Archive for January, 2008

Australia: Fair Dinkum and That’s the Truth

Monday, January 28th, 2008

  “Fair dinkum.” It’s like saying, “Yes, really.” Or, “that’s the truth.”  Or, “actually.” Or “it’s authentic.”  You’ll hear it said in New Zealand by some of the locals, especially on the top half of the North Island. Our cabbie, which we hired out of Napier, New Zealand, used the term when he was telling us about the kidnapping of Captain Cook’s cabin boy by Maori natives, an action which gave rise to the name, Cape Kidnappers (it’s the location on the southern tip of Hawke’s Bay which houses a huge gannet population). 

But it was unusual to hear the word used in New Zealand. “Fair dinkum” is far more an Australian (Aussie) term.  Another New Zealand cabbie which we hired outside of Christchurch, New Zealand, had a stronger definition for fair dinkum. 

“It’s just an Aussie bullshit line,” say cabbie David, who explained the term usually follows a fabricated story that an Aussie wants you to believe.  David has strong feelings about the differences between New Zealanders (Kiwis) and Australians.  For instance, you do NOT make the mistake of referring to a Kiwi as an Aussie; Kiwis get downright cranky when a tourist makes this stupid blunder.  But that aside, fair dinkum is used in both Down Under countries.

The colorful sounding phrase joins other Aussie colloquialisms and common sayings like “nipper,” “mate,” “Sheila,” and “beaut,” terms made popular by the late crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin.

If you want to beef up your Aussie vocabulary, try the Dunway site for a comprehensive list of Australian slang terms.  It’s “fair dinkum.”  Honest!

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

Napier: The Perfect New Zealand Port-of-Call!

Friday, January 25th, 2008

  TEN Good Things about Cruising into the Port of Napier, New Zealand

  1. No tender boats necessary.  Walk down the cruise ship gangplank to awaiting shuttle buses and taxi cabs.  (You can’t walk out of this port though; have New Zealand money handy.)
  2. Trip into Napier is very affordable.  And very quick.  $4/person via cruise shuttle bus or $10NZ for a cab.  Trip is about 5 minutes.
  3. Napier, New Zealand by Sheree ZielkeNapier town has something for everyone.  Miniature golf, great shopping, restaurants, an ocean spa, a museum, botanical gardens, a skate park, and great architectural scenery (Napier’s downtown was destroyed in a fire in 1931, so rebuilding was done in Art Deco style.)
  4. Easy affordable access to the Internet via email cafes in the city centre area.  $2/15 minutes.
  5. Golf course nearby.  Just grab a cab and you’ll be there in less than 15 minutes.
  6. Taxi drivers and tour operators actually like their guests, and aren’t just in it for the tips.  (Our driver, Splinter, was surprised by our tip – he told us he rarely got one.  That’s too bad, because it certainly wasn’t due to any lack on his part.)
  7. Marine Parade – This is Napier’s great main street.  Spend your entire day just walking this stretch of land which hugs the coast.  Beautiful views and great exercise.
  8. Olive Branch Bread Company – If you like freshly baked bread, this is a MUST-visit bakery.  It’s located on Hastings Street just down from the Visitor’s Centre.  My mouth is watering at the memory of this bakery’s crescent-shaped, black olive and rosemary bedecked, candied fried onions-stuffed, loaf of bread.  You must visit early in the day – breads are sold out by mid-afternoon.
  9. Sail away is a blast.  Set sail to the sounds of a Dixie band, and a show and shine of a ½ dozen vintage cars, complete with drivers in period dress (local volunteers). It’s fun to watch the maneuverings of the tug boat as it nudges the giant cruise ship into position to make its way safely out of its very narrow slip and back into the harbor.
  10. WINE!  If you are a wine lover, grab a cab; there are over 50 wineries in the area, like the Mission Estate Winery, New Zealand’s oldest winery shown below. 

    Mission Estate Winery by Sheree Zielke

Napier, New Zealand might be considered the perfect cruise ship port-of-call.  But don’t take my word for it – go visit for yourself.

