Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Cruise Around New Zealand

New Zealand display on the cruise ship
Seeing your own country from the sea is a whole different experience from driving through it. The slow approach to a port, the light on the water, the panoramic views, give a new perspective. That's why we loved the cruise we went on a couple of months ago - with Holland America Line around New Zealand.  It certainly gave me a renewed appreciation for the beauty of my homeland, especially when hearing the admiring comments of people from overseas who had never been to New Zealand before.
   The 14 day cruise was called  New Zealand and Australia, departing from Auckland and finishing in Sydney. The ship was the 'Volendam', one of Holland America's elegant, mid-size cruise ships.  
   The itinerary featured scenic cruising around three of New Zealand's most beautiful areas: the Bay of Plenty, the Marlborough Sounds, and the wonderful wilderness of Fiordland.
  We visited seven ports of call in New Zealand: Auckland, Tauranga, Gisborne, Wellington, Picton, Akaroa and Port Chalmers for Dunedin. From there, the cruise crossed the Tasman Sea to visit three Australian ports of call - Burnie in Tasmania, Melbourne and Sydney.
   It was a wonderful cruise, one I would recommend to anyone. The blue skies, sunshine and calm seas all the way were a definite bonus! 

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Crossing the Equator Ceremony

Father Neptune and his entourage
Whales migrate between the northern and southern hemispheres. So do birds. And so do cruise ships!
  Ships that have been cruising in the North Pacific during May to September, head down to the South Pacific in October for the Southern Hemisphere summer.Then in March, the ships go north again.
  On these repositioning cruises, there is one special activity that passengers look forward to - the Crossing the Equator Ceremony.
   King Neptune and his wife preside over the proceedings. The pirate captain kidnaps all the pollywogs ( the newest crew members), parades them through the crowds of passengers and pushes them into a specially constructed pen on deck.
   One by one, the pollywogs are brought before King Neptune. They have to confess their transgressions and the King pronounces their punishment - kiss the fish, or get slimed and thrown into the swimming pool. Or sometimes both!  "Kiss the fish, kiss the fish," chant the passengers and the poor pollywogs have to kiss a real fish.
  Some pollywogs are thrown on to trestle tables and other crew members, dressed as nurses and doctors, slime them. This slime is brightly coloured goo with spaghetti mixed into it. The doctors and nurses are very enthusiastic in their slime duties! Soon the pollywogs are covered from head to toe in goo, then tossed into the swimming pool.
   It is all a lot of fun and a chance to get some great photos. All passengers receive a certificate initiating them into the Royal and Ancient Order of Shellbacks from King Neptune himself!

Friday, 27 May 2011

About the Pacific Sun


Pacific Sun in Auckland
P&O's 'Pacific Sun' now operates on South Pacific Island and Australian itineraries year round. Embarkation ports are Brisbane, Sydney, Newcastle, and Fremantle, at various times of the year. With an abundance of four berth cabins, she is popular with families and groups of friends who wish to cruise together.
    Built in 1986, she underwent an extensive refit in October 2008. She has a cruising speed of 21 knots and carries 1950 passengers and 670 crew.
   Crew members come from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and India. We found them to be very friendly, cheerful and helpful.
   In the restaurants alone, there are 4 head waiters, 50 waiters, 50 assistant waiters, and 22 buffet staff.
   We particularly enjoyed the variety of evening entertainment. Some nights, the main shows in the Atlantis Show Lounge were preceded by a spectacular laser light show. The special lighting effects were co-ordinated with music to create fascinating, colourful light patterns.
   After formerly cruising on four and five star ships, we were not quite sure what to expect on the 'Pacific Sun' which has a three star rating. We were pleasantly surprised. The stateroom was a reasonable size, there was a great variety of food and we enjoyed the activities on offer.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Cruise News From Norfolk Island Port of Call

