Excursion Down under April 2014
Wed. Mar. 26th, 2014- Bonita Springs, Florida
We were up at 3:30 A.M to make final preparations for leaving. Our 4 A.M. taxi arrived promptly and we were off for the Southwest Florida International Airport. It was only 5 A.M., but there were already a goodly amount of people walking the airport concourses. We checked our bags into the U.S. Air counter and walked through the security gates without incident.
A brief two-hour hop brought us into the Charlotte N.C. International airport for a plane switch. The Charlotte to Los Angeles run took us five and one half hours, but passed easily enough. We arrived just after noon, PST and picked up a shuttle to a nearby Travel Lodge Hotel. We were tiring with the day ad a nap soon claimed us. Early evening found us in a Denny’s next door to the hotel. The Tilapia rancheros were pretty good.
Toonies (vodka rocks) hit the spot after dinner as we settled in to read. I finished “Innocence Lost” by R.L. Patterson and we retired early.
Thurs. March 27th, 2014 Los Angeles, California.
We were up at 5 A.M. out of sorts with the three-hour time zone change. It was 48 degrees (9 C) and cool outside. We had a pleasant breakfast in the hotel and lolled all morning, steeling ourselves for the 13-hour flight this evening.
The hotel van ferried us to LAX at 6:00 P.M. We checked in with New Zealand Air and made our way through the elaborate security screening which featured both electronic scans and pat downs. We engaged a charming young Canadian girl in conversation. Brynne Clark, from Allison Ontario. Like most conversations with strangers, we discovered a connection. Brynne lives in the small Ontario, Canada Town of Allison, just north of Toronto. She had worked in the Country club where several of our friends from our Spring Run complex, in Florida lived. She was headed for a six-month stint on the same ship we were traveling on, The Dawn Princess,
The flight off lifted at 10:00 P.M. and we settled in for the 12 and ½ hour flight to Auckland, New Zealand. I was rereading James Michener’s classic “Hawaii.” The parallels between the early migrations of Pacific islanders and the later societal onslaught of Protestant ministers in Hawaii and a similar settlement period by Anglican ministers in New Zealand are of historical interest and necessary to understand the current societies of both places.
During these marathon flights, all you can do is read, watch movies and whatever you can to pass away the long tedious hours. The effects on a body “over 30” are debilitating.
I remember walking down the plane’s aisle late in the early morning hours. Rows of hundreds of sleeping passengers swayed with the motions of the plane. It was eerie. It reminded me of a scene from the Robin Williams/ Robert De Niro classic, “Awakenings.”
Like all arduous journeys, it passed soon enough. We landed in the Auckland, New Zealand airport at 6:35 A.M. local time, some fourteen hours difference in time zones from the east coast of the U.S.
Security and customs were perfunctory. We collected our bags and found a joint taxi outside. It was damp, cool and in the 6o’s out.
We talked with a local resident in the cab and traded cultural differences about both of our countries. The homes here abouts are very expensive. Gasoline is also almost double what it costs in the U.S.
The cab deposited us at the “Sky City Grand” in the downtown area of Auckland. We were beat. The hotel graciously made the room available to us and we settled into our 17th floor aerie to get some sleep. Somewhere along the way, the international dateline had taken Friday from us. It was now Saturday morning in New Zealand.
I always find it a surreal experience to be out and about when most of the people you know are sleeping many time zones away.
Friday/Saturday, March 29th- Auckland, New Zealand
It was 1:00 P.M on the afternoon of our arrival. The temp was 73 F and sunny outside. We set off to see what we could see. Queen Street is the main arterial in this area of downtown Auckland. It is lined with shops, fast food joints and all manner of emporiums. The traffic here on a weekend is a river of pedestrians flowing from the nearby colleges and the ferry terminals a mile or so towards the waterfront. We drifted with the peopled current, enjoying the swirl of different accents and languages about us. People watching everywhere is always fascinating.
We reversed course at the waterfront and headed back across Queen. We came across an old-fashioned labor protest rally. Complete with placards and bullhorns, the group was protesting some inter island pact, which they thought threatened their jobs. It was interesting for me to watch. As a child of the 1960’s, I had seen rallies like this many times.
A small park nearby featured several teams playing basketball. We admired a large, carved, wooden Maori archway that led into the park. A local Glengarry wine shop provided us with spirits for later. We found the old Federal Diner nearby and stopped in for a late lunch. It is a replica of a 1940’s Jewish delicatessen in New York City, with stools, pastrami sandwich specials and waitresses dressed up in garb from that era. I had a bagel and lox combination. Mary had the chicken salad. Both were delicious. We both chuckled at the engraved plaque attesting to the fact that many vegetarians had been lured back to the path of the carnivore by the Federal’s pastrami sandwiches.
We walked the streets surrounding the hotel and enjoyed the great 19th century architecture. A huge gambling casino sits in the Sky City Hotel across the street from our place. A nearby Gloria Jean’s served up great cappuccinos and blueberry muffins.
Later in the day, we found a delightful complex of restaurants in an old stable. It was appropriately called Elliot’s Stables. We bought some sushi there. The day was long and we were tired. We headed back to our 17th floor aerie, to sip some wine and read ourselves to sleep. The sandman came early.
Sunday, March 30th- Auckland, New Zealand.
A “Great Sights” tour bus picked us up at the hotel at 9 A.M. for a brief city tour of Auckland. As always, we listened to the tour guide as we viewed the sights around us. He informed us that New Zealand is the size of Japan or the United Kingdom. Wellington is its capital. The 4 & ½ million residents are spread out amidst the North and South Islands, with about 1/3 of that number residing in the greater Auckland area. The city of Auckland stretches some 51 miles out into the ocean to encompass some of the fifty surrounding and populated islands.
The bus carried us over the attractive Bay Bridge to the North shore of Auckland. The driver explained that the bridge had been built in the 1950’s and soon found its four lanes to be inadequate. Some enterprising Japanese engineers had found a way to cantilever two additional lanes onto each side of the bridge, much expanding its capacity.
We passed through the strip joints and nightclubs of the Karangahare Rd. district and into the fashionable shopping area of Posonby Rd., admiring the shops and energetic commerce there. The driver further explained that Auckland sits atop some 50 dormant volcanoes. Some also call it the “shaky Isles” because it experiences over 16,000 earthquakes every year above factor one on the Richter scale.
The country sits along the Pacific “ring of fire” and lies on an “upward plate.” A huge quake in 2011 virtually leveled downtown Christchurch with much loss of life. They are still rebuilding the area. You can see the dark basalt of lava flows just off shore during low tide, denoting the islands volcanic past.
The tour continued past the commercial harbor area. Auckland is a seaport with enormous amounts of freight traffic passing through it. New Zealand exports huge amounts of lumber and coal to China. Fruits, vegetables, wines and wool also find their way to Asian and world markets. It imports only fuel and machinery.
Condos along the water are without number. The Viaduct district was but one of many that we passed. All carry with them a price tag in the $600,000 range. We passed through beautiful Albert Park in the University of Auckland area. The Lingham hotel here is a favorite of Bill Clinton. Then we passed along and stopped at the busy and upscale Parnell Rd. shopping area. We browsed the shops and the art galleries along the avenue and stopped for cappuccino in one of the cafes. We were still having trouble how to order a “cup of coffee” here. Most coffee is brewed individually by cup and sold “white”(with milk) or “black”(without). But you also have to specify “short or long” to denote how much espresso is used. Sometimes we just gave in and had tea.
Later, we drove through Domain Park. A scenic creek runs through groves of willows and gum trees in a bucolic setting that attracts picnickers and strollers every weekend. The war museum here is a three-story classic edifice sitting astride a hill and looking very imposing. One floor is dedicated to native history another to local sciences and a third to the history of the New Zealand and Australian armed forces.
It was sunny and a gorgeous 73 degrees out, nice for an early fall day. We were traversing the waterfront highway and enjoying the sights and scenery here near the Kelly Tarelton’s sea aquarium. Several tunnels from an old municipal sewage system had been converted into a walk through aquarium here at water’s edge.
We got off the bus at the ferry station and walked along the waterfront area, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. Throngs of Aucklanders were sitting in the many cafes and waterfront restaurants on this beautiful Sunday afternoon. We strolled the length of the promenade, entering and enjoying the busy fish market here. Every café was SRO, so we kept walking. The small pedestrian bridge, across a canal here, was stuck in the upright position, so we and hundreds of others had to walk a mile or so around the harbor to get back to the ferry terminal. It worked out well for us. We found the Viaduct Restaurant and settled in for some very good fish and chips.
The day was waning and we were tiring, so we walked again along Queen Street marveling at all of the busy throngs of people here. Backpackers, grifters, college students, weekend visitors all mingled in a noisy, peopled throng. It is always nice to see such activity in any urban center. We were finally learning to look to our right instead of to our left when crossing streets. In the commonwealth countries, except for Canada, all traffic drives on the left hand side of the road. It seems simple enough to adjust to this, but we found ourselves looking the wrong way many times for street traffic. I would think many an American tourist has been hit by oncoming cars when looking the wrong way crossing streets. Ditto for driving here. The roundabouts would have me baffled and driving in a continuous circle.
