Goodbye Australia and New Zealand

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.

Lovely Ashford wool roving
Lovely Ashford wool roving

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.

My beautiful aboriginal fabrics
My beautiful aboriginal fabrics

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.

Success at last!

We were on the bus at 7:30 for a kangaroo hunt. The bus went through Mudgee, but not out of the little town.  We turned down a street, and there they were. Kangaroos at last.

I had to use my telephoto lens, but you should be able to see them clearly in the photos. I also took a number of little videos with one being extremely humorous as a big kangaroo hopped down the side of the hill and then fell off right into the ditch for some unknown reason. I thought I’d be able to upload that video, but I can’t until I get home. So be watching for my last blog, “Mr. Kangaroo takes a dive.”

After throroughly enjoying the kangaroos, we hopped on the bus and headed out for the Blue Mountains. On the way it started to rain and was foggy.  It never let up. We were supposed to see The Three Sisters near Katoomba at Echo Point, three pillars of stone, but they were completely shrouded in fog. I found a photo on Flickr taken by someone named Leslie Lewis of what we would have seen today. I’m so sorry we missed it.

We ate at a sweet little village called Leura. We also found a quilt shop there and bought some wonderful fabric with Aboriginal designs.  The day before the guys had their John Deere shop, and today we found ours.

On the way back to Sydney, we watched a video about kangaroos called Kangeroos-Faces in the Mob. I copied the following description, and I would recommend seeing it despite the fact that it’s sad at the end.

For two years Australian film-makers Dr Jan Aldenhoven and Glen Carruthers lived with this mob in a remote valley of magical beauty. Share their compelling account of the day to day drama of kangaroo society.

Behind every face is a personality. Follow the destinies of two lovable young joeys – a female called Sunshade whose mother is conscientious and successful; and Jaffa, a little male full of curiosity and courage but whose mother is casual and forgetful.

We reached Sydney about 3:00 and thanked both Lesley, the Australian tour guide, and Leigh, our bus driver. They were both wonderful. We learned so much about Australia from Leslie, and Leigh was such a skilled driver. As one of the guys on the bus said to Leigh, “Can you just drive us home?” Good idea, I thought. So much more comfortable than the cramped quarters on the plane.

At 6:00, we gathered again for dinner at the Sydney Towers, a sister tower to the Space Needle even though it is twice as tall. I had a nice vegetarian main (entree) of chickpeas although it was salty and a tasty banana parfait dessert. Carol and Judy’s fish was way underdone, so as Carol said, “This may be our most expensive meal, but not our favorite.” The setting was gorgeous, however, and it was a wonderful way to end our time in Australia.

Tomorrow we are waking up very early to catch the 8:00 flight to New Zealand. I’ll probably get up about 4:45 so that I can put my big bag outside of my door for the porter at 5:10.  Poor Garrett has to come up to help me roll up my special pillow, but I’m on the top floor, 11, and he and Carol are on the 9th floor. We have been unable to figure out why we can’t have rooms next to each other as we did in Cairns.

We also change time again tomorrow. We will be 21 hours ahead of home. The confusion continues.

“This feels like heaven.”

Today was another big farming day. Breakfast and then out the door to the bus and a ride down to Nundle from Tamworth. The man who owns the Quality Hotel that we stayed in last night also owns a cattle station. We went to see his cattle feeding operation.

The setting was beautiful. The manager of the station, Ian, and his crew had just brought up new cattle to stock a feed lot. He said that he didn’t really like feed lots because they are cruel for the animals, but that he felt it was a necessity for food production. I have to say for myself that I also wish they were not a necessity either.

The cattle in this feedlot were not yet familiar with being off the pasture and into this confined space. When the bus drove over to the feeding lot, they all came running, presumably for food. They must have been disappointed in a load of tourists instead of food. Not too long afterwards, however, the real feed rig came along, and the cattle shoved and pushed to get their feed–all at one end! The other end was open for eating. Finally the cattle figured this out and moved down.

For lunch, we headed out to a cropping farm owned by David and Gordon Brownhill in Spring Field, New South Wales. Their operation is Merrilong Pastorale Company. It took us several hours to go from Nundle to the Brownhills farm. When we turned into the farm, Dave boarded the bus and took us on in to his country house. What a lovely place! His wife and a friend had prepared a barbecued steak and sausage lunch for the group. Gary said that it was the tenderest steak he had ever eaten, so you know that the quality of the meat was high. Dave and his wife had a beautiful home with a big veranda and sweeping views of the countryside from the well-appointed house, but can you imagine inviting 41 people into your house for lunch!

