Friday, January 31, 2014

Bucket List Down Under

It has been a lifelong dream to visit the other side of the world, namely, Australia and specifically, Sydney.  This year our dream became a reality.  The planning began in January of last year when we received a cruise brochure covering Australia and New Zealand.  After much research, discussion and prayer we settled which cruise line to use: Regent Seven Seas.  A small luxury ship, all was included in the price:  flight, land tours, internet, gratuities, and all food and drink.  In addition each room had a balcony, one of my non-negotiable issues.  We decided that to fly that far we needed extra comfort on the 12 hour flight, so we upgraded to premium economy seating, which gave us virtually everything a first class seat had, except for a bed.

We felt spoiled from the moment we walked onboard and were greeted with a glass of champagne, our luggage was waiting in our cabin, as well as a welcome tray with a bottle of Champagne, flowers and fruit. The cabin was almost nicer than our house.  Everyone who saw our photos exclaimed "That is your cabin on a ship???"  A beautiful marble bathroom with a shower AND a bathtub.  A walk-in-closet, which I don't even have at home, an extremely comfortable bed with as many pillow as we wanted, a lighted vanity and chair, a sitting area, desk, sofa, two chairs and a coffee table that was transformed into a dining table when room service used a tabletop which was stored in the closet.  There were comfortable furry throws which we used to sit on the wicker-type furniture on the deck at night, binoculars in the cabinet, a flat screen TV and our own Illy Espresso maker.  I could easily live in that space indefinitely.

When it came to food, every lunch and dinner was like dining in the finest restaurant back home.  You could order anything you wanted, as much as you wanted.  One dinner, for example, I had fois gras sliders and tuna tartare as appetisers, beef wellington and butter poached lobster an an entree and grand marnier souffle with vanilla sauce for dessert.  Each day there was a themed lunch on the pool deck: once it was an Australian buffet, including kangaroo and crocodile, and every type of barbeque.  The next day was a seafood buffet, with local New Zealand green lip mussels, king crab legs, made-to-order Pad Thai, sushi, fish curry and paella.  In addition, there was an afternoon tea with the most amazing desserts imaginable.  If we were still hungry (haha) we could order from the room service menu and did that for breakfast every day but one. Talk about an embarassment of riches!  The food was so intricate and amazing, we couldn't wait to get an ordinary burger the day we got off the ship.

We spent five days in Sydney before the cruise and one day post cruise in Auckland. We stayed at the Four Seasons, just a short walk from the harbor.  What a thrill to walk around that famous Opera House in the early morning hours and examine it from every beautiful angle.  As the morning wore on, workers piled onto the ferries in their version of rush hour.  Despite it being a workday people were friendly, relaxed and cordial.  "G'day mate" was heard more than once. 

Our pre-cruise tours included a boat cruise of the harbor one day and a trip out of town to the Blue Mountains on the next.

The scenery of the Blue Mountains was breathtaking.  We saw it them in many different ways: on the world's steepest railway, on a cablecar and by tourbus.  The cliffs to the left reminded us of the cliffs of Dover in England.

This is called "The Three Sisters".

Our favorite restaurant (Jacksons on George St.) was right across the street from the hotel and we ate most of our dinners there.  It is a reasonably priced Irish pub with fabulous pub fare, including wonderful lamb shanks and steak and kidney pie.  We saw the name George used in many names, a nod to the British background of Australia, and King George.  McDonalds had a big billboard with a picture of a meat pie, called a "Georgie Pie".  I took a photo of Georg in front of it.  There was even an intersection of George and Margaret streets.  We all have to call him Georgie Pie from now on.

A highlight of our stay in Sydney was breakfast with the koalas at the Sydney Wildlife Encounter in Darling Harbor.  While we were not able to actually physically hold them,  we were able to get up close and personal with them and other unique wildlife indigenous to Australia, including wallabee, kangaroo and the laughing kookaburra.

I don't know the name of the enchanting ducks, but aren't they beautiful?

Koalas sleep most of the day, but we were there in the early morning hours, before any other visitors and it was feeding time.

