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To That Special Place: A Holiday in New Zealand, Sydney, and Hawaii

To That Special Place: A Holiday in New Zealand, Sydney, and Hawaii

Old Dec 17th, 2019, 03:23 PM
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Thanks so much Tripplanner! Your evocative writing & great pics are an absolute joy!

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Old Dec 17th, 2019, 03:45 PM
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Larry, yesterday was a relative good day weather aside. While nice weather is always preferable, we always try to have backup plans for things to see, do, and experience.

Yestravel, the food in NZ is definitely among the best I’ve had. I really haven’t had a bad meal here.

Bokhara2, thank you. I do my best to give back with my reports, as I’ve gained so much good information from you and others here over the years not even counting the friends made.
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Old Dec 18th, 2019, 06:08 AM
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Mountain Glory

We awoke to views of Aoraki Mt. Cook? Eh, partially. Rain turned into snow late into the night and eventually stopped. While New Zealand's tallest mountain was playing peek-a-boo with the clouds, the peaks around it came out to play. At least it was blue skies for the most part. Does it mean our prebooked helihike on Tasman Glacier will proceed as scheduled?

First things first - breakfast, at the hotel's main restaurant. The buffet offered all the expected Western staples, with a selection of Chinese and Japanese dishes to cater to the large tour groups that stayed at the hotel. The clouds parted by the time we finished eating. There before us was Aoraki Mt. Cook in its full glory.

We booked an 8:45 helihike with Mt. Cook Glacier Guiding. There were several tour operators, all pretty much offering the same tour. We simply went with the vendor that responded affirmatively with our desired day and time. We arranged for the operator to pick us up at the Hermitage Hotel, as we didn't have our own vehicle to get us to the heliport. Even though we were asked to be ready by 8:30, there was no shuttle in sight. I rang the operator, only to be told that they had several staff members out and couldn't provide me with a concrete response. After a while, the operator called back and confirmed that the driver was on his way. Whew! At the heliport, we were weighed and given the obligatory briefing. By 9:30, off we went. The views across the valley, up to Aoraki Mt. Cook, the Tasman Glacier, and the surrounding peaks were spectacular. We enjoyed a 2-hour guided tour on the lower portion of Tasman Glacier. We walked on the ice, looked at crevasses and moulins, and went inside a couple of them. The time flew by. The experience was worth it.

After the excursion we went back to our hotel, for lunch at the casual cafe. Even the hotel cafeteria food was better than expected. We spent the full afternoon on the Hooker Valley Track, a 3-hour round-trip walk. The walk was easy for us. As all the trail was on gravel paths and wooden planks, it is doable for most visitors. There were a handful of steps at the start of the track for those in which it may be a challenge. We had views of Aoraki Mt. Cook along much of the way as well as several other snowcapped peaks such as Mts. Sefton, Tasman, La Perouse, and the Footstool. We also admired several waterfalls along the way and enjoyed the Mt. Cook buttercups and manuka bushes. The end of the walk was Aoraki Mt. Cook in full glory; we saw to the glacier at the bottom of the mountain. The temperature pushed 70 degrees and it was sunny throughout the walk.

We followed up the Hooker Valley walk with a stroll along the Kea Point Track, an hour round-trip walk on gravel paths with some elevation gain, although still very easy for us. At the end of this walk is a different view of Aoraki Mt. Cook. The moraine in front of the mountain gives it a very different character and worth the visit for the contrast.

We wrapped up a perfect day with dinner at our hotel (there are no other options for us as we didn't have our own vehicle). Tonight we chose the buffet. It was the typical hotel buffet. The food was fine but not worth the expense. And as you would expect with a hotel buffet patronized by numerous tour groups, food ran out and was slow to be replenished. If you have your own vehicle and don't mind venturing out for dinner, it would be what I would do.

Tasman Glacier

Moulin on Tasman Glacier

Moulin Covered in Fresh Snow


Aoraki Mt. Cook from Hooker Lake

Aoraki Mt. Cook from Kea Point
tripplanner001 is offline  
Old Dec 18th, 2019, 06:27 PM
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Fabulous photos. What kind of foot wear did you wear on the glacier?
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Old Dec 18th, 2019, 08:26 PM
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I had a feeling that the rain would cease and clouds would clear for you. Wonderful images! Sounds like a great helihike.

