When the series Cruising with Jane McDonald scooped a Bafta last month, nobody was more astonished than the star of the show – and her mum.
“Good grief, she couldn’t believe it,” chuckles McDonald. “Nobody could. It was the shock of the night, but what a wonderful surprise. Mum and I are going to take it in turns to have it on our mantelpiece.”
Twenty years after she found fame on BBC fly-on-the-wall documentary The Cruise, McDonald has never been busier. She’s filming a new series of her Channel 5 chat show and is about to embark on a UK concert tour.
Naturally, she has also managed to squeeze in two more cruises – circumnavigating New Zealand and South America. Both destinations are increasingly popular with British holidaymakers, who are seeking out more adventurous cruises.
Two years ago, McDonald would have quailed at packing an anorak and hiking boots in her suitcase, but the series has broadened her horizons. “I always say there is a cruise for everyone, and I’m determined to find it for everyone. The New Zealand trip would be for someone like myself who’s interested in beauty – I want to see more than a piña colada by the pool.
“New Zealand is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. And when you sail there from Australia, as I did, your entrance is the Milford Sound fjord, which is breathtaking.”
Described by Rudyard Kipling as the “eighth wonder of the world”, the inky waters of Milford Sound wind past rugged peaks, forest-carpeted cliffs and thundering waterfalls. “Even on a big ship, you feel dwarfed. Everybody on deck was quiet, just gazing at this ethereal scenery. But you’ve got to have your coat on because it’s the wettest place in the world.”
Another highlight was a volcanic park. At Wai-O-Tapu on the North Island, you can walk among volcanic craters, bubbling mud and ground that steams. “There are these amazing pools full of acid, so the colours are fascinating. The guide told us that every single mineral on earth was in one of these pools.”
Amid New Zealand’s wonders, she also saw a link to her past in Dunedin, a city known as “the Edinburgh of the South”.
“Lots of people from Scotland emigrated to that part of New Zealand and I visited a stately home called Larnach Castle where a bagpiper was wearing Ferguson tartan, which is my tartan because my mother is a Ferguson. I felt quite spooked! That was my favourite place because the views were incredible. I could have stayed for ever.”
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In South America, McDonald tried to tango in Buenos Aires, enjoyed a singalong in a teahouse in Patagonia’s Welsh capital, Puerto Madryn, and felt underdressed in Uruguay’s answer to Monte Carlo, Punta del Este.
She also got up close to a mammoth relic from the Ice Age. After embarking from Valparaiso in Chile, the first stop was the San Rafael Glacier – 70m tall and over 4km wide.
“When you look at something as massive and beautiful as that, which has been there for 20,000 years, it makes you go ‘wow’. It’s deathly silent. I also loved that we were given a little whisky with a bit of the ice that had dropped off.”
Yet it was the Falklands that left her fumbling for words.
“You’re on the other side of the world and yet there are red telephone boxes and pubs serving fish and chips. The feeling of pride was overwhelming. I met up with some veterans and we all got a bit emotional.” She was staggered by the islands’ rugged beauty. “The beaches are something else – the colours of the water and the sand.”
One of the ship’s excursions was to a sheep farm that the owners share with gentoo, Magellanic and king penguins.
“We got there in 4x4s because there are hardly any proper roads – it was like being on a big dipper. You can get right up to the penguins and they’re cute as anything. King penguins are hilarious because they do act like royalty.”
Cruising with Jane McDonald is on Channel 5 on Fridays at 9pm
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