Auckland to Sydney on the Diamond Princess
2/13/06 to 2/25/06
Ports of Call: Auckland, NZ; Tauranga, NZ; Christchurch, NZ; Dunedin, NZ; Fjordland National Park, NZ; Hobart, Tasmania; Melbourne, Australia; Sydney, Australia
Since Australia and New Zealand are so far away, we knew that a trip there would require more time than my present vacation schedule allows if we wanted to do justice to those wonderful countries. Therefore, we had always planned to wait until after I retired before venturing there. I am so glad that we didn’t wait. “Down Under” is such a special place, and is unique in so many ways. In all of our travels, we have never experienced such a perfect combination of natural beauty, unique flora and fauna, and some of the friendliest people in the world.
Our adventure actually began last year while on the Tahitian Princess, where we met Bruce and Margaret, a lovely couple from Auckland. After learning more about New Zealand from them and enjoying their company so much, we started looking into taking a cruise Down Under. We had high hopes of being able to visit Bruce and Margaret while there.
Margaret and Bruce
In March 2005, we decided to book the Diamond Princess cruise due to an excellent price and the ability to maximize the weekends to use the least amount of vacation days. We had 11 months to plan for our visit to that faraway land and wasted no time beginning our research. When we realized that Australia was as large as mainland USA, we knew that there was no way with our limited time that we could see everything we wanted. We decided to spend a two-day pre-cruise in Auckland so we could see our friends and a two-day post-cruise in Sydney. This would allow us time to explore the area around the cities, but not much more. We are so glad we did limit ourselves, since we enjoyed such wonderful experiences in both cities.
Unlike previous cruises we have taken, we did not have a very active Cruise Critic roll call. Only about 6 couples were posting. But it was enough to be able to help us find folks to share our private tours. In addition, the Cruise Critic port bulletin boards did not have near the activity of the more highly traveled areas; but there was enough good info to allow us to narrow down what we wanted to visit while there.
Since we did have such a small group posting online, we knew that Princess would not be planning any meet and greet type event for us. So, we set up plans for our own little CC Party in the Wake View Bar right after muster drill. We ended up with 12 folks attending. It was great to finally meet the people we had communicated with for so long.
Pre-cruise in Auckland, NZ:
Because of the very high airfare rates to NZ and Australia if booked independently, we decided to use the Princess air and hotels package. Unlike the previous year when we spent the night in Los Angeles before heading to Tahiti, this time we decided to just go straight through. It turned out to be a good choice, since it saved two vacation days and made for a lot less luggage hassle.
The flights that Princess booked for us were very good, except for one leg of the trip where we had to go through Atlanta and then on to Los Angeles and Auckland. It did provide us time to walk around before the flights, but it made the trip going take 26.5 hours of which only 19 were in the air.
The only frustration we encountered was when we wanted to check in for the Air NZ flight. At LAX the check in counter for Air New Zealand is located in an odd place. We had plenty of layover time and once we found it, we got in line at 6:40 PM. Air NZ makes you wait outside to get to the check in desk, which was fine for us since the weather was nice while we were there. However, it took an hour to go through just the check in process and get to the security gate. Then the security line was backed up causing more delay. Make sure you have plenty of layover time if you don’t want to get stressed out.
For the long leg between Los Angeles and Auckland we took a sleeping pill, which worked out great. With the adequate leg room of Air NZ and the five hour nap, the trip really didn’t seem that bad to me. Due to our crossing the International Date Line, the flight left LAX at 9:45 PM on Thursday but landed in AKL at 7:45 AM on Saturday. Since we left at night, took a nap and arrived in the morning we were ready to explore by the time we got settled into the hotel.
We had chosen the Carlton Hotel (as of 2015 it is the Rendezvous Hotel) in Auckland for our pre-cruise. It was a lovely modern hotel that was centrally located and convenient to everything.
Even though we had a room, our friends Bruce and Margaret had convinced us to stay the first night with them at their house, since they lived an hour north of the city. Doing so would allow us to spend more time exploring an area not visited by the ship as well as give us more time to enjoy their company. Time wouldn’t be wasted traveling back and forth.
They picked us up at our hotel to give us a tour of the area. First we saw a few sights in the city and then headed out to Bastion Point to see the Savage Memorial.
This memorial to New Zealand’s first labor prime minister is located on the site of a former gun emplacement and provides a lovely view of the city and harbor area. We were blessed with a beautiful sunny day and could really appreciate the lovely views.
Since it was approaching lunchtime, we headed over to a waterfront restaurant called Docksiders, across the street from the Kelly Tarlton facilities. It was our first taste of NZ food and was quite yummy.
They definitely had some different types of food on the menu. Carol had a “Brie and Cranberry Pizza”. It was shaped like a pizza but had cranberry sauce instead of tomato sauce and brie instead of mozzarella cheese. It also had rosemary and chunks of chicken on it. It was really very delicious! Bruce ordered a “Hawaiian Hero”, which I thought would be a sandwich on a bun. Nope, it was also shaped like a pizza, and very tasty. We also learned that a “capsicum” is what New Zealanders call a bell pepper. The view from Docksiders of Auckland's skyline is gorgeous.
After lunch, we did some more sightseeing and headed up to an extinct volcano in Carlton Park called One Tree Hill. The tree is no longer there, but with about a 600 foot elevation, the view from the top was quite nice. You could see the city and the harbor; but what was most fascinating was the way the mountainside had been cut into terraces by the Maori Indians to allow for spears and fences to be set up along the levels to stop any attackers. (Maori is pronounced Mow’ ry with the Mow syllable sounding like cow.)
On top of the mountain is a large obelisk. Sir John Logan Campbell, the “Father of Auckland”, provided in his will for the erection of the monument, which is intended to record his admiration for the achievements and character of the Maori people. It was a wonderful gesture on his part. Campbell is also buried on the hill.
We did a little more sightseeing and then returned to our hotel to do some unpacking and freshening up before we headed to dinner with our friends. Our dinner destination was the 1,076 ft. Sky Tower. Built in 1997 it transformed Auckland’s skyline and has become a major tourist attraction. There are two restaurants in the Sky Tower. The Observatory is a nice buffet. However, if you want a fantastic view of the city, you will want a reservation at the Orbit, which turns 360 degrees and provides an incredible view of the area.
The Sky Tower is part of the Sky City casino, hotel and shopping center complex. It is quite a big place and even features bungee jumping from the top of the tower. We didn’t see any jumpers, but Bruce said that occasionally one will plunge down past the window as you enjoy dinner in the Orbit. The food was outstanding and we had a lovely evening with our hosts as the restaurant slowly turned, revealing another impressive view of that lovely city.
After dinner we met up with our friend’s daughter, Kim, her fiancé Michael, and Bruce’s twin brother’s daughter Annie. We walked around town with the main destination being the Viaduct, which is a recently renovated area around the harbor with restaurants, bars and shops. There were lots of activities and things to see in this vibrant area of town. It has become “the place to be” for the young adult crowd. I had not brought my camera with me, but I was lucky that I was able to return to the Viaduct the next day and take pictures while waiting to embark.
We stopped to have desert while Michael gave me tips on what we should see while in his former home town of Sydney. As we drove up to the northern part of the island on the way to our host’s home, the adrenaline was quickly leaving our systems. The 26.5 hour trip and the touring were finally taking its toll on us. What a wonderful first day we had had in New Zealand.
I woke up early to see the sun rise on a beautiful part of the North Island. Our host’s house was lovely, but the setting was just incredible with the house sitting on top of a hill looking down on a small lake. It provided such a lovely and relaxing place to visit. I wish I had the ability to take photos that could truly capture the beauty of this area.
In the morning we got to spend some time with their daughter Nicola, who was staying with them while her husband was working out of town. After breakfast we took an early morning stroll down to the lake to get acquainted with the area. It is such a lovely peaceful place.
Our original intention was to spend most of the day farther north at the Bay of Islands; but we decided that it was not worth all the driving, especially since the beauty wouldn’t be much different from what we could experience by just touring locally. We all jumped into the car and started exploring.
One of our stops was Parry Kauri Park. It is the home of an 800 year old Kauri tree called the McKinney Kauri. It is huge, with a 24 foot girth.
In New Zealand, the Kauri tree is “protected” because it is a very slow growing tree with a very desirable wood. Later in our cruise, we saw a Kauri nursery in Tauranga that had 16 year old trees that were only about 1.5 inches in diameter. That made us realize just how slow growing these trees really are. In addition to seeing some of the exhibits in the park, we took a walk on a boardwalk that descended into the woods with numerous interesting trees and giant ferns.
Over lunch we discussed Vegemite vs. Marmite. I had heard about both of them and was curious about their tastes. Marmite is the NZ form of the yeast spread and a local favorite. Since our hosts had both of them in the house, I had to try them to find out if they were as bad as I had heard; and which was the “least bad”. The normal way to eat a yeast spread is to butter a piece of bread and then put a thin layer of the spread on top. Nicola’s favorite was the Marmite, so I tried it first. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked it so much that I bought a bottle later in the day to bring home with me. I then tried the Vegemite. It honestly tasted like what I would imagine axle grease tastes like. It had no redeeming qualities. It was just bad. I can’t believe that the Marmite and Vegemite are the same type of product.
We spent the better part of the day driving around seeing the lovely terrain, checking out the beach and even stopping at the grocery store to check out the differences from home. After we had worn out Bruce with driving all over the place, we headed home so Margaret could prepare a traditional NZ leg of lamb dinner. Oh my, was it wonderful! A great meal in a beautiful setting with good friends. It doesn’t get much better than that. We had had such a wonderful visit and hated to leave, but we had to. They drove us back to the Carlton, and we said our farewells knowing that it would be a long time before we meet again; but also realizing that we had solidified a friendship that will continue across the long distances.
We had booked the Princess transfers as part of the pre-cruise package. We normally like to get on the ship as early as possible to begin our cruise experience. Today was no different. Princess picked up our luggage by 10:00 AM, and we were waiting in the lobby for the bus to take us to the terminal at 11:00 AM as scheduled. Unfortunately, we were hearing rumors that the ship had been slow during disembarkation and that the bus would probably not leave the hotel until 2:00 PM. I asked the doorman what the cab fare would be to the port terminal. He told me $6.00 NZ or $4.20 US. Since our luggage had already been taken to the ship by Princess, it seemed like an easy decision.
We told Jerry and Bonnie, the couple that we had been talking to in the lobby, that we were taking the cab and that they could come with us if they wanted. We were friends for the rest of the cruise. We took the 5 minute cab ride and unloaded close to where we were to board. We asked about when we could go into the terminal, and they said it would be a little while till they were ready. I decided to walk around and take pictures while the others stopped at a café to have some coffee and cokes.
