Having made our way down the narrow fiord out of Milford Sound, we will rock and roll our way over the next two days through the southern extreme of the Roaring Forties. With the Tasman Sea to the north and the Indian Ocean to the south, there are few landmasses here to serve as windbreaks. So the winds that form between forty and fifty degrees latitude are notoriously strong. I have worried a bit about this passage but I take some comfort in knowing that after almost two weeks at sea I’ve probably developed some sea legs. And it could be worse….just south of us across the fiftieth parallel the winds are known as the Furious Fifties and south of that lie the Screaming Sixties.
It was certainly a rocky night and I was wakened a couple of times to a strange shuddering motion that seemed to run the length of the ship. I learned the next morning that sea and wind conditions had been strong enough to warrant use of the ships stabilizers. The Voyager has two retractable stabilizers that, when activated stick out like airplane wings under the water line on each side of the ship to reduce the roll in high seas. Stabilizers add drag and increase fuel costs for shipping lines so the decision to employ them is not taken lightly.
We’re headed for Melbourne – a bit of a disappointment to me as I had hoped we would make for Hobart, Tasmania – someplace I would like to see. I love Melbourne but had just spent a week there and I will almost always choose to go someplace new rather than retrace my steps. We’ll be at sea for two days. I spent some of the time thoroughly investigating my surroundings – visiting the on-board art gallery, browsing the shops, taking in some of the nightly production shows, dancing the night away at a fabulous street party on the Promenade Deck, and with our Schooner Bar Gang moving from one bar to another in the early hours of the morning as one after another closed behind us.
Remarkably, the Voyager of the Seas Ice Show takes place in this stretch of ocean and even though the ice rink is in the most stable spot on the ship – mid-ship on Deck Two – I marveled at the courage of these performers, leaping, twirling and somersaulting on the small, heaving ice surface. Not surprisingly, three of the cast of ten or so skaters are Canadians. I took my own turn on the ice the next day when the seas had calmed enough for a ‘public skate’ and had a completely lovely time.
My thanks to ship-mate, Alf Povall for these ice show photos. It was challenging to capture a good shot of these fast moving skaters.
We were blown off the Sports Deck on the first sea day by winds that I later heard described as ‘hurricane force’ by one of the crew. So roller blading was out. We did manage to play a particularly competitive round of table tennis in a sheltered corner. Conditions improved enough on our second sea day to open the climbing wall and we all gave it a shot.
Our on-shore day in Melbourne will be my last full day in Australia and I spent most of my time wandering aimlessly, feeling thoroughly sorry for myself to be leaving here. I’ve been asked a few times by people I’ve met on my travels if I have a favorite place. I do. All of them. Every place I’ve traveled here has been so remarkably different from anyplace else – it’s the nature of this land of so many landscapes and climates. But there are a few experiences that stand out.
Flying shotgun in a small plane over spectacular Kakadu National Park made me feel like I was in that marvelous scene from Out of Africa where Denys Finch Hatton flies Baronness Karen Blixen over the Great Rift Valley of Africa. I was spellbound and felt incredibly privileged to be experiencing majestic Kakadu this way.
The catalyst for this trip was my desire to experience one of the world’s great train journey’s. The Ghan crosses the continent from Darwin to Adelaide, through Alice Springs and the Red Center of Australia. I absolutely adored every minute of this journey and loved watching the vast landscapes of Northern Territory and South Australia stream past my window.
I prowl bookstores wherever I go and in Alice Springs I had the good fortune to be attracted to a small tome called The Last of the Nomads. It’s the true story of the last two Aboriginals to come out of the Gibson Desert in Western Australia. As we sped through The Red Center in the relative luxury of our well-equipped 4WD images of the long, stringy shadows of Warri and Yatungka weren’t far from my mind – shuffling across the limitless red plains, along ancient tracks in search of water, firing the spinifex grass as they went to let others know of their presence. Except that there were no others. It gave me a strange feeling to be tracking this ancient land and I felt like an interloper.
I adored Melbourne, although lots of Melburnians I met complained about the weather. It threatened rain the day I attended the Melbourne Cup but when you grow up in Vancouver you learn to take the weather in stride. ‘A little water never hurt anyone’, my mother used to say. It didn’t seem to bother these lovely locals headed to the racecourse for Ladies Day. This was my first experience with ‘alleys and lanes’ and I loved wandering them. I also fell in love with The Olsen hotel in Melbourne – and that’s saying something for this charter member of the Fairmont Fan Club.
The afternoon I spent learning about test cricket at The Gabba in Brisbane, was a highlight as it was the first time I’d seen cricket but also for the way it came about. I had chatted with a couple of delightful Aussie war veterans at the Remembrance Day services in Brisbane. They got a kick out of showing off the MacArthur Museum to this Canuck and that led to an invitation to attend the match. It was a glorious day, we sat with a group of stadium volunteers and ardent cricket fans, and I did my best to not seem as ignorant of the game as I still am. Test cricket can last for several days and it seemed to me as if not much really went on. I was told they actually stop for tea but I wondered if my lovely host was just having me on.
I expect my grandchildren to be suitably impressed that their Nana snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef. It was a mind-blowing experience.
A week in Sydney is about fifty-one weeks too little time for me. It’s a place I would love to live for awhile. Savoring ‘the best cup of coffee in town’ with my Aussie girls was such a lovely way to spend a morning, and fulfilling my dream of seeing the symphony play at The Opera House was everything I imagined. Totally. I can honestly say I had never dreamed of – or even imagined – climbing up and over The Old Coathanger but I think for the rest of my days I’ll marvel at the fact that I did.
And now I’m having great difficulty leaving this place. I’ve fallen in love with Australia and though my travels will take me elsewhere and eventually home, I leave part of my heart here. I’ll come back. But for now I’m off to Bali. Stay tuned!