Saturday 9 November, 2002
Melbourne to Christchurch (Melbourne - 13 degrees, overcast)
Our holiday began this morning at 3:30 a.m. All we had to do was throw on some clothes and get our things together so that we were ready to go as soon as our taxi arrived at 4:00 a.m. Ross and I took our luggage that we had packed yesterday afternoon, said goodbye to Mum, and then left for the airport to catch our flight to Christchurch on New Zealand's South Island.
The ride out to the airport took 25 minutes. The streets on the way from Greensborough to the Western Ring Road were deserted except for a few cars, and there was little traffic on the Western Ring Road, so we had a very good run out to Tullamarine.
We had checked in our luggage at the Qantas Terminal, and received our boarding passes by 4:50 am. As I write this, it is 5:35 am, and we have another 50 minutes before our flight leaves. I noticed many other passengers in the departure area, looking very bleary eyed. Many people tried to catch up on lost sleep while they were waiting to board their flights.
Despite the early start this morning, and the stress of the past week of preparing for this trip while also buying my car, having to arrange insurance, then picking up my car from the dealer yesterday, I'm feeling well rested and looking forward to starting the trip.
3:35 p.m., Pacific Park Hotel, Christchurch
The flight from Melbourne to Christchurch took almost three hours. During the flight, we were served a breakfast of a potato and egg pattie, a croissant, orange juice and a small tub of yoghurt. There was not a lot to do on the plane, so after breakfast, I kept myself amused with the in fight entertainment system.
We were all given a set of headphones to listen to a selection of different radio programs. I chose a comedy station, mainly to hear one of my favourite comedians, Ben Elton. The routine was about freeway systems in Great Britain. I had heard this before, because it was from a cassette tape of the television show, The Man from Aunty that I have at home.
When this finished, I watched an episode of Kath and Kim, which was being shown on the plane for all the passengers to watch.
There has been a lot of warning about a condition called DVT (deep vein thrombosis) lately for people on long plane flights who sit for long periods without moving from their seats.
I followed the suggestions in the in flight magazines and did some leg stretches while in my seat, and rotated my ankles and head. I got up for a walk around every so often, because the seats weren't very comfortable to sit in for long periods.
The flight landed in Christchurch roughly four hours later. We collected our luggage, caught a bus into the centre of Christchurch, and walked through the city to our hotel.
I noticed a lot of people out shopping, so on first impressions, Saturday afternoons in Christchurch seemed a lot like in Melbourne. I noticed a cricket match going on. I have to say that I did not have as strong a sense of being in a foreign country, as I did the night I arrived in Malaysia three years ago.
According to the travel books, Christchurch has a strong English influence in its architecture and gardens. There were more English style trees and plants around the city instead of natives. I noticed a lot of old buildings had been constructed out of stone.
There is a river flowing through the centre of the city called the Avon, and this is named after the Avon River in Scotland. Many willow trees had been planted along the riverbank.
I suppose the English people who founded this city strived to make it feel as much like their old country as possible, as it looked very European, at least from what I had seen of Europe in magazines and on travel shows on television.
People were travelling along the river in gondolas like those used in European cities. I will write more later on, after we've gone to get something to eat, and met some of the other people in the tour group.
There was a service station and convenience store across the road, so Ross and I went there and bought a muffin and a drink each. The shop assistant knew that we were both Australians right away, and he asked us whom we followed in rugby? I explained that we were from Melbourne, and so follow Australian Rules football instead.
At teatime, we went to the bar room at Outlaws, the restaurant adjoining the hotel where we are staying for the night. The tour director and the coach driver introduced themselves, then briefed the tour group about our departure in the morning.
There are about 40 people on the tour. Though I haven't spoken to anyone else in the tour group yet, there seems to be a mix of different nationalities from around the world that have come to do the tour.
We didn't feel like walking all the way back into the city for our tea, so Ross and I had tea at Outlaws, which could be described as New Zealand's answer to Lone Star Steakhouse, the Wild West themed restaurant chain that was popular in Australia for a few years. The waiters and waitresses were dressed in cowboy outfits, and the interior of the restaurant was decorated like a saloon bar from a western movie.
There was a stage in the restaurant, and the waiting staff got up to do some boot scooting dancing.
That was our first day in New Zealand. After the early start today, Ross and I were very tired. We did get the chance to sample some New Zealand in our hotel room. We came across a Christian channel that the hotel owners must subscribe to, because we could not find it listed in the television guide in our room. We saw a drama program, and music show where the host was interviewing the Christian singer, Cece Winans.
After watching this for a while, we both went to bed early to be fresh for the start of the tour.
Sunday 10 November, 2002
Christchurch to Lake Ohau
The tour began at 8:30 a.m. this morning. First, the coach took us into the centre of Christchurch. This gave us a good opportunity to look around and explore some of the landmarks in the city.
Ross and I visited Christchurch Cathedral, in a part of Christchurch called Cathedral Square. The church was beautiful, and though it was Sunday morning, we were able to go inside the chapel for a look around. I really like being able to appreciate the amount of work that went into constructing these old churches.
Near the church across Cathedral Square was a memorial arch erected as a monument to New Zealanders who had died in World War One. By then we did not have much time to do much else, so I headed over to the local Bureau De Change to cash in some of my traveller's cheques. We then returned to the coach for the two and half hour drive from Christchurch to a small town called Geraldine.
To start off the tour, Helen, the tour director, played the song Hooked on a feeling. The drive seemed long after the flight yesterday, and it was hard to be confined to a seat for a long time. I found that I was able to overcome the boredom of a long coach trip by looking out at the scenery. There were lots of snow capped mountains to look at, which to me was great because I never get to see mountains like that at home.
We soon arrived at Geraldine, and we were there for half an hour. We had lunch at a small bakery.
Geraldine reminded me of country towns in Victoria that I had visited. Geraldine had one main street of shops, and the surrounding land consisted of farmland. One thing that I noticed on the journey today, was how open and sparsely populated the New Zealand countryside is.
After a few more hours, the next stop was at Lake Tekapo. The lake is famous for its blue colour, which is caused by rock fragments being eroded from the mountains as snow melts each year during the warmer months. The lake was very impressive to look at, though it did get very windy outside, and I was wary of being knocked over by the wind as I walked around.
On the banks of Lake Tekapo, there is a small interdenominational church, called the Church of the Good Shepherd. Inside the chapel, there were two rows of pews and a lectern at the front with a large window behind it. The window looks out onto the lake, and the view from the church was just as impressive as outside, if only because it reminded me of who created the lake in the first place.
Outside, one of our travelling companions kindly took a picture of Ross and I with Lake Tekapo and the mountains as a backdrop.
We are now in our accommodation for the night, the Lake Ohau Lodge. The lodge sits beside the lake, and had a nice view of the Southern Alps. Again, because of the snow, and seeing the way that the sunlight shone on the mountaintops, I loved the scenery. I would have liked to spend some time outside just enjoying the view, but it was getting very dark and cold by the time we had unpacked and got ourselves organised for tea. Ross went for a walk around the lake, but I decided to stay inside and keep warm.
