Sunday, 31 July 2011


23rd Jul 2011
The pier at Russell. Scene of the action
It's all go here, hence slow blogging. Scarcely time to scrape the sand out of my y-fronts when we are off to the Great Annual Russell Birdman Festival. Lots of activities and competitions throughout the day which attracted a healthy crowd on what was, fortunately, a reasonably sunny, with the odd heavy shower, day. I think the organisation which runs Russell manages to promote quite a few such entertainments to keep the local populace amused.

There were barbeque cooking competitions ( left ) and fashion shows ( only men in drag ), and many other things which I've forgotten.

.....and ( right ) the final of the under 12s spaghetti eating competition.....but the highspot of the day was the parade of the 'Birdmen' followed by their 'flight' off the pier.

The parade consisted of about 15 'teams' all with a different theme. This was not just a question of flying off the end of the pier, ho no!, this was about doing a performance. On the left here you can see the 'Dr Who' team limbering up.......


Right........and the local surfing champion, followed by the tour bus company and the Jamaican bobsleigh team.......


....with a rather ambitious looking attempt by a bunch of hanglider enthusiasts.....


The whole idea was to produce an act down the pier accompanied by much background music and hamming it up. Some of the 'acts' were hilarious. There was a Star Wars team and the local Doc accompanied by several children doing a Mary Poppins 'chim chiminey' thing. The Doc, plus umbrella, looked as if he did himself a serious injury as he plummeted off the end....adding much to the hilarity of the occasion. This lot ( right ) were doing their bit to the Birdy Song. 

....and there goes Dr Who, in his tardis, pursued by the dalek. They all ended up in a heap in the water.....


...and the Jamaican bobsleigh team who did lots of practice starts and run ups. I think they were quite cunning. I notice that they could get away with wearing wet-suits as per the neoprene go-faster suits worn by bobsleighers, and the water was freezing cold ( so I'm told ).


.....the hanglider attempt rather failed to take off, but not before it had pushed a few unsuspecting cameramen off the pier during a swerving rather drunken looking take-off run....

....and one guy was dressed up as somthing in red with a big red rocket. Don't quite remember what he was but his rocket gave off a lot of smoke and kept going for a long time after they hit the water. There were many others including a 'stoneage disco' and a group doing the 'Ka mate' haka..

It was all great fun. There is so much scope for amusing 'acts' here. Sad I won't be around next year.... or maybe I should be grateful. I was trying to persuade Debbie and Dominique, left, to give it a go next year but again my ridiculous suggestions ( intercontinental ballistic missile was one ) were not met with much enthusiasm.

Off down to Auckland tomorrow to start my Grand Tour of New Zealand. I think I will be travelling with an organisation called the Naked Bus. It is cheap and, I think, probably the bus equivalent of Ryanair. Also, where possible, by rail.
 More to follow in due course.

Saturday, 30 July 2011


21st - 22nd Jul 2011
The lighthouse at Cape Reinga

Up early to catch the 0700hrs ferry across the bay from Russell to Paihia to join a bus tour to the northernmost point of the north island, Cape Reinga. Strictly speaking there is another headland nearby about 2kms further north, but Cape Reinga is the northernmost 'driveable' point. There were four and twenty on the bus ( where have I heard that before? ) and out driver/guide was Barry. I think Barry was a Maori; he certainly could speak Maori. In fact he spoke quite a lot. I had a horrible feeling shortly after we set off that Barry might become intensely irritating with his non-stop banter and unfunny jokes. In fact he got better as the trip wore on and as he began to run out of breath. By the end, after a few potential disasters, we all ( I think ) began to warm to Barry. He did actually tell us lots of informative things, amongst his personal reminiscences.
Our first stop, and the weather was, for once, inclement, was the Puketi forest to admire the famous Kauri trees (Left). They are similar to California redwoods and are, like much else, considered 'spiritual' in the Maori culture. We were sent off on a walk around a patch of damp dripping gloomy forest/jungle and encouraged to 'embrace' a particular Kauri tree to bring us good fortune. They were rather wet, so I didn't.

