Monday, April 24, 2017

Sydney again

We arrived this morning, Wednesday, April 12, with the Sydney Opera House on our left, the Sydney Harbour Bridge on our right.  It was only a short time now before we had to vacate this cabin that we’d grown to love, and move to our other one that we’ve deemed the ghetto cabin.  It’s quite lovely with a balcony, but now we know there’s so much more.  Yep, Princess marketing folks have sucked us right in.  But we can’t upgrade for the next leg as there are no mini-suites available.  Oh well.  Our luggage would be moved for us.  Nice.

We went up to breakfast, lingered a bit in the room, and then got off the ship, our “in transit” papers in hand, along with our passports and immigration and emigration paperwork.  We’ve heard there are 47 passengers “in transit” continuing on to Los Angeles.  The best here is that we’ll be seeing our California friends, Mike and Vangie, as they’ll be boarding in Sydney.

Cingular Quay was getting busy, suits going to work, young girls in dresses and nice outfits.  It seems to be a young town.  We didn’t care.  We knew of a coffee shop in the mall that does good coffee.  They knew of it, too, as it was quite crowded.  But we weren’t in a rush to get anywhere.

Then we wandered back through the Royal Botanic Garden.  We found statues that we’d not seen when we’d gone through it a few weeks ago.  It’s a beautiful place and worth all the time we’ve spent here.
Known as a slit-drum, this one is made of Pacific teak.  These were traditionally used for beating dance rhythms, transmitting messages or summoning villagers to meetings.
In the garden there are a couple of areas that have bamboo.  I found it interesting that people carved their initials or designs into the stalks.  Then I wondered if it killed the plants. It doesn't appear to and I hoped not as I liked imagining koalas peeping out from the fronds at the top, No, there were none here.
There were some ponds here and there, and one with pretty daisy-like flowers that we'd not discovered when here before.
This was quite unique.  It appeared that when the tree died, they had someone do a carving on the trunk. 
I bought a few things to get rid of the Australian cash and then we hit the Oyster Bar for grilled barramundi as they do it best of any we’ve found anywhere here. 

Would they really send this for an iced tea spoon?

When we got back on board we discovered the differences besides just having a smaller cabin, less shelves and closet space, a smaller deck and only one television set.  The towels are not as thick, there are smaller bars of soap, different beds and pillows.  AND there’s no emergency pull cord in the shower.  There is none at all in this cabin.  But we still get ice, our room steward has us well in hand and he seems quite nice.  Plus he brought us robes that we asked for like we had in the mini-suite.  We’d gotten quite used to having them and now expect them.

We met up with our Californians, Mike and Vangie, for dinner.  There was 2-1/2 hours of giggling, talking, laughing out loud, and we told them of the special appetizers and the fabulous view from up in the fancy Skywalkers Lounge on the 18th deck, for Platinum and Elite passengers.  All-in-all, it was a great day, and we’re underway again, crossing the Tasman Sea yet again as well. 

The next few days were at-sea days, and we headed back across the Tasman (April 13/14/15).  Of course, there was bad weather expected again, but somehow we avoided it mostly.  Yay.

I’ve been totally busy.  There are lectures about upcoming ports, the gym (Come Back New Princess says), there’s card playing … through which I discovered a whole new layer of activities with something called Cruise Critic.  Internet basically sucks so I’ve not been on it much, but when you know you are going on a cruise you can go to this site and find your ship and the date you’re sailing, and find people that are going.  Some of them like to arrange tours, card playing, and so on.  They did a cabin crawl where you visited a variety of cabins, so you could see what they were like … and what you were missing.  I’ll have to get on it for the next one. 

We went with Vangie and Mike to a new ship restaurant we hadn’t tried before, Share.  Six courses, we were way too full, but it was wonderful, and we plan to go again.  This ship does great food.  I should come back new with an additional 20 pounds.  NOT!!!

So, the second day at sea I thought one of the lights in the bathroom was burned out.  Funny, how you can’t see something well, so you make up what you think it is.  Turns out it’s a vent.  Whoops.

