January - February 2020
  • Day27

    Home Sweet Home

    February 16 in the United Kingdom ⋅ 🌬 4 °C

    Thanks to Mags and Christine for their warm welcome home and some great Scottish cooking - mince and tatties with dumplings, followed by rice pudding and gingerbread, and a lovely cuddle from our two favourites. Now off to bed after our 40 hour journey home. 💤Read more

  • Explore, what other travelers do in:
  • Day26

    Robert's Round Up

    February 15 in Singapore ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    After a smooth 10 hour flight from Auckland we have arrived in Singapore, only to find our next plane - the 14 hour flight to London has been delayed by two hours due to the bad weather (Storm Dennis) in the UK. While we are waiting I thought I would reflect on our holiday experience over the past 4 weeks.

    In terms of the flights, Singapore Airlines was excellent, with good meals and refreshments on demand. On check-in at Auckland today, a very helpful SA staff member assisted us, and changed our allocated seats to give us extra legroom seats for the first leg of our journey. Great!

    The hotels booked on our behalf by Cruise Nation were all of a very good standard. We were pleasantly surprised at how much we liked both Australia and New Zealand - everywhere was so clean, and the people were exceptionally helpful and friendly. A great sense of humour was evident throughout. The smaller places we visited all seem to have utilised local volunteers (often retirees), who gave us a beaming smile and warm welcome, along with free maps of the area and helpful suggestions about local attractions. We were surprised to discover that tipping is not expected (compared with USA where it is virtually compulsory). The standard of living seems high, and workers seem to earn a good wage, without needing to depend on tips. We also loved the beautiful plants and vegetation, as well as the huge variety of colourful birds.

    Another interesting thing we noted in Australia was the extensive referencing to the country’s Aboriginal past - statements were read out before the opera, museum tours, TV programmes etc to the effect that it was important to recognise Australia’s indigenous people and culture. Australia Day coverage on TV highlighted the division in the country in as much as many people do not share the celebration of the arrival of British sovereignty with the first British ships on 26 January 1788. They instead refer to it as Invasion Day, mourning what is seen as the invasion of the land by the British and the start of colonisation. In New Zealand the indigenous Maori culture now seems to be part of everyday life for most New Zealanders, with the Maori language being taught in schools and spoken in the country’s parliament.

    In terms of the cruise, we were very impressed with our first experience of the Holland America Line. The food and service were excellent and all the staff and crew (mostly Indonesian) were cheery, well mannered and helpful. The entertainment was perhaps more sedate than that on some of the larger Royal Caribbean ships we have been on, but the production shows were very good and the ship did have franchises with the Lincoln Center Stage and BB Kings Blues Club. As we have cruised with a variety of different lines, we noticed a number of ‘extras’ not normally included unless an upgraded stateroom is purchased eg we had included: bathrobes, Elemis toiletries; daily fresh fruit in the cabin; complimentary room service 24 hours a day (no cover charge); good quality real napkins at all meals (including at the Lido buffet); real hand towels in all the bathrooms on the ship; free ice cream; and delicious free Five Guys-type burgers, hot dogs and tacos. Our cruise was the last for our Captain John Scott, and there was an emotional ceremony on deck as he rang the bell before entering his home port of Auckland for the last time.

    We picked up a few useful local words and phrases in Australia - Bonzer (good), Bogan (ned), Strewth! (It’s the truth) Yabber (to talk a lot).
    And in New Zealand - The Dairy (convenience store), Kia Ora (hello), Yeah-nah (yes, but I don’t agree with you), Sweet As (wonderful).

    All in all a wonderful holiday with many happy memories to treasure.
    Read more

  • Day26

    Awesome Auckland

    February 15 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Sadly disembarked the ship after a wonderful cruise to spend our last two days in Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city where a third of the country’s population reside. Campbell’s Über app is coming in handy - very quick to arrive and half the price of the usual taxis. Like elsewhere in NZ (and indeed Australia), everyone has been very friendly and helpful - even the local bus drivers - it’s just like being back on the No. 57 😋.

    We were booked into the pleasant Quality Hotel in the residential suburb of Parnell. It is a lovely area, with a rose garden nearby and lovely Victorian villas. First stop was a trip up the Sky Tower - the tallest building in Southern Hemisphere. Great views over the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. This is Pride week with lots of events, so we attended a play called Provocation, based on true stories of murderers who had their sentence reduced because their victim was gay. Great acting and thought provoking.

    Next day we took a hop-on hop-off bus tour which which gave us a good overview of the city. Visited the lovely Auckland Zoo which was beautifully laid out, and seems to do a lot of work with endangered species. Our favourites were the cheeky meerkats. We then had a short ferry trip to the seaside resort of Devonport - a welcome relief from the busy city. At night we attended another Pride event - a stand-up comedy night with 8 top NZ comedians - hilarious!

