Destination: New Zealand

April 19, 2000 | Tags: Oceania

Karen Gruber, April 2000

At first glance, New Zealand is somewhat deceptive. An island nation of 103,737 square miles with a population of fewer than four million people, one might think it would be easy to quickly explore the country. Yet, despite its relatively small size and population, New Zealand offers a bounty of riches that usually far exceeds most travelers' expectations. From snow-capped mountains to broad sandy beaches, from gourmet food and wine to friendly local hospitality, from amazing bird species to marine mammals, from legends of the Maori people to the stories carved by raging rivers, New Zealand is a land of endless possibilities.

Consisting of two main islands (North and South) and several surrounding smaller islands, New Zealand is a perfect destination to be explored by ship. Sailing along the long, scenic coastline, the best of all worlds unfurls with an amazing mixture of natural wonders and charming maritime cities.

The South Island is particularly graced with many attractions. Marlborough Sounds Maritime Park borders the Cook Strait which separates the North and South Islands. The park is an intricate pattern of coves and islands, ideal for Zodiac exploration. Large resident populations of seabirds and marine mammals are testament to the Department of Conservation's efforts to protect the area. Small settlements like Ship Cove, where Captain Cook landed several times in the 1770s, lends a historical aspect to the setting, while outstanding local cuisine and wine provide satiation after a long day of exploration.

A short distance south along the east coast is the fishing town of Kaikoura, the jumping-off spot for one of the best wildlife experiences in New Zealand. From the beach, there is a gradual slope to the ocean floor, which suddenly plunges to a depth of over 2,000 feet. At the drop-off, converging currents create an upwelling of nutrients that attracts clouds of krill, which in turn bring large toothed sperm whales, as well as dolphins and fur seals, to the area to feed. Whale watching excursions provide excellent opportunities to view and photograph the playful antics of these marine creatures.

Christchurch, the South Island's largest city and third largest city in New Zealand, is ripe with the remnants of its English history. Founded as an English settlement in 1850, Christchurch boasts its own River Avon, exquisite gardens and cricket clubs. Robert Falcon Scott used Christchurch as the departure point for his famous Antarctic explorations. Today the city celebrates its historic connection to the Great White Continent with its International Antarctic Centre and the Hall of Antarctic Discovery at the Canterbury Museum. The city also still serves as a supply link to Antarctic missions.

The Scottish settlement of Dunedin is a charming town of Victorian and Edwardian architecture. The city proclaims itself the "Wildlife Capital of New Zealand," and for good reason. From Dunedin, it is a short excursion up the Otago Peninsula to visit the only mainland colony of albatross in the world. One of the world's largest seabirds, the majestic royal albatross breeds here amidst sooty shearwaters, oystercatchers, and several species of gulls and shags. The little blue penguin, the smallest penguin in the world, also can be seen sharing the shores of the peninsula with grunting fur seals.

On the southwest tip of the island is the Fiordland National Park, where breathtaking glacier-carved lakes, sheer cliffs, and crashing waterfalls frame the colorfully named Milford, Dusky and Doubtful sounds. The park is virtually an uninhabited wilderness; the perfect setting to experience the serene quiet of the sea, land and sky.

Perhaps the highlight of any trip to New Zealand, and the advantage of ship travel to the region, is the opportunity to visit the sub-Antarctic islands of Campbell, Auckland and Snares. The New Zealand Department of Conservation only allows 500 visitor permits a year to the Auckland and Campbell islands. Zegrahm Expeditions is the only U.S.-based tour operator to be granted visitor permits and is one of only three tour companies in the world with a concession to land at these isolated wildlife havens. The special visitor permits allow our passengers to be among the few each year to visit the nesting sites of light-mantled sooty albatross, Auckland Island shags and white-capped shy mollymawks. Other bird species abound in the sub-Antarctic islands with royal albatross, yellow-eyed penguins, Snares crested penguins, parakeets, skuas, flightless teals and sooty shearwaters, to name but a few. Marine mammals, such as Hooker's sea lions and elephant seals, are also plentiful frolicking in offshore waters or lazily retreating to the soft, sandy beaches for a snooze.

Exploring by ship is a wonderful way to see the amazing variety that New Zealand's coast has to offer; however, there is still more to discover inland. The indigenous Maori culture welcomes travelers to learn more about their oral history and long cultural presence in New Zealand. In several locations throughout the country, one can visit a traditional marae (ancestral village) for an in-depth view of daily Maori life. Traveling inland also lends the opportunity to mingle with the other locals. "Kiwis" are quick to engage in conversation and their warm personalities make them wonderful hosts, be it in their own homes or in the local "boozer" (pub).

