Sydney, Australia – more than just Men at Work and kangaroos

We arrived in Sydney mid-afternoon on a Thursday afternoon. After watching numerous episodes of the television show, Border Security, about customs at the SYD airport, I was nervous. We made sure that we didn’t bring in any food and honestly ticked off the questions on the custom forms that applied to us. Wooden items – yes (I bought a wooden box in New Zealand). Had we been to a fresh-water body of water – yes (lake in Queenstown). Did we have athletic/hiking shoes worn in soil – yes. Since we declared these items, a customs officer interviewed us. He only wanted to look at our shoes. And, we were allowed in without any issues and little question.

We’ve been in Sydney for four days now and have had an awesome time so far.

Our first picture of the Sydney Opera house on our first night here

Me with the Opera House

Sydney lights from our first night

Art Gallery of NSW

Friday was our first full day in Sydney. There was a Picasso exhibit at the Art Gallery of NSW (New South Wales). Being Picasso lovers, this was just perfect. This exhibit, on loan from the Picasso museum in Paris, was especially poignant because the paintings and sculptures are from Picasso’s own collection. These were the paintings that he kept for himself. There were pieces from his early, early years (12 years old) to his last days (from his 90s) to everything in between. I feel so lucky to have seen his work throughout our trip – in Buenos Aires, Madrid, and Sydney. He’s my favorite artist of all time.

We walked through Hyde Park from the museum to the aquarium. This is a fountain at Hyde Park with the Sydney Tower in the background.

Another photo of the fountain with some church in the background

We saw this sticker on the way to the aquarium and cracked up.

These cool birds were everywhere in the park.

Sydney Aquarium & Wildlife Sydney

After the museum, we headed to the aquarium and a little wildlife exhibit. We saw some penguins, sharks, and heard a lecture on the Great Barrier Reef at the aquarium. At Wildlife Sydney, we saw some koalas, wombats, wallabies, and kangaroos.

The Aquarium is at Darling Harbour

Needed some fuel before our visit to the aquarium (fish & chips and beers )

Penguins!

Snapping them swimming is just as hard as it is in the wild. They are fast little suckers!

Trippy jellyfish that glowed in the dark.

For my little cousin, Levi - sharks!

Another shark

Shark teeth.

Koala

Kookaburra

Wombat! Number 3 on my "Favorite Animal" list. It's so cute!

Kangaroo - laid back...with his mind on his money and his money on his mind.

Shopping

On Saturday, we had some time to kill before our bridge climb. There were a couple of weekend markets happening so we hit those. First, we went to The Rocks Market. Second, we headed to Paddy’s markets.

The Rocks Market had dozens of stalls of artisan’s goods. It’s always fun to see the works of artists and their craft. We picked up some souvenirs for our moms and some wine glass charms for us.

Shopping at the Rocks Market

Paddy’s Market in Chinatown was quite the opposite experience. There are a few floors of shopping. The ground floor had stalls and stalls of the same cheaply made stuff. The other floors were like a typical shopping mall.

Paddy's Markets in Chinatown

Inside the mall-part of Paddy's market

Sydney Bridge Climb

Before our trip, I knew that I wanted to do the Bridge Climb. I boasted to my friends and family. I “liked” them on Facebook and got updates of all the celebrities, proposals, and weddings that happened on the bridge. I was so excited. The problem that I forgot to acknowledge is that I have a significant fear of heights. Well, not heights per se but I hate walking on things where I can see underneath me. I walk around or jump over manholes and sidewalk grates in fear of falling through.

Throughout the trip, the Bridge Climb was always in the back of my mind “Can I do it?” When we took the tram at Ocean Park in Hong Kong, I was terrified. In Auckland, when we visited the Sky Tower, I couldn’t walk on the glass floor. In Queenstown, the chair lift to the luge scared me. One day, Chris looked at me and said “Honey, I don’t think that you are going to be able to do the Bridge Climb.” And, I reluctantly agreed.

But then, on our kayaking trip in Queenstown, the couple from Colorado convinced me that it wasn’t that bad. The walkways were solid and you couldn’t really see below when you are walking up the bridge. I could handle that. No problem.

On Saturday, Chris purchased tickets for us to do the twilight climb. I couldn’t wait. Our climb started at 6:45 pm. We were there almost 30 minutes early. I was excited, scared, nervous, and happy.

