December 30, 2005

 

VANCOUVER to HONG KONG

Today we started our 30 day trip by flying from Vancouver to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific.  The food and service on Cathay are really a bit better than North American airlines, and having your own LCD screen with multiple movie channels was a nice luxury!

 

December 31, 2005

 

HONG KONG to CAIRNS

We arrived in Hong Kong and lost a day due to the International Date Line.  We had a four hour layover where we were entertained by a horde of loud mandarin-speaking passengers yelling at the gate agent!  Soon we were in the air again as we welcomed the New Year - on the runway, preparing to take off!

 

January 1, 2006

CAIRNS - TROPICAL RAINFOREST, DIDGERIDOOS, AND BOOMERANGS

We touched down in Cairns (pronounced more like "cans" in Australian English) at 8:45am on New Year's Day, having spent 25 hours getting there!  It was 33 degrees and muggy outside, and almost immediately once we got outside Mother Nature started a tropical downpour.  We got our luggage and picked up our Mitsubishi Magna rental car and quickly learned how to drive on the 'wrong' side of the road!  The most difficult thing was remembering to get into the correct side of the car, to use the turn signals instead of activating the wipers, and using the road lines on the right instead of the left to stay in the lane!  We took the Skyrail Scenic Gondola above the tropical rainforest to the village of Kuranda, visited Rainforestation where we learned how to throw boomerangs and play didgeridoos (we would have preferred the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park but it is closed on New Year's Day), and then took the Kuranda Scenic Railway and then a shuttle back to our car.  We checked into the Shangri-La in Cairns, and then after quickly refreshing ourselves, went to dinner at a place on the beach - Barnacle Bill'sCairns is over-run by Japanese tourists, and everyone assumed we were Japanese like 90 percent of everybody else there!  By the evening, we were completely exhausted and finally got to rest, having left home 36 hours prior.

 

January 2, 2006

GREAT BARRIER REEF - FINDING NEMO

We woke up early and grabbed some breakfast at Brumby's, which is a chain bakery in Australia and New Zealand.  We headed to Port Douglas - about an hour's drive north of Cairns on the Captain Cook Highway. Back in July, we had booked a tour with Wavelength, which has a great reputation for small group snorkeling tours to the Great Barrier Reef.  We showed up at their office and were horrified to learn that we were NOT on their booking list of 30 passengers (the maximum for the vessel).  Fortunately for us, at the last minute, a family of four cancelled as one child was ill, and we got on board the boat and headed towards the reef.  We made three stops on the outer reef and saw thousands of fish (we couldn't actually find any Nemos, but did see a cousin to him) and corals with amazing fluorescent colours.  A marine biologist helped show us all the different corals and fish.  Unfortunately, despite prophylactic Gravol, Gloria got motion sickness and vomited twice. We returned to Port Douglas at 4:30pm and headed back to Cairns for dinner, and then went to the airport for our flight to Brisbane.  En route, we picked up some local Bowen and R2E2 mangoes and lychees, which were absolutely delicious and such a special treat to be enjoying in January!  We had booked our flight on Qantas's budget domestic airline, JetStar, and to our surprise, we were told to pay AU$75 for 15-kg of excess check-in baggage!  Being shameless, we quickly stepped aside in line and grabbed the heavy items from the luggage to put into carry-on bags, started wearing layer upon layer of the heavy clothes, and then reweighed our luggage.  We were still a few kilograms overweight but the ticket agent (who couldn't stop laughing at us) just let us through without paying.  We arrived in Brisbane, picked up our Toyota Camry rental car and checked into the Marriott in downtown Brisbane.

 

 

January 3, 2006

SUNSHINE COAST - CRIKEY!  IT'S THE CROCODILE HUNTER!

