Just returned 1 month in NZ and Australia

Mar 2nd, 2005, 08:27 AM
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Just returned 1 month in NZ and Australia

Thanks to all of you who answered all my questions over the past several months. I hope that my trip report will assist some of you lucky travelers who are getting ready for your own vacations! My folks (ages 75 and 76, but very active) also went, and we arranged itineraries to meet up several times. My partner and I had been to the north island 4 years ago, as well as Port Douglas and Sydney. So, this time, we did the south island, along with Melbourne and Sydney.

We started with 3 nights in Christchurch at the Croyden House B&B. Along with the usual cereal and breads, a cooked breakfast is available, and the location is perfect. A tram goes right past the front, and it's only a couple blocks to the great botanic garden with monstrously huge trees, as well as the CBD. There's a nice outdoor courtyard, and the rates are good. The garden was great for running in the morning, but plan on spending time there to see all the unusual (to the US) flora. Also, just out of the park, is a nice museum of history of the area. The river is pretty, and three days is plenty here. We drove out to the gondola (about 15-20 minutes) and the views were nice. Did some hiking around up there on trails, though most just look from the building. The restaurant looked like no big deal. I'd svae the $ for elsewhere. Drove out to Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula, which was much more twisty and mountainous than expected. Cute seaside town for a stroll. Couldn't swim with the dolphins that day (water too clear and they get spooked), so did the cruise instead, which was great, as dolphins swam alongside us, and we got to see much of the area, as well as a penguin and seals. Very enjoyable. Some easy cafes in town and email too. Took the other road back, and stopped at very little towns along the way for snacks. This will take up the whole day. The Arts Centre is nice, and has many dining options. Dux De Luxe (also in Queenstown) has something for everyone and is popular. Just what we needed after a big day. Lots of veggie options. Not fine dining, but comfortable and more than a cafe. Go to the Arts Centre on a weekend, when it's more lively and has a market. Nearby is the art museum, which we really liked. Nice building, and, when we went, some interesting exhibitions. My parents were there earlier than us, and stayed at Riverview B&B, which I ran past. Looks nice, but definitely a 10 or 15 minute walk to the city. It's in a quiet neighborhood. My parents said the breakfasts were terrific.

We drove over Arthur's Pass next, and spent the night in Franz Josef. The drive in Arthur's Pass had us scared, but was actually easier than Akaroa. Lovely, and empty and beautiful. Stopped in the small village for a coffee, and suddenly saw all these people who were taking busses and the train. Stopped on the west coast in Hokitika, which had just had an art contest on the beach. So, we admired the sculptures made of driftwood, avoided the tour busses going into opal shops, strolled the couple of streets in town, and had lunch at the cafe adjoining the movie theatre, which was good. We didn't know how far we'd get, so we didn't have reservations in Franz Josef. We arrived around 4:00, and things were tight. Made reservations for a helicopter ride to the glaciers for later that day, then went hunting for a room. All we could find was the suites of every hotel and motel around. Rainforest Retreats looked nice, but full. Finally, a nice teen at a motel suggested going the other side of town, where we found two B&Bs. The first was full, but the second just had a vacancy. We were very lucky. Really, it was a homestay, whic I'd always been leery of, but the hosts were very nice, and we did our laundry, and one other man checked into the other room. Our copter was cancelled due to weather, so we got to go at 7:00am the following day. Beautiful ride. More exciting than the landing, which was fun, but noisy (the motor never turns off and several other helicopter companies keep arriving). Beautiful to see from the air. So many variations. I don't like heights, but had no trouble with the ride. Well worth it. The town is for all the tourists, but there are a couple of okay dining options.

The next day, we drove to Wanaka. The drive was pretty, and the topography was always changing. Again, no reservations, but more was available. The tourist center has a list of what's open. We ended up in a homestay again, though this one was much more upscale. Very nice couple. Modern home with terrific views. One other couple stayed as well. About $109/night. The lake is very pretty, and the town is nice. Plenty for tourists, but not over run. The Green Room was great for dinner, and plenty of cafes are available. Do walk or run around some of the lakefront, and just admire the views.

