Maybe it's because we live on a cluster of tiny islands in the middle of a vast ocean but New Zealanders love cruising on ships.
Cruise operators have been telling me for some time that on a per head of population basis, Kiwis are probably the greatest cruisers in the world.
And the latest cruise statistics show that, whatever may be happening in other parts of the travel industry, we're continuing to take to the high seas, cocktail in hand, in ever increasing numbers.
The International Cruise Council of Australasia has just announced that 38,968 New Zealanders took a cruise last year. That's a whopping 29 per cent increase over the 2007 numbers and follows a rise of 14 per cent - itself pretty significant - the previous year.
Other countries are also seeing cruise numbers rise in spite of the recession - up 5 per cent in the United States, 12 per cent in Britain and 26 per cent in Australia - but we seem to be leading the way.
As you'd expect, the most popular cruise for Kiwis is around the Pacific. One ship, the Pacific Sun, bases itself in Auckland for half-a-dozen voyages during the winter especially to take us north for the sun. But more of us are also discovering the joys of cruising the ancient rivers of Europe or the icy coasts of Alaska.
So what's the reason for the soaring popularity of cruising? Brett Jardine, general manager of the Cruise Council, reckons price has a lot to do with it. "There's no question that in the present economic climate more and more holidaymakers are attracted to cruising because it includes transport, accommodation, meals and entertainment in one package."
I'm sure that's true, though it's worth pointing out that, depending on your cruise package, you can find that drinks and gratuities, shore excursions and special shipboard activities result in a big bill by the time it's all over. In fact we've got an article this week with tips on how to keep those costs down.
But there are other reasons for cruising's appeal. Some people, of course, like cruising because it's a chance to relax in the sun and do nothing. On the other hand, as Alex Robertson reports in this issue, on a liner like the Queen Mary 2 there's plenty to keep you busy if you prefer it that way.
Another big plus from living on a ship is that, as Megan Singleton explains in a story on her cruise around the Caribbean, you get to visit a lot of amazing places but only need to unpack once.
For me, personally, the biggest appeal of cruising is the ability to travel in comfort to places like Antarctica or isolated parts of Papua New Guinea that are otherwise difficult to reach. But, whatever kind of cruise you choose, there's always the thrill of knowing that, in a way, you're following in the wake of those great explorers and migrants, Polynesian and European, who crossed vast oceans to settle here.
- Jim Eagles