Majestic Princess Day 14, Sydney

Vast quantities of food!

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?

Apparently this is where country people often stay in the big smoke. It definitely had a country pub vibe.

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.

Michael catches up on his fantasy football NFL business.

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!

Majestic Princess Day 9, Lyttelton

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.

Majestic Princess Day 8, Picton

Picton foreshore has a beautiful park.

The ship docked around 7am, but it doesn’t dock right in Picton, which has a small, pretty harbour that wouldn’t fit our monstrosity. The Majestic Princess docks around the corner in Shakespeare Bay and an efficient fleet of free buses transports passengers to Picton.

Once again, when we awoke we had the dud view – piles of lumber on the docks, while Mum and Dad’s cabin had a lovely view of forested fjord walls that felt almost tropical. The weather was a bit colder today but we didn’t need anything warmer than a light jacket. As we left the ship a group of local ladies were passing out little floral buttonholes as a welcome to Picton. I don’t know if it’s sweet or a sneaky way of identifying cruise ship passengers in town, but it felt like a very friendly gesture and a shop owner later told me it takes a group of volunteers many hours to assemble and organise.

We decided to head first to the Edwin Fox Museum, stopping on the short walk to admire some busy bees and a pretty bird with curly white feathers at its throat.

The museum was not something I’d naturally gravitate towards, being about nautical history, but I’ve taught a unit on the goldfields for eight years now and so I just had to take the opportunity to stand inside a genuine goldfields-era ship. I was glad we’d watched the information video on Picton, otherwise we wouldn’t have known what was behind the small front of the museum entrance.

A small model of the original form of the Edwin Fox.

Inside the building, the museum has a couple of small spaces filled with entertaining information boards and artefacts plus a video about the rescue of the hull, then out the back was a shed containing the hull of the ship and some recreated spaces, such as the steerage berths.

We climbed down to stand in the bottom of the hull and it was fascinating. The worn part of the wooden columns was where the hull had sat in the water and the worn parts had been exposed daily to air because of the tide. Below the tidal level the teak boards were in pretty good condition.

The tidal section is very worn.

What I’m saying is, if you’re in Picton, go see it if you’re even slightly curious. It doesn’t take long, it doesn’t cost much and it’s very interesting. Also of note, this picture frame, entirely done in knots!

Next we took a walk along the foreshore and over the coat hanger bridge. We walked along the opposite shore and found a sail school setting out. I immediately felt deeply envious of these small children, living in their picture-perfect town and getting to sail tiny, colourful boats as part of their daily life. Do they know how lucky they are? Everywhere we’ve been in NZ is positively cluttered with boats of all kinds and people who look like they should be in a North Face or Kathmandu catalogue.

Ok… you can have fun if you’re polite and sensible about it.

After our walk we had a great coffee at Gusto, and a feijoa and apple juice, as recommended by many friends on Facebook. While sitting at the cafe we saw a private bus with the name Bussy McBus Face, and I am very sorry not to have caught it in a photo.

After having moderate success posting the first few blog posts for the trip while sitting outside the Picton visitors centre, we caught the bus back. We watched Queen Charlotte Sound slide by from deck 17, and I spotted a sting ray in the water. We met up with Mum and Dad in the buffet then had dinner at the Symphony restaurant.

Luke and I finished the evening watching a rock violin show that was quite entertaining. The violinist was from Wales and had been working on cruise ships for 22 years. I have no idea how cruise ship work is perceived in the music industry, but that seems like a really long time. He said that featured musicians get to bring friends and family with them on cruises… I wonder if that means they have to share a room? I have so many questions about working on cruise ships but every staff member seems so busy that I don’t want to interrupt any of them to ask.

Majestic Princess Day 7, At Sea

It’s a wide angle lens.

Our room is right next to the laundry, which is handy for navigation to our room and for family members coming to ask us if we want our washing done with theirs. So far we haven’t needed to use it at all! Michael did a load two days ago and Mum did another today. Being a family of early risers has its perks, and getting to facilities before anyone else is definitely one of them.

