Wednesday, May 12

Just a slight miscalculation

In all of my research on what to do/see in New Zealand, Milford Sound kept coming up as one of the top places to visit. When I was in New Zealand last year I really wanted to get to Milford Sound, but could never fit it in. So, last Friday I finally bit the bullet and flew from Wellington (North Island) to Queenstown (South Island). To be precise, I flew from Wellington to Christchurch to Queenstown, but that's just semantics. There had been a lot of flooding in Queenstown the previous week, so I was a little nervous that I wouldn't be able to go, but I emailed the hotel and the tour company (yes, I did another tour) and I was quite pleased to learn that things were still running. I didn't even care that the weather forecast called for rain, I just wanted to be there.

The tour on Saturday was fantastic! It started really early (they picked me up at my hotel at 6:45 a.m.), but was so worth it. As opposed to my Auckland tour where I was the only one, this tour bus was completely full. But I was so happy to be there, I didn't even mind. It was about a 3-4 hour drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound, but we made several stops along the way with some great photo opportunities.

The Chasm

Mirror Lake

The drive reminded me of driving the Seward Highway in Alaska. Our driver kept preparing us for the rainy/cloudy weather we'd have. However, when we came out of the Homer tunnel (linking us to Milford Sound), there was blue sky and sunshine. Woo Hoo! I then took at 2-hour boat tour of Milford Sound, and was just stunned. The 13-hour day was, again, totally worth it.

Bowen Falls

Up close & personal at Stirling Falls

Stirling Falls (508' - FYI Niagara Falls = 176')

Tasman Sea

On a little side note - tour guides are full of information, but do you ever wonder if they just say nonsense sometimes because they think they can? Because tourists wouldn't really know any different? Just something to think about.

Second side note. Look, coughing tourist next to me, I don't care how much money you've spent on a tour, or even on a vacation. If you are hacking up a lung, do NOT get in an enclosed vehicle with 50 other people who can't escape your germs spewing all over the place. Have some consideration for others and stay at the hotel. OK, rant done.

I had to fly back to Wellington on Sunday afternoon, so I had the day very tightly scheduled. I would get up, eat breakfast, take the Skyline Gondola up the mountain to get some great views of the town. Then, hurry back to the hotel, change into a skirt, take a taxi to Sacrament Meeting, taxi back to the hotel in time for a tour on the TSS Earnslaw (a 1912 vintage steamer) across Lake Wakatipu, come back, eat lunch, go to the airport. Well, it almost worked out that way. I miscalculated how long it would take to
a. walk to the gondola
b. ride the gondola up and down (and take pictures, of course)
c. walk back to the hotel
you get the picture.

Anyway, as I was riding the gondola down the mountain I realized that I would not have time to walk back to the hotel, instead I would have to find the nearest taxi I could and go to church in my jeans. But then I had the dilemma of where to find the nearest taxi. I think Heavenly Father was watching out for me because, just as I exited the gondola building, a taxi appeared (dropping off some tourists). Perfect. After they vacated the taxi, I jumped in and gave the driver the address I found on He wasn't familiar with the address, so he asked me where I was going... a Mormon church. He still had no idea, so he got on his radio and asked all his taxi driver friends if they knew where the Mormon church was. I heard someone say "the funeral home on Frankton Rd." I was sure they just didn't know what they were talking about. The driver joked around with me about going to church at a funeral home. He thought it was hilarious. Wouldn't you know it, they were right. Funeral home during the week, LDS chapel on Sunday.

So, if I thought the congregation in Sydney was small (what did I say? about 50 people?), then this was just tiny. There were, I kid you not, 16 people in Sacrament meeting. Three were visitors (myself and a couple from Australia) and two were missionaries. So, there went my plan of being inconspicuous (that and the fact I was wearing jeans and sneakers). It was a great meeting, though. The missionaries spoke. One poor missionary (from Utah) was talking about Job, and how Job was swallowed by a whale. The branch president tugged his jacket and explained that is was Jonah who was swallowed by the whale. Poor guy! The other elder was from the North Island. His talk was amazing. But seriously, in a congregation that small, how many times a year does one have to give a talk? Anywho, since it was Mother's Day, all the sisters in the congregation of a certain age (OK, there were two female teenagers, and then five older-than-teenagers) got a jar of jam and some chocolates. The sister from Australia didn't have any children, and I didn't, but hey, we got a delicious jar of jam... and did I mention chocolates?

