Daintree Rainforest Day Tour

On Wednesday I went for a day tour of a small part of the Daintree Rainforest in Queensland with tour company Billy Tea Tours. The day started with me getting picked up at 7am in Cairns and then driving north to pick up the rest of the tour group, a mix of nationalities and ages.

Our first proper stop was to catch a boat and take an hour-long cruise down the Daintree River. I think this was the best part of the tour as we saw the most wildlife here. This included three crocodiles (including one big one called Scarface), a brilliant blue kingfisher, three tree snakes, a Papuan frogmouth and other birds.

Whenever the boat stopped, the oppressive humidity slopped in and made everything uncomfortable. The bonus was we could get some photos (but I was glad after a while to get moving again). We met our bus driver at the river ferry on the other side and set off to a lookout.

The takeaway I got from the tour was that the rainforest was dinosaur country. It has three of the prehistoric tree types – conifers, cycads, and ferns – plus a lot else that more than qualifies the Daintree Rainforest as a world heritage site.

We took a walk along a boardwalk through the rainforest as the guide told us bits and pieces about the flora and fauna. One thing that really interested me was the purple fruits that he called the cassowary plum. Without the cassowary swallowing these fruits and stripping the flesh to reveal the seeds, the tree they grow on wouldn’t be able to survive. A great example of the cassowary as a keystone species.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see any cassowaries during this trip. Next time though.

We had lunch further up in the rainforest, where we also fed Agile and Swamp Wallabies. Very adorable. I, unfortunately, got into a conversation with a couple of 70-year-olds from Colorado who voted for Trump. I couldn’t get away fast enough. Considering this was also the day of the same-sex marriage survey results, I was already feeling pretty raw.

After lunch we headed up to Emmagen Creek. No crocodiles in this part of the river so we were allowed to go for a swim. The rain was starting to come in so it wasn’t as warm as expected but definitely not freezing. I was first one to get in, and a few others finally plucked up the courage to submerge themselves.

Meanwhile the guides set up tables of tropical fruit, damper and billy tea. The rain bucketed down on us for a while so rather than get dressed, I was standing around in my speedos eating mango, sour pop, black sapote, papaya and jackfruit. Couldn’t get any wetter so why not.

The rain stopped, we ate damper, warmed up with a cup of Daintree tea and then set off for a beach on Cape Tribulation. No swimming allowed as crocodiles swim all up and down the coast, but we watched tiny crabs pushing balls of sand out of chambers in the beach. I also got changed.

Drive back down we stopped at an icecream shop that makes different flavours depending on what’s in season. Today’s four-scoop selection included coconut, wattleseed, soursop and passionfruit. I probably didn’t need it but I had it anyway.

We zoomed back down the rainforest, caught the car ferry across and then continued down the coast, dropping people off as we went. I was home by 6.

If I ever go again, and I think Glen should come and see it too, I’d prefer to do one that includes more venturing into the rainforest (despite the snakes and the large tarantulas I know live in there) with the hope of seeing more wildlife. The tour I did was a good taste for now.

A Day on the Great Barrier Reef

After my conference in Brisbane, I’d booked to head up to Cairns to check out the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. Glen vowed never to go on a boat again (he gets bad seasickness) so considering how “close” I was, it seemed like the best opportunity.

I arrived in Cairns on Monday afternoon and had a day on the outer reef booked through Tusa Dive T6 for Tuesday. I walked to the marina just after 7am for a 7:40am departure with about 20 other people.

After setting off we had a 1.5–2-hour journey to Norman Reef. While the sky didn’t look too foreboding or the seas all that rough, the swell was significant and after about an hour I was out the back of the boat hurling up my breakfast.

Much embarrassed, I wasn’t the only one to be feeling ill (this is despite taking the seasickness pills that were being sold – perhaps I needed something stronger). Others joined me, were handed white paper bags and looked green as until we reached the reef and the rocking of the boat eased. I did feel much better after throwing up a few times though.

Dressed in a wetsuit and carrying a pool noodle, I went snorkelling through the reef. The highlight was seeing a medium-sized Hawksbill Turtle (so cute) and a rather large fish, the name of which I’ve forgotten, who kept following the photographer around.

