Archive for the ‘Ports of call’ Category

8 hours to pack a suitcase? That’s just nuts! No, it’s WINE! No-fail tips for packing wine, and other liquor!

Friday, February 1st, 2008

Actually, it was more like 12 hours, but I had already experienced enough derision from my travel mates.  So, I didn’t fess up to the real amount of time.  But…

I had precious cargo to transport.  And I wanted it to survive the ravages of airline luggage wranglers, airline conveyor belts, and airline scales.

I was not about to leave my hand-selected New Zealand wines behind; but neither did I want to ship the bottles only to have them broken in transit.  And I didn’t want to pay an overweight baggage fee at the airport.  So, logistical plans take awhile.  Okay?

I have brought back many fragile things in my suitcases — with almost complete success.  Especially wine.  I haven’t lost a bottle, well, except one to an unscrupulous airport security inspector, but that’s another story…

A Quick and Easy Guide

Here is a quick and easy guide for the supplies you will need, and tips for how to pack your imported wine for safe and secure transport in your suitcase….


Sydney, Australia: I am Very ANGRY at YOU!

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

“It’s just not fair,” I wailed. 

I wailed because I saw buttery yellow sunlight creasing the clouds, and because it was disembarkation day for our 14-day cruise of New Zealand and Australia, and our last day in Sydney, Australia.

We had arrived in port two nights prior, but had only one rain-filled day to explore this massive port city, with its famous Opera House, gorgeous old heritage buildings, and infamous convict history.

But that’s beside the point ‘cause now I am just mad at you, Sydney.  And that’s very strange since we (my husband and I) had vowed we had no interest in visiting Sydney.  Ever.  And that makes me even madder.

You could have told me sooner that I was going to love your harbour, that I was going to love your city streets and your people, that I was going to adore The Rocks, and that you had so much to offer.  I would have made different plans.

And now it’s too late; we are leaving.  (Or so I thought.)

Things are never as they seem…read on…


Tips for Enjoying Your Cruise Vacation in Spite of Mistakes and Mishaps

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

My recent cruise to New Zealand and Australia was fraught with troubles from lost luggage to missed airline connections.  My husband and I didn’t experience any problems besides cramped seats on a very long Air New Zealand flight, but hundreds of our fellow cruisers really suffered.

Traveling and troubles go together; they just do. The way to cope with travel troubles is to plan for mishaps, as best you can.

Here are 12 tips to help cruise ship travelers prepare so they can enjoy their expensive cruise, come what may:


How Melbourne, Australia Turned Me Into an Unfaithful Lover!

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

I have become a traitor, an unfaithful lover, if you will, for I have fallen for another – another with charms equal to, if not greater than, one of my dearest loves, New York City.

My new love?

Melbourne (pronounce that mel-ban), Australia.

Our short day in port (during a recent 14-day Celebrity Mercury cruise of New Zealand and Australia) was almost criminal when we saw what this bustling city had to offer, and that’s besides the fact it was hosting the Australian Open Tennis Championships.

From its gardens, to its museums, to its handsome old architecture, including the old Melbourne Gaol (jail), it became clear that a mere 7 hours in this city was just…silly.  And that a return trip was most definitely in order.

But in the meantime, we had to make the most of our time, and decide wisely.  Here’s how we spent our few hours in Melbourne, Australia.

Read on…

Melbourne Customs Sign by Sheree ZielkeAfter docking relatively early in Port Melbourne, our ship and its passengers had to endure two hours of Australian customs clearance.  This included a 20-minute walk through customs complete with a cute little bag-sniffing beagle dog (NO foreign foods are allowed into Australia) and this enthusiastic little fellow will find you out!  Even two days AFTER you have had fruit in your bag, as a fellow passenger discovered.

Once through the bag-checking and passport-checking gamut, we bought a “day-use” tram ticket, walked for about 5 minutes, and then boarded a spiffy high-tech tram headed for the heart of Melbourne.  The trams have very few seats, but are fitted with many overhead hooks (I suspect the average Australian is much taller than the rest of us, because I ended up swinging like a chimp).Melbourne Tram Hangers by Sheree Zielke

We had no clue where we were going, or where we should get off, so we tried questioning the locals.  Our first encounter, with a lovely college-aged lady, was a huge hint at what was to come; the Melbournians are amazingly friendly and helpful people.  (Wait till I tell you what our sightseeing tour bus driver did!)  The young lady told us which stop to get off at, and which way to walk in order to find the Melbourne Visitor Information Centre.  She even came back to us before she left the tram to ensure we knew to get off at the next stop.

