CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews

Holland America Line Statendam New Zealand February 1, 2006

In the Wake of Captain Cook

On a balmy, summer Australian day, weather that continued throughout our 14-day Australia, and mostly New Zealand sea cruise, we boarded Holland America's 1,200 passenger luxury liner, Statendam, at the picturesque port of Sydney, encompassing the skyscraping city and the outer suburbs. Impressive were the commanding, single span Sydney Harbor Bridge and expressionistic, white-shells-on-end, landmark Opera House nearby; it was in February, almost the other side of the world from then chilly California.

The collective lifesaving drill beginning our two-week cruise was sort of comical, with our life jackets all askew and the ship's crew mispronouncing most of the names of people lined up in three rows encircling the vessel. Once the gangway was raised, we began our tour of the immense ship, which continuing over the next three days as we inspected the two swimming pools, the fitness center and salon, the shopping areas, the gaming casino, the library, the spa, the night club, the computer center, the motion picture theater, the several cafes and food service areas, and the Van Gough Lounge where most of the entertainment and educational sessions took place.

That night at our 8:30 p.m. dinner sitting, one of three time choices, we met our four delightful table partners, one couple former Hollywood musical entertainers, the others, two charming sisters. Throughout the voyage, these four experienced cruise travelers shared fascinating stories of their previous ocean trips and the daily sights they enjoyed in whatever port we had visited.

Our first stop, Melbourne, set the pattern we were to follow for most of our seaborne tour. The ship docks around six a.m., breakfast is served, the gangway is lowered around 8:30, and buses or public transportation carry you to the town's center, where I regularly found an Internet café to "stay in touch." Passengers had a wide choice of tour opportunities: using the HAL travel staff in arranging for bus tours to botanical gardens, prominent architectural structures, sheep shearing or bird sanctuaries, or whatever the local geography or habitat promoted. Others of us arranged our own city tours through local information centers, and walked, or cabbed wherever we desired. We took the on-and-off local city bus tour in Melbourne and, through the bus driver's narration, got a pretty good idea of the various sports facilities, including the Rod Laver Tennis Stadium where the Australian Open Tennis Championship had recently taken place, the government establishments, the busy downtown area, and what made the attractive city tick.

The following four days were spent at sea on the way to New Zealand, with a one-day stop at Burnie, a small Tasmanian city on the southwest side of the island. The mayor had arranged the only bus tour available: a visit to a small paper mill, a cheese factory, a stop at a flower farm, and another at a small woodcarving establishment. The largest and most popular restaurant in the village was McDonald's.

During the next two days at sea, many books were read, card games played, sunshine enjoyed, new acquaintances made at mealtime, emails exchanged, ship facilities inspected, and, in the evening, cocktails consumed. The brightest features of each day were the dinners; menus included specialties with the fresh local products with six choices of appetizers, seven delicious and varied main courses, and ten desserts to die for. During the days, pleasant diversions were the educational lectures. The exploration lectures about genetics, space, and other life in the universe by Dr. Jim Logan of NASA were outstanding. Lieutenant Colonel Owen O'Brien, Australian Army Reserve, gave three informative presentations of an Australian perspective of the Second World War. This was a fascinating program since many of the ship's passengers had served in the military during that period, representing mostly allied forces, with a few who had been on the other side. Many partook of the afternoon Bingo games, art exhibits, culinary arts sessions, and preparation lectures for each forthcoming port we were to visit. Our seven channels of television included news, sports, and movie stations, videos of the port preparation presentations, weather and sailing conditions, and a front porthole view of where the Standendam was headed.

One of the highlights of the entire trip was when Captain Peter Bos, a Hollander, made a six a.m. announcement that we were in the middle of Milford Sound, New Zealand. It was dark when we arrived on the people-filled bow. The soft moist air suggested there was fog around us. As it began to lighten, high slopping dark mountains appeared all around us, a glacier in the distance. On the port side, a lively, 500-foot waterfall was streaming into the water and almost into the ship. The cloud that had enveloped us slowly disappeared and the serenity and beauty of the moment has been, to this day, unforgettable. I still don't know how Captain Bos navigated his monstrous ship into such a small bay. Thus, began our New Zealand scenic cruise in and out of bays or inlets, reminding one of the coastal topography of Scandinavian countries. In fact, the 10-mile Milford Sound is in the Fjordland National Park. Approaching every New Zealand port provided a new terrain, some with trees and beaches, many without. Some had craggy mountain shapes; some reminded you of California's seaside cliffs. We even entered a bay that British Captain James Cook, one of the early explorers of New Zealand tabbed Doubtful Sound because he didn't believe a bay was approachable there for his now famous ship, HMS Endeavour.

Our first port-of-call was Dunedin, home of New Zealand's first university, founded as a Scottish Presbyterian settlement in 1848. The current architecture clearly reflects its heritage, as does the city center with its distinctive statue of poet Bobbie Burns. There are magnificent Victorian homes to be toured; domestic whiskey is distilled in town. There is a Cadbury candy factory for touring and sampling, and the city features the country's only kilt maker. Of Dunedin's 120,000 residents, the majority are students and faculty of the University of Otago. There are also bagpipe bands and sheep farms. The city is a pleasant place to stroll, the ivy-covered buildings somewhat young, and the lawns and gardens tenderly modeled after those at Glasgow University.

