Great Mercury Island Not far from the bustle of the world’s biggest Polynesian city (Auckland), we made the first landfall of our trip at a tranquil bay on the shores of Great Merucry Island. After cruising closely along the island’s stark volcanic cliffs, we chose a placid bay whose sandy beach simply demanded to be strolled. Using Xplorer , the innovative tender from Oceanic Discoverer , we landed off the bow ramp and enjoyed a sampling of local bird life. Red-billed gulls, white-fronted terns, paradise shelducks, and variable oystercatchers were all found right along the water’s edge, making for an easy introduction to some of New Zealand’s endemic wildlife. Our return to the ship was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a group of bottlenose dolphins, and we lingered to photograph them as they lolled on the surface or zoomed past us for a closer look. We remained anchored during dinner, but the dolphins didn’t desert us – they continued to splash boisterously right outside the dining room windows as the sun set over the island’s green hills.