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The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT -

ing waves and a road sign warn­ing of cross­ing seals, brings us to the tran­quil wa­ters of Tat­apouri Bay, which is a st­ingray nurs­ery. After clam­ber­ing into waders, we inch out into the sea us­ing bam­boo poles to keep our bal­ance, and wait on a shal­low ledge while Dive Tat­apouri’s Dean Sav­age and Alex Kinzett en­cour­age ea­gle rays and short­tail stingrays to come closer. The rays know there are chunks of tasty bar­racuda on of­fer, so they glide on to the ledge where we can trail our fin­gers over their vel­vety backs. I’m not that keen for Tara, a 180kg short-tail, to come closer; she picks up the vibe and hangs around Kinzett. Huge king­fish are also part of the ac­tion, flick­ing their tails and splash­ing us.

Re­turn­ing to Gis­borne, we stop at a statue nick­named the “Crook Cook” be­cause the fig­ure wears the uni­form of an Ital­ian ad­mi­ral, throw­ing doubt on whether it is in­deed Cap­tain Cook who in 1769 be­came the first Euro­pean to set foot on NZ soil here. The statue stands near a po­hutukawa (also called New Zealand Christ­mas tree) planted by Princess Diana in 1983. Turns out our guide, Nis­bet Smith, was part of the royal ac­tion that day. We drive past ki­wifruit plan­ta­tions to Matawhero Wines where a band’s play­ing. Smith joins in on har­mon­ica.

In Welling­ton, we’re also in for a treat. Rangi­moana Tay­lor is our guide at Te Papa, the na­tional mu­seum with draw­cards that in­clude Phar Lap’s skele­ton and a colos­sal squid. Lis­ten­ing to Tay­lor talk about Maori cul­ture is mes­meris­ing (we learn later he’s also an ac­tor, with his own IMDB list­ing). He hands us over to one of the guardians of the mu­seum’s Maori col­lec­tions. Mark Sykes’s area of spe­cial in­ter­est is cloaks. The best part of our be­hind-the-scenes tour, where cam­eras aren’t al­lowed, is when Sykes opens drawer upon drawer to re­veal wo­ven cloaks, many with iri­des­cent feath­ers ar­ranged in geometric pat­terns. We brush the backs of our hands over a for­est of kiwi plumage and gape in won­der­ment at a cloak stud­ded with snowy Samoyed fur. Emer­ald Princess en­tered ser­vice in 2007 and car­ries just over 3000 pas­sen­gers; the ship was re­fur­bished in late 2015. One in three Princess cruises vis­its New Zealand. Golden Princess, Sea Princess, Sun Princess and Di­a­mond Princess will sail var­i­ous cruises be­tween Aus­tralia and New Zealand in 2017-18. Emer­ald Princess re­po­si­tions to the north­ern hemi­sphere next month to com­mence a sea­son sail­ing Alaska’s In­side Pas­sage on roundtrips from Seat­tle dur­ing the north­ern sum­mer. More: princess.com.

From the cap­i­tal it’s full steam to the South Is­land; lit­tle Hec­tor’s dol­phins come and go as we drop an­chor at Akaroa near Christchurch. We have a date with The Akaroa Cook­ing School, run by Lou and Ant Bent­ley. This is the kind of culi­nary class where you watch the Bent­leys do all the hard work be­fore sit­ting down to scoff the spoils. There are grilled mus­sels anointed with herb but­ter; hot-smoked lo­cal salmon with pick­led cu­cum­ber and minted labne; gurnard fil­lets crusted with pre­served lemon; and a le­mony panna cotta with berries. The Bent­leys, es­capees from the big-city rat race, have such an easy rap­port and liv­ing-the-dream aura about them that I start day­dream­ing about join­ing the 600 res­i­dents who call Akaroa home.

This on­shore lunch con­tin­ues the fine din­ing we’ve grown ac­cus­tomed to aboard Emer­ald Princess, one of three of the line’s ships fea­tur­ing Cur­tis Stone’s restau­rant Share, which serves a six-course din­ner (a cover charge ap­plies) where the sea-themed fourth course in­cludes but­ter-poached lob­ster tails. Be­tween the buf­fets and main din­ing rooms, we also try the ad­di­tional-fee steaks and ar­ti­san salts at the Crown Grill as well as the Salty Dog Gas­tropub’s the Ernesto, which is a spicy burger lay­ered with caramelised kim­chi and beer-bat­tered jalapenos that topped Cruise Critic’s list of best burg­ers at sea (see The Cruise Tourist be­low).

I had ev­ery in­ten­tion of off­set­ting this guz­zling — did I men­tion the deluxe bal­cony break­fast with cham­pagne or the pop­corn that ac­com­pa­nies my Movies Un­der the Stars out­ing? — with daily gym work­outs. Ha! I cy­cle off 25 calo­ries one morn­ing, join a stretch class on an­other, and that’s it. I’m more in­ter­ested in the hair salon next door, where I gossip with hair­dresser Sushant as he sprin­kles my locks with per­fumed po­tions be­fore teas­ing and pin­ning it up into some­thing very princessy in­deed.

Ka­t­rina Lobley was a guest of Princess Cruises.

Clock­wise from top, meet­ing stingrays; The Light­house sculp­ture, Auck­land; Movies Un­der the Stars; Share restau­rant

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