We arrived in Chile, which means we are also approaching the end of our journey. From here we travel up the west coast of South America, making stops in Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia and Panama. After that it really is the last leg that will take us through the Caribbean and then on to Florida.
Our first port of call in South America was the port city Valparaiso, Chile. Rather than stay in Valparaiso we chose to go inland to the capital city, Santiago, for a day. It is an elegant and sophisticated city where the European influence is very strong. With its wide boulevards, classical architecture and parks, the city bears more than a passing resemblance to some of the great cities of Europe, especially Paris and Madrid. With about 6.5 million people, greater Santiago is home to about 36% of the nation’s population of 18 million.
When we arrived in Santiago we visited Club Hipico, the oldest racing track in Chile. Its architecture is classically elegant—the kind of thing you’d be more likely to associate with a museum than a racetrack. (See photos below). We also visited a national park, essentially planted and grown from scratch. And of course, we had lunch, with some fine Chilean wines, in a restaurant in the park, set up like a small version of Tavern on the Green in Central Park.
We will be off before long to visit some of the smaller cities of Chile, and we’ll see how that goes. Regardless, Santiago is a place you don’t want to miss—along with the very fine wines.
Easter Island is probably the furthest populated place from anywhere on planet earth. The nearest inhabited areas are Tahiti, which is 2,000 miles to the East, and Chile, which is 2,000 miles to the wet. It is a triangular in shape, made from 3 (now extinct) volcanoes, and now has a permanent population of about 7,000 people.
The island has been a source of fascination for decades, mostly because it houses something like 487 Moais—huge statues venerating tribal chiefs from a civilization that rapidly collapsed after reaching a peak population of about 10,000 – 15,000 around the year 1600. The reason for the collapse, combined with the existence of the huge Moai statues has tantalized academic researchers—as well as a fair number of cranks—for many years.
We were fortunate enough to be able to explore the island with a small group led by Professor Claudio Cristino, Easter Island’s resident archaeologist. (More on his work is available at this link to PBS: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/easter/move/team.html). As it turns out the best explanation of the rapid collapse of the Rapa Nui civilization is resource depletion stemming from contests among the tribes to build the biggest Moai to the exclusion of all else. It is a fascinating story and an example of the tragedy of the commons in action. It has nothing to do with crackpot theories about outer space aliens coming to earth to direct earthlings to build huge statues.
Over the two days of our touring, we got lots of shots of the Moai statues as well as extinct volcanoes. Please see below.
On April 28, 1789 Fletcher Christian led a mutiny against Captain William Bligh on the Royal Naval vessel, HMS Bounty. After the mutineers seized the ship they put Bligh and 18 loyalists on the ship’s launch and sent him on his way. Most of the mutineers went to Tahiti, the rest went to Pitcairn, led by Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christianson. While the men who stayed in Tahiti were eventually captured by the Royal Navy, the men who went to Pitcairn were never found by their pursuers. Fletcher and his men eventually settled down with Polynesian wives and their descendants live on Pitcairn to this day.
That’s where we have been visiting today. More precisely some of the native people came to visit us on the ship because it was too dangerous for us to board tenders to go ashore.
Pitcairn is a beautiful island, but its population is, to put it mildly, very small. In fact, the total population of the island is about 55. Of the 55, about 10 are visitors. The island is part of the British Commonwealth. Britain has declared a 200-mile economic zone around it, and has placed the area under protection from environmental degradation. They are looking for people to emigrate to their island. If you emigrate to the island you get a plot of land, but building, or getting a house built, is your responsibility. The electricity stays on until 10:00 PM unless someone is watching a late movie on Netflix, in which case the power stays on till around 10:30.
We decided to sail on and not emigrate anyway. Anyway, here are a few shots of natives of Pitcairn making their way back to the island after visiting the ship.
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.
So here we are, sailing through the islands of French Polynesia, including Tonga, Moorea and Bora Bora. The settings are truly spectacular. The islands, mostly formed by volcanoes, rise out of the ocean often with large green mountains at the center. The waters surrounding the islands are very often surrounded by coral reefs where the water is a clear turquoise color. Because the water is so clean and clear, snorkeling is a major pastime. We did some ourselves and will probably do some more.
In the meantime, here are a couple of shots from around the islands we have visited so far.
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.