Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Not All Who Wander Are Lost
June, 2019 - Mount Denali, Alaska

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Bay of Islands, New Zealand - November 12, 2023

Our final port in New Zealand was Bay of Islands. This was a tender port with a beautiful harbor full of many islands.

We had booked a tour through Princess to visit the Glow Worm caves. Our first stop was Manginangina, part of the Puketi forest. It is one of the best remaining examples of subtropical rainforests in northern New Zealand. This part of the forest survived early European logging and farming due to its steep terrain and poor soil. Around the beginning of the century, huge tracts of kauri forest were destroyed. Only 3% of the original forest now remains.

Kauri trees are among the world's mightiest trees, growing to over 165 feet tall, with trunk girths up to 50 feet, and living for over 2,000 years. Here are a few examples of the many we saw.

The silver tree fern is a national symbol for New Zealand. We saw several examples of these ferns. The underside of the fronds are silver.

Our next stop on the tour was the city of Kawakawa to see the famous Hundertwasser toilets. What, toilets??? Hundertwasser, the Austrian-born artist, famous for his charismatic colorful approach to design and architecture, made Kawakawa his home due to his deep desire to be as close to nature as possible. 

In the late 1990s he was asked to redesign the public toilets in Kawakawa. He participated in the design and build, and they remain his only building in the Southern Hemisphere. They opened in 1999, and were his last architectural work before his death in 2000.

The outside entrance to the toilets

Inside, the toilets are sure something to experience, with lots of glass, mosaics and tile all around. They are fully functioning and open for public use. You just have to be careful you don't end up in a tourist's photo!!

There are many examples of his style throughout the entire city with lots of colorful columns on businesses and public areas. There is a cultural center and library with information on the artist and his works on display. What a fun and quirky place to visit!

Our next stop were the Kawiti Glow Worm Caves. These caves are owned by the Kawiti family, and they have been guiding tours here since the 1950s. The glow worms in these caves are unique to New Zealand and thrive in damp,  humid, dark environments like caves. They catch small flying insects for food with their sticky webs called fishing lines. Their tails emit bright green/blue light. No photography was allowed inside the caves. Here is our group entering using a wooden boardwalk.

The next two pictures are from the website. We followed our guide on a narrow boardwalk as he explained all about the caves and the glow worms. Before entering, every sixth person in line was given an electric lantern which they kept lit while we were walking. In a couple of spots, they were instructed to turn off the lanterns, and we were treated to an amazing display of the thousands of luminous glow worms on the ceiling. Another truly remarkable and extraordinary experience!!

On our way back to the ship, we stopped at an overlook next to a golf course. What a great view!

The crew on the pool deck had some fun with the pool towels.

We had two days crossing the Tasman Sea on our way back to Sydney. This body of water is infamous for its rough seas. We did have rain one of the days, and it was pretty rough, but nothing severe. Here's our last view of New Zealand and the last sunset as we sailed back to Australia.

We were gone for 35 days on this adventure. The weather was just fantastic everywhere we went. I had heard from others that often the ships can't dock at some of the ports due to severe weather. We were able to dock at every port, and enjoyed excellent weather everywhere we went. Even places that are notorious for bad weather. How lucky was that!!!

This adventure was the trip of a lifetime with memories we will never forget. Both Australia and New Zealand were amazing places to visit. If I had to choose, I would pick New Zealand as my favorite as each place we went was different and wonderful. Everything we saw and did was spectacular. 

Our experience with Princess Cruises was very much less than spectacular! The ship itself and our time on board were okay. These were our ninth and tenth cruises, so we have enough experience to make some valid observations. 

We had two different cabins due to the fact that Princess cancelled our first cruise after we booked these back to back cruises, and by the time we were able to book another cruise, our first cabin was gone. They made it available after the other trip at a higher price a little later on, and I booked it. In  hindsight, I should have cancelled the whole thing at that time. This was the first of several times they screwed us over.

I had booked several of the most popular excursions well in advance as they can sell out before you even board the ship. A month before the trip, they cancelled two of those excursions without ever notifying us. I found out when I saw the credit on our credit card. To add insult to injury, the credit they gave us was less than we paid as the exchange rate had changed. Everything was paid in Australian dollars. This is theft in my opinion.

I was able to rebook those cancelled excursions after a lot of time online finding an alternative at higher costs. Once we were on the trip, they cancelled another excursion. I spoke with the Customer Relations Manager about the issues we had. He apologized and offered us a free dinner at the steakhouse. That never materialized. 

