Two Days in Sydney, Australia

Two busy days in Sydney. Among other things, we toured the iconic Sydney Opera House.

The iconic Sydney Opera House
The iconic Sydney Opera House

We visited an Australian wildlife reserve.

Photo of a Lizard at an Australian wildlife reserve
Photo of a Lizard at an Australian wildlife reserve

And we walked along the Sydney Harbor on a walking tour of “The Rocks” a section of the city.

Restaurants and Buildings on Sydney Harbor
Restaurants and Buildings on Sydney Harbor

Joe

Sydney – Day 2

Joe in front of Sydney's Oldest Pub, in the Rocks
Joe in front of Sydney’s Oldest Pub, in the Rocks
Lunar New Year Banner in Sydney Harbour
Lunar New Year Banner in Sydney Harbour
The oldest street in Sydney, in the Rocks
The oldest street in Sydney, in the Rocks

Day 2 in Sydney                                                                    Feb 17 2016 4pm

Another lovely day in Sydney – weather was breezy, sunny, dry and warm.   We left the ship early, and took a short tour of Sydney’s Rocks District. This is the area near Sydney Harbour where the “First Fleet” landed in 1788; 11 ships carrying 776 prisoners (male and female, mostly convicted of theft and other non-violent crimes). Since the USA had declared its independence from England, another location had to be found so that England could rid itself of troublemakers, and Oz was just the place.

These prisoners were transported to Australia during a period of 80 years (over 162,000 people). They had the opportunity in most cases to work and earn their freedom. Many elected to stay in Oz because the prospects for work and success were greater than in England, and the Australian social system was more forgiving than the British social system (you didn’t need to be born into the elite classes in Oz, you had the chance to succeed on your own merit). This independence and self-reliance are still cherished traits here in Australia.

So the First Fleet lands, and in 10 days the sandstone hills (the “Rocks”) around part of the harbor are cut and assembled by the male convicts into buildings to house the convicts (women and children were allowed off the ships once housing was ready for them). Over time, the Rocks area develops and grows into a huge slum, before it is redeveloped with proper plumbing and other systems. Many of the streets and buildings from the 1800s are still in use (after their modernization), and the area is filled with boutique shops, restaurants and pubs, offices and residences.

We visited the first Anglican Church in Sydney, which has three entrances: one for soldiers, one for the convicts, and one for the free settlers.

We learned a lot of history today about the development of Australia, including the explorers who discovered the land in the mid-late 1600s, Captain Cook’s arrival in 1770 and his discovery of fresh water near the Sydney Harbour, the gold rush of 1850, the various British governors (including Macquarie, whose vision for Sydney’s future led him to create Australian currency, and whose name now graces one of Australia’s large financial institutions), how the Aboriginal people (in Oz since 28,000 BC) were dealt with, and how eventually the Commonwealth of Australia was established in 1901. By the way, the coat of arms of the Commonwealth includes 2 endemic animals (the emu and the red kangaroo), chosen because they are unable to walk backwards, and must therefor go forward, as the nation will.

We also visited Sydney’s downtown area – bustling with business, shops, restaurants, etc.  It’s filled with people but doesn’t feel overly crowded, despite construction that blocks some walkways and rush hour traffic.  A very vibrant downtown with harbor views and lots of green space – very enjoyable.

We are resisting posting 1000 pictures of the Opera House, but it is an attractive target for the camera. We’ll try to find some interesting ones tomorrow, when there is time because we are at sea, on our way to Brisbane.

Hope all goes well with you.

Best,

MA

Sydney, Australia (we like saying “Oz” as if we are locals

Sydney, Aus (“Oz”)                                         Tuesday Feb 16, 2016 6:30 pm

Well, we made it to Australia, the place we wanted to see so much, and the reason we are on this cruise. We arrived this morning in Sydney at about 5 am, and it was magical – the sun was not yet up, the sky was dark but getting rosy, and the shoreline of Sydney Harbour was aglow in lights from the beautiful buildings, bridges and boats that we could see from our room. Think of seeing your favorite city skyline just before dawn, and that’s the way our day

Lunar New Year Banner in Sydney Harbour
Lunar New Year Banner in Sydney Harbour

started. It was a bit dreamy, and those iconic Sydney images (the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House) are just as lovely as they appear when you see them on postcards.

