Friday, February 24, 2012

We are in Burnie, Tasmania, Australia today, and it was a wonderful, sunny and warm day. It is quite unusual to have a clear warm day when visiting Cradle Mountain, but that is exactly what karma delivered to us today. We'll have some pics later.

In the meantime, the photos from our New Zealand adventure are complete, and can be found here:


Tomorrow we will be in Melbourne.

Mike and Deb

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Let's continue in the middle...

It seems that we are amiss in updating our M2-DownUnder blog! It’s not because we are lazy, but rather Holland America decided to string 6 New Zealand ports in a row – Tauranga/Rotorua, Napier, Wellington, Picton, Akaroa, and Dunedin, followed by a day on cruising in Fiordland in Southern New Zealand. Sensory overload for sure, and little time left to reflect.

We did manage to select and post a few of the pictures of our travels, with some commentary within the description. Visit for days Feb 14-22. There are many new pictures to view.

Let’s see if we can catch up a bit with the narrative. Additionally, our fellow traveler John has been providing a daily email journal to his friends. I will post those in a separate blog entry so you can share the experience from his viewpoint.

So, we’ll back track a little as we recall our experiences while we traverse the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and Tasmania. This is an interesting route with little shipping traffic, and unpredictable conditions. Fortunately for us, we left the rains behind, and the seas are fair, with just a few swells and no breakers. Three albatross birds were seen trailing the boat, with us 300+ miles west of Milford Sound in New Zealand, and 800+ miles before we arrive in Burnie, Tasmania.

Wellington, February 18, 2012
We arrived around 8am into windy Wellington, the capitol of New Zealand. We docked just a mile from the central downtown area across from Wellington Stadium. It was a short walk to town when we arrived in the area dominated by public and government buildings, but not the usual concrete or stone structures. The first site was the Wellington Railway Station, with an unusual statue in front – that of Mahatma Ghandi, in his familiar pose in peasant robes and his walking stick. Next we saw a huge building, constructed entirely of timber and wood; with the claim as being the largest wooden building in the world. Despite the material used, some of the wood exterior was disguised as stone. Of course, smoking is prohibited inside and around, as this building has survived since the late 1800s.

This wooden building is now the home of Wellington University Law School. The immaculate surrounding gardens are highlighted by an unusual tree at the entry walkway with huge orange flowers. The flowers were very fragrant and drawing swarms of bees and quite a few birds.

Across from here is another unusual building, nicknamed the “bee hive”; no explanation necessary as the pictures show. Nearby is an assortment of other government buildings and the Wellington Cathedral. Considering the time, Deb and Mike separated from the group to trek on over to the Wellington Cable Car. This funicular climbs a steep hill, where we were rewarded with a great view of the central city. At the terminus were a cable car museum, and the start of a trail through the Botanic Gardens. As we traveled through the well kept gardens we passed pioneer Jewish and Christian Cemeteries, a wedding party, and a cricket field with a just ended game. Fortunately for Mike it was mostly downhill.

When we reached the end, we got our bearings and found our way to Cuba Street, a pedestrian mall that is home to cafes, shops, and the must-see Bucket Fountain. We came, we saw, we photographed!
Next we had a short walk to the waterfront for the Te Papa National Museum. Inside were several exhibits we wanted to see – several Maori structures, artifacts, and boats, and a historical exhibit describing the early explorers and then immigrant journeys to New Zealand during the mid 1800s. We also stopped at the museum café for a simple lunch out on the terrace. The immigrant journey was described thru the experiences of several families. One of note was a family from Croatia who originally came to start a new life harvesting sap from trees, but eventually developed vineyards – the start of the wine industry in New Zealand.

After lunch, we walked along the waterfront where Jim Beam was sponsoring a music festival. Did we mention it was “loud”? The crowds were calm and polite, and definitely the first time we saw this many young people in New Zealand. Still, the crowds were sparse by Portland standards.

We linked up with John, Cindy, May, and Mark and walked a short way to an outdoor café – The Arizona Café – for beers and coffee. A nice afternoon respite, as with other days… I asked for a “lager and lime”, a traditional UK drink, and the bar tender had never heard of it, though she did know what a shandy was.
By then we were all a bit tired, and having seen the highlights of Wellington we headed back towards the port to reboard our ship.

Picton, February 19, 2012
Overnight we crossed Cook Strait between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. The ship tossed and turned during the crossing as there were 30+ knot winds.

Picton is an inland port towards the southern end of Queen Charlotte Sound. This is a small town that is busy being a ferry terminal for cars, trucks, and even trains traveling between the two islands of New Zealand. The town itself is quite small, as people hurriedly continue their journeys after leaving the ferry. The one attraction in the town is that it is at the center of the Queen Charlotte Track – a major tramping trail in the northern part of the South Island. Also a short distance away is Blenheim, the center of activity for the Marlborough wine region.

