New Zealand Australia Cruise and Outback Tour

 
Regent Seven Seas Navigator Information

Cruise Ports and Tours 2018   (Click Destination for photos)

Feb 3-6     Auckland NZ
Feb 7        Rotorua (Tauranga) NZ
Feb 8        Napier NZ
Feb 9        Picton NZ
Feb 10      Christchurch (Lyttelton) NZ
Feb 11      Dunedin NZ
Feb 12      Milford Sound NZ
Feb 15      Sydney Australia
Feb 17      Geelong Australia
Feb 19      Adelaide Australia
Feb 20      Port Lincoln Australia
Feb 23      Esperance Australia
Feb 24      At Sea, Cabin Door Decorating
Feb 25      Perth Australia
Feb 26-27 Alice Springs (Outback) Australia 26    27
Feb 28      Uluru (Ayers Rock) Australia

Thursday - Saturday, February 1-3 Toronto - Los Angeles - Auckland, New Zealand


A very early morning, dropping the car for Mac (and a birthday card for Logan -- Happy Birthday Logan!) and being delivered to the airport by Terry (thank you, Terry!). Very smooth transition through US border control, followed by peaceful breakfast with our newspaper. This part of Terminal 3 is under renovation and not in great shape. Very different from our last few experiences here.
The flight to LA was comfortable and fairly easy. We had a hotel room for the 11-hour layover, so we could relax, doze, watch a bit of TV and eat in a nice bar/restaurant. A shuttle got us back to the airport in good time, and we were off!
The 787 was very comfortable, so the 12-hour flight was nothing like as bad as many we've had. Larry traded seats with someone, so we could be side-by-side, something that appeared to  be happening all over the plane -- do they purposely separate couples? What do they think we'll get up to during the flight? I got quite a lot of sleep, and woke in time to watch the sky gradually lighten from black through purple and mauve to blue and then to  cloudy. Breakfast was pretty good and we landed about an hour early.
New Zealand has very strict controls for diseases and pests, so while we waited to be processed in, I read up on the dangers of stink bugs, among others. We also discovered that we have e-passports, something that had never before been relevant. Of course, Larry's worked, getting him through that stage very quickly, while mine failed and I had to line up in the "problem" line. Don't know what the difference was, but it looked like everyone who tried one gate got turned back.
We easily found the Regent Seven Seas staff who organized us into a small van to travel to the Stamford Plaza Hotel. The other passengers, Ann and Gerard [Schmid], are from Detroit, and we enjoyed their company so much that we all went to lunch together. We couldn't get into our rooms, so followed the advice of the hospitality staff and walked to the harbour, where we took a ferry to Devonport Island. [File photo from the air]
  It was raining, so we quickly sought out a craft beer pub, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch. By then the sun had come out, so we walked up the street to have a look at the park that's built on an extinct (or at least non-active) volcano, wandered through a grocery store, and headed back to the ferry.  We all agreed that Auckland is a pretty city, and the trip from the airport had been longer than we'd anticipated. We saw buildings and streets that reminded us of Vancouver and Victoria and San Francisco.
[ Auckland View from Devonport by Ann Schmid]
 Gerard said "Like Canada with palm trees." Back at the hotel, we realized the whole trip had caught up with us and were happy to fall into bed and nap for a few hours.
Larry and I went out in search of a light dinner, walking to the main shopping area. All the big high-end names were available, though stores had closed by the time we got there. But no food that appealed -- several McDonalds, a couple of Burger Kings, a Subway and a Dunkin' Donuts plus several very loud bars and every sort of Asian food, but nothing light and interesting. There seemed to be very many people settling in for the night on the street, which surprised us. Back at the hotel, we got exactly what we wanted in the lobby restaurant. We were happy to call it a day and settle in for a good night's sleep in our very comfortable room. Looking forward to tomorrow's excursion and the beginning of getting to know New Zealand.

