The Classic Journeys group gathered in the hotel lobby and, after introducing ourselves and meeting our guide Kreig (pronounced Craig), our first day together commenced.
Auckland is one of the few cities in the world to have a harbor on each of two separate major bodies of water. Most likely due to the geographic layout of New Zealand, Kiwi’s have always had a strong and special connection with the sea and today was the day we’d be exploring that. For our first adventure, we’d be setting sail in the Waitemata Harbour on an America’s Cup Yacht with a full ship and a crew of four. Since I have a propensity for dropping things, I prudently decided not to worry about photos but to simply enjoy the experience in my mind. This turned out to be a decision I did not regret as it was an absolutely gorgeous day-no jacket but a life vest needed-and the images from our voyage are etched on my mind in a way that no camera could replicate.
EXPLORE encourages passengers to try their hand at sailing by either cranking the grinders or taking a turn at the helm. If neither of those interests you, just sit back and enjoy the ride. And what a ride it turned out to be! At 30+ knots we had to shift position quickly several times and were often perched high up in the air like birds on a branch about to take flight. Other times we were so close to the water you could reach down and feel the spray. An entirely different sensation than navigating one of the Finger Lakes in a sunfish.
It was literally one of the most exhilarating feelings in the world and I finally understood why sailors are so drawn to the open waters. Five stars!
After lunch we went to the New Zealand Maritime Museum. I’m a museum meanderer (someone who likes to absorb and think about what I’m looking at) so, as usual, there was too much to see and not enough time to see it in. Surprisingly it was The Bach that I found most interesting. Many New Zealand families have one and it’s basically a seaside cabin, old fashioned and minimalist. Described as the place between work and play, a transitional place to “hang your hat” before you step out the door and immerse yourself in nature, the simplicity of it and the way it served to keep families sheltered but still close to the land and sea was appealing. The other exhibit that drew me in was the one dedicated to native son and world champion ocean racer, Sir Peter Blake, who led New Zealand to several victories in the America’s Cup. Turns out that, not only was he an athlete extraordinaire in the sport, he was also a huge promoter of and for sailing as a sport. Sadly, he died way before his time, leaving a devastated nation and loving family behind. The Maritime Museum also gets a five-star rating!
That night we had an official three-course welcome dinner at the art-deco styled DeBretts s Kitchen on O’Connell Street. Everything was delicious and it was easy to see how they’ve walked away with so many TripAdvisor awards. I had goat cheese gnocchi (an apparent staple of New Zealand chefs) in pea puree, parmesan-crusted filet mignon, and a French lemon tart. Another five-star rating for my five-star day!
Of interest: So far, all the restaurants we’ve patronized serve local wines and beers, which are quite good. The only thing that’s disappointed is the New Zealand version of hard cider. Theirs is clear, which for some reason is quite disconcerting, and sweet, rather than dry and crisp.
Next up-Waiheke Island!