A Visit to the Home of My Heart

 

Day 31 – Another Day at Sea
Monday, February 19, 2018

Clocks went back another hour last night. I diligently changed the time on my i-Phone and fell into a dream-free sleep. I woke up early this morning and knew I would be awake for the day. I solved a sudoku puzzle then made a cup of tea. For the first time on Cunard, I have an electric kettle in my room. I absolutely love this privilege, being able to make my morning cuppa with boiling water. Samly, my room steward replenishes the tray daily, sweeteners, milk sachets, teabags and cookies. I prefer Earl Grey tea, so I bring a few teabags down from the Lido. I am one very happy cruiser.
I was showered and dressed for the day, up in the Lido for breakfast by a little after 8. I sipped a cup of fresh, hot coffee and read for a while, hoping Perfect would be along to join me. I realized I had a time problem when I noticed that the main buffet line on my side of the ship was not yet open. That’s when I discovered I had forgotten to change my watch. I had been up since 4:30, pushing myself on a mere four hours sleep. And it was now only 7 am and I was already at the table waiting for breakfast!

Does one ever get tired of parties? So far, no. The party this evening was hosted by the Cruise Sales Department, Andrea and Cristina. The highlight of the evening (apart from the complimentary drinks – the reason most people attend) is the announcement of Top Sailor. Perfect and Pretty were already seated at a ‘preferred’ table when I arrived. I was escorted to their table and told that my drink was waiting for me – ah, happiness. The P and P ladies were honored this evening for having sailed more than 2000 days on Cunard, but Trendy is just a little ahead of them – he does the full world cruise every year – and was awarded Top Sailor for this segment.

Trendy is well-known to hundreds of Cunard travelers who are members of his ‘Ducklings’ Club. Several years ago, Pretty observed Trendy and his group of friends, all going ashore, walking along the pier, one behind the other, following their leader.
“Like ducklings,” said Pretty, and the name stuck.

Since then, Trendy has persuaded hundreds of Cunard guests to join the Ducklings Club. I had to go through the initiation ceremony back in 2009. I was required to place a rubber ball between my knees, waddle across the floor and drop the ball into a small rubbish bin. I managed this task admirably but thank goodness I was wearing trousers. Captains and Commodores, Reverends and Rabbis, repeat cruisers and first-timers, all are welcome into the ducklings. They have a secret code which I am happy to divulge: if you see a fellow duckling, just say ‘quack-quack.’

Tonight, we dined with the Food and Beverage Manager, together with the Executive Chef. There were three couples besides ourselves and we had the most fun we’ve ever had at an officer’s table. Glen and Mark made us all feel welcome and the food was delicious. The gentleman on my left determined that I have a mathematical bent – I wish I had told him he was mistaken – and gave me the first of several puzzles to solve.
‘A young man falls in love with a princess and plucks up courage to ask the King for permission to marry her. The King sets a challenge (shades of Turandot). The King has 100 pearls, 50 black pearls and 50 white. The young man must divide these between two urns, and the princess must pull out just one pearl. If it’s white, she may marry the young man, but if she picks a black pearl, the young man must die. The young man thinks a moment, then accepts the challenge. How many pearls, of what color should he place in each urn to give the best chance of the princess choosing a white pearl?’ The answer is not 50 in each container. And the princess can’t see what color she is picking out of the urn. I solved the puzzle as dessert arrived; the presentation was so exquisite I captured it on film.

The evening was made complete with a fabulous show, a classically trained singer from New Zealand, Benjamin Makisi, who entertained us with a collection of the most famous arias and songs for tenors. His voice was strong, controlled, sensitive, bold. We loved him.

Day 32 – Lost Day – Crossing International Date Line
Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Poor Mr. Danza. Today was his 90th birthday, and he missed it.

Day 33 – At Sea
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

We all missed yesterday. It did not exist. We crossed the International Date Line and jumped from Monday to Wednesday. Agile was most put out.
“I paid for 56 days, and Cunard has taken one away,” he complained. We assured him that he had been given back his 24 hours, one hour at a time, every time we put the clocks back before retiring for the night.

