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Goodbye New Zealand

semi-overcast 68 °F

We are sad to leave, on this our final day in New Zealand before we depart for Australia tomorrow. During the past month in NZ, we have noticed that the extraordinary is the ordinary here: the beautiful and varied countryside, the kind and friendly people, the fantastic weather. We will miss this country and are already dreaming about a return visit.

New Zealand top ten list

(in no particular order)

National parks: We expected to pay an admission to enter the national parks in NZ. They are all FREE! Mt. Aspiring, Mt. Cook, Fiordland, Nelson Lakes, Abel Tasman, etc.

Kiwi. The bird, not the fruit. (But we like the fruit too.) It's amazing that this little flightless bird has survived the many introduced predators that have hunted the kiwi to near extinction.

Summer. Need we say more?

Easy roads for travelers due to very little traffic and thankfully, no ugly billboards, so the focus is on appreciating the beautiful scenery that is found EVERYWHERE.

The little carton of fresh milk that is waiting in every hotel fridge for tea and coffee making.

"Flat white" coffee. We haven't had a bad cup of coffee in New Zealand, although it is a little pricey.

The Maori people and culture. We have seen Maori (descendants of the original Polynesian settlers) in most levels of the economic ladder. Maori people are successfully integrated into modern society, yet maintain a pride in their roots and culture. A fascinating example of peoples successfully sharing the world.

A "no worries" attitude where Kiwis seem much less uptight than Americans.

New Zealand wine

Bird song. So many NZ birds sound like electronically amplified and complex songs. You can't believe it until you hear it.

Areas needing improvement

(in case the New Zealand tourism board happens to read this.)

1. As previously mentioned, the "hot and cold" mixer valve hasn't caught on here. You have your choice of a scalding hot water spigot or an ice-cold water spigot.

2. Most public restroom faucets and hotel showers have water flow restrictors that make it impossible to rinse thoroughly. In a country blessed with so many lakes, waterfalls, and high rainfall totals, along with so few people--really, what's the big deal? Are they saving the water for the sheep?

3. Speaking of turning on the tap: wifi. Wifi is either excruciatingly slow, unreliable, or non-existent. One thin underwater fiber optic cable connects New Zealand to the rest of the world. Wifi is begrudgingly doled out by hotel managers in 200 MB increments. Time to upgrade to the 21st century.

4. Regarding the Ashford Motor Inn in Christchurch: on a day when there are no guests and only the hotel manager present, feel free to have the NZ Air Force execute precision missile target practice on the toxic mold capital of this country.

Really helpful items that we've brought from home:

1. duct tape: fixed a showerhead, kept sand flies from entering the hole in the screen, fixed electronics cords and broken bottles. Absolutely indispensable.

2. sunscreen: due to the thin ozone layer over this country, we slathered ourselves with sunscreen on even cloudy days

3. road maps: our GPS does not work here, so we've had to resort to navigating the old-fashioned way

4. bug spray: do not underestimate the ferocity of the NZ sand fly

5. travel-size spot remover stick: each of us has been allotted two pants and three shirts by the vacation slave driver, so it is important to pre-treat gravy stains from clothes before washing

Nobody escapes Captain Bones! (Pearl's homemade pirate costume. Notice the eyepatch taped directly to her eye and the creative use of a Pringles can as a peg leg.)
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Here's a short video of our family bike ride along Lake Wakatipu here in Queenstown.

Posted by skwclar 20:57 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

G'day Australia!

sunny 68 °F

This morning we woke up early for our Jetstar flight from Queenstown, NZ to Melbourne. It was a surprisingly short 3.5-hour flight between the two countries, in which Pearl managed to spill food and water on Sue, and the person in front of Sue fully reclined, while at the same time the person behind Sue jammed his knees into her back. Sue now has a new appreciation for Southwest Airlines.

In Australia, we hit the ground running. After driving for 4 hours, we are poised to explore the Great Ocean Road, southwest of Melbourne. With a two-hour time change, we are guaranteed to wake up early and ready for adventure!