Between the dock and the town is a small park, where the residents had set up a craft market. It was quite windy, and it looked like rain. It didn’t seem to faze the vendors at all, even when it looked like the winds would pick up the canopy tents. Mark intervened to help one of the vendors secure their tent when a wind gust hit the park.

After a quick walk around town checking out the shops and Nelson Park, we all stopped in a few of the shops looking for greenstone Maori treasures. Mike was tempted to purchase a New Zealand-made oiled canvas hat, but he fought the temptation. He could not, however, avoid the draw of chicken flavored potato chips and a small bottle of L&P fizzy lemonade – what we would call soda or pop. After making sure we checked out all the shops, we returned to the harbor where we crossed the “coat-hanger” bridge to tramp the track to Bob’s Beach. John needed to run, so he made a quick trip back to the ship to don his running outfit. The track to Bob’s Beach climbed above the waters of Picton harbor, revealing good views of the sound and our ship. We trekked about a mile over hill and dale before reaching our destination. Along the way, there was almost deafening chirping by the cicadas. It was quite unusual to hear cicadas this loud and with temperatures only in the 60s. Some even resorted to a clicking sound rather than the usual constant buzzing. Perhaps they were trying to start their buzzers!

After posing on the beach for some photos, and looking for greenstone rocks on the shoreline, we headed back. Along the way, our runner John crossed paths with us. Kudos to John for running the trails without injury – though the trail was dry, it was narrow, with gnarly roots and gaps on the trail, with shear drops to the bay below. Did we mention there were no railings?

When we got back into town, we again visited the small craft fair in the park just before the dock and ferry terminal. Deb, Mary, and Cindy looked hard again for some memorable greenstone keepsakes.
We skipped eating lunch in the town, preferring the ship’s fare for the afternoon. Shortly after reboarding, the rains came, so we timed our return just right.

Akaroa-Christchurch, February 20, 2012
Cruise ships normally dock in Lyttleton Harbour a short distance from Christchurch. The earthquakes over the past year have altered the ports for most all the cruise lines. Holland America chose Akaroa, a 90 minute drive southeast of Christchurch for the start of our journey at this port. Akaroa is a small French town in this very English country. The town is on the central crater slopes of an ancient volcano caldera. The entry to the harbor is though a natural channel through the caldera walls. Think Crater Lake with a narrow channel in one of the sides, open to the Pacific Ocean. The pictures reveal this very well. Fortunately for us, this volcano is quite extinct.

We boarded the Akaroa Shuttle, which took us on a 60km drive around the harbor at a relatively high elevation at the crest of the caldera. We descended on the southwester rim, and entered a flat plain that took us into Christchurch.

The shuttle dropped us off in Christchurch at their Botanic Gardens; also quite close to Christ’s College. A short walk took us to the fences surrounding the Red Zone. The literal center of Christchurch, the core downtown area was the epicenter of this terrible earthquake just one year ago. For safety, people are prohibited from entering the Red Zone area. Only construction, demolition, and other recovery personnel are permitted entry. On the southwestern side of the Red Zone, there is a public shopping area. What is unusual is that each of the stores resides in recycled shipping containers. They are stacked, and painted in bright colors, to provide a visually pleasing environ.

After a short stop at a few of the stores, we followed the fences along a counterclockwise trek, viewing some of the damage and demolition efforts underway. At this time, approximately 200 of the 400 damaged buildings have been demolished and removed. No reconstruction is taking place, yet. Just outside the Red Zone, some repairs are underway, the most notable and visible being the Christchurch Casino.

What was interesting was seeing how localized the damage was. On one side of the street, brick buildings fractured and came tumbling down, while seemingly similar building just across the street are left standing, undamaged.

The iconic Cathedral in Cathedral Square was just out of sight, so you’ll have to rely on others for pictures of its devastation. What was quite visible to us was a 20+ story building that was under construction when the earthquake struck. The damage to the foundation was severe, causing the building to tilt a few degrees. As the tilt and damage could not be corrected, it is being demolished floor by floor, right to ground level. This is especially difficult due to the reinforced concrete construction built to withstand earthquakes – NOT!
Near the end of our trek around the Red Zone, we came across a Fireman Memorial, and a familiar iron beam structure. In 2003 when the memorial was established, iron beams salvaged from the World Trade Center in NYC were brought to Christchurch.