We got in the line that was outside of the terminal at Noon and were on the ship and in our cabin by 12:45 PM. To our amazement, all of our luggage was waiting for us in the room. The quickest luggage delivery we have ever had. Since we had read that the Auckland terminal had been having difficulty during embarkation, we were pleased that although the line didn’t move as quickly as we would like, it was well organized and went very smoothly.
As has been a tradition for us, while Carol is making her nest in the cabin, I run around the ship before it gets crowded to take pictures of everything. I can’t believe how long it took to go to every public room on the ship. It is a huge ship with lots of nooks and crannies. I had to rush to get every room because I needed to get back to the cabin to freshen up before we headed for the 5:00 PM muster drill.
Our Cruise Critic Group
Since we were scheduled for a 5:45 PM dinner and we were meeting the other Cruise Critic folks in the Wake View Bar after the muster drill, we were concerned that we were cutting it too close. Fortunately it all worked out fine and it seemed like most people in the dining room were late.
This is a lovely ship and I like the design better than the others in the Grand Class. The relocation of Skywalkers Night Club now provides a large open area in the aft. The ship is appointed very tastefully with comfortable furniture. For the most part the ship’s layout was quite nice with the traffic flow moving well. The three banks of elevators/stairs made life much easier; and with the exception of the dining rooms, it is pretty easy to get around the ship.
Gym Video Arcade
The International dining room is in the rear of the ship as most are, but you can only get there by using the aft elevators/stairs. Once you know that, it’s not a problem. Finding and getting to the four Personal Choice dining rooms (Pacific Moon, Santa Fe, Savoy and Vivaldi) is somewhat confusing at first. They are accessed by the middle bank of elevators/stairs; but when you get off the elevators, you cannot see the restaurants. The normal thing to do when you get off elevators is to move to the hallways. To get to the Personal Choice dining rooms, you get off the elevators and go through the short middle walkway, then move to the outside halls to access the dining rooms. It isn’t difficult once you see how it’s done, but the way the entrances to the dining rooms are placed, you can’t see them from the outside hallways or elevator banks so it is confusing at first. By the end of the cruise, it gets easier to find them. Just remember, only the main dinning room is in the back. All of the other restaurants are in the middle of the ship.
I really like the open areas on the upper decks. They provide lots of places to snap photos from, particularly while going through the fjords. From the Sun Deck (15) there is access to an area above the bridge that is perfect for taking unobstructed photos. Unfortunately, this was closed while going through the fjords; I assume due to the high winds that could expose you to danger.
The only major disappointment with the Diamond is the size of the Princess Theater. It holds 700 people. For a ship with 2,800 passengers it was too small. The theater is great due to the unobstructed views and comfortable seating, but to get a seat for the 8:00 show, you really need to be there almost 30 minutes early, particularly for the production shows. Many people weren’t able to get seats even with people sitting on the stairs and standing at the back of the theater. For two of the shows, to try to reduce the crowds at the first showing, they had a third presentation the next day. It didn’t help much.
Princess Theater Club Fusion
All of the public rooms have a unique motif and personality. You don’t need to look at the room name to know where you are. The Internet Café is very large and amazingly was full much of the time, probably due in part to the very slow connection speed. The Library also had some computer stations set up in it.
The one room that we didn’t see much of was the Grand Casino. It is on deck 6 between some of the shops and the lower level of the Princess Theater. Since most people enter and leave the theater on deck 7, there isn’t much need to go through the Grand Casino, unless you want to gamble. We don’t gamble, so it worked great for us. Gamblers were not very active on this cruise due to laws in Australia and NZ that prevented the ship from opening the casino unless there was a day at sea between ports and the ship could go outside the 12 mile limit.
I was very pleased to find that the Diamond’s staff was a relatively happy cheerful bunch. They really seemed to enjoy their work and it showed. As you walked around the ship, folks from different departments would smile and say hi to you and they were smiling when dealing with coworkers. At the end of the cruise when we like to recognize a member of the staff that really made a difference by filling out a card and turning it in, it was quite a difficult decision.
We particularly enjoyed a bartender at Explorer’s lounge named Arthur from the Philippines. He was Carol’s hero when he went back into the ships cocktail recipe archives to find a drink we had previously enjoyed on the Grand Princess. Since the drink had been retired, it took him a little while to find it, but he dug in the files till he did. He made it for her several times during our cruise.
Carol and Arthur
Explorer Show Lounge
We had a BA category balcony cabin, number C619, which was on deck 10 on the starboard side. This is a great cabin design. One of my gripes with many cabins is that the closet and/or bathroom doors obstruct the traffic flow into the room. The cabin’s design has a short “hallway” to the left after you come into the room. It contains the closet, some shelves, and the bathroom entrance. The large six foot wide closet does not have doors on it. This design made it very easy to store clothes in it, and easily access everything you have without hassling with useless doors. The bathroom door was not a problem, since it was across from the closet area, and did not obstruct traffic flow into the room. The cabin layout diagram on the Princess Website is not correct for the closet/bathroom area. It is similar, but it must have been taken from one of the older designs. The new design is much better.
The bed was higher than many of the ones we have had, which provided more space for luggage storage and made it easier to get in and out of. Before the cruise, we had requested an egg crate foam mattress cover, since we had read that the beds were hard. We never tried the bed without the egg crates, but they were perfect with them. The cabin itself is nicely laid out with good positioning of the furniture to prevent bottlenecks while moving around. I really liked this cabin.
The highlight of the cabin is the large nine foot wide by 10 foot deep balcony. With the Caribe Deck, the balcony is half covered and half open; which, in my opinion, is perfect. If there was rain or strong sun, you were protected under the covered half of the balcony. If you wanted to sun, you could use the open half. The balcony has two cushioned lounge chairs, two regular chairs and a small table. Since the lounge chairs didn’t have a place for your legs, the regular chairs worked very nicely to support them. It also seemed as though the starboard side of the ship was the better side to be on for most of the ports if you wanted to look out on the cities and watch the dockside entertainment at some of the ports.
Caribe deck balcony Looking down on Dolphin deck balcony
Our cabin steward, Angelina from the Philippines, was wonderful. She took care of everything perfectly and was always smiling and cheerful. I am always amazed at how hard these folks work and for such long hours. They don’t get much sleep but they are always pleasant with the passengers. Angelina was a gem.
As normal, the food on Princess was quite good. I have pretty much quit getting lobster on cruises due to it just not being very good. I had been told by some of our friends on board that theirs was great, so I got some and was pleasantly surprised. Menus from the Dinning Rooms:
We have always preferred traditional seating and requested early seating at a large table. To our surprise when we arrived for dinner the first night we were at a table for four. Our table mates were also surprised since they had also requested a large table. The traditional dining times are 5:45 PM and 8:00 PM. We were not excited about the early time, particularly since the ship sailed at 6:00 PM most days; but since there were five sea days and the Fjordland cruising day, we figured it would be fine, especially since we could go later to Personal Choice if we wanted to.
We enjoyed our tablemates, but after a few nights of traditional dining, we found that we couldn’t stand our waiter’s attitude. Normally waiters are wonderful and one of the highlights of our cruising experience. Ours was not and our tablemates felt the same way about him.
We decided to try Personal Choice, but found that since we had early seating, we could not use PC until after 8:00 PM. So, we decided to just switch to PC, since most of our CC friends were using it and we really wanted to try each of the other restaurants.
Pacific Moon Restaurant Savoy Restaurant
We were really surprised at how much we enjoyed having the freedom to eat whenever we wanted. It took out all of the stress of rushing to get ready for dinner and worrying about the timing of different activities. Most importantly to me, it allowed me to be on deck during sailaways.
The PC restaurants served exactly the same menu as the traditional main dining room, but each PC dining room had a special additional item that was not available in the other dining rooms. Carol was crazy about the fajitas in the Santa Fe. We also found the waiters in the PC dining rooms to be great. So we are now PC dining fans.
Santa Fe Restaurant
Although this was our fifth Princess cruise, we had never tried Sabatini’s. We invited our friends Jerry and Bonnie to go with us. It was a very nice experience. (Sabatini's menu)
Jerry and Bonnie Carol and Mike
You only pick out your main entrée. They then bring some of everything else that’s on the menu -- every type of appetizer, pasta and salad that they have! It comes to your table in courses. Fortunately, they only bring small portions of these to help prevent getting stuffed too early. We didn’t like all of the items, especially the strange seafood ones; but most of the dishes were very, very nice. In addition to fine food, the service was superb and the facility was decorated nicely. The $20 per person charge for this restaurant was reasonable, and we felt worth it. We will definitely go to Sabatini’s on our next Princess cruise.
We have been to the Sterling Steakhouse on other Princess ships and enjoyed it, so we also expected a nice experience on the Diamond. Not so on this cruise. The Sterling is in a sectioned off area of the Horizon Court Buffet, so it didn’t feel special. Additionally, the service wasn’t particularly good. We were quite surprised at how long it took for us to have our order taken, particularly since the restaurant was almost empty, with only two couples other than us.
When our main course arrived, both Carol and I had to return our baked potatoes because they had rotten black spots in them. Since they had sliced the potatoes open before they brought them to us, I am surprised that they didn’t see it before serving them. It was kind of obvious they were bad potatoes by just looking at them. Additionally, the steaks weren’t anything special. The ones in the main dining room were about the same quality. Most of the deserts were the same ones that were served in the other dining rooms. Bottom line – we were disappointed in it and did not think the additional $15 charge was worth it for this restaurant. Based on the small number of people that were in Sterling, I guess we weren’t the only folks that felt that way.
The food in the Horizon Court Buffet was good. We prefer the dining room, but when in a rush or if the lunch menu didn’t look too great, it fit the bill. This buffet is set up with separate food islands that help reduce congestion and long lines. The only problem is finding a table to sit at during peak hours. You can do a lot of walking till you finally find a place.
Horizon Court Buffet
For this twelve day cruise two nights were formal and the other ten were smart casual. It really made it easier not having to pack semi formal attire. I didn’t see any blatant violations on formal night from people wearing jeans, shorts or tee shirts. Most folks we talked to seemed very happy with ten smart casual days.
It is challenging to decide what type of clothes to bring on a cruise when you will be traveling in both hot and cool climates. We expected the weather in most of the ports to be on the cool side, but found that we wished that we had worn shorts on most days because the weather was so nice. It was very windy and cool while going through the fjords, but for the most part we didn’t need a jacket at all during the days. Melbourne and Sydney were pretty warm in the day, and it was definitely ideal for shorts. Our friends used the long pants that zip off into shorts. They seemed a good solution, and we will definitely have a pair before our next cruise. From our experience, I wouldn’t waste much suitcase space on heavy jackets and sweaters.
Actually, I found that I needed my jeans more in the Princess Theater than while touring. For some reason, when attending events during the day in the theater, it was just very cold in some parts of that room. I am assuming it was because there were less people in the room, but I would have expected the thermostats to still control the temperature. Carol didn’t find it a problem.
