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Ringing the Bells to Say Goodbye to Australia

When I attended the Perth shore excursion lecture on the ship, the pictures of the Bell Tower that is located on Perth’s Esplanade intrigued me. So I took the early morning train from Fremantle up to Perth. I chose to walk from the central train station down to the Barracks Street ferry dock where the Bell Tower is located. During my walk it was fun to see all the new construction that is progressing in Perth, quite a blend of the old and the new.

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According to the pamphlet that the site provided, the Swan Bells residing in Perth’s Bell Tower come from one of London’s most famous churches, St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalger Square. Many of the christenings within the Royal Family have been conducted at St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

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The Bells of St Martin have rung out over the past 600 years to mark historic occasions, including England’s 1588 defeat of the Spanish Armada, Captain James Cook’s homecoming in 1771 and World War II victories. They have welcomed in the New Year for more than 275 years and rang more recently for the September 11 and Bali bombing tragedies.

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The twelve bells of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London were given to the people of Western Australia, the University of Western Australia, and the city of Perth to commemorate Australia’s bicentenary in 1988.

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These twelve bells were cast between 1725 and 1770. An additional five specially cast bells were also presented, including one from the City of London, with help given by the City of Westminster, and three bells bestowed by a consortium of British and Australian mining companies. Completing the ring of eighteen, a sixth new bell was commissioned by the Western Australian government. This completed Western Australia’s Millennium Project, the Swan Bells.

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Above and below are pictures of the eighteen bells when at rest, upside down. The Bell ringers put each bell into this position when they have finished their duties on the Bells. It is not as easy as it looks to ring the bells using ropes two floors beneath the location of the bells.

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The Bell ringing volunteers are all members of St. Martin’s Society of Change Ringers. They practice their art at the Bell Tower, which is the first designated Ringing Centre outside the United Kingdom. If you are a fan of the British television series Midsomer Murders, there was an early episode that was staged around the bell ringers’ competition between local villages. It was watching that episode that piqued my interest in the art of bell ringing. Little did I know I would have the opportunity to have a go at it. But I was fortunate enough to be available for bell ringing instruction when one of the volunteers showed up unscheduled. It was great fun! And the lady gave me a certificate for my memory book too.

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I also found the Bell Tower to be very interesting, architecturally, so I spent some time having fun with my camera taking pictures at all angles. Hope you enjoy them.

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Prisoner for a Day in Fremantle

Bright and early Tuesday morning Barb went directly to Fremantle Prison and served time as a prisoner along with a fairly large group of people. We did not pass go nor collect $200.

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We entered Fremantle Prison – a fascinating and memorable UNESCO World Heritage Site. This sandstone prison dates back to 1855 and was built in Australia’s early days as a penal colony using convict labor. Amazingly, this house of horrors remained in use until 1991.

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We toured the Main Cell Block and saw the cells in which the prisoners spent 14 hours a day. The inmates slept in hammocks and each cell contained a slop (toilet) bucket. Most of the cells held one person, and later in the prison’s career some cells accommodated two prisoners.

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The original men’s cells were a little over three feet wide by six feet deep and fitted with a hammock slung between two limestone walls, a fold-down table, a stool and a slop jar and water pail.

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Criminals sentenced to capital punishment were housed in Death Row and were subject to the same regulations that applied to other prisoners, except that each man was kept under constant supervision. Over time 43 men and one woman were hanged at Freemantle Prison ~ all convicted murderers. The first hanging took place in 1889 and the last in 1964.

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Beginning in 1988 prisoners could paint the walls of their cells. Prior to that they were covered with a lime wash to discourage insect infestations in the limestone. The prisoner who occupied this cell was given special permission to paint his walls for therapeutic reasons.

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Where Australia and Antarctica Went Their Separate Ways

The very southwest tip of Australia is where the small community of Albany, Australia is located. Albany was a whaling and seal harvesting community until as late as 1978. At Albany’s Whale World Museum Barb learned about the city’s controversial history. The displays, movies and loudspeaker narration brought the activities that took place there alive once again. She came away with vivid memories of the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of an industry that supported an entire community.

