≡ Menu

Travels of a Wine Blogger: Page 4

(Back to the most recent post.)

April 9th – Fremantle, Australia to Port Louis, Mauritius.

Smooth sailing through the Southern Indian Ocean

We left Fremantle a little late because one of the two Cunard doctors didn’t make it to the ship by sailing time…so we left about an hour late, with only one doctor on board!!! This leg of the trip took us across the Southern Indian Ocean on an easterly course for 6 days . Every day was sunny with the temperature in the high 70’s and smooth blue water for days on end, while on board every deck chair was filled from dawn to dusk.

We were told Mauritius had limited facilities so we opted to take an all-day organized tour to the north coast beach/resort area, an old sugar cane processing factory, the Mauritius botanical garden and an old plantation house that used to belong to the owner of a sugar cane plantation. Because the island is small it only took us about a half hour to reach the north beach area using the primary four-lane highway that connects Port Louis with the north and south areas of the island. The beach was just about as picture perfect as it gets. The water was crystal clear, the small snug harbors were filled with brightly painted old wooded work boats and the tropical trees were growing right down to the beach.

Port Lewis from the deck of the ship

Picturesque islands surround Mauritius

We both loved the botanical garden with its extensive collection of unusual palms . Although it was the beginning of winter in Mauritius the temperature was about 80 and the lush tropical look of the plants reminded us of India. The garden was established in 1736 by a French governor who made it his home and introduced plants from all over the world. Today it is the oldest botanical garden in the southern hemisphere.

Palms line the entrance to the botanical garden

Lotus flowers in a tropical setting

A resident giant tortoise in the botanical garden

The historic manor house at the sugar plantation

In addition to producing sugar the refinery we visited also made rum from their sugar…and offered a tasting of their different rums. It was very similar to a wine tasting at a winery, except they used shot glasses and poured tiny amounts. Unlike wine the range varied in the sweetness…from colorless pure rum alcohol through a range of progressively darker colors, with each containing an additional amount of sugar. So we’re now going to have some very delicious rum drinks on the ship…and, if we can restrain ourselves we should have some left when our friends join us in South Hampton for the final leg of our trip back to New York City.

The island nation of Mauritius was a very interesting and fun port day, and now we’re off for three sea days and the port of Durban, South Africa.

April 2nd – Adelaide to Fremantle, Australia.

Fremantle from the deck of the ship

Leaving Adelaide turned out to be a long series of calamities…first there was a problem with the ship’s motors that caused a five hour delay, next the port officials would not allow the ship to leave in the dark because of the narrow channel in and out of the harbor, so we were scheduled to leave at eight a.m. the next morning. The next morning we were about to cast off and there was a medical emergency and we had to wait for an ambulance to take someone off the ship, and that caused enough delay that we lost our place in line to exit through the narrow channel. When the channel was finally clear our pilot had to leave because he was scheduled to be on another ship. Finally another pilot was found and just before noon we set off for Fremantle. This leg of the trip was three sea days and in order to arrive on time the captain turned up the speed and we flew across the Great Australian Bight, along the southern coast of Australia, crossed into the Southern Indian Ocean and sailed into Fremantle right on schedule.

Christian Burvill-Holmes from The Lane Vineyard

During this leg of the trip we went to a very nice wine tasting dinner. Wine expert Christian Burvill-Holmes from The Lane Vineyard, a small Australian boutique winery, was on board to promote Lane wines and held tastings for the ship sommeliers and guests, and hosted a wine tasting dinner. The dinner was five courses and six wines, three whites and three reds. The wines ranged from $50.00-100.00 so we didn’t expect much from the wines. However, three of them were quite good and one of the others “Not Bad”. The food was REALLY outstanding and the pairings excellent for all but the desert. The last course was caramelized white chocolate and saffron cream with burnt rose vinegar and apricot crumble paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon…and when I tried the wine before tasting the sweet desert it was quite good, but once the sweet flavors were in my mouth the Cabernet was terrible and even drinking water and eating dark chocolate couldn’t salvage the terrible pairing. In the end we both said it was a memorable evening and an excellent wine pairing dinner.

When we docked in Fremantle we planned to just stroll through the streets to do a little shopping and get some more Australian wine for the larder. The town was very nice and reminded us of Annapolis with its very numerous bars, restaurants and boutique tourist shops. We only found the only wine store in the down-town area but, it had mostly liquor and some “grocery store” wines so we quickly eliminated the idea of getting more wine.

