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Today was our 3 consecutive port in a row and the first and only tender operation on this cruise. So for the third day on the trot it was an early start so we could get breakfast before the masses and then be one of the first ashore. 

The sail into the channel where we dropped anchor was absolutely stunning and is up there with the best of them. Our loayaty club status saw us on the 3rd tender across and the trip took just 20 minutes. No local boats were used and Celebrity made use of 6 of their life boats to provide the shore to ship transfer. 

Once we were ashore we quickly located our private tour company (ES Tours) who today were running 3 vans all doing the same itinerary which was a tour around the Banks Peninsula then on to Christchurch for lunch and a drive around the sites which finding out about the 2011 earthquake which took 185 lives and devastated the city. What we hadn’t realised was that today was the 6th anniversary of the quake and there was a special ceremony going on in Christchurch to unveil a new memorial. The old temporary memorial which is still there at the moment is 185 white chairs and today they all had a flower attached to mark the anniversary. 

The views over the natural harbour were absolutely stunning and we stopped at several locations along the way for some amazing photo opportunities. I will try and upload as many as I can in the short time available today. 

Yesterday was a typical example of what I am now discovering with regards to doing this blog, the more you have to show and tell the less time you have to do it. When there is little to tell such as a sea day you have lots of time. Very frustrating indeed. 

We awoke to an amazing sunrise this morning on our sail into New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. With no tours booked we still got up early in order to cram in as much as we could. 

The same setup for getting off the ship was again in place but we managed to just walk off not long after the ship being given clearance. After being dropped in town by the shuttle we made our way to the Wellington Cable Car where purchased a one way ticket to the top. 

From there we took a 30 minute walk to a wildlife sanctuary called Zealandia. Once inside we did a 2 hour circular walk round the park trying to spot as much of the native species they have. We could hear them OK but seeing them was another matter.  Amongst the species we did spot were the Takahē which a large flightless bird which was once thought extinct. Anothers were a Tūi which has a white tuft on its throat, a Kākā which is a type of parrot and Pāteke which is a small brown duck. 

It really is a picturesque place and provided a really lovely walk. From there we used their free shuttle to the top of the cable car but then walked down through the botanical gardens. 

Wanting to get to Te Papa which is what is described as New Zealand’s interactive museum we then took a taxi to get there as it was the other end of town. We spent about an hour there but if honest found it a little disappointing, there were some interesting items but it just didn’t deliver the knock out punch I was expecting. 

So prior to heading back to the ship we had some lunch and I sampled some local craft beers which were very nice indeed. 

Back on board we have just relaxed and chatted with friends before getting ready to go for early evening drinks in the Sky Lounge. Tomorrow is a tender port so I will be curious to see how that all unfolds. 

Last night was Evening Chic night and from what I saw just about everybody made some sort of effort. Quite a mixture of styles but yet you were still aware it was a more dressier evening. 

We did stick our heads in on the production show which was called Broken Strings but didn’t stay very long. Instead we just did some wandering before going into dinner where again there was just the 8 of us, and btw the sisters are from Ohio. 

The weather this morning was again cloudy to start and the temperature was notably cooler than yesterday.  We had heard from our guide that we might encounter some problems getting off the ship and making it to the meeting point which was the second shuttle stop. All local tours have been facing some awkwardness from the cruise companies visiting Napier who are making it as difficult as possible for them. It makes me all the more determined to use the locals! For the first time ever we had to apply for a free numbered shuttle bus ticket which we later discovered was more to do with it being a commercial port and tighter than normal security. Nothing to do with Celebrity who I have to say managed the situation rather well given the circumstances. 

We had booked a tour with a company called Hawkes Bay Scenic Tours and specifically one called the Discover Hawkes Bay Shore Excursion which is aimed at cruise passengers and is a 4½-5 trip around the area taking in the countryside and all the Art Deco buildings that were detected following the earthquake there in the 1930’s. The price was $95 NZ per person which I thought was extremely good value. 

Our lady guide and driver for the morning, Chris took us south of Napier and looped back taking in Havelock and Hastings. Along the way we stopped briefly at the Craggy Range Winery for a toilet stop before heading on up for the views from the top of Te Mata Peak. Nicole managed the drive up by squeezing all the blood from my hands and keeping her eyes shut tight but did confess to really appreciating the view when we got to the top. 

