Posted by: gardner310 | January 4, 2015

Kiwi Magic

Mt. Cook on a clear day

Mt. Cook on a clear day

Michael and I just returned from a 3 week campervan vacation in New Zealand.  It’s a place we’ve been wanting to visit so we took advantage of me ending my ship contract in Sydney and flew to Christchurch to pick up our van.  We reserved an Alpha Plus van which actually slept 4 because I had extra luggage to store so the thing was huge, much larger than I expected. The challenge was driving it in the mountains on all of the gorgeous switchbacks – testy at times.  It turned out to be very comfortable with plenty of room and totally self-contained so we could camp anywhere.  New Zealand has what is called Freedom Camping where you can just pull into lots or just off the road overnight as long as you are self-contained.  That plus the many holiday camps available provided our lodging and power for the vacation.

This country is the most beautiful country I’ve visited.  It’s small, population of the nation is less than the population in Chicago where I live.  That leaves a lot of open land for mountains, valleys, lakes, farms and sheep and cattle.  Given that the country is two islands it has an enormous coastline that provides stunning beach vistas from where you drive inland to the Southern Alps and the amazing views of glaciers and lakes.  Outdoor activity is the main focus and the Department of Conservation maintains amazing tracks (trails) that are well maintained and signposted.  Name it – hiking, skiing, river rafting, speed boating, helicopters over mountains, Milford sound cruising, kayaking,climbing, bungy jumping.  It is a photographer’s dream destination.

Given that I have a zillion photos I will post a few at a time so as not to bore you.  If New Zealand is not on your list, I’d recommend adding it and go as soon as you can.  Nobody doesn’t like New Zealand:)

_DSC8213 Mt Cook from Lake Pukaki

How Does National Geographic Choose Its Photos? – PictureCorrect.

Posted by: gardner310 | July 18, 2014

World Cruise, Party Hearty in Phuket



Phuket has grown tremendously over the years. It was one of the original island resorts of Thailand and today it may be a bit over the top.  Shopping for anything – jewelry, t-shirts, carvings, women, men, you name it.  Having said that you can go from Phuket to other islands that are less populated if you prefer or do what I did -take an elephant ride.

_DSC2353 _DSC2333 _DSC2367

Siam Elephant Park was a delightful surprise in how well it was laid out and run. We learned about Thai cooking, Thai tea and coffee, using a water buffalo in the rice paddy, how to shred a coconut and what to do with all of the parts, watched how they trained the young elephants and then had our ride through the jungle. Such a fun day and we all have a photo on an elephant to prove it.

Patong Bay was our anchorage which was literally on the small beach with a much larger beach just around the bend. Lots of shops and local taxis are there to supply you with your touring or shopping needs.

Posted by: gardner310 | July 18, 2014

World Cruise: Columbia, Sri Lanka



This is as close to India as we get on this cruise. It is bustling, crowded city but with lots of green space. Temples upon temples, around every corner it seemed. We visited a ovule of the larger well known ones but then our tuk yuk driver took us to one out of the way where we found a Hindu wedding in progress. The Indian dress is so colorful and the wedding attire is even fancier and more stunning.

My friend Barbara, the travel guide and I visited the Jami Ul Alfareia mosque which is on a very narrow street clogged with farmers carts, tuk tuks and people. The mosque is huge, red and white candy striped and looks completely out of place yet also right at home. I could have stood on the corner and watched the activity for hours.

Our driver, Randy, found a store called “Barefoot “ where we shopped a bit and then shared a lovely lime juice with a plate of hummus. It was a simply delightful day from the back of our open air chariot.


Posted by: gardner310 | July 17, 2014

World Cruise, Sizzling Singapore



I was only in Singapore for a few hours on a previous cruise so didn’t see much.  This time I had 2 days to explore and I started with the hop on, hop off bus.  There are 3 routes so I took the a non-stop ride on the yellow route to get an idea of the city, plotted my next stops and hopped on the red route to get there.  Singapore is a city of neighborhoods  so I started in Little India with the sari stores and outdoor markets.  It’s a large section and I didn’t cover nearly enough but enough to get a taste. 

From there I headed to Arab street and the middle eastern section with the mosques and restaurants.  I went to the largest mosque and had a conversation with a hadji and his young helper.  I learned about the mosque and Islam and was given two books on Islam “for knowledge”, said the hadji.   The young helper, Ali, noted that I made a strange choice in visiting the mosque rather than shopping.  I just said everyone was different.  

Hopped the bus to the river and got off to take a few river shots before walking to Chinatown.  On the way I decided to get the traditional chicken and rice dish from Singapore so I stopped at BK Eating, a local corner joint where I was the only tourist.  Food was good and cheap, only $3.50 Singapore dollars for a high plate on which there was a new taste treat- teeny dried salty fish with some red peppers in solid honey.  Fish brittle!  Who knew?

