2 Feb 11 Wow! Flying at 38,000 feet above the moonless Pacific, the stars are simply spectacular! I envy the astronauts.
4 Feb 11 – Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand is great. It is clean with very little litter (What we saw was probably dropped by tourists.) and the people are friendly and out-going. It is expensive, however. Much of what they consume has to be imported and, in addition to an income tax, they have a fifteen percent “gross sales tax” factored into the price of everything.
New Zealand has about 4.2 million people and more than a fourth live around Auckland. But like areas in the western U.S. that are sparsely populated, we found the people out-going and very friendly. They were happy to talk to us and went out of their way to help us and make us feel welcome.
One is struck by the fact that the people on Auckland streets by in large are very young and dressed very casually. U.S. brands are in evidence everywhere. Not only the fast food stores – McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Wendy’s, Subway, Dunkin Donuts – but others like Target. Most cars are Japanese, but we see Fords and Jeeps. Under the British influence, they drive on the left side of the road.
5 Feb 11 – Touring outside Auckland
The Waitomo Glow Worm Caves proved to be unexpectedly interesting. To get there, we had a long drive through rolling hills with large dairy farms and corn fields with Pioneer Hybrid Seed signs. It was reminiscent of Pennsylvania. There used to be 120 million sheep in New Zealand, but now there are just about 40 million. Dairy farming is more profitable. It is the number one New Zealand industry, and our guide said they export one third of the world’s dairy product. Tourism is now their second leading industry with timber third and sheep down in 4th place.
‘Arachnocampa luminosa’ is not a Harry Potter spell. It is a mosquito-like gnat which is in the larval stage for about 13 weeks. The larvae hide in the dark and secrete long sticky straw-like threads. They then glow in the dark and attract insects to eat. Loaded on boats, tourists are pulled through a flooded cave. Looking up, the ceiling was much like the starry night at 38,000 feet or, since the light was more uniform, looking at a spectacular display of white LED lights. Unbelievable!
We next went to the Agrodome, a tourist trap farm. As we arrived, we saw a new-born lamb struggling to its feet. Within the hour, Alie was holding it as about 12 of us were taken around on a wagon to look at ostriches, shaggy bulls, huge cattle – Holstein, Herford and Friesian, sheep, turkeys and red deer. We were then entertained by a six-time national champion sheep dog herding sheep around a field, over a bridge and into a pen. He never barked. He would just approach the sheep, stop and stare. Next, our burly guide sheared a sheep for us.
Rotorua is sort of a New Zealand Yellowstone with geysers and boiling mud. But unlike Yellowstone, Rotorua is very manicured with gardens around the springs. Te Puia Thermal Reserve not only shows you the hot springs, it also has a 45 minute Maori song and dance show inside meeting house. They are also teaching young Maori people there about their culture and crafts. The weaving is interesting, but the carving is wonderful.
6 Feb 11 In the U.S., McDonald’s advertises its “dollar menu.” In New Zealand, they advertise “Five Items under $3.” Of course, their dollar is worth 75 cents U.S. But their store near our hotel also had an espresso bar. A popular drink is the “flat white” which has less milk than a latte. As I enjoyed my coffee and bagel, I struck up a conversation with muscular young man in jeans and a tight fitting black T-shirt. He was a policeman. He said there wasn’t much violent crime and he didn’t carry a gun. His job was to patrol looking out for youth getting into trouble – twice as we talked, he approached a young man with an open wound on his arm who seemed under the influence of something. His ambition was to: go to L.A.; join a SWAT team; get his U.S. citizenship; and join the F.B.I. He said his future in New Zealand was too limited. I did not choose to discourage him.
The Auckland footwear of choice seems to be flip flops, and I understood when I looked in store windows. The cheapest I saw was a canvas house shoe for $40 and the cheapest thing with laces was $99. Later on the trip when my belt failed, I went into a shop and had to pay $35 for a belt and $65 for a pair of jeans.
In the early morning at one corner, men were setting up spot lights and putting out traffic barriers. Holiday celebration? Nope, they were getting ready to do a McDonald’s commercial.
February 6 is Waitunga Day celebrating the treaty between the United Kingdom and the Maori. There were two translations, and the Maori feel they were treated badly. They are very active in New Zealand society and one wonders how long Waitunga Day will be politically correct.
As I walked around the harbor, I saw our ship, The Amsterdam, was in, but I was more interested in the bright yellow rubber duck, at least twenty feet high, bobbing in the marina. It was also interesting to see the controversial 1988 America’s Cup competitor. And it was amusing to see a restaurant that advertised hours: “5 p.m. until Chef get sleepy.”
Taxis are readily available and there is a tourist bus that lets you get on and off at various tourists spots for a set price, but the cheapest way around town is on the “Link” bus which does a circuit through the main neighborhoods in the city. Alie and I took the Link and walked a few blocks to the Auckland Museum which had a great exhibit of Maori carving including a 1836 war canoe that was twenty-five meters long and held 100 warriors. We then walked down the hill to their beautiful botanical gardens. Built from 1921 to 1928, it reminds one of the gardens at the foot of Capitol Hill in D.C. The flowers were great and included some absolutely huge lily pads. When we left the gardens, we turned right when we should have turned left and walked for miles through the “Auckland Domain,” their version of New York’s Central Park. It was a holiday, a beautiful day, and the park had families picnicking, a band concert and people just being lazy. When we finally got through the park, we got on the Link again just to ride through upscale Newmarket, Bohemian Karangahape (K-Road), and the cafe/bar scene of Ponsonby.