One of the many things we like about cruising is the entertainment. The person in charge of entertainment is the Cruise Director. This cruise was John Lawrence’s first one on the Diamond. We had John as a CD on our Baltic Cruise on the original Crown Princess and looked forward to having him again. His port lectures were phenomenal for the Baltic, which is his area of expertise. We had even purchased his book that he wrote about the Romanoff’s. We didn’t know if he had spent any time Down Under, so we didn’t know if he would be doing the lectures on this cruise. As it turned out, he did a very good job on several of the ports. The gentleman is an excellent speaker and makes the port talks so interesting.
Cruise Director John Lawrence
When we looked at the ship’s daily guide to activities, the Princess Patter, we were surprised to see that a Cruise Critic Party had been scheduled for the first sea day. Since the cruise lines normally don’t have these for small groups that have less than 25 sign up, we thought it was a mistake. We went up to Skywalker’s at the appointed time just to see if there really was a CC Party. Sure enough Asst. Cruise Director Nick was there and giving out free sodas and champagne.
We only had ten of us there, but we thought it was a very nice gesture by Princess. Plus one of the couples, Mack and Julie, were people we had not met before, since they were lurkers that had never posted on our thread.
Soon after the party started, to our shock, John Lawrence joined us. He was very personable and friendly and seemed honestly glad to meet with us. Since John reads and posts on CC, he is a CC’er and likes to meet fellow CC’ers. He spent quite some time with us telling us about the ship and his life. It was very fascinating, and we all really appreciated him taking the time to join us.
Asst. CD Nick and CD John Lawrence
We had four production shows of which we only got to attend three. We missed one show when we went to Sabatini’s, since dinner there lasted a couple of hours. All of the shows were great. The Diamond has an excellent cast of singers and dancers; and each of the shows was very different, providing a wide selection of music to satisfy most everyone.
The other entertainers were all very good at their specialties, whether it was singing, musical instruments, comedy or magic. They had an excellent variety of entertainers at the theater and in the lounges. We particularly enjoyed a band called Armanti.
The ship had quite a few excellent lecturers who covered various subjects. The ones we saw were educator Leah Adams, who discussed various interesting subjects; and lecturer Wink Sutton, who discussed the history and current events that have affected New Zealand and Australia. Another lecturer, Diane Buffalin, who I believe is a psychiatrist, had some very interesting sounding subjects, but I just didn’t have the time to attend. I heard that they were good.
One activity that I am sorry I missed was lessons on how to juggle. There were three sessions, which were held on sea days. Due to scheduling conflicts at the time of the first session, I was unable to attend. If this is available on another cruise, I will definitely take advantage of it. The highlight once again though was John Lawrence’s port lectures and one that he did about Captain Cook. He provides the information you need to visit the port with photos and exact directions on how to get where you want to go. He throws in historical tidbits while discussing the various sights. For some reason Princess brought on a person to do the Hobart port lecture. I don’t know what they were thinking. The fellow had an outline on the screen that he read word for word. Quite a waste of time. John did the rest of the port lectures for the cruise.
There is a self-service laundry on each deck of cabins, and it wasn’t crowded. There is a machine in each that will change American one dollar bills. It cost 4 quarters to wash a load and 4 more quarters to dry. Laundry powder, bleach, or softeners are one dollar each. I would suggest that you pre-measure ½ cup powder detergent into baggies and take them with you. The ship only sells powder detergent, so that's what I used. Also, powder would be easier than liquid to bring from home.
Someone passed this trick along to me about drying your clothes. When you put in your 4 quarters, it only gets you about 30 minutes drying time; and the clothes are still damp. If you wait until the dryer finishes its cycle, you have to put in another $1 for more drying time. So, about a minute or so before the time is up, open the door and check your clothes. If you think your things are dry enough, just close the door and push the heat level to finish the original time you had left. If you need more time, shut the door, insert a quarter (or more) and select your heat level. By doing it before the original cycle ends, you don’t have to use a full dollar.
Ports of Call:
Ports are the main reason we cruise. Other than Auckland, there were six ports and one day of scenic cruising through the fjords. Our main objective for taking the cruise was to visit New Zealand, which has a reputation for its natural beauty. Since we had pictured all of Australia as “Outback”, we weren’t as interested in the ports there. Flat deserts just don’t do much for us. Boy, were we wrong!
Tauranga, NZ –
As I normally do when going to a new port, I woke up before sunrise excited to see what the scenery looked like. I was particularly anxious to see Tauranga’s Mt. Maunganui. I had heard about it for months and couldn’t wait to finally see it for myself. I went out to the balcony to see what was outside. A lovely sunrise awaited me, but The Mount was nowhere to be seen. It must have been on the port side of the ship. So, I ran in to get my camera, hopefully not disturbing Carol’s sleep. Since it was still pretty dark and I hadn’t brought a tripod with me, I didn’t expect to capture the sunrise too well. I threw on some clothes and headed up to deck 15 to see where The Mount was and what it looked like. It was in front of the ship on the port side and really looked out of place. It is the only mountain of any size in the area and quite impressive in person. I was anxious for Carol to wake up to share the view with me.
Tauranga was the port where we had the most difficulty deciding what to do. There were just too many things we wanted to do with not enough time to do them in. The Princess excursions covered many of the places we wanted to go, but we couldn’t cover as many places unless we booked a private tour. Fortunately we found Ian with Mount Classic Tours. Ian put together a tour for us that allowed us to see all of the sights we wanted to see, plus be able to do a jet boat ride. We were able to share the tour with another couple that was in our CC group, Clif and Dale. This made the price of the tour very reasonable, especially considering the very high prices that Princess charges for their excursions.
Ian of Mount Classic Tours
We had breakfast in the Horizon Court and heard the announcement that we had been cleared to leave the ship before 8:00 AM. Since we had arranged our tour assuming that we would be in port at 9:00 AM, we expected a long wait ashore. We got off at 8:00 AM and Ian showed up early at 8:30 AM. Ian has a large operation with over 21 vehicles and he seems to run it very professionally. He does a very good job of marketing the area and his services through providing lots of information on cruise bulletin boards and by other methods. I was very confident that this would be a superb excursion. Shortly after Ian arrived, our driver/tour guide for the day, Les McLaren, showed up with our van.
Carol with Les
We were quite pleased when we loaded up that the seat arrangement, with two offset bucket seats in the middle isle, allowed for easy access to the back seats. Les was a real pleasure. He has a fascinating background and does touring to help out Ian when needed. His great sense of humor, knowledge of the area and desire to provide an outstanding tour for us made this the best excursion of the cruise.
Our first stop was at Kiwi 360. It is a working kiwi fruit plantation that has tours that show how kiwis are grown and harvested. Rather than taking a tour that we would have taken too much time and we would have had to pay for, Les stopped the van and showed us how they are grown himself. All of us had assumed that the kiwi fruit grew on a tree. Boy were we surprised to find out that they grow on vines. It looks like grapes growing, except they are by themselves on a stem rather than in bunches.
We also learned that there are gold kiwi fruits in addition to the usual green. They are supposed to be sweeter, but they are not in wide enough production to import out of NZ yet. We stopped by the very nice store at Kiwi 360 to sample the green and golden kiwi fruits as well as the kiwi liquor. The gold really was a sweeter kiwi and the liquor was very nice.
I had read about a popular souvenir that folks buy in New Zealand called a Maori Fishhook. It is supposed to provide the owner with good luck and safe passage over water. It sounded just like what I needed with the normally rough Tasman Sea still ahead of us. I had been looking in Auckland, but had had no luck finding one that I liked. I did find a lovely one at Kiwi 360 made out of NZ Greenstone. Needless to say, I bought it.
Greenstone is a form of jade that is mined only in NZ. Les said that one needs to be very careful about who they buy it from. A cheaper form of jade is frequently mislabeled and sold as Greenstone to increase the price and profits. Carol also bought some Greenstone items. It was a nice stop that didn’t take a lot of time.
The drive to Rotorua was just lovely, with green hills spattered with farms here and there. Since we were going to be early to arrive at Te Puia where we would see the Maori dancers and geothermal activity, Les drove us over to the location of two adjoining lakes, Green Lake and Blue Lake. They are side by side, but are different colors because of different materials on the lake bottoms. It is a lovely heavily wooded and ferned area. Some tour guides would have just taken us to Te Puia early so we could wait there rather than showing us more of the area, and we appreciated the extra effort on Les’ part.
We knew that there are many places in the area of Rotorua to see geothermal activity and other unique attractions. We had been very confused before we booked with Ian as to which of the many places to go; but he steered us in the right choices. He told us that Te Puia is the only place where you can see geothermal activity along with the Maori Cultural Center and a Kiwi House.
At Te Puia, Ian had prebooked us for the Cultural Show so we didn’t have to wait in line. Paul, our guide through this part of the tour was a real card; and he kept us laughing, especially when he pronounced the Maori name for the area – Te Whakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao. Yes, it has 35 letters.
We got to see examples of the Maori wood carving skills; and were also able to walk through the Maori wood carving school workshop to see artisans carving away. The school was established to insure that the expertise of the Maori wood carving methods would be passed down to future generations. There are very strict entrance requirements to be met before a student is accepted into the school. They have an amazing talent.
Once we had finished looking around the carving school, we headed toward the Kiwi House to see the endangered Kiwi Bird. Because Kiwi’s are nocturnal, they have to be fooled into thinking that day is night so visitors can see them. To accomplish this, the Kiwi House is kept very dark during the day so the Kiwi thinks it is night and very bright at night so they will go to sleep. As a result, pictures can’t be taken in the house since the flash would disturb the Kiwis; and because the birds move around so quickly, a good picture couldn’t be taken without a flash. Once our eyes adjusted to the dark environment, we could see a little bird that is no bigger than a small chicken poking her beak into the ground looking for bugs. They were very cute and I was just intrigued with them. Needless to say we got several Kiwi bird souvenirs.
Finally we were going to the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley. The first stop was a large bubbling mud pool. It was kind of neat, but not that impressive. I was more anxious to see the geysers that we had seen a glimpse of on the way to the mud pools. The sulfur smell was noticeable, but not as strong as I had expected. We headed down the trail to the most famous geyser in the area, Pohutu. It can shoot up to 90 feet in the air. We didn’t see anything close to that much power, but the blasts of steam and water were quite powerful and certainly were very impressive. It had been worth the wait to see this spectacular show from Mother Nature.
Our guide then took us over to the Marae (meeting place) where the presenters showed us some of the traditions of the Maori people. We walked over to the main structure in the Marae, and after removing our shoes, we went in to see the cultural performance. I am not normally too excited about this type of show; but I must say that this one was quite entertaining. They had some excellent singers and they didn’t wear us out with long renditions of the same dances. The face making is quite unique with the Maori people. They open their mouths and eyes very wide and stick out their tongues to scare their enemies before a fight. It was funny looking, but I can also see where it could be intimidating if they were coming at you with a spear.
