Christmas Down Under
Christmas Down Under

December 18, 2002 - January 1, 2003

Happy New Year, Mates and Reles!!!


Australia

New Zealand

With the winter days in California getting darker, colder and wetter, Daniel, Mikka and I took off for summertime in New Zealand and Australia. We enjoyed two weeks of long sunny days, beautiful scenery, exotic animals and friendly people. (The exchange rates were good, too.) This webpage shows off our travel photos and makes some recommendations on where to go and what to do in case youíd like to take an adventure Down Under. In these times of political unrest, Australia and New Zealand are two safe and friendly travel destinations.

New Zealand is beautiful from its tropical beaches in the north to its glaciers and fjords in the south. We opted to fly straight to Queenstown on the South Island. Fly Air New Zealand if at all possible. What a great airline! Queenstown is a scenic paradise. Itís the birthplace of bungee jumping and a headquarters for outdoor adventuring. Looking for someplace to stay? Caples Court is good value. Itís three blocks from downtown. It's a nice place and the owners are hospitable and gracious.

What to do in Queenstown? We rode the gondola 450 meters up to the top of nearby Bob's Peak. The views from the snack bar are terrific. After lunch, you can fly back down to town on paragliders. It was an exhilarating change of pace after spending a day flying on cramped commercial jets.

(Click on any picture to zoom in.)

From Queenstown, we drove our rental car south and west into New Zealand's Fiordland National Park. Our destination was Milford Sound. A friend once told me that this is the most beautiful place on earth. He was right. The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is amazing. December is springtime in the South Island and the wildflowers were blooming everywhere.

The best way to see Milford Sound is from the water. The mist at night and the sunrise on the steep cliffs is unforgettable. We booked passage for a cruise out through the fjord in the late afternoon, explored tidal pools by kayak, enjoyed a gourmet meal at sunset on the Tasman Sea and then spent the night anchored in a sheltered cove. The cruise included a visit to the Milford Deep Underwater Observatory - a must see! Whether you take a day cruise or a night cruise, reservations are recommended. Real Journeys seems to be the primary tour operator in the area. The two vessels that provide overnight cruises are the luxurious Milford Mariner and the rustic Milford Wanderer. The latter is more casual, less expensive and geared for adventurers. If I were to visit Milford Sound again, I might opt for the Wanderer.

Milford Wanderer

Milford Mariner

The next morning, we transferred from our overnight cruise to join Rosco's Milford Sound Sea Kayaking. We spent a sparkling morning kayaking the shores of Milford Sound getting close up views of the waterfalls, the flowers and the wildlife. A big bull sea lion surfaced right next to our kayak. What an experience!

After leaving our kayaks behind, we took some short hikes in the surrounding wilderness. I would like to come back sometime with a tent, my backpack and at least four weeks. Truly beautiful ....

That evening, we discovered the newly opened four star Fiordland Lodge. The hotel sits atop a hill overlooking Lake Te Anau. It's nice to stay someplace truly elegant after spending time in the wilderness. The next day we continued south through sheep country to the southern coast of New Zealand. We followed what's called the Southern Scenic Route. These pictures hardly do the region justice.

Our destination today was the city of Invercargill where we had an appointment to see the tuataras of the Southland Museum. By all rights, this 3-eyed 200-million year old reptile ought to be extinct. Somehow it has survived on a few rocky islands off the coast of New Zealand. The tuatara curator, Lindsay Hazley, has successfully managed to breed tuataras in captivity. If you make arrangements in advance with the museum, you can have a hands-on experience with these unusual creatures -- hosted with Mr. Hazley himself.

Invercargill was our last stop before flying to Australia. En route to the airport, we took a short detour to the southernmost tip of New Zealand, where the latitude is more than 46 degrees south. The breezes from Antarctica are mild in December.

We spent Christmas in Kyneton, Australia, on the farm of our good friends Ian and Raelene Bailey, where instead of being visited by reindeer, we saw koalas and kangaroos. Kyneton was founded as a railroad hub to the gold rush towns farther north. Today, Kyneton is the center of Victoria's wine country, it's near the mysterious Hanging Rock (where we took a picnic and did some rock climbing, photos below) and it's convenient to the Healesville Sanctuary where you can see all of Australia's unusual creatures in very natural settings.

Historic Kyneton hospital

Laura, Mikka, Daniel

From Melbourne, Ian, Raelene, their niece Laura, Daniel, Mikka and I flew to Lady Elliot Island, a coral atoll at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. This island is a carefully preserved nesting site for birds and sea turtles. No more than 120 people are allowed on the island at any time. We stayed in a simple cabin on the beach and ate on picnic tables at the outdoor buffet. The dive shop provided all the snorkeling and scuba equipment we needed. The reefs are 50 meters offshore, in all directions. This is my kind of resort.

Bundaberg airport

Hervey Bay

Fraser Island

Lady Elliot Island

Ian & Raelene

White capped noddies

Crested Terns

The dive shop at Lady Elliot is casual and professional. Drop in anytime for equipment, diving instruction, and even certification. There's a salt water swimming pool for basic lessons. After you're familiar with the equipment, you're ready to hop into the dive boats to ride out to the outer reef wall. We dove at about 12 meters.

In December and January, Green and Loggerhead turtles come ashore on Lady Elliot Island to lay their eggs. These giant sea turtles crawl ashore at high tide during the night. While we were there, high tide was occurring at about 4:00am, which meant that the turtles were laying their eggs at about dawn. Each morning before breakfast, we could walk along our beach and watch four to eight of these enormous creatures laying and burying about 100 ping-pong ball sized eggs. The entire process, from the time the turtle leaves the water until she returns, takes about four hours. This was an amazing natural event to witness. Well worth the trip!
From Lady Elliot Island, we headed home to San Francisco, with an overnight layover in Sydney on the 31st. The Aussies are such gracious hosts. It was our last night in Australia and they put on a terrific fireworks show just for us.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

If you have any questions about our trip, feel free to contact me at nick@zoa.com.
If this trip looks like fun, you might want to read about our other adventures.