Fun in Australia and New Zealand

Old May 15th, 2024, 09:16 PM
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Fun in Australia and New Zealand

I wanted to write a little trip report, in part to thank all of you on this Forum, particularly Bokhara2, CounterClifton, Diamantina and northie, who kindly helped my husband and me plan our recent trip to Australia and New Zealand. This trip didn't quite turn out quite the way we had planned (plot twist further ahead) but we still had a good time.

Our first stop was Melbourne which we really enjoyed. We loved the location of the Langham Hotel which easily enabled us to stroll up and down the Yarra's pleasant riverbanks. This hotel was a big of a splurge for us and well worth it. The Langham is really lovely and their breakfast buffet is incredible. If anyone reading this has the opportunity to have breakfast there, don't miss the cinnamon rolls.

While in Melbourne, we took an historical city walk and CounterClifton's Laneway walk, strolled through the Royal Botanical Gardens, visited the Queen Victoria Market, window-shopped at several Arcades and paid our respects at the Shrine of Remembrance. We really enjoyed our tour to Phillip Island where we visited the Koala Conservation Reserve and the Nobbies and watched hundreds of adorable Little Penguins emerge from the ocean at twilight.

We were so impressed with how vibrant Melbourne felt and enjoyed watching its diverse population out and about enjoying themselves. I don't remember the names of all of spots where we had tasty bites except for the memorable Big Esso restaurant where we sampled delicious Aboriginal cuisine. Melbourne's free trams and city-wide complimentary wifi enhanced our visit and I'd love to return someday. What a great city!

We next flew to Cairns where we joined our Odysseys Unlimited tour. We were delighted to find our tour group was a compatible group of 20 and our guide was a humorous New Zealander who had partially grown up in Australia.

The weather didn't cooperate on our first day of touring Carins as a cyclone was spinning overhead nearby. Our tour director was able to substitute a cancelled train ride with a guided walk with through the Daintree rainforest. Our descent on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway was halted midway due to the cyclone, and the Barron Falls were obscured by the misty rain, but we were able to make it back down after a short delay. Given the challenges of the day, our guide treated us to a nice dinner which had not originally been included.

My husband enjoyed snorkeling the next day on an all-day Great Barrier Reef trip but I was, unfortunately, sidelined with "tourista." I recovered by the next day but was disappointed to have missed the trip. However, these things happen and there was nothing to be done.

Our hotel in Cairns was the only one of our trip I wouldn't recommend: The Pullman Reef Hotel Casino. Our room smelled musty, although it was comfortable. The hotel is a bit dated has a large casino attached to it which didn't appeal. However, noise from the Casino did not disturb us. The next day we were off to a completely different environment.

To Be Continued....

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Old May 15th, 2024, 09:17 PM
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I have no idea why the emoji above is so large!
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Old May 16th, 2024, 12:41 AM
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Thanks KTtravels - I'm travelling along with you.

Your note about the weather in Cairns underlines what we say to people about that time of year in FNQ. You need a Plan B, in case Plan A gets blown or washed away.
That said, it seems as if your guide was onto it with viable alternatives & your flexibile attitude no doubt helps too. Sorry about the "Tourista" bug that caused you to miss a day out on the Reef.

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Old May 16th, 2024, 07:13 AM
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I am following along as we will be in Australia and New Zealand in October/November. My sympathies about the "tourista" bug. That sidelined me more than once on several trips to China. It's not fun. I had to laugh when I saw your large emoji!
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Old May 16th, 2024, 07:00 PM
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Trip Report Part 2


Our next stop was Alice Springs where we stayed for two days in the heart of the Outback. The desert landscape was so different from the places we had already visited and had a special beauty. The rainy weather we had experienced in Cairns seemed to follow us to Alice Springs and the usually warm and dry town was drenched and cool. Several streets flooded and we saw townspeople gathering to watch the usually dry Todd River overflowing its banks.

