Posts Tagged ‘cruise ship vacations to australia and new zealand’

New Zealand: First Stop, Auckland

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

Auckland, New Zealand: A Welcome Start to a Two-Week Vacation!

New Zealand was never a dream destination for us, but the Travel Zoo price was too irresistible, so we booked.

And here we are, somewhere above the Pacific Ocean, with no idea what time of day it is,  just that we’ve lost an entire day (our travel agent promises we’ll get it back when we fly west), and we are exhausted from a LONG flight from Los Angeles.

We are flying Air New Zealand, in economy class.  So, my larger-size husband sits cramped for most of the ride while the passenger in front of him domineers the seat space with his reclined chair, his noise-cancelling headphones keeping him from being pestered by any of our complaints.  Thank goodness forWinter Garden Conservatory - Auckland, NZ by Sheree Zielke the mini TV sets in the headrest; they offer recent TV shows and movies to help pass the time. 

My watch says 6:52 AM and we are about to go into our descent.  But what time is it really?  I have no idea, but I don’t care.  Right now bright morning sunshine is streaming in through the airplane windows, almost blinding in it intensity as passengers emerge from their mole-like state.

I am about to land in Auckland, New Zealand.  I barely knew where the city was a few months ago.  Now I know that it is on New Zealand’s north island (there is a south island, too) and that the correct Maori greeting to newcomers is, “Kia Ora.”

We are part of a large group of Canadians headed for the Mercury (Celebrity) cruise ship.  None of us have any idea what’s in store for us, so we are pleasantly surprised by all the attention we receive at the airport.

TIP:  New Zealand is hot and muggy.  Carry a quick change of clothes (shorts, Capri pants, sandals) in your carry-on, or wear the zip-off leg cargo pants, or you will be overcome by heat.  Change in a washroom on the plane, if you can, or in an airport washroom; things move very fast outside the airport as baggage and passengers are sorted and assigned to their respective coaches.

It is now 9:05 AM Auckland time, and I am already entranced by the organizational abilities of the cruise ship company.  Many greeters help us get from the baggage carousel, to the baggage truck, to our waiting buses.  No muss, no fuss.  It seems like we were on a plane one moment, and packed into a comfortable coach the next.

Now comes our next surprise — we are taken to a park area in Auckland, home to the Winter Garden Conservatory.  We pull up outside the Winter Garden Pavilion, a place of quiet enchantment where geese wander free on the lawns, and fat sparrows beg for morsels.  The chirping and twittering of birds fills the air; it’s a wonderful contrast to the sounds motor travel. 

We are invited to view the conservatory: Fernz Finery, Tropical House, and Cool House.  Celebrity has even provided a classical quartet for our entertainment.  The music entwined with the lovely flower gardens are the perfect transition from crowded airplane to vacation mindset.  And there is still tea-time.

Winter Garden Pavilion - Auckland, NZ by Sheree ZielkeAn elegant woman reminds us that we should go to tea.  Tea?  Okay.  What’s at tea?  Oh my…tiny cucumber sandwiches, tiny lobster pastries and mushroom quiches, lemon-drop cookies, and moist chocolate squares, oh, and yes, tea.  Spoiled fat sparrows eye our tasty repast (we are seated outside on a patio overlooking a garden).  Their fat bellies suggest they have dined on tea sandwiches before, and so I oblige and share a crumb of my sandwich.

I feel my anxiety and my fatigue drain away.  Is this a sign of things to come, I wonder?  Another sparrow shows up.  I acquiesce and part with a bit of my lemon-drop cookie.  I can afford to share; I have 14 days of cruise ship buffets and fine dining to look forward to.

Stay tuned for more of my adventures during my 14-day tour of New Zealand and Australia (Jan 2008) while a passenger on the Celebrity Mercury.  Watch for hi-lights of Napier, Tauranga, Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington, and in Austalia — Melbourne, Newcastle, and Sydney.  If you are a fan of the late Princess Diana, I will be covering a Sydney exhibit celebrating her, too.


Sheree Zielke

New Zealand: The Right Cabbie Will Make Your Shore Day Exceptional!

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Need a cab driver in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand? Try Lance — A Great Find! A Great Friend!

There he stood, a large man resembling a sea captain with his salt and pepper hair, and weather-worried complexion.  Laugh lines near his eyes complemented the thoughtful pattern of wrinkles that lay horizontally across his brow; he made me think of the actor, Sean Connery.

Photo by Sheree Zielke

His cab, a small four-door white sedan, occupied the last spot in the taxi queue.  We were in the town of Mount Maunganui, in the Port of Tauranga, situated on the Bay of Plenty, on the eastern coast of the North Island of New Zealand.  Since leaving the ship, we had already run the gamut of at least three dozen assorted cabs, shuttles, and tour buses before espying the taxi driver who was to make our day of adventuring very special.

The cabbie’s name: Lance Calder.  He told us later he had chosen not to be part of the vicious back-biting under-cutting group of taxi drivers awaiting the arrival of the cruise ship passengers on the pier.  When we asked his price, he stated simply $60NZ per hour.  “Not per person,” he added quickly, but “for the car.”

