Category Archives: New Zealand

Auckland Bush, Beach and City

Auckland, New Zealand
February 8, 2017

Awaking to the sound of the crew getting ready to pull into our berth, I opened the balcony drapes to see the gorgeous skyline of Auckland, New Zealand. We are right in the downtown and I am anxious to explore! It is know as the City of Sails. It has approximately 135,000 yachts and launches sitting in its harbor, more per capital than any other city in the world! The city sits between two harbors on New Zealand’s North Island, across from South Island. Since it is in the Southern Hemisphere, it is currently summer here. However during our visit here today, is a little cool we even have some sprinkles.

Though we are anxious to check out the city, we first meet our Daniel Craig lookalike guide (only better looking!) for a minibus drive to the Waitakere Ranges for a bush walk, and then to Piha Beach for a walk.

I have to admit that my excitement regarding Auckland is diminished by the horrendous traffic. Daniel, er I mean, Alex (our guide), explains that gas and used cars are relatively inexpensive. Therefore there are two and half cars for every Aucklander. It took a while to get out of the city and Alex continued to tell us more about his adopted home. He and his wife were Germans, but fell in love with New Zealand over 18 years ago. They are not alone, the city of Auckland is currently growing at 80 people per day. There are significant housing and transportation issues here, as one might imagine, and that we see on the highway! He said that many of the newest immigrants are Asian, and that the current population is about 69% of European ancestry and 15% Polynesian, with, as I said a rapidly growing Asian population. In fact, this is the largest Polynesian city in the world. Real estate prices are rising and foreign investors have an effect upon those prices. He talked of a Chinese family whom he met on one of his tours. They lived in a very small flat in Hong Kong worth well over two million dollars, but could pay half that for a larger, nicer home in Auckland with a better quality of life.

Finally out of the traffic, we climb the verdant, green hills to start at the Arataki Centre, gateway to the rainforest. From here there are views to all of Auckland isthmus with the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Tasman sea to the west. There are some impressive Maori carvings of men with very decorative man parts. There is also a small but interesting nature museum.

Then we head off for our bush walk among giant fern trees and native birds. The movie, The Piano, was filmed here and I promise myself to watch it again soon! The rainforest does not disappoint, it’s just beautiful. We were fortunate to see several kauri trees. These trees were heavily logged by early Europeans, nearly 2/3 of these ancient trees are gone. They are dense, huge trees that take 1,000 years to reach maturity!! They are being replanted and protected, but with their slow growth rate, it will take a very, very long time for the recovery effort to make any effect.

Back into the minibus, we drive to Piha Beach to see the iron rich black sand beaches and the famous surfing area. The wide beach and unusual rocks at the coastline remind me of the Oregon coast, but the black sand is pretty unique. Today is drizzly and cool, but on a warm day, the black sand is very hot on bare feet.

On our drive back to Auckland we pass wineries and orchards, many of which were established by Slovenian immigrants. Though New Zealand has nine sheep to every person, with four million people, we didn’t see sheep today.

We did pass a huge movie studio that is owned by Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings fame. He is from Wellington and has most of his studio business there. The New Zealanders call Wellington “Wellywood”.

Alex drops us off by the ship, but Barry and I head off into the city. We walk down the harbor side area with modern buildings and shipping containers repurposed into lounges and take-out restaurants. Past the North Harbor area we toured the fish market. It was fun to see the variety of local seafood. Getting hungry, we go to a pub and shared some fresh fish sliders and a beer sampler.

It was an early morning for us. We find that downtown Auckland has most of the big chain stores that we have at home. It is crowed and not that interesting. We head back to the ship. An excellent folkloric show with Maori dancers tops off the evening. If we go back, we’d see the glow worm caves, Auckland tower and maybe Albert Park.

There will be three sea days before we get to Sydney and disembark this ship. I am sooo ready. This isn’t quite our longest cruise, but it sure seems like it. Maybe because it is a small ship, or there’s been more rough and colder weather? I am getting buggy being onboard. I have finished a few books and made an embroidered map of Australia. We’ve played lots of pickle ball, seen some good movies, but I’m ready to be on our way in Sydney.

