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.