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Diary From The Southern Cross

By: Sandra Smith

Getting There

My plane lifts off from Cleveland on time and a journey long in the planning begins.

Planning this trip to Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii has been a lot of fun. Nine weeks, 2 countries and two islands. Six months ago I booked the air reservations. During the 17 hours of flying time today I'll be glad to have an aisle seat. I have allotted a month for each country with a week in Hawaii to break up the long return flight and snorkel in Maui.

The first decision is where to go in a country as vast and diverse as Australia. I'll start at the Great Barrier Reef, jumping off point Cairns (pronounced canz) in Queensland. I hope the box jellyfish aren't out yet. They should emerge November 1 and are aggressive lethal creatures. Their presence prevents diving or snorkeling. A diver for 25 years, the Great Barrier Reef is tops on my list of attractions.

Sydney will be the second stop and later on a trip to Melbourne and Canberra, Australia's capital.

In the planning stage I looked for transportation, affordable accommodation and attractions. I like water activities and hope to swim with dolphins. Therefore, when Kaikoura offered the chance of swimming with dolphins, whale watching and easy rail access, it was quickly added to the New Zealand itinerary.

I start with a menu of options then put it into a logical sequence. Inevitably even with eight weeks to travel, places must be omitted. I have deleted them from the itinerary but kept a record of the planning in case I find space to do more then I've planned.

How do you occupy yourself while flying 17 hours? That long flight has kept me from Asia and Australia far too long. I have devised an exercise plan which includes exercises and stretches done in one's seat as well as frequent walks to the bathroom following copious amounts of water. The flight attendants come through the plane with water about every hour and I've brought two additional bottles. I treated myself to the Sunday New York Times, a new novel, The Kite Runner, crossword and Sudoko puzzles, and a small 52 pc.jigsaw puzzle. I will also read the Lonely Planet Guide Book for Cairns and Sydney. Though I know the "accommodation" section well by now, I've left the history and dining sections for in-flight reading.

Guam. Finally! I made it with reading to spare. I slept a couple hours and the flight was OK.

Frequent flyer routing is often not the most direct but by cashing in miles my flights were free. For this first stop I have two nights in Guam. Guam caters to large charter groups of Japanese and Korean tourists. I found a smaller 3-star beachfront hotel with a good rate, pool, and hot tub. In the nearly full moon I had the pool to myself. It's good to sleep.

I've had fun planning this trip. I have days which are unplanned as well as some flight and hostel reservations. It became obvious early on that the cheapest flights and the twin rooms booked early so I made those decisions. In my experience, leaving everything loose only causes me to waste my time on my trip. We have a dive saying which carries over. "Plan your dive and dive your plan."

I have 10 unplanned days in New Zealand's south island and a week at the end of the trip to return to Sydney or go to Cairns for more time under water.

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Queensland, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef

Up with the birds this morning at the lush edge of Port Douglas' rainforest. I'm taking two days to rest, do laundry and integrate the peak experiences I've just had diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

Diving is of its very nature intensely solitary. My body becomes weightless and I can fly or hover in a way never possible in gravity. I visit and come eye to eye with exotic life forms. What diversity on the Great Barrier Reef off Cairns! 50 or 60 feet below the surface breath is noisy and never taken for granted.

It has been 1-1/2 years since my last dive trip to Belize and I was feeling rusty. I knew buoyancy could be a problem. A Spanish man named Alberto buddied with me and tucked an extra 3# weight into his pocket. When the spent air cylinder became buoyant near the end of the dive he handed it to me. It's dangerous to ascend too fast from depth. We always make a 3-minute safety stop at 15 ft. from the surface.

There you hang on a weighted bar, and at night there you hang in the dark- letting nitrogen off-gas from your tissues and any compressed air bubbles work their way out before ascending that last 15 ft. The reduction in pressure while ascending allows the bubbles in your blood vessels to expand. We ascend slowly to allow the bubbles to safely leave our bodies.

