Another cruise!

We definitely still owe the world another Sydney blog, as I’ve barely written a thing about the city we now live in, but we’ve also been on ANOTHER cruise and I didn’t want to deprive you of any more from details. Because CRUISE! Our favourite mode of transport. You know how we love to cruise.

So as you may recall from an earlier blog post, we were (easily) encouraged to book another holiday when on the last cruise from Hong Kong to the Pacific Islands, which meant that on 5th January 2017 we embarked the Voyager of the Seas to Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

We were sailing out of Sydney harbour, which was majorly iconic and also very convenient – we’d picked up the keys to our new flat the night before, so after leaving the car there were able to get an Uber to Circular Quay in just ten minutes!

The first few days were at sea, and pretty choppy. Our cabin was Deck 2 so very low down in the ship and the waves were about 2.5m swells that kept slamming into the side of the boat and the window. I didn’t feel seasick but I didn’t like how wobbly it was – we ended up spending the afternoon in our cabin on most of the second day as they had closed a lot of the decks off and it was raining, so there were very limited places to sit in the public areas! We spoke to some people who had balconies  on the high decks (Deck 10 and above) who said that the spray from the ocean had reached their balconies! Not ideal sea day conditions.

For the first couple of days we didn’t have any table mates for dinner, but we sat with people at breakfast and lunch and met some nice Americans who came from Oregon and snowstorms – the rest of their party couldn’t catch their flight to San Francisco because of the weather so by the time they got to Sydney they had missed the cruise and were having to join in Fiji! As always the cruise food was plentiful, and we spent a lazy first few days on board. A highlight was when we went to a HILARIOUS music quiz which we actually nearly won – it was supposed to be 80s music, but the (incompetent) Royal Caribbean guy who was running it began playing one that was British TV themes instead! Like Monty Python, Blind Date, Emmerdale etc – we got down to the tie break with one other team (at 8/20 points… no Aussies knew ANY of them) but it was some logic tie break where you had to make a shape into another shape so we lost. LOGIC, tsk.

Happily by Day 3 the weather was looking up, and by the time we stopped in Fiji on Day 4 it was hot and sunny again. Fiji was GORGEOUS. The Fijians were super friendly, and in Laukota, our first port of call, we went on one of the ship’s excursions – a boat trip to the desert island of Tivua. We were serenaded on the boat journey by local singers, and arrived 45 minutes later in paradise – white sands, small shaded huts by the ocean, a BBQ lunch and unlimited beers! After a complete failure to do paddle boarding (the wind! My lack of balance!) we decided that the best way to spend the afternoon was lazing on the beach under the shaded canopies. Just bliss!

Our second stop was in Suva, Fiji, which was a bit less picturesque in the port, but still proved to be an amazing day out. With Mitch and Catherine, our new cruise friends who happily had joined us at our dinner table (*hi* if you’re reading this guys) we were some of the first guests off the ship and into a taxi to Colo-I-Suva national park. We timed the visit brilliantly as we were the only people there to begin with, following trails through the forest to end up in natural swimming pools with waterfalls. It was very green and fresh and a completely different side to Fiji to Laukota.

After another sea day, on Thursday we docked in Port Vila, Vanuatu. The port was crazy – once we got off, we walked through a market of stalls and to the port exit which was overrun with taxi touts for water and land taxis and for tours. We were trying to get to Hideaway Island and had Vatu, the local currency, but kept being quoted in AUD. As it was just the two of us it was hard to negotiate but in the end we managed to join a water taxi boat that was dropping some people in town which agreed to then take us on to Hideaway Island. I almost certainly did not get the best price (not helped because I’d forgotten the exchange rate) and when Jimi and I realised that we essentially had a private boat driver that was confirmed. We paid 4000 vatu to get there, which turned out to be about $44, and then another 2500 vatu entrance to the island.

In Vanuatu, our boat driver explained that different resorts own different islands, so Hideaway is actually a resort you can stay at, though we were just day guests. On the way we drove past a lot of half sunk boats, which were victims of the cyclone and had just been abandoned around the harbour for nebulous ‘insurance purposes’. 

The island itself seemed fairly large, with lots of the actual ‘resort’ areas off limits for us. Instead we found a spot along the stretch of beach where we had been dropped, and headed straight in to snorkel. The coral reef was running right along the beach and was pretty spectacular – although I’ve seen better coral, the sheer quantity and variety of the tropical fish was unmatched by maybe anything I’ve seen before (including the Great Barrier Reef!) Among the usual suspects in bright neons and electric blues and pinks we spotted our first actual clown fish hiding in some of the softer coral.

We spent a good hour exploring along the reef, before heading in for a break and to purchase some underwater postcards! These turned out to pretty much be regular postcards (!) which we were instructed to write on in pencil, and we then headed back into the water to the underwater post office. This was an underwater kiosk about 30m off shore, and maybe 4m deep, which I think is manned at times by someone in scuba gear. It was empty when we were there, so we instead posted the cards into the ‘postbox’ – fingers crossed they make it home?!

