All posts by kathrainbow

Aloha from Honolulu…

Aloha from Honolulu…

When I discovered that our return journey was routing us via Los Angeles, it seemed like a good opportunity to take in 3 days’ worth of R&R in Honolulu; the place I first came to way back in 1990. My children were teenagers and for many reasons it was a special holiday. In the intervening years, Waikiki Beach has changed somewhat and ‘grown up’. The hotels have obviously multiplied and grown in size and when you find all the major chains in one place you know tourism is a massive business. Our choice this time was the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. It is a huge village, more of a town, which is still growing, and on my third day there are large parts I have yet to discover. Similarly, every brand and fashion house is present too, and judging by the number of bags people carry, the dollars are pouring in. And yet……

 

Our days had “chilled and lazy” written all over them. Our first day was spent simply getting over an overnight flight and we were happy to laze by the pool in the hot sun (or, in Ann’s case, in the hot shade). By the second day, we were ready to step outside the complex and explore. First a beach walk (sand you sink right into), breakfast and a swim. The time just slips away, but plenty of time left for more of an expedition. Thanks to an unfortunate “loss” in Auckland, I needed to replace my missing iPad and research found that the cost here was the same in dollars as in pounds at home. That took us on a pleasant walk to an Apple shop, situated in a beautiful shopping mall. Job done (as well as a drink and early evening meal), so we wandered off to walk back but found a trolley bus service which, for $2 each, took customers to the major hotels on Waikiki Beach. Therefore, for a very small amount, we got a real Cook’s tour as well as a ride back.

 

Storms were threatened for today but, although hot and overcast, there was no rain, as yet. Our trolley ride had inspired us to investigate the original Waikiki Beach where, in the early 20th century, legendary surfer, Olympic swimmer and Waikiki native, Duke Kahanamoku, introduced the sport to the world. There stands his monument, complete with fresh lei, and we filled our shoes with sand as we watched today’s surfers take to the waves.

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Just along the road is what last night’s fabulous trolley driver, Nina, described as “the concrete jungle”. Shops, galleries and everything to tempt the wealthy hedonists who come to Honolulu for things of a more materialistic kind than the mighty surf. We found the Maui Brewing Company just after marvelling at a rarely seen Tesla showroom. The beer we could afford….just!

I really believed it was heaven on earth the last time I came but now the visitors seem to swamp the lovely, smiley, warm-hearted local people. It really is the 50th State of America and the Polynesian Villages seem to be just places for the tourists. I have had a lovely time but find my memories perhaps a little flawed. Maybe I left it too long to return and missed the changes during the intervening years.

It’s been lovely to see you, Hawaii, but now we are homeward bound. 5 am departure from the hotel and then flights to Los Angeles, Heathrow and Manchester. It’s been an amazing adventure over the last month and I can’t believe it is coming to an end…..until the next time.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Let’s get the jokes out of the way first… Hawai’i (note the apostrophe) makes me think of a Geordie asking, “How are yi?” Similarly, #sorry, Waikiki prompts me inwardly to ask, “Why not kiki?!”

Enough, we all cry.

We are towards the end of the longest holiday I’ve ever been on. Until last year but one, my longest holiday was a fortnight. However, when Ann and Kath mulled over this trip, I went along with it. Good decision? Yes, certainly!

This is our final holiday destination as we begin our flight back early tomorrow morning. The thrill of crossing the International Date Line masked the crossing of the Equator back into the Northern Hemisphere. To be honest, I only realised this when I suddenly recovered my sense of direction walking along the beach here. The position of the Sun is more important to me than I thought. Similarly, it’s a tick-off for me in that, when we get back to Manchester, we will have circumnavigated the globe!

So, what of Hawai’i…

I don’t think I had a clear expectation. Other than Hawaii Five-0 (the original!) and Elvis’ Blue Hawaii etc., I didn’t have much idea of what the place was like.

