I want to begin this blog with a huge thank you to our Program Director, David Baldock, my fellow travelers, coach drivers, local guides, service providers, and the residents I met in Australia and New Zealand. The 39 people who were with the tour throughout became a temporary family who were accepting of each other’s quirks. Everyone made me feel comfortable even though we came together as complete strangers. Some of us had traveled for 40+ hours or were coming off of the pre-trip to the Outback, but we dragged our weary bodies out of bed to enjoy the sumptuous brekkie (breakfast), discuss the upcoming tour, form a new family, and get on the bus for our first day of the tour in Cairns, Australia
David, our intrepid Program Director, was our rock, advisor, planner, and caretaker and believe me, we needed one. He organized our regular Grand Circle Travel tour agenda, optional trips, and his special optional trips. Before we reached each new location, he gave us a list of other places to visit. He booked an extra hot air balloon ride with transportation, maxi taxis to the Sydney Opera House, and a spa day for me. He was there to cheer for a 20-year-old young man and me when we decided to bungy jump. Unfortunately, I was told I needed a doctor’s note due to my Osteoporosis which was an unknown condition for them. Last week my doctor, a fellow adrenaline junkie, said I could’ve done it if I didn’t fall. What part of bungy jumping doesn’t involve falling?
David also took us on “wee tiki tours” which according to http://www.chemistry.co.nz/kiwi.htm#ta is a roundabout way to get somewhere or a scenic tour where he shared information on each local. These also gave us some much needed exercise, considering the plentiful food we ate at the fantastic restaurants he booked for us. He chose knowledgeable coach drivers and guides to give us insights into our locations and the local’s history and culture. Each time we went to a new city he took us to a souvenir shop that gave us the ‘David Discount’. He got up early to see us off on our 4:20 a.m. departure for the hot air balloon. He said he was up at 4 every day planning. I dragged myself out of bed as late as possible to make breakfast and the daily tour and was usually the last one on the bus. He was available 24/7 and endured all of our requests and problems with a smile on his face and kind word. That man certainly earned his salary.
In his past life David worked for TVNZ, a New Zealand station, and owned his own production company, Ninox Film and Television, so he shared one of his films and his experiences during his film career. He also had a former colleague, Ray Waru, speak to us about the history of the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial and Bastion Point. David and Ray’s experiences were of particular interest to me as a film buff with a family member who’s worked in TV and as an independent film producer. More information on David and Ray’s careers can be found at http://www.nzonscreen.com/person/david-harry-baldock and https://www.nzonscreen.com/person/ray-waru .
Now on to my fellow travelers-We were a diverse group from all over the U.S. There were several single ladies from Texas and New Jersey traveling together. Four of us single Baby Boomer women and a married lady booked the trip alone and enjoyed the fact GCT doesn’t require a single supplement, so we had a room to ourselves and an extra coach seat. The young man in our group was with his mother, who was celebrating her 50th birthday. We also had several couples who welcomed all of us singles with open arms, inviting us to join them for meals. With the exception of the 20-year-old, we ranged in age from 50 to 80 something. Some of us had minor mobility issues, but no one held the group back on any of our adventures. We had a few minor falls, but I heard this was one of the few tours where no one had to go to the medical center. All of the adventurers were intelligent, avid travelers. Many had traveled with Grand Circle Travel or its sister company, Overseas Adventure Travel, on other occasions. It was interesting to talk with them about their other trips. The single women banded together at times. We met for meals, during our free time, and looked out for each other in other ways. One evening I set out alone to walk back to our hotel and another woman caught up with me even though she wasn’t ready to leave the group. She didn’t want me to walk alone. We didn’t have any single men on the tour, but my cohorts said they had single and married men traveling alone on previous tours. From my experience talking to single men of all ages, I find they tend to travel alone, with a companion, or go to visit a friend when they travel for pleasure. Most of the people on the tour were retired and chose to spend their expendable income on experiences, but some of them also spent money on opals, jade, and the woolen clothing which are indigenous to the places we visited.
