Port of Auckland New Zealand

Auckland New Zealand and The Bay of Islands

Approaching Auckland
Approaching Auckland

Auckland is a popular port for cruises around Australia and New Zealand as well as southbound Pacific repositioning cruises. Most itineraries also include a stop at The Bay of Islands due north from Auckland.

 

Where You Dock
Princess Wharf
Princess Wharf

The Port of Auckland has a number of piers east from the ferry terminal at Princess Wharf. All of the docking spaces are right in downtown Auckland so it is only a short walk from the dock into the CBD. There are also a number of public facilities not far from the port.

Transportation

With only a few hours on average for exploring while in this port there are a number of places within walking distance and the downtown area is very pedestrian friendly with lots to see. Taxis are readily available but Auckland is the center of a large metropolitan area so it is best to have a destination in mind and agree on a fare before heading out. There is also an extensive bus and ferry system around the area with a good web site that shows your options HERE . The city also has a visitors one and two day pass that includes admission to a number of attractions HERE.

CBD Auckland
CBD Auckland
Money

The New Zealand currency is the NZ$ currently worth about 65¢ US. Foreign currency is not readily accepted but credit cards usually work fine.

Attractions

Within walking distance are a number of good sights including:

  • Albert Park – Historical, park with trees andflowerbeds, a Victorian fountain & statues.
  • Auckland Art Gallery – A collection of national & international art, with Maori works, in a château-style historic building.
  • New Zealand Maritime Museum – exploring the country’s seafaring history through exhibits & sailing trips on replica ships.
  • The Skywalk Visitors Center
  • Auckland Bridge Climb (Bungee jumping available)
Downtown Auckland

Also about twenty miles west of Auckland is a very nice wilderness area called Waitākere Ranges Regional Park that if you have a few days this area should be considered.

The Port of Bay of Islands

Anchored Bay of Islands
Anchored Bay of Islands

Located about 175 miles north of Auckland is the Bay of Islands. The area is somewhat rural and one of the big attractions is the various vineyards nearby. While the production is on a much smaller scale than the southern island the quality is very good. A local industry has developed offering tours to the cruise passengers and probably the best way to see some of the region is booking one of these tours. Many of these excursions are focused on the waters around this port.

The Wine Trail
The Wine Trail

 

 

 

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The Windward Passage Hotel, St. Thomas

Blackbeards Castle Resort
Blackbeards Castle Resort

 

Looking for a modest priced hotel in St. Thomas right in the center of the action in Charlotte Amalie?

The Windward Passage is not a fancy beachfront resort but it is a moderately priced accommodation for the budget minded in an excellent location in Charlotte Amalie.

We’ve been kicking around the Caribbean for over forty years. Our business has taken us to well near three quarters of the Caribbean’s islands, several more times than we can count. At one point we were making plans to move to St. Croix but a storm named Hugo changed our minds. We have also operated a couple of offices in the islands and our children refer to a number of islanders as their aunts and uncles.

The Mamas & Papas 1965
The Mamas & Papas 1965

My first visit to the Caribbean was in 1965 when my Navy ship stopped in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas for three days. There was a popular club called Lion in the Sun where a band called the Mamas and the Papas were playing at night, usually after working restaurants and bars in the Creeque Alley area during the day (thus their song Creeque Alley). I was a diver and St. Thomas was my first visit to a coral reef and from that day on I was hooked on the Caribbean.

During our business travel days we rarely stayed at beach resorts but used hotels that catered to business travelers. We had a number of accounts in St. Thomas that required frequent attention so we were there often. Our favorite hotel in Charlotte Amalie was the Windward Passage.

