March 20-24, 2017 (At Sea & Apia, Samoa)

After leaving Wellington, we cruised along the entire east coast of the north island before waving goodbye to New Zealand and starting our journey back east.

4 days in the eerily tranquil Pacific on the way to Samoa is just what I needed to catch up on my writing. It’s a challenge concentrating on gigantic wave days, as my brain and stomach slosh freely in their respective cavities. I am very grateful for the hiatus Mother Nature bestowed on us. She’s probably resting up for the next showstopper. I hope so.

The Samoan group of islands are 2,300 miles SSW of Honolulu, 2,700 miles NE of Sydney and 1,800 NE of Auckland. They are only 14 degrees south of the Equator, so you know what that means by now, right? Super hot and sticky. Yuck.

On the 24th we arrived in Apia, the capital of Samoa, on the main island of Upolu which is 44 miles long and 10 miles wide. This group of 6 islands used to be called “Western Samoa”, but they dropped “Western” from the name in 1997. Samoa was granted independence from New Zealand in 1962. The population is 194,000. Most of the inhabitants live on Upolu.

Of course, the Polynesians were here for thousands of years before colonization by the Europeans started in the 1825. Soon after, Samoa because a haven for runaway sailors and escaped convicts. It was a very unhealthy place full of nakedness, free love, and rampant disease, just like Tahiti. And, just like Tahiti, the missionaries soon arrived to “straighten them out”. Now, most Samoans follow Christian traditions. There are a myriad of churches here, but the Immaculate Conception of Mary Cathedral pictured below stands out in the downtown area. Check out the gorgeous wood ceiling.

Immaculate Conception of Mary Cathedral
Immaculate Conception of Mary Cathedral

It was 96 degrees by 10 am, and I thought I might burst into flames as we left the church (because of the heat, not sins) and crossed the street to reach the Samoan Cultural Center. We collapsed on plastic chairs under the thatched roof of a cabana, grateful for the shade. A speaker was on stage describing the process for making tapa; a papery cloth derived from mulberry tree bark.

The bark is stripped from the branch, then pounded with a wooden mallet to flatten. Next, it is scraped vigorously with a clam shell to thin and stretch the material. After it dries, individual pieces are glued together using tapioca root and water. Only two colors were used for paint. The red-brown hue came from local mud and the black is ash from the mulberry branches that was burnt after the bark was striped.

The traditional garment made from tapa is called a called a Lava Lava, and it’s worn around the waist. It was used during special occasions, like weddings and funerals, when a grass or leaf skirt was not considered formal enough. It cannot get wet or be folded without ripping after it dries, so they are not worn to run to the supermarket. I assume that sitting down was not possible either. Here is an example of the finished product.

Lava Lava

Next, we learned about the traditional male tattoo design, called the pe’a. Did you know that “tattoo” originates from the Samoan word tatau? The same design tools used 2,000 years ago, are still used today. The skill is often passed down from father to son. Combs of various sizes, made from sharpened boar’s teeth, are fastened together with a piece of turtle shell and attached to a wooden handle. A 2 foot long mallet, made from the central rib of a coconut palm leaf is used to hammer in the designs. The black dye is made from the soot collected from burnt tree nuts.

The inked area is massive, from the knee to above the navel. When a Lava Lava is worn, the tattoo shows above it. There are large sections of solid ink, including around the groin. And, the process really really hurts. A lot. Check out the picture below.

Traditional Tattoo Design for Samoan Men

In the old days, every young man was tattooed as a rite of passage, and the risk of death by infection was huge. Now, only about 5% of men do it, and it is considered an act of bravery. This is where it pays to be skinny. Thin guys are under the needles for about a month, at 4 hours a day. Fat men, two months or more. The belly button is the last part to be done, and it is shear torture. If a man starts the process, but gives up, he is labeled a coward. The unfinished tattoo is a “mark of shame”. But it doesn’t end there. His entire family is shunned as well. Now, if a man in the USA chooses a tattoo of a 6 masted schooner, and it hurts to much when the hull is being chiseled, he can always turn it into a dingy without being snubbed. That’s not an option in Samoa.

We also learned that at the end of December 2011, Samoa jumped forward by one day, omitting December 30th from their calendar. The nation moved to the west of the International Date Line, so that business dealings with Australia and New Zealand could be conducted more easily. Before this change, Samoa was 21 hours behind Sydney. After the change, they were 3 hours ahead. The previous time zone was implement in 1892, because business with Californians was paramount then. Not anymore.

From the Cultural Center, we went to check out the fishmongers. Most had packed it in for the day. The remaining diehards lethargically fanned the decomposing fish with palm fronds to keep the flies off. Some looked ripe for salmonella with cloudy eyes and a funky smell. It didn’t bother the shoppers though, who were unperturbed by the lack of refrigeration.

Fish Market
Beautiful Fish

Behind the fish market, we strolled among the commercial docks looking for fisherman to chat up. We didn’t see any, but ran into these characters who insisted on posing with a Yellow Fin Tuna head. Too funny!

Funny Guys with Tuna Head!

It’s really tough to cut through the backbone, so it’s good to have a hacksaw on hand…

Good Use for a Hacksaw

The eye candy continued at the bus station. Every public bus is painted in vibrant designs and colors. And, there are competitions to see who can play music the loudest when leaving the station. The driver owns the bus, and each outlying village has at least one, depending on size. They shuttle workers and shoppers in and out of Apia throughout the day. The buses are usually packed beyond capacity, and, here’s a cultural shocker for those of us who value personal space… if you have a seat, don’t be surprised if someone sits on your lap! How would that go over in the USA?

Samoan City Bus

After we left the buses, we saw men milling around inside a low metal roofed building with chicken wire for windows, so we strolled over to investigate. It was a pool hall. A man at the padlocked entrance waved us over, and invited us in. So of course, we went. The padlock seemed a bit unnecessary during the day, but it was an “exclusive” private club, so there you go. There were about 20 tables, all in various stages of decay. Most of the wooden legs were warped and splintered. The bumpers were covered in duct tape. But none of that mattered to the guys. They were serious players, and this was their oasis. Check out the fancy corner ball pocket in the photo below.

