I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in Australia (11)




It’s Sunday morning and we’re still here in Darwin, having had an overnight stay.  Though we love going off on tours and joining our friends to visit new and interesting places, after a couple of weeks of this we were ready to kick back a little.  Though we had tickets for a visit to a wildlife park, we decided to return them and to do our own thing today.




We’ve found the Australian tourist experience to be very packaged and rather controlled and as Tracy commented on my previous post, the places we’ve been have not necessarily been those we’d have chosen as independent travellers.  Still, we’ve had fun and when time is limited, the packaged “experience” guarantees a successful outcome.

Anyway, armed with a map, we jumped on the city shuttle bus today and caught a number 4 bus to the Sunday market at Nightcliff, as recommended by Judy the Pilots wife.




Catching a local bus is an experience in itself and offers a huge opportunity to observe people going about their everyday lives – which of course, is right up my street.  Sitting waiting for the bus in Darwin city centre, we held our breaths as a group of people hurled some pretty foul language in the direction of another.  On a quiet Sunday morning with few people about, this was the last thing we expected.  But we were to be further surprised when one of the group came over to us and offered profuse apologies for the outburst and for the bad language, saying that we should not have witnessed such behaviour from him and that he was very sorry that we had.   Another surprise came when we stepped onto the bus and offered payment for four tickets, to be told “This one’s on us” by the driver.  Again, something which we’d never expect to happen at home.




Some forty five minutes later, we found ourselves in the bustling market at Nightcliff, amongst a crowd of local families out enjoying the sunshine and the relaxed atmosphere there.




Not as extensive as the Salamanca markets in Hobart, as Judy warned, this was nevertheless a colourful diversion and we spent a happy couple of hours browsing the cheap and cheerful trinkets on the jewellery stall




and trying on shoes – yes, that pair did nicely and found their way home with Jane.




Enjoying a cool smoothie in the shade, we spotted a newspaper headline which sent a shiver down my back




Nasty!  What happened next, we wondered?  The answer was to be found here in a story entitled “sunk fisho plucked from river”!




Returning to Darwin, we strolled around the centre which was a little empty on this Sunday afternoon.




With only the pearl stores and the souvenir shops open, we resisted both and returned to the ship, regretting later that we had forgotten our original plan to spend the afternoon in the art gallery.  Oh dear…the heat addles my brain so!




But a peaceful afternoon sitting on the balcony, watching the yachts return home is not to be sniffed at, and of course, there’s always other interesting things to spot.




Jellyfish.  Lots of them.




I’m not sure what type of jellyfish this is – any suggestions?




Anyway, with the sun setting behind a few clouds, we stood on our balcony with G&Ts in hand, and said goodbye to Australia.  As we did, I  leaned over the rail and looked towards the front of the ship and watched as we sailed into a rainstorm.  Most peculiar to stand in the dry and see the torrential rainfall travel along the length of the ship until, some twenty seconds or so later it reached us.  Fortunately, we were standing under cover, so after marvelling at the amazing weather here in the tropics, we stepped inside to join our friends for dinner.




Next stop, Komodo, where we hope there will be dragons.



Jumping crocs


When I told one particular friend with Darwin connections that we were headed here, she said “I’ll bet you go to see the jumping crocs”.

She was right.




Yesterday afternoon we headed out of Darwin, along the Stuart Highway towards the Adelaide River.  Turning left onto the Arnhem Highway, we drove through lush mango orchards and then wetlands until we reached the bridge.




We knew we’d arrived when we saw a huge concrete jumping crocodile by the side of the road, because this was another of the high profile visitor attractions of the area.




The Adelaide Queen is one of a handful of boats running similar activities and I was glad to see the young family who arrived at the same time as this horde of tourists didn’t lose out – they took their trip on a smaller boat and were able to escape the rest of us!




No sooner were we moving, than the still, calm river water was disturbed by a slight movement.  The first croc was heading towards us.




It was around now that any misconceptions were dispelled, because the chap doing the commentary referred to this creature by name. 

“Oh here’s Scary Croc”, he said, “he’s got things worked out all right”.




He certainly had, because no sooner had he swum to the side of the boat, a pork chop was dangled over the side and he was coaxed to jump for this bait.




Now, picture the scene – fifty or sixty people with cameras all want to take a shot of this creature and all choose to move to the same side of the boat at the same time.

Could have been interesting!




Some were determined and found a way forward, others simply stood back and waited for the next croc to appear on the other side.  Because they came thick and fast once we got going and yes, every single one of them had a name.




Most were pretty lazy and simply put their heads up, though one or two leapt a few feet out of the water to satisfy the crowd.




