An Alternative Sydney

Posted in Uncategorized on Feb 25, 2019 by David Palmer

(25th – 25th Feb)

The Columbus took on her pilot outside Sydney harbour at 5.30am, many of the passengers were up on deck in the dark to watch the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge pass by as we made our way to a berth in White Harbour, but to their disappointment the Opera House was in darkness and the usual brightly illuminated bridge had just the navigation lights lit, though its outline was clearly visible. Sue and I watched the bridge slowly progress towards us from the comfort of our cabin bed, before making our way up top for breakfast as we made fast to the wharf.

We were jumping ship today and had packed our cases the previous evening, during breakfast they were being transferred ashore in readiness for our collection. We left our home of the last two months around 8.45am and after passing through customs we collected the cases and found our taxi transfer to the hotel in Castlehills. The journey there was surprisingly long (nearly an hour) and if it hadn’t been a Sunday it may have been even longer.

The Hills Lodge Grand Mercure is a very modern hotel built to look like an authentic British mansion, but the climate and flora betrays its true origin. We were disappointed to discover how far out from Central Quay it was located, but we were determined to find the best the area had to offer. It seems that during the coming weekend, Carnival was coming to Sydney and the hotels in the centre were 100% booked and had been for a year. It is more popular than Australia Day and the New Year celebrations and is held exclusively for the Gay community. How the world changes.

The hotel reception were brilliant at providing us with Opal cards, cash and a taxi soon after our arrival to take us to Parramatta Ferry, where we were to visit Cockatoo Island. The ferry takes you down the Parramatta River, eventually ending up at Central Quay, though our destination was two stops short. The ferry is much used by locals and visitors alike and is usually quite full, with an ever changing number due to the large number of stops along the route. Our journey took 1hr and 5 min. To off load and take on new passengers never took more than a moments as the crew had the procedure of coming alongside the wharfs as efficient as it could possibly get and they hit their timetable targets every time.

At first the river was fairly narrow, around 40m in width and mangrove grew on either side, our speed was limited here to 5mph as not to create a wash that would destroy the shoreline vegetation. The mangrove teemed with bird life, pelicans, herons and cockatoos were prevalent but there were many other colourful species that I don’t know the name of. As the river broadened and the banks became reinforced with rocks the ferry picked up speed and the stops became more numerous. Some having names such as Kissing Point, Abbotsford and Dulwich. The houses and settlements along the shore were certainly upmarket and under a warm sun and clear blue sky were seen at their best. It must be a lovely place to live, if you could afford it. After passing Sydney Olympic Park we started to see apartment blocks, presumably built for the athletes but now used by resident Aussies. Glass seems to be the most used material all along this river.

Cockatoo Island is very close to central Sydney, originally a inhabited by the aborigines (it is sacred to them), but when the British came we used it as prison for those miscreants who were rejected by other gaols as being too violent or disruptive. Soon after wards a dry dock was built there to furnish and repair the British fleet. Of course the prisoners did most of the work in building the facilities and on the ships themselves. The conditions for the prisoners were the worst in the British Empire and deaths were common. The warders had a fearsome reputation for brutality. When the prison was closed it remained a place where ships were repaired and built, before briefly becoming a prison again. It has also been a school for girls. During the 1st and 2nd World War it again become important for ship building for the Australian navy, before being abandoned in the 60’s. Today, it has been recognised as an important heritage sight and work is on going to preserve it.

The island is free to visit, the only charge is $5 for a headset from the Tourist Information office that provides information along the various stopping points on the marked routes of a provided map. We arrived early in the afternoon and there were few visitors, but as the afternoon wore on it became quite busy. Most of the buildings concerned with ship building remain, though most in a poor state, many of which you cannot enter, those concerned with its past as a prison seemed to have had quite a bit of restoration work done on them. The information boards on most of the buildings were excellent and really gave you a feel of the past.

There are three tunnels that go from one side of the island to the other, only two can be walked through, which we did, noticing the chisel marks evident on the walls, chipped out by criminals of the past. From the top of the island you get great views of the Parramatta River, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the central part of Sydney, you can even see the Opera House.

