Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sky Tower and Home

I had a few hours to kill before leaving Auckland for Chicago and decided to visit the Sky Tower which rises 1000 ft. above the city making it the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere. The elevator is glass including the floor which made the ride a little unsettling. Then parts of the observation deck floor are glass and it took quite a bit of self-convincing to step on it. Finally, believe it or not you could pay money to bungee jump off of it.

Look closely and you can see the bungee-jumper

I finally made it home. The trip back was shorter and a lot easier than the trip out. All told it was quite an advaenture and I can't believe it's actually over. I would like to take this opportunity to thank some people who made it all possible. Thanks to Michael Corbett and Orion Cruises and Daphne Ibia-Galore of Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority. Also to Tauck World Discovery and Peter Bissett of Island Escape Cruises. For land accommodations in PNG to Loloata, Jais Aben and Aqua Ventures, and Rabaul Hotel. Small Ship Cruises for sponsoring this blog.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mokohinau Islands

Thursday finds us at the Mokohinau Islands where stunning rock bluffs greet us. The order of the day is fishing and I catch a large John Dory, a fish species I have never heard of but is highly prized as it is delicious eating. The chef, Richard, arranges to prepare it for my afternoon tea before taking off for Auckland on the chopper. The advantage of the chopper is that you can tailor your cruise to any length you wish. The weather has finally broken for us and it is a clear sunny day. The rest of the group brings back a cooler full of Snapper so they are happy. I get off the Island Passage on the chopper but the rest of the guests continue on for one more afternoon of fishing, a leisurely dinner of fresh Snapper no doubt, and then the cruise back to Auckland.
Engineer Mike takes advantage of some downtime while
the guests are fishing.
I'll have one more posting accounting my last day in New Zealand and the trip home. In the meantime please keep an eye on our sponsor web site Small Ship Cruises where there will soon be a full accounting of the trip on Island Passage and the Orion.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Great Barrier Island

Tuesday we made our way to Great Barrier Island the largest of the islands encircling the Hauraki Gulf. Most of the day gave us rain but we still managed to get out for some fishing. The rain doesn’t deter the good spirit of the ship’s guests. The Melbourne Cup is today, a very popular horse race of the New Zealanders-sort of like our Kentucky Derby. The Island Passage has a satellite TV and we put together a pool. Mike, our engineer, wins and he puts the winnings on the bar for everybody to enjoy a drink. Wednesday we went for a 4-wheel drive guided tour of Great Barrier Island. It is home to some 700 full time residents and that number goes up substantially in the summer months. We go over winding roads through the mountains and are treated to stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and long white sand beaches. We visit Mount Saint Paul Lodge a great bed and breakfast for lunch. Great Barrier Island, known commonly as “the Barrier”, is home to a wide variety of bird species and we spot a pair of rare Brown Teal Ducks. Our tour guide is Steve, of Barrier Tours, and he has a wealth of information about the island having lived here for 17 years. Hiking is one of the popular activities here and there are more than 60 miles of trails. Kayaking and mountain biking are also favorite pastimes. The terrain is quite varied and there are sheep and cattle farms. The Barrier is known for the Kauri tree which is prized for its use in ship building. The trees were logged up until the mid-1900’s and are now protected as almost all of them were harvested. After lunch there is still time to do a little fishing and I catch my first Snapper.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Island Passage and Kawau

Auckland is known as the “City of Sails”. It boasts more watercraft per capita than any other world city. The population of Auckland is 1.5 million making this capital city the largest in New Zealand home to a total of approximately 4 million people. Situated on the Waitemata Harbor it is a part of the larger Hauraki Gulf which contains more than 40 unique islands with boating havens, beaches, camping spots, historical sites, and wildlife sanctuaries. It is also alive with marine life making it a popular destination for divers and fishermen.

Auckland cityscape with "Sky Tower". At 1000 ft. it is the
tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere.

It is here in the Hauraki Gulf that Island Passage calls home. She is outfitted for soft expedition cruising and carries a maximum of 24 guests and a crew of 8. Measuring 138 ft. in length with a beam of 40 ft., she is quite large for that number of passengers. There is a roomy salon and dining room area as well as a large aft deck for relaxing. The ship is serviced by 3 tenders so passengers can be split up to pursue different interests such as fishing, hiking and visiting historical sites. On board this cruise are mostly fisherman as Island Escape Cruises has advertised this particular cruise as a Snapper fishing event. Island Passage also carries kayaks and mountain bikes, and has wireless internet service. Last night we made our way to a sheltered cove near Kawau Island. Kawau is best known for the lavish gardens on the estate of Governor Sir George Grey originally constructed in the mid 1800’s. Later today we will move to Great Barrier Island where some of the best fishing occurs. A typical day aboard Island passage has her cruising for 3 or 4 hours in the morning and then mooring in a quiet spot for an afternoon of exploration and an overnight stay.
One of the Suites onboard Island Passage.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Welcome to New Zealand

Yesterday we flew from Cairns to Auckland. After a smooth travel day, we were met at the airport by our host Peter Bissett of Island Escape Cruises. We took the Island Escape helicopter from the airport to the hotel I am staying at, a ride that normally takes about 45 minutes by car, and we made it in about 6 minutes. The Island Passage is our home for the next week. She cruises Huaraki Gulf Marine Park, a series of scenic islands in northern New Zealand. The Island Passage has a helicopter deck and it is used to fly guests to and from the ship for embarkation and disembarkation as well as to get to remote destinations during their cruise. By using the helicopter, Island Escape can tailor make any length of itinerary for the individual guests. Regular cruises run for 3,4, and 5 nights.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Alotau, Milne Bay

Wednesday we arrive early in Alotau, the capital of Milne Bay Province. Many of the population of around 10,000 rely on the sea for their livelihood and as a result the busy harbor is the focal point of the town. Cargo movements drive harbor activity, and there’s an array of colorful vessels to be seen. We have a surprise at breakfast as a group of local dancers performs for us aboard the ship.

We board some shuttle buses for a tour of the area which takes us to a site with the rusty remains of some WW II American landing barges. Later we move to a lookout point and then to a tiny village where we are welcomed with some fresh fruit and a tour of the houses. We see the inside of a cook house for the first time. Cooking is done in a separate house as wood fires are used. In the afternoon we take a guided walking tour around the town that takes us to a memorial of the Battle of Milne Bay and to the local market. This is our last day in Papua New Guinea and we are already getting a little nostalgic and sad. This is Halloween and the dining room is decorated with many carved pumpkins which the crew members have carved as part of a contest. The waiters are in costume. Later we were treated to a performance by our multi-talented crew ranging from singing and dancing to magic. Today is a day at sea on our return to Cairns and we are given tours of the galley and bridge. Lectures are held on mammal life in the Pacific and an overview of WWII in the Pacific. Last night there was also a presentation on JFK and PT 109. The seas are a little rough on our crossing today and some passengers are feeling a little queasy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Kitava and Nivani

Monday we visited the island of Kitava one of the Trobriand Islands which is an archipelago of several low-lying coral islands situated to the northeast of New Guinea. As usual we had a warm welcome from the locals and once again delivered aid in the form of clothing, shoes, first-aid supplies, fishing gear, and school supplies. In return we were treated to an elaborate cultural dance presentation.

Some guests joined an hour long uphill walk to the village to see the famous Trobriand yam houses.

Next we went by Zodiac to the adjacent small island of Nuratu for a beach barbeque and snorkeling. It rained a very little but for the most part our weather has been fantastic for this entire trip, albeit a little warm. In the afternoon we began our cruise to the next destination, Nivani, which is part of Deboyne Lagoon in the Louisiade Archipelago. At Panapompom, an adjacent island, we visit a small village of just about 20 or so people and we get a glimpse of what the simple life is like in Papua New Guinea. There is a garden consisting of mostly yams and taro. For food they grow their own and fish. For cash to send the kids to school and receive medical care, they collect and dry copra (dried coconut to make coconut oil) and fish for sea cucumbers to sell to the Asian market. When we arrive Robin Tauck gives all the children knapsacks. The usual aid supplies are also given.

Later we swim and snorkel. There is a intact sunken Japanese Zero in only 6-10 ft. of water.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tufi Village

Today we visited Tufi Village. We were transported by local ship to the end of a fjord and then into a mangrove by outrigger canoe to the village where we were greeted by angry villagers who would not let us pass without knowing why we had come. When we informed them that we were only here to see the making of Sago we were allowed to enter the village where we were greeted with fragrant floral necklaces. Of course the challenge to our entering was just symbolic. We were shown demonstrations of the various stages of Sago making from the chopping of the tree core into sawdust like substance on to the filtering and finally the cooking of the paste. We then got to taste the finished product. Sago is a staple of the local diet. Also demonstrated were facial tattooing and the traditional making of fire. Later we were transferred again by canoe to another village where we saw dancing and singing by the school children as a thank you for the support the village had received from the Orion.

In the afternoon we headed for the beach for some swimming and snorkeling.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Madang-Bilbil Village and a Day at Sea

Yesterday we visited the town of Madang. Our first stop was the village of Bilbil where they are well known for their clay pots. We were first treated to a demonstration of how the pots are made, entirely by hand, no wheels are used and the pots are fired over an open flame. Afterwards we are privileged to witness a traditional sing-sing which is a dance that is used to celebrate various occasions.
We spend the afternoon touring around Madang. First we visit the local market where produce of all types is sold as well as some handicrafts. It is one of Papua New Guineas larger markets as Madang is accessible by road to the rural areas so goods can be transported from a distance. Next we move on to a museum of artifacts where all manner of arts, crafts, tools, and musical instruments are displayed. The museum is followed by a look at the coast watchers memorial which commemorates the Australian coast watchers who were pseudo spies against the Japanese during World War II. It was a coast watcher who helped rescue JFK during the war.

After dinner we were treated to a photo slide presentation by one of our guests who is an award winning photographer, and who has had work published by National Geographic.

Today was spent at sea. We were very busy however, attending a series of lectures and talks. First was an orientation to snorkeling and the fitting of gear. This was followed by a slide show lecture on Indo Pacific coral reef biology. After a buffet lunch, Robin Tauck presented a preview of 2008 and 2009 Tauck programs throughout the world. Following was a presentation on Papua New Guinea history and culture, one on Douglas McArthur’s campaigns in Papua and New Guinea, and finally a briefing on tomorrow’s activities and a short talk on the Bird of Paradise. Some of the guests commented that it felt like being back in school, going to so many classes in one day.
Bats hanging out in Madang

More Madang market

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Watam Village

This morning we visited Watam, a village near the mouth of the Sepik River. Watam is a village of 300 people consisting of 7 clans each with its own leader and one chieftain. The villagers give us a royal welcome right from the start. As our Zodiacs approach, a boat of villagers decked out in full ceremonial garb comes out to greet us. Dancers are waiting on shore as well. After we make a procession led by a dragon costume, we witness a flag raising ceremony with the local children reciting the Lords Prayer and singing the Papua New Guinea National Anthem. There is then an exchange of gifts. Tauck home office employees and Orion passengers have all donated clothing and school supplies to be given to the village of Watam. Robin Tauck presents the goods and is given some bilum bags and necklaces in return. Costumed dancing goes on for the entire time of our visit. Representatives from other villages have come to Watam and brought their handicrafts for sale. Based on all the carvings, bags and necklaces brought back to the ship it appears the Orion passengers have made a significant contribution to the local economy today. We sadly have to leave Watam feeling as though we have made some new friends.
In the afternoon we again embark the Zodiacs to enter the mouth of the Sepik River. The Sepik is one of the worlds great rivers running more than 800 miles from its origin in the mountain highlands. The Sepik has no delta and stains the sea brown for up to 30 miles. We can clearly see where the river water meets the sea. We spot several species of birds of prey along the river banks and in the trees. Also along the river banks grow the Sago Palm which is a food staple for the natives. The pulpy center of the tree is ground up and sifted through water to extract the starchy foodstuff.