Success is getting what you want; happiness is liking what you get

Friday, 13 September 2019

Going Home in Style

We’ve said it before, being on holiday can be hard work.  Especially when the alarm clock is set at 5.30am.  Up early for a shower, arrive at breakfast at 6.00am, and no, we weren’t the first ones there.  Back down to the room to collect our bags, return the entry cards to reception and jump in a taxi at 7.0am.  We were off to Auckland Strand Station to board the Northern Explorer, for a leisurely trip home.  Why fly when you can travel by train?

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Northern Explorer

The cases were taken away to the baggage car, and we went to find our seats.  The carriages are very comfy, plenty of legroom and nice big windows.  The café car had options available to keep us fed and watered, and in the afternoon came through the carriages selling world famous in New Zealand Kapiti Ice-cream.  Even though we didn’t know we wanted an ice-cream, once they were offered, of course we said yes.  There was no Wi-Fi available on the train, we were advised.   But they did have “Windows Live”, just look left or right out the windows and we could see it all.  However, Windows Live did not work in the tunnels!

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Comfy carriage

The train chugged along happily until we reached Ngaruwhahia where we had a troubling incident.  People standing in the open air carriage taking photos had a barrage of rocks thrown at them by several youths, and one of the passengers received an injured hand.  An ambulance arrived in Hamilton to attend to the injury, and the matter was reported to the police.  It was all rather upsetting, as the injury could have been much worse if someone’s head had been struck.  The open air carriage has recently had it’s windows redesigned with extra bars added to dissuade selfie takers from leaning their heads through the openings.

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Open Air Carriage

One of the highlights of the trip for train enthusiasts was traveling on the Raurimu Spiral.  But in 1898, this is a feat of civil engineering that takes the train between the 132m height difference between the Volcanic Plateau and the Wanganui River valley.  The train travels 6.8km which if traveled in a straight line, would be just 2km.

Of course, we may be biased, but we think the scenery here in New Zealand is spectacular.  From mountains, bush clad hills, and rolling farmland.

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Stony outcrops and chugging over numerous viaducts looking down at the deep ravines, all quite beautiful in their own way.

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Changing views out the windows

Our train journey ended at Palmerston North.  A taxi came to pick us up and take to the airport where our car was in Long Term Storage, then off we drove to home.  The holiday was over.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

A Rainy Night in Auckland

That could almost be the name of a song, couldn’t it?  We arrived at Sydney Airport mid morning, and went through security, that was certainly an eye opener.  Both of us were directed to the body scanner, stand there and hold our arms up.  Nope, that wasn’t right, and a female guard was called in to pat me down – oh dear.  The trouble seemed to be the passport and money I had in a holder around my neck, that had to be removed, put through the bag scan, and I went through the body scanner one more time.  Robin was getting the once over as well.  And all the while people are looking on, wondering what these people had been getting up to!  After waiting, and waiting at the correct terminal gate, we were finally boarded.  Oh look, Air NZ knows our names!

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Refreshing hot towels arrived, followed by a glass of bubbly, gotta love this service!  The meal was served, and very nice it was too – it was a much shorter trip this time, just under 3 hours.  Hopping aboard the Sky Bus we drove through the rain as it got progressively darker, luckily the driver told us when to get off, as we didn’t really know where we were in the dark.  Booked in at reception, where we were upgraded from a Queen to a King room, thanks very much.  It was a bit of a wrestling match to peel those extra tight airline socks off, and then we could relax.

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Our room for the next few nights

I was a bit foxed by these plugs by the desk, and plaintively told Robin there was nowhere to plug my lap top into.  But I was wrong, seems that these strange things were universal power connectors, my 3 pin plug had to be turned upside down, and then it would fit.  How was I meant to know that?

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What do I do here?

Up to the 13th floor we went the next morning for breakfast, and what a lovely view.  The rain had eased and the weather was clearing.

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View from the 13th floor

The breakfast buffet was amazing, so much choice, and all beautifully presented.  Robin was in Honey Heaven when he found this delightful honey comb – liquid honey was ready and waiting to be poured into a dinky little dish and spread on his breakfast toast!

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Honey Heaven

What shall we do in the big city, we wondered.  So we went to Britomart Station, which was only a short walk away.  There we organised a tap on, tap off AT Hop Card, and we were good to go.  The cost to Kiwis was $10.00 for the card, $1 to load on it, and for Seniors, all our travel would be free after 9.00am, trains, buses and most ferries.  Pretty good value, don’t you think.

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Britomart Station

So we took a train ride to Sylvia Park, just because we had never been there before, had a look around, then stayed for lunch.  Like all malls, it was a very busy place.  Robin remembers when the Post Office Stores were at Sylvia Park many years ago, and not much else.

