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Tauranga, New Zealand

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

Oct 21, 2010 – Thursday – Tauranga, New Zealand

My friends and I are scheduled to go on a sailboat cruise around the harbour this morning, but the wind is so fierce the sailboat can’t dock. Our Mount Classics Tours tour coordinator quickly arranges a very nice private land-tour in a minivan with our own driver taking us around Tauranga. First stop is The Elms Mission Station, then we drive north of town and see the city from an overlook. We then drive south of town, with the first stop being Kiwi360 in Te Puka, where all things to do with kiwi fruit are on display. We drive a bit further south and stop for lunch at a small seaside café in Maketu. The tide is out, and the Maoris are gathering shellfish in the huge tidal flats in this area. On our way back, we stop at the Comvita Visitor Centre in Te Puke to see the honey display and have some wonderful honey ice cream before we return to the ship.

Tonight I face up to the fact I have to pack everything that has been in the cabin closets for 30 days back into my single suitcase. It is a daunting task, but I finally fit everything inside and put my bag out in the hall for collection before going to bed aboard ship for the last time. All 800 disembarking passengers’ bags will magically appear ashore in the departure hall tomorrow morning. What a job!

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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.

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Xigera Camp

Xigera Mokoro Trail Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana

October 23, 2008 – Thursday – We take a Noon flight to Xigera airstrip, and are met at the airstrip by the Xigera camp manager. He drives us a short distance to the launch point for the motorboat which will take us to Xigera Camp. The problem is the water level is so low, the boat driver has to gun it so we “fly” through the shallows. It is a thrilling trip!

Xigera Motorboat Ride from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

There are no cots to sleep on at Xigera Camp, so we have to sleep on the floor of the tents with a foam pad under us. There are only short drop toilets (no flush). There are almost no mosquitoes at the camp, despite Victor warning us they would reappear here. The reason things are more “rustic” at this camp is because there are no roads into the camp. All camp fixtures and supplies have to be brought in by boat, and due to the shallow water, mokoros (dug out canoes) are the usual mode of transportation in this area of the Okavango Delta. We are staying at a tiny remote camp deep in the delta – some say this is the best water-based safari in Botswana.

JoeTourist: Xigera Camp &emdash; William poles a Mokoro carrying our camp supplies

William poles a Mokoro carrying our camp supplies

William is the local guide for this camp. He takes us on a walking safari at 5:30pm, and we see some Kudus. The camp staff setup a table in the savannah just outside camp, and serve us Sundowners. We have a wonderful lamb stew, rice & vegetables for dinner, and eat around the campfire. We don’t have a mosquito problem either night at this camp, probably due to the daytime heat and the evening breezes.

This area of the Okavango Delta is permanently flooded and is very picturesque, however there are fewer big game in this area. The game are harder to approach, since safaris in this area are either on foot or in a mokoro (dug out canoe). Without the use of safari vehicles, it is not easy to find or get close to the animals. This doesn’t really concern me, since our time in Linyanti Camp, Lechwe Island Camp, and the Chobe River boat cruise have fully satisfied me for observing and photographing African big game. However if you are booking safari tours in Botswana, be sure to include camps in other areas of the Okavango Delta where safari vehicles can be used.

October 24, 2008 – Friday – We are up at 5:30am for an early morning Mokoro safari through the waterways. We see a large family of baboons playing around in a big tree near the shoreline; Red Lechwe antelope bounding through the water; Kudu watching us from the shoreline; and we see crocodile tracks on shore and hear some Hippopotamus a short distance away from our mokoros. We return to camp by 9:20am – the Sun is already high in the sky, and the daytime heat is building. We have Brunch at 10:30am, then it is time for a siesta as the midday heat takes hold (about 40°C in the shade). All our tents are located under the shade of trees, so we are reasonably comfortable as we rest.

