July - August 2015
  • Day49

    It's over

    August 27, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    The flight was generally uneventful, I managed to watch the Hobbits and also Kingsman which was very entertaining.

    We landed and had the usual queue for immigration, with the EU line moving slower than that for other countries it seemed. When we got through the bags hadn't started arriving yet, but when they did ours came off pretty quickly and all 9 arrived ok. Three luggage trolleys required and we exited through customs to be pointed in teh direction of the Emirates chauffeur office, who had a Mercedes Viano booked for us. A short wait and our driver arrived and we were off. Traffic was decent going into London and we were home about 2pm, having landed about 12.45.

    In one sense nice to be home after a 28 hour or so journey from Sydney, but also sad to be back and not having any more daily adventures.

    Jet lag was the only thing left to conquer. Ed fell asleep on the bean bag about 4.30 and we were all dozing by about 5.30 despite Domino's pizza (Ed slept through it 0 must be tired if missing food) and so we all went to bed about 6pm. I was awake about midnight and again about 3am and went downstairs with Ed at 4.30am to watch tv.
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  • Day49

    Quick Stop

    August 27, 2015 in the United Arab Emirates ⋅ ☀️ 38 °C

    We landed in Dubai and again were a long way from the terminal, needing a `5 minute bus ride to get us there. Quickly through a security scan then into the lounge. They do need bigger toilets here - only 4 cubicles for lots of people meant big queues.

    Fortunately the gate was right next to the lounge and this leg was on an A380, so mini bars and I could watch the Hobbit, which I still had half an hour left of the second film and the whole of the last film.
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  • Day48

    Last Day

    August 26, 2015 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Our last day of the trip. Packing was easier this time as we had done most of the hard work when leaving Auckland. We stored our bags and walked the 15 minutes or so across to Darling Harbour to visit the Sea Life Aquarium, another thing covered by our card. The reception person confirmed we had one credit left after this, which meant we could visit either the wildlife centre or Madam Tussaud's both located next door.

    Obligatory green screen picture on the way in then we followed the exhibits round. The platypus enclosure was out of commission for refurbs, but we had seen them in the zoo the previous day. The stingray area was also closed off.

    An Octonauts themed area proved popular, particularly with the visiting primary school groups. Many of the fish and exhibits were similar to those we had seen in other aquaria in NZ.

    The big difference came in the first walk though tunnel tank where they had two Dugongs. These look a little like seals but have tusks and are related to elephants. They are what gave rise to the myth of mermaids as they look a lot like a person with a tail fin. They are gentle creatures only found in an area of the Queensland coast. The two here were rescued from the wild. We spent quite a while watching them from above and below, with exhibits showing their poor vision and what their breath smells like! Their diet is essentially lettuce, as a replacement for the sea grass they would eat in the wild.

    From here we moved to the second tunnel tank with sharks in it. There was a great interactive touchscreen on the way in with lots of info an games about sharks. After this we went through a rock pool area and touched starfish and sea sauages, then a barrier reef area. The kids draw fish and coloured them in and these were then scanned and appeared swimming on a big projected tank wall. Sam and I sat and watched the large glass wall of the final tanks, with fish swimming back and forth - a bigger version of our tank at home!

    We had to buy cuddly dugongs and Ed also got a platypus as it was "so cuddly". Some lunch then we decided to do Madame Tussaud's as we had seen quite a lot of animals.

    Another first as none of us had ever been to one before (the one in London always has mad queues). I had been to the wax place in Great Yarmouth years ago but not sure that represents the art at its best!

    The models were very good and like like and you could pose with them all and were encouraged to touch them - they didn't feel waxya ta ll and were very solid. The hair was real human hair and the body parts were acrylic, just the heads were wax. There were themed areas for politics, sport, music, theatre, tv, movies. Particular favourites for Sam and I were Alf from Home and Away and Harold from Neighbours. There was a bit of an Aussie theme to some of the characters as you would expect, but most were well known worldwide.

    We took lots of pictures using the props provided and agreed it was a fun way to spend an hour or so, but wouldn't want to do the three hour London queue then face the scrum of people trying to pose with each character inside - we had plenty of time and space here to pose as much as we wanted.

    We left and headed back to the hotel - Ed complaining he couldn't walk any further, but he made it. The car arrived about 3.15 so we headed off and got all checked in. We had to leave the immigration line as we hadn't realised there were departure forms that needed completing - though we were then directed to the automatic passport gates and no one actually checked the forms, we just put them into a postbox!

    We ate in the lounge and Ed got another 13 storey tree house book and cards with our last Aussie dollars, then onto the plane. It was a 777 rather than an A380 - not quite as comfy and the entertainment not as good - less films including no Hobbits, which I had wanted to finish watching. The first leg was to Bangkok and took about 9 hours, quite bumpy in parts but we all got some sleep.

    We landed in Bangkok but were on a stand right at the edge of the airport so were not allowed to get off. The cleaners came in en mass then after a little over and hour we ere off to Dubai.
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  • Day47

    The Zoo and The Tower

    August 25, 2015 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Today was Zoo day, over the otehr side of the harbour at Taronga. We already had zoo tickets courtesy of the visitor card we had purchased, so headed for the ferry terminal at Circular Quay. No family deals today so return ferry cost $30 - children after the first one do travel free in family groups. The ferry was due in 6 or 7 minutes and we waited with various school groups on their way over. The journey took about 12 minutes and gave good views of bridge and Opera House. There is a gondola that takes you from the harbour entrance to the main entrance but this was closed for maintenance (think Sam was relieved) so rather than take the bus round to the other entrance we just went in on this side of the Zoo.