Private Pool Hall

By now, we were zapped by the heat, and after a quick stop at the outdoor market for a fresh coconut water, we headed back to the ship. We lasted for 6 whole hours! I was amazed! We had a wonderful sampling of local life, culture, and traditions.

Fresh Coconut Water is Very Refreshing!

Back on board, I snapped a photo of this motley crew hanging out on the back of a beat up fishing boat. Check out the sparkling white teeth on the guy, far right. I’d like to know what toothpaste he’s using.

Check out the White Teeth – Guy on the Right.

Next stop, Honolulu.

March 19, 2017 (Wellington, New Zealand)

After leaving Akaora, we continued to head north, up the east coast of the south island. Then we jogged west to reach Wellington, at the bottom of the north island. The red spot on the map below, is where we are…

New Zealand – The Red Spot is Wellington

Wellington was founded in 1839. The capital was moved here from Auckland in 1865, due to it’s centralized location. The population is 405,000. It has been named the “world’s windiest city”, for two reasons. First, it is firmly anchored in the Roaring Forties, which are strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, between the latitudes of 40-50 degrees. The intense west-to-east air currents are caused by air being displaced from the equator towards the South Pole, and the earth’s rotation. There is nothing to break the wind here. Australia is the closest landmass to the west, at 1,200 miles away. Second, the already high winds often reach gale force because they are funneled through the narrow body of water called the Cook Straight, which separates the north and south islands of New Zealand.

But, get this. Mother Nature did not produce a single a puff of wind, all day. I was irked. I wanted to experience the legendary shrieking howl of the westerlies. The ones known to catapult ships into the jagged volcanic rocks that lurk in the harbor. But. No. Instead, we got a day that Wellingtonians fantasize about. Zero wind. 72 Degrees. Dazzling cloudless sky. What are the odds?

We had pre-booked a tour called “The Storm Coast”, which would take us to the easternmost point of Wellington Harbor along a very treacherous stretch of coastline known for shipwrecks. The last 3 miles of dirt road had huge chunks missing. Our guide told us that waves usually break against the windows of the bus, and he tried mightily to paint that dramatic picture for us. That’s a tough job today, but the views were splendid, indeed.

Wellington – Storm Coast
Wellington – Lighthouses
Close Up – Lighthouse on the Hill
Close Up – Lighthouse on the Shoreline
Wellington – Storm Coast

At the end of the rutted road, is Pencarrow Station. A 3,000 acre sheep farm. We had morning tea here, before watching a herding demonstration by a ragtag pair of sheepdogs. Okay, now I’m happy it’s not windy and raining. I admit it, I’m fickle. The views were extraordinary.

Shaggy Sheep Dogs
Keeping An Eye on the Dogs…
Round Them Up!
View from Pencarrow Station

Back in town, we were dropped off on the waterfront. It is Saturday, and because of the bizarre weather, every single Wellingtonian was out relishing it. The promenade lining the harbor was packed. As we strolled along, we noticed a 20 foot high diving platform with a hefty queue of teenage kids. It was so odd, right in the city! Most of the jumpers were competing to see how thoroughly they could soak the spectators with their splash. The more serious divers could be future olympians. Keep an eye out for them.

Future Olympian in Wellington
Wellington Diving Platform on the Harbor
Nice Form!

We ate lunch in a spirited pub, and the locals at the next table starting chatting us up, when they heard our “strange accent”. We learned that Wellington was the backdrop for many of the scenes in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Very Cool. I will rent the movies when we get home. And, New Zealand was the first nation in the world to grant women the right to vote in 1893. That was 27 years before the USA!

After lunch, we happened upon a pedestrian mall lined with trendy shops and bars. There was not one single piece of trash on the ground, and no cigarette butts. Anywhere. Every single place we have visited in New Zealand is sparkling clean. There is a tremendous “pride of place” here that is unparalleled in any other country, included my own.

Wellington – Pedestrian Street

Even the tug and pilot boats that guided us out of the harbor are pristine. Not a flake of rust on either one.

Pristine Tug Boat – Wellington
Pilot – Wellington

As we left the harbor, we spied Pencarrow Station in the distance, just as the wind started to stir. Within 10 minutes, it was howling. Thank you Weather Gods. We had a perfect day.

Pencarrow Station View – Leaving the Harbor

Next stop, Samoa. Stay Tuned.

March 17-18, 2017 (Dunedin & Akaora, New Zealand


After leaving the Fjords yesterday, we headed south, rounded the bottom of the south island, and headed back up the east coast towards Dunedin. We never made it there. A dense fog blanketed the harbor, and visibility was close to zero. The port was closed. We sat at anchor from 8 am until 2 pm, before the Captain declared that our “docking window” had passed. We crept away without seeing a thing. We are very familiar with this type of fog that can linger for days, from life on the ocean in Maine. It happens frequently in the Fall, when colder air passes over warmer water. Dunedin is almost the same latitude as Portland, just on the other end of the world, and, it’s early Fall here now and subject to the same conditions.

I did pout for the rest of the day, but in reality, we have been really blessed on this voyage so far. Very often, ships cannot dock due to a a variety of weather conditions, and this is the first time for us. I just wish it had been some blistering hot tropical island we missed… not cool, green, gorgeous, New Zealand. it is so very far from home, and it is unlikely that we will visit again anytime soon. Sigh.

Dunedin has a population of 130,000 and was founded by Scottish settlers in 1848. It is the second largest city on the south island, after Christ Church. In December 2014, Dunedin was designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Literature. It is home to the first university in New Zealand, the University of Otago, established in 1869.

Here’s the silver lining… the $330 we saved by not going on the shore excursion has been properly reallocated into “Cynthia’s Jewelry Fund”.


This morning we successfully anchored in the harbor at Akaora, just up the coast from Dunedin, on the south island. We had the option of going to Christ Church to see the destruction from the two massive earthquakes that hit the city in 2010 and 2011, but decided not to. The 4 hour round trip bus ride was part of the reason. We were curious, like everyone else, but it’s like going to see a train wreck. I have seen the pictures. Most of the historic buildings were destroyed, and the recovery has been very slow.

