"" Writer's Wanderings

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

World Cruise - Napier, New Zealand

After our huge night out at Hobbiton, we really needed the next sea day to recover. It was good to relax and take the day as it came. We listened to our favorite speaker, Ken Rees, talk about the next ports on our schedule throughout New Zealand. He had to squeeze them all in at once since this would be the only sea day for a while.

It was Academy Awards day and we got to watch them in the afternoon instead of the late hour we normally would have at home. Our evening show highlighted movies of the past and ended our day with the anticipation of one of our favorite ports in the morning, Napier.

Napier is a town that suffered a devastating earthquake in 1931 that literally leveled the whole place. Perhaps leveled isn’t a good description since the way the fault line shifted the earth actually rose seven feet and created 9,000 new acres of dry land. When the rebuilding was planned, the committee decided to do it in an art deco style that was popular in Europe in the 1920s. What resulted was a unique town with a passion for the style of the 20s and 30s.

Vintage cars lined the dock as we came down the gangway. We’d been to Napier just a little over a year ago but by car not by ship and not during the summer season when all the activities were in full swing for the tourists.

We took an early morning walk and looked to see if the dolphins were in. The last time we’d walked here we had watched them in an early morning feeding swimming back and forth near the beach. We passed the yellow bed and breakfast where we’d stayed and noticed the no vacancy sign. “Someone is sleeping in our room,” my husband said with a sigh.

We continued on and found one of those sculptures that makes you ask, “What is it?” My app for walking was talking to me so we thought it best to turn around before we ventured so far we’d need a taxi ride back.

Coffee sounded good and we headed for the little coffee shop on the corner of the square where we’d stopped before. Nostalgia was strong, the coffee almost as strong. Who knew though that we would be in time for all the end of summer sales? The prices here were so much better than in Auckland. There was even a department store where we finally found pants that Bob liked—as close to Dockers as you could get. And I managed to find a top and a necklace. Me, a shopper? What is the world coming to?


It was a great day and I didn’t take my camera on purpose (the few pictures I took are from my iPhone). Some days are just made to enjoy and remember without the bother of a camera. If you’d like to see more of Napier, check out my blog post from our last visit in 2013. It’s still as beautiful and the gannets are still there.




Saturday, February 28, 2015

World Cruise - Hobbiton

It was a big secret until just a few days before we were to arrive in Tauranga. We knew there was to be a special event for all of the world cruisers but we had no idea what and then the notice arrived. We were all being treated to an evening at Hobbiton!

A small percentage of people had no idea of what to expect because they’d never read the J.R.R. Tolkien books or seen any of the movies. The rest of us were pretty excited. We opted to take the whole tour that was offered. Some could not because of the walking and climbing but they were to be treated to a wonderful time anyway.

Our buses arrived (Bob counted 20) and the first ones with the tour people set off for Matamata around 5:40 p.m. It was a little more than an hour drive and over a mountain range as Bob and I reminisced of our road trip in New Zealand, October of 2013. We hadn’t made it to Hobbiton so we were excited to see something very new to us.

Just into Matamata, we stopped to pick up our guide for the tour. She was dressed in costume and barefoot! “Because,” as she said sweetly, “Hobbits don’t wear shoes.” Her feet weren’t nearly big enough for a Hobbit either.  We each received a brochure and some information about Hobbiton and how our tour would go.

Arriving at Hobbiton, we were greeted by ship’s photographers. I wondered how many people had actually purchased the $2000 picture package for the world cruise. When the pictures were done, we were greeted by one of the sons of the Alexander family, the owner of the huge 1250 acre sheep and beef farm where the Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings movie set was built.

The original set for the first series of movies was built in 1999 (involving the NZ Army’s earthmovers) as a temporary place. As the story went, they were in the process of tearing it all down when the Alexanders realized its potential as a tourist attraction. When Peter Jackson decided to do the Hobbit series, he returned to Hobbiton to rebuild and add to the set. This time the contract with the Alexanders said that it had to be permanent. The structures that are there now will hopefully last until the Hobbit fever finally gives out.

Bags End-middle tree is artificial.
Each Hobbit dwelling we stopped at was picturesque in its own unique way and I had trouble refraining from picture snapping. Much of the vegetable gardens and some of the displays were real but there were some that were props and you couldn’t tell the difference.

Our guide pointed out a tree on the hillside where Sam comes running down with his contract in hand and said it was artificial. Until you got closer, you never would have known. When the first movies were shot, they planted the tree trunk with its branches and then in order to make it an oak tree, they glued or wired on the leaves. For the Hobbit movies, the tree was actually made of steel and silicon. There was only one problem however. Shooting of the film was slowed when the director took ill and by the time it started up again, the leaves had faded. They had to be individually painted to refresh it.

