This is my 5th tour with Globus, and my third try for this trip. The first time (fall 2002), I had a reservation but that departure was canceled due to low reservation numbers. The second time I tried (fall 2003), the departure I wanted was already canceled - same reason. Then the price went up 'a bunch' for this (2004) year. In part, it's all those internal connecting flights that run up the price - too far to use bus / coaches. Also the overnight train and cruise. This trip also added Tasmania which wasn't in the other trips. As of 4 years later, Globus no longer offers trips to the western part of Australia.

Day 0, Saturday, April 17Getting Ready
For eighteen days before the trip, I've been watching the temperatures in the newspaper: Sydney: highest: 78, lowest 54, average range 56.1 - 75.4. That's not bad. Auckland: highest: 73, lowest 40, average range 48.8 - 64.2. It's going to be *cool* by the time I get to Auckland in a month. Not much to do today - mow the yard and do the packing. Fortunately I discovered some things I had left out (such as the 2nd and 3rd pair of slacks). Wonder what else I missed. And just in case, I think I'll take my cane along, just in case. High today 80 - and I probably won't see anything that high until I get back. Oops, WRONG. It's 80 or higher every day while we are in Australia - many days MUCH higher.

Call the cab company to schedule my very early AM pickup, then to bed but not to sleep at 8:15. It's going to be a long "day" tomorrow.

Day 1, Sunday, April 18-19 Houston to ...
Get up VERY early at 2:15AM to get to the airport by about 4:00 - can I get a cab?? Yes, for $50 - much too long a trip to use "park-n-fly"). … and I have to go through that awful DFW. After a 3:15 taxi pickup, hurry to get to the airport the "required" two hours early, the ticket counter isn't even open yet, nor is the Security area when I finally get to that. More "hurry up and wait." Fortunately, at both DFW and LAX, the necessary "gates" are in the same terminal and close together so it's not far to walk. (That's almost a 'miracle.')

From - ToFlightLocal timesflight timeLayoverSo farSydney times
Houston-DFWAmerican #10966:00 A - 7:01 A1:010:592:009:00 P - (18th)
DFW-Los AngelesAmerican #24078:00 A - 9:18 A3:183:429:00- 2:18 A
Los Angeles-SydneyQantas #00081:00 P - 8:35 P14:35-23:35- 8:35 P (19th)

losing a day as crossing the International Date Line. It's going to be a LONG flight. (in-flight mini-meals / "snax") For American Airlines, we don't even get a glass of water on the first flight; one the second, one cookie and a couple of swallows of soda. Are they so near bankruptcy that they can't afford anything? I think I have the time zones right. It totals almost 19 hours of flight plus 4:40 layover time. That's right at 23.5 hours from first takeoff to third landing. Add three hours getting up early and another hour or so to get to the hotel and my "internal clock" may be WAY out of kilter! (but it doesn't happen.) Qantas is American Airlines member. The Qantas flight is nice - less than half full so I end up with a whole row of 4 seats to myself (the long flights both ways are nowhere near full - it's between the two big tourist travel seasons). Tried to stretch out, but the arm rests don't fold up all the way so that doesn't work. Qantas tries to serve nice meals, but their caterer can't count so I miss out on a decent "dinner." Breakfast is fair. Est. temp range: 51-68.

Day 2, Monday, April 19 Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
When we get to Sydney, the trip through customs and immigration goes well also. Tour Director (Judy Thomson) meets us and I finally get to bed at 10:15 after a 29:15 long day (but later, despite a shorter flight back to the US, it's not my longest day). G'day (G'night??) and welcome to Australia - it's about 9PM when we get here. Enjoy great views of Darling Harbor (by night light?), located right at our hotel's doorstep - well, almost. Rest up overnight before our adventure "Down Under". Be sure to place a wake-up call for tomorrow morning - or else maybe miss the first day of the tour. (No problem for me - 5:30 in the morning is 5:30 in the morning wherever I am. Jet Lag? Not a chance. The hotel rooms look right across "Darling Harbor." Nice view. Four Points Sheraton (SF) 3 nights

Day 3, Tuesday, April 20 Sydney
Up early to find an ATM before breakfast. At 7:45 the tour group (only 16 of us) have our Greeting Meeting. This morning we explore one of the world's most beautiful cities. Board our coach and travel to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, located in the city's botanical gardens, for a great photo opportunity offering sweeping views of the Harbor, Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge. A chance here to learn of some native flora including the unique Morton Bay Fig Tree. (There's lots of green spaces in Sydney - beautiful areas.) Continue on to Kings Cross, the city's night life area, and through exclusive suburbs to famous Bondi Beach. Stop at Bondi Beach for a chance to put our toes in the sand while enjoying an ice cream, or watch the world go by over a coffee on the beach's promenade. Bondi Beach is a major surfing site, but there's not much in the way of waves today. Only a few people out trying to catch a wave. See trendy Paddington, one of the city's original suburbs with lovely terrace houses, followed by the historic Rocks area, home to Sydney's original convicts. The city tour includes a cruise of Sydney Harbor, highlighting the natural wonder of this magnificent bustling waterway; a guided tour of the SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE (5 stages - first built was the roof then the hall was built under it - beautiful!) and its amazing interior and theaters; with an expert guide to escort us through the renowned DARLING HARBOR (nice boat cruise to see all the fantastic ($$$) waterfront homes), and the SYDNEY AQUARIUM where we learn of the South Pacific's unique marine life (unfortunately it's rushed - wonder why - after this is free time). The balance of the day is free (and time to catch a bus to go to the Hard Rock Café to get a shirt for a friend - the first of three she wants). This evening, our Tour Director hosts a special dinner at a waterfront restaurant overlooking Sydney Harbor and the magnificent Opera House and Harbor Bridge. The dinner is great - one of the best on the tour. Unfortunately for one of the other tour members ... (more later.) Finally to bed about 9:30. Temperature today was about 86-88 - much warmer than I had expected. (B, D)

Day 4, Wednesday, April 21 Sydney
Full day at leisure for our own discovery. Perhaps join an optional excursion with a drive through Sydney's suburbs to the Hawkesbury River for a relaxing cruise to a historic homestead, one of the earliest trading posts dating back to 1867. Enjoy lunch on the broad veranda while learning of the experiences of Australia's early settlers. We may prefer an adventure to the Blue Mountains for a wilderness experience, or an excursion to the Hunter Valley, one of Australia's leading wine-growing regions. We can even climb to the top of Sydney's Harbor Bridge! (B, OL)

(My pre-chosen options - from tour literature list - are marked ***, but many were not actually offered. Bah, humbug!)

Sydney Tower Restaurant: Dine in style at the Sydney Tower Restaurant. With panoramic views of the city, there is no better way to see Sydney. Tues-Sat. Reports afterwards were that the view was *much* better than the food. Glad I didn't do this one.

Go Bush for the Day: Travel north through the suburbs of Sydney before boarding a boat for a cruise on the famous Hawkesbury River to Melvy's Wharf, the original trading post on the river and its colonial homestead. Enjoy a home-style lunch with a wonderful selection of salads and homemade pecan pie. OOPS, NOT OFFERED. Bah, humbug. It's one I was looking forward to.

Helicopter "Grand Tour" of Sydney: Sweep along our golden sandy beaches. Have a bird's eye view of the Harbor, bays, and Opera House. Soar over the bridge and follow the inland waterways, which lead us to the Olympic Village where Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympic Games. (I think it's not worth it.)

Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb: No thanks. (They take groups of 12 every 15 minutes - from nearby, we can see the "ants" crawling along the structure.

Blue Mountains: Traveling west, follow the path of early explorers and make the gentle climb through the Blue Mountains at Katoomba. On the scenic drive, see many features of Australia's best-known mountain scenery, including Jamison Valley & Echo Point. I ended up taking this - very disappointing since we only had two places where we could see the mountains. I had expected something more like the "Great Smoky Mountains" and it probably was, but the brush and trees along the road blocked the view. There was an excellent stop at a Wildlife Center (like a zoo) where we could see (and touch or pet) many of the animals including the Koalas. The bus driver also threw in a drive through the 2000 Olympics site. The Wildlife Center would have made a good half-day option; the rest wasn't worth it.