Sheree Zielke

Wine Lovers — Go Down Under for some of the best wines!

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Wine Lovers Must Go “Down Under”
(no not under the table)!

Well, not exactly “Down Under,” — that’s the term more reserved for Australia.  Actually go to Aotearoa, that’s the native peoples (the Maoris’) name for New Zealand.

If you are a wine lover, and you haven’t yet become a fan of New Zealand wine, you might want to try a bottle.  Soon.  As soon as possible, in fact.  Because this Southern Hemisphere’s fruit of the vine is as fine as any fine wine can be.

My husband and I love a good wine, a wine with a hearty smooth flavour, great on the nose, and with a pleasing aftertaste.  We recently visited New Zealand and Australia, but as we are very familiar with Australian wines (Peter Lehman’s Barossa Shiraz is one of our regular favorites) we decided to concentrate on New Zealand wineries.  We are very glad we did.

New Zealand is the youngest country in the world, so it would naturally follow that it is also has the youngest vineyards.  And the newest wines.  But only a real snob would turn up his or her nose at the remarkable flavours this infant country has produced.

We visited wineries along the eastern coast of New Zealand (both the north and the south islands), in the area of Tauranga, Rotorua, Napier, Wellington, and Dunedin, to be exact.  We had every intention of bringing wine back in our suitcases, but there are baggage weight restrictions, so we wanted to be very selective.  Tasting was a must!

Our first stop was Mills Reef Winery, a father and son operation (the Prestons) located in Bethlehem, Tauranga, on the Bay of Plenty.  It was fairly early in the day so we had the sommelier all to ourselves; the barrage of cruise ship passengers who had paid for the winery shore excursion was yet to arrive.  So, we took advantage of this two-time winner of the title of New Zealand Winemaker of the Year.

Begun in 1989, Mills Reef (named for the owner’s sea captain great grandfather) specializes in Bordeaux Red and Syrah wines, but the winery produces many other varietals, too.  The winemaking team has won over 500 awards for the wine produced here. Mills Reef vineyards are actually farther south down the coast at Hawke’s Bay, but the grapes are shipped up to Tauranga for processing. 

We sampled a number of whites and reds.  And we tasted some of the most delicious ice wine and fortified wine here, too.  Since taste is a very personal issue, I won’t describe any of the wines, but suffice it to say we eagerly bought a few bottles.  We settled on a 2004 Riesling Ice Wine (Reserve), a 2002 Vintage Port (it’s suggested that you let this one age, but in my opinion, it’s too delicious to leave sitting on a shelf), a 2005 Malbec (this one has been given the thumbs-up by Winestate Magazine), a 2005 Merlot Malbec, and a 2006 Chardonnay (Reserve).

A day later, following a day at sea, we nabbed a cab in the Napier area; it’s a little further south than Tauranga, but still on Hawke’s Bay. The area is a favorite among cyclists and backpackers who make their way along pretty country back roads, sampling fine wines as they go.  Our cabbie quipped, “Yea, by the afternoon, they forget where they left their bikes.”

These wineries were no disappointment either, except for one of the largest, Craggy Range Winery, which struck us as too cold, too institutional, and far too commercial. At least for our tastes.  We visit wineries, not only to sample their wine, but to enjoy their atmospheres; Craggy Range was like visiting a big box store.  We were asked to pony up a $5 sampling fee here, but as soon as we did, the sommelier decided we weren’t riffraff and refused the money.  Do check out this winery’s web site – it is very nice.

Our cabbie (Splinter is his nickname) then took us to Mission Estate Winery, a large vineyard with a picture-perfect estate, and charming old seminary building, dated back to the mid 1800s.  As New Zealand’s oldest winery, Mission Estate is not to be missed. 

