Cruising Down Under
Australia to New Zealand
December 17, 2007 to January 5, 2008
Australia to New Zealand
December 17, 2007 to January 5, 2008
Friday, December 21
We woke to a warm day, with bright blue skies. We were not due to depart Sydney until the evening, so after a good breakfast (delivered to our suite just for fun), we set out to explore more of the city and to buy me some shoes for the ship's gym.
Other than the occasional Victorian era building, the city felt very modern and familiar. (I bought the gym shoes at Payless, after checking out Adidas and the Footlocker.) Naturally, Starbucks was present...although not yet on every corner as at home. Australia may be more like the United States than any other country on earth. We both had native populations who were displaced by the European settlers, and we are both "young" countries. As at home, the "old" buildings here are no more than 200 years old. The people, too, seemed more like Americans in their openness and chattiness.
After lunch, we went to the spa for a routine that began with a cold shower, then into a very hot tub, a rest on the warm stone bed, then back into the shower again. (I was very clean!)
It was a gorgeous day, and we headed out again past Circular Quay where we could look back for another gorgeous view of the Harbour Bridge.
There were several street entertainers on the Quay, including two aborigines - one in modern dress and one in traditional garb - who were playing the digereedoo, a rather haunting instrument which makes long low booming sounds.
We finally returned to the ship for the mandatory life boat drill and to get ready for dinner, which turned out to be a "notable" experience, although not, perhaps, one we wanted to repeat. I had just said to Rob, "Maybe we'll have the good fortune to be seated with people who will become new friends." Instead, we were seated with Ingrid, a German-born Australian of about 75, whose first words to me were, "That's MY seat." She then proceeded to talk non-stop (literally) for about 1/2 hour. The only think that slowed her down was the arrival of our food. Now I have met some people who were so fascinating that listening to them was a pleasure, but that was not the case here. We heard about her life in Germany and the terrible conditions of the war, and her moves to England and then Australia. She seemed to love us almost immediately (although she had not asked us one question about ourselves or our lives) and by the end of dinner, had invited us to her daughter's home on Kangaroo Island and to her farm in Adelaide. We left the table with a sigh of relief and decided to take advantage of the ship's open seating policy after this first dinner.
As we got past the city, we could see that the harbor was lined with beaches surrounded by net barriers to keep out all of the various stinging and biting creatures that swim these waters.
The last channel before the open ocean was filled with little sailboats, and the Statendam had to blow its very loud horn three times before some of these little boats moved out of our way. Then finally we were out in the open sea heading south to Melbourne.
Saturday, December 22
Relaxing at Sea
There is no denying that crusing is a very hedonistic life-style. We started our day with a workout in the ship's gym and relaxing in the "thermal room" then just enjoyed a quiet morning reading. After lunch, we went for our massage. My massuese was Annie, a darling Australian girl who was on her way home to Melbourne for Christmas with her family for the first time in eight years. Rob and I both enjoyed our massages so much that we immediately booked another one for later in the cruise.
It was formal night, so we dolled ourselves up and went to meet Gene and Toby for a lovely evening. What a change from our dinner company of the previous evening. The conversation was lively and entertaining. Gene and Rob discovered several books they loved in common, and we all bemoaned the state of the world.
During dinner, the nice weather of the day changed dramatically, and as we waited for the evening's entertainer to begin, we really started to rock and roll, with the ship giving off some loud booms as it slammed down into a couple of big dips. The pianist was okay...jazzy versions of the classics...but as I often find on cruises, too much "showmanship" and not enough "artistry." I enjoyed the ship's piano bar pianist, Fritzie, better. She was an odd looking woman, with lank blond hair and buggy eyes, but she knew how to entertain the group and how to get us singing along. She played "Embraceable You," and I shared the story of Mom's wartime recording of the song for Dad. The audience seemed very touched.
Sunday, December 23
Koalas AND Kangaroos!
We were served tea and biscuits by a very cheery Aussie named Margaret, then we continued on to a National Park in the You Yang mountains. The hills were covered with eucalyptus ("gum") trees, and two "spotters" had been out scouting the locations of the koalas for us. They only found two this morning, but we got a good close up look at one of them. Each koala had a name. The spotter had a little booklet with descriptions of all of the known koalas in the park, who were identified by the various white spots under their noses. Our first koala was quite calm in spite of our standing around under her and continued her snooze.
We found the second koala very high in a tree. Without the spotters, I never would have seen her nestled in the very center of the big "gum" tree (which is what the Aussie's call the eucalyptus). I kept my eyes up looking for others when suddenly I spotted two bright pink birds on a branch nearby. I asked Tom, "Do you have parrots here?" and he replied, "Oh, yes!" I pointed them out and he identified them as galahs, which we know as rose-breasted cockatoos. What a thrill to see cockatoos in the wild! Apparently, they had the large sulphur-crested cockatoos here, too, although I didn't see any.
