Another transpacific cruise, this time to New Zealand

Majestic Princess in Papeete, Tahiti, en route to Auckland, New Zealand

I’m behind on blogging as we settle into our year back in Paris. Still, I do want to write about our time in New Zealand (which included 2000 miles of driving!) before too much time slips by. So, first here’s a quick recap of the Princess repositioning cruise that got us there:

The Covid-19 pandemic canceled a three-week trip to New Zealand we’d planned to start in March 2020, within days of New Zealand shutting down. With the pandemic mostly behind us and New Zealand again opening, we were finally making the trip.

We’d originally planned to fly to New Zealand and return via repositioning cruise during their fall (our spring). This time, we were going in our fall (New Zealand’s spring) so the order was reversed: We sailed from Los Angeles to New Zealand via Hawaii and Tahiti and flew home. As always, one-way cruising has the benefit of eliminating jetlag, and the price on repositioning cruises is almost always a great deal. Usually, there’s also the bonus of unusual out-of-the way stops along the way. Our original cruise would have stopped in the Kingdom of Samoa, Tonga, Bora Bora and Maui in addition to Hawaii and Tahiti, a much more appealing itinerary. This cruise (leaving from Los Angeles) had originally offered only the addition of American Samoa, but that island was closed due to Covid concerns. Likewise, Tonga suffered a devastating volcanic eruption in January 2022 and looks unlikely to recover any time in the foreseeable future. So, we were left with overnight stops in Honolulu, Hawaii; Papeete, Tahiti; and, a new one-day stop in Tauranga, New Zealand. I wasn’t thrilled with this itinerary, but it was still a pleasant-sounding way to get from the U.S. to New Zealand.

Iolani Palace, Honolulu

The three-week cruise turned out to be a mixed bag. Engine trouble had us staying longer in Honolulu than expected and an extra night in Papeete. There was also a Covid outbreak onboard, but that didn’t effect us too much. We’ve been to both Hawaii and Papeete, so weren’t really interested in too much touring. We went to Iolani Palace in Honolulu, an easy walk from where our ship docked at the Pier 2 Cruise Terminal. I hadn’t been in years and enjoyed revisiting the only royal palace on U.S. soil. After that, we just caught a Lyft to Waikiki Beach and a favorite beachfront spot for maitais, The Edge of Waikiki at the Sheraton. Not a bad way to spend a day!

I’d planned to rent a car in Papeete and do the ring road around Tahiti, something we’d not done before. Unfortunately, due to the delay in Honolulu, the ship arrived so late in the day that I decided to cancel the car and spend our full day at a resort where I’d purchased day passes. Te Moana resort turned out to be a great choice and we had a lovely, leisurely day there lounging around the pool, enjoying a top notch lunch, and kayaking along the coast. The resort boasts a spectacular view of nearby Bora Bora which only gets more dramatic at sunset. [Note: It’s an easy ferry ride from Papeete to Bora Bora which is more naturally beautiful than Tahiti. If you’ve never been or are willing to hire a tour or do a little planning (and spend a bit more) to rent a car, it’s well worth the trip. We’d been to Bora Bora not too long ago, though, and decided to relax and stay on Tahiti this time.] I highly recommend a day pass at Te Moana for those looking for a way to spend a day in Tahiti.

View from our lounge chairs of the Te Moana infinity pool and beyond

Te Moana offers 3 types of “relaxation”/day passes. We chose the 7000 CFP/person package (10am-6pm) which included pool/motu access, lunch plus coffee or ice cream, and two hours of kayak or paddle board. (The “motu” is a manmade “island” with a small snorkeling area, not an actual small private island as you might find in Bora Bora.) Other options ran up to 14,000 CFP/person and included a scuba dive or massage sessions. Other day pass options were available at the Hilton for a higher price and less positive reviews. The Intercontinental apparently now has day passes, but didn’t at the time.

View of Bora Bora at sunset from Te Moana resort

We arrived in the port of Tauranga to local fanfare and waiting media. It turned out our ship was the first to dock in New Zealand since the pandemic. The cruise port is actually at Mount Maunganui, a pretty resort town, across the bay from the city of Tauranga. We had a great view of the small mountain for which the town is named from the ship and couldn’t wait to get ashore and do a little hiking there. We originally thought we’d need to take a ferry to Tauranga, but a woman who was part of the waiting information brigade on the dock told us not to bother. The town and mountain of Mount Maunganui were the places to see. We took her advice and had a great day.

Mount Maunganui, New Zealand

After a quick walk into town to an ATM machine, we strolled along a waterfront promenade to a trailhead at the base of Mount Maunganui. The small mountain is well covered with paths and popular with locals. A hike to the summit rewarded us with sweeping views. The mountain sits at the tip of land that shelters the inland bays and harbors from the Bay of Plenty. We headed back down the opposite side of the mountain to wide Maunganui Beach (which makes lists of most beautiful beaches in the world) to watch surfers before walking on to Maunganui Road, the main street of the town of Mount Maunganui. The town bustled with cruise ship visitors and shop owners seemed thrilled to be busy again. We had our first encounter with “possum merino,” a unique New Zealand knit made from Australian possum fur, sometimes combined with sheep wool and/or silk. The Australian possum is an invasive pest according to some, and a treasure according to the many vendors of possum products we met during our time in New Zealand. The wool is soft and very warm. I bought a gorgeous sweater in Mount Tauranga and David bought a cap. It was still cold in this antipodean “spring!” Stops for lunch and local beer and iconic sauvignon blanc wine boded well for the rest of our trip. This first, unexpected stop in New Zealand was a great beginning and had us looking forward to leaving the ship the next day in Auckland where we’d kick off our three-week explore of the country’s two islands.

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