See ya, New Zealand … we’re off towards Sydney. Seas relatively flat, almost cloudless sunshine, and an auspicious start to our two much sought-after relaxing days at sea. Phew! What a busy New Zealand cruise sector it’s been! Racing here, racing there, meeting up with friends, seeing new places (even for an 18-year Kiwi veteran), savouring every shore moment, and of course, seeing my own country through the eyes of others. And therein lies my two-part mantra: every New Zealander should see New Zealand from the sea, and every New Zealander should see New Zealand through the eyes of others. In both cases, the result is extraordinary.
How many of you Kiwis out there have sailed out of Wellington Harbour, leaving the glistening city behind in your wake? How many of you have sat in the middle of Milford Sound, being utterly stunned by its grandeur — in the rain or in golden sunshine? Or how many of you have sat there, proud as a peacock, fielding comments from fellow travelers (on this cruise, 1,400 Australians!) of how extraordinarily beautiful New Zealand is and how great the people are? Get on yer bike, mate! Get cruising around New Zealand!
Back to the Oosterdam. Yesterday (30th Dec) saw us put down anchor in a very very very wet and misty Bay of Islands. In fact, the rain came bucketing down. So, we decided to stay onboard and not venture into the fun-filled bayfront town of Paihia or its charming sister across the bay, Russell or visit Waitangi, the birthplace of our stunningly gorgeous (in every way) nation. It wasn’t that big a disappointment because we had been here exactly one year ago, following last Christmas’ cruise on the Volendam. And therein lies the start of my reflections of 12 months of cruising — around New Zealand.
It was an extraordinary 12 months. On 27 December 2011, the Volendam became the first cruise ship in 10 years, and the first major cruise ship ever to poke its bow into the port of New Plymouth, my home port — we live 70 kms to the south of the port. In fact, my sole mission for that cruise was to be on deck, experiencing the sheer joy of coming home to Taranaki, our province, on a very large vessel, seeing the almost-perfectly symmetrical Mount Taranaki/Mount Egmont in front of us. Fortunately, I was able to see her — she didn’t enshroud herself in cloud until after we docked. I remember standing on the deck photographing my friend, Pip, who was photographing us from the pilot boat, guiding our entry. Running down the gangway, I was home — in the warm embrace of friends who were there to greet passengers, and who made this extraordinary port visit possible. I must add that the rest of the cruise was just as perfect!
As luck would have it, we found ourselves back on the Volendam six weeks later — a cruise booked before the “New Plymouth” cruise was confirmed (which actually happened a mere two days after we booked the February cuise). It was like coming home, to our very very special friends onboard this favourite ship. That was an equally special cruise. On the 18th Feb, the day between our anniversary and my husband’s birthday, we celebrated that very special “0” birthday in our other home port, Wellington (our second home). We were hugely fortunate that it was a rare, long port call — from 10 a.m. until midnight, so we gathered family and friends from near and far, and celebrated Terry’s birthday at the fabulous Foxglove Restaurant and Bar at the edge of Wellington’s magnificent harbour. (Oh — and eat your heart out — we also had a long Napier port call, from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m., coinciding with the Napier Arts Deco Festival!)
And now, nine months after that cruise, this very special one. And special in many ways. Like one of the waiters, recognising my voice from the Volendam, tapping me on the shoulder and welcoming us onboard the Oosterdam. We saw him again last night, and had a lovely chat amongst friends. Or being able to gloat in the company of our Australian tablemates that we actually do live in Godzone — the Land of the Long White Cloud. How lucky is that? But geez, Holland America. Why do you keep insisting putting “Australian Pavolova” on the menu? It’s a New Zealand creation! Next thing you know, the wooden horse races will sport Phar Lap as the Australian champion! No way — he was one of ours, too.
Wendy R. London is a HAL Mariner and corporate affairs manager and founder of CruiseBubble.com, sailing aboard Oosterdam.