Kauai, Hawaii March 31 – April 4 2016

 

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We arrived at the airport and  rented a car where we saw a chicken walking around the Alamo car rental.  As we spent our four days in Kauai we learned that the island of Kauai is home to thousands of wild chickens, a particular variety that’s vibrant in plumage.  They eat the venomous centipedes native to Kauai, a trait that people seem to like, but they have no natural predators besides pet cats and dogs, and the population is growing at an alarming rate.  The Hawaiian chickens really only came into their own as the pigeon of Hawaii in the past few decades, after Hurricane Iniki destroyed chicken enclosures in 1992, releasing many of the island’s captive chickens into the jungle.
We drove the short distance to our beach front hotel. We were on the east coast of Kauai. The hotel was recently acquired by the Hilton chain and was still under renovation.  It had opened 2 days before we got there!  We were adventurers, trying it out.  The hotel had been one of the island’s best in the 1960s when first built.  It had good bones, but really needed the loving care it was getting.  Renovations in the wing in which we were staying were complete, other than the old hydraulic elevator that lurched and bumped its way to the second floor.  One ride and then we walked the stairs for the balance of our stay.  The lobby area and pool were completely renovated and they were working on the second wing and the landscaping.  The hotel manager and his staff were great, and we certainly would stay there again given a chance.
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 There is a partnership with hotel & the Department of Hawaiian Homelands to protect the land that the hotel is built on. Since the hotel is on sacred land there was a sunrise worship ceremony that we took part in the next morning. Shelley was asked  to put a ceremonial gift by the noni tree surrounding the sacred area where a temple once stood.
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After breakfast we were picked up for a cruise of the Wailua River and the nearby fern grotto.  It is a 21 mile river that feeds into the Pacific Ocean.   As we boarded the boat, which was a scow pushed by a small tug boat, we were greeted by musicians playing ukulele and guitar.   Beautiful scenery.  We were surrounded by mountains and groves of Haue growing along the banks as we cruised down the river. We watched some hula and everyone on the boat learned hula together.  After the 2 mile cruise we got off the boat to hike the fern grotto area. The musicians played the Hawaiian wedding song & hula by this area that is famous for its wedding cave surrounded by hanging ferns , ti & red ginger.
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We drove to Kappau for lunch & then to find some waterfalls.We discovered Opeka Falls and Wailua Falls. At Wailua falls we saw swimmers at the bottom & white birds with long tails flying above called Kia Kaie.
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We then drove south to find Spouting Horn state park . We heard that the Spouting Horn blowhole is one of the most photographed spots on Kauai. The Poipu surf channels into a natural lava tube here and releases a huge spout of water during large swells. There’s a video of it on our Facebook page.
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We saw a woman walking through the park holding a parrot.  She let him sit on Shelley’s arm.  He was so colorful!
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We rested in the afternoon and then used the hotel’s bicycles to ride the bicycle paths by the shore. It was a nice path that meandered through tree lined paths and along the water in some areas.
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The next day we drove to Hanapepe to see an arts festival & orchid show. We stopped for breakfast along the way.  In Hanapepe we wandered lovely art galleries and listened to local children drumming.
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IMG_3170Hank found a woman offering a foot massage and even got help from  her five year old daughter wanting to learn her mothers trade.
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We walked across their famous swinging bridge.
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We drove back to the hotel to rest and then drove to Lighthouse on the North part of the island. The road to the lighthouse was being repaired, which cut short our hike. We were able to look over the cliff and watch the soaring of  many types of sea birds.
We rested, had some lunch and rested more. We booked a river cruise for the next day and a sunset cruise for Sunday . We had plans  to meet with Hank’s friend Jim Lurie on Saturday.  He and his wife were visiting Kauai staying on the North side of the island. We had a lovely visit and dinner with Anne & Jim Lurie and were up early to see a beautiful sunrise.
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We set off on a drive through twisting & turning roads for Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.
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By good fortune we met Anne and Jim Lurie again at the Waimea overlook, even though we had not planned to see each other at the canyon. We drove to two other magnificent lookout points.
We ate lunch The Beach House at Andy Sheppard’s suggestion and watched surfers, then on to Port Allen to catch the boat for the sunset cruise around the otherwise inaccessible northwestern part of Kauai.  On the cruise we saw a small pod of spinner dolphins.
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We passed tall cliffs and a fabulous sea cave. We saw mountain goats and a red footed booby on the cliffs. 
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The cliffs had a really interesting pattern of mist and rock.
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Here’s our sunset photos from our last sunset on this first big adventure.

