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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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Manta, Ecuador

Saturday, December 10, 2011 – Day 20 – Manta, Ecuador

We arrive in Manta, a small city with an important seaport with a big harbour and two beautiful adjacent beaches. I am not signed up for a shore excursion today, instead preferring to go for a walk along the wonderful beach adjacent to the pier where we are docked. As we have come to expect on this trip, the skies are overcast and the outside temperature is in the low 20’s, however the humidity is high.

After breakfast, I take the shuttle to the entrance to the pier, and walk the block or so to the Malecon Beach. This is a huge beach, several kilometres long. The entrance area has cafes and bars, as well as activity areas for people and families to socialize and have fun. Being Saturday, there are hundreds, perhaps even a thousand or so locals at the beach today. That said, I only have to walk a few hundred metres down the beach and it is virtually empty. There are some lovely beachfront towers built between the road and the beach. It is a great area to enjoy, and so easy to get to from the ship.

I meet a friend on the beach, so after we walk for awhile, we decide to have a look at the Cultural Museum located across the street from the beach entrance. There is no charge to enter; however the main desk retains our Holland America passenger cards until we leave. There are some interesting modern works of art, and some cultural artifacts in pottery and gold. It takes about 20 minutes to see the three floors of exhibits, so their collection is not extensive, but it is interesting nonetheless. We return to the ship, taking the free shuttle along the working pier to the gangway. It is always nice to return to the relative comfort of the Rotterdam.

In addition to being a deep-sea port for freighters, Manta is also home to the tuna fishing fleet for Ecuador. Many American and Canadian fishing companies operate out of Manata. The nearby town of Montecristi is where Panama hats are produced. There are many tours from the ship returning from Montecristi this afternoon, with passengers sporting new hats as they re-board. I bought a genuine Panama hat many years ago on one of the Caribbean islands.

JoeTourist: Manta &emdash; Bulk carrier with truck vehicles on deck being docked by two tug boatsOur departure is delayed this evening by the fuel loading, or bunkering operation that started this afternoon alongside. We go to dinner in the main dining room and are seated at a table with a couple from Liechtenstein. They speak poor English, but prove interesting to talk with nonetheless. After dinner, I take advantage of the ship still being docked after dark by taking some night time photos of the fish boats at anchor, the freighter docking next to us, and the Full Moon reflecting off the water as it drills through the cloudy sky. I stay on deck to watch Rotterdam finally leave port around 8:30PM, carefully finding its way out to the Pacific past the anchored fish boats.

Sunday, December 11, 2011 – Day 21 – At sea – Ecuador to Costa Rica

We sail between Ecuador and Costa Rica today, and in the process cross the Equator for the second time on this cruise. We are still in the cold Peru Current, which has surprised may on this cruise (including myself) with the cool air temperatures (averaging 21°C) despite us being so near the Equator. I catch up on my blogs today, covering both Ecuador and our last day in Peru (Dec 6). Annotating and choosing photos is always a big part of this work.

It is formal night, so my friends and I get dressed and go for dinner this evening to Canaletto, an Italian-themed restaurant. A couple of others join us for dinner, which always means there is welcome variety to the dinner conversation as we interact with people from all walks of life.

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Santa Marta, Colombia

Friday, November 25, 2011 – Day 5 – Santa Marta, Colombia

I get up early to take a tour to Taroya Park, which involves walking through Colombia’s jungle. The ship arrives on time and the tour bus takes the highway out of town on the way to the park, but soon comes to a stop because there is a protest blocking the road. Police are there, and apparently the protesters are upset over not having power in their neighbourhood, despite having the wiring in place. Eventually our guide comes back with the news we can’t proceed, since this is the only road to the park. Our guide gives us three options: return to the ship and get a full refund, be dropped off for the day at the resort hotel, or take a city tour. Both the city tour and the resort option include a folkloric dance at the Irotama Beach Resort.

Like most on the bus I choose the city tour, since in addition to the folkloric dance, we will see the main cathedral in town as well as the Gold Museum. Our first stop is the Irotama Beach Resort, which is 20 minutes out of town near a resort area. They have a beautiful beach, and offer us refreshments before the show starts. I choose a Colombian beer, which tastes very nice as I sip it under the palm trees. The folkloric dancers look quite similar to the ones I previously saw in Costa Rica and Martinique, but the young dancers do a great job. Apparently all Colombian children learn three folkloric dances when they are in school.