We woke up early again and headed north towards the Sunshine Coast.  We picked up some water and lunch on the way to Beerwah, which is home to Steve Irwin and the Australia Zoo.  We were fortunate that Steve Irwin and his wife were there that day to give the crocodile show.  We fed kangaroos and elephants, and saw many local Australian animals, such as the cassowary (a cross between an ostrich, dinosaur, and a turkey).  After spending the day at the zoo, we bought more mangoes and lychees from roadside fruit stands, and then headed back to Brisbane where we had dinner at Circa.  We took a leisurely stroll along the waterfront of the Brisbane River after dinner.
   

 

January 4, 2006

 

BRISBANE - KOALA (NOT BEARS!) AND A MAN-MADE BEACH

After a leisurely breakfast, we headed to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.  We were really happy with this attraction as everything was up close and personal.  We cuddled a koala (they are marsupials, not bears - and their closest cousin is actually the wombat), watched a sheep dog demonstration and learned about the different species of merino sheep, Gloria fed an owl which flew onto her arm, and then we sent some postcards home.  Koalas actually sleep 19 hours a day and do almost nothing when they are awake because they require so much energy to digest their diet of eucalyptus leaves, which comprise almost entirely of water and fiber (they do not generally need to drink additional water).  Also contrary to a popular myth, the leaves do not have any sedative "drug" that makes them so sleepy!  After cuddling the koalas, we had lunch at the Queen St. Mall in Brisbane (a bit like Robson St. in Vancouver) and then took the CityCat ferry across the river to South Bank.  Right across the river from downtown Brisbane is the South Bank Parklands, an award-winning planned destination with a man-made lagoon and beach!  We explored a bit and then walked across the bridge back to downtown.  For dinner, we went on a river cruise on one of the Kookaburra River Queens - a paddlewheeler built for Expo '88 in Brisbane.  Unfortunately, while enjoying the view from the deck, Gloria became a meal for a mosquito - seven bites on the legs!

 

 

January 5, 2006

GOLD COAST - SURF'S UP

We checked out of our hotel and then headed on the road towards the world famous Gold Coast.  We stopped at an outlet mall called Habourtown (yup, they have these downunder too!) and did a bit of shopping.  Unfortunately, most of the stores were foreign to us, so we had no idea if the outlet prices were actually discounted or not!  We then headed to Main Beach and had lunch at Blu Grotto.  We walked down to the beachfront where there were only a few others and strolled along the soft, sandy golden beaches.  The miles and miles of white sand beaches are really the most beautiful we have ever seen!  We proceeded onto the tourist-overridden Surfers Paradise where we went up the Q1 Tower, which is the world's tallest residential tower.  We enjoyed the breathtaking views of the coastline as it was a beautiful clear day.  We then drove onwards to Coolangata, near the border between Queensland and New South Wales, and flew from the Gold Coast Airport to Sydney.  Upon arrival in Sydney we were disheartened to see a familiar Vancouver sight - HEAVY RAIN!  We took the shuttle to the Sydney Harbour Marriott, and then walked to Woolworths to buy some groceries and unfortunately got completely soaked in the process.  We were told that it had been 45C on New Year's Day but the forecast was for the dreaded rain for the next few days!

 

January 6, 2006

 

SYDNEY - CHINATOWN, DARLING HARBOUR, AND MANLY

Today, we took the CityRail to Chinatown where we had dim sum at a restaurant called Dragon Star, in Market City, a large Asian/western hybrid mall.  The food kept coming and coming on the carts and the quality was equivalent to that found in Vancouver.  Fortunately for us, it was Friday and the Paddy's Market was open for business.  We bought more mangoes and lychees and then walked to Darling Harbour.  We went into the Maritime Museum for their free Vikings exhibit and then across the Pyrmont Bridge (the world's oldest electrically-operated wingspan bridge) to King's St. Wharf, where we embarked a ferry back to the hotel in Circular Quay.  While us Vancouverites boast that we are blessed with a gorgeous natural harbour, even the two of us had to concede that Sydney's harbour is probably the world's finest.  After a short break, we hopped on a ferry to Manly Beach (site of surf lifesaving championships) where we walked along the beachfront to Shelly Beach.  Manly was so named because Governor Phillip felt the Aborigines he met there in 1788 were "manly".  The waves on the beach were high and therefore nobody was allowed into the water.  We took the ferry back to Circular Quay and then went to Chinatown again for dinner, this time at a restaurant called Golden Century.  We ate local triangular-shaped clams called "Pipi" and had a special local white soft shelled crab - both very yummy!

