Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Cruising Highlights

Now in Sydney for a few days, we have time to reminisce about our cruise on the beautiful Celebrity Solstice, which departed Auckland on 17 February. And apart from the wonderful food and entertainment on board, we met great people from all around the world and enjoyed busy days in ports all down the east coast of New Zealand. Here are just three of the highlights:

1. At Akaroa, the fantastical and quirky Giant's House, known as 'the happiest garden on earth', is a world famous sculpture mosaic garden which has to be seen to be believed.

2. The magnificent Sounds: Dusky, Doubtful and Milford:

3. An amazing young man named Will Martin from New Zealand, who absolutely wowed us in the theatre with his incredible voice and versatility, his stories and humour. An accomplished singer and pianist he did justice to the music of Sir Elton John and Billy Joel along with some classical greats.
New World - New Zealand
And his first album, A New World, topped the UK classical charts - making him the youngest person ever to attain that honour. He now sings and plays all around the world and if you ever get the chance to hear this wonderful entertainer, don't miss him.
And now our latest adventure is drawing to a close, but what an adventure it has been! 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

The North Island

We arrived in Wellington and after picking up our second hire car we drove to our accommodation in the suburb of Strathmore Park. The house, owned by lovely couple Janice and Brent, has amazing views of the ocean and we can watch the ferries and cruise ships entering the harbour from our bedroom window.

The Te Papa Museum in downtown Wellington is a fabulous venue. We spent hours there several years ago and at present they are hosting a special exhibition called Gallipoli: The scale of our war. The exhibition centres around the lives of  'eight ordinary New Zealanders who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances' and the detail is absolutely breathtaking. Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings fame, has created giant replicas of the eight, right down to the hairs on the backs of their hands. It is a truly remarkable exhibition.

These figures are 2.5 times the size of a human - amazing!
One of many paintings

Lifesize model

Wellington is also famous for its cable car (funicular) and we took this to the top of the Botanical Gardens and visited the Cable Car Museum and the Carter Observatory, where we watched two films in the planetarium that finally answered a lot of our questions about The Big Bang.


The tunnels

At the Cable Car Museum

But a real highlight was our visit to Zealandia, only ten minutes from the CBD. Since the 1990s, 225 hectares of land has been cleared of both plants and animals, and revegetated and populated with birds, reptiles, frogs and invertebrates, including rare and endangered species, that existed in New Zealand before the arrival of humans. As you approach the sanctuary, set deep in a valley, you could be mistaken for thinking you are walking into Jurassic Park.

The residents live without barriers except for an enormous predator-proof fence that surrounds the entire property and the sanctuary houses a dam which was formerly the water supply for Wellington. We spent nearly four hours on a guided tour and saw more nature than we have in a long time; we particularly liked the native birds and of course the Tuatara. The sanctuary is a work in progress and a team of 450 volunteers care for the property, planting, weeding, feeding, etc. It could take up to 500 years to complete their full mission of life as it was pre-humans.

Nesting cormorants

The rare native Takahe


We did manage to take in a winery... and drove to Martinborough, a quaint village of cafes, restaurants and home decorating shops. Out of town we discovered the Coney Vineyard and Restaurant where we had the most delicious Turkish-based meals and great wine - so good I bought a bottle of the Rambling Rose... All the wines have musical names and the walls are tastefully decorated with sheet music because of the family's love for music.

We arrived in Napier in a heatwave - 32 degrees - and checked in to our gorgeous B&B cottage. It has been completely renovated by our hosts Kitty and Peter, and is just beautiful inside, with lots of lovely personal touches, including a mouse-house that has been cut into one of the skirtings and been beautifully decorated inside (see photo). And Kitty put on the most wonderful home baked breakfast, at table and chairs overlooking the pool.

Our cottage

The mouse's cottage
Breakfast by the pool

After a quick walk through art-deco Napier (we'll be back on the cruise) we took a drive up to Havelock North, another quaint village but very modern (and expensive) and walked around Birdwoods which comprises gardens with interesting stone and metal sculptures, a gift shop that sells African arts and crafts and an old fashioned sweet shop. We also spent time at the National Aquarium and finally got to see the elusive Kiwi, along with penguin and shark feeding.

Valentine's Day dinner at Thirsty Whale on the Napier waterfront
Then it was on to Waitomo where we took two tours, the first to the Glowworm Cave where we boarded a boat and sailed through dark caverns with ceilings reminiscent of the great stained glass windows of Europe - only these were produced by glowworms. Just magic. The second cave, the Ruakuri, was just like the caves we see at home except for the chance to see glowworms up close. Each glowworm, lying horizontal, spins between 10 and 15 sticky spiderweb-like strands to catch their prey. They look like strands of diamonds, about 20-30cms long and they are just stunning. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos of the glowworms - you'll just have to Google them!

A walk through the bush

Ruakuri Cave

 Finally we made it into Auckland, in pouring rain, and dropped off the hire car. For the last 20kms we'd been in bumper-to-bumper traffic and then of course we couldn't get a cab, so we walked, with bags, in the rain, 2.6kms to our hotel. Looking like a pair of drowned rats we checked in, bought a few groceries from the local Countdown (Woolworths) store and settled in for the night. This morning it is still raining and we board the ship at 11am - and can't wait!