Sunday 4 February -- Countryside tour

Photos of the Day
At breakfast in the ballroom, we met several more people, all from Canada or the U.S. There are apparently about 100 of us on this pre-cruise segment. On board the bus,  we began with a city tour -- it's a rapidly-changing and -growing city, particularly around the harbour, where the upcoming America's Cup (in 2021) is causing lots of activity.
At the memorial on Bastion Point, we wandered through a beautiful garden and enjoyed harbour views
Northward from the city centre, we passed through areas of vineyards and market gardens, that we're told are disappearing under urban  sprawl.had great views from a roadside stop, of the Tasman Sea, with long beaches, surfers, and gannets on small rocky outcrops.At the next stop we walked to an overlook where we had close-up views (and smells) of the gannet colonies, right on the mainland. That's rare; there's only one other gannet colony in the world not on an island (yes, we know that NZ is on islands, but they're big enough to count as mainland apparently). We could look down on beaches and many surfers. Houses at the top of the cliffs look very precarious.
Winding roads. Green hills. Great beauty.










Our last stop of the day was the beautiful Haumoana, a sheep and cattle farm with a small herd of fallow deer, perched on a hill with amazing views. We had cold drinks, visited the deer, then watched a sheep being sheared. She objected at first, then seemed to remember she didn't actually mind the process. The dogs were sent into a field to  show us how they herd the sheep. it's always amazing to see how they can get the sheep moving in the right direction, based on whistled commands. The sheep run about in a rather amusing way. Lunch was delicious,  accompanied by wine or beer. By the time we finished it, it was time to get back on the bus. This lovely spot was one of the best lunch stops ever!




It rained most of the way back to the hotel, but we still got a great view of the big marina and the Auckland skyline from the motorway, a new perspective.


Monday 5 Feb -- Matakana Wineries

Photos of the Day

Northward out of Auckland, over the Harbour Bridge, we were soon into an area of steeper hills, deeper valleys and thicker woods than yesterday, on our way to the Matakana Coast wine country. 
First stop, Omaha Bay Vineyard, at about 10 am, where there were several wines to try and an absolutely stunning view over mandarin groves down to Omaha Bay.






Our second stop was the Morris & James Pottery Works. Beautiful items and a nice  snack. We had time to take part of the tour of the creation process, and enjoyed watching a large cylinder of clay be transformed into a very nice pot, in just a few minutes.




 Lunch was at the very beautiful Ascension Wine Estate. It included a tasting of 4 of their wines and a good, nicely presented meal.







The final stop of the day was Ransom Wines. More spectacular views and interesting local wines in an architecturally unusual building.
By the time we reached the hotel, we were too tired to think about eating out, so we grabbed a few things at the convenience store and nibbled in our room, before falling asleep very early. Tomorrow we board the ship.

Tuesday, 6 Feb -- Waitangi Day, and All Aboard!


This three-day stay in Auckland has been a real pleasure and a good way to adjust our body clocks to NZ time. The area is beautiful, just as we'd been told to expect in this country. Prosperity is evident everywhere, from the redevelopment in downtown Auckland, to the huge building projects in the suburbs and the flourishing wine industry farther north. Now, as the country celebrates the signing of the treaty that is still the basis of this country's relationship with the Maori, we're looking forward to boarding the SS Navigator and exploring more of the country.
From the bus on the way to the port, we watched someone bungee jump from the City Tower. To our relief, it was not a free-fall jump, but rather quite controlled.
We were made very welcome aboard the Navigator, greeted with champagne, served lunch on the pool deck and shown the features of our suite by Abigail, our stewardess. A chilled bottle of champagne and a fruit tray awaited us in the suite.
Lifeboat drilll is a necessary start to every cruise and this one was pretty typical and straightforward.
At the sail-away party we were treated to a double rainbow -- for sure if we could have visited THAT house (the one right there) we'd have found 2 pots of gold! Dinner was delicious and the company (Ann, Gerard, Kay & Willie) hilarious. We tried to go the the show, but kept losing each other and ended up in the bar. A laugh-filled evening, boding well for the cruise.
Back in our suite, we stepped out onto the balcony and revelled in the sight of a billion brilliant stars.

