New Zealand’s North Island: Auckland ,Rotorua and Taupo March 1 – 6 2016

                        Some photos will be sideways depending on your viewing source.
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We landed to a rainy New Zealand. We were met by our North Island tour representative & taken to our first hotel. Our guide, whose name was Uncle, is a Maori native and was an excellent greeter. He gave us information about Auckland as we drove to our  hotel.
The hotel was a comfortable city hotel. Our room had a small kitchen, which gave us the flexibility to cook a breakfast before starting our days  of adventuring.  We swam in the hotel’s  indoor pool, rested and walked to the nearby ferry terminal to find dinner and explore the area .
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 We were up early the next day.  Hank cooked breakfast & we set off to catch a 45 minute ferry ride to Waiheke island for a day of wine tasting. We  tasted wines at three vineyards:
. Jurassic Ridge vineyards across the street from sheeo farms had vineyards & olive trees.
The owner is a retired neurologist & geologist;
. Goldie vineyards,  which is  first winery on Waiheke and had very beautiful scenery;
. StonyRidge where we tasted wine & had a wonderful lunch.
 After the tour we ferried back to our hotel & napped!
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A Montepulciano wine is unusual for New Zealand’s soils.

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image                                                  Que Syrah Hank?

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 That evening we met up with our Atlanta friend Harriet’s daughter, Bahama, who lives in Auckland where she works as a swimming instructor.  She drove us to Mission Bay to a Belgian restaurant for dinner.  We sat outside on the balcony & enjoyed the pretty views of the bay and Bahama’s wonderful company. Hank and Bahama shared New Zealand green lipped mussels. He was in seafood heaven.
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image                                   Beer, mussels,  and chips
The next morning we were up early to catch a ferry to Rangitoto Island & a tour of this young volcanic island which last erupted 650 years ago.  We were transported on a tram pulled by a tractor along a rough lava path passing lava fields in the process of being reclaimed by vegetation.
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The tram took us to a walkway where we walked along a boardwalk to the summit that was built 10 years ago by unemployed Auckland youth. At the summit, we looked over the Waitemata Harbor and Hauraki Gulf and could also see Auckland harbor. There  was a military outpost that was built as an observation post for the World War II.  We continued on the tractor pulled tram down the lava chute and had a chance to walk around the area some more before the return ferry.
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Back at Auckland Harbor we found lunch by the water. More New Zealand mussels for Hank!
We rested  and then Hank found a good foot massage. We had an early evening since our tour bus was to pick us up at 6:45 am to set off for Rotorua. We checked out of our hotel and set out  for Rotorua. 
The drive  was great experience. The hills were dotted with cattle, sheep and some alpacas.
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Our first stop was Waitomo to see the glow worm caves.  This was a spectacular experience as we walked through a limestone cave with impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations before boarding a boat that floated on a subterranean river through the cave that was illuminated by hundreds of spots of light from glow worms. They didn’t allow any photographs, so this is a green screen picture that the cave operators made possible.  
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  Our next stop was The Agrodome where we watched a sheep shearing demonstration and an Australian  sheep dog herd sheep around a paddock.
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We then boarded a tractor-tram to pull us around the impressive farm. We were surprised to see a  deer farm which are very popular in New Zealand for venison, which can be bought at grocery stores and restaurants.

