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Our Trip Around the World - Part 3 - Australia and New Zealand

Our Trip Around the World - Part 3 - Australia and New Zealand

Old Mar 3rd, 2020, 12:25 PM
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Our Trip Around the World - Part 3 - Australia and New Zealand

To see the entire itinerary of the around the world trip we took to celebrate our 50th anniversary, you can view our trip report Celebrating 50 Years - Our Trip Around the World under the Travel Tips and Trip Ideas forum.

The whole idea of our trip around the world was inspired by our wish to someday visit New Zealand. Years ago, on a trip to Portugal, we had met a British Airways pilot and his wife who had traveled, it seemed, everywhere on the planet since his retirement 20 years before. When asked to name their favorite place, there was no hesitation. They both loved New Zealand best of all. This exchange inspired us to eventually travel to New Zealand ourselves, but the thought of so many hours on a plane made us hesitant to make the trip. It wasn't until we began researching the possibilities of a round the world trip that we discovered what seemed to be the perfect solution. If we included New Zealand in our rtw itinerary, we could break up the long flight with stops along the way, and then, instead of retracing our steps back home, we could just keep going in the same direction. Also, we could then include Australia, a place that had always intrigued us with its vast and varied natural environment, its distinct wildlife and its unique history. It was right next door. The logistics of flying from Japan to Sydney, then over to New Zealand and back to Melbourne before going off to Singapore, were relatively easy to plan. Before we knew it our itinerary was falling into place
Sydney, Australia - 3 nights
Queenstown, NZ - 1 night
Te Anau, NZ - 4 nights
Tekapo, NZ - 2 nights
Christchurch, NZ - 1 night
Melbourne, Australia - 3 nights
Granted, we weren't able to spend as much time as we'd like in each location, but we thoroughly enjoyed the time we did have, and felt we got a real taste of these two great countries. There were some wonderful highlights and hopefully, we can travel back sometime before too many years have passed.
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Old Mar 4th, 2020, 07:32 AM
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Signing on for the next stage. I, too, loved NZ.
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Old Mar 4th, 2020, 11:29 AM
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thursdaysd, like the British Airways pilot we met, you seem to have visited just about everyplace on the planet! (I would love to pick your brain sometime about your favorite places.) Glad to hear you loved New Zealand too.

ARRIVING IN SYDNEY

Our overnight flight from Tokyo to Sydney on Japan Airlines was comfortable, with good food and “lie flat” seats that made sleeping easy. Our very early arrival, however, was problematic, as the flight landed at 6:41am and our Airbnb rental was not available until 2:00 pm. Five hours seemed like a long time to kill while dragging suitcases around behind us, but in actuality it passed fairly quickly. After clearing customs, we took our time at the airport doing those things that are always necessary upon arrival in a new country, like obtaining new currency and scoping out the public transportation options. Then we relaxed for awhile with a cup of “flat white” Australian coffee, which we enjoyed. It wasn’t until we were on our way to find the train into the city that an incident occurred that was a little scary. I was standing near the bottom of a long escalator, waiting for Steve who was checking something out nearby, when I heard a loud noise, almost like an explosion. I turned to see that a woman at the top of the escalator had lost her grip on her very large, hard sided suitcase, which barreled down the stairs like a missile shot from a cannon. The suitcase, which must have been very heavy, ricocheted from side to side and crashed at the bottom, but somehow stayed intact. If anyone had been riding on that escalator, especially near the bottom, that person would have been knocked down and could have been seriously injured, I think. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but it was certainly a scary moment. Nobody these days likes to hear unexpected loud noises in an airport.

