February 21-February 25, 2015 – Australia and Towards Bali.

February 21: Fremantle, Australia. Hosted by Jan & Ken.

A few years ago on a cruise from Barcelona to London, we met our Australian friends Jan and Ken. We got together with them in London after our cruise and have since then kept up with each other by email. They live an hour or so south of Perth, so we were thrilled that they were able to drive up to see us when our ship was in their part of Australia. We spent a lovely day hanging out together as they showed us some of the highlights of Fremantle.

The ports lecturer on the ship had told us about a maps store in Fremantle, and Jan and Ken wanted to go there as well, so that was our first stop (Chart & Map Shop, 14 Collie Street, Fremantle). What a great store. It was mostly about sailing and maps but had a good collection of travel narratives as well. The staff was pleasant and accommodating, and they particularly liked that we bought Insight guides for 12 different cities! We then went over to the waterfront to look at a newly developed recreation area and from there walked into an 1850s building which now houses the Western Australian Museum – Shipwrecks Galleries. The coastline of Western Australia is particularly treacherous, and this museum displays artifacts recovered from many of these shipwrecks: fishing tackle, pottery, fabric scraps, machinery, nails, belt buckles, buttons, lace fragments, cannons, etc., etc. Next, we drove to an arts center which is housed in a building that once held the women’s insane asylum. Today, it has a happy and restful courtyard with tables and chairs and people and children lounging and playing all around. We ordered coffee/tea and sat outside under the plane trees for a while, which was very pleasant, even though the ravens, which Jan says are now protected and have become pests, were quite loud and raucous at times. On our way into the arts center, we got sidetracked by the shop, spending a bit of time there looking at the wonderful local handmade items for sale. We were able to leave there without buying anything, but we did like several ceramic, glass, and fabric pieces. So we continued on to the arts center but got stuck in the entrance by the collection of art books on display. We never made it in to see the art galleries, so who knows what we missed?

We left there and headed to the Fremantle Sailing Club (Ken is a member) for a lunch reservation at 12:30. With the marina just outside our window, we had a lovely conversation and lunch. Our next stop was the maritime museum of Fremantle. This is a tall building – tall enough to hold an America’s Cup sailing vessel – with an irregular shape, which enables it to hold all sorts of boats and their equipment. We spent some time there, learning about the history of ships and boats in the western part of Australia. Jan and Ken both have ancestors whose names, ships, and dates were inscribed on outside panels listing those who immigrated into Australia via Fremantle. They both came from England in 1830.

Late in the afternoon, they drove us back to the ship, and we said our goodbyes. We are happy to say that we’ll be seeing them again in a few months. They’re making a 9-week trip to the U.S. in April, and we’ll see them when they’re in New York in May. A large part of our conversation today centered on their plans and how we can best help them have a good time when they’re in New York. We look forward to seeing them again.

February 22: Perth, Australia.

The purpose of today’s excursion was to introduce us to Perth via bus and river ferry. We boarded the tour bus about 9am, drove out of the Fremantle port area, and headed through shore towns in the direction of Perth. Our first stop was the very popular beach community Cottesloe, where we parked by the town beach for 20 minutes or so. Aside from the beach itself, what was interesting here was the children’s lifeguard training that was taking place on the beach. Pre-teen and younger children were engaged in different beach activities such as swimming, foot races, beach ball games, and paddling. What a great way for them to spend a Saturday morning.

Back on the bus, the guide told us a little about the European history of Western Australia, mainly that it was explored first by the Portuguese and then the Dutch and the French and then settled by the English. We drove through busy beach communities that were bustling, rather than quaint, and next stopped at King’s Park, a botanic garden and park on the edge of the city of Perth. Two-thirds of this park is natural bush, meaning that it’s not manicured or landscaped and that plants natural to Western Australia are featured. The rest of the park is lawn and flower beds with native plants. It also has an ANZAC memorial section dedicated to the contemplation of peace. Our favorite part of this park was the Aspects Gallery Shop, a museum-type store full of hand crafted pieces, some of which we were hard-pressed to leave behind. After the park, we drove through the central business district of Perth. It’s an attractive city, with street trees, gardens, and sculptures, particularly sculptures of kangaroos. In one installation, the kangaroos are holding briefcases, indicative of nearby office workers, I suppose.

