Raglan and Bridal Veil Falls

Our adventure in the rain at the Otorohanga Kiwi House left me with a cold, and after days of being stuck at home with very bi-polar weather we were both becoming a little stirr-crazy and eager to go exploring again. Even the concrete coloured clouds and threat of rain were no deterrent as we headed off  towards the West Coast of the Waikato and the small little surf town of Raglan.

Past beautiful countryside with rolling green hills speckled with cattle, we followed the windy tight roads, up and down, twisting and turning, giving our little Honda a thorough workout. Bright pink wildflowers smattered the roadside cheering up the weathers threatening melancholy. Before we knew it we had arrived at the small seaside village of Raglan. Renowned for being a surfing mecca and with a population of less than 3000 people, Raglan attracts people far and wide  for its laid back surfy-culture, and is a popular retreat for Aucklanders wishing to escape the big city. 

 The main street was lined with craft shops showcasing the amazing talents of local artists, surf shops, and cafe’s. Antique shops and vintage clothing stores fragranced with the smell of burning incense, combined with the yoga / horse-trekking retreats give the village a fun hippy vibe. I, at least, felt quite at home. Places, however, tend to shine more brightly when the weather is cooperating, and so, maybe it was the grey skies, murky water, and chilly breeze that made what otherwise might have been a beautiful village and sea inlet, seem a little haunted and forlorn.  Even the Pohutukawa trees, red flowers in bloom, seemed a little gnarly as if they’d been fighting off invisible foes. On a warmer and sunnier day I’m sure Raglan would have seemed more embracing.

A local house in Raglan - note the goat in the yard - one way to keep the lawns mowed


Raglan main drag


Beautiful mural outside a cafe


The historic Harbour View Hotel


Pohutukawa tree signage









After exploring a few of the treasure troves lining the main street, and enjoying a wonderful Indian lunch from a small cafe called Namaste, we jumped in our car to explore some of the surfing beaches Raglan is famous for. Despite the weather  it seemed almost everyone had the same idea, and finding parking on the narrow twisting roads leading down to the beaches proved to be a problem. Instead we found our way down to a coast littered with black volcanic rock rock-pools. Not ideal for swimming or surfing, it was pleasant enough for us to explore the wildlife hiding in the pools, while locals in the distance collected shellfish off the rocks for dinner.


Pathway down to the rock pools


Rock pools


Mr. Crab


There was time enough in the day for us to explore a well-known waterfall in the area. 20kms from Raglan, traversing more windy hilly roads, we arrived at the walkway to the Bridal Veil Falls, also known as Wairenga Falls. Almost immediately we found ourselves on the upper viewing platform of the falls; a spectacular gushing wall of water, falling over a cliff face composed of volcanic rock. Although an amazing lookout not only at the waterfall but also at the surrounding native bush, I was reminded again of Martin’s resistance towards heights when I was handed the camera to take the shots. We continued downward through the bush to a mid-way platform allowing for another viewing of the waterfall, then continued again, down, down, down to the lower platform. 260 odd steps between the mid-way and lower platform. Walking back up was killer, yet totally worth the small bit of exercise for an amazing glimpse of the power and beauty of nature.

Beginning of the walkway


Beautiful bush walk


View of the lower platform from the upper platform


Beginning of the waterfall


Ponga Tree


Bridal Veil Falls


Jo on the Upper Platform - Martin is standing far back!


View from the mid-way platform


View from the lower platform


Martin and Jo at Bridal Veil Falls


Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park

To complete the image of Otorohanga being the Kiwiana Capital, it also plays host to New Zealand’s largest private collection of native birds in New Zealand; The Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park. Although not being big ‘bird’ people ourselves, it was conveniently located only a couple of blocks from where we were staying, and so, with a shrug of our shoulders and a good ol’ kiwi  “why not?” we set off to explore.

Otorohanga Kiwi House housed the first Kiwi nocturnal house in New Zealand. It guaranteed visitor viewing of these rather elusive birds, while also dedicating itself to the research, incubation and raising of Kiwi birds for release. The Kiwi is the national bird and icon of New Zealand, and the affectionate term we New Zealanders like to refer to ourselves as. We are not named after the fruit. However, it is hard to comprehend how a shaggy-feathered, flightless, football-shaped bird complete with a long pointy beak to allow foraging of forest floors, is a better fit for us than a furry brown fruit, with a yummy, juicy, green inside. 

