Great Barrier Reef Cruise February 26 - March 5, 2017 - Sun Princess I am having a ball one interacting with the locals! This cruise is filled with Aussies. Americans are a small minority among the passengers. Breakfasting with a lovely, jolly Aussie lady our first morning onboard, I told her how much I have been enjoying Australians. She, likewise, compliments Californians. Her assessment of Californians is that we are fun loving, friendly, broad minded and are not like the Brits "who can be such whinging POMEs". Whinging POMEs?! I never heard the term.! With devilish satisfaction she is happy to enlighten me, as she is especially knowledgeable of the subject, having been married to one for many, many years. POME , she explains is a negative term for an English immigrant to Australia, allegedly it stands for “Prisoners of Mother England". It refers back to the original English immigrants who were mostly prisoners. The whinging bit means complaining or whining. (She said, "You know how the pommys like to complain and see the worst in things?") She has such delight in telling me how her husband was really a ten pound POME. (He is sitting next to her and smiles at her kindly, as only a nice fellow who has heard this story before would do.) She says that when her husband was a lad, Australia would offer very low travel fares for British to immigrate, if they had skills that were needed and they were "desirable". The fares were as low as ten pounds British sterling. She tells me that they actually stipulated that only white people were sent and that they even preferred blue eyed English over everyone else! She had British ancestry, but her family has been in Australia for several generations. I looked up these terms, POME, POHM and pommy. There is some disagreement as to whether pommy comes from Prisoners of Mother England, Property of Her Majesty or from pomegranate (due to the ruddy red faces of the English when they arrive to be sunburned in Australia). Whatever the origins, it was a fun story. A very strange but entertaining port guide gives an onboard talk about what to expect in Airlie Beach, our first port. Many of us are here to see the Great Barrier Reef and she gives some interesting information. It is over 1,000 miles long, larger than the U.K., largest living thing on earth. This is where we will be going. In the town of Airlie Beach there is NO swimming in ocean water, they have a man made lagoon with changing rooms if you need a dip. Crocs and jellies are in the water! The port lecturer is so nonchalant that this discussion reminds me of comment made by Segway tour leader several days ago. At the Currumbin wildlife sanctuary crocs sometimes get "special treats". When a kangaroo in the park dies, they feed it to the crocs. Upon seeing the horrified look on my face the Segway guide followed with a somewhat apologetic, "You know circle of life and all". They don't do it in front of the guests though. Seems to me that the Aussies have a relaxed attitude about living with so many things that can kill them. Some people will go into the rainforest. This rainforest is oldest on earth, 100 million years old, the Amazon is only 10 million! She tells us of another Australian animal that can kill you, which is in the rainforest. We saw one from a distance at the wildlife sanctuary recently, it's the cassowary. This huge bird has 4" sharp claws can eviscerate enemies. It's sort of a cross between an ostrich and a velociraptor. It can live to 50 years old and it's endangered. Many are killed on roadways. T 2/28 Airlie Beach, Australia The Great Barrier Reef Before we even start out, we are warned several times that it will be rough and they supply sea sickness pills on the boat. Though I've never been sea sick, both Barry and I take them. It's a bumpy two hour catamaran ride from Airlie Beach, past some Whitsunday Islands to a section of the Great Barrier Reef where we will tie up to a huge pontoon to go snorkeling. The pontoon is really interesting. It's really large, anchored at the reef, includes an underwater viewing area, has a glass bottom boat, changing rooms, as well as stinger suits and equipment for at least 75 people. We put on the stinger suits. They are lighter than wetsuits, but are very similar. They tell us that there isn't much chance that we'll run into any "blueies", the deadliest of the jellyfish, but we could get a nasty sting from other very small jellyfish. Trying to push back all thought of jellyfish and sharks from my consciousness, I climb down to the diving platform and into the pleasant water. I have to admit to huge expectations, and I was a little disappointed by the lack of clarity on the water and the bleached white and brown coral. However, the fishes do not disappoint! They are plentiful and colorful and it's just