Posts Tagged ‘new zealand’

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…


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.

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. 


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.

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.

Sheree Zielke

New Zealand: First Stop, Auckland

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

Auckland, New Zealand: A Welcome Start to a Two-Week Vacation!

New Zealand was never a dream destination for us, but the Travel Zoo price was too irresistible, so we booked.

And here we are, somewhere above the Pacific Ocean, with no idea what time of day it is,  just that we’ve lost an entire day (our travel agent promises we’ll get it back when we fly west), and we are exhausted from a LONG flight from Los Angeles.

We are flying Air New Zealand, in economy class.  So, my larger-size husband sits cramped for most of the ride while the passenger in front of him domineers the seat space with his reclined chair, his noise-cancelling headphones keeping him from being pestered by any of our complaints.  Thank goodness forWinter Garden Conservatory - Auckland, NZ by Sheree Zielke the mini TV sets in the headrest; they offer recent TV shows and movies to help pass the time. 

My watch says 6:52 AM and we are about to go into our descent.  But what time is it really?  I have no idea, but I don’t care.  Right now bright morning sunshine is streaming in through the airplane windows, almost blinding in it intensity as passengers emerge from their mole-like state.

I am about to land in Auckland, New Zealand.  I barely knew where the city was a few months ago.  Now I know that it is on New Zealand’s north island (there is a south island, too) and that the correct Maori greeting to newcomers is, “Kia Ora.”

We are part of a large group of Canadians headed for the Mercury (Celebrity) cruise ship.  None of us have any idea what’s in store for us, so we are pleasantly surprised by all the attention we receive at the airport.

TIP:  New Zealand is hot and muggy.  Carry a quick change of clothes (shorts, Capri pants, sandals) in your carry-on, or wear the zip-off leg cargo pants, or you will be overcome by heat.  Change in a washroom on the plane, if you can, or in an airport washroom; things move very fast outside the airport as baggage and passengers are sorted and assigned to their respective coaches.

It is now 9:05 AM Auckland time, and I am already entranced by the organizational abilities of the cruise ship company.  Many greeters help us get from the baggage carousel, to the baggage truck, to our waiting buses.  No muss, no fuss.  It seems like we were on a plane one moment, and packed into a comfortable coach the next.

Now comes our next surprise — we are taken to a park area in Auckland, home to the Winter Garden Conservatory.  We pull up outside the Winter Garden Pavilion, a place of quiet enchantment where geese wander free on the lawns, and fat sparrows beg for morsels.  The chirping and twittering of birds fills the air; it’s a wonderful contrast to the sounds motor travel. 

We are invited to view the conservatory: Fernz Finery, Tropical House, and Cool House.  Celebrity has even provided a classical quartet for our entertainment.  The music entwined with the lovely flower gardens are the perfect transition from crowded airplane to vacation mindset.  And there is still tea-time.

Winter Garden Pavilion - Auckland, NZ by Sheree ZielkeAn elegant woman reminds us that we should go to tea.  Tea?  Okay.  What’s at tea?  Oh my…tiny cucumber sandwiches, tiny lobster pastries and mushroom quiches, lemon-drop cookies, and moist chocolate squares, oh, and yes, tea.  Spoiled fat sparrows eye our tasty repast (we are seated outside on a patio overlooking a garden).  Their fat bellies suggest they have dined on tea sandwiches before, and so I oblige and share a crumb of my sandwich.

I feel my anxiety and my fatigue drain away.  Is this a sign of things to come, I wonder?  Another sparrow shows up.  I acquiesce and part with a bit of my lemon-drop cookie.  I can afford to share; I have 14 days of cruise ship buffets and fine dining to look forward to.

Stay tuned for more of my adventures during my 14-day tour of New Zealand and Australia (Jan 2008) while a passenger on the Celebrity Mercury.  Watch for hi-lights of Napier, Tauranga, Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington, and in Austalia — Melbourne, Newcastle, and Sydney.  If you are a fan of the late Princess Diana, I will be covering a Sydney exhibit celebrating her, too.


Sheree Zielke

Napier: The Perfect New Zealand Port-of-Call!

