Ahoy there mateys,
Its been a while since I wrote and that's mainly because I've been a bit down in the dumps. I've had a lot of 'at sea' days and the weather hasn't been great but anyway...
So my day in Christchurch was fairly uneventful - I had a wander around the department store and across catherdral square. Sadly it was cold and raining so not really the day for sight seeing. Christchurch is known for its design as a typical English town... hence the catherdral, they also have a little river, called the Avon - where they have punts and row-boats. Actually it was very much like an English town in the rain - i.e. everyone is miserable and there's nothing to do. Although aesthetically everything was in place... there was something missing... age. There was no history to the place - it was like a movie set in that respect. So anyway - as you can tell, not the most impressive place I've visited. The highlight of the day was taking a tram ride that snaked through the town stopping at all the main sites. I just did the loop and got off where I'd started and jumped on the shuttle bus back to the ship.
The journey overnight around the south island to Fjordland was very rough - I took some motion sickness tablets, put on my travel bands and rode out the waves in bed. Not the most pleasant experience I've ever had, and sadly it was just a taste of things to come.
Arrival at Fjordland National Park - the highlight of the cruise was not exactly as I'd imagined. This area is famous for it's stunning scenery, crystal waters and wildlife. I got myself together after the difficult night and headed up on deck, to be greeted with rain, fog, wind and cold. This was defintely not the plan. The sounds (fjords) were pretty in the fog and I tried to add to the eerie atmosphere by listening to Sigur Ros on my ipod. Despite the weather it was still an impressive sight (what we could see) and its certainly an experience I won't forget.
After leaving Fjordland we had 2 days at sea. These were on the whole very boring. I had hoped that the hot stone massage on the 2nd day would have cheered me up but I didn't really enjoy it. She was very strong for a little person - plus it was $195 which is far too expensive - so on the whole 2 days of complete isolation and boredom.
Anyway, we arrived in Australia after another choppy night on the Tasman Sea and the sun was actually shining! Yippee!
I was up early as usual as it was a port day to join my fellow excursioners. The trip today is one that I've been looking forward to - its an airwalk through the treetops of the Huon Valley.
The port at Hobart (Tasmania) was very pretty - really close to the beach and as the sun is shining all feels right with the world. The coach took us through some beautiful countryside and we stopped for morning tea in a little restauran overlookin the Huon River. Its very picturesque and so relaxing - the sun is really warm and I finally strated to feel like I was on a summer holiday again.
After tea we drove further into the Huon Valley to an apple museum. I wasn't exactly enthralled about the prospect of hearing about the history of juice-making until one of my fellow Brits get all moany and I found myself determined that it would be interesting and that it would be good.
And, as I knew all along (!) it was indeed a very interesting presentation. Nothing noteworthy for you to take away from it - but while I was there I can definitely remember smiling.
After the museum we headed towards the airwalk and the rainforest was stunning. The long road up to the airwalk was amazing - the ferns at ground level and tall eucalypt and gum trees were exactly how I'd imagined and hoped they'd be.
We walked up through 'the bush' to the start of the airwalk and were guided through the many species of flora by one of the rangers.
The airwalk itself was also amazing - its basically a steel bridge at treetop height that winds through the forest. I was really pleased that I conquered my fear of heights - although I was reminded of walking on Mumbles Pier when I was little and being less than impressed with the fact that I could see the sea below me through the gaps in the floor. This was much the same here and I avoided looking directly down - it was 120 feet from the forest floor at times and frankly it just make me feel sick.
Although the walk itself started as a procession of tourists walking single file like schoolkids, before long some raced ahead, some fell back, and I found myself in relative peace and began to take in the awesome scenery. At the end of the airwalk there was a track through the bush to the visitor centre and cafe. This was really lovely - I was totally on my own and for a few moments... (until I freaked myself out imagining snake attacks) I was a true adventurer, tramping through the Australian outback - albeit signposted.
Lunch was a toasted pannini (ham, cheese and sun-dried tomato) and it was yummy. To wash it down I bought a lime drink which was so green I had concerns that my tongue would change colour! Fortunately it didn't - I checked!
We left the airwalk and headed back through the forest and back out into the countryside. We stopped for a rest break in a little village and I stocked up on sweets for the long coach journey back to port. I must remember to take my travel sickness pills next time I'm going anywhere on a bus - silly Mandy.
I got back to the ship by 4.45pm and enjoyed the Hobart Police Band's serenade of bagpipes and drums as we sailed off to mainland Australia.