We stayed at Hideaway Island until about 2pm, doing some more snorkeling (best spot was a tiny seahorse on the coral!) before getting the free ferry back to the mainland. Here we had another altogether more successful go at bartering for a taxi to take us by road into town, and paid another 1000 vatu for us both. We got dropped after about 10 minutes at the duty free shops that Port Vila is particularly famous for, and decided to get some cheap ‘grog’. We picked up a couple of 1 litre bottles of Tanqueray gin for $18 each which felt quite cheap (preparing for you coming out in April) before negotiating AGAIN to get back to the actual port for a bargain price of just 500 Vatu for us both!

We had a quick look at some of the stalls at the port market (I was tempted by the Beats headphones on sale for $25) and got our passports stamped (a service I am not fully sure you are allowed to do, but hey ho!) before getting some much needed pizza and taking long showers. My hair had not been enjoying the constant on/off of snorkels and salt water…

The following day, we docked at Mystery Island in Vanuatu. It is a small island (you can probably walk around it in about 45 mins, but we just crossed it) where no one lives! The locals got boats to the island from the mainland (they live in a couple of villages there) and there is a toilet block, but aside from that it is just a cruise ship stop.

The boat tendered just offshore and Jimi and I had ordered room service so were up and ready to go before they started giving out tender tickets. We were on one of the first tenders (a lifeboat which the driver crashed into the ship as we left…) and it took a couple of minutes to dock on the island. We crossed straight over to the opposite side of the island and found a shady spot to lay out our towels before heading in to snorkel.

There was some coral right off the beach (but not a lot) and there were some fish to look at but not as good as at Hideaway Island the day before. After maybe 40 minutes, we went back to our stuff (which was now not in as private a spot as it had been!) and put t-shirts and shorts back on to have an explore. Walking back to where the tender had dropped us, there was a bar from the ship, where they were serving soft drinks and alcohol all day which was great as we had the drinks package. We were soon tempted by the colourful signs that had been propped up advertising tours the locals were running – at really low costs. We had some Vatu left so decided to give one a go, and booked on to the 10.30am Package 1 deal – a shark cave, snorkeling safari and turtle/eagle ray stop, all for just 2000 Vatu each. We had about twenty minutes to make up a small bag, with just our swimwear, snorkels and camera, before we met back up by the booking desk for the tour.

There were maybe 12 of us in total, and we were introduced to Mackenzie, who would be our guide, and another guy who was driving the boat. The boat was essentially a fiberglass shell with some benches and a speedboat engine on the back, that took us about 5 minutes away from the beach and out to the reef. Here the sea was completely clear, so we all snorkeled up and jumped in. The reef here was incredible – all different types, colours and sizes of coral, and all about a metre under the surface. Mackenzie led us all over to a big bit of reef of flat coral with a fissure running through it – it was standing alone, and if you’d swum down to the ocean bed about 3.5m below, there was a cave. This is where the reef sharks lived and one by one we took it in turns to dip our heads fully under and press our goggles up to the crack in the rock. With the light falling through, you could see the outline of two sharks lying in the cave just below – apparently they don’t come out in the day but still pretty terrifying if you stopped to think about it!

Once the whole group had had a turn, we all followed Mackenzie as he led us for about thirty minutes over some of the prettiest and most spectacular coral – we saw all kinds of fish, and gorgeous formations but alas, no turtles or rays! The trip was so good though and comparatively so much better than the reef you could swim to from the beach, so as soon as we got back to shore Jimi and I went right up to the desk to see if we could book another. We had only 2000 vatu left, but asked what that could buy us and the guy in charge said we could book on to the 1.30pm drop off zone tour. That gave us a couple of hours to sit in the shade, have a (contraband) banana and read, which was more than enough considering how crowded our area had become – there was an entire island and yet all the passengers seemed to be sitting where we were…

At 1.30pm we went back to meet our group and discovered it would just be Jimi and me! They asked if we wanted to borrow flippers but as we had no money we said we’d be okay (and we were fine, but only because we’re both strong swimmers!) On a map we were shown where we would be going – to the outer reef, about a ten minute boat ride out. We were with Mackenzie again, and along with the driver there was another local snorkeling with us so we were actually outnumbered. We couldn’t get over our luck having a private tour, but it ended up being so much better than we’d imagined! As soon as we jumped out the boat, right on the edge of the coral, with open ocean around us, we saw a turtle – quite deep and swimming away but a sighting nonetheless. After that the guys led us all around the reef for the next hour – we must have gone nearly a mile. It was unbelievably good – again all kinds of fish and pristine coral. It felt as though we were in another world to have it all to ourselves.

A scary moment came when Mackenzie pointed out a reef predator (we’re guessing barracuda, but it could have been shark?) which was swimming like us near the surface about 5m away. We didn’t see any more turtles or sharks than that, but did see all manner of other things including some massive snails. After the hour was up the guys asked if we wanted to keep going (uhmm, yes!) for another twenty minutes or so – I guess because we could keep up and weren’t really hindering them. The whole thing was just amazing and such good value considering the cost – we were so thrilled to have done it. After getting back on the boat (I was lifted on in both cases as it was too high/I have no upper body strength) we went back to shore, tired but just delighted by the whole thing. Probably the best snorkeling I’ve ever done. Just breathtaking.

We spent the rest of the afternoon just sitting in the shade and waiting for the tender queue to die down – the last one went at 4.30pm, and we probably got on one around 4.10pm. We’d had the complete full experience on the island, and it was definitely one of the best cruise stop days I’d ever had.

