We awoke at about 5am to the lights of Circular Quay sliding past our cabin door. The ship had arrived early and so, by the time everyone got out of bed, we were already docked and could look down at the rows of pallets of fruit and vegetables ready to be loaded aboard.
We had all picked the last disembarkation groups, being in no rush to get to the bus to Orange at 3pm, or the airport by 4pm, so Luke and I packed our bags and grabbed a snack while we waited in a lounge on the deck with the gangway.
Somehow Mum and Dad got hustled straight off the ship while the rest of us were waiting in the lounge area (you have to be out of your room by 8am so the cleaning crews can go through) so they caught a cab to Central Station while we went through customs. Getting off the ship was a lot quicker than getting on and we didn’t even have to show our passports, which seemed a bit weird.
When we left the port building there were people everywhere in groups with giant piles of luggage but no obvious line, so I went straight up to a minivan taxi that had just pulled up and asked if we could book it. Why is it that things always go so smoothly when you’re not in a rush but if we’d had to race to the airport we’d probably have had to wait for hours for a cab?
We met up with Mum and Dad at the station and then got coffee before heading to their usual watering place, The Great Southern Hotel, which isn’t far from the station. We spent our last few hours together updating the blog, watching the tv in the bar and enjoying fast internet for the first time in two weeks.
Eventually we said goodbye and Luke and I headed to the airport, where we discovered that if we’d headed straight there from the ship we’d probably have been bumped to an earlier flight. Lesson learned!
We got home a bit after 8 and caught up on the news from Sim, a friend who was between rentals and needed somewhere to stay. She brought her cat so getting her introduced to Bonnie will be the first challenge on returning home.
We fell into bed after beginning to unpack, very happy to be back in our own space!
We didn’t do a whole lot on the last two days of the cruise. We played cards each afternoon, which kind of took me back to our childhood, when card games were quite a common pastime. Izaac is old enough now (13) to have a really good grasp of all the rules and play as well as an adult.
On the last evening we (minus Izaac, who preferred to enjoy the solitude and convenience of his cabin and room service for one last time) had booked a table at the Crown Grill. Before we boarded I booked both Allegro and Crown, and in both we got the best tables we’d had all trip. I don’t know if prebookings get allocated first, but if I ever went again, I’d book a table in each of the bookable restaurants before boarding and just cancel if I didn’t feel like going on the day.
The Crown Grill was great, it’s one of the three restaurants on the ship that cost an extra $40 per person rather than being complimentary. We had a very chatty waiter, which is always nice but especially nice when you’ve had a lot of time talking to your beloved family ;-).
All the courses were excellent and we decided to lash out and order all of them, but made the critical error of eating all the delicious cheese bread that was put on the table first. I had a lobster fish cake to start, followed by a blue cheese-crusted onion soup and an enormous fillet Mignon with shared sides. I’m always superprised by what stands out in a meal and, aside from the steak, the creamed spinach side was delicious!
The waiter brought over three salted caramel brûlées for us to share at the end and we all staggered off feeling as though we were going to explode. A fitting end to our journey!
I just found this post in my drafts, sorry for posting out of order and four months late😂
I took pity on a very dusty Luke, and brought back breakfast and water from the buffet as the ship turned into the first fiord of the day. Mum and I went to sit on the promenade deck (7) and found some comfy chairs with a great view. Dad and Luke joined us and we watched the steep cliffs slide by and enjoyed the best weather we’ve had all cruise, which is lucky as this was the part of NZ that gets the most rain. Dad and I walked to the other side of the ship in time to see a pod of dolphins leaping up in the wake of the ship. They weren’t close enough for a photo but we could see them quite clearly.
The sun was hot, so after we had stayed there for quite a while we headed back to our rooms to sit in the shade for a while. Luke went to listen to the information talk and afterwards I wished I’d gone as it sounded very interesting. While in the fiords a local expert does a shipwide broadcast on the flora, fauna and history of the area. I went for a walk around the ship and was surprised to see how many people weren’t looking at the amazing views, mostly kids. I recall being unimpressed by most views and natural things when I was a kid, even though we regularly holidayed in the Blue Mountains and frequently saw quite spectacular views. Why don’t kids care about this stuff?
Anyhoo, we spent most of the day looking at the views but in the afternoon, as the ship set out into the open ocean, we played several rounds of Five Crowns, a card game Michael and Izaac brought. It uses mechanics similar to Rummy so it was easy for everyone to pick up.
Dinner in the buffet was followed by an early night for all.
A later docking in Port Chalmers today, which is just as well as Luke and I stayed up late watching Romancing the Stone, which I’m sure I saw at least five times when I was a kid but remembered almost nothing of this time around. It had not aged well, if you’re wondering.
I’ve managed to get through four books since the cruise started and would probably have managed another two but for headaches and Luke wanting to go do things outside our room, which is a good thing but I’ve just started a new and excellent author, T Kingfisher, and I’d happily lie in bed all day reading. Plenty of time for that when I get home, I guess!
Port Chalmers/Dunedin is another of the ports, like Lyttelton/Christchurch and Picton/Marlborough region, where you have to pay quite a bit and spend time getting to the main attraction. It’s a bit annoying, more so if you’ve come from a lot further than Australia and want to see as much as possible. I guess if you were really desperate to see heaps of NZ you probably wouldn’t do a cruise. I hadn’t really thought a lot, prior to boarding, about the demographic of people who would be on the ship but there are a lot of people of all ages with mobility issues and it really is an ideal way to travel if you struggle with stairs, packing, going distances, etc as not only is everything flat with lots of lifts but there’s lots of people to help. Mum has complained about walking along all the corridors but also commented that she feels like she has gained some fitness too, which is not what you expect from this type of holiday.
The weather is a lot chillier today, we sat outside with Mum and Michael for a short while at 9:30, Michael is keen to get into Dunedin as he and Izaac have had Covid and stayed in their cabin since Auckland. Michael’s very first Covid bout too, poor guy! Still, it was very mild and passed quickly. I don’t think Izaac showed many symptoms at all.
Everyone else decided to go into Dunedin, but Luke and I left the ship at about 11 and walked through the port buildings to the Main Street of Port Chalmers, which runs uphill. The very first building was holding an indoor craft market so we went in to have a look and ended up buying a couple of things and chatting to some locals, one of whom was a possum skin dealer. Possums are a pest in New Zealand and I can’t imagine why anyone would bother bringing them from Australia, but killing them is illegal at home so when people want possums skins for Indigenous rites, such as cloak making (a family at my school organised this for all our indigenous students, it is used all the time in ceremonies) they get them from trappers here.
After the markets we walked around town a bit, then up to a garden and lookout on one side of town. It would have been amazing to see when all the rhododendrons were out, but as it was the Japanese maples were very pretty and it was a good place to get a different view of the ship, looming over it while it looked over the town!
Then we walked down the harbour and up to the lookout on the other side of town. We got there just as the ball dropped; a ball drops from a tower to allow people with pocket watches to set their timepiece to precisely 1pm. Apparently it fell into disrepair for quite a number of years but the historical society raised $50,000 to rebuild it. Money well spent? Probably not, but it’s a thing and we saw it.
After a quick wander around a small and boring sculpture garden that also apparently cost a lot of money, we walked back to town and managed to get the prime window seat at the most charming-looking pub (The Portsider). Luke was much more thrilled by this than the ball drop.
They had a wide range of beers and several delicious ciders. I’d recommend popping in to try some if you’re in the area, the lady behind the bar knew a lot about each of the selection.
They also had good wifi so I spent quite a while drinking cider and updating the blog. If I manage to get some done during our waiting time in Sydney I’ll have completed it all before I get home and that would be very satisfying!
