Thursday, May 21, 2015

This 'n That Thursdays: Fiji/Australia/New Zealand Chronicles (Part 2)

From Maps of World

Welcome back to the continuing saga of our first trip Down Under almost thirty years ago!  Last week I described our travels in Fiji and our arrival in Sydney.  Once in Sydney, we had a week to explore Australia before we left for the meeting in New Zealand my husband was to attend, so we rented a car with the intention of driving along the east coast to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.  After one day of driving, we realized our mistake.  Australia may be a small continent, but it is a big country, about the size of the United States.  To drive from Sydney to Cairns and back would have taken at least a week just for the driving, and would leave us with no time to explore at all!  We made it to Brisbane before we returned the rental car and booked a flight to Townsville, where my husband wanted to visit another colleague.  Townsville is a beautiful city on the coast.  I remember it as being sunny and very beach-oriented, reminding me a bit of the Caribbean.  It was in either in Brisbane or Townsville that I managed to fit in a horseback ride along the beach, and since it was a weekday the group consisted of just me and the woman leading the tour.  If you've never ridden a horse on the beach you must try it at least once, as it is quite exhilarating!

From Equathon

We took a flight to Cairns the next day, where we planned to take a boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef.  Unfortunately, the day we had scheduled for the reef trip was terribly stormy, so boat trips were cancelled and we missed our opportunity.  Also, when we arrived at our hotel to check in, we had to wait while an ambulance loaded up and pulled out, because apparently one of the guests had a heart attack right before we arrived.

Kuranda train
(from BigThanks)

However, we did get to take the train to Kuranda in spite of the rain, and this alone made the whole trip worthwhile.  Kuranda Village is a lovely little town in the mountains above Cairns, and the train runs along the Barron River from one town to the other.  Naturally, while we were there the abundant rain turned the river into a muddy mess, but it was still an impressive train ride.  While in Kuranda we visited the shops, and also walked through the Kuranda Wildlife Noctarium, which was full of native nocturnal creatures on a reverse day/night schedule so that visitors could come during the day to watch these night creatures while they were active.  Many of Australia's animals species, especially the mammals, are nocturnal, which makes viewing them under normal conditions a bit underwhelming as they are usually asleep, although just to see these unique creatures is of course fascinating.  Unfortunately the noctarium has since closed, apparently replaced by the Australian Venom Zoo.  Australia has an abundance of venomous critters, including some of the most venomous snakes in the world.  Did you know that even the amusing-looking little platypus has venomous spurs on its hind legs (but only on the males)?

Beware my spurs!
(from FactZoo)

I can't remember if it was along the Barron River or some other river we passed on our travels, but at some point we saw the both an Australian Kookaburra and a magnificent flock of wild Cockatoos.  The Kookaburra is similar to our native Belted Kingfisher, but is slightly larger and has a distinctive call that sounds like human laughter:

I'm pretty sure we saw the Blue-Winged Kookaburra
(from Wikipedia)

Before visiting Australia, the only cockatoo I had ever seen was on TV in the old detective show "Baretta".  It was most impressive to see a very large flock of a bird species I had only known as a pet, perched in the tree branches near the river flying free and living wild in their natural habitat:

Australian Cockatoos fill the sky
(from Oz Outback).

I think we actually saw flocks of two different species, the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo which is so well-known as a pet and the Galah, a lovely pink and grey bird that is extremely common in Australia:

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo
(from Wikipedia)

Galah (from WallpapersCraft)

It was time to head back to Sydney for our flight to the North Island of New Zealand.  There was still so much to see, and we had only done a very quick tour of Australia's east coast, so we vowed to return in the future to see more of this intriguing continent.  We bade farewell to the Land of Oz and boarded our plane to Auckland, the largest and most populous city in New Zealand.

From Kiwi Caroline

We arrived in Auckland in the evening, and just in time for a citywide blackout!  We were starting to think we were jinxes on this trip, bringing calamity with us wherever we went.  The blackout lasted so long that there was even a bit of looting that night, but by morning power and order had been restored, and we were soon enjoying the sights in Auckland.  Shopping was once again a priority, and of course we had to purchase some wool sweaters, as New Zealand is known for its wool production (New Zealanders are fond of pointing out that their country has more sheep than people).  I still have the lovely kiwi design sweater I bought back then (the bird, not the fruit!).

I am not a fruit!
(from AnimalPics)

The professional meeting my husband was attending was being held at one of the universities in Hamilton, just south of Auckland, so off we went to spend the next week in and around this town, traditionally an agricultural center in New Zealand.  When we were there agriculture was still the focus, although apparently the city is now a fast-growing urban area.  We tasted some of the best produce and dairy products I have ever eaten when we were in Hamilton, and milk was delivered in little cardboard-topped glass bottles right to your door, even if you were staying in a hotel like we were!

The Farming Family in Hamilton -- this was not yet installed when
we were there in the late 1980s (from Panoramio).

