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Australia 2012: Thursday at sea

We’ve been at sea for four days now, since the cancellation of our visit to Mackay, but there is no shortage of things to do. The highlight was the total solar eclipse yesterday morning. I got up way too early, but had lots of time to enjoy the sunrise and pick a spot to watch on the observation deck before it got crowded. I stood next to someone with a fully tricked out camera that showed the progress in the viewfinder. It was tense at the beginning because the sun broke through, then was obscured by cloud for first contact (the beginning of the eclipse). We got glimpses through the clouds until finally it was clear for totality and continuously for the remainder of the moon’s crossing of the sun’s path. Following the advice from one of the astronomy speakers, Bob Naeye of Sky and Telescope Magazine, I didn’t worry about getting a filter for my camera to take pictures, but just enjoyed the experience fully, watching it with the filtered glasses provided. I’ve had lots of opportunity to relive it since as many photographers are sharing their pix.
The Mac sessions are generally good, with a couple of disappointing exceptions, but the sky sessions are good, too. Highlight of these yesterday was Lawrence Krauss on the life and death of stars.
It’s another gorgeous warm day with sunny skies; tomorrow we stop at Easo, on Lifou, a genuine south sea island.

Australia 2012: Still at sea

Our stop on Mackay was cancelled early this morning as the port was closed because of heavy swells and expected bad weather. We went back toward the Whitsunday Islands instead and spent a lovely day at sea under sunny skies.

Australia 2012: Hamilton Island

Today we are in the Whitsunday Islands, a gorgeous tropical spot with aquamarine water surrounding several small islands. Highlight of my day was a two-hour sail around in a huge catamaran. Even a slight drizzle as we motored out of the Hamilton Island harbour was warm, and it cleared up nicely for the rest of the trip. I saw just one dolphin off the bow, but then got very close to three sulphur crested cockatoos back on shore. Tomorrow we stop at Mackay.

Australia 2012: Friday in Brisbane

After an enjoyable day and two nights at sea, we are docked in Brisbane for the day, so I made my way to the Cultural Centre, including the State Library. It’s not open yet, but their wifi is, so I can catch up on email and this blog. Internet on the ship is slow and expensive, so I’m using it as little as possible. I’ve enjoyed four seminar sessions already, two from Mac people, and two from astronomy people. The Mac sessions were good, but didn’t tell me much I didn’t know already. On the other hand, I know almost nothing about astronomy, so Lawrence Krauss’ session on the origins of life was fascinating, as was Bob Naeye on eclipses. I’m very glad I signed up for both tracks. I was astonished to find another passenger here who calls herself The Star Lady (also a speaker on the cruise), and who lives in Kemble, Ontario.
For the next three ports, I have booked shore excursions, so I may not have time for another catchup for some time.

Australia 2012: Day 9 – Not just a horse race

For my last day in Manly, I decided to just enjoy the flowers and birds on the patio and catch up on reading and knitting. By mid-afternoon it was time to find out what the Melbourne Cup madness was all about, so I watched the preliminaries on TV. Looks like a grand excuse to get dressed up and party, especially if you have any inclination to bet on the horses. The outfits were fascinating, mostly in luscious spring colours. And the race itself was pretty exciting, with a surprise winner streaking ahead for a brilliant finish. Most impressive to me were the camera angles for the race, not just the overheads, probably from a helicopter, but several from the jockeys’ view, I imagine from small cameras attached to their helmets. A great show!

This evening, I packed once more to prepare for my cruise adventure that begins tomorrow.

Australia 2012: Day 8 – Truly on vacation now

Monday of my second week in Australia was pretty relaxed. I had breakfast on the flower-filled patio, then headed off for a walk in the neighbourhood. Blooming trees are in almost every yard, but apparently what we consider spring flowers are well past. On the drive south on Sunday, I saw evidence of tulip foliage and irises were in full flower.

My walk took me to a nearby mall, which could have been in any city at home, except for the fresh fish and fresh vegetable vendors – loads of choice in both. Beyond the mall, I wandered into a junk/antique shop, but didn’t see anything small or sturdy enough to take home.

The rest of my afternoon was spent lazing around on the patio, reading and finally getting started on some knitting. In the evening, I walked to the Balgowlah RSL Club, like a Canadian Legion, but much bigger, to attend a local Toastmasters meeting. The group welcomed me warmly and I enjoyed watching and taking part – so different from my own club, but with many familiar components. Their meetings are much longer than ours, so it was dark when it was over, but a member gave me a ride back to the BandB.

