Friday, we flew from Corpus Christi to LA. Spent an hour and a half on the ground in El Paso due to weather in LA. I'd rather sit on the ground than circle LA. I guess they would too. We called the hotel from the airport while we were waiting for our luggage and they sent a small bus for us. We had maybe a 15-minute wait. Not bad. We were not impressed with the hotel. Someone tried to enter our room shortly after we arrived to change a key they said . We wouldn't let them in. We were a little paranoid because we were carrying more cash than usual and we were in LA. We called the desk and they said he did indeed work for them. The hotel was okay but the linens were not put on the bed properly and the pillows were lumpy. (This is for Kelly.) The dining room was poor and nobody spoke English but that is par for the course. We did rest okay and that was the point. The room was clean enough.
Monday Jan. 15th. Well, we've been flying for over 12 hours. We are over Australia now. I have a feeling we will be a bit tired today. It hasn't been too bad. We have both managed to sleep quite a bit. We met three of the 12 people in the LA airport who will be traveling with us. A nice couple from Phoenix and a lady from Duluth. We were also met by an AATKings representative at the airport and he suggested we go ahead and change some money. It cost us a little, but it was convenient to have it when we arrived. My suggestion would be to change $50. And then change the rest at a bank in Australia. I met a very nice young lady, Greek, from Melbourne who was on her way home. She had been visiting her Aunt in Long Island. She is a fashion designer. The lady sitting next to me on the plane (who I have been way too close to ) is from Oregon. A retired parole officer on her way to a stained glass seminar in Melbourne. Her daughter had given her the ticket and she was going to stay at a University in Melbourne. She hoped to visit Tasmania while she was there. She was a very interesting lady who had reared four children by herself.
Karen Green, our tour guide, met us after we cleared immigration and customs. There was a large AATKings Coach (bus) waiting for us. Since there were only seven couples on our tour we got lots of individual attention plus we got to know everyone. We drove into Melbourne. A nice, clean city. Lots of trees. The Australian Open was just gearing up. We almost got some good tickets for center court and could have for the evening but decided to go see the penguins instead. Bad choice but you don't know until it's over. That afternoon we had a tour of Melbourne and dinner (very nice) on a trolley while it moved through the street. This included champagne, wine, good food and after dinner drinks. Fun. Eric and Tracy were our dinner partners. A cute young (30) couple from San Jose. The Stamford Plaza is very posh. Anne would be delighted! A small suite with MW, DW, frig fully stocked, iron, ironing board, hair dryer. Granite counter tops. Lighted, hunting prints. Couch and wing chair. View from window (a wall). Terry cloth robes. All kinds of Japanese instructions. Weather very nice. Reminds me of San Diego. Flies at the botanical garden bothersome. Karen says you just learned the Australian wave. Batting away flies.
Tuesday, Jan. 17th. Yesterday was very full. Started out w/an early "brekky" at the hotel. Very nice buffet then a long walk to Elisabeth Street where we caught the tram to Victoria Market. A huge complex with all kinds of fish from mussels to squid. All kinds of butcher shops, cheese shops etc. Behind the food there were huge covered stalls with individual vendors. We bought the slippers from a Ukrainian jew who has lived in Australia for seven years. He and one sister and his parents had escaped to Khazakistan. The rest of his family had been captured and killed by the Germans. We had planned to go to the Open later in the morning but ran out of steam and decided to rest until one when our tour left for Phillip Island which is on Bass Strait between Australia and Tasmania. An interesting drive down. Saw many cattle on land that had been drained from swamp land. Stopped at Warrook Farms where we fed very tame kangaroos, saw emus and beautiful cattle. Had scones and Devonshire Cream. Next stop at Koala Research Center. We walked on boardwalks that are built high into the trees so we could get close to the Koalas. The terrain became hilly as we neared Phillip Island. We drove near Port Bay as we neared the Island. We stopped at Cowes (cows) on the island for supper. A beautiful resort town with lovely beaches and cypress pines. There were some people swimming. Not many. We thought it was too cold. We had fish and chips on the beach. (too greasy). We then went to the "Nobbies" Rocks in the water with sea birds and seals. Penquin nests w/babies in them on the side of the hill, dunes. As we drove there we saw surfers on one of the beaches. I wish I had asked the Coach Captain (bus driver) to stop so I could take a picture for Jason and Travis. After that we went to the beach where the Little Penguins come in en masse after dark. We nearly froze to death waiting for them. They come out of the water in groups and stand perfectly still until the time is ripe. Then run up to their nests to feed their fledglings. They call it the penguin parade. It really was something to see and I enjoyed the drive down. We were late getting back to Melbourne, after 12:30.