 

January 7, 2006

SYDNEY - BONDI AND BRIDGECLIMB

Luckily it was another sunny day and so we took the bus to the world famous Bondi (pronounced bond-eye, not bond-ee) Beach (arguably the most famous stretch of sand in the world) where we stayed on the beach for about an hour.  We went back to Chinatown for lunch at a place called "BBQ King" which is famous for its barbeque meats.  After lunch, we strolled through the Rocks (where mariners of the First Fleet stepped ashore in January 1788 and British settlement of Australia was first established) and arrived early at the office of the Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb.  After signing our waivers, taking a breathalyzer test, putting on our climbing suits, accessorizing with hats, handkerchiefs, radios, and headsets, and doing a test climb, we finally headed out onto the street toward the bridge.  The first part of the climb is actually not a climb at all - it's a narrow catwalk, which was then followed by hundreds of steps up different sets of ladders.  One basically emerges on the bridge deck between northbound and southbound traffic and can see the tires of cars zooming by on the busiest bridge in Australia (average 170,000 daily crossings!).  Then we started our walk up the east side of the bridge and from the top we had fantastic views of one of the prettiest harbours in the world.  As luck would have it, Holland America's Statendam was just pulling out of its berth at Circular Quay as well.  Our climb leader told us interesting anecdotes about the Bridge, the city, and even pointed out the "office" of the dentist in Finding Nemo!  We spent quite a bit of time at the top before crossing over to the west side of the bridge for our descent.  Just as we got underneath the bridge, it started pouring rain!  At night, we enjoyed local Australian lobster and some more Pipis before packing our bags and getting ready to embark the cruise ship the following day.

 

January 8, 2006

 

SYDNEY - THE OPERA HOUSE AND ALL ABOARD

We checked out of our hotel and walked our luggage over to the Circular Quay Overseas Passenger Terminal pier where the 116,000 ton Diamond Princess was docked.  After dropping off our luggage, we headed to the Sydney Opera House where we took the guided tour.  Our guide was excellent and was animated as he explained how the Opera House actually is the home of the ballet, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and also the opera.  The building really is an architectural wonder (ingenious segmented globe casting allowed for pre-fabrication) and it's no wonder it took 14 years and AU$102 million to complete (originally estimated at six years and AU$7 million!).  After our tour, we walked back to the pier and boarded the ship.  After eating lunch, we had a week's worth of laundry to wash and dry and a week's worth of emails to read!

 

January 9, 2006

AT SEA - SERIOUS CRUISERS

Today we enjoyed the first of five relaxing days at sea aboard the Diamond Princess.  We met with a group of travellers who frequent the website www.cruisecritic.com and even had free champagne which was generously donated by the Cruise Director (incidentally, he was a Canadian who calls Nanaimo home!).  There were some fascinating people in this group who really made us look like cruise rookies.  One couple had gotten on in Beijing in November and had travelled on the ship from Beijing to Osaka, followed by the cruise from Osaka to Singapore, stayed on shore in Singapore while the ship was in drydock for 12 days, and then now they were doing back-to-back Australia/New Zealand cruises!  Three months cruising!  Another couple had sold their Internet business at age 29 and retired as millionaires.  They had been travelling since February 2005 and gave us new perspective on the term "no fixed address."  They were planning to stay in a rented Auckland apartment for a few days to figure out what to do next!  Ah, the hardships of having too much time and money and not knowing what do with either...

