Category Archives: Australia

From lazy day to prison day!

From lazy day to prison day!


Sea days are enjoyed in a variety of ways; for some there is a host of activities to be sampled (see what Ann did!), whilst others enjoy the gentle breezes on deck reading books they have been promising for months to pick up. For Carolyn and I came the temptation of Super Bowl being shown on the cinema screen in the theatre. I have to say that Carolyn is more of a devotee than I, but frequent visits to the USA have spiked my interest and I did get additional commentary and explanation of the rules from my neighbour! The audience were hugely in favour of the ultimate winners (The Eagles), whereas I happily cheered each touchdown no matter which side scored!

But today was our stop in Port Arthur and we went to prison. Actually, we were looking around the former penal colony which, in the mid 1800s, housed nearly 2000 prisoners of the more serious variety (2+ offences) deported from the UK. When I first arrived at this beautiful spot I did think, well, if you have to be a prisoner what better place, but hard labour was hard and not all survived. A guide from the World Heritage Centre, was keen to point out that they built a hospital, employed doctors and a surgeon and taught skills and crafts so the prisoners could eventually leave with a trade. I was amazed to learn they had a library the prisoners could use with 13,000 books. The Australians wanted to provide an education so the men could leave better off than when they arrived.

Today, the prison is largely a ruin (in a glorious spot overlooking a truly beautiful bay). Some of the buildings (the Commandant’s house and the junior doctor’s house) have been maintained just as they were and are open for the visitors. The asylum (a later addition to the prison) has cells which can be viewed, again, as they were. Prisoners were often sent here for punishment and they were in solitary and silent confinement, often for a year.

The weather is just perfect today and I sit here in quiet contemplation of our Tasmanian experiences to date….quite wonderful. The tenders are busily ferrying passengers back to the ship across the sparkling water. In less than an hour we shall be on our way to Hobart, where we have a couple of days in port before heading to New Zealand.


Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Little things intrigue me. I like to know why. So, when I spotted an upside down keyhole in a restored house in Port Arthur, I asked why? Foolishly, I asked out loud of Kath whose flippant (I hope!) response was, “Because we’re Down Under?” I momentarily paused for thought – quick riposte or further query – but then espied one the correct way round so concluded it was a mistake.

The next wry smile was engendered when I spotted that the Town Hall doubled as an Asylum albeit used erstwhile as a church as well.


Finally, why does the tender (aka lifeboat) have an open window at the top to let a significant swell and spray come in?! Especially onto me?!

Yesterday’s sea day coincided, as Kath mentioned, with Super Bowl. I last watched it live in the ‘80s when ‘my’ team was Walter Payton’s Chicago Bears. I don’t have a particular favourite team these days but have great admiration for the playing of Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. He didn’t win this time and Kath and I were reassured that we had visited Philadelphia, home of the Eagles, last fall. I’d noticed a number of banners there advertising The Eagles with the clever play on the Autumn season with “We rise again every fall!” A superb game which, despite two controversial decisions, was played in seemingly good spirit.

Today at Port Arthur, for me, was affected by the thoughts of what those prisoners (and staff!) went through all those years ago. Extrapolate to today where we still allow physical and mental punishment for crimes. Of course, people do not need to commit crime. And, “If you don’t want to do the time, don’t commit the crime” is accurate but trite. However, there are cases of men being transported half way round the world not that long ago from their families for stealing food for their children. We have moved on and our excellent guide today was at pains to point out that the inmates here were serial offenders and the ‘worst of the bunch’. Even then, she explained, some form of education and training was provided. And now, it’s a World Heritage Site. Progress, indeed. I was moved by thoughts of my own childhood when I read the raison d’être of the prison, “To tame the most mutinous spirit”.

And, yet, in the mid-1990s, an Australian, Martin Bryant, committed a massacre of several dozen people here. Strict gun laws were almost immediately introduced. Too late for those killed but, hopefully, will save the lives of others. America, please take note.

Ann’s Additions

Should you ever think that a ‘sea day’ on a cruise would be dull, please allow me to change your mind. Today we’ve been sailing between Burnie and Port Arthur at quite a gentle speed, to ensure that we arrive tomorrow morning at the appointed hour. My day began with 5,000 steps on the Promenade Deck before breakfast. The staff had, obviously, been up much earlier ‘swabbing’ the deck in preparation for we early morning walkers and joggers.

Resisting the temptation of watching the Super Bowl, I set off for the Crow’s Nest to learn a little about the flowers on the ship and to watch her two florists as they created some beautiful arrangements. Apparently, flowers only come on board at the start of a cruise and last at least two weeks. Orchids, for example, are ‘fed’ two ice cubes a week and, in the controlled environment of the ship, it certainly does the trick.

