Archive for the ‘Cruise Ship Travel’ Category

Tips for Enjoying Your Cruise Vacation in Spite of Mistakes and Mishaps

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

My recent cruise to New Zealand and Australia was fraught with troubles from lost luggage to missed airline connections.  My husband and I didn’t experience any problems besides cramped seats on a very long Air New Zealand flight, but hundreds of our fellow cruisers really suffered.

Traveling and troubles go together; they just do. The way to cope with travel troubles is to plan for mishaps, as best you can.

Here are 12 tips to help cruise ship travelers prepare so they can enjoy their expensive cruise, come what may:


How Melbourne, Australia Turned Me Into an Unfaithful Lover!

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

I have become a traitor, an unfaithful lover, if you will, for I have fallen for another – another with charms equal to, if not greater than, one of my dearest loves, New York City.

My new love?

Melbourne (pronounce that mel-ban), Australia.

Our short day in port (during a recent 14-day Celebrity Mercury cruise of New Zealand and Australia) was almost criminal when we saw what this bustling city had to offer, and that’s besides the fact it was hosting the Australian Open Tennis Championships.

From its gardens, to its museums, to its handsome old architecture, including the old Melbourne Gaol (jail), it became clear that a mere 7 hours in this city was just…silly.  And that a return trip was most definitely in order.

But in the meantime, we had to make the most of our time, and decide wisely.  Here’s how we spent our few hours in Melbourne, Australia.

Read on…

Melbourne Customs Sign by Sheree ZielkeAfter docking relatively early in Port Melbourne, our ship and its passengers had to endure two hours of Australian customs clearance.  This included a 20-minute walk through customs complete with a cute little bag-sniffing beagle dog (NO foreign foods are allowed into Australia) and this enthusiastic little fellow will find you out!  Even two days AFTER you have had fruit in your bag, as a fellow passenger discovered.

Once through the bag-checking and passport-checking gamut, we bought a “day-use” tram ticket, walked for about 5 minutes, and then boarded a spiffy high-tech tram headed for the heart of Melbourne.  The trams have very few seats, but are fitted with many overhead hooks (I suspect the average Australian is much taller than the rest of us, because I ended up swinging like a chimp).Melbourne Tram Hangers by Sheree Zielke

We had no clue where we were going, or where we should get off, so we tried questioning the locals.  Our first encounter, with a lovely college-aged lady, was a huge hint at what was to come; the Melbournians are amazingly friendly and helpful people.  (Wait till I tell you what our sightseeing tour bus driver did!)  The young lady told us which stop to get off at, and which way to walk in order to find the Melbourne Visitor Information Centre.  She even came back to us before she left the tram to ensure we knew to get off at the next stop.

David and Melbourne Tram by Sheree Zielke

And that’s exactly what we did.  I was stunned by the sights I saw as I alit from the tram: the crowds, the traffic, the buildings, the bustle – why, it looked just like New York City.  My heart beat quicker because I love all the noise and the hustle of the Big Apple.   And so my alienation of affections began.

Flinders Street Station by Sheree ZielkeWe marched up Swanston Street and arrived at Federation Square, just across the street from Flinders Street Station (what a gorgeous old building in its rich butterscotch hues!).  We found the information centre, and were amazed by the expert set-up.  This metropolis is so used to dealing with tourists that it has a high-tech help system in place; you actually have to take a number to get assistance.  I’m serious.  But the place is so well laid out, with brochures catalogued under a variety of titles from tours to theatre, that it was easy to help ourselves.  And so we did.

Now the hard part was making a decision on what to do in our quickly diminishing allotment of shore leave.  We sat down outside in intense bright sunshine to peruse the tour booklets; a street performer was just starting his show; an official Australian Open souvenir booth to our left was doing a brisk business (I now have a stuffed kangaroo wearing a jersey as my memento).  Our eyes adjusted to the brightness, and we began to read.

