After leaving Rotorua, our next scheduled stop was at Napier the following afternoon. The winds were strong on the way there, so strong that we had trouble doing our laps around the deck without getting blown over:
As we approached Napier’s port the wind got even stronger, and I noticed that the ship had come to a stop a few miles out. Oh oh!
Soon the captain came on the intercom and announced that the winds were far too high for an attempted approach to the port, and we would sit for a while to see if the weather settled down. Less than an hour later he gave us the sad news that the winds had gotten even worse at the dock and our stop at Napier would have to be canceled. BUMMER! The small town looked nice from where we were sitting, and we had been told that it had one of the best wine regions in New Zealand 😦
Well, nothing anyone could do about it so the ship turned around and headed back out to sea for our next stop at Wellington the following morning. The winds eventually decreased, and folks drowned their sorrows at the bars that night:
The next morning at Wellington the island was under a mist as we docked, but we were excited to get off the ship and begin our explorations:
After a good workout in the gym followed by many walking laps around the ship, we departed on our included “Wellington Highlights” excursion. It was well done, with an excellent driver/guide. I enjoyed watching him negotiate the huge bus skillfully down narrow streets, and he gave us a great history lesson about Wellington while driving through several different areas surrounding the port.
We learned that Wellington is the windiest city in New Zealand, with the prevailing northwest winds producing 173 days of wind over 32 knots annually.
Our next quick stop was at a hilltop cable car station where we watched the car descend into the city. There was a cool little museum there that we enjoyed too:
Finally, Mona Liza was very happy with the highlight and last stop of our excursion, a 30-minute self-guided tour at the Botanic Garden:
Our thoughts on Wellington? Well, it’s the capital of New Zealand and a very busy city. But we liked the atmosphere here, a place with vibrant, fun people. The most obvious issues were lots of cars with parking at a premium, and very expensive housing with homes and apartments stacked practically on top of each other on the mountainous island. Fun to visit, but we wouldn’t want to live here!
It’s been called “The coolest little capital in the world”, and we can’t argue with that. The locals were friendly and the atmosphere wasn’t as frantic as at other recent stops. We liked it!
Back on the ship, after dinner, we watched the National Geographic documentary “Free Solo”. It’s a heart-stopping account showing Alex Honnold completing the first-ever free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Amazing, see it if you can!
In addition to all of the included and optional shore excursions we’ve taken during the past few weeks, we recently stumbled onto some other tours of operating areas within the ship. These weren’t published anywhere, and we only found out through word of mouth from another passenger. So, if you take a cruise you may want to keep that in mind and ask the Guest Services folks what tours of the ship are offered periodically. These were all free and definitely worth doing!
The ship’s bridge –
We were excited to hear about this one and signed up immediately. After entering the modern and spacious bridge, our small group listened as the second officer explained the ship’s propulsion, controls, radar, route planning and communications equipment. After answering questions, he allowed us to walk around and take pictures, and even sit in the captain’s chairs. I’ve been in some pretty fancy airplane cockpits, but sitting at the controls of a $430 million dollar cruise ship was over the top!
This was a great tour, I only wish they would offer one of the engine room. But apparently that’s not going to happen due to security issues 😦
The ship’s laundry facility –
We told some people about this upcoming tour, and a couple of them thought it would be boring and they wouldn’t bother going. Too bad for them! The short excursion through the workings of a big ship’s laundry operation was anything but boring. Seeing the massive custom washers, dryers, sheet dryer/folder and dry cleaning equipment was only the beginning. We were shown how laundry is accepted into the facility – from workers, from passengers and from the restaurants and several other on-board operations.
Each piece of laundry sent by passengers is labeled by stateroom number and sorted according to how it needs to be cleaned before being sent to the appropriate area. Crew member’s uniforms have a whole section to themselves, as do their bedding, towels and other linens. We were shown the huge linen storage room, which holds a massive inventory of high-quality bedding and towels of all shapes and sizes.
We learned that the 24-hour operation employs a staff of 8 workers during the day and only 2 at night. There’s one person assigned to shirts, one to trousers, and one who does nothing but iron clothes all day long. OK, that might get a bit boring!
I loved looking at all of the machinery and was told they have a technician on the ship who can repair any piece of equipment here. And believe me, this is some very specialized stuff!
We really enjoyed this tour, and now when we send our dress clothes out for cleaning we know how it will be handled and by whom!
