What I Did on My Autumn Vacation, Ep. 4

Given that I was (and am) a major fan of the Lord of the Rings movies–enough of a heretic to suggest that they are, in some ways better than the books–I would’ve had my Geek Card revoked if I didn’t visit the Hobbiton movie set while I was in New Zealand. After quite a bit of discussion and little success arranging said visit from the U.S., I found out Trafalgar offered the tour locally (it would’ve been nice if they’d said that in the first place, but that’s a discussion for another day). What follows are pictures and thoughts from the trip to Hobbiton and another tour I took out of Queenstown to some other LOTR sites. Enjoy! Continue reading “What I Did on My Autumn Vacation, Ep. 4”

What I Did on My Autumn Vacation, Ep. 3

Thanks to plate tectonics and an ice age or two splitting them away from the rest of the world’s land masses, Australia and New Zealand’s local wildlife had time to evolve differently. Suffice to say, there are some mightily curious critters down under, and I saw quite a few of them under varying circumstances.


At a rest stop in the Dandenong Hills, there was a spot where the cockatoos liked to hang out. My guess is that the birds figured out that the arrival of the large, noisy vehicles filled with humans meant they’d get fed. This fellow decided to jump up and pose for a picture. Oh, and the bird liked the idea, too…


Okay, I’m kidding on this one…this is an alleged stuffed Yeti, which appeared at the Ice Bar in Melbourne. I can check two boxes with this one picture: I went into a colder-than-necessary drinking establishment and got a photo of a mythical creature. Winning!
This python was on display at a rest stop in the middle of the outback…heaven only knows why.
Different rest stop, same premise: this is a cassowary, one of Australia’s prehistoric-looking birds. They’re a bit snappish, so feeding them wasn’t exactly encouraged.
You know what the outback had a lot of? Flies. Sand flies. Scads of them. And they like to head for any orifice on the human face in search of moisture: ears, nose, mouth…yeah, glad I wore the net that day.
This curiously colored pelican could be found at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures near Cairns, Queensland.
Hartley’s is home to some 3,000 crocodiles, both for conservation and farming purposes. Frown if you will, but crocodiles actually made a comeback thanks to Australia’s hunters, who saw the population dwindling due to uncontrolled hunting in the 1950s and 1960s. Farmed legally now (as alligators are in Florida), crocs are farmed for food in some cases and handbags in other cases.
In addition to crocodiles, Australia is home to something like 8 of the 10 most venomous snakes in the world. No, I don’t remember any of their names. I was on vacation, for gosh sakes! Anyhow, the good news is, like the American rattlesnake, they’re more interested in putting on a scary show so you back off and they have time to escape. Most people killed by snakes are middle-aged men locals who ought to know better than get near them, but they don’t.
One of Australia’s most distinctive critters is the kangaroo. A close(?) relative is the wallaby, which is a tad smaller…I believe this fellow is a wallaby,
Australia’s other most distinctive marsupial is the koala. These little guys spend most of their time eating and napping. They occasionally make sounds like a grumpy old guy waking up from a nap. I can relate.
Corals are, in fact, animals. They’re akin to tiny hydra-like critters that filter even smaller critters out of the ocean and grow together into massive reefs in a variety of curious shapes.
Like Orlando, Australia has its share of large-headed mascots. This critter was seen posing for photo opportunities by the Harbour.
Another artificial creature found in the Botanical Gardens were these custom-painted koalas. They’re just fun. This one was painted to look like a coral reef.
We stopped by another animal park, the name of which I can no longer recall, but they had a nice collection of birds. This owl wasn’t certain he wanted to be photographed.
No idea what this bird was, but he’s certainly different from the varieties I see in North America.
In the midst of all the excitement, I found a penguin. Sure, why not?
Another koala. The critters at this park were much more vocal. And most of what they were grunting sounded suspiciously like, “Get off of my lawn!”
One of the local turtles. Unlike the koalas, this one didn’t have much to say.
Yep, more snakes. I was one of the few people visiting the reptile house. Go figure.
This fellow caught my attention…he sort of looked like something out of the Mos Eisley Cantina…then I realized that his mouth was at the top of the picture. Still…weird.
Even the pigeons are different down under!
Again, I was rotten about taking notes during this part of my stay. These were somewhere between a vulture and pheasant in appearance.
Feeding time in the kangaroo pen. Kangaroo, like crocodile, is farmed for food, among other things. Yes, I did sample both critters as food items. The kangaroo was akin to bison–very lean.
Another ornery cassowary.
One of the local birds of prey–not too happy to be caught on film before his morning coffee.
Grey goose, green beak: like I said, critters were different down under.
Australian white ibis. I only know this one because we have a similar bird that likes to stroll around Epcot.
They have deer in Australia. Who knew?
Another bird not happy to see me. Sensing a pattern here.
Tree kangaroo. No, really!
Another grumpy bird. Or maybe it was just me.
Again, no idea what this bird is…except fluffy! No, I’m not going to be getting a job as a zoologist any time soon.
This is a dingo…on my short list of Australian critters I wanted to see. They looked and behaved a lot like domestic dogs.
One last grumpy Australian bird…buzzard of some sort, I believe. And no, he didn’t want me on his lawn, either.