Laughing Kookaburra - and it does sound like it's laughing

After five days in Sydney, we watched the Voyager come into port from our hotel window with great anticipation.  We checked at 4:00 that afternoon. Onboard, it was a beautiful evening in Sydney and we had an amazing dinner on deck with a perfect view of the illuminated bridge, Opera House and shimmering water.

This was the view from the balcony of our cabin, our last night in Sydney.  I couldn't get enough of that view!


Included in our cruise were many free land tours from which to choose. Most involved taking a coach with a guide to the countryside, which was so beautiful. The large windows afforded me the opportunity to take many photos from the bus. On one of the tours we boarded a punt boat (a flat bottomed boat guided by handsome young men, like Venetian gondoliers) on the Avon River in Christchurch.

This wasn't our gondolier, but he was so cute I couldn't resist!

On another tour we had a wild ride on 8 person Argo vehicles in Dunedin, roaring through puddles and up and down steep embankments.  We had to wear rubber rain jacket to protect our clothing from the water and dust.  On our first stop we observed a colony of seals sunning themselves and on the following we stealthily peeked through holes in the rocks to see nests of fuzzy baby penguins.  The adult penguins were nowhere in sight, but later we spotted a lone penguin emerging from the sea on its way back to it's young.

Another day, another tour.  We had a wine tasting at a winery and then later tea and refreshments at an enchanting sheep farm followed by a sheep herding demonstration by a Crocodile Dundee lookalike at Pencarrow Lodge in Wellington.   It was funny:  On our first tour day, our first sighting of a sheep in the wild caused a flurry of cameras snapping furiously.  By the last days, we had seen hundreds of sheep, for which New Zealand is known.

New Zealand is better known for its white wines, like Sauvignon Blanc, especially from the Marlborough region.  Australia is famous for its reds, such as Shiraz.  We were fortunate that our ship offered a great selection of wines from these regions.

Border collies, used in sheep herding. 

The whistle around his neck had the dogs trained to his every command.

I think my favorite sight was here.  I took hundreds of photos of the incredible colors at the Hot Springs and Thermal Baths in Rotorua.  In the end, I found myself with the daunting chose of having 1800 trip photos to edit and whittle down, which I liken to having to choose amongst favorite children.

It took me forever and many photos to catch this bubble just at the second before it burst.

A special treat in Wellington was a completely unexpected opportunity to visit with an old friend we had not had contact with in almost 30 years.  We happened to be in port and available at the same time as him.  A great grandson of a Maori King, a renowned opera singer and resident of New Zealand, Zane Jarvis had visited our home many years ago while he was in the missionary field and we had a short but sweet time of fellowship together. As it happened, he was in town and available and picked up us at the ship.  Spending the afternoon together, he drove us all over town, showing us Lord of the Rings studios, beachhouses Peter Jackson had built for the cast, (he knows Peter Jackson), up to a mountain lookout, and down to a lovely beach location where we had coffee and finally he took us to Parliament for a private tour, because he works there.  He promised to visit us in the States as soon as possible.  His greeting and farewell to us was "Kia Ora" a lovely Maori phrase meaning "Be well/healthy", doubling for "Hi" or "Goodbye".  Hear Zane sing the French National Anthem.

The New Zealanders are among the friendliest in the world.  I've heard it compared to all the good things combined about the States, only back in the 1950's.  As we were punting on the Avon, we witnessed picnickers teaching their little children to stand, smile and wave to us as we floated by.


The night before the last day at sea I found myself getting teary during the crew's farewell show in the  Constellation Theater on the ship.  I felt such gratitude for the amazing experiences we had and the love and care we felt onboard and on land.  I felt we were guided in all the choices we made planning the trip, beginning with choosing Regent Cruises, our choice of Australia and New Zealand, our choice of cabin, our choice of tours.  They were perfect and I wouldn't change one thing.  My memories will stay alive for the rest of my life due to the many photos I took.

A few last photos, taken from our balcony at the end of the trip, a parting gift from the Lord, displaying His majesty.


Picasa Slideshow with more photos:  (Click on photo for larger images)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fabulous job, Margaret!!! (From Annette)