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Blog Entries posted by tbutler

  1. tbutler
    The next leg of our trip begins with an early wake-up. I was checking weather when it started to rain. It was a light rain but I had to unhook the utilities so I quickly went outdoors to unhook the water and sewer. The car had to be run before towing and I took care of that. I came in with a wet head and damp shirt. I dried my hair and hung the shirt to dry. Louise woke and I ate breakfast while she got ready to travel. Louise doesn't like to eat early in the morning but she does want her coffee. She had set the coffeemaker and coffee was already brewed and waiting. Once she was ready, we brought in the slides and I unhooked the electric. We were on the road at 8:00 a.m.
    We had stayed at the KOA at Choctaw Casino in Durant, Oklahoma, which is right on US 75/69 and we would stay on highway 69 all the way to I-44 at Big Cabin. We have traveled this route many times, it is one of the shortest routes from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area to the St. Louis area. Highway 69 is very rough in spots but the traffic is usually free flowing and it is two lane all the way. There are small towns along the way which have low speed limits and the smart driver watches those speed limits very closely.
    As we pulled out of the campground the rain was increasing. It rained all the way to I-44. The amazing thing was that it would change almost constantly. One of my major tasks driving was to adjust the windshield wipers to the varying rate of rainfall. The rain was mostly light but the road was always wet. Passing trucks meant a heavy shower of water. We made good time, we were at Big Cabin by 1:00 and made that our lunch stop. We pulled into the fuel stop there and parked in the trucking area. I had to adjust one of the windshield wipers while Louise fixed sandwiches for us.
    Leaving Big Cabin we passed through the entry toll booth to the Will Rogers Turnpike. Passing through the payment booth the clerk didn't even look at the ticket and rang up the charge for the full length of the turnpike. I asked her to look at the ticket and she corrected her mistake. I thought the tickets were programmed to ring up the proper charge but I guess not. I'll have to watch these more carefully from now on.
    At Joplin I pulled into the Flying J to fuel up. The rain was on again, not heavy but enough that I was wet once more. It always takes longer to fuel at the RV pumps. I put in 80 gallons to take care of the drive from San Antonio where we last filled the tank. We got 8.3 miles per gallon on this leg of the trip, right on our long term average MPG. Leaving Joplin the rain stopped and the remainder of the trip was dry. The really amazing thing was that the temperature stayed in the 70's all day long. We had been driving in searing heat in Texas and the trip in Oklahoma and Missouri didn't even require that we run the air conditioners.
    We made one more rest stop in Sullivan, Missouri to get dinner before the final few miles of the trip. We knew that there was a Wal-Mart near some restaurants and we were going to park there while eating at the nearby KFC. When we got to Wal-Mart they had barriers for tall vehicles at all the entrances so we drove on down the access road to another shopping area and parked there, walking a few blocks to the KFC.
    From Sullivan it is less than an hours drive to my daughters family home in Foristell. We helped fund a parking pad for us in the rear of their home. I helped plan the utilities and we have full hookups here. They have hosted us for stays in the area ever since. Arriving just before sunset, we parked, leveled, hooked up water and electric and put out slides. I surveyed the motor home and was pleased to find that the exterior didn't look too bad. It will need a wash but not nearly as dirty as I expected. The toad was another story.
    After a short visit we were in for the night. We needed a good nights rest in preparation for our grandsons first marching band performance of the year the next day. The performance was the closing event of a two week band camp which helped prepare the marching band for their fall performances. Our grandson is a freshman and this was his first performance with the band. We were impressed with all that he had learned in two weeks. It rained during the picnic before the performance but the rain stopped for the marching performance. I washed it the next morning.
  2. tbutler
    Our first stop on our way north was in San Antonio. I had an appointment at Iron Horse RV to have a new set of house batteries installed. We've always had good service experiences with them. This time was different. The LIfeline batteries we specified weren't there, they hadn't been ordered. The person who took the order didn't realize that Lifeline batteries were not the brand they carry and hadn't said anything to the parts department. They arranged to get the batteries the next day and we had the install done a day later than planned.
    We planned to spend the weekend in San Antonio and visit friends that live there. Friday night we went their home and had a nice visit. The last time we saw them they were living in a motor home at a park in Phoenix. He had secured a job in San Antonio and they were planning that move. It turns out he got the job but it was temporary so he had to find another. We had an evening of laughs and memories and then made arrangements to meet them on the Riverwalk Saturday afternoon for dinner.
    Louise and I had a leisurely morning and then caught a city bus downtown to the Riverwalk. We spent an hour walking around before settling down at the bar to meet our friends. They arrived shortly after and we enjoyed a nice meal overlooking the Riverwalk. It was Saturday night and the place was jumping. We had a nice visit and walked a bit before they drove us back to the RV park. Sunday was devoted to getting the motor home ready to leave first thing in the morning.
    Monday morning we set out for Austin. Louise had a meeting there in the afternoon. We arrived at McKinney Falls State Park about 10:00 a.m. and checked in. I unhooked the car and got it ready for travel while Louise got ready for her meeting. She got away in time to have lunch with the before meeting gossip group. She returned with stories to tell that evening. She had another meeting at the State Capital on Tuesday morning. I broke camp and drove to a nearby Home Depot store where she would meet me following her meeting. Everything went according to plan at her meeting and we were on the highway by 1:00 p.m.
    We headed north toward Dallas. The timing and our rate of travel suggested we would reach Dallas just about 5:00 p.m. We knew the trip out of town would be slow but manageable so we continued. Traffic in Dallas was as expected but by 6:00 p.m. we were in free flowing traffic again on our way up US 75 toward Oklahoma. Our stopping spot for the night would be at the KOA at the Choctaw Casino in Durant, Oklahoma.
  3. tbutler
    After five weeks at home we packed the motor home and set out to touch base with our families. The motor home fix-it list needs some attention so we'll try to get some of those items taken care of on this trip as well.
    Ten years of sun and wind have taken their toll on the awnings on the windows. The fabric is fraying and seams are disintegrating. My plan was to have them replaced locally on our way out of town. I contacted our local RV repair shop, listed as a dealer on the Carefree of Colorado web site. I gave them the appropriate information but never got to talk to the parts department. After several days expecting a return call, I called again. This time I talked to the parts department and they said that our awnings had been discontinued. I asked some questions about alternates and prices. When the information wasn't forthcoming I decided to stop by the shop and talk to them personally.
    When I arrived the parts man was off taking care of personal business. I talked to the office assistant that I had called the first time. In the course of our discussion I found that the part number I gave them didn't match the part number the parts department had researched with Carefree of Colorado. The office assistant had the correct numbers but the transfer to the parts department had been fumbled somehow. She called Carefree of Colorado and gave them the correct part number. Viola! They did have that item in the inventory. I could get exact replacements. So they were ordered. I told them I wanted the shop to do the replacement and I also needed a state inspection. Both were scheduled for the day we were leaving town.
    A week passed and I called to find out the status of the replacement awning fabric. After checking with Carfree, the assistant called me back to tell me they hadn't been shipped yet. She said they wouldn't arrive in time to be installed before we had to leave. I gave her my daughters address as a shipping address. My daughter e-mailed me that they arrived there the day we left town. I guess I'll install them myself. By the way, the motor home passed the Texas State Vehicle Inspection.
    I've dealt with this repair shop before and had positive experiences. The shop foreman retired last year, the office assistant moved up to manager and a new assistant was hired. It is summer in the Rio Grande Valley and the shop was looking pretty idle, a few RV's in the shop but not the time of year when they are usually busy. Most RV's flee north in the spring, taking their owners with them. I didn't see the new manager until I came in for the inspection. I never saw the parts man. The office assistant seemed to be doing most of the work. Will I continue to count on this shop for parts and repair work? Maybe once more just to see if it really is that bad or was this just a fluke?
  4. tbutler
    One of the questions that came up was whether we had our motor home in Australia. This is something that one might consider for an extended trip but it isn’t really feasible. There are numerous problems, the first is that the campgrounds aren’t set-up for our motor homes. The power cords we use don’t fit anything here. Current is 220V but the plug is unlike anything we use in the US. They don’t have sewer connections similar to ours, they use one inch hoses for grey water and toilets are a special kind, a small canister which holds toilet wastes. The canister is removed from the vehicle and emptied into specific dump locations. Grey water drains into sumps in some campgrounds but it is quite common to drain grey water onto the ground near the rear of your campsite. Even in campgrounds where sumps are provided for grey water people will drain to the ground if their hose isn’t long enough to reach the sumps. Utilities are not located like our in the US where the electric, water and sewer are all in one place. One electrical post has four or more outlets and would be located on the common corner of four lots in most cases. The four lots being two facing one street and two facing another street. The lots vary in size but most are fairly small. Our 40 foot motor home would not fit on most of these lots.
