I was a virgin of the sea prior to this wonderful trip my wife Judy and I took to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary.
We flew London - LA - Auckland with no problem until a wee sniffer dog at Auckland airport caught the scent of a dried thistle in my wife's handbag! A small fine and an acceptance of our adversity was a minor hic-up. I must recommend Quantas Airlines for their service.
We had three days to enjoy Auckland so we spent the first couple exploring the city by a rented car. I was expecting it to be a lot smaller than it was, the suburbs stretch quite a way from the city. if you get the chance the Coramandel peninsula is just wonderful.
Embarking onto the Sapphire was quite exciting for us but turned out to be very slow and a few veterans of the sea explained to us it was usually less painless. However my first impressions were that it was a very classy boat and the staff seemed very helpful and eager to please.
Our room was spacious with plenty of storage and Judy loved the balcony - she seemed to go there with every opportunity - her own wee slice of solitude and paradise. there was a safe in the room also which i thought was a great idea and unexpected. Everyone else on the cruise seemed to average about 50 years old with a few younger couples - we felt at the younger end but soon found that we had a lot in common with many passengers - even some of the children who loved to play football much to their parents annoyance.
The food on board was excellent and caters for all tastes. I love steak and we had the finest one I had ever had at the steakhouse. Judy's favorite restaurant was Sabbatini's that served excellent Italian dishes. The entertainment on board was varied and overall very good. The piano player was of the highest quality but I was told by many that some of the shows were not as good as other cruise lines. I must admit i was quite happy and had a great time.
The ports we visited were great. It was really exciting wondering what the next place would be like and we were getting into the cruising lifestyle.
- Tauranga was the first port of call. We had pre booked a Maori/Wildlife tour via the cruise ship. This is an excellent tour and is scenic and informative. Rotorua is a beautiful place bubbling with thermal activity and interest. It seems to be the hub of maori culture and a worthwhile experience.
- Wellington was beautiful to sail into. The whole city appears before you, make sure you our on deck when you come into this city. We took the Yellow Circle city buses that are $6NZD and you can hop on hop off wherever you like, the buses come every 20mins so you don't have to wait long at all. It stops at the Te Papa Museum - absolutely fantastic, we spent over an hour in this wonderful building. The Maritime Museum also is worth a look, it was amazing to see how proud an Air Force NZ had even though it was almost quite primitive. They had some of the greatest pilots during the war. Parliament house is also a great place to visit. We too k a journey on the Mt Victoria railcar (15mins) for a great view of the city.
- Christchurch - We arrived at Lyttleton and took a 30minute transfer to the city center (NZ $6 each way). A lot of passengers opt for the Tranz alpine train but we decided to have a look around this beautiful city and took in cathedral Square and took a bus to the Antarctic center. This is well worth a visit and the little blue penguins were a treat.
- Dunedin -this is another attractive harbor and turned out to hold the most interest. We had pre booked the Back to Nature tour via the internet. The city was settled by the Scottish and we knew our guide was also from Scotland so we were looking forward to this trip. It was great to have the company of someone who had lived down the road in Scotland but had a vast knowledge of this wonderful city. We went to Olveston house and visited many other buildings that had been preserved since the start of the 20th century. The history of this place was very interesting. We visited Lanarch Castle (not really much of a castle if you come from Scotland!) that had the most beautiful gardens in a truly inspiring location with a lone piper playing the bagpipes in the background. It made the hairs on my neck stand up - we loved it!!. We then went off road and went for a comfortable scenic drive and had a picnic in the most beautiful location. Then off to view the Royal Albatross - massive birds that apparently carry the 'souls of sailors'. One flew over Judy, it must of only been 3 meters above her. The highlight was the yellow eyed penguins - what a funny wee bird. They are really shy so we had to keep out of sight. The whole trip was a relaxed, comfortable and well organized. A++++++
Fiordland- this is one of the most beautiful places in the world. the maori legends for this area are beautiful and the spiritually of this place is mindblowing. it is an untouched rugged wilderness with steep mountains rising from the sea to about 4500ft. Waterfalls cascade of the mountains and if you get a fine day (9metres of rain a year) you will be treated to one of the wonders of the world - i have seen nothing to compare to this place. I found a secret deck on the aft of the ship and found myself at compete peace. We visited Doubtful Sound and went into Milford Sound - what a treat. There were dolphins in the fiord but I couldn't see them - you can't win them all.
The crossing of the tasman can be rough so be prepared - Judy wasn't and succumbed to being sick several times because of the rough sea. It was o rough we missed Hobart! We instead had 2 days in Melbourne. We had pre-booked a tour so had to suffer the hassle of getting a refund - it turned out to be okay and we were fixed up pretty quickly. I suppose this is one of the advantages of booking with the ship but I believe you are best to book with local operators direct.
Melbourne - We arrived at Station pier and the city is a good way from town but the metro pass ($5NZD gives you unlimited travel around the city on all the trams, trains and buses. The transport system here is very efficient and will allow you to get around easily. The Realto tower is definitely worth a visit because the view is wonderful. We also visited the Victoria Markets that had a great selection of little presents i could take home for the family. If you like coffee go to Lygon st, there are wonderful cafes and bars here and it is a really lively spot.
Disembarking at Sydney was a bit of a nightmare because Judy had lost her wedding ring - I couldn't believe it! We looked everywhere and the staff were helpful but no sign of it. It was a sad end to one of the best trips we had had together in our 20 odd years of knowing each other. Judy was very distressed and it took a lot of tears before she came round. That night in Sydney was a tough night.
One of the reasons I have written this review is to complement the Sapphire crew on their great service. They found the ring - it was found in our room and it was on judy's finger before the ship left Sydney. It is only a ring but it meant the world to us - THANK YOU