From Abel Tasman we first went to Nelson and then took a longer less mountainous route and quite suddenly found ourselves in Marlborough Valley and had to stop for drinks. We liked the Moa (named after the giant extinct Moa bird) brewery which served a range of ciders and stocked Allen Scott wines from next door. Which suited Jo and me!

We stayed at the town of Picton in a hundred year old house built and owned by an Italian family (so I learned to make a nice cup of latte). The house had a great view of the sea front which is the gateway to the lovely Marlborough Sounds.

We explored trails and walked along the sea and Evan accidentally turned over a rock to discover the fascinating ecosystems of tidal basins. Then it was hard to get Gunaraj and Evan away from the tidal pools. They must have turned over a hundred rocks between them.

I savored the two prized products of the Marlborough Sounds and the Marlborough Valley – green lipped mussels and Cabernet Sauvignon – at every meal, and eventually combined them to cook a nice dish of steamed mussels in wine broth.

We said good bye to Rajeeta and Gunaraj and they headed back to Austin. We enjoyed our time with them. Lucky for us along with farewells came hellos and Utsa, my cousin, dropped in for a few days from Wellington where she lives.

We stopped at the St. Clair family estate with Utsa, enjoyed some great wine and food among the vines, and then set off on a seven hour drive to Christchurch.

Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman was the first white man to find New Zealand. He was Dutch. The Dutch were like the Xerox PARC of the 16th and 17th centuries. If they could have held on to what they found, New Yorkers (New Amsterdamers), Australians (New Hollanders), South Africans, and New Zealanders would be all speaking Dutch today (many Capetonians do speak Afrikaans, a version of Dutch, but you get the idea).

The bit of land protruding out between Golden Bay and Tasman Bay along the north coast of New Zealand’s South Island is a national park named after Abel Tasman. And this was my destination. Because it’s where a lush rain forest descend from green mountains to meet the aquamarine seas on golden beaches.

Golden Bay

We reluctantly left our beach house and drove off towards our next destination – the Abel Tasman National Park. Along the way we stopped and zip lined over the Buller River and then at a small town called Murchison in the middle of nowhere we ran into Rajeeta and Gunaraj while we were filling up on petrol.

We set up camp at a nice newish Airbnb house on top of a hill near the town of Motueka with great views of Nelson bay and the town of Nelson on the other side. The mountains above Nelson and the constantly changing colors of the bay provided foregrounds for dramatic sunsets and moonrises (and I guess sunrises and moon sets too but I wasn’t up early enough for those).

One day we visited Te Waikoropupu, a spring popularly called just Pupu. Contrary to the name, this spring produces some of the cleanest water on earth. When scientists tested how clear this water is, they found that the only water optically clearer is in a deep well in Antarctica. Pupu spews up 14,000 liters of this ultra pure water per second. Back when white people first came here they discovered gold. At that time they used the spring water to separate gold from the ore. Today’s environmentally smart Kiwis value the clean water more and you aren’t allowed to swim, boat, wade, touch, or dip a container into the springs.

New Zealand in recent years has tried more than any other colonizing white people to try and keep the indigenous culture alive. Maori is an official language and towns, mountains, rivers, and lakes often have Maori names. But it’s hard to say if it’s a token gesture or the real thing. Kia Ora is used often and is the NZ version of Aloha, and says just about as much or as little about New Zealand’s Maoriness. Maoris are hard to spot in places where tourists go. Someone told me that at their hotel the night porters are Maori. We could tell from government messaging that drugs and alcohol were issues in the Maori population. Which are probably all indications that, as much as New Zealand respects Maori culture and the All Blacks do the haka before international rugby tests, the Maori are still a ways from being masters of their own fate in their own lands.

We continued northwards from Pupu and ended up at Golden Bay in a small town with a beach and we saw the most amazing rainbow. Rainbows usually seem so distant. This one was right there. One end looked as if it had plopped down on cows in a pasture. You could literally see cows walking through rainbow light. The other end was on the beach. Evan ran through it (from our perspective, though for him the rainbow would appear to keep moving further away).

We get our kicks where we can. An unexpected rainbow is just the kind of thing you can’t plan for. As our year goes on, I believe that as long as the big things are okay, it’s the little things that brings a smile on our faces.

Beach House

For our last two days on the Wildcoast, we stayed put by the beach in a remote house, an old timber-frame building with hand hewn beams in the middle of nowhere with a small lawn and a bay all to ourselves.

