Down Under

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balzaccom
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Down Under

Post by balzaccom » Tue Feb 25, 2020 4:13 pm

My experiences in the wine business have led me to second career, talking about wine on cruise ships. So we are just back from almost three weeks in New Zealand and Australia. And we have a few stories to tell.

We began with a few days in Auckland, where we met an old friend and his wife for dinner, and then spent a few days exploring around Auckland. We loved the city, loved the food, and really liked the wines and wineries, too. What a great place to spend some time.

From there we boarded our ship, the Azamara Journey, and headed for the Bay of Islands, where we visited the town of Russell (once known as the Hell Hole of the Pacific--now a bucolic little town) and then walked around the national park of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where they signed the original treaty between the Maori and the Queen. The fact that the treaty was written in two different languages, and translations were inaccurate, has led to some significant differences of opinion today in New Zealand. Our guide for the tour there was a Maori who did a wonderful job.

Then off to the Bay of Plenty, where we put on our hiking shoes and hiked up, down, and then around the local landmark, Mount Maunganui. This is supposed to be New Zealand's most popular hike, but since New Zealand is the size of California, and has fewer than 5 million people, it wasn't crowded by Yosemite standards!

What knocked our socks off were the beaches. Yes, New Zealand is basically two islands...but wow! The beaches are simply stunning. And as far as we can tell, pretty underrated. We were unprepared for how wonderful they were.

From the Bay of Islands we sailed past now notorious White Island (the volcano that recently erupted and killed a number of tourists) and then sailed down the East Coast to Napier in Hawkes Bay. In the evening, I walked up on deck to try and see the southern sky...and was surprised to see Venus well north of me. Of course, in the southern hemisphere, most of what we see in the sky is to the north--but it took quite and adjustment for me to figure it out!

Napier was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1930's, and the whole downtown section was rebuilt only a couple of years later is classic 1930's style. It's quite fun to walk around the downtown and admire the many buildings.

After Napier, we stopped in Wellington, the capital, where we strolled around the city and took in the national museum. Wellington seemed rather dull to us, but we may have hit it on an off day.But the rest of the trip was stunning.

First to Picton, on Queen Charlotte Sound, at the North end of the South Island. We took a great hike out along a narrow and steep peninsula to the Snout (the point at the end of the peninsula) and enjoyed every minute of it--including the deafening crickets that overwhelmed the trees, and at one point were flying around like mosquitoes in the Sierra. It was a total of about nine miles the way we did it, and that helped us adjust to the usual routine of eating way too much on board the ship. It felt great to get out and really walk.

But we found one element a bit confusing. In New Zealand, all of the hikes are not measured in miles or kilometers. They are measured in minutes. It took us some time to adjust to that--and we never really did get the hang of it completely. Here we also saw the predator traps that they had set to catch invasive mammals and rodents that are eating all of the local bird life. The organization that places the traps is the Picton Dawn Chorus--a name we really liked.

Next stop was Dunedin, which we found in the middle of market day. Everything and anything was being sold on the streets, and we stopped to buy some fabulous cherries. We took in the modern art museum (which was nice) and the history museum (which we liked better) and then sat down to fish and chips and beer at an outside table in the middle of the market. What fun.

But here's where our itinerary took a turn. We were supposed to head from Dunedin to Milford Sound, and we really looking forward to that. for the hiking and scenery. But the recent storms had turned the area into a disaster--floods just hammered it--and the seas were running about 25 feet, which would have prevented us from seeing much of the scenery, and kept most of the passengers down below hugging the toilet.