My husband had earlier indicated an interest in the Old Melbourne Gaol, and so we located that on a map.  Okay, now how to get there?  We studied a couple of tourist shuttle buses like the Melbourne City Circle Tram, and the city’s FREE Tourist Shuttle, both of which can be caught just across the street from the Info centre, and both of which would get us to the gaol.  We opted for the free shuttle which ran every ½ hour.

(Something really cool about Melbourne that I haven’t seen in New York City is the city’s “greeter” service.  These helpful “city ambassadors,” identified by their red tunics, were all over the place.  And, as we discovered, they didn’t just point you in the right direction; they were prepared to walk you there.  That’s how we found the toilets in Federation Square. Thanks Melbourne!)

Free Melbourne Shuttle Stop by Sheree ZielkeWe boarded the tourist shuttle at Stop #2, took the full circle trip, and then advised the bus driver we had designs on the old gaol.  He confirmed that Stop #4 would get us there.  Now here is the story about the driver.

The gray-haired fellow (his name was Lance) called our stop.  We left via the back door and stood for a moment trying to get our bearings.  We must have looked confused (we were) because the bus stopped, the driver jumped off, ran up to us, and gave us detailed directions on how to get to the gaol.  Now I ask you…how many bus drivers in your city would do that?  We stood with our mouths open, both stunned and delighted.  And then we headed down the hill to the gaol.

The old Melbourne Gaol is a must-see adventure; I promise.  It is not for the faint-of-heart, but it is an experience you’ll long remember.  Especially if you take the tour where YOU are booked and thrown into a cell, like a common prisoner.  Really!  But that’s for a future blog.David in old Melbourne Gaol by Sheree Zielke

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Yes, Melbourne, Australia has not seen the last of me.  Now if I can just gear myself up again for that 14-hour plane ride.  Oh heck, of course I can.  I simply must see the Melbourne Werribee Open Range Zoo, the Healesville Sanctuary, the Great Ocean Road, the Witches in Britches theatre, the Queen Victoria Market, the…

New York City will just have to wait.

If you’d like to book tours or attractions tickets in Melbourne, Australia ahead of time, try Best of Victoria.

Sheree Zielke

New Zealand Fiordlands: Explore for a Truly Wild and Wonderful Experience!

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Dusky Sound and David by Sheree Zielke

If you are native to the lands of the Northern Hemisphere, then Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds may mean very little to you; Nancy, Charles, and George Sound will mean even less.  But if you visit New Zealand, down in the Southern Hemisphere, you’ll find all these places; they are part of the Fiordland National Park, on the southwesterly corner of New Zealand’s south island.

But if you have ever visited North America’s northwest coastline, in particular, the coasts of Oregon, British Columbia, and Alaska, then the topography of these wild and richly forested terrains may seem familiar.Chairs with a view in the New Zealand Sounds by Sheree Zielke

Perhaps the most satisfying way to visit these New Zealand Sounds is by land but local tour companies offer exploration nor only by foot, shuttle van, and tour bus, but via watercraft, and by air.  Air seems to be the most efficient way to take in the 1.2 million hectares of wilderness that make up the Fiordland, but a guided walk might be considered more effective.  That’s if you have the time.  Try these sites: Hike South and Ultimate Hikes.

Waterfalls in Milford Sound by Sheree ZielkeBut failing that, take a cruise up into the sounds.  Besides the huge cruise lines that visit the Sounds, there is also a large assortment of smaller cruise vessels.  Expect rainy weather and heavy mists; this is a temperate rain forest.  The rains give rise to pretty multiple waterfalls coursing down through lush green forested mountains.  You might even catch a glorious rainbow as it cuts its way through the grey mist.

Our ship, the Celebrity Mercury, had three Sounds on its itinerary: Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds.  We reached Dusky Sound early in the morning, amidst gray skies, churning waters, and heavy mist.  The short trip into Dusky was interesting, but the light was such that no outstanding photographs could be taken.

