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.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Rotorua, N. Z.- February 12, 2017

Another day with an early start as we were on the bus at 7:30 am leaving the city of Auckland on the motorcoach to our next destination.  After a couple hours of travel through dairy farming territory we made a stop at Waitomo Glow Worm Grotto.  We had a tour guide that took us through a limestone cave until we came to a river running through the cave at which that time we boarded boats and quietly without any lights or noise the guide propelled the boat by pulling along overhead lines.  Glow worms with their lights illuminated the cave ceiling like stars in the sky.  These "worms" are really larva of a type of fly and not really worms.
Continuing on we stopped in a small town to get a quick lunch, half an hour.  And then we were back on the bus to the Agrodome Sheep Show.  This show started by displaying  18 sheep each one a different breed on a stage.  Two sheep dogs were brought on stage to demonstrate their obedience to commands.  The show ended with an outside sheep herding demonstration with sheep dogs.  Then we were back on the bus for a short ride to Rotorua and the Millenium Hotel where we will stay tonight.  Our luggage had been dropped off and placed in our rooms while we were at the sheep show.  We barely had time to catch our breath when we again loaded onto a bus to a native village, Tamaki Family Marae, for a show and a traditional Maori Hangi dinner.  The food was cooked in a pit in the ground.  Good meal- chicken, fish, lamb, carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes and salad and dessert.  Nice evening but a long day.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Auckland, N.Z.- February 11, 2017

This morning after breakfast we boarded a bus for a tour of the city of Auckland guided by our tour director, Katie and bus driver, Eric.  We then took a harbor cruise tour.  Beautiful day with bright sunshine, temperatures in the 70's and wind.  The bus brought us back to the hotel from the boat ride and then we were free to do whatever.  Tom and I walked about the city looking for someplace to get lunch.  There are many places to get sushi as Chinese are probably the largest group of tourists to come down here.  We did find a place to get burgers which were pretty good.  Returned to the hotel and felt a real need to get some rest in the afternoon.  A group of Indian men apparently came to the hotel and many have moved into rooms on our floor.  A knock came to the door and when I answered the door one of these men dressed in a bathrobe was at the door.  He apologized and moved on.
Early evening we went out in search of toothpaste since Tom's was confiscated at the airport.  After obtaining the toothpaste we noticed a street closed off and large groups of people walking through the closed off street so we decided to investigate what was going on.  There is a city parklike area where there was a Chinese Lantern Festival happening.  No charge for admission.  There was lots of displays of large lanterns depicting all kinds of scenes.  Reminded me of our Christmas displays set up in various towns. We have been in the midst of Chinese New Year's celebrations throughout our travels in Australia and, now, New Zealand.   There was also music entertainment Chinese style and Chinese food vendors.
We didn't eat at the festival but came back toward the hotel and ate at a restaurant that our tour director had pointed out, Betsia restaurant.    Food was good with kebabs and salads.

Friday, February 10, 2017

New Zealand- February 10, 2017

Up early again this morning as we had had our breakfast and was on our way to the airport about 7:20 am.  We were flying to Auckland, New Zealand about a 3 hour flight.

 Since we were leaving Australia we had all the hoops to jump through of going from one country to another..  Our carry on bags had to be opened.  Tom's toothpaste and shave cream was taken out and discarded and I had a tube of Fluoride dental gel that was just about depleted that they took out because the weight on the tube stated above the limit.  This was the 8th time we had gone through these security checks  carrying these items in our bags and the first time it was a problem.  Go figure. We flew Emirates airlines under the umbrella of Qantas.  Like the plane from Dallas to Sydney, this plane was the very big A380-800 plane with 2 levels.  We were almost an hour late in leaving but we did have a nice hot lunch of beef, mashed potatoes,peas and carrots, a salad with chick peas and chicken and raspberry cheesecake.  There was 5 of us from the Australian tour that was traveling together.  After landing in Auckland and going through customs and immigration we found our shuttle that transported us to the Langham hotel.  There is a 2 hour time difference between Sydney and Aukland so it was not 4:20pm but 6:20 pm when we arrived at the hotel.  A meeting was already underway with the tour director, Katie Hunter, so we quickly made our way to the meeting.  Dinner this evening was here in the hotel and was a grand meal in buffet style with different seafood, steaks cooked to order, nice salad bar and beautiful desserts.  After eating we came back to our room as we were feeling really tired.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Blue Mountains -February 9, 2017

Our last day in Australia was an optional tour to the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney.  We left at 7:30am in a small tour bus as there were 21 of us on this tour.  We stopped in a little town,Leura, for hot beverages and toast or brownies.  Moving on we came to the Blue mountains so called because of the blue coloring due to the oil in the eucalyptus trees.

We took a cable tram across the deep valley.

 Then we took an inclined railroad down the side of the mountain.

 And finally we took another cable car back up the mountain.

For lunch we stopped at the Conservation Hut for a nice lunch.
Afterward, we traveled to Featherdale Wild Life park where we finally saw some kangaroos and wallabies among many other animals native to Australia.

It was a beautiful day up until afternoon when the temperature seemed to really soar along with humidity.
We had a dinner with the entire group this evening as a farewell meal at Buck's restaurant in Darling Harbor.  Dave Overton, tour director, gave us each a copy of the group picture that had been taken yesterday.  Tomorrow we will be going to New Zealand.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Sydney,Australia- February 8,2017

This morning at 7:30 am our group loaded up on a bus for a tour of the city of Sydney.  Our first stop was at a park across the harbor from the Sydney Opera House.  At this location we had a group photo done by a professional photographer with Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge in the background.

