Photos and Story By WENDY PRICE ANDERSON
I left the United States on February 11 for a South Pacific Odyssey to Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania. I returned home on March 17 after an adventure I will always cherish.
My trip started in Hobart, Tasmania, at a historical site, Port Arthur, which served as a prison colony from 1830 to 1877 that reportedly housed some 12,000 convicts.
From 1833 until 1853, it was the destination for the hardest of convicted British criminals, those who were secondary offenders having reoffended after their arrival in Australia. Rebellious personalities from other convict stations were also sent there.
The jail was seen as a precursor to Alcatraz Island and was situated at the southern tip of Tasmania on a peninsula surrounded by what were rumored to be shark-infested waters.
According to historical records, few attempted to escape and even fewer escaped. A fellow named George ‘Billy’ Hunt disguised himself using a kangaroo hide and tried to make a hop for freedom, but the half-starved guards on duty decided to shoot him for food. Hunt threw off his ‘roo’ disguise and surrendered, receiving 150 lashes for his troubles. Today, the Port Arthur Historic Site harbors a trove of these stories and offers regular tours of the grounds and buildings.
Next stop was Cradle Mountain National Park where we hiked and saw lush natural vistas, such as high mountains towering over gorges and lakes. This Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1982.
We visited Cataract Gorge, located in Launceston, Tasmania, along the South Esk River and walked over a suspension bridge!
We crossed the International Dateline and flew to Melbourne, where we saw one of Australia’s oldest buildings, Cooks’ Cottage, built by James Cook’s parents in the 18th century in England and transported to Melbourne in the early 20th century. The inside of the cottage includes centuries-old antiques and is patterned after the 18th century.
Initially in 1933, the owner of the cottage decided to sell it with the condition that it remain in “England.” She was persuaded to sell it, keeping it with the “English Empire” and accepted a bid by Russell Grimwade.
The cottage was deconstructed brick by brick and packed into 253 cases and 40 barrels for shipping. Grimwade, a notable businessman and philanthropist, donated the house to the people of Victoria for the centenary anniversary of the settlement of Melbourne in October 1934.
We enjoyed our visit in Alice Springs, a remote town in Australia’s Northern Territory, halfway between Darwin and Adelaide. We had a sunset viewing of Ayers Rock (Uluru), which was stunning.
Uluru is a sacred site for the Anangu People. These indigenous people of Australia have been around for at least 60,000 years, and over that time have formed a deep connection with this red rock that they see as a sacred site, a resting place for past spirits and ancestors.
We then flew to Kings Canyon, which is part of Watarrka National Park, in the southwestern corner of the Northern Territory. It was a real outback experience of two nights camping in a swag under the starry desert stars and was one of the highlights on this trip for me. This is where we had to wear fly masks to guard against the pesty flies
We flew to Cairns and then on to Port Douglas, about an hour drive north. The tropical town is the only place on earth where two World Heritage-listed sites, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, meet.
There we boarded a catamaran that took us to a private island off the Great Barrier Reef, known as “the world’s largest living thing” and did some snorkeling. The coral and fish were amazing and I could have stayed in the water all day long.
Another highlight in Port Douglas was to visit the rainforest, where I held a koala bear and saw wombats and quokkas.
After spending time out in nature, we flew to Sydney, the capital of New South Wales and the largest city in Australia.
After a ferry ride on Sydney Harbour, we toured the famous Opera House, located on Bennelong Point. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon and completed by an Australian architectural team led by Peter Hall, the building was formally opened in October 1973, after a gestation beginning with Utzon’s 1957 selection as winner of an international design competition.
The last two weeks were spent in New Zealand. Christchurch was our first stop, where I sheared a sheep on a working farm.
From there it was a three-hour TranzAlpine train to Hokitika, a small town on the West Coast region of New Zealand’s South Island. The route cuts New Zealand in half horizontally from one coast to the other and boasts some of the most scenic views in New Zealand, from the vast farmland of the Canterbury Plains to the gorges of the Waimakariri River, and finally the snow-covered caps of the Southern Alps through Arthur’s Pass.
In Hokitika we visited a glass-blowing studio.
Then it was a trip to Queenstown to explore Arrowtown, Milford Sound aboard a jet boat down the Dart River. This is where they made such famous movies as the “Lord of the Rings” with its beautiful backdrops. It was thrilling, daring and I felt like I was hanging on for dear life with its twists and turns!
Our next stop was New Zealand’s North Island, Rotorua, which is known for its quarter of a million indigenous Maori people who still hold firmly to their identity and traditions, maintaining their unique lifestyle and culture.
I experienced a zipline over the flora and fauna deep into the forest, before cruising Lake Rotomahana to see the geothermal sites around the Inferno Crater. The Crater is filled with brilliant turquoise water and is the world’s largest hot springs.
(The lake, a large hot spring located in the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley, rises steadily from its lowest level by a total of almost 16 ft. over the course of eight days, and then it starts oscillating. The average lake level keeps rising over the course of the oscillations of the second phase until it reaches overflow level. At that point, the lake’s volume has increased by 12.1 million gallons. Next, the lake overflows for about 51 hours discharging on average 37 million gallons of water of over 158 °F hot water down a temporary overflow stream into Waimangu Stream in the valley below. The last stage sees the lake recede to its low level over the last 13 days of the cycle, its water temperature also falling to the low point. During that stage, 7.9 million US gallons of water drain back under Mt. Haszard.)
In Auckland we explored the Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, known as “The Maunga.” This conservation project, on 8,000 acres of land, aims to reintroduce endangered species and rare plants back into a controlled habitat that closely resembles a prehistoric environment.
I traveled with the Overseas Adventure Travel company, because five years earlier I went with them on a three-week African safari. Their motto is: “The Leader in Small Groups on the Road Less Traveled in Over 85 Countries.”
I highly recommend traveling to the South Pacific.