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Azamara Quests arrives in Sydney ahead of its New Zealand cruise (Photo: Tim Faircloth)

Live From Azamara Quest: a 17-Night Cruise from Australia to New Zealand

Azamara Quests arrives in Sydney ahead of its New Zealand cruise (Photo: Tim Faircloth)
Fiona Harper

Feb 21, 2023

Read time
6 min read

(10:17 p.m. AEST) -- Let's face it, travel can be challenging and not everything goes according to plan, as we have all found out in the past three years.

So, when Captain Tysse makes an announcement as Azamara Quest is departing Sydney on a New Zealand cruise that due to recent changes in New Zealand's biosecurity laws he's been left with no choice but to reschedule our ports of call, there is an audible groan from many passengers.

The news that we will skip Milford Sound, Akaroa and the Bay of Islands, for little-known Timaru,  Christchurch and its nearby port at Lyttleton, is a blow.

However, for myself and three travel companions, we're just happy to be cruising again after all the cancelled travel plans of the past few years.

Azamara Quest departs Sydney Harbour en route to New Zealand (Photo: Tim Faircloth)

So, we raise a glass of champagne in anticipation of a fun-filled voyage as we glide slowly past the Sydney Opera House and toast to three blissful sea days crossing the Tasman Sea.

Here are my observations from our 17-night Australia & New Zealand Intensive Voyage on Azamara Quest.

Azamara Quest's White Night is a Highlight

Sunrise at sea on board Azamara Quest (Photo: Tim Faircloth)

Azamara Quest only resumed sailing in January and the ship is still not sailing quite full -- with 540 passengers onboard and maximum capacity for a little over 700, there's a sense of spaciousness across all nine guest decks.

I'm in a Club Veranda cabin, which has a comfortable two-seater sofa against the bulkhead which I spin around 90 degrees to enjoy the ocean view beyond the balcony through floor to ceiling glass.

It feels inordinately decadent to wake up to a floor to ceiling view of nothing but a sea sparkling in the early morning sunshine. Lazy sea days revolve around savouring breakfast in bed, delivered at a time of my choosing (in-room dining is complimentary on all Azamara) ships.

Production show onboard Azamara Quest (Photo: Tim Faircloth)

With a full programme of daily activities ranging from trivia, jewellery making, water colour painting, New Zealand destination lectures, a spa and beauty salon, gymnasium, yoga, Pilates and water aerobics sessions, a steam room, swimming pool, two hot tubs, a nightly variety show of song and dance in the Cabaret Lounge plus a late-night DJ in the Living Room, sleeping feels like cheating with so many things to do!

White Night on Azamara Quest (Photo: Tim Faircloth)

Azamara's signature White Night is a voyage highlight with the entire pool deck given over to a dining and dancing extravaganza.  Guests and crew don their finest white attire, tables are set with crisp white linen, chefs man cooking stations laden with seafood, BBQ meats, crepes and deserts with while a band keeps dancers grooving long after the sun has set.

But, I’m also keen to relax, and confess that I spent an inordinate amount of time poolside in a sun lounge working my way through the cocktail menu.

Azamara Quest's Mosaic Cafe is the Best Spot for Coffee

Thai buffet in Windows restaurant onboard Azamara Quest (Photo: Tim Faircloth)

Quest has a fine selection of restaurants, including two stand-out specialty spots -- Italian style Aqualina and classic steakhouse Prime C (additional cost of USD35pp). Windows Cafe with its extensive buffet (with a different theme each day) and adjacent poolside The Patio and Sunset Bar are casual dining options.

Mosaic Cafe is the spot to pick up barista coffee and pastries while Swirl and Top is a self-service frozen yoghurt bar with an extraordinary selection of toppings.

The forward-facing Living Room on deck 10 with its plush purple velvet wing-back chairs quickly becomes my favourite place to hang out. Whether alone and engrossed in a book, sharing cocktails and canapes with fellow guests, tapping my toes to the band which plays each evening or simply gazing out to sea mesmerised by the watery horizon, it’s the kind of place that feels as comfortable as my living room back home.