Our last stop on the tour was the waterfront, where we boarded a ferry for the 75-minute ride back to the port in Fremantle. From the water, we had a panoramic view of the city, with its striking, modern skyscrapers. We got a better idea of the size of King’s Park from this different perspective. Numerous marinas, expensive-looking homes, and several natural park areas also came into view. It did not seem to be a particularly busy river, although both motor boats and sailboats were present for our whole trip. The guide mentioned that it’s a clean river, which we know because they can eat the crabs and fish they catch! As we approached Fremantle, we were struck by the number of containers lined up on the wharf. One huge container ship was docked, and we could see others out in the ocean waiting for their turn at the port.

We left the ferry and made our way through a cheap mall across the train tracks and toward a shopping center a few blocks away. We manufactured a need for more groceries (fruit, avocados, granola, sparkling water) and enjoyed the time just walking the aisles and seeing what they do for groceries in Australia. Back on the ship, we participated in another compulsory safety drill and got a chance to chat with some of our shipboard neighbors.

Western Australian Maritime Museum

Western Australian Maritime Museum

Our Friends Ken and Jan

Our Friends Ken and Jan

Perth Skyline from the Swan River

Perth Skyline from the Swan River

 

 

 

 

February 17-February 20, 2015 – Australia

February 19 – Albany, Australia

Our excursion today took us by bus to several destinations around Albany in the southern corner of the state of Western Australia. Our guide began by explaining how the drought which they are currently experiencing has left normally green and lush landscape looking dry and barren. Despite the dryness, cows, sheep, and vineyards seemed to be doing very well. After an hour’s drive through the countryside, we arrived at the Valley of the Giants, a wilderness area with ancient, massive eucalyptus trees. The Aussies have constructed an aluminum walkway through the canopy which enabled us to walk among the treetops. There we were 130 feet above the ground, swaying a little bit on the walkway, but holding on to the handrails as we were seeing trees from a bird’s viewpoint. Quite an experience.

The next stop on the bus tour was William Inlet, with two spectacular ocean features. At Elephant Rocks, huge rocks which resembled elephants were being washed by the waves. At Green Pools, the water was flowing over the sand and rocks and collecting in beautifully colored pools. We walked from the parking lot down closer to the water to see these very beautiful spots. We next went for lunch to a restaurant that was situated on top of a hill overlooking a river, farmlands, and the ocean. It would have been a wonderful place to sit for a while just to look at the countryside. But we had another stop to make, a wine tasting at Howard Park Winery, which is near the “shire” of Delaware. It was a pretty building, but we didn’t feel the need to taste any wine and, in fact, were disappointed that no mead was available for tasting, as the tour description had suggested. No worries.

On the way back to the ship, the bus driver took a detour through the town of Albany so we could see what this old coastal town had to offer. Back on the ship, we had two different opinions about clothes shopping in Albany. One person said that what she saw was of poor quality and too expensive. But someone else said it was of good enough quality and inexpensive. So if Denise and I want to know what’s what in Albany clothes shopping, we’ll have to go back and see for ourselves someday.

Because the Captain told us that we were leaving today with the help of a tug, I wanted to be sure to observe our sailaway. From the third deck, I watched as the tug came closer and attached a line to the ship. Pulling the ship away from the dock wasn’t rocket science, but it was not something I get to see every day.

Among the Treetops

Among the Treetops

 

Treetop Walkway

Treetop Walkway

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elephant Rocks

Elephant Rocks

Green Pools

Green Pools

 

 

Restaurant View

Restaurant View

February 14-February 16, 2015 – Adelaide, Australia.

February 15-16: Adelaide, Australia. Hosted by Kate & Sharon.

A few years ago on a cruise to New Zealand, we met our Australian friends Kate and Sharon. Since then, they have visited us in the U.S., but this is the first time we’ve been to see them in Australia. They now live in Canberra but very kindly flew to Adelaide for the weekend so we could be together. We so much appreciate the time and effort they put into making our days in Adelaide such a great experience. They are wonderful friends whom we treasure.