transcends description to be in the water. Barry and I spend the day in and out of the water, enjoying this wonderful opportunity. The dive supervisor explains to me, before I go in for my first afternoon swim, that the coral bleaching is natural and normal for this time of year. She says it is t a result of pollution. It's another bumpy ride back for two hours and we don't have time to see the town of Airlie Beach. I don't need another tee shirt anyway. W 3/1 Cairns, Australia We are onboard the Reef magic II (Wonder what happened to Reef Magic I?). Today's catamaran ride is rougher still. (I didn't take any seasick pills today, I think they made me sleepy yesterday). There is no outside seating in bow, so rode the waves on the deck on the stern. It is exhilarating to bump up and down on the water, the wind is whipping all around me, sea spray making my hair wild and I hear myself laughing aloud. Just glorious! A very few other ladies, fellow sea witches, are outside near me. We are all, the coven, grinning from ear to ear, celebrating this moment. Several poor souls, mostly men, are throwing up and looking miserable. Barry was queasy and went to the poop deck (the bottom level at the stern. Watching green faced people stumbling past him to grab rails and puke didn't help him to feel more refreshed. He went back to our seat inside and just kept breathing. One especially menacing, heavily tattooed fellow spent the whole day with his head in his hands or puking into a sick bag. I don't think that he even got into the water. That is tragic! The stinger suits have hoods and gloves this time. We are assured again today that the deadliest jellyfish (maybe the blue bottles aka "bluies") are not in these waters. However, the sting from some of some very small, barely visible jellyfish around here can be very painful, though rarely fatal. (This conversation brings to mind a part in the Bryson book in which he retells a story of a poor swimmer who was strung by a small jellyfish, the type I'd don't recall. Bryson said that emergency personnel arrived to find the patient screaming in agony from the pain of the sting. The unfortunate soul was then heavily sedated, but chillingly, continued to whimper and cry out. Oh. Shit! The dive supervisor also assures me that the over one hundred (!) varies of sharks that we could see will not bother us. She says there are so many fish that the sharks enjoy eating on reef that they won't bother with us. Mmm, comforting. Once in the water, all this is forgotten. The underwater visibility is much better than yesterday. The coral more colorful and the fish just as plentiful. We are so glad that we came out a second day. We see countless fishes, sea slugs and a green sea turtle. The weather temperature is warm, but not uncomfortable, considering we are covered completely with the stinger suit. After an hour or two In the water, I enjoyed a really nice chicken curry lunch. There was plenty for seconds, since so many people were either too sick to eat or too queasy to risk an upset with some nice spicy curry. More of a shame, this, since the ships food is pretty good, but light on seasoning. Back in the water, there are more interesting corals and some breathtaking varies of fishes. Back on the ship we learn more Aussie wisdom. We are told, with all due respect, that Americans just can't make coffee. Brunetti's, in Melbourne makes coffee the right way and we should go there. I heard an expression I'd never heard before, "She'd make old bones", as to live a long time. So descriptive. Port Douglas, Australia Lunch with the Lorikeets Port Douglas, Australia F 3/3 We do a bus tour and a walk through a wildlife park. We are in the rainforest, a clue that there will be water. It feels like stepping into a bathroom right after a shower had been running. We wear the lightest clothing possible and a light foldable rain poncho. The poncho was a problem as it traps the moisture on our skin like a greenhouse. A stranger passing by suggests to Barry that he take his poncho off since he looks so red and sweaty. Rain came intermittently, so we are always pulling the ponchos on and off, trying to guard iPhones and keep from getting soaked. The weather doesn't dampen our enjoyment of petting and feeding wallabies, kangaroos and birds. It's probably all old hat for Aussies, but Barry and I enjoy interacting with these Australian animals. There's a brewery on the way back to the ship, Hemingway's had a lovely view of the harbor and the beer sampler that we shared was nice. Willis Island, Australia scenic cruising I have to look this up, a small treeless island with a large building I think there's a lighthouse and nice beach scientific recording I wonder if my fellow passengers are also wondering if they could live such an isolated life.