 

January 10, 2006

 

MELBOURNE - OLD MELBOURNE GAOL

We docked in Melbourne (pronounced mel-bun) at 8:00am and after breakfast we took the convenient tram right into the city.  We found Melbourne much like Victoria, B.C. but without the big harbour.  The city is extremely tourist friendly.  For AU$6.10 you can take the tram anywhere in the city.  There is also a City Circle Tram that comes every 12 minutes and as its name suggests it just circles the city - and it's entirely free!  Across the street from the historic Flinders St. Railway Building in Federation Square is a large tourism information centre with lots of information, plus there are signs everywhere directing visitors.  It's also possible to get a free guided city tour  (if pre-booked) by a local who volunteers his/her time to show you his/her city.  We decided to walk around the city a bit on our own and then take the City Circle Tram to the Old Melbourne Gaol (variant of jail; pronounced jāl) - the famous prison which executed the outlaw Ned Kelly (did anybody see the movie "Ned Kelly" (2003) starring Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom?).  The jail was a bit like Alcatraz except there was a lot more to read and the cells seemed more cramped and isolated.  After this, we walked down the Greek area (Melbourne boasts the largest Greek population outside of Greece) and had a gyros at Stalactites Restaurant.  We walked through Chinatown (many Chinese came to Melbourne in the 1800s as labourers and were forced into the back alleyways, where Chinatown still exists today) and saw some enormous dried abalones.  The main annoyance about Melbourne was the flies which kept on flying into and hovering around us!  We returned to the ship in mid-afternoon.

 

January 11, 2006

AT SEA

 

January 12, 2006

 

HOBART - TASSIE DEVILS AND TALL TREES

We got off the ship today in Hobart and walked to Avis where we picked up our Holden Commodore (basically a GM vehicle).  After getting lost and asking for directions at a convenience store, we made it to Something Wild Wildlife Sanctuary.  We saw a family of Tasmanian Devils and some very large (and cute!) wombats and Victorian koalas (these are much fluffier and larger than the northern Koalas as seen in Queensland, since the eucalyptus trees in southern Australia are different).  Cuddling a koala has in fact been made illegal in most of Australia, and in Queensland the rules are very strict - maximum thirty minutes per day and every fourth day off.  Where does one sign up for this job - sleeping 19 hours, working 30 minutes, and having every fourth day off?  We next proceeded onto Mt. Field National Park, home of Russell Falls and the tallest hardwoods in the world.  We picked up some local raspberries along the way back to Hobart and then we attempted to visit the Cadbury Factory for a tour but they were all booked until January 18!  We decided to have a walk around Salamanca Place and "downtown" (Hobart's population is only 129,000) instead, and then returned to the ship.

 

January 13-14, 2006

AT SEA

 

January 15, 2006

FIORDLAND NATIONAL PARK - MILFORD, THEN REALLY DOUBTFUL SEAS

After a rough crossing of the Tasman Sea, today we arrived at the south island of New Zealand at Fiordland National Park.  The park is the largest in New Zealand and one of the largest in the world, spanning over 1.2 million hectares.  It is now recognized as a World Heritage Site.  We arrived in Milford Sound at 7:00am and watched the spectacular scenery as we sailed into the fiord.  The plan was to visit four of the 14 fiords but unfortunately Mother Nature did not cooperate with us.  A low pressure system was blowing into the region from the south which caused gale force winds and rough seas, with swells up to 15 feet!  At one point the navigational update showed "violent storm" as the description of the winds!  As a result of this bad weather, the ship was unable to attempt entry into any further fiords, and for the first time in 12 cruises, we saw barf bags placed all throughout the ship.  The seas were so rough that the swimming pool turned into a huge wave pool and had to be drained to prevent damage and injury!  The seas finally settled down about 9:00pm as the ship sailed into the Foveaux Straight between the south island and Stewart Island.  Unfortunately, we did not get to see as many fiords as we had hoped (especially the deepest of them - Doubtful Sound - which ironically was named "Doubtful" because Captain James Cook in 1770 was unsure if he could safely get his vessel in and out) but at least neither us of needed the barf bags!