Doubtful Sound was just that, doubtful.  And in fact, high winds and rough waters meant that our ship, including a fellow cruise ship, the Statendam, had to pass by.  But the picturesque Milford Sound still lay ahead.Statendam cruise ship by Sheree Zielke

Milford Sound (it was agreed by other passengers who were experienced in the Sounds) was the more majestic and more beautiful, with its dozens of waterfalls and pretty coastline.  Many compared it to Alaska or the northern coastline of British Columbia with its misty timber forests, and moody gray waters.

Wildlife is supposed to be abundant in these largely uninhabited sounds although we didn’t see any of the fur-bearing seals, penguins, or dolphins said to make these sounds their home.

For more information on the New Zealand Fiordlands, read this stunning National Geographic account by author, Kennedy Warne.

Milford Sound banks by Sheree Zielke

Photography Tip: When taking photos in the Fiordland sounds, push your digital camera’s “exposure compensation” setting to a “negative” number to ensure a clearer, less misty picture.  You can always brighten your shots later in your computer’s photo manipulation program.

Sheree Zielke

New Zealand or Australia, Kiwis or Aussies: A Tough Decision to Make

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

If you ask, you’ll be told, “Oh, New Zealand is more like Canada; Australia is more like the United States.”  While that may be true, politically and geographically speaking, there is one major difference — no Canadian I know dislikes Americans as much as some New Zealanders dislike their Aussie neighbors to the North.  But here’s a quick comparison of the two countries — apart from the rivalry.

As a tourist, the biggest factor in deciding whether to like New Zealand over Australia has nothing to do with humans but rather to do with the native animals.  As the resident New Zealander, whom I met on a double-decker bus in Rome, said, “You should visit New Zealand because there is nothing that Taipan Sign by Sheree Zielkewill bite, sting or kill you in New Zealand.” 

He’s right.  And I am glad we took is advice.  My husband and I just completed a 14-day cruise that took us on an extensive cruise ship tour around New Zealand, beginning in Auckland and ending in the Fjordland sounds. From there we traveled up to the eastern shore of Australia.

In New Zealand, a human can walk anywhere, at anytime and not worry about an animal attack, while Australia is home to some of the world’s most deadly predators.  In fact, Australia is home to the top 6 most venomous snakes in the world like the taipan and the brown snake (see these live at Sydney’s Wildlife World on Darling Harbour), the tiny yet deadly red-backed spider, the furry funnel-web spider, the massive saltwater crocodile, and wild dogs or dingoes (so much a problem they necessitated the longest manmade structure in the world – a wire fence 3,500 miles long engineered to keep domestic cattle safe from voracious wild dogs).  And if a visitor ventures into Australian waters, they run the risk of bumping into one third of the world’s species of sharks, including 25-foot Great Whites, the fiercest and most terrifying predators of the world’s oceans.  But back to our human issues.

It was uncomfortable and mystifying to hear the animosity in our New Zealand taxi driver (David’s) voice when we accidentally identified his accent as Australian.  He quickly, and with great vehemence, corrected our error informing us that he was a “Kiwi” not a “bloody” Aussie.  As a visitor, I liked both nationalities just fine.

I asked him about the term, “fair dinkum.”  “Just an Aussie bullshit line,” he said.  “It usually follows a story that an Aussie wants you to believe.”  Instead of fair dinkum, you might hear an Aussie end his or her story with, “true story,” as though they are used to being doubted.  And perhaps they are.  At least by New Zealanders. 

But back to the tourist attractions.

New Zealand is home to the world’s southernmost winery (Black Ridge Wines), but Australia has camel races across the desert.  New Zealand has the fiordlands of the Southern Island, while Australia’s northeastern coast is home to the magnificent Great Barrier Reef which covers 120-thousand square miles.

Here are some factors you may want to consider when deciding between New Zealand and Australia as vacation travel destinations. Or do what my husband and I did and take a cruise around both countries:  safe, secure and absolutely delightful. 