We swam around for about 1.5–2 hours. Saw loads of fish and coral. It wasn’t as bright as I was expecting (or hoping) but I was staggered at the size of some of the coral (they look more like giant boulders). Plenty of colourful fish as well.

After snorkelling, the boat moved to another location, we had lunch (I didn’t eat much, worried about the return journey to Cairns) but it was good food, and then fell asleep during the nature talk (probably due to the seasickness pill).

Next stop was Saxon Reef for another snorkel, this time 1.5 hours. Giant reef shelves here with also a lot that were shallow and close to the surface (had to be careful not to kick the coral).

Highlights here were the giant clams. The largest ones were too far for me to reach but still easy to see. They’re huge. Also saw two dead ones with the halves sitting there being picked at by fish. The other bonus was seeing a long white-tipped reef shark in the distance. I wasn’t fast enough to get closer but was impressive to see from afar.

No seahorses. No Nemo or Dory (though I think someone else saw Dory). Nevertheless, I was glad I got to see it, experience a small part of this amazing and large reef, and sad that so much of it has been destroyed. (Being a tourist probably doesn’t help much either.)

Back on the boat and about 1.5 hours back to shore. While on the journey, I realised how sunburnt the backs of my legs had gotten because I stupidly went without putting sunscreen on. Tomorrow they’re going to be worse.

No seasickness this time (unlike the poor guy who didn’t get a bag in time) and I slept for part of it. We arrived back at the marina at 4pm and went our separate ways.

Conquering Kings Canyon

On taking the early morning rim walk around Kings Canyon and the Karrke Aboriginal tour.

Much to Glen’s horror (and mine if I’m honest), we were up before the sun on Sunday morning so we could go on the early morning rim walk around Kings Canyon. We wolfed down some breakfast with a bunch of other eager hikers and then went to reception to meet our guide.

Glen and I were the only ones going on the tour so we had the guide to ourselves (as well as a giant bus). We arrived at Kings Canyon with the sun almost ready to burst over the rim. The guide, Marcus, was happy to have just two, seemingly fit, “young” people in his group as that meant no stragglers and no waiting for people with dodgy hips etc. The walk, advertised to take about 3 to 4 hours was going to be over in no time.

Walking the Kings Canyon Rim

We started with the 500 steps up the side of the canyon, setting a cracking pace that left my throat burning and my lungs heaving by the time we reached the top. We then set off around the rim, going through staggeringly beautiful rock formations bathed in the sunrise light. The rocks were so red!

We passed through Priscilla’s Crack, a split in between two rocks that featured in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. We’ll have to watch the movie again now. There was also a tree that Elle McPherson had posed against. You can easily understand why it’s a popular spot for photos.

We continued on at a good speed, heading out to lookouts, seeing fossils that Marcus wouldn’t normally stop for if there was a larger group. (So happy was he to have only the two of us that he mentioned it to just about every other tour-led group, inspiring envy as we left their 24-strong hordes behind.)

On one of these slight detours we spotted a wallaroo (or Euro if you’re from WA) amongst the spinifex. Hooray for wildlife sightings!

We bumped into the British doctors we met at the Fields of Light dinner at Uluru; they were hurrying to get it done before embarking on their 500km-drive back to Alice Springs to catch their plane.

We went up and down rock ledges, down to the Garden of Eden (a water hole that can no longer be swum in because of all the sunscreen polluting the water), and I finally got to eat something off a bush – a native fig. Tasted like a fig.

We took photos along the way, continued our march that didn’t feel too strenuous for most of it, and then came around the other side of the canyon and began our descent. We reached the bottom two and a half hours after we’d started. If we’d not stopped, we would have easily done it in two, but then we wouldn’t have seen anything.

We got back on the bus with another group of people who’d done the shorter and easier creek walk and then arrived back at the resort at about 10am to find that Optus had installed a mobile phone tower nearby and we had signal again. (We’d been without it since yesterday…yet managed to survive.)

Karrke Tour

The middle of our day passed with naps, lunch, and reading, until we had an Aboriginal cultural tour booked for 4pm. It took place about half an hour down the road and was called the Karrke Tour. (Karrke is the name of the bowerbird local to these parts.)

