Five years is quite the milestone! I'm sure you hear this a lot, but it seems like just recently that Jared and I were married, not five years ago. To celebrate, we decided to go all out this year for vacation ... we have a long list of dream destinations, and it was a real struggle to decide where to go! We thought about doing the Western Mediterranean cruise (to mirror the eastern version we did on our honeymoon) ... we thought about going to Norway, Sweden and Finland ... we investigated a full tour of Italy ... but we found potential challenges with all of these, especially since I wanted this vacation to be to somewhere Jared hadn't already been (since a few of our honeymoon destinations were repeats for him) ... we had also thought of Australia and New Zealand ... it was somewhere neither of us had been before, and they spoke English ... win-win! It took some time for me to commit to it (I'm not the greatest decision maker), but I am so glad that we did!
I spent a lot of time planning out the spaces we couldn't miss, and the things we wanted to see and experience. I came up with a pretty good list, but then faced a challenge — they drive on the "wrong" side of the road! And while most of our drives would be relatively short, I still didn't feel right asking Jared to drive. Then April and May hit, and I was swamped with work ... and vacation planning stopped. I decided to try a travel agent, and she was amazing! She found us a trip that hit almost everything we wanted (included a few things we hadn't considered, like a few days in Fiji!), but they couldn't get us on a trip until November, which was super disappointing. We considered changing our plans, but really wanted to go for our anniversary ... so I decided to jump back in and was able to plan everything so we could see everything we wanted, and Jared even volunteered to drive. And I am so glad that we did it this way! Most amazing trip ever!
So ... this probably won't surprise you, but between Jared and I we took more than 8,000 pictures during our three-week vacation. These are just some of my favorites (it was so hard to narrow!!) ... if you ever want to see more, I'm always happy to share!
We started our journey in Cairns. I'd read that it was the best place to see the Great Barrier Reef, so we wanted to make sure to spend a day there to see this natural wonder. It's also one of the only places in Australia where you can hold a koala, and that was definitely on my must-do list! We also found out that there was a rain forest there!
The Great Barrier Reef. It was stunning ... truly a wonder. Even though you're not supposed to touch it, you are so close to it, it's hard not too! And the colors are just amazing. The weather was a little crappy that day, spitting rain and windy, but once you put your head under the water, you couldn't even tell.
During our second — and last — day in Cairns, we went to the rain forest, because it had koalas! The koalas, naturally, lived in a zoo, so we got to walk through and see all kinds of neat animals, including a kangaroo! While the kangaroo wasn't on my must-see list, like the koala, it was still pretty amazing! You could even go into the enclosure and get right up close. And we even got hold a koala ... meet Hazel! :)
The rain forest was amazing! We weren't expecting to see one ... and because the weather was a little wet, we got some beautiful fog to fill in the trees and make it really glow.
After our two days in Cairns, we spent four in Sydney, where we did everything from visiting the aquarium, seeing Bondi Beach, touring the Sydney Opera House, visiting the Royal Botanic Garden, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, going up in the Sydney Tour, visiting the Olympic Park, seeing Glowworms and visiting two National Parks — Blue Mountains and Royal National parks.
We started our first day at the zoo, where we saw penguins (the priority for me!)! But we also saw these super amazing jellyfish that change colors ... it was pretty stunning to see, everything from teal to blue to purple to orange to red. It was crazy (and also scary that jellyfish could be so pretty)!
We also found Nemo! :)
This and the next few photos are from Bondi Beach. Off to the side of the beach, they've built this wonderful bath that connects Bondi and Bronte beaches, and it was a really neat area to walk and see the city from. There's also this really cool club that has an outdoor swimming pool that connects to the beach! The tides from the beach flow into the water at the pool. It's really neat, but I'd probably drown if I tried to swim there!
During a walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens we got this great look at the Sydney Bridge and the Opera House, a sign of things to come later in the day! After this, we took a tour of the Opera House, which was amazing. We wanted to see a show, but because it was holiday there, everything was children oriented.
We also ...
... climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge! On the left, that's us a little more than halfway up. On the right, you can see the bridge in all it's glory, and possibly even people walking ... so, the area to the right, that looks to hold up the middle beams, is where we walked. I was surprised that it wasn't actually that scary!
A unique experience that I am so glad we did!
Another look at the bridge and opera house, but from different angles. The view of the opera house is from the top of one of the bridge pylons.
We started off our third day with a visit to Olympic Park, where we got to see all of the buildings, the torch and sights from the 2000 Summer Olympics. We even got to go into the pool area, which is still being used now. The big stadium behind Jared in the pictures above were even housing a conference. It's so nice to know they are still in use.
Then we headed to Blue Mountains National Park, where we saw tons of pretty waterfalls and landscapes.
On our last day in Sydney, we drove to Royal National Park, which was like 15 different parks ... some areas were like a traditional park, some parts had walking paths, there was even a few beaches!
We concluded our time in Australia with this view, and then a trip to the airport to fly to New Zealand.
So I think I could totally live in New Zealand. I know I've said this about Indy before, but if we decide to move to another country, I vote New Zealand. Specially, south island New Zealand. It was the most beautiful place I think I've ever been. Last year on our vacation was the first time I ever saw mountains, but I am so glad I've seen those, because these blew those out of the water!