The first line of business was to sign a release and do the alcohol breath test. Everyone in our group passed and we went on to the next step: clothes. Everyone has to wear a jumpsuit, safety belt, a radio, rain gear and a headlight (for twilight & night climbs only). You can wear sunglasses but they had to be attached to the jumpsuit. Everything has to be attached so nothing can fall out and land on a car or person beneath the bridge. No cameras. No caps. No watches. Nothing in the pockets. And, they take it very seriously. We had to go through a metal detector to ensure no one brought stuff in his or her pockets.

http://www.bridgeclimb.com/The-Climbs/Climb-Preparation

After we were fitted with everything, they took us on a practice course to ensure we were comfortable with the ladders. The steps are very close together. But, I felt good going though the practice course. No problem.

We started the walk toward the bridge to start our climb. The guide latched us onto a thin metal line. The first part of the climb we walked on wood boards. What?!? Wood can crack and break at any second. The freaking out started. The cold sweat started. Suddenly, I was really hot. I was thinking to myself “You can do this. You can do this. Breathe. Breathe.”

We finally passed the wooden planks. Next came the ladders. Uh, that little practice course did not prepare me for this. There were a lot of ladders and what felt like a million little steps. AND, AND, AND, I could hear cars driving by as I made my way up the ladder. At one point, there wasn’t anything on my left side and I could see down. “Don’t look down, don’t look down. Get down this thing fast.”

Whew! Got through the ladders and the rest was cake. Nice incline on a solid surface. And, the views were FANTASTIC! Doing the climb at twilight was perfect. We got to see the sun set while the city lights slowly turned on. As we were heading down, we were witness to a couple of firework shows across the city. Our last view was the huge moon hanging low in the sky.

I am so happy that I did this. It was really fun in between the panic and anxiety.

Before the climb to the top

Love this pic with the Sydney Opera House

This pic was from the very top of the bridge.

Another pic from the tippity-top

On our way down. You can see a little red cloud right above Chris's head. This was part of the fireworks display.

Last pic on our way down with the west side of Sydney in the background

STOCK PHOTO - we are not in this pic. But, it shows you what we looked like climbing the bridge at twilight. Our sunset was not this dramatic but still beautiful.

Pancakes on the Rocks

Two friends recommended a pancake restaurant called “Pancakes on the Rocks.” On the Rocks refers to the location of the restaurant. “The Rocks” is a neighborhood in Sydney where we happened to be staying.

We ended the Bridge Climb around 10 pm. We deserved some pancakes and headed to the restaurant. Luckily, there wasn’t a long line and we didn’t have to wait long for a table. We had the best pancakes that we have ever eaten. IHOP sucks compared to this. We both had ICE CREAM on our pancakes. No butter – ice cream. Chris also had cream on his. Chances are we’ll go back again before we leave.

Chris with the Pancakes on the Rocks menu. So many options...

CH got the Long Stack with cream AND ice cream.

My choice was Macadamia Madness with ice cream

Boating on the Sydney Harbour

We spent Sunday on a boat with Captain Colin. I read about him in the American Airlines magazine. We lucked out because there was just one other family on half of the trip. So, we basically had a private charter for most of the day.

The boat, Emma Mei

The weather really cooperated with us. Every day we were in Sydney had little rain showers. But, on Sunday, it was sunny and warm without being too hot. We had great views “from the top” and equally beautiful views from the water. Colin provided a knowledgeable commentary of Sydney’s history.

Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge from the water

We dropped anchor at a bay with dozens of other boats and yachts. I took a dip in the cool water (not as cold as the river in Queenstown). Chris was on shark patrol.

No sharks! Water was chilly at first but felt great after being in the sun all day.

Colin provided us with a great lunch of prawns & scallops on half of an avocado on top of greens. Sliced chicken with chili sauce and bread rounded out the meal. Dessert was cheesecake and blueberries.

Chicken with chili sauce

Prawns (shrimp) and scallops over a half avocado on a salad with yummy salad dressing

Loving lunch on the boat

As we headed back, we noticed a storm brewing. Colin got us to Circular Quay (pronounced “key”) just in time. We briskly walked back to our hotel (10 min walk) and just as we got to our room, we saw the rain pour down. Talk about perfect timing!

-kb

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It’s So Hard to Say Good-Bye to New Zealand (to be sung to the song “It’s So Hard to Say Good-bye” by Boys II Men)

After Queenstown, we had one more night in Auckland before we left for Sydney. After spending four nights at the Hilton-from-Hell-Auckland during our first trip, we knew we had to explore another option. We found a boutique hotel called Hotel DeBrett in the fashionable High Street area (not far from the Hilton-from-Hell-Auckland).

This reminded us of a very modern hallway that could be in The Shining.

The Living Room - loved the decor!

The bedroom

The bathroom - the circular tiles were funky and gave the room a cool feel. Too bad the shower leaked into the rest of the bathroom.

The office building across from us had some cool window decals.

