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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Austrailian Adventure 2016, Or Mike and Carolyn Down Under






Saturday, March 5

We landed in Honolulu in the middle of the afternoon and arrived in Waikiki Beach in the middle of a street fair that had traffic snarled for a mile. Our cab driver cut down alleyways and through hotel lots, the meter clicking away. Finally we told him we’d walk the few blocks to our hotel. He’s probably still stuck at an intersection.




Sunday, March 6

After breakfast, we watched the surfers, then headed for the airport and a 10-hour flight to Sydney that took us across the International Date Line. We arrived on Monday, March 7th, got a cab to our hotel (The Vibe, a nice little boutique place), had a drink in a bar conveniently located just off the lobby, and fell into bed.

Tuesday, March 8

Sydney was hot and humid, so we didn’t do much, saving our energy for a play at Sydney Opera House. 
 

We mastered the train to Circular Quay and enjoyed the walk to the famous landmark. We also enjoyed an excellent production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia by one of Australia's top theater companies.

 Wednesday, March 9

Another hot and humid day. We headed out early across Hyde Park, stopping at the Anzac Memorial dedicated to the Aussie and New Zealand forces that fought in two world wars and Vietnam. It is highly recommended. 

After that we stumbled through the Botanical Garden. It wasn’t long, however, before the heat drove us back to the pool at the hotel.



Thursday, March 10

With Carolyn battling a cold and allergies, we boarded a small bus for a trip to the Blue Mountains. First stop, morning tea in Leura. Yum. 

Second stop, Scenic World and a trip to the bottom of Jamison Valley on a spectacular tram and a mind-blowing return to the top on an inclined railway that traveled at such mind-blowing speed we had to ride it three times. Again, the heat was oppressive, so we didn’t do the full walk around the floor of the valley. Instead, we retreated to a cafĂ©, bought a beer, and found a table beneath a ceiling fan. On the way back we stopped at the Featherdale Wildlife Park to check out koalas, wombats, bats, and a crocodile that made us appreciate security fencing. 



 After visiting the critters, we boarded a boat for a trip down the river to Circular Quay where we hopped a train to the hotel.


Friday, March 11
After playing three rounds of a game of Your Gate Has Been Changed at the Sydney Airport, we made it to the plane to Auckland. There, we went through another round of immigration and agricultural stations, took an expensive cab ride to our downtown hotel with daylight to spare, allowing us to check out the harbor.

Saturday, March 12

After breakfast at a bakery, a stroll around Auckland’s downtown, and some Hokey Pokey ice cream, we boarded the Noordam.

On board, we caught up with our friends Katlin and Gary. Once we’d located the important shipboard features (bars, restaurants, pools, the library, and the lounge where the BB King Blues band would play), we gathered aft to watch our wake as we got underway. Aft, as we learned from our sailor friend Gary is not an abbreviation for afternoon.



















Sunday, March 13

When the ship docked at Tauranga, we boarded a bus for Hobbiton, the set built for The Lord of the Rings movies and refreshed and expanded for The Hobbit. Jackson’s attention to detail is amazing. With gardens, laundry on the line, and other little touches, it seemed as if the hobbits in residence had all gone over the hill for a picnic just moments before we arrived. 




The ginger beer and scones at The Green Dragon were delicious and the scenic drive to Hobbiton and back was a treat.

Monday, March 14

At Napier, a city rebuilt Art Deco style after a devastating earthquake, we took a ride on the Hawke’s Bay Express. The Express looks like a small train, but the locomotive is a tractor in disguise that successfully pulled several cars packed with tourists up hills and down again and along many of the city streets. When we got off, we strolled around the town, checking out the library, theater, outdoor art, statues, and bakeries.




Tuesday, March 15

In Wellington, we hiked around the harbor to the Te Papa Museum where we saw an amazing and powerful exhibition on Gallipoli. Where thousands of Australian and New Zealand Troops were killed during a pitched battle that accomplished almost nothing.

This astounding museum also featured paintings, photographs, Maori art, and displays about geology, and social history. Much like the Smithsonian, it’s really impossible to do justice to it in one day. Later, after checking out the local century-old theater, we met Loralee Hyde, a Facebook friend, for a drink at a waterfront tavern, then hiked back to the ship.



