Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

Exotic Travel Destinations: Explore Without Leaving Your Armchair!

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

Is it hard for you or someone else you know to go traveling?  Maybe you are a grandparent who would love to take a grandchild traveling, but can’t afford the expense.  Or maybe you have some spare time; you like playing computer games, and you would like to explore some unfamiliar cities.  Here’s a cheap solution; it’s called Big Fish Games.

The online games site offers a variety of “hidden object” games that take the player to well-known tourist spots in big metropolitan areas around the world, like Rome, Venice, Sydney, and San Francisco.

The site’s “Travelogue 360″ games take players to Paris and Rome. Sydney, Australia, and San Francisco, California are featured in the site’s “Big City Adventures” games.

The games are challenging and can be easily understood by nearly any age of player.  And best of all, they are fun!

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How to Get Arrested, Booked, and Escape in Under 45 Minutes in Melbourne, Australia!

Monday, February 11th, 2008

“Hey, did you guys take the Experience tour yet?”

“The what?” we responded.  Doug was intense with excitement.  He was one of our new cruise ship buddies who happened to be visiting the Old Melbourne Gaol (jail), too.

“You have to do it.  It runs every half hour, but they only take 20 people,” he added.  “There’re lining up right now in front of the building.”

“Okay, thanks.”  We nodded and scurried out of the somber building.

Ned Kelly Death Mask by Sheree ZielkeBut my stomach was feeling a little queasy; I was not sure if I was up for more of this gaol’s brand of “experiences.”  I had already spent an hour inside the Old Melbourne Gaol; the death masks, the whipping frame, and the horrific correctional devices employed by the gaol in its early history were not for the faint-of-heart.  And mine was feeling very faint.

So, it was with a fair level of trepidation that I followed Doug’s advice and joined the queue for the Melbourne Gaol’s “Watch House Experience.”

I began to regret my decision when I met the gaol’s intimidating desk sergeant…

Read on…

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Princess Diana: Is she really worth all the hype?

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Princess Diana Exhibit Sign

Sydney, Australia’s Powerhouse Museum and the dainty Princess of Wales don’t really seem to fit together.  But then again, they really do.  Up until early May 2008, the city of Sydney, is hosting a special exhibit dedicated to the late Princess Diana, one of the most influential and powerful women the world has ever known.  So, in that sense, the Powerhouse Museum and the adored Princess are a perfect pairing.

I, as a fan of Diana, could have gone back through the exhibit again and again, but time was short, so an hour was all I could budget.  Here are the hi-lights.

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8 hours to pack a suitcase? That’s just nuts! No, it’s WINE! No-fail tips for packing wine, and other liquor!

Friday, February 1st, 2008

Actually, it was more like 12 hours, but I had already experienced enough derision from my travel mates.  So, I didn’t fess up to the real amount of time.  But…

I had precious cargo to transport.  And I wanted it to survive the ravages of airline luggage wranglers, airline conveyor belts, and airline scales.

I was not about to leave my hand-selected New Zealand wines behind; but neither did I want to ship the bottles only to have them broken in transit.  And I didn’t want to pay an overweight baggage fee at the airport.  So, logistical plans take awhile.  Okay?

I have brought back many fragile things in my suitcases — with almost complete success.  Especially wine.  I haven’t lost a bottle, well, except one to an unscrupulous airport security inspector, but that’s another story…

A Quick and Easy Guide

Here is a quick and easy guide for the supplies you will need, and tips for how to pack your imported wine for safe and secure transport in your suitcase….

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Sydney, Australia: I am Very ANGRY at YOU!

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

“It’s just not fair,” I wailed. 

I wailed because I saw buttery yellow sunlight creasing the clouds, and because it was disembarkation day for our 14-day cruise of New Zealand and Australia, and our last day in Sydney, Australia.

We had arrived in port two nights prior, but had only one rain-filled day to explore this massive port city, with its famous Opera House, gorgeous old heritage buildings, and infamous convict history.

But that’s beside the point ‘cause now I am just mad at you, Sydney.  And that’s very strange since we (my husband and I) had vowed we had no interest in visiting Sydney.  Ever.  And that makes me even madder.