My two cents on boutique hotels is that they are great in theory but not great in reality. I guess I’m used to a certain level of service and amenities. And, the boutique hotels that I’ve stayed at always seem to miss the mark on something. Nevertheless, I’m glad that we got a chance to stay at the Hotel DeBrett for one night but I’m glad that it was only for one night.

Observations and Anecdotes about NZ

  • The people we met were extremely friendly and outgoing
  • Auckland and Queenstown are both very clean: both inside and outside. There are recycling bins everywhere and people actually use them. Every public bathroom I visited was clean. I didn’t experience a gross bathroom once.
  • NZ is expensive! Even with the favorable exchange rate, things just cost more. For example, we had fish & chips at a restaurant and it cost $60 NZ ($50 USD). No drinks, no appetizers, no dessert. A 1-liter bottle of water cost $4 NZ. I hear that Sydney is even more expensive.
  • They do not have a one-cent coin. So, if something is $5.27, you pay $5.30. Or, if something is $5.21, you pay $5.20. The cashier will round up or down accordingly.
  • Tipping is not expected but we usually left a little tip each time. It just feels wrong to not tip.
  • Like in the UK, the letter “Z” is pronounced “zed” not “zee” so when you say NZ, you pronounce it N-Zed. I like this.
  • There are weight limits to your carry-on luggage on domestic flights on Jetstar and on the international flight on Qantas from AKL to SYD. They actually weighed our carry-on bags and we had to check our rolling bags. Did not expect that.
  • In Queenstown, the only wildlife in the mountains are goats, possums, and rats. No harmful animals. Possums are such a nuisance that they kill them and use their fur like wool. You can buy possum fur clothing.
  • In Auckland, a major metropolitan area, I never was asked for spare change. No panhandlers.
  • In Queenstown, we saw people hitchhiking. I didn’t know people still did that. There are rapists and murderers everywhere (according to my mom, at least)

Other Funny Anecdotes Along the Way…

  • In Madrid (I forgot to post about it then). After a long travel day from Buenos Aires to Madrid, I was very jet-lagged and exhausted. I had my boarding pass in my pocket as well as some money designated for the tip. I tipped the doorman who brought us our bags. After a long nap, I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out the money – the money that I was supposed to give to the doorman. Oops! I had accidentally tipped him my boarding pass. I saw him on our way to dinner and, after a good laugh, I gave him a proper tip. He gave me a special smile each time we saw him after that.
  • On our way to Hong Kong, we had to pass through London Heathrow immigration due to our layover. When Chris and I reached the counter, I greeted the immigration officer. As we were walking away, Chris looked at me and asked, “Why did you speak in a British accent?” I denied it because I didn’t realize that I had spoken that way. Not sure what got into me!
  • It’s completely natural for people to ask us where we are from. A couple of people don’t want to offend us by asking if we are American. So, we’ve been asked “Are you Canadian?” and “I hear a North American accent there. Where are you from?” I find this amusing – people think that being called American is offensive. Who can blame them?
  • When we are asked, we always say “Oklahoma. In America.” We add the “in America” because we aren’t sure if people know about Oklahoma. Well, we were wrong. EVERYONE knows Oklahoma. One gentleman from Coromandel, NZ said that he learned all the songs from Oklahoma! in school. Another woman from Auckland told Chris “We learn all about Oklahoma from the television.” And, our cab driver in Queenstown told us that he just watched a t.v. show about the land run. It was neat to know that our little ol’ state is know around the world and people are actually interested.

-kb

Queenstown – a real vacation

Let’s see…when we last left you, we had just spent our first couple of days in Queenstown. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit in QT. It truly felt like a vacation. There were no crowds, no city scape, and no hustle and bustle.

Sunday 5 Feb

The first couple of days were a little overcast with a cool breeze. Sunday was the first really sunny, hot summer day. We decided to hit the lake and rent a boat for a few hours.

First things first…our daily breakfast.

Our view at breakfast

I fell in love with the kiwi jelly

After breakfast, we took a walk by the lake. We loved the foliage, colorful flowers, and bountiful fruits. Here are some pics from our walk:

Beautiful blackberries

Not sure what these things were...

These look like figs but not 100% sure

Apricots

We decided to rent a car to get around town because a one-way fare from our hotel to Queentown proper was $50 NZD (about $40 USD). So, if we made multiple trips to town, it was pretty costly. There was a water taxi available but we had to work around their schedule and it was still pretty costly ($30 NZD roundtrip for both of us). A rental car was only about $70 NZD a day so you can easily see that it was the most cost-effective option.

Next stop – marina. Our boat was pretty small but perfect size for the two of us. We went around the lake but didn’t see all of it. It’s pretty large! And, despite the warm sun, the water was still way too cold to jump in. And, I really, really wanted to. But, I just couldn’t get hot enough.

