26 March 2007

Lyttelton Tug vs. Queen Elizabeth 2

Cruise ships regularly come to call at the port of Lyttelton. Often when these large cruise ships arrive and depart, boats from the port meet the ships near the mouth of the harbour and escort them as they are piloted along the harbour. On 14 February, the stately Cunard oceanliner the Queen Elizabeth 2 was set to sail from the port. A couple of weeks prior to this we were wandering around the port and noticed a sign near the famous old steam tug the Lyttelton which advertised for a late afternoon cruise aboard the tug to escort the great ship out of the harbour. We also thought the cruise would make a great date in celebration of Valentine's Day.

The Lyttelton Tug , first put into use around 1907, is maintained and preserved by a group of devoted volunteers. We boarded the old tug around 4:30 P.M. Our first objective was to make our way over to where the QE2 was berthed - outsite the inner harbour, due to the size of the ship.

The wheelhouse was in immaculate condition, as were the the instruments and telegraphs.

Prior to departure everything seemed to need a bit of grease - everything! All the machinery is original and a little bit of tender loving care keeps it all running smooth.

From the inner harbour the Lyttelton Time Ball can be seen high on the hill. At noon, the ball would drop from the top of a long mast and a cannon would fire to signal to ships in the harbour Greenwhich Time for ships so they could adjust their chronometers and get a fix on their longitude before setting out to sea again. The Lyttelton Time Ball is the last remaining operational time ball left in New Zealand. At noon the ball still drops and a cannon is fired!

We slowly made our way to where the grand ship was berthed and waited for her lines to be cast off.

I was more intrigued with the steam engines on the Lyttelton than the more modern QE2, so I headed down to the engine room for a wee visit. The ship has two sets of steam engines which drive two shafts. Each shaft has a high pressure piston and a low pressure piston.

It was impressive to watch the big engines turn the crankshaft. One of the guys in the engine room was Scottish and reminded my of Mr. Scott from Star Trek.

I watched the engine room crew at work for a while and finally realized how the telegraphs from the wheelhouse operate.

Just forward of the engine room is the boiler room. It was neat to see the huge fireboxes blazing.

I spent at least half an hour talking to the fireman in the boiler room about how the whole thing works.

I came back up on deck to see where we were in the harbour.

The QE2 lumbered slowly along as it was piloted through the harbour. However, once the pilot left the ship it gained steam and easily overtook us!

The Lyttelton Tug has steam assisted power steering - not bad for a 100 year old ship.

At the headlands we left the QE2 as she sailed on towards Sydney. Goodbye QE2!

Eventually we made it back to port.

We thought we would complete the evening with a great Italian meal at Freeman's Dining Room in Lyttelton What a great day!

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24 March 2007

Auckland Adventure

My birthday, 06 February, falls on Waitangi Day - a national holiday here in New Zealand. What better excuse to head out of town and go explore? I had not yet visited Auckland (aside from the airport) so we flew up to Auckland to explore a bit of New Zealand's largest city.

Foremost on my list of things to see was the Auckland Museum. The Auckland Museum contains a large collection of Polynesian artifiacts - a must see for anyone who has time to visit the Big Smoke.

Our first stop was a private guided tour of the recently finished Grand Atrium, an interesting structure which actually hangs down from four large pillars and is not connected to the main building - impressive.

At the time of our visit the museum had a display called Vaka Moana, which told the story of the seafaring peoples of Polynesia. The exhibit was well done and informative.

Part of the permanent collection at the Auckland Museum is this diorama of Wandering Albatross. I just had to include an image of our namesake!

Another exhibit at the museum was on volcanoes. New Zealand has quite a fair share of volcanoes, and Auckland itself contains no less than 28 of them!

The Auckland Museum has a beautiful collection of Maori artifacts, including complete maraes dating from the mid 1800s

Our next stop was to the New Zealand National Maritime Museum. This museum has a great collection of old boat stuff and interesting historical artifacts. One of the interesting displays is Ms Chippy, the ship's cat aboard Shackelton's epic Antarctic expedition.

The museum's collection includes several boats docked at the wharf. One such boat is a neat old steam engine sea crane. We saw a similar crane docked in the Wellington harbour.

One day we took a ferry across to Davenport, located on the North Shore. The weather was wonderfully warm and semi-tropical.

We walked around Davenport for a bit then scaled the mighty Mt. Victoria (yes, another volcanoe). Mt. Victoria still retains some old fortifications from WWII, such as this disappearing gun emplacement.

Above the bunkers (which, unfortunately, were off limits), the vents were all painted like big toadstools.

From the top of Mt. Victoria there is a great view of Rangitoto (yet another volcanoe).

