Fish & Bondi

Fish Market and Bondi Beach
February 17, 2017

It is soo hot and I am soo schwety. Yuck! However, we both really want to see the famous Sydney fish market. Yup, it is pretty cool. There are impressive displays of oysters, fish and sushi. We’d love to cook some, but we don’t have a kitchen. We sample some oysters and sushi then head to the BEACH!

We Uber to Bondi Beach (pronounced “bon-dye”). The plan is to walk one of the great coastal walks, Bondi to Coogee. It’s supposed to take 1-2 hours at about 6 miles. I read about it months ago, and it looks amazing, I can’t wait. BUT, the heat is overwhelming, even at the coast. We start out, but we are dripping with sweat and decide to save it for the next trip to Sydney, and a cooler day.

Heading back to Bondi Pavilion, there’s a festive restaurant that epitomizes beachy – wooden aqua painted tables, navy cushions , white shades above us, like sails. The view is world renowned Bondi Beach. Barry and I pull up some shade and a pitcher of Pimm’s punch. We watch the parade of bronzed beach regulars:  young parents with pre-nap toddlers, older folks with newly sunburned cheeks (maybe Brits?…mad dogs and Englishman…), bikini babes and lots of surfers. It’s a real show! I think Chris Hemsworth walked by a few times. Yumm! The ocean mesmerizes. There are layers of color that shift: white surf, tan sandy water, aqua, turquoise, jade, deep blue on the horizon.

Though we didn’t do the walk we’d planned, we get 4.97 miles on Fitbit. A final meal at our home away from home this week, The Lord  Nelson, ends our practically perfect day. We rent a car and drive North tomorrow.

You are so Manly Beach

February 16, 2017

The caretaker at The Lord Nelson, Ken, is Sydney born and bread. We are very fortunate to have breakfast next to him at the hotel during most of our stay. He is a huge asset to this place, a one man chamber of commerce for all of Sydney, actually. Today will be hot and humid. Ken suggests that today is the day to go to Manly Beach. He’s not the first person to suggest Manly over other beaches. Opal card in hand, sunblock, water, hats, we are ready.

Taking the harbor ferry is, again, blissful. Seeing this opera house and thrill that we were at the top of that harbor bridge, and the sun is fully blessing Sydney today, it is a great day to be here! The Manly ferry is huge, and we go to the second floor for the nonstop 40 minute ride.

The ferry doors open right onto beachy shops on a wide pedestrian street that ends at a stunning beach. Barry and I think the beach isn’t unlike La Jolla, with its promenade along the beach  and the shops are sort of like Santa Monica’s 4th Ave, only Manly is much sweeter. On the way down the Main Street to the beach we pass a donut shop that makes me come to an abrupt halt. Doughnut Time is 1940s cute, with an adorable clock logo that says something like “anytime is the right time for donuts”. These doughnuts are huge and the fillings and toppings aren’t like anything I’ve seen, even on Portland’s sinful Voodoo donuts. We are too full to try one, BUT I looked them up online, and they have other shops in Sydney. I will make one of you mine, my prettys!

The beautiful little children all around are conspicuously pale. Generally, they are slathered with sunblock, wear hats and often have rash guard type suits on. (I worked briefly with an Aussie when I was at Poway Unified District office. I remember her telling me the rule for kids in Australian schools, “No hat, no play”. She said they were really careful about skin cancer with the kids in the schools.)

On a weekday at this beach, I see mommies and little kids, school groups, young adults and ladies of my age and generous proportions who are comfortable in suits that reveal more than I would dare. Hey, it’s all good, no worries. After a little beach walking, I convince Barry that we should rent an umbrella and lounge chairs. Ah, this is the life! My mind drifts from conscious to unconscious while listening to surf, gulls, children playing in the water. Time is suspended.

We are crisping up, even under the umbrella after a couple of hours. I wipe the sandy drool from the corner of my mouth, must have dozed off. Time to move from the sand. A seafood restaurant a block away offers a devine appetizer sampler plate, and with a crisp Hunter Valley Australian Sauvignon Blanc, we are as happy as clams (or oysters, in this case). Our Morton Bay bugs look like small lobsters and are yummy, oysters are creamy and briney, prawns are good and the salmon served two ways (one with caviar, wrapped around asparagus and the other in a packet of CREAM CHEESE) are amazing. I have to admit that the US dollar is strong right now and we are feasting without breaking the budget. This adds another tick up on my ever present grin.

