The World Cruise
Part 2: Pago Pago, American Samoa to Adelaide, Australia
Miles traveled this leg: 5,436 Cumulative Miles traveled to date: 17,434
Wednesday, February 1, 2006
Dateline: Pago Pago, American Samoa
Latitude at Pago Pago, 14.21 degrees South, Longitude 170.39 degrees West
Today we docked in the town of Pago Pago (pronounced Pain-go Pain-go with the accent on “pain”, which is on an island called Tutuila in American Samoa (which is made up of a number of islands) after traveling by sea for four days. Like the Fijians, the Samoans apparently like to insert “n”s into names that don’t contain the actual letter. A little known factoid: “Sa Moa” is an ancient Polynesian phrase that means “sacred chickens” and apparent there is an old belief by Samoans that their ancestors were actually very special poultry offspring of Lu, the son of Tagaloa, the God of Creation. Why they decided on chickens, we don’t know. Samoa was first discovered by the western world in 1722 and Europeans came to be known as the “papalagi”(now shortened to “palagi”) which translates as “people who explode things in the sky”. Now, this is easier to understand since arriving Europeans were quite fond of firing cannons at the natives. The US began using Samoa as a coaling station in the 19th century, so when other colonial powers began carving up the South Pacific, we more or less declared “squatter’s rights” and stayed put.
American Samoa is probably beautiful behind all those clouds, but it was really wet and really windy from our perspective, that perspective being coming into port on the fringes of a typhoon. We were supposed to be in port for a full day, but the captain cancelled all tours and announced we would leave at noon. We arrived in a pouring rain, being driven horizontally by a howling wind, which we later learned was gusting over 50 miles per hour. Gary had an opportunity to chat with the captain later, who told him if he had known how bad it was there, he would have kept us at sea. Nevertheless, since we (a) had been at sea for 4 days (b) had never set foot on American Samoa and (c) are sorely lacking good sense, we decided to brave the elements and go ashore. In the meantime, the captain ordered the two tugs that helped us get docked to stay up snug against the ship’s leeward side, pushing the ship against the wind to relieve pressure on the lines.
We took our two umbrellas which were quickly turned inside out, and became instantly soaked. After slogging through several rivers that used to be streets, we finally hopped on a little local bus, more to get out of the rain than anything else. We were told that we could find an internet access at a government building, which was almost true. It turned out to be in the library across the street, and you could log on for all day for $5.00. It wasn’t as good a deal as you would think because the connection was so slow, it would take almost all day to get anything done. However, we were able to send out GAT 4 successfully.
The rest of the time on shore, however, was a washout (literally). By the time we went outside to catch a bus, you couldn’t tell where the streets were since everything was covered in water, knee deep in places. We were able to hop another bus and get back to the ship. We cleared the harbor in the early afternoon, but nasty weather stayed with us for the rest of the day and into the evening.
Thursday, February 2, 2006 (the Lost Day)
Dateline: Southern Pacific Ocean
We knew time was going to fly on this trip, but this is ridiculous. When we went to bed it was Wednesday, but when we woke up, it was Friday. We lost a whole day and we weren’t even drinking, but that’s the price you pay when you cross the International Dateline (180 degrees Longitude). We crossed at approximately 16.5 degrees South latitude. Once we crossed the Dateline, our longitude is expressed in degrees East rather than West, just as when we crossed the Equator it was expressed in degrees South versus North.
For this and future travelogues, I will use Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as a reference. For those not familiar on the subject, there are 24 time zones in the world each containing approximately 15 degrees of longitude each, for a total of 360 degrees. For each time zone west of GMT, you would subtract 1 hour to get the correct time. For each time zone east of the GMT, you would add one hour. Some examples are Eastern Standard Time is GMT minus 5, Pacific Standard Time is GMT minus 8, France’s time zone is GMT plus 1, and Fiji’s time zone is GMT plus 12. Although time zones are based roughly on longitudinal measurements, they are often altered for geo-political purposes. For example, the Greenwich Meridian (0.00) runs through England and theoretically it would separate the country into 2 time zones, but for practical reasons, all of England was placed in the same time zone.
Friday, February 3, 2006
Dateline: Southern Pacific Ocean Position at Noon GMT+ 12 hours, 16.5 degrees South, 178.0 degrees West.
Today is a sea day, the only one we have between American Samoa and Fiji, and we spent most of the day getting clear of the tempest we encountered in Pago Pago. You will note by today’s position at noon that we hadn’t actually crossed the International Dateline, although clocks were set ahead during the night as a matter of convenience to crew and passengers. We crossed around 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon with no fanfare to speak of. We are in a comfortable sea day routine, with reading, a cribbage game, paddle tennis, etc. so this may be a good place to share some more colorful “characters”.
This edition’s candidates are: Brigette Bardot’s Great Grandma – We haven’t actually been introduced, but we determined she must be related to Ms. Bardot based on her scanty swim wear. She is somewhere north, far north, of 75, but wears her bikini with all the reckless abandon of Brigitte back in the 60’s. (I’ve heard it said on deck by strong men who have seen a lot of strange and terrible things in this world that it makes you want to stick a fork in your own eyeball so you don’t have to see it – small exaggeration here) She has pure white longish hair, which looks to be the consistency of cotton candy, and which she wears swept up in sort of a Katherine Hepburn messy bun. She is out sunbathing every day and as you can imagine, and is looking quite leathery by now. I’m not one to make fun of droopy boobs, but I swear she wears her bikini top so low it could double as a belt. But on the positive side, we are thus spared views of her navel.
Indiana Jones’ Uncool and Wimpy Brother, Trevor – Again we haven’t been formally introduced, but we have dubbed this gentleman Trevor, although we have since heard his voice and think that may be too manly a moniker for him. He sounds suspiciously like Truman Capote. We haven’t drawn any conclusion about his life-style, but he is traveling with a much older man (his uncle or father perhaps? No? We didn’t think so either). He is very small boned and thin (cadaverously so), but his most striking characteristics are he appears on deck (even in the steamy Canal Zone) in a salmon pink linen sports coat, a starched shirt, sharply creased khaki pants, paisley socks, and tasseled loafers. The Indiana Jones connection is that he sports aviator type sunglasses and carries a vintage (1930’s or so I imagine) binoculars case slung over his shoulder and can frequently be seen striking poses at the rail and scanning the horizon (looking for the Lost Ark perhaps). Before you start picturing him as a Gentleman’s Quarterly type, I do have to tell you for some unknown reason, he always wears a Gilligan’s hat which tends to undermine the Indiana Jones look.
Samurai Line Dancer – This is a gentleman we know from our daily turns about the deck, but haven’t learned his name. He is small but stocky and is of the Asian persuasion (an unintentional rhyme, but it would have been clever if I’d planned it, don’t you think?) He walks everyday at the same time we do, sometimes with a bandana-type wrap around his head, which on a Caucasian we would think “Biker”, but on an Asian with his muscular build, “Samurai” comes to mind. We have seen no evidence of swordplay, no slicing and dicing of exotic fruit a la John Belushi, and in fact he seems very amicable. We were therefore very surprised to see him in the on-board talent show performing a line dance with approximately 10 ladies, not once but twice, and he is reputedly the darling of the daily dance class. Also he has started wearing headphones instead of the samurai warrior head gear. We suspect he’s listening to Cotton Eyed Joe, just waiting for his next opportunity to be in the spot light.
