Along the Great Ocean Road in Australia

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

The trip to see the Twelve Apostles and the Great Ocean Road, near Melbourne, Australia started at Federation Square (across from St. Paul’s Cathedral) where I got to see the possible tour options at the tourism office located there.

Melbourne, Flinders, train station, Australia, photo, travel

Flinders Train Station, across from Federation Square

I returned there to take the bus on the day of the tour and a long but rewarding day began.  Along the way we stopped to see some of the flora and the wildlife (koalas, kangaroos and birds).  It was amazing to see koalas and kangaroos just freely roaming around, not in a zoo or animal park.

fern, Australia, flora, vegetation, photo, green, travel

Close-up of a fern in the park where we stopped to see the koalas

Kangaroo, Australia, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road, wildlife, tour,

Kangaroos roaming (or hopping) free along the Great Ocean Road

bird, Australia, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road, wildlife, tour,

Colorful bird!

koala, Australia, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road, wildlife, tour,

Koala doing what they do best: sleep. Tons of sleep.

The Twelve Apostles (who knows if there are really 12 at any given point, one of the more famous ones had collapsed not long before my visit) are fascinating as they “show” the process of water and wind shaping our landscapes.

Twelve Apostles, Melbourne, Australia, Great Ocean Road, park

A nice park has been set up to help see the Twelve Apostles

As the water washes away softer terrain, these “islands” of stone become separated from the mainland.  Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

You can tell where new ones will appear:  any of those fingers or peninsulas are apostles-in-the-making.

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

At some point, the underside of a finger begins to hollow until an arch forms.  The arch eventually collapses separating part of the former peninsula from the mainland (see next photo).  In turn, an arch may form on the newly-formed “island” and, when the arch collapses, it will just leave just a column which over time will also collapse leaving nothing behind.  The cycle of life!

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Here is a finger where a part collapsed creating an “island” arch

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

By now, this “island” has become quite isolated and is developing an arch that will further weaken it

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Columns in the water: former arches, former fingers, former mainland!

Now, the park has very easy trails to walk and get good vantage points, and the tour goes to other interesting spots such as Loch and Gorge.

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Loch and Gorge

But what really captivated me was the brief helicopter ride to see the apostles from above.  I had never ridden a helicopter before so there was a double thrill aspect to the experience for me.

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Viewing them from high was a real treat

Finally, if you decide to drive the Great Ocean Road and you are not from Australia or the U.K. (or some other places like them), please mind what this sign says as you explore this beautiful road!road sign, great ocean road, australia, driving, photo

Sports Travel: Not My Usual Pursuit but Fun

rugby, World Cup, 2007, Paris, photo, sports, travel

I am not much a sports traveler.  I don’t chase “my” teams.  I don’t go checking off famous sports arenas.  I don’t chase big sports events.  Heck, what am I saying, I am not much a sports spectator.  I do it in big occasions (usually involving Georgia Tech, my alma mater) or when the opportunity comes up to do so and enjoy being with family or friends (which, I admit, is not often).  However, there are some things I have greatly enjoyed related to sports and travel.

All that said, I can get into sports easily when the right opportunity comes up.  Here are some examples of how travel and sports have offered some great experiences…

Traveling to the Olympics

First on that list is going to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics which I shared in another post.  Yes, a big enough event gets its own post :).

Barcelona, Olympics, post card, logo, Olympic rings, 1992, souvenir, travel, sports

I worked in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, lived in the Olympic Village, and got to see many events (for free and in the dignitaries’ seating area!) – but that was not travel for me (though it was to many who came to be part of this great event).

Olympic Village, cafeteria, Atlanta, Olympics, sports, travel

With my awesome Mom at the Olympic Village cafeteria

Traveling for the Olympics may involve more expensive hotels than normal for the location, patience with crowds at events and in public transport, etc.  But it is a fun way to see a new place.  The older I get, the less likely I am going to want to deal with the crowds of these large events but I may have a Football (Soccer) World Cup in me…

Baseball’s World Series

Baseball may or may not be the world’s most boring sport (or is it cricket?) though it is a fun sport to be at to socialize.  But when the stakes are high, it can be as intense as any other sport.  I got to watch game 2 of the World Series in Toronto in 1993 where the Blue Jays played the Philadelphia Phillies.  I was working in Toronto at the time and our local office partner was able to produce tickets for us to attend (he wanted us happy about having to travel to Toronto weekly for months on end).  No complaints here.  And Toronto won that series on game 6.

