My Trip Down Under – The End

31 October – 3 November, 2014 – Sydney

I was excited to wake up and explore Sydney on my first day in the city.  Sad too, though, because it was my last stop on this whirlwind tour.

I spent the first morning getting lost exploring the area near the ANZAC Bridge and made my way toward Darling Harbour.  They have a lot of touristy things there.  There was a Maritime Museum with an interesting photo exhibition but I didn’t go.  There was a lot of things I wanted to see in the city and didn’t really have time.  I did take time to have lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe.  Have to go whenever I’m near one!  I actually almost spent a couple of nights in Surfer’s Paradise just to go to the one they have there… then realized that was just stupid.  The store was not well stocked.  I still need to email the manager to get my regular HRC things!  The place was decorated for Halloween, which I hear isn’t really a big thing around there.  There is also a small ‘zoo’ in this area, which I had originally planned on going to while in the city.  Maybe even to have breakfast with the Koalas!  But, after seeing them in the wild in Melbourne and even seeing one in a small enclosure in the main foyer of the ‘zoo’, there was no reason to spend the time or money to visit the attraction for real.

The Sydney Opera HouseAfter that, I made my way to Sydney Harbour and the Opera House.  I was taking a tour and then had tickets to the Symphony after (Dvorak’s New World Symphony).  Some interesting facts: They have several halls with about 2500 events each year.  The roof of the Opera House is made up of about 1, 005, 556 tiles.  A few days prior, they actually had Beethoven’s 9th performed here.  I knew that before and actually considered rearranging my vacation to be there for it, but didn’t.  Dvorak was amazing though.  The music wraps around you like a blanket.  Two days ago (February 1st), I went to my first symphony since returning, at the Rebecca Cohn in Halifax.  I’m definitely happy there were a few months in between the performances.  As it was, the music felt almost claustrophobic in the smaller Halifax venue.

The next day, I ‘photographed’ my way to Hyde Park, where I stopped for breakfast before making my way to “Lady MacQuarrie’s Chair”.  This spot is the popular viewing spot for the Opera House and Bridge.  After that, I headed back to the Opera House and a nearby restaurant where I met up with a bunch of Aussie writers for a meal and drinks and then back to the hotel.  Lots of walking, but a nice relaxing day!

(Un)finally, it was my last day in the city.  Still so many things to do!  On the list: the beach, a museum or two, the observatory.  First stop: Bondi Beach.  Some backstory: There were a lot of bush fires burning near Sydney since I arrived in the continent – up to 72 at one time, I heard.  In New Zealand, it was all over the news.  Once I arrived in Australia, it was like there was no such thing as fire.  One could imagine it there had never been a fire… Until the morning of the 2nd.  The air, especially at the beach, was heavy with smoke.  At one point you couldn’t even see to the other end of the beach.  Horrible but… it smelled good!  This was also good because, you know, I generally hate beaches, but because there was no sun, it was quite enjoyable and spent a lot of time walking up and done in the surf.  The wind changed and the smoke lifted around noon.  The sun shone bright so I headed back into the city.

I didn’t have time to do a museum and the observatory before suppertime.  I had to choose.  I figured that I’d already seen an observatory in Wellington and the museum was a convict barracks museum.  I decided on the museum because I figured learning about that part of the country’s history was a must-do.   Besides, I could go to the observatory at night, right?  The museum was definitely worth it.  I was great and I got some good photos.  It deconstructed part of the building, which I enjoyed as someone who like architecture.  Of course, the museum was focused mostly on its convict history, but also the other uses of the building.  I was there until I was ‘kicked out’ at closing.  I could have stayed at least another half hour.  Maybe longer.  There was a dorm with hammocks strung that visitors could get comfy in.  I could have fallen asleep!

The crowds

Saturday crowds at the Opera House.

After that, I headed to the observatory in the area called ‘The Rocks’.  In the half hour I was in the area, I saw six different wedding parties having their photos taken.  It’s clearly so popular that even if I wanted my photos taken there, I’d try and be more creative.  It was an amazing spot for photos though.  As for the observatory… I could have visited at night… but only if I bought my ticket during the day.  Sigh.  Not to worry.  I took the opportunity to head back to the Opera House look out and photograph it during sun set.

BatsI wanted to hang around for the fireworks that the city was putting on in my honour, to see me off puts on each Saturday, but I would have had to wait about two hours.  It was a dark, secluded park and I had nothing to keep me busy for that time.  If I’m ever back in the area, I’ll be more prepared!  Of course, the bats made for great entertainment.  Big bats!  Big bats but blurry photos. :(  Once again I made my way back to the Opera House and arrived just a few minutes before the fireworks started.  They were awesome, even if the location for photographic composition was not.

I hung around as long as I could, just enjoying the atmosphere, until I headed back to the hotel for my last night of sleep of vacation.

Thanks for joining me on my little trip!

