|Seabourn Sojourn with Pelicans in foreground
|Otway Fly Tree Top Walk
We had signed up for an 8-hour tour in Geelong, billed as a tour of the Ocean Road and a tree-top walk in a nature preserve. Also promised was the opportunity to buy a gourmet lunch, which we’ve learned basically means “a ham sandwich” in Australia. Several stops were planned en route. What they neglected to mention was that the bus-ride was three hours in each direction, the stops were simply public restrooms, the hike was unescorted and the lunch was more like a high-school cafeteria—complete with hair-nets.
It was a nice change of pace to see some of the interior, but I doubt we would have booked this tour if we knew there would only be an hour and a half in Otway Park. Our visit was supposed to be longer, but Geelong is one of those stops that anchors offshore and you have to take a tender in, and the tender operations were fairly disorganized, so the tour was an hour late leaving. They had to shorten our time in the park to keep the ship on schedule. Not the best excursion, but a pleasant day regardless.
The next day we anchored off Kangaroo Island. Again we signed up for an all-day tour, but this one was truly terrific.
The first stop was a protected beach that is home to the Sea Lions. There were hundreds of Sea Lions there; in the dunes, on the beach, and playing in the water. I have two clips of the absolute cutest Sea Lion pup, ever. (After an hour I was finally able to upload one to my Facebook page, but I’m having trouble posting video here on the blog. You may have to wait until I can post them from home, wherever that ends up being!)
The rangers let us go down on the beach to get close, but not too close, to the Sea Lions. They were everywhere. Pups and Mama’s were walking together. The occasional baby would be crying for his milk. One pup was playing with the sea gulls—chasing them and delighting when they would fly away. Others were frolicking in the water, enjoying a beautiful summer’s day. We had to rip ourselves away.
We drove for a while, making our way to another cove where the Black Seals live. It was a bit of a drive, and our tour guide had a microphone. Why do people with a microphone insist on using it even if they have nothing to say? He also had the annoying affectation of lifting his voice at the end of each sentence, so every utterance sounded like a question. Something like: “Now we’re heading west? We’re going to visit the Black Seals? They live on a diet of fish?” Yada yada yada.
Don’t get me wrong, when he had something to say he was interesting and knowledgeable. But the rest of the time, when there could have been lovely silences while we took in the scenery, he either repeated what he already said a few times or he babbled on about nothing. At one point he was describing some of the more intricate plots of “The Simpsons”. After an awkward silence, he would add “It was a really funny episode if you saw it”. I passed the time by fantasizing that the driver would swerve to avoid colliding with an errant marsupial and, in the process, either break the sound system or take out his larynx.
We could not get as close to the Seals as we did the Sea Lions, but they were too much fun to watch. They were very playful, and you could see them sunning themselves, swimming together, doing headstands, body surfing on the waves, or sliding down the moss-covered slopes on their bellies like teenagers showing off at a water park.
After a lunch break we drove to see some rock formations which were very interesting, but not as much fun as the animals. To the park’s credit, though, they did have a chart detailing animal footprints and corresponding poo configurations so recent visitors could be identified. We opted to focus on the rocks.
Our final leg was a protected park which is home to hundreds of Koala Bears, relocated here to safeguard them from extinction. The aroma from the eucalyptus trees was heady and the Koalas, while hard to spot, are certainly in residence. An added bonus: None of them bit me. They are, indeed, adorable. There are hundreds of Kangaroos as well, and, for an added treat, a Wallaby came by to spy on us from the bushes.
A much better day on Kangaroo Island than we experienced in Geelong, but all the days are great on this trip and we are thankful for each and every one of them.
Melbourne has flies, lots of them. They don’t bite, but they fly all around your head, landing in your hair, your face, in your ears. It’s constant. They are so prevalent that the locals don’t even bother to swat them away. It is maddening.
Our day in Melbourne began with a trip to the Modern Art Museum which had some very interesting installations, including a clean, silent stark-white chamber and, as you settled in to contemplate what the room might mean–a noise like an 18-wheeler abruptly bears down on you and blinding flashes of light suddenly come out of nowhere. Scared the ever living crap out of me. No wonder the closest most people get to art is to buy the painting that matches the couch. My heart is still pounding.
Denis and Fran had suggested a couple of restaurants. The first was called CODA and while we were trying to find it (it was down a hidden side alley—easy to miss) a nice looking young man followed us for a while. He clearly had mental health issues. He was obviously well taken care of, very clean and well groomed, but it was a little unsettling to hear the running commentary he was providing for whatever voices were in his head. He did not seem dangerous, so we let him be, but after about 10 minutes I simply turned to him and said “I think it’s time for you to follow someone else for a while.” So he did, twirling away like a dancer.