We slept in today and had a late breakfast in the buffet. Luke and I are finally getting into our holiday routine of late breakfast and no lunch. When the meals are quite rich it’s better to have two than three. Michael felt a bit like he was getting a head cold so he and Izaac stayed in their room all day. My headache came back throughout the day and was very painful, I had a sleep for two hours in the morning and then went to a wine tasting event with Luke and Mum in the afternoon.

The wine tasting was fun, they had six wines to try, from champagne to Cabernet Sauvignon. Three sommeliers did the presentation, telling jokes and stories as well as giving information about the wines. The wines were from France, Italy and the USA, a strange choice given we were visiting close to Marlborough, the most famous wine region in NZ.

Upon returning to our cabin my headache became so painful I almost cried and then I slept for another two hours. Lucky this was a sea day, I guess. Luke went off to see a musical theatre performance which he said was a bit cheesy but fun.

When he came back I’d woken up and had some dinner and we tried to go to the second show of the evening but it was packed and there was a medical emergency in the audience (later someone told me they had heard the person died but I’m going to take that with a grain of salt, I imagine rumours spread quickly and alter dramatically onboard!) before the show started. I felt weird about hanging around for seats when it was so crowded so we went to the piazza and ended up having a bit of a dance to some rock and roll songs. We ended the evening watching the talk on Picton on the TV in our room.

Here’s a few more photos of the room to end the post:-) .

The balcony is a comfortable size. Salt crystals accumulate on the floor when it dries out. We are on deck 12. There is no deck 13 and we are towards the rear of the ship, the so we aren’t far from the buffet and bar on deck 16.
The bathroom has a lot of hanging space and the shower curtain does a good job of stopping water leaving the cubicle. Note that the release for the sink plug is behind the tap, my parents were unaware this is a thing and have been prising the plug open with nail scissors.
Lots of hanging space and hangers. Didn’t need to bring any.
There is an automatic light outside the bathroom that comes on in the middle of the night. It was very annoying but the room stewards covered the sensor with foil for me.

Majestic Princess Day 6, Auckland

First up for today was our only booked excursion, the jet boat! We had to meet in the onboard theatre, get a sticker put on our shirt then get to the meeting point just off the ship. We walked less than a km with our guide, Lucy, to the little jetty where the jet boat was tethered. The boat was driven (captained? Piloted?) by Nate, who had apparently been doing the job for 14 years and was yet to tire of it. Jet boats were invented in NZ and they get up to speeds of 100kph. We also got to experience what was essentially a handbrake slide, a 180 degree spin that sprayed water over everyone in the boat multiple times. It was super fun and Nate had a laugh at Dad, who had found goggles in his bag (according to Nate the first person he’s ever known to bring goggles on the jet boat) but didn’t manage to get them on until the very end. I don’t know why Nate thought it was so funny, from the moment the boat sped up I’d wished I had brought googles too, the worst thing about the ride was 100km wind in my eyes making them water and getting salty sea water splashed in my face. If you’re reading this and thinking of doing this excursion, take goggles!

Before the drenching!

Anyhow, despite stinging eyes, we laughed the whole way and it wasn’t at all scary, just very, very wet! I wore my raincoat, but wished I’d tightened the wrists and zipped it up properly because the angle of the water coming in meant it flew in every gap and down onto the seat, soaking all our underwear. Really, the best outfit would’ve been swimmers with a light windcheater. I hope this information is useful to someone!

We returned to the ship for a shower, noting the weather was getting finer. Entry to the ship was through the port authority building and there was a souvenir shop set up inside. Unexpectedly, the prices here were excellent (4 NZ themed tea towels for $35!) and the lady at the counter said they get that comment a lot.

After a much-needed shower, Luke and I walked into Auckland. We’d thought to go to the art gallery and the Weta Workshop but then decided against Weta since we hadn’t seen the films the exhibitions were based on. This turned out to be a mistake, as Michael and Izaac went and said it was excellent plus it turned out they did have artefacts from “Lord of the Rings” on short loan from the bigger Weta Workshop in Wellington. So if you’re in Auckland, and particularly if you have kids or are interested in special effects in films, make sure you go.

