Copyright © May Georgina DeLory
Flash this: Auckland, New Zealand is celebrating being ranked the top most livable city in the Southern Hemisphere in the Mercer 2011 Quality of Living Survey. “As the gateway to New Zealand for Americans and Canadians, it’s also a great place for visitors to explore when they first get to New Zealand,” states Gregg Anderson, GM North America, Tourism New Zealand.
International arrivals to Australia up 14% as of September 2012, information from CTC.
We would fly Qantas Airline from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand to join the ship in harbour at Princes Wharf. The Volendam would circumnavigate the North and South Islands of New Zealand to ports of call with exciting names such as Tauranga, Napier, Christchurch and Dunedin. We would cruise Fiordland National Park — part of the Te Wahipounamu (native Maori name) World Heritage Area — to see immense valleys sculpted by glaciers during multiple ice ages, get close to waterfalls, and cruise into one of the park’s longest Fjords, Milford Sound, and also visit Dusky Sound.
Two days at sea and we’d reach Tasmania, a south-eastern state of Australia. But first we would cross Bass Strait overnight to reach in the wee hours of the morning Australia, the world’s smallest continent in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. First stop would be the big city of Melbourne with its skyscrapers, location of some of the world’s top chefs, and harbour location. The next day we’d sail to Sydney, Australia before flying home.
On the Qantas flight to Auckland, we settled in for the eleven hour flight with complementary wine from some of Australia’s best known vineyards: Yering Station; Adelaide Hills and St. Hallett. If it hadn’t been for the fine wines, top flight service and excellent dinner served by Qantas, the long flight would have been an ordeal. My daughter chose Moroccan-styled roast chicken. I chose seared tuna with lime and pepper sauce. While my daughter slept, I watched half of the epic film “Australia” starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. Kidman was born in Honolulu, Hawaii to Australian parents; and Jackman was born in Sydney, Australia. I had not seen the film and found the Qantas screen too small to capture the full scope of the film. I hoped the Volendam would show Australia in its Wajang Theatre so I could really appreciate the film on the wide screen. I wasn’t disappointed and watched it twice, once with my daughter.
We arrived to Auckland around 6 a.m. After we passed through Auckland airport customs we took a bus to port where the ship was in harbour. Once through port customs we went aboard the Volendam. It all went rather smoothly. Champagne and a fruit basket greeted us in our cabin. A large picture window covered the room in natural light. It was fun to watch the action on the pier through our window as people began to arrive to the ship. We wanted to tour the ship; but this wasn’t the time to take in the true beauty of the Volendam — effectively our home for the next two weeks. The Renaissance-era themed ship with fountains imported from Italy, valuable works of marine art and elaborate fresh floral arrangements throughout the spacious common rooms would have to wait.
Endless opportunities to view wildlife at You Yangs Regional Park (Melbourne, Australia) and Wing’s Wildlife Retreat (Tasmania, Australia. See the Tasmanian Devil).
The Volendam wouldn’t leave Auckland with her 1,351 guests until midnight. We made our way to the very top deck and enjoyed lunch in the Lido restaurant with views overlooking the city of Auckland and the harbour. Afterwards, we decided to take a look at the city. Once off the ship we took the harbour seabus (five minutes by ferry) to Devonport — a small town with heritage charm and signs of Maori settlement that date to the mid 1300s. Massive trees with thick trunk and roots spreading out from ground level line many Devonport streets. The Common name is Moreton Bay Fig, an evergreen banyan tree of the Moraceae family that can grow to a height of 200 feet (60m). Some of the most inspiring examples are to be found in Devonport. We poked our heads into cafes, book stores, restaurants and gift shops. The area is well known for excellent pleasure sailing. After we took pictures of clusters of sailboats with colourful sails and then nipped down to the beach we headed back to the ferry for the mainland.
We would be at sea for the next two days. We’d eventually circle White Island, the site of an active marine volcano, and spend several hours at the site. Spencer Brown, Travel Guide, offered expert commentary over the outdoor loudspeaker as the ship silently turned this way and then that way for an up close and personal vantage point of the vapour-spewing volcano. Private tours are available to actually land at the base of the volcano…so check this out on your return trip to New Zealand.
The ship is truly an engineering wonder. When in open sea, the top cruising speed is 18 knots. Environmental Officer Dolf Kramer, born and raised in the Netherlands, answered questions about how the ship preserves the environment. Long gone are the days when anything went overboard. Hotel Manager at sea, Robert Versteeg from Bithoven, Holland, and Cruise Director Rebecca, are just two of the “go-to” people on the Volendam if anything isn’t to your liking.
