New Zealand

Blue Pool, Taupo, New Zealand

Blue Pool, Taupo, New Zealand

In July 2004, before departing my then home in Tyler, TX for a New Zealand/Australia trip with my mom, I rented Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Knowing the film was shot in New Zealand and knowing we would go to some of the locations, I wanted to be able to recognize some of the scenery. A 3-hour movie of that genre was not my cup of tea. I kept falling asleep and having to rewind and replay. I got through the movie — though not fully awake — just in time to catch my flight. Qantas (our airline) managed to lose my garment bag with my nice, white, pinstriped pant-suit with jacket. I was not happy with their not being able to locate such an obvious item, even with my detailed description. A frustrating start but a picturesque journey through some of the world’s southernmost points ahead…

Auckland
New Zealand’s biggest city also has become one of my favorites — great food, city life, and fun water recreation. Known as the “City of Sails,” Auckland is located off Mission Bay — full of sailboats, of course. We looked down over the city from atop Mt. Eden. We shopped and dined on Parnell Street, saw homes of the wealthy on Pericot Drive, dined some more on Tamaki Drive (an international strip), and spent some time at Sky City on Queen Street. A tour took us to Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World and Auckland Museum.

Taupo
Perfectly manicured farmland and beautiful landscapes of serene pastels provide the backdrop of a drive through Taupo. The fantastical scenery goes on for miles and miles and miles. I’ve never seen anything like it. The city is home to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Waikato River, both of which we enjoyed. A Huka Jet Boat ride past Huka Falls on Lake Taupo completed our stay.

Matamata
To make my hours-long torture of watching Lord of the Rings worth it, we saw Hobbiton in Matamata, where part of the movie was filmed.

Rotorua
A Hangi (feast) and concert in Maori Village let us see how the indigenous Maori warriors of New Zealand live. In appearance and rituals, they’re similar to other tribal groups in other countries. We soaked ourselves in the geothermal hot springs and saw other unique natural features, including the Ngamokaiakoko Mud Pool, Pohutu Geyser, and Blue Pool. Then I got hands on at the Rainbow Farm farm show, feeding milk bottles to lambs and watching sheep herding and shearing.

Australia

kangaroo, Featherdale Wildlife Park, Canberra

Julie with a kangaroo, Featherdale Wildlife Park, Sydney, Australia

The parts of Australia I saw in New South Wales were a combination of sophisticated cities and the wild outback you see in movies.

Melbourne
Near the top of my favorite cities list, Melbourne is home to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the mother church of the Catholic Archdiocese there. The city’s first settler is remembered with his namesake, Captain Cook’s Cottage and situated near a lush garden conservatory. It’s always interesting to see how the same war is memorialized around the world, as I saw with the World War II Monument overlooking Remembrance Garden. We also browsed through the elegant National Gallery of Victoria and The Arts Centre.

Phillip Island
No doubt one of the most unbelievable experiences I’ve ever had was the popular Penguin Parade on the coast of Phillip Island, situated on Western Port near Bass Strait. Sitting on a set of bleachers with other tourists and looking out onto the ocean was like staring off the edge of the earth. As the sun set on the horizon and the sky turned a steel blue-grey, small penguins, one by one, began emerging from the water. It was the end of another day, and they were swimming back to shore. They hopped onto the sandy beach and waddled past us and into their sleeping holes for the night. It was like a dream. And nature took my breath away.

Canberra

Three Sisters Rock, Canberra, Australia

Three Sisters Rock, Canberra, Australia

Australia’s capital of Canberra is a geometrically designed series of gardens that’s home to the Australian War Memorial and Parliament House. The beautiful Lake Burley Griffin and Mt. Ainslie are part of the city’s breathtaking scenery. From the Blue Mountains, you can step out onto Mary’s Lookout and see the Three Sisters Rock, which looks just like it sounds (a series of three rock formations). Atop the mountain, we got the chance to experience a taste of The Mountain Devil, the world’s steepest mountain ride. The path leading up to the top is lined with eucalyptus tree — a koala’s favorite. We saw the cute, cuddly marsupial at the Featherdale Wildlife Park, where I got to pet a wallaby and jump around with kangaroos all around me. We also saw other native animals, including Australian birds, penguins, wallaroos, wombats, a grey-headed flying fox (bat), and a Tasmanian Devil.

Sydney

Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbor, Australia

Julie outside Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour, Australia

Similar to Hong Kong but on a much smaller scale, Sydney is also set on a harbor surrounded by skyscrapers: the Sydney Harbor, overlooked by a military base and the architectural beauty that is the Sydney Opera House and Bridge. The acoustics are spectacular, as I discovered when I got the opportunity to sing the Italian aria O Mio Babbino Caro in front of visitors there. You can see the magnificent skyline from the Royal Botanic Gardens and on board a harbor cruise. While out on the water, we saw Pied Piper, a suburb with the most expensive homes in Australia. We later took a stroll along the country’s most famous beach, Bondi Beach, off Bondi Bay, which spills out into the Tasman Sea. We spent part of the evening at Darling Harbour, a cool hangout with trendy shops and restaurants.

There’s so much more to Australia and New Zealand I want to see and experience, including the Great Barrier Reef and the South Island of NZ (we were only on the North Island). Another trip there is on the horizon.

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