Remember that "oops" at dinner last night? Another guest, Bob, cracked a bone in his foot while leaving the restaurant (we leave through a dark back door for easier access to the bus back to the hotel). The foot started giving trouble so he goes to the hospital and gets it x-rayed, and I lend him my cane for about five days (good deal for me, now he's the one who has to keep up with it!). Maybe I should have charged rent

Day 5, Thursday, April 22 Sydney - Cairns, Queensland
Up at 5:45 - my bio clock doesn't know anything about jet-lag. Since the flight today isn't until later, we start off with a visit to one of the country's leading opal companies (GemTec) to discover how these beautiful gems are mined and a chance to splurge on some opals. I get a medium Boulder opal and a small White opal.

4Sydney - CairnsQantas, #QA92612:35PM - 3:45 PM3:10 time

At the airport, while waiting on this flight I discover a service called "Three Minute Angels." They give 5-minute neck/shoulder massages and we pay whatever we think it's worth, usually $5 - $10. They are in both the Sydney and Melbourne airports (the two large ones we go through) and I do this 3 times. VERY nice.

Fly north to Cairns which has a very different environment. For us, it's the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Tonight enjoy a poolside barbecue including kangaroo (like beef but drier and stringy) and crocodile (sorta like chicken = OK) at our hotel. The hotel has a nice view of the mud-flats when the tide is out. It's much warmer up here. The hotel is decent, but the beds are only ok. Rains overnight and the a/c is only intermittent. (B, D) Tradewinds Esplanade (SF) 2 nights Est. temp. range: 71-84 (I wish) but its much higher.

Day 6, Friday, April 23 Cairns. Great Barrier Reef Excursion.
It's an all day trip. After a spectacular (bus) drive along the coastline, reach the resort town of Port Douglas. Board a fast catamaran for a cruise to the outer edge of Australia's famous Great Barrier Reef where we disembark onto a luxurious three-level pontoon. Enjoy coral viewing from the UNDERWATER OBSERVATORY or cruise among the coral gardens in a modern SUB-SEA VIEWER (semi-submersible). Snorkeling gear is available and an informative talk by a marine biologist enhances our reef experience. A buffet lunch is also included. For a fun way to spend the evening, join the optional outing to the home of a local Aussie family for a delicious meal, accompanied by Australian beer and wine. Oops, not offered. Darn. I don't even get a decent dinner at a local shop. (B, L)

***At Home with an Aussie Family: Visit a local home in the Cairns area, where an Australian family will greet us. Australians entertain their friends with a barbecue so we enjoy food cooked by our host and wash it down with Australian beer and wine. NOT OFFERED. I miss out again.

Day 7, Saturday, April 24 Cairns - Darwin, Northern Territory
For a truly amazing rain forest experience, consider a trip to Kuranda via the old scenic rail route. See magnificent scenery, lush rain forests, and twisting waterfalls from the comfort of a restored, historic mountain train. For the return journey, take the Skyrail Rain forest Cableway. Then take a tour to Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park - a fascinating portrayal of Aboriginal culture, dance, and folklore.

Up at 3:45 and picked up at 4:30 for the hot air balloon ride over farm land (I had expected to see some tropical rain forest, but no such luck - probably because of having to have access to where ever we finally land. There are 4 16-passenger balloons and each makes two flights. On first loading, the gondola is tipped on its side and the first 8 passengers get in by lying down on the divider wall. Then the basket is tipped straight up. It must be done that way in order to have enough weight in it to keep it on the ground. The sides are very high and it's difficult for many of us to get in and out. For me, it's hot and noisy since I end up near the center right by the pilot / burners. I'm the only one in our group (dumb enough) to take this trip. We were told that there would be plenty of time to take the flight, have breakfast, and still catch the train up to Kuranda. Not so. No breakfast either at the hotel or after the flight. At least the flight is decent even though it's a bit short.

5CairnsHot air balloon6:35 - 7:15 AM

They (balloon company) eventually get me (without any breakfast) to a train station outside of town to catch the train to Kuranda (partway along the route). Somehow after the flight, they forget to collect the insurance from me before leaving me at the train station - and decide later not to charge me for that since I missed breakfast with them. Even trade? I don't know.

Unfortunately, it's starting to drizzle some. The train ride up the mountain to Kuranda is nice, but again we have a viewing problem due to brush and trees along the way. It's not open country. The windows of the train have to stay closed since it's now raining fairly hard. Kuranda is a nice little tourist town up the mountain - would have been better with no rain … and it's muggy. I did find a nice large print in one of the shops and there were places to have a nice lunch. The trip down by sky rail (gondola car) goes over some fabulous rain forest - what we can see of it since it's still raining. It would have been a fantastic ride if we could have seen more. At the half-way point, we change cars and also have a couple of walkways where we can get out to see more of the forest. Nice.

It's still raining when we get to the bottom of the ride and walk over to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Park. The shows are excellent, but we miss out on some of the (planned to be outdoors) demonstrations.

Ballooning the Tropics: Enjoy a 30-minute flight over the tropics in a hot air balloon. This tour includes a balloon chase with coach commentary on history, farming and environmental topics. Insurance payment direct. (Miss-named: should be "Ballooning the Farmlands")

Kuranda Scenic Railway and Sky rail Return: Combine the Kuranda and Sky rail Cableway optional. Catch the Kuranda Train up the scenic mountains and return by the Sky rail Cableway. Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park: TACP is located at the bottom of the Skyrail in Smithfield. The theater offers four shows that take approximately 20 minutes each. The tour is combined with the purchase of the Kuranda Scenic Railway or Skyrail optional that include transfers.

6Cairns - DarwinQantas #8006:40 PM - 8:40 PM2:30

30 minute time change. Then fly to (hot muggy) Darwin, located at the top end of Australia and famous for its strategic importance during WWII. It's late when we finally get there … and the hotel doesn't have the a/c on in the room. It takes a *long* time to cool off. Long day and a short night. Temperature here today was 88-90. (B) Saville Park Suites (F)

Day 8, Sunday, April 25 Darwin - Kakadu National Park
It's ANZAC day - and the celebrations and parade/remembrance walks start early (before it gets too hot). Enjoy a short orientation tour of Darwin, then see giant termite nests (up to 20 feet tall) on the way to KAKADU NATIONAL PARK. On the way we stop at the Fogg Dam wilderness area to watch the wildfowl. We have multiple stops along the way as we explore parts of nearly 7,300 square miles of unspoiled waterways and a rich heritage of Aboriginal culture. Cruise waterways (Yellow Water Billabong) where we view crocodiles and lots of birds, and walk ancient trails to see Aboriginal rock petroglyphs but the bugs and flies cut that a bit short. An optional light-aircraft flight over the park should not be missed. Dinner tonight (excellent) is at our hotel. Note: During the wet season, December through April, it can be difficult to spot crocodiles in the wild but we do see a few and even a large turtle. Its HOT today - almost 100. The hotel for the night is in the middle of nowhere. It's an interesting one - from the air it's shaped like a crocodile, hence the name. (B, D) Gagadju Crocodile Hotel (F)

Kakadu NP Scenic Flight: 30-minute flight. This is the opportunity to view the raw beauty of the Kakadu National Park. It is only by aircraft that the vastness and contrasts of ecology can be seen and fully appreciated. The landscape changes dramatically with the seasons and is unique year round. NOT OFFERED. Ripped off again!

Day 9, Monday, April 26 Kakadu National Park - Kununurra, Western Australia.

7Darwin - KunumaraAir North TL31210:40A-10:251:15

1:30 time change. Early start this morning (with a box breakfast they gave us last night) as we return (by bus) to Darwin in time for a flight to Kunumara. This is also one of three 'pack light' days/nights. Our main luggage goes on to Broome. We are limited to carry-on size baggage only. On the flight, our plane is an Embraer twin sputter-putt only 24 passengers and we are 17 of them. There's a 1:30 time change as we cross into Western Australia. Flying over part of the country and looking down, the waterways have formed what almost looks like an artistic lace pattern - immediately along the waterways, it's fairly dark green. A bit back, it's lighter green. Then light grey/brown and finally the dark red/brown. Since the waterways (such as they are) have many twists and turns, it does indeed look like some kind of lace pattern. Unfortunately I can't get to my camera to take a few photos. The hotel for the night (when we finally get there) is hardly more than a motel. The town reminds me of the small dusty dried up towns in west Texas, but out here, it's a major stop-over along the way. Unfortunately the a/c works only when the room key is inserted into a slot so despite checking in about noon, there's no a/c all afternoon and its VERY hot when we get back from the river trip. Dinner later tonight is "edible." Nice people running the place, however.

