Fiji and Noumea

Fiji’s welcome was loud and dramatic.  At 0700 as we neared the quay we woke to the sound of a marching band.  They marched and they danced.  They rarely flagged but when they did take a break, a rock group, half hidden in the shed, played electric guitars at full volume. 

I guess they hid in the shed because they knew it would rain.  And it did for most of the day which was a shame. We ventured out and headed for the capital, Suva. The pavements were not great for wheelchairs but we took refuge from the rain in a modern department store and at the top were food outlets and WiFi.  

After catching up on emails I noticed two young lads in tracksuits, one of which had “Canford” on the back. They had left my old school last summer and were in a gap year teaching at a primary school in Fiji.  They were somewhat surprised to meet up with an old Old Canfordian in the middle of Suva!

After Jane’s inevitable visit to the many markets and market stalls (all selling identical black pearls and the usual Polynesian tat) we found a taxi man who spoke a little English and for a fee was prepared to drive us further afield.  It continued to rain, and it transpired that the drivers English was as poor as my French, but we managed.

When we arrived at the President’s residence, our driver was very keen on me helping to guard the place. He made me wait for the sentry to stop marching and when the man was at ease, I was to stand alongside. But don’t try to talk to him, he said.

We then had 685 nautical miles to travel to our next port – Noumea in New Caledonia. Little was known of this group of islands until Captain James Cook landed there in 1774. The mountains reminded him of the Scottish Highlands, and hence the name.

Our berth at Noumea was in the commercial port, but despite that we were greeted by a group of Polynesian dancers who performed to an unattractive backdrop of massive containers. No walking is allowed in these container ports and as the shuttle buses were not wheelchair friendly, a man with a van and a ramp was provided to get us to the terminal building.

Noumea was a revelation. It was a beautiful day and we set off round the harbour, packed with a large number of expensive vessels. After a small beer we found the inevitable market but as we ventured into the town it was clear that this place was quite different to the other Polynesian islands. It was clean and tidy. The wheelchair access was excellent with dropped kerbs and ramps into shops. All very French although the grid layout showed an American influence. They used the islands as a base in WWII.

It was hot, so we returned to the ship for a rest and lunch and then set off again. The local staff (pretty, young ladies) responsible for transport in the port said that the man, Thierry, and his van were under employed and arranged for him to take us to the botanical gardens and zoological park which Jane wanted to visit. 

He dropped us off at the entrance which was at the top of a hill. Thierry would return in an hour. In fact that gave us more than enough time because the park consisted of dozens of very steep paths. Not only difficult to get down but impossible to get back up with a standard wheelchair pushed by me. We managed to see a few goats and peacocks and that was about it!

Thierry arrived back on time with another couple from the ship. They had been to a beautiful beach at the Bay des Citrons but could not find a taxi to return them to the ship.  Thierry had come to their aid. Louis was in a wheelchair and his companion was Sara – both from Ponta Delgardo in the Azores.  That was the port we missed at the beginning of our voyage because of the gales. They had anticipated that the ship might not be able to get into the Azores and had flown to England to start the voyage in Southampton.

As we arrived back at the ship another group of dancers started to dance in front of us. Tomorrow we will be exactly halfway and on Monday we arrive in Brisbane.



Brisbane marks the halfway point on this epic voyage.  It is difficult to believe that we have been on the ship for nearly two months, but my waistline proves it.

Today we celebrated our first Cunard organised tour on this voyage.  At last they were able to arrange a coach with a wheelchair lift. Queen Victoria berthed some 40 minutes from the city centre, but it was an easy drive in. 

Jenny, a retired teacher was our guide and was exceptional.  During the stops we found out that she knew Southampton well, having worked on the Townsend Thoreson ferries during her gap year in 1968. Jane worked on the same ferries the following year!
And the job had been arranged for Jenny by a family friend who worked with my father on the old Queen Mary. More and more coincidences on this trip!
So what about Brisbane?  We had not been there before.  It is a lovely city and beautifully designed. Admittedly we were taken to the prosperous suburbs, with traditional as well as modern houses, but the whole city had a superb balance between the old and the new.