Because Dunedin was a total loss, this is our only landing on the south island, and we wanted to soak in the countryside and visit the legendary “Giant’s House”. The little town of Akaora is adorable too. It is the only French settlement in New Zealand. Back on 1838, a French whaling captain acquired the peninsula in a dubious land deal from the residing Maori tribe before returning to France to set up a trading company and bring the first settlers over. They returned a month to late.

The British had just signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the Maori Chiefs, to claim it on behalf of the British Crown. The 300 French immigrants produced the paperwork that proved they owned the land, and refused to leave. Given the circumstances, the Brits reluctantly let them stay. The Maori shyster who signed the deal could not be found.

The permanent population of Akaora is only 632 people. The town is built on the side of an ancient volcano. It is a popular “second home” and summer destination for the city slickers of Christ Church. Both French and English are spoken here.

The Giant’s House was built in 1880 on a steep hill above the rest of the town by the first bank manager in Akaora. Soon after it was built, a little girl who lived far below was heard to exclaim “It’s so big, a giant must live there!” The name stuck.

In 1996, Josie Martin, (Painter, Sculptor, Mixed Media Artist), bought the home and turned it into a work of art, inside and out. We met Josie, who is quietly effervescent, and refuses to have her picture taken,. We toured the inside of the house, where no photos are allowed. Josie matched her artwork with vibrant blue hair, jeweled shoes, and a neon dress that made us squint. Her artwork is awesome. She created everything you see in the photos below. Many of the mosaic chips and china fragments in her sculptures were obtained during the Christ Church clean up after the earthquakes. I LOVE that once treasured shattered pottery and glassware now has a new home in her garden spreading joy. It is a really happy place. We spent two hours here. I could have spent all day.

“Giant’s House” – Now owned by Josie Martin, Artist.
Royal Seating
Josie Martin
Josie Martin
Josie Martin
Catching the Spirt of Josie’s Art!
Josie Martin
Josie Martin
Josie Martin
Josie Martin

Next, we stopped by a delightfully old fashioned, musty museum, that focused on Maori history. Of particular interest was the exhibit on tattoos. Maoris did not have a written language, and the facial tattoos of the men told who they were, and where they came from. Each one was completely unique. For women, it did the same, but they were only permitted to tattoo their chin and lips. Written language did not start until the missionaries showed up in the 1800’s. Here are a couple of examples…

Maori Facial Tattoo for Men
Maori Facial Tattoo for Women

Next, we took a drive in the countryside. Here are some of the views we savored.

Scenery in Akaora
Beautiful Akaora
Scenic Akaora
Low Tide – Duck Waddle
Akaora English Cottage

Next stop, Wellington, New Zealand.

March 14-16, 2017 (At Sea & Fjordland National Park, New Zealand)

After leaving Melbourne, we headed east, crossed the Tasman Sea again (which was still well behaved) and arrived at the southwestern corner of the south island of New Zealand on March 16th. Today we explored 2 of the fjords in Fjordlands National Park. There were 3 fjords on the agenda, but a “man overboard” sensor was activated, and the ensuing mayhem forced us to abort one. We spent 2 hours trolling around the area looking for the victim. Several fishing boats answered the distress call and two helicopters from Dunedin scanned from the skies. It was quite a scene. Everyone with a pair of binoculars pitched in. One of the fishing boats found a freshly wet baseball cap, and the Capitan asked that if the owner was on board to step forward and claim it. No one did. He probably feared a lashing! About an hour after the chaos commenced, we were finally instructed to go back to our staterooms so a proper head count could be conducted. Umm… shouldn’t they have done that AN HOUR AGO? Duh.

Ends up that everyone was accounted for, and they called off the search. I was a bit disappointed. There are a handful of supremely annoying passengers, and I assumed that one of them had been “helped” over the side.

So what happened? If the baseball cap set off the sensor, that’s nuts. Small objects are often grabbed by the wind and end up in the sea. Or, it could have been a large bird that flew by, and got to close. Or, it could simply have been a malfunction. We may never know. I would like to see the bill for the two recuse helicopters. I am sure it will be a whopper.

Here is a map of the Fjordlands National Park.

Fjordland National Park Map – South Island – New Zealand

We traversed Milford and Dusky Sounds. The one we had to skip, was Doubtful Sound. I’m still not over it. The park was established in 1952 and it covers 3.1 million acres of pristine wilderness. There are glaciers up in the mountains, but none of them stretch to the water like they do in the Chilean Fjords. I hope you enjoy the photos.

Dunedin, New Zealand is next.

Fjordlands National Park – Milford Sound
Fjordlands National Park – Milford Sound
Fjordlands National Park – Milford Sound
Fjordlands National Park – Milford Sound
Fjordlands National Park – Dusky Sound
Fjordlands National Park – Dusky Sound
Fjordlands National Park – Dusky Sound

March 12-13, 2017 (At Sea & Melbourne, Australia)

After leaving Sydney, we continued to head south in the Tasman Sea, which had calmed down for the time being and was now masquerading as a placid lake. When we reached the bottom of Australia, and started heading west, we passed by the Wilson Promontory. This jutting headland is marked by a lighthouse that is still a critical navigational aid for mariners due to the frequent fog.

Wilson Promontory on the Way to Melbourne

Melbourne sits at the bottom of the country, facing Tasmania, in the well protected arms of Fort Philips Bay. It is the capital of the State of Victoria, and has a population of 4.2 million, which makes it the second largest city, after Sydney. But, unlike Sydney, which was founded as a penal colony for Britain’s outcasts, Melbourne’s streets never echoed with the clank of chains and shackles. It was founded in 1835 by free settlers.

In 1851, gold was discovered near Melbourne and the city quickly became the hub for Australia biggest and most prolonged gold rush. Prospectors from Britain, Europe, the Americas and Asia turned this backwater town into a metropolis. There was extraordinary affluence through the 1880’s and the population soared. The classic victorian appearance the city retains today dates back to this time period.

After the rolling hills and dramatic headlands around Sydney, we were surprised to see that Melbourne is completely flat, with some small mountain ranges in the distance. But flat is good for the hot air balloons that dotted the skyline just after dawn. Today is “Labor Day”, a national holiday in Australia, and later on we will to head downtown to check out the festivities.

Hot Air Balloons at Dawn in Melbourne
Hey, What’s for Breakfast?