Many weddings are held in its huge backyard overlooking the vineyards below which stretch away into the horizon.  This is where we found one of the finest ice wines we have ever tasted — unbelievably smooth, fresh, exotically sweet, and oh, so drinkable.  I made a joke of not getting enough of a taste just so the sommelier would pour me another sample.  He knew I was kidding, but he kindly obliged. 

A trio of very reasonably priced bottles left with us: a 2005 Noble Semillon (Reserve), a bottle of the outstanding 2007 Estate Ice Wine, and an expensive 2005 Jewelstone Chardonnay (unfortunately, we never got to drink this wine.  Our bags were opened for a security inspection in San Francisco, and this bottle went mysteriously missing.)

Brookfields Winery New Zealand by Sheree ZielkeFrom here we moved on down the road to a smaller winery, Brookfields Vineyards.  There was nothing small about the wine we tasted here, however.  Rich and satisfying, we chose a 2006 Burnfoot Merlot, and an unfamiliar 2007 Viognier.  Brookfields, begun in 1937, has a Tuscany feel about it, very pleasant and homey.  We loved our very personal visit here.

We picked up a final bottle from a farmer’s market in Dunedin, from Black Ridge Vineyard, the southernmost vineyard/winery in the world.  It’s located on the outskirts of Alexandra. We chose a 2006 Gewurztraminer (the winery’s “flagship for many years”) on the say-so of the booth attendant.  Since there was no opportunity to taste this wine, we are looking forward to the adventure.  I doubt we will be disappointed as the winery’s Pinot Noir won a gold medal in both 1997 and 1998.

Advisory:  If you are a cruise ship passenger and you are visiting local wineries on your own, be prepared for officials on your ship to confiscate your wine, returning it to you on your last evening of sailing.  This is common practice. But if you have visited the wineries as part of a ship excursion then management may allow you to keep your wine (this happened on the Mercury). In addition, some ships, like the Grand Princess, tended to turn a blind eye to a bottle or two.  But if you board with boxes in hand, the way we did, expect your wine to be taken away.  We never had any problem getting on with single bottles though. 

As to whether or not you can drink the wine in your cabin, it’s best to review your individual ship’s policies first.  Did we drink any wine in our cabin?  My lips are sealed.

If you are wondering about importing wine for transit, please see my future blog with tips for secure packing of wines destined for the airline conveyor belt and airline luggage wranglers.  But beware, you risk losing a bottle or two to unscrupulous security bag checkers.  Next time, I think I will put a note on a bottle advising them that this was purchased especially for them.  A cheaper bottle, of course.

Sheree Zielke

Ugly Americans Have Nothing on Ugly Cruise Ship Passengers!

Friday, January 25th, 2008

 Ugly Cruise Ship Passengers – Relax, for Heaven’s Sake!

You’ve heard the term, “Ugly American?”  Well, here’s a label you may not have encountered: Ugly Cruise Ship Passenger.  And that’s because I just made it up, following a 14-day cruise around New Zealand and Australia.

While at breakfast, a few days into our cruise, outside of Christchurch, New Zealand, I overheard several disgruntled passengers each with his or her own complaints about the ship’s crew and its amenities, or lack thereof.

A British couple was having a serious discussion with another British couple over the lack of fruit carvings.  Yes, fruit carvings.  The foursome felt ship management was being somewhat amiss at not having fruit carvings.  One chap remarked that it was probably due to some health regulation or other – that a kitchen staffer may cut himself in the process.  One of the white-haired ladies suggested wistfully that fruit carvings were a long-gone tradition, “a thing of the past,” said she. But both couples agreed that fruit carvings were a must on a cruise.  Sheesh!

At another station, a surly gent stormed up to the tall white-hatted waffle chef, and demanded to know why, for TWO mornings in a row, the coffee machine on the back deck had no coffee.  The chef stared at him briefly, and then, as though the information had finally made its way to the cognitive part of his brain, he apologized and went about finding the waiter in charge of making the coffee.  The passenger, unimpressed, whisked away, cup and all, and headed to another coffee station, just 50 feet away.

