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2012 Total Solar Eclipse

November 14, 2012 – Wednesday – Total Solar Eclipse of the Sun – observed from aboard the Paul Gauguin cruise ship sailing about 200km south of New Caledonia in the Coral Sea

Map of 2012 Solar Eclipse track in the South Pacific

Map of 2012 Solar Eclipse track in the South Pacific

I am up at 5:30AM, beating my alarm by a few minutes. Skipping breakfast, I gather my eclipse gear and setup on the Pool Deck. I mount my Kestrel 4500 portable weather station on a nearby towel deposit box, and also mount my little Fuji point-and-shoot camera on the same box to take some HD video during Totality (and a minute before and after).

My observing log entry for the eclipse:

Date/Time – local ship’s time
Start: Nov 14, 2012 6:49AM
Finish: Nov 14, 2012 8:12AM

Location: On the totality track 200km south of New Caledonia in the Coral sea, South Pacific
Position: 26° 40′ 0″ S 166° 46′ 54″ E

Observers: 320 passengers (and some crew) on board the Paul Gauguin cruise ship

I observe a total solar eclipse from the pool deck of the cruise ship Paul Gauguin, as part of a TravelQuest tour group. Rick Fienberg and Bill Kramer, in cooperation with Captain Ante-Toni Mirkovic decide to turn the ship 180° just before 1st Contact in order to avoid a large cloud which is starting to obscure the view of the Sun. This proves to be a good move, since we are now slowly sailing away from the clouds in the area, and yet continue to stay within the maximum totality centreline track.

  • 1st Contact 6:57:20AM Alt=26º
  • 2nd Contact 8:01:20AM Alt=40º
  • Totality lasts 3 minutes, 1 second
  • 3rd Contact 8:04:21AM Alt=40º
  • 4th Contact 9:16:47AM Alt=57º
The Sun in eclipse totality - 3rd contact & diamond ring

The Sun in eclipse totality – 3rd contact & diamond ring

A few minutes before 2nd Contact, my portable weather station records the expected sharp drop in temperature, and the light levels are greatly reduced. About 10 minutes before 2nd Contact, Venus is visible to the left of the Sun, and then as darkening continues, Saturn also appears equidistant between Venus and the Sun.

A dramatic darkening occurs during totality (2nd Contact to 3rd Contact). During totality, I visually observe spectacular coronal streamers. Although I do not find that Bailey’s Beads are easily observed during this eclipse, I observe a red glow around parts of the perimeter of the Sun and some solar prominences are visible.

There is lots of hooting and hollering as the (second) spectacular diamond ring appears at 3rd Contact. I capture these human reactions to experiencing a total solar eclipse using my little Fuji XP point-and-shoot camera using its HD video mode.

I stop observing and photographing the eclipse shortly after 3rd Contact, although I continue to take temperature readings.

Everyone has a smile on his or her face after the event is over, and there are lots of stories told afterward at lunch and dinner. Despite it only being 9:30 in the morning, Corona beer and cocktails are served to celebrate our success. I have a celebratory cappuccino, and finally have my breakfast mid-morning at La Palette.

2012 Total Solar Eclipse – Bill Kramer’s Eclipse Chasers website, including his personal report and links to other reports


Air temperature during the 2012 Total Solar Eclipse while aboard the Paul Gauguin in the Coral Sea

Air temperature during the 2012 Total Solar Eclipse while aboard the Paul Gauguin in the Coral Sea

I take temperature measurements from my position on the Pool Deck before, during and after totality. My readings are measured with a Kestrel 4500 personal weather station, which is mounted about one metre above the ship’s deck.

6:57AM 23.2ºC – 1st Contact
7:20AM 22.0ºC
7:39AM 20.9ºC
7:55AM 20.5ºC
8:01AM 20.2ºC – 2nd Contact
8:04AM 19.8ºC – 3rd Contact
8:12AM 20.3ºC
8:25AM 21.3ºC
9:00AM 24.2ºC
9:16AM 24.0ºC – 4th Contact
12:20PM 20.4ºC

The temperature drop is 3.5ºC, which is much lower than expected. Obviously the mild climate near the ocean’s surface results in less daytime heating, and therefore less temperature range is covered for this eclipse at this location.

I dedicate the temperature measurements I took during this eclipse to the memory of Jim Low, a long time member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Toronto Centre. If Jim had survived, I’m sure he would have traveled with his fellow Toronto Centre members to Australia, and would have recorded the temperature drop, as he did when I traveled with this group to observe the Total Solar Eclipse (my first) from the Libyan Sahara Desert in 2006.

 

On board the Paul Gauguin – Fiji to New Caledonia

 

November 11, 2012 – Sunday – Our first day at sea – enroute from Lautoka, Fiji to New Caledonia

The ship’s clocks were set back an hour last night, so I wake up around 5AM. I have to fill in some time before I can get a cappuccino and a French pastry at La Palette at 6:30AM. I am battling a nasty cold I obviously picked up while aboard the flight down to Fiji…damned airliners!

