New Zealand Seed – The Sequel?

I was out on the stateroom veranda editing my SciFi novel, Silversides, when to my delight I looked out to see our ship being passed by legions of seeds— these mariners with their sails full of wind, gliding just above the waves, some rising above the ship as I wondered what land they will settle upon and take root.

Then out of nowhere a seed eddied in next to me— stopping chest high— each of us inspecting the other. And as if by invitation, I cupped my hands gently around it and moved inside, shutting the slider with my elbow.

I was half expecting it to take flight and slowly opened my hands and marveled as it rose, dancing slightly above my palm to the vibrations it could only feel, as if it were lighter than air itself.

The thrill it gave me was a reminder of Phragmites Seeds being released in the NE US every November— the catalyst behind my popular SciFi thriller, November Seed.

With nothing but ocean (and time) around me, I grabbed the GPS coordinates from my watch and plugged them into a reverse geocode tool (yeah.. everyone has got one of those, right?) .

This gave me our exact location— just south of the Mahia Peninsula.

With limited bandwidth, identifying the exact species would take some time. I do remember seeing a variety of milkweed in the gardens of the treaty house in the Bay Of Islands, which was in bloom and suspect it is of the same.

It’s all about catch and release, so I pinched it by one strand went out on the veranda, let it go and watched as it hovered briefly before the wind curled its arms around it, ushering it to rejoin the fleet.

A Trail To Tauranga, NZ

It was a quick overnight run from Auckland to Tauranga, waking up before dawn— which we have now become accustomed to— and somehow knowing we were pulling into port, I suppose in the same way that seabirds know what direction to fly in, when they are out in the middle of the ocean.

Tauranga is the largest city in the Bay of Plenty, fifth most populous city in NZ. When we sailed into harbor that early morning, it felt as if we were entering the leeward side of an island in the NW or the US, a haven for sailboats tucked in along the bay, protected by barrier islands with stands of conifers pushed up against the shoreline. It was hard to believe this was a major city with an active port for cargo.

Mount Maunganui, predawn

I was using this time to post from the previous day, watching the sun rise and bringing Mount Maunganui into view. It would be our destination in the short stop over, downtime after a couple of full days.

Mount Maunganui, by day

During breakfast, we watched the ship run through their muster drills and launch practices. The only thing missing was a good fireworks band, with cascades of kettle drums in choreography to it

Muster drills of the Serenity

The bay of Tauranga looks as if it were built yesterday, the bay side of this spit of land lined with modern apartments and homes. There is a beautiful planked walkway that snakes its way alone the water toward Mount Maunganui, which is about a half mile or so from the ship. Here we saw lots of families with kids on paddle boards and canoes, their day packs sprinkled like gardens along the shoreline.

Bay side

The trail around Mount Maunganui starts off rather unsuspecting. There are two ways to start: clockwise or counter clockwise. We chose clockwise, still being from north of the equator. All the kiwis seem to start counter clockwise.

On that note, it’s funny trying to get used to walking on the left here, the city sidewalks as well as everywhere. It must drive the kiwis crazy when ships pull into port and the passengers, oblivious to the Coriolanus effect, continue to hang onto their misdirection. But they are good natured souls and would not say anything… but you can hear them whispering… yeah.. yeah.. nah….

Start of Mount Maunganui
Trail options
We opted for the main beach route
Around every corner the views were amazing
Meredith resting as I explored the tide pools

After circling the island (16,000+ steps), you come to the Pacific side of Tauranga, a beautiful beach town with bars, restaurants and great surf.

Heading back to ship before leaving port.

Onward to Napier, where we will have a sea day in between.

There And Back Again – Waiheke Island

Yesterday we explored downtown Auckland (love this city). Today we boarded a ferry to Waiheke Island where we caught a hop on/off bus. New Zealand sure has a way of making things easy and getting to your destination is scenic from start to end.

Waiheke Island is about 35 minutes ride from downtown Auckland, where water traffic in this part of New Zealand seems to be the preferred commute.