Almost immediately after this learning experience, I join some more American ladies to learn how to make a Maori poi. We all had fun with foam, scissors and wool, instructed carefully by the Maori group who are on board with us. The poi is used in Maori rhythmical dances.


So, having enjoyed the morning session, I return after lunch to learn about Maori designs and their meaning. Carving in, for example, wood, stone and jade and even on human skin i.e. tattoos and paintings. Their meanings become clear when explained by the Maoris themselves – whether it’s good fortune, good fishing or handing down culture and family traditions. Hopefully, we shall see some of these designs as we travel New Zealand.

And finally, before dinner, there is a very informative talk about what will be our first glimpses of New Zealand – Milford Sound and the fiords. (Geography rules ok!) This will be followed, for us, by visits to Dunedin, Christchurch, Picton and Wellington. Hearing about ports of call from someone whose job – lucky Kelly! – it is to explore these places on our behalf, makes it possible for us to gain even more from a comparatively short visit.

To conclude the day – dinner, a magic show and blues at BBKings.

All that and a total of 13,000 steps! At this rate I shall need a holiday to recover from the holiday!

Sydney, “Don’t go changing…” Onwards to Melbourne.


Our departure from Sydney felt quite sad but was clearly exciting as we were joining MS Noordam en route for Melbourne, Tasmania and New Zealand. We enjoyed the smoothest and most stress-free embarkation ever previously known and rushed to unpack, get our bearings (locate important points like food and drink) before taking part in the ubiquitous safety drill. They are quite strict on board Holland America ships. If you don’t take part, you can’t sail. Aye, aye Cap’n! But a stiff breeze blew up and off we went, under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, followed closely by the Opera House before waving to all the little bays and reaching a very strong swell; a clear indication we were turning into the ocean.

A lazy day at sea followed and I think we were all grateful to relax after our hectic few days, ease the muscles and catch up on some sleep. I still love being rocked to sleep by the motion of the ocean! Of course, we took part in ship board offerings but there was no pressure to be or to do.

Today dawned with a beautiful blue sky full of promise for a hot day in Melbourne. And, so it was. 27 degrees, hot sun and a fabulous day in one of Australia’s beautiful cities. It is very different to Sydney with much evidence through its majestic buildings of its colonial past. Museums chronicle its growth and origins whilst embracing the multiple cultures which make up its present.

Riding the free trams (complete with helpful commentary) was both informative and fun. Sights peaked out from lush foliage – how wonderful to be here in mid summer – and we were happy to soak up the information about where we could go if we were here for longer. We had to make do with a walk besides the Yarra River, the tram ride and a dive into some of the intriguing alleyways in search of a snack in the shade. An excellent day out…..Tasmania tomorrow.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Sydney always brings to mind – for me – the Tetley Tea men of TV advert fame. “Don’t go changing…” is one of the classics but, of course, Sydney, Australia is changing. It’s history is relatively brief in European terms but it is rich in culture both Aboriginal and, more latterly, settlers, immigrants and, as some think the derivation of ‘Pommies’, the prisoners of mother England, i.e. the sometimes minor criminals who were transported half way round the world. After penal labour, they could earn their freedom in the New World. Times have changed and are changing. Sydney is impressive. Vibrant, youthful, developing and, whilst we were there, hot!

But, we sailed away. Under the majestically impressive Sydney Harbour Bridge, watching, again, where Ann walked above, glancing for a final time, perhaps, at the Opera House, we sailed into the sunset bound for a day at sea and then to Melbourne.

Days at sea are an opportunity to catch up with chores and sleep! We sampled B.B. King’s Blues Club on our first night aboard and watched the ‘main entertainment’ show in the theatre last evening. More than reasonable quality but my preference is for live instruments as well as vocals. Also, a preference for beat, brash and bawdy.

Melbourne (remembering to shorten the final vowel to ‘…burn’) is another proud city. Proud of its past, secure in its present and confident of its future. Public sculpture celebrates the city’s eventful history and graffiti from the recent Equal Marriage referendum, together with a huge billboard reminding us of refugees and our responsibilities, bear testament to a social conscience. Its ‘gold rush’ days are celebrated with a gold topped skyscraper.

We rode one of the historic trams around the city centre which, as Kath indicated, was free. A clever way to encourage use of public transport as you are signposted to other (paid) trams crossing the city. Apparently, Melbourne is the city with the best and largest tramway system in the world. A pity we were only here for one day.


Do you come from a land down under?

