Our 45-day crossing to the southern hemisphere started in San Diego.
We were travelling to Australia and New Zealand aboard the Holland American cruise ship, the Zaandam. Shortly after boarding the vessel, we found we were not the only passengers from the Sunshine Coast. At the lifeboat drill the first afternoon, I recognized Elizabeth Konopasek, her daughter Ula and grandsons Wesley and Jacob - residents of Halfmoon Bay for many years. Elizabeth then introduced us to Audrey Herz of Sechelt, her daughter Robynne and grandsons Ronan and Ewan - another Halfmoon Bay family.
There were only 10 children among the 1,403 guests, and four were from one of our communities. We later met Ford Clark, a neighbour of my mother in Gibsons. The number of Coast connections grew to 13 when we learned that one of the entertainers was ventriloquist Patrick Murray. He and his dummy Matilda are from Sandy Hook.
Our first ports of call were Hilo, Kona, Honolulu and Nawiliwili on the Hawaiian Islands. While snorkelling just off the shore at Kona, our captain and guide spotted a pod of whales. Within minutes, we were well away from shore and bobbing quietly in the water. Our captain had timed it just right. Five pilot whales surfaced and swam past a group of very excited onlookers. All too soon, they slipped below the surface again, but it was one of those rare moments to be remembered.
From Hawaii, our ship headed due south and we passed the equator four days later. The ship's crew held an elaborate ceremony that involved "kissing the fish" and being dunked in slimy water. I was pleased to be part of the cheering crowd rather than one of the pirates' captives. The temperature on deck was the hottest of the whole trip - you felt like you were frying in the noon day sun.
Our first stop in the southern hemisphere was American Samoa where I experienced eating breadfruit for the first time.
The following day, we turned east and crossed the international dateline and learned we were losing a whole day. Our next ports of call included two islands in Fiji and three islands in the New Caledonia chain. One of the small islands we tendered to had only 129 full-time residents. It was fascinating to talk to some of the local women and learn how they collect rain water for drinking, washing and bathing. A week without rain could leave them with little water at all. They have had 17 cruise ships call in this past year and are expecting 20 in 2012. They shared with us how much this has improved their economy.
We had travelled as far west as we were going, our heading was changed to SE, and our next stop would be Sydney, Australia.
We arrived in Sydney Harbour under heavy skies and pouring rain. However, this day was the highlight of our whole trip. The Zaandam turned and docked directly across from the opera house. For my mother's 87th birthday, we had tickets to the matinée performance of The Baron and the Widow by the Australian Ballet.
The performance was everything we hoped it would be. The scenery was beautiful, the music was lovely, and the dancing was breathtaking. We sat mesmerized as the dancers waltzed and twirled around and around the stage. When it ended, we were the last to leave the theatre - we just didn't want it to be over.
By the time we returned to the ship later that day, we had 800 new guests aboard. Sydney was a turn-around day for the ship.
Only 600 of the original passengers were continuing on for the 14th day circumnavigation of New Zealand. The rain continued to fall, and we sailed away with the lights of the Sydney quickly fading from view.
Our next stop would be Halfmoon Bay, Stewart Island, New Zealand.
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