View Full Version : A dream vacation........

Ken Fitzgerald
01-03-2009, 1:27 PM
In 1999 I met a fellow employee while in class in Milwaukee. At the end of the 3 week class, the 3rd guy in our lab group said if he didn't know that the other guy and I had grown up on opposite ends of the earth, he'd have sworn we had grown up as next door neighbors and were best friends. His first name....Ken..his homeland....New Zealand....and thus Kenny-boy as we refer to each other and I have kept in contact since.....exchanging Christmas gifts etc.

In June of 2007 while visiting my youngest son and his beautiful wife, they informed Sharon and I of their intended gift to us for our 40th anniversary which was Christmas Eve 2008. Their generosity I still find overwhelming and initially I considered rejecting their offer of a 12 day trip to New Zealand. Sharon finally convinced me that I'd break their hearts if I rejected it. It was a matter of priniciple to for me. What little we have.....we have earned. I can lay my head on my pillow at night and sleep well. I've supported myself since age 15 when I started working on oil rigs for my father and paying rent to my parents. I finally agreed and the planning of a dream anniversary celebration trip began. Our lovely DIL and youngest son did all the planning with input from us as to what tours, and events we wanted to attend. It was a dream trip...I lost a piece of my heart in New Zealand. We will return.

Here's a brief....city by city and event by event log with a few photos of each place and event......

Dennis Peacock
01-03-2009, 1:28 PM
He's ALIVE..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh yea.....Welcome Back Ken!!! :D

Ron Jones near Indy
01-03-2009, 1:33 PM
I'm glad you had a great trip! Oh, and welcome back! Sorry, but I didn't see the log and photos or a link to them.

Ken Fitzgerald
01-03-2009, 1:51 PM
On Dec. 19, 2008 Sharon and I crawled to Spokane, WA. A snow storm that came in on 12/17 and 12/18 had dropped another 23" of snow and all the the airline flights schedule for the 18th had been canceled. Some of the morning flights on the 12/19 were cancelled but the afternoon flights made it out. It took us 4 1/2 hours to drive the 110 miles. We ran into a major traffic jam about 4 miles south of the little town of Colfax, WA. It took us 1 1/2 hours to drive the last 4 miles into Colfax. Why? Washington State Unversity and University of Idaho had let out and the traffic lights in Colfax had traffic backed up 4 miles. The snow had been plowed into the 2 inner lanes reducing traffic to 1 lane in each direction.

We finally checked into a Super 8 near the Spokane Airport. The next morning at 0430 with temperatures at a reported -15 F, the shuttle took us to the airport. After a 5 hour delay due to aircraft flight computer problems they brought another plane in from Oakland, CA. The original plane was supposed to come from Portland BUT...the next storm had hit the coast and Portland was closed due to ICE. We were sweating blood!

Arriving in Oakland 5 hours late, of course, our conecting flight to LAX had departed hours earlier. We watched fellow passengers from Spokane immediately get seats on a plane to LAX that was boarding and yet it took nearly 35 minutes and 2 agents to get Sharon and I on the same plane. Sharon was nearly in tears! We get to LAX and we have to transfer baggage from the domestic terminal to the international terminal. OF COURSE, our baggage didn't make it!

We left the airport and had dinner with Sharon's brother and significant other and when we returned a couple of hours later, our bags were there ....we checked them through to Auckland, NZ and our luck was changing! At 1100 pm that night we flew out on Air New Zealand and our adventure began.

If you have never flown on ANZ, you are in for a treat. Shortly after takeoff, they served us a meal...you have a choice of main dishes. It's a 12 1/2 hour flight....the seats while not business class were larger and more comfortable. About 2 hours out of Auckland they served us a real breakfast.

Photos......in the next post......

Ken Fitzgerald
01-03-2009, 2:43 PM
You have to know what traveling is like with my wonderful wife. I accuse her of taking one bag for each day of the planned trip. 12 days......well..it wasn't quite that bad but....she had 2 collapsible bags inside one of her bags. She had through a slip of the tongue while on the phone with some family members mentioned she'd managed to save several thousands of dollars to buy souvenirs.

We arrived at the Auckland, NZ airport on the North Island and we cleared customs but only after Sharon chased a NZ custom agent down and demanded the first stamp in her newly acquired passport. We had to drag our bags (max free number, of course) from the International terminal to the Domestic terminal...a distance of about 3/4 of a mile. Enroute we had our first "Sharon" experience. She noticed some palm trees ( a fetish of hers) with some pretty flowers growing between them. She drops her bags and starts opening one shouting at me 40 feet away......"I have got to get a picture of this"......a New Zealander walking by in the opposite direction says to me with a smile in passing "It's going to be a long holiday Mate!"....


We finally boarded a domestic ANZ flight and flew to Christchuch where my friend Ken met us along with the Limo driver who had a card with our name on it. (Did I mention my DIL though a pharmiscist, would make a wonderful travel agent...and she's beautiful, intelligent, and well-educated?) Ken had left a hospital where he was working long enough to greet us and he and his wife would meet us later for dinner and drinks. We took the limo to the resort where the kids had booked us. A NZ PGA resort....our room over looking a small lake.....along the 18th fairway....incredible! Our bags were delivered to the room by a consierge.......incredible! I could tell by the smile on Sharon's face that staying in a Super 8 would never be the same again! We quickly showered and I shaved. We dressed for dinner.

Ken picked us up at the hotel later and gave us a wonderful driving tour of the Christchurch area.....took us up to the top of a mountain where we could see the surrounding Canterbury plains and the bays coming off the Pacific ocean....gorgeous view! Later that evening his wonderful wife met us for drinks at a bar on the beach and then we went to dinner at one of their favorite restaurants...."The Lone Star"....Yup we are eating in a bar modeled after a Texas style bbq place. Ken introduced me to Speights Gold Medal Ale! I asked for it the next 9 days and felt let down when I couldn't find it. Exellent beer....smooth...not bitter.....smokey flavor....very nice! We returned to motel as we had to be ready for pickup the next morning at 0500 for a hot air balloon ride.


