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Singapore

Feb 29, 2016 – Singapore

We arrive early this morning in Singapore’s cruise ship terminal. We have a day in port and then overnight aboard the ship this evening. Most of the passengers are disembarking tomorrow morning, but I’m one of the 175 who are staying on board for the next cruise segment.

I take the Best of Singapore excursion today. It is an exhausting 8 hour tour, but we cover a great deal of ground, and I take some good photos and video. Our guide takes us to the City Gallery, where there are some wonderful scale models of the city and the whole country of Singapore. It shows just how much of Singapore is dedicated to gardens and other non-developed land, including the reservoir system for their water supply.

We take an electric-powered riverboat ride down the Kallang River and into Marina Bay, past Merlion Park. The Merlion fountain statue was erected as a symbol of welcome to visitors; the lion statue is emblematic of Singapore itself. We also see the historic Fullerton Hotel, on our way to the three towers that make up the Marina Bay Sands hotel and the observation deck, 200 metres (650 feet) above sea level, perched on Tower 3 of the hotel. I manage to photograph the amazing infinity pool (reserved for hotel guests) by leaning out from the observing deck to grab a shot. The view of Gardens by the Bay below the towers, as well as the city and harbour are fantastic from this vantage point. The Marina Bay Sands hotel has one of only two casinos, and a huge number of high end shops in a vast mall under the main hotel.

Our bus takes us to the entrance to Gardens by the Bay – a 100 hectare (250 acre) spectacularly designed park, home to an amazing variety of rare plants housed in giant, innovative domed conservatories. There are several different regions and ecosystems to discover, but we only have time to explore two: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.

The Flower Dome replicates the cool-dry climate of Mediterranean regions, and showcases flora that thrive in these conditions. Oddly enough, cactus and succulents, as well as Baobab trees are included in this ecosystem. True to its name, the Flower Dome showcases massive numbers of flowers from all over the world. As we move into the mist-veiled Cloud Forest, we feel the climate change to warmer and moister conditions. The 35 metre (115 foot) tall mountain showcases the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and presents plant life from tropical ecosystems, and is nothing short of spectacular.

We stop for a family-style Chinese lunch in a restaurant in Chinatown, which offers us a welcome air-conditioned respite from the heat and humidity on Singapore’s streets after seeing the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. The gold-domed Masjid Sultan Mosque is the centre of Muslim culture in the city, and nearby Arab Street offers lots of carpet dealers. Shopping in Little India is interesting, and there are bargains to be had here when compared with Singapore’s more upscale (and expensive) shopping areas.

We finish our day at the legendary Raffles Hotel. I have a Singapore Sling cocktail where it was originally invented in Raffles’ Long Bar. Named after the British designer of modern-day Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, this property is one of the world’s finest and most famous hotels. The high ceilings and colonial architecture reflect the era of British rule (1819-1963). There is no public access to the lobby and other guest areas, however the Long Bar and shops are accessible to the public.

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Ile de Lifou, New Caledonia

November 17, 2012 – Saturday – Ile de Lifou, New Caledonia

Beach dogs enjoying some attention from a tourist on Ile de Lifou, New Caledonia

Beach dogs enjoying some attention from a tourist on Ile de Lifou, New Caledonia

I have the morning to myself, despite the ship being anchored offshore and tenders running to the little village of Easo. I take a 2.5 hour tour called “Luecila Beach & Scenic Drive” leaving at 12:15PM. We are taken to a beautiful white sand beach near the main town of We on Baie de Chateaubriand. Richard is our tour guide, and does a good job describing their local customs as we drive for half an hour it takes to get across the bushy central part of the island to our destination on the other side.

The fine white sand beach has to be at least 3-4 kms long, and has some very nice coral and fishes, which I snorkel out to see. The water is a bit cloudy because of the swell coming into the bay, but in spite of this, I enjoy the hour swimming in the tropical waters. I see a few fish, and some live coral, and even spot a small shark briefly. There are only about a dozen people on the beach, other than our group of about 30 tourists and a few beach dogs.
Richard tells us there are only about 10,000 people living on the island, despite it being geographically quite big. Tourism is their only industry, so the economy is not great, since they only see about two cruise ships per week on average, and they have one 4 star hotel located in We.

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Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

November 13, 2012 – Tuesday – Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

Kanamera Bay white sand beach and small island, Ile des Pins, New Caledonia


Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

We pick up the pilot at 3AM this morning, and arrive a few minutes early at at 8AM, anchoring in Kuto Bay. This place hasn’t changed at all from the last time I was here aboard the Volendam two years ago Vanuatu & New Caledonia. It is cool but comfortable today, with lots of clouds around, and it even sprinkles rain for a few minutes this morning.