So, after about 14 hours in Oz, we can officially say that we love it.   Sydney is like the best of all familiar western great cities – London, New York, Chicago, San Francisco – it has great old places and elegant new places; it makes the most of being on the water; it is well organized and very clean; there are people here from all over the earth; and of course the local accent is the best!

We spent the morning heading north and east through Sydney suburbs to the Featherdale Wildlife Park, which was terrific. We saw tons of gorgeous and colorful birds, and lots of animals endemic to Oz: kangaroos, billikins, wallabies, wombats, Tasmanian devils (who run around in circles as if they are possessed, and are very funny to watch), emus, platypuses, dingos, cassawaries, crocs and other reptiles and, of course, koalas. There was also a porcupine kind of animal that has a name I cannot recall. It was all very interesting and we learned a lot. But it was crowded, as the lunar new year is here, and many visitors from Asia are celebrating in Oz.

Mid-day we ambled about the Sydney Harbour and then took a tour of the Opera House – what an interesting and pretty building. Its history was new to us – there was an international competition for the design, and the lead judge was late to arrive for the selection of the winning design. The other judges showed him their short list of finalists and he asked to see the “rejects.” From that group of rejects the winning design was selected.

A Danish architect (Jorn Utzon, 38 years old at the time) created the design based on spherical concepts, though his father’s influence as a naval architect probably was felt. The architect could not confirm that his design was sound from an engineering point of view, but the committee selected the design nonetheless and put engineers on the project to make it happen. The construction was well over budget and greatly delayed, and the opera house eventually was opened in 1973. The considerable debt to build it was erased in 18 months by a state lottery game. Before his death, Mr. Utzon was one of only 2 living architects ever to learn that his creation was deemed a UNESCO world heritage site. In more recent years, the architect’s son has cooperated with the Oz government and has overseen renovations and changes (for example, making the Opera House accessible to people with disabilities).

The Opera House is a lovely structure inside and out, and it gets a workout – not only do Australian opera companies and ballet companies perform regularly, but it hosts performers from all over the world.  Today we saw signs for an upcoming show by Prince, and one by former Beach Boy Brian Wilson. We had the good luck today to hear part of a rehearsal by the strings for a Beethoven concert – the sound in the hall was tremendous.

On a different note: Joe’s had enough of my “suggestions” about good pictures for this blog, so last night he bought a little point and shoot camera for me. I didn’t bring a camera with me on this trip because I really wanted to absorb things without trying to create a record of it all, especially since Joe has all the expertise and good gear.  But enough was enough, and now I have my own camera. That means I’ll probably put up some pix on this blog, which will be amateurish, but maybe will add something of interest. We can only hope….

Tomorrow starts the second leg of our tour – one more day in Sydney and then a lot of stops around the east coast of Oz before we get to Indonesia (Komodo Island and Bali).

Hope you are all had a nice long weekend, and are doing well.

Best,

MA

 

Birds of New Caledonia…and Cyclones too

The waters got a bit rough last night. But the saloons stayed open. Maybe it had something to do with the Captain’s announcement that by leaving Fiji when we did we beat a Cyclone, complete with 60-foot waves, by 2-days.

Anyway, here are some pictures of Birds we saw on Noumea, New Caledonia. (Sorry it’s slow getting the pictures posted, but they take a lot of bandwidth out here).

Noumean Parrot

A Wedge-tailed shearwater sits on a pole seemingly like a lookout
A Wedge-tailed shearwater sits on a pole seemingly like a lookout

Strutting Peacock

Birds on a Tree Limb
Birds on a Tree Limb

Headed for Australia

We are at sea headed for Sydney Australia, having left Noumea, New Caledonia where it is now Valentine’s day. So here are some pictures from Noumea, including some “Love Birds” for Valentine’s Day.

