Visiting Australia and New Zealand

Updated on May 24, 2024

The doors to the world have opened up again for travel to far away places and it was time to  ‘see’ the world!’ 

Let’s get packing this retired couple thought, but where? Spring in Japan (the cherry blossoms), chilly in Italy, or Summer in New Zealand? For the beauty and the experience of jumping over the international dateline, we booked a twenty-one day roundtrip flight from San Francisco to the South Pacific, Sydney Australia which included a thirteen day cruise aboard the Royal Princess circling New Zealand.  It was mind boggling, twenty one days ‘off the grid’, on the other side of the world, leaving behind flooding, torrents of rain, and power outages. A trip of a lifetime!  Adventures awaited us!

Sydney, Australia

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Our United flight soared over the Pacific Ocean, across the international dateline, more than fourteen hours airborne, we arrived on Feb 2nd, into Sydney, Australia. I think we lost February 1st, 2024 at 180 degrees longitude somewhere down between Hawaii and New Zealand. We will find it again on the way home.

Upon arriving at the hotel our Daughter and her Husband researched and booked for the four us, we encountered  a nondescript large unmarked sliding door. On the corner of the building, at least  2 stories above my head,  was the signage,  LN Hotel.  The  internet described it as  230 rooms over 12-storeys, offering affordable luxury in an efficient space. To the left of the door was a busy subway/city transit station, escalators directed underground.  “Where had they booked us?”  Despite our ‘reservations’, the Little National Hotel was clean, safe, fun and easily walkable and transit-able to most of our tourist destinations.  Perfect! And the hotel had a rooftop bar with cushy couches, an indoor fire pit and full bar service. I recommend their citrus spritzer, perfectly quenching! 

After a short refreshing nap and after being directed by the Front Desk, we ventured a few blocks down  to the pedestrian friendly George Street, named after King George III. It  is one of the main roads running through the CBD  (Central Business District) . The light rails give  quick and easy access  to different parts of the city; from Harbour Bridge  to  The Rocks to Circular Quay to Chinatown and to Haymarket. The thoroughfare had many restaurants, and even more shopping which and highlighted the most beautiful shopping building I had ever seen, the Queen Victoria Building  (QVB). 

Did you know:

When  QVB first opened in 1898,   it was named to honor the monarch’s Diamond Jubilee. Elaborate Romanesque architecture was chosen for the grand building, which housed a concert hall, coffee shops, showrooms, and warehouses.  

I was on the hunt for any Ugg souvenir to bring home; boots,  gloves, stuffy or handbag. QVB  had three Uggs stores.

Did you know:

Uggs,  as the USA knows by their signature boots, in Australia are not the Original Uggs Australia classic. The brand name is owned by an American company (Deckers) with the boots made in China. 

Sydney, Australia – Day 2

Anxious to see  more of Sydney on our first morning in the South Pacific, we moved with the flow of the commuters through the metro tunnels into Barangaroo (I could only remember that name by thinking of Kangaroo with a few extra letters). We strolled along the harbor walk passing tall building’s glistening of metal and glass. We came upon a large lot filled with over 80  tarp covered large sized beds. The sign on the fencing read  MOV’ IN BED. What was this? The website described the experience as an ‘outdoor bed cinema in Barangaroo. “Experience was a movie in a bed, food is delivered to your bed, for 2 to 3 people, choose popcorn, gourmet pizza, beer, and wine.”   What will they think of next?? Sounded fun!

With our Daughter and her Husband who just had flown in that morning,  we later took the underground transit,  utilizing  Sydney’s “Tap to Pay” pay option, (a contactless credit card, debit card or mobile device) to Circular Quay, the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the famous Sydney Opera House.   

Did you know:

A quay is a long platform beside the sea or a river where boats can be tied up and loaded or unloaded.

The temperature was getting uncomfortable by mid afternoon = 93 degrees .

I slathered on SPF 60 sunblock over my pale and freckled face, arms and legs. My Daughter read to me from her phone,  “Mom did you know Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world? New Zealand rates second.  New Zealand gets forty percent higher UV levels compared to equivalent latitudes in the North Hemisphere. “ I glob-bed on another layer of my SPF 60 sunscreen lotion vowing not to bring melanoma home with me from this trip. Onward to the famous Sydney Opera House.

