Friday, March 27, 2015

S/V Trillium Is At Your Service

Note: I am interrupting our land tour to be more current with the Cyclone Pam situation.
Students from Wentworth College and officers from
Whangaparaoa Rotary Club are working to collect items
we will take back up to Vanuatu Cyclone Pam victims.
Since the devastation in Vanuatu caused by the harsh hit by Cyclone Pam, we have been concerned about the village we befriended in the Maskelynne Island Group. You have seen photographs taken at Avokh Island that I posted earlier. We spent seven weeks in Vanuatu last year and had planned to return this year to help “our island.” Now our help is more urgent than ever.

Some of you helped me raise funds to purchase Mother Hubbard Dresses for the women on the island, most of whom are dressed in well-worn to thread-bare traditional dresses. The Mother Hubbard dress is designed so the women can sit loon the ground and keep their thighs covered as dictated by their culture.

Ladies in their tattered Mother Hubbard dresses
I doubt that these buildings are still standing!
We had planned to commission 100 dresses in the capital city of Port Vila to take to Avokh. We were in contact with the Women’s Commission of Vanuatu prior to the cyclone. Now we are unable to make contact, but will be there in a few months and go in person if we have not established email communications prior to our arrival. The plan was to have the Women’s Cooperative Center in Port Vila make the dresses and we will deliver them. This way we are supporting the local economy as well.

Now the need is even greater! Hopefully we will continue to get donations towards the dresses as other islands we will be visiting will also be in need. The island of Tanna was in the eye of the hurricane and all people have is the clothing on their backs. Our efforts include collecting used clothing for men and children as well for both islands.

Currently we are working with the students of Wentworth College (which is a private high school with the traditional Cambridge curriculum) and the Whangaparaoa Rotary Club to collect clothing, school supplies, hand tools, household items, wire, line, rope, etc. The community support has been overwhelming! We have spoken to the student assembly and the Rotary Club to share the Vanuatu story. I have a feeling S/V Trillium will be filled to the gills!

We are asking other yachts to help us transport the collected goods to Vanuatu. It doesn’t matter which islands receive them as the need is great everywhere – as it was before the cyclone! Hopefully, the emergency aid workers will have stabilized some of the villages by the time we get there. These people live with so little so anything we bring will be appreciated.

We have been warned that it will be hard for us to provision in Vanuatu as their fruit trees have been destroyed and their gardens flooded. Fortunately, the loss of life from the storm was minimal considering the velocity of the winds, but in the last cyclone, more people died of starvation than from the actual storm. We will be taking canned foods, especially canned meats to them as well.
Brian Mullan, President of Whanaparaoa Rotary
acknowledged our humanitarian efforts. 
If you have a desire to help support this aid mission, please contact me for details. A sailing couple from California whom we have never met, sent us $400 to buy specific goods for a village they love in Tanna. Every yachting organization we know and all to which we belong are raising money for Vanuatu victims. A friend’s Rotary Club in Old Mission, San Diego, passed the hat at a meeting and came up with over $300. So there are many ways to help fund this mission. We thank all of you.

You may never meet the people of these islands, but we assure you for as poor as they are in material things, they are rich and generous in sharing what they have and in friendliness.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Off to Wellington via Rotorua

Thermal steam is continuous around the villages.
Following the Glowworm Cave Tour, it was back into the car for a two hour trip east to Rotorua. This is a well-known Maori village on the banks of a hot mineral lake. There are many bubbling mud pools, geysers and mineral springs in this area. Most visitors complain about the smell in Rotorua. It has a very strong sulfur or rotten egg smell that comes from the geothermal springs and lake upon which the town was built. After a while, it doesn’t seem so bad. The local people breathe it in all of the time as the Maori live in villages filled with geothermal springs. It is supposed to be good for sinus issues, but it didn’t seem to help mine!

A view out our hotel window. Smelly, too.
Rotorua is a place where steam rises from the cracks in the pavement! There are bubbling mud pools (in which we did not bath as many do) and geysers (Kiwis pronounce it like we do when we mean an old person) gushing from the rocks. The Maori people of Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao still live at Whakarearewa, which is known as the Living Village. These families and their ancestors have lived here for many generations and have been hosting visitors since the early 1800’s. The village guides are the people of Te Arawa.  It was a pleasure to be among these people and their culture. It is a spiritual place.

Chicken and vegetables cooked in the ground with
geothermal heat for a hangi dinner.
The Maori use the natural geothermal resources to cook their food and for bathing. The food is steamed and cooks very quickly consuming no electrical or gas energy. They use the geothermal waters and mud for healing the mind and body. Several of the Maori villages in the area offer cultural performances, tours and hangi meals. There is an entrance fee for visitors and even the children will remind you that you need a ticket to come in. 

Fortunately, the gondola takes you up and brings you down!
To the Maori, the geothermal resources is known as “waiariki” which means “water of the gods” and is interpreted as “hot springs.” They consider the springs as a treasure. Maori warriors bathed in the sulphurous waters to both heal their wounds after battle and to remove the tapu (sacredness) of war. For more than 150 years, people from around the world have been coming to Rotorua to enjoy the health and beauty of the geothermal waters and mud and the unique therapeutic and spa treatments developed here using these resources.

Dennis and Larry at the start of the luge run.
While the locals know where to go safely to the mineral spring pools in the bush, we chose to go to the established spas. Our first visit was to the Polynesian Spa (listed as a World Top 10 Spa) where they have two types of mineral pools: acidic and alkaline. The acidic geothermal water, known for its therapeutic benefits, bringing relief to tired muscles, aches and pains, arthritis and rheumatism. The alkaline geothermal waters feels very soft and is good for the skin.

While somewhat skeptic about the therapeutic value of the pools, we all felt much better the next day. In fact, Larry was sure it was not going to do anything to help our aches and pains, he was the first to suggest we do it again! Unfortunately, Vicki and I did not partake of the many spa treatments such as skin detoxification, scrubs and massages. I should have planned that into the itinerary. Shame on me!

Larry coming in for a crash landing!
Rotorua has much to offer for a vacationer besides the geothermal activities. Kiwis are outdoors people. Most activities involve water, tramping or hiking in the mountains or some kind of thrill! The country has become a tourism economy. While there are acres and acres of farmland, the main product here is thrills and spills adventure!
Three fearless warriors who made fun of me!
Let the games begin! Much to my surprise, Vicki wanted to do a Luge run and zip line at the Skyline Gondola adventure center. I wasn’t too sure my back was up to it, but we all rode the gondola up to where we donned our helmets and headed to the start line. Actually, it was a lot of fun and we did three runs! The luge is a gravity-fueled ride in a special three-wheel Luge cart. After a run down the mountain side, you hop on a chairlift to return to the top. I must say it is easier to ski away from a moving chairlift than it is to step off while it is still moving and try to get out of the way before it hits you or you knock down your partner!

I just wanted to walk down these stairs!
Then we headed off to do the zip line. I have done it before, but this was a little different and faster. The landing area was very different as we came in fast! Loved the ride, but not the way we landed. When I started down the steps from the landing platform, I was told that the event is not yet over!

I kept saying, "I can't do this! I can't do this!" But I did!
What I didn’t know was the final stage was a free fall off a platform to the ground below. This is not my cup of tea, thank you very much!!! I was unable to escape and was the first to go. It was terrifying! I had a harness and a rope to hold, but the idea of falling straight back off the edge of this high platform was awful. Of course, my family enjoyed my terror and even took photos! I guess I am here to tell about it, but not interested in doing that part again.   
Dennis playing in a stick competition.
We attended a cultural event at the Tamaki Maori Village since Vicki and Larry had not been with us at the Waitangi Treaty Center. This is a traditional Maori village deep within an ancient Tawa forest. The event lasted 3.5 hours beginning with the Haka ritual ceremony. The audience is actively engaged in the various demonstrations of games, weaving, dancing, etc. It gave us a look at a Pre-European Maori Village and a cultural performance.

Learning the HAKA!

The guys were drawn into the action and learned the Haka – sort of! The funny part was at the end when they stick out the tongue in defiance, Larry’s tongue was blue from frozen blue lemonade Slurpee earlier in the day! This time we stayed for the traditional Hangi dinner of chicken and vegetables cooked in the ground on hot rocks and covered with dirt for hours. Actually, it was very tasty!

The aftermath of blue frozen lemonade!
"Don't mess with me!"
Of course, the evening was capped off with a little challenge. When we got in the van, the battery was dead! It was 9:30 pm and we are 15 km from town in the woods! Fortunately, we had joined AA (same as our AAA – not the AA you might be thinking) so I called for road service. A friendly tour bus driver helped us find someone to jump the battery before AA arrived, so Dennis drove around for a while to charge it. Always something to add to the adventure!
The ladies have games they play with sticks and
some type of soft ball on lines.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On th Road Again ...

A view into the entrance
Now we are off to the southern part of North Island. Everyone has a suggestion of where we should go and what we should see and do. The focus of this country is on outdoor activities: tramping (hiking), water sports of all kinds, thrill adventure sports (bungee jumping, sky diving, jet boat trips, etc.) and air trips by plane or helicopter to see the two glaciers (Franz Joseph and Fox) and Mt. Cook. Soaking in the hot mineral springs is more our speed – at least I thought it would be!

Our first adventure was to the Glowworm Caves in Waitomo, described as “a lost subterranean world that is both eerie and captivating” in south central North Island. The Glowworm Caves are on the 101 Must-Do’s for Kiwis List. There are a number of caves in the area for exploring. Most require a major amount of walking and climbing, as well as ducking. Larry has had a double knee replacement in the past 18 months, so we limited the activities that required a lot of walking. The tour takes only 45 minutes and part of the Glowworm Cave tour is in a boat. The guides are ancestors of the Maori chief who originally explored the cave and they enthusiastically share the culture and history of the area.
The ceiling near the exit
While the cave itself was interesting, its beauty was nothing comparable to the caves on the island of Niue. What was interesting was the central area of the cave, the Cathedral Cave, where the acoustics are perfect. So much so that a number of recording artists have held concerts in it. It was interesting to see how the cave continues to actively develop. And the temperature and humidity are ideal inside the cave. The Glowworm Caves tours have been guided since the late 1880’s and are known as the original New Zealand attraction!
Our guide pulled the boat along a cable
over his head so there was no engine noise.
The glowworms were interesting! There were thousands of them. They were a fluorescent green color and were hanging from the ceiling of the cave like 4-6 inch icicles. We first saw them from a viewing area above the river that runs through the cave. Then we boarded boats and were slowly and quietly pulled through the cave on the river.

Looking up, we could see glow worms everywhere above us. Creepy but beautiful! No photos were allowed in the cave so I only got at shot as we were leaving when the guide said it was okay. In the end, it was very interesting, not creepy and definitely worth the stop to see it.

A view of the cave exit area.
We continued on to Rotorua for a couple of days in the Maori villages and mineral hot springs. Dennis plans to get a tattoo here when we make our return trip north. We have the name of the tattoo artist he wants to meet. Since our trip is somewhat limited in time by Vicki and Larry's flight home, we won't use this time for the tattoo.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

We Are Off On Our Land Cruise!

A view of Auckland harbor from the Sky Center where
we had a great lunch in the revolving restaurant.
After many months of ocean cruising, it has been nice to be on land for a while. We had a "air cruise" around the world in December and January to visit all five children and five grandchildren. It was wonderful - especially being in hotels with big bath tubs as I love a long soak. We only had two weeks back on the boat before my sister, Vicki, and her hubby, Larry, arrived to join us on a "land cruise."

The basin beside the Maritime Museum
I spent a week researching and making reservations for what Larry called a "trip of a lifetime!" I hope it lives up to his expectations as I am not a travel agent. As a result, I have a good understanding of New Zealand geography and topography. This is a mountainous country and you have to travel back and forth across mountain ranges with many switch backs. The speed signs on the curves range from 85 km all the way down to 15 km - now that is a real hairpin turn! Remember these are kilometers per hour, not miles, so that is practically walking speed.

Can you tell we are sisters?
While their roads are good and well maintained, they are mostly two lane and very narrow. Most of the bridges are one-lane so you have to approach slowly to make sure it is clear to cross. And - they are very narrow. There is only about 6-8 inches of space on each side of the van between the vehicle and the railings! Tight squeeze, to say the least! Several of the bridges serve both vehicles and trains so you have to be alert when approaching the single lane bridges. And very nerve-racking for both the driver and the naggravator! (That is my word for myself: navigator and aggravator, as I do both!)

We will spend our time with Vicki and Larry mostly on the South Island with a couple of interesting stops on the way down to the Wellington where we will take the ferry across Cook's Strait. I never realized how much Vicki loves speed boats. They have one on Grand Traverse Bay. Of course, we take a slower method under sail. She wants to do the Jet Boat rides that are popular here in New Zealand.

Waiting for the ferry.
We did spend a day in Auckland and enjoyed the Maritime Museum. It has wonderful displays of many of the super yachts that raced in the America's Cup, Whitebread and Volvo Around the World Races. Actually, the Volvo racers will be in Auckland when we are in the South Island. Sorry to miss the big party in town!

Lunch was an experience as we went to the top of the Sky Tower. The tower attracts nearly 1,200 visitors a day to experience the Sky Lounge (Level 50), Main Observation Deck (Level 51), Orbit 360 Degree Dining (Level 52), The Sugar Club, Skywalk and Sky Jump (Level 53) and the Sky Deck (Level 60). The restaurant level was enough for us.
It was a long day - of fun and family plus silliness!

It is a nice revolving restaurant with great food. The ride up and down offers a thrill, but the biggest thrill is when the Sky Jumpers come flying down past your window. It is totally unexpected and makes you notice! There were a few crazies jumping that day! The jump is 192 meters (630 ft.) and they can reach up to 85 miles per hour. Not for me!

Enough sightseeing for the day so it was time to catch the late afternoon ferry back to Gulf Harbour. It was very crowded as the commuters were returning to the Whangaparoa Peninsula.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Visit to Waiheke Islands - A Kiwi Favorite

Auckland's waterfront as seen from the ferry.
Since New Zealand is a country consisting of two islands, there is water everywhere. The coast line is rugged and filled with bays. The Tasman Sea is on the western coast and is not something with which most yachties care to reckon. It can be wild and dangerous. The east coast of the North Island is yacht-friendly and has many islands with beautiful anchorages. Most of the sailing is done near Auckland or in the  Bay of Islands or Bay of Plenty.We plan to visit a few on our way back north to Opua in April. There are not many harbors as you go south along either coast.

Being a water-based culture, most activities center around boating or taking ferries to the some of the islands for the weekend. We decided to check out one of the most popular islands near Auckland - only a 45-minute ferry ride.

Waiheki (pronounced why-he-key) Island is like a modern Mackinaw Island is some ways. There are beautiful homes, hotels and many tourist places to eat and shop. And there are about 30 wineries on the island! Wine tours are a big attraction.

The biggest difference is that there are 1,400 residents who commute to Auckland by ferry everyday. There are several small villages with city centers around the island. Most are located on beautiful bays where boats anchor regularly. Many of the people we have met at the marina head out to Waiheke Island for the weekends. 

Once again we saw the outstanding public transportation system of New Zealand at work. There are bus stops everywhere so it is easy to get around the island.

One of the many beautiful anchorages on Waiheke Island
Our Waiheke adventure began with one of those OPPS! moments. We headed over to the Gulf Harbour Ferry Dock for the 7:30 AM ferry on a Saturday morning. There were only a couple of people on it and when we boarded, the ticket gal asked if we were going to Auckland. It was obvious to us that the ferry goes to Auckland so that is where we are going.

This is the longest beach on the island. Beautiful!

After we left the dock, she asked how we knew there was a Saturday morning ferry. I said that I saw it is in the schedule brochure. She then pointed out that there is no weekend ferry at 7:30 AM  or any of the other times on that schedule! They had made a run across to drop off crew and we happened onto the return run along with a young couple from Germany who had made the same mistake.

So the next question was: how do we get back to Gulf Harbour. It looked like we were about to learn the ins and outs of the local bus routes! So after a lovely day on Waiheke Island, we returned to Auckland and went to the Britomart to check out the bus schedules. Unfortunately, there were no express buses on the weekend so we were going to experience a very long and round about way home.

Back "home" in the marina.
The biggest challenge was finding the right bus. It seems they have 3-5 different bus companies that run various routes in and around Auckland, so it was a challenge to find the right bus stop. After an hour, we finally got on a bus which took over an hour and a half to get to the bus stop near the marina - then a 20 minute walk to the marina.

The buses are very clean and comfortable and the drivers and other passengers were very helpful as we had to make a transfer. The positive was that it was relaxing and we saw many of the small inland and coastal communities that we would not have visited. Detroit metropolitan area could take a lesson on how to operate a great public transportation system from Auckland.

In general, we have to say that the Kiwis and Maori are the most helpful people. They are very friendly and giving of their time and knowledge. It is a real treat to spend six months here! Beautiful land, beautiful people.