Over the course of our cruise, my daughter and I could be found involved in any number of exciting activities: the state-of-the-art Culinary Arts Center, sanctioned by Food & Wine magazine, where we learned the fine elements of creating an exotic martini, the history of coffee, or how to make Pannatone Tiramisu — a holiday tradition desert in Italy. There’s even a kid’s cookery program. We took part in many daily programs.There’s something magical about sailing the high seas and being able to take in at will so many exciting activities… a feature film, stage show, casino gaming, lectures, live culinary demonstrations with samples of course!, swimming or late night dining.
Travel Guide Spencer Brown gave a talk on the First Peoples of New Zealand followed by a live didgeridoo performance. We caught nightly live Broadway-style shows in the two-story Frans Hals Lounge. The Volendam Singers and Dancers packed the house each performance. One evening I took in the Crow’s Nest disco to see if I could still shake a leg. I danced with a very handsome man for hours.
The gym and Greenhouse Spa offered ocean views and the best spot on the ship for total pampering of the soul. Another of the cruise highlights was the Indonesian Afternoon Tea ceremony each afternoon with Indonesian sweets and organic teas and coffees from the world’s finest plantations — all served in an elegant dining room with white tablecloth setting. Keeping in touch with the world and friends was a snap in the Explorations Internet Café and is where the iPod self-guided complementary art tour is arranged. Again, this large public area faces the ocean and is outfitted with computers, gourmet coffee cafe, books, magazines and many tables; it’s ideal for meeting up with friends. There is always an exciting choice to make for leisure activity during days at sea.
Our first port of call was Tauranga, New Zealand, a land settled and still revered by the Maori native people. We took a shuttle bus into town. The weather was unbelievably enjoyable, bright and sunny without a beating-down-on-your-head sort of feel. We bought cotton shirts from one of the many shops and ate local oysters at a fresh seafood shack by the water where a seafood festival is held annually in November. The oysters were big and plump and tasted of sweet milk. I’ve never tasted anything like it. The area is known for kiwi farms. We wanted to taste kiwi wine but couldn’t find it. We hiked the rest of the afternoon, unexpectedly finding ourselves on the other side of a small mountain — known locally as the “mount” — and at the ocean amongst surfers. I found myself suddenly kicking up my heels at the edge of the surf while my daughter snapped photo after photo. Back on the Volendam we enjoyed snapper, lamb shank, garlic potatoes, more than one dessert, and a 2008 Reisling from New Zealand. A fitting ending to a lovely day in February on the other side of the world.
Still cruising the South and North Islands of New Zealand, we stopped at the port of Napier, a community founded in 1856 by Sir Charles Napier, a British official in India. A lively musical band and antique automobiles greeted us at port. Cher took a stroll along a black sand beach in the morning while I myself toured some of the top vineyards of Hawke’s Bay: Mission Estate; Brookfield’s Vineyards; and Church Road Winery. The vineyards are so lovely an entire week in the area wouldn’t be too much. At Church Road Winery, founded in 1897, I ventured deep inside the original concrete wine vats that now offer an intriguing wine museum. Brookfields Vineyards conduct an excellent wine tasting. A bottle of wine was given away for the correct answer to a question on wine. I didn’t win. Mission Estate Winery, founded in 1851, is a vast estate ideal for weddings, fine dining and wine tastings with a landscape that undulates in green waves all about. Mission hosts an annual concert on its generous grounds. Sting with a 50-piece symphony orchestra and his band. February 12, 2011.
The city of Wellington with its pretty harbour and picturesque architecture saw my daughter and I on the Kelburn Cable Car in the centre of the city travelling up a steep hill to the Botanic Garden with Carter Observatory; it’s about a five-minute trip. As soon as we got off the cable car we headed in the direction of the cafe. The cappuccino was delicious. Afterwards, we walked downhill among fragrant gardens. The Lady Norwood Rose Garden was spectacular. If you walk all the way to ground level, you don’t come out beside the cable car entrance — so be careful. Best to take a different route through the gardens and walk back uphill where you’ll be able to board the cable car back down to ground level. You are in the downtown area with elegant department stores with all the best gourmet food products and fashion. There are countless shore excursions from which to choose, including one to where the film “Lord of the Rings” was filmed. Holland America Line shore offerings are so vast we had a difficult time choosing before the cruise. Once on the ship there is the opportunity to change your mind and sign up for another shore excursion; but you take the chance of the tour already being sold out. Best to arrange your shore excursions before the cruise; the organization takes a bit of time for the novice but worth the effort.
In Picton, originally called Waitohia, at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound, we were presented with a tiny nosegay of fragrant Old-fashioned roses when we got off the ship. The still floating hull of what is believed to be the ninth oldest ship in the world is that of the East Indian Edwin Fox. See it near the museum and the ferry wharf.
