Australian Adventure

Our Cruise on the Regent Seven Seas Navigator continued as we reached Brisbane, Australia on the eastern coast of the continent. We left the ship and toured the city with a population of 3 million on double decker boats in the bay. It is a lovely place to live or visit. In some respects, it is rather like a Venice with skyscrapers.

We boarded old fashioned tour boats and were served a seated luncheon as we sailed the residential canals. Vocalists entertained us after lunch as we sailed along.

After touring Brisbane we boarded our “mother ship” and settled in for two days of imported entertainers, cards, games, lectures, sitting by the pool and reading. Not to mention having delicious meals served by nice, sweet servers who cannot do enough for us.

One morning we had a breakfast party. Husband Brad went to the head chef and told him about southern sausage gravy and homemade biscuits. The chef was intrigued by the idea and agreed to prepare it for our crowd, most of whom are Yankees and had no clue. Well, it was a rip-roaring success! Even the waiters wanted servings and loved it.

In the evenings we had really good entertainers in the theater after dinner. An all Australian group called “The Tap Pack” had the audience on its feet after the first number. Another night a pianist/comedian from Texas by way of Brisbane wowed us with his musical magic and his “slow draw” Texas humor. His appearance was one of a prosperous undertaker with a paunch, dressed all in black with black crocodile boots.

We arrived in Cairns, Australia on a hot day that was close to the end of their summer.  Cairns (pronounced “cans”) is a major city on the east coast of Far North Queensland. It was founded in 1876 to serve miners heading for the Hodgkinson River goldfields. It is a popular tourist destination because of its tropical climate and access to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The estimated population is 150,000.

The Cairns area was inhabited by the Gimuy Walubara Yidini indigenous people who still claim their Native Title rights. It was founded in 1876, hastened by the need to export gold discovered on the tablelands to the west of the inlet. The site was mostly mangrove swamps and sand ridges.  The swamps were gradually cleared and the sand ridges were filled with dried mud, sawdust from local sawmills, and ballast from a quarry. Debris from the construction of a railway to Herberton on the Atherton Tableland, a project which started in 1886, was also used.

During WWII, the Allied Forces operated basses (now the airport), including a major military seaplane base on Trinity Inlet, and US Navy and Royal Australian Navy bases near the current wharf. Combat missions were flown out of Cairns in support of the Battle of the Coral Sea in1942.

After WWII, Cairns gradually developed into a center for tourism. The opening of the Cairns International Airport in 1984 helped establish the city as a desirable destination for international tourism. Enough history.

We went out in the country and took a five kilometer sky lift up to a craft village in the hills. The lift was awesome. The crafts were not as wonderful as on our last visit. I think we are getting jaded! We settled for a cold Coke and sat on a stone wall in the shade till it was time to head “home.”

The next day we sailed into Cooktown Harbor, tendered in and looked around. It is in the “Shire of Cook.” It has a population of about 2300 and is where James Cook beached his boat “The Endeavor” for repairs in 1770. Cooktown was founded in 1873 as a supply port for the goldfields along the Palmer River. We toured the mangrove in a small open boat operated by a charming husband/wife team. He described the surroundings and she served coffee and tea along with the “Icelandic donuts” she continued to freshly fry and sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving.

We then had two wonderful, quiet days cruising the Arafura Sea. We passed several big (half mile?) islands that showed little habitation. What sort of people would live on them out in the middle of the ocean?  We are talking half mile long islands! We saw no boats docked on our side of the islands. Later we learned that they were uninhabited because they had no fresh water!

After lunch on the first sea day, our ship had a big “country fair” around the pool with all sorts of carnival games. Silly games such as being able to walk across the outside deck with a full cocktail glass and not spill a drop, identify photos of iconic structures from around the world and identify the country, volleyball in the pool and so on. There was something for everyone. Prize points were awarded to winners. Most of the “Geritol set” got into it and they were aggressive!

One more day at sea and we arrived at Darwin, our last port in Australia. It is nearing the end of their summer which is November to April.

We started out at their new natural history museum and it was very interesting.  Then after lunch we hit the souvenir center on the dock. It was full of crocodile belts, handbags and wallets and lots of opal jewelry.  The prices were astronomical compared to a few years ago. Bought nothing!  I was disappointed and Brad was relieved!

One interesting piece of trivia: There is a memorial, a plane from the Korean War, in one of the parks. One of our friends, Rick Weiler, aboard ship flew that very plane in the war. He had recognized the ID number on the tail the last time he and his wife sailed here!

On the Esplanade overlooking Darwin Harbor is a memorial dedicated to the Officers and Crew of the USS Peary, which was attacked and sunk during the first air attack on Darwin by the Japanese during WWII.   They thought the approaching planes were a storm approaching from the south, instead it was the Japanese. They suffered great damage and loss of life. There were “pill boxes” around Darwin Harbor and two guns to repel the Japanese. One of the guns salvaged from the vessel now serves as a memorial to all those lost in the action.

The swampy mangrove groves look like solid land but are liquid. On land the houses are raised about five feet because of prevalence of termites who eat grass and wood.

It was soon time to leave Darwin taking with us the wonderful memories of this lovely “island continent.” We are looking forward to being back here next year, but also know that our next two stops are tremendously exotic. The first will be Komodo Island in Indonesia where we will see their famous “dragons” close up. Then it will be on to Bali where we will have an overnight. VT