World Series, baseball, Toronto, Blue Jays, Phillies, Skydoe, ticket, souvenir, travel

My ticket!

Rugby Down Under

The day I landed in Sydney, Australia from the U.S. there was a key rugby match (away) between New South Wales and Queensland.  My friend is a big fan of his home state’s team and he asked if I was too tired to go to the pub with him to watch.  I was jet lagged and had spent the day walking around the city but could not say no.  Well, I could have but part of me was intrigued about how Australians watch their sports in pubs so I tagged along  He did a great job explaining the sport and the differences between union and league as I had watched international rugby matches before and was getting a little confused by what I was seeing in this match.  In any case, though I slowed down during the middle of the game, I soon got my fourth wind of the day when the game approached its exciting end.  It was a great intro to Australia right after arriving to hang out with him and his friends watching a sports event that locals love.

I had coincided with the Rugby World Cup when I went to Paris in 2006 but was not clued in before I went and was not yet too into the sport to have bothered to try to watch a match.  I regret that as I now find rugby an exciting sport to watch.  By the time I went to New Zealand in 2009, I was more into it having watched on TV some of the international series.  So I enjoyed a couple of nights going to a local pub and watching with the locals.

rugby, World Cup, 2007, Paris, photo, sports, travel

An English fan in Trocadero and a rugby ball in the Eiffel Tower during the 2007 World Cup

And Football (Soccer) Down Under

While visiting friends in Melbourne, the opportunity came up to watch a football (soccer) match where Australia played Japan.  One of my friends and I went with some co-workers.

The match was a friendly match and nothing to write home about but what is something to write about is how much drinking goes on in these matches and how not-well some of the locals handle their over-drinking.  Yes, sometimes as you walked around the stadium, you had to hold your nose as not everyone managed to reach a trash can or a toilet on time.  It was like a minefield!  No pictures needed for this…

stdium, sports, soccer, football, Melbourne, Australia, photo, travel

Phone photo does not expose the minefields!

Baseball around North American Cities

One cool thing about catching a sports event in another town is getting to see the arenas where these events are held (though some I could care less if I see).  Sadly, professional sports are way too commercialized and the owners hold cities and their taxpayers hostage (don’t get me going on this…) so I seek to not sponsor the businesses with any regularity.  But I don’t deny having enjoyed watching the Yankees play at the no-longer-around Yankee Stadium or the Mets at no-longer-around Shea Stadium.  Though I admitted not being much into sports travel, I have to confess I DO want to go to Fenway and Wrigley some day as well as watch the Green Bay Packers play at home in the middle of a snowstorm (for real!).

Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field

I may be biased but one of the most historic college football fields is Georgia Tech‘s Grant Field where Bobby Dodd Stadium sits which celebrates its 100th birthday this year (as a full stadium).  It IS the oldest stadium in Division 1.  And it is the site of the most home wins in Division 1 (I’d like to see more of these lately…).  The foundation of the stands was built by students back in 1913 – amazing, huh?   Of course, a lot of re-building has taken place on the facility, some good and some not visually impressive but it really is not THAT important as the facility is a great one to watch sports:  it is not an abomination in terms of size so you really feel close to the field and it has great views of the Atlanta downtown skyline (I love being in the west stands late in the afternoon – great colors!).   This stadium witnessed the most lop-sided win in history in 1916 (granted the rules of the game are not the same now) where Tech beat Cumberland 222-0.  Not even a basketball score gets that high!  All school loyalty aside, it is part of college football history and a great place to experience.  I enjoyed it as a college student and now as an alum!

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So all this said and done, the opportunity to visit a landmark in sports history has come my way and I will be going in January 2014.  Stay tuned to find out where this is!!!

What fun sports travel have you done?

What do you recommend I don’t miss out?

Boarding Pass Stories: Christchurch, New Zealand

Boarding pass, Air New Zealand, Christchurch, NZ, travel, flight, airline

Boarding pass, Air New Zealand, Christchurch, NZ, travel, flight, airline

The destination, the when(s), and the reason(s)

After spending two weeks there, I flew from Melbourne, Australia to New Zealand.  My entry point:  the very livable and lovely town of Christchurch.  This was in 2009, so before the large earthquake that did so much damage to this beautiful town.  I got to see it before it suffered such destruction.

The airline

Air New Zealand.  The carrier that I chose to fly me from Los Angeles to Australia/New Zealand.  I landed in Auckland where I connected with a flight to Sydney.  After spending two weeks in Australia, I returned to NZ to explore it.