It was lovely way to spend and afternoon and to get to know and experience a bit of Aussie history that the Aussies themselves are only just waking up to, the trip up and down the River are worth the effort alone. It was this river that Captain Phillip sailed up and created the first settlement in Australia on the site of present Parramatta.

Returning by way of the ferry again, we stopped to have a meal in a little restaurant by the river before taking a taxi back to the hotel, we were very tired, it had been a long day.

We decided to spend our final full day in Castlehill visiting the Koala Bear Reserve. Armed with our Opal cards and Google maps on my mobile phone we caught a bus to Castlehill Terminus then caught another almost immediately to the Reserve, just a few kilometres away. They have a very efficient transport system here.

After paying the entrance fee of $28 each we set off armed with a site map and schedule of feeding times to enjoy ourselves. Highlights were; stroking the koalas, feeding the kangaroos and an emu, talking to a very friendly kookaburra and penguin, spotting an echidna move, woke up two wombats and watched a sheep being sheered. Plus a lot of other animals like bats, that just hung around and didn’t want to interact with us. Nearly forgot, Sue stroked the obligatory snake that she always seems to find.

We had lunch in the Reserve restaurant after seeing everything, then went around again to see our favourites. A lovely way to spend a day and there was plenty to see, even shetland ponies, but we couldn’t work out why they were there.

We retraced our steps to return to the hotel, stopping to have a look around the shops in Castlehill on the way.

That evening we ate dinner in one of the local bars before returning to our room and packing in readiness for our transfer to the airport the following morning.

NZ to OZ

Posted in Uncategorized on Feb 25, 2019 by David Palmer

(21st – 24th Feb)

Quite a few of the passengers disembarked in Auckland and were replaced by new faces, not Kiwi’s as you would expect, but Aussies taking advantage of a shortish cruise back home. We are told that there will be a further 200 disembarking in Sydney and we will be among their company. On the 22nd we met a couple during lunch who we discovered had been allocated to our evening dinner table, not unusually they were Brits that had relocated to Australia quite a few years ago and were at present about to downsize their home near Sydney to another, a short distance away. They were taking the cruise to escape the stress of the lead up to the moving day. Not an option open to Sarah or Jamie on their recent house moves, but I am sure they could see the benefits of doing such a thing.

Unfortunately, on what should have been our first full compliment of evening diners on our table, Ian and Diane were guests at another couples’ renewal of their vows and had been invited to the celebratory meal and were absent.

As we ploughed our way towards Australia, the weather cooled down to a more reasonable 25 degrees, but the swell increased to around 3m which made for some erratic movement of the ship. Whilst walking along the decks you would suddenly get the sensation that you were walking up hill with a heavy body and then a few moments later one of descending downhill with a floating sensation, though there are no visual clues as to what is happening other than a feeling. Whilst lying in bed, this rhythmic fluctuation from heavy to light has the benefit of lulling me to sleep, I am not so sure about Sue. However, on cruises in the past I have occasionally had to dine on my own due to Sue’s seasickness, not so on this trip, so far.

A funny thing is coincidence. Our cabin is located on deck 6, our lifeboat is also number 6, but much stranger is that on each of the shore tours (every single one) we have been allocated number 6. So guess what our allocated three digit number dining table is? 666? No, it is 111. Also, the other day I noticed that there is no deck 13, it took 50 days to spot that. I wonder if Chinese cruise ships are missing deck 7?

On the final evening before landfall in Australia the captain gave an announcement during dinner that they had been closely watching a cyclone developing over the Tasman Sea and this had now led to his decision to stay two nights in the safety of Sydney harbour rather than one and miss visiting Hamilton Island. I was surprised by the amount of cheers that went up, indicating that this decision was most welcome. I know Sydney is a great place to stay but I have never been to Hamilton Island so I would have been disappointed, but a cyclone is a cyclone and in a ship it isn’t wise not to take them seriously.