The International Date Line is on the 180-degree meridian although there is a dog leg to avoid going through a country or group of islands. Can you imagine it being Monday in New York but Tuesday in New Jersey? One of the best features on my i-Phone is that the World Clock tells me the time anywhere in the world. As a result, I never make the mistake of calling my family in New Zealand in the middle of the night.

Day 34 – At Sea
Thursday, February 22, 2018

The highlight of today was this evening’s show, a split bill program – Benjamin Makisi, the New Zealand tenor, and a second Kiwi performer, the Sandman.

The Sandman is extraordinary. He strode on stage, smiled at us, and walked to his sand-table, a tray of sand at table height. He waved his hands across it to begin, then created amazing art by sweeping his hands, his fingers, over the sand, caressing the grains and transforming them into pictures which were displayed on a huge screen center stage. He created some of the traditional shapes found in Maori carvings, the spiral, the koru; he drew lovers, the faces radiant with joy. He told stories, the man going off to war, his lover weeping, and the thrill of a safe homecoming.

Later, Radiant, Friendly, Super and I all enjoyed Italian dinner in the Lido. As I was leaving, I saw Makisi and the Sandman enjoying a late-night snack, so I had the opportunity to tell them how much I appreciated their performance. I just wish I knew how to say it in Maori.

Day 35 – Auckland, New Zealand – The Home of my Heart
Friday, February 23, 2018

Apart from the officers on the bridge, I was the first person up and about this morning, on deck at 5:15 am. It was still dark outside, but not too dark to see the outline of Rangitoto Island, an extinct volcano sitting right in the middle of Auckland’s Waikato harbor. Far in the distance, beyond the hills of Narrow Neck, I could see the lights at the top of Sky Tower, Auckland’s distinctive spire, with a revolving restaurant high above the modern skyscrapers.

AKL arrival

I could see the channel, clearly marked with red and green lights, through which we would approach our berth at Princes Wharf in the heart of the city. I remembered the first time I had sailed into Auckland, back in 1957, when the city was small, and the tallest building was probably the Town Hall on Queen Street, the main shopping thoroughfare.

AKL TownHall

By the time we were securely docked this morning, at the foot of Queen Street, Auckland commuters were pouring into the city, by train, by bus, by car or ferry from their homes on the North Shore, the harbor bridge glinting in the sunshine.

How should I spend my day? I would be returning to Auckland in a few days and would be meeting family and friends then, in a leisurely setting. My one-time room-mate, Dramatic, was joining me on board today and would be sailing with me to Brisbane, so I wanted to wait for her in the embarkation lounge. That left me a few hours to stroll up Queen Street and reflect on the changes in stores, community and culture.

Back in the fifties, there had been three department stores on Queen Street, John Court Ltd (JCL), Milne and Choyce, Smith and Caughey. Now, only Smith and Caughey remains. I wandered through the main floor, filled with high-end cosmetics. I could have been in any world-class department store, on New York’s 5th Avenue, or in London, Paris, Hong Kong, wherever savvy women like to shop. I rode the escalator and strolled through bed linens, kitchen-ware, fine china, finding all my favorites, Royal Doulton, Wedgwood, Villeroy and Bosch, even Lenox. The selection was remarkable, but I saw a lot more tea-cups than I’ve ever seen in an American store.

Queen Street sports several souvenir shops, one or two with inexpensive knick-knacks, a dozen key-chains for $10 and the like. Many shops offer quality items made from New Zealand timbers such as rimu and kauri or jewelry featuring New Zealand jade (greenstone) or paua shell, similar to abalone but in gorgeous mottled hues of purple, green, and blue. I bought a shawl made from fine merino wool; it’s a pretty shade of turquoise with a traditional Maori motif.