7 Feb 11 The morning newspaper said average rents have increased due to people returning from Australia where they were working before the recession and to changes in the tax law. An advertised house will attract 200 applicants. Rents were listed at: Auckland $580; Milford $670; and Remuera $690 per week.
At Alie’s suggestion, we went up the Skytower, 328 meters tall. The views were great. One can also walk outside the tower (tethered) or jump off on a rope. We chose not to do that.
We went down to the harbor early. It was Monday noon, but the Superbowl was just starting on Sunday evening back in the U.S. and the Amsterdam had set up it’s theater for a great party. The ship, launched in 2000, holds 1380 guests but had just 1128 on board served by 616 crew. About 1000 of the passengers were on a 110-day world cruise that started and ended in Fort Lauderdale. We learned that for many, it was an annual event as an alternative to going to Florida or Arizona for the winter. To say the least, it attracts an older crowd. Comedian Jeff Peterson said he “told a woman to act her age – and she died.”
8 Feb 11 Mount Maungani and Tauranga
While the sign on the warehouse said “Tauranga.” the cruise ship actually docked at the little village of Mount Maungani, at the foot of a small mountain of the same name. We walked in to buy me a belt and passed a sign that said “Sheep next 1600 KM.” As we stood outside the “Gentlemen’s Outfitters,” a lady introduced herself and told us her grandfather founded Holland America; she spends her summers in Holland and her winters in Tauranga.
Walking through the village, we came to a beautiful beach where a large number of uniformed girls were running in the distance. Tide was low, so we walked out over damp sand and climbed a low hill on Moturik Island, once known as Leisure Island because it had an amusement park. Now it was grass, trees, birds and people enjoying nature. A bit older than most of the people, we struggled along astounded as an man at least our age and probably older jogged up and down the hill three times. Later we talked to the man. He runs every morning as part of a 120 member jogging club. Indeed, the “girls” we saw were all mature women and several of them, having finished their run, walked and talked with us as we headed back to our ship.
Tauranga is New Zealand’s third largest port handling 1200 container ships and 50 cruise ships a year. It has a population of 163,000. Our tour to a winery actually took us to a store and restaurant. Alie points out that all tours used to take you to churches and cathedrals; now they all take you to wineries.
The tour, which had been on the dull side, stopped at a family run kiwifruit orchard where the owner, Graham Crossman, boarded our bus to greet us. When his eldest son failed to show, he took us on a tour himself, and his wonderful energy soon converted us to kiwi fruit enthusiasts.
Kiwifruit came from China called Chinese gooseberries but the U.S. tariff was higher on berries than fruit, so they renamed the product in the 1960s. They grow on vines like grapes but are strung on wires about five feet overhead. His 11 acre orchard was one of about 2000 in the area that produced 350,000 tons of export quality – no bruises or cuts – fruit a year. The plants consume huge amounts of water, and their roots reach deep into the rich volcanic soil which needs no irrigation, so he boasted their quality was higher than that from India and China which produce more. Through grafting plants over the last seven years, 25 percent of the crop is now a patented gold fruit. A Rutgers study of 13 common fruits found kiwifruit to be the most nutritious. They are hand-picked from April through June, and he said the government will not pay the “dole” during picking season. Minimum wage is $13 an hour an all unemployed must pick. There is one male for each four female plants, but they produce no nectar. Therefore, the farmer leases 35 hives of bees, 80,000 altogether, at $160 per hive. He pays a premium, because there is no nectar and no honey is produced; indeed, he has to feed the bees sugar water to keep them alive. The plants need a frost to kill pests and set the flowers, but a frost in the spring will spoil the fruit. In some areas where frost is infrequent, they use helicopters to blow warm air from an inversion layer down on to the plants. He has many frosts to make the expensive helicopters practical, so he has built a $55,000 fan that rotates every ten minutes circulating the air over his fields. After the tour, we were given scones with kiwifruit jam and clotted cream.
New Zealand has a large number of golf courses for its size. Indeed, it seems like a culture that relishes being outdoors. We saw lots of travel trailers and RV parks. Near Tauranga, we saw a golf course that you can drive from hole to hole in your car with your clubs in the “boot,” the trunk.
9 Feb 11 Napier on Hawkes Bay is wine country. An earthquake in February1931leveled the town, killed 258 and elevated forty square kilometers of land. They rebuilt in the Art Deco style. and the buildings have been protected and restored since the 1990s. It has been nominated to be a World Heritage site. As we drove in from the port on some of the elevated ground, we passed huge Norfolk pines. Hawkes Bay has a mild climate all year ideal for many types of grapes and fruit. We saw the vines covered with cloth in many vineyards to keep away birds. And here too was a golf course, the Cape Golf Course, reputed to be among the world’s best and charging between five hundred and six hundred dollars per round.
At Clifton Station which has been in the same family since 1886, we took another farm tour. Both “barking” and “sight” dogs worked a herd of sheep. Natural wool has 25 percent lanolin by weight, so shearers were felt moccasins to keep them from slipping. After an excellent shearing demonstration, we went to their café where we were given tea and fresh scones. They also have a “caravan” – travel trailer – camp by the water. A five hour walk would take one out to the Cape Kidnappers Gannet colony, but we rode up the Tuki Tuki valley into a reserve where we needed a motorcycle escort to clear the narrow road for our coach. The views from Te Mata peak were great.
On our way back, the coach stopped in a public square where one could use the public toilet. One pressed a button to enter. When the door closed, a recording told one it would open again in ten minutes ready or not and that the toilet would flush when your hands were washed. Music played. You put your hands in the left side of an opening in the wall and received soap; in the center, you got water (and the toilet flushed) and on the right air blew to dry your hands.
