New Zealand makes for a memorable vacation

"Let the journey begin — the real journey" was a phrase quoted so often by our bus driver on my recent trip to New Zealand and Australia. And the journey was one of the most memorable vacations I've ever experienced.

My journey began with a flight from Minneapolis to Dallas, where our tour group boarded a Qantas airbus to take us to Australia. This massive plane was two stories high and held about 500 passengers. We would be traveling 8,775 miles to Sydney.

We first flew over western United States toward San Diego, then south of Hawaii and west of Lima, Peru. Next, we flew over Christmas Island and Fiji before arriving in Sydney, Australia, where we had a short layover and boarded our final flight, taking us to Auckland, New Zealand.

New Zealand is a beautiful farming country with its three top industries dairy, meat and forestry. With mountains in the background, the valleys have lush green pastures, home to thousands of sheep and cattle. According to our tour guide, many farmers milk 1,000 to 2,000 cows twice daily. Another interesting fact: When a farm is sold, the sheep and cattle stay with it.

No animals are native to New Zealand: All have been brought in from other countries. In fact, Teddy Roosevelt introduced elk to the country in 1905. Mossburn, New Zealand, is the deer capital of the world and home of numerous venison processing plants. Deer, as well as goats, are also used to clear brush from the countryside.


An all-day excursion took us to Milford Sound. En route we saw many beautiful birds, including parrots, yellow canaries and macaws. We enjoyed a cruise on the Tasman Sea, where we were surrounded by fjords and waterfalls. Several whales could be seen swimming alongside our ship, while seals and penguins relaxed on the rocks near the shore.

After spending a week in New Zealand, we flew to Melbourne, Australia. A city tour took us to Captain Cook's cottage and garden and to the Shrine of Remembrance, a memorial to the men and women who have served Australia in armed conflicts. In the Melbourne area, we saw so many kangaroos, koala bears and wallabies.

A highlight of our vacation was a trip to Phillip Island, off southern Australia, to watch the Penguin Parade. Each night at sunset, approximately 32,000 penguins come in from the ocean, dry off on the beach, and parade to their mound homes on the hillside. Before daylight, they head back to the ocean for another day.

After a flight to Cairns, Australia, we enjoyed a visit to the Great Barrier Reef. We rode on a catamaran to a pontoon planted out in the ocean. Here we boarded a submarine and saw colorful fish of many shapes and sizes, as well as the coral reef.

The final destination on our journey was to Sydney, where we visited their two famous landmarks - the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Bridge. Our tour group spent our final farewell night on the Sydney wharf, where we enjoyed a wonderful meal, a time of reminiscing and spectacular fireworks.

There is so much to see and do in New Zealand and Australia, and I wish we could have stayed longer. Just visiting a Maori village and being entertained by the aboriginal people was worth going on the trip. Also: seeing New Zealand's National Symbol, the Kiwi Bird; holding a sleeping koala bear; driving on the left-hand side of the road; taking a tour of the Waitomo Glowworm Cave; visiting the Blue Mountains; and seeing huge casinos, beautiful trees, flowers and beaches. I want to return soon!

But now it is time for our long flight back home — about 18 hours, and we will gain back the day we lost when we began our journey.

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