I leave early on the second available tender, which is not full for some strange reason. We only have a few hours here, since the ship has to leave at Noon to keep our appointment with the Sun and Moon for tomorrow’s Total Solar Eclipse. People who snorkelled in the bay today report the water felt cold, but the reef fish were enjoyable.

We depart Kuto Bay on time at Noon, and by mid-afternoon we are underway in a southerly direction, with the wind running to 31km/h and the temperature at only 21ºC. It is a fairly rough ocean, with heavy cloud cover – it almost looks like the North Pacific instead of the South Pacific. The ship is lurching and crashing into the large waves, and the passengers are also lurching around a bit more than usual!

I attend the 4PM lecture – Last Chance Eclipse Update – Rick Fienberg, Holly Gilbert & Bill Kramer give us some good last minute advice about the eclipse event coming up tomorrow morning. The weather forecast from Jay Anderson looks very promising…the chance of cloud cover is now running only 20% where we will be located.

I skip the Port Talk at 5:30PM about the islands of Mare, Lifou & Port Vila by the Travel Concierge Manager. I need some time to update my travel journal, and hopefully create another blog entry to cover the first few days aboard the Paul Gauguin. Later, I go to dinner at L’Etoille and sit at a large table where I have lots of stimulating conversation to participate in. After returning to my cabin, I check over my equipment to ensure I’m ready for tomorrow’s Total Solar Eclipse, which will be all over by 9:16AM local time.

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Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Monday, December 19, 2011 – Day 29 – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

JoeTourist: Cabo San Lucas &emdash; Land's End beach - empty in early morningLand’s End is beautiful in the morning light as Rotterdam sails into the bay. The beaches along Land’s End are devoid of the crowds at this early hour, and display their charms through my binoculars as the ship anchors.

I wait until the tenders are less crowded later this morning, and then go ashore to the Cabo San Lucas Marina area. The whole area is nothing but tourist shops and guys trying to sell boat trips to see Land’s End or the various scenic beaches. There is every tourist excursion known to man being hawked to the cruise ship passengers as they walk the marina area. There are surprisingly few hotels; instead there are thousands of condos lining the beaches and marina area. Some are even built up on the arid hills surrounding the town. I’m sure there are some beautiful views from those properties. I walk around about half of the huge marina area and poke through some of the shops and “flea markets” before getting fed up and return to the ship after about an hour.

The Carnival Spirit has just anchored beside the Rotterdam in the bay, so the boat excursion salesmen ashore will have a fresh batch of customers to work on. Eight shore-based tender boats immediately head to the new mother ship, ready to take the passengers ashore. The tendering business must be lucrative and steady in such a popular cruise port…probably a better business to be in than the excursion business, which is obviously oversupplied.

I feel sorry for all the excursion salesmen. They just don’t realize that the Rotterdam passengers are at the end of a 30 day cruise, and have been propositioned so many times over the last few weeks; they are immune to the pitches, and certainly not interested in any more boat tours. That said, Cabo San Lucas will roll on, offering a destination beach experience like few other Mexican Riviera towns. It is a spectacular setting.

The Christmas vacation crowd has already descended on the place as I discover when I scan the beaches with my binoculars from the ship. I’m sure all the accommodation is booked, and the flights down here are full. As I sit on the Lower Promenade Deck writing my journal, the little excursion boats are dashing back and forth, taking people to see Lands End rock and the beaches along the way.

People are drifting by parasailing, and little Seadoos are zipping by, squirting water in the air as they noisily slap the waves, going every which way across the bay. As the day progresses, the beaches near Lands End fill up with people who, I suppose thought they might “get away from the crowds” only to create their own crowd! The Seadoos swarm around the Rotterdam and become a bit annoying, but I guess they are having fun. I come inside to get away from the noise, and who do I see but Santa standing beside the big clock in the Atrium, being videotaped by the ship’s photographers. You just never know who you will meet on a cruise ship!

JoeTourist: Cabo San Lucas &emdash; Beachfront condos and hotels on the Pacific side of Cabo San LucasThe Rotterdam pulls anchor and sails around Land’s End and along the outer coastline where all the rich and famous retreat to – Solmar Beach, Divorce Beach, and the steep cliffs where the spectacular homes are built away from the hustle and bustle of the downtown core. We have a glorious sunset to enjoy on our second to last day aboard ship.