We made it back to the Sky City Grand where we settled win with a “Toonie” (vodka rocks.) I wrote up my notes. We read our books and faded into the arms of Morpheus, glad we had this way come.
Monday, March 31st, 2014- Auckland, New Zealand
We were up by 4:30 A.M. The Circadian rhythms of our bodies would not adapt for several days yet. We read, watched and enjoyed the local news program and readied for the day. The Federal Deli called to us and we again enjoyed their bagel and lox creation for breakfast. It was 60 degrees and partly cloudy out.
We hailed a cab and rode down to the ferry terminal. Usually we would walk, but the effects of 20 hours in the air had caused both of us some physical distress. It wouldn’t ease until a few days of celebrex calmed down the affected joints.
The ferry terminal was awash with arriving passengers from the far-flung islands around the city. Many thousands commuted daily to downtown Auckland for their work. For $18 each, we bought round trip tickets on the ferry over to Devonport. It is a scenic tourist town just across the Bay from Auckland. The ride over is a tour in itself. Auckland is known as the “City of Sails” because many thousands enjoy sailing and have boats moored everywhere. One vessel caught our attention. It was a futuristic, streamlined monster of a yacht that looked like something from a Jules Verne movie, with Captain Nemo at the helm. We were to learn later that a Russian gazillionaire owned the vessels and parked it prominently here on display, safe from Vladimir Putin’s reach.
At Devonport, we exited the ferry and walked up the four block long main drag. Curio shops, café’s and restaurants are prominent. On a busy weekend here, people would be five deep along the sidewalk. We browsed the shops bought some post cards and had some very good cappuccino at “Correlli’s” café. We sat and people watched for a time before heading back down the strip. A visit to a chemist gave us a tube of “antiflamme” which is supposed to help with swollen joints. We found the post office and sent some cards off into the mail.
Next, we walked down to the ocean pier and small beach area in town. A few grandmothers were watching their charges play in the sand. It was sunny out with a cerulean blue sky and temps in the 70’s, a gorgeous day. We walked along the seaside trail enjoying the ocean traffic and ogling the pricey homes perched atop the ridge and looking out to sea. They were quaint in appearance and looked very expensive. We sat for a time at different spots and enjoyed the birds and sky and frothy surf as it curled upon the dark basalt on an ancient lava flow. You are always aware hereabouts that the volcanoes beneath you are merely dormant, not extinct.
About a mile up the shore we came upon a delightful slice of old England, the North Shore Cricket Club. Several teams were playing on the “pitch.” We sat for a time and watched the enthusiastic batsmen in their padded costumes swinging what looked like large paddles and a ball tossed by a pitcher in a decidedly different manner than we were used to. I have never really understood the game, even though we know it is the precursor of American baseball. The players all seemed to be enthusiastic and cheers would break out now and again when one of the batsmen hit the ball out into the field.
From the cricket pitch we walked along the shore to the Torpedo Bay Naval Station. A small NZ naval museum attracted a class of elementary students. Next to the museum a small café looked out over the ocean. It is a pleasant spot to sit and idle the day here.
The sun was rising in the sky, so we walked the mile plus back to the village and found the charming little “Sierra Café.” We sat along the walk and ordered delicious potato leak soup and tuna sandwiches on the best date bread I have ever tasted. It was a good stop.
After lunch, we caught a mid afternoon ferry back to Auckland and a cab back to the Sky City Grand, to chill out for a bit. The Maori channel on TV entertained us with various cultural skits about local culture. Rowing and soccer dominated the other TV channels. A brief nap was a welcome conversation with Ozzie Nelson.
It was early evening and pleasant out, so we walked to the nearby Elliot Stables and chose Robert De Niro’s Pizzeria for dinner. Elegant margherita pizzas, as good as anything in the states, made for a delightful repast. Thanks, Bobby ! We stopped by the Glengarry Wine shop for a bottle of spirits and then made our way back to the hotel. The “go home” pedestrian traffic was considerable as workers made their way to the ferry, bus and train terminals for the ride home from work.
We had decided to take the ferry out to Waiheke Island tomorrow, so we made arrangements for a tour of the island as well. We settled in with a libation to watch CNN and catch up on the international news. The Country was agog with the impending visit of William, Kate and George, the English Royals, We read for a time and drifted off to sleep, happy with the day’s adventures.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014 Auckland, New Zealand
We were up by 7 A.M. and made preparations for the day. The Federal Deli called to us and we stopped in for bagel schmears and coffee. A cab ferried us to the Ferry Terminal and we got tickets to Waiheke Island. It was a pleasant forty-minute ride out across the Bay to Waiheke Island. The Russian mega yacht was sailing nearby. A whole section of her aft hull had slid up into the decking revealing a small garage. From it emerged a powerboat carrying its occupants on some errand or other. This boat could well fit in one of the Bond movies.
The Waiheke Island terminal, in Matiata Bay, is an anomaly in that there is no commercial activity attached to it. Small lots surrounding it held hundreds of cars for the daily commuters into Auckland.
We had arranged for a two-hour tour of the island and the bus was waiting for us as we emerged from the terminal. The driver narrated for us as we climbed up onto the hilltops to follow that narrow lane around the island’s top. It seemed like every turn of the road produced a “wow vista.” We looked out and down onto translucent, crystal clear and jade colored water crashing in frothy surf on bright tan beaches or the dark basalt rocks of an ancient lava flow. The bright azure sky glistened off the emerald green islets strewn about the surrounding Tasman Sea. If this wasn’t a portrait of heaven, it ought to be.
Every bay was chock a block with yachts and sailing vessels of all sizes. From the hilltops you can see the various seamounts that mark the tops of some of the 50 dormant volcanoes that underlie the area.
The surrounding hilltop homes were equally impressive in both size and vistas. Everything here had to be hauled out from Auckland, so even the more modest homes started at $500,000 and ran up to whatever you wanted to pay.
The bus brought us down to Palm Beach for a cappuccino at “Charley Farley’s” beachfront café. The vista of blue sky and tan beach here is eye candy for the soul. Curiously there were but two couples strolling the beach here. The year round population of the island is only 6.000 people. It swells to 60,000 during the busy summer Christmas season.
We continued our tour. We passed several of the twenty vineyards on the island. They grow coffee here and have olive groves that press out a local brand of olive oil as well. It all looked lush and prosperous.
Ostend is the small commercial center for residents. Hardware stores, groceries and that type of thing are available here. We passed through it on our way to Aneroa, the small tourist enclave. The tour ended here. The driver told us where we could catch the hourly bus to the ferry and left us off. We browsed the shops and small restaurants. Most were sro with visitors and tourist cute in appearance. The “Delight Café" sits off the main drag, with an awesome vista out over the bay. We settled in this small gourmet shoppe for some excellent vegetable and chicken pastry tortes.
It was nearing 2 P.M. and we were mindful of the "last lifeboat syndrome” that affects all island ferries and later trains. It can become a panic crush to get on late in the day. We found the bus to the ferry and road back to Matiata Bay. The ferry was already crowded even at this early hour. I can’t imagine it during the summer Christmas season. We rode back across the bay to Auckland enjoying all of the nautical traffic. It was 78 degrees on a sunny day in early fall. It doesn’t get any nicer that this.
Celebrex had helped eased the stiffened joints, so we decided to walk across busy Queen St. to Wellesley. It was a river of young people scurrying hither and yon. This is the place for people under thirty.
At the hotel, I wrote up my notes enjoyed a late afternoon “toonie” and chilled out. It was still early evening when we ventured forth to the nearby “Little Mexico” restaurant on Wellesley. We had some great fish taco dinners with Sangria. It was a good choice for dinner.
The early evening air was warm on our skins as we walked back to the hotel. It had been a pleasant experience on our last day in Auckland. Tomorrow, we would meet up with the Dawn Princess and continue our tour of New Zealand and SE Australia. We were rested and relaxed and eager for the adventure.
Wed. April 2, 2014- Auckland, New Zealand
We were up by 5 A.M. eager to begin the day. We had coffee and read the papers in our room while packing our bags for shipboard. The hotel’s concierge agreed to hold our bags as we set out at 9 A.M. We found a great little coffee shop on Wellesley, called “Remedy’s.” It was crowded with people headed off to work as we sat down to bagels, lox and coffee. It was pretty good fare too.
The Auckland Fine Arts Academy, in nearby Albert Park, was our destination. Three stories of marble and glass façade encases a collection of 19th century portraits and landscapes from NZ and England. A replica of a Maori village, with straw covered ceremonial hut, was of interest.
From the Fine Arts building, we walked along the narrow environs of High Street ogling the Hermes, Gucci and other pricey shops. High St. led us to the quaint and narrow “Vulcan Alley” where we sat for a time and watched the inbound throng. The “Queen’s Ferry Hotel and Pub” sits here, open since 1865. It is only a few blocks over from the original port area and all visitors must have at one time stayed here.