We stayed at the DoubleTree Hotel which was lovely and had an excellent Thai/Indian restaurant. We noticed what appeared to be local families celebrating several special occasions at the restaurant. The only "problem" we noticed was the hotel corridor connecting the lobby area to the rooms sprang multiple roof leaks during the heavy rain. Buckets, large containers, towels and mops were in abundance but, fortunately, the leaks were contained on one side of the passageway.

We visited the Royal Flying Doctor Service facility which provides valuable medical services to remote and rural communities that lack medical facilities. As retired nurse, I found this fascinating and our group all seemed to enjoy the visit.

We also toured the Alice Springs School of the Air which has been providing education to students living in remote areas of Australia for more than 70 years. This was the first school if its kind and, initially, teaching was done by radio. With remote learning now no longer such a novelty, I found this less interesting than I likely would have a few years ago although am delighted at the efforts made to provide children with a good education.

The next day we enjoyed the Alice Springs Desert Park and had a wonderful tour by a naturalist. She had a wealth of knowledge about the various habitats represented in the park and we saw a a great variety of plants and animals. She also shared with us tools and customs of the indigenous peoples.

The roadways to the Stanley Chasm and Simpson Gap were flooded so our guide arranged for us to stop instead at the Alice Springs Reptile Centre. The center's enthusiastic guide, who also works as a venomous snake capturer, encouraged us to safely handle some of the reptiles and entertained us with stories and facts about its impressive residents. The Thorny Devil is my new favorite lizard.

We drove the next day to Uluru and along the way enjoyed spotting wallabies and a pair of dingos. We checked into the Voyages Sail in the Desert hotel (dramatic name) which had a lovely lobby and an excellent restaurant. The rooms were fairly standard, but fine.

We visited Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park that evening and the next morning and took a guided walk around the part of the base of Uluru. Uluru was even more fascinating up close than it is at a distance and we were able to view some of the rock formations and Aboriginal rock art as well as learn a bit about the spiritual significance of this special place. We were fortunate the weather had cleared as sunset at Uluru was beautiful. We also walked close to Kata Tjuta, a stunning red rock formation, the next morning.

Next stop: Sydney


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Old May 16th, 2024, 07:14 PM
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Thanks again, KTtravels,

It would have been a great novelty to have the Todd river in flood!

I was lucky enough to have some time in Alice Springs years ago when my niece was a vet nurse there. Did lots of exploring and a couple of chopper flights.

I found it a fascinating town and area and as a former country kid who did correspondence for a couple of years before going off to boarding school at 8, loved seeing the School of the Air.
i also had a flight on an RFDS plane after an accident in my 20ís and have been a donor to them for 50+ years.

oh - Thorny Devils! Arenít they just the most gorgeous, cheeky little fellows!
Hopefully, you also got to see the Birds of Prey exhibition in that wonderful natural amphitheatre at the Desert Park.

looking forward to your Sydney TR.

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Old May 16th, 2024, 09:20 PM
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Hi Bokhara2, unfortunately we didn't get to see the Birds of Prey exhibition at the Desert Park as it was raining pretty heavily while we were there. Oh, well!

The park guide was really excellent. I would look out, for example, at some rather boring looking vegetation and she would explain something interesting about it and I could then appreciate what I was observing in a new way. She brought out some wooden tools used by the local Aboriginal group and explained their uses, meanings and importance. What normally I would have walked past had the objects been out on display, suddenly became fascinating. Our group was cold and a bit damp but we didn't want to leave.
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Old May 17th, 2024, 04:27 AM
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Hi! It sounds like you've had the most incredible trip so far. Do you think that you'll make it to WA? If so, where are you planning to visit? I flew to Perth in Dec 2022 and had 3 weeks travelling the South West coast of WA before crossing the Nullarbor. I spent the next 2 weeks making my way to Melbourne, via the Eyre highway and through the Grampians. I flew home to the UK after just 5 weeks in AUS. I travelled 7000km in a car that I bought when I arrived there. I also sold it before coming home. It was such an unforgettable trip but reading this is making me want to go back and see more.
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Old May 17th, 2024, 04:37 AM
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KTtravel - enjoying your report.
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Old May 17th, 2024, 12:31 PM
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janeharrison8852, we did not make it to WA on this trip but would love to visit sometime in the future. It sounds like you had a wonderful time there.
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Old May 17th, 2024, 01:30 PM
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Trip Report Part 3

