Holidays and Other Excursions

Month: March 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

Milford Sound Excursion

Saturday 26 March 2016

We have a longish drive this morning through some of the beautiful South Island scenery from Queenstown to Milford Sound.  On a map it does not seem quite so far away – but the route is far from direct as we head along the eastern shore of Lake Wakapitu.

On the way there we stop at Eglinton Valley, then Mirror Lakes and later at the Chasm amongst some of that wonderful scenery.

Milford Sound is a long distance from holiday accommodation so coach firms for travellers have to carefully plan their arrival times as facilities are limited.  I suspect there is a limit how early the coach can arrive before the boat departs.

We see some seals basking on rocks towards the end of the journey and pass waterfalls but wildlife is perhaps not as visible today as it is on other days.  However the entire area is very wonderful; somehow I do not think the photographs do it justice.

The photographs of the journey and Milford Sound can be found here.

The drive back to Queenstown certainly leads to my usual sleep – but as we near our destination there is again some great views.  It all feels like Scotland, but with a magnifier applied to make it all much larger.

Dinner this evening is another highlight.  Roaring Meg’s is a recreation of a much earlier establishment which has been lost in the redevelopment of Queenstown but has the internal fittings of the original.  The food is very good – probably the second best meal of the trip.  As an example here is our lamb:

Food photographs from

Roaring Meg and Gentle Annie were allegedly two prostitutes who ran competing houses for the locals in the Nineteenth century.  Roaring Meg was allegedly the quiet one whilst Gentle Annie was far more raucous!  I bet the food is better today – a Swiss chef is in charge.

A very long and tiring day.  But very wonderful.

Visit to a Station – with no trains

Sunday 27 March 2016

Treading the waters of Lake Wakapitu is TSS Earnshaw a 1912 built coal fired twin-screw steam ship.  She is now the only working coal-fired ship on Lloyd’s Register.  She was initially constructed in a shipyard in Dunedin and once built she was disassembled, the pieces brought by roadto the lake edge and then reconstructed in Kingston at the south end of the lake.

There were other vessels on the Lake in earlier days but this is the only one left and it was saved in 1969 through being leased by a holiday company and transferring from providing essential services and connections around the lake to a holiday attraction – one of the oldest in Otago.  The need for regular services lessened as off road transport improved!

Now entirely owned by a holiday company she takes people (at least on the day we were there) to and from Walter Peak High Country Farm which is a prodigious operation to handle up to 389 passengers which the steamer can carry.  She has carried Royalty and has appeared in Indiana Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull masquerading as an Amazon steam boat.

Passengers can also inspect the steam engines at work.  And the stokers.  That is hot work.  The journey is of the order of 10km and takes over an hour.  As we disembark earlier travellers are waiting to board to return to Queenstown – they started very early!

Our destination is Walter Peak which is to the west of Queenstown but on the southern shore.  Once ashore we partake of a buffet lunch with the meat having barbecued.  It is well laid out and organised and indeed tasty.

After lunch we have a demonstration of some sheep herding followed by the shearing of a sheep to give us some idea of what this farm (or station) does for real revenue.  The size of the station is hard to believe but cannot be done on foot alone – the distances are too great.  So quad bikes and a helicopter can be used to move people and the inevitable dogs around to move the sheep.

Photos of the TSS Earnshaw and the sheep station are here.

Our return journey on the TSS Earnshaw is balanced by more arriving for afternoon tea.  A piano player leads a sing song on our return journey and song sheets have been distributed.  A pleasant day.

Dinner in a local restaurant.  Time to move on in the morning.

Through South Island to Queenstown

Thursday 24 and Friday 25 March 2016

I am not overly keen on coach travel and often spend much of my time on coaches asleep and today is not greatly different from the norm!

However what has been exercising the tour party today are rumours about our next overnight stay.

On the way south we stop at Hokitika for a lunch break taken at a Jade Factory – the shop is a busy place.  There is a camera shop “Photo Corner” at the far end of the town and after a bit of a hunt around I manage to buy a cable for the Canon camera which I had not packed and which they were unable to sell me in a camera shop near Melbourne.  So this is a real one up for New Zealand.  Well done Photo Corner!