    The first enclosure we came acorss was the Red Pandas - bit early and cool for them maybe as no sign so we moved on to the seal and penguin area. They had Little Blue penguins, cute as ever and various seals including NZ fur we had seen in the wild and sea lions. We found out that they are all seals, even sea lions, just a different sub set. From here we followed the path round via some amusing Gibbons hanging in the sun and arrived at the Sub bear enclosure. The bears had been rescued from poachers and still paced nervously remembering their traumatic start to life. A quick drink then the African elephants (female enclosure, the male was in a separate enclosure) and we caught the tail end of the seal show in the 1,00 seater seal theatre. It finished with a huge seal doing a back spin, splashing the front few rows.

    The Gorilla house was next to the seal theatre and despite the crowds coming from the show we got a good view of a really cute little baby gorilla running around with his mum. He had alittle slide and toys to play with - very cute.

    The kids were keen to do the high ropes experience, but first we went via the Australian walk as I wanted to see Koalas. The first enclosure was interesting - a free walk area through the cage with some lizards and also rock Kangaroos. One was just inside the door up on the wall and periodically you could see her baby peeking out of the pouch. Nex t up we saw a Tasmanian Devil. Never seen one before and they do look a bit scary and the keeper explained that when feeding in packs they make a terrible noise so you could see why the early settlers thought there were devils out int eh darkness. The Taz cartoon character with his spins was based on a single devil kept alone in captivity which probably turned in circles out of frustration - it's not normal behaviour for them. We were lucky to see them as they are shy and typically nocturnal.

    Next was the platypus house - one was swimming in the reeds and occasionally pooped out to swim the length of the tank - again first time I had seen one of these odd creatures. Then some Kangaroos, though seen plenty before, and on to the Koalas. On was sitting very high up in a tree. To get a closer experience we paid to go into the enclosure for 5 minutes or so with the keeper and see some close at hand and get some pictures. One was quite active, the keeper explaining she was eating some new eucalyptus he had just put out and would son go back to there more normal sleeping state. This one had a baby in its pouch, born after less than a week but then in the pouch for several months. The other koala was sleeping. They have 19 in the Zoo and they are a protected species in NSW. To the kids delight she did a big wee and poo just before we left. The keeper said there were a few in other countries but not many as it was tough to source the Eucalyptus they eat. Our picture came out very well and Koala seen we headed for the High Ropes.

    Unfortunately the age curse struck again - you needed to be 10. Ed was quite upset as he had been very excited about doing this. Tash and I went to see about her doing it, but 10-16's had to have an adult doing it with them. I didn't fancy it and whilst an instructor could be hired to go it all seemed too much given Ed's disappointment. So we said no and vowed to go to a Go Ape in the UK at some point soon.

    Back to animals then and the reptile area, some big snakes, Komodo dragon and crocodiles and turtles. Then lunchtime, via the Giraffe enclosure, where I got the classic shot of foreground giraffe, background opera house and bridge.

    There was some flagging after lunch especially from the girls, but as ever Ed was keen to see everything so we went via the Chimpanzees to see the Zebras and the Bongo - always my favourite as allows endless Um Bongo and Congo jokes - lost on the kids. Tash didn't see what the Bongo fuss was about and appeared to upset the Bongo with this attitude - he was giving her some very hard stares.

    Mountain goats perched precariously on their rocky enclosure, then the last big animals were the lions. The tigers are having a new enclosure built so couldn't be seen. Done with animals we headed back to the exit near the ferry, passing the Red Pandas who were now out and about, although fast asleep in a tree - typical pandas.

    The ferry ride back was uneventful and from there we headed to the Skytower (Sydney Eye Tower as its now branded). Our tickets covered entry, but when we got there we saw a video of the Skywalk which was not at all as scary as the Auckland one and just involved standing on some glass floored platforms, always with rails and walls around. Minimum age was 8, so we had to do it just to allow Ed to. We got a good discount with the iventure cards (Sam obviously didn't want to do it) and headed in. There were some models and puzzles on the way through to a 4d cinema - wind and wanter providing the 4th dimension. Then off up in the lift. We got soem good views in daylight and as the sun went down and by the time of our walk (6pm) it was dark and so we got a different dimension on it.

    We had to take off loose items and put on jump suits - Ed had some trouble getting his on, but we made it. We had to be breathalysed and metal detectored again (seemed overkill for this compared to the Bridgeclimb Harnesses were fitted, we were clipped onto a rail and out we went. We followed a walkway around the tower to the first platform with glass floor, the edge sticking out over the street below - the inner side was still over the building so anyone fearful of heights could remain off the glass or at least not over a big drop. We were encouraged to bounce up and down and could feel the whole platform moving! For some reason I felt happier with a hand touching the railings, even though everything was solid and we were tied on. Our guide told us a few fcts about what we could see and then attempted to take some photos of us. Eventually she got things working, though as we would discover at the end, only partially and we were sold the pictures at a knock down rate as the flash hadn't made things bright enough - still pretty spectacular pics though.

    It was very windy on this side and we moved around to stand under the large Westfield sign - encouraged to reach up and touch it as it cost $3m. The round the other side to a second platform with just a narrow glass floor right at the edge of the building. Once everyone was on there was a noise and we started moving out. Our guide tried to create some panic by saying she didn't know what was happening and it had never happened before - somewhat believable given the chaos with the camera earlier. So we were now right over the edge of the building on a glass floor with only Market Street about 260m below (we were pretty much twice as high as the bridge here and higher than my jump in auckland (though the Auckland tower has a bigger mast making it higher in total). More jumping on the platform then it was time to go in (last fact was about the length of ropes helping support the tower and the large water tank in the roof that helped to counter any sway.

