June Days in Italy

In June 2017 we spent almost two weeks in Italy. Our American friend Nancy was with us for the first 6 nights in Tuscany, then Martin and I went on to the Dolomites via a brief visit to Venice.

Go here for a picture gallery.

Tuscany

The three of us flew from Manchester to Bologna (see below for practicalities) then picked up a rental car to drive to Castello di Fulignano, near the tiny village of Casaglia, where we had rented an apartment for 6 days. The Castello is an old Italian building on the top of a hill not far from Poggibonsi and we had a spectacular view from our living room to the towers of San Gimignano.

View towards San Gimignano from our apartment

The apartment was furnished in traditional Tuscan style and was very well-equipped. There was a wonderful sunset on our first evening there, while we ate in the outdoor restaurant.

It was by no means our first visit to Tuscany but the scenery was as beautiful as ever and it was nicely hot. A day in Siena included walking round the old streets, lunch at a restaurant in the campo, and the cathedral. It was also our first encounter with large tourist crowds. Parking was easy there as there are a series of escalators up to the old town from the car park.

Palazzo Publico, Siena. Yes, people were at the top

On another day we took a drive round what is now called Chiantishire where there are many more hilltop villages. After a bit of shopping in Castellini we had an excellent lunch on a terrace at Volpaia.

I did not venture out every day as the aftermath of my hip operation was still troubling me, and I had visited this area before. The other two went to Volterra and also to Florence where the crowds were enormous. There was no hope of getting into the Accademia but advance tickets for the Uffizi worked out fine.

We ate 4 dinners in San Gimignano. There are several car parks around the bottom of the old town. Car parks 3 and 4 are near a lift whch takes you up to the quieter end where we had two excellent meals. One restaurant in the main square was a bit variable, but the nearby gelateria had about 40 flavours.

Venice

We drove up to the Venice area, where Nancy meeting her daughter to go on a cruise, and stayed in Chioggia on the south side of the lagoon. Chioggia is a kind of mini-Venice
with real fishing boats and canals. About 50,000 people live there and there aren’t many tourists. You can go to Venice from there by boat and bus, but I declined this journey and watched the locals for a long time.

We stayed at B&B Antico Orologio which was an excellent choice The owner met us at a car park on the edge of the town where non-residents have to park. Our room and the sitting room were lovely and breakfast included a strawberry tart made by his mother. Dinner at a local fish restaurant was entertaining as we were floundering a bit with the menu which was only in Italian. The owner finally brought out a whole raw fish to show us what a rombo is – it turned out to be a kind of brill or flatfish. We finished our meal at a nearby gelateria. Only in Italy do you see so many groups of adults eating ice cream in the street.

The next day we decided to tackle Venice. We drove round the lagoon and then across the causeway to the Tronchetto car park which claims to be the largest in Europe with almost 4000 places. From there we took the waterbus number 2 which went down the Grand Canal.

Waterbus on the Grand Canal, Venice

There was obviously little change in the buildings since we were last there in 1969, but many many more crowds.

Gondola traffic jam, Venice

You could hardly move for people in San Marco where a long queue for the cathedral snaked round. We made our way through the alleyways via a good pizza lunch to Rialto and the obligatory photo of the bridge, then soon took the waterbus back to the car.

Rialto, Venice

Dolomites

Although we had been to the Alps several times, we had never seen the Dolomites and so took a gamble on the weather and booked 3 nights half board at the Pension Sellablick in the village of Colfosco. This also turned out to be an excellent choice. It’s a small village and we were on the edge with a nice view down to another valley.

View down to Corvara, Colfosco to the left

The food at Sellablick was excellent. On the whole we prefer to eat out at local restaurants but half-board came up as a good deal on booking.com. Breakfast was like what you get in Germany or Austria with ham, cheese, eggs etc not just the Italian breakfast of a sweet pastry and coffee. When we ate dinner out elsewhere the menu was a la carte and we just selected one or two courses usually with an antipasto then a pasta or main dish. At Sellablick we had salad, then an antipasto, followed by primo (pasta), then secundo (main dish) and a dessert. I declined the primo after the first day.

On our first full day there we discovered that it was Bike Day when hundreds of masochistic cyclists were doing the 58km Sellaronda which includes three 2000m passes. The road was closed until 3.30 but after that we just took a drive up to the Passo di Gardena.

The weather was kind to us on the second day when we decided to drive the Sellaronda. Plenty of cyclists were going round again. We stopped at each of the passes, having lunch at one of them. Some of the place names were in Ladin as well as Italian and German.

View from Sellaronda, Dolomites

The Dolomite peaks are more jagged than elsewhere in the Alps, and were just as spectacular even when cloud was swirling around. There were plenty of signposts for walking trails but I think many of them must be very steep. We didn’t see anybody on a via ferrata where you have to go up iron rungs holding on to a cable.

There were plenty of motorcyclists as well, but driving was fine even when we met the local bus. We did take one or two side trips, but returned pleased that we had chosen Colfosco and Sellablick.

The weather started to go off after that with some rain and thunder. We left Colfosco, drove over some of the passes again (yet more cyclists) and south towards San Martino Castrozza, stopping at a few villages where we discovered that, although the scenery looks like Austria, opening hours are definitely Italian with long lunch breaks. There were several small churches with lovely frescos on the outside.

Fresco outside chapel at Tesero

Then we were in an area where there appeared to be fewer tourists. Lunch was beginning to look difficult until we found an excellent pizzeria in Predazzo which was almost full of locals, not surprisingly as there were about 30 different pizzas on the menu.

San Martino Castrozza is a larger place, more like a ski resort and with the one-way streets we had some trouble finding the Park Hotel Miramonti which had few guests who all seemed to be Italians. It was a bit more basic and institutional than the Sellablick but they did give us a room which was definitely miramonti and we took some good pictures of the jagged mountains which turn pink in the sunset.

Sunset on the Dolomites, San Martino di Castrozza

Our last night was at Asolo which is just on the edge of the mountains. It was downhill quite some way from San Martino Castrozza and after more sight-seeing (churches) and lunch (another local pizzeria) we got into some heavy traffic and a thunderstorm. Our B&B was not actually in Asolo but 2-3km outside on the flatter land. Ca’ Cinel Asolo turned out to be another old house in lovely gardens. The owners spoke excellent English and their four dogs made us feel at home.

B&B Ca’ Cinel, Asolo

We decided to go to the old hilltop part of Asolo for dinner and had to walk up some way from the car park. We had just reached a long colonnade by the first buildings when another thunderstorm started and so we ate in a local restaurant there, well-looked after as we were the only customers. We watched a torrent of water rushing down the street as we ate, but it soon cleared and we even found another gelateria on the way back to the B&B.

Driving back to Bologna was no problem until we got very near to the airport and had trouble finding a petrol station. There was a long queue at the Ryanair bagdrop but Manchester passengers were being picked out to jump the queue. The line for security was also chaotic but having a walking stick does wonders if you are in a hurry and we were soon at the gate.

Practicalities

We flew on Ryanair from Manchester to Bologna and back. These full flights were better than our rather low expectations. It’s well worth paying a little extra to sit together (no middle seats a long way away from each other!) and to be sure that your larger carry-on doesn’t get put in the hold. Leg-room was OK for a short trip but the seat does not recline and there is no seat-back pocket. The food we purchased on the way back was a reasonable price and quite edible. They board the plane through stairs at the front and back and so there is no jetway. Fortunately Manchester did not live up to its weather reputation – we would have got rather wet if it had.

We rented a car for the entire trip from Alamo and had an almost new diesel Golf. There was a long queue at the rental desk at Bologna and the sole agent was taking about 5 minutes for each person. The cars were only a short walk from the terminal in tiny parking spaces, as we discovered everywhere in Italy. Diesel was about the same price as in the UK.

Driving was absolutely fine. We took the autostrada where we could. There is a ticket system for tolls and the machines took credit cards easily. We stopped at several service stations which were all very clean indeed, with plenty of things to buy and good coffee, but a little cramped inside. Car parks at the tourist places were well-organized. Instructions at the ticket machines were in several languages and they all took credit cards.

Our elderly satnav was excellent except for a few new one-way streets. We also used a Michelin map of all of Italy, a Geocenter map of Tuscany and a Marco Polo map of Austria which includes the Dolomites. We already had all of these and some guide books to which we added the Lonely Planet Florence and Tuscany.

All our accommodation was reserved through booking.com which we find to be the best site to use. More often than not the hotel e-mails you with more information.

We paid for everything with a Halifax Clarity credit card which does not make any charges for foreign currency transactions. Even after the fall in the pound after the EU referendum we found prices to be very reasonable. The yardstick of two scoops from the gelateria was mostly 2.50 euros.

The Internet worked well wherever we stayed, although there was no signal in our room at Colfosco, only in the bar. We made plenty of use of the new EU-wide facility of no mobile phone roaming charges.

Picture gallery: June Days in Italy

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Turkeys, Christmas and Brexit

For weeks I have been asking various Internet forums why people voted Leave. I have never had a reply except for one which is best politely paraphrased as ‘Don’t you know, stupid’. Well, I don’t know why.

But I can see what they have voted for:

1. Higher food prices. Fruit and vegetable growers and producers in the UK rely heavily on cheap labour from EU countries. There is plenty of evidence that many of these workers are not returning this year. The farmers and producers say that they cannot get British labour to work for the same wages and the same long hours and will have to pay more.
Result: higher food prices and/or food rotting in the fields.

2. Rising prices. The 15-20% fall in the value of the pound the day after the referendum is hitting the price of everything imported, now that the period of currency hedging used by many businesses has run out. It would be worse if the cost of oil (priced in US dollars) had not fallen.
Result: more households in poverty.