The little boat

The water was so clear and fresh. At one point, Chris dropped the anchor down and we could still clearly see it from at least 20 feet deep. It was clearer than the Caribbean sea. The water was smooth as glass. Perfect for water skiing. We did see some brave souls (probably locals) who were skiing.

Water was smooth as glass

The mountains surrounding the lake are beautiful. One mountain range is chock full of forest with deep green trees. On the other side of the lake were brown barren (still striking) mountains. It was interesting to see the striking mountain differences surrounding us. In the distance, we could see snow capped mountains and glaciers. These glaciers feed the rivers which feed the lake, hence the cold water.

Waterfall!

"I'm King of the World!"

Trying hard to get hot enough to jump in the lake

Green mountains on the left and brown mountains on the right.

Monday 6 Feb

Monday was our rest day. Our two priorities were laundry and finding a place to watch the Super Bowl. It’s a tradition of ours to always watch the Super Bowl wherever we are. And, it’s been fairly easy to find a bar wherever we are to watch the game.

Our first stop was to drop off our laundry. We didn’t realize that Monday was a holiday and the dry cleaner that we scoped out on Saturday was closing at noon (we thought it closed at 5 pm). We got there just in time to drop off our laundry so it would be ready before they closed. Whew! Thirty more minutes and Chris would have had to wear my clothes. Queenstown is by far the most expensive place that we had our laundry done but we did have A LOT of clothes this time.

The laundry place

We headed back to the hotel for our free breakfast and to chill until noon. After we picked up our laundry, we went into town and found a bar that was showing the game. We watched the first half and the halftime show (I happened to LOVE the Madonna performance) before we went back to the hotel to catch the last quarter. Watching the game is fun but we always miss the commercials that are aired in America. The only commercials we saw were for ESPN sport channels and EPSN shows/upcoming games. At least we heard the same announcers – last year in Quito it was in Spanish.

At a bar watching the Superbowl. Congrats, Giants!

At the bar at the hotel, there was an older American woman who was really loud and obnoxious. Pretty much everyone in the bar (a whopping eight of us) was rooting for the Giants. But, she was the most vocal. Here’s a little exchange we had:

Her: “Where are you from?”

Me: “Oklahoma.”

Her, in an incredulous voice: “Oklahoma? How did you get here from there?”

Me: {confused look} “Uh, we flew here.”

Had I not had a few beers already, I really would have made her feel stupid. But, I was too slow to react. Don’t you hate it when you think of all the right things to say after the fact? These are some things that I would have liked to said to her:

“I rode a plane like you did, stupid ass.”

“Well, we packed up our teepee, got in our covered wagon, and, in spite of all the Indian raids, we finally made it across the border to Texas where we jumped on a train and made it to the Dallas airport.”

“We swam.”

“We flew. Boy, our arms are tired!”

Tuesday 7 Feb

Our cab driver from the airport to the hotel had recommended an excursion to us called the Funyaks. The trip consisted of a jet boat trip up the Dart River with an inflatable kayak (funyak) ride back down with a stop for lunch. We booked the trip for Tuesday.

The day started early @ 7 am. There were about 23 people on the trip in a range of ages. There was only one other American couple from Colorado. From Queenstown, there was a 45-minute drive to Glenorchy, which was the base for the trip.

They suited us up in a wet suit, a fleece pull-over, a windbreaker, and water booties. Yes, it’s summer but the wind is cold on the jet boat and we would be kayaking down a glacier-fed river. So, if the funyak tipped over, we would be somewhat protected.

The jet boat ride was fast. The driver weaved around trees and into tight spots without any effort. Several times I thought that we were going to hit something or get stuck on some shallow area. The driver did his requisite spins, which were fun, but the best part was definitely the scenery.

The jet boat. Notice the red thing in the back of the boat? That is a rolled-up funyak pre-inflation.

Low lying clouds made for a dramatic landscape

Misty mountains

River rocks

After the guides inflated our funyaks, we headed downstream in our little boats. Chris was the captain of our funyaks – he was in charge of all the steering and directing. And, he loved to direct me: when to paddle, which side to paddle, and when not to paddle. He was a great captain. We didn’t tip over once or get stuck on the shallow areas or trees.

The funyaks post-inflation

All suited up and ready to rock!

More breathtaking landscape

The guys dragged the funyaks over some rocks and the ladies did a little hike to an area by a gorgeous grotto. By that time, we were all hot from hiking and dragging the funyaks. So, a little dip in the water sounded refreshing. And, refreshing it was! We stripped down to our wetsuits and jumped in. It took my breath away when I hit the water. The water felt like ice needles on my skin. Even with the wetsuit, it literally hurt to be in the cold water. Once we were out of the water (we weren’t in for long), the sun melted away the pain.

