Highlights of Australia

  • Sydney Opera House
  • Cycle paths out of Sydney and into Melbourne
  • Kangaroos in camp
  • Koalas on Raymond Island
  • The seaside towns south of Sydney
  • Canberra
  • Cycling through the Rainforest
  • The Botanic Gardens
  • Camping on Cockatoo Island
  • Campsite and morning walk in Mathoura
  • Getting excellent formal clothes in the Op Shops for £18
  • Roast chickens for $8 (there is a price war between 2 supermarket chains!)

A Couple of Old Salts

24-27/4/16. Much to both our surprise, Christine has been able to cut out the seasick pills completely after taking a full dose for two days and then reducing the amount. She has also dispensed with the “sea bands”. (For those who don’t know, she is one of the most prone to all forms of motion sickness – which is a bit of a hindrance for someone who loves traveling as much as she does!) BUT the sea has been like a millpond all the way!

A surprising number of passengers finished their cruise in Darwin – around 900 people, or a quarter of the full capacity, left and a smaller number joined there for the second half of the journey to Singapore.

The first leg to Kuala Lumpur (actually to Port Klang) is 4 straight days at sea, as from Brisbane to Darwin, and life aboard slips into a lazy routine. Pretty much the only way to tell the days apart is from the inset in the carpets in the lifts which tell you what day of the week it is!

Monday was ANZAC Day which remembers the Gallipoli campaign from WW1. There were two services on board –  one at dawn, where people were stood 10 deep around the swimming pool (including Christine) and one at 11.00 which over 1,000 people attended. Remembering the war dead seems to be a much bigger “thing” in both Australia and New Zealand than in the UK.

Along with reading and various forms of exercise, we have passed the time watching films (the latest Star Wars, The Martian and Steve Jobs), a Q&A session with the Captain and other senior officers and a Queen tribute band performance. Oh, and Stephen took part in a maths “quiz” which he won, returning with several Royal Caribbean souvenirs as a prize.

The route saw us heading west from Darwin to the edge of the Indian Ocean. One of the TV channels shows a similar display to the moving map on planes. After being about 150 metres deep for much of the passage through the Torres Strait and past Darwin, the sea bottom went to more than 3,600 m or about 12,000 ft. We then headed north between Bali and Lombok into the South China Sea past Java and Borneo and over the Equator, which was the cue for a silly ceremony with Neptune to celebrate. We didn’t see the big red line that the Captain had told us we would pass during the Q&A the previous day! It was then into the Singapore Strait, past Singapore towards Port Klang, where there was an amazing number of ships.

The Q&A session produced a number of statistics that appealed to us two “number nerds”.

  • The ship was the biggest in the world when it was launched in 1999.
  • it is nearly 50% bigger than America’s largest aircraft carrier.
  • It was the first ship with an ice rink.
  • It cost US$750 million.
  • When away from land all the water needed is produced by desalinating seawater.
  • There are 1,200 crew including 500 waiting and kitchen staff.
  • The average water consumption is 229 litres per person per day.
  • 17,000 meals are served every day to passengers and crew.
  • The La Scala theatre is modeled on its namesake in Milan and is 5 decks high.

Darwin

23/4/16. Even though the forecast said it was going to be hot in Darwin (and it was – somebody said 36°), we decided to forego the $10 shuttle bus into the centre as it was only a km or so and walking would help with the acclimatisation for SE Asia.

Arriving in the centre we were pleased to find that there was free wifi provided by the city so we quickly used up our data limit downloading four plus days’ worth of podcasts before moving on to McDonalds to catch up on Facebook, Twitter, blog posts and all the other essentials of 21st century life as well as talking to Eleri in NZ and waking Conal & Tamsin in Bahrain (it was 7.30 am on Saturday there by the time we called them). The time difference to the UK did not allow us to complete the set as we thought Alaric might not take kindly to a 5.30 am conversation!

We liked Darwin very much. It reminded us of Lae in PNG where we lived – the heat, the vegetation, the wide streets, the well-spaced low rise buildings, the slightly sleepy atmosphere, the manageable size. All in all, it is somewhere we would like to come back to for a longer stay.

