Week 1 November 2014:
At the start of the week we packed the car and drove to our daughter's place in western Sydney. We stayed one night. Next morning we caught a shuttle bus to White Bay Cruise Terminal, Sydney and boarded the Sun Princess for our 14 day cruise to New Zealand. There were 2000 passengers and about 800 crew members. At 4pm we set sail under the Harbour Bridge, down the harbour and out through the Heads. For the next 2 days we headed across the Tasman Sea towards the South Island of New Zealand. Shortly after leaving port we had an emergency drill when we learned the right way to put on life jackets. This was followed by lunch when we first experienced the quality and quantity of the food. This applied to every meal on the cruise.
Our first dinner was in one of the dining rooms where we had the same table throughout the cruise with two other couples and the same friendly and efficient waiters. Kevin and Betsy and Colin and Susan were our dinner partners. We got on well together.
The third day at sea was supposed to be spent cruising around the Fiordland National Park. Unfortunately the sea was very rough and it was not safe to proceed with this section of the cruise. Some passengers were seasick. The ship headed towards Port Chalmers where we spent two nights. On the way we encountered dense fog and the ship sounded its foghorn at regular intervals. Some time was spent finding our way around the Sun Princess.
On the 4th day out we had our first sight of New Zealandís South Island and in the afternoon the ship docked at Point Chalmers. We went on a short walk to a lookout as our first steps on NZ soil.
The next day we joined an excursion to the Otago peninsula. Chris, our guide, is a wildlife ecologist, and gave us a good overall view of the local environment. We made various stops and at a remote beach had a close view of a young male sea lion. In town we stopped to see the steepest street in the world (according to the Guinness Book of records). We returned to the ship in time for lunch. The ship sailed ship at 6pm. After dinner we walked around the promenade deck and sighted penguins and dolphins. Royal Albatross were also observed.
On the last day of the week the ship anchored off Akaroa the port serving Christchurch. There is no facility for docking cruise ships at Akaroa so we were taken to shore in the shipís tenders. Each tender accommodates 150 people.
From Akaroa there was a 90 km coach trip to Christchurch. The driver/guide gave a very interesting commentary during the trip covering environmental, historical and agricultural aspects of New Zealand life.
Christchurch was struck by a force 6.3 earthquake in February 2011. There were many fatalities and severe damage to buildings. Construction work was evident throughout the city with many large cranes operating. Some large buildings, including the central police station, are empty and awaiting demolition.
On a more positive note we visited the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. The gardens had an interesting Australian section complete with a flowering Waratah (Telopea sp). Rhododendrons were a feature of this garden as well as others that we visited during our cruise.
Trams were also operating on a city loop. We saw two vintage trams during our visit.
Mid afternoon we boarded the coach for the return trip to the ship. We were back on board by 4.30 pm, in time for our 5.30 pm dinner, and the Sun Princess set sail at 6 pm.
Cruise ships provide a huge boost to the New Zealand economy. As an example 78 cruise ships will visit Akaroa between October 2014 and early March 20. With an average of 2000 passengers per ship this totals a staggering 156,000 visitors in a six month period and that does not count the crew of each ship. No wonder that at every port we were welcomed with open arms.