Melbourne Days 1 and 2

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We arrived in Melbourne mid-afternoon on April 28 and checked into our room at the Hyatt. It is a very pretty hotel. Our first room was a bit dark, but they quickly moved us to a great room with a view of the cathedral.

We dropped off our stuff and headed out for a little exploration before settling in at The European, a little restaurant across from this region’s Parliament. The cafe was recommended by friends we met on our dive trip, Taryn and Tom. Boy were they spot on! We thought we would just have appi’s but the duck and fig salad and merlot were so good, we then shared incredibly delicate sautéed gnocchi with peas and leeks and then a whole cooked snapper with some Sauvignon Blanc. At this point we were totally satiated and totally exhausted. We came back to our room and found the bed was so comfortable we read and soon fell asleep.

This morning, April 29, we woke to a glorious sunrise and I quickly threw on some clothes to take some photos. I wasn’t able to capture it in all its glory, but the photos of the glow on the cathedral came out pretty well.

We walked to a local cafe for a quick breakfast before being picked up by Jeff Barnard for our tour. Jeff shared a wealth of information and local history. We went everywhere from the expansive sports facilities (were we got a great lesson on the rules of “Australian Rules” football) to the impressive war memorial (where we got a heartfelt tour from a local “digger” – an older veteran) and then to Federation Square and a wonderful walking tour of some of the great little “lanes” or alleyways of Melbourne. This is what I liked the best.

I loved the creativity and ingenuity used to shoehorn all kinds of mini bars, restaurants and shops into these little retail pedestrian only alleyways, which had previously been used to mostly store garbage cans. I thought the Seattle Chamber of Commerce should come see this and incorporate this wonderful aspect of Melbourne in Seattle. Jim said the chamber did come here once and brought back an old trolley car that used to serve the Seattle waterfront before it was retired a few years back. Good grief. I suppose with all our daunting regulations you would need a lot of “out-of-the box thinking” and renewed flexibility to make this work in Seattle.

Jeff took us to his favorite coffee place which is wedged into a tiny space in the first steel skyscraper built in Melbourne (in the early 1930’s). We also tasted a local treat Lamingtons and learned the saying “fair dincum” which means absolute truth. This building also had Australia’s first escalator, although at that time it was called “magic stairs” and the stair steps were made of wood.

We walked some more past some fun street art, where the city has designated pro tagging areas and a really fun water sculpture that people decorate with leaves.

We ended our tour by stopping at a tiny opal shop (95% of the world’s opal comes from Australia and opal is the Australia’s national gemstone). The store represents the Lightening Mine. We met the son of the founder and he also has a collection of snakes, lizards and spiders. Quite interesting.

Then Jeff dropped us of at the Melbourne Museum. I wasn’t that interested but Jim wanted to go and I’m glad we did. We arrived just in time for a tour and it was very well done. They have the real bones of a Pygmy Blue Whale that washed up on shore in the 1990’s and a fantastic brain exhibit as well as many others.

Unfortunately, the threatened storm arrived in full force as we made our way back to the hotel. We walked a bit and then grabbed a cab. We are resting and drying off before dinner. Next we are going to head out for some Greek food at a restaurant that Jeff suggested. Apparently, Melbourne has a the third most Greek citizens of any city in the world. Greeks who live in Australia enjoy duel citizenship, can vote in both nations and even have their own Greek Senator that lives right here in Melbourne. Those crazy Greeks!

As I write this the cathedral bells have been ringing for almost 90 minutes. we assume they are either testing the bells or that it had something to do with the film crew that is parked on the street between our hotel and the cathedral. They are filming the locally popular TV show “House Husbands of Melbourne”. When I laughed at the name, one of the crew told me “it’s a very good show in it’s third season!”

Correction, the front desks says this is a regular Tuesday afternoon event where they practice ringing the bells from 5 to 6:30. It’s a lot of bell ringing!

History note for the day: On this day, April 29, 1770 British Capt. James Cook landed in Botany Bay, near Sydney, “discovering” Australia. 250 years later, it’s evolved into a modern nation full of creative, friendly people.

Well done Captain Cook!

Gazi, the Greek Restaurant, was hopping and we sat at the communal table. We got to do some ouzo tasting and settled on the Plomari. First, we got to chat with one of the employees, Petro, who was having dinner on his day off. He was a delightful young man and one of the many young, enterprising Europeans who have had to leave Europe to find work. He’s from Greece. Everywhere you go in Australia you meet 20 somethings from France, Italy, Spain, Greece and England who are working here and lament the economic mess in Europe.