TravelQuest and Wilderness Travel have fully chartered the ship, so they have arranged a wonderful array of enrichment speakers, which start their presentations today. When we are at sea, there are four presentations scheduled for each day. What a change from the Incan Empires Cruise on the Rotterdam last year, where there was a dearth of enrichment speakers!

9:30AM Speaker: How to Experience and Enjoy the Eclipse – Rick Fienberg gives an engaging talk about the basics of total solar eclipse watching, covering off the best ways to experience the eclipse, a bit of advice about photography and visual observing, safety tips, the sequence of events, and some practical advice on how to enjoy this special experience.

11AM Speaker: Seabirds of the South Pacific, Living on the wide, wide sea – Dr. Roger Lederer describes a wide variety of seabirds who inhabit the islands we are traveling to, and also mentions other notable seabirds who inhabit other parts of the Pacific Ocean.

2:30PM Speaker: Coral Reefs – Ethan Daniels‘ presentation shows us how coral reefs formed eons ago, what wildlife make their home in the reefs, and where the great reefs of the world are located. Ethan works part-time for Wilderness Adventures, and spends the rest of his time researching the biology of reefs and the wildlife in Indonesia and other areas where the world’s greatest reefs are located.

4PM Speaker: Anatomy of the Sun, from Core to Corona – Holly Gilbert works for Ames/NASA in Solar Physics as a solar prominence specialist. Despite confessing to not feeling well because of the ship’s motion, Holly delivered a great talk with lots of information about the various layers and processes going on with the Sun.

I meet my cabin stewardess Diojani this afternoon; who is a very nice young woman who keeps my stateroom immaculate throughout the voyage. I find out from the bridge (through the Front Desk) that Magnetic North is 349º True in this area of the world, so I calculate the magnetic declination to be 11º East in order to setup my Kestrel weather station’s wind direction. I go for dinner to L’Etoile, the main dining room again, and meet another interesting group of people. I turn in early, since I’m still not quite comfortable with all the time zone changes lately.

November 12, 2012 – Monday – Second day at sea – enroute from Fiji to Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

As I mentioned previously, TravelQuest and Wilderness Travel have an excellent choice of enrichment speakers aboard, so here is today’s line-up, along with some of my comments:

9:30AM Speaker: Capturing the Eclipse in Images & Video – Bill Kramer (Eclipse Chasers) gives advice I mostly agree with, but then he says to not set cameras over ISO 400, which I disagree with. My thought is that we are on a moving platform, so capturing sharp, in focus images without any apparent image motion is important. I think that means using higher than normal ISO. Lower ISO will give a richer image, but we can’t afford that while on board a ship.

11AM Speaker: The Navigators – Human Settlement of Oceania – Mark Eddowes is an anthropologist from New Zealand who is based in French Polynesia, and gives a very interesting talk, although it takes almost twice as long as scheduled. He describes how the Lapita people migrated from SE Asia to the western Pacific Islands.

2:30PM Speaker: The Sun-Earth Connection – Holly Gilbert is a solar specialist from NASA who talks about the solar wind, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and solar prominences, and how these various phenomena affect the Earth.

4PM Speaker: Highlights of the Southern Night Sky – Rick Feinberg highlights all the same objects to be found in the southern night sky which I would have talked about. He starts off his talk describing how our location on the Earth affects what we observe in the night sky, and goes from there.

I am thrilled with the quality of the presentations given today, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming presentations during the rest of the cruise. I have an hour long nap before dinner, since this “cold” I thought I was suffering from is actually a throat infection, which is making me quite miserable and tired.

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First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji

November 8, 2012 – Thursday – First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji

First Landing Resort is located quite close to where I will embark the Paul Gauguin in a couple of days. In the mean time, it is nice to have time to get that much-needed sleep in a seaside bure (cottage), and adjust to the time difference. My taxi driver assures me that First Landing is known for good food, and he is correct. All the meals I have at the resort are first rate, and all the staff are very friendly and helpful.

JoeTourist: Lautoka & Nadi &emdash; Restaurant patio areaI arrive a bit after Noon, and my bure isn’t ready, because check-in is normally after 1PM, so I need to kill some time. They serve me my welcome drink at the bar, which appears to be nothing more than some fruit juice and bar flavourings over ice. I also have some lunch in the restaurant: grilled Walu, which is a tasty white-fleshed fish served in a wonderful coconut crème sauce. At lunch I talk with several people who are also going on the Paul Gauguin Solar Eclipse cruise. They arrived early this morning (5AM), and are just now moving into their bures after having a temporary room assigned to them for most of the day.

After lunch, I am taken to my nice clean bure overlooking the water, where I settle in and get cleaned up. I take a quick walk around the resort, seeing all the facilities offered: pool, sports activities, cultural activities, spa (I have a free coupon), Wifi (modest charge), and the Vuda Marina is right next-door (where Craig & Barbara stayed while sailing on Sequoia back in 2004). After my walk, I sleep most of the afternoon, and wake up refreshed to explore the resort a bit further. There is this Left Foot Island, which you can see best from Google Earth if you search for First Landing Resort in Lautoka, Fiji. I’m not sure what the story is behind this large manmade water feature. The resort has a coral beach (typical for this side of Vanua Levu), which means it is not soft, white sand, so you need reef shoes to go walking and wading. The reef is very shallow and close to shore in this area, which means the modest one foot tide exposes the reef and sandy areas each day, limiting ocean swimming. Of course, the resort has a nice pool, so there is no problem finding a place to swim.