Now I'm married to the "Camera Queen". She took a Nikon DSLR, a Olympus digital and a Canon camcorder. She only brought 37 GB of memory for the still cameras. She only shot a little over 20 GB. Yes I will post photos.

Jim Becker
01-03-2009, 3:52 PM
Wow...I'm gonna enjoy this thread! What a wonderful trip, Ken!

Mike Null
01-03-2009, 4:15 PM

You're off to a great start. I can't wait for the next chapter.

Dewey Torres
01-03-2009, 4:38 PM
Ken Welcome back! Your just in time for our 1 millionth post!

Steve Schlumpf
01-03-2009, 4:39 PM
Welcome back Ken! Glad you had a safe trip! Already hooked on the story - looking forward to seeing more photos!

Glenn Clabo
01-03-2009, 4:50 PM
Welcome back Fitz...looks like ya had one of those once in a lifetime GREAT times!

Brian Effinger
01-03-2009, 5:04 PM
What a great trip! It seems like your wife makes life interesting :D I too can't wait for the next chapter. NZ is one of the places I have always wanted to visit, but probably never will :(

Ohh, and the more pictures the better.

Dustin Cranford
01-03-2009, 5:16 PM
Wish my kids would send me somewhere, but I think where they would like to send me I don't want to go. The are however slowly driving me to the nuthouse.

Scott Donley
01-03-2009, 5:41 PM
Glad you made it back Ken, with all the snow thought you might get stuck in Seattle for a while. Sounds like a GREAT trip. Looking forward to all the pics !

John Keeton
01-03-2009, 5:59 PM
Welcome back! Looking forward to the sequels. Beautiful pics already!

Mitchell Andrus
01-03-2009, 6:00 PM
I almost understand.... My son was in Australia for 3 weeks as a student ambassador when he was 15. He swears he'll live there someday.

NJ to AUS... a very full 24 hours of travel.

Glad to hear you had a good time.

Dick Bringhurst
01-03-2009, 6:31 PM
Ken, I live on the other side of Wash. and kept hearing the snow and temp. reports from Spokane and wondered how you were doing. Glad you made it and had a safe return. Dick B.

Ken Fitzgerald
01-03-2009, 6:34 PM
At 0230 the alarm went off and the front desk called our room. At 0430, we hot footed it over to the main office about 1/2 mile away from our room. The hot air balloon folks were in a bus with a trailer behind with the balloon on it. They could not negotiate the hedged drive where our room was located and asked us to meet them at the main building "roundabout" at 0500. The Camera Queen in an excited mode insisted on my early morning photograph. I don't enjoy being photographed. You'll notice she cropped this photo to keep everyone from seeing the obscene gesture I was making with my right hand. We rode the bus to a common area. There were two balloons going up. 24 passengers in the bigger balloon and 16 in ours. The baskets are cordoned off so the pilot and the LPG tanks and burners are in the middle compartment. The morning was chilly. They stopped at "Y" in the road and released a small helium-filled ballon to test the wind currents. This balloon's direction of travel determined the launch point. We parked in a small grassy park and began the process of rigging the balloons to the baskets, testing the burners...filling the balloons first with air and then with hot air. The balloons are attached to the buses initially and then released after everyone is on board. Prior to launch the pilots gave a safety lecture. 1st rule...don't interfere with the pilot. 2nd rule was teaching us the landing position. Basically, the pilot can control the basket in a 360 rotation but the path of the flight is wind determined. When we are given the command to "assume the landing position" the taller person places their back to the direction of travel. The shorter person stood in front of the taller person. Both then crouch down so their eye level is just about even with the top of the basket. The shorter person ends up sitting on the taller person's lap. Both grasp ropes inside the basket and hang on for dear life. One person tilts their head to the left and the other tilts their head to the right. This is to keep from breaking the taller person's nose at the landing. The landing is somewhat dramatic!

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With the burners tested, the balloons filled with hot air and passengers we launched. Being an old oil field roughneck, I have gone up in a derrick a few times to assist derrick hands. I AM SCARED TO DEATH OF HEIGHTS! Not flying...but scared of heights. The hot air balloon ride was incredible! So quiet .....so peaceful.......the view spectacular! The pilots do have some control over the direction of the flight by changing elevation and catching winds blowing in different directions. I was surprised how readily they could control elevation. At one point as we approached a river, our pilot dropped us down until the bottom of the basket was less than 3 feet above the water and lifted us up to gently clear the trees on the other shore by the same distance. It was impressive!

The landing was pretty dramatic. So much so that my official SMC ball cap came off.....got drug under the basket. I brought some of New Zealand back with me on my SMC cap. I like to believe it's some NZ earth and not sheep dung from the sheep pasture where we landed!:D

Hot air balloon riding is a participation sport. The passengers have to help set up and tear down the balloons but that just adds to the fun. Of the 16 people in our balloons we rode with people from China, Singapore, Japan and the USA. It was interesting and you know something.....doing something this fun and special bridges all political and cultural differences. A smile of excitement and joy....translates in all languages!

We launched about 0600 and arrived back at the motel at 1000. Sharon and I napped until 1200 when Ken's wife Anne arrived to take Sharon shopping. I got called in the room about 1245 and my guide was waiting to take my fly fishing. No photos of either.

The shopping was good. When we went to dinner that night Anne said "I've never power shopped before!" Sharon had a list and they shopped hard!

Flyfishing turned out to be challenging. They hot air balloon ride in the early morning hours for a reason. Being an island they get winds! The later in the day the worse the winds became until just at dusk. We fly fished...attempted with a wind speed of probably 10-13 mph with gusts higher than that. The guide hooked 2 and I hooked 2 but neither of us were able to land them. The casting was difficult in the wind and I learned a lot about fly casting in the wind. The guide was quite expert and he taught me a lot about fly casting in the wind. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. No fish....no problem....that's why they call it fishing and not fish slaughter...or fish harvest!