Lunch was great. We ate at the bar and chatted up the bartender, and then we took a walk through the park, swatting our heads like our hair was on fire. The flies didn’t seem to notice. We wanted to make a dinner reservation at another restaurant, the Builders Arms Hotel. It was a bit off the beaten path—I think we found the East Village of Melbourne. It was great getting into a real neighborhood, where the shops were interesting and the natives heavily tattooed.
We found our restaurant and made a reservation for four. Stan and Linda had indicated that they wanted to join us, although Linda had stated earlier that she likes restaurants with lovely china and white linen tablecloths, so we were unsure if they would actually join us. The restaurant was very stark and modern, with a fire pit out back, but it was not the vision Linda had painted, so we reserved for four and promised to call if the number changed.
The ship had arranged for a show at a theater in Melbourne. Under a theater, actually. One of those unexpected gems that most cities have hidden away. It was unclear what the show would be, turns out the first half was an animal expert who brought several native species for us to meet, detailing the intricacies of each one. It was fascinating and, when he was done, he brought several of the animals out for the audience to hold or touch.
If you know me, you know I LOVE this kind of thing, so I was right up there. First was the Koala Bear. The young lady forgot to tell me not to reach my hand next to his head, so he bit me! Nothing hard, leaf chewer that he is, he was just teaching me a lesson. George was at the helm of the camera, but only managed two pictures; one very blurry and another with a look of panic imprinted on my face. You mightsee the blurry one someday, but apparently my reaction to an animal attempting to consume me is to recoil my face so my double chin becomes two to the power of nine. Not a good look for me. (note: I subsequently relented and the moment of impact is pictured above–do not judge)
Next was a baby kangaroo and I have never seen anything so adorable in my life, with the possible exception of Amelia in her Pocahontas dress. So sweet—with eyes like saucers–plus she kept her teeth to herself. I just wanted to steal her.
To recover from all this cuteness, I headed for the dingo (“a dingo ate my baby!”), immediately followed by a huge snake.
Me wearing a Boa
Natasha and a miscellaneous reptile
The second half of the show was billed as an aboriginal dance troupe, but it was just a dad and his two sons with some war paint on. Dad was half aboriginal and half Scottish, and actually showed us that his didgeridoo was a fake—he had inserted a PVC pipe with holes in it to produce the right sound.
Linda and Stan are troopers. They joined us for dinner, taking public transportation both ways, and we had a delightful time. The food was both delicious and expensive, but it was worth every cent to be in such a great place where the locals were celebrating and carrying on.
Next stops: Geelong and Kangaroo Island – stay tuned!
|Not much happens in Eden, a former whaling town that is trying to build up its tourism. Last year they had a record 21 cruise ships pull in, that’s almost two ships a month. The day we were there, for the first time ever, they had two cruise ships in on the same day. It was front page news. The Mayor was quoted as saying “a lot of the passengers will want to return and spend some time in Eden.” I love her optimism.
There is nothing here. We were told that the thing to do was to have oysters, but the restaurant ran out a half an hour after opening. The owner told me she was “shucking as fast as I could, until I ran out.” Make your own jokes.
We walked around for a bit and George got his haircut. After a visit to the local whaling museum (which was surprisingly verygood) we had done all there is to do and returned to the ship, but not before wasting some of our 15 minutes of fame: See the breaking story of George’s haircut here. I’d like to believe it was a slow news day, but it wasn’t.
Burnie, in Tasmania, is also a small town. So small that the mayor greeted the cruise passengers at the dock wearing his ceremonial mayoral drag, shaking each guest’s hand and thanking them for visiting.
A shuttle took us into “town”, and after a pricy coffee and scone we decided to get out of Dodge, so we took a local bus to the next village, the town of Penguin. We had asked about public transportation earlier in the day, but we were told that there was none, that our only hope to get to Penguin would be to hire a taxi for $60 an hour, but when we were walking down the street–and I literally mean THE street–we saw a bus stop headed for Penguin. So we took the bus. $6 round trip.
One of the locals helped us out. She was waiting for the bus, too, and decided to take us under her wing, getting us on and off the bus with much patter in between. She was very sweet, but her accent was very thick and she had no teeth, so understanding her was impossible. We grinned and nodded a lot. At the city gates, Penguin announces itself with a statue of a cartoon-like penguin and, as this is a one-bus-stop-town, I’m not convinced we needed her to get all excited and ring the bell for us, but it made her happy and, besides, she was very kind and provided some local color.
