WILD NZ by Tim & Michelle Morrissey
We have been lucky enough to experience many cruises to various destinations, and I have to say every one of them was well worth it. Given the significance of my wife’s milestone birthday, I was keen for us to experience something different and we were happy to open the purse strings for the “trip of a lifetime”. She had always wanted to experience Macquarie Island.
The cruise 1 selected was “Wild New Zealand” on the Silver Discoverer, this would include not only 2 days at Macquarie Island, but several other Sub-Antarctic Islands, Fiordland and other parts of the South Island of New Zealand.
We had never travelled with Silversea, but were aware of their high-end reputation. I would normally consider them out of our usual price range and this cruise in particular would cost us the price of a new car. The pricing however is all-inclusive that is all food, drinks, gratuities, and most importantly excursions are covered. Expectations were high.
The Discoverer is an “expedition” ship with a passenger capacity of just 120 and a crew of nearly the same number. However on this trip we had only 59 passengers. The Expedition team included ornithology, marine biologist, meteorologist and geologist this great team not only piloted the zodiacs used on the excursions, but provided interesting lectures. Local guides were also provided when necessary. Expenditure and adventure in a luxury ship is really the key element of this cruise experience that sets it apart form the regular cruise.
The expeditions are the entire focus of the daily activities. There is normally a briefing at 6.30pm to review the activities of the day and discuss the plans for the coming day. As we quickly discovered part of the “expedition” element of the cruise was that the itinerary should be considered flexible and will change regularly, usually depending on weather conditions. The changes are reflected in the daily chronicle delivered to your suite, but it really is essential to attend the briefings.
A destination may involve purely a zodiac cruise or a landing by zodiac. This can be as early as 5.00 am and can sometimes be quite rough. Wet weather clothing was almost always essential. Often there were a number of options available to passengers at each location, usually to suit your physical condition. We found all of the activities well within our abilities, as did most of the more mature passengers.
We were aware that the Sub-Antarctic waters could be very rough as we would be traveling through the roaring forties and furious fifties and had experience traveling to the Antarctic Peninsula on a number of other cruises, however my experiences on this ship was well beyond anything I could have imagined.
Almost as soon as we left the departure port, on our way along the coast to Stewart Island, it became apparent that the ship had stability problems. On day four we were due to head south for the major destinations and it was at this point it became apparent we were not going to Macquarie Island. It was at the daily briefing, it was revealed that the weather was too bad and the seas too rough to make the journey. Instead we headed for The Snares.
It was at The Snares that we got our first taste of what this cruise experiences was all about. The sea was calm and the sun was shining on this magnificent small island group in the middle of nowhere. I was able to tick another penguin species of my list. The Snares Crested Penguin found nesting only in this place, were visible from our zodiac in vast numbers. They were in the water, climbing through the thick ribbons of kelp and struggling up an almost sheer cliff to the nesting sites high above us. We saw Albatross, Giant Petrels and other bird species endemic to this area over two wonderful hours that seemed to pass in an instant. The expedition staff was elated but also worried that we had been spoilt by the success of the day and what was to come would not live up to this perfect day. Later that day we were told we would not be going south to Macquarie but north to Fiordland a journey that was to prove to be another bumpy ride.
It was a relief to get to the calm waters of Dusky and Doubtful Sound for some wet but very enjoyable zodiac cruising. Milford Sound was familiar territory for me but the day was just perfect, with zodiac cruising the only way to maximize the experience including a drenching directly under a number of its beautiful waterfalls.
It was then we got the news that we would make another attempt to head for Macquarie.
Having experienced what Silverseas are capable of excitement levels were high. We headed south from Milford Sound, expecting rough but manageable seas of around 4 to 5 metres. It was not to be. The ship could not cope with the 9 metre swells and my wife had another “kryptonite moment” when seasickness struck, to her relief the ship sheltered back in Dusky Sound. Again the next day we sailed south to Stewart Island.
After a day recovering on Stewart Island with a walk up to the light house, the ship continued to Auckland Island, where we walked through a Rata forest.
The next day we arrived at Enderby Island where we experienced a true wet landing especially for those who were vertically challenged, as their gumboots filled with water as they exited from the zodiac onto the beach. A beach full of sunbathers greeted us, that is families of sea lions.
Next we continued to Campbell Island.
Campbell Island was a particularly wonderful experience. We disembarked for a 4 hours return hike on the Col Lyall Saddle boardwalk to the other side of the island. The plant life changed as we climbed higher and the beautiful Mega herbs were in abundance at the summit. Nesting albatross dotted the area as we climbed higher, and other rare bird species kept the “bird nerds” amused. We also came across one rare yellow-eyed penguin in the undergrowth. Large angry sea lions welcomed us on our return to sea level, but the expedition staff were on hand to guide us safely back to the ship. We had a great day and were starting to feel good again but as has been the case on this ship before, a high was to be followed by a very low, low.
The weather was closing in fast Macquarie Island was finally and definitely OFF. We were to head north again to the South Island as quickly as possible. We were told to expect 5 metre waves overnight and secure our belongings before going to bed. By this time we had some experience of this ship and how it performed in the open ocean. We had worked out the best seasick remedies by now, so took all the necessary precautions and bunkered down in bed at 7.00 pm, without dinner and literally held on for dear life.
What happened next was one of the worst experiences of our life. The seas we were trying to avoid on the way to Macquarie Island hit us anyway. The ship rolled from side to side and rose up and then came violently down with a thud. We hung on to our bed as we heard things banging and falling throughout the ship. This lasted hour after hour. There was no safe harbour now and no choice but to grin and bear it. It was two days before we reached calmer waters off the coast of the South Island. We later found out the storm was a 10 on the Beaufort scale, that is wind speed 89-102km/h, wave height 9-12.5m.
Once we hit calmer water’s we all breathed a sigh of relief, and once again enjoyed the remainder of the cruise. The cruise finished in Christchurch where we had one of the best days of the trip simply walking through the magnificent Botanical Gardens, and that did not cost us a penny.
Here is a quick run down on our cruise experience:
Embarkation: Good as you would expect with only 59 passengers
Cabin: a little old but normal for any cruise ship, except for: extensive yellow rust stains on the picture window, preventing us from taking photo’s, disgusting yellow running water in the bathroom throughout the cruise, no hot water and low water pressure on the first night, air-conditioning sometimes completely out of control.
Entertainment: almost non-existent, but not a problem on this type of cruise. There was a piano man.
The Food: Breakfast and lunch buffet style was average. Room service good. Restaurant was poor on first night, but after that either very good or exceptionally good.
The Service: All of the staff was absolutely outstanding, best ever in my experience.
The Facilities: Very small ship, very limited facilities, not a problem on this type of cruise.
Images supplied by Tim and Michelle