Excursion Down Under- part III
Wed. April 2, 2014- Auckland, New Zealand
We were up by 5 A.M. eager to begin the day. We had coffee and read the papers in our room, while packing our bags for shipboard. The hotel’s concierge agreed to hold our bags as we set out at 9 A.M. We found a great little coffee shop on Wellesley, called “Remedy’s.” It was crowded with people headed off to work as we sat down to bagels, lox and coffee. It was pretty good fare too.
The Auckland Fine Arts Academy, in nearby Albert Park, was our destination. Three stories of marble and glass façade encases a collection of 19th century portraits and landscapes from NZ and England. A replica of a Maori village, with straw covered ceremonial hut, was of interest.
From the Fine Arts building, we walked along the narrow environs of High Street ogling the Hermes, Gucci and other pricey shops. High St. led us to the quaint and narrow “Vulcan Alley” where we sat for a time and watched the inbound throng. The “Queen’s Ferry Hotel and Pub” sits here, open since 1865. It is only a few blocks over from the original port area and all visitors must have at one time stayed here.
Next, we walked down to the docks area and located the Dawn Princess who had berthed here this morning. Streams of Aucklander’s were just disembarking near the Hilton waterfront hotel as we walked up to the ship. Swarms of taxis and other peopled mayhem clogged the small street. We checked on embarkation times and then headed back across Albert St to the Sky City Grand Hotel to retrieve our bags. It was almost noon and near the 1 P.M. boarding time. The concierge delivered our bags and hailed a cab to the ship for us. In a few minutes, we were standing in line with two hundred other newbies to embark on our cruise. Baggage handlers took our gear and promised to deliver it to our stateroom.
The embarkation process, customs, health and I.D checks were all perfunctory and we were soon on board the Dawn Princess and sitting in cabin C (Caribe Deck) 427. The Dawn Princess was familiar to us. We had sailed her in the late 1990’s, just after her christening, on the Alaska run.
Registered in Hamilton, Bermuda, the 14-decked leviathan weighed in at 77,441 gross tons. She displaces 26 feet at her keel. She is 856 feet long and 131 feet wide. Her crew strength is 934 and she can handle 2,272 passengers. The grand ship was currently skippered by Captain Ivan Jerman.
Mary thought it convenient to slip in two loads of laundry in the nearby deck four laundry room. We had to first get Australian quarters for the machines. Everything on this run would be figured in Australian dollars.
The 3:55 P.M. lifeboat drill was mandatory for all newly embarked passengers. We went down to the Wheelhouse lounge and paid attention to what was being said. We were sailing on a big ocean and what we heard and understood here might one day save our lives. The recent Korean Ferry disaster only intensifies how serious these boat drills are to be taken.
We ordered a bottle of Cabernet from room service and sat on the cabin’s balcony enjoying a glass of wine in the 78-degree sunshine outside. Life is good. A letter from the ship’s Captain advised us that the Noro virus was active on board and frequent hand washings were the order of the day to prevent its spread. Uh-oh ! We always use handkerchiefs to navigate handrails and touch any ships surface like elevator buttons. That also helps. The ship was due to leave port at 8 P.M. Normally, our tradition has been to stand topside with a glass of wine and bid the port goodbye. Dinner this evening would have to postpone that tradition to the next port.
The Venetian Dining Room had been assigned to us for the later 7:45 P.M. dinner seating. We changed into resort casual clothes and headed on down for dinner. It was an open seating night, so we were seated with two very nice couples, one from St, Louis Missouri, the other from Melbourne, Australia.
Shrimp cocktails, with mushroom torte, large bay scallops and chocolate cheesecake, with a decent cabernet, made for a memorable meal, the first of many aboard ship. We enjoyed the repartee with the other two couples. One of the great pleasures of travelling is to meet interesting people from far away places and share ideas and impressions with them. After dinner, we headed back to our cabin to read and turn in. It had been a long day and we were finally off on our New Zealand/Australia adventure.