Anyway the rumours continue of flooding at our overnight stop and with poor mobile signals our poor guide is having trouble establishing the facts.

We started the drive in the highlands and then spend the rest of the morning travelling along more or less at sea level with the sea off to our right.  In the afternoon the scenery changes and we are travelling through a tropical rainforest.  Rainfall levels in this area are very high as the weather comes in from the west and the rain is dumped as the clouds meet the mountains – just like those geography lessons 50 years ago!

However it seems that the staff accommodation at our planned destination has been flooded (all down to heavy rain) so that it cannot take us.  A very acceptable alternative is found at the Te Waonui Forest Retreat in Franz Josef, not far from the glacier.  After a longish day of travel we decide to wander out to eat at the Indian restaurant along the road we had spotted as we drove into town.  Due to the rain we cannot walk to the glacier as the route is treacherous.  We do get a good sight of it from the road in the morning.  In the light of the rumours we are glad to have somewhere to lay our heads.  We have done nothing all day – but still feel tired!

Come the morning it is time for our onward journey to Queenstown.  The good news is that the weather has started looking better and we can almost feel the sunshine coming on.  As we travel we also see evidence of the reason for the country’s other name as we see evidence of the “long white cloud” hanging at a lower level through the hills.  Hopefully some of the photographs here will demonstrate that there is a good reason for the name.

Queenstown is on Lake Wakatipu – actually alongside the Frankton arm (or inlet).  However on the opposite side of the lake are some mountain peaks known as “The Remarkables”.  We have driven through some very thinly populated areas and Queenstown is not large – but is very clearly thriving.

Rail to Arthur’s Pass

Thursday 24 March 2016

This is the NZ Trans Alpine train which we take from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass.

There is an open coach in the consist – so no glass to get in the way of the cold which soon permeates through if you spend too long in there!  It is a grey day and as the hills rise it is hard going for the two locos.

Wikipedia says “The trip is considered one of the world’s great train journeys for the scenery and views.”  I hope the photographs here give some idea of the scenery – I bet it looks much better on a bright sunny day.   The rail line continues to Greymouth on the west of South Island but we are heading south from here and so join our coach for the continuing journey through South Island.


Tuesday 22 to Wednesday 23 March 2016

On the Tuesday morning it is off to the airport and then across the water to New Zealand.  We are flying direct to Christchurch on South Island.

The recent history of Christchurch is dominated by the 2011 earthquake.  This decimated the centre of the city although as we drive through the suburbs these seem to be largely unimpacted – although no doubt damage was done.  For several years the centre was effectively a “no-go” area and the opportunity has been taken to rebuild all of the underground services before redeveloping using techniques which should limit damage in the event of another quake.  The worst damage and loss of life was in one office block which had supposedly been constructed to withstand such quakes – but it has later been found that many corners were cut.

Having been empty it is going to take time for the city to return to normal.  Businesses moved away and getting them back is no doubt an uphill task.  Hard work is being put into getting restaurants and catering facilities open and trading to ensure it looks attractive to employees visiting the area.

Of course instability of some damaged buildings remains so sites are shored up and many walls have been covered with a variety of artistry so that they are less stark reminders of events.  The initial shopping area was achieved by using a lot of shipping containers.  There are also a variety of other attractions – a basic tramway system and also a variety of sculptures.

The most arresting installation are 185 empty white chairs close to the point of the worst devastation.  185 died and the chairs are intended to represent the individuals, so there are high chairs for children and easy chairs for older people and so on.  We were told that there would eventually be a more permanent memorial to the losses but this was particularly poignant.

The photos from the bus tour can be found here.

Parts of Christchurch are now permanently pedestrianised and work is progressing in enhancing the local area along the river.  We then went around the town on the local tram – a limited service was running due to the road works but we see more of the decorated walls and also some cute “sheep” which act as blocks to prevent road traffic extending into the quieter areas.

