Anne Marie's Australian Adventure

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Archive for December, 2008

Merry Sunny Christmas!

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 17, 2008

We were talking about Christmas the other day because we haven’t made any plans. It’s just too hard to think about Christmas with summer being here. I grew-up in Southern California where it only snowed once when I was about six or seven and it only stayed on the ground for a few minutes – but it was still winter – colder than the rest of the year. After discussing this Fergus told me he posted a blog entry about Christmas here – I usually don’t read Fergus’ blog about anything we’ve done before I write my own because he writes everything so much better than I do.

Well I read his Christmas blog and I think you all might enjoy it (for those of you who aren’t on his regular email list just click here.) I have a couple of more entries to add before Christmas but thought I’d send you to his blog to give you an idea of what it is like for us.

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Maori Hangi at Wairakei Terraces

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 17, 2008

One of our final experiences in New Zealand was to go to a traditional Maori Cultural Center and Hangi Feast. The area was given back to the Maori tribe of the area and they recreated the geo-thermal terraces and build traditional Maori huts and demonstrated Maori arts, crafts, and music. We learned quite a bit about the Maori Culture when we spent time in both the Christchurch Museum and The Te Papa (National Museum of New Zealand) in Wellington.

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It was good to hear Maori history from the descendants of New Zealand’s indigenous people. This performance group where all related: brothers, sisters and cousins, a group of young people sharing the language, dance and music of their ancestors. To learn more click here. Dinner was fun and Fergus was pulled from the crowd to dance – I guess all that bungy jumping brought out the Maori warrior in him.

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Boogie Woogie Bungy Boy!!

Boogie Woogie Bungy Boy!!

The week before we had dinner at a castle on top of the hill in Wellington at a place called Sign of the Takahe. As many of you know I have this thing about King Arthur and anything about medieval times. I had Fergus take a ton of pictures of this restaurant just in case I ever build my own castle (miniature).
The Great Hall

The Great Hall

There was no performance and we had a early dinner because the place was reserved for a really large party that night – how cool would that be? Great place for a Renaissance Faire or Medieval Theme wedding. These are some examples of how diverse the cultural experiences we had in New Zealand were I can’t wait for our next visit.
My knight in a button-down shirt!!

My knight in a button-down shirt!!

The views from the windows were beautiful. The windows were also beautiful. This is a must visit even if only for a drink in the pub, a cup of coffee in the afternoon or an elegant dinner.
My knight in shining armor - a little late.

My knight in shining armor - a little late.

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More NZ Adrenaline Adventures

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 17, 2008

Whale watching and swimming with the dolphins were not enough excitment for Fergus so when we got back to the North Island we added a few more adrenaline adventures for fun. Since the moment we started talking about going to New Zealand, Fergus started talking about Bungy Jumping. So when we got to Taupo we checked out the jump area. NOOOOO WAAAAYYY was he going to talk me into this one. I don’t like rollercoaster or stomach whirly-likes rides so jumping off a platform and whirling upside down  with a bungy cord attached to my feet just wasn’t going to happen.

I was happy to film it from the sidelines and crossed my fingers that he wouldn’t be the first person to die at this Bungy Jump site. But before he took the dive we went to Huka Falls for an easy going boat ride – in a jet boat. What a blast. I thought we would be riding the rapids but we only got close to the falls.  If you’d like to a video from the jet boat company click here

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After a blast of cool down spray from the jet boat ride we headed back to the Bungy site. I will refer you to Fergus’ blog for his personal experience ( docdownunder ). From my side I have to admit it seemed like a pretty silly thing to do and I was a little scared for him. Fortunately it is was a quick experience and after almost two weeks of anticipation it was over in seconds – we were able to  enjoy our last days in New Zealand without having to talk about and think about -“do it or not?”

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But what about the dogs??