However, it’s somewhat akin to those memories except they’ve commercialised, gone bigger, brasher and, frankly, lost some of the tropical magic. Of course, we are greeted everywhere with, “Aloha!” but I wonder whether even that is just for the tourists. Waiters and waitresses alternate, after you’ve ordered with, “You got it!” or “My pleasure!” Talking of tourists, predominantly they are from the Far East – Japan, China and South Korea – with a much larger proportion of teenage girls than would be found in most resorts. Honolulu has a strong historical connection with those countries and, certainly, this U.S. State is very different from all 49 others.

Our ‘hotel’ is, genuinely, a village. Aptly called Hilton Hawaiian Village, it has more shops than St. Anne’s, I’m sure. It runs like clockwork and covers all 24 hours on the clock. So much to see and do without going off the campus. But, we did… on campus, we fo7nd Rainbow Tower (with the tallest mosaic in the world), Rainbow Lenai and Rainbow Bazaar with our own relatively tame Rainbow!

We walked along the beach, paddled in the Pacific, swam in one of the pools and indulged in laying in the sun. As we, also, needed to visit an Apple shop down the road, we found the most impressive Mall I’ve seen. The quality of the shops, eateries etc. was cosmopolitan and upmarket, indeed. We had spotted, whilst walking in the midday sun some quirky trolley buses and we decided to get one to return to the hotel. After missing the first call for our hotel, we stayed on board and had a great trip round nighttime Waikiki. Serendipity and worthwhile.

On the beach, we spotted an outrigger, Honolulu Police (without an Hawaii Five-0 sign and more. As we return to the UK, the memories will stay fresh for many years and these blog posts and photos will help. We, also, saw Diamond Head the name of the volcano and the hotel block we stayed in. Compare Elvis’ backdrop to my own photo.

Curiosity – the smell. We couldn’t place it. Possibly vegetable, flowers? Not floral, though. But, could be something else. Not sure.

Aloha!

 

Returning to Rotorua…

Returning to Rotorua…

Time to finally catch up on our day trip to Rotorua, which was so eagerly anticipated by me. The last time I did this trip I was on my own at the start of the biggest overseas tour of my life and, almost on a whim, I booked myself onto a coach trip to catch some of the things I would not see on my forthcoming cruise. Having had the most wonderful experience on that occasion, I was excited at the prospect of doing it again and sharing my enthusiasm with Carolyn and Ann. You know what they say about never going back?!…..

We had one of those tour guides/drivers who was the silent type! As we left Tauranga she talked a bit about Kiwi fruit, how millions were produced each year from this region and if you ate one anywhere else in the world it was likely to have been grown here. After that it was radio silence apart from complaining about the sulphur smell in Rotorua and urging us to be back on the bus quickly. No introduction to the places we were seeing, no information about the area, just a quick handover at each stop to a guide from the attraction. So, 40 people trying to hear what is being said by one guide on the move…….

 

Our first stop was lunch with an excellent performance by a group of Maoris. Ann met up with friends who emigrated from the UK and we all had just an hour before it was back on the bus ready to be decanted in a few minutes at Rainbow Falls. We saw lots of huge rainbow trout, various birds, lizards, etc, but it became apparent the ‘main event’ was the kiwi house. Of course, they are nocturnal birds, so very dim lighting and lots of “Shhhhh, don’t talk, they are sleeping”. Hmmm, lots of Americans on this trip. We did get our photo taken (with kiwis)….photoshop rocks!

 

Next was the wonderful Agrodome, which I had also visited. Lady bus driver issued tickets for sheep shearing show, already packed, so we craned necks and enjoyed what we could see. No time for the great trip around the farm I had so enjoyed, just a mad dash on the bus to the geo-thermal Park.

 

Nothing can spoil the majesty of the geysers but we were not cut loose to wander and were ushered for another talk on kiwis, followed by an in depth tour of the new Maori schools of woodcarving and weaving.

 

There were no details about Rotorua being the place where the earth’s crust is at its thinnest, nothing about the potential (and reality) of mud pools springing up overnight in the midst of houses and nothing about the training they need to give to children about not going into bushes to retrieve balls (in case of shrubs concealing boiling pools). So sad for those who had not enjoyed this really interesting information.

 

Our rapid return to our last night aboard Noordam contained one more stop: a photo opportunity to capture kiwi fruit vines!!!!