They met us at the cruise terminal in Adelaide about 8:30 on Sunday morning. They wanted to give us an idea of what the area surrounding Adelaide is like, and they had several locations in mind as an itinerary. Our first stop was the Colonel Light Garden, from which we could see the Adelaide Oval (stadium for playing Australian Rules Football and Cricket) and an overview of the city. Next, we drove along North Terrace, the location of the University of Adelaide, where Sharon received her accounting degree a couple of years ago. During this part of the drive, we learned all about Australian Rules Football, which is a big deal here. Everywhere we went in Adelaide, we saw parklands. If I’m not mistaken, the entire city is surrounded by parks. And they are well used. Dog walkers, families with children, runners, singles, and couples were using the paths or just lying on the grass. We parked outside a botanical garden, and even though the day was hot, hot, hot, we walked, sat in an outdoor café, and investigated the names of the plants we passed by. The National Wine Center of Australia is in this park. This is a large building constructed to represent a wine barrel, with informative displays, event spaces, and a wine bar. It is associated with the University of Adelaide, which offers wine studies programs. We found out that grapevines were first brought to South Australia in 1788.

Next, we left town and drove out into the countryside. First, we passed several townships east of Adelaide. These were charming communities characterized by lots of trees and well-tended beds of flowers. In Hahndorf, a community settled by Germans in the 1800s, we walked around a little and visited a store which featured a gallery of Aboriginal art. Thinking we might be able to have lunch nearby, we took a short drive to the Lane Vineyard Winery, which had an amazing long view of the surrounding area. There were vineyards and farmlands far and wide, with a few cows and sheep in places. We couldn’t have lunch there because they were too busy (in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere!), but we did enjoy the view. We finally returned to Hahndorf for lunch at the Horse Saddle Restaurant, where we had chicken schnitzel, which we understand is typical pub food in Australia. Next, we drove to the Beerenberg strawberry farm, where we bought a couple of jars of local jams, and then on to Strathalbyn on the Angus River, which featured many beds of roses and many old buildings which had been retained rather than being torn down. In this town we walked around a while and noticed that the temperature had dropped from 38° to 22°. Quite a refreshing and welcome change. Next, we headed down to the ocean, where we passed several communities and stopped in Victor Harbor, where we had refreshments at the Anchorage Café. This café was in an old building with exposed ceiling beams, polished concrete floors, tables made of reclaimed wood, and a bar fashioned out of a boat.

Our drive back toward Adelaide during the rest of the afternoon was amazing. We went through miles and miles of farmland. The landscape is very dry but not unattractive. It actually reminds me of California, near where Jim and Kathy live. Here and in Adelaide, we saw an incredible variety of eucalyptus trees: ones with single straight trunks, multiple twisted trunks, bushy, gnarly, symmetrical, asymmetrical, long leaves, short leaves, bare trunks, peeling trunks, rough trunks, red flowers, yellow flowers, white flowers, etc., etc. We kept looking for koalas and never saw any, but we did see several kangaroos and even an echidna. It was crossing the road ahead when we spotted it, so we got out of the car to take a closer look. Of course, we scared it and it just flattened itself out and refused to move, but we felt gratified that we had seen up close a real example of Australian wildlife. We took a short detour when we saw a sign marked Hindmarsh Falls. It was hard to imagine how there could be a waterfall in this dry landscape. We parked and walked down a concrete path to a viewing platform, where flowing water was splashing down several levels to a pool bordered with grasses and reeds. The dry surroundings were forgotten in this oasis of green.

As we approached the end of the day, our drive took us closer to Adelaide again, but Kate and Sharon thought we should visit Mt. Lofty before we returned to town. Its commanding view of the Adelaide area and its sunset make it a popular destination with the locals. The view from here was amazing, and I am convinced that this was the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen in my whole entire lifetime. The brilliance of the colors displayed (orange, pink, blue, silver, white) and the variety of cloud formations (puffy, striped, flat) made this sunset over the ocean unique in my experience.

After watching the sun sink into the ocean, we took the winding road back down from Mt. Lofty to Adelaide as the city lights were coming on (temperature back to 23°). We had a tasty dinner in a restaurant by a marina and then drove back to the ship. It was a long day, with a lot of driving, but we loved the experience of seeing so much of the city of Adelaide and the countryside of South Australia. We so much appreciate how Kate and Sharon took care of everything. The parks and gardens of Adelaide, the dry countryside with occasional green areas, the miles and miles of vineyards, the always friendly people, and the general prosperity of Australia have impressed us mightily.