'Welcome' in a variety of languages


Regardless, you can’t really say you’ve been to New Zealand until you’ve seen a Kiwi, and as soon as we entered through the reception/ gift shop area we were ushered down a dark corridor to the Nocturnal Kiwi House. A huge enclosed viewing area with floor to ceiling glass allowed us to look into a makeshift forest. Special nocturnal lighting cast an eerie green glow but allowed for surprisingly brilliant viewing of the large Kiwi’s digging and foraging for food on the forest floor. Seemingly oblivious to us, or maybe just use to having bystanders ‘ohh-ing’, and ‘ahh-ing’ over their normal night-time activities, the Kiwi’s went about their business  just being Kiwi’s. It really provided for an amazing up-close and personal experience with these birds who in the wild excelled at being almost completely inconspicuous.  Unfortunately glass viewing screens and eerie green light does not a good photo make, and so it is just one of those things you’ll have to make the trip to New Zealand to see for yourself.

 As we left the nocturnal house and readjusted our eyes to daylight, it seemed the weather had taken a turn for the worst and had begun to pour buckets.  The staff at the Kiwi House were well prepared for this with a generous back up of umbrella’s, (or ‘brollies’ as the locals call them), for visitors at the center to use. And so, grabbing one each, and donning rain jackets over our otherwise summery apparel, we set off, map in hand, to follow the winding paths through the native bush of Kanuka trees, Ponga, and an assortment of  ferns complete with unfurled fronds in the shape of koru’s; classic New Zealand bush beauty.

Fern with a unfurled frond in the shape of a Koru


Dancing in the rain


Bush walk with a Weka of the path


One of my favourite things to do in New Zealand was to go for bush walks where, unlike Canada, you never had to worry about the possibility of a bear mistaking you for lunch, and so it felt wonderful to be amongst native bush. Man-made environment or not, the staff had done a wonderful job of creating a beautiful natural showcase of New Zealand flora, accented by the chirps of our native birds. Even the rain couldn’t spoil the beauty; the birds were hardly bothered by it, the ducks in fact seemed to revel in it,  the flora glowed even more green and lush than before, and the air smelt wonderfully fresh and earthy.

We had planned our tour to fit around the feeding of two native New Zealand parrots – the Kea’s and the Kaka’s. Being rather early and the weather the way it was, for quite a time we had the feeding of them all to ourselves. With a staff member doling out walnut halves to us, we held the shells up to the wire fences so the birds could use their beaks to peck at and eat the meaty part of the walnut.  Definitely the highlight of the Kiwi House tour.  Kea’s and Kaka’s are known for being very cheeky birds, and they definitely were not shy of us! Predominantly found in the South Island I had heard the horror stories of the birds destroying parked vehicles, in particular by pulling at the black rubber that surrounds the windows of the vehicle, or dismantling car aerials, while unsuspecting tourists were off  enjoying picnics or bush walks. These birds do like shiny things and nothing is safe!  They don’t have the vibrant colouring of what we normally associate with birds of the parrot family; their beauty is much more subtle. But in saying that, when they open their wings in flight, the Kea’s in particular, have the most beautiful iridescent green feathers. Trying to catch a photo of them doing this is though, is near to impossible.

Martin feeding a Kaka


Martin feeding another Kaka


Jo feeding a Kea


Jo feeding the Kaka


The Kea


With umbrellas in hand we continued our way around the park, following the winding pathways past the Gecko House, complete with the Tuatara, one of the view remaining descendants of the Dinosaur family, past New Zealand owls including the Morepork, named after its chilling call in the depths of night; “more…pork…, more…pork…”. Past waterfronts and wetlands, Heron’s, an assortment of ducks and other water fowl. Past creeks filled with native eels, past Kingfishers, and Keruru, our pretty and plump native wood pigeon. Often we would find we would be followed on our path by the odd Weka who, on seeing us notice him, would scoot into the bush again. Despite the rain and damp we still saw a variety of native bird species, and both enjoyed the native bush walk in itself. Both Martin and I reflected on the beauty of the place, maybe not so obvious in the photo’s we took, but in the feeling of experiencing nature up close.