Sydney March 22 – 31 2016

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Got in in the evening & took a taxi to our central business district apartment, just one  block from Martin Place, a major pedestrian street in the center of the City.   
We left in the morning to find a breakfast and then to discover the visitor center at Darling Harbour, about a 10 minute walk along an interesting mall and over a bridge.  We found out about an evening dinner cruise and an Opal transport pass for ferry, train & bus.  We also got a pass for a Blue Mountain sightseeing bus.  Sydney is well set up for public transportation.  No need for a car here.
After a nice lunch along the Harbour Hank found a foot massage & we set off for Circular Quay and the Rocks District for our dinner cruise.
We boarded the Southern Swan, built in 1922 in Denmark.  It is the  oldest tall sailing ship in Australia, a 96 year old three masted wooden ship.  It was a part of a reenactment of the first ships that left UK for Australia.  As we left the harbor, passing under Sydney’s iconic bridge, we sailed by Luna Park, an amusement park based on Coney Island, complete with a giant clown mouth entrance.  We saw the same park when we were in St. Kilda, Melbourne.  We watched a young and foolhardy couple climb up the mizzen mast, and Hank got to help set a Royal Top Gallant.   It was an enjoyable cruise.  We walked back to the apt and went swimming at the hotel rooftop pool. 
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We slept until late and planned out our next few days.  Hank bought a ticket to a rugby game for Friday.  He’ll see how his “Rugby for Dummies” instructions worked out.   We got lunch and set off for the Royal Botanical Gardens, which borders on Farm Cove of Sydney Harbor.  The Gardens, celebrating its 200th birthday, had acres of beautiful trees and gardens and it is free to roam.  Overhead flew ibis and parrots and cockatoos making for a lot of squawking. 
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As we walked along we happened onto the backstage area being set up for the opening of the opera Turandot being performed right across from the Sydney Opera house on the banks of Farm Cove.  What a treat, since Hank looked into getting tickets for an upcoming evening performance and it was sold out.  We sat and listened to a sound check rehearsal and walked to the opera house to look inside
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We walked back to the apartment and rested a bit before heading to dinner nearby at Intermezzo, an Italian restaurant that is housed in the first post office built in Australia. The building is a beautiful example  of Victorian architecture, now housing the Westin hotel.
In the morning we took a ferry to Darling Harbour for lunch, wandered  around the Harbour after lunch and then Hank caught a ferry to Sydney Olympic Park for the afternoon rugby game: the Bulldogs were playing Rabbitohs.  The Rabbitohs were skunked, and Hank still can’t describe the rules of Rugby to anyone who cares to listen.
 
We were up early to catch a 7:20 train to Katoomba, the Blue Mountains area.   It was a 2 hour journey.  When we arrived at Katoomba we learned that the popular Blue Mountain Explorer Bus was a ‘hop on hop off’ option.  We had a pass for it for the day along with access to the scenic skyway (a cable car across the canyon), the scenic railway (the steepest railway in the world), a scenic boardwalk and scenic cable car (back up the mountain).  There was also a trolley that took visitors to the town around to the many sightseeing areas.  We boarded the bus and got off at Scenic World where we first rode a steep railway & then walked in a well kept boardwalk through a forest full of vines, tall tree ferns,  eucalyptus (gum) trees and past streams & waterfalls. We heard the screeching of cockatoos in the trees. We then took a cableway up the mountains and then a skyway over Katoomba falls and the whole Blue Mountain park region.
 