Dinner was at 6 as usual and everyone but me had spent the day looking at wildlife - they saw kangaroo, koala, tas devils and wombats. Since the 'no dolphin' dolphin encounter this is now a running joke at the dinner table. All I ever get to see is birds.
After dinner I took a stroll on Deck 7 - the promenade and spent a lovely hour at the stern watching albatross swoop and soar behind the ship. At one point there were 9! Who needs to pet a flea-ridden kangaroo when you can watch sights like that one!
Thursday, 19th Feb was another day at sea and after a good sleep I got up early expecting the ususal overcast weather - to be greeted by sunshine! Woohoo!
I went for a walk around the ship and found myself at the front (the helm? or does that mean I was driving it... well anyway I wasn't driving I was just at the front) which was really something else. I'd been spending most of my time when up on deck either aft (at the back) or starboard (on the right side) which was really good. But standing at there wth the ocean ahead of me - I felt like I was on top of the world.
Before heading in for lunch - I was lucky and I saw... no not dolphins... no not whales... but hundreds and hundreds of migrating birds. I have no idea what they were (sorry Daddy) and without binoculars I couldn't make out any distiguishing features but it was quite a sight all the same.
After lunch the sun really put his hat on and I spent a lovely afternoon sunbathing on deck and swimming in the terrace pool. This is the how I thought I'd be spending every 'sea day' but hey - that's life. Made me appreciate it when it did finally come.
It was formal night that evening, so it was time to get on the posh frock. I got myself all prettified and headed down for dinner. It was a nice meal and afterwards - as I was all dolled up - I decided to go to the show with the others. It was of course all dancing and singing - the theme being 'Ports of Call' so an international selection of songs from places the Princess fleet visit. London was embrassing... all 'any ole iron' and songs from My Fair Lady. As I expected it was not really my thing - but it was professionally done and I can see why people enjoyed it.
Friday, 20th Feb we arrived in Melbourne. It was an overcast day that suited the sombre mood. Victoria has now lost 207 lives to the fires sweeping across the state. The temperatures near Melbourne hit 51c on the day it started - totally off the scale. The tour guide for today's trip was clearly still very upset and had lost friends and also her grandmother's artwork which had been stored in one of the buildings that was caught in one of the blazes.
Anyway - we were taken through Melbourne by coach and then joined a river cruise up the Yarra River which flows through the centre of the city. After the cruise we headed out of the city into the Yarra Valley where the 10 year drought was evident in the fields and fields of dry arid grassland. The recent extreme hot weather of the last few weeks has further devastated the crops and vineyards of the region.
Our visit to Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary coincided with the return of many of the animals, who had been temporarily relocated to Melbourne Zoo to keep them safe from the fires. Finally my opportunity came to see the indigenous animals of Australia, and I wasn't disappointed. I saw cute Koala looking shy in the trees, lazy kangaroo stretched out in their enclosures, dingos looking as tame a labradors and also the famous duck-billed platypus swimming around. I enjoyed the park and I am really pleased that it was saved from the flames that has destroyed so much of the surrounding countryside.
Travelling through the valley I could see the scorched fields and burnt trees - it was really sad. The mountains are still shrouded in smoke and although we didn't venture close to any of the severely affected areas - I was close enough to appreciate the affect it has had. Its quite different actually being in a place than seeing it on the news. The poor Koala are going to have a bit of a hard time of it because they only eat certain varieties of Eucalypt trees and the majority were burned. Its gonna take a long time for this state to recover.
We visited a vineyard for lunch and I took some time out to enjoy a little sunshine before we headed back to the port and onto the ship.
As this cruise comes to an end, its the last day at sea today. I have taken some time to reflect on my last 11 days and can honestly say that its been a mixed bag. Some moments have been incredible - seeing the albatross from the deck, watching sunsets and the overwhelming sense of calm you get when gazing out to sea. I have laughed and had fun with the people I have talked to both onboard and while on trips and overall these memories overshaddow the boredom and frustration I have felt at times.
All in all, I probably would go on another cruise - but not on my own - and I would make sure I was prepared for the slower pace and changeable weather conditions.
I'm looking forward to arriving in Sydney tomorrow and am all set. I did my laundry last night in the laundrette on board and I went to a talk on Sydney this morning. All that's left to do is to eat some lunch... do something to amuse myself this afternoon... eat dinner... go to bed early and get up before dawn to watch the ship cruise into Sydney Harbour.
Big hugs as ever...
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