Heading to Wellington

Today I am crossing over to the North Island of New Zealand.

The transportation mode of choice is the ferry. I still have my campervan so I pay for a special ticket to transfer my car as well.

I arrive very early but it ended up being futile because we wait quite a while until the ferry arrives, in fact it is actually running late today.

Finally the cars are let on. I am directed to park. I am supposed to turn off some sort of security alarm on my van but I can’t figure it out. I hope it goes ok anyway.

I lock up my van and bring some things to occupy me during the ride (3.5 hours). I explore the ferry a bit then find a nice and quiet place to hang out inside for my ride. I do order lunch on board but it isn’t that spectacular to write about.

Once I exit the ferry in Wellington it doesn’t take me long to drive to my hotel for the next couple nights, Capital View Motor Inn Motel. This is a planned hotel stay to break up my van nights (I will have more unplanned hotel stays as you will see later).

The hotel room is decent and has a kitchen which I don’t get to use too much except for breakfast and such. My only concern is parking my campervan. Since the hotel is in the city, I knew to plan in advance for this by asking the hotel if they had a space that would hold my van. They reserved a spot for me but it is very small. Fortunately I am able to get the van in there and squeeze my body out past the brick wall on one side (It would have been much easier if the car on the other side gave me more space). It is stressful but all is well. I don’t plan on moving it the next couple days.

I don’t have much time to settle in since I made a reservation at Weta Workshop this afternoon. I only recently before my trip even learned about Weta Workshop. Weta is the group of artists that craft all kinds of imaginative character renderings – such as Lord of the Rings. One can book a tour to see their facility.

While waiting for my tour to begin I look around the shop.

The tour takes us to a couple different rooms, each talking about another area of design. One has posters from all the movies and shows the group has worked on. The resume is impressive.

Most of the tour did not allow photos but we did come to a section where we were introduced to an artist and his construction methods; we were allowed to take photos in that room.

I ended up booking a second tour, not knowing what the second tour actually was. It ended up being a tour of the Thunderbird’s miniature sets. I have never seen the show but it is very interesting how the sets are designed and filmed.

The set designers use everyday things in the construction of the sets.

After my visit I take an uber back into the main city area to order dinner.

I end up at an outdoor cafe where I get my Haloumi fix once more – Southern Cross Garden Bar Restaurant.

HALLOUMI BURGER
Green pea falafel patty, shredded cos, Zany Zeus halloumi, beetroot relish, avocado dressing & spring onion

It is still early so I head down to HeyDay Beer Co to try a flight.

Their sample pours seem kind of large. I feel like I am getting a good deal.

After that it is back to the hotel for the evening.

Queenstown

Note about my postings about my sabbatical….

I have been slowly trying to outpace the calendar when trying to document my travels. So far I’ve kept all my travel posts related to travel less than a year ago. As the new year begins I get closer and closer to that self-imposed marker when I am talking about travel that is more than a year ago.

I had high hopes on documenting my adventures as I went but mostly failed on this subject; with the exception of posts like these that are generated from my actual thoughts and feelings at the time. These posts tend to be more detailed and also lean more about my struggles when traveling. I tend to get the urge to write down my feelings more when I am having a challenging time verses a blissful time. You might see me talk about my struggles frequently but it is not representative of the majority of my travel. I actually had a large amount of moments of awe, bliss, and amazement – I just didn’t tend to journal those feelings along the way. So here I am trying to reconstruct things from my photos and that seems to take quite a long time.

Why am I telling you all these things? I guess I want to justify why it is taking me so long to document things and to give reasons for all the “holes” in my posts where I clinically describe experiences instead of conveying actual thoughts.

Anyhoo, a new year has begun in the “current world” and I look forward to traveling once again post COVID-19.

For now enjoy my adventures in Queenstown….

I admit I came into Queenstown in a bit of a mood. I am determined to not like it; partially because the internet told me “Wanaka is better” and partially because the bumper to bumper traffic on the way into here. I also have another case of travel fatigue. I have not even done any activity to really wear me down physically – no walking tracks or such. The long travel from Milford Sound to Queenstown did me in. I have another shoulda. I should have scheduled more time in this region in general.