Which meant Saturday had a hard act to follow. We woke up early again (7am!) and after room service, got our bags together for a day on the Isle of Pines. Our cruise friends, Mitch and Catherine, met us at our room at 8am and we all went straight ashore on one of the first tenders (we have the tender system down to an art!) The tender took about ten minutes through aquamarine water to the beautiful shores of the Isle of Pines. It was aptly named, with huge forests of pine trees towering 50m high, interspersed around the beach with coconut trees. The sand was very fine and white – the whitest I’ve ever seen – and the combined effect was picture postcard perfect.

I’d read online that Oro Bay, on the opposite side of the island, was spectacular, so our first job when we got to shore was to find a taxi. Easier said than done – unlike the other ports there were just a couple of stalls set up along the wharf and no taxis in sight. We asked a guy touting for bus tours where we could find taxis, but he bluntly (French!) informed us there were ‘no taxis’ available at all and secondly that the bay was ‘not open’. Refusing to give up, we asked a stall owner to point us in the direction of the beach hotel. We stopped at their reception (maybe a 500m walk) and they gave us two taxi numbers, and suggested we wait on the main road as the taxis would be along in twenty minutes at 9am. Sceptical we walked back to the road, where there was barely any traffic (not so much a main road, as the only road) but at exactly 9.01am Jimi flagged down a guy who was running a tour to Oro Bay! Fate! We paid $20 each for a return trip, and set off the 19km journey across the island.

Because it’s French owned, we were driving on the right hand side, but barely saw any other cars (though the ones we did were French brands: Citroens and Renaults). Our driver was friendly and pointed out sights along the way including a church, the very colourful cemetery with painted crosses in a rainbow of colours, as well as the alleged tallest original pine tree on the island, from which Captain Cook had got the name. There were also lots of cows grazing along the roadside. After about 20 minutes we reached Oro Bay, and a small wooden hut where some young girls were selling entrance tickets for $10 each. We arranged to meet our driver back at this spot at 1pm (he’d wanted to give us only a couple of hours, but we’re so glad we had longer in the end!)

We paid the entrance fee, and were directed through the forest along a sandy path. A couple of very excited local dogs, presumably strays, ran along beside us and pretty much led the way to the edge of a creek. As it was high tide we had to get wet – so changed into water shoes and shorts, held our bags above our waists and waded across to the opposite bank. Picking our way over tree roots and partially submerged footpaths, we walked for around another twenty minutes, following signs to the Piscine Naturelle. We were lucky it was early because the place was practically empty – there was just one other group who were walking near us.

Eventually the creek opened out into the Piscine Naturelle – a large lagoon, sheltered from the sea by rocks and reef, so almost entirely still. Pine trees stood all along the banks framing the pool and you could hear the waves crashing on the rocks from the ocean behind the lagoon. We quickly found a shady spot to leave our things and grabbed our snorkelling gear and waded in. The water was warm and crystal clear, though towards the middle of the lagoon got a little colder and deeper. Here there was a small coral reef, and the most beautiful array of tropical fish all right in front of you. It was literally like swimming in an aquarium – I have never seen water so transparent and the visibility was incredible. There were clown fish and other small colourful tropical fish, as well as some larger ones on the sandy bottom. The coral was pretty too – not bleached or damaged. There was a hairy moment when Jimi and I swam over to investigate where the water was flowing in from the ocean and nearly got dragged out in an unexpectedly strong rip, but that aside the lack of current meant the water was still and even if you were standing up (which you regularly could) you could see the fish swimming all around you.

After about an hour we came out to dry off and reapply suncream, before having another go – this time armed with some breakfast pastries from the boat, which we crumbled up and fed to the fish (we’d read online about this, and saw another group feeding some bread). The fish went bananas and we got some great footage of us surrounded by all of them.

It quickly became clear that we had arrived at the ideal time, as the lagoon was getting increasingly busy, and the tide had started going out. Although we went back in the visibility wasn’t as good with lots of other people kicking up sand, and there wasn’t as much water to snorkel in! Jimi took some amazing photos though (we are going to have lots of new trip photos on the wall in the new flat!) and soon it was 12.30pm and time to walk back to where our driver was picking us up. This time as the creek was much lower we walked along that the whole way back and were surprised to find small reefs of coral all the way along – we were able to get some more really good photos just from standing knee-deep in water, with tropical fish around our ankles. We also spotted some suspicious looking creature (possibly an octopus?) masquerading as a rock, but kept our distance!

The driver was waiting for us back at the hut, and dropped us back on the beach, around the bay from the jetty where we’d be catching the tender back. The sand was just incredibly white and powdery, and the sea the most vivid shade of turquoise, so we couldn’t resist a quick dip before retreating into the shade. Even though I’d worn a cap today while snorkelling, we were all feeling more than a bit weather-beaten – the problem with being in the water for so long is that you’re right in the sun, and it’s hot! I’d been borrowing Jimi’s shorts and rashie for the past few days so was as covered up as possible, but the backs of my arms and legs were still pink!

After sitting and watching some crazy little see-through crabs dig some holes in the sand and then scurry out and fight each other before running back to safety again, we decided to head back to the wharf. We took a meandering stroll to the ship, stopping to get a fridge magnet on the way, and queued for a tender for about ten minutes before getting back on board at around 2.45pm.

