The GREAT barrier reef

When I was teaching Travel and Tourism in Canada, I taught an entire unit on Australia. While the students were complaining, as they do, about the content, I was relishing the opportunity to learn more about a country I had always wanted to visit. All through this trip I have been stopping to marvel at the fact that I am actually in Australia, and no where were these thoughts as strong as at the great barrier reef. Similar to the Great Wall or Mount Fuji, it’s one of the places in the world where you can’t help but have a surreal moment. I can’t believe I’m actually here!
We booked a day trip to the reef on a snorkel and scuba diving boat for just over $100. They picked us up at our hostel in the morning and after getting our safety numbers and our snorkel gear we headed out to the reef. Our boat made two stops, at the Hastings reef in the morning and at Saxon reef in the afternoon.

The boat trip itself was wonderful, with coffee and cookies in the morning, an amazing lunch buffet, and really delicious muffins. Scott and I were two of the only non-divers, so we spent most of our time with a retired couple from Canberra, but we basically had the top of the reef to ourselves.
We purchased an underwater camera case, which served it’s purpose for three uses, and headed into the water. It was amazing!

We saw lots of amazing fish and other incredible underwater life. However, for me, the best part was the reef itself. It was about two feet below the surface and you could easily swim right over the top. It dramatically dropped off 20 feet at the edge, and it was an amazing feeling to swim from the reef to the open water and back again. I felt like I was in Finding Nemo.
The pictures are not great, but it was an amazing experience.

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Gorgeous South Island

A view from our campsite near Te Anau. Absolutely stunning. 

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The best part!

By far highlight of our trip to New Zealand was reuniting with a long lost friend, Gillian!

We spent four days living with Gill in her gorgeous house in Piha, near Auckland. It was an amazing time full of reminiscing, wine and excellent food. It’s so nice to see people you haven’t seen in years and have no problems jumping right back into the friendship! I can’t wait for my next visit, or perhaps permanent move!

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Camping in New Zealand

After a lot of research in to travel costs and feasibility, we decided the best way to see New Zealand was by car. Having heard about cheap camping opportunities we decided to go for a campervan of sorts. Of course, we hadn’t really planned for the freak snowstorm or other bad weather, and had to delay our trip a few days waiting for the mountain passes to be opened and the driveway to be shoveled. Spaceships campervans are old Toyota lucidas imported used from Japan and retrofitted to sleep two, or if you’re brave and don’t mind a roof rack, four. We picked up the winter warmed pack, a heater, a hot water bottle and  thermos, and were on our way. 

While camping had it’s downsides: the sites were much more expensive than we had planned, it was cold, our van was a little old and extremely embarrassing, we are so happy we choose to camp. 

Eventually we found these sweet department of conservation guides to the free and cheap campsites, and from then on we were set. No more $35 a night to sleep in a parking lot, now were paying $6 a night to sleep in the gorgeous parks of New Zealand. 

While our van seemed a little sketchy at first, other than the hub cap incident, a dead battery, and a few little peculiarities with the glove compartment, it brought us home unscathed.

Spaceships come fully equipped with cooking equipment, a DVD player and bedding, so it was really easy to pick up and go. They were definitely also the cheapest vehicle to be had, if not the nicest. Hopefully the next time we go we can afford one of those fancy motorhomes with bathrooms and a real bed, but for now, this was perfect.

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The best museum in New Zealand

Well, to be honest, we didn’t visit very many museums in New Zealand, unless you count the many Department of Conservation exhibits we stopped at. Those exhibits were great, amazing even,and brought back fond memories of the visitor’s centre at Algonquin. For the purposes of this contest though, I will count only the actual musuems we visited.

Te Papa in Wellington. 

Absolutely amazing. This museum is free with donation, and has so many excellent exhibits. One floor was entirely designed for the geography nerds among us. Information on earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics and rock cycles was next to interesting displays on the wildlife of New Zealand, which included a huge room displaying the biggest giant squid ever captured. There was even a house which simulated an aftershock of 5.0 magnitude. The next floor is dedicated to Maori traditions, immigration, and the people’s history of New Zealand. There is another floor, but we had to skip it, as we stayed until the museum closed. All through the museum there are interactive displays and children’s centres, as well as innovative exhibits, such as a 3-D movie of the giant squid, and recordings of children talking about the most interesting behaviours of animals. We spent over three hours here and wanted to come back the next day. Scott’s favourite part was a small exhibit outside which showed how the building was engineered not to collapse in Earthquakes including a viewing area of the the buildings supports.

Auckland Museum

Another free with donation musuem, but they make you buy a ticket for $10 as your supposed donation. This museum felt more formal and not as interesting to Scott and I. It’s building was absolutely beautiful and built in the middle of a giant park, so it had location going for it. The three floors contain information about Maori traditions, the natural world, and New Zealand’s contributions to wars around the world. We spent the most of our time on the third floor, learning about New Zealand’s participation in WWI, WWII, and various other conflicts. It was incredibly interesting and engaging, but I think we were comparing it to the excellent war museum in Ottawa, and left not fully satisfied.

Cable Car Museum – Wellington

It seems a little ridiculous to pit this small, focused museum against the two heavy weights, but we really enjoyed this place. At first we only entered to pass time while waiting for the next cable car down the hill, but we ended up staying for nearly an hour. The first floor has a restored cable car you can sit on, as well as an excellent history of the cable car in Wellington. It was fascinating to learn so much about something I knew nothing about before. The basement had another restored car, and the historic winding machine that used to control the cars. My favourite part by far were the videos playing in a screening room, one abut the trams of New Zealand and one about the private cable cars all over wellington. Since the city is built on a hill, many residents have installed their own cable cars for easy access to their homes. I watched the whole movie, and we later saw a few of these cars while driving around. It was definitely worth the visit. 

Weta Cave – Wellington

We made the short trek out here because we were both big Lord of the Rings fans. I distinctly remember watching all of the additional footage on at least one of the DVD’s and being fascinated by the “making of” scenes. This small museum is mostly a gift shop, with collectibles on display and for sale. There was also a video that outlined what kind of work they did for various films and the different departments making up Weta. It was definitely worth a visit just to see some of the life size figurines. 

Winner?

It was a close race between Te Papa and the Cable car Museum, but if I take revisability into consideration, I’d have to give it to Te Papa.  I can’t wait to go back and check out that upper floor. 

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New Zealand’s Weird Food: McDonalds Edition

We stopped at a lot of McDonalds on our trip through New Zealand, not necessarily for the familiar food, but for the free and reasonably speedy internet.

Although we didn’t try any of the options available,  it’s always interesting, especially as a former employee, to see the regional variations on McDonalds food. That Kiwi Brekkie Muffin does look delicious though!

 

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