Next, we walked down to the docks area and located the Dawn Princess who had berthed here this morning. Streams of Aucklander’s were just disembarking near the Hilton waterfront hotel as we walked up to the ship. Swarms of taxis and other peopled mayhem clogged the small street. We checked on embarkation times and then headed back across Albert St. to the Sky City Grand Hotel to retrieve our bags. It was almost noon and near the 1 P.M. boarding time. The concierge delivered our bags and hailed a cab to the ship for us. In a few minutes, we were standing in line with two hundred other newbies to embark on our cruise. Baggage handlers took our gear and promised to deliver it to our stateroom.
The embarkation process, customs, health and I.D checks were all perfunctory and we were soon on board the Dawn Princess and sitting in cabin C (Caribe Deck) 427. The Dawn Princess was familiar to us. We had sailed her in the late 1990’s, just after her christening, on the Alaska run.
Registered in Hamilton, Bermuda, the 14-decked leviathan weighed in at 77,441 gross tons. She displaces 26 feet at her keel. She is 856 feet long and 131 feet wide. Her crew strength is 934 and she can handle 2,272 passengers. The grand ship was currently skippered by Captain Ivan Jerman.
Mary thought it convenient to slip in two loads of laundry in the nearby deck four laundry room. We had to first get Australian quarters for the machines. Everything on this run would be figured in Australian dollars.
The 3:55 P.M. lifeboat drill was mandatory for all newly embarked passengers. We went down to the Wheelhouse lounge and paid attention to what was being said. We were sailing on a big ocean and what we heard and understood here might one day save our lives. The recent Korean Ferry disaster only intensifies how serious these boat drills are to be taken.
We ordered a bottle of Cabernet from room service and sat on the cabin’s balcony enjoying a glass of wine in the 78-degree sunshine outside. Life is good. A letter from the ship’s Captain advised us that the Norovirus was active on board and frequent hand washings were the order of the day to prevent its spread. Uh-oh ! We always use handkerchiefs to navigate handrails and touch any ship’s surface like elevator buttons. That also helps. The ship was due to leave port at 8 P.M. Normally, our tradition has been to stand topside with a glass of wine and bid the port goodbye. Dinner this evening would have to postpone that tradition to the next port.
The Venetian Dining Room had been assigned to us for the later 7:45 P.M. dinner seating. We changed into resort casual clothes and headed on down for dinner. It was an open seating night, so we were seated with two very nice couples, one from St. Louis Missouri, the other from Melbourne, Australia.
Shrimp cocktail, with mushroom torte, large bay scallops and chocolate cheesecake, with a decent cabernet, made for a memorable meal, the first of many aboard ship. We enjoyed the repartee with the other two couples. One of the great pleasures of travelling is to meet interesting people from far away places and share ideas and impressions with them. After dinner, we headed back to our cabin to read and turn in. It had been a long day and we were finally off on our New Zealand/Australia adventure.
Thursday, April 3, 2014- Tauranga, New Zealand
During the evening hours, the great ship motored across the Auraki Gulf and through the Colville Channel, passing the Mercury Islands. She then headed south, past Mt. Mangamui, and on into Tauranga. We arose at 6:00 A.M in time to see the ship berth at port Tauranga. It is a commercial port and we seemed to be surrounded by raw logs waiting to be shipped to Indonesia for use in pulp mills.
The Deck 14 cafeteria was busy even at this early hour. Many of the passengers had early morning tours scheduled, as did we. The serving in the former buffet was all different today and for the rest of the voyage. Where once you had served yourself, like any other buffet, now an individual staff member with rubber gloved hands served you any item you indicated, including a glass of water or cup of coffee. The new procedures were designed to combat the Norovirus raging through the ship. It may be effective medically but it was inconvenient and much detracted form the experience of dining here.
After breakfast, we made our way to the Princess Theater, where our tour group assembled for the four hour City Drive and visit to the Elms Mission Station. A crewmember led us down the decks and off the ship to our bus. The sun was just rising at 7:30 A.M as we set off. The mist rising from the heather was eerily pleasant to watch.
The Elms Mission is a national historic site for New Zealanders. It is the home of the first Anglican Missionary settlement. The Reverend Alfred Brow and his wife Charlotte had arrived here in 1847. Similar to the Congregationalist ministers who has come to “civilize” Hawaii. In both cases the natives had some disagreement with the process. The Brows built both a substantial house and for its time, a novelty - a library. Brow, a scholar of note for his era, had brought one thousand books with him. Charlotte had brought along the family silver, china and a piano, so it was a little more than a basic home. It was still though the time of the Maori land wars, where bands of natives sought to oust the arriving settlers and send them back to their misty isles. Local natives had saved the good reverend and his wife on several occasions from marauding murder bands of Maoris.
The home is well maintained and contains all manner of bric a brac from the mid 1800’s as well as a room full of Maori artifacts. The Library and handsome chapel make the settlement into a complex in a setting that had once stood on a cliff and looked out into the harbor. Now the harbor area below has been reclaimed to form a commercial port. The small estate is adorned with many native trees and even an attractive and towering Norfolk Pine. It is staffed by volunteers and funded by a private trust. It may sound prosaic but it is an interesting portrait into early New Zealand and how settlers arrived here from England and the conflicts that they engaged in with the native Maoris. The docents tell one tale of six serving officers of the British Army who had dined with the reverend Brow and his wife on the eve of a battle. All of them were killed in the conflict.
Next, we visited the “Kiwi 360” plantation. It is a massive fruit orchard that has groves of lime trees, lemon trees, Oranges, avocados, macadamia nuts, peaches, apples and seemingly every other fruit found in the garden of Eden. They all grew here with a lush abundance that startled us. We got a tractor tour of the vineyards and an explanation of what we were seeing by a wizened farmer who had spent his life tending the gardens. We then got to taste slices of fruit and sample fruit juices in the farmhouse/restaurant at the end of the tour. It made you appreciate how fertile this volcanic land is and the prosperity it enjoys.
A light rain chased us back to the bus. We drove back to the port and the inviting warmth of the Dawn Princess. We changed into dinner clothes and managed to catch an early magic show in the Princess lounge. It was sort of lame, but it is entertainment aboard ship.
We were seated with George and Jeanette, from Belfast Northern Ireland. Amidst pleasant conversation, we enjoyed a spinach salad, spicy prawns, Tiramisu with cabernet and good coffee to wash it down with.
Tired from the day, we made our way back to our Caribe Deck cabin. The elevator service was sporadic this evening due to an electrical problem. The old dowager Dawn Princess was showing her age. They need to either refit her or retire the old girl.
Friday, April 4,2014- Napier, New Zealand
Over night, the Dawn Princess sailed easterly across the Bay of Plenty, rounding the East Cape of New Zealand and then headed southwesterly down the coast, passing the Portland Islands and on into Hawke’s Bay.
Our tour wasn’t scheduled until this afternoon, so we stopped by the Venetian Room for a formal breakfast. An omelet, muffin and coffee were served as we chatted with a few other Melbourners at the table.
An art lecture at 10:30, captured our attention. The knowledgeable curator took us through several periods, focusing on Van Gogh, Monet, Dali, Picasso and Max. It was both informative and interesting.
We assembled in the Princess Theater at 12:15 and a crewmember led us down to the gangway and to our bus. There, a local guide, Bill Nimon drove us into the Napier for the tour.
A 1931 earthquake had virtually leveled Napier. It was rebuilt in the popular style of the 30’s, Art Deco. The buildings are pleasant of appearance and remind me of South Beach, Miami. Five rivers make up the aquifer around Napier, so the surrounding countryside is lush and green. Fruit orchards and vegetable farms speckle the landscape in a soil that would probably grow rocks if they tried. It was extremely fertile. Fluffy little balls of wool, in the person of sheep, seemed everywhere about as we motored along the country lanes.
Our first stop was the Silky Oaks Chocolate Factory. The owners had at first thought to name it after the nearby river Tukai Kuri, until someone pointed out that in Maori, it mean “Shitty dog river.”
We watched skilled workers melt, shape and form chocolates into bunnies and small sweets that made our mouths water at the imagined taste. The owners gave a brief lecture on chocolate making, noting it dated as far back as 5,000 B.C when only royalty were allowed this nectar of the gods. We each got a few pieces to sample and much enjoyed the product. A small chocolate making museum is on the premises. It tells you everything you might ever wish to know about chocolate, its origins and history in colorful dioramas.
I got a chance to talk with the driver during our stop here. Bill Nimon is the fourth generation of his family to be involved in the tour business. His roots are Celtic. We shared a few observations about the Clan Na Gael as it developed in both of our countries.
From Chocolate City, Bill drove us through the lush countryside and up some very narrow and winding roads to the 1400 ft’ top of Mt. Te Mata. The 360-degree vista here is magnificent. The ocean off to one side and the surrounding countryside undulates along the contour of the surrounding valleys. Like everywhere in New Zealand, houses seemed to occupy every available nook and cranny. A towering pine here was grown from seeds that had originated in Gallipoli, Turkey to commemorate the slaughter of the Anzac forces there during WW I. We snapped pictures and mingled with the other two busloads of tourists doing the same. It is a much-visited local attraction.
