Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Jan 30th – Wellington’s Amazing Te Papa Museum

Every port so far on this cruise has been blessed with amazing weather – a succession of blue skies and endless sun. Until we got to Wellington.....

Instead we were greeted by cloudy skies, misty hills and a bit of light rain – in fact, the weather reminded me of an English summer's day. But, if there's one Southern Hemisphere city that you don't mind avoiding the inclement weather and spending the afternoon in a museum – then that's got to be Wellington. Because, in the wonderful Te Papa museum, Wellington is home to one of the best museums in the world.

Te Papa has always been excellent – with its Maori exhibits and its impressive natural history displays – but, in the last couple of years they've added a truly amazing exhibition on the Gallipoli campaign. Gallipoli was a seminal moment in the national consciousness of New Zealand, but most of all it was a horrific and ultimately pointless battle which saw massive suffering and loss of life on both sides - Allied and Turkish.

At Te Papa, they've used the fantastic special effects work of Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop (obviously of Lord of the Rings Fame), to produce some amazing gigantic figures that take you aback with their lifelike accuracy. As you look at the giant models of the soldiers (who are 2.4 times lifesize), they are so painstakingly real, that it feels like they could leap into life at any point. They quite literally bring home the enormity of the suffering of the Kiwi soldiers fighting in that brutal conflict. There's an almost cinematic effect to the whole thing, and you can virtually feel the suffering of these poor soldiers.

I've never been to an exhibition that's been so evocative, so moving, and so impactful as this. Absolutely superb.

The rest of Wellington is a pleasing mixture of the historic and the modern; a combination of modern international capital, and accessible and friendly city life. To me, this place has better cultural attractions, better shopping, and a more cohesive feel than Auckland, which is four times the size.

Even with grey skies and strong winds, Wellington seems like it would be a great place to live.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Jan 29th – A Great Day in Gorgeous Gisborne

Today we saw the New Zealand town of Gisborne at its very best. Not only were we one of the few ships ever to actually dock here rather than anchor – being (only just) small enough to pass through its narrow harbour entrance - but the sun shone, and this often-quiet town was in party mood, as it celebrated a Polynesian festival.

A cynic might say that Gisborne doesn't have much going for it. It's an isolated town in a region dominated by agriculture, without many must-see sights, which is mainly a timber exporting port. But, what it lacks in tourists (or tourist sights), it makes up for in the friendliness of its welcome, in the beauty of its beaches, in the quality of its winelands, and in the strength of its agricultural sector. Between me and Tracy, we saw aspects of each of these today.

So, while Tracy visited a sheep farm, and had a fascinating morning watching the sheep dogs and sheep shearers at work; I had the much more taxing task of going on a wine-tasting tour, visiting a couple of the gorgeous boutique wineries that Gisborne is becoming increasingly famous for – the town markets itself as "New Zealand's Chardonnay Capital".

To be honest, it can be a bit gruelling starting your wine consumption at 10 in the morning, but the enthusiasm of the vineyard owners, and the easy-drinking wines they produce, made our wine-guzzling a little easier. By 11.30am, we had tasted ten different wines! Just for the record, and to prove that I was a little discerning in my tasting, I thought that the Pinot Gris were the best.

On the way back, the bus was a lot more lively than it had been first thing in the morning, and when we were taken to an absolutely gorgeous, but almost totally deserted white sandy beach, we were thinking that we'd arrived in paradise – or maybe that was the wine talking?

In the afternoon, we headed into town, which wasn't really a place of architectural beauty, but it was attractively situated on three rivers and facing a wide seafront and beach. As the first place that Captain Cook ever stepped on New Zealand soil (in 1769), the statues and monuments to Cook were fairly prominent.

By now, the temperature was getting to boiling point, but the festival itself was only warming up, so we lasted as long as we could before the heat (and wine-induced dehydration) drove us back to the cool of the ship.

Another great day in New Zealand – we think we need to spend longer in this beautiful country.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Jan 28th – Sailing on Lake Rotoiti From Tauranga

Apparently the weather in New Zealand has been pretty poor recently – until we showed up! Today in Tauranga, the locals told us that up till now it was like summer hadn't really happened in the Bay of Plenty, but instead we were greeted by the razor sharp blue skies and intense sunshine that has turned the city into one of New Zealand's top resorts.

So, this was the perfect day to go down to the beautiful Lake Rotoiti for a sailing trip on a catamaran. On the way there, we passed field after field of Kiwi fruit vines, and then moved into the undulating coastline of the geothermal area that surrounds Rotorua, before arriving at the volcanic lake of Rotoiti.

The lake itself couldn't look much more idyllic – the hills that surround it either covered in yellowing hay or green forest, its waters reflecting the blue of the sky, and the waterside lined with posh houses. And, our catamaran was pretty luxurious too – the only problem was that the weather was too good; no wind to fill our sails.

As we motored off, we didn't have the most auspicious of starts when we quickly ran aground trying to avoid another boat, but once we'd refloated we had a very mellow morning cruising the quiet waters of this gorgeous lake. This being one of New Zealand's premier geothermal areas, we had to call in at some sulphur pools heated by hot spring waters, turning ourselves into human lobsters as we stepped into the steaming waters.

Whether it really does you any good I don't know, but it felt very therapeutic luxuriating in the semi-boiling water. My skin felt softer, but the one major downside is that I was now radiating an eggy, sulphurous odour that repeated washing couldn't remove. Even at the formal dinner this evening, I was followed by the lovely aroma of rotten eggs (everyone so far has been too polite to mention it)!

Having returned to the ship in the afternoon, we caught the Shuttle Bus into Tauranga itself – it was very quiet and fairly unimpressive. We should have stayed in Mount Maunganui where the ship was docked – the beautiful beaches there were absolutely packed with swimmers, surfers, sun worshippers, volleyballers, and people just hanging out and enjoying its holiday atmosphere.

You can see why this part of the world is growing in popularity – great weather, wonderful landscapes and golden sands. The Bay of Plenty has plenty to offer.

PS. Tracy went to (even more stinky) Rotorua, so we've included a couple of photos of its trademark spurting geysers.