The North Island
01.02.2014 - 05.02.2014 20 °C
After two days of touring around the North Island of New Zealand (see previous post) is was time to board the Celebrity Solstice. So after a leisurely morning of walking around we finally got a taxi to take the six of us and all our luggage to the cruise port terminal and started the somewhat chaotic embarkation process. We have over 2800 people boarding the ship in a period of about two to three hours. Embarkation in Auckland was a bit slower than we have experienced in other ports probably because the cruise port is somewhat smaller. However, staff were very polite and friendly and most of the travelers are in a jovial mood as everyone is headed for a great vacation. The lines moved steadily and within an hour we had dropped our checked bags off at the baggage drop off, cleared immigration and security, had our ID pictures taken and cards issued and made it onboard the ship. Getting our bearings was easy as we are familiar with the ship’s layout since we have sailed on her sister ship a number of times in the past.
Sue and Hazel on deck Auckland
Cal and Joan on deck in Auckland
Unlike our previous cruise experiences the crew had managed to get the rooms turned around and our rooms were ready as soon as we had boarded. This is quite a challenge as the previous cruise only landed earlier this morning. We were able to locate our rooms and get our carry-on luggage all stowed away. We gathered with Roy, Sue, Joan and Cal for a late lunch on the back deck. We returned to our rooms to find our main luggage had arrived so we were able to unpack, get our rooms organized and get changed for dinner. We gathered at Sue and Roy’s for champagne and canapés before heading for dinner.
Cocktails in the Cabin
Auckland Skyline as we departed
This trip we had selected the fixed dining option so off we headed for the 6:00 pm sitting and table 276. As expected our four course dinner was excellent. Celebrity is the third cruise line that we have sailed on over the past four years and we have found that they are consistently the best in terms of food quality. There are two main dining rooms plus the main buffet area plus four specialty restaurants so no one area is too crowded. Each area also has their own separate kitchen so food arrives at our table hot and fresh. Two hours after entering the deck three dining area we waddled out with full bellies and sated palates. Off we headed for the main theatre at the other end of the ship. The theatre seats just under 1000 passengers and is a great set up. The stage is huge and has at least four elevators allowing the performers in the more elaborate shows to appear and disappear into the floor. The theatre is also equipped with major overhead rigging in order to handle Cirque style shows that have performers flying around over the stage and way out over the audience. Tonight’s show was more or less a sampler of what we will see over the next few weeks and was enjoyable and not too long in order for us all to get back to our cabins by 10:00 pm for a good first night’s sleep this first night out. For the night hawks there is entertainment of all styles going on in a number of different venues until the wee hours.
Opening Stage Show
The ship cast off from Auckland and headed northwards while we slept along the eastern coast of the North Island up to the Bay of Islands area which is almost at the north tip of the North Island of New Zealand. It is closer to the equator and a subtropical micro-region known for its stunning beauty & history. Bay of Islands is very small in population but plays a significant historical role in the founding of the nation of New Zealand. One of the unsettling things we have to get used to here in the southern hemisphere is that going southward means getting cooler and going northward towards the equator means getting warmer.
The day was quite cloudy and fairly cool. Disembarking was slower than usual as we cannot dock at a pier. The water is fairly shallow in this area so we have to anchor the ship about 3-4 kilometers off shore. The ship lowers 6 of its especially equipped life boats (tenders) that hold about 100 passengers each. They are fully enclosed and look like a big bus inside. They are powered by twin diesel engines and are quite comfortable. We board them from a gangway that juts out from the side of deck three of the ship. There are two loading points so they can load two tender boats at a time. This is called “tendering” ashore. We will only be using this method several times as in most ports we are able to dock at a major pier and just walk down a gangplank to the pier. Once we boarded our tender it took about 20 to 30 minutes to get to the town pier.
Passengers inside the tender
Dave and Hazel in the tender
Sue and Roy in the tender
Crew driving the tender
They had large shuttle busses to transport us from the pier into the center of the little town of Paihia – about 3 km from the Waitangi Wharf where the tenders docked. We walked around town and then returned back to the ship. While taking the tender back to the ship we spotted a Maori war canoe and crew practicing for a major cultural celebration in two days time.
Maori War Canoe
Solstice from the tender
Once back on the ship, they offered a Maori Cultural Show which gave us an insight to their culture through their song and dance. We were struck with a number of similarities they have with the Polynesian culture which we learned about in Hawaii (dance, song, and hand motions) as well as the differences (facial tattoos, and fierce expressions designed to frighten their enemies).
We were treated to an authentic Haka, the war dance of the warriors which you may have seem if you have watched the New Zealand Soccer team – the All Blacks – perform before their games.
After leaving the Bay of Islands area at dinner time the ship back tracked southwards past the Auckland area to Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty region. This is the general area where they filmed The Lord of the Rings. Tauranga is about the same distance from the equator as San Francisco.
Welcome to Tauranga
Tauranga is a lovely little town situated on a peninsula which ends at Mount Maunganui
We walked along the streets in the shopping district and found a place to sit where we were able to access free Wi-Fi and check our e-mail and Facebook messages from home.
Port Office with the Solstice moored in the background
We left Tauranga and spent the next day sailing around the easternmost tip of the North Island towards the South Island. Because this was a sea day there were many activities offered to us. Sue and Hazel went to a cake decorating demonstration. We all went to a very entertaining lecture on marine life by Milos, a professor of marine biology from the San Francisco area. Milos is the resident naturalist on this voyage and speaks on a variety of topics on a number of the sea days. We also went on a guided tour of one of the main kitchens.
It was the first formal night so we got all dolled up for an especially nice dinner – David and I both selected the wonderful rack of lamb off the menu.
Sue, Roy, Joan, Cal, Hazel, and Dave
One of the ship’s photographers
The main stage show was a presentation by the full cast of song and dance numbers from Broadway and London West End productions. Probably the highlight was a medley of songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber productions. We returned to our room to find a new pet.