While seated at our breakfast table, a group of Americans were discussing the view through the sea-grimed windows.  One loudly complained that ship staff should “wash the windows,” because salty scum was clogging his view (a view only a few feet from the back deck with its open air tables, and no windows).  And after all, it was 6 AM! How long did management need to ensure a sparkling view?

Cruise ship passengers are a hard lot to please.  From the moment they step on board, many become mini tyrants of their own tiny kingdoms.  The mentality is that “I have spent my hard-earned money, and I expect perfect service in exchange.”  That’s regardless of how many other passengers (our ship had nearly 2000) are also expecting this unerring attention to their comfort.

Here’s my best advice for enjoying a cruise vacation: RELAX. 

Know that not everything will be perfect.  Yes, a port or two might be missed due to dangerous weather conditions.  Yes, that special food you were hoping for may not be on the menu (but try asking – nicely).  Yes, room service might be a little slow especially if it’s a day at sea and ¾ of the passengers have ordered in-room breakfast.  Yes, going ashore at the Melbourne port may be a tedious ordeal (but Melbourne is so worth the wait).  Yes, your TV reception may be horrible (Northern hemisphere TVs don’t work well in the Southern hemisphere). 

And oh yes, there may be no fruit carving.  Grab an orange, an apple, and a butter knife and do a fruit carving of your own.  The artistic act may help to bring you peace.

Sheree Zielke

Fly Efficiently — Pack Your Carry-On Bag with Purpose!

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Flying Survival: The Art of Packing Your Carry-on Baggage

Has it happened to you?  A short 3-hour flight has turned into a marathon; your mouth feels as inviting as your cat’s litter box, or the trunk of your car, while your toothbrush is safely stowed in your checked baggage; the security line-up is a mile long, and as slow-moving as sludge.  And you desperately need to pee?

Here are some tips to help you survive the various aspects of your next airline adventure.

But first, be certain your carry-on bag fits the overhead bin or under-the-seat dimensions.  Or you’ll be asked to check this like you checked the rest of your larger luggage.  At the last minute. Not a pleasant experience.   When buying new carry-on luggage, check for those bags sanctioned by the airlines – it will say so on the tag.

Now for those tips:

1. Pack an emergency survival kit in a CLEAR plastic zippered bag. Keep this in a handy area of your carry-on bag, for easy retrieval when passing through security. At security, simply toss the bag and its contents into one of the plastic bins. Quick and easy. And nothing will go astray.

Here’s an A-Z list of items you might find useful to pack in your handy survival kit:

  1. Kleenex pocket pack
  2. Travel pack of flushable wet wipes
  3. Toothbrush
  4. Travel size toothpaste (under 100 ml or 3 oz)
  5. Or try Oral-B “Brush-Ups” (these “teeth wipes” are flat and very effective)
  6. Travel size mouthwash
  7. Dental floss
  8. Lip moisturizer
  9. Small washcloth (in its own small clear baggie)
  10. Travel soap bar (nab one from your hotel room)
  11. Travel size moisturizer (also usually available from your hotel room)
  12. Travel hand sanitizer (you’ll want this after visiting an airplane washroom after several hours in the sky – I’ve used this stuff to even wipe down the gross toilet seat)
  13. Cuticle clippers and/or nail file
  14. Gum
  15. Puzzle book and pen and/or Nintendo DS
  16. Dry eye relief drops (tiny bottle)
  17. Your medications (in their original bottles)
  18. Pair of clean underwear (wrap these in tissue if you don’t want them seen)
  19. Candy bar, granola bar, or any other packaged and labeled snack food (these will pass through any airport security check)
  20. Small bills and coins in clear plastic bags (in the currency of the countries you are visiting, or even just passing through.  I keep several different country currencies.  I just grab the bag with the cash that matches the country I am in. Very convenient for buying a soda pop, water, snack, or a sandwich before re-boarding. And you won’t get held up in security because you forgot the change in your pockets.)
  21. Reading glasses (I carry a cheap spare pair)
  22. A folded larger zippered plastic bag (as you approach security, drop all your electronics into this bag – no worries about something getting left behind)
  23. Photocopies of your passport and travel documents
  24. Notepad
  25. Your suitcase keys
  26. And…most importantly, an extra dose of patience (just wait till you stand in the security line in Toronto, or Denver, or Vancouver, or well, anywhere actually)

For detailed information on what can normally be taken onboard a plane, visit the TSA site.  It’s quite comprehensive and applicable for nearly all flights.

