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.

Sailing to the Bay of Islands (NZ)

Posted in Uncategorized on Feb 14, 2019 by David Palmer

On the 11th Feb we passed the International Date Line and magically the 12th disappeared in a flash to be instantly replaced by the 13th, tough luck on those that had a birthday or other celebration I thought, but we did celebrate Valentines Day as recompense the following day. All the activities and meals had the theme of love somewhere buried within them, but there were few other outward exhibitions of romance by our fellow passengers, though I did watch a few fellow males look briefly at the heart shaped boxes of chocolates for sale, before hurrying on to what ever diversion was more important.

Worthy of mention was a production of the ‘Phantom of the Opera’, absolutely fabulous and though reduced down to just an hour, it kept faithful to the plot. Unbelievable vocals and brilliantly acted, not surprisingly the cast received a standing ovation. The memory will last for a long time.

Life on board ship

I had decided at the beginning of this cruise that I wouldn’t comment on what we, the crew and passengers got up to each day, other than the unusual and perhaps the odd incident worthy of comment, otherwise this blog would soon become tedious to write and even more so to read, not forgetting it is the destinations which provide the experiences that are interesting. These blog pages were created to inform family members of what each of us got up to, principally as a diary of the Palmer’s activities, to be read in our dotage as a reminder, when memories grow dim and we become even more sedantry. However, with so many sea days behind us and more to come I shall fill some spare sea time into describing life on ‘our’ Columbus.

In an enclosed environment, where a large group of people are in close proximity to each other it is inevitable that bugs will easily pass between individuals, despite the crew constantly squirting antibiotic gel onto outstretched hands, gel dispensers being available everywhere, constant reminders to wash hands, all surfaces and hand rails being regularly wiped over with strong and pungent chemicals, if every individual doesn’t play ball and be equally scrupulous with hygiene, then infection is going to spread. The ship suffers from what has been termed the ‘Columbus cough’. As this is a world cruise, bugs have the opportunity to really exploit the situation as the length of time to find a foothold is that much greater. As in cruises of 7 or 14 days, bugs are not being disembarked to home ports, but at every port we spend some dollars in. As hosts we do a very good job of permitting bugs to jump ship and no doubt wreke havoc on unsuspecting natives. Wasn’t it the first Spanish ‘cruise galleon’ captained by Cortez that saw off the Mayan with European diseases?

Every where we go, we hear the detonations of sneezes, coughs and the the rasping of noses into tissue (if lucky), very few, if any, have been spared the ‘Columbus cough’. Sue and I are presently getting over our second bout of annoying runny noses and tickly throat. We have been touched very lightly by this malady but others have not been so fortunate. As with germs, rumours spread rapidly, and as with ‘Chinese whispers’ it is impossible to say what we hear is true. The ship’s hospital IS full, that we know from people who have been interred in it for a few days to recover. Either, 11, 8, 5 or none have died on board through its presence, though my guess is none as there have been no ambulances waiting at the ports that we have called at and the last incidence of canabalism on the Polynesian islands was in the 1916.

The bulk of the passengers are in excess of 50 yrs. of age so it is appropriate that many of the deck and pool activities that happen through the day pander to their tastes and experience. Many of the TV shows of the 60’s and 70’s are re-enacted; Blankety Blank, Mr & Mrs, Call my Bluff, Family Fortunes, etc. etc. But, the most popular (and least active) that take place morning, afternoon, eve and night are the quizzes at various locations around the ship. They are always well attended and hotly contested, I can’t imagine a ship load of 18-30 year olds putting this high on their agenda. Sue and I prefer to play as a pair but, most play in teams of 6 to 12, so we treat it as an important brain stimulant and we try to improve on our previous scores. It is well known (and discussed) that one team of 11 each fill their own sheets in and when the answers are given out, if one of them has the right answer, it is written into their team sheet. Yes, it is team play, but I think that is not quite in the spirit of a team quiz. They win quite a often.

