Maōri Culture Day

We sailed into Tauranga this morning and took off on our first ship’s excursion of this trip, a few hours at Te Pa Tu near Rotorua. The drive took us past new suburbs, logging areas, and lots of kiwifruit fields – this one grows golden kiwifruit (you can tell by the way the plants are trained to grow in a triangular pattern).

Te Pa Tu is owned and operated by the Tauhara North No. 2 Trust, which is an extended Maōri family operation; they help preserve the Maōri culture and teach visitors about it.

Each bus had to elect a chief to exchange greetings with the chief of the family; one of the women of the tribe briefed our chief on the protocol to be followed.

The warriors came out and showed their weapons, and then the whole family shouted a challenge to our chiefs.

But peace held, and the chiefs exchanged gestures of mutual respect, including handshakes and the touching of noses.

We visited four houses of learning, where they taught us about the meaning and history of their body markings, some games, and even how to perform a haka.

The family performed some traditional songs (and even a little Elvis) and then we shared lunch.

It was interesting to see some of the traditional buildings fitted out with power, plumbing, and the like. I don’t know if the family actually lives at Te-Pa-Tu or if it’s strictly used for shows and education.

One of the hazards of living near Rotorua is the high sulfur content of the air and the occasional hot mud pond that appears out of nowhere.

Our ship was docked near Mount Maunganui; Diane and I took a walk along the beach and went up a short distance on one of the mountain tracks.

New Zealand takes tsunami preparation seriously.

We walked back to the ship along the main Maunganui beach before returning by way of the commercial district.

We sailed away from Tauranga a bit before 7pm; I’m glad we got a chance to see a few aspects of the area, but I know we missed a lot!


This morning, we walked down to the harbour to visit the Maritime Museum, but before we got there, we found that our ship had come in – the Celebrity Edge, that is. We’ll be boarding it in an hour or so and then sailing away; I’m posting from the hotel to be sure I have good connectivity. I hope that our cabin is better than this 19th Century immigrants’ steerage cabin that we saw at the museum!

There was a lot to see in the Museum, from parts of old Maori vessels to a plastic replica of the America’s Cup (part of a three-story exhibit about yachting in New Zealand with special emphasis on the America’s Cup – one of the cup winners was there, but I couldn’t get a reasonable photo of it).

After lunch, we set out to replace a pair of pants which had a ripped seam at the pocket. I was shocked by two things at the first store I visited:

  • The pants were all in American (inch) sizes
  • None of them were hemmed; they’d all need alteration

I went on to a slightly more upscale store, Smith and Caughey’s, where the pants were sized in metric, were twice as expensive, and still needed alterations. I didn’t find anything I liked, but the salesman was kind enough to refer me to Looksmart Alterations a few blocks away; they were able to fix the ripped pants in just a few minutes for about US$20!

Time to head to the ship; see you as connectivity permits!

Great Expectations

Our cab driver from the airport and both of our tour guides suggested we use a day of our time here to visit and explore Waiheke Island. Today was the day; we took the 10am ferry and enjoyed a lovely crossing.

We’d bought the ferry/Hop-On Hop-Off Bus combo ticket; when we got to the island, we discovered that the first bus was completely full. I was ready to walk the 30 minutes to the next stop at the Waiheke Community Art Gallery in Oneroa, but the tour operator arranged for local buses to take us there, sans narration. The gallery was installing a show which will open on Friday, so we didn’t see any art! The gift shop was open, though, and we picked up a souvenir tea towel before getting onto the 11am HOHO bus.

We took the bus two stops to Ostend where we had a pleasant lunch at Cappadocia deli Turkish, finishing just in time to catch the bus to Wild Estate for our first wine tasting of the day.

The place was crowded but friendly, and the wines were quite enjoyable. We decided against trying their archery or laser clay-pigeon shooting activities; instead, we walked a few hundred meters to their nearest neighbor, Stonyridge Winery for another tasting, including their flagship wine, Larose, which they sell for NZ$400 per bottle!

I liked the wine, but not that much! We left with memories and photos of the scenery – but no wine.

We left Stonyridge and walked down to the road to wait for the next bus – which came 20 minutes early! A few minutes later, we were walking on Onetangi Beach.

We hadn’t brought swimwear, towels, or flipflops, so there wasn’t much to do at the beach but look around; half an hour was plenty of time to spend there, and we were happy to get onto the next bus for a trip to the highest point on the route, Batch Winery. None of us wanted to do another tasting, so we strolled around the property for a bit before going back to the bus stop.

We (and many others) expected a bus to arrive at 4:15. It didn’t. We found some shade and waited; the bus finally pulled in at 4:50…and it was awfully full. But they were able to get everyone onto the bus, and we rode it back to the end of the line and the ferry terminal for our 5:30 ferry to Auckland…which was cancelled due to staff shortages.

So they put us on the 6pm ferry and we got to see racing boats in action on our trip back.