You could have told me sooner that I was going to love your harbour, that I was going to love your city streets and your people, that I was going to adore The Rocks, and that you had so much to offer.  I would have made different plans.

And now it’s too late; we are leaving.  (Or so I thought.)

Things are never as they seem…read on…

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Tips for Enjoying Your Cruise Vacation in Spite of Mistakes and Mishaps

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

My recent cruise to New Zealand and Australia was fraught with troubles from lost luggage to missed airline connections.  My husband and I didn’t experience any problems besides cramped seats on a very long Air New Zealand flight, but hundreds of our fellow cruisers really suffered.

Traveling and troubles go together; they just do. The way to cope with travel troubles is to plan for mishaps, as best you can.

Here are 12 tips to help cruise ship travelers prepare so they can enjoy their expensive cruise, come what may:

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How Melbourne, Australia Turned Me Into an Unfaithful Lover!

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

I have become a traitor, an unfaithful lover, if you will, for I have fallen for another – another with charms equal to, if not greater than, one of my dearest loves, New York City.

My new love?

Melbourne (pronounce that mel-ban), Australia.

Our short day in port (during a recent 14-day Celebrity Mercury cruise of New Zealand and Australia) was almost criminal when we saw what this bustling city had to offer, and that’s besides the fact it was hosting the Australian Open Tennis Championships.

From its gardens, to its museums, to its handsome old architecture, including the old Melbourne Gaol (jail), it became clear that a mere 7 hours in this city was just…silly.  And that a return trip was most definitely in order.

But in the meantime, we had to make the most of our time, and decide wisely.  Here’s how we spent our few hours in Melbourne, Australia.

Read on…

Melbourne Customs Sign by Sheree ZielkeAfter docking relatively early in Port Melbourne, our ship and its passengers had to endure two hours of Australian customs clearance.  This included a 20-minute walk through customs complete with a cute little bag-sniffing beagle dog (NO foreign foods are allowed into Australia) and this enthusiastic little fellow will find you out!  Even two days AFTER you have had fruit in your bag, as a fellow passenger discovered.

Once through the bag-checking and passport-checking gamut, we bought a “day-use” tram ticket, walked for about 5 minutes, and then boarded a spiffy high-tech tram headed for the heart of Melbourne.  The trams have very few seats, but are fitted with many overhead hooks (I suspect the average Australian is much taller than the rest of us, because I ended up swinging like a chimp).Melbourne Tram Hangers by Sheree Zielke

We had no clue where we were going, or where we should get off, so we tried questioning the locals.  Our first encounter, with a lovely college-aged lady, was a huge hint at what was to come; the Melbournians are amazingly friendly and helpful people.  (Wait till I tell you what our sightseeing tour bus driver did!)  The young lady told us which stop to get off at, and which way to walk in order to find the Melbourne Visitor Information Centre.  She even came back to us before she left the tram to ensure we knew to get off at the next stop.

David and Melbourne Tram by Sheree Zielke

And that’s exactly what we did.  I was stunned by the sights I saw as I alit from the tram: the crowds, the traffic, the buildings, the bustle – why, it looked just like New York City.  My heart beat quicker because I love all the noise and the hustle of the Big Apple.   And so my alienation of affections began.

Flinders Street Station by Sheree ZielkeWe marched up Swanston Street and arrived at Federation Square, just across the street from Flinders Street Station (what a gorgeous old building in its rich butterscotch hues!).  We found the information centre, and were amazed by the expert set-up.  This metropolis is so used to dealing with tourists that it has a high-tech help system in place; you actually have to take a number to get assistance.  I’m serious.  But the place is so well laid out, with brochures catalogued under a variety of titles from tours to theatre, that it was easy to help ourselves.  And so we did.

Now the hard part was making a decision on what to do in our quickly diminishing allotment of shore leave.  We sat down outside in intense bright sunshine to peruse the tour booklets; a street performer was just starting his show; an official Australian Open souvenir booth to our left was doing a brisk business (I now have a stuffed kangaroo wearing a jersey as my memento).  Our eyes adjusted to the brightness, and we began to read.