We all had tea together in a dining room at the lodge. The tour director gave us an activity to do. All our names were written on pieces of paper and put into a hat. We then had to pull a name out of the hat, and then find that person in the tour group. Once we found out who they were, we had to interview them to get some facts about themselves.
There were some optional questions to ask, such as whether we had ever met anyone famous. Obviously, the tour director thought that she could liven up this activity. She suggested that if we had not met any celebrities, we could sing a song, tell a joke, or relate an anecdote to do with our love life.
The person I interviewed, once I asked around the tour group and found out who he was, was named Chris Morway. He was from Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States, and is currently studying Computer Science in Perth on an exchange trip.
I asked him if he had ever had any encounters with celebrities in Perth or back in the United States. He told me that he had once been in the same bar as the pop group/ boy band, N' Sync. Chris made it clear to me that he wasn't a fan of them, though.
After tea, I did feel like I had not much in common with the others in the tour group. Many of them were sitting around, drinking and smoking. I suppose because I have never been out to pubs for drinks with friends, I felt unsure about whom I should talk to, or what I should talk about. I didn't want to go interrupting anyone's conversations.
After sitting by myself watching television for a while, I got up to go back to our room. I ran into one of the other people in our tour group, and we started chatting.
Her name was Rochelle, and was from Sydney. On first impressions, she seemed genuinely friendly. I told her how I had felt about the night, even though it was only the first night of the tour, and most of us probably barely knew each other.
Her advice to me, was that I didn't have to go putting on an act, or doing things that were out of character for me like drinking, just to fit in and get others to like me. I thanked her for taking the time to chat, and we both wished each other a good night as we both headed back to our rooms.
Monday 11 November 2002
Lake Ohau Lodge to Milford Sound, Fjordland National Park
Sunny, rainy and snow
We left the Lake Ohau Lodge this morning at 7:30, and tonight as I write this, I am on board a boat cruising through Milford Sound, in New Zealand's Fjordland National Park.
The drive here was very scenic, with more views of the Southern Alps, So far, I don't think I have got tired of seeing so many mountains.
Today was Remembrance Day, so I made sure that I observed the traditional minute's silence at 11:00 A.M. this morning. The coach wasn't that noisy, so it wasn't too difficult to remember to do this.
After lunch at a town called Te Anau, we entered the Fjordland National Park. I was glad that as we entered the park, Amos, the coach driver stopped to let us go outside and take pictures. The remainder of the journey too the rest of the afternoon, and included a ride through the Homer Tunnel. The Homer Tunnel is one kilometre long, and had been dug through the Southern Alps. I don't recall all the figures, but it was a real feat of engineering in its day.
There had been some rain today, so we saw many tiny water falls flowing down the sides of the mountain roads that we drove along today.
On the way, each of us got up in front of the coach to report to the rest of the tour group about the person we had interviewed last night. I talked briefly about Chris, and then told everyone about the time I had got to meet the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, when he had visited Plenty Valley FM. Some of the tour group laughed when I mentioned his name, but I didn't get the chance to find out why they found this so funny. I'm sure most of the people in the tour group knew who John Howard is.
When it was Ross' turn to speak, he sang the Geelong Football Club theme song. I know people in other countries can get passionate about their sport as Australians do, but I'm not sure how people reacted to this.
We boarded the boat we are on now, the Milford Wanderer, just after 5.00 p.m. We are spending the night here, but thankfully, the waters here are calm, so sleeping won't be too difficult.
Before it got too dark outside, the Wanderer cruised around to some of the different landmarks at different locations throughout the Milford Sound area. It was quite cold outside, but I made the effort to dress warmly and go out onto the deck for a better look.
The landscape was incredible, with mountains and steep rock faces rising up out of the water. This certainly reminded me that I was in another country, as Australia has no scenery to compare to this.
I took a photo of the famous Mitre Peak. Though I'm not completely sure it was used in the film, it did remind me of the fjords seen in Fellowship of the Ring, which was filmed around New Zealand, and directed by Peter Jackson.
For the rest of the night, we ate tea, and I joined in some card games with some of our touring companions. After a few turns, I did get the idea of what I was supposed to do, and I started to enjoy myself.
Tuesday 12 November, 2002
Milford Sound to Queenstown
Some cloud, moderate temperature
We slept in a cabin below deck last night. Ross and I shared a four person cubicle that had two bunk beds. Bunks never seem to be designed for tall people like us. I had to curl up instead of being stretched out laying flat on my back as I am used to sleeping at home,
During the night, if you needed to use the toilet, you had to dress warmly in a coat, and climb back upstairs to the main deck, and then go outside to the front end of the boat. This was a minor inconvenience, but it was only for one night, and I did manage to get a good sleep.
The morning began with a cooked breakfast served on board the Milford Wanderer. We ate this as the boat continued around Milford Sound, It was nice to be able to eat a cooked meal for breakfast, as I had been having muffins and drinks of 'Up 'n Go' for the past few days. A large meal for breakfast was just what I needed to get my energy levels back up.
The morning was quite chilly, so I didn't spend too much time out on the deck. I had taken enough photos the night before, so I was happy to enjoy the scenery from inside.
By 9:30, the Wanderer returned to the dock where our cruise had started off last night, and we all hurried back to get onto the coach. After a few hours' drive back out of the Fjordland National Park, we came to Arrowtown, just outside of Queenstown. Arrowtown has a history as being a gold mining centre in the nineteenth century. There had been a gold rush there in 1862. Walking around, we explored a main street of historic buildings housing cafes and various craft and souvenir shops.
The tour director told us that the Arrow River, which flows beside Arrowtown, was used in one of the scenes in the film, Fellowship of the Ring. In the scene, Arwen the elf princess is being pursued on horseback by the Ringwraiths. It was exciting to see this place for myself.
Because Ross and I loved that film so much, we had to walk down, look at the river and take photographs. The water level was quite low, and the terrain very rocky, so I had to be very careful where I stepped in case I tripped over something.
Before we arrived in Queenstown, we stopped at the Kararau Bridge, which is famous as a site for bungy jumping. Bungy jumping didn't originate in New Zealand, but I think it was popularized here by a man named A.J. Hackett in the mid to late 1980s.
Helen, the tour director had received the video as a souvenir when she had bungy jumped off the Kararau Bridge a few years ago. The video also showed her bungy jump. The audio quality of the video was poor, because there had been a gentle breeze the day Helen had done her bungy jump, and this affected the sound when the video was shot. I did make out her scream and yell a few words that I won't repeat in this diary.
Some of the more adventurous members of the tour group decided to bungy jump. The people running this were very responsible. There was one attendant looking after people on the bridge before they did their jump. Two others were down on the river below waiting in a dingy to help people out of the ankle harness that that bungy rope was attached to and safely into the dingy. Each jumper was given a safety harness to wear, and the bungy ropes are checked constantly for wear before each jump is done.
