Today we are in Bali, deep in a busy harbour with a progression of jets from around the world passing over the ship, landing at the adjacent airport. It is amazing to see the progression of aircraft and ship arriving and departing with tourists.
Traffic is almost unbearable as one tries to travel across the island. Thousands of motor scooters buzz around you in all directions, passing at the strangest locations and ridden by residents of all ages and gender. While back home only two people are customary on a bike, in Bali whole families ride on the scooters along with a myriad of packages.
Our tour went first to the beach community where the shops and hotels were five star and opulent and known for their beach locations and Indonesian cuisine. After the beach we headed for two of the larger Hindu temples on the island. Bali is 85% Hindu and the temples date back to the mid 1600’s. It is interesting to note that offerings are made to the gods each morning in Bali in the form of a small plate of flowers, food and incense. Outside of all shops, high class or low class, a filled plate is present in the morning. The Imperial Palace temple, as do all temples, have a number of courtyards. The outer courtyard is for cock fights which continue to this day in spite of being illegal at locations other than temples. The origin of the cock fight is the shedding of blood which is essential to their religion as a form of sacrifice.
With the majority of the ship’s crew being from Bali, the day in port enabled them to either visit with family in their homes or bring family members on board for a tour and a visit to the ice creme stand on the Lido deck. The ship bends over backwards to facilitate this day and passengers join in by leaving notes for the staff to spend time with their families and NOT make up our beds, freshen our towels or clean the bathrooms. Not really a hardship for any of us!
Like the last time we were here, Bali will not go down as a highlight as there are just too many people, too much traffic and almost an obscene contrast between the poor and the rich. While the countryside is lush, the terraced rice fields unique, the beaches beautiful and clean, the very hot tropical climate is not one in which I can get comfortable.
We have seen the dragon, lived to get back on the ship and will not ever need to see it again.
After Darwin, our next stop was Komodo Island in Indonesia, home to the very rare Komodo dragon. This island along with two smaller adjacent islands is the only place in the world where this species of lizard lives. It’s diet consists of deer (swallowed whole, antlers and all), wild boar, smaller Komodo dragons, and anything that might come in its path including humans. Fortunately the dragons do not eat very often and spend much of their time near watering holes and basking in the tropical sun. They are roughly 8 feet in length.
Komodo Island is a national park and as such, the species is protected. To visit, we travelled as a small group with a ranger at the front of the pack and one bringing up the rear. Each of the rangers carried a forked pole in the event of an attack. Fortunately we made our way without incident to a fresh water source where three of the dragons were ready to be photographed and appeared full. Good for us!
The dragons are fast runners, very proficient at swimming and can appear out of nowhere. A fellow traveller was sitting on the beach at Komodo having a drink when one very large male strolled right by her. Quickly walking backwards she got a great video on her IPAD of the dragon and has been showing us all her accidental filming and counting her lucky stars.
As a national park the scenery is stunning with foliage of a green colour that is not like any other shade. The water is clear and the beaches are magnificent but the presence of the Komodo and and a species of alligator that jumps in the air out of its water habitat kept most passengers out of the water.
We are at anchor here as there is no dock big enough for us. The next stop is Bali where many of the ship’s staff have family members so they will get the day off to visit. Passengers will head off on various excursions across Bali, primarily to see the Hindu temples that are located in every village with many of the bigger temples dating back to the sixteenth century.
The Flying Doctor Service now has a modern fleet of aircraft stationed at the Darwin airport
Since the last post we have travelled north and then around the north-east tip of Australia and then west to Darwin on the north-west tip. Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territory and is truly a city of stories.
This is Christchurch Cathedral in Darwin. The original front entrance was included in the new construction after the church was destroyed in 1974 by a cyclone.
In February 1942 the Japanese bombed Darwin in two raids. The attack squadrons were the same as those that attacked Pearl Harbour. In the battle, Darwin was destroyed including a hospital ship that was at anchor in the harbour flying the Red Cross.
Following the war Darwin was rebuilt as its strategic importance as a port was essential. Darwin’s port is actually almost twice as large as Sydney Harbour and is very well protected from the sea. Unfortunately on Christmas Even 1974 the city was again destroyed by a typhoon/cyclone.
These two stories and the impact on this city of those events are never far from people’s minds and remnants of the destruction can be seen amongst the rebuilt city.
While in Darwin we visited the home of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. This service, based in Darwin is famous for providing medical care across the outback of Australia since the advent of bush flying. Today it still services thousands of square miles of territory where no health care facilities exist. It is quite a story in itself.
Another story, pictured below is about a gunner/soldier during the aerial attack on Darwin. A plaque at the airport tells the story. During the early stages of the raid a gunner was in the shower at the base. In a hurry to get to his post he donned his helmet, his boots and wrapped a towel around his waist Dressed like that he lifted his anti-aircraft gun and started shooting. The inevitable followed with the loss of the towel and the rest is immortalized on the plaque to demonstrate the dedication of the soldiers stationed in Darwin.