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 12, 2008

While we were gone for two weeks we had to put the  kids in the kennel. At home in Kansas we have a dog sitter who comes out to the house once a day. This is okay because they have a doggy door and don’t leave our property. But we don’t have that option here. There are two kennels we like but one is a little far away and this kennel is near the airport. Since the kids were going to be there for such a long stay they put them in a double kennel. They had their own “rooms” and a large area with a tree for shade and for Cooper’s “convenience”.  It’s a relief to know that they are safe and being cared for. They even emailed us some pictures while we were gone.

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Botanical Gardens

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 12, 2008

It seemed as if all large cities in Australia and  New Zealand have botanic gardens. Canberra’s is a hilly landscape with natural Australian flora. They pride themselves in their large collection of vegetation from all over Australia which by now you know is vast.

New Zealand botanic gardens especially during these summer months looks like it was plucked from England and so much more. I spent a couple of hours at the Christchurch Gardens but my camera battries died so I didn’t get many pictures. This garden is 21 hectares and I didn’t see it all.

By comparison the Wellington Botanic Gardens is 25  hectares but it covers a hilly landscape and I spent several hours there. I got plenty of pictures at the Wellington Botanical Gardens which was in full bloom. It was a lovely day in Wellington and the garden was one of my favorite sites. 

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New Zealand Landscapes

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 11, 2008

We saw some pretty amazing landscapes during our travels around New Zealand. We didn’t even see the top half of the North Island nor the bottom half of the South Island. This is a place that really takes more than two weeks to visit. I just wanted to add some pictures we took along the way to give you all a sense of how beautiful it is. These are some pictures we took on the North Island.

Check back in a couple of days when I add more about our New Zealand trip: gardens, jet boats, bungy jumping and the hangi. And if you haven’t logged in for awhile read below about our swim with the dolphins.

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Swimming with the Dolphins

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 11, 2008

This had to be the highlight of our trip to New Zealand. After the Waitomo Caves I never thought I’d have to get into a wetsuit again. I did and this time I had to tread water – oh how I wished I had my inner tube. The dolphin swim boat launched from the pier at Akaroa about 90 minutes south of Christchurch. This quaint village was a French settlement prior to the English taking over New Zealand. It has a cute waterfront with small shops and cafes.

The day was a bit overcast so it made it all seem colder than it probably was. The wetsuits we used this time , however, were newer and a little more stylish, and not wet prior to us getting into them so the preparation wasn’t as shocking as it was for glowworm watching.

The group was smaller too. There were maybe eight of us on the boat plus the captain and a crew member. We sailed out towards the opening of the Akaroa Harbor and then waited to spot the dolphins. The dolphins in this harbor are Hector Dolphins and this is a good place to watch them because the harbor keeps them safe from sharks.

Two Hector Dolphins along side the boat.

Two Hector Dolphins along side the boat.

I was the first to spot them jumping and even though I couldn’t say “Thar she blow!” I did shout to the captain “I see them!” We headed the boat towards them, stopped and then slipped into the icy cold water one at a time so as to not scare them away. We weren’t out in the open sea but the rolling waves were still pretty big and which made  it was hard to see the dolphins while we were in the water. The captain and the crew guy would yell from the boat, “coming your way on the left” or ” two right behind you” so we could position ourselves to see them.

 

IT WAS AWESOME! We were all separated by several feet so that the dolphins would swin in between us. They came by in pairs or sets of three so if we missed one we usually could see the other. These dophins are little and have a black fin so they were fairly easy to spot but they were fast so if  we were turned in the wrong direction we’d miss them.

Dolphins with the group.

Dolphins with the group.

We were in the water for forty minutes but it seemed like five. The skipper said we’d be leaving soon so I got out first so I could take some pictures and video. As I was getting into the boat one of them jumped completely out of the water – behind my back- so I missed it. I guess all those ohhs and ahhs were not for me.

I got some shots of the dolphins near Fergus and some with the other people on the boat.

