First - This was a multi-part trip, so I'll deal with that first, then talk about Australia.
What a trip!
Well, actually four or more trips - depending on how one might count them. If you count new countries then we had four trips. If you count being in totally different locations with totally different weather, scenery and people, then we had a multitude of trips.
We started in Australia and after nearly two weeks, were off to New Zealand's south island. From the south island, we were off to the north island of New Zealand. I guess we were almost ten days in New Zealand all together. Then its on to Fiji for about three days.
I've got to tell you that recovery from this trip was staggering. Between maybe 18+ hours in the air - not counting airport time - gaining / losing hours and even days, it has took us four or more days to get back on schedule. If it were not for Jackie's planning, a day lay-over in Los Angeles, I don't know if I would have recovered yet.
Now - A few words about "groups".
Of course, you are part of a group the moment you join a tour. While Jackie and I often take off by ourselves, the tour group offers certain benefits that cannot be generated when you drive and plan your own route. But we've found "groups" within our tour group.
On one earlier trip to the Amazon, the tour group was very small, maybe 18 or 20 on our one boat. But within that group there was a group of between 8 and 10 who all were from one location, had collective interests, and were traveling together. Another "group" was a family of 5. In both instances, each group did not sit, walk or eat with others. In fact they were exceptionally upset if one sat at "their" table or sat in "their" bus seat. Made the trip very much less rewarding for those of us not in the "group".
On this trip there were two "groups". Out of 41 ( ouch - much, much too many! ) there were maybe a total of 6 of us "outsiders"; not a member of either group. However, both groups, while maintaining their group identities, were very open to including everyone and did break up to sit, walk and eat with everybody. The group from Minnesota, hearing us moan about "not belonging", adopted us and made us Honorary Minnesotans. What a bunch of jokers! Love them all.
Our guide in Australia, Luke Bonnie, was in our opinion one of the very best guides we ever encountered. Exceptionally knowledgeable and having done just about every athletic activity Australia and New Zealand offered, there was very little he didn't either know or have accomplished. We did finally see a bird in New Zealand he had read about, seen in pictures, but never encountered - score one for us! Very friendly and attentive. Thanks for the music - we listen to it often, and thanks for the fly masks, without which we would have gone nuts! Good on you, Mate!
On the subject of guides, we have only the highest for our man in Fiji - Daniel Vakadranu in Nadi Town, Nadi, Fiji Islands. Dan was stuck with both the guide effort - and this wasn't too difficult given our central location, the Bula Bus, the beach and everything in walking distance. HOWEVER, the admistrative duties were enou7gh to give you grey hair! Multiple phone calls, re-confirming every last thing, trying to line up your - done on "Fiji Time". Fiji Time is a fine way to live, but not to do travel business, but Daniel found a way. You'll have to ask about barding the final fight home - thank God for Daniel! We return your "A BIG BULA TO YOU!" from your last email.
Australia - another word for diversity