JoeTourist: Lautoka & Nadi &emdash; Sunset with palm treesBefore supper, I take some sunset photos from just outside my bure, and after supper, I take some wide-angle photos of the beautifully dark western sky. The whole of Scorpius is easily observed, and the Milky Way is surprisingly bright considering I am standing in a resort with their grounds lit up at night. Having a dark ocean westward makes the beautiful celestial show possible. I identify some of the constellations found in the southern sky using Starmap Pro on my iPad 2. Once I tell the software where I am located, it works really well. I can see Cygnus flying up from the Northern horizon. Mars is flickering in the atmospheric muck at only 6 degrees above the horizon. Altair, Terazad (red star), Peacock and Toucan constellations are all visible, and a nice globular cluster NGC 6752 pops out. I observe all these treasures using my Canon IS 12×36 binoculars while sitting on a lounge chair on the beach – pure bliss!

After the night sky observing, I’m ready for more sleep, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow in the tropics.

November 9, 2012 – Friday – First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji

I am up fairly early in the morning, and take some time to have a couple of cups of coffee while looking out over the ocean at the soft colours of the morning. I’m finally ready for the Continental breakfast, which is part of the room tariff. The morning meal hits the spot with fresh Fijian fruit, homemade pastries, and other delights.

I stay at the resort today, with nothing more planned than to try out my solar eclipse photographic and observing gear while I am still on solid land. First though, there are fish to watch under the causeway, sailboats to spot through binoculars as they drift by on what seems the edge of the ocean, and I take time to contemplate the shadows of the palm trees as they caress the beach. This is a sublime place.

JoeTourist: Lautoka & Nadi &emdash; Hot Pot: Fish Curry in coconut sauce with riceI walk over to Vuda Marina, where Craig and Barbara moored their sailboat Sequoia on their trans-Pacific journey. I was lucky enough to share passage with them when they sailed from Opua, New Zealand to Suva, Fiji. I also have my first Fiji Bitter beer today before lunch. It goes down well with a very tasty Fish Curry Hot Pot in coconut sauce with rice.

I get out my solar observing and photography gear this afternoon and have a trial run on the lawn in front of my bure. It is going to be a major challenge to keep the Sun in the field of view of my camera while on a ship’s deck. Achieving sharp focus is another issue when your observing platform is moving under your feet. I’m sure we will be given lots of advice about solar observing and photography by the enrichment speakers onboard the ship, but I can already see the challenge. In any case, I take some useable photos of the Sun, which is all I can do for now.

Turning my attention to the 24 day old waning Crescent Moon proves rewarding this afternoon. The Moon has a rendezvous with the Sun on the 14th (the Total Solar Eclipse), so it will soon disappear from daytime view and keep its celestial appointment.

I have a Fiji Bitter beer and potato wedges (bar snack) for dinner, since I’m not interested in the beach BBQ and Meke show being staged by the resort staff this evening. There are too many clouds to try more astrophotography this evening, so I return to my bure. Time for more rest, since I board the cruise ship tomorrow afternoon.

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Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Sunday, December 18, 2011 – Day 28 – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I go on the horse riding excursion today – a nice way to get away from the commercialization of Puerto Vallarta. A bus takes us inland to an arid area behind Puerto Vallarta, where the real Mexicans live. There are no Walmarts, Home Depots or upscale shopping centres here…just little cafes beside the road with a few tables and dirt floors, and vendors barbecuing chicken beside the road, selling to the local families for their Sunday dinners.

We arrive at the hacienda and are assigned our horses based on our weight and skill level. I get a horse called “Grandpa” (“Abuelito” in Spanish). There are about thirty riders from the ship, so it is a good-sized group as we leave the corral single file and try to get used to our steeds (and them to us, no doubt). Grandpa seems to be very good at following the horse in front of him, and that suits me fine. We travel slowly across country similar to the dry and scrubby land landscape I remember from La Enscenada Lodge ranch on the Gulf of Nicoya in Costa Rica. We cross the river twice, once where it is less than a foot deep, and another point where it is probably about a metre deep. “Grandpa” is one of the bigger horses, so I don’t get my feet wet, while other riders do.

We have a rest stop after an hour, where they have a little cantina setup with beer, pop and water for sale, and of course there are also bathrooms available. Some people have a dip in the nearby hot springs, while others ride one of the horses which likes to swim in the deeper part of the river. I just take it easy, take some photos, and then climb back on “Grandpa” for the return trip back to the hacienda.

The cruise ship harbour is located in a very central spot with spectacular towers on both sides of the harbour entrance, stretched along the sandy beachfront. A huge marina adjoins the harbour, which is chock full of speedboats and other pleasure craft owned by the gringos in the waterfront towers.

