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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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