January 31 – February 4 – at sea.
February 5 – Easter Island. Beyond a doubt, for me, this was the highlight port of the cruise. After five days at sea (I know, it sounds crazy to some of you, but we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it), we anchored off Easter Island. What we were not aware of, there was only a 50% chance of being able to go ashore, due to the rough seas, limited tendering facilities, and dock space. As a matter of fact, Irene met a woman in the ladies room who said that this was her third try to get to Easter Island and she hoped she would get there this time. It was a long wait, but the captain finally made the decision to lower the tenders and allow the passengers to go ashore.
It became very chaotic and crowded as we approached the deck where we loaded onto the tenders. However, once we got to the tender, the crew members were outstanding. If you have never been on a tender, the difficulty comes when the water is very rough. You are standing on a small platform attached to the ship, while the tender is bouncing around in the water. It requires waiting until the distance and height between the ship and tender are close enough so you can safely embark to the tender. This is where the skill of the crew members is so important as they hold you and gently assist you onto the tender. Once on, you have to find a seat immediately so you won’t fall. The passage to land can also be a little hairy, if the seas remain rough. But, we made it to shore without incident and met our guide and driver.
Instead of a Crystal excursion, we arranged a semi-private (eight people) tour with My Excursions.com. I have known the owner of this company, Tim Harwood, for many years. Several agents at Alice Travel have used them around the world, all with excellent results. They did not disappoint!
Easter Island was larger than I had imagined. It is approximately 15 miles long by 8 miles wide and now belongs to Chile. It is one of the most remote and isolated islands in the world. The nearest inhabited land is Pitcairn Island (more about this island later) which is 1289 miles away.
The highlights of Easter Island are the huge 887 extant monumental statues called Moai created by the early Rapa Nui people. At the height of the Rapa Nui civilization, there were approximately 15,000 residents. Today there are about 5,800.
We drove and toured all parts of the island and were captivated by the size of different Moais. There are numerous theories about how they were made and how they were moved from the quarries to their current locations. We relaxed with a box lunch and took several walks around different parts of the island to see the Moais.
February 6-7 – at sea.
February 8 – Pitcairn Island. Pitcairn Island is where the mutineers from the British ship Bounty settled after leaving Tahiti in 1790. There are no landing areas or docks. Most of the 75 residents are descendants of the original mutineers. Today it remains a British protectorate.
Early in the morning the Serenity circled the island several times and then we saw a fishing boat approach our ship with about 50 residents of Pitcairn. They boarded the ship and set up tables to sell their wares. The biggest sellers were tee shirts with Pitcairn Island written across the front, which sold out in no time. Most interesting were the talks they gave about their history, and life today on this tiny remote island. It was fascinating!
February 9-10 – at sea.
February 11 – Papeete Tahiti. Irene and I have been to Tahiti twice before. Today we had another Ensemble excursion planned, which turned out to be a very worthwhile. Thirty-five of us met our guide and bus driver at the pier and drove to the Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands. We spent about an hour there and then drove to several beautiful grottos, which provided great photo ops. We spent time in the Vaipahi Garden and Cascade where we strolled around the beautiful gardens and waterfalls. Then it was on to the Marae Arahurahu open-air temple. Many of us agreed that our next stop was the best of the day — having drinks and hors d’ oeuvres while viewing a stunning sunset at the Intercontinental Hotel. A local band made it all the more festive.
February 13 – at sea
February 14 – Rorotonga. We were supposed to explore the small island of Rorotonga, but were not able to anchor because of rough seas. Instead, we spent another relaxing day on the ship. It was Valentine’s Day, so we had a lovely dinner with dancing to the Crystal Orchestra in the main lobby.
February 15 -17 – at sea.
February 18 – Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Because we did not make the stop at Rorotonga, the captain picked up speed and we were able to get to New Zealand ½ day earlier. We docked at the Bay of Islands, a beautiful spot about 2 hours from Auckland. We arranged a tour with MyExcursions.com for 4 people. Our companions were Gloria and Don Bell who we have travelled with many times before. We met our driver/guide about 2:00 PM and first drove to a pretty spot — the historic township of Kerikeri with its Stone Store and Kemp House, the oldest houses in the Bay of Islands. Then we drove to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the treaty was signed between the native Maoris and the British government. It was a beautiful spot on the water. Here we were treated to a lively cultural show put on by the local Maoris. We visited the charming island of Russel, which was quaint and interesting.