There aren't many dining options in Aoraki Mt. Cook. You could have walked down to the Old Mountaineers Cafe just for a change.

Will you be going to Amisfield in Queenstown? And Rata?

Last edited by Diamantina; Dec 18th, 2019 at 09:03 PM.
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Old Dec 19th, 2019, 01:45 AM
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Yestravel, thank you. We had regular tennis shoes. The tour operator provided hiking boots and crampons. An outer layer, gloves, and hats were also provided as needed.

Diamantina, thank you for working your magic yesterday. We hadn't looked at Rata. We hope to visit Amisfield on our day to Arrowtown and the Gibbston Valley.

The Road Trip Continues

We woke up this morning to Aoraki Mt. Cook in full glory outside our hotel room window. But we heard and noticed how windy it was this morning; the wind was howling. We ate breakfast at the hotel buffet. The food was fine as yesterday, although the service was much worse this morning. The Hermitage Hotel is a historic property but also busy with several tour groups. Nonetheless, the rooms were spacious and the beds were comfortable. The Aoraki Wing rooms are among the best on the property and come with unimpeded views of Aoraki Mt. Cook - at least when it decides to show itself.

Anyway we filled up, grabbed our luggage, checked out, and were back on the road with Cathy and David at 9:00. We made our way out of the Southern Alps, travelling along the side of Lake Pukaki and passing more lakes and sheep stations. The terrain is more hilly than what we passed on the way from Christchurch to Aoraki Mt. Cook on Tuesday.

We arrived in Wanaka just after 11:00 and headed straight for Rippon Winery, where we had a private tasting booked for 12:00. Set on the side of the hills overlooking Lake Wanaka, Rippon must be the most scenic vineyard in all of New Zealand. The view of the lake and surrounding hills are incredible. The wines were equally good. While we enjoyed all of the wines sampled, our favorite was the Riesling, which we hadn't expected. After the 45-minute free tasting (bookings in advance are required), we made our way back to Wanaka, where we browsed a few shops and walked along the lake. We noticed how high the water level of the lake was; there was still debris along the lake shore and one of the boats was docked on the jetty itself. Cathy mentioned she's never seen the water so high.

From Wanaka we moved on to Cardrona for lunch at the Cardrona Hotel, a historic hotel from the 1800s. The place had a lot of character and the fish and chips were among the very best we've ever had.

Leaving Cardrona, we drove through the Crown Range and down into Queenstown. The views are worth the drive even though it began to rain as we left Cardrona. The light rain turned into a heavier downpour as we drove into Queenstown and our hotel for the next four nights - the MGallery St. Moritz overlooking Lake Wakatipu just outside of downtown. We booked into a 2-bedroom suite overlooking the lake. The room is spacious and the decor tasteful. The views across the lake and the mountains behind it is incredible, even in the rain.

We enjoyed our first dinner in Queenstown at Public Kitchen right down by the water. The food was out of this world (I know, it's becoming a theme how good the food in New Zealand is). We ordered several appetizers and main dishes to share among the four of us, and everything - from lamb to beef to mussels to the salad, along with desserts - were nothing short of remarkable. The only issue - the wide variety of the menu and deciding what to order. With dinner, it was back to the hotel as we didn't feel like walking around anymore in the driving rain.

Thank you for all your comments and I'm happy that you are enjoying the report and photos.

Rippon Winery

View of Wanaka Town and Lake from Rippon

Approaching Queenstown from the Crown Range

Last edited by tripplanner001; Dec 19th, 2019 at 02:07 AM.
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Old Dec 19th, 2019, 07:20 AM
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Your photos keep getting better and better. What are you using to take pictures?
Hadn't thought of doing any wine tasting, but the winery looks beautiful and it may make for a nice outing. How far in advance did you book?
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Old Dec 19th, 2019, 10:48 AM
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Yestravel, I use a Canon Powershot SX730 HS point and shoot. It's lightweight and easy to use, given that I am not a professional photographer. Cathy booked our tasting at Rippon about a month in advance, but a day or two before is usually fine and same day is sometimes possible. There are a fairly large number of wineries in the Queenstown / Central Otago area.
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Old Dec 19th, 2019, 12:37 PM
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Enjoying reading the details and the photos.
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Old Dec 19th, 2019, 01:16 PM
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<<Hadn't thought of doing any wine tasting, but the winery looks beautiful and it may make for a nice outing. How far in advance did you book?>>