Right: I hope I did my bit here by not 'embracing' the  the damned things. I would hate to fall foul of the 'Kauri Dieback Response Team' who might pounce at any moment armed with disinfectant, rope and chainsaws.

Our next stop was at Taipa for a breakfast cup of tea where I was ripped off buying postcards and stamps by an Indian shopkeeper. After another 10 minutes drive the bus broke down. I stand humbled and corrected. I don't think enough of us can have embraced the blasted soggy Kauri tree. Anyway, this caused Barry a bit of angst and a replacement bus was ordered. We set off again after an hour and a half wait and attempted to drive onto the 90 mile beach. This was to be a feature on our trip. The beach is flat hard sand and runs up the west side of the peninsular for 64 miles. Because of our delay the tide was coming in and after splashing through the surf, it was wisely decided to vacate the beach up a wonky gravel path-cum-stream to avoid floating off to Australia.

Right: Barry at the helm shortly before we nearly became seaborne and did a rapid right turn off the beach. We were promised a trip back down the beach on our way home when the tide was going out. It is called 90 mile beach because it took a horse-drawn wagon 3 days to drive up it. As these wagons were expected to average 30 miles per day, it was called 90 mile beach. It is 64 miles long.

Left: Cape Reinga. This is a VERY spiritual Maori place, if not the MOST spiritual. It is where the souls of dead Maoris come to go off to the next world. Barry even chanted a long Maori chant  ( 5 minutes of ) on our approach to the Cape. The small tree clinging on to the rock at the far end is there against all the odds and considered 'magical'. You are expected to behave in a very reverential manner here.
It is also the point where the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea meet and as such the sea here can be really wild. It was relatively calm on this day. After the Kauri tree lack of embrace, I wasn't taking any chances and was as grovellingly 'reverential' as I could be. We still had the 90 mile beach to survive, and some sand-boarding yet to come.

Right: The solar powered lighthouse on the Cape point. This is switched on and off from a control room in Wellington. As you can see, if you enlarge this, we are 9735 nautical miles from London, 4576nm from Tokyo, 3383nm from the South Pole and 1066nm from Sydney.

Left: We left the Cape and drove south and then off down a track which turned into a sandy sided stream. It was quite deep, but Barry seemed to know what he was doing. We were on our way to the sand dunes for some sandboarding. Most people on the bus seemed keen to do this, so who was I to refuse.... 

Right:...... We were handed our boards and given a bit of instruction by Barry. The idea was to climb up to the top of the dunes and whizz down as per a toboggan. If you were going fast enough it was possible to hydroplane across the stream at the bottom and over to dry land on the other side. It was bloody knackering climbing up to the top. First time down, everyone was slightly cautious and braked a bit with toes in the sand; but you did get up a fair bit of speed. Everyone pulled up before the stream ( there were some 8 year old children doing this! ). Second time up ( I nearly died, puff puff ), Barry gave a demo. He whizzed down, flew elegantly across the stream and stood up dry on the other side. Right!, I thought, I'm going next and will show him what's what! Ex-Cresta rider and all that. I took a good run, launched myself, no brakes and went for it. I hit the near bank of the stream at a fair clip and, lacking technique, failed to raise the front of my board. The board stopped dead, but I carried on upwards and onwards in a majestic parabola to land with a powerful splash dead centre of the water. Oh, how they laughed. It was damned cold. I slunk off back to the bus. I think only one other person made it into the stream, and nobody, apart from the Blessed Barry got across. Bollocks to sandboarding, and I was still shaking sand out of my kit for days afterwards.