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Sylvia Park

The next morning we took the ferry across to Devonport, using our cards.  This was just a short trip across the harbour, about 10-15 minutes.

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The ferry to Devonport

Devonport is a historic seaside village, with interesting Victorian architecture.  Maori settlement is believed to date  back to the mid 14th century, the time of the great ocean going canoes in which Polynesians migrated to New Zealand.  The suburb of Devonport was settled in the 1840s by European merchants and was originally called Flagstaff, because of the flagstaff raised on nearby Mt Victoria. 

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Village of Devonport

After a wander around, and a coffee in a very attractive wharf side café, it was time to board the ferry back to the Auckland.  Auckland is also known as the City of Sails because of the numerous yacht marinas and sailboats anchoring offshore.

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Heading back to the big city

Once back on land we passed a huge hole in the ground  near by Britomart Station.  Work is being done on the Auckland City Rail Link (CRL), a 3.4 km double-track underground rail line running beneath the central business district from Britomart to the Western (North Auckland) Line near the existing Mount Eden Station, with two underground stations in the CBD.   With several years to completion, it may well be up and running by the next time we are back in Auckland.

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Auckland City Rail Link

What better way to celebrate our last night in Auckland with a live show.  We had tickets to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical School of Rock at the beautiful Civic Theatre.

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Civic Theatre Queen Street

This tells the story of Dewey Finn, a washed up former band member who poses as a teacher at a prestigious prep school purely to earn some money for his long overdue rent.  The only teaching he is interested in is rock music, and he turns a class of straight-A pupils into a mind-blowing rock band. Their aim is to qualify for Battle of the Bands.  The children in the show are amazing, singing, dancing and playing their own instruments like professional rock musicians.  Well worth seeing if this show comes to a town near you.

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Sunday, 8 September 2019

Tapping on and off like a Local

We've got these Sydney Opal travel cards well under control, and have been tapping on and off like a local, on our travels on buses, trains and ferries.  It is wonderful that the card covers all modes of transport.  A visit to the new Madame Tussauds at Darling Harbour seemed a good idea, so we jumped on the Circle Line train onboard one of the brand new trains.  With several attractions side by side, there were long queues waiting to purchase tickets, seems like everyone and their family were out and about on Saturday morning. 

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Madame Tussauds exhibition has quite as Australian flavour, as would be expected.  Who did we see first but Captain James Cook whose three great Pacific voyages took him to Australia and New Zealand.  He was killed in Hawaii on his third voyage.

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Captain James Cook

Who could be more Australian than Steve Irwin? TV wildlife warrior Steve caught his first crocodile aged nine and his first venomous snake when he was only six.  Although he handled countless deadly snakes and crocs, he was most afraid of parrots.  He died in 2006 while filming in the Great Barrier Reef, killed by a sting ray

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Steve Irwin

Hello, Jonah Lomu, what are you doing here, don’t tell me they are claiming him as one of theirs's?  Jonah was the youngest ever All Black, and sadly died quite young in 2015.  And Keith Urban, married to Nicole Kidman, was described as a ”New Zealand born Australian country musician and singer-songwriter”.  Really?

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Two Kiwis, Jonah Lomu and Keith Urban

Aussies love their sports, and we saw plenty of sportspeople, cricketers RFL players, runners and a hurdler.  Several Australian politicians who looked familiar, rubbing shoulders with Ghandi and Barack Obama.  Marilyn was there in her famous white dress from “The Seven Year Itch”  when a gust of wind from the subway below brushes her skirt in an iconic moment.

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Hello Marilyn

This was quite an interactive exhibition, with many props available for visitors to don and have their photo taken besides whoever they wanted.  As I did, meeting royalty, attired in a pretty purple hat – I’ve always been a bit of a royalist.  Sadly, the Queen doesn't seem at all amused, but the younger ones seem happy to meet me.

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Meeting Royalty

It was time for lunch, and we went to Nick’s Bar and enjoyed the reasonably priced Chef’s Specials, steak for him and pasta for her.  Lovely food indeed, but not a patch on what two young couples and their kids were having at the next table.  They started off with oysters in the shell, followed by huge platters containing lobster, steak, kebabs and fish, obviously young business  “power couples”.

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Lunch at Nick’s Bar

As it turned out, there was a ferry terminal just a little way up the wharf, so we jumped aboard and were whisked around to Circular Quay.  Just love these ferry rides, such fun.

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Under the Harbour Bridge and returning to Circular Quay

On the quay there was quite a crowd gathered around as two Aboriginal danced and played the didgeridoo.

