Saturday, 28 February 2015

Day 49 - Friday 27th February - Tauranga

Day 49 - Friday 27th February - Tauranga

We weren't arriving in Tauranga until 9.30am, so we actually got a lie in on a port day for once! Then it was up on deck for the sail in. Tauranga's most famous landmark is Mount Maunganui, a flat topped volcanic mound, which towers over the port. It was wonderful watching the approach as we rounded this hill, and watching the sailing boats and beach houses appear on the other side. We had breakfast and then went to meet for our tour. Today we would not be staying in Tauranga itself but would be going on a journey to see Scenes of The Hobbit! 

This started with an hour long coach ride through the beautiful green hills and farmlands of this area of New Zealand - sheep and cows as far as the eye could see! Our driver told us he was not from the local area, so knew little about Tauranga, but pointed out lots of different types of native trees as we meandered along, crossing a winding river several times. We finally came over one last hill and saw signs for our destination - the village of Hobbiton. The film set for the Hobbit films still exists in its entirety in the centre of a farm in a place called Matamata, owned by a now very wealthy retired farmer! The farm is immense, so after picking up our Hobbiton guide, we drove for a good 10 minutes past fields and sheep before our first view down to the famous village. We were then given umbrellas (as the first drops of rain had just started to fall...) and taken on our guided tour. If you have seen any of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit films you will know what to expect, but it was still amazing to be suddenly immersed in this fairytale world. It reminded me of entering Disney World - the real word ceases to exist in an instant! We spent a fascinating couple of hours wandering round Hobbit houses, looking into their gardens full of flowers (with butterflies all over the place), vegetables, washing hanging on lines, wood sheds, freshly caught fish, bee hives, mail boxes, and sign posts directing you to the different areas. We were shown where different scenes of the films were made, and how some areas had only been on screen for several seconds but were still created with meticulous attention to detail. The apple and pear trees had even been turned into plum trees for the filming! After touring the houses, we saw the party field with maypole and had a chance to play some traditional games. We saw Sam's house, and then went along a winding path to the water mill (which was still turning), and the Green Dragon inn. Here we were served a glass of cider or ginger ale, and a chocolate and raspberry muffin (divine!), then given a bit more time to wander round the area and spot the dragon hiding in the reeds! Eventually it was sadly time to leave the village, but there was just enough time to stop in the gift shop and get a strawberry milkshake before setting off back to Tauranga! We had abandoned our umbrellas half way round the tour as the rain had stopped, but just as the coach left the heavens opened and the rain continued heavily most of the way back!

When we got back to the ship it was 3.30pm, and all I had eaten all day was sugar, so we quickly went up to the buffet to get some savoury food (thank goodness the ship serves food 24/7!), before setting out again to have a look around Tauranga itself. We took a leisurely stroll along the beach towards Mount Maunganui, and briefly contemplated attempting the 45minute walk to the top, but since our legs were still aching from the day before we decided against it! Instead we went to look in the town at some of the unique shops, and then made our way back to the ship. 

We had dinner and then went to the evening's classical flute/ piano concert, and then on to the theatre for the main show - the saxophonist Julian Smith (who came third in Britain's Got Talent a few years ago) who did a fantastic show. Then to bed, absolutely exhausted after three consecutive days ashore!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Day 48 - Thursday 26th February - Auckland

Day 48 - Thursday 26th February - Auckland

(Firstly apologies for the delay with this blog - we have been so busy the past couple of days that I haven't had time to write it! Will hopefully catch up by this evening before I forget everything!!)

I had set the alarm for 6.00 to watch the sail in to Auckland, but when I stuck my sleepy head out on the balcony we had already practically arrived! It was still dark but we could see all the high buildings lit up in different colours. I watched the sun rise behind the port and then we watched another cruise ship enter the dock just behind us - an enormous Royal Caribbean vessel.

We did not have a tour booked for Auckland so we had a leisurely breakfast, had our latest weigh in (all good so far!), and then made our way ashore about 9.00. We decided to spend the morning in Devonport, which is a suburb just across the bay from where we were docked. There was a regular ferry service departing from just next to the ship, so we got on the next boat and enjoyed the pleasant short trip across the water. We spent a while looking round the shops near the ferry terminal, but decided before it got too hot to do the main attraction - the walk up Mount Victoria, the volcanic cone in the centre of the village. The walk up took about 15 minutes and was very steep, but we survived, and were rewarded with incredible views from the top - back to the city, over the pretty houses and churches in the rest of Devonport, the Harbour Bridge, and all around the harbour. We spent quite a while up here looking around, and also seeing the large gun which remains up here from times long ago.

We walked back down and had a wander round the village, searching out the chocolate shop which had a glass partition at the back where you could watch the chocolates being made in the kitchen - heavenly! We strolled through the park and along the beach, and then along the seafront, looking at the many quaint Victorian style houses which the town is famous for. We then got the ferry back and popped back onto the ship for lunch.

We set off again in the early afternoon for a walk which I had planned by ringing all the places that looked interesting on the map we had been given, and trying to join them up in a logical way! The only problem with this is the map didn't show gradients, and so I had no way of knowing how far uphill we would be walking! 

