All posts by carolynmercer

Napier – “Art Deco Week”

Napier – ”Art Deco Week”.

You have awful feelings, when you have waxed lyrical about a place to friends, that the reality, through their eyes, may be disappointingly different. Phew, the very pretty Napier, Art Deco capital of the world (the town claims), was a success. It was a gloriously hot and sunny day and we arrived early enough to be ahead of the crowds. Therefore, we were able to stroll the streets and enjoy seeing locals dressed in costume for the Deco Festival currently taking place in the town. Not only were they beautifully and stylishly dressed but they brought their Classic Cars out to play as well.

 

The free Wi-fi was rather less prevalent than the previous day and I confess our recent days have been so packed-full there has been little time to do the blog full justice. So, we found ourselves marvelling at the Deco buildings, chuckling at the ancient bulbous horns on the very old motors, strolling the sea front, admiring the costumes being paraded in The Gatsby Bar in the Masonic Building (just look at that fox fur!) and generally being too involved to think about internet connections. We even found time for coffee, sticky lemon cake (yummy) and ice cold beer! Not too shabby then.

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I loved this town the first time I visited and I was happy to find its charm undiminished. Ann commented that it was a shame the fabulous deco buildings had been invaded by modern shops, leaving only the original style at the top. Many shops had incorporated beautiful Art Deco patterned glass in their windows so, for me, the spirit lives on. Of course, it was an earthquake that destroyed the original town, which was then completely rebuilt in the modern style of that age, the 1930s.

 

The shuttle bus driver gave us a startling fact on our return to the ship….there are over 200 earth tremors in NZ every week and the last one was Wednesday!!! The population is always at a state of readiness with households expected to be prepared with 3 days’ worth of supplies. Strangely enough, the ship’s captain mentioned some damage at one of our ports of call due to a recent tremor. Goodness, the earth is definitely going to be moving tomorrow – we are visiting Rotorua, where the earth’s crust is thinner than at any point on the planet and boiling mud pools and geysers are likely to spring up anywhere.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

‘Classic Cars, Clint and Culture’

 

I have described Napier in the sunshine as probably having the ‘prettiest’ main street I’ve seen. We only saw a little part of the town but what we saw was special.

The last visit of a Noordam here was on a very wet day, we were told. It may have been less impressive then but class shows through.

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Interestingly, Clint (Eastwood) appeared larger than life on the wall of the Lone Star bar which, incongruously, had Wild Western decor with Art Deco dressed staff. Further, the music playing was Country & Western with the television showing the Winter Olympics Men’s Downhill!

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Ann’s fundraising walk in the afternoon – nine times round Deck 3 to cover 5 km – went well and matched her performance the last trip. Kath and I supported (from a distance!) but succumbed to a delicious Strawberry Sorbet in the sun feeling only slightly guilty.

The evening meal tonight was, possibly, the best of what, overall, has been excellent fare, cooked and served close to perfection. I’ve been impressed that crockery has usually been shaped as equilateral curved triangles (one of my favourite shapes) and our ‘main’ course tonight was lobster and filet mignon – what’s not to like?!

 

The evening ended in the ‘Crows Nest’ bar doing crosswords.

Wonderful Wellington!

Wonderful Wellington!

Wellington was a very happy return for me. Warm sunshine and low humidity greeted our day and, because I had done a tour of the city last time, I felt comfortable suggesting the shuttle bus into the city and ‘doing our own thing’. One thing I hadn’t done previously was a walk along the waterfront, so this became our first activity. One of the friendly city guides greeted us off the bus with a map and some advice for our day. We subsequently found guides at all the key places and more friendly and helpful folk you would be hard pushed to find anywhere.

Along the sea front we immediately came across a huge bunch of learners on roller blades and, as with all learners, they were progressing at very different rates. It looked like a girls’ school outing (such fun) and they were certainly enjoying even the falling down as they were kitted out with knee and elbow pads. Also setting off were a group of learner kayakers. The seafront is full of the usual eateries as well as some of the more unusual. Our choice for coffee was a Maori-run cafe within a much larger function venue offering sea views at the front and lake views at the back. The whole walk along to the harbour offered lovely city views, spectacular sea views, with yachts flying their spinnakers, and a variety of boardwalks and bridges.