Finally, we drove to the top of a high hill for a great view all the way back to Melbourne, then rode back to the city. Tim had me help lead the bus in singing "Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree," which I had learned years ago in the Girl Scouts, and "Waltzing Matilda."
We met back on board for dinner, where we had another interesting encounter. We were seated at a table for eight. One of the couples had a darling little seven year old daughter who was obviously highly gifted. She had already read and enjoyed all of the Harry Potter books and could name all of the 13 original colonies. I got to chatting with her dad and discovered that he worked in the television industry. When I asked him which shows he had worked on, he said, "Have you ever heard of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer?" Have I heard of it? I spent every Tuesday evening at Brian's house for two years, watching every single episode! My dining companion was the producer of Buffy! What a fun surprise! I could hardly wait to tell Brian and Deena.
Monday, December 24 -
Christmas Eve in Burnie, Tasmania
We docked at the port city of Burnie, the third largest city on the island. By the time breakfast was over, it was time to join our tour to Wings Wildlife Park. Our guide, Kaye, was friendly and knowledgeable, although she had a rather odd habit of ending every sentence with the upward lilt of a question. The drive from the seaside to the interior of the country was lovely, with blooming gardens and green fields filled with grazing sheep. We also saw quite a few fields of cultivated opium poppies, as this is one of just six places in the world allowed to grow poppies for medical uses...and it is strictly controlled.
As you might expect, the cockatoos, which are very social birds, wanted to interact with the tourists. One of them responded to my greeting with a cheery, " 'ellow, Cockie!" in a thick Australian accent! Naturally, Rob was completely enchanted and spent a great deal of time preening the neck feathers of the cockatoos, who equally enjoyed the encourter.
I actually got to pet a baby Tasmanian devil in the arms of one of the zoo keepers. They are kind of cute in an ugly sort of way.
and had a close up encounter with a darling little koala, whose fur was soft and silky, rather than wooly like the one in Sydney.
After Rob's workout, he and I joined the Team Trivia game, which became an almost daily ritual during this cruise. We joined up with some very enthusiastic and knowledgeable players and our team consistently came in first or second place. I came home with quite an assortment of visors, luggage tags, Statendam mugs...all that Jeopardy practice has paid off!
Tuesday, December 25
Later in the afternoon, we joined Gene and Toby for "Win-a-Cruise" bingo...one single black-out game. I had only four spaces left, but did not win a cruise. No time to be sad...it was time to dress for the formal Christmas dinner. Gene and Toby joined us at a table for 10 with a family from England and a woman who coordinates large conferences, including Jack O'Connell's recent Educational Summit. After dinner, the Christmas performance was a very entertaining 50's and 60's variety show. We were fascinated by one of the male dancers who could kick his leg up completely parallel to this body...very talented cast.
Wednesday, December 26
Still Out to Sea
Today found us still gliding the 1,000 miles or so from the east coast of Australia to the west coast of New Zealand. We slept in late (heavenly)...and it seemed even later, as we had moved the clocks ahead one hour during the night. It was a lazy day. We worked out in the gym, lost a dollar in the ship's casino, browsed through the shops, and read.
Later in the afternoon, Rob and I did a mile walk (four times around Deck 6), pausing at the end to watch the gorgeous albatrosses that swooped behind our ship. I had just read an article about the albatross that very morning so the timing could not have been more perfect!
That evening, Rob bought me a beautiful pink freshwater pearl necklace for my Christmas present on our way to the evening's entertainment...a comic magician. More comedy than magic, but lots of fun and audience participation.
Thursday, December 27
Milford Sound and the New Zealand Fjords
Rob and I sat on our own deck and watched the misty scenery, as we cruised slowly to the end of the fjord, then slowly rotated and continued back to the open ocean to head south and around the southern tip of the South Island,
Friday, December 28
Dunedin - A Scottish City in New Zealand
Saturday, December 29
Christchurch - and a Visit to Antarctica
We returned to the city center where we enjoyed the various street performers, including some school kids who were making a bit of money during their summer break by "River Dancing" on wooden planks.
The day was beautiful and the square in front of Christchurch Cathedral was filled with both tourists and locals enjoying the warm weather and the little craft fair.
Christchurch is a very attractive little city, filled with unexpected works of art decorating the streets and walls.
We had a nice lunch at the Arts Centre where we had a chat with a fellow and his gorgeous rainbow lorikeet. Rob and I both held it, but for some reason, it decided that it wanted to put its beak up my nose...very disconcerting!
We returned to the ship and I raced upstairs just in time for the trivia game, (which was NOT a successful one - where do they come up with some of these obscure questions?!), then had an enjoyable dinner chatting with some folks from Hawaii and California, and ended the evening with a performance by the Statendam singers and dancers...the best entertainment on the ship!