The Windward Passage, is a large waterfront hotel in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Overlooking the picturesque Charlotte Amalie Harbor, it is a business-class hotel centrally located just steps away from duty free shops, good restaurants and nightlife. The hotel is a large building with clean, nice-sized rooms. It also offers complimentary van service to the airport, the beautiful white sands of Magen’s Bay Beach, Coral World, an underwater marine park and observatory, “The Sky Ride” cable car that takes you 700 feet above sea level, and the “99 Steps of Charlotte Amalie”* for the most amazing views of the Caribbean. With a good location on the Harbor in Charlotte Amalie it makes for convenient day trips to neighboring St. John. There is a ferry to St. John that leaves the waterfront in Charlotte Amalie several times a day for a $20 round trip (there is more frequent service from Red Hook).

We have some fond memories of this place as our oldest son, who is now in his thirties took his first steps at this hotel.

*Step streets in Charlotte Amalie are historical walkways called 99 steps (actually more than 99) and were built in the seventeen hundreds from the ballast bricks of the ships coming from the old world.

Port of Call Nassau, Bahamas

A favorite port for three and four day cruises out of Florida and returning longer cruises, Nassau has a lot to offer.

Where You’re Docked

Cruise ships dock at Prince George Wharf, sometimes as many as five are there at once. The wharf is located right in downtown Nassau with a large number of good restaurants and plenty of “duty free” shopping. The island is also famous for it numerous great beaches as well as coral reefs, sport fishing and boating.

 

Crossing a bridge in downtown Nassau gets you to Paradise Island, home of the resort Atlantis and others resorts. It is a two mile walk over the Paradise Island you can walk across the bridge.

Downtown Nassau, The Bahamas
Downtown Nassau, The Bahamas
Transportation
harbour light
Harbour Entrance

If you just want to walk around and see the town it is only a short stroll to downtown. You can rent cars and scooters right at the wharf as well as book land and water tours. Taxis are readily available but you should negotiate price before heading out.

Currency

The countries currency is the Bahamas Dollar which is on par with the U.S. Dollar. U.S. Dollars are readily accepted.

Cruise ships in port
Cruise ships in port
Attractions

Three miles east along the north shore out of Nassau is the exclusive Cable Beach area, a resort beach with great beaches and a number of good restaurants and hotels. Again near town there is also Paradise Island and the Atlantis resort (often cruise ships offer day tours over to Atlantis).

Atlantis
Atlantis
  • Atlantis on Paradise Island   A destination all on its own. FeaturesWater park, aquariums, beaches. Requires admission (day pass) unless you are a resort guest.
  • Fort Fincastle  1793 stone fort & former lighthouse
  • Ardastra Gardens Zoo, gardens & conservation center
  • Prince George Wharf    Cruise-ship dock with tour vendors
  • Clifton Heritage Park .  Nature trails, historic ruins & beaches
  • Dolphin Cay Atlantis &
  • Bahamas Dolphins Adventure . Marine habitat with dolphin interaction
  • Marine Habitat at Atlantis .   Large aquarium at an upscale resort
  • Fort Charlotte .  1788 stone fort with moats & dungeons
  • Queen’s Staircase .  Stone staircase, circa 1793
  • Pirates of Nassau .  Pirate museum with replica ship
  • National Art Museum .  Local history & art in a historic villa
  • Sea Trek Helmet Diving

 

Good links for additional information:

 

Visiting Haleakala

The Largest Volcano on the Hawaiian island of Maui

Approaching Maui

The Hawaiian island of Maui is actually two volcanic cones joined by a small piece of land. The larger volcano to the southeast is Haleakalā towering 10,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean and still considered active, though currently quiet.

North shore surf seen from 10,000 ft
North shore surf seen from 10,000 ft
 The Haleakalā Observatory
The Haleakalā Observatory

The Haleakalā Observatory, also known as the Haleakalā High Altitude Observatory Site, is Hawaii ‘s first astronomical research observatory.

Haleakalā is a unique place since there are very few places on earth where you can drive from sea-level to ten-thousand feet in just a couple of hours.