The train from the airport to Circular Quay was an easy ride and we soon had our first sight of the wonderful Sydney Opera House. Sometimes iconic landmarks disappoint at first sight, but the Sydney Opera House did not. The harbor itself, with all the ferries coming and going, the cruise ships in dock, the bridge in the distance, and everything else that was going on, was exciting on its own. The Opera House, punctuating the scene, made it all marvelous. Killing more time, we decided to have lunch at one of the many restaurants lining the waterfront. The posted menus seemed to run on the pricey side, as might be expected, but we somehow found just what we were craving, a delicious vegetable soup with crusty bread for me and a toasted ham and cheese sandwich for Steve. While we ate our lunch, we watched the different ferries on their busy rounds. Soon, after hearing from our Airbnb landlord that our apartment was ready, we boarded the little ferry to Kirribilli and were ourselves crossing the harbor on our way to our rental for the next three nights.
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Old Mar 4th, 2020, 02:06 PM
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Hello Candace,
I’m signing on for your Antipodean Trip Report, too. It’s always interesting to see one’s own corner of the world through others’ eyes. Thanks so much for making the time to do it.

There’s a reason for those signs telling people with luggage to use the lifts, not escalators, at the airport & railway stations! I can imagine you would have had a shock at the noise.
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Old Mar 5th, 2020, 12:07 PM
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Bokhara2, I had never heard the term “Antipodean” used to describe inhabitants of Australia and New Zealand before. Thank you for adding to my vocabulary, and thanks, also, for following my trip report.

OUR KIRRIBILLI RENTAL APARTMENT

A special view is something I look for when I’m researching potential lodging options for a trip. A great view can add so much to the experience, I’ve found, whether we are staying in a hotel or a vacation rental. Relaxing with a glass of wine while gazing out the window at a beautiful vista or a bustling neighborhood, is always a wonderful way to cap off a good day of sightseeing. This rental, when it came to views, pretty much topped the charts. Located in a tall brick house one street back from the harbor front, this apartment was up four flights of stairs with no lift, but the stair climb was well worth it. From the front windows of the apartment’s cozy sunroom, we had a great view of the Opera House straight across the harbor. The harbor itself was always busy with all sorts of watercraft, coming and going and putting on an endless show. Off to the side was the famous harbor bridge, where we could see the bridge climbers so high up, making their way over the top. Adding another element to the special nature of this apartment were the rainbow lorikeets who showed up frequently on the windowsill, looking for the birdseed which the apartment’s owner thoughtfully provided. Bright green, with blue heads and orange, red, and yellow bibs which coordinated with their tangerine beaks, these birds were spectacular, and we were thrilled with their frequent visits. And then there were the bats. Our first evening in the apartment, I noticed at dusk what I thought to be large crows or ravens, flying in and out of a large tree on the property next door. On closer observation, I could see their furry heads and stretchy notched wings, and knew they were bats. I shut the window tight. A little research revealed to us that these were black or grey headed flying-foxes, a type of fruit bat that lives in groups called “camps” and can develop a wingspan of over 3 feet. Fruit is their preferred diet and they are beneficial to the environment as pollinators and seed distributors, but I didn’t want to ever encounter one up close. According to our research, they are recent residents of Sydney, having arrived ten or so years ago, and the city is researching ways to move them out of town. Their “camps” can be quite noisy, as we heard when we cracked the window open. But their overall numbers are decreasing in Australia so efforts are being made to monitor the population and help it thrive.

After a long and tiring day, we were getting ready for bed when another unexpected highlight of this apartment’s location literally burst outside our windows. Fireworks were exploding over the harbor, right in front of us. We love fireworks and this display was really good. Asking around, we learned that we could expect more fireworks over the harbor on the night before we left. How lucky for us, to enjoy not one but two fireworks displays in Sydney.



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Old Mar 5th, 2020, 02:49 PM
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I was in Sydney a few months ago and was so lucky to see the Opera House from the air as we descended. Once on the ground, I got to see if from all kinds of vantage points while there and it NEVER gets old! I leave on Saturday to go back (these trips are for work, so little tourist time), but I am looking forward to it. Anxious to read more!
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Old Mar 6th, 2020, 12:49 AM
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Thanks for sharing. Your Airbnb, and it's views, sounds great.

Kay
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Old Mar 6th, 2020, 06:27 AM
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I bet the sight of the Opera House from the air is really special, denisea. Unfortunately, we missed it both coming and going.

Yes, KayF, of all the places we’ve rented while traveling, this apartment certainly ranked as one of the best for views and location.
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Old Mar 6th, 2020, 11:29 AM
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VISITING SYDNEY

After a lazy start to the day, just taking in the view and feeding the birds, we headed off toward the Harbour Bridge and the little group of grocery stores and wine shops clustered nearby. The day before, we had purchased a few supplies for breakfast, but now we needed to buy enough to put together a few lunches and dinners at our apartment.