My husband had earlier indicated an interest in the Old Melbourne Gaol, and so we located that on a map.  Okay, now how to get there?  We studied a couple of tourist shuttle buses like the Melbourne City Circle Tram, and the city’s FREE Tourist Shuttle, both of which can be caught just across the street from the Info centre, and both of which would get us to the gaol.  We opted for the free shuttle which ran every ½ hour.

(Something really cool about Melbourne that I haven’t seen in New York City is the city’s “greeter” service.  These helpful “city ambassadors,” identified by their red tunics, were all over the place.  And, as we discovered, they didn’t just point you in the right direction; they were prepared to walk you there.  That’s how we found the toilets in Federation Square. Thanks Melbourne!)

Free Melbourne Shuttle Stop by Sheree ZielkeWe boarded the tourist shuttle at Stop #2, took the full circle trip, and then advised the bus driver we had designs on the old gaol.  He confirmed that Stop #4 would get us there.  Now here is the story about the driver.

The gray-haired fellow (his name was Lance) called our stop.  We left via the back door and stood for a moment trying to get our bearings.  We must have looked confused (we were) because the bus stopped, the driver jumped off, ran up to us, and gave us detailed directions on how to get to the gaol.  Now I ask you…how many bus drivers in your city would do that?  We stood with our mouths open, both stunned and delighted.  And then we headed down the hill to the gaol.

The old Melbourne Gaol is a must-see adventure; I promise.  It is not for the faint-of-heart, but it is an experience you’ll long remember.  Especially if you take the tour where YOU are booked and thrown into a cell, like a common prisoner.  Really!  But that’s for a future blog.David in old Melbourne Gaol by Sheree Zielke

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Yes, Melbourne, Australia has not seen the last of me.  Now if I can just gear myself up again for that 14-hour plane ride.  Oh heck, of course I can.  I simply must see the Melbourne Werribee Open Range Zoo, the Healesville Sanctuary, the Great Ocean Road, the Witches in Britches theatre, the Queen Victoria Market, the…

New York City will just have to wait.

If you’d like to book tours or attractions tickets in Melbourne, Australia ahead of time, try Best of Victoria.

Cheers,
Sheree Zielke

New Zealand or Australia, Kiwis or Aussies: A Tough Decision to Make

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

If you ask, you’ll be told, “Oh, New Zealand is more like Canada; Australia is more like the United States.”  While that may be true, politically and geographically speaking, there is one major difference — no Canadian I know dislikes Americans as much as some New Zealanders dislike their Aussie neighbors to the North.  But here’s a quick comparison of the two countries — apart from the rivalry.

As a tourist, the biggest factor in deciding whether to like New Zealand over Australia has nothing to do with humans but rather to do with the native animals.  As the resident New Zealander, whom I met on a double-decker bus in Rome, said, “You should visit New Zealand because there is nothing that Taipan Sign by Sheree Zielkewill bite, sting or kill you in New Zealand.” 

He’s right.  And I am glad we took is advice.  My husband and I just completed a 14-day cruise that took us on an extensive cruise ship tour around New Zealand, beginning in Auckland and ending in the Fjordland sounds. From there we traveled up to the eastern shore of Australia.

In New Zealand, a human can walk anywhere, at anytime and not worry about an animal attack, while Australia is home to some of the world’s most deadly predators.  In fact, Australia is home to the top 6 most venomous snakes in the world like the taipan and the brown snake (see these live at Sydney’s Wildlife World on Darling Harbour), the tiny yet deadly red-backed spider, the furry funnel-web spider, the massive saltwater crocodile, and wild dogs or dingoes (so much a problem they necessitated the longest manmade structure in the world – a wire fence 3,500 miles long engineered to keep domestic cattle safe from voracious wild dogs).  And if a visitor ventures into Australian waters, they run the risk of bumping into one third of the world’s species of sharks, including 25-foot Great Whites, the fiercest and most terrifying predators of the world’s oceans.  But back to our human issues.