The recommended optional excursion on the Ord River to view crocodiles, flying foxes, rock wallabies and myriad bird species, as well as other flora and fauna unique to this region is one of the best options on the trip. The Ord River has formed a gorge behind its dam with many interesting rock formations. On the way to the river trip, we stop at an old homestead (looks like the rock houses in west Texas). The guide there has some Zebra rock for sale (found only on one peninsula along the Ord River). Four of us split a medium size "grab bag" of samples. On the river trip, there are also side channels with lots of trees and wildfowl and even a crocodile or so. The boat is a fairly good sized on, but with two 250-HP outboards, it can almost make like a jet boat (and the driver almost does it on a couple of occasions!) For the afternoon "tea" we pull into a side cove where there are some tables and restrooms. Nice stop on a great trip! (B, D) Mercure Inn (MF)

(Zebra Rock: has been placed at 600 million years in the Upper Proterozoic era or Pre-Cambrian period. The only known deposits in the world have been discovered in the East Kimberly region of Western Australia. It consists of the fine grained siliceous argillite (indurated siltstone or claystone) with rythemic pattern of red bands or spots contrasting sharply with a lighter background. It is not know how the regular patters were formed, but the red stripes are colored ferric oxide. Geologists have investigated Zebra Rock without producing valid explanations of its' origin.)

Ord River Cruise: Travel by bus to Lake Argyle. Tour Lake Argyle including visiting the historic Durack Homestead, the Lake Argyle Tourist Village, and viewing the lake from a scenic lookout. Return by boat to Kununurra along the Ord River. Afternoon tea is included - consisting of coffee, scones or cake, and cold drinks.

Day 10, Tuesday, April 27 Kununurra - Broome
This mornings experience is an (included) SCENIC FLIGHT over Purnululu (Bungle Bungle) National Park to see what might be the world's most unusual geological formations. Cameras ready as we fly over thousands of huge beehive shaped mounds striped in orange and black. The plane is a Cessna 207 single engine - pilot plus 7 passengers (7th sits in co-pilot's seat - ME!). Fantastic views of the weird layered rocks in the park. There's a set flight route plan but the pilot can circle a bit to allow people on each side of the plane a better view. We also get to see the Argyle Diamond mine (open pit / layered).

8Kununurra FlightseeingAlligator Airlines6:00A - 8:15A2:15

After the flight, it's back to the hotel for another so-so meal. Very limited choices but that's understandable since it's a small establishment, not a big hotel with lots of guests.

9Kununurra - BroomeAir North TL31210:40 - 12:351:55

Then fly to Broome (a continuation of the regularly scheduled flight from Darwin) and visit PEARL LUGGERS to learn about the tempestuous history of the pearl industry and the fascinating process of the cultured pearl. I take the chance to buy a couple of pearls - a nice black one and a smaller 'common' one. Then its a guided tour of the Broome peninsula includes a stop at the Japanese Cemetery and the authenticated dinosaur footprints at Gantheaume Point (we pass on this due to the extremely hot muggy weather and the long walk out to the point - and the flies). Weather permitting, this evening we see a very nice sunset over the Indian Ocean (also camels being taken back to their stables after the camel rides - no we don't ride the camels here; that's for later), prior to enjoying dinner at the hotel. The hotel - actually a true resort, is a few miles out of town (fairly easy access both ways via local bus route) and is almost totally a tropical garden. The place is 'huge' with lots of activities available. Also the beach is just across the road - nice place to walk and get our feet wet in the Indian Ocean - also a chance to pick up a couple of shells and lots of bits of coral which have been broken off and washed ashore by the waves. Dinner is better than average, but not fantastic. There has even been time for laundry this afternoon before dinner. At least we've caught up with our luggage. (B, D) Cable Beach Resort (SF) 2 nights

Day 11, Wednesday, April 28 Broome
Slow start to the morning - we don't leave for another trip to town until about 9. Stop for a history of pearl diving from "Salty" (good talk). There's a short amount of free time to walk the two streets in town (and have lunch and to shop for dinner munchies for those of us who choose not to pay resort prices for dinner) before going back to the hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure for us to relax and enjoy the facilities. I.E.: Do some laundry and try to get on the 'net (free for once - usually $.20 - $.30 a minute) to clean out all the "spam." High temperature today is 99-100. (B)

Day 12, Thursday, April 29 Broome - Ayers Rock, Northern Territory.

Broome-Ayers RockVincent Air charter8:00A - Noon2:30

1:30 time change. Today fly to the Outback and hopefully some cooler weather (not much but a bit). The plane is a 19-passenger Beech 1900d. There's just one (cramped) seat on each side of the very narrow aisle. Noisy and not enough light to read (but at least it has some headroom when boarding - very unlike another 1900 we fly on later where we have to almost crawl down the aisle to get on and off). It looks like a 4-hour flight but we are doing that 1:30 time change in reverse as we go back east.

After a quick stop at the hotel to unload, it's off (2PM) to travel out past Uluru (Ayers Rock - 1173m) to the magnificent Kata Tjuta (the Olgas 1740m), a geological splendor of some 30 brilliant monoliths. There is time for a walk to the Olga Gorge (bug nets are a *must* at Ayres and Alice Springs) and a stop at the climbing location for the Rock (a few of us climb part way but not far - the whole route is in many places very, very steep and dangerous) before returning to "Sunset Strip" to stop for a drink (champagne was loaded onto the bus) in the Outback as we witness the changing colors of the Rock. Dinner tonight is at the hotel. The hotel is almost brand new - very fancy. It's a complete 4 hotel (different amenity levels) complex with some shopping and other limited facilities. Since it's in/on national park land, there's nothing here but the complex. We have very nice dinner and rooms in this hotel. (B, D) Sails in the Desert (SF)

Day 13, Friday, April 30 Ayers Rock - Alice Springs
After a 6AM breakfast, a chance this morning for an optional flight over Uluru, prior to flying to Alice Springs. Nice flight but we get shortchanged (supposed to be 30 minutes but turns out only 19) since the company tries to make-do with one helicopter and two loads of passengers. Bad deal that way, but the scenery is nice. The flight plan is very restricted - the rules are very strict: no flying over either of the rock formations, and since some parts of it are 'sacred' we can only fly by some of the sides.

11Ayres Rock: Scenic Air flight-seeingHelicopter flight8:15 AM - 8:340:19

Now for a very short flight to Alice Springs.

12Ayers Rock - Alice SpringsQantas #QA19409:30AM - 10:20AM:50

Here we visit the historic OLD TELEGRAPH STATION to discover how the locals live in this remote area, and the history of how the early settlers explored the region and developed communication. It's on to Anzac Hill, a tribute to Australia's and New Zealand's war heroes. Then visit the ROYAL FLYING DOCTOR SERVICE to appreciate how an aerial medical service is provided to those living in extremely remote cattle stations. A highlight of the day is the opportunity to briefly ride a camel (yes, I do it, but it's only about 5 minutes or so), the transport of the desert, at the CAMEL FARM. For a unique Aussie experience it's off at 5:30 for an optional bush night out featuring a meal of typical campfire fare (the outback bread, 'damper', is great), fascinating tales of the Outback (great storyteller), and Aboriginal folklore. There's also boomerang throwing demonstration and a look at / lecture about the southern hemisphere stars. We barely made the required minimum for this evening - by combining with another group that's in town.

When we get back to the hotel, its time to again repack suitcases since we can only take a carry-on size case to our roomettes on the train. The large suitcases will travel in the baggage car since there will be absolutely no space for them in the roomettes. (B, OD) Crowne Plaza (SF)

Ayres Rock and Olgas by Helicopter: See the incredible natural monument Ayres Rock by helicopter (30 minute flight). It's the best way to appreciate the awesome size and splendor of the world's largest monolith - the magnificent Uluru - and the majestic Olgas.