Joe

A Toucan with his beak wide open.
A Toucan with his beak wide open.
Noumean Birds Flirting
Noumean Birds Flirting

2 days in New Caledonia

New Caledonia                                                          Sat. Feb 13, 2016 4pm local time

Yesterday and today we visited 2 islands that are part of New Caledonia (NC has 4 large islands and many smaller ones). NC was discovered by the Brits but later became a French territory. (Caledonia was the old name for Scotland, hence the New Caledonia name.) France used the large island of Grande Terre as a penal colony in the mid-1800s, and convicts built much of the island’s infrastructure. Grande Terre was the South Pacific headquarters for the US military during WWII.

As with many other islands in the South Pacific, early migrations from Africa and then from China provided the forerunners of the indigenous peoples, but New Caledonia is slightly different because the African/Chinese background is melded with European influences and more recent and current French ties.

New Caledonia sits on a large portion of the world’s nickel reserves (nickel is used to make stainless steel, among other things), and the nickel is mined in a cooperative arrangement with several other countries. New Caledonia is still heavily forested (pine trees and coconut palms are everywhere). The locals are enjoying the benefits of mining nickel, but wary of the long-term environmental results.

New Caledonia is surrounded by a coral barrier reef, so the entire country is effectively one large lagoon of over 9000 square miles. The water colors run the gamut, and Joe will try to post some pictures that provide a sense of how vivid and clear the water is.

Yesterday we anchored off of the small island of Mare’ and enjoyed a nice visit to a lovely beach and small town. Mare’ is home to 7000 people (29 tribal villages, with chieftains), and is largely undeveloped (by that I mean that there are roads and elements of the modern world, but still a lot of trees and forests between the small settlements. The beach we visited had a few rustic beach bars, and there were a number of shuttle vans to collect people from the local dock and get them to the most popular beaches. I noticed a lot of satellite dishes at residences, and large bins for residential trash pickup that look like anything you’d see in NJ or elsewhere.

Today was different – we docked in Noumea on Grande Terre, a busy modern port, and it looked like we were back in Honolulu. The City has a population of 100,000 (there are about 270,000 on the entire island of Grande Terre), and is a sophisticated city where French influence is strong. The French government has an unusual power sharing arrangement with the locals in New Caledonia, and there are provisions to harmonize French and EU rules with local and tribal customs and practices. NC is considering a resolution to declare itself independent of France, but apparently this is a decision that the New Caledonians are finding difficult, as France supports the territory strongly.

We visited the Botanic Gardens in Noumea and saw a lot of beautiful plants, birds, peacocks, iguanas, etc. Hopefully Joe will post some pictures that he deems worthy of your view.

One last note – we had a chance to chat with the Hotel Director of the ship the other evening, and he was telling us about some of the logistics of taking care of 1000 guests over an extended period of time – definitely harder than planning a dinner party! He also told us that in many of these smaller port stops, the local chieftains have welcoming ceremonies and gifts are exchanged. In Mare’ Island, the captain of our ship received an enormous wooden spear – not exactly what we might think of bringing to a visitor….

Happy St. Valentine’s Day to you all!

Best,

MA

Party Time

Talk about service. We made a quick side trip to Mystery Island, a very small island that is part of a chain of islands known as Vanuata. The cruise ship set up a bar on the beach for cruise guests and the staff waded into the Pacific to serve drinks. See the picture.

Joe

Canoes on shore in the South Pacific
Canoes on shore in the South Pacific
Wait staff brings drinks to partiers in the Pacific
Wait staff brings drinks to partiers in the Pacific

Some Pictures from Lautoka, Fiji

Some shots from Lautoka, Fiji, including: orchids from the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, created by Raymond Burr of Perry Mason fame; local traders showing their wares, and the house of a village Chief.

Lautoka traders showing their wares to tourists
Lautoka traders showing their wares to tourists
Orchids in the Garden of the Sleeping Giant
Orchids in the Garden of the Sleeping Giant
Picture of the house of a village chief on the island of Lautoka, Fiji
Picture of the house of a village chief on the island of Lautoka, Fiji

Cannibalism

Just a note about cannibalism, in case you are interested.  Our guide in Fiji told  us that the reason cannibalism was practiced in Fiji was because of the belief that if you did not consume the person you wanted to kill (your rival or enemy), that person’s spirit  would just be transferred to his sibling, child, other close living person.   So you had to consume to get rid of the bad spirit.

