Monday, March 7, 2011

AUCKLAND - SYDNEY 2/8 - 2/23

On the morning of February 8, we docked in Auckland, New Zealand, the country’s largest city.   Out of 4 million total population, 1.4 million people live here including the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world.  Auckland is a beautiful city and a delight to visit.  It ranks #4 out of 50 major cities in quality of life.  On the first of 2 days here, we did a tour entitled Taste of New Zealand wherein we got to sample local wines, beers, cheeses, honey and other foods. 

On the 2nd day, we toured city highlights.  Upon leaving Mount Eden where we had a superb view overlooking the city, a group of Maori college boys asked our bus driver for a ride back down into the city.  The Maoris are the native peoples of New Zealand.  Today they consist of only 5% of the entire population.  Our bus driver, Maori himself, urged the boys to do a native dance for us which they quickly and enthusiastically performed.  Then the young men boarded the bus, stood in the aisle and sang beautiful Maori songs to us all the way down.  It was the highlight of our day.

The next day we docked in Tauranga and took a bus trip through the beautiful countryside to the Wai-o-tapu thermal wonderland where we followed a boardwalk through collapsed craters, boiling pools of mud and steaming fumaroles the result of volcanic activity dating back 160,000 years.  From Tauranga we sailed to Wellington passing the White Island Volcano where you can see steam rising continuously from New Zealand’s only active marine volcano. 

Wellington is New Zealand’s capital and located on the south island.  Here we drove out of the city along the harbors and bays known as the Storm Coast.  Eventually we followed an unpaved road through a remote area that delivered us to a sheep farm where we enjoyed a traditional morning tea followed by a sheep dog demonstration.  One dog had been trained to be silent as it ran behind the flock of sheep herding them toward their master.  This was the dog preferred by sheep thieves – for obvious reasons.  The other dog barked continuously as it ran behind the sheep driving them across the range.  

In Christchurch, we visited the International Antarctica Center where those on expedition to Antarctica train and are outfitted.  If a visit to the sub-zero blizzard room doesn’t deter you from spending months in Antarctica, I think the 10 minute ride in the Hagglund all terrain snowmobile over an adventure course would.  (We were in Christchurch NZ 9 days before the earthquake.)

The following day we got to enjoy the beautiful inland scenery of New Zealand during a six hour train ride across the plains, cliffs, rivers and gorges outside Dunedin.  We spent a day cruising the fjords of southern New Zealand and then 2 sea days crossing to Hobart, Tasmania.  There we did what will surely be one of the most unforgettable excursions of our whole journey – a bike ride from the top of Mount Wellington down 4,000 feet into the town of Hobart.  Fortunately, the rode was paved but so steep and curving that we had to hold the brakes almost the entire time.  But it was a real thrill.  That afternoon we enjoyed a city tour after visiting an oyster farm and winery. 
On February 20, we arrived in Melbourne, Australia.  This is the first time we have been to this beautiful city so we marveled at the parks, gardens, old historic buildings and towering new condo and corporate buildings throughout the city.  Now it is on to Sydney and the end of the Segment 2 of our world cruise.