Sunday, November 10, 2013

Family Time in New Zealand

Panoramic view of Mangawhai Heads from
the deck at Di & Mi's place
As you may recall, we are now on the last part of our great Pacific adventure. On this leg, we traveled to New Zealand to visit Frank's half-sister Diane and her husband Mike (Frank and Diane share the same father).  We fondly refer to Frank's sister and brother-in-law as "Di & Mi." It was great to be greeted with their welcoming smiles when we flew into the Auckland airport from Sydney Australia. 

We spent the next several days with them at their beautiful home in the magnificent Mangawhai Heads.  What a strange word, "Mangawhai." Maori tribes are the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, and we later found out that the word Mangawhai (pronounced: man-ga-fy) means "Stream of the Stingray" in the Maori Language.

From left: Steve, Karen, Torie, and, Di & Mi

 One of the highlights of our visit was meeting relatives we hadn't even known existed: Di's daughter Karen along with husband Steve, and daughter Torie (other daughter Claudia was away at school) and Di's son Kurt along with Krissy and sons Danilo and Oscar (aka the Brandon Brothers). 
Back row (from left): Mi, Di, Krissy, Kurt 
Front row: Oscar & Danilo

Karen and Steve entertained us and treated us to "nibbles" and wine in their elegant home in Auckland, and later, we visited with Kurt and his family at a barbecue at Di & Mi's place in Mangawhai Heads.  Everyone was so welcoming to "Uncle Frank and Aunty Anne," and we felt very fortunate to meet this whole new side of the family.

View of the Bay of Islands

Di & Mi also treated us to a day trip to the spectacular Bay of Islands located on the Auckland Peninsula, about 100 km to the north of Mangawhai Heads. 

We rode the car ferry across the bay to the wonderful waterfront town of Russell, NZ: 

Headed for Russell
on the ferry
On the ferry in
the Bay of Islands

Exclusive dining here at the Marlborough
 We ate a memorable meal at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel, the grand dame of the many  traditional style buildings that line the waterfront of the charming town of Russell. This hotel was the 1st licensed hotel in all of New Zealand.  Amazingly, this lovely tourist town used to be known as "The Hell Hole of the Pacific" back when nobody but drunken sailors from the whaling ships hung out here.  It should be noted that the city of Russell was also the 1st capital of New Zealand, before the current capital of Wellington.

Cheers to good food, great company,
new family members, and a fabulous view!

It was a holiday weekend in New Zealand, and traffic on the Auckland Peninsula was abundant with vacationers.  From the deck of Di and Mi's house, we could see a plethora of holiday seekers congregating in their campers and trailers on the warm beaches of Mangawhai Heads.  Of course, the watercraft activity was stepped up with the increased crowd, and we could even see three dolphins frolicking in the waters following behind the pleasure boats, as they cruised in and out of the cove.

One of Mike's volunteer jobs was to help clear and maintain walking trails in and around Mangawhai Heads.  On a clear warm day, we hiked up one of these trails to the top of a bluff on Mangawhai Heads for some incredible seascape views:

Hiking the Goldschmidt Track
At the top of the bluffs
overlooking Mangawhai Heads
One of Di's passions is bowls, a game that dates back 5000 years to Egyptian times; we were anxious to give it a try.  This is also known as  "lawn bowling", and is played on a large court with heavy softball-sized balls; this is not bocce ball, boules, or petanque, altho bocce, boules, and petanque are all similar European offshoots derived from the game of bowls.  We found that it is not as easy as it looks. 

The balls are designed to be played by drop-rolling them using an underhand-style throw across a fine, low-cut, grass court; after release, these heavy, not-exactly-spherical balls curve curiously as they roll slowly towards their target.  This curve-action makes it very tricky to control the exact placement of the ball at its destination. In American baseball, it would be the equivalent of throwing a slow but very-pronounced curve ball with every throw, and trying to hit your mark every time. You can do it, but it takes lots of practice!  Diane taught us the basics of the game, then turned us loose; we had great fun attempting a few simple moves on the bowling green at Di & Mi's local club (where Di, by the way, is recognized as quite an accomplished player!)

Frank zeros in on the game of bowls
Anne takes a whack at it too

Festive and colorful market
in downtown Mangawhai

Di and Mi gave us a great taste of local N.Z. life.  They took us to art museums (gorgeous pottery) and a fun weekly market that included live country music along with the handicrafts and fine produce.  We also did a wine tasting at the Lochiel Winery Estates and visited the famous Bennett's sweets shop, touted as one of the world's best chocolate shops!