We were greeted and joined a German couple who were halfway through their tour. The tour guides, Peter and Christine, took us to different stations where we learnt about different types of ochre, making jewellery, and bush tucker. They showed us live honey ants, their abdomens full of juice, and then how to cook a witchety grub. They pop when they’re done. After that it was different medicinal plants.

The Germans then finished and we continued on to see the large amounts of work involved in collecting and grinding seeds to make a type of flour and then turn that into a tasteless, utilitarian bread.

We were shown different hunting tools and weapons, and then real live witchety grubs as they were extracted out of the roots of trees. They’re soft and squishy to touch, pretty big for a bug and apparently taste of raw egg when raw. When they’re cooked, they take on the taste of the tree they were growing in so if they burrowed into eucalyptus leaves, they’d taste of eucalyptus.

The tour went for half an hour, was well structured, very interesting and Peter and Christine friendly and engaging. I’m glad we went along. While we were chatting to Peter on our way back to the car, we said how we’d seen a wallaroo earlier in the day. He said he’d lived there 15 years and only seen them three times, that’s how rare and shy they are. He also said that the number of kangaroos and emus has gotten low so now they’re a rare sight too, when before they’d be plenty of them to see. We were now more likely to see dingos (which we had).

Back at the resort, we packed our bags, went for dinner and had an early night ready for our return to Uluru in the morning and then our flights home.

Kata-Tjuta to Kings Canyon

On visiting Kata Tjuta, walking the Valley of the Winds and Walpo Gorge, seeing wildlife (perentie, dingo and eagle) and arriving at Kings Canyon.

I was keen to get going early on Saturday morning as the Valley of the Winds in Kata Tjuta (formerly The Olgas) had closed the previous day after 11am due to the heat, as well as us having to drive 300 km to Kings Canyon in time for dinner.

Despite this, however, when the alarm went off at 6am, Glen and I both dismissed the alarms and went back to sleep. I thought Glen had a backup alarm set for 6:30am but he didn’t (at least not for a Saturday morning) and we both woke up at 7am instead. A quick shower, a quick breakfast and we were on the road before 8am.

Kata-Tjuta

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Kata-Tjuta (the Olgas) is the other big rock (or collection of rocks) on the horizon in Uluru – Kata-Tjuta National Park. From a distance it reminds me of a sculpture gone wrong with bits jutting out all over the place; or like it’s the unfinished version of Uluru.

I drove us to Kata-Tjutu and straight to the Valley of the Winds, which was due to close at 11am due to the rising temperature (slated to be 37°C). There are two lookout points at Kata Tjuta, one easily reached, the other part of a 7km loop. We set off and I wanted to at least get to the second lookout, and agreed with Glen that we didn’t need to do the full loop which would take about 3 hours.

We got to the first lookout, continued on through the gorge, and ascended to the second lookout. We were soon joined by about 25 high school students on some sort of trip, perhaps a last hurrah for year 12. We took our photos, rehydrated and then returned, bumping into the couple from Sydney we’d met the night before. They were going to do the full loop…and more power to them. We were quite satisfied with what we’d seen haha.

The trip took us about two hours with breaks included. It lived up to its name with the channel being quite windy. We made a stupid joke about Glen’s name meaning ‘Valley’ so he was ‘Glen of the Winds’ for a while and you can imagine the connotation that has.

Back at the car we headed for Walpo Gorge, a 1km trip that took about an hour return. It was spacious, rocky and ended in a cool shady spot. I was thrilled that, along the way, I spotted a 1-metre long perentie, happily strolling along beside the path. That provided much amusement – and filled a gap in what has been a fairly wildlife-free trip.

While it’s been awesome to see these iconic Australian places, I’ve got to say that as far as gorges go, Karajini National Park is by far the best we’ve been to.

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Uluru to Kings Canyon

After Walpo Gorge we hopped back in the car, got petrol at the resort and then booked it up the Lasseter Highway to reach Kings Canyon. Google said it would take four hours but somewhere I managed to do it in three. (It would have been 2 hours 45 minutes if we hadn’t stopped a couple of times.)