Afternoon clouds role thru the crator
Afternoon clouds role thru
The view across the caldera
The view across the caldera

The trip up the slopes to the Haleakalā National Park from the seaside town of Kapalua is a full two-hour drive. The steady climb up the slopes represents half the trip but the views from the summit are worth every minute it takes to get there. From the summit looking off to the north you will see the coast with its reefs and surf just offshore from the coastal Hana highway. Looking south is the spectacular view out across the caldera with its numerous smaller eruption cones and gorgeous multi-colored deposits of cinder and earth. The landscape makes you feel as if you are on the planet Mars.

The view across the caldera
The view across the caldera

A popular expedition is to go up to the 10,000 foot summit before dawn to watch the sun rise out of the sea (you need to get a permit for the pre-dawn trip). Mark Twain called sunrise from Haleakalā “the most sublime spectacle I have ever witnessed.”

The best way to really experience the park is by walking its trails. There are 35+ miles of hiking trails in the Wilderness Area that guides hikers through sub-alpine scrubland, rain-forest, and cinder desert.

Maui silversword
Maui silversword

On the slopes of Haleakalā are a number of native birds and over 800 species of plants with over 300 species native, or endemic to Hawaii, found only in the islands. At the higher elevations you will find the Maui silversword or Haleakala silversword, a rare plant, part of the daisy family Asteraceae.

Maui silverswordThe silversword in general is referred to as ʻāhinahina in Hawaiian (literally, “very gray”). The Haleakalā silversword is found only at elevations above 7,000 feet on the Haleakalā volcano, on the summit depression, the rim summits, and surrounding slopes in Haleakalā National Park. The Haleakalā silversword has been a threatened species as defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, since May 15, 1992.

If you are only spending a day or two on Maui probably the least costly way of getting to see Haleakalā is by rental car. Cars are usually about $75 for a day and at the most $100. It is also worth pointing out that the best time to visit is in the morning. Because of the islands height it has a tendency to develop clouds around the peak in the afternoon and while it is a beautiful sight being above the clouds on Haleakalā you could miss some spectacular views of the island.

The view across the caldera
The view across the caldera
View at 6,000 feet
View at 6,000 feet

A First Try at Seeing The Emerald Isle

Visiting Ireland On a Rainy Spring Trip

Our first visit to Ireland was this past spring. Most people rave about this lush, green island and we now understand why. I’m not sure if it’s the sense of place, the history or the Irish people but we will surely be back again. This trip we spent eight days traveling around Ireland with an agenda that included Cobh, Waterford, East Dunmore, Cork (including Blarney), Dublin and Belfast.

The Emerald Isle is divided into two parts; the Republic of Ireland in the south (actually about eighty percent of the island) with Northern Ireland in the northeast, which is a part of the United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland is an independent nation and a member of the EU and uses the Euro. Northern Ireland because of Brexit uses the English Pound. It seems that Brexit created a new riff between the two Irelands and could create new tension going forward. Most of the towns and cities are located along the east coast with high cliffs facing out into the Atlantic on the west coast.

Cobh, The Seaport of Cork

 

Before visiting Cobh we inquired about the weather. The response was “it’s a beautiful day here with just a light rain and a high of 46°”. Welcome to the Emerald Isle.

Because of the rainy weather we spent the first day in Cobh, which is the seaport that serves Cork. It’s a picturesque town with many streets that seem to be running up hills at about forty-five degrees. The principle business seems to be celebrating the fact that the Titanic made its last port of call here. There’s the Titanic Pub, the Titanic Museum and gift shop and memorials to many of the one hundred and thirty passengers that boarded the Titanic here just before it steamed into the Atlantic and history. One pub claimed that several Titanic passengers had their last pint ashore in their pub before sailing (that would be one hundred six years ago) and who can refute that?

 

A monument to a local celebrity is on the pier in front of the visitors center. It is of Annie Moore who is confirmed as the first Irish immigrant to the United States that arrived at Ellis Island. The statue shows her and two younger brothers on the pier as if they are ready to set off on their new life in America.

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The city also has the gorgeous St. Colman’s Cathedral which was started in 1867 but not finished for almost fifty years. The cathedral tower contains the largest carillon in Europe with forty-nine bells. The bells strike on the hour and at fifteen minute intervals and plays a longer program for Sunday Mass and on special events.