Saturday, February 4, 2006
Dateline: Lautoka, Fiji
Latitude at Lautoka 17.36 degrees South, Longitude 177.26 degrees East
Today we docked at Lautoka, Fiji on the island of Viti Levu under cloudy skies, which began to clear shortly after our arrival. We happened to see a live-aboard dive boat, the Naia’a, that we had spent 10 days on several years ago, tied up at the pier next to us. She was in port having some work done in preparation for going out later in the week. We didn’t see anyone we knew. Rob, the captain,was away for a few days and the crew there told us that one of our favorite crew members, Rusi, had retired.
We had signed up for an excursion to the island of Tivua, about 1 hour away on a motor-sailboat. It was an antique boat, all wood, about 80 years old and nicely refurbished. En route, the crew sang local songs for us, we had a “kava” ceremony and Gary was picked by the crew to be captain for the day. It was a high honor, but it meant he had to drink the kava without flinching or spitting it out. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, “kava” is a local drink that looks like dirty water and tastes even worse. If you have enough of it, it makes your mouth numb. Unfortunately it does not disable your taste buds so it’s hard to get to that numbness state.
The island of Tivua is the typical tropical paradise you’d envision with beaches reminiscent of White Bay, Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands (no Soggy Dollar here, but they did serve rum punches, beer, etc.). We passed several small cays that looked much like Sandy Cay (between Jost Van Dyke and Cane Garden Bay, Tortola) We snorkeled the reef, took a nap in a hammock just like the one at the Soggy Dollar, in the shade of two huge almond trees. We had a buffet lunch with freshly grilled local fish and various salads and did our “large iguana in the sun” impressions until mid afternoon. On the return trip, the crew sang more local songs for us including their traditional
“goodbye song called “Isa Lei” which is both beautiful and nostalgic and will raise goosebumps no matter how hot and sweaty you are. We decided to stay on deck and watch our departure from Lautoka and the sunset, both of which were quite memorable.
Sunday, February 5, 2006
Dateline: South Pacific Position at Noon – GMT + 12 hours 20.5 degrees South, 172.1 degrees East, 120 miles east of Vanuatu, 320 miles from Fiji, 405 miles to New Caledonia
Today we are continuing our westerly course toward New Caledonia and gingerly treating all those spots we missed with sunscreen yesterday with moisturizer. We have a good group now playing paddle tennis, about 16 or so regulars and we had some fierce games today. And of course we continue to eat fabulous meals.
At this juncture, I would like to say a few words about fashion on board. There is some high, some low and some no. The highs are not really interesting, and you all can picture these people. So let me spend a few moments on the low and the no fashion groups. Black socks with sandals are so common here as to be looked at as the norm, so I’ll just keep the discussion to the truly bizarre. So here are the looks that are big on the QE2 this season. If there were fashion police on board, they’d have to wear riot gear and deploy with pepper spray just to keep order. The Court Jester–to achieve this look you must wear wildly patterned hosiery with a big blousy shirt, cinched at the waist. If there is a skirt underneath, it is so short as to go unnoticed. If you really want to go over the top with this look, you can wear little pointy toed shoes with bells and a pointy cap. Harry Potter All grown up – this is best for cold climates, you have to have the round glasses and add a snap brim hat with a cashmere trench coat. To show this look off to best advantage you need to strike a pose on deck and hold for several seconds to ensure you are seen and appreciated. Bag Lady – for this look you can combine any number of wardrobe items as long as they are (a) patterned and (b) baggy. Keds or other athletic shoes must be a lively plaid as well. No solids allowed here. For the most effective look, the skirt should be a “squaw” style with rickrack. This look is perfect for late-afternoon promenades. Also ensure head is covered with a scarf with a loud print in colors not found in nature. Captain of the Minnow – for you Gilligan’s Island fans, the Captain look is big on the QE2. All you need is a blue double breasted blazer with large gold buttons, white shirt, white pants, white socks and white hat with gold braid. This look is best pulled off by those with a considerable paunch. Lean and trim persons may want to stick with Harry Potter in a trench coat. I could go on, but I’ll leave you with these looks to ponder and master. I hope we will see some early adopters in Gainesville this spring. Tomorrow we will dock in New Caledonia, which is uncharted territory for us. We plan to go on a bicycle tour of the island. The saga shall continue.
Monday, February 6, 2006
Dateline: Noumea, New Caledonia
Latitude at Noumea, 22.15 degrees South, Longitude 166.25 degrees East
It was overcast and rainy when we pulled into Noumea (pronounced New-may-ah with the accent on the “may”). For those unfamiliar with the old Caledonia (this is pronounced Cal-eh-doan-yah with the accent on the “doan”) this was the name that the Romans gave to Scotland, back in the days when they ruled what is now Great Britain. So when James Cook (the British Explorer) sighted the island, he named it New Caledonia because he fancied it looked like the rugged Scottish landscape. He must have been there on a rainy day as well because the wet weather is the only similarity we saw. The British, however, did not
colonize the island, so the French must have said the 18th Century equivalent of “dibs” and started establishing missions in the late 1790’s. Due to the weather, our bicycle tour was cancelled. Undaunted, we took the shuttle into town and rented a “scooter car” to do our own tour. The Scooter Car is actually a motor scooter with maybe a leaf blower or weed eater size engine in it that has two seats and training wheels.
New Caledonia is still a French territory and Noumea is quite cosmopolitan considering its size and remote location. We did our own tour of the area – we couldn’t get too far away from town since this vehicle was seriously “hill challenged”, i.e. it was not inclined to go up any inclines. We never had more than a sprinkle or two, which is a good thing since our vehicle was very “alfresco”. We took the coast road and explored the bays and beaches which are truly lovely. The island is lushly tropical with all sorts of flowering shrubs and trees, most notably what they call “flame trees” and what gardeners will know as Royal
Poinciana and what Puerto Ricans call “Flamboyan”. We also stopped at a golf course and checked out a few holes, but didn’t have time to play since our vehicle was due back at 12:30. After we turned our scooter car in, we walked around the city and had lunch in an outdoor restaurant at a park. It was really interesting to see all those tropical plants we buy in little pots at home in their native habitat (i.e. they use asparagus fern for ground cover beneath ficus trees that are as big as 50 year old oak trees. Bougainvillea, jacaranda, hibiscus, plumbago, ixora – you name it. If it’s tropical- they grow it.
We also stopped at a grocery store to replenish our own stash of wine and Diet Coke. We made a very pleasant discovery in that the store had an outstanding selection of French wines, a French bakery with fresh baguettes, a French deli with freshly roasted chicken among other delights. I must report here that Gary was so overwhelmed by the aroma of the freshly roasted chicken, he bought two drumsticks and ate them on the spot, much to the amusement of many of our shipmates watching from a nearby bus. Gary lifted a leg (a chicken leg that is) in acknowledgement of their attention to his afternoon snacking. We got back on the ship just in time to see the closing moments of the Super Bowl and were glad to see the Steelers win. (Monday afternoon here is Sunday in the USA which is why we saw it live a day later than those of you in the USA) Leaving Noumea, we had a harbor pilot with us for a couple of hours because of the extensive reef system around the island. The sun was just going down when we cleared the last reef and began our trip south and east toward New Zealand.
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
Dateline: South Pacific Position at Noon – GMT +12, 28.24 degrees South, 170.9 degrees West 120 miles northeast of Norfolk Island, 489 miles from Noumea, 570 miles to Auckland, NZ
Today is a sea day and we are making our way to Auckland, New Zealand. You will notice from our position today, as compared to yesterday, that we are no longer going west, but south and east and we also set our clocks forward for a change. A side note to all gardeners on Norfolk Island, yes, this is the source of origin of the Norfolk Island Pine.
