Trans-Tasman Cruising to Hobart.
On a recent voyage with Princess Cruises, taking in an assortment of New Zealand port calls and Hobart, I was feeling slightly apprehensive about the Trans-Tasman crossing, writes Mike Yardley.
Notorious for offering cruisers the tumble-dryer ocean experience, I’d heard plenty of dire reports. But after departing Fiordland, my two days at sea across the Tasman, were relatively plain sailing. No brown paper bags were required.4-5 metre swells was as bad as it got, which was only noticeable on the higher decks of the Emerald In fact, the overnight sailing around the South Otago coast through Foveaux Strait to Fiordland was rougher than Tasman. Before reaching storybook-pretty Hobart, the roll call of on-board entertainment and activities made very short work of those two days at sea.Princess keeps its offerings pretty traditional and solid – opting not to binge on the theme-park gimmickry of dodgem cars, rock-climbing walls or skydiving simulators. Across my days at sea, there were complimentary Pilates and yoga classes, table tennis tournaments, trivia challenge contests, photography and health seminars, line dancing sessions, music quizzes, star-gazing courses and movies under the stars, on the giant screens crowning the pool deck.Sea days are also a fabulous opportunity to sneak a peek behind the scenes, on the back-of-house tours of the Galley and up to the Bridge. It was a huge thrill to marvel at the culinary miracles crafted in the ship’s galley, while the sheer magnitude of cutting-edge technology deployed on the Bridge is an eye-opener, which the ship’s officers guided us through. But the extensive live entertainment that unfurls throughout the ship, was unfailingly superb. There are two showbiz features of note.Princess Cruises has partnered with The Voice to present The Voice of the Ocean, featuring a competitive cast of passengers battling against each other for supreme honours. The quality of the participating crooners and songbirds, on my cruise, was exceptional. And the eye-catching set is a replica of what you see on television. Great fun!
Magic to Do
However, the signature production onboard Emerald Princess is a musical called Magic to Do, created for Princess Cruises by the producer of Wicked, Stephen Schwartz. Celebrating his lifelong passion for magic, the Broadway-calibre production blends exhilarating illusions with some of his most famous songs, including Pippin and Defying Gravity from Wicked. So even if the Tasman is turbulent, rest assured, you’ll be thoroughly entertained.After docking in Hobart on the Emerald Princess, I enjoyed an effortless, eye-pleasing walk around the historic waterfront, in Sullivans Cove. The 19th century sandstone warehouses brim with dockside cafes, artist studios and eateries. If you’re visiting on a Saturday, soak up the extravagant market flavours of Salamanca – Australia’s largest outdoor market. Also on the waterfront, pay your respects to the beautifully sculpted monument dedicated to the legendary explorer, Abel Tasman. It’s one of an increasing array of sublime sculptures, dotting the waterfront.If you’re hungry for more history servings, follow the signposts via Kelly’s Steps to Battery Point, where many of the storybook stone houses date from the first European settlement of 'Hobart Town'. Need a coffee stop? Jackman and McRoss are local favourites, while sweet tooths swear by the macarons, lavish cakes and gourmet icecream at Sweet Envy. Heading back to the harbour, I had a date with the MONA Roma ferry, which departs hourly from Brooke Street Pier.Push the boat out and upgrade to the Posh Pit. This exclusive lounge sports a fabulous bar and outside deck, below the bridge. Enjoy complimentary canapes and beverages as you’re whisked across the water, on the 30 minute trip to a rather head-spinning museum. On the banks of the Derwent River, Hobart harbours a subterranean storehouse of eye-popping eccentricity.
The World's Best Modern Art Gallery?
