Sailing aboard a Sea Cloud ship is both a grand and effortlessly casual experience. Whether on the namesake vessel or Sea Cloud II, it's a rare chance to get immersed in old-world elegance and comfort.
Continuing our discovery of remarkable Aeotearoa (New Zealand), National Geographic Orion made its way to some of the islands off the northeast coast of North Island. We began our day at the legendary White Island, known in the Maori language as Whakaari. The still active volcano was smoldering under the morning sun, sending up colorful smoke and vapor and reminding us of the eruption in 2019 that unfortunately resulted in the loss of 22 lives. The ship observed a respectable three-mile distance from the shore, giving us views of the island. The afternoon saw us take to Zodiacs to explore the small archipelago of the Aldermen Islands (Ruamaahu in Maori). Also volcanic in origin, these pillars of rhyolitic stone have long been quiet of all volcanism. They are thrust into deep water, allowing for scenic navigation and interesting wildlife potential. To cap it all off, our evening entertainment featured a fabulous performance by the crew, including traditional dances, some modern numbers, and even a full band set. A truly epic day.
After sailing north, sunrise found National Geographic Quest dropping anchor at Peninsula de Santa Elena. This is the oldest territory of Costa Rica, geologically speaking, and an iconic place where oceanic crust is exposed. We enjoyed the most stunning landscapes. Nurse sharks showed up on our way to Playa Matapalito, where the tilted stratos are evidence of uplifting by tectonic plate action where the forest meets the turquoise waters. We hiked through the dry forest of this UNESCO World Heritage site. Some guests kayaked through the bay. The Tora Carey organization shared about their work for turtle conservation. In the afternoon, snorkeling was an amazing experience. We saw large schools of diverse fish, including parrotfish, king angelfish, Cortez rainbow wrasses, and a sea turtle. Such amazing observations can make our explorers emotional. Cristian Zuniga from Area de Conservacion Guanacaste joined us for dinner and lectured about the organization’s goals and accomplishments. Tomorrow is sure to be another great day.
Today, we are in Gisborne, where Captain James Cook first landed in New Zealand in 1769 with his ship, the Endeavour . Guests had several options throughout the day. Some decided to spend the morning at the Eastwood Hill Arboretum, a park dedicated to the preservation of over 2,300 species of trees and plants from 81 different countries. The mission statement of the arboretum is to protect and preserve threatened and endangered species of plants from all over the world. Other guests chose to spend their morning or afternoon on the traditional Maori waka, named Tairawhiti . Guests took turns standing at the helm and actually sailed the canoe out into the bay to learn about life aboard a traditional Maori sailing craft. Cultural guides Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, Tua Pittman, Jennifer Kingsley, and Hironui Bouit joined in to help guests understand the challenges and rewards of open ocean navigation aboard a traditional waka. Still other guests enjoyed visiting a sheep station run by fifth-generation sheep farmers at Waipura Station. Matt Maclaurin shared his knowledge about everything sheep, including how to feed and steer sheep and how his dogs herd them. He answered many questions relating to the sheep business. We had a lovely tea with ANZAC (Australia New Zealand Air Corps) with biscuits at the Maclaurin family household, built in 1903. The final event on offer was a tour of the Bushmere Estate Winery, where guests were treated to seven or eight wonderful wines with a lovely antipasto platter. Guests learned all about the advantages and challenges of growing wine grapes from owner David Shona. After the tastings, guests toured the vineyards. They walked amongst the various varietals and got an up-close and personal look at the wine making process.
This morning, we started our day by sailing from the Weddell Sea to the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula to our afternoon destination at Neko Harbour. So often our guests think of sailing time as downtime. However, National Geographic Resolution is one of our most important tools of exploration, a way for us to explore our surrounding waters. This was evident when we ran into a pod of killer whales that we watched for a half hour. After lunch, the weather turned more exciting, and we found ourselves exploring the gentoo penguin colonies at Neko Harbour by foot and Zodiac. The weather added to the sense of exploration, and the visual impact was both surreal and mesmerizing.
This morning’s fog and swell conspired to make it a great day for parlour activities. We saw many guests reading or engaged in games of cards, Scrabble, and the like. We also had some talks planned. First off, Tiphanie May spoke on the weird and wonderful creatures of the sea while recounting her earlier years as a Fisheries Observer on commercial fishing ships in the waters of the Falklands! While involved in observing these ships for compliance, she saw the deepest dwelling fish in the sea (the snailfish), giant squid, and fish that have absolutely no haemoglobin in their blood (the icefish)! Shortly after Tiphanie’s talk, a pod of pilot whales were briefly spotted from the bow, a new species for this expedition! Our next presenter was Conor Ryan who spoke on, “The Smell of the Sea.” Conor educated us on the actual source of the smell (dimethyl sulfide). He gave us insights into original research he’s doing on why the release of this compound by diatoms has implications for the successful feeding of whales, and he even coached us on how to pass through airport security without any liquids! You just don’t get talks with that breadth anywhere else! Throughout the afternoon, the staff worked with guests to complete maps of our travels, fill in wildlife lists, and help to spot one or two more species from the bridge. Our hotel staff was busy preparing for our final wine and cheese tasting followed by the captain’s farewell dinner aboard National Geographic Endurance. It has been an amazing journey. Many new acquaintances turned into good friends, and guests are busy gathering contact info before their fellow travellers scatter, once again, to the four corners of the Earth.