Wrap-Up

Impressions: Sydney was great!  I’d love to go back and explore more of the city.  I hated leaving, but of course, that meant I was also leaving Australia.  :(

Daily Casualties: Just myself a couple of times, on the first day and then also on the trains.  Those are confusing!  Definitely not the London Underground. Also ‘lost’ the stuff I left behind on purpose to make room in my bag. :)  I did come to realize why I kept forgetting stuff or losing stuff… I was upside down!  Of course things were falling off me. ;)

Walked: About 28 miles.

Just so you know, the widget I use to capture my flickr photos usually leaves a few out of the gallery.  If you really want to make sure you see all the photos, check out my flickr stream. 400 photos.  Sorry y’all.  I suck at self editing.

The Rest of the story:

Aurora Announces her trip!
Aurora’s Australian Pre-planning
Working with a Travel Agent
My Trip Down Under:
Day 123 - The Journey
Day 4 - Auckland
Day 5 - North Island Culture
Day 6 - Rotorua
Day 7 - Wellington
Day 8 - Wellington
Day 9 & 10 - South Island Scenery
- Day 11 – Queenstown
- Day 12 – Middle Earth
- Day 13 – The Last Day
- Day 14 – Great Barrier Reef
- Day 15 – Alice Springs
- Day 16, 17 & 18 – The Outback
- Day 19, 20 and 21 – Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road
- Days 22 to 25 – Sydney and the End
Down Under Assignments

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My Trip Down Under – “Assignments”

While I was in New Zealand and Australia, in addition to just enjoying myself and seeing as much as possible, I gave myself some ‘assignments’ and projects to work on.  Some were successful, some I need to work on, though nothing turned out horrible.  All were fun.

Night Photography

During the Australian portion of my trip, I spent two nights ‘camping’ in the outback.  Hello dark skies!  I wanted to try some straight night sky photography as well as try a star trail photo.

Outback Milky Way

Southern Star Trail

The star trail could be better, and the trails longer, but I ran out of battery!

Here are some other semi/successful shots from the trip:

Cuba Night Lake Wakatipu at Night Sydney Opera House at Night Sydney Harbour Tail Lights Opera house Works

Panoramas

In the past, my version of a panorama was to crop a shot down.  I have plenty of opportunities to practice on some magnificent scenery on this trip.  I do need to try using a tripod, and perhaps shooting portrait to give me more wiggle room to crop but… I think these are good first attempts.

Cook Strait Panorama
Queenstown Hill - Full
Queenstown Hill - Half

GoPro Video / Underwater

I shot a bunch of videos and photos while checking out the Great Barrier Reef.  I combined the best videos into the clip below.

GoPro Time Lapse

My GoPro has a timelapse feature on it and I thought “what better way to try that out, then on all these sunrise excursions I’ll be doing in the outback?”  Well, perhaps that wasn’t exactly the best place to try it.  Or maybe I need more practice.  I think that is definitely the case for the time lapse more than any of these other projects.  Here’s a couple anyway!

Postcard Book

Long before leaving for my trip (before even starting to book things for it), I came across a blog post somewhere about a very neat idea. (I tried to find the post to link to, but couldn’t find it).  It was an idea for people who:

  1. Enjoy receiving real mail that’s not junk or statements
  2. Collect stamps
  3. Collect postcards
  4. Enjoy documenting travels

A postcard book! As I enjoy all four of those things, I had to do it.

It’s pretty simple: Everyday, I bought a postcard.  (Well, I bought one for this project, plus extras for funsies).  I wrote a brief message about what I did that day, put a fun stamp on it, and mailed it.  In New Zealand, I bought the stamps all different.  I also sent a few postcards back home to friends and family and carefully chose the appropriate stamp for each person.  (I kept the best for myself, of course!).  In Australia, I just bought a sheet of stamps that were all the same (there weren’t many options in the place I bought them). Even though my trip was over three weeks long, it was about a week after returning home that I received the first one.

The last part of the project is to hand bind/stitch all of the cards as a book.  Of course, I haven’t done that yet and, knowing me, I’ll probably get lazy and just put them in the binder with all the other postcards.  There was a place around here that did neat workshops like book binding and I thought I’d take the next book binding workshop to work on this project.  They closed. :(

I wasn’t smart with all of my postcard purchases, however, and they’re not all the same size.  Also… don’t get me started on the New Zealand postal service with respect to stamp collectors… unless you want me to rant.

The Rest of the story:

Aurora Announces her trip!
Aurora’s Australian Pre-planning
Working with a Travel Agent
My Trip Down Under:
Day 123 - The Journey
Day 4 - Auckland
Day 5 - North Island Culture
Day 6 - Rotorua
Day 7 - Wellington
Day 8 - Wellington
Day 9 & 10 - South Island Scenery
- Day 11 – Queenstown
- Day 12 – Middle Earth
- Day 13 – The Last Day
- Day 14 – Great Barrier Reef
- Day 15 – Alice Springs
- Day 16, 17 & 18 – The Outback
- Day 19, 20 and 21 – Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road
- Days 22 to 25 – Sydney and the End
Down Under Assignments

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My Trip Down Under – Days 19, 20 and 21

28 – 30 October, 2013 – Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road

The Great Southern HotelI left Alice Springs on the morning of the 28th and arrived at my hotel in Melbourne around supper time.  It wasn’t the greatest hotel in the world (not very clean and very old, although they have started renovating the place) but I picked it because the architecture looked really interesting and I wanted to photograph it!  I didn’t waste much time there before I headed out to explore the city.  I had two famous signs that I wanted to photograph that were outside the main area I would be exploring later so I did that first, then found out where I needed to meet my coach tour early the next morning and found something to eat at a yummy Italian restaurant.

