Some of us are not obvious cruisers. I have an irrational fear of death by drowning and can’t bear the thought of eating three meals a day, every day.
So the prospect of a 16-day voyage round New Zealand to Australia is alarming. Will I survive? Or will I disappear overboard, laden with food, the heavyweight victim of some marine disaster?
New Zealand is a living geography lesson – a country strewn with mountains, fjords, forests, glaciers, and lakes, home to the dolphin, whale, penguin, albatross, seal and sea-lion (there is a difference: the latter eat the former for breakfast).
A place to pause: The tiny port of Picton is a gateway to the winelands of New Zealand’s Marborough region
Home, too, to the beautiful blue agapanthus flower and the crimson-flowered pohutukawa, the New Zealand Christmas tree. And you can get oysters everywhere.
It’s a long journey to New Zealand, so make sure you find somewhere to recover.
The Boatshed on Waiheke Island, a short ferry ride from Auckland, is perfect – a boutique hotel on the water where you can begin your acquaintance with this faraway land.
I’m taken on an exhilarating ride around the bay on a Harley Davidson – 1800cc of shiny, macho metal. ‘Have you ridden an HD before?’ asks my hunky ‘chauffeur’. No, but I used to have a Lambretta 125.
Coming back for more: A high percentage of people on the Seabourn Odyssey are returning passengers
‘Just lean when I lean,’ he says. I cling to his leathered waist and watch the world go by at speed.
My cruising worries begin to evaporate when I meet the crew of Seabourn Odyssey.
‘Welcome home,’ they say as we embark – a curious choice of words, until you realise more than half the passengers are returnees.
In our ship-shape suite, everything is sparklingly clean (as a woman who enjoys scrubbing her front steps, I notice these things).
Captain Cook charted the coastline of New Zealand 245 years ago. As well as unpredictable seas, he feared scurvy, caused by a lack of Vitamin C, which leads to suppurating wounds, loss of teeth and ultimately death.
No danger of that on the Odyssey. I can’t think of another period in my life when I’ve eaten so well, so consistently. Cook pulped plants to make vitamin beer and fed his men sauerkraut; I sip a glass of champagne and nibble a canapé.
That night the whoosh of waves against the hull lulls me to sleep.
Taken for a ride: Sue took a tour of Waiheke island in speedy two-wheeled style – on a Harley Davidson
The ship has 450 passengers, 11 decks, four restaurants, a spa, fitness centre, swimming pool, hot tubs everywhere and a theatre larger than Cook’s ship.
On day one, we disembark andhead for Rotorua and its strange geothermal pools.
‘Tours4Matures’ says a minibus sign — a reminder of the age profile. We hire a car and drive to see bubbling mud, hot volcanic craters and hissing ochre and green waters.
But why would you take a bath in mud and risk getting it where even the soap can’t reach? We get lost driving back and nearly miss the sailing. Independence comes at a price.
Crossing the Cook Strait to South Island, we anchor at the tiny port of Picton and take an excursion into the Marlborough High Country, to a remote sheep station where we meet Hailey Pitts.
She and her husband Jeremy farm 20,000 acres and rear 5,000 sheep. It’s a hard life, but their shining eyes are proof that they adore it.
As we cruise through Queen Charlotte Sound, said to be Captain Cook’s favourite anchorage, peace envelops me.
I sit on our veranda watching the sun fade across the islands around us. What a long way from the remote outdoors of that sheep station.
Idyllic: Waiheke island sits on Auckland’s doorstep – but feels far removed from New Zealand’s biggest city
Ah, well – what’s for dinner? In Akaroa, we see Hector’s dolphin, the smallest and rarest in the world.
In Port Chalmers, we climb up to a memorial to Captain Robert Scott. He set sail from there in 1910 on his illfated journey to the South Pole.
The sunset is spectacular that night and I think of Captain Scott and his companions as the red ball in the sky disappears, leaving behind a trail of light, first pink, then orange, then burgundy, until finally blackness falls. (Trying to describe a sunset is like trying to describe sex – it always sounds trite. Let’s just say it was moving.)
On south, until we hit the last land before the South Pole, the beautiful Stewart Island. Due west – nothing but sea until the tip of South America. Due east – ditto. It’s time to turn and head out to Australia.
It’s nearly 1,300 miles from the bottom of New Zealand across the Tasman Sea to Melbourne. Gale force winds mean the ship can make only slow progress as it tries to avoid pitching heavily into the waves. My irrational fears return.
The crossing takes three long days and nights, But I come to realise how a big ship like the Odyssey can cope with such seas. I relax into the camaraderie that develops on board, and at long last we’re cruising into Melbourne and then along the coast to Sydney.
Calm comforts: Picton is a haven for sailors who have crossed the often rough waters of the Cook Strait
At 6am on a beautiful summer’s morning, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge welcome us to a city full of promise. That afternoon, I watch from my hotel window as the Seabourn Odyssey sets sail once more, back to Auckland.
Now someone else is in suite 722. Someone else is being made to feel this is a voyage designed only for them. I confess to feeling proprietorial and not a little emotional. I must be a cruiser.
Travel Facts: Plan your own grand voyage to New Zealand
A 16-day Australia and New Zealand cruise on the Seabourn Encore (0843 373 2000, seabourn.com), departing on February 2, 2017, costs from £7,999 per person, based on two people sharing.
This price is cruise-only and includes all food and a selection of fine wines and spirits on board.
Doubles at The Boatshed (0064 9372 3242, boatshed.co.nz) on Waiheke Island cost from £400 per night on a B&B basis.
Harley Davidson tours on Waiheke can be booked via bularangi.com.
More information on New Zealand: newzealand.com.