the “Hermitage Hotel”, both Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman peaks couldn’t have been more stunning. The sun was in a perfect location to allow them to show off their beauty. We spent a while on the outside taking in the views, and then went inside the “Hermitage” to have a dessert and cappuccinos while overlooking the mountains. After the “mood swings” of the weather during the past few days, we felt very fortunate to have had such a beautiful experience of these mountain peaks.

    Our reservation for this evening was at the “Peppers Bluewater Resort” in Lake Tekapo. We left the Mt. Cook area just as the sun was getting lower in the sky, and we had another treat in store. The awesome turquoise color of Lake Tekapo! Our check-in went quickly, so we were able to spend some time enjoying the beautiful lakefront. Our dinner was at “MacKenzie’s Café Bar and Grill” in the nearby “town center”, basically a long strip center. Our window table allowed us to enjoy the sunset over the lake, and finally have our rack of lamb, realizing that tomorrow is our travel day back to Christchurch.

    Friday, March 2, 2012 Day 22

    When we awoke on this last day in New Zealand, it was dreary and threatening rain, and we realized how lucky we were to have enjoyed Mt. Cook and the color of Lake Tekapo yesterday. After enjoying a little breakfast at a local café, we learned that the Tekapo Tavern, which would open at 11 AM, offered free Wi Fi for their customers. So we used the intervening time to view the “Good Shepherd Church” on the shore of Lake Tekapo. This small, quaint. old stone church, which is still an active Anglican parish, has a large panoramic window behind the altar which allows for unobstructed views of the lake and mountains. Near the church is a bronze statue of a New Zealand collie sheepdog which, we learned, was one of New Zealand’s best known monuments. It’s a memorial to all the sheepdogs who helped develop the farmlands in MacKenzie County. By now, it’s time for the Tekapo Tavern to open. We were able to get some cappuccinos and use the Wi Fi to plot a good route back to Christchurch, as well as catch up on some other communications.

    We took the “inner route” 72 for a good part of the way back to Christchurch. We stopped in the little city, Geraldine, to have some lunch.
    While there, DW was able to pop in a hair salon for a quick trim. After the stop in Geraldine, the scenery became less impressive, and as we got closer to Christchurch, we began a close study of our map to find our way to our hotel for the night: the “ Copthorne”. Conveniently, we located a station close to the hotel to get a fill-up of gas. As the website described, the Copthorne was just down the road from the airport. In fact, at check-in the receptionist suggested that we might want to return our rental car in the evening, and use the hotel shuttle for our morning trip with all of our luggage. So we followed her suggestion.

    It’s always difficult to leave a place you’ve enjoyed, and leaving New Zealand was no different. The “Copthorne” proved to be a wonderful place to end our visit. . .a comfortable room, nice restaurant, and helpful staff. After doing our online check-in in the bar, where we had Wi Fi , the receptionist offered to print our boarding passes on their office printer. To utilize the shuttle service to the airport, we had only to come down to the foyer 15 minutes ahead of the time we wanted to leave. It couldn’t get any easier than that. So the rest of the evening was left to pack, trying our best to accommodate our packing to the luggage allowances of yet another airline, Air Pacific.

    As the clock was indicating midnight, we were finishing our packing, and preparing to get some sleep for the next day’s travel to Fiji. We reminisced about the many wonderful experiences we had had in New Zealand. Within a two-week period, we had explored such a variety of beauty: coastline, mountains, waterfalls, rainforests, lakes, glaciers, and a fjord. And, in addition, we had met many wonderful New Zealanders, “Kiwis”, as well as travelers from other countries. We were happy that we’d have many photos to help us remember our cherished experiences.

    The third portion of our trip was "Fiji". We hope to post that section soon.

    PS This New Zealand report turned out to be longer than we intended, but there were just so many experiences that we wanted to remember.

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    AlanJG, thanks again for the helpful info you provided for our trip, and for your interest in our report. Since we were traveling so far, and not sure when we could return, we did pack in a lot. We really liked both AUS and NZ, and both of them have been raised up a couple of notches on our travel list for return visits. Next time, we hope to visit the Atherton Tablelands, as well as other places in AUS which we missed.