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We walked around the falls area & caught the hop on & off bus to continue our tour around the Blue Mountain and it’s amazing scenery.  We stopped for lunch along the way, caught the bus again and wandered around the town of Leura for awhile.  Back on the bus we stopped at Echo Point, which offered a vast overlook of the valley.  We caught the bus again to Leura for a train back to Sydney.
We found a restaurant in our neighborhood that was open late.  Shelley finished the day by working on the blog updates since we’ve had consistently good wifi at our Sydney apt.
 
On Sunday we walked to the Rocks District in the rain for their weekend street market and wandered around looking at stalls of different artisans. It was interesting to see huge ibis wandering the streets as common as pigeons in the U.S.  We also saw a pair of white cockatoos in the the trees munching on berries. 
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On Monday we walked to the Sydney fish market for lunch & then to the Wild Life Sidney Zoo. 
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The exhibits there were limited to Australian animals.   As we walked around we were pleased to note that we has seen so many of these creatures in their natural habitats as we were touring Australia. This was our first time seeing a Tasmanian devil and cassowary and our first view of any snakes, other than the water snake that we saw in Cairns.
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 The next day after breakfast we walked to the wharf at Circular Quay to board a ferry to Manly, about a 1/2 hr journey to Manly harbour and beach . 

IMG_2950The Sydney Opera House, situated on Sydney Harbour at Bennelong Point, is considered by many to be one of the wonders of the modern world. Designed by Jørn Utzon and constructed under some controversy, it was opened in October 1973. The Opera House is one of Sydney's most popular icons with tourists and travellers from the world over visiting, photographing and standing in awe of the cultural centre of Sydney. View On Black

We planned to explore a bit and see the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary.   It was a pleasant trek across the Sydney Harbour to Manly Bay.  We walked to the sea life sanctuary happy to have umbrellas with us as it started raining.  We saw nice exhibits of fairy penguins that were raised at the sanctuary and other Australian sea life.
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We stopped in the town for a needed mani/pedi for each of us and then to the ferry back to Sydney central where where we found dinner at the Italian restaurant we had enjoyed a few nights earlier.  Walking across the plaza after dinner we followed a stairway leading us down to an underground passage with two clubs and a restaurant. These empty bird cages were hanging in the open space. Bird calls were heard from outdoor speakers.
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The next day we set off to catch a ferry to Watson’s Bay, the most easterly point of the harbour. 
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This was a beautiful harbour and short walk to view the Pacific from the cliffs. 
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We walked a bit and did some bird watching from Gap Bluff.  We saw a kookaburra sitting in an old tree ( I wanted it to be a gum tree to go with the song , but it wasn’t )
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We discovered Lady Bay on our walk which was advertised as a nude beach.  Hank decided to swim there & Shelley hung back to take a photo.
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We had lunch at Doyle’s on the Beach,  in business by the same family since 1885, where Hank had their famous fish & chips.
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We ferried back to Circular Quay and waited for the next ferry to go up the Parramatta River to the most westerly point in Sydney Harbour, about an hour’s ride. We passed many large harbor areas and then the ferry stops became more rural and the river narrowed substantially, no wider then the Chattahoochee.  We picked up food for dinner at the apartment and packed, getting ready for our travels to Hawaii the next day.  After breakfast we walked to The Australian Museum, our last excursion in Sydney. 
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 This was an art installation that was outside of the museum.
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We left Sydney on the airport shuttle heading towards Hawaii

New Zealand’s South Island: Christchurch March 17 – 22 2016

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On the plane from Queenstown to Christchurch was the most interesting air sickness bag we’ve ever seen. It was interesting enough to share.

IMG_2214At the Christchurch airport we picked up a rental car and with Hank as driver, sitting on the right side of the car, we  boldly made our way to the seaside town of Sumner.

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This time our Air B&B was perched on top of a cliff with very winding roads. The sea views were amazing from some areas along the road. At our unit  the advertised sea views were visible only when standing on the bench in the yard. The apt though was well set up with a washer & dryer and a pretty private garden. We drove back down the winding road to get groceries and past a pair of peacocks walking across  the road. We later found out that the birds belonged to a neighbor.