After a very full morning, we were ready for lunch. Les took us to the Rotorua Museum to see the lovely grounds and building and see if we wanted to stop for lunch there. The menu didn’t appeal to any of us, so we headed into the city of Rotorua to go to what Ian had referred to as a funky NZ Café. The Fat Dog Café and Bar fit his description perfectly. We ordered what is called a Fat Steak Sandwich. The description of it on the board gave no indication of how big it was, but since we had been warned that the portions were very large, Carol and I decided to split one. It was definitely the right move, as there was plenty of the delicious lunch for both of us.
After our NZ lunch experience, we stopped at Kuirau Park in downtown Rotorua to see the sight of a geothermal eruption that occurred in 2001. The whole area has small steaming mud pools on it. I would be very uncomfortable owning property in an active geothermal area like Rotorua. This type of event can happen anywhere at anytime in this part of the country.
We passed emu and deer farms in the lovely countryside on the way to our most adventurous activity for this vacation, the Longridge Jet Boat Ride. We had seen several shows on TV about NZ during our research for the cruise, and one of the unique things that really appealed to us was the jet boat rides that speed through river canyons. Several locations are available; but because of the time element involved, Ian had advised Longridge Park. It also has many activities and things to see other than the jet boat. On the tram ride taking us to the jet boat, we got to see another kiwi fruit grove as well as the Kauri farm I referred to earlier in the review.
A Princess excursion had just finished the boat ride before we got there, and they were very excited about what they had just experienced. We couldn’t wait to experience it ourselves. Since it was late in the day, we were the last scheduled ride. Dale had chosen not to take the ride, so it was just Clif, Carol and I with Elton our jet boat driver. The boat can hold twelve people, so we knew it would be a faster ride than normal. As we took off from the dock, we knew this was going to be special.
As Elton cranked it up and started speeding through the sharp turns lined with tree branches hanging over the river, I could hear Carol screaming with delight. Come to think of it, so were Clif and I. This was super fun! Every so often Elton would do his arm in a circular motion to let us know he was going to do a 360 degree turn. Since there were only three of us in the seat, rather than the four to five it was built for, it did throw us around from side to side; but it was so much fun, no one cared. Carol certainly didn’t, since she had two “heavily padded” men on each side to cushion her!
It is hard to believe how much control the driver has with this type of craft. It was awesome. As we got deeper into the forest, the river got into a deep canyon. We stopped at the end of the canyon where rapids joined at a fork in the river. It was so beautiful and peaceful in the part of the river that is rarely seen by anyone other than jet boat customers. It is very secluded. The contrast from the thrill of speeding through the river to the appreciation of the serenity of this very special spot was just breathtaking.
After the short pause, we continued the thrill ride. As we approached the dock and went into our last 360, the owner of the operation, Jeff, took pictures for us to remember the experience. Thank goodness he did, since you can’t take your own camera on this type of ride. As we climbed out of the boat, we realized that we were all exhausted. We had had a very fun filled exciting day, but we were ready to get back to the comfort of the Diamond Princess.
Les gave us a brief city tour of lovely Tauranga. I wish we had been able to spend more time there; but we had other adventures ahead. We said our farewells to Les and also to Ian, who had been waiting for us at the port. This had been a great day!
As we prepared to sailaway from Tauranga, a small band on the dock played a farewell for the ship. It was quite nice and the first of many warm send offs. As we sailed past the Mount, hundreds of people were standing on the road and up the mountain to bid us farewell. People were waving and shouting, and the camera flashes going off all over the mountain made it look like a massive Christmas tree.
I must say that during the few days we had spent in NZ, we had seen so many wonderful friendly people. They were very generous and giving; as well as very proud of their lovely country. On the ship other passengers had expressed experiences they had where Kiwis, as New Zealanders are referred to, had befriended them on a personal basis and made the visit to this country so very special to many of us.
Christchurch, NZ –
After a well deserved relaxing day at sea, we were ready to board the TranzAlpine train and head out to see the Southern Alps of New Zealand. The train was just a couple minutes bus ride from the ship. It would have been a short walk, but for safety reasons, it wasn’t allowed. The TranzAlpine is a modern comfortable train with large windows to view the terrain. We asked one of the conductors which side to sit on and he said to chose the right side and to face forward. We listened to what he said and were not disappointed.
The train has seats that face each other with a table between. It worked out very nicely when they served our box lunch later in the trip. There’s not a lot of leg room, but you can slide your bag under the seat for a little more space. There is a small viewing platform at the rear of the train, and they do explain how to get to it. There is a toilet onboard.
Before lunch they served us hot tea and coffee. The boxed lunch was surprisingly good. We had a sandwich of cheese, tomato, and meat; a seaweed wrap; a turkey sandwich; some grapes; and an apple or an orange. Also included was a nice fruit tart for dessert.
The first part of the trip goes through the industrial parts of the city and then crosses the expansive Canterbury Plains, which are just flat. There isn’t much to see until after you start approaching the Alps at Springfield, which takes about an hour and a half. We had about a 30 minute delay there that was caused by a fire in the mountains that was started by sparks from another train before us. We had to wait for the fire to be brought under control and extinguished near the tracks before they would let us leave Springfield. They used helicopters with “monsoon buckets” to douse the flames. We were quite pleased when we finally started rolling, since a fire could have scrubbed the whole excursion.
The trip was advertised as a two hour train trip, but it took 3.5 hours. Even without the fire delay it was a long ride. The last hour of the trip was quite beautiful and we were very glad that we were on the right side of the train. It was much prettier to look down the mountain to the river than the left side views, although they did have their moments. It was a nice trip, and the views heading up to Arthur’s Pass were very nice. It was exciting to see a jet boat speeding below in the river canyon as we passed over. It brought back the thrills experienced two days earlier.
After arriving at Arthur’s Pass we were able to go into the small train station and walk around the area. It was a great spot to view the Southern Alps. We didn’t realize it when we booked this tour that the most scenic part of the excursion was still to come. Our tour guide, a crusty Kiwi named David Rich, corralled us all in and directed us to the bus for a ride through the mountains and the rest of the excursion.
It didn’t take long to realize that the bus ride would allow us to get much better views of the mountains and see a much larger area than the tracks had provided. We passed by steep mountains with small brush and large washed out areas where the water runoff had cut away at the rocks and turned them to sand. It was a beautiful drive. We passed lovely streams and high mountains with deep green valleys. It was what we had hoped the TranzAlpine experience would be.
Even in the middle of the summer there was snow on some of the mountain peaks. It made a lovely contrast to the deep blue skies, gray mountains and green valleys. Our guide, David, told us history and tales of the area as we traveled through and eventually down the mountains. He was quite a character and just a great guy. One of many we met on this cruise.
As we left the mountains, we once again were heading across the Canterbury Plains, this time toward Christchurch. Once back on the flatland we were able to make pretty good time and it wasn’t long till we were turning into an old New Zealand farmhouse for a coffee/tea break and some homemade cookies. It was a nice example of an old farmhouse and the grounds were very nice; but kind of a boring stop. Fortunately, we didn’t stay too long, since we were running late due to the fire delay.
We got back on the bus and stopped just around the corner at a sheep ranch. We were shown how a sheepdog was able to control the herd and get them to go where his master ordered them to go. It is amazing how the one dog can control so many sheep. We then got to go into the barn and watched a sheep get man-handled and sheared. I have seen sheep shearing on TV before and it didn’t seem that bad, but seeing it in person I was surprised how traumatic it was for the poor sheep. They have to have it done, but it just seemed a bit cruel how the shearer treated this sheep. I was glad to leave and head back to the ship.
I had really hoped we would have time to go through the town of Christchurch, since I had read how lovely it was. As we got closer to town the traffic got heavier and it looked like we would have to bypass the city center. David was concerned that we wouldn’t have time and still get back to the ship by the boarding time of 5:30 PM. But David came through and gambled that we could do it quickly and still get back in time. He gave us a very quick tour of the city and we were able to see the lovely Avon River with the Punt Boats and the lovely buildings and churches that looked very much like those we had seen in England.
I do wish that we had been able to have more time to spend in this lovely city; but I was grateful that we at least had a chance to see it. We got back to the ship at 5:45 PM, 15 minutes late, but we weren’t the last bus. Several had gotten stuck in the traffic. Another wonderful day in New Zealand!
Dunedin, NZ –
Once again I was up before sunrise, too excited to sleep. I had heard that we could see the Royal Albatross Colony at Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula if we were out early enough. Unfortunately when you don’t know what you are looking for, it is very hard to find it. I didn’t see the Albatross Colony, but I did see a nice sunrise and a preview of the lovely rolling hills along the peninsula and surrounding Port Chalmers. It was kind of a quaint old town that showed its Scottish heritage.
Once again it looked like we would have a lovely day for the private tour we had arranged with Arthur’s Tours (the company, as of 2015 is now Iconic Tours). Our primary goal at Dunedin was to experience the unique wildlife that lives in this town, one of the farthest south in the world. It is where the famous and fatal race to the South Pole started for explorer Robert Falcon Scott.
We joined our tour mates Peter, Wendy, Bob and Jenny in getting off of the ship before 8:00 A.M. so we could all search for Arthur. It was quite a sight as we got off the ship to see the Taieri Train sitting on the dock right next to the Diamond. The train was there to pick up the cruisers that had booked the Taieri Gorge Train Ride Excursion. It was kind of neat until we realized how far we would have to walk to get around to the other side of the train to meet our tour. Since it covered the whole length of the ship, we were glad that Arthur had told us to meet him around the end of the train at the rear of the ship, or we could have taken a long walk the wrong way.
He was very easy to spot in his bright blue and yellow Scottish plaid hat and vest. We recognized him immediately from the picture on his website, where he was also in plaid with a big friendly smile.
He introduced us to our tour guide/driver, John Graeme, who was, unlike Arthur, very properly dressed in a coat and tie with a very professional air. He looked more like a limo driver than any tour guide we had ever had in the past. One of the reasons we chose Arthur’s Tours was because Arthur looked like a real character who would provide us with a very memorable day. Based solely on appearances, we were a little concerned that John might be a bit too stuffy.
Our first stop was to one of the most frequently photographed railway stations in the world. The Dunedin Train Station was built in 1907 and is a very impressive building. The inside has a floor of exquisite Royal Doulton mosaic tile, while the walls are ornately decorated. Not what you would expect from a railroad station and nothing like the ones we had seen on the TranzAlpine Train.
After getting to know John on the 20 minute drive from Port Chalmers and a brief city tour, we decided that he was going to be OK. He knew a lot of history of the area and seemed to be interested in providing us with a great day. Our next stop was to the St. Paul’s Cathedral in the center of town. The Cathedral sits on one side of the Octagon. This is first city I have seen with an eight-sided town “square”. It was a nice way to put a lot of buildings in the center of town, but it screwed up the traffic flow.