The next day, Kate and Sharon picked us up at the ship about 8:30 again, and we drove to downtown Adelaide to one of their favorite restaurants, Georges on Waymouth Street, where we had a warm welcome and a great breakfast. At one point George the owner came to the table to greet Kate and Sharon, who are highly regarded customers. He seemed like a lovely person.

Since Sharon had internet work to do, which she was able to do by remaining at our table in the restaurant, Denise and Kate and I left for a walking tour of downtown Adelaide. We walked for more than an hour covering a big rectangle in the heart of the downtown business district. As we have seen in other Australian cities, the architecture is a combination of 2 to 3 story 19th century buildings and taller modern ones. Among the early buildings that I liked were the particularly ornate General Post Office (we went inside to be impressed by the interior decoration), the Supreme Court complex, and an “observatory” with a viewing platform on its roof. Many of the older buildings had ironwork railings and decorative elements which I found particularly interesting. Most of the churches were made of natural cut stone, which in itself was often enough decoration. When we returned to Georges to get Sharon (she had business meetings coming up), we talked to George again, and he very graciously wished Denise and me happy travels and gave us a bottle of South Australian Merlot.

After we dropped Sharon off at her office and said our goodbyes, we stopped at a strip mall where Denise got a haircut and I found some avocados, fruit, and granola to supplement our cruise ship diet (!). Kate next drove us to a community in which they are having a new home built. Right now, it’s only a lot, but we could see similar houses in the area. They don’t expect to ever live in this house, but they’ll either sell it or have it as income property. Next, we drove to the house which they lived in for the past few years and which is now being rented. It is a very comfortable home with spacious rooms and lots of outdoor living space (covered patio, pool, balcony). This part of our day let us be like regular people, not just tourists.

As we said our good byes at the ship, I told Kate that I feel so in sync with Australia. If I ever had to move out of the U.S. for some reason, Australia would be my country of choice.

Friends at Mt. Lofty

Friends at Mt. Lofty

 

 

 

Kangaroo

Kangaroo Watching Us

Hindmarsh Falls

Hindmarsh Falls

National Wine Center

National Wine Center of Australia

Adelaide Botanical Garden

Adelaide Botanical Garden

February 9-February 13, 2015 – Sydney and Melbourne, Australia

Our Tablemates Between Florida and Sydney

Our Tablemates Between Florida and Sydney

February 9: At Sea Day.

Today was a typical at-sea day for us. After breakfast, we attended a digital workshop with the resident Microsoft technical expert, then did laundry. After lunch, I went to my drawing class (I’m not getting any better) and then attended a lecture about the Japanese attack on Sydney Harbor during World War II. Evidently, major mistakes were made on both sides. During the afternoon, I had an exercise walk and then sat on the deck to listen to my English novel course. Denise talked with our friend Jim a while and then did an exercise walk around the deck. For cocktails we went to the Piano Bar for music and fun. Tonight was our last dinner with Judy and Don because they were leaving the ship in Sydney. We will miss them at our table. We have had wonderful conversations together, and the six of us talked about how remarkable our table experience has been. After dinner, Denise and I went to the evening show and then back to our room, where we worked on the New Zealand post until almost midnight.

February 10-11: Sydney, Australia.

We got up at 5:30am on the 10th to watch the ship enter Sydney Harbor. By the time we approached the Opera House, there was almost enough light for a dim picture, but our ship is docked directly across from there, so we’ll have plenty of time for pictures over the next couple of days. Once we got through Australian immigration, we started walking the streets. And we walked. And we walked. Sydney is a great city for walking. It’s fairly level and is organized in a grid, so it’s easy to keep track of where we’re going. The city is busy and full of different kinds of people, many rushing around, just like New York. There were the formally-dressed business people, tourists, a few beggars, workmen, people in ordinary clothes. There is a fairly large Asian population, but not too many blacks or Polynesians.

