Saturday, December 15, 2018

Around Australia - Sea Princess - Darwin

Our next stop was Darwin and it was probably our second least favorite port of call. As predicted and warned, it was hot and humid. Our plan was to visit the George Brown Darwin Botanical Gardens and then wander in the city center a bit.

There was a bus from the ship that took passengers to the Visitor's Center. From there a couple of buses were running loops, one of which stopped at the Botanical Gardens. We hopped on that and were dropped off in the garden's main parking lot after driving through the central business district filled with uninteresting architecture. When we got to the gardens, we found out that only the early buses were doing the garden route. For the return bus, we would have to walk to the casino, a bit over 1/2 mile. Shouldn't be too bad but we turned the wrong way coming out of the gardens making the hike longer. And our pace was a crawl in the heat and humidity.

After the beautiful gardens in Perth, the Darwin garden was a disappointment. Yes, there were some beautiful trees and blooming shrubs.

But that I felt it was unkempt. I had no problem with dead leaves and branches on the landscaping. That's natural. But no attempt was made to hide unnatural things like the black hoses used for watering the plants. At one point, a small bridge we came to was closed because of rotten planks. If the gulley under the bridge hadn't been dry, which we scrambled across, we would have been looking at a long walk back the way we had come. It would have so nice, and so easy, for someone to put up a sign at the beginning of the path that said "no outlet."

Sailing out of Darwin
By the time we got back to the city center, we were done. While there was a pedestrian mall nearby for shopping (we talked to one lady later who had gotten a pedicure .. wish I had thought of that), we were done. Even the idea of stopping for something cold like ice cream didn't appeal to us. We were ready to go back to the ship.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Around Australia - Sea Princess - Cruising the Kimberly Coast

Broome is part of the Kimberly Coast. The following day, we sailed along the majestic cliffs that make up part of this pristine area, with the timing approaching sunset to set the cliffs aflame. Not much else to say here. Just some pictures of the stunning scenery.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Around Australia - Sea Princess - Broome

Yay!!! Beach day!!!

Broome, located on the northwest coast, is famous for its Cable Beach and camel rides on the said beach. We decided to forego the camel rides and just enjoy the beach.

Words can't describe how beautiful this beach is. Miles of hardpacked sand in each direction with some rocky outcroppings along the way. And beautiful blue water. We had a clear day with perfect beach temperatures. Couldn't have asked for a better beach day.

The ship docked at 2 am. Yes, that's not a typo. There are extreme tides here and to be able to have enough water under the keel, we docked at 2 am. But nobody could get off the ship before 7 am.

We were among that first group off the ship. A free shuttle ran from the ship into town. Once in town, public buses were available for AUD$10 pp for an all-day pass. (It was cheaper to pay by the ride if you were an Australian senior.) Besides the normal bus routes, there was a bus going straight from the Visitor's Center to Cable Beach. We were on the first bus and at the beach at 7:45 am.

The place that rents chairs and umbrellas was just setting up. Perfect timing on our part.

Jerry enjoyed the ocean breeze and reading and napping under the shade of our umbrella.

I walked one way up the beach, then walked the other way down the beach, then went into the very warm water. Not a swimming beach as it has rolling waves but it was still great. Then I rested a bit and then, of course, had to go back into the water again :)

We left about noon and caught a bus back to the Visitor's Center where we spent a few minutes and then walked to the ship shuttle pick up stop.

And here is where part of the day fell apart. The Broome tourism volunteers didn't do a very good job organizing the return to the ship. They were hampered by the fact that one of the buses had broken down. So the area was overcrowded. And although shade and water were provided, it was hot and a lot of people ready to return to the ship. And what made it worse was that there was no organization. All the pax were in a clump ... no line so when a bus did show up, it was mobbed. Not a good situation.

I wondered if we had stayed a bit longer if things would have been better, as in miss the rush. But according to others who came back around 2 pm, it was the same. And with a 3:30 pm sailing, wouldn't want to push it much later.

Those are the camels in the distance

Me enjoying the lounge chair

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Around Australia Cruise - Sea Princess - Fremantle / Perth

We docked in Fremantle which is right next to Perth.  Since we were in port from 8 am to 11 pm, there was no need to hurry off the ship.

The train from Fremantle to Perth is about a 15-minute walk at a slow pace (ours lol). The shortest way is to use the bridge over the railroad tracks but I understand that if you walk past the station, there is a place to cross at track level. We used the bridge.

The station was crowded with Sea Princess passengers and a large group of Asians, all trying to get tickets to catch the train. There were two rail agents helping everyone so it went pretty fast. We were soon aboard a very comfortable train for our 25 or so minute ride into Perth.

