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Last year was a big year for us so we decided to treat ourselves to a relaxing cruise holiday sailing around both the North and South Islands of ‘the land of the long white cloud’, New Zealand. We both love New Zealand, so we were looking forward to seeing a bit more of it. However it really exceeded our expectations – it was amazing! Here’s a New Zealand Cruise recap of our trip that comes with a 4 star rating.
I’ve been to Auckland before and didn’t really see much of the city, however this time around we were lucky enough to have our own personal tour guide, an old high school friend of mine. She picked us up from our hotel on the morning of the cruise and gave us a short, but interesting tour around this city situated on two harbours.
Our first stop was a heart-starting walk up to the lookout at Mount Eden or Maungawhau, that is actually a volcanic cone and the highest natural point in Auckland. The lookout affords majestic views over the Hauraki Gulf and is a popular place for walkers and joggers with trails available up to the summit.
Once we wound our way down the mountain we drove through the affluent suburb of Mount Eden with many pretty buildings. We drove past the huge expanse of the Auckland Domain, a 200-acre public reserve and the oldest park in the city. At the top of the Domain hill stands the architecturally impressive Auckland Museum.
From here we continued around the quay to the suburb of Mission Bay where there is a beach and promenade lined with parklands and New Zealand Christmas Trees or Pohutukawa. We parked near the historical Melanesian Mission built in 1859 and constructed of local basalt in a Tudor Revival design. Adjoining this remarkable building is a new restaurant where we stopped to enjoy morning tea.
Then it was time to board our cruise ship, so our driver dropped us right at the terminal where we bade her goodbye and promises of not leaving it 40 years until we see one another again! The boarding process was tedious and long. I think it took two hours until we finally got aboard our ship – “Radiance of The Seas”.
We departed Auckland at around 4pm and sailed out of the harbour and headed northwards to the area known as the Bay of Islands. I had been here previously on a road trip around 10 years ago, so the scenery was familiar. When we awoke the next morning we walked out onto our balcony and were treated to the sun rising as we wound through some of the islands that make up this sub-tropical paradise. The weather was actually rather warm with blue skies and the sun was shining brightly.
Bay of Islands, as the name denotes is made up of over 140 small islands with protected waters that are perfect for all manner of water activities. We anchored off the coast of the town of Paihai (pronounced pie-here), jumped on a tender boat and a bus that took us directly into the town centre. The local arts and craft market was in full swing and numerous charter boat and tour operators were awaiting us.
The plan was to grab a boat tour out into the bay to the “Hole in the Rock”, but disappointingly the boats weren’t going out that day due to rough seas. I immediately saw the opportunity to do a helicopter scenic flight above the islands and decided to do that instead of a boat cruise.
I was not disappointed as it was an awesome flight above the patchwork of green vegetated islands, little sandy coves and the beautiful blue coloured waters surrounding the islands. The helicopter soared above the Hole in the Rock and a lighthouse perched atop a cliff face on an adjoining island.
Upon my return we jumped on the ferry across the bay to the town of Russell, a delightful seaside town with a large harbour and a maritime theme throughout the village. We lunched at the historical Duke of Marlborough Hotel with spectacular views across the harbour and afterwards strolled through the streets to Christ Church, the oldest existing church in NZ today, with an interesting graveyard at the front of the timber church building.
The next day found us in the Bay of Plenty region and the city of Tauranga, with Mount Maunganui casting a watchful eye over this lovely beach town. Unfortunately the weather had taken a turn for the worse and is was raining, so we waited a few hours before disembarking, as we knew that this was a place for walking and exploring.
Once the rain cleared we took off around the arc of the Norfolk pine-lined bay to the mountain and kept walking along a trail that circled around the now extinct volcano. The views along the walk were spectacular – on the harbour side sandy beaches and calm waters and on the ocean side – rough seas and interesting rock formations. For those looking for more of a challenge you can do the Mount Maunganui summit walk – a fairly challenging 45 minute walk up steep terrain.
