Australia and NZ with Fred – black marks for the Black Watch!
By Tina Fox
We have recently returned from an 18-night cruise on the Fred Olsen Black Watch calling at three places in New Zealand and a few more in Australia, flying back to the UK via Cairns.
We found the places we visited to be really good and we were both surprised and impressed with Australia – it was much more cultured and historic than we expected and incredibly green and lush. I am not really sure what we expected!
We were less than impressed, however, with the ship. It was supposed to have been in dry dock for a complete refurbishment before going on its world cruise, so why did we have rust and non-functioning air-conditioning in our cabin? Other areas of the ship also looked shabby, with missing ends of sofas, pictures that fell off the wall in transit, peeling vinyl fake wood and garden furniture to sit on in the second restaurant, Brigadoon.
Even more disappointing was the food, which we had looked forward to, having been well catered for on two trips on the Boudicca. Breakfast every day was great, but lunch and dinner left a great deal to be desired for us as vegetarians, and we certainly did not have to worry about putting on any weight on this trip.
I was able to recommend the Boudicca but would warn any vegetarian or vegan to travel on the Black Watch! Flights were also pretty horrendous but that partly goes with travelling such a long way, so is to be expected.
We found prices in both NZ and Australia to be very high but this may be a reflection on our currently worthless pound, so be warned! Both countries seemed to be relatively vegetarian-friendly; perhaps New Zealand has the edge.
Day 1 – Thursday 16 February
We finally arrived at the ship docked at Auckland in the late morning after setting off from home on Monday morning – pretty epic, and we were looking forward to a comfortable cabin to recover from our jet lag. We were however disappointed – the picture window we thought we had booked turned out to be two small square windows surrounded by rust. There was too much furniture squashed in the room, the air-conditioning did not work, nor did the TV, there was rust, patched wallpaper, a noisy air vent and a creaky door in the bathroom and a really large dire picture on the bedroom wall of around 30 people reading newspaper headlines about the 9/11 disaster – hardly suitable holiday material. We found the guest services was not very good at fixing errors – we had to report the creaking bathroom and noisy air vent door several times before someone came to oil, and I heard other passengers complaining to them that all they ever got was apologies but no action.
We thought that lunch would cheer us up but there was only one vegetarian option which I did not like so ended up eating potatoes and broccoli. The evening meal in the main restaurant, Glentanar, was not much better; the main course was an odd pie with Quorn in gravy with a cheesy mash topping, which just did not work.
Day 2 – Auckland
Feeling a bit better after our jet lag we went into Auckland, which was lovely and green and very easy to walk around. The ship was conveniently docked at the bottom of the main shopping street and we even managed to find a little vegan restaurant (Green Time) for lunch, quite by accident. We visited the art gallery, which was wonderful; very atmospheric with an excellent audio visual presentation on Maori traditions and people featured in the gallery. We also wandered around the nearby park, which was lovely, and we managed to miss all the rain while we were in the gallery.
The evening meal was again poor – herby vegetables with no protein; very disappointing and good job we had managed to get lunch off the ship.
Day 3 – Tauranga
We left the ship on an organised tour to Hobbiton in rain, but by the time we arrived 1 hour later the sun was shining brilliantly. This was a fabulous trip, really magical and worthwhile. We were impressed by the quantity and attractiveness of the hobbit houses and mill in the set and the very sympathetic planting of vegetable patches and flowers. It was really inspiring. We finished our trip with yummy homemade cake and homebrew in the Green Dragon Inn, which had been built from the screen set and was excellent. A great day which was enhanced by a reasonable meal this night – grapefruit starter, lovely polenta dish for main course and kiwi tart for dessert.
Day 4 – out at sea
A sailing day today, but not too bad because there were some reasonable talks to go to. The speaker on the port talks was entertaining and informed but some of the other speakers left a lot to be desired. Lunch was again disappointing – vegetable hot pot (just vegetables in tomato sauce, again no protein). We met up with the Maitre d’ who did not seem to have any clue and just gave us a vegan menu on which the third choice listed was ‘vegetable’ (unspecified which and how it was cooked!) and still had very little interest or protein.
We met up with the chef, Mathieu, who asked us to check the evening menu for the following night each night so we could make amendments if needed. This worked reasonably well but really took the edge off our holiday – we had not needed to do this on the Boudicca. It still also seemed to mean that we rarely had a hot veggie soup in the evening courses but had to make do with other things. A number of other passengers, who were not vegetarian, also commented to me that they thought the food was not up to scratch or very interesting. We were glad we had not booked for the 107 day voyage!
Day 5 – Wellington
We were taken to the centre via an excellent free shuttle bus and we really liked the capital of New Zealand though wore ourselves out walking around it! We went up in a cable car which gave a great view over the city and then took a long walk back down through the gorgeous botanic gardens.
After this we trekked over to the marvellous Te Papa museum; really impressive and we saw manta rays swimming in the dock on our walk back.
