by Anna Campbell
Happy New Year!!!!
Hey, guys, I promised you a report on New Zealand and also some photos so here goes!
If after this deluge of photos, you'd like to see some more, please check out the My Favorite Things page of my website where there are MORE! Oh, and I'm blogging on the 11th January on Tote Bags 'n' Blogs about the beautiful botanical gardens in Wellington so if you want pictures of rainforest plants and roses, check that out too.
I was the guest of P and O cruises on their 'Pacific Dawn' (about 2,000 passengers and 1,000 crew). I gave six talks on romance writing on the sea days. The three on the way out were ostensibly on how to write a romance but they ended up covering pretty much everything to do with writing a book. The three on the way back were about favorite romances (there were lots of enthusiastic romance readers on board), readings from my first four books and then a session on MY RECKLESS SURRENDER and MIDNIGHT'S WILD PASSION. I also did a big signing on the last sea day where I got to sit next to the captain who was signing shipboard souvenirs! That was way cool!
By the way, I think the lady in the armchair at the front of the photo above is just listening intently. She's not ASLEEP!!!! Snork! And you'll notice that we got quite a few blokes along for the talks - always nice to see!
I really enjoyed shipboard life. Everybody was tremendously friendly and I spent way too much time in the cocktail bar. And food! Lordy, Lordy, Lordy, they feed you on the boat like it's going out of style! It's a very relaxing way to travel - you can do precisely as much as you feel like doing. And it was wonderful to see so many people reading as I wandered around the decks (well, perhaps lurched - take note of the cocktail comment above!).
Our first stop was Auckland which has a spectacular harbor scattered with islands. I booked shore excursions at every port as I wanted to see as much of the country as I could. To the left, you can see a photo of the beautiful Waitakere rainforest park outside Auckland. Bushwalking in New Zealand is a snap compared to Australia which is full of creepy crawlies and some seriously dangerous critters. New Zealand doesn't even have leeches and it has only one poisonous spider which apparently is incredibly rare and not very aggressive.
After the rainforest walk, we headed out to the wild west coast to see the Murawai Gannet Colony. I'd seen gannets fishing in Scotland (they're spectacular, the way they turn themselves into white missiles and dart right into the water). It was interesting seeing their nesting - doesn't look very comfortable, does it? We were lucky enough to see some of the elaborate courtship/greeting behavior when Mr. or Mrs. would come in from a long time at sea and renew bonds with the bird that had sat minding the egg.
Our next port was Tauranga from where we visited the volcanic wonders of Rotorua. I'd booked another day trip to go to the Waimangu Valley which still belongs to its traditional Maori owners. The valley was created by a massive volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886 so it's one of the world's most recent landscapes.
Our hosts greeted us with a traditional welcome when we arrived. Very impressive! Then they whisked us off for a lake cruise on Lake Rotomahana where we got to see how incredibly unsettled this landscape still is.
Look at that steam escaping from the thermal vents! The landscape was mindboggling and made you feel very puny as a human. I'd never seen anything like it - rivers of boiling water and lakes of sulphuric acid and the world's largest hot spring in Frying Pan Lake.
After the cruise, we did a walk through the landscape. I kept expecting a dinosaur or two to pop out and say hello. It was definitely primeval!
Instead we met our hosts again who put on a wonderful concert of traditional Maori dance and song. They sang a beautiful Maori love song called Po Karekare Ana which gives me goosebumps. Just gorgeous.
And another picture of the amazing landscape steaming with volcanic activity!
Our next stop was beautiful Napier. This is another story of a place completely shaped by recent seismic activity (Australia is pretty stable when it comes to stuff like earthquakes so all of this definitely counted as exotic to me). In 1931, the port of Napier on the east coast of New Zealand's north island was almost completely destroyed by a massive earthquake which killed something like 10% of the population and flattened nearly all the buildings. The town was reconstructed in the fashionable Art Deco style and today, Napier is one of the world's Art Deco destinations.
I knew some of this, thanks to going to a huge Art Deco exhibition at the National Gallery in Melbourne a couple of years ago. What surprised me was quite how MUCH Art Deco remains. With a few exceptions, almost every building is in this elegant, angular style. I did a wonderful architecture walk through the town which got us into some authentic interiors as well. And then I spent a fortune on Art Deco souvenirs at the Art Deco Shop.
As you can probably tell by now, the town takes every advantage of being the world's Art Deco capital! They have an Art Deco weekend in February every year and I was really impressed to see that the locals turned out to meet the ship in period costume and driving vintage cars. They even had a great jazz band to farewell us as we sailed away.
And what do you think of this elegant lady with her equally elegant greyhound in the main shopping street?
Please check out the Tote Bags blog next week for the beauties of Wellington's public gardens!
Our first stop on the South Island was Christchurch which was rocked by a major earthquake in 2010. Hmm, the whole volcanic thing is turning into a theme, isn't it? I didn't spend very much time in Christchurch itself although the drive through its main streets indicates they've done a great job of cleaning up what was obviously a major disaster.
Instead, we took a wonderful train trip up into the Southern Alps which involved some spectacular scenery and a wonderful bus ride home through the rugged valleys where they shot the Narnia films.
Sadly, none of my photos of this trip really do it justice! But take my word for it, it was beautiful!
Our last port was Dunedin which was the only place where we had rotten weather. I'd always wanted to see an albatross and so immediately signed up for a wildlife cruise to the only mainland nesting colony in the world for these majestic birds.
Again, my photos don't do it justice! But there's something really breathtaking about having those pure white birds with their massive (over 6m) wingspans flying overhead or dipping low to check out the boat. According to our guides, the boys tend to be naughty and mischievous. The girls take life much more seriously and build the nests and make sure everyone is fed.
Anyway, photowise I thought I'd skip to what scenically was the highlight of the trip - Fiordland National Park on the bottom west corner of the South Island.
It was here that my new digital camera (I finally moved on from film for this trip) really came into its own. I took hundreds of photos! We were really lucky with weather too. After the cold, windy, rainy day in Dunedin, I was worried I'd only see gray and mist in the fiords but it turned into a perfect blue sky day. Nothing like jagged mountains rising up against a clear sky, is there?
We visited Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound - that's the one with the icy glaciers in the photo.
Not only did we have perfect weather, we had perfect companions. Lots of dolphins and the occasional southern fur seal.
Definitely a day that I'll treasure in my memory forever.
Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this long but very pictorial glimpse of my recent travels.
As I said, the day in the fiords was heavenly, almost too good to be true. Have you had a travel day that was like that? Just a perfect day that lives in your memory with that special golden glow? I'd love to swap travelers' tales with you today!