We then made our way inland in search of the cable car which takes you up the mountain to view the city and on into the Botanical Gardens. We managed to walk past loads of lovely shops, and apart from a quick ‘recce’ into a shoe shop, we escaped with our purses intact. From the cable car, the views across the city and the bay are well worth the few dollars for the ride and Ann and I chose to stand right at the front of the tram to take photos en route. (No competition for the professionals but great photo fun).

We elected to go back to the harbour for lunch and found a bar with more varieties of beer than we had seen before. However, only one of us chose to partake….now, who might that have been, Ann?! More walking after lunch before heading back to the ship. As we walked, the wind picked up and we watched a ferry listing heavily to starboard as it left the port. Oh dear, could it be rough seas for our journey to Napier?

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

The Wellington Ambassador Guides were exemplary. Dressed in a noticeable yellow and black polo shirt, they were clearly visible and both welcoming and well-informed. Added to their number, we found a senior police officer who saw us and asked if we needed help. Great welcome; lovely people. For me, an extra bonus was the logo on their shirts which said, simply, “Absolutely positively”. Clever.

The lunchtime restaurant was marked for me by the hipster beards in abundance on the male staff and their frequent use of “Awesome” in reply to most questions. However, the food was… yes, awesome.

An advert on the side of a bus for a theatre production proclaimed ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream opens 7 December’. This, initially, seemed so incongruous until I reminded my self that December here was mid-summer. Hmm!

When we visit our preferred restaurant on board in the evening, we are greeted and asked for our room numbers. Needless to say, we don’t need to repeat it. This evening, in attempting to exchange pleasantries, our host asked if we were from Sydney. “No”, we replied almost in unison, “We’re from the UK – near Manchester and Liverpool”. “Which football team do you support?”, asked Kath. Immediately, I could see trouble brewing as Kath supports United and Ann, Liverpool. The poor guy realised he was on a loser whichever way he replied. He, diplomatically, tried for both but I noticed Kath high-fiving him as she left. A convert? Albeit a little cupboard love, perhaps.

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Frequently, we are reminded that it is a small world. On board are Ann Jones, former Wimbledon Champion, and, lesser known nationally, of course, but I spotted the former Chief Adviser for Lancashire at dinner. Small world.

Ann Jones took part in the ‘On deck for a cause’ which is a 5km fundraising walk nine times round the deck. (Our Ann did it, too, more tomorrow.) She didn’t wear the event T-shirt but one which proclaimed, “”Well-behaved wenches rarely change history”. Yes!

Picturesque Picton

Picturesque Picton.

Our stop today in the pretty little port of Picton was the last we will see of South Island. This is the place where ferries transport folks from North Island to sample what we have enjoyed (and much more besides) over the past few days. Judging by the number of backpackers we saw carrying life on their shoulders, many were either starting or ending their adventures with a ferry ride. Of course this is Marlborough country – no, not the cigarettes, the wine – and it is possible that jobs in the vineyards also tempt the young, and the slightly less young.

However, for us, Picton had other temptations…good coffee and free WiFi! As we got off the shuttle bus which brought us from our ship and into the town, the area around the Information Centre was filled to capacity with young and old (mainly the latter) with laptops, tablets and phones, sometimes all three, looking for the fastest free Wi-fi signals. Just as you started to collect messages, down went the signal, so off we went in search of coffee. I have to say that Starbucks is not my favourite purveyor of coffee, but when you need Wi-fi AND coffee there is a huge regret that good old Picton must have said ‘no’ to the mighty dollars of Starbucks and McDonald’s. However, all was not lost and we got a free half hour online and some coffee in a local cafe whilst being entertained by the Winter Olympics on TV…wot?! We could also have had free Wi-fi with a hairdo up the road.

Anyway, this pretty little port invited us to stroll the shops (we did), walk the paths around the bay (Ann did) and appreciate again the genuine welcome we received. Who can blame these small towns for wanting to attract visitors, especially those who come on cruise ships in possession of money. Quite a few shops advertised their willingness to take US dollars, Australian dollars and even New Zealand dollars as an afterthought. No mention of Sterling I noticed!