David and Melbourne Tram by Sheree Zielke

And that’s exactly what we did.  I was stunned by the sights I saw as I alit from the tram: the crowds, the traffic, the buildings, the bustle – why, it looked just like New York City.  My heart beat quicker because I love all the noise and the hustle of the Big Apple.   And so my alienation of affections began.

Flinders Street Station by Sheree ZielkeWe marched up Swanston Street and arrived at Federation Square, just across the street from Flinders Street Station (what a gorgeous old building in its rich butterscotch hues!).  We found the information centre, and were amazed by the expert set-up.  This metropolis is so used to dealing with tourists that it has a high-tech help system in place; you actually have to take a number to get assistance.  I’m serious.  But the place is so well laid out, with brochures catalogued under a variety of titles from tours to theatre, that it was easy to help ourselves.  And so we did.

Now the hard part was making a decision on what to do in our quickly diminishing allotment of shore leave.  We sat down outside in intense bright sunshine to peruse the tour booklets; a street performer was just starting his show; an official Australian Open souvenir booth to our left was doing a brisk business (I now have a stuffed kangaroo wearing a jersey as my memento).  Our eyes adjusted to the brightness, and we began to read.

My husband had earlier indicated an interest in the Old Melbourne Gaol, and so we located that on a map.  Okay, now how to get there?  We studied a couple of tourist shuttle buses like the Melbourne City Circle Tram, and the city’s FREE Tourist Shuttle, both of which can be caught just across the street from the Info centre, and both of which would get us to the gaol.  We opted for the free shuttle which ran every ½ hour.

(Something really cool about Melbourne that I haven’t seen in New York City is the city’s “greeter” service.  These helpful “city ambassadors,” identified by their red tunics, were all over the place.  And, as we discovered, they didn’t just point you in the right direction; they were prepared to walk you there.  That’s how we found the toilets in Federation Square. Thanks Melbourne!)

Free Melbourne Shuttle Stop by Sheree ZielkeWe boarded the tourist shuttle at Stop #2, took the full circle trip, and then advised the bus driver we had designs on the old gaol.  He confirmed that Stop #4 would get us there.  Now here is the story about the driver.

The gray-haired fellow (his name was Lance) called our stop.  We left via the back door and stood for a moment trying to get our bearings.  We must have looked confused (we were) because the bus stopped, the driver jumped off, ran up to us, and gave us detailed directions on how to get to the gaol.  Now I ask you…how many bus drivers in your city would do that?  We stood with our mouths open, both stunned and delighted.  And then we headed down the hill to the gaol.

The old Melbourne Gaol is a must-see adventure; I promise.  It is not for the faint-of-heart, but it is an experience you’ll long remember.  Especially if you take the tour where YOU are booked and thrown into a cell, like a common prisoner.  Really!  But that’s for a future blog.David in old Melbourne Gaol by Sheree Zielke

(Subscribe to the Picajet Blog.  And please, leave a comment or two.  Blogging is a lonely affair – I want to hear from you. And a “dig” on a social networking site would be appreciated, too.  Just use the handy links below.)

Yes, Melbourne, Australia has not seen the last of me.  Now if I can just gear myself up again for that 14-hour plane ride.  Oh heck, of course I can.  I simply must see the Melbourne Werribee Open Range Zoo, the Healesville Sanctuary, the Great Ocean Road, the Witches in Britches theatre, the Queen Victoria Market, the…

New York City will just have to wait.

If you’d like to book tours or attractions tickets in Melbourne, Australia ahead of time, try Best of Victoria.

Sheree Zielke

New Zealand Fiordlands: Explore for a Truly Wild and Wonderful Experience!

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Dusky Sound and David by Sheree Zielke

If you are native to the lands of the Northern Hemisphere, then Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds may mean very little to you; Nancy, Charles, and George Sound will mean even less.  But if you visit New Zealand, down in the Southern Hemisphere, you’ll find all these places; they are part of the Fiordland National Park, on the southwesterly corner of New Zealand’s south island.