Friday, January 25th, 2008

  TEN Good Things about Cruising into the Port of Napier, New Zealand

  1. No tender boats necessary.  Walk down the cruise ship gangplank to awaiting shuttle buses and taxi cabs.  (You can’t walk out of this port though; have New Zealand money handy.)
  2. Trip into Napier is very affordable.  And very quick.  $4/person via cruise shuttle bus or $10NZ for a cab.  Trip is about 5 minutes.
  3. Napier, New Zealand by Sheree ZielkeNapier town has something for everyone.  Miniature golf, great shopping, restaurants, an ocean spa, a museum, botanical gardens, a skate park, and great architectural scenery (Napier’s downtown was destroyed in a fire in 1931, so rebuilding was done in Art Deco style.)
  4. Easy affordable access to the Internet via email cafes in the city centre area.  $2/15 minutes.
  5. Golf course nearby.  Just grab a cab and you’ll be there in less than 15 minutes.
  6. Taxi drivers and tour operators actually like their guests, and aren’t just in it for the tips.  (Our driver, Splinter, was surprised by our tip – he told us he rarely got one.  That’s too bad, because it certainly wasn’t due to any lack on his part.)
  7. Marine Parade – This is Napier’s great main street.  Spend your entire day just walking this stretch of land which hugs the coast.  Beautiful views and great exercise.
  8. Olive Branch Bread Company – If you like freshly baked bread, this is a MUST-visit bakery.  It’s located on Hastings Street just down from the Visitor’s Centre.  My mouth is watering at the memory of this bakery’s crescent-shaped, black olive and rosemary bedecked, candied fried onions-stuffed, loaf of bread.  You must visit early in the day – breads are sold out by mid-afternoon.
  9. Sail away is a blast.  Set sail to the sounds of a Dixie band, and a show and shine of a ½ dozen vintage cars, complete with drivers in period dress (local volunteers). It’s fun to watch the maneuverings of the tug boat as it nudges the giant cruise ship into position to make its way safely out of its very narrow slip and back into the harbor.
  10. WINE!  If you are a wine lover, grab a cab; there are over 50 wineries in the area, like the Mission Estate Winery, New Zealand’s oldest winery shown below. 

    Mission Estate Winery by Sheree Zielke

Napier, New Zealand might be considered the perfect cruise ship port-of-call.  But don’t take my word for it – go visit for yourself.

Sheree Zielke

New Zealand: The Right Cabbie Will Make Your Shore Day Exceptional!

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Need a cab driver in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand? Try Lance — A Great Find! A Great Friend!

There he stood, a large man resembling a sea captain with his salt and pepper hair, and weather-worried complexion.  Laugh lines near his eyes complemented the thoughtful pattern of wrinkles that lay horizontally across his brow; he made me think of the actor, Sean Connery.

Photo by Sheree Zielke

His cab, a small four-door white sedan, occupied the last spot in the taxi queue.  We were in the town of Mount Maunganui, in the Port of Tauranga, situated on the Bay of Plenty, on the eastern coast of the North Island of New Zealand.  Since leaving the ship, we had already run the gamut of at least three dozen assorted cabs, shuttles, and tour buses before espying the taxi driver who was to make our day of adventuring very special.

The cabbie’s name: Lance Calder.  He told us later he had chosen not to be part of the vicious back-biting under-cutting group of taxi drivers awaiting the arrival of the cruise ship passengers on the pier.  When we asked his price, he stated simply $60NZ per hour.  “Not per person,” he added quickly, but “for the car.”

Lance Calder - Photo by David Thiel

Photo by David Thiel

He wanted to know what we had in mind; as seasoned travelers and photographers, we told him to drive in the direction of Rotorua, and we would tell him when we wanted to stop.  And that he was to avoid the regular tourist stops.  That gave him pause for a moment, but only a moment.

Lance, also known by the handle, “Olddog13-1,” was very quick to learn our desires, and our sense of humour.  He soon joined in our inside jokes as though he’d known us for years.  As a resident of the area since birth (he was born and raised in Te Puke – not as in vomit) he navigated the roadways well, stopping to give us views of the scenery, and share oodles of insider tips on the lifestyle and cultures of the area.