    Back inside we bought photos and souvenirs and headed back for some more room service in the hotel - our last night of the trip.
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  • Day46

    Bridgeclimb, (last) jet boat and Opera

    August 24, 2015 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    The focus this morning was on the Bridgeclimb for me and Tash. Ed was annoyed he couldn't do it (you had to be over 10) and Sam didn't want to do it. I skipped breakfast as whilst I have no fear of heights, too much coffee before the climvb with about a 3 hour gap between loo breaks did have me a tad concerned!

    We walked tp Bridgeclimb headquarters, only about 10 minutes or so from our hotel and checked ourselves in for the 9.55 climb. After a few minutes wait we were called through into the first holding room. Here we were breathalysed (including Tash) and jd to fill in the usual waiver form and also a form where you coloured in blobs corresponding to the letters of you name so they could be read by a machine to print our certificates. Certainly the first indication that this is a well oiled climbing machine (groups go out every 15 minutes or so - well oiled and money making).

    We passed the breathalyser and moved into the changing area to get our onesie/jumpsuits on, after emptyng everything from our pockets and taking off all loose items. Once we passed through the metal detector ok, time for last trip to the loo then we were through to the harness room. We stood round in a circle while Dan, our guide for the day handed out the harnesses. Tash was the only child in the group, so Dan chose her to demo how to put on the harness - as he put it "you're bound to trust me now I have a child assistant". Once into the harness we had to clip rain jackets and fleeces onto the back, put on our caps, a handkerchief on elastic around the wrist (just in case you needed a hankie apparently - seemed a bit weird but I guess if you had a cold would be helpful). Everything was attached to us by clips so nothing could fall off the bridge.
    Next was ladder training on a specially built unit - this again seemed a bit overkill but I guess it made sure everyone was comfortable with the steepest parts of the climb on the ladders between the below deck walkways and the bridge archways. We all passed the test and then got fitted with our headsets that enebaled Dan to talk to all of us while we were climbing. One lady had a bit of a height fear so went behind Dan with her friend, then Natasha and me, with the rest of the group behind - there were 13 of us altogether..

    Our clip was attached to the cable at the door tot eh walkway - the cable ran all around the bridge walk until it arrived back at the doorway in about 2 climbing hours time. The initial walk was under the roadway to get us out to the main archway of the bridge. Some sections were quite narrow and had low head height but it wasn't challenging and was probably about three or four floors above ground level. Dan's commentary was very funny throughout - our first stop was to hear about the stones cladding the concrete pillars and how each had been carved by a separate mason and signed by them. Then we were out onto the eastern catwalk which was a see through walkway and apparently the place where if people aregoing to have to turn back it will happen here - our group were all fine. Then we it the ladder part we had "trained" for. There were 4 or 5 ladders, going up maybe 40 feet or so which put us on the roadway level. After this Dan reckoned everyone measured height versus the road rather than the ground so people were never that afraid. We had a quick photo here before starting the climb up the iconic arches.

    The arches had steps on them and we walked about 50 steps up and awaited the rest of the group. Turning around we saw Sam and Ed at the top of the concrete pillar behind us. They had gone to the Pylon Lookout, an exhibition on the bridge and a viewpoint on the top. We waved madly, then climbed a bit further up, stopping for some tales from Dan and waving again. The third walk took us almost to the top and another photo spot, with Opera House and City in the background. We then had to cross to the other side of the bridge as the normal route was closed for a couple of months due to bridge painting. From here we walked the last stretch to the crown of the arch - 134m above the water. The NSW and Australian flags were just above us. We learnt from Dan that the fireworks for NYE are put on a couple of days before and the climbs cease during that time. The NSW flag is also often chnaged for other relevant flags eg visiting sports teams, dignitaries etc. Crossing to the other side again we had our big group photo, then had a video taken. Tash had one on her own, then I said a few things with Tash just waving madly into the camera.

    By this time it had started raining again and we put our rain jackets on. A bit more criss crossing over the bridge, including the raven's nest area at the top middle, where special events can be held eg karaoke, disco dancing (for a price). The rain was getting worse but luckily we were heading down. As we neared the down ladders there was a flash of lightning and thunder. This caused an evacuation of other groups on their climbs - fortunately we were on our way down and just carried on unaffected. Back down the ladders and under the walkway (mandatory to wave madly at passing trains as you climbed down the ladders), then we were back inside.

    Was a great experience with super views and not scary at all. We reversed the process of taking off all the harnesses, handkerchiefs etc. I got my overalls stuck on my boots and had trouble getting them off. We did surveys praising the experience and particularly our guide Dan then collected our photos and videos and we were done.

    Tash got a t shirt and we popped back to the hotel to drop stuff off before meeting Sam and Ed on the other side of Circular Quay near te jet boat landing station.

    We checked in for the Ozjet and were advised to leave all valuables behind and some folks told to take their shoes off as they would likely get very wet. We kept with our hiking boots as being pretty robust and waterproof. The boat was almost full, with a large group of 10 and a few others. We donned ponchos (which were a bit wet) and got in - we were put in the secodn row behind the driver.