It was after 7 when we got back to the hotel. None of us wanted a big elaborate dinner, so we walked a couple of blocks to New Zealand’s oldest brewery, The Shakespeare. It was crowded, but we got a table outside and ordered fish and chips and pints of their Gravediggers’ Porter.

The porter was excellent. The fish and chips were very good – when they arrived, more than an hour later, after several trips to the bar to find out what the hell was going on. If we hadn’t paid up front when we ordered, we almost certainly would have walked out!

After dinner, Diane and I went out for a walk to the waterfront; the Sky Tower was no longer pure red (I don’t know what tonight’s colors signify).

All’s well that ends well.

A bus-free day

It was wonderful not to have to get up really early to go on a tour this morning. Instead, we slept until our usual wakeup time, enjoyed breakfast at the hotel restaurant, and met our friends at 9:30am to go to SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium, a short cab ride away. The Aquarium was created by reusing old sewage storage tanks!

During peak season, there can be huge crowds and long lines; today was not peak season and the only time I felt even slightly crowded was during the penguin feeding session, which seemed to attract all the visitors in the place!

Eagle Ray
Puffer Fish
Rescue Turtle
No, they’re not swimming
Say cheese!
Moulting King Penguin
Moon Jelly
Sting Ray
Jugged Octopus
Dark Tank Scene
Blue Fish
More colors
Coral Tank Colors

We left the Aquarium about noon and walked a bit over a kilometer to Mission Bay, had a pleasant pizza lunch at Tonino’s Pizza before wandering around the beachfront park. It took me a little while to figure out what was odd about the sundial there.

Diane and I went back to the hotel to take care of a most important task: laundry. Bubbles Laundromat was about a fifteen-minute walk from the hotel and got reasonable online reviews. It deserves at least 4 stars – I was thrilled that I was able to pay for the machines with a credit card instead of needing to get change, and the whole process only took about an hour and cost all of $6 US.

The place was hot, so we went out and explored while the laundry was running. We made a brief visit to the All Blacks Experience Gift Shop during the wash cycle and left empty-handed. The drying cycle took us to St. Matthew-in-the-City to look at their stained glass windows. Most were fairly conventional, but their window commemorating the memorial service they held after the 1979 crash of Air New Zealand 901 into Mt. Erebus in Antarctica was different and very appropriate.

We had dinner at Soul at the Viaduct Harbour. We’d tried to go there yesterday after our driver and the hotel concierge both recommended it, but we didn’t get there until well after 7pm and we would have had to wait at least 90 minutes to be seated. Today, we arrived before 6pm and they were happy to seat us as long as we promised to free up the table by 8pm, which was fine with us. The food was excellent and it was nice to sit outside and enjoy the vibe.

All in all, it was quite a satisfying day.

Hobbiton and Waitomo Glowworm Caves

I’m not much of a Lord of the Rings fan. Yes, I did read all three books in college, but only once (and I’m not sure if I read The Hobbit or not). I much preferred Harvard Lampoon’s Bored of the Rings and have reread it many times. And I fell asleep watching the first LoTR movie and never bothered watching the other ones.

But I couldn’t take a trip to New Zealand without seeing Hobbiton in person, so Diane and I signed up for Auckland Scenic Tours Hobbiton Movie Set and Waitomo Glowworm Caves tour. And there we were in the hotel lobby at 6:15am ready to meet Brenda, our driver and guide for the day.

The drive from Auckland to the Shire was about 2-1/2 hours. The day started out foggy, but by the time we got to Kaihere lookout to stretch our legs, it was gloriously sunny.

We reached the entry to the set a few minutes before our 9:20am tour. We made a brief trip to the gift shop but left empty-handed, though we did have a chance to visit Gandalf before hopping onto the bus which would take us to the set.

The set was built for the first trilogy, then burnt; when they rebuilt it for the Hobbit trilogy, they decided to make it a permanent attraction…and here we were.

Our guide Rob told us that the Hobbit holes were built to different scales (from about 30% of human scale to nearly full-scale) to meet the needs of the film. Here’s one of the smaller ones.

Until last December, visitors couldn’t go into any of the Hobbit holes, but now they’ve added an “interactive attraction” which lets you go into Samwise’s cottage.

After the tour of the Shire, we repaired to the Green Dragon for some ale, ginger beer, and relaxation.

We left Hobbiton to go to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves with a stop at the Waitomo Homestead for lunch. Along the way, we saw a larger-than-life kiwi and a reconstructed moa (actual size).

The Glowworm Caves were very interesting and beautiful; unfortunately for us, they’re also a sacred site to the Maori, so photography wasn’t allowed inside, though our guide said it was OK as we approached the exit.

And then it was back on the bus for the three-hour drive to Auckland. We saw lots of green land, a couple of small towns, and these Maori poles on Highway 1 at Huntly. Brenda told us that the faces represented Maori chiefs, and they were looking all around at points of importance.

We got back to Auckland just about 12 hours after we had left. It was a long day, and I’m glad we did it. I’m also glad we aren’t taking a long tour tomorrow so we can have breakfast!