The more active groups include the ship’s choir who have met for daily practice since the start of the cruise and recently gave us a performance of the songs that they had learnt. Likewise, there is an amateur dramatics group who have put on a performance of ‘Snow White’, it was about as amateurish as you could possibly get, but it was tearfully funny because of it. Another group is the large ukelele group, who have also performed for the other passengers and were surprisingly good, it is quite novel seeing a herd of (I don’t now the collective noun), strumming tiny guitars and singing cowboy songs and sea shanties, they do ever so well.

As always there is a large Bridge playing group who meet each day in the dedicated games room, Sue and I on occasions have joined them when it is too hot to play our games of scrabble on the deck. Bridge is not a game we care to learn to play as the members never seem to be enjoying themselves and often make quite scathing comments on those players that don’t seem to be playing well. Besides a dedicated library there is also a popular jigsaw room containing half a dozen on the go at a time to be worked on by anyone who wishes to.

It is our habit to play a game of shuttle board on deck seven in the late afternoon, until the heat and humidity get too much for us, Sue is often seen playing a variety of other games involving throwing or sliding objects into or onto a variety of equipment with what appears to be a dedicated group of players.

Of course I could attempt to divide the passengers into groups: those that spend all day sunbathing, reading, involved in activities, sitting chatting and drinking or continually eating, but apart from sunbathing most seem to dip in and sample all the delights on offer.

Films are shown during the day below decks in the Palladium and at night under the stars on the top deck on a huge screen, sea conditions permitting. There is also a casino, but I believe that it isn’t used much by the present passengers, it may be used better when we pick up more in Australian and New Zealand. There is disco which is used until the wee small hours, and by the look of some of our fellow guests at breakfast it is well patronised.

The crew are from all four corners of the Earth, but there does appear to be a theme among them. Like many, our cabin steward is from Kerala in India and along with the Phillipines they seem to be allocated this job on board. Our table waiter is from Myanmar and surprisingly there are fifteen more of them, but the bulk of the dining staff are also from the Phillipines. Below decks, the engine room and maintenance seems to be comprised mostly of Russians and Ukranians (not sure how that mix works!) with many Eastern Europeans being in the service sector (shops, spa, reception etc.). The chefs are mostly indian and the captain is Greek. The entertainment team and lecturers are mostly made up of British though they don’t appear anywhere else on the ship’s rosta.

On Valentines Day we had a special meal.

Three Sea Days to Tonga (or perhaps not!)

Posted in Uncategorized on Feb 11, 2019 by David Palmer

On our second sea day we had passed over another time zone so enjoyed another hour in bed, making 11 changes so far, we could see from the comfort of our bed that the bow camera was displaying running water across its lens indicating heavy rain. We have enjoyed excellent sea and weather conditions up till now so I guess it was to be expected sometime. By the time we had emerged from breakfast the sky had brightened and the rain had disappeared, but up on deck it felt quite clammy. We made the decision to deviate from our regular timetable of events and play table tennis up on deck 13 in possibly the coolest room on the ship. That was the plan, but we were eventually scuppered by what appears to be an inbred national trait that I am sure has on occasion led to conflict.

We first checked that the room was not being used and then visited reception to pick up the bats and ball necessary to play the game. However, they had been taken, so returning to the table tennis room we expected to discover people starting their game. It was still empty. We waited awhile and eventually returning to reception to be informed that the bats had been picked up at 9am, which was just before we attempted to collect them. After several repeated visits between reception and the room, and phone calls by the staff to the rooms of the miscreants, still no one by had appeared to play. Eventually at 11.20am we came across the culprits. There was seven of them, four playing doubles and three waiting to play. It was no surprise to seasoned Brits as ourselves, and witnesses to many hotel pools with towels draped over the surrounding empty sun loungers placed there the previous night, that they were German. To be fair, I was surprised that they had branched out into this previously unknown area of spiteful annoyance, but it did not prevent me from providing them with the benefit of what I consider as good sound advice. We left in silence, with the point made.