So instead we changed gears, and sailed back up north to Akaroa, a small town just outside of Dunedin. It later turned out that the seas were closer to 40 feet, and would have been really unpleasant. Nobody on the ship complained about missing those waves. And we loved Akaroa. It was originally a French settlement--still has their street names--but it's small, local, and at least when cruise ships are in port, full of life. And best of all, it offered a whole series of great hikes right out of town. We immediately chose to head up towards Purple Peak, and climbed up over the ridge and then back to town from the other side. Another 8-9 mile hike, with spectacular views. The weather wasn't great--its was spitting from time to time, and the winds were quite blustery up on top, but we loved just about every minute of it, including the boardwalks through the rainforest. They were covered with chicken wire to give better traction over the slick wood boards. Smart thinking. This was our favorite hike of the trip.

And from there we went to Kaikoura, which is famous for its massive tidepools, seal colony and beaches. Justifiably so, as it turns out. Instead of taking the free shuttle bus to town, we chose to hike the coastal trail, which was about 4-5 miles along the top of the bluff above the beach. It had wonderful views, and it would be easy to spend quite a few days exploring the shore here. The town itself has a very nice beach, and we have never seen so many camper vans in once place. Clearly, this is a "must stop" for everyone in New Zealand. And the camper van industry is going gangbusters.

Our last port in New Zealand was New Plymouth, which is a rather industrial town that just happens to have a great local park and a very good modern art museum. We visited them both, really enjoying the park's Kauri Grove and 2000 year old Puriri tree, as well as the art. And the local man who took it upon himself to lead us to the Puriri tree turned out to be a huge fan of Elvis Presley...you can't make this stuff up!

Nearby is 8,500 foot Mt, Taranaki, but it was a two or three hour drive to get there...and the weather wasn't great. We were afraid we might arrive to find is socked in, or pouring rain. (As it turns out, some friends did go, and had reasonable weather, including a brief period where the whole peak was visible...) But we still had a great time in New Plymouth, and we all headed off into the Tasman Sea with smiles on our faces.

Those lasted for most of the crossing. The Tasman is famous for big waves and big storms, and we were hopeful that we had missed most of them. But we did run into a heavy swell one night (happily at night when we were all trying to sleep) and so avoided most of the discomfort. I never did take any medicine for seasickness, and my wife only did a couple of times. All in all, that's an easy crossing of the Tasman Sea!

Our last day was in Sydney, complete with a majestic entry into the city past the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge. We spent the rest of that day exploring the area around Darling Harbour, with the Maritime MuSEAum and lots of restaurants and shops. We even took in the 3-D Monsters of the Deep movie along with about 200 kids (it was a Saturday) and enjoyed their screams of terror as much as the movie itself. Who says we don't know how to have fun?

Because of the change in our route, we did miss seeing Tasmania. And that is a pity. But we also saw enough to know that this won't be our only visit down under...and we already have a long list of things we'd like to see and do next time. All in all, we ended up hiking about 50 miles over the course of the trip, and are already planning where to go next time.

here's a link to the photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/3LaWmyQpsGmdG92m9


Balzaccom

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grampy
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Re: Down Under

Post by grampy » Sun Mar 08, 2020 8:54 pm

balzaccom wrote:
Tue Feb 25, 2020 4:13 pm
... It later turned out that the seas were closer to 40 feet, and would have been really unpleasant ...
You, sir, are a master of understatement :lol:
Sounds like a very nice trip; if I showed your report to my wife, she would be bumping the Aus/NZ trip idea to the top of her list. Thank you for sharing !

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Harlen
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Re: Down Under

Post by Harlen » Sun Mar 08, 2020 10:21 pm

Happy travels! Just checked out all of the photos, and enjoyed your write-up per usual Paul, though check if I'm wrong, but after the first sentences, did you mention wine even once? Have you been paid off not to promote foreign wines, you cad! ;) Thanks man, Ian.

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balzaccom
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Re: Down Under

Post by balzaccom » Mon Mar 09, 2020 8:36 am

Ha! No worries. The tastings I led were all NZ and OZ wines. Delicious stuff. And the dinners featured those wines as well. And the only wineries we visited were in NZ.

I drink wines from all over the world---that's at least half the fun!
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