The guide took me back to my room after 4 hours....refused to charge me for his time. He could have charged me $80 NZ per hour but refused to charge me. I told him that wasn't necessary and what about the license? He said we never filled out the license so he would not charge me for that due to the weather/wind conditions. This guy came in off "holiday" with his family to take me fishing and wouldn't charge me for it. I gave him a healthy tip. He initially refused it. Tipping is not expected in NZ. I insisted....I gave him a healthy tip! What a refreshing and friendly atmosphere!

That evening we went to dinner with Ken and Anne and walked around down town Christchurch. Beautful buildings...old.....very beautiful....Again...we returned to the resort early as we had the next day heavily planned. Great dinner...great beer......beautiful scenery......wonderful friends....friendly, friendly people......Incredible!

Bryan Berguson
01-03-2009, 6:34 PM
Looked like it was a great trip Ken!


Jim O'Dell
01-03-2009, 6:36 PM
very nice!!! Jim.

Ken Fitzgerald
01-03-2009, 6:44 PM
Another post to put in a few more photos....

Here's some more scenery. My friend Ken said he had a surprise for me. Turns out he had a friend who is a hot air balloon pilot. He was piloting the other balloon we were chasing. In fact, we went over Ken's house during the flight. He was departing for work in Christchurch....saw us.....stopped his car....honked his horn and waved at us.


Finally we landed....got the balloon rigged for reloading into a canvas bag and the pilot was talking with the other pilot and the ground crew who were racing to find us.


Here's a little picture of the LOML.....If you have an hour, ask her if she enjoyed the balloon ride!:rolleyes:


Ken Fitzgerald
01-03-2009, 9:04 PM
Now so far.....you have heard how incredibly lucky we were to get out of Spokane before the 2nd major snow storm shut down all of the major airports in the Pacific North West......well....the same incredibly good luck happened in NZ...

The hot balloon ride.....they had not had one in over a week due to bad weather..........the day we arrived they got the 1st balloon ride in a over a week.....and of course we got ours......

Today the "good luck" continued.

We rode a bus to a place north and east of Christchurch and boarded a boat. The signs WARNED of High Seasickness Probabilty due to rough seas and.....all the whales had moved out. The nearest one was 20 miles out.

During the bus trip portion, we stopped enroute for "tea" and there was a local group of seals or sea lions....I forget which...on some rocks.....


At the docks, we loaded up.....and got underway. The seas weren't nearly as rough as I experienced in the Atlantic while in the US Navy but there was some chop. We arrived on site at the location 20 miles out....we got there about 5 minutes before a whale sounded and then dove. With that we started back in. By the time we arrived nearly 1/2 of the 60 or so passengers had gotten seasick. I didn't know they made those white paper bags in so large a quantity! I understood why the nurse that went along on the ride was "gloved up". Though we were on a 10:30 boat and there were many more scheduled for that day.....all other boats were canceled. Seas too rough and not safe to take paying passengers out on them....


This evening...Christmas Eve.....our anniversary....the resort Pepper's Clearwater Resort...Christchurch provided, free gratus, our anniversary dinner and drinks. Incredible!

Ken Fitzgerald
01-04-2009, 12:06 AM
Christmas morning the limo driver showed up and transported us to the Christchurch airport. We boarded a plane for Queenstowne. What a beautiful little town! IIRC...it's resident population is around 14,000 and it is definitely toursit oriented! A limo driver met us at the airport with our names on a sign. He said he didn't have another pickup for 45 minutes so he took us up to the highest point within the city limits and gave us an opportunity to see the city and it's beautiful lake. Then he took us to our hotel.

Another 4 star hotel. Did I mention what great taste my DIL and youngest son have? A concierge carried our luggage in. As we checked in....I asked another concierge about helicopter flights as I promised my wife one as an anniversary present. He whipped out the same brochure I'd been looking at on the flight over to Queenstowne. He told me about a special that they were running on one of the better shorter flights. He told me it would cost about $125 NZ (approx. $75-$85 US). He said he'd check on it and asked what day and afternoon or morning. The other concierge accompanied us to our room where he unloaded our luggage. The phone rang...the guy at the desk said our reservations for the helicopter ride were set and he'd billed it to our room. What service! How could it get any better? Sharon and I wandered around town. You had to see it to believe it. Beautifully set on a huge lake about 57 km long and surrounded by mountains. A lot of the mountain scenes from the "Lord of the Rings" triology movies were shot nearby. Absolutely stunning scenery. People sun bathing on grass in the parks.....musicians playing music....good music and musicians.....for tips in a tin cup......Only bad note....it's Christmas Day and most shops and restaurants are closed. We chose to lunch at a chinese restaurant. Bad decision...only bad food we ate on the whole trip. That evening...Christmas dinner.....Did I mention how intelligent, beautiful and what great character our youngest son's wife has? She had made reservations for us for Christmas dinner at another fine hotel. Dinner there was, indeed, superb! We wondered around town and finally back to the room. Big shocker.....MacDonalds......Domino's........Burger King......Wendy's .........a lot of "American" fast food places in NZ!

The LOML has her computer with all the photos tied up right now. I'll post more later.

Brian Brown
01-04-2009, 1:31 AM

Glad to see you are home safe and that you enjoyed the trip. I hope some of that freak snow you got is gone too. I got to say, you were looking mighty chipper for 5 in the am. :eek: Aren't hot air balloon rides great?! Tell Sharon that if she only shot 20 GB of images she wasn't really trying very hard. :D While you are at it, remind her to make a couple of backup CD/DVD's of the images right away, and send one to your son and daughter in law in Texas for safe keeping. Not trying to be a downer or anything, but stuff happens (crashed hard drives, robberies, house fires (oh I didn't say that)), and this is a trip you don't want to lose the pictures from. Also, every 5-7 years you should make a copy of the disk on whatever the current media is (just try to find something that will read an old 5.25" floppy disk). Home burnt DVD's don't really last that long, and need to be copied occasionally to ensure that your images last. You definitely will be talking about this one the rest of your life.