We had noted during the morning news update from the bridge that there seemed a little hesitancy in the weather report and this gave rise to the thought that not all was well. That evening during a formal dinner, we had our meal disturbed by an announcement over the PA system from the captain informing us that there was a storm on our route to Tonga and this would make docking at the port too dangerous. We would be carrying on to New Zealand and calling in at the Bay of Islands as an alternative. It’s a very pretty part of NZ, Jamie and I visited it on our road trip to the North Island. We shall wait and see if there are any excursions organised, or if this is a ‘DIY’ stop.

From the information displayed on our cabin TV we could see our change of course to avoid the weather system causing problems and it looks like we have quite a few more sea days ahead before NZ. There was a noticeable increase in the swell over night causing the ship to roll but not enough to cause concern when walking around the decks, pleasingly Sue is not suffering from the usual sea sickness of past cruises, she seems to have acquired a pair of sea legs at last. As with missing out on Nuku Hiva it is a disappointment, but as the captain said, our safety is paramount and we can always come back. That Tongan rugby shirt I was hoping to buy will just have to wait, there are greater hardships in life than missing out on a shopping trip!

Then sun is out, the sea is blue, the entertainment team are top notch and the food is first class, so what’s to moan about?

Bora Bora

Posted in Uncategorized on Feb 10, 2019 by David Palmer

Over the years I have heard wonderful things about this island from other travellers and it has been firmly on my sceptic tick list to check out if any of the superlatives used, apply. We arrived just a little before breakfast time, but there was no chance of sleeping through this arrival as though the ship silently eased its way through the opening in the surrounding reef this was to be a tendered anchorage within one of the flooded volcanic craters and when the anchor chain is released from its shackles, the ship shakes!

Emerging onto the pool deck to take the short walk across to the Plantation restaurant for breakfast, I was pleased to see Mount Ohue and Mount Pahia splashed throughout much of the tourist literature seemingly bursting from the lagoon just a few hundred metres from the bow of the Columbus, that’s a good start I thought, then it started to drizzle!

Returning to the upper deck after a rather full breakfast we were pleased to see that all precipitation had disappeared and only clear skies and white clouds could be seen as far as the horizon. We could see that the Columbus was in the center of a large lagoon, with the largest island to the port side sweeping around 180 degrees, the rest of the compass being completed by coral reef and a few much smaller isolated islands, seemingly occupied by upmarket hotels. The small port of Viatape and the islands’ only town could easily be seen, seemingly busying itself for an onslaught of dollar carrying cruisers. We watched one of the tenders motor off towards the small dock, no doubt carrying sufficient crew to ease the transfer of 1200 passengers and those crew members who had a few hours respite from their duties and wished to go ashore. Shaji, our cabin steward was planning a couple of hours on one of the beaches, he has been here four times!

We had booked a tour on a truck that would follow the road around the island, stopping at many points along the route for photo opportunities and explanations of what we were looking at. Yet again we were to be fortunate with an excellent local guide who brought to life the history, culture and geography of the island for us and he also played the ukelele and sang well (it seems that most male Polynesians can play this instrument). It is an excellent way to discover this island on a limited timetable.

After transiting by tender to the dock we boarded our naturally air conditioned truck (there was no glass in the windows), sitting on securely fixed primary school plastic chairs, luxuriously upholstered by a thin cushion. Brilliant, its the only way to travel, we felt part of this island and not isolated in the sanitised metal cocoons that tour operators often shield their customers in.

First stop was the famous Bloody Mary’s Bar and restaurant, it was the first one on the the Island in 1976, there was an opportunity to have a drink, some did, though the little counter selling t-shirts and baseball caps did a better trade. There were many more stops for short walks, explanations and more photos, but the next iconic pause in the schedule was at Matira beach on the southern tip of the island, supposedly listed in the top ten of world beaches and thought by some to be number one. Very beautiful indeed and I would put it in my top ten, but I would hate to choose between any on my list as to which is the best, they are so different for many reasons and the surrounding scenery is just one.

With just the one road to follow, it is inevitable that you will come across sights that do not appear in the brochure, one such sight was passing the Island refuse dump and reclamation centre. Not a pretty sight but the information and humour provided by our jovial local guide made it interesting. Plastic and other recyclable stuff is collected and sent by ship to Tahiti for further processing, but he is sceptical about what they do with it, the rest is disposed of by a process developed and built by an Australian company and seems to be quite efficient. The Island was hit badly by the 2008-10 world recession and several of the large and most luxurious hotels foundered and are now derelict, in this climate, decay soon takes hold.

We passed along a section of road where the rich and famous used to and probably still do, own properties. Names such as Cliff Richard, Tom Cruise and Piers Brosnan were just two on the list that I remember, space is limited so the buildings themselves were not the grand mansions that you may imagine but were more a reasonably sized three bedroom bungalow.

There was much evidence of American occupation during WW2, besides the offshore runway, slipways and battery emplacements, there are the occasional blonde haired, blue eyed natives. Bora Bora was an important supply base for the Pacific conflict. It closed in 1946, but many Americans chose to remain, I can see why.

We finished off our tour with a visit to Mamma Edna’s ‘tie and dye’ business. We were treated to a demonstration on how this is done and of course there is the opportunity to purchase, if you believe that the colours don’t run in the wash. For two ex-Primary teachers who have done this many times in the classroom, we know that they do.

Returning to the dock we didn’t take the option to catch a tender back to the ship, we remained on shore and chose to explore the small town. It has a few restaurants and retail outlets, equally split between those obviously for the holiday makers and those for the locals and there is a small market next to the dock that is also convenient for those coming in from the other islands. We visited them all and made a few purchases to bolster the local economy. Prices are as expensive as expected for such a remote location but not quite as eye-watering as in Tahiti.

It was my intention to have swim before returning to the Columbus but I found the combination of heat and shopping too exhausting and craved the relief of ship aircon and cold, cold drinks. Back on board we cooled off, visited the burger bar and sat and watched the tenders ferrying the last of the passengers back on board. Later, we stood on the bow watching the anchor lifted from what must have been some depth as the huge links were wound seemingly endlessly into some huge dark internal recess. It took an age to accomplish but was fascinating throughout, it seemed that towards the end they had some sort of difficulty as they reversed the motion several times. I suggested that perhaps they had caught a whale and were playing it, but no one around me saw the joke, that’s foreigners for you!

We remained on deck as we glided out of the lagoon and out through the break in the reef with an orange sun setting over a distant rapidly greying island, very romantic, but not for one lone canoeist who frantically paddled his way across our bow while the Columbus’s captain gave him a a loud blast on the horn to get out the way. If he wanted an adrenalin rush, he got in ship loads.

We now have three more sea days before next landfall, Tonga.

Would I return to Bora Bora? Yes I would, a stunningly beautiful island, as Charlotte suggested, Maldives with mountains. As with those atolls, you need to love being in or under the water or at the very least enjoy reading under a palm tree tree in the heat and that describes both Sue and I.

Tahiti

Posted in Uncategorized on Feb 8, 2019 by David Palmer

(6 -7th Feb.)

After the disappointment of missing out on Nuku Hiva everyone on board was looking forward to setting foot on Terra Firma and much of the talk was concerned with what people were going to do when/if we docked.

For once we didn’t arrive at breakfast time, this was a full day of cruising with the excitement of a sunset arrival. We passed its smaller sister island Moorea, just a few miles from the port and capital Papeete of Tahiti, a name that in my youth conjured up visions of the exotic. At first sight Moorea looked the more spectacular, sharp mountains thrusting up from sea level to dizzying heights, Tahiti in comparison certainly has the higher topography but certainly its sister steals the show for wow factor. We eased into a very convenient berth close to the city and opposite a very classy, ultra-modern ship the Wind Spirit. It had three automatic sails and beautiful lines, I take my hat off to who ever designed this beauty.