On the way down the mountain, we passed through North Haveport, a wealthy suburb of Napier. The private boys’ school here, Hereworth, educates the children of the wealthy. The boys marched along the road in their colored blazer on the way to the cricket pitch. The lads board here as early as 5 years of age. The cost is substantial.
A brief stop at the Pernell Fruit orchard and a taste of Kiwi Ice cream reprised our visit of yesterday at the Kiwi 360 farm. The harvest time in the country’s orchards engenders the importation of 20,000 Indonesian temporary laborers to gather the harvest. They are welcomed in and then shown the door some ten weeks later. You don’t get to stay here in NZ unless you can demonstrate how you will make a living and support yourself.
We returned to our ship in the late afternoon. A local group had assembled several 1930’s era vehicles and were themselves attired in period garb. A small band played Jazz for our benefit. We took our required pics and then boarded the Dawn.
A vodka toonie soothed us as we sat on our balcony. I wrote up my notes. Though prosaic of theme, the country tours were giving us the impression of a well-tended and very prosperous nation that enjoyed a high standard of living.
The ship was leaving port at 7 P.M. We stood topside with a glass of cabernet and watched her slide from her ways and out into the ocean for the run into the nation’s capitol of Wellington tomorrow.
Dinner at 7:45 found us seated with a couple from Melbourne, Jason and his wife Chris. They were mad for Australian football and explained the sport and its complexities at length. Like many people, they had questions about US foreign policy and our country’s fascination with guns. As always, we explained that neither Barack Obama nor the leadership of the Senate or House of Representatives called us regularly for advice on policy matters.
Shrimp appetizers, with a Burumundi fish course, chocolate cake with a cappuccino made for a memorable dinner.
We were tired from the day’s activities and returned to our room to read and slip off into the ether of nod.
Saturday, April 5,2014 Wellington, New Zealand
During the evening hours The Dawn Princess motored across Hawke’s Bay, rounding Cape Kidnappers and down the east coast. She rounded Cape Palliser and on into Cook Strait which separates the North and South Islands. It is a three-hour ferry ride across the Strait. Finally, she passed between the Palmer and Pencarow headlands and on into Wellington harbor.
We were up early and made our way to the Deck 14 cafeteria for omelets and coffee. Then we assembled at 9:30 A.M. and joined our bus tour of Wellington, shipside.
Wellington is the nation’s capital. She sits astride the far southern flank of the North Island, just across from Picton on the Southern island. In 1840, three English ships had landed here, the HMS Oriental, the Tori and the Aurora. The differences with the Maoris over land rights had started from the inception of their landing. An 1841 Treaty of Waitingi had supposedly ironed out a compromise between the two cultures but the violent land wars continued for several more years until the Maoris were forcibly subdued.
Our first stop in Wellington was the old Anglican Cathedral of St. Paul’s. Made entirely of wood, she dates back to 1866. Though no longer in use as a church, the magnificently carved structure is managed by a trust and serves as a popular wedding and reception hall. We admired the many religious items on display denoting her former glory. One anomaly caught our attention. A United States Marine Corps banner hung from her rafters. Further inquiry elicited the fact that the Marine Corps units during WW II had used the building as a gathering place for their men. Some 60,000 troops were stationed here during WW II. The relations were favorable and 1500 NZ girls went home to America as War Brides.
The West Pac soccer stadium nearby seats 35,000 fans. The country, like Australia, is mad for soccer. We passed by the New Zealand Parliament, an imposing structure. Local wags call it the Beehive Parliament both for the building’s shape and the incessant buzz that goes on inside. The Thistle Inn, the oldest pub in NZ passed by as we drove along Queen’s Wharf. It is a newly renovated waterfront area with shops, restaurants and commercial activities. A scenic waterfront walkway runs for several miles here passing many of downtown Wellington’s museums, marinas and restaurants. We viewed the imposing Te Papa museum, which houses a huge Maori history collection and a geological record of the area. We planned to stop there later in the day.
The bus took us up several narrow and winding roads to the top of Mt. Victoria. The 360-degree view of the ocean, surrounding mountains and valleys is impressive. All of Wellington laid spread out before us in the hills and valleys atop Evans Bay. Sir Peter Jackson, famed director of the whole Lord of the Rings series, lives here on an island in nearby Merma Bay. The driver told us that they call the city “Windy Wellington” because for 170 days of the year they experience winds over 35 knots per hour.
We were passing through Kelburn an upscale and hilly suburb. Here sits the Royal Botanical Gardens. We stopped by for an hour to admire the scores of beds of colorful roses on its grounds. A glassed in botanical structure and a small café serving tea and biscuits drew in throngs on this sunny and warm fall day.
The bus dropped us off in Courtney Square in downtown Wellington. There are over three hundred restaurants within a few miles of here. The daily river of some 20,000-college students attending Victoria University makes the downtown area a happening place to be. We set off walking along the beautiful waterfront. Throngs of New Zealanders were kayaking in the harbor, swimming in the jetty or lounging about in seaside cafes.
The Te Papa museum sits here astride the water. We entered this four-story edifice and settled into its first floor cafeteria to enjoy sandwiches and coffee. The place has a Wi-Fi connection so we also caught up on correspondence with home. The museum is massive in size and scope. Huge Maori war canoes, ceremonial meeting houses and all manner of artifacts are artfully displayed. The geological history and make up of the island is displayed in interactive exhibits for NZ School children. We wandered the floors for a time, admiring the exhibits but were tiring from the day. We gathered our things and set off back along the waterfront to find Courtney Square and the bus back to the ship.
We did so without incident and passed back though the security gates and onto the ship. We sat for a time on our deck nine balcony, enjoying a late day glass of wine and watching sailing regattas flit across the ocean all around us. It really is an idyllic place. The sand man claimed us in late afternoon. We enjoyed the respite.
The Venetian dining room, on deck six, found us seated for dinner with only George. His wife had succumbed to the dreaded Norovirus. She was confined to her room for the next three days. Teams of cleaners came in daily and changed her bedding and disinfected the place. What a bummer for her on vacation.
Prawns, with a Caesar salad, a mahi mahi fish course, ice cream and coffee, with a cabernet wine made for a wonderful dinner. We were tired from the day and made our way back to the cabin to read and retire. We had to turn our watches back one hour, for the change in time zones tomorrow, as we went further south and west.
Sunday, April 6, 2014- Akaroa, New Zealand
At night, the great ship sailed SW around the Banks Peninsula and through the Timotumu Head and the Akaroa Head, anchoring in the seep water off Cape Three Points. Any shore passengers would be tendered two miles up the fjord into Long harbor, Akaora.
It was French explorers who had founded this community in the mid 19th century. Many of the shops ashore and local place names still bear their names.
We were up by 5 A.M. prepped for the day and had an early breakfast before assembling in the Princess Theater by 7 A.M for our bus tour of the high passes of the Southern Alps of New Zealand.
A crew member led us down to deck three where we boarded a ship’s lifeboat for the twenty-minute tender ride up Long Fjord to the quaint harbor area of Akaroa. The mist drifting in from the surrounding hills covered them like celestial garlands drifting down to the deep green jade water in an eerie blanket. I could well have been in Northern Scotland or Central Norway. It was quiet and green and beautiful.
We boarded our bus here in this quaint village, population 1,000. We made our way around the scenic fjord admiring the serenity of the early hours in such a bucolic setting. The city of Christchurch lies a short 65 miles from here, but we would pass on seeing it today. A ruinous earthquake of 2011 had leveled the downtown area with much loss of life. The city is still rebuilding.
The bus made its way up a series of winding roads some 1200 feet skyward onto the long and narrow Salisbury Plain, which runs for a 100 miles north to south. The elevated plain is lush and green. The pastures are dotted with fat looking Hereford cattle and Merino sheep, all peacefully grazing in the dewy morning mist. The Manakua Oak and honey beech trees lines the roads and served as windbreaks for farmer’s fields. The Manakua honey produced hereabouts is a much-prized export.
As we crossed several small rivers and streams you could observe the stone-lined riverbeds. These waterways served as chutes for glacial erosion of the mountains. We had observed much the same process on the Alaskan mainland.
Midmorning found us at a charming sheep and cattle station named Roallen Farms. Amidst the splendor of towering oak trees and a rustic farmhouse, we were served tea and biscuits by the owners in a pleasant English tradition.
After the break, we began climbing towards Arthur's Pass, the main divide across the Alps to the western shore of New Zealand. The gorse-covered hillsides here are studded with granite rock formations that play with the imagination. Sedona and Monument Valley in the American Southwest have much the same effect. We stopped for a time, just across the one-lane Beasley’s Bridge that spans the Wiimekariri (very cold flowing river in Maori) River for a photo op.