Ferry to Waiheke Island

It was another beautiful morning in NZ and the waters were emerald green and like glass.

Our ride out to Waiheke Island

The harbor of Waiheke Island is a haven for sailboats, where beautiful homes blend into the hillsides with spectacular views.

Waiheke Island

The Hop on/off bus is the easiest and most efficient way to travel on this island. You could spend an entire day exploring… yeah.. yeah.. nah.. A week exploring this island…. yeah… yeah.. nah. A lifetime exploring this Island and staying here forever! yeah… yeah…

Honestly, if you are going to miss your ship and forgo the rest of a world cruise, this island is the place to do it. It. Has everything you would want. Beautiful beaches, wineries, restaurants, shops, hiking, biking trails and every home seems to fit into the landscape– a bit of New England meets Napa Valley meets Malibu.

We took the bus to its farthest point at Onetangi, about a 1/2 hr ride past charming downtown shopping, estuaries, coves, hilltop scenic views and winery after winery. Hopping off, we headed to the beach leaving behind a string of oceanside cafes and bars– each looking to be more fun than the one next to it.

As beaches go, this one ranks up there as the most serene and beautiful to walk on. It’s a little over a mile long from our starting point to the west end, where a hidden beach comes into play at low tide and fortunately we were there at low tide.

But for you commuters– we watched this guy in his hybrid zodiac ride right out of the water and up to his house.

The best commute… ever

At this end of the beach there are no people, just shells seaweeds and Oyster Crackers.

Oyster Cracker

On our next cruise, I hope to bring my herbarium press and collect seaweeds from every country.

Photo op

We never wanted to leave this place

It was time to head back, catching the hop on and make our way back through the island, passing the wineries and shops along the way, thinking of the next time we return here.

One of the many vineyards along the route.

It was time to ferry back to downtown, leaving this charming port and island behind, swinging past Rangitoto volcano (Te Rangi-i-totongia-a–Tama-te-Kapaa).

It was time to say goodbye, for now, to Aukland. Thank you for hosting us in your beautiful city and surroundings. Your people are it’s best kept secret.

Yeah…. yeah…. nah…..

So our friend, Bill McKay, who is a native of NZ told me about a funny thing the New Zealanders do when they are listening to you and don’t quite buy into what you are saying. It starts off very agreeable… as though they are interested…. and goes something this:

David: so I am writing this novel and it takes place on the planet Gliese 581 g

Bill: yeah… yeah…

David: and the planet is in a tidal lock orbit, one side always facing the sun….

Bill: yeah… yeah

And then I jump the shark…

David: it’s going to be the best SciFi ever written!

Bill: yeah… yeah.. nah…..

LOL. So now Meredith and I are hearing it on the streets in Auckland all the time… eavesdropping in on conversations between people, “yeah… yeah…. (more conversation). Yeah.. yeah… nah.”

At any rate, we had a late start. A morning of rest for a change… getting off the ship around noon then walking over to where Bill McKay’s has an office.

Pulling into the port of Aukland

Great walking city. Very hilly like SF, but with Palm trees.

View from Bill’s place

Our ship in the harbor

Bill was a great lecturer onboard, but it was time for him to return to his life in Aukland. His lectures were enriching, educating us on the Maori as well as the night sky. He was a great conversationalist and I will miss our chats at the Bistro. His good nature and hospitality are unmatched. He will one day be New Zealand’s Prime Minister… yeah…. yeah… nah…

Time to say goodbye – he will be missed.

We continued our walk down the quaint streets, fun bars, shops, restaurants. There were so many places you could duck into.

NZ makes suck great use of cut-thrus between streets

Great shop called Pauanesia

Down by the water, it reminded us of Barcelona, where the harbor is surrounded by restaurants and bars.

One of many restaurants around the harbor

It was time to return to the ship for the day. Tomorrow we will explore the island of Waiheke, taking a ferry from port, and then use a hop on-off bus.