Once we rounded the mountain we spied Mount Maunganui beach, a popular holiday resort town renowned for its surf and safe swimming beaches. Adjacent to the beach the promenade is lined with shops, cafes and restaurants, so we decided to stop for a bite to eat. Afterwards we continued our walk along the beachfront until we arrived into the main street that features plenty of women’s clothing stores, gift shops, souvenirs, fine art galleries and more cafes, bars and fine-dining restaurants.
The following day it was off to the wine and fruit growing bowl in Hawkes Bay region and to the art deco city of Napier. On a perfect sky blue day we caught the shuttle bus into the city centre where once again there was a horde of tour operators waiting to lure us into an organised tour. We checked out a few tours and then decided on a particular one called the “Top Tastes Tour” that we felt was good value for money.
Our bus driver was late – so not a good start! We got aboard a bus that looked as if it had done the nightclub tour the previous night, with plush red velvet seating, a built-in bar and disco lighting adding to the ambience. Need I say more! We headed off to our first stop at a local winery where we tasted some of the local wines. Other stops on the “disco bus” included Tuki Tuki Valley, Arataki Honey, Te Mata Peak, Havelock North, Strawberry Patch, Hastings City Tour and Silk Oak Chocolate Factory.
The highlight of the tour was the winery and although it was a mission, the drive up to Te Mata Peak was well worthwhile as the views were breathtaking. The region is extremely pretty with country roads that wind through vineyards, orchards and farms. On the downside the chocolate factory was extremely disappointing as the chocolate didn’t taste that good and the prices were over the top!
Afterwards, we only had a small amount of time to check out some of the art deco buildings in Napier and the black sand beach along the beachfront.
Windy Wellington always comes to mind when I think of New Zealand’s capital city, and it certainly lived up to its name on the day we came into port! Well at least the sun was shining. We thought it wise to get around the compact city aboard a hop on hop off bus. Firstly we negotiated the narrow windy road up to Mount Victoria lookout that gave us incredible panoramic views over the city and Wellington Harbour. We were literally blown away at the lookout with gale force winds showing us no mercy!
We wound our way back down the mountain via the city’s famed town belt, a 425 hectare reserve that includes many parks and walkways. We even saw one of the dark forest film sets for The Lord Of The Rings movie saga. Once we reached the bottom we travelled past little timber terrace houses and by the Wellington Zoo.
Other highlights of Wellington included the Wellington Waterfront and the Te Papa Museum of New Zealand, Wellington Museum, the Wellington Botanic Gardens, The Beehive – parliament buildings and Zealandia Ecosanctuary. However my favourite Wellington must do was the red Cable Car that travels down the steep incline to the city centre taking in all the wonderful harbour views.
Hot tip: There is a fantastic cafe/restaurant adjacent to the Cable Car, aptly named Cable Top that not only offers spectacular views but also delicious food and coffee.
Overnight the windy weather conditions persisted and when we sailed into Akaroa Harbour the following morning the seas were extremely choppy, so much so that they prevented us from going ashore by tender. We were all so disappointed as we had heard that Akaroa was a pretty town. In fact it is described as the “most French town in New Zealand”, with its historic buildings, magnificent harbour and passion for fine food.
After a short stop in the harbour and enough time to take a couple of photos of the gorgeous harbour, we sailed out to sea for the day. It was a rough day with 4 to 6 metre swells and 40 knot gale force winds that made us all a little unsteady on our feet and feeling a little seasick. Luckily I had sea sickness tablets!
We were in for a real treat at this particular port. Not only was the weather perfect, but the scenery in this beautiful southern city on the Otago Harbour was mesmerising. The Scottish heritage was evidenced in many ways, from men dressed in kilts, distinct Scottish accents to the stately Larnach Castle.
We raced into the city so that we could get aboard the heritage train journey to Taieri Gorge, a four hour round trip that meanders across the beautiful Taieri Plains before climbing into the gorge, a narrow and deep ravine carved out by the ancient Taieri River.
We were absolutely in awe of the scenery that unfolded before our eyes, as the train rattled along the rail line through ten tunnels and across numerous bridges including the famous Wingatui Viaduct – the second largest wrought iron structure in operation in the world.