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After leaving the museum she drove along the coast to Torndirrup National Park Trail.

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Signs directed us to the Gap and we watched in awe the immense forces of nature and water at work at the Gap. Waves rush in and out with tremendous force that shakes the granite rock formations and sprays white-frothy water upward a hundred feet.

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The continents of Australia and Antarctica were bound together along this rugged coastline for more than one billion years, forming part of the super continent of Gowanda. Pressure and friction at the base of the two fused continents caused rock to melt and slowly rise upward through cracks in the earth’s crust. (Think of a lava lamp.) This molten rock slowly cooled, hardening into granite and helping to cement the continents together. It hardened 20 kilometers below what was then the surface.

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Water and wind wore and eroded away softer layers of rock that lay above the granite. No longer held down by this weight, the granite expanded and cracked as it slowly rose to become exposed at the surface. Driven by wind and waves, water and air pressure wore open the cracks quarrying the granite into block shaped sections.

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Waves relentlessly pounding against the shore eventually tore away loose blocks of granite and created the Gap (three pictures above) and the Natural Bridge (below). Sometime in the future the Gap will widen and disappear. The natural Bridge will collapse and become a new Gap.

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Australia and Antarctica separated 25 million years ago. The rocks on which she stood were left behind when the continents separated. Today rock formations on Australia’s southern coast can be matched with rocks on the northern coast of Antarctica near Windmill Islands. Still drifting to the north, Australia is 5 centimeters (2 inches) further away from Antarctica than it was a year ago today.

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It is hard to believe that flowering plants can grow in this harsh environment.

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Detour to Hobbiton in the Shire

Mary Jane chose to visit the Hobbiton Movie Set near Matamata, New Zealand where she stepped back in time to JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

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Before I left to take the cruise, I re-watched the three Lord of the Rings movies to refresh my memories. Our bus crossed the Kaimai Mountains and headed across the Waitkato lowland to the Hobbiton movie set, built in 1999 for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

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In 2010 the set was completely rebuilt in amazing detail for the three new Hobbit movies. We enjoyed walking around the home of the hobbits, including Bag End where Bilbo and Frodo Baggins lived. We saw the Party Tree, the restored bridge and the old pub.

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Just what is a Hobbit? According to a book (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: The World of Hobbits) I bought at The Shire Store, a hobbit, some times called a Halfling, is not a dwarf, which is broader and stronger than a hobbit. Nor is it an elf, even though both elves and hobbits have pointed ears. Hobbits are rather short, averaging about 3 feet tall, and they live for a very long time. Some reach ages well over 100. Perhaps their most distinguishing feature is their feet. Hobbits never wear shoes. And their feet are very large when compared to a Hobbit’s overall height. The skin on their feet is extremely tough, especially on the bottom, so they can walk anywhere. Moreover, a Hobbit’s feet are covered with thick curly hair.

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You are more likely to see a hobbit wearing an apron for cooking than armor for fighting because they like everyday down-to-earth adventures, like finding an extra cake in the pantry best.

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Hobbits do not live in houses, but in holes in the ground: hobbit holes, which are very comfortable, cozy places and come in many different shapes and sizes.

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Hobbits like to use circles when they build their houses. The windows are all round, their gardens have many flowers and all sorts of vegetables.

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To a hobbit, food is the most important thing in the world and mealtimes are to be shared, especially with good friends.

Typical Menu For a Hobbit’s Day

First Breakfast

Freshly boiled eggs, bacon and
grilled mushrooms

Second Breakfast

Selection of sweet berries with
fresh whipped cream

Elevenses

Honeycakes and milk

Luncheon

Sizzling sausages and mash

Afternoon Tea

Seed-cake, buttered scones and
jam with a fresh pot of tea

Dinner

Rabbit stew with turnips, potatoes and carrots
followed by a blackberry tart

Supper

A light mushroom soup with
freshly baked warm rolls and butter

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Hobbits prefer doing jobs that help them live a quiet, normal and peaceful life. They are farmers, gardeners, blacksmiths, and cooks. If you are looking for excitement, then the hobbit life is not for you. A hobbit would rather sit on his porch and watch the cows munch grass or chat about the weather.

