Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Of All The Gin Joints,… In All The World"

Map picture

Since I last wrote about our experiences in Hobart, Australia, our ship has traveled two days eastward to New Zealand. What is normally a very rough passage, turned out to be surprisingly mild and uneventful. New Zealand is a country which covers over 100,000 square miles and is home to over 4 million people. Its landmass is divided into three principal islands, the North Island, the South Island, and Stewart Island.

Our ship made landfall on the Southwest corner of the South Island in a region known as Fjordland National Park. This vast area offers some of the most magnificent scenery in all of New Zealand. Specifically our vessel was able to explore two fjords, the first being named Milford Sound, and the second being named Dusky Sound. Unfortunately for us the wonderful weather that we enjoyed in our crossing between Australia and New Zealand had given way to a low dark overcast and intermittent showers. The seas had become quite rough, and during the night the crew had taken obvious measures to secure the ship for the rough weather that we were going to experience as we traveled down the coast.

As we approached the coastline of New Zealand early in the morning, there was no obvious entrance into Milford Sound. The coastline itself seemed to be unbroken, and it was for this reason that Milford Sound was not discovered until the early 1800s. As our ship turned towards the mainland, all of us were trying to figure where we were going to go since the coastline appeared to be unbroken. However the closer we approached we could slowly make out an opening into a narrow channel, Milford Sound, Australiawhich then widened into a magnificent fjord with deep-water and high cliffs on either side. Our ship traveled through this magnificent scenery for over an hour before coming to the end. One of the very few roads to exist in this National Park does connect to a Lodge at the head of Milford Sound, and so as our ship turned around for the reverse journey, we could see people in kayaks, and small sailing ships enjoying the tranquility of the surrounding area. Unfortunately for us, the sky was gray and threatening, so the few pictures that we got do not in truth reflect the magnificent beauty that was around us.

Our vessel departed Milford sound about 10 AM and then cruised South West along the New Zealand coast towards our next stop, Dusky Sound. It was during this passage that the long swells we had been experiencing during the morning now ran directly parallel to our course causing the ship to roll and pitch, and at times violently. I can tell you that a great deal of china and crystal was broken over the next 24 hours, not to mention more than one unexpected fall among the passengers.Dusky Sound, Australia Eventually we turned into Dusky Sound about 5 PM in the afternoon, and while it was still overcast, there were now occasional breaks in the clouds which allowed the surrounding hills to be bathed in sunlight.Dusky Sound, Australia I captured a few pictures under these conditions, and you can just imagine how magnificent this would have been on a truly sunny day. The channel into the sound at times was so narrow that there was very little leeway on either side of the ship. The massive cliffs soared well over 2,000 feet above us creating a truly awesome experience.

At the end the ship once again turned around and by 7 PM, we had exited the Sound and set our course south to follow the coastline towards the southernmost island in New Zealand, Stewart Island. This was an extremely rough passage at the beginning, but by early morning the seas had smoothed, and the sun was out during our brief visit to New Zealand's smallest island. Frankly, I'm not quite sure why the ship chose to stop at Stewart Island other than to allow the passengers to say that we had been there. Stewart Island, New ZealandThe island is home to New Zealand's newest national park, Rakiura National Park, and the island itself is home to one of the last surviving species of New Zealand's native bird, the Kiwi. Stewart Island is separated from New Zealand's South Island by only 15 miles, so it is a short trip by ferry. As far as I could tell, except for the small township of Oban at Half Moon Bay, the island is practically uninhabited. We were told that the total population of the island is around 400 people. The island without question is a haven for backpackers. Stewart Island, New ZealandThe small township of Oban appears to exist solely to provide provisions for those who choose to spend their vacations walking around in the wilderness. The island has approximately 10 miles of roads, and we were given a short 90 minute trip that basically covered all of the populated areas. At the end of our tour, Lisa and I elected to get off the bus and spend some time in the town of Oban. Stewart Island, New ZealandWe visited their local museum, which although very small was quite interesting. We then walked the streets, took some pictures, and found our way to the visitor center. We had been told that at the visitor center a five dollar contribution would allow us to receive transportation back to the dock from which our tender would return us to the ship, which was at anchor in the harbor.

Departing Stewart Island, our ship commenced a cruise towards the North East along the coastline of South Island towards the city of Dunedin. During dinner on that evening Lisa and I recalled our previous trip to Dunedin and the one thing that stuck in our mind was the absolutely wonderful time we had had there with the cab driver whom we had selected at random out of a long line of taxis waiting by our ship. The gentleman, whose name was Ken, was one of those people whom you could "bounce off" all day long, and he had given us such a truly memorable tour of the city and its surroundings, that almost 10 years later we still recall that visit fondly. On this journey we had arranged a private car through our ship, since with heightened security taxis are no longer able to drive right up to the ship as they once had been. In fact, in some cities it is almost impossible to find a taxi without first having to take a very long walk into a populated area.

Imagine the shock on our face when the limo pulls up, the door opens, and out steps Ken! I could not believe my eyes. It caused me to recall the great line from the movie Casablanca, when Humphrey Bogart said "of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine." Well, what were the odds that Ken would once again walk into our lives?Dunedin, New Zealand We obviously spent our first minutes together getting reacquainted. I clearly remember the last time we saw Ken he was single, and bragging about how he would go to the local pubs with his inflatable doll under his arm. I thought that was the funniest image, and one that I still recall to this day. In the interim, Ken got married so the inflatable doll obviously had to go. He recently underwent a quadruple bypass, and only just in the last weeks has been released to return to work. That made it even more incredible that of all the drivers in Dunedin, he would end up with us.

We had an absolutely wonderful day, and Ken seemed determined to insure that we not only saw the city of Dunedin, but we drove every little small road in the city that offered an interesting view. Dunedin, New ZealandWe found viewpoints on little narrow roads; old cemeteries tucked away in the hillside, and in general had a marvelous time. He once again took us to the world's steepest street, and while lines of young people were trying to huff and puff their way to the top,Dunedin, New Zealand Ken drove us there in his BMW as if it was no challenge whatsoever. We made a stop at the gorgeous Edwardian railroad station, and I took a picture of Ken and Lisa sitting on the same bench where I had taken their picture some 10 years prior. Dunedin, New ZealandIt will be interesting to go back in my photographs to see if I can find that picture, and if so I have promised to send Ken a” before and after version.”

Dunedin is a city of around 200,000 people, and is the fifth largest city in New Zealand. It is largely a college town, which doubles in size during the University season. We were there on New Year's Eve, and the town was quiet except for preparations for the New Year's Eve party. We managed to stop at the botanical Garden, and then we managed to stop at a private garden. We got some photographs of their Cathedral Dunedin, New Zealandand some other pretty churches, and then we went to their Museum for coffee and a roll and a short visit before deciding it was finally time to return to our ship. All in all we had an absolutely wonderful day.

Last night we celebrated New Year's Eve, and of course New Zealand is the first main country in the world to celebrate that event. That means that we beat the rest of the world in getting to the New Year which is kind of a neat feeling. For those of you who are now just crossing over the line, I'll simply say the New Year is great, come on over!

Happy New Year and best wishes to everyone!


PS just a short note to let you know that I may not be able to do updates between now and the end of our cruise. We have three days, one right after the other, where we will visit new ports, and on the fourth day we arrive at Auckland which is the end of our cruise. That really leaves little time in between for me to organize pictures, much less to be able to dictate about our experiences. If anything dramatic happens I'll try to get out a quick e-mail, otherwise it may have to wait till I return home to finalize this trip.

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