O-Berry Arts Home  > Travel Stories  > Downunder 2003

This was my second trip to Oz, and my first trip to New Zealand. Once again, I took my childhood pal O-Berry. And this time I also took my mom.

{ September 09, 2003 }

Landed! Most of us did, anyway -- one of my pieces of luggage is still somewhere out there. Qantas said they'd deliver it to the hotel when it arrived.

I was thinking that it might arrive before we did -- because we were waiting and waiting to find my last piece and then had to wait in line fill out a form to claim it and then go through customs, our ride to the hotel had already left with the other drop-offs. So we were waiting and waiting some more. We were treated to an interesting show in the meantime though, someone had left a piece of luggage, and security immediately went into bomb threat mode. They roped off the area and called in for more guys, who moved the ropes farther out and called in some more guys, who made the circle even larger and called in some more guys. In the end there were about 10 big beefy guys with crew cuts looking at this thing from every angle. They looked at it and looked at it, but never touched it. Then brought in someone with specialized equipment. In the end, the carry-on bag surrendered.

Weather is sunny and beautiful, and there's a number of cafes -- including an internet cafe -- within a few block of the hotel.

I should get back there -- I left mom napping...

{ September 10, 2003 }

Opera House Luggage ho! My missing bag made it to the hotel room yesterday evening. I looked at the tag on it, and apparently it missed the AK flight (how, with 3 hours to spare, I'm not sure), so it hopped Horizon to somewhere then grabbed a United flight to Sydney.

Unfortunately, my Walkman had some mental difficulties -- the volume was permanently at blasting levels, making it useless. :(

Slept like a rock last night -- for about 6 hours. The mattress is like a rock, so I woke up at 2am and didn't really get back to sleep.

We did make it out to Circular Quay today, but unfortunately, mom's first view of the Opera House and Bridge was through a layer of fog. Still, it was sunny and warm and we sat there and watched the world go by.

We also got some info on the buses so we don't need to walk that whole way to get there. We also got some info on the zoo and they've got a package pass for ferry and zoo entry. We may try that tomorrow or later in the week (looks like some light rain on Friday, but clear otherwise).

{ September 11, 2003 }

Waves crashingManly beach. We took the bus to Circular Quay, then hopped the ferry over. Perfect day -- sunny and warm, and our timing was good, too: after the commuters, but before the crowds.

The beach was fabulous. I wasn't sure if there would be a cool breeze, but it was actually quite warm. Warm enough for an ice cream cone. We just sat on the beach listening to the waves and eating ice cream.

Then we wandered back up the Corso to get some fish and chips, followed by another ice cream cone.

Lots of surfers. Tons of surfers. The beach is beautiful -- clean sand and clear water. COLD when you first stick your toes in (so that's why the surfers are wearing wet suits!).

With the aid of two coats of factor 30, we spent about 5 hours at the beach without a sunburn. :)

On the ferry ride back, the clouds were starting to roll in. Just as you pull in to the dock in downtown Sydney, a recording comes on and says, "Please do not jump over the rails." Gee, and I was going to do that.

{ September 12, 2003 }

chocolate koalaToday was overcast and Seattle-y, so we went to the Australian Museum. They have a replica of a prehistoric crocodile. Actually, they're all prehistoric, but this one is also extinct, and it's a good thing, too -- it's about 50' long, has legs the size of an elephant's, a body like a tree trunk, and could swallow me in one gulp. Cool.

We then wandered over to this underground shopping mall that just goes on and on and on for miles underground. We stopped by a chocolate shop, and I got a chocolate koala. First I bit off his ears. Then his eyes. Then his nose. Then I bit off his head! He's filled with a creamy nougat of some sort. Then I polished off the body. Mmmmmm.

{ September 13, 2003 }

Went Bondi and sat on the beach watching the waves all day. There is something to be said for this.

Surfer on Bondi Beach

{ September 14, 2003 }big tree

Today we went to the Botanical gardens. It's huge and beautiful. We wandered around checking out some of the native plants (I love the kangaroo paw). It was windy as hell in the afternoon, so we were glad we did the beach on Saturday.

We then sat on a bench overlooking the harbour and the Opera House and the Bridge and enjoyed the sunshine. Ahhhh, vacation.

{ September 15, 2003 }

Today we took the ferry over to the Taronga Zoo. It is somehow inserted on the side of a rather steep hill. It's a very nice zoo, and mom of course had to see the gorillas. They've got a pretty large troupe, including 2 young babies (one 4 months and one 6 months).

They spread food all around and then let the gorillas out. It was a mad dash for the lettuce. The big silverback grabbed about 5 heads of lettuce, then parked himself in a tunnel eating. Everyone gathered as much as they could hold and chomped away.

rooWe talked to one of the keepers for a while, and she had worked in the states for a number of years. After Sept 11, the money for her work Visa disappeared and she had to come back. She said she'd love to go back to the states because there are more zoos and therefore more different opportunities.