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Onwards and upwards. Rotorua, for me, is still a fascinating place, but then I know more about it. Auckland next for a couple of days.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Rotorua – pronounced, as best as I can write, as Rut-uh-rue-ha

We chose this excursion because of the Geographer in our midst as well as trying to recreate Kath’s memories. Ann, having taught about volcanoes, earthquakes, geysers, mud pools etc., thought she’d like to see them. Well, we did. We saw them, smelt them and felt them… just the moisture as the water vapour condensed. It was worth visiting although, as Kath indicated, we were disappointed at a number of levels and have put in a complaint to the cruise company about it.

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Nevertheless, looking at the positives,… we did get to see three kiwis. They were larger than I thought they were and we were reminded of the Kiwi Shoe Polish with an old advertising sign.

The Maori ‘traditional’ show we saw was excellent and better than the one on our ship. The passion that old and young feel for their culture is palpable in so many people. No more so by our guide at geo-thermal park who is having her chin tattooed to add to her tribe’s tattoos on her arms. This is called a ‘moko kauae’, Some traditions, in my view, are worth changing, perhaps.

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The Agrodome show – the parts we saw – were very impressive. The sheep dogs stole the show from the sheep and the sheep shearer. The New Zealand shepherds have moved from collies to hounds for shepherding and the barking to order (and silence on command) was as memorable as the doors running over the sheep’s back without them apparently, even flinching. Different breeds of sheep with the Marino the crowd’s favourite. The crown, by the way, predominantly Oriental. Interesting.

The kiwis in the photoshopped commercial photo weren’t real but the ones we actually saw were… except the stuffed one our guide had named Stuffy for obvious reasons. Stuffy had been killed some time ago and had been stuffed, albeit with only one eye!

A disappointing day but still not a waste. It’s just it could have, and should have, been better.

Finally, though, the falls had to be called RAINBOW FALLS and Kath was at her best. They even ‘gave’ us (when we paid!) a calendar.

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From Sounds to Fiords

From Sounds to Fiords.

 

2CCA1700-391B-44B2-BF86-0973654AA358There is a geographical difference between a Sound and a Fiord and we experienced both, but, for the purpose of the blog, let’s just say that we sailed through narrow channels of water, overlooked by towering mountains and close enough to feel the spray of a cascading waterfall. This adventure began at 6 am as the hardy souls amongst us spilled out onto the foredeck and waited for the dawn’s light to reveal the entrance to Milford Sound.

We were forewarned that this was one of the wettest places on Earth, but rain would add to the drama, the waterfalls and the almost ethereal quality of the vistas. And so it was. Wreaths of cloud clung to the mountains and the Sounds were largely silent, apart from the cry of sea birds. Dramatic indeed. Full marks to the navigator for taking us so close to the waterfalls and swinging the ship around 360 degrees to ensure everyone was almost close enough to bathe in the spray.

From Milford Sound we sailed into Doubtful Sound. It was doubtful that the sun would shine but….there were signs. By the time we had eaten lunch, watched an excellent Maori cultural show and enjoyed a rendition of the Hakka, we were cruising into Dusky Sound under bright blue skies and warm sunshine.

 

So, the dramatic, rain spattered photos of this morning became the picture postcards of this afternoon!! At 4.30 we were back in open water and cruising towards our next stop, Port Chalmers, from where we can pick up a shuttle bus to Dunedin.

Happy days in Hobart

Happy days in Hobart

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I know I have commented before on the blog about the friendliness of the Aussie folks but it is worth saying again that the people in Tasmania have, time and again, proved this to be a fact. Our time in Hobart, especially the day trip we took, was delightful.

We felt the need to see something of the Hobart area and selected a tour which covered a variety of activities. Our coach, along with a fabulous guide (a lady of a certain age) took us to Shene, a country estate restoration project where we found a couple whose lives were now dedicated to restoring an historic country estate. This dynamic duo, originally from Queensland, have brought their skills and enthusiasm to restoring the homestead and converting barns and outbuildings into function rooms and a distillery, now producing award winning gin and whisky. I had to smile as we saw the main house, still being lovingly restored, still with evidence of damp problems and still minus a proper kitchen…and then we visited the husband’s domain, the distillery, with its state of the art, gleaming machinery and no expense being spared. I hope they go on to achieve the even greater success their passion for the project deserves. I will watch out for an opportunity to buy Poltergeist Gin in the future – it has already won awards in London and San Francisco.