    So there are many reasons why a US motor home would be a problem when traveling in Australia and I haven’t even addressed the possible problems with driving on the left side of the road with the driver’s seat on the left side of the vehicle. With a US built vehicle, the driver position when driving on the left side of the road would put the driver on the edge of the road, not in the center of the roadway. Passing vehicles are on the right side of the car which is the far side from the driver in US vehicles. Then there are the roads. The campervan we are driving feels like a very large vehicle on many of the narrow roads here. There are trucks and large busses which travel these roads but I would not feel comfortable driving anything larger than what we have now. Also, campgrounds trim their trees for campers like ours to drag their way through the low hanging limbs and large leaves.
    We have seen a few large motor homes. When we started our travels in New Zealand we stopped at a rest area. As we were standing there looking at the scenery a 1990 Safari pulled in. We took pictures and the owner came over to talk to us. We told him we were amazed at seeing a US motor home in New Zealand. He said he had purchased it in the US and shipped it to New Zealand. This particular chassis was easy to move the steering wheel to the right side of the vehicle. He had the electric cord modified and a few other changes made. We asked how he felt about driving on the roads and he said he didn't travel much. He has a few places he goes to and they have a special lot for him. The only other big rig we saw is in the picture with this posting. We saw it at Exmouth in Western Australia. It had two of the Australian 220V power cords which look like a normal extension cord. We didn't visit with the owner of this rig.
    The final nail in the coffin as far as I’m concerned is the price of fuel. We are getting around 15 miles per gallon (in US terms) with the campervan. Fuel prices in Australia have been about $1.55 to $2.45 per liter. So here is the conversion to US terms. It takes 3.785 liters to make one gallon. Multiplying the above dollar figures times 3.785 gives us $5.87 to $9.27 per gallon. These figures are in Australian Dollars which are worth about $0.92 US at today’s exchange rate. Multiplying 0.92 times these figures gives us $5.40 to $8.53 in US Dollars for a gallon of diesel. The prices are lowest in cities and highest when you get way out into the outback, especially on highways to nowhere, those roads that are one way in and one way out. For most of the outback, we’re paying between $1.80 and $2.10 for a liter of diesel. Unfortunately, there is a whole lot of outback in Australia. Needless to say I’ve left a few dollars at Shell, CalTex and BP stations around the country. There are a few other fuel companies but these are generally the least expensive. Frequently there is only one station, no choice at many of the roadhouses in the outback. If the tank is empty, you pay the price and say thank you! With two weeks to go, we have driven about 15,000 kilometers or 10,000 miles in Australia.
    Most people here camp in trailers pulled by an SUV or small truck. They frequently attach a tent or screened apparatus to the side of the trailer to give them plenty of protected outdoor area. Camping trailers are almost always pull-behind trailers. We’ve seen just a few fifth wheel trailers. It is not uncommon in the outback to see camping trailers which are built for high clearance being pulled behind a beefy four wheel drive SUV which is used for the many dirt and gravel roads which penetrate the outback. The roads we are traveling which are paved are often the only road in an area with all other roads being dirt or gravel. If you really want to get away from it all in Australia it is easy, most of Australia is away from it all but you need a four wheel drive to explore this area. The alternative for us is to take tours which will haul us into those areas for day trips.
  5. tbutler
    Here is another question. In a recently posted picture the ground looked rather dry, not the lush green paradise that many imagine for New Zealand. Let me assure you there are many places that are lush and green. The North Island and indeed much of New Zealand has experienced a rather dry summer. They are quite a bit behind their normal rainfall. So farming areas are dry. The moist rainforests, protected by shade from trees holds moisture better and tree roots help the forest absorb almost every drop of water that falls there. Right down the road from the picture of the farm on the shore is a forest preserve. The picture with this posting shows that green forest, it makes quite a contrast.
    There is a rainy season as well. It varies in different parts of the world but winter and spring here will be wetter than the summer or fall. I mentioned in a previous post that this is hurricane season in the southern hemisphere. Hurricanes and tropical storms will deliver large amounts of precipitation this time of year but they are hit and miss and everyone pretty much is rooting for a miss on that rain.
    Louise and I had compared some of the places we were seeing with what we are used to seeing in California during fall visits when the hills are a golden brown color. Some areas here look like that right now. There is some irrigation here but not too much. We have seen only a few of the large sprinkling systems that are common throughout the prairie in the US.
  6. tbutler
    I’ve had several commenters ask questions so I’ll take a little time to answer one of them here. This was written in February and I’m posting it now that our trip has ended.
    Regarding the nature of the night sky here in New Zealand. First let me say that you don’t have to go far outside the large cities to experience some of the best dark skies you can imagine. The population is spread thin outside the major cities. One in three people live in Auckland and 85% of New Zealanders live in cities or towns so that leaves just 15% for the rural countryside. On the South Island the population is spread really thin with much of the area being mountainous.
    The Milky Way stands out brilliantly from most everywhere on both the islands. This alone can confuse the casual visitor. There are few places in the US where you can see as many stars in the sky as you will here in New Zealand. That is simply because it is almost impossible to get far from centers of population in the US and we have a love of light at night. So we light up the night sky to an extent that hides many stars. See The Globe at Night website for more information about light pollution in the US. In major cities you will only see a handful of stars, the brightest planets, our Moon and Sun. Fill the sky with stars and it’s hard to pick out the familiar groupings you may know.
    Now, as far as recognizing constellations, there are three challenges to be met. The first is that when you look to the south you are seeing stars that an inhabitant of the northern hemisphere never gets to see until they cross the equator. This is one of the great treats of crossing the equator. The whole of the south circumpolar region is completely new. It would be like someone from New Zealand coming to the northern hemisphere and seeing the north circumpolar stars, the Big Dipper or Ursa Major and Little Dipper or Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Perseus, Andromeda, and Draco would all just look like a jumble of stars until they picked up a star chart and began to pick out the patterns of those constellations.
    The second challenge is that the portion of the sky that we are familiar with is all upside down. As we look at the sky in the northern hemisphere, the projection of Earth’s equator onto the sky would form an arc from east to west and at its highest point will be south of the zenith (the zenith is the spot straight above your head projected onto the sky). Everyone has their own personal zenith and it changes as we move about the planet. The equator is south of our zenith in the northern hemisphere. The further north you are, the further to the south the equator will be.
    Take the constellation Orion as an example. Earth’s equator passes right through the belt of Orion. When we look at Orion from the northern hemisphere, the star Betelgeuse forms one shoulder and is well above (to the north of) the equator. The star Rigel forms one knee and is well below (to the south of) the equator, thus Orion seems to be standing upright with his head toward our zenith (our head) and his feet toward the southern horizon in line with our feet.
    Now imagine seeing Orion from the southern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, your zenith is south of the equator. When you look to Orion, you are facing north. In the northern hemisphere you were facing south. This causes a left right reversal. So now, Betelgeuse is upside down and the star Betelgeuse is to your right instead of the left as we are used to seeing it from the northern hemisphere. That means that every constellation we see will be left-right reversed. And this is the third challenge to recognizing the constellations which are familiar to us.
    So the entire sky is now rich with stars, upside down and backwards (left-right reversed) and there is a whole cast of new characters around the South Pole that you only see from the southern hemisphere. Even for a seasoned observer of the sky, this presents challenges. The casual observer may want to enlist the help of a guide! Or, you could just stand on your head and wear sunglasses to observe the stars!
    Watching the sun during the day presents the same problems. When the sun rises in the east for us in the northern hemisphere we watch it move across the southern sky and it sets in the west. As we do this we are facing south and the sun seems to move from left (east) to right (west). In the southern hemisphere, it will rise in the east, move across the northern horizon and set in the west. Facing north, the sun will move from right (east) to left (west). So the sun seems to move across the sky in the opposite direction because we are turned around. This also applies to the motion of the stars at night.
    I have been an avid observer of the sky for many years and figuring all this out has been an interesting challenge.
  7. tbutler
    Suva is the capital city of Fiji. It is located on the southeast side of Viti Levu, the largest island in the Fiji Islands. Our cruise started when we departed the western side of the island from Lautoka. Suva is the largest city in Fiji. Within view of our ship at the dock we can see the downtown area of Suva. There is a huge bus station. Most of the inhabitants don’t own automobiles so they depend heavily on public transportation. There are three large sheds, each with a half dozen parking spots for the city busses. A constant flow of busses into and out of this area indicates the thriving nature of this city.