We also saw an echidna in action: He itched, then went back to sleep.

We also saw a tiger in action: He licked, turned around, and went back to sleep.

The platypus was actually swimming around (weird animal). And there were lots of kangaroos and wallabies. I love those guys. They are so different from any animal in the states. Klutzy at slow speeds, but amazing when they are in motion.

Then we went to the reptile house, and saw some beautiful lizards. Mom does not appreciate the beauty of a python, though, so our stay was brief.

They also had an alligator, and I swear he was on the wrong side of the fence.

Tonight we need to pack: Tomorrow we head off for Cairns and the reef.

{ September 18, 2003 }

michaelmas cayWhere did I leave off? Can't remember. Anyway, yesterday was a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. Excellent as always. Last year I went on a large boat with about 300 people; this time it was a smaller sailboat/catamaran with about 50 people. I like that better.

Instead of going out to the open ocean, we went to Michaelmas Cay, which is basically an overgrown sandbar with a lot of birds on it. I mean hundreds of birds. It's a sanctuary, so you can only go on a very small section of beach.

The water is so blue and the sand is so white it's just unbelievable.

the reefThe nice thing about being on the islandlet is that you can wade into the water. Mom isn't used to being in open water, and hasn't really snorkled before. We got her in a lifejacket (which is nice for snorkling since you can just float without effort) and a snorkle and I carefully took her out. She must of inhaled through her nose because she started coughing and spluttering and I pulled her back to shore.

Good thing about the beach though is that you don't have to swim anywhere to see anything. We tried again just walking up to chest-deep water and looking under, and that way she could see some corals and anemones and fish without being over deep water.

I went swimming farther out, and saw the most amazing array of sea life. In deep water, the goodies are farther down, but from the cay everything was just about 5 feet below me, so I got a good view of an amazing array of corals and fishies (some came right up to me) and some really giant giant clams.

Later, we took the semisubmersible, which is a sort of submarine with big windows. This is great because you get some narration and mom got to see everything without needing a snorkle. I got some pictures with my digital camera out the windows, and we'll see how well those came out.

On the way back, they turned the engines off and we spent about 45 minutes just under sail with someone playing guitar on deck. It was fabulous. I much preferred this trip to the 300-seater.

Now it's back to Sydney for the night, then over to New Zealand.

Kiwis, Ho!

{ September 19, 2003 }

the ibisWell the hotel at the airport was really something. I'm not sure what. Small. That's what it was: small. I think the room was designed to be a single and they threw another bed in there to make it a double -- my feet were in the closet and there was a shelf over my head. The only two places to put you luggage were on a bed or in front of the door.

The best part was the bathroom. It was a quarter circle and look like some kind of a space capsule pod. Glimmering white. And no room to move around. The shower was actually nice since the shower head was up high enough that I did not need to duck under it, but the rest of it was amazingly small. If my stay was any longer than 12 hours then I wouldn't (stay). But since it was only overnight, I slept on the marshmallow mattress under the shelf with my feet in the closet, took a shower in the space capsule, and checked out at 6:30 am to catch a flight to NZ.

{ September 20, 2003 }

Today (was it only one day?) was all airports. First to Sydney airport, and because it's international, you need to get there 2 hours early. Then fly to Auckland.

Then go through customs in Auckland: down the hall around the corner into the line up to the counter through the metal detector down the hall around the corner get the luggage drop off the luggage pick it up again around the corner to the counter check in the luggage go out of the building down the walkway around the corner keep walking keep walking almost there to the next terminal. Then sit there for 2 hours until you get on another plane.

firey sunsetComing into Christchurch we saw a great sunset from the plane -- burning red and it lasted for quite a while. We flew between two layers of clouds -- I felt like the middle of an oreo. When we came in for a landing I felt like a frog in a blender -- just a bit choppy.

But our ride was waiting when we arrived and the luggage made it and the hotel is FABULOUS -- Rita, you done good!

Today we had a morning tour and got a great view of the city, then we walked around the gardens for a while. We're going to take a train ride across the mountains at some point, and do some shopping while here (wool, anyone?)

{ September 21, 2003 }

Kiwis are big! I always thought they were little guys, but they come up to your knee at least. Funny things -- they actually walk (instead of waddling or hopping) and have a REALLY long nose. Cute! Immensely cute.

Dr. Who plantI got a wool sweater. I went to every shop around looking for the perfect sweater. Normally I don't care for shopping (unless it's REI or a hardware store) but I wanted to get a nice merino wool sweater.

I didn't realize this, but Merino is actually the type of sheep; I always thought it was the weave of the wool. They have what they call "Merino Mink" which is a combination of wool and possum! The possum is very fuzzy though -- I mean you get fur up your nose and when you take the sweater off you look as though you've been holding 10 shedding cats. I stuck with wool. And I got a matching scarf for those really cold days.

We checked out the area, and went for a walk through the botanic garden. Beautiful -- it's spring here and things are starting to bloom. They have some beautiful plants here, including these really weird things from Brazil. They look like something from a Doctor Who episode.