Outback Bush Evening: Travel approximately 16 miles east of Alice Springs past beautiful Jessie Gap to enjoy a traditional Outback dinner under the stars. Learn a little about Aboriginal culture and the traditions of the Alice Springs area. After the meal, a Bush Balladeer will entertain with traditional Australian songs and a little audience participation. All beverages (if we drink alcoholic beverages which I don't) are included for the evening, as well as transportation, dinner, and entertainment.

Day 14, Saturday, May 1 Alice Springs - Ghan Train

13Alice Springs: Outback Ballooning 6:30 - 7:25:55

Early risers (has to be REAL early since we have to be up a 4 for a 4:30 departure) may want to start the day with an optional hot-air-balloon ride over the plains at sunrise. The first time, it was a large staff getting four balloons ready. This time it's only 3 people on the staff, and the balloon and all the gear is on a trailer behind the van. (Is this some little shoe-string company with a worse setup than last time - turns out NO). Since it's a small crew, they don't have a staff to choose the takeoff site and set up the equipment. We make several stops to check wind direction / speed. Finally having chosen a site, we get 'drafted' to help unload all the gear, get the fabric and lines stretched out, and then inflate the balloon (another passenger and I get to / have to hold the bottom of the balloon open while they blow first regular air and then hot air into the balloon to inflate it). Then after the struggle to get into the balloon, it's off and away. The scenery here is much more interesting and we even see groups of kangaroos, wallabies, and other animals grazing/running around (unfortunately no chance for a decent picture since I'm "stuck" again in the center by the noisy burners). After a nice long flight (long one this time) we wipe out a few small trees on landing (almost tip over). Then call all hands for deflating, rolling, and stuffing the balloon and lines into the 'stuff sack'. All the "crew" work turns out to be much more fun and interesting than just standing around watching others do it. Then after heaving away to get everything back onto the trailer, it's off for a short drive for a roadside breakfast. Nice but not as much choice as we supposedly had on the first flight. Back to the hotel by 9 for a very short stop before starting off on today's tour.

Today experience an Aboriginal "Dreamtime" tour and learn more about this important native culture from our own local guide. The tribe also has paintings for sale (yes I get a nice one, with a photograph with the artist). Then there's also a discussion about the local bush 'tucker' which includes ground nuts and seeds (not bad taste), dried brush tomatoes (fairly good), kangaroo tail (not so great), and (live) grubs (OK, someone else ate one so I had to do it also!).

Now for a quick trip back to town for lunch (and a wrist support bandage for my left wrist - probably hurt it doing balloon crew work).

A highlight (so says the brochure) is today's train journey on The "Ghan". The train trip offers a fascinating and ever changing perspective of Australia's unique Outback. The train is supposed to leave at 2. As usual for the Ghan, it's late - an hour late - getting off. My (private) roomette is fine when only the seat and table are down. It even has minimal WC facilities but the shower is down the way. We get first dinner seating at 6 (fair dinner), then back to a now very cramped (bed is down) roomette. There's only about 3 square feet of floor space now (if that). Barely enough room to stand and turn around. The bed is decent, but there is something loose somewhere and it's a loud rattle all night as we shake, rattle, and sway our way southbound (loosing more time as we go along despite 'promises' to make up the lost time). (B, D) Ghan Train overnight

Ballooning the Outback: These balloons usually fly anywhere between 500 and 1000 feet high and can carry 16 passengers making them among the largest balloons in the world. Each flight will be 30 minute long (we get lucky!) and will be followed by a gourmet (??) champagne breakfast. $20 Insurance levy payable direct - funny, they collect *after* the flight.

Day 15, Sunday, May 2 Ghan Train - Adelaide, South Australia.
We again have first seating for the not-so-great limited breakfast. Eventually arrive now over two hours late into Adelaide. I'm glad I got to experience the train (not my first train ride) but wouldn't do it again since most of the ride was in the dark of night. In Adelaide, a city tour takes us along the wide tree-lined streets and well-manicured gardens (LOTS of green space here - wide streets, etc.). See Ayers House, the exotic botanic gardens, and the Festival Centre overlooking the Torrens River. The sightseeing finishes with a visit to the National Wine Centre, providing a wonderful opportunity to sample some of this country's award winning wines (not for me since I don't drink), and learn hands-on (??) why wine making has become one of Australia's fastest growing industries. (B) Hilton Adelaide (D) 2 nights Back south: Temp 68-87.

Day 16, Monday, May 3 Adelaide
The day is at leisure. There's a selection of optional excursions available: a visit to well-known Australian wineries in the Barossa Valley, or a day trip to Kangaroo Island, one of the world's last unspoiled habitats. {Also try to get online to pay the VISA bill for last month and clean out more spam e-mail - but no internet access in the hotel).

Depart the hotel at 6:30 with last night's box breakfast in hand for a ride to the bus terminal where we change to another bus for an 1.5 hour bus ride to Port Jervis to catch the ferry across to Kangaroo Island. The ferry ride is 40 minutes (10:00 - 10:40). Once on Kangaroo Island, it's an all day bus ride. First stop is Seal Beach where we get down on the beach for a guided walk with the seals (the seals prefer about 15 feet free space but we get close). Next a BBQ lunch stop (included) and across Yucca Flats (photo stop) and a Koala walk (another photo stop / walk) where we see several Koalas in the trees (high up). Next stop is Remarkable (very) Rocks which with the wind and rain sculpturing, look almost Picasso-esque. We skip the stop at Admiral's Arch (it's raining and a long walk down the stairs to see it). Last is a stop at the National Park headquarters. The local kangaroos (5 of them) come out to meet the bus. (They are "wild" but have become almost "tame" after being given so many hand-outs). We all get a chance to pet them. Then it's a rush for the long drive back to the other end of the island to the airport to catch our plane back to Adelaide. We get to the airport at 5:52; the plane leaves (after we crawl aboard) at 6.

14Kangaroo Island - AdelaideEmu Air6:00 P - 6:250:25

This plane is also a Beech 1900 (we've been on one earlier) but it's an earlier model. We almost have to crawl down the aisle - max height is no more than 5 feet (and probably less) and definitely down to about 4 feet as we crawl over the wing spar area (something like the drive shaft hump in rear wheel drive cars. It's a very bouncy ride (that rainy weather is still causing problems) but at least it's a short ride. The plane doesn't go to the regular terminal - it heads for it's hanger off to one side so it's a long walk to the terminal, then another long walk across the whole place to the taxis to take us back to the hotel (two taxis for us - not a bus).

Just time enough to get to a fast-food joint (Subway) before it closes then to the hotel to decide what to try to mail home tomorrow. Why? The suitcase is overloaded - and I can maybe dodge some Customs duties when I get back to the US. (B, OL)

Kangaroo Island: Cruise to Kangaroo Island for a full day of sightseeing which takes in Seal Bay Conservation Park, Flinders Chase NP, Remarkable Rocks, Admirals Arch, Cape du Couedic, and Rocky River Headquarters. A country style BBQ lunch is included. Fly back to Adelaide. (22# baggage limit - day trip, not a problem)

Day 17, Tuesday, May 4 Adelaide - Hobart, Tasmania
Up early for a 6:30 breakfast, then down the street just a few blocks to the main post office to mail off two packages back to the US - so I don't have to haul the things around for two more weeks. It will also probably save troubles with Customs limits getting back into the US - dodge the 'duty' hassles.

Bags out a 9:30 for 10:40 trip to the airport. Its two flights today (2 planes). To get to Tasmania, we have to go the 'long way around' via Melbourne rather than a direct flight. We also will have a :30 time change on the first flight to get back on Australian east coast time. Unfortunately that also means it will be late in the day when we finally get there.