3. Loss of single market access which takes 44% of UK exports and is on our doorstep. A trade deal with the EU will mean keeping EU regulations which define the specifications for items which are traded. Each trade deal with another country requires specifications to be defined just for that deal.
Result: higher prices and less choice in the shops.

4. Problems in the supply chain. Some parts for manufactured goods and cars are made in other EU countries. Over 5000 trucks carrying many kinds of goods pass through the port of Dover every day with little paperwork now. Outside the EU, customs checks will be imposed and tariffs charged on these items.
Result: paperwork delays; international businesses moving their operations into another EU country.
Result: more UK unemployment. One example: BMW employ 4500 people at their Mini plant in Oxford, but they now are looking to build their electric Mini in Germany.

5. Higher airfares. The EU and US have an Open Skies agreement which has freed airlines from many previous restrictions on where they can fly. This has led to very cheap airfares across Europe. Dublin-based Ryanair are already planning their schedules for 2019 cutting out many flights from the UK, and Easyjet are looking for a new base within the EU.
Result: higher fares and fewer flights.

6. No compensation for delayed flights. At present an EU regulation allows delayed air travellers to claim compensation of up to 600 euros for delays over 3 hours.
Result: delayed travellers will have to pay for extra food and accommodation etc.

7. Roaming charges. A new EU directive removes mobile phone roaming charges within in the EU from mid-June 2017.
Result: roaming charges will be re-imposed.

8. Loss of protection for the environment. 3 examples here:
1. Clean beaches. These are protected by an EU regulation which ensures that beaches are not polluted by waste and sewage which I clearly remember seeing floating in the sea when I was young.
2. Clean water. Surely nobody in the UK wants a repeat of what happened in Flint, Michigan where the water supply has been seriously contaminated because of lax controls.
3. Fracking. A particular issue in Upper Nidderdale where I live and where the geology is suitable.
The Conservatives plan to copy all EU laws and regulations into UK law and then unpick and rewrite them. There are so many that they want to use a system which dates back to the absolute monarchy of Henry VIII to enable some of this to be done by a committee not by acts of parliament.
Result: influence from big business to serve their own ends with no scrutiny and fewer environmental controls (a bonfire of regulations).

9. Loss of funding for scientific and medical research where the UK is a world leader. This is not just the funding but revenue from any spin-off businesses from the research.
Result: loss of status and reputation of UK universities, and, with loss of talented staff, poorer education for the next generation.

10. Loss of revenue from international students. Numbers are already down. Result: loss of an estimated £26bn per year to the economy, and loss of reputation.

11. A downturn in financial services which are about 11% of the economy. One example: J P Morgan have just bought an office block in Dublin and plan to move several thousand people there from the UK so that they can keep the EU passporting rights for banking.
Result: loss of revenue from taxes, and money spent by financiers in restaurants, shops, retail etc.

12. Increased need for benefits payments for those who have been made unemployed.
Result: higher taxes for everyone else.

13. Fewer safety guarantees for nuclear fuel which the UK gets through the EU agency Euratom.
Result: brings the unthinkable a bit nearer.

14. A divisive society. The UK has had a reputation for being tolerant and fair. I am appalled at the vitriol directed to immigrants which I have found in the forums of the Brexit-supporting tabloids. It is disappointing that so many people fomenting this anger do not appear to know that half the immigrants in the UK are not from the EU and are nothing to do with Brexit, and that many of the people perceived to be immigrants were actually born in the UK.
Result: the potential backlash is frightening.

Common sense clearly indicates that any deal with the EU will be worse for the UK than being a member. Leaving the single market and the customs union is bound to lead to job losses. The UK is apparently now at the back of the queue for a trade deal with the US, which is in my view a good thing as I would not want to see US-style healthcare here. But chasing trade deals with much smaller economies halfway round the world doesn’t make sense either.

It would appear that immigration was a factor in the referendum vote. It is now clear that the NHS, care homes, and the construction and hospitality industries cannot function effectively without immigrants from the EU. Nurses from other EU countries are leaving just at the time when applications for nursing courses are down 23% because the government has cancelled the bursary scheme for nurses’ training.

Finally, the Tory and Labour election manifestos appear to have been written for a parallel universe where Brexit does not exist. Promises are made but nobody can predict how bad the downturn in the economy will be or how much money will be in the public purse. One thing is certain: in the last few weeks the downturn in the economy has already begun. The turkey vote is getting nearer to Christmas.

PS If you want to read more about the likely impact of Brexit on various areas of the economy and industry, I strongly recommend Richard Corbett’s blog.

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Brainwashing Brexit

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that this government is trying to brainwash the country into a hard Brexit. Just after Theresa May became Prime Minister we heard ‘Brexit means Brexit’. Empty words. A few days later we were going to have a ‘red, white and blue Brexit’. More empty words. Or does that mean we are going to be inextricably linked to the French Tricolour?

We were constantly being told that an ‘overwhelming majority’ voted to Leave. Can these people not do their sums? At the end of January I wrote to my MP (who originally supported Remain) to urge him to vote against the bill to trigger article 50. He replied very quickly with what I now think is his standard letter number 1. It said that an ‘overwhelming majority’ voted to leave. It is now 6 weeks since I replied asking him why he thought that it was an overwhelming majority when Nigel Farage said that 52%-48% was ‘unfinished business’. He hasn’t seen fit to reply yet, to this and to some other points in my letter.

Before this fiasco I thought that Theresa May was one of our better politicians, perhaps because she kept her head down. But now I see only an unwillingness even to consider the views of the 48% who voted remain and to compromise on this hard Brexit agenda. How dare she accuse Nicola Sturgeon of tunnel vision?

Without Gina Miller, the government was planning to go ahead and trigger article 50 just railroading Parliament without any debate. They spent a lot of money pursuing their agenda fighting this case, to no avail.

The U-turn on the Budget NICs proposal happened because somebody spotted that it went against what was in the 2015 Conservative manifesto. What has happened to the statement in this manifesto that we would seek to remain in the single market? In her Lancaster House speech Mrs May said that we are leaving the single market, this apparently only 2 hours after she told Nicola Sturgeon that our position on the single market was still unclear. No wonder Ms Sturgeon is upset and annoyed at the treatment of Scotland which voted strongly to remain. This seems to be yet another case of railroading the opposition.

When Brexiteers such as Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees-Mogg appear on TV they just repeat that the people have voted and that we are leaving the EU. When Boris appears we are promised a nirvana of a booming economy with no specific details.

And where is the official opposition? Jeremy Corbyn has just been keeping a very low profile except to whip his MPs into voting to trigger article 50. It has been left to the LibDems, the SNP, the one Green MP and Ken Clarke to fight this in the House of Commons. A better opposition leader could have got a coalition together to fight the hard Brexit agenda, but Corbyn just allowed himself to be brainwashed as well.

Fuelling this brainwashing is the Daily Mail which has a huge online readership. I have spent some time reading its pro-Brexit articles and looking over the thousands of comments they generate. Most of these comments are one-liners just urging the government to get on with getting us out of the EU, or they are derogatory and sometimes racist comments about any public figure who speaks up against Brexit. There is an assumption that Brexit is ‘the will of the people’ when actually only 37% of the electorate voted for it. I have found very little discussion of the issues and there are almost no replies when I raise any issues. Most of the comments forums are described as ‘unmoderated’, but I have good reason to believe otherwise.

Whenever they are mentioned in the Mail, the LibDems are in the firing line, being dismissed as irrelevant with disparaging comments about individuals. The LibDems have won far more council by-elections than any other party since the referendum. They were close to overturning David Cameron’s 23,000 majority in the Witney by-election. They won Richmond and increased their share of the vote in Stoke-on-Trent Central and Copeland.

The recent letter by 70+ individuals complaining about the BBC’s reporting of Brexit is just another instance of this brainwashing. The BBC goes out of its way to present both sides in any news item and to have fair and impartial representation on any panel discussion. Yet this letter generated a torrent of anger against the BBC in the Daily Mail forums, calling it far too left-wing and biased. Looking more deeply into these comments it appears that many of these people do not follow current affairs on the media, and nobody has yet been able to give me example of its so-called ‘biased’ reporting.

I, for one, am very fed up with this brainwashing. I fully accept that some people have good reasons for supporting Leave, but I am disappointed that so many predominantly Leave voters seem unable to look at the situation objectively and are just succumbing to this brainwashing. It’s time that our politicians stood up to the pro-Brexit press. And it is time for a more concerted fightback against this folly.

Postscript. As I was getting ready to post this, I discovered that the pro-EU march in London on 25 March is not being reported on the BBC web site. It got only 2 very short sentences in the 1pm news on Radio 4. This is more like censorship than brainwashing. Censorship is what happens in dictatorships and dysfunctional countries. Are we heading that way?

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Understanding Leave Voters

Why did and do so many people support leave? I’ve been struggling to understand this ever since the referendum. While I’ve been stuck at home recently I’ve been able to look into it a bit more. Here are some of the impressions impressions I’ve gained.

I fully appreciate that some leave voters have considered the implications carefully and made their decision based on their rational interpretation of the situation.

There are also, for want of a better term, the ‘Little Englanders’ who hark back to the 1950s and the days of Empire. I rather liked this piece in the New York Times on 15 February which attributes this view to Theresa May. One quote: ‘Brexit is rooted in imperial nostalgia and myths of British exceptionalism, coming up as they have — especially since 2008 — against the reality that Britain is no longer a major world power.’ In a post-Brexit world which other countries will want to trade with Britain if they don’t think we are any longer a major world power?

But I cannot think that the rational thinkers and little Englanders represent all the 52% leave voters. With the assumption that people vote for something if they think it will be beneficial to them, I’ve tried asking questions on some forums but have had hardly any answers and none that give any specific positive benefits.