There was a viewing platform opposite the bridge. The rest of us stood there to watch the others as each of them completed their jump. Each jump had a routine. People positioned themselves on the platform after they had been strapped into the harness and had the bungy cord attached to their ankles.
They then prepared to jump by assuming a diving like position. The attendants counted down "10, 9, 8,7, 6, 5, 4…3…2,1…bungy!!"
Most of them screamed as soon as they felt the sensation of how fast they were falling. They calmed down as they reached the bottom, then screamed again as the elastic in the bungy rope caused them to spring back upwards before the tension in it loosened, and the rope swung them around several times until the attendants in the dingy below grabbed them.
They then helped them out of the harness, and used the dinghy to get the jumper back to the riverbank to walk back upstairs.
Our journey continued and we soon arrived at our accommodation for the next few days, the Queenstown Lodge. This was a good chance to relax by catching up on some Bible reading, and I also took a hot shower, which was just what I needed after the night before to relax some stiff muscles.
After a few hours in the Queenstown Lodge, we all went to tea at the Skyline Restaurant, which sits on Ben Lomond, a steep mountain that overlooks Queenstown. To get to the restaurant, we rode in a gondola from the base of the mountain up to the Skyline Tower, and made our way up to the restaurant there.
In the restaurant, we enjoyed a buffet tea. There were a lot of things to choose from. I had some chicken, fish, and a selection of salads and vegetables. I don't know what the fish was, but it did taste delicious. We then relaxed with some drinks in the bar.
We then took the gondola back down the mountain, and headed into Queenstown to experience some of the nightlife that, according to the Contiki itinerary and the Let's Go book we have, Queenstown is famous for having.
We all ended up in a nightclub called The World, situated on Shotover Street. The area around the dance floor was too crowded and noisy, especially with the constant repetitive beats of the dance music that was playing, so I went downstairs to the billiards area. After a few hours, Ross and I caught a taxi back to the lodge, and went to bed.
I don't like admitting this, but the reason why I wanted to leave was because all I could do at the nightclub was sit and watch, doing nothing, while everyone else there enjoyed themselves. Because I couldn't join in, I did feel very left out.
I did want to make the effort to be friendly with people, but in a nightclub, I just didn't feel comfortable doing this. Though I don't drink and I can't dance, I hope that I can find some other ways to get to know everyone, but I accept that it will take some effort.
Wednesday 13 November 2002
Sunny and warm
After the late night last night, we slept in late this morning. After breakfast, which was a buffet in the dining area at the lodge, Ross and I did some laundry and caught up on the quiet times we had missed during our night on Milford Sound. By the time we had finished all this, most of the morning was gone.
We walked down to town from the lodge, which took us about thirty minutes. For lunch, we ate at a food court in the local shopping centre. We then had a browse around at some of the souvenir shops, and went off for a walk around Beach Street past Queenstown's waterfront area to some gardens and parklands on the bank of Lake Wakatipu. This was a relaxing way to spend the afternoon after the constant pace of the past few days.
On our way back to the Lodge, we stopped at Queenstown's Hard Rock Café to browse at the merchandise store. We had wanted to buy some souvenirs, but decided that what was on offer, the usual range of clothing embossed with the Hard Rock Café logo, was too expensive. Sure, I had bought a Hard Rock Café T-shirt at Niagara Falls three years ago, but I decided that I didn't want to spend so much money this time.
After tea, we climbed back up the hill to the Queenstown Lodge, but not before I exchanged some of my traveller's cheques to pay for my electives on the tour. Tomorrow, I'm going on a jet boat ride, which I'm looking forward to a lot.
I spent some time in the lounge area of the lodge watching television. There was some local music show on, hosted by a man and a woman who looked as if they had been taken straight off the cover of Smash Hits, and they spoke and behaved like the hosts of FM radio shows aimed at high schoolers.
In a few days, I hope to take a helicopter flight over Fox Glacier. Though this will be expensive, I figure that I may as well take the opportunity, because I don't know when I will return to New Zealand. As I am on holiday, I want to try new things.
Thursday 14 November, 2002
Queenstown, New Zealand
Warm and sunny
The day began when a group of us caught a shuttle bus, which runs from the Queenstown Lodge into town. First, Ivana, a German woman from the tour group who was also doing the jet boat ride this afternoon, went to The Station, the centre which operates the jet boat rides, to confirm our booking. I joined a few of the others in the tour group to go back to the Skyline Tower where we had visited a few nights ago.
The views of the town and the lake area were impressive in daylight so coming back to the tower was worth the effort. Just as I did visiting Yosemite National Park and Niagara Falls three years ago, I found the views breathtaking as I looked at the Remarkables, the mountain range that borders Queenstown, in the distance from the observation deck.
After this, Ivana and I went back into town to catch our bus for the jet boat ride on the Shotover River, which is forty five minutes drive from Queenstown.
On the way, the driver talked about the history of jet boating, and he also pointed out some locations that had been used in some films and television commercials. One was a paddock where an Australian commercial for Milka chocolate had been shot. The New Zealand Mountains were used as a substitute for the Swiss Alps,
We had pointed out to us the mountains that were used for the Himalayas in the Chris O' Donnell film, Vertical Limit, and the forest used in the film, Fellowship of the Ring, where Boromir is killed by the Uruk- Hai. This forest was actually at the back of some private farmland.
Before we got to the boat, we had to 'tramp' ( the New Zealand term for hiking) for another fifteen minutes through the bush. We soon arrived at the Shotover River. When we got to the boat, we were each given a spray jacket and life jacket to wear.
The jet boat took in some beautiful scenery along the Shotover River as we sped through the canyons. The water was calm, and the afternoon sun really helped me to admire the surroundings. Along the way, the driver stopped so we could take some pictures.
The driver also showed off in order to demonstrate just how maneuverable jet boats are. He took a lot of tight turns around rocks and sandbars, and executed a few spins by turning the steering wheel hard left and right. I was sitting near the front, so I didn't get sprayed as much as the others did.
The ride was fast, and I found it pretty exciting. I felt glad that after hearing stories from other people, I finally got to experience jet boating for myself. Though the ride was fast, it was not so quick that I could not appreciate the beauty of the scenery around us.
On the ride back to Queenstown, I spoke to some of the other people who had done the jet boat ride this afternoon. There was a nice Scottish couple. We spoke about New Zealand, and I told them that I would be touring the country for ten more days. They said that they thought New Zealand had nicer scenery than Scotland. I told them about my own Scottish ancestry, and that I wanted to visit Scotland one day.
Before coming to New Zealand, they had been to Australia and visited a beach in Woolongong. As I got off the bus, they said goodbye to me and told me to enjoy the rest of my holiday.
After I met Ross, we walked back to the Queenstown Lodge to have our tea. The restaurant had a special for us tonight of large pizzas for $8.00 NZ each. We found that four slices each was quite enough for an evening meal.
