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We arrive in Sydney Harbour early in the morning of March 15.  It’s a lovely sunny morning and we dock at The Rocks, with the harbour bridge and Opera House nearby.  It is still March 14 in the USA, so I will claim two birthdays this year, or maybe none at all since it will be the 15th when we arrive in Florida

Tim sends a photo of Moxie waiting to greet us.  I buy a photo of Tom and I at a “dress up dinner” as a momento.

We leave the ship by 9 AM to go to the airport for our flight to Dallas and then to Miami.  What an amazing adventure Down Under!

 

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Our final two port stops, at Auckland and Waitanga, are cancelled because of Cyclone Hola approaching from the North.  We take a southern course along the east coast of NZ and then cross between NZ’s north and south islands, through Cook Strait, and head toward Sydney.  The three days at sea, March 12, 13 and 14, are filled with lectures and other activities.  Yoga on a rocking and rolling ship is a unique adventure.  There is a group of Mauri on board who give language lessons, Kia ora is Hello, Tau me is Awesome, and perform traditional songs and dances. Karen fails the Maori bracelet weaving craft lesson.

Karen celebrates her 78th birthday with a special chocolate cake and our special dinner companions for most nights of the cruise – Bob and Geraldine Shuttleworth and Dr John and Mary Mahony..  Both couples are from Australia and we learn so much from them about Australia and New Zealand.

Of course, no cruise is complete without the nightly towel critters that greet us on our return to our stateroom.

 

 

 

We stop at Napier, NZ today, March 11.  Our scheduled stop on March 9 was cancelled due to rough seas and heavy rain that prevented us from getting into the harbour. Today is calm, sunny and bright, and the shore excursions have been rescheduled.

Tom and I are on a city tour and visit to the National Aquarium of New Zealand.  Cleo our bus driver describes herself as “the oldest driver on the wharf,” and she shares lots of Napier data.  Napier has a population of 60,000 and 15% are Maori, the indigenous people of NZ.  A major earthquake in 1931 created 10,000 acres of new land and the resulting architecture is Art Deco, of that era.  There’s an interesting feature along the beautiful, extensive, well used, city beach front.  A large blue hoop and silver disc are placed in a beach front park, denoting the point, when lined up with the horizon over the water in the East, as the point where the sun first hit land on earth on January 1, 2000 – marking the beginning of the new century.

The National Aquarium is impressive with its many larg tanks with fish from throughout the world.  There are sharks, of course, and stingrays, piranhas from the Amazon, an alligator from the USA, and a tank with water and rocks to climb on for the NZ blue penguin, the smallest of the penguin species.  These cute little things, about 10 inches tall, look like ducks swimming in the water but are clearly penguins waddling an jumping along the rocks. There is also a very dark room with two kiwi birds pecking away in a glass pen.  Being nocturnal and very shy, we’re told that most New Zealanders have never seen them in the wild.

Leaving the aquarium, we take a shuttle to town and find a restaurant for dinner and WI-FI and then shuttle back to the ship.

 

We dock in Pilot Bay in Tauranga, the largest port in NZ, on March 10, a beautiful warm, bright and sunny day.  Like so many others, the port has hundreds of stacks of   logs, destined for China as pulp for paper, composite and building materials.

We’re going to the Hobbiton Movie Set today, a 1 1/2 hour trip through the green and rolling countryside.  There are meadows with sheep and cows, woods and corn fields.  We go over the hills on a snaking highway into a large valley and the town of Matamata, the site of Hobbiton.

Director Peter Jackson chose this 125 hectare (308 acre) sheep and beef farm for the Hobbit movies and parts of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  The NZ government gave him the assistance of their Corps of Engineers to build the roads and paths he needed, and their requirement was to remove all the buildings he constructed for Hobbiton after the filming, “return the site to exactly as you found it.” The set was used for 3 months in 1999 and then removed.  People continued to visit the farm, wanting to see the set.  When Jackson returned in 2011 for just 12 days of filming, the farmer asked him to build the set as a permanent location so he could operate it as a tourist site.  It’s a magical place, with the buildings and even the vegetation built to “Hobbit scale.”  It reminded us of a Disney-like set, with Peter Jackson having the same attention to detail as Walt Disney.