We had told Mike and Vangie about the Skywalkers Lounge appetizers.  We met up there, but nothing was happening.  We figured it was because the captain was having a big soiree with a champagne waterfall in the piazza.  We went up again the next night.  Still nothing, and we weren’t the only ones looking for it.  We thought we should look at the invitation.  Wrong venue.  It turns out that there are a larger number of repeat customers, about a thousand, and so it was being held in a different place.  But we were on it now.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Play day

Yay, another excursion on Saturday, April 8, in Port Chalmers, located in the southeast of the South Island.  This is the port for Dunedin, which was settled by Scottish explorers.  Actually, the name Dunedin means Edinburgh in Gaelic. 
Timber, dairy and kiwis are the main products of New Zealand.  We've seen a lot of timber in some of the ports.
The town center is built around an octagon, but we wouldn’t be spending time here.  We were heading on a bus to a place called Scenic Wonders, where we should see seals and were hoping to see penguins.  It seems as though we’re always on the hunt for penguins and don’t have a whole lot of luck seeing them.  So, we’ll try again.
This was the old railway station.  It's quite beautiful but I was only able to snap a quick shot through the bus window.  Would have loved to go see it.
This is some kind of sculpture that looks like giant teeth.
A bit over an hour in a bus would get us there.  We mostly stayed on paved highway, and then turned up a dirt road, steep and winding.  We saw lots of sheep, but I certainly couldn’t get a good photo of one.  It seems they know you want to photograph them and always give you “the look” and then turn away so quickly you never get the shot.  A sharp turn took us into the parking lot, quite a feat for a bus with 30 or so people on it. 

We were first offered tea or coffee and freshly-baked scones.  That was a very nice touch, plus they were really tasty.  Cruise ship passengers don’t like missing a meal.  Then it was time to get either into a small bus or onto an Argo, an 8-wheeled all-terrain vehicle.  We opted first for the bus.

The bus took us over a rutted road, deep ruts, and we bounced around like Bingo balls in the box before they spring them to be called.  It was ROUGH!!!  But we arrived at a lookout and got out of the bus.  We could hear noises … on my, it was a little seal just below us in the brush.  We were told to come away, as being above it made it feel threatened. 

Just around the corner of the walkway that has wooden fencing to keep people from going off the path, we saw a pond ahead to our left, and rocks and waves crashing to our front and right.  In the pond there were several baby seals frolicking.  It was so much fun to watch them dive under, come up and leap out of the water, jump over one another, play with each other.  What a wonderful life they have here in this pond while they’re young.
These little guys were having so much fun.

This was off in the distance a bit, looking as though he was getting a bit of sun.
Another pose struck by a baby.
This little guy was adorable.
They were still playing when we moved to get back onto the vehicles.
About a thousand babies were born this year, and this place is a good one for them.  It’s protected from predators, and they can spend their young time having fun.  They were great to watch, and so nice to see so many of them, slick little dark bodies, moving here and there.

We were then taken to a beautiful white-sand beach where we could see two sea lions in the distance.  No one walks on this beach as it’s protected.  Of course, seeing sea lions meant there would be no penguins there as they’d be avoiding their predators.  At this time the penguins are molting, so they are losing feathers and growing new ones, and are quite vulnerable.  We were taken to an enclosed walkway that goes down the side of a steep cliff.  We were hopeful to see penguins.  Nope.  It was very steep walking and we went to the end, not a far walk, maybe an eighth of a mile at most.  There were a few folks I didn’t think could get either down or back up, but we all made it.

The beach was beautiful, but no penguins here.
On the way back up we were taken up a second very short path.  Our guide opened a small viewing window and behind it lay a molting little blue penguin, its eyes peeping back at us.  No photos allowed so as not to disturb the little critter.  But it was enough to see it.

Then it was time to switch and we’d ride the Argos back to the base.  We’d been hopeful to see the yellow-eyed penguins, but no.  It wasn’t for us today.  We seem to have issues seeing penguins in the wild.  Another time, maybe.

It was quite the path we were riding on to get back to the base camp.
It’s a long ride to see anything from Port Chalmers, except if you were just going into Dunedin, but it was a good day.  We were out and about, and we did see something.  And we had sunshine.   We also dropped off the pilot we'd hijacked a few days earlier.  Good for him.
There are a lot of cargo ships going in and out of here, in close quarters.  I wondered if they had many collisions.
One of our little tugs was having fun doing pirouttes, showing off for his shipboard audience.
It's a narrow channel leading us out of town, and beautiful to sail through.

The next day, Sunday, April 9, we were to be doing scenic cruising through Fiordland National Park.  The last time we tried scenic cruising on a ship, our ship couldn’t get in.  This time we were graced with smooth water.  It was like glass and our park guide said in the 50 years he’d been coming here there’d never been such a spectacular day for sailing.
What a beautiful morning it was, with the sunshine on the water, the little islands, the mountains in the background.
We sailed through Dusky Sound and we saw lots of what were probably Dusky Dolphins as they run in larger pods, and there were maybe 40-50 of them.  They played close to the ship in the wake, near, alongside, under.  What a treat.