 

January 16, 2006

 

PORT CHALMERS FOR DUNEDIN - ALBATROSSES, PENGUINS, AND CASTLES

Our ship docked at Port Chalmers and we explored Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula todayDunedin was founded by Edinburgh-based surveyors in 1846 and in fact the word "dunedin" is the Gaelic word for Edinburgh.  The city was settled in 1848 by a group of Scots escaping religious persecution.  The city has the largest concentration of Victorian and Edwardian buildings outside of Britain, and it often cited as the best-preserved Victorian city in the world.  After a frustrating wait for the port's shuttle bus, we decided just to take the local bus into Dunedin.  We then picked up our Mitsubishi Lancer at Europcar, found an ATM that would dispense some New Zealand cash, and then headed on the road towards the Otago Peninsula.  Our first stop was the Royal Albatross Centre on Taiaroa Head, which is home to the world's only mainland royal albatross colony.  Royal albatrosses are one of the largest seabirds with wingspans of 15 feet!  There are some 80 birds who breed at Taiaroa Head, and we were fortunate to see four nests.  We then headed to Penguin Place where we had the opportunity to see some yellow-eyed penguins, the world's rarest breed of penguin and only found on the Otago Peninsula and on some other isolated east coast areas.  It surprised us to learn that only four of the 14 species of penguins actually are ice-dwelling like the ones in Antarctica!  After seeing the penguins we headed to Larnach Castle, which is New Zealand's only castle.  We returned to Dunedin where we had a quick look around before returning to Port Chalmers and the ship.  The bus driver even let us travel for free!  We found everybody extremely friendly and the scenery very similar to the Tyrolean green rolling hills in Austria, except here there were white sheep everywhere!

 

January 17, 2006

LYTTELTON FOR CHRISTCHURCH - AS CLOSE TO ANTARCTICA AS WE'LL GET!

Like Dunedin, Christchurch was surveyed before it was established as a planned Church of England settlement, and thus the city is arranged in a neat and organized manner.  However, unlike Dunedin, Christchurch is three times larger, making it the largest city in the south island and the third largest in New Zealand.  We got off the ship in the Port of Lyttelton and took a free shuttle to the town of Lyttelton, where we were dropped off at the bus stop to take the local bus into Christchurch.  Once into the city, we headed to the International Antarctic Centre, located adjacent to the airport.  Seventy percent of flights to Antarctica originate in Christchurch!  We learned lots about the enormous frozen continent, went into a windstorm simulator (with temperatures dropping from -5C to -25C with the wind chill), and even rode a Hagglund vehicle (the same ones they use in Antarctica).  We returned to Christchurch city and had coffee in Cathedral Square, in front of the cathedral which really does look a bit like Westminster Abbey.  The Avon River flows through the city and one can even take a boat trip on a punt (an open flatbottom boat propelled by a long pole, not what they do in the NFL).  We headed back to the ship in mid-afternoon after our leisurely stroll around the city centre.

 

January 18, 2006

 

AT SEA - HELICOPTERS AND DOLPHINS!

What started out as a quiet day at sea turned into a day of unexpected excitement after dinner.  First, there was a medical emergency on board and a passenger needed a helicopter airlift transfer to a hospital on land.  While everybody was standing out on deck watching the helicopter come in for the transfer, Gloria spotted two large pods of dolphins swimming next to the ship! 

