Category Archives: Australia and Oceana

Cruising with Santa on the Holland America Cruiseline

Special to Vagobond with 4 original photos © Susan McKee

New Zealand Santa ClausSanta Claus just doesn’t look quite right standing next to palm trees and bougainvillea wearing his red suit trimmed in white fur in 80 degree temperatures. But, the earth’s rotation being what it is, summer begins in the southern hemisphere just as radio stations in the northern are playing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Dashing Through the Snow”.

It’s all rather routine to Australians and New Zealanders, of course, but Christmastime Down Under provides a bit of cognitive dissonance to those of us from North America. We’re more used to wearing parkas and boots than shorts and flip-flops as we browse shop windows during the holidays.

Fleeing winter does have a certain appeal, however, so I took advantage of an invitation from Holland America Line to join one of their Australian cruises from Sydney, Australia, and around New Zealand earlier this month.

Cruise Ship ChristmasAbout halfway through the voyage it occurred to me that I could avoid cold weather perpetually by arranging to spend half the year in Oz. Like those legendary surfers pursing the perfect wave around the globe, I could find “Endless Summer” by dividing my time between North America and New Zealand.

While my friends back home were battling sub-freezing temperatures as fall segued into winter, I witnessed spring bursting forth into summer while holiday tunes played in the background.

“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” blared from loudspeakers as rollerbladers zipped past shoppers on the sidewalk in Napier. “Good King Wenceslas” contemplates snow that’s “deep and crisp and even” as shellers in Akaroa scan the beach for that perfect specimen.

At every port – and there were seven along our route – traditional symbols of the holiday decorated houses and shops. The major department stores in Wellington and Auckland had the usual animated windows with artificial snow, icicle-trimmed houses and all the other traditional markers of the holidays.

Christmas tree in New ZealandEverywhere, there were the usual Christmas trees – the pine varieties (albeit mostly fake) trimmed with ornaments, lights and tinsel. Snowmen complete with black top hats were crafted from metal, adorned with lights and set to guard downtown intersections.

Peppermint candy canes, Christmas cookies, and imported holiday specialties such as Stollen cakes imported from Germany and panettone from Italy filled store shelves – it all seems just like home, until you run into the native New Zealand Christmas trees.

These don’t look at all like their Victorian pine and fir namesakes. Known formally as P?hutukawa, the Kiwi Christmas tree is a type of myrtle often planted along coastal roadways and sidewalks of the North Island as a landscape ornamental – bushy dark green and (usually) stubby evergreen trees that, conveniently, burst forth with crimson blooms in the days leading up to December 25.

My ship, the ms Volendam, was festively decorated for the season, with lavish swags of greenery, red ribbons and glittery ornaments everywhere. The culinary staff explored their artistic side by using gingerbread, icing, gumdrops and other candy bits to create fanciful (but, alas, inedible) mansions and castles. (These are much grander than the usual gingerbread houses because they start with plywood bases rather than cookie slabs.)

Confections abounded on this cruise. Not only were the desserts varied each meal, but there was an ice cream bar offering sundaes and cones open every afternoon. On one evening during the cruise, the culinary staff whipped up a dessert extravaganza with massive ice carvings, chocolate sculptures and all sorts of fanciful sweets served buffet-style at the unusual hour of 10:30 p.m.

I’d not been on a cruise like this one before, so I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a range of dining opportunities. There was the usual: a cafeteria-style buffet with everything from sushi and salads to prime rib and sandwiches. But there was also a white-tablecloth restaurant with flowers and candles and a menu that varied each day, a small bistro featuring Italian delights — and the Pinnacle. As its name suggests, this was the fine-dining option (with a small surcharge – the other locations were included in the cruise price). Here’s where I found lobster macaroni and cheese, lamb grilled on a skewer, baked Alaska and chocolate truffles served with after-dinner coffee.

Kids (and grownups) celebrating birthdays during the cruise are serenaded at dinner by the mostly Indonesian dining room crew with a traditional Southeast Asian song
(thereby avoiding all the “Happy Birthday” copyright issues).

