Since departing the South Pacific, ms Amsterdam has sailed a westerly course toward Australia. Here is a recap of Captain Mercer’s blog posts. You can read them in their entirety on his blog, www.captainjonathan.com.
Sydney Australia, Feb. 11:
Too early in the morning, the phone rang, “45 minutes from the pilot station”. I could have willingly gone back to sleep, instead I reluctantly fell out of bed and prepared myself for arrival Sydney.
Still pitch black, the lights of Sydney and suburbs glowing in the distance. Ahead of us was the “Rhapsody of the Seas”, also making for the pilot, 15 minutes before us. A briefing with the Bridge team and we go onto full manning, or ‘Red’; everyone has an assigned task for the approach, the transit of the harbour and the docking.
Through the ‘Heads’ and a sharp turn to port, into the harbour approach proper now and the wind eases; down the buoyed channel and another turn, this time to starboard and ahead of us is the vista of the skyline of skyscrapers, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. There is the first glimmer of dawn light creeping up and the flashes of hundreds of cameras on our decks pierce the gloom. No ‘flash’ for me, aperture control and high ISO, my camera clicks away when the opportunity arises.
It is a magnificent time to arrive, the lights, the dawn, the majesty of it, there’s nothing quite like this time of the morning and it strikes me that so few see Sydney from this perspective.
Great Barrier Reef, Feb. 16:
Our ‘normal’ route from Brisbane to Cairns would take us north and then north-west, through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Sanctuary, (GBRMS), however this extends some miles off the east coast of Australia and, in these circumstances, we would not see some of the scenic areas, it would appear as ‘open ocean’ to the uninitiated, the reefs lurking out of sight.
This called for a minor diversion, so that our guests could at least see some of the area and so, after discussions with our GBR pilot, I decided to take Whitsunday Passage, the time we reached this was convenient, morning through to noon and would provide some photography opportunities for guests and me, of course.
Cairns, Australia, Feb. 17:
Cairns is, in one word, stupendous. It is a city to which thousands of tourists, backpackers and adventure-seekers throng to; it has something for everyone, young and old and one day there is not enough. Our guests did everything from swim on the Great Barrier Reef, ride a scenic railway, (built between 1882 and 1891) through the gorges and mountains outside Cairns, go crocodile watching, go on jet-boats, ride helicopters and take a ‘skyrail’ through Tropical rain forests, the list is endless.
Moi? I took a walk around the city. It was hot and humid however the sun was shining on a spectacular day. It is a wonderful eclectic mix of old and new, many original buildings from the 1890′s are still there, restored beautifully. Even when some modern building has been placed in the city, the citizens had the foresight to keep many of the older building’s facades, rather than knocking them down. So for instance, one finds a modern apartment block with the frontage of a 19th-century hotel, quite amazing.
Trees line the avenues, which reminds me of South Africa, where they were built wide enough to turn a wagon with a span of oxen; possibly the same reason here?
Alotau, Papau New Guinea, Feb. 19:
Alotau lies in Milne Bay; the bay being surrounded by mountains and jungle, its main export is palm oil. It is located at the eastern tip of mainland Papua New Guinea and remains the gateway to some of the most remote island communities in the world.
It is also the scene of a small, but highly significant battle during WW2. The main Japanese base in the Pacific, Rabaul, lies a stone’s-throw away, 65 miles, or 100 kilometres. They had been progressing slowly south with the aim of securing Port Moresby and thus having a strategic port to mount an assault on Australia.
The significance of this battle was that it was the first time in the Second World War that the Japanese were beaten after establishing a beachhead and provided an enormous morale booster to the Allies.
The town itself is the largest, (by far) in the area and as a consequence, local inhabitants from the outlying villages and islands come by ferry and bus to buy their goods. Having loaded themselves up, they then make their way to their chosen means of transport. There are colourful markets and people galore, all doing the ‘monthly’ grocery shop. Enormously friendly, our guests were safe in the knowledge they could walk into town to enjoy the sights or take one of the numerous mini-bus taxis. During my walk around, all I heard was ‘hi’ and ‘hello’; there was not one request for money or any attempt to harass me.
I was fortunate enough to be taken by the agent’s representative Vali and his friend Steve on a lightning tour of the monument sites and the local stalls.
Madang, Papau New Guinea, Feb. 21:
There are large crowds watching us come in, apparently cruise ships are few and far between. Madang used to be called ‘the prettiest town in the south Pacific’, she now looks jaded and forlorn. The local populace were quite friendly, many wishing me a ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’ as I did my 45-minute reconnoitre. They were only too pleased to allow a photo, (I always ask first).
To read more about Captain Mercer’s adventures on the Grand World Voyage, visit his blog: www.captainjonathan.com.