    Today, on our last morning in Auckland, we arranged to meet up with my cousin David and his partner Brigitte, who had just flown over for Valentines from Australia. We enjoyed a long leisurely breakfast in their hotel and had a great catch up. Soon it was time to leave for the airport and face a long journey home 😕.
    Read more

  • Day23

    Halcyon Hobbiton

    February 12 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    We arrived at our penultimate (meaning ‘beyond the ultimate’ according to the real Jean) port of Tauranga very early this morning. Another beautiful sunny day - the weather has been warmer in the North Island of New Zealand. Once ashore we decided to go on a tour to Hobbiton, where the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were filmed. (Again this trip was half the cost of the ship’s version).

    Again we had a lovely, friendly and knowledgeable local guide - Garry - who stopped off at a couple of interesting spots: a local viewpoint; a Manuka Honey shop (with free honey flavoured ice cream), and a kiwi orchard 🥝.

    It was great to visit Hobbiton and see the familiar Hobbit holes. Everything was well organised and we had our own young guide, Caleb, on our 2 hour tour, who amused us with anecdotes from the movies, and pointed out where key scenes were filmed. We had one LOTR nerd in our group who kept interrupting and correcting the guide: ‘You see I was actually in the movies’ he explained. It turned out he was one of several hundred Orc extras. I took great pleasure in telling him that I was friends with Billy Boyd who played Pippin, one of the main Hobbits. As Jean would say, ‘ten up ye!’. The nerd’s Goth daughter and boyfriend subsequently took the opportunity to get engaged outside Sam Gamgee’s cottage, much to everyone’s delight. Our tour ended up at the Green Dragon pub where we were refreshed with complimentary Hobbit sized ‘pints’ of cider. Ah, just the job! 🍺

    Hobbiton is a great place to visit and highly recommended if you are in the area.
    Read more

  • Day22

    Notable Napier

    February 11 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    A lovely morning visit to the town of Napier - almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and rebuilt in the modernist style of the day - Art Deco. We took a small tour with one of the town’s Art Deco experts who gave us an interesting history of the town both pre and post earthquake. It seems the ground was raised by 2 metres, and a huge area of new land was created from a shallow lagoon and swamp area. Some fabulous buildings including the Daily Telegraph and National Tobacco Company.

    On our return we joined a Q&A session with the singers and dancers and had a backstage tour of the theatre. Question from an audience member to the cast: ‘Can you tell us the topics Holland America does not allow you to discuss with the passengers?’ Duh...

    It was very hot today and we were glad to get back on board to the AC. Jean was asked by a helpful crew member if she was going to the dining room for a late lunch and was heard to reply: ‘No, I’m dining on my balcony!’ Hopefully there was no forced laughter! (Ken and Bill - you’ll recognise that).
    Read more

  • Day21

    Wonderful Wellington

    February 10 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Arrived in NZ’s capital city this morning. Often known as Windy Wellington, we were blessed with another beautiful day. We took a free tour of the Parliament Building known as The Beehive (for obvious reasons), and designed by Scottish architect Sir Basil Spence. Although based on the British system, it now operates on a system of proportional representation with only one house (of Representatives) - UK take note.

    We then took the famous Wellington cable car one way up, and walked all the way back via the beautiful Botanic Gardens, stopping for coffee in the lovely rose garden on the way. Our final attraction was the fabulous Te Papa Tongarewa - the National Museum of New Zealand, and we benefitted from a great guide who showed is the highlights of New Zealand history and Maori treasures. A highlight of our visit was a special exhibition telling the story of the Gallipoli campaign in World War 1 though the eyes of NZ soldiers. The exhibition featured huge lifelike figures (2.5 larger than life size) with amazing detail. I remembered that my Mum’s Uncle John fought in the Dardanelles in 1915 and wrote a poem about the experience which was published. I still have a copy somewhere.

    Another ‘character’ has emerged amongst our fellow passengers, who reminded us our dear departed friend Jean. Dining alone (table for one, please), she was always surrounded by young waiters, entertaining them with her stories. Last night we had a film showing of BBC’s Life on Earth 2 accompanied a live orchestra. ‘Of course you realise I’m a founder member of the World Wildlife Fund’ announced Jean to anyone who would listen ‘and David has painted me lots of pictures which I have shown in my gallery’. David, it emerged was none other than Mr Attenborough himself!
    Read more

  • Day20

    Picture Postcard Picton

    February 9 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Woke up this morning to a beautiful view from our balcony as we sailed up the Marlborough Sound into picturesque Picton. It was a beautiful sunny morning, so we had breakfast out on deck surrounded by rolling hills covered in trees, and the aquamarine of the water.

    From the small but attractive village we were spoiled for choice for activities both on and off the water. We opted for a scenic tour in a comfortable Mercedes van (again the tour was similar to that offered by the ship but at half the price). Regrettably there was an issue with overbooking on our 6 passenger vehicle, resulting in a bit of a stand-off between two posh Australian retired schoolteachers and the rest of us. The school ma’ams pushed their way on board, and proceeded to correct our friendly local driver at every opportunity - teacher knows best! Our driver (who had relocated from Newcastle to New Zealand ten years ago - I can’t think why!). pointed out there were wild pigs and goats all round. ‘I would kill them all off if they are not indigenous to the area’ declared the elder Miss Jean Brodie. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask if she was Aboriginal and therefore indigenous to Australia.