So I turned to the pro-Brexit press, particularly the Daily Mail which has a huge online readership. An article in the Independent on 6 March 2017 reported on a study that shows that negative coverage of the EU in UK newspapers has nearly doubled in 40 years and positive coverage fell from from 25 per cent to 10 per cent. By the mid-2010s, 85 per cent of EU coverage in the Daily Mail was negative, compared with less than 25 per cent in the mid-1970s. This is the newspaper that branded the Supreme Court ‘Enemies of the People’ after the Gina Miller case.

In an article by the Deputy Political Editor of the Mail Online, the speech by mild-mannered Sir John Major on 27 February was described as ‘incendiary’. There were over 4500 comments on this article by 4 March when comments were closed. Most of these were not about the content of the speech but were critical and derogatory about Sir John. A good many of them mentioned only his supposed relationship with Edwina Currie. I have to ask what this has to do with Brexit.

The tone of many of these comments is negative, indeed insulting, with almost no constructive suggestions. Similarly most comments on Tony Blair’s speech a couple of weeks earlier were personal insults on Blair with no critical assessment.

Most comments on the House of Lords amendment on 1 March, which was described by the Daily Mail on 2 March as ‘an insidious plot to thwart democracy’, were also derogatory and focussed on getting rid of the Lords, not on the subject of the amendment.

As expected, immigration features widely in the Mail comments, but there is a good deal of misunderstanding. I didn’t find anybody able to separate EU immigration from non-EU immigration which presumably has nothing to do with Brexit and until very recently has involved larger numbers of people.

One person thought that all immigrants who have been here less than 10 years should be made to leave now. Had this person not thought about what effect this would have on the NHS, care homes, the hospitality industry, food processing and pricing, and education and research in our universities?

Among the comments there is definitely a perception that very many immigrants are claiming benefits. One person thought that these numbered ‘hundreds of thousands’. In fact studies have shown that EU immigrants are making a net positive contribution to the economy.

There are plenty of horrors in the spelling and grammar. One that caught my eye was the description of Theresa May as a ‘heroin’. I was very tempted to write a response about the consumption of this drug, but didn’t.

This was just a brief foray into the very many comments. I did respond to several of them, for example quoting the House of Commons Briefing Paper on payment of benefits to immigrants and the EU Directive that allows EU governments to put some restrictions on the movement of people, but got no response at all.

I also looked briefly on some other articles about Brexit in the Mail and found a very similar pattern in the comments.

I have to conclude that the Daily Mail and similar newspapers are driving the Brexit agenda. I am frankly extremely disapppointed in our politicians who are colluding with them and who are letting this happen. Are all our politicians really afraid of Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail? And what do his readers think of him? A glance over the private life section of his wikipedia entry indicates that he seems to epitomise all that the Mail commenters despise.

I was also disappointed at the apparent lack of knowledge and the inability to make any informed response among many of the commenters. Is this what our education system has come to? The recent BBC study showed a high level of correlation between remain voters and a good education. If we do leave the EU and lose many of the skilled EU immigrants who currently live in the UK, we are going to need a better educated population and one that can think constructively and positively with appropriate critical analysis where needed. For this we need a lot more investment in education rather than endless budget cuts.

I am reminded of a conversation we had with an American and a British couple on a cruise ship a few years ago. There was a lot of anti-immigration sentiment among the passengers on this ship. We were seated with these two couples at breakfast on the last day. They immediately started up about immigration but there was a total silence when I said ‘Don’t you think that the price of food will go up if there are fewer immigrants?’ It seemed that they had been unable to make the connection between cheap immigrant labour and food picking and processing.

This is little different from the areas of the UK for example Cornwall, the north-east and parts of Wales which have had large amounts of EU regeneration funds but voted leave. Had they not been able to make the connection?

Britain used to have a reputation as a fair and tolerant society. Fostered by the Mail and other pro-Brexit tabloids and enabled by free-for-all social media, this is no longer the case. Vitriol and misinformation abound. Is it right to let these drive the most important decision this country has made for decades? I hardly think so.

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Letter to Mrs May

Dear Mrs May

Why are you leading us into this madness?

Why do you let leave supporters get away with saying an overwhelming majority of the British people voted to leave when actually only 37% of the electorate voted for it, and the majority for leave among those who did vote was less than 4%?

Why did you not start a PR campaign stressing the benefits of EU membership when you became Prime Minister rather than letting the small number of leave supporters in Parliament drive the agenda?

Why are you letting the xenophobic press (Mail, Express, Sun) also drive the agenda? Are you afraid of losing their support for your government? You could accept some of this as the Labour party is in such disarray. Or are you afraid of UKIP, another party which seems to be permanently in disarray?

Why are you pandering to the majority of older people who mostly voted leave? Surely you should be thinking about the young people who mostly voted to remain. It’s their future, not the future of retirees, some of whom will be dead before an agreement is reached.

What are you doing about the lack of knowledge among some leave voters, like the man interviewed by the BBC a few weeks ago who thought we had already left the EU, or the woman, when asked about Article 50, just said “I don’t know, I don’t follow it”?

How do you think that leaving the EU will help the problems of those who voted leave because they were feeling left behind? Surely there is a disconnect here, particularly, as predicted, there will be a downturn in the economy after we leave. Surely you should be doing something positive to help them like encouraging more investment from foreign companies like Japanese car manufacturers who can then easily market to the rest of the EU.

Why didn’t you, and why don’t you start a PR campaign stressing the benefits of immigration? It seems that many of the areas of the country that voted leave don’t have many immigrants and so have little knowledge of how immigrants are contributing to the economy and paying taxes.

Why are you letting people think that increased numbers of immigrants are the cause of the current problems in the NHS when these problems are caused by chronic underfunding and lack of strategic planning for all the aspects of health care?

Why are you jeopardising the international reputation of our university system, by cutting off a major funding source for leading-edge research in medical, scientific and other areas, and closing down opportunities for cross-fertilisation of ideas? Surely this will lead to a brain drain and a worsening education system for the next generation of students.

Why are you making such a song and dance about a possible trade deal with New Zealand, a country of 4.5 million people halfway round the world, when we already have a market of 500 million people on our doorstep?

When are you going to acknowledge that the value of the pound has weakened substantially, and to consider what the impact will be when prices will begin to rise substantially once the period of currency hedging (fixing future exchange rates) by major businesses has expired.

How are we going to staff the NHS if immigration is curtailed?

By how much is the cost of food going to rise if there is no longer any casual immigrant labour for picking and processing fruit and vegetables?

How is our hospitality industry going to cope without the mass of immigrant labour which is now staffing it, when tourism is such a major source of income in this country?

Are you really going to pander to Trump, an unpredictable and self-aggrandising popularist, and do a trade deal with the US to

  • let American healthcare and insurance companies muscle in on the NHS and stop people with certain conditions being treated
  • roll back regulations so that we have fracking and other polluting industries in our beautiful British countryside
  • allow the import of more foods which have been treated with hormones and modified genetically

I have lived in the US and seen all this. I’m sure you aready know this but I will point out again that healthcare costs consume twice as much of GDP in the US as in the UK and life expectancy is lower.

What will happen to British farming if the EU subsidies are no longer there? Will farmers become unemployed and our beautiful countryside become overgrown if it is no longer managed for farming?

Why are you interpreting “take back control” as giving it to right-wingers in your party who appear to care little for the tolerant society for which Britain has had such a strong reputation?

Why are you leading us into this madness?

Please stop and think about the future of our country.

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Practicalities for Pensionable RTW Trippers

Why these places?

We had long wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef and to travel the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley in north-west Australia. A train trip across the Nullarbor Plain might be an idea too if we were going to be in both west and east Australia. Why not make it a round the world trip as we did when we went to Australia in 2009?

In the end we visited 8 countries (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, East Timor, Australia, Samoa, American Samoa and the USA) and travelled by plane, ship, train and car over 3 months.

In this post I set out how we organized the the trip and how we dealt with various practicalities.

Planning and guide books

Most of our planning was done on the Internet. We couldn’t be burdened with many books because of baggage restrictions but did take the Lonely Planet Australia and Lonely Planet South Pacific with us. We also downloaded some chapters from the Lonely Planet South-East Asia. We used the map of Australia we had in 2009.

I also bought the basic Kindle before we left but only used it for leisure reading.

Since the Kimberley was our number one priority we started by researching this and simultaneously investigating options for flights. We agreed that we are too old now for camping in the wilderness, and quickly discovered that doing the Kimberley without camping needs careful planning, well in advance. Several companies rent 4WD vehicles (which are essential), but they get booked up months in advance. Accommodation is also sparse, and some tends to get block-booked by tour groups.

The problems were solved when we found Bluey Travel on the Internet. They organized a wonderful trip with 4WD, accommodation and plenty of information. I can’t praise them too highly. Everything is expensive (and got more expensive with the collapsing pound), but if you want to see it you have to bite the bullet.

Flights

Early on in the planning stage I spent some time investigating round the world air tickets especially with the oneworld alliance which includes the main Australian airline Qantas. We thought about going to Burma on the way but it was the rainy season and finally settled on seeing a bit of Malaysia instead.

Once we had found the cruise from Singapore to Darwin and decided to take the train from Perth to Adelaide, a round the world ticket seemed pointless, and much too inflexible. We decided to book individual one-ways.

An e-mail from expedia or opodo alerted me to an Etihad sale and so we started with buying one-way tickets from Manchester to Kuala Lumpur via the Etihad web site.

We find that kayak.co.uk is usually the best site for getting information about air tickets. You can see what’s available 3 days on either side of your chosen date and you can follow a link from kayak to the source of the fare. Often we just go straight from kayak to the airline’s web site, but we did buy some tickets for this trip from sites we had never heard of before and all worked fine.

Another early booking was from Pago Pago in American Samoa to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines as this flight only goes twice per week. It was actually the most expensive flight we took. We travelled on Virgin Australia and Jetstar within Australia and on Virgin from Brisbane to Samoa, all with fares found on kayak.