We’d never seen crocodiles at such close quarters before, so found it interesting but at the same time, rather disconcerting because what we were really seeing was a kind of circus show.




I’m sure there are strict controls on what is allowed, that animal welfare agencies and suchlike are content with what’s going on, but for me, I found it just that bit too practised. 




I found it to be almost like a theme park ride, except the crocodiles here were real living animals and not animations.




Beautiful and scary though these creatures were, I was none too sorry when we turned around and headed back to the pier, especially since the kites and eagles had begun to swoop around.




On the way back, having hitched a ride with another group because our vehicle had a flat tyre, we stopped at the very interesting Window on the Wetlands centre, which had a viewing platform from where one could see for miles in every direction.




We learned all about the Humpty Doo Rice Project




and really enjoyed gazing over part of this vast country.


Last night, the menu featured several Australian specialities to mark our last night in the country.  Sure enough, there amongst the starters were Crocodile Fritters!  The eight of us around the table ordered a couple to try and then did our best to describe the flavour/texture without much success.  All were agreed that it didn’t quite match the delicious barramundi fish which all but two of us chose for our main course (or the banana bread and butter pudding, for that matter).

An half hour or so of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was an “interesting” way to round off the day!






An appropriate day to visit the island of the same name.




We’d approached the island by sailing through the Torres Strait islands for much of the morning, enjoying a commentary from Peter, our reef pilot on board.  Thanks to him, we were able to learn about that little structure just off the coast of Goode Island: it’s a tidal flow meter and transmits a message in morse code about the depth of water – crucial information for shipping in these shallow seas.




The sea this morning was very still and our wide sweep as we navigated through the islands was clear to see.




We stood watching the turquoise blue water, mesmerised by the colour and entertained by the occasional splash and circle of ripples.  What could it be?




We knew these to be crocodile infested waters, so maybe…who knows…perhaps?  Shortly after having that none too comforting thought, we spotted the creature – a sea turtle!  Of course, as soon as we spotted one, we spotted many and our first sight on the island confirmed our experience in the form of some rather attractive public art.




Today was a tendered port so as always, we were entertained by the very efficient and remarkably speedy launch of the boats just beneath us.




It’s always a good chance to chat with the neighbours, too!




We’d opted to take the one hour orientation tour on this incredibly hot and humid afternoon.  Thankfully the clouds sheltered us from the burning sun, but nevertheless, we were glad of the airconditioning on board.  We drove through the streets of the small (3 – 4k population) community making our first stop at the cemetery!




The main reason for doing so was to visit the memorial to the many Japanese pearl divers who died here in pursuit of the valuable commodity.  Well tended and reflecting the respect held for these brave people whose role came to a rather abrupt end with the invention of plastic. Personally, I’m happy with that – the thought of people having to dive for a living doesn’t sit comfortably with me!




The stop also offered a chance to learn a little about the islanders’ funeral traditions, consisting of a series of ceremonies over a period of time all of which involve a great quantity of colourful flowers and the final placing of a very elaborate headstone.




Off uphill then, towards the aptly named Green Hill Fort at the top which featured as part of the Australian defence against the Japanese invasion in WW2.  Looking south, on a clear day, the northern coast of mainland Australia is visible but today, we could see just the neighbouring islands.




Oh, and home, of course.




The small museum at the fort had lovely displays of shells and the mother of pearl buttons for which those Japanese divers risked their lives, as well as interpretations of the military role of the fort.




A short drive back downhill and that was it, really, but as always, we felt that it was unlikely we’d be coming back here any time soon, so rather than return straight to the ship, we wandered around a little.  We began with the Gab Titui Cultural Centre where there was an interesting exhibition of local artworks.  Amongst them were some beautifully woven baskets and a number of prints featuring local fish and flowers.  There was also a well stocked art shop with a surprising selection of screenprinting materials, probably a good indication of the most common form of art practised here.




The buildings were adorned with some interesting local artwork too.




Next, we wandered along to the small Anglican Cathedral of All Souls, named for the many who perished on the wreck of the Quetta here in 1890.  The small stained glass windows were beautiful representations to commemorate events in the island’s history.






Having signed the visitors book, we returned along the seafront, enjoying the various public artworks which were staged along the pathway.




There were, however, reminders of why this might not be quite as idyllic a beach as one might think





Returning to the ship on this hot and humid afternoon wasn’t quite the most comfortable journey, described by some as “like being in a plastic bag”.  Sitting at the back of the ship’s tender did give me chance for some interesting reading however.




Comforting to know that there’s fishing tackle on the lifeboats.


Sailing towards Darwin today, through waters which are around 45m deep, apparently.  Thank goodness for pilots!