It was uncomfortable and mystifying to hear the animosity in our New Zealand taxi driver (David’s) voice when we accidentally identified his accent as Australian.  He quickly, and with great vehemence, corrected our error informing us that he was a “Kiwi” not a “bloody” Aussie.  As a visitor, I liked both nationalities just fine.

I asked him about the term, “fair dinkum.”  “Just an Aussie bullshit line,” he said.  “It usually follows a story that an Aussie wants you to believe.”  Instead of fair dinkum, you might hear an Aussie end his or her story with, “true story,” as though they are used to being doubted.  And perhaps they are.  At least by New Zealanders. 

But back to the tourist attractions.

New Zealand is home to the world’s southernmost winery (Black Ridge Wines), but Australia has camel races across the desert.  New Zealand has the fiordlands of the Southern Island, while Australia’s northeastern coast is home to the magnificent Great Barrier Reef which covers 120-thousand square miles.

Here are some factors you may want to consider when deciding between New Zealand and Australia as vacation travel destinations. Or do what my husband and I did and take a cruise around both countries:  safe, secure and absolutely delightful. 

Travel the curvy roads of New Zealand through mountainous emerald terrain, and never run out of signs of civilization, or trek across the hot barren Australian Outback, 2000 kilometers between Perth and Sydney, and rarely run into another living thing, except maybe a triple-trailer transport truck.

Australia has cornered the market on camels, playing host to 500-thousand of the gangly imported beasts, while New Zealand boasts of being home to the endangered Kiwi, a bird with feathers more like a cat’s fur.

Australia has a bronze boar out front of a Sydney hospital that, if you rub his nose, will bring you good luck.  New Zealand was just lucky in being the chosen location for Peter Jackson’s hugely successful Lord of the Rings movies. (Many tours like the Flat Earth and the Trails of Middle Earth are available that will take you to old film shooting locations like Hobbiton and Lothlorien.)

New Zealand plays host to the world’s only Antarctic Interactive Centre, compete with a fabricated Antarctic winter storm; Australia has the Sydney Opera House, and the huge Powerhouse Museum, currently hosting a tribute to the late Princess Diana (this one deserved its own blog entry).

Whichever country you choose to explore, give yourself plenty of time; we found 14 days a ridiculously short time to visit even just a couple of the cities on our itinerary, let alone, BOTH countries.

Cheers,
Sheree Zielke

World Travel: A Passion and a Profession for both the Wealthy and the Backpacker!

Monday, January 28th, 2008

While I love my Canadian city, I can hardly wait to go someplace else.  As often as possible.  Especially in the wintertime.  Not to live, mind you; just to visit.

As I sit here in minus 30 degree temperatures, swirling snow banking into huge white drifts against my front door, my car, and my emotions, I yearn for the friendly Down Under temperatures of the places from which I have just returned.

Down Under (Australia and New Zealand), being located in the Southern Hemisphere, is currently experiencing its summer (January), with warm sunny days, and bright blue skies.  While here in the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere, our bright blue skies are usually accompanied by blood-freezing temperatures, well below anything most people can even comprehend. 

Cold weather is a good reason for travelling – just ask the Canadian “snowbirds” that migrate to the warmer climes of California, Florida, and Arizona every fall (they even have their own website).  But then I travel in the summertime, too, when temperatures are very comfortable. 

Why? 

Because without travel I think I would die, or at least become very ill.  And I am not alone in that disease.

I am often asked how one becomes a “professional traveler.”  I don’t believe one does “become” such an entity; I believe either you are a traveler, or you aren’t.  It has nothing to do with available time, or income; it has to do with something deeply-entrenched in your soul.  It’s that same thing that drove ancient explorers to leave solid land and venture out into the vast oceans, in search of the unknown.  I tell people that had I been born several hundred years ago, I would have pretended to be a man, just to get onboard one of those explorer ships. 

I don’t have to pretend anything today, however; I just need both the time and money enabling me to get the heck out of here.  But a shortage of those things never stands in the way of a true sojourner.  That’s what home equity loans are for!  (My husband and I use ours frequently; it allows us to grab travel deals we otherwise might not be able to afford.)  But again, being a professional traveler has nothing to do with income. 

