You can go to Iceland for hot pools. Chicago for art deco. Napa for wines. The Galapagos or Antarctica for penguins. Norway for cascading waterfalls. Miami's Wynwood section for graffiti. Minnesota for kayaking.
But then, you also can see hot pools, art deco, penguins et al. on a cruise of New Zealand and Australia.
That's what I did in November — springtime in the Southern Hemisphere — aboard Holland America Line's Oosterdam. Our 14-night cruise started in Auckland, toward the top of New Zealand's North Island, and worked its way down the east coast to Tauranga, Napier and Wellington. We then sailed on to the South Island, making port in Akaroa and Port Chalmers, before spending a day in the dramatic waters of Fiordland National Park.
Then it was on to Hobart, in the Australian state of Tasmania, and Melbourne before disembarking in Sydney.
Our first stop, Tauranga, on the Bay of Plenty, is a gateway to Rotorua, a hotbed of native Maori culture that's also famous for its geysers, hot springs and other geothermal features. It's a place not to be missed, but I had explored Rotorua on a previous trip, so I headed for the outskirts of Tauranga where the land-sailing "blokart" was born (blokartheaven.co.nz).
A blokart (say blow-cart) plays to the penchant that Kiwis and Aussies have for pushing the limits in search of fun. It's a ground-hugging, tricyclelike combination of aluminum tubing and rubber wheels with a steering wheel and a sail. Pull in the sail and, just like a sailboat, you're off and running, whipping around the track in an instant. Go into a curve too fast and your outer wheel lifts off the track, making you glad for your seat belt. Loosen the rope attached to the sail's boom and you're level again.
After wrestling the blokart through the turns, it felt good to stop off at the Mount Maunganui Hot Pools (tinyurl.com/npt7y7) near our anchorage for a soak in the naturally heated mineral waters.
New Zealand is known for its wines, and the Hawke's Bay region of the North Island is the country's oldest winemaking area. Pair winery visits and the ubiquitous tastings with art deco viewing in Napier (artdeconapier.com) and you have a feast for the senses.
Art deco is somewhat a way of life in Napier, which was devastated by a deadly earthquake in 1931. During a tour in his 1939 Packard, guide Tony Mairs, dressed to the nines in period clothing, told how the town was rebuilt in art deco style, survived a modernization attempt in the 1970s to level the art deco gems and today continues to improve and parade its heritage, including an Art Deco Weekend held each year on the third weekend of February.
Some storefronts on the main street obscure art deco elements, but there still is a wealth of ziggurats and zigzags and other art deco touches outside and inside, and a tour brings them and their stories to life. Buildings such as the National Tobacco Company Ltd. and the Municipal Theatre can't help but make any fan of this architectural style smile.
Nature lovers also can't help but smile when going face to face with New Zealand's verdant hills, sweeping coastlines and mountain-lined fjords. Outside Dunedin, on the South Island's Otago Peninsula, a guide from the aptly named Natures Wonders (natureswonders.co.nz) took us on an exhilarating, bumpy ride by eight-wheel-drive ATV to jaw-dropping ocean views. Then we descended to the sea, where we watched New Zealand fur seals cavort, followed by the sighting of a rare yellow-eyed penguin, one of the larger breeds of penguins.
To top it off, our guide spotted a blue penguin, one of the smallest breeds, hiding in a rocky crevice.
After a day cruising through the spectacular and narrow fjords of the southwest part of the South Island, the Oosterdam headed to Australia and its unique wildlife.
The rain forest of Mount Field National Park (tinyurl.com/pwx9dcn), outside Hobart, didn't disappoint. While hiking trails reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest, with soaring, moss-covered swamp gum trees, I saw a pademelon, a member of the wallaby family, which had a joey in its pouch.
Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary (bonorong.com.au) is chockablock with some of the most unusual animals in the world: Tasmanian devils, wombats, wallabies, quolls, koalas and, of course, kangaroos. This isn't a zoo. Animals are being rehabilitated here, and some will be returned to the wild. Some are permanent residents.
And, though the more nasty-tempered residents, like the Tasmanian devils, are in enclosures, not all are. Kangaroos hop around unfettered, sometimes allowing a visitor the thrill of giving them a pat.
The adjustment from wildlife to city life in Melbourne was eased by Michelle Brown, owner of Melbourne by Bike (melbournebybike.com). As we pedaled this world-class city, she explained the city's neighborhoods, history and cultures. We saw sights as diverse as St. Kilda's century-old Luna Park amusement park, the sprawling open-air Queen Victoria Market, which dates from the 1850s, and myriad interesting little restaurants and boutiques hidden away in a warren of alleyways. Their popularity proves, Brown said, that the city's slogan should be "hide it and they will come."
In the Hosier and Rutledge Lane area, opposite Federation Square, the air was heavy with the smell of paint as we and other passersby watched a graffiti artist using a brick wall as his canvas.
Though graffiti is officially prohibited in Melbourne, it and all manner of street art are alive and well, including murals, paste-ups, stenciling and some three-dimensional works. You easily can spend hours prowling these areas and admiring the art.
As the cruise wound down, Sydney still lay ahead. There I kayaked the harbor for a less traditional view of the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge. And I toured (tinyurl.com/ngn5doa) its fascinating Rocks historic district with its links to Australia's convict beginnings.
No end to the wonders of a cruise Down Under.
If you go
The cruise: Holland America Line is offering basically the same 14-night cruise this year, departing from Auckland on Nov. 7. The only change is that a port call in Gisborne, New Zealand, which we weren't able to make because of high winds and swell, has been eliminated. A stop in Picton, on the South Island, has been substituted. The Oosterdam is one of Holland America's midsize ships, accommodating about 1,900 passengers. In addition to its standard restaurants, it has a couple of specialty dining spots available at an additional charge. They include the Pinnacle Grill and Canaletto Restaurant, specializing in Italian food. Fares start at $1,499 per person double occupancy. 877-932-4259, tinyurl.com/pynpu9y.
Info: New Zealand Tourism, newzealand.com/us; Australia Tourism, australia.com