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New Zealand - Australia - Hawaii
October, 1987

In the winter of 1987 I received a travel offer in with my Discover Card bill, you know, the usual junk mail that comes with the request for payment. I'm glad I took time to read this one, for it outlined a United Airlines vacation spending 6 days and 5 nights each in Auckland, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia. It was such a deal that I immediately called the toll-free phone number for details.

Eight months later, my sister Karen and I were flying "down under,". It's a grueling 27 hours of flying from Rochester, NY, with a change of planes in both Chicago and Los Angeles, and a cleaning/refueling stop in Honolulu before arrival at Auckland's airport. Amid the green fields and pasture lands surrounding the airport were the most sheep I had ever seen in my life. We knew we were a long way from home. Our hotel was on the outskirts of the city overlooking the harborfront- a magnificent view. Our city tour revealed several facts about the area. First, Auckland is actually built on a series of hills or mounts, and is claimed to be one of the largest cities in overall square kilometers anywhere when the suburbs are included. There are very few buildings downtown greater than a few stories tall, giving the area an even more flat look. There were plenty of parks throughout the city.

There were a few major attractions to see, including the history museum and a wonderful zoo, but most of the really interesting places are on other parts of NZ's north island. Far to the north is the Bay of Sails, but we opted instead for the day trip to Rotorua in the opposite direction. First stop was the Agrodome, a working sheep ranch which gave sheep sheering presentations and a look at the many breeds raised in NZ. They estimate that there are 30 sheep for every man, woman and child in that country. Our fall season was their spring, and the lambs had just been born. Next was a visit to the Maori Cultural Center, featuring arts and customs of the very first Polynesian natives who settled there. By the way, I can still say hello in Maori. Phonetically, "kee-ora" sounds like the Italian question asking what time it is. Geothermal power is tapped in this region where sulfuric mud pools literally boil to the surface and geysers often spout. These were viewed at the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. It was on the road back to Auckland when we heard the first reports of the great "Black Monday" Wall Street stock market crash. I'll always remember it as Black Tuesday, for remember that New Zealand is across the International Date Line and a day ahead of the US.

Nearby the hotel were two other attractions, although a bit unusual. Every day we would smell chocolate, for a Nestle's (we pronounce it Nest-lees, they Nest-els ) manufacturing plant was just down the hill. The other was the first indoor cricket facility. Cricket can be a long, drawn out affair when played in its traditional way, with matches often taking days to complete. I found indoor cricket very high paced- best described as unimaginable indoor baseball. It was very exciting to watch the co-ed matches which were played most evenings there.

The only time I've ever been bumped up to first class from coach was on the 3 hour plane ride from Auckland to Sydney. The plane was packed. It was thrilling to see Sydney Harbor, the bridge and the Opera House through the windows of a DC-10! Our hotel, the Park Royal, was in the historic "Rocks" section of the city. It's where 200 years earlier the first ships from Britain came and settled on the continent. Along with the sailors came the POMEs (prisoners of Mother England) who built the area into the metropolis of today at the detriment of the Aboriginal people. Their plight was (and still is) similar to that of the American Indians, who share a similar deep appreciation for the earth and the environment.

Yes, Sydney was sparkling, for three months later in January they would begin their Bicentennial celebrations right there in Sydney Harbor. A new cruise ship dock was just nearing completion nearby, and the entire dockside was in the state of renovation and rejuvenation. The Rocks area is also the artistic district of the city, with many craft shops throughout the area. Another new project was just getting underway, the wet-end Darling Harbour, which had taxpayers up in arms about cost overruns even at that early stage of the job. It was wonderful going to the rooftop of the hotel and seeing the ferry boats and Opera House right nearby.

Many cities around the world have tourist bus programs which for a flat daily fee will cart you around to the major attractions, allowing you to get on and off at your leisure. These are great values, and not to be missed, and so it was in Sydney. Among the sites of interest were the Royal Botanical Gardens, Wooloomooloo Bay (where the Australian Navy is situated), Centrepoint Tower (I believe the third tallest free standing structure in the world), and Victoria Station, the once bustling train station now converted to a three level shopping mall. Nearly every leading retailer sells something made out of the national treasure, opals. Stick with the reputable proprietors and jewelers, as triplets (thin slivers of opal encased in a clear coating) can sometimes be passed of as complete stones at greatly marked-up prices. Interestingly, one jeweler in particular was fascinated by the college ring I was wearing. They have no such tradition there.

Ferry boats and twice-the-speed hydrofoils crossed the harbor constantly. One excursion took us by ferry to Manley Beach. Not too much surfing there that time of the year, but a few die-hards were in the water. We did get a peak at one of the many beach clubs which run life saving drills and competitions especially popular with young adults. The water and water sports is an ingrained way of life down there, similar to the California life style. Manley also had a number of antique and specialty shops along its boardwalk. The hydrofoil ride back was a blast!

When you think of Australia, the kangaroo and koala bear pop into your head. One visit we took was to a game reserve an hour north of Sydney where we could see many of these creatures in their native habitat as well as a petting-zoo type environment. Red kangaroos (the big ones) are much larger than I expected they would be. I felt more comfortable feeding the wallabies, smaller versions of the reds. If ever given the chance, don't ever try to feed an emu, similar to an ostrich. I made that mistake and nearly had my hand pecked off, although everyone was encouraged to give it a try. While we could get up close to koalas, the game wardens would not let us pet them owing to their delicate nature. I had seen pictures of wombats, but never knew they grew the size of hogs! The more traditional Toronga Zoo resides on an island in Sydney Harbor with breathtaking views of the city as a backdrop.

I distinctly remember the day we left Australia, for our travel agent made a minor mistake booking our hotel at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki, forgetting that we would again be crossing the International Date Line, but this time gaining a day. As long as we were travelling all that way, we decided to add on three days in Hawaii to cap off the trip. I realized we had a potential problem en route to Hawaii, about the time the captain reported that we were over the island of New Caledonia. We landed right on schedule around midnight local time (although it was still afternoon for our body clocks on Australia time). We checked into the hotel and had to wait three hours before a room could be prepared for us, so we spent three hours in an all night restaurant across the street. Apparently this sort of thing happens all the time! We had our "welcome to Hawaii" orientation promptly four hours later, where we learned another surprise. Our add-on was booked through United Vacations and not United Holidays. Both are run through United Airlines but treated as separate companies. After another fiasco, we made our own arrangements for local tours of Oahu.

Three days isn't a lot of time to spend in paradise, so we set planned our itinerary accordingly. Day one was spent at Pearl Harbor in the morning and a bit of shopping in the afternoon. We had to crash early to try to catch up on our sleep from the night before. The next day we took an around-the-island tour. Run by younger folks our age, it visited many of the off-beaten sites of Oahu as well as those you'd expect to see, like the Royal Palace, Punchbowl National Cemetery, Diamond Head, and alike. Outside of the city we visited a Dole Pineapple plantation, the surfing pipeline and northern rocky coast, the mist covered mountains in the central part of the island, and we ended up the afternoon and evening at the Polynesian Cultural Center. That attraction, run by the Mormons, is Hawaii's second most popular site. College aged students from the various Polynesian countries display their traditions, crafts and costumes. It culminated with an evening performance of music and dance. Day three was on our own, doing last minute shopping and spending time in the hotel complex, a mini-town in its own right.

It's hard to forget the trip back, leaving Honolulu around 5 PM and taking my longest one-leg haul to date, a 10 hour direct flight to Chicago. It also happened to be Holoween, and the cabin crew tried to put their best faces on for us. I'd go back to Australia any time, despite the long time to and from the continent nation!