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Trip Report - Antarctica, Galapagos, South Pacific and more


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8 minutes ago, Anna32 said:

Day 49, Kabara Island, Fiji (February 19th)


Fiji. Another destination that evokes dreams and stirs the imagination. We will be visiting four islands in this nation, the first being Kabara today. Technically, we have half a sea day, as we will only arrive around noon. During the morning we could already see a number of the Fijian islands we were passing, both to port and starboard. Most of them are either uninhabited, or have a couple of hundred islanders, living in small villages.


Today will be a Zodiac landing, with the disclaimer that we will only do it if it is safely possible. The Captain voiced some doubts last night, as the weather forecast wasn‘t advantageous. However, today is dry and sunnier than expected. We will have to wait and see. So far, we have been very lucky with our landings on this trip.


At lunch, we were checking out the Zodiac operations and the island from the ship. The landing zone was a white sandy beach, from which you could swim. Snorkeling seemed difficult, as any reef structure was quite far out from the beach. Getting in and out of the Zodiac didn’t look too bad. However, my left shoulder has been acting up for a day or so, and I was seriously considering whether putting additional strain on it for a couple of hours on a beach would be worth it. Since we have three more stops in Fiji, and I want to give my shoulder some rest, the verdict was „no go“ for me.


Holger decided to stay on board as well, since snorkeling didn’t look promising. We did enjoy the atmosphere and also the weather, which was much better than forecasted. And spending time on the beautiful MS Europa is never a hardship.


By the way, the new guests that we spotted arriving yesterday in Tonga are Fiji officials, who will accompany us for our tour through Fiji‘s islands, and make sure we adhere to any government regulations. Nice work if you can get it!


I enjoyed the dusk hour on our wonderful balcony with a drink from our mini bar. Soft drinks and beer in the cabin are complimentary, and refilled every day. A nice breeze was blowing, and it was warm without being oppressive. One more of those moments to be filed away, and retrieved for future stress relief. For me, those are often moments where I am gazing at the endless ocean. In the words of Ankerherz, I am „gedanklich am Meer“ (with my thoughts at the sea). 


For those that don‘t know Ankerherz, I will briefly explain. They are a small independent publisher of mainly maritime-themed books. Their name translates to „anchor heart“. Also, they do a lot of community work, and have been instrumental in helping to keep many of us sane through the pandemic. I have met some truly wonderful human beings through this community, and some of them are following our adventures daily. You are all in my heart, and I am very happy I am able to take you along! ❤️


While I am at it, I would also like to thank all of those reading my daily reports. Journaling was one of my ambitions for this trip. I have a secret aspiration to be a writer, but never seem to find the time. Now, I realize how much I enjoy my daily musings, and also to share them with those who are interested. At first I was a little worried that it could seem like I am bragging about our big trip. But since I am an avid reader of travel blogs myself it felt like I could give back, in a small way. Anyway, enough of the navel gazing, it is almost dinner time.


Tonight the board band will play 80ies tunes in Gatsby‘s Bar. Maybe I can persuade Holger to go for a nightcap.

It never appears that you are bragging.  You write very well, and take us readers along for the journey. Thank you.

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Day 50, Somosomo, Taveuni, Fiji (February 20th)


Bula! In Fijian, this means Hello, Welcome or Cheers. Whatever the occasion, a versatile word. And one we heard a lot today.


First, though, we were greeted by an absolutely stunning sunrise over Taveuni, the third largest of the Fijian islands. Quite a reward for waking up early. The perfect pairing to this daybreak was a cup of coffee from our little machine. You can‘t ask for more!


Unsure about the swimming options ashore, we put our swimsuits on but left the snorkeling gear behind. With us on the tender were a number of the Fijian officials, looking important and, well, official. Nearing the dock, we were surprised to see that the pier was about a meter higher that the exit from our tender boat, and quite heavily slanted. Our crewmen put an additional box above the stairs, and then we had to take a big step onto the slanted ramp. No fun in flip flops!


Safely on land, we spotted some of the „very few“ taxis that were available on this island, according to our daily programme. About twenty of them were queuing on the pier, with more coming by the minute. All of the drivers shouted „Bula, Bula!“ and would have gladly taken us on a tour. We decided to walk for a bit, following the ship‘s photographer, a lovely lady with flaming red hair (great to spot in a crowd).


It was hot hot hot. Without the slightest breeze and a humidity of what felt like 200%, uncomfortable was the word that came to mind. At least there were no bugs. After having been eaten alive on Rarotonga, we had packed the bug spray today. No need - even those critters were avoiding the heat.


We walked along the road towards a beach area. On the way, we had to cross a stream over a wooden bridge that consisted of half-rotten boards with plenty of holes in between. Again, no fun in flip flops! Do I sound as if I‘m complaining? Well, a little bit. As stunningly beautiful as these islands are, the overall climate is too hot and humid for my taste. My body is not coping well with it. As long as there is a breeze or I can cool off in the ocean I am fine. Both were not available today, as the small beach was very stony and too close to the tender pier. I started feeling like a kettle that was slowly coming to a boil. Holger, let me know if you see steam coming out of my ears!


Somosomo, the next village, was a few kilometers away from the pier. No way was I going to walk there in this heat. We looked at each other and decided to head back to the ship and air conditioning, before we turned into lobsters.


Just as we walked back onto the pier, the reason why our tenders had to use the slanted side of the dock instead of the leveled front became apparent. A small local car ferry for inter-island service arrived, and used the front of the ramp to offload a few cars and passengers. Again, we heard a chorus of „Bula, Bula!“ walking down the pier. We resisted the temptation to just jump into a taxi and go anywhere just to get out of the heat. Instead, we tackled climbing back into our tender. Stepping down what felt like a meter from the uneven dock onto a small box that was not in any way secured to the tender felt pretty iffy. Especially in flip flops. But we managed it safely without getting hurt. 


Back on the ship, I decided to make this a pool day instead. I was already wearing my bikini, and the ship‘s pool contains sea water. So technically this is swimming in the ocean, right? The water felt pleasantly cool, even though it also had 28 degrees Celsius. I found a shady spot in a corner of the pool, out of the way of people swimming laps, and just paddled around. After it felt like I had regained a normal body temperature, I picked a lounger in the shade and just hung out and read. A few others had the same idea, but it wasn‘t very crowded. Every once in a while, a pool attendant passed by, handing out glasses of iced tea and bowls of chilled fruit salad. This is more like it!


The tenders were being hoisted up half an hour earlier than advertised. Apparently no one had the desire to stay longer than necessary. We had heard a few people grumbling about this port, the lack of facilities and general infrastructure. But hey, we are still in paradise, with beautiful (albeit very hot and humid) nature all around us, no one is forced to do anything, and there are plenty of options on the ship. Having to live here permanently, on the other hand, holds no appeal for me. I am a temperate-climate girl through and through. You probably get accustomed to it after a while, though, so never say never…


Before dinner, we are being offered a classical concert, with a Bariton singer and pianist. The theme is „Opera and Chansons“ - that allows for a pretty broad range I guess. And I can report that it was a wonderful recital, with songs from Gershwin and Cole Porter to Mozart‘s Magic Flute.

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18 hours ago, beaujolais said:

I look forward to your reports and consider them very entertainging and I will miss them when you eventually return to Germany

So keep up the good work and any chance of a photo of Mr Duck!!


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Day 51, Dravuni Island, Fiji (February 21st)


Did you know that Mr. Duck‘s favourite food are nuts? Apart from maggots, but there is no need of an in-depth analysis of his eating habits. Anyway, we made it today‘s mission to acquire a fresh coconut for Mr. Duck.


Initially we got some unwelcome news from Captain Dag. The first tender boat had gone over to the island, and had to turn back because of heavy swells. Oh no! Fortunately our brave crew was undeterred. It was deemed safer to get all of us transferred in the Zodiacs. The only hitch was that boating operations were delayed by one hour. Since we had yet to go to breakfast that was fine for us, we were in no rush.