I arrive to the campsite and I am on a mission to finish the bagged salad and other produce that will spoil any day now. I hunker down at my campsite that is eclectically decorated and has too few bathrooms and showers in my opinion (but it has yet to be a problem so why am I complaining).

“Too few bathrooms”

I wake up with no plan for the day. I thought about a trail walk or taking the gondola up the mountain and walking down but I do none of that.

What do I do instead? I drive 5 miles to Bed bath and Beyond and Kmart to buy pillows, a blanket and a yoga mat among other things.

Why pillows?

I am a woman over 40 who is a side sleeper but has discomfort with firmer mattresses and with traveling I have new shoulder pain. Sleeping in the van with one pillow and a firm mattress has been challenging so I buy a couple of pillows to strategically place to help me sleep better. Younger people won’t get it but trust me, once your sleep is “messed with“ it affects your entire life.

I buy a blanket is because I had one bitter cold night and I have been in fear that every night will be like that. Spoiler alert – I never need the blanket after that day.

The yoga mat is because I am hopeful I will do yoga…..well at least I will do my foot stretches on my injured foot.

…..enough of the old lady talk.

I find a bowl for $2 NZD to replace the one I broke in the camper on the first day; it doesn’t match exactly but is good enough.

Back to Queenstown…

I arrive back to the campsite and wait to have my phone to 100% before walking down to the town center to try the infamous Fergburger.

If you read about Queenstown and recommendations 99% of the time they will mention trying Fergburger. From what people write about the place it seems life changing. I came in with high expectations and was subsequently disappointed. I got in the line and I guess I got lucky because I only waited ten minutes; most wait much longer. After I order I wait at the bar and decide to go ahead and eat my burger at the bar. I guess I have had my fair share of spectacular burgers in my life so I find this one only average. It has too many peppercorns for my liking and the sauce is too sweet. On top of that they over salt the fries. I wish I would have ordered one of the other interesting sounding sandwiches like the one called the Codfather.

I make up for the burger disappointment by going to the ice cream place next door. I try some interesting flavors at Mrs Ferg Gelateria.

I take my ice cream for a walk and finally start to enjoy the beautiful afternoon.

I walk down by the water and enjoy the views.

Along a path I take I see picnics and people walking a tightrope (seems to be a Queenstown pastime called slacklining).

I end up at a beach café, The Bathhouse, and order some wine at a table right on the beach. It gets warm in the sun but otherwise a perfect day to look out at the water.

After my wine I continue my walk over to a nearby park, Queenstown Gardens. I enjoy the gardens and the nice views from the penisula.

I head back toward the more busy part of town and happen upon some bagpipers.

And then eventually at a fun boat bar.

Having a glass of wine as the day ends while overlooking great views is a great way to end a day that started sour. My stay here is short but Queenstown you are a nice stop.

Milford Sound

Today I am going on a day cruise of the famous Milford Sound in New Zealand. Milford Sound is a fiord – a slither of sea between high cliffs. The weather today is beautiful as can be but I am told it is hard to have a bad cruise….even if it is raining the resulting waterfalls are magical. I take lots of photos but unfortunately they don’t do justice. It is impossible to capture what I see, feel, and think while I am there.

In the morning I head down to the car park at Milford Sound area where the day cruises launch. There is a self pay machine for parking. There is free parking but further away so today I just pay. As I pay I am attacked by sandflies. There is a little shop in the visitors center where I pick up some bug spray. I hope it helps.

I have a little while before my cruise begins so I walk along the water. The views are amazing just from the short alone.

I head down to the pier to board for the cruise. Today’s cruise is a two and half hour cruise. It seems pretty short so I hope it is worth the overnight trip down here. Many come down here from Queenstown by coach for just a short day cruise. It seems like a super long day.

My cruise boat

As the cruise starts we are already are greeted with a nearby waterfall.

As we head further and further the views keep getting better.

I admire the sides of the cliffs.

We catch some seals in the sun. I am loving the colors on these rocks as well.

