Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Fri, August 30

Bay of Islands is a tender port, so we were a bit worried that either the wind might pick up or the sea become rough, which would mean not stopping there. Luckily, we need not have been concerned, as we awoke to a nice fine day and it was not long before we dropped anchor and the ship’s tender boat transferred us to Waitangi Wharf.

Our half-day tour began by taking us on a 45 minute drive to the oldest stone building, the Stone Store and Kemp House, New Zealand’s oldest surviving house built of kauri. On the way we saw the grounds where the Waitangi Treaty was signed.

Next stop was Puketi Forest for a guided walk on a boardwalk to marvel at the massive kauri trees. When the old trees fall, we were told that this timber does not decay and one particular tree that had fallen in the forest provided enough timber for 10 houses. It was a wonderful experience to get up close and personal with these massive trees that are over 1200 years old.

Our next destination was to the town of Kawakawa where we had some free time to sample the driver’s recommendation of doughnuts and cream (no hole in these doughnuts) which were excellent. It was only a short stroll from the bakery to what the town is best known for – believe me, we were very surprised to find that toilets could be a tourist attraction. Nevertheless we did find out some interesting information about this little town.

Kawakawa’s most productive years were in the 1800’s as a coal-mining town and for most of the twentieth century it had large meat and dairy processing plants, providing many jobs. However in recent years with industry restructure, many people lost their jobs but with the creation of the Hundertwasser Park Trust, this town is now getting a new lease of life…. all due to the public toilets!!!

Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000) was born in Austria, and became New Zealand’s adopted son; internationally regarded architect and ecologist. He lived near Kawakawa for 25 years and was commissioned to design and build the public toilets in the town’s main street. He used local labour and talent, bricks from local buildings and the windows were constructed using old bottles from the district.
The result is quite eye-catching with the light shining through the glass, internal mosaic walls and garden on the roof.

Last but not least was our final destination, the Kawiti Glow-worm Caves. We were taken on a guided walk on a boardwalk through the caves where we saw a galaxy of glow-worm lights, impressive limestone walls and magnificent delicate stalactites and stalagmites. When the lamps went out it was magic to see all the little lights above our heads as we stood in total darkness; the only sound to be heard was the stream rushing over the rocks beneath our feet and the feel of an occasional drip of icy water on my face as I looked up! Of course we could not take photos of the glow-worms, but it will be yet another lovely memory from our trip.

We are so glad we had the opportunity to visit the Bay of Islands, such beautiful scenery of the coastline and the mountains and thickly forested areas vying with emerald green fields dotted with dairy cattle and sheep.

Sadly, this was our final destination and we have reluctantly started to pack – next stop in two days time: Sydney.

But this is not the end – watch this space

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The stone store

The stone store

A walk in the forest

A walk in the forest

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Hundertwasser Toilets

Hundertwasser Toilets

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Entering the glow worm caves

Entering the glow worm caves

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Auckland, New Zealand

Thu, August 29

Auckland – City of Sails – so named because of its large harbour holding hundreds of yachts. Princess Wharf was a familiar sight from a previous visit a few years ago when we explored the city and the Maritime Museum.

This time we decided to take the ferry to Devonport; unfortunately the weather caught up with us at last and it was quite a shock to go from barmy, warm Fiji to cold and rainy Auckland! Anyway, amidst grey skies and gusts of wind, we made our way out of the terminal from downtown Auckland onto the ferry, and in 10 short minutes we were in the heart of this historic seaside village which we immediately fell in love with.

There was a minibus waiting for us for a one hour commentated tour around the main sights, including North Head where we were able to take in the spectacular city and harbour views in spite of showers of rain. We also walked through one of the many tunnels, started at the end of the 19th century in response to the Russian threat and extended during WWI and WWII. Gun embankments and bunkers are still evident. We then drove up to Mt Victoria where we also had great views (in between the showers of rain!)

As we made our way back around the bay, we were amazed to see a school of dolphins – unfortunately it was raining at the time and we weren’t able to get photos from the bus.