    We intend to post our Fiji report soon. Have you been following the news concerning the recent floods there? We really feel bad for the Fijian people.

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    Marsh, ElendillPickle, and margo_oz, thanks for your feedback on our report. Although it is a personal "log" of our travels for our own memories, it's nice to know that others have taken the time to read about our experiences.

    Marsh, we do hope that you get to make your trip this year!

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    To Melnq8: Our experiences in the South Island, NZ, were due in large part, to your suggestions. We hope that you'll have a chance to read our New Zealand report (Part 2 of our "travelogue") and will recognize some of your suggestions. Thanks again for all of your ideas.

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    tomarkot -

    You're very welcome.

    I'm in the US at the moment organizing our next international move and haven't had a chance to do much more than skim Fodor's. I look forward to reading every word of your report when things calm down a bit.

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    Melnq8, nice to hear from you! By your next "international move" do you mean an actual change of your living location, or an extended vacation? Either way, good luck in your vent ure.

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    Hi again tomarkot - Just now had a chance to finish reading your report - yep, AUS and NZ pies, while good in their own right, aren't to be confused with their Yank cousins!

    <Around every corner was another awesome view.>

    Which pretty much sums up how I feel about the SI.

    Rain...yes, the surreal green of the SI comes at a price. I'm glad you had a nice day in Punakaiki though.

    So glad to hear you enjoyed Glen Fern Villas, and that Michelle and Craig took good care of you in Wanaka as did Jane in Te Anau. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at all three.

    No rain at Mt Cook! Woo-hoo!

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    Melnq8,

    Thanks for your responses to our SI report. We thought you'd enjoy the fact that, in following your leads, we had some wonderful experiences. Your generous sharing of ideas really contributed "big time" to our enjoyment of the SI.

    Best wishes to you in your current big undertaking! Hope all works out for the best. Keep us posted.

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    Did you by any change prepare packing lists? I've not read this full report, but will soon. We are planning Australia and New Zealand with Collette Tours in February so are just working on the details.
    Thanks.

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    Hi tomarkot. I have just read both of your trip reports. Really enjoyed both - you have a lovely descriptive way of writing. It is always interesting to read what others think of your country (I live in NZ), and places you know well such as the West Coast.
    I chuckled at your Homer Tunnel experience. At least your DW didn't do what I did - threaten to get out and wait on the side of the road till my DH came back from Milford! Needless to say I didn't but held my breath for the 10-minute trip through the tunnel. I must admit to not being so alarmed on the return trip, though. (In my defence I do suffer from mild claustrophobia.) Lake Manapouri and Doubtful Sound are magnificent on a rainy day although quite a few people on our tour were not quite so impressed.
    Pleased to hear you had such a wonderful trip. I have copied the names of some of the restaurants you dined at in Sydney as I am returning to Sydney in July for 10 days, this time with my DH. Won't worry about the chef-less restaurant though!

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    Hi Tomarkot,
    I've enjoyed your trip report enormously - thank you so much.
    As Dotty says, it's always interesting to see your home through visitors' eyes, and particularly so when the visitor is as interested and observant as you.

    In Sydney, the place you liked so much is Rose Bay.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_Bay,_New_South_Wales

    Our family has a flat in O'Sullivan Road (perpendicular to the harbour) which has been the weekend refuge for batallions & generations of cousins incarcerated in Kambala, Kincoppal & Scotts (boarding schools). My grandparents bought it in 1930, during the Depression, pulled their 6 children out of boarding schools in Orange & Bathurst. Grandma set up house & sent them to the local schools as day schollars until things improved.

    Did you know that quiet little bay was once home to the Catalinas & Flying Boats? http://www.clubmarine.com.au/internet/clubmarine.nsf/docs/MG19-6+Feature

    Today, little seaplanes fly from Rose Bay to restaurants in Pittwater, Newcastle & joy flights up & down the coast.

    I was delighted to see your mention of the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo. One of my friends was married there - the bride's family has been farming in the Mackenzie district for over 100 years and it's their local church.