We set off along the quayside road, dodging the many runners and cyclists for who this was a popular route. We saw a large mural which was a memorial to the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, which was bombed and sunk by the French just outside Auckland in 1985, as they didn't like the organisation's peaceful protests against nuclear testing in the Pacific. (JL went very quiet at this point!) We continued on and then headed into the Dove Meyer Robinson Park which was a lovely green oasis in the city.  We saw an incredible tree here which looked like some sort or alien being with thick branches curling up, down, sideways, and all around, crossing the pathway so low that you had to duck under it! We then walked though the Parnell Rose garden which had lots of pretty flower formations. From here we walked through the Parnell district, which has amazing colonial houses in a range of colours and styles. The estate agents didn't list the prices... Here we discovered that one of the roads on the walk was slightly uphill... Luckily we made it to the top in one piece, and were treated with views of the huge modern Holy Trinity cathedral with an incredible stained glass window covering the whole of the back wall. We headed from here into the Auckland Domain, which is an enormous park housing the Auckland Museum (a most impressive building) as well as a number of other attractions, not all of which we could find (I think the map was wrong!). It was very pretty with small ponds and fountains. We came out the other side and crossed the motorway running through the city, in search of more churches, cathedrals and parks. We finally made our way back down in search of Auckland's most famous landmark, the 328 metre high Sky Tower, which dominates the skyline. The base of it was surprisingly hard to find, but we eventually did, and were greeted with our first sight of someone throwing themselves off the top! Luckily they were connected to wires and were doing this as part of the Skyjump activity!! We spent the next ten minutes craning our necks trying to get a good view of more jumpers! By this point we were nearly back at the ship, and I was going to be late for afternoon tea, so we stopped into a local cafe, which just happened to have free wifi as well- yay! A few more photos of St Patrick's Cathedral and the Ferry Building, and then we retired to the ship, absolutely exhausted with aching legs!

We had an early dinner to wake ourselves up, and then chilled out in the cabin for a bit before the evening's show - Russell Harrison, a New Zealand singer, who did lots of audience participation to keep me awake! After the show we went on deck to watch the ship sail away from Auckland with amazing views of the lit up city - a spectacular end to the day. Then to bed to recover ready for our third day ashore tomorrow!!! 

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Day 47 - Wednesday 25th February - Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Day 47 - Wednesday 25th February - Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Finally our four rocky days at sea were over! We arrived at our first port in New Zealand this morning - the beautiful Bay of Islands. We got up early to watch the sail in (at the same time as chatting on the phone to another lovely friend!) which was magnificent. You could see where the place got its name from, as there were picturesque islets everywhere. We watched the sun rise behind one of these and then the ship came to a gentle standstill and set down its anchor.

We had breakfast and then joined the crowds of people waiting to get a tender boat ashore. We had a tour booked for the afternoon but wanted to make the most of our time here, so tried to get ashore ASAP. You have to collect a numbered ticket, and then groups of people are called in number order, as and when there are spaces available in the tenders. Priority goes to those people on organised shore excursions. So despite having picked up our ticket at 7.50am and getting numbers 88 and 89, we still did not disembark until about 9.00. We were warned that the tender ride could take up to 20 minutes, and the sea looked rather choppy when we watched the boats, but in fact the ride was short and pleasant.

Finally ashore, we decided to get the free shuttle bus along to Paihia, the local town, and then walk back. This was a good plan, as we were given lots of useful info by the driver, such as where to find free wifi! We got off in Paihia and spent a while looking round the handicrafts market, which actually had some pretty unique gifts for once! It also had a lady with a 4 day old kitten on a lead - I was smitten! :-) I then stocked up on stamps before heading to the library for the promised wifi (which actually worked! First successful free wifi of the whole cruise!! I love New Zealand!!!) There wasn't much else to do in Paihia (except helicopter rides, which we opted out of!) so we set of on our pretty walk back along the sea front. We passed many expensive looking harbour front houses and apartments, and walked along the beach for a while - I dipped my toes in the sea but it was rather chilly! We saw a collection of Maori statues representing different tribes, and a number of replica boats. As we went past a nearby lake, we heard war cries, and turned to see one of the tours (which JL had refused to go on!) where teams of people get to row traditional Maori canoes, complete with the chants and cries that would be made in fighting times! 

We crossed over the bridge that links Paihia with the peninsular of Waitangi and walked a little way in the other direction to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This is where, on 6th February 1840, New Zealand's founding document the Waitangi Treaty was signed. This turned out to be rather controversial, as it was believed by the Indigenous Maori chieftains to be a promise of protection for their lands and possessions, but due to a mistranslation in the document, it turned out to mean something different to the British who had written it, and led to much fighting and resentment between the two cultures. The museum which now stands on the spot of the treaty signing, also has a 120 foot canoe which could carry 150 Maori warriors. We spent most of our time here in the cafe however, where JL enjoyed a plate of scallops and I had some beer battered chips (which thankfully didn't taste of beer!) which I shared with the resident duck population!

After lunch we walked back to the tender dock, had a little look at the yacht club there (which turned out to be far less glamorous than I had imagined!), and the lovely views across to the ship, before boarding our home for the next 3 hours - a catamaran cruise. This took us on a long journey all around the bay, in and out of the beautiful islands, stopping from time to time to look more closely at particular areas. We saw the island where Captain Cook (him again!) first landed, a memorial on a rock, an obsolete car ferry which has been converted into a floating hotel, several blowholes in the rocks, a range of trees and vegetation, caves, luxury houses on private islands (including the one the Queen stayed in on her visit here!), campsites, beaches, and boats galore - kayaks, dinghies, yachts, ferries, speed boats, catamarans...

The cruise eventually ended up at the famous Hole in the Rock just off the Cape Brett peninsula. This natural formation is, as the name suggests, a large rock which has been eroded over time by the sea and the wind, to create a large hole in the middle. Large enough in fact for boats to pass through if the sea conditions are suitable. As we approached it, the waves in the hole were crashing against the sides and the water level was fluctuating by several metres... Luckily the captain confirmed that this did not constitute suitable sea conditions - at one point we thought he was going to give it a go! So after many photos, we turned back for the journey back to the ship. We saw the Cape Brett lighthouse, now automated, and the single house, only accessible by boat or by a 5 hour hike, which can be rented her for NZ$15 per night! We then sailed back through the bay, viewing more beautiful islands and trying not to get sunburnt (I failed!). Shortly before the end of the tour we sailed over to the nearby town of Russell, which is one of the oldest towns in New Zealand, once known as the 'hell hole of the southwest Pacific' due to the rowdy sailors who used to land there and enjoy the facilities! This all came to an end when missionaries arrived! The town is now known for being a beautiful seaside village.