What fascinated me about this experience

Christchurch was a place I could actually live in.  The neighborhoods, the city center – it all fit my likes.  I found good restaurants and a charming bed and breakfast.  It was a great launching point too to explore the south island of New Zealand and I sure hope to return some day!

Christchurch, New Zealand, cathedral, earthquake, destruction

Indoors at the main cathedral that, unfortunately, had to be condemned after the damage it suffered during the earthquake

I sure hope to return to Christchurch and explore it and the area more!

Getting Up High in Sydney- The Amazing Bridge Climb

ilivetotravel climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia

When I got to Sydney, Australia to visit friends and finally explore that land down under, one of the first thing my friends told me was I HAD TO do the bridge climb.  The Sydney Harbor Bridge climb.  I was immediately mesmerized at the thought.  Normally, I try to go up any structure that allows me birds eye view of a city.  The Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Christ Redeemer in Rio, the medieval towers in la rossa Bologna, St. Paul‘s in London, Sacre Coeur also in Paris, the Peachtree Westin in my hometown, … you get the point.  Nothing like being high up and looking down at man’s urban creation.  I had crossed the bridge on foot and snapped a photo I really liked looking at the Sydney Opera House (and you are already high from the bridge level) but a higher vantage point… THAT would be awesome.

So the Sydney Bridge climb was right up my alley.  Of course, I had to be OK parting with a good amount of dough, well north of US $100 (truth be told, around $200…).  But WHEN would I return to Sydney to do this?  I am not scared of heights when I feel secure and being on a walkway was good enough for me (vs. walking out on some diving board-like piece of something hanging of a needle or other such skyscraper structure).

A friend of mine who is also a travel blogger (Erin, from The World Wanderer) was telling me she wanted to do the climb.  I encouraged her to do it and she encouraged me to write about my experience (it was on the long to-write-about list).  The bridge climb is a fairly recent offering having been started in the mid 1990s or so.  They claim over 3 million participants so far – become one, like Erin will some day, and help them get to 4 million!

The prep

So I made my way to the place where they brief you on the entire process and suit you up on this very not glamorous attire.  The important thing, though, is that you part ways with ANYTHING that could POSSIBLY fall off you during the climb.  It is not only that you would lose the whatever-it-is.  It is that there are likely cars right under you that could be hit by anything falling off!  If it is not covered completely by the suit – it comes off.  Your sunglasses, mercifully, are given a contraption so you can keep them and they won’t fall off – whew.  They go through some instructions and -voilà- off you go!

Modeling the jumpsuit used in the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb

Notice all the gear on the model

The hike

Once you are ready to go, the first step is to hook yourself up to the “cord”.  This cord thing runs the ENTIRE route you will walk and you will be hooked to that cord the ENTIRE time you are out there either UNDER the bridge or climbing up.  Yes, that is why you should not fear doing the hike.  You are tethered to the bridge.  The only way you are falling to your death is if the bridge falls into the harbor hundreds of feet below.  And then it does not matter if you are climbing the bridge, on a bus crossing the bridge, or a pedestrian on the sidewalk on the bridge.  So no fear!

ilivetotravel climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia

Notice how I am strapped to the bridge

Once you start climbing, yes, the effort could be significant for some.  I exercise frequently so the physical effort was not extraordinary.  But I think you don’t have to be in great shape to go up.  Just don’t have serious heart issues or other serious illnesses.  Oh, and don’t be intoxicated.  They check and won’t let you go up!

The guide will make stops along the way but she/he is explaining things along the way.  The headphones you get are AWESOME.  They don’t go in your ear but over the rear of your cheek close to your ear – the sound vibrations emitted by the thing get to your eardrum and you hear perfectly fine – how cool is that?!  Our guide was phenomenal – great explanations, great humor (I am sure the same jokes he  and his peers say every tour but nevertheless funny), and great Aussie attitude and friendliness.

Say cheese!

As you hike the bridge, they will be taking photographs.  Remember the bit about not being able to bring a camera?  (You leave your stuff in a locker.)  Well, they know you want a picture or two.  And they know we will buy them so they won’t be cheap.  But since you already dished out a couple hundred buckaroos, what’s another limb, right?  The photos will be great – admire mine but do not laugh at the suit cause you will be wearing one too!

Climb of the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia with Opera House in the background

One of the worst smiles I’ve given in a photo but, overall, I can’t complain!  And it’s windy up there if you can’t tell!

