When it comes to dream jobs, Catherine Williams' role takes some beating.

The Whanganui woman is second in command of a large luxury cruise liner.

As such she works three months on, and three months off - during which time she uses her home base of London to embark on adventures such as snowboarding in the Swiss Alps, or swimming in Croatia.

"London's great for that - lots of cheap flights to European countries, big concerts, and I have friends there."


And, as of four years ago, her own flat.

"Before that I stayed with my brother, which meant I didn't need to pay rent when I wasn't there."

Catherine headed back to London yesterday after spending the last three weeks at home in Whanganui, where her parents still live.

John is retired from the Australian Air Force while Esther is a teacher of special needs children.

Catherine hopes she can be an inspiration to those who dream big but lack the belief to make it happen.

"Kids in school shouldn't be afraid of following what they want to do. That sounds cliched, but with desire and belief in yourself, you can achieve things that might at first seem beyond reach."

Catherine attended Wanganui High School from 1991 to 1995 before studying towards a Bachelor of Arts at Victoria University.

From 2001 to 2008, she attended the New Zealand Maritime School in Auckland, gaining her master's qualification in Foreign Going and Nautical Science.

She worked on the Interisland line during that time, first as a cadet, rising to Third Officer.

In June 2003 she joined the Holland America Line initially as Fourth Officer, then rose through the ranks and was made Staff Captain in 2012.

She is responsible for safety, security, navigation, exterior maintenance and the medical department.

"It was overwhelming at first. I thought I knew how things worked from working on the ferries, but cruise ships are very different - an international way of operating, foreign crews."

Her first ship was the Zuiderdam, a 290m, medium-sized cruise ship, far bigger than the 130m Arahura and Aratere that she was used to.

Her current ship is the Zaandam, 238m long, which carries 1300 passengers and 550 crew. As second in charge, that is a big responsibility.

"Yes, it's huge. But we are fully trained; it's not like you're thrown in to the deep end."

With all the sailing she has done, she has only ever been seasick once, in Cook Strait. "I came close around Cape Horn - South America can be rough."

And highlights? "Antarctica, the scenery is stunning. You feel very far away ... surrounded by blue whales, and you watch the penguins jumping off the icebergs."

Also having her parents come on board during a cruise.

"It's one of the perks; we are allowed to have one person cruise with us free for a few weeks each year."

She says it would be nice to be made captain one day and to be in charge of her own ship.
It's not pie-in-the-sky - she has her master's qualifications.

"I never would have dreamed, even when I started on the cruise ships, that I would one day be a staff captain. But it happened," she said.