World Wonders Cruise Diary – Day 26 – Rotorua, New Zealand

Cruise day 26 – Jan 30

Visit Rotorua (Port of Tauranga), New Zealand –

Rotorua, our third port stop in New Zealand

Another brief stop at a beautiful place that we wished we had a lot more time to explore.  As all cruisers know, although cruising has many upsides for travelers, one downside is that the stops are too short – usually one full day (or less) each.  Another downside is that your visits are restricted to each destination’s port area, which may or may not reflect the situation in areas further away.  Some excursions make an effort to describe areas beyond the port, but it’s certainly not the same as being there.

“Kia Ora”, or “Welcome to Tauranga”, say the two Red-billed gulls

On this stop we arrived early in the morning and left before 5:00pm – too short!.  We took a 10:00am bus tour, and if I had made more of an effort, we could have hiked nearby Mount Maunganui in addition to our excursion.  But I had previously reserved a massage for my recovering back before I knew there was a nice mountain here.  My bad!

Better planning would have allowed us to hike Mount Maunganui from the ship 😦
Forestry is big business here, exporting logs to China and Japan

Anyway, the driver/guide was excellent in his description of the history, culture and current status of Rotorua.  Although the city has a population of 140,000+, it’s fairly spread out and we got a good vibe about the place:

We passed a “Holiday Park” (RV Park) along the way.  No rigs as big as Betsy here!
Tall hedges protect Kiwi plantations from brutal winds

Just a sample of interesting million-dollar homes overlooking the bay:

Seven figures, (known as poupous) were created on Tauranga’s strand to represent Matariki (only five remain).
These trees are called New Zealand Christmas tree because it produces a brilliant display of red flowers in December

There was a short stop at a nearby historic village where we were able to stretch our legs a bit.  It held a collection of original and replica buildings from early Tauranga.  The character buildings contained the galleries and shops of local artists, offering classes and workshops.  It was another rushed excursion; we had only 30 minutes to look around:

A beautifully rebuilt church preserves special original features

Back on the ship, we hurried to check out the Noodle Bar special at the Pool Grille – gonna be another yummy night!

The Pool Grille is an informal place that serves lunch and dinner, plus excellent themed specials

Sailing onward, our cruise director advised that we were passing White Island, an active volcano where several cruise tourists were killed during an eruption last Dec 9th:

Guests ran to the starboard side for a picture of the island
The White Island volcano is still active, no more excursions there!

A beautiful sunset tops off another day of sailing along New Zealand:

 



 

World Wonders Cruise Diary – Days 24,25 – Auckland, New Zealand

Cruise days 24,25 – Jan 28,29

This is our first cruise stop in a big city (Auckland has a population of almost two million), and we spent two days here while the ship was re-stocked with supplies and personnel.  It gave us a chance to get updated about life and culture around the port and downtown since our last visit 14 years ago – also on a cruise.  Big things have happened, that’s for sure!

Good Morning, Auckland!

We docked early in the morning on the first day and departed on our included excursion – the City of Sails bus tour.  Mona Liza noticed that we have experienced a progression in our bus excursions.  During the first few island port stops we were transported in old beat-up school buses with tiny seats that we could barely fit into.  I mean those things were in atrocious condition, and I practically cheered each time they started up successfully.  But now we’ve moved up to a big city with modern buses featuring air conditioning and built-in PA systems.  They even have seat belts – yay!

One of the dozens of marinas in and around the city

Anyway, we enjoyed the excursion which took us through several well-defined sections of the city.  We saw beautiful beaches, uppity shopping areas, several blocks of nothing but restaurants, and super-exclusive homes on the hills overlooking the ocean.  We also passed a couple of huge boat marinas and viewed the downtown skyline from the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

It was a comprehensive tour, and we picked up several ideas about where we would spend our time exploring on the second day, since we had no other excursions planned.

The three Pouwhenua represent ancestors who arrived here 600 years ago
A few of the pricey huge homes

Some New Zealand tidbits:

  • The first country to recognize sign language as an official language.
  • The first country to acknowledge women’s right to vote in 1893 when it was a self-governing British colony.
  • Known as the “City of Sails” for its more than 135,000 registered yachts and launches.
  • Sir Edmund Hillary, most famously known as being one of the first confirmed climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest, is a native of Auckland

In the evening as a destination performance, we were treated to a Maori cultural Haka dance.  The Haka is a type of ancient Māori war dance that was traditionally used on the battlefield, as well as when tribes came together in peace.  Click on the video below to see how it’s both funny and scary to watch the performers dance and chant:

After the show we enjoyed a cool evening with a beautifully lit skyline:

Day 2 – on our own

We were ready to further explore some of the areas we’d seen during the bus tour.  Walking almost 6 miles, we covered city streets, the wharf, a marina, a couple of city parks and the downtown shopping areas:

Apartments on the marina, big bucks
Glass is a big deal here
Odd, mature trees lined streets and parks
At intersections, all cars are stopped while pedestrians cross in any direction they please
A gate stops pedestrians at construction zones, then workers open them manually

We’ve observed that Auckland is a clean and upscale city with a lot of wealth.  And these folks take their boats seriously!  We noticed dozens of multi-million dollar yachts docked amongst hundreds of other boats throughout the area.