A Delay in Picton

Posted in Uncategorized on Feb 20, 2019 by David Palmer

(21st Feb)

Our departure from Akaroa was severely delayed due to the late return of the tour buses to Christchurch. The traffic had been very heavy and one or two other problems ensured that the Columbus did not sail until much later in the evening, putting into jeopardy our arrival time in Picton. Though we could feel that the captain had put his foot down during the night, we were woken by an early morning shipwide announcement (unusual) confirming that indeed we would be arriving an hour late and that due to the wind and swell conditions we would not be berthing at the town pier but instead would be using the one used by container ships, a little way outside the town. There would be shuttle buse laid on to aid our access into Picton. We berthed alongside what appeared to be a harbour dedicated to the export of huge piles of cut logs and could smell the not unpleasant aroma of freshly sawn wood from the outside decks.

Our route into Picton had been along the very pretty Charlotte Sound, exclusive and quite remote summer houses could be seen clinging to the sides of the mountains, reachable only by boat and owned no doubt by those wishing to escape from the rest of the world, at least for a while. The surrounding landscape, we were to find out later was very different 75 years ago. The early settlers had cleared away all the tree cover to make way for Merino sheep to the detriment of the eco balance of the area. Birdsong had not been heard here for over a century. A climate of heavy seasonal rainfall and occasional violent tectonic plate movement (earthquakes) had washed away much of the soil cover into the depths of Charlotte Sound. Since the sheep herders had left, the land had been left mostly to its own devices to return to its natural state, though a further problem was created when parts of it were planted with Californian pine to provide a cash crop. However, this tree grows at 5 times it’s usual growth in this climate and soon its seed was being spread into the protected areas, with an unforseen problem. The roots of this species produce a toxin which prevents the growth of anything beneath or near its canopy, so the expected regrowth of the indigenous species and a return to the natural flora and fauna of the area was being impeded. The solution is to drill four holes into the base of the trunk and fill them up with poison, not an easy job as reaching them in such difficult terrain and heat was something I wouldn’t fancy doing. Today, the surrounding hills and mountains are covered in a lush green canopy of tree ferns, manuka and black birch trees among many others, punctuated here and there by silver grey, stag like, dead pine, fingers seemingly reaching to the sky, asking, “Why me?”.

Watching the preparations from up on deck 14 of the shore-side crew getting ready for the departure of the Columbus’s guests I couldn’t help noticing that there appeared to be no wind and the sea seemed flat calm, what was this nonsense of dangerous conditions for not docking in the town? Sue and I had booked a tour which was not due to leave until 12.30pm and we were hoping to visit Picton in the morning to have a look around before returning to the ship to catch our tour. However, with a late arrival and having to acquire a shuttle bus ticket to transit into town (10 minutes away), we thought that our ticket ‘H’ was too far down the list to be viable and this proved the case. At 10am I gave away our tickets to a couple holding ‘O’ and we settled down to coffees and watching the buses shuttling to and fro, we later supplemented this with some burgers (shocking isn’t it?)

Our eventual transfer to the town dock to catch our catamaran ride to Mistletoe Bay went smoothly, we even had half an hour to take photos and wander around the local outdoor market conveniently situated next to the quay. Sue and I managed to secure prime seats on the top deck of our craft, giving us a great uninhibited views of our journey. We called in at various beaches and slowed on occasion to ogle at the plush waterside residences on our progress to the dropping off point in the bay to begin our walk through the New Zealand bush country.

The small Mistletoe Bay is also the home of an equally small eco-friendly settlement, whose residents live here all the year round and are completely independent of most of societies’ comforts. They do take in small groups and individuals wishing to experience this kind of life, for a brief time. Today, a small part of school children seemed to be enjoying its lack of facilities.

Once on the shore our party, split into four groups each with a guide to walk part of the Charlotte Sound Trail, which in its entirety takes 4 days to complete, we were going to spend just 1.5 hours along its route. We were lucky that within our small group of ‘would be trekkers’, there were no infirm among us and all kept up a reasonable pace ensuring that we didn’t have to periodically wait for people to catch up. The one reason I dislike walking in groups.

The path itself was sufficiently challenging to make it a nightmare for anyone who wasn’t reasonably fit, and gave us as real an experience as you could get in such a short time of the rigours of bush trekking. Our guide was very knowledgeable providing all sorts of quirky information on the flora and fauna we were passing through. The black, silver birch is the host to a very strange creature, it looks like a sting ray, sits under the bark of the tree with its thread like tubular tail protruding with a drop of honey evident on the very tip. The creature sips the tree sap to produce the honey, which in turn attracts ants and wasps,which in turn help to protect the tree. How neat is that?