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Huatulco, Mexico

Friday, December 16, 2011 – Day 26 – Huatulco, Mexico

Since I’m not interested in all the tourist shops available at this cruise port; I go on a snorkel cruise excursion this morning. It is quite a bit of fun, and provides a good opportunity to get away from the ship for a couple of hours. They make us all sign waivers and wear a silly yellow floatation device (which is deflated), but otherwise it is a well-run activity. They take us on a ten-minute boat ride to one of the little bays we saw this morning as Rotterdam pulled into the port.

The group of snorkelers is lead by the crew, and despite several hundred other people swimming in the same bay, there are still a surprising number of fish to see and photograph. I even see a lobster on the bottom before we return to shore. The flippers they give us earlier are necessary, since there are some fairly strong surges as we do the circuit, especially when we are lead into a cave with a narrow opening.

As always, I’m happy to return to the ship to have a shower and put on fresh clothes. I spend part of the afternoon doing one final load of laundry before the end of the cruise. My friends and I have some Becks beer on the stern deck as we pull out of the bay. We decide to have a casual dinner in the same place since the weather is so warm.

Cunard’s Queen Victoria is docked beside Rotterdam at the pier. It is an impressive new ship, with five decks of veranda suites. She is huge – much wider and higher than our ship, but not too much longer. Cunard still runs their larger ships with two classes of passengers, so I expect the two gangways are for First Class and Tourist Class. Seeing this ship brings back memories of when I sailed aboard the Cunard Princess in the 1980’s from Vancouver through the Panama Canal and the Caribbean. The Cunard Princess was a small ship with some 800 passengers, so it was a single class (Tourist Class) ship.

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Coromandel Peninsula

Oct 28, 2010 – Thursday – Warkworth to Whangamata, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

We are traveling to a B&B on the Coromandel Peninsula today, which means driving through the motorways surrounding Auckland. The drive through Auckland goes extremely well, with traffic being a bit heavy, but it keeps moving nicely. The GPS keeps us on track and helps us to manoeuver through the maze of motorways and ramps around and through Auckland on our way around the Hauraki Gulf to Whangamata on the Coromandel Peninsula.

JoeTourist: Coromandel &emdash; Surf shopOur destination is the Kotuku B&B, located a block from the beautiful estuary on the Otahu River in Whangamata (fang-a-mata). We are only about four blocks from an absolutely stunning fine sand beach, which goes on for several kilometres. There is virtually nobody on the beach at this time of year, which makes it even more attractive to us.

On the recommendation of Peter, the B&B operator, we go to Oceana’s restaurant, which offers a choice of three mains on special this month for NZ$15. Two of the three choices are great: Scallops in mornay sauce, and Fish and Chips. The third choice, Steak Sandwich is not too terrific.

Oct 29, 2010 – Friday – Whangamata, Coromandel Peninsula

Whangamata beach & offshore islet

Whangamata beach & offshore islet

After breakfast this morning, we decide that today will be a “beach day“, borrowing a term used on the cruise ship. Peter lends us some beach towels, and we sunbathe on the beach, wandering back and forth, and generally soak it all in for an hour or two. Nobody wants to burn, so we reluctantly return to the B&B to get cleaned up a bit.

We go to town for a coffee and a snack from one of the local bakeries, and after a bit of window shopping in town, we spend most of the afternoon at the B&B relaxing and having tea with Peter around 4pm. For dinner, Peter suggests we try a Thai restaurant in town. We order the deep fried Snapper, which is good but not very big. We also order some vegetables to go with it, and share the platters, however even with rice, the meal was a bit too small for three people. Oh well, it won’t hurt us to go away a bit hungry for once on this trip, especially after all the food we consumed on board the Volendam!

Oct 30, 2010 – Saturday – Whangamata, Hot Water Beach, Onemana Beach, Coromandel Peninsula

After breakfast, we drive up to Hot Water Beach, which is spectacular with the surf crashing along the kilometer or so long sandy beach. Getting there however was stressful, since soon after we left Whangamata we encountered the K2 Cycle Race – a huge bicycle race going on along the highway. There were hundreds of bicyclists racing along the road in huge groups. New Zealand roads are so narrow and generally there are no paved shoulders, so the bicyclists took the lane, which held up traffic and caused some near accidents. That said, Hot Water Beach was worth seeing, and the trip back was less stressful since we were driving against the flow of bicycles, which were still being dispatched down the road.

