Sound of the Primeval

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The grey dawn was breaking around the huge ship. It’s not a boat, Captain Thassos had explained. A ship is much bigger than a boat… you can fit several boats into a ship. Later on in the cruise he would provide a wonderful illustration of this. For now we were about to have an experience of a lifetime, and it was ironic that the very landscape dawning around us was very similar to the one on the other side of the planet that we were supposed to have visited…

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Two years prior, we had booked our first ever cruise as an experimental holiday. We love landscapes – especially dramatic ones – and thought that a week’s trip to see the Norwegian fjords (from the inside) would be a wonderful holiday. We had never been cruising, and, frankly, I was doubtful that being kept prisoner on even a well-fed ship was going to be my cup of tea. With a week to go, our cruise was cancelled – due to overbooking. At first we were enraged; but the compensation package offered by Celebrity Cruises was so good that we accepted their sincere apology and, banking the voucher for a free cruise of the same value (plus our money back and all expenses), we looked at the forward calendar…. and wondered…

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My eldest son and our daughter-in-law; plus our two grandchildren, live in Australia. Once every two years, we try to get out to see them. So, we thought, why not combine the two and spend November – one of the dreariest English months – having a combined Australia/New Zealand trip, with the replacement cruise being the first part of the experience. We are retired from a long life in IT, and happily, we can do this sort of thing –  but not too often, as cruising of any form is expensive.

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We had left Sydney two days before. It was such a beautiful experience that I blogged about it at the time – from my iPhone. But Milford Sound, the most primeval landscape on the whole of New Zealand’s South Island, was now up ahead, and Captain Thassos was waking the whole ship, early, to allow us time to get ready for this very special experience. ‘Once in a lifetime experience’ is overused but in this case we had reason to believe it would be so. Much depends on the weather… You can travel to this, one of the most southerly places on the planet, and see nothing because of the mist. New Zealand is a beautifully misty place…

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But, as our luck with the Norwegian cruise had been bad, so this was was good – more than good, because, as my first sprint to the upper deck showed, we had the perfect combination of wispy mist and a clear morning – not always present in Milford Sound.

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It was still before seven in the morning, yet just about every able-bodied person was on one of the upper decks. The Solstice is one of the largest vessels on the seas. It dwarfed the other tourist boats going past us, as can be seen from the above photographs.

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Milford Sound is a misnomer. A sound is an outlet to the sea formed by a river system. Milford was created by a glacial system – the mountains all around give the clue. Because of this the ‘lip’ of Milford Sound is quite shallow; something that would have produced problems for large vessels until the latest generation of low-draught ships (such as the Solstice) came into service.

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The highlight of the experience came when we had penetrated Milford Sound to the end of its navigable depth. The Solstice is equipped with twin giant propellors that can be rotated through 360 degrees. This enables complete turns to be made within the length of the ship: the vessel simply rotates in the water on its horizontal axis. Captain Thassos made a point of stressing how much control it gave the crew in tight or difficult situations.

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The ‘doughnut’ turn complete, it was time to visit the last of the vast waterfalls that tumble from the highland peaks into Milford Sound. Then we made one last turn before heading back into the open waters of the ocean. There were two more locations to visit on the ‘Fjord Coast’ of New Zealand’s South Island, but none compared to Milford Sound. Visitors from inland face a difficult car journey or many days on foot to get there. We had arrived in the comfort of the huge Solstice, which also offered us her height from which to see the whole of glacial landscape.

The captain took care to explain that the apparent fumes given off by the Solstice-class boats are not polluting. The engines have catalytic processes that convert what would be diesel smoke to harmless vapour – that is what is seen emerging from the giant funnels.

The trip of a lifetime? It most certainly was. There were many other stopping points on our ten-day cruise around New Zealand. I will be writing about the best of them in posts to come.

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

 

 

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The Art of Dark Departure

It could equally well be titled ‘The dark art of departure’, I suppose, but, in this case, its not the act but the leaving which is dark…

At the time of writing, we are about to leave Sydney, aboard a cruise ship: the Royal Caribbean ‘Solstice’.

We’ve never been on a cruise ship before.  It is only happening because two years ago, we booked a short cruise to the Norwegian Fjords which was cancelled at the last minute by the cruise company. We were due to depart the weekend after our main workshop of the Silent Eye’s year – the Spring event in Derbyshire. The timing was perfect; such events are very demanding, and the idea of a restful break in the glorious surroundings of Norway seemed perfect. In grim fashion, the man paid to break the bad news to us said that, basically, not enough people had died… Cruising, he explained, generally appeals to an older audience, and the organising companies have to take a statistical prediction as to how many cancellations they will get, due to severe ill health or death. Knowing this did little to help our mood, but Bernie soon found us a flight and hotel in the Mexican Yucatan, which enabled us, in consolation, to see the Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza – a life-changing event I recorded at the time under the blog heading ‘Unexpected Shaman’.