But if you have ever visited North America’s northwest coastline, in particular, the coasts of Oregon, British Columbia, and Alaska, then the topography of these wild and richly forested terrains may seem familiar.Chairs with a view in the New Zealand Sounds by Sheree Zielke

Perhaps the most satisfying way to visit these New Zealand Sounds is by land but local tour companies offer exploration nor only by foot, shuttle van, and tour bus, but via watercraft, and by air.  Air seems to be the most efficient way to take in the 1.2 million hectares of wilderness that make up the Fiordland, but a guided walk might be considered more effective.  That’s if you have the time.  Try these sites: Hike South and Ultimate Hikes.

Waterfalls in Milford Sound by Sheree ZielkeBut failing that, take a cruise up into the sounds.  Besides the huge cruise lines that visit the Sounds, there is also a large assortment of smaller cruise vessels.  Expect rainy weather and heavy mists; this is a temperate rain forest.  The rains give rise to pretty multiple waterfalls coursing down through lush green forested mountains.  You might even catch a glorious rainbow as it cuts its way through the grey mist.

Our ship, the Celebrity Mercury, had three Sounds on its itinerary: Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds.  We reached Dusky Sound early in the morning, amidst gray skies, churning waters, and heavy mist.  The short trip into Dusky was interesting, but the light was such that no outstanding photographs could be taken.

Doubtful Sound was just that, doubtful.  And in fact, high winds and rough waters meant that our ship, including a fellow cruise ship, the Statendam, had to pass by.  But the picturesque Milford Sound still lay ahead.Statendam cruise ship by Sheree Zielke

Milford Sound (it was agreed by other passengers who were experienced in the Sounds) was the more majestic and more beautiful, with its dozens of waterfalls and pretty coastline.  Many compared it to Alaska or the northern coastline of British Columbia with its misty timber forests, and moody gray waters.

Wildlife is supposed to be abundant in these largely uninhabited sounds although we didn’t see any of the fur-bearing seals, penguins, or dolphins said to make these sounds their home.

For more information on the New Zealand Fiordlands, read this stunning National Geographic account by author, Kennedy Warne.

Milford Sound banks by Sheree Zielke

Photography Tip: When taking photos in the Fiordland sounds, push your digital camera’s “exposure compensation” setting to a “negative” number to ensure a clearer, less misty picture.  You can always brighten your shots later in your computer’s photo manipulation program.

Sheree Zielke

New Zealand or Australia, Kiwis or Aussies: A Tough Decision to Make

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

If you ask, you’ll be told, “Oh, New Zealand is more like Canada; Australia is more like the United States.”  While that may be true, politically and geographically speaking, there is one major difference — no Canadian I know dislikes Americans as much as some New Zealanders dislike their Aussie neighbors to the North.  But here’s a quick comparison of the two countries — apart from the rivalry.

As a tourist, the biggest factor in deciding whether to like New Zealand over Australia has nothing to do with humans but rather to do with the native animals.  As the resident New Zealander, whom I met on a double-decker bus in Rome, said, “You should visit New Zealand because there is nothing that Taipan Sign by Sheree Zielkewill bite, sting or kill you in New Zealand.” 

He’s right.  And I am glad we took is advice.  My husband and I just completed a 14-day cruise that took us on an extensive cruise ship tour around New Zealand, beginning in Auckland and ending in the Fjordland sounds. From there we traveled up to the eastern shore of Australia.

In New Zealand, a human can walk anywhere, at anytime and not worry about an animal attack, while Australia is home to some of the world’s most deadly predators.  In fact, Australia is home to the top 6 most venomous snakes in the world like the taipan and the brown snake (see these live at Sydney’s Wildlife World on Darling Harbour), the tiny yet deadly red-backed spider, the furry funnel-web spider, the massive saltwater crocodile, and wild dogs or dingoes (so much a problem they necessitated the longest manmade structure in the world – a wire fence 3,500 miles long engineered to keep domestic cattle safe from voracious wild dogs).  And if a visitor ventures into Australian waters, they run the risk of bumping into one third of the world’s species of sharks, including 25-foot Great Whites, the fiercest and most terrifying predators of the world’s oceans.  But back to our human issues.

It was uncomfortable and mystifying to hear the animosity in our New Zealand taxi driver (David’s) voice when we accidentally identified his accent as Australian.  He quickly, and with great vehemence, corrected our error informing us that he was a “Kiwi” not a “bloody” Aussie.  As a visitor, I liked both nationalities just fine.