Left: We re-entered the 90 mile beach and headed southbound. Much of this journey was spent splashing through the surf. We had to stop a short way down because the tide had not gone out enough for safe onward progress. We hung around for about 30 mins while Barry went off for some coffee with a friend of his who had a shack over the dunes. I must say, by this stage we had developed quite a respect for Barry's amphibious driving abilities. He obviously, amongst all his daft patter, was highly skilled at this semi-aquatic bus driving job.

Right: A stranded ( and dead ) sand shark near where our bus stopped. There were several of these around. Maybe they had been caught and discarded. I am told they are harmless to swimmers. I don't know how big they grow but I would still rather swim where they aren't.......
We continued our wet journey, and I was still soaking from my dunking ( although given a dry sweater thankfully ) then onto dry land and onwards to a place which sold Kauri wood handicrafts. It was pissing with rain by now. With some considerable way still to go we stopped for 'fish and chips', and rather good they were too, before the final leg, running about 2 hours late to Paihia. The dramas were not quite over yet because traffic was diverted miles around what turned out to be a fatal road accident. Barry, by this time, had gone remarkably silent. We got back to Paihia at 2030hrs ( 2 hours late ). The last ferry to Russell ( normally 1930hrs ) was delayed especially, just for me. How remarkably kind, I thought. All the others were going on somewhere else. Barry was most apologetic about it all, but actually he had done remarkably well and with great good humour. He must have been knackered. So that was my educational trip to the northernmost bit of NZ mainland. A large whisky was greatfully consumed on arrival at the Swordfish Club in Russell.
.... and tomorrow it's the much heralded Russell Birdman Festival....!!


18th - 20th Jul 2011

Fishing on the Tongariro

I was introduced to Linton who lives, part time, in Russell. I expressed an interest in some local trout fishing. Linton is a man of many parts and originally from Canterbury District in the south island. He has been involved in such activities, amongst others, as possum control, rabbit monitoring, wine making, hiking, stalking, and forestry as well as sea and river fishing. He said he would take me for some trout fishing in a river he knew. 'Might stay overnight; bring enough kit'. Linton, his dog Honey and myself left Russell in his pick-up truck at 0800hrs on a bright sunny morning. Honey had to have the front middle seat, but she was good company. We drove down past Whangarei, Auckland, over the Bombay Hills, Hamilton, Taupo, past Lake Taupo, a large lake about 30 miles long by 30 miles wide, to Turangi on the southern shore. It was a fascinating drive past some magnificent countryside including most of the New Zealand ( racehorse ) stud farms around Cambridge. Trouble was we only stopped twice, briefly, for a snack, coffee and petrol, so not much time for photos. We arrived at our ( rather basic ) Motel, the Oasis, near Turangi, at 1645hrs, just in time to get some waders and a fishing licence for the next morning before the town closed down. Most shops close in NZ at 5.00pm. An 8 hour 45 minute drive! Phew, Linton has some stamina! I wasn't aware we would be going quite so far.

Left: The redoubtable Linton. He is standing beside an outlet of the river flowing through a gorge from Lake Taupo at it's northern end, on our way down. This is one hell of a powerful flow. If you fell in here you would be sucked under and unlikely to reappear alive.
Interesting area around Turangi. It is a 'geo-thermal' place where hot steam belches out of the hillsides and a 'geo-thermal' power station has been built at the base of the volcanic mountains just to the south ( haven't a clue how it works). These volcanos, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and the largest, Ruapehu (9174 ft)
 are snow covered and provide good skiing at this time of year. Apparently lots of skiiers/snowboarders were out on the slopes. It is also a popular area for what the Kiwis term 'tramping', ie hiking. For some reason people like to climb up one side of these volcanos and down the other and get a bus back to where they started. It is not, however, the best time for trout in the rivers, but plenty of people were at it. We set off the next morning up the river Tongariro which flows from the mountains down into the lake. It is all 'public' fishing and you just obey courtesies of not interfering too closely if someone else is fishing a particular stream or pool. Only fly fishing is allowed. We walked up the riverside for an entertaining 40 minutes, and started to fish. Another guy we passed had already landed two 6 pound rainbow trout. You are permitted to keep a max of two fish.