    Located right next to the bus depot is a huge vegetable market. We walked through the market marveling at the amazing variety of food displayed for sale. There were vendors with tables full of fruits and vegetables. Many vendors simply had a cloth spread on the pavement with their wares displayed for sale there.
    Leaving the market we walked toward the larger buildings. We browsed our way through several shops and stores. This would be our last shopping stop in Fiji and the last for the cruise. We picked up a final few Fiji souvenirs at a shop which featured goods made by local artists. Louise found a shop that sold Indian garb. After selecting a few scarves for our granddaughters she tried on a sari and fell in love with it. She picked out accessories to complete the ensemble and then wore it for the evening meal and entertainment.
    The overnight cruise returned us to our starting point in Lautoka where we disembarked at 9:00 a.m. We had reserved a hotel, the Gateway Hotel in Nadi, for the night which would allow us to adjust for any schedule changes in the cruise schedule. Nadi is the location of the international airport and the Gateway Hotel was right across the road from the airport. The Gateway turned out to be a delightful surprise. The hotel was really nice with excellent rooms and beautiful grounds. The staff welcomed us and checked us into our room well before normal check-in time. They also knew our flight would not be leaving until late the next day and extended our check-out time to noon. We enjoyed meals and relaxing at the hotel. The extended check-out time gave us time in the room the next morning to do our final packing for our trip back to the US.
    On Sunday evening, June 15 we boarded a Fiji Airlines flight to Los Angeles. After flying through the night and crossing the International Date Line, we arrived in Los Angeles at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 15, approximately 7 hours before we left Nadi, Fiji. In Los Angeles we now had a seven hour wait for our flight back to Houston and on to McAllen, Texas. We finally arrived in McAllen at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, June 16 and took a taxi to our house at Sandpipers Resort in Edinburg. We were back home for the first time since leaving for New Zealand, Australia and Fiji on January 29, 2014. It had been one fantastic vacation.
  8. tbutler
    After two days at sea we arrived at Savusavu, Fiji. The city of Savusavu is located on Vanua Levu, one of two large islands in the island nation of Fiji. There are dozens of other islands in the group of islands that make up Fiji. At Savusavu, we had a tour to Wiasali Rainforest Reserve. Billed as a strenuous hike, this lived up to its billing. There were 15 people on this shore excursion. Eleven members of our group fit into a van and the remainder of us rode to the reserve by taxi. Louise and I had the first taxi, the remaining two people had the last taxi. We arrived before the van which had stopped to fuel up on the way to the reserve. The rainforest reserve was about a 40 minute ride from the town of Savusavu where our ship was anchored offshore.
    Once the rest of the group arrived we were welcomed by our guide. The official language of Fiji is French and our guide was partially fluent in English. He had some difficulty translating names of plants into English. As we started down the trail we were going down into a deep valley in the rainforest. Our guide walked ahead of us pointing out orchids, palms and other plants along the trail. Unfortunately the trail was a narrow single file trail. That meant that the group was strung out for some distance. Louise and I were the second and third people in line and if we walked quickly we could hear what he was saying to the first person behind him. We asked him to stop repeatedly so others in the group could hear what he was saying but it was no use, he wanted to keep going. We tried asking questions which would allow the group to catch up and that worked sometimes.
    We saw a number of different kinds of orchids on the walk and heard a Barking Pigeon but never saw it. Actually I may have seen it flying but at a distance it is hard to get enough details from a flying bird to truly identify the bird to its species. The bird I saw was a pigeon and was the correct color but never having seen one before and not having a guide book to consult, I can’t claim to have seen a Barking Pigeon. Hearing it was enough to be able to say that this bird had an appropriate name, it really did sound like a barking animal.
    Reaching the bottom of the valley we paused for a few minutes along a small stream and enjoyed the view and the cool air near the water. Our guide lifted a long leaf submerged in the water and stirred up a crawdad-like animal in a pool in the stream. Then we began our climb back to the top of the hill. The trail was a loop trail so this was new territory. The trail was as steep as the trail down with many steps, some normal size and others being twice as high as a normal step even a few that were larger. They were at least constructed steps and we weren’t climbing up rock steps which can have uneven surfaces and be a challenge to find the best place to step on each step. Since we were trying to keep up with our guide we didn’t have much time to look around as we climbed the hill. Again we managed to stop him with a few questions.
    Louise and I decided that we would think seriously about just doing these explorations on our own. This particular shore activity was fairly pricey and we could have easily hired a cab and taken our time exploring rather than getting the trip that we did. So we put that in our memories. We aren’t the kind of people who like tours. I like having the freedom of not being on a schedule and having to rush through things. Likewise I like to be able to pause and look at things that interest me, take some pictures and then continue on the trail.
    When we returned to the town we had some time to walk around and explore some shops and vendor booths before we returned to the ship. The theme for the night was dressing as Fijians so we both got a good warm shower and put on our finest souvenir Polynesian clothes for dinner. We skipped the show for the evening and went to our room for some rest after a stressful day on shore.
  9. tbutler
    We had two sea days on our way from Noumea, New Caledonia to Fiji. Both Louise and I enjoy the enforced relaxation of the sea days. There is plenty to do on the ship not the least of which is to just relax. Louise enjoys playing cards and I enjoy relaxing in the sun or shade of the upper decks.
    Our stateroom is on the lowest passenger level located mid-ship which is our preferred location. Being both low and in the center of the ship, we experience less movement than almost anyone else on the ship. Louise experiences motion sickness and this was a special concern on this trip. We are on the Pacific Ocean which can be anything but pacific. The Paul Gauguin is a small ship for a cruise ship. I equate ship size with stability and minimal motion. The Paul Gauguin surprises us because it is more stable than we expected but the Pacific Ocean is performing as expected, it has at times been a rough ride.
    Despite being on the lowest passenger deck, our stateroom is quite comfortable. It is larger and more luxurious than any stateroom we’ve had before. We have a full bathtub, good counter space in the bathroom and a regular European style toilet. There are two closets plus drawer space for clothes and plenty of other cabinet space for our belongings. What looks like a window in the photo is actually two portholes just above the waterline so we have a good look at the sea any time we want!
    We have a fridge stocked with soft drinks and beer. All meals are included in the tour package as well as all drinks including the minibar in the room. Room service is also included, no charge. Three restaurants operate during meal hours. There is no buffet open all day long. This is fine with us, snacks are available at any of the bars. The food has been excellent and the service is fantastic.
    As with most cruise ships there are plenty of on-board activities, performances, games, bars and casino. The entertainment has a decidedly Pacific Island twist with both the on-board band and the performers being from the area. Louise formed a bond with the group of bridge players the first day at sea and they play on sea days regularly. We've met no end of friendly people on board. Most of the passengers are from the US or Canada with a few from Britain, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
  10. tbutler
    Noumea is the capital of New Caledonia. It is the largest city in these islands and has many multi story buildings in the business district and also condominiums and apartments in buildings up to ten stories high. Located on the island of New Caledonia is a large port with shipping facilities as well as docks for cruise ships. We were within walking distance of the city center. Within sight of our ship was the major portion of population and in the opposite direction a large nickel smelting operation. Nickel mining is the heart of the economy of New Caledonia.
    We had two days in port in Noumea. During our stay we took two guided tours on the island. The first was a tour of the botanical garden and bird sanctuary. We were driven by bus to the garden and then toured on foot with a guide. French is the first language of the people here but many including our guide also speak English. We were introduced to a number of trees common on the islands and also saw many of the birds which are common here as well. Other than the waterfowl, the birds were all caged. Louise and I took our binoculars which we found to be very helpful in observing the birds, even those in the cages. Tropical birds have such wonderful colors we enjoyed being able to see them as best we could. The binoculars help by gathering more light which makes the colors more vivid. Even birds in the shadows show nice color in the binoculars. Of course they also help us see more detail that would be missed without magnification.
    The first evening in port in Noumea we were entertained by a local group performing native songs and dances in the theater on board the ship. A troupe of five women and four men entertained us for about 40 minutes. They had two guitars and three ukuleles, all other instruments were made of materials used by the indigenous people. It was a high energy performance with men dancing for one number and then women dancing for the next.
    Our second tour was the following morning. We were taken by bus to a park on the Dumbea River just a few miles outside Noumea. There we were given instruction on kayaking before launching our kayaks for a trip upstream. With about 10 kayaks in the group, we were a small enough group to see and hear our guide throughout the trip. The Dumbea River is a source of drinking water for the city of Noumea and is known for its wildlife. At our put in point, the river is near enough to sea level to be partly salt water but as we move upstream it is all freshwater. After about an hour working our way upstream, we stopped. Those who wanted could swim, we and another couple chose to continue kayaking on upstream for a short distance. This allowed us to get away from the large group and move more quietly. We saw several flocks of birds and some ducks on this part of the trip. We were back at the ship by lunchtime. Having developed a good apatite during the morning, food was welcome. We spent the rest of the afternoon on the ship. At 6:00 p.m. we left port sailing for our next stop in the Fiji Islands.
