Haast To High Seas

IO Piracy 001Amsterdam

Once again the blog has lapsed, blame resting with the exit from Haast on New Zealand’s West Coast into the rapid transition that saw this new post begin life on board ship approaching Capetown at the end of a voyage from Hong Kong. Even for us, that is a shift.

Leaving Haast was hard. In a short time there we made good new friends, discovered a new community, and enjoyed a wonderful landscape. It can be an unforgiving place, though. We learned recently of a jet boat accident up the Waiatoto River. A recreational boater lost control in the Gorge, and a loss of life ensued.  http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/regional/238401/jetboat-crash-claims-life     We travelled that stretch several times courtesy of the great Wayne Allanson and Ruth Presland, and caution was always the watchword. http://www.riversafaris.co.nz/gallery.html   Nothing can ever be taken for granted in these places, but the rewards are enormous –  South Westland has some of the most splendid country to be seen anywhere.

From there we drove north with Laura (who had wrapped up her learning experience of working at one of the Haast pubs) to the Punakaiki Rocks, through the Buller Gorge into Nelson, and then over to Picton. That stop involved some fieldwork in the Marlborough vineyards before travelling down through Kaikoura and the seal coast, then cutting inland to reach Hanmer Springs. Some of the highlights included seeing New Zealand falcons on the wing in several places. After reaching low numbers they are on the way back, as are some of the Kiwi species and the kakapo. http://www.doc.govt.nz/conservation/native-animals/birds/birds-a-z/nz-falcon-karearea/

Following a few days with my brother Lindsay and sister-in-law Jenny in Ashburton, we flew back to Melbourne. One of the highlights in Haast had been having Lindsay and Jen stay for a few days along with my Perth brother Ian and sister-in-law Rhonda. Being so dispersed we do not see each other that often, but it is always great fun when we do.

By this stage the big timetable was complicated. We had planned to go to Europe mid-year, but out of the blue came an invitation for me to do a series of lectures on-board MS Amsterdam of the Holland America Line as part of its round-the-world voyage sailing from and returning to Port Lauderdale in Florida. In return for lecturing between Hong Kong and Capetown, Sandi and I got a stateroom and food, access to all the on-board entertainment, and food of which there was a lot.

It was a great experience. The Amsterdam is about 68,000 tonnes and holds almost 1,400 passengers and over 600 crew. For this trip there were about 1,000 passengers on board, about a third of those on for the whole four month voyage. It is a different life, in that it is really about the journey rather than the places reached: some passengers stay aboard while in port and look forward mostly to the sailing days.

The ship is really like a small town, so that over a month you get to meet some terrific people, mainly through talking to those who turned up to my lectures. Those lectures were eclectic but connected mainly to Asia, the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean where we sailed. I got to talk about my Straits Chinese porcelain but also Chinese antiques, international relations in the South China Sea, the politics of the Indian Ocean, cricket, sport and a host of other things. Good numbers turned up to the lectures which were every day on sailing days, and the feedback was excellent.

Along the way we stopped at Singapore, Phuket, Colombo, the Seychelles, Mauritius, La Reunion, Durban and finally Capetown. Some of those were new to us, and the highlight was probably La reunion which is beautiful if somewhat remote, and very French so that the beach bars were excellent.

From Colombo up to the Seychelles the ship took on a new air, beginning ironically enough with the Tom Hanks film Captain Phillips which, of course, is about a ship hijacked by Somali pirates in the Arabian Sea that is at the top of the Indian Ocean. Suddenly razor wire and fire hoses appeared along out deck, ready to repel boarders, and there was an anti-piracy drill in which the Captain got to let the ship reach full speed amidst manoeuvres. That was a connect to the world when otherwise there was not much – although a recurring conversation was what happened to MH 370, the missing airliner, of great interest to us because we have flown Malaysia Airlines for years.

For the last leg of the trip, from Durban to Capetown, Holland America had two years of work pay off in that Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his party were aboard and that generated huge interest among the passengers who turned up in large numbers. Accompanying him were members of the Soweto Gospel Choir who gave the best concert of all those that we saw through the month – great singing and lots of energy, a terrific time and a privilege to hear them. http://www.sowetogospelchoir.com/  

After a month of doing walking circuits on Deck 3, lecturing, having margaritas in the Ocean Bar at 5 pm, having dinner and going to the 8 pm shows, and in between making some good new friends and hearing great stories, it was all over and we were in Capetown, checking out the place for a couple of days in and around the new Cape Quarter area between downtown and the V&A waterfront.

Capetown itself is still pleasant and undergoing a regeneration, but the trip to the airport still traverses the Cape Flat slums, and newspaper reports still recounted troubles in the townships like Khayelitsha. http://wonderingfair.com/2014/03/17/poverty-in-post-apartheid-south-africa/    The “new” South Africa is taking a long time to arrive, and the imminent elections do not hold out much hope for rapid progress. http://www.voanews.com/content/presidential-scandal-overshadows-major-south-african-election/1893081.html  It is a sobering thought with which to leave a country that twenty years earlier had so much hope with the advent to power of Nelson Mandela.

By then it was time for the next adventure, a trip into Botswana.


2 Responses to “Haast To High Seas”
  1. Geraldine Doogue says:

    Brian…wonderful account of yrs and Sandy’s endlessly varied lives! What a fab little adventure. Loved hearing all abt it. I was really pleased to hear how thoroughly enjoyable the NZ part of things had been too: you spoke abt that with real affection. I really wish 8’d had a chance to visit u there. Will u ever go back for a return event?

    I’m having my own version of yr exciting times in Jerusalem for Easter. I’m part of a film crew making a doco for Compass on Holy Week here. It’s a coincidence of Passover plus Easter for all the diff Christian traditions…happens abt once every 4-5 yrs. and it makes for some incredible spectacles…and crushing crowds. I’m trying to focus my attention on a ‘search’ for Jesus the Jew and how Christians like me from Aust ended up worshipping a dead Jewish rebel, angriest abt his own Jewish authorities rather than anything else! It’s a little bit overwhelming cert at the start and gunfire marks some days very definitely. But it does get into yr bones. Here till next Fri night then off to my beloved London for 4 days then to stay with my friends in Umbria for a few days before home.

    Bests and love to both. Geraldinexx

    Sent from my iPad

    • Ah Geraldine, how wonderful and stimulating. That part of the world – on both sides of the main religious divide – does indeed get into the bones, in my case on the other side of teh Jordan. So what a great project you have and we look forward to the product. Enjoy London and especially Umbria, another favourite of our’s as you know. Travel well, love from us. Brian

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