The pleasant character of Fremantle streets

Interesting Fremantle residents

The Fremantle wine shop

A good selection of Australian box wines for sale

The Vintage Cellars wine shop in Perth

Since the city of Perth was only a short distance away we hopped on the train (actually an above-ground subway) and took the 30-minute ride into the center of Perth. It was a very nice modern city and we nestled right in to do our shopping. I had my T-Mobile hub so we had internet access and in no time my phone was directing us to what looked like the best wine store in Perth. When we arrived it turned out to be another great local wine store. Since we had to negotiate several modes of transportation back to the ship we limited our purchase to only one case. We told the young lady who helped us what we were looking for, a little bit about us and our price range and she selected eleven Western Australia wines for us…we picked one we have never had that was from Southern Australia, a bottle of Penfolds Grange. So were looking forward to continued drinking of good local wines we purchase at major ports along the way instead of what’s offered on the ship.

The wine shop in Perth

A shop full of Australian wines

A VERY fun day in Fremantle and Perth on our last day in Australia. Now were off for 6 sea days and Port Louis, Mauritius.

March 29th – Melbourne to Adelaide, Australia.

The Adelaide cruise terminal as we approached.

Our one sea day between Melbourne and Adelaide was cool and overcast, just like a typical fall day at home. The arrival into Adelaide was quite a spectacular as the local people lined the entrance to the harbor shoulder to shoulder for several miles to watch the Queen Mary 2 come by.

Since we were leaving Adelaide in the afternoon and there wasn’t much time, we joined a pre-arranged group tour to some vineyards in the Barossa Valley. We were not sure which wineries would be visited but as we started the drive out to the valley we were told we were going to the Chateau Yaldara and Jacobs Creek wineries. We didn’t know anything about Chateau Yaldara, but it was described as a “boutique winery”. After about a one hour drive we arrived at the Chateau Yaldara Winery that looked like a small European village. On closer look it had more of an industrial look with the massive buildings and two and three-story tank farms scattered around the Winery behind the picturesque facade. Our mass tasting included six different wines that could only be described as “terrible”. Mercifully each taste was small…one bottle served about 45 people and there was still a third of the bottle remaining.

Chateau Yaldara Winery

One of the landscaped tank farms

Our second tasting at Jacobs Creek Winery was also a disappointing experience. The tasting room was called the Jacobs Creek Visitor Centre and was a massive modern building that housed multiple tasting and eating areas…wine making was done at an industrial complex several miles away. When they starting pouring our wines it went down-hill even faster than at Chateau Yaldara…all the wines, white and red, were sugary sweet. We’ve had Jacobs Creek wine from the grocery store a couple of times in the past, but the wines they poured at the tasting were far worse than they sell in U.S. grocery stores.

Jacobs Creek Visitor Centre

One of the Jacobs Creek tasting areas

In the end it was a good day…we saw the VERY DRY growing conditions and the unique characteristics of the Barossa Valley, and that alone was worth the trip to the valley. But the highlight of the day was the wonderful Miette Barossa Valley Shiraz we had with a delicious lamb dinner. It was another one of the excellent Australian wines we bought at the Australian Wine Centre in Sydney. We did learn a lesson though…we canceled our wine tour in Fremantle and will spend the time finding a good wine shop and doing our own tasting!!!

The view across the Barossa Valley

Shiraz grapes ready for picking

We’re off for three sea days to Fremantle and nearby Perth.

March 27th – Sydney to Melbourne, Australia.

Melbourne skyline from the harbor.

This time we left Sydney with less fan-fair then first departure…we had the normal sail-away party but no fireworks. On our one sea day to Melbourne we sailed along the east coast of Australia, at times within sight of land. As we turned west around the southern most part of Australia, leaving the Tasman Sea and sailing into the Bass Strait (between Australia and Tasmania), the winds were hitting the ship broadside at 90 mph…and we ate dinner with a steady, but tilted table. We arrived in Melbourne harbor at daybreak and after a quick breakfast took off to meet our Melbourne friends.

We were given the “Grand Tour” of Melbourne and spent an absolutely wonderful day, both visiting with old friends we hadn’t seen in over 40 years and seeing the city, including the special things only the locals know about . Melbourne is a wonderful, vibrant, human scale city. Our friends live in the Eureka Tower, one of the tallest residential buildings in the world, and from their living room window we had a birds-eye view of the entire city. We explored the small streets and shops and had a very delicious lunch at a cozy Italian restaurant that was tucked away on an alley street. And, with the excellent food, good red Sangiovese and life-long friends our visit to Melbourne was a MEMORABLE experience.

