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|Cunard Queen Mary 2
World Cruise 2013 - part 1
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This is the story of our second long journey on the Cunard Queen Mary 2 which, in 46 days, will take us through many parts of the world, some familiar and some new as we return from New Zealand to Englnd.
The Queen Mary 2 is the last of the true Atlantic Liners, ships designed to be capable of running a scheduled service across the Atlantic and being able to operate in the worst of weathers although, unlike the Queen Elizabeth 2, she has never operated a full Atlantic service throughout the year. We have had one Double Atlantic Crossing on the Queen Mary 2, a tandem crossing with our old favourite the Queen Elizabeth 2 now destined to be a floating hotel for the majority of her life and also an even longer section of Quuen Mary 2's World Cruise in 2010 which took us from the UK to new Zealand via the Suez canal. So one could look at this cruise as the completion of a complete world cruise spread between 2010 and 2013. We have also been on the Queen Victoria and the new Queen Elizabeth on a regular basis and between the Cunard ships have logged close to 700 days which gives us some benefits and it is nice to be recognised by so many of the staff at every level.
We reported to King's Wharf just before 12.00, for check-in, with our 5 suitcases and the rug from Napier labelled with our cabin number, and our four pieces of hand luggage with fragile and valuable items. There were no special boarding arrangements and new passengers were loaded onto the front of a shuttle bus and their luggage loaded into the back. We were last on, and so our luggage was first out. The process was very quick, and there were only 40 new passengers boarding in the morning and a further 40 in the afternoon.
The QM2 is too large for the cruise ship berth outside the Hilton Hotel so has to go to Jellicoe Wharf. Although there is direct access to Jellicoe Wharf it is an active port and not an area where people are allowed on foot, so everyone has to catch a shuttle bus, and the shuttle buses have to be escorted through the port. The bus drivers have to be cleared before they can take their buses inside. Security was very serious.
The sequence of lunch, unpacking, boat drill, more unpacking, meant that there was no opportunity to go back into Auckland, and anyway there was nothing we needed.
We had planned to meet friends, John and Blyth, for lunch. QM2 was berthed at Aotea Quay near the Westpac Arena which is only 15 minutes walk from the Railway Station where we had arranged to meet for lunch. There was a shuttle bus to Brandon Street, but it was easier to walk.
In the morning we walked up to the Cathedral of St Paul, Old St Paul's Church and the Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral. Completed only in 1998, the Cathedral of St Paul is one of the newest Anglican cathedrals in the world. It is a plain calm space, without the intrusion of noisy tour groups. This contrasted with Old St Paul's, which was a stop for all the Cunard tours. It was the original cathedral, built in 1886 using four different local timbers: matai, rimu, totara and kauri. The carved oak pulpit is in memory of Richard Seddon a former Prime Minister. The Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral is next door, and in the morning sunshine its six gleaming pillars drew us towards the unusual landmark building. The consecrated oils for the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick are displayed within a mosaic-decorated Ambry.
Descending past the Parliament Buildings then along Lambton Quay there was an enormous long queue at the base of the Cable Car – mainly from the QM2 tours. After a short stop at Capitol Watch repairs for a new battery we reached City Hall and the waterfront with the boatshed for the Waka Te Rerenga Kotare. The name translates as the flight of the kingfisher. Frank Kitts Park had an unexpected craft market. While we already have enough souvenirs from all our previous trips there was greenstone for sale and we chatted and discovered the craftsman knew Steve at Bonz and Stonz in Hokitika. We strolled back along the waterfront to the Railway Station and the large New World supermarket inside for final shopping.
After lunch, at a cafe on the waterfront near Te Papa Museum, there was still plenty of time to stroll around town before going back to the QM2.