  11. tbutler
    New Caledonia is a French colonial possession. The entire country remains under the control of the French. There is a pending election scheduled for 2018 which could result in the independence of the country. The Iles de Pins (French for Isle of Pines) was named by Captain Cook who was impressed by the tall pine trees on this island. Our ship, the m/s Paul Gauguin which operates out of Tahiti is a small cruise ship, 320 passengers plus a crew of about 200. Its small size and shallow draft allows it to get close to smaller islands and into smaller ports than some of the very large ships. At the Isle of Pines we anchored off shore and were transported to the dock by tenders. The island wraps around a large bay and this reduces the surf. There were no problems operating the tenders here.
    The island is relatively small and we didn’t schedule a tour here but did spend the day walking the beach and looking for local birds. We saw several interesting birds but having no bird book, we couldn’t put a name on any of them, only make a guess about the genus of the bird. We did note their markings in hopes of learning more about them when we have internet to do a thorough search. All of the trees were interesting but the pines were quite spectacular. Tall and straight, they tower over the rest of the forest. I imagine that they were more abundant when Captain Cook saw them. Today they are widely scattered among the smaller trees.
    The beach on this island was made of a very fine sand, almost a powder. It likely wasn’t the usual quartz that makes up most sand but I didn’t have the means to examine it more closely. It was very soft and pleasant to walk on this beach. There were some small pieces of pumice floating in the surf and being lighter than water they accumulated at the top of the beach in a zone of pebbles. The vegetation is very dense with trees forming a solid canopy even over the roads. The Isle of Pines is sometimes described as the island closest to paradise and I would agree with that description. It was the most beautiful island we have seen on this trip. On part of our walk we were on a narrow neck of land which had ocean on both sides. Just a few feet of sea level rise will divide the island into two separate islands. We saw several resorts on our walk. They welcomed us to walk the beach and to visit their restaurants but restricted other facilities to their guests only. Certainly a friendly an attitude as one could expect.
    Once again we spent a little time shopping at several stands near the dock. They had a nice selection of clothing and souvenirs. Louise found a nice wrap for informal wear and several small brass geckos. New Caledonia currency is the Pacific French Franc (XPF) which is pegged to the Euro. The exchange rate for us was 86 francs to the US dollar. That makes a franc worth just a little more than a penny. So prices were in the 1500 franc range which sounds like a lot of money but really isn’t. This is the first island we’ve encountered on this cruise where these small tourist shops accept credit cards.
  12. tbutler
    By evening on Wednesday the seas had calmed somewhat and the ride to our next stop is much gentler than the previous days ride. Our route took us further west and south. The day was cool with light winds. The captain informed us that we were cruising at a relaxed 7 knots, down from the 12 knots of previous days. We had plenty of time to reach our next island paradise, Lifou, part of the Loyalty Island group.
    On Lifou, we toured a botanical garden and vanilla farm. The botanical garden tour was interesting with many plants we had never seen before. Some looked similar to those we know from the US but many others were completely new. There were flowers of many colors and a few interesting birds as well. The vanilla farming was new to us. Vanilla plants were introduced here in the late 1800’s. Unfortunately, the island has no insects which are capable of fertilizing the flowers. Wisely, the farmers have declined to introduce any new insects to the island to fertilize the flowers. Farmers here have to do the fertilization by hand, one flower at a time. This limits the size of a crop to the quantity that can be hand fertilized by the workers on any particular farm. The total production of vanilla beans from Lifou are consumed within New Caledonia. Sugar cane farming is important in the islands and it is used for rum which consumes much of the vanilla production.
    Following the visit to the botanical garden and vanilla farm we were taken to the Cliffs of Jokin, a scenic area along the northern shore of the island. The road to this area was single lane. We never met another vehicle but had that happened, one vehicle would have to pull aside into the brush for the other vehicle to pass. The cliffs themselves provided a high overlook on the lagoon below. The waters were a beautiful blue green with a clarity that allows looking at the bottom of the lagoon. The island is an uplifted coral atoll and the cliffs are ancient coral reef. We walked down 200 to the lagoon which gave us a good view of the cliff face. It is quite a beautiful area with the dark cliffs, some shallow caves and a small island near the base of the cliffs. We lingered here before returning to our bus.
    Once we returned to the dock area we spent some time browsing the market area set up for tourists. There was a dancing group performing at the market. With bamboo columns pounding on ground for drums and ankle bracelets of shells they danced and sang. The group consisted of two young girls, the older was the song leader. Her role was to start each song with the others chiming in after a note or two. There was on adult woman and three young men. The young men sang and danced. Their faces were painted and unlike the smiling girls, they were serious, striking a variety of threatening poses. Two older women worked out front of the dancers, quickly weaving palm leaves into baskets.
    We picked out a sundress for Louise and a shirt for me. We wore them to dinner that evening. Since retiring I have adopted tropical wear for my formal attire and the shirt certainly fits the bill. Louise in her sundress becomes a bird of paradise, everyone noticed how beautiful she was wearing the bright dress covered with hibiscus.
  13. tbutler
    This is the cruise that started the whole trip to New Zealand and Australia. We signed on for the cruise and later decided to make it part of a longer trip. Now with our exploration of New Zealand and Australia behind us we are exploring another part of the world. Our cruise started in Fiji on Saturday, May 31 in Lautoka, Fiji. Leaving Lautoka at sunset we sail for a day and a half to the island nation of Vanuatu. Once known as the New Hebrides Islands, this group of many islands is sparsely inhabited with many small villages on each island. We visited three islands starting in the north at the island of Ambrym and traveling south to Efate and then Tanna. At Ambrym we were stationed offshore near a small village. Known as the Black Island for its practice of black magic and its black sandy beaches, Ambrym has a population of 8000 on an island about 20 miles in length. There are two volcanoes on the island and we were planning to visit one of those volcanoes in a driving tour and hike to the volcano rim. That tour was canceled so we missed our chance to visit the island. There was one tour that did go ashore for a welcoming ceremony which included a native dance which features custom made masks. Those who were on the tour said it was quite an impressive ceremony.
    At the island group known as Efate, we put in at Port Vila, the capital of these islands. These islands are like a state in Vanuatu. This is a commercial center for the islands and has shops and stores that you would expect in a poor nation. We signed up for a tour that included a visit to the Hawksbill Turtle Sanctuary on Tranquility Island. We were driven in vans through the city to a small harbor and transported by small boat to a larger sailboat. From there we were transported across Havana Harbor to Tranquility Island. On the way across Havana Harbor we are told that the harbor hosted many Allied warships during WW II, serving as a servicing and replenishment base for those ships. The harbor was named for the British warship, of the same name. During our visit to the Hawksbill Turtle Sanctuary we learn about their mission to prevent the extinction of these beautiful turtles from this part of the Pacific Ocean. We were served a barbeque featuring local fruits, vegetables, breads and meat. Following lunch those who wanted could snorkel the reef just offshore of the island. We took the boat ride to the reef and spent a half hour snorkeling an amazing reef. It wasn’t huge but it sported an amazing array of coral and a wide variety of reef fish.
    Tanna was our third and last island in the Vanuatu islands. As we continue south the weather gets cooler. This is after all the southern hemisphere and we are weeks away from the beginning of winter. The voyage from Port Vila to Tanna had been a rough ride with the ship rolling constantly. At Tanna we were not in port but were stationed off shore with service to the shore on tenders. We had signed on for a beach day with tender transportation to the beach. That tour was canceled due to rough seas. Operation of the tenders for the remaining tours was very slow due to the high swell. Even with two tenders running it took until noon to get everyone who had a scheduled tour to the shore. Shortly after noon one of the tenders broke down so the entire effort was shifted to getting everyone on board. We spent the day relaxing on board the ship.
  14. tbutler
    May 29, Thursday, we bid farewell to Australia. After three months our Australian adventure comes to a close. A van to the airport, check in with the airlines and proceed through security and we’re on our way. Of course it just doesn’t happen that quickly. We awoke at 5:00 a.m. to catch a shuttle at 5:30 to the airport. By the time we’ve checked our baggage, it is 6:30. We’re given an exit card to complete to clear customs and immigration as we leave Australia. We stopped for breakfast and this gives us a table and time to complete the questions on the card. Louise picked up several books (3 to be exact) because you just can’t find books everywhere anymore and it is a long flight to our next stop in Auckland, New Zealand.