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 We drove to the supermarket for dinner and then back to the apt before dark settled in on the winding road.
We slept until late the next morning, did laundry, relaxed  and worked some on blog updating. We looked ahead at visiting Akaroa, a seaside village about 1 1/2 hrs away. Its the only French colonized village remaining in New Zealand. We booked a tour to sail on a gaff rigged wooden ketch to see Akaroa Wildlife; seals, dolphins, penguins and  other sea birds.  In the afternoon , we explored Sumner village & found a cave formation in volcanic rock on the beach.
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We watched a group of teenagers at a surfing school and walked to find an early dinner at Clink which besides having good food, had an interesting history.
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Across the street from the  restaurant we saw shipping containers stacked against the mountains. We found out that this was  a result of the 2011 earthquake that affected Christchurch and its surrounding areas. We would see a lot of work being done for earthquake restoration over the coming days.
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We were up early in time to see a beautiful sunrise and then to set off for Akaroa. The GPS took us through a winding mountain  route past sheep farms & many curvy turns. We saw a rainbow on the drive and beautiful seaside views. the views and rainbow was gift we accepted for the harrowing mountainous drive.
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 It  was the day of a 100 km cycle competition from Christchurch to Akaroa.  We passed some of the cyclists on our way.
We got to the wharf in time to board the ship for our 3 hour sail.
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We sailed past a Maori village, Anuku, that was built almost 200 years ago. We also sailed past  a swimming blue penguin (like the ones we saw in Melbourne, AU ),  shags diving for fish and pods of Dolphins and a fur seal colony.
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Hector’s dolphins
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After the sail we stopped for lunch and enjoyed the serenade of a jazz saxophone player by the dock.
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We drove home on a less frightening route than the curvy mountain roads.  We passed a small sheep farm and stopped to take a photo. The farmer came over & invited us to climb his fence to visit the sheep. Shelley accepted the invite & had a great up close & personal visit with his sheep .
IMG_2340 We stopped at a market for dinner & cooked back at the apartment.  Another day driving in New Zealand that ended safely!
We awoke to another beautiful sunrise and  drove to  Christchurch to see the sights.
We took a guided tour through the Botanical Gardens ( 22 acres) in  what is called a Caterpillar, cause it creeps along the garden, and then walked some of it on our own.
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IMG_2363This is a topiary of a moa which thrived in New Zealand until 800 years ago when the huge flightless bird  was hunted to extinction  by the Maori people. It’s nearest cousins are the Australian cassowary and emu. It’s displayed by a black tree fern which is prevalent in New Zealand.
 We walked down the street from the gardens to our next stop; punting on the Avon. We boarded a small punt boat that was pushed by a pole down the Avon River, a spring fed River.  It was a relaxing boat tour
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IMG_2378A photo of another boat that passed us.
IMG_2402We bought a day tram pass to ride the Christchurch  tram around the city on tracks. The trams were built in 1903, 1910, 1925& 1926.  We saw many buildings that were under construction since the 2011 earthquake.  70% was being rebuilt.
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We stopped by a grocery store for dinner food & the next day’s lunch for our train journey across the southern alps.  We watched the movie Cliffy, about an Australian potato farmer who ran in the 1983 Sydney to Melbourne marathon. We heard about him when we traveling through his town when we were on a tour from  Melbourne. The next morning were up early to catch the train  and set off for Greymouth, on the west coast, through the Southern Alps.
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 The ride was the purpose for the trip. We rode through a 5 km tunnel and passed  beautiful mountains, gorges and rivers .
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Greymouth is a modest little town that originally developed following the discovery of gold in the 1860s. They were also a coal mining town. We were seated with a New Zealand couple. Barbara worked for the railroad, and Tim is a third generation farmer with 1500 sheep and about 50 cows. He and his 80 year old Dad run the farm together. We enjoyed spending time talking to New Zealand natives.  We drove back to Sumner for dinner in town before heading back up the twisty mountain  road  back to the apartment. We woke up to see the sunrise before packing our suitcases to travel to Sydney later in the evening. We drove down the winding roads for the last time & headed off to Christchurch. We went to  the newly opened ( since the 2011 earthquake) art museum,an art installation named 185 chairs  created in remembrance of those who died in the 2011 earthquake and the cardboard cathedral.
IMG_2480The outside of the newly opened Christchurch Art Museum
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The Cardboard Cathedral
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Then we were onto the airport , returned the car (yay!) and were heading to Sydney, Australia.
 