We spent seven hours with Lance – and in that time we saw stinky bubbling sulphuric mud pools in Rotorua, patted a lamb at the Kiwi Lumberjack Show (farm) (ask for Thomas –a handsome young man with a mischievious nature), tasted exquisite wines at the Mills Reef Winery, paid a quick visit to the art deco style Rotorua Museum, lunched in a small café, just up from the old Whakarewarewa Thermal Village (where young boys would dive for coins thrown into the water by tourists), and we visited the Comvita bee centre in Te Puke.

We also visited the Kiwi360 kiwi farm (Lance was extremely knowledgeable in this – he took us under the kiwi orchard canopy where the fruit was hanging like grapes from vines, he pointed out the male and the female vines and how kiwis are chosen for import, with flat-sided ones being rejected and turned into wine instead.)  Lance took us into the shop where we tasted our first kiwi wine (a little too much fruit flavour for our palate) and he took us to a favorite photography subject of ours, an old Mission cemetery, without ever being asked to do so.

Lance Calder - Photo by Sheree Zielke

We learned, through Lance that the huge tree with the gorgeous purple flowers is a Jacaranda tree, a soft drink is called a “fizzy drink,” a car trunk is called a “boot,” and that cruise ship passengers should never share a cab just to split the cost during shore excursions.

“It’s not a good idea,” says Lance.  “The couples can never agree on anything.”  He says he has never seen a cab shared successfully by people who barely knew one another, and who have gotten together just to split the cost of the taxi fare.  He says the only successful shared cab rides are those where the passengers have previously agreed upon where it is they want to go, and what it is they want to do.

Besides knowing the area so well, and being a charming traveling host, Lance is also specially trained in the art of assisting the handicapped, or the ambulatory-challenged.  He has extensive experience dealing with special needs children, and seniors in wheelchairs.

And if you are a wine lover, Lance has an inside track, having a son-in-law in the business.  Be sure to ask him for a little advice if you are going into the Napier-Hawke’s Bay area on what wineries to see, and the best route to take to see them.

Planning a trip to the Tauranga, New Zealand area via cruise ship?  Contact Lance Calder in advance.  You will feel like family when this burly congenial man welcomes you at the pier.  Tell him Sheree says you’ll need to buy a “Peepsi.”  He’ll know what you are talking about.

Contact Lance via email at

Sheree Zielke

New Zealand & Australia: Are they worth a 14-hour flight?

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

New Zealand & Australia – Celebrity (Mercury) Cruise January 2008

Are you feeling iffy about the possibility of a cruise off the coasts Down Under?  Does a 14+ hour plane ride sound too daunting?  If so, you are not alone.  But here I am to tell you  that I not only survived the flight, but I have had one of the best exotic vacations ever.  Read on.

We live in Western Canada so our flight originated out of Calgary.  From there we flew to Los Angeles, and from there (after 2 very warm hours on the tarmac) we flew to Auckland, New Zealand (in “cattle car” class — you know what I mean, the cheap cramped seats with minimal service).  But we had no option for an upgrade, so we accepted things as they were.

The flight, oddly enough, turned out to be not as gruelling as we had anticipated.  There is ample room on the Air New Zealand plane to move about (to ease leg swelling), and the TV in the headrest is filled with programs and recent movie selections.

The seats are crammed together, but not horribly so.  Unless, you are very large person, you should find them bearable.   We hit some rocky air pockets, but for the most part, the flight was uneventful.

We arrived to gray skies in Auckland; a crew of Celebrity cruise ship people were there to greet us.  We were escorted to a large tour coach (bus) and taken for a spin around Auckland before boarding the Mercury ship.  It was an unexpected surprise — and a very pleasant one at that.  Especially the morning tea at the Winter Garden Pavilion.

The ship’s management used the time very efficiently and did our initial boarding clearance at the Auckland museum, where we took a quick 20-30 minute tour of an amazing museum, before re-boarding our coach.  We were given a bit of a tour of the Auckland harbour and then taken to the ship, where we were allowed to board early.  It was a wonderful surprise, and so welcome after all the time we had spent on planes and in airports.

For insider tips, cruising tips, reviews on the Celebrity Mercury, reviews and hi-lights of the New Zealand and Austrailian ports-of-call, visit this blog this month. 

You will find a wealth of information — information that will hopefully lead you to a positive decision about a Down Under vacation. 

Sheree Zielke