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We then  drove to a Maori cultural village called Te Puia. The Maori came from Polynesia about the year 1500, and have been living in this area for almost 700 years. Te Puia offered a chance to find out more about Māori, their culture and land.  We watched a Maori cultural dance and music performance.
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 We then visited a Maori  woodworking workshop.
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 We were led to the  Pohutu geyser which was just starting to spurt and also watched bubbling mud pools. 
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That evening we went to dinner that included a Maori cultural performance.
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In the morning we were picked up for the 1 hour drive to Matamata where we would tour Hobbiton. We drove past acres and acres of hilly sheep farms and  beautiful landscapes. It was easy  to see why Peter Jackson selected this countryside for his filming.  Hobbiton was an incredible place to be. Their was no hint of Disney or Hollywood about the place.  It was perfectly possible to believe that a hobbit would appear with his pipe to sit on his stoop, or to come round the shed to tend his beautiful vegetable garden. We really liked being at Hobbiton.
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In the afternoon we went to the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua. Shelley got a mud treatment and Hank a massage . We then soaked in the geothermal pools for which Rotorua is known.  After an early breakfast we walked to the Government gardens where we saw more natural geothermal pools and a lawn bowling tournament.
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W e saw this interesting bird in the park. It is a Pūkeko. image
We then set off to Taupo by bus and upon arriving found out that The Ironman competition was at Taupo that day.So, our adventures continue! Our bus dropped us at a location blocks from where our tour company told us the stop would be.  We had to drag our luggage through the crowds who were waiting for the many cyclists & runners. At the visitor center we were able to arrange for an evening boat cruise to see relatively recent (1979) Maori carvings on the cliff.   We made our way to the busy harbor where they graciously  stored our luggage.  While waiting for the boat tour we ate lunch by Lake Taupo and watched swimmers, cyclists and runners. We even saw a low flying helicopter catching great shots of the athletes.
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Back at the harbour  for the evening cruise, we rode on Lake  Taupo, a crater lake 100 miles circumstance, to see the Maori carvings. It was a  very nice cruise and they served snacks and drinks to0.
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The next morning we hired a taxi to pick us up at our hotel and drive us to Huka Falls. It’s a popular natural attraction, but the town doesn’t offer a shuttle to see it. You can ,however ,book a tour on a speeding jet boat to view the falls, but we’re not THAT adventuresome.
DSCF3580After seeing the falls we had the taxi driver drop us off back in town where we stored our luggage near the visitor center and wandered around the town, now devoid of the Ironman crowds.  Soon we were catching our bus to Napier, as we continued to explore the North Island.
 

Brisbane, Australia February 26 – 28 2016

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Brisbane was a short stopover on our way to Auckland , New Zealand.
We arrived at 5 in the evening, took a cab  to our AirB&B hotel ,a unit in the Art Deco Rothberg hotel.
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Following the advice of a volunteer at the airport information center , we walked through the mall on Queen St.,  past public performers including Hara Krishna dancers , hula hoopers and a lovely kalimba performer. image
We arrived at an evening craft market surrounded by restaurants.
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We had our dinner at an restaurant  on the south bank of the Brisbane River that had a balcony overlooking the market & huge public pools on the Esplanade. The building that houses the restaurant was built in 1864.
The next day we set out to explore the city and waterfront area.
 This city does an excellent job of preserving facades and re-purposing old buildings.
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Walking around the esplanade area we walked through a pretty floral archway.
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We discovered great street food. We watched while a potato was peeled with a drill creating a swirl. The swirled potato  was cooked and served on a skewer. It was pretty yummy!
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Hank found delight in a grilled brat
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Sitting down at a table we asked to share , we met Che and Charles & visited for a bit. It was a lovely time spent together. Hank had a new audience for his jokes & learned a few more.
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We visited the nearby market & Hank got a foot massage. We then had a chance  to meet Charles’ lovely wife Nellie, Daughter Piper and Lauren visiting from Sydney.
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 We saw a table keg, a culinary apparatus new to us.
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Creature watching in the gardens surrounding the esplanade we saw a ring tailed possum that was chewing on leaves, bearded dragons  and many ibis wandering about.
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We got back to our apartment  too tired to go to dinner.
Up early  in the morning for breakfast & ready for a river cruise down the Brisbane River.
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The boat cruised by:
-rock climbers on kangaroo point
-the custom house
-Story bridge with people walking up the steps to the top of the bridge
.-areas that were the first penal colonies
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 We got off the boat to visit Newstead house, the oldest house in
Brisbane, built in 1843. While on the grounds of the house we saw a huge golden orb spider .
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 We also saw a sausage tree that we had seen at the Cairns Botanical Gardens. It’s from Africa and very unusual looking.
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 We walked across the Breakfast Creek to the  Breakfast Creek Hotel an old hotel built in 1869  for a cool drink before catching the river cruise back to Brisbane’s Central Business District (CBD).
Walking through the streets we saw a this interesting art installation called Unicycle Man Balancing on High Wire.
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We rested and then walked to the Queens Mall for a dinner of bugs & prawns.
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We were up early for our 6 am taxi to the airport. And we’re off to  Auckland and exploring the North Island of New Zealand .

Cairns Australia Continued February 22 – 25 2016

Disclaimer: Sorry that some photos might be sideways. It will depend  if you’re viewing on a PC or tablet. They’re all properly oriented when we post but we’ve noticed the switch when we look at the blog on our Ipad and/or PC.