Strolling through the Kirribilli neighborhood on the way to the bridge was pleasant, with attractive homes and lots of trees and greenery. And we soon learned that we were residing in a pretty posh neighborhood. Our next door neighbor was the Governor General of Australia, as his official residence, Admiralty House, was only separated by a security fence from the sidewalk to our apartment building. And nearby Kirribilli House was, we also found, the secondary residence of the Prime Minister of Australia. Coming and going by ferry, we had a good view from the water of both these stately homes and their lush landscaped grounds.

Before picking up up our groceries, we walked up onto the Harbour Bridge and most of the way across it, enjoying the views. We could pick out our apartment building in the distance, and it was neat to see it from this vantage point. Finally, grocery bags in hand, we headed back to the apartment to unload our supplies, make lunch, and rest awhile before ferrying across the harbor to spend the afternoon visiting the Opera House and the Royal Botanic Gardens.
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Old Mar 7th, 2020, 11:26 AM
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From a distance, the Sydney Opera House was an amazing sight, with its huge shells, rising like sails in perfect harmony above the harbor. Close up, we saw that the shells, which appeared to be creamy white from afar, were actually covered in cream and white stoneware tiles arranged together in a distinctive chevron pattern. So striking! Walking around the outside of the building, we viewed it from many different angles, all the while marveling at the creative mind of the architect who could first envision such a structure and then draw up a design to bring it to actuality. We didn't take a tour, but we did venture inside at a few of the different entrances, wishing we had the opportunity to attend one of the scheduled performances. To do that must be a wonderful experience.

Leaving the vicinity of the Opera House, we found our way to the Royal Botanic Gardens. The day, which had started out cloudy with only bits of blue sky showing, suddenly turned sunny. Spending a sunlit afternoon in those beautiful gardens was so pleasant. The gardens featured pathways meandering past both unusual trees with huge twisting roots and fantastical shapes, and all sorts of palms, some short and bushy and some tall and elegant. Pretty ponds and flower gardens were inhabited by strange birds, of different shapes, sizes and colors, that we could not name. A fenced off harbor side theatrical venue was occupied by a troop of young dancers who were practicing for a production of West Side Story. We stopped for a while and listened to the director shouting out instructions to the group. Fun to watch. Eventually, we turned back toward the Opera House and stopped for a glass of wine at the quayside Opera Bar. After finding some seats, we settled in for a bit of people watching. We loved our server who, with a big smile, somehow managed to clear off tables, juggle two dozen empty glasses, and take our order, all at the same time. A true multitasker.

We enjoyed our first day hanging out in Sydney. On our second day, we decided to take the famous ferry to Manley Beach. Sydney's ferry system, we found, was easy and fun to use. The smaller ferries that zipped around the harbor reminded me of busy little beavers, always in a hurry to get where they were going, working hard and endlessly energetic. I loved watching them. The Manley ferry was larger and more suited to a longer trip. It was another beautiful day, and sailboats with tall masts and brightly colored jibs crisscrossed the harbor around us. Beyond the protection of the harbor, the ferry encountered some big swells, and it was out here that the serious sailors were racing along at amazing speeds, with some really strong winds filling their sails.

After the ferry ride, it was almost a letdown to arrive at Manley Beach, which was a short walk across from the ferry terminal and down a traffic free commercial street lined with tourist shops and eateries. We sat on a retaining wall for a while and watched the surfers, but the waves weren't really impressive and a fair number of the surfers were beginners, I think. Still, it was fun to see the archetypical young, blond, surfer kids enjoying the day together. Soon, we were hurrying back to the terminal, anxious not to miss the returning ferry.

On our last night in Sydney, we were treated again to a fireworks display after dark. We enjoyed it, but the bats next door must have found the bright lights and loud noises disturbing, as they seemed to fly about in a panic for the duration of the show.