  Sydney is Australia's largest city with nearly 5 million people and rapidly growing.  The median cost for a house in Sydney is 1.2 million dollars (Australian).
Our next stop was at BondI beach.

BondI (pronounced bond eye) beach is a very popular beach in Australia but also a very dangerous beach.  Many people have been killed due to the tide motion.  Everyday there are numerous rescues done.  On one particular day 360 rescues were done before noon.  There is a local TV show called BondI Rescue that is filmed on this beach.
It was then onto the Sydney Opera House where we had a guided tour through this magnificent structure.

We were allowed into several theaters but taking pictures were not allowed.
From the Opera House we walked a short distance around the harbor where we boarded Captain Cook's cruise boat for a lunch cruise around the harbor.  The lunch was buffet style with seafood and other foods.  While eating there was a narration about the harbor and the buildings surrounding  the harbor.

After the cruise we were on our own for the remainder of the day.  Tom and I came back to our room in the hotel which had not been made up yet.  So when the maid came to clean we left and walked to a shopping area called Victoria's.
 This mall was at least 4 levels, very crowded, and up scale stores.  After walking about we finally left and walked back to the hotel.
A little later in the evening we walked around the shopping/restaurant area surrounding the harbor.  We ate salad type entrees at a little Mexican restaurant.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

To Sydney— February 7, 3017

This morning after eating breakfast our group assembled in the hotel lobby where at 9am we loaded into a bus that took us to Cairns airport.  About 10:50am we were on the plane and taking off.  About 3pm Sydney's time (an hour ahead of Cairns time) we had landed in Sydney.  Luggage was collected and we loaded on a bus that took us to the Hyatt Regency hotel, arriving there about an hour later.  We got our keys and found our rooms and the luggage was brought to our rooms.  It is cooler here with temperature in the 70's  and there had been rain prior to our arrival today.
The hotel is located near Darling Harbor and a shopping/restaurant area.

Tom and I walked over to this area and had dinner on an outside dining area.

Tomorrow we will be touring the area.
Later note:  This hotel, Hyatt Regency was the worst hotel of the entire trip, small room with very little space to place luggage or toiletries.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway- February 6,2017

Today, Monday, we had signed up to go on an optional tour that involved  train travel and cableway.  After the rains of yesterday with water rushing down the mountain some of the train tracks had been washed away making the train travel impossible.  We were still able to take the trip only both ways would need to be done by  cableway.  So a little after 8am we loaded up in a bus to go a little ways just outside of Cairns city limits to the Smithfield station to get on a cableway, Skyrail ,gondola.

This Skyrail is a 7.5 km. cableway that glides above the rainforest in the Barron Gorge National Park.

 There were 3 stations after the Smithfield station that we could get off and walk around the rainforest.  At one station a ranger was giving a tour explaining the environment.

 Another station had an interpretive center.

The Barron falls station was as the name implies where Barron Falls could be seen and today water was surging over the falls.

 In one area a cassowary, second largest bird in Australia, was seen.

 Kuranda was a little village at the 4th station which we walked about and found a restaurant to get lunch before returning across the cableway to our point of origin.

We really enjoyed the cableway and was not disappointed of missing the train ride one way.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Great Barrier Reef- February 5, 2017

This morning at 8 am we were picked up by bus that took us to Port Douglas.  At Port Douglas we got on board a big catamaran that transported us to a portable island structure in the Great Barrier Reef.  This area is in the monsoon season and there were clouds and showers all day.  Out in the reef area snorkeling, scuba and other diving could be done.  Tom and I opted not to try snorkeling in the very choppy water.

We did take a boat with a submersible underside that allowed viewing of the reef.

 We saw lots of different coral as well as many fish.   A buffet lunch was served.  About 3 hours was spent in the reef area before we loaded back into the catamaran for the return to Port Douglas.  Many people had gotten seasick going out in the morning but the return trip most had taken medication for the seasickness and slept much of the way.  We were returned to Cairns by bus.  We did see wallabies in a field eating grass on the return trip.
In the evening the tour group went to a restaurant, Dundees, for dinner.  The food was good.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Uluru-Kara to Cairns. -February 4, 2017

Today is Tom and my 50th anniversary and the reason for taking this wonderful trip.
At last we had a day that did not start early.  First on the schedule was to be checked out our room by 10 am as we would be moving on later in the afternoon.  We left our bags in the room and porters move them to a point to be picked up by our bus driver, Myles.   As a group we walked a short distance to the center of this resort where we had a lesson in aboriginal art and then we each had a canvas panel to do our own painting using aboriginal symbols.

We then had time to do some shopping or to get some lunch.  We had some cheese and apples from breakfast that we ate.  We wanted something to drink so we went into a small grocery store where they had diet coke in 1 liter bottles for $4.00 plus and in 2 liter bottles for $2.00 plus.  We got the cheaper 2 liter bottle knowing that even if we didn't drink it empty we had paid less .
About 1:30 pm we had all met up at the hotel, boarded the bus for our ride to the airport.  Checking in at the airport proved to be a fiasco.  We had overweight carry-on luggage.  So we had to take things out of the bags and put these items in other bags to finally be allowed to proceed.  Once checked through we placed some of the items back into the luggage.  It was all going to be carried on the plane whether on 1 luggage container or in additional bags.
About 3:20pm we were taking off for Cairns which was about a 2.5 hour flight.  We landed a few minutes before 6pm.  Luggage was obtained and we then met up with our waiting bus driver and loaded up.  We are staying at the Cairns Hilton Hotel.
We walked down the street looking for a place to eat and found Barnacle Bill's and had a wonderfulness of seafood jambalaya.  Great meal to celebrate 50 years.