    The surrounding viewpoints our driver took us to were nothing short of magnificent - breathtaking vistas and a stunning ancient Maori site.

    It is from Picton that the only ferry services operate to Wellington on the North Island. We had a long time ashore today from 9am till 7.30pm, so we had plenty of time to explore and sit with a coffee and let the world go by. What an idyllic place to visit and on such a perfect day.

    Back on board we noted that we had been joined by a few more ‘celebrities’ - Liza Minnelli, Don Estelle, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rolf Harris, and several prominent members of the Glasgow Light Opera Club.
    Read more

  • Day19

    Creative Christchurch

    February 8 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌧 12 °C

    This morning’s port was Akaroa - a charming town that strives to recreate the feel of a French provincial village, down to the names of its streets. The ships used to dock in Lyttelton, but since the earthquakes Akaroa has been a popular substitute.

    Given the weather this morning, which was cool and a bit wet, we decided to take a trip on a local tour coach to Christchurch, 1.5 hours away. Beautiful scenery of mountains and lakes en route reminded us of our homeland.

    Christchurch is in the middle of an epic rebuild that has completely reconstructed the city centre, where over 80% of buildings needed to be demolished after the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, which left 186 people dead. There are still lots of vacant lots and most buildings in the city are only a few years old. We took the historic tram ride around the city centre, visiting the ruined cathedral, Canterbury Museum and another Botanic Gardens (Ken, you would be proud of us!).

    Christchurch is like a Phoenix rising from the ashes and seems to have a burgeoning Arts scene, with numerous art galleries, museums etc. It’ll be nice when it’s finished.
    Read more

  • Day18

    Delightful Dunedin

    February 7 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 14 °C

    Our ship docked this morning at Port Chalmers on the mainland of NZ South Island. This was where Scottish settlers first arrived in 1848 on the ship John Wickliffe. Rather than go on an official tour, we took the local bus the 13k into Dunedin - New Zealand’s oldest city - given the Celtic name for Edinburgh by the early Scottish settlers. It enjoys the status of being the furthest city in the world from London.

    A highlight for me was visiting Dunedin Railway Station with its ornate Flemish Renaissance-style architecture and gorgeous Minton tiles on the inside - apparently this is the most photographed building in New Zealand. Scottish names and influences are everywhere in this area - St Kilda, Portobello, Musselburgh - the museum even had a preserved cable car going to Maryhill!

    We enjoyed a walk round the central Octogon area, featuring a pride-of-place statue of Rabbie Burns, and the excellent Art Gallery which included interactive exhibits involving hammocks and free tea making. At the Chinese Garden we had more tea and dumplings (although these were not as good as Alice’s mum’s homemade ones). We finished up at the extensive and fabulous Otago Settlers Museum - almost as good as Oban’s Museum yesterday - and this one was free! 😂

    On our departure from Port Chalmers, the ship passed an albatross colony, and there was great excitement as almost all passengers, including zimmers and wheelchairs, clambered up to the Crow’s Nest bar for a glimpse of the creatures. I have to say they looked much like the seagulls at Largs who steal your fish supper.
    Read more

  • Day17

    Diversion to Oban!

    February 6, Tasman Sea ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    Over the past two days at sea, we have continued to enjoy our relaxing time on the Noordam. We have made good use of the Spa, and the high standard of food has been maintained. There is complimentary Room Service, and we enjoyed breakfast served in our Stateroom. We have met some lovely fellow passengers including two nice couples from Germany who lamented our departure from the EU. Campbell and I have spent time people watching, and likening some of our fellow passengers to celebrities. So far we have encountered Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, an elderly Doris Day, and Theresa May enjoying her retirement!

    After a relaxing two days at sea, we were looking forward to arriving at Milford Sound in New Zealand’s fjordland today. However the Captain announced last night that due to recent flash flooding, resulting in landslides and hundreds of tourists being trapped in the area and having to be rescued by helicopter, a State of Emergency has been declared, and we were sadly unable to visit the area 🙁. However, as an alternative, the Captain was pleased to announce that we would instead be diverting and making an unscheduled visit to Oban! I thought at first that this was a bit much of a detour, until I realised it was the small port of Oban on Stewart Island, New Zealand’s largely forgotten third island. Although a reasonable size, the whole island has a population of only 400 and, with no predators, it is a bird sanctuary and home to hundreds of different species, including kiwis.

    To access the island required taking a tender to shore. The number of passengers coming ashore from the ship more than quadrupled the whole population. Today was a holiday - Waitangi Day - the national day of New Zealand. The main activity on the island appeared to be the annual Man of the Year contest. This involved burly locals competing in a variety of testosterone and beer-fuelled activities on the beach. Campbell and I were going to enter but didn’t want to show them up.

    I took a lovely (but steep) walk up to Observation Rock where I had fabulous views over Golden Bay towards the island of - wait forever it - Iona. We visited the tiny local museum, which reminded Campbell of the one at Invergordon - minus the major attraction of the Iron Lung.

    We were disappointed not to have made it to Milford Sound, but after seeing news footage on TV could understand why. We’ll just have to come back.
    Read more