The best part of the day was a little side trip inside the grotto. We kayaked into the grotto to a small area where a glacier stream met the river. The other American couple asked us to trade cameras so they could take pictures of us and we could reciprocate. It was a brilliant idea. That’s how we got the pictures of us.

The grotto.

My captain. Laid back.

Small crevices to navigate our funyaks

Best part of the trip so far!

Where the stream meets the river

Nature at its best

Exiting the grotto with all smiles

Lunch was sandwiches with super fresh ingredients like avocado, tomatoes, sprouts, lettuce, hard boiled eggs, brie, sliced cheese, and luncheon meats. But, no chips. No chips?? I really like chips, especially with my sandwich. But, I survived. Dessert was fresh fruit, brownies, banana bread, and chocolate chip bars.

A hike through the forest after lunch back to the funyaks

A little dust storm across the ground. Note the snow on the mountains in the background.

The end of a perfect day. (You can see a little bit of the glacier in the background)

The trip was the highlight of our journey so far. I will never forget the magnificent, natural beauty that I witnessed. I was really sad to leave Queenstown and New Zealand.

– kb

First Days in Queenstown, NZ

Friday 3 Feb

Lake Wakatipu. Mountains simply called The Remarkables. Breathtaking. Magical. Action-adventure. Relaxing. All of these things are Queenstown, New Zealand. Quite different than the metropolitan areas that we’ve visited so far. And, it’s just what we need at this point in our trip.

Everything that I complained about the Hilton was redeemed at the Queenstown Hilton. We got the Diamond upgrade to a suite and, right off the bat, the service was extraordinary. The front desk manager escorted us to our room and gave us a tour of the hotel on the way. Our room is large with a separate living and sleeping space (and after constantly being together this long, a little space is a good thing…remember, Chris and I are used to having some time apart each week). But, the icing on the cake is the spectacular view from our large balcony. This time we have furniture, unlike the Hilton Auckland.

Living Room (shot from the front door)

Living Room (shot from the bedroom door)

Bedroom - great view from the bed

Balcony - lovely views

We arrived in QT around 2:00 pm and just explored our hotel a little. I had collected about a million brochures at the airport for the various activities around town and the surrounding areas so we waded through those too. They really have it all: mountain biking, parasailing, paragliding, bungee, zip lining, hiking, boating, speed boating, fishing, skiing, jet skiing, kayaking, canoeing, helicopter rides, shopping, spas, and on and on.

We needed some lunch and headed to one of the four restaurants at the hotel. A pub. We stuffed our guts with pizza, calamari, and seafood chowder. And, drank some beers.

Seafood chowder with the largest mussels I've ever had. It was good but not the best seafood chowder I've tasted.

Too many beers because as soon as we got back to the room, Chris passed out feel asleep while I blogged on the balcony. Room service for dinner and bed early.

Saturday 4 Feb

Free breakfast at the hotel is so-so but it’s free so we can’t really complain (much). They have a juicer so one can make their own juice. Fresh carrot and orange juice – yum! Our main goal for the day was to hit Queenstown proper. Get acquainted with the town and to find a place to do our laundry. (Laundry is the running saga of our trip) We took the free hotel shuttle to town and Chris immediately was drawn to the gondola rides up the mountain. From the top, there is paragliding (no thanks), bungee (no thanks), mountain biking (maybe), and the luge (yes!).

View from the bottom of the mountain

The gondola

At first, I was pretty terrified to do the luge. I was picturing the actual luge where you lay down and take really tight corners. But, as I watched, I decided to give it a try. And, I was hooked after the first run. They force you to take the easier, scenic route first but then you can take the advanced track. We had so much fun! Plus, the view from the mountain is too pretty for words.

We had to take a chair lift to the luge course

Chris looks huge on the little luge. So cute!!

Me going down a big dip. Woooo!

As you can see, I'm kicking his butt...

After the luge, we headed back to explore the town and grab lunch. And, to find a place to do our laundry.

Surprisingly, there were several restaurants that were closed for lunch. We were starving and, out of desperation, we tried a Mexican food restaurant. Let me just say that we have actually seen a handful of Mexican restaurants in Auckland. More than I expected. So, Kiwi’s are a little familiar with Mexican food, we guess. And, lunch was…well, a good attempt at Mexican. It filled our bellies but I can’t say that my craving was satiated. The best part was all the hot sauces that they gave us to spice up our meal. Here are our faves:

We tried a lot of different hot sauces. I really liked the Osama one...