Getting from Samoa to American Samoa turned out to be a more of an issue. It’s only a half hour flight, but airlines on this route start up and fail regularly (usually without updating their websites). When we were planning, just one small airline Polynesian Airlines was flying the route. We exchanged several e-mails with them but they kept saying they didn’t have a timetable for October.

We began to wonder if this was a plane that went when it felt like it, but eventually we were able to make a booking when we were in Australia, which turned out fine. They couldn’t take a foreign credit card online and so we just sent them a fax with the details. There were only 7 people on the plane, but we had to have the ticket before getting on the plane from Australia to Samoa, otherwise we would not have been allowed on the plane from Australia.

We wanted to go to our house on Florida on our way home from Kauai. This could all have been expensive one-ways until Martin remembered that we had some frequent flyer miles on Delta Airlines. These were left over from a trip to Brazil on Pan-Am (remember them?) in the 1980s and had been transferred to Delta after the demise of Pan-Am. They had been languishing in the account ever since because they weren’t enough for two transatlantic round-trips, but they fitted very nicely for two one-ways from Lihue on Kauai to Orlando.

We used more Star Alliance frequent flyer miles from Tampa to Manchester on Lufthansa.

All the flights (except the free ones) were on inflexible and non-refundable fares. We recognized that that was a risk on a long trip with lots of potential for things to go wrong, but it all worked out. The much greater cost of flexible and refundable tickets makes it worth taking the chance. A round the world ticket would have allowed us to change the dates of segments, but would have been much more expensive.

Boats

Our long dialogue with P&O Australia over disembarking from the Pacific Eden on their Singapore to Cairns cruise at Darwin is documented elsewhere in this blog. We found this cruise via an internet search which led us to a cruise agent and so booked it through them although we could just as easily booked directly with P&O. We were glad to be able to choose our cabin.

We booked the ferry to Kangaroo Island online direct with the ferry company Sealink about two months beforehand and were very impressed with the way they dealt with changing our booking because of the storm. They very quickly e-mailed us direct with information and a contact phone number.

The car rental company in Samoa booked the ferry from Upolu to Savai’i for us, all arranged by e-mail.

Train

The man in seat61 web site is the best source of information about trains. We found out from this how to get from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore by rail and, more importantly, when there was going to be a change of timetable because of electrification. We were able to book this ticket online and got numbered seats.

It was easy to book the Indian Pacific train from Perth to Adelaide online. This train only goes once per week and their web site gives you a good overview of availability. It is quite expensive: we realized why when we were on it. The train is about a third of a mile long, with masses of crew, but only takes just over 220 passengers (plus a few of their cars!)

Car rentals

In all we rented nine vehicles on this trip, including two to get to and from the airport to our house in Florida where we have our own car.

We tend to rent from Budget wherever we can but ended up with several different companies on this trip. Bluey travel arranged the 4WD in the Kimberley for us from Thrifty. Unlike most people we met, we had no car problems, not even a flat tyre.

You have to watch the small print if you want to take the car off a sealed road. After checking with them that we could take the vehicle to Kangaroo Island we got a 4WD from Budget in Adelaide – and needed it for the gravel roads.

Finding a good deal for a one-way rental in Queensland proved a bit more difficult but we got what we wanted from East Coast Car Rentals via an Australian consolidator car rental site.

Martin found a recommendation for a car rental company in Apia, Samoa and e-mailed them to make a reservation. They were very helpful and delivered the car to our hotel. In American Samoa we used the rental car belonging to the hotel where we stayed – which was half the price quoted by Avis (the only major car rental company there).

As noted in my blog on Kauai, Budget were too aggressive in trying to sell us more options, but their car was fine.

In Florida it’s best to rent as a visitor with a UK address – you then get a deal which includes all the insurance you need at well under £30 a day for a small car. We tend to rent from Budget or Alamo there. There is no drop-off fee for a one-way car rental in Florida and we can drop the car near to our house.

We usually resist the car rental agent’s attempts to rent us a larger car or sell us extra insurance. In Australia there is a very high excess on the insurance which comes with the car, but we have an annual policy to cover the excess.

We thought about renting a car to go from home (in the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales) to Manchester airport, but then found a deal on the Internet to leave our own car in the long-term parking at Manchester for 3 months for just over £100, or barely more than £1 per day. This was definitely worth it even though we had to get the AA to deal with a flat battery when we got back.

Extra tours

We took 2 of the cruise ship’s own excursions. We booked the visit to the Komodo dragons as soon as we booked the cruise (Komodo is a small island, with just one village, and we were not going to risk missing the dragons.). The other one, to Lombok, was last minute. Usually these excursions are very expensive. We did some homework on the cruise forums beforehand to see where exactly we were going to dock and what other possibilities there were.

We booked the 4WD Cooktown trip online as soon as we knew when we would be arriving in Cairns. We really wanted to do this and they need a minimum of 4 people and only go 4 times per week.

We were able to book the helicopter trip in the Bungles Bungles just the evening before. For Kuranda and the Great Barrier Reef we had researched trips well beforehand mostly via the excellent web site of the Cairns and Tropical North Visitor Information Centre. We were able to book them after we arrived in Queensland – which had the huge advantage that we could choose a day forecast to have settled weather.

Accommodation

Unusually for us we booked most of the accommodation beforehand. The exception was in Queensland when we wanted to be flexible and thought there would be plenty of places to stay.

We tend to use booking.com for hotel reservations, but normally check the price with hotels.com and expedia. In just one or two instances hotels.com was cheaper. Booking.com includes wifi in the list of options – it was an essential for us. We found that more and more hotels are now offering two rates, one with free cancellation (usually up to the day before arrival) and a cheaper one where there is a penalty for cancelling. Wherever we could we selected hotels where there was no penalty for cancellation as we were booking some way ahead.

In addition neither of us likes to set out on an empty stomach and on booking.com you can also easily see whether breakfast is included.

Using topcashback we managed to accumulate quite a bit of cashback from booking.com.

We find that it’s usually worth having a look at some of the online reviews of hotels, provided that you don’t believe every word they say.

We found that most motels in Australia have kitchen facilities, with a minimum of fridge and microwave but more often with a sink and dishes etc.

For Kauai we used vrbo.com to find an apartment to rent privately. We first identified Sealodge as a good location. There was plenty of choice and plenty of information on individual units there.

Food

Apart from the cruise and the Indian Pacific (and a few places in the Kimberley) where all food was included, we were mostly organizing our own food. We also knew that we were going to be outside towns and a long way away from food during the day for a lot of the time.

We took a couple of picnic plates and a good knife from home and bought some picnic cutlery in Darwin. On most days we just had a picnic for lunch. There are plenty of picnic tables in Australia, but none in Samoa.

For the Kimberley trip we bought a cheap coolbox in Kmart in Darwin and kept some lunch food in that. We were able to freeze down the freeze pack in a few places on the way. At the end we just donated the coolbox to the Broome B&B for another guest to use.

Mostly we went to a restaurant for dinner and finally got used to the leisurely service in Australia. The food there was very well presented but we did find it to be rather protein-heavy with fewer vegetables than we like. We usually just had some of our own fruit or yoghurt for dessert. Sometimes when we were in a motel with a kitchen we had a microwaved TV dinner with some salad and fruit or yoghurt. After 10 weeks of travelling it was nice to be able to cook in a real apartment in Kauai.

It was very easy to buy picnic food and fruit at Coles or Woolworths in Australia. It was less easy in Samoa although we found a supermarket in Apia. On American Samoa we had to resort to McDonalds and tuna sandwiches from small shops for lunch. Safeway in Kauai had everything you might want but at Hawaiian prices – pineapples were much dearer than in Sainsburys.

Almost all the places we stayed in provided an electric kettle and we made sure that we set off each day with a flask of strong hot coffee in case we got tired in the middle of nowhere.

We don’t drink much at all when travelling but we did notice that the price of some Australian wine in the shops in Australia was a lot more than it costs in the UK.

Insurance

We have an annual travel insurance policy which covers all the world and was fine for this trip. We also have an annual policy which covers all of the excess on car rentals.

Baggage

We were mostly going to be in hot weather but we needed to take a few warm clothes for South Australia. We also took some smart ones for the cruise but could have managed without some of them as the Australians dressed more casually than we expected from the US-based cruises we had been on before.

Most of our flights had a baggage limit of 23kg. We had one spinner suitcase each which when full came in just below this weight and somehow managed to escape excess baggage fees for the two flights which had a 20kg limit – partly by stuffing jacket pockets with heavier items.

As we usually do on a long trip, we took a small collapsible bag inside one suitcase. We used it on a day to day basis when we had a car. We take it into our hotel and swap the clothes round between it and a suitcase every four or five days and so we don’t have to take a lot of baggage inside every day.

We had enough clean clothes with us to last about two weeks. Laundry was a not a problem in Australia as most motels had a laundry room.

We also had one day backpack each as cabin baggage. Medicines, cameras, chargers, laptops, paper copies of some of our bookings and my small soft-sided handbag soon filled them.

Laptops and wifi

The internet has made a huge difference to planning and travelling on a trip like this. In the old days we often just winged it with accommodation, but this trip we only arrived somewhere without booking about twice.

We both have fairly large laptops at home and did not want to carry them around. In early summer we discovered that Lenovo were selling the 11.6 inch screen Ideapad 100s Windows 10 laptop very cheaply. We bought one for the trip and then a bit later a second one so that we could have one each. They were much cheaper than a tablet. I wouldn’t want to use this Ideapad as my main laptop, but it was ideal for the Internet, paying bills back home, downloading photos and writing notes for this blog.

Free wifi was available just about everywhere except when we were in really remote places or on the cruise ship or the train. We purchased some Internet time on the cruise ship. It was cheaper than on any of the other cruises we have been on and worked reasonably well.

