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Trip Report New Zealand and Australia at last!

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I'm getting a late start on my trip report for our 2 month trip to New Zealand and Australia.
Mr. Glover and I leave cold D.C. every year for 2 month trips since we've retired.
This year is a little different as our two good friends from D.C. are joining us for the whole trip. We also delayed our trip to March April this year to take advantage of shoulder season price and fewer tourists in NZ and Aus.

We have more or less a month in New Zealand and about same in Australia as follows:
(NZ itin)
Auckland
Fly to Bay of Islands (stay in Paihia)
Fly to Napier
Fly to Wellington
Ferry Wellington to Picton
Drive Picton to Nelson
Drive Nelson to Punakaika
Drive to Frank Josef
Wanaka
Te Anau
Dunedin
Christ Church
Fly CC TO Brisbane, then Brisbane to Cairns

Auckland. We flew March 3 DC TO LAX on American and then LAX to Auckland. By the time we got around to selecting seats, scattered middles and $$ seats were all that were left. Thinking it would be an advantage, we bit the bullet and paid an extra $176 each to sit in an exit row. What a rip off. Think the seats were possibly narrower and pitched Uncomfortably forward with ridiculously small and unstable tray tables. Staff on those flights seemed disorganized and not particulArly pleasant either. And I'm one who barely notices these things. Oh well, managed to catch up on several movies, and by the time we arrived in Auckland, flights were just a distant memory.

Walked out of airport and easily found a big car taxi for 4. Super nice NZer driver who
Pointed out lots of landmarks along way to our airbnb lodging in hot residential nabe of Ponsonby. We had the cutest little white frame 2 bdr cottage with a lovely enclosed deck. Stayed 4 nights in Auckland. Really enjoyed the city. We had 2 great days of clear sunny warm weather. Walked about 9 miles on day 2 - from Ponsonby down to waterfront, then to art museum, then on to Auckland museum, back to top of Sky tower for fab view of city on a clear day from on high. Then back down to waterfront again for dinner. Now blanking on the name of that restaurant. Not a highly touted one, but a spontaneous choice with outside seating. Turned out to be a good enough choice. Wanted to try NZs special greenlipped mussels. They're twice the size of those we're used to, but quite tasty.

We had purposely stayed an extra day in the city to take a wildlife cruise to Tiritiri island. Alas high winds and rain that day cancelled the voyage. So instead we spent a lazy am over coffee at the house and then walked into cbd for a movie. We enjoyed just puttering along shops and restaurants along Ponsonby road in our nabe. Had a great dinner at SPQR, and decent ones at neighborhood Thai and Italian.

Off to the airport for our flight Auckland north to Bay of Islands. Ultimately our Air NZ was cancelled due to bad weather. No worries, within an hour they had us on a bus van for 3 1/2 hour drive north. Waited around a bit at small airport for car rental people to show up. In meantime, we talked to some folks waiting for relatives to arrive for outdoor island wedding next day. Turned out their flight had turned back to Auckland after being hit by lightning! No injuries, just needed to be at larger airport to check out plane and assess any damage.

Paihia. Mr. G started out our wrong side driving with the rest of us advising, ha ha. After a short rainy drive, we arrived at our next lodging, a beautiful 2 bdr apt at Blue Pacific apts on the edge of the bayside town of Paihia. We had a fabulous view across the street to the brown water and grey skies - nice coastal walkway. Walked down the path that eve to The center of Paihia and had dinner at a very popular spot called "Greens," an interesting place with two distinct menus, one Indian and one Thai.

Regardless of rainy weather, we followed through with our plan to visit Watangi Treaty grounds the following day. (That was why we'd flown up north in first place). We took the tour, saw a performance, and walked briefly outside in pouring rain. We spent most of the day there and learned a lot about Maori history and culture. It's a beautiful space and all well done. Too bad about the weather, because it looked to be a nice walk from our apt.

That eve we had an ok dinner at waterfront restaurant called 360 degrees. Returned car to airport next day and flew on a delayed NZ flight back to Auckland and then on to Napier, where the weather began to clear enough that we had periods of sun and rain.

We loved Napier. Just a beautiful little town of 60,000. Completely rebuilt in Art Deco style after it was destroyed by major earthquake in the 1930s. We stayed right on the "parade" (coastal promenade) in the center of town at the Masonic Art Deco Hotel. Our queen superior rooms were small, but Art Deco furnished. Also had 2 delicious meals and breakfasts at the hotel's highly rated Emporium restaurant.

Took the one hour Art Deco town tour the next day. Had a good guide for a very small group as we walked the streets and admired the preserved buildings and their architectural highlights. Also, in the last five or so years, the city had beautifully redone its waterfront, scarcely any buildings waterside, just bike and walking paths, child playing areas, gorgeous gardens, and sculpture. We checked out the Saturday market, cute but small compared to those we know in DC of course. Also spent a few hours in the aquarium, enjoyed watching feeding of the little blue penguins, as well as sharks in a glassed in tunnel.

From Napier we flew to Wellington. Here it felt immediately more urban, perhaps because here, unlike in Auckland, we stayed in the middle of the Central Business District. Perhaps also because it was a weekday. We had a big well priced apartment in the City Life hotel/apts. A few doors down was a a very busy gourmet like grocery store, full of young professionals picking up food after work. Put us in mind of a Whole Foods we know near Union Square in NY.

We walked a few blocks down to waterfront and had a good dinner at the Garage Project. Nice service by a young woman from San Francisco. We're enjoying conversation with servers from round the world , here in NZ on the apparently easy to get one year work/holiday visa. Also enjoying conversation with taxi drivers from round the world- Thailand, India, Korea, and Syria. Our Syrian driver said "I can't come to your country." This made us all sad.....

Next day we walked a few doors down from our hotel and took the fabulous little cable car up to the botanical gardens. Enjoyed exploring gardens inside and out. Lots of roses still in bloom in NZs early fall. After botanical gardens, we split up. Mr. G and I Took the free shuttle from cable car 5 minutes to Wellington's great Zealandia - a large nature reserve practically in town. Spotted some new birds. Lots of nice walking through reserve in open and forested areas and near a reserve and dam. Meanwhile our friends walked back down into center, had a fancy lunch, and viewed a Cindy Sherman exhibit at the City Gallery.

Next day we went to the large Te Papa museum for more Maori art and history, a rather amazing exhibit on the battles of Gallipoli (Enormous life like soldiers - amazing detail) and a quick snack in the museum cafe. Then we did a late afternoon tour of Parliament. This was a fun and different thing to do. Easily accessible, nearby, and free. Easy to reserve on line or probably even to walk in. We had a good guide who gave us just enough information about the building (the "beehive"), including an explanation and showing of the "Base isolator" technology in the basement and the way it works to allow buildings to sway a little in quakes. While no non stop talker, our guide was quite knowledgeable and responsive as people asked more and more questions about the workings of NZs parliament. We chose to go late afternoon on a Wednesday because I'd read that Parliament would be sitting 2 to 10pm. We sat in the gallery briefly and listened to speech/arguments. Ironically, at that time, about a taxation issue. (All 4 of us retired years back from that US agency that need not be named). Later someone told us that the very best time to go is 2 pm, when most members are present, and the media may be interviewing some of them about the issues of the day - just outside the gallery.