The Brownhills  started with a 1,500 acre plot many years ago; today it has been expanded to 16,000 acres. They grow grain, milo (sorghum), and dry land cotton, just to name a few of the crops. I was thrilled to see some cotton and touch it. It is super soft. This is also about the time that I learned that Lesley, the tour guide, is a spinner, too. Dave explained that this crop in his paddock (field) would be sold to the Chinese.

Apparently, the Chinese  buy most of the cotton around the world in order to make fabric. They have a virtual monopoly. Judy and I were speculating about when the fabrics are dyed and how that process goes. Dave said that his cotton field, the one we were standing in, could produce about 44 million  pairs of women’s undies.

Out of this whole day-No koalas and no kangaroos. Dave Brownhill tried to find both of them for us on his farm, but he had no luck. What are we in Australia for? It maybe this. One of the farmers on the bus at the Brownhills farm said, “This is what heaven looks like.” His wife said, “Maybe to you.”

We are in Mudgee tonight and headed back for Sydney tomorrow via the Blue Mountains. We have a 7:30 am departure time because Brent is determined to find some kangaroos for us. They are out early in the morning apparently. We’ll see.

The internet is terrible at this motel, but I finally got a few uploaded.

Happy Farmers

On the Sydney Opera House tour, we went from a sort of cool place into an elegant warm, darker interior. Just then I heard, “It feels like a milk barn.” Yes, Rupiper Tours does attract the farming set. These guys want to know about irrigation, pipes, crops, weather, and more. So, today, the mood on the bus was happy. We were headed out of the big city, Sydney into the country.

It took us about two hours or so to drive through the suburbs of Sydney into the Hunter Valley. Lesley, our Australian tour guide, told us along the way that in order to buy a home in Sydney, a person would need $1.2 million dollars for something not even very nice. As the Aussies would remark, “If they paid that much, they wouldn’t have a brass razzu left.”

We drove through one of the five national forests around Sydney for quite some time. It was filled with Eucalyptus trees. Lesley talked about the danger of fires in this area. Apparently Australia shares Canada’s big fire-fighting helicopters because the two countries have opposite fire seasons. Then we stopped for a chew (rest stop) shortly before arriving at Mt. Pleasant Wines in the Hunter Valley for wine tasting.

Mt. Pleasant Wines at Polkobin, New South Wales was established in the 1880s, and  we saw the paddock (field) where those grapes were growing. The wines we tasted were very sophisticated and not to everyone’s taste. Judy and Gary bought  new Semillion to drink later.

We ate lunch a short distance away where we found an alpaca shop. Then we boarded the bus for another two-hour ride to the Godolphin Horsebreeding and Thoroughbred Racing Stable owned by His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of Dubai. We learned about the intricacies of horse breeding from one of the employees, and then we met a famous horse, a Lohron. He no longer races, but he is an excellent sire. If you want to use him, it would cost $66,000. However, his true worth is in the horses that he sires; one of his offspring is valued at $44 million. Fair Dinkum! (Honestly.)

The guide at the horse stables said that the horses all have distinct personalities. For example, Lohron thinks he’s a big deal. He is unhappy if he is not the first to go into his  stable or the first to leave. When we met him, he also came right over. However, he likes to bite, so we had to be a bit cautious.

The Sheikh has never been here. Interesting. We also talked about how the horses are shipped by air on the Sheikh’s private plane  to different points in the world to race. It’s  a good thing that the Sheikh has enough money to support his very expensive passion.

At our “chew” stop near the  horse stables, we encountered a tree filled with White Corellas. Pretty messy. Later we saw the Galah Bird. It hangs upside down on fences and looks silly. So maybe you can figure out what it means when someone says to you, “Don’t be a Galah.”

We are staying in Tamworth tonight, the country music capital of Australia, but I’m in my room, writing all of you and listening to some good jazz.

Mosquito update: Lohron was wearing a blanket on this rather warm day because of flies. That seems to be the big thing around here.

