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|Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2011
Maiden World Cruise - part 1
This chart shows the routing at the time of printing of the brochure.
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All the pictures on the pages provide details of where they were taken if you hover a cursor over them and they can all be clicked to open a larger version in an Overlay (Lightbox)
We were invited by 'Yorkshire' Terry and his friends to a get together in the Yacht Club. It was a meeting of the Duckling Club which we had been invited to join. There are various initiation ceremonies for new recruits which we can not tell you about otherwise we would have to drown you as the club needs watertight security.
His Imperial Majesty, Neptune of the deep, his Queen and the Seaweed Court of multitudinous mermaids, able aides and all other swimmers – boarded the Queen Elizabeth at 11.00. King Neptune gave a speech said to have been originally made in 1393 when ships crossed the line for the first time after discovering the world was not flat but round. The Captain, Chief Engineer and Hotel Manager each gave short jolly speeches and received pendants.
All Pollywogs were corralled in the Garden Lounge, and then sent out in a parade to walk around the Pavilion Pool and kiss the fish. This year it was not the usual salmon, but a similar fish with a larger mouth – presumably King Neptune decided to bring a local fish instead of using a thawed Scottish one. The ceremony has changed little for hundreds of years, and then involved coating Pollywogs with various nasty liquids and then washing it off in the ocean; the modern version uses the pool rather than heaving to and practising the ‘man overboard’ drills. In this ceremony the Pollywogs were allowed to decide whether they were guilty of a very serious crime, and these were called forward by name and after being pronounced guilty they were made to lie on the table and be covered with various brightly coloured sludges, before being led to the pool. The bulk of Pollywogs were kept in a corner, and although they were sprayed with sludge they did not get thrown into the pool. Since some of them were wearing normal clothes and others had zimmer frames and wheelchairs it was perhaps fortunate that only the real enthusiasts had the proper treatment.
After four days at sea it was with delight that we watched our arrival at Apia in Samoa. Apia is the capital of the Independent State of Samoa and is located on the northern coast of Upolu, Samoa’s second largest island. Mulinu’u, the old ceremonial capital, lies at the western end of the city and is the location of the Parliament House and the historic observatory. We passed the Mulinu’u peninsula as we approached the harbour. It did not look far to walk, and we planned to spend the day exploring the Old Town and the peninsula. We had visited Apia many years ago, on an unexpected visit to the airport when our Air New Zealand flight to Auckland called there for extra fuel. Then it was very hot and humid; today it was a manageable 27 degrees and humid. All aboard was not until 1900 because the next port, Pago Pago in American Samoa was very close. We had a full day to explore and the historic walk around the harbour was supposed to take just half a day.
The local shopkeepers had already set up their stalls at the bottom of the gangway and the singers and dancers from the local church gave an excellent welcome. Their performances on arrival and departure were highlights of the day and very similar to the Maori ones we know from New Zealand. It was a good start to the day. We walked down the gangway and it started to mizzle. We reached the port gate and it began to rain. There were lines of taxis and vans all politely asking if we wanted to go anywhere. We walked for another 5 minutes and the skies opened up – this is the tropics! The forecast was only for showers but this was too much. Although we had waterproof jackets it was best to copy the local people and find shelter, so we turned back to the ship. Three days later and our shoes are not yet dry; perhaps we will need to put them in the tumble drier!
After an early lunch we obtained two large Cunard golfing umbrellas and went out for the second time. The main road, shaded by pulu and talie trees, follows the waterfront. The rain had settled on the road, and the flooding was obviously very unusual here.There are close ties with New Zealand, who were responsible for Samoa from the First World Wars until gaining independence in 1944. Banks here are familiar with four branches of ANZ and one Westpac in Apia town. Samoa is a religious country with many churches. The main street has the distinctive Mulivai Catholic cathedral with its side chapel dedicated to Cardinal Pio Taofinu’u, Metropolitan Archbishop of Samoa until his death in 2002.