We could have stayed longer in Wellington... but alas .... we were scheduled to be picked up early on by taxi and delivered to the ferry terminal for a 9am crossing to the South Island. Lucky for us we finally had perfect weather for our 3 + hour trip. It was the biggest ship either Mr G Or I had ever been on, at 182 meters in length with passenger capacity of 1350 and "1780 lane meters" for cars and trucks. We settled ourselves at table for 4 in the casual restaurant area. Moved around inside and out checking out the ship and the beautiful views of the sound and surrounding lands. Spectacularly clear day for crossing. Sea waves considered moderate. So a pretty nice voyage.... the time flew by....

Arrived in Picton on time. Very efficient embarking and disembarking. Everything in NZ seems so well ordered. Two of us went off to scout out our prearranged lodging at Picton Waterfront Apartments, as we were fairly certain we could walk from terminal. Ended up being just a few blocks away. We liked the apt. Very new, 2 bdrs and baths downstairs with very modern kitchen, dining, living area on second floor. A great balcony looked over small parking lot to docks and beautiful sound beyond. We settled in and then walked around the lovely little harbor town (population only 5000 or so). Starving, we stopped for light lunch at waterside Le Cafe. Sat outside and enjoyed the magnificent sunshine and sound views. Good people watching too. Noted that the cafe would have live music that night so decided to go back for dinner later. But for the rude and noisy table next to us, we enjoyed the food again and music by a 3 some called Ward and Sturrock. We particularly enjoyed Guitarist Marcus Sturrock.

We spent a lazy am and then did a 4 hour wildlife boat cruise on Marlborough and Queen Charlotte Sounds with E-Ko Tours. There were a dozen or so of us on a small passenger boat with guide and driver. Again this day we had perfect clear weather for a cruise. We cruised out about an hour and a half to the sanctuary on Motuora Island. Our young guide Gaia provided lots of info on way out about local ecology. We cruised by a big salmon farm. Stopped by some rock faces to view fur seals and shags. On the island itself we climbed straight up to top (only about 20 min). From there we had a fabulous 360 view of sound and other islands. On way back down and at a small natural bird bath, we saw a few more native birds: robin, saddleback, fantail, parrot. On the way back from the island we stopped by another rock face to view the rare King Shag birds. We cruised some sheltered bays looking for New Zealand's small endemic dolphins. At last we got lucky and watched several pairs frolic around the boat.
Then we could head home. A great day out!

It was St Patrick's Day in Picton, and there's enough Irish blood in our group to warrant celebrating! We tried to go to Seamus' Irish bar near our apt, but it was standing room only, and we needed food with our Guinness. Walked in and then threaded our way quickly back out. Walked around a few blocks and found the festively decorated "Thirsty Pig." The beer, crowd, and vibe were good, the food not so much.

Checked out of our lovely water view digs, picked up our rental car and started off on the scenic route from Picton to Nelson. A winding road indeed! Fortunately next to no traffic.
We stopped halfway in the town of Haverton, as they happened to be having their annual Musselfest. The fest was a small town affair with kids activities, music, etc, but also very interesting exhibits on mussel culture, as well as salmon farming. Learned that the salmon farm we saw in the sound yesterday is one of several slated for elimination/ relocation, as raising the salmon in water that is cold enough and isolated enough is a constant issue. That location is now too "busy" and water needs to be ideally colder. Tasted some local wine, NZs bluff oysters, and bought some king salmon sandwiches for later. Drove on another hour to Nelson. More winding road, though pretty with farms, sheep, some water views.

Here we are now in Nelson, a town of about 50,O00 or so. Staying on city's historic South Street, a few blocks of laborer/fishermen cottages dating back to the 1860s. We're in an airbnb lodging that is actually newer, but won an award for building in synch with the historic neighborhood. Chilled on our porch awhile and then walked around town. Nelson has much more of feel of kind of an average small town. Had a great dinner of too many tapas at the Max Cafe. All kinds of delicious things: Monkfish, spinach, grilled veggies, lamb kebabs, pork, Stuffed peppers. All well done and reasonably priced. More as it happens.....

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    You picked a great time to escape the cold of D.C., although I hope you do get more sun than wet during your time down under. Wellington sounds like my kind of town and the Queen Charlotte Sound area even more beautiful. I appreciate your sharing as this is one section of New Zealand that I don't read much about. Sorry you didn't get to go out to the islands when you were in Auckland; it was one of the highlights of my stay there.

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    I'm reading along also and taking lots of notes. My husband & I will be there late Feb.-mid March for a month next year. Fine tuning my intinerary by reading so many wonderful trip reports on this Fodors site. Thank you for taking us along on your trip.

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    Nelson .... continued.

    After our usual lazy breakfast and coffee round the house, we set off on foot to explore the town a bit more. Stopped by the Christ Church Cathedral very near our apt. Peaked inside and then walked around the beautiful grounds. Walked on to the Suter Gallery - a small but nice space. Really enjoyed the surrounding beautiful Queens Gardens. Fabulous trees clearly marked.

    Walked long distance to the waterfront. Since this was our dinner destination anyway, we decided just to do an early dinner at Styx, which had been recommended to us by an exhibitor at the Haverton Musselfest. We admired a 183 ft! Sailboat docked there. Sat outside for several hours, enjoying the action, sunshine, wonderful antipasto, seafood chowder, prawns, live music and fun conversations with other diners/servers/owner. Took a taxi home.

    Checked out next am and drove to World of Wearable Art museum, which was
    On our way out of town. Spent longer than we'd planned there, admiring the amazing "Wearable art" art collection. Fantastic and amusing creations, that have now become part of an international competition. The other half of the museum is a wonderful private collection of classic cars from all eras and countries round the world. Though none of us could be considered car aficionados, we all found the cars great fun. They're all in perfect condition, shiny and beautiful. Really makes you appreciate those designs of yore, today's designs seem all so similar and utilitarian by comparison. Perused the Great gift shop. Bought 2 small prints - interesting design featuring local birds we'd seen- tuis and saddlebacks

    Punakaiki -

    Then we drove on to Punakaiki, a long and beautiful, if very windy, drive. Made longer by somehow missing a turn and Padding an hour to our drive. Fortunately we had stopped for a quick lunch in Murchison, where we had jolly conversation with two male contemporaries who were riding big motorcycles. They were transplanted Brits who'd lived in NZ for years. 50% of us were completely charmed by the blue eyed cyclist, and that became a continuing joke for the rest of the drive.

    Arrived at our lodging for the night "Punakaiki Beachfront Motel" where we were quickly checked into our two studios. The motel is very close to the wild beach, but with a sea wall in between. We set right out for the 10 minute or so walk to the famous pancake rocks. We lucked out with clear weather and nice setting sun. Once again New Zealand has done a wonderful job showing off these coastal rock formations to best advantage. A beautiful easy and well marked path wound around the hilltop affording spectacular views of the rock formations and very rugged coast and sea. Walked back down the only coastal road, past our hotel and to one of only 2 available restaurants, the Punakaiki Tavern, where we had decent burgers and mountains of French fries and waddled back down the by now dark road. Too bad
    Skies weren't clear, because we would have been able to do some really great stargazing from this location - very little ambient light. We wrapped up our Punakaiki time with a short quick and misty walk on the Truman Track - a well marked rainforest walk to another set of rock formations and cloudy coastal views. Then we drove on to.....

