Down Under Again

Milford Sound – New Zealand

It was exactly a year ago that my wife and I spent three weeks in Australia and New Zealand.  It was a wonderful trip and people often ask me if I’d like to go back someday and the answer is, absolutely!  But . . . 20 hours on a plane to get there . . .  nope, not gonna do it anytime soon.  Instead,  I’ve chosen to virtually re-visit this experience by re-examining some of the photos that I overlooked as “keepers” the first time around.  You just never know what lurks in the “rejected” file and I found quite a few images that I now deem blog-worthy.

Some Kangaroo antics

Throughout the past year my wife and I have frequently asked each other “what was your favorite part of the trip”?  After much deliberation, I’ve whittled my list down to these top three excursions:

  1. Tracking kangaroos and koala bears in the wild
  2. Climbing to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
  3. Searching for dolphins off the East Coast of New Zealand

Everything else we did was certainly enjoyable but not as remarkable as those three activities.

My lone goal for our time in Australia was to photograph kangaroos and that was quickly accomplished.  Since there are approximately 30 million of these bouncy marsupials on the continent, finding one wasn’t much of a challenge. Many open spaces away from urban areas are home to kangaroos.

In addition to kangaroos, we saw many of their cousins, the wallabies.

What I didn’t expect was to see multiple koalas in the “bush”.  These elusive creatures sleep about twenty hours a day – typically nestled high atop a eucalyptus tree – and spotting more than one in a day is rare.  Fortunately, we  had an expert guide who, working in conjunction with her team of spotters, led us to three different sightings.  All were asleep and unaware of our presence but they put on an entertaining show nonetheless.

Koalas are marsupials and mothers carry their young in the pouch

One of the highlights of my trip to Africa in 2012 was the many unusual species of birds found there and so I was happy to see a diverse population of bird life in Australia also.  The rainforest is a prime habitat for colorful and exotic birds and we found more than our share of feathered friends under the canopy.  Although this trip was by no means a wildlife adventure, I was very pleased to photograph a variety of animals not found in the States.

The galah, or rose breasted cockatoo, likes to nest inside tree cavities
Cockatoos are not only found in the “bush” but often out on the streets of town
Ibis are plentiful within the rainforest
Getting the “stink-eye” from a bird I have yet to identify
View from our hotel balcony on the Island of Tasmania

No trip to Australia is complete without a visit to its largest city, Sydney.  Even though this is a world class metropolis, prior to my visit I didn’t know much about it.  Aside from seeing fireworks over it’s harbor as the first noteworthy place on the planet to welcome in the New Year every January 1st, watching the 2000 Summer Olympics from Sydney was my only exposure to this impressive city.

Sydney is home to about 4.5 million people

I knew it had an iconic bridge that spans its harbor but up until just a few days prior to our departure, I was unaware that people could climb to the top of this structure.

Over 3.5 million people have climbed to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge 

Now, I’m not that fond of heights but climbing the bridge wasn’t a frightening experience at all.  In fact, after ignoring our guide’s advice to “not look down”, I snuck a peek at the dark blue water and bustling traffic beneath me and quickly found my bearings and my nerve.  The rest was a cakewalk.

Britain’s Prince Harry recently climbed the bridge but his pregnant wife, Meghan, wisely chose to opt out

One disappointment was our time snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef.  Although it was warm, the rain, rough seas and overcast skies made for viewing the reef challenging to say the least.  What we did see lacked the vibrant colors that I expected.  It’s an item checked off my bucket list but sadly, not that memorable.

The city of Cairns in Northeastern Australia is the launchpad for excursions to the Great Barrier Reef
Divers are dropped off onto a sandbar in preparation for exploring the Reef

New Zealand is a gorgeous country and the South Island is absolutely stunning.  The Southern Alps mountain range may not be as impressive as its European counterpart, but still spectacular.  I especially enjoyed the Queenstown and Milford Sound areas and those two destinations alone are worth traveling halfway around the world. My only regret is that we didn’t spend more time in this region and that we didn’t do more hiking there.

View of Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown Bay from the Bob’s Peak observation deck

Speaking of hiking, airport security and Customs in New Zealand were particularly focussed on examining travelers’ hiking shoes for potential agricultural contaminants from foreign soil.  Domestic flights within New Zealand are not subject to airport screening – something that seemed odd to us in this day and age – but Customs agents at the point of entry into the country insisted on inspecting our footwear.  Even the sniffing dogs seemed more preoccupied with our boots than our luggage.  My advice to those trying to smuggle drugs into New Zealand: don’t wear hiking shoes that have traipsed through a cow pasture in Australia otherwise the Customs dog will start barking immediately upon your arrival.

We were told to “take the back roads” through the Southern Alps and didn’t regret it
Off the beaten path near Glenorchy, New Zealand
New Zealand is best known for its sheep but they don’t pose for photos as well as cows
View from our hotel balcony in Queenstown
All roads lead to mountains on the Southern Island
New Zealand offers no charge “freedom camping” on most of its public lands

Making our way to the east coast of the South Island was somewhat challenging as an earthquake several years ago significantly damaged the roads in that region and many had yet to be repaired.  We were encouraged to take several mountain pass routes on our way to Christchurch and to later fly rather than drive to the North Island.  It turned out to be good advice but some of the mountain roads led to some major-league white knuckle driving – particularly the last dozen or so kilometers to the resort town of Akaroa Bay

The road to Akaroa Bay from Christchurch, New Zealand

It was in Akaroa Bay that we went on a dolphin watch that came highly recommended by an American we met in the hotel’s laundry room.  The sun was bright and the seas were calm as we set out for the two hour cruise that included complimentary drinks – something I desperately needed after the nerve wracking drive.

A small dog aboard the boat would bark whenever he heard dolphins approaching.  Canine sonar at work.
Traveling organist in Akaroa Bay

The scenery on the North Island is not nearly as spectacular as in the southern part of the country, but cities such as Wellington, Rotorua and Auckland offer a great deal of interesting things to do.

Mural at the New Zealand History Museum in Wellington
A warrior at a Maori Village re-enactment
Auckland, New Zealand is a city I could relocate to if the cost of living wasn’t so expensive

Australia and New Zealand are relatively safe countries and mass killings and terrorist acts are extremely uncommon.  Yet, several weeks after our return to the States, some deranged individual purposely drove his car into crowd of people on a busy sidewalk in Melbourne directly across the street from the hotel we stayed in. The incident injured about twenty people, some critically.  Some of the news clips appeared to be filmed from the front steps of our hotel. It left my wife and I with the eerie thought of “what if”.

I highly recommend traveling to Australia and New Zealand.  The people are fabulous, the food is great and the experience is unforgettable!

 

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