Then we shared some really fun conversation with two lovely young ladies from England who turned out to be young physicians doing their residencies in Melbourne. It’s gotten to that point in our lives where we couldn’t believe they were old enough to be doctors. But we talked, laughed and chatted about the world, travel, scuba diving and the crazy Melbourne “hook turn”. Yes, here in Melbourne (and apparently only in Melbourne) because the trollies use both center lanes of every major street, to make a right turn across oncoming traffic you have to first cue all the way over in the far left lane and then wait for the light to turn red and the special “hook-turn light” to illuminate before turning right across all lanes of traffic where the oncoming traffic is supposed to yield. I’m not making this up. The ladies also pointed out that Gazi’s celebrity chef George Calombaris was in the house. They were quite excited about it.

Yesterday’s rain has turned to showers this morning (April 30) and is supposed to taper off. Today we are going to do more walking and exploring especially on the promenade along the “south bank” of the Yarra River which runs through downtown Melbourne.

The Adventure Continues!

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Road Trip in Tasmania

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For some reason my last blog entry cut off the end of our Cairns experience and the beginning of our time n Tasmania. As Jim says, there are a few bugs in the WordPress IPad App.
Nevertheless, we had a great flight out of Lizard Island back to Cairns. We got to ride in the small plane with Taryn, Tom, Captain Sam and the first mate, Hamish. The plane gave us a great view of the coastline as we flew down.

As we approached Cairns the tropical rains began and they really didn’t stop. It’s probably still raining there today. Our pilot, Nicki, was fantastic and gave us a very smooth flight with a gentle landing.

After we checked back into the hotel we took a long shower before heading out for a walk around town, some food and a movie. We dodged the heaviest tropical rainstorms by taking refuge in shops and eateries around town. Cairns is a strange town with both high end shops and rundown vacant areas. We saw the Grand Budapest Hotel which is a strange little movie befitting our location.

We flew to Hobart, changing planes in Melbourne; picked up our car, got our bearings and whilst chanting “stay left” we headed to our hotel: The Henry Jones Art Hotel. It’s a former jam factory that has been remodeled into a great boutique hotel, with lots of old wood paneling and sandstone. Our room was originally Henry Jones’ office and our bathroom the waiting room for the conference area.

After dropping of our bags we headed to the bar and drank local scotch whiskey and ate a yummy antipasto plate while listening to a local musician playing Johnny Cash type music.

This area is a bit like Scotland and South England with town names like Glenorchy, Brighten and Devonport.

In the morning we explored more of the wonderful architecture of our hotel. They have added a glass roof to the huge inner courtyard where we had breakfast, safe and warm from the passing showers. The architects did a fantastic job. This is a great concept for Seattle.

Surrounding the courtyard are a few shops and an art gallery. The hotel is decorated with lots of art from local artists. We slept In a bit (no 6:30 wake up call this morning), enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the courtyard, read the local paper and looked at art before hitting the road around noon for a 3 hour drive to Freycinet National Park. We drove through forested coastline, including curvy fun sections, forests of peppermint trees (they look like Dr. Seuss Pom Pom trees), wine country and then along the shore of Great Oyster Bay to the miniature red granite mountains of the National Park that includes all of the Freycinet Peninsula southeast of Coles Bay.

We saw our first “beware of wildlife sign” with an animal drawing that looked like a kangaroo. But, alas no kangaroo sitings today. We did see lots of road kill, sheep, what had to be the world’s largest back Angus bull, a few coyotes and we think what might be wallabies (small kangaroos) in a field.

Check that. They were definitely wallabies and one just hopped around the corner of our cabin as I write this. Cool!

We checked in at the lodge and drove a short distance to our cabin just in time to enjoy the sunset. Tomorrow we are going to do some hiking for sure.

As the sun goes down today here we want to wish Julie Spady a very happy birthday from down under!

We enjoyed a quick dinner at the lodge with a special scotch/whiskey tasting. The local single malt whiskies are quite good. We especially like the Lark. Chris, our scotch whiskey tasting guide was adorable.

Freycinet National Park

We slept well and woke up a bit late and headed out for our buffet breakfast. Really the only bad food we have had our entire trip. But the croissants were adequate and we had some yogurt and coffee. Then we headed out for our hike with some fruit and other snacks along the way.

Freycinet National Park is named after the French sub-lieutenant on a ship sent by Napoleon in 1802 to explore the “Great South Land.” Not bad for a Sub-Lieutenant!

We decided to do the full 11 kilometer (6 mile) hike over the small mountains to Wine Glass Bay on the Tasman Sea, back across the isthmus to Hazard Beach on Great Oyster Bay, and then along the hills above the shore back to the parking lot. It really was an awesome hike.

To begin, you hike up about 1000 feet through unusual red granite formations and interesting foliage including lots of peppermint and tea trees to a spectacular overlook above wine glass bay. Then you leave the crowds behind as you descend down do the beautiful beach of Wineglass Bay were we put our feet in the Tasman Sea and waved toward New Zealand. We saw a very friendly Wallaby, dolphins, oyster catchers and of course seagulls. We sat in the warm sun and ate some snacks before heading for the isthmus trail to Hazard Beach. The bird song was lovely and we heard all kinds of elusive flying creatures. After repeated attempts we did finally get get a fuzzy photo of one of the very large black cockatoos. As we walked through Hazard Beach we also saw a scampering Tasmania Pademelon.

