A moment of silence in Doubtful Sound

On the way back on the second day, we were taken into a pristine bay and instructed in the rules of a moment of silence. We were to take our positions so that even the sound of someone’s sneakers slapping on the steps wouldn’t disturb the silence. Of course, we couldn’t take pictures either, not for our “moment,” though we could all happily resume video and photos as soon as it was over.

The sounds of the bird life in Doubtful Sound are faint, perhaps because not so many birds exist due to the introduction of predators to which the native species were not adapted. But with all the engines off, including the generators, and everyone being quiet, birds could be heard calling to one another in the trees on the mountainside.

The water was so still the mirror it made reflected even quite distant waterfalls.

The air was pure and the moment was as spiritual as any I’ve ever experienced.

Doubtful-Sound4 Doubtful-Sound3  Doubtful-Sound1


A kiwi…night bird for a night owl

Seeing kiwis is rare. We were walking to our hotel in Paihia after a long day of touring and a late dinner out for the trip, and my husband spotted one. I managed to get my camera out and turn on the flash in time to capture its body in the edge of the frame.


We took this sighting as a good omen. I wanted it to share it with you, so the cute little kiwi could be a good omen for you as well.

Happy Halloween and here’s to a wonderful November. For many writers, including me, November is novel writing month. November has a nice holiday in it for Americans. It’s summer in Australia, even as the snow is starting to fly here in the California Sierras. So whatever November means to you, may it be filled with peace, good food, and achievements in whatever realm is important to you.

Doubtful Sound…more beauty

On the way back after our overnight, the nature guide explained that it’s really difficult to appreciate the scale of the mountains. He was taking us toward an indentation at the bottom of one of the mountains, and he said when we arrived, the prow of the ship would fit below the cave. That seemed impossible because the cavern looked tiny from a distance, compared to the mountain above it. But sure enough, when we pulled up to the cavern, the prow was smaller, and it was a big ship.

We were having really good luck with the waterfalls because of all the rain. The water that comes down the mountains through the rain forest is naturally filtered by the moss and safe to drink. More than safe, the water is pure. The nature guide actually collected the water and we drank it! It was cold and fresh. It wasn’t bubbly, though! The moss does not accomplish that.


Doubtful Sound and the muffin caper

Real Journeys gets a lot of credit for this tour. They made it an extraordinary experience for us. Even though they do it all the time, they lavished the experience upon us, knowing it was our only time, an experience of a lifetime.

I was satisfied after the water adventures part. Already I had had a delightfully narrated bus ride from Queenstown to Manapouri, a very nice ferry ride across Lake Manapouri with free coffee and tea…or good beer (not free), and then a stunning bus ride over Wilmot Pass, including commentary about the ecosystem of the rain forest through which we were driving. Did you know moss is essential to the New Zealand rain forest ecology? Then we had warm muffins, saw a lot of beautiful mountains in the fiord, and went on a nature ride in a tender boat. I thought we were done. But oh no…we were just getting started, and so you, my blog readers, are also just getting started on my recap of the Doubtful Sound tour.

When we first arrived on the boat, we had our safety lecture and were introduced to the crew. The crew all stood ramrod straight in their uniforms. They were confidence inspiring, while still being friendly, wearing big smiles and making eye contact with the passengers. After that we were assigned to our staterooms where we could put our bags. I also took a little rest.

As a result of my dawdling, we were late getting up to the dining room for the muffins, and there were only 3 left. I took our two and set them on a table then went to tell my husband what I wanted to drink, as he was queued up for the coffee and tea. When I came back, someone had swiped one of our muffins!

I was really mad. Possibly they thought it was part of the pile to be taken, but it didn’t seem that way as those were in a basket and ours were laid out with napkins beside them. I was really mad!

