A Commentary on A Trip to

Australia and New Zealand

 

Lila and Alan

October/November 1996

 

Overview

Monday, October 7, 1996

Our trip to Australia and New Zealand was close to six weeks long.  Six weeks did not seem an inordinate amount of time when we were in the planning stage and was not as long as what we would come to realize was needed to see all the places we had wanted to visit, but it was the longest time we had ever been away from home and family.  We planned for at least four or five nights in each city or site that we were visiting, except in New Zealand where we were traveling as part of a tour group for the full time we were in the country.  We were in Australia for almost four weeks and two weeks in New Zealand.  We could have used another week in Australia to visit Perth and Adelaide, which I had wanted to see, but it did not seem feasible when one considers the time already allotted.  We should also have planned another week in New Zealand, but I will get back to that later. 

 We departed Washington, D. C. on a four-hour flight to San Francisco, where we had a three-hour layover at the airport awaiting our flight to Australia.  Time passed slowly as we anticipated the flight to Sydney and it was already quite late by our body time clocks, but finally we boarded the aircraft, quite excited with the anticipation of finally visiting a country so far away and the culmination of eighteen months of planning.  Even the fourteen hour nonstop trip didn't seem to be a difficult hurdle at this point.  Settling into our seats ...we soaked up the thrill of it all, had some drinks, an excellent meal, two movies, caught some winks and then had only eight hours flying time left.  Not too bad at that!!

Sydney, New South Wales

Wednesday, October 9, 1996

We arrived in Sydney at 6:30am and checked into the hotel, left our bags in the room, which had an extraordinary view of the city harbour and the Opera House, and by 8:00am, we were heading into town to start our long journey "Down Under".  Our hotel was located in the Kings Cross section of Sydney, also known affectionately as the "Red Light" district.  At first, we were somewhat troubled by this realization, but soon came to find out that the infamous district was withering away, as it was becoming the city's restaurant and entertainment center.  Sydney is an enchanting city that is as cosmopolitan as New York and very energetic, especially in a country with only about seventeen and one-half million people and the size of mainland USA. 

Our first stop was Sydney Tower, where we were able to observe the full panorama perspective of the whole cityscape.  We met an Australian family and had our first introduction to the people of Australia.  They are warm, humorous people, easily engaged in conversation or willing to offer assistance.  From Sydney Tower, we walked down Macquarie Street and toured St. Mary's Church, then on to Hyde Park Barracks ...used in early times to house the prisoners in Sydney. We then visited the Mint Museum, which was originally the Rum Hospital and then passed Sydney Hospital, which has a statue of a boar (Il Porcellino - a copy of a statue located in Florence).  Later we toured the Parliament House of New South Wales, visiting both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  Conversing for about two hours with a clerk at Parliament House, we learned much about the bicameral form of government, the complexities of party responsibilities and the legislative process all illustrated by way of the unique humor that is inherent to the Australian people.  This being our first day in Sydney, we then walked way back to the hotel, had a drink, rested and then had dinner.  

Thursday, October 10, 1996

Lila and I walked downtown to the Circular Quay, ...the harbour area where the Opera House is also located.  We signed up for an afternoon harbour cruise and then went over to the Opera House for a tour of the building.  The Opera House with the Harbor Bridge in the background is a familiar symbol of Sydney and is even more beautiful when seen in person as compared to a picture.  The Opera House is sort of a misnomer, since it consists of a concert hall and dramatic theaters much like the Kennedy Center.  Built on Bennelong Point (Bennelong was the first Aborigine to learn to read), the Opera House was started in 1958 and completed fifteen years later.  The Danish architect, Joern Utzon, was commissioned after he won an architectural competition and money was raised through a state run lottery.

The external structure, with its unique roof sails design, is a free standing building, that actually houses the drama theatre, playhouse, opera house and concert hall that are located within.  There was much controversy surrounding the project and Utzon resigned in 1966, left Australia and never did return to see the results of his work.  Peter Hall completed the construction phase and is responsible for the interior design.  The concert hall is constructed completely of wood with all seats and backs upholstered for improvement of acoustic quality. 

Considering the extent of the automobile traffic and the number of people in Sydney, one would believe that all of the approximately 17 million people of Australia live in that city.  In fact, Sydney has a population of about two and a half million.  The downtown area hosts shops that are quite high-priced, which generally cater to an Asian population both living there and those visiting for holiday and business.  The shops are plentiful, exquisite and are ordinarily crowded with people shopping.  Sydney was established as a British penal colony and its history is filled with many interesting stories of criminals of every caliber, their lives and how they evolved into the society that exists today.  As one talks with the people of Sydney they often comment about their humble beginnings and make light of their heritage, secure in the belief that that they have a flourishing and successful society.

By this time it is afternoon and we head over to the ferry piers at the Circular Quay to embark on our cruise of the harbour.  The tour takes us around the Opera House and past the Botanical Gardens to Sydney Cove, named after Lord Sydney, who was the British Home Secretary at the time Australia was founded.  There we pass Government House, the home of the State Governor, the Queen's representative.  Along the way we see the country's largest naval dockyard; Darling Point, a recently developed waterfront area that is now a convention and entertainment area.  As we journey down the harbour, we pass many of the elite waterfront suburbs of Sydney that have beautiful homes overlooking the water.  The tour took us toward the mouth of the harbour and we turn around just before the breakwaters leading to the ocean, and then continue our cruise back to Sydney. 

After the cruise, we walked through downtown Sydney to the Queen Victoria building, which consists of four floors of over 200 chic and novel boutiques and stores.  Continuing our walk in downtown Sydney, we passed by the Great Synagogue, the focal point of Judaism in this city.  That evening we had an excellent dinner and then walked around the bustling streets and shops in the Kings Cross-area.

Friday, October 11, 1996

It is quite hot in Sydney today, very unusual weather as summer is still some months away, ...but it is to be expected as I am here.  Went to the Rocks section of Sydney, almost adjacent to the Circular Quay, ...this is where the original settlers put down roots.  The ships came up the harbour and unloaded their wares and prisoners in the Rocks area, which because of its stony facade provided the means to build both homes and prisons.  Following the directions in the travel book, we went on a walking tour of the Rocks and visited the Museum of Contemporary Art that is also located in the Rocks section.  Outside the museum was a statue of William Bligh, who as Captain of a trading ship, was set adrift in a life boat when his crew mutinied, ....afterwards he became the Governor of New South Wales.  Later we went to the Visitor Center, at the Rocks and signed up for an escorted tour of the area in order to learn more of the culture and history surrounding this section of Sydney.  We stopped at Cadman Cottage, built in 1816 and is the oldest surviving house in Sydney. 