We still had quite of bit of the hike left and as usual for us we were cutting it tight for daylight. It also appeared we were the last ones on the trail. I did pack one headlamp, but left the other behind because of weight, which was ridiculous. At this point Jim and I are both thinking to ourselves (but not voicing out loud) “what were we thinking?”

So, we picked up the pace and made it out just fine while watching the beautiful late sun as we walked above Great Oyster Bay (almost as big as San Francisco Bay but almost completely undeveloped). As the Aussies say “no worries, no drama, it’s all good!”

When we exited the trail we were famished and decided to head past our cabin another 10 minutes to the little town of Coles Bay. We passed a quaint little restaurant that advertised wood-fired pizza with a view of the bay. The proprietor was cleaning the windows and told us he opened in 30 minutes. He handed us a “takeaway” menu (they don’t say “takeout” here) and it looked perfect so we drove on to the end of the road and parked at a little warf to watch the sunset and stretch.

Dinner was scrumptious and the local wine Devine. We shared a thin crust pizza, some local fresh fish and chips, salad and sorbet. Yum!

When we got back to our cabin, we packed for today’s early drive and flight out of Launceston (north-central Tasmania) and then soaked in our tub before bed.

Our itinerary for today told us it was a 2.5 hour drive to the airport and we needed to check in by 9:50 AM. We grabbed some fruit, coffee and croissants for the drive and headed out for a drive along the north end of Great Oyster Bay and then across some beautiful high plateau ranch land on the way to the airport.

It was early morning and the soft pastel light bathed the trees and the countryside. We also so a lot of road kill. Jim coined the game, “Guess that road kill!” Wallaby, Possum, Wallaby, wallaby, unknown, pademelon. Not surprisingly given the large amount of road kill we saw an extremely large vulture-like bird – as big as any giant Condor either of us had ever seen. This bird was much bigger than an Eagle and appeared to be very well fed.

We thought this would be a great place to sell a t-shirt we once bought at a truck stop in the middle-of-nowhere Arizona, that said “Road-kill Cafe – you kill ’em, we cook ’em!” Gruesome.

We made it to the airport with time to spare and avoided adding to the roadside carnage.

We are now on the plane to Melbourne. Our last Qantas flight. As we sat down we were serenaded by the expressive and loud sounds of two very large parrots in the bay behind us. That’s a first.

We are looking forward to our exploration of Melbourne over the next 3 days before driving up the coast to Sydney for our flight to the Cook Islands – our last stop on the way home.

It’s a little overcast here in Melbourne with rain forecast for tomorrow , but we had fantastic warm weather in Tasmania, which is really lucky for that far south in late fall. It should be perfect weather for museums.

We also need to wish John Spady and Alan Middleton a very happy birthday too!

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The Great Barrier Reef

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The Great Barrier Reef is always listed as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World and as a diver it is one of the “bucket list” diving experiences.

When Jim and I were planning the trip to Australia we weighed our different scuba diving options (an Island Resort near the outer reef or a live-aboard diving boat). It became clear that an “authentic” reef experience required one of those two options because the best coral reefs are many miles off shore.

We thought hard about Lizard Island, but it was very expensive and it would limit our possible dive sites. As it turns out this was a good decision for many reasons. While we were in New Zealand a category 5 typhoon came through the area and directly hit Lizard Island. So, it would not have been an option. We got to see he damage yesterday because we flew back to Cairns from Lizard Island and, although the small airstrip was open, the resort itself was heavily damaged and will not open again for at least 6 months, probably more.

Regardless, we had such a fantastic experience on the Spirit of Freedom (a 120 ‘ long, 250 ton displacement dive boat) and now having seen both options we would have chosen it, especially for a pure scuba diving experience.

Our excursion began on Monday at noon. Once on board we were introduced to the crew, the other passengers and our room. We knew ahead of time that we didn’t have a great room. It was low and didn’t have any windows. We would soon learn it was actually a good choice.

The plan for the first day eat lunch, gather equipment, dive briefing and check out dive about here hours from Cairns, then dinner and bed while sailing overnight (12 hours to the reef). Sounded good at the time. But, when we left the protection of the inner waters the waves began.

The Spirit of Freedom is a beautiful 120 foot ship, but it’s narrow and although it has stabilizers to reduce rocking, it was a little rocky. I was not excited about going inside for the dive briefing. Jim had no problem, but I rallied and got through the briefing and the first dive pretty well. We learned how to use the “safety sausage” to attract attention at the surface if we had to come up early and also how to use the emergency radio all the divers carried in our pockets. We were checked in when we got on the boat had to sign ourselves back on board on the dive log. After that there was a final head count before the boat moved. No one was going to be left behind, which was reassuring.

