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Before we got to Melbourne, something, probably a bug from home, got to Mike and laid him low for a day and a half. So he missed my greeting from the Town Crier! He also missed meeting Robyn, our delightful guide from Robal Tours. We had a delicious lunch at a nearby winery and I enjoyed the wine tasting too. But they didn't have any Shiraz and the other varieties were nice but nothing to write home about. Robyn and I talked steadily throughout the day.
Then we traveled to the Healdsville Sanctuary to meet "my" platypus [Mike arranged to adopt one in my name for Christmas.] I was disappointed that Mike was unable to visit Healdsville because it does give one a close up view of the native fauna. Doesn't allow touching, though. Saw koalas, kangaroos, tasmanian devils, and THREE platypuses. They were quite active too, swimming and gliding through the water. One even clambered out of the water, rolled over and scratched his tummy for me! I'm sure that was MY platypus saying hello to me. Also at Healdsville was this echidna, or spiny anteater, which was small and cute
Hobart in the Australian state of Tasmania was next. Wonderful port even in the pouring morning rain. Quite an experience to walk through the treetops in a tropical rain with my rain jacket still in the car! The gum trees, better known to us as eucalyptus, are huge. They rival in girth and height our redwoods but are not nearly so long lived.
As we motored on to the wildlife sanctuary the rains stopped and the weather ideal for Talune Sanctuary. Boy, that was great! Really up close and personal. Talune would probably better be designated a wildlife farm and labor of love but it was something else. (I am sorry to say that as of 2005 it is apparently closed). We walked into the office/house and while Mike was paying admission I was petting Suzie, the 15 year old yellow labrador retriever. I turned to the small couch were I saw some large tattered stuffed toy animals and noticed one was breathing! It was Matilda Wombat and yes, I could pick her up and cuddle her. I've been "waltzing Matilda"!
We also petted a Tasmanian Devil--and got a great view of those teeth! Stuart, our limousine driver from TasNationalTours, helped us feed the kangaroos!!

Both of us were able to get face to face friendly with koalas. They also had a platypus named Puddles so Mike did get to see one.

For a LOT more wildlife pictures, CLICK HERE.

Two days loafing at sea, soaking up sun and lazing about. Then another coolish day sailing through Fiordland National Park. This is a heavily wooded glacial valley filled with glacier melt and waterfalls. Very serene and lovely--rather suggested what Yosemite might look like with the valley floor flooded. The misty clouds added to the beauty.
Dunedin, New Zealand, was settled by Scots. Its major industry is education with Otago University and several other colleges in the area. Our stop here was the first is a series of busy port days. Our great tartan wearing guide was Arthur from Arthur's Tours . He took us through the old cemetery which was delightful then up the world's steepest hill and a stop at a small gift shop. The street is indeed steep and without the twists and turns of San Francisco's Lombard Street.

Out into the country for an up close look at the Royal Albatross. These huge seabirds have a wing span of nearly 8 feet. As we wound down the hill, Arthur pulled off and led us to a cove area with several New Zealand Fur Seals. These are technically seal lions but no matter. One was particularly chummy and willing to pose for the camera although he got rather testy and showed his displeasure vocally and with toothy snarls as he flopped across our path on his way to a grassy napping spot! Arthur also showed us a fairy penguin nesting in the hillside burrow. Then on to Penguin Place for up close viewing of the yellow eyed penguins. The trench and blind layout works marvelously well for incredible close-ups! Even our light lunch at a small internet cafe (Mike and I had toasted ham and cheese sandwiches; they were all out of their homemade tomato soup) was fun. Really slow internet connection but at $4NZ the half hour, we can't complain!

For more penguins, and also the Royal Albatross, CLICK HERE.