Cruise ship arriving at Kingston, Norfolk Island
Cynthia Quintal is a long-time resident of Norfolk Island. She has been operating Cynthia's Garden Tours since 1992 and is very involved on the days cruise ships visit the island. Her tours take passengers to two private, award-winning, subtropical gardens with a delicious morning or afternoon tea at an island home.
   Cynthia kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about cruises to Norfolk Island port of call.
WWhen did planning start for the return of cruise ships to the island?
C:  Planning started around two years ago when our then Minister of Finance was contacted by P&O cruises. Offering an extra port of call would be an added attraction on a Pacific cruise.
WWhat preparations did Norfolk Island have to make?
C:  Once Norfolk Island was nominated as a port of call, committees were formed to deal with various issues. One of these was transport, to ensure there were enough buses to carry the passengers in an efficient and timely fashion from the pier to the town. Another committee discussed what food preparation would be needed for passengers while on shore. Another issue was toilets; two portaloos were put in the centre of town on cruise days and all the clubs opened their doors for comfort stops. A pontoon was constructed for use at Cascade to get passengers ashore from the ship's tenders, but it has proved not to be successful in inclement weather.
W: What extra things did Norfolk Island plan for the cruise visits, apart from the impressive range of shore tours?
C: On cruise days, stalls are set up in town selling a myriad of items:  woodcarvings, home-made sea salt, home-made guava jelly, Norfolk themed cards, baked goods and woven Norfolk Island style hats. This array of stalls all adds to the town's lively atmosphere.
W I know that landing on Norfolk Island is very weather dependent and some cruise visits have been cancelled, to the disappointment of locals and passengers alike. What have been the highlights of the successful cruise visits?
C:  The influx of almost 2000 people arriving on the island at once from a cruise ship is massive in economic terms. Everyone is excited to see the town buzzing with people and it is a boost to morale when we see the streets pumping with passengers. Most of the locals are involved in some way or other on cruise days and their friendly demeanour is always remarked upon by tourists. Shopping is a highlight for cruise passengers; finding souvenirs is a must for many. Locals go out of their ways to assist our visitors to ensure they leave our shores with pleasant memories and more.
WWhen is the next scheduled cruise ship visit?
C:  The next ship to call is the 'Pacific Pearl' due at Norfolk Island on June 19, 2011.
   I'd like to thank Cynthia for giving us this 'behind the scenes' look at Norfolk Island as a cruise port. Thanks also to Richard and Linda Chapman for the photo taken from Flagstaff Hill looking down at the cruise ship and tender arriving at Kingston.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

An Isle of Pines Experience

The beautiful Isle of Pines
Paula Kunac, her husband and their two teenage daughters visited the Isle of Pines on an 8 day Pacific Island cruise that also went to Noumea and Lifou. She shared her impressions of the island with me.
WPaula, why did you describe the Isle of Pines as your favourite port of call?
P:   It epitomised the idea of a tropical paradise, a real picture-postcard place. It was like stepping into a travel brochure. I didn't want to leave!
WIs the sand really as white as it appears in all the tourist brochures?
P:   Definitely. It's so beautiful there; the white sand against the blue sea and the green of the pine trees and palms.
WWhat did you and the family do while ashore for the day?
P:   We spent most of the time at the beach. From where the tender brings passengers ashore, we walked around the bay, past some buildings, and across a narrow neck of land to another beach. It's not a long walk. We went snorkelling there.
WWhat was the snorkelling like?
P:   It was great. The water was very clear and the bottom was sandy. We saw lots of bright tropical fish and corals. There's a huge rock in the middle of the bay that you're not allowed to climb on as it's sacred, but you can snorkel and swim all around it.
WDid you eat some of the local food, the bougna?
P:   Yes, we tried it. Paul thought it was all right, but I wasn't so keen.
W:  With a whole ship-load of passengers going ashore, did the beaches feel crowded?
P:   Not at all. We found a spot where it felt like there was nothing else in the world there. We all had a great day!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Isle of Pines, a Favourite Port of Call

Isle of Pines on a Pacific cruise ship itinerary
Flicking through travel brochures showing pictures of beautiful tropical islands certainly whets your appetite for cruising the Pacific.
   One of the most beautiful, and accessible, is the Isle of Pines, part of New Caledonia.
   Captain Cook sailed past here in 1774. In his no-nonsense, 'call a spade a spade' manner, he saw the pine trees and gave the island its name.
   Unimaginative, but apt.
   Today cruise ships anchor off the Baie de Kuto and tender passengers ashore. The beach of white sand curves in a great arc, shaded by pine and palm trees that provide welcome respite from the sun.
   Across a narrow isthmus, a more enclosed bay, the Baie de Kanumera, is the place for snorkelling.
   If you are feeling peckish while ashore, local people sell bougna near the beach. It's a New Caledonian speciality. Fish, meat and vegetables such as yams are wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over hot stones in an earth oven.
   Tomorrow I'll post a guest interview with my friend, Paula, who cruised to the Isle of Pines with her family. She'll tell what they did on their day ashore in this port of call.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Seasick - Not This Time!