The Eureka Tower

One of the many wonderful pedestrian streets in Sydney

We really did enjoy Melbourne and wish this had been a two-day port. We’re now off to Adelaide and hopefully some good Barossa Valley wines

March 25nd – Bay of Islands to Sydney, Australia.

Early morning view from the ship.

After leaving the Bay of Islands we sailed east across the Tasman Sea in a straight line course toward Sydney. Almost immediately the clouds began to disappear, the temperature climbed to the mid-70’s and we had two leisurely sea days.

On our return visit to Sydney we ventured out in a different direction and walked through the city to the Darling Harbor area. Our primary objective was the Chinese garden and we were not disappointed. Having very little information about it before we went, it turned out to be a great treat. It was like a walled city block that had been turned into a fantastic garden. Although not quite like the gardens in China, it had all the details and elements of a Chinese garden and meandering through it made for a very pleasant afternoon. Watch KarensGardenTips.com for lots of photos and a detailed write-up about it.

The unique Chinese garden in Sydney

One of the many wonderful pedestrian streets in Sydney

We also squeezed in a fun visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art which is located right on the Circular Quay where the ship was docked. And of course we made a couple of visits to the Australia Wine Centre to stock up on more good Australian wine for the trip ahead!!! Having visited Sydney twice we put it near the top of our list for the worlds best cities to visit. We really had a great time in Sydney and wish we had more time there.

Now after our wonderful day in Sydney we have one sea day and we’ll be in Melbourne. We’re going to visit an old friend and his wife that we went to school with at the University of Pennsylvania. We haven’t seen each other for more than 40 years, but we exchanged photos so we can find each other, and we’re really looking forward to Melbourne.

March 22nd – Auckland to Bay of Islands, New Zealand.

The view of Waitangi from our anchorage in the bay.

After a short overnight sail from Auckland on a northerly course, we dropped the anchor about a mile from the town of Waitangi, New Zealand.

The Bay of Islands is a maritime park composed of 144 islands located at the northern tip of New Zealand’s north island. We had a very leisurely day exploring the small town of Waitangi, that appeared to be a very quiet island village when a cruise ship was not bringing passengers ashore. Loaded with Maori culture, this peasant seaside community was our last port before we turn west and begin our sail back to New York. In two days we’re back in Sydney where most of the passengers will change again. One of our priorities in Sydney will be to increase the stock in our private wine larder.

Waitangi main street

Maori cultural artifacts were found throughout the town

Two sea days and were back in Sydney for the day.

March 19th – Picton to Auckland, New Zealand (we sailed by our scheduled port of Wellington because of bad weather).

The port of Auckland from the deck of the ship.

As we sailed away from the dock in Picton the Captain announced we were heading to Wellington, but there was a chance the weather might prevent us from getting into the harbor. When we awoke the next morning we were headed northwest along the west coast of New Zealand. The captain soon told us we could not safely get through the shallow entrance to the harbor and were going to try to get into Auckland, and if that was successful we would be spending an extra day in the Auckland port. After two days of pretty smooth sailing through the Tasman Sea we rounded the northern most point of New Zealand, entered the South Pacific and headed southward into the port of Auckland.

We arrived in Auckland about 4:00 p.m. so we would have two full days here. The first day we got an early start and hiked around the city to see three different gardens. The first turned out to be very park-like and the well known plantings were being renovated…it was actually fall here. The second garden was a more traditional botanical garden that had lots of very interesting old trees, but the highlight for us was the fernery…an area filled with all kinds of ferns, including a forest of tree ferns. The last garden was a traditional rose garden. Roses do well in the New Zealand climate so it was quite an excellent fall display and was being visited by lots of serious local rosarians. We still had a few hours of daylight so we set off looking for a wine store where we could stock up on New Zealand wines. We had wine store addresses that I had picked up on the internet; however, we visited three different stores and didn’t buy anything. The shops were very limited and clearly had mostly wines from the “big” producers. So our wine buying went onto the priority list for the next day!!!