    Franz Josef

    Another beautiful, sometimes windy, several hour drive. Enjoyed looking at sheep in wide fields, more coastal views. Arrived at our next lodging a few miles from Glacier: Kahere Retreat. Here a friendly transplanted Scot has built 5 handcrafted wood A frames. I chose this spot because lodging was scarce and expensive around the Glacier, with many simple motels going for $200 US per night. Very cute and new cottages. Very "cozy" for 2 couples.
    Good thing we're close friends! We 4 geezers crept very carefully up and down the angled staircase between bedrooms (second floor) and everything else (including bathroom!) on first floor.

    Had late lunch in the tiny, but busy tourist town of Franz Glacier. Good food in enormous portions at The Landing. Ran some errands in town, procured some breakfast stuff and fixings for an hors d'oeuvres like dinner back home. Chatted with our host. Did some deck sitting. Walked the property. Slept like the dead, save for creeping down and back up steps once each.

    Set off next day for the Glacier. We had read and considered various options for viewing: helicopter, tour,etc. but ultimately opted for the 1 and 1/2 hour free walk on our own. (Well not exactly on our own, since there were plenty of others on the track as well.). Mr G and I had low expectations since we've seen Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina - much closer and wider views. Tourists can now get only within about 750 meters from Franz Josef. Nevertheless, it was an easy lovely walk, and the weather held (the sun even shown on the distant Glacier). It has receded dramatically in recent years needless to say. It was our friends' first Glacier, so it was fun to see with them. Stopped in "town" on way back to our lodging for a bit more procuring. Had picnic style lunch at home and chilled till dinner back in town.

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    Chilling in Glacier land continued

    Our host's border collie stopped by with a big stick for us to play with him, so we had fun hurling the stick across the wide yard for him to retrieve. Eventually we drove into Franz Josef for dinner at a recommended restaurant - Blue Ice. Kind of a utilitarian decor with the most comfortable seats ever. Dinner turned out to be superb. Great food beautifully presented. Wonderful rack of lamb, lamb shanks and a stuffed chicken breast were entrees. Great conversation with our Argentinian (!) server and later with owner's daughter, who told us of her NZ/Philippine background.

    Next day we were up earlyish to check out and then drive to nearby Fox Glacier. Another nice walk back toward Glacier face. A short challenging steep up hill walk at the end. Weather a little misty and cloudy. View of this Glacier wasn't quite as nice as FJ we thought, even though trail ultimately ended closer. Ice was a little sparklier blue at FJ and there was a bit more sun to shine on it than we had at Fox.

    Wanaka
    Then we drove on several hours to our next destination: Wanaka. Another fantastically beautiful drive. Stopped briefly along the way for quick lunch. Arrived in Wanaka late afternoon and settled into our new digs: a great 2 bdr apt, 3 times size of our last, all beautifully done, contemporary with a great balcony looking across street to lake and mountains. Lakeside Apartments. Just around corner from shops and restaurants. We walked up a block and did some procuring at the Four Square market. Then sat on balcony for a little lake viewing and cocktail hour. Later we walked around corner to town lakefront and ended up having a good dinner at a tapas like Place called Alchemy. The lakefront is lined with beach, green common areas, pathway, and then restaurants and shops. A pretty, orderly, and busy upscale lake town.

    Next day we spent a little more time walking around town then round both sides of the lake. Had a great long lunch at a lake side place, people watching, enjoying lake views and sun. Later cooked steaks and grilled veggies at our condo's great BBQ area. (Development also had hot tub and largish heated pool. ). It was a wonderful spot.

    Next day weather was kind of iffy, so decided to just walk up to Wanaka's Puzzling World museum. A nice mile or so walk up a paved path. Enjoyed looking at various holographs and other illusions in the "Illusion Room", though we found the tilted room a little nauseating and difficult to balance in. Spent about a half hour in the museum's outside maze before it defeated us. Fortunately it had "emergency" exits, otherwise we'd still be there. Cruised the fun gift shop and bought a few puzzle things.

    We women did a little shopping in town later and guys chilled at the apt catching up on March Madness. Capped off the day with wine on balcony followed by dinner at Thai restaurant almost next door. Later, back on the balcony we were able to spot the southern cross and Milky Way in beautiful clear night skies. Weather during our stay in Wanaka was perfect, sunny clear and maybe almost 70. Hated to check out next day but we needed to move on to....

    Queenstown

    We had considered staying in Queenstown, but then decided to opt for less busy Wanaka, since we weren't planning to do any of Queenstown's extreme sports. Our idea instead was to do a day trip there on way to Te Anau. Had in mind riding the gondola and visiting Queens Gardens at least. Alas, Sunday dawned grey and drizzly, so no gondola/gardens. We did stop in QT and walk around town, harbor, and had lunch. Enjoyed watching diving and jumping tourist boats, parasailers. Town was very busy, with lots of traffic congestion. Glad we got to see the town at least briefly, and also glad we stayed instead in Wanaka. Had a hot soup lunch at harbor front restaurant looking out at drizzly gray day.

    Forgot to mention that on our way to Queenstown we passed through Cardrona and spotted the oft mentioned and somewhat controversial "bra fence". It took us by surprise, so cant really estimate the number of bras in all sizes and colors hung over a fence along the road. Wikipedia says there had once been as many as 1000' and that they were removed in 2006 after several years, so perhaps I should update that article and note that the bras are back!

    Te Anau and Milford Sound

    Another amazing drive in grayish weather From Queenstown to our next destination: Te Anau. Lots and lots and lots of sheep... as well as deer, so we educated ourselves on sheep and deer farming as we drove along. Arrived at our lovely Airbnb house, a nicely furnished brick rambler in residential area with lovely enclosed garden. Highly recommended! Settled in and then walked toward "town" about a 1/4 mile for dinner at the Fat Duck.Cozy little spot - warm yay! A little live music from our era. Delicious lamb, venison, prawn pasta, and fish and chips. Great little restaurant. No bad meals in New Zealand. We are now in habit of asking our restaurant servers where they are from, since ALL of them are on the NZ work holiday visa. This night's congenial server was from Mexico City. The night before' server at the Thai restaurant was from Guadalajara. Since we love Mexico, we had some good conversation about Mex with him.

    We had been watching the weather forecast Monday and Tuesday when we would do the Milford Sound Cruise one day and glow worms the next. Saw that Monday would be a good day. So reversed our reservations with Real Journeys. Torrential rains in Te Anau Sunday night. Set off a little after 7am Monday for Milford in dark misty gloom. Half way there the weather cleared to perfect. Felt so fortunate. Loved our 2 hour "nature" cruise. The big ship (we were on the Mariner) was definitely way under capacity today. We all stood, sat, moved around on top open deck without feeling at all crowded. Scenery was dramatic and really stunning! It did not disappoint! Took zillions of pictures. Young guide gave limited info on surroundings. Saw a seabird or two and a few fur seals, but other than that, no wildlife. But didn't matter as we had a GREAT day out.