Had I discovered Australia soon enough, I could well have been tempted to live there, but the thought of leaving your nearest and dearest about 11,000 miles away and taking 24 hours to get here, perhaps ought to be sufficiently off-putting. The flight via Abu Dhabi was fine. Well, as fine as sitting in economy can be, considering… the delightful travel stockings still permitted your ankles to ooze out of your shoes and your bum refusing to release its muscles (what muscles?) and allow normal feeling to be resumed. However, the taxi drive from the airport was speedy and greeting Sydney felt like a homecoming as, once again, I was the kid who had all the sweets.

My friends hadn’t enjoyed the Aussie experience before and were magnificent about the joys of jet lag. It is such a bitch! Although we arrived late evening after a minimum amount of sleep on the flight, we all felt the wonders of stomachs being in a different time zone to your head and sleep being a reluctant bed fellow – even in a luxury hotel with sublime mattresses. If I am not selling it well, forgive me. I am feeling better now, ready to eat at approximately the appropriate time but still somewhat keen to kip in my cornflakes. Carolyn and Ann remain stoically determined to overcome all sleeping/sleepless issues and we are living it up in Sydney.

Yesterday, for our first day at large, we settled to sightseeing the old fashioned way – on foot. Ann is a very keen walker whereas Carolyn and I are fit enough to do it but not quite ‘enthusiasts’. But with great abandon we set off to check out Circular Quay and make sure that the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House were where I left them last. We admired the berth of a Celebrity cruise ship (presumably where ours will arrive on Thursday) and wandered off around the waterfront in search of breakfast. We first happened upon a Sunday market at The Rocks, found refreshment in an Irish hostelry and proceeded to climb heaven knows how many steps to reach the Harbour Bridge, whereupon we walked across it. This activity is not to be confused with the ‘Bridge climb’ which I did on a previous visit and which Ann has now booked to do on Tuesday, but is the free opportunity to pose on top of Sydney’s magnificent Harbour and think how wonderful life is and how lucky we are for the opportunity. Well, something like that. More walking followed, back around The Rocks, sustained by an Aussie beer, lunch, another loop around Circular Quay and at this point I gave in, let the jet lag in and went back to the hotel for a snooze. We did get to see Roger Federer win the Aussie Open in real time. Fabulous tennis.

Yesterday, I wore out my legs but today we took the easy way via a sightseeing trip on board The Big Bus. It is far too far to walk to Bondi Beach and at least we got to cover the rest of the city in relative comfort from the top of an open bus. Ah, did I mention it was hot and sunny? The last time Carolyn and I did an open topped bus tour was in New York when we got soaking wet; today, we got rather warm and a bit pink!! We hopped on and off the bus, as per recommendations, and particularly wanted to see the rollers and the surfers at Bondi. The surf was less dramatic than I had previously seen but the young and beautiful people appeared untroubled and still turned up, their surf boards being the “must have” accessory. Even without waves, the skatepark exercised balance and agility.  It’s been a truly wonderful day and, Sydney, you capture my heart every time!!

Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes

Disappointed… no-one has yet greeted us with “G’day” or called us “Sheilas”. We have, however, discovered that our “How are you doing?” is replaced here by “How are you going?” As Ann would say about the Aussies (and the Americans!), “We gave them English and look what they did to it?!” Part of the commentary on the bus tour today also reminded us that about 20% of Australians are direct descendants from our transported convicts. #justsaying

Kath began with Men at Work’s “Down Under” – we’re not from this land down under and not at work! The song begins…

“Traveling in a fried-out combie
On a hippie trail, head full of zombie
I met a strange lady, she made me nervous
She took me in and gave me breakfast
And she said
Do you come from a land down under?”

Visions from childhood of being upside down and falling off the planet down here are long gone. However, my usually excellent sense of direction, it seems, is merely based on the Sun as I am struggling with remembering that, at noon here, the Sun is at due North rather than South. I’ll adjust, I’m sure.

As it’s my first visit to the Southern Hemisphere, I was prepared for most things. We flew from wet Manchester and landed half a world away effectively spending a day of our lives in the air. Having some inkling of how to deal best with time zone adjustment and jet lag, having failing to sleep at all on the plane, I wanted to stay up until ‘normal’ bedtime and begin the next day as if it was the usual. It has, for me, seemed to have worked. So, off we went.

Yesterday was a bit of ‘pottering’, aka walking over 10k steps and several flights of stairs, together with the Sydney Harbour Bridge (just the pavement walkway!). A beer and an ice cream helped the unaccustomed heat.

