Standing at the stern of the MS Oosterdam, looking out over the pitch black Tasman Sea at the twinkly Southern Cross, there’s a feeling of utter seclusion. Although I’m a far cry from Kate Winslet, and my lovely partner is no Leo DiCaprio, it’s a moment that can’t go by without an, “I’m the King of the World!” Titanic reference.
For a landlubbing couple such as us, a cruise aboard the Holland America liner from Australia to New Zealand is a hard sell. Allowing someone else to determine our course makes us both uneasy. But, early on, it’s all good.
When we step aboard the vessel, which towers above the Sydney Opera House, countless staff are there to guide us in the right direction, which, for us, is straight to the Crow’s Nest lounge for a glass of bubbly over 270-degree city views.
As the Oosterdam glides through the ocean towards Hobart, I take some time to explore the lavish gilded interiors, swimming pool and spa, watch a cooking demonstration, and take a Zumba class to burn off the buffet lunch. Salsa dancing when you haven’t quite found your sea legs proves embarrassing, but everyone in the class is, quite literally, in the same boat as me.
When we wake up the next day, we are greeted by the mountains and cityscape of yachtie-haven Hobart, and make the most of our 12-hour stopover by taking an organised excursion to Port Arthur penal colony.
As we traverse the Tasmanian countryside on our tour bus, we learn about the failed escape attempt of a prisoner, Billy Hunt, who fled the prison gates by disguising himself as a kangaroo, only to be almost shot down by the hungry guards looking for tucker.
The next two days we’re ocean-bound, as we make our way to Port Chalmers, Dunedin, and I’m feeling a little at sea myself after a bout of food poisoning from a meal eaten off the ship in Tassie.
A visit to the ship’s doctor sees me quarantined to my room for 24 hours as a precaution (it’s heartening to see the measures the ship staff take to avoid an outbreak of the norovirus).
By the next night, I’m shipshape again, just in time for formal dinner at the Vista Lounge. The fox stole ogling me from the shoulders of one woman, and the twinkling tiara worn by another, tell me that I’m a little underdressed in my pink cocktail frock.
Although it’s fun to get spruced up to the nines, curiously the menu is mostly the same as other nights – with dishes such as crab cakes and lobster bisque.
Once we arrive in Dunedin, we cram in visits to the Chinese Garden, tropical butterfly sanctuary at the Otago Museum, and magnificent Edwardian homestead Olveston House.
Back on board, we treat ourselves to a special dinner at fine-dining restaurant the Pinnacle Grill, where I’m served a porterhouse steak the size of my head. It’s delicious – and as the wine flows, we watch the sun set on the Southern Alps.
In Akaroa, I take the harbour cruise to see the Hector’s dolphins dart across the ocean.
During our final breakfast, we sit next to Vera, an Ohio woman in her nineties who’s been cruising the Pacific for a month. A sea veteran, with 10 voyages under her belt, she says the ship is a great way of meeting people. Indeed, there’s a community feel that’s hard to match. And, as we disembark in Wellington, it does feel like we are leaving old friends behind.