We toured Fort Denison, a jail for the convicts, who were brought over from England and who had committed petty offenses.   We also visited Argyle Place, and toured Holy Trinity Church or Garrison Church one of the very early houses of worship in Sydney.  We walked to Harbour Bridge and climbed the two hundred steps to the top of the pylon getting another magnificent view of the city, the Opera House and the Circular Quay.  After descending from the bridge pylon, we continued along Nurses Walk, a quaint section within the Rocks area that is a haven for little boutiques and antique shops.  We had lunch sitting outdoors in a tavern located in one of the very old buildings that inhabit the area and then walked through some of the shops that were originally prison cells in a time gone by.  Walking through the city, we headed back to the hotel and had dinner in a wonderful restaurant that prepared original Chinese recipes modified somewhat for the Caucasian taste.

Saturday, October 12, 1996

Lila and I walked to the Paddington Market early today.  We were told that it was "just up the street", but it was about five kilometers (3.5 miles) from the hotel; on the way we passed the Jewish Museum; the Victoria Barracks, where the British troops were housed until replaced with Australian army; and also some very fashionable townhouses, built in the 1880's highlighting balconies decorated with wrought iron railings.  The market, ...an open air array of hundreds of tents featuring a variety of items for sale, seemed to be somewhat renowned in Sydney as a place to visit on Saturday.  There were some interesting characters at the market giving body massages to a waiting few.  We remained at Paddington market a short time, but shopping was not high on our list of things to do, so we soon headed downtown and caught a jetcat boat to Manly  

Manly is a seaside resort on the ocean, on a peninsular near the mouth of the harbour.  Walking down the Corso, the main street to the Manly beach, there were many tourist type novelty shops and boardwalk type restaurants.  There was also a rather interesting group of people again set up with massage tables in the promenade area, selling their services to those visitors and tourists willing to procure a massage.  We strolled along the beach, had lunch and watched people bathing and having a casual weekend relaxing time.  The area was named by Governor Arthur Phillips in 1788, because of the Aborigines living there at the time that he believed to be very "manly".  From the beach we were able to see St. Patrick's Seminary, a huge structure off in the distance high up on a hill overlooking the ocean.   

We returned to Sydney by ferry and watched numerous sailboats in the harbour skirting in and around the ferry in a rather stiff wind ...ideal for these small runabouts.  From the Circular Quay, we walked past the Opera house and into to the Royal Botanical Gardens.  Being as massive as the Gardens are and as tired as we were by that time, we opted to take a tram with the benefit of a guided tour of the rainforest, the flower gardens and even an opportunity to see Ms. McQuarie's Chair.  Ms. McQuarie, wife of the Governor many years past, would often sit there looking out at the harbour and so he had a special chair built for her.   It is interesting that as we traveled through the cities in Australia and New Zealand, we were often asked if we visited their Botanical Gardens and what we thought of them.  The local populace were genuinely proud of their gardens as they have many beautiful parks and gardens not only in Sydney, but in most every city and town we visited.

Before returning to our hotel, we walked through the Kings Cross "red light " district watching the characters on display and sensing the honky-tonk atmosphere.  The meals in Sydney were definitely a step above most of the other restaurants that we went to during the rest of our trip.  I should note that meals throughout Australia, were served in the European fashion, i.e. ..not rushed and definitely with more finesse than the service we generally receive in restaurants in this country.

Canberra, ACT

Sunday, October 13, 1996

We rented a car in Sydney (to be driven on the left hand side of the road - not a new experience for me) to drive to Canberra, the capital of Australia.  It was probably fortunate that it was Sunday morning and there was not much traffic in Sydney when we were leaving the city.  We were told that we would be on the freeway in about twenty minutes, so off we drove.... and then drove and drove.  We soon came to learn that a freeway is not a limited access road in Australia, but, rather a numbered route that goes off to a specific locale.  About an hour into the trip we reached a motorway (now, this is a highway as we have come to know one), but it only lasted for about twenty miles. 

Enroute via the Hume Highway, we stopped in Berima, a village that has been restored as it was some 100 years ago.  We first had lunch in the Surveyor General Inn (a cook your own steak affair over a common grill, before retiring to your own table to enjoy the fruits of your labor) and then toured the Georgian style courthouse, where the first jury trial in New South Wales  was held in 1843.  We continued onto Canberra, about a three hour trip from Sydney and upon entering the city we found it to be a quiet (it was Sunday!) town with almost no one on the streets ...mainly because, as we came to learn, very few people stay in Canberra if they do not have to be there.  We were told that diplomats and senior government people return to the major cities when ever they are able to do so.

People from anywhere in Australia, except Canberra, cannot understand why anyone would ever want to go to Canberra, except of course if you live in Canberra and then you would not want to live anywhere else in Australia.  The people in Australia, and New Zealand as well, have no great affection for government and view it as a necessary evil.  They, therefore, have no respect for the people who work in support of the government and consider them "maggots" living on the dole.

Canberra is a beautiful, planned city that exists today because of the great competition between Sydney and Melbourne, each wanting to serve as the capital city.  Neither would let the other serve as the seat of the government so a new seat was created to resolve the issue.  Lake Burley Griffin, (named after the architect of the city) a beautiful body of water in the center of the city, divides the official Canberra from its commercial side.  In many respects it mirrors the character of official Washington, DC but crime is not a problem and traffic is almost nonexistent.

Monday, October 14, 1996

We visited and toured the new Parliament House, which was recently constructed to replace an aging building that had been used before.  The new capital building is very different ...the outside blends into the rolling hills of the terrain and the inside is a very modern, prominently designed structure that is difficult to sense from the outside.  From the roof of the building, one can just walk down the grassy hill slope to the road below.  A discussion of the parliamentary form of government would take pages and I am not fully equipped to lecture on this subject.  But hearing those in the know talk about their government procedures, it is remarkable that anything gets accomplished during their deliberations.   Maybe that is why the people have such a laissez fare attitude about government.

Later, we visited the Australian National Gallery which had a display of extraordinary Aboriginal art and sculpture including an array of over two hundred strikingly decorated totem poles.  There were works from many of Australia's finest artists and an outdoor sculpture garden with works by Rodin, Robert Klippel, Bert Flugelman and others.  We went on to visit the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, a monument to those who served in wartime and contained the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  There was also a war museum with exhibits depicting Australia's role in both World Wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.  Both the Gallery and the War Memorial are exceptional sites to visit should one ever be in Australia.  Via the miracle of television, we watched as President Clinton laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during his most recent trip.  Canberra is a quiet city, but again the people were just wonderful, as they were throughout the country. 