The following day was Lyttleton, a quaint coastal town first seen by Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in 1642. Tasman had named his discovery Nieuw Zeeland, but after hostile, native Maoris had devoured members of his crew, he rapidly left the islands. Now, there are attractive, busy streets along the waterfront, the Lyttelton Museum, with a fine collection of antique navigation telescopes, sextons and the like, as well as the highly-regarded Antarctic exhibit which follows Scott's and Schackleton's early polar expeditions to Antarctica.

Christchurch, reminiscent of Oxford, England, was only a short sea hop away. As the South Island's largest city, it was established by British upper classes migrating to the New World. In its compact center, Cathedral Square, stands its namesake Anglican Church surrounded by a large commercial zone. Similarly, with English roots, the Avon River, upon which you can punt, threads its way into Hagley Park, with its English-style Botanical Garden, an observatory, and English Tea House. The hilly peninsula was formed by two gigantic volcanic eruptions long ago. Named after an Oxford College, this 308,200-citizen city highlights numerous statues honoring prominent New Zealanders.

The next city on our agenda was Picton, the arrival town of ferries coming from the North Island. Yachts bob everywhere in its scenic harbor, which was visited and reported upon by both Tasman and Cook. The picturesque village is quite small and an easy town walk. The gardens of London Quay are lovely, and the Picton Museum, which contains Maori pre-colonial artifacts, pioneer antiques, and a collection of old whaling relics, is intriguing. The works of local artists are displayed at various galleries around town and the main city park, Titohanga Natural Reserve, affords a pleasant nature walk.

Wellington and Napier, our first North Island destinations, proceeded a full day of cruising the Mercury and Alderman Islands. New Zealand's capital, Wellington, has a population of 328,000. The city curves gracefully around its beautiful, sheltered harbor, with houses seeming to flow from the hills to the sea, narrow streets and Edwardian buildings contrasting with modern high rises. Old-fashioned cable cars link the districts; one takes passengers on an ascent to a 1,980 foot Kelburn summit where the view is magnificent. Large, in comparison to other New Zealand cities, Wellington boasts many art galleries, museums, and government buildings. The Cable Street Museum with its old cars and the City of Wellington Museum showcase the capital's early development and its significant relationship with the sea. The National War Memorial is a poignant tribute to the 16,000 New Zealand soldiers who perished in WWI and the 11,000 who followed them in WWII.

Additionally, The National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tonarewa has one of the best collections of a native culture in the world. It traces the evolution of the Maori culture from its origins, displays the Pacific migration routes, and showcases The Land and People Gallery, exhibiting local colonial history of the first half of the 19th century, and the second floor showcases impressive collections of international and New Zealand art.

Wellington's Houses of Parliament, consisting of three large buildings, reflect the period in which they were built. The "Beehive," the present and unusual ministerial building is an impressive modern architectural work. The Parliament House is of a traditional Edwardian design, and the earliest government center, now the General Assembly Library, represents Gothic design. Wellington is also known as a "café city," with coffee shops and bistros everywhere you turn. Its selection of international choices of food, clothing, and gift items is endless. Napier, the next city, represents an important manufacturing and fishing center, an export point for wool, processed meat, and dairy products.

The old natural harbor and city were destroyed by a 1931 earthquake, measuring 7.9 Richter, resulting in the expansion of new ground brought up from the harbor and the decision to rebuild in Art Deco and Spanish mission styled architecture with earthquake-proof construction standards. Napier's art gallery and museums are worthy introductions to the area, and it has a small Marineland with seals, penguins, and sea otters, among other species. Along its three-mile promenade are a miniature golf course, a roller-skating rink, public baths, and the Kiwi House, the residence of native birds and indigenous fauna.

The following seaport was Tauranga, a Maori word aptly meaning "sheltered harbor." A modest, single, long, main street houses all the necessary business and tourist spots, with one-story shops suiting most visitors' eating and shopping tastes. New Zealand's oldest library is on the Strand, near an original Maori handcrafted, dugout display. Outside the small city is the Tauranga Historic Village, an open-air museum where crafts and early 19th century life are demonstrated.

Our final destination and departure point from our seagoing hotel was Auckland where we bade farewell to our many new friends and shipmates. Here, debarking passengers headed for the airport or to local hotels depending on their personal itineraries. We chose to spend two days there in two different bed and breakfast establishments, both of which were conveniently located for public bus transportation, comfortable, and served splendorous Kiwi breakfasts. It was also helpful to have our hosts as local tour guides, which made our stay quite eventful in sightseeing and museum hopping. Auckland's harbor, full of boats of all sizes and shapes, is magnificent in its beauty and the movement of sails at every hour of the day.

The Davenport Ferry trip is part of the public transportation system and a special travel treat to an interesting colonial-style suburb. The Auckland Museum has an incredible collection of Maori and South Pacific artifacts and the New Zealand National Maritime Museum highlights the country's ocean dependency. Additionally, there is One Tree Hill, the site of an ancient Maori fort, the Waterfront Promenade, and Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World, a fascinating aquarium. To horticulture admirers, Winter Garden possesses over 10,000 species, and Parnell Rose Garden has impressive flower displays to match its commanding views of the city and harbor.

From Auckland, we flew to Sidney for another week in that part of this "wonderful world." But that's another story. We unilaterally recommend touring New Zealand by ship. Each port entry and departure was different, the people were overwhelmingly friendly, most dressing casually, and each day was a special new adventure. Thanks Captain Cook for mapping it out for us so very long ago.

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