This was a nice day for the farmers. Fair dinkum! Love the Aussie lingo.

Frustrations

In all travel there comes a day that does not go as smoothly as other days. This day was one of those.

Because Uluru is so far away from the populated areas of Australia, we had to fly to Sydney, but the airlines do not provide convenient schedules for this remote pick up. We got to sleep in a little later, but then we had to check out of our hotel by 10:00. We also had to change our carrier to Virgin Australia which had a departure time of 12:05.

We got to the airport super early, and then we had to stand in line forever. Mind you, this is a small airport. Security was tight. I got the wand for the first time. Then we sat some more. 12:05 passed us by. Finally we started to board, but once again, it was slow going. No lunch.

The airplane was old from what I could tell. Once we got aloft, we got our snacks, and most of us were pretty hungry. Well, let’s just say, it wasn’t a well thought out snack. We had barbecued chick peas (hard to describe–little sticks) and a savory muffin. The muffin was cold and dry. (They could have at least warmed it up and given us some butter or spreadable cheese.) Just carbohydrates. No fruit or cookies or cheese or peanut butter. I spilled my tea, but the flight attendants were so busy talking in the back of the plane, I received no help. It was a sorry flight, but at least Garrett had chocolate licorice for us to nibble on.

After we landed in Sydney around 4:30 (in the Uluru time zone),  we exited the plane from the back and climbed down the stairs to the tarmac. A woman in front of me was struggling walking. Then when we got to the terminal, we had several more flights of stairs. No help for her, but, as I later learned, we should have exited the normal way from the front of the plane avoiding all the steps. What a crew!

The weather in Sydney is cooler, and it was overcast. Our bus driver got us to The Grace Hotel on narrow streets. Then Brent, the tour director, told us that he had had a sort of nasty encounter with the restaurant that he usually takes his tour groups to in Sydney. (He thinks it might be under new ownership as he has had no trouble in the past. ) So the bus took us to the wharf in Sydney, and we all got off and found our own places to eat tonight.

I was looking forward to a cup of tea, a short blog, and a little relaxation. So, to make a long story short, when I tried to connect to the internet with my iPhone and iPad, nothing happened. Hotel staff  tried to help. I ended up in the lobby in my pajamas (covered up) with the very kind manager. “Wait until tomorrow,” he said. So I went up to Garrett and Carol’s room and Garrett started trouble shooting with me. Endless tries to get it working. Carol was exhausted and  balled herself up into a sleepy mound. Finally after the last hotel staff guy came up, I realized it was time to call it quits. Garrett, just for a try, pulled out his old iPad, and it connected! Then miraculously mine did too along with the iPhone. What devil was inside of my devices for two + hours tonight!

So my relaxing evening was anything but. I’m posting a few photos. Tomorrow will be a big day. Three tours- one of the city, one of the opera house, and one of the harbor. And oh yes, our guide says, “You’ll probably have time for a half hour of shopping at the end of the day!” Oh, goodie.

Judy wanted me to post of photo of The Grace Hotel. Her little granddaughter is named Grace.

 

 

Palya Uluru

I have a few more photos to post because we went out to Uluru last night for the Sounds of Silence dinner. We dined under the stars of the Outback in perfectly warm weather with all our friends and the flies and other insects. It was a once in a lifetime kind of experience. This experience cost $195 per person, but it was included in our tour package; otherwise, it would be a shocking cost for dinner!

We watched mother Uluru redden slightly in the sunset. I took a lot of pictures, however, of child Kata Tjuta because the sun was setting behind her. Upon arrival, we were served champagne and given Aussie appetizers including kangaroo and crocodile. (Apparently Australia is the only country where people eat the national symbol.) A didgeridoo player filled the evening with Aboriginal music, and later some dancers performed a hunting dance. I took many photos of the sunset at that time. It came at 7:19 pm.

As it turns out, Gary, our solid scientific guy, has an imaginative streak. As we were watching the sunset over child Kata Tjuta, he said that the rock looked like a man lying down-head, big lips, belly, and feet. If you look at my photos of Kata Tjuta perhaps you can see this, too.

Then we walked down a lighted path to tables set with china and linens and electric candles. As the light dimmed, we watched the stars pop out as we chose food from the buffet.