The captain announced that he was going to drop us directly onto the ship, as he had had a phone call from the ship saying that two of the tender boats had broken down! When we had almost arrived, the captain suddenly stopped the ship and started reversing saying he had seen something interesting... Never did I guess that what he had seen was PENGUINS!!!!! There were a group of 5 or 6 of them swimming around nearby, and he manoeuvred the ship around so that everyone could see (which was rather tricky as they kept popping up and down!). I managed to get one photo with Penguins in amongst many many photos of the sea! What a wonderful end to the trip! :-)

We got back on the ship just in time for afternoon tea (and a beer for JL!). I then chilled out in the room for a bit until it was time for dinner. We then went to the evening's show - Harry the Piano performing for the second and last time. He again did a number of piano medleys, some requests, and a piece he had composed himself. For the finale of the show, he invited on stage the other entertainers who had been on the ship for the past few days - the Hollies singer and the New Zealand singer, as well as the piano/ flute duo, and the five of them performed a song together - it was really lovely! Then to bed, exhausted!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Day 46 - Tuesday 24th February - at sea

Day 46 - Tuesday 24th February - at sea

(Think I've got the date right this time!!!!)

We woke up this morning to find that the seas were thankfully returning to normal! We did our normal walk round the decks and it was a bit windy but the sun was starting to peek though the clouds! I then went to stretch class and JL did a bit more walking. After breakfast I went line dancing and then went to knit and natter to finish the last parts of my teddy - and he is done! I'm so proud of myself! :-) Meanwhile JL went to see his lecturer Dr Lee Konowe doing a talk called 'Privacy: can it be protected or is it long gone?'

We had lunch and then my hectic afternoon began! First I went to party dance class, which was pretty exhausting. Then I did an abs workout, and then went along to afternoon tea, which today was a special Macmillan fundraising one. After that I went to watch the passengers' amateur dramatics performance, which was amusing! And then to the passengers' choir performance, which was surprisingly good! I then went back to the room to get ready for the formal evening.  [JL: to compensate, I did bugger all all afternoon.  Lovely... Except at 3, I went to see the Headliners but only because the girls were wearing next to nothing and singing and dancing to Motown...]

After dinner we went to see Rebecca Nelson, the New Zealand singer, perform her second show - she has an incredible voice.  Finally I got everything ready for our first of 3 successive port days beginning with Bay of Islands tomorrow....

Monday, 23 February 2015

Day 45 - Sunday 21st February (The day that never was!)/ Monday 22nd February 2015 - at sea

Day 45 - Sunday 21st February (The day that never was!)/ Monday 22nd February 2015 - at sea

We were given two daily ship's newspapers for today - the first one was entitled "Sunday 21st February... Or is it?" and was full of activities such as walking on water, naked bungee jumping, mud wrestling for the over 85s, break dancing and body popping classes, pole dancing, water skiing, hang gliding, strip poker, an evening pyjama party and punk dance date, and special offers of free drinks all day, free wifi, and the option of posting yourself home for £3.50! As you have probably guessed, this day did NOT exist, as overnight we had crossed the international date line. This means we had gone from Saturday 20th to Monday 22nd. There was a special section of the newspaper for all those passengers and crew members with birthdays on 21st Feb who would not be having one this year!

We also received a ship's newspaper for Monday 22nd, which detailed the real activities of the day, but various alterations had to be made to these... Firstly, all the decks were closed due to the continued high winds, rain and rough seas, so no walking for us (which was perfect as I was talking to my family then anyway!). Stretch class happened as normal with the extra challenge of keeping one's balance! After breakfast there was an announcement to say that last night there had been a flood in Carmens (the dance hall) and they were still inspecting the damage, meaning line dancing would take place in the nightclub instead (which is much smaller). And it certainly was cosy! We did some quite simple dances due to the lack of space and rockiness of the ship, but it was still good fun! We then went to the theatre to watch the port talk on Melbourne, before going to lunch.

After lunch I got one of the last few seats for the 1.15 show at the cinema of the film Gone Girl, which was very good. JL then went to see Dr Lee Konowe talking about lie detection, but it was too wet to play table tennis. I went to a Legs Bums and Tums class and then we went to dinner.

We had an early classical recital by the pianist and flutist, and then went for the second show by Peter Howarth (the Hollies singer) who announced that he was a bit tired as he'd had to be evacuated from his room in the night as it was flooded! I'm starting to worry more and more about this ship, especially as the TV information channel hasn't shown our position for ages, and is now displaying a sign saying that the GPS equipment is malfunctioning - I really hope the captain still knows where we are...!  [Women! (Part 4). Apologies: Emma, bless her, makes it sound as though we're on a canoe to Benidorm which we are not...]

[JL: this constant changing of the time is getting annoying.  And now from  -11 to + 13 hours!  We went to bed on Saturday night and woke up on Monday morning!  On the ship this morning (Monday) we saw a few members of the anti Richard Dawkins brigade looking very lost and deeply distraught.  No Sunday means No mass today!  Does this mean now that their place up there in the clouds is no longer guaranteed?  I am worried!   PS: I love you Jack... ]

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Day 44 - Saturday 21st February 2015 - at sea

Day 44 - Saturday 21st February 2015 - at sea

We woke up to rough seas and wind, but bravely went for our walk round the upper decks anyway. I then went to stretch class (which was all done sitting or lying down for safety!) and JL continued his walk. We had breakfast and then I went to a very rocky line dance class. I then headed back to the room to watch the growing storm out of the window - we now had rain and mist to accompany the winds.