    The ride started slowly in the reduced speed zone then speeded up a bit, though nowhere near as fast as others we had done. Our driver fishtailed the back end around and we bounced across the wash from other boats and did plenty of fast Hamilton spins. New for this boat was a power stop - the engines slammed into reverse causing the front end to dip and a tidal wave of water to engulf the boat. A couple of early ones got us quite wet but a big one near the end soaked us (the driver was trying to get the folks at the back wet) Ed wasn't too happy, but it was certainly another different ride. We cruised back into the hrbour with a selfie stick passed around. Despite ponchose and coats the water had found a way in and Tash and Ed were very wet in the bottom half (I was quite wet but my trousers dry quickly). I waited for the video to be trasnferred to USB whilst they headed to nearby FCUK to buy new trousers/leggings. By the time we had managed to reunite ourselves, we had ro head to the Opera House guided tour meeting point.

    Our guide was a french lady who's manner was quite endearing (she was quite stern but informative and her accent added colour). Sam and I had doen the tour before but this time we all got radio headset so we could hear what the guide was saying easily. Tash and Ed had thought the tour might nee boring (esp Ed), but they really enjoyed it and wanted to see an opera in there by the end, We watched a couple of videos on the design and build. Quite a sad story as the architect was sacked over the time and cost overruns (it cost over $100m versus initial estimate of about $3m) and never actually came back to Australia to see the finished article, though he was reconciled later in life and produced schematics for the build and his son became the consultant architect on the site.

    We went into three of the five theatres, a small studio and the two largest ones, the opera house (where we had seen Carmen years ago, Louis de Bernieres was giving a talk that night) and the concert hall.

    Our guide explained lots about the acoustics of the halls, the wood panelling and how the inside of the theatres was separated from the outer shell. The outer tiles were self cleaning by the rain. The tour was only an hour long and gave just a brief taster of the Opera House. We went to the gift shop and Ed got a Lego model of the Opera House to make up when we got home.

    The rain was coming harder now and we walked back via the hote room to drop off more stuff then headed to the Australian Hotel in the Rocks. Our climb guide Dan had mentioned this earlier as a good place to go, one of the oldest hotels in Syndey with a huge range of beers and pizzas including Emu and Kangaroo and Salt Water Crocodile. Sam had the former without cheese and I had the latter, the kids played safer with chicken burgers. The pizzas were very tasty, especially the emu which was avery tender gamer kind of flavour. The house lager also went down well.

    Back in the hotel room we wtched a huge thunderstorm come across. The lightning was flashing every few seconds almost liek a strobe and the rain lashing the windows - we couldn't see the bridge or the Opera House through the rain. Next morning the news was full of stories of the flash flooding in the outer suburbs. The centre survived better and fortunately it was dry, fine and sunny on Tuesday morning.
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  • Day45

    Rocks Market and Luna Park

    August 23, 2015 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    The receptionist yesterday had told us about the Rocks Sunday craft market and so after breakfast in the hotel (an automatic pancake making machine caught Natasha's eye!) we headed out. It was just after 9 and many stalls were only just setting up so we walked down to the Harbourside where a large P&O cruise liner had pulled in earlier that morning, We looped around to the top of the Rocks and the main temporary market street.

    The stalls were like a bigger, more varied version of the permanent ones in Covent Garden. we bought a few small things including some dairy free chocolate at different percentages up to 99%. At the top end their was a caricature man and Tash and Ed both had theirs done. I watched a man doing some spray painting art and also sussed out where the Bridgeclimb office was ready for tomorrow. We walked back down the market and the kids had a corn on the cob on a stick. We bought a print of Sydney harbour drawn by an autistic chap and some mini cup cakes.

    We finally found the visitor centre and got some leaflets then a coffee whilst deciding what we would like to do in our remaining time. With some ideas we went to talk to the staff, who suggested an iVenture card would be our best option. We could load it with 5 activity credits and use them against any of the attractions on the list - Jet Boat, Opera House tour and Zoo and Aquarium were on the list, so we bought them. Most were turn up and go, but the Jet Boat (Ozjet) needed booking and we did this for 3pm on Monday.

    Ed had a bit of a meltdown because the jet boat wasn't until tomorrow and at the suggestion of booking an opera house tour for today. We went back to the room to calm everyone down then headed back out to the Opera House to book a tour. On arrival we discovered that the tours for the day had finished due to the matinee performances in the theatres, so we booked it for 4.30 Monday after the Ozjet.

    This left us with the afternoon to fill and we settled on getting the ferry just across the harbour to Luna Park, an amusement park we had seen lit up from the our hotel room. We bought ferry tickets - apparently it was family funday Sunday so any family group could travel anywhere for $2.50 per person, so the tickets cost $10 for all of us. The ferry took about 5 minutes to cross the harbour and we alighted right at the scary clown face mouth entrance to Luna Park. Rides were via a wristband - Sam wasn't fussed about going on so the kids and I got unlimited bands. There were 12 rides in the park. The park reminded me a lot of the pleasure beach at Great Yarmouth years ago, though much smaller. The first ride we headed for was straight from Skegness though - the Wild Mouse, a rollercoaster with 2 people in a car that zipped round the track like a mouse. Ed wanted to go on it, but as ever with him he was also very reluctant, but we joined the queue and I went in the car with him - Tash went on her own in the car behind. It was a tight squeeze in the carriage, but we set off. The first part ere some twists and turns - scary because it seemed like the car was goin to tip off the track - the old fashioned look and feel of he ride added to this effect. Then it was up and down a couple of bumps, another scary turn then another couple of bumps. Predictably Ed loved it - his first ever proper rollercoaster ride. Hoefully he will now go on things elsewhere. We got off and whilst I was looking at the photo he raced off to go round again on his own. This set the pattern for the next hour or so - Ed and Tash racing from exit to entrance to ride again and again. They certainly got value for money from the wristbands. I dipped in occasionally with a ride but had a go on a few other things too. The dodgems were ok, but not very fast and there was a central island which prevented the narrow turns and general chaos that you can get in the UK.