Dravuni is a small island with only one village and about 200 people living there. It is part of the Kadavu archipelago, surrounded by the Great Astrolabe Reef. This is one of the largest barrier reefs on this planet, and an important breeding area for many big marine species such as sharks, marlins or manta rays. So apart from „Mission Coconut“, snorkeling was at the top of our agenda today.


The weather was a lot more bearable than yesterday. Still warm, but very overcast with an occasional sprinkle. When we left the ship at around 10am, Zodiac operations were in full swing. We had packed our snorkeling gear, towels, water, and some cash. Arriving at the small pier, one of the Europa‘s tour guides told us „You can do anything here for 10 Dollars. Boat rides, hair braiding, massages - all 10 Dollars“. We briefly entertained the thought of having Holger‘s hair braided, but it is a lost cause. 

Walking up the beach, we were greeted by a chorus of „Bula, Bula!“ again. Many of the villagers had set up little stalls - or merely piled up a bunch of coconuts on a dead palm trunk. The village was situated right above the beach, and we decided to explore there first. Everyone we passed by bula‘d us and wished us a lovely day. From the little kindergarten and primary school, we could hear the children singing a song. Chicken were running about. It was very idyllic. Simple, but tidy and well organized. In one corner, on an open platform with a roof, the village elders were having a meeting. 


Apart from snorkeling, the main attraction of the island was a viewpoint with a trail leading up to 120 meters. Many of the passengers went there, and we heard it was hot, sweaty, very slippery and muddy, and not really worth it. Okay, that‘s a pass from us! Later we were told one gentleman had fallen on the path and hurt himself quite badly. We hope it is nothing serious and he will be well again soon!


Strolling through the village, we headed towards the beach again. We found a good spot to leave our stuff and went into the water with our snorkeling gear. Wow! Only a few meters from shore, the corals started, framed by a healthy-looking patch of sea grass. There were all sorts of different corals, and the reef looked a lot healthier than what we have seen so far. Many areas were quite shallow, so we had to be careful not to step on anything. Fishes were plentiful, with some species we hadn‘t yet seen. Holger swam further out and saw a turtle and a reef shark. I saw some Dark Nemos, black and orange clownfish.


We swam for quite a while. First, there was a light shower, then the sun came out for a bit. Mostly it was cloudy, which was fine by us. When you had your ears under water, you could hear the reef making cracking noises. This is actually a sign of a healthy reef, which we hadn’t been able to hear at the other snorkeling places. It means there are fish - mostly parrot fish, but also others - eating the fresh corals. The product of this is a fine coral sand, and quite a lot of it. That‘s right, all those beautiful white beaches are actually fish poo. You are welcome!


As I was starting to feel tired, I made my way out of the water and under the shade of a tree. You need to be careful not to rest underneath a coconut palm, at least not without wearing a hard hat. As a reminder, some of the big nuts were lying on the floor. None had blood on them, so I guess that‘s a good sign. After a while, Holger joined me, looking very happy with his snorkeling. We slowly made our way back to the village, amid lots of Bulas. One lady offered me a massage. No, thank you, but I will buy one of those coconuts. For 5 Dollars, she opened one for me, and I got a straw for a to-go drink. The coconut water tasted sweet and even slightly fizzy. 


Back on the pier, we met the General Manager, who had been shopping, too. He had bought a big grouper, caught this morning, and two big clams. He told us he wanted to get more fish, but the catch of the day was sold out already. He still looked very pleased with himself, and brought his haul back on the Zodiac with us. On the Europa, we all had to de-sand our legs, assisted by a crewmember with a hose. In the cabin, our lovely stewardesses had left two ice-cold cans of Coke Zero in our fridge. Heaven! 


We both had to shower as we were pretty salty and sticky. And then we were just in time to go to the Lido before they stopped the lunch service at 2pm. There, we also obtained a box of ice cubes to take back to the cabin. I still had a small bottle of Tito‘s Vodka from American Airlines. Together with the fresh coconut water and the ice it made a wonderful after-lunch cocktail, sipped directly from the coconut. We will name it „The Yellow“ in honor of Mr. Duck.


Siesta time! While Mr. Duck was watching over the coconut, Holger and I took a nap. Then we had to rinse our swimming gear and get ready for the evening. We have managed to snag another reservation for Pearls, the Kaviar restaurant. Tonight they are starting a new menu, which we are excited to try. The first time the theme was „classic“ whereas now it‘s „international“.


Our dinner was absolutely exceptional, again. All six courses were delicious. Our highlight being the „Golden Egg“, a golden eggshell filled with onion confit, smoked halibut and Siberian sturgeon caviar. The caviar is frommen aquaculture in France, no sanctions were violated.


More than full, I took a little rest. However, in about 30 minutes I will make my way to the Europa Lounge, the main showroom, to see the second night of the Swing Quartet, The Fly Boys.

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Day 52, Port Denarau, Denarau Island, Fiji (February 22nd)


What a difference a day makes. Yesterday, we were in a remote island paradise, meeting a village of people whose lifestyle hadn‘t changed a lot in the last couple of hundred years. We saw beautiful nature both in- and outside of the ocean. Today we were definitely back to civilization, big time.


Denarau is a private resort island. It is attached by a bridge to Viti Levu, the largest of the Fiji Islands. Suva, the capital of Fiji is based on Viti Levu, home to about a third of the overall population. And Port Denarau is the playground of the rich and the famous. 


We had a slow start into the day. I hadn‘t slept very well and was feeling a little crabby. You know, one of those days. So we took our time this morning, and only went to breakfast around 9am. A nice toast with honey from the comb lifted my spirit. The selection, quality and variety of food offered for every meal always positively surprises me. And if you feel like a little something that is not available, the crew will go out of their way to get it for you. Not us, we are always happy with what‘s there. But to give you an example, the other day a gentleman was looking for a certain type of Swiss cheese. Someone went into the bowels of the ship to provisions and promptly got it for him. The staff are always asking if we are happy and need anything else, and try to anticipate our wishes. Truly marvelous.


Shortly after 10am, we were ready to go ashore. Our tenders were docking in the marina of Port Denarau today. The trip over took surprisingly long, about 15 minutes. Coming into the marina, I first thought we had landed in Monaco or St. Tropez. Many big white and expensive looking yachts were moored there. But there were two giveaways that we were still in Fiji: a chorus of „Bula Bula“ greeted us, and it was again very hot and humid.


Many people were selling tours. There were shuttles to all the luxury resorts, offering day passes to visitors. An 18 hole golf course was available, and of course many restaurants, shops and bars. We could have taken a boat ride, gone into a spa or have our hair braided. Wherever we looked, someone was trying to catch our eye and sell us something. We were a little overwhelmed by all the commerce, and started walking around the marina.


Nothing really caught our eye. We briefly debated taking a tour and seeing some of Viti Levu. I am sure there is a lot of beautiful nature to be found there. But the thought of cities and even more people turned us away. 


After a while, we found a nice bar and restaurant on the water. Could we just come in for drinks? Sure, they were not busy and happy for any customers. They had a selection of beers from „The Reef Brewing Company“, a local Fijian craft beer brewery. We decided on two Reef Island Lagers. Nice and refreshing, and we had some people watching included. For the first time in what felt like weeks, there were other tourists not from the MS Europa. Perfectly normal, of course, but during our trip through the beautiful South Pacific islands, we seem to have been in a little bubble. Now, we are slowly making our way back to reality. The Captain was voicing a similar sentiment this afternoon, saying that our beautiful island time is coming to an end, and it‘s the normal busy port life for him now going forward.


Anyway, we very much enjoyed our beers. And feeling that we had done our tourist duty, decided to head back to the ship and air conditioning. We were not the only ones, quite a few people were ready to go back. Everyone looked a little melting in the heat. Fortunately, the crew opened the forward windows on the tender boat, so we could get some air.


Lunch was still going on when we returned. My highlight today was a hearty goulash soup. Who would have thought I‘d crave that, in the middle of the South Pacific? It hit the spot perfectly! And then a scoop of salted crispy toffee ice cream. Sounds good? You bet!