We deviated today from our standard read, nap, paddle tennis, walk punctuated by frequent eating. The ship has a guest lecturer program in which they present “Enrichment Lectures”. They are often interesting, as well as educational, so we decided to attend. The speaker today was Doug Burgess, a very young (probably late 20’s) whipper-snapper just out of law school, but he was truly impressive. Although he got a degree from Columbia University in International Law, he decided to become a scholar, researcher and historian instead of practicing law and his field of expertise is piracy – old and new. Of course, some cynics may put tongue in cheek at this juncture and comment that from lawyer to piracy isn’t much of a leap. His morning talk was on pirates of old and then in the afternoon gave a talk on terrorists and drew parallels on how they are the pirates of our time. Anyway, enough of that, you’ll have to buy the book he has out to find out more. We will arrive in New Zealand tomorrow around 1:00 p.m. and have hopes of finding an Internet Café with High Speed Access As if we’re not confused enough, New Zealand is on daylight savings time since this is the middle of summer for the Southern Hemisphere so tomorrow we will be GMT + 13 hours. I’m wearing the stem out on my watch.
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Dateline: Auckland, New Zealand
Latitude at Auckland 36.50 degrees South, Longitude 174.45 degrees East
We cruised today to the Land of the Long White Cloud (so described by the earliest Polynesian explorers) commonly known as New Zealand. New Zealand was named by a Dutch Explorer, Abel Tasman of the Dutch East India Company, after Zeeland in Holland. It is reported that Mr. Tasman left the North Island in great haste after several crew members were captured and eaten by local Maori (pronounced Maow-ree with the accent on the first syllable) tribesmen in 1642. They must not have tasted too good because when Captain Cook came in the 1700’s, the Maoris were very friendly and invited him to dinner, not for dinner, and thus began a long relationship with England. New Zealand has two main islands, North and South, which total around 103,000 square miles, with a population of just over 4 million, 3 of which live on the North Island and 1.3 of which live in Auckland. There are supposedly 30 times as many sheep in New Zealand as people at “lambing” time. Auckland, our first of 3 ports of call in New Zealand, is called the City of Sails since there are so many sailboats here, and in fact Auckland has the highest ratio of boats per capita of any city in the world. The climate is really delightful – very San Francisco like, but with smaller hills and without the fog. It’s the first “jacket weather” we’ve had since leaving New York.
We entered the Hauraki Gulf this morning off New Zealand’s North Island and made our way into Waitemata Harbor and to our berth at Prince’s Wharf in Auckland. We docked just after noon, which here is GMT +13, since New Zealand is currently on Daylight Savings Time. Once they go back to standard time, they will be at GMT +12. So during Daylight Savings time, they have the same time of day (or night) as GMT – 12, but it’s 24 hours later than in the GMT – 12 zone. In a recent email, Martin Rist pointed out that in the discussion of time in the last GAT, we made no mention of Newfoundland’s quirky half hour time difference from the rest of the world. Yes it’s true, “Newfies” are a little off (some say in more ways than one) – but definitely half an hour time-wise, so they are GMT – 4.30. And speaking of a little off, we learned that on Chatham Island, (part of New Zealand, but several miles east of the North Island), their time is GMT + 12.45 all year round. It has been suggested that we get a satellite watch which synch up with GPS satellites so we don’t have to keep changing our own watches. We may just do just that in Shanghai. Since you can buy 5 “Rolexes” for $10, I’ll bet they have killer deals on satellite watches as well. We might even get one with Chairman Mao waving to us on it.
Once we docked we had a complimentary tour (one of 5 that all us Dukes and Duchesses are offered). The first of these was in Acapulco at the Villa Arabesque which I wrote about in a fair amount detail in a previous issue. I regret to say there was no encore of the villa treatment here in Auckland, but nevertheless we had a wonderful day. Our first stop was the Sky Tower which dominates the skyline at 1,076 feet. They have bungee jumpers who leap from the building every half hour or so, plus they have glass floor in both their elevators and on the walkway around the observation deck. It’s really spooky to stand on the glass and see the ground a thousand feet directly below you – those with vertigo or agoraphobia should definitely stay on the bus. Factoid: Bungee jumping originated in New Zealand and seems to typify the stereotypic “Kiwi” – in a word – they’re nuts – fearless, but nevertheless, nuts.
From there we went to the National Museum which had a little bit of everything about New Zealand. We spent quite a bit of time on the Maori culture and how NZ came to be populated. In a nutshell, while the Polynesians who took up residence came by canoes, many of the British who took up residence came on prison ships. If you want to say hello in the Maori language, just say “Kia Ora” – sounds just like it’s spelled. We were running out of time so we had to breeze by New Zealand flora and fauna, but I want to insert a short note on each. There is a kiwi fruit as we all know and put into our fruit trays and there is a kiwi bird which is a large, chicken size, flightless bird who lays eggs almost half her own size. Also New Zealanders are nicknamed kiwis – don’t know if it’s for the bird or the fruit. We also spent a few quick minutes on New Zealand’s WWI and WWII history. Because New Zealand was a British Colony and maintains close ties even after independence was granted in 1947, New Zealanders have gotten involved in every conflict that Great Britain has, as well as several of their own wars from time to time. If you happen to visit military cemeteries around the world (as I tend to do), you will notice a disproportionate number of Kiwis (compared to their population) buried there. (e.g. Crete, Gallipoli Turkey, France, North Africa,) I guess if you’ve got the courage to bungee jump, taking a machine gun position looks easy by comparison.
Our final stop was at a cultural center where we were treated to Maori dancing and rituals which we found fascinating. One of the most unusual aspects in their war dances is that they grimace and scowl while threatening life and limb of their enemies with spears and assorted sharp objects. However, their next move is to stick their tongues out, which is intended to strike fear into the hearts of the bad guys (apparently the Maori version of “shock and awe”), but I must confess, we did have to suppress a small chuckle. In fact Gary thought they were injecting a little humor into their routine until I explained that he’s supposed to be afraid, very afraid. A final non Maori treat was singing by the “Three Waiters”. These were guys who pretended to be waiters, (as we all believed them to be since they were dressed the part and passing out champagne and canapés). However, these waiters burst into operatic song and did a great comedic skit.
Thursday, February 9, 2006
Dateline: Auckland, New Zealand
Today we have plans to freelance in Auckland which is made easy by the fact that we are docked right in the heart of the city. We had a quick (non-Duchess type) breakfast ashore at a local bakery (donut and Diet Coke) and it felt sinfully decadent – sort of like “slumming” I suppose. We spent quite a bit of time reading and sending emails – high speed connection Internet places are everywhere – it’s a beautiful thing.
We took a cab to an “ecology” park of sorts where they have a habitat for Emperor Penguins and a really unusual aquarium. They also have historical exhibits that showcase Antarctic Exploration artifacts. The penguin “encounter” was via a simulated “Snow Cat” which traveled through the penguin habitat. They were loose and we were locked in. They make tons of snow daily and have a large swimming area so you can see them going about their penguin-business. They are really fascinating creatures that made us decide we want to go to Antarctica someday to see them in the wild. There were a few babies peeking out from underneath parent’s feathers. They apparently rest on top of their feet. But then those of you who have seen The March of the Penguins already know this. They also had a great aquarium through which there is a pedestrian tunnel so the fish are above and around you. They have fantastic shark and stingray specimens. They feed the stingrays by hand, much to the delight of the viewers (ourselves included) and since the sides of their enclosures are glass, you really can see how they eat. Gary and I have been diving with manta rays in Mexico and stingrays in the Cayman Islands and this makes us want to schedule another trip.