Ken Fitzgerald
01-04-2009, 1:38 AM
Brian...Mike and Kristy gave us one additional Christmas present. They gave us a 1 Terabyte standalone hard drive. Every one of Sharon's photos..past and present are now backed up on that. I don't know what Mike and Kristy have planned...but we Fedexed Sharon's camera memories to them today. They have some special project that required them to have the photos no later than Tuesday. I had problems burning a DVD with her computer today. So we shipped them the memories. I did get the photos loaded on the computer and backed up on the standalone drive. I will be burning DVDs or CDs tomorrow.

I suspect I'll be replacing the main HD and doing a complete software load in the next week or so on her photography computer.

Thanks for the advice! She's on that computer working with photos for over 3 hours now. I'm using my laptop.

PS...wait 'til I get to the part where we arrived back into Spokane. It took me and a guy from Missoula 2 hours to dig out the van in the Super 8 parking lot. My left shoulder is killing me as a result.

Dennis Peacock
01-04-2009, 8:36 AM
Holy Cow Ken..!!!!! I'm so happy for you and Sharon and for this trip of a lifetime..!!!!! I'm extremely happy that it all worked out for both of you. I'd love to see more pics when you have time. :)

Dave Anderson NH
01-04-2009, 8:47 AM
Great sounding trip Ken. I've never been to NZ, but friends have and they all loved it as much as you did. I expect that these memories will be among your best ever.

Karl Laustrup
01-04-2009, 9:54 AM

I can't even begin to explain how happy I am that you and Sharon got to go on this trip. I was really wondering if you even made it out of Spokane in your quest to get to NZ.

I am really enjoying your narrative and feel like I was on the trip myself. Kudos to your son and DIL for making this 40th anniversary a special time for you and Sharon.

If you hadn't told us, I'd have guessed that NZ Ken was your long lost brother. Same height, same hair line ;):D:), same stature.

I'm really looking forward to the continuation of your travelog with as many pictures as you can upload onto SMC.

Again, so glad you made it back OK and had a great time.


Ken Fitzgerald
01-04-2009, 10:01 AM
Let's see....It's Christmas Day in Queenstowne.

A sleepy little tourist town and they know who butters their bread. They treat tourists well. If I could only go to one place in NZ....Sharon and I in coversation at midnight last night agreed.....This is the place!


Beautifully set on the shores of a glacial lake.....small town...surrounded by glacial cut mountains...easily accessible on foot to most of the town. Even a fat old man like me can walk around the major downtown area in 20 minutes or so.....

Hard to believe this crowd....listening to music....sunning....Christmas Day........

Flowers in bloom..........


Tomorrow...the fun begins.....

Ken Fitzgerald
01-04-2009, 10:16 AM
The hotel we stayed at was the only hotel on the shores of the lake in the downtown area. Everything was so accessible. Sharon on 2 occassions went shopping by herself and I was very comfortable with her personal safety. I have this theory about shopping. Her safety is my personal responsibility. I take this responsibility seriously. Shopping with her is my personal responsibility and I try to do it at least once a year!:rolleyes:I love the woman as much as any man could but shopping?.....I hate shopping. Her shopping routine goes like this.....Go to the 1st shop and find exactly what you want. Leave it and go to every other shop in town trying to find something better or cheaper. After 9 hours of proving no other shop has what you want or as good a quality as the 1st item you found or has it cheaper......return and buy the 1st one you found that suited your requirements. Drives me uip a wall! Seriously though....our final day we walked in to this one souvenir store....4 clerks recognized her and acknowledged her presence! I teased her relentlessly about that!:D But I gotta love that woman! She shipped home around $500 worth of souvenirs from that store. Every member of our family and some neighbors will have late Christmas gifts!

Did I mention jewelry she bought in Christchurch? Well I shoulda.......

Ken Fitzgerald
01-04-2009, 10:47 AM
December 26th.....

The entire trip we got up as early as 0230 and the latest we slept in was 0600. This morning we slept until 0500. We had breakfast here at the hotel. Great breakfast and GREAT prices. Restaurants in hotels are proud of their meals and price accordingly.

Today would be the longest day we spent on tour.....12 hours. We boarded a bus for the 4 hour drive to the Milford Sound which is a combined bus and boat tour. It was certainly worth the effort!

Though named the Milford Sound it should be named the Milford Fijord as most of the bays on the South Island were cut by glacier activity and thus should be named fijords as in Norway etc. We boarded a bus and started out driving southwest. Did I mention they raise sheep in NZ? Now I don't mean they casually raise sheep....these folks seriously raise sheep. While traveling on a bus if you miss a photographic opportunity of some sheep...don't worry there is always the next pasuture. An interesting thing to this old American farm boy and you may notice it in the photos taken from the hot air balloon...they use hedges along with fences a lot here around fields. They also plant a lot of trees and fence around the trees around fields. The trees and hedges act as a fence for livestock and as a windbreak.

We stopped in a little town southwest of Queenstown for "TEA". Another beautiful glacial lake...sleepy sleepy little town....geared for tourists. Of course the LOML always the clown had to pose for this photo:rolleyes:


Then we got near the Milford Sound.....dropping elevation in a dramatic fashion. We passed an overturned car and learned the next day that a young couple from Japan had been driving...going too fast and rolled it off the road and down the embankment on the switchbacked road leading down to the oneway tunnel. There is this tunnel. It is carved through the rock. It has stop lights at both ends. It is only big enough for traffic to drive through it in one direction at a time. Did I mention....IIRC.....while in the tunnel you experience about an 800' elevation change.....IIRC... The tunnel is about 3/8 of a mile long IIRC. Anyway...the point is the tunnel changes elevation pretty dramatically and it is narrow. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to back a tour bus up or down hill within this poorly lighted, almost pitch black tunnel...going uphill or downhill because you met some oncoming traffic? So they control traffic. If there are a large number of cars waiting at one end....once they enter...our bus driver said you can sometimes sit for 20-40 minutes waiting for the lights to change.


Back in a minute with photos after I refill my coffee cup. I hope I'm not boring everyone.

Enroute the tour guide pointed out what appears to be beautiful flowers. It's actually a noxious weed that is killing a lot of native plants.