If anyone is put off visiting Australia by the thought of spiders, let me introduce you to one I found near the distillery.  Now that really is a big boy (or girl!).

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Our next stop was Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, another passionate project by a guy who is caring for indigenous animals as well as some who may be native to Australia but not Tasmania (koalas, wombats, etc). He has opened an animal hospital there and collects ‘casualties’ from across the state. Although many of the animals are nocturnal, most were happy to ‘appear’ so we saw the reclusive Tasmanian Devil at close quarters, a hungry and very cute wombat, a couple of dozing koalas and then happily fed the very docile kangaroos who loved having their chests tickled. Fabulous.

From there we went to a small historic town (Richmond) which comprises a single Main Street of shops and cafes. It was well worth the stop if only for the delights of an iced coffee, rich with home made ice cream. It is one of those towns with historic buildings, including a gaol, which just cry out to be looked at and admired.

The final visit was to a local wine producer who creates a whole variety of wines under the label ‘Puddleduck’. We sampled merrily but found only one which suited our palates. This might have been our lucky break as the cost of shipping a case back to England was well over £200 and bringing wine on board ship incurs a charge of $18 US per bottle. The initial cost of a bottle was more than double the cost of a good supermarket offering at home, so we left without buying any. Sad in a way as this was a family concern – we met two of them – and, again, they had the same passion for their work we had experienced at the previous stops.

We couldn’t resist the opportunity to get off the ship again and take an evening stroll around Hobart Harbour. It’s the only place on our voyage where we have had a couple of days in port. As we leave here, our next ports of call will be in New Zealand, so new experiences and much more to enjoy.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

It takes something special to make me feel ‘Wow!’ Having a kangaroo eat out of my hand and almost have a ‘conversation’ with me was one of those moments. The experience was symbiotic, it seemed. The kangaroo got fed and had its chest scratched – their small arms can’t reach – and I got so close to an animal which is iconic.

Well worth doing and the Animal Sanctuary does a great job. The day was another ‘scorcher’ as far as temperature was concermed and I smiled at the loos which instead of external doors, had chain curtains – albeit decorated with the ubiquitous stylised male and female figures.

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The other experiences of the day were, also, worth doing but, frankly, not as special for me.

Hobart is an interesting place and our guide was knowledgable and passionate about her town and state. In the recent history, they have had several natural problems but a significant manmade one was when a ship collided with the main bridge linking the two parts of the town. Attempting to go through the wrong span of the bridge, the ship collided and brought down the bridge. Cars plummeted into the river and multiple deaths occurred. The bridge, a five-lane highway, was out of action for a couple of years whilst engineers (and insurers) grappled with a ‘solution’. The destroyed pillar has not been replaced and the sunken wreck of the ship remains in the water where it sank. The bridge is, of course, fully repaired but now closed to all traffic when a ship is due to pass underneath as we observed last evening.

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Today began with rain but we ventured out after an early lunch as the weather cleared and meandered round the harbour and some of the town. Interesting statues illustrate the early journeys to the ‘bottom of the world’ and the Australian Antarctic Division is based here.

Two iced coffees (with cream!) made the free Wi-fi taste even sweeter to Ann and Kath.

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A final note as we eat ‘heartily’ as well as healthily… from the Bakery in Richmond…

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Sydney, 🎼🎶🎤“Don’t go changing…” Onwards to Melbourne.

 

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Our departure from Sydney felt quite sad but was clearly exciting as we were joining MS Noordam en route for Melbourne, Tasmania and New Zealand. We enjoyed the smoothest and most stress-free embarkation ever previously known and rushed to unpack, get our bearings (locate important points like food and drink) before taking part in the ubiquitous safety drill. They are quite strict on board Holland America ships. If you don’t take part, you can’t sail. Aye, aye Cap’n! But a stiff breeze blew up and off we went, under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, followed closely by the Opera House before waving to all the little bays and reaching a very strong swell; a clear indication we were turning into the ocean.

