The genesis for this trip began about 18 months ago. At that time, our recent trip to Japan was still fresh on our minds, and that had been inspiring enough to warrant further explorations. Previous S-W get togethers had taken place in cities where members lived. This aspect facilitated much local planning by said members and, in turn, it usually resulted in escorted tours and activities of at least a week's duration. However, due to the vast distances between S-W members in New Zealand and Australia, it became apparent early on that any such S-W get togethers at either of these places would have to be of a different nature. Which is to say, we would probably have to think of converging at a given point on a particular day and be limited to lunch or dinner together.
Considering all the logistics and great distances, it seemed to me that booking a commercial tour might offer some advantages – especially if such a tour included some "free" time in various locations. I started looking at some packages offered by various travel services. In short, I found such a trip offered by Globus. It was what they called a South Pacific sampler which consisted of a 17-day trip that would include stops in Christchurch, Queenstown and Auckland, New Zealand as well as Cairns, Sydney, and Melbourne, Australia.
Over a two week period, I traded emails with a Globus agent to answer a few questions. The price seemed okay and included all our hotels, transportation, transfers and some meals, breakfast every morning. The real clincher, however, was that I was then offered a sizeable discount to book the tour by a given date. I talked it over with my wife and members of the S-W group who had expressed an interest.
I also had elicited that there would be some free time in both Auckland, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia. Ichiro san from Japan was the only one in our S-W group who would commit, but he felt more comfortable going on his own rather than booking a commercial tour. To make a long story short, I accepted the Globus offer and sent them a retainer fee. It later turned out that we were able to schedule a get together for all the New Zealand members at Auckland on Friday, November 10th and the Australian members at Sydney on Wednesday, November 15th.
Friday, November 3, 2000
We left for Indianapolis. Globus previously had sent me a package of materials for our trip. Among other things, this consisted of all our airlines tickets. We were booked on American Airlines from Indianapolis to Chicago to Los Angeles where we then switched to Qantas for the 12-hour flight across the Pacific.
We flew to Auckland, New Zealand and then transferred to a Qantas flight to Christchurch which was where our tour was to officially begin. Our flight across the Pacific was aboard a Boeing 747-400 which we found to be not so comfortable. The flight from Chicago to Los Angeles had been on a Boeing 767 – each seat seemed to have more space and leg room. But the Qantas flight crew really did knock themselves out in making sure we were well attended. There were two hot meals served en route, and each seat had its own entertainment center. This consisted of a small flat panel CRT on the back of the seat ahead of you and you had a good selection of movies, TV, music or games. The flight crew encouraged us to get out of our seats and walk around some. They also instructed us on doing stretching exercises while seated.
Somehow, we lost Saturday on the way to New Zealand. This all has to do with crossing the International Date Line and we were assured by the plane captain that we would get the lost day back on the way home. At any rate, we left the U.S. on Friday and, after a flight of some 12 to 13 hours, landed in New Zealand on Sunday. The only hitch on the way over was in transferring from the international air terminal in Auckland to the domestic terminal. Going through customs was fairly easy and transferring our baggage was okay. However, finding our way to the Qantas domestic terminal was an absolute nightmare. The signs were very confusing and several different people we talked to gave conflicting instructions.
Finally, we did manage to find our way to where we were supposed to be, and got on our plane. Once in Christchurch, our Globus tour guide was waiting for us. He introduced himself as Peter Wagner and his nice, easy flowing British accent soon won us over. Lil said he reminded her of Michael Caine but to me, he looked more like Tony Bennett.
Peter lives in Sydney, Australia and had spent considerable time in England and France. We immediately got on a Globus bus and made our way to the Grand Chancellor hotel. There were 32 of us – all from various states in the U.S. – in the tour group not counting our guide, Peter.
After we were given keys to our rooms, the first order of business was a group meeting in one of the hotel guest rooms. Here, Peter went over the necessary rules and procedures that would be in effect during the tour. We then adjourned to the hotel dining room where we were treated to a meal of our choice from the menu. As I recall, I had baked salmon which was very tasty. We were then dismissed for the evening and told to be ready to start our next day’s tour at 9:00 A.M.
