New Zealand has been a delight. We have visited once before, on a Princess Cruise ship, although we visited only Auckland, Akaroa, Tauranga and Dunedin. NZ seemed at that time to be an adjunct of Australia, perhaps Australia light. This time, with more visits, including Wellington, Christchurch and the Fjords, New Zealand has impressed on us its own identity. The strong sense of community and local pride in everywhere we visited, the relative success of Maori race relations, the stunning, hilly and lush countryside, and a sense of a relaxed and healthy quality of life, have been very evident.
We anchored in the Bay of Islands at around seven, initially in mist, which disappeared in the sunrise. This picture was captured from the Carinthia Room:
We took our time getting ready and had a bit of breakfast in Kings Court before wandering down for a tender at about 10.00. We waited no more than five minutes and enjoyed the sunny journey to land on top of one of the crafts. The tender station was outside Paihia, which is pretty much dismissed in the Lonely Planet Guide, so, declining seats on the shuttle bus, we took the 20 minute walk to the pier and got return tickets to Russell (NZ$14 each, about £7).
There’s very little to it, but it’s lovely, immaculately kept and evidently affluent. It has a beautiful beach, lots of pleasant restaurants, cafes and a couple of bars and a few shops. It seemed like a place best enjoyed with small children, spending lots of time on the beach and on the water, which was beautifully sheltered.
We had beer and cider respectively in a shady beer garden at Horne’s Bar, and milk shakes and coffee at a later stop. We had a look at a pretty church and graveyard which seemed to have an equal share of British/NZ graves, including those from the sinking of a British ship in 1840.
It was very hot and, unusually for us on a Port Day, we did not eat ashore. Jan bought a couple of NZ magazines while I failed, for the first time, to find a local newspaper. After a couple of hours we took the ferry back to Paihia which we thought didn’t deserve Lonely Planet’s criticism. It was a bit shabbier than Russell, certainly not as pristine. But it was busy in a very jolly sort of way and with some interesting shops. We spent about 45 minutes there before getting the shuttle back to the ship. The sun was shining onto our balcony and we spent the late afternoon and evening there or in the room, watching the returning tenders, local boats and wind surfers while enjoying a drink, with tonic from Tauranga and Cunard’s very good deal for Tanqueray Gin (US$20 a litre for use in the cabin).
The lovely day disappeared at dusk when there was a sudden and heavy downpour, which seemed an appropriate commentary on the disappointment of our leaving New Zealand for the last time. Tonight, on day 55, we begin our westward journey back to the UK. For the first time the clocks went back tonight as we returned to GMT plus 12. It’s sad to be leaving New Zealand, but we’re lifted by the knowledge that we have eight more weeks yet and, on Friday, once again, we’ll be docking at wonderful Sydney.
There’s no shortage of live music onboard and it’s generally very good. First there’s a competent orchestra (about ten players) in the Royal Court Theatre. Their playing seems to vary somewhat depending on how enthusiastic they are about playing with a particular performer. Occasionally they’ve been excellent.
The resident group, Purple Haze, play at poolside during the day and then in the nightclub, G32, at night. We haven’t heard them in the nightclub, but poolside they’re appear bored and, as a consequence, their music is boring with a relatively small repertoire. And their between songs chatter is tired and predictable. It’s not a matter of musical competence, they’re clearly talented. It’s just that they act as if they feel agreeing to become the resident band on a cruise ship, playing to a bunch of old people – many of us not paying much attention – has not been a good career move.
The resident duo in the pub, Amethyst, could not be more different. Their enthusiasm is constant and the guitarist is first class. They appear to be able to play (and sing) almost anything. They deserve a larger stage.
Every evening before dinner there’s a selection of quieter music available in one or more of the bars. An excellent string quartet, composed of four young women in their mid twenties, appear regularly in the Chart Room and are invariably good and a Harpist is also popular (although its easy for her music to be drowned out as the Chart Room fills up). There’s always a pianist playing in The Commodore Club and he’s very popular too. After dinner there’s sometimes a really good jazz quartet in the Chart Room and we listen to them often. Finally, every couple of weeks, almost all these performers come together to provide a Big Band Sound in the Queens Room and they’re very good indeed.