  1. When boarding USA flights, as you get closer to the security conveyor belt, untie or unstrap your shoes (yes, unlike officials in Canada Customs, Americans want to x-ray your shoes).  That way there’s no fumbling at the belt; just step out of your shoes and throw them into a plastic bin.
  2. Here’s one of my best tips for speed and efficiency when travelling.  After having forgotten those wonderful squishy neck pillows in security, and after having my jackets dirtied on the conveyor belt, I now put both my neck pillows and my hoodies, sweaters, and jackets into a giant Ziploc “Big” Bag. These 2 foot extra large bags are very durable, and so handy.  They zipper up just like their smaller cousins, and security officials can see everything inside, at a glance.  (The bonus? I have never had this bag counted as one of my carry-on pieces.)
  3. Carry a small cooler (I use one made by Igloo).  Airport security accepts this as your “lunch” much the same as carrying on a box or bag from a fast food restaurant. Besides being a great place to store snacks and your Nintendo DS Lite, a hard-walled cooler makes the perfect footrest for us short-legged folks.  It eases the pressure on the underside of your thighs, and the subsequent swelling of your ankles.
  4. And finally, the peeing part.  When making a connecting flight, especially if you must go through the local Customs, remember to relieve yourself before the pilot heads into landing mode, and turns on the seatbelt sign.  You have no idea how far you’ll be walking, or how little time you’ll have to make that flight, once you’ve landed.You might be collecting luggage, re-checking luggage, and then passing through security.  While there are washrooms available, you may not have the time to take a quick break.  So, do your business on the plane (no matter how gross the bathrooms have become in transit)

This may not be comprehensive coverage for making your flying experiences easier, but employing just some of these tips will make your experience a lot more efficient and a lot less frustrating, especially in light of canceled or delayed flights.

Sheree Zielke

Cruise Ship Weight Gain — Don’t Despair!

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Vacation Weight Gain is not Cause for Despair — Try These 10 Steps to Getting your Weight Back to Normal

Okay, so it happened.  You went on vacation, you ate, and you ate some more. Now your scale says you have gained a few extra pounds.  Five? Ten? Fifteen?  Maybe even twenty?  Don’t despair!  Your weight gain doesn’t have to be a permanent thing, if you don’t want it to be a permanent thing.  The good news is that you can take off those extra pounds as easily as you put them, and in about the same amount of time, too. 

Remember your body is only doing what it has been programmed to do.  Vacationing usually takes us into warmer temperatures, where there is certainly no shortage of food.  Warm weather plus and abundance of food?  Hmm, our body thinks, it must be summer.  So, like a big old grizzly bear, our body begins storing the extra calories.  But unlike a grizzly bear, we don’t need to wait for hibernation to get the pounds off – just a wee bit of discipline will obtain the desired results.

(Always follow medical advice first. 
This weight control advice is for the average moderately healthy person.)

There is a method whereby you can rid yourself of that temporary weight gain quickly, and relatively easily.  It’s not so much a weight loss technique, but rather a weight control technique

Here’s what to do:

  1. Weigh yourself.  Be brutally honest.  Mark that weight on a calendar.
  2. Decide you are going to lose the extra pounds.  DECIDE.  This won’t work if you treat your decision as a passing fancy.
  3. Stop all foods.  For the next 2-3 days you are going to drink water, and water only.  (Okay, I cheat a bit and have a morning coffee – but that’s not a great idea.  Try to stick to water.)Squeeze fresh lemon juice into your water (the lemon juice as a detoxifier).
  4. Herbal teas have also been acceptable on this plan.  And, if you really want to be a purist, drink your water…warm.  Experts believe this is a more effective way to fast, and to detox your system.But whatever you do, DRINK water.
  5. Drink as much water as you can handle.  When hunger pains hit, do NOT eat; drink water.  The pains will subside and will lessen in occurrences. Your body is trainable.
  6. Weigh yourself daily, every morning is best.  The weight loss will act as wonderful encouragement for you to continue limiting your diet.  Mark your calendar.  You will smile during the first few days because your weight will drop quickly.  But it will slow down, too.  That’s normal.  Just stick to the plan.
  7. Be prepared to come slowly off your fast.  After 2-3 days of just water, introduce soups.  Avoid heavily processed soups full of sodium.  Make your own soup, or use a higher quality soup, like Knorr, and add your own seasonings.
  8.  After soup, begin adding solids to your diet (in small portions).  Start with proteins and whole grains (fiber reduces appetite). AVOID all carbohydrates that aren’t naturally-occurring; choose to eat the carbohydrates that come in whole grain breads and cereals, fresh vegetables and fruits.  But only in small quantities.Eat only one meal or three very small meals a day until your weight is back to normal.
  9. Advisory:  You must continue to monitor your weight, keeping your food intake controlled for at least a month, or your body will think you were just kidding.  As soon as you begin stuffing your face again, the weight will pile back on. Quickly.  That’s “yo-yo” dieting.  Stay in control until your body stabilizes itself.
  10.   Above all, deal with your vacation weight gain IMMEDIATELY.  Do not wait for a week, or even a day to pass by before addressing the problem.  You will be most successful if you lose your extra weight in the week to 2 weeks following your vacation.

Sheree Zielke

New Zealand: The Right Cabbie Will Make Your Shore Day Exceptional!

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Need a cab driver in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand? Try Lance — A Great Find! A Great Friend!

There he stood, a large man resembling a sea captain with his salt and pepper hair, and weather-worried complexion.  Laugh lines near his eyes complemented the thoughtful pattern of wrinkles that lay horizontally across his brow; he made me think of the actor, Sean Connery.

Photo by Sheree Zielke

His cab, a small four-door white sedan, occupied the last spot in the taxi queue.  We were in the town of Mount Maunganui, in the Port of Tauranga, situated on the Bay of Plenty, on the eastern coast of the North Island of New Zealand.  Since leaving the ship, we had already run the gamut of at least three dozen assorted cabs, shuttles, and tour buses before espying the taxi driver who was to make our day of adventuring very special.

The cabbie’s name: Lance Calder.  He told us later he had chosen not to be part of the vicious back-biting under-cutting group of taxi drivers awaiting the arrival of the cruise ship passengers on the pier.  When we asked his price, he stated simply $60NZ per hour.  “Not per person,” he added quickly, but “for the car.”

Lance Calder - Photo by David Thiel

Photo by David Thiel

He wanted to know what we had in mind; as seasoned travelers and photographers, we told him to drive in the direction of Rotorua, and we would tell him when we wanted to stop.  And that he was to avoid the regular tourist stops.  That gave him pause for a moment, but only a moment.

Lance, also known by the handle, “Olddog13-1,” was very quick to learn our desires, and our sense of humour.  He soon joined in our inside jokes as though he’d known us for years.  As a resident of the area since birth (he was born and raised in Te Puke – not as in vomit) he navigated the roadways well, stopping to give us views of the scenery, and share oodles of insider tips on the lifestyle and cultures of the area.

We spent seven hours with Lance – and in that time we saw stinky bubbling sulphuric mud pools in Rotorua, patted a lamb at the Kiwi Lumberjack Show (farm) (ask for Thomas –a handsome young man with a mischievious nature), tasted exquisite wines at the Mills Reef Winery, paid a quick visit to the art deco style Rotorua Museum, lunched in a small café, just up from the old Whakarewarewa Thermal Village (where young boys would dive for coins thrown into the water by tourists), and we visited the Comvita bee centre in Te Puke.

