Apia, Samoa

16 03 2011

Sunday 13th March 2011

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Samoa is a very religious country with churches of various denominations distributed quite thickly throughout the island .  Sunday is still very much a day of worship as well as a family day.  We had been told that all shops, offices, banks etc.etc would be closed. and possibly there would be no taxis running!  In fact, as we walked through the security fence of the port we were met with a wall of taxi drivers selling their wares – the phrase bees round a honeypot certainly came to mind.

After a period of negotiation we engaged a taxi to visit the usual tourist spots, to include waterfalls, typical villages,scenic coastal drives and a visit to Robert Lewis Stevenson’s house.   Although from a distance the island looks like paradise, close up there was considerable poverty and very shabby houses.  We did see however, large groups in their Sunday white outfits off to church.

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The road surfaces were very poor and we made slow progress dodging the huge potholes.  Eventually we reached one of the falls within the property of the Mormon Church, but they were all locked up for Sunday.  The next lot of falls didn’t look at all promising, and when lads wanted to charge us $10 each, we decided to give it a miss.

We did however get a taste of the island, with its pretty bays and  tropical vegetation but returned to the ship slightly disappointed.  After a quick shower and change we then walked to Aggie Greys, a recently renovated  famous hotel not far away.  This was chalk and cheese to what we had experienced in the morning.  Here we met friends and enjoyed a cool beer in the shade.

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The view at sailaway

To celebrate Viv’s birthday, we enjoyed some pre-dinner fizz as we watched  the sun go down.

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Auckland, North Island, New Zealand

13 03 2011

10th March, 2011

Called the City of Sails, Auckland sits in the Hauraki Gulf a paradise of sparkling waters and volcanic hills.  It is a delightful mix of old and new.  With a population of over 1 million, a quarter of the whole of New Zealand, it is the largest Polynesian city in the world, many from the Polynesian islands of the South Pacific and more recently from Asia.  This gives it a cosmopolitan feel.

We were meeting Tony’s cousin, John and his wife Jenny who were kindly looking after us for the day.  We had last been in their company at a family reunion in Mid-Devon two years before.

We caught a ferry to Rangitoto,a journey of about 30 minutes.  It was a lovely day, clear blue skies, gentle breeze.  We landed on the volcanic island, born only 600 years ago and proceeded to walk to the top for the wonderful panorama of the bay.  The walk took us about an hour.  Stopping at the top for some pictures and to enjoy the view, we then walked back and caught the return ferry. 

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Back on the mainland, John and Jenny then took us in their car to their house a few kilometres along the coast.   Here we admired their beautiful home which they had designed themselves.  Set high up above the sea it had wonderful views from every window.  A lovely New Zealand home.  After a refreshing cup of tea and brief rest, we were driving back into town and to the Aquarium on the other side of the city.  It was housed in a disused very large sewage tank!  Devised to create the experience of scuba diving, the underwater world focused around an acrylic tunnel. Fish swim all around, shark, stingray etc.etc.  We also walked through a replica of Scott’s hut .  We were struck by the basic equipment they had compared to the high-tech of today

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Time caught up with us again so it was back to the boat in time for Sailaway.  Thank you again Jenny and Peter for giving us such an excellent day.





Tauranga, North Island, New Zealand

13 03 2011

9th March 2011

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Because of the dreadful earthquake in Christchurch, our next port of call was changed to Tauranga, the largest city in the Bay of Plenty region.  The name comes from our old friend Captain Cook who was impressed by its agricultural riches and possibilities. 

We were very fortunate to hook up with five fellow travellers on the quayside  and engaged a minibus with English driver/guide.  He was an ex headmaster who now runs a successful educational-guiding business for students from New Zealand and overseas.   He was extremely well informed and gave us an almost continuous running commentary as we travelled round.

The main object of the trip was to visit the Geysers at Rotorura some 45 kilometers away.  On the way we visited a kiwi farm and heard how these fruits had through clever marketing became a success story in the last few years.    It was interesting to see how they grow (from trees about 5ft high, creating a thick canopy.

 

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Another of our stops  included a category 5 rapid, viewing access for which was through a series of caves.

 

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We got our first glimpse of the geysers “going off” in the distance as we arrived at the park. 