We cooked (luckily, no grabby odors this time), ate, drank wine, read, explored, sketched, studied, and rested by the thundering waves crashing on black rocks, the sound of the ocean, and the rise and fall of the tides. I could have stayed here for a week or a month.

Franz Josef Glacier

From Haast we drove north along the coastline toward our next night’s destination, the tiny town and glacier named Franz Josef.

Along the way we saw dozens of construction projects where they were fixing the highway from the recent floods. Torrential rains and raging flash floods had washed away sides of mountains and sections of the highway as it wound its way past rocky cliffs and over creeks. The Kiwis call these slips. As in “[orange triangle with exclamation mark] Slips Ahead”. These and traditional one lane bridges where you wait for oncoming traffic to clear kept us entertained and me wide awake at the wheel.

We took a slight diversion to visit the famous Lake Matheson, the most photographed lake in the country. On a good day the snow clad Mount Cook rears up dramatically over the lake and at an even better moment the lake obliges by being perfectly still to create a beautiful mirror-like reflection of the mountain. No such luck with mountain or lake but we took a beautiful walk around the lake and a very nice lunch at the park cafe. And I got a really nice photo of a fiddlehead!

Had we been more dedicated and luckier, like Gary, here’s what it could have looked like (thanks,

Franz Josef Glacier was impressive, not because of the bit of craggy ice on the mountain side slowly succumbing to gravity but because of how pitiful it looked compared to a few years ago. Long before Vivian or Evan bring their kids here, this glacier will be just a memory and a few old signs with photographs of what it used to look like. A glacier museum like a museum for dinosaur bones.

We spent a few hours hiking up a long and wide glacial valley to the receding glacier – a few decades earlier we could have been lazier and just looked at it out of our cars in the parking lot.

On the walk back we admired the steep sides of the valley. The kids horsed around on rocks beautifully eroded by the glacier. And Evan made us trek down to the stream of ice melt, almost white as milk to see if it really was cold. It was.

Later that night we went to the woods to see glow worms, came back to our Airbnb and cooked salmon, and spent the rest of the night and next morning ridding the house of the smell of cooking salmon. The house, for some strange reason, really grabbed on to cooking odors like Trump on pussy, in spite of being surrounded by large windows that opened to a beautiful yard. Jo finally won, as she usually does. Her secret? Slow-brewed cranberry tea with fresh lemon.

Driving to the Coast

We checked out of our Airbnb and drove to the beautiful little town of Arrowtown just north of Queenstown and rented bicycles. For the next two hours we rode along a dirt track that traversed the Arrow river 4 times, two of them on dramatic narrow suspension bridges called swing bridges here.

Vivian took a dramatic tumble off her bike when she went around a corner too fast and ended up head first off the trail. But luckily she got away with just a bit of road rash. In the last picture she’s pointing to where it happened. The ride ended up being just a tad long for Evan but he powered through and we rewarded ourselves with a great lunch at The Fork and Tap, a lovely old stone pub. Then we headed off to drive around the South Island for the next two weeks.

First stop was a tiny settlement called Haast. To reach it we drove past dramatic lakes and blue pools of glacial water, and followed the winding Makarora and then the Haast rivers through dense temperate rain forests and stands of fern trees, arriving there just before sunset.

New Zealand

When we landed in Queenstown airport and stepped out on the tarmac and gazed around at the green meadows and the jagged peaks of the Remarkables rising up above us, Vivian took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then she said “If Australia is Tom Holland, then New Zealand is Chris Hemsworth”. Pause for five seconds to look around in awe again. Then “which is ironic because Chris Hemsworth is Australian.”

If you didn’t get that and I wouldn’t if Vivian hadn’t trained me, it means that Australia is nice to look at and New Zealand is gorgeous.

We spent two days in Queenstown. Our Airbnb apartment that I booked just before departing Sydney had an amazing view of the lake and mountains in front. We met Rajeeta and Gunaraj for dinner. The next morning we drove up to the two nearby ski places for the view. The wind almost blew us off Coronet Peak and it snowed on us at the Remarkables. The kids found it hilarious that this was summer in New Zealand. That evening Evan convinced us to spend some time in a fully immersive VR game where we shot zombies.

We could have spent a couple of weeks in Queenstown. And we didn’t venture towards Milford Sound, New Zealand’s most picture prefect spot, because we didn’t have enough time. You travel for a whole year and still your most scarce resource is time.

New Year’s Eve Party in Sydney

We considered going to Hyderabad for the New Year’s Eve party at the Secunderabad Club. But we visited Hyderabad for Diwali. Instead, it looked like we’d be in Australia for NYE. So, long before we had airplane tickets or accommodation for Australia Jo bought us tickets for a family-friendly circus-themed NYE party at the Royal Botanic Gardens overlooking the Harbour bridge and the opera house in Sydney.