 

January 19, 2006

MT. MAUNGANUI FOR TAURANGA - KIWIFRUIT, HOT SPRINGS, AND SHEEP

We got up at 6:45am and headed to breakfast and we were off the ship by 7:30am.  Fortunately for us, we had checked the bus schedule on the Internet and just managed to catch the infrequent #2 bus to Tauranga city from the Mt. Maunganui pier.  We got dropped off at the Budget and picked up our Ford Mondeo.  Just to confuse things more, this Ford had the turn signals on the left side of the wheel (as in North America) unlike the other rental cars, so Doug was flipping the wipers all day!  We went into the city and picked up some food from Brumby's and then drove towards Te Puke (pronounced te PO-kay), which is the home of the kiwifruit.  We stopped at Kiwi 360 where we received a personalized tour around the kiwi orchard.  We were amazed at how many varieties of kiwi they had!  There are over 30 types of kiwis (a.k.a. Chinese gooseberry) and all are of Chinese origin, but only three types are grown for commercial use - the Hayward (traditional green), the Zespri Golden, and a new miniature kiwifruit that looks like a grape but tastes like a regular kiwi (only available in the most expensive restaurants worldwide).  Kiwis do not grow on trees!  They are on vines, much like how grapes are grown.  The volcanic soils in this area (aptly called the Bay of Plenty by Captain Cook) are so rich that they do not even need to water the plants.  We were also surprised to learn that all the kiwis are harvested during a 10 week period in March/April, and then all the fruit is frozen for consumption throughout the year.  So the kiwifruit you see at the grocery store now were actually picked in April 2005!  The kiwifruit we find in North America are all selected to be of "export quality" - without scratches on the skin or other abnormalities.  All of the "rejects" are sold locally in New Zealand.  We left Te Puke and headed towards Rotorua, which is the geothermal hot spot of New Zealand - where the Australasia and Pacific tectonic plates overlap each other.  The place smells of rotten eggs but is fascinating - the ground is warm and mud pools and water pools full of 150C waters are everywhere.  We went to the Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, which is an authentic Maori thermal village where over 200 people live.  They cook their food, wash their clothes, and bathe in the hot spring waters.  We watched a cultural show and then had a guided tour where we saw geysers, mud pools, and even ate corn on the cob cooked in the spring water (it had no sulphur taste).  We left the village and headed to the Agrodome to watch the famous sheep show.  We learned about the many varieties of sheep and watched a sheep sheering demonstration.  After this, we took the windy road back to Tauranga where we returned our rental car and got a ride back to the ship.
   

 

January 20, 2006

 

AUCKLAND - VICTORIA PARK MARKET AND SKY TOWER

Today our cruise ended as we disembarked in Auckland - the "City of Sails" (look at all those leisure boats in the harbour!).  We collected our luggage and decided to walk to our  hotel, the SKYCITY Grand Hotel, as on the map it was just a few blocks away from the Princes Wharf where the ship was stationed.  What the map failed to show was the topography of the city.  Auckland is built on dozens of extinct volcanoes, and we've never seen such a hilly city except for perhaps San Francisco.  It turned out the walk to the hotel was 20 minutes on a 45 degree incline!  It was still early and so we left our luggage in storage and headed out.  We had originally planned to take the double-decker tourist bus (NZ$30; 2 for 1 with coupon) but had a look at it and didn't feel it was even worth it even at 50 percent off!  Instead, we bought a Daytripper on the regular city bus (NZ$7) and went to the Victoria Park Market, where we picked up some Kiwi souvenirs.  We then visited the trendy Ponsonby area (a bit like Kitsilano) and ate lunch at an Asian fusion restaurant named East.  We took the bus back to the hotel and then went up the Sky Tower for breathtaking views of Auckland and surroundings.  Sky Tower has an activity called "Sky Jump" where one can jump from almost the top of the building (it's about as high as the Eiffel Tower) and we watched a few adventurous people jump.  The tower also has glass (which is allegedly as strong as concrete) on which you can stand and look straight down at the street below.  Next, we took the bus to the trendy Parnell neighbourhood before stopping in Newmarket, where we walked around the shops.  Auckland is multicultural like Vancouver - lots of Orientals and Southeast Asians.  We headed back to the wharf to have a look at the historic Ferry Building, then ate dinner at a Korean restaurant (there are 30,000 Koreans living in Auckland) before heading back to the hotel.

