La Serenissima

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Christchurch is a very pretty city. Founded by predominantly Scottish people, it is strangely reminiscent of England. I took a ride on what appeared to be a Melbourne W series tram – now a tourist tram with live commentary from a friendly and competent woman driver. We drove past gothic style college and university buildings from the late 1900s and crossed the Avon river, where punting is a favourite activity. 

By contrast, there is a lovely pedestrian street full of gorgeous Spanish revival designed buildings in delicious gelati colours. While sauntering about, I also saw a fabulous group of young Maoris performing traditional songs and a haka. I hung out in an open-air coffee shop and watched the world go by … … bliss really.


With a large harbour and a crescent shaped bay – think large Circular Quay – Wellington is a pretty city. I have to confess, I just browsed around the downtown area and bought myself a book at Borders! Well, ok, also some leggings at a local NZ store (I say this because there are so many Australian brands there, it’s hard to believe you are not at home.) The other significant fact is that I didn’t take my camera that day!


In a word – gorgeous – an architectural delight for anyone who likes art deco … that would be me. I had booked myself on a half day tour, which included a tour of the sights and shopping. Well, just say that we flashed past the buildings, minimal commentary, and stopped at woeful kitsch shopping places. There’s only so much excitement that a possum scarf can whip up! Suffice to say, I adjourned to compose my own walking tour, which included a visit to the Art Deco Centre (which, I confess, I braced myself for … but I was delighted with it. And I also have to say that the bus driver did tell me where it was.) The short story of Napier is that it suffered an earthquake in 1929 (or was it 1930?) and was pretty much devastated by it and the fire, which ensued. It was Depression time, but the town was galvanised to rebuild. As a result, because Napier was offering work to architects, builders and tradesmen, it attracted quality artisans from NZ and also Australia – more than it probably otherwise would have done. So the design and detail of many of the buildings is first class. You be the judge … 

The Art Deco Centre was a delight, featuring a range of lovely gifts, including Tiffany inspired glass wear, art deco brooches made of shell, posters, cards, jewellery etc. The staff were all people of a certain age, and dressed in art deco gear. It all worked very nicely. One of the chaps, I think you’d say, had a vintage sports car parked out the front to help create the ambience, and I missed getting a shot of a Packard, or something similar, as it made a getaway – probably without Bonnie and Clyde, although I can’t be sure!

Oh………… and here's the car, of course!

Tauranga – Rotorua

The drive from Tauranga to Rotorua takes about an hour and goes through some very picturesque countryside, mostly devoted to diary and cattle. Our bus driver was very informative and told us so much about the place that it’s a bit of a blur now …!!

 Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Then on to Wai-O-Tapu thermal springs … well, Wonderland actually. The park is very well organised, with 3 different clearly marked walks of varying length and arduousness. I picked the most straightforward one which took about half an hour. I have included photos of some of the highlights from my walk the Devils Ink Pots or mud pools: Artists palette, cooling water exposed to our atmosphere produces different colours; and the Devil’s Bath, excess water from another pool nearby mixing with sulphur and ferrous metals which change the colour from greens to yellows – they were lime green on this day.

The place had a good gift shop and café, so of course I adjourned there for liquid refreshment and goodie-buying!!

Mt Ngongotaha

We continued in our bus back to downtown Rotorua, taking in the lovely views around Lake Rotorua and then on to the base of Mt Ngongotaha, from where we caught the Rotorua Gondola for a sky ride to 487 metres above sea level to our glass-walled restaurant for lunch and a performance of songs and music by local Maoris. All very good and the views quite breath-taking. The ride up and back on the gondola was fun too.

Afterwards, we visited a trout farm within a little park, something like Healesville sanctuary. The trout were quite astonishing, at least to a non-fishing person such as myself. Mountain trout about 2 feet long are actually about 15 years old – they live up to about 30, if they can keep away from fishing lines and lures! Young’uns about 8 inches long are about 2 years old – not like your tadpoles at all! The farm included various enclosures with native birds, including a parrot whose plumage really appealed to me, and last but not least, a special infra-red-light enclosure, which housed 2 baby kiwis (no pics allowed naturally). The park also included some Californian sequoias – redwoods – planted in the late 1800s and some New Zealand silver ferns which Maoris used as night-guides in the bush because the underside of the leaf is luminous in moonlight.

Then as the song goes, we all went home – tired but happy!


We sailed overnight to Auckland and the ship’s log says that “at 0332 we set a South-Westerly course into the Hauraki Gulf  … our first line ashore was at 0740 and by 0804 we were all fast forward and ashore”. Don’t you just love this nautical turn of phrase? Of course, speaking for me, personally, myself, I was neither fast forward nor ashore!! More neutral and horizontal, in fact. Mainly because I was trying to digest an important message from our captain – the seriousness of which necessitated direct loudhailer into our cabins. But, before explaining what the message was, I need to tell you that our captain comes from Lubrano in Italy, and had an at once captivating yet confounding way with words in English. After some deciphering, the announcement boiled down to this – there had been a severe earthquake in Chile overnight; the Pacific Basin was on alert for a tsunami and at that time – about 8.15 – we were unsure as to whether we would be allowed to stay or have to go back out to sea. At 0900, “the Dawn Princess was ordered to leave her berth by the Auckland Harbour Control … and with all lines gone at 0942 we moved astern into the main channel”. Captain Lubrano updated us again, reassuring those of us on board that the tsunami wave was only expected to be 1 – 1.5 meters in height, not a very big wave at all, and he would keep us informed. Most of us took the opportunity for sightseeing and photos from the deck, which was bathed in sunlight and a perfect gentle breeze.
Just after 1.30, or 1323 nautically speaking, we were tied up at the wharf and met up with those early risers who had gone ashore or on tour. They were really pleased to see us apparently …

While we were waiting in the main channel, we were joined by a line to our tug boat – must be some kind of maritime procedure; the log says we “we held our position using the ships thrusters and propulsion”. Anyway, the tug was obviously operated by a guy with a sense of humour. After the line was reeled in and we were about to be on our way back, he did a series of tug boat burn-outs!! Most spectacular and greeted by the assembled multitudes on the decks with rousing applause and cheers!!

… So, I didn’t see any more of Auckland than that.  But we were all most grateful that the Tsunami warning was dropped and very sad for the Chileans, who were not so fortunate.

Homeward journey

The 3 days home provided ample opportunity to get back into the swing of things in the gym and general poncing about, reading, relaxing and dressing up for our second formal night.

Then it was hellllloooo Melbourne!!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment