This morning we had to stop in Utrecht and pick up some final camper documentation from Donna. After that, we were free to wander about Europe, with our first stop being the western part of Holland, to see the fields of those famous Dutch tulips. We found a campground within bicycling distance of the Keukenhof, a park that features acres and acres of beautiful tulip gardens.
Wednesday was a long travel day, as Alan already wrote about. Cat Ba, Hanoi, Bangkok, Frankfurt, and finally Venice. When we arrived at the Venice airport mid-morning, we discovered our bags had not made the connection with us in Frankfurt. We filed a report with the baggage office and finally made our way into Venice to meet our Airbnb hostess, Elena. We stayed at a small apartment right in the middle of Venice for a few days and Elena was very kind to wait for us and help us to finally get our bags delivered.
Tuesday we got up early to catch a taxi over to the train station to then get ourselves to Bangkok’s Eastern Bus Terminal. It was a good thing we set out early because morning traffic in Bangkok is a bit crazy. And by ‘a bit crazy’, I mean unbelievably insane. Cars and scooters just going everywhere, traffic signals hardly matter, it’s incredible. At the bus terminal we bought a ticket for the bus to Koh Chang, number 999, a very lucky number—we’ve been told Thais like the odd numbers, especially the number 9. It was a six hour bus ride to the ferry terminal near the town of Trat, and then a 45 minute crossing to the island of Koh Chang just off the coast in the Gulf of Thailand, where we stayed at the Blue Lagoon Resort for a few days.
After breakfast Monday morning, we stowed our baggage in the YHA storage locker and walked over to Abell Point Marina to meet our boat for our Whitsundays sailing trip. It was a hot start to the day, so we enjoyed a cold drink while waiting for all of the passengers to assemble. One pair did not show, so there were four people on the trip, plus some young guys training as crew. All told there were 11 of us on board the Eureka II, a 60-foot sailing yacht. We boarded and waited a bit longer for that missing pair, but they never showed, so we finally set out of the harbor. The crew, Andrin (a Swiss) and Niels (a Dutchman), as well as our captain Mal (a salty Australian) introduced themselves and gave us a little orientation to living on a boat.
Sunday we checked out of the Port Fairy YHA and started to make our way back to Melbourne via Port Campbell. Port Fairy is the far western end of the Great Ocean Road and we thought we’d back-track a little to see any sights we might have missed on the way out. Port Campbell is a nice little beach town and we camped at the Caravan Park for two nights.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We heard that Lake Matheson was a prime photo spot for the high peaks of the glacier country, especially Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman. On clear days, the still, reflective surface of Lake Matheson is a great vantage point from which to photograph the snow covered mountains. We didn’t get a sunrise start, but made it to the lake reasonably early. As we set out on the trail around the lake, clouds and mist shrouded Mt. Cook, which is also known by it’s Maori name, Aoraki. A light breeze also ruffled the surface of the lake, so it seemed like we wouldn’t get any great photos. We stopped at a popular photo spot, called Reflection Island, that juts out into the lake and has terrific views of the mountains. Alan persuaded me to stay put for a while, and his patience was duly rewarded. Enjoy the photos he made after the clouds cleared out of the mountains and the breeze stopped on the lake.
Today we woke up to sunshine and clear blue skies, so we thought we better hustle down to Fox Glacier before the inevitable clouds settled in. Fox Glacier is similar to Franz Josef, with a large, high elevation snow field that spills into the valley below. We started out from the parking area and noticed a pool of glacier ice cubes down below us in the river. Alan climbed down to investigate.