Our first order of business was to ascertain whether our favorite restaurant from several years ago was still in existence. Since we didn’t remember the address but knew the location with respect to the Marriott, we first found the hotel and then found the restaurant – Alfredo’s. We were so happy it was still there. Once the restaurant issue was settled, we were on our way for shopping. Among other stores, we went to Marimekko, a nicely appointed store with a decent amount of stock and fabric; the Strand Arcade, built in 1891 with very beautiful old-fashioned tile floors, railings, stained-glass windows, ceilings, etc.; the Queen Victoria Building from 1898, another old and beautifully restored building full of shops and restaurants. Despite being tired at the end of the day of so much walking, we decided to go back out for dinner anyway since we had enjoyed Alfredo’s so much when we were here before. We had a lovely meal. A piano player entertained us throughout the meal, which is one reason we liked the restaurant in the first place. The food was good and plentiful, and the service was friendly, so we were happy. Too early to retire and in need of more music when we got back to the ship, we went up to the Lido deck to hear the “Under the Stars” show of the ship’s piano player. We were on the open deck at the back of the ship with a fresh breeze, the live music, and a panoramic view of Sydney Harbor, including the Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. This was a magical way to end our first day in Sydney.

The next morning, we walked out to the shops and restaurants along the harborside. There wasn’t much to look at in terms of shopping, but seen from the other side of the harbor, our ship was very impressive. In asking people to take our picture with the ship, we had some nice conversations with passersby, some local, some from another cruise ship. When we’d had enough of the harbor, we decided to catch the bus up George Street and see what Paddy’s Market was all about. So we found the bus stop and waited a while in the hot sun until it finally came. As we had noticed yesterday while we were walking, there’s lots of traffic, both vehicles and pedestrians, but the impression is of general orderliness. There’s also a lot of construction going on, which increases the noise level considerably. Paddy’s Market turned out to be a bust in terms of shopping – basically junk. Amazingly, we saw Roger and Juliana within three minutes of arriving there. Since they confirmed our impression of the market, we all decided to leave there and go to Chinese food for lunch. Across the street from the market was one of those Chinese gateways that we’ve seen in other cities, so we entered that street, soon found a nice table outside, and settled down for a most pleasant lunch.

They wanted to get the bus back to the harbor, and we wanted to do more shopping, so we parted ways. We spent some time going to some of the stores on Denise’s list, and to the Marimekko store again, but I was tired by this time and went back to the ship. Denise was OK and walked around a little more in the area of The Rocks and then returned to the ship later. On my way back, our room steward Wayan caught up with me, and he showed me pictures of his wife and son. We are sorry their lives are such that he has to have a job away from home for such long periods of time. After a nap, I watched the castoff and sailaway with great interest. I love catching the moment when the lines are released and the dock person has to flip them into the water. We backed out of our berth, turned around, and then sailed out of the harbor just about sunset. The hills around the harbor are low and covered with houses. So many sailboats were in the water. I don’t know how they are told to keep out of the way of our ship, but they did not seem to present any problems for us – or us for them.

February 13: Melbourne, Australia.

Our excursion in Melbourne was a city bus tour. Our guide Wendy was a local lady who was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about her city. The day was warm and clear, except for some sprinkles at the very end. We drove through a number of distinct neighborhoods, and past numerous sports facilities (cricket, soccer, Australian Rules football, rugby, tennis, swimming), various cultural centers, parks, and the Royal Botanical Garden. Downtown is very busy, with tree-lined streets, electric trams, beautifully preserved shopping arcades, and a fairly diverse population. Melbourne began as a farming community in the 1830s but was greatly affected by the gold rush later in the 19th century which brought huge wealth to the area and resulted in the construction of a number of very substantial buildings which today stand side by side with all the modern skyscrapers. Along the way, Melbourne has developed a sophisticated cultural focus as well.

The first stop on our tour was the Eureka Sky deck, which is currently the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. We took a fast elevator to the 88th floor and had a 360° view of Melbourne and the surrounding area. Our second stop was a very affecting monument, the Shrine of Remembrance. This structure, which was modeled on a Greek temple, was opened in the 1930s as a way to honor those who served, and those who died, in World War I. For subsequent wars, they have added statues or smaller monuments in the surrounding park. School children are encouraged to visit the Shrine, and many of Melbourne’s National Day activities take place here.

We asked the bus driver to let us off in the city, and we spent the afternoon walking the streets, having lunch, and shopping. Getting back to the ship on time was no small task. During our bus tour, the guide suggested that we take a taxi, rather than the tram to Port Melbourne. So when we were ready to leave about 3:30, we tried to find a taxi, walking several blocks to the train station where we assumed there would be a taxi stand. Well, we did find the taxi stand, but there were no taxis. And there were several people in front of us in the taxi line. After waiting there a while, and talking with a native who assured us we’d have no trouble getting to the ship on time, we decided to go for the tram instead. Inside the train station, a customer service person told us how to get tickets, and we followed her directions, then walked a couple of blocks, and then waited at the tram stop. It did finally come, and we were very relieved. So we did make it back to the ship in plenty of time, but the experience was too stressful.