Chinatown is also a large area with temples, old men playing games, and a huge market where you can find any type of Chinese trinket you could want.   The colors are stupendous and garish.  It’s a permanent carnival atmosphere where there is photo op every few yards, it seems.  The day ended back at the harbor with wifi and a piano concert on the back deck of the ship overlooking Sentosa Island with its thousands of lights.

Day 2 Singapore

The Bird Park is not some place I would have gone on my own but I escorted a tour and it is a lovely park that provided a pleasant couple of hours entertainment.  They have a huge variety of birds, many of which are not seen in temperate climates, like the great hornbills.  These guys look right out of Jurassic Park.  There is a very good show where they show off the intelligence of the birds and their tricks – great fun with audience participation.  


Posted by: gardner310 | July 17, 2014

World Cruise in Happy Hong Kong


Everybody likes Hong Kong. No matter how many times you visit there is always some place new to visit or more shopping to do. It is exotic yet comfortable at the same time. The signs are in Chinese but also in English and the public transportation is easy to maneuver.  Although the shopping is not nearly as good as it was years ago.  Like everything else as the world becomes smaller the bargains are disappearing.


Day one was rainy and I had a few things I was looking for in the way of photo equipment, just small accessories. We hit 6 stores and none of them had what I was looking for so it will when I get closer to Florida and I can pick them up in Ft. Lauderdale when the ship arrives. Some things are just easier to do at home. The evening had me on a harbor cruise for the laser light show. It was still foggy and cold so not the best night I’ve done this but still something I wouldn’t be doing at home in Chicago in March!

_DSC1838 Window to Hong Kong Sail In

Day 2 my mission was to go to Lantau island and see the Big Buddha. I’ve seen Lantau but never took the cable car to the top and the buddha. Still foggy and cool but dry today so I hopped the Star Ferry and picked up the metro to Tung Chung where the skyrail waited for my spooky foggy ride to the top. The fare is 150 HKD for the regular car and 225 HKD for the crystal car. I paid the 150 and got in line until I head the guy say it was a 90 minute wait but I could upgrade for the extra $10US and have a 5 minute wait. Save yourself the time and trouble and just pay the higher fee in the first place, it was so worth it.

At the top it was still misty but warmer so I had several hours to explore, thanks to the fast cable car line! The fog kept the big buddha shrouded much of the time but I stood for awhile and snapped some shots when there was a clear chance. It’s a good climb to the buddha that provided my aerobic exercise for the afternoon. The monastery there is active and many were offering incense and praying. The retail village is quite cute and offers some nice shopping but since I had some traveling to do to get back to the ship, I had to forego the shopping. Glad I took the trip , I just wish I had more time to see more of the island. Next time!


Posted by: gardner310 | July 16, 2014

World Cruise, Multi-faceted Manila

The Famous Manila Hotel

              The Famous Manila Hotel


Because we have a large Philippine crew on board, the spirit on the ship was high since many of them would be able to see their family members in the two days we were docked there. It turned out to be a wonderful couple of days with hundreds of friends and family members on the ship enjoying the food and companionship of their working contact. I helped check in the visitors the first day and it was fun to see their excitement.

The ship is docked very near the old Manila Hotel, where Douglas MacArthur stayed during WWII. If you ask the concierge at the hotel they will take you up to the fifth floor and give you a tour of his accommodations. You can’t help but feel the history coming to life. After the visit to the hotel we headed to Robinson’s Mall for lunch and wifi plus a little necessary shopping, the boring kind – toothpaste, air freshener, etc. I did score a bag of my favorite potato chips that made my day.

Day 2 in Manila had Michael and I walking to the old historical walled area. It was about 25 minutes along the golf course to Ft. Santiago the southern entrance to the area. The fort was built in 1571 but has been rebuilt over the centuries during its many ownerships. That day saw a lot of visitors, mostly locals in school and tour groups. It’s nice to see a site that is well attended by residents as well as tourists.


Fort Santiago

                            Fort Santiago

The walk north through the city had us passing the cathedral and St. Augustin’s, both of which are closed but we found a wedding couple having their photos taken and it’s always fun to watch that. The old city is inhabited and quite busy commercially. It is also very poor and you can see a large homeless population in some areas. They are doing some restoration of some of the lovely old colonial buildings and that’s a good sign.

It was our first visit to the Philippines and it would fun to return and be able to see the islands outside of Manila. Corregidor was a big draw for some of our guests and I would like to see it myself one of these days.



Posted by: gardner310 | July 14, 2014

Bucket List, Diving on the Great Barrier Reef-Check!


Diving the Great Barrier Reef!  Finally.  I’ve been a dive for a long timer but the opportunity never presented itself for me to dive on the outer reef out from Cairns.  I don’t take photos underwater, for the lack of an underwater camera so don’t look for anything here.

This trip  is allowing me to check some things off my bucket list.  Scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef has been on it since I learned to dive 30 years ago.  Today was the day!   4 of us were scheduled with Reef Experiences to leave the dock at 8am.  The ship was almost an hour late arriving and we had to wait for Australian immigration to clear the ship before we could leave.  The nice port agent called the dive operator and told them we were on our way.  Bolting from the gangway, we ran down the dock and reached the boat in time to head to outer reef.  