Once in Perth, we picked up the CAT bus transportation which is free. A bit of a caveat here. First, check your surroundings when you exit this station. I took a quick scan but I know if I had to find it again from streetside, I wouldn't be able to without some help (suggestion is to take a couple of pictures). Second, before arriving in Perth with plans to take the free transportation, check if any of it is on strike. Yes, strike! (Although I understand this doesn't happen too often.) In Perth, the bus lines are identified by color. And when we were there, the drivers for two of the lines were on strike. Fortunately, it didn't affect our plans.

Our first stop was the Perth Mint which has a very interesting history, existing because of Western Australia's gold rush. The mint is privately owned and its customers are bullion investors. We took the tour and enjoyed it, including seeing the largest gold coin in the world, 1 metric tonne of pure gold (around 3 feet in diameter) worth (at that time) over AUD $50,000,000.

Can see people in the background for size perspective
Our next stop was King`s Park, with Perth`s botanical garden. We started with lunch at the cafe in the park. Jerry had the fish and chips and I had the hummus platter. Both very good. The weather was great and we walked and walked and walked. Just beautiful with lots of plants in bloom and views over the Swan River and central Perth in the background.

Finally, time to head back to the ship. Fortunately, we didn't have to find our way back to the station we got off at. We caught a bus at the park and spoke to the driver. At one of the bus stops, she very nicely told us this was our stop and directed us towards one of the underground stations which she said would connect with the Perth/Fremantle train. (It did but a long walk from the platform we got off to the platform for the Fremantle train.)

For those that want to know, there is a Coles supermarket right across the street from the station in Fremantle. And we had hoped to spend some time in Fremantle but by the time we got off the train, we were exhausted. Time to head back to the ship for dinner because we wanted to see that night's show.

Princess had brought aboard the Western Australia Marching Police Pipe Band. We really enjoyed the show and recommend it.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Around Australia Cruise - Sea Princess - Busselton Margaret River Region

It was another day that dawned cloudy and looked like rain but we lucked out again and the skies cleared as we started our tour.

For our stop in Busselton, I had arranged a private tour with Dirk of Margaret River Nature Tours. I posted the tour on our Roll Call and two other couples joined us. This was a tender port, so we met our tour companions at 8:30 to make sure we got on a tender together. Since they were Elite, we ended up getting off the ship a lot faster than I thought we would.

We were ashore by 9:00 and then had to wait for Dirk. Our arranged pickup was 10. We spent our time browsing through the visitor's center. (And for those that don't want to go far from the pier, there are some very interesting options. There is a tram that runs along the VERY long jetty and also an underwater observatory, accessible from the jetty.)

We had a list of possible things to do and see which I received from Dirk. Putting our heads together via email, the three couples ( the ladies actually ... the men seem to just go along for the ride) narrowed the list down and I had emailed it to Dirk. We stopped for olive, wine, and chocolate tastings. Along the way, we saw kangaroos in the wild.

We went to Hamlin Beach which is supposed to have a school of stingrays swimming near the shore that you can hand feed. But the water was rough and they weren't there. :(   Still, I got to put my feet in the Indian Ocean, a first for me.  :)

Dirk is very knowledgeable about the geology of the area and the Hamlin Beach dunes and cliffs were a perfect place for a lesson about the ice ages and the resulting land formations.

We drove through magnificent forests where, at stops, Dirk pointed out various plants including several types of orchids. 

He took us to lookout points with stunning views.

We stopped to see one of the many caves the Margaret River region is known for.  A delicious lunch with local wine at Dirk`s B and B broke up the day.

And after a long, exhausting but most enjoyable day, we were dropped back at the jetty at 5:10 pm, in plenty of time for the last tender at 5:30.

Then we managed to finish our wonderful day with a beautiful sunset.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Around Australia Cruise - Sea Princess - Albany

The day started off cloudy and cool but I had plans for the day so off we went.

I had tried to make arrangements for a private tour but the major (only?) tour company in the area, Busy Blue Bus, told me that Princess books almost all of their vehicles. But they did let me know that they offer a 4-hour 22-passenger bus tour that can be booked the morning we dock. It is their The Gap Plus Natural Wonders tour and costs AUD$50. I was told they would have a kiosk set up right where the ship shuttle buses drop off passengers in town, with the tour starting at 9 30.

First, a heads up to anyone going to Albany from the US. The name is NOT pronounced like the capital of New York State, that is 'Awl-bany.' Instead, first say 'Al' as in a man's name, and then follow it up with 'bany.' If you pronounce it wrong you'll get some very strange looks. And the times we did it right, we got big grins and 'great job!'

