Thursday, January 16, 2014

My Trip To Australia And New Zealand
Are There Vegans Down Under?

There are 3 kangaroos for every Australian!

I'm Back from Down Under
For the past 25 days Doug and I have enjoyed a trip of a lifetime traveling from Sidney, Australia to Auckland, New Zealand. Although most of the trip was aboard a ship, we stopped in over a dozen ports where we had the chance to see native animals and sample local foods. I won't bore you with the 750 pictures I took, but here are some things I think you'll enjoy.

After a short stop in Honolulu we arrived in Sydney. It was the week before Christmas so it was bustling. We did all the touristy things, of course, like visiting the beautiful Opera House. Since it is their summer season, there were outdoor markets, street fairs, lots of al fresco dining spots, and street musicians to entertain. Our favorite little spot was Darling Harbor with its many outdoor restaurants that surround the lovely harbor. 

The magnificent Sydney opera house took 16 years to complete.

Darling Harbor, Sydney

From Sidney, we took a ferry over to Manly beach and were impressed by its shark warning system. They are always on the outlook for sharks and when one is sited, a network of sirens go off and the beach is immediately cleared. We happen to be there when this happened. 

While at Manly, we also got to see rare Little Penguins at the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary. 

Manly is a breeding habitat for Little Penguins and is one of the last colonies on the mainland of Australia.

After 5 days in Sydney we left on a cruise ship for the rest of our journey. 

Melbourne was our next stop. It was Boxing Day and the streets were really crowded with shoppers. We found our way to Chinatown to eat a wonderful meal. Australian and New Zealand cuisine is very meat- and dairy-centric (so was the food on the cruise ship) so finding a Chinese restaurant, where you can actually find something besides fish and chips, was quite exciting. 

Melbourne's Chinatown dates back to
the gold rush days of the 1850's.

One of our best stops was Hobart, in Tasmania. We happened to be there on the most exciting day of the year when these three things occurred:
The Taste of Tasmania - Tasmania's largest food and wine festival.
A massive street fair.
The end of the Sidney Hobart yacht race.

I would have taken this entire trip just to be at the Taste of Tasmania. For $7 you get a little glass and can go around and taste all the wines at the fair. Our favorite wines were from Moorilla winery. We bought a bottle of their 2011 Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. We also liked the Kelvedon 2011 Pinot Noir. At this point we were trying to figure out how we were going to get all of these home since our suitcases were already stuffed to the gills.

I joined 40,000 Aussies at the Taste of Tasmania.
A total of 200,00 attended during the week.

The street fair, right outside the Taste of Tasmania, was just as busy. Booths lined the streets with food, clothes, pottery, and more. The best thing I had there were the fresh Tasmanian cherries - yummmm!

Tasmania cherries - some of the best cherries I've ever had!

Because of bad weather, the start of the Sydney Hobart yacht race was delayed. Our cruise ship had to leave the port before the race ended and we thought we would miss this great event. But on our way out we passed the winning yacht! Our ship's passengers waived wildly and our captain gave out a bit TOOT as we passed the winner, Wild Oats XI. 
After having had one of the most fun days ever, we headed to New Zealand.

Wild Oats XI, the winner of the 2013 Sydney Hobart yacht race.

New Zealand
On New Year's eve we woke up in Milford sound, a fjord in New Zealand's South island. I can't begin to describe how beautiful and serene it was to float through the fiords.

New Year's eve at Milford sound

After floating through fiords all day, we headed to the quaint little town of Oban on Steward Island. Then it was off to Port Chalmers and we drove to Dunedin to see yellow-eyed penguins, the rarest penguins of them all. 

We were at the beach looking for our little yellow-eyed friends when one emerged from the sea with a tummy full of food to feed his chicks. We followed him up the hill to the dunes where the family waited for dinner. It was quite a hike for the little guy. As soon as he got there his wife then left to go for more food. It was quite a family project to keep the kids fed and guarded.

A yellow-eyed penguin emerges from the ocean.
He starts his journey back to the nest up in the dunes.
It's a long, steep walk but he is determined to feed his chicks.
He feeds his hungry chick.
Now it's mom's turn to go find the next meal.

He was the only yellow-eyed penguin we got to see (besides his wife and kids). Like so many animals in New Zealand, they are endangered and quite rare. Last year 60 were found dead in the sea after an algae bloom. Our tour guide thinks that the pollution from the growing dairy industry (driven by China's demand for New Zealand baby formula) may have caused this. I see this beautiful and relatively untouched country making many of the same environmental mistakes that the U.S. has made and they are beginning to suffer the consequences. 

The seas were too rough to land in Timaru so we sailed to Akaroa. There was lots to see there. We had the most fun at the Giant's House where an artist designed a terraced garden around giant mosaic figures. Here are some of my favorites.

Sculptures at the Giant's House in Akaroa

We then sailed to "windy Wellington", the capital of New Zealand, where we took a tour of their Parliament, a tram up to botanical gardens and then found a great Chinese restaurant. With the Belgium chef on the cruise ship, we continued to yearn for more healthy, vegetable-centric ethnic food in the bigger cities. Wellington was a great place to do that.