We liked both Sydney and Melbourne and have no trouble understanding why the Aussies are so proud of their country.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

 

Sydney Opera House and Skyline

Sydney Opera House and Skyline

 

Ship and bridge

The Amsterdam and the Sydney Harbor Bridge

Shopping Arcade in Melbourne

Shopping Arcade in Melbourne

 

 

 

Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne

Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne

February 5-February 8, 2015 – New Zealand

Auckland Skyline with the Amsterdam

Auckland Skyline with the Amsterdam

February 5: Auckland, New Zealand.

After a couple of days at sea, we arrived in Auckland. Our excursion today, Highlights of Auckland, was a bus ride through and around Auckland, which is a hilly and traffic-plagued city by the water. Our driver/guide impressed us, not only because she both drove and guided, but also because she was driving her own bus. Our first stop was the War Memorial building, but to get there we had a tour of several different Auckland neighborhoods. She kept talking about how expensive the homes are, and they certainly looked nice enough. Space is apportioned on the European model, however, where there is very little space and what there is gives the impression of being too small for its purpose, such as parking, yard space, distance between structures, etc. It’s an appealing, attractive city, however, and the climate seems to be close to ideal.

The War Memorial Museum, built in 1929, is an excellent museum full of artifacts from New Zealand’s past (and not much about war). We had a wonderful guide who explained Maori culture and history with compassion and respect. We saw traditionally carved wooden buildings, a war canoe, a cooking pit, baskets, tools, implements for fishing, products made from flax, several types of fabric, gourd vessels, and many other artifacts found throughout New Zealand and Polynesia. One of the most striking pieces was a map of New Zealand and its surrounding area: New Zealand was in the middle of this map, and both Australia and Antarctica were placed in far margins, to give an idea of how isolated NZ really is. We left the tour bus in the downtown area and spent the afternoon on our own, traversing the main shopping street, Queen Street. We stopped at department stores, book shops, craft stores, souvenir stands, grocery stores, and even a small fabric store with New Zealand-designed fabric.

February 6: Auckland, New Zealand.

Denise was up and out early because she and our tablemate Juliana had signed up for a zip line excursion. Although I had originally planned to go, I changed my mind pretty early on because I thought I’d be a nervous wreck. Denise didn’t return from her adventure until around 2, which was later than she had anticipated. Even though she was nervous before the ride, she was glad she had the experience. From the ship, they boarded a ferry for a 45-minute ride to Waiheke Island where the zip line was located. They were given lots of safety instruction and fastened into their harnesses. The ride involved three different segments. When they finished one, they had to hike to the start of the next one. They traversed vineyards and forests in one to two minutes per segment. At the end, they had quite a strenuous hike through rough terrain to get back to their starting point.

February 7: Waitangi (Bay of Islands), New Zealand.

Overnight, the Amsterdam sailed from Auckland to Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, which is at the north end of New Zealand’s North Island. We were tendered ashore, where we met our guide Ian for the Puketi Rainforest nature walk. After driving about 45 minutes, we stopped at Ian’s meeting center for a morning tea, which had been prepared by his wife Barbara. They had been dairy farmers until a few years ago when they decided to get involved in eco-tourism. They provide guided walks, conference and meeting facilities, and a bed & breakfast. They were both very friendly and personable, like everyone else we’ve met in New Zealand, and seem well suited to this line of work. Stepping out of the car onto the grass, I was struck by a most pleasant fresh smell, which Ian told me was from the mint plants that make up part of the lawn. The morning tea consisted of brewed tea, instant coffee, and freshly-made muffins, and it was served on their property on a lawn overlooking a lovely valley with a distant view of mountains and farmland. It was a peaceful spot, totally free of the noises of traffic and civilization.

