I’m a sucker for the heat, so all of my cruises have been to somewhere warm and tropical. Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands. Back in March I took my first cruise to a place not known for its warmth: New Zealand. To be fair, it was a second choice to the warm and tropical Fiji, but unfortunately it had sold out by the time we went to book it – so New Zealand it was!
I went with a friend who I hadn’t seen since high school, some 12 or something years ago (you know you’re old when you cant remember when you were in high school!) so it was a good reunion. I haven’t had much luck with finding people to cruise with who enjoyed it enough to come back with me (most of the reason why i travel by myself), but she loves cruising as well so it was bound to be a good trip.
She flew from Melbourne, I flew from Brisbane and we met up in Sydney the day before. Sydney is not a favourite place of mine. It’s so busy and everyone is always in a rush. I have never heard so many car horns before in one place, and if it’s raining….god help your eyeballs from being poked out by the hundreds of umbrellas! It just so happened to be the Mardi Gras weekend when we arrived, but we didn’t know it until we saw multitudes of people walking the streets dressed up in bright colours. The next day we were walking through the city and got caught up in a protest of thousands of people parading through the city. I never found out what it was for, but it was the biggest i’ve ever seen. Those 24 hours in Sydney reiterated to me why I don’t like Sydney!
Every time i see a cruise ship docked and i’m about to embark on another cruise, i get this feeling of happiness. It’s almost like i’m back to where i’m supposed to be, like it’s a second home. Everyone laughs when i explain it like that but i guess you have to love cruising to understand it.
Anyway i got that feeling again as we walked up to the ship, me struggling with my heavy suitcase like usual. That’s probably a good reason for me to fly to a port first, because then i’m limited on how much I take! Otherwise I would probably sink the ship.
First thing we did when we boarded the Sun Princess, was hit the bar for frozen daiquiris! Sydney was still quite warm and I had a feeling it was going to be getting quite cold in the next few days. We were going to be heading down across the Tasman to the south island where we would first cruise through the Fiordlands national park, then make our way up to Dunedin, Akaroa, then to the north island to see Wellington, Napier, Tauranga, Auckland and finally Bay of Isles before heading back to Sydney.
I’m someone who generally makes the most of the days on a cruise. I’ll stay up late until everything is finished, and dont like to sleep in too late so I dont miss anything.The first night it was quite rough and for the first time ever, I wasn’t feeling great. I took a seasickness table and put myself to bed after managing to last out and about until about 10pm (early for me!) and passing out as soon as my head hit the pillow. Seasickness tablets knock me out! On sea days, at midday, the captain will make an announcement and ring bells to signal that it’s midday, and give us an update on our location. If there are bells ringing in the middle of the night in your cabin, it’s emergency signal going off. You know, aka we’re sinking. I woke up from my slumber that night to pitch darkness (damn interior cabins), bells ringing in my cabin and the captains voice. Cue panic because i’m thinking we’re sinking, as Ive just been woken from the deepest sleep i’ve ever been in by the emergency alarms going off. I finally find my clock…its midday and was just the captains midday call. I had managed to sleep for a whole 14 hours..which was good, except that i’d missed all the fun morning activities, including signing up for the egg drop challenge! Since then, i’ve always set an alarm, and stopped taking seasickness tablets!
Entering the Fiordlands the next day was a spectacular sight! We woke up at 6.30am to watch us sail in and that is the earliest i’ve ever woken up on a cruise, but was totally worth it. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun was shining down all the mountain peaks, which towered over the ship on both sides, not leaving much room for us to sail through and making the ship feel tiny. Unfortunately, it was very windy and absolutely freezing so staying up on deck at the front of the ship where the best view was, was not long lasting. But I still managed to get some amazing photos of the huge waterfalls and snow capped mountain peaks before retreating back inside to the warmth. Because of tides and the wind we couldn’t go all the way the through, so we turned around (i still dont know how in such a small area!) and starting heading towards our next destination, Dunedin, and I went back to bed for some much needed ZZZZZ’s!
We reached a very wet and very cold Dunedin the next morning. I was already starting to miss the warm weather after only 4 cold days! Dunedin reminds me of what i would imagine Scotland or England to be like – grey, wet, and old! It was a nice little historical looking town though. My friends sister lives here, so she picked us up from the port and gave us a guided tour of the town. Our first stop? Obviously the Cadbury chocolate factory! We took a guided tour through the whole factory and was shown how they make all the different chocolates. We were given a goody bag at the beginning, and each time we stopped at an area, we were given different chocolates. We left there with SO much chocolate! The Cadbury factory has actually closed down now, so we were very lucky to go there when we did.