I asked him about the term, “fair dinkum.”  “Just an Aussie bullshit line,” he said.  “It usually follows a story that an Aussie wants you to believe.”  Instead of fair dinkum, you might hear an Aussie end his or her story with, “true story,” as though they are used to being doubted.  And perhaps they are.  At least by New Zealanders. 

But back to the tourist attractions.

New Zealand is home to the world’s southernmost winery (Black Ridge Wines), but Australia has camel races across the desert.  New Zealand has the fiordlands of the Southern Island, while Australia’s northeastern coast is home to the magnificent Great Barrier Reef which covers 120-thousand square miles.

Here are some factors you may want to consider when deciding between New Zealand and Australia as vacation travel destinations. Or do what my husband and I did and take a cruise around both countries:  safe, secure and absolutely delightful. 

Travel the curvy roads of New Zealand through mountainous emerald terrain, and never run out of signs of civilization, or trek across the hot barren Australian Outback, 2000 kilometers between Perth and Sydney, and rarely run into another living thing, except maybe a triple-trailer transport truck.

Australia has cornered the market on camels, playing host to 500-thousand of the gangly imported beasts, while New Zealand boasts of being home to the endangered Kiwi, a bird with feathers more like a cat’s fur.

Australia has a bronze boar out front of a Sydney hospital that, if you rub his nose, will bring you good luck.  New Zealand was just lucky in being the chosen location for Peter Jackson’s hugely successful Lord of the Rings movies. (Many tours like the Flat Earth and the Trails of Middle Earth are available that will take you to old film shooting locations like Hobbiton and Lothlorien.)

New Zealand plays host to the world’s only Antarctic Interactive Centre, compete with a fabricated Antarctic winter storm; Australia has the Sydney Opera House, and the huge Powerhouse Museum, currently hosting a tribute to the late Princess Diana (this one deserved its own blog entry).

Whichever country you choose to explore, give yourself plenty of time; we found 14 days a ridiculously short time to visit even just a couple of the cities on our itinerary, let alone, BOTH countries.

Sheree Zielke

World Travel: A Passion and a Profession for both the Wealthy and the Backpacker!

Monday, January 28th, 2008

While I love my Canadian city, I can hardly wait to go someplace else.  As often as possible.  Especially in the wintertime.  Not to live, mind you; just to visit.

As I sit here in minus 30 degree temperatures, swirling snow banking into huge white drifts against my front door, my car, and my emotions, I yearn for the friendly Down Under temperatures of the places from which I have just returned.

Down Under (Australia and New Zealand), being located in the Southern Hemisphere, is currently experiencing its summer (January), with warm sunny days, and bright blue skies.  While here in the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere, our bright blue skies are usually accompanied by blood-freezing temperatures, well below anything most people can even comprehend. 

Cold weather is a good reason for travelling – just ask the Canadian “snowbirds” that migrate to the warmer climes of California, Florida, and Arizona every fall (they even have their own website).  But then I travel in the summertime, too, when temperatures are very comfortable. 


Because without travel I think I would die, or at least become very ill.  And I am not alone in that disease.

I am often asked how one becomes a “professional traveler.”  I don’t believe one does “become” such an entity; I believe either you are a traveler, or you aren’t.  It has nothing to do with available time, or income; it has to do with something deeply-entrenched in your soul.  It’s that same thing that drove ancient explorers to leave solid land and venture out into the vast oceans, in search of the unknown.  I tell people that had I been born several hundred years ago, I would have pretended to be a man, just to get onboard one of those explorer ships. 

I don’t have to pretend anything today, however; I just need both the time and money enabling me to get the heck out of here.  But a shortage of those things never stands in the way of a true sojourner.  That’s what home equity loans are for!  (My husband and I use ours frequently; it allows us to grab travel deals we otherwise might not be able to afford.)  But again, being a professional traveler has nothing to do with income. 

I have met many professional travelers, some draped in jewels and expensive luggage, their fingers encrusted in diamonds; some with nary a dime to their name.  One such seemingly hapless lad was sitting on the cobblestones near the tracks, in the Dunedin, NZ railway station.  When I stopped to ask him where he was going, he replied simply, “I don’t know. I’m just going.”  As a kindred spirit, I knew exactly what he meant.  Have backpack, will travel.Backpackers Inn by Sheree Zielke
New Zealand and Australia are two countries that cater to both the well-heeled, and the budget-conscious traveler, like the backpacker.  I was stunned to see how many cities and towns have hotels, hostels, transportation, and specials geared especially to the backpacker or low-budget traveler. Many websites are geared to making your low budget travel adventure perfect, regardless of your age.  Many seniors rough it  around in the Down Under countries, too.