Brisbane February 23-26, 2017 Near our hotel in Brisbane, I duck into a busy shopping mall for an emergency hair color and cut. The stylist can take me today. As I am waiting to be "re-blonded", I watch school kids walk through mall with the most unusual uniforms, especially the girls! They look like something from the fifties or even earlier. Peter Pan collars, waistbands on blouses, inverted pleats in the back, bands on short sleeves, they are styles that I haven't seen in decades. The hair stylist tells me that they are from public and private schools and she doesn't seem to think they are unusual at all. She likes Vegemite*, though she doesn't know what it's made of, thinks it funny that Americans think that Aussies drink Fosters beer. We don't have lots more to talk about than this and I enjoy watching people go by and surfing the web. Brisbane has free citywide wifi, which is so civilized. Brisbane is the third largest city in Australia, with about two million people. We decide to get an overview by doing a hop on, hop off bus for most of a day. I see lots of pretty tree lined streets and new skyscrapers, many under construction. It's tropical here, and reminds me a little of Honolulu, only with a little more Great Britain thrown in? Brisbanians are proud of their never ending summer. They claim to receive seven hours of sunshine everyday. It's always beach weather, though they are inland on a river. Fifteen (pronounced fif deen) kilometers to the south is the Gold Coast and just to the north is the Sunshine Coast. This paradise is cursed by recurring floods though. In fact, The Powerhouse, a repurposed power station on the river, has an impressive modern art piece that shows the levels of serious floods that they have experienced here. They are also cursed with large aggressive bull sharks in the river, and there is no swimming here. Old Queenslander bungalows are built up on stilts or stumps, to allow air to pass beneath and cool the house, and to let floodwaters pass beneath. They also have large verandas which wrap around the houses with shutters on windows to allow air in and keep heat out. I adore the sweet Victorian touches such as gingerbread lattices below the roof. Corrugated roofs are practical and found on many older buildings. We learn that they are easy to repair or replace after cyclones! We hop off at George's for a terrific lunch of Greek seafood, in what we read is one of Brisbane's well known places. The food is wonderful and the view over the Brisbane River really gives us a nice sense of place. However, I find myself staring into the muddy water below looking for sharks. We finish just in time, as we leave it gets busy and loud. On this bus tour we pass another of the many ANZAC, Australian New Zealand Army Corps, monuments. I now put together that the Anzac biscuits (cookies) that I saw in New Zealand and previously here in Australia are named for these soldiers. The cookies are made without eggs and have a long shelf life. Families made them to ship overseas to their loved ones in the service. The cookies are still very popular today. They are very crunchy and are made with coconut. I enjoyed them and will try to make some with the grand-darlings when I get home. It cools down a little bit in the evening and we walk across the river from the CBD (central business district) to South Bank. It is the happening place with a weekly street fair and live music. The Wheel of Brisbane is a large Ferris wheel with enclosed air conditioned gondolas. There are huge numbers of people strolling the street or eating at the restaurants in this area. The best feature here are some gigantic pools where hundreds of kids are swimming. It's a very nice consolation prize, to have these beautiful pools for public use, since they can't swim in the river. Our next morning and it is time for Donut Time. This is the adorable little shop that spied in both Sydney and at Bondi Beach. We just couldn't eat one when we saw this shop before. Now, which monster-sized decant donut to choose? The very cute girl at the shop selling them exclaimed that she just loves donuts, but looked like one never crossed her lips. She's proud to tell us Donut Time started, here, in Brisbane. The most popular? It's the Nutella donut. I can only take one bite, it is filled with Nutella and is so rich.....I ....just....can't.....Barry takes one bite and we have to toss it. The River Cruise welcomes us to "Brizzy" (These Aussies have such cute shortenings of words! Tazzy is Tasmania. Breakfast is "brekky", it is listed as such on menus and signs. It's so, so friendly.). The tourist river cruise serves tea! Tea, scones with clotted cream, strawberry jam await us onboard. It's too bad that we can't enjoy some after our overdose on one bite of that donut. Again we hear about the aggressive bull sharks in the dark green river that winds through the city. Dark green, muddy water has me straining to see the sharks lurking below. Jet skiers zoom by, only a couple, but I worry for them. According to our tour guide on river cruise, one of the city cat ferries had a bull shark jumped from the water into the ferry, thrashed around a bit then fell back into the water. She-it! We pass the Brisbane Story Bridge. It's a cute little baby version of Sydney Harbor Bridge, same designer. We also learn that during WWII a million American troops were stationed here, in a city with only 300,000 residents at that time. So the river tour is a little history, some interesting facts. T We found a fun sushi restaurant, like some we've seen on tv. Plates some by on a conveyor belt, you take what you'd like and then order drinks from a monitor at our seats. So fun! This has been a relaxing place to unwind and explore a bit. * Vegemite - from Wikipediais a thick, very dark brown Australian food spread made from leftover brewers' yeast extract with various vegetable and spice additives. It was developed by Cyril Percy Callister in Melbourne, Victoria in 1922....A spread for sandwiches, toast, crumpets and cracker biscuits as well as a filling for pastries. Vegemite is salty, slightly bitter, malty, and rich in umami – a glutamate similar in flavour to beef bouillon.
