Australia and New Zealand
This is the third in a series of reports on a trip I took Down Under in February. Earlier you heard about the Sydney Opera House and the Australian Outback. Now — some additional highlights of Australia and New Zealand.
The city of Cairns (Cans) is spelled C a I r n s. This is the only place in the world to have two World Heritage sites so close together. One is the rain forest featuring Barron Gorge National Park, part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland. We took the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, a very scenic transit. Kuranda is a village in the rainforest and we stopped at the Kuranda Koala Gardens, where I had the fun experience of holding a koala bear!
The other World Heritage site nearby is the Great Barrier Reef. We rode a high-speed catamaran out to Green Island. We then explored the Reef in a glass bottom boat and saw beautifully colored fish swimming in their natural habitat.
Melbourne is a charming and attractive Victorian city with a big emphasis on sports. The Australian Tennis Open (one of the big four) is held here along with the World Cup sailing competition . To this add golf, rugby, Australian football, and soccer. One of the stadiums holds 100,000 fans.
Two hours south of Melbourne is a must-see excursion to Phillip Island for the penguin parade! We sat in grandstands along the beach at dusk to await the march of these smallest penguins: just 9 to 12 inches tall. Photography was prohibited and special floodlights were in place. The penguins waddle single file at a 45-degree angle out of the water, and move up to the sand dunes where their young are waiting in burrows. This is an awesome and fascinating display of nature.
Besides the hallmark Sydney Opera House, don’t miss a drive across the famous Harbour Bridge – or climb it! Visit Koala Park and see not only koalas, but also kangaroos, wallabies, dingoes, emus and many varieties of birds including the kookaburra.
In New Zealand, our tour began in Christchurch, considered to be “the most English City outside of England.” Sadly, three years ago,an earthquake damaged much of the city including the iconic Christchurch Cathedral, which is languishing now while a decision is made whether to restore it or not.
From Christchurch, take the Tranz-Alpine Express for a scenic trip through the Southern Alps. At the end of the ride is the Franz Josef Glacier Region, which offers travelers a rare opportunity to experience a dynamic glacial landscape in a temperate environment. At the town of Franz Josef, visit the West Coast wildlife Centre to see the kiwi birds. The kiwi has become a national symbol of New Zealand, along with the fern. In fact, New Zealanders are often called kiwis!
Queenstown is a delightful city near the rain forest. Interestingly, the rain forests of New Zealand are similar to South America’s, evidence to some that the continents were once linked. For spectacular views, take a gondola up to the Skyline Restaurant. Nearby you can see some of the locations where the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed.
Take a ride on the vintage steamship TSS Earnshaw on Lake Wakatipu (wah kah tee’ poo) to the Colonel’s Homestead Restaurant, located at a sheep station. The entertainment for the evening was watching a border collie herd sheep, and a man expertly sheer a sheep!
Driving through Hollyford Valley, we arrived at Milford Sound for a fjord cruise. The scenery, including waterfalls, was spectacular, and reminiscent of Norway’s fjords.
Don’t miss Mount Cook, which is part of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Stay at the Hermitage Hotel where they have an interpretive center about Sir Edmond Hillary, who practiced climbing at Mount Cook in preparation for scaling Mount Everest.
A couple of neat features of our tour were having dinner in a small group as the guests of a New Zealand family, and visiting a sheep station and being treated to scones and tea.
As welcoming as the residents, are New Zealand’s natural characteristics of no predators or snakes!
One of my favorite things was to see the Southern Cross constellation in the velvety night sky!
If it’s on your bucket list, I can promise you the trip of a lifetime when you go Down Under!
This is Katherine Satrom for Travel Explorations and the radio service of Prairie Public Broadcasting.