Cameras

Martin has a bridge camera which is rather heavy and another small camera. I just have a small camera and most of the photos on the blog pages were taken with it. I did include a few from Martin’s cameras. Only the selfie at the Petronas Towers was taken with a phone camera which I don’t really like to use.

Money matters

Wherever possible we paid with a Halifax credit card which does not charge for foreign currency transactions. Martin kept track of the account online to make sure that all was OK and paid off in time. Surcharges for paying by card are common in Australia (and in Samoa), and where the surcharge was 3 or 4% we tended to pay in cash. When we needed cash we found ATMs almost everywhere. We used a Nationwide ATM card which does not charge fees for foreign cash withdrawals.

Most of our expenses were in Australian dollars. The expensive items were the cruise, the Kimberley trip and the Indian Pacific train. When we started to plan the trip the pound bought two Australian dollars. It fell sharply after the Brexit vote and was hovering around 1.60 Australian dollars when we were in Australia. Much of the trip cost us 20% more than we had expected when we planned it.

Hawaii is one of the most expensive places in the US and our stay there also cost us about 15% more than we had expected because of the fall in the value of the pound.

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Kauai

This is the eleventh blog post on our round the world trip August – November 2016. It covers our stay on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Go here for a picture gallery.

Arriving in Kauai

The Hawaiian Airlines plane from Pago Pago to Honolulu, a rather elderly 767, was almost full, but thankfully we were in just 2 seats (window and aisle) and had no large Samoans sitting next to us. It left early at 11.30pm. We were served a sandwich and drink just after takeoff and coffee just before landing at 5am Hawaii time (1 hour later than Pago Pago). The airport was very quiet at that time and we were soon through immigration and then had a long walk to the inter-island terminal for a 20 minute flight to Lihue on the island of Kauai in a brand new and almost empty small jet.

We had booked a small rental car from Budget and the agent greeted us with “You need a 4WD or SUV”. She looked annoyed when I told her that we had been to Kauai before, then tried to sell us some extra insurance because “people lose car keys while they are swimming and your insurance doesn’t cover this”. I told her we wouldn’t go swimming – it’s pretty dangerous in the sea in a lot of Hawaii anyway because of high surf. It makes you wonder how much commission they get for selling unnecessary extras. We got the keys and walked out. The car was absolutely fine.

We couldn’t check in to our apartment until early afternoon so we had a leisurely late breakfast in a shopping mall then stocked up with food at Safeway. We were staying in Sealodge, one of the developments in Princeville which is a huge resort area in the north of Kauai. Princeville is actually rather pleasant as most of it is lawn and golf course. Sealodge is on a bluff overlooking the sea. We passed some huge houses on the way to it.

View from our apartment, at Sealodge, Kauai

View from our apartment, at Sealodge, Kauai

Our apartment was well equipped and nicely presented, if rather over-furnished as the Americans like. It was nice to cook in a real kitchen on our first evening and the washing machine and dryer were soon put to work.

Why Kauai?

Kauai is not called “The Garden Isle” for nothing. We went there for a week when we lived in New Jersey in the early 1990s and loved it. Some of the mountain scenery, especially the Na Pali Coast in the north-west, is absolutely stunning. There are enormous sandy beaches and Mount Wai’ale’ale, which is usualy shrouded in mist, has the highest annual rainfall on earth. Like the other Hawaian islands, the south-west side is much drier and almost desert-like. The island is almost round but there is no road on the Na Pali Coast and so you cannot drive all the way round.

Another feature of Kauai is the number of chickens living wild and wandering around. There must be plenty for them to eat as we saw some excellent specimens all over.

Sightseeing on the north coast

On our first day we drove through the nearest village Hanalei and then west as far as we could before walking on several beaches including Lumaha’i Beach where Mitzi Gaynor washed that man right out of her hair in the movie of South Pacific.

Lumaha'i Beach, Kauai

Lumaha’i Beach, Kauai

On the way back we stopped in Hanalei for a shave ice which the Hawaiians tend to consume instead of ice cream. It’s exactly what the name implies, very tiny slivers of ice shaved off a block and built up into a snowball in a dish. Fruit-flavoured syrup is then poured all over it. Most people have two or three flavours.

The next day was also rather quiet – it rained a bit – but later on we went out to try to see the sunset from the St Regis Hotel in Princeville. This hotel looks across the bay to the mountain which is supposed to be Bali Ha’i in the South Pacific although it’s been doctored bit for the movie. It wasn’t a very good sunset and so we retreated and cooked some ahi ahi Hawaiian fish stew for dinner. After some research on the Internet we booked online to go to the luau (Hawaiian feast and entertainment) at Kilohani for the next evening.

The following morning we drove west again to Limahuli Tropical Gardens at Haena. This was very impressive. We were given a booklet with a page describing each of 40 stops on the walk around the garden. I was very interested in the vegetables grown by the early settlers. I had no idea what sweet potato plants look like, or turmeric. All was very lush and the view out to sea was lovely.

Sweet potato plant, Limahuli Tropical Gardens, Kauai

Sweet potato plant, Limahuli Tropical Gardens, Kauai

Luau at Kilohani

On the way to the luau we drove up to the viewpoint for Wailua Falls, a 50m high waterfall up a side valley. We had a good view from the top but you can’t walk
down to it as it’s too slippery and dangerous.

Kilohani was originally a sugar plantation but it has now been developed for tourists, with a toy train, restaurant and shops. We arrived in good time for the luau. I was given a flower lei and Martin had one of shells. There was a free drink and time to look round some stalls of which by far the best had some stunning photographs of Kauai taken by Kerry Oda who was there minding his stall.

We were assigned a table for dinner and found ourselves with 2 couples from Utah. They were obviously embarrassed at the US election goings on and so we didn’t press them about it. In any case we were right by the band and so conversation was not easy.

Music at the Luau, Kilohani, Kauai

Music at the Luau, Kilohani, Kauai

The luau proper began with an imu ceremony uncovering a pig which had been roasted in an underground oven rather like those in Samoa. The food was very much better than that we had a few years ago at a luau on Oahu. Salad was served on table then there was a buffet with pasta salad, rice, tomato salad, poi (taro paste), fish, chicken, and pulled pork.

The entertainment was amazing. It told the story of the first arrivals in Hawaii. The highlight at the end was several firedancers who were twirling torches. One of them was a fireeater as well.

Firedancers at the Luau, Kilohani, Kauai

Firedancers at the Luau, Kilohani, Kauai

Waimea Canyon and Kalalau Valley lookouts

Our time on Kauai was running out and so the next day we set off on a longer trip to the Waimea Canyon which is a huge gash rather like the Grand Canyon on the west side of the island. To get there from the north you have to drive south on the east side of the island to the south coast and then west through some of the drier areas.

We stopped in Waimea village to photograph another statue of Captain Cook who visited Kauai in 1778 – was there anywhere he didn’t go to? The road up the canyon went up steeply and then along a ridge in the forest. The view out at the viewpoint was spectacular with scenery rather like the Grand Canyon.

Waimea Canyon, Kauai

Waimea Canyon, Kauai

Further up there is a small museum and picnic tables at Kokee in a forested area. At the end of the road the Pu’u O Kila lookout gives an amazing view down on to the Kalalau valley where the sea is almost 3500 feet below. Cloud was swirling around a bit but it cleared enough for us to see the view. It had taken us well over 2 hours to get there but the lookout is only about 20km as the crow flies from Princeville.

Kalalau Valley, Kauai

Kalalau Valley, Kauai

Martin decided to try one of the hikes from the lookout and came back very muddy.

We topped at Kalalau Lookout on the way down. It gives more of a sideways view on the valley and we were glad we had gone to end of the road.

It was shave ice time again when we got back to Waimea village. At JoJos Shave Ice one with 3 fruit flavours and macadamia ice cream in the bottom was enough for the two of us.

Shave ice time, Waimea, Kauai

Shave ice time, Waimea, Kauai

Kalalau Trail

When we went to Kauai in the early 1990s both of us had hiked some of the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast. After 2 miles (on the side of the mountain) you can walk down to the first beach at Hanakapiai without needing a hiking permit. I decided to give it a miss this time but Martin took off on his own and met plenty of other people on the way. He came back very muddy again.

On the Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast,  Kauai

On the Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast, Kauai

Back in Hanalei in the evening, most restaurants were very busy but we had a nice local meal at Hanalei Gourmet.

Last day sightseeing

We had an overnight flight the next day, but made the most of the day with more sightseeing and some shopping. At the viewpoint for the Kilauea lighthouse we finally saw the nene (Hawaiian goose). Several chickens came running as we sat down to eat lunch at a picnic table on Lydgate Beach.

We drove up the road from Wailua village and stopped at the viewpoint for Opaeka’a Falls where there were more chickens.

Car park visitors, Kauai

Car park visitors, Kauai

We went to the end of the road (a stream) where there was a view of Wai’ale’ale with only a little cloud. Perhaps it was one of the few non-rainy days.

At Poipu on the south coast we had an unsuccessful attempt to find where we stayed before, but Spouting Horn blowhole nearby was behaving itself very well.

Spouting Horn blowhole, Kauai

Spouting Horn blowhole, Kauai

Flight to Orlando

After a quick Chinese barbecue dinner we returned the car at the airport and checked in for our Delta flights to Orlando. The checkin kiosk informed us that the flight from Lihue to Los Angeles was delayed. We began to worry about missing our connection and the next one in Minneapolis, but a human agent told us not to worry.

After 6 hours in the air we had to wait to land at LA because of fog, something we had never seen there before. However we did catch the connection as did our baggage. The airport in Minneapolis was very modern. There were rows of tablets which all had a credit card swipe machine next to them. We had not flown on Delta for some time and were rather impressed. All three flights were on new planes (two really because the second and third flights were on the same plane) and the service was good.