There are two cathedrals (Anglican and Catholic) both of which were very tasteful modern designs having replaced older buildings destroyed, along with much of the rest of the city, in the Christmas Day 1974 cyclone. We were told that building regulations were changed following the cyclone banning “Queensland houses” (those built on stilts).

We made our customary visit to the botanic gardens which were, yet again, lovely, albeit on a smaller and less grand scale than those in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – undoubtedly a reflection of a lower level of funding arising from the size of the city – a population of about 120,000 compared to 4+ million in each of Sydney and Melbourne.

Just Cruisin’

19-22/4/16. Leaving Brisbane we set off for Darwin, a journey of four full days at sea. The time has passed in a very pleasant, if lazy, manner.

We have been trying to limit the damage to our waistlines by taking some exercise. There is a 200 metre jogging track on Deck 12, although the opportunities to actually run are limited to early in the morning because of the number of people walking, either to get from one part of the ship to another or, as we do, doing laps. We have taken to spending a large part of the morning walking 8-10 km. In addition, there is a gym where Stephen can get his fix of cycling (sort of) on the stationary bike. The swimming pools are not really big enough for exercise as such – more like places for cooling off.

We thought that a series of lectures on topics relating to the Pacific area (first explorers, Papua New Guinea, Ned Kelly, etc) sounded interesting.  How wrong we were. The first one was just a series of short unconnected pieces, seemingly lifted verbatim from Wikipedia, that was the sort of thing a disengaged 14 year old boy would come up with for a school project that he was unable to evade. Christine tried the second one (on PNG) out of curiosity to see if it was as bad. It was!

There have been two opportunities to wheel out our Op Shop glad rags for formal dinners and we are quite pleased with effect – nicely set off by the absence of a tie to go with Stephen’s long sleeved travel shirts and (the crowning glory) his trainers! (Well at least they are better than his only other shoes which is a pair of sandals.)

The course from Brisbane has taken us past the Whitsunday Islands (which we passed at night) and inside the Great Barrier Reef. Then we rounded Cape York, the most northerly point on the Australian mainland, and sailed through the Torres Strait coming within 50 miles or so of Papua New Guinea where we lived for 6 months immediately after we were married. Unfortunately the combination of distance and haze meant that we could not see PNG. Because of the depth of the sea around the Reef and through the Strait it was mandatory to have a Reef Pilot on board to help with the navigation and, once we were clear of the dangerous areas, he gave a very interesting presentation on his role.

Brisbane

18/4/16. We left Sydney on Saturday evening and headed north staying in sight of land pretty much all the way (at least whenever we looked) until docking in Brisbane at about 6 o’clock on Monday morning. As you may or may not know (we didn’t) the city is on a river (with the unoriginal name of the Brisbane River!) so the ship cannot get too close – a fleet of shuttle buses was arranged to take those not going on organised tours on the 45 minute (in the rush hour, 20 minutes otherwise) journey into the centre.

Initial impressions were not particularly favourable with lots of skyscrapers and motorways seemingly running through the centre, although our opinions improved later. The highlight of the journey was going past the cricket ground (the Gabba). We were surprised to read that the population is around 2.2 million which makes it a similar size to Birmingham.

As we were now in the subtropics, we headed for the botanic gardens to see some different plants. However, the first part we saw was very English with large lawns and tall trees, although the trees were not those seen at home. As we discovered from the tour that we joined a significant proportion were fig trees of various types. As we went along the path by the river the scenery suddenly changed and we were in a rain forest – almost literally with the irrigation system in full operation giving us all a not unwelcome cooling sprinkling!

Crossing the river we entered the Brisbane equivalent of Paris Plage in the Southbank area with cafes, restaurants, shaded walkways, paddling pools and sandy “beaches” which were clearly very popular.

A Life On The Ocean Wave

16-17/4/16. What a contrast! Life at the moment is very different to the last few months.