    Five hours later we were in New Zealand. It really wasn’t five hours in the air, there is a two hour time change between New Zealand and Australia. The country has a wonderfully familiar look. We were here four months ago! Our hotel was near the airport and we got a shuttle to take us to the hotel. A nice room with a Jacuzzi greeted us and we both got our money’s worth from that Jacuzzi! Our night was short again, we were up before 7:00 a.m. to be ready for the airport shuttle at 7:30. Grab the bags and run – that’s our motto. We got cards to clear customs and immigration in New Zealand and then on the plane we got arrival cards for Fiji.
    The flight to Fiji is a short hop, 2 hours and 30 minutes straight to the north of Auckland. We arrive shortly after 2:00 in the afternoon. Transport to our hotel in Lautoka just 20 miles away is quickly arranged. We are sharing a van with another couple and their two children. They are from New Zealand on a winter vacation to Fiji. The ride to Lautoka is an awakening. We are in a genuine third world country. For all its romantic image, the nation of Fiji is a very poor country. Poverty is evident everywhere. Our hotel, the Tanoa Waterfront Hotel is a quality hotel and our room is very nice. The food at the restaurant is excellent. After two early mornings we slept in late. Check out is 11:00 a.m. and we have three or four hours after that until our cruise boards. We got lunch and then relaxed in the lobby until time to get a cab to the docks for our cruise. It is a five minute ride to the dock and then a half hour wait with the rest of the arriving crowd until we are able to board.
  15. tbutler
    By Tuesday we had accomplished all our first priority activities for our stay in Sydney. The forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday was a chance of rain but the rain never materialized. We left the hotel and took a city bus downtown to Circular Key, the heart of the transportation hub in Sydney. The bus route terminates near the ferry terminal and the commuter train station. We went to the ferry terminal and located the Manly Fast Ferry, a ferry service for people traveling to and from destinations within the Sydney harbor to the south of Sydney. It is not a tour boat but we used it as one. At the ticket office, we inquire about the ferry. The lady at the window says I’ve got a ferry just for you. She motioned toward the boat at the dock behind her and said it was about to depart and we could purchase our tickets on board. We hustled down the dock to the ferry and were welcomed by a young man who directed us across the gangplank and promptly pulled it in behind us. The lady in the ticket booth was correct, we were the only passengers on the ferry as it left the dock.
    We took seats on the top deck, an open air deck, which facilitated photography. Leaving the dock we got a harbor view of the Sydney Opera House. This was the only way to see the front of this amazing building. Among the stops were the Sydney Zoo and a National Park on the site of an early 1900’s immigration station. Manly is a community near the mouth of the harbor. All along the route we see one harbor after another with dozens of boats moored in each one. Beautiful homes crowd the hills along the harbor. In Manly we see many condominiums with harbor views.
    Our ride was suggested to us by an exhibitor at Vivid Sydney. He said you haven’t really seen Sydney until you have seen it from the harbor. He was correct. The ride around the harbor was a completely different view of this thriving city. Sydney is a city built around a harbor and they love their harbor. The Manly Fast Ferry is only one of the ferries that operate here. The City of Sydney also has an extensive ferry line that serves all areas of the harbor. There is a constant flow of ferry traffic into the ferry terminal day and night.
    Sydney has almost one quarter of the entire population of Australia. With nearly 4 million people, there is a life to the city that is found only in the largest of cities in the US. Our hotel was about 3 miles from the center of downtown Sydney. Foot traffic is heavy from downtown all the way out to our hotel all day long and well into the night. It is not uncommon to wait at a cross walk with 20 other people facing another group of equal size on the other side of the intersection. At ten in the evening we were surrounded by other pedestrians and felt quite safe. Sydney has a very diverse population. Its proximity to the Orient accounts for a large percentage of people from that area. We also met many people who were recent immigrants from European countries.
    One thing that stood out in our experience was the completely peaceful nature of the crowds of people. We saw no rowdy behavior or violence. Graffiti was rare and people were friendly, willing to strike up a conversation with us, total strangers. I even had one young man ask me how to use his Sony digital camera to photograph the night lights of Sydney. Not being familiar with his camera I couldn’t offer him much help but tried to give him some idea what the numbers on his digital display meant.
    We rode a city bus back toward the hotel but got off a few blocks away to get dinner at the Three Wise Monkeys Bar, now a favorite of ours. Once again we got a seat at the window and enjoyed watching the passing parade on the sidewalks of Sydney.
  16. tbutler
    Our third day in Sydney, Monday, May 26, is a big day. We start out with a second ride on the tour bus. We purchased a two-day ticket. There are two routes for the scenic drives, this one takes us south of the city to Bondi Beach and then back to the city. We remained in the urban area the whole trip but are away from the large buildings of city center. This trip was interesting as we traveled through many older parts of the city. Bondi Beach itself is a gorgeous wide beach with a nice surf. Across the road from the beach is a whole community built up around the beach. It is similar to many of the popular beaches in southern California.
    When we returned to town we got off the bus at The Australian Museum. From there we walked down toward the Sydney Harbor Bridge. We stopped to get ice cream at a little shop near the bridge. Then we were on to Bridge Climb Sydney. We had reserved a sunset climb to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. We would start our adventure at 3:05 in the afternoon and finish about 7:00 in the evening.
    Once we checked in, we were met by an employee who escorted us in and took us through signing the liability release form. Then we were given our bridge climb coveralls. We changed clothes, leaving behind all metal and all personal objects except eyeglasses and stud earrings. Then we passed through a magnetometer to ensure we had no metal objects in our possession.
    With the security check complete we met our guide, Nick, who would take us to the top of the bridge. Now we were outfitted with a safety belt with an interface to hook us into the safety cable that guided us along our walk. We received a radio receiver and headset so we could hear our guide. We also got a pack with a fleece sweater to wear if we needed an additional layer of clothes to keep warm. We were given a headband flashlight and finally a handkerchief and a hat. All of these things were hooked onto our coverall suit so that nothing was able to fall onto the bridge below us.
    The final preparation was to practice going up a ladder and down a ladder. Once all this was done we slid our safety harness line onto a safety cable and were out the door and onto the bridge. We exited the door and were already about 20 feet above the ground. Initially we walked on a catwalk well out onto the bridge. Then we began to climb, three step ladder-like sets of steps took us up another 20 meters or 60 feet. Emerging onto the top of the upper girders on the bridge, we were now on top of the bridge. Railings on either side of the three foot wide walkway give us an added sense of security. Looking around we can see onto the top of the roof of some of the tall buildings in the city!
    From here there we walk on top of the bridge girders. There are step platforms on the surface so we were are walking similar to the way you would walk up a widely spaced set of steps. The incline is steep at first then begins to level out near the top of the bridge. Along the way we stop and have pictures taken by our guide. At the top, 436 feet above the bay below, we all give a cheer. Everyone in our group makes it to the top without any problem. Our guide, Nick, has kept up a constant patter of information about the bridge, Sydney, Australia, and much more. His commentary gives us something else to think about than the height above the waters of the bay below.
    As we reach the top, the sun is setting in the west. Sunset colors in the sky reflect off the waters of the bay. Sidney bay is a labyrinth of water, islands and peninsulas. Standing atop the bridge we are able to see the patchwork of water highlighted by the skylight reflections. How I wish I had my camera. I would have taken hundreds of pictures! Soon it is time to begin our descent. We stop for one last round of pictures with the lighted city in the background. As we are about to leave the bridge Vivid Sydney lights up the Sydney Opera House and we can see it from the bridge. Then it is back down to Earth. We reverse the dressing procedure removing all our equipment and are out to the gift shop. We get our certificates with a picture of our group as part of the deal. We also purchase the set of pictures taken of us as we climbed the bridge.
    With that challenge behind us, we found a restaurant, the Waterfront Restaurant. We were able to get reservations for 8:30 which was an hour and a half from the time of the reservations. I was prepared. I had my tripod with me so I could photograph some of the Vivid light displays. I visited a number of the displays in the area and also spent time photographing the Opera House.
    Time arrived and we got a table right by the wall that separated the dining area from the dock area with the displays. We enjoyed our first real restaurant meal in Sydney spending an amazing amount of money for a simple meal, a bottle of wine and desert. We had wonderful service and enjoyed the evening.
    On the way home I continued photographing lighting displays including the Museum of Art which had the whole building covered with a constantly changing design. There were other buildings with displays, one had a forest that bloomed, leaves came out then the colors changed and the leaves fell off and finally took you back to the bare trees again. We talked with one exhibitor who told about how their group had developed their display. We had a nice conversation and picked up a suggestion for the next day.