New Zealand

Unlike Australia, New Zealand had few apex predators when human beings arrived (starting with the Maori around 1200 A.D.). It was, if anything, the world’s largest bird sanctuary. A couple birds died out thanks to the Maori–the Moa and the Haast Eagle, which preyed on it–and others like the Kiwi face threats from ferrets, which Europeans brought in to bring down the population of rabbits, which Europeans also brought in. Speaking of critters the Europeans brought in…

There’s no way around it: New Zealand has a LOT of domesticated livestock, primarily dairy cattle, sheep, and lamb. One 500-acre farm we visited had 540 cows! Meanwhile, in Australia, cattle ranches ran to the hundreds of thousands of acres, with 7+ acres of land per animal.
Yep: lots of cows!
This (simulated) critter is the national bird of New Zealand, the kiwi. It was used on a particular brand of shoe polish the New Zealand soldiers used during World War I, and so the nickname “Kiwi” migrated, so to speak, to the humans from that country. Anyhow, the kiwi birds are endangered and being hatched and raised in conservation sites before being brought back to the wild.
I had a devil of a time photographing the birds at the aviary connected with the kiwi sanctuary, but these critters had a pleasant, rainbow sheen to their feathers.
A native parrot. They were particularly elusive.
No idea what this bird is (yeah, I’m just dripping with wisdom), but it doesn’t look lifelike.
Looked like an oversized pigeon to me.
Mama duck and hangers-on.
This is a skink. Beyond that, I’ve got nothing.
Akin to a lizard, but not really…separated thanks to an evolutionary rift I missed.
Giant kiwi statue wearing the New Zealand “All Blacks” national soccer team uniform.
Saw this busy fellow near the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Sad that they’re now becoming rare.
Like to eat bottom feeders like clams? Well, this one has been at the bottom of a ship channel and takes its color from the things it eats. Where do you suppose those black stripes came from? Yeeee.
These are gannets, a seabird akin to the albatross, only much more plentiful. They come to nest on the coast of the North Island…by the thousands. You will note the lack of Porta-Potties. Know what gannets eat? Fish. Care to guess what the cliffs smell like? Yep…it’s like that.
Early December is actually early in nesting season…eventually there will be a lot more of these birds gathering here…without sanitary facilities. Yeeeee.
That said, gannets are graceful in flight.
This was the best shot I could get of the gannet’s coloring: white bodies, black wing and tail tips, brown heads.
My friends took me to “Sheep World,” where I got to learn about the mysteries of shepherding by some real pros (the dogs, not the humans). Some are trained to get the sheep to go in particular directions; others are trained to just get them moving once they’re already in a pen. This fellow is one of the precision herders.
This fence-walking dog is of the loud-barking variety. If the humans need the sheep moving from one pen to another, they call this guy.
I heard sheep population numbers in NZ ranging anywhere from 20 to 35 million. Any way you look at it, the sheep outnumber the humans by at least 4 to 1.
Here’s a chicken you don’t see very often. Wasn’t interested in giving interviews, however.
Shetland Pony.
These two characters were looking for a handout. Asses. 😉
Bad grooming, bad table manners…pig.
Another one looking for a handout. The nerve.
Deer were brought into NZ as well…originally as an aristocrat’s hunting sport, now more domesticated, like the kangaroo and crocodile in Australia.
Another chicken of a different color. Astoundingly small head/brain compared to its body.

Okay, so I’m not going to win any awards for bird watching or animal photography, but I had fun with the critters.

What I Did on My Autumn Vacation, Episode 1

So I’m back after three and a half weeks of being a tourist in the lands down under (Australia and New Zealand). I kept a journal during my time abroad and took a ridiculous 7,000 photos…however, eventually the reason for that will become clear. Feel free to read for enjoyment or just look at the pretty pictures. I will not post all 7,000. (You’re welcome.) Continue reading “What I Did on My Autumn Vacation, Episode 1”