The next day was an easy drive to Queenstown, and after days with so few people, we were shocked to see so many. And cars. And traffic jams. the town was hopping! We had reservations at Brown's Boutique Hotel, and were meeting up with my folks for the first time. Brown's was great. More expensive, but very well taken care of. Nice, always changing cooked breakfasts, and views (yes, you have to climb up a couple of blocks from town). My partner immediately went paragliding, while I took pictures (again, the height thing), but it actually looked like I could do it. You just walk off a slope, and the wind picks you up. He loved it, and wanted to go again the next day - and sky dive - with my dad, but the rain put a stop to that, so no more adventures in Qtown for us. They even stopped the Shotover boats, which surprised me, as you'd get wet anyway. We went to Arrowtown, but we all could've lived without it. Yes, some nice old buildings, but the main town is just tourist shops, and some cafes. The Chinese settlement was interesting, but I think we needed to go on a dryer day. Also, maybe it was the weather, but Wanaka was actually a prettier setting than Qtown, though both are very nice.

Drove to Manapouri the next day - an easy 2 hours - for our overnight Doubtful Sound boat. My folks had done it prior to Qtown, and had rain, but said the waterfalls were magnificent. We had great weather, so the falls were smaller, but it was a pleasure to be able to be on deck so much. Even the cruise workers said the weather was remarkable, and when we made it to the mouth of the sound, and looked out at the ocean, with seals on the rocks, they said it never looked so good. I have to believe them, as it was something special. The whole cruise was. This was definitely a highlight of the trip. The twin room was nicer than expected, and so was the food. You won't go hungry! Met some interesting folks on board, and kayaked. Wish they'd let kayaking go longer. Saw so many dolphins. The cruise workers said it was a pod of 50, and that it was the best so far this season. My parents joked we must've paid more for our cruise than theirs.

We arrived back at the Manapouri docks around noon, and went over to nearby Te Anau for lunch. A pretty little town. Then, and easy drive across to Dunedin. Stopped in Gore for ice cream, and a stroll, but it was a Sunday, and like many smaller towns in NZ and Australia, most was shut down. Dunedin for three nights at Hulmes Court with free laundry and free email. This was too wonderful, and we took full advantage. Cat lovers will be happy with the 2 resident cats, and the location is perfect, just a couple blocks from the Octagon. By this point, we were pretty tired, and the weather cooled off, so we were a bit less energetic, but we did go to the Otago Peninsula for a Monarch Cruise. Very choppy, but 3 albatross flew right over us. With binoculars, you could see others nesting. Saw more seals, and caught a glimpse of a penguin swimming. Elm Wildlife tours was probably the way to go, but we were so beat. Dunedin is fairly small, really, but has a nice art museum and a smaller, but nice botanic garden. The museum offered a look at flora and fauna, and we we did some cafes. I probably would have chopped a day off here for elsewhere.

We flew direct to Melbourne on Freedom Air, a low cost airline, which replaces meals and movies with games. Really. Quiz and prizes. Nice to be in a big city again (we're from Chicago), and, as my folks were already there for a day, had tutors in the tram system, which is easy for getting to and from anywhere. They stayed at The Hatton, which was an old bldg redone in a contemporary hip way. We were at The Tilba, an old home, with traditional surroundings. The woman who runs the Tilba was very helpful when I cracked a tooth and needed a dentist immediately. She found me one on a Saturday, and got me an appointment. Both hotels were very nice, and near each other. Just a block from the botanic gardens - great for a morning run - and easy to catch trams. A few blocks away is the commercial precinct of Toorak road with upscale shopping and lots of dining. We stayed 5 nights, and wanted nothing more than to just stay in one place. So, we had plenty of time to explore every neighborhood. Brunswick Street and its bohemian strip were skippable and was surprisingly small, but the gardens were great, and the Shrine of Remembrance was very nice. We shopped in the CBD, and trammed out to the zoo, which was very modern, and had great spaces for animals, including a new elephant area, that's right out of Disneyworld's Animal Kingdom. My parents treated us to The Flower Drum, which was very memorable. People were dressed up and in jeans, though the very attentive staff wore suits. Elegant but not snooty, lively, delicious. Not Chinese food as you think of it normally. We put ourselves in the waiter's hands, and courses kept coming. Finally, we had to say "Enough!" as we were too full. Very fun. The next night, my partner and I went to the opposite Chinese restaurant, also in Chinatown, Supper Inn, down an alley and up a flight of stairs, where you wait in line, only to be told, "You have one hour at the table." I was pleased, as the regulars ahead of us, who chatted with the hostess, were told they had 35 minutes. Great dumplings. As my partner said, "No one is coming here for the decor, so the food must be good." Toured Fitzroy Gardens, and then St Kilda for the Sunday market, a stroll along the water, and Acland Street for lots and lots of cakes. A fun area, with many cafes and stores. Loved luna Park. The rides are no big deal, though we went on Ghost Train, a perfectly cheesy haunted house. Just being in such a nice, old, preserved amusement park was fun. Lotsa pictures.