Later an astronomer came, and the lights were put out. It was dark and beautiful and the stars overhead were truly the jewels of heaven. We saw the Milky Way so clearly, and the Southern Cross and Orion, and several more. I tried to capture that moment with my camera, but it didn’t work, so it will have to always be a wonderful memory. I always try to remember that Judy says we can’t capture everything, and that sometimes we just need to enjoy the moment. This was truly one of those times. Magic.

One last reflection: Aboriginal art is pointillistic, dot painting. They use the points of satay sticks to make dots of different colors to form patterns. Yesterday I made the connection of those dots to scenes in nature. I saw a painting that I could not photograph that looked like the topography of the land, and last night when I looked at the stars in the Outback, I could see where the points of light for artistic expression come for these ancient peoples-nothing less than the Milky Way casting its starry glow over the face of Mother Nature.

Palya is a word around here that means hello, thank-you, goodbye and anything else in between.

Palya sacred Uluru!

In the middle of nowhere

I didn’t think I’d have Internet in this remote, no-man’s land, but I do. You never know.

This morning was brutal. We had a 4:30 wake-up call. Then we met in the lobby at 5:30, and were on board our flight to Ayers Rock or Uluru by 7:00.

Garrett had arranged for the three of us to sit together, but somehow things got fouled up, and I was seated away from him and Carol. But, it turned out great anyway. I was seated in a row with a friendly Aussie nurse, Robin. Once she figured out I was one of the many tourists on the plane, she talked my ear off the whole way.

Robin  was coming to Uluru with her colleagues for a nursing retreat on how to treat burns . She was born in the Outback on a farm, and so she has great respect for this place. She finally had me sit by the window, so I could just enjoy the magnificent landscape of this huge, non-populated area of Australia. We talked about Australia and the US. The time flew by. Then I asked her my big question. “Can you really put a bit of termites’ nest in water and drink it to take away stomach pain?” She said it was absolutely true. We became mates.

Upon landing, we boarded our bus for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and the Aboriginal Cultural Center. The Anangu Aborigines manage this land, and so much of it has been declared sacred. Photography is restricted in many areas, so I have no photos of the Cultural Center. Inside the center, however, the stories of these Aborigines was a highlight. Our guide, Toni, said that the Aborigines are the oldest people on earth, and so they look at us as being young and not having understanding about life. As a storyteller what this means is that you have to reach a certain level of understanding before you are allowed to tell a story. Their stories teach lessons and ensure that this culture is preserved.

After the lunch, we headed out to Uluru/Ayers Rock itself. This sandstone monolith sits 348 meters above ground, but most of it is underground. You can see by the pictures what a stunning site it is. The colors of this landscape are so vibrant, and, apparently this year, the area has had a lot of rain for the first time in many years, so there is more green to set off the red and ochre earth.

This Rock is sacred to the Aborigines, and  apparently back in the 1960s, it became a popular tourist destination. People came in buses. Hotels sprang up next to the rock, and people climbed all over it. When this area became a national park with Aboriginal oversight in the early 1970s, tourist facilities were removed. Yulara, the town we are staying in tonight, was then established along with the airport.

No one is allowed to climb on the rock anymore except for the the Aborigines who climb on the rock for specials ceremonies. Once again, as we drove around the rock, we were not allowed to take photos of the rock in certain places. Sadly the side that contains a set of holes clustered together and looks like a brain was restricted. You also cannot remov any small rocks or anything else from the rock. It apparently brings bad luck. The park facility has many rocks that people have taken and now understand that was a bad thing to do.

We walked out to Uluru with the guide, Toni. She showed us a watering hole and also a family cave with Aboriginal story paintings. In the photo I posted look carefully for white lines. These lines represent the coming of non-Aboriginal people and are part of a story that we were mostly too young to hear by Aboriginal standards.

We checked into our hotel around 3:00 and will soon be meeting to go out to Uluru tonight for dinner and star-gazing. Surely it will be a most special evening. It’s 98 degrees here  and 34 degrees back home in Renton.

Mosquito Update: I bet you thought I forgot my mosquito updates. I actually haven’t, but I wanted to wait until I found a good new tidbit of information. My flying mate, Robin, told me that female mosquitoes identify their prey by smelling the carbon dioxide left from human breath. I hadn’t heard that before, but look at faces covered by nets. They were basically to keep off the flies and mosquitos.