February 19 – Auckland. Irene and I decided to take a ferry to the Island of Devenport and spend the day there. It was another charming, delightful village on the water. We walked a lot, had a picnic lunch near the beach, and I got a much needed haircut. Then it was back to the ferry and our ship docked in Auckland harbor.
February 20 – Auckland. We arranged for us and the Bells for a full-day private tour to coastal Clevedon and Auckland City. Our guide/driver picked us up early in the morning and we rode along the waterfront and out to a beautiful suburs with magnificent homes with gorgeous views of the city of Auckland and the water. We then went to Mission Bay and the beaches which reminded us of the Jersey shore. We lunched at a local café in Clevedon. We visited a national park known for its beautiful waterfalls. Our last stop was Mount Eden, one of Auckland’s oldest volcanos and also the highest, affording a great panorama view of the city of Auckland.
February 21 – Auckland. We spent a very leisurely day touring, taking a local bus to the Auckland Museum. A heavy rainstorm interrupted our plans and we headed back to the ship.
February 22 – Tauranga NZ. We knew this was going to be a very long day with a lot of driving, but there were two special sights we wanted to see and we were determined to get there. The first was the Waitomo Caves where we descended into the caves to see the huge caverns formed over many millions of years and made up of soft limestone. Then we boarded a small rowboat to see the flooded caves and the glow worms hanging from the cave roofs like stars in the sky. Quite special. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos inside the caves because the flash would harm the worms.
We bought sandwiches and ate in our van during another long drive to Te Puia, where we walked through the geothermal valley to see the natural geysers that are constantly erupting; lots of bubbling mud pots too. Quite an interesting place, although it started to rain, which put a damper on the walks.
Because the Bells were on the full-world cruise, Crystal arranged a fabulous excursion for all full-world guests to Hobbit Land, where the movie The Lord of The Rings was filmed. The Bells reported back that it was terrific — wonderful food and drinks, a laser show, and people in costumes.
February 24 – Napier NZ. This port surprised me. Downtown Napier was destroyed in an earthquake in the 1930s, and the townspeople decided to rebuild the town in art deco style. It is totally charming and reminded me of Disney World.
February 25 – Wellington NZ. Visiting the capital of New Zealand turned out to be another pleasant surprise. We took a cog railway to the top of the highest hill in Wellington and leisurely walked all the way back to downtown. The magnificent trails wind through botanical gardens displaying all sort of plants, flowers and trees. We saw a cemetery along the way, and, surprisingly, a separate Jewish cemetery as well. We walked past New Zealand’s Parliament and strolled back to the ship.
February 26 – Akaroa and Christchurch NZ. Our guide/driver met the four of us and we set out for the highest point in Akaroa where we had a beautiful view of the harbor and the Crystal Serenity. We passed lots of sheep along the way. We drove to Christchurch, mostly destroyed in an earthquake in 2011. It is slowly being rebuilt. There is a memorial to the 171 people who were killed during the earthquake with 171 empty chairs in a city square. We ate in a rebuilt shopping center — interestingly made up of giant shipping containers. We visited Christchurch’s Botanical Gardens, one of the most beautiful in the world and, fortunately, not damaged during the earthquake.
February 27 – Dunedin NZ. This was another great day. We met our guide/driver who drove us to the Dunedin Railway Station where we boarded a vintage train and journeyed through the scenic mountains. We got off at a tiny town in the middle of nowhere called Pukerangi. We drove through rugged country on our way back to Dunedin for a visit to Larnach Castle, the only castle in New Zealand built by a wealthy industrialist … quite interesting. We thoroughly enjoyed our stroll through the magnificent gardens.
Our last stop before going back to the ship was Baldwin Street, described as the steepest residential street in the world. We took some kooky photos. Our driver tried to race up the hill but gave up and came down panting. It was a wonderful day!
February 28 – at sea. Today we cruised through New Zealand’s Fjordland National Park, through Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sound. If Easter Island was the number one highlight of the cruise, today had to be a close second. It started out rainy and misty but gradually improved. It’s hard to describe the beauty of the sounds. They’re majestic … gorgeous waterfalls and mountains.
March 1-2 – at sea.
March 3 – Sydney Australia. For us, the journey had come to an end and this was our disembarkation port. What more can I say about the Crystal Serenity? As Bill Miller tells it, it’s “The Rolls Royce of cruise ships.” Who could argue with that!