We continued our trek around the Red Zone, ending at the Botanic Gardens where we found the Antigua Café and Boat House. This pre-1900 building is beside the Avon River. Again, another relaxing lunch and respite before returning back to Akaroa and our ship.

What was memorable about the bus rides between Akaroa and Christchurch were the well informed and friendly drivers. On the way to Christchurch, our driver Russell provided a narration that was very congenial and informative, talking about his life, the history of the area, and answering questions from riders. On the return trip our new driver offered additional details about the area’s history and sang a few songs as well. He was quite talented!

Dunedin, February 21, 2012
We docked at Port Chalmers; this port is midway in the sound with Dunedin at the innermost tip. The water is quite shallow in this sound, and the navigation channel quite narrow. Port Chalmers is a small town, but busy port for the area. Mike found a taxi van that took us into town. Our taxi driver asked if we’d like the scenic route that would take us to Baldwin Street, identified as the steepest street in the world. How could we pass that up! The normal road to Dunedin takes traffic along the waterline through an industrial area. Our taxi route took us up through the hills surrounding Dunedin – definitely a more enjoyable journey.

Just before entering Dunedin, we stopped at the foot of Baldwin Street. The street was quite steep indeed, so we stopped to take pictures. Quite a few tourists had made the stop, or had walked to the street. Some even were walking up the steep street. After getting a few pictures from the bottom, we returned to the taxi, and Stewart, our driver stepped on the gas taking all of us to the top of the street. We stopped a bit for pictures again, then drove down with cameras snapping away. We did inquire as to the status of the vehicle’s brakes, and Stewart assured us that all was well.

Stewart dropped us off at the Octagon, yes, an 8-sided “square” at the center of Dunedin. John discovered free WiFi, so the guys all pulled out their smart phones to get reacquainted with the outside world while the ladies took advantage of a bio-break. Mark led us on a landmark walk around town that eventually took us to the Speight’s Brewery and Pub where we had a nice lunch and sample the brewery’s wares. The food was excellent!

After lunch, we made our way down to the Dunedin Railway Station, just across the street from the Law Courts building. In between was another fine garden, and even better a crafts shop that had quite a bit of greenstone. Here, Cindy, Deb, and Mary each found something that caught their eye, and purchases were made. The boys waited patiently in the garden in front of the station.

Inside the station were well preserved mosaics and glazed windows, dating back to before 1900 when the station was built. Though there are some scheduled passenger trains for journeys to north to Christchurch and Picton, the attraction here are the train journeys to the Taori Gorge. We did not take this trip, but many from the cruise did. Especially convenient was that some of the passengers were able to board the train beside the ship at the dock. Cruise lines make special arrangements to pick up excursion passengers right at the port beside the docked ships. The Taori Gorge Railway was built during the height of the gold rush in these parts.

As this was the last port stop in New Zealand we all counted our local money – no need to carry it further or change it into Australian or US currency. So of course, after putting aside enough for bus fare back to Port Chalmers, we found another café for an afternoon respite. Beer, mocha, and flat-whites were ordered with only a few coins and bills remaining. We still had some time after returning to Port Chalmers, so Mike and Deb walked through the town. Mike’s remaining NZ money was spent at a local store, purchasing some treats that son Mark will likely enjoy. Mike also picked up a treat to share with everyone during one of our upcoming sea days.

Fiordland, February 22, 2012
The books say that this is the most beautiful area of New Zealand, combining the best that the fiords of Alaska and Norway all in one place. The books also say this is the rainiest part of New Zealand and that we should expect a constant rain and overcast skies.

Well, the books are partially wrong, and karma has rewarded us. Just like our rain-free days in our other ports, the sun shined and the clouds parted as we entered the Fiordland National Park area of southwestern New Zealand. We visited Dusty Sound in the morning; Doubtful Sound midday, and Milford Sound late in the afternoon. These areas are almost indescribable, so we’ll let the photos do the talking. For Dusty, we had almost clear skies and bright sunshine as we navigated the narrow channel.

