|What we did on our Summer Vacation|
|Australia and New Zealand|
Leif was the only one to climb. The following is from his journal
The climb begins with the waiver and breathalyzer test then on to introductions and jumpsuit selection.
Brief instruction on how to put on the jumpsuit.
Changing/locker room to remove all loose articles and put on the jumpsuit.
Gear room. Get a climbing belt with a special wire running device that acts as a stop in case you fall. Also handkerchiefs, gloves, fleece jacket and cover (in bags that clip to the belt). Everything has its place and is tied to you. Glass cords for those that need them. Caps.
Next is the test catwalk. Last chance to back out. Brief instruction on how the restraint works and how to go up and down the ladders (one at a time on each segment).
Then the radio room, pick up radios and earpieces. You get to put it on the person in front of you. I get to be demo man so donít get to, but mine is done by a professional (Graeme our group leader).
Out to Cumberland street, down half a block to the entrance to the bridge. Up some stairs to a tunnel cut through the pier. Latch on and start walking the catwalk under the bridge approach. Lots of commentary by Graeme. History of the bridge and information about the park and cannons below us. 40000 granite blocks cover the Pylons. Lots of interesting facts about the bridge. Through the Pylon (its hollow, the bridge maintenance facilities are inside, workplace for the 116 people representing 18 trade unions who maintain the bridge). Head out on the catwalk under the east side of the bridge to where there are some ladders to the upper chord of the bridge. Up the four ladders, one person per segment. On the top of the upper chord we walk under the maintenance crane and begin the ascent up the long curved upper chord. More commentary and pointing out the sights of Sydney harbour. Fantastic view and wonderful weather, perhaps a bit cool but it is Winter. At the top Graeme takes 3 photos of each of the parties in our group. Across the catwalk at the top and down the West side upper chord. Down the corresponding West side stairs through the road deck and back on the catwalks, through the pylon, catwalks under the bridge approach, latch off and back to the radio room. Taking the gear off is not quite as elaborate as putting it on. Done and on to buy the pictures.
A nice aquarium with some unique viewing arrangements. The most unusual was to pass through an arch in the shark tank while walking on glass over the tank (everyone seemed to prefer the metal supports to the glass). The Aquarium was divided into the various ecosystems of Australia and very well laid out. There was even a crocodile (the only one we saw). The most spectacular display was of the reef system, which included many species that we did not see while on the reef.
We never actually went into the museum itself, we were more interested in touring the docked ships.
The cruise was relaxing after a long day walking but not very impressive. The taped narration kept referring to landmarks that were not visible at night. Sydney just does not have enough lights to warrant an evening cruise.
Click here to see our complete Sydney Ablum
The mountains appear blue due to the Eucalyptus trees. Early settlers were convinced that there must be something wonderful on the other side of them, but all they finally found was desert. Our first stop was to a national park where you can see wild Kangaroos. They actually allow you to get fairly close. We also saw several types of birds, including Sulfur Crested Cockatoos.
We then drove through the Blue Mountains. Just looking out the window provided ample scenery, but we made two scenic stops anyway. One was to see the three sisters and another to see Australia's "Grand Canyon" Finally John, our guide, put the van into 4-wheel drive and we went to an undeveloped lookout over some very bumpy roads to a very high rock cliff looking into the same valley. You could walk right up to the edge and look straight down several hundred meters
This park started in a back yard but has grown to be a large display of Australian animals. Kangaroos, emus, mocking birds, kookaburras, pigeons and peacocks were free to roam many of the paths. The animals were friendly, the kookaburra let me pet him for quite a while. There were rows and rows of bird cages, it took me quite a while to find the budgies and cockatiels. Samantha sought out the dingos. William made sure his "passport" was stamped at all the areas.
To acknowledge the aborigine's prior claim to Australia the names of many places are being changed back to the aboriginal ones. What has been known as Ayer's Rock is now Uluru and the Olgas are Kata Tjuta.
Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park is actually a semi-arid area, not desert. The month before we arrived the area had received a large amount of rainfall, making the total for the year twice the average annual rainfall. The local vegetation took advantage of this unusual event and bloomed, giving us a rare and beautiful backdrop for Uluru.
Riding a camel to watch the sun set over Uluru was not my idea, but the kids really enjoyed it. You are seated 2 per camel, heavier to the back. the camels are connected to each other using nose pegs. The most dangerous part is when the camel stands up or goes to its knees, the angle of it's back gets pretty steep. Before the ride we learned about camels and after we had snacks, including smoked camel.