All the time we were traveling the weather was improving and by the time we got back  to Napier it was beautiful sunshine. After a quick walk round we headed back to the ship for some lunch followed by a few hours out in the sun. 

A lot of our fellow Cruise Critic friends had elected to do winery tours but because Nicole doesn’t drink it would have been a waste of time and money for her. What we ended up doing was a great experience and we even managed to fill out minibus via the roll call. Hawkes Bay is a really beautiful area of New Zealand and Napier is another port which has a lot to offer. Big thumbs up from us! 

I need to learn to count, there are actually 10 place settings at our table and not 12 as previously reported. Two more spaces filled last night by sisters from somewhere in the USA, they did say but I have to confess it didn’t stick so I will ask again tonight. I am finding we are needing to remember so many names on this cruise and I am struggling a bit at the moment. 

The whole cruise has very sociable atmosphere to it and more so than any we have ever done. We have encountered so many friendly people and I know it’s only 2 nights we have been on board but does seem much longer. 
So this morning we awoke to clear skies as we cruised along the east coast of the north island towards our next port which is Napier. 

Breakfast was taken in Tuscan Grille where I took the opportunity to chat with the Captain’s  Club Hostess about the Captain’s Club Cocktail hour, she supplied me with the information that when there are less than 500 qualifying members onboard they revert back to unlimited drinks and use a cordoned off area of the Sky Lounge for the venue. 
This morning at 9:30 we attended the Cruise Critic meet and mingle and it was great to put faces to the many names I have been chatting with over the last 18 months. From there it was straight up to the Solstice Deck for some well earned R & R. We stayed there until just before midday when it clouded over and yes you guessed it, the rain returned. At least we have now seen some sunshine. 
Thinking the Oceanview café would be heaving we had our lunch in the dining room which was equally as busy but much less of bun fight. We ended up being seated next to some fellow Cruise Critic members so spent much of lunch chatting with them which we enjoyed.  

Nicole has also been impressed by the amount of gluten free options that are available on this ship. Below is a photo of the dessert selection in the buffet this afternoon.

The rain eased off around 2:00 and the clouds remained but you could still feel the warmth of the sun coming through. We spent much of the afternoon just wandering around the ship before stopping for some mid afternoon in the buffet. 

Sitting out the back we were lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins swimming alongside the ship. It’s very difficult to capture the little beggars on film but I did manage one or two fairly decent shots from 14 decks up. 

Tonight is the first evening chic night of three on this cruise so I will sign off early to get ready. 

First a quick resume of last night’s first encounter in the dining room, we are table 150 which is set for 10 however last night only saw 6 spots occupied. Currently we have a couple from Utah and a Scottish couple now living in Australia. We seemed lost on such a big table but all managed to get on famously.

Today we arrived at Tauranga just before 8:00am sailing in past Mount Maunganui on our way to the port.

Our plans today involved a private tour organised through our cruise critic roll call to Te Puia which is New Zealand’s premier Maori Cultural centre and the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve which is home of the Pohutu geyser. The company we used was Archer Tours and came well recommended on TripAdvisor so we were very optimistic about our day.

We all rendezvoused at 8:30 just outside the port gates before taking the 1½ hour road trip to the site. Again the weather wasn’t with us as it poured down all the way there. Miraculously it stopped just as we parked up and stayed pretty much clear the whole time we were there.

Our guide and the proprietor of Archer Tours ( Jim Archer) gave us guided tour around the thermal park providing lots of details and information as we went. I have to say it was a really fascinating experience and I have taken many photos to look back on to remember this trip.

After the walk through the park we were then given a 45 minute cultural performance known as a mannaakitanga, this involved a Haka and then further Maori songs and dances inside a traditional meeting house. Absolutely brilliant entertainment and really great spectacle.

We also saw a Kiwi bird in a special nocturnal enclosure. They are a very endangered species and they have just a single hen on site which they are hoping will eventually produce some young. 

It was a truly memorable trip and I can’t recommend it enough should you ever find yourself in the area.

On the drive back to port we again experienced torrential rain and we were very fortunate today in that it remained dry for our tour. All in all were away from the ship for just over 7 hours and the cost was $180 NZ per person which included entrance fees to the park and the cultural performance.

