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Home > Virtual Cruises > Statendam: Auckland to Sydney
Statendam: Auckland to Sydney
Day 1: Auckland
Day 2: Auckland/Christchurch
Day 3: Dunedin
Day 4: Milford Sound
Day 5: At Sea
Day 6: At Sea
Day 7: Burnie
Day 8: Melbourne
Day 9: Sydney
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Day 3: Tuesday, Dunedin
DunedinIn an intriguing twist, our visit to Dunedin -- a town of 113,000 folks and the best place on the South Island to pick up a Scottish quilt (or Scotch shortbread) -- celebrates the albatross.

You may remember the old saying that "you wear an albatross around your neck," implying, per the American Heritage Dictionary, that albatross is "a constant worrisome burden." Indeed, the negative connotation of the albatross was made famous by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," in which he tells the tale of a sailor who shoots a friendly albatross and is forced to wear its carcass around his neck as punishment.

Ironically, despite having heard the story many times, I still wasn't really clear on what an albatross was and why it was so celebrated. Which is why it seemed like a good idea to participate in Statendam's tour to Dunedin's gorgeous and wild Otago Peninsula, where we'd experience all manners of transportation in our search for nature, from a motor yacht to a motorcoach to a rough and rugged off-road vehicle.

An albatross is a web-footed bird, by the way.

First things first, though. Our ship was docked at the cargo pier at Lake Chalmers, so close to the Otago Peninsula that you could swim there across the narrow Otago Harbour (albeit in pretty chilly waters). Instead we took the long way around, boarding a sleek modern motorcoach and driving out toward Dunedin (whose name is Gaelic for Edinburgh!). After a quick pass through Dunedin itself -- that was pretty much it for our city tour, though there's plenty to explore here -- we continued around the waterfront and ultimately arrived at our first stop: the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre and Aquarium. Not being much of a fish person -- I barely like 'em on a plate much less in a smelly and claustrophobic aquarium -- this probably wasn't the place for me, but our college-age tour guide was so enthusiastic about the center's mission that she charmed everyone, even me. Not on par with some of the splashier aquariums found in U.S. cities, this place neverheless is hard at work at the study of marine life from the waters of Southern New Zealand, including species of octopus, seahorse, crayfish and sharks.

Our group learned about sea kelp, which feeds the environment, and we were allowed to touch various (friendly) types of fish housed in an open-air aquarium. I pretty much hung out in the tiny gift shop (bought a mood ring of all things, which pegged my mood as "relaxed") and lingered under a gentle sun on the center's dock, from which I could clearly see Statendam on the other side of the water.

Finally, we headed out on a boat ride -- an intriguing experience, mostly because the captain was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable that he inspired excitement among the rest of us about seeing sea lions and albatrosses. Onboard we donned fleece-lined slickers (there was a brisk breeze) and were handed binoculars, a cup of coffee and a cookie. Then he dropped the lines and we headed off to investigate sea lions. The captain was explaining to us that sea lions feast on kelp and octopus when the show began: A young male emerged from down under as seagulls whooped and wailed above him. He'd found food. Indeed, the baby sea lion had managed to snag a foot-long octopus -- it was so big we could see it 50 feet away -- and though his table manners were a bit rusty it was fascinating to watch him dine. First he grabbed the slimy, muscled creature in his mouth and then beat it into submission by slamming it, again and again, onto the water's surface. Thwack! Smack! Whack! It was an incredible display of neck strength. After about a dozen thrusts -- the seagulls hovering hopefully in case he accidentally let go -- the octopus was ready to eat. And so he did, slurping it up in an iota of the time it took to prepare (put us all off lunch for awhile, it must be admitted).

The reason that the albatross is such a big deal here is that Taiaroa Head, the eastern tip of the peninsula, is home to a breeding colony of royal albatrosses. It's the only mainland colony for breeding of this species. After a few turns in a cove on Taiaroa's rocky coast, where the current is so ferocious it cuts truck-sized holes into the rocks, we could see sea lions sunning themselves after their morning foray (they can travel some 500 kilometers a day to catch their breakfast before returning home).

We learned one other interesting tidbit. The mouth of the bay is very narrow and the currents are very tricky. As the tides change, they force as much as four million tons of water through the tiny mouth. This makes getting in and getting out very challenging for cruise ship captains. Statendam's Captain Peter Bos told us later that Silversea's Silver Cloud had an unexpectedly long stay in Dunedin a few weeks ago. The ship had missed the optimal time to leave -- and as a result spent two days here waiting for the tides to be right.

Albatrosses seemed in short supply here compared to Sea lions (the female sea lions had recently given birth to new babies, so the males are hanging around to protect them), but we finally did spot one of the famed birds. It was amazing, after all its dunning in literature, how beautifully it flew! White with a black ruffled skirt, so to speak (it's the wings), the albatross soared in flight like a bald eagle. Our necks craned at the sight of just one of these gorgeous creatures. Our glimpse lasted 10 seconds, if that, but it was majestic nevertheless.

Back on land, we wound our way up, via our big ol' motorcoach, to the Nature's Wonders park. (If you get scared when massive buses whip around winding curves on narrow two-lane roads that dip into canyons below, you'd better opt for an aisle seat.) That's where we hopped into our funky off-road vehicles and set off on crater-marked dirt roads high atop the peninsula. There were spectacular vistas on both sides, especially overlooking Otago Harbour, shimmering in countless shades of blue. We could still see Statendam, though Dunedin itself was tucked around a bend.