  17. tbutler
    Our second day in Sydney we took a bus tour through the city. The bus was a double decker with an open upper deck so that is where we sat. I took photos as we drove along. We had earphones with commentary on the areas of the city as we rode along. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm. At stops I had a chance to stand up and get better pictures. My philosophy on taking pictures when moving is that you shoot lots of pictures knowing some will be blurred or will not be well framed. If I take enough pictures there is a better chance that one will be satisfactory. Often the rate of travel gives just a single moment when a good photograph is possible in which I am quick on the shutter button, timing is key, hesitate and the shot is gone.
    Our tour took us downtown and to the waterfront. The waterfront in Sydney is like a glove. The tour visited one bay after another. I photographed a mixture of new modern buildings and skyscrapers along with heritage buildings over 100 years old. Each is interesting it its own way. Some old buildings are well maintained and look quite beautiful while others have been neglected and will someday soon become unusable. Sydney presents a nice mixture of old and new. We are enjoying the difference in architecture between buildings of different ages but also different from the architecture we knew from the US. There are a wide variety of cultural heritages which influence buildings here in Sydney.
    We rode most of the route before getting off near the Royal Botanical Garden. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the Botanical Garden before starting our walk home. The botanical garden is free and has wonderful old and very large trees. There is a fernery with an amazing variety of ferns. Louise said she expected to see a dinosaur stick its head out from behind one. There were tree ferns, giant ferns and a whole group of ferns that didn’t look like ferns at all.
    We found an herb garden which was very aromatic. Every step brought a new scent. Then we spotted an armillary sphere, a special form of sundial. This one was a recent addition to the garden. It commemorated the work of a volunteer who worked at the garden for many years. Around the horizon circle were sculptures of herbs with their names. With a diameter of 2 meters, there were quite a few herbs illustrated on the horizon circle.
    We left the garden about 4:30 in the afternoon. We waited at the bus stop for the next bus that would take us back toward our hotel. It took about 15 minutes for the bus to arrive. We rode for several kilometers getting off at the north end of Hyde Park where we had seen a restaurant/bar we wanted to try. The bar, the Three Wise Monkeys had a large statue of three monkeys in the classical hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil pose. We thought it would be worth a try just for the fun of it. We found seats at the windows which are open and right on the sidewalk looking out on a major street. Our table was the window sill and people are walking by on the sidewalk outside the window, just a few feet away. So we had a wonderful seat for people watching. Sydney is a very busy city. The sidewalks are filled with people all day long and far into the evening. It was a fine night of people watching.
  18. tbutler
    With this entry, we are clearly outside the realm of motor home experience but the remainder of our trip started with almost three months in the motor home so I'll finish off the last three weeks just to give the story an ending. We've flown to Sydney after turning in the campervan at Britz in Perth.
    When we checked into our hotel they gave us some information about a festival starting in Sydney on Friday night, the night we arrived. It is a two-week festival of lights, sound and ideas. There are 60 exhibits set up around town with various kinds of visual activities. Some are large like the projection of lights on the Sydney Opera House and others are small like an exhibit with a camera that you looked into and it put your face on a wall. Your face was altered and blended into a colored spot. The exhibit was called Graffiti Me. There were simple things like a light tunnel to walk through. Others exhibits were very complicated. An exhibit downtown near Circular Key projected a cartoon image with clouds, lightening, rain and a light bulb cartoon character walking across the walls of several skyscrapers. The ferries in the harbor were lit in coordinated constantly changing colors that matched the color on the ferry terminal. Other boats were lit in a variety of colors.
    We went down town to the famous Sydney Opera House to tour the building. Louise would have liked to see an opera there but the season doesn’t start until July. When we arrived to tour the building there was a huge crowd with more arriving every minute. This was the opening night of Vivid Sydney! Our tour of the Opera House lasted until sunset. Before the tour was over the building was the palate for ever changing patterns and colors. Once outside we enjoyed watching many of the exhibits. As we walked back to our hotel I took pictures of some of the exhibits and the city at night. Crowds were huge throughout the city with throngs of people walking everywhere.
    We stopped for dinner at Gallagher’s Irish Bar and continued our walk back to the hotel. Part of the way we walked through Hyde Park, a very nice park with lighted fountains and wide well lit walkways. At one point another person stopped to photograph something. I looked and they were taking pictures of a possum. These are much different than the Opossums we have in the US. They look more like a squirrel. We saw a second, a female with a young one on its back. By the time we arrived home it was late and we had pictures to process and needed some down time to relax before turning in for the night.
  19. tbutler
    We’ve been touring Australia for almost three months now. Along the way we’ve collected some souvenirs for ourselves and for our friends and family. When we started this trip our bags were packed to the limit. We investigated shipping the souvenirs and some of the clothing we would not need on the cruise back to the US. Every query ended up with prices that were extreme for even a small package. Then in a discussion with a park ranger at Monkey Mia we found out about something different. She suggested using Sea Mail offered by the Australian Post. She had shipped her goods from Britain to Australia that way and said it was an economical alternative. We investigated and found the prices that UPS, DHL, FedEx charged for a two pound package would pay for a 20 kilogram package shipped Sea Mail. The difference of course is that the Sea Mail package will arrive in 60 to 90 days instead of two days. That was perfect for our needs. We didn’t need to have the materials in hand quickly. So we purchased packing materials and loaded up two boxes. The amount of materials that we wanted to ship back were too much for one box so we split it into two boxes of 13 and 14 kilograms each. That is 27 kilograms or 60 pounds of goods we shipped back to the US. This took care of the excess we had purchased on the trip so far and also lightened the load in our suitcases.
    Shipping was accomplished on Wednesday before our Friday morning flight. Thursday was pack the bags day and also clean the camper day. We set out suitcases on the benches in the rear of the camper. Frist Louise packed the majority of her clothes and goods and then I took my turn. There isn’t enough room in the camper for both of us to be moving around at the same time. Louise did a final load of laundry and while she did that I packed my clothes and goods. Clothes were laid out for the next days flight and then everything was given a good cleaning. We didn’t wash the outside of the camper, that was not required but all the dishes and cabinets had to be left clean. The linens and towels didn’t have to be washed. Those would be left on the bed when we turned in the camper.
    Thursday night it rained. It rained hard off and on all night. By morning I was getting anxious about the final work of disconnecting the utilities, electric and grey water. It was going to be messy. We were parked on a sandy lot and nothing sticks to things like wet sand. If the rain continued I was going to get soaked in the process. Just before sunrise the rain quit. I got up and made a trip to the restroom. Several people were busy packing up to leave while the rain had stopped. I think everyone was thinking the same thing I was, get out quick before it starts to rain again.
    We had a quick breakfast, washed the dishes and disconnected. I washed down the hose and electric cord as I rolled them up. Then a last bit of packing and we left the park at 8:30 a.m. I took Louise to the airport and left her there with all of our baggage except my brief case which had the Britz documents and my records from the rental. The GPS showed me just a few kilometers from the Britz office. Ten minutes and I was there. I had called Britz on Wednesday to confirm their hours of operation. I was told they didn’t open until ten and our flight was scheduled for 11:30. The agent I talked to said he would be there at 8:30 and he could get me checked out at that time and offered to arrange a cab to the airport as well. He also confirmed for me that I would be able to take the campervan to the airport, it would be allowed in the drop off area which is something that isn’t allowed at most US airports. Anyway, he was there and after a brief look at the camper, a cab was called and I was on my way back to the airport.
    I met Louise in a coffee shop where she was waiting and we went to check our luggage. We got a surprise. The tickets I had booked with Virgin Australia didn’t include checked baggage. That was an additional charge. The Expedia confirmation didn’t say that baggage wasn’t included it just said that additional charges may apply for baggage. So we paid for shipping our bags and then were off to the security check. Once through security we had about an hour wait for the boarding call.
    Our plane was an Airbus 300-200, a wide bodied plane for this cross country flight. I was expecting a smaller plane but was pleased by the wide body plane. It takes just under four hours to fly across the country from Perth on the west coast to Sydney on the east coast. There was also a two hour time change for the time zone difference. We arrived just after sunset. I was able to photograph a spectacular sunset from the airplane. It took less than 30 seconds for the sun to disappear below the horizon once its lower limb touched the horizon.
    By the time we landed and got out of the airport it was dark. We picked up our luggage and found the taxi line. A $40 ride got us to our hotel in the Chinatown area west of downtown Sydney. We are right across the street from a large shopping market with three stories above ground and another story below ground. The lowest level is a vegetable market and has other vendors with booths selling other products, rather like a large flea market. Above the basement level are two stories of shops and stores including a large grocery store. The top floor is the food court. We got a simple dinner in the food court and then walked around the neighborhood.