JoeTourist: Coromandel &emdash; Blue and white shellWe stop at Onemana Beach on the way back, which is yet another spectacular beach along the Coromandel Peninsula. There is a small community here, and the beach is virtually deserted at this time of year. After returning to the B&B and having a bit of a rest, Peter serves us tea at 4pm. Afterward, we go back to Oceana’s restaurant for dinner and have their specials again. Good food at a great price.

Oct 31, 2010 – Sunday – Whangamata to Rotorua

Peter makes us a nice omelette for breakfast, and then we depart for Rotorua. It isn’t a long drive today, so we detour to see Waihi Beach, yet another spectacular New Zealand beach on the Coromandel Peninsula, complete with a small town. We spend a half hour or so walking the beach, and then resume our drive to Rotorua.

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Warkworth

Oct 26, 2010 – Tuesday – Kerikeri to Warkworth, New Zealand

We reluctantly leave our B&B in Kerikeri this morning, and drive down the highway to Warkworth. We leave late and arrive early. The Warkworth Country House B&B is ready for us, with the doors open to our rooms, and the beds are made, so we make ourselves at home. As it turns out, Perry Bathgate, the B&B operator is working in the garden, so he doesn’t see us until we have been there for an hour or so. We go to the Bridgehouse Lodge Pub for dinner this evening. It is located on Elizabeth Street, which is the main street in the little town of Warkworth. As it turns out, it is pretty well the only eating establishment that is open in Warkworth this Tuesday evening. The food is good, and the Montieths Original Ale tastes fine.

Small Magellanic Cloud & 47 Tucanae

Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy & 47 Tucanae star cluster

My friend and I take some photographs of the night sky from the front lawn of the B&B this evening, since the sky is relatively clear, and this is a dark rural site. I take photos of the Milky Way, which is a glorious overhead band, as well as the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, which are sister galaxies to the Milky Way. Despite not using my tracking mount, the photos turn out quite well due to the dark skies in this rural location.

Oct 27, 2010 – Wednesday – SheepWorld, Warkworth, Point Wells

Jan and Perry serve us a delicious full English breakfast this morning at the B&B. We decide to go to the farm at SheepWorld, which is only 4km north of Warkworth. We walk around the farm pens to see all the animals: sheep, lambs, pigs, rabbits, Alpaca, cattle and goats. Of course, the highlight is when the dogs herd the sheep from the pasture into the pens; as well as the sheep shearing demonstration, and the finale – we get to feed the lambs milk from bottles.

SheepWorld – sheep shearing & sheep dogs 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.

In the late afternoon we drive over to nearby Point Wells to visit with my cousin Cindy and her family. They have a wonderful property located on the estuary, and the layout of their house takes full advantage of outdoor living and the beautiful view.. Before dinner, my cousin’s husband Graeme takes us on a walking tour along the shoreline surrounding the little community of Point Wells. It is a beautiful area, with some fine views all the way to Omaha Beach.

The dinner Cindy and Graeme prepare for us is excellent: ceviche and fresh tomatoes, fresh caught fish grilled on the BBQ, lovely plump scallops off the boats at nearby Omaha, a nice salad, and oven roasted potatoes. We have a couple of white wines we brought along – a pinot gris and a chardonnay – which both work well with the meal. Yet more of that wonderful New Zealander hospitality!

Oct 28, 2010 – Thursday – Warkworth to Whangamata, Coromandel Peninsula

We are traveling to a B&B on the Coromandel Peninsula today, which means driving through the motorways of Auckland. After we leave the B&B in Warkworth, we do a quick drive to the neighbouring Parry Kauri Park & Warkworth Museum, where there are two very old and extremely large Kauri trees. The drive through Auckland goes very well; traffic is a bit heavy, but it keeps moving nicely. The GPS keeps us on track and helps us to manoeuvre through the maze of motorways, lanes and ramps around and through Auckland on our way around the Hauraki Gulf to Whangamata (fang-a-mata) on the Coromandel Peninsula.

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Waitangi, Pahia & Opua

Oct 25, 2010 – Monday – Kerikeri – Waitangi, Pahia & Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Keith makes us crepes for breakfast, which are served with a berry compote and real Canadian maple syrup. We then take off late morning to see the Waitangi National Trust Estate Treaty Grounds, where we take about an hour and a half to walk through the grounds and see the displays. I visited this site in 2004…the only thing that has changed is the price – it is now NZ$25/person, whereas I paid NZ$10/person in 2004! The displays are very impressive: the huge Maori war canoe, the carvings decorating the Maori meeting house, the grounds and view, and of course the Treaty House itself. There is lots of history to absorb from the exhibits – both colonial and Maori. The views of the Bay of Islands from the site is second-to-none. Give yourself at least a half day to do justice to this historic site.