Our next stop was Baldwin Street. Baldwin street is the worlds steepest street. And it doesn’t look it….until you go to walk up it! I think we got halfway up before stopping for photos, admiring how steep it was….and then walking back down. Which was a lot easier! The sun had come out by this stage and I was starting to see how nice the town actually was. A quick visit to the beach and it was time to head back to the ship!
Akaroa the next day, was a very quaint little seaside village with cute little cottages and restaurants, and even a few palm trees! It was however, raining and cold again (surprise,surprise…does the south island have any other weather besides rain?!) and I wasn’t feeling very excited about heading over, but we took the tender over anyway, and surprisingly despite the cold wind and rain, actually quite liked it. I can only imagine how pretty it is when the sun’s shining! We didn’t stay over there very long as we got wet and cold, and our day back on the ship consisted of attempting some trivia, bingo and having a drink with our new friends we’d met at the bar.
Wellington (aka the windy city) is just like Sydney, but with less shops. We took a bus into the city from the ship (about 15 minutes) and got off with plans to walk around. Well, we did that in about 30 minutes. The CBD is basically just office buildings with a few shops scattered around. We sat in McDonalds for a bit to use the free wifi and have lunch, then bused it back to the ship. Its definitely very windy in Wellington, my hair did not enjoy it!
When we got back on the ship after visiting ‘the windy city’, we were informed that there was, in fact, a cyclone ahead of us. (I could have sworn the cyclone was in Wellington..) We were currently at the very bottom of the north island, with the intention of heading up the east side of the island and around the top and across to Sydney. Unfortunately, Cyclone Hola had other plans for us, as she was smack bam in our way. So the Captain decided going through the cyclone was a bad idea and changed our route to head up the west side instead and around the top to Auckland. This would then put us behind Hola, and still scheduled to arrive in Auckland on time as there were passengers who were due to disembark there; so missing Auckland was not option. Unfortunately though, it meant we missed out on stopping at Napier and Tauranga instead. To be honest, i was more disappointed we wouldn’t be heading through the cyclone! I know, safety first, but i’ve always wanted to experience really rough stormy seas, like all the ‘cruise from hell’ videos you see from other passengers! Despite us running away from Cyclone Hola, we still got some decent swell, decent enough that you could blame the too many cocktails you had at dinner, on the the ship and waves that was making you walk from side to side and into walls!
We reached Auckland on time, albeit a few hours later than scheduled, but it was a lovely day! We walked around the city and had lunch, but for some reason, i had an urge to want to do something extreme, and different. So what did I choose to do? I decided to do the SkyTower skywalk. Now that doesn’t sound crazy. But it was actually the most terrifying thing i’ve ever done. You walk around a path (thats only about 1m wide, no rails and you can see straight through it down to the streets below) 194m high up with only a harness attached to an overhead safety line. I’m afraid of heights, and i must have picked one one of the windiest days to do it! The guide who leads the group of 5 gets you all to do little ‘challenges’, like leaning or sitting off over the side of the path, basically putting your life trust in that safety harness! I was at the back of the line so I shuffled along at snail pace holding on to my harness for dear life. I didn’t work up the courage to do any of the challenges until the very last one, which was leaning forward out off the path and having my arms outspread and not holding onto the harness. Well, i held on with 1 hand, but i basically did it and i realized that I could definitely not be a bird! I’m very glad and proud that I did it….but I won’t be doing it again anytime soon! (I can probably also scrap climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge off my list too) There is also the option of jumping off the SkyTower, from the same level that we walked around. Those people are crazy!
We got back to the ship and started getting ready for dinner at about 5.30pm, when i discovered I had lost my favourite ring that I always wore. I had to take it off for the sky walk so I was convinced it had either fallen off at the SkyTower, or just outside of the ship. So, cue a mad dash off the ship with security calling after us to make sure we’re back by 6.30pm and a quick search around the terminal, before running 2 blocks to a phone booth to call the SkyTower. It has been a LONG time since i’ve used a public phone and after a couple of minutes of figuring out how to use it, finally got put on hold. For a long time. To be told they had closed and to call back the next day. When we wouldn’t be there. So….I never got that ring back.
