Auckland you beauty. When I woke in my cabin about 5am and saw the lights of the city strung out in the darkness my heart sank a bit. It seemed too soon to be so close. Dawn was still nearly two hours away and those lights had to be the North Shore.
Nobody else was around when I went up to the open observation area just below the bridge. The ship was still making good speed, Rangitoto was coming closer. Nobody, I thought, would be up this early to get out in time to greet the ship or see it at its best in the gloom.
But I was wrong. Sooner than I expected the sky lightened and the few lights in the water were soon joined by more and more pleasure boats. Helicopters began to circle the ship, twin planes swooped overhead. I had been joined by steadily more passengers at the rail.
Captain Christopher Rynd was on the intercom describing the landscape and remarking on the welcome we were receiving. He is an expatriate Kiwi. You could hear the pride.
Another New Zealander, living in Sydney now, slapped me on the book. "Makes you proud to be a Kiwi doesn't it," he grinned.
It certainly does. The passengers glowed to the sight of thousands of people lining North Head and more on Tamaki Drive, Bastion Pt, Orakei wharf, Mt Victoria, and Devonport wharf, everywhere they could get a glimpse of us. I hope the ship looked magnificent.
Auckland certainly did.
Hard to believe it's come to the final day and I've hardly given a thought to the most conspicuous element of on-board life, the dress code. Every evening, like everyone else, I happily change into clothes commanded by the daily bulletin.
There are three codes, formal (tux), informal (jacket and tie) and 'elegant casual' (jacket required).
Dress isn't supposed to matter but it does. It is an expression every bit as important as the spoken word. Dress is a billboard that declares a dozen subliminal details of the individual and, his view of what you does and those he wants to deal with.
This ship is an extremely civilised society. Nobody so much as raises a voice. It is a walled town of 4000, protected by the biggest moat imaginable. It is not for everyone, it is not really for me but it is admirable. It is ruled by a benevolent despot, the Captain, whose word is law and need no overt police or a brigg, though I believe he has the means and power to confine trouble-makers and sedate them in their cabin.
But if it ever happens it is remarkably rare. What are the chances that 4000 people could live like this, 2600 being served by 1200, and not enough self-service laundries, without the odd altercation?
Peace reigns, I suppose, because this is a society of the privileged that can exclude those less so. I must be getting back to reality.
And we are; the air this morning was distinctly cooler. The wind churned up a 19ft swell. By noon we were near the Kermedecs. Down in the theater Geoffrey Blainey was giving a talk on how close New Zealanders have been to Australians historically. Civilised again.
In the morning we will be in Auckland. The experience has been a little too rarefied to repeat. This is a form of travel that converts the vehicle into the destination. Passengers are not going anywhere they need to be in a hurry or in some cases, want to be for very long.
The journey is purposeless, pleasant, unreal and it has been long enough. Thanks for sharing it.
Yes, I know; what happened to Day Five? The thing is, when a reporter is invited on a cruise it is not all cocktails and deck quoits. Sooner or later we have to sing for our supper. I've been doing newspaper work.
Day Five wasn't a day on ship anyway. We awoke to the sight of land to starboard, as we mariners say. After days without sight of anything but sea it was enchanting to behold Samoa strung out so close. American Samoa, my first encounter with a Pacific island, I'm ashamed to say.
The low jagged hills were covered in bush that had the layered loveliness of Beech forest back home and the shore was, well, palm-fringed. What is wrong with cliches when they are perfect?
Behind the palms a road ran along the permimetre of the inlet, linking villages of low bungalows and white churches, just like those in Mangere.
The port of Pago Pago was not nearly as lovely when we left the ship. The town was ramshackle and littered. But in the afternoon tours were laid on for all passengers who wanted them. I had the good luck to be on Tima's bus.
Tima was our guide in one of six small windowless buses, gaily painted and adorned with sprigs of red ginger, that took us to her village.
She had a broad lively face and a broader smile. She talked all the way, led the dance performance at the village, then talked all the way back to the ship, singing us a song whenever she ran out of something to say.
She had the dozen starchy passengers on her bus clapping and chorusing on her cue.
That was yesterday. Today I've been working. Tonight we cross the international date line, Wednesday turns to Friday and suddenly we seem close to home. One day to go, the last day on the ship.
Another day of ocean and sky. Not a ship has passed within sight, not a speck of land on the horizon for four days. Not that I mind. But whenever I've flown over the Pacific I've been surprised at the number of atolls below. Down here you can only marvel that Polynesians once sailed this expanse, day after day, in tiny flax-bound outriggers.