Finally we stopped at the “Strawberry Patch” where one could get strawberries, blueberries, boysenberries or mixed berries crushed and mixed with vanilla soft serve ice cream in a cone.
Returning to the dock, we were greeted by Napier volunteers dressed in 1920s and 1930s costumes standing by their vintage automobiles. A band in costume played music from the era and continued until we sailed despite the fact it was cold and windy and we were delayed by late returning tour busses.
10 Feb 11 Wellington, population 400,000, is the capital of New Zealand and is a little more dressy, a little more formal than Auckland but every bit as nice. One enters through a narrow entrance into a huge harbor for “Windy Wellington.” Although it rains often there, our weather was very nice. Our tour was in a high-wheeled diesel German military vehicle purchased for its four-wheel drive capability by the producers of the “Lord of the Rings” movies. It is now owned by a young pharmacist, who converted the back into an air-conditioned box that holds 16 passengers. Wellington homes are built on steep hills which we drove up and into gated wildlife reserve. At the top, we had a 360 degree view. Off to one side was a windmill farm that generates electricity for 63,000 homes. To the front was the passage between the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean; New Zealand is about 1400 kilometers long and the pass between the north and south islands is only about twenty kilometers wide. The result is a strong deep current.
We had our “tea” with excellent muffins in a cabin by the sea owned by a “friend” that was built of corrugated metal. Walking along the rocky shore, I found an abalone shell; the Maori call them paua. Later, as we drove along the rugged shore, we saw a couple seals. We had been told the seal colony had moved to the south island to mate; perhaps these were gay seals.
Arriving back in Wellington, Alie and I got out on Lambton Quay street; originally on the water, the street is now several blocks back as the land in front was raised by an earthquake. After walking to take a picture of the “beehive,” their Parliament building, we had lunch in a pub: beer and hard cider and a pizza with fresh tomato and basil. We soon spent about forty five minutes talking with three men at least one of whom and perhaps all three were retired members of Parliament. They were very knowledgeable about U.S. government, history and politics and, like all New Zealanders, very friendly. It made me embarrassed that I knew so little about New Zealand.
Later we learned Alie’s sister Michelle and her friend Lewis had seen the Phillips Moniac, a 1949 hydrological model of the economy developed at the London School of economics by a New Zealand engineer. I had just read about it before leaving home. As a mechanical “computer,” it was amazingly accurate. We had been within a few blocks of it, but I did not know it was in New Zealand.
11 Feb 11 Lyttleton/Christchurch Fortunately, I was wearing pajamas when I opened the curtains and discovered the gangplank to the dock was right next to our room. Lyttleton is the harbor for Christchurch which was originally reached by a 2.2. kilometer railroad tunnel. We left early to take the Alpine train through the flat “Canterbury Plains” farmland up through winding foothills along a rushing river to the top of the mountain ridge. Tea and scones were served on the train, and we got out at Springfield to stretch our legs. We spent much of our time standing in an open car at the end of the train as we passed through 17 tunnels and over numerous “viaducts” or bridges to Arthur’s Pass National Park at 720 meters high. We saw “gorse” in the fields. Imported from Scotland to make natural hedges, it is now a pest they would like to eradicate. On the way, we passed a camp for runners and their fans competing in the annual trans-island race. The winner completes the race from shore to shore over the mountain pass in eleven hours but most people take two to three days.
From Arthur’s Pass, we took a coach back over Porters Pass (920 meters) to Springfield where we had an elegant box lunch in a local community center before returning to Christchurch.
Blocked by the mountains, Christchurch is much drier than Wellington or Auckland. It is described as “the most English town outside England” and one could easily believe it. A town of 400,000, it is very pretty with the Avon River making a large horseshoe through Hagley Park, its beautiful “domain,” the land reserved for public use. Every house seemed to have a fence or wall surrounding a garden and the botanical garden in the domain was gorgeous. And, being New Zealand, not England, there are fourteen golf courses. The September 2010 earthquake with an epicenter outside of the town rotated a tower turret on one old college building eighteen inches, so the turret was now sitting on the ground. The college, which was modeled on Oxford, has moved out of the center of town, and the old buildings are now being used for artists galleries, theaters, etc. We only had forty-five minutes to walk around, but we did see the edge of the gardens and walked to the Cathedral Square where they were having a flea market and flower festival. Little did we know that in less than two weeks, it would be reduced to rubble by another earthquake.
Lyttleton Harbor is actually an extinct volcano by the sea, and it is easy to make out the encircling crater walls. Above us was a “Timeball Station,” a castle-like building with a zinc ball on a pole. An precisely 1 p.m. each day, the ball drops from its tower so that sea captains could set their chronometers accurately in order to measure longitude. It is one of only three in the world still operating.
The train ride was nice, but the scenery in the Western U.S. is often nicer. Nonetheless, it was a great experience. On our way back to Lyttleton, we passed a bunch of twisted metal girders; they had come from the World Trade Center in New York and were now a monument to the firefighters who gave their lives there. As we left the harbor, two dolphins played in the clear water of our bow wake.
12 Feb 11 Dunedin, population 120,000, is at the end of Otago Harbour, a long arm of the sea with a narrow channel and an albatross colony at the entrance. We docked at Port Chalmers, half way down the channel, which serves Port Chalmers, Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula. Dunedin is the Gaelic name for Edinburgh. Not surprisingly, there are lots of Scotch names in the area.
Dunedin is building a new indoor stadium, the only one in New Zealand, which will seat 30,000 people for the part of the Rugby World Tournament coming to New Zealand in September. The first show held in the new stadium will be Elton John in August.