Cobh is the end of a train line with easy access to Cork for only a couple of Euros with trains leaving about every twenty minutes. The trip takes less than a half hour with continuing service on to Blarney just a few minutes farther away.

All in all it was a great first Irish day and I realized that to make English a really beautiful language it needs to be spoken with an Irish accent.

East Dunmore, A Seaside Village

This Irish fishing village isn’t far from Waterford and is a quant seaside resort town with a number of bed and breakfasts and upscale hotels. We visited on a Saturday and there seemed to be a surprising number of people in town and at the beach considering there was still a chill in the air. We spent the day walking the coastal trail and visiting the galleries and craft shops.

A Day Trip Out of Belfast

The Giants Causeway

Up on the North coast of Northern Ireland is a geological World Heritage Site named The Giants Causeway. It was created when volcanic magma cooled on the surface millions of years ago and looks much like someone constructed it. It is composed of thousands of basalt hexagonal columns standing in clusters at various heights along the edge of the sea.

When we got to the site the weather was a balmy 42° and clouds were gathering quickly. From the visitors center down to the shore is a good steep walk and while there is a shuttle bus, on a busy day the wait in line for the ride is probably longer than the walk – so off we hiked. Once we got to the bottom it started a light rain with wind blowing at 40 or 50 mph. The temperature also seemed to plummet and when climbing back up I swear there was sleet stinging my face. At one point the wind got inside my hood and it seemed it lifted me off my feet.

 

Once we reached the top we sought refuge in the bar of the Causeway Inn. It was a cozy place and much less congested than the other options. We all had coffee and scones and spent a long time thawing out. Sitting next to us was an Irish family and we got to talking. Asking if they had hiked down yet they replied “No, we live here. We’re staying here keeping cozy while our guests freeze their noses off.” I couldn’t agree more. While it is an amazing place and we would recommend a visit, if we had the option of waiting for a warm and sunny day?!

One of the biggest issues to a planned itinerary with a limited amount of time is you don’t get to change much and you are stuck with the weather that fate deals you. 

DSCN4986Ruins of Dunluce Castle near The Giants Causeway

It would also seem that this area is also used in a number of Game of Thrones episodes. We are beginning to think that we are either just lucky to keep running into GOT sights or perhaps they film just about everywhere?

Eating the Florida Keys (Part 3)

Part Three – Restaurants in the Keys

The Florida Keys
The Florida Keys

Coming to the Keys most people are looking for Sun, sand and water with fresh seafood being a good expectation. Our suggestion is to approach Keys seafood with a simple rule – “the simpler, the better”. Florida’s waters are famous for Florida lobsters (also called spiny lobster or Caribbean lobster) crab, shrimp, grouper and dolphin, and on and on. No it is not the Flipper kind of dolphin but a name for a popular fish. Because of the name issue you will probably find it more often referred to by the Hawaiian name mahi-mahi but whatever you call it it is a beautiful mild-flavored white meat fish.  Most locals have favorite hangouts often with picnic tables on docks or decks, cold beer and fresh-caught fish on the grill. Maybe throw a lobster on the grill too or a bucket of peel-n-eat shrimp.

One problem is you will find a lot of good places to eat but unfortunately there are probably more mediocre to bad restaurants around. In the past we had come to believe that one of the problems is the tourist character of this chain of islands. With an estimated number of visitors to just Key West exceeding 2.5 million and a local population of under twenty-five thousand it isn’t hard to see where the foundation of the economy is. Generally, in the past, restaurants in the Keys were high priced with little dependence on return customers which is a terrible combination. Over the years we had developed our list of favorites with the majority being local places and a few with long histories and reputations.

On returning after over a decade we were hopeful that the internet had helped to fix this restaurant problem. In this modern age it is very difficult for even small restaurants to escape the comments of thousands of online reviewers. After a week of reading reviews and eating around the Keys we decided that, unfortunately, not much has changed. While you can find great seafood still you really need to know where to look, read reviews and ask locals for advice.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Lorilei’sa bar in Key West in Islamorada is another institution in the Keys and a favorite for watching sunsets.