A signpost outside the Tourist Information Office pointed in the direction of many important cities, including Auckland, just 2892 kms away and London which is 17094kms. The Town Clock sits at the central roundabout, with the Chan Mow & Co Ltd supermarket and department store on the corner. Pauline bought some cotton material at US$6 per yard. Some material was only US$3 and so it is no surprise that cotton shirts are so cheap here. It seemed to be mostly made in China and there were rows and rows of different patterns and colours. Next stop was to find the markets and the Fish Market still had some fish left although by now it was mid afternoon. From the fishing fleet we could see the Queen Elizabeth in the distance. The Flea Market had clothes and local handicrafts. We wandered through the side streets, and then remembered there was a Museum.
The Museum of Samoa is a short walk inland, but it is worth the effort. The building has three rooms with interesting displays about the lifestyles, culture, history and environment of Samoa and the Pacific. We watched a video made from old black and white film dating from the 1920s. The museum also showcases a photographic collection from early missionary, George Brown and Otto Tetens and displays on traditional forms of art such as Fine Mats, Siapo and Tattooing. The culture room was dominated by an exceptionally fine Cabinet table, made for the Parliament House in 1973. It breaks down into six pieces and over 8 strong Samoan men were required to lift each piece. From this very table most of the former leaders and Cabinet members have made decisions for the government and people of Samoa, until moving to the present Government Building at the Reclaimed Area in 1993. Seventeen different species of wood from the native rainforests were used for the table. The three rooms are air conditioned and entry is free; we were surprised that few other passengers seemed to have visited it – we saw no other visitors in our three quarters of an hour round it. As we walked back downhill a line of Cunard tour buses passed us – why do people on tours never seem to be smiling.
We ended the day with a local Samoan beer, Vailima, sitting by the side of the swimming pool of Aggie Grey’s Hotel and Bungalows. The bungalows are nice small self-contained units with woven roof interiors, some with their own cat asleep on the porch. The hotel is on the harbourfront and was founded in 1933 by Aggie Grey, now deceased and is an icon of the town. The foyer proudly displays a photo taken of Aggie Grey waving goodbye to Queen Elizabeth II as she was leaving the hotel during her visit to Samoa as part of her 25th anniversary tour in 1977. The Grey family still run the hotel. We collected a brochure because it would be a perfect place to stay if we visited Samoa.
Our next port was also in Samoa, but American Samoa. Since 1899 the Samoan islands have been divided into the now independent nation of (western) Samoa with nine islands and American (eastern) Samoa with seven. Tutuila is the largest island on the American side and Pago Pago is its capital. Tutuila is small - just one third the size of the Isle of Wight and only 18 miles long and 6 miles at its widest point. 200 inches of rain fall each year, mainly between December and April, and Somerset Maughan’s story set in the capital was entitled Rain. Very sharp and heavy showers, as experienced in Apia, are possible but today it was fine. Looking at the green and luscious vegetation and the trees around the harbour, it was obvious that it rains in the region.
The population of American Samoa is about 95,000 although Pago Pago has only 1,500. There would be many more of us than of them, although they seemed to have a never ending supply of local buses, converted commercial trucks gaily painted and full of music. Again there were lots of local shops and crafts with their stalls at the bottom of the gangway. Prices were good, and for small sizes it ws possible to buy three cotton shirts for US$10. Pauline bought two sarongs for $13 and those were the expensive ones. We emerged from the container dock and turned left towards the centre of town and the churches we had seen from the ship.
Our first stop was the Jean P. Haydon Museum. The village of Fagatogo was the administrative HQ of the US Naval Station Tutuila from 1900 to 1951 and this was then the Commissary Store . The museum covered some of the same areas as that in Apia but added new insights with its displays of boats and fishing equipment, fine cloth and mulberry bark derivatives. We looked through some old publications and bought a cookery book and an old pamphlet as well as a Mulberry bark bracelet we intend to use as a Xmas tree decoration.. We collected a brochure of a walking tour of Historic Fagatogo, which described more historic buildings, mainly along the main street.
Just beyond the Museum is the modern design of the Maoto Fono complex, which is the home of the Legislature of American Samoa, with a lower house of elected faipule and a Senate whose members are chosen by traditional district chiefs from among their own number. The Fono celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1998 and has been in the present building since 1973. Further along the harbour is a long low open-sided building that houses the fautasi (long boat) Iseula. Fautasi are used for highly competitive races on special occasions, such as Flag Day. Contemporary fautasi, like the Iseula, are 92 feet long and hold 45 rowers and a captain/steersman. This area also has the Market place, the bus station with its gaily painted buses, a modern McDonald’s (an essential feature of westernised islands) and two older supermarkets.