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The new Hobbit movie (The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey) is set during a time prior to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. In this latest movie we see Bilbo Baggins as a young man and his adventures with Wizard Gandalf the Grey. The picture below shows the house that Bilbo Baggins lived in called Bag End. It is dug into the side of the hill, just north of Hobbiton, at the end of Bagshot Row. There were many pretty flowers as well as a large garden for growing all sorts of tasty vegetables.

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We ended our tour of Hobbiton by walking down the hill alongside the Old Mill. We stopped at the Pub for a drink of Ginger Beer before leaving the Shire and to return to our ship.

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Kangaroo Island is Unique in Many Ways

Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third largest island with an area of 1,750 square miles. The coastline is particularly pretty with its towering cliffs, beautiful sandy beaches, battered rocks, and quiet secluded inlets. The Aborigines left Kangaroo Island some 8,000 years ago after its physical separation from the mainland and was uninhabited when Captain Matthew Flinders discovered it in 1802, but the island provided much needed food for his hungry crew. The area resembles a rocky desert with abundant, deep-rooted, green shrubbery (eucalyptus). Sea lions, seals, kangaroo, and little blue penguins plus some human beings largely inhabit the island. Our port of call was the tiny village of Penneshaw.

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The first stop on this tour was Clifford’s Honey Farm where we were introduced to the Ligurian bee. Dave Clifford, the owner of this family run business, gave us a complete description of the process: showing us how the hives are put together, the plastic screens on which the honey is collected, and explaining the pollen gathering and honey making process as well as the life of the bees in a colony.

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Dave explained that he moves his hives around the island over the course of a year to take advantage of the plants, trees, and shrubs that are in flower from one season to the next. The flavor of the honey is determined from the pollen source. He also explained the role and lives of the queen, drones, and worker bees as well as their system of communication to inform other worker bees where the flowers are located.

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We had the opportunity to sample a number of the different types of honey from this farm as well as other bee products such as lotions, creams, and honey ice cream. It was amazing to learn about and see the products and produce made with honey and beeswax. Perhaps their best-known product is Ligurian bee honey.

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This special commercial honeybee was introduced to Kangaroo Island by August Fiebeg in 1881. The bee came from Bologna near the region of Liguria in Northern Italy. The Ligurian Bee is very placid, renowned for its gentleness and fine production of honey. The Ligurian Bees in Italy have all interbred with other races, so Kangaroo Island has the only pure strain of the Ligurian Bee in the world. Due to Kangaroo Island’s isolation, this genetically pure population of honeybees is also disease free. Hence, only Kangaroo Island honey products are allowed on Kangaroo Island, unless tested, to help protect and keep them this way.

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Our next destination was the Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery, where eucalyptus oil is produced by distilling the leaf of Kangaroo Island’s Narrow Leaf Mallee (Euclayptus cneorifolia) that is very plentiful on the Island. They use the traditional manner whereby the leaves are placed into a pot containing water, beneath that a fire is lit using wood from dead tree limbs. Steam carrying the oil is passed through a system of cooling pipes. The oil separates from the water and is piped off into containers. The initial raw oil (which is orange in color) undergoes another refining process to produce the final product – which is crystal clear oil.

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As you can see the entire process is very low tech, using materials that are readily available and renewable.

Today, Emu Ridge is the only commercial eucalyptus oil distillery in operation in South Australia. This oil can be used for washing pets to remove fleas, clean paint brushes, remove stains and tar, as a penetrating oil for rusted parts, for cuts, burns and abrasions; as a natural antiseptic, hand cleaner, decongestant for colds and flu by vaporization for sore throats (adults only: a few drops with a teaspoon of honey.), a disinfectant for cleaning floors, toilets, a cleaner for bathroom tiles, glass, ovens, plastic and vinyl as well as for washing woolens and other clothing.

