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 – Day 23 – Waitangi, New Zealand

Cruise day 23 – Jan 27

Visit Bay of Islands (Waitangi), New Zealand –

We finally made it to New Zealand, and Bay of Islands was our first of 7 port stops in this country.

It was a busy 1-day stop for us, since we added an optional excursion to our already reserved included one.  We took the first excursion of the day, the Glowworm Cave Tour, then in the afternoon we boarded another bus for the included Bay of Islands Panorama Tour.  We got back to the ship on one of the last tender boats, making it a full day.

Our ride to the pier
Busy, busy

The port was packed with people, as two cruise ships were anchored AND it happened to be a regional “Anniversary Holiday”, which meant many locals were celebrating as well.  We were charged an extra 15% surcharge on our lunch at the pier (which was already outrageously expensive) because it was a holiday, and we weren’t very happy about that.

Whale mural on a cliff

Glowworm Cave Tour –

This was a cool excursion that we really enjoyed.  We had never heard of glowworms, probably because they don’t exist in the U.S. or most other places in the world.  After a bus ride to the attraction, we were ushered into the cave by excellent guides who walked us to a section where we stopped and turned off our flashlights.  In the pitch blackness, we could easily see the thousands of glowworms on the cave’s ceiling, especially once our eyes got adjusted.  It was almost like looking up at the Milky Way galaxy!  We always enjoy touring caves, and although this one was small and short the glowworms made it a great tour.  Highly recommended!

I was selected for “lamp duty”

As we gazed above, our guide explained the life cycle of the New Zealand Glowworm (Arachnocampa Luminosa) and the intricate webs they create to catch their prey (mosquitoes and midges).  Their light is used to attract insects lost in the dark for their dinner.  The brighter the light, the hungrier they are.

Glowworms have up to a one-year lifespan; 6-11 months as larva, 2 weeks as a pupa and 3 days as a fungus gnat.  During the last 3 days they mate, and after the female lays her eggs they die within 24 hours.

Photography wasn’t allowed (or possible with the equipment we had) so we borrowed an image from their website:

Very cool to see in person!

Before returning to the ship we made a short stop in the small town of Kawakawa to walk around a bit.  The big attraction here is the unique public washroom, designed by Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser and donated to the town in the 1970’s.  I’m not really into “toilet touring”, but I took a quick look inside to see what all the fuss was about.  Mona Liza says it was a one-of-a-kind public toilet.

I hope she washed her hands after touching anything around there!

Although I was underwhelmed, the number of people crowded around proved once again that I’m not a very cultured person.  Fortunately, I’m already aware of that…

Whoopty doo!

We walked around a bit and noticed more mosaics and artsy sculptures:

Bay of Islands Panorama Tour –

We weren’t very impressed with this one.  Although it’s always good to take a drive around a new area to get a feel for it, this trip was too rushed and we were mostly unable to understand what the guide was saying because of his heavy accent combined with the poor PA system on the bus.

In NZ the driver’s seat is on the curb side, and they drive on the left side of the road. That means passengers are disgorged on the left side from buses

We made a brief stop at Kerikeri Basin, an historic NZ site and home to the country’s oldest buildings.  We stood by the river and viewed the country’s oldest stone building that has served several purposes during its long life:

Stone building completed in 1836
Mission House – the oldest wooden structure still standing in NZ

Some of the exotic plants we saw in the area:

Back on the bus we continued to our next destination, Rainbow Falls.  This was the most interesting stop, with a decent walk to the falls which were quite nice.  We saw a tiny rainbow while there, but Mona Liza was unable to capture it.  Again, this stop was much too brief as there was another section of the park we wanted to check out so we could get some more exercise.

Rainbow Falls
Rock formations

The final stop was at Kawakawa, but since we had already walked around it during the morning excursion we just stayed on the bus.  The fact that it was a holiday made it almost a ghost town, since virtually every business except a couple of restaurants were closed.

Aptly named Red-billed Gull, for it appears to wear bright red lipstick

Taking this excursion was certainly better than sitting around on the ship or walking in the crowds at the pier.  We enjoyed the natural beauty of New Zealand’s North Island while learning about Waitangi’s central role in the history of the country.  We missed this area during our cruise to NZ 15 years ago and were happy to catch it this time through.

 



 

World Wonders Cruise Diary – Day 20 – Fiji

Cruise day 20 – Jan 24

Visit Suva, Fiji –

Where the heck is Fiji?