Wednesday, March 16

When we disembarked in Akaroa, we got right on a catamaran for a nature cruise around the harbor. Luck was with us and we spotted several Hector’s Dolphins, the smallest and rarest in the world. We also saw fur seals, Australasian gannets diving for fish, and blue penguins.


After the tour we walked around tiny Akaroa, again checking out the library and another old theater. We found many towns preserved a performing arts space that had been around since at least the start of the twentieth century.


 
Thursday, March 17
At Port Chalmers we boarded a bus for a trip through Dunedin and along the Otago Peninsula to see Yellow Eyed Penguins at a private reserve. We were fortunate to watch two young birds released into the sea after weeks of feeding to bring them up to weight. Both seemed hesitant to leave the kennel and take to the water. And, knowing their numbers are declining and many young birds won’t survive for long, we didn’t blame them.
















Later, at the reserve’s hospital, we saw Erect-crested and Rockhopper penguins as well.




 On the way back, we detoured to see a Maori Marae, a meeting place, with spectacular carvings.


Friday, March 18

We cruised through three glacier-formed fjords on the west coast of New Zealand. The sky was clouding up and, although, the water was calm as we sailed through the steep-sided fjords, when we left shelter, the swells built steadily.
 
 Saturday, March 19 and Sunday, March 20

Because of what the cruise log later described as “near gale conditions,” we head north and west to the middle of the Tasman Sea before turning south for Tasmania. The Noordam was rocking and rolling, plunging into troughs, riding up on swells, and getting battered by winds and currents hitting us from the side. Spray broke over the windows of the Crow’s Nest Bar on deck 10, while down in the Vista Dining Room on deck 2, waiters struggled to pour wine and water and get plates on the tables. I suspect many diners lost their appetites or their meals, but we never reached for the seasickness meds or for the special baggies that appeared in racks all over the ship when the water got rough. Mike was battling a cold, but a visit to the ship’s nurse armed him with decongestants and cough medicines that saw him through.

Monday, March 21

The sea calmed and we reached Hobart, Tasmania. Hopping ashore, we explored the town, discovering many helpful people happy to chat while directing us toward a bank or the botanical garden. The architecture was and interesting mix of old and new. These are two of our favorites from our walkabout there. 


 One’s an office, the other the University administration building.


Tuesday, March 22

At sea all day, with the water calm, we played Scrabble with Katlin and Gary, attended a lecture on improving our memories, pigged out, and watched the shore slide by in the distance. Did I mention we attended a lecture on improving our memories?
 Wednesday, March 23

We docked at dawn in Melbourne and were treated to a Technicolor sunrise and the sight of five hot air balloons soaring over the city. 


We strolled along the harbor later on and then dedicated ourselves to reading and relaxing on our balcony while watching boats come and go.




Thursday, March 24

On our last day at sea we played a few final games of Scrabble, revisited our favorite foods at the buffet, packed our suitcases, and paid a final visit to the BB King band.






Friday, March 25

We used our shipboard passcards for the final time, disembarked, and boarded a bus for a tour of Sydney’s western suburbs, Manly Beach, and the Taronga Zoo. Conversation overheard there: Little Girl: “I want to see the kangaroos.” Mother: “No. We’re going to look at the elephants. You can see kangaroos in the back yard when we get home.”



 This pygmy hippo was Mike's favorite animal at the zoo. Reminded us of a production of The Compleat Shakespeare we once saw. Long story. Never mind.





 After a long delay while ticket agents counted heads again and again and we heard discussions about weight and balance, we took off 90 minutes late from Sydney. We sort of expected someone to be taken off the plane in handcuffs. But we were thankful it wasn't Mike. Fortunately, we made up most of that lost time in the air, survived more customs and agriculture questioning in Honolulu, found our gate (the Honolulu Airport can be more than a little confusing) and sank into our seats for what seemed like a relatively short flight home. Once there, we were picked up by The Viper (our Godson) and greeted by our little white dog. 



Were we happy to be home?


You bet.


Would we do it again?


You bet.