After tea, we drove to the trailhead, but before we could proceed to the trail, we had to have the bottoms of our shoes sprayed with fungicide in order to help protect some of the forest plants. Our walk was through the Puketi Rainforest, which is a protected area of both old-growth forest and new growth. We took a narrow path down through the forest, and Ian stopped frequently to explain to us some interesting facts about the plants, animals, birds, and insects which inhabit the forest. A native to the area, he has seen changes over the years – both for good and bad – which he described for us. One of the stars of the show was the kauri tree, being older and taller than other trees nearby and having a straight-up-and-down trunk with a huge circumference. This is the tree used by the Maori to make their war canoes. We saw several examples of the kauri tree, and the end point of our walk was a viewing platform set in the canopy of a kauri tree grove. For trees 800 to 1200 years old, they looked prosperous and healthy, to my untrained eye. As we had anticipated on the first half of our walk, which was downhill, the return to the bus gave us a real workout. But Ian stopped frequently to let us catch our breath and to pass along more tidbits of information about what we were seeing. Were I to rate him as a guide, I would give him very high marks.

We were back at the dock after 1, but before boarding the tender, we strolled through a crafts market taking place on the lawn across the street. Offered for sale were quilts, scarves, knitted goods, art glass, jewelry, scented soaps, wood ware, and various kinds of hanging art pieces. We were impressed by the high quality of the things for sale, and Denise found a pair of lovely blue glass earrings. If we’d had more time, we would have done more shopping in the town. The tender ride was over smooth water with views of the surrounding islands all around, but we passengers were packed into the tender craft like sardines (this is always my least favorite part of the tender experience).

ANOTHER NOTE: For us, an important part of cruising is the nightly entertainment in the show lounge. Here’s a list of some of the shows from the past couple of weeks:

  • The Amsterdam Singers and Dancers, whom we always enjoy. Their energy and precision are amazing.
  • Elliott Finkle, who is a tall Jewish man from Brooklyn, who has a great head of grey hair, and who speaks with a strong Brooklyn accent. He also plays piano exceedingly well. His first concert featured popular songs, and his second focused on Beethoven, Liszt, and Chopin, with a composition of his own which combined the music of Liszt and Aaron Copeland.
  • Three Divas, who are three young women from Las Vegas who sing popular songs.
  • Comedian Rita Rudner, who is a funny lady. I especially like her transitions from one funny incident to the next.
  •  Peter Cousens, who is an internationally known musical star from Australia. He sang well, and his last song was Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” which Denise played for us on her iPhone when we returned to our room.
  • A dance troop who presented a Maori Haka, which is a war dance involving fierce movements, vocals, and traditional costumes. The singing reminded me of the Hawaiian singing style.
Maori Artifacts

Maori Artifacts

Juliana and Denise Ready to Zip

Juliana and Denise Ready to Zip

Puketi Rainforest Ferns

Puketi Rainforest Ferns

Kauri Tree in Puketi Rainforest

Kauri Tree in Puketi Rainforest

On Puketi Rainforest Hike

On Puketi Rainforest Hike

 

January 27-February 4, 2015 – Tonga

blow holes

Blow Holes at Houma

January 28: Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

We were all set to leave on our excursion to Rarotonga this morning, but then the captain announced that the ocean swells were too big and tendering ashore would be too dangerous. Later in the morning, he announced that a tropical storm was brewing to our west which was going to force us to alter our course even more. It’s heartening to know that he has no wish to subject us to nature’s gifts any more than is necessary. So even though we had to miss a couple of ports, we had an unexpected but welcome at-sea day.

January 30: Crossing the International Date Line.

Strange as it sounds, this date did not exist for us. Somehow, crossing the International Date Line caused the ship’s clocks to be set 23 hours forward. I hope no one ever asks me to explain how that works.

January 31: Nuku’alofa, Tonga.

We’ve had to change our itinerary because of the aforementioned storm to the west. This was really an at-sea day because we didn’t arrive at this port until early evening. Unlike the islands in French Polynesia which we visited, the islands of Tonga are low, with very little change in elevation. We could see lots of trees and beaches from the ship but none of the rugged mountains that were so characteristic of Nuku Hiva, Tahiti, and Bora Bora. We will be in Tonga during the next two days as our ship “hides” from the storm.

February 1: Nuku’alofa, Tonga.