This remote area of New Zealand is a treasure, combining the best of Alaska and Norway fiords in one place. The ship’s course provided an ascending set of expectations, which each new channel exceeding the previous. Nothing could prepare us for what we saw after entering the channel for Milford Sound. Initially, it looked like a small, narrow cove; the same view seen by Captain Cook when he first visited, never exploring the channel at all, and dismissing it as a small bay. His 5 weeks in the bountiful Dusty Sound perhaps dulled his senses, or bad weather caused him to continue the journey northward. When we entered the mouth of the sound and neared the back of this “bay”, a narrow channel opened to the left, revealing the glory that is Milford Sound. Tall mountain peaks on both sides with near vertical walls. To think this was all carved by a glacier years ago is almost unbelievable. Sailing further into the sound revealed even taller mountains and gorge walls. We could tell we were closer to some civilization, as small tour boats passed us and a few kayakers were sighted in the distance. Soon small planes and a helicopter buzzed overhead, and directly ahead was a resort on one of the few level areas within the sound. We stopped, and the captain then proceeded to execute a 360 degree turn in the middle of the channel. We were outside at the ship’s bow which had been opened for the day. In the distance, we could see a small glacier atop a mountain directly ahead. 180 degrees into the turn, we saw yet another mountain with massive glaciers near their peak.
On the gorge sides were numerous waterfalls; there are 2 or 3 permanent falls with water flowing year round, fed by the melting glaciers. During times of rain, hundreds of waterfalls develop, dropping their flows hundreds of feet into the waters below.

Alas, it was time to go, and the ship turned another 180 degrees so we could leave the sound. We were fortunate that the weather cooperated, allowing us to experience one of the great wonders of the world.
We ended the day leaving Milford Sound and the shores of New Zealand. We relaxed a bit before dinner, and Mike started to sort out the pictures from the last few days. No need to bore our readers with the hundreds taken. It took a little time, but enough were selected from each port to share with our friends.
It was also time for a backup – memory cards to computer hard drive; computer hard drive to an external portable hard drive; and eventually, backing up the pictures and video from the trip to DVDs. Can’t be too careful!

Of course, at this very moment, disaster seemingly struck. Suddenly, memory cards from the camera would load pictures into the computer; lockups appeared. Time to shutdown and restart. Mike had taken steps to disable automatic updates, but for some reason, at this shutdown, the computer decided to install some accumulated updates. And it seemingly took forever, as it was close to dinner time. Fortunately, karma made a repeat visit to my computer, and after some panicky moments all was secured and safely copied to the computer. An overnight backup was the next course of action.

We sat at the dinner table just before sunset. After DenDen our waiter took out order, Deb and Cindy noticed an excellent sunset out the dining room windows. Mike and Mark jumped up and exited to the promenade deck outside to capture some photos, which we share below. What a great way to remember our exit from the New Zealand waters.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Harauki Gulf, Coromandel Peninsula, and Bay of Plenty pictures

Some new pictures have been posted. These have been enhanced to get a better view of White Island.

To see the photos from the Harauki Gulf, Coromandel Peninsula, and Bay of Plenty, please visit here:

You'll see some fine pics of White Island, the active volcano that reminded us of Mount St. Helens.

And follow this link for pictures of Tauranga-Rotorua 2-16-2012:


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Flickr pictures

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registering an account.

Napier, NZ - Friday, February 17, 2012

We arrived at the Napier port bright and early, greeted by sunny skies and warm temperatures. Nice to see a continuation of the fine weather we experienced in Rotorua.

We were greeted off the gangway by locals who wore the garb and hats of the 30s. The port provided a shuttle to the center of town and dropped us off at thhe I-Site visitors center. Mike picked up a brochure highlighted a self-guided Art-Deco tour through the town center.

Early in the thirties, a severe earthquake struck Napier, destroying most of the buildings. A forward thinking architect - Louis Hay planned and directed the reconstruction, rebuilding many of the buildings with the trendy at the time art-deco motife. The main streets of Napier show many of the features  illustrating the art-deco genre.

Another of the highlights were the classic cars and costumed citizenry. We were fortunate that this was the first day their Art-Deco Festival weekend. Classic cars from all over NZ convened in Napier to show off the many restorations the enthusiasts labored over. Additionallly, many of the local residents donned the clothing typical of the 1930s. It was quite a sight to see the enthusiasm displayed.

The city is quite walkable, with the shoreline separated from the town center by an esplanade and fine gardens. Within the town are many small businesses housed within the landmark art-deco buildings.

We passed several Irish pubs, and selected one off the main drag for lunch. We ate (and drank) at a nice outdoor terrace next to the Napier Cathedral. The entire pub was imported from Ireland, lock, stock, and barrel. Our group selected Irish stew, fish&chips, stuffed potatoes, fried potatoes, a seafood platter, and something called Peas, Pie, and Pud (the latter short for pudding). Pud was simply mashed potatoes. All was quite good. Mike tried the smashed apple cider, and an Irish Red beer.

We then split up with Mary, Mark, and Cindy trekking up the bluff, John went back to the ship to change into running gear, and Mike and Deb continued touring the town. We found a nice garden park on the west side of the town that was pleasant with marigolds and water lilies. Deb caught a glimpse of a lady in period garb - orange dress with orange hat, passing the orange marigolds.