We climbed to the top of the hill to Bags End and back down again to the Green Dragon. Lots of canopies were set up to make it look like a market place and under each was a different kind of food to be sampled. We were told there would be appetizers but these appetizers were more than Hobbit-sized. Pork sandwiches, grilled sausage bits, toast bits with cheese and veggies, mussel fritters (who knew?), and even lamb chops. Wine and ale and cider in mugs flowed freely.

There was a pig roasting over an open fire and as we crossed over the double arched bridge, we found ourselves in front of the Green Dragon. We couldn’t resist a peek inside. Two huge tables of more food were set up but even better, we got to feel what it would be like inside the Hobbit tavern.

A little worn out, we found a bench to sit on and watch the activities around us. There was a fire eater performing and Bob got coerced into being part of the act. Costumed characters roamed all around us either offering food or just being part of the character of the place—some were on stilts, although I don’t recall how that fit with the movies.

Gathered around the center lake, the sun having set a couple of hours before, we listened to Gandolf (who sounded an awful lot like our cruise director, Gary Hunter) as he introduced the people involved with our gala event. Then we were entertained with videos projected on a wall of water being sprayed into the air (ala Disney style). It was a special video that told about Hobbiton but also offered birthday greetings to Crystal Cruises on their 25th silver celebration. Of course all of it ended with fireworks that were set off in sync with the fireworks in the video of the Hobbit celebration from the movie.
But the evening wasn’t over yet. There followed a spectacular laser show before we were invited to return to the buses and start our ride back to the ship. While I thought everyone would sleep on the way back, I found that we were all too excited. The bus buzzed most of the way back with excited chatter recounting the gala event. It had been quite an evening to remember.

Back at the ship, we entered the atrium to find that there was a buffet set up—just in case anyone was hungry since we’d missed dinner. And yes, there were people eating. Yikes! It was almost 11 and past our bedtime. (We’re so old.) We passed on the food and went straight to bed.


The next day our ship left Tauranga at 5 AM but I don’t think there were many passengers up and about to hear our departing song played. I seriously doubt they played it or else I was so sound asleep I didn’t hear it. We are definitely not party animals.



Friday, February 27, 2015

World Cruise - Mount Maunganui (Tauranga)

With dismay we woke to rain. Lots of rain. But to our delight, the rain stopped by the time we’d been to church services and had breakfast. We were ready to go off and explore. 

Having been to Tauranga twice before, we decided to explore the Mount Maunganui area instead and we were up for a good walk. The gatekeeper at the port entrance suggested two routes, one through town to get to the mountain and the other along the harbor. We chose to check out the town on our way to the mountain.

It was a nice little town full of all sorts of shops and places to eat some of which were open for early breakfast diners. Our route took us through some residential area and past some large condo buildings that we suspected were vacation rentals. That was confirmed later when we met two Canadians from Toronto who were toughing out their winter by staying here through February.



At the base of the mountain was a mini-triathlon with all female participants. The running part of the meet was taking place and the crossing guards just smiled and said “Have a go but mind the runners,” as we tried to cross the street. Safely across, we started up the track that would lead around the base of the mountain. There was a track to the top but I was ready to walk, not climb.


It was a very nice three mile walk around the base of Mount Maunganui. The trail wasn’t muddy at all which was a surprise considering the rainfall. Huge trees with twisting branches and trunks overhung the pathway and the waters of the bay pounded the rocks along the shore with a rhythmic beat. The track ended at the Mount Maunganui beach where lots of Sunday surfers mixed with beach goers and some sort of children’s activities.

While it wasn’t very hot, it was humid and with our exercise we were both a bit damp and sweaty. We opted to return to the ship, shower, eat again, and then return to town to check out some of the shops. Our return route took us along the harbor boardwalk and past the triathlon participants who were receiving their rewards.




That afternoon we wandered in and out of shops looking for a couple more nice tops for me and the off chance of finding pants that Bob might like. I was the only one pleased. I found a pretty soft T that the sales lady said was actually made of recycled wood fibers. Who knew?


Back on the ship we tried to rest up a bit. We were set to have a grand celebration of Crystal’s 25th Anniversary. It would happen at a special place that evening and it would be “precious.”





Tuesday, February 24, 2015

World Cruise - Auckland, New Zealand

Our morning started as usual. The alarm went off at 7:30 and we turned on the TV and tuned to the channel that gives the live picture from the front of the ship. There before us was Queen Street, the main street running from the pier into the heart of the city of Auckland and in the distance the top of the Sky Tower, the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand. (Some also boast that it is the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere—maybe.)