Then had to have our bags outside the room at 6:30 the next morning. After "brekky" we boarded the coach for the airport. Had a tiring day flying via Brisbane to Cairns at 2:30. We met a very nice Aussie on the plane who lives in Auckland, sails, and is a member of the Royal Yacht Club. He had lived in Seoul and Singapore and was now moving his business to Brisbane. Said we must visit America's Cup. We heard a lot about America's Cup being in New Zealand as you can imagine. We checked into the Oasis hotel in Cairns, very nice, very tastefully decorated in a tropical manner. Cairns looks a lot like Hawaii, beautiful flower and trees. After resting a bit, we walked the waterfront. Saw all kinds of birds, willie wagtails, masked lapwings, mynas everywhere, spotted turtle dove, Australian pelicans, sharp tailed sandpipers and a friarbird. Met a very nice lady and her daughter who were up there on a birdwatching trip from Sydney. They pointed out the friarbird to us. Went to Barnacle Bills for dinner. I had wonderful seafood curry and Jim had scallops, also delicious.
January 18th. We left the hotel by coach at 0800 and drove to a train station in Freshwater. We rode the train up the mountain to Kuranda. Very scenic, many tunnels, several waterfalls. The train was built for the gold mines. It took nine years to build. Workers mostly Italian and Irish. At Kuranda we took a tour through the rainforest on an Army duck. Saw a darter and a Warren tree dragon (large lizard). We returned to Kuranda for lunch. I had an Aussie pie (pastie) and shopped some. Jim bought a pair of shorts at Thomas Cook's. It was very hot and humid. We came down the mountain in a sky tram gondola to the Aborigini Culture Center. The view of the rainforest from above was extremely interesting. The Culture show including dijuridoo playing, (amazing) dancing, etc. Some of our group took boomerang throwing lessons. Fun to watch. Jim was wishing he had tried it.
January 19th (our 50th wedding anniversary) We drove to Cairns harbor and boarded a large catamaran for a trip to Port Douglas. We next boarded the catamaran for Agincourt Reef, part of the marine barrier reef park. It took our boat about two hours to get to the reef. We then got our snorkling gear and tried snorkling. I thought it was quite choppy and swallowed a gallon of salt water. I got out after a few minutes but Jim snorkled for 30 - minutes. You could see more in the lower level of the platform than you could snorkling. At least I could. I saw fish and divers and snorklers from down there. We were disappointed that the water was not more clear as we had expected. They fed us lunch, good and then we went in a semi-submersible and got good looks at the reef and more fish. Many beautiful and varied kinds of coral. We were impressed with the operation. They handled literally a hundred people snorkling at a time and they managed to have dozens of people scuba diving at a time as well. We then came back to our hotel, the Tree Tops Raddison. A fabulous hotel. Huge swimming pool with natural rocks and a waterfall around it among amazing tropical foliage. Our room was large with a couch and chairs and coffee table, sliding glass door looking right into the rainforest. Beautiful plantation shutters. We had a basket of fruit from AATKings and a bottle of champagne from the hotel for our anniversary. Saw an orange footed scrubfowl out our window! Also one of the bell boys went whizzing by with bags on a trolley. He was using it like a skateboard. It was downhill. He came pushing it back empty later. We met in the bar for a toast for our anniversary and then 3 couples of us ate in the hotel restau rant which was not air conditioned. Big mistake. We were eating and the perspiration was pouring down our faces.
January 20th, We got up at 4 am this morning to drive to Daintree. Karen had made arrangements with a birding guide and rented a car and drove us to Daintree. We left the hotel about 5 am and got to Daintree about 6 am. It had rained all night so we almost canceled but the guide said it usually stops by morning and so it did. We met up with Chris, our birding guide, got in his boat and had a wonderful time going up the Daintree river and down into the Daintree National Park. We saw three black bitterns, white bellied sea eagle, azure kingfisher (incredible color), a silky flycatcher on the nest, and many others. He gave us a list of the birds we saw and the birds we heard. We heard a lot more than we saw of course. A great trip. We saw more birds in town, kookaburras and forest kingfishers and even more on the way back to Port Douglas. Karen did a good job of spotting birds for a nonbirder. We may have converted her. This was supposed to be her day off so you can imagine our gratitude for doing this for us. Jim is sick. Sounds croupy. Went to a chemist and got some benedryl/cough suppressant. Got back about 10:30. Jim is sleeping. I'm watching tennis. Karen is driving me to Habitat museum this afternoon. Saw two more orangefooted scrubfowl outside our room. They must be really common. I'm sorry Jim missed the Habitat but he needs to rest. It is an enclosure of several acres with many Australian birds inside. You are in with them so can get really good looks at them. I took quite a few pictures. We'll see.
