Into the Wilds of the Northern Territory

February 26, 2023

Darwin Australia

Darwin, with a population of about 150,000, is the capital city of the Northern Territory in Australia. The city houses the majority of the residents of the Territory—a territory that is Australia’s version of the Wild West. It has a reputation as a hard drinking party town, although that has toned down a bit over the years.

Darwin is the smallest and most northerly of Australia’s capital cities. It is also younger than average—33 v 37 for the rest of Australia—due in part to the large number of military personnel stationed there because of the area’s strategic importance. 

As a result of its proximity to South East Asia, the city is a key link to Indonesia and East Timor. The climate is tropical. There are two seasons—the wet season and the dry season. We are in the wet season at the moment. The two main industries of Darwin are mining and tourism. 

About 38% of the population was born overseas. About 70% of the population identifies their ancestors as either English or Australian. Just under 9% of the population is indigenous, which essentially means aboriginal. 58% of the population speaks English at home. 

While berthed at Darwin, we took a tour boat on the Adelaide River, on the lookout for crocodiles. The Adelaide River is home to a large population of these creatures. It wasn’t hard to find them since the boat crew lured them with buffalo meat. Crocodiles have hardly evolved over thousands of years; they still look like creatures out of a Jurassic Park movie. Crocodiles are not exactly Benjamin Spock trained parents. They mate; the female lays her eggs and takes off, looking for a new boyfriend. The male stays with the offspring for about 6 to 12 months and then heads off. The young crocs are then on their own. Many of the young are eaten by other creatures, sometimes by their siblings or parents.

Crocodiles are very aggressive; the males are particularly territorial. The larger crocs (we saw one that was 16 feet long) guard their territory until the younger ones are large and agile enough to attack them. Which they then proceed to do. Apparently none, or at least very few, have BFFs.

The crocs that we saw were fed buffalo meat by the boat’s crew so the passengers could get a look at them in action. It was a good reminder of why it is important to keep arms and legs inside the boat. A few photos from the boat trip are below. 


A salt water crocodile sticks his head up from the Adelaide River in search of food.
Photo of Kyte Birds of prey on the banks of the Adelaide River in the Northern Territory
A crocodile comes up from the depths of the Adelaide River in search of food.

Australia, Here We Come (Again)

Cairns, Australia

February 20, 2023

Finally we arrived in Australia. Cairns to be exact. We were supposed to go on an overland trip to the Outback and Ayers Rock, but that didn’t pan put so we booked some tours for the ports we would be visiting, starting with Cairns. 

We decided to go on a tour of the Kuranda Rainforest. We started by taking a train ride through the rainforest in the approximately 100 year old restored train line now known as the tourist friendly Kuranda Scenic Railway.  We were treated to spectacular views of the rain forest with its waterfalls, deep ravines and mountains. Occasionally we could see out to the coast from the mountains.

Next we went for a ride in amphibious vehicles which were originally designed for use in WWII. These vehicles, now manufactured fro civilian use, are known as “Army Ducks”. The Army Ducks were (and are) made exclusively by women. We drove—actually we were driven—through a portion of the rain forest, which included a brief drive in a shallow lake.  We successfully avoided eating the extremely poisonous berries and other plants that inhabit the rain forest; we also avoided the venomous snakes and Cassowaries who live there. 

Cassowaries are about the size of ostriches, have razor sharp toe nails and are quite capable of slicing up and killing adversaries with their feet. Best viewed in zoos or from a distance. 

After that adventure we visited a Rainforest Preservation Zoo with the obligatory kangaroos, some crocodiles, a Cassowary and of course, a Tasmanian Devil. After that it was back to the ship. 

The next scheduled stop was Cooktown, but that was cancelled due to the weather. Apparently it would have been too dangerous to get the tender ships ashore. So we are off to Darwin, named after Charles Darwin, where we should arrive in a few days. 

In the meantime, a few photos from out rainforest travels are below. 


Cairns, Australia–Feb 20, 2023. Wide angle photo of the Freshwater train station where we caught the Kuranda Express.
Photo of a rain forest waterfall taken in Barron Gorge National Park in Northern Australia
Barron Gorge National Park, Australia — February 20, 2023. Photo of tourists riding in an Army Duck amphibious vehicle.
Barron Gorge National Park, Australia — February 20, 2023. A photo of the 100 year old Kuranda Scenic Railway Train in Barron Gorge National Park.