The drive was uneventful all except for THE DINGO! Glen spotted a sign for a rest stop and wanted to pull over. When I pulled in, I headed for a park bench and pulled up alongside it. At which point we both noticed the dingo sitting under the bench. It was completely unperturbed by our presence. We took our photos, and for some reason Glen didn’t want to get out and say hello.

We left after five minutes. I was absolutely thrilled to see a wild dingo. During the drive we’d also seen a wedge-tailed eagle flying overhead, which brings our animal count to about six (including zebra finches, rock pigeons and a small lizard).

We arrived at Kings Canyon Resort a little after 3pm and checked in. The guy at the counter seemed a bit unsure about what the hell was going on. He gave us our room key but we’d booked a package that came with a bunch of other things so it was a bit of rigamarole from there on. It was all sorted in the end though and we booked, for Sunday, a 6:30am Kings Canyon rim walk (ugh…so early), as well as a cultural tour at 4pm.

After getting into our room, we crawled into bed for a few hours and woke up groggy at 5:30. We’d booked another special dinner, again outside. I’m not sure about Glen but I was starting to feel a little over fancy dinners by this stage but we’d paid for it so we went. I think it’s been the best food out of the three we’ve been on.

Dingo
Dingo!

Under a Desert Moon

We joined two other couples – one from Melbourne with four kids and another from Brisbane nearing their seventies – for champagne and canapés. Conversation began with where we were all from and quickly progressed to talk about Uluru and dingoes.

We then were shown to our tables, each seating two and placed around a fire, which at the start of the evening was too hot for all of us but was eventually forgotten and pleasantly comforting.

We had a six-course degustation that took Australian ingredients and gave them a different twist. Remarkably there was no lemon myrtle. We had kangaroo loin with mushrooms, emu koftas (and other Middle Eastern inspired flavours), a delicious granita of passionfruit and pineapple (which tasted like a frosty fruit and I could have eaten way more), barramundi with beurre blanc and parsnips, and then a macadamia baklava with bush berries and vanilla icecream. Delicious!

Conversation bounced across the tables as we shared our experiences of what we’d seen and done. I think that when people look at Glen and I they think we’re in our twenties and we’re doing these things as our ‘one nice treat’ on a holiday that would otherwise be spent in backpackers or in the back of a 4WD. I think they’re surprised when they find out what we’ve done.

Thankfully dinner was all over by about 8:45 because that meant we could have an early night. We said our farewells and got back to the room, preparing ourselves for an early morning start. I think Glen’s hankering for one of those sit-by-the-pool holidays…I might be as well.

Need a Hand with that Flat Tyre?

I’d wanted to check out Coral Bay while we were up in Exmouth but there wasn’t enough time to do it without getting stressed and being rushed. Instead, I’ve filed it away as something to do on the next trip up here. So, in exchange, we slept in and decided to take it easy, eventually choosing to go for a snorkel at Lakeside.

We packed up the cabin, put everything in the car, and then I went to the campers next door and asked if they wanted our leftover food (carrots, weetbix, garlic etc). The guy gratefully accepted it and then said, ‘Do you need a hand with that flat tyre?’

Excuse me? What? Flat what?

I popped me head out and looked at the car. Sure enough, the back right wheel was completely flat.

Oh.

The guy was happy to lend a hand. In fact, he changed the whole thing and saved us having to get our hands too dirty. Thank god we didn’t have our hearts set on going to Coral Bay early or else we would have been in a flap. He changed the tyre as if he’d been doing such a thing for years, said thanks again for the food, and we were on our way.

We drove around to Cape Range National Park again and then to Lakeside to go drift snorkelling. Glen stayed on the beach as he was extremely worried about jellyfish. Meanwhile I went in with nothing but speedos and flippers.

It was fun to drift on the current while looking at the fish. The water was warm. The experience pleasant. Although when I drifted down the current picked up a bit and made it harder to go back into shore. Luckily it wasn’t that deep and I could simply stand and walk back in. Snorkel and swim complete, we returned to the car and to town.

