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“This morning we will cruise past the Sydney Opera House and under the Sydney Harbour Bridge to tie up at White Bay in the suburb of Balmain,” the captain declared.

These are some of the most welcome words in travel. Sydney Harbour is simply one of the world’s most spectacular inlets and the best way to see it is from the deck of a ship. The highlight is passing under the Bridge when it looms close overhead.

Sadly, many ships sailing into Sydney are too big to fit under the Bridge and that’s their loss. In May 2017 the Australian Cruise Lines International released a report revealing that the three most popular destinations for the rapidly growing group of Australian cruisers (1.3 million last year) are the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, passing Europe for the first time.

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Azamara takes cruisers on a voyage around New Zealand: from picturesque Wellington to Dunedin

While there are many vessels to choose from, the Azamara Journey has to be one of the most appealing. Carrying less than 700 passengers (served by 400 crew) and being only 30,000 tonnes, it’s a relatively small ship. That means it can visit ports that larger ships can’t and embarking and disembarking is relatively fast and painless.

The ship looks stylish and functions rather like a floating contemporary country club – but one where drinks are included. There’s a range of dining venues plus several bars, a small casino and the Cabaret Lounge.

In a substantial refit last year, every part of the ship was revamped. Impressively, there is now bow-to-stern full strength wifi coverage. There’s a range of accommodation options from interior cabins to spacious suites. Our Ocean-view cabin had a decent sized window (that didn’t open) and enough space for the two of us (and lots of under-bed storage for our suitcases). But the bathroom was rather small, especially the shower stall, and on a return visit I’d aim for a room with a balcony.

The quality of the food onboard was impressive. The main Discoveries restaurant changes menus for lunch and dinner every day and there are window tables on three sides of the restaurant. Or, for an extra charge, there’s the Mediterranean Aqualina Restaurant or the steak and seafood restaurant Prime C. The indoor/outdoor Windows Café was light and airy and we mainly visited for breakfast or a quick dinner.

Azamara Club Cruises has the tag line “Stay Longer. Experience more”, which was reflected in our itinerary: 12 days from Wellington NZ to Sydney. There were two days in each of Wellington and Picton and very full days in Akaroa (for Christchurch), Dunedin, Milford Sound (and others) and Hobart. Even Sydney was unhurried – we stayed on for an extra night, basically a relaxed staycation in our own town.

Voyage highlights
The cruise got away to a very good start with an evening of entertainment at Te Papa, the impressive national museum in Wellington. It included a private tour of the museum’s brilliant Gallipoli exhibition that utilised The Lord of the Rings team to bring the conflict to life as it never has before.

The time in Picton was sufficient to visit NZ’s best vineyards, a glow-worm gully, Abel Tasman National Park, and the Peter Jackson-supported Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre that has some amazing old aircraft and pieces of the Red Baron’s aircraft.

Arkaroa on the volcanic Banks Peninsula is a worthwhile destination in its own right. But it’s also only a coach ride away from Christchurch, which is going through a rebuild with admirably positive spirit.

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The beautiful gardens outside Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin was a delightful surprise that deserves its own thorough review. Albatross, a castle with a sad family history, penguins and seals, a chocolate factory (soon to close), beautiful gardens, street art and a rapidly developing urban renewal that matches the world’s best make it well worth a visit.

We had a day scheduled in New Zealand’s glorious southern fiordland and the weather cooperated with blue skies and great visibility. Our master, Captain Johannes Tysse showed both his Norwegian heritage and the Azamara Journey’s ability to manoeuvre in tight situations.

In the early morning we came into Dusky Sound then passed through the narrow Acheron Passage into Breaksea Sound. On our last afternoon in NZ we did a ship tour through Milford Sound. The captain manoeuvred the ship almost under the waterfall and up to village who’d taken an overnight excursion to play golf across the South Island.

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A bit of a winelover? Why not take a pit stop to Marlborough, the home of world-renowned sauvignon blanc

Two full sea days on the way to Tasmania gave a welcome break to simply enjoy ship life. In Hobart, on a Sunday, we took in a street market before cycling down Mt Wellington. The views from the top are wonderful and little peddling is required on the downhill leg all the way to the Cascade Brewery then into the city via Battery Point.

Sailing down the Derwent as we left Hobart almost made me wish that I’d done a Sydney-Hobart race to appreciate this great scenery at the end of the race.

Finally, we sailed past Bondi Beach and turned to port into Sydney Harbour.

The rapid growth in interest in sailing from New Zealand to Australia seems rather incomprehensible at first glance. What is there that you could do by flight and rental car? However, after doing it I’m hooked. It was wonderful to see the highlights of the South Island then return to our cabin each evening before enjoying the luxuries of life on the Azamara Journey.

Fiordland can only be appreciated from the water and Hobart is a great cruise destination. The Azamara Journey was the perfect vessel for this voyage. It was small enough that we never felt just one of the crowd and soon staff were recognising us around the ship. Yet the ship was very stable on the crossing of the Tasman Sea. The Azamara Journey will revisit the route in February 2018. The almost-identical Azamara Quest will be in Australia in early 2019.

Have you been cruising lately? Where’s your favourite destination?

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