But alas, I must catch up with my day-to-day committments first — deadlines must be met, classes taught, grandchildren visited, and promises kept before I head out on my next great adventure  (I am going to try my hand at deep sea fishing off the coast of Texas). 

And then after that? 

Maybe a South Africa safari.  Or a trip to see Right whales near South America.  Or maybe a river cruise up the Amazon.  Or…well, who knows?  Just so long as it’s someplace – that isn’t here.

Sheree Zielke

Napier, New Zealand: A Wine Lover & Architectural Buff’s Paradise

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Napier Building by Sheree Zielke
There is no reason to leave Napier in order to have a good time; this town was designed for day visitors.  But whether you choose to just walk around for the day, or grab a cab or tour shuttle, a visitor can’t fail to enjoy their visit to one of New Zealand’s most charming port cities.

Napier is the capital of the Hawke’s Bay province; Europeans began making this Maori area their home after Captain Cook did his explorations in 1769.  By the 1850s, Napier was a bustling centre home to seafarers, businessmen, and missionaries.

Napier Sign by Sheree ZielkeIn 1931, Napier’s buildings were destroyed in an earthquake, and subsequent fire.  If you are into geological history, visit the Hawke’s Bay museum on the Marine Parade (Napier’s main street) for all the details, and photographs of the event.  Following the town’s destruction, immediate rebuilding of the area took place leading to an abundance of charming homes and office buildings created in the art deco style.  Art deco guided walks, bus tours, and vintage deco car tours are offered to all architectural aficionados who can’t get enough of the 30s.  An Art Deco Festival is held in February complete with vintage cars and vintage costumes.

Marineland, New Zealand’s only marine zoo is on Marine Parade, easily reached by taxi or by walking from the Visitor’s Centre.  Open 7 days a week, Marineland houses a variety of animals and birds including seals, penguins, and cormorants.  Or, between November and February, spend the day at Splash Planet, Napier’s water park.  There’s also the Ocean Spa, with its salt water saunas, and the Par 2 Miniature Golf course.  And for the real duffers, there is the world class Cape Kidnappers Golf Course near by; it’s ranked among the top 50 golf courses in the world.

Napier is home to some of the finest wineries in the world.  Where there was once a tiny handful, only 5, there are now 52 wineries crowded in and around Napier (eastern side of the North Island), and its twin city, Hastings.  Some of the best known include the massive Craggy Range Winery and Sileni Estate.  But for charm and a more personal experience, Mission Estate and Brooksfield are absolute must-sees; their wines (try Mission Estate’s award-winning ice wine) are outstanding.

Organized tours into Napier’s wine country can be picked up from outside the Visitor’s Centre, or any taxi driver can take you around to 2 or 3 vineyards in under 3 hours ($60 per hour – per car, not per person).  And while touring, be sure to visit the TeMata Cheese Company to sample savoury feta, brie, and blue cheese, or visit the Silky Oak Chocolate Company, and its chocolate museum.Silky Oak Chocolate Co by Sheree Zielke

If you are into wildlife tours, many tours to see the gannets of Hawke’s Bay are offered right outside Napier’s Visitor’s Centre.  Choose from the Cape Kidnappers Wilderness Safaris, or the Gannet Safaris.

When arriving in Napier via cruise ship, you can opt for your cruise ship’s shuttle bus (usually about $4 per person one way), or you can jump into a cab ($10 for the car one way).  But don’t expect to walk out of this working port; like Naples, Italy, you will be stopped by local authorities.  You must leave the port via shuttle or taxi.Napier Port Sign by Sheree Zielke

Tip #1:  Leave your ship in the early morning and visit the “Olive Branch Bread Company.”  Purchase a crescent-shaped fluted loaf (they call it a croissant, but it isn’t one).  You are in for a treat when you bite into this delectable savoury bread because inside you’ll find candied fried onions.  The bread crust is dotted with black olives, rock salt and rosemary.  The bakery is easily reached from the Visitor’s Centre; it’s on Hastings Street, at the corner of Albion Street.  You’ll be disappointed if you miss this bakery in the morning because it closes in the afternoon.Napier Bakery by Sheree Zielke

Tip #2: When re-boarding your cruise ship, be prepared to have your wine taken into custody; ship management does not want you drinking locally purchased wine in your stateroom.  The wine will be returned to you on the last night of your voyage.  This restriction will vary from ship to ship; the Grand Princess, for instance, was a little less stringent about this rule than the Celebrity Mercury.