    As most have said, the drive between Milford and Te Anau is beautiful -with many outlooks and trail heads along the way. We stopped at a few of these on the way back to town. Then relaxed awhile in the sun in our lovely backyard. Then did some more of the "town" including a walk down to the quiet lakeside. Had dinner at the cozy cottage "Redcliff" restaurant, considered best in TA, more venison and this time one of us ordered wild hare. Part owner sat down with us and chatted for some time - a very entertaining guy. He actually works in local commercial fishing of prawns, really his wife, who we met later, who runs the restaurant.

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    Still sounds like a wonderful trip. I hope the scenery in Australia doesn't disappoint -- it's beautiful, but very subtle in many parts. One thing I regret on our trip was not eating more lamb. I tended to go with seafood and at the end realized I should have had more lamb -- it was delicious. Enjoy your last days in NZ.

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    Te Anau glow worms

    Next day in Te Anau we lazed around our comfortable house and gardens over coffee and breakfast. A neighbor came by to ask for fallen quince fruit in "our" yard, so had a nice chat with him. He mentioned that real estate prices had sky rocketed in The little town of Te Anau in last couple years.

    Around midday we walked the few blocks into and around town again, then boarded a smaller Real Journeys boat for a trip across the lake to see NZ's famous glow worms. It was another sunny clear day so the half hour or so ride across the lake provided more beautiful views. We stayed outside on top deck for whole journey, as we had for the much longer Milford cruise. Our friend had met a woman earlier at a party in DC whose daughter has a guiding job at the Te Anau glow worm site. So we had requested her as our guide, and she turned out to be a good one. (And her mom got some bonus pics of daughter at work in her element).

    An impressive I nfrastructure and operation has been built here to show tourists the glow worms, which can be seen independently for less $$ of course in many caves throughout NZ. We thought of the Te Anau experience as "spelunking for the timid and lazy." The idea of exploring caves always had appeal, but not so much solo on hands and knees. Here we had a carefully laid labyrinth of skid proof, handrailed raised paths through the dark and fantastic cave. Paths led us eventually to an interior "dock" where our group crowded into a simple rowboat with bench seating for a trip on a cave stream. We imagined ourselves embarking on the River Styx. Spent maybe 15 mins or so in total darkness and enforced silence viewing the sparkling constellation like lights of the glow worms on the cave walls and ceilings. All we could ever see was myriad lights, not actual worms. At some point later walking in the cave, we had the opportunity to observe the fishing line like threads that the worms produce to catch their food. And later in the discovery center near the cave we watched a well done video of the worms throughout their life cycle. Fascinating!

    Back in town after our tour we took a walk in a nearby nature reserve and then did some procuring for a casual BBQ at the house. Nice cocktail hour on the patio followed by great dinner at home of burgers and veggies on the grill.

    With great regret, we said goodbye to our lovely little house and Te Anau for the longish drive to Dunedin.

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    Dunedin and on to Christchurch

    Another lovely drive of several hours- this one on reasonably flat and straight roads.
    We stopped for a bathroom break in the small town of Clinton, which had been preceded by the small town of Gore- hence giving rise to an amusing sign calling the linking highway the "Clinton/Gore Presidential Highway."

    A university town with some Scottish heritage, Dunedin is a busy city with a population of about 120,000. Having been in rather quiet small towns for several days, we all experienced a kind of culture shock finding traffic, parking regs, and even a few sirens. So much noise! Checked in at our city hotel digs - the Scenic Hotel, part of an NZ chain. Nice rooms and just down street from the Octagon, the center city. Hotel recommended The Reef Restaurant in walking distance for bday dinner for one of us. It was a dark, cozy, casual place with good food and friendly service by a young nz woman, who was refreshingly honest and funny about it being just her second shift as a server. I had my first Queens scallops, which came in their attractive shells and tasted to me like a cross between a clam and scallops I know.

    Enjoyed small breakfast next am at Emporium cafe across from our hotel. Set off on a walk round town: first to the first big Presbyterian Church, then to the lovely Chinese gardens, and then on to Dunedin's wonderful railway station, a beautiful old building completed in Renaissance Flemish style in 1906. Passed by the soon to be closed Cadbury Chocolate factory and stepped inside just to have a look at its museum. Some fun Cadbury memorabilia just inside the lobby - enough that we decided we didn't need to do the tour. Had a great late lunch sitting outside in sunny clear day at buzzy Cafe on the Octagon.

    In later afternoon we were picked up at our hotel by Tony of Elm Wildlife tours. We had arranged a 5 hour wildlife tour around the Otago peninsula. It was a definite NZ trip highlight for all of us. The peninsula drive is gorgeous with both curving hill and flat coastal parts. The sky was sunny and clear as we drove toward our destination for wildlife viewing. Alas, though, fog enclosed the areas we aimed for. Never mind, Tony assured us that we'd still see plenty of wildlife, and we did ! Some ducks and wading birds in low wetland areas, royal Albatross resting/nesting near the observation area of the Albatross Discovery center (though no views of them flying in that socked in area), a dozen or so big sea lions frolicking on a wild beach, probably another hundred fur seals near a rocky outcropping, and a single yellow eyed penguin who entertained us all for 15 minutes as he walked up steps, across a footbridge just feet from us, down steps and up a path. Lots of steep uphill walking on that tour, which earned us all drinks and dinner later at an Irish bar on the Octagon. Was virtually the only place still serving by the time we were out at 9. Things often close earlyish in these NZ towns. We all deemed it a great day out. Tony our guide was great - knowledgeable, laid back, nice sense of humor, fearless driver.....

    Next day we got our usual late start and did some more of the town. Ended up spending hours in the wonderful Otago museum, looking at history of the area,
    Transport over the years, and a really interesting exhibit about long term study of 1000 residents of Dunedin, a study that has become recognized worldwide. Thought we might get up to the university in town, but never made it. We women strolled in and out of a few galleries. Ate dinner that night at the quirky restaurant Plato (a recommendation that came up several times) down in the warehouse dock area of town. Very good fish and great fun service in an old fishermen's lodge FULL of chatzches of all sorts. We sat next to a jammed full shelf collection of teapots. There were eggbeater, toasters and on. And on.

    Returned our unused in Dunedin rental car at the airport and flew to ....

    Christchurch.

    Checked in to our two bdr apartment in the Heritage Hotel, an old restored government building dead center in post earthquake Cathedral square. This building had also suffered a lot of damage in the large earthquake of 2011 and had only reopened fairly recently. It's a great old building, calling to mind for all of us the Old Post Office building in DC, another great old building that all of us once worked next to and frequented often, and none of us will visit again, as it is now a Trump Hotel. Spent the remaining afternoon walking around town, getting a sense of the extent of the earthquake damage and rebuilding efforts. Walked some distance to find an Italian restaurant - Venuti - that had been recommended by a gallery owner in Dunedin. Decent Italian food. Watched as host turned people without a reservation away from a half full restaurant. Perhaps they were understaffed? It was a nice warm eve, so we had a drink at the lively open air Cafe of our hotel "OGB" (old government building).
    We were entertained by some bad live music and the the charming young Parisian who seems to be running the place at the moment with his Kiwi wife.

