Friday, December 30, 2011

Wellington, New Zealand

On Sunday we arrived in Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand. We met up with another couple on the ship and decided to spend the day checking out the city with them. We walked 10 minutes into the heart of the city, and took the famous Wellington Cable Car to the botanical gardens. The day started off cloudy and cool but quickly warmed up (thank goodness!). It was one of the nicest days we had so far.
finally a bigger city! 
cable car

We originally planned to breeze through the gardens, making sure to stop and smell the roses, then head over to the museum where we would spend most of the day. We quickly got distracted by all the beautiful flowers and unique trees and spent much longer taking it all in. Matt had the camera in hand and was taking a lot of pictures throughout our leisurely stroll.
After quite a walk through the gardens, we finally reached the rose garden. It was stunning. There had to be every color of rose you could think of. And the aroma...we loved it. We spent the next 30 minutes or more stopping to smell the roses....

And taking pictures of the adorable ducklings...
After a quick bite to eat we were off to the fabulous Te Papa museum. Matt had heard a lot of wonderful things about this museum while we was on deployment so we went to check it out. Normally I am not a huge fan of museums, but this one was pretty neat. It talked all about how New Zealand was formed, the Maori people, art, etc. It was very interesting and I wish we had been able to spend a little more time there.

in front of the museum
gorgeous Maori replicas
postcard wall. I'm pointing at Shannon, New Zealand

By 5pm we were back on board and heading off to our next destination. I think my favorite part of every day is watching the ship pull out of port. It's relaxing to just sit on the balcony and get lost in the beautiful countryside.

Come back next week to read all about Napier, Taupo, Auckland, Days at Sea, and Cairns!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dunedin and Akaroa, New Zealand

Friday morning we pulled into Dunedin, New Zealand bright and early. Since it is summer in this area the sun rises around 6am, and sets around 8pm or later. We didn't even set an alarm, just left the curtains open and woke up with the sun. It was fabulous. After getting ready and enjoying some breakfast we headed out to the city!
Lumber yard right near the port. 

The ship actually docked in Port Chalmers, so we took a 15 minute bus ride that dropped us off in the center of the city. Matt had read the entire New Zealand travel book and knew exactly what he wanted to do in Dunedin: ride bikes. Apparently the Otago Peninsula is the top cycling destination in the world! I quickly agreed that it would be a great way to see the city and the landscape of New Zealand, so we hit up the local bike shop and were on our way. The guy at the shop told us there would be a bike path/lane for most of the way, but their definition of a bike lane is very different from mine. We made it out of the city just fine, but as we hit the two lane highway heading towards the end of the peninsula it was a white line and a teeny bit of asphalt that apparently was the "bike lane". I seriously thought we were going to get hit by a car. And they do not yield to pedestrians or bicycles in NZ. It was a scary ride.

By the time we made it to Macandrew Bay (about 7 miles) I was ready for a snack and a rest. My hands were hurting from gripping the handle bars so hard. I needed to get off that road and relax with an ice cold beer. We found a cute little restaurant where we shared a delicious cheeseburger and a much needed drink.
After talking to some locals in the restaurant (and refusing to ride back on the road of death), we learned the Larnach Castle was just 3.7km up the road. That seemed like a pretty short distance even though we were told it was a winding, steep road. We headed out and found out pretty quickly just how steep it really was. We ended up walking our bikes up the hill. Yes, it was that steep. Needless to say it took us a long time to get to the top, but we got some great pictures along the way.
I want to put this one up in the bathroom :)
there were sheep all over!

An hour later we finally made it to the castle, and by that time I was thirsty and had to pee. Because they were charging so much for people to get in, I ended up just going to the castle by myself while Matt waited outside. I didn't get any pictures of it while I was using the bathroom, but it was basically a really big older house. Definitely not like a European castle, but still very pretty. After hydrating we were on our way back to town. This time we took Highcliff road which ran on the top of all the gorgeous hills, and was mostly downhill (finally!). It was a leisurely ride back and we enjoyed it a lot. At one point on our ride, a local joined in and was chatting with us about the area and the town. Very friendly people in NZ.
view from the top
I stopped and petted a local horse. Even the horses are friendly in NZ!

Once we got to town we dropped off our bikes and headed for the bar! We sat outside, enjoyed the lovely weather, and had a few local beers. It was a great way to end the day.

This was one of my favorite days of the whole trip. I loved going out and exploring the town and the landscape and getting away from all the tourist stuff. It was peaceful and very beautiful. 
the view as we left

Saturday morning we pulled in to Akaroa, New Zealand. Originally we were supposed to go to Christchurch, but because of all the damage from the earthquake, that port was no longer open. Akaroa is about 90 minutes from Christchurch, and a lot of the people on the cruise took the bus over to see the city. We decided not to, which is my only regret of the trip. I would have loved to get some pictures of the city. And although there was still a lot of damage, the people there were able to run their businesses out of shipping containers. Very inspiring. So, if you ever get a chance, don't pass up Christchurch.

We disembarked this ship around 10am and took the tender boat to shore. We walked around the city, did a little shopping, and had lunch at a local cafe.

beautiful local garden
greek food for lunch. yum!

The town was really small, and since the weather was cold and windy there wasn't a ton of stuff to do. We got bored and cold pretty quickly and decided to head back to the ship and call it a day. We ended up working out, taking a nap and just relaxing.
Matt's opinion of Akaroa. Couldn't have said it better myself.