Once again the views around the sheltered bay were stunning with mountains sweeping down to the blue waters. Spacious houses around the bay were being offered in the estate agents’ windows for somewhere in the region of NZ $600,000 (less than £400,000). Watching the children playing in the park with fountains and water games rather than simply swings and slides, reminded me what a great outdoor life they enjoy in this part of the world for a good part of the year. Bliss.

Ever onwards and tomorrow we will wake up in Wellington. For me, a return visit.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

‘Picton on Sea’, as a name, reminded me of Dads’ Army’s Warmington-on-Sea. And, as we began to meander round the small port, I saw this…

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It interests me that we often have War Memorials but rarely Peace Memorials. Why?! However, this was both as, on the town side, I saw…

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The tenders/lifeboats we use can carry about 150 people in the event of an emergency but ‘only’ 120 are taken on the tender function. Being one for spotting the unusual, Ann’s maiden name is the tender manufacturer!

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Picton wasn’t the highlight of our tour and my insistence on eating New Zealand lamb in New Zealand at a local café was an error as my indigestion reminded me. Ah, well. Better food on board.

In the evening, in the absence of B.B. King’s being available, was an experienced and competent New York Jewish comedian – one or two clever anecdotes delivered in a dry manner. Tomorrow, a French flautist… perhaps.
Ann’s Additions

And so to Picton, our last port of call on South Island and another very friendly welcome, this time accompanied by fresh flower buttonholes for everyone. The flowers might as easily have come from an English country garden.

Picton is an extremely busy ferry port which connects the two main islands of New Zealand, across the Cook Strait and where backpackers abound. There are numerous options for outdoor activities, wine tours and wildlife watching. Like most fellow Noordam travellers, we were more interested in Wi-fi spotting! The visitor information centre was awash with people on phones and iPads as well as those booking tours. Success in connecting to the internet was followed by coffee and a stroll through the centre of the small town.

After lunch, I set off on one of the recommended walks along the coast to Bob’s Bay. Thirty minutes of ‘upsie downside’ walking was rewarded with a pretty bay and beach. Bob was, perhaps, a local fisherman who found an excellent place to escape! Carolyn and Kath were, once again, very patient waiting for the slightly mad walking person!

South Island has provided many delights and the poster, seen as we boarded the shuttle bus back to Noordam, sums up how we have felt about this beautiful island.

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Christchurch – repairing the earthquake ravages!

Christchurch – repairing the earthquake ravages!

This morning we woke to a spectacular sunrise and to find ourselves moored in one of the most beautiful bays you can imagine. We had come overnight to Akaroa (Maori for ‘the long harbour’) where lush green hills keep watch over the bay that seems to go on and on into the countryside way beyond. There is no deep water jetty in this tiny town so we were anchored right out in the deep water and taken in by tender (aka the ship’s lifeboats). From here we had selected an excursion “Christchurch on your own”. This involved a coach trip which took over 90 minutes to reach the city before disgorging its passengers and letting them loose with just four hours to see the city. There were a number of ways to do this but the most sensible and fun way seemed to be by hop-on-hop-off tram.

We knew all about the earthquake of 2011 which had destroyed parts of the city, we knew there had been a further earthquake five years later, but I don’t think we imagined the extent of the devastation and the heroic efforts being made to recreate a beautiful and quake proof replacement city. Money is being poured into the projects, work is happening everywhere (in places you can’t move for construction workers) but they cannot go fast enough to take down condemned buildings, repair some of the beautiful and historic landmarks and fill in the multitude of gaping holes where buildings once stood. Of course, in addition, there is the monumental task of building new homes to replace those left as uninhabitable.

It is only seeing it that brings to life the TV coverage and news reports. The newsmen have long ago left for their next big story but, meanwhile, Christchurch is struggling to emerge, Phoenix like, from the debris and ashes into a bright new city. We saw the Anglican cathedral (now deconsecrated and still the abandoned ruin left just as it was). There are hopes to rebuild but still no plans, costs or designs). Meanwhile the ‘cardboard Cathedral’ has been constructed further out of the centre as a temporary replacement. There are, indeed, giant rolls of cardboard used amidst the concrete and glass structure. Even here a massive building site is constructing more outside the back door.