Queenstown is a nice place and I have enjoyed our time here, especially the jet boat ride, and having the opportunity just to wander around and experience something of life here.
Tomorrow we will have another early start as we head out to Fox Glacier for an overnight stay.
Friday 15 November, 2002
Queenstown to Fox Glacier
We left Queenstown early this morning, boarding our coach just before 7:30 a.m.
Again, Helen played the song Hooked on a feeling to start off our journey. There was little traffic on the roads, so the drive out to Fox Glacier, though long, seemed leisurely.
The ride took in some more farmland, glacial lakes and native forests. We experienced one of several 'kiwi traffic jams', where farmers herded their sheep across the road from one paddock to another. This held up the traffic in both directions as drivers waited for the sheep. We stopped to take pictures of a waterfall and a lookout on the westernmost point of the South Island that has views of the Tasman Sea.
For morning tea, we stopped at the town of Kawarau Gorge. Again, it has been interesting to see that though there are signs of civilization everywhere, the South Island is sparsely populated. Just like most of the towns we have been through in the past five days, Kawarau Gorge has a main street with some shops and a café, a service station and church. The only difference was that there was no pub here.
Early in the afternoon, we arrived in the town of Fox Glacier and unpacked our bags.
I had booked to go on a helicopter flight that would have taken me up to the glacier, and landed there so that I could take some pictures and walk around. This was cancelled because of the rain and heavy cloud cover in the area. This made flying too dangerous. I am a little disappointed about not being able to see the Fox Glacier, but it means I will be able to save my money to do other things in the second week of the tour on the North Island.
Ross has gone on a three-hour hike to Fox Glacier with some of the others in the tour group. I hope that he gets the chance to take some good photographs up there.
To pass the time, I grabbed a sandwich at a café across the road from our accommodation, prayed, and caught up with my Bible reading. I started to write this diary entry.
Ross arrived back at our hotel at around 5:30. He enjoyed the experience of 'tramping' on the glacier. The hikers had special spikes, called 'crampons' fitted to their shoes to help them grip onto the ice. You had to walk on the ice pushing forwards with the ball of your foot so that the crampon would stick into the ice. He said that though it was tiring, and you had to careful walking on the ice, he was glad that he went on the hike. I will look forward to seeing the photos he took of the walk after we get home.
For tea tonight, the hotel provided us with a buffet. I got to talk again with Rochelle, and Amos, our coach driver. When I told Amos where Ross and I were from, he told me that he knew the Greensborough area well, as he has worked in Melbourne for the National Bus Company. He had driven the Heidelberg to Box Hill and Box Hill to Greensborough routes, and also done some school routes.
Remembering what the school bus was like when I was at school, I asked Amos if he had ever had to yell at kids to behave themselves? Amos told us that the school students he had as passengers were well behaved, and he had got along well with them.
After tea, I joined in with some of the others for a game of the card game, Uno. Some had never played this game before. Though I hadn't played Uno for a few years, my old tactics still worked. This was a good way to pass the time, because before I knew it, it was 10:30 and I headed off to bed.
Saturday 16 November, 2002
Fox Glacier to Christchurch
Cloudy and rainy
We got up at ten to six this morning for an extremely early breakfast and after this set out for the return journey to Christchurch. The breakfast was a buffet of cereal, toast, fruit and fruit juice.
On the way back to Christchurch, we headed north of Fox Glacier to a town called Hokitika. We stopped at Hokitika to visit a jade greenstone shop. The jade industry is active in the Hokitika region, and from the displays we saw a variety of objects that greenstone is used to make. Some of the carvings are worn as necklaces.
One of the carvings had the same design as the Maori doorknocker on our front door at home. From the brochure I picked up to find out more about these symbols, it is called 'Manaia'. In Maori folklore, 'Manaia' represents the balance between the earth, sky and sea, and is supposed to protect against evil.
On our way to our next stop, Helen, the tour leader ran a quiz. She played snippets of well-known songs, and in teams, we had to name the movies that the songs had been used in. I'm not saying this to boast, but the group that Ross and I were in won this quiz. I guess this goes to show how much we both enjoy trivia contests.
As the bus travelled along through the Southern Alps to the town of Arthur's Pass, we watched a video of the film, Shrek. Shortly after the video ended, we arrived back in the outskirts of Christchurch.
Earlier in the week the tour group had a photo taken in Queenstown with the Southern Alps as a backdrop. Those who had ordered a photo received them today. They turned out well, and will make a good souvenir when we get home.
Tonight we had a farewell dinner at Outlaws for the people who aren't doing the second week of the tour. I have to be negative in my appraisal of Outlaws. I had their potato wedges for a meal last Saturday night, but tonight we were supposed to have a three-course meal and complimentary drinks.
In the end, we were all asked to leave after we had finished our meals instead of staying for the endless soft drinks we had paid for.
The entertainment this evening was some country music provided by an in-house band (I didn't realize that New Zealand had a thriving country music scene!), and some children who were having their birthday parties were invited up on stage to have a boot scooting contest.
A few of us felt that we had not got our money's worth, but then some of us thought that Outlaws was tacky, and that our hotel, even for budget accommodation, was not very nice. Helen and Amos have taken our feedback, and told us that they will pass on our feedback to their boss.
After heading back to our room, we watched more of the Christian channel we had come across a week ago. Apart from the shows, we saw an ad for a large Pentecostal church here in Christchurch. From the look of the advertisement, the church seemed to have a contemporary worship style with lots of modern music and singing. It seemed a lot like the Hills Christian Life Centre in Sydney.
Remembering that we had to leave very early tomorrow, we headed off to bed.
Sunday 17 November, 2002
Christchurch to Wellington via Marlborough Sound and Cook Strait
As I write this, the time is 11:39 in the morning, and I'm sitting in the ferry, which is named the Aoteearoa. Today was yet another early morning. The coach had to leave Christchurch at 5:45 a.m. this morning in order to reach our ferry that we had to catch from the town of Picton.
This morning we had a pleasant trip along the coast of the South Island, and there were some interesting stops along the way. First, we stopped at a fishing village called Kaikoura. There was time for a toilet break and to take photos. Kaikoura sits on the East Coast of the South Island, and is on the Pacific Ocean.
Further along the coast we stopped to view some seals resting on some rocks. They had been hunting for food the night before.
After a few more hours, we reached Picton, and boarded the ferry for the trip to the North Island, and Wellington, the capital of New Zealand.
Helen told us that geographically, Marlborough Sound and Cook Strait are similar to Sounds in the province of British Columbia in Canada.
As for the journey, the sea was rough, the boat kept rocking and this was when I started to have some problems. Many other passengers and I started to suffer motion sickness. Without being too explicit, but after feeling nauseous for over an hour, I vomited. Luckily, some of the staff on board saw that I wasn't feeling too well, and provided me with a paper bag to throw up into. This did make me feel a little better, but all over the rest of the ship, I could hear the sounds of other people being sick, too. Ross came and checked on me, and I told him that I never wanted to go on another boat again. I felt like I wanted to go home.