Travel the curvy roads of New Zealand through mountainous emerald terrain, and never run out of signs of civilization, or trek across the hot barren Australian Outback, 2000 kilometers between Perth and Sydney, and rarely run into another living thing, except maybe a triple-trailer transport truck.

Australia has cornered the market on camels, playing host to 500-thousand of the gangly imported beasts, while New Zealand boasts of being home to the endangered Kiwi, a bird with feathers more like a cat’s fur.

Australia has a bronze boar out front of a Sydney hospital that, if you rub his nose, will bring you good luck.  New Zealand was just lucky in being the chosen location for Peter Jackson’s hugely successful Lord of the Rings movies. (Many tours like the Flat Earth and the Trails of Middle Earth are available that will take you to old film shooting locations like Hobbiton and Lothlorien.)

New Zealand plays host to the world’s only Antarctic Interactive Centre, compete with a fabricated Antarctic winter storm; Australia has the Sydney Opera House, and the huge Powerhouse Museum, currently hosting a tribute to the late Princess Diana (this one deserved its own blog entry).

Whichever country you choose to explore, give yourself plenty of time; we found 14 days a ridiculously short time to visit even just a couple of the cities on our itinerary, let alone, BOTH countries.

Sheree Zielke

Choosing a Cruise Ship Cabin: Mushroom pit or Porthole? Which is best?

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Celebrity Mercury in Christchurch by Sheree Zielke


Ocean view?  Porthole?  Verandah?  Penthouse suite?  Desolate mushroom pit?  Which is best for you?  Well, that depends.  Read on.


If you book your cruise early enough, you should be able to tell your travel rep where you’d like to live on your ship.  Choosing a cabin suited to your personality and biological needs is the first step in ensuring a memorable and happy cruise. 

  Let’s start with these three terms first: Amidships, fore, and aft.  Mercury ship side by Sheree Zielke





Amidships has its positive aspects especially for those prone to seasickness.  Consider this the middle of the seesaw while the fore (front) and aft (back) are the ends of the teeter totter yielding the most noise and hardest wave action.  The fore can be extremely noisy in rough sea as the hull is beaten by waves, but the aft, in calm waters, can provide a more private place to sun and rest.Rough seas by Sheree Zielke


A ship like the Celebrity Mercury houses its Shipmates Fun Factory at the rear of the ship on the Vista Deck, Deck 9.  Most people view a cabin near this area to be a negative placement, but quite the opposite is true.  You rarely hear the kids, and when you do, it’s usually a happy noise.  And you are only steps away from a quiet back area.  It’s an especially nice bonus for those not able to secure a private verandah or balcony.


A balcony is a must for very warm cruises, like through the Mediterranean, but definitely not in colder climes like Alaska and Australia.  A balcony is also a waste on a transatlantic crossing since all you’ll see is water, and more water.



If you can’t get a balcony, an unimpeded deluxe ocean view cabin is wonderful.  While you can’t step outside, you do get natural light, and you will always be able to see out in spite of salt-grimed glass.


An inside cabin (for me) is to be avoided at all costs especially by those suffering from even minor forms of claustrophobia or SAD (seasonal affective disorder).  An inside cabin is akin to a tomb or a coffin.  It is always dark, and upon awaking there is no way to tell the time of day.  But if you can stand living like a mushroom, then book an inside room (you will save a whack of money.)


Then there is deck height.  The higher the deck, the more you will feel the wave action.  But those passengers housed in lower decks will SEE the wave action, right outside their window.


Keep in mind, when booking your cabin, the side (port is left, starboard is right) of the ship it’s located?  Ask your travel agent the direction you’ll be cruising when alongside land; you’ll want to book your cabin on the side closest to the land, obviously.


For help in making a more informed decision about your particular ship, try CruiseMates or this USA Today article.  Other really good research sites are CruiseCritic and SecretCruises.