As the name of the farm suggests, they also raise emu, but at the present time they have only one female as she kicked her mate to death while he was trying to incubate her eggs. An emu cannot hurt you by pecking you, but if you are kicked by one you will think that a horse has kicked you. Moreover, they can kick several times a minute doing a great deal of damage quickly if they are threatened or angry. The emu is only found in Australia, cannot fly, but can run at speeds of 48 km per hour.

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The Australian aborigines have used emu oil for thousands of years for healing and therapeutic qualities to survive Australia’s harsh climate. It is well known as one of nature’s finest emollients and moisturizers. It protects, nourishes and softens the skin, it also has the ability to penetrate the layers of the skin so essential nutrients can be carried more efficiently deep beneath the surface. It is commonly used as a moisturizer, for massage when mixed with other oils, arthritis, inflammation, aching muscles, eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis, bites, cuts and burns.

Our last destination was a sheep farm – actually Australia’s first sheep dairy and cheese factory named “Island Pure Sheep Dairy.” This facility opened in 1992 and has become well known for a number of its high-quality Mediterranean-style cheeses and yogurt. Twice a day they milk between 250 and 400 ewes. We were too late to watch them milk some of the sheep, but we saw the milking parlor and learned of the processing procedures used to transform most of their product into yogurt and cheese.

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Island Pure was the first sheep dairy and cheese factory to be established in South Australia. The family wanted to remain in agriculture but get away from the traditional livestock and grain farming that was only marginally profitable due to the fact that all livestock had to be shipped to the mainland by ferry for processing and distribution.

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The Island does not have its own breed of milking sheep so the focus of the farm’s genetic breed of sheep is based on milking ability and production of fat, healthy lambs. Monitoring equipment and electronic ear tags measure and record the daily output of each ewe. Most ewes produce about 2 liters of milk a day and are profitably milked for nine years.

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We tasted four different kinds of cheese and we liked the Haloumi cheese best. Cypriot families originally produced Haloumi cheese and their secret recipe was closely guarded. This unique cheese is made without starter culture and is “twice” cooked prior to maturing. One sample of this cheese, that was simply delicious, was pan-fried in a nonstick pan to draw out its natural oils and flavor. Yummy!

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Using sheep’s milk this dairy also makes feta cheese, manchego, and ricotta cheese, and natural and honey yoghurt. According to some of their literature, sheep’s milk products are lower in cholesterol and have more beneficial spectrum of fats than cow and goat’s milk. Sheep’s milk is easily digested and nutrients are readily absorbed.

We left the dairy, heading back to Penneshaw and our ship. We did make a quick detour to see Pennington Bay and the beach.

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It was a different type of excursion, our trip to Kangaroo Island, but we enjoyed meeting the local people and learning about the unique products that they produce in their family owned businesses. We did not see the many wildlife reserves on the Island, so we shall have to schedule another visit when we get back to Australia in the future.

Sweet Adelaide + Warrawong at Night

We arrived in the port of Adelaide about 10 AM and, as soon as we could, we went into town via the shuttle bus. Our destination was the Haigh’s Chocolate store and much to our surprise, when we got off the bus, we were right in front of it.

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Two Wood girls in a chocolate store are dangerous! We did not buy out the place but we did make purchases, asked lots of questions, and tried to absorb the information they shared.

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Originally Haigh’s operated the concessions at Adelaide theatres and cinemas in the 1950s and 60s. Aprichocs, Scorched Almonds, Carmel Chocs and Chocolate Sultanas were some of the big sellers in those days. A process called “panning” is used to make these treats. The centers are placed in a pan (a giant rotating drum) and then covered by multiple layers of thinly sprayed chocolate. The rotation of the drum continues and polishes the treats until they are smooth and shiny. Scorched almonds have been the biggest seller for them for decades and today they sell over 18 million Scorched Almonds a year.

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Haigh’s was established in 1915 and its passion for quality chocolate making continues today. Haigh’s employs 300 people, has 13 stores, and actively supports environmental causes, such as saving the Australian bilby and the Australian frog. The company manufactures and sells chocolate frogs in three sizes and 3 flavors (milk, dark, and peppermint chocolate).