Helen and Amos came and checked on me to make sure I was okay. Helen asked me, "How are you going, Ralph?"
I asked her, "Why are you calling me Ralph?"
'Because you've been sea sick, you've had a Ralph." Helen replied.
'Oh right. Is that some New Zealand expression that no one else in the world has heard of?"
I wasn't in the mood for joking around, but we both laughed. She told me that many people had experienced seasickness on the ferry trip when the seas were rough.
I got Ross to go to the ferry's cafeteria, and he bought me a bottle of ginger beer for me to drink and help settle my stomach.
Fortunately, by the time the ferry was in sight of Wellington, the sea had calmed down, and I felt a lot better. I was very relieved when the ferry berthed at the Wellington terminal, and we all got off and headed back for the coach.
Back on the coach, we were driven around Wellington to familiarize ourselves with the sights. Among the landmarks we passed were the New Zealand Houses of Parliament, and Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand. Ross and I plan to visit these places tomorrow.
We were taken to a park on Mount Victoria, which overlooks Wellington, and has views of the entire city and the Harbour below. Helen told us that Wellington has been compared to San Francisco. The weatherboard homes we saw did remind me of the Edwardian houses I had seen in San Francisco three years earlier.
Like San Francisco, Wellington also has earthquakes, and a cable tram that operates on tourist routes.
Once we had checked into our hotel and unpacked, Ross and I went for a walk through Wellington to find an ATM. There were some people around doing some shopping, and some traffic, but the city seemed quiet, even for a weekend. I'll write more tomorrow.
Monday 18 November, 2002
Wellington, New Zealand
Windy and overcast
Our day in New Zealand's Federal Capital began when we had to some laundry. Thankfully, this did not take all morning, and we soon set out for our day in the city. We headed down to the waterfront area to do some sightseeing.
The traffic today in Wellington was busy, which I guess was normal for a Monday morning in a city. The part of the city we walked through was hilly, with lots of one way streets. Again, this reminded me of what I had seen of San Francisco. We took a few photos around the waterfront, and then made our way down the street to Te Papa (Maori for 'Our House'), the Museum of New Zealand.
Te Papa housed a collection of exhibits and displays all about New Zealand, the land, animals, its people and the country's history. I thought that everything there was presented very imaginatively.
Among the exhibits was one about earthquakes. Video and graphic displays explained how earthquakes are caused. The main feature of this exhibit was an 'earthquake house'.
The house shakes to simulate what happens when an earthquake occurs.
Apparently Wellington experiences lots of small tremors every year. I went inside the earthquake house when it shook. The effect was a mild rumble. There were bars to hang on for safety. I was glad that it was nothing more than this, especially after my bout of seasickness yesterday.
We looked at a display chronicling the history of immigration in New Zealand. Apart from Maoris who trace their origins from Polynesian people, the exhibitions looked at the influence European settlers have had on New Zealand. It was interesting to learn that since the 1950s, New Zealand has had immigration from the Middle East, and parts of Africa and Asia.
Another display looked at he history of New Zealand's music industry. It featured groups such as Split Enz, Dragon and Crowded House that had international success. The exhibit mentioned Dave Dobbyn (Slice of Heaven) and Shona Laing (Glad I'm not a Kennedy) who both had hit songs in Australia in the late 1980s. Though in Australia, both were considered to be 'one hit wonders', they are still working in the music industry in New Zealand.
Next, we made our way to New Zealand's Parliament House. Then, we went on a tour of the building. During the tour, the guide told us about New Zealand's system of government. New Zealand only has one house where legislation is debated, the House of Representatives. Instead of a Senate, New Zealand has committees to amend and review legislation.
That was our day in Wellington. We spent the night eating Kentucky Fried Chicken for tea, and we watched television. There was the news, which did include some stories on events at home. We got to watch an Australian news bulletin. After the news was a local soap, Shortland Street, and an episode of a sitcom we both enjoy, That 70s Show.
Ross and I wanted to some socializing instead of spending the rest of the night in our room. We went out to a restaurant here in Wellington for drinks. After last week, I wasn't sure how this would go, but now that half the group who were on the tour have gone home, it made having conversations a lot easier.
One of the people I spoke to was named John. As I found out last week, his nickname is 'Smoothy'. I can only assume this comes from having a reputation as being a lady's man, not that I have seen him in action during this tour.
He seemed to have a bit of a wild streak, judging from his loud voice I could hear at the back of the tour bus. All I had seen of this has been the number of late nights out drinking with some of the others he has had. John does seem to be a friendly person, once I made the effort to see past his wild, party boy antics.
Tomorrow we head out to Lake Taupo, site of New Zealand's largest lake
Tuesday 19 November, 2002
Wellington to Lake Taupo
We left Wellington this morning at 7:45, and after a few hours' drive, we arrived at Lake Taupo, where we are now.
On the way here, we went along the coast, and stopped at a town called Flat Hills, which, Helen explained to us, is a dairy farming area. Funnily enough Flat Hills turned out to be very hilly, and this made me wonder just how this area got its name.
After we left Flat Hills, we came to the Tongariro National Park. The park itself was hilly in some places, and flat in others. The only vegetation there was some native grass. Tongariro National Park is a desert, though it has no sand.
The coach stopped in the centre of the town of Lake Taupo before we were taken to where we were staying. Ross and I had lunch in the local Subway store and then wandered around the shops for a while before it was time to go back to the coach. Back at our hotel, I wrote a diary entry, and took a nap to recharge after this morning's early start. Ross went off for a walk around the lake.
When I woke up, I had to get ready for tonight's outing. The tour group went for a cruise around Lake Taupo. The boat we sailed on was called a launch.
Some of us tried our hand at trout fishing, and one of them caught a trout, which was cooked and served with our meal tonight.
The food on offer was a selection of different salads, served with the trout, and some chicken. I had never tasted rainbow trout before, and it did have a nice flavour.
The highlight of tonight was after the meal, because there was some karaoke singing. Most of us were keen to do this, and weren't apprehensive about getting up in front of each other to sing. Those who did sing really got into it, and though no one could sing perfectly in tune, they did have fun with the songs.
After my success with Hard Day's Night on the Easter Camp I went on last year, I got up by myself to do Hey Jude. The video clip accompanying this song was not as cheesy as the Hard Day's Night clip, so I was able to get through the song without cracking up laughing.
Apart from growing up in church where people sing every week, I think that all the radio shows I have done has really helped me to control my voice, even when I am feeling nervous.
Later, when the night ended, Helen and Amos complemented me on what a good job they thought I had done with the karaoke.
For me though, I hope that it showed the others in the tour group that though I'm not an extrovert, and don't drink or dance, I do have a fun side.
Wednesday 20 November, 2002
Lake Taupo to Rotorua
Overcast with grey clouds, windy
There was another early start this morning. We left Lake Taupo at 8:45 this morning, travelling to Rotorua.
