We are nearing an end to the segment of the cruise where we sail through French Polynesia. The last stop is Easter Island or Rapa Nui, which is actually claimed by Chile, some 2,200 miles away. It is located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeastern point of the Polynesian Triangle. It is famous for its still extant Moai statues, thought to have been built by the Polynesian people several millennia ago. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
When we arrive there Friday, March 30, we will tour the island for 2 days with a small party of people from the cruise, led by a professor from Chile, who is widely regarded as being an expert on the island. So, we’ll report in on that trip, probably sometime the following week.
Meanwhile as we sail away from the South Pacific, we get to view beautiful sunsets and sail outs. Probably sunrises too, but we’ve been asleep for those. We also got a chance to go dolphin watching with a professor from Berkeley; watched fisherman bring their catch in on the island of Nuku Hiva, observe some native dancers and go on a tour of Nuku Hiva led by locals.
We have left New Zealand and we have arrived in the South Pacific where we will spend the next week or so sailing through Micronesia, Polynesia and Melanesia. These island countries include Fiji, Tonga, Tahiti and Niue. These grouping are oddly categorized. For example, Micronesia refers to small islands and Polynesia refers to many islands. So far so good. On the other hand, Melanesia means “black islands” so named because of the dark skin color of the natives. But skin color hardly differentiates Melanesia from Polynesia. Go figure.
Anyway, the Polynesians were expert sailors who used “wayfinders” as navigators. Wayfinders did not use western instruments like compasses. They navigated using natural signs—for instance, the positions of the moon, the sun and the stars. They also used birds. If a bird they knew only flew 10 miles from land and they saw one when they were at sea, the would reasonably assume they were no more than 10 miles from land. Using these methods, the Polynesians would eventually go on voyages that extended for 1,000 miles for as long as 1 month, and, it is theorized, some eventually made their way as far as South America.
Eventually we plan to make our way to Easter Island, about 1,000 miles off the coast of Chile where we will be greeted by a professor who is an expert on the place. We’ll report in when that happens. In the meantime, here are some photos from some early island visits.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Anyway, the next two stops are Nelson and Wellington, so we’ll see what adventures await us there.
We docked for a day in Dunedin. It is a small town settled by people of Scottish descent, so not surprisingly, the town’s architecture is similar to that of small towns in Scotland. After doing on the port we proceeded to head out to board an old-fashioned steam train for a ride through the countryside.
The ride revealed more spectacular scenes of the New Zealand countryside, including vast expanses of farmland devoted to dairy cows and sheep. Here are a few photos of what we saw.
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.
Back again. We’ve been touring around like mad, and haven’t had a chance to post. On February 21, we entered New Zealand’s territorial waters and spent the day cruising through Milford Sound and some other Fiords (the NZ spelling) which were formed tens of thousands of years ago by retreating glaciers.
These Fiords, similar to the Fjords in Canada and Alaska, Fiords are a remarkable sight. It is like cruising through a deep valley with mountains rising up on either side. And we are far, far away. New Zealand is about as far away from New Jersey as you can get. As the crow flies, Stewart Island, the southernmost part New Zealand where we are headed, is only 3,000 miles from Antarctica. In fact, it’s a drop off point for some expeditions.