Papua New Guinea: The Land That Time Forgot

February 18, 2023.

When we arrived at Papua New Guinea (PNG) the morning of February 18, 2023 we went (briefly) through the town of Alotau. The town has a population of about 30,000 (according to our tour guide) and it seemed like everybody was in the town center, largely because it was Saturday and time to do the weekly shopping etc.

Population estimates have to be taken with a very large grain of salt. The last official census estimate, taken in 2011, put the population of PNG at a little over 7 million. By 2020 population was estimated to be around 9 million. But…as recently as December of 2022 a new estimate put the population at over 17 million—about double to estimate from 2 years ago. It’s probably safe to say that they have no idea what the actual population count really is.

PNG was largely ignored by European colonialists in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was WWII that prompted the Americans and Australians to build military bases on PNG to fight against Imperial Japan. Up until that point PNG was isolated from the rest of the world for over a hundred years. Most of the natives of Papua New Guinea had probably never seen a white man, much less a car or the airplanes that were all-of-a-sudden swooping down on them. 

Papua New Guinea is often described as linguistically diverse. That’s an understatement if there ever was one. There are 839 known languages spoken here. Language diversity probably stems from the lack of urbanization. The vast majority of the population—about 85%–lives in rural areas. And by rural I mean traditional village communities. 

PNG is officially listed by the IMF as a developing country, meaning it’s poor. Very poor. Something like 85% of the population earns its livelihood from Agriculture, which essentially means subsistence farming and some cash crops. Agriculture accounts for 30% of GDP. To put this in context, Papua New Guinea per capita GDP in 2019 was about $3,800; US per capita GDP for 2019 was about $65,000, about 17 times higher. 

Anyway, we visited a traditional village community in the jungle. A prominent fixture in the village was a Catholic missionary school. (About 95% of the population consider themselves to be Christian). 

We enjoyed watching the villagers, mostly young people, perform some traditional dances while wearing native dress. They also displayed various wares for sale. Some photos from our visit are below. 


Alotao, Papua New Guinea–Frbruary 18, 2023. Telephoto image of a greeting party in native dress of the dock in Alotau, Papua New Guinea
A wide angle photo of a village on Papua New Guinea near Alotau.
A wide angle photo taken of a village school in Papua New Guinea
Alotao, Papua New Guinea–Frbruary 18, 2023. Telephoto image of young warriors and thier leader in a village outside Alotau, Papua New Guinea

Vanuatu, In The South Pacific


15 Feb 2023

We have just spent 2 days in the country of Vanuatu, which is comprised of 13 principal islands and many smaller ones. It is approximately 500 miles west of Fiji and 1100 miles east of Australia.  Vanuatu’s was subjected to colonial rule by England and by France, after which England and France set up a joint administration.  

Vanuatu achieved independence in 1980.  Its history is one of Vanuatu many local tribes (separated by mountains and forests), as well as explorers and conquerors from Europe, Christian missionaries, and eventual democracy.  

Vanuatu is part of Melanasia; the island region of dark-skinned peoples, which together with Micronesia (the many small islands north of Melanesia) and Polynesia (the island groups from the Hawaiian Islands to Easter Island, off the coast of Chile) comprise what is often referred to as the Pacific Islands.  The Pacific Islands are neighbored by Australia, Indonesia, Philippines, and the islands and archipelagos that project seaward from Japan.  

These islands constitute the “ring of fire” that sits beneath the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes are relatively common. We experienced one the other day, about 25 miles away, measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale – the ship shuddered for several seconds.  

Due to the large number of indigenous tribes, there are over 100 local languages and dialects spoken in Vanuatu, as well as English and French and “pidgin” English.  Large billboards in the city of Port Vila (the capital city) promote soft drinks as the “numbawan” favorite (number one).  

One of the most interesting visits for us in Vanuatu was a visit to a cultural village a few miles outside of the capital city.  The Ekasup tribe of 300 people still live in this village, and allow tours by visitors.  When our small group arrived at the village (by van), we were led to the Chief of the Village by a young man blowing a conch horn.  The Chief welcomed us and demonstrated the use of palm fronds to designate an area as “tabu” until other palm fronds were used to signal that a peaceful entry was acceptable.  