For those looking for even more adventure, mainland New Zealand offers a treasure trove of sporting possibilities. Skiing, white-water rafting, golfing, bungee jumping, jet-boating, and kayaking are just some of the activities to keep the most energetic traveler occupied.

From volcanoes, geysers and hot springs to mountains carved by glacial ice; from penguins and parrots to whales, dolphins and fur seals; from the fascinating culture of the Maori tribes to the bustle of city streets - New Zealand has it all.

In January 2004, we once again present our New Zealand and its Sub-Antarctic Islands program aboard the Clipper Odyssey, with special visits to remote Campbell, Auckland, Snares, and Stewart Islands. An optional pre- or post-voyage extension further explores several North Island attractions, including Tongariro National Park, and Auckland.

Islands of Diversity The Philippines

October 20, 1999

Jeff & Cynthia Gneiser, October 1999

Shaped by geological and historical influences, the Philippines of yesterday and today came to life for us in a beautiful tapestry of natural wonders, fascinating people and diverse activities. This island nation is divided into three main geographic regions: Luzon in the north, the central Visayan Islands, and Mindanao in the south. Each region has a distinct character. Luzon is the largest and most developed of the islands. It is home to Manila, the bustling capital of 11 million people, and Subic Bay, which until 1992 was the site of the largest American military base overseas. The six larger and numerous smaller islands sandwiched between Luzon and Mindanao are referred to as the Visayas. The Visayas move to a slower beat, with typical Pacific Island-style palm-fringed white sand beaches, clear blue waters and colorful coral reefs teeming with fish. Here, Magellan landed, MacArthur returned, and crumbling Spanish churches attest to the passage of time. Mindanao is considered the remote counterbalance to Luzon. The land is rich in natural minerals and agricultural production, while culturally it is the most diverse. Over 60% of the country's ethnic minorities inhabit Mindanao and the southern Sulu archipelago.

Natural Wonders Abound

The jewels of the Philippines are its natural wonders, generously distributed throughout all three regions. Mindanao's Borboanon Falls are a vision right out of The Jungle Book. While in the Visayas, a visit to the Chocolate Hills of Bohol Island is a must. Also in the Visayas, we visited the Sohoton Lagoon at Bucas Grande, a labyrinth of beautiful water passages lined by lush green hillsides, accessible only at low tide through a hidden cave. In Northern Luzon, the close proximity of the mushroom-shaped Hundred Islands make them ideal for Zodiac touring and a great place to find a small, secluded beach from which to snorkel or dive.

The Land of Fiestas

The Filipino people are as diverse and intriguing as the archipelago on which they live. Conversion to Christianity during Spanish colonial days brought about a belief in religious miracles and a strong tradition of holy celebrations. Colorful fiestas have developed into a communal expression of devotion to the divine, integrated with social and political causes. So frequent and important are these celebrations, filled with music, dance, decorations, and feasting, that the Philippines has been referred to as the "Land of Fiestas."

A resilient people

The Filipinos put as much energy and design into their daily lives as they do into their celebrations. Known for being resourceful and resilient, the Filipinos are excellent at taking a potentially bad or unworkable situation and making it livable if not an improvement to lifestyle. After volcanic ash washed down the sides of Mt. Pinatubo in Luzon in 1991, burying an entire town, its displaced citizens returned to rebuild their homes on stilts and reclaimed the remaining top quarter of their cathedral for Mass. At the end of World War II, many U.S. Army issue jeeps were left on Philippine soil. The Filipinos ingeniously redesigned them, creating the Jeepney, the most prevalent form of public transportation, hand-welded to carry up to 25 people. No two Jeepneys are alike, as each is individually fashioned and personally decorated with lights, mirrors and signs.

A wealth of activities

In addition to enjoying the visual delights and the fascinating people of the Philippines, the islands offer activities for all kinds of travelers. The volcanic origins of the islands have made them rich in natural springs and lush vegetation. Hiking into the forest is often rewarded by a swim in a refreshing waterfall, so numerous here that they are still being discovered. The Visayas are known for five-star snorkeling and diving opportunities, particularly in the Bohol Sea and Tanon Strait. Exciting and unusual birds live in the forests, such as the black-faced coucal, celestial monarch, and the Mindanao hornbill. The ethnic diversity of the over 80 different minority tribes living in the Philippines offers the opportunity to learn about a variety of well-preserved cultures. Whatever your desire, the Philippines have a wealth of treasures to offer.

Whether learning about the geology, history, culture, or exploring the natural wonders and activities of the Philippines, we found pleasant surprises and rewards around every bend. The Philippines offer a generous helping of diversity wrapped in a warm friendly smile.

