Days ashore – often in remote locations – are the high points for expedition cruising. Taking a Zodiac or similar small landing craft to the shore from the ship allows passengers to explore places that are often inaccessible by any other means.
In New Zealand’s Fiordland with Island Escape Cruises, I took every chance to go ashore – rain or shine (and there was plenty of rain). And depending on the weather, the landscape changed dramatically, with waterfalls erupting from on high, wildlife popping up when least expected, and the changing colours of the landscape giving a new aspect to the same scenery.
In George Sound, we were able to explore a small corner of the World Heritage listed Fiordland National Park, New Zealand’s largest, covering more than 1.25 million hectares on the southern west coast of the South Island. We alighted near George Sound Hut, a basic shelter provided by the Department of Conservation for use by hikers (in New Zealand referred to as “trampers”) who make the 17.5km four day trek from Lake Te Anau. This is a route for experienced, self-sufficient hikers only.
The track around the old hut was muddy and slippery but we spent a pleasant half hour or so pottering around, sheltered by towering silver beeches and dripping ferns.
And of course, we signed the visitors book.
On our second day, the morning excursion was to a small inland beach. The sun was shining, and it was truly pristine; not a speck of flotsam or jetsam to be seen. The flax bushes were flowering, and there were daisies and rata trees about to burst into crimson blossom. Oyster-catchers, gulls and cormorants were basking in the sun and dipping in and out of the water, and on the way “home” to the ship, we lingered alongside a colony of New Zealand fur seals frolicking on the rocks.
In Bligh Sound, kayaks were launched – despite the rain – and some guests paddled the shoreline. The less adventurous boarded the landing craft again for a close up look at waterfalls, mosses and lichens, and more birds.
Cruising has many attractions, but for me the main one is the ability to reach places that would otherwise be impossible to access. As comfortable or even luxurious as a ship may be, the thrill for me it getting off for a while…to explore the wild and lonely places of the world.