Today, we decided to do the Big Bus Tour and memories of New York’s torrential rain downpour was replaced by early gentle sunbeams which became red hot lasers by 4.30 pm as two of us ultimately began to sizzle and fry. Flaming pink is not a good look for the skin. And,… hmm, it’s tender!

The bus tour was good but the recorded commentary, although informative, was punctuated between segments with music. Regrettably, there were four tracks cycled over… and over… and over! We’ll come to Ann’s and Kath’s ‘favourite’ in a moment but Down Under (Men at Work), It’s a long way to the top (AC/DC) and Treaty (Yothu Yindi) exemplified Australian music. Kylie and Olivia Newton-John were mentioned in the commentary but not in the repetitious tape which was added to by the “unofficial national anthem” (according to Wikipedia!) of Waltzing Matilda which rapidly became for us Piggin’ Waltzing Matilda and we were resolute in resisting the singer’s “All together now..” for the repeated final verse. Nope!

I was concerned at the outset that ‘Waltzing Matilda’ wasn’t a waltz but in 4/4 time but that was the least of the issues!

Of course, this bush ballad wasn’t intended as other than about a sheep stealing itinerant who was chased, fearing capture and imprisonment, committed suicide and his ghost still haunts the area. Uplifting, eh?

The title was Australian slang for travelling on foot (‘waltzing’: derived from the German auf der Walz) with one’s belongings in a “matilda” (swag) slung over one’s back.

One of my two favourite punctuation signs (interrobang) is used as the logo for the State Library.
A final note was a pleasant sign I spotted for the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation and simply said, “Literacy is freedom”

A final note was a pleasant sign I spotted for the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation and simply said, “Literacy is freedom” and one of my two favourite punctuation signs (interrobang) is used as the logo for the State Library.

Sydney is a truly impressive, vibrant and laid-back city. The next few days look promising!

Ann’s absent answers

Why, if I don’t enjoy flying, do I prefer sitting in a window seat?

Why, when I try to settle down to sleep on a long flight does the Captain turn on the ‘Seatbelt’ sign and turbulence commences?

Why, does an urban area have roadworks in proportion to the size of its population?

Why, when a great photo opportunity occurs do structures block a split second later?

Last day in Sydney… time to say goodbye… for this trip!

When I flew in early from Melbourne this morning I just knew I had to get the most out of my final full day in Sydney.  I took the train from the airport (the fastest route as I am now using public transport like a local) and dropped off my bag at the hotel.  Then I made for the top of Sydney’s tallest building (the Skytower) for an aerial view of the city and its spectacular harbour.

Not quite the top of the world but the tallest building in Sydney!
Not quite the top of the world but the tallest building in Sydney!

At the foot of the tower building is a very exclusive shopping centre where they have very cleverly fixed the escalators so that you need to walk past at least four or five shops to reach the next level.

I had no problem whatsoever passing Prada, Jimmy Choo or Gucci but Chanel caught me unawares with some stunning window displays and then there were the handbag shops….!  $5,000 didn’t seem to be an unusual price for anything!!!  Needless to say, I reached the Skytower ticket office unencumbered by purchases. Then it was into the 4D cinema to take a very unusual flight across and sail around Sydney.  The 4D effect came as an addition to the 3D through the coloured glasses.  It began with vibration through your feet, getting sprayed (literally) when you appeared to be in a sailing boat and a fine mist which provided the smell of the sea.  Impressive.  Then it was up to the top of the tower to step out and look down on one of the world’s most iconic views… although other tall buildings have taken part of the view of the bridge and confined the Opera House to being framed at the end of a street! It was a great experience but….nowhere near as much fun as being out on the water.  Decision made and down to the ferries.

As in London, the new buildings have dwarfed some of the city's heritage
As in London, the new buildings have dwarfed some of the city’s heritage
Fabulous harbour views
Fabulous harbour views
A different view of the Opera House
A different view of the Opera House

Having missed breakfast, a fruit smoothie felt like a good mid-morning option, and where do they do the best ones?  In Manly.  Therefore, the first ferry ride was to Manly, pick up said smoothie (a ‘Very Berry’), a quick wander to the beach to check that the surf was still in good order, which it was, and head back on the next boat.

Back on the water
Back on the water

The breeze in the harbour was wonderful and took the edge of the scorching sun, so long walks were not really a sensible option.  Everyone was out on the water as it was a public holiday.

Back at Circular Key, a Seacat was just about to leave for Rose Bay, Double Bay and Watsons Bay.  Having gone ashore at Watsons Bay to explore, I found the next ferry out was not for another hour and by then it was lunch time.  Fish and chips sounded a good idea (again) and the restaurant here came highly recommended by my son.  Thanks, James, a good call.

