HAL guest blogger Sharon Wilhelm recently sailed aboard Amsterdam’s 75-day Grand Asia & Australia Voyage. While aboard the ship she chronicled her cruising experience for us on the blog. Below is her final post. Enjoy!
November 3 – Darwin, Australia
We took the tour “Jumping Crocodile Cruise” that began with a drive into the countryside to the east of Darwin. The first stop was at the Humpty Doo Pub, truly an authentic Aussie establishment, where we enjoyed a glass of Victoria Bitter while meeting and chatting with some of the locals. The locals were some of the friendliest individuals that I can remember and can be visualized by some of their names e.g. “Crash” and his female companion “Tillie.” They both were a delight to talk to – very pro America. I couldn’t help noticing the menu posted on the wall behind the bar. The “Humpty Doo” was a wonderful travel experience.
The next stop was at the Window on the Wetlands Visitor Centre which provides a fantastic view of the lower Adelaide River floodplain – several interactive displays provide interesting information / history about his region. We then drove to the pier to board the two deck boat for the excursion into the Adelaide River & “crock country”. We were able to see four crocks that did in fact propel themselves out of the water to reach the bait that was offered to them. The one hour river experience also included feeding of hawk-like birds who buzzed the boat in order to capture the food being thrown into the air toward them. The tour concluded with a short drive through Darwin to see several local attractions. The cruise terminal provided some last minute shopping opportunities including an interesting display booth by Kakadu Blue, a company that has perfected the distillation of Cypress Essential Oil. The product is referred to as “The Essence of the Territory.”
November 6 – At Sea Day (replacing the cancelled call at Port Moresby, Papua Guinea)
As this day was the annual Melbourne Cup Sweep, all well-dressed ladies wore beautiful hats, so I quickly adorned my large sunhat with fresh flowers and off I went to the races. The Crow’s Nest was adorned in horse racing decorations including in Cruise Director Gene’s words, “the smell of horses”. Well sure enough, he was not kidding – at the entrance to the Crow’s Nest, there was clearly a smell that was reminiscent of being in a barn. It was a fun time to observe how serious this race is taken by the Aussies and how much fun they are to celebrate with. One of those attending wanted to take my photo standing at the large screen TV at the time Prince Charles was being interviewed. He succeeded in doing so. It was a real hoot to be a part of their celebration.
November 7 – Hamilton Island, Queensland, Australia
This port call was substituted for Port Moresby – it is one of the famous Whitsunday group of islands. This particular island is privately “owned” (long term lease) by the Oatley family and is clearly a place for the “rich and famous”. As a part of its exclusivity, no cars or buses are allowed. A catamaran provided tender service for those wishing to go ashore – it was a welcome departure to the crowed seats on ship-based tender boats. We took the port provided minivan shuttle (jump on and off) that provides a brief tour of the area on its way to hotels and back to the pier. Simply stated, Hamilton Island is a very beautiful place. As a side note, the movie “Australia” was produced on the mainland not far away.
November 9 – Brisbane, Australia
We decided to do Brisbane on our own – “no worries”. A shuttle from the ship’s location provided transportation to the city center near Victoria Bridge. A walk across this bridge brought us to the South Bank Parklands, an area containing many of the cultural, eating and drinking venues of Brisbane. A beautifully flower covered archway walking path lead to the Maritime Museum and then to the Goodwill Bridge to recross the Brisbane River. We walked through the Botanic gardens on the way back to the city center to find shops to purchase some Brisbane souvenirs. With arms loaded with purchases, we took the late afternoon shuttle back to the Amsterdam – of course, the purchases included multiple variations of the Aussie favorite, Tim Tams – Sweet Wishes (the “original” remains the best!). Our plan for the evening was to take the City Cat river boat to view Brisbane from the water’s perspective. Unfortunately, the second rain downpour of this voyage occurred which canceled our plans. None the less, Brisbane provided many lasting memories for us.