But, this one was my fave

Bean dip was pretty good

Chris's burrito

My chicken tacos. Rice was, well, not Mexican rice.

We did some shopping but, after five hours in town, Chris was ready to head back. I could have continued shopping and browsing for another couple of hours (at least). But, we’re a team so I went back with him.

Shopped at an artisan fair by the waterside

This time, I was the one who passed out when we returned to the hotel. We had dinner reservations at another hotel restaurant at 9:30. After the nap, we went for a short walk before dinner.

I couldn't resist lolling around the lush hills.

These are our neighbors. Ducks, some birds, and a couple of mountain goats are really the only wildlife we've seen so far. We were told that there aren't bears or cougars in the mountains. Weak.

Dinner was delicious! No pics though – we forgot the camera. The night weather was perfect and we sat outside with a view of the dotted lights across the mountain and the bright moon casting a glow on the water. Since it was so late, we basically had the restaurant to ourselves. That and the view made for a very romantic atmosphere.

Loving life in Queenstown. It’s Sunday, sunny, and hot. The past two days have been overcast. We are taking advantage of the heat and sun so we rented a boat. More to come on that later…

-kb

iPhone Photos

We’ve been taking photos with our little Sony snapshot camera, mostly.  But, every once in a while, I’ll grab my iPhone out of my pocket and snap a pic.  Here are a few from the trip so far:

Auckland, Baby!

Well, so much has happened since we left you last in Hong Kong. We’ve really been having a very good time and just haven’t had a chance to blog. We’ve already spent 4.5 days in Auckland. We are now in Queentown, NZ. So, we have a lot to blog about and this is gonna be a long one.

First things first. I’ve gotta comment on our 10.5 hour flight from Hong Kong to Auckland on Cathay Pacific. O.M.G. We were in the First Class cabin that contained, not seats, but suites. It was by far the best flight experience I’ve ever had in my life.

There were nine passengers and three flight attendants in this cabin. That’s one attendant for every three passengers. We had exceptional service. Cherry and Trina were our main attendants, who served us food, wine, champagne, made our beds, and basically tended to our every need.

The food was phenomenal. Trina made up a table in my suite so Chris and I could eat together. The best part of my meal was caviar with boiled potatoes, crème fraiche, cooked egg yolks and whites, and the most velvety raw salmon I’ve ever had.

Enjoying dinner together. (I'm wearing the pj's that they gave us. Yes, I'm kept them. They're cute and comfy.)

Cheers!

Chris left my suite to head to his so he could work on some music. I was left to watch a couple of romantic comedies that I’ve been dying to see: Friends with Benefits and The Change-Up.

{CH Note}
After composing some music for one of Mickey Reece’s upcoming films, I watched the spectacular Drive.  It’s the best film I’ve seen in ages.  And, the score was one of the best parts.  I should have watched this before working on the music. {/CH Note}

Chris asleep in his bed. As you can see, he had plenty of room to lay down and rest comfortably.

I got about 2 hours of sleep on the plane, which is very unusual. I think that it was because I so excited about going to New Zealand. Of all the places on our trip, I was looking forward to NZ the most. Here are some pics of my first views of NZ.

First views of NZ from the plane

Gorgeous view from plane

Anyway, all that was forgotten when we arrived at the Hilton Auckland hotel. Ugh. All the luxuries that we’ve had on our flights and at the Hyatt were gone. This hotel is not a luxury hotel.

Now, I did use free night certificates and points, but I’m a Diamond member and thought that would be taken into consideration. Our room was small. Our view consisted of another room. They could see us and we could see them. We had a balcony but no furniture to sit on. There was no concierge lounge. It was dreadful. They should be honest and just call themselves a Hilton Garden Inn. Even after throwing my Diamond status around, we didn’t get another room. I know that they were booked but it seems that someone who frequents their hotels would be given preferential treatment regardless of using points or not. Their staff did not understand the meaning of customer service and just didn’t kiss my Diamond butt enough to satisfy me. Their concierge was worthless. The front desk staff was worthless. And, the porter/bell hops spent more time chatting with themselves than helping the guests.

After two nights and another reminder, they did give us another room. While it was larger and had a view of the harbor, the harbor view was sometimes replaced with a large cruise ship. We could look directly into the cruise ship rooms and they could look into ours. So, basically, at this hotel, you have the option of a view of another room or a harbor view that is sometimes impeded by a cruise ship. (Mind you, cruise ships were there 3 out of the 4 days we were there) To have a constant, unobstructed view, you must pay thousands of dollars a night. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS HOTEL.

Auckland, baby!

