Escaping a nasty winter for down under - we are finally underway
29.01.2014 - 03.02.2014 23 °C
We left a country which has set record low temperatures to travel to a part of the world which has been having record high temperatures. We had snow early and often this year along with those record lows and a brutal ice storm and so were anxious to leave behind scenes like those above.
The first leg of our adventure was a good test of our stamina. The air flight from Toronto to Auckland was a challenging 28 hours with a touch down in Vancouver and a stopover in Sydney of several hours before reaching our jumping off point of Auckland, NZ. In fact every leg of the trip was delayed. The first delay was in Toronto when they needed to change to a different aircraft due to mechanical issues. Once we were all aboard, the crew realized that they didn’t have enough water on board this substitute aircraft so they hooked up the hoses to add water – then given the frigid temperatures in Toronto – the hose connectors froze and they had to get heaters out so they could disconnect. In Vancouver we had to deplane, have our documents checked and re-board. In Sydney they changed gates and there was another delay. We departed January 29 at 9:30 pm, crossed the International Date Line in the middle of the night and arrived in Auckland at 7 pm on January 31, Auckland time. It was an interesting flight because most of it was in darkness – we chased the night as we travelled west until the sun finally caught up with us over the Pacific as we came closer to Australia. The final leg of our journey from Sydney to Auckland was a commuter flight on Air New Zealand. Air NZ is a little like West Jet – it has a personality and is quite a bit of fun. The safety video was a delightful Hobbit-inspired piece which was actually so entertaining that we all watched it – it even had Gollum lurking behind some of the seats.
Once in Auckland, we found the van Sue had reserved for us and were on our way to the Chifley Suites – our home for the next 3 days. Our hotel is very centrally located only about 5 blocks up from the pier where we will be boarding our cruise ship, the Celebrity Solstice which will eventually be our base of operations for the next five weeks as we circumnavigate first New Zealand and then Australia. Our hotel is very close to the very tall space Needle, an easily recognized and seen landmark and is the tallest tower in NZ.
The Needle from our hotel lit up at night.
We are travelling with Sue and Roy Vanderkwaak, (Hazel’s daughter Emily’s in-laws), and friends of theirs, Joan and Cal Break. Once settled in Auckland the 6 of us met up with Jim and Eileen Cully who are Kiwis and other good friends of Roy & Sue.
Jim & Eileen have only recently moved back to NZ after living in the UK for 8 years. Prior to leaving Canada Sue had rented a 12 passenger mini bus in Auckland. Jim and Eileen picked up the mini bus and met us in the lobby of our hotel on our first morning in Auckland. They then spent the next two days touring us around all over the North Island. What a wonderful act of hospitality and it gave us an experience we otherwise never would have had.
New Zealand is a small country composed of 2 major islands and similar in size to Great Britain or Japan but with only 4.5 million people. Auckland is a little more than half way up the North Island and is about the same distance from the equator as Virginia Beach VA. Even though it is summer here, the temperatures are in the low 20’s in the day time and high teens at night.
Our first day tour took us northwards from Auckland up the eastern shore where we visited nature reserves, historical sites, a local farmers’ market, a number of gorgeous beaches and a cottage winery for a wine tasting. One of the things that strikes you right off is that NZ is a very neat, tidy and clean country. There is no trash anywhere to be found. It is lush with the most amazing trees and gorgeous scenery. Everything seems to be very orderly with everything in its place.
This is the McKinney Kauri – a tree estimated at over 800 years old.
It is over 12 metres to the first set of limbs and has a centre girth of 7.6 metres. Here is what it looks like when you look up from its base.
We visited a little historical site, the old village of Warkworth, NZ, which had interesting and very tiny buildings.
Mahuraugi Heads Post Office 1867
The beaches on the east coast are plentiful and amazingly beautiful. While many people here swim and surf, they are less crowded than we are used to seeing in N. America or the Caribbean.
Besides the famous Kauri trees, there are many other beautiful ones.
On our second day of touring the Auckland area, Jim and Eileen took us over to the west coast north of Auckland. Here the terrain is much more rugged and the beaches are more dangerous to swim in. They have rougher surf and “rips” – rip tides. They have darker sand – quite dark brown, fine and sparkly. We went to Muriwai Beach and saw a gannet nesting colony.
Gannets nest right on the ground. The chicks are very fluffy and white and quite large. They gradually grow grey and black speckled feathers. Many at this stage were fully as large as their parents. It was quite comical to see them being fed by parents pretty well the same size. The adults are quite beautiful – mostly white with yellow heads and black markings on the ends of their wings.
We visited several regional parks and visitors centres and were able to look back at Auckland in the distance where you can see the Needle.
We returned to Auckland, had a lovely dinner and then said good bye to our wonderful Kiwi Tour Guides – Jim and Eileen.
The next morning after we took a walking tour down to the pier where our ship, the Solstice, was tied up we walked back to the hotel packed all of our belongings and took a taxi to the departure area for boarding the ship along with 2800 fellow shipmates.