We planned our holiday New Zealand Cruise, our first on Holland America Line, about 6 months ago, and used other Cruise Critics reviews and message board to plan many aspects of our trip.
We booked our trip through USAA travel agency available to military or former miltary members. We are experienced internet travel searchers, and still was a better deal than we could have gotten anywhere else. We found the best flight deal through www.kayak.com and then booked directly through the airline (Asiana Air) for our flights than connected through Seoul. Asiana is very much like flying used to be. Flight attendents are uniformly young, with the same uniform and hairstyles, and a heavy emphasis on service (hot towels, hot tea, diet coke in the middle of a 14 hour flight if you ask, lots of movies on your personal screen). We had to get over the sticker shock of flights costing half again as muich as the cruise for the four of us, but it is summer, Christmas, and a heck of a long flight from Chicago to Sydney and back, so we bit the bullet. That also bespeaks that the cruise was a really good deal for a 16 day over Christmas.
Boarding was quick and efficient, and we were able to get to our cabin right away as oppsed to having to carry stuff around for several hours. It was clear immediately that the cruise was mostly older Australians, which we were fine with. We had a 1st level ocean view cabin in the aft of the ship (#1945) which was great and had a large window. Plus not any of the engine noise bugged us.
Avaiable for 4 people; plenty of closet space; actual bathtub and great towels/robes, bed set-up odd but worked; big window (leave a stuffed animal in window so you can find it at pots)
We left our home in Michigan at 7:00 am on a Friday, and arrived at our hotel after leaving the Sydney Airport at 11:00 am on a Sunday, so it's a long trip even with the 16 hours time difference any way you cut it. It's best of course to just push throug hthe jet lag and try to go to sleep around normal time wherever you are at, which we did. We got "Sunday Fun Day" tickets for public transit at the airport (plus about $10/pp for an airport fee) and took the train into downtown. Very worth it. Our hotel, The Menzies, was right across the street from the Wynard Station (booked through Novotel site...Novotel is one of the reliable chains we have found that routinely offer doubles with two double beds...hard to find in Europe or Australia). Even though we arrived at 11:00 am they allowed us to check in, which was very kind. The room was small but clean with clean towels and a remote that worked, which is our basic criteria. We then got a map from the concierge and walked down to Darling Harbour (about 3 city blocks of easy walking) and took the ferry to Manly Beach. Always take the public ferry as there are several other companies that have ferry service but are far more expensive (and in our case included with our Sunday Fun Day passes, but you can get an all you can ride pass other days as well for about $15/pp). Manly Beach was great, and we watched the surfers and put our feet in. Then we returned and took a separate ferry to Tauranga Zoo. We say all of the usual animals, with larger exhibits for koala, kangaroos, and Tasmanian Devils (did you know they are transmit one of only three known contagious cancers, called Devil Tumour Mouth Disease), and we saw a live duck-bill platypus for the first time ever. When a quick bite and back to our hotel because we were dragging by 7:00 pm. In the morning we had breakfast (included) at the hotel, went for a swim, and then walked to the cruise terminal. A note...we each had one suitcase and one carry-on backback, which made getting through the airport and to the ship much easier. Plus, you can wash your clothes on the ship, and we still brought a few items we didn't wear, plus had room on the return for our various trinkets.
1) Oban, Stewart Osland - a tender port, and really just an island of abouit 800 people. You can walk around, get postcards, and go up to an observation area with a good view of the ship. It's the anchor of the boat in the legend that the South Island is a Moari vessel and the North Island the fisherman. Don't expect to find shops, but if you want a hike or to see birds, a nice stop
2) Dunedin - We got tickets reserved ahead for the Taori Railway Gorge (http://www.taieri.co.nz/), at $160 for 2 adults and 2 children (compared to almost $600 if we had booked through the ship). You can take a shutle into town, pick up your tickets, and take some pics of the beautiful railway station. The train trip was lots of gorges, cattle, alpaca, and sheep country. Reminded us of the Skagway trian trip in Alaska. You can buy drinks and snack aboard, which is pricey, but what are your options? Stand between the trains for the best pictures and the wind in your hair. After the train trip go to the Cadbury World Factory for chocolate wonderfulness (http://www.cadbury.co.nz/). Sock up at the company store for the best pricing that we have every seen for Cadbury products.
3) New Plymouth - We were the first big ship to go into this port, so they had ceremonial dancing and the Moari face touching that is typical. After that we choose to talk along the seashore to the town (cold have also taken the shuttle). The walk was about 45 minutes, but there were guides from the town along the way, plus several nice play areas. When you get into town there are public scupltures all over, and a free local museum. We found a Cantebury shop for All Blacks jerseys (not cheap, but worth it), and went to a local craft fair and got a kiwi dool made out of a chenelle blanket from HandmaideNZ, two very nice women (https://www.buynz.org.nz/CompanyProfile?Action=View&CompanyProfile_id=21876).
4) Wellington - you are docked so close tothe Westpac stadium that the All Blacks stay at; it is incredible. Otherwise, this is a very walkable city. We walked along the harbour, and got free wif-fi along out way. Went to a play area with a large slide, and then to Te Papa, the national museum. The museum is free (except special exhibits...we went to Unveiled, a wedding wear exhitibt from the London Museum; not sure worth it), with great exhibits about techtonic plates, invasive species, and 20th century New Zealand social movements. Could easily spend all day there. On the way back we saw an Occupy Wellington (after the Occupy Wall Street movement) encampment.
5) Napier - take the free shuttle and then just walk around to take pics of the sights, all art deco after the earthquake in 1931. Our daughter bought a foldable scooter at a sporting goods store. It was about $140 USD, but worth it so she didn't have to rent scooters or bikes, and gave her more than worth the value to tool around towns. Plus we took it back with us. Napier also has cool gardens right on the waterfront.
6) Tauranga - two of our "must see" things in new Zealand were glowworms and mud pools. We were told we couldn't do both in a day, until we found Tim Taylor Tours on a Cruise Critic review. Tim priced out the whole day for us, and was waiting for us at the pier with an umbrella on a very wet day. A great tour, and we say teh Rakipi and Waitamo caves, and then went to Te Puia for the geysers and mud pools, plus seeing a kiwi pretty close. An expensive day, put totally worth it. Tim will customize however you want, at http://www.taylorstours.co.nz/.
7) Auckland - My 13 year old had her heart set on bungy jumping in New Zealand, the nation that invented it. her parent's were not so excited, but we will only be there once, so we booked through the i-site for her ot go in the only ocean dip bungy jumpt in the Southernn hemisphere, which was totally worth it, and her head did not get bit off by a shark, which was an irrational fear I had. Harbour Bridge bungy jump through AJ Hackett was awesome.(http://www.bungy.co.nz/auckland-bridge/auckland-bridge-bungy). About $120/jumper plus $20/watcher, plus $45 for the really cool photo packet. We also saw some of the America's Cup NZ ships, and went to Circus Circus to meet a colleague. A World Cup store was near the port, and everything was on sale, so a field day.
8) Bay of Islands - a tender port - after several big days we were ready to just walk around, but others we were with went kayaking and had a great time. Also could have gone to the treaty signing site a short public ferry to Russell.