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    Dottyp and Bokhara2, thanks so much for your comments on our Trip Report. You certainly have a beautiful country! Bokara2, how fortunate to have that family property near Rose Bay!

    We've been "away from the store", so to speak, regarding posting on Fodor's. We're just now working on our Fiji segment and hope to post it soon.

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    Finally, our report of "Fiji"!

    Pt. 3 5 DAYS IN FIJI

    After 3+ weeks of daily “on the go” with great experiences in Sydney and Port Douglas, AUS, as well as in the South Island, NZ, it was now time for a change of pace in our travels. We planned a 5-day stopover in Fiji in order to break up our flight back to the US, as well as to enjoy 5-days of R & R
    in the South Pacific.

    We left Christchurch on a 10:30 AM non-descript flight to Auckland where we would transfer to Air Pacific for the 3-hour flight to Fiji. Of the 10 flights involved in this trip itinerary, this experience on Air Pacific was memorable for the hassles over our luggage weight, with a less than helpful gate agent, followed by a very uncomfortable flight. Our seats were in the middle section, three rows behind the bulkhead and rows of loud, crying kids who seemed out of control. Although the flight was only three hours, it seemed longer than other flights of longer duration. When we finally landed in Nadi we were happy that we had pre-booked transportation to our “Outrigger on the Lagoon Resort“, which was about an hour’s drive from the airport.

    In the Nadi Airport, as we were greeted with many warm smiles and “Bulas” (the official greeting) from the Fijian “Welcome Committee”, the unpleasant experiences on the Air Pacific flight were soon forgotten. We easily found the Transfer Company with which we had booked our transportation to the resort, and within minutes after signing our contract, we were in the comfortable air-conditioned van with Josia our driver. Several weeks before our trip, Fiji had so much rain and flooding that the road from the airport to our resort was closed, requiring guests to use helicopter transportation to the tune of approx.$260 per person each way. The conditions in Fiji had us trying to re-do our itinerary and eliminate our stop there. However, since that was impossible to work out, we decided to just go with the flow and hope for the best. We were relieved when Josia told us that the heavy rains seemed to be over. . . that we were in for a series of nice days. Even though the flooding was several weeks past, most of the road was very muddy, filled with potholes, no line markings, and often requiring one-way traffic without any signage, making the drive more challenging, and as darkness fell, there was no lighting. They were in the process of re-surfacing parts of the road. We were glad that we hadn’t rented a car, but could relax as Josia, who spoke excellent English, masterfully negotiated the roads and en route gave us a running commentary on Fiji. We could observe the poor living conditions of the Fijian people. We learned from Josia that Fiji is a British Commonwealth. 30% of the population are Asian Indians. Apparently, the English took Indians as indentured servants to work in the sugar cane fields, and allowed them to “earn” their freedom and land via hard work. There are two theories regarding the origins of the native Fijians, either South Africa or Papua, New Guinea. Fiji’s government has gone through numerous transitions with accompanying instability. The current political leader is “Commodore Frank”, who took over in 2000 through a military coup. He had been the head of the military. Apparently, very few people knew or were bothered by the change. They know the government is filled with corruption and feel that there is nothing they can do. We subsequently learned that the Indians are at the core of the business development in Fiji. The Fijian people are generally very friendly with big smiles. They know that tourism is their #1 economic priority, while the brown sugar cane industry remains #2.

    As we were listening to Josia and taking in the poverty in the villages we passed, we were also enjoying the first of several phenomenal sunsets. After an hour+ drive, it was totally dark as we entered the gates of the “Outrigger on the Lagoon Resort“, and were welcomed by the hotel “greeter” yelling “Bula”. This was the first of many “Bulas” we would receive as we entered the reception area.