Days 6–7 – sea day and cruising ‘the sounds’
Nothing to report for the sea day of any interest but the 22nd was lovely cruising the impressive Milford, Doubtful and Dusky Sounds, which are really beautiful. Similar to the fjords of Norway but bigger and we were lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins.
Day 7–8 – sea days again
More days at sea – some people really like these days but we don’t as we are not into making sock monkeys, playing bingo or deck quoits. We did see dolphins twice though alongside the ship, so a consolation prize. I played table tennis most days despite the fact the other players were a great deal better than me and had been a group since the beginning of the trip in January. We got bitten also, I gather by some sand flies that the ship had picked up, but it could have been worse!
Day 9 – Eden, Australia
Today we were ‘at anchor’ so had to get a tender to shore; quite fun. I am not sure why we stopped at Eden as although it was a pleasant place with friendly locals there was nothing there other than two small whaling museums (definitely not for us animal lovers!) Weather was good though and the dolphins gave us a nice farewell performance as we sailed away.
Day 10 – Sydney
Very dramatic early morning entrance into Sydney sailing under the Harbour Bridge by the Opera House; lovely skyline and more dolphins came to escort us in. The ship was not docked in the best place which had been taken by the QE2, but was in White Bay which meant a free ferry ride and a long walk into the city. We really liked Sydney and there was a market the day we arrived, which added to the fun. Wonderful botanic gardens with fabulous plants and birds (large ibis stealing food from tables replaced our sparrows!) and we visited two art galleries. We also had a lovely meal at an Italian restaurant for lunch and were worn out by the time we got back to the ship.
Day 11 – Sydney again
We had an organised trip to the Featherdale wildlife park and the Blue Mountains on this day. The park was lovely; full of wallabies and small kangaroos that were very happy to be stroked, also koala bears, wonderful colourful birds and other species natural to Australia and Tasmania. When we got to the mountains it was very misty at first but cleared to give nice views and we had a fun ride on a large cable car and a very precipitous railway. The only disappointing thing was the included lunch. The ‘salad’ (a few green leaves) and chips arrived first then the main course, which was loads of chicken and beef with rice and asparagus for the omnivores and nothing for us until much later when a spicy pasta turned up which I could not eat. We complained and got a £20 rebate but then it turned out everyone got a refund due to the wait for lunch, even though most people had utterly stuffed themselves and we had very little – couldn’t even eat the included dessert. Still we did see some dolphins while at our evening meal which cheered us up even if I did have to settle for an omelette due to nothing else suitable being available.
Day 12 – at sea
Nothing to report.
Day 13 – Brisbane
The entrance to Brisbane was less impressive than Sydney and not a very attractive or convenient dock, 10km from city centre. But we were on an organised trip, which meant it did not matter very much. Our coach took us on a tour of the city, which looked attractive though full of high-rise buildings. The south bank of the river looked pleasant; lots of flowers and restaurants but no time to explore them. We went onto the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary which had lots and lots of koalas but also platypus, Tasmanian Devil, kangaroos and other indigenous species who were obviously well cared for.
Day 14–15 – at sea
This was officially billed as cruising the Great Barrier Reef – what a shame then that we could not see any of it from the ship! For a change there were some good talks (an excellent Customs chap, Paul Cook, talking about his experiences) and entertainment – Jo Ashcroft who played a number of wind instruments and more modern material even including Gerry Rafferty. Food still poor and we went to the movie only to find they had put on the wrong one, rather than that billed in the daily news.
Day 16 – Hamilton Island
Today we had booked a trip to a pontoon near Hardy Reef. After a 2-hour choppy journey on the catamaran we arrived in pouring rain in the pontoon. This did not really affect those planning to dive or snorkel but was not much fun for the rest of us, though clearly no one can be blamed for the weather! I did get to go in the submersible twice over the reef which was
excellent and I saw a turtle from the underwater viewing chamber which was really good. Lunch again was a disaster – there was salad with meat or fish, or just salad (and some of this had ham mixed in). I tried taking this up with the tours office but they did not seem to appreciate that if we paid the same we were entitled to a main course the same as everyone else. Even a piece of cheese or small quiche would have been something.
Day 17 – Townville
This little town, where we docked quite conveniently with a shuttle bus, was quite appealing and had an aquarium, Reef HQ, as its claim to fame. (More important to me it was home to a lady I had been emailing for many years and it was wonderful to get a chance to meet her at last!)
Day 18 – final day, Monday 6 March – Cairns and away
Today we had booked a final trip before going to the airport, a tour of Cairns then onto Kuranda in the hills. Cairns seemed lovely and I wished we had been able to spend longer there. We stopped at the gorgeous Chinese part of the Botanic Garden, full of water lilies and dragonflies, and then also at the historic Kuranda rail station, which looked like fun. We then went up into the hills to the hippy town of Kuranda, which was full of craft stalls and markets and also had a butterfly park. It was blistering hot though, about 36 degrees, and we all felt the 2 hours was too long as we were anxious to get to the airport in time for all our connections.
Back home – was it all a dream?!
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