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Huatulco to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – at sea

Saturday, December 17, 2011 – Day 27 – At sea

Today we are enroute from Huatulco to Puerto Vallarta, sailing up the Mexican Pacific coast. I go for breakfast in La Fontaine dining room this morning, and am seated with a table of veteran cruisers. They are all talking about their various experiences on ships. I am a two star Mariner in Holland America’s loyalty program, and most everyone else has either two stars or three stars. Nobody has achieved Four Star status yet, which is the top level for Holland America cruisers.

I am invited to the 11AM sitting of the Mariners Luncheon, where I see the captain for the first time in this voyage. He greets me as I enter La Fontaine dining room. They pour us some champagne, the captain welcomes us, and then Thom the Cruise Director makes a few remarks about Holland America’s ships and loyalty program. The lunch is nice, and I meet some interesting people at the table. One couple from Michigan has visited Hawaii 16 times. She was on an African safari to South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, and really liked it. I share that I also did a safari in the same area a few years ago.

JoeTourist: Rotterdam, the ship &emdash; Christmas gifts around the Atrium antique clockThe ship is decorated for Christmas, with some impressive displays around the giant clock in the atrium, as well as a huge gingerbread house, and a sequencing Christmas sign stretched between the twin stacks outside. I understand there will be over 100 children boarding the ship when it departs San Diego in a few days, so their families’ Christmas aboard ship will be assured to be special, particularly when Santa shows up in person.

My friends and I go up to the Lido for dinner, and decide to sit on the semi-open deck around the pool, where we can watch the beautiful sunset over the ocean. We had hoped there might be a Green Flash visible tonight, but no joy since there is quite a bit of sea fog near the horizon.

Later, I go up to Deck 10 forward and do a bit of astronomical observing. Visually and with my Canon IS binoculars I see: Jupiter (2+2 moons) directly overhead, Venus near the horizon, Orion Nebula and constellation, M45 the Pleiades, M31 Andromeda Galaxy, Cassiopeia constellation, and Cygnus constellation. As my eyes adapt to the dark, I can also see the Milky Way.

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Bahamas to Colombia – at sea

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 – Day 3 – At sea

I have a very nice breakfast this morning in La Fontaine, the main dining room. I am seated at a table for four, and meet a couple from Chemainus who used to do the mapping for BC Parks interpretive signs, and a young woman from California who is debarking in Callao/Lima to realize her dream to see Machu Picchu. The couple relate how they traveled to Ft. Lauderdale by train using Amtrack from Seattle to Chicago, then to Washington, DC, and finally to Ft. Lauderdale. Apparently their arrangements cost about the same as flying, and it took 3-4 days. This strikes me as a great way to avoid the hassle of the airlines and airports if you have the time to spare.

I attend a presentation by Martin, the Shore Excursions manager this morning, where he reviews all the excursions for the first half of the voyage. He mentions that all Holland America excursions to Machu Picchu depart the day after our scheduled arrival in Callao/Lima because the ship is often late arriving if the seas are rough off the South American coast. This is a concern of mine, since we leave on a flight from Lima airport around 2PM on the first day of arrival, so I hope the seas cooperate and the ship arrives on time. I’m resolved to not worry about it, since there is absolutely nothing I can do about weather in the Pacific or when our ship arrives in port some two weeks from now.

JoeTourist: Days at Sea &emdash; Eastern end of CubaAt noon today I spot the eastern end of Cuba from the right side of the ship. The captain announces we are passing within 6 nautical miles from the tip of Cuba at 2PM. The island of Hispanola is visible from the other side of the ship, but it is really just a smudge on the western horizon as we sail between these two large islands. I take some photos of both, but because it is midday the results are washed out despite using a polarizing filter.

The green flash captured at sunset from the Deck of the Rotterdam Cruise ship

The green flash captured at sunset from the Deck of the Rotterdam Cruise ship

It is formal night this evening and my friends and I go to Canaletto, the Italian-themed restaurant. The food is wonderful, and the serving staff is very friendly. After dinner on the Lido deck, I see the Green flash of the setting Sun from the poolside table in the Lido as the ship sails up the coast. My friend takes some good photos of the green flash from the deck above, however I’m pleased to visually observe this apparition. This is a personal first for me after many years of trying! Afterwards, we we go to the deck above the bridge to observe the night sky. It is nice and dark up there – Jupiter is directly overhead, Orion is laying on his side in the East, the Pleiades (M45), Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the M35 open cluster, and the red star in Taurus are all easily observed with both my image-stabilized Canon binoculars and unaided eyes since it is so dark.

I go to the late show at 10PM, which highlights Broadway song-and-dance. This is the first time I have seen the ship’s singers and dancers. The numbers they perform are really well done and it is fun to watch.

Thursday, November 24, 2011 – Day 4 – At sea

I decide to go to La Fontaine, the main dining room again this morning for breakfast. I am seated at a table for six with a couple from Calgary and a couple from Houston, Texas. The woman from Houston is originally from South Africa and spots my JoeTourist Africa t-shirt I’m wearing, so she and I talk for quite awhile about South Africa. She was pleased to hear I drove from Johannesburg all the way down the Wild and Garden coasts to Cape Town. She related some interesting stories about the gold mines when she was living in South Africa many years ago. As many South Africans did, she decided to emigrate when she was a young adult because of the personal security issues plaguing the country.