Anyway, not wanting to be shut out of the tour, we were in town a bit after 8 am and got our tickets. We then wandered, browsed through a Target :) and the day got sunny and warmer. And it is a good thing we got our tickets early. Others from our Roll Call who wanted to take the tour and didn't get into town until 9:00 am found the tours sold out. And, yes, tours. It was so popular, the company put another bus on the same routing, leaving at 10 am.

The tour was a scenic coastal tour. Albany is on a bay and the bus took us around the bay to the other side. Our first stop was this beach on Frenchmen's Bay. The sand was like talcum powder.

Our next stop was an area with WW I and WW II lookouts. The views were beautiful.

Our next stop was The Gap and The Natural Bridge. The bridge overlooks a big gap in the cliffside.

Very exciting while we were there is that we saw lots of whales. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you'll see them in the lower right corner.

Then we were out on the bridge overlooking The Gap, watching the whales WAY out in the water ... until someone shouted LOOK DOWN! And there were whales right at the bottom of the cliff we were standing over (on the bridge.) For us, very exciting.

Our next stop was a wind farm. This was the closest I've ever been to one of these and I never realized how much noise they make! There were some nice walking trails around the wind farm and we had some beautiful views from there also.

The wind farm was our last stop. We headed back to town seeing Albany across the bay, and our ship at the pier.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Around Australia Cruise - Sea Princess - Tasmania

Ever since we visited Hobart Tasmania (southeast) 14 years ago I've wanted to come back and see more of the countryside. This trip we had both Burnie (north) and Hobart as ports of call. For Burnie, I booked a private tour and it was great.

I contacted Robyn of Play A Round in Tassie. I believe I was the first one to contact Robyn with the date of our stop in Burnie but by the time the date arrived, there were a total of 9 of us off the ship. To handle this size group, Robyn and her husband rented a minivan, with Robyn sitting in the back to do the commentary while her husband drove. Worked out very well.

There was a shuttle running from the ship to the visitor's center. Robyn and her husband were waiting there with a sign. We were off early so had a few minutes to browse in the center. 

Very interesting, including demonstrations by craftspeople. Well worth a few minutes.

Our first stop was Fern Glade, advertised as one of Tasmania's 60 Great Short Walks, and known for its large ferns. If we were going to see a platypus in the wild, this was the place. While we were not successful in seeing a platypus, we did get to see a wild wallaby. 

 We drove through beautiful countryside.

And our next stop was Wings Wildlife Park. It had the expected collection of kangaroos, that we could pet and feed, emu, ostrich, koala, Tasmanian devil, etc
Tasmanian Devil
and loads of birds. What caught me most by surprise was that I had no idea there were so many beautiful birds in Australia.

Golden Pheasant

After our visit to the wildlife park, we took a break at the picnic tables there and Robyn brought out some snacks. She had made Anzac biscuits and gave us information on the history behind them. She had also made a delicious rolled pastry which, she told us afterward, had vegemite in it. Then we traveled along the coastline to a park with a beautiful trail and waterfalls.

When we got back on board ship, after sailaway, the Captain came on the public address system. Looks like we are finally going to pay for all that beautiful weather we have had. He told us that we would be running into some high seas due to a weather system in the south seas. It would alter our time in Hobart and perhaps also Adelaide.  The captain asked everyone to make sure anything fragile in the cabin was secured and to be careful when walking in the hallways and on deck once we hit these seas which will be later tonight.

Our originally scheduled time in Hobart was supposed to be noon to 8:30 pm. For anyone visiting Hobart for the first time, this is less than an ideal schedule. On our first visit, we had a full day of daylight hours and took an excursion to Mt. Fields. This time it would be hard to squeeze in anything outside of the city during the daylight hours (sunset around 6:15 pm) so we planned on just a visit into town. This worked for us with the new times in Hobart of 11 am to 6 pm, but I'm sure other passengers had to change their plans.

The ship docks very close to downtown in Hobart. We walked off the ship and strolled around the area with our goal being Mawson's Hut Replica Museum. We have cruised to Antarctica and visited two stations there so we were curious to see this one. We found it very interesting and highly recommend it to anyone interested in Antarctica history.

Our original itinerary from Hobart was to take us south around Tasmania and then north on the west side, to Adelaide. Because of the weather, we were retracing our path from Burnie, going north on the east side and then northwest, on to Adelaide. Most of the bad weather was during the night and it did not affect our stop in Adelaide. For us it didn't matter as we planned on staying on board. We had been to Adelaide in the past and the majority of shore excursions I found outside the city was to the wine region, something not tops on our list. We ended up having a very quiet day on board ship and resting up for our upcoming two days at sea.  :)