The starboard deckchairs are inviting again but, really, there is too much to do. They warn you before you start a cruise that you shouldn't try to do it all. Each evening the next day's programme is left at the cabin door and lists 40 or 50 options at 15 or 30 minute intervals.
Today I could start with physical jerks at the Canyon Ranch Spa Club at 9am, Following that I could learn Bridge, if that's possible in half an hour, because at 10am there is choice of $3 Blackjack games at the casino, another fitness class, this one "exploring physicality and finding character', or a creative art lesson.
Fifteen minutes later a documentary is screening on the "jewelled art of Sidney Mobell", whoever he is. I called find out because after the screening he is taking questions. Writers and academics are on board too, to give talks in the big theatre in the bow.
I wandered in there the other day as historian Geoffrey Blainey was at the podium, lecturing on Cook's problems charting the coasts of New Zealand and Australia from a bobbing ship that was frequently forced out to sea by fierce weather. A hundred or so passengers, many probably also making their maiden voyage to the antipodes, listened intently.
Blainey said that when the Endeavour reached the east coast of Australia and sailed close enough to shore to see the faces of Aborigines walking along, Cook's officers observed that the natives were not looking back at them. People who could not have seen a European sailing ship before appeared to pay it no attention. I'd heard this of Native Americans too when the first Spanish ships arrived. It is cited as evidence that the human mind does not register the totally new. It literally doesn't see what it doesn't recognise.
I haven't come on the cruise for mental stimulation particularly, but there is some on offer. After eight bells at midday there's a rumba class, lunch in the Pavilion bar that features a Carribean band today, an hour later the Chief Officer and Third Officer give an illustrated talk about the bridge, then there's an astronomy lecture followed by a movie, "Flyboys", at 4.30. Too much to do.
Our last in the northern hemisphere. Tonight we cross the equator, going from winter to summer, and it looked like winter this morning. Heavy grey cloud low over the ocean and skiffs of rain smattering the windows at breakfast. The air outside is warm of course. Tropical heat is pleasant in the breezes at sea.
Shortly after noon the sun came out, in time for a slightly early "crossing the line" ceremony, the sailing tradition said to date from the 13th Century. Crew members dressed as King Neptune, his Queen and a court of acolytes and mermaids, with the Captain in attendance, proceeded to hold a mock court over a pool at the stern.
Those passengers who had volunteered to be Neptune's victims were one by one, charged with some indiscretion, convicted on the enthusiastic cries of the crowd on the decks and rails above, and sent to their fate. This consisted of lying prostrate while Neptune's minnions smeared the offender with pasta and sauce from the galley, before he, or she, was forced to kiss a dead fish and dropped in the pool.
It was an hour of rare frivolity from this crowd. I am not accustomed to the exclusive company of the rich. I am here as a guest of Cunnard, so that Auckland may know their monster ship is coming. The paying passengers have shelled out at least US$6,600 a person for the San Francisco-Sydney segment of Queen Mary's round the world voyage, or US$35,000 a head for the round trip.
Many have paid a lot more. Fares range up to US$8,000 a head for this sector in higher class cabins, and US$40,000 round trip. Above them, the suites go for US$30,000-US$70,000 and right at the top of the range, in the Duplexes that look out the rear decks, there are a few paying US$40,000 for the Pacific league or US$207,000 round trip.
These are seriously comfortable folk but during the day at least they look very normal, a bit older than average, lumpy in their deck loungers and turning as red as lobsters. It's like straying into a country club. It's very polite, very white, but the thing that strikes you as different from most other crowds is the quietness.
Through long afternoons around the pool you hear no shrieks, no raucous laughter. The sounds of excitement and fun you would expect to hear in a place of pure pleasure are not here. Yet everyone seems very content. I know I am.
The first forays from the cabin were disconcerting. This ship is a city, but a more disorienting city than any I remember. The 13 decks are linked by four wide staircases at intervals along the 350m length of the ship. But at each landing things get dizzying.
There are big lounges and small, loud bars and quiet, games rooms and grand lobbies with boutiques and beauty parlours and heaven knows what all. Every space is stylish and memorable in its own way but there's too much to remember. After wandering for an hour or so my head was no closer to getting its bearings. So this morning I took the tour.
I'm not much better. Where was that place, Kings Court, where I had a salad lunch? Was it on Deck 7 where a lot of public areas were, or way down on Decks 2 or 3 where most of the nightlife seemed to be. Where was that win bar, Samuel's, that looked like it might make a good coffee?