But first on our agenda is a visit to the Dandenong National Park, about 30 miles east of the city. Along the way we drove through charming victorian villages dotted with adorable cottages, beautiful gardens and lots of restaurants and cafes. When we reached the park, we hiked through the bush and once again marveled at all the multicolored native birds. Birding back home is bland in comparison! Two kangaroos bounded across the trail at high speed directly in front of us, and disappeared down an embankment before I could get a photo. They are considered a nuisance in Australia, because they eat everything in the garden and are a hazard on the roads at night, just like our white tailed deer. Kangaroo is such a curious name for an animal, so I asked a park ranger about the origin. She told us that when Captain Cook landed in Australia in 1772, and asked the local Aborigines the name of this bizarre hopping creature, they responded with “Kankarru”, which loosely translates into “I don’t understand your question”. Somehow, out of that, Kangaroo was born.

We also learned that the predominant trees in the park are Mountain Ash, which have a clever defense mechanism against being overtaken and eventually toppled by the thick heavy vines the populate the area. It’s quite simple. They shed their bark when the “sense” vines are adhering to their trunks, so the vines can’t hold on. Now that’s a smart tree.

Mountain Ash in Dandendong National Park

Before leaving the Park, I captured this photo of the downtown area in the distance, almost indistinguishable in the blanket of smog. Melbourne has one of the largest urban footprints in the world due to its low density housing. The result is a vast suburban sprawl, with a high level of car dependence and minimal public transport outside of the downtown core. Apparently, the air quality has improved greatly since the 1980’s. Yikes.

Pollution in Melbourne

Back in Melbourne, we took the shuttle bus from the port to the heart of downtown and headed to the Moomba Festival, which is traditionally a part of the Labor Day Celebration. The official meaning of Moomba is given by the festival organizers as “let’s get together and have fun”, but the word means “up your bum” in many local Aboriginal languages. Now that’s hilarious. Perhaps it was the aborigines who suggested the name, considering how they were treated by the Europeans in the “early days”.

There were thousands of Melbournians enjoying a day off from school and work. We camped on a shaded bench and were captivated by the spectacle. An amusement pier, high flying carnival rides, lots of music, and acrobatic water-skiers kept us entertained.

Moomba Festival
Moomba Festival
WAY up there! Above the Tree Tops!

On the way back to the shuttle stop, we strolled along the river. Melbourne is considered to be one of the world’s “most livable cities”. I can see why. We really enjoyed our time here.

A Corrugated Roof with Perfect Slot for Seagulls. Cool!
Downtown Melbourne on the Yarra River
Yarra River in Melbourne
Conical Lighthouses in Melbourne Harbor
Bye Bye Melbourne!

March 8-11, 2017 (At Sea & Sydney & Avalon Australia)

The Tasman Sea delivered a spectacular show! 35 foot waves and screaming winds for two days on the way to Sydney. it was awesome! I took the photo below from the windows in the library on the 2nd floor. The waves were cresting above my head.

35 Foot Waves in the Tasman Sea

Sleep was fleeting. Partly because our bodies were constantly in motion, but mostly because of the booming racket from the breakers as they collided with the hull of the ship. I can’t imagine surviving seas like this without “modern day” stabilizers. They are long paddle like wings that are deployed from the sides of the ship under the waterline to cut down on the side to side rolling motion in high seas.

Ship Stabilizers

Relief finally came as we slid into Botany Bay, home to Sydney’s protected harbor before sunrise on March 10th. We docked in the heart of downtown, directly across from the iconic Opera House. This is one of the busiest harbors in the world, so cruise ships have to tie up before 6 am, or they interfere with the constant stream of commuter ferries. We were here on the Queen Mary 2 in 2010, if you would like to read about that experience, you can do a search for “Sydney” on my home page.

There are only 22 million people that live in Australia, and 4.5 million live in and around Sydney. Traffic is a horror show. Public transportation is grievously lacking, and there is no train system to the suburbs. If you are lucky enough to live near a ferry, that’s the best way to get downtown. Otherwise, good luck, if you have to drive.

This time, our Sydney experience was super special. We got to hang out with some locals! A high school friend (Andy), moved to Australia soon after college, and I had not seen or spoken to him since 1977. Yup, 40 years ago! On a whim, a month before arriving in Sydney, I “googled him” and easily found his website. Andy followed his dream of becoming a naval architect and has enjoyed a rewarding career of designing yachts. One of his most interesting projects was to design the hull of the Plastiki; a 60-foot catamaran made from12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles and other recycled PET plastic and waste products. It successfully sailed 8,000 miles from San Francisco to Sydney in 2010. Very cool.

We visit most ports for only 8-10 hours, but on rare occasion, we have an overnight stop. Sydney is one of them. Andy invited us to spend the night at his home, about an hour from Sydney. He is the one who warned me about the storm in the Tasman Sea, and knew we would appreciate a night on dry land after the ordeal. He was spot on. He picked us up at the pier, and we headed out to Avalon, on the North Shore. His wife, Sue, was waiting for us, and after a quick snack, we headed out to explore. The storm swept out the hot weather, and it was gorgeous, in the mid-70’s. We hiked up to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse, only accessible on foot and soaked in the views. The first light-keeper was struck by lightening in 1885 and “burnt to a cinder” according to the local press. His son, the next keeper, also got hit by lightening and his arm was badly burned. From that day forward, he bound his arm in snake skin to ward off further celestial visitations. It worked. Here’s the lighthouse and views from the top…

Barrenjoey Lighthouse
View from Hike to Lighthouse

Another hike brought us to these spectacular headlands….

Headlands in Avalon

Andy and Sue’s home is surrounded by lush vegetation and nestled into the side of a steep hill. The driveway was nearly vertical, but they do not get snow, so no worries there. We lounged on their deck for the rest of the afternoon, watching the exotic bird life, hearing about life in Australia, and reminiscing about growing up in the 70’s. For those of you old enough to remember… rotary dial telephones, record players, bell bottom pants, hip huggers, platform shoes, and of course, “Farrah Faucet” hairdos you would have loved this trip down memory lane.

