North America, Australia and Oceania · 21 Days · 50 Moments · March 2017

Rob & Cassie's voyage in New Zealand

28 March 2017

Last night, we went back to Hardware Lane (where we'd met Deb and Brian for dinner our first night). This is a very European-feeling alley filled with restaurants. We ate at another Italian restaurant, and were served by a Frenchman named Ismail. Great food and wine, and, since it was our last night with the Carstons, we topped off our meal with limoncello. We spoke of our three weeks of fun and adventures, and of our friendship, which has become so precious. Julie and I stayed up longer than the boys, chatting of good times to come. This morning, Rob and I got up long enough to say goodbye, as they were off to the airport at 6 AM. We slept for another two hours after they left, had breakfast on the riverfront, then went to the Aquarium so Rob could see it. We saw king penguins mating! Loved it all again. Found pizza for lunch, got our luggage and called Uber (far superior to taxis). Now, we are at an airport hotel, watching planes on runways. Tomorrow, we head home.
Also yesterday, after the Flinders Street station, Julie took me to department stores David Jones and--her childhood favorite--Myer. We walked through the exact area where there was a terrorist attack in January. A sobering thought. And, we saw a very angry and aggressive young man get kicked out of a small restaurant, then stand on the sidewalk and yell at the person who had booted him. He threatened the man, called him names and vowed to kill him if they met again. This guy was so angry he actually punched the glass storefront. Julie and I just stepped aside and waited for the storm to pass. Other than this incident, I found Melbourne to be friendly, and it felt safe, wherever we went.

26 March 2017

Yesterday and today (Saturday and Sunday) the four of us spent at the track. Today was the Australian Grand Prix--Sebastian Vettel won for Ferrari! Yay! Poor Daniel Ricciardo had a bad weekend, crashed yesterday and had to retire from the race early today. As a result, Red Bull came in 5th. Julie bemoans the fact that Daniel always seems to come in 5th. Stood in line for 40 minutes at the taxi rank, while empty taxis whizzed past. Grrr.
Today (Friday, March 24) the boys went to the track for the first day's Grand Prix events. Julie and I went to the Victoria Market. Incredible! Bigger than Pike Place! We strolled through acres of produce, fish, meat, clothes, dry goods, jewelry--you name it. We met Deb and Brian and had lunch at Lindt Cafe, said goodbye to Deb and Brian, and Julie and I had a grand time at Sophie Catherine jewelry. Gorgeous stuff designed by a mother and daughter. Then: the Sea Life aquarium. Saw king penguins, which look like Emperors but are slightly smaller, and gentoo penguins too. There were king penguins with babies, too. Beautiful. Also saw seahorses, sea dragons, manta rays, and a gigantic crocodile. A baby octopus came right up to the glass and looked me in the eye. What a day! Met the boys for dinner by the river. We are all exhausted but happy.

24 March 2017

The platypus show at Healesville was such a thrill! The caregiver stood in his exhibit wearing waders. The platypus' name was Wilma. She fed him, and he dove under the water to chase the food. When he surfaced, he climbed onto her legs--like an excited dog! She explained that he has poisonous hooks on his back feet that makes use in battles for territory. She had a makeshift toy for him, a handle with a washcloth attached. He wrestled with it, rolling over and over, playing like a puppy. So cute!
Yesterday, (Thursday) we drove to the Healesville Sanctuary (Healesville is a suburb of Melbourne.) We saw an amazing Australian bird demonstration--parrots, hawks, an owl, a buzzard and a kestrel. Just amazing! One of the hawks literally brushed Rob's head. We saw more birds, (love the stilts!) wombats, Tasmanian devils, reptiles, wallabies, and both grey and brown kangaroos. Near the entrance, we saw koalas in their exhibit, high in trees. We were in a hurry to get to the platypus show, but as we walked by, I saw one leap from one tree to another, then climb down the trunk. Later, we returned to the koala area and listened to a talk about them. One had been hit by a car and brought to the sanctuary by the person who'd found him. Surgery saved him but his nose is crooked and his teeth are a bit askew. Also saw echidnas up close--the other monotreme--animals who lay eggs but feed babies with their own milk.