As we have every day on this tour, we stopped at a few places on the way. Firstly, we visited Huka Falls. The falls were nice to look at, with a constant torrent of rushing water. Huka Falls had the same blue hue as Lake Tekapo on the South Island where we visited last week.
Further down the road from Huka Falls were the Wairekai Tourist Park, and the Craters of the Moon geothermal area.
This used to be a geothermal power station, but this was destroyed in an earthquake that caused the ground to collapse. Now the area is retained as a National Park. There were boardwalks and tracks through the park, so we were able to see the geothermal springs and pools closely. Walking through, there was steam everywhere, and a smell of sulfur from the volcanic activity. The smell was not too overpowering, though.
We soon arrived in Rotorua, and did some sightseeing as tie coach took us around town. Most of us went to Mount Ngongataha, which overlooks Rotorua. There, was another observation deck, and we rode up the mountain in a gondola to get to it.
At the top of Mount Ngongataha, there was a gift shop and a cafeteria, where we ate our lunch. There were also some activities on offer. I chose to have a ride on the luge because Helen had given us some free passes that the owners had given her.
A luge is like a toboggan on wheels. As the luge is ridden down the concrete track, a lever is used to steer the luge left and right. Braking and acceleration is done by pushing and pulling the lever back and forth, so I was able to control how fast I wanted to go.
My ride was slow because I didn't want to run the risk of injuring myself in a crash. I did get some good views of Rotorua from the track, though, so I was glad I took the opportunity to do something different.
From Rotorua, we visited a place called Whakerewawera, home of the New Zealand Arts and Craft Institute. When we arrived, a Maori woman greeted us at the door of the coach. As each of us got off, we had to perform the traditional Maori greeting of rubbing noses, and saying "Kia Ora".
Inside, a Maori village had been constructed, and Whakerewawera also had more of the thermal pools that Rotorua is famous for. We boarded a trolley car, and our Maori guide showed us around the park. This area also had some geysers, but we didn't get to see any of them spurt during our visit here today.
Back at the Institute, we saw Maori totem poles that had been carved out of wood, and some traditional Maori buildings. Inside, we saw some people working on traditional woodcarvings, and rope making.
The Institute was established to preserve the crafts of New Zealand's indigenous population. People go to the Institute to study and learn how to create the items that we saw today. The prerequisite for studying at the Institute is that you have to be of Maori descent.
In Rotorua, geothermal steam could be seen coming from the sewers in the streets. I could even feel the heat from the volcanic rock through the soles of my shoes. The smell of sulfur was not as strong as it had been at Whakerewawera.
Tonight, we ate a traditional Maori hangi meal, and then attended a cultural show, which was held at a local primary school. Traditionally, the food is cooked on a bed of hot volcanic stones, but I think that tonight, more modern cooking methods were used. The meal was very filling, and we could choose from fish, chicken, and a selection of vegetables.
The cultural show we attended tonight, featured traditional songs and dances, such as the 'Haka' war dance. At the show, some of the performers gave a brief explanation of the history and origins of the Maori people.
Maoris are descended from Polynesian tribes who journeyed from the islands that make up Hawaii in the Pacific to Aotearoa, the 'land of the long white cloud', the Maori name for New Zealand.
Tonight we saw some guest performers, a Maori dancing group who were visiting the area from a primary school. The kids were very professional, and I thought that they worked well as a group as they performed the dances.
Towards the end of the night, the performers invited some of the audience up onto the stage. Ross and several of the men from the audience were taught to do some Haka steps. Then, they joined all the performers for a Maori hokey pokey.
Thursday 21 November, 2001
Rotorua to Auckland
We left Rotorua at 8:45 this morning, and drove through more of the New Zealand countryside en route to Auckland, where I am writing this diary entry tonight.
On the way to Auckland, our first stop was a visit to the New Zealand Agrodome. The Agrodome is a showcase of New Zealand agriculture and farming. There, we learnt about sheep and wool production, sheep dogs and the role of cows in New Zealand agriculture.
The main auditorium of the Agrodome had a stage, Several tourists from the audience were invited onto the stage to try milking cows by squeezing the teats on a cow's udder, collecting the milk in a bucket under the cow. The participants were nervous. Maybe they were worried about the cow knocking the bucket of milk over.
The highlight for me, being a dog lover, was a demonstration of sheep dogs herding sheep around a paddock. It reminded me of just how intelligent sheep dogs are, to be able to be trained to round sheep up, and obey a farmer's commands so well. I watched the dogs at work, and I saw how the dogs were able to outwit the sheep to make them stand still, and stop them every time they tried to run away in the opposite direction.
Inside, Ross and I came across a shorthaired Border Collie, so each of us had our picture taken with the dog. I think it reminded us of our dog, Monty, though this dog was not as friendly as Monty had been. In fact, it was quite timid.
Ross' friend, John, had laughed when he told us about the Agrodome, but I found it interesting there.
Back on the coach, to pas the time during the trip to Auckland, we watched the video of the movie, Bowfinger, starring Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy and Heather Graham.
When the coach arrived in Auckland, we were taken around the city, and we passed a few landmarks. As we rode through the streets, Helen gave a short talk about the history of the city, and then the coach headed up to the top of Auckland's highest point, Mount Eden. We had a good view of the city from there, and I could make out various yachts and boats sailing on Auckland's harbour.
Auckland is very sprawling, though its population is not as large as Sydney or Melbourne's.
After checking in at our hotel and setting in our rooms, most of us set out to visit the tallest tower in the Southern Hemisphere, Auckland's Sky Tower. Just like the Rialto at home, we rode up to the Sky Tower's observation deck in an express lift. The ride up was quick, so that when the lift stopped, you felt as if your stomach had been left back on the ground floor.
As for the view, many people have said that they consider Sydney Harbour to be something special, but I thought Waitemata Harbour was just as beautiful.
There were also more extreme sports on offer at the tower, including supervised cable jumping off the side of the tower.
When we left the tower, Ross and I wandered around the city to shop for souvenirs. One of the stores we ended up in was New Zealand's department store chain, Farmers. I can't say that it was any different to any other department store I had visited, in regard to the layout, and the types of merchandise that were sold.
I did find a nice souvenir book with lots of great photos of New Zealand at a store called Whitcoull's, which is a chain of newsagents/ bookstores that we had found in every city and large town across the country.
The other stores around the city were much the same as at home.
Tonight we said farewell to some of those in the tour group who weren't visiting the Bay of Islands, and were concluding their tour in Auckland. We went to a Mongolian restaurant near our hotel and ate a Mongolian barbecue meal.
The food consisted of a choice of wonton rolls and cabbage soup for entrees. The main meal was a buffet consisting of a selection of pork, beef and chicken strips, along with a range of different raw vegetables.
We selected what we wanted, and put them into a large bowl. This was taken to the cooks who barbecued our food for us on a drum shaped hot plate with a gas-fired flame underneath it.
