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Rangiroa, French Polynesia

March 7, 2014 – Friday – Rangiroa, Tuamotu Group, French Polynesia

The ship arrives at Rangiroa before 7AM, and enters this atoll’s lagoon. Like Fanning Island, this atoll is remote, but unlike Fanning, the entrance to the Rangiroa atoll is sufficiently deep to allow ships to enter the sheltered lagoon through a proper navigation channel. Tendering to the little town of Avatoru is easy in these calm waters.

The snorkeling on the one-hour excursion to the little islet in the lagoon is wonderful. The water is clear and about five metres deep, and there are lots of fish, despite the same location being used by a half dozen boats. There are some sharks swimming along the bottom. The coral is in good shape, and there is no current where we are snorkeling. This is my last opportunity to snorkel on this cruise, and it is probably the best experience of them all.

Although we have clear skies while I’m snorkeling, the clouds soon gather in the afternoon, so it is grey but warm at 29℃ and 72% humidity. Although the islanders have power and communications, they must collect rainwater for drinking and washing. Our snorkeling guide tells us they had had four days of rain before our ship arrived, which they are very happy about.

Rangiroa satellite image

Rangiroa satellite image

I grab a late lunch in the Lido and take it down to the Ocean View pool, a deck lower on the stern. As I eat and sip a Beck’s beer in the shade, I gaze at the view inside the lagoon and soak in the heat of the day. This is what cruising is all about!

We leave Rangiroa promptly at 5PM, and clear the narrow channel out into the open ocean by 5:30PM. The pilot departs, and we are on our way to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas group. We have a day at sea before we arrive, since the Marquesas are a considerable distance away.

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Blue Lagoon Beach Resort, Nacula Island, Yasawa Group, Fiji

Arranging a stay in the Yasawa Group of Islands

Rather than return home after disembarking the Solar Eclipse Cruise 2012, when planning this trip, I decided to make arrangements to stay in Fiji a further week. I had always wanted to experience the Yasawa Group of Islands, located just off the NW coast of Viti Levu. Lautoka is the jumping off point for these beautiful islands, so this was an ideal opportunity to make some arrangements to experience that part of Fiji.

After much research, I decided to spend a week at the Blue Lagoon Beach Resort on Nacula Island in the Yasawas. I love to snorkel in tropical waters, and this resort offers a beautiful lagoon literally steps outside my beachfront bure (cottage or villa). I’m also really looking forward to meeting all the friendly Fijians on the island. Never in all my travels have I encountered more genuinely friendly people than the Fijians. This is one of the main reasons I seem to keep returning to these islands.

The resort life – day by day

November 21, 2012 – Wednesday – Blue Lagoon Beach Resort, Nacula Island, Yasawa Group, Fiji

I wake up a bit before 7AM on my first full day at Blue Lagoon Beach Resort, and by the time I get dressed and cleaned up, it is time to go to the restaurant for breakfast at 7:30AM. The coffee is ready, so I start with that, and then have some yummy homemade bread toasted, and a cereal cup with fruit. They offer eggs cooked to order, so no doubt I will have some scrambled eggs another morning.

I walk the beach right to the end where there is a point with black and red volcanic rocks. This island’s origin is obviously old volcanic, since it has quite high hills, and some have sharp peaks. Later in the morning after the tide comes in, I go for my first snorkel on the reef. It is nothing short of fantastic. I only have to swim a few metres from the beach in front of my villa to see the reef, which is very much alive. When I stop and float in the water, there are multitudes of fish swarming around me. There are lots of opportunities for taking good underwater photos and video, and I even set my camera for macro mode, since I can get so close to the wildlife. This is what I came here for!

Yasawa Flyer disembarking passengers

Yasawa Flyer disembarking passengers

The Yasawa Flyer passenger boat arrives from Lautoka at 1:15PM, and a couple of boatloads of people get off. They are greeted with the staff singing them a song, which I record. We didn’t get such a greeting upon our arrival yesterday…I guess we were too small a group.

The young couple in Villa 1 (beside me) is obviously having a romantic dinner in front of their villa instead of the usual dinner with the group in the restaurant. The staff setup a table for them in front of their villa, and they start dinner shortly after 5PM, instead of the usual 7:30PM. She is dressed in a fetching white slinky evening dress and he has a black shirt on. They decide to take a sunset photo of the two of them on the beach, and attempt to use the automatic mode and a camera timer. I know this simply doesn’t work, so I volunteer to take their photo with their camera. I put it in non-automatic mode, manually turn the flash on, and get much closer to them so the flash can light them up and they are visible. My good deed for the day.