While my husband attended his meeting, I walked around town and of course visited the shops, where I had an interesting encounter.  In one shop a man walked up to me, wished me a good day, and asked me to what family I belonged.  If I had not read up on New Zealand before our trip, I might have been quite confused.  Fortunately I knew that the indigenous Maoris of New Zealand call their various clans whanau, often translated as "families", and that this fellow had mistaken me for a Maori.  I have a medium complexion, dark hair and eyes, and high cheekbones, which gives me a sort of generic ethnic look -- I have been mistaken for Puerto Rican by Puerto Ricans, Hawaiian by Hawaiians, and Native American by Native Americans, so it was not surprising that the Maori gentleman thought I was one of the local people.  (I also often get told that I remind people of someone they know, but they can't remember who that person is.  One of my brothers once told me that I could have been the model for the 1996 revised image of Betty Crocker, who is a composite of 75 different women of diverse ethnic backgrounds and ages.  Personally, I don't see it, but you don't get much more generic-looking than that!)  Once I spoke up and informed him that I was not a Maori, my American accent immediately gave me away, so we just laughed and moved on.

A sheepdog at work in New Zealand

Most international meetings try to plan events for spouses/families of attendees as this is a once in a lifetime chance for many of them to travel to new overseas destinations.  In Hamilton tours were arranged to various agricultural sites, which I loved as I have always been interested in farm life, even though I grew up in the suburbs.  We got to visit a local dairy, and I was able to identify all but one of the several different dairy cattle breeds they showed us (not bad for someone who didn't grow up on a farm!).  We also visited a berry farm and had the chance to pick our own berries.  The most interesting event for me was the sheepdog herding demonstration, as I had never seen a dog work sheep before.  The only guidance the dog got from its owner was a series of slightly different-sounding whistles, and even those were infrequent as the dog seemed to know just what to do.  There was also a sheep shearing demonstration, where we learned that if you hold a sheep just right it will go limp as it is being sheared!

1880s Maori family from Rotorua
(from History Today)

When my husband got some time off, we toured the town of Rotorua, which is rich in Maori culture.  We went to the Rotorua Museum and also to one of the Maori villages (there are several and I don't remember now which one we saw).  I had fish and chips for the first time ever in Rotorua, freshly made with locally caught fish and served wrapped up in newspaper.  While not the healthiest of meals, it sure is tasty!  Rotorua is located in an area with a lot of geothermal activity, so there are hot springs, geysers, and bubbling mud pools all over the place (as well as a distinct sulfur smell!).

Rotorua Museum
(from Kiwiana Tours)

Later in the week I set off alone to spend a couple of days at a horseback riding camp south of Rotorua.  In the town of Taupo I encountered a roundabout, or traffic circle, which was another first for me.  They can be very disconcerting, especially when you are not used to driving on the left, but eventually I managed to get out again and continued on my way.  I don't remember exactly which riding camp I stayed at, but I do remember that it was a lot of fun.  We rode to a waterfall area and got to swim and then ride back, and our guide was also our chef at the lodge.  I had mutton for the first time, as well as the ubiquitous Vegemite.  I liked the mutton even though it had a very strong flavor, and if I were not allergic to red meat now I would eat it again.  The Vegemite is another story.  It was served on toast for breakfast.  To me it tasted like salt paste, and I did not care for it.  Interestingly, the New Zealanders felt the same way about peanut butter, which they set out for their American guests but would not eat themselves.  I guess it's all a matter of what you get used to eating when you are growing up!

Horse trekking in New Zealand
(from Mountain Valley Adventure Lodge)

At one point we rented a car and explored the countryside.  We stopped at a lovely country tearoom while on our drive, and I got to enjoy my very first afternoon tea, complete with both cucumber and tomato tea sandwiches.  In keeping with its rural setting, there was a large paddock next to the parking lot of the tearoom, filled with friendly goats and a cheeky donkey named Eli.  Here are two of the few photos I have of this trip, where I am feeding a granola bar to a very insistent Eli and a goat buddy:

Sadly, even the best travel adventures must come to an end, and it was time for us to return home.  We decided to fly home nonstop, with only a quick stop in Hawaii to change planes, but in our blissful ignorance we did not realize this would mean arriving at the Honolulu International Airport in the wee hours of the morning.  Of course everything was closed, and because our connecting flight would be arriving in just a few hours, we and our fellow passengers were left to fend for ourselves in the deserted airport while we waited.  Trying to stretch out for a nap on airport seats specifically designed for sitting while surrounded by a large crowd of equally uncomfortable people is nobody's idea of a perfect vacation experience.  I was glad we had visited Hawaii the year before, because if this had been my first impression of Hawaii I doubt if I would have ever wanted to return!

Thankfully, our flight home arrived and the rest of the trip was blissfully uneventful.  All in all, we really did enjoy ourselves, and the few difficulties we encountered were either of our own making or not something anyone could have done anything about.  I still sometimes have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps we truly were jinxes on this trip, particularly when, a few months after our visit, Fiji experienced a major military coup!  Was it our visit that precipitated this upheaval?  Who knows?  I do know that we returned first to New Zealand and then to Australia years later (I may reminisce about those trips at a later date), and all was well and stayed well in both places, so if we were jinxes then we no longer appear to be so now!  I would love to revisit all three places, and would encourage everyone to make the trip if at all possible.

The End -- for now!
(from Bing Fotos)

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