That evening we try out the Australian, the pub where the man who shot the child molester got away with murder and Paul Hogan’s favorite pub. We have to order the coat of arms pizza. The Aussie coat of arms has a kangaroo and an emu on it. Our new buddy, Ken, told us that they are on the national emblem because neither are physically able to step backward. Australia will always move forward, inspired, isn’t it? Actually, they may be great as symbols for Australia, but they don’t taste so good on pizza.

Ghosts in Sydney

Ghost walk
February 15

We did the Harbor Bridge climb in morning. We had an excellent Japanese dinner, which was just as wonderful as the Indian diner from the night before. The diversity of the population is certainly reflected in the wonderful selection of food here. (Not unlike Sacramento)

Tonight we do a ghost walk in The Rocks. I have to admit that I used to really enjoy these walks at night, hearing a usually talented storyteller give us a history lesson after dark. Lots of times they have greatly enhanced our understanding of what life was like for the people of the area, what the mores were, the economics, the power struggles and politics. One of the best was in Edinburgh. The high school history teacher who was a part time ghost tour guide many, many years ago made me fall in love with Edinburgh. He told funny stories, he told stories of murders and he told stories of war and plagues, all as we walked through this ancient city. Old Edinburgh is such a bewitching city, but at night with a great storyteller, I become a time traveler.

Since that first trip to Edinburgh in the 1980s, we’ve gone on ghost walks in many cities: London, New Orleans, Savannah, Wilmington SC, Victoria BC, Portland, Ore, Key West FL, Sacramento, maybe more. Admittedly, I am an older traveler now, a sensitive, softhearted grandma. I don’t find them to be as much fun as they used to be. They tell of real people’s lives. Lives that end tragically or brutally and many of these people lived very hard lives, filled with heartbreak, up to their departure. To tread on scenes of their torment feels so ghoulish. I can only bless them and feel profound thankfulness for the life I have been given.

Our Sydney guide is very talented, dressed in black with cape and top hat, he really has a dramatic flair and uses the power of suggestion to make you feel the cold air where the murder took place or see the face of one soul, long gone, in a window. We hear stories of people publicly hung for stealing flour, children accidentally buried alive when they were unconscious from the plague, death by self inflected penis removal, murders by spouses, young mothers who die in childbirth. The lives of people in early Sydney, especially for the profoundly poor, were so full of pain that I don’t know how they could go on to draw their next breath.

One story is not quite as ghoulish, I think. A man who had been a known child molester returned to Sydney after being away from some time. Many of the local children who had been his victims had grown to late teens and early twenties. The child molester, unwisely, visited The Australian, a well known pub. A well known and popular citizen, who was also at the pub saw this accused child molester, and shot him in front of at least 50 people. The murderer was jailed and held for months. The case against him was dropped, not one person would appear as a witness against him. Sounds like the law was not respected, but justice served?

Sydney Being Artsy Fartsy

February 14, 2017
Sydney Opera House Tour, CMA, Barangaroo

The tour of Sydney Opera House did not disappoint. I learn lots of interesting tidbits that make it all fun. Did you know that they had a concert just for dogs on their outside concert area? Yup, they made music that was only audible to k-9s. The pups sat and listened to the concerts as their owners sat in the quiet for the concert to end. How weirdly funny is that?

Another fun fact allows me to show off a recent travel experience of my own. The architect of the opera house, Danish Utzon Jorn, was very familiar with Kronbourg Castle, in Denmark. My beloved and I visited this castle only last fall. The tour guide said that the site for the opera house reminded Jorn of his Kronbourg Castle. He based his design for the opera house on the properties of Kronbourg which he admired. I could see that!

The architect’s father was a ship designer, that also influenced Jorn’s design. Most people identify the white shells as sails, but also the large interior windows of the opera house are mounted as they are in ships, slanted at an angle. During the evenings, there is no reflection from the inside, only views of the harbor lights on the outside.