Brisbane is built around the Brisbane River which runs through the city in massive S bends and, as in London, old warehouses and wharfs have been converted into stylish apartments.  In the South Bank area, just across the river from the city’s CBD there is a restaurant and leisure precinct, with art galleries, theatres, museums and exhibition halls. 

And there is the massive Queen Street shopping area, which thankfully we managed to avoid!

Everywhere you look, on both sides of the river, are marvellous, tastefully renovated, old buildings alongside the new.

It is a wonderfully vibrant city – clean and pleased to show itself off to anyone who cares to visit. We would love to return here one day.


Sydney has to be one of the world’s top ciites.  I woke to my alarm at 0500 and shot out onto the balcony expecting to see the approach into Sydney Harbour through the Heads. I was too late.  By then we were passing the Opera House and approaching our berth.  And it was still dark, so an earlier alarm call would not have helped!

The Overseas Passenger Terminal where we were berthed is in the heart of the city.  Southampton and ABP could learn so much from Sydney.  There are restaurants, shops and hotels overlooking the cruise ships.  The port is buzzing with people.  Sydney residents love to see the big, modern cruise ships in the middle of their city.  It is great marketing for Sydney and for the cruise lines.

We had been in Sydney in 2006 for 3 days after disembarking from the Sapphire Princess.  We had enjoyed it immensely. On that occasion we had booked a wheelchair friendly tour of the Opera House and, despite it being a sell out, had managed to pick up last minute returns for Swan Lake that evening. Fantastic!

This time we just had the one day. We took a tour of the city in the morning which was excellent and included a visit to Bondi beach.  You may be able to spot me on my surf board. The weather was glorious.

In the afternoon we took a ferry from Circular Quay to the Taronga Zoo.  It is set on a hill and we were bussed to the top and then made our way down with Jane braking hard all the way! The zoo is magnificent although one or two of the animals had clearly had their lunch and were sleeping!

We could see a storm building up over the city and as we neared the exit for the ferry it started to rain heavily with thunder and lightning right above us. The zoo had been remarkably wheelchair friendly up to that point but the route to the ferry appeared to be a flight of steps!  
We took shelter and eventually found a staff member who told us the only way out of the zoo was for me to push Jane about a mile uphill to the entrance and the bus!  No chance.

Luckily she was wrong and we were saved by a young lady who knew the way out to the ferry by a hidden slope. It transpired that she was in the marketing team at the zoo and was responsible for signage!  She promised to get new signs installed. 
By then the rain storm had subsided and we had a relaxed ferry ride back to the city via Mosman.  A beautiful bay with a marina and surrounded by multi-million dollar homes set into the hill.

We arrived back at the ship at 1830 in good time for our departure at 2100.  It had been a really great day in a wonderful place.


Bits and Pieces

Cunard have been producing a number of speakers on each segment and one of them is said to be the Celebrity speaker – John McCarthy, Admiral Lord West and Peter Snow so far and for this leg Roger McGuinn. I will report on him later as he has yet to speak. He was one of the founder members of The Byrds.  I have heard him before on QE and am looking forward to hearing him again, hopefully with fresh presentations!

Peter Snow was brilliant. He based many of his talks around famous battles. He and his son Dan have written books and made TV programmes on their pick of the best battles and battlefields and he told the stories enthusiastically and without a note.  He also talked about his incredibly interesting career in broadcasting.  
His wife Ann MacMillan has been a well known Canadian broadcaster based in London for some 35+ years.  Peter said the she used to be known as Peter Snow’s wife, but is now known as Dan Snow’s mother. A Canadian in the audience shouted out that Peter Snow was known to Canadians as Ann MacMillan’s husband!