We can't talk underwater so hand signals and telepathy make do. The safety stop is a chance to reflect on the underwater world we've just visited.

When our 3 day diving adventure returned, the divers got together for one last dinner in Cairns. Being with friends I'll never see again and with whom I'd shared a very intense diving trip along with a special conversation I had there, opened my energy in a way that always invites good things. Everyone decided to go to another bar but I opted for solitude, a full moon and walk along the esplanade. And there life offered me another gift.

In the park by Cairns' free saltwater swimming lagoon I saw a little girl who had climbed a tree. I stopped to remark on her strength and she pointed out her brother in another tree. Her sister couldn't quite make it up. The three of us decided that we could help the little one. She made an elevator of her back. I put my hands on the tree trunk for a step and up the little sister went. Success. At that, a little brother just toddling came over and put his hands up to be held and gave me a huge kiss and hug. The mother came over and we chatted. They are Maori from New Zealand. Love freely given by this delightful little guy under the southern sky. How blessed am I?

We are one on this planet, these children, this traveler, the sharks sleeping in the depth, the clownfish family swimming through their anemone, these ants marching on my balcony and the tiny lizard on the ceiling eyeing them. All of us riding this beautiful blue planet together.

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Within a city I like to prepare a list of options and choose from it or not as the mood strikes me. After arrival Saturday I went out exploring. I took the first Light Rail I saw. A gentleman suggested I try Darling Harbor. Another fellow, a retired cabbie, showed me the way on his way to the big Motor Show. They both were concerned about Hurricane Wilma, the 3rd large storm to target the US and Mexican Gulf region in the past month. Many people have been hurt, killed, left homeless and jobless there.

Darling Harbor is centered around a large boat harbor and a small lagoon for paddleboats. Hotels, restaurants, shopping, neon lights on the water. There are people out pushing strollers and wheelchairs, couples dressed for dinner cruises, teens hanging out. It seems to be a young city with people who enjoy being outdoors and having fun.

Arriving by air into Sydney I planned to check a bag into the airport's left luggage concession. I'm packing a wet suit, some dive gear and cold and rain clothes for New Zealand's south island. Turns out it's $11 per day per bag.

Plan B. A door-to-door van was loading outside the airport door and soon I arrived at the Sydney Central Hostel. It's $15 round trip.

I have used a few hotels in planning but mostly will be staying in hostels. I almost always stay in hostels. They're not just for youth. My annual $18 senior membership gives me a $3 per night discount most places and includes minimal travel insurance. For more information check out Hostelling International at

This hostel has a rooftop pool which I've used a lot and a gourmet restaurant where I enjoyed a T Bone steak, garlic mashed potatoes, fresh vegetables and a glass of wine for under $20. (That's about $17 US.) When traveling I use the country's currency when I think or write. Hostel rooms usually have bunk beds, a locker for storage and the bath is down the hall. A bed in a dorm starts at $29 here.

Sydney has eight YHA hostels. (There are also many private hostels and other networks.)This central one is perfect for city sightseeing. It's less than a block to the central rail, coach, city bus and subway hub. I bought a weekly pass on the bus, subway and ferry lines for $40. is your gateway to the Sydney area and all 140 Australian hostels.

I toured the Opera House and saw Romeo and Juliet performed there. The vision of Danish architect, Jørn Utzon, this famous structure sits out on Bennelong point near Circular Quay. Wings, shells, sails? The unique multiple roofs bear tiles made individually in Sweden. The Opera House needs so much power that they can divert its supply and power a near-by hospital if necessary. The Sydney Harbor Bridge is just to the left of Circular Quay. Tiny figures can always been seen in groups of 10 climbing that Harbor Bridge. They use safety harnesses against the wind. High atop this bridge twin Australian flags snap in the wind. The flag is blue with 5 stars and a Union Jack.

I took several ferry trips using my travel pass. A ferry is the best way to see this beautiful city. Ferries run to the Taronga Zoo, Manly and other residential and recreational destinations. From Circular Quay you see the Opera House on every trip.