“Please come back in a few years”, begged our coach driver. Local people feel the pride in the work done but huge amounts of frustration that the pace almost defeats them. We will watch from afar and will now retain an active interest in the regeneration of this lovely city.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

You can take out the tourists but you leave the trams! We’ve travelled on trams in San Francisco and Melbourne as well as Blackpool. Now we’ve added Christchurch to the list. They proudly have a vintage tram loop for tourists which, with a live commentary from our driver, Pete, shows and recounts the earthquake and its aftermath. Stressing the positives of how the community of Christchurch came together, after the enormous destruction, and the pride in the rebuilding of people as well as infrastructure, their sincerity of thanks for us visiting was palpable. When our coach driver recounted how his neighbour was rescued after 26 hours trapped behind 30 feet of collapsed concrete, I shuddered to consider how I would have felt. The search and rescue operation had officially ended when a passing reporter heard a tapping on pipes. They started digging until the rescue was completed. One can only imagine.

‘Foot’ rulers are now 30cm but still the same length of course. This was a rather creative approach to using them in the Art Gallery.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?! I like irony… as we rattled round Christchurch on the tram instead of on our ship, this sign appealed to that part of me.

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What separates people by distance, language, race or culture shouldn’t be allowed to mask that we share 99.99% identical DNA. What should join us together and realise we are one human race is shared humanity. Protesting against injustice is common to us all – or should be! Differences should be celebrated not crushed.

Taking of differences… local place names are Anglicised but often have a Maori original or a translation also written. It reminds me of Wales. There are other similarities, of course, especially the rugby but, also, a passionate pride in their ‘little’ country. Some names are just… English

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I had to post this final photo of our morning coffee stop. Fiddlesticks has a particular significance which is difficult to explain briefly. On a past holiday at Oban, we undertook the Mull Walking 10k. The leader was a stick carrying, rather pompous guy who we christened ‘Captain Fiddlesticks’ and he has become quite a legend with ourselves and the Youngs.

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(We’re sitting in a café in a beautiful little port town, Picton on Sea which, no doubt will be the subject of our next blog but, suffice it say, we are here for the Wi-fi as well as the coffee. Information Centres and coffee shops attract tourists like an electro-magnet pulls iron towards it. Dozens of people eagerly scrutinising their ‘phones and the only verbal conversation is around, “Are you in?” and “What network are you on?” Somehow, sad and yet another shared experience.)

Finally, it still feels strange being so far from ‘home’ and people having English as their first language but ‘Kia-Ora’ is no longer just an orange drink! Welcome.

Ann’s Additions

Yes, of course, I’ll write something about the geography of South Island New Zealand said I, blithely. It won’t take long. I had, however, reckoned without the wealth of geography contained in one comparatively small area.

The movement of tectonic plates has created the Southern Alps, the backbone of the island. They form a mighty barrier with only four routes through from east to west. It is, of course, the sudden movement of those plates which causes earthquakes. And, of course, the devastation we’ve seen in Christchurch is proof, if any were needed, of the power of nature. The two earthquakes in Christchurch moved the land first vertically and then horizontally and were followed by the process of liquefaction. This process turns solid rock to liquid and has meant that a large part of suburban Christchurch can no longer be built on.

The port of Akaroa is built in a huge extinct volcanic crater. MS Noordam moored in said crater and the tender ride to the town of Akaroa took fifteen minutes. Volcanic activity is massive!

Fiordland was magnificent – the fiords themselves, hanging valleys with their waterfalls and the islands, or skerries, as we approached.

And what of human geography? Much as in any country – the most effective use of the natural landscape. Having been taught many years ago, however, that the Canterbury Plains were a sheep farming area, it was interesting to see yesterday the diversity of farming, both animal husbandry and crop production. Clearly, irrigation is a major factor.

… and so to North Island and the geographical wonders that will bring.

 

Done Dunedin!

Done Dunedin!

23F49425-1ADA-4ECE-AB11-D09B47AC65F0We arrived early on a warm and sunny morning into Port Chalmers with a gentle breeze blowing and all the makings of a perfect summer’s day. The port may be an industrial centre but is set amidst gently rolling wooded hillsides, complete with a very English looking church. For me, this is typical of New Zealand; nothing big, nothing flashy but very pretty and architecture which nods at modernity whilst still managing to hark back to a mixture of Art Deco and colonial majesty.