The Chief provided a fascinating presentation of life in the village, how land passes from father to son, the role of women, crops and cooking, clothing (woven from plants), hunting for pigs, chickens and fish (done largely with traps), medicine and medicinal plants, music, dance, burial practices, cannibalism (no longer practiced but previously practiced when hunger threatened the lives of the tribe members), and dealing with cyclones (which includes seeking shelter in the enormous space within the roots of a giant Banyon tree).   

Young men and women must qualify to be married in the Ekasup tribe; the women must know how to weave clothing, prepare food and care for children; the men must know how to fish and hunt for food.  When these skills have been mastered (and currently, after the participants reach age 18), there are gatherings in the village so that parents can ascertain the wealth of future sons-in-law (feathers of various colors and sizes are worn to indicate how many pigs the young men own), and dowry negotiations take place, often framed to achieve marriages to increase family land holdings.  

Thankfully, wedding bands are used now, instead of the former method for identifying that a woman in this tribe was married. In the old days, one of her front teeth was knocked out to show that she was “taken”.  In cases where the parents’ choice of a mate did not meet with the approval of the bride or groom, a love potion was administered with, it is alleged, a quick positive result.  

It was fascinating to see this small village just a few miles from the center of a large modern city, and to learn that there are many other tribal villages throughout Vanuatu.   The governance of Vanuatu is based on elections to a national Parliament, and the constitution provides as well for a national council of chiefs, to advise the government on matter of custom and tradition.   

For more information about Vanuatu and its current state, including education systems, commercial and cultural matters, lots of information is available on the Britannica website.  

Some photos of the village, the tribal chief and others are below. 

JB and MA 

Ekasup Village, Vanuatu–Feb 15, 2023. Portrait of thre Village Chief in Ekasup Village, Vanuatu.
Ekasup Village, Vanuatu–Feb 15, 2023. Portrait of a Warrior in Ekasup Village, Vanuatu.
Ekasup Village, Vanuatu–Feb 15, 2023. Portrait of young giirl in Ekasup Village, Vanuatu.
Ekasup Village, Vanuatu–Feb 15, 2023. Photo of a welcome dance in Ekasup Village, Vanuatu.
Photo of the jungle environment where Ekasup Village is located.

A Few Days in Fiji

After crossing the International Date Line on February 9, we stopped in Fiji, officially known as the Republic of Fiji. It is an island country in Melanesia and a part of Oceana  in the South Pacific. Fiji is an archipelago consisting of over 300 islands, with slightly more than 100 of them inhabited. 

Democracy in Fiji is kind of fragile. In December of 2022 the military stepped in after election results were contested and now Fiji has a coalition government. Coups are not all that unusual in Fiji — there have been several in recent years. This most recent one seems to have elicited a shoulder shrug from the citizens.  

Anyway, we visited 2 cities on the island of Fiji: Lautoka and Suva. Lautoka is famous for its orchid gardens established and maintained by  Raymond Burr, otherwise known as Perry Mason. While there we saw a brightly colored Hindu Temple on the last day of a days long celebration. In Suva, the capital city of Fiji, we attempted to go to Mass in the Sacred Heart Cathedral. No luck—it was closed. We did see an open air market though.

In truth, other than the orchid gardens and beautiful beaches that are away from the cities, there is not an awful lot to see. It’s really a place to get away from it all. 

Some photos from our visit are below. 


Off the coast of Fiji
Hindu Temple in Fiji
Entrance to Sacred Heart Cathedral

Section of an Open Air Market in Suva. Fiji

Pago Pago, American Samoa

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Well, here we are in Pago Pago, American Samoa. 

Located on the island of Tutuila, Pago Pago is the capital city of American Samoa. Officially known as Territory of American Samoa, it is an unincorporated territory of the United States. And as we just recently discovered, Pago Pago is not pronounced Pay-Go Pay-Go. Rather, it is pronounced Pango Pango, so that it rhymes with Tango Tango. 

It is located in the south central pacific, about 1,600 miles northeast of New Zealand and 2,200 miles southwest of Hawaii. The climate is tropical. Temperatures range from 60 to 90 degrees, and the island of Tutuila gets a lot of rain—about 200 inches annually. Consequently lush vegetation dominates the island. 