Life During the Age of the Vikings

October 20, 1999

 

Karen Gruber, October 1999

With the new millennium fast approaching, it seems natural to ruminate on the last 1,000 years. The past millennium has seen profound advancements in science, technology, and exploration. There seem to be very few frontiers left on our planet that we have not yet explored. But what must have it been like during the age of the Vikings? Skilled craftsmen and navigators, the Vikings forged a path across the North Atlantic islands like stepping stones to a new world, discovering the Faroes, Iceland, and Greenland. Perhaps the most significant of all their discoveries will celebrate its 1,000-year anniversary in 2000: Leif Ericsson's landfall on the North American continent.

The Viking Age, from the 8th to the 11th centuries, is often associated with images of barbaric plundering and brutal colonization. This conception often loses sight of the great accomplishments of the Vikings, whose influence not only spread north, but east across the Baltic and south into the Mediterranean. They were pioneers of maritime adventure and their seafaring prowess helped them to establish trading links across Europe into Asia. The Vikings also instituted the world's first parliament, the Althing, when chieftains gathered in Thingvellir, northwest of Reykjavik, in 930. The Viking sagas, written in the late 1100's, document the tales of Norse discovery and are one of the most tangible legacies of the Viking Age.

According to the sagas, Leif Ericsson was the first to set foot in the New World, but a fellow Norseman actually caught sight of North America some years before. In 986, Bjarni Herjolfsson attempted to journey from Iceland to Greenland to visit his father when his ship was blown off course. He and his crew sailed west for days before they sighted land on three separate occasions. Herjolfsson refused to land, however, as the terrain of the sightings was clearly not that of Greenland. Eventually, he reversed his course and landed at his father's settlement. Herjolfsson was later criticized for his lack of curiosity; a more adventurous spirit would have made him the founder of what is now believed to be Baffin Island, Labrador and Newfoundland.

Yet, the news of Herjolfsson's sightings traveled quickly and caught the attention of a young Leif Ericsson. Ericsson was living in Greenland, the country that his father, Eric the Red, had discovered. After purchasing Herjolfsson's ship, Ericsson set sail from Greenland and in 1000, five hundred years before Columbus, he landed and eventually created a settlement on the North American continent. Further attempts to colonize the area were abandoned after repeated altercations with North American natives.

Many historians have argued the validity of the Viking sagas. The tales were finally substantiated in 1960 when a Norwegian archeological team, led by Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad, discovered Viking ruins at L'Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland which date back 1,000 years.

To travel in the wake of Viking discovery is to see a land that has changed little during the past millennium. One can still experience the gentle moorlands of the Scottish Isles, with grazing sheep amid historic Viking archeological sites; the Faroes' rugged seascapes packed with nesting birds. Iceland, although colonized for over 1,000 years, still remains relatively undiscovered territory in terms of tourism. Perhaps the legacy of its name, coined by the early Norwegian settler Floki Vilger.

Islands of Diversity The Philippines

October 19, 1999 | Tags: Asia

Jeff & Cynthia Gneiser, October 1999

Shaped by geological and historical influences, the Philippines of yesterday and today came to life for us in a beautiful tapestry of natural wonders, fascinating people and diverse activities. This island nation is divided into three main geographic regions: Luzon in the north, the central Visayan Islands, and Mindanao in the south. Each region has a distinct character. Luzon is the largest and most developed of the islands. It is home to Manila, the bustling capital of 11 million people, and Subic Bay, which until 1992 was the site of the largest American military base overseas. The six larger and numerous smaller islands sandwiched between Luzon and Mindanao are referred to as the Visayas. The Visayas move to a slower beat, with typical Pacific Island-style palm-fringed white sand beaches, clear blue waters and colorful coral reefs teeming with fish. Here, Magellan landed, MacArthur returned, and crumbling Spanish churches attest to the passage of time. Mindanao is considered the remote counterbalance to Luzon. The land is rich in natural minerals and agricultural production, while culturally it is the most diverse. Over 60% of the country's ethnic minorities inhabit Mindanao and the southern Sulu archipelago.

Natural Wonders Abound

The jewels of the Philippines are its natural wonders, generously distributed throughout all three regions. Mindanao's Borboanon Falls are a vision right out of The Jungle Book. While in the Visayas, a visit to the Chocolate Hills of Bohol Island is a must. Also in the Visayas, we visited the Sohoton Lagoon at Bucas Grande, a labyrinth of beautiful water passages lined by lush green hillsides, accessible only at low tide through a hidden cave. In Northern Luzon, the close proximity of the mushroom-shaped Hundred Islands make them ideal for Zodiac touring and a great place to find a small, secluded beach from which to snorkel or dive.

The Land of Fiestas

The Filipino people are as diverse and intriguing as the archipelago on which they live. Conversion to Christianity during Spanish colonial days brought about a belief in religious miracles and a strong tradition of holy celebrations. Colorful fiestas have developed into a communal expression of devotion to the divine, integrated with social and political causes. So frequent and important are these celebrations, filled with music, dance, decorations, and feasting, that the Philippines has been referred to as the "Land of Fiestas."

