A journey to New Zealand now involves extra immersion thanks to an initiative by Princess Cruises. Teresa Ooi reports.
If cruising is all about the destination, you can understand why Australians love New Zealand. From the sub-tropical Bay of Islands in the north to Fiordland in the south, New Zealand is disarmingly delightful.
Visiting New Zealand has become so popular it has overtaken Europe as the Australia’s third favourite cruise destination, attracting more than 106,737 passengers last year.
Now Princess Cruises, which carries more than two-thirds of Australian cruisers to New Zealand, has designed a new program to showcase the best of the country’s food, culture, traditions and experiences through a series of immersive shore excursions and onboard experiences.
Called Across the Ditch, the program will bring the land of the long white cloud onto the ship with a greater selection of Kiwi wines, poi dancing, haka lessons and talks by park rangers. And when the ship arrives in New Zealand, Princess will introduce more inclusive and interactive excursions.
The line’s vice president of Australia and New Zealand, Stuart Allison, says the new immersive experiences have been selected to ensure Australians keep coming back to New Zealand again and again.
Princess’ Maori ambassadors Don Hutana and Annette Harris say onboard haka lessons are the biggest drawcard on trans-Tasman cruises.
“The highest attendance we had was more than 100 passengers. They loved the interactive aspect and are genuinely interested in Maori culture. They enjoyed participating and we received lots of feedback after each session,” Mr Hutana says.
Princess passengers can learn more about Maori culture with a shore excursion to Whakarewarewa Maori village in Rotorua.
“Our cultural performance which includes an audience participation is always a hit with visitors,’’ says Whakarewarewa manager Renee Raimona-Hunter.
“Whether it be audience participating at our show, feeling the waters of our hot pools, getting a face full of steam from our Hangi steam ovens or the warmth of the spray from the Pohutu Geyser erupting, the experience is always enjoyable and memorable for them.”
There are also plenty of opportunities to sample local food, such as a gourmet walking tour in Wellington or cellar door visits on Waiheke Island. Guest can even take a cooking class in Akaroa.
“We run a master class on New Zealand cuisine using locally sourced organic produce like the Akaroa salmon, which is locally farmed,” says Lou Bently, chef and owner of Akaroa Cooking School.
“Cruise passengers get a chance to kneed flour to make bread or help with the chopping of ingredients. They also love to watch and be entertained.
“Our dishes are straight forward and achievable. It is a very personal experience and they love it.
“As one guest told us we arrive as paying customers and leave as friends.”
New Zealand’s undulating terrain and national parks have always been star attractions for visitors looking for adventure. With the guidance of a park ranger, passengers can explore mother nature in the Fiordland National Park or visit a penguin habitat.
Adrenalin seekers can experience a zipline tour in Waiheke Island overlooking pristine rainforest.
And guests interested in the marine world can join a stingray-feeding experience.
“Clients are kitted up in waders and given a bamboo pool to help them walk onto the reef. Once in the water, the guides bring around the wild stingray, eagle rays and other reef dwellers so that guests can touch them and interact with them while the guides talk about the animals,’’ says Chris Savage, owner of Dive Tatapouri.
“Most of the feedback we receive is that they have totally enjoyed the activity. For our operations, it is more real to be immersive as we are in the open sea and not in an enclosed pool.’’
Here are some of the most immersive excursions.
Just a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, picturesque Waiheke Island is an easy day trip. You can enjoy a relaxed tour of boutique wineries or ramp up the pace with EcoZip Adventures. Three giant ziplines offer incredible views and you can share the experience with a friend on the unique dual ziplines.
Akaroa Cooking School
The school run by Lou and Ant Bentley overlooks a beautiful bay and harbour. In a six-hour course, guests learn to prepare a lavish lunch such as Spanish tapas or a five-course Italian feast in a fun environment and then enjoy it with matching New Zealand wines.
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
The national museum of Te Papa is full of interactive exhibits and an exclusive tour with guide Rangimoana Taylor will bring New Zealand history to life. Rangimoana will share stories and anecdotes during a behind-the-scenes tour where guests will see artefacts from the museum’s vaults.
Reef Ecology Tour with Dive Tatapouri
Tatapouri Bay, Gisborne
Kitted out in waders, guests explore the reef at low tide to learn about the marine environment and its inhabitants such as short-tail stingray, eagle rays, yellowtail kingfish, trevally, kahawai, crayfish, octopus and conger eels. The highlight is feeding wild stingrays.
Whakarewarewa, The Living Maori Village
Experience a true Maori village where natural geothermal resources are used to cook, bathe and heat homes. Visit the Pohutu Geyser and watch villagers prepare hangi meals in buried steam boxes and cook corn in geothermal pools.