St Paul’s was a very tall gray stone Anglican Cathedral with a huge stained glass window. We really like to go in churches, but I wasn’t excited about having to climb up all the steps to see the inside but I figured it would be worth the effort. When I finally reached the top of the stairs and walked in the door I saw quite a contrast. The back of the church had a beautiful vaulted ceiling with ornate stained windows; but the front looked like a modern church you would find here in South Florida. It was really disappointing, but I just focused on the lovely part of the church and enjoyed taking pictures of it.
Right next to the church was the Municipal Chambers, but we didn’t take time to check it out. We did look at the large statue of Scottish poet Robert Burns that was across from the church.
After John showed us the other sights in the downtown area, we began the ride over to the end of the Otago Peninsula to the first of our nature experiences, the Royal Albatross Colony. I must say the ride made me a bit nervous, since we were riding on the left side of the road with no guardrail between us and the cold water of the harbor. John did say that they pull cars out of the harbor regularly. The scenery along the peninsula was quite picturesque. I wasn’t real sure what to expect at the colony, since from what I had seen, the Albatross just looked like a big seagull. Wrong again.
We pulled over at a spot not too far from the entrance to the albatross colony. Arthur was also there with his group. We walked over to the rocks at the water to see some huge sleeping fur seals. They were not too interested in us. One of them did cooperate occasionally and looked up to let us take his picture. John pointed out a hole along the beach where the smallest breed of penguins, the Blue Penguins, had made their nest. We couldn’t see in it very well, but at about the same time Arthur was calling his group over to see what he had found. This nest had two Blues in it. They were just precious! We didn’t want to disturb them so we didn’t use flashes for our pictures. But still, I did feel like a paparazzi sneaking their pictures in the privacy of their home. I was really pleased that we had seen the Blues, since I wasn’t expecting to see them anywhere else that we were going.
Fur Seal Blue Penguins
We hopped back in the van and took the short drive up the hill to the grounds of the Royal Albatross Colony. We got out and walked down to take a look at the beautiful sheer cliff coastline and crashing waves. Really pretty. We walked up the hill to enter the large modern facility devoted to the Albatross. The first part of the tour was devoted to educating us about these special birds. This is the only mainland based nesting area in the world. All other colonies are on remote islands. So if you want to see a nesting Albatross, this is the only place you will ever see one.
At the lecture, the most impressive thing was the actual life sized model of an Albatross with its wings spread. They can get to 10 feet from tip to tip and their body is really large. The comparison of our guide standing next to the picture was very impressive.
After our class we got in the queue to walk up to the colony. They keep a very tight control on how many people can go up the hill and enter the viewing building at any one time. It was a very steep walk. Everyone had to stop to catch their breath before making the final ascent. I was really surprised that Carol even wanted to go to the top, since she doesn’t like to climb; but she made it.
At last we got to the top of the hill where the guide had to unlock a gate to let us get to the viewing building. It was a single room with large windows all around that looked out on the grassy hillside of the rocky base of the mountain. The guide told us to look out the far side window to see the mother albatross with her recently hatched chick. Even though they provided binoculars, it was hard to tell what we were looking at since the chick was right next to the mother and there wasn’t any movement from them the whole time we were there. The guide pointed to the two monitors behind us that showed this nest and another that was not in view of the building, where another mother and chick were moving around. The monitors allowed us to get a closer view. I had hoped to be able to see some walking or flying around, but apparently we wouldn’t for now. From the building we had a great view of the surrounding area and could see seals swimming around and a nesting place for another breed of bird that I forgot the name of that had a similar appearance to penguins. The climb downhill was much more enjoyable.
After a short drive we arrived at Penguin Place. Here we hoped to see the rarest breed of penguin, the Yellow Eyed Penguin. The reserve is a privately owned conservation project. After a short narrative on the Yellow Eyed Penguins, we were taken on a 5 minute truck ride to the reserve area. It is made up of a series of deep, covered trenches, some of which have observation windows and also a few observation huts, where there are larger viewing areas. The trenches are covered with a camouflage material to keep the penguins comfortable in feeling that they are safe.
The first hut looked out on a small pond with four of the rare penguins. It was great to be able to see them in their natural habitat, but they were pretty far away to get a good look. I was glad I had brought my telephoto lens to be able to get better pictures. While heading to the next hut we came upon a young penguin in the growth that was very close to the openings in the trench. Now this was really cool, since it was right there in front of us. As we progressed down the trenches we were able to see several ages of Yellow Eyed Penguins in different stages of their development. The guide said we were very lucky because there were more penguins around than they normally see.
Yellow Eyed Penguin
Even though these penguins have a better chance of survival than those that aren’t at the reserve, the staff doesn’t tag and name the babies until they are about one year old and have gone through their first molt, since so many don’t make it that far. Losing a named penguin is much harder on the staff, so they try to stay impersonal until they think the chick has a good chance to survive. After we left the trenches we took a walk along the hill above the harbor. So many beautiful views. This is a great place to visit with a lot of dedicated employees.
The day was only half over and it was already a winner. I was really liking the Dunedin area. Our next stop was to have lunch at Larnach Castle before we took a tour of the building. Larnach is the only castle in New Zealand. It is three stories tall and we walked through all the rooms.
We didn’t get there until almost 2:00 PM, so we were starving. The restaurant, which was in a wing of the castle, had a nice selection of lunch items on the menu; but they were running low by the time we got there. The folks on the Princess bus that arrived after we finished eating would have slim pickings if they were looking for a snack.
The castle had a very narrow tower. I was shocked once again when my wife decided to climb it. About halfway up, I think she was regretting her bravery. The spiral stairs were extremely narrow and not that easy to walk on. We were quite concerned that someone would want to come down the stairs while we were ascending. Thank goodness no one did, since one of us would have had to back up. The view from the top was worth the walk. In addition to being able to look down on the lovely gardens and grounds, the panoramas of the countryside were very nice.
Bob, Jenny, Peter, and Wendy Mike and Carol
After we came down from the tower, we saw that there were lots of people waiting to go up. They were from the Princess bus and they had really filled up the castle. We heard later that they shut down the tower and wouldn’t let anyone else up because there were just too many people. It is a shame, since the view was so nice. After we left the castle, we checked out the gardens where we found lots of pretty flowers. The grounds were really lovely, but the gardens were a bit wild.
We were thrilled when we saw a lovely multicolored New Zealand Wood Pigeon. It was so large it was stressing the branch it was perching on.
After leaving Larnach, John started the drive back up the peninsula. On the way he pulled over and drove into a driveway of a lovely large house across the street from the harbor. He wanted to show us where he lived. It was very nice of him to share a piece of his personal life with us. When we got close to town, John gave us a tour of the outskirts. The most impressive building we saw was a beautiful stone building at Otago University.
But the highlight of this part of the city tour was a visit to the world’s steepest street, Baldwin Street. I had seen pictures of it and it didn’t look that impressive. It looked a lot steeper in person. John then told us we were going to drive up it. I presumed it wasn’t that big of a deal, since it was a real street. At first we were moving up nicely, but it didn’t take long till the van was straining. We honestly didn’t think it would make it. It was barely moving, but it finally got to the top. I can’t imagine living on this street.
Uphill pictures didn't look impossible.
If I thought it was steep going up, looking down was down right scary. It looked like we were going to go down a ski jump. They should use this view on their promotions. I have a feeling some of the others in the van might have closed their eyes; but since mine were closed I couldn’t tell. Just kidding. We stopped at a little shop down the block where we received an “I Survived Baldwin Street" certificate and other cute souvenirs.
One of the things that I had on my “must do” list for NZ was to try some of their much touted ice cream. We had not had any since we had been there, since we had been so busy. This would be our last chance, so John recommended a little shop he knew. He said we should try the Hokey Pokey flavor. Apparently it is the most popular flavor in New Zealand. I remembered our friends in Auckland mentioning it while we were in a grocery store, but the store had run out. It was an excellent recommendation. Quite Yummy!
It was finally time to head back to the ship. But before we did, John said he was going to take us to one more place. He turned off right before the port and stopped at a little overlook. It was right across from the Diamond, the perfect place to take pictures of our ship. He dropped us off at the ship and we thanked him for a great day. John had turned out to be a very good tour guide whom we thoroughly enjoyed. Arthur had picked us out a good one. He provided us with a very memorable lovely day.
Once back in our cabin and getting ready for sailaway, we heard music coming from outside. We went on the balcony and could hear bagpipes. There was an eight-piece bagpipe band all dressed out in kilts. It was a very nice gesture from the City of Dunedin. As the ship sailed past Taiaroa Head, we could see cars lined up with people waving goodbye to us. The Scottish heritage of this town makes it very special in many ways.
We recognized that this was where we saw the albatross colony. To our delight, we could see the huge birds walking along their paths on the side of the mountain. Until today, I had not thought that seeing a bird walking around would be a big deal. The albatross is indeed special.
Lots of birds dotted the hill. Close-up on one pair
Fjordland National Park, NZ –
Since we had been to the Norwegian Fjords two years earlier, we weren’t too sure how Fjordland would compare. Around 8:30 AM we entered Dusky Sound. It was a cloudy day, but thank goodness it wasn’t foggy or raining. I went up to deck 15 to go out on the area above the bridge that I had decided was the best place to take unobstructed photos, but it was closed off. Bummer! Apparently the very strong wind which was making it difficult to hold the camera still also made this open area a riskier place to be. I had to settle for less desirable spots, but they weren’t bad. I have a tendency to move around the deck a lot when there is something to see. It is normally related to my excitement. Today it also helped to keep me warm. It was pretty chilly and the wind made it downright uncomfortable at times. But it was worth it to be able to see as much as possible. Carol chose to sit in the lounger on the balcony and take it all in. Sometimes she just has a lot more sense than me. As we passed through the fjords, there was a Fjordland National Park guide on board telling us about what we were seeing. Unfortunately for those on deck it was very difficult to hear or understand what was being said. The PA system just wasn’t adequate, even if you were right next to it. Carol was listening to the TV, where the talk was being broadcast on the ship channel. Unfortunately, she couldn’t hear it unless she went inside the cabin, so she was going in and out of the slider all day.
Dusky Sound turned out to be quite nice. The mountains weren’t as high as those in Norway, but they were very pretty and it is always exciting to see a waterfall. My concern about it not being a sunny day turned out to be unnecessary, since the low hanging clouds actually made the fjord look mysterious and prettier than had it been a clear day. One of the unusual features of Dusky was the numerous islands in the fjord. It could be a challenge sailing through there in a heavy fog. The further North we went the taller the mountains got and the more dramatic the drop-offs.
After we left Dusky, we headed north till we entered Doubtful Sound. Like Dusky the low clouds made the fjord look mysterious and added to the beauty. The mountains were very green with solid trees except for run off areas like we had seen in the Alps. Even though it was very cold at times it was very difficult to stop watching as every minute brought a different view.