Sheree Zielke

New Zealand: Christchurch – So Much to do, So Little Time

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

New Zealand – Six Days into the Cruise, Christchurch

Hagglund Ride by Sheree Zielke 

What to do in Christchurch, New Zealand?

I can think of at least one thing, perhaps even two or three things to do while visiting Christchurch, the country’s “Garden City.”  The hard part, especially if you are a cruise ship passenger with only 7 hours in port, is deciding how best to allot your precious time in New Zealand’s oldest established city. 

If you aren’t into old Edwardian architecture, you don’t feel up to punting (boating) down the Avon River, you don’t want to spend a few hours in the third largest city park in the world, you don’t want to ride the tram, you don’t care for a stroll around world class Botanic Gardens, and you don’t fancy a hot air balloon flight (from the centre of the city) or a gondola ride high to the top of an extinct volcano, then how about a trip to Antarctic, where you can experience (if only for a couple of minutes) the bone-numbing cold and the roaring noise of an Antarctic storm, complete with -18C wind chills? (That’s one of the adventures my husband and I chose.)

Failing that, you can always feed an eel in the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, or feed the giraffes in the Orana Wildlife Park.  You can visit endangered live Kiwi at the Aquarium and Kiwi House, or explore two million items at the Canterbury Museum.  You can take in the splendor of the gorgeous Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings, or wile away your time sipping a creamy “flat white” coffee from the Yellow Rocket Coffee House, in Cathedral Square.

Christchurch Tram by Sheree Zielke

Perhaps you want to do something a little more active like driving a military tank, or going whale and dolphin watching?  Or maybe you’d prefer something a little more sedate like gambling in Christchurch’s handsome casino on Victoria Street, or taking a leisurely stroll back in time through Ferrymead Heritage Park.

Or just decide to spend your day shopping, sunning, and eating in the Christchurch’s town square.  This is where our exploration of Christchurch began.

It was six days into our voyage, and as avid port participants, we jumped ship as early as possible.

It was 7:30 in the morning; we had just pulled in to Lyttelton Harbour. We hired a cab driver, David, to take us on a whirlwind introductory tour of Christchurch before dropping us at the visitor centre in the town square.  After sipping a “flat white” coffee (our newest food desire) purchased at the intriguing “Yellow Rocket Café,” and pouring through a pile of brochures, we decided on the International Antarctic Centre, a 15 minute ride away.  We knew the Antarctic is one destination far far down our list of “we-can-hardly-wait-to-go-there” travel destinations, so this was the best way to visit. 

Christchurch Airport Bus by Sheree ZielkeThere were numerous ways to get there, but we chose the $5 Airport Bus (the driver supplied us with $2 discount coupons, too).

What fun!  A kid of ANY age will love the Antarctic Centre with its climatic zones (real snow, ice and blood-freezing storms, as well as a snowmobile for photo ops), little blue penguins, and a wild hägglund ride. 

We did it all, including visiting the centre’s Antarctic Storm booth where tourists are given both parkas and rubber overshoes Antarctic Storm by Sheree Zielkein order to survive the wind chills in the room.

The arctic hägglund ride was a blast. Strap in and hang on.  TIP: When riding, be sure to secure ALL photography equipment, especially any cameras hanging around your neck.  Otherwise, you’ll take someone’s teeth out (like your own) during the bumpy ride.

Leaving the Antarctic Centre was easy; tourists can choose from the Penguin Express bus (big penguins on roof), a city shuttle bus, a city bus, or the reliable $5 airport shuttle.

Having enough time to hang out before rushing back to the ship, we visited the Christchurch casino, New Zealand’s first casino, opened in 1994. We got the shuttle bus operator to drop us – she even waited to ensure we were acceptable (to casino management) in our casual shorts and cargo pants (we were, so we stayed).

We weren’t there on a Sunday unfortunately, but if you manage to visit on a Sunday, take in the Riccarton Rotary Market.  It’s New Zealand’s largest outdoor market – Bus #83 will get you there.Antarctic Snowmobile by Sheree Zielke

TIP:  Ship internet service is very costly, and horribly slow; pay a visit to Christchurch’s excellent and affordable Internet station, eBLAH BLAH instead.

