What do Captain Cook, Mark Twain, Katherine Mansfield and Zane Grey have in common? New Zealand!
Captain Cook's reports of an untouched land of plenty on the other side of the world spread the word about New Zealand just as The Travels of Marco Polo brought tales of precious silks and spices and jeweled temples in the Far East to European society.
On October 9, 1769, legendary British explorer Captain James Cook first landed in New Zealand in the area of what is today Gisborne. Gisborne, the first city in the world to see the light of the year 2000, promises a party to beat all parties. Lying just west of the International Dateline, it's the "first city to see the light," and thus "Gateway City to the Year 2000." Grand celebrations are planned here for December 31, 1999 and January 1, 2000 - 12 hours ahead of Berlin, 13 hours ahead of London, 18 hours ahead of New York, 21 hours ahead of Los Angeles and San Francisco, and 23 hours before the sun rises on Hawaii!
Legendary British explorer Captain James Cook sailed the coast of New Zealand in the Endeavour on three voyages, claiming the North and South islands for the British crown. He mapped as he went and made friendly contact with the Maori through his Tahitian interpreter. Cook made great contributions to the world's knowledge of seamanship and navigation as well as geography. The first captain to calculate his longitudinal position with accuracy and the first to substantially reduce scurvy among his crew, Cook is considered to be one of the greatest explorers ranked with Vasco de Gama and Columbus.
The splendors of New Zealand of which Captain Cook wrote are easily seen by cruise ship because so many key sights are along the coast. Cruise on the Orient Lines' Marco Polo's 14-day, figure eight "New Zealand Splendors" trip (Feb. 17, 2000) around the North and South Islands. Stand on the deck and marvel at the dramatic glacier-carved fjords of Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds, where walls rise 5,000 feet up into misty peaks. Wind through the coves and inlets of Marlborough Sounds, Picton and Ship Cove, where Captain Cook visited. Take a shore excursion to the Maori homeland of Rotorua where the earth hisses, mud boils and geysers spout.
Fjordland - Milford Sound, Dusky Sound and Doubtful Sound - are the favorite places in New Zealand of Erik Bjurstedt, Captain of the Marco Polo. "They remind me of the spectacular Norwegian Fiords, which remind me of home in Norway." Dusky Sound was one of the places where Cook and his men spent many weeks resting and recovering after the extreme hardships of venturing into the Antarctic Circle.
Explore Dunedin, a wee bit' of Scotland down under, on a shore excursion from the Marco Polo. Of Dunedin, which means Edinburgh in Gaelic, Mark Twain said on a visit: "The people here are Scots. They stopped here on their way home to heaven, thinking they had arrived."
Founded in 1848 by settlers of the Free Church of Scotland, the city boasts Victorian streets, a mist-draped castle, and fine manors erected by merchant princes during the gold rush of the 1860s. But perhaps Dunedin's most outstanding attraction is the abundance of wildlife, penguins, fur seals and variety of birds seldom seen so close to a major city. The royal albatross colony at Taiaroa Head is the only mainland colony of the world's largest seabirds. Sign up for the full day Orient Lines' shore excursion which takes participants to view the albatross colony and the rare yellow-eyed penguin and little blue penguin at Southlight Wildlife Reserve. Or join a 2-hour wildlife cruise of Otago Harbour, which also views the breeding ground for the Royal Albatross.
In Wellington, New Zealand's capital, tour the home of the country's most famous author, Katherine Mansfield, one of the founders of the modern short story. The Victorian family home where she was born has been restored and contains furnishings, photos, videos and tapes to illuminate her life.
Mansfield left the city when only 20 to pursue her career in Europe, becoming a member of the literary circle which included Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence. Nevertheless, many of her short stories, like "The Garden Party" and "The Woman at the Store," are set in New Zealand, some relating to actual events in Mansfield's life. In 1923, a year before she died, she wrote: "New Zealand is in my very bones. What wouldn't I give to have a look at it."
The Bay of Islands sweeps along the Northland Peninusla with its forests of kauri, one of the largest, most awesome trees in the world, and waters renowned for big game fishing. It's an area of historical significance too, where the Maori and Europeans signed a treaty joining them in one nation. On a Bay of Islands Flightseeing excursion from the Orient Lines Marco Polo, see this waterborne wonderland of 150 island jewels and Northland's rugged seaside cliffs, beaches and pastures. Get a birds-eye view of the spectacular Urupukapuka Island, where renowned American Western author Zane Grey, a noted angler, was a regular visitor in the 1920s. His 1927 book, Tales of Angler's Eldorado, New Zealand, popularized Otehei Bay, his base camp on the island. When weather and tide permit, the amphibian aircraft even lands briefly for a closer look.
Alternately, sign up for a Bay of Islands half-day cruise, appreciating from the water this fabled, island-strewn bay popularized by writer-fisherman Grey. Grey's success and wealth enabled him to travel the world in pursuit of his favorite sport - fishing. He had camps in New Zealand, Australia and Tahiti, reaching many sites via his yachts. A prolific writer, he published one or more western novels every year and a fishing or outdoor adventure book every few years until his death.
It has been said that "any man can go to the far reaches, but he cannot be called an explorer until he has told and brought to others what he has seen." Like Captain Cook, travel as a discoverer.Travel writer Ann Hattes is the author of "Country Towns of Wisconsin" (Country Roads Press) and a syndicated food columnist. She is a recipient of the grand prize for magazine article writing from the North American Travel Journalists association.