Old planting of trees along a garden path

Vicky getting photos for KarensGardenTips.com

The fern forest in the fernery

Auckland Rose Garden

Once during the world trip Cunard takes all the world travelers on board to a unique venue for a gala dinner party. This year it was at the Auckland War Memorial and Museum building that is sited on the top of a hill overlooking the city. Cunard really does know how to through a great party. We started with a lavish cocktail party, moved through the museum and were entertained by Maori dancers, than dinner and a night of dancing. The best part was Cunard had upgraded the wines compared to what was served at the regular captain’s party’s and were serving great New Zealand wines…and the bottles were bottomless so they just kept pouring. Needless to say we took the last bus back to the ship!!!

Maory dancers

A pretty wild guy

The next morning we set out bright and early in search of a wine shop. We did a little research on the internet and found what looked like the New Zealand version of “Total Wine” and found the closest location to the harbor. I think it was their smallest store, but it clearly met our needs very well. We did the same thing that worked in Barcelona and Sydney…we described what we were looking for, gave a price range, and said pick only wines you would buy for yourself if I was going to pay for them. Chelsea, the young lady managing the shop pick out all we could carry and we trudged back to the ship and added stock to the wine cellar in our room. We had the first one that night for dinner…a Waipara Valley Pinot Noir…and it was OUTSTANDING, we hope all the other bottles we bought are as good.

Glengarry Wines, City Store in Auckland

Small but adequate inventory of New Zealand wines

Our last activity in Auckland was an organized local winery tour. We don’t usually like these, but it was our only option for a visit the vineyard area. We went about an hours drive from the city and visited three different vineyards. The first was a small third generation family vineyard that had charm, character and good wine. The other two were typical production vineyards with three-story tank farms in a setting that could only be described as “industrial” and their wines were exactly what you would expect. I’ll write up the Vineyard experience we liked best and post it on TastedOnline.com when we have some sea days.

Chardonnay grapes protected from birds

Merlot in new French oak

Two nice days and lots of fun experiences in Auckland and we’ll be in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand tomorrow.

March 17th – Sydney, Australia to Picton (original port was Akaroa), New Zealand; with a cruise through Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound Fjords.

Approaching the fjords from the sea was quite dramatic.

We began this leg of the trip with a two-day sail going east across the Tasman Sea to the Milford Sound Fjord on our way to the next port of Akaroa, New Zealand. The weather changed dramatically as the winds picked up to 30-40 mph, the temperature dropped to the high 60’s and the sky became partly cloudy.

While we were in Sydney almost all the passengers left the ship and a new batch climbed on board and the nationality of the passengers changed again. We are now 64% Australian, 19% British 7% New Zealand and 4% U.S. The other 29 nationalities are insignificant percentages. However, for those passengers who have continued on we have observed that the evening dress code has eroded even further, the spa is jammed with people, the 24-hour food buffet looks like a feeding frenzy all the time and there is not a single empty chair in any of the public rooms. But we continue to do well having SUFFICIENTLY stepped up the quality of our wines (at a lower cost even with the $20 corking charge) since we found the wine store in Sydney.

While still one day away from Milford Sound the captain announced that there was a cyclone headed toward New Zealand and because of the weather we might not be able to get into either Milford Sound or our next two ports. The next morning when we awoke we were just approaching the Milford Sound coast with light breezes and a mostly sunny sky. And, our cruise through the Milford Sound Fjord was nothing short of SPECULAR. The fjord was very narrow and the mountains high enough that they were snow-caped. We spent the morning sailing up to the end of the fjord while a pilot described the landmarks along the way. We’ve seen glacial valleys and fjords before but I’ll have to say New Zealand has possibly the best we’ve ever seen and the hanging valleys were text-book clear. We both said it was a memorable experience and enormously enjoyed the morning.

Water falls running out of the valleys

Snow caped mountains that start at sea level

After exiting Milford Sound we went south then through the Doubtful Sound area of interconnected fjords. The afternoon weather turned cloudy but the scenery was quite remarkable. The mountains were still steep and rugged, but the water was filled with small islands that looked like King Kong could pop out at any time.

The entrance to Doubtful Sound

Sailing between the islands in Doubtful Sound

The view from the ship off the port side while in Picton.

As we exited Doubtful Sound and headed north (not south as originally planned) along the New Zealand west coast the captain told us the cyclone was still approaching New Zealand and that we would not be going to the east side of the island and the port of Akaroa, but instead were heading to a substitute port of Picton, New Zealand. In addition, because of shallow water at the entrance to the Wellington harbor, storm conditions could also prevent us from getting to that port too.

