MAIN ATTRACTION: The Polynesian Spa.
MAIN ATTRACTION: The Polynesian Spa.

Cruise fit for a princess

DECISIONS, decisions.

Sitting on the balcony in a white fluffy robe, I'm quaffing champagne as I gaze over the calm waters, kissed by the early morning sun, to yachts moored at the foot of impressive Mount Manganui.

I'm savouring the silence and the glorious mountain-meets-the-beach-and-river setting as I contemplate where to start attacking my room-service breakfast.

Should I go straight to my favourite - the smoked salmon, capers and cream cheese with tomato slices and Spanish red onion - or start on the quiche lorraine with cheesy stuffed tomato and warm noodle salad before it goes cold?

That selection of pastries does look good, but should I opt for the more sensible rockmelon with strawberries, orange and yoghurt first?

No matter. There's plenty of time until I need to get organised.

And besides, the freshly squeezed orange juice and flask of piping hot coffee are on standby if the champers runs out.

I pinch myself and my husband to prove this is real.

But our delightfully decadent day has only just begun.

We have arrived in the port of Tauranga on Sun Princess - part of a 14-day voyage of New Zealand's South and North Islands from its Brisbane base.

Before embarkation, we went online to the Princess Cruises' cruise personaliser and chose the Rotorua and Polynesian Spa Experience as our shore excursion here - a 150km, eight-hour round-trip journey from the ship by white stretch limousine.

As we make ourselves comfortable in the back with another Sunshine Coast couple from our group, we can feel the envious eyes upon us from those taking their seats in packed coaches to other destinations.

We are rock stars as we cruise through town - past the al-fresco coffee set, the procession of walkers taking the mountain trek, and sun-smart families heading to the patrolled beach.

Our knowledgeable limo driver Murray points out the $9million, three-level waterfront home of New Zealand studmaster Sir Patrick Hogan, which he named Sir Tristram Place after his famous stallion. We pretend we are in the market to buy as we survey the properties that rarely go under the hammer for less than $2 million.

Through a break in the dunes, Murray slows the limo so we can glimpse a speck on the horizon - the Rena cargo ship, stricken off the coast of Tauranga since October 5 last year.

But we can't linger longer as we have a big day ahead.

And first stop is Kiwi360 in Te Puke - where the giant kiwifruit brings pangs of home with its ginormous parallel to the Big Pineapple. Kiwifruit - once known as the Chinese gooseberry - is billed as "the world's healthiest fruit", because of its exceptionally rich source of Vitamin C (more than oranges).

The lush orchard with vines laden with kiwifruit at first glance looks like a vineyard.

As our laid-back limo ride continues to Rotorua, we have plenty of time to soak up good conversation and the scenery on the way to the main attraction: the Polynesian Spa - one of New Zealand's leading international day spas overlooking Sulphur Bay on Lake Rotorua.

The last time we were here was three years ago when we took our two sons and the mother-in-law to the family spa with its large freshwater chlorinated pool with hydro slide and two hot mineral pools. This time we opted for the adults-only area: the spa has three cascading, marble-lined, terraced pools and a deeper pool for light activity - all alkaline, plus the three spa pools offering radium hot spring water, renowned for its therapeutic properties.

The pools are heated to 38-39C and come with a magnificent view of Lake Rotorua.

The Te Puia Thermal Reserve on the drive home allows us to learn more about the Maori culture. Our visit includes a traditional welcome, a walk around the geothermal valley of popping mud holes, steaming fumaroles, hot mineral springs and the angry Pohutu geyser, a stroll through the recreated Maori village and the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute where apprentices learn and demonstrate carving and weaving skills, as well as taking in the nocturnal kiwi house.

In one day, we've seen some of the best Tauranga and Rotorua have to offer and we've done it in style. Time to break out the champagne for the ride back to the ship. Ah, this is the life.

The writer was a guest of Sun Princess.

ABOUT SUN PRINCESS

PRINCESS Cruises' 77,000-tonne superliner Sun Princess is based in Australia full-time, returning for her second Queensland season based in Brisbane from October this year to April next year.

Sun Princess carries 1990 passengers and has 975 staterooms, with almost half offering private balconies.

Features include a four-storey atrium, eight restaurants and cafes, seven lounges and bars, a 550-seat theatre, spa and fitness centre, the Sanctuary retreat, a poolside Movies Under the Stars screen and four pools.

Sun Princess will offer a range of 14-night round-trip cruises to New Zealand from Brisbane from October this year to April 2013 with fares from $1699 per person, twin- share. Ports of call will include Fiordland, Dunedin, Akaroa, Napier, Tauranga and Auckland.

Call Princess Cruises on 13 24 88 or visit Princess.

>> Read more travel stories.


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