Our final cruise stop (worth mentioning) was to Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia. We hadn’t really had any plans, but got off early anyway to catch the shuttle bus into town. There were heaps of tour operators offering a hop-on/hop-off bus, so we decided to take a chance – it was $20 but included a water taxi to Duck Island or Isle aux Canards. The island was very similar to Hideaway Island (in that it was a resort, with a beach and snorkelling immediately off the beach). Jimi spoke some amazing French and managed to blag us a double sun-lounger for the price of one! We headed in for the last snorkelling of the holiday and were pleasantly surprised by how good it was – the water was clear with some fantastic coral, and we even saw a turtle! Unfortunately there were also lots of tiny jellyfish in there so it came at the cost of lots of small stings (probably still worth it though!)

Which just left our final (actual) cruise stop – the Australian town of Wollongong which is a pointless stop at just 39 miles south of Sydney. Jimi and I did get off to have a little wander round the port and shops, and a dip in the (cold) pool before we headed back on board and set sail for our new home city of Sydney!


I’m writing this blog post, sitting on the veranda of Lewis and Emily’s gorgeous house in Sydney (we made it!) But as I have been incredibly lax at blog keeping, when I last left us we weren’t even in Brisbane yet…

We spent our last day at sea relaxing as we suspected (as it turned out correctly) that we might have a full on schedule when we got to Brisbane! We had breakfast with Jill and Russell who also snuck us into the Concierge Club so we could see how the suite holders lived (luxuriously!) before going to the theatre to listen to a Captain (and Crew) Q&A which was really interesting, if somewhat disappointing that Jimi was proved correct and the water in the swimming pools DOES come from the sea…

We spent some time on deck having a BBQ lunch, and Jimi astoundingly won us a bottle of champagne with a brilliant first throw on ‘hoopla the champagne’! We had a lazy afternoon playing some more rummy, before we had to go back to the room to pack ahead of dinner. Despite barely buying anything except shampoo, our luggage seemed to have grown in size, so packing was NO FUN AT ALL. Our last dinner was lovely though, and we shared the champagne with the table! We had a relatively early night as we docked early into Brisbane the following morning.

We were early enough to have a last breakfast in the restaurant, before meeting up with Yvonne and Kev to exit the ship. We were reunited with our luggage and with help from a port worker got ourselves to the car park and waved our goodbyes to our new friends! It was super hot out already, so we suncreamed as we waited for Hazel and Mark who were luckily only a few minutes as they live really close to the port. It was SO lovely to see them both again, and after a fun game of ‘cram the luggage in the Jeep’ we were ready to explore Brisbane.

Mark is probably the best tour guide in the world bar none, so we started with a drive round Brisbane to get our bearings and to see some of the city’s scenic vantage points. (You have to pay attention though, as there are questions along the way!) When we got back to the house, we gave Jimi the tour (I vaguely remembered the layout, though not as well as I should have!) and then we had a lazy first day, mainly sitting outside on the veranda in the shade. We had lunch and went shopping for some alcohol in the afternoon, before showering and dinner.

On Day 2 we were up bright and early to day-trip to North Stradbroke Island (or ‘Straddy’ as the locals call it). We got a car ferry across to the island, which was just stunning – really picturesque. 

After a coffee break in one of the prettiest coffee shops I’ve ever seen (with views out over the ocean), Mark gave us a tour of the island, taking us to Point Lookout (which is actually where his Great-Grandfather first arrived in Australia). The highlight of the morning had to be seeing both wild kangaroo AND koalas – Hazel has eagle eyes for the latter, who were sleeping in two eucalyptus trees. 

Another highlight, though possibly not for Mark, was when we took the Jeep on the beach and got ‘bogged’ (Aussie for ‘stuck’). We had to all get out and dig, which was fun, though particularly amusing was when we were off the beach and I was able to identify the problem by reading the instructions on the screen of the dashboard (damn you technology for unnecessarily complicating everything!) There was a glorious moment though where it looked like I knew what I was talking about all on my own, which I will savour always.

We had a swim in the surf at Cylinder Beach before fish-and-chip lunch overlooking the ocean at the surf club. Weird to think that it is the same water as when we are in California – had a moment of thinking the world is so small. 

After lunch we went for a walk around Point Lookout and had another wildlife spot – turtles which we could see in the sea below. It was just the most stunning scenery – see pictures below!

We had a last scenic stop at Brown Lake (a freshwater lake, so called because the tannins in the water mean it is a murky tea colour) before catching the ferry back to Brisbane.

Then that evening Hazel and I crashed the boys’ weekly neighbourhood drinks (in the ultimate pub shed – a pool house with bar which Jimi is now threatening to make for us one day…) before dinner and bed!

On Day 3 Jimi and I began some of the (many) life admin tasks required when you move to a new country, starting with opening our Australian bank accounts in the city centre. Hazel dropped us off in the city, and we visited the Commonwealth Bank for about an hour, before having a wander to the shops. I found a nail bar, and Jimi had a mooch before we went to lunch at a lovely restaurant, aptly named Jimmy’s on the Mall. We sat upstairs on their terrace looking out on the shopping street.