Our next stop is the main cathedral back in the centre of the city. Santa Marta is very much a third world city with dirty ditches lining the streets, narrow sidewalks, fruit vendors and old buildings with rickety balconies overhanging the streets below. As we enter the cathedral, our guide talks about Simon Bolivar, who liberated several Central and South American countries in his time, including Colombia. He is very much revered for his selfless sacrifice, since he died in this city from tuberculosis when he was in his early forties. The cathedral is impressive, with many alters decorated beautifully, however I’m most impressed with the large plaza surrounding the cathedral. It is a lovely civic space with no cars, shade trees, and some nice shops on the perimeter.

Our final stop of the day is the botanical gardens. We see lots of native flora and fauna, include the obligatory iguanas in the trees, butterflies, and there are several monuments to Simon Bolivar. Our guide shows us an old sugar cane plantation home where Simon Bolivar died, including the actual bedroom with original furniture. I learned about Simon Bolivar in grade school, but didn’t appreciate how much the people in Central and South American countries revere him. He was someone who bucked the system and believed in people power.

Our guide has some interesting things to say about Columbia and the reputation the country has with the drug trade. He feels the major cities are safe for citizens to go about their business and for tourists, and illustrates the point by asking us a question. What are the two major industries of Medellin? The obvious answer is Drugs, but the real answer is: Shipping tropical flowers to the United States, and being a centre of excellence for plastic surgery! He tells an interesting story on the second point. Apparently the two largest markets for plastic surgery in Medellin are women from the United States and Brazil. Another major market are young Colombian women who want breast implants. Apparently they often get their parents to pay for the surgery!

Julian Gargiulo

Julian Gargiulo

After the ship departs port and we have a wonderful dinner in the main dining room, I go to see the entertainment in the main show lounge. Julian Gargiulo is a classically trained pianist and does a great job playing the grand piano centre stage. He showcases some of his own compositions along with Chopin, and finishes with a classic Beethoven piece.

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Half Moon Cay, the Bahamas

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 – Day 2 – Half Moon Cay, Little San Salvador Island, the Bahamas

The Rotterdam anchors in the beautiful tropical bay this morning, and by 9:30AM tenders are ferrying passengers ashore 300 at a time. This is a highly organized day at the beach for the 1,400 passengers, with everyone being accommodated no matter what the disability, unless the person is completely wheelchair-bound.

Since I wake up this morning around 8:30AM, I miss the crowds of early birds who want to catch the first tenders ashore. I pick up a cappuccino at the Explorations Café and have a leisurely breakfast in the Lido before going back to my cabin to get ready to go ashore, packing snorkel gear and changing into a swimsuit and beach wear. The tender I take ashore around 10AM is only half full.

This part of the island is dedicated to giving Holland America’s cruise ship passengers an enjoyable day at the beach. They certainly succeed at this, providing everything any cruise ship passenger might want: a wonderful long curving sandy beach; clear, warm and shallow water to swim in; a place to snorkel and see some fish; shopping; personal services such as massage and spa treatments; sports services such as horseback riding in the surf, parasailing, small boat sailing, walking tours; and of course a BBQ lunch. I expected the beach to be crowded, but everyone spreads out so it turns out to be a very relaxing experience.

I have a clamshell reserved, which is a small half tent to provide some shade from the tropical sun, including two lounge chairs. I take my snorkel gear and wade into the warm water, not expecting to see much since there are lots of people in the water, however I’m pleasantly surprised. There are several varieties of fish swimming around, and I even spot two Barracuda and manage to take a picture and a video of them! The BBQ lunch was good, and afterwards I return to the clamshell for another hour before deciding to return to the ship.

JoeTourist: Rotterdam, the ship &emdash; Explorations Cafe counterAfter having a casual dinner in the Lido with my friends, we go to the Explorations Lounge to listen to the “Adagio Strings” – four young women who are a string quartet. They sound very good, which is a pleasant surprise for us, since the “Adagio Strings” quartet who played aboard the Volendam cruise last year were nothing short of dreadful. This quartet obviously practices and actually cares about how they sound!

I decide to skip the entertainment in the main show lounge this evening, since it is a Las Vegas headliner who sings and tells jokes – not my type of entertainment. I return to my cabin and work on the photos and video I shot today and yesterday. I like to keep up-to-date with the results from my camera work while traveling. I find putting a caption on each photo and the location makes it much easier to cope with all this material when I return home. I also write a journal while traveling, which I find invaluable for creating blog entries as well as using this material for my main JoeTourist website once I return home. I enjoy the ritual of sitting down and reviewing the day, and then committing it to words.