By the time we had completed mooring and I guess the necessary paper work, most of the passengers like us had taken an early evening meal and were eager to sample the delights of those alluring twinkling lights, visible from our perch high up through the restaurant windows. We joined a long line, down the gangway, along the quay and into the busy traffic of Papeete. It was sweltering hot.

Along with others we soon discovered Macdonald’s, but were disappointed that the expected free WiFi didn’t exist here (memo to Ronald), it is the first duty of all hardened cruisers’ to seek out free WiFi whenever in port and this fast food chain is usually reliable. Sue and I set off to immerse ourselves in the Tahitian night life, but though the traffic was as good as a Saturday night on Oxford Street, the shops were shut, though the bars and restaurants were open. We did discover the pretty yellow Catholic Cathedral and on entering were pleased to discover that it wasn’t dripping with gold leaf but quite plain and simple. There were a few ‘down and outs’ fast asleep on the pews and with 25% unemployment on this island we were to discover many others asleep in doorways.

The Columbus had disgorged enough of its human content to swamp the local inhabitants in the bars and we joined them in a bar across a busy road from the berth of the Wind Spirit, lit up like a fairy castle. We took opportunity of the WiFi and Sue chatted to Sarah and Charlotte on messenger. It was here that we had our first introduction to how expensive Tahiti is, three drinks cost $25. That appears to be the problem, they only attract 200 000 visitors a year compared to the Cook Islands 1 million, which apparently is much cheaper to visit.

The following day we we had opted for an organised trip, fortunately it took place in the morning during the coolest part of the day. Our West Coast Tour took us around the half of the island that attracted the least amount of annual rainfall at 1500cm, the other half gets deluged with 8m (yes, that was 8m!) and accounts why that coast is riddled with ravines and does not possess any coral reefs as the surrounding sea is diluted with fresh water run off from the mountains. Coral hates fresh water.

There is really only one proper road on the island and this follows the coast, the others branch like spokes on a wheel into the rugged interior. Ninety percent live long this coast road, with most being close to Papeete. We went west with the first stop being at some caverns, once volcanic tunnels and now filled with water. Very pretty and lush, and refreshingly cool to stand in. Our next port of call was a very pretty and watery tropical garden. The many plants here attained giant size and were festooned with equally large and colourful blooms.

We had a brief photo stop on one of the coral lagoons that appeared to be popular with surfers. I would have loved to have cooled off with a swim but that is the drawback of an organised tour, the time isn’t just yours. Our final stop before returning to the Columbus was at one of the better preserved Marae. These are ancient ceremonial platforms that fell into disuse when Christianity arrived. They were also the location of cannabalistic practises. It was close to this location that the French painter Paul Gaugin lived. Though his house has long since disappeared, during his stays on the island not only did he paint over 70 canvasses, he spread his genes around quite liberally and many of the locals can trace their roots back to him.

Arriving back at the ship we had a late lunch and again ventured out into the city. It was very hot so the side of the street in shade was favoured. The local market was interesting, and as you would expect, full of fellow cruisers, some engaged in purchasing souvenirs of their visit to this Polynesian island. We finished off our afternoon with a walk through the gardens alongside the harbour. I ventured briefly into the water on a very small sand and rock beach to cool off my feet.

We were keen to be back on board by 5pm to catch a show by a Tahitian dance troupe and what a show it turned out to be. Colourful, expressive, seductive, high energy and brilliant. If they had done two shows I would have watched them both. If they were reasonably priced I would have had a private performance, but then again this is Tahiti and nothing comes cheap.

We sailed at 8pm for our next destination, Bora Bora.

What do I think of Tahiti? They say it is paradise, but to achieve that accolade it is my opinion that the locals will have to drive on the opposite side of the road and speak English. It would help if it was 5 degrees cooler and it rained (a lot) less. Then perhaps it could be paradise, but it is my experience that there are a lot contenders for that title. The people are friendly (very little crime), and the women can’t half shake their hips, making those grass skirts dance in such a seductive way. I think I know what Sue may be getting for next years Christmas present.