The exterior is covered with tiles, most are an off-white, but the exterior segments are outlined with beige. There are also gloss, but also matte tiles. This is to allow it to glow, but to not look too harsh. These are the funny little facts that I forget, but maybe will come to the surface should Alex Trebec ask.

Jorn had a real time of it with the opera house. It was way, way over budget, took many, many more years than anticipated. He was blamed. He resigned. It was completed without him and he never returned to Australia to see it completed. The bitter sweet ending is that years after it was completed, he was asked to design more parts to it, including an interior that is really breathtaking. He was in his eighties then and didn’t journey to Sydney, but he did get the recognition that he was due.

As we tour the opera house, the cloudy skies break open and sheets of water flood off the building. It was an interesting perspective.

Rain, meh…what to do? The CMA (Again, initials!) Contemporary Museum of Art is an interesting way to explore Sydney from inside. It is very close to the opera house and we duck in. Some exhibits are very moving, or disturbing, some are stupid. I do try to better understand modern art, I took a couple of years of art history in college, toured Europe with an art professor. I adore most types of art, but modern….It isn’t like I haven’t tried? One exhibit was an electrical plug on a wall and a power strip. Another exhibit was a video presentation of three women dressed like clowns who repeated the same deep questions, “What shall I say?”, “What shall I do?” There was an exhibit of an old concrete sink.

I went into the ladies room, which was pretty cool, by the way. A museum guide was standing in there with a clipboard. I swear to you, my first thought was that this was an exhibit and I’d be in huge trouble for using the potty! Thank god, I heard a flush, a woman came out and the museum guide went in! Phew! (I am so not cool, apologies to my adored daughter, who is an artist.)

The sun comes out and we head to Darling Harbor. How great a name? It is far from “darling”, it’s a massive area of modern hotels, condos, and entertainment. We encounter a very long line for the aquarium, with many, many sunburned cranky children. Barry and I decide…you got it….a cocktail would be nicer. The Cargo Bar offers up some refreshing distraction from the now hot sun and tourists (Yes, I know that we are tourists…)

Walking back toward The Lord Nelson, we explore the Barangaroo area. This area got just a little mention in our tour books, so we were were mightily surprised by this newly developed area the day before when we spied one end from our hotel. Barangaroo also has modern buildings, but also a really unique park with native grasses and huge monolithic rock features. It is the anti English park, so different from the Royal Botanical Gardens or Hyde Park. It’s waterfront is modern and hip. The whole planted park is the roof of the future Barangaroo transit station!

We ate at a BBQ place, nothing says “Be may Valentine” like a hunk of ribs. We fell into bed with 10.18 miles on Fitbit.

Sydney Walking Tour and Watson Bay

Sydney Walking Tour and Watson Bay
February 13, 2017

The walking tour that we took today was very crowded and the guide was hard to understand. The good thing about the tour was that we got a better lay of the land and a little bit of a history lesson. Even before the tour, Barry and I walked from The Rocks to the CBD (central business district). This was our first chance to see lots of real Sydneysiders going to work. It’s hot again today and most of the ladies are wearing breezy summer dresses with sandals. Most men are not wearing ties and I don’t see any men in jackets, even carrying them. It seems very casual here.

It looks like most cities, with similar international chain stores and businesses. We did enjoy walking through most of the QVB (Queen Victoria Building, what is it with all the initials?) The QVB inhabits a large city block and is a Romanesque Revival “cathedral” to shopping. High end international brand shops fill the four stories. Stained glass, wrought iron, statuary and tea rooms give it such the ole British tone. To me, the most interesting features are two mechanical clocks. Each one features dioramas and moving figures from moments in history. The Royal Clock activates on the hour and displays six scenes of English royalty. The Great Australian Clock, weighs in at four tons and stands ten meters tall. It illustrates 33 scenes from Australian history, seen from both Aboriginal and European perspectives. The Aboriginal hunter circles the exterior of the clock continuously, “representing the never-ending passage of time.”

It was a tremendous help to us that we read Bill Bryson’s book, In a Sunburned Country. It’s an excellent book, Bryson has a wonderfully dry sense of humor and the book is well researched. I read it about seven years ago and read it again for this trip. I forced Barry to read it too. (I can be so domineering, ha!) Bryson makes the following major assertions: Australia really is an amazing country, There are more things that can kill you in Australia than anywhere else in the world, Americans don’t know much about Australia because they aren’t doing stupid things to get themselves in the news.