This evening I sign up with Rogers for their roaming package, which give me voice coverage for Central and South America. This ensures I get a more reasonable per minute rate for voice calls than standard roaming, so I can use my iPhone to call home when we are ashore. Cellular service is offered aboard ship, but it is outrageously expensive, so I will wait until we are docked or ashore to check in with the family. While aboard ship and offshore, it isn’t too expensive to send and receive email using the Internet access package I signed up for yesterday.

The ship is bucking a 30kt headwind as we head south towards Cuba. Our speed is 14.5kts, which is certainly slower than last night.

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Boarding the Rotterdam in Ft. Lauderdale

Monday, November 21, 2011 – Day 1 – Boarding the Rotterdam in  Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA

Although I had a good night’s sleep, I awake early at the Alhambra Beach Resort. I need coffee, which won’t be ready until the continental breakfast is available at 9AM, so I walk the half block to the beach to have a look around. It is quite a spectacular beach – straight and long, and lots of white sand. Ernesto, the guy who runs the Alhambra tells us the sea temperature is 82°F right now, and it goes up to about 85°F in mid-summer. There is the usual collection of joggers and walkers on the beach and walkway at this early morning hour.

After returning from the beach, I get myself some coffee, which perks me up. As I go back to help myself to some of the continental breakfast goodies, my friends open their door, so we have breakfast together on the patio. We all enjoy the warm breeze, remarking what a contrast it is to when we left home (-5°C). We are anxious to get aboard the Rotterdam as early as possible today, so after we finish breakfast and repack it is 11AM (check-out time). Ernesto calls us a taxi to take us to the cruise terminal. We are early for our 1PM check-in time, but they are processing passengers slowly, and we step aboard by 2PM.

JoeTourist: Ft. Lauderdale &emdash; ms Noordam & Liberty of the Seas alongside pierOur cabins are not ready because the debarking passengers were late leaving the ship this morning. Housekeeping staff needs a bit more time, so we go to the Lido and have a late lunch, taking some time to explore the ship. It appears to have the same layout as the Volendam, the ship we cruised on last year at this time. The décor is different, but it will be nice to already be familiar with where everything is located.

There is a mandatory safety drill with everyone going to his or her lifeboat stations before our departure. Our bags finally arrive later in the afternoon, so I unpack before heading to the main dining room for dinner. The ship is late leaving at 6:30PM, so my friends and I get to see the ship’s departure from our window seats in La Fontaine, the main dining room. I remember the shipping channel from when my mother and I traveled on the Oriana way back in 1968, although obviously Ft. Lauderdale is built up a great deal since then. At the end of our meal, we are served a glass of champagne as a way to thank us for our patience with the late cabin availability and late luggage delivery – a nice touch from the housekeeping manager.

Once the ship is in open water, she proceeds at just over 20 knots, which is pretty fast for a cruise ship. The captain obviously wants to make up time for our late departure, so our beach time on Half Moon Cay won’t be shortened. He also announces that our departure time tomorrow will be pushed an hour later, since he doesn’t expect to arrive on time.

I sign up for 100 minutes of Internet time this evening at a cost of US$55.00, with a bonus of 10 minutes extra. This satellite service is available on most cruise ships, and is obviously very expensive. It is slow and unreliable, but I’m amazed it is available at all. It’s nice to keep in touch while sailing the oceans, and I can do it from the comfort of my cabin if I wish, since the wifi service is available from most areas of the ship.

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Te Kuiti & Waitomo Caves

Nov 3, 2010 – Wednesday -Rotorua to Te Kuiti, New Zealand

We drive from Rotorua to Te Kuiti today.

We are staying in Simply the Best B&B, a farm stay located in small community of Te Kuiti, which is located just a few minutes’ drive from Waitomo and the famous caves. This B&B offers pretty basic accommodation, so I’m not sure I agree with the name! We knew it was a farm stay (our first on this trip), but we were unprepared for our rooms having no closets or dressers, and having to share a bathroom. Their website states “3 double rooms with private bathrooms”, however only one of the three rooms has an en suite, and that room was not offered despite us requesting it. Also, there is no wireless Internet. The back bedroom my friends are staying in is very small – essentially only having room for the double bed, with nowhere to sit and relax. My room is a bit bigger with two single beds, a sofa, and two chairs, however it appears to be a converted TV or family room. It has a sliding door instead of a real door, which means I have limited privacy and no security.

Despite these negatives, Margaret, the B&B operator is a real gem. She is exceedingly helpful, and makes our stay in this part of the North Island rewarding. Margaret recommends two restaurants in town, so we pick the first one and give it a try for dinner this evening. The Riverside Lodge is in a lovely location right by the river; however it is basically a bar that serves food. There are smokers all around, so we sit outside on the patio. Everyone looks at us as though we are from outer space and the service is exceedingly slow (we wait an hour). The food is good once it arrives.