We took a taxi back to the city and had a leisurely lunch at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the harbor. We got a kick out of the waitress who asked, instead of “Ya want fries wid dat?” asked if she could “organize” some French fries for us. Gary has become a New Zealand green lipped mussel zealot and ordered up a batch. (or in local parlance, he asked that she “organize” some for him). He had no idea that he would get 16 and they would be about the size of golf balls – the creature, not the shell. He actually couldn’t finish them all. To his credit (and just to keep the mystique surrounding his legendary appetite alive – he did help me eat my snapper tempura which (as they say in Georgia) was good enough to make you slap your grandma. We strolled around Queen Street and did a little shopping and also stopped by a wine store to replenish our sunset beverage stash. We have had several excellent New Zealand wines on board so we bought a few to take with us. We always like to support local vineyards (not to mention the local economy.) We also spent over an hour at the New Zealand Maritime Museum which was excellent. They have 14 exhibition galleries covering boats through the years from Polynesian War Canoes to 20 meter yachts that competed for the America’s cup. Unfortunately, we had to cut this short since we were due back on board at 5:30 p.m.
We sailed at 6:00 tonight, but it had started to rain so we bundled up in rain jackets and went out on the deck for the farewell. Every port we go into has tugboats to help get us docked, but NZ has the coolest ones yet. They have an engine “pod”, rather than a fixed mount engine and this allows them to turn in any direction. As a farewell salute, after they got us headed out to sea, they pulled alongside and did a series of “donuts” (360 degree spins) in the water for our entertainment. As I said before, these Kiwis are nuts.
Friday, February 10, 2006
Dateline: Tauranga, New Zealand
Latitude at Tauranga 37.38 degrees South, Longitude176.10 degrees East
We docked in Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand after an overnight cruise in the early morning hours in a pouring rain. It was not as bad as Pago Pago since there was not the same gale force wind blowing. We had planned a trip to a thermal reserve (a national park similar to Yellowstone but with smaller mountains), a Maori cultural center and a sheep shearing demonstration, so we set off in the rain, armed with umbrellas (mine was a replacement since I suffered a blowout in Pago Pago.) and rain jackets. Gary had heard the visit to the sheep farm referred to as a “Sheep Show”, but he misunderstood and thought people were saying we were going to see a “Peep Show”. However, to his credit, he hid his disappointment well when he found out it was a farm animal show with no kinkier content than sheep’s wool. En route we traveled through the town of Te Puke (pronounced Tah-Poo-Kay with the accent on the “Poo”) which is the kiwi fruit capital of the world. Kiwi is also known as Chinese Gooseberry and it grows on vines much like grapes. This is also a large avocado growing region and both types of crops are protected by thickly planted wind-breaks of Leyland Cypress, Cryptomeria, etc. Even though we were told how to pronounce “Puke”, we still had to snicker when we passed the Puke Restaurant and Bakery. If we had been faster with the camera and slower with the traffic light, we could have captured this image for the juvenile amusement of us all.
We drove inland and up into the mountains to the town of Rotorua (pronounced like Roto-Rooter, but instead of “rooter”, you say Rue-Ah.) This is a beautiful little town adjacent to a large lake with black swans paddling along the shoreline, ringed by mountain peaks, and on the few moments when the sun was out, surrounded by pasturelands and hillsides green enough to rival the Irish countryside. Unfortunately, the rain kept falling so we only had glimpses of the brilliant green. We next drove to Whakarewarewa (which I have no idea how to pronounce and apparently neither do the locals since they call it Whaka for short)
Our first stop was at the Thermal Reserve where we saw live kiwi birds in a natural habitat-type enclosure. Of course the huge plate glass wall is not part of the natural habitat, but the birds were grubbing away in the dirt and don’t seem to mind it. They are both rare and nocturnal so they are almost never spotted in the wild. From there we went to see the boiling and bubbling mud pools (more exciting than it sounds, really – sort of like a witch’s cauldron for those familiar with witches’ cauldrons). There are a number of steaming vents and spouting geysers that erupt several times a day permeating the air with sulfurous
fumes. A side note on geysers: There is a destination lecturer of the British persuasion on board who pronounces this word “geezers” which led several of us to comment that we could have stayed on board and seen plenty of “geezers” – no need to drive all the way out here in the rain for that. Apparently the ancient Maori used to cook food in these hot springs (average temperatures are just below boiling) and were also know to throw hostile warriors from rival tribes into the springs and to snack on them when they were done to perfection, whatever standard that might entail.
The Maori Cultural center is dedicating preserving the history and the culture of the Tuhourangi, a sub-tribe of the Maori, including wood carving and ceremonial costumes which are made from a type of flax plant, found naturally in the wild here. They also used this product to make ropes which was one of the first NZ exports. They have also reconstructed an ancient Maori village including the meeting house where the custom was for men to sit in the front and women in the back. This was explained to us that it was not intended to denigrate women, but to protect them in case fighting breaks out and some visitor turns hostile and needs to be tossed into the “geezers” or hot springs (probably easier to retrieve out of the springs in case they were on the menu for the evening meal.) One of the highlights of this segment of the tour was the performing of the “Haka” which is the Maori war dance that involves bulging eyes and protruding tongues I mentioned in the Auckland section of this issue.
Our last stop was at the sheep farm for the sheepshow/peep show. We sat in a large barn-like structure and were introduced to 19 different types of sheep some produced for their wool, and some for lamb chops, etc., but none of which smelled the least bit appetizing – they smelled like wet sheep – but they were cute in a sheep-like way. We saw a shearing demonstration, which neither of us had seen before. We learned that shearers get paid by the sheep (or should I say per sheep – the sheep do not issue payroll) and a good average time is 48 seconds per sheep in order to make top dollar at this. Shearing involves grabbing the
creature with one hand and shearing with the other. Interestingly enough, when the sheep is right side up with its feet under it, it struggles. However, when it is sitting up its haunches, it’s almost comatose. (I guess it’s sort of like those hypnotized lobsters you see in the Caribbean.) We also saw an excellent herding demonstration and learned there are two different methods of dog herding. One breed such as the Australian cattle dog does it by– staring (no barking). He just gives the sheep what Southerners would call “the stink-eye” and they move right out. The other type of herding is done by barking and these dogs look more like German Shepherds. The also move in a herd by jumping up and running across the backs of the sheep, who seem not to care or notice.
It was still raining when we left and although I grew up moisture-deprived in West Texas, and consequently I love things wet and green (except for mildew), this was even too much for me. We brought lots of sunscreen, but what we really need here is Rust-oleum. We also learned that sheep have a natural oil called lanolin in their wool to repel water. This is a good thing; otherwise they’d be so water-logged they couldn’t move. In case all of this is just too bucolic for visitors, the farm also offers other activities for the more adventurous including Bungee jumping, freefall parachuting, helicoptering to an active volcano and something called Zorb which involves strapping yourself in a gigantic sphere and rolling downhill. You have the option of “dry”, “wet” and “zigzag” zorbing, but oops, sorry we were out of time and had to pass.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Dateline: Pacific Ocean Position at Noon GMT +13, Position 39.3 degrees South, 178.3 degrees East ,18 miles northeast of the Mahia Peninsula, North Island, New Zealand
Today was an at sea day for us as we cruised down the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand and we are still having fun. We did have a special treat this afternoon when we were visited by two different species of albatross – the Wandering and the Sooty. These birds are so big they could have been the prototype for Big Bird. The mature Wandering Albatross have approximately 45 inch long bodies with up to a 138 inch wing spans. The Sooty is smaller with a 34 inch body with an 80 inch wingspan. These types of albatross are found only in the Southern Hemisphere between 60 and 30 degrees latitude where there are strong winds. They spend almost all year flying (or more accurately gliding) only stopping by land to breed and nest twice a year and then they’re gone out to sea again. Both male and female albatross partake in this breeding and fleeing the scene, unlike human species where this behavior pattern is more predominately male (oops did I say that?) For some reason, they like to follow ships for perhaps “drafting” on turbulent air we create, and thus further minimizing the amount of flapping required.