    Under the canopy of the front entrance, a string of golf carts (“buggies“, to them) were lined up, with eager drivers waiting. We learned that these provided transportation for guests to get around the resort, which is built into a steep hillside. Because we got a reasonable room rate on our 5-day stay, we had booked and pre-paid for a Deluxe Oceanview Room. As we approached the registration, we were hoping that our room fit the online description. As it turned out, our room was in a building on the level of the restaurants, pool, and beach, with a side-on view of the ocean and the lagoon. With this room came a “butler” service which meant that daily about 5 PM champagne and canapés were delivered to our room. We were initially assigned to a 2nd floor unit, which involved quite a steep set of stairs. Not so convenient with DW was nursing a knee injury. Our buggy driver Jon was sensitive to our situation and suggested that, before unpacking, we return to the reception and request a 1st floor room. This new room turned out to be a terrific move. We could walk over a wooden bridge and access the pool, the restaurants, and the beach.

    Feeling very hungry from the long day, we walked the short distance to the Asian Restaurant where we enjoyed our usual drinks of wine and beer and split a pork chop meal.

    The “Outrigger on the Lagoon Resort” has five restaurants, in addition to a bar area and a café. A focal point of the resort is a large, beautiful pool, described in the tour books as an outstanding feature. As indicated above, our purpose in visiting Fiji was to shorten our flight back to the US, and enjoy a little R & R, and our days seemed to follow a fairly regular rhythm. We began our mornings having a leisurely coffee on our private deck, where we enjoyed watching the variety of birds in the lagoon and the horses whose pasture was just across the lagoon. The surf of the ocean in the morning was very refreshing. Afterward, we called for our “buggy” ride up the steep hill to the main building where the reception, many shops, and all tourist activities are located. The little store located there was our stop for bottled water and OJ. We enjoyed our daily breakfast of croissants and cappuccinos in the café as we took advantage of their free WiFi. We were attempting to plan a meeting with our brother in Santa Monica, our next destination, so internet access was important to us. Following our little breakfast, each day we enjoyed exploring one of the little shops or kiosks displaying locally made jewelry. Then it was time for a buggy ride down to our building, where we prepped for our beach/pool time. Lunch was at one of their casual restaurants. A little more enjoyment of the beach and it was time for happy hour with champagne and canapés delivered to our room. For dinner, we made the rounds of the restaurants at the resort. A favorite of ours was the “Sunset Bar” which overlooked the ocean, and was especially nice at sunset, as its name suggests. A visit to the ice cream bar followed by a stroll on the beach or around the pool, or sitting on our own deck, was a typical ending of our day.

    We had two exceptions to our normal pattern. One evening we had dinner at a nearby smaller resort, “The Bedarra Beach Inn“. It was a good variety, but we decided that we were happy that we had chosen the “Outrigger“. On another evening, we visited the bar/lounge of the BeBe Spa, located at the top of the property. This was a classy little place serving drinks and tapas, and a perfect location for having our dinner while viewing the sunset. The panoramic view of the ocean from this hilltop point was outstanding.

    Since we hung at the resort for 5 days, we really got to know and like some of the buggy drivers, the waiters/waitresses, and the locals who were making and selling their wares (mostly jewelry) in the hotel. We had frequent long discussions with a few of them and learned a lot about their families, and their way of life. It was interesting to learn that most of them had never left their island. Also remarkable was how their faces lit up when asked if they liked school. They answered with emotion: “Yes!” They seemed to have a genuine desire to improve their situations and were very appreciative of any tips which we tried to make sure were on the generous side.

    This experience of spending all of our time in one resort is unique for us. Normally, when we visit an island, we rent a car and explore. We enjoy “beach-hopping” and finding local restaurants throughout an island. As noted above, the condition of the roads on the island of Vitu Levu made us glad that we hadn’t rented a car. Before leaving home we had been following the news regarding the heavy rains and serious flooding reported in the Fijian papers and elsewhere, and were hesitant to plan any excursions to the out islands, some of which were also affected. When we reached the “Outrigger“, and became aware of its large size with more than adequate restaurants and activities, as well as the opportunity to connect with many Fijians, we were surprised that we were enjoying the days so much that the time passed very quickly.