The walk to the gallery wasn’t far, although mostly uphill, and the front of the building has a beautiful portico of wood. We checked our bags, noted the ‘free wifi’ sign and went for a wander. In the gallery there was a group of Māori women doing a live demonstration of printing on fabric and singing.

It was beautiful in every way! We looked at more printing in traditional techniques by a lady named Anna White, whose work was also influenced by Japanese block printing. It was very beautiful and on a very large scale.

We also saw many paintings and photographs, my favourite was this contemporary portrait.

After the gallery we took a walk through the park behind the building and admired the huge Morton bay fig trees, and bright flower beds that contained many impatiens and miniature sunflowers.

We retrieved our bags from the gallery and enjoyed their free wifi for a bit before wandering back to the ship, stopping to buy six kinds of SnackaChangi chips on the way. The artwork is magnificent and I’m going to put them up on the toilet wall at home!

The back of the package is almost as entertaining as the front.

I’d had a headache on and off all day so I had a nap when we got back. In the evening we had dinner in the Concerto dining room then caught the last of the sunset over Auckland as the ship sailed out.

Finally, some blue skies!

Majestic Princess Day 5, Tauranga

The small town we walked around in Bay of Islands felt like a little NSW south coast town, but Tauranga (To-wrong-ah… I think! Pronunciation seems to vary from person to person) was much bigger and this was the first place we stopped where the ship was at a quay. It is far quicker and more pleasant to just walk off the ship, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most people with mobility issues or very small children didn’t alight in Bay of Islands at all. It felt like almost everyone went off to do things in Tauranga but, being a city of 100k people, it absorbed the horde much more easily.

Mum and Dad told us to go do our own thing, so Luke and I met up with Michael and Izaac and had breakfast while waiting for the crowd to abate somewhat, leaving the ship at 10am.

There were only two things I wanted to do at this stop: go to a supermarket and go to the hot springs. Luke found a supermarket a 30 minute walk away so we set off and got coffee along the way. $5 for a small cappuccino was a bit steep and we worked out that the currency conversion fee pretty much wiped out any gain from our $AUD being slightly stronger against the $NZD.

We saw some interesting sights (well, interesting to me) such as:

Not one but two doggie daycare vans.

A lovely mural.

A second hand vinyl and book shop.

Michael and Izaac decided to use the McDonalds wifi to sort out phone reception issues so Luke and I continued to the New World supermarket. I love looking at everyday things in new countries and, although most items were pretty similar to home, we did load up on fancy Whittakers chocolate and we admired the artwork on the ‘Snackachangi’ range of chips. I’ve never seen anything like it and totally regretted not buying any once I got back to the ship.

New World supermarket
Best packaging I’ve ever seen.

We rendezvoused back onboard before heading to the Tauranga hot water pools. They were a short walk down the beachfront and around a corner, right at the base of Mount Manganui.

Luke used his technology superpower once again and got us in twice as quickly by using the self-serve ticket machine rather than waiting in line for a cashier. Inside the pools were quite small, maybe about half a proper Olympic-sized pool spread over several smaller pools. There was one lower temperature pool and several pools that were almost 40 degrees C, which is HOT! I couldn’t get into the really hot one until I’d adjusted a bit in the temperate pool.

Photo courtesy of the hot pool’s website.

All the pools were quite crowded but no one was being very silly and there were lots of lifeguards and signs about not staying in the hot pools for too long.

If you’re reading this and thinking of going to the pools, I couldn’t tell you when they would be quiet… maybe first thing in the morning? We all agreed that if we were locals we’d be there every day. There are a couple of small adult-only pools off to one side but we had Izaac (13) and the main pools were pretty settled anyhow.

We sat for a while in each and chatted, admiring the view of Mount Manganui that loomed up dramatically right over our heads, shrouded in mist.

After about 40 minutes we’d had enough and walked back to the ship along the shore. It’s such a pretty area, if I came back to New Zealand I’d definitely return and walk the circumference of Mount Manganui. We got an amazing view of it as the ship left that evening. Clouds poured around the summit and we could see people around the shoreline waving us off and probably glad that the blight was gone ;-).

We’ve seen quite a range of tug boats during the trip.

After watching the view slide by we had a plate of buffet food in the Wake Bar and then Luke and I watched a recording of the Auckland information talk from the comfort of bed. All in all a lovely day and I’d happily come back to Tauranga.