New Zealand’s South Island: Picton, Mt Cook, Queenstown March 11 – 17 2016

                            We left the North Island by ferry and headed to explore the South Island

 

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We had very rough passage on the ferry through the Cooks strait. The waves were crashing up over the bough at times.

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We were happy when we docked and were off  the ferry , picked up by our wine tour representative who whisked us away to catch up with our wine tour group.   This was the Marlborough region in the  Valley known as a white wine, Sauvignon Blanc, region. We visited four wineries. One of them, Lawson’s, was  a family run winery known for creating the first screw cap for wines to save the cork trees. After our tour we were dropped off at our motel near the Picton Harbour. We settled in and  walked the few blocks to town to find some groceries for the next few morning meals and a dinner. Picton’s Harbour area is a beautiful spot filled with boats and green mountains in the background.

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In the morning, we set off for the harbor for kayak adventure.  Double kayaks, OH NO! Remembering our experience in Vietnam, we hoped this one would work out better.  It turned out that this kayak was much sturdier than the other complete with a rudder and protective wet proof gear. We successfully kayaked 6 miles through the waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound past sea birds and beautiful mountains.

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We had lunch and wandered the town in the afternoon. We liked our lunch restaurant enough to go back there for dinner.

The next morning  we had time to visit the  maritime museum of The Edwin Fox, built in 1853 and the only survivor of the sailing ships that brought immigrants to New Zealand.  A preservation society worked hard to obtain, restore the ship and build the centre for the ship to be seen in Picton Harbor.
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We were on the train to Christchurch, a five hour journey past coastal waters on one side and mountains on the other. We rode past many sheep , cattle and deer farms.

We arrived in Christchurch and got to our hotel where we’d stay for one night. We had an early morning bus to catch to Mt. Cook National Park. 

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Waiting for the bus to Mt. Cook

We were able to leave some of  our luggage at the hotel to retrieve it when we returned from Queenstown, which we were visiting after our  Mt. Cook experience.

Mt Cook is the tallest mt. in New Zealand, used by climbers readying themselves for Mt Everest. The cloud cover prevented us from seeing the peak,but we were in awe of the beautiful scenery.  We stayed at the Hermitage Hotel in Mt. Cook National Park.

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Walking around the park we saw these ducks walking everywhere together. We found out that they are paradise ducks and they mate for life. The feather colors are so pretty.

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The next morning after breakfast we set off for  glacier exploration.  On the way to Lake Tasman, the glacier lake, we drove through the Tasman Valley, past mountains that were used in Lord of the Ring films, past Mt. Wakefield with a waterfall streaming down the mountain. We had a 20 minute walk to the lake where we got on the boats to see icebergs and Tasman Glacier up close. The waters in the icebergs  had a deep blue color which we learned was from glacier rocks forming a rock flour.

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The next day from Mt cook we took a bus to Queenstown and got in around dinner time.
We walked around town in the morning. Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. We saw para gliders and many ads for bridge bungee jumping and river rapid paddling, but we were not tempted to join them. We got picked up for a wine tour of Central Ortego wineries instead.
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We drove we past a famous bungee jumping bridge,
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 and stopped to  watch river surfers in a river named The Roaring Meg, named during the gold mining years.
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 On our way to dinner up the mountain via gondola we saw a para-glider. We were happy to just be observers!
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We boarded the gondola skyline enjoying the scenery as we rode up.
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The next day before our flight to Christchurch we took a bus to Arrowtown, another famous gold mining town. We  explored the Chinese miners’ village, the village of the New Zealand Miners and the historical museum.
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That afternoon we flew back to Christchurch. We chatted with a couple at the airport who own a hotel in Blackpool England. maybe we’ll add that to our future travels.