JoeTourist: Rotterdam, the ship &emdash; Promenade Deck in the tropical sunshineI attend another presentation by Martin, the Shore Excursions manager this morning, where he reviews all the excursions for the second half of the voyage from Ecuador up the Pacific Coast to Mexico. I might decide to book a tour in Guayaquil, but otherwise I think the shore excursions I have pre-booked will work fine for me. After lunch, I sit out on the Lower Promenade Deck in a deck chair and read The Black Echo – a book on my iPad. It has taken me awhile to get into this book, but now I’m actively reading it. This is classic cruise ship stuff – reading a book in a deck chair, and I’m not alone. There are dozens of passengers doing exactly the same thing.

It is American Thanksgiving today, so roasted turkey is on the menu in La Fontaine the main dining room this evening, however I have the grilled salmon instead. I also order a bottle of California white wine, since my friends and I feel like some wine with dinner this evening. Most times we don’t bother drinking with our meals since it is pretty expensive. We have some nice desserts and cappuccino to finish.

We manage to find some of the last seats available in the first show in main showroom to see Lance Ringnald, a two-time Olympic gymnast gold medal winner who does a great acrobatic show using silks hanging from the stage ceiling. I saw his act on the Volendam on last year’s cruise, and was eager to see a repeat performance. He didn’t disappoint. This is not typical of the featured entertainment you expect to find on a cruise ship, but Lance has perfected a nice combination of gymnastics, acrobatics, and funny banter with the audience that works well and is entertaining.

I go to bed after the show, since we are in port tomorrow in Santa Marta, Columbia, and I have a half-day shore excursion to catch at 8:35AM.

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Rotorua

Oct 31, 2010 – Sunday – Whangamata to Rotorua, New Zealand

We have a nice omelette for breakfast at our B&B in Whangamata, and then we depart for Rotorua. It isn’t a long drive today, so we detour to see Waihi Beach, which is yet another spectacular New Zealand beach, complete with a small town. We spend a half hour or so walking the beach, and watching the locals enjoying the beach with their families, since it is Sunday. We then resume our drive to Rotorua. The GPS takes us through the outskirts of Tauranga, and then we are into quite a remote area of New Zealand until we arrive in Rotorua.

Butter Chicken, Aloo Matar (potatoes & peas in gravy), Lamb Korma, rice and Nan bread at Lovely India restaurant

Butter Chicken, Aloo Matar (potatoes & peas in gravy), Lamb Korma, rice and Nan bread at Lovely India restaurant

Our B&B is located in a small community just south of Rotorua called Lake Okareka. At this location, we don’t have to put up with the sulphurous smell that is so apparent in the city, and we are hoping the light pollution may be subdued enough to allow us to take some astronomical photos of the night sky. Lake Okareka B&B is quite deluxe (now closed, but a new property, same owners & area), and our hosts Patricia and Ken are very helpful.

Once we unpack and have a bit of a rest, we drive back into town and have a look at the hot bubbling pools of water and mud in Kuirau Park, which is a civic park that is free admission. This evening, we go to the Lovely India Restaurant for dinner, and order the Butter Chicken, along with some Lamb and vegetable dishes with rice. The food is superb…the best Indian food I’ve had in a long time!

After returning to the B&B, Ken tells us he has found a good spot to observe the stars from. He shows us a lovely beachfront park which is only about a five minute drive away. An alternate site is the neighbour’s place next door to the B&B. They are away, so the place is dark, and it is so convenient. I setup my astronomy camera and take a time lapse sequence starting at sunset, however the clouds are factor tonight, so I call it an early night.

Nov 1, 2010 – Monday – Rotorua

Patricia makes us a continental breakfast each morning, accompanied with a savoury frittata. This is the only B&B who have a super automatic espresso machine, so I take advantage and have two Cappuccinos each morning!

Pukeko bird on the Lake Okareka Walkway

Pukeko bird on the Lake Okareka Walkway

Today is a down day, which means no activities involving driving. I catch up on my JoeTourist blog, sort through the hundreds of photos taken so far on the trip, do some laundry, and take a long walk around part of the lake. The Lake Okareka Walkway is a boardwalk over a marshy area of the lake where the wildlife are protected, so there is ample opportunity to see marsh birds such as Black Swans, ducks, Pukeko birds, and many other birds, including their young.

We drive into Rotorua for dinner, and after wandering around for a while, settle on Café Ephesus. This small, unpretentious restaurant is run by some Indians, but offers mainly a Greek menu with some Middle Eastern influences. We have a very nice dinner of a mixed Greek platter and a pizza, which we share around. We also buy a bottle of wine from a vendor across the street and bring the bottle to the restaurant. “Bring your own” is quite common in New Zealand restaurants – not something that is encouraged in North American eating establishments. Cafe Ephesus – TripAdvisor

This evening after dark, both my friend and I setup our camera gear again on the hill beside the B&B. It is quite cool this evening, so I leave my camera clicking away and retreat back to the warmth of my room at the B&B. I shoot a wide field time lapse video of the Crux-Centauri region: Alpha and Beta Centauri slowly slide below the hill while the bottom star of the Southern Cross moves north along the ridge line. Eta Carina is visible in the frame for the full duration of the video from 9:50pm to 11:45pm. This time of year is not ideal to observe the Southern Cross, since it is upside down and low in the sky. The Milky Way is clearly visible as a wide band of red visible behind the hills.

