AWESOME first trip to Australia and New Zealand

Dec 13th, 2015, 06:07 PM
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Glad you saw a white wallaby at Adventure Bay. They seemed to mainly hang out near the Adventure Bay Holiday Village which was defunct at the time of our visit but the grounds of the property were still accessible. We were able to see quite a few of them while walking around the area at dawn and dusk.

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

Your time in Freycinet sounded wonderful!
Patty is offline  
Dec 13th, 2015, 10:07 PM
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Saffire's discreet entrance off the road to Coles Bay belies the luxury awaiting just up the way--thanks for the description of what we were missing! But Freycinet is awesome no matter where one stays. Beautiful place.
aprillilacs is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 12:26 AM
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Your description of Freycinet has made me more determined to get there.
Not sure if you realize that Port Arthur was the scene of the shootings in 1996 i.e. Deaths of 35 and 23 wounded that resulted in the incredible changes in Australian gun laws . One of the ghost tour guides was killed as were her 2 daughters .
northie is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 12:53 AM
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My mother & I were in Port Arthur in 1990. A surprise birthday present for her, we had 10 days in Tasmania & loved it.

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

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

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

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

Bokhara2 is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 03:03 AM
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Northie, we did hear quite a lot about the massacre at Port Arthur, including lots of "quizzing" about US gun laws, especially given all the recent episodes. Bokhara, thanks for sharing the story, all that emotion is clearly still with you, unsurprisingly. And my husband and I remarked to each other about the contrast between the incredible landscape and the original purpose of the site.

Port Arthur was the first place we saw any details about the convict experience in Australia. We knew little about it before we arrived, other than the general knowledge that Australia was where the UK sent many convicts. So it started to come alive to us, in some small way, especially when we went through the building with the solitary confinement cells.
FromDC is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 03:15 AM
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We took a Virgin Australia flight for the 2-hour trip to Sydney and had a funny thing happen. I was browsing through the in-flight magazine and saw an article about Yukari Sakamoto, who was our great guide in Tokyo last June. She was interviewed about that city and made recommendations about where to stay, eat, etc. When I got to Sydney, I emailed her to let her know about it, she hadn't even seen the article yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We enjoyed our time in Sydney, a great capstone to our fabulous time in Australia. We did somewhat less sightseeing than we’d hoped because of the weather, but still had a good time. It is certainly one of the most beautiful harbors we’ve ever seen, for me that was the high point.
FromDC is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 04:20 AM
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Glad you enjoyed Sydney, FromDC. Isn't the harbor just gorgeous?! We fell in love with it during our first trip in 2006 and are coming back for a third time next year. Hope you get to go back and enjoy it again too.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 09:54 AM
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The funny thing about this place is that there is also a drive-in oyster window; you don't even need to get out of your car to get oysters! >>

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

What I like about this forum is that everyone does something different in these famous places like Sydney so you can always pick up tips for a second or third trip. We had a great time too, but I think the only places we co-incided were the fish market and the botanical gardens. [did you know that you can do a tour of the Governor's Mansion? - it was fasctinating].
annhig is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 10:05 AM
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Ann-didn't you go to the opera house? Even though we had the longest stay of any place in our trip, we actually didn't do a huge amount of sightseeing. A few things kept us from doing more - - the weather (it rained really heavily at times and DH had a hard time walking much (his toe and heel both hurting, city streets seem to make the achilles much worse in his case). So if we every go back, there will be lots more to see.
FromDC is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 10:48 AM
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Great report. It's really interesting to hear how other people see our country.

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

Come back and see the rest of the place.
margo_oz is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 11:17 AM
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So true, Ann. We've been to Sydney twice, and almost for a week during our last visit, and we feel like we've only covered a small portion of what the city has the offer. Both the fish market and the governor's mansion are on my list for my next visit.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 11:56 AM
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Ann-didn't you go to the opera house?>>

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

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

As with any great city, we left a lot unseen, but that gives us a good excuse to go back!
annhig is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 12:35 PM
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Margo, everyone we met was so friendly, it's another reason we can't wait to return. We'll easily need another 3-4 weeks just to see some of the things we missed this time.

Ann, I guess I forget that not everyone is as enthralled with opera as I am, it's a very important part of my life, so the opera house was the #1 item on my agenda. It was a major disappointment to me that we couldn't see an opera there. In fact, my daughter said to me: "I can't believe you planned this trip for a time when there wasn't an opera at the Sydney Opera House".
FromDC is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 12:52 PM
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I suspect that I'm not, but I would have been more interested in seeing a performance [which wasn't possible when we were there, we timed it wrong like you did] rather than doing a tour of the inside. looks like we made a good choice!
annhig is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 02:04 PM
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FromDC, I feel for your frustration at not being able to see an opera here. I've managed to be in Milan twice just at the end of LaScala's season & not been able to get a ticket.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You may be interested to know that Peter Gilmour has extended his operation to Benelong, the premier restaurant at the Opera House.
Bokhara2 is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 02:34 PM
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Great report. Thank you for all the details!
alisa23 is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 03:24 PM
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Awesome report FromDC, and great to hear you enjoyed our country.

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

Looking forward to reading about the land of the long white cloud !
sartoric is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 06:07 PM
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We didn't tour the opera house until our second trip but were lucky enough to see a performance on our first. You might want to give the Park Hyatt a try if you return. Looking forward to the NZ portion.
Patty is offline  
Dec 15th, 2015, 11:53 AM
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Bokhara, yes, AFTER the fact, I read some reviews on flyertalk about the 4S. Despite all my research for the trip, I wasn't careful enough about the Sydney stop. The hotel was OK, nothing bad, just not what you expect of the brand, as I said.

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

NZ coming up.
FromDC is offline  
Dec 15th, 2015, 11:59 AM
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Wow. Sitting on the right side of the plane as we flew from Sydney into Queenstown, as we neared the airport you could already see the gorgeous mountainous landscape. Couldn't wait to get started on our 2 weeks here.

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

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

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

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

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

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