Thursday, April 3, 2014- Tauranga, New Zealand
During the evening hours, the great ship motored across the Auraki Gulf and through the Colville Channel. passing the Mercury Islands. She then headed South, past Mt. Mangamui and on into Tauranga. We arose early and 6:00 A.M in time to see the ship berth at port Tauranga. It is a commercial port and we seemed to be surrounded by raw logs waiting to be shipped to Indonesia for use in pulp mills.
The Deck 14 cafeteria was busy even at this early hour. Many of the passengers had early morning tours scheduled, as did we. The serving in the former buffet was all different today and for the rest of the voyage. Where once you had served yourself, like buffet, now an individual staff member with plastic gloved hands served you any item you indicated, including a glass of water or cup of coffee. The new procedures were designed to combat the Noro virus raging through the ship. It may be effective medically but it was inconvenient and much detracted form the experience of dining here.
After breakfast, we made our way to the Princess Theater, where our tour group assembled for the four hour City Drive and visit to the Elms Mission Station. A crewmember led us down the decks and off the ship to our bus. The sun was just rising at 7:30 A.M as we set off. The mist rising from the heather was eerily pleasant to watch.
The Elms Mission is a national historic site for New Zealanders. It is the home of the first Anglican Missionary settlement. The Reverend Alfred Brow and his wife Charlotte had arrived here in 1847. Similar to the Congregationalist ministers who has come to “civilize” Hawaii. In both cases the natives had some disagreement with the process. The Brows built both a substantial house and for its time, a novelty - a library. Brow, a scholar of note for his era had brought one thousand books with him. Charlotte had brought along the family silver, china and a piano, so it was a little more than a basic home. It was still though the time of the Maori land wars, where bands of natives sought to oust the arriving settlers and send them back to their misty isles. Local natives had saved the good reverend and his wife on several occasions from marauding murder bands of Maoris.
The home is well maintained and contains all manner of bric a brac from the mid 1800’s as well as a room full of Maori artifacts. The Library and handsome chapel make the settlement into a complex in a setting that had once stood on a cliff and looked out into the harbor. Now the harbor area below has been reclaimed to form a commercial port. The small estate is adorned with many native trees and even an attractive and towering Norfolk Pine. It is staffed by volunteers and funded by a private trust. It may sound prosaic but it is an interesting portrait into early New Zealand and how settlers arrived here from England and the conflicts that they engaged in with the native Maoris. The docents tell one tale of six serving officers of the British Army who had dined with the reverend Brow and his wife on the eve of a battle. All of them were killed in the conflict.
Next, we visited the “Kiwi 360” plantation. It is a massive fruit orchard that has groves of lime trees, lemon trees, Oranges, avocados, macadamia nuts, peaches, apples and seemingly every other fruit found in the garden of Eden. They all grew here with a lush abundance that startled us. We got a tractor tour of the vineyards and an explanation of what we were seeing by a wizened farmer who had spent his life tending the gardens. We then got to taste slices of fruit and sample fruit juices in the farmhouse/restaurant at the end of the tour. It made you appreciate how fertile this volcanic land is and the prosperity it enjoys.
A light rain chased us back to the bus. We drove back to the port and the inviting warmth of the Dawn Princess. We changed into dinner clothes and managed to catch an early magic show in the Princess lounge. It was sort of lame, but it is entertainment aboard ship.
We were seated with George and Jeanette, from Belfast Northern Ireland. Amidst pleasant conversation, we enjoyed a spinach salad, spicy prawns, Tiramisu with cabernet and good coffee to wash it down with.
Tired from the day, we made our way back to our Caribe Deck cabin. The elevator service was sporadic this evening due to an electrical problem. The old dowager Dawn Princess was showing her age. They need to either refit her or retire the old girl.
Friday, April 4,2014- Napier, New Zealand
Over night, the Dawn Princess sailed easterly across the Bay of Plenty, rounding the East Cape of New Zealand and then headed southwesterly down the coast, passing the Portland Islands and on into Hawke’s Bay.
Our tour wasn’t scheduled until this afternoon, so we stopped by the Venetian Room for a formal breakfast. An omelet, muffin and coffee were served as we chatted with a few other Melbourners at the table.