Every cruisers' dream - calm seas
The old saying, "Take the rough with the smooth", certainly applies to cruising. Every time I get on a ship, I hope the voyage will be as calm as it was in this photo.
   Years ago, I was terribly seasick on a ship crossing between Norway and Denmark in what was then the worst storm for four decades.That six hours has remained etched in my memory as an absolutely ghastly time, one I never want to repeat.
   So on every cruise, I go prepared with several remedies. I figure that if one doesn't work, another will. I get prescription medication for nausea from the doctor, I pack my Sea Band acupressure wrist bands, and I drink lots of ginger ale. I also book our cabin in the mid-ship area which is the most stable part of the ship.
   On this 'Bounty Discovery' cruise we ran into a two-day storm. The swimming pools were emptied and covered with netting. The deck chairs and sun lounges were stacked into piles and chained down. The ship was rocking and rolling about which made walking more like staggering. Even some of the crew were getting seasick.
  But I was just fine. Whether it was the medicine, the wrist bands or the ginger ale that worked, I don't know. And at night, in our mid-ship stateroom, we were rocked gently to sleep like babies in a cradle.  

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Island Night Theme Party

A Pacific Island cruise is the perfect time for an Island Night Party.
    Held around the pool on the Lido deck, it was a chance to dance the night away under the stars. The cruise director's staff led the dancing, which included the ever popular Macarena.
   The Pacific Cirque performers were on hand with their hula hoops and juggling balls to add to the fun.
   A special Island Night cocktail was served in brightly coloured glasses. Called a Fruit Tingle, it was made of vodka, cointreau, blue curacao, lemonade and grenadine.
   Passengers were encouraged to come to the party dressed in Pacific Island gear. It was a case of grab your brightest shirt or sarong, throw a flowery lei around your neck, tuck a hibiscus flower behind one ear and join the party!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Champagne Waterfall

Champagne waterfall on a Princess cruise
Take 645 champagne glasses.Very carefully build them into a tall tower. Pop the cork of a bottle of champagne and pour the fizzy liquid into the top glass. Keep pouring, bottle after bottle, until the champagne overflows and all the glasses are full. And there you have it - a champagne waterfall!
   Champagne? Or should I say sparkling wine? But a 'sparkling wine waterfall' doesn't have quite the same decadent ring to it, does it?
   Princess and P&O cruise lines have a champagne waterfall as the highlight of one of their party nights on each cruise. It is a great attraction, with many passengers queuing up to have their photos taken as they pour the champagne.
   In the meantime, waiters are circulating amongst the watching crowds carrying trays with glasses of champagne so no one misses out on the fun.
   Then the band strikes up with music to dance to and the partying and festivities continue into the night. It's such fun!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Take One Watermelon

Watermelon fruit carving
They gave a chef a watermelon and a paring knife and in five minutes he'd created this scary-looking head. Some chefs carve beautiful flowers or exotic fish but oh, no - this guy made an effigy of his boss's ex-wife, so he said! I hope he was joking.
   Carved fruit and vegetables decorate the casual dining areas and the special theme buffets on cruise ships. Watermelons are often used as the texture is easy to carve and different colour effects - from green to pink to white - can be created depending on how deep the knife cuts are made.
   Sometimes animal sculptures are made from fruits such as bananas, oranges and pineapples. It takes only a few minutes for the creative carvers to work their magic.
    One of my favourites was when two lemons, one orange and a strawberry were transformed into a monkey. He was sitting under a palm tree made of a carrot and a green bell pepper.
   Fruit carving demonstrations are part of the enrichment programs on most cruise ships. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Pacific Sun: the Oasis Retreat

The Oasis on Pacific Sun
Ah, an adults-only retreat advertised as 'a pocket of tranquillity'.With over 400 children on this Pacific Sun cruise, despite it being outside of school holidays, I opted one day for a morning of serenity at the Oasis.
   A charge of $10 gave me a half day pass with a complimentary bottle of water, use of a spa towel, unlimited non-alcoholic drinks and a fresh fruit skewer.
  What bliss, I thought, as I lay back on the sun lounger and opened my book. It started to rain. I covered myself with the large towel and pulled my sun hat down low over my eyes, determined not to be driven indoors by a shower. After a few minutes, the rain stopped.
   I relaxed again, nibbled on the pineapple and watermelon, and opened my book. Suddenly, a screeching noise erupted nearby. Bagpipes! I couldn't believe my ears. Someone had brought his bagpipes on holiday with him and was parading around the sun deck playing 'Scotland the Brave.' Eventually, he ran out of puff, or repertoire, thank goodness.
  Try again, I thought to myself, as I stretched out, ordered an orange juice from the waiter and opened my book for the third time. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw huge clouds of black smoke pouring from the funnel. Not what you want to see when you know one of the engines has problems.
   The smoke swirled around and settled over the Oasis Retreat. I gave up then and retreated all right - back to my cabin!