Sunday - January 2lst. We left the hotel at 9:15 by coach for Cairns. The road runs along the Pacific coast and is a beautiful winding trek. We stopped for pictures a few times. Left the Cairns airport at ll:30 for Sydney. We lost an hour on the way. Had lunch on the plane and arrived in Sydney about 4:00 pm. Sydney is a city of 4 million, hilly, lots of trees and ,ofcourse, beautiful Sydney Harbor. We drove around the city for a bit before arriving at the hotel which was nice enough and a very good location. Our room was extremely small. We walked down to Darling Harbor for supper. Ate outdoors near a fountain and walked back to the hotel. Monday we left the hotel at 7:50 , walked a block and a half to Costello's. An opal store. They showed us a film on how opals were mined and how to tell an expensive opal from one not so expensive. We did some shopping then had a city tour including Bondi Beach where the Olympics volleyball was held, watched the surfers for a bit and ended up about noon on a boat for lunch and a tour of Sydney Harbor. Spectacular views and a good lunch. Took lots of pictures. We then took the coach to the Opera House and had a tour of it. Jim bought a book on the construction. Came back to the Menzies (hotel) about five. Had some of our Raddison champagne then went with Ken and Jean and Vera and Lenny back to Darling Harbor and a tour of the acquarium. Must be the best acquarium in the world. They have huge tanks full of sharks, rays etc. with tunnels through them so the fish are swimming over and around you. Then they have similar tanks for the barrier reef and their fish. We thought it was expensive. $19.50 Australian but decided it was a bargain. They have no senior discounts in that part of the world. The New Zealanders call senior citizens "wrinklies." We all had burgers or chicken sandwiches afterward and walked back to the hotel.
Today is a free day. After breakfast , we are off to the museums and botanical gardens hoping for some birds. We took a taxi to the Art Gallery, like our national gallery. Mostly Australian artists. Beautiful work, many landscapes. Two rooms devoted to Australian women artists. We then trekked through the botanical gardens by then it was high noon which is not a good time and it was quite hot (reached 100 in Sydney that day). Still felt cooler than Port Douglas because the humidity is bearable. We did see sacred ibis feeding their young and fruit bats on the fly as well as hanging in the trees (flying squirrels). Enormous things. We ended up at Circular Quay (key) had ice cream and walked back to the hotel. Jim napped and I watched Capriati beat Seles and Agassi beat Martin. Then, our biggest surprise so far, was a Fedex from Terry with cards and emails from home wishing us a happy 50th. We were both in tears.
I persuaded Jim to take a taxi to the Maritime Museum. We are both exhausted. I slept and watched tennis. His cold/cough is better but his knee is bothering him today. We are to meet in the bar for a drink to celebrate Eric's 30th birthday. He and Tracy are about 40 years younger than the rest of us, but they are having a good time. They seem to have a little more energy than we do. Tracy is a nurse and Eric is a sports fanatic and a smart alec. Everybody gives him a hard time. He seems to enjoy it. He's tall so we can spot him when we are all lost in a crowd. I am trying to organize my bag. We are packing tonight as we have to have our bags out at 5:30 in the morning. Off to New Zealand at 6:30. No brekky. I keep forgetting to mention that the last two hotels have had "rain" showers like Terry's. This is the All Seasons Menzies and the worst so far but still not bad. The location is excellent but our room is very small and no counter space in the bathroom which is awkward. The hotel personnel have been very helpful and courteous in all the hotels. We tried to go to supper with Vera and Lenny and Jean and Ken but couldn't find an open re staurant so ended up buying sandwiches in a deli and taking them to our room. We got a banana and some Danish for breakfast.
January 26 - I haven't written in two days. We flew from Sydney early Wednesday to Christchurch. Drove up the mountain pass overl ooking Lyttleton Harbor. Got to the hotel at 5:30 and called the Guthrie's (friends of the Gosch's) They picked us up for dinner at 6:45. Had a great meal after going by their shop "Hands". Bought two bags of wool for Christy. We then went to their home for coffee. The driveway is a tunnel of greenery. They have a grass tennis court in the rear and a swimming pool in the front. They have redone an old house and it is charming. Full of art objects and lovely. We enjoyed visiting with them. Heather and Bryan were extremely nice to us and gave us a wonderful first impression of New Zealand. They took us back to the hotel about 9:30. It had been a long day.
