Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Tauranga, Napier, Picton

One of the best early mornings of my life was when we woke up and found ourselves quietly cruising through Queen Charlotte Sound on the way to Picton. A soft sea breeze floated through the mild air, stunning beautiful nature all around us and seabirds circling above. Very soon a tenderboat came to meet us to guide us to the port where beautiful Celebrity Solstice anchored for the day.

Picton is a lovely little town full of friendly people, here we had one of two maior Maori experiences. It actually is hard not to see and do anything in New Zealand without acknowledging the influence of the Maori culture. It is amazing to learn how integrated they have become nowadays, how they are an active and important part of society and how hard they try to strengthen and activate their old rituals and life style. There are many Maori communities in NZ who - depending on where they are and how many people live there - are more or less rich and/or influental and where they try hard to live in a modern Maori way. The wonderful thing: What they show tourists is not just because for the money, but actually the way they want to live their lives, and they simply welcome you as guests to let you know more about them if you wish.

Picton is situated in the North of New Zealand´s South island, and we were told that the weather here is much cooler with more rain than on the North Island, and when we were there we found it to be true. Still we enjoyed our lunch there very much, the sun was out and it was nice and warm, and the town is full of sweet little shops and restaurants where you can paint the town red or like in "The Thirsty Pig" roll in and pig out!  

Napier or Ahuiri is back on the North Island in the Hawke´s Bay region. Again we met very relaxed and friendly people when we spent the day rafting - unfortunately we hardly could take any photos because we were told not to bring cameras in case we would get wet. And believe me: We DID get wet…

The best fieldtrip was Tauranga, where we went to "Wai-o-tapu" in the "Taupo Volcanic Zone", which is one of the most active volcanic zones in the world. Wai-o-Tapu is located on the edge of the largest caldera of the Southern hemisphere and offers lots of incredible experiences. Actually we would have done something else that day, but a Kiwi friend of mine had strongly advised us to explore the NZ thermal landscape. (Thank you so much, Lindsay Brotherton Kilburn!) We had an amazing morning at Wai-o-tapu, and I am deeply grateful for that experience! We saw a lot of ipus (pools of mud) and enjoyed wonderful views of Nature´s creations eg. like "The Artist´s Palette", "The Champagne pool" or "Roto Karikitea"(its green water resulting from certain minerals being dissolved in it).

After having lunch on a Riversteamboat at Lake Rotorua we went to "Te Puia", which is a big and important centre for Maori cultur with many more geothermal experiences of the Roturua Region.

"Te Puia" is so influential and well known that it even has it´s own Kiwi bird refuge! A big thing for me, because I had been coming to New Zealand hungrily holding out for Kiwi all the time. (Actually I have been told that there are three different kinds of Kiwi in NZ: the people, the bird and the fruit. In this case I am referring to the BIRD.) Unfortunately I did not see any live Kiwi in the nocturnal Kiwi house, the ranger saying that usually they would be basically strolling around all the time usually, but hurray!! When I was there they gave me the cold shoulder and decided to snore away the night. So all I can give you is a photo of the Kiwi house.

But the other star of the show, the Pohutu Geyser, was there when we came to visit! "Pohutu" means constant splashing in Maori, and the geyser itself is the largest active geyser in the Southern hemisphere. It erupts once or twice every hour, sometimes up to 30 meters high and of course is a big tourist attraction.

Finally we went to see traditional Maori Dances, and even though I had not been too much looking forward to this, I must say that I had a really good time. The singers and dancers were absolutely high-spirited, and the performance we saw was definately top notch quality. Again we did not have the feeling to be "just tourists" but we were shown hospitality and respect, which is the most important aspect in the Maori culture. Of course we also were shown the inevitable "Haka", which can be danced by women, men and children but usually is mis-interpreted as a "War Dance", and the energy and atmosphere were thrilling!

The Roturua area definately was one of the best experiences during our time in New Zealand (except everything else of course), and I can only recommend it strongly if you happen to be around. After a great day we went back "home", relaxing, having a great dinner and enjoying the beautiful sunset.

And beautiful Celebrity Solstice was ready to sail to her next port of call: Wellington, New Zealand...

Monday, 29 April 2019

Auckland 2019

Kia Ora Aotearoa, hello New Zealand! 

We came via Dubai all across the oceans from Australia into Auckland on a Sunday at Lunch time. And while the inner body clock was ticking that back home it was midnight and actually we had been travelling for more than 24 hours ("ultra long distance" the haul from Dubai to Auckland is called, and there are only very few scheduled flights worldwide that service that kind of distance, yippiee, lucky me), our day had just started.

We arrived right in New Zealand High Summer, the air was warm and smelled like flowers, and stepping out of the European Winter it was like paradise. Our first stop was Mount Eden, where we could get a first glimpse of the city. Even though it was Sunday we hardly met any people, but we were assured that "everybody was out and about". Our first impression how lucky the Southern hemisphere is: Lots of space and hardly any people.  What a difference to cold, old, crowded Europe!

Auckland is full of lush parks and recreation areas. In the Auckland Domain, one of the parks, they were preparing for Chinese New Year 2019. The whole place was full of flowers and exotic plants, crickets were chirping and birds were singing. Heaven after the bumpy ride on the A380! In a lovely little café we had some breadrolls for lunch and enjoyed our first food in Kiwiland.

Then we went up the Sky Tower, the highest tower in the southern hemisphere. For me quite a challenge, since I am not too fond of things having something to do with height. But I was told that from here you enjoy the best view right over Auckland. I just went up for a quick photo and back down (with my eyes closed, the lift had bloody glass walls!!) and then had a fun time in the souvenir shop waiting for the others.

Good morning from the other side of the world!

The next morning found the body clock even more confused, even after a near coma sleep of 10 hours the body still knew that back home it was 12 hours earlier. But hey, so what, we set off for another day of fun and surprises. In a quick row we visited a winery, a sheep farm - where we saw an amazing presentation of sheep dogs - and more of the beautiful city of Auckland.

The next day, already right in perfect holiday mood, we finally went down to Waitemata Harbour to board the CELEBRITY SOLSTICE, to start our cruise around New Zealand and Australia, not yet knowing that the best days of our lives where just about to begin!

Since Stefan had upgraded us to Concierge Class we had priority embarkation and were on board in literally minutes, skipping the crowds and exploring first our balcony cabin and then get first glimpses of the rest of ship. Then we settled down at the top deck stern bar to watch the departure from the harbour.

And as to speak with Captain Zisis Taramas, the quirky, amiable Commander of the huge vessel that would be our home for the next 2,5 weeks ("yep, that´s a biggie" some Kiwi in Wellington told us): at 7.00 p.m. "beautiful Celebrity Solstice" was "ready to sail to her next port of call: Tauranga, New Zealand!"