After Tonga it was a very eventful passage to Auckland, New Zealand. Winds in excess of 50 mph and seas reaching more than 30 feet made for a very rough ride. With floor to ceiling windows beside us at dinner, the setting made you feel you were inside an aquarium looking out. Another couple described it as being inside a washing machine trying to see through the round window. Eventually the winds subsided.
We, however steamed into Auckland harbour in perfect weather with very little wind. So far, Auckland and Tauranga have been spectacular both for the scenery and the weather. The harbour in Auckland is home to 120,000 yachts (yes…120,000) making for an unbelievable landscape. Whlie there we visited a sheep ranch, a gannet colony out on a cliff along the shore and wandered along the docks of Auckland with our jaws wide open in wonder.
The next day we were in Tauranga in what has to be one of the nicest settings. A mountain, a double beach and a coast line that is constantly changing. Directly off the ship, no transportation is needed to see what New Zealand is all about. It would be easy to stay in Tauranga for the rest of the winter and years. to come. There was even a very well appointed RV campground minutes from the ship at the base of the mountain with views of the ocean all around. In both Auckland and Tauranga we could have spent a lot more time. A group of Maori singers and dancers has joined the ship for demonstrations of the culture and their way of life.
The ship is currently heading south to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand on the Cook Strait which separates the North Island and the South Island. In New Zealand they call Australia the “west island”. It is not complimentary!
It is hard to understand going to bed Wednesday evening and waking up the next morning and discovering it was Friday morning. Thursday just disappeared thanks to the International Date Line which was established in 1921. The IDL is the imaginary line on the earth that separates two consecutive calendar days. Without it a person travelling westward as we are doing would arrive home with one day more than they thought had passed, even though they kept a careful tally of the days. Go figure!
Our next stop was the Kingdom of Tonga. With a king and a palace, this sovereign country continues to be ruled by a king. It is a very religious country with many churches and church schools. Interestingly the religion is Protestant and to see and hear from the locals no other religion is tolerated. Tonga is a beautiful tropical island with clear waters, lush vegetation but extremely flat. They have never had a tsunami and credit their faith for this result. A tsunami would clear off the entire island as there is no protection. Blow holes in the rock line the shore on the north side of the island while a reef and a dredged channel permits cruise ships to carefully thread their way into a very short concrete dock.
Many of the ancient Tonga traditions continue today yet of all the islands we have visited, Tonga appears to be the most civilized. Our next stop will be Auckland in New Zealand.
We have dinner each night at 7:30 pm in the dining room. It is located at the stern of the ship on two levels, floors 4 and 5. From your seat there is a panoramic view of the ocean and the distant horizon. Tonight’s special red wine was Chateau Smith so we had to try it. It was a very nice Cabernet from the state of Washington.
We are very fortunate to have the same Captain as we had in 2013. He is very experienced, super cautious and we were pleased to have dinner with the Captain on a recent sea day. Next year will be Captain Mercer’s last year as he plans on retiring after the 2020 World Cruise. When not on the ship he lives in Merritt Island (Cocoa Beach) in Florida.
The island of Bora Bora in French Polynesia is really a “never forget” location made famous when the American military constructed a runway and built a base days after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. The island was to be a staging location for aircraft and ships in the war against Japan.
The anchorage is entered by way of a narrow and shallow cut through the outer encircling reef. Once inside there is no wind and one can drop the anchor in a totally protected lagoon. The anchorage is popular for cruise ships and sail boats from around the world. Like the Americans after the war, many visitors do not want to leave.
For our tour we elected to take a shuttle bus around the island following the coast. Lush vegetation, beautiful vistas and the world famous condos that are built on stilts in the water make you want to stay longer. The condo cottages rent for one thousand American dollars a night and do not include food or liquid refreshments. A famous restaurant and bar on the coast is Bloody Marys and is adorned with many photos of the rich and famous having their signature drink.
We are now off to Tonga, another island paradise on our way to New Zealand.
At breakfast today we entered the beautiful harbour in Papeete. On one side the lush tropical hills and on the other, the commercial port. The cruise terminal is essentially at the centre of town making it easy to walk to anywhere in downtown.
Papeete is a historical treasure based on the early travels to the island of Tahiti by Captain Cook, and latterly by the American author (James Norman Hall) of Mutiny on the Bounty and the filming of three versions of the book. Each version of the movie became more difficult to film as more and more buildings were built along the coast. Some scenes (Marlon Brando version) were moved to the adjacent island of Moorea as the sand there is white while the beach in Papeete has black sand. The epic musical South Pacific was also filmed here and shown in the theatre on board. Amazing to see the movie and then the scenes first hand.
The lighthouse built in the mid 1800’s still stands marking both the harbour entrance and a runway beacon for the international airport that runs parallel to the harbour. The father of Robert Louis Stevenson was the designer of this light. A pearl market occupies a major spot in the centre of downtown as does the fruit, vegetable, flower and fish market. It was an easy walk from the ship. The vegetation is lush everywhere and for the first time on the trip, rain fell off and on all day but with temperatures in the high eighties, it wasn’t a problem.
I am constantly amazed at the stunning differences as we move further west across the Pacific. By the weekend we will be in Tahiti. One day no internet and the next day service!
In Arica, Chile the markets are piled high with fresh produce and prices that are cents to our dollar. A week later we are dropping off eggs to nine families that have lived on Pitcairn Island together since a mutiny centuries ago. On Easter Island, the world’s most remote location, there is a modern runway for jet aircraft yet hundreds of horses run wild across the island and down the streets of town. What is normal you might ask.
We’ve moved from the world’s most remote island to the second most remote–Pitcairn Island.
It was here that the mutineers from the HMS Bounty sailed their captured ship and burned it in the harbour to avoid detection by the British navy. In 1957 the remains of the Bounty were discovered by a National Geographic expedition.
The original settlers were able to survive by farming and fishing but their were serious tensions among the settlers. Today Pitcairn Island is inhabited with less than 60 people from nine families. This makes it the least populated jurisdiction in the world and the last remaining British overseas territory in the Pacific.
With no dock on the island we could only anchor offshore and have all the residents come aboard for a few hours to tell us their stories and sell us some souvenirs. As is the custom, our ship both sold and donated a variety of supplies to the islanders.
For power a diesel generator runs from 6:30 in the morning until 10 p.m. at night with hot water provided from a communal wood fired boiler. Contact with the outside world is via a freighter that comes from Aukland, New Zealand every three months.
It makes our ship the Amsterdam seem like a palace.