The bus’ return to Burnie was about an hour later and, after the obligatory Fire Department picture, we made our return. The bus driver remembered us and jokingly instructed us not to tell anyone about Penguin, lest they be overrun by tourists.
Pretty in Penguin
I think they sell Dirt Devils
|Chef Cockburn at the market
After another full sea day, we arrived in Wellington the first thing on Monday morning. We hit the gym early as we had a full day planned.
The first event was “Shopping with the Chef”. Every now and again they invite a small group to join the chef on a shopping expedition. Most of the food comes in bulk: A container meets the ship at a predetermined port and the provisions are loaded into storage. But sometimes they need to supplement their larders with some local items. Today the Chef needed fresh fruit, fish and cheese.
The bus driver took us to a bulk store. Not the open air market that the Chef and I were hoping for, but a very large store that sold both retail and wholesale. The Chef demonstrated what he looks for when he shops, and then he picks out what he needs before striking a deal with the owner or manager.
It was a lot of fun for me, but most of the passengers lost interest pretty quickly, which left just a hand full of us to interact with the Chef. He searched for fruit that the thought looked good, and when he did he just grabbed one and bit into it. You could tell by the look on his face if the fruit was worthy. He made a note of what he wanted and had his assistant keep a list. He then spied some Gluten-Free bread, which he decided he needed, before we made our way to the seafood department.
He was not very happy with the fish. With a wide-eyed store employee in a hairnet looking on, he pointed out everything wrong with the fish. From cloudy eyes to a fishy smell, it was clear that fresh fish would not be on the menu anytime soon.
The cheese room was the next stop. The aroma from the room was intoxicating, but once the chef learned the prices (almost all the cheese is imported) he cut his order back to a single wheel of blue cheese. One of the most prevalent brands in the case was “Whitestone”, which I though was pretty funny.
The Chef could use some lessons in bargaining. It must be hard to haggle with a bunch of passengers watching your every move, but he really just asked the prices and then hesitated. While hesitating is a bargaining technic, if it is not working you need to move toward asking for a lower price, but the Chef never took that next step. I was dying to step in and get them down a bit, but chose to bite my tongue instead.
In the afternoon there was a special tour for the “World Cruisers”—a trip to a “Lodge” to see them sheer a sheep. I was ambivalent, but it was actually an amazing afternoon.
They picked us up by bus and drove about an hour and fifteen minutes along the coast, which was just spectacular. We came to a gate in the road which signified the private land for the farm. They allow people to enjoy the coast by foot or by bicycle, but no cars, so many locals were hiking, biking, swimming and snorkeling. The driver explained that the ranch was a working one, but they supplemented their income with special events, weddings and such. The driver explained that the owners do not allow private cars on the property, so everyone must arrive by bus. His bus. And only his bus. I figure he must be a cousin or something. The bride, however, usually gets helicoptered in. I’m sure the noise drowns out “here comes the bride” but, given enough hairspray, I’ll bet it makes for a pretty dramatic entrance.
While we ascended toward the ranch, some of his herd decided to block the road, staring blankly at the beeping bus while enjoying a chew. As we made our way to the top the views became more and more remarkable. We were herded into the house for some sandwiches, cookies, and a welcome chat in a converted barn which was fitted with an enormous fireplace and decorated with chandeliers.
A sheep was brought in, kicking a bit and trying to make a run for it, and the sheerer flipped the poor thing over and held her between his legs. Once he started sheering the sheep kind of relaxed while she settled in for a haircut. My theory is that, from the sheep’s point for view, there are only two reasons they would be captured by the farm staff, and once they realize it’s just a hairstyling they lay back and relax in relief.
They repeated the procedure with another terrified animal and within moments she went from Crystal Gayle to Sinead O’Conner, again going limp once she realized it was the barber and not the butcher. It was amazing how quickly they sheer them—we were told a good sheerer could clip 400 sheep a day.
We went outside to again gaze in awe at the incredible views, and this time we were treated to a demonstration of the sheep dogs. There are two types, the one that herds the sheep toward you, and one that chases them away from you. The first one is the one you think of as a sheep-dog, a spaniel with a little whippet mixed in. She silently herds the flock, running around the back edges and nudging any stragglers back toward the group. The other dog has an enormous, gravely bark. Not as terrifying as Leona Helmsleysinging God Bless America, but still pretty commanding. This dog’s job is to push the flock into the field, and he does this by flanking their sides, barking loudly, and generally scaring the shit out of them. They gave several demonstrations of herding the sheep one way and then pushing them back—the sheep had no idea what the hell was going on—running back and forth with the dogs at their heels. Poor things. (I took some video but can’t post with the ships slow internet, I’ll post the videos when I get back.)