Once we’d eaten we got our tourist on, following a map/trail of historic site of importance around the city centre. It was really interesting to see so many of the old buildings, even if by London standards they weren’t particularly old at all. Hazel came and picked us up around 4pm as there was a storm rolling in (in Australia they can get sudden hailstorms so big that the hail dents your car, so you don’t want to get stuck out in one of those…) and we spent the rest of the evening at the house.

The following day was another excurision – this time to the Gold Coast, which is a city in itself about an hour’s drive south of Brisbane. It’s very busy and touristy (think Miami) and famous for Surfer’s Paradise – lots of beaches very popular with surfers! We had a drive down the main strip, before stopping at Q1 – a huge skyscraper with amazing 360 degree views out across the sea and the city. It’s very surreal to be so high and not in a city centre like London or New York, but absolutely stunning nonetheless.

We drove up to Burleigh Heights to take some photos – just the most stunning vista with the rocks and the beach, as well as the city skyline in silhouette along the coast before going for lunch in another surf club. I could get very used to the Australian diet of fish and chips – what’s not to like?

We headed back to Brisbane in the afternoon and had a lazy evening, but with an early wake up the following morning. I left Jimi in bed and went with Hazel to a local outdoor swimming pool for a swim – it’s a private 25m pool, set in gardens with seating and BBQs etc. Hazel and I were the only ones in the pool, though as I was doing my lengths some small birds were swooping along and splashing in the water!

We headed back to the house after that for brunch, before we packed up our bags and the car to head to the beach. Hazel and Mark have a unit (flat) on the Sunshine Coast which is an hour north of Sydney, but we also needed to stop on the way to take the VW Kombi for a service. The boys went in the Kombi van and Hazel and I followed in the Jeep, heading to the mechanic’s house. He lives in the middle of a forest (literally, we went down a dirt road to get there) and now renovates and services vintage VW Beetles and Kombis. The yard looked like a graveyard for old VWs, and also the kind of place where creepy crawlies and snakes would THRIVE. I touched nothing. It was very cool to have a look around though, and Jimi and I found ourselves sorely tempted at the idea of getting a restored VW Beetle – $6,000 for the car, $30,000 for the renovation as the finished cars were just incredible. If only we had a spare $36,000…

We drove directly to Moffat Beach and the beach house after that, and spent some time unpacking our stuff and making the beds etc. Because it is right by the sea (the back of the unit looks out right over the beach and the water) it gets quite stuffy and salty even when it’s only left for a week or two – we found a poor dried out gecko on the floor in our bedroom. Jimi washed all the windows while we pottered around, and then we went to the supermarket with Hazel. 

We had a walk down to the beach when we got back, before changing for a dinner at the local surf club. We met up with Brad, one of Hazel and Mark’s friends, who sails the tender boats for the cargo and cruise ships – he was delighted that he was not working on our boat going in or out as apparently it’s very boring!

The next day we were up exceptionally early (even for us!) at 5.30am to drive up the coast to Double Island Point. It was about an hour away, and we had breakfast in Tewantin just outside of Noosa, at a very hipster café. Jimi had by this point completely adjusted to the coffee culture of Australia, so had a massive coffee, while I debated whether it was too early for a Diet Coke (answer: it is NEVER too early for a Diet Coke. I bloody love Diet Coke.) We then got a very old-school ferry (almost a barge) across a small crossing not much bigger than a ford, into Noosa. It was very rural and picturesque, and we basically drove straight onto the beach, which we then drove up for about 20km. It was crazy to have a completely deserted beach, then with cars whizzing by – when we hopped out we had to be careful not to get run over.

We stopped to have a go at sea fishing, which firstly required us to collect some pippies as bait – small shellfish that had buried themselves in the sand along the shoreline. Then Mark set up the rods and we had a go – technically I was the only one to catch a fish (a dart!) but given that my only input was reeling it in once it was already on the line, I’m not sure that I can claim much credit. We drove on a bit more and Jimi and I both had a go behind the wheel of the Jeep without managing to get it stuck in the sand – result!

As we got towards Double Island Point, we spotted hundreds of tiny soldier crabs running across the sand – we jumped out for a photo (or in Jimi’s case to chase them) but whenever you get close they just bury themselves in the sand. We did manage to grab a couple though – they are tiny and spidery and scuttle along at quite the pace!

We parked up right at the tip of the peninsula and then set off into the surf to try our hand at the greatest Australian sport of all: surfing. As expected, I was not good! I have basically zero upper body strength and/or balance which is pretty much a basic requirement, but Jimi was really good! We started off practising on the paddle board to get a feel for the waves, but Jimi soon graduated to an actual surf board which he managed to get up on! Very impressive.

I had a paddle around then Hazel and I went back to the car to sunbathe/watch. When the boys came out the water we had a picnic lunch on the beach of roast chicken rolls, before we had to head off as the tide was starting to come in.

We drove back to the beach house for a lazy afternoon of showering and then a delicious dinner of garlic prawns. We went to bed, happy and full, with our defenses down when BAM – our first run in with Australian wildlife occurred. A giant cockroach!! RUNNING OVER MY SHOES. I stayed (relatively) calm, considering it was ENORMOUS (a bush cockroach apparently, imagine a beast about 6 or 7cm long….) and Jimi immediately stepped up to the challenge of killing it. However as I did not want squashed cockroach over my stuff/ the cream carpet we had to operate a catch and release system which went fairly well. I mean, it went in the wardrobe and then up the wall so it was not the most efficient catch ever, but we got there in the end. We managed to get it outside and Jimi was very brave until he released it and it hissed at him – then he moved PRETTY quickly back inside. But we survived it! And it wasn’t a spider! So overall, success. Much congratulations all round.

