Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland (Tamaki in Maori) is by far the largest city in New Zealand. The University of Auckland, founded in 1883, is the largest University in New Zealand. The city’s total population is about 1.5 million making it home to 1/3 of the population of the entire country (population 4.5 million). It also has the largest Polynesian population in the world. The city is clean and has some dazzling architecture. In short, it is modern and very livable, but one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Near Britomart Shopping District in Auckland

Outside the city proper nature once again reveals itself. Among other things, while in Auckland we visited a mountain that houses a large Gannet Bird colony that overlooks a beach on the Tasman Sea. People go there to fish from the rocks as well. Then we went and visited a sheep station (sheep farm) that also raises cattle and deer. And we watched a trained sheep dog team manage the flock by having one dog stare them down while the other barked at them. It would work on me.

 

Some shots below.

Gannet Bird Colony and Fishing Area
Bird Colony on Mountain
Sheep Farm
Grazing Land

And that brings our time in New Zealand pretty much to an end, so we’ll be headed off to Polynesia soon. That journey will include Fiji, Tonga, Tahiti and Bora-Bora.

JFB

Next Stop Tauranga

Originally, we were supposed to make a port call at Gisborne, but the weather intervened. The waters were too rough for us to take tenders in from the big ship, so we steamed straight through to Tauranga and had an extra day there. Tauranga, settled by the Maori late in the 13th century, is the largest urban area in the Bay of Plenty region of the North Island. But that is not very urban—the population is about 138,000. It is one of New Zealand’s main centers for trade, culture, fashion and horticulture.

 

While there we made two interesting visits. First, we took a sail on a catamaran along Lake Rotoiti, which like the rest of New Zealand is quite beautiful. As the Kiwis put it, New Zealand does nature well.

Sailing Along the Lake Rotoiti

Then we went to a geo-thermal reserve once visited by George Bernard Shaw. Upon visiting the place Shaw named it Hell’s Gate, which is what it looks like. The heavy smell of Sulphur hangs almost everywhere; steam pops up to the earth’s surface from between fissures in the rock, to say nothing of the bubbling pools covering much of the landscape. Those boiling lakes reach temperatures as high as 200 degrees. Not very hospitable to say the least, but fascinating to see. It looks like the land-that-time-forgot.

 

There is a wooded area in the middle of all this with trees that absorb all the chemicals the lakes emit, and there the air is fresh and clean. But the second you get out of the forest, hold your breath.

 

Here are some shots that give a sense of the place.

Steam Escaping Earth
A Bubbling Lake
Hot Sulphur Lake with Countryside in Background

JFB

Wine Tasting in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

Napier (Ahurin in Maori) is located on the eastern coast of the North Island of New Zealand. It has a population of about 68,000 people. Most notably it is set in the famous wine producing region of Hawke’s Bay.  Needless to say, that’s where we went and visited the Abbey Cellars Winery, which is a small family boutique vineyard that makes some fine wines. Since it is pretty small, it doesn’t have a distributor in the U.S. but, not surprisingly, you can order from them online.

 

Not only do they make very good wine, the vineyard is in a stunningly beautiful setting with an outdoor tasting area that looks down over a valley and river. Across the way more mountains are visible in the background. Here (below) are a few photos from the trip.

JFB

Indoor Tasting Room at Abbey Cellars
Grapes ripening on the vine
River runs through a valley below
Sommelier explains the finer points of tasting wine
Abbey Cellars Vineyard

Visiting the Seals in Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington (Whanganui-a-Tara in Maori) is the capital city of New Zealand and its most populous urban area. It is in at the southwestern tip of the North Island, which lies in the latitudes known as the “Roaring 40s”. There it is exposed to the winds blowing through Cook Strait, so is the windiest city in the world, with the winds averaging 17 mph.

 

Because it is so windy it is ideal for generating wind power. And so, as part of our tour, we visited the largest source of power generation in the region, Meridian Energy’s East Wind Farm. The turbines, which are located at the top of a mountain, are enormous. Along with our fellow tourists and a couple of guides off we went we went in a couple of off-road jeep type vehicles up the unfinished gravel roads leading to the top of the mountain to see the turbines. And miraculously enough we didn’t fall over the edge.