A 1904 “Flemming Renaissance style” railroad station sits at the bay end of Dunedin’s main street, Lower Stuart Street. At the other end, sits Town Hall and St. Paul’s Cathedral on “The Octagon,” an open space which in most towns would be “the square.” The railroad station has elaborate tiles on floors and walls and stained glass windows. An old train, now used for tourists, was leaving when we arrived. Across the street is a 1902 courthouse. Dunedin doesn’t get snow, but it is far enough south (remember we are south of the equator) to get dangerous ice on the streets in the winter.
We spent about an hour touring the Olveston home built by a Jewish merchant who made his initial fortune serving those who came for the gold rush. His spinster daughter kept the house much as it was in 1902-05 until she willed it to the city in the 1960s. It had a 1928 refrigerator made in the U.S. and still running. The butler’s pantry had a huge safe for the family silver, and, as they kept kosher, there were two sinks each for the dishes, the pots and the silver. Copper sinks were used for the more delicate items. In the library, each shelf had fringe at the top to keep out dust. In the dining room, there were shades on the candles to shield one’s face from harsh light. In that dining room, Dr. Toby Ring founded a system of maternal and child care in 1907 that gained international acceptance. The front hall had a display of Samurai weapons. Designed by an Englishman who never visited New Zealand, the house included a two and a half ton snooker table supported by steel beams. It was a big house and had 3 male and 6 female servants, but it was very “livable” not like many mansions we have seen.
We next went to Baldwin Street, billed as the world’s steepest street. We passed buildings and housing for Otago University (1869), New Zealand’s first university. Students burn couches leaving black marks on the street.
Getting off the bus in town, we attend their annual “Thieves’ Market,” a fair and flea market that is held just one day a year on Lower Stuart Street and The Octagon. It is for locals, not tourists, so there were many bargains.
13 Feb 11 Oban, with a population in the summer of only about 380, lies on Half Moon Bay on Stewart Island next to Rakiura National Park. Steward is the smallest and most southern of the three main New Zealand islands. Oban is Gaelic for “little dog.”
It is a pretty place to walk with nice streets, houses with gardens, forest walks and pretty bays. But it is hilly. Alie went off on a tour and, as it was a chilly day, Michelle and I had hot tea and a scone in the hotel. We then walked around the bay, saw cod fisherman drinking their morning “hair of the dog” and a local “tea” at the 1904 small wooden Presbyterian church which was being reinforced because, as one man told us, they were afraid it would blow over in the wind. We saw lots of big fat wood pigeons and one Kia parrot as we walked down to a lovely sandy bathing beach. I wondered which day of the year it would be warm enough to get into the water. On the way back, we stopped in at the gallery of local artist Margaret Fairchild whose excellent paintings had strong contrasts of light. When I showed her sister-in-law my picture of the parrot to find out what it was, she was excited and said they had been trying to “capture” (in a photo) one. Where did I see it? I replied, it is on your upstairs railing.
Later we saw Alie who had taken some walks after her tour: “There is a whole lot of up on that island.”
14 Feb 11 Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound Fiordland Natiional Park is a “World Heritage Site.” It gets twenty feet of rain a year. Milford sound has 182 days of rain a year. It was overcast while we sat on deck chairs covered by tartan blankets and a waiter served hot chocolate and cider as we cruised through Dusky Sound around Resolution Island and then through Doubtful Sound and around Secretary Island. I guess I had expected us to go up a fiord and back out the same way. There were high distant waterfalls and the marks of landslides. It was pretty, but I like the Alaskan passages better.
As we exited, the Princess “Dawn” was entering. Along the way, we saw much smaller ships including the Oceanic “Discoverer” which was taking on a smaller launch as we passed. A smaller boat might be more interesting because it could get in closer to the rocks, wildlife and waterfalls.
In the afternoon, however, the sun was shining as we entered 512 meter-deep Milford Sound. It was truly spectacular with steep walls and wide five hundred and six hundred foot tall waterfalls. Planes and helicopters flew from the little village at the end of the sound but were just dots along the walls of the fiord. Seals played on shoreline rocks and an albatross flew overhead.
17 Feb 11 Hobart, Tasmania, Australia As in New Zealand, we found this port surrounded by high hills formed by the thrusting of geological plates meeting and the explosive force of volcanoes. We are so used to flat ports along the U.S. east coast, it took a while to realize why all these ports were so impressive when we entered.
Tasmania is about the size of Virginia but has only a half million people. Of these, about 220,000 live in the capitol area of Hobart. Founded in 1804, Hobart was a penal colony. Hobart if fairly far south but has a fairly consistent cool temperature all the year. In the summer, the average low and high temperatures are 55 and 70 but in the winter they are still only 42 and 55. The hottest day was elsewhere on the island at 108 and the coldest day in Hobart was in 2010: 28 degrees Fahrenheit. The median cost of a home is 380,000 U.S. dollars.
Tasmania has 3300 kilometers of coastline. We passed through the “glebe,” land set aside to support the church, now a suburb. We then traveled north and east up the Derwent River valley. The lower portion of the river does not rise much, is brackish and subject to tides. Along the way, we saw many black swans in the river but it was hard to get a picture from the moving bus.
We had a bathroom break on the town square in New Norfolk. Founded in 1807, it served as a mental asylum for convicts prior to the 1860s and was a true “frontier town.” Today, it resembles something out of the U.S. 1950s. We passed the Bush Inn founded in 1813, the oldest hotel in Australia in continuous operation. Today’s building was built in 1840.