Yes travel, we did a number of wine tastings in NZ and never booked. Unless you want to visit an obscure place that doesn't open to the public there are plenty to choose from where you can just turn up, and some have cafes too. Some companies offer winery tours either by car or bike which might be fun. The only place we reserved was Amisfiled where we had the tasting menu and wine pairings which were both great. We did the same in a restaurant in Nelson but the portions for the tasting menu were too big. I can agree that the food in NZ is really good as is the coffee.
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Old Dec 19th, 2019, 04:50 PM
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I forgot the port stop but you could tour the vineyards in one of the fleet of vintage cars they have. I am pretty sure it was Napier on the North Island.
Loving the pics and narrative.
We had port stops in NZ and found the coffee to be very good too.
NZ has as you know many vineyards and some of their wines especially the whites are well regarded world wide.

Last edited by jacketwatch; Dec 19th, 2019 at 04:56 PM.
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Old Dec 19th, 2019, 05:06 PM
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yestravel, prior to Oct. 2019 Rippon didn't require reservations for its tastings; its cellar door was open to the public (though it was sometimes closed for private functions). But it's gained worldwide recognitiion for its spectacular lake views, so I can understand why they've had to make changes:

Another Central Otago winery you can visit that offers spectacular views is Mt. Difficulty Wines in Bannockburn, about a 50 minute drive from Queenstown (and Mt. Difficulty has a restaurant). There are several great wineries in Bannockburn so you might find it well-worth the drive. If driving from Queenstown to Wanaka, you can choose between driving via scenic Crown Range Road (as depicted in tripplanner's lovely photos) or you can take the slightly longer route through Gibbston Valley, Kawarau Gorge, then from Lake Dunstan to Wanaka. This route takes you through the top wine Central Otago wine regions of Gibbston Valley, Cromwell (and nearby Bannockburn). Lowburn and Mt. Pisa (both along the Luggate-Cromwell Road in the direction of Wanaka). This is also a scenic route, especially in autumn.

There's also a whiskey distillery you can visit in Cardrona, Cardrona Distillery, which is said to be "the world's most southern whisky distillery".
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Old Dec 19th, 2019, 11:19 PM
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tripplanner, I also have a Canon Powershot 730 and I just love it! I spent three days walking the Abel Tasman Track last week and brought that instead of my far heavier and bulkier Canon or Nikon SLRs. So happy that I brought my compact Powershot instead. It's a great little camera with a good zoom lens.

The Central Otago rieslings are fabulous and they span the gamut from bone-dry to dessert-wine sweet. You can find some tasty ones in Australia, too. You might enjoy some of the sparkling wines from Central Otago. Top picks are from Akarua and Quartz Reef.

I made an educated guess that you'd finally get some good weather in Aoraki Mt. Cook, as the weather cleared here in Dunedin as well and we're not that far away. I fear, however, that it might be quite ugly by the time you get here, so I'll send you a list of rainy day, indoor attractions in a Fodor's private message.

My guess is you'll need a reservation for lunch or dinner at Amisfield. It's only a short taxi ride from central Queenstown, about 10 minutes.

Loving your reports and photos!
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Old Dec 20th, 2019, 02:55 AM
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Adelaidean, thank you.

Larry, thank you. I agree with you about the coffee.

Diamantina, I will seek out some of the sparkling wines on our afternoon wine tour tomorrow. We’re going with Appellation Wine Tours. And as always I cannot thank you enough for the tips and suggestions. A couple of sights we have planned rain or shine is the Otago Museum and the Toito Otago Settlers Museum. We booked the Elm Wildlife Tour on one of the afternoons.

A Perfect Day in Queenstown

Another rainy day in Queenstown as forecasted? My first act upon getting out of bed was to run over to the picture-book windows in my hotel room and peek outside. Lo and behold, the rain stopped. The morning was cold and crisp but I’d take it over the wet.

We began our morning with breakfast at Bespoke Kitchen, located on the side of the hill just above the town center. Two of us ordered the new potato, broccoli, and beetroot hash – just fantastic! My stomach was singing after that breakfast!

