Karen worked well with us to understand our travel preferences so that we could make the most of our trip. Difficult for us to realize that in 3 weeks we are only scratching the surface of these two wonderful countries - Australia and New Zealand. Given that time frame she was insistent that there were places and activities that we should see and do to get the most out of our limited time and that were also in line with our personal interests. The hotels and transfers were well done. Particularly impressed with the selection of guides they chose and very helpful making some last minute changes in our airline and activities. We enjoyed the flexibility to make arrangements for sightseeing, tours, etc. and picking our own restaurants (Trip Advisor is my bible). No question they are very knowledgeable and competent in helping to plan and execute the many details to make the trip succesful.
We particularly enjoyed our stay in Sydney including the bridge climb and an evening at the opera house listening to the symphony, something I generally avoid. Arranged a tour which took us to the outskirts and Bondi Beach. Had dinner at Fish on the Rocks but it was expensive. Off to Port Douglas on the barrier reef which is a neat beach town with very good restaurants and shops, though disappointed in our trip out to the reef with a large excursion. Would highly recommend a smaller operator, at least for our tastes. However, we had a private guided tour of the area and rain forest by a local Aborigine...he was both fun and informative, even had lunch at this family's house....great choice by our agent, be sure to book with them.
Melbourne was next, interesting city and wish we had spent another day or so there instead of up at Port Douglas. Be sure to try Bistro Guillaume....french fare well done. Dined at the Railway Club steak house....good food but so noisy you couldn't hear yourself think! Also Gran Florentino in their upstairs dining room...way over the top expensive, I choked on every mouthful. Had a thrilling self drive out to Apollo Bay where my wife had to get false finger nails as she bit hers off from my driving! The Great Ocean Road is well worth the trip with fascinating sea and shore views. The town of Apollo Bay is not much but we stayed a fabulous B &B...all done up in imported French antiques and such, with a very warm and congenial host...be sure to stay there. Had a wonderful day with our tour guide....fun and informative, lots to see and do. Not a lot of nice dining choices in Apollo Bay....we ate at Casa Lingo for Italian and La Bimba for seafood and probably the best restaurant in town.
Off to Napier in Hawks Valley region of NZ., although we could have spent a day less there. Dined at our hotel and the food and service was very good there. Had another great personal guide, a Maori elder, who drove us around the Waimarama area, explained the history and culture of his people. Took us to his farm, even stopping at the butcher shops so Karen, my wife, could pick out lamb chops for lunch! Fascinating time with this guide...a gentle soul. I arranged another day tour which included tastings of chocolate, olives, honey and wine, but not at the same time, as well a tour of the art deco area....all interesting. That night we had another wine tasting tour and dinner ....delicious food and wine at Vidal, Craggy Range and Mission, though our guide was underwhelming. The actual dinner was at Craggy Range and would highly recommend their food and wines. Vidal offered about 8 wines to taste and a large platter of very tasty snacks. After a day of wine "tasting" I've finally realized that I am a wine "drinker"....sipping and spitting is not for me!
From there flew to Christchurch for the night and to pick up a car for our journey through the South Island. Found a great walking tour guide. She was wonderful to be with....knowledgeable and passionate about her home town and what it has gone through from the earthquakes and what it is evolving to become...be sure to book a couple hours with her. Also dined at Cooking with Gas....great restaurant.
Fortunately our drive to Mt Cook was a lot less exciting than the Ocean Road but with wonderful vistas of the NZ countryside and breathtaking aqua lakes on the way to Aoraki. Mt Cook was somewhat obscured by clouds but not enough hamper views of the surrounding mountain ranges. The only place to dine is at the Hermitage where we stayed and our dinner there was very good, plus a huge breakfast buffet. Had a very large room with expansive views.
Arriving in Queenstown we had modified our Dart River trip to a trek on the Routeburn Track. Our guide led up and back to the first hut, about 16 km round trip .....fascinating mountain rushing streams and forest makes this one of the "great walks" but it was kinda hard on our old knees. The next day we got picked up early to take an over nite bus trip on the small ship in the Milford Sound. The bus driver/guide was knowledgeable and fun, stretching this into an all day journey with stops in the country side. The ship was well organized to handle the 70 or so passengers with very small but comfortable cabins, decent food, fun crew and amazing sights of the surrounding towering mountains and numerous waterfalls. Be sure to book a return airplane flight which only takes about 45 minutes instead of a long bus ride...well worth the money. For our last nite we were booked on a steam boat tour to Walter Peak Farm for a "gourment bbq". Having just come off the Milford Sound trip our time/money would have been better spent having dinner in town, thought the food, for what it was, was very good. Marred by several large affinity groups occupying the boat and dining facilities. During our stay in Q town we had a delicious steak dinner at Jervois and fish at Fish Bones....be sure to stand in line for a burger and fries at the famous Ferg Burger....well worth the wait.
And then it was all over.....headed back to Sydney and delicious dinner at Bistro Felix in an alley around the corner from the Radisson...check that complex out; and then on to the States after a long, wonderful travel experience of a lifetime ....but this travel is hard work! Fortunately ,we live in Naples, Florida so we can recuperate in the warm weather....
Sydney - would have liked another day and some organized touring
Port Douglas - one less day, smaller reef cruise experience
Melbourne - at least on more day
Napier - one less day
Queenstown - another day, skip the Walter Peak Farm dinner trip
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