We booked transfer to the airport through the excursions desk. They took us to the wrong airport. On both of the cruises, we were given a credit because they had overcharged us for port fees. These credits were supposed to be reimbursed to us within 14 days of the last day of the cruise. We got the first check six weeks after the first cruise. I'm still waiting for the second check after three months and numerous emails to Princess. What a racket!! We will never sail with them again!! 

We didn't let these problems and frustrations ruin our trip, though. If you get the chance, I highly recommend you travel to this part of the world. Just go on a different cruise line!!!

We returned to Sydney early in the morning. A Facebook member posted this picture of our ship in port just after we arrived.

At the airport, we saw Australia's version of Burger King.

We flew back to Los Angeles on Qantas Airlines. It was a 13.5 hour flight leaving Brisbane at 10 pm. This airline did not disappoint. We were fed three tasty meals and two more beverage offerings. The seats in economy were quite spacious compared to most other flights we were on. As we slept part of the time, it really wasn't a bad flight at all.

This ends my travel blog of our Kauai, Australia and New Zealand adventure. I'm currently planning the next adventure. Stay tuned.

 Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Auckland, New Zealand - November 11, 2023

Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand with a population of about 1.6 million people. None of the excursions really caught our interest for this stop, so we decided to get off the ship and take a ride on the hop on - hop off bus tour. The ship docks at a port pretty much in the heart of the downtown, so we were able to do the bus tour and wander around on our own.

As we looked out of our balcony door in the morning, we were surprised to be looking onto the patios of apartment/condos right next to the pier. I overheard a woman as we were walking back to the ship telling someone that they had rented a place in those apartments for the week, and were quite surprised to wake up and see a huge ship outside their patio door.

We were also able to see the Auckland Sky Tower and downtown from the ship.

We got a closer look at the Sky Tower on the bus tour. It is the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere rising to a height of 1,076 feet. The second picture shows people on the platform near the top getting ready jump off the tower. If you click to enlarge the picture, you can see the ropes hanging down.

Auckland has more boats per capita than anywhere else in the world. It is referred to as the City of Sails. The city hosted the America's Cup sailing regatta in 2000 and 2003.

The bus took us to Mount Maungawhau or Mount Eden. (Eden is our granddaughter's name, so I had to take a picture of the sign). It's the highest point in the city. There were hiking trails, but it was quite a warm day so we didn't hike up to see the views. The picture of the mountain is from the web.

Another stop on the tour was Bastion Point Lookout. More beautiful views. This is a significant place in New Zealand history as the site of protests in the late 1970s by Maori against forced land alienation by European settlers. The 506 day protest led to the New Zealand government returning many lands that had been taken from the Maori people.

Auckland has an iconic war museum as well as a zoo and numerous art museums and galleries. We just weren't in the mood for more museums on our visit. 

The silver fern is an iconic symbol of New Zealand seen on flags and merchandise all over the country. It dates back to the late 1800s when it was accepted as a symbol for the country. Here it is on an All Blacks jersey in one of the shops. The All Blacks are a beloved national rugby team of New Zealand. There is even an All Blacks experience you can visit in Auckland.

Our departure from Auckland was at sunset, and we were treated to some magnificent views from the ship. I was able to get the sun setting with the Sky Tower in front of it.

In most of the ports, there are tug boats that come out to escort the ship out of the harbor. This guy was doing tricks for us as he waited. Some donuts for our enjoyment!

We enjoyed our visit to Auckland. Tomorrow will be our last stop in New Zealand.

 Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Tauranga, New Zealand - November 10, 2023

Our next stop was Tauranga, New Zealand. There are two very popular excursions at this stop. One is a visit to the Maori Whakarawarewa Village, built amongst an active geothermal valley. The other is the Hobbiton movie set.

I had booked these excursions months in advance through Princess, as the one place Kevin really wanted to visit was Hobbiton. About a month before our departure, Princess also cancelled this excursion. We were never notified. I found out through a Facebook page. I also noticed that there was a credit on my credit card from Princess. The excursions had also disappeared from our online Princess account for this trip.

I spent an hour on the phone with the useless, out of country, customer service person employed by Princess. All she said was that since I got a credit, the excursions must have been cancelled. Couldn't tell me why or any other information. 

I spent hours online trying to find a private company to take us to these two popular attractions. Most everything was already booked at this late date. I finally found a small group tour with Shore Trips and Tours and booked it. Since it was for only 10 people, it cost us a total of $160 more than our original tour with Princess. 

