The Road (albeit at 40,000 feet) to Sydney

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April 8th 2019
Published: May 2nd 2019
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- Travel is more than seeing the sights. It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living - Miriam Beard

When the Commonwealth Games came to Manchester in 2002, Roisin and I were lucky enough to attend the opening ceremony. Among the big guns of the likes of Canada, Australia and the UK paraded a small team of a dozen or so. It was their debut at the Commonwealth Games. Blink and they’d be swallowed up in the masses. This was the small Pacific Island nation of Niue. At the time, we had to dig out the reference books to identify that Niue is an overseas territory of New Zealand. This was very much a case of, ‘It’s not the winning that counts but the taking part..’This edict was very much in evidence when their 23 stone shot putter doubled up as their 100m representative. Now my understanding is that all athletes have to partake in their country’s trials in order for the selectors to pick the best in each event. I found it difficult to accept that he was the best Niue had to offer. However, I have since learnt that Niue’s nation sport is darts and we all know what darts players are built like!!! My guess is that he was the only athlete that owned a part of running shoes and only drank halves of beer or maybe was the only 100m runner that still had a valid passport!! Nevertheless, none of that mattered. The 2002 Commonwealth Games had put Niue well and truly on the map and moreover, on Roisin’s radar!! From that day on, we made it a mission to, one day, visit this South Pacific island paradise.

We had previously looked in to traveling to Niue but as there is only one plane per week in and out of the island and all flights are via New Zealand, this was not an option. The next best thing was to cruise there (something Roisin and I know a little about!!) unfortunately no cruise ships stop there…until now!!

This trip will see us fly down to Sydney, Australia before hopping over to Auckland, New Zealand. We will pick up the Holland America Maasdam from Auckland and make our ways across the South Pacific calling at a few ports in Tonga, the Cook Islands and several ports in French Polynesia (the little outpost of Niue will be in there as well, of course!!) We will cross the international Date Line so we will have 18th April…twice!! We also cross the equator and finally seven continuous at sea before arriving at our disembarkation port, San Francisco. From there we will head straight to the airport for our flight home.

Explaining these plans to an ex colleague several weeks ago, she exclaimed, ‘Wow! What a once in a lifetime trip’.

‘Yes, so much so’, I replied, ‘that it’s our second time!!’

In 2010 we did a similar trip but in reverse. That was to celebrate our milestone birthdays. As at the time it was only our second cruise, we named that cruise, the Big One. Thirty-odd cruises later, having now cruised to all continents (except Antarctica), the Big One has somewhat been downgraded to the ‘slightly above average one’!! Everything is relative!!

Coats on and our first ‘episode’ of this trip (I hope it’s not a shape of things to come!) I took out the train tickets from our holiday folder (Yes, we have a holiday folder that contains travel documents, tickets and research material. An essential piece of kit for my very own Roger Hargreaves’s character – Little Miss Organised!!). I then took the cases out to the car and came back in to retrieve the tickets I thought I’d left on the arm rest of the sofa but they were nowhere to be seen. After the initial panic and looking in places I knew I hadn’t been since handling the tickets, I eventually found them…. in the driveway underneath Roisin’s car. I’m not going to even try to understand how they ended up there but even more worrying I can’t explain what made me look under there to find them!!

Our local train station, Hough Green, is ½ mile from home so without further delay, I drove Roisin and the luggage to the station then drove back to the house before running (well, walking fast – which is almost like running for me these days!!) back to the train station with minutes to spare before we were finally on our way. The first leg of this mammoth journey was simple – the train to Manchester airport. It only took an hour even with a short change at Warrington.

We flew Singapore Airlines. We have both flown with many different airlines over the past fifteen years but this was our first time experiencing this South East Asian Company. The cabin crew were very accommodating and pleasant and the food was filling and not as tasteless as some other in-flight meals I have experienced!

The flights themselves were uneventful. A twelve-hour flight followed by a two-and-a-half-hour stopover in Singapore before continuing with another seven-hour flight to Sydney. It is one thing having a two-hour flight that is uneventful but do you realise how long twenty hours of uneventfulness feels like?? There are only so many downloaded episodes on Netflix you can watch or so many puzzles you can do or even so many times you can read the in-flight magazine before you start counting the rivets in the sections of the hull!! The long-haul flight was a day time flight as well so my brain was telling the rest of my body that it’s not time to go to sleep yet and when it was time to go to sleep, it coincided with the time to land!!!

Australian Immigration is now all automated and despite TV shows such as Anything to Declare that seem to detain passengers for a full cavity search because one has tried to import a snickers bar which contains peanuts that may harvest a bacteria harmful to the Antipodean Eco system, we had collected our luggage, exited the controlled area and were heading toward the train that would take us directly to within a few hundred yards of our hotel. All within a record time of 7 minutes!!