Southern Milky Way from New Zealand – a time lapse from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

HINT: Click on the little four segment icon beside the “HD” in the lower right corner of the video window to view the video in high definition mode.

Nov 2, 2010 – Tuesday – Rotorua – Waimangu Volcanic Valley

We drive the 17 kilometres south to Waimangu Volcanic Valley, which offers a very special experience with volcanic pools. Although publicly owned, this park is run by a private operator, so admissions are charged. We choose the self-guided EcoTours, since we feel it offers the best value: Walk/Hike and Boat Cruise option at NZ$77. Please note that discounts are offered, so check out the website and ask for the discounts at the admission booth.

Walking the 4.7km from the entrance to the lake jetty takes us about two hours at an easy pace. The slope in this direction is generally downhill, with a few steep grades and the occasional uphill section. Anyone who can normally walk this distance on flat ground should have no problem with this walk/hike. Be sure to take water and a snack with you, since there are restrooms, but no refreshment stands along the way. If you get tired, there is a shuttle bus you can catch in two spots mid way, as well as at the end where the boat jetty is located. We also take the boat tour of the big lake located at the end of the trails – Lake Rotomahana. It is worthwhile if for no other reason, to appreciate the sheer scale of the largest volcanic eruption which took place during human recorded history – Mount Tarawera in 1886.

Waimangu Volcanic Valley from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

HINT: Click on the little four segment icon beside the “HD” in the lower right corner of the above video window to view the video in high definition mode.

Nov 3, 2010 – Wednesday – Rotorua to Te Kuiti

We drive from Rotorua to Te Kuiti today. Along the way near Mangakino, we stop to see the Pouakani Toara Tree. We stop at the nondescript entrance located on Highway 30, and walk for 10 minutes to see this giant tree in the forest. It is immense…similar to the trees we saw in Costa Rica on the jungle walk. It is the largest Totara tree recorded in New Zealand, so it is certainly worth a look. Speaking of looking, the tree is so large it is difficult to see the whole thing from the forest floor.

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At sea – New Caledonia to New Zealand

2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

Oct 18, 2010 – Monday – Volendam at sea, enroute to Bay of Islands, New Zealand

I go to the Rotterdam Dining Room for breakfast this morning. They serve complimentary cappuccino with breakfast, and I have a nicely-cooked Spanish omelette. The woman beside me is from Sarnia, Ontario, and reveals she was the female “volunteer” from the audience who was chosen to hula while the Polynesian male dancers gyrated around her at yesterday evening’s folkloric performance in Noumea. She seems to be quite pleased with her experience.

Shipbuilding competition - Raftea from Nanaimo succeeds in the payload test

Shipbuilding competition – Raftea from Nanaimo succeeds in the payload test

The shipbuilding competition among the passengers winds up today. This is a contest where passengers scrounge materials to build a model ship, which must pass seaworthiness tests in the pool. A New Zealand teams wins, but a Canadian team is in the running too.

Since this is a day at sea, I attend two presentations. The first one is “Things to See & Do in New Zealand”, presented by the onboard travel guide, Susan. Most of what she had to say is stuff I already know, however her handout will be useful, since it gives us a list to work on while we have the rental car in New Zealand. The second presentation is by Donna Giesler, The Star Lady titled “Constellations of the Zodiac”. Donna does a pretty good job of humouring those in the audience who believe in astrology, while also highlighting the astronomical facts about the constellations, some of which are included in the Zodiac. This is her last lecture for this cruise.

We go for dinner in the Rotterdam Dining Room this evening. We are seated at a table for six with an Australian couple. They regale us with their experiences as they toured across Canada by rail & rental car, and we generally get along famously. The ship is rolling the most we have experienced during the whole voyage, despite the winds not being the strongest. The wind is on our bow, and the sea swells are the largest and have a long period so the ship plunges down into the big troughs between the waves. The ship’s clocks turn forward one hour tomorrow morning, so we lose another hour after gaining all those hours as we sailed westward across the Pacific earlier in the cruise.

Oct 19, 2010 – Tuesday – Volendam at sea, enroute to Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Jimmy, the Cruise Director emcees “Time to Say Goodbye” in the show lounge: a show put on for everyone who is departing the ship in Auckland. He gives us lots of useful information, and ends the show with staff from all the departments coming on stage for a group farewell song – a very nice ending to this cruise.

Goodbye Volendam 2010 from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

HINT: Click on the little four segment icon beside the “HD” in the lower right corner of the video window to view the video in high definition mode.

I have a curry lunch in the Lido and eat on the Sea View pool deck in the shade. It was cool but not cold, and the sky is clear and sunny. I have one last swim in the pool. The ship is rolling quite a bit today, so the water in the pool is sloshing around a great deal, however I have the pool to myself.

It is formal dress tonight. After we have before dinner drinks in my cabin, we go to the Rotterdam Dining Room and are seated with an elderly couple: Celeste and John from California. They are both genuine characters and have lots of stories to tell – we all have a good time. They lived in northern Mexico for twenty years, but moved to California after John’s health deteriorated.