MA

Fiji – day 2

Lautoka, Fiji                                                                Feb 9, 2016 5pm local time

Today is a day that justifies a trip half way round the globe – it has been beautiful, informative and interesting, and eye-opening. We have seen how old and different parts of the world and cultures co-exist with new and familiar ones, all on one island.

Dawn at 6:01 local time was rosy-fingered and pretty; now that we are at the time zone closest east to the international date line, we saw Feb 9 start at the earliest time that it could be seen anywhere in the world.   A fine start to a full day.

We are in Lautoka today, which is the 2nd largest city in Fiji, and sits on the biggest of Fiji’s 300+ islands (Viti Levu, which is the home of golfer Vijay Singh). This island gets a lot of rain on one side and is drier on the other. On the rainy side, the jungle is often used by non-Fijian governments to train combat troops because there are no snakes, no poisonous spiders and no malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Sugar cane grows on the island and is a major export; because of its purity, processing is simpler and less expensive than in other locations, so Lautoka is a major regional hub for sugar export. Over the years many Indian immigrants have come to Fiji to work in the sugar processing industry, and the population of Lautoka is a mix of many immigrant and native people. Railroad tracks run around the island to transport the sugar cane to the processing plant in Lautoka. Dense forests on the island produce another big export – wood pellets, which are exported to Japan and elsewhere to produce furniture and other products.

On the other hand, fuel for driving, cooking and other purposes, as well as wheat and other foodstuffs, must all be imported. Hence Lautoka has a major port, not only for tourist ships but also for necessities. Near to the port is the commercial center of Lautoka, which reminds us of a very large district similar to NYC Chinatown – lots of stores, restaurants, etc. crowded together (but well organized and clean). The islands use hydroelectric power, and you can see cell phones and satellite dishes everywhere. The type of government buildings and services you would see in developed areas (hospitals, schools, government offices) are all present and seem very modern. Government programs to ensure free education, health care and other services are in place. Fiji is largely a Christian country, with a large Hindu population and a smaller percentage of Muslims and those of other faiths.

We left the port and commercial center to make 2 visits today, and each was very interesting. First stop was Garden of the Sleeping Giant, which is a large tropical area showcasing orchids and other flowering plants, lily ponds that are just as beautiful as Giverny, palms, trees of all types and beautiful gardens. This is the garden created by Raymond Burr and then turned over to the public. Joe took a lot of pictures and he’ll post whatever he can upload (given the bandwidth restrictions with our WIFI connections on the ship).

After the visit to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, we went to the largest village in Fiji, where about 900 people live. Fiji’s history is one of clans and tribes, and despite many years of British rule (Fiji is now independent), this clan/tribe culture still exists and governs local life. Each village has a chief and a council of elders who make decisions for the village. In the village we visited, as in most, the church is the central and largest structure, as Fiji natives credit the Christian missionaries with ending cannibalism and promoting the true love of neighbor that allows for peaceful coexistence in the nation. A village green is near the church, together with communal meeting buildings. Houses radiate out from this central church/green area, and the housing stock is a mix of wood structures with thatch roofs, tin houses, and more sturdy stone and cement structures. The village chief’s house has the highest foundation, and no one else’s house is permitted to have a higher foundation. Flowers and gardens abound, very neatly organized.

Most of the residents of the village we visited work in the local tourism industries (there are several hotels and guest houses on the island). Several of the clan/tribe leaders have made deals with hotel developers; the tribes sell the land for development and make arrangements to supply local labor to the developers. A strict record of tribal land ownership is maintained, and there is a system to settle ownership disputes.

Notably, Mutiny on the Bounty (the real occurrence with Captain Bligh) occurred near Fiji in the late 1700s.

I know – this is way more info than anyone needs. It was just so impressive to see old cultures and primitive land at the same time as modern and sophisticated practices and approaches.

A fascinating place, this Fiji.

Best,

MA