A short distance further along, we boarded the quaint local train for the two-hour ride back down the plain to Rolliston. On the train, we were seated with Terry & Nell, two friendly Aussies from Melbourne. We had a decent lunch aboard train as we chatted with them and watched the scenic hills and valleys roll by us in a green blur studded with sheep and cattle. From Rolliston, high on the Salisbury Plain, we re-boarded our bus for the scenic and eye catching descent to the sea some 1,000 feet below us. It had been a ten-hour swing through the hills for us and we were tiring as we made our way back to the ship. Unfortunately, four busloads of hungry tourists had also arrived at the tender point wanting to be ferried back to the Dawn Princess. We waited patiently in line chatting with others and enjoying the pleasant visage of the deep green of the water and surrounding hills.
The tender ride back to the ship was equally as scenic. We soon found ourselves aboard ship and nursing a glass of wine on our balcony as the Dawn Princess slipped her ways and motored down the scenic Long Harbor Fjord to the ocean.
Dinner in the Venetian room was a treat. Snails in garlic sauce, corn chowder, calamari steak with ice cream for dessert, washed down by decent coffee and cabernet wine made for a memorable repast. Maybe we should get all of our cruise ship pants made with an elastic waistline?
We retired to our deck nine aerie where I wrote up my notes for the day. We read for a time and surrendered ourselves gratefully into the arms of Morpheus.
Monday, April 7, 2014- Dunedin, New Zealand
The Dawn Princess sailed south overnight, passing between the breakwater and the Tabora Headland and on into Otago harbor. We motored up the 20-mile long Otago fjord and docked at Port Chalmers.
The area is known for both its 19th century Victorian architecture and its Scottish heritage. It is also the last point of civilization before entering the chilly Antarctic waters and the frozen wastes of Antarctica enroute to the South Pole. Several Antarctic expeditions of note had launched from Dunedin in their exploration of the South Pole.
We were up by 6 A.M, breakfasted and met with our group at 7 A.M. We were taking the Taieri Gorge Railway, up some 40 miles to Middlemarch, high in the Taieri gorge of the Southern Alps. Our bus took us to nearby Dunedin, where we boarded a quaint, narrow-gauge railway for our coach ride, up along the eroded gorge.
The Dunedin train station is a 19th century beauty. A gold rush hereabouts in the 1860’s had attracted people and commerce to the area. The rail line had been constructed to haul ore and farm products from the highlands far above sea level.
The line was to be discontinued in the 1960’s. A private trust took over the maintenance of the train and its tracks. Volunteers now service the passengers, along with a few paid railroad men to run the engines. The coaches are attractive and seem of another era when things moved more slowly.
We were seated across a table from two very pleasant and knowledgeable Australians, Ann Dixon, a retired librarian from the Melbourne area and her daughter Catherine Williams, an elementary teacher from Queensland in the far north of Australia. They were to make the day pass pleasantly for us. We traded anecdotes and impressions with them about our respective countries. It is one of the great pleasures of travel to meet interesting people from far places and trade impressions and ideas with them. By day’s end, they were fast friends.
The narrow train chugged up steep ravines, bordered with gorse-covered hillsides. Hereford cattle, Merino sheep and even a few bands of graceful horses stood munching in the far meadows of the farmland we passed though. The train track spanned several gorges across swift running streams, like the Deep & Wingatui Rivers and Flat Creek. The drop to the ravine’s floor was often 200 feet below us, allowing for scenic vistas of eroded glacial water chutes that drained the high mountains all around us.
Sheep are in every pasture all along our way. They seem both placid and picturesque as they munch contentedly in their wooly splendor on the steep hillsides. The rock outcroppings here, so far above sea level, also capture the imaginations. It is a stark and brutal place in the winter for the snow stays long in the upper valleys.
Two thirds of the way up to Middlemarch, lies the small station of Pukerangi. The high and flat mesa (800 ft. above sea level) here was called the "Hill of Heaven" by the Maori. The train stopped here so we could peruse the wares of several Maori vendors set up along the tracks with tables of their native crafts. Woolen products, jewelry and other bric a brac were for sale. The air around us was cool, in the 50’s (F) and fresh with the smell of damp earth and fragrant heather.
Pukerangi was the extent of our trip today. We re-boarded the train for the two-hour run back through the gorge to Dunedin. The steep ravines, scenic via ducts and small tunnels along the way entertained the eyes and senses as they had on the way up. Lunch was served by docents and was pretty pleasant, including both wine and coffee. We chatted with Ann and Catherine. It was a pleasant day for us.
At Dunedin, we boarded a bus for the ride back to Port Chalmers and our ship. There, Mary and I stopped for some pretty good cappuccino at the Café Royale. A visit to the small Port Chalmers library allowed us to catch up on our Internet correspondence. A small “bottle store” nearby surrendered a pint of vodka for smuggling onto the ship. The owner obviously had been through this procedure many times. She advised us that the plastic bottle and cap wouldn’t show up on the ship’s security scanners. She was right, too, bless her heart!
Back aboard, we chilled out with newly acquired and smuggled spirits and wrote up our notes. My grandfather, a whiskey smuggler of note along the Canadian/U.S. border would have been proud.
The Venetian Dining room again entertained us. Crab meat appetizers, a Greek salad, poached salmon with a chocolate gateau, good coffee and a decent cabernet topped off the meal and a long day. Life is good.
We repaired to our room to read and retire. The Tasman Sea was acting up tonight. Nine-foot waves were making the ship rolled like a hog in a wallow.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014- Fjords National Park, SW coast of New Zealand
During the evening hours, the great ship motored through the Fouveaux Strait and rounded the southern tip of New Zealand. On the southwest coast, she entered the Fjords National Park. We were headed some 70 miles north up the coast to the Milford Sound, the largest and deepest of the coastal fjords. This evening we would then set a course NNW, through the Tasman Sea, towards SE Australia.
We had breakfast delivered to the room this morning, as we watched the massive shore-side cliffs slide by our balcony. Towering limestone and granite, gorse and lichen-covered cliffs front the coast in this area. Small ribbon falls and the occasional ravine were sluiceways for the melting snows of spring and the continuing erosion of the glaciers atop the mountains. The entire area had seen five glaciations periods in the last fifteen thousand years. Huge glaciers covered the area then receded with warming periods over and over again. The mountains were wearing down.
The ancient Maoris had called the land here “Atofina” or the shadow lands, due to the constantly changing patterns of shadows as the sun rose and set. They fished for seafood and mined for jade in the small inlets. The estimable globe-traversing sailor James Cook, with his two vessels Ranger and Resolution, had met Maoris here in 1760, recording his encounters for posterity.
We have come across the landing places of this notable mariner in Anchorage, Alaska, Kauai, Hawaii, Bora Bora and Tahiti, in the Society Islands, and now in New Zealand. In a few days we would see evidence of his travels in Sydney, Australia. One wonders at the temerity of these early, hearty sailors traversing the wide Pacific in small wooden boats, surviving on what they could catch from the sea or barter for on the islands that they landed upon. I don’t think they make men like Cook any more.
The Park area along the SW coast had been established in 1903. A single park ranger, Richard Henry, was assigned to manage the nation’s interests. There are two hundred days of rain that fall here every year. It comes down so heavily that they measure it in meters. (Nine meters per year on average)
We watched the huge coastline, mesmerized by the shadows that reflected off its ominous walls. Then, we settled in to read our books as the ship motored northward. We sailed past “Doubtful Sound” where Spanish ships had anchored in 1793, looking for new lands. And then we sailed past Thompson Sound. The seas were speckled with lobster pots and fishing buoys. Seafood here is bountiful.
It was late afternoon when the Princess veered into the narrow opening of Milford Sound, the deepest fjord on the coast. The water in the Fjord is 1300 feet deep and a dark jade green in color. The top three feet of the water here is fresh, so pods of dolphins, whales and other species often cavort in the Fjord. Gold had been discovered here in the 1880’s, so a brief rush of prospectors had traversed and carved out a road across the Southern Alps to the end of Milford Sound. Floatplanes and helicopters were flying overhead. Several small tour boats full of vacationers were also touring the fjord. It was evidence of a landing and small harbor ahead, with a road connection to civilization.
The top decks of the Dawn Princess were peopled, rail to rail, with camera-clicking admirers. It was sunny, clear and in the 60’s (F) out. Everyone oohed and aahed at the erose, glistening and tree-covered fjord walls. Cascades of water spilled from eroded ravines and sparkled in the late afternoon sun. Snow was still visible on the far mountaintops above and beyond us. It must have been a majestic sight for those who had first sailed here. The awesome sound of silence would have been pleasing to the ears. We took our pics and admired the late afternoon sun setting. It was changing the shapes of the high walls all around us. At the end of the fjord, we could see a small harbor with jetties and commercial activity. The huge ship slowly swung around, like a rope on a pivot, and headed back out towards the Tasman Sea.
We cleaned up for dinner and made our way to the Venetian Dining Room for the 7:45 P.M. seating. George’s wife, Jeanette, had been released from her medical captivity. She joined us for dinner, still queasy from her illness. Lox, a Caesar salad, salmon filets with vegetables, and a chocolate torte with ice cream were all washed down with coffee and cabernet. Who wants to stop eating like this until they put you in the grounds weighing 800 pounds?