Another gem of information concerned the leaf of one of the trees, the Maori use it as toilet paper and having felt it and confirmed that it is indeed soft and hardy enough for the job, I am sure that if we lived here Sue would be making a great saving on our toilet roll budget.

I thoroughly enjoyed this brief escape, wishing we had longer to enjoy the New Zealand bush, but we were all too soon sat back on the catamaran enjoying the sun and sipping coffee and chocolate biscuits. We were the first group back, the last one being close to an hour later, why would undertake a trip involving a bush walk in flip flops?

On our return journey, as were were skimming along at pace, our captain gave us a running commentary. We discovered that he had been listening into the radio chatter between the Captain of the Columbus and the Picton Pilot, it seems that the reason for our berthing at the container dock, was not because of the sea conditions, but because we had mechanical problems and the ship didn’t have the manoeuvrability to berth at the narrow town berth. That would account for the loud bang that woke Sue up at 6.30am when the ship would have been using its thrusters to turn around in the narrow sound. I slept soundly through it all. I hope they fixed it while we were ashore.

We had just over an hour to spend in Picton before shuttling back to the ship. We walked along the narrow foreshore then explored a small and pretty quay side garden, before heading off down Main Street for Sue to experience some retail therapy along with other cruisers. I visited the pharmacist and bought some syrup that I was assured would stop my annoying tickly cough that I have picked up, it tastes lovely, but doesn’t work and at $25 I shall be exploring the New Zealand trades’ description legislation!

We left the port of Picton with just a small delay. We were missing one of the passengers, she had been hospitalised while on shore, from the top deck I watched her husband (with police escort) arrive at the quayside to collect her passport from the ship. I guess this sort of thing happens all the time on cruise ships, but it isn’t often we get to know. I hope the couple have sufficient insurance and things go well for them.

We now have three sea days to chill out on before we reach Sydney.

Akaroa, a walk around a submerged volcano.

Posted in Uncategorized on Feb 19, 2019 by David Palmer

(19th Feb)

Akaroa is a picturesque seaside settlement, south west of Christchurch. It is situated on a spectacular peninsular made from two extinct volcanoes whose craters were flooded by the sea over time. The small settlement has a French flavour as it was settled originally by French whalers during the time of the Waitangi Treaty, but wisely chose to live under British rule. Today the town survives mainly on tourism with some fishing. Lyttleton is the usual port of call for cruise ships to this part of the South Island but the earthquake that devastated Christchurch a few years ago also badly damaged the harbour and Akaroa is now the default stop.

Our journey to the peninsular was marked by the largest number of dolphins that Sue and I have ever seen at one time. On the day before our arrival, we were playing scrabble in the observation lounge high up on deck 14 and noticed a pod of some 10 or so dolphins swimming and leaping in front of the bow of the Columbus, we then saw numerous more pods of leaping dolphins racing from all points of the compass, desperate to leap in front of our bow. There had to be over a 100, all intent on passing beneath the Columbus. A spectacular sight to see so many. Sue was concerned that they would be minced by the ship’s propellors, but we learnt during our evening meal that they continued to provide entertainment for those sunbathing at the stern of the ship.

Waiting for our tender transfer to the small port of Akaroa I amused myself by watching Hector’s dolphins swim around the ship. They are the smallest and rarest of dolphins.

The transfer took around 15 minutes through a placid bay, protected from the ocean by the surrounding volcanic geography. A very pretty way to visit the settlement. The Columbus seemed tiny in comparison to the back drop of mountains and volcanic plugs.

After disembarking we left the pier and walked into the town, first visiting the small wooden Methodist church to enjoy the cool interior and admire the stained glass windows. A little later we entered the Catholic church, though didn’t investigate further as the priest was getting ready for a noon mass and we left him to his preparation.

The Akaroa Museum was our next stop and what a gem it proved to be. After watching a very informative video in the history of the settlement we spent time considering the many artefacts and displays. A must visit to any one new to the area.