Tonight we are off to the cocktail hour which if the paperwork is to be believed has gone back to unlimited drinks. There are no vouchers and there is no mention of just 3 drinks. Watch this space tomorrow to find out more.

​Did the rain stop? Not in the slightest so we battened down the hatches and tried to catch up with some sleep in a bed as opposed to an economy plane seat. We must have needed it because we both slept really well. 

Both awake at around four so just pottered about with a bit of re-ironing, repacking and some form filling in. All the time we could hear the rain hammering against the window. 

For the first time in our cruise history we have been given the health questionnaire before arrival at the pier. Its a great idea in my opinion. 

We also have a New Zealand Passenger Departure Card each to fill in. I’m not sure when we are supposed to hand that one in as we will still be here in a weeks time. 

We have also been hearing the news about the fires in Christchurch and wonder they will have any impact on our itinerary. We dock at Akoroa and all the fires are between there and Christchurch so will be keeping an eye on how things develop. 

So with the forecast of the rain easing we set off from the hotel at 8:15 for the 15 minute walk to the Sky Tower, we were pleased to see all the clouds gone and I’m pretty certain we were the first to up just after 8:30. We had a lift to ourselves and when we arrived on the 51st floor we had the whole deck too. The view up there is amazing and we caught the first glimpse of our ship down in the harbour. 

There is then a second lift which then takes you up a further 19 floors to the Sky Deck which is as high as you can go. I thought there was a much clearer view up there and the windows were certainly cleaner. The bungy jumping doesn’t start until 10:00 so we didn’t see anyone taking the plunge which was just as well as it would probably have totally spooked Nicole. 

With Sky Tower ticked off the list it was back to the hotel for breakfast and to wait for the transfer to the ship at 11:30. 

Things turned a bit wobbly at the next stage, we had a transfer included in our package and the past I would say they have all been managed fairly well. Today was an exception, there we all were about two dozen of us all waiting in the lobby presumably expecting a Celebrity rep to turn up with a coach to take us to the port. What we ended up with was a lone driver who only knew of his task some 10 minutes before he was despatched. All he had was a list of names with a start point and a finishing point. What’s wrong with that you ask? Well he was driving a single storey city bus for 51 passengers. It didn’t take long to fill said bus and as a result 7 of us had to wait 40 minutes for him to come back and get us. He had no idea we would all have cases with us and pretty surprised when he discovered what was actually needing doing. 

I will make a complaint when I get home but for now will just have to laugh it off. Thank goodness it never rained!
Embarking would have been much quicker had it not been for New Zealand Immigration who slowed the process up considerably. Once on though it felt like we had come home. 

We have had sunshine with some heavy showers this afternoon so have mainly stayed below decks. 

We sail at 8:00 tonight just before we go to dinner. An early night is called for as we have our first port tomorrow and need to meet our guide at 8:30. 
And before I forget, our steward has made her introduction too and goes by the name of Mimie. She has 16 years service under her belt and was telling us she is now solely responsible for 13 cabins following recent policy changes. I will find out more from her in due course what’s actually happening. 

​We were late leaving LA by 35 minutes due to having to wait for some non attendees. When we eventually did leave it was minus a few of them but all was not lost as we then made the time up on the flight and arrived 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. 

We got a big surprise with the weather though as it was pouring with rain. Our transfer to the hotel took a good 40 minutes because we made the journey just as the morning rush hour was getting into full swing.

On arrival at the hotel we found that we would not be able to access our rooms until 2:00pm so the hotel provided us with a locked room where we were able to store our cases. Despite the weather we decided to go explore. However as we were leaving Nicole slipped on the wet pavement just outside the entrance and for one nasty moment I thought she had really hurt herself. Luckily it was more shock and a just a couple of grazes, the hotel manager was on hand and consequently expedited our room so Nicole could go and have a lie down for a bit. I can’t praise him and his staff enough for their assistance and total consideration. 

The hotel where we are overnighting is called the VR Queen Street and reasonably central so once showered and with Nicole feeling better we set off to explore. When I had researched Auckland prior to coming we had decided we would do lots of walking but because of the weather we had to change our plans, the rain put paid to Mount Eden so I had managed to talk Nicole into going up the Sky Tower for our panoramic view however when we eventually caught sight of that our plans changed yet again. Because of the low lying clouds the top was seldom visible so we thought if you can’t see it from down here then you won’t see much from up there either.  