Next we walked up to the shoreline esplanade, with more tended gardens of flowers. This was a nice way to eparate the town from the shoreline. When back at the center Mike saw a steam tractor rolling by as we headed back to the pedestrian mall to have some coffee.

We met up again with Cindy, Mark, and Mary at the local Esquires coffee shop, the NZ chain like Starbucks. Though we've seen several Starbucks, we've been giving our business to the local coffee shops. While sipping our coffee, a Sticks and Drones band  played a bit, and solicited funds for their piping club - yes bagpipes. Sticks and Drones, get it? As I took some photos of the pipers, the club officer showed me the donation bin. It was only fair to exchange some NZ$ for a few photos.

After our coffee, we returned to the ship via the shuttle. It was a perfect day in Napier. Back at the ship, we went up to the hot tub, and had a few snacks as we unwinded at the end of the day. Mike found some chips, salsa, and guacamole. Unfortunately he just missed happy hour at the bar.

Later in the evening, we ate dinner at the on board Pinnacle Grill, courtesy of our travel agent. This is an upscale dining choice instead of the main dining room. A well appointed room, but unfortunately sub-par service, and the food was not as good as we expected. The descriptions and selections were quite nice, but the quality just wasn't there for everyone. Though my veal chop was excellent, the vegetables and sides were overcooked, and just blah. Oh well.

After dinner we had drinks in the piano bar, and listened for awhile as the piano man played selections from the 70s and 80s, including an interesting rendition of Billy Joel's Piano Man.

A complete set of Napier photos can be found at:

Next stop, windy Wellington on Saturday...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Coromandel Peninsula, Bay of Plenty, and Geysers

February 15, 2012

This was a sea day: we cruised around the Coromandel Peninsula in the Haruki Gulf outside Auckland where the highlight was a rock island with a hole in it. They call it the "hole in the rock". Who would have thought! It was overcast and the rocky coastline was illuminated in the morning with an overcast sky with occasional sun breaks. The coastline reminded us of the oegon coast with rocky outcrops and tree covered hills. The peninsula is a popular vacation spot, and had it's heydey in the late 1800s after gold was discovered.

In the afternoon, we rounded the peninsula, heading west into the Bay of Plenty. The rains came, turning heavy at times, so not muchof  interest until later in the afternoon when we got up close and intimate with White Island - an active volcano. White Island is similar to Mount St. Helens in Washington, except it rises directly from the sea in the middle of the Bay of Plenty. And like Mount St. Helens, it blew its side out during one of its eruptions. Rather than lava flows, there are basalt masses growing in the crater with steaming fumeroles. The rain let up a little so photos could be taken. The rain also kept the sulfur fumes contained. We cruised past the maw of the crater several times, approaching within a 1/2 mile so al lthe features were quite visible.

Wednesday evening was formal night, and Mike's tuxedo showed up in time. We all dressed for a fine dinner. Before dinner Cindy, Mike, and Deb attended the "Back to Broadway" show that was just OK. The vocals were excellent, but the music was marred by a very bad synthesizer attempting to sound like violins. This did not work at all, and the temp was a little slower than it should have been. There was a fine flutist and piano player that we should have heard more of. Two numbers were saved by the excellent vocals - a great duet of the Phantom of the Opera and a solo rendition of "Defying Gravity" from The Wiz.Other numbers from Grease and West Side Story just didn't sound right.

Dinner was excellent; most of our group had lamb chops; John had a nice Beef Wellington; Deb had Alaska Crab Legs; and Mike experimented with Forestiere Mushrooms.

After dinner we posed for a nice group formal picture, then it was off to bed as we had an early start on Thursday.

Thursday, February 16, 2012
Our ship docked around 4:00am in the port of Tauranga. THis was a fine little town and port at the base of a young but dormant volcano at the port entrance. The 800ft cinder cone was quite steep with several trails around the base or to the top.

We were up early and into the Lido dining room for breakfast by 6am. Things were a bit disorganized and understaffed, as there simply weren't enough servers or wait staff to handle this early morning crush. Things got underway a bit earlier due to tours leaving at 6:30am. The start was a few hours earlier than originally scheduled due to tide conditions.

We boarded our bus for "Fascinating Rotorua", aobout 60 minutes inland from the port. Rotorua is probably one of the most popular tourist destinations in NZ. It is located in a caldera basin on the shores of a large lake. Evidently, the lake is sort of like Crater Lake in Oregon, except that it is shallow and drains to the sea. The entire area is over a volcanic hotspot, with many hot mud pools, active geysers, and hot springs.