A lazy day at sea followed and I think we were all grateful to relax after our hectic few days, ease the muscles and catch up on some sleep. I still love being rocked to sleep by the motion of the ocean! Of course, we took part in ship board offerings but there was no pressure to be or to do.

Today dawned with a beautiful blue sky full of promise for a hot day in Melbourne. And, so it was. 27 degrees, hot sun and a fabulous day in one of Australia’s beautiful cities. It is very different to Sydney with much evidence through its majestic buildings of its colonial past. Museums chronicle its growth and origins whilst embracing the multiple cultures which make up its present.

Riding the free trams (complete with helpful commentary) was both informative and fun. Sights peaked out from lush foliage – how wonderful to be here in mid summer – and we were happy to soak up the information about where we could go if we were here for longer. We had to make do with a walk besides the Yarra River, the tram ride and a dive into some of the intriguing alleyways in search of a snack in the shade. An excellent day out…..Tasmania tomorrow.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Sydney always brings to mind – for me – the Tetley Tea men of TV advert fame. “Don’t go changing…” is one of the classics but, of course, Sydney, Australia is changing. It’s history is relatively brief in European terms but it is rich in culture both Aboriginal and, more latterly, settlers, immigrants and, as some think the derivation of ‘Pommies’, the prisoners of mother England, i.e. the sometimes minor criminals who were transported half way round the world. After penal labour, they could earn their freedom in the New World. Times have changed and are changing. Sydney is impressive. Vibrant, youthful, developing and, whilst we were there, hot!

But, we sailed away. Under the majestically impressive Sydney Harbour Bridge, watching, again, where Ann walked above, glancing for a final time, perhaps, at the Opera House, we sailed into the sunset bound for a day at sea and then to Melbourne.

Days at sea are an opportunity to catch up with chores and sleep! We sampled B.B. King’s Blues Club on our first night aboard and watched the ‘main entertainment’ show in the theatre last evening. More than reasonable quality but my preference is for live instruments as well as vocals. Also, a preference for beat, brash and bawdy.

Melbourne (remembering to shorten the final vowel to ‘…burn’) is another proud city. Proud of its past, secure in its present and confident of its future. Public sculpture celebrates the city’s eventful history and graffiti from the recent Equal Marriage referendum, together with a huge billboard reminding us of refugees and our responsibilities, bear testament to a social conscience. Its ‘gold rush’ days are celebrated with a gold topped skyscraper.

We rode one of the historic trams around the city centre which, as Kath indicated, was free. A clever way to encourage use of public transport as you are signposted to other (paid) trams crossing the city. Apparently, Melbourne is the city with the best and largest tramway system in the world. A pity we were only here for one day.

 

“We ain’t afraid of no bears……”

I said that today we were going on a bear hunt (excellent book which my grandchildren love), because Ann wanted to come face to face with a koala. And why wouldn’t she? Of course, Carolyn wouldn’t go along with the story because koalas are marsupials and not bears. Whatever!!

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So, “We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo”, except there are two. One required a ferry ride and the other a walk to Darling Harbour. Of course we walked…my legs are already short so why wouldn’t we go for further wear and tear? Said zoo offered a controlled walk around (just follow the path) and was simply showing Australia’s indigenous animals, birds, butterflies, reptiles and….marsupials. We ambled around, although I ran through the butterfly section as I cannot bear anything flying around me.

Various animals (in fact, most of them) completely ignored the visitors. Even the ‘Roos failed to hop over and, ever thankful for small mercies, the massive crocodile didn’t snap out of his trance-like state in his pond. Aptly named Rocky, he is a mean looking old boy. Finally, we got to the koalas and what were they doing? Sleeping in their trees. Anyway, cameras were poked in their general direction, one decided to eat his way through the leaves of his tree, whilst the others curled themselves up, oblivious to the keepers, visitors, noises, etc. Still, we had achieved our goal and Ann has seen koala bears (sorry, Carolyn).