So after walking down to the harbour and getting soaked in the process we cut our losses and made our way back to the hotel. 
Interestingly Fred Olsen’s Black Watch and CMV Magellan are both in port today. 

The tower opens at 8:30am so provided the weather improves we may go in the morning. 

We are due to be picked up to go to the terminal at 11:30 so there should be plenty of time to squeeze it in. Mount Eden is 40 minutes each way so we have now dismissed that as an option. 
If the weather improves we may go out again tonight but the forecast is much the same as it’s been since we got here so maybe we will just recharge our batteries in the dry. 

I’ve checked tomorrow and sailaway should be dry so fingers crossed the forecast is accurate. 

​I was still awake at 3:00 but was able to go back to sleep for another couple of hours so things are improving. 

With a later start we arrived at Polly’s just after 9:00 and I treated myself to the same omelette as yesterday which was equally as good. The only thing different today was we had two extra people with us. There were also an assortment of birds looking over us as we ate but on this occasion watching is all they would experience. 

Once again a walk was required after to put right the damage and we followed the same route as the previous day. The weather has been hovering around the 70’s with a light breeze and on the whole really lovely. 

Just a short distance from our hotel there is a power plant which is masked by a wall on which there is a huge mural by marine artist Wyland. He has more recently designed the hull art on Norwegian Bliss. Apparently there are over 90 of these murals in California alone. 
After checking out we bid our goodbyes to my daughter and grandson, they taking advantage of leaving mid afternoon so as to miss the worst of the LA traffic. With 3 hours to fill we decided more walking was in order and set off along the beach in a southerly direction which killed about 1½ hours. 

I am just making use of the hotels WiFi before we head off to the airport so the next time you hear from me I’ll be in Auckland on the 16th. No plans for the 15th because we will cross the date line and it will never happen for us.

 See you in 2 days time. 

​I had no trouble getting to sleep last night, it was staying asleep that was the problem. We went to bed around our normal time but I was wide awake at 3:00 so ended up filling the time doing a bit of local research on my tablet. The main thing on my mind at that time being breakfast. 

We eventually surfaced just after 8:00 and wandered over to the Mariana & Pier in search of some sustenance having found a couple of potential venues earlier. 

One of the places which came up in my search was called Polly’s on the pier and that was where we eventually ate. We must have timed it to perfection as not long after we arrived a queue built up for seats outside. It’s just the sort of place we love, no bells or whistles just simple cooked good plain food. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that the Americans certainly know how to do eggs for breakfast. My omelette was fantastic so there is a good chance we’ll be there tomorrow too. 

To walk our hearty breakfast off we walked along Hermosa Beach for a couple of hours while waiting for family to arrive. 

Just after midday my daughter and grandson turned up and we spent the afternoon walking and catching up. My grandson is just 4 months old and it was our very first meeting and being able to get together with them at the beginning of this trip was very special. 

Shortly after 6:00 my son joined us as well and I think it’s the first time in over 10 years we have all been together. It’s just a shame the visit was so short but I count myself very fortunate to at least having had the opportunity.

My son couldn’t stay the night as he had to be up for college the next day but the other two have stopped at the hotel with us so we will get to see more of them tomorrow before the next leg of our journey which is the flight to Auckland. Our flight isn’t until the evening so we will have the best part of the day with them. 

I was flagging again by 9:00 which was no doubt due to the fact I was awake early. Maybe it will help me sleep longer through the night this time………

​So our amazing journey has begun, after months of planning and waiting we are finally on the move. 

Our day started with us being picked up by step daughter and son in law at 8:30 to take us to Heathrow’s Terminal 2. Being a Sunday morning the traffic wasn’t too busy and we were there before we knew it in just short of 2 hours. Unfortunately we had to wait an hour for our bag drop to open but as soon as it was we were quickly airside and eating lunch. 

Its our first time using the revamped T2 and it’s just like a mini T5 and nice and easy to use. 

The flight took 10 hours and 20 minutes and we experienced the fastest ever transit of US Immigration we have ever done. What a refreshing change that was.

A 15 minute taxi drive to our hotel on Redondo Beach and again a swift check in after which we dropped the bags off in the room and then a quick nightcap before bed. 

Meeting up with family tomorrow so really looking forward to that. 

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