After lunch JL went to see a lecture on forensic science, while I went to the cinema to see Jersey Boys. As did half the ship! I got there 15 minutes early but all the seats were gone so I sat on the floor! When I emerged 2 hours later (fab film by the way!) I found a queue snaking half way round the ship for the next performance, and apocalyptic weather outside!!! We had water bubbling inside our patio doors and wild winds howling all around. The horizon had long disappeared in the mists and worryingly our position had disappeared from the information TV channel, which made me wonder whether the captain even knew where we were!  [Women ! (Part 1) ]

I went along to a fab abs class to take my mind off the weather conditions, and then read in the room for a bit before dinner. We had a table by the window which was a little scary with waves crashing against it in the dark... [Women ! (Part 2) ]

We then went to the theatre to see the entertainer 'Harry the Piano' who is a very talented comic pianist. He has the most amazing memory and ability, and made up various medleys on the spot based on requests by the audience, playing one backwards! Amazing :-)

We then headed to bed, with the words of one passengers goodbye to her friend ringing in our ears: "Goodnight, see you in the lifeboat!" [Women ! (Part 3]

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Day 44 - Friday 20th February 2015 - at sea

Day 44 - Friday 20th February 2015 - at sea

We started the day with a nice warm walk round the decks (little were we to know that it was the last sun we would be seeing for a while!). I then went to stretch class while JL carried on walking, then we had breakfast. Line dancing was cancelled this morning as the crew were doing drills, which involved lots of alarms and alert messages going off all over the ship - it was very noisy! It did however give me plenty of time to write the Rarotonga blog! Luckily the Internet was working ok so I had a lovely chat to a lovely friend, at the end of which the heavens opened and we had our first tropical storm, complete with thunder and lightening! I then went to knit and natter to stuff my teddy bear. Now all he needs is a scarf! JL wandered the ship like a lost soul looking for a quiet place to read, but everyone who was usually out in the sun had retreated indoors so he came back looking fed up!

We had a shivery lunch as the temperatures were plummeting suddenly [JL: down to 24 degrees! Shivering alright!] and I then went to party dance class to warm myself up! JL went to a lecture by Dr Lee Konowe talking about spies and code breaking. He then went off again in search of a quiet place to read and found a small one in the Crows Nest. I wrapped up warm, and adjusted the cabin air con, and settled down to read my book while watching the growing waves outside. I didn't have  the energy to go to the gym today so stayed where I was until it was time to get ready for formal night.

We had dinner and then went to see the first of the evening's shows - the new classical act, the Dana Morgan Duo, a lady playing the flute and a man on the piano, playing some Schumann and Debussy. We then went to the theatre to see the evening's singer, Rebecca Nelson, who is described as a Classical Crossover Artiste from New Zealand. She had a beautiful voice and sang a lovely set of songs including Ave Maria and Danny Boy. 

We found out from an announcement at the end of the show that the wind and rain we are experiencing is the tail end of the cyclone which has been hitting Australia recently, so I went to bed with dreams of waking up to find the ship transported to Oz...

Friday, 20 February 2015

Day 43 - Thursday 19th February 2015 - Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Day 43 - Thursday 19th February 2015 - Rarotonga, Cook Islands

We got up at 6.00 today so that we could watch the sail in to Rarotonga. The island looked very similar from afar to Tahiti and Moorea, but as we got closer we could see it was less developed in terms of large towns, houses and luxury resorts. It was still very beautiful with lots of lush green hills and a turquoise reef surrounding it. We paid particularly close attention to the water, because we had been warned the previous day that it may not be possible to stop at the island as the waters had been very rough recently and it may not be safe to transport passengers ashore via the tender boats (the harbour is too small for the ship to dock directly alongside). The waters looked calm enough, but when the first tender boat was let down it looked surprisingly rocky in the waves! However before long there was an announcement saying that it had been deemed safe to take passengers ashore, and so we headed for the theatre to meet for our tour - Muri Lagoon Cruise. We were soon informed that due to the slightly rough waters, the loading of the tenders was taking longer than normal, so to please be patient. We eventually got ashore at about 10.15, after a slightly bumpy tender ride, which was 45 minutes later than planned, but at least we were safe and ready to go explore the lagoon!  [JL: as we arrived we were greeted with this priceless sign: "welcome to the Cook Islands!  Bring more tourists, the last few we ate were delicious!"]

We first got into a minibus which drove us for 20 minutes along the one road which encircles the island, to the village of Muri, in the South East of the island. On the way we passed many small roadside shops and restaurants, and lots of houses, many of which intriguingly had small cemeteries in their front gardens. And lots of chickens! We also passed a few pretty churches.

Once we arrived at Muri, we met our hosts for the day, the team of Captain Tama's Lagoon Cruises ( We were loaded onto a glass bottomed boat with a dry grass covered roof, and set sail around this area of the lagoon, which was dotted with small islets. We sailed round for a while, admiring the views of these, the sea breaking against the reef, and the lovely houses, beachside restaurants and thatched hotel rooms on the shoreline. We then dropped anchor at a site surrounded by coral and had the chance to jump in and snorkel. Unfortunately no sharks or stingrays today, but many beautiful colourful fish and interesting coral formations. There were also a number of giant clams with amazing patterns inside. The crew had brought a bucket of raw fish and used this to attract some more fish along - giant trevally. These were quite menacing looking! One of the crew members threw some of the raw fish into the water close to where I was swimming and a group of the large trevally came swimming straight for me - it was a little bit scary! But I got lots of good photos.

Back on the boat, we drove to one of the islets we had previously seen, called Koromiri, where we went ashore and were given a barbecue fresh fish lunch (bread for me!). There were also lots of gorgeous fresh fruits, including star fruit, passion fruit, papaya, and even barbecued bananas - yummy! Meanwhile, the crew sang to us and played music on the instruments they had brought with them. They also told us that the island is a popular destination for weddings, and that most of the palm trees on the island had all been planted by newly married couples :-)

We were then given a demonstration of how to climb a coconut tree - it was rather scary! Clearly not to the guys who did it though, who at the top hung upside down and took off their shirts! We then had a demonstration of how to husk a coconut and make coconut cream. Finally the crew boasted of how they knew over 300 ways to tie a sarong and were going to demonstrate a few now. I stood at the front with my camera and then ended up getting chosen as one of the models for the demonstration, much to my horror!  [JL: photos of Emma being dressed up by hunky guy on Facebook tomorrow].  The guy showed us about 6 different styles, some of which were quite amazing. Apparently there are photos of loads more on the company's website - I will be looking them up when I get home!