In the morning, it was pouring rain. We had an early flight to Queenstown and a taxi was scheduled to pick us up and take us to the airport. Our worry was that the driver wouldn't be able to find us on this obscure side street below our apartment building, where we waited in the downpour. But the driver located us with no problem and got us to the airport in good time. The only hitch was revealed when we arrived at our hotel in Queenstown and unpacked Steve's suitcase. His suitcase and the clothes inside it were soaked. It must have sat on the top of the baggage cart, in the rain, on the runway, for quite a while. My suitcase was a little damp but nothing inside was wet. It must have been situated toward the bottom of the cart, and so was protected by the cases piled on top. But no real harm was done. We hung Steve's clothes all over the hotel bathroom and they began to dry out pretty quickly. And we were in New Zealand, ready to embark on our next adventure.



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Old Mar 8th, 2020, 01:18 AM
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Ah Candace, Kirribilli is a lovely little pocket of Sydney & you certainly hit the jackpot with that apartment.

Ive taken to packing my clothes inside a big plastic garbage bag in my suitcase, since I had a similar experience to Steve some years ago. Its not elegant, but its cheap &
effective.

The Opera House really is something special isnt it?
If you happen to catch it at the right time at sunrise or sunset, those tiles gleam pink to gold to red.

And during Vivid in the winter & at other special times, images are shone into the sails at night.

Were refurbishing the inside Opera & Music theatres. It was very controversial during construction ( the usual argument about $ ) and the architect, was treated so appallingly by the idiot government, that he resigned.

Fortunately, his vision was (mostly) brought to fruition and I think its a stunning landmark in our beautiful city.

I never fail to get the WOW, when I fly in over the harbour or sail in on the Manly ferry.

Thanks again - looking forward to your next chapters.
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Old Mar 8th, 2020, 08:36 AM
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Bokhara2, I really appreciate your insight into our experiences in Sydney. I agree, Sydney is a really beautiful city. I wish we could have seen the Opera House at sunset. Maybe next time.

ARRIVING IN NEW ZEALAND

Toward the end of our flight from Sydney to Queenstown, Steve lifted the window shade to reveal a stunning landscape of mountains, packed close together, with zig zag peaks colored in strange shades of tan and brown. The coloration was not what we expected, until we realized that it was fall in New Zealand. But still, as I said, the view was stunning. When we landed at Queenstown airport, we were greeted with a beautiful sunny day. The airport was small and easy to maneuver, and with its nearby mountains, reminded us of Kalispell's airport in Montana. After clearing customs, and a small issue with Steve's hiking boots, we were on our way. Please note, hiking boots must clear customs too, meaning they must be clean and carry no foreign dirt. The inspectors asked to examine Steve's boots, but decided they were okay to go on through. Understanding how important it is for New Zealand to block any invasive species from infiltrating their pristine environment, we were glad to comply with the inspection. Some people's boots, we were told, were actually taken away and thoroughly cleaned if necessary.

We took a cab to the Hilton Queenstown Resort, which wasn't too far from the airport and situated right on the lake. Our room was large, with a lake view and a small balcony. We soon settled in, relaxing on the balcony and taking in the lovely scenery surrounding us. We could have arranged to take a shuttle craft across the lake and into town, but we decided we were tired, and happy staying right where we were. The older we get, the more we feel the need to pace ourselves while traveling, but that's okay too. Some of those relaxing moments in lovely places can be very special. For dinner, we walked the short distance to Stack's Pub, where we shared a really good pizza. In fact, we have to say that all the food we had, both in Australia and New Zealand, was always really good, whether we ate in a restaurant or cooked it for ourselves.