Tonight we attended the Chief Engineer’s cocktail party at the Funnel Bar (topmost deck). It was beautiful balmy evening with a gorgeous pink and purple sunset with mauve water (or as Gary calls it Mo-ah-vey). Gary had hopes of cornering the Chief Engineer and getting an invitation to tour the engine room, but the party was very crowded, so he had to adjust his plans and will ambush him at a future date.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Dateline: Wellington, New Zealand
Latitude at Wellington 41.16 degrees South, Longitude 174.47 degrees East
Today on our way to Aotea Quay at Lambton Harbor in Wellington, the ship performed an exercise in the harbor to adjust our magnetic compass. There is nothing wrong with it per se; however during the course of a voyage the compass gets off kilter to a small degree from various other magnetic fields within the ship (with exception of magnetic personalities) and may vary slightly from magnetic north. If periodic adjustments are not made, it will increase in severity over time and could result in an untimely collision with a reef (not that they ever are timely, of course) or arrival at an undesired destination like Borneo or Madagascar. The way this works is that we take on a person called a Compass Adjuster when the Wellington harbor pilot boards. The Compass Adjuster has the captain maneuver the ship in a full circle through 360 degrees and takes magnetic bearings on objects on shore to determine any deviations from “true” heading. Those errors which can be corrected are corrected and those that cannot are indicated on a deviation chart so the navigators will know if any given reading needs to be adjusted by one or two smidgens for example.
As we disembarked we again went through NZ customs where they are mainly looking for contraband in the form of fresh fruits, vegetables and cold cut sandwiches made up from the midnight buffet by passengers hoping to save a buck by bringing their lunch ashore. Illegal drugs aren’t really the issue with this group. But instead of stern German Shepherds or slavering Dobermans, NZ uses friendly little beagles who are ace contraband sniffers. In fact, as we were leaving, a cute little doggie identified a suspect with a purse full of buffet booty and she was “busted”. There is no hiding the salami from these dogs, so to speak.
Wellington, the capital of NZ, is nicknamed the Windy City and we found it aptly named. Sunny, but very windy, it also has a San Francisco-like climate, but unlike Auckland, it has the hills to go with it. ) Much of the current harbor front is built on landfill because the mountains come right down to the water’s edge – sort of like Juneau, Alaska, but without the glaciers or the cold.
We took a cable car to the Botanical Garden which was really lovely and calls to mind Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC. There are miles of walking trails with hundreds of agapanthus, hydrangea, and camellia (not in bloom at this time). February here is midsummer so the rose garden was in full bloom and their Begonia “house” was full of tuberous begonias the size of dinner plates in every shade of red, pink, orange, yellow and white imaginable.
We had lunch on the quayside (not smuggled from QE2) of fish and chips at the Loaded Hog microbrewery and further explored the city. We were entertained for quite a while by a film crew putting together a commercial to air in Scotland which today featured sheep in starring roles on streets of the city. Watching the sheep wranglers trying to get their flocks to “hit their marks” kept us quite amused. Picture fluffy sheep slipping their leashes and running amok on the streets being chased by director-types with bullhorns. The sheep wrangling crew included a “Pooper Scooper” who was kept busy keeping the sidewalks free of
hazardous waste. As you are probably aware, a lot of movies are filmed here, including The Piano, King Kong, Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings. In fact you can do movie set tours for the Lord of the Rings locales. We had a very picturesque departure with 3 bright red tugs pulling and pushing us out into the blue waters of Lambton Bay while on the quay, Bagpipers played for us. As dusk began to settle, we steamed out of the bay and into the Cook Strait, which separates the North and South Islands, and headed into the Tasman Sea toward Australia.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Dateline: Tasman Sea Position at Noon GMT +13, Position 38.9 degrees South, 168.5 degrees East, 240 miles southwest of Cape Egmont, North Island, NZ. 351 miles from Wellington, NZ, 883 miles to Sydney, Australia
Today we crossed the Tasman Sea which, while it has a reputation for rough water, is exceptionally calm with only the occasional big swell to cause lurching passengers. At this point, I feel compelled to share with you readers a most scandalous “incident” on board which happened several days ago, but the “dramedy” (combination of drama and comedy) continues to grow into folk legend with a number of rumors swirling about. I think in a previous issue, I wrote about the chaos at the launderette with a crush of people trying to wash and dry clothes at the same time on sea days. This chaos has burgeoned into what has come to be known as the “Donnybrook in the Launderette”, and QE2 has become a hotbed of rumors. I also mentioned a call for blood donors in an earlier edition which has also found its way into one version of the story, which goes as follows: Supposedly, a woman had left her clothes in the dryer and left the launderette. Another woman who needed to use the dryer removed the other woman’s clothes from the dryer since they were dry and the owner was nowhere in sight. When the woman returned and saw her clothes in a pile, fisticuffs ensued. Then the two husbands joined in and the “donnybrook” was underway. In one version we heard that one woman stole a dress from the dryer load and was seen wearing it on board by the other. In another version, one of the combatants had hemophilia (or perhaps was taking blood thinners) and a punch to his nose precipitated the call for blood donors. In any event all four combatants were put ashore at the next port and are no longer with us. We don’t know the exact truth, but it is a very good thing no one had guns or else we might have had a siege or hostage taking. We thought the launderette needed an attendant, but it seems a bouncer would be more in order. In almost every port we’ve been to, there is a hearse and/or ambulance to deal with deaths, injuries and illnesses at sea. Now we’ve come to expect the paddy wagon as well.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Dateline: Tasman Sea Position at Noon GMT +12, Position 35.8 degrees South, 158.0 degrees East, 340 miles east of Australia. 886 miles from Wellington, 348 miles to Sydney
Today is Valentine’s Day and is our last sea day before Australia so we are spending a quiet day reading and getting our laundry done and we spent an hour playing paddle tennis, hoping to keep pace with that calorie intake. As a safety measure we decided to send our laundry out since the launderette will probably be placed on the State Department’s Watch List of dangerous places for tourists, right up there with Bali and Syria. So far we have not had any on board riots over offensive political cartoons, but that could always develop in a crazed crowd like those wacky QE2 passengers.