Darwin also has a Aviation Museum at the airport which we visited. The highlight of the collection is a B-52 Bomber which literally takes up the whole hanger. All other aircraft are tucked underneath the wings and the body of the monster aircraft. We were fortunate to have on our tour bus two individuals, both former Air Force pilots who flew the B-52.
The Amsterdam is now two days at sea prior to anchoring at Komodo Island in Indonesia. Komodo Island is home to the Komodo dragons which we hope to see when we take a tender ashore. Hopefully some dragon pictures coming up next.
Several of our readers have asked about the menus and the amount of food we eat on the ship. Our schedule and ritual is very much the same as at home or at the cottage. We go to breakfast in the Lido (A large buffet like cafeteria with floor to ceiling windows) around 8:30 am and read the daily “Canadian” as prepared overnight by the ship. It is a summary of the Canadian news. We then do our emails and read our favourite accounts online, all the while sipping our coffee and orange juice. An hour of so later we finally hit the buffet table for whatever we feel like. Items are prepared for you as you wait and staff are eager to carry your breakfast back to your table.
We don’t have lunch but every once in a while we might get a snack mid afternoon.
For dinner we go every night at 7:15 to the main dining room where we have our own table for two, our own wait staff and fortunately for us, only two tables away from where the captain and his wife eat. Dress in the dining room is smart casual and on some nights formal which does not necessarily mean a tuxedo. Dress in the LIdo, for me, is my usual uniform of jeans and a golf shirt or sweatshirt. Susan dresses more smartly in both locations but is not into the ball gowns that some of the more seasoned world travellers seem to be able to haul out for each of the formal evenings.
Below is the menu from last night’s dinner. As you can see there is lots of variety and there is no limit to the number of items that you might like to have. For me, the choice last night was very easy for each of the courses. In addition to the printed menus which change each day there is a standing list of items that are always available should you not be able to find anything of interest on the menu. This happens very rarely. Enjoy as we we do!
It is really hard to decide what pictures to attach to a post. In any given day I take more than 100 shots. I download them to my iPad at night and then try and choose a few for the blog. When I have a few chosen I then have to reduce their size and resolution as they will not send if they are a very large file size.
Today’s blog adds a few more pictures from our trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. Stinger suits are rented to everyone that wants to go in the water to prevent jelly fish poisonous stings. The stinger nets as show in the previous post go all the way to the bottom preventing any type of jelly fish or other organisms from getting in to the swimming areas. Unfortunately most individuals do not swim within the designated areas. Bottles of vinegar are strategically situated along all the beaches as an antidote for a bite.
I couldn’t figure out why all the snorkelers also wore life preservers. It is a regulation that you cannot touch the coral reef in any manner. With a life jacket on you can view the reef but not get down to the bottom due to the jacket’s buoyancy. The bottom is less than a metre deep so you can see how easy it is to stand on the coral.
You can charter any type of vessel to get you out to the reef including a fleet of helicopters that land on small floating platforms on the water. The bird life and fish life in and around the reef and adjacent rain forest is spectacular and like nothing else that you have seen before.
We are now making our way up to the tip of Australia where we will then turn to port and head for Darwin. The water is a deep green, very shallow and we still have the reef pilot on board to guide the ship through the very treacherous waters. Once we make the turn to Darwin we can speed up.
For many years, the idea of actually going to the Great Barrier Reef was only a dream. On our last trip in 2013 the ship travelled clockwise from Sydney, Australia going around the southern end of Australia and up the western side. This time we left Sydney and travelled north up the east side. This route took us directly into the UNESCO Heritage site and the Great Barrier Reef.
For most of the trip to date we have been travelling in water over 1000 metres in depth. As we travel through the Reef the depths are dramatically different. Most of today, for example, we are in water less than 30 feet deep. Travelling this area we needed to take on a Reef Pilot (different from the various Port Pilots that guide us and take us in and out of their respective harbours). In a presentation to the passengers he noted that in many spots we would have less than one metre clearance under the ship, hence his assistance was vital to our safe passage through these waters.
The two main harbours that are the jump off points for the Great Barrier Reef are Townsville and Cairns; two relatively small towns north of Sydney that during the Second World War played major roles in the battles of the Pacific.
Both these towns were immaculate in their appearance; each had waterfronts that were catering to the walking tourist and economies based on the export of coal and sugar cane and the tourist. As with New Zealand, it would be very easy to come back and spend months further exploring.
To get to the Reef for exploring we took a high speed catamaran from Cairns some 50 minutes northwest. There we had an opportunity to wander through a rain forest that has developed as more and more vegetation grew up on the coral, and experience some of the finest beaches we have ever seen. It is, however very, very hot and too many tourists. We have been told that, like Antarctica excursions, there will come a time, very likely within the next few years, when trips to the Reef are no longer available. As we were walking from the catamaran to the shore with our bathing suits at the ready a shark swam by and that finished us for the snorkelling. We were content to walk the beach, and sample the underwater scenes from the safety of a glass bottom boat.