23 March 2017

Our first day in Melbourne was a long one, having gotten up at 1 AM local time. Had to wait for our room until 2 PM, so we wandered around for a while. Melbourne is artsy and modern, with a lively area along the river filled with shops and restaurants. Once the room was ready, we had a nap, then met up with friends of the Carstons, Wayne and Gay. After a pre-dinner drink, we met Julie's sister and brother-in-law, Deb and Brian. Wonderful dinner at La Camera, a gorgeous Italian restaurant. Great food, wine, and conversation.

21 March 2017

Spent yesterday (after having a plumber come to clear blocked drains at the Carston house) having lunch at a beautiful shopping area called The Tannery. Then, dinner last night, our last in Christchurch, was at Francesca's--another location of the wonderful place we went to in Wanaka. Afterward, the concert was fantastic: I enjoyed Jewel more than I thought I would, and Don Henley was awesome as usual. He had some critical comments aimed at Trump that got a lot of applause. The only downside is that we went to bed after midnight and had to get by at 3:15 AM to leave for the airport. So tired.
Spent the day yesterday driving home from Queenstown, stopping for lunch in a town called Tekapu. Once we were back in Christchurch, Dan and Liv brought Mac over, and Lulu (their labradoodle) tagged along. Had takeout pizza and generally relaxed. Big day today: we're going to the Antarctic Center, where injured penguins are rehabilitated. Then we're off to see Don Henley! After a few hours of sleep, we'll be on our way to Melbourne.

20 March 2017

Sunday, we drove back to Queenstown. On the way, we stopped for lunch in Arrowtown, a lovely historic town. In Queenstown, we took a gondola, then a chairlift up to the top of a hill, rode luges down, taking the chairlift back up to ride down three times. So much fun! Then, after taking the gondola back down, we went through a kiwi bird exhibit, where we actual kiwi!!! It was a dark building, and no pictures were allowed, but a kiwi came right up to the glass, feeding right in front of us. Incredible. We checked into our gorgeous hotel, a two bedroom, two bathroom unit with a balcony overlooking the lake. Sitting on the balcony, Riley, Hannah and Wyatt called via FaceTime! What a treat. That evening, we went on a steamship for a forty minute ride to a sheep station, where we enjoyed a buffet dinner. We skipped the sheep shearing demo, sat out by the lake, sipped wine and talked to Josh until it was time to board the boat and head back to Queenstown.
Saturday, we drove to Queenstown from Wanaka and went on "the most exciting jet boat ride in the world." It was SO much fun, slipping and sliding and doing 360s on a river surrounded by cliff walls. We even saw a wedding happening above us. On the way to the boat, we stopped at a bungy place--the first one in the world. Stood on a platform below the bridge where the jumpers go. There is also a zip line in the same place. Drove back to Wanaka by way of the Crown Ridge road, a windy stretch through a beautiful, hilly area. For dinner, we stopped at the Cardrona Hotel, the oldest hotel in New Zealand. It's gorgeous, with stone fireplaces inside and out, flower gardens, and rustic furniture. Good, pub food, excellent service.