    I went on the Hir Raiser, which was a classic drop ride, but very high. It simply went up, got to the top and dropped down again. It was higher thn the ones I've been on in the UK, the drop was much longer and faster and you couldn't tell when you were at the top to know when it would drop. I was right out of the seat on the drop and it actually bashed my legs on the harness. More extreme than the Skytower jump, though without the initial need to step off yourself. I had a look at what I thought might be an old fashioned fun house, but it was actually just a play barn style collection of slides. It started to raim and whilst the rides carried on, the kids decided to come on the dodgems with me. Ed went in with Tash as again he was too scared to drive himself. a first for me on this ride - it had to be abandoned because the dodgems got stuck. Because of that middle island a line of them *I was on the inside) got wedged and just couldn't move and the ones running in from behind made no impact. The ride was stopped and the dodgems manually reset.

    Next ride Ed came in with me and drove it himself, then, of course, he was off on his own. We had a few more rotations on the dodgems before Ed went back on the Wild Mouse. I had earlier tried to go on the Rotor, but it was temporarily shut, so I went back to see with Tash. It was working so on I went (Tash watched from above). This was a ride I remember from Yarmouth, where you enter a big drum, it starts to spin, the floor is dropped away and you stick to the wall with centrifugal force. I'd never dared go on years ago when I was little, so gave it a go now. It wasn't that pleasant, the forces made everything feel very heavy and it made it difficulkt to breathe at times with the pressure on throat and neck. I was also concerned when the floor dropped that I dropped a bit too, but I stabilised till the end of the ride when they slowed it down and let you drop slowly back to the floor. Felt a little dizzy getting off bt not too bad. Don't think I'll be rushing to do it again though.

    Tash wanted to go on the Tango train, a spinning waltzer style machine. She had a go whilst Ed wanted to try a basketball sideshwo ame. We paid $10 for 6 balls. The more through the hoop the bigger prize. Ed missed with the first 4 then nailed the 5th, then bounced the last of the rim of one hoop but it looped up and fell straight through the other hoop - crazy trick shot. Due to luggage constraints we had to go for 2 smaller prixes - Angry Bird cuddly cup holders!

    Ed then slightly nervously went with Tash on the Tango train once again loving it. They proceeded to ride 3 or 4 times until the park closing time at 6pm. We got the ferry back, returned to the hotel and Tash ordered us some room service, very tasty it was too. Before it arrived we went up tot eh next floor tot eh pool and observation deck for a quick dip. There was also a spa pool and a sauna and we gave them all a try. The kids enjoyed jumping into the pool and the views over the harbour and city made it a spectacular location.
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  • Day44

    Last penguins and Sydney

    August 22, 2015 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    We had breakfast in the room again, then spent a fairly frantic time sorting through and repacking stuff. The most fragile items went into hand luggage and we also kept out the wooden items in case Australian customs wanted to inspect them. I got rid of the wool I had been carrying inb my pocket since the shearing we watched in Queenstown as we didn't think that would meet with their approval.

    The poor porter who came to store our bags only had a small trolley and had to make 3 separate journeys. Then we walked dow to the harbour front to await the free shuttle bus to Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium.

    we arrived a few minutes early and killed some time in the Champions of the World shop, picking up another rugby top (Blues), then the bus arrived, shaped like a shark, with big teeth and shark head at the front. We hopped on and were driven the 10 minutes or so to the aquarium. On the way and dvd was played about the history of the aquarium. It used to be old sewage storage tanks and Kelly Tarlton, who was a famous NZ marine explorer wanted to set up somewhere where people could view fish and decided this was a good spot. They created the first walk through perspex tunnel in any aquarium, and moulded the sheets themselves to save money. It opened in January `985 and Kelly Tarlton died a couple of months later.

    On arrival you go downstairs to get in as the whole complex is underground and below high tide sea level - the cafe has a window that looks out under the ocean when the tide is high. We had photos taken on the way in (which we bought later) after passing through a mock up of Scott's hut in Antarctica. This was much bigger than I had thought, hut didn't really do it justice, it was a whole series of areas, sleeping, science, photography etc.

    After this came the stars of the visit for us all, the penguins. There were two types in a cold Antarctic enclosure, with snow on the ground - King Penguins, the classic 1m tall, with shades of yellow on them and Gentoo penguins, smaller and no colours. We watched the Gentoo's doing circuits of the enclosure, waddling round, belly flopping into the pool then climbing out and repeating, like a little exercise circuit. The King's were less active, most standing still (though many of the Gentoos were also standing or lying down) or lying flat on the stone. One Gentoo looked like he was standing still pretending to be a rock. There were also some baby King penguins, as big as the adults but brown and fluffy - early explorers thought they were a different species.

    We moved on through an area with a preserved Giant Squid and info on whales, as well as Antarctic temperature water that you were challenged to keep your hand in for thirty seconds - I managed about 7!

    We hit the cafe next, and had drinks and snacks before heading back to the penguins for feeding time. This was funny - some of the penguins kept going back for another fish pretending they hadn't had one whilst others just didn't want a fish and looked like they were shaking their heads like a small child to refuse the fish.

    we chatted for a while to the guy looking after the touch area, which had a tank of starfish you could feel. The spiny 11 legged ones lived to their name with sharp spines. They ate shellfish by just pulling the shell until a small hole appeared then sticking their stomach through and digesting the contents. They can shed legs when threatened or stressed and they take about a year to grow back. We also saw a huge crayfish skeleton, far bigger than the ones we had caught in Hokitika what seems like a long time ago.