When we awoke the next morning we were entering the harbor at Picton which was a snug little port nestled in the mountains. We tied up to the logging terminal, but it really didn’t look like there was any alternative. We had a lazy morning strolling through the quaint shops and a small craft fair that was set up in a park next to the harbor. Not a wine shop in the town and we just couldn’t buy wine at the grocery store..hopefully if we get to Wellington tomorrow we will be more successful.

The view off the starboard side while in Picton

The craft fair set up for all the ship passengers

The ferry leaving Picton harbor for Wellington

Main street Picton, New Zealand

The captain did report 60-80 mph winds before we pulled into the very protected Picton harbor, so we’ll have to see what tomorrow brings.

March 12th – Brisbane to Sydney, Australia.

The view from the deck when we were in port

This was really a WOW port. The ship came into the harbor at night so when we awoke the next morning we were located next to the sydney Opera House. Because almost everybody on the ship was leaving in Sydney we got an early start for our one day in port. The first stop was the Australian Wine Centre a wine shop we had found on the internet. It was located right in the harbor area only a five minute walk from the ship. And we knew we found a winner the moment we walked in the door. The shop was small but well stocked with Australian wines from lesser know producers…we did not recognize even one name on the labels. We quickly met Zachary Phillips, who was knowledgeable, liked good wines and who’s enthusiasm for wine was very contagious…the same as Russ Anderson’s at The Caviste Wine Shop back home. We described a little about us, the wines we liked and told him what we were looking for to take aboard the ship. He picked out as many different Australian wines as we could carry in two loads…enough to last us, at lunch and dinner, until we returned to Sydney in 13 days!!!

The Australian Wine Centre

Lots of delicious small producer wines

Our next stop was the Sydney Opera House where we signed up for a tour of the building. And, it to was all we expected and more. However, we were really sorry we couldn’t go to hear, and see, Madam Butterfly that evening…after the tour guide described the set where they flooded the entire stage with water. We had such an early start that we also had time for a leisurely afternoon in the Sydney Botanical Garden. This turned out to be a real highlight too. The botanic garden was located on the site where the first colony began to grow vegetables and fruits and had lots period plantings and stretched high above the picturesque harbor waterfront.

A magnificent tree in the botanic garden

The rose garden

Than to top off our fantastic day in Sydney, as we pulled away from the dock the Cunard Queen Victoria sailed out of the harbor with us as they lit up the sky with fireworks. Cunard makes a big event out of having their ships on world cruises meet in Sydney every year…and I’ll have to say it really made for a spectacular exit from the Sydney Harbor with the Opera House in the background.

Fireworks as we left Sydney harbor

Tree lined streets in Sydney

March 10th – Airlie Beach to Brisbane, Australia.

We knew we were in Australia when we saw this!

We left our anchorage in Airlie Beach late in the afternoon for a one sea day trip to Brisbane. We began with a sail between several very picturesque islands, than out through the Great Barrier Reef using the Whitsunday Passage into the Coral Sea and south along the Australian coast to the port of Brisbane. The weather continues to be picture-perfect with 10-15 mph winds.

Because of the size of the ship we docked at a grain terminal that was about 45-minutes outside of the city and took a bus into Brisbane. The city had a charm about it primarily because the Brisbane River flows through the center of the city. For miles along the river houses faced the water that was lined with boats moored along the banks. The city also had a nice mix of parks, restored historic buildings and new modern skyscrapers with lots of shops and restaurants with out-door eating. It’s a very clean city and because the climate is hot all the buildings have expansive pooches and a very open look to them.

Our big adventure in Brisbane was a visit to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the oldest and largest koala sanctuary in the world. We saw kangaroos, wallabies, kookabauras, tasmanian devils, wombats, emus, a platypus and LOTS of koalas. But, the highlight was cuddling a koala.

The river running through the city

A view of the city from Mt Coottha, the highest point around

Vicky's new soft, fuzzy friend

The only koala that wasn't asleep!

Another fun day in a place we had never visited before…and it does not seem to matter how old you are, it’s always special to pet fuzzy animals. We’re off to Sydney next and have only one sea day between ports. The good news about Sydney is that I have found what appears to be a great little wine shop that specializes in Australian wines from small producers…so our priorities for Sydney are the opera house and the wine store…and we have GREAT expectations for both!!!

Continued on next page