My final thoughts:
The flights to Australia and New Zealand are really killers, but these two countries are well worth seeing.
It took over 24 hours to get home. We left Queenstown at 10:30 am on Friday, March 10. At about 1:00 pm, we boarded Air New Zealand for the short flight to Auckland. In Auckland, we had to wait until 7:30pm to board our flight to LA. Note the photo of the airline reader board for gate assignments for LA. It’s at the bottom of the list. No gate, so it just says,”Relax.” We arrived in LA at 10:30 am on March 10. Another wait until 2:30 for our flight on Alaska Airlines home. Those countries are far, far away.
Flying economy on both Qantas and Air New Zealand is an ordeal. When I got on the flight to come home, I walked down the aisle of the Boeing 777. First came the luxury first class, and then comfortable business class. I nearly broke into tears when I saw the seats go from two to three in the aisle. Garrett, Carol, and I are all average size people with Garrett being thin. We are family and we like each other, and yet it was so hard to find room in those awful seats. I wonder if some studies need to be done to assess how these cramped conditions affect the health of passengers and crew.
If you ask me, “Which country do you like better?” I’d have to say that I don’t know . Australia is bigger, but its landscapes are as beautiful as tinier New Zealand.One thing I can say, however, is that Australia got all the nasty venomous creatures while New Zealand is much safer on that score. I understand that it has one native venomous spider, but the other two dangerous spiders have hitchhiked over from Australia.
Australia has its kangaroo, and everyone seems to enjoy eating it. New Zealand has its kiwi birds, but no one can see them.
Both countries are well organized and comfortable for travelers. I honestly did not meet one rude or unfriendly citizen of either country. Indeed, they seemed to be very proud of their countries and eager that travelers should understand what makes being “Down Under” so special.
One thing I really liked was the absence of sales tax on goods. If an item was marked $5, you handed the clerk a $5-bill. Likewise, there is no tipping. Apparently wages are high enough that tipping is unnecessary. We didn’t see any homelessness in Sydney or other areas, and the tour guide explained that their social welfare has a good system for dealing with this.
Prices seemed a little higher, but the US dollar is worth about $1.30 Australian or New Zealand. Lunch was usually around $15 to $20 Australian or New Zealand. I’m not sure what the hotels cost or many of the meals because they were included in the Rupiper package.
Food was interesting. We were all grossed out by the Vegemite which is brewer’s yeast with vegetables and spices. It’s eaten in many countries, but it takes yucky on my American tastebuds, and I’m almost a vegetarian! Eating crocodile is also difficult to contemplate. I, however, loved the pumpkin soup and all the ways they prepare sweet potatoes. They also eat beets! So yummy. In fact, they put beets in a lot of things including a hamburger order, “with the lot.” I also thoroughly enjoyed being in a commonwealth country because at breakfast I could get scrambled eggs, beans on toast, and a grilled tomato. Breakfast was my favorite meal on the trip.
Australia and New Zealand are also tea-drinking countries. I found good tea everywhere, and there was always an electric tea kettle in our rooms. So civilized.
They are also wool producing nations and had some wonderful wool clothing, yarn, roving, and felted objects. I have to tell you though that I had a little trouble adjusting to New Zealand mink, a blend of merino wool and opossum.
There were 41 people on the tour counting the tour guide, Brent Rupiper. Most of them were from the Midwest with just another couple from Washington and three people from Oregon. So, my husband is from South Dakota and he just has to be early to everything. It sometimes drives me crazy, but now I can see that it must be bred into Midwesterners. I remember coming down early to board the HSS Earnshaw and was among the last to get in line. One time we were waiting for the last person, Judy from Georgia, to board the bus, and she was four minutes early!
We all got along well. I made friends with Joyce the 2nd, but she is really Joyce the best. Her husband, Roger, is almost a Ritzvillite because he went to Bethel College with so many Mennonites from my high school. I loved to saunter and chat with Joyce. Carol has invited them out, and I hope that they will come. Wendy, the nurse from Wisconsin, was an angel. After Carol fell, Wendy really looked after her. We enjoyed sitting with her and her husband John, who has a great sense of humor and a lot of curiosity. Wendy has made many volunteer medical missions to Haiti sometimes accompanied by her husband John, who, as a farmer, has valuable skills in land, water, and construction.
I’m so glad Judy and Gary got to come. Gary always knows exactly where he is. Judy pays attention to details and points them out to me. I always learn from them. My brother, Garrett, is a researcher and organizer. I think that Rupiper needs to hire him to make all flight reservations and organize the trip. Carol is the social bee, so when I’m with her, I learn a lot about people. She is so sweet and kind that people find her easy to talk to. I, for the most part, just like to sit back, watch, take photos, and write. I don’t think we had a moment of discord on this trip.
I thank Garrett and Carol for encouraging me to come and helping me at every turn. I will always remember Garrett helping me roll up my special incline pillow every time we went to a new motel or hotel. And he was the one to figure out how we could both get our pillows into our luggage.
My greatest disappointment was not being confident enough in ocean waters to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef. I snorkeled in Hawaii successfully, but the waters were very calm and a boat was nearby and I didn’t have to wear an ill fitting Lycra body suit. Yuck!
Maybe my most special memory was sitting out under the stars at Uluru. It was at that moment that started to appreciate the dots of Aboriginal design. Magic.
Since my WordPress blog plan would charge me for uploading videos to Mosquito Travels, I decided to make a movie and just include a lot of photos and video that you have not seen. It is long-sorry, but halfway through is the video of the kangaroo falling into the ditch. I also included didgeridoo performances, bungee jumping, sheep shearing, and dogs herding sheep. (In the first dog/sheep video you can see the lamb going away from the flock and how the dogs tried to bring it back.) Here is the link. (Just click on “link.”)
I think that I’m speaking for all of us when I say that Rupiper Tours was excellent and that Brent Rupiper did a fine job of shepherding us Down Under. Rupiper Tours have a farm focus, and, wonderfully, farmers willing to take a bus load of hungry tourists into their homes and feed them lunch.
If you are contemplating a trip to Australia and New Zealand, I can recommend reading, In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson. He’s a travel writing humorist, and this book was out loud funny at times.
Thank you dear readers for taking this extraordinary journey with me. I’m not sure where Mosquito Travels will go next, but I’ll let you know. Actually I have to say that I’m a little disappointed not to have gotten more information about mosquitoes in the Southern Hemisphere. I know they are there, but for some reason, they seemed to be hiding under bushel baskets on our trip.
Last, but not least, is a thank-you to Ken, who made sure I took this trip. He knew I would enjoy it, and he unselfishly let me go. When I arrived home on Friday, the house was clean, dinner was in the oven, and the dog was groomed. I married a special guy.
I knew I was home when Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and finally Mt. Rainier framed the jet window. I was also served tea on Alaska Airlines that tasted like coffee (hot water obtained by pouring it through a coffee maker). Home sweet home.