In the afternoon as we entered Milford Sound, we had a surprise. There was an area of sunshine coming though the clouds and illuminating a large section of the fjord. It was an unexpected treat since the low clouds were also there. I thought Milford was the prettiest of the fjords with larger waterfalls and steeper, higher mountains. Although I had been on deck most of the day watching the ship move through the fjords, it was sad when we finally entered the Tasman Sea, because we were leaving lovely New Zealand.
The Tasman Sea –
This was the part of the cruise that we had worried most about. The Tasman Sea is known to have high seas that make for a very difficult and uncomfortable crossing. To our great relief, during the two days of our crossing, the seas were rated as “light”, 0 to 4.5 feet for all but the last evening, when they were “moderate”, 4 to 7.5 feet. The crew and staff were as pleased and surprised as the cruisers were. They said that they had experienced some rough ones so far this season. I guess my Maori Fishhook brought me the safe passage over water that the Maori legends had promised.
On the second Tasman Sea day we were in our cabin, when Carol told me to “look”. She was pointing at the balcony where an Albatross was gliding along not far from the ship. We were totally in shock and couldn’t believe what we were seeing. We walked onto the balcony and to see where it had gone, and saw that it had dropped back to the rear of the ship. I grabbed my camera and telephoto lens and ran down to the Promenade Deck, where I knew I would be able to get views from every angle. It was also closer to water level, where the Albatross was snatching food from the ocean.
When I got to the Promenade Deck near the aft, I realized that there were two Albatrosses. What a treat! They kept me running from port to starboard snapping away with my camera. They never did get as close as the first view of the one from our balcony. It was kind of like she was telling me to come out and play and then she played hard to get.
Albatrosses fly by gliding on wind currents rather than flapping their wings. In this way they are able fly hundreds of miles a day and not have to rest. They were so graceful as they glided above the waves and dropped down ever so slightly to scoop up squids that were near the surface. I didn’t realize until later that I had gotten a photo of one of them with a squid in her mouth. They really “made this day” at sea for me.
Hobart, Tasmania –
After not touching land for three days, we were finally at a port. Tasmania is an island state of Australia. It was a very pleasant surprise when we heard singing coming from outside. We went onto the balcony and looked down on the pier where a choral group of young people was singing for the Diamond’s arrival. They were very good. It was very generous of them to come out so early to entertain us.
The two couples we toured with in Dunedin had reserved a van in Hobart, and we planned to go along with them on a self guided tour. Since this was our first stop in Australia, we had to proceed through the immigration process. Every passenger had received a letter in their cabin the previous night with an assigned number from 1 to around 2,800. The letter said that everyone had to go through immigration in Hobart, even if they weren’t getting off the ship. The authorities intended to begin calling groups of 100 starting at 8:00 AM, and the whole process should be completed by 10:00 AM.
Since we were in the 1,100 series and Peter, Wendy, Bob and Jenny were in a series before ours, we assumed that we should all be off the ship before 9:00 AM. Timing was very important since we wanted to visit the Tahune Airwalk and Bonorong Wildlife Park in the same day. This combination of tours wasn’t offered by Princess, but we figured we could do it. Unfortunately, we had not included immigration in our planning. We had expected to get off the ship at 8:00 AM and now found that we were going to be delayed.
It was taking a long time to call each group, probably because the Princess excursion groups were able to go through immigration as they left on their tours. The rest of us had to wait. The authorities were being very strict about not allowing anyone to sneak in line before their appointed time. By 9:00AM they were calling number 600. Needless to say, it was very frustrating. We were finally able to get off the ship a little before 10:00 AM. If you are taking the Diamond from New Zealand to Australia, be sure to book a Princess tour in Hobart to maximize your time on this lovely island.
Since the others had gotten off about 15 minutes before us, they were able to get the van and come meet us not too far from the Diamond. Peter was the only one in the group that had driven on the left side of the street before, so he drove. I must say he did very well, although he did venture onto a couple of left side curbs early on. Luckily, his previous experience with left side driving all came back to him, and he was able to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Peter had estimated that it would take about an hour and a half to get to the Tahune Airwalk.
It is a 600 yard walk that carries you 60 feet above the forest floor as you walk above and among the great trees of the Hartz Mountains.
The drive to the airwalk took us through the lovely Huon Valley. We enjoyed vistas of green hills sprinkled with farms and ranches. I really had not expected Tasmania to be that pretty. During a much needed rest stop, I walked over to the river and was thrilled to see a couple of black swans with bright red beaks. I had seen this breed from a distance at another port, but had been unable to see how beautiful they really were. They came rushing over toward me. Obviously they have been spoiled before by visitors bringing them handouts. I called the rest of the group down to check them out before we headed back down the road. This time the swans left disappointed because we had nothing for them.
The closer we got to the airwalk, the curvier the road got and the slower we had to drive. We finally got to our destination a little before noon. The setting was great. Really pretty. We crossed over the wide Huon River on the way up the hill to the airwalk.
Once again we were climbing up a hill and the incline kept getting steeper. One of the best things about this walk was that we could stop to appreciate the huge trees and giant ferns that were all over the place. We could go at our own pace.
Finally we reached the beginning of the actual airwalk. Carol had worried about the structure swaying too much, but not after she saw the sturdy metal construction. This thing was really solid. The actual walkway was about three feet wide, and the sides were almost five feet high. In order to fall off, you would have to make an effort to do so.
It was a beautiful area and the airwalk was a great way to view and appreciate it. The highlight of the walk was supposed to be the cantilevered section. It is a part of the walk that hangs out from the rest of the structure, and is suspended over the Huon River. Jenny found that it was fun to jump on that section and make it move around. Some of the others didn’t think it was as much fun as she did; but I got a kick out of it. It was a unique place to visit and I really enjoyed it.
Unfortunately it was getting close to 1:00 PM and we were quickly determining that we wouldn’t be able to get to Bonorong and still get back to the ship with an adequate cushion for any unforeseen problems. So, since we hadn’t eaten lunch yet, we came up with a plan B. On the way to the airwalk, we had spotted several wineries. We decided that we now had plenty of time to stop at one of them for a nice relaxing lunch in the Tasmanian wine country.
Wendy found a very nice one called Home Hill Winery. They had a large modern building with a nice restaurant. The grounds were just lovely with the manicured vineyards taking up a large area near the building. We had decided to have a light lunch and chose a few interesting items from the menu.
The popular item at our table was Huon Garlic Roasted Honey Brown Mushrooms filled with Bothwell Goats Cheese and Roasted Capsicum. The next most popular was a thick pumpkin soup. They were both quite delicious. We also had a little private wine tasting session. Home Hill had some very nice wines. I don’t drink much wine, but I did find some of them to be most enjoyable. Peter and Bob, both wine connoisseurs, bought a couple bottles to take back to the ship.
On the way back to the ship we were excited to see some Belted Galloway Cows on the hillside. The only time we had seen them before was when we were in Ireland. We were thrilled to see them again. It doesn’t take much to make us happy. We also saw lots of apple orchards and many vineyards as we drove the beautiful countryside.
I got a kick out of one of the road signs that showed a car slipping with the wording under it saying “When Frosty”, a cute way to say slippery when icy. There were many different road signs that I thought were cute on this trip. One said "Keep left unless overtaking". In Christchurch, we had seen one that said “Give Way” rather than “Yield”. I also saw a Kangaroo crossing type sign in one of the ports.
Before we returned to the ship we stopped at the Salamanca Market. It was an interesting place, and we stopped in several shops. We didn’t stay long since we were getting tired. We walked back to the Diamond along the harbor. It was really nice with lots of interesting statues lining it, but we were ready to get back to our cabin.
Before sailaway, once again we heard music coming from the dock. A drum and bagpipe band dressed in kilts was playing for us. The people of Hobart were really putting on a show for the Diamond passengers. It really demonstrated how much they appreciated the ship coming to their town. Some of the tour guides were waiting for the ship to leave and were waving and throwing kisses to people they recognized from their tours and anyone else who would wave back. The guides were having a great time and it was apparent that they had struck a sentimental chord with the passengers. Everyone was cheerful for the celebration; but a little sentimental to leave these fine people. I have never seen a town put out such a nice welcome and fond farewell for a ship.
Melbourne, Australia –
After another day at sea, we arrived at Melbourne. From the ship we could see a beautiful skyline of a big city. Several brightly colored hot air balloons were floating close by. It looked nice. We had chosen not to spend too much time in the city but instead take the Princess Puffing Billy Train excursion out into the countryside. Since the bus had to go through town to get out to the train station, we were able to have a drive by city tour. It is a nice modern city with many tourist sights to explore. But Melbourne is also a large city with a population of three million and the traffic to go with it. It was quite a contrast from the country roads we had been spending most of our time on earlier in the cruise. It took almost an hour to get to the Belgrave Train Station and most of that time was spent in the densely populated suburbs. I felt like I was commuting to work.
After a short walk, we came to the tracks where Puffing Billy was waiting for us. It was not your normal train. Puffing Billy is a narrow gauge train that gets its name from the over 100 year old steam engine. It is a beautiful piece of machinery with lots of highly polished brass in the engine compartment. We were very happy that we would have the steam engine, since it isn’t used during dry periods when Billy could cause forest fires.
The passenger carriages, as the brochure calls them, are made of red colored wood; and where windows would normally be are two horizontal metal bars. The bench seats are set back to back so the passengers can look out the openings in front of them. I was quite surprised with the large number of cars and how quickly it was filling up. It is a very popular attraction.
Except for the train engineers, all of the workers are volunteers, many of them ex-railroad employees who enjoy reliving the past. At last we were given the “All Aboard” and Puffing Billy started belching out steam and pulling away from the station.
The destination was Menzies Creek and the route there would take us through the outskirts of the Dandenong Mountain Range. The ride was very enjoyable and the scenery kept everyone standing up to get better views down the mountains to see the rivers, lakes and other scenery along the tracks. Since the train was so long, when it took a curve, we could see the cars closer to the front of the train. To our amazement, many of the passengers were sitting up in the windows with their legs hanging out over the side of the train. Apparently it is the thing to do for locals. One of the folks on our excursion tried it, but didn’t stay up there too long. The narrow edge of the opening is made for younger lightweight passengers to sit on.
After the twenty minute ride to Menzies Creek, we got back on our bus and started our scenic ride through the Dandenong Mountain Range. Once again, my preconceived ideas about Australia were proved totally wrong. We were seeing some beautiful green country, quite unlike my visions of an Outback type arid desert engulfing all of Australia.
Our first destination was to have lunch at Fergusson’s Yarra Valley Winery. We arrived right at noon and were thrilled to see that once again we were going to have a lovely vineyard setting for lunch. It was a large building in the middle of the vineyard with a lovely rustic wood interior. The tour guide on the bus had previously asked each passenger if they wanted beef or fish for their main course, so when we arrived our meals were ready for us.