The key attractions here were more sea lions and a nesting colony of yellow-eyed penguins, the latter an endangered species. Having already spent a half-hour observing sea lions lying listlessly on the rocks at Taiaroa Head, my interest was at best lukewarm. But here it was different -- there was liveliness and, as we peered down into the rock areas claimed by this particular group of sea lions, we could see the huge flat papa lying supine in the sun, mama resting nearby and lots of babies (about five weeks old, we were told) frolicking in a rock pool nearby. The drama occurred when another male -- the uncle? -- dared to enter the territorial dad's vicinity. With a squeal of rage and a massive pounding of fins, Pop pulled himself up slightly and slid across the rocks to chase him away. Exhausted by his successful effort at protecting his family, he stayed right where he stopped. But he still looked watchful.

The penguins were harder to see and frankly I never did see one of the yellow-eyed variety -- though so many people were pointing outstretched fingers and shrieking "look! one o'clock!" that I finally just said "ooooohhhh" to shut them up. I did get a glimpse at a couple of blue penguin babies (they were grey), and they were sweet. We watched all this from a crudely built covered walkway that ran along the side of the mountain and weren't allowed to step one foot outside. Mind you, the penguins had the human-free run of one of the most beautiful, boulevard-wide sandy beaches I've ever seen, with gentle surf rolling in from the Pacific. It just begged for an afternoon spent in human picnicking and frolicking. (Just kidding!)

After a quick lunch at the Nature's Wonder cafe (lots of cold salads and a fish casserole -- not spectacular, but after all the time in the open air we were starving and it tasted delicious), we headed back to the ship.

Just before the bus returned to the cargo terminal, I hopped off to explore the funky, arty town of Lake Chalmers, where we had noticed a couple of intriguing artisan boutiques on the way out. Alas, by this time most of them were closed. This being our last stop in New Zealand, I decided I'd get rid of my last 16 New Zealand dollars and so headed to the bottle shop to buy a South Island wine. Such was the good nature of the bartender -- and of most everyone we met on this trip -- that when the wine I chose exceeded the cash I had on hand, she handed it to me anyway and said, "Take it and enjoy it. Don't forget us."

Don't worry.

Back onboard, we were still getting adjusted to Statendam but already adored its Explorations Cafe. Only available on certain Holland America ships, as part of the ongoing Signatures of Excellence refurbishment and upgrade project, the Explorations Cafes are the best at sea (aside from the cafes on Cunard's ships). The library is so diverse and interesting you don't even need to bother packing a book! You can also work the New York Times crossword on specially designed tables that come with erasable red pencils, catch up on magazines ranging from Harper's to Vanity Fair or check your email on a dozen or so computer terminals -- or via wireless on your own computer. You can even rent a DVD; the list is pretty comprehensive and the cost is $3 a day.

And don't miss the coffee bar. They make a terrific latte for a reasonable $1.50.

This being my fifth Holland America cruise -- and my second, following a trip last year on Ryndam, on one of its older but refurbished ships -- I must admit I felt right at home, especially when I encountered a few familiar features. One was the Wajang Theater, which is both a cinema and a kitchen demonstration station (with a huge, gorgeous test kitchen that hosts both hands-on and passive workshops). Other favorites include the Explorer Lounge, which after dinner offers classical music from a string quartet, and the completely transformed Crow's Nest. The latter has acquired the ambience of a Miami Beach boutique hotel, with fabulous flowing curtains and all-new furnishings. The best addition? The plush but sleek armchairs made for just curling up and reading a good book or watching the coast pass by.

The only major enhancement that Holland America really can't make on this style of ship (which was launched in 1992) is to add more balconies, so most of us are housed in standard inside and outside accommodations. They're perfectly comfortable, but they don't really tempt folks to stay "in" (either on the balcony or not), making for more interaction in public spaces. There's definitely a sense of warmth, familiarity and camaraderie among not only passengers but also officers and crew, that you don't always pick up on today's sleeker and more amenity-laden ships.

Speaking of amenities, while Holland America's Signatures of Excellence initiative also is meant to target accommodations, we found the improvements a bit hit-or-miss. On the plus side? Flat-screen televisions and DVD players, and beds with pillow-top mattresses and fresh white cotton duvets. A major improvement. But we couldn't quite figure out why the foam-like pillows were impossibly lumpy -- and in this day and age most people really do expect an in-cabin mini-fridge.

After an informational "cocktail hour" as Statendam sailed for -- and passed through -- the mouth of the Otago Harbour, the onboard naturalist pointed out the sights. Having already seen them, and in a much more up-close-and-personal way, we were nonetheless quite pleased to see a whole flock of albatrosses flying around their mountaintop retreat. I loved their breathless elegance.

Tonight, we reported to the Rotterdam Dining Room for our assigned main seating at 8 p.m. and met our tablemates for the rest of the cruise. It always seems strange but funny to me when you travel halfway around the world and meet folks who live less than an hour from you at home! But it's comforting, too. On this trip we've also heard a lot of slightly exotic accents -- the itinerary has attracted folks from New Zealand, Australia, England, Scotland and Ireland, so far as we can tell.

The sun sets late in southern New Zealand at height of summer, and it was doing just that as our desserts -- delicious bananas foster and a decadent chocolate cake -- were served. A nice way to end the day.
Day 2: Auckland/Christchurch red arrow Day 4: Milford Sound

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