Our favourite Hawaiian island

If you want to go to Hawaii I would definitely recommend Kauai. We have been to four other Hawaiian islands and Kauai is definitely our favourite, especially for the scenery. There are plenty of options for a helicopter trip around the island. We didn’t do it this time as we did it on our first stay, but I would highly recommend it. It’s a must if you are a fan of Jurassic Park.

Not quite the end

I’m not planning to write up what we did in the two weeks in our house in Florida as it was all rather domestic and dull and so this is the last blog describing what we did on our round the world trip in 2016. I will, however, be writing another one setting out how we pensioners organized the trip and how we dealt with the practicalities.

Picture gallery: Kauai

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American Samoa

This is the tenth blog post on our round the world trip August – November 2016. It covers our stay in American Samoa.

Go here for a picture gallery.

The plane to yesterday

We were at the small airport at Apia in plenty of time for the plane to yesterday. Polynesian Airlines fly between Samoa and Pago Pago on American Samoa. For a long time they were unable to give us a timetable. As we had a flight out of Pago Pago on the Friday night, we were rather beginning to wonder how we would be able to get there from Samoa. At last they responded with a time on the Wednesday and we booked immediately. Thankfully we were able to avoid enduring 7 hours on the Lady Naomi, sister ship to the Lady Samoa III.

The immigration exit officer was one lady sitting at an old desk and our boarding passes were handwritten. The plane was a propeller Twin Otter and there were only 7 passengers in the 17-seater. No questions were raised about our amount of luggage which was definitely in excess of their limit. There was no flight attendant and we could see into the cockpit of the plane. The trip took only 30 minutes. We left at 12.30 on Wednesday and arrived at 12.00 on Tuesday after crossing the International Date Line.

Boarding the plane to yesterday

Boarding the plane to yesterday

American Samoa has a rather peculiar status of being an unincorporated territory of the United States. The main island Tutuila with the capital Pago Pago has a huge natural harbour which is the main reason why the Americans hold on to it. It was getting close to the US election day but the American Samoans did not have a vote for the president. However many other offices were up for election and posters were plastered everywhere. Conveniently they use US dollars.

Pago Pago

A taxi took us from the airport into the town of Pago Pago. The journey was quite slow by the sea round the edge of some mountains. It seemed more industrial than Samoa and there was more traffic. We had booked at room at the Sadie Thompson Inn. There are two Sadies hotels in Pago Pago and the other one, Sadies by the Sea, was fully booked, we later found mostly with various US government workers.

The Sadie Thompson Inn looked like an old wooden building on the outside, but our room was just like any American motel room. We were right by the sea but on a main road with a constant stream of smallish trucks. For lunch on our first day we resigned ourselves to the meal of last resort (McDonalds) which was just nearby – the first time on this trip. Most of the other customers were large Samoans.

We were very close to the bus station and the buses were just like those on Samoa.

Bus station, Pago Pago

Bus station, Pago Pago

Our guidebook was not very complimentary about the food in the hotel but we decided to try it for dinner as there didn’t seem to be anywhere else nearby. We had a good meal in an almost deserted restaurant. The lady on the reception desk was very helpful and chatted to us quite a bit. She was from Tonga. We began to wonder if we had made a mistake with the location of this hotel. How could we see the rest of the island?

The next day we decided to try to rent a car. Avis quoted a horrendous price on the Internet. We asked the receptionist who told us that the Sadies hotels have a 4WD car for guests to rent and booked it for us for the next two days. She also booked the umu that evening at Tisa’s Barefoot Bar, which is an American Samoan institution, on the beach about 15 minutes drive from the hotel, and organized a taxi to take us there.

Cheered up, we looked round the local market and then found a cafe which did good sandwiches. There was a small museum nearby with some nice carvings and paintings. There was nobody else there at all – we didn’t even see any staff.

Inside the museum, Pago Pago

Inside the museum, Pago Pago

On the way to Tisa’s we passed the main industry in Pago Pago. There are two huge canneries for tuna. The trucks passing the hotel were taking the cans to the container dock which was just beyond the museum.

The umu cooking was very similar to that at Va-i-Moana. We were served breadfruit, prawns, octopus, chicken and pork on a banana leaf. Breadfruit is not my favourite food but the meat was good.

Umu dinner at Tisa's American Samoa

Umu dinner at Tisa’s American Samoa

We were seated at a long table and enjoyed very good company for the evening. Three guys from Connecticut were doing some statistical analysis for the US government. The subject of Trump inevitably came up and one of them said he was going to get into his car and drive to Toronto on 9 November if Trump won. I wonder if he did. Our other companions were New Zealanders who were fishing for tuna to take to the cannery. Their boss was with them – he had travelled a lot and goes to American Samoa about once a month to oversee the transfer of the tuna. We also chatted to some nice Samoan ladies.

The taxi came back for us as promised. We were still a bit hungry when we got back to the hotel and so had a large helping of American apple pie and ice cream.

Western Tutuila

On the Thursday we really did begin to see some of the island. We had to collect the car from the other Sadies hotel about a mile away. It had done 60000 miles (surely not on a small island) and a warning light would not go off, but we decided to take it anyway.

It was a toss-up where to go first but we settled on the west side of the island. The guidebook recommended visiting the new Roman Catholic Holy Family Cathedral near the airport. Finding it was rather frustrating and we first drove round another large religious complex which I think was a kind of seminary. Eventually, after asking around, we found the cathedral. It was well worth the effort. It is a huge white building with a dome in the middle. The bell tower is a separate structure, tall, thin and spindly.

Holy Family Cathedral, American Samoa

Holy Family Cathedral, American Samoa

Inside there were some lovely stained glass windows depicting Samoans, and nice clean wooden seats and a wooden Christ. A painting, called The Holy Family, depicts a Samoan family on the beach at the village of Amanave which we later visited.

Painting, the Holy Family, inside the Catholic Cathedral, American Samoa

Painting, the Holy Family, inside the Catholic Cathedral, American Samoa

The caretaker came out to talk to us – I don’t think he sees many tourists.

Nearby we finally found Tia Seu Lupa, one of many prehistoric star or earthen mounds in Samoa. It was very overgrown but was not unlike the heiau temples in Hawaii.

After a sandwich picnic on a beach with lava rocks, we finally left the built up area and it began to look more like the other Samoa. There were some similar houses, although more modern ones as well, and large churches. We went as far as we could, to the last village Fagamalo. There were spectacular views as the road climbed over rugged mountains with lush rainforest vegetation. Palm trees were perched on rocks out to sea. All the villages were by sandy beaches with coconut palms and breadfruit trees.

Palm trees on rocks, American Samoa

Palm trees on rocks, American Samoa

Eastern Tutuila

On our last day we tackled the east side of the island where there is a national park, part of the US parks service. We had run out of food and had to resort to McDonalds again for breakfast. After that we drove up a steep road to a viewpoint over the harbour then into the national park.

Pago Pago harbour, American Samoa

Pago Pago harbour, American Samoa

There was more spectacular scenery as we went down to the sea on the other side of the mountains where there were more small villages on idyllic beaches.

View, American Samoa

View, American Samoa

The signage etc was just like in the parks on the US mainland. Martin walked up one of the hiking trails to a saddle, but only attempted a little of the ladders and ropes going down on the other side – he would have had to come back up anyway.

Hiking trail, American Samoa

Hiking trail, American Samoa

On the way back we saw a flying fox actually flying – they normally sleep during the day.

We still had a few hours left and so back down at sea level we went to Tisa’s in the hope of getting a smoothie, but found that they only serve alcohol and fizzy drinks. We got into conversation with two young Americans there who had a drone. They had been filming one of the other American Samoan islands Ta’u which is now virtually dependent on solar power set up by one of Elon Musk’s companies. One of the two worked for Tesla.

We drove further round the east coast and were amused to see an election poster on a rock out to sea.

Election poster on an island rock, American Samoa

Election poster on an island rock, American Samoa

Our flight was not until midnight, but it was raining a bit in the late afternoon. We took the car back to Sadies By the Sea and had a leisurely dinner there where we met the tuna fishing boss again. In the hotel shuttle to the airport we finally met some other real tourists on American Samoa. They were a group of American national park enthusiasts some of whom had seen almost all the sites managed by the National Parks Service.

Impressions of American Samoa

We really only planned to go to American Samoa as a way to getting to Hawaii and the rest of the US. But once we had the car it became an interesting place to visit. Away from Pago Pago and the bigger shopping area near the airport, it was much more like the other Samoa. Pago Pago was not as American as we had expected but, with the canneries and McDonalds and malls, parts of it were not very attractive. Three days was probably enough.

Picture gallery: American Samoa

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Samoa

This is the ninth blog post on our round the world trip August – November 2016. It covers our stay in Samoa.

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Samoa: a new country for us

Our taxi to the airport in Brisbane turned up on time at 4.45am. We had an uneventful flight to Auckland on Virgin Australia. After a wait of 4 hours we took another Virgin Australia flight to Apia, the capital of Samoa, arriving well after dark – there was a 4 hour time change. Most people on the plane were rather large Samoans. Fortunately we were not seated next to any of them. There was a musical reception committee at the airport which sounded very Hawaian.

Why Samoa? From our reading of the guidebook and online Samoa sounded like a very nice place. And so it turned out. It consists of several volcanic islands, but there are two main ones, Upolu and Savai’i. The capital Apia is on Upolu but Savai’i is actually larger. We decided to visit both.

The Samoans seem to have their priorities right. They have no military and spend heavily on health and education. We saw new hospitals and everyone spoke very good English as well as their own language. They seemed very happy people and I don’t think there is much crime.

Apia

The main airport is on almost the only bit of flat land 35km west of Apia. A procession of taxis headed to the town and we were soon at our hotel. A statue was standing guard on each side of the entrance.