November 11 – Sydney, Australia (overnight)
So much has been written and photos taken regarding the entrance to Sydney Harbor that any repeats would only be a chore to read and to view – suffice to say one must experience it. The commentary from the bridge of the Amsterdam provided by Barbara was an added plus. The Amsterdam docked at Wharf 5, Barangaroo (formerly called Darling Harbor). We used the first day to do Sydney on our own at a leisurely pace. The port provided a shuttle with the drop off point close to the Four Season Hotel from which it was an easy walk into the Circular Quay and The Rocks. As it was Sunday, the market was alive – many booths and customers. We elected to make our own selection as to which pub was the oldest (the Hero of Waterloo) – there is a disagreement locally as to which one gets the honor. In any case, a shared pint of James Squire’s Nine Tales Amber Ale was just what was needed after three hours of exploration. A visit to Holy Trinity Garrison Anglican Church was very appropriate as this was Remembrance (Veterans) Day. The walk down George Street to the city center allowed exposure to the historical and new of central Sydney including the Sydney Tower, Queen Victoria Building, St. Mary’s Cathedral and several interesting museums. A shopping stop at the downtown Woolworth store just prior to boarding the shuttle for the return to the ship completed our activities.
November 12 – Sydney, Australia
We took the tour “Discover the Blue Mountains”. The initial part of the tour was a drive through the outskirts and suburbs of Sydney. It was interesting to observe the amount of salt water inlets and river estuaries that seem to be everywhere. We did a stop & drive through the site of the 2000 Olympic Games. There were numerous solar panels still in place – this energy source was promoted for / during the games – actual benefit was /is not known. The drive to the town of Katoomba took about 2.5 hours and there we were shown the view of the Three Sisters and panoramic views of other sandstone formations that are a part of this area.
Also in Katoomba, we were treated to a show at the Koomurri Aboriginal Center including an informative presentation / demonstration about Aboriginal culture. I was “recruited” to participate in an Aboriginal dance with the local performers. I believe they gave me a passing grade. Lunch was served at The Mountain Heritage dining room that had a beautiful view of the adjoining countryside. The tour then stopped at the Featherdale Wildlife Park which provides care for over 2,000 animals (scaly, furry and feathered) including numerous species we had not seen previously. It was an up-close and educational encounter with these animals. The guide provided commentary throughout the tour and shared many very funny Aussie “tales” several of which would not be appropriate for posting on this blog ☺.
November 13 – Eden, Australia
This port was a total change from the large city ports previously visited. Eden is somewhat isolated from population centers and as such totally retains a small town character. The harbor (tender required) is located at the base of a hill traversed by a walkway, Warrens Walk that leads to the town center. On the day of our visit, several locals were trimming and pruning the attractive landscaped locations. At the top of the hill a greeting party welcomed us with a sticker entitled “I Conquered Warrens Walk”. The townsfolk were genuinely friendly and although the time in port was short, this city always will be remembered as one of our most cherished experiences on this voyage.
November 16 – Waitangi, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Our tour was “Maori Culture & Paihia Highlights” – the actual itinerary used was somewhat different than as advertised but never the less it was interesting. In this area the famous (or infamous perhaps) treaty of 02/06/1840 was signed by Maori chiefs that gave their lands to the British. This action resulted in decades of conflict (including battles) between the Crown and the Maori people as the generations that followed realized that they had been taken advantage of.
We were shown some of the first buildings in this region and then went to an area for a walk in a subtropical reserve that featured the incredible Kauri trees – one could say these are a New Zealand counter to the Redwoods of California. We viewed trees that were said to be over 600 years old; of course, they are now protected from being harvested. The last stop was at a Maori Marae. The Marae is a special meeting hall for social gatherings and also sacred place used to honor Maori ancestors. The entire Maori protocol and processes used both outside (prior to our entering) and inside the building were most interesting. The ceremony also included an optional kissing by the local Maori chief as a gesture of acceptance – this part of the tour provided a unique and close up perspective into Maori tribal traditions. In many Polynesian islands, the arrival of Christianity resulted in a decreasing importance of Marae tradition. This is certainly not the case in New Zealand.