Monday, 16 May 2011

What Shall I Wear on a South Pacific Cruise?

A vintage P&O poster
In the 1930s, when P&O put out this poster advertising voyages to the exotic South Pacific, cruising was in its heyday. The rich and the famous enjoyed weeks at sea in an atmosphere that was elegant and luxurious. Being well-dressed for every occasion was de rigeur.
  Nowadays, on P&O cruises in the South Pacific, casual clothes are the order of the day. Shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops are worn on board and often when going ashore.
     For me, part of the fun of planning a cruise is deciding what clothes to take. By sticking to a couple of colours, clothes can be mixed and matched to make a variety of outfits.
   Being cool and comfortable is vital when travelling in the tropics. The most important accessories are a sun hat, a water bottle and sunscreen lotion.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Touring the Ship's Galley

A display in the ship's galley
If you get a chance when you are on board a cruise ship, go on a galley tour. You will get a look behind the scenes at what goes on in the kitchens that cater for thousands of meals each day.
   The statistics are mind blowing! When I thought that there were more people on board ship on this cruise than there are in my small home town, I realised just how many plates, glasses and cutlery there were to wash. A team of 30 dish washers deal to them.
   A huge staff  led by the Executive Chef prepares all the food. Four bakers work all night so we would have fresh bread and rolls for breakfast. Three Sous Chefs, 10 First Cooks, 17 Second Cooks, nine Third Cooks, 15 Assistant Cooks, and six Pastry Chefs make all the delicious food that is so much a part of shipboard life. Six other cooks prepare food for the crew.
   On the galley tour for this cruise we were given a fact sheet that told some amazing statistics of food consumed in the 10 day cruise. Here are just a few examples of what 'buying in bulk' really means!
* 3,750 dozen eggs, 437 kg pasta, 2,812 kg chicken, 1,625 kg beef, 1,125 kg cheese, 2,500 kg rice
* 662 kg oranges, 1500 kg pineapples, 875 kg cucumber, 1,250 kg tomatoes
* 7,500 tea bags, 375 kg coffee, 5,000 litres milk
I couldn't even comprehend the vast amount of food needed to prepare the wide array of dishes passengers and crew ate every day. I will never complain about shopping and cooking for two people again!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Mystery Island Remains a Mystery!

Mystery Island will live up to its name and remain a mystery for the time being. We didn't go there!
   The visit was cancelled because engine problems resulted in slower cruising speeds meaning we needed to keep going to get back to Auckland as scheduled. $50 was credited to our on-board accounts but that didn't cheer up some passengers who were disappointed at not going there.
    Nor did running into a storm for two days. This meant everbody had to stay indoors on the ship which made public areas a little crowded.
   However I figured that it was no good getting 'antsy' at something out of my control. So I stayed in my 'happy bubble' and kept right on enjoying myself. Including indulging in two of my favourite past-times - people watching and eavesdropping on conversations!
   Ten minutes sitting near the purser's desk convinced me that being a front-line crew member fronting up to irate passengers must be one of the worst jobs in the world. The things people complained about astounded me. I hope the crew eventually saw the funny side of the moment when one woman complained that she had been kept awake by the coathangers in the closet rattling all night - and what was the captain going to do about it?! (Not a lot, lady, I thought).
   Another woman loudly protested that she hadn't seen any whales - and she'd been told there'd be whales, so where were they? (I had visions of P&O equipping their ships with plastic blow-up whales they could drop over the side every now and again.).
   And a man said that he didn't like sea days so there should be an island then a sea day then another island then a sea day. (Let's rearrange Planet Earth, shall we?).
   All in all, the funny side of life at sea brightened my voyage back to Auckland.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