We enjoyed a private lunch of unbelievably delicious-tasing and locally caught river salmon at Barewood Garden www.barewoodgarden.co.nz after touring Yealands Estate Winery http://www.yealands.com/ . Barewood Garden has the most darling garden shed/gift shop where truly unique items for the gardener in you may be purchased. Yealands estate is located 25 kilometres south of Blenheim, in the Awatere Valley and is the single largest vineyard in the country under private ownership. Peter Yealands is a local fellow who looks very much like a charming character straight out of a period swashbuckling Hollywood film — gray beard and hair in somewhat need of a trim; but highly knowledgeable when it comes to wine and the environment.
Yealands Estate is currently undertaking Carbon Neutral certification and keeps to a minimum the use of chemicals. Green technology allows for the saving of energy. Peter gave us a tour of the vineyard which overlooks Clifford Bay…so lovely a place this is I found myself longing to live here forever. The development of wetland areas on the vineyard has resulted in the regeneration of native flora and fauna. Here you’ll find a home to species such as the Black Swan, the rare Teal Duck, White Herron, and the endangered “Muritai” tree.
We returned to the ship for a light lunch and then our shore excursion took us by bus to Gunns Plains Cave http://www.gunnsplainscaves.com.au/ , about an hour’s drive from Burnie, in Leven Canyon. We drove past lush vegetation where huge ferns seemed out of a prehistoric era gone berserk. Named after famed botanist and Tasmania explorer Ronald Campbell Gunn, the Cave opened in 1909. The air is fresh even though the walkways are a touch damp. The limestone cave opening leads to a steep flight of 54 cement steps. There were many people sixty and over. No one had difficulty navigating the steps. The largest “ribbon” stalactite in the world is found here as well as stalagmites and flowstone suspended from the vaulted ceiling. When the lights were turned out momentarily, glow worms dotted the black space far above our heads like so many stars in the night sky. Of course what we saw as our eyes adjusted to the near black environment was not a worm at all. You’ll have to visit for yourself to find out what it is all about. You will not be disappointed. The underworld is a fascinating place.
Wing’s Wildlife Park (Tasmania), Gunns Plains is a three-generation operation thatoffers the opportunity to see endangered animals, such as the almost extinct Tasmanian Devil. Male Devils ( carnivorous marsupial / eat meat) weigh up to 12 kg (26 lb) and mate in March. Koalas resemble the Wombat and weight up to 12 kg (26 lb) with females around 8.5 kg (19 lb.). Wing’s expert handlers can identify the devils at the park by their markings and develop a personal relationship with the Koalas. Mr. Wing and staff look after his animals as if personal pets…and only the best of treatment is given at the sanctuary. There is an extensive selection of animal exhibits with aquatic fish, water birds, birds of prey, reptile, rodents such as the Black Rat, as well as the Grey Forrester Kangaroo and Wallaby and many large animals imported from around the world. Wing’s is on the Leven River. Overnight accommodation is available at Wing’s with six luxury cabins, a campground area and for the budget wise backpacker units with electricity, heater, refrigerator and stovette. Group, private and school tours for two to two-hundred people are available. Thursday evenings at 7:30 pm there are nocturnal tours to see what the animals are up to.
The Volendam’s Greenhouse Spa and Salon continued to beckon with ocean views, intimate outdoor terrace with lounge chairs, steam rooms, hot tub, exercise facility and best of all heated ceramic lounge beds. If you’ve a tight knot in the neck, or stiff joints after a lot of walking, this is the place to just relax and watch the ocean pass you by in all its blue splendour. The ms Volendam has two pools on the Lido deck — one salt water (excellent for preserving and increasing the quality of skin) and open to the elements, and one beneath a covered dome revealing natural light. One day while my daughter enjoyed a spa treatment I stretched out like a lazy cat over the smooth wood trim surrounding the outside pool. Blue skies above, warm breezes and best of all, due to a sudden high wind, the gentle rocking of the ship lulled me to near sleep. Other times from various decks I watched the shy Albatross with a wingspan of over two metres gliding above the southern oceans following the Volendam.
Melbourne is the second largest city in Australia with a population around 3.5 million and the capital of Victoria. About 150 languages are spoken. Lively shops and restaurants line the harbour where the Volendam docked. Friends we made on the Volendam raved about the afternoon spent at Number 8 restaurant and wine bar in the Crown Hotel on the waterfront. Three course meals as well as oysters and Mumm Cordon RougeNV Brut Champagne are available. Gordon Ramsay is opening maze and maze Grill in March 2010 at the Crown Melbourne Metropol’s third tower, his first dining establishment in Australia. http://www.newzealand.com/ca
At Melbourne we took a morning shore excursion into the country to see wildlife — Kangaroos, Koalas and the protected Black-tailed Wallaby in You Yangs Regional Park http://parkweb.vic.gov.au ; but not before we were treated to afternoon tea beneath a huge canvas tent. In the afternoon on our way back from a tour of downtown Melbourne on foot and on historic rattling trolley ($3.70 each for 2-hours) we sat on a bench at the harbour and simply gazed out to sea and understood perfectly the many accounts of how friendly the people in this area are.