About one million people line the bay to see the fireworks at Sydney each year. We got our boxed dinners and we spread our king-sized comforter cover (that we acquired for this, and to double as a beach towel). I bought a bottle of sauvignon blanc and we settled back to wait.

Along the bay there are some prime viewing locations where they allow people to come early and sit on their spot. We saw people lining up early in the morning for these spots. Later we saw them setting up golf umbrellas and supplies to last them all day till midnight. When we arrived at the Botanic Gardens close to 8pm, the streets where closed to vehicular traffic and people were thronging the bay. It was all orderly and everyone was chill and respectful of others.

Back in our section, some people knew what to do. Regular lawn chairs aren’t allowed but the type that are low to the ground that look like sawn-off lawn chairs were popular. So were these inflatable cocoon like things that looked light yet comfortable. And a few had brought king-sized full-on inflatable beds and had really settled in.

A little after 9pm there was the smaller fireworks for kids and people who dont stay up till midnight. These were a good bit better than what we see in Austin for New Year’s or 4th of July. Then the music picked up and Vivian and Jo and I went to the makeshift dance floor. A bit later, Vivian and I were dancing when she said “Dad – look at that boy in the yellow t-shirt. Isn’t he cute?” When I nodded she took off through dance floor to the edge where this kid about her age was sitting with his parents. I watched her lean over and ask him. Then he and his parents huddled for a few words. A moment later Yellow t-shirt and Vivian were holding hands and making their way to the floor. I quietly slipped back to our spot and retold what had just happened to Jo, my heart filled with admiration and a tinge of sadness.

The fireworks at midnight were spectacular. Then the grand finale blew us all away. The Harbour Bridge becomes a giant rack from which a dazzling array of pyrotechnics light up the land and the sea and the sky. Barges are towed to under the bridge and there’s fireworks flying off the barges every second. At the end, the entire width of the bridge erupts in a shower of golden sparks that slowly fall down to the bay below as if the bridge was the top of a waterfall of fire. This carries on for several minutes while the crowd cheers madly.

Then it is over and the four of us become a part of the million man march away from the bay. We walk past St. Mary’s cathedral, through Hyde Park, and up the hill at William Street to Kings Cross and home, pondering the human need for celebration and the desire to arbitrarily mark the beginning of a circle, and the year that is past, and the one new one that is upon us.


We can smell the smoke as we drive into Sydney. The air quality is worse than Delhi’s. At subway stations giant TVs show images of fire, fire fighters, and rescued koalas. The sun looks red at 4pm, five hours before sunset. Yet, besides the smokey air, life seems normal. Australia is a very big country – we never saw any fires or even rising smoke except from one overlook in the Blue Mountains about a 100 km west of the city.

The next day a gust of cleaner air blows some of the smoke away and there are occasional patches of blue in the sky. Australia has been accused of being one of the worst climate change offenders in the world today. They suffer from the same problem as Norway or Canada in one way – they are a major global exporter of fossil fuel (coal in Australia’s case). Unlike Canada and Norway, Australia is closer to the US in another way. It is led by a climate change denying anti science government. This means Australia is fucking over the climate both at home and around the world. Still, it may or may not be their own climate change karma that is leading to these fires. Assigning blame is easier than assigning causation.

Smokey skies aside, Sydney is a nice city. The metro transit is super easy to use. You don’t need to buy tokens or tickets or cards. Your tappable credit card is your ticket. One day we went to the burbs to watch an Australian premier league soccer game and we got free round trip metro travel included in the ticket.

In Sydney we are in a neighborhood called Darlinghurst. It’s very gay and busy and filled with great food. Downstairs from the apartment is an Israeli cafe. A block away we enjoy wine and dinner at a Vietnamese pho place. Across from a popular wienerschnitzel restaurant there’s a gelato bar with a line out the door all day. There’s kebab, Indian, and Thai restaurants around every corner and a great Portuguese flame roasted spicy chicken chain with outlets everywhere. Even the small Woolworth grocery stores next to the metro entrances are well stocked. Australians still favor speciality stores, so there are individual meat, fruit, flower, bread, chemist, and other stores.