As I gazed at a lapis and pearl necklace, I heard Pretty say, “Here’s Rosemary.” When the ship is in port, it’s not unusual to see other guests from the ship, but in fact, they were the only people I bumped into all day. That’s because Auckland has so much to offer, perhaps a day tour to Rotorua, the center of geo-thermal activity in the center of North Island. Or one might prefer to cross to the West Coast of Auckland to visit the black sand beaches of Muriwai and the gannet colony. One might enjoy the surf at Piha, or take the scenic drive through the Waitakeres, with its acres of native trees: rewa-rewa, kahikatea, puriri, kauri. The kauri is not unlike America’s redwood and sequoia trees, one of the largest, the giant of the forest, having a girth so vast that 22 men with outstretched arms just barely encircle it.

Dramatic arrived mid-afternoon, unpacked, settled in and was ready to enjoy a few days of pampered luxury, the first event being the Maori cultural show on board this evening. We sat together in the theater and watched with interest as the men performed the traditional haka, the Maori war dance which would frighten away enemies, but welcome friends. The women sang in harmony and performed the poi dance, the graceful dance in which they twirl pompoms at the end of short (six inches) or long (perhaps 20 inches) strings, above their heads, behind their backs, two in one hand, never tangling the strings, never bumping the balls. It takes years to perfect the skill, but girls learn almost from their cradles.

We sailed late that night, backing off our berth, swinging through a ninety degree turn, heading back out past Narrow neck, past Rangitoto, the cone-shaped island looking almost the same from any angle, out into the Hauraki Gulf and north along the coast. As always, I left a part of my heart behind.

Day 36 – Paihia, Bay of Islands – The Home of my Cousin
Saturday, February 24, 2018

Queen Elizabeth reached her anchorage by 9:00 this morning and we enjoyed a splendid view of our surroundings, Paihia and our tender landing on one side of the bay, Russell, a charming town, on the other. Small islands dotted the water, the sky was blue, the sun shone, and the day was smiling its blessing.

Bay 1

Just one year ago, I stayed with my cousin, Jeff, and his wife, Gaye, in their beautiful home quite close to Paihia. They had given me a splendid welcome, and taken me to Cape Reinga, the very tip of the North Island where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. We had driven along 90-Mile Beach, paddled in rivulets along the beach and watched people slide down the sand dunes. I had admired their 240 olive trees, sampled their own brand of olive oil, and pored over old family photos. Jeff came alone today as Gaye was playing tournament -level bowls. Not to be confused with the US game played at bowling alleys across suburban America, it is played on grass and is a very competitive sport.

In contrast, Jeff and I enjoyed a more restful day, a quick visit to the local craft market, then a glass of wine, some fresh fish and a traditional Kiwi dessert.

Half the ship was at the craft market, a shuttle bus taking guests from jetty to market and back. There were leather bracelets, and belts and bags, hand-made soaps, jewelry, t-shirts with NZ motifs, and the ‘thing’ I bought. I suppose it is a wind ornament, an optical illusion, a spiral with a propeller, which hangs from a tree, or a balcony. The wind blows, the propeller moves, the spiral rotates, and a magic ball appears to rise and fall. I ran into Pretty and Perfect. “It’s really easy to take home,” Pretty said. I reminded myself of the definition of souvenir – something we fall in love with when on vacation and wonder why on earth we bought it when we get it home. Nevertheless, I bought it.

Jeff took me for a short drive towards Waitangi, where the famous treaty was signed, in which the Maori tribes gave Queen Victoria’s government sole right to buy their lands in return for being recognized as British subjects. Considerable restitution has been paid to the Maori people for what many believe was unfair settlement with the tribes. We gazed out at the bay, to where Queen Elizabeth was resplendent in the sunlight, her orange tender boats going back and forth between ship and jetty. How I longed to stay in this beautiful place. Instead we ate lunch at the Paihia Hotel, dining al fresco under a shady canopy and catching up on family news, my daughter, his sons, our grandchildren, all living a far better life than we had ever had in England or Wales, the land of our birth.
I was sad to say goodbye to Jeff, but I know we’ll meet again next year – I’ve already made my booking.

Bay 2

 

 

 

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