I well remember the evenings when Peter Snow used to be involved in the General Election broadcasts for the BBC with his swingometer. Carole and Ian Gordon used to host what usually turned out to be a boozy evening around the TV watching the results come in.  On one occasion Peter Snow appeared with trousers that were too short and wearing strange brown suede shoes. One of us, who shall be nameless, telephoned the BBC asking if something could be done about it! Nothing was.
The singers and dancers appear in a variety of excellent shows during each segment. In the past they have usually been made up of East European dancers, but 10 days ago they were interviewed on stage. All but one of the dancers are Brits and of the four singers, one is Irish, one Scottish, one American and one Canadian.

On Shrove Tuesday there was a pancake race with the singers and dancers and all the other departments taking part. It was somewhat less risky for them than the tug of war competition that they entered earlier in the voyage.

The Bridge team also entered the tug of war, led by the Deputy Captain (at the front – leading by example!).  The chap in the white tee shirt is the Captain’s husband. He told me later that his arms were covered in bruises and rope burns afterwards.  When he agreed to take part he had not appreciated how seriously some of the departments treated the event!

I have just bumped into Carol Marlow.  She was President and CEO of Cunard until about 5 years ago when she moved to the same position with P&O.  She left that job in September at the same as Peter Shanks, who had succeeded her at Cunard, left for pastures new. Carol is on QV for 2 weeks until Auckland as a passenger. I knew her well in the days when Cunard’s offices were across the road from our office.


Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

The Tasman Sea was easy on us.  The two days it has taken to reach NZ were calm – in fact apart from the massive storms experienced in the first 5 or 6 days after leaving Southampton, the oceans have been kind to us.

Milford Sound is a fiord on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island.  It is New Zealand’s most famous tourist attraction.  We arrived at the mouth of the Sound at 0730 and a commentary by one of the Fiordland Rangers commenced on the open decks.

I took up position on Deck 9 in front of the gym.  I used to think of it as my private deck – when the ship was new very few people knew how to access it.  Now everyone knows!  It was cold and visability was not very good.  The fiord is surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise nearly 4000 feet on both sides.

Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in the world but it stayed dry for us. It took us about an hour to travel the length of the Sound. The Captain then spun the ship round twice to give everyone a chance to see the views and we then travelled back to the ocean passing the two permanent waterfalls. There were a number of smaller vessels in the fiord and also a small number of seals.

I spotted in The Times today a photo of the Queen Mary 2 Captain.

Usually the Commodore of the fleet is in command of the flagship, but in fact the Commodore is here with us. I gather that when he took up the position he made it clear that he wanted to move around the fleet, rather than staying on QM2 throughout.  He joined us in Sydney and has a few days aboard familiarising himself with the ship’s systems before he takes over from Captain Inger, who goes on leave in Wellington.

We now have a very busy week. We have 6 ports in 6 days, so I may struggle with the blog!
Dunedin tomorrow, Wellington on Monday and then on Tuesday we are in Napier where we will meet up with Maryjane Watson who is Mike’s girlfriend Gretchen’s Mum. 
She is taking us to see the new house she is having built outside Napier.  We had then hoped to have a long lunch together but sadly the ships schedule is such that we have to be back on board by 1300 – so it will have to be a short brunch.
Mike with Gretchen in Dubai.

On Wednesday we are in Tauranga, Thursday is Auckland and Friday the Bay of Islands. Hard work this cruising!


Maori settled around the large natural harbour in this part of South Island, New Zealand (the Otago region) from about 1100 AD, but it appears that when Captain James Cook came here in 1776 there were not many Maori still here.  In 1848 Scottish migrants arrived and established Dunedin (the Celtic name for Edinburgh).  It is New Zealand’s oldest city and it is home to NZ’s first University, The University of Otago.

Robbie Burns large statue sits above the Octagon, at Dunedin’s centre, and the reminders of that Scottish heritage can be seen throughout the City.