But the waves and wind were getting worse and I was really beginning to feel sick. So I took one and then two sea sickness pills. The memories of childhood motion sickness and he icky effects of Dramamine quickly overcame me and I really got sick.

Dinner was a no go for me. I huddled in a ball on the back dive deck and tried to leave my body. I suggested that Jim go in for dinner. As his point I was thinking 3 things: “OMG what have I gotten us into, how am I going to survive 3 days of this, and this boat has lousy stabilizers!”

Meanwhile, I learned later that dinner was quite the adventure. Dishes, food and people were flying around and other passengers were joining me on the back deck. It turns out that earlier when we had briefly lost power that the stabilizers had turned off at the fuse even though the indicator lights at the ship’s helm told the captain, incorrectly, that the stabilizers were working.

As the night progressed, and the stabilizers came back online and the crew and Jim helped me make my way from the back dive deck to the dining room benches and finally to our room. I slept through the night and woke up a new person at our first dive site ready for breakfast and a new day.

We would soon learn the pattern of the live aboard routine. Wake up at 6:30 am and eat first breakfast ( yogurt, cereal, fruit juice and coffee); 1st dive and come up to the smells of 2nd “brekky”, bacons other meats, eggs, toast, veggie choices and more coffee and juice, 3rd dive followed by a hearty lunch; rest a bit and move the boat to another dive site followed by a 4th dive, and then a shower and dinner, followed by a night dive for those who were interested. The great part of diving other than the experience is that you burn a billion calories and can eat anything without gaining weight.

The crew were amazingly calm, knowledgeable and supportive. We experienced so much over our 8 dives in two days. The sites and experiences were almost too much to take in. I used my GoPro and the crew took fantastic pictures for us with great cameras. Everyone worked so hard.

Kaz our fantastic chef. She cooked amazing meals for 26 guests and 15 crew with unbelievable variety in a very small galley. By he end of the night everyone collapsed in bed by 10, except for Captain Sam, who guided the ship through the reefs to our next destination.

Our favorite dive the first day was Pinnacle Reef. A small pinnacle of coral that attracted all sorts of sea life, had great visibility and very pretty coral. It was also a simple dive around the pinnacle with no need for underwater navigation. So on our second dive Jim and I went on our own, instead of following a dive master. We went at our own pace and felt a great accomplishment and freedom.

It’s important to know that the safety steps and rules are very strict on the Spirit Freedom. Dive Masters are always in the water even if we aren’t following them. There are two lookouts from the boat tracing our bubbles and a tender in the water on all dives as well as very strict rules for decompression safety stops and depths.

By the second day we were ready for another great 4 dives beginning with the famous Cod Hole dive. This was why we came on the boat. There are only 2 boats that come out here. At Code Hole the water is clear, the coral lovely and you get to swim with the giant, gentle cod. We did two dives at Cod Hole and they were both amazing.

The next two dives were a bit different. First we did a drift dive which we usually enjoy a lot. But this was a tough one. We were dropped off by tender at the beginning of the dive in groups. Instead of our usual stepping off the dive platform, six of us set on the edge of the tender and on the count of three we tumbled back into the water navy seal style. It worked perfectly.

Once in the water we descended following a dive master, the reef on our left as we rode the current to a rope that then led us to the boat. The current was inconsistent as we swam pass the coral wall. It made it hard to get a rhythm and it was hard work making it back to the boat on the rope while fighting the current.

Unfortunately, this area had been effected by the typhoon. Most of the delicate coral had been destroyed by the storm, but of of course the fish were still there.

The moved once again for our final dive of the trip, Snake Pit. I wasn’t sure if I was going to do the last dive. It was getting late and Jim decided to pass. But Nick the lead diver said I should do it. The coral and sea life were spectacular and this was a very unusual spot to dive. So, on the final dive Nick and I paired up with Tom. His wife, Taryn stayed behind as well. We dove with them quite a bit on he trip and we knew our air consumption was about the same.

Snake Pit is in the middle of the ocean between the outer reefs and Lizard Island. It’s a deep pinnacle, so Nick suspected it was safe from the effects of the typhoon. When we got to the dive spot the stern of the boat and the platform faced the waves. It was a bit unnerving watching the waves crash on the back of the boat, but the crew were calm and positive. They were safety first people, so I figured I should just go for it!

Tom and I got to dive with Nick. For most of he trip Nick was busy doing a million things and he doesn’t lead many dives. I felt privileged to get the opportunity to dive with him. The sea is Nick’s sanctuary, much like our leader Hamish in the Hollyford Track. Nick was a calm, wonderful dive guide. Entering the water was pretty easy and we descended quickly. Nick led us through the ocean down to the pinnacle. There was no current so the visibility wasn’t as good, but the swimming was easy. Nick was right — the coral was diverse (fan, antler and others) and the sea life amazing (turtles, big angle fish, white tipped shark). We even saw a sea snake at the end of the dive.