On on that exciting note I will sign off, as this has got super long. Brisbane Part 2 to follow soon!

Under the sea…!

Sorry for the delay with this one – I don’t think I’d anticipated before we left how tricky it would be to keep this blog up to date, and we’ve been lucky enough to have been having a packed schedule full of adventures so far, which hasn’t left a lot of time for writing! But we’re getting back on track now (well, we’re about nine days behind real life but that’s FINE!) and this is a fun one to share as it features one of Australia’s top natural attractions – the Great Barrier Reef.

Visiting the reef had been one of the things that we had most been looking forward to about the cruise, but before we reached Cairns we had another two days at sea as our ship navigated our way down the eastern coast of Australia. Jimi and I attended a talk held by the pilot who had joined the ship in Darwin and was assisting the captain navigating around the reef (which is particularly difficult!) The talk was fascinating, especially as we were visiting the reef during the only time of year where new coral is spawned. From the ship we could see the coral spores sitting like a slick on top of the ocean (which lots of people mistook for pollution).

Other highlights of our sea days included the screening of the Melbourne Cup horse race on deck (all the Aussies got VERY excited about this, though it was just a two minute long flat race…) and for me learning to play a new game with Rini, Yvonne, Kevin and Lawrence. It is a version of ‘Rummy’ (similar to the card game) and you play with tokens – it turned out I was great and won three games on the bounce before retiring while still in my prime.

We also went to the gym (I know!!) and dressed up for the last formal night. Ohh and ate two BBQs on the deck – to negate the earlier gym-going. Everything in moderation. (Except burgers of course, we had LOTS of burgers…)

On the morning we arrived in Cairns, we were up bright and early attempting to get our new phones to work again which was great as it meant were able to get back in touch with the UK again. We managed to call home before grabbing a quick breakfast in the pool café, and somehow positioning ourselves by a stairwell so that we were some of the first passengers off the boat when we docked. We’d arranged an excursion to Green Island today, so once we were off we walked along Cairns waterfront to the Reef Fleet Terminal where the boat would be departing. We checked in with our tour company Great Adventures at the terminal and sun-creamed up, before boarding a small catamaran for the island.

Green Island is a small island surrounded by coral cays, about 45 minutes by boat from Cairns. It has a rainforest to walk around, and lots of beaches with some snorkeling opportunities. We’d brought our own snorkels, and as such were able to head straight for a glass-bottomed boat trip when we docked at Green Island (as that was included in our ticket). The boat was long and thin, and seated maybe 20 people in rows down two sides, with the centre of the hull all glass which gave us an amazing window on the marine life below. We had a thirty-minute tour around the island, which took us over some stunning coral, several sea turtles and a whole range of fish, including a small family of clown fish. The driver also fed some of the big (30 – 50cm long) fish from the boat, so we could see them all splashing about around and under us.

Green Island was set up very much as a tourist destination with changing facilities, shops, swimming pools and several lifeguarded beaches. We headed straight for the beach, and found a place to dump our stuff before heading straight out to snorkel. The water was really clear, and around the island were patches of sea grass (where the turtles live) and coral (where so many colourful fish and starfish were swimming). The highlight had to be when a giant turtle came and swam right underneath us for about thirty seconds before heading further out again – it was incredible and we managed to get it on film too!

We took a brief ice cream break back on land before heading out again. About 20 minutes later we were snorkelling along the far edge of the life-guarded area when Jimi grabbed my hand under the water and pointed straight in front of us. Where there was a SHARK! Yes an actual shark. It was about 1m long (we googled afterwards and discovered it was a reef shark) but let’s just say we swam back to shore PRETTY SPEEDILY. Apparently reef sharks are pretty harmless, but we weren’t going to stick around to check that!

Done with swimming for the day (obviously!) we strolled around the rainforest for a bit before we had to catch the boat back to the port of Cairns.

The ‘all aboard’ on the ship wasn’t for another hour so we had some time to walk around Cairns, past the fountain and man-made beach before grabbing a drink from McDonald’s and walking back along the promenade to the ship.

Back on board we had a snack from the solarium, and went on deck to watch the sail out from Cairns. That evening we also made it to a Strictly Come Dancing style show prior to dinner (unheard of), before our usual routine of eating in the restaurant (our waiter had decided by this point in the holiday to bring us multiple desserts every night which we were certainly not complaining about).
We headed to bed after dinner, as the next day the boat was in Airlie Beach and we had to be up early for another snorkelling excursion. We got up and ate a speedy breakfast in the restaurant, before heading to the theatre to meet the excursion group. We were heading out on a small ferry to the reef and as the ship was tendering to Airlie Beach, we needed to be collected directly off the ship in the middle of the ocean. We were all given travel sickness pills which inspired confidence, and then disembarked straight onto the Cruise Whitsundays boat. It was rainy out and the sea was a bit choppy, but as we sailed to the outer reef it got progressively sunnier. Cruise Whitsundays own some pontoons on the reef, which were about two hours away from where our cruise ship was moored.