It was raining early on the bus portion of the trip. Again...that turned out to be to our good luck. The soil is so shallow on these steep mountain sides and the makeup of the soil is such the rain runs off almost instantly. Thus....we saw literally hundreds of little water falls once we started driving down into Milford Sound and while we were on the 2 1/2 hour boat trip portion.


Here we are boarding the boat.


Now we'll get to some of the better photos of the Milford Sound.

Ken Fitzgerald
01-04-2009, 12:04 PM
Did I mention we saw some waterfalls while on the boat at Milford Sound?





And one more to prove you could find some scenery without waterfalls....


Ken Fitzgerald
01-04-2009, 12:15 PM
The Milford Sound is truly a beautiful place. These photos were shot as we wound our way through fijord and out into the Tasman sea.


This last photo is a group of seals that were on a rock. According to the guide the young males separate from the rest of the group and will often swim to a rock like this. Then they become stranded after one of them gets eaten by a shark and the sharks then just swim off the rock waiting for others to enter the water.


Ken Fitzgerald
01-04-2009, 12:30 PM
One more photo Sharon took while we were coming back in by boat from the Tasman Sea into the Milford Sound. She was particularly pleased with this photo. A small pod of dolphins followed the boat back into the fijord. There were IMO about 6 dophins in the pod. What was unusual and it was pointed out by the Captain of the boat.....there was a baby dophin swimming with this pod that played back and forth along side and underneath the boat ....crossing from one side to the other. Though only 6 in number I never saw more than 4 at a time but their coloration and markings was different enough I could identify at least 6 different ones...including the baby.


We arrived back in Queenstowne about 8:00 PM and went to the restaurant at the hotel. There after we'd finished eating dinner, a couple from Australia sitting at the next table engaged us in conversation. We spent an hour talking with the couple.

Tomorrow is "Play Day"!

Belinda Williamson
01-04-2009, 1:08 PM
Thanks so much for sharing the details of your wonderful trip! The photos are great!

Don Carter
01-04-2009, 3:40 PM
Wow! Ken, I am really enjoying this trip report, sounds like you had a blast. My family and I love to travel and we like to do trip reports for all friends and relatives. Congratulations on your many blessings! This is truly a trip of a lifetime.

All the best.


Ken Fitzgerald
01-04-2009, 3:54 PM
This morning we are scheduled for a jet boat ride that Sharon has been wanting for 15 years. We left the hotel and walked a few blocks to a MacDonalds. She wants to eat in a Mickey D's in NZ. We had breakfast...very similar to what we have at home and ...they give you a Cadbury candy bar for "Tea" later. Different.

We then walked on to the Jet boat headquarters. Now these aren't the normal jet boats we see in Lewiston, Idaho where we live. Lewiston has somewhere around 5 jet boat builders as they are used quite extensively in the local rivers at home and they even ship them around the world as far away as Nepal. These are short....squat and highly powered. 2 - V-6 Buick engines generating 540 hp according to our driver. Skoot through the narrow canyon of the Shotover river at excessive speed. At times they miss the canyon walls by mere inches. They even make high speed 360 turns in the wider parts of the canyon.



It was, indeed, fun and thrilling!

Following the jet boat ride, we returned to town where we ate lunch at Joe's Garage (suggested by our kids) and then walked about town. Sharon did a little shopping.

Extraordinary morning! Loved it!

Ken Fitzgerald
01-04-2009, 4:34 PM
For an anniversary present, I told Sharon we'd take a helicopter ride while in Queenstowne. So...after jet boating this morning.....we got picked up at the hotel and we went for a helicopter ride. The pilot flew us to a nearby peak where he set the helicopter down...left the motor running and everyone including the pilot got out for about ten minutes for viewing and photography opportunities. Then we flew back to the airport.

So here's some views from one of the mountain tops of the "Remarkables"...Sharon insists on mistakenly calling them the "Incredibles"....I correct her mistake and we agree they are "incredibly remarkable"! The Lord of the Ring trilogy of movies filmed a lot of their mountain scenes in the Remarkables. I haven't verified it but we were told Tom Cruises movie "The Last Samurai" filmed locally here also.


Ken Fitzgerald
01-04-2009, 4:37 PM
A few more photos from the mountain top..........


And the day isn't over yet........

Later dinner and dancing Sharon style!:rolleyes:

Ken Fitzgerald
01-04-2009, 5:21 PM
Once again our beautiful and intelligent DIL proved her intellect by making dinner reservations for us at the gondola at the top of the mountain. I do believe she was shining up to her MIL and giving Sharon more reason to shop at the souvenir stores at the top of the mountain!:rolleyes: The folks from the helicopter ride dropped us at the gondola base where we boarded a gondola and rode to the mountain top. Though I had taken my vertigo medicine...I don't know if it was the jet boat trip or the changes in elevation of the helicopter ride...or just what but I began feeling the possible oncome of a vertigo attack when we got to the top of the mountain. I found some comfortable seating inside the building there while Sharon took to some of the trails and other photo sites around the building.



Later she returned and we elected to dine earlier than we were scheduled.

The dinner was perhaps Sharon's favorite. The food was excellent and one other thing intrigued Sharon...

During dinner you could hear conversation in at least 10 different languages. That just thrilled and intrigued Sharon and I both.

After dinner we happened to be lucky enough to catch the start of a Mauri cultural display in the small theatre there. So ...we watched the show.

This first photo shows members of a local Mauri tribe performing a ritual dance.


Then they came into the audience and grabbed volunteers. I insisted Sharon represent our row. So......

A couple of of the performers....began teaching the volunteers Mauri words....and dance moves........step by step.


After 5 minutes of step-by-step instruction....the music started....and imagine the surprise on the faces of the audience and the volunteers when they found themselves dancing the "Hokey Pokey" with members of the Mauri tribe. It was a scream! Here's Sharon dancing with the Mauri tribe!:eek::D She's in the lower right corner.....


It was a good thing we ate early. A summer storm came into the area. We rode the gondola back off the mountain and walked a mile or so to our hotel in a warm gentle summer rain. Tomorrow morning we fly out to Rotorua on the North Island.