When it was time to head back Nick expertly navigated us back through the open ocean to the boat. We did our decompression safety stop on the swim back (5 minutes at 5 meters) and he deposited Tom and me on a rope while we waited our turn to use the swim ladder at the back of the boat between the big waves that crashed against it. Nick wrote us a note on his underwater pad, “timing is very important”. Then he gently took my hand and positioned me I front of the ladder. He got a sense of the waves, counted to three with his fingers and then deposited me calmly on the bottom of the ladder and made sure my fins were safely in place as I climbed up. Piece of cake! Thank you Nick!

Taryn and Jim were waiting as we ascended on the ladder.

We all showered and did our final count before moving the boat to Lizard Island. The sky cleared and the stars came out as we waited for dinner. Jim and I headed to the bow of the boat and spent time with the captain as he and the crew set the heavy chain anchor with a 7-1 scope.

Our final night on the boat was a feast with prawns, kangaroo, other proteins and yummy salads. We shared stories and drank wine before some final briefings. Everyone was anxious to see the typhoon’s impact on Lizard Island and the resort in daylight. The day ended with us collapsing into bed by 10.

The next morning the early schedule was maintained even though we weren’t diving. We were to be packed and ready to go ashore by 7:00. We gathered for breakfast at 6:30 and the crew gathered our bags for transfer by tender to Lizard Island.

The effects of the typhoon were dramatic. The buildings were intact but heavily damaged. The trees were broken and stripped bare. Captain Sam had worked on the Island for two years and was shocked by the change.

We were all transferred to the Island by tender. Half of our group were leaving and half were staying on for three more days of diving and the boat trip back to Cairns.

Although the resort was closed, the park boardwalk was open and Nick led us through a tour explaining the history of the early settlers and the aborigines.

We walked along the beach as we waited for our small, 8-seated plane to arrive at the small airstrip. The plane was delivering new passengers and some new crew for the dive boat as well as flying us back to Cairns.

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Saturday Afternoon in Sydney

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It’s hard to believe we have only been in Sydney for 2 days. We arrived pretty late on Thursday night after an easy flight from Christchurch. We are staying at a hotel across the street from the gardens with a view of the Harbour east towards the Pacific. We dropped off our bags and headed out to the Circle Quay ( Pronounced “key” not “quay”, go figure) to take in the quintessential Sydney Harbor view at night and grab a late snack. It was beautiful, and romantic.

Friday morning we took another walk on the Quay for some breakfast at one of the many sidewalk cafes. No need for Starbucks here. The coffee was yummy and we were entertained by wild parakeets. We had no idea there were wild parakeets in Sydney! Then we headed to the truly phenomenal Royal Botanical Gardens. They are more than gardens, they are a museum of plants and flowers from all over the world with gardening tips for locals, beautiful views, interesting birds and a welcoming sign that says “hug the trees, smell the flowers and please walk on the grass”.

After our morning walk we were picked up by Bob from a local sightseeing company and swept off on a whirlwind car tour of Sydney. There is no way we could have seen everything ourselves. It’s such a beautiful and interesting city. Those who arrived in 1788 on the “First Fleet” of English settlers and convicts (sentenced to 7 years of labor in Australia for nonviolent property crimes such as theft or forgery) struggled to eke out an existence in the sandstone quarries (now the trendy “Rocks” district next to Circle Quay) . 60 years later, the population in Australia was only 400,000. But when gold was discovered in 1850, the population tripled in 10 years. Today, over 5 million live in Sydney alone, a beautiful, modern, expensive city with 1/5 the population of all of Australia. Sydney is a nice combination of San Francisco & Los Angeles, with warm sunny weather, a large lovely harbor (with 200 miles of coastline inside the harbor) and both surfer grunge inland and multi-million dollar mansions overlooking the water.

After our tour we took one of the many inner harbor ferries to the local favorite beach at Manly, for a walk on the 2-mile long sandy beach there. Unfortunately, the Royal couple (who followed us here from New Zealand) had the same idea. The beach was beautiful but it was just too crowded. So we escaped the crowds and after walking up the beach tried a different route to get back to the ferry. We definitely left the crowds behind as we wandered, got lost and turned around in the residential areas of Manly (which is on a narrow spit of land between the ocean and Sydney Harbor, near the north side of the harbor entrance).

We finally found someone to ask for directions, turned around and headed off in the right direction. It was certainly the path less traveled. After our unexpected hike around the suburbs of Manly we grabbed some pizza before taking the ferry back. It was quite a day.

We chose a more leisurely day Saturday and walked around the gardens some more, and visited the Provincial library which had a great exhibit on the early drawings documenting the local wildlife by the artists among the First Fleet convicts. They are beautiful pieces of art, although many are anonymous. Then we wandered back down to the Rocks district to peruse the Saturday arts & crafts market and enjoy a lovely lunch by the water.

