Editors note: The original story was written on March 4, 2020. At the time of publishing, all guests have been notified that HAL’s world cruise will conclude and guests will disembark in Fremantle, Australia. No further updates have been given.
Such intriguing terms as “tititorea” (rhythm sticks) and “poi” (balls attached to a string that were made from heavy material and used to train Maori warriors in the old days, and are now soft and used by women in traditional dances) became part of our vocabulary as we headed to Auckland, New Zealand. That was thanks to a team of five Maori “ambassadors” that Holland America put on board the Amsterdam during her current 128-day World Cruise. The “ambassadors” conducted storytelling performances, crafts sessions, a Haka war dance workshop and various demonstrations.
After crossing the International Dateline coming from Tahiti with stops in Rarotonga and Tonga, we got to Auckland and are now 18 hours ahead of our home in Florida – before crossing the International Dateline we had been five hours behind. Captain Jonathan Mercer, master of the Amsterdam, told us the ship’s clocks would be set 23 hours forward and that we would go from Feb. 25 to Feb. 27 and that Feb. 26 would not exist. “Wait, what? Today is yesterday,” a passenger exclaimed while trying to set her fitness watch. “This will mess up my steps!”
We arrived in Auckland with its impressive skyline with high rises, sci-fi-like Sky Tower, and Harbor Bridge to an overcast day, but no rain. Auckland is dubbed “the City of Sails” – lots of sailboats and other craft dot its seascape (the city has 235,000 registered yachts). A sprawling metropolis between two harbors (Waitemata and Manukau Harbors), Auckland is located in New Zealand’s North Island. It is a friendly, cosmopolitan city of 1.45 million inhabitants – it has attracted a large concentration of Polynesians from South Pacific islands as well as Asians. New Zealand’s largest city and a popular stop as well as an embarkation/debarkation point on Down Under itineraries, Auckland has much to offer cruise passengers, so we were glad we had two days here.
A good way to get oriented and get around to the city’s attractions – we did – is via the hop-on/hop-off buses. We got a 24-hour pass from Hassle-free Tours on their Soaring Kiwi bus –it has two routes that hit the attractions we wanted to visit. To have transportation on two days, one can use the pass from midday on the first day and it is good until midday on the second day.
Here are several attraction “musts” in Auckland which my husband Humberto and I have enjoyed during this stop and several other visits to the city:
- The Auckland SkyTower, a 1,076-ft. tall structure in the heart of the city, is a popular stop, walking distance from the Queen’s Wharf where the Amsterdam had tied up. It is the highest man-made structure in the Southern Hemisphere, serves as a telecommunications tower and houses a hotel, casino, restaurants (including a revolving one), glass-fronted elevators, and observation platforms for panoramic views – you can see as far as nearly 50 miles from the top of the tower. On the Observation Deck, parts of the floor are glass and you can see all the way down to the ground 610 feet below (yikes!). Visitors can take in the views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf from the observation platforms or opt for a walk around the outside of the tower on a platform 130 feet above the ground. Oh, and there’s more: the intrepid can bungee-jump from it! There were no takers during our visit.
- Another “must” for us because we love penguins, sea turtles and other marine creatures is Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium, New Zealand’s only turtle rescue center. This aquarium, located outside Auckland’s Central Business District, is home to thousands of marine animals including fascinating creatures such as King crabs and jellyfish from the Southern Ocean. Its biggest draw is that it has the largest penguin colony in New Zealand (very apropos for visitors as New Zealand is the closest country to Antarctica). The colony is made up of adorable King and Gentoo penguins that visitors can see swimming like torpedoes in the water, and standing, walking and resting in their icy domain. Another attraction is a re-creation of legendary explorer Capt. Robert Scott’s 1911 Antarctic hut on the shores of McMurdo Sound. The aquarium’s free shuttle operates daily from downtown and vice versa, and it is a stop on one of the routes of the Soaring Kiwi Hassle-Free hop-on/hop-off bus.
- We had enjoyed performances, demonstrations and lectures by our Maori team, but for those wanting more, there is the Auckland Museum. This museum overlooks the Waitemata Harbor and is housed in a stately heritage building. It boasts Maori treasures and daily Maori cultural performances, natural history exhibits and changing local and international exhibitions. Nearby is the Auckland Domain/Wintergardens with gardens, duck ponds and walks – we came across a group of geese promenading in the gardens during our visit.
- Still, other noteworthy attractions include the Auckland Zoo, home to 1,400 animals of 135 species. It is a great place to get acquainted with New Zealand snakes and birds including the korora (little penguin), kereru (New Zealand pigeon) and the one everyone wants to see: the flightless brown kiwi, shy but feisty and territorial, that gave its name to the fruit (kiwi is also the nickname for non-Maori New Zealanders). The 42-acre zoo participates in the kiwi recovery program Operation Nest Egg which takes kiwi eggs from the wild, hatches them in the zoo and puts the birds in predator-free islands until they are grown and then they release them into the wild. The zoo is on Motions Road, west of downtown Auckland next to the Western Springs Reserve and Museum of Transport and Technology.
- Also worth a visit is the Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tamaki. With a collection of more than 15,000 works, this gallery in the city center on Kitchener Street is the largest art institution in Auckland. Its holdings include historic, modern and contemporary works by New Zealand artists, works by Maori and Pacific Island artists, as well as European collections from the 14th century to the present day.
A big –and delicious—local highlight featured onboard the Amsterdam was the Quintessential Kiwi Dinner in the Lido. It served up such specialties as Manuka honey swordfish in banana leaves, fresh-catch Tarakihi fillet, mashed Kumara (sweet potatoes) and steamed green lip New Zealand mussels, and a really special treat: a “New Zealand Ice Cream Parlor” with the creamy delights such as blackberry/black currant and lemon/passionfruit that Auckland is famous for.
Here are some quick superlatives as we mark two months aboard the Amsterdam – embarkation in Fort Lauderdale seems was ages ago.
- Most fun: Poi-making session with our Maori Cultural Ambassadors.
- Most delightful: The penguins at Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium.
- Most festive: The Bowlers & Bumpershoots Gala Dinner in the dining room on the way to New Zealand and other Commonwealth nations – it was complete with umbrellas with pictures of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament decorating the restaurant, and bowlers for each diner.
- Most delicious: The blackberry/black currant ice cream at the Quintessential Kiwi Dinner and the Chocolate Macadamia Nut Souffle of the Bowlers & Bumpershoots Dinner.
- Most insistent: We are getting a flood of health advisories urging us to wash hands, use hand sanitizer, etc. (wise!).
- Most disappointing: Due to Coronavirus concerns we are no longer visiting Indonesia and Singapore (there go dreams of tours to Borobodur in Semarang, Indonesia, visits to Gardens By The Bay in Singapore and temples in Bali). The call at Mombasa, Kenya, has been cancelled due to security concerns, so there go opportunities to join overnight programs to the Maasai Mara and to Mt. Kilimanjaro. The call at Colombo, Sri Lanka is no longer possible as Sri Lanka is not accepting cruise ship visits. Visits to Broome, Exmouth, Geraldton, and Fremantle, Australia have been added as well as a stop in Praslin, in the Seychelles. Also, we cannot stop at Male, Maldives, as that destination is not accepting visits by any cruise ships. All this constitutes a major change to our itinerary, but we agree that the safety of passengers and crew is of paramount importance.
After our two days in Auckland, we were ready for another port, Waitangi, Bay of Islands, in New Zealand and, continuing our explorations Down Under, several calls in Australia.