Above all, if you are picky, book early so you can secure a room to your liking.  Check if your travel agent or the cruise line is offering any deals; in many cases, upgrades may be available.  An upgrade could mean the difference between an unobstructed and an obstructed ocean view room.  You will appreciate the difference when you find your “ocean” view filled with a life boat or a window-cleaning platform.Mercury Side View by Sheree Zielke


Oh, and a room with a porthole?  Imagine having a view on the world about the size of your toilet bowl.  If you can stand this peephole outlook, you’ll have money left over for those other expensive ship extras like shore excursions, and soda pop (an endless pop on a 10-day cruise for two people is 100-bucks). 



Sheree Zielke

Day at Sea: Day of Boredom or Day of Fun! It’s Your Choice!

Monday, January 28th, 2008

A “day at sea” sounds like a splendid idea, doesn’t it?  But after you’ve gazed out at unending waves, for hours on end, with not a hint of land in sight, you will soon begin looking for something to do to ease the boredom.  A cruise ship activities staff has just the answer. Whether you are super physical, or you like attentive pampering, or you are a trivia junkie, you WILL find something to do.

Here’s a sample list of activities recently offered by our ship the Celebrity Mercury on a January sailing around New Zealand and Australia.  The list is typical of most cruise ships depending upon the size of the ship.

Participatory Events/Organized Games:

  • Salsa or ballroom dance lessons
  • Scavenger hunt
  • Trivia games (Beatles, TV, men vs. women, musical oldies)
  • Shuffleboard tournament
  • Boxed games – Tribond, Scattergories, Pictionary
  • Bingo (this can be a costly affair as cards cost $20 each)
  • Bridge tournaments
  • Golf putting challenge
  • Pool games
  • Table tennis competitions
  • Basketball free throw
  • Cooking demonstrations
  • Flower arranging demonstrations
  • Wine-tasting with a sommelier (you’ll even be given your own aluminum tasting cup)
  • Art auction (TACKY!!!! We know this is part of every cruise, but we would walk miles to get around this uniquely horrible offering.)
  • Prizes are usually lame like pens, sun visors, notebooks, but sometimes you can win bingo cards, or even a stay in the ship’s penthouse suite.

Passive Activities – Drop-in:

  • Casino slot play/card tournaments
  • Deck walking
  • Spa treatments
  • Pilates and yoga classes
  • Arts and crafts – making picture frames enhanced with seashells or paper bead necklaces
  • Reading
  • Internet
  • Edutainment (educational) presentations (port history, port hi-lights, digital cameras, wine)
  • Golf technique improvement clinic
  • Movies
  • Stage shows
  • Musical presentations

Non-physically demanding Activities:

  • Sunbathing
  • Eating
  • Shopping (most ships have a variety of jewelery, clothing, perfume and souvenir boutiques and “sidewalk” sales)
  • Sleeping
  • Watching TV
  • Journaling
  • And…Catholic mass

And then there are the Junior Cruisers:

Many parents and other caregivers bring children on cruises.  And most ships are ready and able to help with children as young as 3 years of age.  The Celebrity Mercury calls those little ones aged 3-9, Ship Mates; those aged 10-17 are called Ensigns.  Activities might include the following:

  • A huge variety of crafts including mask-making
  • Design your own race car
  • Physical participation games (like camp games)
  • Movies
  • Sleepover nights & pajama parties
  • And for the ensigns…a learn-how-to-gamble class.  (I’m not kidding…they’ll teach your teen to play Texas Hold ‘em and Blackjack.)

For a more in-depth overview of cruising with children, see my article on “Cruising with Children.”

There’s just no excuse for being bored, on board!

Regardless of what activity you choose to alleviate boredom during your cruise ship “day at sea,” rest assured that the cruise activities staff will do its darndest to get you involved.  Your participation or lack thereof, is entirely up to you. 