Among the facts we learned is that New Zealand was the first country to give votes to women – achieved in 1893; most countries did noting until after 1918.  It is also clear that the Maori population has been treated far better than the indigenous populations in other countries – they were granted property rights in 1840 and were respected by the European settlers.  Those organising the settlers were not dependent on prisoners (eg Australia) or slaves (USA) – they were trying to build communities and sought to bring all the skills to the country.  So from the outset the people who came were perhaps willing to experiment, to try new ideas and pursue an honest life.  And whilst I have often heard descriptions of the country being England but set in the past it strikes me over the next few days that we see a very modern country.

Photographs of that tram tour can be found here.

In the evening we have what probably turns out to be the best meal of the trip in Australia and New Zealand.  We found, almost by accident a restaurant called 27 Steps.

The ground floor entrance is not overly prepossessing  – but take the stairs to the first floor!  Nice room, warm welcome and excellent meal.

I had some very nice tongue:

Followed by the venison:

And then the cheese of course:

Food photographs from

Plus earlier we had visited a small bar and I had some whisky.  A very nice place, pity it is so far from home.


Saturday 19 to Monday 21 March

Sydney was the first point of landing by the British and is the world’s most magnificent harbour.  It is dominated by two iconic pieces of engineering and construction – the Harbour Bridge and the more recent Opera House.  Our time here is a little limited in relation to the size of the city and throughout this part of our journey the rain feels almost incessant.  Rain at this time of year in this part of Australia we discover is not uncommon as it often interferes with some open air performances which are planned for Autumn – so this might have been predicted.

We arrive in the late afternoon and the coach rapidly manages the journey into the City Centre to a Sofitel which is just walking distance to Circular Quay, which is where we head a little later to wander along and to take in the two iconic landmarks previously mentioned.  Walking back along the Quay we note a number of people eating at Searock where we eat as well; some excellent starters – chilli prawns and crab on tostada; simpler main courses – Wagyu beef burger for me and some salmon for Jackie.  Then back up the hill to the hotel.

The following day is not too bright but we decide to risk the two bus tours to see as much of the City as possible – first to Bondi which on a coldish day does not seem quite as welcoming as I am sure it does on a bright sunny day.  There are a few people in the surf but like the similar Melbourne suburbs seen previously it does look a little run down.  The bay itself is not large; somehow I had always imagined miles of sand but in reality there is probably a bigger beach at Bournemouth.  The return journey passes through some more attractive places, Rose Bay, Double Bay and Wooloomooloo (I hope I have spelt that correctly) where the old “Finger Wharves” have undergone much work and now appear to house a great selection of restaurants.  Once back in the City Centre we switch back to the other tour to see the city itself.  (we had used it briefly to get to the Bondi service from the hotel).  Our progress is slow due to the time spent waiting for buses at one point or another and towards the end of our journey we get a little wet as the rain arrives, so we retire to the hotel.

Here are photos of the bus tour.

It brightens briefly but by the time we head out for the evening cruise with Captain Cook Tours it is not looking so good and our trip round the harbour hardly allows any sights to be seen as the rain buckets down.  A good supply of wine does enable a cheerful evening to proceed and our table seems to lead the noise generating activities.  The Harbour Bridge looks severely distorted through the windows and others go to lengths to take photos of the Bridge.

Monday comes and there is little improvement in the weather as we wander back down to the Opera House for our formal tour of the building.  Designed in the late fifties built in the sixties it opened in 1973.  In some respects therefore it is noticeably not modern with a lack of lifts.  It also took much longer and cost a lot more than originally anticipated.  We are shown into the newer area that has been developed partially underneath the two original main auditoria as part of more recent developments and also into the two main halls.  These are separate structures from the external sails but throughout there is a harmony of design and careful thought to make the buildings as sympathetic to productions and to be associated with the external harbour.  Our tour guide is clearly keen on the building and the productions and makes a great impression on all of us.  The shape of the sails are derived from sections of a sphere and they are not cleaned; rainwater does the job and channels the water into built in drains which take the water down into the harbour.