Did you know: 

The Sydney Opera House is a modern expressionistic design made of a series of large precast concrete “shells” with  the highest roof point  67 meters above sea-level =  a 22-story building. The roof is made of 2,194 pre-cast concrete sections.

Sydney, Australia – Day Three

Adjusted and orientated, we confidently journey-ed out.  We breakfast-ed  on Eggs Benny with Salmon,  Tropical Pancakes , and the best Capuchinos my Son-in-Law had ever had.  Then we boarded the transit ferry to Circular Quay,  for more of our  ‘Must-See’ points of interest. 

Strolling  the beautiful Sydney Harbor, a 26 kilometer circle walk, we arrived at  ‘The Rocks’ , Sydney’s oldest colonial neighborhood. The cobbled alleys on the western side of Circular Quay offered fresh regional food, art, crafts, and local music.

Did you know: 

’The Rocks’,  in Sydney Cove, is named after the rocky peninsula on the western side of the cove where convicts and their guards first stepped ashore and made camp. The first colonial fleet arrived on  January 26th, 1788. 

Fatigued, we utilized “Tap to Pay” to board one of the many transit harbor ferries and cruised under the grand Sydney Harbor Bridge and past Luna Park, a restored 1930’s amusement park. 

Did you know:

Sydney Harbour Bridge has a guided climbing experience, taking you to the summit of the outer rim of the bridge. This experience treats you to  a spectacular panoramic view of Sydney. The ascend takes three and half an hour, four ladders, 1332 steps,  to reach the summit. 

That last night before boarding our cruise  to New Zealand,  we dined  at The Wine and Meat Company, along the Harbor. They featured foot tall skewers of marinated sliced beef or lamb dangling above a mixed green salad. It was delicious!  Add a glass of Pinot Noir to the cooling night and life was good in Sydney.  

Cruise Day One – Royal Princess Cruise departed for New Zealand

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New Zealand is an island nation with a rich geological history, snow-capped mountains, sweeping beaches, ancient volcanic peaks and craters, lush native forests, glassy lakes and fjords, and steamy and bubbling mud from several geothermal areas.

With my Son-in-Law lugging my forty-seven pound rolling luggage, we took public transit to the cruise pier at Circular Quay to board our cruise.  With our medallions and passports at the ready, New Zealand here we come! 

Note: A medallion is a Princess Cruise Lines issued quarter size wearable device that enables everything from touch-free boarding to locating your loved ones anywhere on the ship, as well as enhanced service such as having whatever you need, delivered.  

Once aboard, our Daughter and her Husband immediately booked spa treatments,  secured spa day passes and scoped out the Fitness Center.  Hubby and I choose to nap in our cabin, after the indulgence of our first beverage of the cruise, a Dirty Banana (ingredients = banana liqueur, heavy cream coffee liqueur and aged rum) and a 24K Margarita.  Dinner reservations at 6:30pm.

Cruise Days Two and Three –  At Sea

The Sea Days were fun with our energetic family members. Both are competitive and joined in several of the ship’s games and challenges. Playing shuffle board with them on the ship’s top deck,  I failed miserably attempting  to channel my form and aim from my bowling league years. No luck!!  I  kept sending the puck left rather than center. Meanwhile we had been receiving multiple updates  of power outages from home. Humm! 

Each day a printed program was  left in our rooms of the ship’s day schedule of activities. Ship life is indulgent and relaxing with no need or regard for time of day or day of the week except for excursion days! You eat when you choose, afternoon naps, read on your balcony or any lounge,  waves slapping the ship sides, breathtaking sunsets, glorious sunrises, live music throughout the day in any of the bars and common areas around the ship, enbibing in the ship’s ‘beverage package’, large decadent afternoon sundaes, wine tasting and afternoon tea events, and with comedy and other performances in the evening.

Cruise Day Four – Scenic Cruising of Fiordland National Park

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At 7am cruising of the Fiords began from Martin’s Bay and by later afternoon, concluded with Te Waewae Bayalong. As the Royal Princess slid the calmed waters, we were treated to hundreds of waterfalls entering one Sound and exiting  another Sound. The fourteen spectacular Fiords are subject to frequent changeable and often dramatic weather patterns,  including as much as 200 days a year of rain fall annually.