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The bilby is a very cute little marsupial animal, native to Australia. This small burrowing bandicoot used to be found in the millions, living across 70% of the country. Sadly over the past 200 years, this animal as been pushed almost to extinction – by settlement and clearing, plus the introduction of rabbits, foxes, and feral cats.

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In 1991, the Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia created the Easter Bilby in order to draw public attention to the plight of this endangered species. Two years later Haigh’s stopped making bunnies and made Australia’s first chocolate Bilbies. Part of the profits from the sales of all Haigh’s Easter Bilbies assists FRA in their work to help protect the Bilby’s habitat. Large and small chocolate bilbies in both dark and milk chocolate are sold at Easter time and the small ones in foil wrap are sold year round.

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We did find a Telstra store so MJ could unlock her new dongle for use it other countries. The young Telstra rep tried very hard to help her but it needed to be synced it with her computer. MJ said once she was back on the ship she would try and finish the job later in the day. However, she was unsuccessful even after spending more time on line chatting with Telstra’s tech support.

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Our shore excursion for this port was entitled “Nocturnal Nights,” and was a six hour journey beginning at 4:30 PM returning to the ship at 10:30 PM which is hours past our bedtime. But we thought it would be a different way to see the nocturnal, marsupial mammals of Australia in their natural environment.

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We boarded the coach at the pier and, after a scenic drive along the river and into the Adelaide hills, we arrived at the Warrawong Sanctuary. We enjoyed a delicious casual dinner overlooking a lovely view out over the native trees and natural surroundings. As the sun started to set our guide led us on a walk to meet and hear some of the animal species that call this place home including kangaroos, ducks (black and wood ducks), and lots of other birds.

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Warrawong has the only breeding colony of the elusive platypus on mainland South Australia. We saw several small furry platypuses feeding in the ponds and several hopping marsupial mammals that lived in the wooded hills, whose names all ended with …roo, such as potaroo. We also saw opossum bettongs, and bandicoots scurrying through the scrub. We did see a couple of bilbies too but they were impossible to photograph as they scurried just too fast to focus on.

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The animals were not in cages and were free to roam and interact with us within the large fenced community. The fence was to keep predators out of the native species habitat. Most of the animals in this environment come out at night, making this the perfect time for our discovery walk.

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Taking pictures was not possible with the lack of light; however, we enjoyed the experience walking in the dark up and down, over the hillsides, and around various bodies of water, finally wending our way back to the point of beginning. We were both sadden to learn that this lovely sanctuary for many species is closing at the end of this month (February 2013) as they have lost their funding from the Zoos SA, a not-for-profit conservation charity that plays a role in the conservation of threatened native species in this area.

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We were late leaving the sanctuary and were afraid that we might not get back on time. The guide informed the ship of our plight, but lighter than expected traffic, and a determined driver, got us to the ship’s ramp with about two minutes to spare.

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Peaceful Place by Running Water

Hobart is the state capital of Tasmania and was founded in 1804 as a penal colony. Convicts formed the basis of the early settlement and constructed most of the 19th century sandstone buildings in the area. Many examples of Georgian architecture can still be seen and are being preserved. The penal colony was abolished in 1853.

Hobart is the second city settled in Australia and now serves as the homeport for both the French and the Australian Antarctica operations.

Most of the chocolate manufactured and sold by Cadbury Chocolates in the Southern Hemisphere is made about 30 miles outside of Hobart so we did not have time to make that trip before we sailed at 4 p.m.

Mary Jane chose the Huon Valley and Tahune Forest Air Walk for her shore excursion. “Tahune” is aboriginal and means “peaceful place by running water.” During the drive they enjoyed seeing the scenic countryside farms of the Huon River Valley that are bordered by hills and mountains.

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Although the area around Hobart is very arid, the Huron Valley is a rain forest with deep soils and high rainfall. This area is home to the tallest flowering plant in the world: the “Eucalyptus Regnans” or swamp gum tree and is born and destroyed by fire, like the legendary phoenix. It is hard to take pictures of this forest because the trees are so tall. In the picture below, look in the bottom left hand corner to see our group in relationship with the trees that surrounded us.