Keruru - Native Wood Pigeon


Wetlands - made wetter by the rain






Pukeko's walking the plank


Playful Pukeko's




Waitomo Woodlyn Park Kiwi Culture Show

New Zealand was not putting on quite the Kiwi summer we were expecting. Although almost always hot and humid, days would flux from being sunny with brilliant blue skies, to drizzly, wet and miserable. Today was one of those types of days. We were going stir-crazy. It was time to explore a little of our surroundings. After a quick fifteen minute drive we left Otorohanga for Waitomo. 

Waitomo is a well-known tourist attraction town (?) / village (?), I’m not really sure what you would call it, but its fame as a tourist attraction arises from the glow-worm caves in the area and the assortment of tourist activities available, from abseiling, black water rafting in caves, to cultural shows. It is a must-visit destination to anyone new to New Zealand. Today, however, was not a wonderful showcase for the area. The heavy rain, although making everything look lush and green,  was also rather cold and not inspiring for a day in the cold damp depths of the ground such as exploring caves. That, we decided, would be left for another day. Instead we made use of the local information center, or the i-Site Center, as it’s referred to here. While there we stocked up on brochures on attractions and things to do locally and all over New Zealand, and grabbed the free maps and novel-sized accommodation guides we thought might come in useful in the future. But we still wanted to do something now!  And so we decided on an inside cultural show five minutes up the road. In truth, I decided… and twisted Martin’s arm. The cultural show was a bit of a celebration of New Zealand farming culture, and as I was brought up on a farm, a very, very, long time ago, I wanted Martin to experience a taste of it while  I saited my nostalgic cravings.
The Woodlyn Park Kiwi Culture Show was a one man show performed by Billy Black; the picture of a true Kiwi Farmer bloke. Driving up to what reminded me of a classic woolshed, we entered into Billy Blacks domain, and with time to spare before the show began we explored. Not just looking but also smelling like a woolshed; wood, oil, dust, damp, and sheep poo, mingled together to fragrance the place as we explored what looked to be both a bar and a large dining area. Long wooden tables capable of seating large groups spread out in the center of the large room where an assortment of old and odd furniture, tools, and farming equipment, stood against or hung from every wall.

Entrance to Woodlyn Park Culture Show


Billy Black's Office Hours


Price List - note the special Aussie pricing


The Dining Area


The Bar Area


Random antiques in the dining area


The second room we entered was stranger still, and obviously where the show was to take place. A makeshift stage complete with handmade curtains, obviously sewn together by a farmer and not a seamstress, lined one wall. Almost all of the rest of the room was mix-matched tiered seating for the audience. Very filthy and dusty with spider webs and bird poo everywhere, it seemed to only enhance the organic experience awaiting us.

The Stage


Rather dodgey seating


And so the show began. Dressed in classic farmer attire Billy Black graced the stage as comedian, and farmer, and former Sheep Shearing Champ. As he shared the history of forestry and farming in New Zealand he brought kids from the audience on stage to cut wood, me to blow wood up, and Martin to be his muscle as he demonstrated old-time sheep shearing, (before electricity was used to power the shearing piece). And then there was an introduction of some of his friends. With the ingenious use of levers and pulleys to open gates outside to allow particular animals to march their own way into the building, (saving him getting wet as it was still raining), we were introduced to a donkey,  trick-performing pig, a renegade chicken, a demonstration of sheep-herding by his dogs on stage, and a Kiwi Bear.

Slave labour from the audience - in a log cutting demonstration


Jo nervous on stage as Billy Black explains to me how I'll be blowing up the log before us


Steadying the log as it's pumped with explosive black powder


Lighting the wick - Martin at this point was in the audience beaming at me!


Billy Black getting ready for an old-time shearing demonstration


Martin muscle power - making the shearers work



Billy Black and his pig


Billy Black and his donkey and chook




I had never heard of a Kiwi Bear before and wouldn’t have put it past him to have invented a strange hybrid creature to entertain us. But as the audience’s ohhs, and ahhs began it was obvious that the Kiwi Bear he referred to was a possum. I had seen pictures of American opossums before, and to all those people reading this who haven’t seen a New Zealand Possum  before – they do look quite different, and extremely cute. Similar in size and looks to a cat with a slightly bushier tail and narrower face, it is easy to forget they’re considered rather destructive pests here. With Billy Black holding him like a baby it was rather hard to comprehend this.