We had breakfast at the hotel and started our coach tour to Queenstown. Our new tour guide was Fiona , a college student and twit, on summer break. She was a far cry from Karen who had taken such wonderful care of us. We drove for many miles through very flat coastal plains, farm land with lots of sheep and high hedges, 10 to 20 feet high neatly trimmed and squared off by some kind of farm equipment that they have special for that. There are similar hedges in England but these seemed higher even. As we started for the mountains the road got hilly and windy. We stopped at Lake Tekapo. Beautiful - with mountains behind. Jim was going to do a flight to Mt. Cook and the glaciers but the weather was not right. They weren't flying. We passed some vineyards in this area. We stopped for some fruit. Delicious. We then stopped at another Lake and visited an old chapel . We got to the hotel about 4:30 and left at 6:00 for a steamboat (built in 1912) trip over Lake Wakatipu which is over 50 miles long to a large farm for a hearty dinner and then watched a sheep shearing and dog demonstration. This is beautiful, cool (cold ) country. Reminds me of Banff.
Today we are scheduled to fly into Milford Sound and cruise back. The flight was canceled due to weather so we are going up the Dart River instead on a jet boat. It was raining when we started and we were going so fast that the rain stung like ice. Fortunately it stopped raining. It was cold but startlingly beautiful. We stopped three times. Once, to inspect a break in the rocks, once to pick up a passenger who had been hiking and once to take a wee walk in the woods. That was fun because there was a brush robin there who resented our presence and pulled at our driver's pants and tried to land on my back. Looked like the robin in the Secret Garden except it had a light breast instead of red. Very cute. We also saw a family of Paradise ducks. The female had a white head, the male was dark with orange spaculars and the three chicks were all dark. The river reminded me much of Alaska. I kept expecting to see a bear or moose but there are only two native mammals in New Zealand and they are both bats. We bought another duffel bag this morning to haul our loot in. We were getting a bit overcrowded. Jean and Ken Keener went on the river trip with us. Our boat driver did half a dozen 360's on the way back. Probably why I am so sore today. This scenery is a combination of Switzerland, Alaska and the Canadian Rockies. We didn't get back to town until 8:30. We had Mexican (sort of ) food for supper with the Keeners and took a taxi back to the hotel as we had missed the shuttle. There was a shuttle on the hour from the hotel to town and back which was handy. This hotel was nice enough. They did offer to do our laundry. All we could stuff in a bag for $10 which was less than $5 American which was a good deal. It went out at 7:00 and was back at noon. That got us through until the end of the trip. This was a Milennium Hotel. The best part of it was that they would cook eggs any way we wanted them. By this time we had had it with scrambled eggs. We got home in time to watch the last of the Grosjean-Clement match. Grosjean looked absolutely beat.
Saturday -We are packing out this morning for a flight to Rotorua on the north island. One of the unusual things we saw driving down to Queenstown were several deer farms. Venison is on many of the menus. Our flight was good. We smelled sulphur as soon as we stepped out of the airport. Rotorua is much warmer . We drove to the beautiful lake in town where there were many black swans and gulls plus a small black duck with blue bill and golden eyes . Fiona said it was a teal but I don't trust her judgment when it comes to birds. She thought the gulls were interbreeding because there were juveniles and first year mixed in with the adults. There was one gull which was a different species. He was twice the size of the others. The Milennium Hotel in Rotorua is much nicer than the one in Queenstown. It had been a Hyatt. Beautiful wooden beams in the lobby and a huge Maori carving. The rooms were very nice and we had a wonderful view of the hills and lake. We were only there one night as we had our farm visit the next night. That night we attended a Maori feast or hungi. We were driven to a Maori Village with many beautiful trees and enormous ferns. There was Maori dancing and singing and a feast, good meal actually, with shops of course. It was much like the Polynesian Culture Center in Hawaii except just the Maoris. All the coach captains sang for us before we left. They were darn good.