We had a little more time to walk along the white sand beach and snorkel again in the warm shallow waters (where there were lots more fish, including some babies, and loads of sea cucumbers). 

All too soon it was time to go, so we boarded our boat which took us back to the shore. There most people got back onto their minibuses and headed back to the port. Our group's minibus wasn't there however - we found out later it had a flat tyre - so we got an extra 15 minutes of admiring the scenery, and a personal musical performance by the boat crew! Eventually a different bus arrived, this time bright blue with seats which didn't have a lot of life left in them! Still, it got us back in one piece! We spent a little while looking round the market which had been set up by the harbour, and then boarded a tender boat to go back to the ship. We had to wait a little while, as the captain was in the process of repositioning the ship so that the tenders could meet the ship in the calmest possible waters, and then set off for a rather bumpy ride back. 

By the time I had showered and unpacked/ rinsed off all the things we had taken ashore that day, it was time for afternoon tea! I was very excited as I hadn't been for ages, but I definitely felt I deserved it after my tiny lunch! Delicious. Meanwhile JL went and got a beer in one of the bars!

We went to dinner early and then chilled out in the room for a bit, trying to stay awake, before the evening's show in the theatre - a man called Peter Howarth who is the current lead singer of the band The Hollies, who played a number of hit songs by them and by Roy Orbison among others. I just about stayed awake until the end and then collapsed into bed for a very long sleep!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Day 42 - Wednesday 18th February 2015 - At sea

Day 42 - Wednesday 18th February 2015 - At sea

After a couple of (amazing!) days ashore, we were ready for another relaxing day at sea! We started with our normal walking and stretching/ gym, then had breakfast. I then went to my first line dancing for a while (I could just about remember what to do!) while JL went to read his book in the Crows Nest as it was too hot to go to the pool!

I then went to knit and natter, and have now sewn up most of my teddy's seams and done his face! Just the stuffing to go!

We had lunch and JL went to see two new speakers - first Sue Stockdale talking about her experiences in the Arctic (she is the first British woman to ski to the North Pole!), then Dr Lee Konowe talking about 'Spies, Terrorists and Other Bad People'! He then went to play table tennis.

Meanwhile it was laundry time again! As it was for the rest of the ship it seemed - my first attempt revealed queues in both rooms, with some people saying they had spent the whole morning trying and all machines had been full! I went back half an hour later to find a similar situation so joined one of the queues. At one point there was nearly a fight as one woman came in and took someone else's laundry out then went in front of me in the queue - someone else challenged her on it and a few heated words were said - I kept well out of it! Eventually I got a machine and in a few hours all was sorted!

I just had time to do another of my abs workouts before going to the theatre as the Bibby Sisters (the piano duo) were performing their last concert, this time in the main theatre. They ended with Rhapsody in Blue which I love! A great finale.

We watched the port presentation in the room about Auckland, where we will be going next week, and then went to dinner. After eating, we went to see a group called Caravan who are resident musicians on the ship, and who were tonight playing a tribute to the Bee Gees - it was very good. We rushed from here to the main theatre for the main show - a visiting Maori group called Te Oranga Ake, who talked about Maori culture and performed various dances, chants, and fighting rituals. They invited people up on stage to have a go at swinging balls around, and finally at doing the haka, including all the scary facial expressions - it was fab! Then time for bed - off to the Cook Islands tomorrow!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Day 41 - Tuesday 17th February 2015 - Moorea

Day 41 - Tuesday 17th February 2015 - Moorea

Moorea is another French Polynesian island, and it is right next door to Tahiti. So close in fact, that we left Tahiti at just before 6.00 this morning and arrived by 7.00! The journey was beautiful, around 2 sides of the heart shaped island, viewing more lush green hills and jagged mountains and small villages. The island is encircled by coral reefs, and so the water varied from dark royal blue to gorgeous bright turquoise. As we sailed along the shoreline we could see a number of the amazing luxury resorts which have been built here by the lagoon. The ship turned into the narrow pass in the reef and into Opunohu Bay, where it anchored ready for passengers to be tendered ashore. I couldn't think of a prettier place to be anchored! Words cannot describe the beauty.

Our tour didn't start until later in the morning so I spent a few hours admiring the surroundings (while writing the Tahiti blog!). We then met in the theatre for our tour - Lagoon Cruise and Picnic. We started by getting the tender boat ashore before boarding our motorised boat. This took us out of the bay, past a shipwreck, some of which was poking up as the waters were so shallow! We then sailed past the Intercontinental Hotel, which is incorporated solely of wooden huts - some up the hillside and some on stilts in the water with their own steps directly into the sea. Paradise! And from only $1000 per night we were told! 

The boat then took us to the middle of the lagoon for our first snorkelling stop, where we could see a number of other ships had already anchored. We soon saw why - this spot was a local hangout for friendly stingrays and black tipped reef sharks - they were everywhere! I was in the water within seconds, and surrounded by these amazing creatures, who were not at all phased by the dozens of people swimming nearby. We swam around for ages admiring them, and taking lots of photos with my underwater camera. As it was so bright it was impossible to see the display so I just randomly pointed and clicked, and ended up with quite a collection! I did my very best to take a selfie with a shark (I'll put the best attempt on Facebook!) We did see some people who had bravely (or foolishly?!) taken their phones and selfie sticks into the water!!

I then went to say hello to the stingrays, who were mainly gathered round the guide (who I think had some tasty nibbles for them!). They were amazing, swimming in and out of people, and sometimes under them or up their bodies! They were quite happy to be stroked and tickled! There were also some different fish around the area. 