We stopped for lunch in Exmouth, where I ordered something revolted that I couldn’t finish. We filled up the tank and headed for the airport. Two emus sat beside a floodway sign so we stopped and looked at them. Strangely, an empty 4WD was parked near them, its occupants nowhere to be seen. Glen surmised that they had probably stopped to take photos of the emus and had subsequently been eaten by them. Sounds plausible enough.

Got to the airport, discovering that I was missing one beach towel. Very annoying as it was one of our favourites from Canada. I hope someone finds it and makes use of it. I then dropped off the keys…in the wrong rental car hire box. I’m sure they’ll get it in the end.

Short flight home, landing in much colder weather than we’d experienced in Exmouth. Time to rug up. And the cat looks like she wants cuddles too.

Whale Sharks of Exmouth

The bus picked us up at 7:20am and took us, along with 16 other excited passengers, to the jetty where we’d board the boat for our day of swimming with whale sharks. Despite having heard positive reports about a currently good run of sightings, I was a little worried we’d spend a day on the boat without much to show for it.

While we waited for the inflatable to take us to the boat, a sea turtle intermittently popped its head out of the water in the bay next to us. Kind of like an aquatic version of whack-a-mole. If nothing else, we’d seen a turtle’s head.

Once on the boat, we were given a safety briefing and provided with full body stingy suits, attractive things that make you look like a human condom. They also smelled of human sweat so it was a relief to get moving so the breeze could blow the smell away.

We went for a snorkel in the bay first, drifting down a ways as we floated above coral and a bunch of fish. I saw many of the same species I’d seen the day before including a large starfish and a cat fish. The water was warm and it was a nice way to, well, get our feet wet.

Back on the boat we were soon zooming out to see as a whale shark had been spotted nearby. The captain was happy we wouldn’t have to travel for 45 minutes to reach it, as they’d had to do the day before. Glen and I were in group two, each group consisting of nine people plus a spotter.

Group one hopped in and we got ready, slipping on snorkel and mask and flippers. Once we received the go ahead we jumped in and lined up with the spotter, waiting for the shark to come in line with us and then it was on for young and old as we swam hard to try to keep up.

The shark we saw was a juvenile male, about 4-5 metres long. He was so beautiful. The spots on his side are so well defined and the strange shape of its head and mouth is captivating. I swam as fast as I could, which admittedly isn’t very fast, but this shark, with a few flicks of its powerful tail, steamed ahead and left me behind. Others were much better at keeping up.

We had seen a whale shark. Mission accomplished!

Poor Glen didn’t have such a good time of it though. He often gets seasick so to be on a boat and then to have to snorkel through choppy seas made him feel decidedly green. Up came his breakfast and after two dives with the shark, he decided to call it quits and have a lie-down.

The rest of us went in and out of the water with this juvenile male over the next hour or so before he finally had enough and disappeared. We then saw a much younger and smaller whale shark who was double the adorable level and was quite happy to hang around and have a look at us for a while.

Even though we didn’t see one of the giant ones, I’m really glad we saw what we did. I couldn’t get over how beautiful they look.

After the swims we had lunch on board and then were taken to a part of the reef for a snorkel. That is until they spotted a tiger shark near the boat. It didn’t come to the surface but based on how big it looked from above, it was likely to be a bit of a monster. After that sighting, the skipper wasn’t keen for us to go snorkelling so instead we drifted along spotting more sharks.

Apparently we saw different types but one tiger shark was enough for me.

We got back to land at about four, Glen very happy to no longer be swaying left and right. Despite the seasickness, I think we can claim that trip as a success.

I’d like to come back and see the humpback whales and the manta rays but I think Glen will abstain from them. Anyone else want to join me?

Mini-break in Exmouth

This weekend we’re continuing our exploration of Australia by heading up to Exmouth to swim with whale sharks (much to Glen’s horror). We saw so much of Canada that it seemed ridiculous to not see more of Australia.

We left drizzly and grey Perth at 11am, boarding an almost full flight up to Learmonth. We landed an hour and a half later, flying up the coast and seeing the pointy bit you see on the map. I think it’s Shark Bay, but don’t quote me.

After collecting our luggage and picking up the hire car, we drove into Exmouth and had a late lunch. Based on a recommendation we then drove around the tip to Cape Range National Park to reach Oyster Stacks.