We start to see all the waterfalls along the sides. It is beautiful. Apparently when it rains you will see even more. I’ve been told it is magical.

The boat cruises up to the cliff and the waterfall pours onto the boat and into glasses. They let us taste the fresh waterfall water.

More waterfalls

We reach the end of the fiord. Beyond this point is the vast sea. We turn around at this point and head back.

We arrive back at the port. I walk around a bit more to take some more pictures before I head off to Queenstown.

Same view as earlier but brighter now!

I am not sure the pictures capture the feeling of the cruise but perhaps this short video will….

My drive to Queenstown has many stops so I’ll post more on that later.

Melbourne Australia

View from my rental apartment

I have arrived in Melbourne Australia – a city I am really digging. The temperature is perfect and the vibe reminds me of a low-rise New York city. I think I could possibly live here some day.

I arrive at the airport and take the skybus to Southern Cross station. I take an uber from there to my airbnb.

Melbourne Airbnb

I plan to stay in Melbourne for a full week including Christmas so I wanted to get a hometown feel instead of staying in a hotel or hostel. I chose the funky neighborhood of Collingwood to stay in an Airbnb studio. The owner is an Australian artist now based out of the UK. Her specialty is imaginative collages. You can find her artwork at Collagism. Her artwork and interesting sense of style can be seen in the apartment.

I love having a “home” for the week. There are some poor neglected plants on the porch that I nurse the week I am there, giving me some sort of normalcy during my travels. Collingwood is a funky but sleepy neighborhood, I think it probably got hit by a recession in the area since it seems many places have closed nearby. There are still enough places in the neighborhood to keep me satisfied and it is nice to not stay in the middle of a tourist district. Collingwood is in walking distance to some town highlights and once I figure out the trams it isn’t hard to get to where all the important sites are.

I head out to meet with another travel buddy whom I met on my Jordan tour in September. Melbourne is her hometown and she has some spare time before the holidays to meet with me tonight. We met at a lively café on the river for a snack and and a cocktail. She has to work tomorrow so we don’t stay out late.

Once again I am very thankful once again I get to meet so many great people during my travels.

After walking my friend to the train I wander around town looking at holiday lights. The Christmas holiday is in two days so Melbourne is full of color.

When it is time to head back I couldn’t quite figure out tram in the evening so just took UBER back. Luckily by the next day I had it figured out.

I am loving the nighttime view from my apartment.

Christmas Eve

Today is Christmas Eve. If the holiday is anything like in the USA then most things will be shutdown tomorrow. I head to the grocery store to stock up on goodies for tomorrow – including Meredith Dairy Goat Feta which I am addicted to.

Coincidently a friend from high school is in Melbourne at the same time as I. She is stopping in Melbourne to meet some of her clients before she heads off to her honeymoon in Fiji. I meet up with her and her lovely husband for a day of fun. (Interestingly enough we both lived in NYC at the same time for about 4 years and for some reason we were never able to meet up. It took traveling to Australia to see each other again!)

We meet up for brunch. So many times I dine alone and most of the time I don’t mind being on my own but it is very nice to have company, especially around the holidays.

Then we head off to our river cruise down the Yarra River.

I almost wear this to my river cruise today. My apartment has fun props.
Cruise boat

We stand up in the back. There is clearance for us to stand under most bridges but at least one makes us duck down.

Our cruise drops us off at Williamstown where we explore a little bit. Williamstown is Melbourne’s first port settlement. There are stores and cafes. We settle on a outdoor seating area and chat for a while. When it is the scheduled time for our return trip we head back to the port to catch the return journey.

The fun isn’t over when we return to Melbourne city. We decide to try it out at a roof top bar for a little while. We don’t stay too long though. Each one of us seems to want to get back to our lodging for the rest of the evening (something typical for us 40 somethings). Besides it has been a long day!

This is the kind of joint we are at
Rooftop cocktails

Finally figured out the tram system and I wander back to my apartment just in time for this glorious sunset.

Tomorrow is Christmas and I have no plans. I plan to eat and relax all day long….