Antarctic museum tomorrow, then the train ride and the wild animal park.

{ September 22, 2003 }

hagglundAntarctica. The museum, anyway. It's got quite a lot of good educational information and is really quite interesting. They have a cold room that imitates an Antarctic storm (and you can stand there in it), a good model of the earth going around the sun (don't laugh, most people don't know why we have seasons), and quite a lot of good information on antarctica.

They have information about the different studies that are going on there, and job listings for those of you who would like to live in Antarctica for a year. They also list the rules for the golf game that they set up on the ice -- including things like if your ball is eaten by a seal, that is considered out of bounds.

We took a ride in a hagglund -- which is the vehicle they use to get around out there. It can climb a 45° hill, cross a 9' chasm, and it's amphibious. Cool. The gal driving it had lived and worked in Antarctica and had some important tips: the red flags mark the safe routes and the black flags mark danger. Never approach a black flag just to see why it's there.

{ September 23, 2003 }

Today was the Trans Alpine express -- WOW! What an amazing ride. It goes from Christchurch to Greymouth through the mountains. They advertise it as one of the most beautiful train rides in the world, and I would have to say that I agree. The mountains are just amazing -- snowcapped mountain after snowcapped mountain.

mountainThe ride out and back is all-day, and coming back was, I think, even more beautiful -- the sun was at an angle and the light was fabulous. I took tons of pictures out on the open car (which was cold!). It was actually almost snowing in Arthur's Pass.

We almost didn't get there -- the concierge who made our reservations didn't get a credit card number from me, and they Tranz Scenic only keeps reservations for 24 hours before they drop them. When we arrived, we had no reservations! But there was room on the train, and we got a window seat. And it was fabulous!

{ September 24, 2003 }

The Lost Swamp, for what it's worthToday we went to the Willowbank nature reserve, which is not much. They have a number of kiwis, but the rest is animals that you can see at any zoo. Probably fascinating for a NZ kid to see a monkey or a duck, but for us it was nothing special, and occasionally cheesy.

They do have quite a kiwi breeding program, and apparently had about 27 kiwis, but a few months ago a number of them died. Apparently the mulch that the put in the exhibit had a bacteria that killed off about a dozen of them. Which is really sad since they're endangered to begin with.

We did get so see a number of them running around, and they have a kiwi-cam in a nest -- one of them has laid an egg and you can see the dad sit on it. Actually kind of cool since he was squirming around.

Sunny but cold here today. We're tempted to spend the afternoon in the botanical gardens, but it's quite chilly when the wind blows (I'm guessing 45).

Talked with the guy who drove us out to the park today -- he said that March is the best time to come out for hiking. The weather is still stable and there's fewer people out since the kids are back in school.

Pack tonight -- we leave for Auckland tomorrow, then back to the states on Friday. Went to the Loaded Hog for dinner. Most excellent brew pub with farming utensils on the wall and good food.

{ September 25, 2003 }

minibar with BAuckland. Fabulous hotel. Not much of a city. We do have a view of their space needle, which they refer to as the hypodermic, for reasons which become apparent when you see it. You can bungee jump off the thing. This is really insane when you consider that's it's smack dab in the city surrounded by other buildings. You're on a wire so you don't wander off to the side (and smack into a building), but still, I think this is more insane than jumping off a bridge over a river.

The hotel has a nice lobby, good restaurant, and the minibar includes vitamin B with the liquor. I have never seen that before. We're guessing it's for hangovers. The only reason Mom knew that was from a M*A*S*H episode where they gave Hot Lips a B shot when she had a hangover.

{ September 26, 2003 }

O-Berry and the stirring spoonsPlanes. More planes. Airports. Luggage. More airports.

Flying international out of Auckland is an experience. From the time we got to the airport until we got to the gate was 1-1/2 hours. They lines were actually quite short, it's the sheer number of them that you need to stand in. And the distance between.

First you check in and check your bags. Then you walk and walk to the departures area. You need a sticker. You get the sticker. You show someone the sticker. You show someone your passport. You go through security. You walk a mile. You go through security again. You show your boarding pass and passport again. And that's just to get to the gate. Then you fly for 11 hours (compared to the 14 it took to get there, this is actually short).

We did not manage to get an exit row, and I didn't sleep worth squat. However, Finding Nemo was one of the movie choices. So I watched Nemo and slept a little, then watched Nickelodeon, then read some, then twiddled my thumbs. And when you land -- it's Friday morning again! In fact, you land before you ever took off.

When you get to LAX you get your luggage and show someone your blue form, then show someone else your passport, then give the blue form to a third person, then you check your luggage through to the next flight. Then you get your mom on her next plane, then you walk to your terminal (since the first walking you've done in ages). Then you hang out at Burger King since it's a step up from airplane food and you've got an hour to kill. Then you wait for your next flight.

I got some sleep on the flight to LAX, but by the time we got home, even O-Berry was a little travel-weary.