Australia 2012: Day 7 – Southern Highlands

Yesterday, after an early start about 7:30, Steve’s parents picked me up to drive to the farm, the country property owned by several of the family in the Southern Highlands. Steve’s aunt and uncle, Lynda and John, were following in a separate vehicle. We drove out of Sydney, then took a highway south, where the countryside eventually started to look more rural, more like Ontario if you don’t count the gum trees and wattle. We stopped for breakfast in a small town, eating outside as it was warm and sunny. It’s about a two-hour drive, minus stops, and just before we arrived I caught a glimpse of kangaroos taking it easy under a tree in a farm field.
At the farm, we pulled up to the barn (called the shed, but much bigger than that, made of metal with a cement floor and a loft area). The four horses saw us coming and trotted over to the fence for a greeting. Ann and Neil got busy right away taking care of the horses, while John, Lynda and I drove across the road to another set of fenced fields for a look around. When we got out for a walk, we saw a kangaroo with joey in pouch across a small creek on the hill and soon after a small herd of deer running across the ridge opposite where we were standing.
Lynda and I took another walk later back on the barn side of the road, and then one more time just before we left. Lots of wombat holes and scat, but no sign of the nocturnal wombats. I can see why Claire loves the place; the bush is as close to our woods as I’ve seen here, and it’s full of birds. We saw black cockatoos, rosellas, and lots of others. I saw another half dozen or so kangaroos on the drive home, just grazing in the fields.
Lunch was an Australian specialty prepared by Lynda – a camp oven meal. She put lots of veg and pieces of boneless lamb, all sprinkled with oil, into a large cast iron pot with a flat lid and John placed it into hot coals in the fire pit outside the barn and piled coals on top. In less than an hour, it was tender and aromatic – delicious!
On our trip home, Neil took a scenic route, so I saw plenty of different countryside than before, lush dairy farms, much greener than at their farm, forests of ghostly gum trees, and towering pines along the roadside. Just before 7, we reached the Robertson Pie Shop. Ann was delighted to get there in time, so I would have the experience of their pies. We ate our scrumptious warm savory pies right there on a picnic bench, surrounded by fog, up on a mountain (Aussie mountain, not alpine). The drive down the mountain, through Macquarie Pass National Park, was spectacular. The fog cleared about halfway down and the road took dozens of sharp turns to wind down to the lower level. The forest is more tropical here, very tall, dense and dark with tree ferns here and there.
I got home well after dark, but couldn’t resist the sweet Robertson pie Ann insisted I take: loganberry!

Australia 2012: Day 6 – North Head to Palm Beach

Today Steve’s aunt Lynda took me for a drive north of Manly, stopping first at North Head for a bush walk along the rocky coastline, high above the crashing surf. Great views further north as well as back to the city. We continued driving, passing one perfect sandy beach after another, finishing at Palm Beach for an exceptional fish and chip lunch. This area is full of pricey houses much like I imagine the US version would be and the winding roads going up and down the cliff side offer spectacular water views at every turn.
Back at Lynda’s house, we watched a bush turkey hard at work trying to assemble a nest from lawn debris in the neighbor’s yard while we waited for the kettle to boil. Lynda and I found lots of genealogy topics to chat about all day; she has done tons more work than I connecting images to illustrate people in her family tree.
After a drink and chat with Steve’s parents (and Claire, who was back from the hotel), we arranged for tomorrow’s visit to the farm. It will be an early start.

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Australia 2012: Wedding Day

This will be short because it is late. Claire and Steve’s wedding was picture perfect. She was gorgeous and just couldn’t stop smiling all day and evening. The day was warm and sunny and we watched the sun set over the bridge from the function centre at the reception. Lovely wedding for a beautiful couple!
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Australia 2012: Day 4 – It’s all happening at the zoo

Today we were treated as special guests at the zoo, thanks to arrangements Claire and Steve had made. Along with her friends Cathy and Robin, Claire picked me up from Manly ferry wharf this morning and we met her dad, Dorothy and her uncle Roberto and Kim at the zoo entrance. First stop was the giraffe exhibit, where keeper Natalie brought us in to help feed the lovely creatures. They softly scooped carrots from our hands with their tongues, straightened up and swallowed quickly, then leaned down for more.

Next stop was the elephant exhibit, where it was bath time. Steve and other keepers were bathing each elephant, one at a time, hosing them down thoroughly and brushing their feet and other parts, giving them lots  of attention and praise.

By noon we were at the bird show amphitheatre, overlooking Sydney harbour, where Claire presented the show, assisted by other keepers and lots of birds. Dozens of school children were entranced by the show and several had questions for Claire afterwards. She was very much at ease and confident, presenting the show with fresh enthusiasm.

After the show we stopped for a quick lunch, then headed to the exhibit for the 12-year-old male elephant, daddy to several of the youngsters we saw earlier. Here Steve and another keeper did what they call playtime, a behavioral enrichment exercise to keep the elephant stimulated and up to date with training moves. Stacking truck tires is pretty  impressive, but kicking a football out of the enclosure on request is awesome.

The whole day was a wonderful treat for all of us!