 

It’s hard to believe but after that the roads leading to the beach below got even worse. Regardless we persevered and made our way down to where the seals hang out. Unfortunately, we were greeted by heavy winds and cold, torrential rain, which didn’t bother the seals one bit. So, we piled out of the jeeps and got very close to the seals—only yards away—to observe them as well as birds in the wild. It was well worth the effort, wind, rain and all. It had a land that time forgot quality to it, but it’s the only way to see what it’s really like in this type of environment. Plus, the guides made coffee.

 

Here below are some photos from this adventure on the rocky, storm swept beach.

JFB

Seals on the Beach
Seagulls Take Off
Driftwood on the Rocky Beach
A Cold Rocky Beach

Nelson, New Zealand

Before turning to the city of Nelson, New Zealand, a piece of news. We published an article in Apogee, an online photo magazine, that recounts some of our Safari in South Africa. The article can be seen at this link:http://www.apogeephoto.com/glamping-photo-safari-africa/

Now–back to Nelson.

Nelson, the second-oldest city in New Zealand, is on the eastern shore of the Tasman Bay. The city is also known by its Maori name of Whakatu. The Maori settlements in what is now Nelson came about 700 years ago, beating Captain Hook to the punch by a couple of hundred years.  The city, with a current population of about 50,000 was established as Nelson in 1841. It is named for Admiral Horatio Nelson who defeated the French and Spanish fleets at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Not Ricky.

 

It is a charming and laid-back city with a museum, lots of shops, the Queen’s Gardens and a pleasant vibe. It is worth noting that in this regard Nelson is not the exception: all the cities of former members of the Empire have gardens and buildings commemorating the royals.

 

Shopping, bars and restaurants in Nelson

 

Sidewalk Cafe

Captain Hook, who visited New Zealand 3 times, is credited with discovering it (for the West) around 1769 – 70. The Maori have a different perspective about this. Britain declared sovereignty based on the Treaty of Waitangi in February of 1840. The treaty signers were the chiefs of the major tribes of the north island and representatives of the British Crown. Parts of the treaty are still in dispute, and representatives of the Maori people and the New Zealand government have been working for years to reconcile their differences over the treaty and arrive at a final resolution.

 

That aside there is evidence that suggests that Arabs had discovered New Zealand even earlier, perhaps around the 13th or 14th centuries. Regardless, New Zealand’s is now an independent state whose independence nevertheless came in fits and starts instead of in one fell swoop. The Queen of England, though, is still formally the head of state.

The Queen’s Gardens

Frodo Lives!

When Peter Jackson filmed JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy, he was determined to be as true to the book as possible. One of the first problems he faced was finding a location that looked like the Tolkien’s description of the fantastical Middle Earth which he dubbed “Endor”.  Endor had snow-capped mountains, golden grass covered plains, sandy beaches and rain-forest creeks. As it turns out, New Zealand’s 400,000 hectare Kahurangi National Park fit the bill perfectly, which is why Jackson filmed Lord of the Rings there.

 

Which, in turn, is why we went there on a tour. It is not to be missed. The park has towering snow-capped mountains that slope down to a valley with wide open plains where some of the climactic battle scenes were filmed.  First, we went to Lake Clearwater that served as a backdrop, as seen below.

 

Looking over Lake Clearwater

After Lake Clearwater, we were off to the mountains and valleys in the park. The shear scope of the landscape is hard to imagine. The valley is huge; it is home to rivers and streams and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. One of the photos below has a woman in the lower left quadrant to give some perspective on how vast the expanse of land is.

Woman in Valley
Snow Capped Mountains

Anyway, the next two stops are Nelson and Wellington, so we’ll see what adventures await us there.