Further along the path passes the Sadie Thompson Inn and Restaurant before following the side of the water to the end of the harbour. There was a steady procession of people from the QE, admiring the views and shopping. The Supermarket only sold beer, no wines or alcohol, and a few people were purchasing the local Samoan produce. Hotels seem to be the main source of alcohol.
As in Western Samoa, the churches are important. The first is the Congregational church O Le Ki O Le Malo O Le Lagi (Key to the Kingdom of Heaven) , with its two white towers. It is built on the site of an older London Missionary Society church, which was built around 1904. The cornerstone to this church was laid in 1933 but construction was interrupted by WWII and the building was not completed and dedicated until 1949. The church is on the edge of the Malae, very muddy because of recent rains. Malae o le Talu is the ceremonial centre of American Samoa – the traditional venue for FlagDay on 17 April and holiday festival performances. In Navy Days the Malae was used as the Parade Ground and now is the rugby field. The short stretch of old buildings facing the Malae was once the business district where the first merchants established their shops.
To the right of Scanlan’s Inn is a footpath leading up to the Catholic Co-Cathedral of St Joseph the Worker, which was built in 1959. Looking simply at the building styles, the Congregational church here and the Catholic cathedral in Apia were from the same mould with two large white towers. Further along the side of the malae is the Samoan Jail, now INTERPOL/SPICIN HQ and the Fita Fita barracks, now the Dept. of Public Safety. The Fita Fita Guard and Band was established around 1900 with just 58 local men as landsmen in the US Navy. Fita fita means ‘soldier’ in the Samoan language. It was an elite group which constructed their own barracks in 1908. After WWII most of them transferred, with their families, to Hawaii. We noted that the civil servants in this area seem well-off with nice new vehicles.
After lunch we set off in the opposite direction, towards Utulei. There was evidence of the remains of the Old Rainmaker Hotel on the point, but it was derelict. Then next door was Sadie’s By the Sea, a waterfront hotel and restaurant advertising its liquor shop. It had a small beach with swimming and the Goat Island cafe is number 5 on the list of the recommended things to do. It advertises a spectacular view of Pago Pago Harbour with Rainmaker Mountain opposite, looking down as boats, yachts ships and canoes glide past. The neighbouring Utulei Beach Park was free and had a much longer beachfront. It was a good area for swimming and it is said that the occasional turtle sometimes pops its head up in the bay. There were still a few Cunard people with their distinctive striped towels, mixed with groups of teenagers in uniform at lunch break from the Samoana High School opposite. We looked inside Sadie’s By the Sea and found many Cunard people, including staff. It was not surprising since it was the closest hotel to the berth, and the only one with its own beach. Wine prices in the shop were similar to on board, taking into account corkage.
The Lt. Governor’s Residence looked down on us, and towards the ocean, from the top of the hill. There was a small park and a footpath as far as the back gate, but visits have to be arranged in advance. On the way back we were told to look for the Flying Foxes, a type of local Fruit Bat which were in the trees. Once one had seen the first one fly and land one realised there were thousands of them hanging up looking just like fruit. Some of them were flying although it was daylight and we could believe that some of them have wingspans of up to three feet. Flying foxes are important terrestrial pollinators and thus, not surprisingly, the Samoan rain forest is dominated by fruit-bearing species, in contrast to Hawaii where the native forests are pollinated largely by nectar seeking birds and insects. We stayed watching for a long time and alerted a number of other people to their presence. It was then time to return to the ship and a final look round the little set of market stalls which had set up just inside the dock gates.
After departing from Pago Pago we headed west, crossing the International Date Line during the night. This meant that we went directly from 10 February to 12 February and those people who celebrated their birthday or anniversary on 11 February missed their celebrations. We understand a special all day birthday party was laid on for them with unlimited free drinks on the 11 but the day was over before any orders could be taken.