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Off To Auckland

Today I took a 2 hr. train trip west of Sydney to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. It is spring here but it's been dry in Australia. I was lucky enough to have a sunny day and to be able to see the rock formations, sandstone mountains and a deep valley covered with trees. This valley was very lush and even though there is a river I couldn't see it through the trees. I liked the train trip.

Well, Sydney must be left behind tomorrow. I fly out at 12:15 for Auckland NZ.

Called the City of Sails,it's on the northern section of the north island. I'm staying at the Base Backpackers hostel. I'll leave my luggage at the hostel and go farther north to the Bay of Islands. I read a travel narrative about a woman sailing solo around the world. She spent a lot of time in Bay of Islands. Gotta see it. I should be able to kayak or whale watch up there.

I am just feeling about as good as I know how to feel. I love it here.

I have 4 days in Auckland before beginning to travel south.

Base Backpackers in Auckland is bright, clean and new. They used hostelers' suggestions in building this one and it shows. I'm staying on the all girls floor called Sanctuary. The dorms are spacious with eight beds, fine linens and duvets, storage, real mattresses and clean modern bathrooms. The hostel offers a special deal that includes your dorm bed, a meal, a drink, internet time and a chance to use the rooftop spa. I even book my onward reservations at the lobby travel agency.

Auckland is small enough to walk most places. The hostel is near the central rail and bus station. The harbor is a busy one. It is a city I could visit again. There never seems to be time enough. That is part of the design of this trip however. I want an overview and know that I'll return to Australia and New Zealand.

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The Bay of Islands in New Zealand's North Island

It's raining today and it's chilly but snorkelers are active in Russell Bay here in the Bay of Islands. This area of northern New Zealand is a popular vacation area. The ferries are running between Paihia, where I'm staying on the mainland, and Russell, a few minutes away.

I am having lunch at the corner table of a café. I have time to reflect. It's October 30 and I've been on the road for 20 days to date. My lunch is vegetable asparagus soup.

The beach is of smooth brown pebbles and sand. Even on a cloudy day the water is a pale aquamarine and in the bay it's flat. Out past the shelter of this harbor spinnaker-powered sailboats clip along between islands. Having read that book about the solo sailor makes my experience here richer somehow.

The snorkelers are still out here in Russell Bay and the rain is letting up a bit. So I'm going to catch the ferry over to Paihia. I'll go back to the hostel and find some travelers to chat with.

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Rotorua, New Zealand

There is an orange tree and bird's nest beside the pool at my hotel. It's heated with geothermal energy and there is a hot tub. I am in Rotorua New Zealand and taking a day off to laze around the pool and refold my clothes. Rotorua is an active geothermal area with geysers, mud pots, thermal pools.

The 40 minute flight from Auckland by small plane was smooth, a flying sports car after all those lumbering 767 liftoffs. We flew over clouds the entire way then dropped through to see the large Lake Rotorua.

Aotearoa is the Maori name for this two-island nation. It means the Land of the Long White Cloud. Maori explorers came to these islands from Polynesia around 1000-1200 AD in huge double-hulled ocean going canoes. Place names and signs are often in Maori as well as English. "Kia Ora" is a welcoming expression with additional uses like thank you and please. You see and hear it everywhere.

When I toured the Waitangi Treaty grounds in the Bay of Islands the guide explained that there are many tribes of Maori people living in different regions. For the independence celebration at the grounds they collaborated on a carved house which was given no special name and thus is open to all visitors. The carved "spine" and "ribs" of the house and the woven walls all spoke stories.

More recently New Zealand is also the Land of the Lord of the Rings which was filmed here and had its world premier in Wellington. The Ring trilogy was directed by the Oscar-winning Peter Jackson and included 15,000 extras. I think I'll see it again in Wellington in the theater where the world premier was held.

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Fireworks In Wellington

Wellington is the capital of New Zealand. It is a walkable city on a sheltered bay and is at the southernmost tip of the north island. Beyond is the Cook Strait and South Pacific Ocean.