After lunch I felt very tired. Too much sun, warmth, humidity (and probably also food and beer). So a nap was in order. Waking up, I saw a beautiful rainbow across the sea on the next island. The seascape is ever changing, and it never gets boring just to look at it.


Tonight we have another reading from our traveling actor. There is also always live music in one of the bars. Last night, the whole ship felt a little low-energy. Maybe some people overdid it with the carnival celebrations on Monday night and needed a rest. We‘ll see if there is more happening tonight.

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Day 53, At Sea enroute to Aotearoa (February 23rd)


How do you keep a ship full of Germans happy? Correct. Bavarian food, Oompah band and free alcohol. But more on that later.


The ship is swaying quite a bit under the big Pacific swells. I found this absolutely soothing last night, as it was rocking me in my sleep. We are steaming southbound, which means we are slowly leaving the tropics behind us and getting to more temperate latitudes. This was noticeable in the morning. The air was only a few degrees cooler than yesterday, but a lot less humid.


At breakfast time it was still very quiet in the Lido. Most people seemed to have a late start and taking it easy today. The last four days on Fiji have been wonderful but tiring. As it was so empty, the waiters were super attentive this morning. We had to smile as they were jostling to get to the few occupied tables first. 


At 10am, I went to the talk about our next stop, Aotearoa. The Land of the Long White Cloud. New Zealand. The land of the Haka, the Kiwi (bird and fruit) and the Kakapo.  I did not really learn anything new, but it was a great refresher of my knowledge. You will of course get all the details as we see them, bit by bit. We will be spending the next four weeks there, and are very much looking forward to seeing this wonderful country again. The North Island especially has been suffering recently, with severe flooding from two weather systems, and then further damage through Hurricane Gabrielle. We hope for a swift recovery, but are prepared to be very flexible while there.


Then it was time for lunch. As mentioned above, today that meant Bavarian specialties. Dumplings. Sauerkraut. Wonderful crispy pork knuckles. Leberknödel soup. Kaiserschmarren. And many other delicacies. The board band was providing live entertainment in the form of popular German songs  that everyone could sing along with. The bar had free beer on tap. And our lovely Cruise Director was making the rounds with a large bottle of Obstler schnaps. 

Maybe you guessed it - we needed a nap afterwards. Which was fortunately interrupted by the Staff Captain and his nautical update at 4pm. The main point of interest was that the pool had to be drained today. With the swaying of the ship there was danger of flooding the pool deck otherwise.


This being our fifth wedding anniversary today, we decided to open the bottle of champagne that was sitting in our fridge since day one. We toasted to health, happiness and love. Of course Mr. Duck demanded his share. He had been the ring bearer and general master of ceremonies at our wedding, so was very much part of the occasion.


At 5:30pm, the ship‘s GM was giving a talk about provisioning the ship on a voyage like ours. Pre-covid it would have been possible to do a tour through the galleys and storage rooms. Today we are getting the virtual tour.


What we were not aware of is that the ship‘s crew has basically been shopping in every port or island that we have visited. A lot of the fresh food has not reached us in Papeete. Mainly goods normally coming from NZ have been unavailable. So in Bora Bora, the GM had to buy 100 Kilos of salad from a local farmer.  He brought a lot of pictures from the different markets they visited, and also told us that on the Fiji islands, first thing in the morning a senior crew member had to go ashore with gifts for the chiefs, to get their blessings for our visit. Hapag Lloyd are planning these voyages three years in advance, and still net to be flexible and adapt to any situation. Absolutely fascinating!

Tonight to celebrate the occasion we have a reservation in The Globe. This specialty restaurant and its menu have been designed by Kevin Fehling, a three-star Michelin chef. He has his main restaurant very close to where we live in Hamburg, but we have yet to go there. His connection to MS Europa? He used to be Sous Chef on the ship at the start of his career.  We are very much looking forward to a special evening.


And we can report it was an exceptional culinary evening. My highlight was a deconstructed cucumber salad - the dessert. Fantastic! And my grand finale was a classic concert with harp, flute and baritone.

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Day 54, At Sea enroute to Aotearoa (February 24th)


We are getting closer and closer to New Zealand, and the air is feeling noticeably crisper. Sitting out on our balcony, I was actually considering putting on my fleece jacket for comfort. Feels great!


After yesterday’s talk on provisioning and buying groceries ashore, I was looking at the breakfast buffet with new eyes. And promptly found a plastic bottle with a handwritten sign „Fiji Honey“ on it. Of course I had to try it. Now I‘m no expert on honey, although I know that it can have a huge variety of flavours, depending on the pollen that the bees collected. This one tasted rich and fruity, and also a little tropical. Very nice!


Today is laundry day. In our case that means sorting through the garments, counting them, marking the laundry slip accordingly, putting everything in the laundry bag and leaving it on the bed to be collected. Hard work! The talk this morning in the Europa Lounge was about seabirds of New Zealand. Mainly Albatross, Gannets and Penguins. We hope to see all of them when we are there. At 11am there was another talk by a German politician who is traveling as a guest onboard. We are not sure if he asked or was asked to be featured as a speaker. With politicians you never know. Anyway, we didn’t feel the urge to go, so cannot report.


And that‘s our morning done and dusted. Time seems to fly on sea days, and before we knew it, it was lunch time again. Today‘s special was Paella, which was showcased in a huge pan. It was pretty good. Not quite as good as in Barcelona, but very nice, with lots of seafood in it.


Even though we still have two full days left, tonight is our farewell evening. Tomorrow and Sunday are port days, where we will be busy touring and then have to tackle packing our suitcases again. To celebrate the occasion, the crew choir will sing for us, there will be cocktails on the pool deck and the galley has prepared an extra special dinner. We are not quite ready to say goodbye yet, but will certainly enjoy the evening.


We took a walk around the promenade on deck 9 to enjoy the beautiful evening. Then we spend some time in the library, doing a little research on New Zealand. When it was time for dinner, we very much enjoyed the Lido again, with caviar, lobster and a wonderful porcini mushroom soup. Holger had an interesting discussion with one of the chefs on the science of baking bread. The so called Nature Bread that we get every day here is always fantastic. The chef told Holger he doesn’t use a strict recipe, he just knows how to do it.

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Day 55, Bay of Islands, New Zealand (February 25th)


A sweet smell was lying over the Bay of Islands when we entered this morning. Almost like honey. We believe it comes from the many manuka trees growing here. It was wonderful and a little magical. What a welcome to Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud. Kia ora!


The sweet smell was soon replaced by our ship‘s tenders and their diesels, which were made ready for the day. Our tender dock today was in Paihia, a cute little town in the „Far North“, as the New Zealanders say. Sounds funny to me, far north being the wild lands beyond the North Cape of Norway. And for the first time this whole cruise, we were not the only ship in the bay. The Oceania Regatta was moored in the vicinity. I believe she is also doing a world cruise, like the MS Europa.


We had a tour booked today, so had to take one of the first tenders ashore. The little marina of Paihia was already starting to get busy, with two cruise ships in town and various tours being offered. Ours was called „Countryside with Waitangi and Puketi“. As usual, all ze Tschermans were on time. Our guide was Sarah, a German who has emigrated to NZ, as well as Rhys, our driver. Sarah was a little nervous - this was her very first tour since pre-Covid. She did great, and got more and more relaxed during the day.


We started our drive through the beautiful landscape. Green hills and a lot of farmland. This area has been settled by the Maoris for about 1.000 years. Later, the Europeans arriving to NZ chose the same, fertile lands. No wonder that the first known building, from the early 1800s, stands here. It is a wooden mission house. Right next to it is the Stone Store, the first stone building. We visited both at our first stop, Kororipo Heritage Park. The buildings are embedded in a beautiful farm garden even today, very idyllic.

This was only a short stop on the way to Puketi Forest. Here, we would be able to see a small remaining part of New Zealand‘s native forests, including the mighty Kauri trees. Arriving there, we could feel that the dense forest provided its own climate zone. It was noticeably cooler and more humid. We took a loop around a boardwalk, which was designed to keep us off the forest floor. Sarah explained that the Kauri trees suffer from a disease spread by a fungus. And the main spreaders are humans, carrying the spores under their shoes. 