I have found Port Denarau difficult to write up as it is a very artificial environment, a little like a visit to a zoo, one could say that a cruise ship is similar in that both are closed environments. Anyway I will try to explain what I mean. Denarau is a artificial in that it is all built on reclaimed mango swamps and is effectively an island only connected to the mainland and the nearest town by a causeway. Virtually the whole island is in use and has a mixture of Resort Hotels on the coast, golf courses and other sports facilities in the middle and luxury housing contained in a series of gated and secure compounds, many with an extensive artificial 'canal' networks so they have moorings linked to the sea. The port also has a small marina. The beaches round Denarau are natural but not special by Pacific Island standards however there is easy access to many of the smaller islands and we noticed that many of the resorts had their own ferries to reach the closer ones.
So what one has is a series of well known brand names such as Hilton, Sheraton, Radisson, Sofitel, Wyndham and Westin transplanted into a Pacific environment - it would be difficult to know where in the Pacific if you were delivered blindfold. It would be difficult to know how to choose between them other than by reputation as the facilities were, at least from our rather superficial inspections, equivalent. At the end of our visit we had seen nothing specific to Fiji other than some local dancing in the square - even there many of the dances were from other areas of the pacific such as Hawaii and Tahiti. There is no local history or culture in the Denarau area as the whole area has only been reclaimed in the last 50 years. To see more of Fiji we would have needed to take a tour - the reactions of those who had been on tour were that we may still have done the correct thing in staying local.
Once one has suspended ones disbelief and accepted that one is having a day out somewhere in the Pacific it was very enjoyable. The ship was at anchor well offshore so the tenders were augmented by some larger local ferries from the 'Captain Cook Line' and some of the 'adventure' tours departed directly from the ship. We left it for a while to let the queues reduce but we probably need not have bothered as everything was once more running very smoothly and quickly - we walked straight down onto one of the larger ferries and the only wait was for enough people to come aboard to fill it up. When we got ashore the port complex was well set up and everyone was exceedingly friendly and there was absolutely no pressure to look or buy - a few taxi drivers offered there services but that was it. There were demonstrations of Pacific dances on almost continuously in the central square and there were seats under shades for everyone to watch. There was an information desk which would arrange trips and taxis. The local currency, NZ and Australian Dollars were acceptable everywhere and mmany items were triple priced - American Dollars were accepted with more reluctance and change was then in the local currency.
We quickly discovered that there was a local bus, the Bula bus continuously running a loop taking about 20 minutes which took one past all the resorts, the ticket was US$5 for unlimited travel during the day. We bought two tickets and set out to explore.We were not sure how we would be welcomed but there seemed to be no problem in just walking in and making oneself at home - some had notices by the pools saying they were for resort guests only. We noticed a number of Cunard towels on loungers and everyone seemed to be made welcome in the expectation they would buy a meal or drinks in the long run. Our first stop was at Wyndham Resort and as we walked around we were greeted by a cheerful Bula (hello) from every staff member we saw. We walked down to the beach which was virtually deserted - the attitude seemed to be that there was no good reason to leave the pampered existence and who would want to sit on the sands or swim in the sea when there were huge pools and luxury loungers. In fact the information on the ship advised not to swim in the sea as it was murky. It did not seem to bad and was very warm, almost too warm for swimming - perhaps the pools are cooled! The swimming area was marked off by buoys, or perhaps they were shark nets. Pete had a swim anyway but largely kept his head above water just in case.
We then walked down the beach past the Radisson and went into the Sheraton on the corner and had a look round. We then thought we ought to make sure we understood the Bula bus system so we took it a couple of stops to the Westin which was again delightful. We walked down to the edge of the sea, there was very little beach but a great view across to the ship - there was also a good view of a huge storm approaching so we thought it was time to find a seat and have a beer and wait for the storm to pass. The local beer was a larger style and very pleasant with a honeyed taste - however they were expensive a US$6. We only had $10 notes so they seemed happy with $10 for two and for us to owe then $2. When we order the next one we received two glasses full to the brim and the $10 note disappeared so there is a lot of friendly flexibility. We waited out the storm under a thatched hut which seemed to be constructed in a local style with joints in the massive beams tied together. We then meandered up to the front and collected a brochure and the receptionist suggested we should walk across to their outdoor auditorium as there was a local show with fire-walking taking place. When we got there we found there was a Cunard tour already watching which had taken most of the seating so we watched for a while from the shade at the back before continuing - it looked as there were snacks and drinks available but they were probably for the tour and we were full of beer already.