Frequent Visitors

After a fabulous meal of chicken paella and a snappy Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand we gratefully fell into a stationary bed. The next morning we were woken up predawn by the ear splitting call of the Cockatoos. Such a beautiful bird, and such a horrible noise. Mother Nature had a wicked sense of humor with that one.

We packed a picnic for breakfast and headed to a nearby island in Andy’s motorized rowboat. The guys went swimming, while dodging huge white (harmless but ominous looking) jellyfish. Andy knew they were safe, but there are many species that will kill you on contact. Sue and I drank coffee and dug our feet into the cool sand. We heard movement in the woods behind us that I hoped would reveal a a wallaby or kangaroo, but nothing popped out. We did see tracks that belong to 6 foot lizards, but they alluded us too.

Sue drove up back into the city, and deposited us near the pier, where a huge queue of new crew members and passengers were waiting to join Queen Victoria. We spent the rest of the day wandering around downtown Sydney. We revisited the the Opera House, Harbor Bridge, and Royal Botanical Gardens.

In 2010, we left Sydney at midnight, and we were fast asleep. This time, we left at sunset, and got to enjoy the entire journey through Botany Bay back into the ocean. No wonder so many people are drawn to this magical place.

Sydney Opera House
Sydney Carnival
Old Prison in Sydney Bay
Sydney Harbor Light
Full Moon Over Headland at Entrance to Botany Bay
Bye Bye Sydney!

Next stop, Melbourne, Australia

March 4-7, 2017 (At Sea, Auckland & Bay of Islands, New Zealand)

After leaving Tongatapu, we headed southwest and reached Auckland on March 6th. Auckland is on the northeast coast of the north island of New Zealand.

We were here in 2010 on the Queen Mary 2. If you would like to read about that experience, type “Auckland” into the search window on the right side of my homepage. We are still traumatized from our rental car experience 7 years ago, when the ship almost left without us, so this time we decided to stay close to the city.

We took a 20 minute ferry ride to Devonport, on North Head which sits on the slopes of a dormant volcano. The earliest evidence of Maori settlement dates back to the 1,300’s. By 1790, they were almost entirely wiped out by rival tribes. The first European to live here was a pilot/harbormaster in 1836. The town was established in 1840. Now the population is about 6,000.

In July 2007, Devonport was given permission to be excluded from a list of local Auckland “growth node centers”, and that’s a very good thing. The Auckland Regional Council accepted that while it was encouraging intensified growth (such as higher-density housing) around suburbs close to the city, they acknowledged that the character and historical nature of Devonport would make such a designation “inappropriate”. Because of this, Devonport is a peaceful respite from the chaos of Auckland and will never have high rise buildings. Most people commute by ferry. There is a bridge that connects the island to the mainland, but the trip to Auckland which is only 8 miles away takes well over an hour with traffic.

Mount Victoria – Devonport (view from Auckland)

We had a delightful super low-key day here. The weather was stunning at 73 degrees with a stiff breeze and no humidity. First, we hiked to the top of Mount Victoria, an old volcanic cone, and savored the stunning views. Along the way we noticed wildlife traps designed to catch possums whose population is out of control. Possums attack the flightless Kiwi, eats their eggs and kill the chicks. Dogs and cats are at fault too. A Kiwi nests on the ground, and they are now endangered They had no natural predators before the Europeans arrived with imported animals.

Auckland – From the Top of Mt. Victoria in Devonport
View from Mt. Victoria in Devonport

A lunch of fish and chips while lounging on a seaside park bench was followed by a stroll through the lovely victorian neighborhoods. It was so refreshing to be in a super clean place for a change. No trash in the streets. No pitiful stray dogs scavenging for food, and no need to have a death grip on my camera.

The people of New Zealand call themselves “Kiwis”, and the ones we met were gregarious and goodnatured. As we paused to admire the meticulous gardens rioting in early Fall color, residents who spotted us from their windows, bounded out for a chat before we moved on. We felt like celebrities, as more neighbors gathered around to meet the people visiting from America. We felt like exotic creatures!

Resident of Devonport – Cockatoo

Back in Auckland, we lazed on our balcony for the rest of the day and watched the ferries zip around the harbor. A short jaunt up the coast being us to our next stop tomorrow.

March 7 – Bay of Islands

We also came here in 2010 on the Queen Mary 2. You can read about the history by typing “Bay of Islands” in the search window.

The weather started off okay, but turned crappy quickly today. There is a huge storm that just left the southeast coast of Australia over 800 miles away, and it is heading Northeast in the Tasman Sea. We will be sailing through it over the next two days on the way to Sydney. Oh Boy! The Captain says the “seas will be freshening” and that we are lucky to have this tremendous opportunity to see Mother Nature in all her glory. I agree, wholeheartedly, but I may be the only one. The medical office is making a killing on Dramamine sales and the barf bags have been strategically placed throughout the ship. We can’t “wait it out”, because most of the crew and passengers turn over in Sydney. A delay would mean that 1,800 people would have to make new travel arrangements. Not an option.

There is no dock for a large ship in the Bay of Islands, so we had to use the lifeboats (tenders) to go ashore. It was okay going in because it was still fairly calm and the ride was only 30 minutes.

After landing in Paihia, we headed with a small group to the Puketi Forest for a 2 hour hike with a naturalist through the old growth habitat. Along the way, road signs warned that “The possum in your headlights could be a Kiwi”… meaning, make sure it isn’t before you speed up to run it over. Possums are even more vilified here. They kill the trees by stripping off the bark, in additional to decimating the Kiwi population. Kiwis are nocturnal, so we did not get a chance to see one. I did find this photo on the internet though, so you can see this curious looking bird…

Kiwi – Flightless Bird of New Zealand

The forest was misty and lush. We heard plenty of birds high up in the canopy, but did not see any through the dense foliage. It was a pretty walk, but the lack of any wildlife spotting was a disappointment.

Puketi Forest
Puketi Forest

Back in Paihia, most of the arts and crafts vendors were giving up the fight against the increasing winds, so we took a quick stroll through town before starting the 45 minute walk back to the tender dock. On the way, I took this stormy photo of Queen Victoria in the bay.

The Storm is Coming! Queen Victoria Anchored in Bay of Islands

This wonderful traditional Maori Gate would have been found at the entrance to all the tribal villages throughout New Zealand. The fearsome faces are always depicted with maniacal eyes and protruding tongue. This is meant to scare off would be intruders on arrival.