Layered in jackets and blankets we bellied up to the ship railings at the end of the ship, the least crowded area.  The clicking madness began. My smart phone’s camera clicked the untouched hills, moss covered rock, cascading waterfalls, etched cliffs and glistening sea.  Inhaling the crisp morning mist, I let this natural beauty take me in. The experience felt like a worship to the Creator and to Mother Nature for this remarkable un-conveyable  beauty.  I realized, just forget the  phone camera and seal the view into my memory, breathe it in, wrap the experience around me.  The ship glided in out and through miles of  the Fjords,  letting this untouched world surround us.  

Grabbing my binoculars, I searched the shores feverishly for the Fiordland Crested Penguins that I had hoped to view this trip, but was unsuccessful.    They must be nestled in their un-disturbed homes watching us; one of the few are places on this planet, hidden and protected from humans! 

Did you Know:

New Zealand’s bird species flourished, and many lost the ability to fly. With the arrival of humans and their animals, these flightless birds were decimated. Just sixteen species of flightless birds exist in New Zealand today. Many of the rarest and endangered species are found in Fiordland.

Cruise Day Five – Dundin/Port Charmers

This was our first pier docking of our New Zealand  cruise. As I slid open the balcony doors, a  waffling smell of fresh cut timber entered the cabin.  Rows and stacks of timber pine covered almost all of the pier. My husband was mesmerized, like a little boy,  to the hustle and bustle of lumber trucks delivering, unpacking, tagging, and aligning hundreds of cut wood, in varying lengths and widths. 

Did you know: 

Raduaata Pine trees are planted, grown and harvested in a twenty  year cycle, in New Zealand. The timber is then exported to Vietnam, India and United States to sell for paper and packing.

Our Port Charmers excursion was the Port to Port Cruise & Wild Life tour. As the small tour vessel bumped across the water I scoured for native birds. My binoculars sighted a sootyshearwater, white chinned petrel, whitecapped albatross, Australian gannet, variable oyster catcher, spotted shac, and couple of lounging fur seals. 

After  being throughly jostled, we disembarked into town and were directed  a half mile circumventing the pier to Carey Cove. At the Carey Bay Historic Hotel and Seafood Restaurant,  we devoured and lingered over the  best mussels for my Husband, fish and chips for my Son-in-Law and a fried mixed seafood platter for myself and my Daughter;  absolute heaven to the taste buds, warmly welcoming, and the nicest wait staff.  We noticed after a bit we were not presented the bill to be paid.  Was this the custom? We asked. Our kind and patient waitress explained to us that the owners don’t rush the customers and expect them to be in their establishment for at least two hours.

Cruise Day Five,  Christ Church/Lylltel

Our excursion was  the “Journey to Middle Earth – Lord of the Rings” bus tour.  I made a point to binge- watch all three of the Lord of the Rings movies to be fully emersed in the upcoming  location experience.

En route to the national park where the filming was done , we learned many things from our tour guide about New Zealand.

Did you Know:

When estimating the driving time  to a location, the locals do not base the travel time by kilometers but by total minutes.  This is because the roads vary from two lanes, to country roads through roundabouts and over multiple lanes roadways. 

Also New Zealand is prone to earthquakes, therefore there are no nuclear power plants located there. And approximately fourteen to fifteen thousand shakes occur in and around the country each year.  Most are too small to be noticed, but between one hundred and fifty and two hundred are large enough to be felt. New Zealand sits on two tectonic plates – the Pacific and the Australia.

Driving into the National Park’s filming area  the large coach windows filled with rolling hills, valleys and tall peaks, as far as the eye could see, a  view that seemed to go on forever. I could easily envision  the characters Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf  and Aragon galloping toward Edoras, the Capital on the highest peak. We scurried out of the bus with our click click click phone cameras at the ready.

Next to the creek, the tour guide laid out four large heavy swords to entice passengers to reenact scenes from the movie; a personal souvenir photo or video to take back home. It was great fun!

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