I will massacre most of the Maori place names along the way. Tauranga is the first one. I want to say TorANGa and it’s more like TORonga. (for the ones I’m most often get wrong, approximate pronunciations are included as above; my apologies to the locals if I’ve still messed it up… let me know and I’ll try to do better)
Did I mention the ship is full of mostly Aussis, followed by Kiwis and Poms? That’s people from Australia, New Zealand, and England respectively, for those who might not know. All said of one another in a light, good-naturedly disparaging kind of way.)
The rest are a smattering from here and there, including a few Americans. United-States-Americans. Including me.
Pause to rewind to prior evening briefly… At the emergency drill (not quite a muster drill, as that happens full alarms and was run as the ship picked up 75% of its contingent at Melbourne) I meet a very nice Englishman who is very pleased when I answer the question, “So where are you from?” with “the United States” and not simply “America” (as if we made up the entirety of two continents all by ourselves; I understand that our tendency to shorthand this way is considered rude elsewhere). Sidebar for those who are easily offended: it’s a lot easier to answer the question “where are you from” accurately and politely and a lot harder when someone asks “what’s your nationality?” since the answer to that, I’m sorry to tell you and without intended rudeness, is “American” because there is no such thing as a United-Statesian. I will try to give you the polite answer, but it is less awkward to try to word it politely if you ask me the right question.
Tauranga, however you choose to pronounce it, is our first port of call. Which means, my first shore excursion.
I am just ALL ABOUT the shore excursions, yo. I need more time in port so I can do more of them. Which is to say, I suppose, I’m all about Seeing the New Place. You’re all shocked by this, right?
Here’s my overall thoughts on shore excursions as I made my choices:
- The point is to see and do something. This means a new experience, and hopefully a few good pictures.
- I avoid getting off the big boat in favor of a little boat. Any tour that means getting on a catamaran is probably going to end in me not being happy. And there’s nothing like being cold, damp, tired of boats and slightly seasick just before you… oh, right, get back on a boat for the night. (Lesson source: Ketchikan, Alaska)
- I avoid all-day “riding” tours. Buses are often tiresome, but at least they stop and let you off so often. Trains can be a lovely way to travel, but if the entire excursion is to make a loop by rail, your pics are all going to be taken “in motion” which could easily mean “blurry” (Lesson source: Skagway, Alaska)
- Unless it’s spectacularly well-reviewed, I don’t take city tours. They are usually cheesy, crowded, nauseatingly stop-and-go, and usually not well priced versus just walking or taking public transit (if these are options, and if you do just a little homework ahead). (Lesson source: Bermuda)
So with these principles in mind, I had chosen excursions everywhere except Wellington, where I had another plan entirely. In fact I booked them all so far ahead that by the time we left, I didn’t remember what I had signed up for, or in what order.
So in Tauranga, I was slightly breaking rule 2, in favor of rule 1: new experience. My first excursion was going to be my most advanced. I was going Kayaking.
I was, I will admit, really nervous about this. I am indoorsy. I am clumsy. I have relatively low upper body strength (read as: average female). I have never done this before.
I was paired with Dede, a Californian now residing in Baja Mexico. About 10 years older than me, but a tall blond goddess by all measures and with experience kayaking. We were the only all-female kayak in the set. We held our own just fine.
In the morning, it was windy and painfully cold – both of our hands ached with it – which was probably a mercy because I whacked my hands with regularity in the process of paddling, so being a bit numb wasn’t the worst thing. But it was truly beautiful and if my camera had not been in the waterproof bag behind me I would show you this.
We stopped into a small grotto (SMALL! I am not claustrophobic, but Oh My Goodness. One kayak at a time, turn in your oars and get manually guided in, face practically pressed to the rocks=SMALL GROTTO!) to see the glowworms. Which were totally cool and made the cave look like it was filled with dim little stars (also reflected on the water, so that was neat) but I was also aware that my face is inches from the rocks and the glow on the rocks are bug larvae so, um, kind of ick.)
Then we rowed on to our lunch break point and the hot springs, still fighting the wind.
Thinking: He could calm the wind. Or He could give me strength to get through it. I am thankful for the breaks in the wind. I am thankful for the strength to go on. I am thankful for the guides, for Dede, and for the day. And I will be glad for the wind when it’s at my back later.
Lunch: a muffin, a chocolate bar, and a bottle of water. (There was a sandwich, but all of them had chopped egg on them, and undiluted egg makes me vomit (TMI?) so it seemed like skipping that would be wise.)
The day is bright and clear, the lake unimaginably lovely.
Natural hot springs reek of egg anyway so there’s that (LOL) but they warm a body right through. We are actually hot on the way back. We’re also tired. But as promised, the wind is in our favor. We put up our oars like sails now and then, to rest ever-so-briefly. We only get slightly entangled with a set of baby ducks and each other (no ducklings harmed nor kayakers soaked in the process).
It is a fantastic day, and later I make plans to get together with Dede and her companions back on the ship. In fact, within 30 minutes of arriving, I am in the jacuzzi, awaiting Dede’s arrival, and meet up with another bunch from our excursion. Apparently we are all of like mind. We joke that we will all be sore tomorrow; that we will lack the strength to lift our forks at dinner.
But there are no ill effects at all. Only good memories.
Overnight, we sail on to Napier.
Special thanks to the excellent guides from tour provider Waimarino.