Monday, October 18, 2010

The last few days cruising to New Zealand

The following blog entries cover our last days at sea aboard Volendam, as well as our three ports of call in New Zealand before our departure in Auckland.

Oct 18, 2010 – Monday – Volendam at sea, enroute to Bay of Islands, New Zealand – I get up around 8am and go to the Rotterdam dining room for breakfast this morning. They serve complementary cappuccino with breakfast, and I have a Spanish omelette this morning. The woman beside me is from Sarnia, Ontario, and reveals she was the female "volunteer" from the audience who was chosen to hula while the Polynesian male dancers gyrated around her at yesterday evening's folkloric performance in Noumea. She seemed to be quite happy with her experience.

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

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

Goodbye from the Volendam crew
Oct 19, 2010 – Tuesday – Volendam at sea, enroute to Bay of Islands, New Zealand – Jimmy, the Cruise Director emceed "Time to Say Goodbye" in the show lounge: a show put on for everyone who is departing the ship in Auckland. He gave us lots of useful information, and ended the show with staff from all the departments coming on stage for a group farewell song – a very nice ending to this cruise.

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

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

Oct 20, 2010 – Wednesday – Bay of Islands, New Zealand – This is our first port of call since our departure from New Calendonia. We are anchored out in the Bay of Islands, so we are tendered ashore to the Waitangi wharf. They have shuttle buses to take us to Pahia, which is the main town for the area.

Volendam anchored in Bay of Islands
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 returning 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.

After 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 on top of the Baked Alaska, so everyone is overstuffed by the time we leave the dining room.

Looking south over Tauranga from outlook
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, so we take a land-based tour instead. Our Mount Classics Tours tour coordinator quickly arranges a very nice private tour in a minivan with our own driver taking us around Tauranga. First stop is a local mission house, then we drive north of town and see the city from an overlook. We then drive south of town. First stop is Kiwi360 in Te Puka, then stop for lunch further south at a small seaside cafĂ© 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's gangway.

Tonight I face up to the fact I have to pack everything that has been in the 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!

Oct 22, 2010 – Friday – Auckland to Kerikeri, New Zealand – My friends and I disembark from the Volendam for the last time this morning at our assigned 9am time. We pre-cleared New Zealand customs and immigration while we were at sea on the 19th, so we simply walk ashore, let the Beagle dogs sniff our bags for any unauthorized foods, and then pick up our bags, which are waiting for us in the departure hall. My friends and I decide to roll our bags the six blocks to the Hertz car rental office. The last block was a steep hill, which was a killer. I rent a Ford Mondeo, with the three of us named as authorized drivers. I pull out of the rental office driving on the left, and make it the three blocks to the on ramp to the motorway (freeway) and head north out of town and across the bridge. I was very anxious to get out of the city before noon, since this is the Labour Day holiday weekend. We were on the road by 10:30am, so I was relieved as we make our way north to Kerikeri with only moderate traffic.

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