On the way to Rotorua, we first stopped at the Rainbow Springs attraction, which gave us the opportunity to see kiwi birds up close as well as walk thru a tended arboretum where we could see and identify many of the native plants and trees unique to NZ. We were surprised to see giant redwoods there - a gift from California in the early 1900s. The climate was well suited to the redwoods as the 80 year old trees already towered to almost 200 ft heights.

One more stop before we got to the hotspot area of Rotorua - the Agridome. The Agridome is defintely for the tourists - a show explaing the different types of sheep raised in NZ, a demonstration of sheparding skils of dogs, and a bit of humor for the crowd. There are 14 different breeds of sheep in NZ, with the most famous being the Merino, whose wool is highly sought. Also learned that some sheep are better for wool production rather than eating. A compliaant sheep also succumbed to a shearing demonstration.
After the Agridome, we traveled to a Holiday Inn for a buffet lunch that was quite good. The lunch room then presented a Maori tribal show with singing and dancing to traditional Maori music.

Once the show was over, we boarded the bus to travel to the hotspot area nearby. The Prince of Wales geyser at the Te Puia thermal area put on quite a show for us with almost continuous streams of hot water and steam gushing from the ground. We were actually quite close, and did get wet. The smell of sulfur was everywhere. In the quarter mile suare area there were many springs, a hot mud pot, and several geusers. We were surprised at how close we could approach these features. There were trails and fences of course.
After getting our fill of the Te Puia thermal area, we boarded the bus for the trip back to our ship. We continued counter-clockwise around Rotorua Lake and traveled thru the kiwi growing region of NZ. The kiwi is not native, being brought here from Chian in the early 1900s. There is a golden variety that was developed here in NZ, derived from the original green kiwi we all know.

Along the way, we passed thru a small town named Te Puke. Ow well, the accent does make it sound a bit better!

We left the Tauranga port a little after 4pm. Mike and Deb lounged on the rear deck, while the others made sure the hot tub was put to good use. Mike also made sure he took advantage of the afternoon pizza snacks, and the happy hour drink specials.

Did we mention what a fine day it turned out to be? Sunny skies with temps in the 70s. Definitely the best kind of weather for touring. Mike and Deb schlepped their backpacks with rain gear and umbrellas. That surely was the catalyst to drive the rain away!

That's it for now - dinner was OK -- I had a dry Risotto, and Deb had second thoughts on the duck in her Duck l'orange. Cindy brought her bottle of champagne which we all shared with dessert. Following dinner there was an outstanding magic show. The magician was quite the comedian, too!

Tomorrow we hit Napier, a small city with Art-Deco architecture.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Day 1- about to depart Auckland

Deb and I were a few of the first to board today, Tuesday, at   1130am. We depart today at midnight.

Deb and I spent the afternoon exploring the ship. It is quite nice and well appointed. we met the cruise director, David, who took us on a ships tour. We then checked out a cooking class, and found out about the food,the spa, the library, and the computer classes. Really quite a lot to keep us busy. Food and classes seem to be the highlight so far, and the drinks are quite good too.

John, Cindy, Mark, and Mary explored Auckland today,and took the ferry to Devonport for lunch. They are on their way tothe ship as I sloowly type this on the Kindle. We're sitting outside, aft near the outside pool. there is a pool midship withe a movable cover.

The weather today is partly cloudy with infrequent showers. Temp in the mid 70s.

Alongside our ship is the Costa Deliziosa, which looks a lot like the ship that sunk in Italy. We have a mandatory safety briefing and lifeboat drill before dinner. Miss it and they will kick off the ship.

I  just know this is going to be a great cruise!

On Tuesday, February 14, 2012, Peter Wendel <> wrote:
> Can't wait to hear about first day at sea.

Auckland 2-13-2012

This morning Mike and Deb made their way through the Auckland Domain to the Auckland Museum.  The Auckland Domain has many sculptures along the walkway so it made for an enjoyable walk.

The museum has 3 floors - the first centers on the people from New Zealand, the second focuses on the natural history, and the third is the war museum.  On the first floor there are three Maori buildings.  One is a beautiful meeting building where you can take off your shoes and enter the entire building.  Mike and Deb capped the museum tour with a coffee break at the museum cafe.

From the museum Mike and Deb walked to the Newmarket and Parnell neighborhoods.  We first walked through the Newmarket neighborhood and had a fantastic lunch at Safron, a Mediterranean restaurant.  There were many lunch specials to chose from.  The shops in Newmarket were mostly international stores (Lush, Nike store, etc).

Then it was on to the Parnell neighborhood.  The shops in Parnell were small boutiques, no famous international stores.  There were also many upscale restaurants.  It was fun to walk down the main shopping street.  We stopped at a park with a perfect view of the Sky Tower.