The Kiwi Bear - i.e. possum


And for a climatic finale Billy Black graced the stage on the back of a giant steer, (for you non-farmer folk – riding a castrated bull). What he hadn’t counted on was the fact the bull seemed to be suffering from explosive diarrhea and as the audience in the front row fled for their dignity, a straggling middle-aged man narrowly missed what could have been an unfortunate intimacy with a bulls backside. Martin and I remained safe, being smart enough in the beginning to have chosen seats a few rows back, but the ending hilarity made the show all the more memorable.

Before the steer turned around and things turned bad!

A very organic, interactive Cultural Show, Billy Black had been both an informative and highly entertaining host. Despite some precursor misgivings, primarily by Martin, we had both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves with a taste, and for me a reminder, of the country we’d chosen to call home.

New Zealand – And so it begins…

Rolling green hills, strange accents and unpronounceable place names; yes, we were in New Zealand. After a three-hour flight from Sydney to Auckland, we gathered up our luggage for the final time and made our way out to the visitors lounge. Having not been back to New Zealand for almost seven years it was an emotional and heartwarming experience to be welcomed with hugs by my mother and her husband who were waiting to pick us up.

It is impossible for me to describe the odd feeling of being back. Familiarity and foreign-ness fought with each other as I observed my surroundings, and took in the accent that seemed so strange and yet I had been accused of having for all my years in Canada. Martin, on the other hand, was battling a myriad of other emotions. The journey/vacation we had been dreaming and planning, and dreaming some more about, was over. Here we were in New Zealand, home for the next who-knows-how-long! A jolt back to earth; we had jobs, and houses, and lives to find. But then…there was also a wave of relief that washed over him. After an unnerving experience of trying to understand a fellow Kiwi poker player while on the cruise, he had become a bit concerned that I had lied about New Zealand being an English-speaking country. His fears, however, fell away as he adapted fast to the Kiwi colloquialisms and Kiwi-isms, with only a little bit of translation from me.

To find our feet a little we stayed with my mother and her husband, using their place as a base so we could explore, play tourist, and get a feel for where we wanted to live. They lived in Otorohanga; a small rural town located in the central North Island area, 2 hours from Auckland, in the Waikato district. Otorohanga is celebrated as the Kiwiana town of New Zealand; ‘Kiwiana’ meaning anything distinctly New Zealand. As New Zealander’s we like to refer to ourselves as Kiwi’s, affectionately named for a native flightless bird roughly the size and shape of a rugby ball. And so this little Kiwiana town was the perfect place for me to reunite with my Kiwi roots, and for Martin to discover a little of our Kiwi culture.

A cute little town nestled against fertile farmland, and rolling green hills, there did, however, seem to be something very ‘Kiwi’ absent from the scenery; Sheep! It was amazing how few sheep we saw. Cows, however, were abundant. The center street of the town boasted Kiwi souvenir  and gift shops. Quaint baskets of brightly coloured flowers hung outside the shops where periodic signs greeted you from above as you walked down the street, illustrated with symbols of true New Zealand culture; the kiwi bird, the children’s buzzy bee toy we all remember from our childhoods, Pavlova cake – our christmas specialty, and of course a hokey pokey ice-cream cone – a favourite summer treat. Beautiful murals celebrating the Kiwi way of life covered exposed shop walls, while sculptures of giant Kiwi birds stood proud outside the library.  A small walkway dedicated to the iconic Kiwi Sir Edmund Hillary boasted displays in showcases of true Kiwiana; the history of the All Blacks – our world-famous Rugby Team, Marmite – a black, tar-looking delight usually smothered on toast, a dictionary of common Kiwi lingo, and our native Maori culture, amongst many other things.

A cute Kiwi shack we came across while exploring


A meeting house of some sort with pretty Maori designs above the entrance


A mural in town


Otorohanga - The Kiwiana Capital - Mural on the side of a building


Maori carvings in front of the Library


Giant Kiwi bird sculptures outside the library


Downtown Otorohanga - note the mini Christmas trees


Even the local McDonalds embraces Kiwiana


The Ed Hillary Walkway


The Ed Hillary Walkway with displays of Kiwiana





Kiwi Slang


Martin playing with the big guns in a local park


Martin embracing his inner hippy


Beautiful big trees


There's silver ferns in them there hills...