We then took the Bula bus as far as the Sofitel to have a look, mainly as we have a discount card with that chain because of staying in Southampton. Again it was very impressive but one could begin to see the different character in the resorts a little more. From there it was back to the Port Denarau shopping centre where we bought a small piece of NZ Kapiti Bay Kikorangi cheese, one of the classics we could not resist - we are almost back to civilisation. The tender queue was again non existent so we walked straight onto one of the ships tenders and were whisked back to the ship and were home in a different surrealistic universe.
Special efforts were made on Valentine's Day on the Queen Elizabeth including Red Roses at Dinner and heart shaped chocolates on the pillow as well as special decorations and pastries.
We reached NZ and anchored right in the middle of in the Bay of Islands – an area of New Zealand full of history. On one side was Waitangi and the treaty house where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. On the other was Russell, formerly known as Kororareka which was the first permanent European settlement and sea port in New Zealand serving as a vital resupply port for whaling and sealing operations. The Bay of Islands offered a large safe anchorage and when European and American ships began visiting New Zealand in the early 1800s the indigenous Maori quickly recognised there were great advantages in trading and began to supply food and timber. Above all they wanted firearms and alcohol, as well as other goods of European manufacture.
Kororareka soon earned a bad reputation, a community without laws and full of prostitution, and became known as the "Hell Hole of the Pacific". The Colony of New Zealand was formed in 1840 to bring some control to the situation which was initially welcomed by both Maori and Pakeha. The initial Proclamations (which were the beginnings of the Treaty of Waitangi) were read at Kororareka in 1840 but and the main treaty proceedings were moved to the Western side of the bay at Waitangi where almost all the main Maori chiefs in the North took part and signed the agreement. Governor Hobson, the UK representative was reluctant to choose Kororareka as his capital, due to its bad reputation and a year later the capital was moved from the Bay of Islands to Auckland.
The Bay of Islands was a major centre for missionaries of all denominations and in 1841-2, Jean Baptiste Pompallier established a Roman Catholic Mission in Russell, which contained a printing press for the production of Maori-language religious texts. The fears of an increasing French influence were a significant factor in Britain eventually agreeing to an increasing involvement in New Zealand.
We caught an early tender and as soon as we had landed in Paihia we caught the ferry across to Russell. We first walked up to Flagstaff hill which had views across to the Treaty House at Waitangi with the Queen Elizabeth in the foreground before walking back down and strolling along the waterfront and through the town which is small but interesting. We normally spend a couple of days camping in Russell when we are in New Zealand and it has a small museum and lots of useful real shops rather than those just selling for tourists.
We spent time looking round the Pompallier House where there was a very enthusiastic and knowledgable guide - we have been several times but always learn something new. The Pompallier House is now part of the Historic Places Trust and has a tannery providing demonstrations of how hides were turned into high quality leather for bookbinding and upstairs has demonstrations of printing and bookbinding. There is a lot of associated history in the exhibits and information on the methods used for building the Pompallier house, a typically French method of highly compressed mud walls giving a result not far from concrete in hardness but without the resistance to weather hence the wide overhanging eves to keep rain from the walls.
We then crossed back on the ferry to Paihia where we got our bank cards updated at BNZ ready for when we got to Auckland - it is convenient to have a New Zealand bank account as we spend so much time there. The rest of Paihia was a little disappointing, there are some good shops but it all seemed a bit oriented towards the tourist compaired to what we remembered, perhaps because the ship was in. There was a large craft market set up which we have never seen before.
It was then a tender back for tea and a major session of packing as it was the last night before disembarking in Auckland. It was the first time we have not had our last day at sea on longer cruises to complete packing.
The story will now be taken up in another series of pages - Touring and Sailing in New Zealand 2011.
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Layout revised: 11th June, 2015