As Ted and I reflect on our trip to Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand, highlights of the trip come to mind. We have many, but here are ten of them, in no particular order:

(1) Lazy morning coffee and hot chocolate in the Viking Winter Garden.

(2) Summer fruit and vegetables in December and January. (3) Komodo–our new standard for “how hot is it?” If it’s not as hot as Komodo, it’s not bad. (4) Ted’s birthday dinner.

(5) Talking with local residents. (6) Petting a koala.

(7) Seeing the Great Barrier Reef.

(8) The onboard Christmas Eve Service. It made us feel less lonely to be with nearly 1,000 other people who were also away from their families at this special time of year. (9) Sightseeing in a jet boat.

(10) Choco-fest times two. Two chances to enjoy the Viking chef’s creativity with chocolate.

Ted and I brought home three small souvenirs from our recent trip. The little basket is handmade and was sold at a local market in Mataram, Lombok (Indonesia).

We bought the orange dish in Melbourne, Victoria. It was authentically crafted in Australia by an Aborigine tribal member.

The kiwi bird–the national icon and unofficial national emblem of New Zealand–was purchased in Rotorua, NZ. It was mass-produced, but it comes with an interesting story. Here’s the short version of the Maori legend:

Tana-mahuta, the god of the forest, was worried about his children, the trees, because the bugs were eating them. He asked various birds to give up the gift of flight to live on the ground and eat the bugs to save the trees. One bird refused because he was afraid of the darkness in the forest; another didn’t like the dampness; and every other bird had an excuse. Only the kiwi bird said, “Great! I have a fear of heights and I hate to fly anyway, so I’ll be glad to live on the ground.” Because the kiwi sacrificed its beautiful wings and feathers to live on the forest floor, Tana-mahuta made it the most well-known and best-loved bird in all of New Zealand. New Zealanders have been called “kiwis” since Australian soldiers bestowed the name on them in World War I.

All automobiles are imported to Australia. There are no auto manufacturers or assemblers in the country.

New Zealand was the first country to introduce the forty-hour work week, but due to the high cost of living in New Zealand, many people need more than one job to meet their expenses, in spite of the fact that the minimum wage is considered to be sufficient to make tipping unnecessary.

We saw no huge McMansions in either Australia or New Zealand. Expensive homes have two stories instead of one and are more like a middle-size U.S. home with a very small lot.

Sign on a chocolate shop: You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy chocolate.

In Australia, snowbirds are called “gray nomads” and go north to Darwin for the winter.

Only fish and flightless birds are native to New Zealand. All other animals have been imported. As a result, there are no predators, and animal overpopulation of some imported species has caused problems.

I started with a checklist of six things I wanted to see and/or experience on our trip. Bonuses not included on that list were: ghost gums, wallabies, koalas, kangaroos, and hearing people say “No worries.”

On our way to Australia, Ted and I ordered a pizza for lunch at LAX. We were carded to get a beer with the pizza. When I asked the server “Really??!!” he said “Yes.” So we look like we might be under 21? Lucky us at our age!

Mark is beyond a doubt the best driver we’ve ever shared a car with. Maybe it’s because he is a retired policeman, but he handled a car more smoothly and safely than anyone in Ted’s and my experience.

Want to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit? Multiply by 2, then add 30. Fahrenheit to Celsius is the opposite: subtract 30, then divide by 2. The answer will be within 0-2 degrees.

Passengers were introduced to the Viking management staff at a short program in the ship’s theater. Each guest was given a glass of champagne, and each crew member also had a glass of champagne. When he introduced himself, the captain raised his glass, then set it aside with the comment, “Designated driver. Again.” The beverage manager closed by saying “Stay hydrated.” The chef claimed responsibility “for the one pound per day you will gain on this cruise,” and the doctor said, “I’d love to meet each of you socially.”

It’s been an amazing six weeks since we left home. I loved the summer weather and we’ve seen and learned so many beautiful and interesting things. Ted and I agree we’d like to re-visit this part of the world.

At the same time, we’ve been breathing smoky air from the bush fires in Australia since we got to Newcastle on December 26. The winds are blowing to the southeast, so smoke and particulates were in the air all the way around Australia from Newcastle to Sydney, Melbourne, and Tasmania, and also during our time in New Zealand. As a result, Ted and I are both coughing and want to get back to clean air. I’ll bet the doctors in this part of the world are doing a booming business from smoke-related illnesses. Like the Australians, we hope rain will come soon, and we wish the firefighters well as they continue to make progress in controlling the fires.

Tracey did an amazing job of selecting train times and getting all the information we needed to find our way to the airport. Mark and Tracey drove us to the train station to see us off. Tracey had already decided which would be the best car to sit in and where to sit in the car, so Mark helped with our luggage (he’s so nice) and got us into our seats. We got off at the right station in Sydney, found the connecting gate to the airport, and arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. Thank you, Tracey and Mark.

As we were walking around the airport (exercising before our 16-hour flight to Dallas), we saw these kids. I asked their parents if I could take a picture of them. They are so cute, and they reinforce my point that kids are the same all around the world.

Several years ago, Ted and I decided to fly business class on long flights, and it’s worth every penny. Today’s flight put us on an Airbus 380–the first time we’ve flown on the really big plane with two levels of seating. We’re happy campers (or fliers). The panel beside my shoulder can be raised to the seat top for privacy, if desired.

Naturally, we were among the first to board and we were directed to the upper level where there are only six (large) seats across; the main cabin has ten.

Ted had three windows to look outside (one more is beside him) instead of one-and-a-half like the main cabin.

There’s plenty of legroom.

While the main cabin was boarding, we made our menu selections for our upcoming meals and snacks, put the mattress pads on our seats (it makes them a little softer), put our footrests up, accepted a glass of wine and a bowl of nuts to snack on, and got comfortable. I picked out a movie and started watching it. Yes, that’s a nearly twin-size quilted blanket over my legs (white and charcoal to match the decor) to keep me warm on the chilly plane.

The business class food is delicious! This is the first course. I selected steak for the main course, and then dessert–all pre-ordered as the main cabin boarded, then served on china dishes, not in cardboard boxes. The tomato soup was amazing. I wish I knew which spices they added to it. We had choices for snacks–fruit, ice cream bars, cheese plates, chocolates, etc.–instead of the dry cookie or mini-pretzels served in the main cabin. In fact, we were invited to go to the galley and choose whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted something.

Business class also includes a pair of warm socks and pajamas for overnight flights. This was a Qantas flight, and they have the nicest pj’s we’ve seen–knit fabric with sweatpants-like bottoms and a pull-over top in S-M-L sizes instead of one gigantic size. I think everyone in our cabin put them on within the first 2-3 hours, and they were very comfortable. During most of the flight, when people moved around, it looked like we were all at a big pajama party in matching pj’s.

When we got home–35 hours after leaving Mark and Tracey’s house–it was only two hours later than when we left Sydney on the same day. There were 50 messages on the phone and a warning that the recording space was filled. One message was a reminder about an upcoming appointment; two were from the St. Charles School District (where Ted volunteers) announcing school closings for snow; and 47 were hang-ups. Who knows how many more robo calls we’d have had if there had been more recording space?!

In the kitchen, we found love gifts from Kari: a gallon of milk, a box of cereal, a loaf of bread, and fruit (apples, bananas, and blueberries). Best of all, thank-you notes from her family (we love reading those) and some Christmas candy she’d made because she knew I didn’t. We must have done a lot more right than wrong when we were raising our kids, because they are all adults we are proud of and thankful for in so many ways.

Thom’s family’s Christmas gifts were in the accumulated mail we picked up. The Lego exchange between Thom and me continues. I had to build this right away.

It was a great trip and we’d do it again, but we look forward to being with our family again next Christmas. Now, good-night. I think we’re going to sleep for a week.

Author’s note: We used seven airports for this trip, and DFW wins the prize hands down for grumpiest employees and most inefficient baggage retrieval. Either everyone at DFW was having a bad day or they all work for terrible bosses and hate their jobs. Ted and I always look forward to coming home from overseas and hearing “Welcome home” from the customs officer, but that didn’t happen this time. The DFW customs officer was barely civil to the people passing through. They need to attend a workshop in Australia or New Zealand to see what friendly looks like.

Today, Tracey and Mark took us sightseeing in their area. We drove to some pretty beaches and ended the morning at Nelson Head Reserve, the highest point (175 feet elevation) at Port Stephens. Because there is such a good view of the surrounding water, this point was chosen for the original (now “heritage”) Port Stephens lighthouse.

In my picture below, taken at the top of Nelson Head, you can see a peninsula jutting into the water. Tracey and Mark live on the facing side of the peninsula very close to its tip. That’s what we walked across last night for dinner. The water beyond and in the port area is the Karua River; the village below is Port Stephens, New South Wales.

Moving to the right from the above photo, the space between the two large rocky hills (ancient volcanoes?–I forgot to ask Mark) is the entrance from Port Stephens to the Pacific Ocean.

After our morning driving tour, we bought lunch at another bakery (aka café) and brought it to Lighthouse Beach (near Port Stephens). We sat at a picnic table overlooking the beach.

It’s another hot day and it’s still summer break from school, so there were a lot of people swimming at the beach. Even though I was sitting in the warm sunlight and watching all those school-age kids swim, I couldn’t wrap my head around “summer in January.” My inner logic says this should be July because January is a cold month.

There were some surfers at the beach as well, but the biggest attraction (available in a number of places in the area) is camel rides. It was fun to watch people mounting the camels and then follow their course around the area.

From the mounting area at the parking lot, the camels slowly (and I do mean slowly) ambled behind some sand dunes, then emerged and headed for the beach. They walked in the shallow water a little way and then turned and made the return trip to the mounting area. It was probably a 30-45 minute ride for those who purchased tickets.

We worked our way back around Port Stephens to Soldiers’ Point (where Mark and Tracey live) and stopped at a post office to purchase train tickets for Ted’s and my trip to the Sydney airport tomorrow. The airport is about a 3.5-hour drive from Soldiers’ Point; the train tickets cost us $20 each, That’s much better than Mark and Tracey driving seven hours round-trip to take us to the airport.

Our final stop of the afternoon was at Mark and Tracey’s bowling club, about two blocks from their home. Both of them participate in lawn bowling leagues, and that’s one of the reasons they selected this place to live when they moved here from Newcastle two years ago. Tracey is pretty good, but Mark is nearly professional grade. He regularly wins high-level championships.

Lawn bowls take about twice the width and at least twice the length of bowling alley lanes, so a number of games can be in progress simultaneously on this field. Under the tented roof, it was surprisingly cool and comfortable, given how high the temperature was (upper 80s?). Mark started by placing a small yellow ball on the far end of the field. He then showed Ted how to roll the red balls.

Ted did a good job for his first time, but it was obvious that he’s more used to lane bowling. Mark (after years of playing) could drop the ball smoothly on the grass; Ted had to fight the urge to give it a good thrust so it would make it across the field. With just a gentle toss, the balls rolled surprisingly far. They also curved easily, which Mark used to his advantage and which made some of Ted’s attempts go where he never intended them to go.

The goal of the game was to have the red ball stop as closely as possible to the yellow ball. Ted threw the ball in the foreground, then Mark threw the ball that landed on the white line. Good job, Ted. It’s your first try, and you came really close to the champ’s throw.

After bowling, we went back to Mark and Tracey’s home to visit with them and to give Mark a chance to start dinner. (He’s the cook in the family.) He made a pork roast with cracklings. He roasted the meat in a convection oven after rubbing seasoning into the fat on the top side. The oven made the fat brown and crisp. Mark cut it off and broke it into pieces that tasted like thick bacon. I’ve never had cracklings before, but I might have to try to make them sometime.

While the pork roasted, we went to a neighbor’s apartment and enjoyed appetizers with two other couples who were friends of Mark and Tracey. We all had a very enjoyable and relaxing time. One of the things we discussed was Mark and Tracey’s upcoming trip to the U.S. with these two couples. In June, they are flying to Alaska for a cruise that ends in Vancouver. From there, they are going to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, where they will have four days on their own. We’re going to see if it’s possible for Ted and me to join them in Las Vegas, and I’m going to contact Cheryl and Dave to see if they can come too. It would be so much fun for the six of us to reunite as a group this summer!

We enjoyed our last evening together, but it was bittersweet to end our time with our friends. Here’s hoping we can see them again in June.

Author’s note: From the time we arrived in Sydney, Mark, Tracey, and their friends all called me “Di”–a nickname I’ve never used. When I mentioned that, they said the Australians shorten everything, so I paid attention, and it’s true. Tracey was “Trace” to Mark and their friends, and they all called it “San Fran” when discussing their upcoming trip. Lots of other words were similarly shortened. Tracey explained it as “same, same, different.” We all use English, but we have different names for many of the same things. It was fun exchanging some of the differences. Examples: road train = tractor-trailer truck; car park = parking lot; jam = jelly/jam; jelly = jell-o; lollies = candy; queue = line; petrol = gas; windscreen = windshield; thongs = flip-flops (never underwear). See? “Same, same, different.”

On our 2015 Grand European Cruise, Ted and I became good friends with five couples, and we all still keep in touch with each other. In the 2015 photo below, Ted and I are at the far end on the right side of the table. Since that cruise, we’ve exchanged visits (St. Louis and Las Cruces, NM) with Cheryl and Dave. Cheryl is in the center on the right; Dave is across from her in the baseball cap. Cheryl and Dave have visited Tracey and Mark (in the foreground on the right) in Sydney, and today, Ted and I met Tracey and Mark in Sydney. The other two couples are from Tennessee and California.

Our flight from Auckland arrived in Sydney around 6:00 p.m. We weren’t sure where to go to meet Mark and Tracey and didn’t see signs for “Passenger Pick-up,” so we asked two airport workers who were walking down the corridor near us. They were so-o-o friendly. (Author’s comment: Australians and New Zealanders are, beyond a doubt, the most friendly people we’ve met anywhere overseas. Not that the others are unfriendly, but the Down Under folks go all out. Even the customs officials laugh and joke with the people whose passports they’re examining.)

The two men thought we’d most likely need to go to a nearby doorway but, to be sure, they offered to call Tracey to find out where she was. Australians speak English, but they have their own accent and idioms, and they speak very quickly, so I often have to catch the main words and fill in the blanks. Especially for a phone conversation, it was better to have one Aussie speak to another. The man and Tracey had a brief conversation, determined where all of us were, and sent us to the door at which Mark and Tracey arrived simultaneously. Awesome!

Tracey and Mark live almost three hours north of Sydney, so Tracey made a hotel reservation for a two-bedroom / kitchen / living room / balcony suite for all of us in Sydney tonight. The plan was to spend the evening and tomorrow in Sydney, then go to their home in Soldiers Point for the next two days before Ted and I go back to Sydney to fly home. The hotel was right on the Sydney harbor, so the first thing we did was take a selfie of the four of us with the Harbour Bridge in the background.

After that, we had to take a picture of our 26th-story view of the harbor. You can see the Harbour Bridge in the center and the Sydney Opera House to the left of the bridge.

Ted and I ate on the flight, but Tracey brought some fruit, crackers, etc. for snacks, so we snacked a little bit, then took a cab to The Rocks–so named for the sandstone rocks along the Sydney shore. The area has been developed into an entertainment district. It was Sunday night, so there wasn’t much action, but it was a lovely night to take a walk. And there was a great view of the Sydney Opera House at night.

The next morning, Tracey and Mark performed just as Cheryl and Dave promised us–as an outstanding host and hostess. We started by visiting several wharves on some of Sydney’s quays (that’s pronounced keys in Australia). Each one had a variety of museums, restaurants, and entertainment venues. This one is the King Street Wharf.

A highlight for Ted and me was Bondi (pronounced bon’-dye) Beach. It’s a famous and fabulous beach in Sydney. It was a warm day and it’s summer break from school for the kids, so the beach was crowded.

It’s also a scenic beach . . .

. . . and it’s good for surfing.

We had lunch at a bakery. In Australia, bakeries are more like cafés than a place to buy breads and sweet rolls. Ted and I tried beef pepper pasties. I liked it better than Ted because I like pepper more than he does. It was an adventure for me, however. I had trouble figuring out how to open the ketchup packet. There was no little tab on the corner, but there was a raised hump in the top center. I bent the package backward to pop the hump open–and promptly squirted my shirt, my face, and my hair with ketchup! After a good laugh, Tracey told me you need to open them with the hump on the bottom, then squeeze the bubbles to release the ketchup. Lesson learned, although I didn’t encounter any more ketchup packets during our visit.

Mark and Tracey spent the past week caravaning (“camping with trailers” in the U.S.) with three of their four daughters and sons-in-law and eight of their eleven grandchildren about an hour-and-a-half north of Sydney. The kids were staying for another week, so we stopped to visit with them on our way to Soldiers Point after lunch. (Their fourth daughter’s family lives in the Blue Mountains, about three hours west of Sydney and wasn’t with the group this time.)

Tracey told everyone they needed to talk more slowly so their American friends could understand everyone. They were very hospitable and told the kids (all under 10 years old) that this was a great opportunity to ask us questions about America, so the kids did. Do we have license plates on our cars in America? Does it get cold? Where is St. Louis? After about an hour, one of the daughters said, “I-i-i’ve. Ne-e-ever. Ta-a-alked. Thi-i-is. Slo-o-owly. I-i-in. My-y-y. L-i-i-ife.” and we all laughed–but Ted and I understood every word that everyone said. How gracious and thoughtful of them!

When we arrived at Mark and Tracey’s house, they informed us that they’d invited three couples to join us for dinner at a local restaurant. Soldiers Point is located at the tip of a spit of land that juts into the Karua River. The spit is very narrow, so although Tracey and Mark live on the east side of the little peninsula and the restaurant was on the west side, it was less than a 10-minute walk. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting their friends and we had a delicious dinner and a lovely evening together.

Tracey’s food was so pretty, she wanted a picture of it.

The group eats here regularly, so they generously insisted that Ted and I take the open-air window seats at the table.

There were lots of pelicans in the water.

We watched the sun set while we ate.

The setting became even more romantic when the lights came on.

When we got back to Mark and Tracey’s home, I mentioned that I’d like to see the Southern Cross. We went up to the rooftop patio and Mark pointed it out to me. It’s not as bright as the Big Dipper, but it’s easy to find. Check! And that’s #6 of 6 on my checklist.

Today, Ted and I had a six-hour tour of Auckland and the nearby countryside. Mostly, the drive through the city looked very similar to driving through any American city.

Author’s note: Europe is very different from the U.S.–very old (dating back to medieval times), very crowded, and still using what are probably the original cobblestone streets. Australia and New Zealand are “new” to Westerners (1600s), and there’s lots of space, so we saw many SUVs and superhighways, skyscrapers, and not a single castle or ancient cathedral.

Cornwall Park, however, was unusual. There were lots of joggers, bicyclists, and walkers (Auckland must have a very fit population), but the unusual part was that the park includes a working farm–a condition of the land acquisition. As a result, there are many beautiful park vistas, and also grazing cattle and sheep.

New Zealand has a huge dairy industry. Its biggest customer is China, with a very high demand for NZ powdered milk.

NZ’s merino sheep are famous for their wool. Merino wool feels very soft and silky, and I would have loved to buy a merino wool sweater for myself. Unfortunately, even though it’s very fine/thin, merino wool is also very warm, and I knew I wouldn’t wear the sweater except on the one or two extremely cold days we get in St. Louis each winter. Darn!

After the morning city tour, we had lunch at the Soljan’s Estate Winery, just outside of Auckland. The food was delicious, of course, and so was the wine. We’ve eaten at a number of wineries on our overseas trips and it’s making me think that Ted and I should go to lunch more often at some of the Missouri wineries in the Augusta wine district, only about 20 minutes from our house.

After lunch, we went to Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, a nature preserve which provides a protected habitat for the kauri tree.

The kauri tree is unique because it produces very hard wood that doesn’t rot, making it ideal for building boats and buildings. It also grows very straight and tall–even the branches grow straight out from the trunk–and it is knot-less, so there is little waste when it is cut for lumber. Kauri trees are slow-growing and live for 600-1,000 years, so it takes time to replace them. The kauri tree used to be abundant in New Zealand, but it was cut to the point of near extinction (fewer than 19,000 acres of kauri trees remain) and is now protected by law.

There were several nature trails in the park, so Ted and I chose one and took a lovely walk in the woods. Before embarking on the trail, we were required to clean the soles of our shoes on stiff rolling brushes, then spray them with a disinfectant to avoid bringing contaminants into the forest. When we returned, we had to clean our shoes again before re-joining our group.

The park is set atop a high hill, with beautiful views from some of the trails and from the visitors’ center. If you need guidance, take your picture here.

Yes, it is a good place to take a picture. This is the view from inside the frame in the photo above.

The final leg of our excursion today took us to Auckland’s north shore, and then to Devonport Village, a quaint little town with lots of little shops. Neither Ted nor I wanted to spend our time shopping, so we sat on a park bench and talked with a young New Zealand man for an hour, which was far more interesting. His mother is currently visiting friends and family in Chicago and Toronto. It’s definitely a small world, isn’t it?

After leaving our ship and checking into our hotel, we spent today in Auckland on our own, walking around the city center. The weather was beautiful and the exercise felt good. This part of New Zealand has lots of dead volcanoes–there are 80 in the city of Auckland itself–so it’s a hilly place to walk. Here’s a view of Auckland’s skyline from across the harbor.

One of the first things we noticed downtown was the Farmers department store Christmas decorations. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger Santa or bigger reindeer. Of course, it’s Auckland, so there are palm trees along the sidewalk.

The main attraction for us today was the Sky Tower, the iconic landmark of Auckland. The Big Question: Shall we go up the tower during the day and see everything clearly, or shall we wait until evening, when the lights of the city will twinkle into the distance? No problem. For an additional $3 above the senior discount ticket price, we had unlimited access to the top of the tower for 24 hours (within operating hours, of course).

For $225 (NZD) you can also buy a ticket for the SkyWalk and SkyJump. I have a strong will to live, so I voted against that, but we watched other people do it. After you buy your ticket to drop, an attendant opens the locked gate and you climb a few stairs to a platform to be outfitted and tethered to the apparatus that will take you to the top of the tower. This takes 15-20 minutes. Surprisingly, you make the upward journey feet first. I assume the large weight keeps you from swinging around too much in the New Zealand wind.

Question: Why not take the elevator up?

Then it’s another 20-25 minutes before you actually make the drop. I assume this is how long it takes to walk the 360 degrees around the 630-foot high SkyWalk before taking The Plunge. Here’s the guy from the above photo on his way down.

We later talked to a man and his son who had made the jump/fall. They had previously jumped out of airplanes and admitted (slightly disparagingly) that this is not a free-fall. As in “anyone can do this.” (Not me.) They described it as a “very controlled drop.” Notice in the photo above that the person is tethered to a horizontal line that is attached to three vertical lines (one attached to the person). This would certainly make it possible to control the speed of the fall. Still, the drop is 630 feet, and my video of this guy’s drop was 12 seconds, so it’s a short-lived thrill for $225. There’s a point near the base where the brakes are apparently applied, because the falling man slowed dramatically before touching the ground.

Then it was time for Ted and me to go up the tower–in the express elevator, not by wires. The views (also 360 degrees) are great. See the hills in the photo below? Those are some of the 80 dead volcanoes in Auckland.

Can you find McDonald’s?

The pink road is part of the annual breast cancer run.

I have no idea what the dots signify at this intersection.

Auckland is known as the “city of sails.” It definitely has enough wind for sailboats. You can see the harbor bridge in this photo, as well as a marina filled with sailboats.

While we were on the Sky Deck, we took time to enjoy the view and some ice cream. As we were eating, another SkyFall daredevil dropped past this window, adding a little thrill to our ice cream treat.

When we went up the tower after dinner, we were glad we’d gone in the daylight. At night, it was obvious that the windows are filthy–not that I want to be the one to wash them. Even worse, the windows are angled outward so people can look almost straight down, but the interior ceiling lights are on, making it difficult to take a picture without the reflection of the interior lights. Making my best effort, here’s the pink road again–at night (on the right).

Yeah, whatever. What does that mean? Is it a company name? An expression of indifference? A social statement of helplessness?

Here’s a picture of the harbor bridge at night.

Moon over Auckland. A beautiful summer evening.

I took pictures of the Sky Tower by day and by night. It’s a pretty landmark either way.

After our Sky Tower time, Ted and I walked along the waterfront for a little while, then back to our harborside hotel. Last night was our final night onboard the Viking Orion–our home for the past 30 days. We’ve enjoyed our cruises and are sorry they will be ending, but our vacation isn’t over, and it’s always better to leave while you wish you could stay rather than staying until you can’t wait to for it to end. Here’s our ship, ready for its next group of passengers who will be cruising from Auckland to Melbourne–the reverse of what we’ve just done.

Tonight’s onboard entertainment was provided by a group called “Mana Maori.” Mana means a special essence of life, so the performance featured a selection of Maori dances interspersed with spoken information about the Maori culture and some of its dances.

This dance is a peaceful, “let’s have fun together” dance. The skirts are made out of flax, like the demonstration we saw in Rotorua yesterday.

Here’s a celebratory dance in which the women swing white balls on strings around themselves in a variety of patterns. To keep their hands and wrists loose for this, they kept shaking them rapidly between dances. I tried shaking my wrists that quickly, but it’s like belly-dancing or Polynesian hip-wiggling dancing–it obviously takes a lot of practice to make your joints that loose!

My final example from the performance is a war dance. The purpose is to pump up the warriors and to frighten the enemies. Maoris stick out their tongues as far as possible to look fierce. The guy on the right in the photo did a great job of looking fierce. I didn’t want to meet him on the battlefield. Strangely, at the same time, he looked like he could be a lot of fun.

Author’s thoughts: What would happen to racial relations in the U.S. if we followed New Zealand’s example? In 1987, New Zealand passed a law to recognize English, Maori, and sign language as the official languages of the country. After years of punishing Maori people for speaking their native language, Maori is now a required language course in all schools. In addition, New Zealanders recently recognized that history cannot be ignored or buried; it is an integral part of cultural development in a country. As a result, in September 2019, Maori history became a compulsory subject in all schools. What if American schools included the histories of the indigenous Native Americans, the imported African Americans, and other groups of immigrants–including their contributions to American culture–rather than simply mentioning wars, treaties, and laws related to those groups whose histories are embedded in our culture. We are all people, we all have value, and we all like to be recognized for our value as human beings. Think about it.

Ted and I spent today at Rotorua on the northern side of NZ’s North Island. The area is known for its geysers, steam vents, and hot mud pools. We had to drive over an hour to get to Rotorua, and we passed miles of pretty beaches along the way.

We had a five-part day at Te Puia in Rotorua: visits to the Maori cultural center, followed by the Maori heritage workshop, lunch, a walk through the active geothermal area, and a visit to the kiwi habitat.

The cultural center was very much like the New Zealand part of the Polynesian Cultural Center that we visited in Hawai’i two years ago, but with the addition of a welcoming ceremony in which we took part. We selected a chief from our group (George), and he received instructions about his role in the ceremony. To begin the ceremony, a warrior of the tribe attending the ceremony approached the chief (George), making war-like noises and actions. George did not react (indicating he wanted peace, not war), so the warrior offered George a leaf as a sign that the warriors are attending in peace. The chief (George) accepted the leaf, gave the warrior a strong handshake, and bumped noses with him twice. This is a sign of sharing the breath of life and reminds us that we all live in this air together. One of the Maori also told us this is why the Maori have flat noses.

Inside the building, a performing group did six or seven cultural dances–some with the men performing, some with the women performing, and some in which they danced together, including a love song dance used for marriages. The white streaks above the girls’ heads in the second photo below are sticks that they toss back and forth–training for quick hand-eye coordination which is helpful in battle. We were reminded that the Maori don’t lose wars. They are the only indigenous tribe in the world that was not defeated by its invaders (the British). We were also reminded that early Maori were cannibals.

A number of men from our tour group were invited to come onstage to learn a haka–a chant that warriors (including the All-Blacks, NZ’s famous rugby team) perform to pump themselves up before a battle or a game. Do these guys look pumped up?

The next stop was the Maori cultural heritage workshop. In recent years, the Maori people have been increasingly recognized as an important part of New Zealand history. The Maori language and history are now required school subjects for all students, and Maori is one of the three official languages of New Zealand (English, Maori, and sign language).

In the recent past, Maori were punished for speaking their native language in school and in public. To keep their culture alive, this intense workshop accepts only five students per term and teaches them to become master craftsmen in the Maori arts. As a nod to progress, some of the Maori objects are now made out of metals and other more durable materials instead of wood. Although most students are young, some older people also take the classes because they did not learn these arts when they were younger.

Our guide showed us how the Maori make clothing and other objects out of flax (the green leaf he’s holding). First, lay the leaf on the light-colored board in front of the guide and score it with a sharpened clam shell to determine a pattern, according to marks made on the board in advance. Then use the clam shell to scrape the green outer layer away from the fibrous inner layer (like running a scissors blade over gift box ribbon to make it curl). Doing this repeatedly separates all the fibers and also coats them with wax from the outer layer, making the fibers stronger (the tan drooping part of the leaf the guide is holding). The part of the leaf with the pattern (white marks on his leaf) remains and is stained to produce the desired pattern. To make stronger fibers for belts, etc., the guide rolled the fluffy, separated fibers together by holding the two ends and running the length of the taut fibers up and down his thigh. We had a chance to hold his finished product and to test its strength. Very soft loose fibers; very strong rolled fibers.

Here are some wrap-around skirts the Maori make from the flax leaves.

There are carvings of Maori gods along the pathways of Te Puia and each has its name beneath it. Our guide told us that the Maori alphabet has no f, but the wh makes an f sound. That means this god’s name is pronounced “Fera.” Sticking the tongue out as far as possible is a Maori gesture of fierceness.

After lunch, we walked through the main part of the geothermal field. The mud fields don’t look spectacular, but they are dangerous. What looks like solid ground in these areas probably isn’t. As our guide put it, the good thing about falling into these is that you won’t have arthritis anymore; the bad thing is that your bones will be very clean, because you will be that well cooked. The mud in the second picture was actually bubbling because it was so hot. The arrows point to some bubbles that are bursting at the surface.

There are steam vents everywhere in this area. We could feel the warmth as we walked by them.

This is the largest geyser in the southern hemisphere (i.e., New Zealand). It is very active and erupts for about 40-50 minutes, then rests for about 20 minutes before erupting for another 40-50 minutes.

The lake on the right in this picture ranges from 50-100 degrees. It is illegal to swim in it, but our guide said people have been swimming in it for hundreds of years anyway. It’s very sulfurous, so it’s probably good for what ails you.

Our tour did not include a steam-cooked picnic lunch, but that’s an option. When you arrive at the park, you can order your meal. It’s put into the oven that straddles a steam vent in the first picture below. When it’s lunchtime, your meal has been cooked in a natural pressure cooker and is served to you at a picnic table in the geyser field.

There are steam vents all around this area of NZ, including on private property. Some people fashion a lid for a steam vent in their yard and put their dinner into the vent before leaving for work. When they come home, dinner is ready–a natural slow-cooker. You can see by this picture how widespread the steam vents are–there’s steam everywhere. In fact, the entire city of Rotorua smells like sulfur, but the people living there don’t even notice it and we didn’t either after being there all day.

Our last stop before heading back to our ship for dinner was the kiwi bird sanctuary. Kiwis like to sleep during the day and come out at night, so the sanctuary has a dark indoor habitat for some of the birds. No photos were allowed in the darkened building and we were required to remain silent because light and noise disturb the kiwis. I settled for a picture of a stuffed kiwi bird on display.

Ted and I have now seen geothermic land features in Yellowstone, Iceland and New Zealand. In our opinion, Yellowstone is the best place to see them because there’s such a wide variety of geothermal features in that park. Iceland is second, and we rank New Zealand third. All of them were worth seeing.

One thing Ted and I have noticed about combining two consecutive cruises (Bali to Sydney; Sydney to Auckland) with the same cruise line is that there’s some repetition in shipboard activities. A happy repetition is the choco-fest event. Tonight was the night to repeat that one.

For about 45 minutes, we watched the chef’s staff bring in tray after tray of chocolate goodies. Whatever they brought and placed on the table was then moved–sometimes very slightly–by the head chef so everything would be perfect. That colored stuff (blue, green, white) is sugar, boiled and combined with frosting, then formed into shapes for decoration.

Ted and I chuckled when we saw the staff bring in a blue plastic crate that busboys use to carry dishes around, then wrap it in a tablecloth and set it on the table to use as a platform.

Here comes the chef’s pièce de résistance.

The chef helps the staff set it carefully on the table.

How do we know it’s tonight’s masterpiece? Because immediately after placing it, the chef and staff lined up to take pictures of it.

Here it is–a special cake bringing attention to the severe fires in Australia, with the Australian flag, a koala, and a kangaroo with a joey in her pouch.

Here’s the finished table with chocolate galore. But Mr. Chef, . . . I saw that “Great Barrier Reef” piece of chocolate two weeks ago. Remember that busboy crate I mentioned above? Look at what the fondue pot is standing on.

Let the gorging begin.

Author’s note: Comments overheard from onlookers during this process included “I think I feel a cavity coming on” and “If this were Carnival instead of Viking, everything would be gone before it was all set up.”

I saw some interesting things as we passed through Napier this morning. One was a restaurant called The Frying Dutchman. My high school was the home of the Flying Dutchmen and had a wooden shoe with wings as its logo.

I also got a kick out of the Donut Robot. The cashier was sitting in the front behind the raised awning. According to the message on the back, he offers “hot, freshly made donuts all day long and tomorrow.” I’m not sure about the next day.

When we returned to our stateroom after our morning city tour, Ted and I heard band music. We went out onto our terrace and saw a band, a row of antique cars, and drivers dressed in vintage clothing singing along with the band. One of the city excursions today was a four-hour city tour in an antique automobile. The cost: $249 per person. After the tour, I think the drivers and the band stayed to perform as a farewell from the city to its visitors.

Ted and I decided to have lunch at the Pool Grill today. It’s the most casual restaurant onboard, allowing people to come in swimsuits (with a cover-up). It’s also a pretty setting and has great hamburgers.

The Pool Grill seating is–where else?–poolside. In the photo below, you can see a man showering before entering the pool. He looks like it’s the best shower he’s ever had.

Our time onboard our ship will end in a few days so, after lunch, we made use of the ship’s free laundry (one on each deck) to freshen our clothes for our upcoming off-ship time in Auckland and Sydney. It was tricky getting to and from the laundry because the Pacific Ocean decided to get active. The swells this afternoon are higher than we had in the Tasman Sea.

As I was heading out of our stateroom with a load of laundry, I found myself doing a little quick-step run toward the door because the ship rolled in that direction. People are zigzagging down the hallways as the ship rocks back and forth. I thought the swells were big when we left the port of Napier, but they keep getting bigger. My camera captured a rainbow above a splashing wave. I took these pictures from Deck 5 and the swells always look much higher closer to eye level. I’m looking forward to the ship rocking us to sleep tonight.

Ted’s and my day started with a bus tour of Napier, NZ. Napier was greatly damaged by the 1931 earthquake. Every building in the business district collapsed, fires burned for 36 hours, the infrastructure was completely inoperable, etc., etc. As a result, much of the city needed to be rebuilt and so, it reflects the art deco architecture popular in the 1930s. These small houses (more like cottages in the U.S.) sell for $400,000-$500,000.

Notice how small the lawns are. They’re not any larger on the other sides of the houses, and much of the property is used for a small garden and automobile parking. I didn’t see any swing sets, swimming pools, or patios.

There are not many two-story houses in Napier because they are too expensive. The neighborhood in the picture below was described as “posh,” and these houses sell for about $1 million; if they have a pretty view, the price goes to at least $2 million. For all that money, they don’t have very much land either. Overnight street parking is not possible, so garages are often built in front of the houses, or cars are parked on the front lawns or beside the houses.

I’m amazed at the way housing is built on the mountainsides in NZ. Yesterday, we saw houses with nearly vertical funiculars to avoid climbing several hundred stairs from the street to the front door; today we saw a steep staircase with a lot more steps than I’d want to climb if I forgot something in the house or in the car. Ted and I have seen carports that are level with the front of the house and have support posts at least 40-50 feet tall on the opposite end. Photos don’t provide the depth of field needed to show how steep the hillsides behind these houses are, but notice that there are several levels of homes all the way to the top.

Moving on to the shoreline, Napier has a beautiful park that seems to extend for several miles. There are swimming pools (the ocean water is cold here), sports fields, playgrounds, gardens, sculptures, and more. The “junior bike track” part of the playground provides driving practice for young children. They can ride their bikes and learn to follow traffic lights, signs, etc. Our guide suggested the kids probably forget all of this when they get behind the wheel of a real car.

The first park sculpture below is “Freedom Lady” and honors the women who took care of everything on the home front while the men went to war. It also represents the strength of women. The second sculpture is called “Millenium.” Napier decided it was the first city in the world on which the sunrise could be seen on January 1, 2000, so the disc in this sculpture is placed directly above the spot at which the sun rose on that day.

Other places in the park are simply beautiful. There were a lot of people biking on the bike trail, swimming in the pools, skating in the skate park, and playing on the playgrounds. I was surprised at the number of young children in the park on a Tuesday morning until our guide mentioned that the kids are on their summer break now and will go back to school later in January. Of course: summer break over Christmas in December and January, right?

Napier has a temperate climate and can grow just about anything; however when an Englishman came to Napier and decided to grow tobacco, he built this city-block-size building before he discovered that tobacco might be the only thing that doesn’t grow well in Napier.

As we headed back to our ship, I had a pretty view of the city. You can see how steep the land is; you can see how the houses are built up the steep mountainsides; and you can get a good look at how the needles on the Norfolk (aka Cook) pine grow only upward and not in other directions on the branches.

“Welly” is the nickname for Wellington, the capital city of NZ. It has the distinction of being the windiest city in the southern hemisphere and the southernmost capital city of any independent nation. We also learned today that Wellington is the coffee and craft beer capital of NZ. Woo-ee!

Welly sits on the Cook Strait, the water channel that separates the north and south islands of NZ, contributing to its winds which average 36 mph or greater 270 days per year. Here’s a wind chart that I saw today. We felt like Force 7 on land and Force 8 on the jet boat on yesterday’s excursion.

Wellington sits on or near 10 major fault lines. Isn’t the Ring of Fire fun? There was a bad earthquake here in 2016, but the damage and loss of life was far less than that of the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch.

Welly is also the movie capital of NZ. “The Lord of the Rings” was filmed here and our cruise line offered several tours that took people to movie sites and studios used for the film. The director of that movie placed a Hollywood-like city sign on a mountainside overlooking the city. Because of Welly’s high winds, the “o” and “n” are blowing away. (Cute.)

Author’s note: There’s a city sign like this in Medora, ND too, but its fame doesn’t go too far outside of ND.

Every city in NZ seems to have a botanical garden, and Wellington is no exception. The garden was our first tour stop. There was a small fountain at the center of the garden. We were about 100 feet away from it when a strong gust of wind passed through and we could feel spray from the fountain–even at that distance!. As a windy city, Wellington beats Chicago, hands down. The trees with the red blooms are usually called “Christmas trees” because they bloom at Christmas. They were really pretty.

Wellington is known as a very bicycle-friendly city. The bike lanes are marked in green (first picture below). If you ride a bike, you also have the right to move to the front of the line in traffic without passing “Go” at stoplights (second picture below). In NZ, McDonald’s is referred to as “the American embassy.”

These houses are four of what are called the “Seven Sisters”–seven similar houses in a row. If you buy one of these, you must sign documents that say you may make changes inside the house, but must keep the exterior as it is.

The entire side of one building was decorated with fish. The red boards on top of the car at the bottom of the picture look fish-like too. Or maybe like lips.

New Zealand is made up of small islands, but they are mountainous, so there are very steep hills everywhere in Wellington. (So what makes the city so bicycle-friendly?) In many places, the house behind another house is higher than the roof of the house in front of it. People who can afford it often install personal funiculars to take them from street level up to their houses so they don’t have to climb all those stairs. The white tube on the right is a funicular track; the funicular car is parked at the house (red arrow), so I think the inhabitants are probably at home now. Notice how vertical the funicular track is.

This was the original Parliament building, now used by the university. It was thought that stone was too dangerous for the exterior because of earthquakes, so the building was constructed of wood. The architect, however, designed it so that the exterior looks like stone–more appropriate for a government building.

Our final stop was at the top of Mt. Victoria, named for the English queen, of course. From the top of the mountain, we could see the city beneath us in every direction.

At the top of Mt. Victoria, there is a striking sculpture. The opposite end of the structure has a flat face with a bust of Admiral Richard Perry.

Our driver told us that NZ is a very progressive country. They gave voting rights to women forty years before the U.S. did, and they have a woman Prime Minister who is very popular. After her election, she announced that she was pregnant, which led to many male leaders insisting she should have made that information public before the election and questioning how she would govern with a baby and toys all over the government buildings. Her response was, “I’m not dying; I’m having a baby.”

Another sign of NZ’s progressiveness might be the rest room doors. Gender identification issues? No problem.

Christchurch, NZ is named for Christ Church, Oxford (England). It is on the Canterbury Plains, a large, flat agricultural area that ends at the foothills of the Southern Alps. Christchurch is also a well-known gateway to Antarctica, so many Antarctic expeditions leave from the city. The USAF has an Antarctica weather simulator in Christchurch. It simulates any weather conditions that might occur in Antarctica and is used for training people who are going there.

Today, Ted and I had a two-hour ride through the Canterbury Plains on our way to the Southern Alps. Facts we learned on the drive: (1) There are more sheep than people in New Zealand; (2) dairy farms are prolific because China is a huge market for NZ’s powdered milk; (3) fields in NZ are paddocks; (4) farms in NZ are stations; and (5) forest fires in NZ are bush fires. The white spots in the paddock in the first picture are sheep. What else?

Strong winds are a daily part of life in this region, so the flat paddocks are broken by many, many windbreaks that enclose small areas. The windbreaks consist of a row of pine trees, trimmed along the sides and the tops by professional companies, usually annually. I had a glimpse of the top of a windbreak once and the full-size, sawn-off tree trunks were visible. They are cut off because, otherwise, they will become so tall that the winds will blow them over. The sides of the windbreaks are trimmed back so they will grow fuller. The windbreaks are 15-20 feet tall and 8-10 feet wide and they are so dense, you can’t see through them.

The field in the first photo below has windbreaks around three of its sides. The second photo is a “cloud picture” for my meteorologist travel partner. Note that both pictures feature lenticular clouds–indications of very high winds aloft. (That was meteorologist-speak.)

The real fun began today with a jet boat ride on the Waimakariri River through the Waimakariri Gorge. (Note to Jeff: You should have bought a jet boat instead of jet skis. Or maybe in addition to jet skis.) The weather is cold today (mid-50s) and the winds were 60-70 mph in the gorge–about 40-50 mph elsewhere. I think this area must have only one hairstyle: windblown. The boat pilots told us it hasn’t been this windy for weeks. (Yeah, right.) They also mentioned that the river is unusually low. Three weeks ago, it was flowing at 800 cubic meters per second; today it was flowing at 60 cubic meters per second. What a ride we could have had three weeks ago!

Here we are, outfitted in layers of jackets to keep warm, then protected by a “spray jacket” to keep us dry, and a life preserver. We were advised to wear sunglasses because of the wind blowing against the forward speed of the boat. There were times the wind blew so hard against my sunglasses that it was painful. I actually have small bruises on each side of my nose from the wind pressure against my sunglasses.

Our group was put into two boats. The boats go about 50 miles an hour–a little less upstream and a little more downstream–and are capable of spinning 360 degrees, creating a lot of spray. The pilots had fun spinning us around and zigzagging back and forth down the river as if we were slalom skiing.

The scenery was amazing. There was a beautiful view around every bend of the river. You can see how low the river is because the gray stoney material is usually underwater. The jet boats don’t need much water depth. They take in water through a port in the bottom and spew it out of a port in the back. Our boats launched at the point shown in the first picture and, yes, we went forward through that shallow water in the third picture.

This train bridge was built by the British because they didn’t trust the New Zealanders to do it (or so our pilot told us). The upright rails along the track are 15 feet tall and are separated to break the wind. Without them, there’s a strong possibility the wind would blow the train off the tracks.

After the fun of the jet boat sightseeing adventure (we did at least six 360-degree turns just for joy), it was time for lunch; then we piled into four-wheel drive vehicles for an off-road ride through more gorgeous scenery.

The “off-road” description was accurate: sometimes we drove across paddocks and, when there was a dirt trail, it had to be negotiated carefully by our drivers to avoid rocks, etc. that would damage the undercarriage. Our destination was a high point with amazing views in every direction. The river in the fourth picture below is the one we followed in the jet boats. Standing on a high point and seeing the Southern Alps in every direction reminded me of our views of the Swiss Alps from Gornergrat last summer, even though the mountains are different.

On the way back to our ship, our bus driver took us on a tour of Christchurch. We didn’t make any stops because we needed to return before the ship’s sailing time, but the Cardboard Cathedral was definitely a point of interest. The Transitional Cathedral was significantly damaged in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, and the Cardboard Cathedral was erected in 2013 as a temporary substitute. It is made of 24-inch diameter cardboard tubes, timber, and steel. The roof is polycarbon, and eight shipping containers form the walls. It has become the most iconic landmark of Christchurch.

We also saw an interesting bridge. The structure is located on an overpass on the approach to the Christchurch airport. The architect intended it to frame the mountains behind the airport. Unfortunately, a hotel was built between the overpass and the mountains, so the bridge structure now frames a high-rise hotel instead. C’est la vie?

The mountains we saw were, technically, the foothills of the Southern Alps. There is a train that runs from Christchurch to the west coast of the southern island of NZ, crossing the Southern Alps. Our guide said it’s a beautiful ride in the winter when the mountains have snow. Unfortunately, we spent only one day in Christchurch, so there wasn’t time to include the train ride in our schedule. It’s a good reason for us to come back another time.

For 65 hours, Ted and I sailed across the Tasman Sea on our way from Melbourne, Australia to Dunedin, New Zealand. Just so you know, it’s pronounced duh-nee’-din. Dunedin is a Scottish city and its name is a translation of Edinburgh; therefore, the city is named after Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Tasman Sea is situated in latitudes between 40 and 50 degrees south–otherwise known as the “roaring 40s.” Farther south are the howling 50s and the screaming 60s. The seas in these latitudes have high winds and high swells because of (1) the rotation of the earth, and (2) the lack of large land masses to break the winds. As a result, our captain, who gives us an update every day at noon, has been informing us of 30-foot swells and winds of 40-50 knots (gale force).

We haven’t been in danger, but it’s been difficult to walk a straight line on the ship. Last night, my dish of dessert was delivered on a plate and, due to a large swell and the rocking of the ship, nearly slid off the plate as the server reached to put it on the table in front of me. The server caught her balance by putting her hand on our table, thus avoiding falling into my lap. On the other hand, everyone has been commenting on how well we’re sleeping. It’s like being rocked in a cradle.

This photo was taken from Deck 7. The waves look much higher from Deck 2 when they are closer to eye level. The large swell on the right is probably a 30-foot one. When the swells are 6-10 feet high, the water looks calm from Deck 7.

Some of the very large swells are wide and curled on the top. We can often see wind-blown spray at the tops of the swells.

We expected to spend today in Dunedin, but had a surprise early morning announcement from the captain. The safety level for us to enter Port Chalmers (the port for Dunedin) is winds at 35 knots. This morning’s winds were blowing at 40-50 knots–gale force–and there was no indication of a change in the weather. We were unable to safely dock in Port Chalmers and will not be visiting Dunedin after all. The captain made arrangements to berth early in Christchurch, so we’re spending another day at sea and will be arriving in Christchurch this evening.

Ted and I went to the port talk about Dunedin yesterday. Port talks are presented by the cruise director and give us information about the city we’ll be visiting. At 19 degrees (35 percent), Dunedin’s Baldwin Street was the steepest street in the world until 2019, when it lost the title to a street in Wales that has a 37.45 percent slope. Baldwin Street is short (1.8 miles) and straight. Each year, the Cadbury factory in Dunedin sponsors a candy roll of 25,000 Jaffas down Baldwin Street. The candy roll benefits three charities, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The annual event is called “The Running of the Balls.”

We started the new year with a visit to Hobart, the capital city of the fabled island of Tasmania, located at the foot of majestic Mt. Wellington.

The city is currently considering whether or not to add a cable car line to the top of Mt. Wellington. Our guide compared the debate to building a casino: there are always some people for it and some people against it. Those in favor of the cable car think it will raise money and boost tourism; those against it think it will make Hobart like every other mountain city. They also think people should see Mt. Wellington as it is, not with a cable car scarring its face.

But back to Hobart. This city is the second oldest capital in Australia (after Sydney) and has the second-deepest natural harbor in the world (after Sydney). Tasmania, Australia’s smallest state, was originally founded as a penal colony for some 300 inmates. The island/archipelago is a picturesque setting of exceptional beauty.

As we crossed the Derwent River, our guide shared an interesting story about the Tasman Bridge, shown in the photo below.

In 1975, a zinc ore carrier went off course. (The captain was later charged for not paying attention to conditions.) Instead of going through the space between the two center pilings, the ship crashed into a piling in the wide space to the right of the center opening, causing a large section of the bridge deck to collapse on top of the ship, killing seven crew members. The bridge collapse also caused four cars to drop into the water, killing five more people.

It was dark and the bridge deck was unlighted, but one man managed to stop his car with the front wheels hanging over the edge of the broken deck. He escaped from his car and frantically tried to wave other cars to stop, but two drivers ignored him and even drove around him, falling into the river. The river is 115 feet deep, so the ship is still lying on the river bottom, stuck in silt. The name of the carrier ship was the Lake Illawarra, so locals like to say that this is the only river in the world with a lake at its bottom.

Our prettiest stop this morning was the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. This is a mixed garden, with things that will flower at various times of the year.

Here is some yucca and a beautiful azalea bush.

Japanese gardens are always pretty, peaceful, and have water features.

There was a mixture of plants around this pool.

This pretty display was in one of the greenhouses.

This afternoon, we left Australia to go to Dunedin, New Zealand. This is called crossing “the Ditch”–the Australian/New Zealand equivalent of crossing “the Pond” between the U.S. and England in the North Atlantic.

The Tasman Sea is known for frequent high wind activity, and our captain has cautioned us to “make good use of the handrails” over the next two days. The weather forecast is for winds of 45 mph or more, with swells of up to 30-60 feet. In the captain’s words, “the ship will experience some rolling.”

We crossed a portion of the Tasman Sea on our way from Sydney to Melbourne and had 50-mph winds and 15-foot swells that caused all of us to walk irregularly. It’s a weird feeling. As you walk, when one foot is in the air and heading for the floor, the roll of the ship forces you to put it down in an unexpected place to keep your balance, causing your forward motion to zigzag. As we maneuvered our way around the ship, we all tended to look as if we were drunk. With expected swells up to four times that, it looks like we have an adventure ahead. Note: Our steward, who is experienced being at sea, advised us to sleep with one leg extended and bent at the knee to provide support and keep us in our bed.