We greatly enjoyed our walk. Some of the Kauris were simply huge, both in height and girth. There were also countless species of endemic farns. We could hear crickets chirping, and smell the green dampness of the wood. A very impressive and special place. Sad that only so little of it is left. The Maori were cutting down small parts of the forests, but the main decline came with the European settlers. We simply can‘t seem to limit ourselves or practice moderation. 


The history between the Maori and the Europeans became even more tangible at our next stop, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Here, in 1840, a formal Declaration of Independence and Treaty between the Māori chiefs and settlers of the day had been signed. Conveniently, the Treaty version in the Māori language has a very different meaning than the English. The Māori at the time believed that their independence and right to self-govern was protected. It became apparent very quickly that this was not the case. Several wars followed, with the Māori being quite successful in defeating the British. However, a steady stream of settlers kept coming, and by the time the last war ended, the Māori were clearly in the minority. England simply decided to annex the country and that was it. This has still not been fully rectified to this day, but at least the dialogue is ongoing.


With our heads crammed full of history, we made our way back to the tender dock. The day was absolutely beautiful, with lightly cloudy skies, lots of sunshine and moderate temperatures. And for the first time since Papeete, my iPhone gave me adequate mobile data reception. I used this to finally book a hotel for our first few nights in Auckland. What, late you say? We have two more nights on the ship, that‘s plenty of time to get organized!


We had a beautiful sailaway from Bay of Islands. The chef and his team had prepared an Apero on the pool deck. We had wonderful tuna sashimi, a delicious German Grauburgunder wine (from Markus Schneider / Pfalz, for those who are interested) and the best views anybody could wish for. Holger and I sat for an hour in our new favourite place on deck 9, just gazing out to sea. Then it was dinner time. My menu today was oxtail soup, shrimps, pulpo pasta and a yogurt mousse. Very good, as always.


Tonight, we will have another concert by Orange Blue, the German pop band.

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Day 56, Waiheke Island, New Zealand (February 26th)


There is something special about waking up to a new destination every morning. Each night we leave a little bit of the curtains open, so we can peak out at first light. Today, we could see the green shores of Waiheke Island slowly passing by, before we dropped anchor.


Waiheke is very close to Auckland. Its microclimate lends itself to the growing of grapes, so a large portion of the island is covered by vineyards. It is also a popular holiday and day-trip destination for many visitors, especially in the summer. 


At breakfast, we could already see the skyline of Auckland in the distance, across the bay. There is a regular ferry service over to Waiheke Island, and today being a sunny Sunday, it was busy. We left the ship shortly after 10am and hopped on a waiting tender boat. The pier at Matiatia was very busy, as the Auckland ferry had just dropped a full load of day visitors on the island. We needed a moment to orient ourselves. MS Europa was providing a Shuttle Bus to the village of Oneroa  today. We found it quickly. Surprisingly, we were the only guests on this ride. The lovely driver lady used the five-minute drive for a quick briefing about all the things to see and do on Waiheke.


The bus dropped us off in the middle of Oneroa. The village lies above a beautiful beach, providing beautiful views across the bay. Besides many stores, cafés and restaurants, there were a number of galleries and art exhibitions. The whole setup and infrastructure was geared towards tourism. The last couple of years must have been lonely ones, but there were no visible signs that the village had suffered economic hardship. Everything was bustling and fresh-looking.


We decided that our tour today would be a stroll through Oneroa, followed by ice cream at the Island Gelato Company and a walk back to the pier at Matiatia. We greatly enjoyed the views down to the beach area. So were a number of other tourists. One young man was so enthralled by his female Asian companion that he kept moving backwards, taking pictures of her posing, until he solidly stood on my flip-flopped foot. Hey dude, watch out!


The gelato store came highly recommended by our bus driver, and was hopping. I tried the blueberry - kaffir lime and Holger the Waiheke plum. Both were really good, but needed to be consumed quickly in the warm sunshine. Then we started our walk back to the pier. Whenever there was no traffic we could hear the crickets, who were easily as noisy as the cars. A lot of signs across the island pointed towards hiking trails, various sights and wineries. We even saw a hop-on hop-off bus going across the island.


Back on the ship, our lovely stewardess had left some less-than-subtle hints that it was time for packing. Our suitcases were out from under the bed, and a packing mat was on it. Okay, okay, we‘ll do it!


We were interested to check out the video of this voyage, put together by the ship‘s cinematographer. Where the Antarctica one from Silversea was short and sweet, this one wasn‘t. Over an hour of video was a bit long for our taste. We both had visions of childhood Super8 holiday video nights gone bad. But fortunately this was one of only very few things  on this cruise where we had constructive criticism. And the video was followed directly by a last wonderful dinner in the Lido. 


In the meantime, the MS Europa had docked in Auckland Harbour. After dinner, we took a walk up on deck nine and enjoyed the evening views. We could have gone ashore already, but were in no rush. We will have five wonderful days in Auckland before we go exploring the rest of the country. And we will enjoy our last night on the MS Europa very much.

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Day 57, Goodbye MS Europa, Hello Auckland! (February 27th)


Yes, okay, we know we will have to leave soon. Still, banging around in front of our balcony at 5:30 in the morning, offloading containers is just rude! Apparently every minute counts as the ship has a big loading today. 


We are slowly getting ready, enjoying a last cup of coffee from our little machine, and a leisurely breakfast. Then our group „black“ is called, and we‘re off the ship before we know it. Immigration is in a large old warehouse with wooden floors next to the ship. It has this „old port building“ smell, just wonderful. Our passports get inspected, and then we‘re down on the ground floor to pick up our luggage. Everything is organized very well, almost no wait times. We get asked the omnipresent biosecurity questions: no fruits, veggies, sandwiches? No honey or wooden souvenirs? Nope nope nope. Okay, we‘re good to go. However, we do see others being picked out and having to open their luggage, the NZ authorities take their job seriously.


At the building exit we are asked to leave our suitcases again. They will be transported to the hotel separately. A bus is already waiting for us, and we‘re off quickly. A second bus is waiting for the stragglers and those whose luggage got inspected. Monday morning traffic in Auckland is not too bad, and after 10 minutes we‘re at the hotel. We probably could have walked from the port in the same time, but we‘re not complaining. Hapag Lloyd have organized a room in the hotel‘s conference center as a farewell point. We can leave our hand luggage there, drinks and WiFi are provided. In another room is the welcome point for arriving guests. 


Since we will be staying at this hotel for five nights, we let the front desk know and enquire about an early check-in. They promise to prioritize our room, and ask us to come back in an hour or so. Perfect! We head out for a little bit. The hotel is very close to the Sky Tower. We have gone up top three years ago, so probably won‘t do it this time. But we go exploring around it. There is lots of construction in central Auckland. On the other hand, we see a lot of properties for rent, sale or auction. I am magnetically drawn into an Asian convenience store, looking in fascination at all the colourful snacks and drinks. We end up getting some drinks from a regular convenience store, where we can read the labels.


Back at the hotel our room is ready, yeah! We take a break and put our feet up for a while. Holger calls it „shiplag“ - maybe that‘s a thing! Later, we will be meeting our friends Allison and Paul for dinner. We have been here in Auckland in mid-February 2020, shortly before the first lockdown. It feels absolutely great to be back, and catch up in person again!


And that‘s what we did. We had a wonderful dinner at an Italian place near the harbour. The food was great, and the conversation even better. Plus, we got many ideas for our trip around the South Island. Stay tuned!

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Day 58, Weta Workshop Unleashed (February 28th)


We slept very well last night, until shortly before 6am. At 6 I had a work call, that had been rescheduled just to fit me in. Okay, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed I was not. Hopefully it wasn’t too visible on the video call…


Our morning was spend checking emails and taking care of general stuff. After almost three weeks of very limited wifi, we were back to reality. At around 10am, we left the hotel and found a delicatessen close to the Sky Tower. Coffee and a cinnamon bun were a great treat. With all due respect to our American friends, but the Kiwis know how to do coffee! 