An Art lecture at 10:30, captured our attention. The knowledgeable curator took us through several periods, focusing on Van Gogh, Monet, Dali, Picasso and Max. It was both informative and interesting.
We assembled in the Princess Theater at 12:15 and a crewmember led us down to the gangway and to our bus. There, a local guide, Bill Nimon drove us into the Napier for the tour.
A 1931 earthquake had virtually leveled Napier. It was rebuilt in the popular style of the 30’s, Art Deco. The buildings are pleasant of appearance and remind me of South Beach, Miami. Five rivers make up the aquifer around Napier, so the surrounding countryside is lush and green. Fruit Orchards and vegetable farms speckle the landscape in a soil that would probably grow rocks if they tried, it was so fertile. Fluffy little balls of wool, in the person of sheep, seemed everywhere about as we motored along the country lanes.
Our first stop was the Silky Oaks Chocolate Factory. The owners had at first thought to name it after the nearby river Tukai Kuri, until someone pointed out that in Maori, it mean “Shitty dog river.”
We watched skilled workers melt, shape and form chocolates into bunnies and small sweets that made our mouths water at the imagined taste. The owners gave a brief lecture on chocolate making, noting it dated as far back as 5,000 B.C when only royalty were allowed this nectar of the gods. We each got a few piece to sample and much enjoyed the product. A small chocolate making museum is on the [premises. It tells you everything you might ever wish to know about chocolate, its origins and history in colorful dioramas.
I got a chance to talk with the driver during our stop here. Bill Nimon is the fourth generation of his family to be involved in the tour business. His roots were Celtic and we shared a few observations about the Clan Na Gael as it developed in both of our countries.
From Chocolate City, Bill drove us through the lush countryside and up some very narrow and winding roads to the 1400 ft’ top of Mt. Te Mata. The 360-degree vista here is magnificent. The ocean off to one side and the surrounding valleys undulate along the surrounding valleys. Like everywhere in New Zealand, houses seemed to occupy every available nook and cranny. A towering Pine here was grown from seeds that had originated in Gallipoli, Turkey to commemorate the slaughter of the Anzac forces there during WW I. We snapped pictures and mingled with the other two busloads of tourists doing the same. It is a much-visited local attraction.
On the way down the mountain, we passed through North Haveport, a wealthy suburb of Napier. The private boys school here, Hereworth, educates the children of the wealthy. The boys marched along the road in their colored blazer on the way to the cricket pitch. The lads board here as early as 5 years of age. The cost is substantial.
A brief stop at the Pernell Fruit orchard and a taste of Kiwi Ice cream reprised our visit of yesterday at the Kiwi 360 farm. The harvest time in the country’s orchards engenders the importation of 20,000 Indonesian temporary laborers to gather the harvest. They are welcomed in and then shown the door some ten weeks later. You don’t get to stay here in NZ unless you can demonstrate how you will make a living and support yourself.
We returned to our ship in the late afternoon. A local group had assembled several 1930’s era vehicles and were themselves attired in period garb. A small band played Jazz for our benefit. We took our required pics and then boarded the Dawn.
A vodka toonie soothed us as we sat on our balcony. I wrote up my notes. Though prosaic of theme, the country tours were giving us the impression of a well-tended and very prosperous nation that enjoyed a high standard of living.
The ship was leaving port at 7 P.M. We stood topside with a glass of cabernet and watched her slide from her ways and out into the ocean for the run into the Nation’s Capitol of Wellington tomorrow.
Dinner at 7:45 found us seated with a couple from Melbourne, Jason and his wife Chris. They were mad for Australian Football and explained the sport and its complexities at length. Like many people, they had questions about US foreign policy and our fascination with guns. As always, we explained that neither Barack Obama nor the leadership of the Senate or House of Representatives called us regularly for advice on policy matters.
Shrimp appetizers, with a Burumundi fish course, chocolate cake with a cappuccino made for a memorable dinner.
We were tired from the day’s activities and returned to our room to read and slip off into the ether of nod.