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The Huon Valley residents wanted to create a tourist attraction in the area that would slow the unemployment and show tourists what a beautiful area it is. The Air Walk was constructed at a cost of $1.3 million and took about two and a half years to complete. It was estimated that 50,000 visitors would visit the first year (2001) and were pleased when 153,000 people had crossed the structure that year. It is made of steel and was built to withstand winds of 180 miles per hour.

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The Air Walk put us about 147 feet above the ground for our treetop canopy walk. We felt very safe even though the bridge does swing back and forth now and then.

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The highest point on this scenic walk jutted out over the confluence of the Huon and Picton Rivers. The scenery from this vantage point was spectacular.

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Many trees in the forest are Stringy-Bark eucalyptus trees that are aptly named once you see the bark.

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The trees in the forest are massive, as you can see in the picture below, the trunk of one that has fallen. It is very hard to hug a tree when you are at the base of one of these trees.

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The walk back to the visitors’ station was beautiful but humbling, being so tiny amongst these giants of nature.

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Barbara on the other hand chose to see some of the Hobart sites and visit a botanical garden. First she went to Battery Point, which is Hobart’s oldest district with Georgian residences. They passed the Anglesea Barracks and the historic Cascade Brewery on their way to see panoramic views of the city from summit of Mt. Wellington. The mountain, with its 4,000-foot height, makes a lovely backdrop for the city. On a clear day it is possible to see almost 60 miles from the windy top that was above the tree line and almost bare of vegetation.

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The bus continued to the Royal Botanic Gardens that overlook the Derwent River. The gardens first opened in 1818 and have an extensive collection of native and exotic flora.

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She only an hour there and could have spent the better part of a day but was able to see the conservatory, round house, fuchsia house, Japanese Garden, rose arbor, Friend’s cottage, and new display of firewood sculptures.

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After crossing the Tasman Bridge to Rosny Point Lookout we enjoyed views across the harbor to the city and its suburbs. On our way back to the port we drove past Hobart’s most historic buildings including the Theatre Royal, the oldest theatre in Australia, and the Penitentiary Chapel.

A Little Part of China in Sydney Australia

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The highlight of our first day in Sydney was a visit to the Chinese Garden of Friendship. It was lovely and we enjoyed stepping into another world and immersing ourselves in a beautiful landscape of waterfalls, lakes, and hidden stone pathways with traditional carvings and beautiful design and vegetation. The Garden was created and built by Chinese landscape architects and gardeners and is governed by the Taoist principles of Ying-Yang and the five opposite elements – earth, fire, water, metal and wood.

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Two Foo-dogs (Chinese lions) guard the entrance to the garden. The dramatic rock sculptures in the courtyard reminded MJ and Barb of their trip to China in 1999.

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The lakes and other water features and panoramic views were lovely. Numerous pavilions and koi added to the ambiance. The circular moon gate gives the impression of an intimate garden within a garden with walls of bamboo and a running stream create the atmosphere of a secret garden offering glimpses of the nearby lake and waterfall. If you ever have a chance, visit this lovely respite form the hustle and bustle of our everyday world.

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As we walked toward the exit we saw the magnificent dragon wall that symbolizes the bond between Sydney in Australia and Guangzhou in China.

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It was a perfect trip to a beautiful Chinese Friendship Garden here in Sydney!

From Coat Hangers to Sailing Operas

Sydney is the largest city in Australia and enjoys a long and interesting history. This city is home to 4.6 million people from every corner of the globe and is known for its world-famous Opera House with its distinctive white “sails” and Sydney Harbor Bridge, known as the “coat hanger.” The Aborigines inhabited the area some 50,000 years ago; then in 1788, 11 ships of the first fleet of 758 British convicts landed in Sydney Bay.

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The Great Harbor Bridge carries rail, vehicular and pedestrian traffic simultaneously between the central business district of Sydney and the North Shore. Actual construction of this bridge began in December 1928, after considerable preparatory work, and was completed in 1932, with two sets of railway and tram tracks. The bridge also carries power and telephone lines, as well as water, gas and drainage pipes. The first test train safely crossed the bridge in January 1932.