I must report more fashion gaffes are being committed on a daily basis. Dress for dinner is supposed to be “elegant casual” while in port – and for men this means a shirt with sports coat. Apparently one man in our dining room had on a jacket over an undershirt and removed the jacket and caused a huge flap in the Britannia Restaurant. Unfortunately we missed this episode and heard it second hand. Several ladies felt faint and had to call for smelling salts. We are still trying to learn whether the man was just forgetful and forgot to put on a shirt or whether he was out of shirts and, fearing for his life, was afraid to go to the launderette. We personally witnessed a woman cavorting in the pool (okay, maybe not cavorting, but certainly splashing) in a white tee shirt, bra and panties. She obviously believed (a) the shirt is long enough to conceal fact that she’s in her panties (b) the black bra will go unnoticed. (c) the shirt is opaque when wet. This would be a most vehement “Negative” on all 3 counts. Tomorrow morning we’ll be docking in Sydney and hopefully find an Internet Cafe.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Dateline: Sydney, Australia
Latitude at Sydney 33.51 degrees South, Longitude 151.12 degrees East
Today we got up early (before sunrise) to watch our arrival in Sydney Harbor. Our cruise director advised that there are certain great harbors in the world for which the approach should not be missed and Sydney is one of them. He also mentioned in the same category, Rio de Janeiro, New York and Hong Kong and I would also add San Francisco to that list. In any event, it was as billed, a truly exhilarating experience to round the “heads” of the harbor just as the sun was striking the Opera House and Harbor Bridge. Well, in truth, we more or less had to imagine where the sun would have struck since it was raining a bit. We are told that Australia is the second driest continent in the world (only Antarctica is drier), but that distinction is due mostly to the Outback. The coastal areas are plenty wet.
We docked at the Circular Quay (this is pronounced “key” for those who aren’t familiar with the term) which is right downtown where all the ferries come in. Our berth was directly across from the Opera House and adjacent to the Sydney Harbor Bridge, which the locals also call the “Coathanger”, given its shape. We hadn’t booked any prearranged tours with the ship for Sydney since we are fairly familiar with the city so we decided to “go walkabout” This is a local expression and is not walk about ( but walkabout – all one word as in “George has gone walkabout for a few days” – i.e. George is out wandering around. I am taking liberties with the word, however, since it implies a wandering of several days duration. But of course this could have been true if we had gotten lost.
We did decide to do a tour of the Blue Mountains, a few hours west of Sydney and we also
decided to do the Bridge Climb on Friday before out 2:00 departure so we made a reservation for that as well. Gary wanted to expand his Harley-Davidson wardrobe so we located a local dealership in a suburb called Liverpool and took a train west to fulfill his dream. We learned that Liverpool, Australia has all the considerable charm (or lack thereof) as we would imagine of it’s British counterpart, in that it’s a little on the dingy and industrialized side, but we made our purchase and took the train back.
We had lunch ashore at an outdoor restaurant on Circular Quay anddecided to continue our “walkabout” and proceeded to Darling Harbor. This area when we were here in 1990 was just starting to get a face lift, but now there are several miles of shops, museums and restaurants lining the harbor. We chose the Sydney Aquarium and spent a few hours with their excellent exhibits including a huge shark/stingray habitat with glass tunnels through the middle of it where you can get close enough to see whether or not they flossed that morning.
We also took a few moments at an Internet Café to send out a travelogue along with a few photos. The day had turned sunny and so we continued walking around the city until after dark. Rather than go back to the ship for dinner, we decided to stay ashore and soak up the ambiance and had another meal outdoors at the Circular Quay.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Dateline: Sydney, Australia
Today we took a tour of the Blue Mountains which are due west of Sydney and are part of the Great Dividing Range which runs from Queensland in the north to Victoria in the South. On the ocean side (east) of the range are lush green forests – tropical in the north and temperate in the south – with plentiful water and fertile farmland. On the interior side of the range is the Outback – a vast desert stretching across the continent (roughly the size of the continental US) to the Indian Ocean.
We made a stop in the foothills for morning tea and a quick boomerang lesson and were asked a key question: What do you call a boomerang which does not come back? Answer: A crooked stick. We learned that there are left and right handed boomerangs. As with golf clubs, it does make a huge difference in
your success to ensure you have the correct piece of equipment. Flight is made possible by the two sections of the boomerang being shaped like airplane wings with a thicker leading edge and a trailing thin edge which oppose each other on each “arm”. This is what provides loft and spin. You also have to achieve the correct angle of the throw with your arm at the 2 o’clock position in order for your boomerang to both take wing and to come back. A noon angle results in the “kangaroo” with your boomerang bouncing along the ground. A 3 o’clock angle results in the “helicopter” which makes the boomerang go straight up and come back down. To throw properly, you need to cock your wrist back as if doing the Atlanta Braves’ Tomahawk Chop, snap your wrist, extend your arm and let it fly. I was actually fairly successful at this and Gary has captured this on a video clip so prepare to be dazzled with my prowess when we get back.
From the boomerang lesson, we went to a wildlife sanctuary called the Featherdale Reserve – which is where we went in 1990, but it has greatly expanded through a successful koala breeding program. We had photo ops with koalas, and kangaroos and actually fed the “roos” with dried grass served up in an ice cream cone (sans ice cream). The “roos” gobbled up cones and all. There were a few females that had joeys (babies) which were really cute. They would also eat the food we offered. I’ll have more on the animals in the Melbourne segment.
We continued into the Blue Mountains, which much like our own Blue Ridge Mountains, do indeed look blue, to the village of Katoomba. We hiked down (and back up) to see Wentworth Falls and after lunch at a Country Club with a beautiful golf course, we continued to the Jamison Valley, which is called the Grand Canyon of Australia. It doesn’t really have the same “wow” factor as the Grand Canyon, but it still quite beautiful with a rich history as a coal mine location and a sacred site in aboriginal lore.
It seems the aborigines have their own version of the boogeyman which they call the “bunyip” and if anyone disturbs the bunyip there is hell to pay (i.e. he will wake from his slumbers and eat them). In fact there is a rock formation called the 3 Sisters which were daughters of a medicine man who had to cast a spell over them to turn them to stone so they bunyip would not eat them up. Unfortunately, he lost his magic “bone” (whatever that meant – something may be lost in translation) and was not able to change them back. He turned himself into a bird to fly away from the bunyip and dropped the “bone” on the forest floor. So, as the story goes, when we see birds rooting around on the ground, it could be the medicine man looking for the magic bone. We rode down to the valley floor in a cable car and then back up in a modified coal cog railway car, both of which had
52 degree inclines, so the word “steep” is an understatement. This made the ride interesting to say the least. We made a quick stop in a village called Leura (reminiscent of Helen, GA for those of you who are familiar with it) but it was starting to rain so we didn’t dally. We also did a “drive by shooting” – i.e. drive by-shoot photos – of the Olympic venue (2000 Games were here) and went back to the Circular Quay on a ferry.
We had a significant turnover in passengers today since Sydney is the end of one of the voyage segments and the start of another. We had made friends with a couple from England, quite a bit older than we are, but who were very well traveled and were, in their own parlance, “quite delightful”. He, John, had worked in the States for a few years with the British Embassy and they are QE2 regulars. He invited us to come to London for a visit, but said we should make it sooner rather than later, since as he pragmatically pointed out, he and Audrey are getting on in years.
Friday, February 17, 2006
Dateline: Sydney, Australia
Given the downpour yesterday evening, we were convinced that our bridge climb bid would be made in a driving rain (I threw the “bid” part in for dramatic purposes – makes us sound like Mt. Everest climbers, no?) We awoke delighted to find a perfectly cloudless 72 degree day, with no wind. At 7:30, we made our way to the climb headquarters to get suited up and briefed on the rules of engagement, which are understandably very strict. First we had to sign a waiver that we understood all the risks and were going to do it anyway. Then we had to fill out a questionnaire about any potential medical problems (just like when you go to a new doctor) and then (I’m not kidding about this part) we had to take a breathalyzer test so they could be assured we hadn’t indulged in any Bloody Mary’s for breakfast, you know, maybe to calm our nerves or help us get over our fear of heights.