Christchurch was nice but not really very exciting. We did go through the Antarctic Center which was interesting for lots of reasons including the fact that Christchurch is the jumping off place for the Antarctic. The center has the public area plus working areas for the United States and other countries with a presence in Antarctica. Fascinating center and I was quite surprised to have Mike willing go into the snow chamber. Yes, Michael James Hall, famous for his snow avoidance, made the choice of experiencing it! Maybe it was because he knew he could leave it quickly for summer weather.
We also went to a wildlife sanctuary--yes, another one; we seem to be specializing in different animals!--this time to see the tuatara, a lizard like creature which is the living relative of the dinosaur. It has a third eye,non functional, in the middle of its forehead. Or so Mike tells me. And we saw the Kiwi birds in their nocturnal house. These are flightless birds. New Zealand has no native mammals. Has to do with breaking off from Australia way back when and the evolution process. New Zealand is very active geologically with many active volcanoes as well as geo thermal areas. But that comes a bit later.
I have very mixed feelings about Wellington. It's a city and that's really about all I can say about it. However, I did have a special hour and quickie tour with Sheila Downs, Soroptimist International of Lower Hutt, not far from Wellington. Sheila made sure I saw the theater where Lord of the Rings had its Australasia premier and the marvelous troll above the marquee! Sheila also sent us the maps of the film locales which is visited later that day. So that was great fun to meet one of my Soroptimist email buddies AND to pretend we were indeed in Middle Earth.
I've certainly been fortunate in being able to be at Mosley Bog in England (which inspired Tolkien's Shire) and many of the New Zealand sites for Middle Earth (River Anduin, Rivendell, Isengard, Helms Deep, Brie). Our guide Murray from  Murray's Tours  is standing with Renée at the spot in Rivendell where Gandalf whispered to Elrond "Gollum has been seen!"

LOTR fans Click Here for lots more locale pictures!

Tauranga was a full day indeed. We were off the ship early with another couple and met Tim from Tim's Tours to be driven inland to the Waitomo Cave district. This is where the glow worms live. These creatures are the larval form of a type of fly. Actually they are maggots which drool strings of mucus for six or seven months. They catch other insects on these strings and feed upon them. As adult flies they live only a few weeks. Still the turquoise pinpoint glow from the cave ceilings is breathtaking and I'm so glad we got there. We walked through limestone caverns to the underground river where we boarded smallish (capacity of 25 people) boats to glide through the glow worm caverns. It was so silent with the eerie beautiful glow and occasionally lap of water. I couldn't help but think Gollum (from Tolkien's The Hobbit) would appear at any moment! I am sorry we were not allowed to take pictures inside the caves.
After this treat, we drove through more of the green rolling countryside to the thermal areas. Rotorura has an active area in the city center where there was an eruption of mud and ash only a year ago. Then to another area to see the geysers and bubbling mud despite heavy rains and steam.
This area also had some the wonderful Maori Cultural Center with marvelous displays which we didn't have enough time to explore as much as we might have liked. We had yet to see the sheep shearing (again up close and personal) and get back to the ship before she sailed. No mean feat!.
Our shearing experience was again up close and personal. Tim, our tour guide, simply outdid himself today. There were the four of us tourists, one other US couple traveling on their own by car (and from the nearly next door town of Clovis, CA!), Tim and farmer owner/shearer Hugh. Boy, Hugh made it look easy. The adult ewe seemed a bit bored by it all but the two lambs he sheared really weren't all that sure about this new experience. We also saw and felt the difference between the adult wool and lamb wool. Hugh once sheared for the New Zealand national team. Really great.

For a lot more domestic animals, CLICK HERE.

Our final day cruising was outstanding. Bay of Islands glistened in the warm sun with sparkling calm sea. We were amply early ashore for our boat tour of the Bay and search for dolphins. Unfortunately we found no dolphins or other marine mammals but I did see a flying fish and lots of sea birds. The best was yet to come. We beached on a deserted island and enjoyed our box lunch as we sat on the sand. Mike then headed for a shady bush while I waded in the cove and collected shells and stones. Soon the boat collected us again. Most of the group were youths and young adults but there were three of us "mature" women and we managed to find each other and bond. Of course, putting on our figurative purple hats to defy convention and trying something different certainly played a part: we three went boom netting. What's that, you ask? Well, the boom nets boats use for fishing are extended at the side of the boat, one gets into the trough formed and holds on to each side for dear life and off the boat goes. Rather a full body water skiing, I guess, would be another description. Well, its the best I can come up with. It was FUN although hard on the upper arms and hands! The youthful females, the children then the young men followed our lead. Our male counterparts were conspicuous by their lack of participation. Australia, New Zealand and US--common bond, common joie de vie. Digital photos will be exchanged and the bonding continued. I came back to the ship with day glow tan.
Our final hours in Auckland were interesting but not terribly exciting. We visited the Kelly Tarlton Antarctic exhibit and found it different from the one in Christchurch. Here we walked through a reproduction of the first human habitations of Antarctica then through the live exhibit of King and Gentoo penguins. Then out to the airport and the long flight home to rain and chill in San Francisco. That day glow tan has become a rich brown and won't fade for a while. The wonderful memories will remain brilliant in my heart.

Renée Hall

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