View of Queenstown from the Skyline Gondola

Sandbags left over from the flooding

Lake Wakatipu

TSS Earnslaw

The boat ride across the lake was beautiful. I mentioned that the weather forecast called for rain, but the weather was gorgeous - it didn't rain one single drop! It was a perfect weekend. Ah, well, back to the real world of work, and work, and work...

Monday, May 3

Be careful what you wish for

As I was gathering up my things last Wednesday (prepping to leave Sydney on Friday), I couldn't find my fleece jacket (or "jumper" as it's called down here). I hadn't needed it the whole time I was in Sydney, so I hadn't realized it was missing. Sadly, I couldn't even remember the last time I had it. So, I had to go shopping... again. Woe is me. So on Thursday, Jane (my co-worker) took me to an outlet mall and I bought a nice red fleece. After work that day, Jane took me driving to see Manly Beach (gorgeous).

Later, as I sat on the bus home, I realized that I didn't have my brand new red fleece with me. What's up with that? Luckily, I had only left it in Jane's car. Fast forward to Friday. When I checked in at the airport, I was told my bag was too heavy (I was expecting that, I mean, come on, I packed for five weeks). But I was told that I could have 2 bags, each at 23 kilos. As it so happened, I had an extra bag, so at the counter, I unpacked some of my larger bag to put it in my smaller bag. Later, as I was sitting in the airplane waiting to take off, oblivious to the fact that anything was wrong, one of the flight attendants came up to me, told me I had left something at the check-in counter, and handed me, yup, you guessed it, my brand new red fleece. I love Air New Zealand.

Anywho, I decided to spend the weekend in Auckland before flying to Wellington on Sunday. I'm quite glad that I did. On Saturday I took a bus tour out toward the Bay of Islands. Absolutely GORGEOUS! Remember, though, how in my last post I mentioned that I preferred smaller tour groups? Well, be careful what you wish for. I was the only person on the bus tour. Yup, let me repeat that, I was the ONLY person on the bus tour. I'm kind of surprised they didn't cancel it. Happy they didn't, but surprised. It was nice not having to deal with all the other tourists, but being the only person on the bus, when the bus driver was giving his commentary, it was up to me, and only me, to respond. It was fun, though. The weather couldn't decide what it wanted to do, it alternated between rain and sunshine, but it was a most pleasant day. Did I mention that the Bay of Islands was gorgeous? We drove from Auckland to Paihia (and when I say "we," I mean me and the bus driver).

Before we got to Paihia, we stopped in a little (and I mean little) town. The driver gave me about 30 minutes to walk around. I found these two restaurants a little strange. Who would have thought that Indian food (or Chinese, for that matter) went with Fish & Chips?

While in Paihia we visited The Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Learned loads of fascinating information. For example, there are 21 (maybe 22) Maori tribes in all of New Zealand, and of those 21 (or maybe 22), 20 of them live on the North Island. Evidently the South Island is too cold, and there's snow, so there's only one tribe on the whole South Island. My tour guide was actually the great, great, great, great-granddaughter of one of the British men who helped draft the treaty, so I thought that was pretty cool.

New Zealand flag (top), British flag (right), and the Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand (left)

I then took a ferry from Paihia to Russell (what used the be the first capital of New Zealand). In Russell, this cute little lady took a little tour bus around the city - ok, let's not exaggerate, around the town (maybe even village). I wasn't the only person on this tour bus, others joined in. Just stunning views of the ocean.

Long Beach

Bay of Islands

Tapeka Point

Giant Sun Dial (with mosaic)

I had a few hours in Auckland on Sunday before I had to catch my flight to Wellington, so I went up to the Domain (something like Central Park in NYC, maybe), and visited the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Auckland, known as the City of Sails (because of all the sail boats) really is a beautiful city.

Auckland Museum

Rainbow (from the bus)

Auckland Sky Tower

Auckland from the bus