Wednesday, 7 Feb -- Tauranga

Photos of the Day
We had been warned that our suite was in a part of the ship that experiences a great deal of vibration, so were a little concerned that sleep might be difficult. Fortunately, it wasn't a problem, so I think we'll be OK for the 19 nights on board.
We hadn't been able to book a tour for today, but were wait-listed, so we grabbed a quick breakfast and went to the theatre -- just in case. Luckily, 2 tickets were returned in time for us to get onto the Maori Culture tour. Our effervescent driver and young Maori interpreter were both terrific. First stop was a Maori high school, where we had a practice run of the traditional welcoming ceremony,

followed by a demonstration of dancing and warrior moves. The latter reminded me of the kind of routine we saw at Tai Kwon Do, but involving spears and ferocious facial expressions.
From a high vantage point at Minden, we could see down over the whole area, including one or two kiwi fruit orchards. We learned that there are now far fewer sheep in NZ than formerly, more cattle, and more growing of crops such as kiwi fruit.
Our last stop was at a marae (home area of a Maori extended family), where we expeienced the welcoming ceremony "for real". We had to sing in Maori, which we'd been practicing on the way. Our host explained much about the origins and traditions of the Maori, we visitied their large common space, then moved to the dining hall for drinks and cookies. The family members are carvers in bone and a type of jade and had some of their work for sale.
After lunch on the ship, we relaxed for awhile, then watched as we sailed out of the harbour past a high, rugged island where someone was hang-gliding. The captain announced that there will be 2 metre swells tonight -- that should be fun!
We found another couple for Trivia, but only managed a 4th place finish. I'm sure we can better that! At dinner we recruited Ann and Gerard to join the team. Hopefully 6 minds will be better than 4.
The entertainment tonight was an Australian stand-up comic. Very funny. By the end of his routine we could certainly feel the effects of those waves! We'll be rocked to sleep tonight.

Thursday, 8 Feb -- Napier NZ

Photos of the Day
Napier was almost completely destroyed in an earthquake and fire in 1931. With determination and good leadership, the  town was rebuilt in about 18 monrths, to a standard designed to withstand future earthquakes. The style of the time was Art Deco,

so most of the buildings reflect that style, and are under the protection of the council and the preservation group. We drove around the city, then watched a film describing and explaining the events of 1931-33. Most fascinating is the fact that huge new areas of land were pushed to the surface by the earthquake and now form parts of the city. We walked around the central area, and were able to go inside some of the buildings as well.
Back on board, we joined a different team for trivia, since many people were still ashore, and I picked up some points for the highest score on the Mensa quiz. Before dinner was the Captain's Block Party. Everyone went into the hallways where we mingled with our neighbours, were served drinks and appies, and had a brief moment with the Captain. Several of our neighbours are on the World Cruise that left Los Angeles several days ago and will arrive back there in May, after something like 131 days.
After dinner we enjoyed the show, featuring music on the piano, drums, and guitar. This was our last day on the North Island, so tomorrow we'll discover whether there are differences between the 2 islands.

Friday, 9 Feb - Picton NZ

Photos of the Day
The long entry into Picton, through the Marlborough Sounds, offers stunning views. This is the area that produces my favourite wines, but we didn't see anything that looked like vineyards, just forests and steep islands and sailboats. Interesting fact: there's about 1 boat for every 4 people in New Zealand.

 Picton is a small, pretty city, with a very interesting waterfront. From the pier, we boarded a smallish power catamaran and headed to the Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary, where we spent about 25 minutes climbing to a spectacular look-out. We heard many birds, but saw only one. Our guide explained that originally, New Zealand birds had no predators. When rats, stoats and possums were introduced, the birds quickly became endangered. Now the country hopes to rid itself of these predators by 2050. They've started by clearing off shore islands and now are working on peninsulas. There's a barrier across the landward end, and traps everywhere for the predators. Apparently the bird population has rebounded significantly. From the boat we saw a tree full of nesting cormorants and several kinds of fish, including millions of jellyfish.
On the way back to the harbour, we were suddenly surrounded by about 12 or 15 porpoises, who travelled along with us for several minutes, frequently leaping. Not sure if either of us got a photo, but it was quite a thrill to experience.
I did well at Mensa quiz today, as did a lot of others. Trivia, not so much.

