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11/28: Sydney- Taxi from airport; fare under $50. Had been earlier unable to get response from any shuttle companies online. Went directly to Marriott Harbor Circular Quay from airport. Excellent location; walking distance to wharf and Opera House. Had lunch at their Custom House Bar outside in the back. Good food, semi-self service. Restaurant in hotel is higher priced, not good service.
11/29: Sydney- Took Blue Mountains tour with Anderson Tours. Was fairly inclusive and lasted all day. Driver was a total flake: late on pick-up; never, ever stopped talking; took way too much time with boomerang demo; left A/C on with engine off and killed battery; guests had to push the bus to get it started! With all of the delays we almost missed the boat back down river to the harbor. Ended up having to take ferry to get back to Circular Quay. Definitely an outfit to avoid.
12/2: Tasmania- Rented car from Thrifty; very short walk from pier. Wanted GPS with rental; first one did not work at all; second one worked but we wished it didn't. It had such a hard time getting a signal that it usually announced turns well after an intersection. Then it insisted on sending us north for a southerly destination, killing a lot of time. When we returned the car, agent tried to charge us for “damage” to car; pointed out a nick on front bumper so small I had to bend over to even see it. I have rented cars in many countries and have had agents refuse to even take note of spots larger than this. After much arguing, the manager stepped in and decided the spot was so small as to not be worth the paperwork. Frankly, I think it was a “gouge the American” scam. (Note: this was an extreme aberration in contrast to otherwise wonderful experiences with the Aussies and Kiwis. They are really nice folks.)
12/6: Dunedin- Toured with Mark Dixon of Awesome Tours. Can not say enough good about this one. Great service, friendly, knowledgeable fellow who was quite flexible and willing to please. Among other locations, we went to Nature’s Wonders to see the seals and penguins. This was a great ride in the 8-wheeler. Guide was excellent; both knowledgeable and caring of the wildlife. Really helped us see the wildlife without being too intrusive.
12/7: Akaroa- Tender site and almost did not get to shore because of bad weather. Finally got there after lunch when the weather cleared. Pre-reserved harbor tour had been cancelled. Walked around town a bit. Not much to see, mostly small shops.
12/8: Wellington- Took the cable car up to the Botanical Gardens and then strolled down to town. Easy, beautiful walk down. Rose gardens were spectacular. Had lunch at Logan Brown restaurant. One of the two best meals of the trip. Far better than the ship’s food. Pricey, though.
12/9: Napier- Took shuttle to I-site and then went with Bay Tours to see Art Deco, strawberry farm, chocolate factory, and waterfall on river. Short visit, but decent tour.
12/10: Tauranga- Had prebooked with Carlton Tours. Eight-person excursion included Rotorua with the Maori site and thermal area with geysers. Good value tour.
12/11: Bay of Islands- Another tender site and another bad weather day. With tender delays, there was not a lot of time, but the weather made it not really matter. Shame, really. Could have skipped going ashore.
12/12-14: Auckland- Stayed at Crowne Plaza Hotel, in area near Sky Tower. Visited Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World and Antarctic Encounter. Nicely done aquarium with very close views of king and gentoo penguins. Had lunch at the French Café (opens for lunch in December only; call ahead for reservations.). Spectacular meal but restaurant hard to get into. We definitely lucked out. Got a "Discount Cab" to airport arranged by hotel. At $35, a good deal.
Auckland: If you like Thai food, the nearby Mai Thai restaurant is good. For Indian, try Raviz (one nearby and one near the harbor). To go to Kelly Tarlton's, there is a free shuttle from the harbor which looks like a great white shark which has swallowed a bus. In the harbor area, Portofino has mediocre Italian food, but Mecca next door is top rated by Frommer. Unfortunately, we ate at the former, not the latter. Back at the Crowne Plaza, Sierra (adjacent to the hotel lobby) has great coffee and light dishes at much more reasonable prices than the hotel itself. Good breakfast spot. For the Discount Taxi, have the hotel registration desk make a reservation for you and also a wake-up call, if needed. If you go to the French Cafe, definitely take a cab.
Anderson Tours in Sydney: They may indeed be good, but our driver (Marcel, I believe) would best be avoided.