Our next stop was the bustling city of Sydney. We stayed at the Swissotel Sydney which I can recommend. The rooms were large, clean and comfortable and the lobby and bar area were very nice. We really liked the location as we could take interesting walks from there and it was close to public transportation.

On our first night, my husband and I walked down to the Darling Harbor and had a nice dinner at Jordan's Seafood restaurant. We were concerned that a restaurant at such a "touristy" spot would be overpriced and not very good but we were pleased with the quality and price of our meal. We enjoyed sitting outside watching the pedestrians and maritime activities.

We then caught a tram and made our way to the Sydney Opera House which was beautifully lit and fun to stroll around. It was a lovely night and we caught part of a light show being projected onto the Opera House. We admired the views of the harbor, including the Harbor Bridge. We returned to our hotel via the tram and found ourselves wishing our local transportation was so clean, efficient and easy to use.

The next day our group visited Featherdale Wildlife Park which was an unexpected highlight for us. We were able to see birds and animals which we've always heard about but never thought we'd get to see including echidnas, wombats, kookaburras, quokkas, cassowaries, and a Tasmanian devil. We also saw many koalas and were able to hand-feed kangaroos and wallabies.

We then took a lunchtime harbor cruise which was OK. It was fun to see the sights around the harbor but the boat was quite crowded and fell into my definition of a "tourist trap." We also took a bus tour of the city and spent some time strolling famous Bondi Beach.

The following morning we toured the iconic Sydney Opera House and enjoyed learning about this cultural hub and architectural masterpiece.

After a too brief stay in Sydney, we were off to New Zealand.



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Old May 18th, 2024, 01:18 PM
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Trip Report Part 4 (aka: A Change of Plans)

From Sydney we flew to Christchurch, New Zealand and arrived quite late in the evening. The next morning we visited Christchurch's stunning Botanic Gardens. We enjoyed walking among unusual trees that were planted long ago and through meadows and gardens with a great variety of flowers and plants. We briefly visited downtown Christchurch and could see restoration is still continuing from the devastating 2011 earthquake.

Next, we began our drive to Mt. Cook stopping along the way at a small family-run restaurant. I wish I could remember its name as everything was delicious. Checking a map, I think it was Carnegies Restaurant in Fairlie. We then headed to a farm for sheepdog and sheep shearing demonstrations. Sheep shearers compete in an annual Golden Shears contest and we were pleased to view one of the winners hard at work.

After a beautiful drive we arrived at the Hermitage Hotel in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. We had a stunning view from the hotel of the snow-covered Southern Alps. Dinner at the hotel was excellent and the "wall of deserts" was not missed.

We were excited to have a day to explore the park and my husband and I opted to take a short but scenic helicopter ride which gave us a great view of glaciers and beautiful mountain peaks. We wanted to continue exploring the park so started off on an "easy" trail to Muller Lake. I did not find the trail quite as effortless as described as it mostly consisted of small rocks and pebbles with some elevation gain, but it was a beautiful day to stroll in such a stunning location.

We had finished the most difficult part of the hike when suddenly my foot slipped, I heard a "snap" and down I went. Fortunately, I landed on soft grasses but soon realized I was unable to stand, let alone walk, without pain. We were not able to contact the hotel with our cell phone but helpful hikers stopped and were able to contact emergency services from their phones. It took quite a while for an ambulance crew to arrive and, eventually, two crews carried me off the trail on a stretcher placed in a wheelbarrow-type device. It was quite a sight!