So, having read that book, we knew about the convicts who were shipped over here to Australia to reduce prison populations in England. Many were sentenced to, in reality, lifelong exile in a very hostile land for relatively minor offenses such as theft. The colonization was ill planned and many prisoners and ship’s crew died during the journey and even more died from famine or disease after arriving here.

Though Aboriginal people have been living in Australia for more than 40,000 years, and on more recent evidence perhaps as long as 60 000 years or more, the British named everything after themselves when they arrived. (So British!) Of particular interest is Lachlan Macquarie, a Scot. He was the Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821. An inscription on his tomb proclaims that he is “The Father of Australia”. I suppose that lots of things in the USA are named for the father of our country, Washington. Likewise you can’t walk very far in Sydney and even throughout Australia and not see something named for Macquarie.

Therefore, on our walking tour we hear lots about Macquarie. We also see old hospitals where they locked the patients in, because it was a death sentence to be treated there. Conditions were horrendous. We enjoy a little bit of the Royal Botanical Gardens, learn about Sydney Tower, monuments, early buildings and such. Honestly, without the Bryson book, it would have been meaningless.

The temperature and humidity climb, beer (or beer-ah, as they say here) is required.

Two different Sydneysiders tell us that Watsons Bay is the place to go when it gets sticky in the city. We give public transport a go and buy an opal card. This clever card allows you to use busses, ferries and trains in Sydney and its environs. You put a minimum of Australian $20, and top it off at kiosks all around as you need to add more money to it. There are discounts for the more you use it.

A Samoan teller at the tourist office sells us our cards and we strike up a little conversation. This fellow is so muscular, and so good looking, and so neatly tribally tattooed, and so friendly, he looks like a Disney version of himself. Anyway, he asks where we are from. When we travel we usually say we are from California just to be more precise. These days, we also distance ourself from the buffoon in office, by saying we are Californians. We tell Gorgeous Samoan, “California”.

He says, “USA”.

We say, “California”, with a little more meaning than before.

He had a good laugh, “Ah, ya, I get it!”

As our ferry pulls out from Circular Quay into the harbor, I am surprised at how compact this area seems. I feel like I could ALMOST swim from the bridge to the opera house. For about $5 US, we get a very pleasant 40 minute ferry ride right past the opera house, by beach suburbs and up to little Watsons Bay.

“I could live here.”, both Barry and I say simultaneously.

It’s a little beach town with rowboats in front of nice little homes and a seafood restaurant that opened in 1885. The seafood place, Doyle’s, has even added onto over the years and looks crazy charming. Before we get some Sydney Bay oysters, we need a little walk about. Though the weather is a little cooler here, it’s still damned warm. We make it to the “gap”. This is an thin strip of land between the harbor and the open sea beyond. There are rocky cliffs and an inviting hiking path. However, it is tooooo hot. The remedy is beer and fresh shucked oysters.

I don’t feel too badly when I check the Fitbit, 8.06. miles!

Sydney. The Rocks Rock

Sydney. The Rocks Rock
February 12, 2017

Cruise ship arrival in Sydney is splendid! The slightly downside is that we arrive in Sydney Harbor just before dawn. So our first very dramatic views of the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge are in silhouette, with the moon glowing behind storm clouds. The bridge and opera house are still impressive, and I’m glad that I set the alarm to get up at 5:30 am to see our arrival and go under the Harbor Bridge.

Our stateroom neighbors have gotten up to see the arrival as well. They are in a suite next to our humble cabin. This Chinese couple and their Americanized 20 something daughter (whom I have jealously spied in red heeled Christian Louboutin stilettos on at least one occasion onboard) have paid probably 7-10 times more than we did for our passage. We have rubbernecked their larger two bedroom suite with envy as we’ve walked by, but whoa, the price tag! Both the daughter and mom were in my hula group, so we have spoken a few times during the trip. This morning we smile and wave as we enter the harbor from our respective balconies. Then the mom reappears where our balconies join. “We are locked out! Can you call someone for us?”