John Shuk
01-04-2009, 5:37 PM
Dream Vacation just doesn't describe adequately.
That looks like an unbelievable experience.
Thanks for sharing it.

Ken Fitzgerald
01-04-2009, 6:22 PM

It truly was amazing! I was so overwhelmed with emotion when we talked with the kids from there....I couldn't talk.....I had to give the phone to my wife.

It was truly an incredible trip and I'm overwhelmed by the generosity of my youngest son and DIL.

Ken Fitzgerald
01-04-2009, 8:26 PM
Sharon never turns down a photo op...even with local celebrities!


John Shuk
01-04-2009, 8:54 PM
I suspect the NZ'ers are better for having met you as well Ken.

Ken Fitzgerald
01-05-2009, 1:31 AM
The next morning at Queenstowne, a limo driver showed up to pick us up at the motel and transport us to the airport. We boarded a ANZ flight to the city of Rotorua on the North Island of NZ. You guessed it...those kids of ours are thorough. A limo driver drove us to another 4 star hotel. We had a couple of hours to do laundry and rest.

That evening a bus picked us up at the hotel for dinner at the Mauri Tamaki Village about 10 miles out of town. The dinner was a formal event that we had to be "invited" to attend, elect a chief for our bus "tribe" and go through formal ceremonies and events. It was interesting. Our bus driver was also our guide and host for both bus loads of people. Dinner was a real Mauri "Hangi" where the food is cooked all day on hot rocks in a covered pit. Sharon said this was one of her 3 favorite meals. It was tasty.

This gentleman was our driver and official host for everyone for the entire evening. The ride back to town proved he could as easily have been a professional comedian too. More on that later.


The bus elected a single 24 year old 3rd grade teacher from Pennsylvania as our chief. We entered the village and proceeded with the invitational ceremonies. First a woman came out and greeted the crowd then 3 different warriors came out and went through rituals and finally a woman came out....singing a song and inviting everyone into the village. It was a historically and architecturally correct village for a period of about 500 years ago. We toured the village and finally entered a theatre at the back of the village.



There tribal members performed different songs and dance routines.


Then we attended the dinner. The food was superb! Sharon couldn't make up her mind if this was favorite or the one in Queenstowne at the gondola mountain top restaurant.

We saw a beautiful sunset as we departed the village.


The Mauri word for canoe...is waca.....When we left town and again when departed for town..our driver and host instructed us on how to paddle a canoe. We raised our hands and arms as if we were paddling. When we got our arms in the up position we chanted "He!"...then the driver/host would start chanting and we finshed the stroke. Of course...as we started he would give the bus some gas and immediately hit the brakes jerking the bus to a stop. He would then chastise us for not being in time with our paddling. :D

As we left he did a quick count of the number of countries on board. 10 IIRC. So he said each country had to sing a song that was native to their country. SInce the "chief" was from the US we got to go first. The young PA teacher started out with "She'll be coming around the mountain when she comes" "No! said the host....let's do Take me out to the ball game. So we did. He warned everyone if they didn't sing he would pull over and put everyone out that didn't sing with the fellow countrymen and they could "waca" back to town. It was hilarious.

When it got down to 1 country left..it was NZ and he was the only Kiwi aboard so he asked us all to sing a song with him...he thought we'd probably know it ...."The wheels on the bus go round and round"....2nd verse..."The people on the bus go up and down" and with that the driver/host started standing up and sitting down and so did the rest of the people. Unsafe but it sure was funny! Then the 3rd verse "The driver on the bus has no license"..By this time Sharon was laughing so hard she had tears running down her face.

We got to town. They have these funny little road differences in NZ. First they drive on the left side...then they have "Roundabouts" About the time he stopped signing "The wheels on the bus" song.....we came to the first roundabout.....He proceed to lap the roundabout about 5 times non-stop singing "She'll be coming around the mountain when she comes ...YeeHaw!"

When he finally got the bus directed down the main street with most of the motels, he made the announcement...he was late.....he wasn't going to stop...he would slow down to about 5 KPH and when you saw your motel...please stand....make your way to the door and jump.....If however you were Australian...would you let him know so he could speed up! Of course, he stopped.

To quote Sharon.....The guy was a hoot and the best part of the evening. We thoroughly enjoyed the entire evening and it just got better as the evening progressed!

Tomorrow.....day 2 Rotorua.....

Dewey Torres
01-05-2009, 1:45 AM
Been to 22 countries so far...(surely to visit more) and I will add NZ to my growing list of...

Go back when you don't have a curfew , duty, or the buddy system!

Rock on baby!

Ken Fitzgerald
01-05-2009, 5:32 PM
The day started out well. We were picked up by bus and went to the Mauri tribe cultural center which was located at a hot springs and geyser location. It reminded me of those things at Yellowstone NP but on a smaller scale. There ......I actually saw some woodworking.....a carver





Brian Effinger
01-05-2009, 8:31 PM
Did you hop the fence and start examining his tools and technique? ;p :D

BTW, there is some beautiful scenery down there. I can't wait to read more.

Don Carter
01-05-2009, 9:53 PM
Hey Ken:
If he would turn that between centers, he would not have to bend over so much.:rolleyes:
I am really enjoying this trip report. Your son and dil did a super job putting this thing together. They must be great kids.

All the best.


Ken Fitzgerald
01-05-2009, 10:17 PM
Don...my son and DIL did an excellent job of putting this together. I really am awed by the trip and their generosity! They are great kids!

Ken Fitzgerald
01-05-2009, 10:35 PM
It started raining and we arrived at the Agridome near Rotorua. Sheep ranching/farming is big business in NZ. This gentleman proceeded to put on a show that was filled with humor. He displayed one at a time the 19 major breeds of sheep raised in NZ. The humor he displayed kept everyone laughing. He explained the advantage of each breed.

Here's a photo of him and his sheep.


Here he sheared a sheep. He was so expert at it...he demonstrated the sensitivity points on the sheep that caused it to straighten it's legs so they could be more easilty and safely shorn.


