Hmm, if I was writing fiction, I'd now cue gorgeous ship's captain with wounded soul or perhaps mysterious international traveller with a secret sorrow who encounters talkative Aussie romantic novelist who… Sadly, this is nonfiction and I'm here to tell you about my cruise to New Zealand in December.
Sadly???!!! No way! It was wonderful!
As anyone who has had the slightest contact with me over the last few months knows, I was stoked when P&O approached my Australian publisher HarperCollins about including some author talks in their entertainment schedule in 2010 (the program has been so successful they're going it again in 2011 - hurrah!). When Harpers invited me to be one of the authors, I leapt at the opportunity. I'd always wanted to go on a cruise and I'd always wanted to see New Zealand. And hey, it was FREE! What wasn't to like?
On Saturday, 27th November, I stepped aboard the 'Pacific Dawn' in Brisbane for two weeks of cruising. My lecturing duties weren't particularly onerous. The original invitation said three or four talks. As it was, we received such an enthusiastic reception, I ended up doing sessions on the three sea days to New Zealand and the three sea days home. The cruise turned out to be packed with avid readers (many of them already big romance fans) so discussions were intense and lively. On the way out, I did a series on how to write a romance which covered issues like originating ideas, how you and the publishers put a book together, and research. On the way home, we did a session on favourite romances (a really popular topic!), one with readings from my first four books, then the last day we concentrated on MY RECKLESS SURRENDER and my next release (May 2011) MIDNIGHT'S WILD PASSION.
I'd taken a suitcase of books as giveaways - they proved popular too! And the gift shop stocked up and sold out of almost all titles before the two weeks were done. I felt like a movie star when people stopped me for a signature and it was a thrill seeing so many passengers reading an Anna Campbell as I wandered around the ship (or perhaps lurched around the ship - I really hit the cocktails big time, hic!).
The beauty of this schedule is I could spend the port days as I chose. New Zealand is a fabulously scenic country and I certainly put my new camera (my first digital) through its paces. We were lucky with weather too - the only bad day was in Dunedin when I turned into a block of ice under the blast of Antarctic wind.
Our first port of call was Auckland with its beautiful harbour. This was definitely the most glam terminal. It was at the bottom of the main shopping street, a fact I took advantage of big time! Everywhere else our ship was berthed alongside piles of wood chips and whole cities of containers! I had booked day trips in every port because I wanted to see as much of the country as possible. In Auckland, that meant a rainforest walk in the Waitakere Forest and a visit to a gannet colony at Murawai.
Our next port was Tauranga near Rotorua. I visited the Waimangu Volcanic Valley after a drive through gorgeous, lush scenery. The green in the North Island is so vivid, it's almost psychedelic! I'd never been in a volcanic area before - all those steaming vents and rivers of boiling water and scars on the landscape make a person feel very small in the greater scheme of things. Our hosts were the Maori traditional owners and it was wonderful to learn about their culture.
Next was Napier where I did a day trip around Hawkes Bay then a fascinating architecture walk. Napier was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and the town was rebuilt in the then fashionable Art Deco style. Now it's one of the world's best examples of the style. I felt very lucky to be there and even nicer, the town made a huge fuss of the ship being in port. Locals turned out in 1930s costume, vintage cars clogged the roadways and a trad jazz band farewelled us at the docks. Huge fun.
Wellington was next and again, a brilliant day. We visited beautiful Pencarrow Lodge for morning tea and looked across the strait at the rugged snow-capped mountains of the South Island. In the afternoon I wandered around the gorgeous botanical gardens after the obligatory cable car ride to the peak.
From Christchurch, we did a spectacular train trip into the Southern Alps. The scenery in New Zealand is so dramatic, completely different to the Sunshine Coast where I live! We did a short tour around the town upon our return - they've done a marvellous job cleaning up after the recent earthquakes, although it was clearly terrifying to be in the midst of the upheaval.
Our last shore stop was Dunedin. I've always wanted to see an albatross so I jumped at the chance to do a wildlife cruise to the only mainland albatross nesting site in the world. After that I jumped to try and keep warm - the temperatures were cruel on the open ocean. We were lucky enough to see three varieties of albatross, seals and penguins, as well as numerous other wonderful seabirds. An extra bonus on the way home - two albatrosses followed the ship's wake for a whole day!
The last day in New Zealand was a cruise of Fiordland National Park, a place so beautiful it defies description. The weather there can be unreliable and after rain and gales in Dunedin, I wasn't sure how we'd go but it turned out a perfect blue-sky day. We visited Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound and finally, even more spectacular, rugged, remote Milford Sound with its glaciers and waterfalls and thick forests.
Coming home was a jolt. Nobody makes my bed, cleans my bathroom or makes cocktails at the flick of my fingers. And oh, man, it's cruel to have to cook my own meals and clean up afterwards! Cruising is definitely the life. Especially cruising with so many eager romance readers!