All posts by brucegk

Weta Cave

On Thursday we were supposed to visit Napier where we were going to see the Art Deco buildings and walk along the Marine Parade paralleling the shore.This is as close as we got to Napier. High winds prevented us from docking at this port. I understand there were some news stories about a cyclone that impacted New Zealand and even mentioned that our ship was unable to dock. All is well with us. While there were some high winds, they were nothing like hurricane force, the skies were mostly blue, and there was no rain. The seas were somewhat rough, but the ship movement was minimal compared to a few other days. My understanding is that the cyclone was on the other side of the island. In any case, it was a nonevent for us.

Weta Cave of Wellington is one of the five largest movie studios in the world. The other four are located in the US. It is known for producing movies such as Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit movies, and Avatar. They also design and manufacture special effects and costumes for numerous other movies. They produce Thunderbirds Are Go, the number one children’s television program in the world. We took a tour of their special effects workshop and the miniatures stage for ThunderbirdsThe tour described the creative process where the movie director tells them a concept for the costume or prop and then they submit a design for approval. Once approved, they go through a construction phase. If it is a body suit or a facial mask, they are generally made of silicone since it looks the most realistic. The problem is the silicone is non porous so it is very hot and sweat is trapped within the costume. Scarlet Johansson lost five pounds a week while working in one of these outfits. Susan seemed to take special interest in that fact. If they are working on a costume for Matt Damon, it is to expensive to fly him down for fitting, so they receive a computer body scan to size the costume and it will fit perfectly.They have created a wide assortment of facial masks. One of the most time consuming tasks is adding facial hair as it doesn’t look right unless you add one hair at a time. An eyebrow can take one person a full day.This is an example of a miniature building they are working on for a new project. It is made from common objects such as toothbrush holders and children’s blocks.This is one being made before it is painted.This is one of the miniature sets from Thunderbirds Are Go. The show uses real miniature sets and computer generated people. They have a larger copy of the dam in the background for scenes where the characters are running around the dam and a much smaller version to use when they blow up the dam. It was a fascinating tour with a lot of insight into what it takes to make a movie. It would have been even more interesting if we had seen some of the movies they made. We decided to watch Lord of the Rings when we get home.Wellington is a very hilly city with over forty private cable cars serving private houses. This is the public cable car going up to the botanical gardens.The Gardens had a greenhouse with a variety of orchids, begonias, and other flowers.This is a peace garden dedicated to all New Zealanders who have worked to rid the world of nuclear weapons. It features a rock from both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is an eternal flame in the small pagoda which is described as a combination of flames from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs that were brought to the garden from Japan.

Our next stop is Christchurch.

A Walk Around Mount Maunganui

On Wednesday we visited Tauranga, the gateway port to the geothermal area of Rotorua. Since we had both been to other geothermal areas, we decided to skip the Rotorua excursions and explore the area around the port. This was perhaps a mistake as most of the area was unimpressive. However, there is a small, extinct volcano at the end of the peninsula near the port.We walked with our friends and cabin neighbors, Dave and Donna, from the ship to Mount Maunganui where we elected to walk around the base of the mountain rather than climb it. This turned to be a good choice as the walk was a wonderful blend of sprawling trees, rock, driftwood, and water. Following are some pictures from the walk.Our next stop is the Art Deco City, Napier.