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Mary Jane and I decided to use the Hop On–Hop Off buses to acquaint us with the history, sights, sounds, and culture of this metropolitan city. Bright and early Friday morning we were on the first shuttle bus to Circular Quay where we caught the red double-decker bus.

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Here is a bit about the list of sites we visited:

Circular Quay – a popular wharf area where the Radiance of the Seas was docked while we were in port. The shuttle bus drop off point was near here at the Marriott Hotel on Pitt Street.

Queen Victoria Building – a beautiful, historic, multi-story Victorian-styled building filled with high-end boutique shops and lots of ambiance. On our last trip to Australia we enjoyed shopping in this facility.

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Woolloomooloo is the dock area where the Queen Mary 2 docked and driving by brought back pleasant memories of that trip and some of the friends we made.

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We drove past the Australian Museum and Hyde Park area more than once over our two-day visit. Barb would have enjoyed a visit to the Museum and a walk through the park, but those attractions will have to go on a future visit list. The museum was huge and you could probably spend two days in there.

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When we got to the lower Darling Harbor area of the city we got off the sightseeing bus and did a little exploring on foot. That area of the city has seen a recent renaissance of development with new hotels, restaurants, convention center, casino, Imax Theater, Maritime Museum, Wildlife Encounter, and the Aquarium. Dock and harbor side improvements have turned this part of the city into a real entertainment center.

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Along the park side of the harbor, there were a string of sidewalk cafes and bistros. MJ spied one called The Belgian Chocolate Café. What could be better than a delicious cup of hot chocolate to make the day go bright, especially using Belgian chocolate? We each ordered a dark chocolate hot chocolate. It came with a big cup and a hot metal pitcher for each of us filled with the steaming brew. Inside the cup was a dark chocolate seahorse just waiting to be melted with the hot liquid from the pitcher. It was delicious!!! And just hit the spot.

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Barb had never seen an Imax movie so we watched a short film on Shackleton’s unsuccessful trip to Antarctica. The theater was also showing the first in a series of three new Hobbit movies, but our schedule did not allow us time to see the longer feature.

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We also visited The Rocks that is a precinct of narrow cobblestone laneways and former merchants homes, which now house galleries, restaurants, boutiques, and souvenir shops. After the initial 1788 settlement of Sydney this area became the residential quarters of Sydney’s convicts and also an area known for congregations of inebriated sailors and whalers, cut throat gangs, ladies of the night and rat plagues. Rocks taken from an island in the harbor were used to construct the initial buildings in this area. There were many historical sites to discover in The Rocks, and the harbor area park was busy with lots of people walking along, enjoying the lovely weather, and watching both the scenery and people.

Historic hotel pubs were plentiful and charming, but we chose street food instead. MJ had a roasted pumpkin wrap with spinach, feta cheese, pesto sauce and walnuts. Barb settled for a meatball wrap with spinach, cheese and spicy tomato sauce.

Mary Jane was intrigued with a display of aborigine art and learned about their carved memorial sticks; and we also enjoyed the merchandise in a local craft maker’s gallery. The Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales was formed in 1906 and since then the profits earned by the group were used to purchase an ambulance and during WWII members worked with the Red Cross teaching craft to injured soldiers. We had planned to return to the Rocks area for the street market on Saturday, but never made it. Barbara enjoyed the architecture of the area and the conversion of many of the old warehouses into shops, studios, and apartments.

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We had driven near the Opera House earlier in the day, but were not able to take a good picture of it, but the view from the Rocks area of the city was excellent and we took lots of pictures. I was surprised that the siding on the building was brown and the roof tiles were off white. Some of our fellow passengers attended the opera and symphony there and were very impressed with the stadium seating and acoustics. The opera was “Falstaff.”

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Mary Jane, with Barbara in tow, started out on our second day of adventure in Sydney looking for a solution to my Internet problems. From the shuttle bus drop off point we walked down George Street several blocks until we spotted our destination – the Apple Store – with a huge apple displayed on the multi-story building. The store greeter sent us to the second story for help with the problem. A glass staircase transported us up a level and ultimately one of the associates shared with MJ information about a Telestra dongle – mobile Wi-Fi device, which now has her smiling from ear to ear. Coming down the glass staircase was trickier than going up as you kept having the illusion you were floating on air.