KoalaThe next day, I was up bright and early to catch that coach tour and I spent the day travelling down and exploring the Great Ocean Road.  It is a tourist road that was built by ex-servicemen after the war.  It was very cool and I would love to go back!  I even spotted Koalas in the wild!! I wasn’t able to get a good shot of one, but that’s okay.  The 13 hour tour was very rushed, but we had a lot of miles and stops to cover.  And we watched a Mr. Bean movie on the way back to Melbourne.

The next day was my chance to explore Melbourne.  This is a city of bridges and I tried to photograph as many of them as possible, as well as a lot of architecture, as well.  The most interesting bridges to me were the Webb Bridge for it’s design and the Southgate Footbridge for the “Locks of Love“. Looking back at the photos, I’m amazed at how much I was able to do that day.  I had to be back at the hotel by suppertime to catch my flight to Sydney!  It was a whirlwind couple of days, but I did love the city and I will definitely go back if I ever return to Australia.

Wrap-Up

Impressions: For the first time since arriving in Australia, I found a place I want to come back to!  If I ever did come back, and I was with someone who drove, I could see spending another few days in Melbourne and then taking up to a couple of weeks driving the Great Ocean Road and then up to Adelaide.  There are so many picturesque towns and villages along just the portion I travelled on, not to mention all the hiking trails at all the scene spots we rushed through!

Daily Casualties: Nothing!

Walked: About 17 miles, mostly on the 30th.

The Rest of the story:

Aurora Announces her trip!
Aurora’s Australian Pre-planning
Working with a Travel Agent
My Trip Down Under:
Day 123 - The Journey
Day 4 - Auckland
Day 5 - North Island Culture
Day 6 - Rotorua
Day 7 - Wellington
Day 8 - Wellington
Day 9 & 10 - South Island Scenery
- Day 11 – Queenstown
- Day 12 – Middle Earth
- Day 13 – The Last Day
- Day 14 – Great Barrier Reef
- Day 15 – Alice Springs
- Day 16, 17 & 18 – The Outback
- Day 19, 20 and 21 – Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road
- Days 22 to 25 – Sydney and the End
Down Under Assignments

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My Trip Down Under – Day 16, 17 &18

25 – 27 October, 2013 – The Outback

On the morning of the 25th I was up early to meet my two night tour at 5:45 am.  We had a five hour drive ahead of us to our camping spot on night one at the Ayer’s Rock Resort.  We were barely out of town before we saw a dingo running along the road.  Excellent.  Another animal-in-the-wild crossed off my list!  Over the next two nights I was awoken by loud camels, but no dingoes, which was disappointing.  I’m sure they were by the campsites, but I probably just slept through them.

We made several stops along the way at outback cattle stations for pit stops, and scenic photos stops.  One of the stations we stopped at covered 1 million acres.  We even stopped at a camel farm!  In my original planning, I’d thought of going on a camel ride.  The place I was going to go through offered hour (or two) long camel rides out to sun set/rise viewing spots.  I was totally into that!  Mostly because, when I’d been to Egypt, riding on the camels was NOT advisable.  At this camel farm, however, we had only a 20 minute stop for rides and pit-stopyness and at this place the camel ride was more like those kids pony rides at the zoo.  I passed.

Our campsiteWe arrived at our campsite around 1 pm and had a great lunch of pasta salad and camel burgers.  After that, we drove to Uluru Rock for our first day’s walk.  We stopped first at an Aboriginal Cultural centre.  It seemed like a really great place, with a lot of information, but it was crowded and we didn’t have a lot of time so I didn’t really get to see much.  For our walk around the base of the Rock, we could do the full walk or half walk.  I did the half walk because those who did the full one pretty much just had to walk and not stop and enjoy the scenery.  I’m glad I did that because I arrived at the end only a few minutes before the full walkers!  And I wasn’t walking slow.

After that, we headed to a viewing area where we were treated to champagne and a cheese plate while we watched the sun go down.  Not too shabby, huh?

Supper was Camel sausage, kangaroo steak and salads as well as some Australian wine.  We didn’t enjoy a campfire or the beautiful night sky because we had a 0330 wake up call!  Sleep for sure.

Hiking Kings CanyonWe were up early for two reasons: to view the sun rise and get an early start on our hike of Kata Tjuta.  Our walks progressed in difficulty.  Uluru was completely flat; it may have even been wheelchair accessible, it was so easy.  Kings Canyon would be the hardest, but definitely worth it.  Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon have their trails close by 0900 on days with a forecasted temperature of 36* or higher.  This early in spring, it was already due to happen today and tomorrow.  I’m thinking there’s not very many days in the year that one can hike at any time of year.  There are also water bottle filling stations and emergency radios at a few stops along the trails.