As an example of how people interact with one another ....when I was getting ready to turn in the rental car in Canberra, I wanted to fill the tank with petrol (just wanted to be authentic).  At the gas station, I could not find the release for the gas tank door.  Feeling kind of dumb and searching as I did on my own for some minutes, I finally asked a woman at the next pump for some assistance (I believed that maybe they had some type of unique system).  She asked me where I was from and upon my answer she wanted to know if we pump petrol in America.  Of course she was joking, but soon others started kidding me about my inability to find the release.  After she looked at the car for a little while, she could not figure it out either.  Soon other people became involved in this adventure and we then proceeded to take out the manual, open the trunk, look under the dash, etc.  After a bit of time, we found the release on the door, low down and sort of under an indent in the door panel ...by the way, not where the book said it should be.  But they all helped and were always in a jesting mode. 

Ayer's Rock, Olgas & Kings Canyon, Northern Territory

Tuesday, October 15, 1996

Leaving Canberra today, we head to Ayer's Rock via a connecting flight in Sydney.  This is our first experience with Quantas Airlines, who provided all of our intra-country flights.  The flights were generally on time, they served a full meal even on flights lasting only about an hour's duration, and we were able to see a movie on flights lasting two or more hours.  I hasten to add that their airfares are more expensive than we would be accustomed to in our country, except, however, if you book the flights from out of country having international tickets in hand.  Upon arrival at Ayer's Rock we went to our hotel, Sails In the Desert, which was one of only three or four hotels, all within the same compound located in the middle of the desert. 

Our hotel resembled a large desert site camp with tents, hence the sails, to provide cover from the sun. Each of the hotels in the compound serves a different target budget (all operated by the same organization) with a central (limited) village having a supermarket (expensive ...since everything has to be brought in and there is no other place to shop) and a few other shops.  Tourists are transported in and out each day by bus and plane on a never-ending cycle.  We had two nights in Ayer's Rock and we had to get up each morning at 4:00am in order to reach our daily destination.  That evening we went to the base of the Rock to watch the sun set, but because of clouds in the sky, the Rock did not turn a bright and deep red as we had been told to anticipate.

Wednesday, October 16, 1996

After arising early, we boarded a 4:45am bus that took us to the Rock for viewing the sunrise and then climbed to the summit. The sunrise was not very exhilarating as the sun was again masked by clouds overhead.  Ayer's Rock is in the central part of the country, the outback as they call it, where it is hot, arid and the terrain almost completely flat.  Except of course for Ayer's Rock, or Uluru as the Aborigines now call their religious site, which is a formation that is over six miles around at the base and extends skyward about 1300 feet, with rather sheer sides.  In an area where for as far as the eye can see the land is flat, Ayer's Rock is very dramatic when you get close to it, and it actually takes your breadth away when you are climbing up the face. 

The first section is about a one-third mile trek up at a very steep - 45o to 50o - angle, feasible only by holding onto the chain that is provided.  After climbing the face, there is about a two-thirds of a mile journey over an undulating, ever rising terrain until you reach the top.  The view is marvelous, but other than the village compound of Ayer's Rock all the scenery is essentially ...the desert.  Descending the face is not particularly easy, as the chain now appears lower and you do not want to bend over for fear of falling.  Since it gets quite hot each day and the flies (I will get back to them in a moment) are out at midday, we were advised to start our trek up at daybreak.  We did just that and it certainly made life more bearable.

 We were cautioned to have water with us at all times because of the heat and I even purchased a net to put over my head to keep the flies out of my ears, nose, eyes and/or mouth.  If you can imagine your arm coming up from your chest over your face to shoo away the flies ...well they call that the "Australian salute".  When the flies are out you do the salute almost continuously or use the net or have unbelievable self-control.  Once we reached the top of the face of the Rock, the trail continued for another two-thirds or three-fourths of a mile over an undulating rock surface that climbs to the summit.  It took about an hour to make the full climb and the view from the top is exhilarating, if not for the view itself, then for the fact that you did reach the summit.  The descent was actually harder on the legs than the ascent, because of its severe slope.  We had to be very careful all the way down to ensure that we did not slip and then lose the chain, as there is really nothing to stop you from falling all the way down.   The following day a woman slipped and broke her leg, having to be carried down for medical care.

About midday we returned to the hotel to rest and avoid the afternoon heat and then late that afternoon we went by bus to the Olgas.  The Olgas are a formation of thirty-six domes, four very large ones poised uniquely in the outback.  Leaving the bus behind, we went on a six-kilometer (3.6 miles) hike to the Valley of the Winds, following the setting sun.  It was still quite warm, but the welcome breeze kept the flies away.  Our guide discussed the ecosystem that existed in the desert and provided insight concerning the flowers, shrubs and animals that we had an opportunity to see on our trek.  Reaching the top, we had a beautiful view of the valley below and the outback in the distance.  Back at the bus we had an outdoor evening barbecue in the wild, (where we tasted kangaroo meat for the first time - tastes similar to beef) under the stars by candlelight. where we were even visited by a Dingo (a wild dog).   Before returning to the hotel, the guides provided us with a tour of the stars, pointing out the Southern Cross and the Scorpio zodiac. 

Thursday, October 17, 1996

Arising early again, we had to catch a 4:50am bus to Kings Canyon, that would take us on a three-hour trip through a rugged segment of the outback.  Along the way there were cattle grazing in open fields, camels in the bush and kangaroos hopping along.  We stopped at a cattle station for breakfast before reaching Kings Canyon, where we hiked to the rim and completed the seven-kilometer canyon rim walk.  Along the very rocky, but well marked trail (climbing over and around rocks was necessary), we had spectacular views of the canyon below.  Along the way, we had to descend a long series of stairs so that we could cross a complex set of footbridges and reach the other side of the canyon, before then climbing stairs again to return to the rim.  It was a remarkable experience completing this hike and having the opportunity to learn about this part of the country.  Descending from the canyon rim, we continued our bus journey to Alice Springs, watching an excellent film enroute, about the life and exploits of Sydney Kidman, an Australian cattleman in the outback.  We arrived late that evening in Alice Springs.  

Alice Springs, Northern Territory

Friday, October 18, 1996

We toured Alice Springs in the morning by foot and visited the operating headquarters and museum of The Flying Doctor Service.  Through this service, doctors provide coverage to very large sectors of the outback using strategically located airplanes thereby getting necessary medical help to people in a relatively short span of time.  The process has performed extremely well and is highly regarded by the people.  We walked along the Todd River, a dry riverbed that is the scene of the annual Henly-on-Todd regatta.  Race entrants, in full dress, carry their boats over their head while running along the riverbed.  We were told that it is an entertaining event that is sponsored by the community and is enjoyed by many who come to observe the race.  Alice Springs is home to many of the Aborigines and we had the rare opportunity to learn about their culture and life. 