High tide was at 4:20 and we got there about 3:30. It was windy and the water looked choppy. I was anxious about getting in the water, made worse by the signs warning of dangerous jellyfish. But FOMO won out in the end and I got in the warm water with my snorkel and mask.

Fish everywhere! Thousands of very small, silvery fish in a massive swarm coalesced around me. Large fish in a variety of colours, iridescent fish, tiny bright blue fish, yellow fish, zebra fish, a fish with a long snout that swam close to the surface, starfish, sea cucumbers and coral…all amazing.

I chose not to swim out to the actual oyster stacks (columns of rocks with oysters on them) purely out of fear of getting stuck out there and not being able to get back. Nevertheless, I saw a lot, and really happy about it.

Glen stayed on the beach, taking photos of sea snails and crabs in the rocks.

The sun was getting low in the sky on the drive back, casting a golden glow across the landscape. We soon saw an emu and later a kangaroo nearly jumped into the side of the car. We stopped and took photos of Sturt’s Desert Pea on the verge, then went up to the lighthouse. People were gathering with their chairs and bottles of beer to watch the approaching sunset.

Back in Exmouth we bought food at IGA, then checked into our accommodation, a caravan/camping/chalet place like the ones I used to stay at with my family in Albany. We cooked snapper with carrots, broccoli and sugar snap peas, and watched tv. It’s like being on holiday.

Karijini National Park, Western Australia

Glen and I went to Karajini National Park in Western Australia’s North-West for Easter this year. Two of our friends came along too and we made a bit of a long weekend of it. Karajini had been on our list for a long time, but it’s not the easiest place to get to. We flew from Perth to Paraburdoo and then drove two hours to reach the national park. Despite the distance involved, it was well worth it. Karajini lived up to all my expectations.

We ‘glamped’ at the Eco Retreat, each couple taking over a ‘tent’ with its own ensuite – hot water and a flushing toilet in the middle of nowhere? Hell yeah! Who cares about the cost? Highlights from the accommodation included nights looking up at the Milky Way, the ability to have a prepared meal, and scores of frogs inhabiting the ensuite. It wasn’t until the day we left that we were told that Stimson Pythons like to live underneath the toilet rim and feed on the frogs. Apparently the snakes are buggers to get out. I’m glad we only heard about this as we were leaving.

Gorgeous Gorges

We divided our days across different gorges, ticking off most of the accessible tourist gorges. (There are plenty of other off-road places but you need to either know about them or go with experienced guides. Maybe next time.)

On our first day we went to Oxer Lookout (very easy) and then hiked down Weano Gorge. Glen rolled his ankle before we’d gone five minutes down the gorge but he soldiered on. This gorge was narrow, filled with undergrowth, and led to a small pool, which, for some reason, I took forever to make the decision to get in. FOMO pushed me over the edge and I got in. Our first gorge, our first swim in a pool. Was magical.

On our second day we hiked down Kalamina Gorge. This one was stunning, a wide gorge with water trickling down over layered rocks, and at the end we went swimming in Rock Arch Pool, frightened of spiders and trying to find warm patches. Beautiful to say the least.

On day three we want down Dales Gorge and checked out Fern Pool, Fortescue Falls and Circular Pool. Amazing places (even if Glen described Fern Pool as ‘an ordinary pool’). Highlights were the waterfalls at each location, including the ‘warm’ one at Circular Pool (this pool is so cold that anything else feels warm), and the fruit bats and Olive Python at Fern Pool.

On day four, our last day, we attempted part of Joffre Lookout (and then I chickened out at seeing the sheer cliff face we had to climb down) and then left the Eco Retreat and drove a long way to Hammersley Gorge. Again, another beautiful gorge. We were worried we’d been rained out as the skies opened on the drive but it was intermittent and we enjoyed swimming along the 400-metres of this gorge, in between sheer rock faces. Unfortunately Spa Pool was out of bounds but we got to enjoy its warm waters trickling down.

Karajini is definitely way up there for special experiences.