We were done our hike and back at camp by lunch time.  After lunch it was time to head to our next camp site near Kings Canyon.  Again, we watched the sun set, headed to the campsite for supper and turned in early.  There were little gecko/lizards crawling all over the outside of the screen walls of our kitchen but (as far as I know) not in our tents (thankfully!) I did do a bit of night photography before turning in this night, though.  You know, we didn’t have to get up until 0430 the next morning.  All kinds of sleeping in!

Outback Milky Way

My favourite photo of my entire Down Under trip.

Southern Star Trail

There was no sun rise viewing this morning, but we did arrive at the start of the trail at that time and were finished our four hour walk around 1000.  After that, we had lunch and then headed back to Alice Springs.  That night I found a steak house and finished off my Aussie Food list with some crocodile spring rolls and emu salad! I’d asked out outback guide, Mel, if all these meats (camel, croc, roo and emu) were actually eaten by Aussies, or if they were just for the tourists.  She hemmed and hawed but said that the camels were eaten most by the locals, because they were such pests.  If you’re interested: camel just tasted like your basic sausage, roo was quite yummy, croc tasted like seasoned chicken (as expected) and the emu was quite strong and, while it wasn’t bad, was definitely my least favourite.

Wrap-Up

Impressions: Great hikes, awesome scenery.  Glad I went, but I probably wouldn’t go back… although that dark sky was awesome.  Maybe I’d go back for that.  The half hour I spent shooting (for the) stars was probably my favourite part of the entire mini trip.

Daily Casualties: Nothing!

Walked: About 10 miles.

The Rest of the story:

Aurora Announces her trip!
Aurora’s Australian Pre-planning
Working with a Travel Agent
My Trip Down Under:
Day 123 - The Journey
Day 4 - Auckland
Day 5 - North Island Culture
Day 6 - Rotorua
Day 7 - Wellington
Day 8 - Wellington
Day 9 & 10 - South Island Scenery
- Day 11 – Queenstown
- Day 12 – Middle Earth
- Day 13 – The Last Day
- Day 14 – Great Barrier Reef
- Day 15 – Alice Springs
- Day 16, 17 & 18 – The Outback
- Day 19, 20 and 21 – Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road
- Days 22 to 25 – Sydney and the End
Down Under Assignments

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My Trip Down Under – Day 15

24 October, 2013 – Alice Springs, Australia

I ‘checked out’ of the hotel before reception even opened and headed to the airport.  It was time to visit the outback!  After a layover in Ayers Rock, I arrived in Alice Springs around 1pm.  Honestly, if I’d known how the next few days would go, I would have just stayed in AR, though I would have missed out on the things I did this day.

But, in Alice Springs I was, and I did not waste any time… well… at first.  I had a lot of things I wanted to do in the four hours before everything shut down at 5 pm.  (And by ‘everything’ I mean everything aside from some of the restaurants and bars. I found this surprising.  The town sprung up because of the telegraph station but, these days, I would have thought the area relied mostly on tourism – as a base for exploring the surrounding outback.  Most tourist towns stay open later, though.)

aspThe first thing I did was to walk along the Todd River (which didn’t have any water in it) to the Telegraph station and park.  I was not walked about dangerous things, but stuck to the path.  I did see the cutest little snake cross my path.  He disappeared too quickly for me to get a picture of him (her? it?).  In the park, there were lots of pretty parrots and other birds.  I sat on a bench and watched and photographed them for a bit before continuing on to the ‘museum’.

The Telegraph Station was great.  I loved the walking trails and I found the museum itself very interesting.  In fact, I spent so much time exploring the reserve, that I didn’t make it back into town in time to see any of the other things I wanted to see.  There are actually quite a few things to do in Alice Springs, but nothing enough to make me go back to see them.  Once the sun started to set it didn’t feel very safe at all, though there were a lot of cops and security on the streets to help.  I was warned to not walk around town at night and I followed that advice.  I walked to the top of ANZAC hill to view the sunset and then headed back to my hotel.  I decided that if I happened to pass an interesting looking restaurant on the way, I would stop to eat, but I didn’t so I ate at the hotel restaurant, which was quite nice.

Because of that, and the early morning the next day, I didn’t do too much else this day.

Hiker's logbook

Hiker’s logbook

Wrap-Up

Impressions: There were things I wanted to do that I didn’t get to, and I enjoyed what I did do, but I have no interest in returning here.  The history and scenic bits of the town are great, but the town itself is sketchy and I didn’t like it.

Daily Casualties: My 16-in-1 sweater/scarf thing.  It was moderately expensive, extremely useful, though it didn’t really look good on me.  It was also the same colour at the airplane seat.  Status: Sitting in the lost and found at the Ayers Rock airport.

Walked: About 9 miles.