    Next area was Stingray Bay, with some huge stingrays in, them on to the big tank with the tunnel and moving walkway, like in Napier . Equally as impressive, went a long way round the tank and some fiercely teethed sharks in their.

    Fish galley had various fish from around NZ and other areas - our favourite was a puffer fish, who looked puffed up, until we read that he would be the size of a basketball if he was! Another area was devoted to seahorses, including some that had come from colonies in Milford Sound we watched a short video of how they were captured. We went back through the tunnels to Stingray Bay to see a keeper hand feeding the stingray, then hit the shop before catching the bus back to the hotel.

    We were back about 2pm, after calling in to NcD's to use the last of the free cheeseburger vouchers to keep us going. About 2.30pm a cab appeared outside and we checked and it was ours come early. Whilst watching the video of my jump yesterday the cab company had called to check the pick up and said they had no vans available so would send two cars. The other arived shortly and we were on our way at about 2.40, getting tot he aiport just after 3. Check in and security were painless and we were in the lounge about 3.45 for a bit of food. I got the lady on the desk to check the pick up in Sydney - she reported that the company were very insistent they were sending a van and it would cope with all our stuff and two cars were not needed (they were right but only just!)

    The flight when smoothly. I wanted to watch the second Hobbit film, but ended up watching twenty minutes of the third by mistake, I thought it seemed odd. This left me with not enough time to fit the whole second one in so I'll have to pick it up on the way back to London. Had a moment of worry when I was filling in the customs forms for Australia and the passports slipped off my knee and down the side of the seat. I fished out Tash's, but couldn't see Sam's down there. after take off I got s stewardess to help look and she got a torh and pulled the seat apart. She claimed it happened all the itime, but I said I thought she was just trying to make me feel better. anyway after more looking she asked if I was certain Sam had given it to me. I said I had had it all the tim, but would double check the bag and lo and behold there it was. I felt very foolish, but the stewardess just laughed, though am sure she must have laughed with her colleagues later!

    The rest of the flight was uneventful until we got to Australian immigration where I hadn't realised we needed to fill in Ebola forms. The guy was very good, sent us to a table to fill them in then cut back in the line. He was very jolly, teasing Natasha and Edward and talking rugby as some of the reserves of an Aussie rugby team were coming through from a game in NZ.

    Our driver was waiting for us with name tag showing Samantha Smith and we headed for his car which was a van size and did just fit our luggage in. Half an hour to our hotel, Quay West Suites and we were on the 23rd floor, with a great panoramic window view over the whole of the harbour, with the bridge and Opera House in full view.
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  • Day43

    Sam's Birthday

    August 21, 2015 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 13 °C

    Sam's birthday today and she was given a chorus of Happy Birthday from the cuddly toys. We had room service continental breakfast then headed down to the harbour to take our seaplane flight. We arrived at Auckland Seaplanes about 8.45 just as the plane was tying up at the dock. We had to wait a few minutes for another couple who were on their way but having trouble finding it. They had the back row when we boarded and Tash and Edward played rock, paper, scissors to see who would sit in the front. Tash won, which made Edward whine, but actually I think the view was better from the middle row as the windows were bigger. Sam took one window, I sat in the middle and Ed had the other window.

    We started off and circled close to the quayside, with Tash given the important job of waving out of the window at the passers by - she got a few waves back. Then we taxied across the harbour, turned around and sped up for take off. The water was smooth so the take off was too, though it was strange to see the water spraying up from the floats of the plane. Once airborne we flew along the main Auckland shoreline, over Devonport on the left where Sam and I had got a ferry across too last time we were here and bought the picture that hangs in our bedroom.

    Then we went on to Rangitoto island, which is an old volcano, with the crater clearly visible, though covered in trees and vegetation - we circled this a coupe of times so we could all get a good view, then on to Waiheke island. This is the most populated island in Auckand and in summer is one of the most densely populated anywhere. It's about 30 minutes ferry ride to Auckland central.

    From here the flight continued out to some of the further islands, which had been used as addiction clinics amongst other things in the past - one was for sale for $35m, as was a grand house o another for $37m. We circled back and headed back to Auckland harbour, on the look out for dolphins or whales - Ed says he saw a dolphin but the rest of us were not so sure.

    The conditions had been perfect for the flight with sunny cloudless blue skies and no wind to create any turbulence - a great birthday memory. Landing was a little bumpy across the waves and again was strange to see the water splashing up under the plane. We tied up at the harbour, had a photo in front of the plance then headed off.

    Coffee beckoned and we went to a coffee shop/ice cream parlour on the harbour front. The ice cream was amazing and the sorbets even better - Sam had passionfruit and Ed lemon and they were so creamy we had to double cjheck they were dairy free. No wonder they had won many awards for their wares.

    I had decided to do the Skyjump from the Skytower and so we set off to do that. On the way we had to wait for the bridge in the mooring dock to lift up to allow a large motorised yacht to go through - looked a splended boat and must have cos tens of millions. We came out close to the i site we had been at yesterday so popped in to book the Adventure jet boat on the harbour. This was running at 1pm so we booked that, then booked the Sky Jump for 3.45 (3.30 check in). Have to say I had been hoping to do it quite quickly to stop being nervous, but actually having a set time did make me feel a bit calmer as up to then I had still been debating whetehr to catula go through with it.