The next morning, we passed on the big, pricey, resort style breakfast in the dining room, and just purchased some muffins from the little coffee shop instead. After checking out, we taxied back to the airport where we picked up our rental car and started off to Te Anau, the town where we planned to spend the next four nights in another Airbnb rental. Because the rental house wouldn't be available til 3:00 pm and we were hungry, we decided to have a nice leisurely lunch in town. There were a few different restaurants opened at lunchtime, but we chose the one that seemed to have the best outside seating, The Ranch Bar and Grill. I selected a prawn appetizer which turned out to be one of the best shrimp dishes I've ever tasted, while Steve's hamburger was excellent, too. Again, wonderful food in this part of the world. When we were finally able to gain access, our rental house turned out to be one of the biggest, cleanest, and most comfortable places we have ever rented. A single story house on a pleasant residential street, it had a great open floor plan and a huge expanse of windows with distant mountain views. The kitchen was well equipped, with a fancy gas range, lots of utensils, plates, glassware, and cutlery, and a beautifully stocked pantry cupboard. Plus, we soon found that the nearby supermarket in town, where we could pick up any groceries we needed, was well stocked, shiny clean, with lovely produce and meat, and a great selection of wine and beer. Steve, the chief cook and menu planner, was a happy man. We spent the rest of the day buying groceries, unpacking, doing laundry, and cooking dinner. The next day, we had an early start, as our plan was to join a tour to Doubtful Sound.

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Old Mar 8th, 2020, 12:59 PM
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OUR TOUR TO DOUBTFUL SOUND

Real Journeys was the company we used for our Doubtful Sound tour. They had an office right on the main highway in Te Anau and that is where we went to pick up our tickets, which had been reserved on line a few months before. The bus transporting us from Te Anau to Lake Manapouri arrived at the office right on time and we were soon on our way. I can't remember the exact duration of the bus ride, but before long we arrived at the lake. There was a small shop there at the dock where sandwiches and snacks could be purchased for the trip, along with bug repellant to use against the infamous sand flies. People milled around for a while, but soon it was time to transfer to the boat which would carry us across the lake. Overcast skies and a low lying haze hung heavy around us. Unhappily, we couldn't see the surrounding mountains, which were wrapped in clouds like fluffy mufflers. The lake itself had a pewter sheen as we glided through it. All was grey everywhere we looked, except for a small triangle of blue sky that could eventually be seen between two mountain peaks up ahead. After about an hour, the boat touched shore and docked on the far side of the lake, where a large power station seemed an incongruous addition to the landscape. Everyone left the boat and climbed onto buses for the drive up and over Wilmot Pass. The dirt road over the pass was an engineering marvel, built out of necessity to bring the supplies needed to build the power station. The bus climbed up through rain forested mountains, with a steep river gorge appearing as a sheer drop on one side of the road or the other. Finally, as we crested the top of the pass, a different world opened up in front of us. Black and white was suddenly replaced by brilliant technicolor, and a jaw dropping view of the sound before us appeared in dramatic blue and silver covered with golden sunlight. I heard gasps of awe from people on the bus as the view opened up in front of them. What a glorious moment! I will never forget it. The bus driver pulled over and stopped so we could all get off and pictures, but of course the pictures did not do it justice. Doubtful Sound itself was gorgeous as we boated through it, with waterfalls like jeweled strings dangling from the mountain tops down to the sea, with rocky gouges white and ripped away by erosion from the mountain sides, and with green peaks that pieced the sky with sharp points circled by puffy clouds. So beautiful everywhere we looked, it was almost overwhelming. When we reached the Tasman Sea at the mouth of the sound, big swells lifted the boat with effortless power. A lone island inhabited by lolling fur seals added to the excitement. Back down into the sound, the captain turned the motor off and we had a few minutes to take in the special silence that was part of this isolated place. Everyone on the boat went still and, except for some passing gulls, there was total peace and quiet. It was a nice touch at the end of the boat ride.

On the bus ride back to Te Anau, I happened to look out the window to see a wide pasture with dozens of sheep scattered across it, all bathed in a lovely, soft golden light. That sight was the perfect end to an absolutely memorable day.
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Old Mar 8th, 2020, 01:15 PM
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So lucky you had sunshine for the sound. My visit to Milford Sound was misty, although still lovely.

Realize I forgot to respond to your comment about my travels. I took early retirement back in 2000 so I could travel. When I spent 2017 on the couch with a heating pad I was so glad I had! I've done four RTWs, much on the ground, but have big gaps in Africa and Central and South America. I have lots of favorite places on my "go back to" list, but these days I'm not sure I'll make it. Carpe diem!
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Old Mar 8th, 2020, 09:18 PM
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We did the overnight with Real Joyrneys on the Doubtful Sound maybe 2 weeks ago. It was spectacular. I absolutely loved NZ. You sound like you are off to a great start there. Have fun,
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Old Mar 9th, 2020, 01:42 AM
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Wow, Candace, you certainly capture the scenery & the moments so perfectly, I feel as if Im on the trip with you.