It is seafood night for dinner in the restaurant, and what a spread! There are mussels baked in a spicy sauce, breaded whitefish, calamari, snapper baked in coconut sauce, a seafood casserole, rice, homemade cheese & onion buns, two nice salads, and a banana pastry with chocolate sauce for dessert. I sat with the same Australian/Chinese couple as last night, another Chinese couple, and a young couple from Melbourne. The young man from Melbourne will be traveling to Montreal on business, and asked me about the “French question”. I had to ask him to clarify, and he indicated he knew a bit of French, and was wondering if he should speak French or English in Montreal. Given his weak skills in French, I advised him to stick with English. In any case, I suggested his Quebec business associates would be taking good care of him.

At 7AM this morning the temperature is 27ºC, 84% humidity, Heat Index 31ºC, with a slight breeze off the interior of Nacula Island. By 5PM it warms to 29ºC, 75% humidity, Heat Index 34ºC, and we still have a slight breeze accompanied with a rain shower. By 9PM the temperature is 28ºC, 84% humidity, Heat Index 34ºC, and a very slight breeze. I sleep comfortably with just a light sheet as a cover and no blanket every night I’m here. There is no air conditioning in my bure, which I wouldn’t use even if it was available.

November 22, 2012 – Thursday – Blue Lagoon Resort

Coral reef in the bay in front of the Blue Lagoon Resort

Coral reef in the bay in front of the Blue Lagoon Resort

I get up with the Sun again this morning, and go to the restaurant a bit after 7AM. I have some scrambled eggs on toast this morning. Then it is time to work off my breakfast, so I walk down the beach to the north, past the other resort (run by the local chief) and around the point to another section of the beach to the north. I meet several Fijians walking down the beach who work in our resort. Everyone is so friendly here.

I meet my neighbours Tasha and Eric from Ohio, who are staying in Villa 3 for 10 days. Eric wasn’t impressed with the two excursions they have taken over the last couple of days. I don’t plan to take any of the excursions offered by the resort during my stay, since I came here for one thing: the snorkelling. The wind kicks up at 5PM from an offshore direction (NW), and then the rain starts coming down. We are hit with 25kmh winds and heavy rain. I retreat inside my bure and close the shore side shutters. By 5:50PM, the rain stops, the winds subside to 12kmh, and I open the shutters again.

This evening’s dinner menu starts with a lovely seafood salad served in a big papadam with Romaine leaf, followed by two pork cutlets topped with a mild and creamy chili sauce, served with rice and vegetables. The cutlets are actually cheap shoulder chops, so they are full of bones and fat. Otherwise, the meal is tastey, and a nice cheesecake is served for dessert. I sit at a table with a young German woman and her South American boyfriend; a very young Scottish woman, and two Chinese couples. The Chinese people speak very little English, so they talk among themselves. The German woman speaks good English, but she is sitting too far away from me to converse with.

The young Scottish woman and I have a good conversation since she is sitting right beside me. She was on a camping trip in late summer that took her from New York to Los Angeles, and back to New York in a giant loop across the USA. It was a group tour where a driver, van and camping equipment were provided, but the group did the cooking and washing up. She also explored Ecuador, Peru and Chile before finding her way to Fiji. After Fiji, she will be traveling in New Zealand for a few weeks on a bus tour before returning home. She admits to being homesick sometimes, but keeps herself busy to ensure she enjoys wherever she finds herself.

I observe a fireball streak across the NW sky, from NNW to WNW under the Moon at about 35º altitude. It disappears into a cloudbank, and I don’t hear any sounds. There was a distinct fiery head, yellow colour.

November 23, 2012 – Friday – Blue Lagoon Resort

The sound of the surf last night keeps getting louder as morning approaches. Sure enough, when I get up, the waves are crashing on the beach. I have my usual breakfast this morning at 7AM: coffee, toast, and add a piece of homemade cake. The wind is strong and the seas are rough this morning. After I return to my villa, the wind picks up to 25kmh and the rain comes down. I get out my binoculars to watch the storm from under the cover of my patio. There are 3-5m waves shooting straight up at the outer reef about a kilometre offshore, and rollers breaking over the inner reef. I didn’t come to Fiji to storm watch, but there it is!

Resort staff rolling fuel drums up the beach

Resort staff rolling fuel drums up the beach

My astronomy friend from Victoria, Canada arrives this afternoon around 2PM on the Yasawa Flyer. She is ready for solid ground after enduring the rough seas this morning in the catamaran. She felt really sorry for the people who had to endure the rough weather all the way from Lautoka. She was already staying at Octopus Resort on an adjacent island, so her trip on board the boat was relatively short.

My beach palapa finally succumbs to the waves and the high tide this afternoon, and is now leaning over on its side in the sand. Next door, Tasha and Eric’s palapa keeled over much earlier than mine, and the huge surf mostly smashes it up.