The Rest of the story:

Aurora Announces her trip!
Aurora’s Australian Pre-planning
Working with a Travel Agent
My Trip Down Under:
Day 123 - The Journey
Day 4 - Auckland
Day 5 - North Island Culture
Day 6 - Rotorua
Day 7 - Wellington
Day 8 - Wellington
Day 9 & 10 - South Island Scenery
- Day 11 – Queenstown
- Day 12 – Middle Earth
- Day 13 – The Last Day
- Day 14 – Great Barrier Reef
- Day 15 – Alice Springs
- Day 16, 17 & 18 – The Outback
- Day 19, 20 and 21 – Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road
- Days 22 to 25 – Sydney and the End
Down Under Assignments

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My Trip Down Under – Day 14

23 October, 2013 – Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Despite being gone all day, it was very relaxing.  I took a full day tour of the Great Barrier Reef complete with snorkeling and even scuba diving!

Snorkelling on the Great Barrier ReefAfter doing a lot of research on the many tours/tour companies (hundreds?) I settled on Passions of Paradise.  It was a full day tour that (usually) sailed at least part of the way back into Cairns.  They visited two places that (when we arrived) did not seem over crowded.  There was only one or two other boats of similar size out when we arrived to the reef.  The boat itself was small, which was also great.  There was not really a lot of crowding in the water, especially if one was a good swimmer (which I’m not really).  The crew and passengers were all young and energetic.  There was a couple with a boy around ten maybe? And there was an older couple that seemed like they felt a bit out of place.  Everyone was really friendly and cool.  I definitely felt like I was part of the upper end of the age range on the boat, and definitely on the low range of the ‘looks good in a bikini’ scale! :)

On the way there, we had forms and such to fill out before we were allowed to snorkel and I was asked if I wanted to scuba dive.  ”Um, ah… probably not.  Maybe?  Can I decide later?”  Truth be told, I had been interested in trying it… but not in paying the $70 for the dive.  I had a budget of $8 for the trip which was to cover just the wet suit (to protect against the rays – both from the sun and the water).  I was told to go ahead and fill out the diving section and attend the mandatory briefing for divers and I could change my mind at any time, which I did.

I had a lot of fun with the GoPro!

At the first stop, I was able to snorkel for about 20 minutes before I had to get back to the boat for my dive.  That meant I didn’t really get out close enough to the beach to see the ‘good stuff’.  Here’s a secret about me: I freak out when I’m snorkeling.  For about the first five minutes, I have to keep coming up to the surface and breathing ‘normally’ and kinda forget how to swim.  I think it’s my body saying “WTF ARE YOU DOING??? YOU’RE UNDERWATER!! STOP BREATHING!!!  YOU’LL DROWN!!!!”  I think I also get a bit paranoid about swimming too deep and covering up the snorkel or something.  This happened when I was snorkeling in Iceland, too.  Anyway, I usually calm down after a bit, and did this time as well.  I knew, however, that it didn’t bode well for diving.

Snorkelling on the Great Barrier ReefI told them I wasn’t sure about all this diving thing, but you can take the 10 minute instruction for free.  So I figured I’d do that.  I’d be suited up and could still technically say I dived in the GBR.  Of course, I also knew that the further along here I went, the closer I was to laying down that $70.  I did the class and it didn’t really go well, which I think started to frustrate the instructor (Simon) – but he was really great about it.  I had to keep popping my head out of the water to breathe normally.  Finally it came to the decision point.  I said nope, can’t do it.  Not only was Simon a great instructor, he was a great salesman.  He promised me I could return to the surface at any time though, as we started on the tour, I realized wasn’t really feasible.  Not only would I not get my $70 worth back, if I went back up, the whole group would have had to go with me.  Not cool.  Luckily I did okay.  Probably because I knew I didn’t have a choice.  I was stressing out a bit, but did pretty good.  I didn’t start feeling like I NEED TO GET OUT NOW until we were almost back to the boat anyway, so that worked out well.

I’m definitely glad I did it.  I can cross it off the bucket list and I was able to get closer to the coral than I did while I was snorkeling.  (There was no way, with my swimming skills, I would have made it to the island and the good part of the reef in time, although they did have a shuttle).  However, I probably won’t do it again.

We had a yummy free lunch and a second, shorter, snorkel (I was asked if I wanted to dive again, but as I said, I didn’t.  Also, it would have cost another $45).  On the way back to Cairns we just relaxed, played games, and had a talk about the Reef.  I really enjoyed it and I’m glad I went!

I saw a cool turtle and a bunch of fishies and a ray.  And coral of course.  No Nemos though :( or sharks.  :( :(  (Friendly reef sharks, not sharks that want to nom you.)

Sculptures at the poolOn the way to and from the marina, I wandered around the waterfront area and took some photos and got a bite to eat.  Right along the shore, they have a lot of outdoor exercise equipment and even a pool.  I was warned by the guy at the hotel to not swim off the beach.  Not only is it gross and muddy when the tide is out…

Gators.

It was actually the only time in Australia that I was warned about the wildlife.

Wrap-Up

Impressions: Something everyone should do when visiting Australia.  It was a great experience, especially doing something I’d never done before – SCUBA diving.  Not in any rush to go back, though.

Daily Casualties: One of my Seagull Pewter maple leaf earrings.  Status: fish food.  I now have one lonely leaf.  I didn’t realize I’d lost it until the next day! Had to buy a new pair of earrings.