Azamara Quest's Passengers Hail From Across the Globe

Nelson, Able Tasman National Park shore excursion on Azamara Quest (Photo: Tim Faircloth)

My fellow passengers hail from ports across the globe, many of whom are doing multiple back-to-back voyages. Speaking to a Belgium couple one morning, they tell me they boarded in Dubai "months ago", are on their sixth Azamara cruise and have more voyages booked.

Australians and Americans make up the majority of the passengers, followed by Brits, Canadians and Europeans. There are less than one dozen New Zealanders onboard: the mother and daughter I become friends with both agree that cruising is a terrific way to see their own country, particularly those places they'd not visited before.

I’ve travelled countless times across "the ditch" from Australia, as the Tasman Sea is affectionally known, and have always felt a kinship with New Zealand. The pandemic only amplified the warm connection felt between our two countries as our ‘down under’ bubble kept us all apart from the rest of the world. Chatting with Kiwis both ashore and onboard as we voyage from Dunedin in the south to Auckland in the north who proudly show off their culture, customs and lush, green countryside, it does indeed feel like coming home.

What's it like Cruising New Zealand?

Approaching Lyttelton (Christchurch) on Azamara Quest (Photo: Tim Faircloth)

Despite the changes to our itinerary, or perhaps because of them, New Zealand delivers each time we dock. Azamara is known for offering extended shore time in ports visited an on this voyage Quest stays overnight in both Sydney and Tauranga, and departs well after dark at Dunedin, Wellington and Nelson.

With the last-minute schedule change, we now have an additional night in Auckland too. On learning of the change to our itinerary, one Auckland-based passenger was initially scathing of Timaru replacing an iconic nature-based destination like Akaroa.

Lyttelton (Christchurch) New Zealand on Azamara Quest (Photo: Tim Faircloth)

"I’m ashamed to say I publicly scoffed when I learned that Timaru was a replacement destination," she said, claiming contemptuously that "there’s nothing to see there!" Later, she had forgiven Timaru, saying that "after a quick exploration of this pretty town and a wonderful excursion to see ancient Māori rock art at Pleasant Point, my view of Timaru has completely changed."

Christchurch wasn't on our original schedule, so I take the opportunity to explore on a self-guided tour of the city I had last visited prior to the devastating 2011 earthquake. A construction fence still stands around the grand Christchurch Cathedral which suffered mammoth damage and is still undergoing repair.

I wander through providore stores at the Riverside Market which buzzes with a lively vibe as office workers mingle with locals doing their shopping and join tourists on the riverside promenade as I tuck into a delicious lamb souvlaki while watching buskers.

Seals basking on the rocks at Dunedin, New Zealand (Photo: Tim Faircloth)

At the port of Lyttleton while waiting for the ships shuttle bus, I chat with a lady who describes how her flexible timber cottage remained undamaged. She points to now vacant blocks of land where concrete foundations strewn amongst weeds are the only evidence of the buildings which once stood there and have yet to be rebuilt.

Marlborough Sounds with its forest-clad mountains, sparkling tourmaline seas, marine life and beautiful beaches is my favourite port of call. A pre-booked excursion takes us on a leisurely cruise where we see seals hauled out on rocks and bays dotted with yachts before we disembark on a beach for a three-hour guided hike through Abel Tasman National Park. We walk through rainforests draped with delicate tendrils of moss and impressive stands of giant tree ferns then swim in the sea, revelling in the cool, clear waters.

Finding the onboard wifi frustratingly slow, on other days I find my way to libraries at Picton, Timaru and Nelson and discover that New Zealanders can’t do enough for cruise ship passengers who have finally returned after maritime borders were closed during the pandemic.

Like long-lost friends, it's obvious we've been sorely missed.

I for one am making plans to embark upon another cruise as soon as I can, the unpredictability and perils of post-pandemic travel be dammed.

Updated February 21, 2023
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