Further up river above the rapids, the Derwent has nine hydroelectric plants and is also used to supply water to Hobart. Suburban housing quickly gave way to a broad agricultural valley with a great variety of crops including cherries and other fruits and berries, dairy, sheep and cattle, and grain. Blue gum and pine trees provide pulp and lumber. In the north, there raise tulips exported to Holland in the winter. White cherries are sent to Japan for the Christmas season. Michelle, who was on a different tour, later told us the cherries fetch a dollar apiece in Japan. We saw fields of garlic whose tops I originally mistook for opium bulbs. We were told Tasmania is the largest producer of legal opium. They also produce 70 percent of the hops for the Australian beer industry. Hops start as small plants and are trained eight feet up strings to wires overhead. We saw field after field of them at all stages.
After about one and a half hours on the bus, we had forty-five minutes to walk to Russell Falls in Mount Field National Park. Pictures of the falls showed a wall of water over the rocks, but it was not as impressive the day we were there. However, it was a lovely walk through a temperate rain forest with huge trees including large “fern trees” and gigantic eucalypts and myrtles. We even saw a few glow worms hiding in the dark created by the undergrowth. The park was created in 1916, the third after Yellowstone in the U.S. and Sydney’s Royal National Park. The parking lot had vehicles from all over the area including campers from New South Wales brought over on ferries. Tasmania, like New Zealand, is an “outdoors” country. They have the highest percentage of boat owners in Australia and we were told some of the biggest stores in Hobart were sporting goods stores.
It has been a dry summer in Tasmania, and the Coal River valley was brown except where irrigated. After another one and half hours on the bus, we got to the Meadowbank Winery for lunch. It was crowded, they were inadequately prepared and service was slow, but we sampled three types of wine and had a lovely antipasto lunch: salad, oysters, bread, olives, pate, artichokes, pickled onions, salmon and prosciutto followed by homemade truffles and cake – which were dense and thick with cocoa powder.
We were back on the bus for another hour and a half with a brief photo opportunity in the village of Richmond. Richmond has a large collection of sandstone Georgian-style buildings, but we just rode the bus except to stop at the nation’s oldest bridge still in use and the oldest Catholic church (1936) where we only had time for a photo or two. We were beginning to think rather badly of the tour when we arrived at Bonorang Park, a wildlife rescue park. We saw up close, and occasionally even held or petted: a ten-month old wombat (we were told they are “horrible” as adults); a kookaburra in a tree; a blue-tongued lizard who stuck out his inch long bright blue tongue regularly but always too fast to catch in a photo; several Tasmanian devils (in the wild, they are being killed off by a communicable cancer); koalas, a Tawny Frogmouth (another ugly bird); wallabies and kangaroos; Sulfur Crested Cockatoos including one that was 48 years old (we had also seen them in the wild); brilliantly colored Rainbow Lorikeets; a Potoroo, the smallest wallaby; and two echidnas, the only creature other than the duck-billed platypus that lays eggs and suckles its young.
On the long drive back, we passed a huge zinc works and a plant that builds 120-meter long catamarans – some were sold to the U.S. military and used to transport supplies after Hurricane Katrina. But the one thing that saved the long day, was the wildlife park; it made all that riding worthwhile.
In the evening, the Tasmania Police Pipe Band and Irish Dancers came on board to entertain us. They were an amateur act, but we thoroughly enjoyed them.
18 Feb 11 Port Arthur is now just a large open air museum with the ruins of what had been a horrible penal colony in the early 1800s. It was a “punishment station” where they sent 2nd offenders including young boys (Point Puer was the first English “reform school.”), those who had already been transported and then did something else. Their crimes ranged from murder to just stealing some food. There were no women convicts. Those were sent to “Cascade” in Hobart where the severity of their crimes was indicated by the length of their hair – the shorter the hair, the worse the behavior. Once in Port Arthur, further infractions led to worse punishment: flogging with a cat ‘o nine tails up to 100 lashes (Norfolk Station gave up to 300); being put on a human treadmill that was used to power the flour mill; or in last resort being put in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day with one hour of exercise per day – alone.
Port Arthur is on a peninsula whose narrow neck was guarded by large hungry mastiffs. Of each 100 soldiers on guard, 12 were allowed to bring their wives. By 1840, the military quarters were so crowded, they were sleeping on the floor with less space than the convicts.
At the time, however, Port Arthur was supposed to be a model of enlightened prison reform. There was a hospital, a church and vegetable and ornamental gardens. The convicts worked 12 hours and went to school in the evening. Many learned some of the 42 trades taught. 220 boats were built in the boatyard (which must have been a special mental punishment for those working on them). There were 13,2000 books in the library. Altogether, 162,000 men, women and children were transported. 73,000 went to Tasmania. About 7500 prisoners served 12,500 sentences (some had more than one) at Port Arthur. The “Isle of the Dead” in the harbor is said to have the graves of about 1100 prisoners.
After they stopped transporting convicts in 1853 and in 1860 Port Arthur became an asylum for the old, the frail and “lunatics,” and it closed in 1877. Fire, theft and recycling of the building materials gradually reduced the place to ruins. Our tour was not much: forty five minutes of lecture and a twenty minute boat ride. Had we known, we would have just walked around on our own and read the explanatory signs that were everywhere. As it was, we did visit the Commandant’s House which sits among huge old trees. There had been ten commandants from 1830 to 1877. The house survived because after the prison closed, it was used as a hotel – there was a brief attempt to create a town, Carnavon – and a boarding house.