But as much as we would have loved to have lost ourselves in just ‘being’ in a new place, there was some mundane details we needed to take care of. And so we set up bank accounts, and cell phones,  familiarised ourselves with the unfamiliar shops so we would know where to go when it came to buying furniture and supplies, and what was a good deal and what was the equivalent of being ripped off. I reacquainted myself with the Kiwi lingo, all-in-all amazed that Martin was getting a better grasp of it than myself; while I got blank steers when I offered to pay with Debit, Martin quickly caught  on to always calling it Eftpos.

Martin at the Base in Hamilton - a major shopping complex


The Kiwi version of the Santa set up in the middle of the mall


Note the blue Pukeko birds, native to New Zealand


Santa Pukeko's sawing a log in the Santa display - no elves in this part of the world


And then of course, was the driving. Getting use to driving on the left side of the road instead of the right, getting into the right side of the car instead of the left, and reversing a good deal of Canadian road rules – and before we knew it we were driving. Fortunately finding a vehicle was almost effortless – a cute little blue Honda CRV complete with 3 years warranty with plenty of room for the boogie boards, and wetsuits, and tent, and chairs, and a roof rack for all the things we imagined we would buy one day to complete our true Kiwi summer experience.

Our new set of wheels - affectionately named 'Rhinox'


And with wheels we were set! Set now to explore a little. Get a feel for New Zealand. So much had changed since I had been here last. I couldn’t wait to immerse myself back into the culture, and share it with Martin, and I was anxious for us to find the place that we would know as being “home”. And so began an entirely new type of adventure…

Day 32 – Jet Boating and Sightseeing

Our last day in Sydney and the sun beat down with the Australian intensity we had both expected on our arrival. Sydney, we quickly decided, was a city we would most definitely love to visit again. With a population of 4.1 million, rivalling that of all of New Zealand,  the city buzzed with people, happy people, and so you never felt too overwhelmed by the presence of so many others around you at once. And the city itself is beautiful! Paying homage to its history, beautiful red brick buildings stood against a backdrop of glass and concrete skyscrapers. Giant trees and water features made an average street look like it was part of a garden. Streets were clean with the occasional garbage-can sculpted to look like a mini Sydney Opera House. And to my amusement pedestrian intersections often had the curbs painted with the words ‘Look This Way’ and an arrow pointing in the direction you’re suppose to look before crossing the road. Without wanting to insult the intelligence of the Aussies, I speculated maybe it was for the benefit of the melting pot of immigrants who called Sydney home.

Our last day in Sydney was rather laid back. The blood in my veins seemed to buzz with disbelief that tomorrow… tomorrow we would be arriving in New Zealand. It had been almost seven years since I had last set foot in my homeland, and as much since I had last seen most of my family. But until then we had this one last day to revel in Sydney’s treasures. With the weather as it was there was no need for a taxi. And so, we set off on foot through Hyde Park with its awesome trees and massive water fountain complete with Greek God statues. We passed by Hyde Park Barracks Museum, stood sentry over by King Albert and Queen Victoria. Further along we passed by a row of magnificent historical buildings; The Mint, Sydney Hospital, Parliament House, and the State Library. All beautiful brick architecture vying for the attention of our camera.

Water feature in Hyde Park





The Hospital


Arriving at Circular Quay we were greeted with views of the iconic Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. All around us people hustled and bustled or posed for photo’s. Performers, and buskers  vied for attention. The haunting melodies of the didgeridoo rose above the chatter of the crowds as we made our way towards Campbell’s Cove, and our first destination of the day; Oz Jetboats.

Kids and adults alike enjoying one of Sydney's many water features


One of the performance acts - tricks on a motor bike


View of the Harbour Bridge


View from Circular Quay


View from Circular Quay: Note the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge


Sydney Opera House


Donning oversized red ponchos we found our spot aboard one of the Oz Jetboats where we had been promised a thrilling ride and amazing harbour views. Neither of us was disappointed. Spectacular views of Sydney Harbour, Taronga Zoo, Shark Island and the Opera House were momentarily interrupted by sharp twists and turns, stops and jumps, our driver making certain we were all adequately saturated. We laughed, we squealed, and occasionally I screamed, but above all we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The unfortunate part of the activity being that it was too wet and wild for photo opportunities.

