It’s our 6th day on board the Golden Princess, and our second day on land. Getting to land today was different, because we had to take a tender boat from the Golden Princess, to reach our port of call – Akaroa.
Compared to just cruising out of the ship as we were accustomed to previously, using the tender boat service was a lot of hassle. Other than passengers who have priority, the rest of us will need to get a numbered ticket from one of the dining rooms and then wait until the number is called to board the tender boat, which was actually the life vessel that the ship was equipped with. If you are not in a hurry to get to shore, you can wait until the majority of passengers have gone on shore, after which a ticket is no longer required.
Although tender boat service is provided continuously throughout the day, each ride is still a 20 to 25 minute distance from shore, not to mention that you will always have to keep a close eye on the time to catch the last tender boat back to the ship.
Boarding the tender boat and getting ready for a rather crammed and damp ride to shore.
First Stop, Akaroa
The fresh air and cool morning breeze welcomed us as we stepped on Akaroa land. Although it was coming to summer, the weather was still relatively cool. In general, the South Island is a lot colder than the North Island, so a warm jacket is still necessary here at Akaroa.
That’s the Golden Princess parked a distance from shore, where there’s deeper waters to support its weight.
Our first impression of Akaroa was that of a sleepy harborside town – one that was awakened only if there was a cruise ship in town.
The private tour operators waiting by the harbour for their passengers. As we did for the previous day’s trip to the Taieri Gorge and the stunning Otago Penisular, we had decided to opt for a privately-operated tour which can be a lot cheaper than those offered by Princess Cruises. However, despite our efforts to get on the first tender boat out to shore, we still had to wait pretty long for the rest of the passengers on the same tour to arrive before we could depart. Today, our tour will bring us to Christchurch and the International Antarctic Centre.
Having time on our hands means that we get to explore this small picturesque town of Akaroa for a little while. It was this little while that this small town managed to charm me so much that for a moment, I wished we had not signed up and paid for a tour out of Akaroa.
Akaroa may not have the reputations of its big brothers Christchurch and Auckland, but it still holds its own unique appeals. There’s so much to do here…shopping is great, there’s great food around and cafes to bask around and relax for the day.
Akaroa can be explored on foot if you have the whole day to spare. For the more adventurous, there are bicycles for rent if you would like to explore the greater region – all in all, there’s no need at all to spend money and take a day trip out of Akaroa!
There’s also whale watching and dolphin cruises, if you happen to be in Akaroa at the right season.
The charming shopping street of Akaroa, where I spent few precious minutes browsing through the local crafts before our tour to Christchurch picked us up.
Akaroa was where I was first acquainted with the local skincare brand Wild Ferns and quickly fell in love with it. Wild Ferns is sold at all the New Zealand ports of calls that we visited, and I soon found that Akaroa was not the best place to buy these products because you can find them at a cheaper price elsewhere.
Tip: One of our friends from New Zealand highly recommended Akaroa Fish and Chip. This is located within short walking distance of the harbour. The prices are quite affordable too. Do give it a try!
For those who still prefer their Asian fare, there’s (surprise!) even a Thai restaurant here.
Time for the tour to begin. Today, our tour operator was Shore Trips and Tours. There are a number of tours heading out to Christchurch, so a larger bus was used to bring us all to Christchurch, after which passengers will be split into smaller vehicles at the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch.
Next Stop, Christchurch
The journey from Akaroa to Christchurch took about 90 mins (by which time I was fervently wishing we had stayed in Akaroa). There are no expressways here in New Zealand. Instead, the road was a winding one up and over the hills of the Akaroa Peninsula, formed by an ancient volcano and at its centre, the crater is filled up with water which is now the harbour.
Christchurch may be the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, but it was still reeling from the shock of the earthquake it suffered in 2011. Many parts of the city were still under reconstruction when we visited this beautiful city.
That being said, Christchurch was still worth a peek, if not to see some of the quirky structures they have.
International Antarctic Centre
The International Antarctic Centre was really the place I wanted to go to in Christchurch. The International Antarctic Centre was in fact nearer to the Christchurch International Airport than to the Christchurch City Centre, so it is perfect for those on a stop-over.
Because we were on a tight schedule, we could only cover the highlights that the Antarctic Centre had to offer. Otherwise, I would have loved to spend an entire day here.
Wish to experience an Antarctic Storm without having to break the bank to go to Antarctica? Well, we experienced such a storm right here at the International Antarctic Centre, right down to -18 degrees Celsius, complete with the howling winds of a blizzard. This was all done in a climate controlled environment, and one which we could choose to leave should the conditions become too unbearable.
The Penguin Encounter was where we could get really close to the little Blue Penguins or Fairy Penguins, behind a glass barrier of course.
My favourite has got to be the Ice Voyage, a 4-D show that simulates a cruise to Antarctica with stunning and realistic close-ups. Don’t ever miss it! Although it’s just a 15 minute show, there are scheduled timings for it.
The ultimate highlight of the International Antarctic Centre must be its outdoor Hagglund Ride. This 20-minute ride promised to be highly authentic and simulates the terrain that vehicles in the Antarctic must cross – up and down small hills, crevasses and through water.
Take those seats in the front car if you can for the best experience. This ride is much milder than a roller coaster and a lot safer, so it’s suitable for children, under the supervision of an adult.
The Hagglund climbing up a steep hill.
The various ‘hills’ of differing difficulty level.
Inside the Hagglund, we held on tight as the vehicle passed through some tough terrain.
Timber, tyres and a water pool are some of the terrain that we must travel through.
These were about all we could do before our transport back to the harbour of Akaroa picked us up. Before we reached Akaroa, there was one last pit stop for us to take a picture of the picturesque Akaroa bay.
All in all, this tour by Shore Trips and Tours was 6 hours long, of which a total of 3 hrs was spent in travelling from Akaroa to Christchurch (90 minutes each way). Although we really enjoyed the day, there was little value in investing so much travelling time when we could have enjoyed the uniqueness of Akaroa itself. Our recommendation – stay in Akaroa and enjoy what it has to offer.
Dinner was the one thing that we looked forward to every day. Today, everything on the appetizer section of the menu looked good, but we went with only the Tropical Fresh Fruit Cup, Chilled Cantaloupe and Honeydew Soup, and Tasmanian Seafood Bisque.
Our main course of Veal Osso Bucco.
Desserts of Butternut pecan pudding, lime sorbet and fruits.