We walked back to the hotel and met our friends Cindy and John and Mary and Mark.  We will all be going on the cruise together.  We walked around the shopping area (High Street and O'Connell Street) and first had drinks along the harbor and then dinner on Vulcan Street at a pub.  Although they were out of fish and chips (Deb's choice) there were other very good alternatives.  The guys all tried different New Zealand beers. It was a good time with lots of good conversations.

For a complete set of photos from today, please view them at: Auckland 2-13-2012

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Finally a real update for Feb 8-12, 2012

This is one big post as we recover from our Internet connectivity issues, and recover from our exhaustion after our coast-to-coast trek across Auckland - from the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Truly a cross country trip!

Complete set of the choice pictures from our Wed-Sun adventures can be found here:

Wed at LAX
Spent considerable time at LAX with a long layover. The price for free tickets! A few photos from the Koru lounge at LAX

Thursday in-flight
Thursday in-flight on Air New Zealand Flight 5 from LAX to Auckland. Approximately 12 hours, non-stop. Mike slept and ate; Deb ate, slepts, and watched a few movies. Very enjoyable flight.

Friday in Auckland
Mike in Deb arrived in Auckland and first roamed around and discovered the area near the hotel.  We're staying near the Quay, a few blocks away from the ferry and cruise terminal.

 On our first day we decided to take the ferry to Devonport.  It was a quick ferry ride away.  We went to the tourist center and got the map with the historic walk of Devonport.  We first climbed Mt. Victoria for a picture perfect view of Auckland.  We then followed the map and saw all the interesting sites.

We stopped for a late lunch at  the Manuka restaurant.  Unknown to us, this restaurant was recommended in the Frommer's guide.  Mike had his first NZ fish and chips and Deb had New Zealand mussels in a Thai curry sauce.  The food was very good.

We took the ferry back and decided to walk around the shopping area.  We walked up and down High, O'Connell, and Vulcan Streets.  We were tired from all the walking and took a break at an open air cafe in one of the plazas off the shopping street called Mecca.  I had a flat white coffe (latte in NZ) and Mike had a glass of Sangria with fresh berries.  By dinner time we were quite tired so we had dinner in the restaurant at the entry of the hotel called Little India.  The food was very good.

Saturday in Auckland
The day started out with rain.  But luckily it did not last long.
We had made reservations for brunch at the revolving restaurant at the Sky Tower, Orbit, while still in the US.  We went early to visit the observation tower.  By then the skies had cleared.  We had a great view of a number of people sky diving / bungy jumping from the tower.  Not something that Deb and Mike wanted to do, but we enjoyed watching the brave people.  After the observation tower we proceeded to brunch at Orbit.  The food was very good.  We had smoked salmon eggs benedict.
After a full brunch Mike and Deb did something unbelievable.  We walked from the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean - wow!  We took the train to Onehunga and then walked and walked.  We hiked up One Tree Hill and had a great view of the city.  We walked through multiple neighborhoods and parks.  Mike and Deb walked more than 10 miles.

By the end of our several hour walk, we were to tired to find a restaurant for dinner, so we picked up a roast chicken, salad, and wine for our dinner back at the room.

Sunday in Auckland
Mike and Deb caught the 45 minute ferry to Waiheke Island.  The island is known for all the vineyards and wineries.  Waiheke Island is hilly so we decided to purchase the island hopper bus tickets.  It was a great deal.  There were never more than 2 other couples on the small bus.  They had 3 different routes.  We first took all the routes to get a feel for the island.  Based on a suggestion by Lauren, our driver on the orange route, we went to Casita Miro for lunch.  The place was definitely popular.  It turned out there were no tables available for us to have lunch, but we were able to sit at the bar and have a flight of wine, a tapas paired with each wine, and fabulous focaccia bread and olives.  It was a super find.  We had a great conversation with the people tending the tasting bar.  One was from Milano and the other was born in Philiadelphia.  We ended up having a much better experience by sitting at the bar. Then it was back to the town via the hop off and on bus where roamed around the small town.  And back on the ferry to Auckland.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Short report from Waiheke Island and answering a camera question for a friend

Found some WiFi here on Waiheke Island. A lot like the San Juans in Washington.

Responding to a friend's question about the Canon S100; it is great. Using almost exclusively this trip in NZ.

We're on a hop-on hop-off bus touring all over. Nice drivers on 3 different buses. A nice dog, too!

Slow day, so our driver Dan, is picking up regular bus riders and making custom routes. Stopped at a few vineyards, and had a nice lunch at one - Casita Miro.

That's all for now.

technical difficulties...

Internet not working in our room this morning, so making do with kindle. so no pics for now. Please excuse any typos.