But trust a seasoned cruiser when I say this: Move, don’t just lay around, because the steady stream of delicious food served up on most ships will make an impression upon you, and your bathroom scale, when you get back home. 

See my other blog entry on losing weight gained on a cruise.

Sheree Zielke

World Travel: A Passion and a Profession for both the Wealthy and the Backpacker!

Monday, January 28th, 2008

While I love my Canadian city, I can hardly wait to go someplace else.  As often as possible.  Especially in the wintertime.  Not to live, mind you; just to visit.

As I sit here in minus 30 degree temperatures, swirling snow banking into huge white drifts against my front door, my car, and my emotions, I yearn for the friendly Down Under temperatures of the places from which I have just returned.

Down Under (Australia and New Zealand), being located in the Southern Hemisphere, is currently experiencing its summer (January), with warm sunny days, and bright blue skies.  While here in the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere, our bright blue skies are usually accompanied by blood-freezing temperatures, well below anything most people can even comprehend. 

Cold weather is a good reason for travelling – just ask the Canadian “snowbirds” that migrate to the warmer climes of California, Florida, and Arizona every fall (they even have their own website).  But then I travel in the summertime, too, when temperatures are very comfortable. 


Because without travel I think I would die, or at least become very ill.  And I am not alone in that disease.

I am often asked how one becomes a “professional traveler.”  I don’t believe one does “become” such an entity; I believe either you are a traveler, or you aren’t.  It has nothing to do with available time, or income; it has to do with something deeply-entrenched in your soul.  It’s that same thing that drove ancient explorers to leave solid land and venture out into the vast oceans, in search of the unknown.  I tell people that had I been born several hundred years ago, I would have pretended to be a man, just to get onboard one of those explorer ships. 

I don’t have to pretend anything today, however; I just need both the time and money enabling me to get the heck out of here.  But a shortage of those things never stands in the way of a true sojourner.  That’s what home equity loans are for!  (My husband and I use ours frequently; it allows us to grab travel deals we otherwise might not be able to afford.)  But again, being a professional traveler has nothing to do with income. 

I have met many professional travelers, some draped in jewels and expensive luggage, their fingers encrusted in diamonds; some with nary a dime to their name.  One such seemingly hapless lad was sitting on the cobblestones near the tracks, in the Dunedin, NZ railway station.  When I stopped to ask him where he was going, he replied simply, “I don’t know. I’m just going.”  As a kindred spirit, I knew exactly what he meant.  Have backpack, will travel.Backpackers Inn by Sheree Zielke
New Zealand and Australia are two countries that cater to both the well-heeled, and the budget-conscious traveler, like the backpacker.  I was stunned to see how many cities and towns have hotels, hostels, transportation, and specials geared especially to the backpacker or low-budget traveler. Many websites are geared to making your low budget travel adventure perfect, regardless of your age.  Many seniors rough it  around in the Down Under countries, too.

But alas, I must catch up with my day-to-day committments first — deadlines must be met, classes taught, grandchildren visited, and promises kept before I head out on my next great adventure  (I am going to try my hand at deep sea fishing off the coast of Texas). 

And then after that? 

Maybe a South Africa safari.  Or a trip to see Right whales near South America.  Or maybe a river cruise up the Amazon.  Or…well, who knows?  Just so long as it’s someplace – that isn’t here.

Sheree Zielke

The Tasman Sea: Don’t Let Seasickness Ruin Your Crossing!

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Unlike seafarers of the past, the modern visitor to New Zealand or Australia need not fear violence from the Maori natives, but like explorers from the past, there is a body of water between the two countries that remains a nasty challenge: the Tasman Sea.  A cruise ship passenger might be in for the trip of a lifetime, a trip they’d rather not have taken.

The Tasman Sea was named after early Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, who sailed to New Zealand (he named it New “Sea-land”), was attacked by the local Maori, and then fled, never to return.  That was back in 1642; the island just off Australia also bears his name: Tasmania (the only place where Tasmanian Devils can still be found in the wild).