 

January 21, 2006

 

OTOROHANGA, WAITOMO, ROTORUA - KIWI BIRDS, GLOWWORMS, AND HEALING WATERS

We woke up early, had breakfast at the hotel, and then picked up our Toyota Corolla hatchback from Avis in downtown Auckland.  The turn signal returned to the right side of the steering wheel in this car.  We headed out on the road southbound towards the Otorohanga Kiwi House where we saw native parrots (kakas and keas) and of course the famous flightless kiwi birds (they actually do have 5mm wings).  All four species of kiwi birds are endangered, although the little spotted kiwi is now only found on a few isolated islands.  New Zealand has no native mammals, and the introduction of European mammals has led to heavy predation.  Unfortunately, with the current rate of decline of the species, kiwi birds are predicted to be extinct in its natural environment within the next 15 years.  Next, we headed to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves.  The Waitomo region has forty-five kilometres of underground limestone caves and grottoes linked to the Waitomo River.  On our tour, we walked through the three levels of the cave - the Banquet Chamber, Pipe Organ and Cathedral - then took a tranquil boat ride through the magical Glowworm Grotto.  We then headed back to Rotorua where we grabbed a late lunch before going to the Polynesian Spa.  This spa, which is consistently voted one of the best in the world by travel magazines, obtains its alkaline water from a boiling spring 100 meters away from the complex.  The water has to be cooled down by adding water from the town's water supply.  We rented a private pool for ourselves and soaked for half an hour.  Now thoroughly refreshed, we went to the Skyline Skyrides where we had planned on taking the gondola up to the top and then taking the Luge downhill (it's not a real luge as Canadians know it).  Unfortunately, the gondola was not operational and it was getting late.  Instead, we went to a public park - Kuirau Park - where there are mud pools and a huge bubbling lake.  Maori legend has it that a beautiful young lady named Kuirau was bathing in the then-cool lake when she was seized by Taniwha (a legendary creature).  The gods above, observing this struggle, became angry and caused the lake to boil so that the Taniwha would be destroyed forever.  By this time it was 7:00pm, so we started back towards Auckland, had a late dinner at a Korean restaurant, and then went to bed.

 

January 22, 2006

 

AUCKLAND to HONG KONG

Up at 5:30am, we quickly packed up our bags and ate breakfast in the hotel before heading to the airport to catch our 8:55am flight to Hong Kong.  Gloria's cousin Dickson picked us up at the airport and took us to the Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel and Towers in Tsim Sha Tsui where we got settled and then fell asleep.

 

January 23, 2006

 

HONG KONG - TUXEDO FOR DOUG

Today we were up at 4:00am as we were still on New Zealand time.  We decided to join a few of Gloria's relatives for early dim sum at 7:15am.  We took the #7 bus to the restaurant.  Apparently, there are many types of buses in Hong Kong, including air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned varieties.  We anticipated the fare to be HK$3 each but upon boarding we found the fare to HK$4.30 (we later learned that we were on a more expensive air-conditioned bus although ironically, we needed a heated bus more than anything since it was only 11C!).  We quickly scrambled for exact change and put in a 10 coin - except that it was a HK$10 coin!  Did we look like tourists or what?  What a change it was going from New Zealand where the buses will kneel on request (for strollers and wheelchair) to Hong Kong where one is lucky if the bus does not run one over!  After breakfast we headed up Nathan Road to the famous Sam's Tailor where Doug got measured for a tuxedo.  We then took the MTR (subway) to Langham Place in Mongkok and had lunch in the food court.  After lunch we went to Golden Plaza, which is a five storey building dedicated to wedding products and services.  