A Cunard greeting card in the cabin had given me an assigned seat in the main dining area, helpfully ringed in biro on a floor plan. I would be in the second sitting each evening, at 8.30 pm, at a table for six. I hope they are good company. We are going to eat together every night.
The dining room, called Britannia Restaurant, is fortunately easy to find. It straddles the ship on Decks 2 and 3 and you keep running into it. The upper level is a mezzanine giving the place a great cavernous character. My table companions were also journalists, all from Sydney. This is Queen Mary's maiden voyage to Australia too.
We also met a white-jacketed waiter, a maitre d and a wine steward. We are going to get to know them. Every table is attended by the same assigned staff every night. Style and personal attention is the selling point of these ships and so far it is everything they say.
This morning I pulled back the cabin curtain to see nothing but ocean and sky. We are somewhere south of Hawaii. The ocean is a vast, wonderful inky purple to my eye. We are humming at a good clip with hardly a roll. With her bulk and stabilising fins below the waterline QM2 powers along as smoothly as a wide-track locomotive.
The tour guide swept us up stairs and down, around curving wall, across lobbies, showing us hidden treasures like a library with a bow view, a lounge above with an even better view, just below the bridge. There's a little cigar bar called Churchill's. This is another world, a bygone world.
Tonight we have to dress in dinner suits - just for dinner. There's a dress code for every evening and the most informal requires men to wear a jacket.
But there is also a casino with tables set up for blackjack as well as an arcade of slots. There's a jazz lounge, a ballroom, a disco, plenty to dress for.
The guide takes us outside where the decks are well occupied in the dazzling sunshine. The terraces and pools at the stern are the most popular. Up on top beneath the giant red and black funnel it is more breezy and the pools are covered with a net because the ocean is producing too much slop.
At the end of the tour my compass is still spinning, and it strikes me that is a good thing. A week on a ship needs to preserve some surprises. Season cruisers say they still come across places they didn't know were on the ship.
At least I can find the deck and pool at the end of my corridor. A deckchair, a book and a drink will do me for the rest of the day.
She is longer than the Auckland Harbour Bridge, they say, and nearly as high. When you catch the first glimpse of her tied at Honolulu's Pier 2 she looks like an apartment block. A 23-storey apartment block not so different from the surrounding cityscape. But this apartment block wears a giant funnel on top carrying her name, Queen Mary 2.
She looms massive as you approach and take a gangway into her charcoal hull. You enter another world of white-jacketed Cunnard staff, Filipinos mostly and East Europeans. You are in a lobby as distinctive as any hotel lobby but much the same. It is an expanse of carpets, wood panels, murals and warm brass furnishings.
A great atrium rises through three decks above, with glass lifts rising silently through its ceiling and on to the rest of the 13 floors I have counted on the ship plan.
Up there somewhere are 10 restaurants, 5 swimming pools, a theatre, casino, shops, beauty parlours, a gymasium and "the largest ballroom at sea".
My cabin, when I find it, is on the deck 6, one level below the main promenade deck. The compartment is not much wider than a Queen Size bed that occupies about a third of the room. The first third is carved off for a closet and bathroom.
Beyond the bed there is a two-seater sofa and a writing bureau with a television taking up half its surface.
A glass door in the outer wall leads to what the brochure calls my "private balcony". It is an uninviting cell of white-painted steel with two all-weather chairs and a table.
But it has a generous opening in the hull for my own expanse of ocean and sky and a wooden handrail. I will use that. I'm a keen sea gazer.
But there's not much to see until we sail. I settle in to swot the material Cunard's publicists have supplied.
"The biggest cruise ship ever to visit New Zealand," they say. Can she really be 18 metres above the bridge's road deck? Someone has calculated that if she could stand on her stern she would be 17 metres taller than the Sky Tower.
I know she is long when I go to find the "sailway party" advertised in the bulletin of events that will be delivered to my door daily.
The passengers to farewell Honolulu from a terrace in the stern.
A band plays pop classics, a bar sells drinks on a passenger charge card issued to you when you entered. Most of the accents around Australian, which is unusual. The Queen Mary plies the Atlantic in the northern summer and does her winter cruising mostly on that ocean as well.
But she has undertaken an "Around the World in 80 Days" expedition, which will actually take her 81 and a half, and this is her first time to the South Pacific.
Ships are magnificent from the shore and I have always wondered what a long voyage would be like inside. I'll keep you posted.