To add insult to injury, the credit we received for the two excursions that were cancelled by Princess was less than we actually paid. All payments on these cruises were in Australian dollars. It seems the exchange rate had changed, so we were refunded at a different rate than we paid, which was less money. I'm sure there were hundreds of Americans who had the same thing happen to them. In my mind, that is theft!

However, once we arrived in Tauranga and went on the excursion with Shore Trips and Tours, it was another wonderful experience in New Zealand. It was one of our favorite days on the trip, although there were many!

Our first stop was to the city of Rotorua to have a tour at an authentic Maori village, still inhabited today. It is built on a geothermal shelf, and is nicknamed Sulphur City. The Maori name for the village is Whakarewarewa. That's a mouthful!!

One of the residents took us on the tour and explained much of the history, as well as how they live today. Much of the cooking is actually done over the hot springs and bubbling mud pools. There are also communal bath basins with water from the hot springs.

This is their community center and meeting house. The carvings on the building were incredible.

After the tour, we were treated to a live performance of some of the songs and dances of the Maori people. The women did a dance with balls on a rope. 

The men did the Haka dance, which was a ceremonial dance performed in the past before going into battle. It has become quite popular throughout the world, as some of the rugby teams do this dance before a match to supposedly intimidate their opponents. 

There were some school groups there, and the boys were invited to join in on the Haka dance. It looks like they enjoyed it!

After the show, we were given a Hangi pie for lunch. It's kind of like a Hot Pocket, filled with meat and vegetables. I found it quite tasty and filling. It was similar to the Pasties we've had that the miners in Wisconsin and the Midwest used to eat for their lunch down in the mines.

Our next stop was the much awaited Hobbiton, and it was definitely worth waiting for!!

We arrived at the ticket center and gift shop where we had a little time to look around and buy a few souvenirs. 

Here's Kevin with Gandalf. The hat on the shelf behind his head was for sale for $400. 

Then we boarded a bus that took us to the actual Hobbiton village. On the way, we drove through some of the farm fields where we saw many sheep. We were also shown a video that showed scenes of the village from the movies, and explained some of how this place became a reality.

We arrived and were taken on a guided walking tour of the village, which includes 44 Hobbit holes on 12 acres of lush pasture land. The guides come from all over the world for the opportunity to work at Hobbiton. Our guide was an American woman from Arizona. 

She explained how Peter Jackson had sent out a scouting team in a helicopter to find land that would be perfect for Hobbiton. It needed to be green farmland with lots of hills, a large tree and a pond. They found the perfect location and drove up to the farmhouse and knocked on the door. The owner told them to come back the next day as he was watching rugby.

Terms were agreed upon, and a contract was signed. The original Hobbiton for the Lord of the Rings movies was mostly build with fa├žade fronts and lots of temporary structures. Great attention was paid to the details, including gardens, an orchard, smoke coming out of the chimneys, and laundry hanging on the line. Once the filming was completed, the set was removed.

A few years later, the Hobbit movies were planned to be filmed. The farmer and his family agreed to once again have the Hobbiton set built on his property. However, this time they wanted it to be a permanent location for visitors to come and enjoy. The Hobbit houses are still just fronts with retaining walls just a foot or two behind the door. A few of the doors can be opened, and you can step through for a photo. 

The attention to detail is amazing. The gardens have all kinds of produce growing in them, the fruit trees are real, and smoke is coming out of some of the chimneys. It was a blast walking through the set which we had seen in the movies. Even people on the tour who had not seen the movies or read the books found it fascinating. 

Here's me in front of one of the houses. You can see how small Hobbits are supposed to be by how small the door is compared to me.

This is Bag End, the home of Bilbo and Frodo.

There was construction going on in one area. Three of the Hobbit houses were having an inside added to them. They were digging back into the hill, and outfitting the inside to match what the houses looked like in the movies. All those interior movie scenes were shot in a studio.

Here are the Mill and the Green Dragon Tavern. We were treated to a pint of cider or their home brewed beer.

As we were leaving the tavern, there was a tent set up outside with pottery mugs that said Green Dragon on them. I asked if I could purchase one. She said no, you will each be getting a free one. Since the construction has been going on, all visitors were given a free mug as compensation for being their during the construction time. How nice is that. The finished insides of the houses were due to be finished a few weeks after we were there. Too bad we didn't get to see that. However, the mugs were a very nice surprise.

So, that completes another awesome day in New Zealand. Today's adventures were truly magical!!!

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!