There would be three days here to explore the city and surrounding area. Many were even planning overnight trips to places farther away. We chose to go shopping our first day. Bob had packed a pair of “good” pants that had seen better days and somehow gotten them past my watchful packing eyes. So off we went to look for a pair of black Dockers. Only one problem. Dockers don’t exist in New Zealand, he found out later online, or Australia for that matter. There was nothing that even came close and when it did, they were in the skinny style pant leg. I tried to talk him into it. You know, update him a bit but, oh well.
Our shopping expedition did get us out into some of the suburbs by way of the train system. It was easy to follow the map and the train schedule (helps when it’s in English) and the ride was smooth. We saw a little countryside and then returned with a few sundries that we picked up to restock our toiletries with. We’d also picked up several brochures to plan our remaining two days.

The next morning, we took off early and purchased tickets for a harbor cruise. The cruise was an hour and a half and included morning tea with a muffin. The start of it was nothing more than piers full of containers from ships. Then off to an old lighthouse that sits on stilts in the middle of the harbor. It’s been around since the 1860s.

As the boat sped up a bit to our next point of interest, we pulled out the jackets that someone had told us we wouldn’t need and donned them. The air was getting a bit cooler and the sky a bit grayer but the dark clouds were so distant that we thought they would miss us. At Rangitoto Island, the boat stopped for a ten minute look if you wanted to see the volcanic island close up. Ten minutes barely got you off the dock and back again but many walked it.

Motoring past Devonport, a suburb of Auckland across from the main city, we passed two more dormant volcanoes and then headed for the Harbour Bridge. It’s not as dramatic as the Sydney Bridge but close. There is also opportunity to climb it and bungee jump from it (we passed on both). The skies were getting darker again but still a distance away.

On the way back to the ferry terminal, we passed the Westhaven Marina. This is the place where they bring in the America’s Cup sailboats when the competition is here. We remembered seeing some of the boats on our very first cruise from Auckland years ago.

Our ticket included a return ticket (we would call it a round-trip) to Devonport so we hopped on the next ferry and rode it over. Devonport reminded me a little of Russell with its Victorian styled buildings. We found a little out of the way café that had pizza and indulged. We never seemed to find it on the ship. By the time we were ready to stroll along the waterfront, those distant dark clouds were upon us and it began to rain. A little spritz at first, then harder. We walked a bit, met a couple who’d forgotten to grab an umbrella and loaned them one of ours. A little damp but happy, we all made it back to the ship in one piece.

The last day in Auckland, we took the Hop On, Hop Off Explorer bus. There were two circles, one red and one blue, each taking about one hour if you didn’t hop off. We bought our pass and caught the first bus by the pier that started us on the red circle. There was commentary at the points of interest and we got a more extensive look at the city of Auckland and some of the outlying areas on the blue line.

The red line met the blue line at the Auckland museum but we were too early to get the blue bus and the museum wasn’t open yet. We opted for the winter gardens that were a short walk from the museum. It was Saturday morning and a beautiful sunny one at that. Hundreds of children could be seen spread out on the many surrounding cricket courts. We paused to watch a bit but we’ve never been able to understand it.

Then we noticed something else unusual. People running around in inflated bubbles like the ones they get in to roll down hills. As we passed a blue van with yellow letters that read BUBBLE SOCCER, we understood. There was a yellow ball they were trying to kick into their respective goals but if they got to close to another person, they were bounced away and often bounced to the ground. The closer we got the more we could hear the giggles and laughter. It looked like a fun time.
A stroll through the winter gardens, a cup of coffee at the garden café outdoors, and we were in time to get on the first blue bus for the day. It took us to Mount Eden, Auckland’s highest point, where if we wanted to, we could have climbed up for a good view of the city. Then it was on to the zoo that was packed with visitors on a sunny Saturday. We stayed on the bus and made it back around to the museum again where we boarded the red bus for the trip back to the city center. It was a nice ride and a good way to see Auckland and had we been more ambitious and had more time, we would have hopped off and on more but we needed some lunch (seems like we’re always eating) and a post office before it closed.

Lunch was had at the base of the Sky Tower. The post office was found just in time before it closed and the rain started. Our poor table waiter was not going to get off the ship again. We kept teasing him that if he took an umbrella he wouldn’t get wet—even offered him one of ours. He just smiled and shook his head like we were crazy. I did hear him say something about being made of sugar and melting—or was that Bob?

Just before dinner and after another muster drill required for world cruisers once a month and for the newbies who had joined this segment of our cruise, the Crystal Serenity set sail to the tune of It’s A Wonderful World. A group of wedding party guests stood on the pier, all dressed in white, and waved as we backed away.








Yes, it’s a wonderful world. Oh yaaaay.
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