On Monday, we went with two other couples on a ferry from Auckland to the wine island of Waiheke. It was Auckland Anniversary Day which commemorates the founding of the city so many stores were closed and the restaurants that were open were charging a 15% holiday surcharge. We later learned that the government fines companies that open on holidays, so the surcharge is to defer the cost of the fine.Despite being a holiday, the beautiful, wide beaches were deserted by Pawleys Island standards. We didn’t come prepared for swimming, so we just walked the beach.Pawleys does not have a big, old tree at the edge of the sand for the kids to play in and to provide shade for the adults.I had never seen this before! We saw this boat roll on wheels down the sand and into the ocean. It then picked up some people from a ship anchored off shore and brought them back onto the beach. When the boat is floating, the front wheel pivots up to the front of the boat. I am not sure about the rear tires, but I presume they pivot up behind the boat. Pretty clever!There are over fifteen wineries on the island and we visited four of them. Somehow, wineries always look beautiful.Waiheke didn’t lack for great water views either. We spent the entire day there and thoroughly enjoyed it.On the morning of our second day in Auckland, we took a bus tour around the city. This is a monument to Michael Joseph Savage, the first Labor party Prime Minister Of New Zealand. He is a popular figure who, among other things, gave the native Māori people the right to vote.The Auckland War Memorial Museum on a hill overlooking the city.There are good views of Auckland from all the surrounding areas. According to our guide, housing in Auckland is the fifth highest priced in the world trailing New York, London, Singapore, and one other city that escapes me.The Harbor Bridge was originally built with only two lanes in each direction. When the bridge quickly became a bottleneck, they hired a Japanese company to study how to widen it. They built four segments with two additional lanes and brought them to Auckland on barges. They placed the barges under the bridge and lifted the sections up to the existing bridge and “clipped” them in place. These additional lanes are popularly know as the “Nippon clip ons”.The Sky Tower has become the symbol of Auckland. It is a restaurant and tourist attraction. You can bungee jump off of it or walk around the widest part on the outside, but we settled for riding the elevator up to the observation levels at 722 feet high.Shooting the Pictures through the glass gave them a bluish image. I knew I should have gone for the outside walk!We watched a Māori culture show on the pool deck on our night in Auckland. In the top picture, we are settled into the deck chairs at the side with our friends Donna and Dave ready to enjoy the show. We had to watch it on the screen above the pool stage. According to our guide the relations between the Māori and the Europeans in the country is now very good due to a lot of effort by the government and the Māori leaders. There were 51 grievances filed by the Māori and all but one have been settled. It cost the government a lot of money and the Māori a lot of land, but it has brought harmony to all parties.

Glow Little Glowworm, Glow and Glitter

I am probably revealing my age, but this hit by the Mills Brothers popped into my mind on the way home from one of New Zealand’s glowworm caves. The glowworm spends six to twelve months of its life in its larval form. The larva is about an inch long and lives in a hammock like nest about six inches long spun from silk threads and attached to the ceiling of the cave. It then spins up to seventy sticky threads hanging down from the nest to catch flying bugs. The larvae glow to attract the insects – the hungrier they are, the brighter they glow. When an insect sticks to a thread, they slurp up the thread and insect. Fortunately, they only need to eat once every two weeks. They are very territorial, so they are about six inches apart; but they like to be in a large group so there is more light to attract the insects. The overall affect when looking at them is of looking at a starry sky. The pupa stage lasts only a week or two and the pupa still glow. The adult Glowworms don’t eat and only live a couple days. The sole purpose of the adults is to produce eggs. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed as they would allegedly stop the glowworms from glowing. I always think pictures are prohibited so they can sell overpriced post cards! For an image of a New Zealand glowworm cave, click here.And what would you guess this building is used for? These are the famous Hundertwasser Public Toilets in Kawakawa, New Zealand. All road signs in the area lead you here.We hiked through interesting rock formations to the top of the hill above the caves.In the afternoon, I had time for a quick run around the scenic resort town of Russell.This bird is the weka. At first glance, I thought it was a kiwi; but the beak is too short. I was told this part of New Zealand was the only place to find a weka.

Susan took a different tour to a forest and waterfall. The following pictures are hers.The Stone Store is the oldest surviving stone building in New Zealand.The top picture is a Kauri tree considered to be one of the mightiest trees in the world taking in account both its height and large girth. Past uses of the tree for ship masts, building homes and producing varnish have decimated the forests that once covered the islands. There is now an effort to protect the remaining trees. The bottom picture is a beautiful tree fern.I never realized Susan was such a fan of waterfalls until this trip.When we got up in the morning, there was a school of dolphins playing under our veranda. I was a little slow at that time, so this is not the greatest picture; but you get the idea.

This blog is for Sunday which is the first of eight port days in a row in New Zealand. It’s going to be a challenge keeping the blog current with no sea days. Our next stop is Auckland.

Cannibals No More

The Fiji Islands were once known as the Cannibal Islands due to the widespread practice of cannibalism here dating back hundreds of years. It is believed that Fijian chiefs ate the flesh of their enemies to show power control and as the ultimate insult to them. The practice diminished with the arrival of Christian missionaries who abhorred the practice. The last known act of cannibalism in the Islands occurred in 1867 when the Christian missionary, Thomas Baker, along with six Fijian student teachers were murdered and eaten. All the tour guides spoke openly and in some detail about the practice and the methods used. It is something of a tourist thing now with cannibal related souvenirs and tours of known cannibal caves.

We took different tours in Fiji. I took a bus tour of the capital city of Suva and the surrounding area.This guard is at the entrance to the presidential residence. The home is surrounded by beautiful gardens.The Fiji Museum had a collection of ancient ocean going canoes. The bottom picture is the rudder of Captain Bligh’s ship, The Bounty. The rudder was recovered from Pitcairn Island which is some distance from Fiji. Bligh was the second European to visit Fiji.