Because we are within walking distance of the Sydney Harbour we spend a good bit of time around there. We see the famous opera house, the harbour bridge, and take ferries from the ferry terminal. Either because we were close to the New Year Eve celebrations or because it’s high season (it is summer and the schools are closed) or perhaps because it’s like this all year, the area around the harbouris like a zoo. It feels like there are more people here than in the rest of Australia. A lot of visitors and tour groups are from China, clearly a country on the rise. In the first photo you can see the orange tint from the smoke. Other days, the skies were bluer.

One day we drove out to the Blue Mountains about two hours away. The views were beautiful but the air was hazy with smoke. We spent more time in the picturesque little towns along the way than in the national park because it was so darn hot. The town of Katoomba has a striking street mural scene. There was a cafe in Wentworth Falls we liked so much that we had breakfast and returned for lunch. That evening the news informed us that Australia experienced its hottest day on record. The next day it broke the record again.

One morning we took the ferry out to Manly beach. Sydney harbour is situated in a bay and is about 10-15 km from the open pacific coast. Manly is on the ocean front. The beach was packed. Australians know how to do a beach day.

The next day I hiked one of Sydney’s famous walks – the Split to Manly coastal track – 12 km of beauty along secluded beaches and coves and over cliffs with dramatic views.

Another day we went to see the street art in Newtown, a slightly gritty but hip neighborhood south west of downtown.

For our final few days in Sydney we moved from the apartment in Darlinghurst to a hotel on Coogee beach. Coogee is two beaches south of its more famous and bigger cousin, Bondi beach (which, I learned is Bond-eye, and not Bond-ee). Till now we’ve been happily amazed at how empty Australia’s beaches are. Even the busiest beach on the Gold Coast or in Western Australia or even in Melbourne never seemed crowded. That’s because everyone is at Coogee and Bondi. I took a picture of a pedestrian crossing at Coogee beach. Look at the people streaming to the beach. And the last two photos are taken a few hours apart from our hotel as the beach starts filling up. Australia is a country of outdoor-loving sun-worshipping beach people. Which explains why we love it!

During our time in Sydney we also hit a low – the kids drove us crazy. All they wanted was to be on their devices. The travel skills they had picked up in the previous five months seemed to have vanished. They seem to have lost their curiosity and any initiative. They were either fully absorbed in themselves or sulky. Moments of family fun and joy were few and far between hours of tension. I have always appreciated the job teachers and schools do, but now I realize that they also save parents and kids from each other!

We had a family conference where Jo and I explained our frustration and told them that we were considering packing up and returning to Austin after New Zealand which was the last place we had already committed to visiting. More than being upset we were disappointed. We agreed to see how things went in our two weeks in NZ and then make a decision.

Driving Down the South Coast

We drove over two days from the Gold Coast to Sydney through some beautiful scenery and small towns, stopping occasionally to drive up to a view point or for food or gas. We spent the night at a small beach town called Port Macquarie. There was what we’d call an RV park just up the path from the hotel along the river where it met the beach with every spot taken. Hundreds of kids played in a open grassy area and a small skate park. Almost in all cases they weren’t with their parents or grownups which itself was unusual and refreshing. The breakwater along the estuary is lined with boulders along the path and every boulder is painted with some sort of a message. Family names, memorials, we-were-here, wisecracks – they made for fun reading.

At Port Macquarie Vivian and Evan found a beautiful giant ficus tree to climb on the way to dinner. As they climbed higher, especially Vivian, I gently reminded them that coincidentally today, December 28th, is exactly one year since Vivian fell out of a tree in New Braunfels and broke her arm. Seems ages ago.

Speaking of trees, at several places along the highway we saw a lot of forests scorched by the recent fires. We couldn’t see or smell smoke but this stretch between Brisbane and Sydney had a lot of active fires. Australia is a huge country and even a small section of it is a lot of ground. We checked websites for information about highway closures but everything was good. This was before the Australian bush fires was international news and the mortality numbers were low. There was some news coverage about the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, vacationing in Hawaii instead of being at home in Australia even as local often volunteer fire fighters battled hundreds of blazes.

Along the highways we saw a lot of signs warning drivers against fatigue. This is unusual. In the US any PSA messaging along the highways usually is focused on drunk driving. They even have signs directing drivers to rest areas (stopping bays) that had “Driver Reviver” stations. We got curious and checked one out and found a nice food truck serving great quality coffee. I bought myself an espresso and drove on feeling much revived.

As we neared Sydney we also approached the end of our great Australian road trip. Though we flew between Perth, Melbourne, and Brisbane, we had a car at each of those places and have covered a few thousand kilometers of Australian highways. We turned in our car in Sydney airport and got ready for the urban part of our trip. In Sydney we’ll use public transport and Ubers.