20 Feb 11 Sydney We opened our curtains this morning and there were the sail-like Sydney Opera House roofs. We were docked in Circular Quay, the ideal location to see Sydney. On the other side of the ship was the “coat hanger” bridge built in 1932 and still the world’s widest bridge. The opera house was opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1973 and was derided at first but is now one of the most recognizable pieces of architecture and engineering in the world.
Sydney Harbor is the largest natural harbor in the world. Established in 1788 as a penal colony, the 1400 arrivals, mostly convicts, dropped to 736 before the city began to grow. Now almost one in four Australians – four million – live in the area.
We took a bus tour of the “Blue Mountains,” actually steep valleys cut into an ancient sandstone plain. They are far older than the Grand Canyon. Going out of town, we crossed the ANZAC bridge, the only place in Australia that flies both the Australian and New Zealand flags perpetually. The bridge has two high pillars holding up two massive sets of triangular cables; it is locally known as “Madonna’s Bra. ”
The guide poured out tidbits of information all day. Fuel in Australia, we are told, is forty percent more expensive than in the U.S. but forty percent cheaper than in the U.K. The Australian economy was not hit as hard by the worldwide recession largely because it has large coal and other commodity exports to China. We were also told voting is compulsory but aborigines weren’t allowed to vote until 1976.
We stopped at the 2000 Olympic stadium, site of a recent Rolling Stones concert, for a few pictures. Our guide referred to the band as the “Strolling Bones.” Circular pedestrian ramps up the sides of the stadium were made large enough to accommodate emergency vehicles and their center cores serve as large water cisterns. Light towers were named for previous Olympic cities and served as meeting points during the games. Nearby was a field of poles inscribed with the names of seventy-five thousand volunteers who helped during the games. The old press and media quarters are now used for annual cattle and sheep shows.
The “blue” in the mountains, like the U.S. Blue Ridge Mountains, comes from a haze, but this haze is aggravated by the presence of eucalyptus oil from the hundreds of varieties of eucalypts. It is a very suburban area. The boundaries of Sydney extend a hour and a half out from the main harbor on a main road, and driving up the hills through villages reminded me of I-78 coming out from New York through the towns of New Jersey. These towns, however, face the danger of huge brush fires fuel by eucalyptus oil.
In 1994, they found a stand of 38 Wollemi Pines which previously had only been seen in 65 million year old fossils; they were thought to be extinct. Genetically identical, they seem to propagate through stems and new cuttings. Since 2006, the Australian government has made cuttings available and one is now near Circular Quay.
We stopped at Echo Point, a look out where we saw the steep canyons on the western side of the mountains and the “Three Sisters” rock formation before going on to lunch at “Scenic World.” Despite the obvious tourist trap nature of the place, we had a wonderful buffet lunch and then took their funicular, at fifty-two degrees the steepest in the world, down into the valley for a walk through the temperate rainforest. The cars drop 206 meters over a 415 meter track starting down through an 80 meter natural tunnel. As we entered the tunnel, speakers played the theme from “Indiana Jones.” In 1878, there were about forty coal mines at the bottom. As we walked along the trail, we saw a magpie, the ruin of an old mine and a rusted out “rope car” used to haul up oil shale, and a fascinating ribbon gum tree. The bark of the tree naturally peels off in ribbons – another contributor to fierce brush fires. We ascended by way of a modern cable car and went to the touristy town of Leura whose buildings all seem to date from 1910 to 1920.
After returning, we took a cab to Sydney’s Chinatown for dinner at the New Tai Yuan Restaurant “founded in 1975,” a restaurant that had more Chinese than tourists. After dinner, we walked to see the bright lights of Darling Harbor, an old port area that has been renovated with restaurants, bars and entertainment.
21 Feb 11 Sydney: It is possible to walk on top of the cables of the Harbor Bridge – Michelle and Louis did the day before – but I just chose to walk across the bridge itself. On this early Monday morning, there were lots of commuters and joggers as well as cars and double-decker commuter trains. Below us, ferries bustled back and forth in the harbor carrying even more commuters. As I walked around the harbor, I did not see any newspaper kiosks or boxes, but I found one in a store.
After breakfast, in order to cover more distance around town, Michelle and I alternated pushing Alie in her wheelchair. We passed the posh Intercontinental Hotel which is in a building (yesterday’s guide told us) that formerly was a venereal disease hospital. Walking through the Royal Botanical Garden, we looked at roses and huge trees and had our picture taken by a gigantic Moretown Bay Fig. Outside the Sydney Hospital is a bronze boar and a sign that said donating a coin and rubbing its nose brought good luck. The nose was rubbed shiny, but so was its penis.
We then went to the New South Wales Gallery of Art and made our way through heavy crowds of school children and other visitors to see the special exhibit of Qin First Emperor Terra Cotta army figures (210 B.C.) from China including with fourteen of the actual figures including horses and a chariot.
23 Feb 11 At Sea (We often seem “at sea” even when on dry land.) A Torres Strait pilot lectured about the Great Barrier Reef. His company was formed in 1884 to take ships around the north end of the reef, and he showed us a picture of a 100,000 ton oil tanker he has taken through with less than a meter of water under the keel. The reef extends two thousand kilometers and covers an area larger than the U.K. It was formed after the last ice age (8000 years ago) which dropped sea levels and carved valleys in a limestone base. The oldest coral is in the north and the youngest in the south. It is formed by the skeletons of trillions of polyps, each with tentacles and a mouth. There are four hundred species of coral, one thousand of fish and four thousand of shellfish on the reef. There was good news and bad news: climate change was causing bleaching in some areas and new growth in others. I was glad to have scuba dived on it in 1986.