15Adelaide - MelbourneQantas #QA 68212:05 PM - 1:50 PM1:15
16 Melbourne - HobartQantas #QA16693:15 PM - 4:25 PM1:10

Fly to Hobart, home of the infamous Tasmania Devil. Hobart isn't large - it's long and narrow as it wraps around it's harbor bay. Tonight dinner is at the hotel which is just a relatively few rooms attached to a large casino. It's on the 'edge' of town and a long walk around the bay to get back to anywhere but it's late and at least we have a nice dinner here so no hassle about going out again. Very high priced internet access here - not good. (B, D) Wrest Point (SF) 2 nights

Day 18, Wednesday, May 5 Hobart. Excursion to Port Arthur
Today's tour of the scenic Tasman Peninsula - weather is cool and very windy. The tour features Mount Wellington, Pirates Bay, the Blowhole (when the tide is coming in, it waves blast through a relative small opening into a medium sized cove - but not doing much while we are there), the Devil's Kitchen (similar, and nothing cooking here either), and the Tasman Arch (much better formations elsewhere, but not bad) coastal formations. Visit Port Arthur, where the first convicts arrived in the 1830s. A guided tour of the PENAL SETTLEMENT shows the ruins of the four-story penitentiary and the model prison…grim reminders of Australia's days as a penal colony. There is time for a boat ride out and around Dead Man's Island (the penal graveyard). Then stop at BUSH MILL PIONEER SETTLEMENT - no time to ride the little narrow-gauge train. Also included is a short stop at a nearby SANCTUARY to see the famous Tasmania Devil getting fed, a rare marsupial wolf. The scenery here is very green and occasionally lush. They had snow flurries the last few nights and the top of Mt Wellington is snow covered. Temps today 5 (41F) to 12 (54F). It's the wind that makes it feel really cold. Finally back to the hotel for a sandwich from the casino bar for supper. Mail off the last Aussie postcards. At least the bus driver today was better than yesterday. (The bus drivers are also our local guides. The tour director (Judy) is mostly the director / problem solver / administrator. On the European trips, the tour director does all the talking during the travels except for the local city "step on" local guides.) (B, L)

Day 19, Thursday, May 6 Hobart - Melbourne, Victoria.
Very windy overnight. Since the hotel doesn't start serving breakfast until 7 (lazy bums!) it's a rush to gulp something down and still get on the bus by 7:30. The flight isn't until 8:55 but we have to have time to check in our luggage (down to 18.2k after the mailing packages).

17Hobart - MelbourneQantas, #16568:55 AM - 10:05 AM1:10

Today fly to Melbourne (only a bit over an hour for the trip), Australia's second largest city. Today's tour includes landmarks such as Parliament House and the Shrine of Remembrance, a tribute to Australia's war heroes. Visit beautiful FITZROY GARDENS, and then drive past the lush Royal Botanical Gardens. We discover the different architectural influences of this city as we see the Victorian Arts Centre and other buildings of significance. There's a huge amount of green space (about 30%) in the city. There's a short stop at the Victoria Square Flea Market (huge with lots of booths and with some searching, bargains galore). We are at the hotel by 3 so there's time to get my friend's second HRC shirt. It's a 40 minute walk uphill to the HRC (not bad) but it's starting to rain when I come out so I decide on a taxi back to the hotel - I DON'T want to walk in the rain for 40 minutes. Dinner tonight is a real treat as we dine among the locals at trendy Lygon Street. It's a super dinner - almost too much to eat. The hotel is nice - was built by connecting two old warehouse buildings so there is open space in the center with balconies for each floor on both sides. Nice! Also tonight we have to sign credit charges for all our Australia optional tours. There will be a different charge in New Zealand for the tours there. (B, D) Le Meridien Rialto (D) 2 nights

Day 20, Friday, May 7 Melbourne
Full day for us to explore on our own. Perhaps join the optional full-day tour that takes in the views of Australia's most breathtaking and unspoiled coastal scenery on the Great Ocean Road, including unusual rock formations such as the Twelve Apostles. There also are views of farmlands, surf beaches, and sheer cliff faces. Or, for a unique dining experience, join an optional outing on board a historic tram car restaurant as it winds its way through the streets of Melbourne. Later this afternoon, we can then join the highly recommended optional excursion to see a penguin parade. (B)

Unfortunately I opt for the Ocean Road deal - and find out how a "bus driver from Hell" can turn what was supposed to be a beautiful day into "the bus trip from Hell." It starts out by having to be ready at the hotel by 7:10 - to drive 10 minutes to the company office and sit on the bus and wait and wait until the scheduled 8AM starting time …. At which time we don't start since we are still waiting on one more couple. He finally shows up, tells the driver that his "lady" will be along shortly. She shows up a few minutes later. This sets their pattern for almost every stop along the way. (We later find out that he is a tourist from the UK and she "works for an escort agency.") All day, the driver never says anything about being on time so eventually we are over two hours behind time. For some of our scheduled sight-seeing, the driver says something like "We can't see it now but off in the darkness over there is ..." The first stops are ok (other than getting later and later) but then what should have been a nice idea on one stop the driver pulls out some refreshments for 'morning tea': cookies, tea, coffee, water, etc. But having had all that, it's over three hours until our next 'rest stop.' The winding, twisty road starts getting to us and the driver doesn't help things - every time he reaches down to get another cookie, he swerves the bus part way off the road - more twisting and bouncing. After a while many people, particularly in the back of the (full!) bus start getting "sea sick". We have to make two emergency stops - one to let two people off to get into the brush to throw up; once for someone to go into the brush to make a necessary change of clothes. Not only that, but with so many people using the on-board toilet, it overflows twice and the overflow runs down the floor of the bus from back to front. The driver says not to worry, it's only water, but he's wrong. We eventually get to our lunch stop (supposed to be about 12:30 but it's almost 2) for lunch and sightseeing. It's some of the worst food on the trip. Why didn't we stop in one of the nice little towns we passed through earlier - much better choice of food and also would have solved that 3+ hour drive with no breaks. We are given an un-necessary two hours and the driver does nothing about cleaning up the bus. He could at least have borrowed a mop and mopped the floor. By the time we get off about 4, it's beginning to get dark - to dark to take pictures of the Apostles and any other sightseeing is hopeless. Since it's so late, we have an unscheduled supper stop (whatever leftovers are available in a convenience store with a "greasy spoon" eatery). Eventually back to the hotel 2+ hours late.

Stops we did get: Bells Beach, Split Point Lighthouse, Coastline, Cumberland Bay from an overlook, and the Otway Ranges.

I had a hard time choosing between this and the "Parade of Penguins" and really made the wrong choice. All of us were really disgusted with the "Bus trip from Hell" and certainly didn't give the driver any "tips."

Tramcar Restaurant: Dine aboard the converted 1927 tram that has become The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. It cruises the scenic streets of Melbourne and, to ensure a smooth ride while dining, stabilizers have been fitted so that not even a glass trembles as the tram glides slowly along.

Penguin Parade: Travel across the Mornington Peninsula to Westerport Bay and on to Philip Island. Watch the little penguins passing by at the sanctuary as they leave the sea and travel up the beach to their burrows in the sand dunes. (penguins in greatest numbers Nov. - Jan.) (Hard choice - this or the Ocean Road)

The Great Ocean Road: Absorb the beautiful southern coastline along this world class scenic highway. Sit back and enjoy views of sweeping beaches, sleepy coastal resorts and spectacular cliff sides along the forever winding highway. Pass through the townships of Anglesea, Lorne, and Apollo Bay. The scenery includes the shipwrecks in Port Campbell National Park, the unique formations of the Twelve Apostles, and the remnants of London Bridge. Full day trip.

Day 21, Saturday, May 8 Melbourne - Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand
After breakfast, while waiting to get on the bus, we all tell the tour director (Judy) about our experiences. She takes three pages of notes and will tonight email them to the Globus Australia office. Tuesday we are informed that we will all get a full refund for that option and that Globus has canceled their contract with the Melbourne sub-contractor. I wonder if the driver got fired.

18Melbourne - SydneyQantas #418 9:00 AM - 10:20 AM1:20
19Sydney - ChristchurchQantas #18512:00 NO - 4:55 PM2:55

2 hr time change. Today, fly across the Tasmania Sea to Christchurch, the "Garden City" of New Zealand. We have to go through Sydney (plane change there from a smaller jet to a 747). On the long flight from Sydney to Christchurch, Qantas again offers a menu selection for lunch and for the third time out of three, they are out of my choice by the time they get to the back of the plane (our tour group traveling as a group almost always gets stuck in the back of the planes). The other option really doesn't appeal so again I do without a meal. With the time change, there won't be time to do anything much in Christchurch after we get there. Extra note: not only do we go through the regular security checks leaving Sydney, but our luggage is also x-rayed when we arrive in Christchurch. Don't the Kiwis trust the Aussies? (B) Crowned Plaza (SF) 2 nights NB South Island: est. temp. range 40-58. Definitely cooler in New Zealand. Finally! Hooray!

