Friday, August 31, 2012

Kayak adventure in BOI...

Steve and Donna at the start of our kayak adventure
In a weak moment, for our day in the Bay of Islands, we decided to go with Steve and Donna on a kayak tour of the Waitangi River near Pahia  up as far as the Waitangi Falls (don’t hold me to the names, I THINK I have them right). The weak moment wasn’t, of course, going with Steve and Donna, it was agreeing to go on a kayak adventure! Randy and I have paddled kayaks and canoes before—we even have our own beautiful laminated canoe paddles not to mention our very own canoe, courtesy of Bob and Liz—it’s just that we are a lot older now and haven’t done any kayaking in years. Eons even.

But there  we were, surrounded by a dozen much younger folk, including those mere CHILDREN Steve and Donna! Too late to back out now! So off we went in two-person kayaks, up the river, aided by the current (the tide was coming in) and the wind (which was at our backs). We didn’t think, until far too late, that the tide and the wind would be going against our aging bodies on the way back!

On the way we saw a fair amount of wildlife, that is to say we saw approximately six birds: five black and white water birds (can you tell I’m not a birder?) and a Australasian hawk of some kind (our guide told us). Actually we also saw a tree full of nesting cormorants but I don’t count them because they were just hanging out in the trees, not actually doing anything. After about 17 hours of paddling we arrived at a quite pretty waterfall, sort of looked like Niagra Falls in miniature. We were then suborned softened up by being given coffee and Milo—what! You Americans don’t know what Milo is? Hot Chocolate—before slipping and sliding and squishing our way back to the kayaks (did I mention that the tide was coming in?) to start our trip back INTO THE WIND AND AGAINST THE CURRENT.

Well, we made it but my aging body is going to need Ibuprofen for the next seven days!

We took the (complimentary!! Kudos to the “Profit before Pleasure” Princess Cruise Lines) bus to Pahia and gee, what a surprise, they had an Arts Faire that was very nice. We actually spent money there! (Kathy, I have a present for you, it’s the color of Blu [but which color?]).

We did, however, walk back.

We had some beer, bought some stuff, exercised our muscles and then—back to the ship for our last two days at sea before disembarking in Sydney. I can’t believe it’s over. Well, it’s not over, we have lots more to do and I will continue this blog until we get home to Tucson. We still have Sydney, Lakes Entrance, Ballarat, Canberra (we need hotel recommendations!), and then back to Sydney again.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Disappearing guns and the outside of tall buildings…

Sky Tower
Auckland was a lot of fun and over 18,000 steps, according to my pedometer. And the weather was fantastic! Such luck we have had with weather on this trip; I can hardly believe it! Sunny, cool, slight breeze; life doesn’t get much better than this.

One of the tour boats that was pressed into service for the BIG Rugby Union game in Auckland (The Kiwi All Blacks beat Australia 22-0---it was not a happy time on board!

Very civilized; an outdoor public free toilet

Randy on the glass floor of the Sky Tower

Our ship from the Sky Tower

The red/white bull's eye is what you land on if you do the SkyJump

Look closely and you can see the SkyWalkers tethered to the rail for their little jaunt around the outside of the SkyTower
We think we were last in Auckland about 30 years ago with our children. They were in their early teens so that’s how we figure how long it’s been. That was when Randy proved his packing prowess by packing a pair of knee-high, fleece-lined boots into Kathy’s already stuffed carry-on bag. That was also when we could go all around the Pacific (Hong Kong in the summer and Auckland in the winter) with just a carry-on bag each! The older we get, the more luggage we seem to take with us. This trip was seven—SEVEN!—bags!