We took a break this afternoon, before heading out for a tour of the Sydney Opera house and the evening ballet .

We saw the Manon Ballet which was really quite good. It was Jim’s first ballet (other than the nutcracker). It was a romantic tragedy set in the same time period as Les Miserables. The ballet was composed in 1974 so the choreography, although classical, has some modern twists and some humor, before the tragic ending. The leads were extremely good. We both agreed to go to the ballet more often when we return to Seattle.

Flying to Cairns on Easter Sunday

It’s already Easter Sunday here on the other side of the world and we are flying to Cairns in a plane filled with parents and children. Tomorrow we’ll board a “live aboard” scuba diving boat and head out for 3 days of scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

We really haven’t bought much of anything, but for some unknown reason it’s getting progressively more challenging to close our suite cases. So far, the zippers are holding, but if they ever break we will be in big trouble,

This trip has been great, but we have learned as we enter our travel phase of life that we won’t travel again during Passover and Easter. I miss gathering with the kids and of course little James.

Being that it is Easter and a vacation week for school children here, our plane is full of adorable children. And our Quantas flight has an IPad for entertainment in every seat. The exclamations of glee “look Mom we all get iPads” echoed throughout the cabin when we boarded.

We send everyone our love and best wishes for a wonderful Passover week and Easter Sunday. We are deeply grateful for God’s many blessings, particularly our dear family & friends.

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The Hollyford Track

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As Jim and I sit eating a late breakfast today in Queenstown I’m trying to form into words the amazing experience we had the last 3 days.

It’s truly hard to know which was most special – the location or the people. The food and trail lodges were amazing as well as you will see In the photos.

As I said it’s too hard to blog about it all, so I’ll post it in a few separate categories: the people, the area, ,the weather,the lodges and food, and the exit through Millford Sound.

The People:

We would soon learn that the Hollyford track and the surrounding Fjordlands were Hamish’s Temple and we we’re being led by it’s spiritual guide. His love of he area, knowledge of the history and flora and calm, joyful nature would guide us through an amazing experience.

Jock our second guide was young enough to be our son, but mature beyond his years and equally calm and helpful. He is a future Fjordland Shaman. We hope to see Jock when he makes his way to the States to run a rope course at a camp in Durango, Co this summer.

We shared the experience with eight other people: a lovely family, formally from Zimbabwe who currently live in Christchurch – Bruce, Michelle and their 2 children Jackie Lynn and Daniel; two couples from Auckland – Mike & Tracy who are also boaters, and Martin & Jackie.

The other characters in our journey were the hosts of our lodges and Chris, the jet boat Jedi master. But more on these people later.

The trip wouldn’t have been the same without all of these wonderful people who we now consider friends.

The Area:

We began our adventure at 6:30 in the morning where we met up with the rest of our fellow trackers and one of our guides (Jock) at the hotel across the street. We put our packs in the bus and were off on our drive led by our astute driver Errol. We stopped in Teanua, where we picked up Hamish, our lead guide and we were treated to some yummy lattes to wake us up. It’s quite a long drive to trailhead of the Hollyford Track.

Our first stop was at Davey Gunn’s homestead for a pit atop, snacks and the beginning of our tramp.

Davey Gunn was the Daniel Boone or Davey Crocket of this area. We would learn of his adventures and heroic stories as we went through our experience all beautifully told by Hamish. His 2 young daughters are very lucky to have such a great story-teller as a Dad.

The Tramp along the river and Lake are split into 1 long day, one medium day and one short day for a total of 24 miles. The first day you carry real packs 12 miles to the lodge. The lodge on the second night is accessible by jet boat so during the second and third days the jet boat carried our heavy packs and we only carried small day packs.

We really lucked out with the weather. One of the group’s favorite Hamish sayings was “the weather is promising”, which in reality it was (although we got the sense he said that regardless of the forecast). Day one was beautifully sunny despite a rainy start in Queenstown. Day 2 was cloudy, but warm and we never got rained on. Day 3 was wet, but intermittently and warm.

We hiked in beautiful terrain with rivers, lakes, waterfalls and rocky cliffs the tallest topped with  glaciers. We experienced the thrill of  a jet boat and helicopters.

The forest here is so different then anything we had experienced. There is no real wildlife. New Zealand had no indigenous mammals other than 2 little bats. No squirrels, beavers, coyote, bear, or marmots. Birds are coming back now that they are trapping the ferret and weasels that stowed away to wreck havoc on the avian population. So the focus is on the trees, the fern, the vines. There really aren’t any deciduos trees. At first the forest looks homogenous. But it is so varied with textures and color. And, with an expert teacher like Hamish we were treated to a wonderful botany lesson. He even pointed out an ancient vine that was probably here at the time of the first plants. We saw the 1000 year old Rori tree amongst other giant specimens on our second day and crossed a number of single file suspension bridges including the longest in Fjordland. We learned about visited the unsuccessful Jamestown settlement which resulted in the successful McKenzie family. In Hamish’s stories there were many tales of the women self-delivering with unsettling regularity. These were tales of hardy westcoasters.