JoeTourist: Xigera Camp &emdash; Resident black-faced monkey in the trees above our tents

Resident black-faced monkey in the trees above our tents

Botswanan men normally keep their hair close cropped, but one strikingly handsome young Mokoro poler has about 1cm long curls. I saw Victor tutoring him as he poled us through the channels, so he is obviously studying to be a guide. Most camp staff take their careers seriously, with many studying so they can apply for advancement opportunities. The operator of the camps we used in Botswana is Wilderness Safaris, which appear to offer local people well paid careers in eco-tourism.

Later in the afternoon, I spot some very cute resident monkeys in the trees above our tents. They play peek-a-boo with me and my video camera. The camp staff have done a wonderful job of keeping all the food out of the way, and not tempting the monkeys to come down from the tree canopy. We have no problems with the monkeys as a result. We go on another mokoro safari through the waterways between 5:30pm and 7pm, and see some birds, a very colourful Reed Frog, and some elephant bones on an adjacent island.

Xigera Mokoro Okavango Safari from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

JoeTourist: Xigera Camp &emdash; Resting Giraffe

Resting Giraffe

October 25, 2008 – Saturday – We get up at 5:30am for one last early morning safari before we leave camp. This time we walk, and see two sets of Leopard tracks, Elephants in the distance, and some Impala on the savannah in the middle of the island we are located on. We leave camp at 12 noon on the motor boat – once again zipping through the shallow delta water at full throttle. It is just as thrilling as our arrival trip! We spot a Giraffe sitting down in the bush and resting (a first), and we also watch brown-striped Zebras graze beside the Xigera airstrip before we board the last local flight we will take in Botswana – flying from Xigera to Maun.

 

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Lechwe Island Camp

Lechwe Island Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana, Africa

Botswana Safari Map

Botswana Safari Map

October 20, 2008 – Monday – As we arrive at Lechwe Island Camp, in addition to offering us cool towels, the staff break out into a welcome song! This camp is located in the Moremi Game Reserve Private Concession, and is not as dry as the previous camp. The waterways seem endless as we drive around on safari. There are lots of water birds to see (ducks, geese, herons, wading birds).

October 21, 2008 – Tuesday – There was lightning and thunder just before dawn this morning, but no rain. On our safari this morning we spot a Leopard on the far side of a clearing. It was just sitting there looking at us, and then took off into the bush. Victor parked the Land Cruiser and took us on our first walking safari. He was packing a gun, and we were walking single file. Strict instructions from Victor: don’t wander off, and if an elephant charges, stand your ground. He tells us he has never had to fire his gun, and he only armed it once. After we were back in the vehicle, we also saw an Elephant carcass, a herd of Buffalo, and some Kudus leaping and bounding across a spillway. I am fascinated with a pair of Saddle-billed Storks – performing for us, as they land and take off again. They are huge water birds with bright orange beaks and beautiful black and white body colouring.

This evening I decide to observe the stars from in front of my tent, since this site is so dark. It must be 1,000 kilometres to the nearest town of any size. The Milky Way is virtually overhead and is a spectacular site. The Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud are both visible with my unaided eye.

October 22, 2008 – Wednesday – On our safari this morning we spot an old female Elephant feeding in a clearing by herself. She appears to be near death – her ribs are showing and she has an indented forehead. Victor tells us she is alone because she can’t keep up with the herd. Apparently her molars will also be worn out, so she will have trouble digesting her food, which explains why she is so thin. Sad, but that’s life…and death.

Impala are normally very skittish – they don’t become adapted to safari vehicles like other game. Today a group of Impala were preoccupied with something other than us, so I took my best video of this animal (see below for the video). The effects of the Kalahari are never far from travellers to Botswana. Daytime heating can whip up strong, hot winds, especially in the afternoon. After lunch such a wind happened, so I washed a few clothes and hung them out – they were dry in an hour – just as fast as a clothes dryer!

JoeTourist: Lechwe Island Camp &emdash; One of a pride of four lions resting beside a water hole

One of a pride of four lions resting beside a water hole

We had a special treat on this afternoon’s safari. We came upon a pride of four lions resting beside a water hole. The sun was low in the sky, so we just stayed there and observed until the sun set. It was a magical experience.