Be sure to visit my (archived) 2004 Waitangi web page if you want to see more photographs.

JoeTourist: Bay of Islands &emdash; Joe at Opua marina where SV Sequoia was moored in 2004Last stop today is Opua, which brings back memories for me. I was here in 2004 (Bay of Islands 2004) while the Johnstons and I waited for favourable weather before sailing for Fiji in their 42′ sailboat. I have an “I was there photo” taken at the same dock as sv Sequoia was docked at in 2004 so I can send a copy to Barbara and Craig. I expect they will get a kick out of it. They are currently waiting in Alameda, California for favourable weather to depart to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico for the winter.

After we return to the B&B, Keith prepares a wonderful fresh seafood stew for dinner, complete with French bread and an Australian white wine. Keith has shown us so much New Zealander hospitality during our stay. You might say, well he is a B&B operator…that’s his job. Perhaps, but I feel he well exceeded our expectations, and was genuinely friendly…not just put on for business reasons.

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Matauri Bay & Whangaroa

Oct 23, 2010 – Saturday – Kerikeri – Matauri Bay & Whangaroa, New Zealand

I’m up first and have my morning coffee in the kitchen while Keith prepares breakfast, but my friends are soon up, so we move to the dining room for the main event. Keith makes us a wonderful meal to start the day: field mushrooms on toast with ham, fruit, cereal, homemade yogurt, and a vast selection of jams and marmalades, as well as more of his very good Bodum-style press coffee.

Matauri Bay & Cavalli Islands from the ridge

Matauri Bay & Cavalli Islands from the ridge

Keith suggests a route for us to drive today, which goes north to Matauri Bay, and then to Whangaroa (fang-a-roah). Both locations are superb, and we enjoy ourselves. The beach at Matauri Bay is outstanding and not crowded. The Rainbow Warrior was sunk by the French while the ship was in Auckland, and the wreck is now re-sunk just offshore from Matauri Bay, to be used as a diving reef. We stop along the way and take some photos of spring lambs and sheep in a beautiful pasture, and then drive a bit further to the lovely bay at Whangaroa. We climb the hill up to the pretty Anglican Church on the hill behind the village to take some photos. We don’t travel the complete route which Keith suggested, but perhaps tomorrow we will explore further.

John, Wendy & Joe at Pear Tree restaurant in Kerikeri

John, Wendy & Joe at Pear Tree restaurant in Kerikeri

Keith makes a reservation for us at the Pear Tree restaurant for dinner this evening. We walk down the hill the short distance to the restaurant, which is right across the street from the Stone Store. There is a new pedestrian bridge across the Kerikeri River, which replaces the old single lane vehicle bridge that used to be there, so the road on the other side now dead ends at the Old Stone Store (where we ended up yesterday). Our meals at the restaurant are very nice, but we find the charge of NZ$120 pretty high for three entrees, three beers, and one dessert.

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Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Oct 20, 2010 – Wednesday – Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Port of call on a 2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

This is our first port of call since our departure from New Caledonia. We are anchored in the Bay of Islands, so we are tendered ashore to the Waitangi wharf. They have shuttle buses to take passengers to Pahia, which is the main town for the area.

We go ashore on the tender and take the lunchtime version of Darryl’s Dinner Cruise. We find the boat on the pier in Pahia, and have a very nice time with a bunch of Australians, who are on a bus tour of New Zealand. It is a bit choppy out on the harbour, however we travel around the little bay by Pahia, as well as down to within sight of Opua, then around Orongo Bay. There are some beautiful glimpses of Volendam before we return to Pahia wharf. Along the way, we are served our choice of New Zealand Lamb Chops, roast venison, or catch of the day, along with salad, steamed potatoes, and even a bit of chocolate for dessert.

JoeTourist: Food &emdash; Wendy McDonald's birthday aboard ship in the Rotterdam dining roomAfter walking around Pahia for a while, we return to the ship mid-afternoon. It is Crew Performance Night in the Rotterdam Dining Room, so the dining room serving staff dance between the tables, starting with placing napkins on everyone’s lap through to serving Baked Alaska (sans sparklers). After the Baked Alaska, the servers surround my friend who is celebrating a birthday and sing her a version of “Happy Birthday” in Filipino. Her chocolate cake is served in addition to the Baked Alaska, so everyone is overstuffed by the time we leave the dining room.