What the hotel lacks in luxury and service, the city of Auckland makes up for with friendly people and tons of things to do. I want to live here. Badly. It’s a big city without being too big. Outdoor activities like swimming, biking, kayaking, and hiking are abundant. The weather is perfect – not too hot and we hear that it doesn’t get too cold in the winter. If only we could find a way for them to let us immigrate here…I wonder if they have a shortage of healthcare IT consultants and audio engineers?

Day 1 – Arrived in Auckland on Monday 30 Jan

This happened to be their Anniversary Day, similar to our Independence Day. There was a ton of stuff going on. We decided to head to the Laneway Music Festival. There were several bands that Chris liked and, well, I like music festivals. The festival was walking distance from our hotel so we had a chance to get to know our surroundings and experience the fresh, summer air.

{CH Note}
I knew that The Horrors were playing in Auckland on the day that we were scheduled to arrive.  It was only a couple of days before we left Hong Kong that I discovered that it was a music festival with several other great bands that I have never seen play live before.  The lineup was stellar!  It was expensive (approx. US$100 per ticket).  But, it was soooo worth it for the quality of lineup that they were able to secure.  Having a free festival in Norman is great.  But, I, and I’m sure many, many other OK music fans would gladly pay $100 for the quality of bands that they brought in.  We showed up pretty late and still saw Washed Out, Twin Shadow, Feist, and The Horrors.  That lineup alone could justify the ticket price.  And, the list of bands that we missed was equally or more impressive.  It was such a great time!  The fans were also way more respectful of others’ desire to enjoy the music than any American festival I’ve been to in years.  Maybe it’s the expense.  But, the focus seemed to be the music, which was quite refreshing.
{/CH Note}

View of Sky Tower on our walk to the festival

Enjoying a beer at the Laneway Festival

Twin Shadow

Feist

The Horrors

Day 2 – Tuesday 31 Jan

We decided to spend this day just exploring Auckland. Our first agenda item was to find a place to do our laundry. Luckily, we found a place not far from our hotel.

After we dropped off the laundry, we opted for a quick city bus tour that took us around the city sights. I know it’s cheesy but this city is OVERWHELMING with things to do and see. It was an hour on a bus with some commentary. This helped us decide the places that we wanted to revisit.

During the tour, I really loved this area called Parnell. I spied an Indian food restaurant that looked good (yes, even from the bus). After the tour, we took another city bus to the Parnell. We ate lunch at said restaurant (called Oh Calcutta) and did a little shopping.

We headed back to pick up our laundry and the jet lag was catching up with us. We skipped dinner for bed.

Pics from our day…

Bird shaped sculpture

Islands across the bay from Auckland

Neat building next to our hotel that changed colors at night. It looks cool but it's really just a landing deck for the cruise ships.

Cool red iron fence

Day 3 – Wednesday 1 Feb

There are so many day trips available from Auckland that you could spend two weeks and still not hit them all. Around the wharf, there are several tour agencies that offer day trips. On day one, we collected a massive amount of brochures to figure out which one we wanted to do.

We decided to go to an island called Coromandel. It’s a 2-hour ferry from Auckland. We were pumped to get on the water and get some beach time. What we didn’t realize is that the island of Coromandel is so big that you really can’t see everything that they advertise on the brochure in only one day trip. And, of course, the two things that we wanted to see were too far away to visit for just a day trip. We really wanted to go to Cathedral Cove and the hot water beach. We were told (when we arrived to Coromandel) that we didn’t have enough time.

The Ferry - it was great. Not too crowded so we had lots of room to spread out

View of the Hotel from Hell from the water (all those rooms and only a few with constant great views)

Fantastic view of Auckland from the ferry

Enjoying the boat ride. It was quite chilly but the fresh air felt wonderful.

One of the many islands we passed on the way to Coromandel.

Another lush island that we passed on our way to Coromandel.

After the four-hour round trip ferry ride and a 30-minute round trip bus ride to town, that really only leaves you 3 hours to explore the island. So, we opted for a quick “Beach Explorer” tour that took us to “one of the top 10 NZ islands” called Chum Beach. After a 25-minute hike over rocks and through the woods, we were at Chum’s beach. It was beautiful with very few people on the beach. We tried to snorkel but it was overcast and the water was a little rough so conditions were not favorable. Oh, and the water was cold! But, we roughed it and played in the ocean for a while. Then, it was time to head back to hike to catch the bus to town to catch the bus to catch the ferry back to Auckland.

Scenic view from the top at Coromandel. It was a little overcast but still breathtaking.

These are the rocks and forest that we hiked through to get to Chum's Beach. Not too treacherous but not for the faint at heart either.