    Went on an independently run free walking tour of the city next am with "Michael."
    About 20 or so folks showed up for the tour. Michael was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the city, so it was a quick and interesting two hours. Heard about earthquake details, rebuilding efforts, use of container crates for temporary shops. Stopped by the botanical gardens, looked at some more "base isolator" columns supporting the Art Museum (a fabulous modern building). Tour ended at site where most of the 100 plus earthquake deaths occurred. Poignant for me especially since many were students at an English language school on the site. Some type of permanent memorial is planned for that site. Diagonally across from the site is a temporary memorial of 100 plus seats of all kinds painted white, memorializing those who died (including car seats, high chair, desks). Some seats were collected from site, others donated. Michael's enthusiasm for the city's rebirth was infectious, and we all left feeling glad to have seen Christchurch, even so damaged, and cheering for its renewal. After the tour, the guys went off to Carltons Bar in the afternoon to check out NCAA bball semi championships. I had researched a few sports bars around town the night before and emailed them to see who might have Skye/ESPN. They enjoyed the bar and the game with a handful of other locals and tourists to chat with. We women went off for more time in the art museum and botanical gardens, where we later had a little tea, before rain set in. Especially liked the atrium light s in the museum - helter skelter desk chairs with backs of various bright colors. Also, as always, the fabulous old trees in the botanical gardens. Too lazy and tired to go out again in rain, we had a delicious, if slow, dinner at OGB' this time inside the hotel. Again, our friend the young Parisian seemed in be in 10 places at a time, delighting all.

    Lazy final morning in Christchurch. A little more time in the historical museum, including viewing a great video about research and conservation of some of area's oldest trees. Then we were off to airport for our flight to Brisbane to begin the Australian adventure.

    So sad to leave!! Our slogan for NZ - "New Zealand - What's NOT to Like???"
    Dramatic nature; friendly, open, unfailingly nice people; great food everywhere;
    And everything tidy, and easy, and efficient. "No worries."

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    And on to Australia...

    Great Barrier Reef/Cairns/ Port Douglas

    We flew Christchurch to Brisbane and then on to Cairns, a long travel day. Our flight to Cairns arrived on schedule at 12:05am (Yawn). Met our driver Brad from Oasis Transport for the hour drive to our lodging in Port Douglas - Outrigger Apartments. Here we had a smallish 2 bdr apt with a small balcony. Nothing fancy, but a great location. Very welcoming and helpful managers, Amanda and Peter, who we later discovered had emigrated from Pretoria, South Africa a few years ago. Had asked Amanda to arrange two tours for us to accomplish our goals in this area: visit the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Day 1 had been established as a "rest" day - a euphemism for time to watch the NCAA b ball finals. Guys had done their research and determined that Paddy's Irish Bar would show the game for them. So they set off the few blocks from our digs to center town. Women straggled in later after a later start, some shop schmoozing etc. All had lunch and watched Carolina beat Gonzaga, to the delight of the NC native in our group. A few locals and A New York couple ultimately joined us for the exciting midday game.

    After a rest, some laundry, balcony, birdwatching across the street, some rain set in again. Walked back into town with umbrellas and had a wonderful dinner at the Watergate(!) restaurant, which turned out to be managed by a guy from Indianapolis and his wife. A short Hoosier conversation ensued. Watergate is a lovely restaurant under a huge tent of sorts. Food was great. Kangaroo was on the menu, so decided to try it. Tasted like tender beef to me.....

    We were concerned about weather forecasts that predicted rain for all the days of our stay around the GBR. But what would be would be, we would continue with our tours regardless. So, early (but not so bright) we were picked up by Nicholas Fox of Daintree Safaris for a day tour. Our host Amanda had done good research for us based on our criteria for a rainforest tour. Nicholas is extremely knowledgeable about the history, culture, flora, and fauna of the area. We picked up just one other couple on our way from Port Douglas to Daintree. Rain continued on and off (sometimes hard) for half the day. Never mind, Nicholas provided super large umbrellas for our walks through the ancient forest on the nicely done boardwalk, educating us on various plants and trees and pointing out forest dragons, very large fruit bats, etc that we would never have spotted on our own. He served up a mid morning tea under a park pavilion, complete with tablecloth. fruit, and muffins made by his wife.

    Much to all of our delight, we had a great view of TWO cassowaries along the road. These huge, beautiful, and prehistoric birds are now very rare. It's estimated that there are perhaps 200 remaining worldwide, and about 55 in the Daintree forest. We felt privileged to have seen two, but just checked Nicholas' Facebook page and learned that a few days after we'd gone out with him, he'd set a new record - spotting 16 individual cassowaries on that day! Another fun stop on the tour was an orchard and a local ice cream factory that serves up flavors from the orchard. Scarfed down the delicious ice cream and then enjoyed wandering through the orchard looking at all kinds of exotic fruit trees. We learned more about the fruits during a short presentation after a nice lunch of local fish ( barramundi) in a small restaurant. Finished the tour with a short cruise on The Daintree river, checking out some crocodiles. Best river siting was a magnificent azure kingfisher bird. Got back to Port Douglas around 4:30. A great day out, despite dicey weather. Highly recommend Nicholas's tour!

    Chilled on our balcony a bit, then decided to walk the few blocks down to the marina area for dinner. Suddenly heard and then saw dense flocks of birds flying into the trees by marina area. These turned out to be the rainbow lorikeets we'd read about. Trees were thick with them roosting and squawking for the eve. Looked for space outside near water to eat and could only find one at Hogs Breath, which is likely a chain. Had some drinks and average food, while enjoying the view.

    Next day we were up early to be back at marina by 9:15 for our all day cruise to the Agincourt Reef with the big company Quiksilver. This was our host Amanda's pick for us based on our desire to take a submersible boat ride near the Reef, as well as do some snorkeling. Based on reviews, I had some reservations about going out on this very large boat, but decided it would be an ok option to satisfy the snorklers and nonsnorklers in our group. The weather dawned sunny and clear, but breezy. At our ship, which I believe to be Quicksilver's largest - capacity 400, water conditions were listed as "rough". We four found a table /booth on the lowest level, believing that would provide smoothest voyage. Crew came around offering ginger tablets to help with any possible seasickness. We all accepted. The sole member of our group notorious for motion sickness was advised by crew that the tabs, rather than his own Dramamine, would suffice for that day's journey out to the Reef. After an hour or so voyage on beautiful blue and mildly turbulent waters, we arrived at the Reef. Quicksilver has a large pontoon anchored there. We went off to do the submersible ride first thing, and we were quite taken with that experience. Saw many different kinds of fish and a wonderful variety of coral (though sadly so much of it bleached now). Also walked through the underwater viewing area. Queued up for the lunch buffet. Big variety of food on buffet- hot and cold. Good enough, but nothing to write home about. By this time 3 of 4 of us had decided to snorkel, the other having had a minor toe injury. So we 3 suited up in the head to toe Lycra jumpsuits mandated for stinger/jellyfish protection. We were a sight! Gathered up provided equipment and slid off the pontoon edge into roped off water area for snorkeling. This was only an ok experience because of wind and the crowd of people. We 3 swum around for maybe 20 minutes, but didn't really see any more than we'd seen on the submersible. Dressed again we went and sat outside and enjoyed nice weather and blue sea views nearly until ship's departure from the pontoon, when it started to rain. Ship pulled away and then the seas got rougher. Many, many people, including the one in our group notorious for motion sickness on planes, who "never gets sick on boats," got quite seasick. Staff was kept busy running back and forth with damp cloths for throats and new white sick bags. But they were prepared! Quite an experience. Overall we were glad to have seen the Reef. Just beautiful water out there and the diversity of coral on the Reef was amazing, however bleached. But if I had a do over, I'd go out on a much smaller boat that only provides snorkeling for a less crowded experience. Though we'd then have missed the submersible boat experience......