On our second and third days our tramps were enhanced and shortened by the use of the very fun jet boats captained by the enigmatic Chris. They were invented in New Zealand and are capable of navigating very shallow water with great dexterity and power. With a boyish smile Jim said “I could have had a lot of fun with this boat on the lake and creeks back home.”

At the end of our first and longest day we were introduced to our other favorite Hamish phrase coined by Tracy, “the Hamish 20.” It was just another 20 until we reached (fill in the blank) which was very close to lunch or the easy saddle which was “just another 20” to the lodge. The “Hamish 20” was a wee bit of an underestimate. But when we arrived at the first lodge it was an oasis in the wilderness.

The Lodges

Our fist lodge was Pykes Lodge and we were greeted by our hosts Liz and Phillip. They met us out front with the warmest hospitality and showed us to our rooms, offered us barley and lemon water and then hot showers ( which were close to a religious experience) or wine depending on our immediate needs. Settled and showered we all gathered in the great room for an amazing tray of appi’s (shrimp, mussels sushi and dips). A scrumptious venison dinner and lemon tart for dessert followed. It was clear this was not your average backcountry experience. We were all very ready for bed by 8. Our day ended with a briefing and story by Hamish and then a description of first breakfast (continental with fruit and yogurt and porridge) which would be available after our wake-up time of 6:45 and second breakfast (eggs Benedict) which would be served in time for us to push off by 8:10. Hamish runs a gentle but tight ship and we left Pikes lodge on time after hugs with Liz and Phillip. They waved good bye as we headed out for a quick morning hike before heading to the jet boat.

After the fun jet boat ride we were deposited on the shore for our tramp to our lunch spot which was a great surprise. No box lunches here. We arrived at a hut, table set with large sandwiches or gluten free meals for those who needed it, fresh lemonade, tea and coffee. After lunch we continued our hike out of the forest and to the sea. We were picked up by the jet boat and deposited at Martins Lodge where we were once again greeted outside by our hosts Jimmy and Laura with refreshments and the dinner schedule. After the amazing hot showers it was another yummy appie plate and a salmon dinner and yummy dessert. We played some cards, toasted to our last night together and were once again in bed early after our briefing and stories. Here is Hamish’s farewell toast to our group: 13-15 April 2014

Happy Trampings.

The glasses charged, this toast,
Down the Hollyford, to the coast.

The first day the temperature soared,
The sweat from within, out it poured.

From Pyke Lodge and to the boat,
Ah Madeline, the finest ship afloat.

On leaving Jamestown the feeling was somber,
The feeling of hardship, sure made us ponder.

Then on to the seals, we made our way,
And so ended a magnificent day.

My season on the Hollyford has now come to an end,
Thanks to both the staff and you my friends.

Tomorrow promises some adventure too,
And so to this I say to you.

The glasses charged, this is the toast,
Down the Hollyford, to the coast.

Hamish Angus

After our early awakening we enjoyed another yummy first and second breakfast before another jet boat ride to the sand dune hike. This was our first hike in the rain.

Another hot shower and lunch was shared at the lodge before we said our goodbyes and thankyous and we boarded our “machines” (helicopters) out to Millford Sound.

Exit to Milford Sound

Helicopters make the running of these amazing lodges possible. They are used for all kinds of needs from delivering supplies to moving guests and people. They call them the machines. We were picked up in front of the lodge and swept to our bus home via a spectacular helicopter ride down the coast and into the fjords surrounding Milford Sound.

Although it was raining the day we left the helicopter ride out was spectacular. Most people think the view is best when rain enhances the multitudes of cascading waterfalls all around.

Most of the group had hoped to take a scenic plane or helicopter ride back to Queenstown but because of the weather we had to take the bus. It included a stop for refreshments and snacks. We dropped off Hamish and Jock along the way before we all said our goodbyes in Queenstown.

Off to Sydney

Today we fly to Christchurch before jetting on to Sydney. We will stash our down coats as we leave the chill of fall and head back to warm 70 degree days. New Zealand has gained a special place in our hearts. We love the adventuring warrior spirit of the Mauri, the English culture and the hearty infusion of the Celtic Pioneer of the “westcoasters” of the South Island. From the Seattle-like city in Auckland to the rugged mountains of Fjorland, it’s been a great experience that we hope to do again someday.

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Diverted to Invercargill

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Quick update! We didn’t land in Queenstown because of weather. So we flew south and landed in Invercargill. Unfortunately, we are now on a bus driving 2.5 hours back north to Queenstown. Not my favorite form of travel, but it will get us there.

Lots of sheep and farmland so far. It also requires a quick turn around to get ready for our hike tomorrow, which begins at 6:30 am.