Fergus and Hector

                             Fergus and Hector

They come so close you can almost touch them but they warn you not to because their skin is so delicate that it can be injured easily. It really was a wonderful experience. As we were preparing to leave a dolphin watching boat came near us and the dolphins went crazy swimming along side of the ship. We could see them clearly then. I think the people on the boat, bundled up in their jackets, were envious that we were down there close and personal with the dolphins – a much better view.

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Whale Watching – actually watching for whales – Yawn.

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 8, 2008

In Christchurch on the South Island, we spent a few days exploring the city (more on that in a later blog). After a few days of not driving we were ready to hit the rode for a day trip to Kaikoua. This coastal town is about 2 and 1/2 hours drive from Christchurch. It’s a harrowing last hour when you are low on gas. The mountain road doesn’t have many towns and NO GAS STATIONS so be sure to fill up before you leave Christchurch. We pulled into Kaikoua on fumes.

It was a cool and misty morning but it didn’t matter too much since we where riding on a boat that would be splashing water. Whale Watching Kaikoura is a well organized company. They even guarantee your money back if you don’t see any whales.

Whale Watch Center

Whale Watch Center

So you spend alot of time “watching for whales” not really watching them.whale31

Where are the whales??

Where are the whales??

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We finally found one whale who came to the surface for air and a bit of a rest. It swam around on the surface for just a few minutes and then was gone. It didn’t jump out of the water but just submerged with a flick of its tail. We saw one other whale who was asleep on the surface. Every once in a while water would spurt from it’s blowhole. We watched this whale for a long time and then with little effort it too disappeared below the sea.

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I must admit however it was a little boring. Its not like you see on TV because they looked like large grey logs floating on the water and when they swam away they just headed for the bottom. I got a video of them but you can’t see much. This trip was a must for us since New Zealand is famous for its whale watching. Sometimes it is just the luck of the draw if you see any whales at all.

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This was still a cool outing. I would recommend it. The drive back to Christchurch was much more relaxed. We didn’t save enough time to stop at some of the nice wineries along the way. That really should have been included in our plans since we find New Zealand wines to be very tasty.

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Waitomo Caves – Wet and wild!!

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 4, 2008

At the Waitomo Caves you can see the underground caves with stalactites and stalagmites and the glowworms. There are several different companies that operate these tours; walking tours down through the caves or boat tours where you can cruise down into the caves. We had to do it the cold, wet and hard way – floating down into the cold water river in an inner tube wearing a wet suit and a helmet with a miner’s lamp.

First thing they did was outfit us with our gear and made sure our inner tubes fit. And teach us how to connect once we start floating through the tricky areas of the caves.

Basic training for our cave adventure.

Basic training for our cave adventure.

Does this inner tube make my butt look fat?

Does this inner tube make my butt look fat?

This was the easy part because of course it wasn’t cold or wet yet. The next thing they did was make us jump into the water. Now water activities are not my favorite things to do, never have been, but I hate being cold more than anything. The water was cold and only got colder as we descended into the dark deep caves. We rafted underground rapids, jumped over underground waterfalls and floated through these river caves with millions of glowworms on the ceiling of the caves.  I won’t go into all the info about glowworms but you can click here to learn more about glowworms and the caves.
After awhile I forgot I was cold even though the water got colder the deeper we got into the caves. There were two guides who really were great. They would stop every once and awhile to explain about the caves, the discovery of them, about the worms, and to give us a rest. The pictures they took inside the caves weren’t great – mostly blurry so if you do the trip think about taking an underwater/shockproof camera for youself. You can’t see much because the caves are totally dark hence the miner’s lamps.We made it out alive!! What a thrill!!!cave6
We made it out alive!! What a thrill!!!
The hardest part of the trip was getting into and out of the WET wetsuits and getting out of my inner tube once we got to the cave’s exit. I was so crunched into the tube and I was so tired from paddeling the last several meters to the exit I struggled to get myself out of the tube. This was an exhilarating adventure and it felt good to be alive. Click on this site if you want to see a video about the Black Water Raft. The hot shower and warm soup served at the cafe made me thaw out and feel alive again. I would  recommend this experience, maybe not the wetsuit and inner tube method but definitely a visit to the caves and the glowworms.