Fiordland has 14 fiords and consists of 3.1 million acres, which is 5 percent of the land mass of New Zealand.
The fiords were awesome, rising from the water and straight up, sometimes for hundreds of feet.  It’s amazing where this ship can be taken as the cliffs rose on either side, sometimes seeming so close you could touch the rock walls.  We stood on the deck for hours as we couldn’t get enough of the view.  We came out of Dusky Sound and along the end and back through Doubtful Sound, out Thompson Sound, and along the edge again.

It's pretty unbelievable where our Captain an take the ship.

Fiordland became a National Park in 1952 and a World Heritage area in 1986.
Fiordland gets more than 200 days a year with rain.
Believe it or not, this ship can make a pretty sharp corner.

We entered another sound.  There were small falls coming down, a larger falls.  And Milford, a little town at the end of Milford Sound.  We dropped off our ranger guide.  What a wonderful day it was … and then we were out, and back to the open water.
At the end of this sound with the great rocks rising directly out of the water is Milford, a very small town where we dropped off our park guide.
We learned that fiords are steep cliffs to the water, and sounds are gently sloping down to the water.  I'd say this is a fiord.  There are also hundreds of waterfalls here, that make it such a pretty place, but it was cool today.
Had to show some of the snow high up in the mountains.

 For the next two days (April 10/11), we were at sea, and close to the end of this cruise.  The water is calmer than it was on our first trip across the Tasman Sea.  We did do a few things those last couple of days … one of which was a culinary demonstration as there are a lot of Italian chefs on this ship, and we wanted to see how they do a few things as the pasta on this ship has been excellent.  “Cook with a passion,” was the message from Executive Chef Giuseppe Pollara.  A few stints in the gym, still haven’t played Bingo, and shedding crocodile tears as we packed up to move from our mini-suite to our balcony cabin.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Finally, an excursion

We finally, we got to do an excursion Thursday, April 6, in Wellington, the capital city, also called the “Culture Capital of New Zealand.”  In the rain, of course. 

It wasn’t raining too much when we boarded the bus to take us to Zealandia.  By the time we got there, it started to pour.  We went on our walking tour anyway. 

Up the steps we went.
We saw a few birds.  A very cool place.  It’s like a Jurassic Park setting, and that’s what they call it, the Jurassic Park of New Zealand.  They’re working to return this piece of land to the way it was hundreds of years ago … without dogs, cats, rats, stoats, possums, the ones that wreak havoc on bird life.  There were no mammals here long ago, just birds and marine life.  It’s a giant and noble undertaking. 

The giant weta.  We did see one of the 3-inch ones that lives inside the tree.  Ugly in real life.

There's a lake and a dam, and loads of hiking trails here that would be nice to walk, if it were sunny.
The moa was a flightless bird that was hunted to extinction.  It looks kind of like an emu except with lots of feathers.
They’ve put up special fencing, with wire underneath it so rodents can’t dig under it, and a tubular piece over the top so they can’t crawl over it, and they patrol it often looking for breaks or deterioration. 

The fence looked pretty good from where we stood.
As back up there are traps set around to catch rodents.  The object is to bring back birds that have been on the edge of extinction.  It’s a beautiful place, and would have really been lovely in the sunlight.  As it is, it’s lush, with the sounds of birds, even if they can’t always be seen. 
The takahe is a large, flightless bird that is usually near wetlands.  It was once thought to be extinct, and is considered critically endangered.  They are similar to another bird we'd seen, but have a larger beak.  Zealandia is also the home of the largest population of little spotted kiwis on mainland New Zealand.
I didn’t take a photo but there is also a pateke, a brown teal duck.  It’s a rare native duck half the size of a mallard with a beautiful mosaic of brown feathers on its back.  It doesn’t quack like the ducks I’m used to hearing.  It growls. 

From there we went on to Otari, Wilton’s Bush Trust, a collection of native plants.  It’s a rather a cool place, particularly if you’re into plants.  The rain lightened up some.  I had my rain poncho so just the bottoms of my pants, my shoes and socks were wet today.

They did have some rain coats. 