The most convenient and economical way to use public transport in Sydney is to invest in an Opel card. This is similar to London’s oyster card. It is a prepaid card that enables you to hop on trains, buses and commuter ferries at a reduced rate. With Opal Card in hand we headed to the metro for our direct train and 15 minutes journey to Museum, the nearest station to our hotel. In the world of railways, however, Saturdays and Sundays are the same whether in Beirut or Batley. Weekend rail maintenance meant we had to change trains at Central. Having just travelled almost half way around the world, this was but a minor inconvenience.

The first observation about the Sydney underground is that the stations bear an uncanny resemblance to the London Tube stations. They all had a similar design and colour scheme built in the Victorian glazed brick style but on this occasion no time to stand and admire the craftsmanship. The Hyde Park Hotel was literally fifty metres across the road from Museum metro station. The time was 09:30pm. We had been travelling for twenty-eight hours. My internal GPS spoke those words we all like to hear: ‘You have reached your destination’!!

After a surprisingly restful night’s sleep, we awoke at 8:00am, had a light breakfast of cereal, juice and toast and were ready for our first (of hopefully many) appointments with fun.

Featherdale Wildlife Park is an Australian zoo in the west of the Sydney. It specialises in Australian native wildlife and birds, as well as reptiles and marsupials. A visit to Australia wouldn’t be complete without a visit to say ‘hello’ (or g’day cobber – yes, I’ve seen Alf in Home and Away!!) to the indigenous species of this vast continent. It was here we had arranged to meet Alyson and her mum Jo, who we first met on an MSC cruise from Dubai through the Red Sea to Genoa in 2014, together with Alyson’s two-year-old daughter, Noä. We took the T1 train to Blacktown where we picked up the number 279 bus that dropped us outside the entrance of Featherdale Wildlife Park. The journey, door to door, took just over one hour and was relatively straight forward, made more so with our trusty Opel Card!!

It wasn’t long before a white Mitsubishi SUV pulled in to the parking lot and after some friendly waving we were, once again, reunited with our Australian friends.

The Koalas and Wallabies were the stars of the show and not as I first thought the large numbers of Ibis that frequented the Wildlife park. I spent far too much time admiring these long curved billed birds, studying and capturing on camera their movements. After moving passed several of the enclosures I had noticed that there were Ibis in every enclosure; this one said wombat yet I know for a fact that wombats don’t have feathers and can’t fly (despite them having ‘bat’ in their name!!) There were Ibis casually walking on the paths in between the visitors to the park. It was then, Alyson introduced us formally to the Ibis or as the Australians call them ‘Bin Chickens!!’ They are as much of a pest to Australians as pigeons are to the rest of civilisation, scavenging for tasty morsels and scraps!! They have been known to coolly walk up to humans and swipe their cheese and pickle sandwich from their hand!! (although it may have been ham and pickle!!) Other ‘caged birds’ that WERE part of the exhibits included the characteristically looking laughing kookaburra, although the one we saw didn’t seem to have a sense of humour!! The buzzards were perched high looking down on the rest of the small mouth-watering mammals (mouth-watering only if you’re a buzzard…or a Peruvian!!). Through the thick branches of a tree trunk I spotted a Southern Cassowary. Due to its large bony crown on its head, known as a casque, this prehistoric looking bird had a large body covered with bushy black feathers. Its long neck was bright blue, and had two long red wattles dangling from its throat. Not a fashion look I’d recommend!!

One of the small mammals the buzzard had its eye on was called an echidna. This was the first time I’d seen this odd-looking creature. Smaller, but similar to a porcupine, I was only aware of this spiny, long snouted, insectivorous egg-laying mammal through crossword clues.

After we paused briefly to have our photo taken with Archer, one of the placid family of Koalas, we meandered our way through to the Wallaby and Kangaroo enclosure. These cute marsupials needed no introduction although at one stage there was some debate as to whether I was feeding a small kangaroo or a large wallaby. ‘As it doesn’t look ready to punch my lights out,’ I concluded, ‘I’m assuming it’s a wallaby!!’

By far the most aggressive looking ‘specimen’ was an alligator that appeared to have eaten, not one, but a whole herd of wildebeest and was basking in the sun, it’s long snout agape displaying two rows of razor sharp teeth, some of which seem to have either been ground down or snapped off. There was very little movement from this swamp-monster so much so that I overheard two tourists comment that it was so unlifelike and disproportioned, the park should be ashamed in displaying such an obvious fraud!! I should have challenged her to jump the enclosure to prove her point. Now THAT would have made good blogging!!

The afternoon went far too quickly but it was time to say our goodbyes to Alyson, Jo and baby Noä. We arranged with Alyson to meet for coffee near to where she worked in the city as we’d probably be in the vicinity tomorrow but for now, we headed back to our hotel before jet lag kicked in with a vengeance!

Additional photos below
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3rd May 2019

Glad to read that you are travelling again - for a while we thought that perhaps you had run out of world to visit !
10th May 2019

Thanks for your comment Anne and Philip. I'm afraid you can't get rid of me that easy. I came up against technical difficulties for the South East Asian trip so that is still a work in progress. In the meantime, I'm committed to complete this trip within the next few weeks before our trip to Peru that starts on 1st June 2019

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