In fact, there never was a dull moment on board. There was internet access via satellite, game tables for chess and checkers (not to mention a whole cabinet of board games), jig-saw puzzles, jewelry shops, a casino (this was the only indoor smoking area onboard), daily trivia and bingo games, a library, DVDs for the television in the cabins), presentations on everything from “eating right” to the aboriginal culture of Australia, two swimming pools, a hot tub, ping-pong table, spa, art auctions, gym, yoga classes, Tai Chi, religious services and AA meetings.

My personal favorites were the frequent demonstrations in the Culinary Center. Ever heard of Lamingtons? I thought not! This Aussie specialty is a sinfully rich dessert that starts with an egg-and-butter cake dipped in chocolate and layered with icing, whipped cream embellishments such as coconut, banana and honey. I even learned how to create marzipan roses and fold towels into fanciful animals during the demos.

The lure of the cruise for me, however, was the chance to explore both the north and the south islands of New Zealand. Port stops began at Oban on Stewart Island (off the country’s extreme southern tip) and continued at Port Chalmers, Akaroa, Wellington, Napier, Tauranga and Auckland.

Rain interrupted my visit to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, obscuring the signature skyline with fog. By the time I got back on board, I was soaked through.

Unfortunately, the last scheduled stop, Bay of Isles, had to be scrubbed because of high seas. A storm to the north of us meant that we’d need the extra time to steam around the high winds and waves on our way back to Sydney. Total distance round trip? 3290 nautical miles.

(Full disclosure: I was the guest of Holland America Line aboard the ms Volendam earlier this month on its 14-day New Zealand & Australia cruise.)

Robert Louis Stevenson – Writing Vagabond

Robert Louis Stevenson was an explorer, writer, poet, essayist and speaker. Stevenson was one of the great literary geniuses the world has produced, and everyone knows him because of his most famous works Kidnapped and Treasure Island. Of course, who can forget two of the strangest characters ever, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, who were created by R L Stevenson.

Robert Louis StevensonThose three examples would suffice to introduce the creative genius that Stevenson was. He was born Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson on 13 November, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland, to parents Thomas Stevenson and Margaret Isabella Balfour. His father was a lighthouse engineer, which was their traditional family profession as well.

Stevenson was the only child in the family. He was considered to be a bit odd by his friends and schoolmates because his behavior was eccentric, to say the least. In his younger years he made only a few good friends. As a result, he turned to writing, publishing his first ever work at a young age of sixteen with help from his father, who himself was fond of writing. Stevenson’s writing genius was recognized right away and his work found an audience of all ages. However, rather than writing, Stevenson was more interested in traveling, and he visited a cousin in England in 1873 and subsequently he settled there for a while.

Further Reading on Grandma Gatewood

A Life: Bigoraphy of Robert Louis Stevenson
Selected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson
Travels in Hawaii
An Inland Voyage and Travels with a Donkey
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde
A Tale of Two Roses
Treasure Island
Travel to Samoa, Hawaii, San Francisco, or the UK

Stevenson met his soon-to-be wife, Fanny Sitwell while in London and she shared his enthusiasm towards the fine art of writing. Stevenson visited his parents back in Edinburgh from time to time, and meanwhile he became more and more popular in London academic circles. In 1875, Stevenson visited France to take medical treatment because of weak health. He liked the French environment very well, and visited France several more times during his life. In 1879, he went to San Francisco and he also stayed there for a couple of years, all the time writing accounts of his travels and creating new stories.

Stevenson’s family suffered from a long history of weak health, and for this reason he searched for a suitable place to stay that would suit his weak constitution. He traveled to many places in Scotland, England and the US, but the environment didn’t suit him in any of these places.He needed a warm tropical climate, and he found it in the Pacific. Not only did he go to Hawaii and Samoa but also to Tahiti and many of the smaller islands of the pacific islands.

Robert Louis Stevenson and David Kalakaua
Stevenson hosting King Kalakaua in his home
Stevenson resided in the Kingdom of Hawaii for a time and became great friends with King David Kalakaua and his sister Lilioukalani (who subsequently became the last monarch of Hawaii before she was overthrown by a consortium of U.S. businessmen and missionaries.) There were rumors of a romantic affair with the beautiful Hawaiian Princess Victoria Kaiulani but one thing for certain is that they became great friends and had a wonderful friendship. He penned this poem for her before he left.