When Fiji catches someone fishing in their waters illegally, they impound the boat until a fine is paid. This is a portion of the boats impounded in the harbor. Most of them looked like they had been there a while.

Susan went for a hike in the rain forest with ten water falls and some ponds for swimming.Susan’s tour was certainly more scenic than mine!

We now have two sea days before arriving in Bay of Islands, New Zealand.

The Friendly Islands

When Captain James Cook first landed in the Tonga Islands in 1773, he nicknamed them the Friendly Islands because of the warm reception he and his crew received. When the Viking Sun first landed there in 2018, the people could not have been more friendly.The police band complete with dancers in native attire set up adjacent to our ship and played for at least an hour when we arrived and at least an hour before we left. Everyone in town smiled, waved, and said hello to us. Some of the kids didn’t have it quite right as they said “Bye bye”.

Tonga is the only monarchy In Oceania. Unlike French Polynesia, the islands are quite flat. It also appears to be a deeply religious, Christian country with a cross in its flag to represent its Christianity.The king has a wooden palace that was imported from New Zealand and built in 1867.There were numerous churches in town. The two above had interesting architecture, but most looked more like office buildings than churches.This is the local barber shop. The man sitting there is one of our group resting from the heat. It was too early in the morning for the shop to be open.While looking for the best view of the Palace, I came across this house draped in black and purple cloth. In the top picture, everything that is black or purple – essentially everything but the windows – is cloth. This is a sign of mourning over the death of someone in that house. Several neighboring houses had large purple bows as a sign of their grief for their neighbor.There were many great tree trunks in town and it is taking all by willpower not to include some, but I thought this stump that had been carved into fishes was too good to pass up.

In the afternoon we went to a “resort” on a small island. There were a couple of overnight accommodations, but it is primarily a day use facility with beaches and snorkeling. There is also a cross on the island commemorating the first place that Christianity was introduced into Tonga.There is a shipwreck just off the main swimming beach with the Tongan flag and an ad for a restaurant on the main island.We walked around the deserted beaches of the island. Many of the tops had been blown off the palm trees by recent hurricanes.We came across this coconut shell with a relatively large hermit crab inside. About six other smaller hermit crabs came tumbling out of this shell before I got the picture.This is one of the small hermit crabs scurrying away. You can judge the size by the coarse sand background. We have a day at sea before reaching Fiji.

Entering the Domain of the Golden Dragon

It was one minute before midnight on Saturday, January 20. Only two minutes later, it was one minute after midnight on Monday, January 22. What were those with birthdays and anniversaries on January 21 to do? Had we missed the NFL football games? How could this be? The simple answer is that we had entered the Domain of the Golden Dragon, which is an award given by the US Navy to any sailor who crosses the International Date Line. Fortunately, there are no fish to kiss nor water to jump into. The award is presented to anyone crossing the line.

So have we lost those 24 hours forever? Have we paid for a day of the cruise that doesn’t really exist? Fortunately, we will get those 24 hours back one at a time as we cross each time zone. In fact, we were already six hours ahead due to setting our clocks back an hour as we have already crossed six time lines.

While the navy only awards a certificate for crossing the line, Viking never misses an opportunity to party. We had a brunch featuring eggs Benedict, sushi, shrimp, crab, and bloody Mary’s.The brunch featured carved melons, ice sculpture, and even a piece of bread shaped like an anchor.The two women who missed their birthday on the 21st (backs to the camera) were honored by our cruise director, Heather (with mike on left), and our Captain (partially obscured by woman in blue top).

In the afternoon, I watched the NFC championship game.You can have some unusual seats for a football game on a cruise! Next stop is Tonga.

Plan Sea

Plan A for Friday was to visit the Cook Islands where we were going to see a cultural village and museum and then enjoy a quick dip in the ocean. We awoke to an announcement that we were anchored on the north side of the island but the sea was too rough to safely board the tenders to go ashore. Consequently, we were going to Plan B where we would move to the west side of the island where presumably the seas would be calmer and conduct the tendering operation from there. That didn’t sound like much of a delay, so we got dressed and went to breakfast while the ship relocated. During breakfast they announced that the seas were still too rough after relocating, so we were going to Plan Sea, where we were going to skip the Cook Islands and have a Sea Day instead. While the seas didn’t look that rough, when we saw the tender (the tenders also serve as life boats) returning to the ship, it was really getting tossed around.This is all we saw of the Cook Islands. Fortunately, we really enjoy the sea days .