A resilient people

The Filipinos put as much energy and design into their daily lives as they do into their celebrations. Known for being resourceful and resilient, the Filipinos are excellent at taking a potentially bad or unworkable situation and making it livable if not an improvement to lifestyle. After volcanic ash washed down the sides of Mt. Pinatubo in Luzon in 1991, burying an entire town, its displaced citizens returned to rebuild their homes on stilts and reclaimed the remaining top quarter of their cathedral for Mass. At the end of World War II, many U.S. Army issue jeeps were left on Philippine soil. The Filipinos ingeniously redesigned them, creating the Jeepney, the most prevalent form of public transportation, hand-welded to carry up to 25 people. No two Jeepneys are alike, as each is individually fashioned and personally decorated with lights, mirrors and signs.

A wealth of activities

In addition to enjoying the visual delights and the fascinating people of the Philippines, the islands offer activities for all kinds of travelers. The volcanic origins of the islands have made them rich in natural springs and lush vegetation. Hiking into the forest is often rewarded by a swim in a refreshing waterfall, so numerous here that they are still being discovered. The Visayas are known for five-star snorkeling and diving opportunities, particularly in the Bohol Sea and Tanon Strait. Exciting and unusual birds live in the forests, such as the black-faced coucal, celestial monarch, and the Mindanao hornbill. The ethnic diversity of the over 80 different minority tribes living in the Philippines offers the opportunity to learn about a variety of well-preserved cultures. Whatever your desire, the Philippines have a wealth of treasures to offer.

Whether learning about the geology, history, culture, or exploring the natural wonders and activities of the Philippines, we found pleasant surprises and rewards around every bend. The Philippines offer a generous helping of diversity wrapped in a warm friendly smile.

Life During the Age of the Vikings

October 19, 1999 | Tags: Arctic

 

Karen Gruber, October 1999

With the new millennium fast approaching, it seems natural to ruminate on the last 1,000 years. The past millennium has seen profound advancements in science, technology, and exploration. There seem to be very few frontiers left on our planet that we have not yet explored. But what must have it been like during the age of the Vikings? Skilled craftsmen and navigators, the Vikings forged a path across the North Atlantic islands like stepping stones to a new world, discovering the Faroes, Iceland, and Greenland. Perhaps the most significant of all their discoveries will celebrate its 1,000-year anniversary in 2000: Leif Ericsson's landfall on the North American continent.

The Viking Age, from the 8th to the 11th centuries, is often associated with images of barbaric plundering and brutal colonization. This conception often loses sight of the great accomplishments of the Vikings, whose influence not only spread north, but east across the Baltic and south into the Mediterranean. They were pioneers of maritime adventure and their seafaring prowess helped them to establish trading links across Europe into Asia. The Vikings also instituted the world's first parliament, the Althing, when chieftains gathered in Thingvellir, northwest of Reykjavik, in 930. The Viking sagas, written in the late 1100's, document the tales of Norse discovery and are one of the most tangible legacies of the Viking Age.

According to the sagas, Leif Ericsson was the first to set foot in the New World, but a fellow Norseman actually caught sight of North America some years before. In 986, Bjarni Herjolfsson attempted to journey from Iceland to Greenland to visit his father when his ship was blown off course. He and his crew sailed west for days before they sighted land on three separate occasions. Herjolfsson refused to land, however, as the terrain of the sightings was clearly not that of Greenland. Eventually, he reversed his course and landed at his father's settlement. Herjolfsson was later criticized for his lack of curiosity; a more adventurous spirit would have made him the founder of what is now believed to be Baffin Island, Labrador and Newfoundland.

Yet, the news of Herjolfsson's sightings traveled quickly and caught the attention of a young Leif Ericsson. Ericsson was living in Greenland, the country that his father, Eric the Red, had discovered. After purchasing Herjolfsson's ship, Ericsson set sail from Greenland and in 1000, five hundred years before Columbus, he landed and eventually created a settlement on the North American continent. Further attempts to colonize the area were abandoned after repeated altercations with North American natives.

Many historians have argued the validity of the Viking sagas. The tales were finally substantiated in 1960 when a Norwegian archeological team, led by Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad, discovered Viking ruins at L'Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland which date back 1,000 years.

To travel in the wake of Viking discovery is to see a land that has changed little during the past millennium. One can still experience the gentle moorlands of the Scottish Isles, with grazing sheep amid historic Viking archeological sites; the Faroes' rugged seascapes packed with nesting birds. Iceland, although colonized for over 1,000 years, still remains relatively undiscovered territory in terms of tourism. Perhaps the legacy of its name, coined by the early Norwegian settler Floki Vilger.