Since there is no snorkelling or swimming today because of the rough seas, my entertainment this afternoon is to watch the unloading of supplies from the small boats that picked up freight from the Yasawa Flyer. They are bobbing around in the surf and are being tossed about in the crashing waves on shore as the resort staff slung bags of produce, beer and other beverages into shore. The cooks and barmen will have to wash all the salt water and sand off their new supplies before they use them! The fuel barge supplies the other entertainment this afternoon. Since it can’t come in close to shore to unload using their ramp onto the beach, they simply dump 45-gallon drums of fuel overboard. The resort staff spends most of the afternoon corralling these barrels from the sea, bringing them to shore, and then struggling to roll the 500lb barrels up the beach and onto high ground.

Fijian group at Lovo Night

Fijian group at Lovo Night

It is Lovo Night at the resort, so a ground oven was heated up this afternoon, and the food was baked underground against the hot rocks, wrapped in palm leaves. This evening we have roasted chicken, pork and Black Snapper, along with Dalo (Taro) and sweet potato, salads and Kokoda (Ceviche). Everyone is raving about the starter, a Green Papaya soup…it tastes wonderful. It isn’t sweet, since they use pulverized green papaya, and add chili to spice it up, and coconut milk to make it smooth and creamy. There is a lovely homemade coconut cake with caramel sauce for dessert. All in all a lovely meal, followed by some entertainment from a local group of Fijians singing and dancing.

November 24, 2012 – Saturday – Blue Lagoon Resort

Although the storm has passed today, there are still pretty strong wave surges coming up onto the beach. I don’t accomplish a great deal today, preferring to lounge in the hammock in front of my villa watching the activities as the staff clean up the mess left by yesterday’s storm. I go for a swim in the sandy part of the lagoon, since swimming too close to the coral when I can’t see exactly where the coral heads are would risk me getting coral cuts. The water is the temperature of bath water, so it is easy swimming, and good exercise for me to work off all the lovely meals I’m eating, and Fiji Bitter beer I’m drinking.

November 25, 2012 – Sunday – Blue Lagoon Resort

My bure is right on the beach with the lagoon in front

My bure is right on the beach with the lagoon in front

I go snorkelling twice today, but the water is still cloudy from the storm. I take some underwater photos this morning, just to show the water conditions. It is fine visually, since there is about 3-4 metres visibility, I can navigate around the coral heads. This afternoon, the water is cloudier, so I just have fun watching the fish dart in and out of the coral. There is a tropical rainstorm this afternoon, which I’m told the resort desperately needs, since they run on rainwater. The rain storm lasts until dinnertime.

My friend from Victoria brought a bottle of white wine from New Zealand with her, so we visit with the Australian couple I arrived with on the seaplane. We have to dash through the rain to get to their villa, but we have a good conversation, learning about all their travels through the South Pacific. They regale us with stories of a close encounter with a Grizzly bear on a wilderness adventure they took to Alaska and the Yukon.

Since it is Sunday, the Nacula Island church choir serenades us with hymns before dinner. They have fine voices and deliver strong harmonies. All Fijians seem to have wonderful singing abilities. Dinner this evening is a regular BBQ with ham, grilled fish, and lamb cutlets, along with salads and chocolate cake with chocolate sauce for dessert. My friend and I have dinner with a group of young Australians who mostly have just graduated from medical school. They are here in Fiji for a week or so after finishing their final university term.

Tomorrow is my last full day here at Blue Lagoon Resort before returning home on the 27th. I have really enjoyed this trip, but it is time to leave paradise and return home.

November 26, 2012 – Monday – Blue Lagoon Resort

We have rain last night off and on. When I get up at 6AM, I see clear sky and stars from my “observatory”, aka the open roofed shower in my bure. I go back to bed and sleep for another hour and a half before getting dressed for breakfast.

I ask at the office about my check out tomorrow, especially how the seaplane flight will work. I am confirmed on a 4PM flight from Turtle Island to Nadi. They will take me from Nacula Island to Turtle Island for FJ$20. I should arrive at the seaplane terminal in Nadi an hour later, and get to Nadi airport a half hour after that, so we are talking 6:30PM. This will be good timing for my 10PM Air Pacific flight departure to LA and onward home.

Striped Surgeon fish among the coral

Striped Surgeon fish among the coral

Eric and Tasha from next door are taking the Noon seaplane flight to Nadi tomorrow and will be on the same 10PM Air Pacific flight as me. He is planning to purchase an upgrade to either Bula Class or First Class, since he says the legroom on the Air Pacific flight they took down from LA was virtually non-existent. He had to keep his legs splayed when the person in front of him reclined their seat, and Tasha and he both ended up with oedema in their ankles after the 11 hour flight since they basically couldn’t move all that time. I’m thinking Bula Class is sounding like a good idea for me as well. Eric says it can’t be reserved ahead of time; it is offered on a first-come-first-served basis for FJ$600 (CDN$300). Hopefully there will still be some seats left when I check in.