“Closing arguments”

If I ever return to Sydney, I am likely to splurge again – but this time to do the night climb which I hear is also phenomenal (and cheaper!).  Hopefully, I’ve had enough time by then to save up for the cost of another climb.  But one thing I know, it will be WELL worth it!

I give this a completely certain thumbs up even if it feels gimmicky.  Gimmicks like this, though, have to be gone for (here is where English teachers cringe).  They pay you back with an incredible view of this great city by the water!  Did I convince you to do it??

Photo of the Week – Sydney Harbor from the Sydney Bridge

Sydney Harbor from Sydney Bridge, in Sydney, Australoa

I loved the opportunity that arose unexpectedly a couple of years ago to make the long trip to Australia and New Zealand.  It is not often I take more than 2 weeks off work at a time so having a month to go Down Under was pretty special – and yet not enough time by 200%!

One of my favorite discoveries was the incredible natural setting combined with man-made structures that is Sydney Harbor.  Though I could not take a camera up when I climbed the iconic harbor bridge, I did strive to take pictures from the bridge.

The picture here takes me back to that visit and to the incredible setting that is Sydney Harbor.  Here is to returning some day!

Sydney Harbor from Sydney Bridge in Australia

Photo of the Week – A Piece of Great Architecture

“You may normally see me in bathrooms but here I am among friends in this spectacular piece of architecture with a slightly different coating than my bathroom brethren.  I hear the blogger will be re-issuing some writeups about our site, our host town and the neighboring area.  You will see me and my buddies in all our glory!  Stay tuned!”

– Tile

Close-up of the Sydney Opera House's architecture

 

(Picture taken with Canon EOS Rebel)

Photo of the Week – I Dream of “Return to Cradle Mountain”

Tasmania was an enchanting place to visit.  The greenery, the remoteness, and yes, something different about the Australia and Australians I had seen so far.  The natural beauty was impressive.  We stayed at the Cradle Mountain Lodge, which we greatly enjoyed, and hiked up to the lake on a winter day in June of 2009.  I wrote about the trip back then in the entries below, but I thought I’d highlight again Tasmania by sharing some photos from the visit.

Getting to Tasmania and the plan – read more here.

Going to Cradle Mountain and beyond – read more here.

Around Wineglass Bay and ending in Hobart – read more here.

Cradle Mountain and Crater Lake in Tasmania

Cradle Mountain
(Captured with Canon EOS Rebel)

Trail on the way up to Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

Colorful trail
(Captured with Canon EOS Rebel)

The lodge by Cradle Mountain

Around the lodge

A Very Southern City – Dunedin

Railway station Dunedin New Zealand Gingerbread George

Well, by southern I mean “geographically”.  It was the southernmost city I visited in New Zealand and I was expecting it to be frigid but, mercifully, it was not. In fact, we had some really beautiful days though one morning we had minor rain.

Dunedin with about 130,000 inhabitants is quite a pleasant town to explore.  Not far from Christchurch, it does feel very different.  Dunedin has Scottish roots but, never having been to Scotland, they were not as easy for me to identify (Christchurch is said to be more English).  However, I enjoyed the town as it was quite walkable – except for the steep hills!  Dunedin sits by the water but it is surrounded by hills.  The city’s area includes the slopes of these hills where many neighborhoods are located.  It is a nice drive to go up to higher ground and see the old houses as the road curves along, while looking down on the city.

architecture, house, Dunedin, New Zealand, Canon EOS Rebel, travel

Typical architecture in the area in Dunedin, New Zealand

But having walked a few of these streets, I can certify they are steep!  In fact, Dunedin does lay claim to the steepest street in the world and I am not surprised.

A residential street in a steep street in Dunedin, New Zealand, Canon EOS Rebel, travel

A steep street but FAR from the steepest!

Steepest street, Guiness, world, Dunedin, New Zealand, Canon EOS Rebel, travel

Yep. This is the steepest street in the world.

During my visit, I explored the Otago Museum right by the university.  It is a very nice museum (and free to boot!).  It is an excellent place to take the kids.  http://www.otagomuseum.govt.nz/

I also took tours of the Cadbury factory (also good for the kids) where they kept giving us different chocolate bars along the way (not all were to my liking as they were mainly milk chocolate based and I am a dark chocolate fan) as they showed us how chocolate is made (very interesting) and of the Speight’s brewery (where, of course, we sampled their beer – very nice!  sure, why not, also good for the kids! lol ).

Dunedin’s railway station is a piece of art onto itself, both the exterior and the interior, and a must-see if you visit.  The style is such that its architect, named George, became better known as “Gingerbread” George!