Walked: Not much

The Rest of the story:

Aurora Announces her trip!
Aurora’s Australian Pre-planning
Working with a Travel Agent
My Trip Down Under:
Day 123 - The Journey
Day 4 - Auckland
Day 5 - North Island Culture
Day 6 - Rotorua
Day 7 - Wellington
Day 8 - Wellington
Day 9 & 10 - South Island Scenery
- Day 11 – Queenstown
- Day 12 – Middle Earth
- Day 13 – The Last Day
- Day 14 – Great Barrier Reef
- Day 15 – Alice Springs
- Day 16, 17 & 18 – The Outback
- Day 19, 20 and 21 – Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road
- Days 22 to 25 – Sydney and the End
Down Under Assignments

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My Trip Down Under – Day 13

22 October, 2013 – Leaving New Zealand

(to the tune of “Leaving Las Vegas”)

It’s my last day in New Zealand.  :’( x infinity

Remarkable FrameI got up early-ish (I would have an early morning the next day, so wanted to relax) and checked out of my hotel.  I took one last wander around town and through the gardens before I headed to the waterfront for my lake cruise.  There are several companies that offer ‘cruises’ of Lake Wakatipu, whether it’s on an old steam boat, a jet boat, or something in between.  I’d been thinking of doing a lake tour since Rotorua, where I was going to have a dinner/sun-set tour… but then didn’t.  I chose the Southern Discoveries crew for the length of the trip, as well as the route.  All of them pretty much just do a loop around the Queenstown/Frankton/Frankton Arm area, but this tour sounded more scenic than the others.  They provided tea and biscuits and free entry to a nearby observatory.

We learned a lot about the local area and the lake (it’s a very deep lake!).  It was a great tour and a nice little cap to my time in Queenstown and New Zealand.  Of course, the scenery was amazing, but there was not really any doubt about that.

After getting off the boat, I went to visit this ‘underwater observatory’.  Basically, they created a ‘basement’ to a wharf kiosk with windows to check out the fish near the shore.  Entry to this would normally be $5 and I’m glad I didn’t pay anything for it – not worth it.  (Also, there wasn’t even anyone there to take my money).  But, for free, it was kinda fun!  I was there with a family with a couple of young children who came off of the cruise with me.  The fish were much bigger than I expected!  They had a feeder that you put money in to release food and bring the fish – and ducks! – to the viewing area.  The family paid for one feeding and the kids loved it.  It was really quite fun to see the kids react to the big fish.  They wanted mum and dad to feed the fish again, so I stepped in and paid that time.  After all, I was getting some fun out of it, too!

Duckies!Observatory

After that, it was time to head back to the hotel and wait for my airport shuttle. :(

Also, I was not a fan of Queenstown airport.  There seemed to be no order.  And no one really seemed to know anything.  Sigh.  But I finally arrived in Cairns (via Brisbane) around 10pm.  Then, to sleep!

Wrap-Up

Impressions: Can I go back now, please?

Daily Casualties: Nothing :)

Walked: Not much

The Rest of the story:

Aurora Announces her trip!
Aurora’s Australian Pre-planning
Working with a Travel Agent
My Trip Down Under:
Day 123 - The Journey
Day 4 - Auckland
Day 5 - North Island Culture
Day 6 - Rotorua
Day 7 - Wellington
Day 8 - Wellington
Day 9 & 10 - South Island Scenery
- Day 11 – Queenstown
- Day 12 – Middle Earth
- Day 13 – The Last Day
- Day 14 – Great Barrier Reef
- Day 15 – Alice Springs
- Day 16, 17 & 18 – The Outback
- Day 19, 20 and 21 – Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road
- Days 22 to 25 – Sydney and the End
Down Under Assignments

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My Trip Down Under – Day 12

21 October, 2013 – Middle Earth
Queenstown, New Zealand

This morning, I planned to walk to the top of Queenstown Hill.  I thought about trying to get up there in time for sunrise, but as I’d never been there before (obviously) I didn’t want to try the walk in the dark.  Probably a good plan.  It was not for the faint of heart!  It was a strenuous walk up (at least for me) and, because it was steep, going down was a bit scary in parts.  And I was even stopped by a few goats!

The view is worth it.

Queenstown Hill - Full

At the top, I met up with an older gentleman who walked this hill everyday.  He told me a bit about it, and showed me a great message, written with rocks, below.  I guess it often changes, depending on the time of year, or who’s messed with it.  ”I love you mum” at Mother’s Day; “I love you mum and dad” at Father’s Day, etc.  I love it.  It’s perfect and kinda romantic, even if I’m not the romantic type.  After my hill-mate started back down, I took a load of photos of the scenery and even myself, and tried some panoramas.
I was back at the hotel in time to relax, have a snack and meet the van for my afternoon tour that I’d booked the night before.   I took the “Discovery of the Rings” tour of the Wakatipu region.  I’d hoped to take a different, even more scenic tour, but as the weather wasn’t going to be very good, this one was suggested.