It’s no wonder the ferocious and easily riled Tasmanian Devil is not called the Indian Devil or the Pacific Devil; the creature bears all the attributes of its watery namesake.  With strong winds and high waves, sailing here means (almost certainly) very rough passage.  That’s due largely to the nature of the East Australian Current (EAC), especially in the summer when the current is at its strongest.  The natural result for most cruise ship passengers?  Seasickness.  But with a little common sense and pre-planning, the Tasman Sea can be traversed with little or no discomfort.

The best defense against seasickness is a preventative defense.  A wise seafarer (cruise ship passenger) will take action before motion sickness occurs, because once sick, there is really nothing to do but live with the stomach-rolling misery.  And that will mean at least two to three days of misery, if your ship is making the crossing between New Zealand and Australia.

The best tip for avoiding seasickness is to wear a “sea band.”  These rather tight ribbed wrist bands, complete with a small plastic button, are available at most drug stores.  If worn properly (the band must be positioned the width of three fingers down from the first wrist crease, with the small plastic button pressed in between the two wrist tendons) most passengers will escape even the slightest sense of motion sickness.

Another solution is to take a motion sickness pill BEFORE feeling any nausea.  This over-the-counter medication is also easily purchased at any pharmacy under the name Dramamine or Bonine.  (Some formulas cause less drowsiness than others – check the label.)  But again, this is a preemptive strike; the pill is useless if it’s ingested too late.

A huge caution here:  Do NOT drink alcohol when taking motion sickness drugs, and be prepared for drowsiness.  As a cruise ship passenger, you’ll probably be on an “at sea” day anyway, so you can sleep at your leisure.

Other tips for avoiding seasickness include NOT gazing at the rolling grey waves; in the dining room put your back to the open windows.

In addition, if you are very prone to motion sickness, choose a cabin amidships, as rolling and pitching is less extreme than what occurs fore (forward) or aft (rear).  Get fresh air when you can, and breathe deeply.

Above all, especially when sailing the cantankerous Tasman Sea, treat your seasickness BEFORE it happens.

Sheree Zielke

Napier, New Zealand: A Wine Lover & Architectural Buff’s Paradise

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Napier Building by Sheree Zielke
There is no reason to leave Napier in order to have a good time; this town was designed for day visitors.  But whether you choose to just walk around for the day, or grab a cab or tour shuttle, a visitor can’t fail to enjoy their visit to one of New Zealand’s most charming port cities.

Napier is the capital of the Hawke’s Bay province; Europeans began making this Maori area their home after Captain Cook did his explorations in 1769.  By the 1850s, Napier was a bustling centre home to seafarers, businessmen, and missionaries.

Napier Sign by Sheree ZielkeIn 1931, Napier’s buildings were destroyed in an earthquake, and subsequent fire.  If you are into geological history, visit the Hawke’s Bay museum on the Marine Parade (Napier’s main street) for all the details, and photographs of the event.  Following the town’s destruction, immediate rebuilding of the area took place leading to an abundance of charming homes and office buildings created in the art deco style.  Art deco guided walks, bus tours, and vintage deco car tours are offered to all architectural aficionados who can’t get enough of the 30s.  An Art Deco Festival is held in February complete with vintage cars and vintage costumes.

Marineland, New Zealand’s only marine zoo is on Marine Parade, easily reached by taxi or by walking from the Visitor’s Centre.  Open 7 days a week, Marineland houses a variety of animals and birds including seals, penguins, and cormorants.  Or, between November and February, spend the day at Splash Planet, Napier’s water park.  There’s also the Ocean Spa, with its salt water saunas, and the Par 2 Miniature Golf course.  And for the real duffers, there is the world class Cape Kidnappers Golf Course near by; it’s ranked among the top 50 golf courses in the world.