Wednesday, April 9,2014 & Thursday April 10, 2014- Sailing across the Tasman Sea towards SE Australia.
These two days at sea were both restful and fun. Some wonder “what do you do at sea?” Well, we rise later than usual, eat leisurely meals and catch up on our reading. I finished Tom Clancy’s new book, “Command and Control.”
We wandered the decks, stopped for an occasional cappuccino and enjoyed the relative quiet of a ship at sea. The nine-foot rollers were making walking a challenge, so we gave that up and watched a movie. A late afternoon nap is a distinct pleasure.
Dining in the Venetian Lounge was pleasant. A whole array of tasty food awaited us. Baked Alaska, delivered by an entourage of the entire crew, is a wonderful tradition at sea. The Captain’s cocktail party showed off a few hundred people in their best formal attire. It is a wonderful old tradition at sea that is now falling by the boards.
Correspondence from the Captain advised us that all passengers were to disembark the ship in Melbourne by 10:00 A.M. No one would be readmitted until after four P.M that day. They were going to scrub the ship down, from stem to stern, in order to combat the Norovirus on board. Most of the passenger compliment ended their voyage in Melbourne, where they had embarked, so it wasn’t a major inconvenience to any one. Those few hundred of us who had boarded in Auckland were anxious to tour Melbourne and its environs, so it worked out for everyone.
We were approaching Australia, a land we imagined of cowboys, sheep farmers, and crocodile hunters, with a laid back charm that has permanently endeared its citizens to all Americans. I think most Americans know that Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and others are major metropolises with a sophisticated and educated elite conducting them, as well as any city their size on the planet. But that isn’t the image most of us have of Aussies.
Nicole Kidman had masterfully portrayed the Queenstown cattle stations and rural living in the WW II, in her epic “Australia.” She had also tastefully broached the subject of the native population and the ills they suffered with colonization. It is a subject most Americans are familiar with from our own history.
Mel Gibson’s “Gallipoli” and other epics gave us an endearing portrait of the bravery of Aussie men and women fighting for the commonwealth and the country’s far off attachments to the British Raj.
Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum had done a wonderful job portraying the itinerant sheep shearers in early Australia in “The Sundowners.” And a whole host of sports stars and film actors have announced that Australia has arrived on the international scene as an important player. But were I to choose one image that has endeared Australians to Americans, it would be Paul Hogan’s masterful performance in “Crocodile Dundee.”
Paul Hogan, a former bridge painter in Sydney, struck an endearing chord that has reverberated through the America psyche these last dozen or so years. The charming rascal, with the utter lack of pretentiousness and winning manner, reminds us of who we were once were, a land of small towns where farmers are among the most prominent people in the area. A place where small town values, with an importance on family ties and living a good and decent life by helping out your community are revered traditions. These are values we once cherished so much in our selves and now see and admire in our Aussie friends. We were much looking forward to the visit.
Friday, April 11,2014- Melbourne, Australia.
The ship arrived in Melbourne during the early morning hours. The flashing red and green lights of the channel markers led us into port. It was cloudy, breezy, and 60 degrees (F) with a light rain.
Our ship's berth was across from the three-decked car ferry “Spirit of Tasmania.” Regular service back and forth across the Tasman Sea to the Island of Tasmania is available here. The tall office buildings of downtown Melbourne sparkled with their neon lights illuminating the early morning gloom.
Melbourne, a thriving and beautiful metropolis of over four million souls, had been founded in 1835 by John Batman, a farmer and son of indentured servants from Sydney. He and a partner, John Garner, who would build and operate the Swann House Hotel, pretty much set up the beginnings of what would later bloom into metropolitan Melbourne. They planned the avenues wide so an ox cart could make a full turn without difficulty. They, and those who come after them, also provided ample land for a Royal Botanical Gardens and parkland through out the city, making it the attractive urban oasis it is today. The gold rush of the 1890’s had drawn many thousands to the area and it grew and expanded exponentially. Melbourne was the first capital of the nation of Australia. Her rivalry with nearby Sydney caused regional differences. They were finally settled when the capital was moved to Canberra in 1927.
We had breakfast delivered to the room and then met up with our group at 7:45 P.M in the Jammer’s Nightclub on deck seven. We were to take a city tour of Melbourne and a short cruise down the Yarra River that bisects the city.
I don’t know that you can ever describe a city as large as Melbourne in a few paragraphs. Our impressions of it are a comfortable city with broad avenues and much parkland to provide passive enjoyments for its residents. The 1956 Olympics here had brought the city to a frenzy. The large Olympic swim venue and other arenas like Rod Laver Stadium still entertain the sporting crowd. Everyone here is absolutely mad for Australian Football. It is a blend of soccer, rugby and officially sanctioned mayhem on a field where fans cheer and scream for their sporting heroes. Maybe the Boston Red Sox fans or the Chicago Bears football fans equal in intensity the fervor you find here for the AFL game.
The tree lined boulevards of the stately homes in the Jolimont section attest to the city’s commercial and professional success. The Victoria College of Arts gives a hint of its sophistication. It is big city bustle with the charm of a much smaller town. The Royal Botanical Gardens, with its impressive Anzac monument and the scattered Queen Victoria statues, remind you of the city's English heritage in tasteful parks with jogging tracks and flowering plants to please the eye.
Our brief cruise down the Yarra River cemented the impression that Melbourne is a comfortable place to live. Rowers glided by us as our small craft motored down the river. Joggers and cyclists used the river path, enjoying the bucolic settings of a park amidst the bustle of a big city. It is restful and eye pleasing here.
The bus let us off by Federation Square. A collection of shops and restaurants surround the local art museum. We had coffee and sandwiches in the museum and strolled its collection, enjoying as always that which is not familiar to us. We were tiring with the day and also mindful of the “last lifeboat “ syndrome of the bus that would pick us up here and ferry us back to the ship. We stood in line for 30 minutes until two buses came and picked up about one hundred of us waiting there. Later groups reported waiting for over an hour. The light mist and cool temps of an early fall day were making the day chill and unpleasant.
At the ship, we found a mass of humanity that rivaled something out of a portrait of Ellis Island in the New York harbor area during the 1920’s. 1,900 new passengers were waiting shipside for a chance to board the Dawn Princess. The crew was still scrubbing her down. This new compliment of passengers were folks from the Melbourne area who would ride the ship for two nights and get off in Sydney. Crew members call it "The Booze Cruise.” It was a brief cruise for them and they got to eat decent food and watch the ship’s entertainment for a nominal sum. They could also fly back to Melbourne for $75 (Aus)
Loudspeakers summoned those of us “in transit” to board first. We didn’t argue and made our way through the muttering crowds onboard, to settle in before dinner. We enjoyed a late afternoon “Toonie,” while I wrote up my notes. Then we watched “Gravity” on the TV. and warmed up from the chill of the day.
This evening, due to the organized chaos of the embarkation, we were seated with six Aussies from Melbourne. Two women were London expatriates who had emigrated here for work. It was a charming and fun-filled conversation with some good-natured ribbing back and forth about our various peculiar national traits. A shrimp and lobster appetizer, a filet of salmon, with spinach and black beans, and then a deep dish apple pie, with coffee and cabernet, made a wonderful backdrop for the pleasant conversation. It was an enjoyable evening meeting new people. We were tired with the day and ready to turn in. We made our way back to the cabin where we read and retired, happy with the day’s travel. Tomorrow, we would set sail for Sydney and the end of our cruise.
Saturday, April 12, 2014- Tasman Sea off SE Australia
The ship had left Melbourne last night, motoring NE through the Bass Strait towards Cape Howe. During the day on Saturday, she sailed around the Cape and followed the New South Wales shoreline on a northeasterly course, headed towards Sydney.
The Tasman Sea was running twelve-foot seas all day. The ship was rolling side to side and making some folks a little green around the gills. The ships crew must have been used to this. In each stairwell was placed a small sack of barf bags for use when the urge overcame a seasick landlubber. I find that if you lock one knee and leave the other one loose, it enables you to ride the back and forth motion of the decks. Also, I found graphic evidence of the golf concept of “putting through the break.” If you walked slowly, the pitching deck and gravity would shift you in one direction or the other. But if you walked much faster, your speed carried you through the roll in a pretty straight line. You learn something every day.
We watched the Masters Golf Tournament on T.V. Ole Bubba Watson was performing his miracle again. God Bless him. We dined, read and watched television somewhat uneasily, as the roiling seas bounced us around the entire day. The Captain cancelled the evening entertainment as a safety measure for the performers. We dined with two couples from Melbourne and enjoyed the repartee.
Sunday- April 13, 2014- Sydney Australia
It was the early morning hours when the Dawn Princess passed through the headlands and into Botany Bay, the origin of the Australian Experience. We passed under the fabled Harbor Bridge, imagining and shaking our heads at the tourists who pay $200 each to don coveralls and walk along the top of the Bridge, braving the stiff winds that cross here at 400 feet above the sea. The neon lights of downtown Sydney lit up the Jackson harbor area as the ship entered her berth. We could see the pale, white shells of the Sydney Opera House on the waterfront, perhaps the most iconic image of the entire area.