Once back in the main street, we stopped to warm up with a coffee before starting to explore the many galleries, displaying oils and watercolours, glass, ceramics and jewellery. One gallery in particular caught our eye, and that was the Peter Raos Gallery containing many lovely original pieces of art glass. Website – peter-raos.com. We loved the charming mix of cafes and shops situated in mostly old heritage buildings, and when I found two little shops, one with yarn and the other with patchwork fabrics, my day was nearly complete. There was just one more stop to make……

As we walked on, admiring Devonport’s collection of many late 19th century villas, the sun came out and just around the corner we came across the Chocolate Factory – and free samples! The owner explained how the family business came about 20 years ago and we spent some time watching the chocolates being through the viewing window, before making our way back to the ferry.

Once back in Auckland, we found a Thai restaurant for lunch – and we timed it well, as half-way through our meal the weather changed once again and there was a brief hailstorm! By the time we had finished lunch and explored a few more shops, the sun was out again with patches of blue sky. We thought Melbourne was the place that had four seasons in one day – now we know that Auckland is a definite contender for the title!

I must admit it was nice to get back on board at this point into our air conditioned comfort zone. After 3 months of summer weather, the sudden drop in temperature to 13oC was a shock to the system. However, we had a very enjoyable day exploring Devonport – Auckland’s crown jewel.

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North Head tunnel

North Head tunnel

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Devonport

Devonport

Cushla's Village Fabrics

Cushla’s Village Fabrics

Gallery

Gallery

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The Chocolate Factory

The Chocolate Factory

Lunch

Lunch

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Bula from Fiji

Mon, August 26

A few years ago we stayed in a lovely resort on beautiful Denarau Island, and explored Nadi and the surrounding areas, so it was interesting to arrive in Suva this time to see a different part of the island.

Suva with its colonial buildings is the commercial centre; not a great deal to do there so we jumped on a mini bus (with real air conditioning this time) for a 3-hour tour and headed out of town. We drove through rainforests and coastal areas and passed many villages – groups of houses where families and extended families live in close contact. There are no nursing homes to be found here.

The unemployment rate is very high, about 30% and many people live in very poor housing so that they can afford to give their children a good education. Some houses were no more than small shacks and because it was Monday, everyone had their washing hanging out to dry.

In contrast, we drove through roads where the President, Chief Magistrate and Attorney-General had lovely big houses surrounded by beautiful gardens, tended by prisoners from the local jail. We also passed Government House, residence of the Governor-General. Every two hours, the armed military sentry is changed and our guide we were told that having a photo taken with him was fine as long as we did not touch him or speak to him.

Once back from our bus tour, it was interesting to take a stroll around the shops and then through the market to see the colourful fruits and vegetables, spices from India and many karva stalls.

What I remember most about Fiji is the warmth and friendliness of the people; lots of smiles and waves and greetings of “Bula” met us wherever we went.

Suva

Suva

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Roadside stall

Roadside stall

Police Dog Unit

Police Dog Unit

Guess where the restroom stop was!

Guess where the restroom stop was!

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Government House

Government House

Safety tunnels dug during WWII which were never used

Safety tunnels dug during WWII which were never used

Market place

Market place

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Negotiating the shallows as we left the harbour

Negotiating the shallows as we left the harbour

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Postcard from Pago Pago – American Samoa

Fri, August 23

I woke up early this morning, looking forward to our arrival in Pago Pago, interestingly pronounced Pango Pango! When I walked out on the promenade deck, it was magic. The sun was just rising and the ship was silently making her way into a beautiful sheltered harbour where jungle clad mountains rise abruptly out of the seas. The only sounds to be heard were the waves gently lapping against the sides of the ship and some crowing roosters announcing the start of another beautiful day.

American Samoa is made up of five volcanic islands, located halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, and when the seaward wall of a great volcano collapsed it created one of the best, most spectacular natural harbours in the South Pacific.

We had no plans for the day, other than to have a swim, so after breakfast we set off and immediately got caught up in the vast expanse of market stalls next to the ship. Promising ourselves that we would explore them later, we only had a 5 minute walk to the downtown area. After a brief check of the local shops, we continued on our way and were immediately picked up by one of the local buses (and I use the term “bus“ loosely) to be taken to the $2 Beach for a fare of $2!

Many of the island villages are situated on small, quiet bays and coves along the coast. There are many inviting beaches to be seen, but the lands belongs to the families and so are privately owned, which is why the beach we went to is called $2 Beach – that is how much it costs to use it. There was a bar next to the beach, so with a cold drink in hand we spent the next few hours swimming in the crystal clear waters and relaxing on deck chairs in the shade of palm trees. There are many dogs on the island and one slept in the shade nearby, whilst children played ball behind us or frolicked in the water.