Fingering the merchandise at
Bennett's Chocolate Shop

Di & Mi also taught us some cool New Zealand expressions.  Our favorites: "Don't talk rubbish," "Threw a wobbly" (as in a child throwing a temper tantrum), "I'm buggered" (tired or fed up), "Let's have some nibbles" (let's eat a snack of cheese, crackers, smoked salmon, veggiemite, olives, and piccalily spread), and whatever you do, don't be a stupid, dumb-ass dope about things, otherwise the kiwis will tag you with the dubious title of "Drongo."

But the best part of this visit to Kiwiland was just hanging out
and having good 'ol family fun!

Hanging with the Kiwis - always fun people!!
Anne and Di having a moment
Frank even got a ride in Mike's jag!
That brings us to the end of our South Pacific adventure.  What a great trip!  Before we go, we want to give one more heartfelt thank you to Di & Mi for the marvelous time we had
in Mangawhai Heads! 
The beauty of Mangawhai Heads, NZ

Mi & Di

Saturday, November 9, 2013

We're in Sydney, mates!

The iconic Sydney Opera House

Time to leave our temporary home at sea.  Farewell to our ship the Volendam and hello to  Sydney,  Australia!  Our ship sailed right into Sydney Harbor and docked alongside the Opera House.  What a thrilling entrance!

Great view from 42 floors up!

We stayed at the Meriton Apartments on Kent St. in a fabulous apartment. Our spacious, fully-equipped apartment was located way up on the 42nd floor giving us an incredible view of Sydney from our balcony.

Fabulous view of downtown Sydney from "The Cross"
On our first night in Sydney, we took a walking tour called "The Crimes and Passions Tour" through the Kings Cross neighborhood.  Our guide Valentino was very knowledgeable and a lot of fun as he led us through the red light district known as "The Cross."

The real Kings Cross --  the underbelly of Sydney

Anne will be writing a detailed article on our walk for the Viator Travel Blog, so you can get the full skinny when the article is published.  Suffice it to say that Kings Cross is Sydney's underbelly with a long history of prostitution (now legalized), drugs, and gambling with plenty of great stories about all kinds of unsavory characters.

Colonial brick buildings in The Rocks
The next day, we took another walking tour, this one thru "The Rocks," the area where the city of Sydney began when the first convicts arrived from Great Britain.  Most of the convicts were petty thieves -- murderers, for example, would have been hung back in England and never made it to Australia.  So these were not hardened criminals. In fact, at the start of the Industrial Revolution so many people lost their jobs that 60% of the population turned to crime to survive.

Here's an interesting fact. The Aussies love to say that Australia exists thanks to America -- that Australia was only inhabited because America won its independence from Great Britain, and Great Britain was no longer allowed to send its criminals to America.  We don't see much about this in our history books, but apparently America started out as the Brits favorite penal colony, until the revolution began.  So I guess many of us could be descended from convicts, mate!

The Rocks Tour took us down to the water for some murky views of the famous Harbor Bridge (sometimes known as the "Coat Hanger Bridge").  The view turned out to be less than perfect because smoke from brush fires raging in the Blue Mountains (30 some miles away) blanketed the entire city. 

We visited the Blue Mountains in 2005, a gorgeous area famous for its eucalyptus trees that create a bluish haze over the area (which is how the Blue Mountains got their name).  Unfortunately, the oil of the eucalyptus is extremely flammable creating a ferocious firestorm -- the trees are sometimes called "gasoline trees" because their oils only exacerbate the flames.  The Aussies finally got the fires under control but hundreds of homes were lost.

All that walking through "The Rocks" gave us a mighty thirst, so we hiked over to the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel where Frank discovered his new favorite beer: a pale ale called "Three Sheets!"

Outside the historic Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel
"Aussie Frank" downs
a cold delicious "Three Sheets" Beer
On our last day in Sydney we took in a performance of the musical  "South Pacific" at the Sydney Opera House.  It was nostalgic to be back inside this iconic landmark (we took a tour of the building when we were here in 2005).  And "South Pacific" was a perfect way to celebrate our own trip across the Pacific Ocean.
  Lots of choices at the Noodle Market
On the way back to the apartment, we walked through Hyde Park (in the rain) and chanced to bumble into the Noodle Market.  Yea, it was raining, but what a selection of Asian goodies; it was worth standing in the rain for these yummy treats!  We love it all and stocked up on a mix of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai dishes for dinner tonight on our balcony.

