It didn’t even cross my mind to bring summer clothing to one of the world’s wettest regions.
In a cruel twist of fate, the afternoon sun was beating down and I was left boiling in jeans on a daybed as my fellow travellers leisurely slipped into the pool. Others were lounging on a half-acre patch of manicured grass drinking hypercolour cocktails.
We could have been on the coastline of some exotic Mediterranean island, but this was the bottom end of New Zealand.
It was an unseasonably warm day in Ata Whenua/Fiordland, a region which averages around 200 days of rainfall per year. The tremendous amount of drizzle – up to seven metres of the stuff – is the reason for the region’s spectacular waterfalls and lush rainforest.
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Instead of navigating the usual screen of mist, I was taking in wafts of barbecue smoke from a station sizzling meat patties on the top deck of Celebrity Eclipse. Had I not just inhaled a deep bowl of lobster ramen, I would be lining up for a burger and beer with the rest of the increasingly sunburned passengers.
The ship is the first Celebrity ocean liner to sail here for 930 days, and the first time the Eclipse has even been in South Pacific waters. My five-night voyage was a small taste of the full 12-night itinerary exploring the rugged coastline and main centres of New Zealand. And our fine nation really turned it on.
The ship left Sydney with an almost as impressive outlook, disembarking at sunset against the backdrop of harbour, bridge and opera house. The three nights and two days of quiet nothingness bobbing across the Tasman allowed plenty of time to experience the onboard offerings of Eclipse before seeing land in Fiordland.
The 2700-passenger vessel is essentially a five-star floating hotel with 21 bars and restaurants, multiple pools – both inside and out – plus a luxury spa, two-storey 1000-seat theatre and a basketball court.
There’s a martini bar which shakes and stirs all possible variations of the drink; a dining room made to look like the inside of a champagne glass; a health food cafe serving acai bowls, smoothies and energy bar; and the classic cruise ship buffet which serves all the international delights you could possibly imagine.
Fancy pizza in the small hours of the morning? No problem. Gelato scooped in a made-to-order waffle cone? That’ll cost extra.
The most unique of the food and beverage options is Le Petit Chef, one of the ship’s specialty restaurants, where the tabletop comes to life with animated projections. Four miniature chefs compete to prepare the best dish of the set menu and as the characters make their final touches, a new course arrives on your plate.
You also can be covered in scented oil, massaged from head to toe with hot stones and rocked back and forth by the natural movement of the sea, or witness passengers belt out three different songs at the same time during silent disco, or watch the spectacle of travellers dropping tens of thousands of dollars on artwork.
Working red-hot molten glass into a vase or translucent mermaid on the unsteady foundation of the open ocean seems like odd concept, but the glass blowing class is a popular feature with guests onboard.
Even with the generous selection of facilities and entertainment, on what is one of the older ships in Celebrity’s Solstice class, it’s still hard to look away from the picture-perfect New Zealand coastline when it pops into view.
Around sunrise, we were being guided by pilot vessels into Piopiotahi/Milford Sound. Formed by fire and shaped by ice, the wild and remote area might be one of the greatest examples of what this piece of land looked like before humans arrived.
Gliding silently through the still waters there was time to take in the near-vertical peaks wrapped in ancient rainforest and spot some of the renowned waterfalls.
Photos don’t do justice to the sheer size of this natural wonder. Our 317-metre-long ship is dwarfed by the towering mountains. The pilot boats look like ants. It’s hard to know where to look or point my camera, but the hour-long journey into the sound and back is an awe-inspiring experience. What a beautiful part of New Zealand.
Further, we cruise through the equally spectacular Dusky and Doubtful sounds. I wonder how early navigators got around the network of twisting sounds and inlets without the bells and whistles of modern-day cruise liners.
Before indulging at the contemporary Japanese restaurant and absorbing some vitamin D on the top level, our group spots a pod of bottlenose dolphins leaping from the wake in the distance. I hear that some other passengers saw fur seals on the rocks.
The remaining hours of the afternoon are spent taking in the southern coastline as it passes by. This has to be one of the best (and most luxurious) ways to see the most isolated corner of New Zealand.
Celebrity Cruises has multiple sailings departing from Sydney and Auckland through April 2023. For more information on sailings onboard Celebrity Eclipse, visit celebritycruises.com/nz
Staying safe: All Celebrity ships sail with a Covid-19 vaccinated crew, and in Australia and New Zealand all guests aged 12 and up are required to be fully vaccinated to sail.
Sustainability: Ocean cruising has an impact on the Earth’s waterways. Celebrity Cruises is aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and has already introduced several sustainability initiatives, including the use of solar panels and the elimination of plastic water bottles and straws. There is an opt-in for reduced housekeeping services.
The writer was a guest of Celebrity Cruises.