Otari is the only public botanic garden dedicated solely to New Zealand plants.
It is a beautiful place and one that would also have been fun to explore more 
Otari propagates and grows rare native plants to be planted back into the wild.  In fact, only one tree of a certain variety survived the introduction of goats.
These berries, and one other type I saw, are a beautiful bluish-purple hue. 
Back to the ship and a bite to eat.  Tonight there was a show we went to see, two of the four Kinsmen (Pearson & Harvey), I believe local type of talent.  Funny, musical.  It was great and I was laughing so hard I cried.  However, the Captain came on and told us the seas would be very rough, and to be careful and make sure everything in our cabins was stowed.  He came on again.  This time to tell us the water was so rough our pilot couldn’t get off the ship and on to the pilot boat.  He would be continuing on with us.  He also said that the seas could get violent, his words, not mine.

The water got very rough, with seas of 12-18 feet.  We were sailing through Cook Strait, where it appears all the water from around the islands comes together and make it into a huge boiling pot.  I’m thinking this is some of the roughest we’ve been in … on all our cruises.  The ship is creaking and groaning, rolling from side to side, and our speed has slowed to 14.2 knots.  No hammer down tonight.

The report from the bridge indicated that the wind was 45 knots, strong gale, force 9.  Stef and I went out on the balcony to look.  The water is crashing over the bow as we make our way through … with the high-flying mist dancing over the top of the waves.  It’s beautiful, but also scary.  It makes me want to eat chocolate.  It’s a good thing I’ve been rat holing the chocolates the room steward brings every evening.  But I have faith in our captain. 

As Friday, April 7, dawned, we continued on, another ship drive by.  When we have to use tenders in a port, if there’s big water, it doesn’t happen.  So we didn’t get into Akaroa, and we still have the ship pilot from Wellington with us.  I hope he didn’t have some special engagement yesterday evening or today, like maybe his wedding or vacation plans.  We were to go see little penguins here …  Three out of five excursions so far missed.  But we occupied our time with another at-sea day.  And we really do enjoy afternoon tea in one of the dining rooms.  Little sandwiches, scones, other fancy desserts.  Yum!! 

I’m doing a lot of reading on this cruise.  I also went to the gym, listened to a piano player in the piazza, and enjoyed some appetizers in the Skywalker Lounge, which is a part of being a Platinum passenger.  We sat there enjoying our water with lime and shrimp, cheeses and fresh fruit and vegetables.  The view is magnificent from the 18th deck at the back of the ship, and quite relaxing. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Back to Auckland

Back to Auckland on Monday, April 3.  On our way we saw a few dolphins, but not well enough to get any photos.  Maybe another time. 
Here we are again, another big, beautiful city.  Our tugs await our arrival.
This is the slip we glided into, something seemingly not nearly large enough,
We didn’t plan any excursions as we’d been here a couple of weeks ago and had done pretty much what we’d wanted.  But there was a mission for the day.  When heading to the shuttle to take us to the ship on the 31st, I had a luggage malfunction.  My small bag’s handle broke … and while I was still able to use it, it was no longer in top shape and I required a new one. 

We got off the ship and planned to walk up the street, Queen’s Street, I might add.  Our plan was to look for a shop where I could find a replacement piece of luggage, and a coffee shop where we’d stop and have a cup of coffee.  Mission accomplished, with first the luggage that I then drug up and down the street, and then coffee.  The good thing about the luggage was that I could put my purchased trinkets in it rather than have to carry a bag.

The ship called us back and we changed into our swimming suits and went up to one of the pools.  It was great as we had it to ourselves for a long time, as well as the hot tub. 

Later in the evening we changed and went to a performance of a local group who did traditional Maori chants and dancing.  It was quite enjoyable, and I sure do like it when the locals come on board to perform. 

A walk in the hot sun, and a hot tub ended my night pretty quickly as I was spent.  So bed time came early as a light rain began falling. 

We were to be in Tauranga Tuesday, April 4.  We’d received word the evening before that our tour for here was cancelled due to bad weather.  We’d had a kayaking and thermal pool trip planned.  What a disappointment.  It was raining, but not hard, but we couldn’t change it.

Off we went, outfitted in long pants and our Harley jackets.  We’d decided to walk around the base of Mount Maunganui. 
Off in the distance from where we got off our ship, we could see Mount Maunganui.
The seas along the base were angry, and got way angrier as we walked.  The wind was blowing hard, and it was raining.  As we walked, the rain began to come down even harder.  By this time we were probably half-way around the base.  So, we just kept on going. 
It was beautiful with a well-maintained path around the base of the mountain.
The walk was beautiful, even in pouring down rain, but sure would have been nice in the sun with the waves crashing against the rocks, the tide pools calling us to come see what underwater life they held. 