Lining up for Oz Jetboats; I'm in the blue. Note the Harbour Bridge in the background


The Jet Boat we were about to get half-drowned on


After arriving back at the dock and discarding our drenched and basically useless ponchos, we set off with wet bums back towards the Opera House. Now the Sydney Opera House is as amazing as everyone says. A brilliant piece of architecture with a fascinating history, as we were to find out on our one hour guided tour. Donning headsets we were taken on an absorbing tour of the building; into three distinctly different theatres each with phenomenal acoustics, up wide never-ending staircases, into glassed-in vestibules with spectacular views of the harbour, and all the time with the guide telling us the tragic history behind the architect who designed the Opera House, and educating us with the technical why-for’s of the architecture itself. A definite must-do for anyone visiting Sydney!

Sydney Opera House


Martin and Jo


Inside the Opera House. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photo's inside the theatre's


All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the beauty and crowds, find ourselves an ice-cream to snack on on the way home, and head back to the hotel to pack, and unpack, and shuffle, and weigh our suitcases, in preparation for our final destination; New Zealand!

Day 31 – Sydney Aquarium and Wildlife Sydney

Breakfast was terrible! Joining the mass of kids and teens who were sharing our hotel, we sat down for our free continental breakfast in what looked very much to be a school cafeteria.  To my surprise they did have gluten-free cereal; half a box they took 15 minutes to find in the back of their pantry. However, in keeping to the school cafeteria theme, it was closer to looking and tasting like gloppy paper-mache. And so after a couple of glutinous bites I resigned myself to having a banana, severely missing the wonderful cooked breakfasts we’d had delivered to our room aboard the Zaandam. Fortunately the day was bound to get better, not even the downpour of rain could, mind the pun, dampen our spirits. Today we were setting off to enjoy the wonders of the Sydney Aquarium and Wildlife Sydney! 

Similar to Sealife in San Diego, the Sydney Aquarium, located on Darling Harbour, was an amazing showcase of aquatic life interrupted by the odd Lego sculpture.  Almost exhausted with visiting Aquariums, it had been the promise of viewing Australian specific wildlife that had excited me and provoked me into nagging Martin that this was one of the “must-see” things we had to do while in Sydney. Neither of us were disappointed! From Platypuses to Penguins, Clown Fish to Crustaceans we meandered our way through the winding corridors filled with exhibits.

Aboriginal Platypus artwork


Just like in San Diego - lots of Lego people


Jo and a camel (I have no idea what this has to do with sea life!)


A little green lizard


A very scary model shark


Lego and Penguins


Real Penguins


Most amazing of all were the glass tunnels that had you walking through giant aquariums filled with an extensive array of sharks and stingrays, and vibrantly coloured fish. One was named the Great Barrier Reef Exhibit where you could catch a glimpse of the aquatic life that lived in Australia’s famous reef. Every type of shark imaginable swam around you as you travelled through the Shark Tunnels. Sydney Aquarium even showcased a Shark Nursery and Hatchery where baby sharks were raised to be released in the wild to grow to be the man-eaters we fear most whilst swimming. (Australia, I learnt, seemed to have a rather strange rapport for animals that could maim or kill you). But to me the most amazing exhibit of all were the tunnels that went through the Dugong Lagoon. The strangest looking sea mammals I had ever seen, two lazy Dugongs, with an unusual grace for their size, swam around us as we tried to understand how it was that sailors could have ever have mistaken them for mermaids.

Martin walking through the underwater tunnel




Fishies and Shark!




Martin and Jo and the Dugongs


Shark Nursery

Having whizzed through Sydney Aquarium we went next door to Wildlife Sydney. A wonderful zoo / wildlife center focussed on the unusual animals that call Australia home; Kangaroo’s, Kookaburra’s, Wombats and Wallabies. 

At the entry to Wildlife Sydney






An extremely scary insect!


Jo and the Cassowary (statue) - as it's apparently the most dangerous bird in the world


Kangaroo - would not stand still for long enough to take a good picture


One of many deadly Aussie snakes


A lizard...


Rex the salt water crocodile - looking much smaller than her really was


The Australian Outback Exhibit

And of course there were Koala’s! Since arriving in Sydney I had been whining to Martin about how I had wanted a photo with a Koala, and for a few extra bucks I  was allowed in their arena, and got just that. Just like living teddy-bears, the Koala’s were adorable, and even inspired Martin to join us in our picture-taking.