Aotearoa – The Maori name for New Zealand

Sorry for the delay on this post. It was a full day with a couple of late night stargazing sessions and after gazing nightcaps with ever corruptible lecturer, Bill McKay,

It was early morning when we arrived in New Zealand and above the coal black mounds rising from the sea, the sunrise took our breath away, ablaze with yellows and orangess held up by calm seas. We stood on our deck and watched the sun rise as seabirds and the pods of dolphins guided our ship into the Bay Of Islands.

We had been in the Pacific for so long– taking in the salt air– that when we entered the Bay Of Islands it was as if New Zealand itself was saying, “Kia Ora” (welcome), greeting us with a floral gift carried on the light offshore breeze that permeated the space between sky and land, a scent so sweet and floral it made us anxious to get off ship and find its source.

One of the lecturers onboard, Bill McKay, is a native of New Zealand and offered,,, okay we begged him… to guide us on a walking tour of the Waitangi treaty grounds, which is perhaps New Zealnad’s most important historical site.

It was a short walk from the ship along the bay with Bill telling us about the history of the Maori and what took place at Waitangi treaty grounds between the Maori and British. The walk itself offered spectacular views.

A view of our ship from the treaty grounds

Hard to capture the beauty of this stretch of land

We toured the museum and walked thought the bush (Forrest as the Kiwis say),

Cook trading with the Maori

then walked to the treaty house where the Maori and British signed the treaty, leaving the Maori with their land and resources, but placing them under the Queen (still having some conflict on this today)

Waitangi Treaty House

We wound our way to an authentic Maori ceremonial house where we were presented with a cultural performance that was so enriching and beautiful we wanted to become Maori. The dance and singing was like nothing we had experienced, so pure you could feel the pull of ancestral souls.

This was too adorable not to include the ladies

The carving on top represents, Kupe, the first Maori to arrive in New Zealand

Cultural presentation of Maori performers — I want the CD of their singing!

Below is a war canoe (Waka Taua) which can hold about 100 warriors. Impressive (6 tons dry, 12 tons wet)

A Waka Taua – war canoe

After the tour of the grounds, Bill suggested we catch a shuttle into town, then take a ferry across the bay to Russell. Along the way we picked up Father Patrick Moran

A ferry to Russell with Father Patrick Moran and Bill McKay!

My sweetie aboard the Russell Ferry

First things first…. after a long walk some libations and lunch were a necessity, where Bill took us to a charming place along the waterfront called, The Duke Of Marlborough Hotel.

The veranda of the Hotel

Waiting for our table.. well.. we could sit here all day in this charming place.

Sitting out on the veranda having a relaxing and delicious lunch

After lunch, we walked the waterfront of Russell among the shops, museums, and French Catholic Church grounds lush with flowers. This town is so reminiscent of what you would see in New England along the coast, but more charming because of the palms scattered here and there.

Downtown Russell

After a full day in The Bay Of Islands, it was time to return to our ship and watch the harbor master pick up their pilot who guided us into open water.

We never did identify what that scent in the air was. Meredith and I were sniffing every flower, every leaf on every tree like a couple of dogs on a walk. I asked the locals in the shops what might be giving off that scent but they just shrugged their shoulders and smiled, including Bill who did not seem to notice it– it must be in their blood (Kia Ora).

Onward to Auckland…..

Southern Cross

It’s 11:30 PM on the 17th of Feb. We are up on the bow of the Serenity, a spaceship traveling through time and space with our lecturer Bill McKay about to call the Captain to turn off all the lights for us to star gaze. Normally a ship would not do this, but our Captain gets the cool award.

The bow of the ship before the lights were turned off

After the lights blinked off, Bill talked about the Maori (indigenous peoples) as a ploy to stall for ten minutes so our eyes could acclimate to the night. As we turned up to the sky, the Milkyway was bright and beautiful– the edge of our galaxy clearly visible, and slowly, the night sky became crowded with pinpoints of light.