Doubtful Sound

A couple of people had recommended Doubtful Sound to me, preferring it over Milford Sound, so I booked a day-long coach and cruise tour. This meant getting out of bed at 5:30 am, a horrible time of the morning at any time but after crappy sleep for nearly a week, it’s a bit of a shock. Glen dropped me off at the bus pick-up point at 6:15 and the coach came by soon after.

Much like when we did tours in Iceland that started during the darkness, the next two hours were just driving so I fell asleep at some point for a little while. When I did look out the window it was to see farmland, mountains, low-hanging clouds and rain. Beautiful.

The coach dropped me and another couple at Te Anau, before another bus picked us up and took us with others to Manapouri. From there we caught a ferry across the lake, and then onto another bus to go through Wilmot Pass. The drive took another hour, stopping at a few places along the way to get some snaps at suitable vistas. At the end of the drive we then boarded another boat, which took us into Doubtful Sound.

The three-hour cruise took us through the sound out to the Tasman Sea. The whole thing reminds me of a similar experience we had in Newfoundland – stunning expanse of water, tree and moss covered hills surrounding us, little tree-lined islands and waterfalls dotted here and there. Standing at the front of the boat, feeling the wind blowing in your face as you go past a majestic landscape…I couldn’t help but wish I’d brought my beanie.

We didn’t see many birds on the trip, really only spying a few seabirds when we got to the ocean, but we did, however, see about 20 fur seals. They’re so cute! No wonder sharks like to eat them. They were chilling out on one of the rocky islands. They’re so small! We watched them for a while and then headed back into the sound. We also were on the lookout for dolphins but alas, none were sighted.

We then repeated the backward journey, going by coach over the Wilmot Pass (no stops this time) to the return ferry across the water to Manapouri and then back on the same coach from the beginning back to Queenstown. (We passed a coach that had taken the corner too fast and slipped off the road. Luckily that wasn’t us.)

I got dropped off at 7:30 pm and Glen was there to meet me. We then went for dinner with a couple of the radiologists. Much food and drink and chats were had.

Looking for Hobbits and Dolphins

Glen decided to attend a conference in Queenstown so we tacked on a few days beforehand to spend in and around Auckland. (Of course, there was no way I was going to be left behind.) We left Perth at 6:15 pm on Friday and flew direct to Auckland. Ordinarily getting to New Zealand involves a stopover somewhere on the east coast so to fly direct was great. Not so great was arriving at 5:30 am having had next to no sleep on the flight.

After getting to the accommodation sometime around 7, we slept most of the morning away. We roused ourselves at lunchtime, walked into the city and found some brunch type food. Our stomachs were unsure whether to have breakfast or lunch. Lucky it was a Saturday when brunch is a thing.

We were unprepared for how warm Auckland was. I brought shorts with me but Glen didn’t so after a bit of walking and a bit more complaining we stopped in and bought new shorts. Yes, I bought some too…and damn, are they comfortable.

Worn out from shopping and walking, we returned to the accommodation, took an afternoon nap, then got up for an early dinner at a Japanese restaurant called Masu. Friends had recommended it so we gave it a shot, taking a seat at the bar because there were no free tables until 9pm. Food was delicious and the cocktails were nice too.

We contemplated going to do something with our evening and would have gone to one of the events at the observatory but tickets had sold out. We went home and vegetated on the couch, our body clocks completely out of whack. Sleeping was very difficult that night.

Hobbiton

The main reason we stopped in Auckland was to go to Hobbiton. Glen had learned they do an evening banquet so was keen to try out this bit of kitsch. We checked out at 9 am on Saturday then collected our hire car. I’d booked just an ordinary white Toyota sedan but Europcar had done a very clever bit of marketing.

Out the front of the store, they’d parked three Mini CooperS. Glen’s always wanted one so we paid the extra charge and drove off in a light blue one with a Union Jack painted on the top. Having now driven one, I don’t have any burning desire to get one; same for Glen. It’s large enough on the inside and zippy but I didn’t love it.

I drove us down to Matamata, stopping for lunch along the way. We also stopped at a kiwi fruit orchard and went on a tour. The tour was advertised yet the people supposedly running the tour didn’t really know what to say. We managed to get some good information out of him and we found it interesting. Turns out kiwi fruit is quite profitable too.