 

JFB

Stewart Island / Rakiura

We made our way to Stewart Island, also known as Rakiura by the Maori people who arrived from Polynesia about 800 years before Captain James Cook claimed it for the British Crown. It is the 3rd largest of the New Zealand islands measured by size. But the population is only about 400 people.  So, we docked in the Tasman Sea and took tender boats over to the island to look around, which took all of 5 minutes, and then we were off with a local on a boat ride in the Tasman Sea.

 

While cruising around the Tasman Sea we were able to see a bunch (actually a rookery) of Albatross searching for fish, made easier for said Albatross by the ship’s mate who tossed fish over the side to attract them. If you get a close up look at these birds you understand why you don’t want an Albatross around your neck. They are big and aggressive, with large beaks which they do not hesitate to use.

 

We were also able to sail by the rock formation where the penguins hang out in the neighborhood, and saw lots of them, maybe numbering about 100.  After that we headed back to the big ship to continue to sail on to Dunedin, which we reached the next morning.

 

Here are some photos of Albatross, Penguins and rock formations in the Tasman Sea.

Penguins Hanging Out on their Favorite Rock
A Pair of Albatross
Rock Formation in the Tasman Sea
Albatross Makes Off with Food

So Long, Australia

We have left Australia and we are on our way to New Zealand. On our last evening in Australia we went to a gala event in Sydney’s Town Hall, itself an architectural wonder. Outside we were met by Aborigines in native dress. Inside we were treated to natives playing traditional Aboriginal music, some classical pieces played by Argentine virtuoso Hector Olivera on the 8,000-pipe organ in the Town Hall, a truly stunning performance by the Australian Girls’ Choir, and more music by Australian vocalist Phillip Mark Quest, who won the Laurence Olivier award for Best Actor in a Musical no less than 3 times.

 

And we don’t want to forget the excellent vineyards, rain forests, animal habitats and great hospitality of the Aussies.

 

Here below are a few more shots taken around Australia. In addition, there are about 100 or so additional Australia photos posted on Evocative Photos at much higher resolution.  So, if you get a chance please visit www.evocativephotos.com

Australian Girls’ Choir

 

Wine Tasting
Aborigines in Traditional Garb
Koala

JFB

 

Hobart, Tasmania

Hiking in the Rain Forest

We made it. By that I mean we successfully returned from a 2.5-hour hike through a Tasmanian rain forest in Mount Field National Park. The park is around 22,000 hectares (about 54,000 acres) and is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. When we finished climbing up and down the mountainside (2 times no less), it felt like we covered the entire 22,000 hectares in one shot.

A Walk in the Rain Forest

But, truth be told it was well worth it, even considering that the forest lacked elevators.

The first thing you notice in the forest is the air quality. It is bracingly fresh and clean with the scent of the eucalyptus trees everywhere. The sights and scenery are just spectacular. We visited at least 3 waterfalls, and hiked through a field of tall trees with some trees being hundreds of years old. It turns out that these swamp gum trees are tallest flowering plants in the world.

Anyway, we finished the hike and we are on our way to Sydney.

JFB

Western Australia

Vineyards, beautiful beaches, wildlife reserves, stunning landscapes—Australia’s got them all. After spending a lot of time at sea now we are hopping off the ship almost every day to visit sites on land. That includes Perth, Freemantle, Geraldton, Bunbury, Albany and Esperance.

So we visited and had lunch at several vineyards with excellent cabernets, pinots, chardonnays and sauvignon blancs. There are plenty more vineyards in Australia and New Zealand on the schedule of what is becoming the world wine-tasting cruise. Beyond the wine, there are the kangaroos, the camels and various birds and reptiles at the wildlife reserves. And the beaches are simply spectacular, although you have to watch where you swim. It’s a really good idea to pay attention to the shark sighting signs.

We have set sail from Esperance and we are on our way to Hobart, a city in Tasmania. We’ll report in from there as well. In the meantime here (below) is a selection of photos from some of the places we visited in Western Australia in the last several days. Before long we will post better quality photos with higher resolutions at our licensing site Evocative Photos, at this link: www.evocativephotos.com.

In the meantime, if you click on any of the photos below a light box will materialize so you can easily view them in a larger and better-lit format.

JFB

Western Australia