We got suited up in long-sleeved (but light-weight) jumpsuits – sort of like the astronauts, but without the life support systems. Then we got into our climbing harness which was hooked onto the bridge at all times. We also had to leave anything loose (including our own camera) behind since we would be over the busiest strip of highway in Australia and even the tiniest digital camera could really distract a driver, especially if it went through his windshield. Then we did a test climb of perhaps 10 feet, up a steel ladder and onto a narrow catwalk. The purpose of this exercise was to weed out anyone who was going to (a) freak out or (b) become short of breath or (c) throw up – the idea being that any one of these symptoms would be a certain predictor of failure once the real climb started. Fortunately, no one in our group had any complications and we finally set out.
The hardest part of the climb was near the beginning. We did several flights of interior stairs which took us up even with the roadbed where we emerged outside and “clipped our safety harnesses in to a steel cable that runs the entire length (up and down) of the climb. Next we had to reach sets of ladders, and we had to negotiate a catwalk with several tight squeezes between girders. We then climbed 4 consecutive 25 foot sections of steel ladder. From there, we emerged onto the curved part of the bridge and took a catwalk to the top at the middle, just below the blinking red aircraft warning light that is called Blinking Billy, 134 meters (approximately 450 feet) above the water. At that height it would take 4.8 seconds to reach the water if you took a notion to jump. The climb turned out to be spectacular, one of those defining moments we’ll always remember.
All of Sydney Harbor was spread out in front of us, the Sydney Opera House, Circular Quay with the QE2 in her berth alongside, Darling Harbor, the downtown skyline, the harbor entrance to the Tasman Sea, Olympic stadium complex, and the Blue Mountains in the distance. There were literally hundreds of sailboats, dozens of ferries and countless other working boats which stood out in sharp contrast to the most cobalt blue water you can imagine. It was around 9:30 when we reached the top so the sun was well up in the sky making those little sparkling patterns on the water I always call the dancing diamonds. Although we did not have our camera, our guide Alfie did have one and took pictures for us, for a small fee of course.
The QE2 left Sydney at 2:00 headed for Melbourne in grand style. We had three tugs working to get us away from the dock (the visual that comes to mind is 3 burly guys trying to get a fat lady off the couch – an elegantly dressed fat lady, but a big old girl nevertheless) and then they escorted us to the harbor entrance. We had a whole entourage of small boats following us out so the captain gave lots of blasts on the ships “whistle” which is actually the horn, but they call it a whistle, to acknowledge them, as well as to let them know that regardless of the fact that sailing vessels having right of way, they need to give way (fat
lady coming through) because we cannot stop on a dime (or even a whole boatload of dimes). It’s quite an event in Australia when the Grand Old Lady leaves port. And of course, the Duke and Duchess were up on deck sipping a cocktail waiving to the admiring masses on shore and in lesser vessels.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Dateline – Bass Strait, Tasman Sea Position at Noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) + 10, 38.7 degrees South, 145.1 degrees East, 7 miles south of Cape Schanc, Victoria, Australia, 515 miles from Sydney, 25 miles to Melbourne Pilot Station, Port Philip BayWe cruised most of the day, entering the Bay of Port Philip, the port for Melbourne, around 1:00 p.m. It took us another 4 hours to get alongside the quay and get docked. We left the ship to go exploring on our own and ran into our friends, John and Audrey, who had gotten off the QE2 in Sydney and come to Melbourne to visit their children. They came down to the pier to see the ship come in. Having gotten a hot tip on a Harley Davidson dealership, we took the tram into the city and walked to the store to add a tee shirt to Gary’s collection. Unfortunately, we got there after closing time and since tomorrow is Sunday they are also closed then. Thus it seems Gary will have a gap in his tee shirt collection. We had the same problem in Wellington as well. And speaking of NZ, we have been told that the Kiwi people are nicknamed after the bird. The kiwi fruit, only became so named in recent years (for those of us who think the 60’s were only yesterday, that is.) It seems its former name, the Chinese Gooseberry, lacked that certain marketing cachet.
We spent a lot of time walking around Melbourne, and especially enjoyed the riverfront which is filled with cafes, restaurants and a major Las Vegas style casino called the Crown. That is also the location of the Melbourne Exhibition Center and they were having a car show and auction. We went in and looked at some of the old cars and thought of our many friends who would have loved to see them. There is an auction house in Australia called Shannon’s hosting the auction that seems to be comparable to Barrett Jackson in the US.
All the restaurants were packed so we had a quick bite at the Crown Casino’s version of the food court, but we did have a truly unexpected treat. They have a Bellagio-like fountain with dancing waters, but they also have a fire show. Every hour there are a series of pillars that shoot giant flames into the air in a choreographed performance of about 10 minutes. We assume it’s refined natural gas since its very dramatic, but essentially odorless and smokeless.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Dateline: Melbourne, Australia
Latitude at Melbourne 37.50 degrees South, Longitude 144.55 degrees East
This morning we remain docked in Melbourne which lies in a large protected harbor called Port Philip Bay. We had booked a tour billed as a vintage train/wine tasting/animal preserve which pushed 2 of Gary’s buttons (Items 1&2) and one of mine (Item 3). We drove up into the mountains above Melbourne to an area called the Yarra Valley and boarded a vintage steam train called Puffing Billy. (Australians are very fond of naming inanimate objects Billy – you’ll recall Blinking Billy lives atop the Sydney Harbor Bridge.)
We then visited the Lillydale Estate vineyard for lunch and a wine tasting. We learned that Melbourne was sponsoring a gigantic wine tasting festival called Grape Grazing whereby you buy a ticket and travel from vineyard to vineyard (a total of 23 in the Yarra Valley) sampling wines and eating hors d’oeuvres. Unfortunately this is an all day event and we had missed a good part of it while amusing ourselves with Puffing Billy, so we continued on the Wildlife Preserve where we learned more of the strange creatures which call “Down Under” home. Here’s a quick snapshot:
High Test or Unleaded?: The kangaroo is, of course, an odd creature from a visual perspective, but also has lots of even more strange features that are not so obvious. The female can take care of 3 different babies at three different ages at the same time, with each pregnancy lasting 9 weeks. When a baby (a.k.a. joey) is born, it exits the birth canal and crawls into the pouch and attaches itself to one of two nipples. The nipple will then inflate like a very small balloon to ensure the joey doesn’t fly out of the pouch when mom starts hopping around. As the joey grows and begins to add grass to its diet, the cream content of its nipple’s milk is reduced to an “unleaded” version, sort of like skim milk. But while this is happening, another joey is born, attaches himself to the other nipple and his nipple starts producing the high test cream. And while this is happening, mom can have another baby in the womb which she can release at a time of her choosing. When she does, the oldest joey is weaned and his skim milk nipple goes back to high test for the new joey and now the second joey’s nipple starts dispensing unleaded. Although the baby is “fully baked” at 9 weeks, the female may choose not to release a joey into the birth canal if there is a drought or meager food supply, nor will she mate. So it behooves all male kangaroos who hope to score to hop over the river for a drink or two to find a mate. And speaking of hopping, kangaroos, when not hopping, use their tails to balance since they have no claws in the back. This means they only have one gear which is forward.