Right: Linton and dog Honey. It is a very picturesque place and looked full of promise. We thrashed away at three or four likely streams fishing with both floating and sinking lines, up and down stream. Linton caught a 4lb rainbow. He was keeping it for his cat. I failed to get anything. As said, it is not the best time of year! There were many large ( probably 6-8lb brown trout lying in pools and visible from the banks but, I was told, these are develishly difficult to catch ). We had a picnic lunch, called it a day and went back to the truck. Not so successful, but at least a decent 'recce' for the future. There was time for a look around the local trout 'museum and hatchery' before heading south again. Onwards, past the central mountains over the 'desert road' on a plateau south of Turangi which looked rather like areas in the Scottish highlands, and contained the main NZ army training area. Forests, moorland and hills prevailed. There is a vast amount of national parkland here, and everywhere else for that matter. It was explained to me that it is possible for anyone to fish and stalk deer ( red and sika ) and wild boar on this land; all you need is the required firearms certificate or fishing licence. There seem to be very few, if any, private sporting estates. Sounds a bit dodgy to me, so I suppose you need to wear some pretty hi-viz clothing if you are out stalking! Maybe there is just so much empty space it scarcely matters.
On down through big sheep country of large grass covered hills, past the town of Taihape where they worship 'gumboots' and entertain hippies, through the wind-farm infested pass between the Tararua and Ruahine mountain ranges and eventually, at 1830hrs we reached Masterton where Linton's other half lives. Quite a journey and rather further than I had expected. I was generously fed and put up for the night, and thanks to Cathy for that. Next morning, off to Palmerston North about 1hr15mins away to catch the 'Overlander' train back up to Auckland. It was due to leave at 0945hrs and arrive in Auckland at 1940hrs.

Left: The Overlander. It was a great ride, as far as it went. Quite comfortable with a pleasant 'lounge car' at the tail end. The buffet/dining car had a good selection of things to eat and drink and wasn't, compared to most NZ food outlets, too expensive. There are only three passenger train routes in NZ, and this is the only one on the north island. It starts in Wellington and ends in Auckland, or vice versa.

Right: The lounge car at the rear end. A reasonable view and we were given a blow by blow commentary of the places of interest that we were about to pass.

Left: Some of the scenery....many viaducts over rivers were crossed. It was all very pleasant.....

Right: ........and  back past the volcanos south of Lake Taupo on the other, west, side of the national park. This one is the middle one called Mt Ngauruhoe. It is no wonder it is difficult to remember these extraordinary Maori names. The words all have a descriptive meaning. Ngauruhoe probably means something like 'white boil on wife's bum'. It is also likely to be a 'sacred' site, most are, which means I am in trouble if a Maori reads this.

Left: We had a pit-stop at a place called Okakune. It purported to be a 'skiing' village in the lee of the snow covered volcanos. The problem with the NZ skiing villages and accomodation is that they tend to be about an hour's drive from the snow. It was nice to get out to have a leg stretch, and I bought a jar of local chutney. Can't think why.
We continued our pleasant journey until we got to the township of Taumarunui ( black pig blowing bubbles, perhaps ), not quite halfway to Auckland where, unfortunately, the train broke down. Or, to be more precise, the electricity failed.
Anyway, we were put onto buses and continued up to Auckland that way, which was a bit of a disappointment. Arrived in Auckland rather late, but who cares.
All in all a most educational and extensive fishing trip. Much interesting information on all aspects of country life ( including all there is to be known about possums ) was gleaned from Linton who, I am sure, would be more than happy to take anyone on a 'sporting' expedition. I have his contact details if you are interested. I have now covered most of the north island and I haven't even started my tour of New Zealand yet.
Kia ora.........