We were greeted on the quayside by the words, “Welcome to Paradise”, and I wonder how many of us would think that about our home towns, let alone say it. But here we were given one greeting after another as we were directed to a local shuttle bus which would take us to nearby Dunedin.

 

Dunedin, although small, is classed as a city, in fact it is New Zealand’s oldest city. In 1848 Scottish migrants established a settlement here giving it the Celtic name for Edinburgh: Dunedin. We were slightly amused to see Cadbury World – a large factory near the centre of town – hailed as one of the attractions. We didn’t partake, but happily wandered round the centre where many shops proclaimed a welcome to Noordam guests and crew. We caught an organ recital in the city’s Cathedral, put on especially for our ship, and enjoyed sharing “half a meter of pizza” and an ice cold beer for lunch, before wandering down to the railway station which is famed for its classic Victorian architecture.

 

It was a gentle kind of a day which will gear us up for tomorrow’s adventure to Christchurch, a city I have long been keen to visit and have missed on a previous trip to this part of the world.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Regrettably, whenever someone mentioned going to Dunedin, the theme from the Onedin Line became my earworm! Misspent youth, obviously. Too much television.

We were told it was the Edinburgh of the Southern Hemisphere but I didn’t see that. For me, a pleasant, Anglo-Scottish flavour, certainly, but not the Scottish capital city. Although, they do share the name, I understand.

What did I question or learn?

As we rounded the southern tip of South Island, we were further South than the southern tip of South Africa and took me further south than I’d ever been. We’re now travelling North but are still well ‘down’ from the Equator.

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I also learned, from a former student, that ‘thongs’ in Australia/NZ can be worn in the street as they are what we call flip flops and, from a Facebook friend from round here, WD40 is called “start ya bastard!” apparently.

(The Scottish connection has just been emphasised by a pipe band playing ‘Flower of Scotland’ on the quayside, Ann tells me. Oh, dear, I missed it!)

The Shuttle Bus taking us to Dunedin from our berth in Port Chalmers was driven by a cross wearing Kiwi at some speed but he got us from A to B and back. On the bus was an unusual sign which emphasised the need for muscles in the event of an emergency!

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Talking of muscles,… the national sport in New Zealand is Rugby (Union) with the magnificent All Blacks both all-conquering (almost always) and iconic across the world. They take it seriously! The attitude reminds me of a Bill Shankley quote who said, paraphrasing, “Football isn’t life or death, it’s more serious than that.”

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As for the poster at our lunchtime hostelry called ‘Ratbags’… I don’t condone personal abuse and don’t, therefore, indicate that I agree with the sentiments. However, I thought their thoughts worth sharing.

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Finally, we’re off out on the deck tonight looking for albatrosses. Magnificent creatures and hope to spot some.

Ann’s Additions

Dunedin has been an interesting port of call for me since I first looked over the balcony this morning. So many massive stacks of logs being brought into the port on huge ‘double’ trucks, a process which lasted all day. The rather sad thing is that all this wood seemingly destined for the Far East, particularly China, to make pulp and paper.

 

The earlier settlers, however, took a very different view of wood and used for craftsmen to create plaques at the pew ends in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Dunedin. Each small plaque is different, dedicated to a former member of the congregation and quite beautiful.

What price progress?

Big seas and heavy weather in the Tasman Sea

Big seas and heavy weather in the Tasman Sea.

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Our two days at sea (before our cruise into “The New Zealand Sounds” and Fiordland) sounded promising, but I had forgotten the opportunity to pitch and roll across the Tasman and, sure enough, it was a repeat performance of my previous experience. The Captain mentioned a bit of a wind getting up and I then knew he was a master of the understatement. The inelegant stagger you need to adopt to counter the rapidly fluctuating pitch of the floor certainly has its comedy moments. However, not so funny if your tummy doesn’t quite keep up the pace. We were all great at breakfast, we were still happy to go and have the lunch to which the Captain invited us (only because we have all sailed with Holland America before, don’t you know!), but by dinner poor Ann decided that being horizontal was the only way she was going to resist the threatened seasick lurgy. Carolyn and I felt obliged to fly the flag and persuaded ourselves that the Filet Mignon served with lobster ravioli was the way forward. Even the fabulous ‘rock’ violinist we saw later in the theatre had a slight stagger at times, which was definitely not part of his act. However, we stalwarts declined all alcoholic opportunities for the evening on the basis that, were seasickness to hit us, we were not going to blame it on the booze.