Outside our hotel, Apia, Samoa

Outside our hotel, Apia, Samoa

We had chosen a hotel in the centre as we would not have a car for the next day. We had got some money from an ATM at the airport, but the taxi driver had no change and Martin had to go to a petrol station with him to get some (at 11.15pm).

In the morning we saw that the hotel was almost empty. Breakfast was a bit thin (fruit and toast with no jam) but the staff were very friendly.

We had a day exploring Apia. In the main market you could buy a papaya (our favourite fruit) for the equivalent of about 15p, and a very bright blue fish. There weren’t too many shoppers except some passengers from a cruise ship.

Market at Apia

Market at Apia

We had a very good panini lunch at the Milano cafe where the owner also told us about his restaurant called Paddles.

Robert Louis Stevenson lived just outside Apia for several years and in the afternoon we took a taxi to his house and museum which is in a beautiful botanic garden. We had to tell the taxi driver where it was.

We were shown round the house by student tour guides – several others there were anxious to get into conversation with us. All were wearing Samoan dress (long skirts and brightly coloured tops). Stevenson is buried on a nearby hilltop but it was too hot for the 45 minute steep climb up there.

R L  Stevenson Museum, near Apia, Samoa

R L Stevenson Museum, near Apia, Samoa

In the evening we took another taxi to Paddles, which is by the harbour, and had an excellent meal. Nearly all the other customers were Europeans and a lady and her daughter from New Zealand gave us a lift back to the hotel.

Breakfast was a little better next morning after we just managed to stop them making French toast which neither of us likes. We were the only people eating there.

Our rental car was delivered to the hotel just after 9. There was plenty of paperwork, as is usual in developing countries. We had to buy Samoan driving licences and were told not to park under a coconut tree. We were going straight to Savai’i and the car rental company had booked the ferry for us.

To Savai’i

On the way to the wharf at Mulifanua we got a sense of what Samoa looks like. The road seemed to be a continuous sequence of villages. The houses are brightly coloured and have a lot of open sided areas with small pillars all round. Every village seems to have a big church, with all kinds of Christian denominations represented.

There were plenty of fruit trees especially breadfruit and coconuts. Pigs were wandering around by the side of the road. Samoan buses are open-sided with no glass. They are painted in bright colours with names on the side with open sides. We saw more than one with the name “Poetry in Motion”.

At the bus station, Samoa -  we took a taxi

At the bus station, Samoa – we took a taxi

The Lady Samoa III, another tub, was just arriving as we were. We needed guidance for driving on as the ramp was very steep. There were huge numbers of foot passengers, mostly fairly large. The one big lounge was fitted with rows of plastic seats. Everyone started watching an adventure movie on a large TV. The news came on after the movie and everybody suddenly went quiet when Obama started talking about Trump. The journey to Savai’i took just over an hour and the boat was rolling quite a bit.

Savai’i is almost a rectangle but with the south-west sliced off. The wharf is at the south-eastern corner. We drove north then west along the coast road in the north to Va-i-moana resort where we had booked half-board. The scenery was much the same as on Upolu except that we saw more lava fields. We were very glad we had bought some food in the supermarket in Apia as there was none on the way. We had to eat it in the car.

Va-i-Moana and the umu

When we arrived the owner took us immediately to watch the umu being prepared for Thursday’s special dinner. It was just luck that we were there on umu day. An umu is a ground oven where food is cooked in hot stones. We watched coconuts, breadfruit and pork being wrapped in taro leaves and laid down in the oven which was covered with more taro leaves.

Preparing the umu feast, Va-i-Moana

Preparing the umu feast, Va-i-Moana

After that we were installed in our fale, a Samoan thatched hut which had one double and two single beds with mosquito nets, and hibiscus flowers laid on the towels. The attached shower room was partly open to the sky. Many fales are totally opensided but we preferred a lockable room. We were glad it was also waterproofed as there were some heavy rainstorms while we were there.

Our fale at Va-i-Moana Savai'i, Samoa

Our fale at Va-i-Moana Savai’i, Samoa

The resort was ideal for a rest after so much travelling. Our fale was close to the sea and we had to watch out for falling coconuts on our way to dining area. There were several other dishes besides the umu food in the dinner buffet.

Music was provided by two guys with guitars, one playing a kind of double bass with only one string and an instrument which was tapped with 2 sticks and being played by the chef. The female resort staff performed some Samoan dances for us. The music was soft and rather swaying and there was a lot of arm movement in the dances. The dancers were smiling all the time and came round to hug all of the guests at the end. This was definitely a happy place.

Dance entertainment at Va-i-Moana

Dance entertainment at Va-i-Moana

Next day was a quiet rest with two good meals – dinner was a set menu this time. There was a big rainstorm in early evening. A lot more people had arrived.

Va-i-Moana and the palolo

Early next morning there was a lot of activity out on the reef. We discovered that our visit had coincided with the annual palolo event. The palolo are blue worms which only come out on the reef (for mating) on the 7th day after the full moon in October They are (apparently) a great delicacy and people come long distances to attempt to catch them. Everyone in the resort was offered a small amount on toast for breakfast. They taste like fish paste.

Worms for breakfast

Worms for breakfast

After breakfast we got into conversation with a group of friends from Apia who go to Va-i-moana every year for the palolo. They catch them in a very fine net and would be taking them back to Apia for their friends.

Later that day we drove east along the north coast to see a London Missionary Church which had been badly damaged by a flow of lava which filled the entire inside of the church. It was a Sunday and very quiet as everybody seemed to be at church. We eventually found lunch at another hotel and decided that we had made the right choice to stay at Va-i-moana. Dinner that day included lobster.

The palolo fishermen were out again the next morning but they didn’t catch any more.

Back to Upolu

We left in reasonable time to continue driving round Savai’i. The scenery stayed much the same with a lot of houses. We stopped to see some blowholes – the trail to them was measured in miles and so I wondered when they switched to the metric system. We also passed many more big churches.

Church in Samoa

Church in Samoa

There was a long queue at the ferry – and no food. The palolo fishermen were there and told us that most of the queue did not have a reservation and so we were sent ahead to drive on. The fishermen disappeared into a business class lounge which we had not realised existed. We sat on the plastic seats again. The TV was showing a rugby match. The only food for sale was pot noodles. Would lunch today be only the biscuits which we had with us?

We needed to get more cash and so went to the airport, which was nearby, for an ATM. The airport was deserted but we found a sandwich and sausage roll shop at the back.

No longer starving, we drove south down the west coast of Upolu. The terrain became more mountainous and the villages stopped. The road was steeper and turned into gravel. We had three maps which did not agree with each other about the extent of the gravel and began to wonder if we should turn back. Fortunately we met an American couple coming in the other direction in a car a bit like ours. They told us that we would be OK but would have to drive through a river. It was quite wide but only about 4 inches deep and we were soon back on a paved road which turned into a main road.

Sa’Moana

Our destination was Sa’Moana Resort which was 7km off the main road on a gravel road which had lumps of lava in it. It was very quiet when we got there. We were shown to a large newish chalet facing the beach in a very nice setting. There were more flowers on the towels and on the bed which was on a big bamboo frame.

Inside our chalet at Sa'Moana, Samoa

Inside our chalet at Sa’Moana, Samoa

The room was better equipped than Va-i-Moana with a fridge, kettle and some fruit. There was a modern loo and washbasin then another outdoor shower surrounded by lava walls. The owners had turned off the electricity – not very intelligently as they had also left milk in the fridge. Black tea today.

Dinner was not included and so we both ordered some fish called wahoo with salad and rice which was accompanied by some rather loud music. We watched one of the best sunsets we have ever seen.

Sunset at Sa'Moana, Samoa

Sunset at Sa’Moana, Samoa

In spite of all of this, Sa’Moana somehow did not seem alive after Va-i-moana. There were just a few other people staying there and very few staff.

We had one full and rather quiet day there. It was rather annoying to find we had to pay for coffee at breakfast. However the wifi was very good and so we caught up with paperwork. The lunch menu was the same as dinner but I wanted something lighter
and asked for an omelette which was on the breakfast menu. I was first told that I couldn’t have one because it wasn’t on the lunch menu, but after persisting I did get one. Dinner was rather nice masi masi fish. We then discovered that the fridge had not been plugged in – there was a pretty awful smell from some spilt milk.

Back to Apia

I did invest in the expensive cappuccino for breakfast next day and we managed to get away from a rather talkative guest by 8.30. Upolu is a long thin island but we missed out the eastern side and took the cross island road up the mountain, along a flat area at the top and back down to Apia. We had a brief stop at the Papapapai-tai waterfall.

Papapapai-tai Falls, Upolu, Samoa

Papapapai-tai Falls, Upolu, Samoa

It took a while to find the car rental office to return the car. We were finally shown to it by a taxi driver who obviously sensed business which he got by taking us to the small airport close to Apia for the flight to American Samoa.

Impressions of Samoa

If you want to go to a South Pacific island, I would definitely recommend Samoa. The
scenery is magnificent and the people are so friendly. Driving was easy. All the villages have names, but there are hardly any other road signs. But if you stick to the coast roads, (and you more or less have to because of the mountains), that’s not a problem.

We had good food in Apia and in the two resorts where we stayed, but there are very few places to get a meal outside hotels and no picnic tables. It’s not a good idea to set off without having some food with you – and do expect to have to eat it in the car.

Picture gallery: Samoa

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Great Barrier Reef to Brisbane

This is the eighth blog post on our round the world trip August – November 2016. It covers the Great Barrier Reef and our road trip from Port Douglas to Brisbane.

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Great Barrier Reef

A big day as the Great Barrier Reef was one of our two must-sees in Australia. We turned up in good time to the Quicksilver offices by their quay and were soon on a large catamaran which they call a wavepiercer. There must have been over 200 passengers.

