Fiordland is the largest national park in New Zealand, and it is included on the World Heritage List. Rain is prominent in this remote wilderness, and the temperate forest is pristine and lush. A morning Zodiac cruise through a fiord led us between granite rocks and steep hills entirely covered with endemic vegetation. The tree daisies stood out. It was not difficult to spot wildlife, including New Zealand fur seals, spotted shags, black-backed gulls, and as a bonus, Fiordland crested penguins. The penguins frolicked in the water or stood around on rocks, wondering about us as we visited their homeland. After this very productive show of species, it was time for an expertly prepared lunch, with an exciting variety like usual. Today’s menu was Mexican. In the meantime, the ship repositioned to nearby Observation Point. Captain Cook spent time here on his second voyage to New Zealand. Our afternoon Zodiac excursion led us to explore the spot, which is commemorated with a plaque. Baby forest trees are prolific, and we saw the rimu trees that Captain Cook used to brew beer. In the afternoon, National Geographic photographer Andrew and our own certified instructor Lauren led a photo session. Everyone had a chance to ask the experts how to improve their photos. As the ship moved north through the fiords in between sheltering islands, the sun came out. What a bonus in an area with plenty of rain! Today was another successful day, and we were able to see a lot of “firsts.”
National Geographic Orion
The morning commenced with a quick Zodiac journey across the bay to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Each group had a local guide, and guests learned about New Zealand’s founding document, which was first signed on February 6, 1840. After getting up close to the traditional wakas (large Māori war canoes) and learning about their construction, we continued up the hill to the treaty grounds and looked inside the Treaty House. The guided part of the tour ended there, and we gathered near the entrance of the fully carved Māori meeting house. We were invited in and welcomed in the traditional Māori way. We responded by singing a Māori song that we have practiced throughout our expedition with Hotu, our lead cultural expert. Inside the meeting house, we enjoyed the traditional welcome and listened to stories about the carvings. It was a moving experience. Responding with our song gave us all immense pride, and it was greeted warmly by our Māori friends. After lunch, we crossed the bay again to the small historic village of Russell. This was a destination for sailors, whalers, and traders during the 18th and 19th centuries. Now it is a vibrant spot for locals, tourists, and boat enthusiasts, and it boasts an assortment of quirky art and gift shops.