Why does a New Zealander regularly do the New Zealand cruise? Might sound like the start of a tired old joke, but the reality is that it is the perfect way to visit friends and family along the way, without having to stay with them.
Terry and I do this cruise once or twice a year, and for the past three years, have done it at Christmas, and what a perfect way to spend Christmas it is. But it is more than that. Much more.
Everyone who knows me knows that my mantra is that, “Every New Zealander should see New Zealand from the sea.” And so it is today. After a brilliant day in Akaroa yesterday, and not too far to go until we call into Wellington tomorrow, what better way to spend Christmas than moored in Cloudy Bay (an area famous for its wines) at the top of the South Island of New Zealand.
At the entrance to the usually turbulent Cook Strait, we find ourselves on a glassy, aqua surface, with the dry, brown, almost Tuscan-like hills of Blenheim just off our aft balcony. Beyond those hills are the Seaward Kaikouras, the ranges which follow the coastline between the top of the South and Kaikoura, the town famous for whale watching, about 90 minutes away. But also in the hills are some of the great wineries and vineyards of Blenheim, and a bit further beyond, Nelson and Marlborough.
To our left, tantalisingly close — just about 20 km away in some places — is the far south of the North Island, with Wellington’s magnificent harbour just beyond the headlands. If anyone had to pick a perfect place to spend a lazy Christmas Day, this would definitely be it. Between New Zealand’s two magnificent and very different islands, enjoying the sunshine — and trying to spot my friend Pete, staying with family in the hills just above Blenheim.
He can see us, but I haven’t spotted him, at least, not yet.
We have been on the ships several times at Christmas — docking at Dunedin, cruising between Tauranga and Auckland, plying the Atlantic between Dakkar and Fort Lauderdale (talk about contrasts!), but never … never moored in Cloudy Bay off the South Island of New Zealand for the whole day, for Christmas — and effectively becoming the Middle Island of New Zealand.
We could see (almost touch) the South Island, and we could tantalisingly see the North Island, but there we sat, off the coast, in the middle of a field of glassy blue, enjoying the brilliant, windless sunshine. It was a bit of a temptress, sitting there, looking over our aft balcony rail at the hills full of their vineyards and wineries, but alas, with no transport to shore, they will have to wait for our next visit. But those hills were not without fun: a friend of mine, Pete (a yachtie of no mean repute), was enjoying his Christmas with family at their house, able to see us, so much of my afternoon was spent trying to geo-cache Pete. But alas, even with scanning the hills with our binoculars and directional TXTs from Pete onshore, I couldn’t spot him. No worries! It was fun, and I now know every nook and cranny of the seaward facing hills surrounding Blenheim.
Getting back to life on Middle Island, though — a true floating resort for the day. The pools were delightfully full of kids, people enjoying chilling out (no … warming up) on deck, lots of activities around the ship, and some of us just plain doing absolutely nothing at all and it was totally utterly brilliant.
Earlier in the day, just after breakfast we wandered into the main theatre just in time to see Santa Claus arrive, inviting all the wee kids on the stage to get their presents from the guy dressed in red with the white beard. It is so nice to be part of children’s untarnished delight; sometimes we just simply get too jaded. But I do have a question. How come Santa Claus didn’t come through the ship’s funnel? After all, what Santa Claus would give up the chance to abseil down a perfectly good chimney … or funnel?? Must ask Captain Henk next time I see him!
Christmas Dinner — not only an opportunity to enjoy the festivities of the season and great food in great company, but also a chance to learn about Norfolk Island from our delightful table mates who lived there for almost 20 years. Fact: Did you know that Norfolk Island once sported the single most successful Lego shop on the planet? Or that vehicles out-number people on the island? Although not a cruise destination, Norfolk is happy to share its culture and heritage with visitors arriving by air, almost always on flights from New Zealand or Australia.
And after dinner, a full-on evening of entertainment — in the Vista Lounge for a very different kind of Broadway favourites show, followed by the Oosterdam’s own Romany violinist and his pianist. Engaging, professional, full of memories — put together, Christmas’ two musical offerings made for a perfect end to a day full of relaxation, fun, heaps of memories, and new friends on Middle Island, in the centre of Middle Earth.
So, a good night, and to all, the happiest of holidays.
Wendy R. London is a HAL Mariner and corporate affairs manager and founder of CruiseBubble.com, sailing aboard Oosterdam.