There’s also a major construction effort going on, the biggest we’ve ever seen.  An army of construction workers is building several new skyscrapers and 20,000+ apartments, and many streets are undergoing widening and/or utility upgrades and replacements.  It’s a huge and impressive effort, and we enjoyed walking around this progressive port city.

 

When crossing, “look right then left” – the opposite of how we do it in the U.S.
The unique Port Authority facility

Lunch was interesting.  Our bus driver the day before had suggested The Occidental Restaurant for their steamed green-lipped mussels, a New Zealand specialty.  They were just opening for lunch when we arrived and the delivery of fresh mussels hadn’t yet come in.  They offered us a dozen grilled mussels, so we enjoyed them with a couple of good Belgian beers.  Then we continued walking around the city for a while.

When we returned later the fresh mussels had arrived, so we ordered the steamed ones that we had originally come for.  They were sweet and good, but not the best we’ve ever had – we still prefer the smaller Prince Edward Island mussels that we enjoyed in the Canadian Maritimes.

We got back to the ship in time for a stimulating session at the spa, followed by dinner – a seafood buffet!  Is there such a thing as too much excellent fresh seafood?  Stay tuned and we’ll let you know!

Lines formed for the seafood yummies.  Come on people, smile!
A variety of breads, all freshly baked onboard
Fresh mussels, sea bass, ahi tuna, swordfish and shrimp cooked right in front of you!

We bid adieu to Auckland, a short visit but we had a great time!

Another wonderful “sail away” dinner
Later, “Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Rings” played on the pool deck as we headed towards middle earth…

 



 

World Wonders Cruise Diary – Days 14-17 – At Sea

Sea Days – Jan 17-20

We welcome sea days as a chance to catch up on laundry, culling pictures and of course blogging.  Steve gets a break this time while I share our typical life on sea days:

South Pacific ocean is known for its indigo waters

After two weeks of cruising we’ve finally found our rhythm and routine.  It took us a while to get used to not making our bed, cooking, washing dishes, going to the store or planning our next hike.  While Steve thinks about Betsy often, we’re grateful that John and Pam are keeping an eye on her in Tucson for a few weeks.

Our eyes still grow big each time we see the food offerings for the next meal, but I’ve learned to tone down my portions.  Steve continues to eat everything in sight, mostly healthy but large portions.  The choices each day seem endless.

The muesli breakfast bar with various kinds of muesli and fruit toppings

Our routine begins with a 6am walk on deck 2, completing up to 18 laps around the ship to achieve our daily baseline of 10,000 steps.  We add many more throughout the day as we take the stairs up and down between deck 7 and deck 2 for various activities (we never use the elevators).  On some days I use the treadmill at the gym while Steve works out.  The treadmill has a video that simulates hiking, and with the incline set at a steep angle I get an excellent workout.

In the South Pacific the sun rises early and by 7am it’s already getting hot during our walks

Next we hit the Nordic Spa and follow a Nordic bathing/detox routine – soak in the hot tub for a while, douse ourselves with a bucket of cold water, hit the steam room for as long as we can stand it, then enter the snow grotto where we rub ourselves down with snow.  Finally, we soak in the hot seawater thermal pool until we tingle all over.  We repeat these cycles until we’ve had enough, then a hot shower in the locker rooms to finish up.  We’ve never felt so relaxed and my skin is smooth and silky!

Throughout the ship are pieces of artwork that we can learn about using a Viking app that offers a guided audio tour.  The ship is a floating gallery, housing some of the world’s finest and most coveted Nordic works – some by Edward Munch, Norway’s most celebrated artist.  We still have over three months to do our own tours one deck at a time, but we’ve already checked out the onboard Viking Heritage Museum to learn about the rich history and inspiring legacy of the Vikings:

Lining the stairwells are replicas of Bohuslan Petroglyphs on Italian Cardoso stone:

Crochet food art

Every day has several activities on board, including enrichment lectures, playing bridge or mahjong, completing a huge zigsaw puzzle, line dancing, trivia and more.  We often hang out at the Explorer’s Lounge to read, work on the blog or just gaze out at the ocean.