We also visited the Kiwi360 kiwi farm (Lance was extremely knowledgeable in this – he took us under the kiwi orchard canopy where the fruit was hanging like grapes from vines, he pointed out the male and the female vines and how kiwis are chosen for import, with flat-sided ones being rejected and turned into wine instead.)  Lance took us into the shop where we tasted our first kiwi wine (a little too much fruit flavour for our palate) and he took us to a favorite photography subject of ours, an old Mission cemetery, without ever being asked to do so.

Lance Calder - Photo by Sheree Zielke

We learned, through Lance that the huge tree with the gorgeous purple flowers is a Jacaranda tree, a soft drink is called a “fizzy drink,” a car trunk is called a “boot,” and that cruise ship passengers should never share a cab just to split the cost during shore excursions.

“It’s not a good idea,” says Lance.  “The couples can never agree on anything.”  He says he has never seen a cab shared successfully by people who barely knew one another, and who have gotten together just to split the cost of the taxi fare.  He says the only successful shared cab rides are those where the passengers have previously agreed upon where it is they want to go, and what it is they want to do.

Besides knowing the area so well, and being a charming traveling host, Lance is also specially trained in the art of assisting the handicapped, or the ambulatory-challenged.  He has extensive experience dealing with special needs children, and seniors in wheelchairs.

And if you are a wine lover, Lance has an inside track, having a son-in-law in the business.  Be sure to ask him for a little advice if you are going into the Napier-Hawke’s Bay area on what wineries to see, and the best route to take to see them.

Planning a trip to the Tauranga, New Zealand area via cruise ship?  Contact Lance Calder in advance.  You will feel like family when this burly congenial man welcomes you at the pier.  Tell him Sheree says you’ll need to buy a “Peepsi.”  He’ll know what you are talking about.

Contact Lance via email at

Sheree Zielke

New Zealand & Australia: Are they worth a 14-hour flight?

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

New Zealand & Australia – Celebrity (Mercury) Cruise January 2008

Are you feeling iffy about the possibility of a cruise off the coasts Down Under?  Does a 14+ hour plane ride sound too daunting?  If so, you are not alone.  But here I am to tell you  that I not only survived the flight, but I have had one of the best exotic vacations ever.  Read on.

We live in Western Canada so our flight originated out of Calgary.  From there we flew to Los Angeles, and from there (after 2 very warm hours on the tarmac) we flew to Auckland, New Zealand (in “cattle car” class — you know what I mean, the cheap cramped seats with minimal service).  But we had no option for an upgrade, so we accepted things as they were.

The flight, oddly enough, turned out to be not as gruelling as we had anticipated.  There is ample room on the Air New Zealand plane to move about (to ease leg swelling), and the TV in the headrest is filled with programs and recent movie selections.

The seats are crammed together, but not horribly so.  Unless, you are very large person, you should find them bearable.   We hit some rocky air pockets, but for the most part, the flight was uneventful.

We arrived to gray skies in Auckland; a crew of Celebrity cruise ship people were there to greet us.  We were escorted to a large tour coach (bus) and taken for a spin around Auckland before boarding the Mercury ship.  It was an unexpected surprise — and a very pleasant one at that.  Especially the morning tea at the Winter Garden Pavilion.

The ship’s management used the time very efficiently and did our initial boarding clearance at the Auckland museum, where we took a quick 20-30 minute tour of an amazing museum, before re-boarding our coach.  We were given a bit of a tour of the Auckland harbour and then taken to the ship, where we were allowed to board early.  It was a wonderful surprise, and so welcome after all the time we had spent on planes and in airports.

For insider tips, cruising tips, reviews on the Celebrity Mercury, reviews and hi-lights of the New Zealand and Austrailian ports-of-call, visit this blog this month. 

You will find a wealth of information — information that will hopefully lead you to a positive decision about a Down Under vacation. 

Sheree Zielke