    On our last evening, as we were enjoying our after-dinner cappuchinos at the “Sunset Grill”, our table was surrounded by the “full-court” press of the musician with his guitar and a group of waiters/waitresses who were serenading us a “Farewell”. This brought home the realization that our five days there were actually coming to a close, that we had better start packing, and plan to check out by 11:00 AM, although our flight did not depart until 10:30 PM. With our luggage checked at the hotel, we were able to enjoy our final day dogging the rain interspersed with sun where could get our last taste of the ocean surf.

    We requested our pick-up for the airport an hour earlier than assigned, and upon arriving at the airport with the crowds of people, were glad that we did. Our last encounter was with an Indian transport driver, who was impeccably dressed and spoke fluent English. We had a good discussion with him about his family and life in Fiji, but were saddened to learn that the transport company was owned by a big Fijian company who paid the drivers very small wages. To get to and from work, this man had to walk 45 minutes from his house to the main road and then catch a public bus to the airport. He was happy that we had requested our car an hour earlier, as he was able to get home at a more decent time. As we collected our luggage and said “Farewell“, we again realized how easy we have it compared to a lot of people.

    The lines were long for check-in on Air Pacific at the Nadi Airport. Contrary to our luggage hassle on the first Air Pacific flight, this check-in, though long, was smooth. The choices for meals at the airport were very meager, but at this point, we were just eager to complete the 10 hr.+ flight to LAX. We caught a couple of hours of sleep, though sitting up isn’t quite the restful variety. Our neighbors on the flight were an Oregon couple who were both avid-outdoors people who had just spent a month in Fiji. The last part of the flight passed quickly as we exchanged ideas about our experiences in Fiji.

    As we were departing, we agreed that on a future trip it would be fun to stay on one or two of the out islands. We missed the experience of the beautiful reefs and fish in the surrounding waters. Next trip, we would hope not to encounter the rains and floods which affected so much. The outstanding sunsets will always be in our memories of Fiji.

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    tomarkot -

    I'm so glad to hear that Fiji worked out okay, as I know you were concerned about how the flooding would affect your visit.

    Sounds like a wonderful place to R&R.

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    Glad it worked out for you tomarkot. The Outrigger is a nice spot to hole up when you can't get out & about. Lovely part of the Coral Coast. Friends have a house between there & the Bedarra.

    Can't say or hear "Bula" without smiling, can you?

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    Melnq8 and Bokhara2, thanks for your responses to our Fiji report. Must be wonderful to have a place on that Coral Coast. We made the best of the situation and ended up enjoying it, although our report has been slow in coming. After Fiji, we were ready to return to the US. We're working on our report of that last segment of our trip.

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    Pt. 4 Santa Monica: Perfect Weather, Pacific Coast, Presidential Library

    After returning to LAX from a month-long trip to Sydney, Australia, South Island, New Zealand, and Fiji, we chose to spend four days around Santa Monica before returning to our home in the Midwest. This is the third year we’ve visited the area after returning from a longer trip out of the US.

    Our 10-hour flight from Fiji arrived at LAX about 1:00 PM, and after a rather long wait at immigration and customs, we were happy to check in at our Renaissance Hotel, compliments of Marriott points, and use the convenient $5.00 roundtrip shuttle to Manhattan Beach. We had a great late lunch-early dinner at a fav restaurant, the “Rock and Fish“, and meandered down to the pier to enjoy our first of four fabulous sunsets. We returned to our hotel by about 8 PM, and enjoyed some dessert & coffee in the Executive Lounge at the Renaissance Hotel, an “extra” offered to us at check-in. Nice! The personnel at this hotel were very welcoming and super-friendly. We had no doubt but that our night would be extremely restful compared to the cramped seat on the “red-eye” Air Pacific flight.

    The following morning, Friday, we picked up our rental car, conveniently located directly across the street from the Renaissance Hotel, and headed up to the Marriott Marina del Rey, our home for the next three evenings. Lunch was at another of our favs, "Tony P’s", located right on the marina. Having stayed at this location in the past, we felt comfortable finding our way around the area. So we headed down to Santa Monica, enjoyed the Third Street Promenade, the oceanfront walk, and an apple struddel dessert at the “Blue Oysterette” on Ocean Blvd. We were in for another outstanding sunset. Dinner was outdoors at “Café Crepe“, located on Third Street.