TIP:  Lord of the Rings fans; catch a LOTR “Edoras” tour from Christchurch.  This full day trip will intrigue non-LOTR fans, too.

TIP: Kaikoura is 180 km north of Christchurch; the town is New Zealand’s whale watching capital.

Sheree Zielke

New Zealand: First Stop, Auckland

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

Auckland, New Zealand: A Welcome Start to a Two-Week Vacation!

New Zealand was never a dream destination for us, but the Travel Zoo price was too irresistible, so we booked.

And here we are, somewhere above the Pacific Ocean, with no idea what time of day it is,  just that we’ve lost an entire day (our travel agent promises we’ll get it back when we fly west), and we are exhausted from a LONG flight from Los Angeles.

We are flying Air New Zealand, in economy class.  So, my larger-size husband sits cramped for most of the ride while the passenger in front of him domineers the seat space with his reclined chair, his noise-cancelling headphones keeping him from being pestered by any of our complaints.  Thank goodness forWinter Garden Conservatory - Auckland, NZ by Sheree Zielke the mini TV sets in the headrest; they offer recent TV shows and movies to help pass the time. 

My watch says 6:52 AM and we are about to go into our descent.  But what time is it really?  I have no idea, but I don’t care.  Right now bright morning sunshine is streaming in through the airplane windows, almost blinding in it intensity as passengers emerge from their mole-like state.

I am about to land in Auckland, New Zealand.  I barely knew where the city was a few months ago.  Now I know that it is on New Zealand’s north island (there is a south island, too) and that the correct Maori greeting to newcomers is, “Kia Ora.”

We are part of a large group of Canadians headed for the Mercury (Celebrity) cruise ship.  None of us have any idea what’s in store for us, so we are pleasantly surprised by all the attention we receive at the airport.

TIP:  New Zealand is hot and muggy.  Carry a quick change of clothes (shorts, Capri pants, sandals) in your carry-on, or wear the zip-off leg cargo pants, or you will be overcome by heat.  Change in a washroom on the plane, if you can, or in an airport washroom; things move very fast outside the airport as baggage and passengers are sorted and assigned to their respective coaches.

It is now 9:05 AM Auckland time, and I am already entranced by the organizational abilities of the cruise ship company.  Many greeters help us get from the baggage carousel, to the baggage truck, to our waiting buses.  No muss, no fuss.  It seems like we were on a plane one moment, and packed into a comfortable coach the next.

Now comes our next surprise — we are taken to a park area in Auckland, home to the Winter Garden Conservatory.  We pull up outside the Winter Garden Pavilion, a place of quiet enchantment where geese wander free on the lawns, and fat sparrows beg for morsels.  The chirping and twittering of birds fills the air; it’s a wonderful contrast to the sounds motor travel. 

We are invited to view the conservatory: Fernz Finery, Tropical House, and Cool House.  Celebrity has even provided a classical quartet for our entertainment.  The music entwined with the lovely flower gardens are the perfect transition from crowded airplane to vacation mindset.  And there is still tea-time.

Winter Garden Pavilion - Auckland, NZ by Sheree ZielkeAn elegant woman reminds us that we should go to tea.  Tea?  Okay.  What’s at tea?  Oh my…tiny cucumber sandwiches, tiny lobster pastries and mushroom quiches, lemon-drop cookies, and moist chocolate squares, oh, and yes, tea.  Spoiled fat sparrows eye our tasty repast (we are seated outside on a patio overlooking a garden).  Their fat bellies suggest they have dined on tea sandwiches before, and so I oblige and share a crumb of my sandwich.

I feel my anxiety and my fatigue drain away.  Is this a sign of things to come, I wonder?  Another sparrow shows up.  I acquiesce and part with a bit of my lemon-drop cookie.  I can afford to share; I have 14 days of cruise ship buffets and fine dining to look forward to.

Stay tuned for more of my adventures during my 14-day tour of New Zealand and Australia (Jan 2008) while a passenger on the Celebrity Mercury.  Watch for hi-lights of Napier, Tauranga, Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington, and in Austalia — Melbourne, Newcastle, and Sydney.  If you are a fan of the late Princess Diana, I will be covering a Sydney exhibit celebrating her, too.


Sheree Zielke