We docked on Sunday at Port Chalmers about 8 miles out of Dunedin. The shuttle bus had a ramp and we were soon on our way into the city at enormous speed, around the fringes of the harbour.
We imagined that everything would be closed, but that was not the case. John and Peter Stafford, the twins from Sandbanks, Dorset made their way to the Cathedral, found it was Commonwealth Day, enjoyed the last 30 minutes of the service and then were entertained to coffee and cakes by the great and the good of Dunedin.  No doubt they made a generous donation to the collection!

We explored the city, heading initially to the old railway station. It has been restored to its former glory and on the top floor is The NZ Sports Hall of Fame. Great fun with many familiar names from the past – Bob Charles, Sean Fitzpatrick and Richard Hadlee and many more! Yes honest.

We did not get to see the University and we know that Gretchen will give us a hard time about that, but we ran out of time after seeing the Cathedral and the elegant buildings in the centre of the City.

Dunedin was cold.  It is many weeks since we had been that far south, but our schedule now takes us north again and our next port is Wellington.



We like Wellington.  Strangely Captain James Cook did not appear to be excited about it.  In 1773 he anchored about a mile outside the harbour and went no further.

The harbour is amazing.  Last time we were here it was a Sunday and there was a Dragon Boat

Championship taking place with scores of teams involved.  Our visit this year was on a Monday and the Waterfront was less frenetic, but it was a beautiful day and the locals and the tourists were out in force enjoying the autumn sun.

We were dropped off in the heart of the City at Brandon Street and made our way along Customhouse Quay.  There were too many boutiques and shoe shops for my liking.  “We have not come all this way to look at dresses” fell on deaf ears.
We eventually arrived at the Waterfront and meandered along to the Te Papa Museum of NZ. Last time we were pushed for time and did not enjoy it, but this visit was great. The museum is vast and modern.

New Zealand is exceptionally wheelchair friendly. Nearly all the buses have ramps.  The pavements are flat with dropped kerbs everywhere and there is access to all the shops (sadly!).  And the New Zealanders are brilliant, asking if everything is OK and offering to help with directions as soon as you peer at a map.

Tomorrow we are in Napier, but sadly we will not meet up with Roger and Susan Treherne’s daughter, Clare, who we saw last time we were there. She is away visiting relatives.  But we are due to meet Gretchen Watson’s mother, Maryjane, who is having a house built in the Hawkes Bay area close to Napier.


In 1931 the town of Napier was hit by an earthquake (7.8 on the Richter Scale) which caused devastation and most of the town was reduced to rubble.  Within 2 years Napier was rebuilt in the Art Deco style popular at the time and the town is now regarded as the Art Deco capital of the World.
We arrived in the port at 0700.  The problem for us was that it had been announced yesterday that “All aboard” was to be at 1330 with a departure of 1400 and we were due to have a ‘long lunch’ with Maryjane Watson (MJ) and Bruce. The added difficulty was that MJ would not be able to drive into the port to collect us and  the only way that we could get out of the commercial port was by shuttle bus.
So we met in the centre of town at 0930.  MJ had taken delivery of a brand new Range Rover the day before,

but because of its height and the difficulty of getting Jane into it, it was agreed that she would come in Bruce’s very respectable Subaru. Bruce bowled up in the new car when we stopped for coffee.

We had not met MJ before. She is Gretchen’s mother and Gretchen is our son Mike’s girlfriend. Mike and Gretchen both work in Dubai.  Gretchen and Mike below.

The weather was glorious and we drove inland from Napier for coffee and then set off for the new house being built for MJ and Bruce in Havelock North.  We approached the site through the Black Barn Winery – immaculately laid out lines of vines on either side – and we made our way up the hill through a 9 hole golf course. 

And then we were there.  A site with stunning views for miles in every direction. The house looks towards Hawkes Bay.  It will be a stunning home when it is completed in a few months time.