Saturday, 10 Feb - Christchurch NZ

Photos of the Day


The lovely surroundings of Christchurch are quite a contrast to the destruction that's still evident from the earthquakes 7 years ago. There are beautiful parks and gardens that survived, but many old and historic buildings are still unrepaired, or have disappeared entirely. Some neighbourhoods have been emptied of homes, and declared unfit to build on. They have made interesting use of shipping containers -- a temporary mall, made from them is just now being dismantled and in many places stacks of them shore up walls that would be in danger of collapsing in another 'quake. A temporary Anglican cathedral is supported by huge reinforced cardboard tubes. Streets are still torn up, because not all the infrastructure (power, water, sewage, etc.) is fully and permanently restored. But it is clearly a city with lots of energy and originality. A very successful playground was designed by 2 elementary school students. Areas are being dedicated to specific types of activity, such as arts, recreation, administration, entertainment and so on. Roads are incorporating bike lanes.

Sunday 11 Feb -- Dunedin NZ

Photos of the Day
We shoulda had an umbrella! But Dunedin is a great and very interesting city. Our tour started at the ornate railway station, where only a few trains come and go now. Once it was very busy.

Driving around the city, we admired elaborate churches, a brewery, a chocolate factory, the steepest residential street in the world, memorial parks and gardens. Walking through the botanic garden we were caught in a shower, but still enjoyed the rose garden, rock garden and hot house. A stop for coffee and hot chocolate warmed us a bit.
For me, the highlight of the tour, and perhaps the trip so far, was Olveston, a mansion that is still furnished as it was when the Theomin family lived there. The last member of that family died about 50 years ago, leaving the house and an endowment to the city.
Tied for the win at Mensa, no joy yet in trivia.
Fun evening with Elton Jack, who does (you guessed it!) an Elton John tribute.

Monday, 12 Feb - Milford Sound NZ


 Photos of the Day

We were inside the fiord for about 4 hours, enjoying spectacular views of the steep mountains and waterfalls. The clouds and rain hampered our enjoyment, but it was still beautiful. However, we watched in vain for the various wildlife that inhabit the Sound.
In late afternoon we returned to the Tasman Sea and began the transit to Australia. The ship was soon rolling in an exciting way, so everyone developed a pronounced stagger. We still enjoyed dinner with Ann, Gerard, Kay and Willie, then a comedy/magic show. Larry got to spend some time on the stage, shuffling cards and so on. At the end of the show, "his" card was pulled from the middle of a banana. We listened to, but didn't participate in, karaoke, before retiring to bed.
Full score at Mensa, no joy again at trivia.


Tuesday 13 Feb and Wednesday 14 Feb - On the Tasmanian Sea

It takes 2 days at sea to get from NZ to Sydney. 
A restless night rolling with the sea and lots of vibration noises.  A summer morning, though, which is cheering.  The ship did some pretty good rolling all day but getting sea legs and Larry's slight sea sickness is getting better.  Larry enjoyed a couple of lectures while I relaxed, read and did puzzles. As usual I aced Mensa and we did nothing much at Trivia.  We dined in style at Prime 7.  Annie Francis, a wonderful Australian singer was the evening entertainment in the theatre.
On Wednesday the sea was calmer though it was cold.  Puzzles, reading and a lecture or two, laundry  Very relaxing except messing up Mensa and stilll getting no-where on Trivia.  At dinner the maitre-d' gave each lady a long-stemmed red rose. Elton Jack was back with some of Elton John's romantic songs in honour of Valentine's Day.