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Cruising from Hawai’i to American Samoa

2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

Oct 3, 2010 – Sunday – Volendam at sea, enroute Hawaii to American Samoa

I sleep in this morning, since this will be a lazy day at sea – the first of five days until we reach Pago Pago in American Samoa on Oct 8th. We had both lunch and dinner in the Lido restaurant today, so it was casual all the way. We avoided the formal night this evening as best we could. I picked up a slight burn yesterday from my time out on deck and in the pool.

I attend two lectures today – this morning Donna’s “Excited about Exo-planets”, where she talks about the recent discovery of a new exo-planet that appears to be Earth-like. Of course, she also describes the history of the hunt for planets outside our solar system. This afternoon I attend a lecture by Dan Ostler (Donna’s husband) where he describes how the Polynesians navigated across the open Pacific Ocean; and also describes how the ancestors of people of the South Pacific migrated across the world eastward from Africa. They are both good lectures which I enjoy very much.

Kilauea Volcano - volcanic flow into the ocean

Kilauea Volcano – volcanic flow into the ocean

Later this afternoon I make a presentation to the Astronomy Club group hosted by Donna. I show RASC Victoria Centre – 2010 Calendar photos and gave a brief explanation behind each photo. I also add a shot of a sunset viewed through the Kikis from Pu-uhonau o Honaunau – Place of Refuge, and finish off with a photo of the lava flow into the ocean. Both photos were taken last October, and both represent opportunities missed on this voyage due to cloudy weather.

This evening we go up to Deck 6 forward to do some astronomical observing. There are no lights on this small deck located right in front of the bridge, so it is very dark, and the views of the night sky are superb. Despite some cloud cover, the Milky Way was just as bright as we observed on September 28th, and Jupiter’s four most prominent moons were all lined up on one side of the planet (8pm local time). Speaking of time, our clocks are set back another hour this evening, making us five hours ahead of Pacific Time.

Oct 4, 2010 – Monday – Volendam at sea, enroute Hawaii to American Samoa

When I look out the porthole windows in my cabin this morning, it looks like we have returned to a grey northwest autumn day. However when I step outside on the Promenade Deck, it is obvious we are in the tropics as the warm and humid air hits my face. After lunch, I go for a swim in the Sea View pool; swimming all by myself in the warm rain – great fun!

Later, I listen to a couple of talks about our upcoming ports of call and Holland America’s 2011 cruising season in Europe. I am interested in taking a Mediterranean cruise, and some of their repositioning cruises departing London or Amsterdam look to be very good value. They stop in France, Spain and Portugal before entering through Gibraltar. I also attend Dan Osler’s talk on European exploration of the South Pacific. His talks are always interesting.

We are currently passing close to the Line Islands, although they are not within sight, just a spot on the map NW of us. We are also north of Kiribati, which are slightly better known islands in the middle of the Pacific, but again, they are out of sight.

Oct 5, 2010 – Tuesday – Volendam at sea, enroute Hawaii to American Samoa

King Neptune ceremony

King Neptune ceremony

There is a King Neptune ceremony held this morning on the stern deck Sea View Pool area. Some pollywogs are initiated – judged by King Neptune (Jimmy, the Cruise Director). Every initiate has to kiss a big old ugly fish, be slimed with spaghetti and goo, and then accept punishment by either sitting out in the Sun or jumping into the pool. The pool looked pretty disgusting after a few of the pollywogs washed off all that spaghetti and goo.

Other than the King Neptune ceremony, it was just another day at sea on our way to Pago Pago, which is still three days away. We will cross the Equator later this evening – close to midnight or early tomorrow morning. We are still struggling against a strong 30 mph wind from the East as we steer a SSW course.

This evening, I go up to the Sky Deck and catch my first glimpse of 47 Tucanae through my binoculars, a spectacular globular cluster near the Small Magellenic Cloud (which I did not see due to cloud in that area of the sky).

Oct 6, 2010 – Wednesday – Volendam at sea, enroute Hawaii to American Samoa

Other than one astronomy lecture I want to attend this morning, the day is free to do as I wish. There is no Internet connection or cellular service today due to our position on the globe. I take the opportunity to take photos of the inside of the ship, since there is some beautiful artwork (sculpture, painting, tapestry), and the public rooms and atrium are so classy looking.

Cherries Jubilee being flambeed

Cherries Jubilee being flambeed

I reserve a table for four at the Pinnacle Grill this evening. Since it is formal night anyway, I thought it was about time we try this specialty restaurant again. I have the Caesar Salad to start (hand made at the table), and Filet Mignon with baked potato and garlic butter sauce for my main. Others have a beef skewer flambéed with brandy before being served; Lobster tail served the classic way with drawn butter; and Steak Diane, which is also flambéed before being served.

Everyone except me have Cherries Jubilee, which again, is also flambéed before being served. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves. There is a $20/person charge for this restaurant…well worth it for a nice change from the other options for dinner.