Sunday, December 30
Picton and Queen Charlotte Sound
The tour ended back in Picton around 1:00 with still plenty of time to explore the little seaside resort.
Rob had just returned from his hike along the ridges above the Sound, which he said was one of the best he had ever taken. The trail meandered through the woods, past stands of the Silver Fern, one of the two main symbols of New Zealand (the other being the kiwi bird), and past great views of Picton below and Queen Charlotte Sound spread out below him.
Monday, December 31
New Year's Eve in Wellington
Ww woke to cold, grey skies again and we docked in Wellington, the modern capital city of New Zealand, which sits at the very southern end of the North Island. Immediately after breakfast, we set out to explore the city. Wellington does not supply a free shuttle from the pier into the heart of the city, but it was an easy 15 to 20 minute walk along the waterfront.
The wharfs along the city were very pretty, with an interesting mixture of the sleek new and modern side by side with the lovely ornate Victorian.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
Happy New Year! A Lazy Day at Sea
We woke up to much better weather than the morning yesterday so we put on our summer clothes and enjoyed a quiet and uneventful day. I took advantage of some of the ship's activities...a lecture on Tauranga, our next stop...a flower arranging demonstration...and of course, Team Trivia.
We met Sam and Jo outside of the Rotterdam Dining Room just by chance, so we joined them for dinner again, then went to the ship's movie theater to see "The Lost Legion," a prequel to the King Arthur story.
Wednesday, January 2
Another Day at Sea
It is quite obviously a volcano, with a big caldera, a number of steaming fumeroles, and the smell of sulphur in the air. In fact, it was a sulphur mining operation until eleven miners were killed in the eruption of 1914. It erupted again in 2000, sending out big clouds of ash, and experiences constant tremors right up until today, athough it has never threatened the mainland.
We floated off the coast of White Island for about an hour, then continued north.
I attended the mandatory Disembarkation Lecture, which Darren made very tolerable and amusing with a list of actual questions (read "actual stupid" questions) that guests have asked him over the years:
"Can I go to the Singles' Party if I am married?"
"Is the TV on the ship satellite or cable?"
"What elevation are we at?"
"How will I know which photos are mine?"
"Does the crew sleep on board?"
Following the lecture, Rob and I attended the "Suite Luncheon" with the Captain in the Pinnacles Dining Room...one of the perks of our upgrade to a suite...and were seated with Gene and Toby for another great visit. Meeting them really was one of the highlights of this cruise!
Thursday, January 3
Tauranga and Mount Maunganui
We docked in the morning at the Port of Tauranga, which actually sits across the bay from the town of Tauranga at the little beach resort of Mount Maunganui, named for the big hill (one individual peak, like Moro Rock) at the end of the peninsula. It was another gorgeous day - blue, sunny, and warm!
We left the ship immediately after breakfast to hike the trail to the top of the mountain before it got too hot.
We strolled along the boardwalk for awhile and sat on the grass above the beach people-watching and enjoying the fine weather, then returned to the ship for lunch.
We followed the ocean swim with a dip in the pools at the bath house at the foot of the mountain...a nice little complex of three natually heated pools and several hot tubs...all salt water. We especially enjoyed sitting under the very powerful jets of water for a nice shoulder massage.
Then we made our way back slowly back to the ship through the town, browsing in the shops along the way. Dinner on board was a BBQ party on the upper deck.
We finished our day at the final performance of the Statendam singers and dancers...a "World Beat" extravaganza with amazing costumes and more astounding dance moves. On the way back to our cabin, we went out on the deck to enjoy the clearest night of the entire trip. The stars were bright and gorgeous...and somehow "wrong." We found Orion, but he was standing upside down - one of the funny consequences of being south of the equator!
Friday, January 4
Bay of Islands and a Maori Marae
We stopped for some photos at the old mission houses, which are some of the oldest buildings in New Zealand.
It was fascinating. The entry to the hall was decorated with the traditional carvings and faces we had seen at some of the museums on our trip...not, perhaps, as elaborate as some of those in the museums, but very authentic. The inside of the hall was covered top to bottom and side to side with photographs of the ancestors of the people of this village...with photographs going back into the last century. We were asked to take a moment of silence to honor these and our own ancestors. Then the residents of the village who were there sang a song and chant of welcome, and we returned the courtesy with a chorus of "You Are My Sunshine." It really was a special moment!
and visited the Treaty House where the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand's founding document was signed. This document still serves as the guide to the treatment of land and laws between the British and the Maori inhabitants of New Zealand.
Saturday, January 5
then enjoyed a stop in a city garden blooming with roses of all varieties that perfumed the air delightfully.
From there, we continued outside the city to Bastion Point and the memorial to Michael Joseph Savage, New Zealand's first Labour prime minister. Gene and Toby were also on this tour, so we enjoyed one last chance to visit with them before heading home.
We are always glad to be going home, but Australia and New Zealand left us wanting more. We will return here in the future!