Travel/South Pacific cruise | New Zealand's amazing ports

Travel/South Pacific cruise | New Zealand's amazing ports

"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

— Mark Twain

By DON KOJICH

Mark Twain's words about the importance of travel and exploring the world couldn't be truer. One of the great benefits of being retired is that you can take trips that you often only dreamed about before.

Instead of attempting to wedge in a seven-to-10-day vacation into a hectic work schedule, you can take a trip of a lifetime 18 time zones away from home.

Recently, we cruised on the ms Noordam from Sydney, Australia, around New Zealand through the South Pacific, ending in Honolulu on a 32-day adventure.

All three areas were unique in their own way, but I am going to focus on the breathtakingly beautiful, serene island nation of New Zealand.

Actually, more specifically, I will highlight some of the smaller or more unknown ports we visited in New Zealand: Akaroa, Dunedin, Napier, Picton and Tauranga (Bay of Plenty).

Wellington, the capital city, and Auckland, regarded as one of the most livable cities in the world, typically receive the bulk of attention — and deservedly so. However, these unknown gems captured our hearts and left us with some of the most indelible memories of our spectacular journey.

Located on New Zealand's South Island, Dunedin resembles Edinburgh, Scotland, in terms of architecture and style. According to the local tourism brochures, "Dunedin boasts the largest concentration of Victorian and Edwardian architecture in New Zealand."

The Dunedin Train Station, opened in 1906 with its ornate Flemish Renaissance-style architecture, is the most photographed building in New Zealand. It houses an art gallery and the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, where you can learn about Kiwi sports heroes in golf, cricket, track and field, and the iconic All-Blacks national rugby team.

Charming Akaroa is best seen on foot. The town has maintained its French settlement qualities with its street names and French cuisine in the restaurants.

It is about 60 miles from Christchurch, where two horrendous earthquakes hit, the latest in 2011.

We walked along the coastline with its quaint shops and sampled their local sweet treats (like chocolate eclair ice cream).

One of the local merchants said the town was named top cruise port in New Zealand and Australasia last year.

A visit to the The Giant's House (thegiantshouse.co.nz) is a must see. It is a mosaic sculpture garden and contemporary art gallery that is a labor of love for Josie Martin, a local artist, painter and sculptor.

The house was originally built in the 1880s and also serves as a bed and breakfast and a little cafe. You will be blown away with the attention to detail and ambitious art displayed on the grounds.

Picton, a town of 4,000 on the South Island, was our third port of call in New Zealand. It is a harbor town full of cafes, museums, galleries and specialty shops.

Picton is also the stepping off point to New Zealand's Marlborough Wine Country, the country's largest wine-growing region. As you go inland, the vineyards are scattered all over the countryside.

I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Blenheim on the Marlborough Flyer, a World War I-era steam locomotive. (marlboroughflyer.co.nz). The new service started in 2017 after four years of rebuilding and renovating the engine and train cars.

The 90-minute train ride was a great way to see the green and lush New Zealand interior. Riders were able to sample the local sauvignon blanc on the train, and the Blenheim Train Station was converted into a "wine station" to help promote the region's wineries and other local products.

Walking along the streets of Napier made us feel like we traveled back to the 1930s in a time machine.

Classic cars dotted the streets, and the architectural style was art deco.

Napier, located on the North Island, was destroyed in 1931 by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that shook for more than 2 minutes, and then was rebuilt in the popular art deco style of the era.

The Hawke's Bay area of New Zealand has undergone a rebirth and is one of the most thriving regions of the country. That area has some of the most fertile agricultural land in the country.

We arrived early in the morning in the Bay of Plenty passing Mt. Maunganui, a dormant volcano that towers over the area.

Capt. James Cook, the famed British explorer, gave the area its name after sailing in 1769 because of the numerous thriving Maori settlements surrounding it.

The Bay of Plenty is known for its spectacular beaches and delicious produce, especially kiwi. We used the day for a low-key 2-mile trek around the base of Mt. Maunganui and its various trails. The coastline views were breathtaking.

New Zealand is a magical country. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, the opportunities to hike, bike or kayak are endless.

For movie buffs (especially "Lord of the Rings" junkies), it is a popular spot to view movie sets and locations.

For artists, examples of sculptures, murals or contemporary art are on display everywhere.

I would recommend that you take in the natural beauty and enjoy the land of the Kiwis, home to some of the friendliest people you would ever want to meet.

Don Kojich is retired after working for 30 years in higher education communication and marketing, including spending 20 years at the University of Illinois and the UI Foundation. He is an avid traveler and amateur photographer.

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