Shortly after we were seated at the table for eight, the very friendly servers brought us baskets of homemade breads, followed shortly by our main course of beef with gravy, carrots, green beans, potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Bottles of red and white wines were on the table and were replaced when emptied. Carol asked for a coke and they brought a full pitcher! A table was set up at the end of the room with a small salad bar of slaw, fresh sliced tomatoes, spinach, marinated macaroni, and condiments. All of that was followed by a dessert plate for the table to share, primarily composed of yummy cookies and brownies. It was one delicious feast and the hostesses were just so sweet and helpful to us. We have been on many excursion group meals, but this was the best experience by far. Fergusson’s has set us up for disappointment on future excursions, because it will be hard to match their level of service, setting and food quality.
After eating more than we should, we needed and wanted to walk around the grounds and check out the vineyard and shop. We had noticed that at the end of each row of vines there was a rose bush. Our tour guide told us that roses are more susceptible to disease than the grapes. When the rose bushes get diseased, it is a warning to the vineyard that the grape vines need to be treated soon. Each section of the vineyard had signs showing the type of wine the grapes made and the year the vines were planted. It was very tempting to pull off a grape and try it, but we exercised self control. Besides, we were still full from our delicious meal.
The drive to our next destination, Healesville Sanctuary, was most enjoyable. The hills covered with vineyards looked so perfect and manicured. Some rows were covered in netting to prevent the birds and insects from getting to the grapes. It was all so lovely, and it was hard to believe it was real rather than a painting. A beautiful area.
Healesville is billed as Australia’s premier wildlife park. We were very glad it was on the tour, since we had missed Bonorong at Hobart. We really wanted to see the animals that are only indigenous to Australia. As we entered the sanctuary, we were assigned to a guide, Rae Church. Once again we had a guide with lots of knowledge about the attraction, lots of stories to tell, and a great personality. He wanted to make sure we saw as much as possible of what was available in the park.
The sanctuary has animals in their natural settings with lots of space rather than small cages. It made for a very nice walk through a habitat that made you feel like you were walking out in the countryside rather than a zoo. We walked by emus and other bird life on the way to see the Koala Bears.
We were able to get very close to the Koalas, but since it was in the middle of the day, they weren’t doing much other than resting. They were very cute.
As we walked around the temperature seemed to be getting warmer. It was by far the hottest weather we had experienced, a sharp contrast to the very mild and almost cool weather we had experienced in many of the other ports. As a result of the higher temperature and since it was the middle of the day, many of the animals were either sleeping or out of sight in their nests. Our next stop was to see the kangaroos, which were lying around keeping out of the heat. Further down the path another group of kangaroos of a different variety were up and about.
We were able to get out of the sun as we went into the Duck Billed Platypus building. It was quite dark in there and made it very difficult to get any decent photos. The Platypus looks like a beaver with a large duck’s bill and is much smaller than I had expected. From pictures I had previously seen, I had been expecting a large beaver sized creature. They only weigh about three to four pounds, with a total length including their tail of not much over one foot. The body is about half the size of an average cat. The exhibit shows their activity above and below the water. They are in constant movement busily searching for something to eat and quickly coming to the surface to swallow food and/or get air. They are just precious little creatures.
As we were leaving the platypus exhibit, a wallaby slowly crossed our path and went into some vegetation near us. Wallabies look very much like kangaroos, but are much smaller. Rae said this guy just hangs out at the sanctuary.
We headed for the outdoor amphitheater to see the Birds of Prey show. The trainers had the various birds swoop down toward them for food as well as fly over our heads to demonstrate their skills and speed. The largest bird was a Wedge-tailed Eagle. Very impressive. Additionally we also had performances by an Osprey and Peregrine Falcon.
Our favorite performance was by a large Black Buzzard named Beatrice. She really had a personality and was so funny walking around the amphitheater. The trainer put a fake Emu egg on the ground. Beatrice came over to it, picked up a small stone and threw it at the egg in an attempt to break it. This is what they do in the wild to break open eggs so they can get the food out. This show was quite educational and entertaining, and we really enjoyed it.
Beatrice, the Black Buzzard
As we continued down the numerous paths in the sanctuary I was amazed to see some massive pelicans swimming on a small pond. The tops of their heads were around three to four feet above the water line. I just couldn’t believe pelicans could be that big; but Australia has an abundance of unique creatures. We also saw some Brolgas, one of many types of birds that I had never seen before.
When we went by the Echidna exhibit, they were in their burrows with only their backs showing. Echidnas are porcupine type egg laying mammals that are only indigenous to Australia. As we walked along the path, to our delight, a young Echidna came strolling along through the vegetation. It was a cute little creature.
We were running out of time and we were getting exhausted from all the walking in the heat. We were able to cool off some by going to the indoor reptile exhibit. There we saw brightly colored frogs, lizards and some very dangerous snakes. One of them, the Taipan, has venom that is seven times more potent than the King Cobra. To our amazement, there has only been one reported death from a Taipan and it was in 1989. Like many of the dangerous snakes of Australia, they keep away from humans. A good thing indeed.
On our way out of the sanctuary we were able to see some Dingoes, which are an Australian breed of wild dogs. Like many of the other animals they were resting in the shade to keep out of the heat.
We decided to copy the Dingoes and head for the bus where we could get out of the heat and finally sit down after the long afternoon. We had seen many wonderful varieties of Australia’s unique wildlife. It was a great experience, but we were beat. We were so relieved to enter the air conditioned bus for our return to the Diamond.
On the way back, our bus driver, Trevor, told us that the temperature at Healesville was 38 degrees centigrade or 101 degrees Fahrenheit. We knew it was hot, but had no idea it was that hot. Oh to be back in Fjordland! The drive back to the ship once again carried us through Southeast Australia’s beautiful hilly terrain.
Disembarkation and Post-Cruise in Sydney, Australia:
One benefit of cruising from Auckland to Sydney rather than the reverse route is that there is a day at sea before disembarkation day. It allowed Carol to pack and arrange the luggage for our post-cruise in Sydney and eventual flight home. I woke up around 6:00 AM, anxious to get onto our balcony and finally see Sydney.
Sunrise wasn’t to be until 6:48 AM, so it was still dark, but quite lovely with the lights of the city in front of us. The Diamond docks at Circular Quay, right in the heart of town. Since the Diamond was facing forward at the dock, our starboard cabin had a lovely view of the city and of the Harbor Bridge.
I rushed to put on some clothes so I could get to the upper decks to see the sights and take photos of the opera house before the sun came up. Oh my, what a sight. After seeing pictures of this world famous building for most of my life, I was finally seeing it in person.
It appeared smaller than I expected, since I was looking down at it from high up on the Diamond. I couldn’t believe it was so close. The vantage point at the back of the ship was incredible. It afforded great views of the opera house and Harbor Bridge as well as the city.
Disembarkation was to take place between 6:45 AM and 10:30 AM. Since we were using the Princess post-cruise hotel package at the Four Seasons, we had received luggage/exit tags for an early disembarkation. We went up to the Horizon Buffet for our last breakfast on the Diamond. At around 7:15 AM, as soon as we sat down in Club Fusion to wait for our tag color to be called, it was called. We couldn’t believe it. We were off the ship and had put our luggage on the bus before 7:30 AM. It couldn’t have been an easier disembarkation. The bus ride to the Four Seasons was just a couple of minutes. We were going to have a full day to explore Sydney.
We were told that our room wouldn’t be ready until 3:00 PM, but the hotel had set up a place just for Princess, where we could check our carry on bags. So we began our sightseeing by walking down the street to pick up the Red Sydney http://theaustralianexplorer.com.au/. There is also a Blue Route bus that goes out to Bondi Beach; but we were more interested in the city sights. It’s a great way to get a thorough overview of the city with an informative recorded narrative. The driver can also add their own commentary. Since it is a “hop-on hop-off” bus, it provides you with the ability to get off to see an area or sight that interests you and still be able to get back on the bus later when you want to continue the tour. We prefer to take the complete route and then decide where we want to return to.
It was a long two hour route that seemed to thoroughly cover the main tourist areas. Another on-off bus company is also available, CitySightseeing. It has the open top buses and did a similar route, but they were older, less comfortable looking busses. Because our bus had windows, many photos taken from it were affected by window glare; but we really enjoyed the ride. We were more interested in having a bus with a good air conditioner so we could relax and enjoy our first taste of Sydney.
After we completed the route, we noted several places that we wanted to go back to visit. However, since the last bus stop was at the Rocks, it was time to start walking around. Since our two post cruise days were Saturday and Sunday, the Rocks Market was in full swing. A large group of local vendors had their booths set up under a tent that covered a couple of blocks. Because it was early when we first arrived, it wasn’t really crowded. It would be later in the day and on Sunday.
We went back over to the Four Seasons to see what the room status was, and they reiterated that it would be 3:00 PM. The hotel looked very nice and it was so convenient to the Rocks and Circular Quay. Even the opera house was within easy walking distance.
We did some souvenir shopping then went to lunch in the Quay. Quite a lovely setting, especially since the Diamond was still at the dock. You can really appreciate the size of the Diamond when it is right in the heart of a large city. Since the weather was so beautiful and clear, we decided that it would be a good day to do a harbor cruise. We looked around at the various cruise companies and picked out Magistic Sightseeing Cruises. They have one hour harbor cruises every hour on the hour. The boat was a fairly new large catamaran type with plenty of deck space to move around on. Everyone was able to pick the viewing spots they wanted with no problem. There was also a nice large air conditioned cabin for when you wanted to get out of the sun or get one of the free beers or cold drinks.
I had always heard that Sydney Harbor was beautiful; and it had looked great from the other vantage points we had been to; but seeing the harbor from the boat was special. There is nothing like being on the water to appreciate the harbor. By going around the whole harbor, you get different angles on all of the sights. Way too many photo ops; but they can’t be resisted. It is just so beautiful.
As we got further out into the harbor, the sail boats were so thick I really didn’t know how they weren’t running into each other. The many colors of the sails coupled with the sun reflecting off the blue water of the harbor were quite a sight.
We sailed past the numerous mansions sitting on the water’s edge and even saw a jet boat speed past us with the passengers squealing with delight.
When we passed below the Harbor Bridge, we could see the groups of people doing the bridge climb to the top. We could also get an excellent view of the Luna Park amusement park.
We went back to the Four Seasons at 2:00 PM to see if perhaps we could get to our room. Nope! Still wouldn’t be ready till 3:00 PM. When the Four Seasons says 3:00 PM, that is what they mean. Most hotels give you a late estimate, so you won’t bother them and they don’t have to rush as much. The Four Seasons really needed the time as we would understand later when we checked out.