Eventually it was time to get back on the boat :-( We said goodbye to these beautiful animals and set sail again, this time towards a small private motu (island) just off the shore. This was our base for the next 3 hours. And what a base! We started off in the shady area by the lagoon where there were tables set for the lunch we were given - lots of fresh fish for JL, and plenty of salad, bread, rice and pasta for me, with fresh pineapple and banana to finish. And as much as you wanted to drink to accompany it.

After eating, the guide gave us a demonstration of how to open a coconut, and how to make coconut milk! We then had lots of time to explore the island, walking through the trees to the white sand beach on the other side, and along the lagoon path to see the main island of Moorea on one side, and another small private island on the other. We said hello to the friendly dog who had come ashore on one of the boats and was enjoying exploring! When our lunch had digested a bit we headed into the lagoon for some more snorkelling. There was a strong current so we were advised to walk for a bit and then get in and float back! Which we did, several times. There were lots of coral formations with a range of colourful fish, and a couple of resident stingrays who kept swimming back and forth. I took lots more pictures!

We then relaxed back on the shore for a while, soaking up the relaxed atmosphere and the incredible views. I kept in the shade as much as possible after the other day! At last it was time to go back and everyone made their way gloomily back to the boat - we all wanted to stay!

When we got back to the small village where we had started, we had a look around the stalls there (mainly selling jewellery made from Tahitian black pearls), and at the pretty church, before getting our tender back to the ship.

Back on the ship we rinsed all our snorkelling stuff and spread it out to dry (poor cabin steward!) and then I just had time for a cup of tea before dinner. From there we went to see the next classical piano concert (which I may have dozed through the end of...!) and then to the theatre to see the evening's act - a guy called Bob Arno doing a show called The Art of the Steal. He is a professional pickpocket, but rather than using his skills for crime, he uses them for entertainment, awareness raising, and also works with police forces worldwide to help improve public safety. Before the show even started he had surreptitiously wandered round the theatre and taken a number of people's watches without their knowledge, and as the show progressed he 'invited' volunteers onto the stage to lose their jewellery, wallets, key cards, ties, and even in one case shirt and underpants (we're not quite sure how he did that one!). He was amazing! He has apparently done a show which is on YouTube if you are interested!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Day 40 - Monday 16th February 2015 - Papeete, Tahiti

Day 40 - Monday 16th February 2015 - Papeete, Tahiti

At last, the day had arrived - our first day ashore for 11 days, and what a place for it - Tahiti in French Polynesia, somewhere I have wanted to go for many years. JL was very excited because he would be stepping foot on French soil!  He celebrated by going for a swim at 6 o'clock as we arrived!

We got up early so we could watch the sail in, and all I can say is wow!!!!! The island is made up of rugged green hills and mountains, which made an amazing silhouette at dawn. As we got closer we could see lots of luxury houses scattered over the hillside - dream homes! We approached the harbour and were greeted by a group of surfers who had just paddled out ready to play in the waves in the harbour entrance. We continued along the beautiful coastline of Papeete, the main town of the island, eventually docking alongside an incredible luxury yacht (that was roughly the size of 10 detached houses!) and another cruise ship.

I had a quick call home to wish my little brother a happy birthday :-). And then off to meet for our tour - Snapshot of Tahiti. We made our way ashore, pausing briefly to see the local Tahitian musicians who had arrived to welcome us, and picked up our coach (thankfully air conditioned, as even at 9.30am it was roasting!). The coach drove along the island's main road which goes all the way round the coast, as we admired the incredible green hills on one side and turquoise waters on the other side. The first stop was a place called Point Venus, which is where many early navigators arrived, and is named after Captain Cook's scientific observation mission of the planet Venus. There we saw the island's only lighthouse, a monument to Cook, and a fascinating display of stones brought from all the different groups of Pacific Islands, dated according to when the Bible was brought to the different places (many of the early settlers were missionaries, and the Catholics, Protestants and Mormons all rushed to try and get the best locations for their churches/ temples!). There was also a memorial to the HMS Bounty, which as you know if you read my history lesson the other day came here in 1788 (and didn't want to leave!) The best parts of the stop for us however were the black sand beach (as the island is volcanic) where lots of locals were enjoying the sea, and the stray dogs that were fishing in the shallows! 

Next we headed for the Arahoho Blowhole, which is a geological phenomenon where the rough sea waters force themselves through holes in the rock, and then spurt out at the top by the road. It was fascinating, and the views all around were amazing.

Another pretty drive took us to the Taharaa Viewpoint, which as the name suggests has amazing views back to Papeete and to Moorea (tomorrow's destination) in the distance.  (We could just about make out our ship!)

The final stop was the James Normal Hall Museum. He was the author of the famous Mutiny of the Bounty book and the museum was a recreation of his house complete with all his old furniture and books. It was set in beautiful gardens full of tropical flowers, a breadfruit tree which is a descendent of one of the ones that Captain Bligh took to the Caribbean, and some chickens! (Apparently lots of people on the island keep chickens to eat the many biting centipedes which are in abundance there!) 

We returned to the ship and had some lunch, then set out again on our own. Luckily it had got a bit cloudier and windier by now, making it just hot rather than unbearable! We had a few shopping missions for the afternoon and succeeded in most of them - JL found himself a sturdy glasses case for his new sunglasses, and a copy of Charlie Hebdo, and I found postcards and a post office! I couldn't find a nice magnet so I have decided to make my own using one of the beautiful Tahitian coins I got as part of my change!

We picked up a map from the tourist office which had a walking tour on it, and for the next 2 hours I took JL on a guided tour of the town, looking at various impressive administrative buildings, churches and cathedrals, tree lined streets, lush parks, statues, war memorials, covered markets (decorated with a mixture of Valentines Day and Chinese New Year banners!), and water features. My favourites were the lily filled pond which had belonged to the Polynesian Queen Pomare, the 300-400 year old Banyan tree which the painter Gauguin used to climb and sit in on a daily basis, the seaside park full of outdoor exercise equipment (a playground for adults!), and the hotel which Henri Matisse stayed in when he painted his view of Papeete harbour. JL liked the story of the road which was called Bruat Avenue, but was then renamed Pouvanaa a Oopa Avenue (bearing in mind every vowel in The Tahitian language is pronounced, this one makes quite a mouthful!). He was also very excited to find some Banyuls in one of the wine shops! (But at £30 for a 500ml bottle we decided not to indulge!)