Thursday, 28 July 2011


12th - 18th Jul 2011

Bernie, my latest drinking buddy
Kia ora! Aianei ahau hei Aotearoa. E hoki ana ahau ki Waitangi te kainga tahu hoa. Ka nui ataahua wahi me ka pai te ahua o te rangi. Ka nui te hari o toku ngakau. I haere mai ahau i toku kainga rua rangi. Ko te mohio ki te whakarongo e mohio ana ahau, tena ko te korero e kore e tino mohio. He itiiti noa iho taku mohio. Kia apititutia! "Kia whana te hingahinga nga tupapaku". "E kawhakina! Tetahi momo ki te kainga". Ahakoa he iti te matakahi, ka pukuru i a au te totara. He rangatira he hoa matenga mou, kia kore koe a whakarerea. England v. All Blacks? Iti noa ana, he pito mata! He manako te koura i kore ai. Whakapuakina mai o whakaaro? Kati te mahi mo tenei ra. "Ka mate, ka mate, ka ora, ka ora........etc".
I hope that's clear then. My Maori is improving.
Thanks to Barry, a Maori guide up here ( you will hear more about him later ), I have learnt some interesting facts about New Zealand. You may, of course, know these already. If so, forgive me for talking boring old hat. New Zealand was first settled about 1000yrs ago. The first people to arrive here, by canoe, were a chap called Kupe, his wife, children, dog and a few mates from Tahiti where it was getting a bit overcrowded. It was his wife who first spotted the islands announcing "Aotearoa", meaning 'land of the long white cloud' which became the Maori name for the place. They were followed by more people from other parts of Polynesia and formed 7 tribes mostly living in the north island around what is now Auckland ( Waitemata ). The first European to discover, and map, the place was the Dutchman Abel Tasman, in 1642, who was on a trading mission from the Dutch East India Company. He called the place Nieuw Zeeland after Zeeland ( in Holland? ), hence New Zealand. He landed a shore party but due to a slight misunderstanding with the locals, because they didn't understand each other's language, was attacked by Maoris and four of his men were killed. He bravely sailed away. The Dutch East India Company was not impressed and gave, or sold, his maps to England. Helped by these maps, in 1769 Capt James Cook ( and some Frenchman ) arrived. He had sensibly taken the precaution of taking with him, from Tahiti ( all the Polynesian Islands speak a similar language ), an interpreter! He successfully talked his way ashore. He further mapped the place and introduced permanent English and other European settlers, initially from the whaling community. The controversial Treaty of Waitangi was signed with the Maoris in 1840 and New Zealand became a British colony. The rest is history.

I dashed off, by Northliner bus, up to the Bay of Islands, near Russell, to stay with friends ( ex Vietnam Airlines ) who have recently emigrated. Most of the houses around there are built up on high ground with spectacular sea views. This ( left ) was the view from our verandah, and this was a modest place compared to many. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa ( born Claire Mary Theresa Rawstron ) , the well known heavy metal singer, lives in Russell. She was nowhere to be seen, or heard for that matter.
I was very well entertained up there, hence this latest missive has taken a long time to appear.

Left: Another view of the coast. Impossible to do it justice with my poor photographic skills but, believe me, the area is pretty fantastic....and lots of expensive looking houses. Ferry services operate to connect outlying bits of the mainland to avoid long and tortuous road journeys.

 I went on a local boat trip around the islands. There are 144 of them in the area, some inhabited, most not. Glorious scenery. We also saw a couple of 'pods'of dolphins which sometimes leapt spectacularly out of the water alongside the boat. One pod had a couple of small calves with them; not a common sight. My problem was to photograph them. When they leapt, my stupid camera took a couple of seconds to focus before going 'click'. By that time they were underwater again. So, hear, right, is a good pic of a bunch of dolphins having just leapt spectacularly.

Left: OK, here are some of the disobliging brutes having a swim around......