We had decided to do two walks on this port stop, so on exiting the museum we set off through the town to the shore and then followed the path that took us to Children’s Bay. A sandy strip of sand that was rather spoilt due to swathes of dark brown washed up seaweed. Not suitable at all for children’s bathing and probably why there was only a woman with her dog making use of it. Our path began here and wound its way upwards into the hills. It was midday and hot, Sue gave up after a few hundred metres and retired back to sea level and the shade of some trees while I pressed on to the top, hoping to take a good panoramic photo of the bay, but was disappointed that the summit was covered in forest and I couldn’t see anything but trees. Returning to Sue we retraced our steps back into the town.

Finding a restaurant with a pretty garden we stopped for refreshments. I had a beer called ‘Red’, I was so impressed with it that I ordered a second one and Sue took the opportunity to peruse the shops along the main street. Knowing she would be a while I took my time people watching and sipping Akaroa’s finest craft ale.

Working our way along the retail establishments on the main street we passed the pier where our tenders were regularly ferrying fellow cruisers to and fro, before continuing on towards the lighthouse situated on the outskirts of the settlement. It had been moved to this location some decades prior when it was replaced by a much more modern version. From here we visited the nearby Garden of Tane, this was mainly woodland with steep paths leading up into the hill side. As the heat of the day was getting to Sue she returned to the pier while I further investigated the garden and viewpoint. I also made a brief visit to the associated Catholic cemetery, thinking how thoughtful the designers had been by cutting away part of the forest, affording the residents of the graves a good view of the bay below. Now that is attention to detail!

Finding Sue munching on a huge ice cream we caught the next tender back to the ship and a double beef burger and cheese. Now that is becoming a bit of a bad habit, and will have to stop, when we get home! Perhaps.

Akaroa is sleepy town set in beautiful soft volcanic scenery, no harsh lines or bubbling cauldrons here, thermal activity has long since subsided and nature has smoothed out the aggressive nature of earth’s core, just the odd earthquake. However, seismologists predict that they are due for a big one, any year now. Access via road from other parts of NZ doesn’t appear straight forward, long winding roads with few settlements on the way. The car park did contain quite a few RVs and we did see a couple of small but dated hotels, there have been plans in the past to bring the railway here, but until they do I think the cruisers are keeping the place viable. It is a lovely place to relax in as long as the ground below your feet behaves itself.

To Climb a Mountain

Posted in Uncategorized on Feb 18, 2019 by David Palmer

(18th Feb.)

Steaming south overnight brought us to Tauranga, the most populous city in the Bay of Plenty region. We docked as usual at breakfast time in the tourist suburb of Mount Maunganui, it was another cloudless day with a gentle refreshing breeze to keep us cool (at first!).

I had been here with Jamie on a previous road trip and was looking forward to visiting again as it left a lasting impression as a beautiful place with a gorgeous beach, according to the literature it is NZ’s number one stretch of sand. We had no trips booked, I wanted to show Sue the views from the top of Mauao, visible from the ship and is a long time extinct volcano, I knew she would be impressed as we were. Straight after loading in the calories necessary to undertake such a climb we set off along the boardwalk separating the sheltered beach from the plush residential housing that stretched along the south west side of the resort. At the base of Mauao I gave Sue the option of climbing via the harder and more direct route that Jamie and I took or the easier route that we used on our descent. Thankfully she chose the latter.

Early morning is the best time to ascent this deceptive monster as much of the path at that time of the day is in the shade of the mountain. Considerately the town council have positioned benches for weary climbers to rest and enjoy the views at reasonable intervals and we took advantage of these when needed. Part of the way we were joined by a fellow cruiser who unfortunately had grossly misjudged time needed to climb this rock. He had thought that one hour would be suficient time to summit and return in time to catch one of the ship’s tours, he retraced his step safter a third of the way up. As in my previous visit this is proved to still be a popular Kiwi activity and many families were accompanying us upwards, most at a quicker pace.