Back up on the road again, another bus came along in a matter of minutes and for a fare of $5, took us halfway around the island and then back to the ship. There is nothing like riding on one of the local buses – timber bench seat and air conditioned – meaning no windows! The driver gave us an interesting trip, even stopping so that we could take photos, completely ignoring the double yellow lines by weaving back and forth on to the wrong side of the road so we had the best views of the coast. Hey, we were in laid-back Samoa – no problem!

Along the way, we noticed houses grouped together around a central open sided meeting place – the culture of the extended family is very strong here. There are no cemeteries – graves are placed in front yards, some under shelters with the washing hanging overhead, and I saw several graves that were situated on the front verandahs of some houses.

Back at the markets, there were many beautiful sarongs, clothing and a vast array of local crafts, such as woven baskets, bags and mats made from the leaves of the Pandanus tree. Also nicely carved wooden items and jewellery. Duty-free shopping was an added attraction.

My impression – you will find no five-star hotels or fancy name retail outlets here; but if you just want to give yourself up to the beauty of this island, you will not be disappointed. If we come back again we’d only change one thing. Next time we will go up-market, and instead of the $2 Beach, we will go the $5 Beach, where there is a restaurant as well as a bar!
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A living tree - beautifully carved

A living tree – beautifully carved

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A grave in the front yard

A grave in the front yard


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$2 Beach

$2 Beach

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The "bus"

The “bus”

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Kauai

Sat, August 17

This morning we entered the sheltered waters of Nawiliwili harbour. The island of Kauai was unknown to us and as we have discovered many times on our journey around the world, yet another place to discover and enjoy.

Our driver/guide, Sam, whisked us off in his coach after a quick Hawaiian song accompanying himself on his ukalele. A fun and friendly guide, he moved to Kauai 25 years ago from the mainland and very proud of his island home.

We began with a long, slowly ascending scenic drive all the way to the rim of Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific “according to Mark Twain. It is 10 miles long, one mile wide and over 3,600 feet deep. At 3,400 feet above sea level, we had spectacular views of the crater on one side and the ocean on the other.

After leaving the canyon, it was interesting to see how the landscape changed as we drove through dense green forest. The scenery was incredible and at one point we stopped to look down into a valley so far below where people were rowing their kayaks down the river. So different to any terrain I have seen before. It was amazing. Our next stop was to admire the coastline and take photos of Poipu’s Spouting Horn, an active blowhole.

Along the way we saw the lagoon at the resort used in Blue Hawaii with Elvis. It looked so familiar but so sad, as the area was destroyed in a hurricane and the resort next to the lagoon was in a state of disrepair. Apparently the property has been sold and resold four times over the years, and it is hoped that the new owners will rebuild the resort to its former beauty.

Next stop was lunch in one of their many top class restaurants – delicious Hawaiian inspired food of fish, chicken and pork cooked in the traditional way followed by a dessert of fresh fruit and a type of coconut slice.

We then made our way to the Wailua River for the next part of our excursion – a riverboat tour cruise to the Fern Grotto which is a traditional wedding venue with Hawaiian music and dancing along the way and a live performance of the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” at the site. Then back down the river to pick up the coach and a quick stop to admire the coastline once more before making our way back to the ship right on our 4.30pm deadline for sailing at 5.00pm.

Lush rainforests, an arid multi-coloured canyon, cliffs that plunge into the Pacific, dramatic waterfalls and spectacular shoreline make this a very beautiful island and so worth visiting. No wonder it was the site for many movies which include Blue Hawaii Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Caribbean to name just a few. However, all this beauty comes at a price. Houses vary from around $200,000 for a fixer-upper to over $1M for a very nice one. Expect to spend $5-8M if you want beach access.

This small island is known as the “Garden Island “and the variety of its landscape is incredible from the mighty Waimea Canyon to the stunning beaches of white and golden sand in contrast to its rich red soil. It has world class shopping and dining and we enjoyed our visit so much.
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Kayaking on the river

Kayaking on the river

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Restaurant

Restaurant

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Fern Grotto

Fern Grotto

Entertainment on the river cruise

Entertainment on the river cruise

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Picturesque golf course

Picturesque golf course

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