Thursday 15 Feb - Sydney Australia


Photos of the Day
[note: internet connectivity on this ship is so terrible that we're posting in bits and pieces. We hope that eventually it'll all be there and make some kind of sense. Sorry.]We sailed into Sydney Harbour at sunrise and it was as beautiful as we've always heard.  Our dock is well beyond the main harbour so we sailed right past the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge.  Warm day and quite a bit of blue sky. Clearing Australian Customs & Immigration was a breeze, then we set off on a bus tour of the city, and out to Bondi Beach. I love this city, with its mix of history and modernity, and a liveliness that's contagious. Wandering around the area of Mrs McQuarrie's seat, we had lovely views and rubbed shoulders with people from all over the world. We could see the groups of people walking across the top of Harbour Bridge and took some photos in case Gerard happened to be in one of the groups we could see. Looks impossible to me! How do people stand up there? At Bondi Beach we watched surfers and sunbathers, walked along the edge of the surf and soaked up the energy. Kay, Willlie, Larry and I got off the bus as it passed back through the downtown area and walked through a shopping area, stopped for lunch, then walked to the harbour. We enjoyed beer and cider in a comfortable bar, then got a taxi back to the cruise terminal. We all wished we had more days in Sydney. No joy at either Mensa or Trivia. Over dinner we heard about Gerard's bridge crossing and lunch. Ann was on a long trip to the Blue Mountains, and decided to order room service, so we'll hear about her adventures tomorrow. The evening entertainment was the magician for whom Larry played straight man the other night. He chose a new audience participant who also turned out to be Larry, a telecommunications/computer software person. Coincidence? I think not! This guy was good.

Friday, 16 Feb - At Sea


On a leisurely sea day, we decided that a slow, well-presented breakfast was in order, so we skipped the usual buffet and enjoyed the main restaurant's offerings.
The morning lecture, "The History of Australia in 45 minutes" was amusing. For most of the rest of the day, napping proved popular with us.
I aced the Mensa quiz, but still we got nothing on team trivia.
The Captain hosted cocktails and music for returning Seven Seas travellers, then we enjoyed dinner with Ann and Gerard, before the evening entertainment. The singer, Annie Francis, was even better the second time around.

Saturday, 17 Feb -- Geelong, Australia

Photos of the Day

That's pronounced Ji-LONG (like Ji-RAFFE) by the way.
The sea was quite rough overnight, but calmed as we were approaching Geelong Harbour. This smaller city is near Melbourne, but none of the tours went there.
We were anchored, so had to tender ashore, then get on a bus. The first stop was "The Heights", a historic house and garden. The house was a pre-fab, arriving in a flat pack, back in the late 19th century (take that IKEA!). It was extended and renovated in the 1930s and bequeathed to the city in the 1970s. Very interesting, much bigger and more attractive than you'd expect for sure.
That was followed by a drive around the city and a visit to the Botanical Gardens, where we saw many native species as well as those that were imported.
The city has lost a lot of industry and is focusing on tourism -- we were the 5th cruise ship this season, and today they were hosting an IronMan competition. Between that and the fact that it is a beautiful summer Saturday, the harbourfront was very crowded and we couldn't find a place to eat. So after a walk around the city centre and a bit of shopping, we returned to the ship for a very late lunch.
I had only figured out 2 of the 5 Mensa questions, but still came third. For team trivia so many people were still off the ship that we combined remnants of 3 teams, and won with a score of 13/15! Wow! That's about double the score any of the three teams has had up until now!

Sunday, 18 Feb -- At Sea


It was pretty rocky all night and continued that way all day. We were glad to have access to the candied ginger the restaurant staff had given us a few days ago. After a morning church service, Larry stayed on for a lecture on oceanography. Then we took it easy all day until quiz time. No points earned, but the joy was in the laughter.

Great conversation at dinner with Ann, Kay, Gerard and  Willie. Willie shared important information about kilt-wearing, and our laughter greatly annoyed the crabby guy at the next table. The rest of the evening's entertainment was an Aussie folk singer who has also been sharing the history of Australia with us. Then we danced to the ship's musicians playing big band music.

Monday, 19 Feb -- a hot day in Adelaide Australia


Photos of the Day
Adelaide is a lovely city. Like others we've visited there are many houses with iron filigree trim and many parks. It has wide streets and a well-designed central area. Older buildings are protected with heritage designations and many have been restored.
Our first stop was the South Australia Museum, where there is an extensive display that explains the history, customs and culture of the Aboriginal people. We could have spent all day there, but only had 45 minutes, so got only a taste of it.
From there we moved on to the Wine Institute, where there is a vast collection of Australian wines. The tasting experience was a first for us: 120 bottles were arranged around the room in special cases with dispensers, in groups by type. We each were given a debit-type card with $15 on it and could insert them into the display to obtain a taste or 1/2 or full glass of the wine or wines of our choice. Larry and I chose fairly modest ones and were able to sample 5 each. Some samples were as much as $18.50. A good way to try out a range of local wines, for sure.
We walked out the back of the Wine Instituete directly into the Botanic Garden. The walk through it back to the bus was lovely, cool and peaceful. We saw many trees and few flowers.
I had a headache, so we opted to return to the ship at the end of the rour.
Screwed up the simple arithmetic in one Mensa question, so no points there, but in a smaller-than-usual field we came 2nd in team trivia.