  20. tbutler
    We left Ledge Point after a drive through town to get a look at the community. The housing was upscale beach housing with beautiful homes with a second story that looked over the dunes to the sea. The dunes all along this coast are very well preserved. Walkways are provided at specific places and people seem to stay off the dunes other than through the walkways. This is nice to see and seldom seen in the US. Dune erosion can be quite serious. Once the plants have been disturbed, the dune is free to move. Regular ocean breezes will move particles up one side of the dune and they tumble down the other side. Once sand grain at a time (actually many at a time) the dune moves further inland. If there is no plant life to anchor the dune, it will move into a street or road, a lawn or a field. Once the plant life is gone, it is virtually impossible to stop the movement of a dune. At the upper end of South Padre Island near where we live in the southern tip of Texas, the dunes have reclaimed the highway north of the town. You can drive north of town until the roadway disappears under the dunes.
    We had reviewed the brochure for Perth and the main thing we wanted to see was the Fremantle area which included some of the early buildings in the downtown. The focus of the area seemed to be the prison so we put that address into the GPS. One more time, we can’t say how valuable the GPS has been on this trip. It routed us on high speed motorways right to downtown and then we were off within a couple of blocks of the prison. The city of Fremantle has a Park and Pay lot at the prison. You pay your fee at a station, get a receipt and put that on the dash. The camper wouldn’t fit in any of the parking spaces but they were end to end double spaces so I parked in an empty pair at the far end of the lot and used part of the space in front of us. The lot was never full while we weren’t blocking a spot that could have been sold.
    The prison was the state prison for Western Australia. It was built in the 1860’s and that says a lot about the nature of the prison. It was added to and expanded several times. By the 1960’s there were severe crowding problems and the conditions in the prison must have been quite frightful. There were several prison riots, one in the 1960’s over the quality of the food and another in the 1980’s related to the overcrowding. The prison was finally closed in 1991. There were a number of tours available but the general information was dreadful enough we didn’t want to spend the rest of the afternoon in the prison. We left there with a bus route and schedule for the free shuttle around Freemantle. Using the map we headed for the Maritime Museum on the docks. A short walk to the bus stop and a short bus ride and we arrived about 2:00 in the afternoon.
    Outside the Maritime Museum an extensive set of low walls listed all the people lost at sea in a long list of shipwrecks. Everywhere we go on the coastline of Australia there are extensive lists of shipwrecks. The coastline has it hazards as all coastlines do and many of the wrecks occurred before accurate navigation techniques were common. Even in recent times, shipwrecks occurred in some cases because navigational hazards weren’t well plotted. The museum itself had a number of interesting displays including one documenting a 1980’s series of circumnavigations of the globe by Jon Sanders. His boat and equipment he carried were displayed. The boat was displayed at a steep angle and a marker near the ceiling behind the boat showed the height of a 30 foot wave that overtook the boat on one of his trips. Jon saw it approaching and hung onto the mast as the wave washed over the boat.
    There was an extensive exhibit with models of the America’s Cup yachts from the beginning of the competition to present day. They were displayed in sets for each year and it was really nice to be able to look at the progression of changes in the design over time. One of the yachts, the Australia II which was sailed by the Perth Yacht Club, was on display, full size. An early ferry and fishing vessels from small to large were also there to be seen. We spent several hours and if we had been there earlier in the day we would have spent a few more.
    Leaving the museum, we caught a bus to the prison. It went out of service while we were on the way so we switched to the other free bus route and took a bus to the nearest stop to the prison parking lot. We walked back to the parking lot by a different route which gave us a chance to view a large athletic field called The Oval. We were able to peek through the fencing along one side and see the stadium. We arrived back at the parking lot with a few minutes remaining on our parking pass.
    Putting the address for the Central Caravan Park into the GPS put us on the way out of town to a location near the airport. The route started a bit slow with stoplights but they were well timed and we didn’t have to stop at many. Soon the lights gave out and we were on the Great Eastern Highway headed out of town. It was a much faster trip than I anticipated in early rush hour traffic. Our park is near the Britz office and the airport because we will turn in the camper in two days. We’ll spend the next two days getting everything ready for the next leg of our journey, an air flight to Sydney.
  21. tbutler
    Departing the Geraldton area we noticed a dramatic change from our travels over the last month. We have returned from the Great Australian Outback. Suddenly we were seeing fields of crops and farms. There were still many areas with native plants growing but the sudden change from no farmland to abundant farmland was quite surprising. Along with this, we no longer saw signs for domestic animals, cows and sheep, roaming on the road. This was the end to open range country. Traffic was light on Indian Ocean Drive. We didn’t meet a single road train in our drive to Ledge Point.
    As we drove the road, we stopped in several small towns to see the ocean views and walk along beachfront trails. The highway itself wanders among large sand dunes. Many are covered with heavy vegetation but there are also huge sand dunes with no vegetative cover at all. The sand here is surprisingly white. This would indicate that the sand particles are almost exclusively quartz.
    Several towns bear mention for their facilities along the beach. At Green Head we pulled into a park at the beach. A map directed us to a walkway up and over a dune and then to a scenic overlook on several bays and some offshore islands. We enjoyed the cool sea breeze as well as the sound and sights of waves breaking on rocks and the beach. The park, walkway and overlook were well maintained and had interpretative signs to explain what we were seeing on the walk.
    At Jurien we enjoyed walking out onto their pier and seeing schools of small fish in the water below the pier. There was a very nice playground set up on the sand at the upper end of the beach next to the pier. There was a walkway along the beach and we walked that for a while. Along the walk there was a set of exercise equipment for adults. A little further down the path there was an exhibit about an artificial reef which had been constructed just off-shore in the area. The artificial reef was designed for young people and other who were not capable of swimming out to the natural reef which was quite a distance from the shore. They had constructed reef balls made of concrete, these hollow balls ranged in size from 1 meter (three feet) in diameter down to 30 centimeters (one foot). They weighed as much as 750 kilograms (1500 pounds). These had been placed in water that was about 10 feet deep to create a reef environment for fish and plants. The project was driven by a group of volunteers and partially funded by the county government. Many donors contributed to the project. It was truly a community effort.
    Once again we pulled into our campground as the sun set. The office had just closed but we were welcomed and told where to pick a site, we could register in the morning. The camp at Ledge Point was one of the nicest parks we have stayed at. It had some long stay occupants but showed all signs of a new park. The facilities were all clean and well maintained.
  22. tbutler
    We left the Billabong Homestead early Saturday morning and drove on south toward Kilberri National Park. This would be a side trip off the North West Coastal Highway that we’ve been traveling. The road through the park takes us to Kalbarri, a small town on the coast. The National Park surrounds the park. The central feature of Kalbarri National Park is the Murchison River. Like many of the rivers in Western Australia (WA) the Murchison River is barely flowing or dry for much of the year. It drains a large area of Western Australia so when they get rain, it flows vigorously. We saw evidence that the water level is easily 20 to 25 feet above the minimal flow we were looking at. During this flow large rocks get rolled along by the river and it cuts the cliff base of sandstone rock. Once the rock is undercut, the cliff above becomes unstable and falls into the river channel. We saw some really interesting sandstone, red of course, in our walk to the river channel.
    We visited several overlooks and walked down to the river in one location. Like many other national parks in Australia there are many four wheel drive roads which are unsuitable for our campervan. The area is called a gorge and indeed it has the look of a gorge but this is flat land and the criteria for a gorge is different than our idea of a gorge. This isn’t the Grand Canyon or the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The Kalberri Gorge is a shallow gorge, perhaps 100 feet deep, maybe a little more. A ten or fifteen minute walk gets you from the rim to the bottom of the gorge. Still, it provides excellent relief from the routine flat sandy plains that surround it. The red sandstone make for a beautiful rock exposure and I’m sure the river is a spectacle when it is flowing.
    The other feature of Kalbarri National Park is the seacoast south of the town of Kalbarri. We drove this area on Sunday, making stops at each overlook and hiking some trails. It is a beautiful coastline and we spent the entire day driving about 20 kilometers from Kalbarri visiting these sites. Again, there is the red sandstone but it is capped with some white and yellow sandstone in a few places. These are deposits that were laid down along a seacoast millions of years after the red sandstone was deposited. We saw a sea stack and a sea arch in one location. We also saw a Humpback Whale splashing in the distance at that location. A few dolphins were also swimming in the area.
    Finishing our exploration of Kilbari National Park at 4:30 in the afternoon we headed south to Geraldton. We have now abandoned the North West Coastal Highway and will take the Indian Ocean Drive to the south all the way into Perth. Sunset here is coming about 5:45 p.m. and we had 150 kilometers to go so we were going to be arriving after dark. Louise called ahead to a park where we wanted to stay. They closed their office at 5:00 so it was a good thing we called ahead to let them know we would be arriving late. Everything was done over the phone and we were told to pick up our packet of information in a lockbox at the office.
