Cruising the blue

It rained the day before, a Wednesday, and so when the day dawned so clear and blue on Thursday it felt like an unexpected, undeserved gift. It’s not every Thursday that I take the afternoon off to go on a cruise, but this job has been known to lead me into wonderful situations.

We’d never been on a cruise before, and I’ve always skeptical about them. Why look at sights from a boat when you could get right up close to them on dry land? Also, I get seasick. I have plenty of poor memories of journeys on large boats; my first Cook Strait crossing, the time my aunt, with the best of intentions, took me whale watching in Perth, and, most recently, an ill-advised Christmas party on a deep sea fishing boat when Pimms and rolling swells did not go well together.

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That day the air was so still that the sea was a pond, and I was taking a Hauraki Blue Cruise out into the Hauraki Gulf, it was an overnight cruise that included a three course meal. It left from the pier beside the NZ Maritime Museum at 3pm, and returned at 9am the next morning. It was an adventure, and yet it was just around the bay.

We lined up to board with our fellow passengers, a mix of tourists and locals trying something new. I had no idea what to expect, but I did not expect the boat to be so big, and so beautiful. Hauraki Blue is the largest cruise ship permanently based in NZ. She’s 146ft long and has 30 cabins, as well as a restaurant and bar that seats 70. The restaurant is where the Captain and crew welcomed us aboard and gave a saftey briefing. Then we were given keys to our cabins and sent to find them. It was reminiscent of school camp, except with king-sized beds and crisp white sheets. The cabins were beautiful, each with their own ensuite, and a window that looked straight out onto the water.

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Hauraki Blue chugged away from the pier, making for Waiheke, and we climbed to the top deck to watch the city shrink and the Gulf materialise with fresh air on our faces. I have never witnessed an afternoon on the water as beautiful as that, the light was crystalline, the sea the kind of calm I’d only previously seen on a lake at dawn. The stress of the week faded, and I felt unbearably grateful to live in this beautiful place – clear water, green islands, blue skies. In the summer months it’s not uncommon for guests aboard the Hauraki Blue to see dolphins and whales.

Our leisurely trip to Waiheke took about an hour, we anchored on the south east side of the island, just off Rocky Bay. I descended from the top deck to order a bottle of wine (the bar had officially opened), and then settled in again to watch the afternoon go by. My cruise fellows did other, more active things, like taking a boat to shore to explore a quiet beach, or kayaking into the sunset. I just sat and watched. It’s a rare and glorious opportunity to sit about doing absolutely nothing in a beautiful place when you would usually be working.

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I took too many photos of the sunset. It was one of those sunsets where each incremental change became more beautiful than the last, until the colour was just a tiny strip of orange, and the night was a vivid, glowing midnight blue. I restricted myself to two instagram posts, so as not to be too unbearable.

We had made friends by this point. Watching a sunset with a glass of wine is a social experience, and we’d quickly become pals with a couple celebrating their anniversary.

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As the sun slipped out of sight, Hauraki Blue moved back to one side of Rangitoto, a nice sheltered spot to spend the night, not that you needed shelter on a night like that.

We sat with our new friends at dinner, there were tasty, simple courses. We had too many bottles of wine and listened to advice about what we should do with our lives. We talked about the property market, child-rearing, politics. We were on a boat in the Hauraki Gulf eating a three course meal, complaining about the impossibility of home ownership. Humans are so pitiful, sometimes.

It’s amazing how quickly you can become friends with people you meet in unexpected circumstances. By the end of the night I felt close enough to these new friends that I was sad to that we’d probably never see them again after this cruise. The four of us were last to leave the restaurant, late, only the crew were left, and they’d clocked off.

I slept soundly with the sound of the waves lapping against the boat, in the incomplete darkness of a night spent outdoors. We left or curtains open, there was nothing but water and stars.

The next morning, at breakfast I was suffering from an over-indulgence, which meant my cooked breakfast was a little wasted, but delicious nonetheless. As the day dawned Hauraki Blue began gliding back towards the city. We arrived back in Auckland in time for work to begin. Sigh.

I can credit Hauraki Blue with changing my misconceptions about cruises. The overnight trip was a compact little adventure, one might even call it a gateway drug for cruises. Now that I’ve done one, I can’t help wondering about others.

Hauraki Blue departs for overnight cruises at 3pm and arrives back by 9am the next morning. She also does lunch cruises, weddings and events.