Our hang out, Explorer’s Lounge

In the evenings before or after dinner we listen to the excellent resident entertainers, including the Viking Classical Duo and pianist Andras who is absolutely amazing.  They alternate playing in the ship’s atrium while Edward Munch works are displayed on a large digital display..

Inspiring music from the Viking Classical Duo

A video clip of the resident pianist and his magical fingers, notice him looking all around but not at the keyboard:

When weather permits we watch movies under the stars on the pool deck.  We just saw the movie “Yesterday”, an interesting film that Beatles fans might enjoy.

A movie under the stars
A performance by the Viking Band

The night we left Bora Bora there was a French Polynesian celebration, where we were encouraged to dress up in Polynesian attire.  The executive chef had set up a wonderful spread of culinary delights, and the ship’s officers and staff were grilling and handing out tons of delicious food.  But the star of the party was displayed at the center, a huge Moonfish!  We had never seen one before, and the best part was that we got to taste it, too.  It was yummy!

Now that’s a very fresh Moonfish!

It was a great party

As we departed Bora Bora after a fun-filled day, we were disappointed to learn that our next stop at Rarotonga in the Cook Islands would be canceled due to cyclone Tino, which was ravaging the area.  We re-routed north of it to avoid the worst of the weather, and it’s a good thing we did because even then we were rockin’ and rollin’ in high waves for two days.  When I was feeling queasy I stayed in the living room area located midship, where the movement was not as bad.  In short, we had two pretty rough sea days.  The good news is that we saw flying fish for the first time ever as we were cruising along, unfortunately they were gone before I could grab my camera 😦

Take a look at my video showing waves that banged into the ship and made it tremble:.

The setting sun gave us a fabulous show at the end of our sea days:

At sunset, broken clouds replaced the stormy ones

 



 

World Wonders Cruise Diary -Day 1

The day has finally arrived!  It doesn’t seem like long ago that our Viking World Wonders cruise was still on the back burner, but preparations picked up a few months and it’s finally happening!

All our bags are packed, we’re ready to go…

We’re currently cruising across the vast Pacific Ocean aboard Viking Sun!  As we mentioned in our previous post, we’ve changed our blogging format to more of a “daily diary”, as our stops are going to be happening fast in a week when we reach our first stop and we won’t have time to do what we used to.  Steve will be doing the writing to cover each day’s activities – now I get to edit 🙂  I’ll post just a few pictures to give a flavor of our stops.  This is all assuming we have connectivity, of course.  Viking provides WiFi on the ship, but we’ve already experienced periods of extreme slowness so we’ll see how it goes.

Hard at work in my new office

Day 1 – Jan 4th

Flight from Tucson to Los Angeles for the cruise departure –

Awoke at 5:00am for a 7:20am flight to L.A. The flight was smooth and on-time, but we sat on the ground at LAX for 40 minutes waiting for a gate to accept the aircraft.  Crazy, crazy airport.  We were transferred to the ship by a Viking-contracted bus and arrived around 10:30am.  Getting our luggage and ourselves through security and onto the ship was very smooth.

Our stateroom was to be ready for us at 2:00pm, but the ship’s World Cafe was open and we got our first look at the tremendous selection of excellent food and service we’d be enjoying for the next 4 months – wow!

Our floating home until May!

After stuffing ourselves for the first time we started walking around the ship to check it out, and we decided to see where our stateroom was.  Good move – even though it was at least 2 hours until it was to be available, we found a room steward nearby and begged him to let us in just so we could drop our luggage and not have to keep hauling it around the ship with us.  He let us in and said it was ready – yay!  There was a problem with our room keys that we had to resolve, but after that the long process of unpacking multiple suitcases began and lasted into the night.

Explorer’s Lounge, my smile is already waning after the 100th picture…

We took breaks for another excellent meal and to attend the mandatory emergency drill that is required on all cruises.  By 7:00pm the ship had pulled away from the dock and we were on our way!  We now have 7 days at sea to endure, with no land in sight.  There will of course be plenty of activities and food around to keep us entertained, but with little else to do we may not post again for a few days.

Pictures taken while exploring the beautiful Viking Sun:

Watching the refueling operations below
Second snack on embarkation day, with the behemoth Royal Princess in the background – no thanks, we like our “little” ship

Instead of one designated library, there are hundreds of books on various topics placed in spaces throughout the ship.

Attending the “Welcome Aboard” party
Goodbye Los Angeles, Goodbye U.S.A.