We spent Tuesday and Wednesday traveling by train and coach to get to Canberra via Sydney. We stayed over one night in Sydney, near the railway station, and on the train watched a lot of TV and saw a lot of scenery go by to finally get into the capital of Australia, Canberra.
Friday morning we got up early to take the train to Dubbo. We stayed over in Dubbo for two nights on our way to the town of Broken Hill. On the train, we talked with one of the conductors, Bernadette, for a while. She and her husband are planning a six week tour of the US and she was happy to talk to us about travel. The train route to Dubbo winds out of the Blue Mountains and into the drier ranch country of New South Wales. Along the way we noticed some kangaroos under the trees beside the train—pretty cool! All in all, the train journey to Dubbo was over six hours and the scenery was quite enjoyable.
Why are the Blue Mountains blue? Well, apparently it’s due to sunlight filtering through all the haze in the air. The haze is partially due to all the eucalyptus trees in the area giving off fine droplets of eucalyptus oil. Whatever the cause, it makes for some nice vistas.
Since yesterday was a Monday Lisa and Mark had to work and so we ventured out on our own. Our first task was to sign up for local cell phone service in order to have internet access on our phones. Our next errand was going to be renting a car for a month,with the same car company that we used in New Zealand. They were cheaper than any other company by hundreds of dollars. Unfortunately, that fell through due to internet connection problems at the car rental company. Given this snafu, we took another look at traveling by train. We could get a one month rail pass to travel almost all of New South Wales for $275 each. That seemed like a pretty cheap way to see a lot of NSW and it would also take us as far south as Melbourne and north to Brisbane!
If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you might not be surprised to hear that when we landed in Australia, we had no firm plans for traveling this large continent. We’ve been so busy traveling New Zealand that we’ve only scratched the surface of reading about Australia. Besides, we like to make plans up as we go along. Our guide book indicated we could buy a rail pass to travel across most of Australia, but it turns out that particular rail pass is no longer offered. Our fallback plan might be to rent a car again like we did in New Zealand. The problem is that Australia is MUCH larger than New Zealand. While New Zealand is about the same size as Colorado, Australia is about the same size as the lower 48 states! We have no desire to do that much driving. So at this point we’re thinking we’ll probably skip the western two-thirds of Australia altogether. We think the east coast of Australia will have plenty to see for this trip.
This morning we checked out of the YMCA Christchurch, but left our bags in storage while we killed some time before our afternoon flight to Sydney. We spent part of the time walking around the Botanic Gardens for a while. The Christchurch Botanic Gardens are some of the best I’ve seen, with a lovely layout and chock full of flowers and an amazing variety of plant specimens everywhere. The Dahlia beds and the Rose Garden were particularly lovely.
Oops, we slept a little late yesterday morning. Must be the nice, quiet cell with two foot thick concrete walls. After quick showers and breakfast we checked out, but left our large backpacks at the hostel. We had time to kill until our bus to Kaikoura this afternoon. We walked to the Botanic Gardens, but a light rain shower chased us inside the nearby Canterbury Museum. We wandered around enjoying the quality exhibits before walking back to collect our bags and meet our bus.
We woke to a rainy morning, which has been pretty common for us here in New Zealand. We didn’t bother to wait around for our tent to dry since we were in a hurry to get to Christchurch. Before we reached our Christchurch hostel we stopped at a sporting goods store to see about getting a replacement for my sleeping pad. It had started to delaminate (meaning the inside layers were coming apart) on Dec 23, but this was the first chance we’ve had to try to get it replaced. The folks at the store called the New Zealand distributor for Thermarest and they said they’d get a new one in the mail and I should be able to pick it up before we fly out of Christchurch on Friday. Hurray!
Our time in New Zealand is winding down, and we decided to break up the drive from Dunedin to Christchurch with a stop in the coastal town of Oamaru. We enjoyed some terrific sights along the way.
First we stopped to see the Moeraki Boulders. These incredibly round and unusual looking rocks are found right on the beach, half buried in the sand at the water line. Only they are not rocks in the traditional sense, rather, they are known as concretions, formed from the precipitation of minerals around some sort of nucleating material, possible some organic matter deposited on the ocean floor many millions of years ago. Most are spherical, although some of them have cracked open and eroded, revealing their mineralized interiors. Very cool to see.
We went for another run this morning. My legs were sore from yesterday’s run, but it felt good to get another run in. We have been walking and hiking a lot here in New Zealand, but I feel like I need more exercise. After the run we did some chores for a while before driving to tour the Royal Albatross Center outside Dunedin.
After a full Tuesday of touring Milford Sound, we used Wednesday to kick back and catch up on a few things. At noon, we walked over to the Fiordland Cinema in town to see a short film featuring the dramatic scenery of Fiordland National Park. The film, called Ata Whenua: Shadowlands, pairs great aerial cinematography with a lovely score to give a picture of Fiordland National Park as it changes through the seasons of the year. Afterwards, Alan visited the barber for a haircut and I worked on making some bookings for our last week in New Zealand.
The southwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island is home to Fiordland National Park. The region is a vast wilderness of rugged mountains, deep lakes, and jagged coastline. Milford Sound (which is actually a fjord, not a sound) is the most popular tourist destination in this region, if not in all of New Zealand. We definitely wanted to check it out, and so several days ago we booked tickets on a morning boat cruise through Milford Sound. It’s a 2.5 hour drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound so we got an early start to allow time for a little sightseeing on the drive there. The drive was indeed scenic, but after we crossed through a tunnel we were driving in a heavy fog and couldn’t see much. Thankfully the fog thinned as we drove downhill and approached sea level. Milford Sound gets up to 268 inches of rain a year, so we were lucky that it turned out to be a sunny day for us. An interesting thing about all that rainfall: it creates a layer of fresh water on top of the salt water in the sound. This layer of fresh water can be over 30 feet thick!