Monday, February 20, 2017

The Longest Day- February 19, 2017

This day would definitely have more than 24 hours as we were going home.  We were up at 4 am and ready to be picked up from the hotel at 4:30 am for our transport to the Christchurch airport.  There were 3 couples leaving at this time.  A bagged breakfast of yogurt, juice, fruit and some small pastries had been prepared for us since the hotel breakfast was not open.  At the airport we had to process through as international flyers as we would be flying to Australia.  At 7 am we were on the plane for Sydney which was about a 3 hours long.  Landing in Sydney, we found the clock was turned back 2 hours and our next flight did not load up until 1:50 pm so we had about 5 hours of layover time.
We loaded into the plane about 2 pm and the plane took off about 2:30 pm for Dallas/ Fort Worth, Texas.  We would be on this large Air Bus 380 plane for about 15 hours.  Tom and I again lucked out with having the third seat vacant that allowed more room to get comfortable. The flight was uneventful, had a meal, the lights were turned off and window shades pulled down to encourage sleeping, snacks distributed to those awake, then breakfast served with lights turned on and landing in Texas at little past 1 pm (central time) and still the same day.  Again being international travelers we had to go through customs and immigration, collect luggage and then get luggage rechecked. This huge airport had porters with large golf cart vehicles that we utilized to move us from area to area.  Our plane was not scheduled to load until nearly 5 pm so we had time to get something to eat which we did.  The plane loaded fairly promptly and we were on our last leg of this trip to Orlando.  Finally, about 8:30 pm (eastern time) we had landed in Orlando.  When we went to claim our luggage our luggage was not on the conveyor belt. As we proceeded to the desk to make a claim Tom spied our luggage in a roped off area with an attendant.  Our luggage had come in on a earlier flight.  Tom had arranged for a pick-up to take us back to The Villages so Tom had been in contact with him when we landed and we were picked up in a few minutes time after getting our luggage.  We arrived home about 10:30 pm the same day that we had left New Zealand.  With the numerous time zones we passed through we estimate our travels were at least 30 hours from start to home.
The trip was wonderful.  Trafalgar, the tour company, had arranged a tour that gave us an overview of both countries.  We had very little idle time.  Both tour directors, Dave Overton (Australia) and Katie Hunter (New Zealand) were knowledgeable and extremely helpful.  It was a great way to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Back to Christchurch- February 18,2017

Leaving Queenstown by bus at 7:45 am we drove a fairly short stint to a little town of Arrowtown, a historic gold mining village.  It was so early that nothing but restrooms were open but we walked around for few minutes before getting back on the bus and moving on.
We were riding through the central part of the country where it was much drier and the vegetation was golden brown, a change from the green forested coastal area.  We stopped at Lake Tekapo, an alpine lake, and had a look in the tiny little Church of the Good Shepherd that had a front window with the lake in view.  There was also a statue nearby honoring the sheep dog.  All through this area there were big flocks of sheep in the hills and fields.
For lunch we went to Morelea Farm with Angie and Stan Taylor hosting.  We had a wonderful meal of beef, lamb, salad, carrot salad, peas, potatoes and then pavlova for dessert prepared by Angie and her helpers.  We ate in the home and on the porch.  Stan and Angie raise beef cattle, about 180 head, and sheep, about 4000 head.  After eating lunch Stan talked about his farm and that the animals live off the grass that is grown as no grain is used for feed.  Interesting lunchtime.
We arrived in Christchurch a little past 5pm and quickly made our ways to our rooms.  We all met together at 7:30pm for our farewell dinner at the hotel.  Pictures were taken, good byes were given.  Katie, our tour director, gave Tom and I a figurine honoring our 50th anniversary.  Another nice meal with a nice group of folks.  Tom and I didn't tarry too long as we had a 4:30am pick-up time from the hotel to go to the airport for a 7am departure to Sydney, Australia in the morning to begin our trek home.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Queenstown Day-February 17, 2017