While sitting outside in the sun, we saw our friend Allison arriving. By recommendation of Paul, she had organized tickets to the Weta Workshop Unleashed experience. Weta Workshops are the special effects company that famously did a lot of the costumes, models and props for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. They helped put Aotearoa on the map for film making. 


How to describe the Weta Workshop Unleashed Experience? It is a tour through not one but three different movie sets. And more. You can get your hands on things and get a little creative yourself. You can immerse yourself in fantastic realms. And as a movie fan, you can find tons of references and Easter eggs in the exhibition.


A guide takes you with a small group through the different areas. First of, you‘re on a set of a classical „creature feature“ horror monster movie. You can see how the props are being made, make up, wigs, masks and costumes. At the end, there is a small „horror house“ experience. Not too scary, but you don‘t have to do it if you don’t want to.


The second set it from a fantasy movie. You see storyboards and conceptual pieces, but also large-scale model building. You can see different materials to create chain mail, for example, but also get your hands on sculpting with tin foil.


The third set is a science fiction piece, with a huge animatronic robot. Here you can experience an actual filming stage. With a grand finale. If you ever come to Auckland, we can highly recommend doing this both for young and older movie fans. All three movies are currently in production. Once they come out, we will feel very much „in the know“, and actually cannot wait to see all three of them.


After this experience, we felt like getting some lunch. Allison took us to a lovely Mediterranean place with a great mezze menu for lunch. Just hit the spot perfectly, and with great conversation, time flew by. We decided to call it a day, since we will reconvene tomorrow for more sightseeing.


Holger and I walked back uptown (there was quite a hilly climb involved), passing the huge construction area for the new underground line. This has been going on for a long time. Will be interesting to see how downtown Auckland will be transformed once it‘s finished. We grabbed some water from a convenience store and then put our feet up for a bit in our hotel room.


And that‘s where we stayed for the rest of the day. I had to work a little bit, and we decided to order pizza. Which was delicious.

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Day 59, Devonport and North Shore (March 1st)


Today we did a bit more sightseeing, and visited some very scenic areas of Auckland. Allison picked us up at around 10am. She had left home in West Auckland at 8:30am to battle the rush hour traffic. As in many cities, it is a pain having to drive downtown in the busy hours of the day. 


We crossed Auckland Harbour Bridge, one of the iconic landmarks of the city. Very cleverly, some lanes can be automatically reassigned depending on the general direction of traffic. Great for loadbalancing if it works! We then drove into Devonport. This neighbourhood is upscale, with lots of very beautiful old wooden villas. There are no highrises, and the streets have a cosy, charming feel to them. Devonport can also be accessed by ferry from downtown Auckland, if one doesn’t want to drive.


We found a parking space on the main road, and went in search of some breakfast. The Manuka Café had a lovely table outside available. We ordered our coffees and each got a blueberry or raspberry muffin to go with it. Most excellent! And I can only repeat myself, Aotearoa has a great coffee culture. Allison had kindly prepared a map of the South Island with her recommendation for an itinerary, so we had lots to talk about over breakfast.


Moving on, we drove to North Head Maunganuika, one of the volcanic cones around Auckland. A grassy walk around the hill offers wonderful views of the city and the bay. On top of the hill, there are some historic cannons. Underneath them are tunnels, some of them apparently stretching under half of the city. The weather was absolutely wonderful, sunny, some clouds, warm but not too warm. Lovely!


We greatly enjoyed our little walk and the beautiful scenery. All too soon it was time to move on, though. Isn’t it strange how time can drag on, and then absolutely flies when you are having a great time? Anyway, we had a lunch date with Paul in Ponsonby, where he works. Driving back over the Harbour Bridge, we could see an absolutely huge marina close to the city centre. 


We found a parking spot on Ponsonby Road. What a delightful part of the city! Lots of little shops, cafés and eateries invite you to spend some time and soak up the atmosphere. We had lunch at The Hidden Village, a Filipino / Asian fusion restaurant. We sampled a few of their dishes and were more than happy, even taking a doggy bag home. I could have spend a lot of time here, browsing the shops. We briefly went into a little grocery, carrying a lot of local goodies, and got a few things. Then it was already time to head back, as Allison had another appointment to make. She‘s a busy lady!


Today we finally got organized for the South Island. At least a little bit. Large parts of the North Island are currently still inaccessible due to the flooding, and cyclone Gabrielle. Specifically, Napier, the Art Deco City, is not open for tourism. Also, the ferry service between the North and South Island seems to be limited and unreliable at the moment. Allison and Paul strongly recommended we fly to Christchurch and back, and drive a loop around the South Island. 


I have booked our flights to and from Christchurch today. I also rebooked our final flight home, to go a week earlier than originally planned. We have discussed it quite thoroughly, and both feel that another three weeks in Aotearoa will be fantastic, but it will also be great to have a full week back home to readjust. Our trip so far has been a dream come true, and we are enjoying every minute. However, we also miss home, and especially our cats. So brace yourselves, we are getting into the final stretch of our journey!


For dinner, we went to Elliott Stables. This is an old Edwardian warehouse, transformed into a food court with a great variety of options. We choose Italian, and we’re quite happy with our Spaghetti Frutti Di Mare and seafood risotto. Walking back to our hotel, I found a sticker of my local football club (from back home) at a lamppost. That must be a sign!

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Day 60, Auckland Zoo (March 2nd)


After a busy morning making plans and bookings for the South Island, we decided to visit the zoo. Traveling the world, zoos and aquariums are among our favourite sights to see. Of course, seeing wildlife in its natural habitat is even better. But zoos are the next best thing, in our minds. And Auckland Zoo holds a special place in our hearts. Visiting Aotearoa in February of 2020, it was one of the last places we saw before the first lockdown. We have fond memories, which we wanted to refresh today.


We ordered an Uber, which came within a couple of minutes. The driver was brilliant, keeping up a friendly conversation and giving us driving tips for the South Island. He dropped us directly at the zoo entrance. There was no queue, and we got the recommendation to visit the keeper talk for the Kiwis at 1:15. Will do!


The zoo hosts six distinctive habitats, connected with walking trails. All the enclosures are beautiful, with some being brand new. Those were under construction when we last visited, and we were very impressed with the development. We started our loop on the African Safari Track. Having just been to South Africa last November, this was a great reminder of our time there. Giraffes, zebras, ostriches and antelopes were in the first enclosure. The giraffes had a baby, which stayed close to its mother. Very cute! We then saw meerkats, leopard tortoises and lovebirds. In their nesting boxes, they build a fake (and empty) upper nest to confuse predators, with a secret tunnel to the lower nest, where the eggs are. 


The lions were not visible. One of the volunteers told us they had a big feed yesterday, and were now sleeping off their full stomachs. Can‘t blame them, it was warm and sunny, ideal for a good snooze! We took a break near the Asian elephants to get a coffee and ice cream. I tried the famous Hokey Pokey, a creamy vanilla with pieces of honeycomb in it. Yummy! It was great fun to watch the seagulls around the café. One was really stressing, running around and keeping the others at a distance. In between, there were some chicken walking around.


Next, we saw the baboons. Those little vandals  had wrecked the veranda of our cabin and partied on our roof during our last night in Africa. They didn’t look half as intimidating today as they sounded back then. Next up was the local habitat for New Zealand, with mainly birds and lizards. We were hoping to see the Takahe again - last time Mr. Duck had a very memorable encounter with one. But he must have taken the day off. The keas, on the other hand, were very interested in meeting Mr. Duck. He had to beat a hasty retreat when one of the sharp beaks got very close to him.


Now we were right on time for the keeper talk at the kiwi and ruru enclosure. Last time we only briefly saw one kiwi. Today, we saw all four of them, two breeding couples. Plus the ruru, a small local owl. The enclosure is kept very dark for these nocturnal animals, but once your eyes adjust you can actually see quite a bit. The kiwis got very excited at feeding time. We never knew they could run so fast! 