We had no excursion scheduled for today, but during the morning, we went ashore with our new friend Jim, just to get off the ship and see what this island is like. We walked and talked for a couple of very pleasant hours together. This island seemed more prosperous than others we’ve visited in the South Pacific. The streets were wide and paved and had sidewalks. Tourist information people had set up a kiosk at the dock where they made available very nice maps with a walking route clearly identified. Parks were plentiful and well maintained. There were a number of government buildings along our walking route, as well as schools, churches, police headquarters, and a royal palace.

Since it was Sunday, church was happening. Most of the people attending church seem to have arrived in cars. People were very nicely dressed in their Sunday finery. Women were wearing either colorful print or sober dark dresses, some with woven decorations around the waist. Little girls were often in frilly pastels. Men and boys were dressed alike, many in long dark-colored skirts with a length of tapa cloth (fiber made from mulberry plants, I believe) fastened around the waist. We stopped outside two different churches (the king was in attendance at one of them) and listened to the singing, which was joyous and uplifting.

February 2: Nuku’alofa, Tonga.

Our excursion this morning was a scenic drive around the island of Tongatapu, which is the name of Nuku’alofa’s island. We left about 8:30 and returned to the ship about noon. First, we drove through downtown, which had a ton of slow traffic moving towards town. A note about Tongan cars: they’re a mess. I never saw a new one, and the ones on the road seem to be held together by tape and wire. Inside, the seats, dashboard, etc. are in total disrepair. The cars were also very noisy, so much so that it’s almost impossible to carry on a conversation while walking along the main street. In our tour bus, we drove out into the countryside past homes that looked poor but generally neat and past cultivated fields where manioc and other crops were growing among the coconut palms. We made photo stops for a three-headed coconut palm and then for flying foxes (really bats) which were flying among the tops of trees beside the road. Our first big stop was at the blow holes near Houma. We had to run a gauntlet of vendors on our way to the viewing platform, but we stayed there a while and saw that the blow holes became active only when the bigger swells hit the shore. If we had been there at high tide, I’m sure the show would have been more spectacular.

Our final stop was at a resort by the ocean, where the attraction was not the beach but rather the grounds of the property. The landscaping was not great, but there were plenty of places to sit and contemplate the ocean. After a few minutes of wandering around the grounds, we were ushered into a pavilion where we were served a fresh fruit buffet of coconut, papaya, bananas, and pineapple. A band with violin, ukulele, guitar, drums, and vocals provided background music as we enjoyed our snack. Then the main event started. It was a show of Tongan singing and dancing. Four women and four men wearing traditional dress performed several dance numbers which are important in Tongan culture. The Polynesian dances we have seen emphasized the female dancers’ hip movements, but for the Tongans the hands were far more important. For both men and women, especially the women, their hands were tracing beautifully graceful movements throughout their performance. In characterizing the men’s dancing, I would say it was manly, but not violent, if that makes any sense. A subtle but very appealing aspect of their performance was a singular head movement which reminded me a little of that head bob done by some Indians. Both men and women would briefly tilt their head to one side as they performed. Together with their eye, hand, and body movements, this head tilt made this form of dance very appealing.

As we were driving through small villages in the countryside, we noticed that every village has at least one church. The most prosperous ones seem to be the Mormon churches because their properties were invariably perfectly groomed and maintained, somewhat of a contrast to the other properties in these communities. There also seemed to be many large meeting halls and also curious-looking little open-air storefronts along the road every so often which could not hold much in the way of products. As on the other islands, fruit trees and flowering shrubs were everywhere.

We returned to the ship for lunch and then went out with Jim for another look-see around town. We walked up the main street again without finding much of interest in terms of stores. After a while, we noticed that school had been dismissed and numbers of high school students were walking along the road. They were an interesting phenomenon. They were all wearing uniforms. The girls wore long maroon dresses and had long braided hair, which was decorated with yellow hair ribbons. The boys wore grey skirts with tapa cloth waist ornaments. Everyone wore sandals. What was most amazing was their behavior. They were not rowdy, they were polite, they were friendly. Jim walked among them for a time, and they made him feel very welcome. In fact, everyone we met was friendly, with a smile and a shy hello.

As the ship was preparing to leave the dock, passengers were entertained by the police brass band and a group of Tongan singers and dancers similar to those we saw earlier in the day. They continued waving to us and calling good-bye as we sailed away. We felt very loved.

Tonga dancers

Tonga Dancers

Coconut Palm

Coconut Palm