Railway station Dunedin New Zealand Gingerbread George, Canon EOS Rebel, travel

The beautiful railway station built in the early 20th century

Mosaic, architectural details, railway station, Dunedin, New Zealand, Canon EOS Rebel, travel

Details of the booking hall in the railway station

Finally, the main street itself has a good number of places to eat as well as places to shop so walking it up and down a couple of time is certainly worth it.

Main street in Dunedin, New Zealand, architecture, Canon EOS Rebel

Main street in Dunedin, New Zealand

I found Dunedin to be quite charming and the people friendly.  I got there after crossing the Southern Alps and exploring majestic fjordland I am not sure how cold it gets in the winter being so far south but I counted my blessings of not finding out in person!

Random Observations during Trip to Australia and New Zealand

As I used to do when my writing was in email form to friends and family, I am going to share some of the random things I observed that caught my attention in my trip to Australia and New Zealand.  These are not earth-shattering observations or anything that is better or worse in the places I visited than what I am used to, just things that caught my eye.  I always find it interesting to hear what others find curious so I will share what I found curious…  Hope no one takes offense!

  • I arrive in Sydney, my first main stop in the trip.  After surviving the strict customs and health things they do at the airport, I leave the secured zone and what is the first thing I see?  Krispy Kreme.  Don’t get me wrong: nothing wrong at ALL with a KK doughnut.  And Aussies sure have a right to enjoy them like I do. But it’s funny that I travel halfway around the world and the first thing I see is an outlet of a doughnut chain founded in the southeastern U.S. where I live!
  • Alright, I get past KK (without stopping), handle a few things (ATM, buying SIM card, etc.) and eventually get to my friends’ place (a train and a metro ride away – plus a short hike).  I shower, unpack somethings, and venture out to combat jet lag.  But first, let me load up on caffeine!  I look around and there are coffee shops EVERYWHERE!  I did not know Aussies were so into coffee.  Not that it should surprise me, coffee is good but there were coffee shops not just in every corner but in between corners and multiple ones at almost every corner.  Wow.  That’s a serious devotion of coffee.

  • So I pick one coffee shop – a hard thing to do with so many around.  I ask for a coffee.  I get a blank stare.  I repeat myself.  The young woman has an accent (eastern European, perhaps) so I assume my own accented English is too new to her ears.  I repeat my request “a coffee, please”.  She asks if cappuccino, latte, or flat white.  I didn’t want either of the first two and the third option sounded like a cup of milk – just white, flat white, only milk.  I say no I just want coffee.  It occurs to me that perhaps I needed to explain that I meant coffee with nothing else.  I get a blank stare.  Eventually, the other clerk joins us and I repeat the last statement.  I succeed in getting black coffee.  I wasn’t sure what the deal was but, heck, I got my black coffee.  Only to discover it was horrible.  And then it dawns on me:  perhaps black coffee here is not as good as say, PR, France, Italy, hence they must always add some amount of milk and/or foam.  Got it.  But I still didn’t know how I should have asked for black coffee… Nor did I get what a flat white was… (until later and then I loved them).
  • It is not “how are you doing?” but “how are you going?”.  At first, I wanted to say by bus or by train until I caught on.
  • There are these “stores” called TAB in Australia.  I wasn’t quite sure what they were and my friends explained they are sports betting places.  Mind you, not glitzy or big like casinos (they have those too) but like small stores.  And they can be quite a common sight in Sydney and Melbourne – one every couple of blocks?  (an exaggeration on my part but it felt like that!)
  • Air travel is a breeze here.  Not sure if that is good or bad but for domestic flights, just show up 30 minutes beforehand.  Security doesn’t even require shoes off.  My belt and shoes set off most US airports’ machines.  Not here.  Nada.
  • Driving:  in some places, it felt like these were the best drivers in the world and, in others, pretty bad.  No locations shall be named…
  • The times I ordered salads, not once did I see regular plain lettuce.  I love these countries!
  • More than a couple of times, I think I was fed some mis-information by eager-to-share-knowledge guides.  Like Lake Taupo being the largest lake in the southern hemisphere.  It IS the largest freshwater lake in Oceania (616 km2) but that is a far cry from Lake Victoria (69,485 km2)…  Another was the “world’s longest bridge” somewhere between Dunedin and Christchurch…  I didn’t buy either of these claims but I wonder how many I “bought”!  Now, I am sure Dunedin DOES have the world’s steepest street (it is so according to the Guinness Book of Records, I checked).