Stinger organisms are also present here in the water and swimming areas are netted off to prevent entrance by these poisonous creatures. Divers and those going snorkelling rent “stinger suits” similar to wet suits to prevent such injuries. Read the warning on the sign and one of the photos shows the netted off area for swimming on shore.
After the cities in New Zealand that we visited it would be hard to fathom a more exciting and dynamic city. Sydney is just special and world’s apart. The weather also cooperated giving us two beautiful day in port.
With so many larger cruise ships now plying the waters, everyone cannot get under the iconic Sydney bridge. The Amsterdam which does the world cruise is smaller than most boats doing this trip and can get into ports and harbours that others cannot. Clearing under the bridge we docked at White Harbour Terminal while others cruisers were next to the Opera House.
Walking, taking the hop on hop off bus or ferry makes it easy to get around downtown Sydney in any direction. On day one we elected to take a city bus tour that included most of the top historical sights and a visit to the famous Bondi beach. Walking the beach we saw the many surfers either learning the sport in classes or out on their own in the crystal clear water. On day two we chose the hop on hop off ferry which took us to a variety of docks in an around Sydney and we got off in Circular Key adjacent to the Opera House, the downtown business core and the ferry terminals. One of the biggest cruise ships we have seen was docked there and had the prime spot.
Sail away was spectacular as the sun set behind us on the Opera House and the Bridge. A number of the passengers did the Bridge walk and got back to the ship to talk about it. I was able to increase both my Lighthouse collection of pictures and add a Australian parrot to my Bird collection. The hard drive is quickly filling up with pictures. We are now in the Coral Sea heading north alongside the Australian coast enroute to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.
After Tonga it was a very eventful passage to Auckland, New Zealand. Winds in excess of 50 mph and seas reaching more than 30 feet made for a very rough ride. With floor to ceiling windows beside us at dinner, the setting made you feel you were inside an aquarium looking out. Another couple described it as being inside a washing machine trying to see through the round window. Eventually the winds subsided.
We, however steamed into Auckland harbour in perfect weather with very little wind. So far, Auckland and Tauranga have been spectacular both for the scenery and the weather. The harbour in Auckland is home to 120,000 yachts (yes…120,000) making for an unbelievable landscape. Whlie there we visited a sheep ranch, a gannet colony out on a cliff along the shore and wandered along the docks of Auckland with our jaws wide open in wonder.
The next day we were in Tauranga in what has to be one of the nicest settings. A mountain, a double beach and a coast line that is constantly changing. Directly off the ship, no transportation is needed to see what New Zealand is all about. It would be easy to stay in Tauranga for the rest of the winter and years. to come. There was even a very well appointed RV campground minutes from the ship at the base of the mountain with views of the ocean all around. In both Auckland and Tauranga we could have spent a lot more time. A group of Maori singers and dancers has joined the ship for demonstrations of the culture and their way of life.
The ship is currently heading south to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand on the Cook Strait which separates the North Island and the South Island. In New Zealand they call Australia the “west island”. It is not complimentary!
It is hard to understand going to bed Wednesday evening and waking up the next morning and discovering it was Friday morning. Thursday just disappeared thanks to the International Date Line which was established in 1921. The IDL is the imaginary line on the earth that separates two consecutive calendar days. Without it a person travelling westward as we are doing would arrive home with one day more than they thought had passed, even though they kept a careful tally of the days. Go figure!
Our next stop was the Kingdom of Tonga. With a king and a palace, this sovereign country continues to be ruled by a king. It is a very religious country with many churches and church schools. Interestingly the religion is Protestant and to see and hear from the locals no other religion is tolerated. Tonga is a beautiful tropical island with clear waters, lush vegetation but extremely flat. They have never had a tsunami and credit their faith for this result. A tsunami would clear off the entire island as there is no protection. Blow holes in the rock line the shore on the north side of the island while a reef and a dredged channel permits cruise ships to carefully thread their way into a very short concrete dock.
Many of the ancient Tonga traditions continue today yet of all the islands we have visited, Tonga appears to be the most civilized. Our next stop will be Auckland in New Zealand.
We have dinner each night at 7:30 pm in the dining room. It is located at the stern of the ship on two levels, floors 4 and 5. From your seat there is a panoramic view of the ocean and the distant horizon. Tonight’s special red wine was Chateau Smith so we had to try it. It was a very nice Cabernet from the state of Washington.
We are very fortunate to have the same Captain as we had in 2013. He is very experienced, super cautious and we were pleased to have dinner with the Captain on a recent sea day. Next year will be Captain Mercer’s last year as he plans on retiring after the 2020 World Cruise. When not on the ship he lives in Merritt Island (Cocoa Beach) in Florida.
One more sea day and we are then docked in Tonga.