Tuesday, 20 February -- Port Lincoln SA

Photos of the Day
This lovely small city is on one of the largest natural harbours in the world, and only failed to become the capital because it lacks fresh water. It is a major shipping port and we docked right beside and beneath the grain elevators and system of pipes used to move grain onto ships. Historically, windjammers used this port on their trade route. It was well-placed for boat-building, which thrived until the 1970s, but fisheries are its major industry. Tuna, White Kingfish, Prawns, shark and abalone were mentioned to us and we saw the boats that catch or farm them.
Our morning tour covered the Maritime history, including a most interesting little local museum in a former boat-building facility. The afternoon tour of the city included the Fishermen's Memorial, an interesting sandstone sculpture surrounded by stones carved with the many names of those lost at sea.  We drove to the
Winter's Hill lookout, where we could see the city, the harbour and, on the other side, farmland stretching into the distance. It began to rain as we returned to the ship, an unusual event at this time of the year. We are on the edge of a cyclone system, apparently, so hope that the next two days at sea are calm.
Aced Mensa, and unbelievably our thrown-together team tied for first in Trivia with only 6 points. Banner day!

Wednesday/Thursday, 21/22 Feb -- At Sea on the Great Australian Bight


The usual round of activities on sea days with some added touches.
On Wednesday, we had the great Door Decorations judging -- about 15 people had decorated their suite doors in imaginative and artistic ways, representing aspects of the NZ-Aussie adventure. Everyone else got to rank them and winners were declared. Lots of creativity there.
We had a special show of Aussie folk songs and in the evening  Broadway tunes show.
On Thursday, we heard a lecture about Aussie outlaws and their fates.
I went to my second "quilling" class -- still haven't quite got it, but it was fun to have paper in my hands.
The early show was Krew Kapers -- what a lot of talent the crew on this ship has! Wow!
It was a formal evening and we joined Willie, Kay, Gerard & Ann for dinner in Prime 7, then enjoyed a lively fiddle and piano show.
As usual, both days were winners for Mensa, nada for trivia.
[Something not mentioned before out of 460 travellers on the ship 190 of them are on for the complete Around The World Cruise that takes 131 days compared with our 19 day "leg".  After 19 I'll be ready to get off. ]

Friday, 23 February -- Esperance, West Australia

Photos of the Day
We sailed in through the Recherche Archipelago to a quite-protected harbour, where we anchored. We left early for a tour to Cape LeGrand National Park.
First stop: Stonehenge. Well, that was unexpected! Turns out to be a full-size replica of the original, as it would have looked in about 1950BC, built of locally-quarried pink granite. It is aligned with the summer solstice.
The park, our next destination, is beautiful. Along the way we spotted a couple of emu and others saw something apparently called a guiana or something like that -- we still have no idea what that is.
Lucky Bay has to be one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. White sand, turquoise water and a kangaroo on the beach.








Hellfire Bay is another lovely spot nearby; it's smaller and more rugged.








We got off the bus in downtown Esperance and wandered around the small centre-town area, stopping for lunch, then walked to the jetty to catch the tender back to the ship. It had become considerably rougher in the harbour so it was quite a ride. The tender driver cautioned us to sit until he told us, then cried "Now! Go!" and we all scrambled to the exit, where we were transferred to the ship by 2 burly young men. Back on board we can feel every time the tender is alongside, because the thrusters are going strong.
More Esperance, West Australia Photos