19 March 2017

At the winery, we also saw their Stafford sheep (white with black faces) and cows, with a couple of calves. After the tour, we went to the tasting room and tried two vintages of Picnic pinot noir. Jenny was charming, and it was a lovely time. Alas, Sam was absent--in Alaska, filming a documentary about Captain Cook. Back in Clyde, Julie and I did a little shopping, then joined the boys for a drink before heading back to Wanaka. There we had our second dinner at Francesca's. We sat outside, enjoyed our meals, and a sweet little girl smiled and waved at us. She and her Grandpa even came over to say goodbye as they were leaving. Also on this trip, we spent a little time in Cromwell, another charming little town that looks like it could be in the Yakima Valley. Found some lovely clothes there!
After leaving Otamatata, we drove to Wanaka, a beautiful, tourist, lakeside town. There we settled in at Hugh and Mandy's second home where we would be based for three nights. Dinner at Francesca's was so good we made a reservation for the following evening as well. Friday, St. Patrick's Day, we drove to a charming town called Clyde. Very old mining town, beautiful stone work. We had a yummy lunch at a place called Paulina's, which, we learned, is a regular haunt of Sam Neill's. Our next stop: Sam's winery, Two Paddocks. There, we met an employee, Jenny, who took us on a wonderful tour of the vineyards. We ate apricots and plums right from the trees, drank some Picnic Riesling, and met some wonderful animals: Charlie the duck, and the star of the show, Angelica the kune kune pig, who is, despite the name, male. He recently had a tryst with a female pig (an unintentional mating) and the resulting piglets are adorable and look just like Dad.

17 March 2017

We spent Wednesday night at Otamatata Station. In the morning, Mandy made coffee for us, then took Rob and me to "the shed" where Hugh and a lot of contracted workers were "crutching" sheep--that is, they were shearing around their behinds and on their cheeks. Actual shearing begins in August and ends in October. It's all merino wool and all spoken for by contract. It takes five hours to drive from one end of the station to the other. Mandy has beautiful gardens around the house. There is also a pool and tennis court. Just beautiful. We left Otamatata about 9:30 and headed to Wanaka, with a brief stop for lunch in Cromwell. This area looks a lot like the Yakima valley, complete with apricots, peaches, and apples. Wanaka is a beautiful little lake town with a wonderful Italian restaurant called Francesca's. Should also mention that on the way to Otamatata, we stopped at some spectacularly scenic lake country, surrounded by snow covered mountains.
Vineyards at Two Paddocks.
Feather sculpture at Two Paddocks by the same artist that did the "Chalice" in Christchurch.
Two Paddocks Winery--Charlie the duck is hiding in there.

16 March 2017

Two days ago, we left Christchurch and drove to Otamatata Station, owned by Hugh and Mandy Cameron--Geoff and Julie's son, Daniel, is married to their daughter, Liv. The station consists of 140,000 acres and 36,000 sheep. They also have cattle and horses--the horses roam over the property at will. This is gorgeous country, surrounded by hills, with sparse vegetation--rose hips, currents, low bushes and some pines. Mandy was waiting for us at their homestead, a sprawling, H-shaped one-level home full of the Cameron family history. We went to a family friend's nearby winery, named Ostler. Our kind hosts, Jim and Annie, treated us to lovely wines, cheeses, olives, and toasted bread. Back at the house, Mandy cooked dinner-steak, potatoes, and salad. Hugh had joined us briefly at home, then at the winery and back at the house. He took Rob and me outside to get our first view of the Southern Cross. Also saw Orion, completely upside down from how we normally see it.

15 March 2017

Drove back to Christchurch yesterday, stopping for a quick snack as we entered the city. Came home to the Carston's house and were welcomed by a jubilant Mac, who, by the way is SUCH a cool dog. Did some laundry, preparing for our next journey, and went into town for dinner. Sadly, Julie and I ordered a chicken pappardelle dish that was accidentally over-spiced by the chef. Ouch.

14 March 2017

Woke up yesterday in Kaikoura, expecting to go whale watching. Stopped by the office early, to exchange vouchers for tickets, and were told the whale watch had been canceled. From our own research, we learned that winds were expected to be 35 to 40 knots. So, we went for a drive along the coast, to the point where the road was still closed due to earthquake damage. Helicopters were filling buckets of sea water to dump on hillsides, aiming to encourage slides--ultimately to stabilize the bank, once the slides are all done. Had a nice brunch in Kaikoura, then headed to Hanmer Springs. After dinner--and learning that blue cod is the same fish as our lingcod--we went for a soak in the thermal pools for which Hanmer Springs is famous. Very relaxing, and I am once again struck by how friendly people are in New Zealand.