The Parliament building
Wellington cable car.

New Zealand Wine Country
As wine growers and wine makers, we were really looking forward to our trip to Picton where we took a tour of seven wineries in the famous region of Marlborough. We were surprised to find that most of their growing and wine making techniques were pretty much the same as what we do here in Sonoma county as we were hoping to pick up a few new tricks. But their wines were lovely and their vineyards were beautiful. I could have definitely spent more time in this amazing region. 
We visited:
Lawson's Dry Hills
Wither Hill (loved their Pinot noir)
Hunter's (run by Jane Hunter, a famous female wine maker) 
Giesen Wines (had a lovely Riesling and a restaurant where we ate lunch)
Seresin Estate (a biodynamic vineyard that also sells the health promoting Manuka honey)
Spy Valley (had amazing views)
Drylands (who also sells Kim Crawford brand)

A lovely day in Marlborough wine country in New Zealand
We hired the Bubbly Grape Tour bus to take us around.
Jonathan did a GREAT job!!
Beautiful views at Spy Glass winery
Our tour was greeted by a lovely lady at Drylands

We left wine country and sailed to Kaikoura where we found amazing Thai food! Then we headed to Rotorua to see the famous geothermal area of Wai-o-tapu considered one of the most active volcanic areas in the world. 

Geiser at Wai-o-tapu

We also went to Whakarewarewa, a living Maori village. The Maori's actually live over the geothermal area and use the heat for cooking and the hot mineral waters for bathing and healing.

Living Maori village of Whakarewarewa.

Kiwi 360
While in Rotorua, we visited a kiwi farm and tourist area called Kiwi 360. New Zealand has long been famous for its prolific kiwi crop. But like so many crops in the world being threatened by a mysterious disease,  kiwi are now at risk because of a bacterial kiwifruit vine disease. This kiwifruit canker, called Psa, originated in China and has spread to over 1,000 orchards in New Zealand. 
I got to walk under a canopy of kiwi, taste fresh fruit and drink kiwi wine (of course that made it in the suitcase along with all the Tasmanian wine).

I walked under a canopy of beautiful kiwi
Kiwi must be protected from the wind and
are grown next to tall hedges
Kiwi tasting at Kiwi 360

Auckland, our Final Destination
We left the ship in Auckland and sadly said goodbye to the many new friends we made on our voyage. But we had two exciting days ahead in Auckland!

The Seabourn Odyssey in the Port of Auckland.

We quickly jumped on a ferry to Devonport for a quick tour of this beautiful historic island. 
That night we found a massive street fair and music event and a row of restaurants along the wharf that was a mile long. I've got to say, both the Aussies and the Kiwis know how to party on a Friday night. 

The next day we jumped on another ferry, this time to Waiheke Island. Unfortunately, all the tours were filled and, for the first time in almost a month, we had to rent a car and take our chances of driving on the other side of the road - yikes! 

Waiheke Island is famous for its wineries but since we had to drive, we only stopped in a few places. Our first was a beautiful winery/restaurant called Casita Miro where I had the loveliest meal on the trip.

Waiheke island vineyards

Casita Miro
The bread was amazing - with a delicious romesco sauce.
A salad of greens and fruit and a
rice dish with fresh veggies.

We drove to the other side of the island and visited Man O' War, a vineyard on the water. It was the only tasting room where I've seen people pull up in their boats! It was laid back and people with their children came there to picnic, hang out and even teach their children how to play cricket. 

Man O' War got its name because it is on the part of the island where Captain Cook and his men came to get supplies and wood for the mast of war ships.

Man O' War vineyard

A young New Zealand boy learns cricket with grandma
while mum and dad taste wine

Are There Vegans Down Under?
I live in Northern California in the little hippie town of Sebastopol where I have no problem eating a plant-based diet. I'm not a strict vegan but I'm very allergic to dairy. I must admit, it was tough finding dairy-free meals on this trip. Although there were many vegetarian options in the larger cities in Australia and New Zealand as well as on the ship, most of them contained dairy. When you saw (v) on a menu, it meant "vegetarian" not "vegan" like it does in California. In fact, I didn't even see the word "vegan" on a menu in the month I was there. So If you are a strict vegan traveling to this part of the world, your best bet is to find ethnic restaurants such as Thai, Chinese, and Indian. But don't let eating difficulties keep you from visiting these incredible countries! 

Amazing Experience
We were so lucky to be able to take a trip like this and meet the wonderful and friendly people in Australia and New Zealand. To experience the untouched and breathtaking coastal towns and see rare animals in their natural habitats was an indescribable experience. We loved the big cities like Sydney and Auckland and the tiny towns like Oban. One thing is for sure - we would LOVE to go back some day.


Marcia said...

Sounds like an amazing trip! My neighbor is a marine biologist and she just had a conference in New Zealand in December, so she took the whole family (husband and 3 girls) for three weeks. I see that you went many of the same places. Kind of cool to see/ read all over again.

The one thing she noticed was the expense of food. Even just toast for the girls was $7. Each.

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Yes, food was very expensive. But we finally figured out that tax and tip were already included which made it a little bit better. But things certainly cost a lot more than in the States.