The ferry had several decks, and tea/coffee facilities on board, so we were feeling fairly refreshed when we got to the pontoon at Hardy Reef. The pontoon was basically a metal rig, with several stories in the middle of the ocean. There was lots of gear set up to borrow, so while we had our own snorkels, Jimi and I kitted up in wetsuits and flippers, before heading straight into the ocean. 

The water was colder than we were used to, but literally a metre or so from the boat you were swimming over a large expanse of reef. The coral here was unbelievable – a rainbow of colours and shapes, and so many species of fish. The reef sloped off sharply at one side and just dropped completely out of view which gave you a kind of weird vertigo in the water. We saw a turtle in the distance here, but unlike at Green Island out here the coral was the real star. The fish were incredible again, and we also saw clams in every size and colour you can imagine. After about an hour we decided to head back to the pontoon for some lunch. It was a good thing we got out when we did though as Jimi was starting to go blue, and it took about half an hour out of the water for him to regain feeling in his fingers!

The boat served a buffet on board of salads and cold meats, so we sat outside on the pontoon with a plate trying to warm up before deciding to have a go in an underwater submersible boat trip, where you sat downstairs and through windows could look out on the reef. It was probably designed more for people who wouldn’t go in the water though, so that was a bit of a waste of time. Happily though Jimi had returned to a normal temperature, so we pulled on our damp and cold wetsuits again (a complete unpleasant experience) and got back in. This time we were on the hunt for clown fish, which we didn’t manage to see, though we did spot a moray eel right at the end which was cool! There were huge shoals of fish as well as individual fish, and we managed to get our photos taken underwater feeding a giant grouper. We ended up being the last people out of the water (definitely getting our money’s worth!) and had a quick rinse on the pontoon before getting back on board the boat.

The journey back to the cruise ship was a bit smoother, plus we also got given some delicious muffins to snack on so it was better in all ways than earlier. The boat diverted through a famous bay in the Whitsundays where you usually see dolphins, but alas there were none there!

We ended up getting back on board at about 4pm, and had the most amazing warm showers straight away before pre-dinner naps. All that exertion had clearly taken it out of us. We did make it to an after dinner show that night though called the Aussie Boys (disappointingly not a stripper group as I had been expecting) but three Australians who sang a lot of songs about our new country, presumably to get everyone in the mood for our next arrival. At this point on the cruise we had done all our excursions, and had just one more day at sea before the cruise was over and we docked in Brisbane…!

Arriving in Australia: Darwin

After Bali we had another two days at sea as the ship set course for our first Australian port of call – Darwin.

The sea days were pretty quiet again – though we were both excited to finally get our passports back ahead of immigration into Australia. All the passengers were actually going through immigration on board the ship so that we didn’t have to do it in port when we docked, meaning that we actually ‘entered Australia’ somewhere in the middle the ocean. We expected this to be quite momentous, as it was the moment that our Australian visas officially started. Surely at the very least it would be worth a comment from the Australian official, a handshake perhaps? An official G’day? Imagine our disappointment after we queued for ten minutes, only to have a British (BRITISH!) guy uninterestedly scan and stamp our passports and sent us on our way. So underwhelming.

Other highlights of our days at sea included:

  • Playing scrabble with Yvonne, one of our dinner table companions who magnificently thrashed me with a seven letter word including a ‘q’ (quarters!)
  • Having drinks in Russell and Jill’s suite with Russell, Jill, Darrell and Sue and then going to a VERY unnecessary dinner considering how many canapés we had just eaten…
  • Following through on our earlier threat and actually booking another cruise! To the Pacific Islands in January for what is allegedly some of the world’s best snorkeling. I am already excited.
  • Watching a ‘classic’ cruise entertainment show – a singer called Monique Montez, who did some great covers which we (or at least I) enjoyed much more than expected! I love me a good Adele cover.

So on the morning of Hallowe’en we finally arrived into Darwin port. In a feat of early morning enthusiasm that no one saw coming, Jimi and I went up on deck at 6am to watch the sun rise as we were coming into Darwin.

Obviously after that we then went back to bed, then got up late, got to breakfast late and then got to the theatre late where we were supposed to be meeting for our excursion – in fact so late that there was just one lone Royal Caribbean staff member still there! Fortunately we hadn’t missed the trip and were hurried straight downstairs to Deck 2 to disembark.

We took our first official steps onto Australian soil (!) before heading for our coach which was taking us to the Adelaide River. Darwin, in the Northern Territory, is quite a small city so we’d opted to go on a Jumping Crocodile River Cruise about an hour away.

We drove through some sparse countryside to reach the river – we spotted some wild bison and lots of wetlands birds before we arrived at the small dock. There were about fifty of us on the trip, and we were loaded upstairs and downstairs on a small river boat – Jimi and I had a position on the top deck in the middle. The boat then set off down the river, which was quite murky and brown – definitely not water you would easily spot a crocodile in! (Top tip – our guide told us never to swim in any water in Australia that you can’t see the bottom of, which seems like sound life advice!) Luckily, despite their supreme camouflaging skills, our guides were experts and we saw three huge crocodiles on the trip – two of which we fed (and made ‘jump’ for the food) from the boat. The male crocodile was about 4m long to give a sense of scale! We also saw some huge birds of prey which we fed scraps to from the boat.