Dunedin’s most famous street

  • Constant references to something being the x-most in the southern hemisphere.  It felt like everything wanted to claim something.  Best example:  the Christchurch airport signs telling the travelers that the company that runs the airport was the 1st airport company in the southern hemisphere to become carbon neutral.
  • Rainfall in the north island of NZ is measured in inches but in the west part of the south island, it is measured in meters!  (I am raising this not because they used different measurement systems when giving me these data points but because it points to the significant difference in rainfall amount.)
  • Train restrooms were clean (as opposed to those in many other countries I have been to; ahem, Europe…).
  • Power outlets have a small switch immediately next to them to turn them on.  If you don’t realize this, that electric razor you are trying to charge up won’t be doing anything the next morning!
  • Upon arriving at a motel or B&B in NZ, the person at reception ALWAYS offered me milk.  It took me a while to develop a solid theory on why (outside of “they just love drinking milk here perhaps”):  since it was winter and the rooms had electric kettles, maybe it was in case I wanted tea/milk or coffee/milk?
  • Many places had windows with 2 positions for closing the window.  One was to entirely shut it but the other was to leave a slight crack open yet have the window locked.  It was hard to see that the windows were slightly ajar.  At first, I wondered why motel rooms had a draft…  I figured it out on my own, thank you very much.
  • Every motel or B&B I stayed at had towel warmers.  I loved that since it was very cold.
  • Airlines had a bit of an obsession that the safety card in the seatback pocket must always be the FIRST thing in the pocket.  Before landing, flight attendants requested this and/or would fix it for you if they noticed the items in the pocket were not in the right order…
  • Public restrooms in every town’s central area!  And easy to find!

Do you share any of these random observations?  Any others from your travels down under??

Criss-crossing the southern island of New Zealand

sun light ocean, New Zealand, travel, vista, view, sea

Besides flying into and out of the country and riding the TranzAlpine train, buses (or coaches) were my main mode of travel. I was surprised that trains were not talked about much in my readings about how to move about the country but it seems buses are the main way to get around (outside of driving).

Backtracking a little, I did not sign up for a standard guided tour but instead bought a package of transportation and accommodations based on the places I wanted to visit. The agency that helped me basically ensured the places were sequenced in a logical manner and handled the synchronization of schedules when connections were required or when special linkages to other events were needed. The package also included a couple of main attractions (like the ferry ride through Milford Sound). I really liked the idea of an independent tour, as they are called, since I wasn’t looking forward to the “confines” of a guided tour nor of driving around solo.

The “Bus/Coach Experience”

I was not sure what to expect from taking a bus around and in between towns. I was not expecting a regular public transportation bus (as I know them in the U.S. and Europe) but also was not expecting a major tour bus type. These inter city type of buses (InterCity seems to be the largest bus company around but there are others affiliated with tour companies) pretty much go everywhere and are fairly comfortable. Many will have a restroom (or “toilet”) on board and, if not, they will make frequent stops every couple of hours or so for nature breaks, food breaks, and even some photo opps. The drivers for these buses will even do some narration of what you are looking at or going through which was a very nice surprise so that you could understand better the land you are observing. Some of these drivers were a veritable fountain of facts and knowledge! The buses were also on time and some even picked you up/dropped you off at your hotel. In researching the options, there were buses that seemed to be focusing on college-aged tourists – I sensed as much and stayed away from those as I am well past that age. Make sure you understand the focus of any bus company you choose!

sun light ocean, New Zealand, travel, vista, view, sea

Early morning view of the Tasman Sea from the southern island coastal road

Following a circuit around the south island of New Zealand

Another curious thing about doing an independent tour and using the bus system to get around in the south island is that, more likely than not, you are really following a circuit that goes something like this with variations possible: Christchurch, Greymouth, glaciers, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Te Anau, Dunedin, and back to Christchurch. Some of the variations include the Catlins, Invercargill, Stewart Island and a few other places at the very south and very north of the island. (I didn’t do the same type of travel in the north island so I am not as familiar with what a good circuit might be there.)

New Zealand, driving, roads, travel, explore

Nice roads on New Zealand’s southern island

The neat thing for me was that I began to run into the same people at different stages of the circuit (people who were going counterclockwise on that circuit; the opposite direction is also possible!). Sometimes we would be in the same bus 2 or 3 places in a row. Sometimes we broke the sequence only to reconnect later in the trip. It took at least a couple of times of coinciding before really chatting them up. And I actually enjoyed running into the same people later in the trip. Grace from NJ, Chris from London, the Lees from Hong Kong, a couple from Delhi, etc. were some of those folks I ran into a few times. I also did meet other folks whom I only saw at one spot but got to chat or hang out (Ben from Tamworth and Ryan from Melbourne).