Drive from Sydney to Brisbane Warners Bay, Kempsey, Yamba and Currumbin February 18-24 We had a devil of a time getting out of Sydney, firstly the major street in the CBD (George St.) was closed due to the construction. We took an Uber XL and spent $53 US dollars to get to the rental car office by going all around the city. Once in our car, Barry familiarized himself with the knobs and indicators, got into a driving on the left side of the road frame of mind and off we went, sort of. We circled around a while until we found the route to the major highway, this, with a gps unit rented from the car agency and google maps on an iPhone. Barry nearly sideswiped us twice. I yelped the first time and tried to keep it to a restrained whimper the second. The landscape changes when we get out of the city. Ken, the caretaker at the Lord Nelson, commented that we'd take Pacific Motorway and that it was a nice drive. Barry and I agreed that it wasn't what we expected. We had California's Pacific Coast Highway in mind, on this drive we see very little water. Though we are near the coast throughout this drive, the few water views are of green waterways. The vegetation does not disappoint, it's lush. There are eucalyptus forests and mangroves in brackish water. Our first night's stay is at Warners Bay. Barry planned this part of the trip and he explained to me that he thought that a two hour drive would be enough for our first day. After circling Sydney for a while, we were ready to get out of the car by the time we got to Warners Bay. Unfortunately there's not much there to do on a really hot and muggy day in the early afternoon. We are near Hunter Valley, which is a popular place for wine tasting, but absolute sobriety is needed for us to drive. The shore of Lake Macquarie is inviting, with a walking path and lots of trees, but its too hot. Thundershowers are expected as well. Our hotel is very modest. It's clean and the people are friendly, but these are far from luxury accommodations. Trip advisor lists the number one ACTIVITY in Warners Bay as the bottle shop, which is just a liquor store. Mmmm. The sky opens up in the late afternoon with a dramatic tropical thunderstorm! At dusk, a cacophony of bird cries erupt outside. The trees, power lines and building tops are crowded with white cockatiels. I have never seen anything like this! The volume is overwhelming and I am feeling a little "Hitchcocked", as in The Birds, by the number and activity level of these birds. This is a real treat! One of the locals on the street is nonchalant when I ask her about them,"Oh, cockatiels, noisey, aren't they?" It's only one night at this hotel, so we enjoy some cold local beers, try to figure out how the keno game works in the casino downstairs. The local ladies look nice in bright floral sheath dresses, and they look like they are having fun. During the night, I awaken because it sounds like one of the grand-darlings saying, "Grandma, Grandma". (I do miss those little buggers!) It's a cockatiel perched outside on the bathroom skylight, and lots more in the distance. It reminds me of the story that our New Zealand guide told, that Captain Cook's crew would row back to their ship at night to sleep onboard because the bird sounds were too loud ashore. I can understand. We have a longer drive, (over 3 hours) to our next stop, Netherby House B and B in Kempsey. At breakfast in Warners Bay, I order a "long black", that's a large black coffee. Trump is on the TV news in the restaurant. We try to keep it light, joking that we are Canadians, but laugh and say we are from California. The fellow at the counter sympathizes with us for being Americans, no levity here, and hopes that Trump doesn't start WWIII. In our travels, I've felt that people in other countries may think Americans were a little loud, ethnocentric, or maybe unworldly. Always, I felt we were well tolerated and maybe liked. It's a different vibe on this trip. There's uncertainty, wariness when a stranger hears our accent. They seem to wait to see if we support Trump before they say anything. When we arrive in Kempsey, the innkeeper has a real fear of Trump. "Trump has such a big ego, he should not be a world leader. He is dangerous. What Trump does effects us, we are your allies." At one point I am afraid that our host will shake me by the shoulders and ask me what I will do about this situation. In Brisbane the young woman who does my hair tells me that there are lots of anti-Trump protests in Brisbane and other cities in Australia. She asks me to explain to her why Americans have such a problem with immigrants. She's not kidding around with me. Brisbane is full of all kinds of immigrants and she doesn't get what the issues are with some Americans regarding immigration. Trump is ridiculed and reviled in the papers here as well. Also in the local papers, Mem Fox, grandmotherly Aussie , 70 year old children's book author was recently questioned and detained, and treated very badly by US Immigration. Fox had made well over one hundred previous trips to the US. Now, however, she said that she may never return to visit the US, and sobbed like a baby when her ordeal was over. Termed "Trump's America" it is called, it makes my stomach turn. This is now the image of my beautiful country. We take a respite from the turmoil with this trip, and are delighted by road signs today:
- Watch for kangaroos
- Watch for koalas
- Stop, revive, survive. Driver reviver stand in 10 km.