Martin, Jo and Charlie the Koala

Surprisingly, by the time we had finished wandering around both the Aquarium and the Wildlife Centre it was still early afternoon. With all the walking we had done we were exhausted! Time for lunch!
Thankfully the ugly weather had disappeared while we were inside, and the day had turned really hot and sunny. Darling Harbour was a buzz with people. The harbour was busy with seadoos and cruises. People were hustling and bustling everywhere. Maybe it was Christmas shopping that was drawing the crowds, but in truth there were more people standing around licking ice creams than in the mall shopping. It just seemed to be the place to be.
We found a great restaurant called Blackbird to sit down, take in the harbour views and enjoy lunch. Feeling a little adventurous Martin ordered a Crocodile burger, while I had a Kangaroo steak. Still feeling too exhausted to do much more for the day we ended the afternoon with a couple of 45 minute 3D movies at IMAX Sydney; apparently the largest IMAX theatre in the world. One movie was a documentary about tornado chasers, and the other was a heartwarming, and tear-jerking, documentary on one woman’s dedication to saving the lives of orphaned elephants, and another woman’s plight to do the same for orangutans. Amazing, restful, possibly a bit wasteful of an afternoon, but regardless, we had enjoyed ourselves and looked forward to another day tomorrow, playing tourist in Sydney.

Water feature at Darling Harbour


Crazy busy Darling Harbour


Martin's Crocodile Burger


Jo's Kangaroo Steak


Day 30 – The Australian National Maritime Museum and the Chinese Garden of Friendship

25th of November 2011; a month until Christmas. We woke with our insides in a messy emotional tangle. Were we excited? Yes! We had three days ahead of us in Sydney, Australia, and then we would be in New Zealand, where we were planning on beginning a new life for ourselves. But, were we sad? Extremely! Goodbye ms Zaandam and your amazing, cheerful, hard-working crew. Goodbye room of ours with your creaking and groaning walls, that in the end only added to the lullaby calm of the swaying ship when we slept. Goodbye sea-views stretching from horizon to horizon, and welcomed paradisiacal island stops interrupting our voyage. And goodbye…sun?! If the weather greeting us was anything to go by, just maybe we were also saying goodbye to hot sunny days in t-shirts and shorts.

But on seeing the view that blanketed our horizon from our verandah, we felt that just maybe we could forgive Sydney for its concrete coloured skies and misting of rain.  Beautiful red brick buildings sprung up from behind the Overseas Passenger Terminal. To the right your could see the arches of the Harbour Bridge. And thankfully, it was warm. Not shorts and t-shirts warm, but neither was it Canadian cold. It was in these first few moments of our arrival, first impressions sinking in, that our crush on Sydney began.

First view of Sydney from our verandah


Sydney skyline


Overseas Passenger Terminal

View from our verandah of the Harbour Bridge


Our luggage had been packed and placed outside our room before retiring the day before. It was odd as we closed the door to our room for the final time. Armed with only our carry-on’s we wove our way through the long narrow corridors and down the wide steps to our final disembarkation, and stepped ashore knowing that from here there was no going back.

The process of collecting our luggage and making our way through customs was effortless. To my delight there was no customs.  All our belongings had been accounted for when we had first boarded the ship, and then regularly scanned and x-rayed every time we returned to the ship after our shore excursions. It was only minutes before we were in view of the door that marked the exit of the Overseas Passengers Terminal, and the entry into Sydney. Beaming with how easy everything had been, Murphy’s Law reared his bothersome head and teased us with our freedom by making us wait in line for an hour for a taxi; for once we had collected our luggage there was no going anywhere without a taxi.

At long last it was our turn to catch a taxi. Winding through downtown Sydney we finally arrived at our Hotel, our home sweet home for the next few nights, the Y-Hotel. Immediately it became obvious to us the Y part of the name referred to the “youth” aspect of the hotels target customers. At first sight we seemed to be the only people above the age of twenty in the place, with the exception of the employees. A far cry from the situation we had found ourselves in aboard the Zaandam. We should have expected then the “No Frills” design of the spartan little room we were laden with. Floor to ceiling windows filled one whole wall and looked squarely into the rooms on the other side of the courtyard. Being on the sixth floor with a bit of a dizzying look down, I was almost immediately assigned that side of the room.