Australia & New Zealand, being islands, are as
free from imported diseases that will threaten our fragile ecologies as we can make them.

Vigilance about whats brought in on boots or in bags is an ongoing battle. So thanks for your understanding & help.

looking forward to your next venue!
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Old Mar 9th, 2020, 10:17 AM
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thursdaysd, I’m so glad to know you “seized the day” by deciding to retire early and travel for all those years. Four times around the world is certainly an accomplishment. Best of luck making it to some of those places you would like to revisit.

Yestravel, the overnight Doubtful Sound Trip sounded like it would be amazing, but I couldn’t figure out how to fit it into our schedule. Glad you loved it. New Zealand is an absolutely beautiful part of the world, isn’t it?

Bokhara2, it must be a real struggle to keep invasive species and diseases from infiltrating your environment. On one of our tours, we heard stories of the havoc possums and rabbits brought to New Zealand when they were imported from England years ago. Possums, as we understood it, absolutely decimated some of the native bird populations when they were introduced into the environment.
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Old Mar 9th, 2020, 11:59 AM
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Candace thanks for your report. I live in Nelson and have done the trip to Lake Manapouri but not into Doubtful Sound. I always thought you had to overnight, but as I don't actually like boats much I have been put off. However I told my husband that a day trip like you did would work. Have done Milford Sound but that was 42 years ago on our honeymoon.
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Old Mar 9th, 2020, 01:07 PM
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DRIVING A SMALL SEGMENT OF THE "SOUTHERN SCENIC ROUTE"

On our second day in Te Anau, we decided it would be interesting to drive down toward the very southernmost coast of New Zealand, where we would be able to see the great Southern Ocean and look off in the direction of far off Antartica. The "Southern Scenic Route", starting in Queenstown and ending in Dunedin, is 610 kilometers in distance, we learned when we stopped into the Fiordland National Park Visitors Centre in Te Anau and picked up a route map. The map also pointed out many natural and cultural attractions that could be visited along the way. Planning our day, we thought we would follow the scenic drive only as far as the little town of Riverton, which looked like a likely place to have lunch, before heading back to Te Anau. So off we went. At first, the landscape we drove through was mostly cropland separated by forested hillsides, with distant mountains defining the horizon, all with that distinctly different aspect we were beginning to see as specific to New Zealand. Lush and lovely. When we finally reached the sea, we followed a sign to Cozy Nook, a very small fishing village which, long ago, used to be the site of a large Maori settlement. Walking down to the rocky shore, we watched the waves pounding in and looked out over the huge expanse of the ocean, always a beautiful sight to me. There were a few other interesting stops we could make, but we decided to save them until after lunch. In Riverton, we parked at the Te Hikoi Southern Journey Museum, which called itself "New Zealand's Best Museum", and was located on the main street in town. The volunteers manning the museum gift shop were wonderful, and happy to give us their best advice as to where to have lunch in town. Their top recommendation was the Beach House, situated a short distance away from the town on the further end of the bay. Before we left the gift shop, I made one of my favorite purchases of the trip, a beautiful sea gem necklace strung with fresh water pearls, hand assembled in New Zealand. Sea gems, I learned, are also known as "the doorway to a sea shell" and are formed by sea snails. The one that was incorporated into my necklace had a delicate grey-green swirl on a creamy background and was absolutely lovely.

Soon, we were off to the Beach House Restaurant, a homey place where the service was slow but the food was good. I ordered seafood chowder, and Steve had fresh fish sliders. My soup came in a very large bowl and Steve's sliders filled a platter, so neither of us could finish our meals, which was a real shame. After lunch, we stopped at Gemstone Beach, which I was really looking forward to exploring, as I love searching the sand for pretty stones. Lots of the stones were already stacked in cairns on the rocks above the beach. So striking. We stopped a few more times for the views on the way back to Te Anau, arriving back at our house in the late afternoon. It had been another good day.
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Old Mar 10th, 2020, 01:13 PM
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How wonderful, Nelsonian, it must be to live in New Zealand and do day trips to some of these beautiful places. I wish we'd had enough time to make our way up to Nelson, which sounds like the ideal base for both exploring the northern side of the South Island and the southern side of the North Island. Perfect!