Today we had the luxury of not needing to do or be anywhere until 3:15pm and it was very much welcomed by us.  On this segment of the trip here in New Zealand we have been tightly scheduled with activities.   We were later than usual getting up and getting down for breakfast so we thought the dining room would be less crowded but we were wrong.   It was almost impossible to find someplace to sit but finally I found a table with a couple sitting at and asked if we could share the table and they agreed.
After breakfast we walked to the downtown of Queenstown.  Along the wharf there were tables set up with people selling their crafts and wares. And then we walked about the shops in the town.  For lunch we ate at a Mexican restaurant, Sombrero, which was an okay place but not the greatest.
We returned to the hotel but soon started to get ready to go out for the evening.  We were to be ready by 3:15pm to board the bus for a short drive to Queenstown wharf.  We then boarded a steam engined boat that took us across the harbor to Walter Peak Station (ranch).  We were seated on the patio and then had a barbeque- huge shrimp, mussels, smoked salmon, salad, beef, lamb, chicken,potatoes, corn on the cob, and an assortment of desserts.  Food was very good and plentiful.  After dinner, a demonstration of sheep dogs working the sheep and sheep shearing was given before boarding the boat to return to Queenstown.  It was an absolutely beautiful evening.  As we returned on the boat the on-board pianist played familiar tunes and a group of us sat around singing.  Fun times to end the day.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Milford Sound -February 16,2017:

This morning at 7:30 am we were loaded up on the bus traveling west to Milford Sound.  Travel time was about 4 hours as there was not roads that went directly to this area.  We had a couple stops for restrooms and coffee and then when we entered Fiordlands National Park we made several stops for picture taking.  This was a very pretty scenic area with mountains, lakes and waterfalls.  When we arrived at Milford Sound we boarded a boat for a one and half hour tour.  Buffet lunch was served which was very nice- sesame chicken, lamb chops, venison ribs, lo mein dish, salad and ice cream cup for dessert.  The weather was perfect sunny skies and a little coolness.  This Milford Sound is really not a sound but a fjord as this channel was carved out by glacier not by flowing water.  The walls of the mountains were flowing with waterfalls from the melting snow.  A group of playful dolphins entertained us.  Fur seals were sunning themselves on a rock.  We traveled out to the Tasman Sea and then back to the pier.
On our return to Queenstown travels we had a traffic jam of sorts as a huge flock of sheep were being herded down the road.  This trip passed through mostly farm lands.  Large flocks of sheep seemed to be the predominate farm animal.  There were some cattle, dairy and beef.  It is surprising to see herds of deer in fenced in pastures.

Returning to Queenstown and our hotel, Tom and I walked to the downtown area for a bite to eat.  The streets and park areas were teeming with teenagers and young adults.  Tomorrow we have nothing scheduled until 3:30pm and we are looking forward to that down time.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

To Queenstown- February 15,2017

At 8 am we were back on the bus and leaving Franz Josef and going to Queenstown.  We continued our travels in the Southern Alps.  Peaks of several mountains were snow covered.  Tom and I had opted for an optional tour of taking a jet boat for an hour long ride on the Haast River along with about 20 others in our tour group.  It was a cool morning  with heavy clouds but the boat was enclosed.  The boat driver did stop a few times to talk about the river and surrounding area.  Toward the end of the boat ride the driver thrilled us with spinning the boat 360 degrees for 5 times.  When we arrived at the final docking point the bus was already there for us to board.  So we continued on through Haast Pass seeing many waterfalls on the mountains and opaque blue watered rivers. Moving on we saw several beautiful blue lakes.
We stopped for lunch at Makarora, a little community.  It was a short stop that allowed us to get a sandwich or bowl of soup before getting back on the road.  We then began seeing vineyards, wineries and cherry orchards.  A stop was made at a fruit market which also had ice cream.  About 5pm we finally got to the Millenium Hotel in Queenstown after a tour of the city.   We checked into our room but then at 5:45 pm we were back on the bus for a ride to The Boatshed for dinner.  The Boatshed apparently serves private parties as we were the only folks there.  We selected from the menu an appetizer, entree and dessert from a choice of 3 is each category. We also had some wine served to us.  The meal was very good.  Tom had an antipasto, steak and a chocolate dessert.  I had a salad along with the steak and chocolate dessert.
We will be in Queenstown for 3 nights which will be good.  Tomorrow will be another full day so we plan to get to bed before too late.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Franz Josef- February 14, 2017