After dinner, I go to see the evening show: a Chinese performer playing the dulcimer. He is very good. I hadn’t appreciated just how flexible the dulcimer is – he plays Chinese opera, contemporary pop, show tunes, and even a Dave Brubeck jazz number. Afterward, I change out of my dark suit and go upstairs to the Sky Deck to observe the stars with Donna. I meet a young Dutch gay couple who are still dressed in formal wear, and who are so cute holding hands as they walk along. My observing buddy and I lend them our image stabilized binoculars (which they really appreciate) so they can see Jupiter and its moons and also the Pleiades.

Oct 7, 2010 – Thursday – Volendam at sea, enroute Hawaii to American Samoa

JoeTourist: Food &emdash; Cappuccino in Explorations CaféThis is our last day at sea before landing in Pago Pago tomorrow morning. I sleep in until 9am this morning, which is the latest so far on this trip. After a breakfast of fresh fruit, Swiss Muesli, and French toast in the Lido, I go down to the Explorations Lounge and have a nice Cappuccino while I wake up. At 11am, I attend a lecture by Donna showing how the turning of the Earth affects what we can see in the night sky. She had some audience participate for this presentation, which was fun!

I join my friends in the Lido buffet for lunch, where I have the feature today: Indonesian food. It is very good, and as expected it is a bit spicy. After lunch, I go for a swim in the Sea View pool on the stern deck. It is great to get some exercise, and also to be in the warm Sun for awhile. This pool is salt water and it is not as heavily used as the main Lido pool (which is fresh water). After my swim, I have another Cappuccino in the Explorers Lounge while a talented guitarist plays soft tunes. This is the life!

I attend the Filipino Crew Show this evening, which is very entertaining. They perform the usual folkloric singing and dancing, which is all very well done. One number is really funny, since two guys come on stage dressed in drag. One guy’s tits are oranges, which keep falling out of his dress, so he is constantly picking them up and stuffing them back in place – hilarious!

Hilo, Hawai’i

October 20-24, 2009 – Hilo, the Big Island of Hawaii

Hilo is on the east coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. which is the wet side of the island. Although the temperatures are nice and warm, it rains in Hilo virtually every day, and the area has the tropical vegetation to prove it. Hilo is a contrast to Kailua-Kona on the other side of the Big Island, since it is less tourist-oriented, giving the visitor a glimpse of the Old Hawaii.

Kilauea Volcano is less than one hour’s drive south from Hilo, so I made several trips to see the sights in Volcanoes National Park and nearby areas in my rental car.

The North Coast of the Big Island is rugged, tropical, and mostly inaccessible, however the road along the coastline north from Hilo provides easy access to some of the gulches and valleys, rivers and streams, spectacular waterfalls, and of course the coastline itself before the road veers off to Waimea. Stopping along the way will provide you with a glimpse of how Hawaiians live day-to-day.

The Imiloa Astronomy Center is located in Hilo, and presents astronomy to visitors using interactive displays, a planetarium, special exhibits, and ties astronomy to Hawaiian customs and culture. Imiloa is run by the University of Hawaii on behalf of the big multi-national observatories located atop Mauna Kea. Worth a half day visit. Admission charged.

Hilo Bay & the shoreline along Kalanianaole Avenue presents fascinating vistas of the geography surrounding Hilo, so it is a good idea for visitors to familiarize themselves with the bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond. There are numerous civic parks along Kalanianaole Avenue, and all are only a few minutes drive from anywhere in Hilo. Tidal ponds provide safe and easy access for everyone to play in the ocean, while just a few metres away are rocks and surf to challenge even the most capable swimmers and surfers. Coconut Island, Banyan Drive and Liluokalani Gardens are all interesting destinations worth spending some time at…in fact, take a picnic lunch (“sack lunch” in Hawaiian), and plan to spend the day exploring Hilo Bay.

Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots Pools are both located right in Hilo on the Wailuku River, which flows into Hilo Bay. Although not as spectacular as other falls and rivers you might find on the Big Island, they are easy to get to, and certainly worth a look.

Despite being an amateur astronomer, I didn’t manage to visit the Mauna Kea Visitor Center. It is a fairly easy drive from Hilo, and offers free nightly star gazing from this station located at the 9,500′ level on Mauna Kea. Please note, the big observatories are not located here – they are near the summit at the 14,500′ level! If you plan to go to the Visitor Centre, take a winter coat and check their website to ensure the weather will be clear. It may be raining in Hilo, but it could easily be clear on the mountain (or vice versa). I did visit the top of Mauna Kea and the observatories a few years later in 2014.


JoeTourist: Hilo &emdash; Breakfast at the B&BOctober 20-23, 2009 – I stayed at the Old Hawaiian Bed & Breakfast for four nights. The place is situated in a nice part of town near the Wailuku River, and is owned and operated by Lory & Stewart Hunter. Lory’s superb breakfasts are served on the lanai (patio), and include fresh fruit smoothies, fresh baked pastries, cooked eggs, tropical fruit cocktail, and of course, Kona coffee. There are three rooms to choose from, and all guests share access to the large lanai, telephone, fridge, microwave, and high speed wireless Internet. There are no televisions in the rooms, so bring a notebook computer if watching videos or the news is important to you. JoeTourist recommended.