Well, my husband came over and was kind of ticked too, but not as much as I was. I don’t know why. I was in kind of a bad mood to start with, I guess. I’ve since learned that cruises stress me out. I didn’t realize it until I saw a picture of myself taken by the ship’s photographer on the Bay of Islands cruise. I can see from my body language that I was anxious. I didn’t realize it until I saw the picture later, but then it wasn’t hard to figure out why. I don’t really like tours, especially on boats, because you have no control. You are along for the ride, and if the tour does something you don’t like, there’s no escape. Add to that my tendency to get seasick, and I really don’t like cruises. On this particular day, I also had a slight cold.

Anyhow, back to the muffins. I wanted that dang muffin! I was so mad someone “stole” it. Oh yes, I said that already, didn’t I? I knew that the missing muffin may have been an innocent mistake, but I wasn’t ready to stop being mad. Well, my husband told Jax, one of the crew, and she laughed and said maybe it was the cold weather that had made everyone peckish. (That means hungry.) Jax told the chef, who then made me one more muffin. About 15 minutes later it arrived, hot from the oven.

Then I was really happy, and, in fact, it was the best muffin I ever had. I asked another crew member for the recipe, he asked the chef, and the chef gave it to me! She had to hand write the recipe because it is taped to the wall in the galley. She also had to scale it down a lot because her recipe is for 150 people, (or 149 as the case may be!). I mention those details because we rarely see inside a commercial kitchen and I thought it was interesting that she has the recipe taped to the wall and that it’s such a huge amount. When she cooks, she really cranks out a lot. She is an amazing chef, by the way. The meals were firs rate, with excellent vegetarian options too.

When I make the muffins, I’ll put up some photos for you.

Here are three more pictures from my Doubtful Sound adventure.

The Fiordland Navigator, our ship
Heading toward that center island, and the Tasman Sea. (Photo altered for effect.)
Water from the rains don’t get absorbed because there’s no soil. The water  all cascades off the mountains into the fiord. The fresh water looks green where it meets the sea water because it is stained by the vegetation on its way down the mountain.


New Zealand, cultural observations

On our last day in Auckland, we spotted a Mexican restaurant that was open for breakfast. I said to my husband, “Mexican food for breakfast?” He said, “If it’s Mexican and open for breakfast, it has breakfast burritos.” Yum. Mexican food is one of those things that I pine for when I travel.

The place was awesome. It’s called Mexicali Fresh, California Mexican fresh food, and it’s on Hobson Street, with several other locations in Auckland.

Turns out the restaurant is owned by a California transplant. We had an interesting conversation. I was really impressed by his business plan and his design skills. He was able to immigrate 11 years or so ago, with an Expression of Interest Visa, because he had graphic design skills, which they didn’t have enough of at the time.

His design skills really showed in the restaurant. I was impressed with how he nailed the exact design flavor, California fresh Mex. The color scheme was bright and vibrant hues from the south American palette, there was a rustic feel imparted by distressed bricks and wood, and attention to detail showed in electrical conduits painted an attractive bright orange which rendered them a color pop instead of an eyesore. I was also impressed by the use of technology: Three big-screen TVs displayed the menu in rotating graphics that showed specials with photos of the dishes. As for the business plan, he has 10 shops now in Auckland and it looks from his website like he offers franchise opportunities.

When we were there, he was training an employee on using the IPad for management tasks.

He looks like a surfer dude, casual, fit, relatively young. After he finished training his employee and talking to us, he headed off, probably to visit another store.

Now for the cultural observations. I noticed that he talked to us quietly, coming over to stand by our table so he could speak softly. In fact, I noticed this quietness in New Zealand a lot. When we rode the public bus back from the Northland tour, the passengers were very quiet, and if you were loud (which I tend to be), people gave you a dirty look. Well, the young people did. The older folks didn’t seem to mind. I quieted down, adjusting to local norms. Although, one caveat I have, the restaurant where we had dinner in Paihea, (Lovely Place in Maori, the access town for the Bay of Islands), was very loud, but there was a group there who had participated in a race car rally that day and they were partying. Plus there was an obnoxious group of big guys who came in to do a hazing ritual by singing loudly until the manager kicked them out. So maybe it’s not possible to generalize too much, but overall, people seemed to be quiet in public.

The other observation comes from something that the Mexicali owner said. He is from Southern California. He said when he goes back to California, he is struck by how different it is from New Zealand. Naturally, I asked him in what way California is different from New Zealand, expecting him to say it’s more crowded. (There are around four million people in New Zealand. It’s really not crowded.) But he said, while waving his hand over his eyes, he wasn’t used to being bombarded by so much constant advertising.

I looked out the window, considered everywhere we had been in New Zealand, and found his observation to be true. There were very few billboards, none on the highways, and just a few in Auckland. I hadn’t realized how much Americans are subjected to advertising. I can’t complain too much, since I advertise my books! But it was interesting to compare the two experiences.

Here are some more shots from New Zealand for you to enjoy.

Cape Reinga, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. This is the Tasman Sea.
View from the cafe in Taipa, a beach town in Doubtless Bay (an area on the north island, as distinct from Doubtful Sound on the south island.)
Looking down from the mountain pass to Doubtful Sound (south island)
Another Doubtful Sound photo from the mountain pass.

Farewell New Zealand, Northland

I will have a number of photos to share with you as we did two amazing tours, but for now, here are a few shots from yesterday.

New-Zealand-1 New-Zealand-2 New-Zealand-3


Our trip is winding down and we will be returning stateside soon, kicking out the house sitters, and settling down to our routines.

Speaking of house sitters, on the North island tours, we met a woman staying here as a house sitter/pet sitter. She travels the world doing that and has been traveling for over a year now. So…an interesting idea I thought I’d share in case it is something you want to look into.

Highlights of Doubtful Sound, a photographers dream

Until yesterday, the Keukenhof Gardens were the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I milked the tulip shots for a lot of posts, and I think  I will be doing the same with Doubtful Sound. When I don’t have a new photo, you’ll be seeing something from the collection!

The tour company, Real Journeys, did an extraordinary job. I thought we were done after the water sports part, a couple hours in on the first day, and the rest would be resting and relaxing on the ship, enjoying the  nice company of a lot of Australian tourists and a young American couple who are living in Queenstown. But they said there was a lot more to see, and they weren’t kidding.

One of the many great features of this tour was the nature guide. He was wonderful. I learned a lot and I have a lot of information to share with you along with a lot of photos. It’s a bit overwhelming, but one has to start somewhere, so I’m starting with my top four favorite photos. I have done nothing to alter these photos. I have done some creative modifications with some of the other photos, but I will tell you when I have made alterations. The reason I am calling attention to processing in this case is I want you to know the images, even the colors of the sunrise, show how it really was. I did have to adjust the horizon of one of them, though. It’s tough to stay straight on a ship, even with the horizontal guideline, which is one of my favorite features in my new camera.

Speaking of new cameras…I am hoping mine will be okay. It has had rain and fog on its lens and been dried with a lot of cotton shirts. Fingers crossed!! But even if it doesn’t last, the camera served very well on this epic journey.

Heading out to the Tasman Sea
Heading out to the Tasman Sea
Heading back to the sound (fiord) after a brief sail out the Tasman Sea
Heading back to the sound (fiord) after a brief sail on to the Tasman Sea
Sunrise over the fiord
Sunrise over the fiord
Reflections in the little bay where we stopped for a moment of silence. With all the engines and generators shut off and all passengers instructed to get into position and not take photos, we had utter silence on the boat, a quiet that soon filled with the voices of birds calling out to each other on the mountainside
Reflections in the little bay where we stopped for a moment of silence. With all the engines and generators shut off and all passengers instructed to get into position and not take photos, we had total silence on the boat, a quiet soon filled with the voices of birds calling out to each other on the mountainside
A look up the fiord in the early morning
A look up the fiord in the early morning