On the way through the park to the geysers we visited a ‘kiwi house’, where these shy  nocturnal birds are kept in near darkness, making viewing  tricky until one became adjusted to the darkness.  We also stopped at a hot hole, climbing up to carefully put our hand inside a break in the rock.

We then came to the geyser area – all fenced off of course and eventually our patience was rewarded and they went off again (this happens every 45 minutes or so)  Fortunately the area was not too busy and we could move around and get great pictures, mostly cine.

Back at the entrance to the park we visited workshops were Maoris were serving apprenticeships learning the wonderful carving that they are so known for.  Women were also making intricate bags, belts etc from plant greenery.

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On our way back to Port we stopped at yet another beautiful lake with extremely clear water

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Before dropping us off, our lovely driver even included a quick tour of the pretty town and its wonderful beaches.  Yet again we felt we would have liked much more time here.

A wonderful day in a wonderful part of the world.

 

At 05.30 on the 12th March the Japan tsunami actually passed beneath the Aurora with no drama. Thanks to all those of you who sent messages……………we are fine.

As we cross the date line again, we have enjoyed the 12th March twice.

 





Napier,North Island,New Zealand

12 03 2011

 

8th March 2011

Located on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand, Napier (population 50,000) is known throughout the world for its stunning Art Deco architecture, not forgetting the high quality wine of Hawks Bay. The city was reduced to rubble in 1931, following a severe 7.8 earthquake which caused the land to raise by seven feet in parts, so that what had been seabed was eventually used for the present Airport.

We took a walking tour with a local guide and 7 or 8 others, and shown the various styles of art deco. Exactly one month from the earthquake it was decided to rebuild in the art deco style (called modern at the time)  and the majority of the work was undertaken within two years, using an imported workforce of some 6,000 men all housed in local outlying  undamaged houses.   In the meantime there was a tremendous amount of working together by banks, businesses etc.  This community spirit is very much in evidence today.  We were shown inside of working banks, all in pristine condition and inside the theatre with its recently restored exact replica carpet, coloured neon lights and art deco images on the walls.

 

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Houses in the old style not demolished by the 1931 earthquake

 

After lunch we took a Te Mata Peak bus tour to a nearby beach resort (mainly of black sand and shingle) passed interesting houses (no higher than three stories following the earthquake) then out to a wonderful valley, to a winery for a tasting and purchase and finally up to a highpoint of Te Mata (3,390 ft) with spectacular views of the valley and Hawkes Bay.  The road up was so narrow that we had to have a motorbike escort ensuring there was nothing coming down!!  Having enjoyed the view for some 20 minutes of so we started our way down, when the coach got stuck on a tight bend and couldn’t move.  We all got out,various suggestions were made but eventually telephone  calls were made and a replacement coach came up for us.  Meantime we had blocked the road and a party of small children with their teachers arrived and gave us an impromptu mini concert – doing the haka for us, the national anthem and another Maori song – quite lovely.  The bus then took us directly to the ship as we had by then missed the boarding time but fortunately as there were about 20 of us they held the ship!  Otherwise it was suggested that the coach company would have had to have taken us on to Tauranga our next port!

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The local band, vintage cars and drivers in 20s style outfits were still on shore entertaining the ship as we arrived back to cheers from all around !!

 

 

 

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Milford Haven, and Fjordland, South Island, New Zealand

11 03 2011

5th March 2011

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After a very bumpy journey on the Tasman Sea from Sydney, we steered into Milford Sound., named by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world A pilot and local guide came on board, the latter giving us an excellent commentary  about the area its history and stories which was broadcast throughout the public areas of the ship.

During the last ice age the region was covered by huge glaciers, which carved out the fiords and lakes and jagged mountains as they are today.  As the ice melted it left behind lakes and the rising sea flooded in to create the fjords round the coast.

We visited Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and finally Dusky Sound

 

 

Milford Sound runs inland from the Tasman Sea and is surrounded by sheer rock which rises 3,900ft on either side. Lush rainforest cling to the cliffs while seals penguins and dolphins frequent the waters – we saw some dolphins, but these were too quick for us to photograph! Because of its narrow entrance the fjord remained undiscovered by Europeans until 1812, when John Grono named it Milford Sound.