    We parked for the night at the Sunset Beach Holiday Park in Geraldton. Showers, dinner and then a little time on the internet completed our evening. This park is one of the few we have found lately that has internet service through a company that we committed to early in the trip. They have a network of parks that use their service and we made good use of it on the east coast but we have only found it in a few spots in the outback. We’ve been able to get our money’s worth from the company but just barely. When we are able to find them, it is nice to have unlimited time and a usage limit which is ample for our needs.
  23. tbutler
    At 11:30 a.m. we left Monkey Mia on our way back south. Just 25 miles down the road is a beautiful little town, Denham. We stopped there to walk the main street along Denham Strait. Palm trees, green grass and brilliant green and blue ocean water provided a beautiful setting for this town. Louise was making one last attempt to find just the right pearl jewelry and found a necklace and earrings at a small shop on the waterfront. We enjoyed the walk, a cool breeze and bright sunshine made for perfect weather. Denham marked our western most point on our trip. In fact there was a hotel in town that had a banner saying it was the westernmost hotel in Australia.
    From Denham we are retracing our path up the peninsula. We stopped at a narrow point on the peninsula to walk on Shell Beach. Hamlin Pool is a very isolated part of Shark Bay. Sea water does not circulate freely in the Hamlin Pool so the water becomes almost twice as salty as normal sea water. Only a few organisms can live in this very salty water. This is the same body of water that had the stromatolites. Limpets are also able to live here and when they die their shells are left behind. These have accumulated for many thousands of years and form a thick layer at the bottom of the bay. These blow up on land forming dunes of shells. Shells in the water compact and form a kind of limestone called Coquina, the limestone is made almost entirely of shells. The beach here is brilliant white being made entirely of these white shells.
    We left Shell Beach about 2:30 and drove the 100 kilometers to the Overland Roadhouse where we fueled up again. Then we drove just another 50 kilometers to the Billabong Homestead and our camp for the night. We’ve been traveling in an area where drinking water is not available. That means that the water available at campsites is not for drinking. Since you can’t wash your car or camper, I don’t know why they have water at the campsites. Indeed, our campground for the night had no water available in the campground. We’re running on our second day of water with a tank that lasts us about three days so that means possibly running out tomorrow. The showers aren’t drinking water but the water was soft, plenty of suds. It isn’t fancy but they have electric and hot showers and we were ready for some rest.
  24. tbutler
    Carnarvon is only about 100 kilometers from Monkey Mia as the Crow flies. We aren’t Crows and we can’t fly in our campervan so we have to drive south for 200 kilometers and then northwest for another 155 kilometers. We made a late start down the road after shopping for groceries and filling with diesel. We took advantage of the discount offered by the grocery store which is pretty standard in Australia. Woolworths, Cole’s and some IGA stores offer a 4 cent per liter discount on fuel at their partner fuel stations. We’ve been taking advantage of this when we can. It doesn’t sound like much but that is the equivalent of about 15 cents per gallon and I know not one of us would pass that up.
    We made another fuel stop at the Overlander Roadhouse. A fill-up there would give us enough fuel to make it back there on the return trip without buying fuel at Monkey Mia. It isn’t a good idea to plan to buy fuel at the end of a long road which is where Monkey Mia was located. Another stop along the way was to see some Stromatolites in the Hamlin Pool Marine Estuary. Stromatolites are ancient composites of microbes which form large colonies in shallow water. An information panel described it as the equivalent of a rain forest for bacteria and other one celled living forms. Fossils of Stromatolites are found in Precambrian rocks. Precambrian rocks contain no other fossils so these Stromatolites are the earliest fossils we find on Earth.
    After that stop it was almost sunset as we approached Monkey Mia. This part of the trip was mostly to the northwest which was directly into the setting sun which made the driving hard and looking for kangaroos and other straying livestock a real challenge. We arrived in Monkey Mia as the last light was fading from the sky and parked in our spot in the dark. We had done something we usually never do. There is only one campground in Monkey Mia so I encouraged Louise to call ahead and make reservations. I can’t say that it paid off for sure but we didn’t see any vacant sites in this park. The place was packed with campers, this was obviously a very popular site. At the office we got information about the premier event, feeding the dolphins, which occurs each morning. We were given the location and time to be there so we set an alarm to get us up and on our way before the start time.
    The next morning, Friday, we were on the beach waiting for the feeding to start at 7:30 a.m. This is a tradition that started many years ago when people in the campground began feeding the dolphins. It became a problem when the dolphins began to depend on the people for their food. Female dolphins would spend so much time in shallow water getting fish fed to them that their calves were dying because they couldn’t nurse in shallow water. The Western Australia Department of Conservation took over the feeding operation and carefully controls it so that the dolphins have to get most of their food by hunting and thus spend time out to sea where the calves can nurse and learn to hunt from the mother.
    We were given an explanation of the feeding process and then invited to come to the water’s edge forming a long single line at the edge of the bay. Once everyone was in line we were allowed to come into the water to about ankle depth. This brought dolphins closer to the shore and some of them even came within ten feet of our line. Two rangers from the Department of Conservation talked about dolphins and gave us the history of the program while supervising the group. Once the dolphins were close by, we were told to back up out of the water which signaled the dolphins that feeding was about to begin. Volunteers then brought buckets of fish to the beach. There were only a few fish in each bucket. They spread out along the line and picked people from the line to come feed a dolphin. Out of 130 people there that morning, less than a dozen were picked to feed the dolphins. Everyone else got a close look at the dolphins and the feeding.
    Once this was over, we spent some time on the dock looking for turtles which had been in the area earlier in the morning. Then before we left the dock they started the second feeding. This time only 30 people showed up and there were more dolphins. Louise was picked to feed a dolphin named Surprise. By this time it was almost 9:00 a.m. and we needed to be off our site by 10:00 or stay another night. We went back to the campervan and packed up, pulling out at 9:50 a.m. We left the campground and parked in the Department of Conservation parking lot. We ate breakfast and then spent some time in the gift shop and information kiosk learning more about the dolphins and Monkey Mia.
    We found out that no one knows exactly where the name came from. There were three possible explanations for Monkey, one being a ship named Monkey that docked there in the late 1800’s. Another explanation is that the name came from the Malay pearlers, who camped at this location, had monkeys. A third possible source of the name is that an Australian colloquialism for sheep is monkey and there were (still are) sheep farms on the peninsula. Mia is the Aboriginal word for home, camp or resting place. The information sheet clearly stated that there are no monkeys at Monkey Mia.
  25. tbutler
    We left Exmouth headed for another sea adventure in Monkey Mia. South of Exmouth we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. In doing this we left the tropics for the last time in Australia. The distance from Exmouth to the Monkey Mia was too far to cover easily in one day so we decided to make it a two day trip. We needed to stop for groceries and figured that Carnarvon would be a good stop for that and give us an easy 2 day trip to Monkey Mia. As we pulled into Carnarvon, there was a huge dish antenna on the horizon. It turned out to be the 97 foot diameter dish for the Overseas Telecommunications Commission. But, on the same grounds was a much smaller Cassegrain horn antenna which received the signals of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing in July 1969. Carnarvon was the location of the NASA Satellite Tracking Station that served the US Space Program from its inception through Skylab. Along with Madrid, Spain and Goldstone, California, the station at Carnarvon gave the US coverage and communication with spacecraft orbiting Earth for most of their orbits. A small museum today contains some of the memorabilia donated by Australian participants in this effort.
    Today the NASA Deep Space Network is located in the Australian Capital Territory near Canberra. Carnarvon is left with a couple of unused antennas and a small museum along with memories of its glory days during the space race of the 1960s. Buzz Aldrin was present for the dedication of the museum. In his 80’s at the time, he looked quite different than when he walked on the moon with Neal Armstrong. It is hard to believe that almost 45 years has passed since that event. Sad also to see the US Space Program hiring our competitor for rides into space. We walked around the 97 foot dish, marveling at its size. We weren’t able to get to the Cassegrain Horn antenna as it was within a construction area. We could see it from the back side. While taking pictures of the large dish antenna I noticed a ring around the sun and found a place to get both the antenna and the ring around the sun in the picture. You may have to enlarge the photo with this posting to see the ring around the sun.
    We also went into Carnarvon to walk the mile long pier which is featured in their publicity. There is a “tea cup” train that makes runs out to the end of the pier but it wasn’t running when we arrived late in the afternoon. We enjoyed walking the length of the tour and watching the sunset over the Indian Ocean and full moon rise over Carnarvon. The moon rise was a fitting event considering the location and the events that transpired here.
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