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Entertainment on the wharf

One final train ride took us back to Central Station, and a short walk to the hotel.  That’s another successful day of sightseeing done.  The next day we took a ride on yet another form of Sydney Transport, the light rail.   It was crammed full of people, with most disembarking just a few stops up the road, going to Paddy’s Market.  We stayed on for the full trip, tapped off then on again, and did the return trip back to Central Station.

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Sydney Light Rail

Perhaps a train trip over the Sydney Harbour Bridge might be fun, and off to see northern Sydney?  We traveled up on one line, and caught another train back on another line.  Plenty of suburbia flashed by, and a fair few older, quite gracious homes from earlier years.

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View from the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Our time in Sydney is almost at an end, we’ll be finishing with a nice farewell meal out tonight - I’ve got a hankering for some juicy Aussie prawns.  Tomorrow we will be flying “across the ditch” to New Zealand, spending a few days in Auckland first.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Hello Sydney – Beaches and Ferries

Hello Sydney, its great to be back – we were here last year after our train trip that didn’t happen.  And now we are back again, fresh from our glorious time aboard the Indian Pacific train ride.  We left the Indian Pacific at Mt Victoria station to do our Blue Mountains excursion, and the train travelled on without us, carrying our baggage to Sydney Central station. We eventually arrived on a charter train several hours later to collect our bags and be on our way.  I must admit that I was a little concerned about the luggage arriving before us, but it worked out fine, and this seems to be a regular thing so the staff know what they are doing.  Central Station is big and bustling, and more importantly, our hotel is just across the road.

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Central Station, Sydney

Oh look, they’re expecting us.  We were looking forward to a good nights sleep, the bed on the train shook and jiggled about as we bounced along the rail track.  Robin was pleased that he was not expected to climb the ladder any more.

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Our room for the next few nights

We spent the first couple of days using our pre-loaded Opal Card exploring the city.  Sydney has a brilliant public transport system and we could travel on buses, trains and ferries using our card.  Circular Quay is where the ferries depart and we decided to take  trip out to Manley on one of the iconic yellow ferries.  We can never think of the Manly Ferries without remembering the Manly Ferry blog written by  Paul and Elaine who have both sadly passed away, much too young.

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Manly Ferry

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And look at the sights we passed long the way.

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Selfie on the Manly Ferry

Disembarking the ferry we walked along the famous Manly Corso.  This was laid out in 1854-55 by Henry Gilbert Smith, originally built as a boardwalk for early tourists across Manly’s sand spit between the harbour pier and the beach.

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Manly Wharf and Ferry Terminal

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The Corso

We soon arrived at the sandy golden beach.  Beach goers were relaxing in the sand, family groups and bikini clad beauties as well.  This is a gorgeous beach, and it was great to be back for a visit again, sitting in the sunshine and enjoying the atmosphere.

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Manly Beach

The following day we decided to go to another famous Sydney beach, Bondi Beach.  We discovered we could get there on the Bondi Bendy Bus which took us through suburbs chock full of heavy traffic.  Goodness knows how the driver maneuvered the long bus in and out of traffic and around corners.  And there’s the famous beach.  We met up with an older surfer who stopped to chat and helped us with directions for our return journey.  Did you know that Robin did surf lifesaving in his younger days?  Some kites were bobbing about in the sea breeze, keeping the children amused.

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There were lots of surfers waiting for that perfect wave, and even more bikini clad beauties sun bathing on the beach.  We were sitting on the steps looking over the beach and a steady stream of people walked down beside us, taking off their shoes to wiggle their toes in the golden sand.  Wet suited surfers carrying boards under their arms ran into the surf, paddling out to join the others.  And keen joggers ran along in the hot midday sun.  

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Bondi Beach

Oh, this looks familiar.  Its the Bondi Life Guard Tower which we have seen in the TV programme about the Bondi life savers as they patrol the beach and rush out to rescue swimmers.  There was a group down at the water’s edge and they appeared to be doing some training.  It is Spring here in this part of the world at the moment, but come summer, Bondi Beach will be absolutely crowded with people and these life guards do a wonderful job of keeping everyone safe.

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Life guard tower

The friendly surfer dude had told us about some old photos displayed in the Bondi Pavilion so we had a peek inside.  My goodness, check out all those beach goers and the old vehicles.

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Old times and present day

We had decided to go back to Sydney a different way, so that we could get a good overview of this large city.  Catching another local bus, we got off at Watsons Bay, and walked down to the ferry pier.  Great timing, one had just arrived and was almost ready to depart.  We love the ferry rides, so convenient, and a great way to get about.

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Before too long we were almost at Circular Quay, home to all the ferries.  And here’s the famous Harbour Bridge. 
  
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Arriving back

There is plenty to see and do here, and we have only scratched the surface.  Wonder where we will end up tomorrow?