13 March 2017

On the coast at Kaikoura, where the sea bed rose substantially after the recent earthquake.
Love these "talons" filled with rocks, part of a bench in Kaikoura.

12 March 2017

Kaikoura, from our hotel balcony.
Drove from Christchurch to Kaikoura this morning. Went through a lot of farmland, sheep, cows, goats, plus a huge deer farm where hundreds of red deer roamed over huge amounts of land, even down into a river valley. Very much free range. As we got closer to the coast, the mountains got bigger and greener. Checked into our room and soon will be heading interesting town for a look around and dinner.
A few more things: We went through the downtown area of Christchurch in the morning before we left for Akaroa. We saw a lot of the devastation caused by the earthquake in 2011. Incredible, how frightening it must have been. There are still temporary stores made of metal storage boxes. Christchurch is a lovely city, with a river flowing through, and many parks.

11 March 2017

This morning, after breakfast and coffee, we went out on a boat, into the bay. Almost immediately, we a saw a lone Hectors dolphin, busily feeding. We actually saw him surface with a fish in his mouth. Further out, we came to an area where we were suddenly surrounded by dolphins. Hectors dolphins are the world's smallest. Their dorsal fins are rounded and black, their bodies mostly silver. We (those who were swimming) were told to get into the water quickly, swim around beside the boat, and...sing. The dolphins hear the vibration in the water. And so, off we went, treading water and belting out random songs. Julie and I sang a spirited round of Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Dolphins swam RIGHT beside us, circled around us, turning on a dime and going in every direction. We saw one slapping its tail, and after we climbed back onto the boat, a dolphin leaped six feet out of the water. Julie and I, the swimmers, were still on the back of the boat and missed the show. All told, a great time.
We left yesterday morning for Akaroa, a charming French town on the shore of a sheltered bay on the east coast of New Zealand. On the way, we stopped at a hilltop bar, where we sat at a picnic table and had a drink. Nearby, just on the other side of a fence, there was one sheep and one goat, friendly enough for a little pat. In Akaroa, the weather was glorious, sunny and warm, and we strolled through the town, which was filled with souvenir and jewelry shops (blue pearls!). Stopped for a drink in a beautiful bistro, where we sat outside in a huge, beautiful garden: sunflowers, hydrangea, roses, gorgeous trees. From there, we found a restaurant for dinner, and had delicious food. We sat up for a bit on the balcony of our hotel room at, fittingly, L'Hotel. I
The arch in Akaroa--it looks like an elephant, complete with a tusk.
Adam, our crewman, educating us about Hectors dolphins.
War memorial in Akaroa.

10 March 2017

Julie and me in Christchurch.
The Cathedral, badly damaged in the big earthquake.
The Avon River in Christchurch.
Flying into Auckland, I marveled how green the land was, snow-topped mountains in the distance, the water turquoise. Rob spotted some dolphins as were landing. Our flight from San Francisco was delayed about an hour, so we were put onto a later flight from Auckland to Christchurch. Never mind, we arrived, found our way through the airport, and just outside the secured area, there was Julie, gorgeous in a black dress, having come directly from work. Geoff was waiting with glasses of bubbles. Wonderful greeting. After stopping by the Carston abode and meeting Mac, went to the local pub last night, met friends and relatives, and G and J's son, Daniel came along for dinner, after a stop at his lovely home, where we got to meet his Australian labradoodle, Lulu. Lovely Italian dinner, much laughter, and I was absolutely exhausted by 10. We have now lost an entire day. Strange feeling. We're off to Akaroa, swimming with wild dolphins tomorrow!!

9 March 2017

Chez Carston.

7 March 2017

Here we are at SeaTac Airpot, waiting for our first flight: Seattle to San Francisco, to Auckland, to Christchurch. Feeling so excited! Heading to a brand new place, to the home of our wonderful friends, Geoff and Julie (and Mac, of course!)