Day 28 February 1 (Aukland, New Zealand) - Day 29 Feb 2 (Sea Day)

Long day today (the cold doesn't help but we had long bus rides so I was able to rest during those). The trip was fun. We went to see the glow worm caves and a Pioneer History Show. The cavern was less than remarkable (having spent many hours in Carlsbad Caverns makes most caverns seem unremarkable). It had stalactites and stalagmites. In fact the ones at the entrance were so low hanging that, despite warnings, caused a rather severe injury to one of our party. She came back by those of us at the end of the line with blood trickling down from above her eye. Later she rejoined us with her arm in a sling and apparently needed 17 stitches (not sure if they were all in her head or some in her arm). Needless to say the rest of us ducked. Perhaps they should invest in some Halloween make-up and have someone get "injured" before every group goes in. Visual aids are so much more effective than just a verbal warning aren't they teachers?

One of our passengers (cabin near mine so I've known her for most of the trip - another retired teacher) has the first name Woodlyn. Well, the park in this part of New Zealand is called Woodlyn Park. I'm not sure if it includes the cave we saw or not but nevertheless Woodlyn and her guy, Jim, came on this trip just so she could go to the park with her name. When we got into the main chamber (they have concerts there several times a year) we were asked if we wanted to sing to experience the acoustics and we all said yes but no one could come up with a song. The guide asked if it was anyone's birthday and it was Woodlyn's! So Woodlyn had about 40 people sing happy birthday to her in the glow worm cave either in or very near the park with her name! The coincidences to cause this to all come together are amazing. I'm sure she will never forget this birthday.

After the singing we went on to the boats to ride the stream to the part of the cave which had the glow worms. Loud noise causes the worms to turn off their light so we rode in silence for about 10 minutes enjoying the pinpoints of light in the roof of the cave. Pretty cool. The worms live in that stage for about 8-9 months and tend "fishing lines" that they lower from the ceiling to catch insects (like spider webs). They lower about 30-40 of these strings which may be anywhere from a few inches long to a foot or more. Then when insects get caught they eat them much the way spiders do. I'll spare the squeamish the details.

After the boat ride we walked along the stream a short distance to the mouth of the cave where the stream exited (we entered through a higher opening and walked down some steps to get to that level. The caves here were formed much like Carlsbad. Once covered by ocean limestone deposits leaching out to make the ground more like swiss cheese. Some of the caves are miles long.

After a brief stop at the souvenir shop (there is always a souvenir shop) we boarded the bus and headed for Billy Black's. For those of you who have not heard of Billy, I hadn't, he is a former record holder of some sheep shearing record I think. We had a nice buffet lunch and I had a good local beer (Waikato Draught - Bitter Beer). I have finally figured this collecting beer cans/labels thing out. I don't have the finger nails to peel off labels well so I realized I could just snap a picture of the bottle! I know. I am a little slow but considering I have this cold it was a pretty amazing epiphany.

The Pioneer History Show followed lunch and was pretty entertaining as well as informative. Billy is a character. He has created a little enterprise here which also includes some unique accommodations for people who wish to spend the night. He has an old airplane (big boxy thing that the Brits made years ago), a boat and the most fun of all for Ring Trilogy fans is the Hobbit House. (He assured us the ceilings were high enough for real size people.)

The show included demonstrations and explanations of how the pioneers of NZ took a Jurrasic Park like land and created the beautiful country they now have. More than 90% of the island was rain forest. The Kiwi's are very aware of environmental management and conservation now but at that time there seemed to be unlimited resources (19th century). So, first were the lumberjack demonstrations. He mixed humor in with the demos and got volunteers from the audience for many demonstrations. He showed log sawing, working your way up a tree trunk to saw it above the root level, splitting the logs with black powder and a tube with a fuse hole in it. That last one was a bit scary until he let us in on the secret after the fact. You'll have to come watch the show to see that. I don't want to spoil his surprise. Mixed in with the demos were some animal things. We learned and saw what a Kiwi bear is. It is actually a New Zealand possum (much cuter than our variety). We saw a large hog that was trained to nod yes and know to questions. (Well, sometimes he was trained.) The show moved on to sheep raising and shearing. He had a dog who went back to the corral (the back of the stage was open so we could see behind it) and shepharded 5 sheep down to the stage. The ram was (obviously) trained to jump off the stage toward the audience. There was a rail inbetween which had a feed bag hanging on it. Just part of Billy's Kiwi humor. Scare you a bit before you realize all is well. Probably the highlight of the show was when Billy began with the history of sheep shearing. He brought three volunteers on stage and showed the first shearing tool which is basically a pair of scissors. The two halves are joined at the end of the handle instead of the middle and the two opposing blades are more like sharp knife blades. He explained how it was important to not cut the sheep and the way that was accomplished was to put your thumb between the sheep and the shears. Of course, that puts your thumb at risk but.... He then asked one of the ladies onstage if she was ready to shear the lamb he had brought onstage. She said yes to his surprise and he complemented her but had no intention of letting her try. He put the shears away and showed us the motor driven variety of shears. That is how they do it now. But, not out of surprises yet, he said that before the motor driven ones they used hand operated versions of the same type of shear. To make the shears clip someone had to turn a double handled crank. He then had the ladies turn the crank (the one man onstage stood on the bottom of the platform of the turn crank to stabilize it until late in the demo). He sheared the lamb and we all got a good idea of how much work it used to be to do that job. His last animal was a steer. He rode into the theater on it and encouraged us to share with everyone we knew. I think he wants to be on Leno or Letterman (he may have been in the past - I missed some of his patter). I have to appreciate the effort he puts into this one man show. It was genuinely entertaining and informative. We all went away with smiles and some knowledge we didn't have before the show.

We were late enough getting back to the dock that the ship had to wait for us. Ah the security of taking cruise line sponsored excursions. I made it to dinner at about 6:00PM.

After dinner it was bedtime for this sicky. I'm some better today (I'm writing this on the 2nd of Feb) after spending much of the day on my back. I think the worst is over as long as I don't get stupid and overdo. We have three non-sea days in a row coming up but I don't have an excursion tomorrow in Wellington so if I'm not good when I wake up I can just chill another day.

Oh, I have forgotten to mention some of the gifts we have recieved. I realized it tonight when we received yet another gift. Tonight's was a nightlight. The ones I have not mentioned were a travel umbrella (the kind that folds down to less than a foot long) and a nice vinyl zippered multi-pocketed carrying bag - sort of a portfolio kind of thing.

Today (Feb 2) I didn't leave my cabin until after 1 PM and grabbed lunch and went to the lecture about digital photography. Then back to the room for more lying around before dinner. Since dinner I've been feeling pretty good so I have tidied up a bit and written this bit of blog. I know some of you are probably worried about my health so I'll send this tonight before I quit and unless you hear otherwise I'm going to be fine. One of our tablemates, Anita, had a belly ache yesterday and went to the ship's doctor who quarantined her! Apparently some rule requires this. I'm not sure what kind of quarantine this is because her husband is free to come and go from the cabin (she is on house arrest maybe?). But you can bet that when word gets around nobody is going to the doc with stomach cramps unless they are really bad. Hmmmm.

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