Why ships beat planes hands down back in the day… 43



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The first thing that struck us when we arrived at Prince Albert Dock in London, 55 years ago, was the sheer size of the beast! I’m talking about the ship that was to carry us off to a fresh life in New Zealand, a country half a world away from the bustling city we were in then. Neither Jacqui nor I had ever been anywhere near an ocean liner before, the best either of us could boast was a ferry to the island of Jersey for me and a channel crossing from Dover for Jacqui, on her way to Paris for a school trip. But even though the Rangitoto was actually a comparatively small, ‘one-class’ ship belonging to the New Zealand Line, from our vantage point down on the dockside she looked enormous, towering over us like a block of flats (which, in a way, I guess she was!) with her black painted hull making her appear even more imposing.

And it looked even more stunning when we eventually got on board, found our cabin and then came back up on to the main deck, to watch all the activity going on below. Family and friends, still standing on the dock, waiting for the ship to move, appeared tiny, especially as we were looking almost straight down at them, so all we could see were pretty well just heads and shoulders, each with a pale face peering up at us, some laughing, some shedding copious tears! Seeing all the emotions this moment caused, we were very glad we had encouraged our family members to wish us a comparatively quick farewell at Bristol Temple Meads railway station, in Bristol!

Due to our previous experiences being limited to just ferry trips, Jacqui and I wasted most of the first three days of the trip sitting in deck chairs on the main deck. In our ignorance, we had no idea of all the various activities that were going on, around and below us – we had a subconscious mental image that we’d be sitting there for just a couple of days, then it would be ashore again and a new life! Luckily, by the second day I got bored with life in a deck chair and we went wandering around the numerous corridors, state rooms, decks and pool areas of the vessel and found to our utter amazement that there was deck tennis, ‘horse racing’, sing-alongs, card-schools, (mainly poker), shuffleboard, chess competitions, swimming games and a golf driving range, hitting balls off the stern of the ship! On top of all this, there was the eating!

Every meal was an experience, especially to unskilled travellers like us, though I believe most passengers were pleasantly surprised at what was served up to us. For a start, every meal was of at least seven courses, even breakfast, which comprised of cereal, porridge, bacon, fried bread, grilled tomatoes, fresh fruit and cream, jelly, ice-cream, waffles, toast, eggs cooked any way you wanted them, steaks, kidneys, liver, all washed down with a choice of tea, coffee, milk, fruit juice, lemonade and even beer for the occasional customer who required an early one.

And the rest of the day was filled with equally generous and exotic fare, especially dinner when such delights as pheasant, jugged hare, salmon and pate de fois gras were regularly on the menu. Eating was the main event of the day, there’s no doubt about that, breakfast from six am until 9am, morning coffee and sandwiches at 10, beef tea at eleven, then lunch from 12 until 2, followed by afternoon tea (with cucumber sandwiches!) at 3. Then came the long break of the day, during the crew’s rest period, before dinner, served from 6pm until 8 and supper at 10! I think they used the food to keep us from getting bored during the long, 32-day voyage!

I’d have to say, traveling by sea, in those days, beat flying hands down, except that it was much slower of course. But that didn’t worry Jacqui and I – we were, after all on our honeymoon and, as far as we were concerned, the cruise and its food could go on for ever!


Have you ever travelled a long distance by ship? Where did you travel to? What were the good and bad parts about your journey? Tell us in the comments below… 

Brian Lee

  1. If only I wasn’t so motion sick, it sounds a lovely way to travel. No nightmare airports, heaven.

  2. We left Tilbury on SS Oronsay and arrived in Fremantle 23 days later on June 29th 1957. We only had two ports of call, Las Palmas and Capetown as the Suez Canal was closed so we were walking with a decided roll when we hit Victoria Quay and dry land! My last sight of England was the white cliffs of Dover and they were the first thing I saw out of the plane window when I finally returned for a visit 38 years later! I consider my self lucky to have been able to come to Australia by ship as flying is no comparison. I’ve not long come back from a 14 day Mediterranean cruise, and contemplating another one in 2016.

  3. As a child we came out on the Strathaird. She was a converted war ship. We left Tilbury in October 1958 and arrived in Fremantle in November. We then stayed on the ship till it arrived in Melbourne.

  4. mike here-agree, sailed at age eleven with family from Pomgolia to Aus, aboard the SS Orion, reckon it was the best 5 weeks of my young life.

  5. On my first marriage in 1967, we went on the Galileo from Sydney to Hobart and beyond. We weren’t sure what the bidet was for and we thought it was where people washed their babies!

  6. Ten pound pom too. Sailed to Sydney 48 years ago on the Northern Star. A six week voyage as we were unable to sail through the Suez Canal so to Cape Town and Durban before our first Australian port Fremantle. I was in a four berth inside cabin with a newly married lass and two older ladies. The newly weds husband was in a six berth cabin elsewhere on the ship.

  7. I should have added my other and sister came to see me off and were able to board the ship. Band on the docks playing Waltzing Matilda as we sailed away.

  8. We sailed from Scotland to Sydney in June, 1952, my Mum, Dad and two younger brothers. We left on my birthday 11th. June and arrived in Sydney on 9th. July. We sailed through the Suez Canal and I can remember the people is small boats sending up things for sale. My Mum and my brothers and I shared a cabin with another lady and her child while my Dad shared a cabin with some men. It was a very big step for my parent’s but I am so glad they gave us the opportunity to improve our lives.

  9. I went the other way…Auckland to Tilbury on the “Oronsay”in the late sixties! Such an adventure, we all put on heaps of weight, with all the extra food! I remember the dinner gong too, that used to play”the roast beef of old England”!! Our trip was a very round about one that took six weeks…Sydney..for about three days, up the East Coast of Australia that took a week…all the Aussies that came aboard in Sydney who had been in tears, had another whole week to say goodbye! Singapore, Manila, Bombay, Hong Kong, (tho only high rise at the time the Hilton hotel, )through the Suez to Naples, then Majorca, and finally London! We had a ball, and a few culture shocks on the way! I flew home, and came straight back to Australia, where I have remained ever since, a proud Aussie, living in the best country in the world!

  10. I came out o. The Southern Cross in1964, had the greatest time, meeting Aussies and Kiwis for the first time.

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