Lance Calder - Photo by David Thiel

Photo by David Thiel

He wanted to know what we had in mind; as seasoned travelers and photographers, we told him to drive in the direction of Rotorua, and we would tell him when we wanted to stop.  And that he was to avoid the regular tourist stops.  That gave him pause for a moment, but only a moment.

Lance, also known by the handle, “Olddog13-1,” was very quick to learn our desires, and our sense of humour.  He soon joined in our inside jokes as though he’d known us for years.  As a resident of the area since birth (he was born and raised in Te Puke – not as in vomit) he navigated the roadways well, stopping to give us views of the scenery, and share oodles of insider tips on the lifestyle and cultures of the area.

We spent seven hours with Lance – and in that time we saw stinky bubbling sulphuric mud pools in Rotorua, patted a lamb at the Kiwi Lumberjack Show (farm) (ask for Thomas –a handsome young man with a mischievious nature), tasted exquisite wines at the Mills Reef Winery, paid a quick visit to the art deco style Rotorua Museum, lunched in a small café, just up from the old Whakarewarewa Thermal Village (where young boys would dive for coins thrown into the water by tourists), and we visited the Comvita bee centre in Te Puke.

We also visited the Kiwi360 kiwi farm (Lance was extremely knowledgeable in this – he took us under the kiwi orchard canopy where the fruit was hanging like grapes from vines, he pointed out the male and the female vines and how kiwis are chosen for import, with flat-sided ones being rejected and turned into wine instead.)  Lance took us into the shop where we tasted our first kiwi wine (a little too much fruit flavour for our palate) and he took us to a favorite photography subject of ours, an old Mission cemetery, without ever being asked to do so.

Lance Calder - Photo by Sheree Zielke

We learned, through Lance that the huge tree with the gorgeous purple flowers is a Jacaranda tree, a soft drink is called a “fizzy drink,” a car trunk is called a “boot,” and that cruise ship passengers should never share a cab just to split the cost during shore excursions.

“It’s not a good idea,” says Lance.  “The couples can never agree on anything.”  He says he has never seen a cab shared successfully by people who barely knew one another, and who have gotten together just to split the cost of the taxi fare.  He says the only successful shared cab rides are those where the passengers have previously agreed upon where it is they want to go, and what it is they want to do.

Besides knowing the area so well, and being a charming traveling host, Lance is also specially trained in the art of assisting the handicapped, or the ambulatory-challenged.  He has extensive experience dealing with special needs children, and seniors in wheelchairs.

And if you are a wine lover, Lance has an inside track, having a son-in-law in the business.  Be sure to ask him for a little advice if you are going into the Napier-Hawke’s Bay area on what wineries to see, and the best route to take to see them.

Planning a trip to the Tauranga, New Zealand area via cruise ship?  Contact Lance Calder in advance.  You will feel like family when this burly congenial man welcomes you at the pier.  Tell him Sheree says you’ll need to buy a “Peepsi.”  He’ll know what you are talking about.

Contact Lance via email at

Sheree Zielke

New Zealand & Australia: Are they worth a 14-hour flight?

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

New Zealand & Australia – Celebrity (Mercury) Cruise January 2008

Are you feeling iffy about the possibility of a cruise off the coasts Down Under?  Does a 14+ hour plane ride sound too daunting?  If so, you are not alone.  But here I am to tell you  that I not only survived the flight, but I have had one of the best exotic vacations ever.  Read on.

We live in Western Canada so our flight originated out of Calgary.  From there we flew to Los Angeles, and from there (after 2 very warm hours on the tarmac) we flew to Auckland, New Zealand (in “cattle car” class — you know what I mean, the cheap cramped seats with minimal service).  But we had no option for an upgrade, so we accepted things as they were.

The flight, oddly enough, turned out to be not as gruelling as we had anticipated.  There is ample room on the Air New Zealand plane to move about (to ease leg swelling), and the TV in the headrest is filled with programs and recent movie selections.

The seats are crammed together, but not horribly so.  Unless, you are very large person, you should find them bearable.   We hit some rocky air pockets, but for the most part, the flight was uneventful.

We arrived to gray skies in Auckland; a crew of Celebrity cruise ship people were there to greet us.  We were escorted to a large tour coach (bus) and taken for a spin around Auckland before boarding the Mercury ship.  It was an unexpected surprise — and a very pleasant one at that.  Especially the morning tea at the Winter Garden Pavilion.

The ship’s management used the time very efficiently and did our initial boarding clearance at the Auckland museum, where we took a quick 20-30 minute tour of an amazing museum, before re-boarding our coach.  We were given a bit of a tour of the Auckland harbour and then taken to the ship, where we were allowed to board early.  It was a wonderful surprise, and so welcome after all the time we had spent on planes and in airports.

For insider tips, cruising tips, reviews on the Celebrity Mercury, reviews and hi-lights of the New Zealand and Austrailian ports-of-call, visit this blog this month. 

You will find a wealth of information — information that will hopefully lead you to a positive decision about a Down Under vacation. 

Sheree Zielke