We eventually got back to the ship, with rather sore feet, at which point I collapsed in the cabin with a cup of tea and JL went to get himself a large beer in one of the bars. A very hot day - but no sunburn - yay!

After a long shower and a short rest, it was time to go to dinner. We had a table by the window so got to watch the sunset. We then went to the theatre to watch the local Tahitian cultural group who had come aboard - drummers, singers, and beautiful female and male dancers in fantastic costumes. They got a well deserved standing ovation.

JL then went and had an early night while I went to the onboard cinema to see the evening's film which I missed at the cinema - Pride (true story about the group of gay activists from London who join together to support a group of striking miners in Wales - it was wonderful and made me cry!) 

I took one last look out of the balcony window at Tahiti (where the ship was staying until 5.30am!) and then fell into bed exhausted!

Monday, 16 February 2015

Day 39 - Sunday 15th February 2015 - at sea

Day 39 - Sunday 15th February 2015 - at sea

Walk/ stretch/ gym again to start the day, followed by breakfast. Then line dancing for me and pool for JL. We met up for the port talk about Bay of Islands (New Zealand) in the theatre - it looks so beautiful!! I quickly popped into my knitting group to get the next instructions, but the one sewing needle as in use so my teddy will have to wait!

We had lunch and then JL went to hear Ed Derbyshire talking about the future of space exploration, then Diane Janes talking about a strange unsolved crime... He then went to table tennis and he won!!! [JL: a two week Mediterranean cruise for two!!  * ]Meanwhile I went to the theatre to see Bruce Morrison (the guy who did the amazing Les Mis show last night) who did a lecture/ creative performance about the life of Queen Victoria - not something I would normally be interested in but he is such a great performer that it was fascinating!  Afterwards I went to the gym, and then read my book on the balcony with a cuppa. 

We went to dinner and then to see the Headliners perform their ABBA show for the second time (still fab!). Then back to the theatre for Marc Paul, the mind reader, who again had us baffled! Back to the room to get ready for our first day ashore for 11 days tomorrow - Tahiti!

(Sorry for the rather brief blog, but I know tomorrow will be crazy busy so I've written it the night before for once!)

[* only kidding!!!]

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Day 38 - Saturday 14th February 2015 - at sea (Valentines Day!)

Day 38 - Saturday 14th February 2015 - at sea (Valentines Day!)

We started the day with our usual walk and stretch/gym, then had breakfast. On returning to the cabin I was very excited to find two towel swans with a red rose and a Valentines note from my dear husband! :-)  

I went to line dancing and then Knit and Natter where I finished knitting my bear - I now just need to sew him together but unfortunately the entire class are sharing one sewing needle! Meanwhile JL spent his time by the pool and reading.

After lunch I went to my party dance class which was exhausting! I then read and did some exercise in the room before getting ready for formal night. JL went to two lectures - Diane Janes talking about the life and work of Agatha Christie, and Ed Derbyshire talking about the space industry. He then went to play table tennis and got to the final again!

We went down to dinner to find the restaurant all decorated in red balloons and hearts for Valentines Day! We had a yummy dinner (as always!) and then went to see the two classical pianists play some romantic classics. We then went to the theatre to see Bruce Morrison do his second show, which was a tribute to 30 years of Les Miserables. It was AMAZING. He sang a number of songs from the show but also narrated it with lots of history of how the show was originally put together, how it was changed from the original French, and how it was received by critics etc. He even sang one song in French. He got a well deserved standing ovation at the end.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Day 37 - Friday 13th February 2015 - at sea (Pitcairn Island)

Day 37 - Friday 13th February 2015 - at sea (Pitcairn Island)

As the weather was getting incredibly hot, we decided to try starting the day with a swim this morning instead of our usual walk. The pool was still in the shade at 7.45 so there was no danger to my still sunburnt shoulders! Unfortunately lots of other people had the same plan, so the pool (which is only about 10m by 5m in size) was a little crowded, but it was still very nice and I did 40 'lengths'! We even had time to walk a lap after we'd got changed, and then I went to stretch class while JL continued walking.

After breakfast I went to line dancing as normal and JL went to the Crows Nest to watch for the arrival of Pitcairn Island, which we were due to sail past at around 11.00. Sure enough when I came out of line dancing we were just approaching it, so I grabbed my camera and lots of sun lotion and went to meet JL up on deck. We spent the next hour or so doing two complete circles of the island (one in each direction so everyone could see it!), and taking lots of photos. The sun got too hot for me after a while so I went back to the cabin and watched from the balcony instead. To appreciate what we saw you need to know the story of the Mutiny of the Bounty (which I didn't at the star of this cruise!) so I will attempt to summarise here for those of you like me!

In 1789, Captain William Bligh was taking his crew to Tahiti on the HMS Bounty to gather breadfruit trees to take back to the West Indies to supply the slave trade. When the crew arrived on Tahiti, they discovered that they rather liked it (especially the women) and didn't want to leave. The captain obviously made them leave, and from then on relationships between him and the crew were fraught with difficulties. One sailor, called Fletcher Christian, got so fed up with the Captain and his behaviour that he organised a mutiny, and set the captain and 18 of his loyal crew afloat in a 7 metre long boat.  The mutineers then sailed the Bounty back to Tahiti where some of them settled, and the rest of them went in search of a place where they would not be found, and decided on Pitcairn Island, as they had discovered it had been plotted in the wrong place on navigational maps, and therefore would be near impossible to find. They burned the Bounty off the island and settled there. 

