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New Zealand: 9 Ports to Visit

September 08, 1996|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH

Last year, about 40,000 cruise passengers visited New Zealand, but that's only the beginning, said New Zealand Tourism Minister John Banks during a July visit to Los Angeles.

With a newly active volcano (Ruapehu, on the North Island) that is accessible via helicopter, snow-covered slopes for August skiing, and the world's oldest commercial bungee-jumping operation, he figures the little two-island nation has a lot of unusual activities to offer foreign visitors.

New Zealand, without a cruise line of its own and with very few residents who take cruises, is avidly promoting its nine ports to cruise companies, even lines that sail totally within New Zealand waters.

"We still need more education about cruising in New Zealand," Banks said. "After all, it was only 30 years ago New Zealanders learned about the joys of wine drinking and wine production."

The country is not setting up cabotage laws that restrict navigation and trade along the coast within one country's boundaries. (The so-called Jones Act, which does not permit foreign-flag cruise ships to carry American passengers from one U.S. port to another without calling in between at foreign ports, is an example of a cabotage law.)

And some cruise ships--notably Orient Lines' 848-passenger Marco Polo--will be happy to return to sailing around friendly New Zealand in January after the ship was the target of noisy demonstrations all summer long by the Greek seamen's union in the port of Piraeus. (The union claimed Orient Lines was violating Greek cabotage laws and demanded that the line replace its Filipino crew members with Greek seamen, even after a ruling from Greek's highest court supporting Orient Lines.) (Greek cabotage laws are due to be eased or eliminated in 1998 because of pressure exerted by the European Union cq-vr Community to create equal opportunities for cruise ships from all member nations to make round-trip cruises out of Piraeus without penalty.)

The Marco Polo for three years has circumnavigated New Zealand on a series of sailings during January, February and March--New Zealand's summer months--and will return in January for another series of five cruises around New Zealand.

That ship is only one of nearly a dozen due to visit New Zealand in 1997, according to the New Zealand Tourism Board. The others include Crystal Cruises' 960-passenger Crystal Harmony; Holland America Line's classic 1,000-passenger Rotterdam, making its final around-the-world cruise before retiring from service; Princess Cruises' 1,200-passenger Sky Princess; Cunard's 1,620-passenger Queen Elizabeth 2 on its world cruise; Silversea's 297-passenger Silver Wind; and Seabourn Cruise Line's 200-passenger Seabourn Spirit.

Among the country's nine ports: Auckland, the largest city, is a scheduled port for all New Zealand-bound cruise ships, as well as a gateway to the glowworm caves of Waitomo.

Tauranga, visited by Orient, Princess and Silversea, provides access to the Maori homeland around Rotorua with its geysers and geothermal mud pools.

The Art Deco town of Napier on the North Island's east coast is also in the middle of New Zealand's wine region, and on the itineraries of Orient and Silversea.

At the southern tip of the North Island is the capital, Wellington, built on hills like San Francisco. Cunard, Princess, Seabourn and Silversea will call there.

The northernmost port on the South Island is Picton, gateway to the scenic inlets of Marlborough Sounds, where Orient and Silversea are expected to visit.

Also on New Zealand's South Island is Littleton, the port for Christchurch, a city more English than England, from the swans on its Avon River to schoolboys in uniform. Orient, Crystal, Holland America, Seabourn and Silversea are due to call there.

Dunedin, far to the south has the same rugged grandeur as Scotland, and is visited by Orient, Holland America, Princess and Silversea.

Perhaps the most famous and scenic cruising destination on the South Island is Milford Sound with its fiords, waterfalls and array of wildlife, especially colonies of albatross and crested penguins. Milford Sound is on the itineraries for Orient, Holland America, Princess and Silversea.

The New Zealand cruises are scheduled in October 1996 (Seabourn), December 1996, and January, February and March 1997.

To get free color brochures, call the lines toll-free at: Crystal, (800) 446-6620; Cunard, (800) 221-4770; Holland America, (800) 426-0327; Orient, (800) 333-7300; Princess, (800) LOVE BOAT; Seabourn, (800) 929-4747; and Silversea, (800) 722-6655.

Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears twice a month.

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