I found eating the meal with chopsticks difficult, but by the end of the night, I did start to become better at it.
The group seemed more relaxed tonight, and we seemed to enjoy one another's company a lot more as we laughed and took photos. I got the opportunity to chat with the others, and those I spoke to were friendly people once I made the effort to get to know them more.
I had a good conversation with Amos the coach driver's girlfriend who had joined us tonight in Auckland. We spoke about work, and the travel we had done. I also told her about my stroke and how that had affected my life. She seemed nice, and at the end of the night, she said that it was nice to have met me. I was glad to have a decent conversation with someone, if just because these days, whenever I talk to people and I want to get to know them, I really try to make an effort to find out about them and what makes them tick.
Friday 22 November 2002
Auckland to Paihia, the Bay of lslands
Overcast with occasional light drizzle
This morning as we set out from Auckland, again we said goodbye to the people who weren't coming to the Bay of Islands region of the tour. Even in busy city traffic, it did not take long to leave Auckland and head out into the countryside,
Our first stop on our way north to the Bay of Islands was at a place called Perry Kauri Forest. There, we did a twenty-minute bush walk through some native bush land. I took a picture of a native Kauri tree, estimated to be about 800 years old. Kauri trees used to be prevalent in this part of New Zealand. Many were cut down when the area was developed for agriculture, but some have been preserved as we saw today.
Michael, one of the others in our tour group, photographed me on the track around the forest.
Further along, we stopped for another short walk and took some photos at a place called Whangerei Falls.
By 2:30 p.m. this afternoon, we arrived at our hotel situated at a place called Paihia, in New Zealand's Northland region, where the Bay of Islands is located,
This afternoon, the tour group went on another jet boat ride called The Excitor. This went across the Bay of Islands to an Island called the Hole in the Rock, where a hole had been gouged out through the islands' centre by many years of erosion by the sea. As the tide was low, the boat could go right through the hole from one side to the other.
The ride in this jet boat was fast, but less adrenaline charged than what I had taken in Queenstown last week.
It was cold during the ride, but fortunately we had been supplied with waterproof jackets and pants. The extra layers really did help to keep out the cold, and I could appreciate just how beautiful the scenery out here is.
Tonight, we enjoyed a three-course buffet meal in the restaurant of our hotel, and chatted with some of our travelling companions. I spoke to Michael, who is from Tasmania, and another member of our tour group who is from England and works as a journalist. He had some strong opinions about Rupert Murdoch and his control of the print media in Australia and in England.
Still, our conversation didn't become too serious. They were both good company, and it was funny to see how we ended up talking about how popular Michael Parkinson, or 'Parky', as he is affectionately known in England, is in Australia.
We discussed the Australian music scene.
The journalist from England mentioned John Farnham, and called him "Australia's Cliff Richard". I laughed, and asked him why? He said that he felt that John Farnham, like Cliff Richard, was way past his prime, but still has loyal fans in women aged over 45. The only connection I could see was that both of them had worked with Olivia Newton John in their singing careers.
It was good to chat, but after a long day on the coach, I was tired and went off early to bed.
Sunday 23 November, 2002
The Park Paihia, Paihia, Bay of Islands
Today was a day to do as we pleased in the Bay of Islands. We wanted to make the most of our second last day in New Zealand, but felt physically drained after two weeks of touring, so we decided to take things a lot more slowly today.
After eating breakfast and doing laundry, Ross and I made our way into town, where we had been yesterday when we had taken the 'Hole in the Rock' cruise.
Paihia is a small, historic town with several streets of shops, cafes, restaurants and a small waterfront area.
We walked along the beach. As we walked, we noticed people sun baking, and doing the normal beach activities of playing with beach balls and Frisbees. This was strange to us, because by Australian standards, it was not warm enough.
The sand there had a dull, brown colour. What little sand there was on the beach was covered with a thick layer of broken seashell fragments.
We then made our way back into town, and caught a ferry across the bay to the historic town of Russell. There, we had our lunch, and sat to watch boats sailing out on the water.
I had to agree with Ross when he mentioned some comments about the North Island made by some of the other Australians on this tour. They commented that the North Island reminded them so much of Australia, I'm inclined to agree, not that I write this to be negative.
When we caught the ferry back to Paihia from Russell, Ross wanted to go and visit the historic house where the Treaty of Whaitangi had been signed. I was feeling tired, so I decided to let Ross go there by himself, while I went back to our hotel to relax. On the way back though, we found a local Baptist Church, and we decided we would go there in the morning before we head back to Auckland. It will be interesting to see if New Zealand Baptists do church any differently to Australians.
Tonight we had tea at a local fish and chip shop. After we got back to the hotel, we watched some television, mainly because there was little else to do. We did try to find some of the others from the tour group we had run into earlier tonight. They were heading out to tea as we were going back. Some of them invited us to meet them at the pub later on, We looked for them at the pub and at a bar near our hotel, but could not find anyone.
As for Saturday night television in New Zealand, just like Australia, there wasn't really anything on worth watching. There was an episode of Police Camera Action, a camera consisting of videos of police car chases, presented by an unseen host who also narrates the footage.
We did find an episode of an English talent show called Stars in their eyes, where contestants dress up as their favourite singer and perform one of their songs.
Later tonight, there was the New Zealand version of The Panel, but we were too tired to stay up late to see much of it. The concept and format seemed much the same as the show of the same name that we like watching at home.
Sunday 24 November, 2002
Paihia to Auckland
Warm and sunny, then overcast and cool
Ross and I got up early this morning, and after we were ready to go and had our breakfast, we returned our room key, then headed off into town for a few hours before the coach left for Auckland at twelve thirty.
First, we wandered around Paihia and browsed at some souvenir shops. We did want to buy some things to give as gifts, but we thought that we would wait until we were back in Auckland tomorrow morning.
At 10.00 a.m. we went to the Paihia Baptist Church for their Sunday morning worship service. There were some other tourists like ourselves who had come, but Ross and I were the only ones in our age group there. Still, we were made to feel welcome.
The worship service went for about 80 minutes. As for the style of the service, they used a lot of the Scripture in Song hymns and choruses that were used in my old church eleven years ago. This meant that we knew most of the songs, and I could still remember how they went even though I hadn't sung them in church for over a decade.
After the service, we had a short chat with the minister from the church over morning tea. He thanked us for coming along, and wished us a safe trip home tomorrow.
When we left the church, we went back down to the foreshore to eat lunch, then got back on the coach for the three and a half hour long drive back to Auckland. The ride back was along the same route we had taken on Friday morning, so we passed the same farms, paddocks and pine plantations.
As every other trip on the coach during the tour, today's journey started with the song, Hooked On A Feeling. I know for certain that from now on, every time I hear this song, I will think of this tour. Thankfully, Helen had run out of the crude jokes about Australians and sheep that she had been telling each day that we had been on the coach.
To pass the time, Helen put on a video of the film, The Piano, which was shot in New Zealand, and directed by Jane Campion, a New Zealand native.