The Maoris had arrived in the area some 1,000 years previously and were still here when Captain Cook set up camp at what he named Dusky Sound in 1773.  He stayed for some 5 weeks.  In 1791 a sealing colony was been set up and the slaughter of seals began, but thirty years later there were no seals left!  In 1829 attention turned to hunting whales, and the same thing happened.

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During the day we saw a couple of albatross flying over the boat and for a short period dolphins played alongside us.





Wellington, North Island, New Zealand

9 03 2011

7th March 2011

This lively city is built on hills around its large harbour, a flooded crater of an extinct volcano. Polynesians explored and settled in this area many hundreds of years ago.  In 1773 Captain Cook anchored a mile from the harbour entrance, but ventured no further. It was not until 1840 that the first European settlers arrived, setting up home in what is now Wellington.

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In the centre of Wellington by 9.30; our first activity was to ride the little cable car to the top of the town for view and a visit to the Botanical Gardens.   We spent a very pleasant hour wandering through the different parts of the park, filled with exotic trees and shrubs as well as familiar flowers, back down into town.  We then wandered along the wharf where sheds and warehouses have been converted into smart restaurants, cafes and interesting craft shops  Eventually we came to the Te Papa Museum of New Zealand.  This internationally award winning museum is housed in a new building with  5 floors filled with numerous exhibits.  Unfortunately time only allowed us to have a very brief look, but we did take in the adrenaline ride (not as good as the Sydney one although quite scary) and spent time looking at Maori history and exhibits including a reconstructed Maori meeting house, and the sea and sealife section which included the largest squid every displayed.  (it was very big)

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Statue called Into The Wind

A local bus then took us through interesting residential areas; beautifully restored painted wooden houses with balconies – most with wonderful views below.  At the top of Mount Victoria we had amazing panoramic views of the harbour, local bays and Hutt valley..

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Back on the harbour side there was just half an hour spare for a swift trip to the shops before boarding the last shuttle bus back to the boat and another sailaway in the sunshine, to the sounds of the one of the resident bands.

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Dunedin, New Zealand

9 03 2011

6th March 2011

Dunedin, the Gaelic name for Edinburgh, situated on the southeast coast of South Island with a population of 122,000 is the administrative centre for the beautiful Otago region.  It is thought that the Maori settled here AD1100 while Captain Cook arrived in 1776. 

The Scottish influence is still very much felt – it was in 1848 that the first 350 brave folk settled here.  Later gold was discovered and the town enjoyed a period of considerable prosperity with grand buildings and handsome private houses being built many of which survive today.

Unfortunately because of a change of itinerary due to the earthquake in Christchurch, our visit to this lovely area was shortened – we had to be back on board by 3pm.   With the assistance of the Tourist Office we decided to take a good walk to the Ross Creek Reservoir – a few kilometres outside town.  Armed with a local map we set off and enjoyed a brisk 4 hour walk past pretty traditional houses with iron lacework and turrets, lovely gardens, and then along small wooded footpaths, past waterfalls and streams until eventually we reached the little reservoir.

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Our return trip into town took in some superb panoramic views.  IMG_5908 (Medium)P1090194 (Medium)

 

Sailaway As we passed the point  at the harbour entrance, we were lucky to see albatrosses and seals basking on the rocks below. (sorry no pics!)

That evening after dinner we had a local Maori dance troupe entertain us including of course the Haka.  Then it was back to the cabin to prepare for Wellington tomorrow morning !





Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

4 03 2011

1st and 2nd March 2011

 

Aurora had to be alongside  Circular Quay, sandwiched as it is between Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, by 7.30am to avoid early morning ferries.  We were on deck by 5.30 am to watch the approach to this fabulous berth, right in the heart of the city. The sun appeared on the horizon and slowly brought light to the scene.

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Day One – we caught the bus to Bondi Beach enjoying the ride through various areas and building styles on the way.  We then enjoyed the pretty walk to Coogee some 6 kilometres away, passing Tamamara Bay (stopping for coffee), Bronte Beach, Waverely Cemetery (huge) – the final resting place of some famous Australians – round Shark Point, through Clovelly Beach and finally to Coogee which was similar to Bondi, long expanse of lovely sand.  It was not a sunny day and no surf so there was little activity on the beach, although many fit runners and walkers passed us on the footpath.  Chris took many pictures of the striking houses looking over the sea – very desirable indeed.  At Coogee we rewarded ourselves with a swim and a walk along the nearly empty beach.  After a wander around the area we headed back to Circular Quay.