 

January 24, 2006

 

HONG KONG - QI PAO FOR GLORIA AND STATIONARY

We once again joined Gloria's family for dim sum at 7:15am and then headed in search for a custom-made qui pao (cheong sam - Chinese gown) for Gloria.  We first went to Gala Fabrics in Jordan (they also have stores in Vancouver and Victoria but the fabric selection in Hong Kong is much larger).  We were pleased to learn that the Shanghai-trained tailors were available to get Gloria measured and fitted before they returned to Shanghai for the Chinese New Year holiday beginning January 28.  We also checked out Chinese-product specialists Yue Hwa, a famous place in Central called Linva Tailors, and multiple wedding stores on Kimberley Rd. in Tsim Tsa Shui before deciding to go with Gala and their French silk chiffon.  After a first tuxedo fitting, we got our invitations and other stationary ordered at one of the printing stores at Golden Plaza before having dinner with all of Gloria's family at Jade Garden Restaurant overlooking the harbour.

 

January 25, 2006

 

HONG KONG - LADIES MARKET

We grabbed a quick breakfast at Maxim's Fast Food and then went to Sam's Tailor for a second tuxedo fitting.  There was nothing that needed further alteration so we just paid and took away the tuxedo.  We then headed to the Ladies Market (Sai Yung Choi Street) in Mongkok and walked around.  We had lunch at Langham Place and then went to the local produce market.  At night we strolled around the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront.

 

January 26, 2006

 

HONG KONG - THE PEAK

After early dim sum with Gloria's family, we were off to Gala Fabrics again for a fitting of Gloria's qui pao.  We had lunch nearby and then went to the printing store to review the draft of our stationary and also picked up some decorations.  After dinner, we got a lift up to Victoria Peak where we had drinks and dessert at Caf Deco.  Nearby is some of Hong Kong's most expensive residential real estate.  In 1997. an offer of HK$900m (about CAD$160 million) for the newly built property at 23 Severn Rd. was incredibly refused!  To get down to the bottom, we took the famous Peak tram and then headed back to the hotel.

 

January 27, 2006

 

HONG KONG - STANLEY AND MORE FABRIC

Today we met up with one of Gloria's coworkers who happened to be vacationing in Hong Kong as well.  After breakfast, we took the Star Ferry (the same green and white ferries since the 1950s) across the channel to the Hong Kong island side.  We hopped on a bus and went to Stanley, which was the largest settlement on Hong Kong island before the British moved in.  Today, it is a tourist haven for Caucasian tourists but it is also a peaceful, pleasant escape from the bustle of the city with minimal people and cars - what a breath of fresh air (literally)!  We headed back to Central where we snacked at KFC (no, we didn't each fried chicken - we ate Portuguese egg tarts!).  We had a quick bowl of famous wonton noodle soup at Mak's Noodles (there is also a store in Richmond on Alexandra Rd., and the portions are equally tiny at both locations) before walking back towards the MTR station to Tsim Sha Tsui.  We happened across a narrow lane called Li Yuen St. which had a few fabric stores.  We were looking for pure silk satin for an evening gown and one of the stores directed us to the Western Market (an Edwardian-style building built in 1906) located in Sheung Wan.  We took our fourth form of transportation that day - the tram - down Des Voeux Rd. to Sheung Wan.  The building became a food market before closing in 1988 but was declared a historical  monument in 1990 and reopened in 1991.  The second floor now houses 16 fabric stores and we were able to find a large selection of Italian and French pure silk satins in a variety of colours, at a fraction of the cost in Vancouver.  In the late afternoon, we returned to Golden Plaza one last time and picked up some more decorations, had a special Wunan hot pot with Gloria's uncle and cousin in the evening, and then packed our bags in preparation for heading home the next day.

 

January 28, 2006

 

HONG KONG to VANCOUVER - BACK HOME

We went one last time to dim sum with Gloria's family and then spent some time walking around Harbour City, which is an enormous 700-store shopping centre that is almost like three Metropolis at Metrotown pieced together!  How fitting it was that, on this, the day we returned home to rainy Vancouver, it was raining in Hong Kong.  We later learned that it had basically not stopped raining in Vancouver the entire month we were away from home - it rained 29 of 31 days in January, making it the rainiest month in Vancouver's history!  Nonetheless, we were glad to be home after a month.