Cairns, Queensland

Later that afternoon, we flew to Cairns, a tropical resort town with beautiful palm trees and warm breezes, located adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef.  That evening, though arriving quite late, we walked around town and visited the casino (for non-gamblers, we were attracted to the casinos for the people watching experience) before retiring for the night.  Casinos, now resident in each major city in Australia, have their own unique design and draw a large crowd of participants. The Cairns casino was very elegant, with beautiful chandeliers and lobby and was located across the park from our hotel, so it was easy to stop in and watch people gamble ...and gamble they did, especially the visiting Asian tourists.

Saturday, October 19, 1996

On our first day in Cairns we relaxed, walked around town and did some laundry. We also made arrangements for some of the sightseeing trips that we were planning for the following three days. 

Sunday, October 20, 1996

We boarded the Ocean Spirit II, ...a two masted catamaran, for a cruise to the Great Barrier Reef.  A two and one half hour trip in the Coral Sea to Upolu Cay was relaxing and gave us an opportunity to enjoy the disappearing Cairns landscape while drinking early morning tea.  We boarded a smaller boat that transported us to the cay, a small landmass of white coral sand on the reef.  Having signed up to snorkel on the reef, we donned our snorkeling gear and fins and received a five-minute course that kept us close to shore.  This being the first snorkeling experience for me, I was both excited and pleased as to my ability to move about in the water and observe the spectacular seascapes of coral, plants and iridescent fish that were so close that you could almost touch them.  Being able to see the fish and coral close up and not in pictures or aquariums was awe inspiring because of their varied shapes and splendid colors.  We returned to the catamaran for a buffet lunch and continued our snorkeling experience in the afternoon, before returning to Cairns while we savored champagne and wine.  It was an exceptional day having been able to see one of the wondrous sights of the world and also learning to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef.

Monday, October 21, 1996

After an early morning wake up, we boarded the Quicksilver Wavepiercer, a rather large boat in the Cairns harbour that would take us north to Port Douglas, where we met our personal guide, who would escort us on an eight hour excursion through the rain forest, along the Tasman seashore and on a cruise of the Daintree river.   First stop was the town of Mossman and a visit to the Silky Oaks Lodge, where we had a close up experience with some native animals including wallabies and a Joey (a baby wallaby).  We then cruised along the Daintree River and hoped to see a crocodile (from a distance), but it wasn't to happen ...a mild disappointment.  We did learn about the vegetation that lines the shore and were able to watch some of the exotic birds in the region.  With over 200 fish species, 70 crustaceans, 30 mangroves, 350 bird species and an unknown number of plants and trees, the area certainly has a diverse ecological system. 

We then continued on to Cape Tribulation where lunch was served in the midst of a rain forest ...a primitive arrangement, but giving us the opportunity to sample many different exotic fruits, including jack fruit, mangoes and passion fruit.  During our hike into the rain forest, the guide explained in extremely great detail the ecological system that links the animal life and the plants and the environment.  I wish I could remember half of what he talked to us about; in fact, I wish I could remember anything that he told us.  It made so much sense at the time that I believed that I would remember all those facts forever. We also hiked along the beach by the Tasman Sea as the guide talked about the many species of trees that propagate down to the water's edge.  As we walked along the beach, the coastline turned up the mouth of a river ...there was a sign warning to hikers of the possibility of crocodiles in the area.  Even though I wanted to see a crocodile, I did not want to pet one, so I soon abandoned my lead position in the group.  After a full and tiring day, we journeyed back to Cairns using the four-wheel overland vehicle that was our day's transportation.

Tuesday, October 22, 1996

The next day we arose early to board the train from Cairns to the village of Kuranda.  Traveling on a narrow gauge track, built in the late 1800s, we climbed 1,055 feet over 21 miles, and passed through numerous mountain tunnels.  Kuranda is a quaint town atop the rain forest where we able to peruse the abundant shops with goods available to the tourists.  The ascent through the rain forest was revisited again when we descended via a skyrail or cable car - a thirty minute ride.  With two stops along the way, we had time to hike into the rain forest and visit some exhibits, and upon arrival at the base we walked over to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park.   There, we visited the Creation theatre, which enlightened us to the traditional and spiritual beliefs of the Tjapukai  people, the History theatre, which describes the evolution of their culture, and finally, we visited the Tjapukai Dance theatre, where an Aboriginal dance team performed in an outdoor amphitheater. 

By the way, each evening we did have time to watch the gamblers in the Cannes Casino and to "phantom" gamble.  As I had indicated earlier, each city had a casino and we had visited the one in Canberra, which was a European design, i.e. it did not have slot machines or pokies.  By phantom gambling, I mean we would look over someone's shoulder and mentally suggest what we would do ...and then feel so good when we did not lose any money.  We did play the slots a little bit and if I didn't lose my money too fast I felt that I had my evening's entertainment. 

Wednesday, October 23,1996

The next day we did sleep a little later as we had a noon flight to Hobart, Tasmania.  However, the flights were to Sydney, then to Melbourne and finally, to Hobart.  I had indicated earlier that Quantas was an excellent airline and each flight was right on time with excellent service provided.

Hobart, Tasmania

We arrived in Hobart quite late that night, rented a car and drove to Battery Point, the port section in Hobart, ...very quaint with beautiful Bed and Breakfast places along small, quiet streets.  We located the B&B that we had chosen via an email correspondence from the states and we were quite excited about the selection.  When we arrived the key was left by the door and so we let ourselves in, but the room was not the one we had reserved.  It was quite warm that evening, the room was upstairs via a narrow staircase and there was no way to open the windows.  The accommodations were not satisfactory and we realized we could not stay there.  Well, by that time it was about 10:30pm, but we left anyway and drove down the street to a restaurant where the owner helped us locate a place for the night.  Off again in our car, driving on the wrong side of the road, quite tired by this point, we now had to locate our hotel in another part of town.  Fortunately, traffic was light and so it was not too much of a problem, arriving at the hotel at about 11:30pm and ready for a beer by this time. 

Well, I was surprised to learn that the USS Carl Vinson was making a port visit to Hobart, ...there was 5000+ sailors in town (quite a percentage increase in local population) and the hotel we were in was almost fully booked with Americans.  As the bar was about to close, I left Lila with the bags and headed directly into the bar, where I had a drink with the ship's Chaplain.  I felt Navy again, but I hadn't planned to travel this far for that feeling. 

Thursday, October 24,1996

The next day we headed back to Battery Point and located a beautiful B&B with a room that was truly perfect.  The house had three rooms to rent and we were lucky to secure the Master bedroom, since somebody had just canceled their reservation.  We then went down to Salamanca Place, adjacent to Battery Point.  It is a beautiful area by the harbor with many restaurants and shops.  We visited a sports bar that was broadcasting a World Series game and had lunch with some of the ship's company.  That evening we drove over to visit the Hobart Casino, which was on the edge of town with a view of the Tasman Sea.