Photographs for the visit are here

Lunch in the food court area is luckily under cover as the rain pours down only easing a little towards the end of the afternoon when we head out to go and find the area known as “The Rocks” which is past the end of Circular Quay.  This area has been restored from being extremely run down to an area of restaurants and shops on a some steeply inclined hills.  Although better visited at the weekend when there are also small markets there is clearly a vibrancy no doubt achieved by being immediately adjacent to the point at which the major liners dock when visiting the port and, due to their size, are unable to pass below the Harbour Bridge.  The approach to construction is very similar to Devon and Cornwall with steps up to front doors from the street with the next house being built further up or down the slope as appropriate.  And there is a German Oompah band playing outside “Munich” where the staff are suitably attired for a German bier Keller.

This evening we are due to meet Graham and Lorna in the Bar Blu on 36th floor of the Shangrila Hotel – their suggestion and this provides an absolutely stunning view over the City and of course of the harbour area.  We then go on to dinner at the Customs House on the fifth floor, under cover but with a feeling of the open air.  Again a great view of the Bridge and the best food of the holiday – another  chance for a Moreton Bay Bugs and then some salmon in a light tandoori sauce.

Photographs from the viewing point are here.

We are so late back to the hotel that the front door is locked and gaining entrance takes a couple of minutes.  A short night ensues.


Friday 18 and Saturday 19 March 2016

So a Qantas hop to Uluru which is really in the middle of nowhere, as well as the middle of Australia!  And when we arrive the sun is shining and the obvious place to go whilst we wait for our room to become available is the pool.  Watches change this time by only 30 minutes.  I am not sure I understand Australian time management.  Apparently and a little unusually for this part of Australia it had rained overnight so the outdoor seats are generally wet and when Jackie tries to inspect one cushion she is completely unnerved by the sight of a cockroach scuttling away.  And there are insects everywhere and they are not small either!  We decide to head back indoors and find a seat to wait until the rooms are ready.

Qantas by the way originally stood for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services, although the airline has been through many subsequent mergers and changes.  But at least it explains missing “U”.

Once the room is ready we then spend the early part of the afternoon there having a bit of sleep to catch up on the sleep lost the previous night.

Late afternoon and we board the coach to visit the “Sounds of Silence”.  Effectively a buffet dinner in the desert, so we can watch the sunset on both Uluru and Kata Tjuta.  As the sky is not completely clear there are also some clouds to add some different aspects to the surroundings.  The infamous fly nets on our hats are needed by most (but not all) until sundown at which time the need largely disappears.  Some people seem unbothered by flies; whilst others are under constant attack.

Uluru we are later told is where the female Aboriginal Australians tend to gather for their purposes.  Kata Tjuta is for the males of the species – and it is not perhaps as spectacular for the visitors such as ourselves and indeed perhaps the Aboriginal Australians were able to maintain better control of it.

Once the sun has set it is time for dinner, a performance by Aboriginal Australian dancers and a talk of some of the stars.  We do manage to see the entire Southern Cross but little else.  However the food is good and well prepared – and all is helped along by good quantities of alcohol.  Jackie raises the subject of myrtle with the chef which is used in several dishes and he also shows her a picture of a quandoo.  (No I have no idea either).  Myrtle has a strong aniseed flavour.

The photographs that evening are linked here.

Throughout the evening there have been flashes of lightning in the far distance on the horizon to the north west and these are becoming more frequent, so the evening is brought to a quick end by recall of the coaches and a return to the hotel.

A very early start in the morning is arranged to take us to a viewing spot for sunrise.  Over the last 30 years since the historical significance of the site was properly acknowledged the camping and semi-residential sites adjacent to the rock have been moved a considerable distance away and access is generally far more limited.  We also visit a waterhole and adjacent cave with painting, drive around the rock and visit the cultural centre.  The Aboriginal Australians do not reveal their stories to non-tribe members and consequently there is little of the culture which can be told – the most seems to be a story told by the tribe to children and non-tribe members can be told that story.  The secrets are maintained.

Whilst there is one point at which it is still possible to walk up the rock, our guide is of the view that slowly such access will be eroded by various limits and probably will become closed within a few years.  Whilst it was not cold when we woke up it is soon getting a lot warmer.