But there we were in beautiful Auckland, bags and all. The ship docks, as it does in Sydney, right in the heart of the city. Because the weather was so fabulous, we elected to go up the Sky Tower, the highest freestanding structure in the southern hemisphere. We elected not to do the Sky Walk or the Sky Jump (I get palpitations just thinking about the sky jump!) both of which entail stepping OUTSIDE the Sky Tower some 200 meters up in the air. I think Randy toyed with the Sky Walk for about two nanoseconds—I think the price ($195) was a slight deterrent. Did I mention it was OUTSIDE? The fact that you dress up in an orange suit and Go Outside was a deterrent to me. It’s an adrenaline rush just looking out the windows onto the city and the water from 220 meters (721 feet) without the extra adrenaline-boost of doing it OUTSIDE in a funny suit and a harness.
A chia pet car!

Flat Stanley in Auckland with the chia pet car.

Another view of the tower; it dominates the skyline of Auckland.

Can't resist those butterflies. Anybody know what species?

Flat Stanley in Auckland

Flat Stanley about to hike up Mt. Victoria in Devonport, New Zealand

Randy at the Jack Tar Bar & grill on the wharf in Auckland

How's this for seating on the wharf in Auckland 

Pedestrian drawbridge open for a sailboat

Sky Tower and a beautiful colorful sailboat at the wharf

A very large (30-40 meters long!) beautiful wood sailboat in the harbor

After that we wandered (hence some of the 18,000 steps) eventually settling at the Jack Tar Bar & Grill at one of the harbors—excuse me, harbour—for an enormous meal and a couple of very good local draft beers. The only problem with draft beers is that I can’t remember exactly what beer I drank and there is nothing to take a picture of! But the weather was fabulous (but beginning to cloud over a bit) and the view of Auckland was great. (I’d really like to come back to New Zealand again, renting a campervan and touring both islands but also staying in Auckland for a couple of days. Now if United would just fly there, it would be great!) Walking back towards the ship and the ferries (we’d decided to go to Devonport) we got to see a pedestrian drawbridge, a novelty for me, at least, and lots of beautiful yachts. Is there such a thing as an ugly yacht?

Auckland from Devonport

The "disappearing" gun

A bas relief map of the Auckland harbor at the top of Mt. Victoria

The disappearing gun from below

Don't you wish you could still do this?

Auckland harbour

Another view of the disappearing gun

A face only a mother could love, a carving of native rock at the top of Mt. Victoria

Peace-niks live1

Flat Stanley after his hike up Mt. Victoria

The wharf at Devonport, Mt. Victoria in the background

Devonport is a cute little town on a peninsula across the water that takes about 10 minutes on a frequent ferry. Always in the back of our mind is the departure time of the ship and the threat that they will leave us behind if we don’t get back on time. Hasn’t happened on this trip. Yet. But there were some close calls and a few irate PA announcements from the captain!

Devonport’s a pretty little city overlooked by Mt Victoria (Takarunga, Māori name for the hill) which we decided to climb (more steps for the pedometer to count!). It’s only about 87 meters (283 feet) but we were huffing pretty good by the time we got to the top. Again, a beautiful view of the surrounding area, including the city of Auckland and its Sky Tower across the bay. Besides the spectacular views, the hill  mountain has some eclectic uses: a rather dilapidated tennis court serves the local tennis club, there is a folk club in one of the old bunkers from WWII, the Michael King Writers Centre is in the old signalman’s house, and a BL 8 in Mark VIIdisappearing” gun still lives at the top of the hill (it was fired once, broke some windows and was never fired again). All in all, a great walk up to a beautiful observation point.

Back to the ferry and back to the ship to prepare for our last (sob!) port the next day, the Bay of Islands.
On the ferry back to Auckland

Home, sweet, home!

Our last view of Auckland

Pam taking the butterfly photos

Yet another view of the harbour at Auckland near where we had lunch
Flat Stanley enjoying a beer at Jack Tar's

Another view of our ship

Weirdly painted walkway at the harbor's edge

Proving that we did make it to the top of Mt. Victoria

Part of the hike up Mt. Victoria

We got some really nice cheeses here for our sailaway party from the Bay of Islands (our next stop after Auckland)