Friday, October 25,1996

Today, we had a pleasant ride through the Tasmanian countryside to the Port Arthur Penal Settlement, now a park and historic site.  It is also the site of a very recent shooting where twenty-six people were killed.  It was a terrible shock to the locals as this is certainly out context for the life style in Tasmania.  Anyway, Port Arthur was a penal colony during the period 1830 to 1877, for about 12,500 inmates.  Located on a rugged piece of coastline it made escape rare and life rather hard.  We visited some of the buildings that still remain and embarked on a walking tour of the grounds, as well as a boat cruise in and around the harbor.  It offered a great insight into the part that Australia played in coping with the convicts shipped over there from England, most never to return to the homeland again. 

On the way back to Hobart, along the coastal cliffs, we visited the Blowhole, the Tasman Arch and Devil's Kitchen, all uniquely carved by the wave action of the Tasman Sea and left for visitors to view the beauty of these spectacular creations.  That night we went back to the restaurant where we had sought help our first night in Hobart.  A local little restaurant in Battery Point, Da Angelo's was certainly special.  The food was great, we brought our own wine and Angelo sought of adopted us, making our visit very personal.  We went back the next night, because of the great meal experience that we had, and Angelo gave me one of his hats (with the restaurant label), which I then used during the remainder of the trip.

Saturday, October 26,1996

We began this day after another great breakfast at the B&B (this was truly a neat place to stay), and headed out to Mt. Fields National Park.  A rustic park, it is the site of a series of beautiful waterfalls and a dense rain forest.  On the way, we stopped at a salmon and trout fishery, had lunch (salmon, of course) and then toured the hatchery, the museum and the pools where we watched as the salmon and trout almost jumped out of the water as we fed them. 

Continuing on to Mt. Fields, we started on a trail leading to the first waterfall.  That was an easy one-quarter kilometer walk, where many others heading that way as well accompanied us. Upon reaching this first waterfall view area, we continued on the trail while all the others returned to the car park area ...it was a seven-kilometer trail and it seemed the way to see the true beauty of Tasmania.  And we did, with no one else in sight we set off on our journey, soon reaching an almost endless trail of mud.  We persevered however, careful not to move too far off the trail, since we were afraid of snakes in the region.  Australia has eleven of the world's most poisonous snakes and we didn't want to meet any of them close-up.  The scenery was spectacular, and even though the trek took longer than we had anticipated and the clean up was a bit more than we planned, it was certainly a worthwhile adventure.

Sunday, October 27, 1996

Today we headed south out of Hobart to the Huon Valley along a very scenic drive, a section of which was along the coast.  Enroute we stopped at the Talume Wildlife Park and Koala Garden at Gardners Bay, where we were able to view some of Australia's native animals in the wild.  The park was off the main road and at the time of our visit they were no other visitors.  Consequently, we had an exclusive guided tour through the park.  We had a unique opportunity to observe, feed, fondle and/or hold wombats, wallaby, peacocks, brush tail possums, golden possums, king parrots, ring neck doves, golden pheasants, deer, Emu, Koala bears, cape baron geese and even the infamous Tasmanian Devil.  The Tasmanian devil has the fangs that gives it the look of a devil and made a screeching, growling sound, but otherwise appeared to be afraid of people. 

Afterward, we continued on to Huonville, a quaint, picturesque town on the Huon River, where we stopped for lunch.  After our visit to Huonville, we drove back to Hobart and strolled along the waterfront area of Salamanca, where we viewed a statue of Abel Tasman, the man who discovered Hobart in 1642.  Salamanca is a waterfront area filled with warehouses that in early times supported the shipping and fishing industry, but now serves the tourist and local populace as an entertainment site. 

Going on to Battery Point, where we were staying, we visited the Maritime Museum, which had relics, paintings, artifacts of a time gone by and models of Tasmania's long and fascinating shipping history.  Then we walked around Arthur's Circus, also in Battery Point, which was near to our B&B.  Arthur's Circus is a roundabout with a village green in the middle and bounded by an enchanting medley of small cottages and houses that were built in the 1840's.

Melbourne, Victoria

Monday, October 28, 1996

Today we walked in and around downtown Hobart in the morning and then headed for the airport for our afternoon flight to Melbourne.  Upon arriving in Melbourne, we checked into the hotel and then headed over to the Regent Theatre to see if there were any tickets available for the Australian premier showing of "Sunset Boulevard".  In Sydney, we tried to buy tickets without success, and were presently surprised that tickets for that evening were available even though the show had opened only three nights earlier.   The show was extremely well done, with an all-Australian cast and we had the good fortune to sit amongst a historical group responsible for renovating this theatre after twenty-six years of darkness. 

Tuesday, October 29, 1996

Our first full day in Melbourne gave us the opportunity to see some of the parks for which this city is known and to appreciate how enthusiastic this city is with regard to sporting events, with its collection of stadium and athletic facilities.  It also has a beautiful new riverfront development area along the banks of the Yarra River, which runs through the city.  Melbourne is more "Old World" and a bit stuffier than Sydney, but there is much character in the many old structures and parks and the new development shows a forward thinking citizenry.  With its many bridges across the river and the very beautiful Victorian Arts Center serving as the centerpiece of the cultural heartbeat of  the city, Melbourne hosts many international events and is preparing for the future with a positive energy. 

We walked along the river, to the Victorian Arts Center and then on to St. Paul's Cathedral, the center of Melbourne's Anglican faith.  There we had the unexpected pleasure of listening to a concert by the Royal Australian Navy Band of Melbourne, while being able to study the beautiful Gothic architecture of the church.   Melbourne has an extensive system of trams, of which the citizens are very proud.  We used the tram to get around the city and make our necessary visit to the city casino.  This casino is quite large and is preparing to move to an even larger facility along the river front complex that is currently under construction.  Later, we went to the Rialto Towers building to see the city from the 55th floor observation deck.  Afterward, we walked through the city, visiting a shopping center that was as large and beautiful as any that we have in this country.  Preserved and situated totally within the shopping center was a historical ammunition facility with a three-story shot tower.  In the evening we went to dinner in the section of Melbourne that is home to many of the Greek and Italian families.  In fact we were told that there are more Greek people in this city than any city outside of Greece. 