We circumnavigate the entire Rock.  I would say there is a special feeling about the place and it must be a good thing that the former camp and small town immediately adjacent to the Rock have been removed to a distance.  No doubt the walk up the Rock will be closed within a few years – already the numbers climbing are only a small proportion of the overall visitors.

And the morning photographs are here.

Once back at the hotel we secure our cases and place them outside our room.  Only now do we finally get breakfast and I have to hand it to the team – probably the best breakfast underpinned by an excellent omelette.  And a couple of pieces of fruit in the hand luggage as we are travelling JetStar next – the local no-frills operator.  Despite the weight limits no-one appears to be charged for being over weight.  Apparently Jet Star is owned by Qantas so I am not sure why we do not get air miles for this leg.

Jackie and I have the benefit of a row of three seats for the two of us and we both manage to recover some of our lost sleep before we are flying over the suburbs of Sydney for the next stop on this journey.


Monday 14 March 2016 to Thursday 18 March 2016

The trip to Cairns does not require a time change and the coach trip in from the airport to the town centre does not take long as Cairns is much smaller than either Melbourne or Brisbane.  The inward trip follows the shoreline and our hotel – a Hilton – is close to the town centre.  A decent room with a view over the harbour greets us – a huge improvement after a view of two car parks!  Pronouncing the name is a challenge – almost the same as Cannes in France seems to be close enough.

Travelling seems to cause tiredness and Jackie is still looking for a burger, so we head out looking for “Grilld” which we find.  It is along one of the main drags and is noisy and lacks air conditioning and so we retreat and walk along the shoreline boardwalks from the hotel.  We eventually choose “Boat House” and have a reasonable meal enhanced by being in the open air; other choices seem to be further away.

Having had a fairly busy schedule until now we have a relatively quiet day (Tuesday) in prospect and we head to the pool to try and catch some sun.  We are outside for about three hours, although with fairly thick cloud and then some spots of rain lead to a retirement indoors.  In the evening we are taken on a cruise around Cairns inlet.  It is not the mouth of a river and then entire area is tidal.  Surrounding the inlet are significant mangrove swamps and the generally beneficial nature of the mangrove and its ability to help avoid erosion are noted.  At the far end of the trip as we turn around a crocodile is spotted under the trees.  Light is poor but some pictures are captured.  Dinner is in Crocodiles on the waterfront, for once eating as a group.  Much enjoyed.

The prime reason for coming to Cairns is of course to visit the Great Barrier Reef which entails a coach journey to Port Douglas on Wednesday morning, a speedboat out to the floating pontoon and then use of the facilities there.  Luckily the speedboat is of a decent size so no problem for Jackie this time.  We are able to use the semi-submersibles and the viewing walkway but the planned helicopter trip cannot happen as the weather between shore and pontoon is not good and helicopter operation would not be safe.  We do not participate in the snorkelling (or indeed diving) as I simply do not feel my swimming is strong enough.

In fairness the photographs do not do justice to what our eyes can see.  The colours and shapes cannot be as well caught by cameras as our eyes manage which is a great pity; different trips make different claims – we do not see a turtle but one is reported by another trip.  I can attest that sitting on the left side is better than sitting on the right – we did two trips and I made a point of sitting on the left for the second trip but by then poorer weather was descending and the light was not so good – still stunning though.  On our return trip it is clear that the helicopter would have had difficulties with the weather as the rain has set in quite badly.

Another free day is due to follow on the Thursday but we have elected to take “Skyrail” – a cable car system – up to Kuranda and return aboard the scenic railway.  A rather nice side trip and as we shall be inside in both directions for a trip which hopefully cannot be hindered by adverse weather.  The outward journey is broken at the second intermediate station to visit the Barron Gorge Falls.  These are not yet at full flow – but with the current rain will be in a few days!  Photos on the trip on Skyrail are here.

The town of Kuranda obviously exists for two purposes – obviously for the benefit of visiting tourists but it also to allow Australia to keep all of the ageing hippies and potential New Age travellers in a single locale, judging by the occupants we saw!  We walk through the town to the Butterfly sanctuary.  Here we thank the invention of digital cameras as buttons are pressed numerous times and perhaps we manage to get some decent pictures of the butterflies, especially the one which sits on Jackie for a considerable time.  The very attractive green ones never seem to stop moving to allow a photograph!  The resulting pictures (good and bad) can be found here.