As I ended my visit, I heard one chap huff, “That’s two wasted hours of my life I will never get back,” prompting his wife to protest, “Bill, that’s the best museum we have ever been too!” Carved into the riverside escarpment, the Museum of Old and New Art, universally known as MONA, boasts one of the most provocative collections of art open to the public. And it’s the biggest private museum in Australia.This edgy, eclectic phenomenon has been so widely embraced by locals and visitors alike, MONA has emerged as an Australian national treasure. 6 years old, MONA was the brain child of Tasmanian, David Walsh, an art collector and mathematician who made a fortune fine-tuning algorithms enabling him to beat bookies and casinos at their own game. And ever since he opened his museum, like the man, MONA has feasted on up-ending the conventional. It’s nicknamed “the subversive adult Disneyland.” Unlike a typical museum, with a cliché pillared-entrance, entering MONA is more like falling down a rabbit hole.From the foyer, a spiral staircase leads you 17 metres underground, into a cave-like space, flanked by a 240-million-year-old Triassic sandstone wall. Apparently David Walsh, wanted the exposed wall to provide a greeting as such to creationists, and a challenge to their beliefs. Like the art, the gallery space is equally engulfing. What follows are three levels of steel and stone studded with art and objects loosely themed around sex, evolution and death. It unmistakably strives to shock, offend, inform and entertain in equal measure.
Waterfall of Words
Standing in the basement, I gazed in awe of the gigantic installation called “Bit.fall,” a rain-painting machine created by German artist Julius Popp. Spanning two stories, this multi-million dollar contraption comprises 128 computer-controlled nozzles, that release dripping cascades of water in the shape of trending phrases harvested daily from news websites. This pulsing waterfall of words, streamed from real-time Google searches, ranked as my favourite art piece. It’s clever, current and rather hypnotic, like a cascading ode to the unrelenting news cycle.I was lulled into a false sense of complacency. As I walked on, mulling whether MONA’s reputation for shockability was overhyped, I was suddenly confronted by the chocolate sculpture of the remains of a Chechen suicide bomber. Seriously - chocolate. Stephen J Shanabrook’s cast of a disembowelled suicide bomber rendered in chocolate is unsettling, if not distasteful. Not exactly the sort of Easter treat to add to the wish-list. The piece is called On the Road to Heaven The Highway to Hell. It’s located alongside a collection of mummies. One level up, a wall has been lined with 120 white porcelain moulds of female genitalia, while another wall boasts a gigantic image of a man engaged in a most unsavoury act with a canine. I really didn’t need to see that.And it’s not hard to see why some art snobs sniff at MONA’s obsession with smut. But the centre-piece of MONA that repulses and engrosses in equal doses is called Cloaca Professional by Belgain artist, Wim Delvoye. This room-sized machine of giant test tubes, pumps and glass receptacles parodies the digestive tract of humans in lurid detail. Nicknamed the poop machine, it is fed twice a day, and if you really want to, you can watch the full digestive process of food unfold over three hours. I didn’t stay for the final act, but apparently the bi-product from this giant version of the digestive tract is absolutely pungent.If gross-out art is not your bag, some welcome doses of lighter relief do punctuate proceedings. Don’t miss Erwin Wurm’s Fat Car. I loved this - a full-sized Porsche Carrera puffed up and engorged into obesity by some comically creative panel work. It looks cartoonish and Fat Car pointedly serves as a comment on western consumption and mindless overindulgence.Sprinkled among the traffic-stoppers and the aesthetically extreme, I did enjoy David Walsh’s private collection of antiquities. After all that modern art, it was cathartic to gaze at a 1,500-year-old Egyptian sarcophagus, a collage made of Neolithic flints and gold coins taken from statues at the Parthenon in Athens.
I’m sure you’ve come across plenty of museums and galleries that offer life membership, if the price is right. Well true to form, David Walsh has taken that one step further with MONA’s eternity membership offer. For a mere $75,000, suitably impressed museum visitors can set about absorbing themselves into the MONA collection, beyond their mortal coil. The contract allows the ashes of eternity members to be incorporated into the collection and displayed in urns. How very MONA.Last year, Lonely Planet named MONA the best modern art gallery in the world, cementing its credentials as a leading light in the Australian cultural landscape.
It is the ultimate demonstration of the “eye of the beholder” adage, but this cavernous cultural colossus is well worth sampling.Princess Cruises operates a series of Trans-Tasman cruises over the summer season, with five ships currently homeported Down Under. An extensive schedule of sailings from New Zealand to Hobart will resume later in the year, in the 2017/18 summer months. For more information and cruise bookings, see your travel agent or visit www.princess.com