Wednesday, October 30, 1996

Early morning, we scheduled a cruise on the Yarra river, passing under some of the sixty-one bridges crossing the river.  Much like Paris, France these bridges provide character to the city as well as serving the transportation needs for the many people living here.  We passed the site of the 1956 Olympics sports and entertainment center, which can cater to a quite impressive 101,000 people.  This evening we planned to see the Fairy Penguin Parade about a two and one-half hour trip outside of Melbourne by bus.  Forewarned about the near freezing temperatures and the need to sit in waiting on concrete bunkers for the Fairy Penguins to emerge from their all day stay in the ocean gathering food, we brought heavy blankets provided by the hotel.  This is a very popular trip, as we could attest to by the many busloads of people who shared the evening event with us, but I cannot even begin to understand why.  After about thirty minutes in the conditions described above the twelve inch penguins scurried up the beach in just minutes and into their underground burrows to feed their young, while thousands of the five to six feet humans tramped all over each other trying, sometimes in vain, to view this spectacle for about a cost of sixty dollars each. 

Thursday, October 31, 1996

Today, our last full day in Melbourne, we spent visiting the Fitzroy and Treasury gardens.  We also visited the Parliament House and some of the other famous city buildings.  Having searched throughout our visit in Australia for the right place to buy an Akubra hat, famous for its design and craftsmanship, we finally made the buy in a little store near the river. Later, we took a tram to St. Kilda,  the local area where many of the city's Jewish population lives.  We had supper in a local restaurant, having felafel, bagels and smoked salmon and many other Mediterranean dishes.  That evening we went to see a movie in Melbourne center, "The First Wive's Club".  American movies are very popular in Australia as are many of our television programs. 

Traveling to New Zealand

Friday, November 1, 1996

At noontime, we continue our travels on to New Zealand ...an exciting event both because we had been in Australia for some time and it was getting a little closer to the time we would be coming home.  After boarding the aircraft and taxiing toward takeoff position, the pilot informs us that he is unable to start engine number three ...a little late if you ask me.  A few aborted attempts later, we return to the terminal and after waiting for about five hours, the flight is canceled and we are placed aboard Quantas Airlines.  A pleasant occurrence, but unfortunately we arrive in Auckland too late to make our flight to Christchurch.   United Airlines makes the necessary arrangements to put us up at a local hotel, and after arriving very late at night we have to wake up very early the next morning to arrange another flight to Christchurch.  The people in New Zealand were very accommodating and we made an early flight to our tour destination.

Christchurch, South Island

Saturday, November 2, 1996

At the Christchurch airport we are met by an agent of the tour company who accompanies us to the hotel.  We checked into the hotel, and got a very attractive room, so, very content after the perturbation of the day earlier, we began our exploration of Christchurch by walking to Cathedral Square.  This being the center of the city, we first visit the church, built between 1864 and 1904, and then went on to the Visitor's Center, which was graced by a statue of John Scott an Antarctic explorer.  Picking up a walking map we journeyed along the Avon river.  With people in canoes and others sitting along its shore, this river, which runs through the city, is crossed by many bridges some with unique histories. 

We then walked through the Botanical Gardens, which is home to the Peacock Fountain, an Edwardian design brought over from England. Christchurch, a city of 300,000 inhabitants, has a distinct English flavor throughout. During our tour, we also visited the McDougal Art Gallery and the Canterbury museum which had Maori artifacts and an extensive array of items and exhibits dealing with Antarctic exhibitions.  Christchurch is the forward supply point for flights heading to the United States base in Antarctica.  In the evening we had a cocktail party to meet ands welcome the members of the tour that we will be with for the next two weeks.  Having never taken a tour before this was a new experience and the people were very pleasant and congenial, ...even though they were either Americans or Canadians ...we had believed that maybe other travelers of other nationalities would have joined the group.

Traveling to Mt. Cook

Sunday, November 3, 1996

Today we were up early to meet the tour bus coach captain, Ross and had to be ready to depart at 8:00am.  Ross first took us on driving tour of Christchurch, seeing again many of the sites that we had visited on foot the day before.  But he did provide a litany of historical and informative items of interest that was new to us.  As we drove out into the countryside we were able to see the beauty of the South island for the very first time, ...the rolling hills with beautiful green cover and thousands and thousands of sheep -- a sight that would be repeated each and every day thereafter. 

For lunch we stopped at a farm house situated on the top of a hill, and the couple who operated the farm prepared lunch for the whole group (twenty seven travelers all told, but that would decrease to twenty later in the trip) and then gave us a first look at sheep farming and shearing.  Later on, we stopped at the beautiful Lake Tekapo and the very small and modest Church of the Good Shepard, which had a huge picture type window with an exquisite view of the lake.  Adjacent to the Church was a statue dedicated to the Collie Dog, honoring the role the Collie plays in the handling of sheep.

That evening we arrived at Mt. Cook, an immense snow covered peak (12,340 feet) in the park mountain range (Mt. Cook National Park embodies 22 of the 27 mountain peaks that are over 10,000 feet in New Zealand), ...a park that was awarded World Heritage status.  Lila and I hiked to Kea Point through the trees and brush that decorated the trail on which we were walking.  Along the way we were able to get a good view of the Tasman Glacier and then back to the hotel for dinner. 

Heading Toward Dunedin

Monday, November 4, 1996

Along the way, the bus had a flat, inner rear tire, and we all watched as Ross changed the tire, ...with only a little help from us, but we did offer moral support.  On the road again, we stopped at a beach that was decorated with huge boulders (5' to 6' in diameter) deposited there many hundreds of years ago.  The scenery was breathtaking as we drove along the open sea and followed with our eyes the gentle rolling hills reached down from the mountains and stroke the water below.  Dunedin was settled by Scottish immigrants in 1848, and bears a striking resemblance to Edinburgh, with many similar street names.  There is a statue of Robert Burns in the town octagon (not square), in the center of the city and is the most southern city on South Island.  We had agreed to a homestay in New Zealand and our host couple were waiting for us when we arrived in Dunedin.

A retired couple, Roy and Cath Currie, took us on a tour of the city ...first visiting the Botanical Gardens, of which they are deservedly proud; then the University of Otago, which is the oldest university in New Zealand and accommodates the only dental school in the country; and also, the seashore where the golf links skirt the waters edge.  An informative note -- I was informed that golf links mirror the natural contours of the land, unlike golf courses that reflect the architect's planned design of the ground.  As the Scottish love their golf, so do the people of Dunedin.  We arrived at our host's home, an extremely pleasant home perched high on the side of a hill overlooking a beautiful section of the city.  They offered us a wonderful dinner, pleasing companionship and an excellent opportunity to share the character and nuances of our respective countries. 