We also saw some lizards, a fur seal and some little blue fairy penguins. Seals and penguins are rescue animals that wouldn’t survive in the wild any longer. One was missing an eye, and one had only one flipper left. Mostly they get caught in fishing nets. Any animals that are able to survive in the wild will be brought back to health and then let go.


After a quick lunch break, we walked through the South East Asia Jungle Track, containing a huge enclosure for Siamangs. They were high up in the canopy, very impressive! Next up was the Australian Bush Track and finally the South America Rainforest Track, which had a lot of different monkeys. We spend some time at every enclosure, and after a while could almost always see the animals. Holger took tons of pictures.


What a great day! It it got even better! We met Paul for dinner downtown and went to a place called Depot. They had tapas and shareable dishes, often with a Mediterranean twist. Very delicious. After that we took a little walk through downtown, and just chatted away. The best ship is friendship! ❤️

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Day 61, West Auckland / Oratia (March 3rd)


This morning we had to reshuffle our luggage. We will leave a few pieces with Allison and Paul when we fly down to Christchurch, so had to organize our suitcases. Took longer than we thought it would. Things have started to accumulate. We didn’t buy that many souvenirs, it‘s also some of the free stuff we have been given. Waterbottle and parka from Silversea. A tote bag and jar of sea salt from Hapag Lloyd. And a few other bits and pieces. Now we are trimmed down and ready for the South Island.


Allison picked us up around 11am, and then we drove out to West Auckland, where she and a large part of her family live. We had a brunch-lunch at the Bodega Eatery. Holger had a huge breakfast plate with poached eggs, potatoes, bacon, chorizo, mushrooms etc. I had a cheese plate, and Allison had a steak. All very good and filling. Then we wanted to go up into the hills to see some of the native forests with Kauri trees. The area - or at least the roads leading there - were still closed after the flooding, unfortunately. So instead, she took us to the piece of land she acquired together with some of her children.


What a beautiful area, lush grass, bamboo and a little orchard, with a stream running through it. In one corner, there was an enclosure for two Kunekune pigs. This local New Zealand race has been bred mostly by Māori farmers, and almost become extinct until a breeding programme started in the 80ies. Anyway, they came happily grunting to the fence and were asking for scratches, and I gladly complied.


Allison and Holger went off to explore the lands, while I decided to spend more time with the pigs. Then, as I was just minding my own business, I saw that the piggies had escaped their enclosure, and were grunting their way to the neighbours‘ gardens. Oh no! I tried to herd them back, and at least managed to keep them on their own land. Far in the distance I could see Allison and Holger, but they didn‘t hear my shouting. Fortunately, five minutes later, Ingrid showed up. She is Allison‘s daughter in law and the rightful pig owner. When she got a bunch of carrots and called the piggies, they followed her back to their pen, happily grunting and squealing. Phew!


We then went to visit with Paul and get rid of our excess luggage, before Allison took us back to our hotel. What a delightful day just doing nothing much, really. Those are sometimes the best. Thank you so so much to Paul and especially Allison for being such delightful hosts and travel advisors! We hope to catch up with them over dinner one more time when we return from the South Island.


For our dinner tonight, we found a neighborhood shed-turned-food truck. They were out of fish & chips, but the burrito bowl and cheeseburger were very good. I will have a couple of work meetings later tonight, and then will probably dream about my little piggy adventure.

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Day 62, Auckland to Christchurch to Kaikoura (March 4th)


6am alarm clock, on a Saturday, no less - ewww. However, the South Island is waiting for us, wakey wakey! We jumped under the shower and packed our stuff. The Uber I had ordered was right on time, and traffic was light. We were quickly at the domestic terminal of Auckland airport and dropped off our big yellow suitcases. 


The Air New Zealand domestic lounge was right behind security. Coffee!!! Boosted by caffeine, I felt energized and ready for the next part of our trip. Our plane was on time, and before we knew it we were touching down in Christchurch and collecting our luggage. The shuttle for the rental car pick-up was already waiting, smooth as can be.


We hit a slight snag when the rental car company did not accept Holger‘s EU driver’s license. Because it had to be in English. Conveniently, they connected us with an online translation service for a „small fee“. *****? This sounded like a class A scam to us, but there was nothing we could do about it. We have rented cars in a lot of countries and never had issues like that. 


And then we waited. And waited. We started chatting with Clara from France. She had run into the same predicament, and was as frustrated as we were. Turned out she had just returned from a research trip to Antarctica. She had spent time in Scott Base, NZ‘s station, and McMurdo, the huge US station. She also sailed for several weeks with a commercial fishing vessel along the Ross Ice Shelf, to study how sustainable the fishing process is. Talking to her was very fascinating, and helped pass the almost three hours we had to wait.


Finally, success. Both Clara and we got our cars, and were off. Fortunately we only had a two-hour drive to Kaikoura planned for today. We made a brief pit stop at a supermarket, and then found and followed the North Road. It was very scenic, with green hills, pastures dotted with sheep and Holstein cows, vineyards and the occasional river to cross. We could have made any number of stops to enjoy the scenery. However, at that point it started raining. First a slow drizzle, then big fat drops. We finally came to the ocean, but visibility was very poor due to the rain, so we didn’t take any pretty pictures today. 


We had a quick dinner at the hotel. Holger finally got his fish&chips, and I had the clam linguini. Both very good. And then we retired for the night, as we have a very early tour tomorrow.

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Day 63, Kaikoura to Blenheim (March 5th)


Another 6am wake-up call. And we could hear the rain outside. Ugh. But no rest for the wicked, we have an appointment to see sperm whales! So have around 90 other people, queuing at the whale watching station. The tour is sold out. And, as the display above the ticket counter announces, there is „a high chance of seasickness and low visibility due to fog“. Great. But the tour is running today, so we are happy.


Busses bring everyone to the whale watching catamaran on the other side of the peninsula, in South Bay. We find a place in the last row of seats by the window. After a short safety briefing, the cat is cast off and we are underway. The Captain really opens up the throttle, and we race and bounce across the ocean. Until we suddenly stop. There! A pod of Dusky Dolphins! They swim by close to the ship, but only stay for a short hello. A gas station of petrels is following the ship, and so is a wandering albatross. Beautiful! 


The Captain puts the hydrophone into the water, to hear the typical clicking sounds of the sperm whales. Those whales stay in the vicinity of Kaikoura year-round, as there is a steep underwater cliff drop-off where they hunt large fish and giant squid, who live here. They are also known to eat sharks, and are the largest mammalian predator. But right here, right now, no clicking sounds are heard. The hydrophone can receive sounds in a radius of up to five miles. So we have to move on.


The first people are starting to look a little green at the gills from the motion of the ocean. They had been warned, and maybe should have stayed behind. After a couple of miles, another stop. Engines off, hydrophone in the water. We are all asked to come outside and enjoy the views. Of the rain, and seasick people… Still no clicking. So onward to the next stop. We do this start-stop routine about five times altogether, but today the sperm whales seem to have better things to do. The sound of retching grows stronger. I am starting to feel slightly sorry for humanity, thinking that most of us are apparently not meant to be out on the ocean. I have never been seasick a moment in my life, so easy for me to say probably. 


After five unsuccessful soundings, we give up and return to port. Whale Watch Kaikoura claims a 95% success rate - so we‘re part of the exclusive 5%, apparently. We will get an 80% refund on our ticket price. This is processed immediately, two hours later my credit card company sends me an updated receipt. Kaikoura is a beautiful place, we hope to come back in the sunshine, and maybe have more luck with the whales.


It is raining the whole way to Blenheim. Some stretches of the road run very close to the ocean, and we admire the waves crashing to the shore. I love driving along the ocean, even in the rain. At some point the road points further inland, and climbs through some hills and smaller mountains. Driving through a pass, we are stopped by an „accident ahead“ sign. Slowly we are passing. I am shocked to see an overturned car ten meters deeper on the side of the mountain. It has crashed through the road barrier and landed on its roof. The fire brigade and an ambulance are there. I sincerely hope no one in that car got seriously injured. Very sobering.