Next he very comically auctioned off the shorn sheep to the large international crowd. A poor lady from South Korea got caught nodding her head laughing and won. He called her up on stage. She couldn't speak English but understood and was a good sport. He took one of her shoes and the shirt she was loosely wearing over her blouse as payment. The guy was hilarious!


Next he brought a milk cow onto stage and called up 3 young kids to milk it and then the kids fed some lambs with a bottle.


He then talked about sheep dogs and brought 3 out. They ran around stage...herded some geese he brought out and then climbed up on the backs of the sheep. He explained.....the sheep are not scared or threatened by these dogs.


It was an excellent show. Sharon and I enjoyed it. She admitted expecting to be bored and instead found it terribly entertaining.

Ken Fitzgerald
01-05-2009, 11:02 PM
At the Agridome we were supposed to watch a sheep dog trial but it was raining too hard. We loaded onto the bus and on to the Rainbow Springs Park

This was interesting. They have this park. There they raise Rainbow trout fingerlings in segregated ponds. Then the yearlings are released into the stream that is formed by the springs. The same stream interconnects the ponds. The trout are then free to move out into the lake a few hundred yards away...huge lake! The trout come and go from the lake into the stream and into the interconnected ponds within the park. The guides carry small bags of feed and throw into the ponds and you can watch the feeding frenzy. We saw literally hundreds of rainbow trout 4-7 lbs.....they move out to the huge lake......back into the park it was truly amazing.

They also hatch and raise Kiwi bird eggs for release into the wild. The Kiwi bird population is endangered by a large number of mammals that have been mistakenly brought to NZ. According to scientists there, there is only one mammal native to NZ....a fruit bat. All other mammals were brought there by man and gradually the native animals have become endangered. We were led into a Kiwi display area. It is kept in nearly total darkness and you are not allowed to photograph (flash bulbs) in there. I think I saw one move behind a tree but couldn't verify it.

Here's one of the fingerling segregated ponds. They cover them with netting to keep out the mammals and birds that would eat the young trout.


Here's some of the big boys.....they travel through this area into this many acre lake and back again at will.


It's still raining. We returned by bus to the hotel. We napped and that evening took a hotel supplied shuttle to town. We walked around town...did some shopping and ate supper at a "Pub". I found a new beer I like.....Lion Red....dark...smooth and tasty!
Tomorrow....bus trip to Auckland by way of the Glow Worm Caves.

Ken Fitzgerald
01-05-2009, 11:36 PM
We climbed on a bus early this morning and began the day long drive to Auckland via the Glow Worm Caves at Waitomo IIRC.

The countryside here is not as mountainous as the South Island was and consists of rolling hills and farmland.



We stopped at the Glow Worm Caves. You walk up the side of the hill via a board walk and steps. You enter through a double light barrier. Then you start descending down into the caves via metal stairways. Enroute to the water level of these limestone caves you encounter stalagtites and stalagmites beautifully strewn about the caves. At this point the cave is lighted using scattered low voltage lighting. The closer you get to the water and boats the less lighting and your eyes are becoming used to the dark. They will NOT let you photograph in the dark of the cave where the glow worms are. I believe this is so that you don't ruin your night vision. According to the guide, the glow worms have evolved over the centuries. They are about an inch long and cling to the roof of the cave. Insects fly into the cave...see the glow worms glowing. The insects fly to the light thinking it's the exit out of the caves. The glow worms are covered with a sticky substance and the insects stick to them. The insects become the next meal for the glow worms. You climb aboard a boat and the guide guides you through the cave via a series of ropes attached to the ceiling. The roof of the cave is covered with millions of glow worms that look like millions of stars in a clear dark winter night. As you approach the exit of the cave, the guide announces you can take photos now. In this cropped photo you can see a couple of glow worms. In the cave they were in the millions.....


We climb aboard the bus and proceed to Auckland. The bus driver lets us off at the hotel in downtown Auckland. The son and daughter kept it going. Another 4 star hotel and the concierge won't let me carry the luggage. I could get used to this! The hotel has a rooftop pool. Sharon goes up to investigate. Later we walk down the block...cross the street and have supper at "Pizza Hut". We walk back and Sharon goes back to the rooftop pool. At 10:00p.m. she comes into the room....gets suited up and goes back to the pool for a late night swim.

Ken Fitzgerald
01-06-2009, 12:19 AM
We ate breakfast at a Denny's. The coffee tasted like someone had washed their dirty socks in it. In 40 years, Sharon had never seen me take 2 sips...and not finish a pot let alone a single cup. She has now. Terrible stuff. Then we walked to a nearby park looking for a grocery store. We found the park. Never saw the grocery store. Enroute back to the hotel, Sharon shot some city shots and some flowers. Auckland has a population of 1.4 million people. Pretty clean for a big city IMHO.

Back at the hotel, I napped and Sharon spent time at the rooftop pool. This is view of the Sky Tower from the rooftop pool. The fireworks this evening are going to be shotoff from the Sky Tower.


Photo of the rooftop pool.


Auckland bridge. It even survived Sharon...I'll get to that later this evening.


Flowers she photographed during our walk



At noon a driver picked us up and the "Bush and Beach Tour" began....

Ken Fitzgerald
01-06-2009, 12:35 AM
We climbed aboard a tour bus with only 6 people aboard. We drove up to a ridge above Auckland. At one point on the ridge you can view both the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea as they are only separated IIRC by about 1.7 km.




Then we drove to a beautiuful water falls.


After hiking into the water falls we drove on to the subtropical rainforest.


Dennis Peacock
01-06-2009, 12:35 AM
Awesome Ken..!!!!!!

More....More..!!!!!!! :D

This is soooooo :cool:!!!!

Ken Fitzgerald
01-06-2009, 12:47 AM
Here is our guide explaining one of the plants:


A view of the various plants, fern trees and palm trees.....


This may look like Sharon is walking under a tree root...but it is not a tree. It is a vine that grows onto trees. It eventually chokes trees to death and over hundreds of years, it becomes larger than the tree itself. The local legend says that if you go through one way you'll have a boy child....if you go through the other way....a girl child......Sharon went through both ways....as a surrogate move for a couple within our family. Boy I hope Sharon doesn't get pregnant. It's too late in our lives for that!