The countryside was carpeted in bright yellow Scottish Broom flowers, that although look very pretty are actually a noxious weed in these parts. We were able to purchase a sandwich and cold drinks from the diner car on the train and sit back and take in the beautiful scenery of this train journey. I can highly recommend this epic trip!
Once we returned to Dunedin we had the opportunity to photograph the stunning Railway Station building that comprises of contrasting dark basalt and white Oamaru limestone earning its nick-name of the “Gingerbread House”.
We strolled into the Octagon, the central city plaza that featured outdoor market stalls, surrounding open-air cafes and souvenir shops, the statue of Scottish poet Robert Burns, fountain, a gothic looking cathedral, Victorian style town hall and the Dunedin Art Gallery.
The weather changed yet again, to low-lying clouds and showery rain as we awoke on our last day of the cruise, prior to heading back to Sydney, Australia. As we cruised into the first of three sounds, Dusky Sound, we were treated to an expert commentary as we glided through the mystical fiord. Although visibility was a problem it created a spooky atmosphere as we negotiated the sound. We found the best place to be was on our own private balcony in our cabin.
Shortly after we left Dusky Sound we sailed into Doubtful Sound, the deepest and second longest of New Zealand’s fiords. Once again visibility was a problem but we managed to get some beautiful glimpses of this remarkable fiord.
Fortunately once we arrived at Milford Sound just after lunch, the weather had cleared considerably and the visibility was much better. This New Zealand fiord is known for the towering Mitre Peak, plus rainforests and waterfalls like Stirling and Bowen falls, which plummet down its sheer sides.
The fiord is also home to fur seal colonies, penguins and dolphins, however we never saw any this time around. Once we reached the end of the fiord the large cruise ship had to do a three-point turn to get the ship facing back out to sea. It’s an amazing feat to see how they negotiate such large vessels in reasonably small spaces.
After eight days of port-hopping around New Zealand we spent the last two days of our New Zealand Cruise relaxing aboard the ship, eating and drinking, sleeping, reading, playing cards, watching movies and shows in the ship’s theatre. We sailed through Sydney Heads as the sun was rising on day eleven of our cruise and were taken aback by the beauty of the Sydney Harbour. It truly was a magical experience sailing in via the sea.
The Sydney Cruise Ship Terminal is located right on Circular Quay within a short distance to Sydney Ferries, Train Station and Sydney CBD. This makes Sydney one of the most sought after departure and arrival ports in Australia with such a close proximity to the city.
We both loved the cruise and all of the ports where we stopped. There were many highlights, including the helicopter flight over the Bay of Islands, the Taieri Gorge Railway trip in Dunedin, the Wellington Cable Car, the Mt Maunganui walk and sailing into three of New Zealand’s amazing fiords.
The cruise ship ‘Radiance of The Seas’ we both found to be a little dated in decor, but had good amenities and there was plenty to do aboard the ship to keep entertained during at sea days. The food was probably the biggest disappointment for me as they didn’t offer many healthy options nor utilise the wide array of fresh produce of New Zealand. The food menus were very Americanised, which I found to be amusing since we were on a New Zealand to Australia cruise. We did however have a spectacular meal in the Italian signature restaurant aboard.
Drinks were ok, but I found once again that there weren’t many good local New Zealand or Australian wines offered. Plus their wine was never cold enough for my taste.
Our balcony cabin was well-appointed and roomy enough for the ten day cruise, however the shower was on the small side (and I’m a small person) and was hard to operate. I think the cabins could do with a good refresh.
As usual the staff were incredible, but if there was to be one criticism, slow down with the meal service as they tend to bring the food out too quickly. Plus all of the staff are very focused on getting a good guest review of their performance which at times I found to be a bit pushy and unnecessary.
Getting aboard the cruise ship in Auckland was a very long and tedious procedure, but after that the disembarking and embarking processes were very streamlined and efficient. Overall for this cruise line Royal Caribbean I would rate as a 7 out of 10.
Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.
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