I'll be out there tomorrow on the ferry.

Wellington Harbor was the scene of the Guy Faukes Night fireworks last night. The YHA hostel where I am staying is just a block away. It is so convenient.

After a bowl of onion soup and a glass of merlot at Cafe Bastille, I wandered over and found a good viewing spot. The streets climb straight up from the harbor and it seemed like house parties were happening everywhere with private fireworks. The fire department was called out a lot for grass fires.

Guy Faukes' attempt to blow up both houses of Parliament in England and kill the king in the 1600's was prevented by his capture. The anniversary of his capture is celebrated Nov. 5 in England with bonfires and fireworks. The English take their traditions with them even to the far reaches of the old empire.

Centrally located on this harbor is the magnificent Te Papa Museum. This museum houses permanent art, history and natural history collections. It also has a huge Maori collection with its own marae or meeting house. It's a lovely museum with changing exhibits and several coffee shops, meeting spots and cafes.

I took a train adventure to the Kapiti Coast an hour north of Wellington. It's on the Tasman Sea named for Abel Tasman who explored here. I just wandered over to the rail station and asked a lady where she'd go if she had a day. She recommended Paraparaumu and said just go to the end of the line and take a bus to the beach.

There I walked the beach, had lunch and chatted up a lady who lives there. When it was time to take the train back a fellow offered me a ride to the train station.

You can ride the commuter trains all weekend for $15.

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Night Sky

A maritime nation whose midpoint, Wellington, is around 40 degrees latitude, New Zealand is enjoying Spring now. There is light from about 6 am to 8:30 pm.

I've seen the Southern Cross several times. It appears to revolve around the starless point which is the south pole. Actually Earth revolves and New Zealand's location west of the International Date Line brings day here first.

Alpha and Beta Centauri, earth's closest neighbors, point to Crux, the Cross. Alpha Centauri is 4 light years from earth. The Southern Cross can only be seen south of the equator and the further south you go, the better to see it. The night sky has also provided a window on the Milky Way and sightings of Mercury, Venus and Mars. Orion often puts in an appearance too.

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Greetings From Kaikoura, New Zealand

Today I traveled from Wellington across the Cook Straits and then south 3 hrs. by train to Kaikoura. The plan is to swim with dolphins tomorrow--weather permitting. I know the water is a very cold 14 C. We'll see if they find dolphins and whether I can brave the cold water. More on that later. At least it's a good chance to see them and possibly whales.

I sat with a lady from Auckland who is 84 and taking her first solo trip. We saw seals on the rocks as we rode along the sea. The train looks old on the outside but it was clean and nice enough inside. And what a ride! It goes along the mountains, sheep and cattle grazing in the fields with their babies, and then about 1 1/2 hrs. beside the ocean.

Just when I thought it was about as spectacular as I could imagine, the clouds lifted and snow covered mountains were revealed. Wow!

My plan is to stay here 3 days and then continue by train to Christchurch. This feels like a sort of rest stop, a sleepy pretty little town without lots to do.

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Swimming With The Dolphins

Kaikoura is a small town holding down a bit of gray stone beach. Steep hills and snow-capped mountains lie beyond. The ferry from Wellington meets a train in Picton for the 3 hr. ride to Kaikoura. The vinyards and rural scenery give way to mountains and the South Pacific as I travel south. Can there be a more beautiful place on earth?

I must add this to my list of indescribable beauty spots on earth.

On my short list, the eastern New Zealand coast joins the Canadian Rockies, Cane Garden Bay in Tortolla, British Virgin Islands and Big Sur in California.

The volcanic and earthquake origins of these mountains, their slope to the sea and islands chunked off and lying near shore reminds me very much of Big Sur. They probably were formed in much the same way. I've come here to swim with dolphins. A swell cuts the afternoon boat trip out but I reschedule for 8:30 am the following day. It's a good thing I reserved early as the swimming spots are filled.

Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura has recently moved into a bigger shop with an upscale cafe adjoining. I arrive early and have a light breakfast the morning of my swim. Will we see dolphins? Will we even get to go out? The weather is calm but the dolphin encounters are on the other side of the peninsula.

At 8:15 word comes from the captain. It's a go.

The swimmers dress in full wetsuits and boots. We take swim fins, mask, snorkel and hoods. The water is 12 C. There is a 15 min. briefing video about safety and how to attract and interact with these wild dolphins. They are not fed, trained or manipulated in any way. They come to swimmers out of curiosity.

The water is pale aquamarine, aqua and blue in bands as I look out from shore and it gets progressively deeper. The Kaikoura Trench lies close to land here.

Actually we aren't too far, in whale terms, from Antarctica's nutrient-rich waters. Most of the sea's largest creatures are baleen (filter) feeders and eat tiny organisms called krill. This krill is abundant in the cold healthy waters here and further south.

The boat travels about 40 minutes to an area where they have seen dolphins recently. Everyone watches and hopes for a spotting when suddenly they come. At first we see just a couple and are ready to jump into the water. The captain thinks we can do better.

Then we see perhaps 50 dolphins. Swimmers who have been wet suited and ready fall quietly into the water and begin trying to make noise and attract them. We have been urged to look down into the water, as that's where we will most likely see dolphins.

It's on my third time into the water that I get lucky.

I'm using a technique that works to attract a mother and her baby. I have decided to sing a little whale song into my snorkel and not splash around a lot. She brings her baby and swims below me. I can see their faces and eyes. The baby appears to be about 2 feet long but size can be deceiving in water. They are the size of a rugby ball when born.

Another pod of 5 dolphins comes to swim beneath me and another group of three. It's been just a few minutes but seeing them is a genuine thrill.

We spent a lot of time out there on the boat once everyone had left the water. The dolphins jumped, twirled, swam in the bow wake. They were having fun I think. I know I was.

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The Antarctic Connection

There is a large silver and blue sculpture called "Chalice" on the square near the Christchurch Cathedral. At first I didn't understand it fully but upon reading a copy of the October 2nd sermon I did. An actual chalice dating back to the early explorers of Antarctica, winters in Christchurch and on the first Spring flight returns to McMurdo base in Antarctica. There is a strong connection in this place from which personnel and material are staged south.

New Zealand's Scott Base is 1 1/2 km from the United States' McMurdo Base. The U.S. Air Force ferries supplies and personnel to both bases. With the first flights in October the spring season begins and fresh food, mail, new faces begin to appear in Antarctica.

In Auckland I began to get an understanding of Antarctica at Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Center. He was an early explorer and wanted to share his knowledge. There is a recreation of an early explorer's camp, a ride through penguin habitat and an aquarium. You travel a moving walkway as fish and rays glide above and beside you.

Austere above, the oceans in Antarctica teem with life. The cold carbon dioxide-rich water encourages growth of plankton that nourishes fish and krill, penguins, seals and whales.

In Christchurch I visited the International Antarctic Center. The Visitor Center is part of a complex where U.S. and New Zealand teams train, work and stage operations south. The Center is interactive and focuses on living and working in the extreme cold. Some international visitors from warm climates suit up and head into the simulated snow storm. Not me. I've come here in November to avoid cold at home.

Everything south of 60 degrees latitude is considered to be Antarctica. It is 3832 km from New Zealand. South America is actually physically closest to Antarctica.

The continent is huge. It could hold 1/2 of Canada, and all of the United States and Mexico. It is the coldest, windiest, driest place on earth. It holds 70% of the world's fresh water and 90% of the world's ice. It takes a special person to endure the winter's constant darkness and extreme weather. Outside without special protective clothing, a human would die within a minute.

Since 1959 there has been a treaty in place to allow scientific study but no mining, nuclear testing, development, nuclear waste dumping there. We are just beginning to understand this part of our planet and we need to understand it.

