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.

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