The snorkelling is wonderful right outside my villa this morning, since the water has cleared considerably since yesterday. There are huge numbers of fish, both schooling and individuals, and I spot a bright red fish I would call a Red Snapper if I was back home, but is apparently a Toadstool Grouper. There is also a small octopus clinging to a rock, and I manage to take some video and photos.

I have the Chicken Curry for lunch: a big bowl of curry made with coconut milk, rice, two small salads, papadams and roti. It is delicious with a Fiji Bitter beer, but it’s such a big portion! All I feel like doing is lazing in the hammock, so that’s what I do until I lose the shade. There is a nice breeze this afternoon, however the Sun is brutal, so I retreat to the full cover of my bure patio. There are people and dogs chasing some pigs down the beach at the next resort, so perhaps the pigs will be dinner for someone!

At 5PM today the temperature is 30ºC, 70% humidity, Heat Index 34ºC, 6kmh wind offshore from NE, some cloud, but mainly sunny. My friend from Victoria and I have dinner this evening with the Australian couple I arrived with on the seaplane. I have enjoyed sitting at a variety of tables for dinner, meeting new people each night. I find the stories everyone tells to be fascinating.

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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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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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Puerto Quetzal & Antigua, Guatemala

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 – Day 24 – Puerto Quetzal & Antigua, Guatemala

The cruise ship port in Puerto Quetzal is a welcome change from most of our previous ports, where we usually docked at container terminals. Today, there is a nice, clean dock, with lots of souvenir vendors, and a café and bar serving snacks and beverages, including coco loco (coconut cocktail with or without booze).

JoeTourist: Antigua &emdash; Volcan Fuego emitting smokeWe take the Antigua On Your Own shore excursion, which provides transportation to and from Antigua, a small Guatemalan town designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our guide refers to Antigua as St. John, since this is the patron saint of soldiers, and the Spanish conquistadors established this town after the original site was destroyed by the nearby volcano. It takes the bus about 1.5 hours to travel from the port to the city. We pass three volcanoes along the way: Volcan Fuego and Volcan Acatenango to the West, and Volcan de Agua to the East. Volcan Fuego decides to put on a little show for us as we pass by, sending puffs of smoke skyward.

I can see that Antigua is normally a nice town to visit, however with all the cruise ship passengers drifting around, there are scores of Guatemalans selling trinkets everywhere. They are constantly after us to buy stuff, so it quickly becomes annoying. We wander the few blocks from our drop off point to the big town square with a cathedral and shops all around. There is a large tour group about to enter the cathedral, so we decide to walk a bit further to see La Merced Church, which is very ornate and very quiet, since it is off the beaten path. Along the way, we see the famous arch at El Carmen, and take photos of the Volcan de Agua framed by the Arch.

We stop to have some cappuccino made with genuine Guatemalan coffee, which has to be one of the best-tasting coffees I have had on the trip so far. I distract myself from all the persistent street vendors by giving myself a photographic assignment as we find our way back to the drop-off point: take photos of all the beautiful and ornate door knockers found on many of the big wooden doors to be found as entranceways to shops, restaurants, and inner courtyards.
JoeTourist: Days at Sea &emdash; Sea turtle with fish trailing it

Thursday, December 15, 2011 – Day 25 – At sea

Our position this morning is 14° 19’ N 93° 13’ W and we are drifting along at 8.6kts, just off the coast of the Mexico/Guatemala border in very smooth seas. After breakfast this morning I see a turtle drift by my cabin portholes, so I put my telephoto zoom lens on my camera, grab my binoculars, and go out on the Promenade Deck. There are lots of Sea Turtles drifting by, and I get some terrific shots. One photo in particular is a once-in-a-lifetime shot. I also see dolphins and flying fish.

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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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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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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.

Kealakekua Bay

January 21, 2001 – A Snorkel and Kayak Trip to Kealakekua Bay, The Big Island of Hawai’i

I am staying at A Place of Refuge B&B  (no longer in business) when our host Roger volunteers to take his guests on a kayak and snorkel trip to Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument. This is my first time in a kayak. I find them to be very stable and easy to paddle (in calm waters, anyway). I use my Minolta underwater APS film camera for the first time while snorkelling the reef in front of the Captain Cook monument. This location is on the inaccessible side of Kealakekua Bay, so if you wish to explore this bay, you will need to either sign up for a snorkel cruise leaving from Kailua-Kona, or rent a kayak locally and launch it from Napo’opo’o. On our way across the bay, we see a Humpback whale, and we have a school of Spinner dolphins swim alongside us on the way back – both very special treats!

Roger is an experienced diver who visits this area regularly, so he goes exploring some underwater caves outside the reef. He reports that one cave has two sharks staying in it.

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