    Fortunately our friend made a miraculous recovery after a bit of a lie down at home. So we were shortly up and out for a lovely, if slllowwww, dinner at the restaurant Zinc in town. Great food once it arrived and lovely atmosphere. Had fun conversation with Argentinian server and very funny local Australian manager. Back in town it was raining again. We really got the whole tropical experience in Port Douglas. Liked the little town a lot. Quite touristy, yet rather quiet and pretty.

    Next day we were up very early for our 5 am (gasp) pickup for drive back to Cairns airport, from which we flew to......

    Ayers Rock, Uluru

    Easily picked up rental car at small Ayers Rock airport and drove the very short distance to the Ayers Rock Resort, the only game in town in this part of the desert/outback. Had enjoyed clear wide views of the empty dry red terrain on the flight in, punctuated by the great big rock jutting out. We were early for our check in at the Pioneer Outback Hotel (almost the cheapest level digs at the resort - a basic though spacious motel type room for $225 US per night!). Went off to "resort town center" for lunch while room was made ready. Had great sandwiches and shakes outside at Resort's Kulata Academy Cafe, batting at first of many flies to come. Dropped luggage in rooms and set off in car to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which includes the sacred Ayers Rock (Uluru), with intention of staying out there for sunset views. Hot, hot, hot. Schmoozed the visitor center. Watched a movie about the significance of Uluru to the indigenous people and their struggle to retain land rights and respect for Uluru once the Europeans began to arrive. Noticed that a free sand plant tour would start at 5pm that would take us to sunset time. Signed on. A handful of us were led around the dry desert area surrounding the center. The indigenous guide stopped and identified trees and plants while the rest of us swatted flies, sweated, and strained to understand her soft voice. Tour is a work in progress. Guide had a trainee along to whom she translated her info into native language. That took us to sunset time when we drove off to a viewing spot and admired the setting sun lighting up the beautiful red Uluru ..... and swatted flies. Didn't deter lots of people from setting up chairs, tables, and picnics though. Took lots of photos ...and swatted flies.

    Back at the Pioneer Hotel, happy hour was in full bore. Probably several tour groups were in that eve. Tried to go to the restaurant located on our part of the reservation, The Bough House, since we had no reservations (ha ha) After some hassles about lack of reservations in the 3/4 full restaurant, we got a table and ate the dreadful but expensive buffet. It had been a short night the night before and we were all tired and cranky.

    Next day we foolishly went back to the same closest restaurant for another dreadful expensive breakfast buffet. Who knew scrambled eggs could be a fail? Drove off to Park again. Got an earlier start (for us) to avoid some of heat. Projected high of 96 degrees. Walked the short Mala trail, which took us close to base of the rock. Beautiful. Interesting desert oak trees, bush plants, a few birds. Some shade! Many flies. Nevertheless, a very nice walk admiring the geology and reading the cultural signs along the path. Drove on to view the nearby Kata Tjuta Rock group. Ironically the most fashion conscious of us was the only one of us to purchase a $10 fly net hat. Though we mocked her, we were all secretly envious.... as we walked the short fly infested path to the viewing area for the "conglomerate" rock formation called Kata Tjuta. Also magnificent....

    Hungry and hot we drove back to resort and found the Walpa Lobby Bar, part of the most upscale resort lodging, the Sails Hotel. Had a beer and some light lunch. Admired the more upscale lodging area and amenities. We'd come to refer to our downside end of the resort as "steerage". But then what can you expect for $225!! A night? Later that eve we had quite good dinner at the newly renovated restaurant of the Grade B hotel "Desert Gardens". Called the Arnguli Grll. Very pretty, very slow service. Under half full, though I'd earlier made a reservation with some hassle (everything is annoyingly controlled through the allegedly comprehensive reception desk). After walking in dark along the road to the restaurant, we decided to take the free resort shuttle back to our hotel. This was easy to do and showed us a bit more of the property, including a large area of employee housing. The resort has about 450 employees. Not quite half are indigenous. Goal is 50% indigenous employment by next year or so. Nearest other civilization to Ayers Rock is Alice Springs - 450 kms or 5 hour drive.
    Tried to imagine what working and living at this resort would be like..

    After breakfast in "town" next am, we returned car at easy little close by airport and flew to Adelaide by way of Melbourne.

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    Interestingly we were just last week at Uluru also staying at Pioneer Outback - we got a deal that included breakfast and quite liked the breakfast . We had lovely days in mid 20's and hardly any flies .

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    <<Ironically the most fashion conscious of us was the only one of us to purchase a $10 fly net hat. Though we mocked her, we were all secretly envious....>>

    Lol - we lived in AUS for seven years and never left the house for a walk in the bush w/o our flynets in our backpacks - they were lifesavers. We felt dumb for about five seconds and then were just thankful we had them.

    In fact, they're still in our backpacks, although we now live in fly-free CO. Old habits die hard.

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    Glad to learn that your time in Australia is off to a good start. Know what you mean about the flies at Uluru. Daintree sounds quite amazing. What would you say is the ratio between healthy and bleached Reef in the section that you visited?

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    glover -- your reporting reinforced that as much I would have liked to have gone to GBR and Uluru, we made the right decision for us to skip on this trip due to when we would have been there.
    Looking forward to hearing more - Adelaide was another place we toyed with visiting and passed on. You just can't see it all.

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    Adelaide and Kangaroo Island

    What a nice easy walkable city Adelaide is. We stayed 2 nights at the Adabco Boutique Hotel. It 's an interesting rehabbed building from 1800s, once a Boys Home. It shares neighborhood of a large hospital and hence lots of other medical facilities. Not the most interesting blocks in town, but easy walking distance to most Adelaide sites. Rooms are spacious with lots of storage space, and staff was great - they even sent us off with a bottle of wine!

    Somehow we were all about Italy food wise in Adelaide. Had a casual dinner of pizza, pasta, and salads a couple blocks down from our hotel at Bocelli. Went back for breakfast next day. Had a great seafood dinner the next night at Loucas Restaurant , 2 blocks from hotel in the other direction. Next am we had an Unusual and delicious breakfast at Adelaide's renowned "Luigi". Sat at sunny sidewalk table and shared a beautiful breakfast platter of poached eggs, garlic toast, mushrooms, tomatoes, bacon, asparagus, beets, hummus, sausage, Ital baked beans. Had late lunch before our flight out at Lucia's in the big Adelaide Central Market. We did venture outside the Italian box just once - Stopped for a late afternoon snack ha ha at a nondescript empty place with lots of awards/ certificates hung on walls. Turned out to be various Escoffier Society awards garnered by current owner. We had a long chat with him about Adelaide, his background, and Escoffier society. He had emigrated from VietNam decades ago, but considers himself 100% Australian. An interesting guy.