Nov 4, 2010 – Thursday – Te Kuiti

The day starts badly, since Margaret makes us instant coffee this morning. She also serves us a continental breakfast instead of the full English cooked breakfast we have had at all the other B&Bs so far. The fresh fruit and rhubarb compote for the cereal is nice, and the endless toast and homemade preserves are appreciated, however the instant coffee is dreadful.

Marokopa Falls

Marokopa Falls

At Margaret’s urging, we drive out to the coast on Highway 37 to Marokopa, where there is a black iron sand beach. The beach and estuary area is quite spectacular. On the way out on the highway, we also stop to see Marokopa Falls, which is 15-20 metres high…an amazing sight. On the return trip, we see Mangapohue Natural Bridge, a land bridge caused by a river eroding limestone to punch a gorge through the rock. These are both great sights, and they are no cost. On our way home, we checkout the Waitomo Caves, but don’t go in since Margaret has booked us into the competing outfit Spellbound, which she promises is a better glow worm cave experience. We check out the competition while we are here, and find the rates are significantly more expensive than Spellbound. After we return home, Margaret makes us tea, which is very much appreciated.

Pavlova at Kai Cafe

Pavlova at Kai Cafe

We go out to a nice restaurant tonight called Kai Cafe, which is run by a local young man and his French wife (who does the cooking). The meals are a blend of French cooking and local tastes. I have the Filet steak, which is a “Scotch” cut (unlike any filet I’ve had in Canada), however it is a very nice steak cooked to order, topped with a creamy mushroom sauce and accompanied by roasted potatoes, fresh steamed green beans, and a grilled tomato. My friends rave about their main course selections as well.

Pavlova is offered for dessert, which we all agree is better than the Cherries Jubilee we were served aboard ship in the Pinnacle Grill. I have a Cappuccino, which is nicely made. The young man who runs the place is thrilled that we are happy with our experience. I add my favourable rating after returning home. Now called: Bosco Cafe on TripAdvisor

Nov 5, 2010 – Friday – Waitomo Caves

JoeTourist: Glowworm Caves &emdash; Exit to caveToday after breakfast, we leave for a 10am booking at Spellbound, the glow worm cave and dry cave tour located in Waitomo. It only takes us 10 minutes to drive from Te Kuiti, and the tour starts promptly at 10am – ending around 2pm. Our guide Norm gives us a terrific experience along the way. First he drives us about 20 minutes west of Waitomo to the entrance to a private cave which has a stream running through it. We don a hardhat with a light, get in a zodiac boat and slowly go into the cave to see the glow worms. We learn these are actually maggots, however they are tiny. They do indeed glow, and glow brightly enough to light the inside of the cave once we turn off our headlamps and become dark adapted. The glow reflects off the water, and I can see the other 12 people in the boat.

Norm hand propels the boat using an overhead cable, taking us within a few metres of a small waterfall before returning us to the landing. We then walk back to the entrance, leave our hardhats, and walk a few metres to the “coffee shop” where Norm makes us instant coffee, tea, or hot chocolate made from hot water stored in thermos. Biscuits to dunk complete the offerings. Toilets are also available nearby. There are wild Turkeys roaming in the pasture as we walk for five minutes to the dry cave, where Norm tells us he was one of the founders.

It is a superb cave with a walkway that goes for perhaps 300 metres or so. There is a large gallery, some air shafts, other entrances to see, and of course lots of stalagmites and stalactites. There are also some animal bones: some you would expect such as farm animals and possums; however there is also a skeleton of a Moa, an extinct bird which had a trachea, hip bones and big thigh bones. After exiting the dry cave, Norm takes us on a drive over some farmland along the ridgelines, and finally returns us to the starting point.

This evening we return to Kai (now called the Bosco Cafe) for our last dinner in New Zealand (and of the trip). I have the fish of the day (Snapper), which comes with oven roasted potatoes, green beans, and a very nice pesto topping, as well as some salad around the plate: a quite novel presentation with the salad. When we return to the B&B I get serious about packing – tossing out heavy paper and other stuff that is now useless. We settle our accounts with Margaret for our stay, however she only accepts cash, so that makes it a bit inconvenient. All the other B&Bs accept credit card payments.

Nov 6, 2010 – Saturday – New Zealand to Canada

We have breakfast a bit earlier this morning, say our goodbyes to Margaret and her husband Graham, and leave for the Auckland airport by 8:30am.

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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.