Monday, November 6, 2006
I normally am not a breakfast eater. However, considering the busy schedules we were facing, it was good that we had a substantial breakfast to start each day. Once on the tour bus, we headed for Lyttleton Harbour while Peter clued us in with a brief history of Christchurch. Contrary to popular belief, the Maori were not the original inhabitants of New Zealand. When Maori tribesmen from the east coast of the north island first came to the Christchurch area about a thousand years ago, Moa hunting people of uncertain origin were already there. The first Europeans came in 1815 and by 1840, whaling ships were operating out of what would later become Lyttelton Harbour. Then in 1850 and 1851, four ships with English settlers landed in Lyttelton Harbour and it was this group who formally platted the city of Christchurch.
We stopped at Mona Vale – one of many beautiful little parks in Christchurch which is also known as the Garden City of New Zealand. We walked around this gorgeous little park sprinkled here and there with beautiful flowers in their mid spring bloom. (Remember, we are now below the equator – the seasons are reversed.)
It was here that we talked at length with David (Red) Pierce who hails from Fairmont, Minnesota. David is a free spirited sort who sports a Mohican haircut with prominent tattoos of jungle cats on each shaved side of his head. He usually dressed in short sleeve and shorts to display his many other tattoos. This along with his full beard – well, frankly, I couldn’t help but think of the character, Queequeg, from Moby Dick. While my first impression of Red was a bit reserved, he kind of grew on me. He is a welder and he and I discussed at length some plans I have for restoring parts of an old car I have at home. Whenever we got to a new city, Red made it a point to scout out tattoo shops and always managed to get a new one.
From there, we motored on to Lyttelton Harbour – or, to be more precise, a mountain top from which we had a magnificent view of the harbor.
We then drove back to the city and stopped at the entrance to the Canterbury Museum and the adjoining botanical gardens. After telling us how to walk back to our hotel, we were on our own for the rest of the day. The museum was free of charge so we spent an hour and a half looking at many Maori artifacts. There also was an Antarctic exhibit which showed many actual buildings and equipment that were used by early American expeditions to that frigid and icy place.
The center of Christchurch is marked by Cathedral Square, a huge stone church. It was then that I spotted an ATM machine which displayed the familiar logo indicating my card would work. I was a bit apprehensive as I always have this horror fantasy of a strange ATM machine eating my card in some foreign land. While the format was a bit different, it wasn’t really difficult to figure out and I got $200.00 of New Zealand currency. The good news (which I didn’t learn until I got back home) was that the transaction fee was only about one U.S. dollar.
We found a nice little sidewalk café and we noted that the main thoroughfare of the city was blocked off to all but pedestrian traffic. This really promoted an unimpeded flow of people walking and shopping in all directions. Earlier, Peter had pointed out the Town Crier from the bus and imagine our surprise when we saw the fellow as we were walking.
He was decked out in exactly the kind of costume you’ve all seen in those old “period” movies – knickers, white full length stockings, low cut shoes with a buckle, ruffled white shirt, red coat with tails, and a “Paul Revere” three pointed hat. Oh, yes – and he was wearing white gloves. We stopped him and he graciously posed for a picture with Lil. We asked him how long he had been doing this and he said, “Seventeen years.” Lil asked him what he actually did and he admitted that the job is largely ceremonial, consisting mainly of walking about and answering tourist questions just as he was doing. When dignitaries or prominent political figures come to town, he announces their names.
We got back to the hotel, relaxed and watch a CNN cable channel on a flat panel TV screen, which marks the beginning of several such televisions that we had at our disposal for the rest of the trip in both New Zealand and Australia.
We need to get a good night’s sleep as we depart by motor coach for Queenstown and the Southern Alps at 8:00 A.M. the next morning.
Tom Fisher belongs to a private International e-mail list server group for seniors called, Senior World. His wife and he attended gatherings of this group in Auckland, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia in November, 2006. This is an account of their trip written afterwards and sent to the group – there is a picture link at the end of the narrative.