Right:  .........and one of the small calves. There are strict rules about viewing dolphins so as not to harass them because these calves have to feed every 5 minutes or so, or they die. Therefore limits on how long you can hang around apply and no speeding to stampede them. Dolphins can live up to 60 years old. One found dead ( of old age ) on the beach near here was reckoned to be 70. The marlin, yellow tail tuna, mako, thresher and hammerhead shark are not accorded such consideration, as the trophies on the walls of the Swordfish Club prove.

Left: 'Hole in the Rock' Island, quite a long way out. It was quite choppy with a fair swell here....

.......but we still managed to squeeze the boat through ( it was quite a large catamaran thing ) with only a yard or two to spare on either side. I suspect the driver must be quite practised at doing this. 


Left: Inside the Swordfish Club; the haunt of the local 'big game' fishermen, and many others. The large 'replica' blue marlin on the wall is a cast of the largest caught off this shore, sometime in the 1980s. It weighed in at 1029lbs. A mere tiddler compared to the record size caught ( on rod and line ) for one of these which is 1805lbs. I bet that took out a lot of his backing line! I wonder what fly he was using.

Right: ....and a few more of the trophies which lined the walls. It seems that the other 'trophy' fish caught are yellow tailed tuna, swordfish otherwise known as broadbill ( very rare ), mako, thresher and hammerhead sharks. It was a very social place along with other local joints such as The Duke of Marlbrough, Sally's coffee shop and the local Pub.

Left: One of the local sights, the Rainbow Falls, near the town of Kerikeri.

Right: My hosts, Debbie and daughter Dominique, outside their newly founded restaurant. This was built beside the Omata vineyard and  recently opened to cater for wedding parties in the summer months. ( Oct - April ). Again, this place has stunning views over one of the many sea inlets ( with impossible to remember Maori names ). At the time of writing they were still trying to come up with a good name for it; not helped by my ridiculous suggestions. Your help would, I'm sure, be much appreciated.

This is just a brief start to my NZ travels and I am way behind with this blog due to being extensively entertained and, my excuse, slow and not easy to find internet ( cafe ) faclities. Amazing the people you meet. To get a medical certificate I went to the local quack in Russell to discover he had been the RAMC Medical Officer attached to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards for 7 years ( they liked him ). As such we had many long-standing friends and 'incidents' to reminisce about. Lots of folk seem to have emigrated here for what they seem to consider a 'better way of life'. There is certainly tons of scope and space for immigration considering the two islands together must be nearly twice the size of Britain with a population of a mere 4.3 million, of which, I am told, 3 million live in the north island above Hamilton. Too early to have my considered opinions about the place yet. My only complaint so far is that it is rather expensive!
Lots more yet to bore you with as I have been travelling mucho and not much inclination to sit down at a blasted keyboard. Stand-by................

Friday, 15 July 2011



24th Jun - 12th Jul 2011

The back end of our ship

There was a young man from Portree,
When asked his position at sea,
said "I'm mid-Pacific,
to be more specific,
I'm in the loo having a pee".
I'll tell you what, 17 days spent on a Russian/Philippino crewed container ship crossing the South Pacific feels like one hell of a long time! Don't bother to think you can pass the time playing 'I Spy' because you soon run out of ideas once sea and sky have been exhausted.
I boarded the ship, the Cap Cleveland, at 2030hrs on the 24th June at Balboa Port on the Pacific end of the Canal. It was dark and no opportunity to get a photo of the ship. It was much the same size and shape as the Tanzania ( of trans-Atlantic experience ) carrying containers containing who knows what. I think we set sail at about 0400hrs next morning. I was asleep. When I woke up we were just losing sight of the outlying Panama islands.
The ship's officers (8) were 'Eastern European' and crew (8), as normal, Philippino. There were 4 of us passengers. Total on board 20 souls. The officers' English was not great and they were rather typically of the ex-soviet monosyllabic tendency. The Captain, or Master, was a decent cove called Grigory. As New Zealanders pronounce their flat 'e's as flat 'i's ( ie 'yes' becomes 'yis' in Kiwi-speak ) then Grigory would be Kiwi for Gregory. I called him Grigory Pick in tribute to the late actor. The Chief Engineer, Volodymyr, was from the Ukraine. His only words of English were "have a nice day". That did for 'good morning", 'good evening" and probably for "abandon ship" as well. The 1st Mate was called Vitaly, from Vladivostock. He was relatively amusing..
It was a fairly spartan existence on board. Ex-soviets are not renowned for elegant living. Our Philippino steward was called, would you believe it, Jenny. He was a sullen, bolshy bastard and, frankly, did not appear to enjoy looking after us one bit! 'Service with a scowl' was his motto. I suppose Jenny would become 'Jinny' in New Zealandish, or just  'lazy idle useless c**t' in English.