Off to Sydney for 6 nights, and when we arrived at the Virgin Blue terminal, all was chaos. There was a mysterious chemical leak, everyone was being evacuated, people were being taken out on stretchers by hasmat officers in suits and masks, and it was clear we'd be taking off many hours late. After nosing around, and observing the Virgin Blue Staff going into the hotel at the airport for drinks, I figured out no one was going anywhere for a long time. I ran over to Qantas, and paid much more to fly in 30 minutes. We got out of there, and saw later on the news that the Red Cross was brining in cots. People were stuck forever. For the 55 minute flight, Qantas actually served lunch. Wow, not like United's 4 plus hr flights from the west coast, wehere we got pretzels. So worth what we paid to get out - especially to go to Sydney, which was just as vibrant and exciting as we remembered. My folks joined us there, and we all stayed in Darlinghurst at The Chelsea guest House, on a quiet streetWe like the neighborhood, but, yes, you need to take a bus or subway to quickly get to Circular Quay or the CBD, though we enjoy walking it. Still, so nice to be back in the hotel at 4:00 or 5:00 to rest and change and then just stroll to dinner. So many choices, and Paddington and shopping is right there, too. Loved all the sidewalk dining, and my dad and partner did the bridge climb. My dad said, "Don't believe what you read; it was hard." But, they loved it. The Opera House tour is great. We love that building. And, one night, we went to Bennelong for dinner ($55.00 for two courses pre-theater) and then the opening of Die Fledermaus. Just walking there is so much fun, and coffee by the harbor or gelato or whatever - just a great place to be. The Rocks was nicer than I remembered. Maybe last time, I was turned off by all the dull tourist shops to see the great restored buildings. We took the ferry to Luna Park, and were so happy, as it was closed last time we were there. Better than Melbourne, with a great Coney Island ride, with all the old attractions you see in silent movies, like the wheel that spins you off, or the rolling barrels you walk through. So perfectly maintained! Did Darling Harbor, which is pretty, but not my favorite. If I was into bars or the IMAX theater, I'd like it more. Took the Gold Tour at Taronga Zoo, but it was a bit disappointing, as volunteers lead the groups, and, while they were very nice and knew some answers, weren't quite as expert as an actual zoo employee may have been. Also, we spent so long in rooms where food is prepared for the animals, or just looking at exhibits along with everyone else at the zoo, that when we finally got to meet and pet a kangaroo, we had only 2 minutes, because of a shift change. Still, you get right up and next to kaolas, and you can touch echidnas, snakes, lizards, and possums. There's currently much construction there, for a new food area and elephant area. Went back to Bondi Beach, and it was as fun as we remembered, but less lively around the strip on a weekday. Ferried to Manly one day, and enjoyed the cheap shops, Gelatissimo at the wharf, the pine trees lining the beach, the surfers, the waves. Also, went through the CBD, Queen Vic bldg, and so on. We were all so tired before we arrived in Sydney, but all agreed we'd have liked to spend even more time there. Next time!

I hope this helps some of you in planning your trips. If you have any questions, just let me know.
mosthecat is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2005, 09:02 AM
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Hello mosthecat,

Thanks so much for the trip report and, corny as this may sound, thanks for the paragraph breaks. It sure makes reading a lot easier.

That was quick thinking on your part to switch to Qantas to get out of Melbourne in a timely fashion.

It sounds like a super trip. Glad you had a great time.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2005, 10:53 AM
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Glad you enjoyed it! When we finally got on the Qantas flight, my partner said, "It's like we're on The Amazing Race." Boy, were we lucky to get out of there.
mosthecat is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2005, 11:46 AM
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Thank you for sharing your trip report ... it is very enjoyable.

