Friday, June 30, 2017


Our entry into New Zealand was at Christchurch, on the south island.  We taxied to our Airbnb as Uber showed no service at the airport.  More of the Uber/taxi wars...

We were right in the middle of the city.  I use the term "city" loosely.  More accurately, we were right in the middle of a sea of temporary fences, traffic cones, and parking lots.  70% of the city was damaged or razed by the earthquake seven years ago.  What's going on in Christchurch these days is construction.  Lots of it.  Dawn to dusk.  Every day.

Right in front of the entrance to our place, was start of a city tram tour.  Christchurch has a few historic, restored tram cars that operate on a loop through the city.  We hopped on and rode the loop.  There is quite a bit of the city that has been reconstructed with lots more underway or planned.  For all that wasn't there, there is still quite a bit going on and Christchurch is an enjoyable place to stay.

Tram tour

Brand new shops and offices

Old Brill tram rolls through the rebuilt city.

New construction everywhere

They used old 20' shipping containers for temporary shops while new, permanent ones were being constructed.

Tram rolls down street with shops anc cafes.
Lots of public art in the city, old and new.
WWI memorial.  WWI memorials are in nearly every city in New Zealand.

kinetic art
Art memorializing those who died in the earthquake

The one piece still in limbo is the huge Anglican Cathedral that is the heart of the city.

Building is mostly a loose collection of stones.  

After the tour and walking around the city for a while, we rented a car and headed out on a day trip to Akaroa, a small harbor town to the southeast of the city.  This was our first introduction to New Zealand driving.

New Zealand didn't spend a lot of money on highways.  They didn't need to.  There are only 4.5 million people in the country with less than a million on the south island.  Roads connect everywhere, but not much was spent on cuts and fills.  If a hill was is the way, the road just winds up one side and down the other.  They didn't waste money on bridges, either.  Nearly all the bridges in the rural parts of the south island are single lane.  The longer ones have small pullouts in the middle to allow meets between opposing vehicles.  The roads are generally narrow, with little or no shoulder.

Akaroa is a picturesque town on a bay off the Pacific Ocean.  We wandered along the waterfront, had a nice dinner and headed back to Christchurch, stopping for a bit of big, dark, star gazing.

On the road to Akaroa

Sheep being herded... this dog

Boathouse row?

Akaroa light

Akaroa harbor

The following day we headed in the other direction into the foothills town of Hanmer Springs.  It was a nice, mountain resort destination.  We did a quick hike through a forest filled with mostly non-native trees, had a tasty lunch, poked around a few shops, then headed back.

On the road to Hanmer Springs

One lane bridge

Along the trail on the hike

Forest hike

On the way, we hit two wineries for tastings.  One was a small mom and pop vineyard that started making wine almost as an afterthought.  We sipped some nice white wine while we chatted with the owner and made friends with her dog.  The second stop was a big-time winery.  We got a rather educational and targeted tasting and took off at dusk for Christchurch.

Good night, Christchurch!  You gave us a good taste of just how great New Zealand is.

Tomorrow, TransAlpine Express!

Friday, June 23, 2017


Cairns. The Australians pronounce it "Cans".  Wonder how they pronounce "cans." That's just plain wrong, but it's their city...

Cairns is a tourist town known best for it's Great Barrier Reef business.  There are dozens of charter companies that operate excursions to the reef.  The typical excursion takes you out in the morning, you visit several spots for snorkeling and/or diving, they feed you lunch, then return in time for dinner.

We took one of these excursion.  Patti and I went on a large catamaran and visited Michaelmas Cay, which had as small, island bird sanctuary.  We snorkeled from the beach. They also had a glass bottom boat which was great for hearing about what you were seeing.

Our ride to the reef

Beach shuttle craft

The boat had sails that added about one knot to it's top speed.

fish feeding

Fed fish

Glass bottomed boat

Scenes from glass bottom boat
brain coral


giant clam
Above the water:
Bird sanctuary on the cay


birds come.  birds go.

Brown booby says: "What you lookin' at!?"
Dan took a tour on a smaller boat that went a bit farther out and visited three spots where he snorkeled off the back of the boat.  He also rented a camera.  Good move! you will shortly see.  I did not rent a camera.  A good move for me.  Flippers, mask and snorkel are about one to many things for me to manage.  Add in a camera, and I'd have drowned or been impaled on the coral.

Dan's ride to the reef

Dan's underwater pictures:

After our day on the reef, we went back to a "restaurant" on the pier.  Actually, it was on a fishing boat.  "Prawn star" was it's name/  Really.  We had prawns (shrimp) and bugs (mud crabs)....and beer...and wine.  It was great!

Tucked up in the mountains just beyond Cairns is the town of Kuranda and a large rain forest.  There are three ways to get there.  The Kuranda Skyrail Cable Car, the Kuranda Scenic Railroad and a bus.  We chose....wait for it... the Kuranda Scenic Railroad. (surprise!)  The railroad was built in the late 1800s using 3' 6" Cape Gauge, the standard for Queensland - more Australian railroad gauge follies.

The train, which uses some ancient, nicely restored coaches and locomotives originally built for Brisbane commuter service, wind up through several tunnels, over bridges and by a large waterfall, and finally a stop at a deep gorge before arriving at Kuranda.  The ride was accompanied by a narrative and pamphlet that explained the history and sights along the way.

In Cairns station, ready to go.

Yup.  Kuranda Scenic Railway.

Looking out toward Coral Sea

Barron Falls

Arrived at Kuranda

Kuranda itself was a small town with lots of tourist attractions and shops.  We visited the Kuranda Koala gardens where you can hold a Koala.  They also had Kangaroos and Wallabys you could hand feed and some other native animals on display.

(koala gardens pix)

Water Dragon


Kangaroo (on left)

Wallaby (also on left)

It's impolite to stare, you know.

Sleepy wombat

We also too a short river tours that explained the significance of the rain forest.

Turtle that will shortly fall off the log

Fresh water croc

We caught a bus back to town, got packed, and then got up at ridiculous-o'clock to catch our flight to Christchurch, NZ, via Brisbane.

See ya, Australia!

New Zealand, here we come!