Maori Gate
Maori Gate – Scary Faces!

Getting back to the ship at the end of the day was torture due to the high winds. It took over an hour, because the bathtub shaped lifeboat hit each 5 foot wave with a backbreaking crunch, so the speed was knocked down to a crawl. It was raining sideways so the doorways and hatches were sealed. Envision rigid benches crammed with 100 crabby, perilously queasy people, breathing in hot stale air, and you’ve got a good visual. These boats are built for emergencies, not comfort or speed.

Tonight, a Maori dance troupe came on board to teach us about their culture and share their traditional dances. The war dance in particular was very intriguing. The men stuck out their tongues further then I thought possible, and their eyes bulged until they looked like they would pop. The effect was pure menace. All while beating their chests and stomping their feet. I can only imagine how Captain Cook felt when he say this display for the first time. No wonder he didn’t stick around for long.

Late tonight we will set off around the top of New Zealand and then down into the depths of the Tasman Sea, heading for Sydney, where the storm greedily awaits us…..

Stay Tuned.

February 28-March 3, 2017 (At Sea & Tonga)

After leaving Bora Bora, we continued to head west for 3 days before arriving in Nuku’alofa; the capital of Tonga, on the island of Tongatapu. The kingdom of Tonga is a group of 170 islands, but only 36 are inhabited. The total population is 101,000 with 70,000 live on Tongatapu. The islands are spread over 270,000 square miles. After all the dramatic mountainous landscapes of the past two weeks, we were shocked to see these monotonously flat islands. They have a limestone base formed from uplifted coral formations, instead of volcanic activity.

Along the way, we also crossed the International Date Line. Which means, that we lost an entire day, and our clocks were moved ahead by 23 hours. We skipped over March 1st, entirely! Tonga is the first country in the world to see the sunrise of a “new day” and also the first to celebrate the new year.

Tonga is the only country in the South Pacific that was never colonized by Europeans. This is impressive, considering the insatiable “land grabbing” behavior going on back then, primarily by the British. It was named the “Friendly Islands” by Captain James Cook who visited for the first time in 1773, and was not attacked on arrival. Although, it is rumored that the tribal chiefs were planning to kill him at a festival, but they could not agree on a plan. Besides, Tongans were not cannibalism enthusiasts, so Cook’s death would have been a waste of good meat. Later explorers wrote that they were assaulted when trying to land by fearsome, exceedingly “unfriendly” warriors. Sounds like a pretty fickle community.

We booked a tour that took us through the rural parts of Tongatapu, on the way to Hina Cave where we watched traditional native dancing. Later we would go to the “blow holes” on the ocean. We were warned in advance that the transportation was “rudimentary” and the bathroom facilities “primitive”. Translation… no air-conditioning and bring your own toilet paper. Our guide did not offer any commentary, but tried to answer our battery of questions the best she could in halting english.

Tonga is the only Monarchy in the South Pacific. The dynasty goes back 1,100 years and there is a huge class division here. King Toupu, VI (a descendant of the first monarch), his family and the powerful nobles are all exceedingly wealthy, while the rest of the country (everyone else is labeled as a Commoner) lives in relative poverty. Our guide was very cautious not to say anything negative about the monarchy, and her words were carefully chosen. The Chamber of Commerce would have been proud.

Primary schools (age 6-14) is free and mandatory for all Tongans. We were told that literacy is 99%, which is remarkable. Secondary school carries a nominal fee. Higher education includes teacher training, nursing and medical training, a small private university, a woman’s business college, and a number of private agricultural schools. Although, most higher education is pursued overseas.

There is universal access to a national health care system and the county is starting to tackle the widespread overweight/obesity epidemic which includes 90% of the adult population. Historically, the belief has always been that extra large people are more prosperous, because they have enough money to eat more. This started with the overfed Royals throughout the centuries and has trickled down to the commoners. The King has trimmed down from 440 to 325 pounds, so he is becoming a svelte role model. Now a lesson on portion control is vital. Check out the size of the ice cream cones…

That’s a Kid Size Cone? What?

Land cannot be sold to foreigners, which has helped Tonga control it’s own destiny. We were told that when a Tongan turns 18, they are given a few acres of land, for free. Not on the main island, where open space is pretty scarce now, but on an outlying one. The majority of people grow their own food, fish, and raise farm animals as a means of survival. They also sell and trade food with neighbors and in markets.

After traveling through town and the rural areas, we arrived at Hina Cave. Made of limestone and carved out by the sea millions of years ago, we watched an incredible fire dance along with other traditional dancing. It was very dark, so getting clear photos was a challenge. And yes, that IS fire coming out of the young man’s mouth below. I wonder if universal health care covers a burnt esophagus?

Double Decker Fire Dance
Universal Heath Care is a GOOD Thing…
Yes, the flame is coming out of his mouth…
Hina Cave Dancer
Hina Cave Dancer
Hina Cave Dancer
Dancing Troupe

Next, we stopped by the “blow holes”. When the waves break under the eroded limestone cliffs, the water bursts through with a thunderous boom. It was quite a show.

Limestone Blow Holes

Back in town, we walked through the market and ogled the massive root vegetables for sale. Kids had just been released from school, all wearing brightly colored uniforms. A heated chess game was underway in a local park. The engrossed spectators took no notice of us.

At the Market
Kids Hanging Out After School
School is Done for the Day
Heated Chess Match

Next Stop – Bay of Island, New Zealand.  Back Soon!

February 24-27, 2017 (At Sea, Tahiti & Bora Bora)

After leaving Pitcairn Island, we continued northwest in the South Pacific Ocean for 3 days before arriving in Tahiti and Bora Bora, back to back. Both are islands in French Polynesia. We have been at sea for 9 days and couldn’t wait to stroll on a hard, stable surface.

TAHITI (February 26)

Tahiti is comprised of two volcanic islands connected by a small land bridge. The population is 180,000. We docked in the capital, Papeete, on the big island (Tahiti Nui), which serves as the capital for the whole of French Polynesia. The islands were originally settled by Polynesians thousands of years ago, and they still make up 70% of the inhabitants. The rest is European, Chinese, and mixed race.