But the excitement, after sixty three years– seeing the southern cross meant so much to me. I had only read about it in books as a kid, but have never crossed into the Southern Hemisphere until this journey.

Below are images from my iPad app of what we were seeing in the night sky.

We spent the next hour looking at various star clusters such as the Pleiades (seven sisters) the nebula in Orion’s sword, the Large Magellanic Cloud to name a few.


The Pleiades (7 sisters)

Large Magellanic Cloud

But what really held my interest was looking into the heart of Leo, for buried in this constellation is Gliese 581, a lonely red dwarf sun and its surrounding exoplanets, one in particular… 581g (Dykazza) the planet at the center of my novel, Silversides.

It was a great night.

Thanks for all your support

I just looked at the stats… wow… impressive….

Thank you and I hope you are enjoying these posts. Feel free to comment… I received some good ideas and will try and implement a travel section on travel deals & tips, suggestions, must see attractions, etc., to upcoming ports of call

Sea Of Love

We have just left the island of Fiji on Valentines Day, the first place on Earth to celebrate and a full day before most of you celebrated– and much thanks to all of you for following along.

The Valentines Day card that my bride gave me.

So what better way to honor Valentines day at sea than to mention Philip Baptiste (better known as  Phil Phillips), who working as a Bellboy in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1959, composed the lyrics to “Sea Of Love” and along with George Khoury (local record producer) reached number one on the US Billboard R&B charts.

“Come with me my love
To the sea
The sea of love
I want to tell you
How much I love you…”

When we entered Crystal Cove that morning, it was stunning to see what took place while we slept– the crew of Crystal are unmatched to anything we have ever experienced– mind boggling….

Crystal Cove Lobby

Where do they store all these displays?

Entrance to Waterside

After our shore excursion that morning, having attended to my island of Fiji responsibilities as Chief David, we returned to the ship, had lunch, went back into town for some shopping, returned to the ship and read for a couple of hours up in the Palm Court during afternoon tea, listening to Irina Guskcova, then walked the deck a second time for the day, showered and dressed for the evening.

Dressed for the evening’s festivities.

Post dinner celebration with Trivia Team friends: Kathy and Renee

Let the party begin…….

The details Crystal goes to for these events

One day I hope Crystal names a ship after Benjamin, he is their secret weapon on the high seas

The always lovely and captivating, Irina Guskcova on violin.

Dancing, dancing, dancing.

Crystal Cove Band member

Crystal Cove Band member

As the night’s celebration came to an end, the guests drifting away to their staterooms, some to late night hideaways they call for their own, eight of us remained at the Crystal Cove Bar for a nightcap, and we were glad we stayed. This is where the night began… and Jonathan has been telling us this for awhile now, but here we were, a late night jam session with one of the ship’s officers on trumpet, Richard, who plays at the Cove, on the keys– but then, from somewhere, a gentleman nudged down beside Richard and they began to play, no beginning or end to the music, each musician lost in the trio of sound– and it was beyond words, everyone transfixed as if we ourselves were the catalyst for this to occur… and poof… it was gone and like crossing the International Date Line, this day never existed as we crossed over into the next.

Late night jam session

Richard and guest performer, Kym Purling

Jumping ahead, tonight is a black tie event

Fiji – Part III of III – BULA!

The word to greet everyone in Fiji is, BULA. It means hello, welcome, how are you, etc. BULA BULA means good health and prosperity.

On our excursion today we only visited two places: The Garden Of The Sleeping Giant and a true Fijian village of 500 people.

But the countryside getting there was an attraction unto itself– the coconut palms of the Polynesian islands giving way to rolling hills and pastures where Sugar Cane ruled for some time.

Sugar cane fields forever

Typical home outside of a traditional village

Our first visit was to the Garden Of The Sleeping Giant, which was started by Raymond Burr in 1977 to house his private collection of orchids. Since then it has grown into a beautiful walking trial ornamented by hanging orchids, island species, lily ponds, palms, bamboo and mahogany trees among them. One could spend a good eight hours here to go through the entire 14 acres. We were there for one hour which seemed to go by in a nanosecond.