Majestic Princess Day 3 (at sea)

Izaac had been super keen to try Bingo so Luke and I met him with Michael in the morning. They bought paper tickets but there were also tablets on offer that automatically kept track of which numbers came up. These cost more but, in the end, not one round was won by the tablet players so make of that what you will. The Bingo was hosted by ‘Lady Fortuna’ who I initially thought was a drag queen but wasn’t. I guess getting very spangly and having big hair is part of hosting Bingo. She told terrible jokes but kept up a steady patter during the round. Neither Michael nor Izaac won any rounds but it was kind of fun, if a little pricey at $40 for the 6 x 6 game sheets.

After all that excitement Luke went to the talk on Tauranga and managed to stay awake through most of it. Then he also went to the ‘welcome to cruising’ talk, which was about the various jobs onboard and other aspects of cruises.

I spent a short time in the gym trying to get to 10k steps for the day (eventually achieved) and we finished off the day playing Poker in Hollywood Lounge with Michael, Izaac, Dad and Luke. Michael brought chips and a wealth of knowledge, which was lucky because the rest of us needed a lot of help. I hadn’t played it before so I feel like I learned a lot, although unfortunately I came second to Luke.

The Hollywood Lounge is a huge indoor area at the front of the ship on deck 17. I’m told it used to be an adults-only area and currently has a pool and two spas, plus heaps of curtained-off cabana areas that people seem to claim for the whole day.

There are basically two ways to get food and drinks onboard, outside of the restaurants. First, you can go up to the bar or to the buffet and get it yourself. The other way to go is to use the Medallion app, possibly the most unpopular, frustrating and confusing aspect of life aboard. Everyone hates it but it does allow you to order food and drink to wherever you are on the ship. Your photo is attached to your account so waiters can find you by looking around for you. During the poker game we discovered a new down-side to the app: the bar can cancel your order at any time and if you aren’t keeping an eye on the app you won’t realise for ages. Also they don’t say why the order is cancelled, so if you’ve ordered drinks for several people, they might cancel the whole order because one of the items isn’t available at the nearest bar and you have no idea which item it was. Fortunately we had a waiter who told us what was going on so we ended up just ordering drinks individually. The wait staff seem as frustrated by the whole system as anyone else but complaining about it brings us all closer together!

We’re all looking forward to our first stop tomorrow; Bay of Islands! Fingers crossed the weather improves as it’s become progressively more foggy as we’ve gotten closer to NZ.

Sunset from our first evening aboard. Little did we know it wouldn’t be beat until we reached Auckland!

Majestic Princess Day 2 (sea day)

Our first full day aboard. We filled in the room service card the night before and were impressed by the gigantic quantity of tea and coffee delivered. We also had some fruit, a danish and yogurt.

The ‘Princess Patter’ newsletter is delivered each evening for the next day, so we ticked off a list of things to do. The first two full days of the voyage were at sea so there was plenty of time to fill. We managed to fit in:

A fruit carving demonstration.

A very interesting and informative talk on the bay of islands.

A Poi demo. No photos as I was too busy joining in:-) . While I was doing that Luke got us coffee from the ‘best’ coffee place on the ship. It was not good, but it wasn’t filter coffee. If you love coffee and you’re going on this cruise maybe bring some chocolate coated coffee beans or something because the coffee onboard is 2/10. Just don’t bother – and I’m not even a proper Melbournian coffee snob.

For our 6pm meet up I grabbed a selection of cheeses from the buffet and we enjoyed them with our drinks at the Wake View.

In the evening there was a 50s night at the piazza so Luke and I hit the dance floor. Michael took a video but I don’t think I have time to load it today. Here’s a pic of the piazza though.

Westfield vibes… but it also reminds me of the inside of a geode. The ship is so plain on the outside but the inside is like a glittering crystal.

After getting quite hot from dancing, Luke and I headed to the top deck for a spa and found one that was unoccupied. The pool level is kid-central during the day, but in the evening it was very quiet. A lovely way to end our first full day onboard!