Chum's Beach

Chum's beach

Dinner was at the Wharf – fish and chips for both of us. The best thing about the hotel was the proximity to a ton of restaurants. We ate at a restaurant called Y Not. It was good but not the best food I’ve ever eaten.

The night was still young so we headed to Sky Tower, which is Auckland’s version of the Space Needle. The views are breathtakingly spectacular. We missed the sunset by minutes but the city lights were just as dramatic.

Helping out a fella on the walk to Sky Tower

"When the lights go down in the city..."

There were glass pieces on the floor so you could look down.

My favorite view

A view of the top from the bottom

Day 4 – Thursday 2 February

Our anniversary!! We rented a car and drove 2.5 hours south of Auckland to the Glow Worm caves in Waitomo. I know that this word gets used a lot but the experience was awesome! The tour itself only lasts 45 minutes and the time with the glowworms is about 10 minutes but it is definitely worth the trip. We couldn’t take pictures but you can see some pics on the Internet to get an idea of what we saw.

Chris did a great job driving on the right side of the car and the left side of the road. He was nervous but he truly is an expert driver. He didn’t hit one curb and only crossed the left lane a few times.

The wrong side of the car!! And, the wrong side of the road!!

The cave exit after seeing the glow worms. I wish we could have taken pics.

Seeing the New Zealand countryside was a beautiful experience – lots of lush, green mountains, meandering streams, and plentiful livestock (cows and sheep, mostly). The livestock roam up and down hilly areas. Quite different than the cows that graze the flat pastures of Oklahoma. I even saw corn grown in pristine rows up and down the hillside. Passing through the little towns reminded me of the small towns in Oklahoma and Texas.

Very green and hilly

Baaa....

Chris took charge of making the dinner reservations and kept me in the dark. So, dinner was a complete surprise to me. He made the perfect choice. We went to a restaurant called Non Solo Pizza. It had an extensive menu of gourmet Italian cuisine, my favorite! Everything was so fresh and delicious. We tried to take pics of the food but it was too dark (romantic, though) to capture the deliciousness.

Great pick for dinner! Italian, my fave!

Cheers to us!

I love our anniversary dinners. We always reminisce about our life and past memories. We banter about the good, the bad, and the ugly about our marriage over champagne – great, cheap therapy.

Ten years and counting...older and definitely wiser!

We had a good laugh about our first real trip together. Chris was working for AT&T and I was still in college. In an effort to impress me, he booked a trip through a travel agent to Acapulco. And, man, I was impressed. We ooh’d and aww’d over the towel made into an elephant shape. We had dinner at the Hard Rock Café. We ate at KFC. Somehow we arranged to see the cliff divers from a fishing boat. I got my hair braided on the beach. Chris had long hair and a goatee. We took pictures with film. The whole trip cost $900. At that time, we had no idea that we’d ever be where we are today.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Panda-monium!

OK, OK, I know that this has been said at every zoo with a giant panda but I definitely had the panda fever. I was so excited to see the giant pandas that I could hardly sleep. Our plan was to wake up early, have breakfast, and get to Ocean Park early to avoid the crowds. And, it worked out perfectly. It opened at 9:00 am and we were there by 9:15 am.

Super pumped to see the giant pandas!

We headed straight to the Panda Adventures exhibit and had the place practically to ourselves. There are two giant pandas – Le Le and Ying Ying. They were in separate enclosures and it was their feeding time.

Ying Ying

Le Le

Chris with Le Le

Krystal with Le Le

Here are some videos that I took (Facebook friends – these are the same ones that I posted to my wall)

There were also two red pandas who really don’t look like giant pandas but a cross between a cat, a fox, and a raccoon. They were more active than the giant pandas and very cute.

Feeding time for the red pandas

Red panda on the move!

Cutie pie!

After I watched the pandas eat, poop, and begin their nap, I was ready to explore the rest of the park. This place is huge! There are basically two different parks – The Waterfront and The Summit. We took a cable car to The Summit which was pretty cool. We lucked out and didn’t have to share a cable car with anyone. We saw great views of the park and the surrounding bays. It was another cloudy, hazy day so the views weren’t great.

White knuckling in the cable car

View from the cable car, hence the white knuckling. View below is The Waterfront

The Summit had all the rides and we weren’t in the mood for roller coasters, so we took the express train back down to The Waterfront. The Waterfront had all the animal exhibits. I had to see the pandas one last time before we left and Chris obliged. We left around 11 am – just as the crowds and lines were growing.

Nap time for Ying Ying

Le Le - just chilling

Back to the hotel to finish packing before we check-out at 3 pm. Our flight to Auckland doesn’t leave until 9:30 PM tonight so we’re just hanging around the hotel until we head to the airport. So glad that the hotel gave us a late check-out!

-kb