That night we had a bit more excitement, with a fire on board. Not a major one, thankfully, but apparently a dishwasher down in the crew area had a hissy fit and quit working. We would never have known though, but the Captain came over the loud speaker informing us and would let us know when the ‘issue’ was resolved. It was a little nerve wracking but i figured since there had been no alarm bells, we weren’t in too much danger of needing the lifeboats! (And i was happy I hadn’t been jolted out of a deep sleep again!) Not 20 minutes later, he came back over the loudspeaker saying that it was under control and everything was good. Cue some cheering from passengers, and we continued on with our Country and Western party.
The next day we reached Bay of Isles. We went to the island of Paihia and it reminded me of Hawaii. Again, i’ve never been to Hawaii, but it’s what i would imagine it to look like. The sun was shining, and it was actually warm! We had a nice fish and chip lunch, some ice cream and just basked in the first lot of warm weather we got. I really enjoyed it here, a lovely little beachside town with lots of shops and palm trees. I think it’s a common trait with me; i love all the places with palm trees.
We boarded back onto the ship to find out that we were going to have to alter our course home due to another cyclone wanting to play havok with us. This one wasn’t intent on wanting to sink us, it was just ‘cruising’ along side of us (see what I did there?), but the captain still wanted to get as far away from it as we could. Still, that night was quite a rough night. Walking around the ship you’d walk into one wall, then cross over into the other side. Hitting the dance floor was even more fun; line dancing wasn’t so much ‘line’ dancing anymore, more people just going in every which direction and into each other with the ships movement. Every now and then, we’d hear a big crash and a huge shudder of the ship as we’d crash into another huge wave. Going up stairs was either really easy (if the ship was coming down off a wave) or really hard (if it was going up a wave) due to gravity. Lying in bed was an experience! Every time we’d go down a wave, you would feel a millisecond of weightlessness and you’d lose your stomach. Then you’d sink into your bed as we rode up a wave, and repeat coming down. I was enjoying every second of it and actually had one of the best sleeps i’d had (besides the first night when I took a seasick tablet!)
The next day was the same, and you tell could a lot of people were starting to feel the effects of it! Meanwhile I was as happy as a pig in mud and having a ball stumbling around the ship. We entered the egg drop challenge that day. I mentioned earlier that sign ups for it were on the second morning, and i slept through them. Well we were determined to enter, so as a last minute contender we rushed around trying to come up with a contraption to enter. The aim was to drop a raw egg from deck 8 to deck 5 and have the egg survive the fall. We tried to be inventive, but in the end,our plan was just to just wrap our egg in a roll of toilet paper, shove it in a paper coffee cup, attach a plastic bag as a parachute and hope for the best! Well after 7 other teams either broke their eggs, or missed the target, it was just us left. The announcer made sure to let everyone know we were late participants because we slept in, and then we dropped our egg. Surprisingly, our cup landed right on the target, AND our egg survived!! We won a bottle champagne, and it did not last long before we’d consumed it all. I made the most of it being the last night, and partied until the early hours of the morning.
After about 30+ hours of constant rough seas, even I was starting to feel a bit nauseas as I went to bed! (although maybe my big night played a part in that!)But i refused to take a seasickness tablet in fear that I would sleep through them disembarkation. (although that wouldn’t have been a bad thing!) Luckily, it was nice and calm by the time we woke up and got ready to leave the ship.
I’ve cruised all over the South Pacific during cyclone season and have never encountered a cyclone, but I go to New Zealand, the last place i’d expect to have cyclones, and we get 2 in one cruise! I guess that proves you can never predict mother nature. But we had a blast on that cruise, and I think we can say it was a successful reunion of our friendship. We might even cruise again together one day, which is more I can say for everyone else that i’ve cruised with haha. We made awesome friends with an older couple who were always at the same bar as us, and we’ve kept in touch with them and might even be catching up on another cruise with them! But if I learned anything from this cruise, it’s that i definitely prefer warmer climates. We got a few warm days where we were able to lie by the pool (we even got sunburned one day!) but the majority of the time it was too cold. New Zealand has some beautiful scenery, and it’s so green and the people are so nice; it’s definitely a place that everyone should at least once in their lives!