Satiated, we continued a couple of blocks uphill to the Skyline Gondola, for a ride to the top of a mountain overlooking Queenstown. We checked the webcam and it seemed okay to visit despite the low clouds. Yes, we would not be able to view the snowcapped tops of the Remarkables overlooking the city, but the rest of the landscape was in full view. Situated on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, the deepest and the fifth largest lake in New Zealand, Queenstown is a resort town that boomed about two decades ago and is today the country’s most popular tourist destination. From up high, we were able to see all of the town as well as the surrounding parks, gardens, and hills – it does not get any better. Except it did. On the top of the Skyline complex is a luge facility. The four of us never luged before and jumped at this opportunity. The instructions were easy to follow, and after a few minutes of practice, we were off. The first trip down the track was slow-going as we stopped along the tracks and had to push ourselves down. By then, we took to it. On the second trip down, we advanced to a speedier track – so much fun! And oh, the view! What a way to get out blood pumping and how spirits sky high. We love Queenstown.

After about 2 hours up top, it was time to land back on terra firma. Our next stop was the Kiwi and Birdlife Park just at the base of the gondola station. The park is fairly small but wonderfully laid out and easy to stroll. We saw several large kiwis within its darkened enclosures as well as several other native birds. While we were in the park, it rained and at time more substantially but the tree cover made it more manageable. The rain stopped again just as we were about to exit the park.

By now we were ready for lunch. A popular institution for visitors – Fergburger. We stopped by the famous burger place and saw that the line was quite short. We knew what we wanted. The line moved quickly; between the wait in line and for the food, it took about 20 minutes. (For those future visitors, note that Fergburger takes phone orders in advance.) The burger was good but enormous. In the neighborhood is restaurants and shops everywhere. We took the time to browse a few and made several purchases. We could have continued shopping but Mother Nature had other plans. The sun came out to play, so towards the Queenstown Gardens we headed. There were large numbers of tourists hanging out by the beach in the city as well as along Marine Parade, which hugs to lake into the garden. We enjoyed time in the gardens wandering about – viewing the skyline, admiring the lake and its surrounding mountains, and of course the flowers.

From the gardens we followed the coastline back to our hotel for a quick break and some refreshing. Our activity for the evening was a cruise on the steamship TSS Earnslaw, a hundred-plus year vessel not devoted to transporting tourists from the town center to Walter Peak High Country Farm, a sheep station located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. The setting is special and memorable. Upon arrival at the station from a 45-minute cruise, we were shown to our dinner tables for a high-quality buffet dinner with all the bells and whistles. Dinner done, we walked over to the amphitheater on the property for a sheep-shearing demonstration followed by a demonstration on the role of the shepherd dog. Before we knew it, the show ended and we headed back to the ship. The ride back to Queenstown was as smooth as it could be. We could see the town lights come on as the sun went down – the magical scene embodies our experience today.

Queenstown Skyline

Queenstown Shore

Rainbow Over Lake Wakatipu

Walter Peak Sheep Station

Nightfall Over Queenstown
tripplanner001 is offline  
Old Dec 20th, 2019, 08:02 AM
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Awesome pics.
Enjoying your TR!
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 01:33 AM
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Larry, thank you.

Gold and Grape

We awoke to a sunny Queenstown this morning. What a perfect opportunity to enjoy a cup of coffee out at our balcony overlooking Lake Wakatipu. After the pick-me-up, it was off to Joe's Garage for breakfast. We enjoyed yet another delicious breakfast - boy, the food of New Zealand is good.

Once satisfied we were off to Arrowtown for a morning in the gold-mining town. We traveled by city bus from Queenstown to Arrowtown. In Arrowtown, we browsed the shops along Buckingham Street, wandered around the Chinese settlement, and visited the Lakes District Museum. It was an enjoyable excursion.

From the Lakes District Museum, we were picked up by Appellation Wine Tours for an afternoon in the Gibbston Valley. We visited three cellar doors: Kinross, Gibbston Valley, and Rockburn. The tastings were good. At Gibbston Valley, we visited the wine cave. And it was beautiful scenery all around. The landscape reminded me of Franschhoek in South Africa, our favorite wine region.

We returned to Queenstown in the late afternoon for a couple of hours of shopping in the town center before dinner at Fishbone Bar & Grill. The food, all simply prepared, was fresh and good.

Arrowtown Streetscape

Home in the Chinese Settlement

Kinross Vines

Gibbston Valley Vines
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 06:51 AM
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Sounds lovely.
Looks like a nice sunny day too
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 11:11 AM
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TP . I am enjoying following along with your travels. It is making me want to pay NZ a fourth visit but my wife is very insistent that we visit new destinations. I dare not show her your TR on Antartica - it would cost me a small fortune!!
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Old Dec 22nd, 2019, 02:41 AM
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Larry, yesterday was indeed nice and sunny at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Today broke 70.