OUR TOUR OF MILFORD SOUND

Milford Sound, with so much spectacular natural beauty, is the most famous of the fifteen fiords of Fiordland National Park. The company we chose to use for our tour was Fiordland Tours, which offered what they called the Milford Sound Fiordland Tour Extraordinarie. Limited to a group of fifteen people, this tour provided pick up in Te Anau and offered extra "photo stops" on the way to the sound which were not included on other tours.

The tour van picked us up right in front of our rental house. We were the last to be picked up and our amiable driver / tour guide took a minute so everyone on the van could briefly introduce themselves. Most of our fellow travelers were British, although there were a few New Zealanders from the North Island. Along with our tour guide, who gave us good background information on what we would be seeing, the New Zealanders offered some really interesting commentary as we drove along. Our first stop of note was Mirror Lakes which lived up to the name in glorious fashion, as the surrounding mountains were reflected with absolute clarity in the still, flat surface of the lake water. Somewhere along the way, we passed over the 45th parallel, which marks the halfway point between the Equator and the South Pole. Beyond that point, we stopped to walk a trail through the rainforest to the Marian Cascade, a series of tumbling waters which were sliding over and smashing against the rocks in a narrow stream bed. The path along the way was lined with giant fern fronds like big umbrellas. Heavy plush mosses were climbing up tree trunks and all sorts of vines were twisting around everything . A few delicate orchids with clusters of tiny white flowers were hanging, almost hidden, from a tree branch. Everywhere, there were extravagant shades of green, lush and exaggerated like the illustrations in a fairytale. I wished we could have stayed here longer but soon we were moving on again. The historic Gunns camp, an old miners' settlement which now offers hikers cabins and hostel type accommodations, provided our tour group with a tea or coffee break and restrooms. I ducked into the tiny gift shop and came out with the perfect gift for our 9 year old grandson who, like me, loves collecting interesting rocks, driftwood, and other found objects from nature. This little shop featured a collection of greenstone amulets made, I was told, by a local man. Greenstone, or pounamu, is highly valued by the Maori as a talisman with spiritual powers, and the purchaser should always gift it to someone else, never keeping it for himself. Our grandson, Lincoln, would love the background story, which was printed out on a small placard, as much as he liked the amulet, I thought.

After leaving Gunns Camp, we arrived at the entrance to the Homer Tunnel, a 1.2 kilometer long engineering marvel that was opened in the 1950's to allow access to Milford Sound. Once through the tunnel, the van wound down the steep curving road, eventually making its way to the bottom, past the little Milford Sound airport and on to the cruise terminal where our group was directed onto the boat that would take us out on our tour of the sound. Our weather on this day, unfortunately, had turned out to be just the opposite of the weather we had experienced on our Doubtful Sound trip. The sun had shone earlier upon Mirror Lakes and Marian Cascades, brightening up everything we looked at with lovely color. But by the time we arrived at Milford Sound, the sun had disappeared. The overcast skies piled with grey clouds dulled down the scenery, which was still beautiful but must be amazing in the sunlight. No matter, the boat still plowed through the water, while dolphins raced along side, and the sheer cliff faces rose high above. Tall waterfalls like ribbons unfurled down the steep sides, and fur seals napping on rocks paid little attention to our boat passing nearby. It took about two hours to travel up and down the sound, and at the end of the trip the captain drove close enough to one of the waterfalls that its spray hit our faces. A glacial facial, he called it.

The drive back to Te Anau didn't seem too long. The van didn't make many stops going back and people seemed weary. Some even napped on the way. We were soon dropped off at our house for our last night in Te Anau. Te Anau was a nice town, we decided, and didn't seem really touristy, but it was time to move on. The next day, our plan was to drive to Lake Tekapo for two nights in the vicinity of Mt. Cook and Lake Pukaki.
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