The last quarter of the climb saw us in full sun and the fatigue started to set in so it was with relief that we were once again into a cooling breeze, unforunately though, all the benches and suitable rocks were occupied by equally tired mounaineers. We stayed awhile looking at the views, read the sad epitaph of a lady who had recently lost her battle with cancer on a temporary board surrounded by beautifully painted pebbles, taped to the summit monolith, before selecting the faster route down. From memory I knew by the time we had reached the bottom, we would be heartily fed with steps, and this proved to be the case. The exertions of the previous two days port visits, had left both of us with sore feet and painful knees, this route did not help with either of these self inflicted ailments.

Passing the RV site that Jamie and I had previously camped in, we found a bar and rested weary our bodies with appropriate limb numbing and refreshing beverages. As I went to pay for the bill I discovered that I had left my wallet back in the safe on board the Columbus, oooooops! However, confessing to the waiter I offered to return to the ship and return with the cash, he shrugged his shoulders and said there was no hurry. With no pressure to return to the ship we walked the board walk of Main Beach (N.Z.’s no. 1) watching the surfers and others enjoying the surf. Kiwi’s tend not to sunbathe, they are far too busy enjoying the various physical activities that the climate permits. In fact, you can tell the locals from the foreign visitors by how much they are wearing, if they have hats, t-shirts and long shorts, they will be Kiwi’s.

There is a small island connected by a thin ribbon of sand to the beach and we took some time walking through the cool of its trees to the rocks at the very end, we were not alone, as the heat began to build this activity was becoming popular. Returning to the beach we crossed the road intending to climb the much smaller Mount Drury situated in the centre of Maunganui, but were briefly halted by some intense activity on its seaward slope. Seemingly, hundreds of children and grown ups all dressed in shorts and bright orange shirts and involved in a strange ritual, incorporating music and intense actions. After asking a couple who had just completed their rites we discovered that it is called X Racing, families and groups have to complete a variety of physical and mental activities and we witnessed the final set which included frenetic popular dance steps before sprinting to the finish line. Why do we not have this in the UK? It looked such great family fun.

After topping Mount Drury we passed through the shopping area on our way to the ship and a not so light lunch.

Returning to the bar to pay my bill of earlier that morning we returned to the town shopping area as the heat had really started to build up and Sue wanted to purchase a new hat that better protected her head and neck. Popping in and out of the various outlets, she eventually found one that suited and appropriately it was made in Nepal and some of the money would be returning there to help with the rebuilding of the country. It didn’t go unnoticed by the staff that I happened to be wearing my ‘Yay, Yak, Yak, Yak’ T-shirt bought in Kathmandu.

We headed to the beach so that I could have a swim, but we got way laid by some excellent NZ ice-cream that we had heard so much about by other passengers, they were not wrong. Afterwards, cooling off in the water didn’t seem so necessary, so we returned to the ship for a cold beer.

The Columbus left the port at 5.30pm. There was a stiff offshore breeze that up on the top deck felt quite chilly and necessitated two tugs pulling the ship away from her berth before engaging her own motor to sail out of the narrow channel and into the open sea. Sue and I watched these proceedings until it got too breezy for our now heat acclimatised bodies and we retired inside the warmth of the observation room and continued watching from there until there was nothing left to see except sea.

I loved Mount Manganui when I first came and I haven’t changed my mind, those Kiwis fortunate to live here, as well as in Devonport and Russell should count themselves lucky, if Sue and I had discovered you earlier one of you would have been our neighbours.

We have one more sea day for our battered legs to get back into shape before we start again!

Sailing to Auckland for a day out in Devonport

Posted in Uncategorized on Feb 16, 2019 by David Palmer

(16th Feb)

Overnight the Columbus made her way down the coast of New Zealand to pick up her pilot at 7.30am, then dock at Berth 7 on the Queen’s Wharf, Auckland by 9am. The routine of disembarking is well know to all the passengers now and pretty soon the Columbus was disgorging her human cargo into the city. Today however was going to be different for some as they were leaving this metal substitute for home of the last six weeks for good and moving on to other destinations. This meant that we were to be joined by fresh faces and new stories, how exciting.

We were promised another warm and clear day and that is what we got. There was a fresh breeze keeping the fierce temperatures at bay, but the sun was as always deceptive, so creamed up and hatted we left the ship and soon found the ferry terminal just a few metres away from the Columbus’s berth. We had decided to take the fast, 12 minute ferry to Devonport Village and spend the day exploring this popular resort.