    We spent our two days in Adelaide walking all around the city enjoying its wide avenues and sites in pleasant dry weather. Highlights were a wonderful display of Pacific Island art in the museum, immigration museum, fabulous botanical gardens, and wine museum, where we were intrigued by the displays and the high tech method of dispensing tastings. They had a cellar of 30,000 bottles!!, Wonderful museums in Adelaide and most free. Great dahlia garden in Botanical Garden, with all dahlias in full bloom. And oh those magnificent trees! We all said "I could live here." But we were off to ....

    Kangaroo Island

    Considered taking ferry to Kangaroo Island, off coast near Adelaide, but decided it seemed a bit of a hassle, getting from Adelaide to ferry, etc etc, so instead we flew The 20 minute Rexair flight from Adelaide to KI's "city" (4 or 5 thousand population) Kingscote. Shortest flight we've ever taken. Beautiful coastal views on way over. Our was last flight in to Kingscote for the day, arriving just before 6 pm. The entire little airport was shut down probably within 20 mins of our arrival. We picked up our rental car and drove the short drive to our hotel, quickly since we'd been advised that car insurance ceased to apply at 6:30 pm - not enough light and too much wildlife on the road apparently.

    Checked into our rooms at Kangaroo Island Seaside Inn, just before owners closed up reception for the eve. Though they have a restaurant, they don't generally serve dinners. We were advised to walk down the road to center of "town" to one of 3 available restaurants serving in eve. Armed with flashlights, we set off down the full moon lit coastal walking path 1 km. Settled in at the very casual Bella Cafe in outside enclosed area. Shared a huge vegetarian pizza and salads. Walked back along the shorter but equally dark road to motel.

    Next am admired the sea views directly across road from us. Apparently, Right Whales can be spotted migrating through area in cooler months. Gorgeous clear sunny day.
    Identified a new bird in nearby tree: Red Wattle bird. Common on KI . Very noisy. Packed up and drove to town for breakfast at simple outside cafe.

    Drove to other side of Island, stopping at a few viewpoints along the way, then directly to next night's lodging at Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat. Dropped bags and then drove on into Flinders National Park and walked paths to see park's major landmarks: the stunning Admiral's Arch and Remarkable Rocks. We were fortunate to have a beautiful clear day to see both. Both are dramatic rock formations set against beautiful coast. Lots of fur seals resting and playing in both places. Sturdy infrastructure- walkways and paths to view both. Gorgeous!
    Later we were thrilled to get our first siting of the iconic koala bear in a tree near the parking area of the visitor center. We weren't as lucky looking for a platypus on a trail late in the afternoon. It was a long bush trail to a pond where they are only occasionally seen. No luck for us there. But then walking back suddenly 2 kangaroos appeared almost next to us. We had a stare down and took a few pix. Saw a few wallabies as well, so all was not lost. A great day!

    Earlier at the lodge we had asked them to reserve us space on a nocturnal tour at Hanson Bay Sanctuary nearby. We were all so ragged out that we cancelled. Sat on our porch till dark, then had a very good dinner at the lodge's small restaurant. Jolly conversation with our Canadian server. We all really loved this spot - the rustic lodging, the food in the restaurant, the welcome/organized administration- and of course the park itself. Kind of hated to leave.

    After good breakfast there next am we went off to Hanson Bay Sanctuary nearby on our own. It's a private Sanctuary with an admission fee and a few paths. We were given an intro and map for self guiding. New bird: a galah or rose breasted cockatoo. Saw about half dozen koalas high in trees on the lovely eucalyptus tree lined path. Walked another longer path and saw a few birds, some distant kangaroos. The big prize of the day though was siting our first echidna, Australia's porcupine like anteater. Had lots of time to observe him digging in a pile of rotting wood. I had always wanted to see a porcupine in US or elsewhere.....

    Continued on to the American River area of the island. Thought we might see some black cockatoos there, but saw only black swans and many Australian pelicans with their enormous pink and white bills. Stopped for the only food we could find in this tiny village, at the Deck Cafe. Had a nice chat with manager about the replica he and others are building of the American whaling ship "Independence, ". An interesting history in itself.

    Drove back to "town". (Kingscote) and enjoyed some balcony sitting looking out at the sea as another beautiful sunny day faded. Walked back down the dark road to town center with hope of scoring another pizza at Bellas. Not to be, the place was full. Had to mosey along to Queenscliff, a sort of pub country restaurant/hotel with ho hum food.

    Kangaroo Island was a definite trip highlight, helped by perfect weather, lots of wildlife sitings, and relaxed pace and quiet of the island. Put Mr G and I in mind of Chincoteague VA -remote island, quiet, a little retro, nice parkland nearby.....

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    I love South Australia! Never been to KI though - wildlife, good food/wine, national parks and walking trails are abundant just about everywhere in SA (shhhh...don't tell anyone). Although I will always associate SA with German food rather than Italian:)

    Glad you enjoyed your time there...and I learned a new phrase -
    "ragged out" (assume that means knackered?)

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    Melbourne and Tasmania

    We were looking forward to Melbourne, and the city did not disappoint! Just sorry we didn't have more time there. Spent 3 nights at Rendezvous Hotel in the Central Business District, almost directly across from Flinders Station, great old rail station building. Settled in and walked around the area just a bit, got a great intro from visitor center employee. Had read good things about our hotel's restaurant "Straits," so just wandered down there for dinner. Turned out to be great dinner in a lovely and quiet spot.

    Next am ate hotel breakfast and jumped on the free zone tram to get an hour's ride around central Melbourne. Spent quite some time in the wonderful art museum and then walked toward treasury building. Continued to enjoy warmish, dry weather. Wandered up toward Fitzroy neighborhood in search of famed street art. Fun to see this different neighborhood that reminded us of DC's Adams Morgan or NY's Soho. Best street art was full length reclining George Costanza of Seinfeld fame in his underpants?!

    Later walked across bridge to South Bank area, with idea of going up for city view/drink from the skyscraper Eureka building. Naturally we were not the only tourists with this idea on Easter weekend. So that was a bust - encountered a line much longer than we had patience for. Settled for having a drink at one of the riverside cafes as sun went down and lights of Melbourne came up - spectacular view from the bridge, so glad we didn't miss that. South Bank was thick with people enjoying the nice eve out. Jolly conversation with our drinks server who was from Auckland. We commented on the "crowd" out early on Saturday eve, speculating that it was due to Easter holiday weekend. He insisted that crowd was actually smaller than norm for a Saturday. Continued walking from there to Chinatown, where sidewalks became even thicker with people. Found our Thai fusion restaurant "Seamstress."
    Had wanted to try some of highly touted Asian restaurants like Chin Chin and Rice Paper...
    But neither took reservations.... Seamstress did. Taxi home.