Day 22, Sunday, May 9 Christchurch
A slow start to the day - we don't leave until 9. Sightseeing this morning starts with a drive up the winding Summit Road for views of Lyttleton Harbor, a stop at the Takami Tea House overlooking the city and Canterbury Plains, then past Christchurch's old stone buildings, the charming Avon River (watch punting) and a stop at Mona Vale for acres of green parks. We "finish" at the Museum. It's only a short walk back to hotel with time to check out the arts and crafts fair (and maybe some shopping). The remainder of the day is free to explore this beautiful English "Garden City" - which ends up for me, back to the museum and crafts fair. Lunch and dinner are bought at the fair. (B)

Repack for tomorrow - we can only take a "carry on" onto the cruise boat. The large suitcases will stay on the bus until we get back to Queenstown. It's our third and last "carry on" segment.

Christchurch Casino: Visit the Christchurch Casino which is located on trendy Victoria Street and treat ourself to thrilling entertainment in stunning surroundings. Dining is a memorable experience in "The Grand Café". No thanks.

Hagglund Dinner Adventure: An opportunity to experience one of Christchurch's most treasured attractions, which reveals secrets of the world's most awesome continent - The Great White South! Ride the "Hagglund," a genuine Antarctic all-terrain snowmobile, which takes us on an adventure cruise traveling over hills, up 45-degree angles, over a 3 1/2 foot crevasse, and swimming through water. After we return, enjoy a delightful dinner in the Tim Hobson room with features of Antarctic murals. NOT OFFERED. Ripped again!

Day 23, Monday, May 10 Christchurch - Milford Sound.
Even before breakfast, there's some sad news. Another passenger, Mike, has some kind of major infection on one leg. He spent much of yesterday at the hospital having tests run - and the doctors want to run some more. He and Jennie will skip the trip to Milford Sound, stay in Christchurch, and have more tests run. He becomes the second person on the trip to borrow my cane. He ends up keeping it the entire rest of the trip. Later diagnoses indicate that *probably* he was bitten in Australia by something like a tick which burrowed under his skin and has caused many problems.

20Christchurch-QueenstownQantas #5139:40 AM - 10:30 AM:50

A short flight this morning to Queenstown, where we board the coach for a 5 1/2 hour journey into FIORDLAND NATIONAL PARK through the Homer Tunnel (one way, alternating) to Milford Sound. We stop along the way at Te Anau for a nice lunch. It's great scenery from there on - Knobs Flat, Hollyford Lookout, a Kea Bird (which is notorious for eating any rubber parts it can get at if we park, and leave our car for a while - the Kea has a double jointed beak like a parrot and can shred and all rubber that it can get to). The roads are narrow and winding, and the bridges are one-way (take turns!). Boasting some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world, this region of New Zealand has the elite status of belonging to the World Heritage Parks. Cruise on the fiord with sheer rock walls rising thousands of feet from the water's great depths. Dinner tonight is on our Milford Sound Cruise vessel. It's getting a bit late when we get to Milford Sound so the scenery could be better. We sail for a while then anchor in the middle of the Sound (actually a Fjord) for scenic boat rides and kayaking. One of the boats goes too fast too close to one of the kayaks and causes it to flip - the kayaker looses his camera, binoculars, etc. The boat crew find him some loaner clothes while they get his dry. I suppose that will also reimburse him for the lost camera and binoculars since it was the fault of one of their crew. Those of us who go on the boats have a horrible time with flies, etc. whenever we get near the shore. Nice cabin and a good dinner. There's a nice slide show in the lounge after dinner. We cruise only a bit further and then anchor for the night. What this overnight cruise really amounts to is a short afternoon/evening cruise in heavy fog and mist so that we can't see much of anything, anchor overnight in fog and mist, then another short cruise in fog and mist tomorrow morning back to the dock. Lousy deal. (B, D) Overnight cruise.

Day 24, Tuesday, May 11 Milford Sound - Queenstown
Late breakfast at 7:30 then that second short cruise - we go out to the mouth of the Fjord (very choppy water) then return to dock. Then it's a return by the same road (another lunch stop at Te Anau) for the return to the very popular resort area of Queenstown, birthplace of bungee jumping and home base for discovering every type of adventure sport imaginable. The center of the tourist part of town is very small - easy to get around in and the hotel is nearby. Time for some shopping including the third (and last) HRC shirt. There's also time for me to try my one-and-only bungee jump (at age 62!) at that birthplace of bungee jumping. QUITE an experience! Oh, my aching back!

There's also time for the Jet Boat option - about an hour of riding (about a dozen people in the boat) up and down the Kawarau and Shotover Rivers with lots of 360 degree turns, fantastic scenery, etc. We are given slickers to wear, but that doesn't quite manage to keep us dry. I wish I had dared to take my camera, but it was probably better that I didn't. Lots of fun and great scenery. As it turns out, riding the jet boat this afternoon will make up in part for tomorrow's miss-out. See below.

This evening we venture by gondola to the top of Bob's Peak on Queenstown's Skyline Gondola (and watch some bungee jumping along the way - no I'm not doing another jump!) for breathtaking (??) panoramic views while dining (excellent) in a relaxed atmosphere. Mike and Jennie are back with us (for a while) but he's definitely having problems. We also have the response from the Globus office about the "Bus Ride From Hell" trip already mentioned. I also get the good news that I can manage to take two optional trips tomorrow - at least that's the plan tonight. (B, D) Novotel Gardens (F) 2 nights

Kawarau Jet Ride: Aboard our jet boat we have breathtaking views of the Remarkables Range and a chance for a closer look at homes on the shore. During our trip we learn about the river's gold rush history and see mining relics from the past. The highlight is the awesome Kawarau Jet Turn where our boat spins 360 degrees. After the trip, journey down under the lake to enjoy Queenstown's underwater observatory.

Day 25, Wednesday, May 12 Queenstown
A full day at leisure for our own discovery. Consider an optional visit to a local vineyard to sample some of the prize vintages or maybe the Dart River Safari or the new Lord of the Rings locations tour. The TSS Earnshaw trips are also highly recommended. Judy will have suggestions to help us plan our day. (B, OD)

The only morning option is the Dart River Safari which sounds great, but as we leave the hotel, it starts raining. The trip calls for us to drive about 15k up a mountain behind Queenstown to the actual start of the trip. It's raining harder and this little town is mostly in the clouds. There's also word that the Sand Flies are "particularly nasty" where we are supposed to take our brush walk. We are given the chance to cancel out and I take that option - so I (and a couple of others) take the bus back to Queenstown. Very disappointing.

In the afternoon, it's time for the long-awaited Lord of the Rings locations tour. We travel in a 4WD van, mostly on paved roads, lots of gravel roads, and even a couple of times, actually drive up and down a river since it's the only way to get to one of the sites. We see: 1) Battle and the end of Part One (Confrontation with Boromir and battle of the Orcs); 2) Top of the Bluff where Frodo and Sam watch the Oliphants, 3) Pillars of the King (well we were supposed to, but one of the ladies 'just had to go potty' so we drive past that one to get her to her potty in time). This also gives us time to stop in one of the local wineries for some wine sampling (not me). More stops, these on that river: 4) Prologue series where the Ring is cut off Sauron's finger, and the following river shots; and 5) The Fords of Bruinen where Arywn outrides the Ringwaithes and then calls down a flood on them. It's cloudy and occasional drizzle, but a very nice trip.

Back to the hotel for a sandwich for supper and lots of repacking.

"Dart River Safari". This is a three part trip totaling about 6 hours. Drive a few km out of Queenstown then (1) take a 4WD trip through back routes for some great scenery including some of the Lord of the Rings sites. Then (2) an hour long brush walk with a special guide. Finally (3) a jet-boat ride (about an hour) back to our starting point before returning to Queenstown. Can be combined with either the LOTR trip or the TSS Earnslaw trip by taking this in the morning and one of the others in the afternoon.