The magic of Uluru at sunrise made clear why the aborigines found it so special. I had seen pictures of the brightly colored rock but did not believe they were real until I saw it turn bright orange myself. Afterwards we were taken to visit some highlights including aboriginal paintings and told some of the stories of the area. Finally there was a stop at the Uluru Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre where you can see and buy some genuine artifacts.
We had a personal tour of Kata Tjuta as no one else had booked at that time. We got to walk up to a water hole in the Olgas and visited a lookout. the aborigines will not share the stories of the Olgas (they only share the children's version for Uluru), but they have told us that it is a sacred male place.
The evening starts at sunset where you can watch the sun set over both Uluru and Kata Tjuta at sunset, champagne in hand. A buffet dinner follows accompanied by a didgeridoo. After dinner an astronomer showed us the stars. The sky had been heavily overcast, but some holes cleared allowing us to see the Southern Cross and Alpha Centari. In total it was a very enjoyable evening, although ended a bite late considering how early we had started the day.
Our dinner companions were from Japan and Samantha broke the ice with them by discussing Sailor Moon.
A bus is available to take you into the park on your own . Leif and William took it to the base of the climb on our third day while Samantha and I relaxed at the resort.. When they arrived the climb was closed due to high winds at the summit so they walked around the base (9km). When they get back, around 3 hours later, the climb was open and William was anxious to ascend. Leif and William made it the first third of the way up the steep chain assisted section and another third of the way afterward. William decided it was time to go back down before they completed the walk when the wind started picking up again.
Click here to see our complete Uluru album
Click here to see our complete Kata Tjuta album
Our plane from Ayers Rock to Cairns was delayed 20 hours due to mechanical problems. We missed our rain forest Kurunda tour because of it. A very nice stewardess (Donna) suggests we hire a car in Port Douglas. and drive to Mossmon Gorge.
A nice, slightly energetic, stroll through the rainforest. This is not a tropical rainforest so it does not have the characteristics seen in Central American rainforests. The path had markers detailing information about the trees and plants such as what native animals ate or lived in them and how the Aborigines used them. We were told there was a swimming hole on the river but saw many signs warning about drowning hazards. The river was quite swift and contained many rapids and small waterfalls. The only animals we saw were birds, and we heard more than we saw.
We rode out to the reef on a high speed wave piercing catamaran operated by Quicksilver. Once we arrived on the reef platform we took the first semisubmersable tour. I hoped that this would give us some information about what we would see once we started snorkeling. Samantha, Leif and I all snorkeled for a while, William seemed afraid of the depth despite us agreeing to let him wear a life jacket. This was to his undoing later in Kaikoura when I would not let him swim with the dolphins. After a short time Samantha went off with the marine biologists for a tour outside our small roped off section of the reef. I finally got William in the water and dragged him around to see the fishes that swam within inches of us. Leif had the underwater camera.
Lunch was a cold buffet that consisted of king shrimp, ham, chicken, ziti, and a wide range of salads. We made a large plate for Samantha as the buffet would close by the time she returned. She ate everything except the cold pasta salad.
Click here to see our complete Port Douglas album.
As we approached white Island on the PeeJay IV the most obvious feature is the plume of white that is rising from the island. This is what Captain Cook saw in the distance and why he named it White Island. Captain Cook however did not see what we were about to see as we walked into the crater of an active volcano. There is no dock, we are ferried to the island in an inflatable reminiscent of Cousteau's Zodiacs. After a walk across a narrow board and a climb over ash covered boulders we finally reach the remains of the abandoned sulfur grinding and separation facility. We have all donned hard hats, yellow for the tourists, pink for the guides, and have a gas mask hanging around our necks. There is no life except a bird colony we say on the rocks from the boat.
On the wall of the crater we are shown the monitoring equipment, seismic sensors, Temperature sensors and a rain gauge. The volcano was at Alert Level 2 because it was spewing ash. At the time the wind is blowing the plume away from us so we didn't expect any problems. We walk across a stream and are given the opportunity to taste it. It is warm and bitter. We go past a small crater made by a rock thrown during an eruption; our hard hats would have been of little use. As we walk towards Donald Duck crater, the old main crater which now covered in a cracked layer of black ash, we can hear a low roar. When we get to the edge of the main crater we look down some 60m to the bottom and see a sulphorous yellow lake To the right is the fumeral, roaring as white and gray steam rolls out of it. The wind has afforded us an excellent view and we can even see the vent. William gets a bit close to the edge and Jeanie puts her hand on his shoulder to keep him safe. I find that reassuring as I am starting to wonder why I was crazy enough to want to come here.
Finally we make our way back, following a different route. There is a small vent that we stop at to photograph it. The vent is yellow from the super in the steam. Around a bend is a larger vent which has large super crystals. Jeannie tells us that had not everything been covered in ash we would have seen more minerals deposits. Walking back we step around boiling mud and across the hot stream again. The guides wear shoes that have no metal because of the corrosive properties of the island. They still go through shoes fairly quickly.