More North Island New Zealand: Napier and Wellington March 7 – 11 2016

We’re sorry that some pictures are turned sideways, depending on your viewing medium. Enjoy our adventures, even if they’re skewed. 
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We arrived in Napier and were picked up at the station by John who was taking us around for an informative city tour.  Napier is a community that was destroyed and recreated by a 1931 earthquake. The entire city was rebuilt in Art Deco style and architecture.  Hundreds of buildings have this common theme.
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There were also art deco murals murals around the town
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Our hotel was directly across from the beach. We woke up early to watch the sun rise.  There was an arch built to capture the millennium sunrise. We captured it too.
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 After breakfast, we set off for a wine tour of the Hawke’s Bay region. At Mission winery  we saw workers picking the first grapes of the season. It was the end of their summer with fall right around the corner.
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At Church R0ad Winery we tasted wine right from the barrel and we had a wine and food pairing as a part of the experience.  It is amazing how much better some wines taste when paired with the right cheese, fruit or protein.
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We had a nice dinner near our hotel where we met Ana and Edmund, a couple from Malaysia we had met on our wine tour earlier that day. We woke up to another  beautiful sunrise and took a walk to see the public gardens which had a man-made waterfall.
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 The NZ aquarium was right across the street from our hotel.  We saw penguins that had been rescued and rehabilitated , a great sea turtle exhibit, and a pair of kiwi.
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We were on the bus at 1 pm for the 5 hr journey to Wellington. We got into Wellington in the evening and to our city hotel.  In the morning we took a cable car that rode high above the city.
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From there we connected to a shuttle to see Zealandia, a nature reserve built by the city at an old reservoir site.  It is surrounded by a long stretch of fence walk designed to keep out cats, stoats, possums and rodents, all of which are introduced species that have decimated the New Zealand native wildlife. We saw many shag (cormorant) & a nest with  shag babies. There was a takahe,  a native New Zealand bird that is almost extinct, a saddleback bird, black parrots,  a tuatara , a reptile only found in New Zealand that is  descendant of the dinosaurs and a huge insect called a weta.
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image                                                                              A shag nest with babies
image                                                                                                 a takahe ; looks like a  small dodo bird
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                                                                                                 a weta
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We had dinner by the harbour.As we walked around the harbour we saw this great statue hanging over the water.
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We met Hunter Bell for breakfast.  Hunter was in Wellington from his NYC home on business.  Since we weren’t able to see him when he was last in Atlanta, it was great fun to see him here.
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 We set off to the Seal Coast for a tour. We passed by wind turbines & deer on private farm property
Hank fed bread to some of the deer. We rode over rocky and bumpy terrain to reach the area where seals were lounging. It was incredibly windy . We now know why it’s called windy Wellington!
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We then visited the Te Papa Museum and saw an incredible exhibit called Gallipoli (the WW1 battle in Turkey in which hundreds of NZ solders were killed). The group at WETA Workshop (think Lord of The Rings) prepared the exhibit in which the altogether lifelike models of the soldiers and nurses depicted were about twice human size.
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We walked around the harbor and saw a fun steampunk amusement park from Barcelona with a Ferris wheel set up with toilet seats . It was a part of the New Zealand Arts Festival . Thanks for letting us know about it Hunter!
We were up early the next day to catch the ferry to Picton – on to the South Island  of New Zealand
 

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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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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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.
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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:

Melbourne Australia February 9 – 16 2016

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We got in and found our way via shuttle to our air b&b apt
The proprietor met us with his car & helped us to the apartment. We went into the Hawthorn area by Uber to find a chiropractor- Shelley was in need  of an adjustment. We found lunch afterwards , shopped for some food & took a public tram back to St. Kilda where we will stay for the next week.
We woke early the next morning & took a streetcar tram into the city to meet up with our first tour of the week to the
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The wine region of the Yarra Valley. We were a group of 9 visiting 4 wineries including lunch.  It took about an hour to get to the wine region.
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Yarra valley is an agricultural area made up of vineyards, brussels sprouts , apples and sheep farms. Our first stop was at Chandon for a  sparkling wine tasting.
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We had lunch  at Tokar winery after a tasting there.
We drove past black & white magpies in the vineyards towards Helen & Joey Winery.
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We stopped at a chocolate making place which was mostly a big store to buy chocolates.
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Along the drive we saw alpacas that are on farms to protect the sheep from predators. We took another  public tram back to our apt.
Up & out for Chiropractic adjustments  for both of us & then off to the Botanical Gardens via a train. Melbourne has a great public transport system!
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There were beautiful specimens of trees,  many of which we have never seen before and black swans on the pond.
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We trammed back & rested, walked the 10 minutes to the beach for dinner and saw a beautiful sunset behind beach volleyball players.
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and we saw Hara Krishna singers & dancers.
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The next day , Hank walked down to the beach for a swim. We took a tram into the city to catch up with our bus tour to Phillips Island to see penguins; little penguins or fairy penguins . Our driver was easy to spot at our pick up point
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Our day started with a tour of the city & then through the country side for a 3 hour drive.  We saw wallabies, cape barring geese, and albatrosses.  We passed a burrow with a penguin chick in it on the drive & could take a photo, whereas photos were prohibited on the penguin walk.
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At dark we watched the penguin parade as they marched from the ocean to the beach to their burrows. As they came from the water, groups stopped to rest  moving in fits and starts and in bunches. It was a fascinating to watch. No photos allowed on the beach so we went for the souvenir green screen photo
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The next day was a resting day and another chiropractic adjustment to keep us aligned. We maneuvered ourselves throughout the city by the tram system. Shelley found a manicure spot while Hank sought out fish & chips.
We booked for a Monday river cruise that will took us down the Yarra River to Willamstown, an old seaport.
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We rested in the afternoon & then walked to a seafood restaurant. Hank was  in oyster heaven. We walked to the St. Kilda pier to see the penguin colony there & were able to see six siting on rocks & one on the pier three feet from us.  Again, no photos, only an amazing memory to share.
We were up early on Sunday for our tour of the Great Ocean Rd. which was to be an  an all day tour of 95 miles . We drove all but six of those miles.
Our first stop was Torquay – famous for surfing.  There were beautiful breaking waves and  many families surfing together.image
We saw The Great Ocean Road archway along the Bass Strait
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There was a lot of historical interest about this hand built road. It was built by  many veterans of The First World War.  We were told that out of consideration for the war veterans who might have been sensitive to blasting sounds, no explosives were used during construction including digging numerous tunnels.
Then onto the Kennet River area to see koalas
Many koalas were sleeping in the eucalyptus trees.  They sleep for 20 hours a day. One was awake, which was unusual to see according to our guide.
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There were 2 kinds of parrots.  A Crimson Rosella rested on Shelley ‘s hand and a king parrot on Hank’s hand.
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Shelley spotted an  echidna  on the side of the road. It’s so amazing to see animals in the wild that we’ve only seen in photos or zoos.
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We drove to Kapok way for a walk through a  rain forest area full of King eucalyptus trees ( mountain ash) & tree ferns that were 800 years old.
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And we saw an Otway black snail,a carnivorous air-breathing  land snail only found in cool temperate rain forests.
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We then saw  spectacular towers of  eroded   sandstone which are called the 12 apostles.
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Walking back to our bus we saw a bird that our guide told us was a superb fairy wren. What  a pretty bird!
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We drove back home through Beech Forest, the town of Cliff  Young , famous for running the Melbourne to Sydney marathon in his sixties (a distance of about 540 miles). We were told that there’s an indie film about him called Cliffy. We stopped for dinner at a noodle house. and then back to the city at 8:30 & caught a tram to St Kilda.
 
Traveling on the tram we’ve noticed a big Jewish population in Melbourne and that St Kilda has a Jewish Museum of Australia.  We had dinner right by the water in St. Kilda. Hank looks like he’s in a picture postcard!
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We were up super early the next morning to catch our 6 am flight to Cairns.