24 Feb 11 Cairns is a resort town, a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. It has about 160,000 people, and, together with Port Douglas to the north, there are about 200,000 in the area. We had visited in 1986, and it seemed like a little village then. Now what was a little two lane road to Port Douglas is a four-lane thoroughfare with 16 roundabouts joining roads leading to beach communities. Sugar cane, the major industry in the 1980s, is still a big industry.
It was not good weather for a beach community, however. It rained all day. Sometimes it was just a mist and sometimes it poured. We road the Skyway gondola up through the rain and clouds to Kuranda. In 1986, Barron Falls was just a trickle released from a dam above when the tourist train passed. This time, as are gondola passed by, it was a raging torrent. Kuranda, once a mining town, is basically one large tourist trap now. Rather than shop, we walked the Jumrum Creek Trail. We think we walked the same trail in 1986, but now it is paved. When we reached the creek, however, it was twenty feet wide and passed over the trail in a series of rapids, so we had to turn back. On the way, we saw several “bush turkeys” which in the rain looked like bedraggled buzzards with red heads. We took a bus back, but a tree across the road backed everything up for about an hour and a half.
In the evening, Alie and I went out into the rain again to the “Night Market,” a really tacky indoor flea market that offered everything from jewelry to massage. On the way back, a big Aborigine, perhaps a little drunk, said he was from Cape York (at the very top of Australia) and insisted on shaking hands.
26 Feb 11 At Sea Alie is a history buff and history buffs would appreciate our day more than most. When we woke up, we were passing through the China Straits from the Coral Sea to the Solomon Sea with the southeast tip of New Guinea to our left and various islands to our right. The steep jungle of New Guinea comes right down to the beach. We passed a grass airstrip built by the Americans in World War II and then Milton Bay followed by Goodenough Bay. We are on the other side of the island from Port Moresby and about ten degrees east of Guadalcanal. Late in the day, we pass New Britain and Bougainville, but they too are well out of sight.
Ancient Norsemen kept a cage full of ravens at the top of their mast. When they needed to find land, they released and followed a bird. Later sailing ships put a sailor high above the sails as a lookout. Today we watched the passing islands from a bar on the Amsterdam’s top deck, “The Crow’s Nest.”
27 Feb 11 Madang, Papua New Guinea Papua New Guinea, the southern half of the island of New Guinea, is an independent state that also includes a number of the surrounding islands. The other half of the island is part of Indonesia. Madang Province has many of the islands highest peaks, active volcanoes and biggest mix of languages. But there was rain and ceiling was low, so we did not see much of the mountain peaks. We were told 175 languages are spoken in Madang. Most of these are Austronesian languages, some spoken by tribes with less than a thousand people. Australia has had close contact for many years, however, so many people speak English, or a form thereof and Australian and U.S. dollars were accepted as well as the local “kira.”
The ship sailed into the beautiful harbor just before noon. We saw crowds of people along the shore following us in from parking lot to parking lot. The ship rotated 180 degrees and backed into the small “new” dock. Alie and I were among the first to leave having decided just to walk through the town. On the dock, a “bamboo band” played; in addition to stringed instruments, two men sat on what looked like a pile of bamboo organ pipes and slapped the ends with paddles. A large crowd had gathered at the port gates, and, as we walked out among them, they began to smile, wave and applaud. They were clearly glad to welcome us. As we walked along the muddy street beneath huge trees, we were asked by a local lady if we needed directions. We really didn’t, but “Maggie” stayed with us and chatted with Alie until we reached our goal, the memorial to World War II coast-watchers, a tall obelisk with a rotating navigation light at the top. Maggie, who had declined several rides from friends, then left us. We saw her later and it was clear she had gone out of her way for us. It is a poor area, and every house and building was fenced and barred and had security warnings. There was a “Comfort Inn” (with a guard at the gate) across from the memorial. But everyone was so friendly. Many faces looked like their fathers or surely their grandfathers had been head hunters. Teeth were often filed and stained by betel nut. Kids, in clearly hand made dugout outrigger canoes paddled out to the boat where people through fruit and other things to them. Several kids were on a raft that looked like the side of a house.
We bought a shell necklace, a wood ornament (probably designed to be used as a pendant) and a small inlaid wood bowl. We felt we needed to contribute to the economy. Their carving is good, and some of the other passengers were buying large carved masks and various stone and carved weapons as well as bows and arrows.
As we left in the evening, the people once again lined the dock and cheered and waved. As it got dark, cars blinked their lights, and as we pulled away, they followed us shouting “bye, bye, bye.” It was all like something out of a 1940s movie.
Our trip to Palau was canceled due to problems with the tender dock; we will have an extra day in Manila.
4 Mar 11 Manila Bay is huge; it is forty-eight kilometers from the dock to Corregidor in the mouth of the bay. We were up early for a mandatory “temperature check” but the decided to scan us as we left the ship instead: local authorities want to make sure no one comes ashore with a fever.
About a third of the Amsterdam’s employees are Filipino, and Holland America went all out for “Family Days” putting up huge tents on the docks where employees could have a meal with their families and permitting the spouses and children to come aboard and use the facilities. As we approached the dock early in the morning, crew lined the rail where one normally saw passengers (but they were careful to offer their place to me a passenger – which I declined). Kids were running everywhere for the next two days, but the passengers seemed to take it in stride and we frequently saw passengers offering to use one of the crews cameras to take the photo of him and his family.
The Philippines have 7107 islands but just about 2000 are named and most people live in one of the eleven major island. After 400 years of Spanish Rule, most are Catholic except Mindanao which is Muslim (five percent of the total population). We assumed Spanish was the business language, but after American occupation form 1898 to 1946, it is English. They adopted our school, political, and legal system.