Papeete at Sunrise

The first recorded European visit was from Captain Wallis in 1767. Captain Cook’s first visit was in 1768. And, Captain Bligh of the HMS Bounty (before the Mutiny) visited for 5 months with his crew in 1788. Why so long? He came to Tahiti to purchase breadfruit trees that were bound for the plantations in the British West Indies. It was cheap eats for slaves. But, there was a glitch in the plan. He was told that the seedlings needed several months to become established, or they would not survive the journey.

The Bounty was at anchor for 5 months while the sailors enjoyed daily doses of drunken debauchery with the local ladies. Apparently, the Tahitians would trade sexual favors for a single metal nail, a material that was previously unknown but quickly valued on the island. The kind that keeps ships from falling apart. Bligh managed to get out of there while The Bounty was still seaworthy, barely. After hearing about the tantalizing women of Tahiti, later voyages always had a barrel of nails on their supply list before sailing.

Several of Bligh’s men fell in love, which explains why, after the Mutiny, they decided to take their chances back on Tahiti instead of leaving with Fletcher Christian to find a new place to live. You all know from reading my post on Pitcairn Island, how that worked out for them…

In the 1790’s, thousands of whalers began landing at Tahiti during their fishing expeditions in the southern hemisphere. Their arrival, along with merchants from the penal colonies in Australia led to a further deterioration of “morality” in town. The crews introduced alcohol, firearms and illnesses. They encouraged rampant prostitution, which brought an epidemic of venereal disease. These first exchanges with westerners had catastrophic consequences for the Tahitian population. Thousands died.

The arrival of missionaries in 1797 marked a turning point for the island and has had a lasting impact on the culture to this day. By the 1820’s, the entire population converted to Protestantism. No more loose women making booty calls on the visiting ships. Human sacrifices became a no no. And, the natives were severely disciplined if caught praying to their traditional pagan gods. Some say the missionaries saved the Tahitians from certain annihilation in the early 1,800’s. Maybe so. Nowadays, the island is still largely Protestant, but traditional cultural practices are again intertwined. Except human sacrifice, which is still frowned upon. Cannibalism is somewhat tolerated. For example, our guide for the day ate Steve, and then claimed me as his new bride….

My Second Husband

That is, until one of the other passengers called the cops, and my second husband was hauled off to jail…

Oh No! The Coppers!

But, before all that drama ensued, we had a delightful 4 x 4 adventure in the mountains. We traversed up the side of an extinct volcano, then into it’s jungly caldera on nearly vertical, potholed dirt roads. The scenery was spectacular, the mosquitos were ferocious, and the torrential downpours offered a refreshing respite from the heat. All in all, a great day! We got back to the ship exhausted and covered in mud. Queen Victoria was NOT happy with the mess.

Crater Valley
Crater Valley

It was a Sunday. And remember, it’s summer down here, so the locals were out in force, enjoying the hot weather and cool mountain streams…

A Perfect Sunday!
Tahitian Beauty!
River Crossing in Mountains

Tahiti is really struggling financially, and tourism is down. They only had 120,000 visitors in 2016, compared to 250,000 in 2015. It’s always been about the beaches, and they can no longer compete with their “glitzy” neighbor, Bora Bora.

But, here’s the thing. Buried under the thick jungle brush is a treasure trove of archeological wonders from ancient Polynesian civilizations that if made accessible, would attract thousands to the island. People like us, who are fascinated by culture and history, not bars and jet skis. It makes sense to me. I will put a call into the French Government, and see how that goes.

Papeete at Sunset
Bye Bye Tahiti

BORA BORA (February 27)

The next day we were in Bora Bora, another stunning volcanic island in French Polynesia, 143 northwest of Tahiti. The population is only about 10,000 year round residents. The one major town is Vaipate. The focus here is luxury resorts on private beaches.

View on Arrival in Bora Bora
Bora Bora Crater

We made a colossal mistake in choosing what to do with our short time here. We booked an excursion called the “Fun Truck” , and it was anything, but, Fun. We were supposed to get a tour of the island and historic sites. When the guide started pointing out grocery stores, the town dump, and the future site of the High School, I knew we were in trouble. Then, we spent 45 minutes in the broiling sun at roadside craft tables examining poor quality handicrafts that were mostly made in China.

Colorful Entertainment!

As we continued in our overcrowded bus, sweaty legs sticking to our neighbors, we arrived at a dirt clearing on the side of the road that was full of round tunnel like openings. Our guide threw wilted flowers at the holes, and a colony of large crabs marched out, grabbed the foliage, and dragged it back into their lairs. THAT was the one and only highlight. Vegetarian crabs that are decimating the Islands’ gardens. But, they are good to eat, once you fatten them up. That just sounds wrong.

Vegetarian Crab

We did learn that during World War II, the United States chose Bora Bora as a South Pacific military supply base, complete with an oil depot and seaplane air strip. Several defensive fortifications were also constructed. They are all still here, our guide proudly related, but buried under layers of jungle brush making them completely inaccessible. Arrrggghhhh…..

The Island saw no combat and the American presence went uncontested during the course of the war. The base was officially close in 1946. The airstrip, that was never long enough to accommodate large aircraft, was the only air access point in French Polynesia until 1960, when an airport was built in Papeete.

What should we have done? Gone to a beach resort, rented a cabana for the day, and soaked in the body temperature lagoon while sipping Pina Coladas and listening to Bob Marley.

Where we SHOULD have spent the day…

So there you have it.

Carol Reef Surrounding Bora Bora at Sunset

Tonga is next. I’ll be back soon.

February 21-23, 2017 (At Sea & Pitcairn Island)

After leaving Easter Island, we continued west. 3 days and 1,289 miles later, we arrived at the tiny volcanic island of Pitcairn (1 mile long x 2 miles wide). This island was inhabited by Polynesians until the 1500’s, when it was abandoned for unknown reasons. It was not settled again until 1790 by a strange mix of evildoers and kidnap victims….