 

Well, another stop that wasn’t quite what we had imagined.  It was a very short visit, docking around 7:00am and leaving at 2:00pm.  We wanted to make the best of it, and although we had originally reserved an included narrated tour of the area, we learned about a hiking excursion along a creek with several small waterfalls.  You know what happens when we hear the word “hiking” – we were all over that!  We canceled the included excursion and spent the extra money for what ended up being a nice challenging hike.
We’re at Fiji, a place I’ve always dreamed about!  Oh…
…oh.  Where are the dense tropical forests?
Downtown’s main bus terminal

The excursion was a hike at Colo-i-Suva Forest Park, an oasis of lush jungle teeming with tropical plants and bird life – although we saw not a single birdie!  The trail we followed was moderate in effort, but terrible in condition.  Everything was wet – roots, wooden stairs and rocks – along most of the trek.  Very steep in some sections, it meandered past several small natural falls and pools, and everyone had to be extremely careful not to fall.  Fortunately, nobody did that we know of.

Our destination was a swimming hole at the end of the spring-fed creek.  Folks were allowed to take a swim there, but it was crowded so we decided to skip that and continue the hike back to the parking area on our own.  We were happy with the moderate hike, and everyone else in the group seemed to be pleased as well.

Our Fijian male tour guides wear “sulu’s”, a Fijian wrap-around skirt

 

When in Fiji, drink as the Fijian’s do
Our overall impression of Fiji?  Another place I had high hopes for but that turned out to be another large port city – in fact the largest in the south pacific with a population close to one million.  There are beautiful spots on the island (the Tom Hanks movie “Castaway” was filmed here), but the super-busy and noisy atmosphere of this capital city were a bit disappointing.

 

Our bus was late getting back, so I didn’t even have time to buy a T-shirt 😦

Back at the ship, the captain alerted us that at 12:51:04 the sun would be exactly overhead, a phenomenon called the Subpolar Point.  It’s when shadows fall straight down from the direct overhead sun – something that looked kind of weird when we checked it out!
This is as small as a person’s shadow can get
Fiji sent us off with a nice Pacific rainbow!

 



World Wonders Cruise Diary – Day 8 – Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia

Cruise day 8 – Jan 12

Visit Taiohae, Nuku Hiva –

From our wall map, our first port of call – the remote island of Nuku Hiva

“Land Ho!”, we shouted with glee as we caught our first glimpse of land at 5:30am after 7 days at sea.  Although we enjoyed the long, lazy days during our Pacific crossing, we were more than ready to stand on solid ground again.  This little remote island in the South Pacific wasn’t exactly what I would pick as a destination, but it was a nice enough place to spend a half-day and get some exercise while learning a little bit about the people here.  It’s the largest of the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia, and an overseas territory of France.

The ship was anchored in the bay facing the tiny town, and we were quickly taken ashore in the impressively large tenders that can each carry well over 100 humanoids.  At the dock we were given talks on local customs and arts and crafts by a resident.  Then we were released to walk down the only main road in town.

The tender that zoomed us ashore
Isn’t she a beauty?

We first scaled a small hill to visit an impressive sculpture that overlooks the harbor and town.  It was the first hill we had hiked in many days, and we only wished it had been more challenging.  After the obligatory dozens of pictures were taken, we headed back down the hill and walked through town – such as it is.  This is obviously a poor area, with run-down roads and facilities.  But the people seemed friendly, gave us a warm welcome and didn’t pressure us tourists into buying anything.

Taiohae is home to more than half the population of Nuku Hiva, and is a pretty island of small black-sand beaches, tropical blooms and a distinctly French ambiance:

Hey Mark, haven’t seen you pointing at any signs like this one!

This island is unique for its strange statues, some depicting non-terrestrial entities.  Too bad there were no plaques to explain more about their purpose or meaning.

The weather forecast was for 50% chance of rain, and that’s just what happened – it rained 50% of the time we were there!  Fortunately we were near cover when a big deluge hit, but a few minutes later it was gone and then there were just occasional sprinkles as we completed our walk back and forth through town.

The one side stop we made was to the cathedral, a rock and lumber structure that was simple but nicely done:

After about 3 hours we were ready to head back to the ship for yet another culinary orgy, then cold showers after walking in the 85º heat and high humidity.

Some more pictures from our excursion:

Main Street – pretty much the only street
The dock with Tuhiva overlooking from the hill
She’s getting pretty good at the selfies

After another wonderful dinner we watched “Gemini Man” at the Star Theater, then checked out the Dancing Under the Stars party.  Not a bad first port stop!

Dancing under the stars
A fun way to end the evening!