You can't see this and not say, "Wow!"
You can’t see this and not say, “Wow!”
All sorts of boats were out
All sorts of boats were out
Team Australia looked very impressive
Team Australia looked very impressive
At the Maritime Museum
At the Maritime Museum

The hub for all the ferries is Circular Quay and as I stepped off the Seacat there was another ferry just in and going to Darling Harbour, which I did want to explore properly.  Sitting at the top of the boat, right at the back, provided a little shade and some cool breezes and I was cool enough (!!) to have a wander around the Maritime Museum.  Then it was back once again to my starting point, just about done and ever so slightly ‘done in’.

I think my one regret is that again I have drawn a blank with a ticket for the Opera House.  Next time, I will book online and well in advance.  So, with the light fading, I have been back to my hotel and am ready to set off once more for a final look at Sydney by night.  I have done as much as it is possible to do within my limited time and, as on my previous visit, I have absolutely loved all things Australian.  But now it is time to go home and I am really excited by the prospect.  I will take off from here tomorrow afternoon and some 26 hours later (well, there is a refuelling stop in Singapore), I will reach Heathrow.  It’s only a day!!

Once again, I have been humbled by the experiences and opportunities I have had during the past 7 weeks.  (I know, it is a long time and I have travelled thousands of miles!).  But home is where I now really do want to be and I totally promise not to bore my friends and family with the photos… there are far too many and they can just look at the ones on the blog.  Thank you to all who have followed my adventures but it is worth repeating that this particular medium was simply my means of capturing my visits and tours so that I would not forget.  However, I really do need to say a very special thank you to my great friend, Carolyn, who allowed me to avoid all the frustrations of posting on a slow network by simply sending her the words and the photographs which she uploaded for me.  She has been a fantastic editor, used some techniques which are totally new to me and made the blog look great.  Huge thank yous and a definite ‘gold star’ award.

So, that’s it!  Travels done (for a week or two at least!) and now it’s back to the real world.

Goodnight Sydney....and Goodbye
Goodnight Sydney….and Goodbye

My final day in Melbourne

It was a really hot day in the mid-30’s and it seemed like a good time to brave the trams and head for the beach.  DSCN4995

The tram network here is the largest in the world and the trams themselves are hi-tech, air-conditioned vehicles.  You ‘swipe on’ with your ticket at one of the numerous terminals on board each tram (the electronic tickets are similar to the London Oyster cards as they can be re-loaded) and sit back to enjoy the ride.

Other forms of transport always available
Other forms of transport always available

Half an hour from the centre of the city I reached St. Kilda’s Beach and made my way down to the soft golden sand for a walk at the water’s edge.  Not a cloud in the sky but with a fairly stiff (hot) breeze just to keep things interesting.  The kite surfers were out in force as were the Aussie lifeguards (keeping a very careful watch and strictly enforcing their designated bathing area).

Fun and games for all ages on the beach
Fun and games for all ages on the beach

It was a real family day and it appeared everyone had some kind of sport or activity in mind, whether it be roller skating, cycling, demonstrating prowess on some very unusual scooters, running or beach games.  My barefoot amble was very low-key by comparison.  I decided to sit on the sand and watch the fun going on in the water but it was a big mistake.  The soft sand blew in the breeze and before I knew it, there was sand in my hair, my ears and….well, everywhere.  I gave up and went to browse the local art and craft stalls all along the esplanade.  I could have filled another suitcase with some of the stylish products on sale but, sadly, I must already be reaching the “excess baggage” stage and had to resist.

I thought I was just having a gentle stroll
I thought I was just having a gentle stroll

The crowds were growing and I could feel the sun burning the back of my neck (I never burn but this was fairly intense Australian sun).  Time to hop aboard a tram and head back to the city for a final wander before my very kind friends entertained me at their home with a barbecue.  And how wonderful that was!  With evening temperatures still in the high 20’s it felt blissfully cool enough to enjoy great food and conversation.  Alison, Michael and Luke have made my stay in Melbourne both memorable and very enjoyable.






St. Paul's Cathedral with its 3 spires
St. Paul’s Cathedral with its 3 spires
A rather magnificent railway station (and so clean)
A rather magnificent railway station (and so clean)
People queue all day long at this cake shop/cafe
People queue all day long at this cake shop/cafe
The healthy option
The healthy option

So, tomorrow it’s back to Sydney for the final day of this grand adventure.  My bag is packed for the early morning flight and it’s time to say goodbye to Melbourne, a city so very different from Sydney but full of beauty and charm now I know where to find them!




Melbourne – Eureka!


