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