The original schedule had been to go to Christchurch but after the earthquake in February 2011 there is no suitable anchoring for QM2, so this was a maiden call at anchor at Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. It is 83kms by road, but as the crow flies it is only a short hop over the hills from Christchurch and some of its old historic buildings suffered shakes during the earthquakes. It is a former French colony, having been purchased by a whaling captain in 1838. The French had sent a couple of ships intending to raise the flag there and claim the whole of South Island for France but were delayed by repairs after a storm and after the French sailors were indiscreet the repairs went slow and there was time for a British frigate to get there a couple of days ahead and raise the union Jack in 1840 shortly just before the French settlers arrived – despite considerable disappointment they decided to continue their plans for the settlement. The permanent population is only 550 but there are many holiday homes.
The tenders arrive at the wharf, in the centre of the village, and there are many cafés and craft shops to explore, as well as a useful supermarket. We arrived just before 10.00 adjacent to a vintage yacht, the 47ft classic A-Class keeler Manutara. The hull was one of many designed in 1946 by Jock Muir, from Tasmania. This example was built by Salthouse and Logan in Auckland in 1962, and is a mixture of Australian hardwood, Kauri and Teak. Along the side was advertised 0800-Sail-at-Akaroa. We hesitated, then opened our wallets and leapt on board just in time to join the 10.15 group for the safety briefing. The yacht sailed well, although Captain Ray was kept busy sailing single-handed. None of the passengers volunteered for crew duties, although everyone was happy to steer and have their photo taken.
The first target for the voyage was the QM2 and we discovered some of the others were also from the ship. Then we tacked, looking for seals, penguins and birdlife. Everyone hoped to see the Hector's dolphins but after an hour there was no sign of them, although it was known there was a group which lived in the harbour. Then, suddenly, they started to arrive. And eventually there were a dozen swimming alongside and under the bows This was so much fun that we got back to shore much later than scheduled, but still with plenty of time to walk around.
Jewellery made of the unusual and expensive Blue Pearl is sold at the wharf and there are many craft shops and souvenir shops, as well as pavement cafés and fish-and-chip shops. Local seafood, fish, cheeses, beers and wines are delicious. We had huge triple ice-cream cones; this was going to be our last opportunity for NZ ice-cream this year. Although very close to Christchurch, which is just over the hill, there seemed to be no structural damage although some of the public and historic buildings were closed, awaiting structural checks. It had been 2 years since the major earthquake.
This was a maiden visit to Fiordland for the QM2 and we were fortunate to have a ranger from DOC at Te Anau with us to talk about Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound. We had expected to visit Milford Sound and the chance to pass through the other sounds, and for the first time, was a bonus.
The weather was typical, with rain and low cloud for most of the day – it gave extra atmosphere to the exploration of Dusky Sound, which we had never seen before. The way the cloud hung in the valleys was suggestive of previous visits to Norway. In Dusky Sound the route was an entry in the south, then an exit through Breaksea Sound. Two hours later we reached Doubtful Sound and the entrance was through Hare's Ears and the exit through Colonial Head at Thompson Sound.
There was plenty of time for lunch before reaching Milford Sound. Milford Sound is different because it has a very narrow entry, and then the ship has to turn before exiting through the same gap. Commodore Rynd knew Milford Sound and his family had walked the Milford Track so we were confident he knew the area. There are always fishing boats and trip boats, and because it was a maiden visit, and we were the largest ship to have entered Milford Sound, it was a special occasion for local boats. The low cloud was a concern because the plan was to have aerial photos taken, and the helicopter and camera crew were rumoured to be coming from Queenstown. The weather improved, the airport was obviously open for flights, and two helicopters came and played with us. When the QM2 turned she was beyond Mitre Peak and quite close to the end of the Sound but it was an easy manoeuvre. We expected to leave directly but first the QM2 went and stood near to the Lady Bowen waterfall and gradually edged forward until she was a hundred metres, not as close as the trip boats but still very close for such a large ship, before the bow thrusters blasted the waters and we started to ease back out.The Lady Bowen Falls are named after the wife of the 5th Governor of New Zealand and are one of two permanent waterfalls; the other is the Stirling Falls. The aerial pictures should be impressive. As we finally departed the DOC speaker and his wife left on the pilot boat.
In the next part we cross the Tasman Sea and visit Sydney and Melbourne in Australia