ArrowtownWe saw a lot of great scenery (how could you not, in this area?) and some Lord of the Rings shooting locations.  It was interesting to hear some behind the scenes information on how some things were shot.  The tour was not overloaded with LotR information as I was the most fan-y of all on the tour… and I’m not a huge LotR fan. Most people were just there for the scenery, and that was just fine with.  One spot I was most interested in seeing, on this tour was the rocky riverbed where Arwen turns back the Ringwraiths.  This is usually where the tour stops for a picnic lunch.  Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate.  The river was so high that, while we did drive to the spot, we didn’t get out of the jeep and certainly didn’t stop there for supper.  I barely even got a good photo out of the window.  :(  Safety first though!  Here’s a video I took to show how bumpy it was.  I thought it was ‘fun’ driving through ‘rivers’ in Iceland.  Those were practically paved roads, comparatively!

We had a great time, saw some great (through foggy and rainy) scenery, learned a bit more about the movies and some random, large, land owners that you’ve probably never heard of.  Just a couple of guys named Mutt Lange and Peter Jackson.  NBD.  Jackson is working with local groups to form activity trails through his land with the understanding that people will stay off the rest of it.

Can’t wait to try some other tours of theirs… you know… next time I go there.

There’s an event that takes place in the area in winter, sort of a relay: One participant skis down one hill and takes another who bikes into Queenstown.  #3 kayaks across part of Lake Wakatipu and tags the final participant who runs up the next peak.

Wrap-Up

Impressions: Can I go back now, please?

Daily Casualties: My brand new $175 backpack purchased in Rotorua.  Lost in the tour van.  Status: Returned a few minutes later, after calling the company.  Sigh.  I even checked my seat when I was dropped off at the hotel!  But I forgot that, at some point during the tour, we put all the bags in the front seat.

Walked: Can you believe I left the pedometer at the hotel!? Again!  But I think about 9 miles.

The Rest of the story:

Aurora Announces her trip!
Aurora’s Australian Pre-planning
Working with a Travel Agent
My Trip Down Under:
Day 123 - The Journey
Day 4 - Auckland
Day 5 - North Island Culture
Day 6 - Rotorua
Day 7 - Wellington
Day 8 - Wellington
Day 9 & 10 - South Island Scenery
- Day 11 – Queenstown
- Day 12 – Middle Earth
- Day 13 – The Last Day
- Day 14 – Great Barrier Reef
- Day 15 – Alice Springs
- Day 16, 17 & 18 – The Outback
- Day 19, 20 and 21 – Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road
- Days 22 to 25 – Sydney and the End
Down Under Assignments

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My Trip Down Under – Day 11

20 October, 2013 – Queenstown, New Zealand

Mixed emotions about arriving in Queenstown: It was at the top of my list of things I wanted to see in New Zealand… and it was also my last stop before leaving the country.  I only had two and a half days here.

Walking TrailI spent quite a bit of time on this first morning in Queenstown just relaxing and having breakfast and deciding what to do for the day.  The region has great walking trails that connect several of the surrounding towns and I decided to walk to Arrowtown, a tour of which had been on my original ‘maybe I’ll do this is Queenstown’ list but I cut.  I thought about doing it the next day, but it was supposed to rain so I decided to do it this day. Though the walking trail was signposted, I wanted to find a map of it. First for my ‘scrapbook’* and second (and probably most important) in case I got lost between signs.  All I could find was a leaflet that I’d printed out before the trip with the trails in Queenstown itself.  For anything more I got bumped around to three different places in town (which wasted a lot of time) and finally came to a place that had real hiking maps for sale.  That wasn’t really what I was looking for.

I gave up and just hoped I’d be able to follow the signs.

IncomingThat worked just fine until I came to a fork in the path and no sign telling me where to go.  I saw someone coming from the higher path so I went that way.  It was the wrong way.  It ended up, as I realized later, leading me to the end of the airport runway.  It was a nice and interesting walk, but not where I planned on going.

By the time I got back to the fork, I knew that I wouldn’t have time to make it to the next town and back before dark.  Not only had I started out later than planned, and took the wrong path, I was feeling crappy and moving quite slow.  Because of that, I didn’t follow the right trail even part way; I just turned back to Queenstown.

Back in town, I ate at an Irish Pub (most of the places I ate at on my trip were pubs) and had some lamb.  I figured I couldn’t leave New Zealand without eating lamb!

* My scrapbook is really just a binder with all the brochures and stuff in page protectors.

Wrap-Up

Impressions: Can I go back now, please?

Daily Casualties: None

Walked: Can you believe I left the pedometer at the hotel!? But I think about 18 miles.