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Continuing on in Cairns:

We woke up early the next morning and used the available bicycles & helmets and ride into town for a breakfast.

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Look, payphones still exist!IMG_0882

We returned , packed up and got ready to picked up by Malcolm, our gracious host.  Not only did he drive us to Yorkeys Knob but also stopped at a few markets so we could pick up some groceries and fresh seafood. We were very grateful for his generosity. Malcolm and Anna rented us an apartment that was lovely, spacious, clean and the air conditioning worked well. It was directly across from a pretty beach where there were safety nets set up to keep out jellyfish.

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We had hoped to kayak but the water was too rough to risk staying upright with so many jellyfish in the waters. We cooked at the apartment they evening. Hank’s foot had been bothering him and Malcolm recommended a podiatrist he could see the next day. We woke up early to see the sunrise but it was raining, so we walked on the beach with umbrellas.  We set off for Hank’s doctor appointment  via a bus that picked us up directly across the street from our apartment. Very convenient!  After the doctor visit we walked to a nearby cafe and discovered a display of a HUGE local crocodile.

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The next morning we set off at 7:30 am for a tour of the Daintree Rain forest area. The tour bus picked us up and we traveled on the Captain Cook highway along the beach to Mossman, The Daintree River & Rainforest area and Cape Tribulation. We passed a sign: “Croc feeding – bring your children”  Ha ha!
Mossman is a sugar cane refining town where there are lots of sugar cane fields, which are harvested May through December. The trees lining the main road in town were planted in 1904 – South American Raintrees with lots of moss and ferns growing on them.

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As a part of our trip we transferred to a little boat from which we saw a large crocodile, mid-size & baby crocodiles. DSCF3266

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past intermediate egrets flying from trees


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The Daintree Rainforest area is a world heritage sight.

 

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We walked on a boardwalk through the forest

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and saw two Boyd’s rainforest dragons ( lizards)

 

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and a 400 year old Cycad Tree Fan Palm.

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We had lunch at a spot that was a wallaby and bird sanctuary. It was exciting to see a baby in it’s momma’s pouch.

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and then past Thornton Beach to Cooper Creek on Cape Tribulation for a swim in a cold creek that Shelley actually jumped in! Too cold for crocodiles also.

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We tasted different fruits & had billy tea made by swinging the tea pot around the cook’s head to settle the tea leaves.

Back in the bus & drove to Cape Tribulation beach named by James Cook who explored Australia from his ship, The Endeavor, and claimed it for the British.

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A stop at Daintree ice creamery for exotic fruit ice cream where the fruit is grown in local orchards.

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imageHave you heard of wattleseed before? We hadn’t.  It makes a great ice cream.

We drove to the river & were carried over on the cable pulled ferry.

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We got up early the next morning to watch the sunrise across the street at the beach. We sat on rocks and watched the lovely hues. It was a great surprise to see a drone rise up over the water flying in front of us. Maybe someone wanted to see the sunrise without getting out of bed?

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Hank had a swim in the ocean in the portion that is netted off for jellyfish protection.  Our next adventure was the Cairns Botanical Gardens.We caught a bus first to the marina for more prawns & mud bugs from the trawler restaurant we enjoyed the other day.
We then took a bus to the FREE Cairns Botanical Gardens.

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We saw phenomenal trees, bushes and flowers . We got to see an aboriginal Medicine forest , an interesting tree called a sausage tree.

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We also saw the Titan Arum, the tallest blooming plant in the world, which bloomed in January, 2016.  Its bloom has an odor likened to rotting flesh, which is why it is called “the corpse flower.” It had be written up in the local papers a few months back.

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 We saw a kookaburra perched on a sign post at the gardens.  It was exciting to see one in the wild.

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 After the bus back to downtown Cairns we found a restaurant right across from the tree of parrots where thousands of the birds would descend on the tree at dusk.
We were up early for another magnificent sunrise.  Malcolm cut a coconut for Hank to drink the water.

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Across the street near the ocean we spotted a black cockatoo with beautiful red tail feathers.

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We really loved this beachside spot and sadly had to say goodbye.  Malcolm was very gracious in driving us to the airport.  We headed off to Brisbane.

More to come soon!