There is a large hole in the ozone over Antarctica. Scientists track and study it. We don't have answers yet, but if the ice were to melt the oceans would rise 60 meters and drown every port city in the world. We need to get this right.

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As I travel it's interesting to observe the short-term communities I become a part of. The divers I met a month ago have formed a virtual community sharing pictures and tales of onward travel. Some have returned to work. The young man from Mauritius has hitchhiked away to the fjords and glaciers. Britta, my roommate on the dive boat, continues her round the world journey. And one man I may have chatted with in the train station in Christchurch 2 days ago is no longer on earth.

The Tranzalpine rail journey crosses the alpine spine of the south island from Christchurch on the east to Greymouth on the west. It is known as one of the world's most spectacular rail journeys. We left around 8:30 and by 9 had made an unscheduled stop. It wasn't till later in the day that I found out why the ambulance and police came to the train and we waited there for an hour. A man had had a heart attack and later died. I don't know him but as a member of the small community sharing that space and train, sharing an experience together, I felt his death also.

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Yellow-eyed Penguins

When planning this trip, the yellow-eyed penguin captured my imagination.

If I could get to New Zealand's South Island, to Dunedin and then to the Otago Penninsula, I could be eye to eye with these endangered penguins.

Better yet, their eggs usually hatch at the beginning of November. That hatching timetable put me here mid-November and saved the best for last.

Traveling north to south in New Zealand was a good plan. At every stop I found beauty but the southern part of the South Island really defies description.

Dunedin is a small city founded by Scottish immigrants. It's built around a double octagon. Everything is so convenient to the center. The fjordland is only one day away.

The Otago Penninsula has coves, harbors, villages and a road hugging the coast. At the end of that road is the Royal Albatross Observatory and Penguin Place. I rented a car for the day to explore this penninsula. I don't like taking a coach tour and there is no other transportation out there. The drive was leisurely and since I've been here for several weeks, driving on the left was no problem.

By arriving in the morning, my tour of Penguin Place was small. It was quiet and everyone had plenty of time to see and photograph the penguins. The penguins have a yellow iris and yellow head band.

Living only in New Zealand, there are at most 6,000 on earth. I saw four adults and had a glimpse of their chicks who are from 1 to 3 weeks old at this point. The parents take turns staying at the nest and feeding in the ocean.

Yellow-eyed penguins originally nested in costal forests but timbering has reduced nesting spots. The Penguin Place is a private conservation effort and tour fees support it entirely. We traveled by small bus to the coast and there entered covered trenches to view the nests close up. No flash photography is allowed and we were quiet, but the parent seemed to feel secure about the presence of human observers.

Closer to the beach we saw one nesting Little Blue Penguin and heard that some of these come there too. On the beach we saw seals waiting to pounce on the returning adult penguins. Weasels and stoats are the main predators for the eggs and chicks so these are trapped by the workers at the preserve.

Continuing to the end of the peninsula I had lunch at the Royal Albatross Center and saw a few birds circling the area. Close up viewing isn't permitted till the end of November as the adults become skittish when the eggs are newly laid and might abandon the nest. After a week or so they permit observation. This is the only place where Royal Albatross nest on a mainland and can be observed by humans.

Their wingspan of 8-9 feet makes them one of the largest species. They can be seen in the air when the wind picks up to help them get airborne.

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Cruising Milford Sound

Fjord is a Norwegian word meaning an inlet between high hills where a glacier has receded. They are usually long and narrow. Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are just two of New Zealand's fjords.

The road out to Milford Sound is slow going and winds through alpine meadows, mountains, some one lane bridges and a one-way tunnel with a 15 minute wait. It's a beautiful drive. I did it in a small bus with just 11 passengers and we stopped to look at several beauty spots on the way out there from Te Anau. We arrived just in time to board the Milford Wanderer. Chris, our driver, boarded too. He drives the bus, serves dinner and helps with the water activities. Boating and kayaking are included free on this cruise.