The handlers signal to the dogs with calls and whistles. The dogs are so well trained that no matter what is happening they turn right, left, sit or return on command. Very smart, very well trained. I never get that dog. I get the ones who, at any given command, roll their eyes like a teenager before doing exactly what they want.
The final part of the trip was a wine lecture (fairly basic, I could have taught it) and some delicious homemade snacks—including jars of their own homemade honey.
As you look at the pictures, please remember to look in the background at the view.
|Our next port was Nelson, New Zealand. There is not much here other than a sweet little old-west style town with covered sidewalks and lots of sunshine. We had no plan other than to wander around the town and buy a pink shirt.
I’ll explain, and of course it has to do with our Trivia Team: One question we were asked was “What color does the lead rider wear in Italy’s version of the Tour de France, the Giro d’Itilia.” One team member, Brian from Scotland, immediately came up with Pink. A few agreed, but Steve, from England, vehemently disagreed. “Pinks a bit too feminine for the Italians” was his argument. I had to point out the Brian was, at the moment, wearing pink, as was Stan. We all had a good laugh, but Steve insisted on blue and, well, his wrong answer was the one we submitted. The answer, of course, was pink. As we had planned on having a Trivia Team dinner, we conspired to all wear pink and present Steve with a pink shirt. To purchase that shirt was our mission in Nelson.
Unfortunately, while searching, we found a really great men’s store called Rodd and Gunn. The most phallic name for a store, ever. They had some really great things and, although no pink shirts, we did manage to buy a few things for ourselves. We eventually found a pink shirt in another store.
|Flowers in the Queens Garden
|Fine People of Nelson Waving Goodbye
Nelson does not get a lot of cruise ships, so both local newspapers ran a story on our docking in their fair city. The locals were very friendly and happy to have some visitors. We walked the full gamut of the twon and, after a stroll in the park, we settled in for a local beer before returning to the ship.
There is a Japanese couple on our floor, and I tried to speak a little Nihon-go with them. I guess they appreciated it because they invited us to a sail-away cocktail party in their suite. They have one of the grandest suites on the ship. They live in Tokyo and Miami, and they do the World Cruise every year. I don’t know what business he is in, but she manufactures kid’s toys, the little trinkets you find in every “Konbini”in Japan. It was a small group, mostly the people from Miami, including the “A” gays on the ship.
I’ll explain: There are two guys on the ship, nice looking, always dressed to the nines. We noticed them our first night on the ship—they sit at a table on the main aisle at dinner and various guests and staff stop by and pay homage. They get the same table every night. The staff sets that table, and only that table, with black napkins while the other 300 seats are set with white. They had (or were given) bobble-heads of themselves that they take everywhere they go, including on shore excursions. They brought their bobble-heads to the Japanese cocktail party, each complete with a kingly crown. We refer to them as Zigfried and Roy. I have to say they are very charming and very nice. They are getting off in Sydney in two days, so we are hoping to acquire their table and assume our rightful place as the superior gays on the ship.
The cocktail party was lovely, and I spoke with our hosts a bit in Japanese until I quickly exhausted my vocabulary.
As we pulled out of Nelson, many of the locals had come to the harbor to wave us off. It was very sweet.
The final event of the day was to meet with our Trivia Team for cocktails and dinner. We arrived at our appointed time, each of us wearing a pink shirt. Steve and Jane arrived (we hadn’t told his wife, we didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag) and they did not notice we were all wearing the same color. We looked like a Mary Kay convention. After some polite banter and round of cocktails they still had not noticed and I wasn’t sure how to bring it up, so I started asking trivia questions. “Fill in the blank: It’s a shirt-maker whose first name is Thomas” and the whole group, catching on, shouted “Pink”. No recognition from Steve or Jane. “She a singer, blond hair”…”Pink!”. “A two-word phrase that starts with TICKELED”…”PINK!”. We looked at Steve expectantly. “I think you’ve gone a bit daft” he said in that English understated manner. “What color does the lead cyclist wear in the Giro d’Itilia?”…”PINK!” they cried in unison, while Steve sat bewildered.
Giving up, I finally asked if he noticed we were all wearing pink shirts, and his draw dropped as I presented him with his own pink shirt. He was pleased as punch and smiled from ear to ear as he changed his shirt.
We set out to dinner for our Trivia Team dinner—it was a great day all around.
Standing: Pat, Steve, George, Jane, Me, Linda, Stan
Seated: Carolyn, Joe, and Brian