Our unlocked phone has come in handy and we made the necessary calls to the travel agent, trekking company and local hiking store

Oh well! Pretty mild I guess as problems go.

Your basic 3 hour trip took 12!

Nelson

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As I write this post we are stuck in the Nelson airport for fog. It’s a small airport with no security and they have stopped all check-in. The flight board still says everything is on time, but clearly it is not.

This gives me some time to include little tidbits of things we have forgotten to include in the blog before I launch into our wonderful visit in Nelson.

Driving is going very well, and signage is extremely good everywhere. One of our favorite signs next to a rest-stop-like turn out on our drive to Rotorua said,

“Livestock effluent dump. No human waste.”

Love it!

Airport tips and bags through New Zealand.

Carry-on bags don’t really work in NZ.
First, there is no security or liquid checks throughout New Zealand so you don’t need to worry about small liquids. Second, the carry-on bag size isn’t really important. It’s the weight, which is ridiculously light 7kg (a few pairs of underwear and the vitamins). My camera weighs almost 1.5kg. We’ve transferred everything we can to our medium sized check-in bags (which should have been bigger). They seem to be making an exception for us. It’s times like these that I wish they just had a total weigh in. The traveler and bags on a big scale. We would pass with flying colors.

Onto our lovely Nelson experience.

Although the weather has not been great in the “almost always sunny” Nelson area we have thoroughly enjoyed our beautiful stay here. We landed, picked up our car and drove to the Bronte Estates. Nestled in apple orchards and on Tasman Bay our accommodations were again almost perfect. The Bronte farm has been in the family for over 100 years. They grow apples and pears and have added guest accommodations in the last 10 years.

The space-time continuum has created a wonderful surprise: delicious, crisp, fresh-crop New Zealand apples, They are coming to a grocery near you soon.

We spent our afternoon doing a bit of wine tasting and discovered we like the taste of Sauvignon Blanc. We visited the local glass gallery, but unfortunately we are so spoiled with the exceptional high quality of the work in Seattle that we were a bit underwhelmed. We enjoyed some afternoon downtime and took in the view of the big tidal shift. I caught a great photo of a bird we have never seen. It’s common name is grass hen. But it looks like a mixture of a duck and a chicken but it had great coloring black and cobalt blue with red head. Rested we headed out to a yummy dinner on the Maupa Warf at the Jellyfish restaurant . While eating we got to watch a troop of Boy Scouts getting their nighttime fishing merit badges. Complete with head lamps and great enthusiasm they were perfect entertainment.

Yesterday, we woke to pretty rainy weather for a planned kayak and hike in Abel Tasman National Park. First we headed up to the main house for breakfast. The house was quite formal and the table was set for just the two of us. We felt a bit underdressed in our outdoor adventure attire.

Well fed, we headed off to the park. The rain died down and the calm winds made for some fun sea kayaking along the coast with our guide Sophie and an adventuring young woman from Shanghai, “Eye Lee Ann.” Although Jim and I kayak quite a bit we haven’t used rudder and I liked the ease of steering that way.

We kayaked to a place called split apple rock and explored the nearby caves a bit. After kayaking back we ate lunch and then boarded our tour boat for a drop-off at our afternoon hike site. Because of the big tides the boats come close to shore and deploy a long metal gangplank.

There are no resident dolphins, whales or Orcas, but we were luckily enough to encounter a pod of 10 transient dolphins. They hadn’t seen any dolphin for over a month and the crew was thrilled.

They also love their small group of black seals. Of course this is quite underwhelming for us where seals are everywhere, but everything is relative and here in Nelson seeing a seal is a special treat.

We were dropped off at “Tonga Quarry” beach to begin a short hike south from there there to Medlands beach where we would be picked up. It was only 5 Km but as with most coastal hikes, there were lots of ups and downs.

We loved our time in this unusual and extremely dense coastal forest which included lots of fern trees and other unusual plants. We were alone most of the time only encountering very few very strong hikers with very big packs doing the longer trek. The bird songs were wonderful and the weather cooperated. We arrived at our pick-up spot about 20 minutes early and while we were preparing to stretch when we were set upon by very active sand fleas. So we waited for our boat and stretched while standing in the cool salt water which foiled the fleas.

This hike was a great little warm-up for our big, 3-day, 24-mile Hollyford Track hike beginning tomorrow morning out of Queenstown. It includes a short helicopter tour and a scenic flight to Milford Sound (weather permitting). Passover begins our last night of the hike so will will bring our Haggadah with us.

The family is spread out this year for Passover. Jasmine and James will be in CA with my parents while David travels to Charleston for business. Saul and Jess are putting on their own Seder with friends in the mountains. We wish everyone a joyful and meaningful Passover as we all deal with our own personal challenges and life lessons. Next year in Jerusalem!

We will check-in again after our trek. Until then we will have no internet or phone.

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