Left: Cell Block H. I was unceremoniously dumped in a 'cabin' which closely resembled a cell at Alcatraz and with equally little natural light. The window had a close-up view of the back of a rusty Maersk container. Apart from a rock hard bed, small shower and desk there was bugger all in it. Distinctly inferior to the Tanzania's comforts. Actually the ship's routine was remarkably similar to daily life in Alcatraz albeit without the locks and the regular head-counts.
There were three fellow passengers on board; a retired civil engineer and his wife, from near Sydney, Australia, and a young computer programmer, Cameron, from near Winnipeg, Canada. The Aussie couple had just driven around the USA ( 13,500 miles on the clock, apparently. They liked driving. ) and were returning to Sydney. The computer geek was emigrating to Brisbane. They had all joined the ship a week before in Savannah, Georgia. We got on fine, and at least they spoke English.
The food, served reluctantly by 'Jinny', was not great and, perhaps healthily, served in meagre quantities. It usually consisted  of a small chunk of unspecified dry meat or fish with a couple of boiled potatoes or rice. Raids on the 'galley' became necessary.

I complained, politely, to Capt Grig about my pokey little cabin and he very decently moved me into the 'owners' cabin upstairs. A distinct improvement, thankfully. I now had a fridge, a carpet and some light and space.
We were able to buy canned beer and bottles of wine from the 'slop-chest' when decreed by Captain Grigory, usually twice a week. No spirits were stocked on board. I'm not sure whether this had anything to do with the East European enthuiasm for vodka and thus strict company rules, or whether it had all been drunk before Panama, or both. In any event the beer ran out on day 10.

I was intending to publish this blog as a daily 'ship's log', ( I did actually keep one, just to help pass the time. It involved at least 5 minutes writing each morning ) however this would have proved somewhat repetitive and tedious considering the only thing of significance that changed on a daily basis was our lat & long.
The routine consisted of breakfast at 0730hrs followed by a visit to the bridge. There was, normally, one 'officer' on watch who didn't speak much.They had a satellite 'news' service on a computer there ( very limited ), but at least it reported the Wimbledon results. Lunch at 1200hrs. Walk around the deck, about 1 km round, once or twice. Kip. Supper at 1730hrs and occasionally a gathering of us pax in one cabin or another for a drink and chat. No passenger 'lounge' as on Tanzania. There was a ping-pong table but that was in a room on the 'ground floor' deck and used predominantly by the crew ( there were 7 decks above the main deck including the bridge ). My cabin was on D deck. Anyway, my fellow passengers were not that interested in such things. I will attempt, below, to record, blow by blow, all the memorable happenings on board.

Left: The bridge, and all very similar to Tanzania. Visits here involved looking at the nav computer displays to see where we were. Looking at the charts to see which islands we were out of sight of. Checking some world news and sport headlines on the satellite comms system and scanning the horizon with powerful ship's binos to fail to see any other vessels or forms of life.

On day 2 someone said they had seen some flying fish. I didn't. Eight brown coloured seabirds with long beaks took up residence on a lighting mast above some containers at the pointy end of the ship. They were with us for about three days and shat all over front deck area ( for which there will be some nautical term, no doubt ). On day 4 they disappeared. I have a suspicion that they might subsequently have supplemented the rations.