We were compensated for the cost of the holiday and all consequent expenses: hotel in Southhampton, car parks and sundries… and… offered an additional free cruise of the same value anywhere in the world. We did query that there might be nothing to stop Celebrity Cruises from doing this to us again, but the man assured us we now had a direct link to him and that he would ensure that our next cruise definitely took place

So here we are….

Here is Sydney, a very lovely and friendly city. And only our second ever trip to Australia, where our son and daughter in law, both doctors, are bringing up their two young girls. We don’t get to see the grandchildren very often, and it’s hard to be a real part of their lives, but such a trip gives us the chance to be with them, play and laugh and fill the short but intense few days with the real, instead of the largely-artificial world of the ‘Skype’ or ‘Facetime’ call.

It occurred to us that we had the chance to combine the two; that we could fly to Sydney (instead of Adelaide, where they live) and then do our cruise, ending it with a flight to join them on a more local holiday. So the plans were made, and we are about to embark on a twelve-day sailing to New Zealand, ending in a flight from Auckland (where Bernie has a close school friend) to Adelaide to meet up with the family.

These few days in Sydney, following a flight from Manchester with a stopover in wonderful Singapore, have not been sufficient to scratch the surface of this city; but there is a compensating factor. The greatest attraction of Sydney is its harbour – or, properly its harbours, as the waterways are a vast complex linking the many nearby towns that supply it with many its daytime working population. The ferry terminal was allowed to be constructed right in the heart of the city; and show off these massive ships to perfection…

Now, we are on ours and, after a lengthy check-in, we are finally sitting, unpacked, on our balcony, looking down from a great height onto the very heart of Sydney. It’s a photographer’s dream, and my little iPhone has served me well in such situations before. Additionally, and, I like to think as some sort of karmic compensation, the sun is beginning to set, flooding the harbour with golden light.

We can feel the throbbing hum of the engines beginning their departure preparation. Then there is the most ‘perfect’ noise I have ever heard, as the Captain of the vessel gives the five minute warning signal. It intense, rather than just loud; it is a specially tuned sound that sounds like it comes from ‘the Gods’. I’m convinced that a few minutes of it, done as therapy, would drive any sense of depression from a soul… not that we are in the least depressed; but it carries that kind of ‘trumpet of hope’ feeling. Images of the Tarot card ‘The Last Judgement’ spring to mind… Whatever you were doing before it, you won’t be doing now.

In response, and to show their defiance of this leviathan of the high seas, a dozen of the smaller (but very fast) local ferries scurry off their piers to get their hard-working passengers away before the idlers on the ‘Solstice’ begin their holiday. A boating fury to rival Henley on Thames ensures the then, with the earth-shaking second warning blast, the giant begins to slide, backwards, away from the key. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the early Star Trek films, but, for their time they had masterly sequences of the Enterprise leaving the orbital terminal very, very slowly, before building up to ‘warp speed’ somewhere safely away from the Earth. 

The slow initial departure of the ship Solstice is just like that, and about a million souls on Sydney’s Circular Quay are watching and smiling in the golden evening light.

We can hear very little. With perfect timing, our steward has entered the cabin and presented us with an ice-bucket holding our complimentary bottle of champagne and two flutes. I can’t resist taking it out to the balcony and popping the cork – discretely – allowing us to toast the lovely city to which we are now saying goodbye. We may be back, but you never know. It’s a long way from home and we hate leaving our beloved cat and dog for so long.

With the minimum of fuss, the huge ship slides into the main channel, still backwards. Then it begins to turn, bringing the Bay Bridge into full view. The light is now photographically perfect and I take as many shots as the rotating angle will allow. Then the vibration of the engines becomes even more purposeful and the Solstice begins to accelerate towards the open sea-still a full two miles distant.

We navigate the twists and turns of the widening estuaries, then comes a wonderful moment as the pilot boat comes right into the back of the cruise ship, nearly disappearing from sight.

When the Pilot boat reappears, the pilot has been transferred back to his home vessel and the smaller craft pulls away with a wave and set of lighted signals. As he falls behind the ship gathers speed toward the open sea… and adventure.

It’s time to have our first dinner on board. With one last wave we say goodbye to Sydney. Next stop Melbourne, then on to New Zealand for what we hope will be the trip of a lifetime.

©Stephen Tanham

Steve Tanham is a director of tbe Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not for profit organisation that provides distance learning courses for the deepening of self understanding.