We reach Blenheim. Now, being told about this heart of the New Zealand wine region, I had visions of Stellenbosch in South Africa, or maybe some of the villages along the Loire. Not so much. Blenheim is a very functional place. We take quite a long time searching for somewhere to have lunch, that is not an American franchise. Finally, we stumble across a café that looks okay. It is very busy with the locals having Sunday brunch, but we get a small table. After waiting for quite a long time, the food is okay-ish. Today is just one of those days, apparently.


Since my stomach has given me some grief lately with too much acidity, I pass on the wine tasting opportunities, and decide to have a nap. Our hotel is very nice, and the positive surprise of the day. It is still raining outside, but the forecast for the next couple of days is a lot better.


We have dinner in the hotel restaurant, which is very good, and also very busy with a big group of people. We are seated in a side room with the sliding door closed, to manage the noise. The food is lovely, and a great ending to this mixed bag of a day.

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Day 64, Blenheim to Nelson (March 6th)


No 6am wake-up call, and no rain. What a great morning! Okay, some invoices that need to be paid have reached us from Germany, but with online banking this is swiftly dealt with. 


We leave our hotel shortly after 9am, and make a quick stop at a local supermarket to refill on water, soft drinks and car snacks. Then we follow the road towards Picton, through lovely and lush green countryside, scrubbed squeaky clean by the rain of the last days. Here and there, cows and sheep are grazing. Everything looks peaceful and quiet. The movie set for Hobbiton and The Shire is on the North Island, but it still looks as if Bilbo Baggins and the dwarfs are right around the corner, starting off on a great adventure.


Reaching Picton, we immediately spot the sign for Queen Charlotte Drive, the scenic route along the coast. We had scouted this byway on the map, and are happy to have found it so easily. We stop at the first lookout point, that gives us a fantastic view across the sound towards Picton and the ferry dock. Two ferry companies service the route between the North and South Islands, but both seem to have technical issues with their ships at the moment. We have been warned not to rely on this service. Currently there is one ferry in Picton, but we cannot spot whether it‘s operational or not.


Driving onwards on the winding road we could easily stop every couple of hundred metres, with one viewing area following the next. In many parking spaces there are caravans, sometimes parked all across the marked spaces. We assume this could get really annoying during high season, when you cannot find space for your car for a quick stop or picnic. Today it is not so bad, we can always find a spot whenever we want to stop.


After about 35 kilometers along Queen Charlotte Drive we reach Havelock. The Green Mussels Capital of the World, in case you didn’t know! We stop for lunch at The Captain‘s Daughter. Who promptly tells us they are all out of mussels today. Fortunately, the rest of their menu is available. I have delicious hake & chips, which achieves the perfect balance between crispy and moist. And Holger has a huge bowl of the seafood chowder. We are very happy, sitting out on the terrace overlooking the bay, basking in the autumnal sunshine and filling our tummy with yummy food.


After this wonderful lunch break, we continue on to Nelson. I had to smile when I booked our hotel - could there be a more fitting address than „Trafalgar Street, Nelson“? It‘s those small things that constantly make me smile when traveling. People must think I‘m a bit daft when they see me grinning stupidly. But I‘m just happy to be able to enjoy my life and this wonderful journey, and to take all you lovely readers along for the ride.


The road to Nelson is winding and going up and down mountainsides. Again, very scenic. Close to Nelson we come down to a huge bay. The tide is out, and we watch a gang of oystercatchers busily picking in the mud. Our hotel is close to the city center. Again, we are positively surprised. The decor is somewhat loud (someone fancies jungle decoration), but our room is equipped with a full-size kitchen, work desk and - best of all - a washer-dryer combo. 


After a brief rest, we take a walk along the river down to the seashore. The tide is still out, we will have to check back when there‘s more water. Looking at the town center, the local landmark seems to be a clocktower, attached to what I presume is City Hall. The overall impression is that of a cross between a medieval guild hall and an atomic bunker. Weird, but very recognizable.


We have dinner in the hotel restaurant. Very good, but the group of German tourists at the next table makes us cringe. Does that happen to everybody who runs into their fellow countrypeople abroad? 

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Day 65, Abel Tasman National Park (March 7th)


This morning, the river behind our hotel has a lot more water, so there seems to be a significant tidal movement. We enjoy the view with a cup of morning joe, courtesy of the little machine our room is equipped with. This is just the best, leisurely starting the day and looking forward to new adventures.


First, though, we make use of our in-room laundry equipment. I had been prepared to hand wash a couple of necessities. But now we should be good until our flight home in two weeks‘ time. 


Today we want to explore Able Tasman National Park. To get there, we drive west from Nelson to Motueka. The area seems more industrial than we have so far seen on the South Island. Once we have passed Motueka, the road is narrow and winding again, and everything looks a lot more touristy. Including the busses and caravans that become more and more plentiful the closer we get to the park.


At Kaiteriteri, we park our car. We have decided to conduct our further exploration by boat, hoping for a better outcome than during our recent whale watching adventure. The day is beautiful, and the beach at Kaiteriteri is full of people enjoying the sunshine. We check in with the boating company, and receive our tickets as well as our picnic lunches. There is still time until our tour, so we soak up the beach vibes with a scoop of gelato. Then our tour boat arrives. Again, a catamaran. The Captain puts the bows on the beach and drops down a plank so we can walk aboard. 


Our tour will go from Kaiteriteri up the coast to Totaranui, stopping at different beaches and viewpoints along the way. Some people will do the whole roundtrip, like us, while others will get on and off the boat at different stops. Some are even carrying luggage, for an overnight in the park.


We admire the beautiful views, while the cat speeds smoothly along the coast. Today there is no significant chance of seasickness I would say. There is, however, a chance to lose my cap in the wind. Fortunately I carry a big shawl and wrap it around my head Grace Kelly style.


Our first stop is Split Apple Rock. A big round block of granite split in the middle. The split occurred along natural fissure lines, but it looks as though a giant had cut the rock in the middle. Very unique. As we move up the coast, rough walls of granite interspersed with white sandy beaches are framed by forests cut by rivers flowing into the ocean. We see lots of people enjoying the beautiful nature, swimming, hiking and kayaking. Apart from all the tourists, this also seems to be a recreational spot for the locals. Autumn is not far away, and everyone is out and about making the most of this sunny day.


We pass a colony of New Zealand fur seals, basking in the sun, like everyone else does, today. Very understandable. According to the map we have been given, there are still some privately-owned settlements in the park. All in the name of conservation, of course, and to offer tourists a sustainable place to stay. Any protection is better than none, I guess. And anybody who can track their ancestors back to the first settlers around here seems to see it as their birthright to make a living off these lands. The same is unfortunately not true for the Māori that used to live around here before the Europeans arrived. They have been driven away mostly, and only some local site names preserve their history.


Alright, I digress. We greatly enjoyed our little cruise. After sitting outside on the upper deck for the first half of the trip, we go downstairs and inside for the return part. A huge group of passengers joins us on one of the beaches, and the boat really fills up. When we arrive back in Kaiteriteri, the tide has dropped so low that we need to disembark the boat at the opposite end of the beach, so as not to completely ground the catamaran. We walk the plank again, and climb back up the beach to the car park. The highlight of our drive back to Nelson is that we see a plantation of kiwifruit, hidden behind high hedges.


Did you know that March 7th, 2023 is Census Day in New Zealand? Every person physically present in the country has to fill out a census form, in either English or Māori. We do ours online, and after stating about five times that we are German nationals with no permanent residence in NZ, can submit an abbreviated version. Statistics: check.

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Day 66, Nelson to Carters Beach (March 8th)


Instead of the forecasted sunshine, we wake up to a cloudy sky. Oh, nevermind. Today is „commute day“, we move over to the west coast. First, though, I‘m researching the details of our itinerary for week two on the South Island. My planning skills are at their best when my brain is well rested and I‘ve had coffee. This is looking great, fingers crossed everything works out!