The return rail trip is an obvious highlight as we travel gold class, although the rain reappears as we head downhill.  The train is headed by two Co-Co locomotives – I assume that the power is needed more for the uphill rather than the downhill journey which needs the braking power.  A good commentary tells us the history of the line – now I suspect a pale shadow of the original use in moving timber and servicing the forces in the Second World War.  We get another stop near the Barron Gorge Falls and see them from the other side of the river – so it looks very different.  Kuranda Scenic Railway photos are here.

We disembark at Freshwater station and a coach returns us to Cairns (still trying to remember to say Cannes as best I can render).  Due to a misunderstanding at Freshwater Jackie loses me and there is a moment of panic on her behalf when I do not respond to her urgent summons.  Luckily we find each other before too long.

Having had four nights in Cairns we now have a very early start for a short but stimulating visit to Uluru.


Saturday 12 March 2016 to Monday 14 March 2016

On arriving in Brisbane we are able to proceed to the Sofitel Hotel and book in.  Disappointing news has developed as more current weather forecasts have become available.  Apparently it is going to rain tomorrow in Brisbane (see below to see if that comes true) and we may well see rain in Cairns and Uluru as well!  Whoever heard of that much rain in Australia?  On our way into Brisbane the driver tells us as a child they spent weekends at the long, long beaches in the area – the Gold Coast to the south of the City and the Sunshine Coast to the north side.  Not this weekend it seems.  The journey into Brisbane passes through Ascot which is dominated by two racecourses – one each side of the road.  One is currently being rebuilt and the other has no meeting today – which would otherwise have slowed the trip immensely.

Once unpacked we make use of the pool area, but it is already pretty overcast and so not much browning happens.  We are not doing well for room views as this is the second hotel where the area outside is dominated by a car park – although this one is largely empty!

This evening we have a buffet dinner in the main restaurant which has a wide selection of shellfish including the local speciality of Moreton Bay Bugs – the local delicacy.  Lots of mussels, prawns and oysters alongside this as well as some lobster is a great start to any meal – so two rounds of starters for me.  For me this was followed by part of a large local fish – like we would have a roast at a carvery at home and then some cheese.  There was also some smoked salmon and meats so breakfast is likely to be a treat as well.

Some photos of Brisbane and the Koalas are here.

On Sunday morning our booked trip is to the koala sanctuary at Lone Pine which is nearly 90 years old.  Jackie gets to hold a koala and we can admire the other animals they have added to the collection – a possum, kangaroos, snakes, duck bill platypus, dingo and Tasmanian devil plus many more koalas.

The Koala excursion photos are here.  Typical Koala interest in the crowd looks like this:


The booked trip is by boat along the river – 75 minutes each way.  Intermittent rain storms are encountered both ways (so the forecast was right) and it is lucky that Jackie decided to take her anorak with us as she had originally planned not to take it!  Although not entirely protected from the weather we only get a little wet – by contrast some of the other excursions sound as if they will have been outdoors the entire day.

On the outward journey there is a commentary as we travel up river pointing out some of the sights, including some huge river front mansions all of which have mooring points on the river as well, although few are used. Boats are kept in marinas in Brisbane as it is quicker to drive there than sail down the river.

There have been some severe floods along the river – most recently in 2011.  Back in the 20s/30s there were beaches on part of the river with all sorts of beach related activities – but these have now largely disappeared, despite the creation of a dam a long way upstream which can hold back a lot of the water.  Of course and historically the river may have flooded regularly – as with the rest of Australia the recorded history is not that long!

A wander along the South Bank area when we return leads to a further dampening and we return to the hotel and find once again that a 50Mb data limit does not go very far.  Facebook users get more for their free money than Flickr adherents.  I should explain that Australia has yet to grasp the concept of free wifi everywhere with easy logins and unlimited capacity.  Our experience of the availability of free wifi in the hotel in Melbourne was apparently unusual and here in Brisbane we can have either an hour or 50Mb.  Loading up a few pictures of Brisbane soon extinguishes my limit as they are going I suspect full size.  Jackie’s Facebook contributions get shrunk I suspect so she gets longer, although still runs out before the hour is up.