We took a tour that included a look around the Western side of the island and a visit to a village called Talofa where we were treated to a demonstration of local customs including food, cooking styles and native folk dances. It was all very interesting, but no, we didn’t try the food. Some photos from the visit are included below.


American Samoa — February 7, 2023. Photo of a young Samoan princess being escorted tto center stage as tourists look on in the background.
Americsan Samoa–Feb 2, 2023. A portrait photo of a young American Samoan girl in native dress.
American Samoa–Feb 7. 2023. A zoom lens photo of 3 natives of Pago Pago at a tasting hut for locally prepared foods.
Wide angle photo of a rock formation (called a flower pot by the locals) off the cost of Pago Pago.
Photo of a house built by a winding road on the side of a mountain

Bora Bora, French Polynesia

We arrived at Bora Bora on Friday February 3rd for a 2 day port-of-call. It is an island of legend, known for the lagoon that circles the island with its beautiful turquoise waters teeming with undersea life makes the waters especially good for snorkeling. And there are the famous thatched roof huts built over those waters. These days many are owned by upscale hotel chains.

Captain James T Cook was the first European to discover the island in 1769. The British were not particularly interested in Bora Bora, so the French colonized it. Bora Bora became a key island in the eventual struggle for independence from France. It became a French protectorate in 1888, about 40 years after the French annexed Tahiti. Now it is mostly a tourist destination.  Although the tourist trade was particularly hard hit by the pandemic, it seems to have recovered nicely. 

Some photos of our recent visit are below. 

Turquoise Waters of the Lagoon
Photo of iconic Bora Bora huts built on wooden posts over the waters of a lagoon.
Photo of a landing pier where tender ships dock at Bora Bora
A wide angle photo of a public beach in Bora Bora French Polynesia
A photo of the silhouette of a tourist taking a photo of a Bora Bora sunset from a Catamarin
Sunset Sail on Bora Bora


French Polynesia

On January 30, we sailed into Fakarava, one of the French Polynesian islands. On the 31st we docked at Rangiroa, on Feb 1, we arrived at Raiatea, also part of French Polynesia. On Feb 2 we sailed into Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia on the island of Tahiti. 

I should make clear that the term French Polynesia refers to a geographic area, not political boundaries. The geographic area known French Polynesia is enormous; it is larger than Europe. Essentially it is a triangle in the Pacific extending from Easter Island (part of Chile) in the East to Hawaii (US) in the North and New Zealand in the South. 

The islands of Fakarava, Rangiroa and Raiatea are parts of the Tahitian archipelago, whose capital is Papeeta. Tahiti is a mixture of French and Tahitian culture. The official languages of Tahiti are French and Tahitian. The French, as colonial powers are wont to do, spent several decades trying to get rid of the native Tahitian language. The Tahitian peoples resisted, the French finally gave up and now the country has two official languages: the native Tahitian language and French. There is a distinctive French flavor to the culture of the islands. Most everybody speaks English in addition to French and Tahitian. 

Most of the islands have their own elementary schools. Most of the islands lack a public high school. So for high school, parents send their children to public boarding schools on the island of Tahiti, where most of the high schools are. When it comes time for the students who will attend university, often it’s off to New Zealand or the United States. 

The islands themselves are physically beautiful. The Tahitian people are very friendly and welcoming. They are also keenly aware that the tourist trade is a big part of the Polynesian economy. Pearl farming—meaning growing and harvesting pearls—is a major industry in the islands along with agriculture. 

Next we set sail for Bora Bora, also part of French Polynesia. Meanwhile some pictures are below from tours we took on Tahiti, Fakarava, Rangiroa and Raiatea. 

Fakarava, French Polynesia–January 30, 2023. Photo of a Seven Seas Mariner tender boat with tourists at a pier in Fakarova French West Indies.
A wide angle photo of a rocky beach in Fakarava, French Polynesia.
Raiatea, Tahiti — Jan 31. 2023. An artisan at the Gauguin Pearl Farm works at his craft as tourists look on.
Papeete, Tahiti — Feb 2, 2023. A female merchant exaines goods for sale at her stand in the Chinese Market in Tahiti.
Papeete, Tahiti — Feb 2, 2023. A tour guide addresses tourist group and explains some elements of Tahitian culture.