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The Sands that Burn Are Black

 Auckland is located on an isthmus and is set between two harbors, one opening to the Pacific Ocean and the other to the Tasman Sea. The city boasts it has the greatest number of boats per capita of any city in the world.  In addition to the fascinating Polynesian culture, visitors will find beautiful beaches and expansive parks.

The city is situated over 53 dormant volcanoes and, over the years, Auckland has had many earthquakes and tremors. The city, which is quite mountainous and hilly, contains about 1/3 of the New Zealand’s population and spreads out over a large geographic area.

After a day in the city, Barb chose a driving tour for her second day in Auckland that went up the rugged West coast of the north island to the Waitakere (Mountain) Ranges – about 11 miles northwest of but still apart of the city. This range forms a natural barrier between Auckland City and the surf-lined Tasman Sea on the west coast. The ranges were heavily logged between 1830 and 1930 and some of the cleared land was then used for vineyards and pastureland.  A few virgin forests remain, and the kauri tree is being re-planted. The kauri is a hardwood conifer that produces quality wood that is used for ship masts and ship construction.

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We stopped above the village of Piha to photograph the iconic coast with its Lion Rock and beach below.  We then drove down to the beach and strolled along the soft, black sand beneath our feet. The black iron sand comes from the rock spewed out of the volcano 150 miles away.  The rocks erode, forming sand that is carried up the coast by the strong currents and washed onto the beaches this beach by the waves.  The black color of the sand comes from the minerals in the original rocks.  Black sand absorbs heat from the sun and will burn the soles of your feet on summer days.

Lion's Head rock

Lion’s Head rock

Black sandy beach where it burns your feet in the summer time

Black sandy beach where it burns your feet in the summer time

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Great beach for the surfers!

Great beach for the surfers!

From sea level we traveled upward into lush semi-tropical rainforest of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park and took a walk to enjoy the vegetation and scenery along a meandering stream. We saw black and silver ferns and the interesting Rata.  This particular specimen escaped the axe because of its twisted, gnarly form ~ the consequence of starting life as a vine.  It has witnessed and withstood many floods and storms.  The Rata is valued for its medicinal properties:  the nectar from the flower soothes sore throats, the young leaves are chewed to reduce toothache, and the bark is crushed, steeped, and boiled and applied externally to bruises.

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Silver Fern

Silver Fern



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After a short snack we headed to the Arataki Center with its breathtaking panoramic views from the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean.  In addition to information on local history, we saw some lovely Maori carvings. The educational exhibits in this interpretative center enhanced our experiences in the forest.

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The CIty of Sails ~ Auckland

 New Zealand is part of the Pacific Ocean Ring of Fire and has been and continues to be subjected to volcanic activity. The Maori settled here about 1350 and valued the rich and fertile land near present-day Auckland and constructed fortified villages on the volcanic slopes.

 Auckland has the largest Polynesian population in the world and is known as the City of Sails. Barb chose the Antarctic Encounter and Auckland Sky Tower tour.  After a brief drive along the waterfront road she arrived at Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium.  Inside is a life-size recreation of Captain Robert Scott’s 1911 Antarctic hut on the shores of McMurdo Sound.

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The Sea Life Aquarium is home to both King and Gentoo penguins and we were able to watch them play in their icy environment.

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Next, on a moving walkway through an acrylic aquarium tunnel, we saw schools of fish and sharks swim around and above us.  We also saw stingray with six-foot wingspans and long barbed tails swimming gracefully in front of us.

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From the depths of the ocean to the heights of the Sky Tower, it was a dramatic change in scenery and elevation. An elevator took us to the main observation deck for panoramic views of Auckland and the Great Barrier Reef- some 60 miles away. The sky tower is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. And while we were there three people jumped off the upper platform dangled for a minute n front of the observation windows before dropping at 75 mph to the landing spot below.  All survived!

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World Cruise Party People

As a special event for the Full World Cruisers aboard the Queen Mary 2, we are invited to a formal dinner off the ship at a spectacular location along the way.  This year the special location was atop the Sky Center in Auckland, New Zealand.

We began with a lively cocktail party hosted by the President of Cunard, Peter Shanks, onboard Queen Mary 2, in the Queens Ballroom.

Carolyn and Mary Jane before the World Cruise Dinner



Our Hilton Head friends JoAnn and Jim Ryan

About 90 minutes into the evening, we were asked to disembark the ship and board buses that would take us to the Sky Center.  We made a quick stop after leaving the port area, and “Captain Cook” entered the bus, attired in period costume, and gave us a history of the discovery of New Zealand.  He also included some details about the Maori’s (Polynesian natives) that inhabited the land when Captain Cook “discovered” it.

Our modern day "Captain Cook"


Current day descendants of the Maori’s met us at the Sky Center, looking very fierce.  They posed with the guests giving their best warrior faces.  From what I understand, these fierce faces and chants work very well for the national soccer team, against rivals from other countries.

Maori Warrior

copy cat

Carolyn gets into the act too

When we finally ascended to the banquet hall, we were ushered into a different world.  Because the lighting was very dim, it was difficult to get great pictures, but I hope you can get a sense of the feeling we had being in that lovely décor.

ceiling decor



We were very sorry that sister Barb could not join us for this special event, but her shore excursion did not return until  very late that night, so she chose to see more of the New Zealand countryside.  She left the partying to the rest of us.

Barbara Dempsey enjoying the evening


Mary Jane talking to President of Cunard, Peter Shanks, about blogging

Carolyn and Mary Jane with our new friend Winnie

Barbara Dempsey taking a break from photographing