We had decided that if we couldn’t get into our room, we would get back on the Explorer Bus and go to the Queen Victoria Building to see it and the stores inside it. When we had driven by it on the earlier tour, the beautiful exterior of the building really made us want to check it out more. The inside was very pretty with a large domed windowed roof and a three story open mall. It was ornately decorated with numerous antique knick knacks. They even had some lovely stained glass. After doing a little shopping, we decided it was time to head back to the hotel.
It was after 4:30 PM and we knew our room would be ready. The Queen Victoria Building is very close to the Sydney Tower; but we just didn’t have time to go over to it. Since we had done the Auckland Sky Tower, which is taller, we decided that it would have to be saved till the next trip. It takes a lot more than two days to see all the sights of Sydney. It is difficult to prioritize what to see and not see.
We were finally able to check into our room. Just like we had been when on the Diamond, our room was on the tenth floor. The room was quite nice and had all the comforts one would expect from the Four Seasons. We didn’t expect to have a great view, but were thrilled when we could look out at the opera house and even see the front of the Diamond. We did a little unpacking and decided to just walk down to Circular Quay for a leisurely dinner.
We chose City Extra, a nice little restaurant where we could sit outside and get a nice view of the opera house and the Diamond. It was a nice meal. For desert we walked over to the Royal Copenhagen Ice Cream shop. We liked it so much that we came back the next day for more. I took Carol back to the hotel so she could finish her unpacking and get some much needed rest. I took out my camera and headed down to Circular Quay to see if I could get some nice night photos of the Diamond Princess as she was leaving port.
Since it was Saturday night, the Quay was quite busy. I walked on over to the opera house since it looked like a good location for photos of the Diamond and the bridge. There were people everywhere. Some to watch the Diamond, some just hanging out, but most were there to enjoy the normal Saturday evening entertainment. What a wonderful location to just walk around, sightsee and people watch. I even ran into and talked with some Diamond passengers. I was really liking the beautiful city of Sydney. Much nicer than I had even hoped for.
The Diamond Princess was supposed to leave at 9:00 PM, but there had been a ship with cranes sitting next to her that appeared to be doing maintenance. I wondered if that were the case since we had noticed a strong vibration on the starboard side of the ship on both the sixth and seven floors when we were onboard. I wondered if maybe the shaking we had felt was a symptom of a problem that needed to be fixed before the ship could leave. Of course, I was just guessing.
The vibration we had noticed was localized to a small area. It was strongest at Explorers Lounge bar on deck seven when we were there; and one night in the deck six Santa Fe Dining Room. The glasses at the other tables around us weren’t shaking much at all, but ours were going to town. We estimated that our table was around the same area where the vibration was in Explorers above us.
When what I thought was a maintenance ship was still right next to the Diamond at 9:00 PM, I was concerned that there might be a serious maintenance issue, but after about twenty minutes, it left. At around 9:30 PM the Diamond began to move. After awhile it sounded its horn. With the skyscrapers of Sydney as its backboard, the Diamond horn really exploded with a loud thunderous sound. I watched for a little while till she turned toward the opera house to go out of harbor and then I headed back to the hotel. As I was walking I ran into Peter, Wendy, Bob and Jenny, our tour mates from Dunedin and Hobart. I was glad to see them, because we hadn’t seen them earlier before we left the ship.
Once back in our room, we really appreciated the luxurious feel of the soft sheets on the king size bed. I don’t know what kind of pillows they use, but they were wonderful. We didn’t enjoy it for too long though, since we were asleep very quickly.
After we got up Sunday morning, we walked over to the CQ Café for breakfast. It is located out the front door of the hotel and straight down Alfred Street. We had a very friendly waitress. The breakfast was very nice, but we couldn’t believe how strong the coffee was. Carol couldn’t put in enough milk and Equal to neutralize the coffee. Since I drink black coffee and like it strong, it didn’t bother me. It was almost as strong as Espresso.
Our plans for Sunday morning, since we knew many things would be closed, was to walk over to the Royal Botanic Gardens. We had passed by it a couple of times the previous day while on the Explorer Bus, and it looked like it could be a nice place to visit. The walk from the hotel was up a mild sloping hill, so we took it slowly to save ourselves for the rest of the day. It was nice walking on Sunday morning, because there weren’t a lot of people outside and very little traffic. We entered the park grounds and could see that the grounds look quite lovely and that there were lots of big trees, but there didn’t seem to be many brightly colored flowers.
We knew we had been spoiled last year by Victoria, British Columbia’s Butchart Gardens, but we at least expected to see some flowers. The trees were beautiful as were the paths, but since we had hoped to see flowers, we were disappointed. There was an exhibit at the tropical center called “Sex and Death” which starred orchids and carnivorous plants, but it wasn’t open yet.
The gardens are very large covering 76 acres. We weren’t able to see all of it due to time constraints. The most interesting thing we saw was in the Palm Grove section. Some of the trees were covered with Grey-headed Flying Fox, which are members of the bat family. They were hanging upside down on many of the trees in that area, and their presence had taken a toll on the vegetation. The limbs were stripped and the trees dieing. The bats can weigh over two pounds and have a wingspan of over three feet. They are very big and their heads actually looked like a fox head. If one of them got mad at you, he could do some serious damage. There was continuous movement in the trees with the foxes constantly changing position and moving their wings around.
After we walked back to the hotel, Carol went to the room to freshen up and I went back to the Rocks to pick up a souvenir I had spotted the previous day. It was different looking at the harbor without the Diamond blocking the view. While walking around one of the shops, I again ran into Peter, Wendy, Bob and Jenny. I was starting to think that they were stalking me; but they probably felt the same way about me.
After I returned to the room, it was time to head out to Darling Harbor for lunch and sightseeing. It only cost about $8 AUS to get there by cab. Darling Harbor is the sight of numerous bars and eateries, a shopping mall, a marina and the Sydney Aquarium.
Darling Harbor stick men Kids play in the Harbor water circle.
It is very scenic with the city skyline as a background. It is also larger than we thought. From one side to the other is a pretty long walk, especially with the strong sun that was beating down on us. It was a relief when we finally got to the door of the shopping mall. We found some great souvenirs there and were very ready to finally stop to eat at an outside café around 2:00 PM. It was quite a nice meal, but the high point for me was to be able to enjoy a Victoria Bitter beer. A friend of mine had told me to be sure to try Victoria Bitter beer when I was in Australia. I stuck with New Zealand beers while I was there; but once I got to Australia, this was my beer of choice. I highly recommend it. It is quite good.
After lunch, we walked over to the Sydney Aquarium. One of the first exhibits was the platypus. I was thrilled to see them again, but as before, the exhibit was dark and the platypuses were moving quickly. Just the wrong recipe for photos. There were many nice exhibits.
Since we had seen them nesting in Dunedin, we were particularly fond of the aquarium’s little Blue Penguin area. It was feeding time and they were having a ball.
Close-ups of two cuties
There were lots of exhibits and it was a nice aquarium, but it wasn’t as impressive as some we have seen in other cities. We did enjoy seeing the seals. One in particular knew the feeding routine and was waiting on the ramp for the trainer/feeder to come into their area. Once he came in, the seal moved into position on a large rock and put on a show of “catching the fish”. He was quite an entertainer.
The highlight of the aquarium is the Great Barrier Reef Oceanarium. It has two glass tubes along the bottom that you are able to walk through and observe the sea life. They do have some large sharks, rays and other big fish; and it is a great way to see how they live up close and personal.
We saw some Lion Fish. They are poisonous, and these were quite large. The last exhibit we went to had a large Napoleon Wrasse Fish in a huge tank with other large fish. I had first seen one of these fish on a dive last year in Rangiroa while on the Tahitian Princess. They are very slow moving, very large and just very impressive. It was just hanging by the corner of the tank checking us out. You could see its large eyes move around looking at the people. It felt so strange when he just stared at you. He made you wonder if you weren’t the one on display! We really got a kick out of him. The aquarium may not have been the best we’ve seen, but it was well worth the trip.
Lion Fish Napoleon Wrasse
We left the aquarium and walked over to the cab stand. We met a couple who had been on the Diamond who were going to a hotel near us, so we shared a ride over. The weather was getting cloudy and it looked like we were finally going to be getting rain while in a port. We had been exceptionally lucky with the weather.
We had to finish most of our packing that night so that we could have the bags ready by 11:00 AM to be picked up for our transfer to the airport. We were tired from the day’s activities so we went back over to the Quay to find a place for dinner. The weather helped us to choose the restaurant. It started to rain and as it got harder, we just walked into what was close by. The rain stopped by the time we had finished eating, so we were able to go by our ice cream shop again for dessert. We then headed back to our room to finish the packing. After we got back to the room heavy rains came pouring down. We were glad they had waited until our vacation was almost over.
The next morning the rain was gone, but it was still partly cloudy. We returned to the CQ Café, our favorite breakfast spot, but Carol didn’t get the coffee. She waited till we finished and went to Starbucks for her cup of Joe.
I still had one more thing to do in Sydney, tour the opera house. Carol needed to go back to finish up her preparation for the trip home, so I walked over to the opera house for a guided tour. It was quite interesting and I got to see three of the seven theater venues including the largest, the Concert Hall. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed in any of the theaters. It would have been nice to be able to see a production while we were there, but our visit would have needed a major extension.
I enjoyed seeing the views from inside the opera house, since I had been looking at it the whole time I had been in Sydney. The views from the inside were very nice with dramatic angles. Interesting geometric patterns were displayed on the roof and throughout the building. It was quite pretty, although one foyer had a very bright purple carpet that was distracting.
Since it was almost 10:00 AM, I needed to get back to the hotel to see if there was anything that I needed to do before our luggage was picked up at 11:00 AM. I was surprised that they let us stay in our rooms that long, but was certainly pleased by the opportunity. It made a lot more sense to us now, why so many of the rooms weren’t ready before 3:00 PM when we arrived. Another thing we liked was that our bags were picked up inside our room rather than out in the hallway.
The transfer to the airport went smoothly and we proceeded through immigration relatively fast. The long Qantas flight was shortened by our sleeping pill induced nap. The flight was fine; but the Air New Zealand flight had better food and a friendlier crew. The immigration process and luggage transfer in LAX also went quickly. We were having a string of good luck, very much like we had experienced for the last sixteen days. Our adventure Down Under was over, but the fond memories of our experiences in those beautiful countries with their wonderful people will never be forgotten.
This was an incredible cruise. The Diamond Princess is a fine ship with an extraordinary staff. But the stars of this vacation were the countries of New Zealand and Australia and their very warm friendly people. We heard so many of our fellow Diamond cruisers talking about how they wish they could move to that part of the world. I certainly share their feelings, but know realistically that it is too far from our families and our beloved USA. But it does say a lot for New Zealand and Australia to be able to move people’s hearts enough that they would even consider it. I guess we’ll just have to be content with planning another, but longer visit Down Under!
Below is a link to the Shutterfly albums with other photos from the vacations:
Sabatini's, Sterling, and the Main Dining: Menus for all of Diamond's Dining Rooms
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