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Disclaimer: All pictures on this post are taken by me except the underwater photos which are taken by the boat photographer. Photo credit: Down Under Dive @ Great Barrier Reef

I lost a day in Cairns when my flight to Australia is cancelled. Luckily I am able to reschedule my great barrier reef cruise to my last day. Visiting the great barrier reef is a bucket list item. The way we destroy our planet there probably isn’t much time to still see the reef in all its glory. During my sabbatical planning I almost passed up this opportunity because it is supposed to be stinger season and a bad time to go (jelly fish are supposed to be abundant). On top of the stinger the weather is questionable in December. Luckily the cruise, Down Under Cruise and Dive, has stinger suits to borrow to prevent stings by jellyfish and it happens to be a lovely day at the reef. I really couldn’t have picked a better day to go. Lucky me!

Growing up near water I never had a urge to scuba dive (like surfing) but for some reason during my travels it is something I really wanted to tackle. Due to health issues it is a questionable activity for me at this time and since I don’t really have time to clear it with my doctor I decide to play it safe and snorkel instead. Note: When I return the USA my doctor tells me that scuba diving would be ok for me – DARN. MAYBE NEXT TIME.

Don’t get me wrong, snorkling at the Great Barrier Reef is amazing, but there is so much more to see at the deeper lengths (Clownfish for one).

our boat

As the cruise starts we go in the dining area inside to get instructions and a safety spiel. We will stop at two reefs and have a lunch buffet in between.

Inside the boat

We get fitted for the equipment and I take the optional stinger suit just in case. We are assigned a cubbie hole to hold our borrowed equipment.

It is a little more complicated for the scuba divers. I unfortunately did not scuba dive this time.

We have a little time to enjoy the cruise before we get to our first stop.

Stop 1 Saxon Reef

We are almost at our first reef to explore. I put on my stinger suit and get my equipment ready. I am not sure what to expect down below.

The water looks amazingly clear. I jump in.

There is a roped area that we are supposed to stay inside. Also there is a flotation device in the middle if you need to rest. Once I stick my head in the water I find I don’t need the flotation device. I spend my time floating face down marveling at all I see. Saxon Reef is full of vivid and beautiful corals. I don’t spring for the underwater camera nor could I find the photographer to get a photo of me this time around. Below is a selection of some of the shots from the photographer that are included in the pictures I purchase on board.

Below is more examples of corals I see. I do notice some bleaching of the corals but I am amazed of how good the corals do look. I see very beautiful colors. I mostly keep my head face down in the water only bobbing up when the lifeguards give the whistle to do a safety check on us. I am notoriously bad at hearing the safety guards but only once I am whistled at for getting too close to the outer barrier.

We return to the boat to eat lunch and travel to our next location.

I get a little of everything on the buffet

I relax a bit on the top deck.

Stop 2 Hastings reef

Even though there don’t seem to be any jellyfish out I wear the stinger suit once more just to be safe.

I really notice the reef decline at Hastings reef. Parts of it are vivid in color and beautiful but a large part of it looks dead. I can see lots of coral bleaching. I also notice bright purple and bright yellow coral. I see white coral with blue eye tentacles, many striped fish, and polka dot fish. Bright blue and purple fish. The fish come right up to me.

Example below of bleached and dull reef.

These are neat. Also look at that rainbow fish!

I finally find the underwater photographer to get some photos taken.

When I return to the boat I order a celebratory beer for the trip back.

We arrive back at the pier.

The pier is not too far from my hostel so I decide to walk back. In my walk I see mud flats and do some birdwatching.

Outdoor water recreation area

I stop at an outdoor restaurant on the waterfront. It is here that I realize there could be a communication issue in this country even though I technically speak the language. I order fries (chips) and ask for ketchup with my fries. The server has no idea what I am asking for. I finally realize that ketchup is tomato sauce in Australia. Something to put in my memory banks for the next few weeks.

Dessert I order

Today has been a great day. I love my great barrier experience and would love to come back again and scuba dive so I can see the fish at deeper lengths.

My visit to Cairns is short and tomorrow I head to Melbourne to start my adventures down south. I am excited to see things in other parts of the country.