Click here to see our Complete album of White Island pictures.
We stayed at PeeJay Charter's motel, White Island Rendezvous, as well. I highly recommend it.
It took a while, but we managed to see a Sperm Whale and a Southern Right Whale. The Sperm Whale was very cooperative and stayed up for a while. Right Whales come up for air quickly and then resubmerge, making it difficult to get a picture. I understand seeing right whales, especially in the winter, is very rare. Had it been summer we may have been treated to other species as well, but in June it is mostly Sperm Whales, all male.
There were "swim with the seals" places but we opted to visit the seal colony instead. This is totally free! We went at low tide and found Seals sleeping on the rocks and in beds of kelp. You are supposed to stay 10 meters away and Leif discovered that the seals will protest if you don't when it turned out there was one closer than the one he was trying to photograph which he had not seen.
To Samantha this was to be the highlight of her trip. I balked at the estimated 10 degree Celsius water so Leif got to go in with her. William was declared too young, it turns out that Samantha was the youngest to go in the water in winter and not jump right back out. Samantha had problems keeping her face in he water and breathing through the snorkel. Apparently smiling breaks the mask's seal.
On board I was treated to endless dolphin antics by the dusky dolphins and happily snapped away with my camera. William especially enjoyed watching the dolphin's ride the bow when the boat moved.
Maori Leap Cave
A young cave with few formations, but an interesting history. The cave got its name when the Maori invaded the town of Kaikoura. The people fled and many jumped to their death from the cliffs above the cave.
Click here to see our Kaikoura Album
Interesting museum of Antarctic information. Christchurch airport is the primary departure port for supplies and personnel traveling to the Antarctic continent. Interesting displays on Antarctic explorers and nature. Haagstrom ATV ride and tour of the US staging facilities.
Willow bank specializes in breeding of endangered species. Their farm section contains many exotic species of domestic horses, sheep, donkeys, pigs, chickens and other fowl that are not widely kept any more. There are also other animals such as ducks, geese, lamas, deer and emus that are allowed to wander freely on the paths. If you purchased the food bags before entering, you can accumulate quite a parade in each section. The highlight of Willowbank is it's native species section, especially the Kiwis. We opted to enjoy the excellent buffet dinner with a guided tour the New Zealand Section. To allow the best viewing of the nocturnal animals, our guide carried a red light. Unfortunately this did not lead to the best video and picture taking of the elusive Kiwis.
The Little blue Penguins spend days out at sea feeding. Once satiated they will return to the colony shortly after sunset. The Blue Penguin colony has lights on the beach to enable you to see the penguins, but they are not bright enough for photography and use of a flash is prohibited. Unfortunately I did not think in advance to load high speed film in my Nikon. There is a picture of some in the Featherdale Wildlife park in the Australia section.
It was a foggy night so they were not sure if any penguins would come in. We had a lone penguin and were about to assume there would be no others when the group finally arrived. In total 23 penguins arrived during the one hour observation period, a good number for June.
These are located on a beach about 40 miles north of Dunedin. While there are other examples of this phenomenon in the world, these are said to be the largest. They are nearly spherical and have been formed like pearls in loose sedimentary layers. The 2.5m diameter ones may have taken up to 7 million years to form. As the sedimentary formation is worn off by the ocean the boulders are exposed and washed by the ocean waves.
To something point to see the Albatrosses. We were very lucky to see several adult birds flying in from the ocean to feed the chicks. Chicks were quite large this time of year, they were hatched in January so would be about 6 months old. They sit on the cliff by themselves waiting for the parents to come feed them. We saw 6 of the 10 chicks, the other 4 were around the other side of the hill.
There is an old fort below the Albatross colony that was built in the late 1800ís to defend New Zealand from the Russians. There is an Armstrong Disappearing Gun there; however it was never used in battle since Russia never attacked NZ.
Next stop was the to see the Yellow-eyed Penguin colony. This place had some serious observation tunnels and blinds. Saw about 8 birds, some very close up.
Click here to see our Dunedin album
Bluff is the southern most point of the South Island. Beyond it lies Stewart Island and Antarctica. The sign post gives distances to various locations throughout the world.
A life long collection of shells and pens displayed in his house. It was at one time visited by Elizabeth II.
Aviary in Queen's Park
The aviary was situated with several cages containing Australian and New Zealand birds. The aviary itself is filled with parakeets, cockatiels, pigeons, and other birds I did not recognize. Somehow I think my birds would be very happy there.