We’d heard about the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb http://www.bridgeclimb.com/ — one of the world’s preeminent engineering marvels — over 1500 metres of steel; but we didn’t have the four hours’ suggested to complete the climb. You can do this climb by day or by night. We can only imagine what the sensation would feel like to be atop Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Blue Mountains in the distance with the city at our feet.
P.S. We are so fortunate to have spent an entire day in Christchurch, New Zealand before the major earthquake of recent (September 2010). We loved our tour of The Anglican cathedral of Christchurch in the city of Christchurch in city square that took so much damage. The botanic gardens are but a ten-minute stroll from the cathedral. The punt tours at the botanic gardens on the Avon River are a must-do! So peaceful. The m.s. Volendam ship shuttle bus dropped passengers off in Christchurch across from the cathedral. It was all so enjoyable and well thought out by Holland America.
Wine event. Happens only every three-years! Next up is 2013, 28th to 31st January, in Wellington. CEO Philip Gregan says Pinot Noir NZ is a springboard for overseas visitors to experience the whole of the New Zealand wine story as they often continue their New Zealand trip to absorb other regions and grape varieties.
One Million Cases of New Zealand Pinot Noir
New Zealand is now exporting well over one million cases of Pinot Noir a year.
No surprise considering UK wine writer Jamie Goode’s recent comments that within 10 years New Zealand could be known for making the world’s consistently best Pinot Noir & Syrah.
“That is 14 million impressions of New Zealand found in some of the most desirable locations around the world” said NZ Winegrowers CEO Philip Gregan. “These wines come from at least six of the most diverse and interesting agricultural regions in our country.”
And those regions, represented by over 110 wineries, will be together in Wellington for NZ’s leading international wine event…. Pinot Noir NZ 2013. Registrations can be made here: www.pinotnz.co.nz/tickets For more information visit www.pinotnz.co.nz
iPod Art Tour of m.s. Volendam ship. Arrangements made at the Explorations Cafe (library), Upper Promenade Deck. Tour approximately 40-minutes.
Taieri Gorge Railway (yellow train) shore excursion. There is the opportunity to purchase unique gift items during a train stop. I purchased honey and jewellery I found no where else.
Elijah Wood returns to The Hobbit, a two-part film to release in December 2012. The second part will premiere in December 2013. The Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - showcase real destinations in New Zealand in which you can visit and tour: Waikato and Central Plateau in the North Island, and Nelson Tasman, Mt Cook Mackenzie, Central Otago, Queenstown and Wanaka in the South Island. The Hobbit world première is in Wellington, New Zealand on 29 November, 2012. Note: up to 100,000 fans lined the red carpet in Courtenay Place as the stars and guests of The Hobbit crossed the 500 metres between the Embassy Theatre and the Reading Cinema Complex for the première.
Why you should see New Zealand http://youtu.be/64qx95Ckrwc
http://youtu.be/64qx95Ckrwc New Zealand is for dreamers!
Le Cirque experience in the Pinnacle Grill on Holland America Line. Sirio Maccioni, founder of Le Cirque and one of the world’s finest dining establishments, shares his personal style with Holland America Line guests. Master Chef Rudi Sodamin (Holland America Line) along with Le Cirque’s Executive Chef Craig Hopson on special evenings transform the Pinnacle Grill into a Le Cirque-like atmosphere for “An Evening at Le Cirque”. Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy was especially fond of Le Cirque. Special Le Cirque on-board demonstrations and cookery lessons in the Culinary Arts Center on Holland America Line. “Sirio: The Story of My Life & Le Cirque” by Sirio Maccioni.
Māori are the tangata whenua (indigenous people of the land) of New Zealand and their culture is an integral part of New Zealand life. About 15% of the country’s population of 3.8 million is of Māori descent. Māori are a tribal people and their tribes are known as iwi. Visitors to New Zealand are presented with many opportunities to experience Māori culture first-hand. Best known of these is the geo-thermal region of Rotorua in the North Island, where tourists can enjoy Māori kai (food) cooked on hot stones underground as part of a traditional hangi. They can also enjoy a Māori powhiri (welcome), visit local marae (meeting houses), listen to kapa haka (traditional performances of song and dance) and relax in the popular thermal pools. Māori culture forms the basis of New Zealand culture and is the essence of its society.
Wellington was recently (November 2012) the location of The Hobbit world premiere. www.youtu.be/q3eeG-jywoc The Hobbit: an unexpected journey open December 14, 2012. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens December 13, 2013; the final chapter of this trilogy, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, opensJuly 18, 2014.
Photo credits and text copyright © by May Georgina DeLory
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