Category Archives: New Zealand

Returning to Rotorua…

Returning to Rotorua…

Time to finally catch up on our day trip to Rotorua, which was so eagerly anticipated by me. The last time I did this trip I was on my own at the start of the biggest overseas tour of my life and, almost on a whim, I booked myself onto a coach trip to catch some of the things I would not see on my forthcoming cruise. Having had the most wonderful experience on that occasion, I was excited at the prospect of doing it again and sharing my enthusiasm with Carolyn and Ann. You know what they say about never going back?!…..

We had one of those tour guides/drivers who was the silent type! As we left Tauranga she talked a bit about Kiwi fruit, how millions were produced each year from this region and if you ate one anywhere else in the world it was likely to have been grown here. After that it was radio silence apart from complaining about the sulphur smell in Rotorua and urging us to be back on the bus quickly. No introduction to the places we were seeing, no information about the area, just a quick handover at each stop to a guide from the attraction. So, 40 people trying to hear what is being said by one guide on the move…….


Our first stop was lunch with an excellent performance by a group of Maoris. Ann met up with friends who emigrated from the UK and we all had just an hour before it was back on the bus ready to be decanted in a few minutes at Rainbow Falls. We saw lots of huge rainbow trout, various birds, lizards, etc, but it became apparent the ‘main event’ was the kiwi house. Of course, they are nocturnal birds, so very dim lighting and lots of “Shhhhh, don’t talk, they are sleeping”. Hmmm, lots of Americans on this trip. We did get our photo taken (with kiwis)….photoshop rocks!


Next was the wonderful Agrodome, which I had also visited. Lady bus driver issued tickets for sheep shearing show, already packed, so we craned necks and enjoyed what we could see. No time for the great trip around the farm I had so enjoyed, just a mad dash on the bus to the geo-thermal Park.


Nothing can spoil the majesty of the geysers but we were not cut loose to wander and were ushered for another talk on kiwis, followed by an in depth tour of the new Maori schools of woodcarving and weaving.


There were no details about Rotorua being the place where the earth’s crust is at its thinnest, nothing about the potential (and reality) of mud pools springing up overnight in the midst of houses and nothing about the training they need to give to children about not going into bushes to retrieve balls (in case of shrubs concealing boiling pools). So sad for those who had not enjoyed this really interesting information.


Our rapid return to our last night aboard Noordam contained one more stop: a photo opportunity to capture kiwi fruit vines!!!!


Onwards and upwards. Rotorua, for me, is still a fascinating place, but then I know more about it. Auckland next for a couple of days.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Rotorua – pronounced, as best as I can write, as Rut-uh-rue-ha

We chose this excursion because of the Geographer in our midst as well as trying to recreate Kath’s memories. Ann, having taught about volcanoes, earthquakes, geysers, mud pools etc., thought she’d like to see them. Well, we did. We saw them, smelt them and felt them… just the moisture as the water vapour condensed. It was worth visiting although, as Kath indicated, we were disappointed at a number of levels and have put in a complaint to the cruise company about it.


Nevertheless, looking at the positives,… we did get to see three kiwis. They were larger than I thought they were and we were reminded of the Kiwi Shoe Polish with an old advertising sign.

The Maori ‘traditional’ show we saw was excellent and better than the one on our ship. The passion that old and young feel for their culture is palpable in so many people. No more so by our guide at geo-thermal park who is having her chin tattooed to add to her tribe’s tattoos on her arms. This is called a ‘moko kauae’, Some traditions, in my view, are worth changing, perhaps.


The Agrodome show – the parts we saw – were very impressive. The sheep dogs stole the show from the sheep and the sheep shearer. The New Zealand shepherds have moved from collies to hounds for shepherding and the barking to order (and silence on command) was as memorable as the doors running over the sheep’s back without them apparently, even flinching. Different breeds of sheep with the Marino the crowd’s favourite. The crown, by the way, predominantly Oriental. Interesting.

The kiwis in the photoshopped commercial photo weren’t real but the ones we actually saw were… except the stuffed one our guide had named Stuffy for obvious reasons. Stuffy had been killed some time ago and had been stuffed, albeit with only one eye!

A disappointing day but still not a waste. It’s just it could have, and should have, been better.

Finally, though, the falls had to be called RAINBOW FALLS and Kath was at her best. They even ‘gave’ us (when we paid!) a calendar.



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.



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.


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!


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.


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…


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…


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!



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.



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.


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


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.


(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.


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!


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.”


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.


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?