That’s why the Emu is a Tramp: Emus are smaller versions of the ostrich, but not that much smaller. They are still around 6 feet tall. They have an interesting lifestyle – at least the female’s life is interesting. The male’s life is pretty bleak once the romance is over. After mating, the female lays a rather large egg and the male sits on the egg, eating nothing for about 6 weeks until it hatches. After it is born, the male cares for it until it is self sufficient which takes several months. In the meantime the female, the hussy, is promiscuously seducing other male emus all over the outback and laying eggs with reckless abandon (abandon being the key word here.) She can leave a trail offspring across Australia without a backward glance. Like the kangaroo, the emu has no rear claw and thus only has forward gear as well. Since the emu doesn’t have a tail, it has to lean forward to maintain balance when it’s in neutral. Both the emu and the kangaroo have appeared on several versions of the Australian flag. The locals say it was to indicate that Aussies don’t back down or retreat.
Excuse Me Sir, Isn’t Your Fur on Backwards?: – Wombats are marsupials (carry babies in pouches) like kangaroos, but their pouch is on the backside, the idea being, we would assume that when they dig burrows, the dirt doesn’t cover up the baby (also called a joey). They resemble very large gophers, but sort of cute and cuddly gophers like the one in Caddy Shack, and like gophers are quite industrious. Unlike gophers, they have a thick pad of gristle and cartilage on their butt which comes in handy when predators (like dingos which are coyote-like dogs) try to get a bite as the wombats dive into their burrows. This pad extends up to their backs which they use to compact soil in their burrows to prevent cave-ins.
Home Brew: My favorite bush animal is definitely the koala He’s cute, he’s cuddly, and he’s always a little tipsy. He is able to achieve a somewhat continuous buzz from his steady diet of eucalyptus. Somehow his digestive system is a little mini-brewery, emitting just the right chemicals to create fermentation. It is no doubt a strange brew, but the koalas apparently like it so much, they won’t eat anything but eucalyptus leaves. This alcohol induced stupor makes them extremely laid back so they don’t mind being gawked at and petted by tourists. They spend almost all their lives in trees, which sounds dangerous given their level of intoxication, but they have learned to wedge themselves into forks of tree branches so they don’t fall out. The trees they pick happen to be eucalyptus of course so they don’t have to go anywhere else to eat. The koala, being tipsy most of the time, also has two thumbs on each paw, presumably to counteract the problem with drunken climbing. And apparently all this alcohol does not affect the koala libido since they are prolific parents, with only a 34 day gestation. The mother does not suspend the brewing and imbibing of alcohol during pregnancy, but at least they don’t smoke to boot. Various zoologists have tried enticing the koalas with other tasty morsels (sort of like a Koalas Anonymous 12 Step program), but they are not having it. It’s eucalyptus or nothing. And no, before you rush out and start nibbling on the shrubbery, you should know that humans are not able to get the same buzz from chewing eucalyptus leaves.
Only the Strong (and Quick) Survive: The Tasmanian Devil delivers 30-40 tiny babies per pregnancy, the 4 fastest and smartest of which crawl under their own power to one of 4 nipples and attach themselves. For the other unfortunate 26 to 36, it’s like musical chairs and they don’t have a chair so they’re “out”. Being “out” here, of course, has serious consequences since they get no nourishment and die. These animals are found only on the island of Tasmania in the wild. They are little “piggy” looking creatures from a body perspective, but have canine heads, faces and dentition. They are covered in coarse black fur with touches of white and pointy ears that are bright red on the inside. Like hyenas, they get into ferocious fights over carrion and make ungodly noises, and thus the first Europeans gave them their name.
Oops, sorry, Mr. Echidna, I thought you were one of those bristly door mats: The echidna (pronounced E-kid-nah – long E with the accent on the “kid”) – is a porcupine like creature with an “anteater-like snout” and they do indeed feed on ants and termites. When they feel threatened, they curl up into a ball and puff out the quills, which are shorter and thicker than the average porcupine, so they very much resemble those bristly mats at golf course to get the mud off your golf spikes.
The Triple Threat: The duck billed platypus has it all: (1) webbed feet for swimming that fold back to reveal (2) claws for digging and (3) a bill that can crush crustaceans (called “yabbies”) into crab cakes in no time. It is about the size of a duck, and swims like a duck, but doesn’t walk or talk like a duck (and ergo is not a duck). It is one of a few creatures in the world called a monotreme, which is a term used to define those creatures who both lay eggs and suckle their young. It is a very conflicted creature indeed.
Lyre, Lyre Pants on Fire: The Lyre Bird is so named because his tail feathers are shaped like the musical instrument, the lyre. The male can perfectly imitate almost any sound and can learn new ones introduced by humans including chain saws, hammers and human utterances. The male builds a mound-like nest on the ground and dances on top of it to attract a mate. We envision the most successful are those who have mastered the Michael Jackson moonwalk and can warble a few bars of “Billie Jean”.
The Little Carnivore with the Big Appetite: One of the most distinctive sounds in Australia comes from the Kookaburra, whose song sounds something like a maniacal cackle, no doubt licking his chops (or in this case his beak) over some red juicy meat he has found and taken to his high perch in a tree.
Monday, February 20, 2006
Dateline: South Australia Sea Position at Noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) + 10, 39.0 degrees South, 141.9 degrees East, 34 miles south of Cape Nelson, Australia. 200 Miles from Melbourne, 336 miles to Adelaide
We did not leave Melbourne until 11:00 p.m. last night and thus at noon today, we hadn’t put a lot of miles behind us. The albatrosses are with us again, smaller ones this time, but they seem willing to come closer than the last group we saw. We tried a few pictures with the telephoto, but they were hard to catch.
They had an Australian wine tasting on board today that Gary participated in and then we played our hour of paddle tennis which we sometimes substitute for walking. While there have been no more laundry room incidents, there are other areas of potential violence that bear watching. There is a certain percentage of passengers who are prone to complain about anything and everything, if you can believe that. They are what Jimmy Buffett would call tourists not travelers. And although many of them are men, a large majority of them seem to be women. In fact a man we met a cattle rancher from a small town in Montana (and actually a tourist himself) who calls these whining females “Wimmin’ Who Need to Go Swimmin”, but to our knowledge he hasn’t tossed one overboard yet. His chief complaint was that everything on this ship is too “dern” fancy. These waiters need to cut that ritual stuff out of their routine and get the food on the table quicker and deliver more of it. He disembarked in Sydney to return to the ranch, which was a good thing, a very good thing.
Much of the gossip on the ship after the laundry room incident seems to document incidents of “Boat Rage” – the nautical cousin of road rage. It seems when grouchy people spend too much time in a confined space, there is sometimes hostility. We’re glad they screen for firearms at every port. Probably the most exciting event since the Donnybrook at the Laundromat is what I shall call the Escargot Brouhaha. Apparently one of the passengers in the “tourist class” dining room had seen a menu from the Grill restaurants and noticed escargot was being offered as an appetizer and she demanded that she be served some. Her waiter said they were only available in the Grill and at this point she reputedly hurled her wineglass at the wall and yelled at her waiter that she and her dining companions were being discriminated against. It is believed that she was either intoxicated or off her meds, but making every effort to please, escargot was offered to all passengers the next evening.
One of the biggest offenses on board is “Queue Jumping” (a.k.a. cutting in line). This action, if allowed to go unchecked, can foment a riot in no time, but fortunately the passengers so far have not formed any lynch mobs. Other offenses include saving of seats at performances, which sometimes get met with mere mutterings and ill-humor with occasional foot stomping or cane thumping for emphasis. We did have a threat of a good “throttling” (British version of kicking one’s ass) when a woman continued to yak with her neighbor during a live performance even after multiple “shushings”. We have noticed an increase in the number of plaster casts on arms and legs of passengers, and, as I mentioned in a previous issue, an ambulance and or hearse meets this ship in just about every port, but we do attribute that to rough seas and fragile bones rather than shipboard violence.