On the day we were anchored in Tahiti, we took a tour of the bridge. The first thing you notice is the commanding view of the sea they have.The second thing you notice is that everything seems very high tech with a lot of computer screens. Our guide said that they are approved not to have any nautical charts, but they still carry a few as a backup. Above is the main panel in the center of the room.They have identical auxiliary panels on both the port and starboard sides to use for delicate maneuvers such as docking. These auxiliary panels can accomplish the same things as the main panel.Since the bridge extends beyond the side of the ship, you have a good view of what is happening on the side of the ship from these auxiliary panels.Just behind the bridge is a situation room filled with computers, screens, and camera views of different locations on the ship. This would be used in case of any emergencies.While I was there, I completed my interview and tryout at the controls in case they ever needed any assistance from the passengers. Long arms are clearly an advantage. It seemed that there was very little you could reach while sitting comfortably and relaxed in the captain’s chair.Susan made her tryout at the helm. Notice how small the wheel is.But the tiny joy stick on the right is how they really steer the ship most of the time.They have a library of instruction manuals just in case.

Our captain always refers to himself as “your designated driver”. He is not permitted to drink even a sip of alcohol for the entire 141 days of the cruise. You never know when an emergency will occur and he must be at his sharpest.

It is Saturday today. Sometime tomorrow we will cross the International date line, so we will jump directly from Saturday to Monday. We will then be a day ahead of you for some time. The whole date line thing never fails to confuse me! Our next stop in two days is Tonga.

Blue, Bluer, and Green

It is hard to overstate the beauty of Bora Bora, particularly when viewed from the water. The island receives copious amounts of rain, so the land is lush with tall palms towering over a dense jungle of varying shades of green. But it is the water that takes your breath away. There is turquoise and deeper turquoise as far as the eye can see. But there are options. In other areas the water is a deep blue or a brighter blue. The color varies with the light and neither my words nor my pictures can do it justice.

We started our day in Bora Bora with a three part boat ride. The first part was a beach break on an uninhabited island. This was followed by a walk in waist deep water with stingrays and sharks. Doesn’t sound like fun to you? This was the highlight for me. The ride ended with snorkeling over the coral reefs.The Island was quite small so it was easy to explore the entire island. It was a nice mix of mainland views and interesting trees. The water was warm and comfortable with some coral and fish to enjoy while snorkeling.In the pictures above we are in the open ocean. The stingrays were quite large and eager to be fed by our guide. You can see two in the opening between the people in the top picture. I am waiting my chance to pet one in the bottom picture. Most of their body is very smooth with some roughness on the edges and along their spine.Black tipped reef sharks were circling us when we were standing in the water. The assurance we received that this type of shark is vegetarian is almost certainly wrong, but they are in fact not an aggressive shark. We were told that it is fine to pet the stingrays, but we should not touch the sharks. This was my favorite shade of blue. Hotels with bungalows over the water are very popular here. The cheapest bungalow on the island is “only” $500 per night and prices range up to $10,000 per night with no meal included in either case. These hotels did not appear to be thriving. Hyatt recently stopped construction of a new one after two hurricanes struck the island and one of the oldest has been closed for ten years. None of the verandas were occupied. I believe most people visit on a cruise ship.The crew entertained us with music whenever we were on the move.This is the only public beach on the island. It was big and deserted. We end with a last look at the volcanic center of the island. After a day at sea, our next stop is the Cook Islands.

How Do You Ship a Yacht?

We arrived in Papeete, Tahiti late Monday afternoon. We stayed there overnight before sailing for Bora Bora Tuesday evening. We had toured the island of Tahiti previously on a Paul Gauguin cruise, so we focused on Papeete this time. Unfortunately, it is a big port city without a lot to see.We were entertained Monday night by a local dance troup. For a one minute video of their performance, click here. This video is especially for our daughter-in-law, Harumi, who enjoys performing with a hula dance troup in the Charlotte area.The city hall was the most attractive building in the city. A pretty water lily pond.The church was the second most appealing building in town.There was creative graffiti on the sides of many buildings. I am sure it has some deep meaning, but I have no idea what it is.

But perhaps the most interesting thing in town was the boat docked next to us.This is the ship Monday night with a number of yachts inside sitting on a dry deck.

This is the ship the next morning, sitting much lower in the water (you can no longer see the “” on the side), the deck is now flooded, and the rear end of the ship is open so the yachts being delivered can be floated out. I presume they pumped water into the ship over night to lower it in the water and then opened the rear when it was at the proper depth.By late in the afternoon, the rear is closed, the deck is dry, and the ship is riding higher in the water. Pretty clever!