- Prepare your bush. (Tee hee Fire preparedness)
Five day drive: Sydney, Warners Bay, Kempey, Yumba, Currumbin to Brisbane
Kayaking Waitangi Estuary in Bay of Islands, New Zealand and bush walk wth Piha Beach, Auckland, New Zealand.
Currumbin, Queensland Australia
Fish Market and Bondi Beach February 17, 2017 It is soo hot and I am soo schwety. Yuck! However, we both really want to see the famous Sydney fish market. Yup, it is pretty cool. There are impressive displays of oysters, fish and sushi. We'd love to cook some, but we don't have a kitchen. We sample some oysters and sushi then head to the BEACH! We Uber to Bondi Beach (pronounced "bon-dye"). The plan is to walk one of the great coastal walks, Bondi to Coogee. It's supposed to take 1-2 hours at about 6 miles. I read about it months ago, and it looks amazing, I can't wait. BUT, the heat is overwhelming, even at the coast. We start out, but we are dripping with sweat and decide to save it for the next trip to Sydney, and a cooler day. Heading back to Bondi Pavilion, there's a festive restaurant that epitomizes beachy - wooden aqua painted tables, navy cushions , white shades above us, like sails. The view is world renowned Bondi Beach. Barry and I pull up some shade and a pitcher of Pimm's punch. We watch the parade of bronzed beach regulars: young parents with pre-nap toddlers, older folks with newly sunburned cheeks (maybe Brits?...mad dogs and Englishman...), bikini babes and lots of surfers. It's a real show! I think Chris Hemsworth walked by a few times. Yumm! The ocean mesmerizes. There are layers of color that shift: white surf, tan sandy water, aqua, turquoise, jade, deep blue on the horizon. Though we didn't do the walk we'd planned, we get 4.97 miles on Fitbit. A final meal at our home away from home this week, The Lord Nelson, ends our practically perfect day. We rent a car and drive North tomorrow.
February 16, 2017 The caretaker at The Lord Nelson, Ken, is Sydney born and bread. We are very fortunate to have breakfast next to him at the hotel during most of our stay. He is a huge asset to this place, a one man chamber of commerce for all of Sydney, actually. Today will be hot and humid. Ken suggests that today is the day to go to Manly Beach. He's not the first person to suggest Manly over other beaches. Opal card in hand, sunblock, water, hats, we are ready. Taking the harbor ferry is, again, blissful. Seeing this opera house and thrill that we were at the top of that harbor bridge, and the sun is fully blessing Sydney today, it is a great day to be here! The Manly ferry is huge, and we go to the second floor for the nonstop 40 minute ride. The ferry doors open right onto beachy shops on a wide pedestrian street that ends at a stunning beach. Barry and I think the beach isn't unlike La Jolla, with its promenade along the beach and the shops are sort of like Santa Monica's 4th Ave, only Manly is much sweeter. On the way down the Main Street to the beach we pass a donut shop that makes me come to an abrupt halt. Doughnut Time is 1940s cute, with an adorable clock logo that says something like "anytime is the right time for donuts". These doughnuts are huge and the fillings and toppings aren't like anything I've seen, even on Portland's sinful Voodoo donuts. We are too full to try one, BUT I looked them up online, and they have other shops in Sydney. I will make one of you mine, my prettys! http://www.doughnuttime.com.au/menu/ The beautiful little children all around are conspicuously pale. Generally, they are slathered with sunblock, wear hats and often have rash guard type suits on. (I worked briefly with an Aussie when I was at Poway Unified District office. I remember her telling me the rule for kids in Australian schools, "No hat, no play". She said they were really careful about skin cancer with the kids in the schools.) On a weekday at this beach, I see mommies and little kids, school groups, young adults and ladies of my age and generous proportions who are comfortable in suits that reveal more than I would dare. Hey, it's all good, no worries. After a little beach walking, I convince Barry that we should rent an umbrella and lounge chairs. Ah, this is the life! My mind drifts from conscious to unconscious while listening to