"Lord of the Rings" Trilogy Tour: The Trilogy Trail by road is for any fan of Lord of the Rings who wants an authentic, personalized tour of the locations. Take a scenic tour around the Wakatipu Basin in Queenstown and explore the film's locations including the Ford of Bruinen where the black riders were swept away by a torrent of water, Amon Hen area where there was a battle between Orcs and the members of the Fellowship, River Anduin past the Pillars of the Kings which are the statues of the Kings of old, and hear the many stories offered.

Queenstown - Mount Cook - Queenstown. Travel north through the historic gold mining region of the rugged Kawarau River Gorge to the famous fruit growing region of Cromwell. Skirting the showers of Lake Dunstan, created by the mighty CLYDE hydro dam, pass through the golden fussock country of the Lindis Pass to Omarama. Continue through the rugged high country landscape of the Mackenzie Basin and follow the shores of Lake Pukaki to Mount Cook National Park, Australia's highest mountain at 3754 meters. As we arrive into the Mount Cook Village we will be mesmerized by the alpine surroundings of this truly unique region. NOT OFFERED.

TSS Earnslaw Cruise to Walter Peak: Breathtaking scenery in every direction as we cruise Lake Wakitipu on board the vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw, launched over 80 years ago and still in mint condition. On arrival at Walter Peak, view shearing and spinning demonstrations, sheep dogs in action and magnificent Scottish Highland lake side gardens. Enjoy a county-style afternoon tea before returning. Too bad - conflicts with the time for the Lord of the Rings trip..

Walter Peak Evening dining: A cruise across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak on the vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw. On arrival at Walter Peak, we are escorted through lake side gardens to the Colonel's Homestead where an evening carvery buffet is served. The menu includes soup with home baked bread, lamb, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, whole poached salmon, chicken, seafood, a vegetarian dish, potatoes, vegetables, a fresh salad selection, and many deserts. NOT OFFERED

Queenstown Wine Sampler. Similar to jet boat ride above, plus a personalized tour of four vineyards and a sample of local wines. (I skip this one) but we do get in for a sampler as a stop on the Lord of the Rings locations tour.

Day 26, Thursday, May 13 Queenstown - Rotorua, North Island
Weather delay - not here - up in the north but it's messing all the schedules.

21Queenstown - ChristchurchAir New Zealand #5376 8:50 AM - 9:551:05
22Christchurch - RotoruaAir New Zealand #536711:40 - 1:251:45

Today fly to Rotorua (promptly pronounced "Roto-Rooter" by many of us). It's supposed to be a one-stop flight (same airplane) but doesn't work out that way. There is some major weather problem up in Auckland which messes up the schedule. We end up with a fairly long delay and have to change planes. The flights were ok, except that on both, there was one screaming brat who almost constantly was trying to see how loud he could scream (scream, not cry). The parents just couldn't seem to shut him up - if they even tried.

Rotorua is the center of the Maori culture set in the heart of New Zealand's geothermal wonderland. Enjoy a traditional "hangi" dinner this evening, followed by an authentic Maori concert and other audience participation entertainment. Very nice, but the sausage I ate at breakfast this morning seems to be making me a bit sick, so I don't enjoy the event as much as I would have otherwise. Our group is/are the only non-Asians there. There must be about 150 Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, etc. (An overall observation: there are far more Asian tourists in Australia and New Zealand than from Australia, the US or Europe. Very noticeable at the buffet breakfasts as well based on food choices.)

After the dinner, Mike checks into the local hospital for treatment (every 6 hours). He and Jennie won't catch up with us again until we are in the airport in Auckland waiting to catch our homeward bound flights - that's when I get my cane back since he buys one of his own. He can walk, but is in a wheelchair in the airport. Not a good trip for him.

One interesting note at the hotel: there are two security peep-holes in the door; the first is at the "regular" height; the second is about a foot lower. (B, D) Royal Lakeside Novotel (F) 2 nights Est. Temp 53-63.

Since we fly direct from Christchurch to Rotorua, we bypass (by about 150km) the active volcano (3 of them) area and the only other one is off-shore on White Island. If we had driven instead of flying, there would have been chances all along the road. I tried some of the souvenir shops and even called the Rotorua museum, but no luck.

Day 27, Friday, May 14 Rotorua
This morning, sightseeing begins with a visit to TE WHAKAREWAREWA, Rotorua's most prominent thermal area with New Zealand's largest geyser, boiling mud pools and silica terraces. Also arts and crafts, carving school, a Maori Village, and hot springs much like in Yellowstone. Continue to the AGRODOME to learn more about one of the country's major industries-sheep! Interesting show with audience participation in milking a cow, feeding baby lambs, etc. At the end, outside is a demonstration of how sheep dogs can control the sheep guided by whistles from the shepherd. Then onto RAINBOW SPRINGS, home to rainbow trout and the flightless kiwi bird in its nocturnal "Kiwi House." Lots of beautiful foliage, birds, etc. (and trout).

This evening we may wish to enjoy the hospitality of a New Zealand family at dinner in their home. Yes 4 of us take the option, and it's a very nice evening with a home-cooked dinner and conversation about life in and around Rotorua. Its not the outback evening etc, but nice. Back to the hotel about 9 since we have to get on the bus fairly early tomorrow for the drive to Auckland. (B, OD)

Dinner with a New Zealand Family: Tonight our hosts will collect us from our hotel and take us to their family home for the evening. We will enjoy a home-cooked three-course diner, and they will deliver us back to our hotel at the conclusion.

Day 28, Saturday, May 15 Rotorua - Waitomo - Auckland
Off at 7:30. Mike still has my cane, but that's not a problem. This morning travel north through miles and miles of bright green fields / pastures (not only sheep and cattle but red deer are in the fields) and dark green planted forests. Much of the forest is redwood similar to that in California, but it grows almost twice as fast here due to the (thermally) warm ground and lots of rainfall. In Waitomo we go to the famous WAITOMO GLOWWORM CAVES, which have attracted visitors for over 100 years. Experience a guided tour through the limestone chambers and passages to see stunning features. The basic caves are about the same as any other with stalactites and stalagmites formations. In the (semi-)illuminated part of the cave, it's almost impossible to see the glowworms. But at the end, a silent boat trip (the guide pulls us along by pulling on an overhead rope stretched out for that purpose) through the glowworm grotto as we glide quietly beneath the lights of thousands of glowworms suspended from the cave ceiling. The first big section immediately reminds me of the Milky Way as I've seen it in far west Texas. Absolutely stunning.

Finally into Auckland with time to walk around including another weekend crafts / flea-market in a square not far from the hotel. Supper is a stuffed baked potato from one of the market vendors. Many of the streets in Auckland are deceptively steep - they don't look that 'bad' but just try going up then at a fast pace … not for flat-landers from the Texas coast. I tried again for lava samples at souvenir shops and called another museum, but nothing seems to be available.

This evening consider a magnificent drive to the Waitakerie Ranges to sample a succulent spit roast lamb dinner accompanied by some of New Zealand's finest wines. (B, OD) Crowne Plaza (F) 2 nights

Devonport Explorer: Leave Return Harbor for the crossing to Devonport at approx. 5:45 PM. Board our motor coach for this historic tour including the summit of Mt. Victoria and a spectacular 360 degree panorama. Enjoy a buffet meal of seafood and local specialties at the Watermark Restaurant on the waterfront. Return approx 8:45 PM. NOT OFFERED.

Waitakeres Ranges and "Spit Roast" dinner: Drive to the Waitakere Range and follow its scenic drive for spectacular vistas of Auckland and the rugged West Coast. End at Soljans Winery for a tour to see how local wines are produced. Then enjoy an early Spit Roast lamb meal with salads and vegetables. Return approx. 8PM. NOT OFFERED - Ripped again.