This was one amazing Asian feast accompanied by a terrific Aussie wine!  And what an awesome view from our balcony after dark -- a fitting way to savor this beautiful city on our last night in Sydney.


Farewell, Volendam!!


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Seas the Day

Onboard the ship, there were many days spent at sea, and not in glamorous ports; we were just cruising the Pacific Ocean with water on all horizons.  We kept busy taking advantage of practically every form of entertainment  this cruise ship had to offer.  There were physical activities, lectures to attend, shows in the auditorium with quality musicians and actors, games and contests, and so on.  Here are just a few of the activities we enjoyed:

Sports Challenges

Franks' winning golfing form!
The ship offered many different sporting contests daily throughout the cruise.  Here is Frank lobbing a golf ball across the swimming pool.  The goal was to hit a dolphin sculpture at the other end, not an easy thing to do.  But he did it -- and he won a free drink too!

(Below right) Frank also scored in the top three for the "Moving Hoops" competition (throwing a rubber ball through a hoop that was moving back and forth). 

                 Frank drinks his winnings!!

Frank drinks his winnings!!

Pitching balls for the win

Dance Lessons

Hula Classes were held on the Lido Deck,
out by the Ship's Pool

This was Anne's chance to shine when she joined the Hula Dance Class.  She actually ended up on the main auditorium stage when the whole class got to strut their stuff at a special performance called the "Aloha Hawaii Concert!"

The Fine Arts
Our favorite ship art: a bas-relief of
Bacchus, the god of wine

We attended a number of events hosted by the ship's Art Director -- believe it or not, selling art onboard is big business.  We didn't buy a thing, but we loved particpating in an art scavenger hunt and playing Art Jeopardy (no win, but we came in 2nd on that one!).

Galley Tour

Chef preps daily meals in the Galley
We often take a tour of the galley on the ships we cruise; it helps us better appreciate how in the world the cooks feed over a 1000 hungry passengers every day.  During an average week, a staff of 67 people create meals using 12,500 lbs. of meat, 12,000 lbs. of fresh vegetables, and 40,000 eggs! 

Anne meets the head chef


Henry Kaleialoha Allen is passionate
about his steel guitar
We had a top notch steel guitar player from Hawaii onboard the Volendam, and we saw him play often.  In fact, Henry Kaleialoha Allen is apparently a musical guru around Hawaii, known for his love of this instrument and his unique ability to teach and play the steel guitar. 

Seems the steel guitar was actually invented in Hawaii, but virtually nobody in Hawaii plays it.  Henry on the other hand, tries to instill his own love of this music by teaching young people how to play Hawaii's one and only claim to fame instrument in the musical world, the steel guitar.  But Henry too laments the indifference of his own people and the consequential and eventual extinction of steel guitar music and players in his homeland. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bonjour, Nouméa!

Nouméa's beautiful harbor
Our second stop in New Caledonia occurred the following day, and it was on the island of Grand Terre, in the capital city (and biggest city in the South Pacific): Nouméa.  Nouméa is known as the “Paris of the Pacific” which may be a bit of a reach.  Other than the fact that they speak almost exclusively French here, Nouméa does not resemble the unique look of Paris in any way; however, it was probably the most sophisticated place we have visited since Honolulu.

Our rainy tour weather

Unfortunately, our day started off with clouds and rain.  Did we mention, it rains a-plenty here in these tropical Pacific Islands?  Yes, a bright sunny day can fast turn into an unexpected gully washer, or vice versa.  But a little rain would never stop the Supsics from doing an orientation tour around the city – especially since we were riding in a van! 

Swaying palms along the beach of Baie des Citrons

Our tour took us past two of the Grand Terre’s most beautiful beaches, Baie des Citrons and Anse Vata, where the palm trees were swaying gracefully in the balmy breeze.  

Cannon at Ouen Toro
We also stopped at two different viewpoints which probably would have been awesome on a clear day. One stopping place was in the municipal park and former military base called “Ouen Toro”, commanding a precipice at the southern end of the peninsula that made up the city of Nouméa. Our second place of stopping was on the west side of the peninsula, again high on a precipice behind a shopping center overlooking rainy Nouméa. Below us, we could see our cruise ship, the Volendam, anchored in the Baie de la Moselle (a main harbor) and towering prominently above its surroundings along the harbor pier.