We then happened upon the most amazing eatery in the midst of towering office blocks. Simply called ‘The Canteen’ it offered food from stall after stall, each with a particular theme. Between the three of us we chose an amazing salad, a panini with more filling than you can imagine, and roast beef on a bed of pasta. All excellent and we grabbed a small table and marvelled at the youth of our fellow diners. I suppose they are used to the tourists joining them.

We then elected to go off to do separate things. Ann wanted to explore the botanical gardens behind the Opera House, whilst Carolyn and I wanted to play hopping on and off ferries. We actually called in at Manly again for a last look at the surf and enjoyed a very exciting ride back as the ferry dipped and rolled in the large sea swell.

As tonight was our last evening in Sydney, we once again walked down to the harbour for dinner and, for me, a bottle of Dirty Granny cider. Our main aim was to see the city lights. Beautiful. Sadly for me, it is time to say goodbye as we join our cruise ship tomorrow and set forth on the next leg of our amazing tour Down Under.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

After seeing a significant number of artefacts in local tourist shops made out of ‘Kangaroo Scrotums’, all I could wonder was whether the plural should have been ‘Scrota’. Apparently, both are acceptable according to the OED et al. Although, Henry V also came to mind with “…balls, my Liege”! Aussies, eh?!

As Kath remarked, today has involved walking – quite a bit of it – again! However, despite our hotel being uphill (and steep albeit short) from Circular Quays, we ambled and breathed.

There are, of course, different views about zoos. In the centre of a city, the one we saw wasn’t a safari park by any means but the animals appeared to be very healthy and the zoo staff knowledgeable and caring. Koalas, Kangaroos and Cassowary, I’d seen but my favourite named animal was the Quokka followed by the Spotted-tailed Quoll.

Sometimes, some people got ‘silly’!

Our afternoon trip to Manly emphasised how small our world really is. As a couple walked past, their accent indicated their likely derivation from the UK. “Whereabouts in the UK are you from?”, I ventured. It transpired they were from the next village to where Ann was born and brought up! Small world!

With its aboriginal heritage and immigrant development, names of towns and districts seem to be either copied from the UK or variants of aboriginal words. ‘Woolloomooloo’ is a district of Sydney and we were told on our guided bus tour that it means small kangaroo. Needless to say, I had to research it and, apparently, it is actually derived from the name of the first homestead in the area, Wolloomooloo House, built by the first landowner John Palmer. There is debate as to how Palmer came up with the name with different Aboriginal words being suggested. Anthropologist J.D. McCarthy wrote in ‘NSW Aboriginal Places Names’, in 1946, that Woolloomooloo could be derived from either Wallamullah, meaning place of plenty or Wallabahmullah, meaning a young black kangaroo.
In 1852, the traveller Col. G.C. Mundy wrote that the name came from Wala-mala, meaning an Aboriginal burial ground. It has also been suggested that the name means field of blood, due to the alleged Aboriginal tribal fights that took place in the area, or that it is from the pronunciation by Aborigines of windmill, from the one that existed on Darlinghurst ridge until the 1850s.

So, there!

We now set off to board the MS Noordam and look forward to many more sights, smells and sounds which will include the music in B.B. King’s Jazz Club on the ship. The music to date has comprised of buskers by the Quay – classical pianist, guitarist and Irish hatted accordionist. The guitarist was inventive and excellent with a superb rendition of Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’. Great memories to take with us.

Ann’s additions

After a morning of Australian fauna, I followed this, to complete the picture, by an afternoon of Australian flora at the Royal Botanic Garden. It’s a refreshing walk right around the Opera House and along Farm Cove to Mrs Macquaries Point and ‘Chair’. It’s a rock formation, named after, Elizabeth, the wife of a former Governor, and an excellent photo opportunity – were it not for all those pesky tourists!

The gardens themselves are extensive and peaceful, especially the pond with, what I believe to be, lotus.
Many other garden flowers are such as you might find in England but taller and, therefore, more impressive. Most native trees are very tall, and many exceptionally old, but difficult to photograph successfully with an iPhone. This particular example of labelling had been commandeered by an avian occupant of the park! We visitors made the most of the photo opportunity!

A gentle stroll back to our hotel completed the afternoon and my Fitbit was pleased to report over 2,000 calories used! Result!