Australia and New Zealand kept calling our names, but let’s face it; they are a long way from home. I was a little overwhelmed by the complicated planning aspects of trying to fly around the huge continent of Australia and how to navigate both islands in New Zealand. The easy way, to see a lot in a short time, was a luxury cruise to both countries. So we booked a 14-day cruise on the Noordam, Holland America’s 1,900-passenger classic vessel departing from Sydney, Australia and finishing in Auckland, New Zealand.    Highlights of this perfect bucket list trip included:

Cruising. Cruising in Australia and New Zealand is the perfect way to explore thousands of miles of coastline and the spectacular landscapes and attractive cities each country has to offer. And you only unpack once.

Our well-paced cruise included 3 days at sea to relax, swim, spa, attend lectures, movies, cooking classes, martini sampling, classical music concerts, yoga, pilates or dazzling entertainment in the BB King Blues Club or the Mainstage. From elegant dining at specialty Italian, seafood, or steak restaurants or the main Dinning Room, to the ubiquitous buffet or the pool side burger and taco grill, there is something for everyone aboard.

Sydney. Imagine a glimmering, youthful city like San Francisco or Cape Town, built around water with hundreds of bays and 37 beaches, and an iconic Opera House – that’s Sydney. And add a cosmopolitan vibe, athletic, lovable Aussies, safe bike paths and a world-class cuisine. Our three days in Sydney were not enough. We sailed out of Sydney at sunset, slipping by the majestic Opera House and sadly saying goodbye to one of my favorite cities.

Standouts: A highlight of our visit to Sydney was visiting the fish market and staying at the five-star Pullman Quay Sydney Harbor Hotel situated on bustling East Circular Quay. Our spacious apartment had views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge with a great balcony for watching the local ferries and cruise ships pull in and out. The location is perfect to walk to the nearby Opera House, the gardens and major attractions. I think my husband and and I could sit on the balcony forever just watching the boats and life on the Quay. Location is number one, and this can’t be beat. It is my favorite place to stay in Sydney.

 

View from our deck at the Pullman Quay Sydney. Photos credit: Accor Hotels.

Luxury aboard the Noordam.

Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart showcases modern and contemporary art alongside antiquities to create a hands-on, surreal museum experience.

 

Melbourne.  Melbourne, is a vibrant cultural center with cutting-edge art, architecture, historic galleries and museums. On a walking tour we explored a labyrinth of arcades and alleyways with gardens, mural art, a vibrant Chinatown plus a dizzying range of restaurants, rooftop bars, bistros, and markets. From Melbourne we sailed through the Bass Straight between Australia and Tasmania, a scenic passage dotted with more than 100 islands to Tasmania

Tasmania.  Hobart, in Tasmania, Australia’s smallest state is known for its rugged wilderness, fresh seafood, sailing races and a historic colony for the approximate 300 inmates who founded Hobart. The highlight of our time in Hobart was the ferry ride and visit to the Museum of Old and New Art with whimsical, creative and contemporary architecture and exhibits. A visit to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, encompassing approximately 34.6 acres is a must. Opened in 1818, its gigantic rhododendrons are the size of redwood trees.

Leaving Australia we crossed the Tasman Sea, allowing us time to relax and enjoy many of the organized activities aboard the Noordam. I went to a Yoga class, a cooking class, a lecture about New Zealand culture and attended a classical music performance

Milford Sound, Described as ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World’ by Rudyard Kipling. We cruised into Milford Sound, a fjord in the southwest of New Zealand’s South Island as sunrise. Snow dusted the mountains above the sheer sides of the fjord and Mitre Peak. Thick green rainforests descend to the water and powerful waterfalls plummeted into the sea. The fiord is home to fur seal colonies, penguins and dolphins.

Fiordland National Park. We cruised through more spectacular ice-carved fiords with pristine mountain to sea vistas all morning in Fjordland National Park, the largest of 14 national parks in New Zealand.

Dunedin. Our next port of call was scenic Port Chalmers today and the region’s cultural capital of Dunedin, founded in 1848 by Scottish settlers who gave it the Gaelic name for Edinburgh. A bag piper dressed in Scottish finery welcomed us at the town center. The town is nestled among rolling green hills that drop sharply into the sea, and is reputed to be one of the best-preserved Victorian cities in the world. A walking tour of the town revealed a wealth of Edwardian and Victorian buildings, including the stunning Dunedin Railway Station.

Christchurch. Cruising up the east coast of New Zealand’s southern island, we stopped to explore the English-flavored city of Christchurch, spread at the feet of the Southern Alps. The town is being rebuilt after th

2010 and 2011 earthquakes that destroyed many of the historic stone-built buildings. It has been nicknamed the “Garden City” because of it’s natural beauty, and the green expanse of Hagley Park and Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

 

 Wellington. Our next stop was Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. Don‘t miss the impressive Museum of New Zealand along the waterfront with exhibits about the country’s art heritage, history, Maori culture and natural history. The highlight was our walking tour and affable guide who led us along the waterfront promenade, sandy beaches, working harbor Lambton Quay and for a ride up the steep hills on the red Wellington Cable Car that reminded us of San Francisco.

Picton and the Marlborough Wine District. The next day we cruised into Picton, a picturesque port and gateway to the wine country of Marlborough, heaven for sauvignon blanc lovers. Of course, we visited vineyards and sampled some of the regions fabulous wines.

Rotorua (Tauranga) Land of the Maori

We sailed to Napier, an art deco town and then into the turquoise waters of the Bay of Plenty to visit the port of Tauranga and walk on its white sand beaches. The highlight was a visit to a Maori school and meeting house where we were regaled with stories and songs by local Maori students and adults

Auckland. The city of sails. Our final stop was the cosmopolitan and multicultural Auckland is a world-class city teaming with upscale shops, cafes and fine dining. It has hosted two America’s Cup challenges; and its marinas are brimming with world-class yachts. Count on two hours to visit the remarkable Maritime Museum and book one-hour sailing trip into the harbor aboard a ketch-rigged deck scow. Or check out a sail on a former America’s Cup racing yacht.

Queenstown. After we left the ship we flew to Queenstown in the Southern Alps. It is considered the center of adventure sports including bungee jumping off Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge and jet-boating on the Shotover and Dart rivers.

We indulged ourselves for 3 nights in an alpine suite with lake view at the luxurious 5-star St. Moritz Hotel, an Accor Property. There probably isn’t a better view in Queenstown, overlooking Lake Wakatipu to The Remarkables mountain range and a short walk to the bustling mall and waterfront. We had a large suite with kitchen facilities, a living room and a separate bedroom. We ate most of our meals in the hotel because the cuisine was excellent as well as the sunset views of the lake and mountains.

The highlight of our stay in the area was a hike on the famous Routeburn Track through dense beech forests, beneath soaring mountain peaks and waterfalls. The Milford and Routeburn Tracks are among the truly ultimate hikes of the world.

WAY TO GO   www.hollandamerica.com

Sydney Luxury Hotel on the waterfront: Pullman Quay

Queenstown: St. Moritz Sofitel : https://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-2074-hotel-st-moritz-queenstown-mgallery-by-sofitel/index.shtml

All photo credits: Marybeth Bond except the hotel photo in Sydney. Credit to: Accor Hotels.