Bondi  Beach                                       Tamamara  Bay                            Coogee Beach

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After a quick turnaround on board we were out again, this time heading up Pitt Street towards The Tower, with its observation deck 260 metres above the city.  The views from the top were quite wonderful, even though it was a bit misty, so our photos are a little disappointing.  Included in the ticket price was an Oztek show, a virtual reality ride across Sydney to the bush and beyond  so realistic that  the audience was gasping;  travelling at high speed over the Sydney Harbour Bridge the Opera House and the bay for instance.

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Recovering from the excitement of this “ride” we then rode the monorail around Darling Harbour, eventually alighting to explore this busy area with its many smart restaurants, bars and shops all on the waterfront. We paused for a glass or two of wine and generally enjoyed the atmosphere, then slowly made our way back to the boat, walking through tree lined streets with very smart shops. Tony was relieved they were closed!  Our first day had been quite long and tiring but unforgettable

Day 2 We caught an open topped tourist bus and proceeded to be taken all over Sydney with an amusing commentary, made by a local broadcaster.  As well as travelling along busy streets with high-rise buildings, we also toured the older and now cherished parts with pretty terrace houses and their iron lacework balconies.  Overall I have memories of tree lined wide streets, lovely buildings, smart shops.  We made a few  stops including The Hyde Park Barrack Museum (beautifully restored) which told all about the early convict settlers to Australia and their treatment.; the nearby Park; coffee at the top of the Law Courts Building with its great views; and the wonderful cathedral with its simple but grand interior, where organ music was being played. Finally the Maritime Museum (visited by Tony) and the exhibition attached (Chris) telling the stories of child migration into Australia which only ended in l967.  We also toured on foot the Rocks area, where the first landings were made and now full of cobbled streets, quirky shops and bars.

Returning to Aurora (her berth right in the middle of town was the best ever)  we had a quick shower, and change and walked to the Opera House and Botanical Gardens.  Carmen was being performed, so on impulse Chris joined the short box office queue and purchased the last two tickets for that evenings performance!  We only had an hour before we could take our seats so we quickly had a look at the Gardens right next door.

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What an end to a magical couple of days in this truly fantastic city.  The production was in French (with helpful subtitles) had a cast of over 60 including twenty+ small energetic boys and a very well behaved horse!  The costumes and sets were very atmospheric, the acting was realistic and of course the singing magic.  We walked back to the boat along the queyside  as folk enjoyed the balmy temperatures drinking in bars and restaurants alongside. Very special.

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Sailaway was at midnight, we shared a bottle of champagne on deck with Viv and Juan as we said a bye to Sydney, promising to return for a much longer visit. 

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We now look forward to a few days at sea, recovering and preparing for Milford Sound and New Zealand !





Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

28 02 2011

27th February 2011

Sitting on the Brisbane River, this fine city is situated in the middle of Australia’s East Coast and with its sub-tropical climate has so much to offer its visitors.  Our challenge was choosing what to do and what to leave out. 

Navigating the 76000 ton ship under The Bridge did seem to be an impossible task, as it seemed that there was insufficient  clearance, and the Captain was going to lose bits from the high points.   His prediction of four feet of clearance proved correct , the rest of the ship being proved wrong, although we had been concerned for his career.

 

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After its recent flooding we were not sure what would greet us.  The clean-up has been quite amazing. assisted by thousands and thousands of locals who all got stuck in with local buses being used to ferry people to the areas  where help was needed.  At first glance you would not have known there had been any flooding, only occasional areas where work was still being done.  All the boardwalks along the riverside had been steam cleaned, even the down town Botanical Gardens show little sign – lawns have been re-laid, replanting has gone on.