We started off our journey from Christchurch and stopped at Lake Tekapo. We really wanted to see the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers, but we couldn't find a way to fit that eight-plus hour drive into our schedule ... so instead Jared and I took a helicopter there! It was the most amazing way to see the glaciers and the mountains. EPIC does not even begin to describe it!
What made this all better ... because of the time difference, this day was July 7 in New Zealand, so we got to celebrate our anniversary on a helicopter! Seeing the most amazing sight I've ever seen!
We even got to land on a glacier! AHHH! And look at all.that.snow! I was in heaven!
Lake Tekapo was an absolutely beautiful place. It's a small little area .... I don't know that I could live there, but there are a few more populated areas just an hour or so away, and it's not a bad drive when you have a view as amazing as this!
Our stay that night was in Mount Cook, just another hour or so way from Lake Tekapo. This day was probably my favorite, in terms of thing sights we got to see!
This stunning view was on the way to Queenstown the next day ... I mean, wow. Just wow.
So ... I mentioned that the day before this was our New Zealand anniversary ... well, in real-time (AKA, what time it was in St. Louis), this was a real anniversary date, so when we got to Queenstown, we met a photographer who took some anniversary pictures for us! We had the greatest two-day anniversary!
These photos of us above were taken by the great Rich Bayley.
On our next day in Queenstown, we took a trip to Milford Sound ...
and the sights along the way were amazing.
After a down day in Queenstown, we drive to Dunedin to see the penguins, and we stayed in the only castle that exists in New Zealand. Here was the view from Nature's Wonder, the penguin tour we went on.
In addition to penguins (which we couldn't get a good picture of because they were hiding), we get up close and personal (well, not too close!) with these guys.
This was an amazing way to conclude our South Island tour .... I already miss it and am dreaming of going back!
After a snowy departure (after a delay) from Dunedin, we arrived in the North Island, and drove out to Coromandel, where we saw Cathedral Cove. Our next stop was Rotorua, where we saw thermal activity and got to take another helicopter tour to an active volcano! Out trip concluded with a trip to Hobbiton and a grand feast!
Cathedral Cove was really unique place to see. We had to walk a lot to get there, but everything we saw along the way was amazing!
Our first stop in Rotorua was to see Lady Knox Geyser at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. They use soap to "induce" this geyser — unlike the one in Yellowstone that erupts on its own — but it is a sight not to miss!
There were some really interesting places here! They even had the Champagne Pool (the top picture in this collage), which was just like the Grand Prismatic at Yellowstone. It was cloudy that day, but the colors were still amazing! They also had this unique sulphur fall and this bright, bright green pool that was crazy unique.
I wanted to share this, because it reminds me so much of the Grand Prismatic! What's interesting is that it's a double pool, so double the colors! It was amazing how similar it is ... amazing.
But we weren't done! We then traveled just 10 minutes to Waimangu Volcanic Valley. It didn't have as many small little stops, but lots of big, unique views. I love how the steam comes up from the pool ... it was a cloudy day (are you noticing a theme?!), and the steam was super neat. And even a small little geyser that goes of pretty consistently.
We originally went to Rotorua to see the White Island on a boat tour, but the boat got canceled because of the weather. We were able to find someone who could fly us out the next day (another helicopter!), and it was the way to go! If we hadn't done that, we wouldn't have gotten this amazing areal view!
A look at White Island ... it's an active volcano! That you can walk on! It was amazing! You could pretty much go wherever, as long as you listened to the guide when he said things like "You might not want to step there" or "you might not want to go any further or you could fall into boiling hot water." It was so neat! The picture on the left is the active side of the volcano, and on the right is the remnants of a sulphur mine on the island.
It's us! Standing on an active volcano! What?!?
This was the sporty little helicopter we flew in on! A lot smaller than the one we flew in at Lake Tekapo!
And, finally, without further ado ... Hobbiton!
I mean, isn't this amazing! It was neat seeing all of the "movie magic," like the different sized Hobbit holes.
Ah! It's Biblo's house! And more Hobbit houses!
After walking all around, we got to get drinks at the Green Dragon! The Green Dragon! That actually serves drinks, and snacks and has seating. It was also complete with a kitty! Meet Pickles! Pickles lives on the set property. He was napping when we saw him during the day tour, but then followed our group around after the night tour. It was amazing! After having not seen our own kitties for almost three weeks, I was so exited to see Pickles! It was sad that Pickles didn't want to come home with me! :)
We decided to do both a day and night tour, and I'm glad we did ... we got to see everything in the sun, and then again at twilight/night. It was super smart of us, and totally worth the cost to see it twice!
When we booked out trip, a lot of it was organized by this night! Twice a week, Hobbiton does a special Hobbit dinner, and that dinner was amazing There was chicken, salmon, sausage, lamb ... almost every meat available! And bread and vegetables ... so many amazing things! And it was followed with an amazing tray of desserts that included pies, muffins, cheesecake and this amazing Australian/New Zealand specialty called pavlov. I'm trying to figure out how to make it! A perfect way to end our trip (especially since we ate more at dinner than probably the entire vacation put together!)!
Everyone like to ask what my favorite thing was ... and I can't say just one ... so here are my top four (in chronological order, because how could you really decide!): snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, Lake Tekapo/Mount Cook, White Island and Hobbiton! If you ever want to go to Australia and/or New Zealand, let me know and I'll be happy to share more about our experience!