We are, all five of us, in our bathrobes at our balconies and this is really sort of funny. With a chuckle, I call the guest services desk. A heavily accented woman listens to me explain that my neighbors are locked out of their suite and are stuck on the balcony. Please send someone to unlock their door, I ask.

“Yes, Madame.” She responds too quickly. I then ask, “Do you understand?”

She responds, “Yes, Madam, what do you need?”

Grr, I repeat my request and end with “Send someone to the Mo’orea Suite, right now.”

I go back to the balcony to let our neighbors know I called guest services and I will check back to see they are ok in a few minutes. Then our phone rings and a new voice says, “Ah, good. You are back in your cabin now, Madam?”

“No……grrr….no”. I explain again. Really, though, the ship is staffed by people from all over the world and we’ve had no difficulty communicating until now. The service on the ship has been just wonderful. All the staff have been so friendly and hardworking.

Finally the poor souls next door are rescued after nearly an hour on their balcony in bathrobes.

As the daylight arrives, we pull in toward the dock and Australian Immigration comes onboard. Barry and I have time for one final dining room breakfast, at least for a while. As has been my new beloved custom, I have a big plate of papaya and a coffee. It’s good to be spoiled sometimes.

In no time, Barry and I are in a taxi heading to The Lord Nelson Brewery and Hotel. What an inspired idea, a hotel in a brewery! The Lord Nelson claims to be the oldest pub brewery in Australia, established in 1841. Its outside is built of convict quarried sandstone with an English style sign over its quirky corner door. The inside of the pub could double as a pub in London. Full of character and yeasty beer smell, I just love this place. We are housed in a very small room, but with a generous bathroom on the fourth floor. No elevator, so that helps us offset the beers that we are enjoying. ( )

The food is also delicious at the pub. On our first day here, we tried the Quayle Ale (gawd, named after Dan Quayle because he visited here) and Victory Bitters as well as splitting an order of heavenly fish and chips. Quite fortunately, we meet a young woman sitting at the table next to us and her partner. She was an American from Michigan who “lost the toss” when she and her partner were deciding where to life. (Ha! Lost the toss, she is so lucky! Anywhere, Michigan vs. Sydney!) As you might understand, her partner is an Aussie. Now they are both Syndeysiders (This is the darling term for folks who live here!). The American has been here for 18 years and is firmly Aussie. “You must try the meat pies with mushy peas while you are here. They are comfort food for us, as pizza is for Americans. ” she advises. She and her partner both dig into theirs and we take notes on the rest of their great insider tips for seeing their city. Though we don’t get to a meat pie until our last day in Sydney, we followed lots of their advice. We also enjoyed most of “The Lord’s” beer selection and a few of their meals.

Our first adventure is to explore our own neighborhood, The Rocks. This is the most historic area of the city, with lots to see. Today is a Sunday, and they have their regular weekend street market. It is really hot and sticky today, this slows but doesn’t prohibit our shopping. As we’d hoped, we found some fun and unusual souvenirs. There were mostly crafts: jewelry, wooden pieces, clothing, soaps, but no food at the fair.

The Rocks architecture is a mix of old world, mostly British, and some other elements. We are surprised to see so much wrought iron work for balustrades and corrugated metal roofs. The tropical flowers and verdant parks with gorgeous trees really contrast with the dark rocks in hillsides and cobblestones. Most homes are two storied and very narrow. These refurbished homes are now very expensive. This area was once home to the poorest of the poor, now it’s a highly sought after location. Warehouses are now turned into upscale shopping areas and a very nice Holiday Inn. This area is built into rock, hence its name and unusual street patterns, up, down and around.

By evening it cools and we walk Campbell’s Cove area to see aboriginal art galleries, eateries on the water and postcard views of bridge and opera house. We also locate the last remaining late 20th century wrought iron public urinal! It’s really a beauty. We put 7.28 miles on my Fitbit today, quite satisfying!

Larger cruise ships than ours are docked at the foot of The Rocks, in Sydney Harbor. Our ship docked in White Bay Cruise Terminal because it is smaller and can fit beneath the Harbor Bridge. But here, at the foot of The Rocks, each day a different ship appears in the early morning and departs in the early afternoon. We feel so fortunate to have a week here and just that one miserly day. When we leave Sydney, weeks from now, we will depart from The Rocks, right on Sydney Harbor, onboard the Queen Victoria.