In the evening Mum, Dad, Michael, Luke and I met up at the buffet for a few drinks before we visited the Asian-themed Harmony restaurant onboard. It was fairly quiet but the food was nice, with the red bean brûlée standing out as particularly good and an interesting take on French brûlées. We had three bottles of wine between us and many laughs, particularly at Dad’s stories and Michael making fun of Luke having a small sized head while my family all have massive heads. Apparently now that he has married in he’s fair game for teasing;-).
After Mum and Dad headed to bed, Michael, Luke and I hit the dance floor in the piazza, and then had a bottle of red wine before going to the casino lounge to talk for a while. I went to bed early and apparently missed out on the part of the night where they went to the Hollywood Bar at the top of the ship and Michael ended up trying to restrain a guy who was being aggressive to staff members, shouting and gesturing at them. Eleven years as a publican came to the fore and he tried to stepped in but fortunately Luke rerouted him. Michael had apparently forgotten it until security turned up at his room the next morning and told him that, although he was trying to do the right thing, it wasn’t the ship’s policy to encourage patrons to lay hands on other patrons. A bit of excitement, I suppose!
After watching the information presentation on this port (the ship docks at Lyttelton, it is $35 for the round trip to Christchurch) it didn’t seem like there was much to do at the little port town. A short, free shuttle bus takes passengers from the ship to the town, even though the walk would be only about 1.5km. The dock is a working area with lots of trucks and other vehicles moving containers so I guess it’s not safe. The pier that the ship docks at was specifically built for cruise ships though, so it’s a shame they didn’t include a safe walkway.
Luke and I caught the shuttle in at 11am, figuring it was a short ride back if there was nothing to do, but it turns out that Lyttelton is actually quite charming, and behind the docks there are a plethora of very cute and unique cafes, bars and shops. I found a yellow shoulder bag that perfectly fitted my phone and iPad, so I don’t have to walk around the ship with my hands full, I wish I’d thought to bring something this size from home but useful things make the best souvenirs.
We ran into Mum and Dad in a gift shop and walked around a bit with them. Mum was looking for books as she has run out already (the downside of having only paper copies) and I wish I had got her onto the magic of kindles or iPads years ago. She could have a whole library in her hands!
We had a look through a classically musty second hand book shop with a delightful window display.
Then we had a coffee in the upstairs backyard garden of a cafe/gift shop called ‘Spooky Boogie’. It had a wide range of alternative art and pop culture items including Studio Ghibli stuff.
Lyttelton is worth a walk around beyond the back streets if you like architecture. The houses are weatherboard but many have fine fretwork that is very beautiful. The gardens are also delightful and many have vegetable gardens with berries hanging over the fence and gorgeous roses in bloom. Lovely!
The library here has internet that is ok for uploading text but struggles with photos, and closes at 2pm. We used it to do a bit of texting and upload an entry from a few days ago. Getting decent internet has been a bit of a mission on this trip. The ship provides paid access to the internet via their MedallionNet system but it costs about $27 per day for one device (or a bundle deal of $40 for 4 devices) and isn’t very reliable.
After we got back to the ship we found Mum and Dad at the Wake View bar and watched the ship move out of the bay and into the open water past a long and steep headland. Once again, there wasn’t much sunset, low clouds have obscured the horizon almost every evening but we’e still grateful not to have had much rain.
We had dinner in the buffet and I snagged mum the last pavlova (until the display was refilled) and Luke and I tried the lamingtons, which were spherical and a bit smaller than tennis balls, plus covered in giant shavings of coconut. They looked like someone’s artistic interpretation of lamingtons but really just showed why the fine coconut we usually use is preferable.
The bar areas on the ship and the buffet supply endless opportunities for people-watching very close up. Dad is always commenting on how much food people have piled on their plates and whether he thinks they will finish it. Most people are pretty quiet but occasionally we sit down near tables of people who don’t seem to realise how much noise they are making. I’m just waiting for Dad, who has an even lower tolerance for irritation than I do, to turn around and tell someone off. He’s managed to restrain himself so far though!
To end, here’s my favourite street art of this port.