    The Adventure jet was fun as ever. Half an hour of blasting a round the harbour - faster than others we had been on at 100kph and we went under the Auckland Harbour bridge and saw the factory where all of NZ's sugar is refined and the place where naval ships get their munitions. This was the wettest jet we had been on and our hair was soaked by the end (clothes not too bad due to splash jacket we were given) and was like a fast scenic tour of the harbour. We saw the bungy site under the bridge where you could go right into the water if you chose.

    When we got off the jet the guys gave us some vouchers for free McD's cheeseburgers, so of course we had to head there for lunch, then we went back to the hotel to drop off some of the things we had bought in the morning and wait to get back to the Skytower for the jump start time.

    We arrived at the Skytower and headed downstairs to the jump reception. This was also the reception for the Skywalk, which involved walking around a ledge on the outside of the tower, no rails or anything. No way could I do that! I was checked in, weighed twice and the weight written on my hand - felt a bit like I was going for soe kind of operation! We then had a few minutes wait until I would get kitted out. During this time we watched the looping video of people doing the jump and the walk and my biggest fear, the actual stepping off the top, didn't look too bad - people jusy seemed to almost fall off. Tash was watching this too and decided that she wanted to do it as well, so we asked if she could do it with me and that was fine, so she went through the same weighing in process. Then we were called to put on our jumpsuits and fitted into our harnesses - very similar to the ones we had worn for the ziplines in Queenstown and Rotorua. Tash had to take her Ugg boots off and use some of their converse trainers as you had to have lace up shoes to make sure they didn't fall off. We emptied our pockets of everything and took off all loose items, (wedding ring, St Christopher, even my Rugby World Cup wristband).

    Then it was off up in the lift to the 53rd floor - first test was the glass floor in part of the lift. Sam and Ed were taken out to the landing site. Tash and I found our way to the jump waiting area and there was a girl from the company doing a jump. We watched her get clipped on then hop off the side and fall down. The noise from the wire uncoiling from the drum was very loud, even in the room next door. Then Tash was up, she went through, got clipped on to a safety harness, had her harness checked by both girls in there and shoes pulled again to make sure they were tight. Photo 1, then out through the door onto the platform, stop to change to external safety wire, clip on go pro and have a look around with it to show the view d the landing site. Then out tot he end of the gangway and look back for a picture, then hold onto the side rail while the main wires attached. at this point Tash was right on the edge 192 metres up and turned to hold ono the sides before jumping, but she got nervous and so tried it backwards without looking, but couldn't get into position and got worried so came back inside to watch me and maybe go after.

    I went through the same process as Tash, taking photos and using the go pro - asked how I felt I said nervous, but the girl tried to convince me I was at least a little bit excited. Once clipped on I held onto a metal rail on one side, then the other and leant forward so I was looking down to the ground, feet right on the edge of the ledge. The girl unclipped me and said she would give me a 3-2-1 jump countdown. This seemed to take a long time and my hands were sweaty which made me worried i would slip off too soon! Eventually she gave me the count and i let go and sort of stepped forward and I was off. The harness was quite tight so you always felt suspended rather than falling, but the speed quickly picked up and the fall (as I expected) was enjoyable and the mechanism slowed me from about 10m above the ground for a landing on bended knees on the target. My heart was certainly pounding but it was good fun and was pleased I had done it and would do it again. Once unclipped the harness went back up and we waited to see if Tash would do it, but she said she didn't want to so she came back down in the lift - still an achievement to get as far as she did right on the edge.

    We went back inside to view my video and get changed and it was all over. We went back to the hotel to freshen up before heading back to the Skytower to the Orbit restaurant to celebrate Sam's birthday. We got up the viewing area about 5.30 ahead of th 6pm reservation. There were various segments of glass floor around the tower and Sam managed to walk across and stand on them despite her fear of heights, after photos of Auckland in daylight we went up tot he restaurant. A nice window seat (it rotates about once and hour) and the kids were fascinated by the rotation.

    The food and wine was nice (Snapper and linguine for Ed and I, Chicken for Tash and rabbit for Sam, with ice cream all round for desert, though not quite as good as the ones that morning)and gradually the day turned to night and we saw Auckland all lit up. At various points there were bad smells during the meal which we blamed on the next table. However after our meal we went down 1 floor in the lift back to the viewing level o take more pictures of the lights and the smell appeared again - it was Ed. We pitied the people left in the lift for another 51 floors. A quick visit tot eh souvenir shop, then to bed for our last night in New Zealand.
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  • Day42

    Goodbye campervan

    August 20, 2015 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    We managed to pack away the campervan before leaving the campsite this morning - the extra bag purchased yesterday was definitely needed. The kids had an hour on the pedal go carts while we packed. Final emptying of the toilet caddy and the grey water waste and we were off.The road from Coromandel to Thames down the peninsula was windy and slow as it followed the coastline for most of the way.

    We stopped in Thames for a coffee and the loo then headed to Auckland. The journey was faster now as the roads were straight and once we joined highway 2 it was motorway to Auckland. After filling up the diesel we got to the Wilderness office.