surf, gulls, children playing in the water. Time is suspended. We are crisping up, even under the umbrella after a couple of hours. I wipe the sandy drool from the corner of my mouth, must have dozed off. Time to move from the sand. A seafood restaurant a block away offers a devine appetizer sampler plate, and with a crisp Hunter Valley Australian Sauvignon Blanc, we are as happy as clams (or oysters, in this case). Our Morton Bay bugs look like small lobsters and are yummy, oysters are creamy and briney, prawns are good and the salmon served two ways (one with caviar, wrapped around asparagus and the other in a packet of CREAM CHEESE) are amazing. I have to admit that the US dollar is strong right now and we are feasting without breaking the budget. This adds another tick up on my ever present grin. That evening we try out the Australian, the pub where the man who shot the child molester got away with murder and Paul Hogan's favorite pub. We have to order the coat of arms pizza. The Aussie coat of arms has a kangaroo and an emu on it. Our new buddy, Ken, told us that they are on the national emblem because neither are physically able to step backward. Australia will always move forward, inspired, isn't it? Actually, they may be great as symbols for Australia, but they don't taste so good on pizza.
Ghost walk February 15 We did the Harbor Bridge climb in morning. We had an excellent Japanese dinner, which was just as wonderful as the Indian diner from the night before. The diversity of the population is certainly reflected in the wonderful selection of food here. (Not unlike Sacramento) Tonight we do a ghost walk in The Rocks. I have to admit that I used to really enjoy these walks at night, hearing a usually talented storyteller give us a history lesson after dark. Lots of times they have greatly enhanced our understanding of what life was like for the people of the area, what the mores were, the economics, the power struggles and politics. One of the best was in Edinburgh. The high school history teacher who was a part time ghost tour guide many, many years ago made me fall in love with Edinburgh. He told funny stories, he told stories of murders and he told stories of war and plagues, all as we walked through this ancient city. Old Edinburgh is such a bewitching city, but at night with a great storyteller, I become a time traveler. Since that first trip to Edinburgh in the 1980s, we've gone on ghost walks in many cities: London, New Orleans, Savannah, Wilmington SC, Victoria BC, Portland, Ore, Key West FL, Sacramento, maybe more. Admittedly, I am an older traveler now, a sensitive, softhearted grandma. I don't find them to be as much fun as they used to be. They tell of real people's lives. Lives that end tragically or brutally and many of these people lived very hard lives, filled with heartbreak, up to their departure. To tread on scenes of their torment feels so ghoulish. I can only bless them and feel profound thankfulness for the life I have been given. Our Sydney guide is very talented, dressed in black with cape and top hat, he really has a dramatic flair and uses the power of suggestion to make you feel the cold air where the murder took place or see the face of one soul, long gone, in a window. We hear stories of people publicly hung for stealing flour, children accidentally buried alive when they were unconscious from the plague, death by self inflected penis removal, murders by spouses, young mothers who die in childbirth. The lives of people in early Sydney, especially for the profoundly poor, were so full of pain that I don't know how they could go on to draw their next breath. One story is not quite as ghoulish, I think. A man who had been a known child molester returned to Sydney after being away from some time. Many of the local children who had been his victims had grown to late teens and early twenties. The child molester, unwisely, visited The Australian, a well known pub. A well known and popular citizen, who was also at the pub saw this accused child molester, and shot him in front of at least 50 people. The murderer was jailed and held for months. The case against him was dropped, not one person would appear as a witness against him. Sounds like the law was not respected, but justice served?