Right: Typical view for'ard from the port side of the bridge ( days 1 to 8 )....................


Left:............and from the starboard side ( days 9 to 17 )

Right: Day 4. We crossed the equator. This event is traditionally celebrated by someone dressing up as Neptune and much cavorting. It certainly isn't on ships like these. I think I was the only person to notice, or care.

Day 7, July 1st, was Canada Day. Our Canadian computer chappie dressed up in his Canadian national ice hockey shirt to celebrate. Whoopee.

Left:: Day 8. An evening barbeque was laid on for the ship's company and us. This was probably the highlight of the trip. Plenty of wine and beer on offer and the food, for once, was both tasty and plentiful. I think the greater part of the ship's catering budget had been blown on this.
Our Aussie shipmates, left, having a wild time.

Right: The 'officers' enjoying themselves. The Philippino crewmen were also having a great time enjoying Karaoke where they sang loudly, and with great enthusiasm, many completely unrecognisable songs.........

.....including, left, this better known hit, 'Libyan on a Jet Plane', by John Denver.....!

Right: The Aussie couple with, right, Captain Grigory.

Left: ..and together with the Canadian, Cameron. There was nothing he did not know about computers...except how to fix my expensive and useless lump of Apple junk.

Day 11. July 5th at 2000hrs was another moment of considerable excitement as we passed through the 10 mile wide straight between Tahiti and it's neighbouring island Moorea. We saw the bright lights of Pepeete, the capital, and a few aircraft landing. In fact the ship had to make quite a dog-leg from the direct track to achieve this route. It was noticeable that all the crew took the opportunity to use their mobile phones to call home. This was the only land we saw between Panama and Auckland. Sadly no nubile maidens in grass skirts paddled out in canoes to greet us.

Right: Day 13. A 'bottle with a message' was dispatched at 28deg 09S 165deg 37W. Actually two were thrown just to guarantee delivery. The message offered a reward, unspecified, to any bona-fide recipient. I am quivering with anticipation.

 Day 14/15, Friday 8th/Sunday 10th July we passed the international date line. For us, Saturday 9th did not occur.
Day 16, see left. On Monday 11th July,we actually passed the 180deg long at 1203hrs (L). This meant that I was now exactly 1/2 WAY AROUND THE WORLD. There was nothing special too see. I celebrated with a tin of Budweiser beer. Ghastly muck.

Right: Captain Grigory in ceremonial dress in preparation to welcome aboard the customs and immigration officials at Auckland. The amount of paperwork accumulated on a container ship is astronomical and it all has to be checked. According to captain Grig, dealing with the paperwork and the Bysantine port procedures are the most arduous and, at the less civilised ports, the most risky aspects of commanding a large commercial vessel. Once at sea the job is a doddle ( unless you run into a storm or pirates presumably ).

Left: Arrival at Auckland. Phew! We arrived without ( as far as I am aware ) any mishap en route. Actually, nothing of note really happened at all; not even a good storm to write home about. I suppose the beer running out was as close as we came to a disaster There were a couple of days when the sea was choppy and there was quite a large swell but hardly enough to spill my wine. I was thinking of making something up, including computer experts being washed overboard, to spice up this journal. But I didn't.
Anyway, I won't have long in Auckland because I have to catch a bus to the Bay of Islands, on the north-east coast, where I will hopefully have a few days R&R before setting off to explore New Zealand. More thrilling adventures to follow in due course.
Above: Local officials carrying out rigorous immigration procedures in Auckland.
And finally:

A sailor called Vlad from Murmansk,
Discovered some ants in his pants,
His mates said he looks like
He's doing the Hornpipe,
Or some other nautical dance.

PS. Had a few technical problems with this blogsite here which caused me much frustration, hence delay. I hope it's fixed.