The next morning we went to Rainbow Springs where they breed trout. Beautiful trout in this area, originally imported from the US.. Also redwoods imported from California in the 1800's. They also had some native birds including the kiwi which is endangered. Huge wood pigeons, both native parrots and a tua bird which I saw at the Ryker's later. We then crossed over to Rainbow Farms and saw another sheep dog demonstration and shearing plus cow milking and separating. Tracy helped make butter. They had on exhibit all different kinds of sheep, including the Romney which Christy's wool comes from. We then went to a Maori Culture Center where they showed us how they made their grass skirts and gave us a sample. This is where the mud pools and geysers were spewing. One is spewing continuously right now. New Zealand is built on a volcanic hot bed. In fact, they had an eruption in the park at Rotorua just a few days before we arrived. It was still smoking and there was ash on the surrounding trees. We were picked up by Bruce Rykers at three o'clock. A very nice, talkative man of 70 years. Jean and Ken Keener were with us. He took us to his house and said "she who knows all would be out shortly." She was and we went in and had tea. Typical sandwiches and cake and biscuits (cookies). Bruce then took us on a ride to visit some of his friends who had real farms. He is a gentleman farmer. He has ten acres and a few sheep and cattle. No dog. Just a 22 year old cat named Hanibal. We walked about his place after that and inspected their garden and looked at his boat. His most important possession he said. We then went in for drinks and dinner. Dinner was exceptional. First course, smoked trout and salad greens, followed by lamb and roasted potatoes, new potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato and green beans from their garden. For dessert we had Pavlova. A meringue with whipped cream, ice cream and strawberries followed by coffee. A beautiful meal. We then retired to the living room to visit. Their home is lovely. All the rooms are painted different colors with white trim. 8" crown molding around the ceilings. The cows were staring in the window so she pulled the drapes. We each had our own bath and bedroom. Our bath was three rooms. One with a tub, one with a toilet and one with a lavatory. Lovely antiques in the house. Jan is an excellent cook and appeared to be somewhat younger than Bruce to me. They have two grown children. Their son lives in London and works for Arthur Anderson and has a Japanese wife which is distressing because they don't think she will ever consent to live in New Zealand. Their daughter lives in Auckland and is married to an Englishman. They have three little boys. The Rykers were in the hotel business for 30 years so really know how to entertain. After a wonderful breakfast, Bruce took us back to the hotel at 7:50 where we boarded the coach for our drive to Auckland.
We drove for a couple of hours and visited Waitoma Caves. An impressive cathedral room and then we boarded a boat and rode through the caves viewing the glowworms which looked like stars on the ceiling. We then d rove for another hour or so and had lunch at Roseland. This is a country cafe. Good food and pretty surroundings. Jim slept quite a lot on this bus trip. Notable were the many dairy farms. I never saw so many cows in my life! We drove beside a large river for quite a few miles and arrived in Auckland midafternoon. Our coach drove around some showing us bits of the city before taking us to the hotel. A beautiful hotel with white orchids in pots all around the lobby. We had dinner in a very gourmet restauran t with the Duluth six. Very pleasant and quite good. First course was mussels followed by lamb or fish or chicken with Lemon Curd for dessert. The dinner included a trip up into the skytower for a view of Auckland. A city of 1.42 million people. Over one third of the NZ population lives in Auckland. Our hotel room (10th floor) had an impressive view of Auckland Harbor and since it was Sunday when we arrived, there was a regatta. Literally hundreds of sails coming in from the sea. Just beautiful! Monday morning was free but we spent most of it packing because we were leaving that afternoon for home. -We checked out of the hotel and boarded the coach around noon. We drove over the bridge to Devonport. The bridge had proved to be too narrow so they had six lane s added. The Japanese won the bid and they now call their addition the "nippon clipon." We had lunch in Devonport at a great bakery. We had some pasties. Then across the harbor on the ferry where we took a water taxi tour of the bay in a yellow ribi. We wished we had another day in Auckland so Dad could see the America's Cup and visit the maritime museum. I would have liked to visit their art museum and maybe the aquarium. We flew out at 6:20 after paying our departure tax of $22 NZ each. We were able to spread out a little on the plane. There were two empty seats across the aisle so Jim moved across and I moved out of the middle seat to the aisle. There was a young girl in the window seat who had spent a month in New Guinea. I'm not sure why. She was on her way back to college. She was wearing a sarong and thongs. All of her clothes had been stolen the first day she was there. She said she loved it, however.
We met a guitar player from Corpus in the LA airport. He is a retired school teacher named Fred McLain. He knows some of our Rockport people. We enjoyed getting to know him. He loves to fish so we invited him over to fish. Caroline met us at the airport . We were actually a few minutes early and got home about ll:00 pm. Seemed kind of like noon. We were whisked right through customs in LA. They didn't want to see or hear about anything. It is good to be home.Return to Mitch's Site