On to Te Anau

Tuesday, November 5, 1996

We awoke early the next morning, had a wonderful breakfast prepared by our fine hosts before they drove us to meet the coach.  Before leaving the city the coach stopped at Baldwin Hill, reportedly the world's steepest street which was lined by houses on both sides.  We had the opportunity to leave the bus, with a few of us climbing to the top to get a super view of the city below.  As we traveled to the city of Te Anau, we stopped briefly in the town of Clinton and then in the town of Gore, where we stopped for lunch.  In Te Anau, we watched and placed a bet on the Melbourne Cup race, which Melbourne was gearing up for just before our departure.  An extremely popular race, it is watched from all over Australia and New Zealand (and maybe many other places as well).  I was fortunate to win a few dollars that paid for my beer that day as we watched the race.  After dinner at the hotel, we walked along the lake, the largest lake in the South Island, to focus on some of the magnificent scenery encircling us from every direction.

Heading for Milford Sound

Wednesday, November 6, 1996

Te Anau is the gateway to the fiordlands, ...our destination for that day.  We drove through Fiordland National Park, hiked alongside Mirror Lake and then traveled through a rather long, three-quarter mile, primitive tunnel.  Traveling literally through a mountain and riding on a narrow road, down a series of switchbacks, we headed toward Milford Sound.  Rudyard Kipling described Milford Sound as the "Eighth Wonder of the World".  In fact, Milford Sound is a fiord because it was formed by the ice from the glaciers within.  Milford Sound, when we arrived, was drenched in rain and a dense fog shrouded much of the spectacular view that was waiting for us. 

We boarded a boat that was to depart from the inner most section of the fiord and headed toward the ocean.  As we set out, the Captain skimmed along the vertical cliffs that stretched upward to the sky, so it would have seemed, but were soon lost in the haze above us.  Waterfalls intermittently cascade down the sheer rugged walls that lined Milford Sound all the way to the open ocean.  And along the way we were able to watch seals playing in the water and penguins resting on rocks.  As time passed, the weather started to clear, sun broke through the fog and the haze lifted so that we could truly experience the extraordinary beauty of Milford Sound.    Before returning to shore, we stopped to visit an underwater observatory, where thirty feet below the surface we were able to observe coral, sea anemones, sponges, sea cucumbers, starfish and mussel shells, snake stars and a wide variety of fish.

Queenstown

Back on the bus heading toward Queenstown,  we had the opportunity to visit some of the sites that make the South Island so very special.   At a park, we hiked to a waterfall and we were introduced to the Kea bird, a bird that can be found near car parking lots and eats the rubber seals around car windows (..but not people).  Passing the Wakatipu Lake, on a very scenic portion of the road along the shoreline with high cliffs, we learned that it was one of few lakes that experiences tidal effects. 

We arrived in Queeenstown, which is considered to be the adventure capital of New Zealand, because one can partake of skiing, boating, whitewater rafting, jet boating, caving, trekking, bungee jumping, parachuting and many other sports.  In fact, the sport of bungee jumping was invented in New Zealand.  It is a city with a beautiful waterfront on an extended lake with quaint buildings situated throughout the town and huge mountains that appear close enough to touch.  We had an extra full day planned in Queenstown, because the coach captain was required to have a day's rest before we were allowed to continue. 

Thursday, November 7, 1996

It was in fact a wonderful place to spend the extra day and we used it to relax and enjoy some of the sights that Queenstown had to offer. We went up the Skyline Gondola, to the top of the mountain providing us with a beautiful panoramic view of the city below, the lake and the mountains beyond.  At the pinnacle of this mountain, we watched a movie, entitled Kiwi Magic with Ned Beatty, that provided an Imax type presentation of the South Island's extraordinary scenery including the glaciers.  Down the gondola to the town below, we walked around the village area and then dressed for dinner. 

For dinner, we had to take a boat, the Lady of the Lake -TSS Earnslaw, a coal fired steamship, to the Walter Peak High County Farm.  There we had dinner at the Colonel's Homestead and since it was my birthday, I was serenaded to by all present.  After a pleasant dinner, we went out to the farm area and fed the animals without any fences restricting our movements (or the animals for that matter as well) ...there were sheep, goats, deer and Scottish Highland cattle.   I even had the chance to sit on Robbie the Bull, a 2000 pound real live animal which did make me quite nervous.  We watched a demonstration of how sheep dogs round up sheep from deep in the hills and escort them into pens.  Back on the boat to town, we had a great time singing old American, Irish, Australian and New Zealand songs.

Frans Josef Glacier

Friday, November 8, 1996

Making an early departure, we drove nearby Lake Hayes, a rather elegant area where famous people, i.e. Sam Neal, an Australian actor, have taken up residence and then as we proceeded further, we passed gold mines and other exceptional lakes and mountains.  We traveled across Haast Pass, named for a local explorer, who discovered the World Heritage Park, which itself has more than sixty glaciers.  This park, home of the Franz Josef glacier, was named in honor of the Austrian Emperor, Franz Josef, who had knighted Haast for his scientific and exploration accomplishments.  The glaciers were formed as a result of the massive rainfall (300 inches per year), when snow is compressed into ice.  We hiked through a riverbed caused by a landslide, which offered us a wonderful view of the Franz Josef glacier, a glacier that is advancing at the rate of five feet per day, is over seven and one-half miles long and over 1,000 feet above sea level.  Back to the hotel, where we had dinner and the rooms were just average by any standards, but, it is a national park and competition was not non-existent. 

A Return to Christchurch

Saturday, November 9, 1996

Our trip back to Christchurch was of particular interest, since we were to go back to a city we thought was very impressive, it would also be our last night on South island and seven of our tour group members would be leaving us there.  The trip again took us past many gold fields and lakes where white bait fisherman were catching this local delicacy.  We even journeyed through our coach captain, Ross's hometown and he identified some of his favorite haunts as a young boy.  On to Hokatika, a small sea side resort town, where we had lunch and purchased a paper weight from the local glass blowing factory.  Then, we continued on to Greymouth, and boarded the Tranz Alpine Express, that would take us through the New Zealand "Alps".  The train skirted Lake Brunner, traveled through the Otira tunnel, stopped at Arthur's Pass (a small village at the foot of the forest clad mountains), wound our way into the Waimakariri Gorge, then to the Canterbury Plains and, finally, into Christchurch.  Our coach captain was waiting and transported us to the same hotel where we had began our journey of the South Island. 

The Journey to Wellington on the North Island

Sunday, November 10, 1996

We looked forward to today's travels since we were heading to Picton where we would board the ferry that would take us to Wellington and North Island.  On the way to Picton, we drove along the coastal area known as the Kaikoura Peninsular and stopped in the town of Kaikoura for tea.  The inter-island ferry, is a four level ship that transports trains, buses, trucks, cars and people.  Carrying almost 1000 people, the trip took three hours and fifteen minutes along a fifty two mile route, through very choppy waters.  Arriving in  Wellington, New Zealand's capital city, we went to Mount Victoria, the highest point in the area, which offers an exceptional view of the harbor and the city. At the summit, there is a monument to Admiral Byrd, commemorating his exploration of Antarctica. 