It is now Sunday morning.

on Friday, our day of arrival and first full day, we went by ferry to Devonport across the harbour from Auckland. A fine day walking thru the village, tramping to top of Mt. Victoria, and a fine lunch and drinks - NZ Mata beer, fish and chips, and green lipped NZ mussels in a Thai cream sauce. The beer was like a German Koelsch.

For the rest of Friday, we walked thru Auckland's Central Business District and found a nice place for afternoon cocktails - Mecca. A small outdoor plaza with many relaxing office workers. i had a nice sangria with fresh berries, and Deb had a flat white. No bludgers here.

For dinner, we headed back to the Little India Restaurant at our hotel. A simple meal with Butter Chicken, naan. and rice. then off to bed after offloading our pics. Too tired to blog.

We woke Saturday morning to a light rain. Just had coffee in the room before heading to the Sky Tower for brunch. Thankfully the light rain stopped as we headed out.

We got to the Sky Tower around 11am, an hour before our reservation. We were able to go to the viewing deck to take pics, and watch the jumpers. This is the tallest sructure in the southern hemisphere. Sort of a modified bungie jump, where the brave are harnessed and dropped to the ground from the 1200ft level. not for us. Pics later.

For brunch,eggs Florentine with salmon instead of Canadian bacon in a modified eggs Benedict. Orbit Restaurant atop the Sky Tower rotates about once per hour so easy to get a full view of the Aucklland area while eating.

After lunch,we boarded a train for Onehunga,where we started our tramp across Auckland from the Tasman sea to the Pacific Ocean. A 17km trek over hill and dale. very nice but will write about it later.

Off to Waiheke Island on Sunday...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On the plane and about to depart

Nice plane...777-300 w/in seat on demand video. Current movies, tv shows, YouTube, etc. Thousands.

Car, planes, rain, fog, and sun...

The car service driver showed up this dark, rainy morning a few minutes early, though he did drive up to the wrong house at first. A quick ride to the airport, then a short wait in the security line.

Mike's backpack got a second look on the security X-ray, and his "Knifeless" Leatherman drew the attention of the TSA inspectors. A nice purchase at the outlet store a few years ago. It is a Squirt without the usual knife blade. It was a test product for Leatherman, but no longer available. No knife, so okay for carryon!

A nice respite in the United Club where we discussed coffee/espresso machines with the agent.

Our flight to LAX was delayed; connecting via SFO, same plane, but different flight numbers, so we had to get off then back on. No chance to miss the connection!

Uneventful leg to LAX. After a bit of a walk, found the shuttle stop that took us to Terminal 2 for Air New Zealand.
Had to check-in again, and we had to give up our Briggs&Riley rollaboards. To big, too heavy. Oh well, tighter restrictions for carry-on. They let Mike keep the heavy backpack since it was loaded with the electronic gadgets and laptop. They didn't even question Deb's backpack.

We picked the wrong line for security. Though only a few in line, only one TSA agent was checking boarding passes and ID.

Made our way to the Air New Zealand Kuru Lounge. Heaven! A nice comfortable retreat before our flight leaves for Auckland at 10pm.

Plenty of food for lunch and dinner, as well as an open, self-serve bar with soft drinks, wine, champagne, and an assortment of booze for mixed drinks. Free entry as a perk to our Star Alliance Gold membership.

Mike repacked some of our carry-on while Deb attended to important matters. We collected some NZ tourist info, that will come in handy, including a very fine country map, and an Auckland guide.

Mike charged all the gadgets for the long flight ahead, and recharged himself with a visit to the bar.

That's all for today unless something significant arise before we board our flight to Auckland.

A few more pics can be found here:

...and the journey begins...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The night before...

Mike spent the day packing, and surprisingly, looks like I'll be fine with one carry-on and one backpack. Deb is doing likewise. This is how we traveled on our RTW trip Aug-Sep 2010. Having a rented tux delivered to the cruise ship helps, too!
Left Bailey with the neighbor; he loves it there.

Security system set up and video surveillance is working.

Did online check-in this morning, ad had no problem with Deb's ticket. Mine did have some problems. Seems American Express didn't do something correctly after the last schedule change, and had to reissue my ticket. This took about an hour; fortunately the agent didn't have me hold the entire time. Once he knew what to do, I hung up, and he called me afterwards when all was well. Then I was able to do online check-in. I guess this can happen when you use a travel agent to book a ticket 1 year in advance. I used American Express because I was able to convert points into a revenue ticket and get a 30% discount. Also get frequent flier miles, too!

The adventure begins in the morning!

Liking this forecast a lot better! Packing underway...departing tomorrow...