    Spent most of next day (Easter Sunday) at War Remembrance Memorial and Botanic Gardens.
    Great views of the city from the memorial on sunny clear day. Walked all way home. Later took taxi back to Fitzroy nabe to reserved restaurant "Rice Queen". Great Asian fusion food there as well..... easy taxi home again. Left Melbourne wanting more.... but we were off next am on flight to

    Tasmania

    Launceston

    Flew into Launceston in north of Tasmania and picked up another rental car. Drove into town and found our Clarion City Grand Hotel, a lovely old heritage building near town's city park and central business district. Walked short distance to town's river waterfront. Sat outside and had lunch in sun and took in water views. "Easter Monday" so restaurants were still charging 10 or 15% holiday surcharge, which we hadn't seen before. Walked on along waterfront and then to path to the beautiful Cataract Gorge. A great little easyish walk on path along one side of deep rock gorge, that eventually led to a basin recreation area with cable car rides and swinging bridge. We crossed the swinging bridge and backtracked way we'd come. Once again our hotel restaurant had good reviews and we had a great meal there. Went out in search of breakfast next day and discovered Launceston downtown was a fine city, full of interesting old Victorian and Art Deco buildings and beautiful city park. Had one of best breakfasts of trip at Pierre's cafe, along with super friendly and good service. Then we were off on our longish drive to

    Bicheno near Freycinet National Park.

    We were stopping at this little town down the east coast of Tasmania to see the park and view its famed Wineglass Bay. Unfortunately we were later leaving Launceston than we should have been and didn't arrive in Bicheno till 2:30 or so. Most laid back lodging check in/out ever. Had reserved a little cottage called Charm on Douglas, one of several self catering places part of "Tidelines of Bicheno." Checkin in instructions were "cottage will be unlocked, key inside on table." Departing left key on table and charge showed up on credit card that day. Cute little 3 bdr, 1 bath grandma's cottage. Just down street from famed ocean /rock blowhole.

    As we were still a 20 minute drive from Freycinet, we decided we didn't have time to give it its due. Instead jumped back in car and drove to the nearby East Coast Nature World. A private zoo/ sanctuary for rescued animals nearby. This place turned out to be a delightful way to spend the afternoon. We were just in time for feeding of many animals. Two terrific enthusiastic and very knowledgeable employees taught us a lot about local animals we'd not yet seen: quolls, wombats, Tasmanian devils. The devil talk and feeding was particularly fun and educational. Friendly kangaroos, Barren geese wandered around the property. Park also had a great collection of beautiful birds.

    Returned to our cottage near dusk and walked down street to view blow hole. Sky was colorful in setting sun over water. Walked around waiting for and then watching waves surge through the blowhole. Beautiful. Other tourists and locals began drifting down to rocks, some with chairs, picnics. Only later did we realize they were setting up to view penguins who come to burrows there in the eve. Sorry to have missed that, but had seen other penguins on this trip and lots walking to their burrow in Patagonia a few years ago. We walked down the coastal road, the long way to dinner in "town" at Pascini's, where we sat outside and had a good dinner. Walked back along main road in near dark with flashlights to our cottage. Spent some time admiring amazing night sky in low light area.

    Considered going to Freycinet next am, but again time seemed short, sorry to have given ourselves only 5 nights in Tas. Had breakfast at fun place on way out of town "Pondering Frog". Friendly and entertaining owner. Then drove on to ....

    Port Arthur

    Found our lodging Port Arthur Villas, just across road from a small gate back entrance to the Port Arthur historical site. They were hardly villas, more like retro strip motel rooms. But our 2 bdr 1 bath "villa" was clean and functional and couldn't have been an easier place from which to access the historic site. Again it was already early afternoon, so we hurried over to the site for a late lunch in visitor center cafe. It was yet another beautiful day to wander around the site's grounds. We signed on for a brief intro walking tour, which was informative, but a little jokey for my taste. We were agreeing with view yestravel expressed in her earlier Port Arthur trip report that - having read about penal colony history via book "Fatal Shores" - the presentation here at the site seemed to gloss over conditions at the time. Stayed at site till its closing at dusk and walked back to lodging.

    We had noticed a nice common BBQ area at our motel and discovered that management sold BBQ packs to guests for quite reasonable price. So for about $20 we acquired 4 burgers, 2 thin steaks, 3 pieces of chicken, and probably a dozen sausages, not to mention tomatoes and onions! Way more than we'd signed on to. Also bought reasonably priced wine and beer from mgt. Guys cooked it all up for a nice at home BBQ. Gorgeous clear night sky out there again.

    We were up and out early next am for our Pennicott Wilderness Tasman Island Cruise, which we had reserved based on fabulous reviews months ago. In the meantime I had worried about weather, seas, winds, friend's potential seasickness etc. But in the end couldn't have asked for a better day. We met at cruise office in town location and all took a short bus ride to harbor at Eagle Hawk Neck. There we boarded high powered 43 person catamarans for a thrilling 3 hour cruise in perfect clear sunny weather with very little wind. A definite trip highlight! Our two guides were excellent: knowledgeable, safety conscious, and funny. Because of the truly wonderful weather we were able to go closer to amazing peaks and caves than often the case. Spectacular scenery. Saw lots of seals frolicking on land and sea. And an albatross flew directly toward the boat and settled on water several feet away for a few moments - just for us.
    Boat driver took advantage of relatively calm seas and gave us some fun rollercoaster rides and turns, showing off a little - great fun. Motion sickness friend took drugs and ginger tabs and sat in back and did fine, thank god. Well worth the $$$!! A definite trip highlight.

    Hobart

    Returned to rental car and drove on to Hobart, where we stayed 2 nights down at waterfront at the old Customs House Hotel. Enjoyed walking all around this great port city. Took the ferry to MONA (the museum of old and new art). Private collection of wealthy gambler David Walsh. A very unique location, building, and collection indeed. Grew to really like the handheld read or listen device used to identify art. Walked up hill to Battery Point area and admired all the old homes there. Walked through the lovely St David Park. Cruised the huge Salamanca market on Saturday morning. Beautiful vegetables and flowers, as well as prepared food purveyors and artisans of all sorts. Read that the market has 300 stalls and is visited by thousands on a Saturday. Indeed it was thick with people on our visit. Nothing for us to buy though, a few minor souvenirs. Had a wonderful dinner at the Blue Eye Restaurant down the street from our hotel(thanks for this rec, yestravel), loved the atmosphere of place, with the most interesting paper fish collages on walls. Great service and food. Also had a very good dinner at our hotel's restaurant, as well as two good included breakfasts. Being a heritage building, rooms were located and sized helter skelter. Our rather nice room on second floor faced street and had a bit of water view. But that meant we enjoyed drunken yelling and singing at restaurant and sidewalk below until very late Saturday night. Friends huge room was on first floor in what seemed a hotel extension, dark with opaqued windows - but fortunately quiet.

    Left Hobart too reluctantly but we were looking forward to Sydney up next.

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    << "Easter Monday" so restaurants were still charging 10 or 15% holiday surcharge, which we hadn't seen before.>>

    Not uncommon in Australia and NZ as they have to pay their workers more on public holidays, of which Easter Monday is one.

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