The ambulance crew did everything they could to keep us comfortable on our three hour drive to the nearest hospital. I enjoyed chatting with the ambulance attendant as we exchanged stories about working in the medical field.

X-rays at Timaru hospital confirmed my ankle was broken and I was advised surgery was needed but couldn't take place until swelling resolved. The ER staff couldn't have been nicer and we were pleasantly surprised to learn tourists receive emergency care for free in New Zealand. (Apparently, NZ wisely believes offering medical care rather than allowing lawsuits makes good sense.) The hospital helped us locate a nearby motel to spend the night and the ER doctor actually drove us there (!) as his shift was ending and Timaru doesn't have a late-night taxi service. We were amazed and grateful for all the kindness we received that day.

Our tour director was able to arrange a ride to Queenstown the next morning and we rejoined our group at the Hotel St. Moritz which is a comfortable hotel with a good restaurant and stunning views of The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. We had fun watching a variety of boats on the lake including semi-submersible "sharks" that leap into the air and dive underwater.

My husband was able to visit Milford Sound with the group the next day and enjoyed the fjord's beautiful peaks and waterfalls and was surprised to spot a few dolphins.

We reluctantly decided to leave the tour and returned home early to arrange for my surgery. We were sorry to miss the North Island and have added it back to our "travel wish list." We had a wonderful trip, enjoyed our travel companions and are thankful for the many ways our tour director assisted us both during the tour and after my accident. This was a journey we will never forget!


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Old May 18th, 2024, 02:23 PM
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Ah yes, I remember our discussion about your broken ankle in the Lounge. What a complete and total bummer. I assume you've since gone through surgery and are on the road to recovery?

Next time...
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Old May 18th, 2024, 02:35 PM
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Yes, Melnq8, thanks for asking. I have had surgery and am hoping to get my cast off next week. I am doing well but can't wait to be more mobile. My poor husband has been a saint.
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Old May 18th, 2024, 07:33 PM
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KTtravel, oh no! I feel so bad for you! I always worry about something like this happening to me when we travel because I have fallen several times (in my home state, so not while traveling) and fractured ankles. Luckily, I never needed surgery but was in a cast and then a walking boot for several months. How were you able to get around before you flew home? Did they give you a walking boot? Crutches? What a bummer! Luckily there were hikers nearby to call emergency services for you.
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Old May 18th, 2024, 08:16 PM
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Karen, thank you for your sweet message. I was given crutches but using them was pretty tiring as I couldn't weight bear on the broken ankle. Our helpful tour director was able to borrow a wheelchair from a nearby hotel (!) which I used in our hotel and we arranged for a wheelchair at the airport.

I did make quite a grand entrance at the Queenstown hotel as we didn't have the wheelchair yet so I rode in the bottom of a luggage cart. The looks I got were priceless!
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Old May 18th, 2024, 08:44 PM
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Ahh KTtravels, you will do well wherever you go with your great attitude. Crap happens, get on with it and don't make it the focus of our tales & travels.

I'm glad but not the slightest bit surprised at your excellent treatment by the Kiwis - they are a good bunch!

Really enjoyed your TR, thanks so much.
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Old May 18th, 2024, 09:46 PM
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Bokhara2, I like your attitude, too. And, yes, the Kiwis are an excellent bunch. Several of the ambulance crew members mentioned they are volunteers, which was so impressive. I'm just sorry I didn't get to know more of them (Kiwis, not ambulance crews!)
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Old May 19th, 2024, 03:53 AM
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KTtravel, thanks for this interesting trip report, which I found extremely enjoyable until I became concerned reading about how you slipped and broke your ankle. I'm sorry this emergency cut your trip short. I hope you have a smooth and speedy recovery.
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Old May 19th, 2024, 07:30 AM
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Thanks, Diamantina. I am well on the way to recovery and hope to be more mobile soon. I'm already thinking about our next trip!
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