The princess di­aries

Cel­e­brat­ing Kiwi cul­ture ashore and at sea

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - KA­T­RINA LOBLEY

Oc­ca­sion­ally on a cruise ship, as cou­ples glide be­tween din­ing rooms and bars, pool and spa, they for­get where they are. I’m re­minded of this when I skip Emer­ald Princess’s el­e­va­tors for the in­ter-deck stair­case so I can ratchet up my steps tally for the day. Shar­ing the stairs is a for­mally at­tired hus­band and wife — he’s pro­pel­ling her up­wards by push­ing at her bot­tom and they’re gig­gling like teenagers.

They’re for­given. After all, Princess is the cruise line that fa­mously formed the back­drop for the TV se­ries The Love Boat, so ro­mance should in­deed be in the air. Per­haps they’re hav­ing a rum old time be­cause they’ve been in­dulging in The Isaac, a cock­tail Princess Cruises launched in time for Valen­tine’s Day 2015 to hon­our the show’s red-jack­eted bar­tender. The po­tion in­cludes pome­gran­ate syrup, sup­pos­edly an aphro­disiac. To re­mind your­self how Isaac used to shake it, turn on the in-cabin tele­vi­sion, which shows old episodes such as the one where iden­ti­cal blon­des swap fi­ances, marry the new one then swap back again, and with no one the wiser.

Of course, it could also be the New Zealand ef­fect. I mean, have you been to a friendlier coun­try? That kind of stuff rubs off. Princess is bring­ing more of this warm New Zealand vibe into the pas­sen­ger ex­pe­ri­ence with its new Across the Ditch pro­gram of Kiwi-themed on-board ex­pe­ri­ences, such as cul­tural per­for­mances and more NZ wines on menus, and shore ex­cur­sions.

Be­fore chug­ging out of down­town Auck­land, we catch the ferry to Wai­heke Is­land to try one of these new ex­cur­sions. Wai­heke, if you haven’t been, is a mix of old and new New Zealand (some call it Wai­hip­pie, per­haps ac­knowl­edg­ing its pop­u­lar nude beach). Thou­sands of Auck­lan­ders de­scend upon Wai­heke on any given sum­mer week­end to en­joy its vine­yard cul­ture, which in­cludes winer­ies such as Mud­brick that boast gourmet fare and as­ton­ish­ing views back to­wards Auck­land. Even winer­ies with­out wa­ter views are some­thing spe­cial; in the mid­dle of the is­land, you can loll about on over­sized cush­ions on the lawns of Stonyridge or taste your way through the well-re­garded reds of neigh­bour­ing Te Motu.

No sur­prises, then, that our ex­pe­ri­ence at EcoZip Ad­ven­tures starts with whoosh­ing over net­ted syrah vines. A trio of dual zip lines, which be­come pro­gres­sively longer and faster, un­til we’re match­ing the gen­eral Wai­heke road speed limit of 50km/h, lead us to a patch of rare for­est dat­ing back hun­dreds of years. We hike un­der­neath tow­er­ing tree ferns and slow-grow­ing nikau palms that look like up­side-down brooms. Our in­struc­tor, Rene “Chook” Hawkins, shows off the re­gen­er­a­tion ef­forts as he leads us back up­hill. De­spite start­ing with sev­eral ner­vous types in our group who have a fear of heights, ev­ery­one’s buzzing by the time the ad­ven­ture ends.

Back in Auck­land, I nip past the docked Emer­ald Princess to wharf’s end to check out Michael Parekowhai’s sculp­ture, The Light­house, which ref­er­ences so­cial hous­ing ar­chi­tec­ture while com­ment­ing on home­less­ness and sky­rock­et­ing Auck­land real es­tate prices. Our ship is prepar­ing to pro­ceed down the east coast to our dis­em­barka­tion port of Dunedin but not be­fore some wit sails past, belt­ing out The Love Boat theme at the top of his lungs.

The fore­cast, broad­cast on my cabin’s TV, is for calm, rip­pled wa­ters, which is just as well, as I for­got to pack sea­sick­ness tablets. I needn’t fear be­cause New Zealand is turn­ing it on as we cruise past Mount Maun­ganui where the shore is lined with wav­ing peo­ple (“Kia ora, guys!”) into an­other real es­tate hot spot, Tau­ranga, where baches (beach shacks) have been re­placed by multi-mil­lion-dol­lar man­sions. From here, we drive to the liv­ing Maori vil­lage of Whakare­warewa on the out­skirts of Ro­torua, nick­named Roto-Ve­gas for its pro­lif­er­a­tion of mo­tels and neon. “What’s unique is we’re liv­ing on geo­ther­mal ac­tiv­ity,” says our guide, Michael John­ston, as he stamps on the earth’s crust, let­ting the hol­low thud do all the talk­ing. He shows us where the 60 res­i­dents steam and boil food (you can buy a boiled corn­cob, with salt and but­ter, for a few dol­lars from a stand or save space for a hangi pie at the cafe). They also cool the min­eral-rich wa­ters to a com­fort­able bathing tem­per­a­ture although some­times, John­ston says, tourists wan­der into the out­door baths, keen to join in be­fore they’re shooed away.

We port-hop to Gis­borne, which makes much of the fact it’s the world’s first city to see the light of a New Year. A 10-minute drive north, past a whale grave­yard, pump-

Emer­ald Princess in Akaroa, main; per­former at the Maori vil­lage of Whakare­warewa, above

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