Many of our fellow passengers are staying onboard until May! (Half of our dinner group and nearly all the pickle ballers!) They are on a world cruise that will continue from Sydney to Asian ports, and beyond. As for me, I just don’t think I’d enjoy that much time on one cruise, limited time in ports (almost always just one day) and the people to people connections that you make are the fellow American passengers, not inhabitants of the places you are visiting. Just for fun, I looked up where the World Cruise 2017 will go after we leave them in Sydney: Cairns Australia, Papua New Guinea, Guam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Sanya China, Singapore, Phuket Thailand, Cochin India, Mumbai India, Dubai UAE, Petra Jordan, Suez Canal, Santorini Greece, Rijeka Croatia, Venice, Koper Slovenia, Malta, Gibraltar, Algarve in Spain, Bermuda, Ft. Lauderdale, Aruba, Santa Marta, Panama Canal, La Paz Mexico and end in LA.

Bon voyage! I think Alaska and one week transatlantic are my favorite cruises. Alaska because you can see the glaciers and some great excursions and transatlantic because you arrive in Europe or from Europe without jet lag and feeling quite spoiled.

New Zealand, Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands, New Zealand
February 7, 2017

The approach to Bay of Islands reminds me of Puget Sound . There are many, many very green islands. As in Puget Sounds, sailboats dance all around the waterways. In fact, Bay of Islands is an area in New Zealand’s North Island which encompasses more than 140 subtropical islands. As we get closer, I can see that the greenery is made up of giant fern trees and other tropical vegetation, not pines. We have to take tenders into one of the small towns, Paihia, to explore the Waitangi Estuary by sea kayak.

Mangrove forests line most of the estuary and the sound of insect songs rise and fade. The three, young energetic guides (two Kiwis and a Canadian) act as our guides. They are full of stories as well as information. They promise to show us “North Island penguins”, which turn out to be large numbers of black and white cormorants. The cormorants inhabit “New Zealand Christmas trees”, which the guides tell us have wonderful red blooms in the summer, which of course, is during their Christmas.

One of the guides invites us to paddle below one of these trees. He has a mischievous grin and we see that the tree has a large number of cormorants perched in it. “Come enjoy some New Zealand snow”, he says. Sure enough, as if one cue, one of the birds lets loose and nearly dumps all over him. He very good naturedly says it’s good luck to get snowed upon.

If these three guides and their coworkers at the kayak office are any indication of what other Kiwis are like, this is a land of cheerful, friendly folks. Even though there are some people in our group who have never kayaked before, a lady whose bottom is so generous that she barely fits into the kayak seat and several older folks, the guides are all about “no worries” and having fun. Everybody has a good time.

At the midpoint of the paddle, we reach Haruru Falls. It was New Zealand’s first river port and aramoana (sea road or ocean path) for the Maori tribes. Though not large, it was fun to take photos nears the falls, then west romp through some serious mud to get to a shady grassy area of a resort to break for water, juice and a really funny assortment of New Zealand snacks.

One of the snacks that was a real hit with we Americans was chicken flavored crisps (potato chips). It tasted like Lipton chicken soup, only a potato chip. Also funny was that instead of a picture of a chicken on the package, it has a cartoon penguin. There were some chocolate orange snack bars that the absolutely adorable young woman guide confessed were her downfall, and juices that included unique combinations such as raisin-passion fruit.

After snacks, Barry and I were free to kayak back on our own. How glorious, the kayak gliding though the water, the insect sounds, the sun and salt and New Zealand. I am just loving it all!

We caught a shuttle bus into town for some local brews, Tui and Chomp, nice and cold. There were a couple of old guys whom I suspect had already had a beer or two before the ones they were currently enjoying. They were sitting next to two empty seats where Barry and I hoped to perch to enjoy the opened sidewalk view. One of these guys was blocking the way for us. It was a little noisy and when repeated taps on the shoulder didn’t get the guy’s attention, Barry put a hand on each of his shoulders from behind and asked if he would scoot over.

The fellow’s quick response was such a surprise, “Ah! When I feel two hands on my shoulders the next thing I expect is a finger up me bum!” Then his buddy said something about needing a bar of soap! Oh my god! Then they had a great laugh together. Fun loving and bawdy bunch, these Kiwis! They wished us cheers and had more be-arrrs.