In Cairns today




The morning was looking pretty damp, too.  Never mind – the weather is one thing we can’t change.

The last time we were in Cairns was around 20 years ago, on one of our very first long haul holidays with Edward, who would have been around 7 or 8.  We really enjoyed our time in this neck of the woods and the rainforest and reef left deep impressions on us.  Given the choice today, we decided not to overwrite the snorkelling experience on the Great Barrier Reef, but instead chose to try something new.




Even all that time ago, we remember Cairns as being quite well developed in the tourism stakes and so it came as no surprise to find that one of the options we had was to visit a corner of rainforest and see an Aboriginal show and that this particular “experience” was in – or near – Kuranda.  Twenty years ago we’d taken the steam train to Kuranda and visited the butterfly house there, though due to my fear of things flying, I’d sat outside drinking coffee for a while instead.

Anyway, here we were on a Monday morning in 2012, driving up the mountain to Rainforestation, where we were going to take a ride in an Army Duck vehicle into the forest.  Yes, the full on tourist attraction, safe, controlled and no surprises guaranteed.




But you know, such things are not always to be sniffed at.  In this case, the driver AJ was great and the whole shebang was so professionally run that really, it was hard to be at all critical.  With only a short time to see something new, what better way than to put yourself in the hands of people who know what they are doing and who do it so well?




Because we didn’t so much go into the rainforest as have the rainforest delivered to the end of our noses, with the full commentary as well.




What better way to see water dragons and small kingfishers just a couple of feet away?




We loved being in the midst of such lush greenery, especially at such close quarters and the ride in the duck simply added to the fun.




There followed a performance by a group of Aboriginal Pamagirri people, which was fun to watch.  Even so, we were waiting for them to strike up the HokeyCokey or something similar – you know the kind of thing that happens at this sort of show?  Eventually, they cajoled three stooges to come up from the audience to perform the Shake a Leg Dance, which was more or less the same level of embarrassment.  Thankfully it was all done in good humour and with a bit of a twinkle in the eye too!




After the dancing, we were taken to a wide open space to watch a demonstration of spear throwing.




This wouldn’t normally have been my kind of thing but I must say, I found it impressive to watch the accuracy and range that could be achieved by using the “spear thrower”; a shortish piece of wood with a hook at one end  and a club at the other. 

After a quick demonstration of boomerang throwing and one final didgeridoo lesson, our introduction to Aboriginal skills was complete.  We’d really enjoyed our time here and appreciated the thought and organisation which had gone into providing visitors with such a wealth of cultural activity in the limited time available.

It was now time to move on to Kuranda.




My memory of the place 20 years ago is of a tourist trap of a village with tie dyed T shirts and butterfly wall hangings.  Sadly, not much seems to have changed in the intervening years and though Shelagh, our guide, made much of the agreement of Kuranda traders to sell only Australian made products, we saw quite a bit which appeared to stretch the boundaries rather.




On this rainy Monday afternoon, much of the market was closed, which didn’t help, but nevertheless, we enjoyed a wander around and a little people watching opportunity as it gradually became clear that much of this wasn’t really aimed at people like us at all, but more likely the large groups of Asian youngsters who were there too and who are probably the main tourist market these days.




Back in Cairns itself later in the afternoon, it became more apparent that much of the town is geared towards the Asian market with restaurants and shops advertising in Japanese and Mandarin.




A few old buildings remain amongst the newer, flashier structures – this one is the headquarters of the local newspaper.




After a couple of hours downtown we felt that we had seen what we could of Cairns, given the dreadful weather.  We made it back to the cruise terminal and admired this warning notice, even if it does seem rather out of date!




As we were about to board the ship, we stopped by a table and enjoyed a taste of Queensland’s harvest – the wonderful tropical fruits which taste so much better here where they are grown.  After a few mouthfuls of custard apples, soursops, mangoes and sugar bananas we pulled ourselves away and back up the gangplank. 

It’s a pity the sun didn’t shine for us today, but nevertheless, we’ve had a great time here and the atmosphere back on this ship is one of lively chatter as we all share stories of our time in Cairns. Tonight,  we’ve set sail for somewhere new to almost all of us – Papua New Guinea.  Now that’s going to be interesting, isn’t it?


A few hours in Townsville


Enough food!  Time to get on with what we came for – discovering new places and the joy of opening the curtains first thing and seeing somewhere new, just waiting there ready to be explored.




Actually, it wasn’t quite Townsville this morning, since we weren’t scheduled to arrive till 11am.  But the Queensland coastline was looking lovely in the morning sunshine and after a day at sea we were ready to get going.