What a great morning, we did not leave the hotel until 8:45 am.  Our luggage needs to be outside our room 1 hour before departure whenever we move from one hotel to another. And this morning we were moving once again .  The travels today were westward across the Southern Alps to a little town of Franz Josef.  The sparsely populated area we were driven through was beautiful mountains, some sheep and dairy cattle farms and rivers with glacial silt.  We stopped in Arthur Pass for coffee and bathroom break and then in Hokitika for lunch and a visit to a jade factory.. Continuing on we finally about 4 pm arrived in Franz Josef and the Te Waonui Forest Retreat, our hotel for tonight.  This hotel is the nicest hotel we have been in .  And this is in a little town of about 400 people.  We were greeted with a kiwi drink and a cool wash cloth by a native warrior.  After getting in our rooms and receiving our luggage we again boarded the bus to ride a short  distance to the area of the Franz Josef glacier.  Very often this glacier cannot be seen due to clouds but after some rain and clouds this morning the sun was shining when we got to the path leading to the glacier.  Our tour director, Katie, said that she had not seen the glacier for most of the year and was excited that the glacier was visible.  The glacier was a good distance away but we were able to walk a pathway to get a closer view.  After a day of riding it was good to be out for a walk.  Returning to the hotel we had dinner at the hotel which was a gorgeous meal.  Hot pumpkin soup, a salmon appetizer, then roasted lamb, venison ribs, salad greens, potatoes and for dessert cheeses, pate, fresh and dried fruits and a small tiramisu and wine.  A great way to end the day.
Later note:  the hotel had nice furry decorative pillows on the beds which our tour director said were possum fur.  This fur was very fluffy and soft not at all like what the coarse bristly covering on the animal that we know as opossums.  I later came across a fur store that had pictures of these New Zealand possums which are rather cute furry little creatures related to the koala.  These animals are not well liked in New Zealand as they are not native and have been hard on the native birds as kiwis.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Rotorua to Christchurch->February 13, 2017

Leaving the hotel at 7:45 am we had our luggage stowed in the motorcoach as we were driven a short distance to Rainbow Springs Nature Park.  We had a guide that led us about the park.  Rainbow Springs is a natural spring with rainbow trout.  This area is a green forested area with the sounds of birds throughout. Sequoias trees that were brought from US back in the 1930's are thriving here although the wood is not as dense as the US Sequoias.  Kiwi, native birds of New Zealand have been decreasing in numbers due to unnatural predators, as stoats and opossums, being brought to this country.  This park is working to increase the kiwis by taking eggs incubating, hatching and raising the chicks until mostly full grown then released into the wild.  Programs to eradicate the predators are also being done.
Back on the bus for another short ride in the town of Rotorua.  The Te Puia Thermal Reserve was our next stop.  Again we had a guide that walked with us talking about this Geo-thermal area that was very much like a small version of Yellowstone National Park in the US.  There were geysers, mud pots and very hot pools.  New Zealand has numerous inactive volcanoes throughout the entire country.
Once again we were on the bus but this time we were taken to the Rotorua airport where we caught a plane for Christchurch, a town on the southern island.  The flight was a little more than one and a half hours long.  A bus was waiting for us when we landed so we loaded up in that bus. The tour director, Katie, and bus driver, Ron, gave us a tour of the city of Christchurch.  In 2011 there was an earthquake that did quite a bit of destruction in the city and there has been ongoing reconstruction which was evident.  A memorial of 186 chairs all painted white depicts the lives lost during that earthquake.  A cathedral across the street from the hotel, Novotel, where are staying tonight, appears to have a lot of destruction.
We had an evening to do whatever, so we went out and found a small restaurant for an evening meal.  We had only had a half sandwich each before boarding the plane so we were getting hungry.