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B and B’s in New Zealand

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 2, 2008

Since it wasn’t peak season yet we took a chance and didn’t reserve any accommodations (except for in Wellington  for Fergus’ conference). We picked up the rental car as soon as we arrived that first day and headed north on the North Island. After driving for a couple of hours we stopped in this cute town called Martinborough in one of New Zealand’s many wine districts. Unfortunately they were having their big wine festival that weekend and all the accommodations had been booked up for months. So we drove to the nearest big city, Masterton. The hotel we stayed in was nice but nothing too fancy except they had a bathtub and since the house we are renting doesn’t have one, I ran down to the nearest shop and bought some bubble bath – ahhh what a joy. 

(Make sure you click on the pictures to make then larger and on the lightlighted words to link to the sites – there are some great pictures and lots of extra information.)

New Zealand landscape

New Zealand landscape

The big roads in New Zealand are mostly two lane highways (although in the big cities they are sometimes wider) with occasional passing lanes, so travel by car is slow (I should say slower because Fergus drove at maximum speed whenever possible). And the roads are often curvy because the country is hilly and at times mountainous. Our second day traveling was a long day on the road until be got to New Plymouth on the western coast. We got there in the afternoon and went to the local “I Site“. These are really wonderful information centers found in many of the tourist towns (which is all of NZ). Not only can you find brochures for all possible activities they can find you the right accommodation for you interests and location. (Be sure to get there before 5pm because they close early.)

Since New Plymouth is a beach town we said we wanted a B&B within walking distance to the beach. They found and booked us into “93 by the Sea” – a great choice. We spent the afternoon walking along the coastal walkway, enjoying the ocean view and the relaxing for the really first time. Pat, the owner was delightful and the gardens were beautiful. I meant to get a picture but when we left the next morning it was pouring rain.

The other B&B’s we stayed in were also very cute and we found them mostly through the “I Site” centers. In Waitomo where we saw the glowworms (a blog on that adventure to follow) we stayed at the Waitomo Caves Guest Lodge. I did get pictures of their gardens.

The B & B roses and dog.

The B & B roses and dog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Zealand is so much greener and rainier than Australia and since it is spring right now they have the most beautiful rose and rock gardens. It makes it seem so much like England only sunnier (at least in my recollections of England). They were pretty busy but we got a cute little two story cottage (we had the ground floor) with nice views of the countryside.

After all the driving we decided to drive back to Wellington and fly to Christchurch on the south island. This was a wise move because we never would have gotten as much in as we did. In Christchurch we stayed at another B&B right downtown. The Devon is this really cool old building and we stayed there for four days while we explored the surrounding areas. This is where we went whale watching, swimming with the dolphins and dinner in a grand old building which looks like a castle (these adventures to come in following blogs). Part of the reason I wasn’t able to write my blog as we went along was because I rarely go access to the computer – at least at home I can use it when Fergus is at work – the rest of the time…well see for yourself.

Is this considered an adrenalin sport?

Is this considered an adrenalin sport?

After a few days we flew back to Wellington and spent three days for Fergus’ conference. We stayed mostly at The Museum Hotel. This building has an interesting history. Check out the site to read and see how they moved the building across the street. After the conference we a had a few days left to see some more of the north island. We got as far as Taupo – a lake resort area in central North Island. We found another great B and B, Above the Lake. We didn’t going fishing but we did go jet boating, bungy jumping and experienced an authentic Maori hangi (feast). These adventures also to follow in upcoming blog entries.

Our final night in New Zealand was an ordinary airport hotel that was functional since we had an early morning flight back to Canberra the next morning. All in all it was the best vacation we’ve ever had. We spent our final evening meal discussing were we should go on our next trip. Of course we couldn’t agree – we might just have to come back to New Zealand – wouldn’t that be nice!!

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