November 17 – Auckland, New Zealand
I was always under the impression that New Zealand countryside was dominated by sheep. Yes, there are a lot of sheep on the hillsides but what really was unexpected were the hundreds and hundreds of dairy cows that seemed to be everywhere. The cows outnumbered the sheep by at least 3:1. The driver / guide said the New Zealand produces 1/3 of the world’s milk solids. I understand why this is the case.
The “Waitomo Caves & Countryside” tour began with a 3 hour drive to the caves allegedly to view “millions of bio-luminescent glow worms hanging from the ceiling” -suffice to say the glow worms must have been on vacation or on strike. A home style lunch featuring farm raised lamb and several delicious side dishes was served at the “Crosshills”, a family owned farm & restaurant combination. Due to no fault of those on the tour or driver, our mini bus was late in returning to the ship. It was interesting being the last passengers to clear security and board the ship.
Norm, the ms Amsterdam Chief Security Officer was (as always on site and on duty) awesome in advising the local authorities that we were no threat. Our late arrival did not cause a ship departure delay as there is a 30-minute time period from the “all hands on board” and the actual departure time from the pier. On this voyage, being on time has been a primary focus – for the benefit of everyone.
November 20 – Lautoka, Fiji
We took a provided shuttle that dropped us off at Jack’s, a two story souvenir store featuring all things Fijian including Fijian Cannibal Forks (Iculanibokola). As the story goes – if you are ever at dinner party and someone shows you one of these forks, it may be a good idea to leave – quickly! These forks were used by attendants to feed the chiefs and other officials who were too high in the chain of importance to touch food with their hands. While I shopped, Mark walked the city and made his “required” stop at the Lautoka Municipal Market. He was able to purchase fresh bird’s eye and habanero chilies. We both agreed that the Scoville heat level of the Fijian bird’s eye chilies was the highest vs. any other bird’s eye previously sampled. Prior to returning to the Amsterdam, we enjoyed an Indian thali lunch at the Krupea Restaurant featuring two curries, rice, naan and chutney. While enjoyable, it would not compete with similar fare in London’s Drummond Street thali restaurants.
November 22 – Apia, Upolu, Western Samoa
From the ship’s pier location, we walked on Beach Road toward the city center and enjoyed the views of the Amsterdam across the bay. It was immediately obvious that the locals are incredibly friendly. I always asked if a photo was OK and every time the request was met with a smile. We passed the Aggie Grey Hotel & Bungalows – Aggie is rumored to be the “Bloody Mary” of South Pacific fame. The bungalows located in the hotel gardens have individual names associated with celebrities who have previously stayed there e.g. Marlon Brando. Our walk took us past the town clock and on to the fish market where we saw the last of today’s catch that was still for sale. It was interesting to note how the stall attendants use banana leave to sweep over the fish in order to keep flies from landing. Of interest, was the long line of locals waiting for their turn to get freshly prepared fish n’ chips. Across the road was the flea market that featured the usual souvenirs and numerous food stalls all specializing in – everything fried. We did locate what turned out to be the “real” local market located in the west portion of the city. It was indeed a “real” market as we were the only non – Samoans present. We did sample the local brew “Vailima”(five waters) as another way to contribute to the local economy in addition to our other purchases.
November 27 – Honolulu, Oahu
November 28 – Lahina, Maui
November 29 – Hilo, Hawaii
December 5 – San Diego
Well, this incredible experience had to come to an end. Simply stated, I now understand why HAL designates voyages such as this as “Grand.”
•2 Equator Crossings
•Over 200 Performers in the Queen’s Lounge
•Multiple Special Evening Themes
As if to put a final touch on this trip, the San Diego to Seattle flight on Alaska Airlines was on a new Boeing 737 – 800 that was delivered to the airline recently.