Can you see the sleeping giant?

Lipstick Palms

The day before we visited this wonderful garden, we were sitting at the bar onboard ship and this gentleman, next to us, mentions he had visited the garden of the sleeping giant that day and he was disappointed–“not many flowers,” he said…….

Why don’t my orchids look like this?

Our next visit was to the Fijian village–

“But first!” Our guide said, “We must choose a Chief among the men of this bus to represent us. Do we have a volunteer?”

“I swear I was just raising my hand to scratch my nose, your honor….”

And we had our Chief… Chief David.

Our bus guide then explained. “We first need to present a gift of Yaqona (Kava root) to the executive head of the village, which I will do, and our Chief…. Chief David… must take part in the Kava ceremony and drink the Kava….

Gulp…. The Fijians before Reverend Thomas Baker were once cannibals….. there are many accounts and stories of Baker’s death, but I tend to believe our guide who is a true Fijian that on July 21st, 1867, Baker was visiting a Chief in the mountains and the Chief noted his use of a comb and when Baker gave the comb to the Chief, who began to use it, it became lodged in his hair. Baker then reached and pulled it from his head.

Now there is one custom of the Fijians– once something is given to someone, it is theirs for eternity.

So they beat him to death, threw him into a fire pit and proceeded to eat every part of him… that is until they got to his boots– none of the tribe members could chew through them, so they boiled the boots for three days and tried again, but rubber is rubber and they could not get through them. Today, Baker’s boots and bible remain on exhibit in the Museum in Fiji and one can see the teeth marks in the boots.

Preparing the Kava

  • The chief (the eldest man in your group) presents the root to the Village Chief.
  • The ceremony then begins as the villagers grind up the Kava and strain it through a cloth bag into a large wooden bowl placed in the middle of the room.
  • It is then offered to your chief and second
  • Then the village’s executive head drinks the Kava before it is offered to the rest of the room.
  • After that it is shared with everyone.

Our guide has just presented the Yaqona and we are good to go.

It numbs the tongue and tastes like… well… Kava.

It was a great excursion, exploring the countryside with a guide who walks the walk and knows the history of his island nation.

But it is time to say goodbye to Fiji, this beautiful country and its gentle and genuine people.

I will end this post with the words of our guide (Joe) his Fijian name was to long and unpronounceable so Joe it was.

“For your kind information my dear friends– go with God and be well.”

Fiji – Part II of III – Down Town Lautoka

Lautoka is Fiji’s Sugar City. It is also the main port of FiJi, so its surroundings are industrial, urban… raw…. it’s where the locals live and shop. It’s the kind of place Meredith and I feel comfortable exploring. It feels good to us– that corner of the bar where the locals sit.

The image below is of the grass meridian and the sugar cane rail, which runs through down town Lautoka.

A focus on the urban side of Lautoka, Fiji.

Down town Lautoka

Shopping district in Lautoka

Typical clothing store where locals shop

There is a cultural dress for men in Fiji called a Sulu (skirt). They are worn as easily as a business suit and I must say, are quite attractive with a crisp white dress shirt tucked in. I considered such a purchase but if I showed up in Mariner Sands for Twilight wearing a Sulu, I’m not sure it would go over very well.

This is a stock image from the internet

The highlight of our walk today was coming across the Market (farmers market).

We have never seen a market like this one. Impressive.

This is where everyone in the nearby area comes to shop for vegetables and fruits. It’s size was deceiving from the outside. Think Madison Square Garden size.

Just one section of this market.

The vegetables and fruits, one stand after the other, all arranged with precision and as beautiful as art.

You could feel the heat streaming off this stand.

Which brings us to the end of this day. Tomorrow we will be on an excursion, catching some of the island’s architecture and cultural attractions.