It’s an hour and a half to Hastings Reef where we did two dives in two different spots.  The first dive was great with clear visibility, turtles and giant clams plus tons of colorful fish and soft coral.  The reef was in much better shape than I expected given the other reefs I’ve seen lately.  The marine biologist onboard gave a presentation on the current state of the reef and confirmed that the reef is coming back.  


Dive #2 was not as good and the visibility was dramatically reduced by the increased current stirring up the sand.  Still, the fish were plentiful but that section of the reef had less soft coral and any larger marine life was staying out of the area.  We strayed a bit further than we should have and ended up going up the anchor line at the wrong boat.  It was a good thing that the wrong boat belonged to the same company because they hauled us (literally) into their zodiac and drove us over to our own boat.  It would have been a tough swim due to the wind and current so I was very happy.  


We were out on the water all day and I loved it.  The crew laughed when we got on board the dive boat about us getting off one boat and running to get on another one.  Being on a small boat is so different than living on a cruse ship.  Some days I only get outside for a couple minutes so being able to be outside all day is a real treat.


One more thing checked off my list but I would come back and do it again anytime..

Your Reef Experience Day Includes:

ïUp to 6 hours at two pristine Outer Great Barrier Reef locations

ïUnlimited Snorkelling, snorkelling equipment and tuition (including wetsuit)

ïFREE Certified Scuba Dive or Resort Scuba Dive (no-experience necessary) for everyone who is over the age of 12 and medically fit to scuba

ïGlass bottom boat tour (weather permitting)

ïMarine Biologist Reef Talk

ïBBQ breakfast roll & fruit platter

ïDelicious, freshly prepared hot & cold buffet lunch

ïAfternoon cheese, wine & biscuits

ïTea & coffee service

ïTransfers to and from the marina if you are staying in the Cairns business area

ïFree buoyancy aids

ïReef tax, fuel levy & national park fees

– Please advise of dietary requirements upon booking. This tour is family friendly and disability friendly

Daily Itinerary:

07:25 – Board Reef Experience vessel at the Marlin Jetty, Cairns 07:30 – Complete check-in. Tropical breakfast  and morning tea are served prior to departure 08:00 – Depart Marlin Jetty and cruise to the Outer Great Barrier Reef 08:30 – On the way, a snorkelling briefing will be given along with a Marine Biology Talk 09:30 – Arrive at our first spectacular reef site. Time to snorkel and scuba dive with thousands of vivid tropical fish, turtles and more 10:30 – Glass Bottom Boat tour 12:00 – Lunch is served 13:00 – Cruise to our second location for more snorkelling, scuba diving and Great Barrier Reef exploring. Great photo oppourtunities for photography lovers 15:00 – Depart the Great Barrier Reef 15:30 – Glass of complimentary wine, tropical fruits, cheese & biscuits are served 16:30 – Arrive back to Cairns Harbour



Posted by: gardner310 | July 14, 2014

World Cruise, Brisbane



Today was a day to get out of the city and see the countryside.  We headed up to the rainforest on winding roads in mountains lush with verdant vegetation.  The vegetation was so lush it blocked most of the would be views and all of the photographic attempts.  The destination was a resort where we had lunch and did a lovely walk on a wooden promenade, then a swinging rope bridge network in the rainforest canopy.  It was a welcome change from the hustle of the city and just beautiful.

_DSC1175 _DSC1223 _DSC1213 _DSC1234 _DSC1233

After lunch we headed back down the mountain roads via a lovely winery where we did some tasting to the harbor and bid farewell to Brisbane.   Enroute we had a local run across the road ahead of our bus.

_DSC1307 _DSC1301 _DSC1302 _DSC1298



When I get back here in the fall, I will give the city some time and explore it.


Posted by: gardner310 | July 13, 2014

World Cruise, Pago Pago


Sailing into Pago Pago

Sailing into Pago Pago

This was our second time to American Samoa in Pago Pago and I did a tour last time so we decided to just wander into town. The wander didn’t take very long as it’s a small town. We headed to the supermarket and I found my favorite American potato chips. Funny what you miss from home when you’re away. We walked up the hillside to the cemetery and met a nice young man who allowed me a photo shot. Michael gave him a dollar and within 15 minutes he was back with his brother who asked if we gave him money. I think the older kid figured he could cash in. Kids never change.


It is a beautiful island with a magnificent coastline, beaches, crags and cliffs.

Pago Pago Beach at hotel

Amsterdam in Pago Pago


Stopped at the original Sadie Thompson’s bar and restaurant where Somerset Maugham wrote in 1915. One of the locals was at the bar and very chatty about the people in general. Tip: Always sit at the bar and you will get the latest updates, whether you know anyone or not.

_DSC0733 Original Sadie Thompson's B


I was hoping something of Somerset’s writing would rub off but the inspiration hasn’t hit me yet. Maybe someday…the great American novel.

Older Posts »