We leave our hotel in Nelson at 10am. The next half hour (at least that‘s what it feels like) is spent at a gas station to fill up the car. Self service is nice and dandy, but the machine is supremely uncooperative. We end up leaving with 35NZDs‘ worth of petrol. This will barely cover today‘s route. Hopefully we‘ll be more successful on the next try. Fortunately another driver is having the same issues, so at least it‘s nothing personal.


We drive towards Richmond and then on Route 6 to Upper Buller Gorge. The first 50 kilometers are mainly agricultural plains and hills, after that the road gets more and more mountainous. And it starts raining. Hey, that‘s not what we ordered! The views are still very beautiful, forested hills and meadows, some rocky cliffs but nothing too harsh.


It continues raining on and off as we follow the winding route through the mountains. In one area, someone is breeding deer. We see two big groups in enclosures. There is also quite a bit of small roadkill on the street. Difficult to identify, but we believe it‘s mainly possums and small rodents. We also see some pukeko birds recklessly crossing the road - fortunately still alive. They look funny with their big feet and plump black bodies.


As we start coming down from the mountains, the rain gets more intense as the road becomes ever more narrow. Not great. Fortunately everyone driving today is very careful and looking out for each other. The rain only lets up when we get close to the coast. We reach Carters Beach at around 2pm, glad that our room is ready. There is not much here apart from the beach, and a few holiday parks, but that‘s fine by us. Next to our apartment hotel is a café and small restaurant, where we get some lunch. 


The plan to go to the supermarket, fill up the car and then explore the beach has to be postponed. It‘s raining cats and dogs. We take a break and wait for better weather. Shortly after 4pm the rain eases up, and we drive over to Westport for some shopping. As in the other supermarkets so far, there are no eggs to be had. Empty shelves. However, we are finally successful in filling up the car. 


Returning to Carters Beach, I can‘t resist the sound of the waves crashing on shore any longer, and take a walk down to the beach. Even a rainy day at the ocean is better than no ocean! Visibility is really poor due to clouds, but the empty beach has an almost mystical atmosphere, that I greatly enjoy.


We have shopped some snacks for dinner tonight, and I have a few work meetings coming up. Stay safe, healthy and dry everyone!

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Day 67, Tauranga Bay and Pancake Rocks (March 9th)


Rain, rain and more rain. Today‘s forecast calls for a read-nap-and-eat day. We do have a slow start in the morning, sleeping in and hanging around the hotel room for quite a while. Once it‘s a little drier, though, we set out exploring.


Our first stop is the viewing deck for the fur seal colony at Tauranga Bay. From the parking area, there is a walkway along the coast towards Cape Foulwind. After about 500 meters, with some spectacular views of the pacific waves crashing on the shore, we reach the viewing area above the seal colony. There, on the rocks, are a few seal babies with their moms. The cutest! As usual, when baby animals are around, my hormones get in to the driver’s seat. It is all I can do not to excitedly squeal „babyyyy“ at the top of my voice. During the course of our travels through South Africa, Antarctica and Galapagos, there were several occasions where I could not hold back, seeing baby zebra, wildebeest, warthogs, impala, penguins and sea lions respectively.


We watch the fur seals for a while. One comes through the crashing waves to shore. The climb up looks dangerous and difficult, but these animals are surprisingly nimble and have no trouble climbing the rocks. We are happy to have found this viewing area during one of the few dry moments of the day.


Driving on southward, we greatly enjoy the scenery. First, we pass through lush, almost jungle-like forests. With the mass of ferns, we wouldn’t be surprised to have a Jurassic Park moment with a dinosaur appearing out of the mists. Then we reach the ocean again, and admire the big waves foaming and rolling towards the shore. Magnificent!


After an hour of driving, we reach the viewing area for Pancakes Rock. We decide to have lunch first, and enter the café. Fittingly, they have a great selection of pancake dishes. We each order one. While we wait for our food to be ready, the floodgates really open up and the rain is so loud that we cannot hear our own voices inside the café. Checking the weather app, there is more of the same coming until tomorrow morning. Since we will be driving the same route again tomorrow on the way to Greymouth, we make an executive decision: after lunch, we will drive back to Carters Beach and look at the Pancake Rocks tomorrow, when it‘s hopefully drier.


The pancakes are very good and filling. Outside, we see a weka bird exploring the café grounds, curiously peering inside. Holger takes some pancake crumbs outside while it is only drizzling a little, and soon has a new best friend. Other tourists stop and take pictures, too. Always glad to provide entertainment! Especially since we feel a little sorry for those in the tiny VW Bully campervans or even tents. They must be pretty miserable in this weather.


Driving back to Carters Beach, we spot a sign to a historic gold mine close to Charleston. We will definitely make a stop here tomorrow, too. We learned the shake, dunk and swirl of gold panning in Alaska a couple of years ago. Maybe we can put that knowledge to good use, and refinance some of this trip. 


We briefly stop at the supermarket in Westport again, and then head back to our hotel. For the rest of the day, we look at the rain from the warmth of our room and read our books. Tomorrow is another day!

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Day 68, Carters Beach to Greymouth (March 10th)


The last of the rain finally stops as we are leaving our hotel this morning. The landscape looks scrubbed clean, and the sun is peaking out. Fabulous! Now we can actually see some of the mountains behind the coastline, that so far have just been blurred behind dark clouds.


Driving south along the coast, our first stop is at Mitchell’s Gully Historic Gold Mine. Looking at the parking area and entrance, rather than a historic gold mine, we get hoarder vibes. All sorts of rusting vehicles and paraphernalia are dumped there. No one is around, and the whole set-up doesn’t really look trustworthy. The entrance fee is self-service, and we don’t have any NZ cash on us. We decide that this adventure is not meant to be for us, and move on.


Our next stop is at a view point along the coast, where we see the spectacular waves crashing on the shore. Looking at the ocean is absolutely mesmerizing. There is a fine mist of spray hanging over the scenery. My lips taste salty, and my glasses need to be cleaned. A small price to pay for this wonderful atmosphere.


We reach the parking lot at Pancake Rocks again. This is as far as we got yesterday. It is a lot drier, but also pretty busy today. We start the walking track along the coast. One viewpoint is more spectacular than the next. And even before we reach the famous blowholes, we can hear the occasional „boom“ from the waves crashing against the rocks. The walkway is leading us between the rocks, crossing a gorge and among some of the swirling pools of white water. My glasses and also my clothes get soaked from the spray - I love it!


We spend quite a bit of time here, enjoying this special place. Then we head back to the café for some brunch. Holger has the Wild Coast Breakfast, while I order a huge slice of carrot cake and an Americano. So very yummy! The café also does a thriving to-go business today, both with their coffee drinks and bakery items. They have a great selection of pastries, pies, muffins and scones. We grab two date scones for the road, and also a new Pukeko fridge magnet as a keepsake.


Driving further south, the coastal views never cease to wow us. Around every corner is another scenic vista. Until we turn inland, and reach Greymouth, our stop for today. Since it is still the middle of the day, we debate what to do next. One option would be Shantytown, a gold mining tourist attraction. There is also a public pool and spa across the road from our motel. Or, as a third option, a tour of Monteith‘s Brewing Company. Decisions, decisions. Okay, no big surprise, they had us at „beer“.


It‘s a relatively short walk from our hotel to the brewery, but with the sun out it‘s warm! Checking in for our tour, we are being given our West Coast Passports. Among other things, they include a number of vouchers for different west coast attractions. Then our tour starts. First, our guide explains about the history of the brewery, and the beer brewing process in general. We are then free to walk around, among other things a bottling line. Then we are shown a video about brewing, and finally get to draw our own tasting beer from the tap. They have a wheat and a lager for us to try. We also get to taste malt and smell hops. As a good-bye present, each of us gets to select six beers or ciders for their very own six pack.


We really enjoyed the tour. While we were there, the brew pub filled up considerably. It is Friday night, after all. We are lucky to find a table and order some food and a pint of cider each. Very delicious! Then, carrying our six packs on our backs, we walk back to our hotel. What an absolutely lovely day.

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