The Rest of the story:

Aurora Announces her trip!
Aurora’s Australian Pre-planning
Working with a Travel Agent
My Trip Down Under:
Day 123 - The Journey
Day 4 - Auckland
Day 5 - North Island Culture
Day 6 - Rotorua
Day 7 - Wellington
Day 8 - Wellington
Day 9 & 10 - South Island Scenery
- Day 11 – Queenstown
- Day 12 – Middle Earth
- Day 13 – The Last Day
- Day 14 – Great Barrier Reef
- Day 15 – Alice Springs
- Day 16, 17 & 18 – The Outback
- Day 19, 20 and 21 – Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road
- Days 22 to 25 – Sydney and the End
Down Under Assignments

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My Trip Down Under – Day 9 & 10

18 & 19 October, 2013 – South Island Scenery

Travel to Queenstown via Christchurch and Mt. Cook

Up next we have another couple of relaxing travelling… during which I did nothing.  Granted, there was scenery to enjoy, but not a word read or written.  I didn’t even start writing up entries about the trip so far!  Sigh.  It was super pretty, though!  Shari seemed to doubt me when I said I planned to sail/train/bus it over two days from Wellington to Queenstown, instead of flying.  I assured her that I knew what I was doing.  That this bit of travelling was as much a part of the vacation as anything else.  As she researched those things a bit more, she seemed to understand where I was coming from.  It’s definitely worth the two day trek!  Fly?  Bah!

“They” say that the North Island is all about the culture (the Maori people settled here more than in the south), while the South Island is all about the scenery.  I agree.

I checked out of the hotel in Wellington and headed for the ferry.  There are two ferry terminals in Wellington.  One was within walking distance.  There other was not.  Guess which one I had to go to?  Yep, you got it.  I took a cab.  It was a very windy, cool day so I figured the three hour ferry trip to the South Island would not be enjoyable.  Thankfully, the boat was very smooth.

Cook Strait Panorama

I picked a spot by a window to sit and relax until we got underway and soon a couple sat next to me – a French Canadian couple that I had met very briefly on that trip to Rotorua!  We spent much of the ferry ride together, comparing notes and enjoying the scenery.  They were spending five weeks in the area (jerks) and I actually met up with them again in Melbourne, Australia.

As we neared the Marlbourough Sounds, and the South Island, we braved the wind and went outside to really enjoy the scenery.  It was well worth it!

The ferry travelled to Picton on the South Island and from there I caught a train to Christchurch.  The train had one open-sided car and I actually spent most of the five hour trip standing out there enjoying the scenery.  We travelled by one bunch (flock? herd?) of sheep.  Startled, the little lambs stood up on their wobbly legs and ‘yelled’ at us.  It was cute. :)

Some parts of Christchurch are still recovering from the 2010 earthquake.

Some parts of Christchurch are still recovering from the 2010 earthquake.

I arrived in Christchurch around 6:30 pm and got a cab to the hotel.  It was on the other side of town.  While it was handy for tomorrow’s coach departure, I did not enjoy the area.  The location sucked, there was nowhere to eat except for the sketchy hotel bar and a gas station (I chose the gas station) and it was not a safe feeling place.  Luckily I was just there to sleep.

The next morning I was up and at the bus stop for my 7 am bus tour to Queenstown via Mount Cook.  We had lots of wonderful scenic stops along the way: Gerladine, Fairlie Valley, Lake Tekapo (with a sheep dog tribute and the Chapel of the Good Shepherd), and Lake Pukaki.

There are sheep stations here up to 30-40, 000 acres in size and vineyards that go on for miles.  Not like our little valley vineyards, that’s for sure!

We stopped for lunch at Mount Cook.  This was beautiful!  I did, however, make the mistake of pre-purchasing lunch.  It was a wonderful four course lunch at the Hermitage Hotel.  Myself and another couple from the tour had the place to ourselves and it had a beautiful view but it took so long to eat lunch (and I rushed) that I didn’t have time to explore the area!  I managed to have 20 minutes before the bus left to rush up to a look off point.  I could definitely spend a day or more just here exploring the hiking trails!  Sir Edmund Hillary used this mountain to practice before going on to Everest and there is a monument to him at the resort.

Afternoon stops included Omarama and an orchard near Cromwell where I bought some mouthwatering local apples, strawberries and dried cherries to snack on during my stay in Queenstown.

The closer we got to Queenstown, the more it felt like entering Middle Earth!

I arrived at my beautiful hotel with enough time before the sun disappeared to orient myself, pick up some touristy brochures to plan out my time here and enjoy the view from my hotel room.  Queenstown was my time to relax.  There was so much I wanted to do in the area, but I allowed myself to play it by ear and wait until I was in town to decide what and when I wanted to do it.  I’d originally planned a cruise of Milford Sound but decided to save that for ‘next time’.

Wrap-Up

Impressions: My two days were not wasted.  I loved seeing all of the beautiful scenery!

Daily Casualties: None

Walked: not much.

The Rest of the story:

Aurora Announces her trip!
Aurora’s Australian Pre-planning
Working with a Travel Agent
My Trip Down Under:
Day 123 - The Journey
Day 4 - Auckland
Day 5 - North Island Culture
Day 6 - Rotorua
Day 7 - Wellington
Day 8 - Wellington
- Day 9 & 10 - South Island Scenery
- Day 11 – Queenstown
- Day 12 – Middle Earth
- Day 13 – The Last Day
- Day 14 – Great Barrier Reef
- Day 15 – Alice Springs
- Day 16, 17 & 18 – The Outback
- Day 19, 20 and 21 – Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road
- Days 22 to 25 – Sydney and the End
Down Under Assignments

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