As we returned to camp in the dark, we saw the eyes of a leopard off in the bush just outside camp. Victor also spotted a scorpion in the road as we were driving into camp, and stopped so we could get a photo. He wouldn’t let us out of the vehicle, because he said this particular scorpion is one of the most poisonous. There is no known anti-venom treatment. When I returned to my tent, there was a Preying Mantis hanging out on the frame of my wash basin – a big bug at about 3cm long!

Okavango Delta Wildlife Safari from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

October 23, 2008 – Thursday – The morning light illuminates the spillway in front of my tent, making the scene look almost like a painting. Observing the Kudus and Impalas across the water with my binoculars makes the morning that much more sublime. We go on a short canoe trip up the spillway before leaving to catch our noon flight to Xigera Camp.

JoeTourist: Lechwe Island Camp &emdash; Morning light over the spillway

Morning light over the spillway at Lechwe Island Camp

 

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Shakleton’s Lodge to Linyanti Camp

October 17, 2008 – Friday – Shackeltons Lodge, Zambia to Linyanti Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Botswana Safari Map

Botswana Safari Map

We are up at 6am, since it will be a long day of traveling.I spot a Kingfisher on the Zambezi at dawn just outside my veranda. We have a full English breakfast at Shackletons this morning and then we are on our way. We turn at Kazungula and arrive at the Zambian side of the Zambezi River crossing. We get our Zambian exit visa, say goodbye to our driver Jacob, and then catch a private launch across the river to Botswana.

The Kazungula vehicle ferry also crosses the Zambezi, however one of the two ferries is out of service, so trucks are waiting up to two weeks to cross the river in either direction. The two governments plan to build a bridge some day.

First stop is a Chobe River boat cruise. We spend the next few hours motoring slowly along the Chobe River and see lots of wildlife. Lunch and snacks are included, so it is a very pleasant start to the day. We spend several hours cruising slowly watching lots of wildlife along the Chobe River, right on the border between Botswana, Zambia and Namibia. Lunch and snacks are included, and since the boat is covered and only has the two of us on it, we have a very pleasant start to the day. Both Ernst and I are kept very busy taking both still photos and video. The game are quite close, and the boat provides a reasonably steady platform for photography. I don’t forget to use my binoculars as well – the extra magnification and image stabilization make animal observation very rewarding.

The Chobe River boat cruise is one way, so at the end we transfer to a Land Cruiser to continue our journey to Lynanti Camp. Originally we were scheduled to fly to Linyanti Camp, and then drive from Linyanti to Lechwe Camp, but due to flooding in the Okavango Delta, the road from Linyanti to Lechwe is impassable, so those arrangements are now reversed.

Linyanti Camp is a very long 70km drive from Kasane in our Jeep Land Cruiser. After clearing Botswana customs at 1:30pm, we are on the road all afternoon, arriving at Linyanti Camp at 6pm. It is a punishing ride through a highway made of soft sand, however along the way there are lots of game to see: African Fish Eagles, Lilac Breasted Rollers, Giraffes, Buffalo, Warthogs, and Zebras. Just before we arrive at the camp, we see three female lions resting beside the shoreline at sunset. One female is older and thinner and the other two are younger. They all seem to be fat and happy, and they don’t bat an eye as we pull right up to them in our Land Cruiser.

Drinks and dinner are waiting for us when we arrive in Linyanti Camp after dark, thanks to the camp staff. As I lie in bed this evening, I hear Hippopotamus in the spillway just a few metres from my tent flap.

Molokini Islet Snorkel

Molokini, an islet just off the coast of Maui, Hawaii

Molokini Islet - a satellite image

Molokini Islet – a satellite image

Nov 26, 1995 – The Islet of Molokini is located off the southwest coast of Maui, and is formed from the tip of a volcano, which just breaks out of the water. The island is a crescent shape, and forms a beautiful lagoon inside, where lots of fish congregate.

Snorkel cruises to Molokini abound, and we decided to take the Prince Kuhio, a 92 foot mono-hull diesel-powered cruiser (no longer running). There are many, many cruises offered to Molokini, (both power and sail, and mono-hull, catamaran and trimaran) so you should find one that suits your taste in boats.