MJ then took us to the Craggy Range Winery where we would have had lunch had we had the time! We will have to come back.  It looked wonderful.
On all our visits to NZ in the past we have always been in and around the ports. Today in The Hawkes Bay countryside was the first time we have experienced life away from the bustle of the large towns and cities and it all felt very relaxed.  There is no doubt at all that New Zealanders are very friendly, helpful people.  We have found that wherever we have been over the last week.
MJ returned us to the ship before the deadline and, as always happens in Napier, the vintage cars and their owners in Thirties outfits were there with a jazz band to see us on our way.

It had been a magical (half) day.

Cyclone Lusi

Before I tell you about Auckland I need to organise my photos but for those of you following our progress by satellite I have to report a change of plan.

Cyclone Lusi has been an issue for a couple of days. The Commodore of the Cunard fleet took over command of the QV in Wellington when lady Captain Inger went on leave and the Commodore has done a great job in keeping us up to date with the weather conditions. 
Tropical Cyclone Lusi has been on track to hit NZ this weekend.  We were in Auckland yesterday, Friday, and were due in the Bay of Islands today.  The ship was to be at anchor for the visit, which meant that if the storm hit us while some people were ashore, there would be chaos.  There would also have been safety issues for people in the tenders and for the ship herself.
Additionally it was the case that if the Cyclone did not reach the port while we were there, after we had left we would then find ourselves in the eye of the storm.
When we arrived back in our cabin after our day in Auckland, a letter awaited us confirming that we would not be going to the Bay of Islands.  We would set sail on time and travel as quickly as possible on a NE track, in the hope that we could avoid the worst of the storm, before altering course towards our next port, Nukualofa, Tonga.
We have never been to the Bay of Islands, so it is a pity that we are missing it, but as it is an anchor port, Jane would not have been able to get ashore.  She would have enjoyed the almost empty ship though, and that would have meant that she could play with the communal jig saws without others interfering!
Decisions about missing ports are clearly not easy ones, especially when the place is particularly beautiful, but the Commodore dealt with this issue very well. It will be very difficult for anyone to criticise his decision.

So today has become a ‘sea’ day and the ship is beginning to move about. The wind is at Force 7 and the waves are at 5/7 metres and expected to increase in height. The next 24 hours should be interesting!



Auckland is known as “The City of Sails”. It was a wonderful sunny day when we arrived before 0700. The Cruise terminal is at the bottom of Queen Street which is the backbone of the City and it is easy to explore on foot.

But one of the  problems with local maps is that they don’t show the hills. We set off up Queen Street with the intention of bearing off to the left to the Auckland Domain and the renowned Auckland Mueum.

I had forgotten that after half a mile Queen Street starts to rise.  I had also forgotten how many ladies fashion shops there are.  I would have welcomed a few big steps preventing us getting the wheelchair into them, but NZ is so good at accessability that I had to endure rail after rail of dresses.  It’s not an easy life!
We saw a shop advertising assistance with Apple products.  Jane has had email problems since her emails were hacked early on this trip. The very helpful chap, for a very small fee, seems to have sorted it out. Fingers crossed.
We were directed across the road to some coffee and free wifi in the City library. The coffee was good but the wifi was not. By then I had had enough of the hills and hailed a taxi which took us to the Museum. Had we walked and pushed we would still be there. It took 10 minutes up hill in the taxi.  The museum is excellent and I can recommend it.

I also wanted to see the Maritime Museum but by the time we arrived there it was closing. We had been there some years ago and my recollection was that there were some New Zealand Shipping Company documents on display. My father had served his cadetship with that company in the early 1930’s. 

I then explored the marina close to the ship and saw the 2 elderly Americas Cup yachts that are still being used for day sailing for tourists. My recollection is that Michael Yeomans had a day out on one of them many years ago.

The evening show was a Maori cultural performing group. I feared that after a tiring day I might fall asleep but they were loud enough to keep me awake and they were very good.

As I write the waves are getting bigger and the ship is moving more. There may be fewer people in dinner tonight than usual!