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EXC In-Depth Field Notes: Savusavu, Nuku’alofa, Waitangi and Tauranga

Our EXC In-Depth Voyage is island-hopping around the South Pacific, and that means our guests are visiting some of the most beautiful locales in the world. EXC In-Depth Driver-Naturalists Caitlyn Webster and Kristy King sent some Field Notes from Savusavu, Nuku’alofa, Waitangi and Tauranga. Enjoy this installment, and stay tuned as the ship heads to New Zealand.

Savusavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji
By Caitlyn Webster, Driver-Naturalist

Zodiacs hit the blue for EXC In-Depth’s first ‘noodle’ excursion! Photo Peter Carey.

Zodiacs hit the blue for EXC In-Depth’s first ‘noodle’ excursion! Photo Peter Carey.

Today marks Holland America’s inaugural EXC In-Depth zodiac ‘noodle’ excursion around the Maasdam! The sunshine smiled down upon our fleet of black, inflatable boats as we admired our ship from a different perspective: at sea level. After making a few 360s around the ship, we took a moment to investigate the coast line up close where sea poison flowers (Barringtonia asiatica – the seeds and other plant parts are often ground into a powder and used to stun fish) were sprinkled across the clear, turquoise waters. Fiji’s intimate relationship with the sea was evidenced in the orderly lines of fishing moorings that dotted the horizon, yet there wasn’t much other boat traffic in Savusavu’s calm harbor. As we zipped through the water, some of the corals could be seen from the surface and coconut palms stretched across the coast for miles. Community-based marine reserves have been hugely instrumental in managing the local seafood and ecosystems here. Onshore, enthusiastic “bulas” warmly welcomed us to a surprisingly normal beach town with a surf shop and delicious scents of cinnamon buns wafting from a bakery.

Some of the more adventurous traversed to the other side of the island, seeking a waterfall hike. Villages, children playing in the sea, and clothes lines with the day’s washing passed by until reaching a beautiful tropical rainforest. There was a spectacular view point, rock pools, and a brilliant waterfall worth swimming through!

Nuku’alofa, Kingdom of Tonga
By Caitlyn Webster, Driver-Naturalist

Scouting another gem within the turquoise Tongan Kingdom. Photo by Caitlyn Webster.

Scouting another gem within the turquoise Tongan Kingdom. Photo by Caitlyn Webster.

Massive Tongan smiles greeted us upon arrival to Nuku’alofa. Walking along the street a group of young ladies, teasing each other while donning vibrantly bold prints, they giggled and waved hello as we headed toward the center of town. The main attraction just off the dock was the bustling local market filled with stalls. Flashy gold embellished shirts, turtle riddled lava-lavas, tongue-out tikis, and assorted handicrafts abounded. The renowned, half-pearl jewelry could be found on nearly every corner along with gorgeously crafted tapa cloth.

Out on the water, the EXC In-Depth team utilized the zodiacs in order to scout new locations to potentially visit upon the Maasdam’s return to Tonga in a few months. A healthy reef, brimming with marine life and perfect weather conditions, made for a successful visit to one island in particular of the many scattered within the large lagoon.

Waitangi, North Island, New Zealand
By Kristy King, On-board Naturalist/Zodiac Driver

After leaving Auckland the day before, Maasdam made her way northward overnight toward the most historically important place in New Zealand: Waitangi. On the 6th February 1840, the ‘Treaty of Waitangi’ (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) was signed by representatives of the British Crown and the Māori. The purpose of the Treaty was to enable the British settlers and the Māori people to live together in New Zealand under a common set of laws.

The Tui bird’s (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) favorite Harakeke (New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax) at Motorua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Photo: Kristy King ©

The Tui bird’s (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) favorite Harakeke (New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax) at Motorua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Photo: Kristy King ©

As the Maasdam made her way around Cape Brett this morning and into the Bay of Islands toward Waitangi, we were greeted by a pod of short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) and bottle-nose dolphins (Tursiops truncates). The onboard EXC in-depth team were out on the water with a local Department of Conservation guide learning more about this beautiful area and meeting a few of the locals along the way. Australian gannets (Morus serrator), Little Blue Penguins (Eudyptula minor) and the endemic Tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) were a prominent feature here.

Tauranga, North Island, New Zealand
By Kristy King, On-board Naturalist/Zodiac Driver

After traveling through somewhat un-seasonal weather over the past two days (due to a huge low pressure system making its way south from Australia), one was hopeful that the sun would greet us as we arrived in the Bay of Plenty. Maasdam made her entry into the port of Tauranga past the iconic Mount Maunganui and the statue of Tangaroa (the Māori god of the sea, Tangaroa is the son of Papatūānuku, the earth mother, and Ranginui, the sky father).

Cloudy skies greeted us on entrance to port of Tauranga. Mount Maunganui, or Mauao, is an extinct volcanic cone at the end of a peninsula and the town of Mount Maunganui in the Bay of Plenty. Photo: Kristy King ©

Cloudy skies greeted us on entrance to port of Tauranga. Mount Maunganui, or Mauao, is an extinct volcanic cone at the end of a peninsula and the town of Mount Maunganui in the Bay of Plenty. Photo: Kristy King ©

Once alongside there was a flurry of activity as guests made their way ashore with umbrellas and rain jackets in tow, most heading slightly father south to Rotorua (New Zealand’s cultural epicenter). Wildlife and strange smells were most notable … after all Rotorua is known for its thermal activity. Those who ventured out although slightly soggy, sighted endemic birds such as kiwi, watched fantastic cultural displays by local Māori and got to experience bubbling mud pools and geysers.

Next up, Maasdam continues to visit New Zealand and the surrounding islands. Our EXC In-Depth team members will be sending more Field Notes along the way! If you’d like to join an EXC In-Depth Voyage, they are scheduled into 2020 so take a look and see where you’d like to explore!

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