Sid & Roxy’s Green Turtle Inn located in Islamorada has been a Keys institution forever. Sid and Roxy bought the place in 1947 and the current owners work hard at keeping up the reputation. The originator of Key Lime pie.

Herbie’s in Marathon has been in business forever and is a favorite with locals. There have been new owners for a few years but everyone says they’re doing a good job of keeping up the reputation. And don’t get put off by the outside appearance.

Hurricane HoleHurricane Hole bar & grill Key west is just north across the bridge going out of Key West on Stock Island. This is a typical Keys place on a marina with lots of outdoor tables. The food is fresh and good and the prices very friendly.

Ship Wreck Bar & Grill in Key Largo is a little off the beaten path but worth the look. Again this place is a solid favorite with locals and while a little unrefined serves good, fresh Keys seafood and cold beer. Enough said.

In Marathon is Sweet Savannah’s a bakery and ice cream shop. If you are looking for a great slice of Key Lime pie – this is the place. An award winner for five years. 8919 Overseas Hwy, Marathon, FL 33050

Island Fish CompanyIsland Fish Company in Marathon was just an open-air Tiki Hut on the water a decade or so ago. Even then they grilled up some good, fresh seafood at reasonable prices and featured live music in the evenings. We were amazed how they had grown since our last visit. You can’t do that unless you’re doing something right.

Islamorada Fish Company

Islamorada Fish Company, like the Island Fish Company started out by just open-air grilling fresh seafood out on the docks. A while ago the got a new neighbor, Outdoor World, that started bringing in traffic and their business exploded. Now they are all grown-up, were taken over by Outdoor World and have over a dozen locations around the country. They still serve solid seafood.

Sloppy JoesKey West is ground zero for good restaurants in the Keys and you could spend a couple of weeks eating out and still have more to try. Like the Keys in general, some of the best food in Key West is served thru a window and enjoyed at a picnic table so keep that in mind as you decide where to eat.

Conch Republic SeafoodConch Republic Seafood Company in Key West is a good choice for seafood and at a good price. While it is a favorite with the tourists and the waterfront location offers good scenery it is still a solid choice.  Tip: The happy hour buy one get one beer tokens don’t have to be used on the same day.

Key West Port of Call

Many western Caribbean cruises include Key West, Florida as one of their port visits. This city has much to offer a one-day visitor from history to shopping to just soaking up the atmosphere of Americas most southern place.

Where You Dock – Cruise ships dock along the waterfront right at Mallory Square in the heart of town. While there is no cruise terminal there are plenty of facilities with a short walk.

A five block walk to the left down Front Street takes you past Duval Street, home to a number of shops, bars and restaurants to A&B Docks with its array of restaurants and shops next to Key West Bight. Walking down Front Street in the opposite direction takes you past the Truman Winter White House and Whitehead Street the address of the Audubon House and the Hemingway House.

Transportation – Key West is not a very large city with the center of town just steps away. Getting to the other side of the island is a few miles but without a specific interest in mind probably not worth the walk. Sightseeing is easy with the Conch Train and the Trolley one to three block from the ship. There are also a few less conventional modes of transportation available like street legal golf carts and miniature two-seaters you can rent.

Money – The US Dollar

Attractions – If you are interested in history there are a number of attractions for you. From the Ship Wreck Museums to the homes of famous Americans like President Truman, Hemingway and Audubon. There are also an assortment of water activities like snorkeling and diving trips along with sailing excursions available. Key West is also popular for shopping, seafood and bars. Be sure and visit Sloppy Joe’s Bar, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite. There is little in the way of attractive beaches nearby but there are excursions down to the Dry Tortugas and the National Park and historic fort.

Key West is also famous for its sunset celebration at Mallory Square but unfortunately because of local regulations cruise ships must depart before sunset so as not to block the views.