St. Joseph's Cathedral and one of the many marinas
Nouméa sits on the main island of Grand Terre (Large Land) surrounded by over 100 small islands that belong to New Caledonia; it created a scenic feast in all directions and made this area a boater’s paradise.  One of the most famous landmarks in Nouméa is St. Joseph’s Cathedral built by convict labor and said to be an attempt to copy Notre Dame in Paris.

New Caledonia is currently a French territory, but there is a push for independence being championed by the Kanaks (the indigenous people who represent about 40% of the population; the other 60% are French – sometimes known as “Caldoche”). 
Rainy view of the islands near Nouméa
Phillipe, our tour driver, was a French implant from one of France’s many territories, and had been on New Caledonia for 18 years.  Anne asked Phillipe if he would lose his French citizenship if independence came, and he said they didn’t know yet!  Clearly, losing their French citizenship is not something any French person would want to happen. 

Usually, we would sympathize with the native people, and the disparity between the Kanaks (often sporting dreadlocks or wearing colorful muumuu dresses) and the cosmopolitan French is painfully obvious even to daytrippers like us. We can certainly understand the Kanaks wanting their country back.  However, comparing this lovely, well-ordered town with the chaos that is Port Vila in independent Vanuatu makes you wonder what the future will bring here.

Strange tuberous vegetables at the city market
After our orientation tour, despite the continued rain, we did some exploring of our own on foot.  We dropped by the oceanside market which was similar to a typical French market although the produce was not as carefully presented and included some strange-looking tuberous veggies. 

As we continued our walk, we bumped into an elderly French couple who were anxious to speak with us.  We actually had a somewhat lengthy conversation which is remarkable since they spoke no English, only quick fire French!  Somehow we managed to hold our own and were quite proud of ourselves.  The woman was from Dijon in Burgundy (one of our favorite regions of France), so we had a lot of common ground to talk about.  She even gave us the famous French double-kiss when we parted!

Listening to the English audio guide
 at the Musee de la Ville de Nouméa

Our main goal for the day was to visit the Musee de la Ville de Nouméa (the city museum) to learn some local history.  The museum was located in a charming colonial building that was once a bank.  Basically, the island was claimed by France in 1853, but few French wanted to come here to live, so they turned it into a penal colony. 

Society was very regimented with the local Kanaks on the bottom rung and the French at the top (except for the prisoners who were grouped according to the severity of their crimes).  Apparently, the category into which you fell (almost like a caste system) came to be applied to all of your descendants.  This limited self-advancement, like your ability to get a good education.

Photo of the "Kanak Exhibit" at
the 1931 International Colonial Exposition in Paris
This system provided an easy path for mistreatment of the local Kanaks; it proved to be similar to our own injustices toward the American Indian when America was in its infancy.  The Kanak's land was stolen, and they were forced to live in designated areas where an 8:00 p.m. curfew was enforced.  The French even took a group of Kanaks to the 1931 International Colonial Exposition in Paris where they were put on display like animals in a zoo.

WWII paraphernalia
Of course, when the world wars came along, the “inferior” Kanaks were deemed good enough to die for the motherland.  Unfortunately (but predictably), the citizenship promised to the Kanaks when they enlisted never happened for most of them. 

During WWII, 10,000 American GIs were stationed in New Caledonia, and the islands were used as a staging ground for Guadalcanal, housing food supplies and munitions for the war effort.

Vanuatuan indentured laborers working nude at the nickel mines
Nickel is a huge resource in New Caledonia – they have the 2nd largest source of nickel in the world (after Canada).  Many immigrants from Vanuatu, Vietnam, China, and Japan came to work in the mines as indentured laborers under 5-year contracts.  At the start of WWII, all the Japanese workers were sent to internment camps in Australia.  Interestingly today, the majority of tourists are Japanese.

French chocolate shop in Nouméa

We thoroughly enjoyed our history lesson and the French ambience of the city.  We ate fabulous, crunchy baguette sandwiches for lunch and discovered a chocolate shop with delectable French dark chocolates. 

In our stateroom, Frank looks pretty happy
 with his bootleg Manta beer!

Frank also picked up a can of the local New Caledonia beer called Manta (which he was able to slip onboard the ship past the x-ray machine for an illicit guzzle in our stateroom).  Our tour guide Phillipe had earlier recommended Manta as the best beer on the island, so we were out to put his words to the test.