Most of the buildings, the Hobbit houses, are simply facades built into the hillsides, with the exception of the House with the open door for photos and the Green Dragon Inn, a restaurant and pub with a nearby gift shop. The Hobbit village occupies 12 1/2 acres and is a strenuous walk up and down the narrow paths and steep terrain to see the places that Bilbo Baggins, Frodo and Merry came from.  We stop at the Inn for non alcoholic ginger beer and chocolate chip and raspberry muffins and of course some shopping, and then return to the ship in Tauranga.

We reach the port of Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, on March 8.  It lives up to its nickname of “windy Wellington” today, gained by its position in a narrow deep valley facing onto Cook Strait, that separates NZ’s North and South Islands.  Wellington was colonized in 1826 and in 1855 a 7.4 earthquake provided the flatland for the growing city.  Our ship has docked several miles from the city; another earthquake, in 2016, closed the city wharf.  We take a city tour by bus, and see the parliament buildings, dominated by the Beehive, also known as the Executive Wing.  NZ is sometimes called the “Nanny State” because of its free health care and education.  In 1893 it was the first self governing country to give women the right to vote.

Our first stop is a ride on the Wellington Cable Car, built in 1902 to market the lots for sale on Mt. Victoria.  There’s an expansive view at the top and a coffee shop to provide shelter from the wind.  It’s cloudy today but no rain as yet.  There’s also an entrance to the award winning Botanical Gardens 25 hectares, nearly 62 acres, on a hillside in the middle of the city.  We ride to another garden entrance to visit the Lady Norwood Rose Garden and Begonia House.  A bit protected from the wind, we take photos with our new Australian friend, Colette.

We go up to another overview, with an additional 100 steps in the wind, and view the city and water in all directions. Tom spots the airport, a single runway next to water.  He says we must visit UTube’s Wellington Airport to see large planes making amazing cross-wind landings.

We stop at the lovely Old St Paul’s Church, built in the 1860’s.  Our bus driver sang in the choir here and shares some of its history. It was known as a gathering place for US soldiers in and after WWII.  Tom and I leave the bus and eat in a downtown restaurant before returning to the ship.

 

Picton is our final stop on the South Island of NZ, on the very north end protected by one of the many Marlborough Sounds. It’s known as the Gateway to the South Island.  It’s March 7, and is a cold, blustery, rainy day.  We do a seaside walking tour with our guide, Nicky.  Picton has just one Main Street and a beautiful little harbour with many large yachts.  There’s an Inter Island Ferry at the pier, getting ready to cross Cook Strait to Wellington on the southern point of the north island.

Nicky tells us of the multiple ecological preserves in the Sound area and the extensive hiking and biking trails.  Our walk “into the bush” above the harbour is shortened as the rain is joined by gale force winds. We return to town and find a restaurant on the Main Street for lunch.

 

 

We anchor in Akaroa Harbour, an hour plus drive from Christchurch, on March 6 and ride in a tender to the pier.  It’s a chilly, 50+ degree day, blustery, foggy and misty rain.  We board a bus for a 9 hour trip into the Southern Alps to the site of Middle Earth, a location of the Lord of the Rings movies.  We drive through Lincoln, a suburb of Christchurch, a university town with newer housing built after the earthquakes of Sept. 2010 and Feb 2011.  We twist and turn and climb, passing multiple sheep farms and dairy farms, stopping briefly at Lake Clearwater, with 2nd homes/cottages for the city folks of Christchurch. It’s not like Northern MN.  No dogs allowed!

After four hours, mostly climbing, past Mt. Potts and Hakatere Station we reach Middle Earth, a hill in the middle of a wide valley with a silver stream running through and a background of snow capped mountains.  It’s still rainy and cloudy and windy, so there are no mountains to be seen. We stop for photos, and our guide shows pictures from the making of The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers – the second in the Trilogy.   Director Peter Jackson, from NZ, chose this as the site of Edoras, all restored now to its natural topography.  It makes us want to see the movies again.

We stop at Mt Somers Community Hall on our return for a lunch of sandwiches and Cadbury chocolate bars prepared by the people of the village. It’s a typical small town hall, and a war memorial for villagers killed in WWI and WWII, with twice as many listed in WWI.  We’re back to the pier at 5:30, just in time for the last tender back to the ship.  Despite the rain, we’re pleased to spend the day experiencing the amazing topography of the interior of South Island, NZ.