New Zealand, southern island, lake, mountains, snow, road, travel, nature, outdoors

One of the most majestic segments of the circuit – I wish I could have sat there for a few hours!

Finally, because of the various stops the buses make, you get to see a couple of smaller towns even if for a short 30 minute walk. We are talking small towns (the largest I reckon was about 4,000 people) so 30 minutes gets you at least a peek at the town center which is better than a drive-by. If you like seeing small towns, clearly driving around would be better as you can decide how long to stay somewhere but I enjoyed seeing places like Wanaka (on the shore of Lake Hawea and somewhere I would stay instead of Queenstown if I ever return!), and Hokitika near Greymouth.

Wanaka southern island New Zealand lake mountains travel nature outdoors explore Canon EOS Rebel

The town of Wanaka by the lake of the same name was peaceful and in an incredible setting

So, among the various good ways to travel the country, the bus system gets a thumbs up. And you will never be a total stranger to everyone while going around NZ!

How I Found the North Island of New Zealand Different than the South Island

Geothermal, New Zealand, Taupo, colorful, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

When I planned my trip to New Zealand, I decided based on my interests and what was on offer to spend more time in the South Island than in the North Island.  However, this does not mean the North Island lacks places to explore.  I left the visit to the North Island for the last 4 days of my month-long trip down under making Auckland my base and then traveling around the center of the island to visit places like the Waitomo glowworm caves (incredible!), Rotorua, Taupo, Huka Falls, and the geothermal fields.  There was so much to see that even 2 days for these sites was a bit rushed.

Huka Falls, New Zealand, nature, dam, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, nature, majestic

Huka Falls

I noticed a few differences between the two islands during my visit quite easily:  two different worlds.  Clearly, the North Island is more densely populated (this does not mean it feels crowded) and there was more evidence of human presence along the roads traveled in that part of the North Island whereas the South Island felt more vast and empty.  Also, the presence of the Maori culture was much more evident in the North Island than it was in the parts of the south Island that I visited.  Finally, the North Island also seems to have more going on in terms of volcanoes and geothermal activity but the South Island has the more extreme mountain scenery (the Southern Alps, glaciers, fiords).  Here is a bit more of the North Island…

Meeting the Maori Culture for the First Time

One of the highlights for me of the north island was to get a small peek at Maori culture by visiting the Auckland Museum (I highly recommend it) and one of the cultural visits in the Rotorua area.  It was great to understand better the songs and dances of the Maori, including the scary “haka” that I was familiar with only through watching the All Blacks rugby team in action!

Sample Maori meeting hall - being greeted when we arrived

Sample Maori meeting hall – being greeted when we arrived

Maori dance performance

Maori dance performance

Hot Lava, Anyone?

Another highlight for me was visiting the geothermal fields and understanding why those fields exist and are so active – the area is a very “alive” volcanic area.  I visited a few sites where I saw geysers and thermal pools.  The Artists Palette and the Champagne Pool were my favorite among the various famous sites near Taupo.  But everywhere you looked, you could see a column of steam coming off the ground, not only in the areas set up for visitors but just about anywhere you looked.  I have never seen anything like that before!  Of course, along with all this comes a strong “aroma” of sulfur.

Geothermal, New Zealand, Taupo, colorful, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Geothermal, New Zealand, Taupo, colorful, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Geothermal, New Zealand, Taupo, colorful, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Part of the Artists Palette pool

Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating too much so I did not get a good view of the lakes in the area.  It rained a good bit the weekend I was in the North Island so I am sure that kept me from enjoying some nice views.

Geothermal, New Zealand, Taupo, colorful, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Auckland

In Auckland itself, I limited myself to the Auckland Museum and the Maritime Museum, and to do a very long walk around the central business district (“CBD“), Ponsonby (where I stayed) and “K” road (Karangahape is the proper name).  While the central business district had some neat architecture that I assume is early 20th century, it was the districts of Parnell and Ponsonby that seemed to have more of the charming feel.  I did not explore beyond this central core of the city so there is likely more than I got to see.  For instance, the central business district waterfront area is only a fraction of the coastline that is available to the city, which is bounded on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the other by the Tasman Sea.