Just look at the rainbow ice cream
Just look at the rainbow ice cream

When I arrived here on Friday morning I did what I guess most visitors do and grabbed a street map, general information leaflets and set out to explore.

By now I am very used to Sydney’s visitor information which divides the city into sections and provides detailed information on exactly what you can expect to see there, together with specific transport information.  I could find nothing remotely like this here and set off to shop, to wander and eventually came across the city circular tram which gave me a free ride around a large square area and told me a bit about what I might expect to find somewhere in the streets to the right and left.  It was confusing.

Home of Australian Open Tennis
Home of Australian Open Tennis
High above Melbourne
High above Melbourne

However, today was a very different story and my great friends, Alison, Michael and Luke Whittaker, came to take me on a tour of their adopted city and to share their enthusiasm.  It was, indeed, infectious.  How had I managed to miss the fact that the banks of the Yarra River are so entertaining and so incredibly beautiful? Street entertainers, some of whom were very young indeed, sang, played and performed all along the way.  There was a food and wine festival with people enjoying country music whilst lounging on bean bags with beer in hand, but we were off to the Skydeck on the 88th floor of the Eureka Tower.  I seem to be enjoying the tall towers of the world and this was no exception as it was billed as ‘the highest public vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere’.  What it did offer was ‘The Edge’.  This was a glass cube which projects 3 metres out of the building, 300 metres up – with you in it.  When you step inside, with special ‘socks’ to cover your shoes, the glass is frosted and as the cube moves outwards the frosting clears, leaving you standing on clear glass looking either straight down to the street far below or ahead to the most spectacular views of Melbourne and its surrounding area.  It can’t have unnerved us too badly as we went off for a lovely open air lunch.

Lots of promotional F1 souvenirs
Lots of promotional F1 souvenirs

There was so much to see along the river bank that we ambled for some time, explored the offerings in the F1 promotional tents, marvelled at the quirky statues, benches, etc., and strolled across the Yarra footbridge.  Here we found hundreds and hundreds of padlocks attached to the bridge.  Were they the same idea as in Paris where people attach the secrets of their hearts and lock them to the bridge?  We discovered that these were a little less complicated and were merely ‘locks of love’ or declarations of undying love.  Some were engraved with names but others remained the secret of the donor.  How incredibly romantic!

Where people leave locks (and keep the key to their heart)
Where people leave locks (and keep the key to their heart)

We then took an hour’s river cruise to see more of the river and see the docklands area.  So many decorative and unusual bridges cross the Yarra but nothing taller than our French style “bateaux mouche” could reach the city by river.  We glanced upwards as we sailed beneath and initially were tempted to duck until we became used to the height clearance above us.  Then a quick walk by the iconic spire which sits above Australia’s largest performing arts centre, past the Southbank Theatre and back to Alison’s car.

Very young buskers and look at the drum kit!!
Very young buskers and look at the drum kit!!

One of the mosaic sculptures along the riverbank

Then we were off to see Williamstown.
Melbourne from Williamstown
Melbourne from Williamstown

This is a quaint little place, to the north of the city and beyond the reach of the city tram service.  It is home to the Australian shipbuilding business of BAE Systems which shares its harbour space containing naval vessels “in production” with a marina full of pleasure craft.  The small town retains its ‘olde worlde’ charm (a bandstand graces the gardens which join the town to the harbour) and the bars, cafes and small shops are probably largely unchanged for many, many years.  Possibly the only things to change are the homes which have increased in size, elegance and price.

Our final tour for the day took us back across the river and into Albert Park, where next weekend’s Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place.
The race track
The race track
The pit lane - ready and waiting
The pit lane – ready and waiting

“What an enormous thrill…”

What an enormous thrill to be taken for a drive around the actual circuit.  There were the pit lanes, all marked up with the manufacturers’ logos, the names of the drivers and already full of sealed containers (presumably the cars, spare parts, etc.).  Round to turn one and marvel at how narrow the track actually is, see how close the stands are to the track and avoid the gravel pits already filled and waiting for any of next weekend’s drivers who over-steer on the bends.  I already know that I will be watching the event, not so much to see the race, but to remind myself how it looked and felt when enjoying today’s track experience.

It really was a great day out, thanks to the kindness of my friends, but I am tempted to apply for the job of re-writing and re-styling the Official Visitor Guide to Melbourne.  Everyone should know the art of the possible in every area of the city, how to get there, how long it will take and what it ought to cost.  But, for now, I am busily planning my last day in Melbourne tomorrow before heading back to Sydney on Monday.
Luscious lips made for....sitting on
Luscious lips made for….sitting on
My good friends… Michael, Luke and Alison Whittaker showing me around their adopted city
Melbourne from the banks of the Yarra
Even the Vikings were out on the river!!
Even the Vikings were out on the river!!