Swiftly we crossed the choppy waters, navigating our way through the busy river traffic made up of many Saturday sailors taking their yachts for a spin and a myriad of other pleasure craft bobbing around enjoying the freedom of the sea. Devonport is a picturesque resort, similar to that of Russell but larger and I guess from our viewpoint on the water that it has already become a suburb of the spreading metropolis of Auckland. It is made up of three volcanic islands, Mount Victoria, Mount Cambria and North Head, we were to spend most of our time on North Head.

From Devonport Wharf we ambled along King Edward Parade passing by Windsor Reserve and Torpedo Bay to arrive at the Torpedo Bay Naval Museum. Here we enlisted the help of a personal guide and started our tour of the exhibits. Sue however, had the start of a headache and retired to the restaurant for a drink and passed the time accessing the Museum’s WiFi while I continued with the tour. My guide was an ex female naval officer and very knowledgeable making the exhibits come alive with personal accounts and reflections from a New Zealander’s point of view. Thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating, I felt sorry for those visitors not taking advantage of this personal attention, they were missing out on so much. Finding Sue, I was relieved that the tablets she had taken had kicked in and she was feeling much better and able to carry on rather than return to the ship.

We climbed North Head to discover the military tunnels, bunkers and gun emplacements. We were intrigued by the number of animal traps we found on the way up this steep grassy volcanic mound, we were to learn later that they were placed to catch rats, hedgehogs and possums devastating the protected bird species in the area. The views from the top were good for the surrounding island, beaches and pleasure craft but also afforded superb views of Auckland.

Afterwards we made our way down the slope and through the village to Cheltenham Beach. A gentle sloping, whitish shell strewn sandy stretch that just begged to be paddled in and that’s what I did, annoyed that I hadn’t packed my swimming trunks. Refreshed, we strolled its full length, stopping occasionally to take advantage of the shade of the trees as this beach was in the lee of North Head and therefore there was no cooling breeze. We also sat awhile and watched what we guessed was a Hindu wedding taking place in one of the restaurants.

Finding our way back through the village towards the ferry wharf we came across a bar and took advantage of refreshments, a rest and the growing cool breeze. Devonport has a busy little shopping area near to the wharf and this was also given a visit, here we met quite a few fellow cruisers involved in the recreational pastime of splashing the cash.

Arriving at the wharf we were pleased to see the ferry arriving and it wasn’t long before we were back in Auckland. We rejected the idea of nipping aboard the Columbus for a snack, we thought the abstinence would do us good and is much needed! The Sky Tower beckoned, so up Queen Street we headed, joining the hordes of Saturday shoppers, like ants randomly casting from window to window, only to be stopped at the kerbs edge of pedestrian crossings, here they wait impatiently until the ‘kerpink’ rips the air, then the count down starts and a straight line rush to safety begins. This was repeated all the way up Queen Street, until we were parallel with the Tower, then we turned right and made our way along a less frenetic street to the base of the structure.

I wanted to show Sue the Sky Tower as Jamie and I had been up it on our previous visit and give her the same opportunity, but she wasn’t impressed, we have been up so many and this was no different. We did take opportunity of the free WiFi and whilst doing so we spotted some members of the crew and entertainment team kitting up for a Sky Walk around the outside of the very top. Most looked quite nervous, I reminded them that they should be back on board the boat by the 8pm sailing, from whichever hospital they ended up in. That calmed there nerves.

On arriving back on board it was straight to the burger bar for much craved for calories then footwear off in the cabin and relief to tired muscles.

Tomorrow we have to do it all again in another port. Will this torment never end?

Waitangi Wharf (NZ)

Posted in Uncategorized on Feb 15, 2019 by David Palmer

(15th Feb)

We were out on deck by 6.45am to catch our entry into the Bay of Island and were lucky enough to have timed our emergence from the bowels of the Columbus just in time to catch a glorious sunrise over the islands. It looked like it was going to be a glorious day and that is what it turned out to be.