A shot of a small stream within the rain forest.


And finally a photo of a Kiwi Christmas Tree......


Ken Fitzgerald
01-06-2009, 12:56 AM
We finally drove out of the rain forest and onto the black sand beach. The sand has an extremely high amount of iron and as a result the beach is black. There are other elements within the sand ( I forget what they were) but as a result, the sand doesn't rust.....Don't believe it? Check out the last photo.......





That's a magnet the guide is holding.....

Ken Fitzgerald
01-06-2009, 1:16 AM
I mean my son and DIL...really did it up!

We arrived back in Auckland about 1730. The bus dropped us at the NZ Maritime Museum about 3 blocks from our hotel. We checked in...walked over to the nearby marina and waited. We found seats and watched the crowd of several thousand people wander around....eating in the nearby marina side open restaurants.......and we finally found our dinner boat The Pride of Auckland's "Defender".


At 1900 we board a 50' sailing yaht with about 10-12 other people ...from China....Japan.....Australia.... They sailed the yaht under engine power across the harbor and tied off. There they served us dinner. Sharon had the lamb and I had the salmon. Both were great. Sharon said it was the best lamb she had of the 4 times she tried it.

Here I am at dinner....106012

Then the fun began! They rigged the sails and we began sailing. The captain of the ship asked for a volunteer to steer it! Up pops the LOML. She's been steering a former oil field roughneck....former US Navy sailor for 40 years....what's a little sail boat?.

106013 What do you think? I think the skipper is praying for devine intervention!:D

So the LOML steered the sail boat out of Auckland harbor....under the Auckland bridge....Yes boys and girls it survived. She even took it out of the mouth of the harbor....turned the ship around 180 without tipping it over.

106014 Here you can see Sharon's hands on the wheel as we clear the Auckland bridge.

Shortly thereafter, Sharon turned the boat back towards the harbor and a young married lady from China took over. Later an older lady from Austrailia took over.

We arrived back at the pier at 2130. We grabbed a cab and arrived at the motel. After a short stop at our room it was off to the rooftop to watch the fireworks.

Ken Fitzgerald
01-06-2009, 1:34 AM
According to CNN...the first major city in the world to celebrate the New Year was Auckland....here's the view of the fireworks from the roof top pool deck of the hotel we stayed in..........






Ken Fitzgerald
01-06-2009, 1:37 AM
And a few more fireworks....






It had been a long day. We slept!

Ken Fitzgerald
01-06-2009, 2:08 AM
After the terrible coffee we had at Denny's yesterday...I put my foot down and we paid dearly for breakfast and some good coffee at the hotel restaurant this morning. We packed before we went to breakfast. At 1000 we checked out...stored our baggage and walked to Albert Park some distance away.

Here's a daylight view of the Sky Tower where the fireworks were exhibited last night.


Albert Park.....What a beautiful park..........


How'd you like to chuck this up on a lathe? The pretty lady is 5'2" tall

Ken Fitzgerald
01-06-2009, 2:12 AM
A few more photos taken in Albert Park....






We walked back down to Queen Street and shopped...bought some more stuff.....lunched at Pizza Hut. At 1600 the limo driver picked us up at the hotel where we had been staying and we began the trek home.....

Ken Fitzgerald
01-06-2009, 2:30 AM
After 12 days of traveling and staying in fine hotels I have come to the conclusion that the Super 8 isn't a 4 star hotel!

Here's the view out of the window of the Super 8 near the Spokane Airport. The concierge here carried my bags in....he's fat....nearing 60..... sleeping with my wife.....and dog tired after traveling so far in the last 20+ hours....I recognize the guy cause I shave his face every morning.

Here's my van......


Here's what I had to dig out.....approximately 18' by 36" by the width of the van. It had been plowed in....other's had shoveled their cars out and piled it behind mine. A car was parked in front so going forward wasn't an option. But...my luck held.....30 minutes into digging it out...a stranger from Missoula,MT...helped me finish digging it out. It only took the two of us 2 hours.


Here's the roads home........


Ken Fitzgerald
01-06-2009, 2:34 AM
To say the LOML and I enjoyed ourselves would be a great understatement. Our youngest son and his lovely wife did a wonderful job planning and executing an incredible 40th anniversary celebration trip for my wife and I. I will forever hold these memories in my mind and heart. I will always be awed by their generosity.

Folks...if you ever have the opportunity to travel to New Zealand. Do so. The country is beautiful......full of contrasts.......and the people are friendly.

This was, indeed, a GREAT TRIP OF A LIFETIME. I was and am still overwhelmed by emotion when I think about it.

Thanks Mike and Kristy!


Karl Laustrup
01-06-2009, 7:39 AM
WOW!!! WOW!!! WOW!!!


Ken, that was an incredible travelog. :)

I want to thank Mike and Kristy, also, for the wonderful journey they have provided me. I feel like I was there myself thanks to your narration Ken.

Coming back to all that snow would be kind of a downer, especially having to shovel all that stuff. I hope you tipped the concierge at the Super 8 well for doing all that stuff for you? ;):D:D

Good to have you back.


Jim Becker
01-06-2009, 9:14 AM
Great pictorial, Ken! I really wanna go there now! LOL

Don Carter
01-06-2009, 1:27 PM
What a great trip! Congratulations to you and your wife on your 40th.

All the best.


Art Mulder
01-08-2009, 2:19 PM
Yeah, I'm not at all jealous. Really. Not.
(okay, can I uncross my fingers now?)

Looks like a great time. You sure packed in a lot of experience!
But I'm shocked, Ken, you went to NZ and road a jet boat, a hot air balloon, climbed several mountains, did some fly fishing....

... but where is the Bungee Jumping!?!?! :D:eek:

NZ is the home of modern Bungee Jumping!

ps: no way, not me!

Ken Fitzgerald
01-08-2009, 4:12 PM
Art....if you look at some of the photos with me in them.....You'll notice thiere is too much around my middle that could suddenly shift up around my neck and choke me to death!:D

No bungee jumping......