Day 2 in Sydney

How good to live in one of these apartments!
How good to live in one of these apartments!

I was off to a flying start and, although yesterday’s violent storm had gone, the air remained humid and it was very much a day for a slower pace.  However,… I wandered across to the outdoor cafe across from my hotel and was delighted with the fresh orange juice, the toasted ham and cheese croissant and the two cups of ‘flat white’.  Ahh…. great coffee – how I have missed you!  People on their way to work came and enjoyed a variety of different options, which all looked excellent.  I can so easily understand why people love living here in this relaxed open air environment and people went to work with a smile.  A bus passed by declaring “Smile, you’re in Sydney” and who wouldn’t?

Paddle surfing
Paddle surfing
At Palm Beach - this is the sort of beach the Aussies really like
At Palm Beach – this is the sort of beach the Aussies really like
The beach may be deserted but they still have lifeguards
The beach may be deserted but they still have lifeguards

Having walked down to the Harbour to purchase my $22 “all day – go anywhere on any transport ticket”, I was flabbergasted to find that the guy in the kiosk not only remembered me, but recalled that I had bought a ticket for Manly yesterday.  I didn’t think I was that memorable!  He had all sorts of recommendations for my day (for a lady enjoying her own company!).  These were in addition to the ones I had planned, so I found myself first of all on a 40 mile bus ride to the north beaches to see what Aussies really like.

Palm Beach was almost deserted (apart from its two steadfast lifeguards) and I could see the attraction.  Miles of sand and some quite good surf with a couple of bars and a surf shop for completeness.  I could have hopped off at any number of similar beaches and harbours, but would have to save these for another time.

Crossing the Harbour Bridge
Crossing the Harbour Bridge
I have climbed it, crossed it by road and taken the ferry under it!
I have climbed it, crossed it by road and taken the ferry under it!

Then it was back to the train (an incredible piece of transport with 3 decks).  Why on earth do we not think of doing this sort of thing.  My station was right by the ferries, so, without further ado, I was off to Darling Harbour.  Having gone over the Harbour Bridge in the bus an hour or two previously, the ferry took me underneath it this time.  From Darling Harbour, it was time to walk and take in even more of this vibrant city on foot, via The Rocks and various significant buildings.  A bit like London, some of the modern tower buildings have sprung up around the historic ones to the point of almost swamping them.  A quick stop by my hotel to ask the receptionist for some help with the printing of boarding cards for my flights to and from Melbourne and a check-in with the concierge to see if he had any luck with getting me a ticket for tonight’s performance of The Magic Flute at the Opera House.  No luck so far but I have not given up in spite of refusing to pay the top price of $359.

Lunch happened rather late for me (5 pm) and in short order I was surrounded by guys exiting their offices and stopping for a beer.  Good natured ribbing followed because I was on my own and “a Pom” at that!!  They wanted to tell me all about the last Ashes Tour but still feel the pain of Johnny Wilkinson’s boot and say that he will never be welcome in Australia again!  I didn’t think their suggestion that I bring back lots of t-shirts celebrating their cricketing whitewash would be well received!  Sport is taken very seriously here and losing is extremely painful for them, so they only joke about their victories.

The Fun Fair across the harbour
The Fun Fair across the harbour
One more check-in with the concierge before I give up on the opera.  It doesn’t really matter as I need to leave the hotel tomorrow morning at 06:30 to catch the flight to Melbourne.  I can always try again when I come back to Sydney on Monday.  Who knows, it might be the performance of Carmen then, but either would be fine by me.


No matter where I go (and I have certainly been to a few places in the world in the last year or so), the place which holds a very special place in my heart is Sydney.  I wondered if the magic would still be there this year, but watching dawn break, seeing the sun come up over the Opera House and turn the Harbour Bridge to gold, I was once again totally captivated.





The Bridge turned golden by the dawn

Saying goodbye to the floating palace which is Queen Victoria, and which had been my home for the past six weeks, mattered not a jot.  I wanted to plant my feet firmly on the quayside and once again enjoy this wonderful city.

The city begins to wake…

Disembarkation and the transfer to my hotel were speedy and smooth and I was off like a greyhound out of the traps and back down to the harbour.  How strange was that?  After longing to get ashore, I was back on a boat again in no time, but this time it was the Ferry to Manly.  Last year I had paid it a very quick visit but had promised myself a very happy return were I to ever come back.  Manly was full of tourists heading for the beach and surfboard carrying young men and girls with just one thought – to get straight into the blue/green water and the pounding surf.  Not so dramatic as Bondi Beach but its golden sands were just as much a draw as the waves.