I have met many professional travelers, some draped in jewels and expensive luggage, their fingers encrusted in diamonds; some with nary a dime to their name.  One such seemingly hapless lad was sitting on the cobblestones near the tracks, in the Dunedin, NZ railway station.  When I stopped to ask him where he was going, he replied simply, “I don’t know. I’m just going.”  As a kindred spirit, I knew exactly what he meant.  Have backpack, will travel.Backpackers Inn by Sheree Zielke
New Zealand and Australia are two countries that cater to both the well-heeled, and the budget-conscious traveler, like the backpacker.  I was stunned to see how many cities and towns have hotels, hostels, transportation, and specials geared especially to the backpacker or low-budget traveler. Many websites are geared to making your low budget travel adventure perfect, regardless of your age.  Many seniors rough it  around in the Down Under countries, too.

But alas, I must catch up with my day-to-day committments first — deadlines must be met, classes taught, grandchildren visited, and promises kept before I head out on my next great adventure  (I am going to try my hand at deep sea fishing off the coast of Texas). 

And then after that? 

Maybe a South Africa safari.  Or a trip to see Right whales near South America.  Or maybe a river cruise up the Amazon.  Or…well, who knows?  Just so long as it’s someplace – that isn’t here.

Cheers,
Sheree Zielke

The Tasman Sea: Don’t Let Seasickness Ruin Your Crossing!

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Unlike seafarers of the past, the modern visitor to New Zealand or Australia need not fear violence from the Maori natives, but like explorers from the past, there is a body of water between the two countries that remains a nasty challenge: the Tasman Sea.  A cruise ship passenger might be in for the trip of a lifetime, a trip they’d rather not have taken.

The Tasman Sea was named after early Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, who sailed to New Zealand (he named it New “Sea-land”), was attacked by the local Maori, and then fled, never to return.  That was back in 1642; the island just off Australia also bears his name: Tasmania (the only place where Tasmanian Devils can still be found in the wild).

It’s no wonder the ferocious and easily riled Tasmanian Devil is not called the Indian Devil or the Pacific Devil; the creature bears all the attributes of its watery namesake.  With strong winds and high waves, sailing here means (almost certainly) very rough passage.  That’s due largely to the nature of the East Australian Current (EAC), especially in the summer when the current is at its strongest.  The natural result for most cruise ship passengers?  Seasickness.  But with a little common sense and pre-planning, the Tasman Sea can be traversed with little or no discomfort.

The best defense against seasickness is a preventative defense.  A wise seafarer (cruise ship passenger) will take action before motion sickness occurs, because once sick, there is really nothing to do but live with the stomach-rolling misery.  And that will mean at least two to three days of misery, if your ship is making the crossing between New Zealand and Australia.

The best tip for avoiding seasickness is to wear a “sea band.”  These rather tight ribbed wrist bands, complete with a small plastic button, are available at most drug stores.  If worn properly (the band must be positioned the width of three fingers down from the first wrist crease, with the small plastic button pressed in between the two wrist tendons) most passengers will escape even the slightest sense of motion sickness.

Another solution is to take a motion sickness pill BEFORE feeling any nausea.  This over-the-counter medication is also easily purchased at any pharmacy under the name Dramamine or Bonine.  (Some formulas cause less drowsiness than others – check the label.)  But again, this is a preemptive strike; the pill is useless if it’s ingested too late.

A huge caution here:  Do NOT drink alcohol when taking motion sickness drugs, and be prepared for drowsiness.  As a cruise ship passenger, you’ll probably be on an “at sea” day anyway, so you can sleep at your leisure.

Other tips for avoiding seasickness include NOT gazing at the rolling grey waves; in the dining room put your back to the open windows.

In addition, if you are very prone to motion sickness, choose a cabin amidships, as rolling and pitching is less extreme than what occurs fore (forward) or aft (rear).  Get fresh air when you can, and breathe deeply.

Above all, especially when sailing the cantankerous Tasman Sea, treat your seasickness BEFORE it happens.

Cheers,
Sheree Zielke