2023 – 5 – Grand World 1.5 of 5 Tonga to Sydney

On Monday, January 30, we docked in Nuku Alofa, Tongatapu, Tonga.  That’s a mouthful.  I got some work done, research for upcoming ports and such.  Then I went out for a little walk around town, which isn’t much but the weather was getting interesting.  Here are some clouds gathering at the back of the Zuiderdam:

Those fluffy little marshmallows bulked up until they became a full-fledged squall.  We were having sail-away on Deck 3, being entertained by the police band and dancers on shore, when it hit.  The entertainers bravely waited until the last minute to scatter, as did we.  In fact, we waited a little longer, but when the drops started bouncing 10 inches in the air on the exposed part of the deck, we all ran for cover.  It was over in fifteen minutes and the ship sailed. 

There was a movie on the Main Stage tonight.  It was “Joyride” and the description was most unappetizing.  I decided it was time for more Rolling Stone and Piano Bar.  Those who went confirmed the wisdom of that decision.  Everybody I talked to had walked out in disgust. 

Tuesday, January 31, was a sea day.  We are hearing about the flooding in Auckland and, of course, we are all worried that we may not even land there.  It’s a couple of days out.  When I was done with the office hour, I posted a log to Distinctive Voyages and a blog to WordPress and went out on Deck 3 to a nice lounge chair, with my computer.  Lots of wind made it a bit of a challenge but it was lovely out there and I didn’t blow away.  Stephen Barry was back on the main stage and he was even better than the first time, more relaxed with the audience.

At sea, again on Wednesday, February 1, after office hour, I called the people who had not responded re our upcoming shore excursion, and I called Nyron to get the last few answers to questions like “Is there water on the bus?” Then I wrote and delivered a newsletter.  A bunch of people, including Linda Starr came to Happy Hour.  I had asked her to come to discuss how to handle the slower walkers, to whom I had already delivered tour stickers.  Linda agreed to stand at the end of the gangway from 7:25 with a DV sign.  She had the good idea to make it a large DV logo with “Friends of Helen M.”  on it.  If you know who “Friends of Bill W.” are, that might give you a chuckle.  It did me. 

We had a nice dinner and saw Saxophonist Barry Seacroft again, on stage.

Finally, on Thursday, February 2, we made it to civilization, Auckland, New Zealand.  Fans of green tipped mussels unite.  We did and we didn’t.  The Starrs know a seaside dive a short ferry away that has super ones for half what we paid, but we were happy.  I had introduced Ken and Noreen Stein to The Occidental Bar on Vulcan Lane, about 8 years ago, and it has been that for them, ever since.  I wasn’t going to argue.  It’s a Belgian bar and “moules frites” is a Belgian dish.  Lynann came with us and Dee and Wells found us after their errand in Sydney.  A half kilo of Mussels was $22.95 and a whole kilo was $27.95.  That’s about $3.50 US for the second half kilo.  We probably should have shared but most of us didn’t.  We just stuffed ourselves. 

Then Nona, and I went to Chemist Warehouse for some cheap drugs and I let her talk me into walking further up the very steep hill, which necessitated walking down the next street.  One shouldn’t do that on a full stomach and a bad ankle.  By the time we got back to the ship, I had to lie down and meditate.  I don’t sleep in the afternoon, so I just lay there and moaned. There was no entertainment that night, but I didn’t need any.  I just took my sorry, stuffed ass to bed.

I got up early on Friday, February 3, because it was our Shore Excursion Day, in Tauranga (Rotorua), New Zealand, kind of like the Teddy Bear’s Picnic, after all those sea days.  There had been a bit of a mix-up and at one point the ShorEx department had put a different meeting place in the Navigator App, from the one I had in my newsletter.  So I took one of my “Friends of Helen M.” signs, added the correct location in felt marker, and put it in the wrong place to catch anyone who might have gone there.  My good people all duly showed up, on time, in the right place, and off we went, in two buses, one with me, and one with the Starrs.

The guides were Maori and so very interesting to talk to, especially the one on my bus.  One of the places we passed early on was a surf beach, and it was lined with hundreds of holiday homes.  There were no tents or trailers here.  These were the second homes of the well-to-do.  One of them bore the name of the owner’s race horse.  You get the picture.  Then we passed a golf course, one of six on the island, and more prosperous looking suburbs. Next was a large retirement village of smaller but nice homes.   When they started building them about 30 years ago, you had to be 65 to qualify, but the demand is so high that they have raised the age bar to 75.

Autearoa, where we were, means land of the common people.  We were visiting the Ngāti Mākino, a group of approximately 2,000 members, based in the Bay of Plenty. The Ngāti Mākino Deed of Settlement is the final settlement of all their historical Treaty of Waitangi claims, resulting from acts or omissions by the Crown prior to 21 September 1992, and is made up of a package that includes an agreed historical account and Crown acknowledgements; cultural redress; financial and commercial redress.  The benefits of the settlement will be available to all members of Ngāti Mākino, wherever they live.

It looks like a pretty good deal now, but you have to remember that this an indigenous people whose ancestral lands were confiscated and they got maybe 22% of them back.  These tours are a way to tell their story.

Maori means common or natural people.  The tribe we visited are the Ōtamarākau and the Marae is the village. Only no one lives there.  They all live either on farms or in those nice suburbs we passed.  The Marae is a meeting place and burial ground.  They come to it to honor their ancestors and to teach the likes of us.  We had to go through a little ceremony to acknowledge that we came in peace.  I was the group leader but, not being male, ineligible to speak for us.  That was when I was pleased to have the Rabbi as the second bus monitor.  Arthur Starr did us proud. 

We sat in the meeting house and learned our lessons, surrounded by pictures of dead ancestors, some pretty recent looking.  Then we were taken around the property, on foot and by little van.  We learned how they cooked “hangi” style, burying the meat and veggies covered in leaves and with hot stones, for hours.  Our guide explained how his tattoos honored his ancestors and admitted that he was in his forties before he got them.  Like, when they came into fashion?

He was a lovely man, as were his stories, and his fellow tribesfolk.  One of the things we learned, from the topography and the story that went with it, is that the Maori invented trench warfare.  I’ll spare you the grizzly details here, but catch me over a glass of wine, some time.  The lunch they gave us, which had been cooked in the hangi method, went way beyond our expectations and was even served with very nice New Zealand wine.  We are now considered part of the tribe and will be welcomed back whenever we choose to return.  This is a class act. 

Ours was only the sixth group to visit this particular Marae and had the honor of planting a tree to mark our passing through.  Here is Dee getting the job done.  She’s good at that.

We named ours “The Distinctive Tree” and it’s a Manuka tree, yes, like the honey.  The honey is named after the tree on which the bees feed.  This is the best medicinal honey you can get.  It really will get rid of your cold and a good many other ailments, but you must buy the unpasteurized version.  The pasteurization process eliminates the healing properties.  Of course the unpasteurized stuff is four times the price, and may be hard to get, anywhere else in the world.

The highways are in excellent condition and there are cycle paths within sight of the main highway, but at a safe distance.  You can cycle the whole length of New Zealand, both North and South Islands.  The cycle path even has its own little bridges.  Exports are timber, dairy products, meat and Kiwi fruit.  Tepuke is the world capital of Kiwi Fruit.  They grow on vines, like grapes, and are coddled with fans and such, like Napa grapes. 

We got back in time for a nice sailaway, a good dinner and a good entertainer.  She was Debora Krizak who sang the kind of songs we like to listen to.

I can’t tell you much about Gisborne, New Zealand, because I didn’t even get off on Saturday, February 4.  It was a tender port, which wastes a lot of time, the weather was iffy, to put it nicely, and I had catching up to do.  You would have thought it was this blog, but it was regular client work and more prep for Sydney.  I had two outings planned for 23 people, some of whom were doing both, and the Sydney Opera House buying sites, yes, with an “s”, had proven to be a nightmare.  So I sorted that lot out and got it on to spreadsheets, with everyone’s cellphone, which I was very glad of in Sydney. Then I got out a letter for our dinner in the Pinnacle, which was coming up soon.  The male quartet “Cantare” were easy on the eyes and ears.

On February 5, we docked in Wellington, New Zealand and it was time to go out and play a bit.  Nona and I got off around 10:00 am and took the ship’s shuttle to the middle of town, Lambton Quay.  From there we took the cable car up to the top of the Botanical Gardens.

The path through the Botanical Gardens is supposed to be downhill, but it’s not that clearly marked.  I did know, that when it came out on the street, it would continue downhill.  But, it might not continue to Begonia house, which Nona and Annie wanted to see.  I found out that it would, but Annie was sure the uphill path within the garden was shorter.  It might have been, but it was miserable, for none more than Annie herself, who has vertigo.  But we made it, and the flowers were, indeed, beautiful.

And so were the natives:

Yeah, well.  On down the hill we went, through this cemetery, with its quaint, pathetic inscriptions.

Then we ambled along Lambton Quay, where I bought myself a very soft Merino and Possum sweater, with which I am well pleased.  From there we took the shuttle to its second stop, near the harbour, the Te Papa Museum, and the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club.  The goal was a beer at the Yacht Club.  The reality was folkloric dancers, people jumping into the harbour from a commercial platform, never intended for that, some time with a friendly Irish Setter, a look at a closed yacht club, and food trucks.  OMG.  There was Mr. Circle, a Chinese pancake food truck whose product looked like something I had been introduced to in Beijng.  Since the YC was closed, I went straight there while Nona browsed the rest of the offerings.  The weather was getting worse, and they were closing down.  By the time she figured out she wasn’t going to find better, my pork belly pancake was ready.  It was huge, so we just split it and that was perfect.  The next thing Nona did was take a picture of the food truck, in case she should run across one again.  It was truly yummy.  That was an 11,000 step day, a thing I hadn’t been able to do for years, and I rewarded my ankle with a nice hot bath. 

The entertainment was a movie, again, and I skipped it, again, and curled up with my book.