    I missed the fact the reception was upstairs so hung around for a few minutes downstairs before realising. The hand back was much less painless than the handover. I filled in the feedback forms and made comment about how long it had taken to get the van. The lady saw this and asked about it and came back to me and said they ha confirmed the time length and would pay for our cab to the hotel as a goodwill gesture. So it was worth complaining. They ordered us a cab (a 7 seater to cope with the luggage) and we were in it about 45 minutes after arriving. The driver was rather grumpy but got us to the Heritage Hotel where the staff were very friendly and helpful. They got our bags to the room before we got up there - the suite was great especially after the compact campervan. Two super king sized bedrooms (kids will have to share but should be OK given the size of the bed), 2 bathrooms a lounge and dining area and a kitchen.

    We headed straight back down , got a map and went for some food. We were only a block away from the Skytower (tallest building in New Zealand) and headed to Queen Street, the Oxford Street of Auckland. Ed saw Burger KIng and wanted that, so we did. I saw on the map there was an Ugg shop down the road and the kids had spotted a Lush so we went there too. Tash got some Uggs as a birthday present and Ed and Sam some gloves.

    Then we headed to the harbour front and Ed spotted a jet boat, so we'll be doing that at some point. we went on to the i site to get some ideas on what to do - a Seaplane ride over Auckland and surrounding islands appealed and we have booked for tomorrow morning. A Zipline tour was also talked about but needed a ferry ride to egt tehre and when I looked on line was booked up for the next couple of days. The Aquarium looks like an option for Saturday morning and we may do an open top bus tour around at some point if we get time.

    We took the leaflets and headed back to the hotel to relax a bit, enjoy the space and watch tv. The kids got hungry so we ordered some room service kids meals and pizza, then settled down to proper beds again!
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  • Day41

    Pottery and Railways

    August 19, 2015 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    We awoke at usual time and packed up heading off at about 9am. Halfway across the car park I remembered I hadn't unplugged the electric cable. I hoped out and it was trailing behind us, so I quickly unplugged it from the van, threw it inside and drove off. We didn't look back to see what state the post it had been plugged into was in - fingers crossed it was fine!

    First stop was the Warehouse store in Whitianga to get an extra bag or case of some sort to put in some of the things we had bought and enable us to clear the campervan tomorrow. We ended up with a brightly coloured hard shell case which Tash picked and which was marked at $129 but at the till we discovered was reduced to $59 - even better.

    Then off to Coromandel Town - only about 43km away but 1.5 hours - due as we discovered to some very windy mountain roads. We were on the lookout for a cafe for breakfast but didn't find one until about an hour later in a small village - the only one between Whitianga and Coromandel as it turned out. The food and coffee was great - I had Spanish eggs with Chorizo, peppers, onions and toast.

    we set off the remaining12km (still half an hour) and stopped at the viewpoint at the top of the mountain, looking out across Coromandel, then down the hill and parked up in the town. We walked aroud some of the independent shops and bought a few things, then back to the camper and went to the petrol station where I got the gas canister filled up ready for return tomorrow. It was now around 1 so we headed for Driving Creek Railway, just out of town.

    On arrival we bought our tickets, despite the torrential rain currently falling and looked around the pottery shop and watched a video on the formation of the railway. The land was bought by an artist Brian Brickell initially because of the clay on site. He built a small railway to get the clay down the hill, then expanded it over the years. Eventually the debts on the railway needed paying off and so he started to take passengers and gradually increased it until it is as it is today, going right up to the Eyefull tower at the top. The railway is NZ'sonly narrow gauge and climbs 100m or so vertically during the ride.

    Scheduled departure was 2pm but a phone call from a group of tourists close by delayed this for a few minutes to allow them to ride. Ed and I sat right at the front behind the driver (though on occasion the train went backwards) and had a good chat with him about rugby he was going to the All Blacks game in Newcastle in the World Cup. The ride up took about 25 minutes and was excellent, it wound through the Forest with 3 tunnels, bridges, a zig zag section and spirals to climb the gradient. Wall protection used tyres and glass bottles embedded in the walls. Trees were marked on the way up, including some Kauri and lots of silver fern (silver on the underside). Variious clay pots also decorated certain areas. At one point the train went out onto a track supported from below out over the valley, then reversed back up the slope again, a bit like the Yeti ride in Disney's Animal Kingdom.

    At the top we got off and climbed the Eyefull Tower for great views over the bay. The driver gave us some of the history of the railway and the nature reserve that has been established there with lots of wild birds now living in it. Barry is now 79 and still working, with the whole reserve to be left to the Government when he passes away.

    After photos at the top we went back down, another fun ride. Ed and I at the back this time and we chose to ride facing backwards rather than turn the seat around. At the bottom we went into the shop and bought a piece by Barry, a book about him and a cup for Sam whcih it turned out was made by the daughter in law of our driver today. Ed got a clay penguin and Tash an egg cup.We then headed to the Top 10 site just down the road and checked in.

    In town earlier we had purchased some nit shampoo as Tash was convinced she and Ed had nits. Sam applied this to her and Tash, whilst I got a call in panic from the lady at the railway who had realised she hadn't charged us for Barry's pot. She came down to the site and I settled up in cash, much to her relief!. Meantime Ed had managed to climb up a climbing wall and couldn't get back down from the platform at the top - I ended up having to lift him off on my shoulders.

    We then went back to the van and applied nit shampoo - turned out Ed had loads as did Tash, Sam maybe a few and me seemingly none! we would have to reapply over the next few days. Needless to say, Ed didn't take the nit comb well.

    I temporarily panicked everyone by losing the van keys, to find them in my coat pocket! We headed to the Peppertree restaurant for tea (10% discount with top10 membership) and had a good meal (paella a popular choice). Then back to the van for a dvd from the campsite this time (Madagascar) then bed for our last night in the camper - have to pack tomorrow, nightmare!
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