Public transportation includes pedi-cabs (pedal powered tricycle cabs), ever present Jeepneys, cabs, buses and a metro. The Jeepneys were originally surplus World War II jeeps left behind by the Americans, wildly decorated and used to provide very cheap transportation over regular areas. Now, they are custom made with fronts that resemble the old jeeps but with extended bodies that hold ten passengers (Filipino size but they expect you to squeeze ten people in) and Japanese diesel engines.
Not far from the pier was the Manila Hotel where General MacArthur held court on the fourth floor; now they have added a high rise wing. We took a boat ride to Corregidor, now a national shrine. At a nice buffet lunch, we were offered “screw pine” juice with sort of a red jelly at the bottom of the glass. It wasn’t very good. Curiously, construction of most of the buildings and fortifications on Corregidor began with World War I using Japanese cement. I had not been aware the American and Filipino forces held out so long after the fall of Bataan, just a couple miles across the water. Many gun and mortar emplacements fought back although most were aimed the wrong direction because the designers were planning to defend attacks from the sea. We saw “Way Battery,” a mortar battery, where they had 70% casualties, and the wounded commander continued to fight with the help of his wounded lieutenant until the last mortar overheated and froze up after 12 hours of continuous firing. He had ripped the telephone off the wall so that he could not be ordered to surrender. “Battery Hearn,” on the top of the island, was able to fire at the Japanese on Bataan, but it was subject to fire from them and they had the advantage of being higher. Unfortunately, our very pleasant guide (looked like “Jimmy”) seemed to make up “facts,” but it led me to go back and do some research. The battle started with bombardment on December 29, 1941. Bataan fell April 9, and Corregidor was surrendered May 7th, 1942, significantly delaying the Japanese conquest of the South Pacific.
5 Mar 11 The local Manila newspaper has comic strips, half in English and half in Tagalog, the native language. English comics included “Dennis the Menace,” “Mother Goose and Grimm,” “Marvin,” and “Dagwood.” There is no “f” in the Filipino alphabet, and the use of the letter comes from the American influence. “Corregidor” comes from the Spanish word “to check” because the island was a customs stop.
We took a tour of “Modern Manila” which is indeed very modern. The city has grown to encompass many surrounding towns, and the beautiful American Cemetery, which seemed to be in the “country” when I visited in 1991, is now surrounded by huge expensive high-rise condos. The cemetery itself, however, is still impressive even on a rainy day as we had. There are 17,000 graves and the names of 38,600 missing in action are engraved on marble panels. The landscaping is beautiful, and large mosaic maps describe the Pacific war.
We then went to the Ayala Museum, funded by a local entrepreneur. It had a wonderful exhibit of native gold objects produced between the tenth and thirteenth centuries. The work was much finer and more delicate than the South American gold we have seen; indeed, it was as good as modern jewelers can produce. The museum also had models of wooden sailing ships and dioramas depicting Philippine history as well as a special exhibit of pottery and textiles showing the ancient trade with the rest of Asia. It was nice that everything was labeled in English.
After a quick stop at a tourist trap in the old walled city, the “Intramuros,” we went back to the ship where we were entertained by children from the orphanage Hispicio de San Juan which celebrated its 200th anniversary last year. The children sang and danced, and the Mayor of Manila, who was himself in the orphanage for nine years, spoke to us.
For some reason, the ship left an hour late. The children, the families, a military guard team and a band stayed on the dock until the bitter end. While we were waiting, the Captain went out and had his picture taken with the Manila staff who had helped, both as a group and individually.
7 Mar 11 Hong Kong We entered Hong Kong in the dark and fog. The Star Ferry boats crossed back and forth in front of us just as they had when I first visited in 1970, but not much else was the same. Indeed, it had changed dramatically even since we visited in 1984. What had been a skyscraper then, about forty stories, was now dwarfed among all the tall buildings. The tallest is 118 stories.
Hong Kong has over 260 islands including the island of Hong Kong and the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories. Lantau, the largest island, is the site of their new airport. It is the fourth largest container port, Shanghai – a big rival now – having just taken over the third spot. All became part of China in 1997 as a separate administrative area under “two systems,” communism and democracy. With a population of about seven million, however, only 800 vote for the executive. But the Hong Kong passport, separate from China’s, is still very valuable as it allows one to travel freely.
Disney opened a theme park in Hong Kong five years ago, and “Mickey’s” head and ears were on the road signs out to Lantau Island where we went up Ngong Ping 360, the Skyrail built in 2005, which took us to the top of a mountain with a Disney-like shopping area in front of the Po Lin Monastery founded in 1906 and Tian Tan Buddha. Competed in 1993, the Buddha at 112 feet high and ways 280 tons was the tallest seated outdoor Buddha until 2007. Visitors – Michelle, not us – climb 268 steps to reach the base.
The Po Lin Temple is extremely elaborate and colorful. It also has a restaurant that takes groups. Clearly, they are doing well as we saw construction and plans for new “Temple of The Ten Thousand Buddhas” which will be about ten times the size of the current structure.
After lunch, we walked around Kowloon looking at the old and new buildings. The Hullett House is now a Victorian facade of the huge 1881 Heritage Building. The waterfront view of the famous Peninsula Hotel is now obstructed by a new Ocean and Space Center. But we were still able to see some of the crowded old shops and found the Holiday Inn where we stayed in 1985 now much modernized. We went through the modern new Hyatt (I was very impressed with the old one in 1970) and passed Kowloon Park and the Muslim Mosque before heading back to the ship exhausted. We had to finish our packing for our flight home the next day.