We walk through what seems to be a fairly busy shopping centre as we return to the hotel (around 4pm on a Sunday afternoon) – perhaps the Australians are not so wedded as yet to Internet shopping?  We do find another Ugg shop and Jackie is able to add a purple pair to her collection.

In the evening we are directed to the north bank by a member of the hotel staff and whilst our first choice restaurant is closed we select Jellyfish where we eat some good food (mainly fish once again – I have Mulloway, a white fish from Cairns) and watch the people and the river traffic go by.

We sleep better – I think we might finally be on Australian time.

Monday morning and time to pack as we resume our travels.  After breakfast I soon go through my two lots of Internet connection (phone and tablet) as I try to talk to the computer at home.  Team Viewer is the software of choice for this activity.  Getting the cloud to sync some audio files is not going to happen at the moment, so no Archers Omnibus or Cerys Matthews just yet.


Wednesday 9 March 2016 to Friday 11 March 2016

Given that this is a long and complex holiday a daily update seems unlikely.  So I have decided on updates by location visited.  Moving on from Singapore felt like a cobbled together compromise by the holiday company.  It is an overnight flight onto Melbourne so collection from the hotel is late afternoon whilst checkout is earlier, meaning most of a day either sat in the room or the lobby.  Then the usual extended wait at the airport – where the most intriguing aspect was that the scan of hand luggage was undertaken at the gate and not earlier on.  When will someone sort out something closer to turn up and go for long haul flights?

The flight into Australia was aboard an Airbus 330 and most unusually I was unable to sleep very much at all.  A brainworm had taken over concerning a radio programme and I could not shift it – leading me to staying awake.  I had finally dropped off when the driver decided that it was a tad bumpy and we needed our seat belts on.  The related bing bong sounder woke those asleep from deep sleeps not aiding the general good humour.  I can sleep on most forms of transport but this journey was very much the exception.

Coach in from the airport inevitably catches the morning peak rush hour and we arrive at the hotel unable to check in until 14:00 (allegedly) although we get issued keys around 12:30.  Scenic need to rethink this one – perhaps pricing in a breakfast somewhere and a city tour to keep travellers occupied.  I was probably unique in lack of sleep; but an egg and bacon sandwich and coffee or similar and a city tour trip until say 11:30 would ease the problem as well as providing some orientation; to be honest the driver does give a good city introduction as we come in from the airport but a slight rethink might make it all seem much smoother.  Jackie says she feels homeless simply as we are not able to unpack.

So a lot of waiting around over the two days.  Eventually we unpacked and then we were able to relax.  Very warm, although not that bright.  At the end of the afternoon we have our first formal meeting of the group and a drink and get to meet some of our fellow travellers plus the tour guide.  Tour size is 44 which is not unusual for Scenic but is larger than we have previously experienced on escorted tours.  Wide range of backgrounds but not such a wide difference in ages; most are retired or at least part-retired and to my slight surprise all are doing the entire trip including New Zealand.

Dinner tonight is quite a highlight as we are ushered aboard a couple of ancient looking Melbourne trams for a dinner trip of about 90 minutes.  The one we are on we are told dates back to 1948 and has been converted for the current use with a small kitchen area and a toilet (presumably retention) with space for 12 diners in our compartment and I think the same number at the other end.  The tour goes by a triangular route with one leg ending at St Kilda which is an attractive suburb on the coast with an old style amusement park; our schedule does not allow a visit.  Starters, alcohol and fillet of beef plus a special fruit selection for me (more than I can eat) is a great start to this leg of the holiday.  The trams do three trips a day – one lunch and two dinners – we are on the early sitting – and are reputedly booked up well in advance (mainly I suspect as block bookings for tourists like ourselves).

This album contains photos of the trams ancient and modern around Melbourne.