Queen Victoria docked between the bridge and the Opera House

I hadn’t come to swim this time and enjoyed a leisurely wander, stopping for a coffee in a pavement cafe along the way.  I had no need to check my watch and for the first time in weeks, I had no concern about missing the ship’s departure.  I settled at another cafe by the beach and did what most people do when they come here….I ordered fish and chips and a cold beer!  Forget the lobster, the steaks and all the fabulous food I have been served on the cruise…this was the real deal!

Yachts galore
Although I had been sitting in the shade, the temperature was increasing and late afternoon I reluctantly dragged myself away and bagged a seat at the top of the ferry in the breeze.  The harbour was a mass of yachting activity with some keenly fought racing going on.  Finally, I had a second chance at a sail into Sydney Harbour, which I had missed seeing in the darkness of our very early morning arrival on Queen Victoria.  It most certainly didn’t disappoint and, once again, I saw the Opera House from just about every angle.
But the clouds were gathering as we landed and with a final wave to Queen Victoria, I decided to make a quick dash to the hotel.  Not a minute too soon.  Thunder rolled, lightning flashed and the rain came down in a solid wall.  Well, Sydney, what else can you show me?  Last year when I left you we sailed into a hurricane.  Let’s hope the storm does not come back tomorrow and I can enjoy another full day taking in the sights.

Finding love (and Rainbows) in Brisbane

Weeping fig trees everywhere
Weeping fig trees everywhere

It was such a welcome and very happy return for me to find myself once more in Brisbane for the second time in 12 months.  This time I was determined to do something I had missed on my first visit to Australia – to go and meet some of the country’s wildlife.

Last time I found out about the city’s cultural opportunities but today I wanted to do something different.

Brisbane - such a beautiful city

Because the ship is a little on the large side, we were moored at the grain and coal dock way out of the city.  This dock provided the water depth we needed but meant a 45 minute ride into the city, and the tour which was intended to take 5 hours was stretched considerably further.

Amazing buildings
Amazing buildings

The warm, pleasant start to the day became hot and sticky and on occasions we were introduced to the liquid gold of Australia – rain showers.

“Woolly jumpers? My turn to do the jumping!”
“You’re next!”
Not Shaun the Sheep but 'Shorn' the Sheep
Not Shaun the Sheep but ‘Shorn’ the Sheep

Our first stop was to see sheep rounded up by dogs, separated into individual pens and then sheared.  Whilst I have seen such demonstrations before, I had never seen one where the ‘yard dog’ actually got into the pen with the sheep, jumped on their backs and eye-balled the one she wanted to separate.  There was nothing dumb about these animals!  There are millions of sheep in Australia and one dog can handle 500 at a time.  Merino fleeces were stripped, sorted and bundled in no time at all and the newly shorn sheep were pure white and incredibly soft to touch.

Next stop was a visit to the kangaroos out in the paddock.  You could buy special food for them and they were so tame that they were not averse to putting their noses into your hands just in case you had something for them.  All the while there were vivid flashes of colour in the trees, wild chatter from the parakeets and the amazing laughing sound of the kookaburras.  This was when I saw another rainbow, well lots of them, in the form of rainbow parakeets.  They weren’t for taking any nonsense from their all-green cousins and showed the flock who was boss!DSCN4658

Then it was time for the eagerly awaited cuddle with a koala.  These dear little creatures are docile for much of the day and apparently sleep for 18 hours out of every 24.  My slight nervousness came from the clear evidence all around that waking or sleeping they made a mess and much defecating went on.  Perhaps not the ideal day for a white top!


They sit on your hands for the photograph and, on being introduced, Orinoco immediately decided to get his paw under my t-shirt.  Cheeky boy!  Duly reprimanded by his handler, he sighed, returned his paw to an acceptable place and moved in for a cuddle.  It was love!  He was happy to stay and I was happy to hold him but our time together was over too soon as he was moved on to the next person in the queue.  But there was immediately a squeal and Orinoco had emptied himself!  He turned his head in the confusion which followed and I absolutely swear he winked at me!

There were fresh water crocodiles (allegedly frightened of humans but I wasn’t hanging around to find out), dingos, wombats, emus, Tasmanian devils, platypus, etc., etc., but we still had the tour of the city to do, a potential river cruise or shopping.  I wondered if they might have missed one little koala…..

Finally back at the ship, daylight was fast fading and once again we were preparing to set sail.  One more day’s sailing tomorrow before the magical sail into Sydney and, for me, some shore time both there and in Melbourne.