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We started out again on our planned adventure when Mother Nature proceeded to open up the sky with a downpour, which sent us scurrying into Dymocks – a giant bookstore that reminded us of the large Barnes and Noble stores in the United States. Luckily, we emerged without maxing out our credit cards, however, it was still raining, and finding the next hop-on hop off stop took much too much time. But we finally caught one. We took a short ride and then got off to catch another bus to take us today on a secondary route from the one we took yesterday. But alas, after waiting for about 45 minutes we aborted that idea in favor of retracing part of the route we had taken the day before. We did get off at the Botanic Gardens for a few minutes of walking around before having to heading back to the ship.

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The Botanical Gardens are a beautiful place to hold a wedding!

The Botanical Gardens are a beautiful place to hold a wedding!

We walked to the shuttle bus at the Marriott and rode back to the ship, feeling very happy about our two days touring Sydney, but with a long list of things to do next time we return.

Quaint and Beautiful Picton New Zealand

Picton is set in the upper reaches of Queen Charlotte Sound in the northeast corner of the southern island of New Zealand. This area is considered perfect in every way: climate, scenery, and outdoor adventure. About 3,000 people live in this small, but charming area. Because of its volcanic soils, it is also a gateway to one of the largest grape-growing and wine-producing regions of New Zealand.

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The Dolphin Cruise and Guided Walk at Ship Cove was Barb’s choice of activities for the day. She got off the ship and onto another boat for a tour that combined wild marine life and history. They headed back up the Marlborough Sound toward the Cook Strait and came upon a pod of bottlenose dolphins playing in the morning sunshine.

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They were privileged to see a Wandering Albatross, swimming next to a fishing boat. One usually sees these giant birds soaring high overhead, but this one seemed to be unsuccessful at begging for food. They were able to photograph this albatross whose home range includes the circumpolar region of Antarctica below the Tropic of Capricorn. Usually these large birds, with a ten-foot wingspan, are only seen soaring over the hills, but this one appeared uninjured, but was unable or unwilling to join his kind in the skies. This species nests in remote elevations and the chicks are a year old before they fledge – leave the nest. These birds sometimes follow ships.

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As they approached the Cook Strait, they saw a number of New Zealand King Cormorants (Shags). This species is only found in the Cook Strait area and number just a few hundred in total.

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Their destination was Ship Cove, where Captain Cook took refuge on more than one occasion to make repairs to his ships and let his men recuperate from illnesses and injuries they had sustained. The native bush-clad hills and pristine waterfront has been preserved in its primal state.

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They enjoyed a cup of tea and date scone before taking a short hike and re-boarding our boat. They had to guard their scone and belongings from the brazen wekas (bush hens), which like to steal anything that resembles food. We also passed by some Maori woodcarvings.

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They also saw a female Paradise Shellduck. Her mate flew away a few days ago and she has been calling to him to return.

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The boat took a short detour into a bay sporting a salmon farm to see a group of fur seals swimming and lounging around waiting for a delicious snack. The fences and covers over the fishery attest to the cunning, agility, and determination of these mammals. The bulk of the seals inhabiting this area were originally in the deeper waters. Over time the seals have broken into the pens, jumped over the fences, and caused considerable damage as they enjoyed an orgy on salmon. The farm, with all of the chain link netting, pipes, and plastic tarps looks like a miniature Alcatraz of turquoise and white.

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After disembarking the small boat on one dock and making her way back to the ship, Barb ran into Mary Jane who had just put in four-hours of work on the blog and wanted a break. They caught the shuttle bus and went into the village of Picton enjoying an afternoon there wandering into and out of shops and taking a few pictures. The life of this community is dependent on the health of the marine life and tourism.

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The conservation efforts by New Zealanders are commendable. Several of the islands are sites of major efforts to restore the original flora and fauna to them by eradicating all invasive and foreign species of plants and animals. The people in this area respect nature and spread their interest and respect to visitors.

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