As I went through the millions of pictures (or so it seemed) I usually made two buckets: highlights and expanded highlights. The number of photos in the expanded highlights bucket is usually double that of the highlights bucket. So, if you want to take it all in, go for the expanded highlights. If you just want to take a quick peek, click on highlights. I might also do a smaller 'best of' at some point.
There were two stops for us in Oz: sightseeing in Sydney (highlights and expanded highlights) and scuba diving (plus a train ride into the rainforest) near Cairns (highlights and expanded).
Our first destination in New Zealand was Christchurch (highlights and expanded), which is the largest city on the South Island.
From Christchurch we made a day trip to Kaikoura (highlights and expanded) to go swimming with seals. The sea was too "swelly" that day, however, so we ended up on a whale watching tour. Note: Don't eat tomato soup right before going on a extremely rocky boat. Trust us! We recovered from the swelly sea experience by soaking in natural hot pools at Hanmer Springs.
Leaving Christchurch (and the East Coast), we drove further inland to view the incredible blue and turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki (highlights and expanded)
That same day we went hiking in Mt. Cook National Park (highlights and expanded) where one-third of the area is permanently snow-covered. The park has 25 peaks over 3000m and Mt. Cook ('Aoraki' to the Maoris) is the highest mountain in New Zealand at 3754m (12,316 feet).
The next destination was the Otago Peninsula (highlights and expanded) on the East Coast. Here we got very close to yellow-eyed penguins by sneaking up on them through camouflaged tunnels. There is also the Taiaroa Royal Albatross Colony, the worlds only mainland albatross colony. We stayed at the Larnach Castle, which is the only castle in New Zealand
On the way to Queenstown (highlights and expanded), we stopped briefly in Dunedin to sample some Cadbury Chocolate (all the purple wrapping reminded me of Milka). In Queenstown we took the gondola ride and had fun with the luge track on top of the mountain. That was hardly the preparation for my 134m (440 feet) fall into the canyon the next morning, however. The Nevis Highwire Bungy was the highest bungy jump in the world until a few years ago and my first experience with this crazy sport. I love wild rollercoasters and such but this was another level altogether. I have a short video clip of the jump (in not-so-great quality). Besides my bungy jump, both of us did the unexpectedly thrilling Canyon Swing (and so did the cast of "King Kong") but I don't have the pictures of that ready yet. To round out our Queenstown experience, we chose a rather tranquil tour of some of the filming locations for "The Lord of the Rings".
From Queenstown we drove about two hours to the small town of Te Anau where we stayed for one night before embarking upon our trip to Milford Sound (highlights and expanded). The drive on the Milford Road was breathtaking. While the journey from Te Anau to Milford Sound could easily be done in less than 2 hours, we took our time to enjoy the scenery and to go for short walks along the way. Once we arrived in Milford Sound, we boarded the Milford Wanderer for our overnight cruise. As you can see form the pictures, the clouds were hanging very low and so the visibility was less than perfect. On the plus side, it was not raining while we where there, which is quite rare. In fact, it had rained for 48 hours straight the two days before and that resulted in dozens and dozens of waterfalls (in all sizes) all around us. We also saw some Fjordland Crested Penguins and went kayaking from the boat. The next morning we made a quick visit to the Underwater Observatorium before driving back to Queenstown (and becoming victim of a hidden radar camera).
On our way to the glaciers (highlights and expanded) we stopped briefly in 'nouveau-quaint' Arrowtown, which grew from the discovery of gold in the Arrow River. A bit north of Arrowtown is an even smaller village called Cardrona which offers one of the oldest hotels in New Zealand (built in 1863). The rooms were recently renovated and the restaurant's food was tasty, so this was a great place to spend the night. The next morning we got dizzy and confused at Puzzling World in Wanaka, which was the point, of course. I left Lisa in the dust and found all four corners of the Great Maze before she did (although she claims we finished at the same time). Leaving Wanaka in the late morning, we drove north along the West Coast to the glaciers. We walked only to the terminal face of Fox Glacier but went on a half-day hiking (and climbing) trip at Franz-Josef Glacier (the glacier was first explored by German Julius Haast who named it after the Austrian emperor. Ugh!)
After staying the night at Franz-Josef Glacier we crossed the Southern Alps (highlights and expanded) via Arthur's Pass. We stopped for a few hikes and several photo-taking opportunities along the way. We drove to back to Christchurch in one day and stayed at a motel close to the airport because we took an early morning flight to the city of Rotorua on the North Island the next day.
We only spent 3days on the North Island and didn't even go to Auckland (except for the airport). We figured there are plenty of big cities to visit that don't involve flying half-way around the world. Instead we enjoyed smelly mud pools and Zorbing in Rotorua (highlights and expanded). The following day we went spelunking, that also included inner tubing and rappeling at Rap, Raft 'N Rock (expanded). The last day of our vacation was devoted to the little guys with big feet at Hobbiton (expanded). The Shire was a perfect ending to this great trip down under.