Cairns, Australia part 1 February 17 – 22 2016

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Cairns  ( don’t pronounce the r)  is very hot & humid (98 degrees f. compared to our recent trip to Melbourne where it was only 84 degrees f).  The locals were just as shocked as we are with the unexpected heat.
We wandered the town & saw a fig tree filled with flying foxes.
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We   reminded  ourselves to come back at sunset to watch them take off into the evening sky. These are huge fruit bats. Shelley got a haircut & we bought groceries for breakfast. Later we walked past mud flats full of white Australian Pelicans.
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We had  dinner along the marina and then had foot massages at the night market. Hank sat on the patio smoking a cigar watching the flying foxes swoop around.
We were up early and had breakfast on the patio watching a pair of doves eat the palm fruit.DSCF3139
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We had a brisk walk  to catch the 2 hr train ride to the mountain village of Karunda in the morning. DSCF3143
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The Karunda railroad was built between 1882 & 1891. The  train carriages were built between 1909 & 1913. The train is pulled by two model 1720 locomotives built between 1966&  1970.  The track is a narrow gauge (3 ft 6 in) and travels 37 kilometers (23 miles ) and reaches an elevation of 327 meters( (1,073 ft) above sea level. Building it took 1,500 men working by hand to carve a route out of the mountain.
 We rode past sugar cane fields , coconut trees,  saw mountains and the Coral Sea. We stopped for a lookout at Barron Falls station and wandered around.
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In the small village we had lunch and
listened to a few street buskers playing their didgeridoos. We posted a video of one of them on Facebook.
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               We took the sky rail back where we were able to get a birds eye view of the rain forest.
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We stopped for a lookout of Barron falls & a rain forest walk with a nature guide. The guide pointed out a golden orb spider , beautiful basket ferns and the characteristics of flora & fauna in a tropical rain forest. There are over 1800 species of both.
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 We swam in the morning and then set off to wander the town & find out about a fishing trip for Hank. We decided on leasing a boat that Hank would skipper & fish the local estuary & Shelley would come along.  Life is full of surprises that Shelley agreed to go fishing with Hank!
Well, they call it fishing, not catching, but we had a lovely boat ride in a pontoon skiff about three miles up the estuary through the mangroves. We were looking for crocodiles or other exotica and we were rewarded with a sea snake. It was  very impressive, about 5′ long and swimming without concern for us or anyone else. It was a lovely way to spend the morning, and Shelley was able to avoid any ethical concerns about Hank catching dinner.
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THE FLYING FOXES at sunset were amazing to watch. We sat by the tree where we’d seen these amazing creatures waiting for them to take their sunset flight. We posted a video of them in flight on Facebook.
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Next to that tree was a tree full of  noisy parrots. There’s a video of them on Facebook too.
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We were up early the next morning for our 2 day sailing trip to the Great Barrier Reef on Coral Sea Dreaming.
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There were 12 of us on this sailboat. it was a  4 hr sail to our first snorkel reef dive.
We anchored at Flynn Reef for 3 hours and snorkeled there. We saw parrot fish , schools  of sweet lips, snappers, wrasses, & amazing coral
Some people were diving but we only snorkeled.
We wore full body jellyfish stinger proof suits for protection. We looked like we were wearing giant spanx.
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Point break was the next reef spot. there were fewer fish though we did see cerulean blue coral that was breathtakingly beautiful.
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We watched the sun set, had dinner &
we went to sleep early. We awoke a pretty sunrise. after breakfast we were ready for more snorkeling.
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One of the reefs was called 3 sisters. We saw more parrot fish , white tipped sharks and so many colorful little fish.
Someone  was throwing bread off the boat that attracted red bass and parrot fish.
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On the return to Cairns Harbor we were followed by a school of dolphins.We posted a video of the dolphins  on Facebook.
We arrived at the marina and took our skipper’s recommendation to have dinner from a trawler in the marina that serve very fresh seafood. We had prawns & mud bug which is a small rock lobster.
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We retrieved our luggage afterwards and made our way to our next Air B&B. We were to be here for two nights before heading to the beachside area of Yorkeys Knob.  We arrived to an accommodation that was the bottom half of a family home. It was a bit dank & buggy and had a mediocre air conditioning system.We were less than pleased with the environment, but it was already 7:30 pm so another evening choice was unrealistic. We contacted our Beach side Air B&B hosts and asked if we could come a day earlier. They were okay with that and made a wonderful offer to pick us up the next day.We were able  to avoid the hassle of two buses so we were thrilled with the offer.
To be continued: