Thursday, May 5, 2016

New Zealand - Part 2, The South Island

Flying into Queenstown was really neat, the scenery was spectacular and the airport itself was pretty cute. I headed out to Te Anau the same day. A bit of a shame not to spend time in Queenstown but there's just not time to do everything. Being in Te Anau I was in a good position to take a day trip to Milford Sound, which is actually a fjord, not a sound, but by any name it is rather stunning as is the drive to get there. 


The next stop was a little town outside Dunedin (a large university town). This was a pretty restful stop, I had a little garden shed conversion to myself and had quiet evenings in and slow mornings. I spent one day going into Dunedin to look around and visit museums and another I stayed close to "home" with the exception of a trip to the beach (saw a seal and albatross but no penguins). 

Kaikoura was a neat town, the combination of ocean and mountains really reminded me of Vancouver. 

It's known for its wildlife sightings, whale watching boats, sea bird encounters, kayak adventures. I opted for the last as I figured I'd enjoy the experience more, regardless of the wildlife we might see. As it turned out it was a beautiful day and lovely to be on the water. We saw lots of seals and were able to get quite close. 

I also went to a seawatch with an enthusiastic bird watching couple and saw about a dozen kinds of birds. Some are quite rare but as their only breeding spots are near Kaikoura they are fairly common in the area. 

The hostel in Kaikoura was one of the best I've stayed at. Clean and friendly with a lot of fun extras like instruments to play (piano, guitar, ukulele), a painting corner and a baking box!

My last stop on the south island was Picton. I spent two days on mail boats delivering mail to homes not accessible by road. One day on the Queen Charlotte Sound, another on the Pelorous Sounds. Both were great experiences, a pretty low key way to get out on the water and enjoy beautiful scenery (plus mail!). 

In this area I also did a 3 day hike along the Queen Charlotte Track.  It was 71 km over 3 days and in a rather civilised fashion: your big pack is transferred by water taxi each day and there's the option to stay at a hotel or hostel rather than a tent each night. The weather co-operated perfectly and I had three sunny, dry days for hiking. 

I took the ferry over to Wellingon (south of the north island) and went from nature to the city. Wellington is the cultural capital of New Zealand so I spent my days at museums, cafes (it's also the coffee capital) and shops.  While there I saw a play and a movie, both from NZ, and spent an afternoon or two at the library browsing books and magazines (the benefit of travelling in an English speaking country!). I couldn't ignore nature entirely and hiked up Mt Victoria as well as taking a walk down through the Botanic Gardens after taking the cable car up. 

Before returning home I had a few days up north with my friends. No big activities but we managed a visit to the kiwi house and saw those iconic birds and took another trip to the beach with the little dog in tow. 

My flight home didn't leave till the evening so we set out in plenty of time and made a couple short stops on the way including lunch at the fish market, fitting way to end!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

New Zealand - Part 1, the North Island

New Zealand has long been on my list of places I want to travel to and when I found out I'd be getting off Sørlandet so "close" (a 5 hr plane ride away) to NZ I thought it would be a good opportunity to come. 

So far it has been amazing! I started by visiting a former crewmate and her hospitality has been outstanding! She has gone out of her way to show me her area of the country as well as giving me advice and ideas for my travels further afield. 

It's a very outdoors oriented place and I've been enjoying tramping (hiking), beach walking, swimming and paddling as well as more urban activities like museums and galleries. I had my first go at scuba diving here as well! 

And that is the very short version of what I've been up to. But I'll leave you with some pictures which make up for thousands and thousands of words ;-) 

Went paddling (sit-on-top kayak) here. Crazy amounts of current. 

Also went paddling here (Goat Island) and had some friendly fish follow us. 

Beautiful beach walk at Mangawhai Heads. 

In Taupo I hiked along this trail (note steam on right - from a thermal creek which I soaked in on the way back)…

…and saw the water of the Waikato River most of the way…

… to Huka Falls. 

The start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. 

The Red Crater a bit later on the hike. 

And one of the Emerald Lakes. Not the best visibility but at least we could see them!

Yep, there's a few sheep here. 

More paddling, this time a 2 day trip on the Whanganui River. 

The view from "Romantic Russell" (once the hell hole of the Pacific). Not the best weather, in the brochures this bay is blue and sparkling! 

A waka (Maori war canoe) on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. 

Bayly's Beach. It was low tide and many people drove their cars on the beach!

Tane Mahuta, an estimated 2500 year old kauri tree. You can't really tell from the picture but he's 51 m high with a trunk girth of 13.8 m. 

A view from the tramp we did on Whangarei Heads. 

And now I'm on the South Island for a few weeks before returning north and then home. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Shore Leave - Tahiti

After months of being at anchor or underway it was lovely to be alongside in Pape'ete. Instead of co-ordinating water taxis and tenders we were able to simply step off the gangway! The strange thing is that after so many months of visiting tiny little islands Pape'ete (pop 26,000) felt like a bustling metropolis. 

The first couple days I was still working so didn't have the chance to see very much. I also knew I would have some time off after so I wasn't too concerned. 

There's a big market in the city with vendors selling a range of items: straw goods, fruit and vegetables, ready to eat food (Chinese food on a baugette anyone?), fabric items (pareos etc), fresh flowers and of course black pearls. Pearls were everywhere in the city, from cheap ($10 US for a pair of earrings) to the incredibly expensive. Black pearls aren't always completely black, they come in shades of grey and some have a blue hue. I've heard of other colours as well but I think they're more rare and I didn't see any.  

On Sunday morning I went with the school to a service at this church. It was a special day, the anniversary of missionaries first arriving in Tahiti I think. For this occasion the ladies were dressed in all white. The 'regular' congregation sat according to tribe and at different parts of the service each tribe took a turn to sing a cappella. We didn't stay for the whole service, it was in Polynesian for one, also super hot and the students had another field studies trip to get ready for. 

I walked around the city (at least the few blocks closest to the ship) a fair bit. There were some fancy buildings (I think this is something official):

And some more modest. 

Being French Polynesia we wondered why the stop signs were in English. 

With a few days to explore, after finishing my rotation but before flying out, I got to see some of the island. Some crew mates rented a car and we drove around the island stopping a couple places. This is Pointe Venus where Cook watched the transit of Venus and I think where the HMS Bounty landed. 

Beautiful black sand beaches. This was taken just before I went wading and ended up soaked when I didn't notice the larger than usual wave approaching. 

The road pretty much follows the coast which makes for a very scenic drive. 

It's not all palm trees, we stumbled on a lily pad/water garden. 

The last night before flying out I joined some crew mates going to the nearby island of Moorea. We rented a cottage/bungalow where we enjoyed relaxed meals, wifi and a good amount of down time. 

It was fun going to the supermarket and picking things to eat. Especially since, being French Polynesia, there was a fair amount of French food. 

In the afternoon we rented bikes and rode to the beach for a swim, snorkel and walk. One of those "is this too good to be true" moments. 

The next day I took the ferry back to the main island in order to get to my flight. 

Between the ferry and the airplane I had time to stop by the dock and see Sørlandet set off for Fiji. First time I've seen her leave the dock while standing ashore. As much as I love being on board I was very content at watching her depart without me, on to new adventures and new places now. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Sailing Along - Pitcairn to Tahiti

This was the most challenging sail of the rotation movement wise. We had lots of days with rolling that made getting around the ship more of a challenge. In the last few days we had the grab lines up on deck and grey, rainy days that were a big contrast to the sunny, blue south Pacific we've enjoyed most of the time. Another "all hands" call came on this sail, happily in the middle of the afternoon, not the middle of the night. It turned out to be a bit of a non-event but as always, better safe than sorry.

It was also a challenge health wise with some flu type bug making its way around the crew. Not everyone got it (I stayed healthy - I'm sure that built-up-at-daycare immune system helped) but with such a small crew a few people down makes a big difference. We also had one crew member with a more pressing health concern so we detoured to Mangareva in order that he could get a flight to Tahiti and modern medical facilities. He's doing well now and we're excited to see him again when we get in. 

Day 5 Baking Club continued and my wish to have three Day 5s this sail came true. We made soft pretzels, ice cream sandwiches (for a student's birthday) and cinnamon buns. These days with extra baking help are great as I can plan to make snacks that are so much easier with a couple extra hands. 

Most of our days are similar but there are always a few variations. This sail I defrosted a fridge/freezer which meant I had some snowballs to throw at people. So strange on a warm sunny day in the south Pacific to be throwing snowballs around! Another day one of the Mexican students made guacamole from some avocados we obtained from Pitcairn. One evening I went to movie night in the banjer and watched Fantastic Mr Fox. Another evening I played Yahtzee with a couple students, it was a Norwegian version which surprisingly was different than the English version I'm used to!

One of the nice things about the classes here is that they have class time set aside to learn about the ports they will be visiting. This sail I went to one of the field studies classes and learned about pearl farming. French Polynesia is a big producer of black pearls and one of our ABs, Meg, has worked in the pearl industry so was able to do a presentation  with first hand information. 

I stood my only bit of night watch this sail, 22:00-23:00 one night as a small contribution to giving the students a night free from watch. I helmed for the hour under the stars, not a bad way to pass the time. 

After our last family dinner the students performed the skit they did for the talent show on Pitcairn. It followed a day in the life on board and they had some good impersonations of a few of the teachers/maritime crew. I laughed muchly. 

And so another rotation is finished (almost). Just 4 sails this time - and no shrimp! I won't be back before this school year ends and I'm sad I won't be sailing with these students again, they are a great bunch of people and a great crew to be a part of. 

Shore Leave - Pitcairn Island

I hadn't heard of Pitcairn Island before I started sailing but among tall ship sailors it seems to have a bit of an iconic status as a really cool place to go. It's also really isolated so it's not somewhere a lot of people go.  

Maybe you've head about Pitcairn from the mutiny of the Bounty. Back in the eighteenth century the mutineers brought their Tahitian wives to Pitcairn where they burnt their ship ensuring the rest of their days would be spent on this tropical island. Today most of the population (of 46) are decendants of the mutineers. 

The island is pretty small (3 square miles) and very vertical. This is the main road and actually rather on the flat side. 

We came in to our anchorage without a problem and soon some locals came out to clear us through customs and see the ship. Once that was all done the students, teachers, volunteers and a couple crew members headed off for a stay on the island. My turn would come in a couple days. In the meantime there were only 9 on board so not so much to do food-wise. Took advantage of that an baked up the rest of the marzipan into (over 300) kransekage cookies. 

On Wednesday morning the crew who were off switched with some crew who were on. Getting to and from the island required going in one of the local long boats. Those guys are crazy good boat handlers which is a good thing as the swell getting in and out of the harbour is not to be taken lightly. On our way in we motored around for a bit trying to catch fish but after an hour or so of nothing we went in to the landing point. It had been quite wavy so I was wet from spray over the side, then while I was on the pier a big wave came and soaked my feet so I wasn't off to the greatest start. 

Mike, one of my hosts, met the boat with his quad (preferred method of transportation on the island) and drove me up to the house where I'd be staying. 

After getting settled in and eating lunch I went off with the school for a hike to St Paul's Pool. The hike was hilly, through areas of vegetation (jungle? Forest?) as well as plenty of parts with no cover from the sun. 

At the end there were stairs which were very welcome. It didn't take us long to scramble down the last few rocks and get in the water in what I think is the most stunning place I have ever swum. 

We spent the afternoon here, snorkelling, taking pictures, climbing rocks, watching the surf and being amazed that we in this incredible place. 

On our way back from the pool some of us detoured to see Miz T, the resident Galapagos tortise. While we were swimming Terry, the police officer, found Miz T and left her a bunch of bananas to keep her happy. By the time we arrived she'd wandered off but it didn't take us too long to locate her and then we all had a turn offering bananas to her while we posed for photos. 

That evening there was a community supper in the town square. This is something the islanders do fairly often so it was well set up with tables and chairs enough for everyone. It was potluck style with households bringing a dish or two as well as dishes and cutlery for themselves and their guests. 

After dinner there was a special opening of the post office on my request! Usually the post office is open Thursday mornings (as well as two other mornings a week) but the supply ship was due to be unloading cargo at this time so they very kindly had a short evening opening so we could buy stamps and postcards. It was pretty good timing as the mail will leave early March when the cargo ship passes by on her return voyage, with mailing leaving only 4 times a year 2 weeks isn't much of a wait!

On Thursday morning I joined the school again for another hike up to Christian's Cave. (Named after Fletcher Christian, one of the mutineers.) The end of this hike was rather vertical and we were definitely using hands as well as feet to make it up. 

At the top there was a tunnel with a lookout (and a steep drop) at the end as well as the "cave" which isn't really a cave, more like a sheltered spot in a rock. We enjoyed the view and a rest and headed back down which turned out to be not as bad as expected. Just before we got to town there was a bit of a shower, very glad we were off the steep hill when that hit!

After lunch we had a bit of time to relax and pack our stuff before heading back to the ship. Many islanders came down to see us off and after giving them three cheers we set off singing a sea shanty to them. 

We returned back to our home, got our stuff stowed, rinsed off the boxes and boxes of fruit the islanders gave us (currently the passionfruit and bananas are ripening faster than they can eat them) and were off in an hour or two. I enjoyed Pitcairn but the anchorage was quite rocky so I was happy to be headed out to sea. 

Fun facts about Pitcairn:
Power (from communal diesel generators) gets turned off every night. 

They supplement the supplies from the quarterly supply boat with provisions from cruise ships that stop by (8-14 a year).  

One of their biggest sources of income is selling handicrafts, T-shirts, postcards, etc to cruise ship passengers. 

Most cruise ship passengers don't actually get ashore, the islanders go to the ship. 

Queen Elizabeth has stated that Pitcairn Island honey is her favourite breakfast spread. 

Last year the island produced about 3 metric tonnes of honey. 

Islanders don't pay taxes but help out with public works like unloading cargo or maintaining trails. 

The police officer, doctor and teacher are brought in on yearly contracts. 

Houses are equipped with 2-way radios as well as telephones.