The ship was docked right by Circular Quay and our excitement built as the ferry from Cockatoo Island went right past it on Saturday morning. By crikey, it looked big as we went past.

 

Being in the “cheap seats” we had to check in and board at 11 o’clock even though departure was not scheduled until 7 in the evening. We made sure we found a good spot to be when we set sail – there surely cannot be a more spectacular send off anywhere in the world with the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House both lit up and within a couple of hundred yards! Our vantage point was high above the water – level with the tops of the apartment blocks on the Quay – and so we were actually looking down on the Opera House and almost at the same height as the deck of the Bridge meaning that our perspective was not one seen by many. The views were wonderful all the way to the open sea and we were among the last to head off for dinner.

The opulence of the public areas is very American in style – classical pillars around the grown ups swimming pools and jacuzzis, a grand atrium 3 or 4 floors high on the central shopping mall. It’s not really to our taste but hey!

The amount of food available is just unbelievable! And for the most part is of very good quality. We are going to put back on all the weight we have lost in 5 months on the road. Breakfast and lunch are both buffet style with many, many options in the cafe available pretty much all day. You can also have dinner there in the evening but we have been to the dining room both times since boarding and have been extremely impressed by the quality and choice. At this stage we cannot see us being tempted by the specialty restaurants (Asian, Italian or steak) which are available at extra cost.

They are clearly very careful (almost paranoid) of infections spreading through the ship with hand sanitizer dispensers on the way into every eating location and repeated admonitions to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water at the obvious times.
Our cabin (Stephen absolutely refuses to use the term “stateroom” which is how the ship refers to it, and calls himself a “passenger” rather than a “guest”. We are on a ship for goodness sake! And while we are in Grumpy Old Man mode, will they ever learn how to say “Caribbean” properly?) is perfectly adequate although having the two bikes in there does make space a little limited. (Our steward was most impressed to find the bikes in there – a first for him.) The absence of any windows means that we cannot tell if it is light or dark outside – quite disconcerting when we have been so used being so attuned to the world around us. The ensuite bathroom is a real luxury after traipsing across campsites to go to the loo in the middle of the night. The shower cubicle is “cosy” and we imagine some of the other passengers, being “built for comfort rather than speed”, may find them a bit of a squeeze to say the least!

We Are Going On A Cruise!

Did we mention that??!!

We still cannot quite believe it. Us? On a cruise? Unreal!

We will be offline while on board as wifi costs about £22 per day (unbelievable!) We may get the chance to grab a quick download in McDonald’s or a library when we stop in Brisbane, Darwin or KL but otherwise there will be little news from us until we arrive in Singapore on 30 April. Hopefully Leicester will have secured the title and Torquat will be safe by then!

Sojourn in Sydney

12-16/4/16. The last few days have been quiet with periods of preparation for Asia interspersed with short spells of budget sightseeing.

On Tuesday we went on a “poorman’s cruise” on the ferry up to Parramatta, where the best map shop in Sydney is located, to get coverage of South East Asia. Conveniently there is a travel clinic there too and we hit lucky with a cancelled appointment, giving us the chance to blow almost a full week’s budget on vaccinations and malaria treatments!

After the success of leaving our winter clothing in Sydney we decided to get rid of it altogether by posting it back to our son, Alaric, in the UK. A reasonably large box weighed 4 kg, which was good from a cost of posting perspective ($65 by sea taking 2-3 months) but was a slightly disappointing reduction in the load on the bikes! We also posted 2 penknives to Stephen’s ex-work colleague, Hanny, in Singapore as they are not allowed on the ship.

Contacting potential Warmshowers hosts in Singapore has so far proved unsuccessful in locating accommodation but the response of one of them set Christine planning! It being a public holiday weekend when we arrive in Singapore, he is going cycling in Indonesia. Christine twigged that this must mean there is a part that is easily accessible and she found that the island of Batam is close by so giving her a chance to chalk up another country on her list!

The highlight of the sightseeing was walking over the Harbour Bridge with the spectacular views – so much better on foot than from a car.