We were early for our check-in at a farm stay, so we went to Blue Springs, which was just past Matamata. The water looked amazing and had these long underwater grasses growing in them. They were really beautiful. We even saw a bit of bright blue water. Unfortunately, we couldn’t swim in it; the springs provide about 70% of New Zealand’s bottled spring water.

We drove back to our accommodation, which was pretty much a B&B on a working farm. We dumped our bags then drove to the Hobbiton Movie Set. After collecting our tickets, we got on the bus and entered Hobbiton.

I’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies once and I’ve never seen the three Hobbit movies. Despite this, I’d probably seen more of the movies than most of the other people on the tour. There was, of course, one group of five friends who were diehard fans. I think the tour was more targeted at them (the minority) than really at the majority (the biggest market share).

We followed our guide through various bits of the set, which, when recreated for the Hobbit movies, was made permanent as opposite to the ply and styrofoam version for the first movies. It was cute, we posed for photos at small doors as we pretended to be hobbits. We took our photos and then reached the Green Dragon where we had our banquet.

The tables were laden with food, offering a selection of duck, salmon, chicken and beef with sides of various vegetables. Dessert was less extravagant but nevertheless full of ample choice. The food was excellent – which was a big relief. We were a little worried we’d be served something substandard a la Disneyland. Not so much to our full and expanded bellies’ horror.

After dinner, we gathered together, picked up a lantern and set off to take a walk back through parts of the set lit at night to the coach. Many of us, including the heavily jet-lagged American family with small children who’d flown in that morning, thought we were just going to be taken straight back. Instead, we stopped in the field to hear about the party scene from the third movie and then take a ‘memory selfie’.

Cute ideas but after what had been about four and a half hours already, the tolerance level in the group had largely vanished. Glen and I couldn’t wait to get on the bus, and would have been completely satisfied if we’d just been taken straight back to the bus. We did get a nice photo at the end though.

We reached the coach just in time as the heavens opened once we were on and didn’t let up until we got home again.

Dolphins

After breakfast on Sunday morning, we returned to Auckland to go on a 4.5-hour boat cruise in the bay to look for whales and dolphins. I was worried how Glen was going to go on such a trip as he often gets sea sick but he managed. He might even have enjoyed himself.

I was the first person to spot dolphins, seeing four off to our right. I alerted the cruise operators and then we spun around to go meet them. They soon came up to the boat and everyone was very excited about seeing our first dolphins. We then continued on, spurred on by promises of seeing larger pods of dolphins further out.

We saw two or three other large groups throughout our tour, as well as the fin of a shark near one of the groups. There were young dolphins too, sticking close to the mothers. The dolphins took advantage of the forces created by the boat at the front and the back, regularly leaping out of the water and zooming along with us. We saw flocks of seabirds and dolphins going to town on schools of fish. Watching gannets dive-bomb into the water was spectacular.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see any whales, but at least we saw plenty of Common Dolphins. The weather held out until we got back into the harbour and we’d spent a good amount of time lying at the front of the boat and soaking up the sunshine.

Once back on land, we drove to our next accommodation. I’d given Glen the address to plug into the sat-nav and that took us to somewhere in central Auckland. The owner of the AirBnB was meant to be back at six so we weren’t too concerned that no one answered the door when we arrived at 5:30. Instead, we went for a walk to find a toilet and maybe some food before wandering back at about 6 and sitting on the porch to wait.

We were there about ten minutes before Glen wondered, aloud, whether we were at the right address, which was probably code for ‘I’ve put the wrong address into the sat-nav.’ He hurried back to the car and sure enough had put in Seafield Rd instead of Seaview Rd. In his defence, the sat-nav wasn’t all that user-friendly but still… Poor Glen won’t be able to live this one down for a while.

We eventually found the right place, the owner leaving as we arrived. The accommodation was lovely, a beautifully decked out room above the garage with newly decorated bedroom and bathroom. Very cozy. We went for dinner at Woodpecker Hill (I think that’s what it’s called) and then came home to get some sleep. Our sleeping patterns were still out of whack. In the morning we were leaving for Queenstown.