Day 2 arrived, having moved the clocks forward an hour on two consecutive nights to get us onto New Zealand time, revealing more of the same weather. Fortunately, Ann’s sea legs are back in place so pancakes for breakfast. Then came our “Immigration Inspection” to test our suitability for entry into New Zealand. We had carefully read the declarations but noticed a small area with which we were not quite compliant in terms of what was coming into the country with us. Back in Sydney, we had each bought a couple of wooden racing kangaroos (don’t even ask), but our declaration said we had to produce anything made of wood in case it was banned material. My comment to Ann this morning, “Don’t forget to get your kangaroos out”, produced much laughter all round. Definitely could be a euphemism for something unspeakable!! Kangaroos were displayed to nice Inspector, who signed to say that not only had he seen and approved Ann’s kangaroos but mine as well!! He gave us a wink and we are good to go.

What do you do on an afternoon when you walk past a swimming pool which is hell bent on emptying is contents in great waves which wash across your feet? Stop walking, retreat to your cabin and catch up on at least one of the two hours’ sleep missed. For me, I will watch a movie selected from the 1,000+ on offer.

The cabin stewards entertain us each evening with animals made from towels but my favourite so far has been Dumbo! Always fun to come back to your room and see what is sharing your bed!

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Being on board with limited and expensive Wi-fi, I struggle with not being able to look up things that puzzle me. Similarly, my seemingly insatiable appetite for up-to-the-minute news has to be assuaged by printed morning news extracts from the UK, US etc. We do have BBC News on the TV but, somehow, don’t find enough time to watch it. We are aware that Brexit, Trump and the weather are still ‘hot’ items as, now, are the Korean Winter Olympics.

I’m aware that we haven’t said (or shown) much about our ship, MS Noordam. It’s far from the biggest or grandest cruise ship but it suits us. It is spacious and the staff are excellent. Truly excellent. Every member of staff says good morning etc. with what appears to be a genuine pleasure to see us… and, of course, keep them in employment. The restaurant staff are Filipino or Indonesian and join in with the Indonesian version of ‘Happy Birthday’ for appropriate diners. Being aware of the danger of grazing on the free all day buffet, we restrict ourselves, usually, to set menus in the restaurants. Great choices available; albeit we still end up with three courses. Yes, even for breakfast! Diet when we get back. I have learned a ‘magic’ card trick from a waitress which I shall share with Lexie when we see her next.

The entertainment is good but, frankly, not as good as on the P&O Cruise last time or even the last Holland America Cruise. The B.B. King’s Blues Club band don’t seem to be as tight or tuneful but, perhaps, we’re being over critical. It is ‘good’!

The shows are of variable quality and a card trick magician on stage of a theatre showing us a normal size playing card didn’t work. The highlight was, I guess, the ventriloquist with ‘Matilda’ … a West Indian female dummy. Sounds odd but it worked superbly and we’ll be going back to see him (and her!) again in a couple of days.
Last evening’s ‘rock’ violinist was very good as was the backing band not just because they had a left-handed drummer!

Talking of strange Sounds – subtle segue – our itinerary has been changed and we were expecting to visit the Milford Sound today. It’s now tomorrow … very early morning! Hmm!

 

 

From lazy day to prison day!

From lazy day to prison day!

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Sea days are enjoyed in a variety of ways; for some there is a host of activities to be sampled (see what Ann did!), whilst others enjoy the gentle breezes on deck reading books they have been promising for months to pick up. For Carolyn and I came the temptation of Super Bowl being shown on the cinema screen in the theatre. I have to say that Carolyn is more of a devotee than I, but frequent visits to the USA have spiked my interest and I did get additional commentary and explanation of the rules from my neighbour! The audience were hugely in favour of the ultimate winners (The Eagles), whereas I happily cheered each touchdown no matter which side scored!