Breakfasted, we were on the third tender of the morning for a long 20 minute transfer to Waitangi Wharf, located just outside the town of Paihia. We had not opted for a cruise organised trip, but were going to follow our own itinerary. After disembarking from our brightly coloured orange lifeboat/tender left the dock following the well sign posted route along the shore line to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Most other passengers boarded free shuttle buses into Paihia with a few fitter ones looking like they were going to walk it, it would take them half an hour.

Our route to the Treaty Grounds took us through the grounds of a hotel that had fabulous views of the bay before arriving at the entrance of our destination. Acknowledging that we were from the ship, we received a discount on the entrance fee and paid $80 for the both of us. We had 30 minutes to wait before our guide was ready to take us around the various exhibits and sights. We spent some of that time in the Maori Museum situated close to the entrance,before meeting up with our Maori guide and other ticket holders (some from the ship).

We first visited Kauri tree as this features heavily in Maori folklore, but this was a relatively young specimen at only 150 years and was nowhere near the girth and height of the ones Jamie and I saw on our road trip to NZ a year ago. Even so, you could appreciate why they regard the tree with such reverence.

We moved on to see several Maori war canoes , the largest of which is 79 years old and takes 80 rowers, but has accommodated 158 individuals on several occasions, including Prince Charles and Lady Diana. It is made in three parts from Kauri wood.

Next we visited the treat ground itself and the delightful, white wooden house that the treat was hastily prepared. The Waitangi Treaty is the most important document in New Zealand, comparable I guess to our Magna Carta in effect. It is when New Zealand was born as a nation in1840 and for once we British did the right thing, respecting Maoris tradition and culture. The document produced was signed by most (but not all) of the North and South island chieftains. The story of the signing is wonderfully told in the museum.

Our tour ended with first a traditional Maori welcome (intimidating), then a powerful performance of their traditional dances (again threatening). In one dance I was surprised to have a had a spear thrust at my throat, it couldn’t have missed by more than a few centimetres. I was thankful for his skill but would prefer it to happen only once in this lifetime.

Before leaving we visited the museum again as this time we understood the significance of the exhibits and artifacts we had passed before. Of course the associated shop was visited and some purchases made. I would recommend that anyone visiting the Bay of Islands area to visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, not only is it a fascinating visit with entertainment but it gives you a rare insight into the history, culture and soul of New Zealand.

We returned to the wharf and caught the shuttle bus into Paihia. It is a popular tourist destination township in NZ for Kiwis, there are many small and middle sized hotels, but they are tastefully built and many of the largish homes are B & B’s. It’s a busy little port with frequent ferries over to the small settlement of Russell, which unbelievably was the first capital of the country. It also attracts many cruise ships even though they do have to anchor mid-sound and tender their clients to the small quay. As a consequence the place has tourist shops in abundance along with many restaurants and bars. From the quay you can catch boats that will take you dolphin and whale watching as well as fishing trips and those that visit many of the little islands in the area. You can also take a helicopter ride to see the bay from the air. We caught a twenty minute ferry ride to Russell.

First stop was at a bar in the centre of the settlement for cold refreshments to cool down as the heat of the day had really started to kick in. We moved on through the town passing by many of the tidy white wooden houses, looking like they were plucked from a Victorian postcard towards Long Beach on the other side of the isthmus. Part of our trail took us along a narrow, shady valley path that was punctuated liberally with beautiful blue trumpet like creepers, very pretty.

Arriving at the beach we were discover that quite a few of the Columbus’s crew had taken advantage of some free time and were sunbathing or swimming. A lovely quiet beach, with just a few houses on the hillside for company. We paddled in the surf to cool our feet then sat in the shade and people watched for a while. Returning to Russell we thoroughly investigated this gorgeous little town, so, so pretty, especially on a hot sunny day when the colours of the sea and land stand out so vividly. I really do like this place.

We returned on a slightly faster ferry to Paihia, where after visiting a supermarket for some beer to put in the fridge in our cabin, we perused the local outdoor market then the shops down the main street before catching the shuttle back to Waitangi Wharf. Here a tender was waiting and within twenty minutes we were back on board and heading to the burger bar on deck 12 (shocking!)

After the evening show and meal, I ventured on deck to watch the sunset over the bay, as I saw it rise first thing this morning. Both events were magical. This place really does have a special place in my heart.