Then onto the hotel, which was a five star accommodation.  We unfortunately, did not have enough time to walk around the city, but being the capital of New Zealand it had some interesting buildings and museums.  The following morning tour of the city took us to Parliament House (an Edwardian neo-classic design constructed of Coromandel granite), which was rededicated by Queen Elizabeth II in 1995.  Adjacent to the Parliament House was the Beehive, the Executive wing, and on the other side was the Parliamentary Library, a structure of Victorian Gothic design. 

Tongariro National Park

Monday, November 11, 1996

After our too short a visit to Wellington, we headed north to Tongariro National Park, the site of a now inactive volcano.  It rained much of the trip and it continued to rain upon our arrival at the park completely negating any ability to see the volcano.  We did, however, tour the Visitor Center where we watched a film of the park and the volcano.  We then checked into the Grand Chateau Hotel, which had the aura of an early 1900s hotel (probably because it was) ...an expansive lobby and sitting room with elegant furnishings, crystal chandeliers and windows overlooking beautiful vistas, ...which, of course, we could not see because of the weather.  Living up to its mental picture, our group had dinner in a private dining room where we dressed in clothing and accessories of the Roaring 20's.  An excellent meal, with a perfect ambiance that set the tone for a great evening.  The next morning the weather had not cleared and we left the park never having an opportunity to see the volcano in person. 

A Visit to Rotorua

Tuesday, November 12, 1996

We drove by Lake Taupo, which was a beautiful sight of big, rocky islands in the middle of the lake caused by volcanic eruptions.  Enroute, we stopped to take a small hike to the Huka Falls in the Wairakei River.  Near Rotorua, we visited the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute.  There we saw how the Maori's made wood carvings, native grass skirts and cloaks of Kiwi bird feathers.  We learned about their customs, walked through the types of homes in which they lived, and finally saw a Kiwi bird ...a flightless, nocturnal bird, and then toured a geothermal area.  The geothermal mud pools, steam vents, crystal formations and erupting geysers play a major role in the lives of the Maori people, affecting their cooking and heating needs.

We then went on to visit  the Rainbow Springs Wildlife Sanctuary, another spectacular wonder of the region around Rotorua.  We went on a nature walk through crystal clear spring fed pools and streams that were teeming with trout.   Going through a native bird aviary we again had the chance to see a Kiwi bird in a replica of its natural habitat.  In the sanctuary, we saw Emu's, wild pigs, and deer.  Then we visited the Agrodome ,where we saw a sheep show that introduced us to twenty different breeds of sheep, a sheep shearing demonstration and again had a display of how dogs play a role on the sheep ranch.  We had the opportunity to see how a cow is milked and we were each offered the chance to try our hand at it (no pun intended), but none of our group took the invitation.  We then continued on to our hotel and readied ourselves for dinner.

Dinner that evening was a Hangi (feast) and a Maori concert.  Arriving at the Maori village, there was a ceremony where we were to be accepted by the chief and Gerald, our friend was selected as our representative chief.  This was a great honor, as the Maori warrior dropped a fern leaf and Gerald picked it up signifying that he(we) came in peace.  Walking through the village, there were singers and dancers and warriors welcoming us as we reached the meeting house.  Here the chiefs had to give the Maori greeting ...by touching noses, and we were then entertained by a song and dance show from the natives, ...very similar to the Hawaiian luaus.  After the show we entered the big house for dinner, where the complete meal had been buried in the ground and steamed by the hot pools.  After dinner, we were entertained once again by the staff, before departing on waiting buses for the return trip to our hotel.  It was a wonderful day, having been exposed to a new culture and the natural beauty of the country.

Auckland, Our Final Destination

Wednesday, November 13, 1996

Another day of rain, we headed north and stopped for a guided walk through the Waitomo Caves, which have deep caverns with limestone formations of stalagmites and stalactites.  We went on a boat ride deep in the dark caverns where we saw glowworms ...larvae like organisms that emit fishing lines to catch insects for food.  Upon arriving in Auckland, we visited Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World and Antarctic Encounter.  Kelly Tarlton was New Zealand's most celebrated undersea explorer and treasure hunter, who established this exhibit of underwater life featuring a four hundred foot tunnel where we were transported on a moving walkway.   In this tunnel, we were able to view sideways and overhead moray eels, lobsters, sharks, stingrays and an array of other fish swimming all around us.  A fascinating exhibit and extremely well planned, since we were essentially within their milieu. 

The exhibit also contained an Arctic Encounter, where we entered a replica of Scott's Hut at McMurdo Sound and then boarded a heated snow cat that took us through a live penguin colony and an aquarium that was home to the marine life living in the Antarctic.  Again, this was a superb exhibit giving us a near perfect picture of polar life in the Antarctic.  We then checked into our hotel located downtown on Quay Street, with a view of the harbor.  Before dinner, we walked around the city and had a drink with our friends to reminisce about the trip, as we were leaving for home tomorrow. 

I thought the tour was superb especially because we met Elaine and Gerald, who live in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada and they made Lila and I feel like kids again ...we had more fun laughing and having fun in these two weeks than on any other trip that we had taken.  The litany of New Zealand history, cultural background and local facts provided by the coach captain was extremely beneficial in improving our understanding and enjoyment of New Zealand.   The other people that were on our tour were also very nice and made for good company, as we had many meals with them during the trip.   In addition, the bus was only about half full most of the time so we did have room to spread out and catch a few winks, if that were needed.   We covered approximately 3,500 kilometers in the two weeks, pretty significant by any standard, and while we saw many exciting places, we did not have sufficient time to explore them in depth.  For that reason, I would have preferred the opportunity of renting a car to journey around New Zealand on our own timetable.  While one may not be able to see some things that a tour offers, there are other sights one could delve into with greater depth on one's own schedule.

 The Trip Home

Thursday, November, 14 1996

 The next morning we said sad good byes to Gerald and Elaine, our touring buddies, as we took another walk around the city.  We did not have sufficient time to see Auckland in depth, as we were flying out in early afternoon.  The flight from Auckland to Los Angeles, was nonstop, a little over eleven hours and very pleasant.  In Los Angeles, United Airlines provided us with a hotel room for about three hours to rest and relax.   The flight to Washington, D. C. was now an easy flight ...only four hours and fifteen minutes.   It was a pleasure to finally arrive home.  While we had the opportunity to participate in a trip of a lifetime, it was also wonderful to come home, see the grandchildren, the rest of the family and become acquainted with our home again.