Do you know the scandalous story of The Mutiny on the Bounty? On April 28,1789, a group of sailors led by Assistant Lieutenant Fletcher Christian seized control of the HMS Bounty (a British ship) from their Captain, Lieutenant William Bligh. Christian set Bligh and 18 loyalists adrift in the ship’s 23 foot open launch, hundreds of miles from land, with no nautical charts. The boat was severely overloaded, and they were given enough food and water for only 5 days. He doubted the group would survive. He was wrong. With strict quarter rationing, and a few stops on islands to gather provisions, Bligh and his men managed to complete an unprecedented 47 day, 4,000 mile voyage and land on Coupang, an island in the Dutch East Indies. Only one man died in route. He was stoned to death by hostile islanders on Tufoa as the launch tried to escape from land after gathering provisions.

The men were in pitiful shape by the time they reached Coupang and many died before making it back to England. Bligh did make it home to gave a full accounting of the scandalous event. Mutiny, a reprehensible act, was punished by death for all involved. In November 1790, the Admiralty dispatched Captain Edwards in command of the HMS Pandora to locate and capture the mutineers and return them to England to stand trial.

Meanwhile… after setting Bligh adrift, the Bounty headed back to Tahiti while Christian decided on a plan. When he was ready to leave, 14 of his fellow mutineers refused to go. They preferred to hang out and enjoy a hedonistic life with the sexually uninhibited Tahitian women. Clearly, their brains were otherwise occupied, and they didn’t realize their freedom was fleeting. The HMS Pandora arrived 4 months later and easily captured all the mutineers. Christian was not among them, which infuriated Captain Edwards. He secured the men in a metal cage below decks, referred to as “Pandora’s Box”.  4 of the 14 mutineers died in the box when the ship ran aground and sunk on the Great Barrier Reef, before the box was unlocked. The other 10 men were eventually brought back to England where 3 were pardoned, 4 were acquitted (bribes?), and 3 were hung.

Right before Christian left Tahiti with 8 fellow mutineers, he invited several islanders onboard the Bounty for a party. After everyone was stinking drunk, he pulled the anchor and kidnapped the locals. When they sobered up, and figured out what happened, they were pretty peeved. Especially since Christian had no intention of taking them home. He had formed the idea of settling on Pitcairn Island, far to the east of Tahiti. Pitcairn had been reported in 1767, but its exact location was never verified. After months of searching, Christian rediscovered the island, 216 miles east of its recorded position. This charting error closed the deal. It would be extremely difficult for any pursuers to find them.

On arrival, the Bounty was stripped of everything useful then set ablaze close to shore and destroyed. This was a necessary precaution against discovery and made escaping impossible. The anchor was pulled up in the 1950’s, and is on display in the town hall on Pitcairn. Nothing else, other then ballast stones remain underwater. There is no wreck to dive on, for those of you who are planning to race over here. Sorry!

Pitcairn Island
Bounty Bay – Where the HMS Bounty First Landed.

The island proved an ideal haven for the mutineers. Uninhabited, virtually inaccessible, and with plenty of food, water and fertile land. For a short time, everyone existed peaceably. Then it all went wrong, and fast. Do the math. 9 Mutineers, 6 Tahitian Men, and 12 Tahitian Women. Hmm. Christian should have planned the kidnapping more precisely to make sure the sexes were balanced. After each mutineer took a wife, there were only 3 women left for the remaining 6 Tahitian men. Then, two women died the first year, and the mutineers snatched two more women. Leaving only one woman for the 6 Tahitian men. She may have liked a lot of attention, but that much? Doubtful.

Gradually, tensions and rivalries arose. By 1800, just 10 years after arriving on Pitcairn, all the men were dead, except John Adams, a mutineer. 13 were brutally murdered by each other. There was one suicide, and one died of asthma. Surprisingly, Adams became a capable leader of the remaining 9 women and 19 children. He taught literacy and Christianity, and kept peace on the island. By the time a British ship landed in 1810, they decided not to arrest Adams, understanding that the community was wholly dependent on him. Upon his death in 1829, he was honored as the founder and father of a community that became celebrated over the next century as an exemplar of Victorian morality.

The population over the past 200 years has ranged from 20-200 people. Right now, there are only 46 islanders living on Pitcairn; most are descendants of the mutineers. The rest? Running from the law, perhaps? 4 teenagers are currently going to high school in New Zealand. Most kids do not come back to the island after getting a taste of civilization, and the population keeps getting older. The British government supports the community (due to historical ties with the Bounty), but it is becoming very difficult to justify the huge expense for so few inhabitants.

There is a small supply ship (The Claymore) that arrives every 3 weeks from New Zealand with goods and up to 12 tourists. The round trip journey is 6 days.

Claymore Visits Every 3 Months
Claymore’s Captain

There is not enough level ground for an airport or space for a dock in the small bay, so tourism is almost nonexistent. They get two TV channels. “Hope” a religious channel, and ABC from Australia. They have satellite internet which is extremely expensive. There is one doctor that signs up for a one year contract. If emergency care is needed, the helicopter ride to Tahiti is $60,000. There is no dentist.

They grow some vegetables, bananas, pineapple, papaya, taro (for flour), sugar cane, and breadfruit in the rich volcanic soil. They have a handful of farm animals.

There are 9 cruise ships scheduled to pass by this year, and most will invite the islanders onboard to sell their handicrafts like we did. They do not have many ways to make an income, and our passengers were happy to help out, in a rather psychotic, manic way. Here is a photo of the motley crew heading towards Queen Victoria. The guy in the front with the nipple rings (ouch), tattoos, and and iPad is the “immigration officer”.

Motley Crew of Pitcairn Islanders Coming to Visit Queen Victoria.
Immigration Officer – Pitcairn. Check out the Nipple Rings. Ouch!

The feeding frenzy of shoppers on board was a fascinating anthropological phenomenon to watch. Men and women alike. The Pitcairn tee shirt brandishing a Burning Bounty could have been the holy grail. 4 people deep at the stalls, blindly clutching at everything, from the tackiest necklace to the most overpriced wooden turtle. And, if the piece was signed with a last name of “Christian” or “Adams”, it demanded premium pricing. The islanders left with their pockets bulging. There will be celebrations on Pitcairn tonight.

There are no taxes collected on Pitcairn. Nice. Are you ready to move?

Next stop. Tahiti. Stay tuned.