Our next stop was the Sky Tower. Tickets for the elevator ride up to the observation deck are a bit steep at NZ$25.00 per person, but it is worth doing once for the high vantage point of the city. We were thinking of dining at the restaurant at the top, but I guess that's a whole different elevator ride from the observation deck - oh well.

During our entire 5 day trip to Auckland we had no rain, even though at times the skies appeared threatening.

The next day we walked over to the Auckland Art Gallery. The collection at the museum includes some of the great early portraits of Maori around New Zealand.

After our tour of the Auckland Art Gallery, we bussed on over to Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World.

The acquarium stands as a testimont to Kelly Tarlton's devotion to the sea, and includes what was the first underwater viewing tunnel ever built into an aquarium. On display was a preserved giant squid, a huge animal, which pales in comparison to the recently recovered complete collosal squid now at Te Papa museum in Wellington, waiting to be thawed out.

Gaby and I enjoyed just walking around Downtown Auckland, especially at the harbour, watching the ferries come and go.

Our last stop was a brief visit to Mt. Eden (also a volcano). It was interesting to note the Maori believe the summit crater to be sacred. As such, people are asked not to defile the crater by walking into it. Ironically, cows are allowed to tramp around the crater at will.

We had a great time in Auckland! On our next visit we hope to explore some of the not so touristy areas of the city.

This parting shot is for all the Italians out there. We were walking around downtown Auckland and passed by this restaurant. I just had to take a picture of it! We suspect the owners are Italians with a sense of humour :-)

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08 March 2007

Shocking Price for Toyota Seatbelts

Yesterday I took my 2005 Toyota Echo to the Ilam Toyota dealer here in Christchurch for a Warrant of Fitness inspection. After the inspection I was informed our car had failed its WOF due to two damaged rear passenger seatbelts (our dog Kuri had a go at them). I was then informed by the Toyota dealer the rear seatbelts could not be repaired because of the proprietary endings on the belts and the belts would have to be replaced with factory units. He then informed me these units were not currently in inventory in Toyota New Zealand, and, in fact, one of the rear seatbelt units had never before been in the Toyota New Zealand inventory. Consequently, I was informed these two rear seatbelt units would have to be imported from Toyota Japan. It was his next sentence that made me do a double-take. He informed me that these two rear seatbelt units would cost NZ$1530 plus GST and installation, which works out to around NZ$1700!

That's right, NZ$1700.00! I was shocked! How can it possibly be that two rear seatbelts for a 2005 Toyota Echo (the least expensive vehicle sold by Toyota at the time of its manufacture, BTW) could amount to a full 10% of the entire purchase price of this vehicle? Even the insurance inspector was shocked by the price of these parts.

Then, to add insult to injury, the Ilam Toyota dealer informed me it would take 14 WORKING DAYS to receive the product - That's three weeks!

Recall that this is a late model Toyota vehicle we are referring to here, not something long out of production. I don't uderstand how it could possibly take so long to get this product? When I asked this question to the Service Manager I was told that's how Ilam Toyota's contract with Toyota of Japan works. Boy, if that doesn't sound like a run-around I don't know what is.

I find this situation more than a little annoying. Every vehicle which I have ever owned has been a Toyota. I have previously owned a 1979 Celica, a 1984 3/4 ton pickup, a 1992 FJ88 Landcruiser Wagon, and I currently own a 2005 Echo. My past experience with Toyota in the States has been very good - parts and service are available and the work has been up to Toyota quality.

I would hope Ilam Toyota would do their best at obtaining replacement parts for a valued Toyota customer.

23 March Update: The price Ilam Toyota quoted me for two replacement seatbelts was so absurdly expensive we searched for alternative sources. We eventually found a Toyota dealer in Sydney, Australia, that listed the exact same part numbers - also ordered directly from Japan - for one third the price! I ordered the replacement parts and contacted the insurance company to notify them I would like to withdraw my insurance claim. Once the parts arrived, I contacted Ilam Toyota and they installed the replacement seatbelts. The total cost including the parts and service ended up being less than half of Ilam Toyota's original quote! So, we now have five functional seatbelts in the car and can breath easy for another year - when our Warrant Of Fitness inspection is due once again.

10 April Update: Late last week I decided to move the car a short distance down the driveway. Later, when I decided to move the car back it would not start. Actually, at first the engine started, but emitted such a terrible noise (like only one or two cylinders were firing) I quickly shut the engine off again. After that, the engine would turn over, but not start up. I called Ilam Toyota. They graciously offered to tow my car to the dealership. The next day I received a call from the dealership. They very kindly informed me the engine was flooded, nothing more. It turns out, as the mechanic informed me, these engines can rarely be subject to engine flooding if the engine is started and then stopped after a short period of time, for example, when a car is moved out of a garage and into the driveway for a wash. I was very satisfied with the mechanic's response. I have regained my faith there are at least a few honest mechanics still around - Kudos to Ilam Toyota!

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