Am heading to NZ for the first time tomorrow and loved reading your preview.
Chicago_Heather is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2005, 02:23 PM
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Excellent report. Glad you liked Hulmes Court, I recommend that one as well. Also agree with your comment about the location of Croydon House in Christchurch. Windsor Hotel B&B is on the same street (Armagh) and is also good, slightly less expensive. I suspect I have stayed at the same homestay in Wanaka also!
mlgb is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2005, 10:33 PM
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Enjoyed your report - thanks for sharing.
Melnq8 is online now  
Mar 7th, 2005, 06:53 AM
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MLGB,

The Windsor looks very nice, and we had considered it, but we didn't want to share a bathroom. Right next door to it, is The Grange Guest House, which is quite upscale. from the outside it doesn't look great, but inside is supposed to be very nice. All these Armagh Street properties are centrally located.
mosthecat is offline  
Mar 7th, 2005, 12:50 PM
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Great report, mosthecat!

That Virginblue chemical leak was the big news of the day on Australian TV, and hundreds of faces of disappointed (or "not-feeling-too-well") passengers flashed across our screens. I didn't realise at the time that the Fodors board had a representative "on the spot"!

Good to hear the positive report about the Chelsea; knowing it only from a map location, I had the temerity, about a fortnight ago, to cast doubts upon it as a suitable choice for a woman who was travelling alone and very concerned about personal safety in the areas she was staying in. I think she went ahead with the booking, and we haven't heard from her lately; tell us, will she have felt uneasy in the streets at the back of Darlinghurst?
Alan is offline  
Mar 8th, 2005, 05:58 AM
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Alan,

I remember seeing that post. It's hard for me to predict how a woman might feel in a situation, but we felt completely safe at all times. The Chelsea is on a quiet, residential street, and a bus comes at the end of Womerha Ave, and takes you right to Circular Quay. We really like Darlinghurst, but avoid the King's Cross area. It's not that I feel unsafe, but I could do without the strip clubs and so on. We really like all the restaurants and coffeehouses along Victoria Avenue, most with outdoor seating. A pleasure, and a fond memory, now that we are back in the cold of Chicago, where it is 19 degrees farenheit. So, I guess safety is all relative. If the woman is from a big city in the U.S., she'd probably feel safer in Darlinghurst than back home.

As for the Virgin Blue chemical leak, I still can't believe our good fortune in getting out of there. The crowds, the chaos, the news crews. The line for taxis was doubled back and forth and must've been a good couple of hours. I'd never seen anything like it. Virgin Blue sent an email that we will have credit up to one year on another Virgin Blue flight - Too bad we won't be in Australia before then.
mosthecat is offline  
Mar 26th, 2005, 08:02 AM
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Mostthecat:
I believe we met at the Chelsea! My husband and I were the late night arrivals who were locked out by Guenther, our ungenial host, and you were the kindly passing by guest who let us in, gave us change to telephone Guenther, and showed us around the place. If that is who you are, I again offer my sincere gratitude. Guenther was absolutely remiss in his attention and you were extremely gracious.
I also hope you received the envelope with the change returned - we left that with Jay, the daytime manager.
Carol L
carolll is offline  
Apr 20th, 2005, 06:59 AM
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Carolll,

Glad to hear from you. Sorry I haven't responded sooner. I just saw your reply. Yes, that was me. I'm glad you weren't stuck outside all night. I looked for you, but it seems you checked out rather soon after we met (planned or you had enough?). I did receive the change back in the envelope. Thank you, and maybe we'll run into each other 1/2way around the world again.
mosthecat is offline  
Apr 21st, 2005, 06:14 PM
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Mosthecat,
Which company did you go with on the overnight Doubtful Sound cruise? Real Journey quoted NZD$512 per person for pick up in Te Anau for January 2006. Thanks.

Pat
Pat_Rick is offline  
Apr 21st, 2005, 06:38 PM
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LN
 
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I totally enjoyed reading your report and reliving those great weeks in Australia and New Zealand.