Meanwhile, Captain Bligh had managed to navigate the small boat to Timor in the Dutch East Indies where he caught another ship back to England and reported the mutiny to the authorities. The British government sent the ship HMS Pandora to capture the mutineers, and it succeeded in arresting 14 of them from Tahiti. The ship then ran aground on its way home and 4 prisoners and 31 of the crew died. The remaining crew managed to continue the journey and bring the 10 living prisoners back to England where they were tried and punished.

Not all of the mutineers were captured however, and those who settled on Pitcairn Island continued to live there with their Tahitian wives, and their descendants still live there. The current population of the island is 48 people, but having sailed round the island (which is just 18 square miles in size), this is not likely to increase! The island's hills have incredibly steep sides, plunging down into the choppy waters, with no beaches or obvious landing points, and rocks all around. There is one shed which houses the island's few longboats - these are the only boats which can land on the island. The only 'town' (Adamstown) is on one side of the island, a scattering of houses up and down the hillside. There are a few dirt tracks and the only transport is by quad bike. The remaining land is vegetation or rock. 
[JL: I knew what to expect with Easter Island:  a few trees and some vegetation near the main settlement, but a barren, hostile land elsewhere, not a pretty Island at all.  But it has hundreds of statues on the coast line and by the quarry.  And its mystery...  But Pitcairn couldn't be more different.  It's a strikingly beautiful place, with peaks and deep valleys and trees and plants everywhere.  Paradise?  Maybe not when you get 4 hours of electricity a day and one supply ship from New Zealand supplies you and the other 47 "prisoners" twice a year with enough food etc to last you six months, and to get on and off the island, you need to be part acrobat, part stuntman...  See the photos on Facebook... ]

We went to lunch and had a table by the window so we could watch the second fascinating sail around the island, and then waved goodbye to it as we set off towards our next destination - Tahiti. :-)

I spent the first part of the afternoon chilling out in the room, and then went along to the theatre where they were doing an interview with the Headliners Theatre Company singers and dancers. It was very interesting hearing about their different experiences and some behind the scenes stories about the shows. I then did a circuit training class.

Meanwhile JL went to see Ed Derbyshire talking about comets and asteroids, spent some time by the pool, and then went to table tennis where he got to the final!

We had an early dinner and then went to see the evening's passenger talent show (much to JL's horror!) where we saw lots of brave people singing, dancing, and reciting poems. The best bit was the tap dancing group (you may remember I went to one of the classes but gave up as I had the wrong shoes!) who performed a group dance. After this we went to see the multi-instrumentalist Michael Grant playing a range of pieces on the saxophone, clarinet, and piano, including one song where he literally played his sax and clarinet at the same time for part of it! A great show.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Day 36 - Thursday 12th February 2015 - at sea

Day 36 - Thursday 12th February 2015 - at sea

We started the day with another sweltering walk round the decks, then stretch class/ gym, and breakfast.  I then went line dancing while JL went to the pool and then to see Ed Derbyshire talking about the space shuttle programme. I had a nice chat to my parents (the Internet miraculously worked!). I then went to knit and natter where I learnt how to make my teddy's arms!

We had lunch and then I went back to the crazy party dance class (at today's session the entertainment host commented that the last time she had taught these dances was when she used to work at Butlins and taught them to groups of kids...!). JL went to see Diane Janes who did a question and answer session.  He then went to the pool and played table tennis. I read on the balcony and then went to Fab Abs.

We had dinner and then went to the next concert by the duo of pianists. They played a range of pieces including parts of the Peer Gynt suite which was amazing. From there we went to the theatre to see the comedian Lloyd Davis doing his second show which was again very entertaining.  [JL: best joke of the show which I dedicate to my brother-in-law Jack:  A couple go on holiday to Israel after 30 years of marriage.  Unfortunately the wife dies in an accident.   The husband is given the choice of either taking the body back with him to the UK (cost £5000) or having his wife buried in Israel (cost £50)...  He thinks about this dilemma for two seconds and says: "I'll take her back with me".  The official who made the offer can't believe it... "But, this will save you £5000! The husband then says:" look, 2000 years ago a fellow was crucified and buried here, and after 3 days he was out and about ...  SHE'S GOING HOME !!! ].  

Then to bed, after putting the clocks back for the third night in a row! (I'm enjoying all these extra hours in bed but am kind of dreading the opposite when we sail back the other way across the Pacific in March!)

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Day 35 - Wednesday 11th February 2015 - at sea

Day 35 - Wednesday 11th February 2015 - at sea

We went outside this morning to walk our mile and it was HOT! And humid. I went to get my mat for stretch class afterwards and did the first 5 minutes and then gave up as I was feeling all faint. I went back to the room and JL brought me breakfast in bed! I abandoned line dancing as it was outside today and I decided my skin needed a bit of a break from the sun after yesterday. JL went to read his book and swim, while I chilled out in the cabin. I made it down to knit and natter to get instructions for how to do my bear's legs though!

We had lunch in the buffet restaurant for a change as I was still not feeling 100% and couldn't be bothered to sit waiting for the service in the main restaurant. I then retreated back to the room where I tried the Internet several times with no luck (I guess being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean isn't the best place for a great signal), finished my teddy bear's legs, read my book, and watched a documentary about French Polynesia and Hawaii (dreamlike!). Meanwhile JL went to see his two lecturers talk about first space and then ghosts! He then went to play table tennis and then more pool / jacuzzi time.  By the end of the afternoon I was feeling more human so I did the next day of my abs challenge and then got ready for the formal night.  [JL: can you hear Eric Clapton singing in the background?]

There was no early concert this evening so instead we went to the Crow's Nest and enjoyed a pre-dinner cocktail and mocktail while watching the world go by (well, the sea go by!). We had our meal and then went to the theatre to see the male duo Vocal Tonic perform a range of songs including Don't Stop Believing, Bring Him Home, Close Every Door, and even Let It Go! Very enjoyable.