Visually, the movie was interesting to watch, but I felt too tired to bother to try and understand it properly. I thought that the acting was of a high standard, in particular Anna Paquin's performance. I know that this will sound ignorant, but I preferred her as Rogue in X- Men.
We arrived back in Auckland at 4:30 p.m. this afternoon. Apart from the flight home tomorrow afternoon, the tour has ended.
Tonight we went to a dinner at Auckland's Planet Hollywood restaurant, to get together once more and say goodbye to each other before we all returned home the next day.
The meal we had was a special menu for Contiki travellers. It consisted of an entrée of potato wedges with sour cream, along with a Caesar Salad. The main meal offered a choice of chicken, beef ribs, pasta, or a choice of one of Planet Hollywood's selection of hamburgers. We were provided with endless jugs of soft drink during the night. I can't say that what I had tonight was the best restaurant meal that I had ever eaten, but I did get my money's worth, especially compared to the service we had received at Outlaws a week ago.
The restaurant was full of film, memorabilia, such as props from various movies. During the night, I watched music videos and film trailers that were shown continuously on giant video screens around the restaurant walls.
One was for a new film called Blue Crush that revolves around surfing. I liked seeing the full trailer for the second film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Two Towers, because I am looking forward to seeing this film when it opens in Melbourne on Boxing Day.
After we had all finished eating, we wandered over to Planet Hollywood's bar area. Here, there was a Daytona video racing game machine, and a pool table. Some of the group challenged each other to some races of Daytona. The rest of us took some photos and said goodbye to each other. Helen and Amos thanked Ross and I for the tip that we had given them earlier today. They said it was appreciated.
I hope that although I haven't established any friendships, the people I have been friendly with over the past fortnight will keep in contact. There is one person from Tasmania, Michael. He said that he planned to come to Melbourne sometime next year, and that he wanted to catch up with us when he came. He suggested that we could go to a football game at the MCG.
Amos said that he was planning on coming back to Melbourne sometime to work next year, and that he would contact us when he did because he wanted to catch up with us.
Apart from these hopes, I'm just looking forward to going home tomorrow. When I went to Malaysia and the USA three years ago, I was away from home for a whole month. Though I did get homesick, I found that the company and the excitement of being in a different country took my mind off missing my family and my friends. It has taken a lot of effort to get to know people and find things in common to talk about. Though there were people I had differences with last time, we were all Christians and that helped to bring us together.
That being said, after the first week of the tour, I found everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves more, and got along with each other better. There were lots of farewell hugs and handshakes exchanged at the end of the night when everyone was getting ready to leave.
I have to say that though travellers on Contiki tours have a reputation for their wild ways, I did not see as much of that sort of behaviour on this tour that I thought I would.
After we left Planet Hollywood, most of us headed back up the road to the hotel. We got inside and crowded into the elevator. We must have had too many people in the elevator, because it didn't move after one of us pushed the button that would have taken us up to our floor. Then, when one of us pushed the 'Open' button so that some of us could get out, the doors wouldn't open.
None of us panicked, but some of us were worried that we would be stuck inside for a while until some help came. I did feel frustrated that we could get ourselves in this situation, but I knew that getting angry wouldn't get us out of there. "Oh well", I said jokingly. 'I didn't want to go home tomorrow, anyway."
Some of the others laughed, but I don't think everyone appreciated my effort to try and see the lighter side of this situation. Someone else said "Don't say that!", but with a light tone in their voice.
We were all relieved when one of the others from our tour group pushed the 'Open' button in the foyer outside, and the doors opened. Most of us got out so that the lift could go up to the next floor, and we waited for the lift to come back down again. Some of the others decided to take the stairs instead.
I'll probably write the end of this diary tomorrow afternoon on the flight home.
Monday 25 November, 2002
Auckland to Melbourne
Sunny and warm, then cool and overcast
This morning was slow compared to the constant pace of the past fortnight. After getting up at 7:30 a.m. we went down to the hotel's brasserie, and joined the members of our tour group who had remained in Auckland last night for breakfast.
We then checked out of our hotel, and said our final good byes, then put our luggage into storage while we went off to do some souvenir shopping.
It didn't take us long to find the items we wanted, as we had done a lot of browsing in stores over the past two weeks ,and we had a good idea of what to buy.
When this was done, we walked down to Auckland's waterfront and had a wander around the America's Cup village in Auckland Harbour. Amongst all the yachts, there were many people wandering around and others sitting talking to each other and drinking coffee at many outdoor cafes on the waterfront.
We want back to the hotel to get our bags, and caught the shuttle bus to the airport at 12:40 p.m. This ended up being a wise decision to leave a lot earlier than we had originally planned to, because it took over an hour to get to the airport.
The bus driver seemed tense, because the bus jerked around a lot whenever the driver changed gears. At one point the driver misjudged the space between two stationery vehicles as she drove between them. She clipped the side of one car, and shattered one of the bus's side indicator lights.
I felt relieved when just before 2 o' clock we arrived at the airport. The trip took over an hour from the city. We headed straight to the Qantas terminal and checked our luggage into our flight. After we had eaten lunch, we had some time to wander around the airport. By the time we did this, we had to go back and board our flight home.
The plane was a lot more pleasant to sit in compared to the one we had flown from Melbourne in. The seats were more comfortable, and we had slightly more legroom, making it easier to stretch out when I started to feel restless. Apart from the meal, there was a movie shown during the flight, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It seemed much like the ethnic humour that Australians have been laughing at since the late eighties.
One of the flight attendants today was someone I know from Melbourne, as he used to own a Christian music store in Forest Hill that I shopped at regularly. He recognized me right away, and we said hello to one another.
Bu the time the film ended, the flight was almost over. There were some monitors in the cabin, and as we flew over some bush land north of Melbourne, we could see that we were flying over the Kinglake National Park. A few minutes later, we were over suburban Melbourne, not that I could recognize any landmarks from the air. I just had the map on the monitor showing where we were. I was glad when the plane landed and we disembarked, collected our luggage and we went through customs.
On thinking about the past two weeks, I'm glad that I have had another holiday overseas, because I definitely needed a break from my normal routines and a change of surroundings. New Zealand is a beautiful country, especially in the South Island. I know that this has done me good, as has the challenge of getting to know a bunch of people I have not met before.
As for the land itself, which was my main reason for wanting to come here in the first place, I found New Zealand to be an amazingly beautiful country.
I am writing as a person who loves mountains and dramatic looking landscapes. I'm sure that I will remember how awesome the landscape was to look at when I get my photos developed in the next few days.
I feel ready to face my normal life again, especially because I have to go back to work come Wednesday morning. It's true that travel can be stressful, but this tour has also made me want to go overseas again. I would like to go to Canada, and visit England and Scotland, something I have wanted to do since I was twelve years old. I know that being single, it won't take me long to save up the money, but I will have to wait and see what happens in the near future.