It was the end of our cruise. We were anxious to walk on dry land after the last day’s rough seas. We had breakfast and then at 8:45 A.M. met for our disembarkation slot. Procedures were perfunctory, even customs. We sailed through everything and even very quickly caught a cab. It had been an interesting cruise, but we were glad to be done. Later in the day the ship would sail off for a thirty-day cruise that would take it around the entire circumference of Australia.
The cab ferried us over to the oldest and most historical section of Sydney, “The Rocks.” It is so called because when the first ships full of convicts berthed here and pitched their tents in the new land, they did so on a rocky portion of the shore in Botany Bay. They called it “The Rocks.”
We were staying in a very old hotel, The Russell, dating to the 1880’s. It had sounded picturesque some 10,000 miles from here but who knows? It turned out to be a decent choice, in a great location, just across a small park from some cruise ship docks and rail and ferry terminals at Circular Quay. The rooms have no AC or services of any kind, but, it is clean and newly remodeled and features a complimentary breakfast for its guests.
The room wasn’t ready, but we sat for a time in a small sitting room and caught up on our Internet correspondence. Then, we parked our bags and set out to see what we could see. A light rain was falling and we were grateful that we had packed our rain gear.
The streets surrounding the Russell were filled with tent vendors for the weekend “Market in the Rocks” experience. We walked up and down the rows of merchants, admiring the native jewelry, boomerangs, bric a brac and all manner of souvenirs on hand. We bumped into George and Jeanette, our dinner companions on the ship and exchanged pleasantries. They were also staying nearby in the Old Sydney Holiday Inn.
From the Rocks we walked over to the Circular Quay. The SS Oosterdam was berthed here. Streams of passengers were walking back and forth along the quay. It was like Time Square in NYC. The train and ferry terminal nearby yielded some decent coffee as we pondered our alternatives. We decided that the “Hop on-hop off bus” was our best choice. For $40 each, we could board this bus for a two-hour tour of greater Sydney. We had the option to get off at any one of twelve stops and reboard a later bus. We paid our fare and sat topside, on the open-decked bus, despite the light mist of rain falling.
The irrepressible seaman, Captain James Cook had first landed in Botany Bay in 1770, claiming the territory for England and naming the area New South Wales. Sydney was named after a Colonial Secretary in England at the time. In 1788, a fleet of eleven English ships arrived, carrying some 1,400 convicts that were sent out from England as indentured servants. The area has grown from these humble beginnings, through a gold rush era, and expanded into the modern urban colossus that now thrills millions of tourists today.
The bus passed through Port Jackson, passing under the famed Harbor Bridge. Even in the mist you could look up and see tiny figures walking the top levels of the bridge some 400 ft. above. To each her/his own. We passed by and through the statue laden Royal Botanical Gardens and then by the stately edifices of government house and the Sydney Museum.
King’s Cross and the “red light” district was our next neighborhood. This place must really rock at night. “Bada Bing,” “Porky’s,” “The Pleasure Den,” and the “show girl’s restaurants” all gave promise of a night out for conventioneers. “Dragon Massages” also promised comforts of another kind.
We then traversed George Street admiring the churches and commerce on display. The magnificent Queen Victoria Building is a four-story sandstone masterpiece, with a green copper domed roof, that had been remodeled at a cost of $75 million dollars. It now houses four floors of shoppes and restaurants, circling an open four story foyer.
Then, we drove around Hyde Park, Its oval shape due to an early racecourse that entertained Sydneyites for generations. The Anzac memorial here commemorates the armed forces of NZ and Australia. The Australia Museum near here is a treasure trove of historical, geological and environmental exhibits and is usually sro on Sundays. A long line was waiting outside to see the dinosaur exhibits.
Our next stop was Darling Harbor. On the way here, we drove across Wooloomooloo St. past several vessels of the Australian Navy and the locally famous eatery “Harry De Wheels.”
The wonderful Sydney Aquarium here in Darling Harbor is the centerpiece for hundreds of newly remodeled shops and restaurants. Ferry boats bring in thousands who stroll the esplanade and linger over ice cream or lunch. The seven-story I-max Theater here draws them in for new film releases.
We continued on past Domain Park, admiring the various statues and government buildings. William Bly, of HMS Bounty Fame, had been the fourth territorial Governor of New South Wales. His log from the Bounty is displayed here. The nearby sandstone spires of St. Mary’s cathedral are a finely hewn portrait in sepia of the Westminster Cathedral in London.
The districts were becoming a blur now. We passed by the 1880’s terraced cottages, with their wrought-iron railings, and then on by the Sydney Seafood Market, the second largest in the hemisphere. Great old taverns like the “Quarrymen’s Hotel” and “Macquaires” seemed to pop up everywhere.
It was wet and we were tiring. We followed the bus around again on its new run, got off on George St. and walked into the controlled chaos of the Queen Victoria Building. Every café was sro. We browsed several shops and then decided the crowds were too large for us. A huge rainstorm had burst outside.
We followed George Street towards the Russell Hotel, trying to utilize the store and building overhangs to keep out of the rain. We stopped in “Dymock’s Book Store” and on its second level, settled in for some welcome hot tea and delicious scones with clotted cream and jam. It is awesome fare.
Finally, we made our way back to the Russell hotel and checked into room seven. A very hot shower removed some of the chill from the day. We put on dry clothes, sipped some decent cabernet and read ourselves to sleep, tired with the day.
Monday, April 14, 2014- Sydney, Australia
We were up by 6 A.M. and made preparations for a long day. We enjoyed a breakfast in the lobby of the Push Bar, connected to the Hotel Russell, and then walked over to a small plaza at the corner of Loftus and Alfred Streets. We talked with a girl from Cork, Ireland and a French couple. My own antecedents are from Cork, so we had that in common.
A visiting dad from Chicago, Illinois and his college daughter, who was spending her semester in Sydney, struck up a conversation with us. We were all waiting for the bus of the “Blue Mountain Tours.” Priced at $100 each, it was a nine-hour odyssey into the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney. Savage wild fires had broken out there several months back, with much loss of property. Mark, our driver, picked us up and set out through the city and westward on the M-4 “Western Way” highway. Traffic was heavy on this early Monday in April.
Our first stop was the charming “Featherdale Wildlife Preserve.” It is a small collection of animals and bird life native to the area. We were absolutely charmed by the Koala Bears munching Eucalyptus leaves in their trees. The small, furry wombats also amused us. A teacher from Queensland pointed out the Cassowaries and said that they are territorial and have a mean disposition. They even looked nasty up close. A small mob of Joeys (baby kangaroos) was docile as they munched on grains and bread. Every one took lots of pictures of this iconic Australian animal. Mark later told us that Australia now has one of the larger camel populations in the world, mostly grazing in outback pastures. But, it was the miniature blue penguins who were the hit of the visit. The playful little creatures dove and swam and cavorted for the tourist cameras like veteran circus performers. Several large emus and a few swamp wallabies also entertained us. A twelve-foot crocodile lay sunning himself, uncaring at the staring tourists. Colorful parrots and all manner of bird life screeched and squawked as we walked by. This was a great stop. It was to be the only real look we would have of native Australian wildlife.
From the nature preserve, we continued driving upward and westward crossing the Nepean River, the western border of metropolitan Sydney. We were now cruising along at the 3,500 foot level and entering the Blue Mountain Park Preserve. The entire area encompasses some 650,000 acres that include twenty-seven towns where 7600 people reside. It reminded me of the Adirondack Park Preserve, in New York State.
We drove on through the small tourist town of Katoomba. It had been founded in the 1880’s when John Brittany North’s Katoomba coal company mined the area for coal. The railroads then shipped the ore to Sydney for export to the Asian markets.
Mark stopped at a rural sight that overlooked the Negalong Valley. We were standing in a small clearing and looking at a raised mesa that separates the Negalong and Jamison Valleys. The 400-foot drop to the bottom here got all of our attention. Glacial forces and rising tectonic plates had uplifted this ocean bottom to the 3500-foot level where we now stood. Wind and water had eroded much of that rising plate several hundred feet, leaving these two heavily treed valleys glistening in the noonday sun below us. It was a majestic sweep of canyon that makes you appreciate the forces of nature and how many millions of years it had taken to form this scenic tableau.
Then we drove to nearby “Look Out Point." A small tourist enclave here formed around two former coal funiculars that rise vertically several hundred meters up the canyon walls. They had formerly been used to haul coal up the canyon face. Now, for $35 each, we had unlimited access to them for the day. They were like rides at Disney land. Sixty of us crammed into one set of cars and virtually slid down vertically to the valley floor below.
In the valley below, there is a raised wooden catwalk that runs for a few miles through this temperate rainforest. We admired the gum and eucalyptus trees and the cooler air here. Detritus of the old coal industry, in the form of broken and discarded machines, lay buried in the leaves of the forest all around us. One entire adit (mine opening) remained. A coal car and some mining equipment displayed some of the gear needed to extract the ore from the earth. A very steep set of stairs brought us up to another landing where w caught an even steeper funicular to the lip of the valley. I don’t mind saying that my eyes were locked shut during this quick vertical ascent to the surface.