Jimi got some good video footage (though I am clearly appalling at framing a shot, which had 90% sky and a small view of crocodile in the bottom corner…) and we both returned feeling very certain that we would never be swimming in the Northern Territory.
We stopped briefly at a Wetland Centre (a classic school trip type place) on the way back to Darwin before being dropped at the port. It was really hot out – about 33 degrees and Jimi insisted on doing a handstand on the tarmac next to the ‘Welcome to Darwin’ sign (because we are ‘down under’, and Australia is upside down, LOLZ) which may have not been the best idea for the palms of his hands…

Once recovered, we strolled to the Smith Street Mall – the main shopping streets and not an actual indoor mall as we had imagined – and visited a Woolworths supermarket and then some phone shops to sort Australian sim cards out for our phones. I then had the bright idea of calling home and couldn’t understand why no one would answer… until I realized it was 5.15am in England. Oops. I suspect this will not be my first time-difference issue. In my defense though the time had gone forward 1.5 hours the day before which was as ludicrous as it sounds. I had no idea what time it was anywhere!

We stopped to write a couple of postcards before strolling back to the boat, and sitting out on Deck 4 to film the sail-out from the harbour. That evening, once the sun had gone down we dressed for dinner and though we neglected to bother with costumes went up to the Hallowe’en pool party afterwards to dance under the stars with lots of other people who had taken it all very seriously!

We two days at sea to follow, before we would be arriving in the Great Barrier Reef for two days of snorkelling…

And so it begins . . .

I’ve never been good at keeping diaries.

When we were children, my brother Luke would religiously detail his life into yearly diaries which my parents would put in his stocking every year. It was his evening ritual, the posts scratched neatly into the pages with a slightly blunt HB pencil. He has a permanent record of what it meant to be nine, then ten, then eleven – to change schools and go to new places, to try new things and make new friends. And not just in an abstract way – he has a personal account of what it was actually like for him. And he’ll have that forever.

Obviously now I wish I’d been as diligent, but then I’ve never been as self-disciplined as Luke. I never had the patience to learn an instrument; couldn’t be bothered to practise. I know I tried to keep a diary once when I was about six. I had a Peter Rabbit pocket diary that Mum got me, and I found it recently back in my childhood bedroom. Most of the entries proclaim that I’d led ‘An ordinary day today.’ I wish I could remember what that looked like.

So while I’ve always been a reader, being a writer has never come as naturally to me. I’d rather be lost in other people’s stories and worlds than writing my own. Even now, working in publishing, getting to know authors, having seen Mum become a published author of three novels with a fourth in the pipeline – even with all this exposure to writing,  it’s still not something I would typically choose to spend any free time doing. I’ve never had a burning desire to ‘tell my story’ and besides – what would it say? I haven’t really had much happen to me yet. An ordinary day today.

But maybe fiction? I get asked this a lot. After all I read enough of it, both at work (as a Commissioning Editor for a publishing house) and for pleasure, whenever I can find the time. The only problem is I can’t  think of a story that excites me. One of the hazards of the industry – you read so much, a little that’s amazing, a lot that’s perfectly fine, so you become numbed to a lot of it, and ever more critical of any of your own ideas. (Or at least I do. Lots of other editors have gone on to write, so maybe they’ve got exasperated in a different way. I could write better than this.) For me, I feel  as though whatever I write will never be as good as the books that I love, and until I can think of something that is, I’ll wait. I could be waiting a while.

So all of this preamble is in part a disclaimer: I don’t do this often.

But then I’ve never moved to the other side of the world before either, and it feels as though this could do with being remembered. Immortalised on the internet so friends and family can keep up with us on our way to Sydney – and beyond. ‘Us’ being myself, Kimberley and my boyfriend, Jimi. I imagine most of you reading this will already know us but for those who don’t: a potted history. (Apologies now to those who do – this will be boring).

Jimi and I both grew up in rural villages in Hertfordshire and went to secondary school in Bishop’s Stortford. I was at Herts & Essex (the girls’ school) while he was at The Boy’s High (the boys’ school). We met for the first time at the birthday party of one of our mutual friends in 2003 maybe? I remember we went paint-balling, and Jimi crushed me under a fence before shooting me repeatedly with paint pellets at close range. I did not like him. He was this lanky ball of energy – loud and annoying and just such a boy. I didn’t think we’d be friends.

But I was wrong. Over the next few years we started to spend more time together, and Jimi on his own was different to Jimi in front of the boys. He made me laugh like no one else, and he used to drive out to pick me up from my house in his battered little white Fiat Uno just so we could hang out with everyone at the pub playing pool, or in the park while the boys played football. We were friends for a long time, and then for a little while in 2005 we were more than friends until I started university that September. It took until 2010 for us (me) to realise where this had always been going. Now it’s hard to imagine it any other way.

And now we’re leaving our flat and our jobs and friends and families (and most of our belongings) and moving to Sydney, Australia. In three weeks time we’ll be at Heathrow, getting ready to board a plane and wave bye to the UK for the time being. I hope it’s going to be a lot of things (exciting/terrifying/fun/lonely/unforgettable) but above all I know it’s going to be an adventure. We are way outside our comfort zones on this one. So please do stick with us – I hope you enjoy the ride.