Getting on the Quicksilver catamaran

Getting on the Quicksilver catamaran

The weather was as good as they predicted when we booked. The journey to Agincourt Reef took about 80 minutes and we arrived at 11.20. There was free coffee before we left, some videos and a hard sell for optional extras on the boat. Lifeguards came round and those of a certain age who wanted to snorkel had to give them medical details. Martin decided to give it a try and rented a stinger suit.

Quicksilver have a fixed pontoon at the reef with plenty of seats and tables, and lockers for bathers. It was a bit of a scrum to get off the boat and find a stinger suit for Martin. I declined and took a few photos. The snorkelling area was roped off and the lifeguards were soon after anyone who went outside it. Some people were doing scuba diving.

Getting ready for snorkelling

Getting ready for snorkelling

I went down to the underwater viewing place and saw plenty of brown flat fish and little purple ones with yellow tails, and a lot of snorkellers’ legs. Much of the coral was a pale blush-colour and I could soon see what was meant by it getting bleached through climate change. People who had been there before really noticed the changes.

From the viewing area - Agincourt Reef

From the viewing area – Agincourt Reef

Martin’s snorkelling did not last too long and we joined the queue for lunch which was an excellent buffet of chicken, ham, lots of salads and fruit.

After lunch we did what I thought was the best part of the trip. They have some semi-submersibles which travel round the reef. They look like low ships on top, but you sit below water level, and there’s a commentary on what you can see on each side. We saw a clam about 1 foot across and plenty of fish but no nemo. The coral still looked bleached. It was so good that Martin went round twice.

Inside the submersible at Agincourt Reef

Inside the submersible at Agincourt Reef

We had a pleasant 75 minute journey back talking to a couple who had been on the Cooktown trip.

I was very impressed with Quicksilver. The trip was very well organized. They had plenty of helpful staff and a good selection of options for seeing the reef. You could even take a helicopter trip over it.

Port Douglas to Cardwell (without cassowaries)

Back at Port Douglas we had one of the 46 flavours of ice cream on offer at a place in town then drove back to Cairns where we spent the night at a quirky B&B which had a 6ft model of an elephant in the garden. It was actually a traditional house with big wooden verandas upstairs. A good meal in a pub nearby took a long time to be served, again.

Next day we started on a 1700+km drive to Brisbane. We had allowed plenty of time for this and it was perhaps as well as there is not much dual carriageway on the Bruce Highway (A1) which is the main north-south road in Queensland. Every so often there is an overtaking lane for about 1km. There were also plenty of short stretches of road works with traffic controlled by human beings not lights.

We didn’t go very far south on the first day as we still lived in hope of seeing the cassowary. Etty Beach was a lovely spot but there were enough people around in the middle of the day to put it off.

Etty Beach - no cassowaries

Etty Beach – no cassowaries

At Mission Beach we went to the cassowary conservation centre, an information place where a very helpful American gave us a local map and marked the places which are supposed to have the greatest concentration. We drove round all of them to no avail. At one place there is a trail with displays and models of their footprints and eggs. There were some lovely houses in one area. People must see cassowaries in their gardens.

Eventually we gave up and drove south to Cardwell where we stayed in a very nice motel by the sea. The owners had 7 budgerigars in a cage including two lovely green-coloured ones. In reflection it would have been better to stay the night at Mission Beach but we did not know what the Bruce Highway would be like and had a plane to catch at the end.

Cardwell to Bowen

Driving further south we passed a lot of sugar cane fields. They take the cane to the processing plants on little trains and we saw a lot of narrow gauge railway lines and just the occasional train which I didn’t manage to photograph.

We bought food at Townsville, the only other large place in northern Queensland, and attempted to eat lunch on the Strand, a big open space by the sea there, but it was too windy. Not long before Townsville the scenery changed to eucalyptus scrub, rather like what we had seen in the Kimberley.

We spent that night at a motel at Bowen where the wifi kept sending us to their Facebook page – overmarketing in my view. Mangoes are Bowen’s main claim to fame and there is a huge model of one just outside the town.

Giant mango at Bowen

Giant mango at Bowen

Broken River and the platypus

We had read in the guidebook that Broken River is a good place to see a platypus. After our failure with the cassowary, we decided to try our luck there and so we booked a room at the Broken River Mountain Resort which claims to be the best place in the world to see them.

Broken River is in Eungella National Park west of the town of Marian up Pioneer Valley and some way off the Bruce Highway. We passed more sugar cane then turned off on another short detour to Finch Hatton Gorge. Our Hyundai Accent managed the gravel road and concreted creek crossings. We drove past some cafes and bush camps to the end of the road where we ate our lunch. It was a bit far to walk to the gorge.

It seemed like we were in tropical jungle again. We saw 2 kookaburras and got some good photos helped by some young people, one of whom was standing on top of their truck.

Kookaburras at Finch Hatton Gorge

Kookaburras at Finch Hatton Gorge

On the way out of the gorge we stopped for some delicious organic mango ice cream which had lots of fruit in it.

Further up the valley we came to a small place called Netherdale, which is an occasional alternative for Nidderdale where we live. Did the original settlers come from here?

At the end of the valley we were faced with a mountain range covered in trees. It was 4.5km of very twisty road to go up and we were stuck behind a concrete mixer. At the top we suddenly came to the village of Eungella with green lawns and gardens and trees.

Broken River Resort was another 5km down past some farmland. It is nicely laid out with lawns and tropical plants. We were in a wooden motel-like room and there was plenty of information about platypus viewing.

It was a short walk down to the river in the early evening and there it was. Actually there were three of them. We watched them for sometime, just pottering about on the surface and then making bubbles ducking for food.

Platypus at Broken River

Platypus at Broken River

Martin walked bit further there and met another snake. Seventeen of the world’s twenty most venomous snakes are in Queensland. He thought better of trying to identify the one he met.

Dinner was really good at the lodge. We had to order it ahead of time and so there was no long wait. There was a bonus after dinner. The lodge has a feeding station for possums. One came after dark and ate a large meal of fruit just nicely at eye and camera level. I noticed that it ate all the pineapple first and left the watermelon until last.

Possum at Broken River Resort

Possum at Broken River Resort

Broken River to Rockhampton

After driving back to the Bruce Highway, we continued south. The road is mostly inland but we did find one lunch spot by a beach at Clairview. The scenery was fairly undulating and we were back in the eucalyptus scrub. We spent the night at Rockhampton in a pleasant, but almost empty, hotel. Some people were watching Australian rules football on a TV in the restaurant. It seemed even more confusing than American football.

Rockhampton has an excellent botanic garden which houses a free zoo of Australian fauna. Would this be our last chance for the cassowary? We had seen on the Internet that they had a male and a female. We soon found the cassowary enclosure but the walkway above it was closed because the male was sitting on a nest. The enclosure had plenty of dense vegetation and all we could see was just a glimpse of the female’s head when it popped up.

We had some consolation in seeing a wombat lying on its back. It was quite a bit larger than I expected.

Wombat at Rockhampton Zoo

Wombat at Rockhampton Zoo

There was a walk-in aviary, and the usual collection of koalas, crocodiles, kangaroos and an emu. I was much impressed with the gardens and zoo. It was a Sunday and plenty of locals were taking advantage of it.

Agnes Water and 1770

As we were making better progress towards Brisbane we decided to make a detour to Agnes Water and a village called Seventeen Seventy or just 1770 where Captain Cook landed on 24 May 1770. We stayed in a cabin in the forest at Captain Cook Holiday Village just outside 1770 and next morning visited the marker where he landed, and then also a very pleasant lookout area.

Captain Cook's landing place at 1770

Captain Cook’s landing place at 1770

Agnes Water is more of a holiday surfing place and it was quite busy. We walked on the beach a bit but only one small area was safe for bathing. It seems that crocodiles sometimes come that far south.

Hervey Bay

Back on the Bruce Highway we carried on further south to the turnoff to Hervey (pronounced Harvey) Bay which is a much bigger town. It is a major base for whale watching. The visitor centre was very helpful, but we were told that the whales were some way off in Platypus Bay off Fraser Island.

We drove along a very long esplanade which, like other coastal towns in Queensland, was separated from the sea by lawns and trees, presumably because of cyclones. We could just see the sea between the trees from our nice motel room at Tower Court. This was our last night in Australia and so I couldn’t miss having kangaroo again for dinner at the Wild Lotus restaurant. We had to wait a long time for our food again.

Glass House Mountains to Brisbane

We were only about 3.5 hours from Brisbane and so decided to take another short detour to see the Glass House Mountains. Captain Cook named these mountains, which he only saw from the sea, because he thought they looked like glass furnaces in Yorkshire. There is an excellent visitor centre and we had some difficulty extracting ourselves from an enthusiastic volunteer there. I don’t think they have too many visitors from Yorkshire.

The mountains are volcanic. There are eleven of them but Mount Tibberoowuccum and Mount Tibrogargan are the two most photographed. To say that the hiking trail up Mount Tibrogargan is scary would be a vast understatement. We saw some people just above the bottom of it. It was a beautiful sunny day and we had our last picnic in Australia at the viewpoint.

Glass House Mountains

Glass House Mountains

The Australia Zoo founded by Steve Irwin is close to Glass House Mountains but that will have to wait until next time. Nearer to Brisbane the road turned into a dual carriageway and there were more trees.

We found our hotel near Brisbane airport very easily and got ourselves to dinner as soon as the restaurant opened at 6 as we needed to get up at 3.30 for our flight to Auckland and Samoa. It was another very good meal but we waited almost an hour for it to come.

In retrospect I think that driving from Port Douglas to Brisbane was a good thing to do, just once. You really get a sense of the distances but it could have become rather dull if we had not made these detours. We must have done over 2000km.

Picture gallery: Great Barrier Reef to Brisbane

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