Thanks for posting!
LN is offline  
May 31st, 2005, 12:42 PM
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Hi,

Pat Rick, so sorry I haven't checked this thread in a while, and did not see you question. We used Real Journeys. If you have your own car, you can just park in their lot, and don't have to pay for the pick-up. it was a great experience!
mosthecat is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2005, 02:29 AM
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Hi Mosthecat,
I'm "Sydneyite", so really appreciate your JBR & views on your trip to NZ, Melb & Syd.

Melbourne: The Tilba in Melbourne is one of my all time favourite hotels in Australia (I was one of the fortunate 12 first guests way back in the late 80's when it opened!) Glad you enjoyed the "Flower Drum" - it's one of our "hatted" restaurants & deservedly celebrated. Acland street is SO European isn't it? I lived just near there in Elwood for 6 months and loved the Sunday morning rituals of coffee, pastry/cake, flowers, paper.

Sydney: Sorry about Guenther - I'll cruise past & kick his shins next time I'm over there! Darling Harbour COULD have been as well done as Southbank in Melb, sadly it wasn't and ended up very, very tacky. The "city side" - Cockle Bay & King Street Wharf (restaurants) is quite different and, I think, a very pleasant spot with some of the restaurants offering v.good food.

Agree with you re. the Opera House (I'm allowed to be a LITTLE biased (lol)) .. that whole area has been much improved since your last visit, I suspect, with the addition of the colonading and excellent restaurants on the way from the ferry terminals to the OH. Guillieme does it well at "Benelong", doesn't he? I'm going to see Graeme Murphy's new dance production "Grand" tomorrow night & will probably have a pre-dinner snack somewhere along that strip. (Just to let you know, our "Indian Summer" is continuing (unfortunately as we desperately need rain) we're still having 20's(C) days)

Glad you enjoyed your trip - thanks for the feedback & I hope you come back soon.

Bokhara is offline  
Jun 7th, 2005, 06:55 AM
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Bokhara,

Nice to hear that we think alike. What a great place to be. I am another one of those jealous folks whose trip has ended. We will definitely return. For a big trip, though, do we keep returning, or go elsewhere? It's a big world. But, we so love Australia!
mosthecat is offline  
Jun 7th, 2005, 11:55 PM
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Ah Well, Mosthecat ... that's the question, isn't it? (LOL) Australia's a big place too, so for a change of pace, why not come back & see some of our countryside?

You could try for the "outback", although none of us knows where that is (no matter where you go, the locals will tell you it's "further out than here". I lived between between Walgett & Bourke (about 1200 km north-west from Sydney) and can vouch for the fact that it's further out than that (LOL). Depends on your geographic mind set I guess! As someone else wrote, for some in the eastern suburbs, it's about 20km from them!

We could show you some great sheep & cattle stations (if it ever rains again), little towns of 200 people; teach you to ride (horse, quadbikes, water skis) You could take a hot air balloon across vineyards in the still of dawn, with the silence broken only by the sound of kangaroos hopping below and the occasional burst from the burners, before a champagne breakfast.

Drive along lovely little winding tracks to a B&B nestled in the trees, overlooking a deserted beach ......

Then there's the water - just a bit of it - fresh or frozen ! Take your pick - Great Barrier Reef (or any of the hundreds of beaches) - or snowfields.
Oh yes, and we make great coffee! Real coffee! Not just in Sydney!

Where do you live, may I ask?

Bokhara is offline  
Jun 13th, 2005, 05:51 AM
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You are making it sound so good! I'm saving up miles for tickets already. Where are you living now? We live in Chicago, in the middle of the USA. Cold winters with an icy wind off one of the great lakes, and now a hot hot hot humid summer. Somewhere in Spring and Fall, there are three or four reasonable days. Still, a great city, a big city, with lots of museums and restaurants and parks. No kangaroos, though.
mosthecat is offline  
Jun 13th, 2005, 01:04 PM
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I'm in Sydney, on the Northern Beaches about mid-way between Manly & Palm Beach. Not too many kangaroos here either, but we have some wallabies in the bush just a couple of km's behind my house.

Let me know when you head back down here - might be able to organise an unofficial "local guide" for a day or two if you like.
Bokhara is offline  
Jun 20th, 2005, 06:51 AM
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Bokhara,

What a fantastic spot you live in! We really enjoyed Manly, and would love to explore further north next time. When will that be, though? Thanks for the offer - That's the best way to see a new place. I hope to take you up on it sometime!
mosthecat is offline  

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