New Zealand

Formerly the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’, New Zealand may as well now be renamed Middle Earth, as you can’t swing a dwarf without hitting some kind of Hobbit-based advertising or paraphernalia.

I need this sign on my gate at home.

It started in Los Angeles, where there was a decal of gold coins and hobbit feet leading to the check in counter for Air New Zealand. On the plane the safety video is hobbit-themed. Then you arrive in Auckland where everything has a touch of Tolkien. And who can blame the kiwis? Apparently the films have brought four *billion* dollars of revenue into the country.

We had plans to head to Hobbiton, but first we spent a night with our friends Lauren, Nick and their baby Annabel, who is possibly the happiest tiny person I’ve ever met. She barely stopped smiling the whole time we were with them and was a great deal of fun to play with.

Nick and Lauren had very generously offered to loan us their car so we headed out into the lush, green dairy country south of Auckland.

The Hobbiton set is about an hour and a half south of the capital city and work is currently underway upgrading the cafe and gift shop where you wait for the tours to depart. Groups leave every half hour and the price of the tour is $74. Quite steep, given that you get two hours to walk around and a drink in the Green Dragon – and that’s it. It was about the same price as our whole day at Universal Studios. We asked our guide how much it cost to keep the property running and he told us that it was about $150,000 a month. Aside from the guides and staff who man the shop there are also full time gardeners maintaining the vegetable and flower gardens.

Disappointingly, the only thing behind the door was a small empty space.

We were lucky to get a nice day but wished we’d gone with the first morning group – less people wandering into shots and the sun would’ve been shining onto Bag End rather than behind the hill. We heard very interesting stories about Peter Jackson’s attention to detail and saw a tree which has been brought in from another property and had all the leaves made of fabric and then individually attached to give the desired effect.

A tiny hobbit hole to use for optical illusions. There were over 40 house front on the property.

The most famous hobbit hole of them all.

If you’re a Lord of the Rings nut then it’s worth the trip but I’m not sure I’d recommend a visit to everyone.

The path to the Green Dragon. The drinks you get there are only available on site and are brewed in NZ.

We spent the night in Rotorua, where hot springs bubbled in the middle of town, and then drove up the eastern prong of the north island – the Coramandel Peninsula. We stopped for a delicious lunch in one of the many pretty little towns along the way and arrived mid afternoon at Hot Water Beach. Two hot springs run beneath the sand, so during low tide it is possible to dig your own spa right on the beach.

We arrived to find a horde of people concentrated in the optimal positions and so we just walked around a bit, dipped our toes in various pools and laughed at people getting splashed with cold water when the tide started to come in.

After a while all the digging to provide a place to relax started to seem counter-productive.

There was one spot where the water was boiling up through the sand, bubbling quite merrily. While a group of people were standing around watching it, a woman blithely walked right into it and scalded her foot.

Strangely there were many signs warning of rips and dangerous currents in the sea but none warning of the steaming water under the sand.

That little rough patch to the left of the sign is the bubbling sand.

We didn’t spend all that long on the beach as we didn’t feel like getting wet, so we drove back to Auckland that night and stayed with Lauren and Nick for our last two nights. I’m afraid they must’ve thought us rather dull company as we had no ideas about what to see or do and were perfectly happy to sit on the couch and organise our final bits of travel for when we got back to Australia.

They did manage to prise us off the couch to visit some markets and gardens, go out for a delicious brunch and on our last night we took a box of fireworks Nick had been hoarding and let a few off in the park over the road. It’s only legal to buy fireworks for three days a year but you can let them off any time you like – within noise restriction times, I suppose. Annabel coped pretty well with the fireworks and didn’t seem at all perturbed by the noisy ones. It was the ones that looked like showers of sparks that caused some grizzling so we packed up and went back inside.

We had a lovely time in New Zealand – I regret to say it’s a country I’ve never been much interested in as I thought it’d be much like Australia. Turns out that in some ways it is – but in terms of scenery it’s far more dramatic and lush than much of the landscape you’d see in Oz. Next time I’ll definitely be heading to the south island to see what all the fuss is about.

Thanks for a lovely time, Lauren and Nick! We can’t wait to see the delightful Annabel again next time you’re in Oz.