There were some beautiful rocks and pools that called us, but the weather continued to deteriorate.
It was so foggy and raining so hard we could barely see our ship.
We just kept going until we got back to the ship.  Our wet clothes hang dripping in the tub.  We’re even more grateful now for the larger room, with a tub and a clothesline that holds most of our clothes as they drip, drip, drip.We were really glad to have the Princess bathrobes.  I got into dry clothes, put the bathrobe over them and crawled into bed, cold and tired.  I slept for a few hours, and finally was warm again.

It was time to have a bite to eat, and walk around a bit.  Inside not out as the storm was still dropping buckets of rain onto the decks of our ship.  The wind is howling, and the seas will most likely become a bit rougher again tonight. 

Gisborne was our port of call for Wednesday, April 5.  Well, that didn’t happen either.  Due to bad weather the ship couldn’t get into port, so we didn’t do our bicycle-riding trip.  So far, we’re not doing well, and pretty soon Princess may have to be paying us to take this cruise (I wish).  But it’s not as though we don’t find things to do.  There’s plenty to do, and I’ve taken this opportunity to do a lot of reading.

Friday, April 14, 2017

We're on our way

I’d tried last night and then again this morning, Friday, March 31, but still couldn’t get a blog to upload from the hotel.  CRAP!!!  My work isn’t done.  And I’m way behind.  We got the car returned, and I had a luggage malfunction when the handle broke on my small bag.  I was still dragging it along although it was a bit more difficult.  I’ll have to find a replacement somewhere.  But we got a shuttle to the port, and being that we’re now Platinum travelers, we got boarded pretty fast.  We figured we were probably about in the first 10 people to board.  Woo hoo.  Walked around and checked some things out, we had our first bite to eat at Horizon Court and then went topside to watch the sail off. 
How could I not take another photo of the Sydney Harbour Bridge?
We’d received an e-mail a few weeks prior asking if we’d want to upgrade from a balcony room to a mini-suite and decided to take the plunge.  It didn’t cost much, and we figured it would be nice for the first two weeks.  Oh yes, it was.

It seemed like we had about twice the space; we had a couch with decorative throw pillows, two flat-screen televisions, a larger balcony, nice robes to wear and even a tub so we could take a bath. I decided to check. 
Looking from the balcony toward the door to the hallway.  So much space is awesome.
It was nice to have a larger bathroom.  A tub was pure luxury.
A balcony room is approximately 279 square feet at the largest while a mini-suite with a balcony is at its largest about 323 square feet.  Believe it or not, those extra square feet make a huge difference.  We were loving this already.  And the price had been very right.  Now we were getting spoiled and probably wouldn’t want to just have balcony cabins anymore.  Smart of Princess.

The pilot and the crew are amazing.  They get the ship out of some pretty tight harbors.  This one was no easy task.  The ship was backed out from the dock, and then swung around.  We had spectacular views of both the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, as if I hadn’t taken enough photos of them already.  It all had to be done with lots of other traffic around, some waiting, some darting about the ship.  That could be a not-so-great prospect as we’d already watched one ferry try and try and try to get into his slip to offload and onload passengers.  It was interesting to watch as he just didn’t have quite enough power and made about five tries to finally slip in.
We seemed to come awfully close to the opera house and I had visions of knocking down the architectural wonder.
It was a great exit from the harbor, and our captain sounded the horn as we left, a deep bass that let everyone know we were the biggest, baddest ship around. 
And sailing out gave us the most wonderful view of the opera house.
And there's the rain.
But in the distance you could see rain clouds and they were moving our way.  The wind was increasing and finally the storm caught up with us.  It was a rough night, tossing back and forth.  I slept like a baby.

The seas are still rough this cloudy day of Saturday, April 1.  Hard rain.  Clouds.  We spent most of the day in the cabin, reading, napping.  We came out for coffee, a short walk on a rolling and pitching deck, and food.  Then back to the cabin.  It was a pleasant and relaxing day, wearing the bathrobes we got for being in a mini-suite and drinking water from wine glasses.

Nice and comfortable these robes are.
The day began gray again on Sunday, April 2, but cleared later.  Then fog moved in and out … and our ship sounded the fog horn.  It was a comforting sound, hearing the deep bass to let others know we were out there. 

We walked some, went to a Maori cultural lecture, a couple of port lectures.  We went to one of the shows and met a couple that have done 127 cruises.  And they’re not the ones on this ship that have done the most.  They’re second best.  Wow.  I don’t expect to ever get there.

Back at the cabin, the ship continued to go in and out of fog, and the fog horn continued on and off.  It’s still comforting to hear.  And I’m still sleeping like a baby being rocked to sleep in its cradle.