Saturday, 24 February -- At Sea

The last day of a cruise is always a bit different. The stewardesses had our bags out to be packed, so we had to organize ourselves for the next phase of the trip. We went to a morning lecture on the ANZACs at Gallipoli, then I had my last quilling class. I don't think it's a technique I'll pursue, but it was fun to try out. Although we'd spent all our points yesterday on teeshirts and a baseball cap, I did the Mensa (score!) and we played trivia (score!) and gave our points to team mates who are staying on for another leg of the journey. The production cast entertained us well, then we went for drinks and dinner one last time with Kaye (whose name I've been mis-spelling; sorry Kaye!), Ann, Gerard and Willie. It's been great hanging out with this group and we'll miss them.
More Photos from the last day at sea with our friends from the cruise

Sunday, 25 February -- Perth, Western Australia

Photos of the Day
We disembarked and took a taxi to our hotel in West Perth, where we left our bags. There's a free bus service, so we hopped aboard and went to the central part of the city. Most places weren't open yet, so we just wandered until we came to the Roman Catholic Cathedral, where we were just in time for Mass. It's a beautiful building -- a mixture of old and new. We grabbed lunch at a McDonald's (just to get back to real life after 3 weeks of gourmet eating).
We were picked up at our hotel by Hummer Safaris for a private tour of 3 local vineyards and an animal rescue park, all in the Swan Valley. We enjoyed trying the wines, though we didn't buy any, and we also got to sample (and buy) chocolate and preserves at a factory at one of the wineries.




The animal park was a real treat. It was the only place we saw kangaroos, koalas and a wombat. We wandered among the kangaroos










(one of them ate from my hand) and were able to get close to the others. There were also emus, many other birds, wallabies, and likely other creatures I'm forgetting. It was a great tour and we really enjoyed the company of our driver/guide, Wayne.
Good dinner at the hotel and an early night.



More Pictures from the Perth area "safari"

Monday, 26 February -- Perth to Alice Springs

We were up very early and off to the airport for our 6:05am flight. Alice Springs Airport is pretty and easy to navigate. We found the hotel shuttle, driven by Gavin who entertained us all the way into town, and soon were at the Aurora hotel. It's very well-situated, near the downtown, so we went for a walk and found a place to have an outdoor lunch. It's very hot here in the outback, and the flies are seriously annoying.
An aboriginal movie company was filming in front of one store, so we stopped to watch for a bit.
Back at the hotel, we had a very annoying 3-hour wait for our room to be ready. We kept being told "housekeeping is in there now, it'll just be a few more minutes", and  meanwhile 2 busloads of tourists arrived and were instantly given rooms, presumably the ones we'd been promised. Finally, someone new came on duty and immediately gave us a room. It definitely had deficiencies, but by then we didn't care. After a short rest, we went out and bought a few groceries and beer. That was dinner in our room.
Our evening at the desert park verged on magical. Four of us with two guides walked in the dark through the part of the park where the nocturnal animals live, wearing red head lamps. We saw many animals, some right up at our feet. Most common was the Echidna that is reminiscent of a porcupine and reminds me of something to clean mud off boots, not that I would clean my feet on an animal of course. There were also a couple kinds of wallabies, two types of bettongs, bilbies, bandicoots, and stick-nest rats.
The other two guests gave us a lift back to town.
More Photos of Alice Springs and the Night Desert Tour

Tuesday, 27 February -- Alice Springs & West MacDonnell Range

Click for Photos
When we had called to confirm our trip for the day, we were mistakenly told that pick-up would be 5:55am, so we staggered out then, ready to go. Pick-up was, in fact, at 7:45, so we had a long sleepy wait. However, it was worth it. First nice surprise! Our driver/guide was Gavin who had brought us from the airport. He's one of the best.


The West MacDonnell Range is rugged and beautiful. We walked deep into a canyon that forms the gap between two ranges. In another canyon we watched endangered Rock Wallabies bouncing from rock to rock. The ochre pits are magnificent. I didn't realize before how many colours of ochre there are, and they were all on display on the banks of these pits.


We enjoyed a delicious lunch at a cattle station, and we stopped at two swimming holes. We hadn't known to bring suits, but were at least able to cool our feet. It was a hot (~38 C) day and it was a nice feeling. It was tempting to wear our clothes into the ponds.
We arrived back at the hotel hot and tired and ready for a beer. I did some sink laundry and emergency repairs to my day pack and we turned in early.