CLIMBING Sydney Harbor Bridge

Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb

February 15, 2017

Today’s the day for the bridge climb, Barry and I decide over breakfast today. It’s not raining today, as it was yesterday and its not hot. Tomorrow and the next day will be very hot. “Lets do it!”

As I started researching for this trip, Sydney’s Harbor Bridge Climb kept coming up as a must-do. I thought it sounded fun, walk across the bridge, nice very, easy peasy. I learned lots since then. It isn’t just a walk across the bridge, as the Brooklyn Bridge. It really is a climb! AND they are very, very serious about safety.

We need to sign a medical questionnaire that ascertains that we are healthy enough to do it and various waivers, in which we promise that we will follow directions of the staff. There’s even a rule against joking about safety precautions! We sign a paper that states that we know we could die. Then everyone takes a breathalyzer test. How’s this for a fun morning?

I do admire the precision involved in the preparation, however. It does make me feel safe. We change out of our street cloths into a jumpsuit. We only wear our skivvies underneath this polyester, zippered suit with lots of hooks on it. We have to remove most jewelry, including my Fitbit, darned. We have to go through a metal detector, then start training! Training! We learn how to strap on our safety utility belt, not unlike Batman’s. There are hooks on it for our cable attachment, hooks if we want to wear a hat, glasses and a handkerchief (for wiping sweat says our guide, though at the start I thought I’d have to use it for a different bodily fluid! ) Then we do a short practice on a mock up of the ladder system. No problem at all. Radios are attached to our belts from behind and we get headsets to hear the guide, Jess. Everyone gets sunblock from a community bottle that is attached to the stairway.

Our guide gets radioed permission to proceed. Ok, this is serious. We each attach our cable hooks to the apparatus that will attach us to the bridge through out the whole climb. It slides along as we walk along a cable, we also have handrails on both sides. First we across some catwalks then some stairs. There are some places where we step over some structural pieces and have to duck under some low pieces, but I am generally feeling exhilarated by the beginning views. The metal grating that we are walking on allows us to view everything below our feet. We can see the structure of the bridge just above us. Then comes the first set of ladders. I didn’t like them at all. We each climbed a section on our own and I was startled by the noise of the car traffic and trains that I passed. It was steep, loud and scary. The worst part for me was moving from one ladder to the next on a small landing that jogged over a couple of feet. My cable got hung up on one of these and I had to focus on unlooping it rather than looking down. (I have to admit to some self talk which I am glad others couldn’t hear. “You’re ok, you can do this, one step at a time, just breathe…” I think there were 4-5 of these sets of ladders in all.

Things got much better for me as we reached the arch of the bridge. Oh yes, we climb over the top of the bridge. It has a wide arch that is a gradual hike. The opera house is just to the right of us, with all of Sydney spread out around us, 360 degree view! The steps are easy and I feel very relaxed and safe. I get it now, it is just amazing up here. The opera house is half the height of the bridge, the cruise ship in the terminal looks small. The boats sail by far below, the wind is cool and gentle. Though there are just a few sprinkles, we are blessed that it isn’t hot. All the way up to the summit, the guide gives us historical information, geography lessons and stories about how the bridge was built. She takes lots of photos and even a short video. Certainly observation towers give views similar to this, however, there is a very different feeling to be up here, open to the air on all sides, above it all. Only some rails and the cable attachment remind me that I am not a seabird perched here on the top of the bridge.

The climb back down on the ladders is as unnerving as the trip up. Jess, the guide said we’d be next to some trains that would be going by, and that she likes to shock the passengers by waving at them. Ok, I’m not taking a hand off the railing for anything!

Finally off the last set of ladders and I have to admit that my legs were really shaking. I feel like a wuz until I overhear the couple that comes down after me talking to the guide. They both have shaking legs as well. Jess says she used to shake too and that the muscles used to come down that way are weak in most people. Yeah well, that’s probably true, but also fear in my case. Jess tells us all that a pint will get rid of the shakes and Barry and I set off for one, three and a half hours and 1, 332 steps after we started this climb!

I’m really glad we did this, but don’t need to go again.


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.

Tasting All that LIfe has to Offer