    Each year we take advantage of a cultural opportunity. This year it was the Reagan Library. Saturday dawned another beautiful day. We left our hotel about 9AM for a pleasant drive to Simi Valley. Traffic flowed smoothly. Although we’ve been in this area of LA several times, we had never been to Simi Valley, and were impressed with the beauty of the surroundings of the library. Arriving soon after the opening, we were able to get a convenient parking spot and begin our tour with a comfortable-sized crowd. We were told that seeing all parts of the library at a comfortable pace would take about three hours. But we found the whole experience to be extremely interesting and informative, with state of the art technology reflected throughout, highlighted by the opportunity to go through a retired Air Force One. We enjoyed talking to a few of the docents. Presidential libraries, of course, tend to portray that president’s most positive characteristics and accomplishments. But no matter what a person’s political persuasion, it seems that no one could leave this library without being impressed. The library emphasized Reagan’s communication skills, including his sense of humor, his expressions of hope and inspiration, and his relationship with Mikhail Gorbachov, emphasizing his belief in the necessity of communicating with one’s “enemies” in order to achieve the ends we want. We’ve visited a couple of other presidential libraries, and think that none could compare with this gorgeous natural setting. Outside of a break for lunch at the café, seated on the patio overlooking the valley, we found that taking in all the aspects of the library consumed the whole day. Before leaving the interior of the library, a refreshing break was a cold beer in the Reagan Pub on the ground floor. It was constructed with the interior of a pub in County Tipperary, the home of the Reagan family, when it was sold. A Reagan supporter had purchased the contents and had them shipped. And, of course, they had Guinness!

    The library itself was closing, but we still wanted to pay a visit to President’s Reagan’s gravesite. Since his death was within recent years, remembering the funeral on TV, it felt like a “déjà vu”. The site itself, with the layers of mountains looking toward the Pacific, is very impressive.

    Since we were leaving the library after 5:30, it was too late to follow our original plan of crossing one of the canyon roads off the freeway over to the coast to enjoy sunset. So we viewed our third beautiful sunset from afar. Spending the whole day at the library was tiring, and being Saturday evening, we knew we’d have to wait to eat in downtown Santa Monica. So we chose to return to Marina del Rey and have dinner at Tony P’s, where we were able to be seated rather quickly.

    When we awoke on Sunday, a fog hung over the marina, and we thought that our anticipated day on the coast toward Malibu wouldn’t happen. But about 11 AM, the sun began to appear and the fog burned off. So it was off to one of fav drives along the coast to Malibu, which has turned into a must-do for us. We had a late lunch at the “Sunset Restaurant” facing Sunset Beach, and afterward enjoy a leisurely stroll. We envied the students at Pepperdine University, located nearby on a hill along the Pacific Coast Highway. En route back to Santa Monica, we stopped at a familiar location for cappuccinos. We made it back to Santa Monica just in time to park, walk down to the ocean for our last beautiful sunset, and have dinner at Il Fornaio on Ocean Ave. Unfortunately, the time had come to return to Marina del Rey and get packed for our morning flight home.

    As we prepared to leave, we felt lucky to have had 3 ½ gorgeous days. The morning of our flight, the temperatures were chillier, and the skies were overcast. As we made our way to LAX we felt grateful that during our brief stay in the area the weather was near perfect. It made it a bit easier to return home to the Midwest, where, oddly, the temperature was higher than in LA.

    After two non-descript flights, we were greeted with “early spring” as the daffodils and forsythia were in full bloom. However, no matter, there were no palm trees, and no ocean coast.

    We got our “fix” of ocean coast and Southern California in Santa Monica and were ready to delve into the myriad of things waiting for us at home, having wonderful memories of our month-long trip.

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    Toucan2, we're complimented that you read our entire report. It did get long, but then, we had so many experiences that we wanted to remember.

    The few rainy days we encountered seem like nothing compared to the experience of another Fodorite, Melnq8, who is there now. . .with unseasonably cold weather and rain. In general, we lucked out with mostly good weather. Of course, we were there during their summer.

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