The ship’s galley –
We were bummed out that Mona Liza couldn’t make it to this tour because her shore excursion ran late (she’ll go on the next one). Just be forewarned that the photos won’t be up to her quality standards because I took them 🙂
Because of the small spaces we had to walk through I think they allowed too many people on this tour, but it was still an interesting look at the amazing job these folks do 24×7 to create the excellent meals that us passengers enjoy day after day. The bakery, room service and initial food preparation areas run around the clock. Now I know why we smell fresh-baked bread when we go out to exercise every morning!
Some stats: the cooking team consists of 103 people, including an executive chef and 3 restaurant chefs to run the 2 specialty restaurants and 2 main restaurants. The remaining folks include many other specialists; trained butchers, sushi chefs, pastry chefs, dietary experts and many others work here as well.
Over 500 meals are prepared for the sit-down restaurant and buffet style locations, plus about 80 meals for reserved dinners at the two high-end specialty restaurants. Another small restaurant and the Pool Grille help keep the 900+ hungry passengers fed.
And this tour didn’t even include the separate facilities and staff that feed the 450 crew members!
It’s an amazing operation, and while walking through I realized that I’ve never seen so much stainless steel in one place in my life. We didn’t get to see the storage areas or refrigerators/freezers on another deck, but we were told that the fresh ingredients and meats, dairy, fish, fruits, and vegetables are sent from all over the world to a central location in Europe.
All of these fresh items then are flown to ports that each ship is destined for, where they re-supply about every 7 days. This is done to keep quality consistent among all of their ships. Wow, the logistics involved are mind-blowing!
These were all informative and impressive tours, and we didn’t even have to leave the ship to experience them!
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.
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!
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:
Just a sample of interesting million-dollar homes overlooking the bay:
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:
Back on the ship, we hurried to check out the Noodle Bar special at the Pool Grille – gonna be another yummy night!
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:
A beautiful sunset tops off another day of sailing along New Zealand:
Just before reaching Tonga we crossed the International Date Line. When flying over the IDL it’s not a big deal; you just set your watch back or forward the number of hours required to match the time at your destination. But when you sail across things get a bit confusing because you’re losing or gaining a day, but the hour doesn’t change. Since we were sailing westward we lost a day, and resetting our phones became a chore with no cell signal to synchronize them to.
We also learned that Tonga is the first country to ring in the New Year each year, since it’s the first country west of the IDL.
Missing our stop in the Cook Islands meant that we got to spend two days at Tonga, so we took advantage by joining an impromptu bus ride to a beach resort after our arrival on the first day. Nothing special, but a good way to look around and get a feel for the island during the drive. We spent less than two hours hanging out at the beach, then returned to the port for a little shopping before re-boarding the ship.
Along the way, we learned another cemetery story. Each village here has one or more “community” cemeteries, although homeowners are allowed to bury loved ones at their home if they wish. Graves are constructed in such a way that they can be re-opened later to add additional deceased into the same grave. Sorry, but that’s just plain gross!
The ones we drove by were obviously well cared for and had colorful flowers all around:
On the second day we took the included walking tour of the port city. It was better than the one in Tahiti because it was much smaller and not as busy/noisy. Our guide was knowledgeable but not very organized. She told us that since this is a kingdom they are ruled by a King and have a Prime Minister and parliament that is voted into office. But the King has the final say on whether laws proposed by parliament will be approved or not.
When the King dies everyone is required to wear black and do no work for some time. They are also expected to give their best animals or products to the new king as a welcome offering. How sad that these poor people with hardly anything must part with their most valuable belongings to a king who has more than he knows what to do with!
The major source of income for many island residents is earned through seasonal work in either Australia or New Zealand, where they harvest agricultural products for several months each year. Some women create “tapa cloth” from tree bark, or weave mats and baskets from several varieties of pandanus leaves. Handicrafts are a large part of the Tongan culture, and selling those products to tourists like us is another source of income.
Removing the bark – very tedious
Pounding it to a paper-thin sheet
The resulting tapas are then dried for several days
A completed painted tapa
Our guide took us to the city’s main market where root crops are sold. These crops are both a staple of the Tongan diet and an export crop:
Traditional dancing is an important part of national ceremonies and local village festivities. Back on-board we were treated with more music and dances of Tonga, and to demonstrate “island time” the performing group was a half hour late!
We enjoyed the atmosphere here, and although unemployment is high and life is hard for these people who are mostly very poor, they are upbeat and friendly to all visitors.