[Written in April to Kaiulani in the April of her age; and at Waikiki, within easy walk of Kaiulani’s banyan! When she comes to my land and her father’s, and the rain beats upon the window (as I fear it will), let her look at this page; it will be like a weed gathered and pressed at home; and she will remember her own islands, and the shadow of the mighty tree; and she will hear the peacocks screaming in the dusk and the wind blowing in the palms; and she will think of her father sitting there alone. – R. L. S.]

FORTH from her land to mine she goes,
The island maid, the island rose,
Light of heart and bright of face:
The daughter of a double race.

Her islands here, in Southern sun,
Shall mourn their Kaiulani gone,
And I, in her dear banyan shade,
Look vainly for my little maid.

But our Scots islands far away
Shall glitter with unwonted day,
And cast for once their tempests by
To smile in Kaiulani’s eye.

As the ship left King Kalakaua brought the Royal Hawaiian Band to play farewell to his good friend Stevenson.

death of Robert Louis StevensonStevenson finally settled on the island of Samoa, where he also breathed his last, on December 3, 1894. Though he lived for just 44 years, Stevenson has become immortal through his works which have inspired travelers, vagabonds, and adventurers .

Jack London – Prince of the Tramps, Patron of Vagabonds

Jack London – Prince of the Tramps

For many, all they know about Jack London is that he wrote dog stories. In fact, he did much more than that. Jack London was born January 12, 1876 and his life reads like an adventure novel.

Jack London was a passionate socialist, sometimes drunk and sometimes a prohibitionist, a sailor, a pirate, a gold prospector, a tramp, and of course, all of that makes him a vagabond.

London started out as a poor kid doing wage slavery in San Francisco but borrowed money to buy a boat and became the ‘Prince of the Oyster Pirates” before his boat sank. From there he joined the ‘Fish Patrol’ and then signed onto a schooner which took him to Japan.

Returning to the USA he again became a wage slave and then quit to become a tramp and marched across the country with unionists before getting arrested and thrown in jail for vagrancy.
Jack London, extraordinary vagabond, vagobonding
To me, one of his best books is ‘The Road’ which details this period of his life. It’s also one of the hardest of his books to find.

London returned to San Francisco and attended Berkley before splitting for the gold fields of the Yukon. One would think that he spent a long time there, but six months of suffering was enough and he returned to California where he wrote his most famous books “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”

London was one of the original members of the Bohemian Club which met in the redwoods and included such figures as Ambrose Bierce and John Muir.

London started making money at writing and bought a ranch in California which became a vagabond camp of sorts from which he became a vehement socialist. (John Barleycorn).
London spent most off his life fighting against wage slavery and lived in London amongst the poorest of the poor. His book The Iron Heel, details some of what he learned and saw in this period.

Later he sank most of his fortune into building a ship called “The Snark” which he and his second wife sailed to Hawaii. When they tried to go further, the ship sank. This part of his life is detailed in Martin Eden.

On his ranch, London became an advocate of sustainable agriculture before most people ever knew what the term meant. He also began to drink more and more, which led to his sinking into awful depressions and ultimately probably to an early death.

Jack London Surfing

London made many trips to Hawaii and was one of the first Californians to take up surfing. He learned the sport from the legendary Duke Kahanamoku! (Incidentally, I once met London’s grandson and great grandson on Kauai and they were typical California surfer dudes.)

Jack London in Underwear

Unfortunately, like many of the men of his day, Jack London had some ignorant racial views. He is often cited as a racist and the truth is that he was, but so was every other white man living at the time. London just happened to write his views and so is often singled out. He wrote some science fiction which is interesting, one is about China taking over the world by population and a war coming as a result. It seems to be a future that is coming to exist.

London died at the young age of forty years old of a morphine overdose. Some say it was suicide, but what is certain is that he was in extreme pain from illness which is why he had the morphine to begin with.

Jack London was an extraordinary vagabond.

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