From Melbourne to New Zealand We Go

By Carla Sue Broecker

Statue of Captain James Cook, founder of Australia and New Zealand, at Cook’s Cottage in Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne, Australia.

The sail away from Darling Harbor in Sydney on the Seven Seas Voyager was nothing short of spectacular. With lots of lights all around, we sailed under the Harbor and Anzac Bridges and out toward the Tasman Sea. The Tasman is well-known for having rough waters from time to time, but our sea day on the way to Melbourne was calm and delightful.

Sometimes you just need to “veg out,” sit back and relax, and that is what we did. In the evening, the captain had a reception to welcome the new passengers. We joined Philip Creaser, one of the ship’s lecturers, and his wife, Jenny, for dinner in the Compass Rose Dining Room. We love it there, and our favorite server – Risky, who is from Jakarta – took perfect care of us. Yes, that is her name. We have known her for years, and she is a delightful, tiny person with a caring personality who anticipates her guests’ every need.

Australian singer/entertainer Michael Montgomery presented a great show after dinner. A nightcap in the Horizon Lounge finished off a perfect day.

The next morning, we docked at Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, which a well-informed guide told us is on track to overtake Sydney in the foreseeable future. “Why?” you may ask. Because Sydney is surrounded by a hilly terrain that stymies future growth. This is not true of Melbourne, and the city’s aggressive expansion was only too noticeable from our ship’s top deck as we sailed in.

Melbourne’s visitors information describes the place as a “city of gardens.” Our shore excursion took us to Fitzroy Gardens, one of the best gardens and the site of Cook’s Cottage. On arrival, we noticed that almost all of the monumental elm trees that encircle the garden, which is really a very large park, were wrapped with a six-foot swath of substantial garden fabric. Our guide told us it was to prevent possums from climbing the trees and feeding on the upper branches and leaves, an activity that destroys the trees.

The Fitzroy Gardens Conservatory had a beautiful display of all sorts of plants, with a special one of brilliant orange tuberous begonias. It was breathtaking.

The previously mentioned Cook’s Cottage in Yorkshire was the property of Captain James Cook’s parents in England. In 1933, it was purchased from the current owner and moved to the Fitzroy Gardens location as a proper gift to celebrate the 1934 Centenary of Victoria, the district where Melbourne is located.

Interior of Fitzroy Gardens Conservatory in Melbourne, Australia.

We continued on a panoramic sightseeing tour all around the city. A special stop was at the Shrine of Remembrance, a WWI memorial, which is an architectural gem and has been placed in a spectacular spot in a Melbourne park. There wasn’t time to go inside on this stop, but a previous visit revealed an absolutely wonderful display of memorabilia on the inside. A climb to the roof during that visit permitted a wonderful view of the city.

Speaking of wonderful views, our next stop was the brand-new, 88-story residential tower that’s smack dab in the middle of the city. The Eureka Skydeck 88 is the Southern Hemisphere’s highest view platform. A major tourist attraction, visitors purchase tickets to ride on one of two elevators (climbing three floors per second) to the top. The viewing deck is enclosed except for one small area where viewers can go out through a set of double doors to an outside area that is open but screened.

The fact that the building is completely residential except for the ground floor is amazing enough, but knowing that the top 10 floors are all single residences is more than a little astounding. Another interesting fact is that because buildings of these monumental heights tend to sway in the wind, there is a 300,000 gallon tank (located I know not where) in the building that pumps water back and forth between two tanks, with one placed on each side of the building. Apparently this helps balance the sway.

Melbourne has a lot to be proud of, and the spirit of competition with Sydney is right there on the tip of every guide’s tongue. Sydney is viewed as the “wild west,” even if they do have an iconic opera house. Melbournians think of themselves as living in San Francisco-style sophistication.

Ever since we left Sydney, the ship has been keeping track of a pretty strong weather disturbance named Gita going across New Zealand. A tail of the storm was already beginning to affect the Tasman Sea as we headed out of Melbourne, so we were rockin’ and rollin’ a bit. As we left Melbourne, the captain, a cool and charming man, came on the intercom to give us the news: We were going to change course and alter the itinerary. Our next stop, Eden, Australia, would be bypassed, and we would go on for three days across the Tasman Sea directly to Milford Sound in New Zealand. We avoided any further increase in feeling the sea’s roll, and that was appreciated.

Exterior of Eureka Tower, currently the largest skyscraper in Melbourne, Australia.

Then came the exciting morning when we rose to watch the ship sail into the fjords of Milford Sound.  Most everyone got up early, bundled up and ventured out on deck to gaze in awe at the tall stone valley we were sailing through. It is very prehistoric looking, and scrawny evergreen trees dot the cliffside.

It might have been the first time we were cold in some time. However, hot chocolate or coffee with Kahlua or Bailey’s, Bloody Mary’s with or without pickles and celery, and freshly-baked pastries of every kind helped us all battle the ravages of the cold weather and made for a delightful breakfast.

The early morning mist was eerie. There was no sight of human habitation, just an occasional white sheep that had strayed down the perilous cliffs from a farm. The ship sails at a very low speed through places like this, and there is almost no engine sound. You just feel the quiver of the ship at this tedious speed, and it really is awesome. There are no inhabitants in sight, just the tall stone bluffs and a few waterfalls cascading down the cliffside.You feel at one with nature.

The ship became very quiet as people viewed from the top deck for a while and then retreated to their balconies – some to sit in the sun on their private balconies and watch the scenery go by, read or take a nap. It is fantastic to have no responsibilities or cares.

We spent the afternoon in the theater eating popcorn and watching the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, which were recorded at midnight the evening before.

That evening, we had dinner at Chartreuse, the small but fancy French restaurant that requires reservations. I chose a wonderful veal presentation while husband Brad chose pink Barbary duck. Desserts included chocolate souffles, and all guests were presented with a gift box of freshly made macarons to take home. Are they ever delicious!

The next morning, we docked in Dunedin, and after breakfast, we boarded six tour buses and headed for the hills, which are perched above the ocean. Our destination was Larnach Castle, a favorite of ours.

The castle was built by William Larnach. He was one of New Zealand’s most remarkable men and also one of the saddest. He was a minister of the crown, financier and merchant baron. He made his first fortune in the banking business. His lasting legacy is his great castle overlooking the spectacular Otago Harbor.

Larnach built the house for the first of his three wives, Eliza Jane Guise, and their three daughters. He began construction in 1871, and 200 skilled workers labored for three years before his family could move into the splendid castle. The building was completed with the addition of an incredible ballroom in 1887.

After the death of Eliza Jane, he married Mary Alleyn Larnach. His last wife was a much younger Constance de Bathe Brandon Larnach. When he had a major financial reversal and then discovered that his favorite son was having an inappropriate relationship with his stepmother, Larnach committed suicide. VT