But today was our stop in Port Arthur and we went to prison. Actually, we were looking around the former penal colony which, in the mid 1800s, housed nearly 2000 prisoners of the more serious variety (2+ offences) deported from the UK. When I first arrived at this beautiful spot I did think, well, if you have to be a prisoner what better place, but hard labour was hard and not all survived. A guide from the World Heritage Centre, was keen to point out that they built a hospital, employed doctors and a surgeon and taught skills and crafts so the prisoners could eventually leave with a trade. I was amazed to learn they had a library the prisoners could use with 13,000 books. The Australians wanted to provide an education so the men could leave better off than when they arrived.

Today, the prison is largely a ruin (in a glorious spot overlooking a truly beautiful bay). Some of the buildings (the Commandant’s house and the junior doctor’s house) have been maintained just as they were and are open for the visitors. The asylum (a later addition to the prison) has cells which can be viewed, again, as they were. Prisoners were often sent here for punishment and they were in solitary and silent confinement, often for a year.

The weather is just perfect today and I sit here in quiet contemplation of our Tasmanian experiences to date….quite wonderful. The tenders are busily ferrying passengers back to the ship across the sparkling water. In less than an hour we shall be on our way to Hobart, where we have a couple of days in port before heading to New Zealand.

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Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Little things intrigue me. I like to know why. So, when I spotted an upside down keyhole in a restored house in Port Arthur, I asked why? Foolishly, I asked out loud of Kath whose flippant (I hope!) response was, “Because we’re Down Under?” I momentarily paused for thought – quick riposte or further query – but then espied one the correct way round so concluded it was a mistake.

The next wry smile was engendered when I spotted that the Town Hall doubled as an Asylum albeit used erstwhile as a church as well.

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Finally, why does the tender (aka lifeboat) have an open window at the top to let a significant swell and spray come in?! Especially onto me?!

Yesterday’s sea day coincided, as Kath mentioned, with Super Bowl. I last watched it live in the ‘80s when ‘my’ team was Walter Payton’s Chicago Bears. I don’t have a particular favourite team these days but have great admiration for the playing of Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. He didn’t win this time and Kath and I were reassured that we had visited Philadelphia, home of the Eagles, last fall. I’d noticed a number of banners there advertising The Eagles with the clever play on the Autumn season with “We rise again every fall!” A superb game which, despite two controversial decisions, was played in seemingly good spirit.

Today at Port Arthur, for me, was affected by the thoughts of what those prisoners (and staff!) went through all those years ago. Extrapolate to today where we still allow physical and mental punishment for crimes. Of course, people do not need to commit crime. And, “If you don’t want to do the time, don’t commit the crime” is accurate but trite. However, there are cases of men being transported half way round the world not that long ago from their families for stealing food for their children. We have moved on and our excellent guide today was at pains to point out that the inmates here were serial offenders and the ‘worst of the bunch’. Even then, she explained, some form of education and training was provided. And now, it’s a World Heritage Site. Progress, indeed. I was moved by thoughts of my own childhood when I read the raison d’être of the prison, “To tame the most mutinous spirit”.

And, yet, in the mid-1990s, an Australian, Martin Bryant, committed a massacre of several dozen people here. Strict gun laws were almost immediately introduced. Too late for those killed but, hopefully, will save the lives of others. America, please take note.

Ann’s Additions

Should you ever think that a ‘sea day’ on a cruise would be dull, please allow me to change your mind. Today we’ve been sailing between Burnie and Port Arthur at quite a gentle speed, to ensure that we arrive tomorrow morning at the appointed hour. My day began with 5,000 steps on the Promenade Deck before breakfast. The staff had, obviously, been up much earlier ‘swabbing’ the deck in preparation for we early morning walkers and joggers.

Resisting the temptation of watching the Super Bowl, I set off for the Crow’s Nest to learn a little about the flowers on the ship and to watch her two florists as they created some beautiful arrangements. Apparently, flowers only come on board at the start of a cruise and last at least two weeks. Orchids, for example, are ‘fed’ two ice cubes a week and, in the controlled environment of the ship, it certainly does the trick.

Almost immediately after this learning experience, I join some more American ladies to learn how to make a Maori poi. We all had fun with foam, scissors and wool, instructed carefully by the Maori group who are on board with us. The poi is used in Maori rhythmical dances.