Some of our passengers tried to get in to the cafeteria for lunch, but it was mobbed. A dozen other tour buses had dropped off hundreds of other passengers here for the day. The swirl of different languages erupting around us is always fascinating to me. We wandered through the gift shop grabbing some energy bars and designer water for lunch. Outside, it was sunny and pleasant and in the high 60’s (F). We sat for a time and talked with the bus driver, Mark. He is an interesting Melbourner who had tried several careers before driving tour buses. He was thoughtful and knowledgeable about many areas. It is these accidental encounters that really give you a real education when travelling.
Another group of our companions had boarded the tram that crosses the valley to another lookout, where you had a great view of the Three Sisters. It is an eroded rock formation comprised of three spires of rock cantilevered from the surrounding cliff. We joined the bus and headed over to pick them up. One couple was missing as we set out. They were busy taking pictures and forgot the time. Mark left us at the other lookout and went back for them. These were the only knuckleheads on the trip that day. Everyone else was considerate of others and polite, ideal traveling companions.
We had one last scenic stop, the “Flat Rock,” on the King’s Mesa. It is a spectacular vantage point to take in the whole valley. There are no handrails at the rock’s edge. I wondered how many daredevils they lose a year from people clowning around and slipping over the edge of the cliff.
The day was getting long and we were all tiring. We boarded the bus and talked with our companions for the ninety-minute ride back to Sydney. The college girl’s dad and she were going to walk the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge tomorrow. God Bless them. We had a pleasant exchange with them and two elementary teaches from Melbourne and Queensland.
On the outskirts of Sydney, Mark had us disembark. He put us on a ferry for a gentle and scenic ride down the river to the Circular Quay near our hotel. The iconic Sydney Opera house was appealing in the late afternoon sun. It had been a pleasant day with very nice people.
It was raining in the early evening as we set out for dinner. We found a delightfully warm and charming Italian restaurant on George Street named “Zia Pina.” The place was sro. We settled in for some very delicious mussels, clams and shrimp over Penne Pasta with a glass of Chianti. It was a great choice. Then, we walked back to our nearby hotel where I settled in to write up my notes, and enjoy a last glass of cabernet, before reading and falling into the arms of Morpheus. We had one last day in Sydney tomorrow and then we were due to fly eastward and home.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014- Sydney, Australia
We were up by 6:30 A.M. It was a cool 57 (F) degrees out. We had tea in our room and then a decent breakfast in the upper rear rooms of the “Fortunes of War” Pub. It too is connected to the Russell Hotel. We shared the space with seven other seniors and boy could they lard in the calories.
After breakfast, we set out along busy George Street. The incoming work-bound traffic was considerable. We flowed along the peopled river, enjoying the hustle and bustle of the morning. We were finally learning to look to our right instead of to our left at intersections in order not to be squashed by oncoming traffic.
At King Street, we hung a right turn and walked down towards the busy Darling Harbor area. The huge Aquarium there was our target for the morning visit. This early (9 A.M.) there wasn’t even a line outside. We walked up to the ticket booth and bought two senior entrance tickets for $63.Later, when we left the place the line was out the door and around the block, with antsy children waiting to see the attractions on display. The initial exhibits were all interactive and instructive for the small people to learn about the aquatic life all around them. We browsed them with interest.
Then, we descended several sets of stairs to the real attraction of the Aquarium. Four large tubes, with glass covering the top half of them, walked you through a wonderful array of fish of every kind. Giant Manta Rays with ten-foot wingspans, glided over the top of the tube graceful like flying birds in the water. A Hammerhead and a lemon shark glided by just out of touch, patrolling and always active, an inert menace that most humans shrink from. The colored schools of other types of fish were fascinating to watch as they darted in and out of the reef, whenever they thought a predator nearby. It was like watching a video screen hundreds of feet across and filled with darting fish that swam endlessly for your inspection and delight. You could stand there forever watching the sea life, mesmerized by their diversity and constant motion.
After the four tubes, we walked up to a small circular pond. I think they have aquatic shows here when feeding certain types of fish. In the last hallway, we encountered a massive aquarium with a twenty foot by 50-foot glass wall. We sat on a padded bench here and watched the multitudes of fish swim by for thirty minutes or so. Just when you thought you had watched and identified them all, another colorful nibbler would dart across the seascape, playing with a companion or looking for crumbs. It was a colorful movie, in real time, of a delightful underwater ecosystem. Some of the attraction was even human. A whole busload of tourists walked by us. Each had his/her camera phone and was snapping pictures of the watery tableau as they passed by us. I don’t know what they actually took the time to see, but I hope they at least got some good pictures of it.
We were glazed over after a few hours, as we are with all such museums and tourist venues. We walked out into the gray-clouded afternoon. The line to get into the place was a block long.
We strolled around the “Cockle Quay” of Darling harbor. It is a large oval of shops and restaurants surrounding a small bay, where water taxis and tour boats ferry tourist and locals here on holiday. The stream of urchins was constant, as they walked to and from the Aquarium, fidgeting like all small children do when dragged along to see something they may or may not have wanted to see.
On a bench, we sat waterside and watched the various ferries glide by. There is always a huge amount of activity hereabout either for the Aquarium or the seven story I-Max theater.
I was feeling the effects of a nasty respiratory infection that was to engulf us for the next several days, so we walked around the quay and found a Captain Cook’s Ferry. For $6.50, we took a restful ride back to the Circular Quay. Predictably, the activity there was frenetic. Another cruise ship had discharged its human cargo. They were scurrying hither and yon to see what they could see.
Coffee and blueberry muffins at a local Starbucks hit the spot. I had finally learned how to order coffee down under. It was long, flat and white, coffee that at home we would call coffee with cream. We sat here fin the small square for a time watching the ebb and flow of people taking tours and going to lunch. It is a fascinating observation that I never tire of.
It was late in the afternoon and the clouds were gathering skyward. We walked back to the hotel to write up my notes and chill out. We tried the “Fortunes of War Pub” next door for an early dinner but the crowd of afternoon quafffers was too much for us.
The rains came heavily in early evening. We settled in to pack our bags for the return trip and then read and retire. It had been a long and interesting trip, but we were ready to go home.
Wed. April 16, 2014- Sydney, Australia
We were up by 5 A.M. anticipation of the journey fueling us. Breakfast in the Fortunes of War Pub’s upper back room was pleasant. It was a nice amenity the Russell Hotel provides for its guests. Back in the room, we finished packing. We had ordered a cab for 10 A.M to ferry us to the Sydney Airport ($50). We checked out of the hotel and stood in front on busy George St.
Promptly at ten A.M the small van arrived and took us to the airport at the United Airlines terminal. Check in and security was perfunctory. It was early enough before the crowds start forming. Inside the terminal, we settled in for some very good Cappuccino from Gloria Jean’s and caught up on our Internet correspondence.
At one P.M, we were seated on the sleek aeronautical monster that would ferry us some 6,000 miles eastward to Los Angeles. The trip was unremarkable if long. I remember watching movie after movie, trying to pass the hours away. Celebrex helped alleviate the joint pain we had experienced on the way in.
At LAX, the line to get through customs was huge and the wait interminable. Civil servants know no urgency. One annoyed woman started hollering to see a supervisor. After that, the pace picked up somewhat. It was still agonizingly slow. We chatted with an Aussie expat who had lived here for thirty years, returning only a few times a year to see her mum in a nursing home in Melbourne. She longed for the relative speed of Australian customs.
Finally, we were through and were picked up by a van for a ride to the nearby Travelodge hotel. They had a room ready for us and we were thankful. It was only really 2 A.M (noon locally) in our internal clocks, but we were beat from the long flight. We slept for five hours, dead to the world. We had mysteriously gained back the day we had lost due to crossing time zones westward. It is an odd juxtaposition of time and space that I will never fully get used to.
The next-door Denny’s served me the same Tilapia Rancheros I had enjoyed coming out. It was just as good. We sat in our room, reading late and enjoying a glass of cabernet. We were glad we had made it this far without incident.
Thursday April 17, 2014- Los Angeles, California.
We had an early 6 A.M flight, so we were up by two A.M to pack and ready for the trip. A 3:30 A.M hotel shuttle brought us to the U.S. Air terminal at LAX. Security and screening was busy even at this early hour. One young lad, who had been beaten and robbed the night before, was trying desperately to talk his way through security. They were interviewing him as we left.
The five and one-half hour flight to Charlotte was uneventful. You have a relieved and pleasant feeling the closer and closer you get to home. At the Charlotte, N.C air terminal, we picked up our connector for the two-hour run into Southwest International Airport at Ft. Myers, Florida. The sights of the green fields and orange trees of Florida was a pick me up for us. We landed there in the late afternoon and caught a cab to our condo in Bonita Springs. We were tired form the long day’s travels and very glad to be home. It had been a very long journey, perhaps our last transpacific flight, but we were happy that we had that way gone and will long remember the sights and sounds and wonderful people we had met along the journey.