Day 29, Sunday, May 16 Auckland
Begin our day sightseeing in this attractive city know as "City of Sails," situated on an isthmus between two magnificent Harbors-the Waistcoat and the Maculae. From the top of Mount Eden we have a stunning view of Auckland as well as Rangiest Island, the volcano cone which dominates the inner Harbor. Today's highlight is a visit to KELLY TAILBONE'S ANTARCTIC ENCOUNTER where we will see colonies of penguins playing in real ice and snow. We travel through the exhibit in a (fake) Snow-Cat. Then travel (walk) beneath the ocean to see a giant stingray and moray eels, and to come face to face with the awesome predators of the deep-sharks, only inches away. After lunch a unique opportunity to join an optional excursion to experience the thrill of sailing on a true yacht (no, not an 'America's Cup' yacht, but a nice 60 footer). The company has four of them; three go out with Asian guests; only one with English speakers. We go in and out of the immediate dock area under motor power, but raise the sails for most of the (harbor) cruise. All of us have a chance to take the wheel and steer the yacht. Nothing special about it, but a nice experience. We watch a couple of Bungee jumpers from the big bridge (known locally as the "Nippon Clip-on" since when the bridge was enlarged from 4 to 8 lanes, the Japanese company "clipped on" two lanes on each side of the existing structure. Tonight the Tour Director hosts a farewell dinner at Gee gee's to celebrate a great touring adventure.

Today (and tomorrow) are the best weather days we have in New Zealand. Why oh why couldn't we have had this weather down on the South Island! (B,D)

City of Sails Coffee Cruise: Sail on Auckland's Waistcoat Harbor aboard a spectacular yacht or catamaran fitted with large blue and white sails. Enjoy coffee while seeing the sights of this wonderful port city during the day. A trip to remember. Transfers to and from the wharf are NOT included but it's only about 10-15 minute walk from the hotel.

Day 30, Monday, May 17 Head Home
Today we waste a bunch of hours. The departure flights are not until late, and there's nothing scheduled for the day. We check out of the hotel at 2 for the short drive to the airport. We then catch not the first, but the third flight out to Los Angeles. We could have been away at least 2.5 hours earlier which would have made the day shorter. (Mike is released from the hospital in Rotorua at 4AM so he and Jennie can catch an early bus from Rotorua to Auckland. They go directly to the airport and arrive in time to take the flight home with us. (He will still be under treatment 3 - 4 weeks after getting home.) The homebound flights (23 and 24) departs for Los Angeles and eventually, Houston. Airport departure taxes in Auckland are covered by Globus.

From - ToCarrier #Local timesflightLayoverHouston times
Auckland-Los AngelesQantas #00255:55P-10:45A11:503:5512:55A-12:45 P
Los Angeles - HoustonContinental #14412:40P-7:55P3:15(19:00)4:40 P - 7:55 P

At least Qantas' caterer finally comes up with a decent number of menu meals so I'm 1 for 4 in that category. On the long flight, one of the movies is "Lord of the Rings - Return of the King" which I haven't seen yet. However since even with earphones, it's impossible to hear any of the dialogs over the airplane noise, I give up and don't watch it. Gain that day back when we re-cross the International Date Line.

In Los Angeles, there is a 4 hour layover (only part needed for customs, etc.) and again I watch earlier flights leave for Houston thus again making for a longer than necessary 'day.' 19 hours elapsed time from start to finish for the two flights. Four hours sitting around in the LA airport. #)($*#)!!

Finally home after a long May 17. It (5/17) started in Auckland at 6AM and ended in Houston at 10PM making this May 17 about 33 hours long (plus time in bed (but not sleeping) - 6 hours in Auckland and 2 in Houston - making it 41 hours long in total. (B, in-flight "meals")

Now back to the good ol' USA - that's Un-interrupted Sinus and Allergy problems. I guess I have to start a countdown to another trip to get away for that.

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

SydneyHot Air BalloonBunglesAyres Rock
Aborigine ArtLyttleton NZNew ZealandQueenstown
Added by request:
Great Barrier ReefYelloWaterKakadu
BATSOlgasAyres Rock
Ayres Rock"Taz"

General Comments:
Overall it's been a great trip - one I had been looking forward to for quite a while. I'm glad I chose the one I did since we got at least a quick sampling of many different areas and experiences. The 30 days made for a long trip which was occasionally very tiring. One advantage this time was the small number of people - we almost became 'just one big family.'

Australia was very interesting and well worth the trip, but I don't have the urge to go back immediately (quite a bit in part due to the long flights). New Zealand is another matter - and it's about a 3 hours shorter flight. Maybe there is a "New Zealand in Depth" trip somewhere in my future, particularly if it has lots of time in the "South Island.".

I'm sorry and very disappointed that so many of the options that I wanted to take were not offered, but at least that saved me a bunch of money. It was definitely worth the time and money for the longer trip. Comparing what we managed to see and what is covered on the 10-14 day trips … there is NO comparison. Go for the longer trip.

Travel by quite a variety of means:
Jet Airliner (8 different), Twin Prop Airliner (5 different), Single Engine Plane, Hot Air Balloon, Helicopter, "Ghan" Train, Camel, Semi-Submersible, Cruise Ship, Jet Boat, Harbor Boat, River Boat, Sea-Catamaran, Sailing Yacht, "row" boat, "fake" Sno-Cat, 4-wheel Drive, Bus/Coach, Taxi, Sky-Rail, Cog-Train, Local Bus, and of course, Foot

1 Apr 19-21 Sydney Four Points Sheraton (SF)
2 Apr 22-23 Cairns Tradewinds Esplanade (SF)
3 Apr 24 Darwin Saville Park Suites (F)
4 Apr 25 Kakadu Gagadju Crocodile Hotel (F)
5 Apr 26 Kununurra Mercure Inn (MF)
6 Apr 27-28 Broome Cable Beach Resort (SF)
7 Apr 29 Ayres Rock Sails in the Desert (SF)
8 Apr 30 Alice Springs Crowne Plaza (SF)
9 May 1 Ghan Train
10 May 2-3 Adelaide Hilton Adelaide (D)
11 May 4-5 Hobart Wrest Point (SF)
12 May 6-7 Melbourne Le Meridien Rialto (D)
13 May 8-9 Christchurch Crowne Plaza (SF)
14 May 10 Milford Sound Cruise
15 May 11-12 Queenstown Novotel Gardens (F)
16 May 13-14 Rotorura Royal Lakeside Novotel (F)
17 May 15-16 Auckland Crowne Plaza (F)

#From - ToCarrierTimesFlightPlane#Psngrcomment
1Houston-DallasAmerican6:00A - 7:011:01Super 80141.
2Dallas-Los AngelesAmerican8:00A - 9:18 3:18 Super 80141.
3Los Angeles-SydneyQantas1:00 P - 8:4514:45747-400432.
4Sydney-CairnsQantas12:35P - 3:453:10737-300239.
5CairnsHotAir6:35A - 7:120:37Balloon 16.
6Cairns - DarwinQantas6:40P - 8:402:30737-300239:30 time change
7Darwin - KunumaraAir North10:40A-10:251:15Embraer 241:30 change
8KunumaraAlligator Air6:00A - 8:152:15Cessna 207P+7.
9Kunumara - BroomeAir North10:40 - 12:351:55Embraer24.
10Broome - Ayres RockVincent Air8:00A - 12 N2:30Beech 1900D191:30 change
11Ayres RockScenic Air8:15A - 8:340:19Helicopter4.
12 Ayres Rock - Alice SpringsQ-Link9:30 - 10:250:55BAE 14687.
13 Alice SpringsOutback Balloon6:30A - 7:250:55Balloon16.
14Kangaroo Island - AdelaideEmu Air6:00 P - 6:250:25Beech 190019low cabin version
15Adelaide - MelbourneQantas12:05 - 1:501:15737-400150:30 time change
16Melbourne - HobartQantas3:15 - 4:251:10717-200117.
17Hobart - MelbourneQantas8:55A - 10:051:10717-200117.
18Melbourne - SydneyQantas9:00 - 10:201:20767-200 201.
19Sydney - ChristchurchQantas12 N - 4:55P2:55747-3004502 Hour change
20Christchurch - QueenstownAir New Zealand9:40A - 10:300:50737-300130.
21Queenstown - Christchurch Air New Zealand8:50 A - 9:551:05French ATR7266& weather delay
22Christchurch - RotoruaAir New Zealand11:40 - 1:251:45ATR7266.
23Auckland - Los AngelesQantas5:55P-11:50A11:50747-700432all this on one day
24Los Angeles - HoustonContinental2:40 - 7:553:15757-200183
.Total flying time:.62:25.