..........a local and his pup.................the cliffs just outside Akaroa

Up Next: Wellington, New Zealand....finally a big city!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fiordlands of New Zealand

The next two days of our trip (Tuesday and Wednesday) were spent at sea. I thought that two whole days without a port visit would be really boring but it was actually really relaxing. We went to the gym both days, and usually stayed off the treadmills. We had some rough seas and trying to run on the treadmill while rocking back and forth was not easy. Matt managed to stick it out on the treadmill without falling off for much longer than me. After a 7 month deployment he is a pro at that. Since the weather was cool and windy, we did a lot of reading and napping in our room. It would have been nice to lay out by the pool, but chilling in the room looking out at the ocean was just as good. During those two days we were lucky enough to get invited to two welcome back receptions: one was for everyone on the ship, one was for gold members, and both included free drinks.
thumbs up for free colored champagne!

I have cruised many times with Royal Caribbean and have earned enough nights (after the NZ cruise) to be a Platinum member! Woo hooo! And lucky for Matt, when we got married, he automatically got upgraded to my point status too.
us with the Captain

After two wonderful days at sea we finally arrived in the Fiordlands of New Zealand on Thursday. The Fiordlands are situated on the south-western corner of the south island. A fiord (or sound) is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created in a valley carved by glacial activity. They are breathtaking. We went through three sounds in one day.

First up: Milford Sound. We arrived around 7am. Matt and I got up and stood on the balcony and enjoyed the view.
it was really cold out!


Unfortunately the pictures just don't do it justice. So, here is a video of Milford Sound.
And here is how close we got to Stirling Falls.....
Next up: Doubtful Sound.......

Last, but certainly not least: Dusky Sound.....

And as we were leaving Dusky Sound, we got a nice little note on our door. Customs came a callin'.
not again.....

What an experience. I really can't even put into words how beautiful it was out there. We would just stand on the balcony and stare up at the amazing cliffs. Because of the rough terrain surrounding the Fiordlands, most people do not get to see what we saw. They are typically only accessible by air and sea. Because of that, I am so happy we chose to do the cruise. We would have missed out on a lot had we just hit a few cities in New Zealand instead.

Stay tuned: Our first port visits are up tomorrow.....Dunedin and Akaroa!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

trip re-cap: Sydney, Australia

After our amazing trip of a lifetime, we are finally back home and all settled in. I managed to get all our pictures (over 900) uploaded and sorted, so it's time to start the vaca recap! Instead of bombarding you with one long blog post, I am going to break up the trip by each day or so. This way I can write about what we did and you can see a lot more of the breathtaking scenery.

Our trip started out with a very long overnight flight. We left San Diego at 8pm, went to San Francisco where we changed planes, and then took off for Sydney at 1030pm. It was a long flight, but we both managed to sleep through most of it (thank goodness!). I was worried it would be the longest 14 hours of my life, but it was surprisingly not bad. No matter what, that much travelling takes its toll on you and we were looking forward to some relaxation. After landing, gathering up all our luggage, we hopped in a cab and headed to the ship. The plan was to check in, shower and change clothes, then head out and explore the city. However, the ship was not allowing guests on just yet, so we had to drop off our bags and come back a few hours later. Luckily there was this little street market nearby so we walked over and did a little shopping.
Then it was beer time. The local beer there was really good. And they don't categorize beer like we do. When you order a beer in the US you say "I want a light beer" and you can get the lightest color (usually the most mild in taste) on tap. But in Australia and New Zealand that means light in alcohol content. Interesting. Needless to say we had a great time test tasting the local beer, and being entertained by a local who was wasted at 11am. Good times.
By 1130am we were all checked in and on the ship. We were super excited and wanted to head over and finally check out our room. Our cabin was located on the port side towards the front of the ship. We had a beautiful balcony room with a view of the Opera House.

the ship
our view!
After grabbing some food we were off to explore some more. We headed over to the beautiful Opera House and decided to go on the tour. It is the only way to see the Concert Hall and all the other performance areas (unless of course you see a show which we couldn't do). It was amazing. We learned all about the history of the Opera House and how it was built and what they use the rooms for, etc. I hope to one day go back and see a show there. Unfortunately we couldn't take pictures of the Concert Hall but here is a cool picture of the architecture:
the ceiling

We spent that evening on the ship. We enjoyed dinner in the lovely dining room and the ship's "welcome aboard" show. Unfortunately we just didn't have the energy to hit up the bars in King's Cross, so we went to bed and got a good nights sleep.
Monday was our second day in Sydney. We started the day with a workout and some breakfast, then took a ferry ride to Watson's Bay. Let's just say the weather was a little cool and breezy.....
on the ferry. brrrr....

Before stopping for lunch we took a little stroll over to Gap Bluff. The cliffs and the ocean were beautiful. And the sun managed to stay out while we were hiking around which was nice. Just as the clouds and storm started to roll in we sat down for a delicious lunch at Doyle's on the Beach.

The restaurant has been around since 1885, and for good reason. They make some great fish and chips! It was a little pricey but worth it. After our lunch we decided to take a little walk around the neighborhood and while we were out exploring we discovered this cute beach.

Watson's Bay was a great little excursion. The town is super cute and we loved just walking around and exploring.

We took the ferry back to Sydney, then walked to some shops so Matt could get the perfect Australia t-shirt.  Then it was all-aboard! We stood on our balcony as we pulled out of Sydney, saying goodbye to Australia and hello to New Zealand.

enjoying the view from the balcony
Coming up.....The Fiordlands of New Zealand.