The time difference is playing with our brains so we are both awake for some hours in the middle of the night.  Trying not to disturb each other is not easily achieved.  We are in the Crown Metropol which is part of the “Crown” complex and this is owned by James Packer, the son of the still infamous, but late, Kerry Packer.  The Crown complex is a major development along the south bank of the river Yarra, four hotels, casino, shops and numerous restaurants on all levels.

Our planned trip in Melbourne is to visit the Dandenongs and ride the “Puffing Billy” a preserved narrow gauge train about an hour or so from Melbourne.  The preservation commenced in the mid-fifties and is therefore entirely contemporaneous with the Ffestiniog.  As Jackie observes we could be in North Wales – it is wooded, hilly, festooned with sheep, a narrow gauge railway and in Irish terms it is a soft day with drizzle and low flying clouds!  Unlike in the UK we can sit on the window and dangle our legs out of the carriage – I cannot see the Ffestiniog (or UK H&S rules) letting that happen.  The railway was constructed to enable wood to be carried to the coast – the mountain ash trees being used for other purposes.  However the only traffic now is people.  Sadly we only do a part of the line and so there is uncovered track to visit in future.

The photos of this excursion are here.

We make a couple of other visits in the hills – one to try local tea and then to see the small town of Sassafras.  Indeed it could be Wales!  During our first stop we take a brief walk into the forest and I am missing having a dog on the end of a lead until I spot a creature bouncing through the woods.  Having carefully called Jackie we decide we have seen our first kangaroo of the holiday “in the wild”.  Jackie even manages to get a decent picture of head and ears in the depths of the woods.

On return to Melbourne we make use of the City Centre free trams and go around the entire circuit before returning to the hotel.  Of course there is nothing of any great age – the oldest buildings are probably only 150 years old and we are perhaps not greeted as warmly as we were in Canada.  In the evening we walk part of the way along the South Bank; our first choice restaurant – No 8 – is having a private function, but we get a good meal next door.  I have tuna and then barramundi which is the local white fish.  We sit outside and it is warm, although we have seen little sun all day.  We are beside the Yarra river, but there is little traffic along it.

Sleep tonight is still disturbed; but less so than the night before.

Friday marks Jackie’s special day as she is of to Sandhurst to meet the local lunching ladies!  Having seen her to Chelsea I am free to travel onto Frankston which is the end of the electric line – it does continue as a diesel extension but the service is a lot less frequent.   I wander around Frankston (it has a pier), before returning to Chelsea and finding some lunch.  Both towns appear a little rundown.

And you can see the photos.

I have determined that although there appears to be only one type of train on the metro services, there are probably three builds in use – distinguishable by door knobs and windscreen styles.  The oldest (probably) have a single round knob and the passenger starts the door opening and power takes over.  The middle group have a larger vertical handle.  The most recent build all seem to have a door push on the middle of the door itself.  Door opening and closing seems pretty robust.  Units are three car with a pantograph on each of the driving cars.  Not sure if all cars are motored.  They appear to serve all stations on the route with no fast workings.  The service is every ten minutes off peak, all with six car trains which provision seems too much in the off peak but it does save any shunting work during the day.

On the route out to Frankston there is some rebuilding in progress – there are frequent level crossings and with trains passing typically every five minutes on average there must be some frustrating queues.  The purpose of the work is to eliminate some of the level crossings, presumably by raising the railway to a higher level.  From observation at Chelsea there are also good gates for pedestrian road crossing which open and close quickly and prevent incidents.  Certainly once the train has stopped in the station the gate opens pretty quickly to allow people to cross and once the train has cleared the crossing in the other direction.  Jackie also reappears and we return to Melbourne.

Walking back to the hotel we stop at part of the ongoing food festival by the river for a bottle of good local red wine and some cheeses being sold by the Milk Bar.  The weather has much improved and we sit in more normal warm sunshine consuming the cheese before returning to the hotel and then consuming the rest of the wine.  Time to pack, ready to move on in the morning.  Before leaving Melbourne (which it should be noted was our third distinct time zone on this holiday) I should record that we both sleep much better with little interruption.  So 11 hours ahead of home we seem to have finally adjusted to local time.

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