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So, having enjoyed the morning session, I return after lunch to learn about Maori designs and their meaning. Carving in, for example, wood, stone and jade and even on human skin i.e. tattoos and paintings. Their meanings become clear when explained by the Maoris themselves – whether it’s good fortune, good fishing or handing down culture and family traditions. Hopefully, we shall see some of these designs as we travel New Zealand.

And finally, before dinner, there is a very informative talk about what will be our first glimpses of New Zealand – Milford Sound and the fiords. (Geography rules ok!) This will be followed, for us, by visits to Dunedin, Christchurch, Picton and Wellington. Hearing about ports of call from someone whose job – lucky Kelly! – it is to explore these places on our behalf, makes it possible for us to gain even more from a comparatively short visit.

To conclude the day – dinner, a magic show and blues at BBKings.

All that and a total of 13,000 steps! At this rate I shall need a holiday to recover from the holiday!

Burnie – a small town with a big welcome!

Burnie

Another brilliant day dawned and the sun was already cracking the flagstones when we docked at Burnie, our first Tasmanian port of call, at about 07.30. I had zero expectations (a) because it was Sunday in a small town and (b) because the total population was only 20,000. How wrong could I be? As we walked down the gangway there were the Mayor and Mayoress, he in his civic regalia and she beautifully dressed, waiting to offer a warm welcome. We went on to meet a large number of equally warm and friendly people, who drove the shuttle buses from the port to the town, and proudly stood by to answer questions, direct us to attractions and generally engage with these wonderful tourists who had graciously come to visit. They couldn’t do enough to please and it was a truly humbling experience. I am not sure that either the visiting Brits (a few of us) or the Americans (a lot of them) are known for their quiet appreciation of such generosity of spirit, but I saw a lot of smiles and chat being returned to our hosts for the day and felt glad that perhaps, for once, we represented our nations kindly.

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We were taken to a ‘Makers’ Workshop’ where local craftspeople created and sold their wares. It was all beautifully made and not outrageously priced, as in similar outlets. There was hand crafted paper, woollen items, exquisitely carved wood, hand crafted jewellery, paintings of all kinds, as well as a truly excellent coffee shop.

There was a stop at an Arts Centre, which exhibits local artists and photographers and doubles as a Town Hall and Performing Arts Centre. I think they opened up on Sunday especially for us.

Ann and I engaged in paddling and shell foraging along the beach, although I suspect we were not seeing the best of the beaches which would have been well clear of those surrounding the very industrial port area where our ship had docked. We took a stroll around the neat and clean town centre (mainly not open for Sunday trading) but the townsfolk were keen that we should see everything, including a rhododendron Park, supposedly in full bloom.

It may not have been the most stunningly beautiful port of call, but in terms of the people and their wonderful welcome, Burnie must begin to feature as a ‘must visit’ for more cruise lines and I am delighted to have had an opportunity to see this particular corner of Tasmania.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Well, what can I add… ?

Such lovely people. What Kath didn’t mention was that the town was hit by an employment catastrophe only a few years ago. The town of about 20000 had a wood mill which employed over 4000 directly. It closed and one can only imagine the thoughts of those people and their community. Memories of Welsh and Yorkshire villages destroyed when their mines closed came to my mind. It’s easier, I suppose, in an almost idyllic island to reinvent itself as a tourist destination than in the valleys of Wales or the ‘dark satanic mill’ infested Northern coalfields. Nevertheless, rebuilding communities destroyed by a corporate quirk takes courage and vision. Burnie has both. It also has many people who are committed to contribute voluntarily and cheerfully to welcoming each and every visitor with a generous smile and helpful guidance. They deserve success and we were happy to spend some money in the few shops open on Sunday.

I posted elsewhere that their Information Centre was probably the best I’d seen with certainly the best views and possibly the best coffee cups. Well worth a visit and a return someday

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Entertainment on board ship is varied and includes activities and evening entertainments. This afternoon, Ann and I went to watch the film ‘The Dressmaker’ starring Kate Winslet. A well-crafted piece. Stylised in part and the story developed at pace despite the flashbacks. Death, sadness, infirmity and illness strangely produced laughter from a number of the audience… including Ann! Hmm! The ending was theatre at its best with the mentally scarred heroine walking toward the camera with the backdrop of the devastated town aflame which she identified as the curse she had carried for her lifetime and had returned to exorcise. She seemed content… as were we..