Pearl boarding the Jetstar flight. (Pronounced "jeet-stah" in New Zealand.)
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Beach stop to stretch the legs on the long journey.
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Our destination for the evening: Apollo Bay, Australia
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Posted by skwclar 23:27 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Having the right koalafications

sunny 72 °F

Today we explored two national parks on the southeastern coast of Australia. Our first stop was at a pleasantly fragrant eucalyptus forest to look for koalas. Before Dave could finish saying, "Keep an eye out for koalas," Henry shouted, "I see one!" The koalas were everywhere! In only 30 minutes we easily spotted 16 koalas, all fat and cute perched high up in cozy spots in the trees.

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Next stop was at Otway Treetop Adventure, where we hiked along a trail that eventually turned into a platform. As we watched the ground fall away beneath us, we were able to study the undergrowth, middle story, and canopy of the mountain ash forest. This part of the world smells like eucalyptus-scented air-freshener, which is much appreciated in our car.
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On a cantilevered walkway, high above the forest.
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After a long afternoon of driving, we finally reached our goal: the 12 Apostles. The Apostles are wind and sea swept sandstone monoliths just off the shore of the south coast of Australia. After years of erosion, the number of apostles has been reduced to eight, but they are still absolutely magnificent.
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Posted by skwclar 00:42 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

A fine summer day in Melbourne

sunny 88 °F

The kids' interest in geological wonders has been tapped out, so we dropped Henry at an estuary for 30 minutes of birding, while the three of us took in a few more Great Ocean Road wonders before heading to the big city.

Bay of Islands, which is equally beautiful as the 12 Apostles, AND much less crowded
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The Arch
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London Bridge--so big that one could plop a large house and yard on top
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Our drive to Melbourne lasted 3 hours. Pearl is again feeling quite travel weary, and at one point Sue threatened the life of stuffed kiwi "Kevin" by holding him out the car window while driving 100km on the highway. Have we mentioned that this is a long time to spend without your 6-year-old having playdates or school?

Last night we received word that our VRBO condo in Melbourne would not be available to us since the previous renters had damaged the property, so our realtor offered us an "upgrade." We were skeptical since it was in the Central Business District and not in our preferred neighborhood. Boy, are we happy! Our penthouse 2-bedroom condo has a large balcony that overlooks the Southbank and Yarra River.

Melbourne is a beautiful city--especially on a summer day with temps in the high 80s and not a cloud in the sky. Look anywhere and you'll see building cranes erecting more skyscrapers. After settling into our most excellent new digs, we took a walk along the river, checked out the Southbank yuppie neighborhood, and walked through the Botanic Gardens. The city has an air of prosperity, friendliness, and comfortable livability. The locals enjoy lounging in neighborhood cafes and strolling along the riverfront.

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In the Botanic Garden--behind are the Victorian Arts Centre, home of the ballet and theatre companies, and the Eureka Tower.
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Henry found a piano in a garden just outside the Arts Centre.
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Federation Square and St. Paul's Cathedral
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The best way to get acquainted with a new city is on the free tram of which we availed ourselves for a complete loop and a half tour.
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Posted by skwclar 22:27 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Thunderstorm beats thundersnow, right?

rain 72 °F

This morning we enjoyed the beautiful city of Melbourne. We strolled through the quaint alleyway of DeGraves Street with its friendly cafes and bohemian vibe, then progressed uptown to the more affluent Royal and Block Arcades with Victorian architecture and fancy stores.
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We found ourselves in Melbourne's Chinatown--one of the nicest Chinatowns we have ever seen due to it seeming cleaner and less crowded, and restaurants offering a wide variety of Asian cuisine.
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The kids were in high spirits after a good night's sleep, so we continued our walk to Carlton Gardens and the Royal Exhibition Hall, a UNESCO World Heritage Sight with formal gardens, beautiful fountain, and huge hall.
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Pearl took advantage of the fun playground for about 20 minutes until a very large group of schoolboys took it over. Notice the mandatory sun hats that all the boys are wearing. I wonder if there's a photo anywhere of young Michael Mulcahy donning a similarly typical Aussie hat?
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Dumpling lunch in Chinatown rounded out our day since it was forecasted to rain the rest of the day. We inadvertently ordered twice as much food as we could eat which allowed us to return home with enough for a future Chinese lunch or dinner on the balcony. A fairly quiet day on the road never hurts the family energy level.
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Posted by skwclar 22:21 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

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