Our itty bitty room - An unimpressed Martin


The rest of our room and our avalanche of luggage


Leaving our itty bitty room behind we grabbed a taxi to begin our sightseeing at Darling Harbour. First we collected our iVenture cards that I had purchased on-line prior to leaving Canada; much like the Go San Diego cards they allowed us free entry into an assortment of Sydney attractions for the discounted price of the card. And so we began our aimless wandering around the beautiful, clean, cosmopolitan city of Sydney.

Harbourside Mall at Darling Harbour


Darling Harbour


And then we saw it! The Australian National Maritime Museum. A sprawling building playing background to a harbour of amazing ships; the Destroyer HMAS Vampire and the HMB Endeavour amongst others. For Martin’s inner pirate, having been uncovered during our time at sea, this was without question a must-see.

The National Maritime Museum


Ships at the Museum Wharf


View of Sydney from the Museum Wharf


Before heading inside the Museum we decided to fully explore the ships outside, in particular the Destroyer HMAS Vampire and the Submarine HMAS Onslow.

The Destroyer HMAS Vampire , a very solid intimidating big-gun ship, had served in the Royal Australian Navy from the years of 1959 until 1986, and lucky us…we were allowed on board. An amazing tribute to history, it is almost impossible to describe how it felt to be navigating through its narrow  hallways, looking in on the tiny living quarters that now rivalled our own, and wandering around the decks equipped with VERY big guns, and we imagined what it might have felt to have lived aboard. Being so far removed from the luxury liner we had spent the last month on, I’m sure our imaginations fell short.

The Vampire


The Vampire again


The lunch room on board the Vampire


Showers - for very thin people


The Infirmary


On board blueprints


Jo and the Big Guns


Martin and the Big Guns


Martin manning the Big Guns


Captain Martin


The Captains Day Room


The Captains Day Room


Rivalling the Vampire in its impressiveness was the HMAS Onslow Submarine. Having served in the Royal Australian Navy from 1969 to 1999 it was often home to 68 people or so at a time, and on exploring it ourselves this was extremely hard to fathom.  With small tight spaces sized for children it was hard to imagine that it was normal sized adults that had spent their time sleeping, eating, living and working here. And I have never before seen so many pipes and buttons and levers…  Both Martin and I were left in awe.

Walking on top of the Onslow Submarine


Going down into the submarines depths


The itty bitty entrance way...


...and me trying to make my way through it.


Not as luxurious as the ms Zaandam


Martin driving the sub


Jo manning the periscope


Buttons, buttons, and more buttons


And even more gadgets


Onslow Submarine


On completing our tours of the Vampire and Onslow we were famished. So after a quick lunch at the Dock Eatery we found ourselves ready to explore the treasures the actual Museum had in store for us. From the first navigators and their discovery of Australia to Australia’s modern-day love affair with the sea, we explored maritime history. Martin became lost in taking photo’s of every model ship he could find, while I immersed myself in the maritime history of the convicts and settlers that came to call Australia home, again reflecting on and being thankful for  how luxurious our own cruise liner was.

Ships in bottles



The beer can boat for the Darwin Beer Can Regatta


A very classic Aussie hat

After what had already felt like a very full day, we called it quits on our educational experience, leaving the Museum behind, and went for a wander. Even on an overcast day Sydney was pretty. Clean. Buzzing. And just generally happy. As were the kids, stripped half-naked, playing in the concrete kids water park  outside of the mall in the rain.


Darling Harbour in the rain


Kids playing in the water in the rain


Water park fun

Eventually we came across the Chinese Garden of Friendship. Possibly not the most ideal day to view it, but none-the-less it was truly beautiful and tranquil; everything you would expect from a Chinese Garden of Friendship I suspect.  Based on ancient principles of yin and yang, and the balancing of the elements, a lush green paradise of exotic flora met waterfalls and tranquil lakes filled with floating lotuses. Stone pathways met Chinese architecture designed in such a way as to frame the views as if suspending paintings. Not even the light drizzle of rain could spoil its beauty.

Entrance to the Chinese Garden of Friendship


Map of the Gardens


Beautiful Dragons




The Chinese Garden of Friendship



The roof of the gazebo


All too soon it was time to head back to our hotel. Walking through town amidst the pleasant hustle and bustle of what we soon learnt was Sydney 24/7, we shopped and explored, and enjoyed a meal of Indian, before staggering home fulfilled and full.