Wednesday, 28 February -- Alice Springs & Uluru

Photos of the Day
There is much more vegetation than we were expecting. We're told it's not really desert, but a semi-arid dry zone. Most of this area is huge cattle stations. Around 8:30 we stopped at one that is situated on the geographical centre point of Australia, for a hearty breakfast. I've been baffled about coffee ever since we got here (even more than I am when I wander into Starbucks, and that's saying something!). There never seems to be a pot or urn, but only espresso machines or else instant coffee. From the machines they serve most of the usual choices, including something called "flat white". There doesn't even seem to be "Americano", which of course isn't anything like regular North American coffee anyway, but at least isn't drowned in milk. Until today, no one was able or willing to explain to me what flat white was. I had decided to just try it, but a fellow-traveller was able to tell me that it's milky coffee, so I went ahead. Turns out to be cappuccino but not so foamy. It's good, but I look forward to normal coffee with just a bit of cream when we get home. Can you tell that a month away is almost too much for me? McDonald's lunch and coffee crabbiness.

Pick up for this trip really was 5:55am, so we watched the sun rise from the bus as we headed out across the "Red Centre" of Australia.
After a few hours we came in sight of Mt. Connor and our guide explained that it is often mistaken for Uluru. At the rest stop we crossed the road, climbed a dark red sand dune for a view of both
the mountain and a huge salt lake, as well as the straight sections of the Lassiter Highway.





 [Along the the long highway to Uluru "Truck Trains" carry gear to folks in the Outback]








As we came near Uluru (formerly known as Ayer's Rock), our first stop was the Olgas, another huge formation within sight of Uluru, also red. The composition of the two formations is quite different, leading to different shapes. We walked quite a distance to get fairly close to a deep crevice, leading into the formation.


Eventually we drove into the park and spent a few hours driving around Uluru itself and taking a couple of short walks along its base. It's far more complex than most photos of it would suggest, with many overhangs, caves and waterholes. There are rock paintings in several places. The flies continued to be a huge irritant and we envied those who'd had the foresight to  acquire bug nets to protect their faces and necks.
The cultural centre was fascinating. In one section we saw a video of parts of the ceremony 30+ years ago when the land around Uluru was returned to the original owners, the two local aboriginal tribes to whom the site is sacred. As outsiders, we could only be told very small parts of their creation story (what a young child would learn), but it is enough to show the complexity of the belief system and the moral lessons children are taught in the Aboriginal tradition. Evidence of the stories is clear on the rocks. For instance one story involves a lizard that tumbled and slid down one slope, and you can still see his skin where it scraped off on the rock. Artists were working in one area, so we could see how they create the masterpieces we saw everywhere around the country.
As sunset approached, our guides Maddie and Eric parked the bus where we had a good view of the rock to our east and set up the barbies to make us a feast.







While they cooked we sipped bubbly and enjoyed the view and conversation. When the sun went down we started off on the 5 1/2 hour journey back to Alice, getting in about 1am. Along the dark highway we had to slow down or stop a couple of time for animals (several cattle and a horse) that had wandered onto the road. Apparently last week the bus hit a kangaroo.



 [Sunset on the "Rock"]




More Photos of the Ayers Rock (Uluru) Expedition - 19 hours start to finish

Thursday, 1 March -- Alice Springs to Sydney to San Francisco to Toronto (a 37-hour day)

Luckily our flight wasn't early, so we had time to re-pack our suitcases and go to a pharmacy, since Larry has a bad cold and he needed something for the trip.
3-hour hop to Sydney, where I caught one last fleeting glimpse of the magnificent Opera House as we came in. By the time we were off the plane we had about 30 minutes to boarding time for the next flight. Then we had to wait for a bus to another terminal, where we joined a long line to clear security before dashing to our gate. By that time it was 15 minutes past the boarding time but they actually were just about to begin. Happily we had an empty seat between us for the 13-hour flight to San Francisco and we both managed some sleep. Our flight out of San Francisco was delayed, so we had a bit of time to stretch before starting the last, 4-hour leg. Larry's ears had become completely blocked and painful, especially as we approached Toronto, so he was most thankful to be on the ground. This was a great trip, but it was lovely to walk into our own house at 1am on Friday.