Crellston, thank you. You are right about the cost of Antarctica. It's definitely the most expensive trip we've taken. But it's not always that we have the opportunity to do it. We were fortunate that we had the means and the health to take the trip. And who knows if the current state will continue to exist with climate change? That said, I am sure that you and your wife, like us, have a long list of new places you're interested in experiencing as well as previous ones that you're itching to go back to. It's no coincidence that we keep on coming back to this part of the world.

Yet Another Awesome Day in Queenstown

My morning began at 4:00 with a call to Sunrise Balloon to check on weather conditions for a hot-air balloon ride in the area. We've never been on one and thought this would be a good time to try. The verdict? A thumbs down. It was too windy to go out. So back to bed I went, and on to Plan B or C.

We were greeted with another beautiful day by the weather gods, so this meant going with Plan B. We strolled from our hotel to Fergbaker, also owned by the same people who run Fergburger next door, for a hearty breakfast of meat pies and coffee. Filled up, we headed up and above the town to Queenstown Hill for a nice morning hike. The trail leading up the hill was easy to find aa there were good signage everywhere. The trail itself was technically easy - mostly gravel paths with a few rocky areas in between - but required going on an incline almost the entire way. Along the way and up top were gorgeous views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the surrounding mountains including a few snowcapped peaks. Simply incredible! The hike from the center of town all the way to the Basket of Dreams, the work of a Maori artist, took about two hours. We could have continued to the summit but didn't have the time this morning. So we enjoyed the views and turned back.

We grabbed a quick lunch at a KFC in town - yes, we were craving a little bit of fast food today - before we headed to Steamer Wharf to wait for a bus that would take us from Queenstown to Glenorchy for our jet boating adventure - a Queenstown tourist staple. There are three jetboat tour operators in Queenstown; we went with Dart River Wilderness Jet as it would visit a part of the region we would not have seen otherwise (I assumed most of these experiences are almost identical.). We were picked up at 12:00 for the 45 minute ride to Glenorchy, from where we would board a 4-wheel vehicle to take us into Mount Aspiring National Park for a short walk in the forest before the highlight of the excursion - a jetboat trip on the Dart River. It was overcast for a good portion of the 90-minute journey, which meant we could not clearly see the tops of several of the tops of the snowcapped mountains. Nonetheless, it was an excellent trip. We enjoyed the extraordinary scenery, the commentary the tour guide provided, but mostly just being on the jetboat and experiencing the movements and turns. The closest to it is being on a tender boat shuttling between a cruise ship and shore. Being on one of the cleanest waters I've seen and surrounded by the natural beauty of the mountains and the forests - this is classic New Zealand. I felt very fortunate to be here and to experience it with those who are closest to me.

Our final evening in Queenstown was spent enjoying a fine dinner at Botswana Butchery followed by one final stroll along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. The food at Botswana Butchery is, as you guessed, fabulous. The meats are their specialty and every bite of lamb and beef was perfect. The fish was good too as well as the shellfish.

Our home for the past four nights, the MGallery St. Moritz, is a gem. Situated on a hill off of Beach Street, our 2-bedroom suite overlooking Lake Wakatipu is spacious and tasteful. The two bedrooms and ensuite bathrooms are of good size and the living and dining rooms are even larger than in our apartment back home. The service is good too. It's my favorite of the three hotels we've stayed at so far. It may be because we've not had positive experiences at Accor Hotels and came with lower expectations, but nonetheless we were glad we chose it.

Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown Hill

Basket of Dreams on Queenstown Hill

Dart River

Rockburn (rocks carved by the river), on the Dart River

View of the Mountains from the Head of Lake Wakatipu, where it meets the Dart River

Next stop - Te Anau. Stay tuned.
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Old Dec 23rd, 2019, 02:07 AM
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I am impressed the way you write and more impressed for the time you are taking our to put up all these details. Thanks

We were all set to go to Nz only for its natural beauty, but now it seems that cafes like C1 and coffee would be our top priority as well

Is Wineyards visit only good if you wana tastes the wines. We being Muslims do not consume alcohol, so is it still worth going
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