The Australians and New Zealanders we encountered were always friendly, courteous, and gracious. We interacted with the Australian Aboriginal People and the Māori in New Zealand. They were happy to share information about their culture and customs, answering all of our questions, and making us feel welcome. We were split into small group and had a meal with a Māori family in Rotorua. The next day we visited a local school where the majority of students were from the Māori Ngati Whakaue Tribe. They greeted with a Powhiri, a Māori ceremony which involved singing and hongi, a pressing of one’s nose and forehead (at the same time) to another person at an encounter. See more about this at http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/marae-protocol-te-kawa-o-te-marae/page-2. We also learned about their educational system which I’m happy to report isn’t based on teaching to a standardized test. Both of these activities are special features of GCT tours and made us aware of the details of the local lifestyle.
Our coach drivers in all the locales we visited were pleasant, patient, and helpful. We spent the most time with the ones in Sydney and Queenstown. Our Sydney driver was a retired school headmaster and along with the history of the penal colony that became the thriving cosmopolitan city it is today, he told us about the Australian educational system. Our Queenstown driver greeted us on the rainiest day of our tour by saying, “Are we all a box of fluffy ducks?” That was very appropriate since it was a day fit for only for ducks. As we drove to Milford Sound, he regaled us with tales of his family history in the area, in particular those of his grandfather who started a no frills touring company back when money was short and the area was rarely visited. Although we were rained out of our cruise, he stopped several times so that we could photograph the hundreds of waterfalls and the largest one called The Chasm. See http://www.world-of-waterfalls.com/new-zealand-the-chasm.html. When we returned to Queenstown, he drove us to a lookout that gave us a great photo op for the Remarkables Mountain Range, Lake Wakatipu, and the town below. GCT refunded us $125 for our missed cruise.
Local tour guides were also well educated on the Aborigine and Māori cultures and each city’s history. We took cruises, a Skyrail ride, a hot air balloon flight, went sailing, and went on tours at the Sydney Opera House and many other sights. All of the tours were well done, but the visits to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Park, http://www.tjapukai.com.au/, outside of Cairns, Australia and the Ohinemutu Maori Village, http://www.newzealand.com/us/feature/ohinemutu/, on the shores of Lake Rotorua in New Zealand conducted by members of each tribe were moving, insightful, and demonstrated how the different natives lived many years ago and adapted to the influx of Westerners.
Service people employed by Grand Circle Travel, the airlines, airports, restaurants, hotels, shops, and tours were from many different countries. The service they provided was exceptional. I didn’t meet anyone who wasn’t professional, courteous, and patient. I feel the need to say that Qantas Airlines puts U.S. airlines to shame. During the 15 hour international flights, flight attendants walked the aisles offering us water and anything else we wanted. I woke up at one point and a box with a piece of pizza was put in my hand. I asked for some milk and got cookies and M&MS to go with it. Even short flights had free meals, headsets and entertainment.
My friends say I’m adventurous or brave to go on a tour with a group of people I don’t know. I feel that through this type of experience I gain a deeper understanding of others, making my life richer and more interesting just by interacting with them. Touring with a group also adds a level of safety and convenience to my travels. At the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport I talked to people from Tanzania, Australia and a young woman who had just spent a year in Morocco. An hour and a half in an International Security line resulted in many fascinating conversations with individuals of all ages and ethnicities. It made the time go faster and I learned about their travel experiences. Now that I’ve recovered from the jet lag, I’m ready to go again and when I save enough money, Grand Circle Travel or Overseas Adventure Travel will get my business. Look for other links with more information on the highlights of the tour at my Facebook Page, “Single Boomer Life” and see my next two blogs on Australia and New Zealand. Maybe I’ll see you on my next trip to Rhode Island and New York. I’ll be the last one on the plane, because I hate to wait in lines or was at another gate charging my Smartphone.
Continue the Adventure!