A Traditional Way of Life on Lifou

Carving at Easo, Lifou
Our next stop on our Pacific Island cruise itinerary couldn't have been more different from the last. We went from a capital city with European influences and all mod cons to a traditional, quiet
Melanesian village on a coral island.
   The captain had assured us that although Lifou was a tender port, it was in an almost enclosed bay (Baie du Sandal) of calm water so getting ashore at Easo wouldn't be a problem. He was right.
   Local Kanak people entertained with tribal dances and songs; others offered hair braiding and massages on mats alongside the path. I think all the girls on the ship had their hair braided. In traditional thatched buildings, souvenirs, postcards and sarongs were on sale along with Movenpick ice-creams. Now that was a surprise!
   In contrast with a port of call such as Bali where hawkers pounce on cruise ship passengers, trying to extract as much cash from them as they can before the ship sails away, the sales people here on Lifou were dignified and charming, not 'pushy' at all.
   Round thatched huts are set in tiny clearings amongst palm trees in the tropical jungle. Some are decorated with clam shells. Near the largest building is this carved, wooden statue. His sad expression touched my heart.
   The long white sand beach beside the jetty was soon thronged with ship's passengers playing beach volleyball and cricket, and swimming or snorkelling in the clear water. Others walked up to the Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes on the headland - the view from the top is stunning.
  Next port of call is Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Noumea, a Touch of French Chic in the Pacific

Little Yellow tchou tchou train at the dock in Noumea
We arrived in Noumea on a sunny morning when the city looked its best - white buildings standing out amongst the green hills and the harbour a brilliant blue. It felt now as if we really were having a tropical holiday with the temperature pleasantly hot.
   Some passengers elected to take a sightseeing ride on the little yellow train that pulled up beside the dock.
   We strolled into Coconut Square, the heart of the city only two blocks from the wharf. The shopping district featured fashions from Paris, the bakeries sold French baguette breads, the restaurants were full of happy diners and we heard French spoken by some locals. If you closed your eyes, you could almost imagine you were in France.
   But Noumea is more than its French colonial past. The indigenous Kanak culture of this part of the Pacific is in evidence too.
   We took a bus ride up into the hills which gave us a good chance to see the mix of architecture comprising colonial buildings, modern apartment blocks and modest houses. And the views in all directions were spectacular - right out across the water to the Barrier Reef and the little islands dotted about, one with a striking lighthouse that can be visited.
   I spent the afternoon at the aquarium. The building's fa├žade is a waterfall which is a stunning visual feature. Inside, there were all manner of fantastic, beautiful, ugly, scary, colourful, poisonous, and altogether weird tropical fish and sea creatures. Quite put me off swimming at the beach, but I was really glad I'd seen them!
   Enjoy your visit!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Norfolk Island Port-of-Call

Norfolk Island stamps issued for cruise visits
The arrival of a P&O cruise ship to Norfolk Island in December 1932 was an historic occasion. And after a hiatus of over 70 years, the arrival of P&O's 'Pacific Sun' ship in March, 2010, was an even bigger event for the Norfolk Islanders. It marked the start of regular cruise ship visits to the island as part of Pacific itineraries.
   We had been looking forward to our visit as part of the 'Bounty Discovery' cruise. A full day on the island was scheduled and there was an impressive array of shore tours to choose from.
   Unfortunately, the weather didn't co-operate. Strong winds meant heavy sea swells. The tenders were delayed going ashore by several hours till the waves calmed a little. This meant some of the tours had to be cancelled or re-scheduled. I felt sorry for the locals who rely on tourism for a large part of their income.
    When my husband, Peter, finally got ashore, he thoroughly enjoyed the intriguingly named 'Misery, Mutiny and Majesty' walking tour. Encapsulating the Polynesian, convict and mutineers history of Norfolk, it gave the ship's passengers an insight into what life was like in this far away, nineteenth century British colony.
   A part of Norfolk Island I found fascinating was (strange as it may seem) the cemetery! Many of the gravestones are carved with the stories of how the people met their deaths. The convicts' headstones were, in some cases, embellished with skull & cross bones motifs.
   Next stop - Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Cruise to the Tropics in Winter

Sail away party leaving Auckland
Who doesn't dream of warm weather and blue skies when the temperatures are falling? A cruise to some tropical islands in the South Pacific sounds wonderful, doesn't it? And when the cruise leaves from and returns to your home port, it is even better. P&O's 'Pacific Pearl' ship is now based in Auckland to take passengers on tropical itineraries.
   With the approach of winter in the southern hemisphere, a break away from the cloudy skies of Auckland is a real tonic.       
   Last year we escaped for 10 days on a P&O cruise that was a round trip from Auckland, New Zealand. With the wharf being only an hour's drive from home, it was great not to have to fly anywhere.
   The cruise was called the 'Bounty Discovery'. From Auckland, the cruise itinerary featured Norfolk Island, then  Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, Lifou in the Loyalty Islands, Port Vila in Vanuatu and Mystery Island. We chose this cruise as it would take us to places we hadn't been before.
  Over the coming days I'll post more in-depth features about each destination to give you practical information about arriving in each port, and things to do and see when you go ashore.