Auckland, New Zealand, architecture, green, design, art, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

Buildings seem to grow out of the ground in Auckland!

Auckland definitely felt very different than everything else I had seen in NZ in the trip.  It is the most populous city in NZ (around 1.3 million residents out of the 4.something in the entire country).  By comparison, the next largest city I visited, Christchurch, has about 350,000 residents.   Dunedin, a charming southern town, even less.  After spending a week in the southern half of the South Island, coming to Auckland required a bit of an adjustment for sure.

Other Areas

Among the many things I did not see but heard were worth seeing were the Coromandel Peninsula, the city of Wellington, islands off Auckland like Waiheke, the areas on the north of the North Island, etc.  It seems, therefore, that I need to return to NZ to complete my visit 🙂  GLADLY!

Experiencing Majestic Fiordland

A Question

For some reason, fjords here in New Zealand are fiords.  No time to google it.  Just sharing…  In any event, I left Queenstown early in the morning to see the wonderful site that is Milford Sound in the southwest corner of the south island of New Zealand.  As the bird flies, this should have taken, I don’t know, an hour or two.  However, there is no direct route so we had to drive all around the lake by Queenstown – a VERY long lake – and backtrack to get to Milford Sound.  This took about 5 hrs or so (I am guesstimating, my memory begins to confuse the segments’ durations…).  I wondered why they would not just build a more direct route since Queenstown is such a popular destination in NZ for skiing and adventure (the adventure capital of the world, or is it of the southern hemisphere??), and Milford Sound is high on the list of must-sees in NZ.

The Answer?  (Or My Theory of It)

Well, the question answered itself along the way.  The trek to get to Milford Sound is the most beautiful of all the road scenery I had seen in the trip.  You are, the last part of the way, driving on a road flanked on either side by a mountain range with snow-capped peaks.  But I am not talking about far in the distance you see some mountains.  No, they are right next to you!

The drive, needless to say, was spectacular.  We passed a few mountains (Mt. Christina which in my mind was spelled Mt. Cristina as it made me think of my cousins named Cristina, all 3 of them; and Mt. Talbott where Sir Edmund Hillary trained for his eventual climb to Mt. Everest).  Right by Mt. Talbott we entered a tunnel where ice stalactites had formed due to water seepage and some of these would fall on the roof of the bus as we passed – quite loud and it took us all by surprise!

The well-named Mirror Lake

The well-named Mirror Lake

The zone was beginning to show the effects of the arrival of winter.  The contrast between how the zone looks in winter vs. how it looks in summer must be incredible to see.  (Mental note:  I need to go back in late spring or summer.)

Winter begins

Winter begins

During this drive, we passed the divide of the south island and the vegetation clearly became more rainforest-like as we went west over the divide.  It was neat to see the contrast.

One interesting note is that, in this area, tree avalanches are possible.  The trees along these mountains can’t develop a root system (if I recall correctly) that goes deep enough onto the mountain sides so the trees’ roots intermingle not only underground but above ground.  If a tree dies, the overall root system weakens.  With enough of this and high winds and entire group of trees can fall and it becomes a cascade of trees all the way down from wherever the avalanche started.  We saw a couple of such avalanche sites and basically you can see, just like with a mudslide, the entire section where the trees rolled down.  We were told one time it took 2 weeks to re-open the road below!

The Sound

Milford Sound is a fiord that takes about 45 minutes to traverse in one direction until it hits the open seas (this would depend on boat speed).  One can go in one of the boats that take tourists or kayak some of the way.  The former was the way I did it and I enjoyed taking in the views, seeing the waterfalls that dot the very vertical faces of the mountains along the fiord (I still want to spell it fjord; Norway on my mind?).  The Mitre mountain is the one typically shown on pictures of Milford Sound.  It is called “Mitre” because it resembles the hat of the same name worn by bishops/cardinals.  Unlike some fiords elsewhere, these are part of a national park and there is no development or habitants in the fiord.

Heading out on the boat

Heading out on the boat

Along the cruise we took, we saw seals and dolphins, the latter quite playful, following the boat, turning on the side as they swam with us, etc.  The place had a peacefulness to it that made me want to kayak it on my own, just looking around and enjoying this wonderful corner of earth called Fiordland.

The playful dolphins of the sound

The playful dolphins of the sound

Milford Sound, as far as I understand, is just one corner of the Fiordland region.  Now I want to come back and spend the same amount of time I spent in the south island in the Fiorland region!  So much to see and do, so little time…

Breath-taking!

Breath-taking!

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