We visited the Southland Museum's Tuatarium to see a Tuatara. The Tuatara is a lizard that has not changed since the time of the dinosaurs. While we were there we also visited the Maori display. We didn't see the rest of the museum because William had been promised a chance to go swimming and we needed to make the opening of the waterslide.
Petrified trees that had fossilized beneath the sea bottom were later exposed by the waves once the land was no longer under water. This forest is still covered at high tide, but we visited while the tide was out. The beach is covered with the remains of fallen trees, but I found the stumps the most interesting.
In the summer dolphins frequent the area, but in the winter we saw nothing but birds. The beach was covered with shells and William enjoyed collecting them.
We took a 10 minute walk through the rainforest to a small, but nicely tiered waterfall..
After driving up a steep hill you then get to walk down a steep hill. The lighthouse is still in use but no longer manned. The golden "Nugget" rocks are very impressive.
We took a large catamaran 16km up lake Te Anau to the entrance to the cave. The cave has a large, active river running through it. The tour guide ferries you across a section of the river and you then walk on catwalks over the river 100m into the cave past with waterfalls and rapids. The stair case that goes up around one of the falls is particularly impressive. The second boat is moored next to a small waterfall that has a rail across its top. After everyone gets into the small 12 passenger boat the guide turns off the lights and small bluish lights become visible. The guide stands and uses a chain mounted above to move the boat. As you move into the main cave the sounds of the river diminish and there is total silence. Speaking and photography (even without flash) is prohibited. The glowworms were very bright for us, indicating that they were very hungry. There is only one path in and out so you exit the way you came in.
We stopped here on the way from Te Anau to Milford Sound. Watching the water flow through and around the rock was quite fascinating.
Milford sound was misnamed as it is actually a fjord. Fjords are dug out by glaciers, making them very deep. Milford sound creates a unique environment in that it has a layer of silty fresh water on top of the salt. This layer provides conditions that allow coral reef to grow at a shallower depth than would normally be required. Pots were placed in the reef and an under water observatory was built in a different location. Those pots have been moved to the observatory to allow visitors to see the reef environment. This "reef" has the advantage that it can be raised or lowered based upon the thickness of the silty fresh water layer.
The rest of the fjord is impressive in itself. There are two large
waterfalls, one taller than Niagara Falls, and many more smaller ones.
When it rains even more form as water cascades off of the steep walls. One
wall is actually 90 degrees from the water, and quite high. We went out to
the Tasmin Sea where the water suddenly became choppy and the wind picked up,
then turned back into the fjord for our trip back. We saw some fur seals,
but no dolphins.
Click here to see our Milford Sound album
The TSS Earnslaw constructed to service the sheep stations around the lake. It is powered by two triple expansion steam engines and a third steam engine is used to run the pumps. The steam is generated by two coal fired boilers. You can view the engine from a small area in the engine room or through an observation hole on the upper deck. A Farm tour is available on the other side of the lake but we just took the round trip. On the return there is a sing-a-long by the piano. Leif spent the trip out looking at the engines. William liked getting to steer the ship. Samantha stayed by the piano and sang. I took pictures.
We took a gondola ride up a nearly vertical cliff 600m high to the top of the hill to a restaurant. They also have facilities for a luge and bungee jumping, but we did not try those, The picture is taken from the restaurant.
Click here to see our Queenstown Album
As we drove to Fox Glacier we kept seeing signs showing where the glacier was during different years. When we finally reached the current location we found a walk over slippery terrain ahead of us. Part of the path was marked as no stopping due to possibility of a rock slide. I wasn't sure where I was supposed to go if the rocks did slide. I stopped once I could see the glacier from the path as I was not feeling well.. Leif, the kids, Cathy and Liz continued on without me. Cathy stopped when they had to cross a large stream using wet rocks. Liz stopped at the top of the final hill. Leif and the kids went down to the end of the glacier. When William realized that there were people walking on it he wanted to do it too. Unwilling to allow him to do a glacier walk, I arranged for him, Samantha, Cathy and Leif to take a helicopter to the top. I went back to our room and slept.
The helicopter tour lasted about 1/2 hour. They flew up to the glacier and landed on it. The snow up there is so hard that the helicopter barely left any marks at all. Cathy took her video camera and some of the video is available in the links below (long download). I would especially recommend the video of the fly over.
Click here to see our complete Fox Glacier Album
all photos copyright (c) 2000,2001, 20002, 2003, 20004 Elizabeth Anderson. Pictures copyright (c) 2000,2001, 20002, 2003, 20004 Elizabeth Anderson, Leif Stembol, Samantha Stembol, William Stembol. Video copyright (c) 2000,2001, 20002, 2003, 20004 Cathy Rowsell, Samantha