We opted for a hop-on-hop-off bus with  City Cat Ferry service for the day.  By again  being one of the first off Aurora, we were in the middle of town before 9am on this warm sunny Sunday morning, before the city was really awake.  However the bus service was running, and we were treated to a continuous commentary from our driver, with only a couple of fellow passengers!  We passed various local landmarks including The Post Office Square with its old buildings, the City Hall, and the Riverside Centre with its Sunday markets just setting up (we would visit these interesting stalls later in the day)   Past the Suncorp Sports Stadium where large football and rugby matches would be held.  No parking of cars are allowed in the area; when matches are being played, over 100 local buses ferry all spectators to and from the stadium in a very short time.

We drove through the charming area of Paddington with its old clapperboard houses and pretty verandas. A few years ago these houses were quite run down and cheap to buy, affordable by the young, who then renovated them and suddenly the area was a desirable place to live and and property expensive!

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Some 8 km outside the city the bus climbed to Mt.Coot-tha Gardens where we hopped off.  A wonderful view point overlooking the city.  Already quite warm and busy with locals enjoying  family breakfasts, with viewing areas as well as a shady terrace,   Waiting for the next bus we had an chat with some folk who said we should go to the Northern Territories – much better!

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Our next stop was the Botanic Gardens an oasis of cool and shade.  You could easily have spent a whole day in this lovely area, and indeed local families were doing just that complete with picnics.  We did manage though to visit the wonderful Japanese Gardens, the Fern House, the lagoon among others.  Overall we were struck by the number of young families all out for the day.

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South Bank with its cafes, shops entertainment and normally sandy beach- which  is currently under repair from the recent devastating floods  Lots of stalls selling craft, clothes, hats (Tony bought another and I bought a larger sun visor such was the heat) as well as busy bars selling ice cold beer and other refreshments 

We took a City Cat down river to the Riverside area on the edge of the centre of Brisbane with its smart shopping and market area on the rivers edge. 

 

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Back on board after a busy day in the hot sunshine the “sailaway” was to community singing of national songs, both English and Australian! 

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Next stop – Sydney





NOUMEA New Caledonia

26 02 2011

25th February 2011

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Noumea  (population of 97,500) is  the capital of New Caledonia, a French overseas territory in the south west Pacific.  We were up on deck just after 6 am  to watch Aurora enter local waters through a narrow channel and past many hilly islands and come into harbour with the help of a local pilot.  Another magical arrival.  Captain Cook was reminded of Scotland when he explored this area in the 1790s, hence its name, and indeed in the early morning mist it did look a little like Scotland, but of course at 72 degrees at 6.30am. slightly warmer!

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A shuttle was needed to take Auroras passengers through the restricted area of port – full of containers and huge cranes – and deposited us at the Tourist Office.  We were greeted by a group of local musicians and dancers.  At the Centre we were able to change money and hire a couple of bikes for the day.  Slightly better ones this time, with brakes and gears!  I did however reject the first one with its broken frame!  Armed with a little map and many instructions we set off – straight into heavy traffic, but eventually we came to the marina full of wonderful yachts and a cycle path.

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The proposed trip was a mere 18 kilometers round the coastline.  We were immediately struck by the French influence – pretty little outside cafes,  smart shops; generally the area was more built up and affluent than the previous islands we had visited.  Near the marina there were some seriously luxurious housing complexes. 

We cycled round pretty bays all with trimmed lawns and shady trees, fairly quiet as it was still early.    Past typical French sailing schools with the complete range of water sports, but no wind and no activity.  In fact it was quite humid as well as hot and we were grateful for the shade when stopping for frequent drinks.

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We did not choose this method of transport !!

On our return – back along the coast – we stopped at a little shaded beach  to have a swim and rest.  Tony took the underwater camera into the water but found it warm and murky with visibility less than 2 metres!  We used the showers before leaving. 

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We still had an hour or two to spare once we had returned our bikes and so did a little exploring on foot.  The actual town was a little disappointing mainly full of touristy shops, but we did find the usual lovely square full of flowering trees and then an interesting little museum telling a  how the local indigenous people were originally treated by the Europeans!

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Back on board, we had a sailaway with resident band to complete yet another lovely day ashore.

It was Juan’s birthday so we celebrated with a bottle of bubbly on deck just before dinner, to be followed by a great show from the resident Headliner group of young talented singers and dancers!