Our itinerary included an early morning pickup from our condo, then we departed from nearby Maalaea Bay for the islet of Molokini. A breakfast of juice, coffee, muffins and fruit is served buffet-style, while we make our way to the island. After arriving at the island mid-morning, the boat is tied to mooring anchors set in the lagoon, and we are off snorkelling.

All equipment is provided. You must be able to swim, since the lagoon is about 50 feet deep, however swim boards are provided for those who lack confidence, or who are weak swimmers. The shore of Molokini is very steep, and consists of very rough lava rock. It is not recommended that snorkelers swim ashore, since it is difficult to climb ashore, and there are strong currents near shore. The ship’s crew is in the water with you at all times, and are ready to assist you, should you need help.

Snorkelling time available is about 2 hours, however we were tired out after about an hour and a quarter. While there, we had our adventure video taped by one of the crew. This is a good idea, since taking pictures underwater is tricky at best, and these professionals do a good job – giving you an excellent, personalized souvenir of your trip to Molokini. The video is edited onboard, and is ready for you when you depart a few hours later. Not expensive.

It is quite a thrill to get close to tropical fish. Of course, with that many boats (30 or so) going to Molokini every day, the fish are well rehearsed! They expect to be fed once the boats arrive, and they swarm around the snorkelers as soon as you enter the water.

The Prince Kuhio (and some other Molokini boats) offer as an extra cost option Snuba gear. This is a cross between snorkeling and full scuba gear. With Snuba, you don’t need to be previously certified for scuba diving. Snuba instruction is given onboard and in the lagoon. The tanks are floated on a raft on the surface, and air supply hoses are ganged off these tanks to the Snuba divers below. This allows you to go to the bottom of the lagoon, whereas snorkelers are confined to the surface, and can usually only dive down 10 feet or so for short periods of time. I can’t see the benefits of Snuba, since the fish are all near the surface anyway. Not recommended.

As we were pulling into Maalaea Bay at the end of our return trip, we spotted some large turtles in the bay – an added bonus to the trip! Apparently, the turtles nest ashore in the nearby salt flats. We were back at our condo by mid-afternoon.

Some thoughts…

Even if you don’t swim or don’t feel like snorkeling, this trip would be well worth taking. Molokini cruises offer good value for a day out on the water. Depending on the season, you might also see turtles (as we did), or Humpback Whales. Recommended.

The water at Molokini is quite cool, as compared with the water temperature you find on the Maui beaches. I would guess the water temperature is between 72 and 74 degrees Fahrenheit. If you do not have much body fat, you may find that you cannot stand to stay in the water for more than 15 minutes or so. If you start to shiver while in the water, return to the boat, immediately dry off, and warm yourself up. Don’t hesitate to ask the ship’s crew to assist you, if you need it.

The trip to and from Molokini can encounter some ocean swells. If you are prone to sea sickness, take your medication before leaving.

What you should take:

  • a bathing suit (duh!)
  • waterproof sunscreen
  • sun glasses
    underwater camera
  • towel
  • change of clothes
  • hat
  • light jacket or sweater
  • cash ($20 or so)

What you should LEAVE BEHIND:

  • wrist watch (enjoy yourself…who cares what time it is!)
  • expensive jewelry (you won’t impress anyone when you’re dripping wet anyway)
  • passports, and other important documents (there are no immigration officers on Molokini)
  • fancy clothes (you will stick out in the t-shirts and shorts crowd)
  • large amounts of money (nowhere to spend it)
  • your expensive camera (you probably don’t have an underwater case for it, and even if you don’t get it wet, salt spray will find it’s way onto your camera, no matter how careful you are)

What is supplied/included:

  • all food and drink (buffet breakfast and lunch – liquor extra)
  • snorkelling equipment
  • transportation to/from your hotel/condo from Kihei, Wailea, or Kaanapali
  • cheap champagne on the return trip (we added fruit juice to ours, to make it drinkable!!)
  • bilingual staff – English and Japanese