The crew members are young and friendly. The Wanderer caters to hostelers and backpackers while the Milford Explorer has private cabins with baths and is pricier. My overnight accomodation was in a 4 bed shared cabin with the bath down the hall. We were about 40 passengers.

We enjoyed pumpkin soup and French bread as we left the dock. After a short cruise we anchored and kayaks and boat rides were offered. Afterward dinner of roast lamb and vegetables, salad and dessert was served as we cruised the fjord. Day trippers are all gone as these two ships leave for the overnight cruise.

My eyes were so happy to be in such a place. For me, it's important to spend the early evening and night on the water, to see the fog creeping down the hillside, the rainbows at sunset, the Southern Cross, Orion, Scorpio in the night sky.

Near sunset we saw penguins leaving the water and hopping up into the forest. We saw seals and dolphins with their young. The mountains were snow capped and although we had no rain there were waterfalls all along the walls. During the night I had to go up on deck to be in that special place. I can sleep anytime.

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The Great Ocean Road

Melbourne Australia has arts, museums, a riverside walk with shops, restaurants, casino, hotels. I enjoy the Federation Square with its modernist Christmas tree, steel and glass buildings, the Victorian-era buildings; but I'm drawn away to the Great Ocean Road.

One hour southwest of Melbourne is Geelong, Victoria's second largest city. I reach Geelong by train and connect to a coach for the trip to Apollo Bay.

Doing the trip this way costs me less than a day long coach trip and I don't have to travel with Borg. For those who don't watch Star Trek, Borg are members of a collective. They have technology implants to serve as eyes. A lot of tourists don't even look. They just jump off a bus and start filming.

Before this road was built communities along Victoria's southern coast were cut off from Melbourne except by sea. After World War I the Great Ocean Road was begun to employ returning veterans and to be a memorial to their fallen comrades. Now 75 years old and 400 km long, it's the world's biggest war memorial.

I stay at Apollo Bay which is a fishing and vacation village on the Bass Strait. If you were to cross the Bass Strait you would land in the state of Tasmania. It's an overnight ferry journey I'll save for another time.

The light in the morning and the fresh sea breezes greet the day. It's late November and Spring flowers and southern light greet me while an email from my neighbor reports 4" of snow at home. I miss celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends but I'm grateful to be here. Following the Spring is one of the highlights of my life list. Seeing this beautiful ocean, the baby animals in the fields and being here fills me with thanks.

Favorite places

I kept a few days open at the end of the trip and I'm using them to return to Cairns. This two month odyssey began here and will finish here as my plane lifts off for Hawaii.

Back in Cairns I stay at a hostel on the Esplanade. Tropical weather here has become more rainy while I've been away. It is early December. I watch from the saltwater pool as a rainbow disappears in the setting sun. No wonder it's so beautiful on the Great Barrier Reef if the light is delivered by rainbows.

A park along the Esplanade offers access to anyone. The BBQ grills handle many cooks and parties. Bats and birds wheel overhead keeping insects at a minimum. Here you don't see the Aussie salute: swatting the aggressive flies away from your face.

The pool is enormous and free. From the pool you can see the mud flats in the bay. Swimming in the ocean isn't inviting and you have at least two reasons not to: salties and box jellies. Salties are crocodiles and box jelly fish stings can be lethal.

Tomorrow I'll parasail again. Flying high above Cairns harbor is a delight. Two hundred feet in the air, tethered to the boat in a parachute harness, I feel very safe and joyful. I went out in October and have returned here to do it again before I leave this Queensland. Clouds frame a typical symbol of this place: seven palm trees and a crane. Not a bird, a construction crane. This sleepy tropical town of single-story buildings and metal roofs has been discovered and 3 big apartment/condo high rise buildings are going up on the esplanade. I hope the rainforest and reef can handle the increased traffic. The days of finding a hostel on the Esplanade are surely numbered. I'm so happy I've come to this fun-loving place again.

Australia and New Zealand have a special relationship through language, location, history and shared events and rivalries. It has been a pleasure to meet the people and see some of the area. I am already planning a return visit.

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