Napier is home to some of the finest wineries in the world.  Where there was once a tiny handful, only 5, there are now 52 wineries crowded in and around Napier (eastern side of the North Island), and its twin city, Hastings.  Some of the best known include the massive Craggy Range Winery and Sileni Estate.  But for charm and a more personal experience, Mission Estate and Brooksfield are absolute must-sees; their wines (try Mission Estate’s award-winning ice wine) are outstanding.

Organized tours into Napier’s wine country can be picked up from outside the Visitor’s Centre, or any taxi driver can take you around to 2 or 3 vineyards in under 3 hours ($60 per hour – per car, not per person).  And while touring, be sure to visit the TeMata Cheese Company to sample savoury feta, brie, and blue cheese, or visit the Silky Oak Chocolate Company, and its chocolate museum.Silky Oak Chocolate Co by Sheree Zielke

If you are into wildlife tours, many tours to see the gannets of Hawke’s Bay are offered right outside Napier’s Visitor’s Centre.  Choose from the Cape Kidnappers Wilderness Safaris, or the Gannet Safaris.

When arriving in Napier via cruise ship, you can opt for your cruise ship’s shuttle bus (usually about $4 per person one way), or you can jump into a cab ($10 for the car one way).  But don’t expect to walk out of this working port; like Naples, Italy, you will be stopped by local authorities.  You must leave the port via shuttle or taxi.Napier Port Sign by Sheree Zielke

Tip #1:  Leave your ship in the early morning and visit the “Olive Branch Bread Company.”  Purchase a crescent-shaped fluted loaf (they call it a croissant, but it isn’t one).  You are in for a treat when you bite into this delectable savoury bread because inside you’ll find candied fried onions.  The bread crust is dotted with black olives, rock salt and rosemary.  The bakery is easily reached from the Visitor’s Centre; it’s on Hastings Street, at the corner of Albion Street.  You’ll be disappointed if you miss this bakery in the morning because it closes in the afternoon.Napier Bakery by Sheree Zielke

Tip #2: When re-boarding your cruise ship, be prepared to have your wine taken into custody; ship management does not want you drinking locally purchased wine in your stateroom.  The wine will be returned to you on the last night of your voyage.  This restriction will vary from ship to ship; the Grand Princess, for instance, was a little less stringent about this rule than the Celebrity Mercury.

Sheree Zielke

Australia: Fair Dinkum and That’s the Truth

Monday, January 28th, 2008

  “Fair dinkum.” It’s like saying, “Yes, really.” Or, “that’s the truth.”  Or, “actually.” Or “it’s authentic.”  You’ll hear it said in New Zealand by some of the locals, especially on the top half of the North Island. Our cabbie, which we hired out of Napier, New Zealand, used the term when he was telling us about the kidnapping of Captain Cook’s cabin boy by Maori natives, an action which gave rise to the name, Cape Kidnappers (it’s the location on the southern tip of Hawke’s Bay which houses a huge gannet population). 

But it was unusual to hear the word used in New Zealand. “Fair dinkum” is far more an Australian (Aussie) term.  Another New Zealand cabbie which we hired outside of Christchurch, New Zealand, had a stronger definition for fair dinkum. 

“It’s just an Aussie bullshit line,” say cabbie David, who explained the term usually follows a fabricated story that an Aussie wants you to believe.  David has strong feelings about the differences between New Zealanders (Kiwis) and Australians.  For instance, you do NOT make the mistake of referring to a Kiwi as an Aussie; Kiwis get downright cranky when a tourist makes this stupid blunder.  But that aside, fair dinkum is used in both Down Under countries.

The colorful sounding phrase joins other Aussie colloquialisms and common sayings like “nipper,” “mate,” “Sheila,” and “beaut,” terms made popular by the late crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin.

If you want to beef up your Aussie vocabulary, try the Dunway site for a comprehensive list of Australian slang terms.  It’s “fair dinkum.”  Honest!

Sheree Zielke