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Author Topic: New Zealand Fiords ahead on the Dawn Princess  (Read 1686 times)
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« on: March 23, 2012, 04:01:58 PM »

"On a floating family holiday, Kate Nancarrow finds freedom to explore New Zealand.

One day out from Australia and with another two until landfall in Auckland, the Dawn Princess is gently heaving. Captain Phillip Pickford informs passengers he's trying to weave a calm course across the Tasman between the remains of a low-pressure system from the north and one hurtling up from the south. The ship's stabilisers keep the 14-deck, 266-metre vessel relatively even but, every now and then, a whopper of a wave breaks over the bow.

In the ship's deck-top swimming pools, water is sloshing wildly and my children, as well as those of other passengers, are delighted with the "wave" pools. They ride "waves" from one end of a pool to the other. Within hours, one pool is almost empty of water; both are then closed as the captain gives up the hunt for calm passage and settles for getting to Auckland on time.

The kids move to nearby hot tubs, from which, when night falls, they watch X-Men: First Class, tonight's instalment in Movies Under The Stars. They're thrilled.

The 1990-passenger Dawn Princess is on a 13-night round trip from Melbourne to New Zealand's east coast. Princess Cruises has four ships on the trans-Tasman circuit from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne ports undertaking journeys between October and March each year.

The 4000-nautical mile journey from Melbourne involves 3½ days' sailing to Auckland, then daily stops at key New Zealand cities and towns, and 2½ days back to Australia. But even in summer, calm crossings and sunny days can't be guaranteed.

Passengers while away the sea-time. There's a canasta and euchre "meet and play", self-directed bible study, table tennis, G-rated-looking zumba classes and Ceramics@sea. And that's just in the morning. The afternoon brings beginners' ballroom dancing classes, carpet bowls, jackpot bingo, complimentary gaming lessons in the casino and a "Jackie Kennedy event" in which passengers can learn about the former First Lady's jewels.

Our children, too bolshy for the ship's kids' clubs, are eating their way to Auckland, moving between dining rooms, the all-day buffet, pizza parlour, ice-cream parlour, afternoon tea, milk and cookies trolley and popcorn at the rooftop cinema. When sated, they build forts in the cabins, play Celebrity Heads and conduct high-speed tiggy games through empty corridors.

There are seven of us travelling together, including four children aged nine to 13. For us, this is an affordable all-inclusive family holiday - we spent the same amount on two weeks in a '70s-built beachside cabin on Victoria's west coast last summer.

When Dawn Princess docks in Auckland, passengers pour off, either making their own way to attractions - we wander via the city and historic university to the hill-top museum and its terrifying volcano disaster simulator - or joining an organised tour.

The pattern is repeated in Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Akaroa and Dunedin; we usually arrive in a port near dawn and leave at dusk for the next destination. Waking in a new place each morning is exciting, although the limited shore time forces tough choices about what to see.

The ship's tours - about 10 are offered in each port and cover the historic, cultural, culinary and natural charms of the area - range from $100 to $250 for adults (less for children). With seven of us, it's far cheaper to do our own thing, hiring mini-vans where necessary.

There are plenty of people keen to help; the wharves hum with local tour company staff, volunteer guides, taxis and hire cars. We hire a minibus to visit Rotorua and its mud pools, take a self-guided walking tour of Napier's beautiful art deco town centre, use Wellington's cable car to visit the botanical gardens and absorb Akaroa's French history on foot. We spend a delightful day in Dunedin, beginning with a hunt for albatross and ending with a tour of the Cadbury chocolate factory, followed by a trip to the world's steepest street, Baldwin Street, where we fang the hire-car to the top and roll Jaffas down the hill, emulating the city's annual fundraiser.

On our last day in New Zealand waters, after a roughish passage through the Foveaux Strait at the southern tip of the South Island, the ship arrives in the World Heritage-listed Fiordland National Park. We inch into Dusky Sound, finding the once well-hidden entrance identified and named in 1770 by First Lieutenant James Cook from the deck of his simple 32-metre bark, the Endeavour.

Dusky Sound is accessible only by sea, air or via a 10-day round-trip bushwalk, which brings trekkers only as far as the top of the fiord. Few see what lies before us: steep, beech-covered cliffs and deep blue water dotted with islands.

The fiord's silent grandeur dwarfs the 14-deck Dawn Princess and as we sail up the fiord and around the islands, we see no other boats, people, houses or roads.

On his second voyage to New Zealand, in March 1773, Cook spent three months in Dusky Sound; the rivers, islands and rocks he named bear testament to his detailed chart work. The remains of his camp, including where he brewed New Zealand's first-known beer using rimu and manuka leaves - hoping to stave off scurvy among his crew - are long gone.

A former ranger with the Fiordland National Park Service is aboard the Dawn Princess and provides expert commentary during a day spent cruising glacier-carved fiords: from Dusky Sound through Doubtful Sound (the deepest of the 13 fiords here), then Milford Sound, the most famous, dramatic and accessible.

Compared with the beautifully deserted Dusky Sound, Milford is akin to Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day; tourist boats zip along, everyone waving. The ship's photographers move around decks snapping images of passengers against backdrops of towering cliffs. There's snow in the distance on mountains, even in summer.

As the day's cruising ends and the Dawn Princess begins its two-day journey to Australia, the photos are displayed for sale - a modern memento of an epic day spent in an ancient place. On the way home, the ship gently heaving again, I think of Cook, on a vessel barely as long as the Dawn Princess is wide, and feel a bit more appreciative of what this cruise has offered in comfort.

FAST FACTS

There is a range of 13-night round-trip cruises from Melbourne to New Zealand on Princess Cruises's Dawn Princess from December to March 2013. Cruises visit Fiordland, Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Napier, Tauranga and Auckland. Fares cost from $1704 a person four-share for an ocean-view stateroom. Almost half the ship's 999 staterooms have private balconies. On-board features include a four-storey atrium, a 550-seat theatre, a spa and fitness centre, the Sanctuary retreat, a giant poolside screen and four pools.

There are also round-trip cruises to New Zealand from Sydney and Brisbane on the Dawn Princess's sister ships, the Sea Princess and Sun Princess. Prices for the Sea Princess's 13-night round-trip cruises to New Zealand from Sydney start at $1699 a person four-share for an ocean-view stateroom. Phone 13 24 88; see princess.com.

http://www.smh.com.au/travel/activity/cruises/fiords-ahead-20120321-1vjtq.html

 

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