But at the same time, the warmth of the sun drew us outside, to sit for an hour on the balcony and do a little drawing, read a magazine and simply watch the world go by.




As we approached Townsville we were buzzed on several occasions by this noisy little boat, a chap appearing to film the ship as he went by.  We got our own back by taking several photographs of him!




We were a little early into port, arriving just as the inhabitants of the city were getting up and about their Sunday morning business.  The catamarans were toing and froing to Magnetic Island, small jetskis zoomed out to sea and small groups of people stood on the breakwater, watching the ship come into the harbour.  Once again we did one of those turns on our axis – a remarkable manoeuvre really, and with a small tug alongside our berth was secured.

(I think I could post a blog focused completely on photos of tugs of the world, but for now, I’ll spare you that!)

We were booked to visit the two museums in town and to drive around the city, so turned up on time and joined a crowd to be led by a rather vague and slightly dotty guide.  First call was a little orientation tour of some of the suburbs, which looked, errmmm, rather like suburbs of many small towns – that is, slightly scruffy in places, a bit sleepy on this Sunday afternoon and for an outsider, not especially interesting.




After a while, we turned up at the Palmetum, one of Townsville’s main attractions, particularly so because of the old building which had been imported from another location to be used as a tea room here.




Sadly, there wasn’t time for us to get out and take a look, so we simply sat in the car park and listened, in much the same way as losers on a game show are told all about the prizes they might have won…if only!




From there we drove along the Strand, which seemed to us to be a most attractive promenade, created after the cyclone a few years ago.  Here, in the sunshine, families were out and about, enjoying the fresh air and the thoughtful amenities which had been planned into this new construction.




The children were having a great time at a water playground and I could imagine that the children of Townsville have to be dragged away from here when it’s time for home.




Our next stop was Reef HQ, a large aquarium and research establishment for the Great Barrier Reef.  Thankfully, a most capable, enthusiastic and energetic guide took over here and the ten of us heaved a sigh of relief as we were taken on a whistle stop tour of all things aquatic.  Not only could Lyn name every fish, every coral and other sea creature, she was able to communicate her knowledge in a way that captivated us all – what a contrast!




I know this is a lousy photo but I particularly liked these patterns formed by a kind of sea anemone (sorry, Lyn, I forgot already!)  As we stood watching, they were pulsating gently.




I took loads of photos and though some of the most colourful fish came out ok, others remain best recorded in my head.  This little magenta and yellow fellow stands out nicely, though, doesn’t he?




Above all, there was a feeling of calm.   We stood and watched these amazing creatures hardly move a muscle as they slipped silently through the water.  Such bright colours, beautiful patterns, elegant forms.  Altogether magical.




Mind you, there were menacing faces too.




We loved the place and could have spent longer there, perhaps taking out paper and crayons to draw and paint?




Because in every little tank, there was something lovely, interesting, beautiful and gracious to see.  But of course, we had to move on, regroup and make our way to another place.




At least it was just next door.

The Museum of Northern Queensland is another newish building right next door to the Reef HQ.  After a short introduction by another enthusiastic volunteer, we were able to explore the place independently, although like everyone else, we began with The Pandora.




This ship is the focus of the museum and indeed, in Townsville’s history.  Unsurprisingly, I’d never heard of Pandora, but soon learned that this ship was sent to trace the mutineers of the Bounty and bring them home to undergo trial.  It was shipwrecked just off this coast and discovered by divers relatively recently.  The treasures and the story of the ship and the people aboard are all here to see.




As is this very cleverly constructed replica/interpretation of the vessel.  I loved the way it had been envisioned and as an exhibit in its own right, it was fascinating.




Looking down from an elevated walkway, the shape of the ship was worked into the carpet and it was easy to picture the size – actually rather smaller than one might think.




Also in the museum were replicas of the curious prehistoric sea creatures, the remnants of which have been found in the North Queensland desert and a huge number of corals – the largest collection in the Southern Hemisphere – which made me want to get out my drawing things again.




Great place, super afternoon which turned out so much better than we feared when we started.  As always, we could have spent longer here but indeed, we felt lucky to have visited it at all and took away good memories of two fascinating places.

We jumped on our bus again and just made it back to the ship in time for Trivia, but found ourselves on our own since the rest of our team were still cuddling koalas or something.  Never mind – with the assistance of Ron from Toronto and Judy the Pilot’s wife, we missed out on a surprise win by one measly point.  Never mind – we didn’t know that Jerusalem means “city of peace” and the winning team did.  Better luck next time, eh?


A fine dinner tonight, Cordon Bleu style in “Signatures” but you’ll just have to imagine the deliciousness that we enjoyed this time!