December 5th, 2018
Well, these two old adventurers went on an amazing adventure this fall! We sailed from Seattle WA on Explorer of the Seas on a 22-day crossing of the Pacific. During the voyage, we visited Honolulu, Maui, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia before landing in Sydney, Australia. One day was spent in Sydney before we boarded Radiance of the Seas for a 9-day voyage around the south island of New Zealand, returning to Sydney. Three days were spent in Sydney before we took our rental camper on an 8-day drive down the coast from Sydney to Melbourne. Then, we flew from Melbourne to Honolulu where we spent 3 days in an effort to re-set our internal clocks. From Honolulu, we flew to Toronto and then were driven home.
Wow! Even just reading that paragraph, I am aghast that we did all of that in 7 weeks.
On both ships, we took an interior stateroom on the 8th deck, at approximately mid-ship and away from the elevators. This was due to welcome advice from seasoned cruisers. Our room steward on the first cruise was a great young man who couldn’t do enough for us but on the second cruise, we hardly saw our steward and didn’t get to know him as well.
As you can imagine, there were many sea days on both of these cruises. But, we played trivia in the mornings and took watercolour painting classes as well, whenever possible. We joined our tablemates for mini-golf and shuffleboard as well as evenings of card games. But, of course, we were used to days of boredom on our own boat. There was much more entertainment aboard ship even if you just sat and people-watched.
But, we did stop at several tropical islands and enjoyed seeing different cultures and customs. In Fiji, we saw firewalkers that walked slowly across large rocks that had been heated in the coals of a fire. There also was a man who twirled a baton with fire on both ends. He managed to set his skirt on fire during the act, unlikely that it was on purpose. Then we visited a village where Murray, as the chief of our bus ( or victim in other words ), was given kava to drink. Kava is a bitter beverage made from pounded roots and often is used in ceremonies on these islands.
In Vita, in Vanuatu, we took a bus into town and visited the local farmers market. What a market that was! Some vegetables that I recognized but many that I did not. Out front, there was a young woman selling the most gorgeous flowers. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to bring any plant material or vegetables back aboard the ship.
The next stop was Mystery Island, also in Vanuatu, which was a beach only. The weather didn’t co-operate and it rained off and on all day. Murray and I managed to swim and snorkel for a while before the cool weather chased us out of the water.
New Caledonia was the next island on the route. It is a French protectorate and very tidy and clean. We took a tour and travelled past some interesting shops, restaurants and beaches. Friends took a cab to a beach and spent the afternoon but sitting on a beach or lying in the sun is not something we do. Walking on a beach, looking for shells, or snorkelling off of a beach – all things we like to do but to lie and bake in the sun – No Thanks!
After New Caledonia, we were again making a long passage, to Sydney Australia. The arrival was very well organized and we were amazed how quickly we were dis-embarked and cleared through Customs. Immigration had come aboard a few days earlier to expedite the clearance procedure. We took a cab to our hostel and arrived before they were open. Luckily, within an hour, someone came and gave us access to one of the rooms. As we were travelling with another couple, we had two rooms booked. They left their gear in our room and set off to the Opera House to see Evita. We couldn’t justify the $300 per ticket. But, we walked to the harbourfront and took a water taxi tour that lasted about 2 hours. After that, we toured the Maritime Museum before heading back to the hostel.
The next day, we boarded Radiance of the Seas for our voyage around the south island of New Zealand. This trip took 9 days and we visited 3 of the sounds or fiords and then made stops in 3 cities. In Dunedin, we had arranged an eco-tour, which was very informative and enjoyable. There were only 18 of us on the small bus and the driver/tour guide was able to navigate that bus into some off-the-beaten-track spots. In Wellington, we walked around the city, visited the museum and took a ride on the incline trolley. In Picton, we had signed up for a tour to a Maori village. It was an enjoyable experience and well worth the cost. After, Picton, we headed back across the Tasman Sea and had a very rough crossing. Many people were ill but Murray and I weathered it just fine. We did opt to eat in the dining room as I wasn’t sure that I could safely get a plate of food back to our table at the buffet.
Back in Sydney, we returned to the hostel for another three nights. During that time, we had a tour to the Blue Mountains and spent a day walking through the Fish Market and Sydney Aquarium. On the first day, we had gone on an unfruitful search for a coin laundry nearby. Google maps seemed to show several but, as we lugged the laundry all over town, we discovered that all had been changed into places where you dropped your laundry and they washed and folded it. So, back to the hostel, dragging the laundry, we went and used the washer/dryer in the basement there when it became available.
On November 9th, we picked up a camper rental from Jucy. It was really a mini van with a few extra amenities. A structure behind the front seats folded down and, with cushions in place, joined the back seat to create a bed. But there was no floor space left, just the running board by the door. When you opened the tailgate, there was a plug-in cooler, a single burner stove, a storage area with plates, cups, silverware etc, and a small sink. This was our home for 8 days. Luckily, we had negotiated for folding table and chairs. Otherwise, there would have been no place to sit once the luggage was place on the front seats so the bed could be extended.
We left the rental yard and proceeded carefully, on the left side of the road ( wrong side to us ), to a nearby grocery for necessities of life – beer, wine, bread, cheese, eggs etc. Sydney is a huge city but eventually we made our way out into the country and found the coastal road that we were planning to travel.
Each night, we found a campground using an app, WikiCamps, recommended by friends who had made a similar trip. I had purchased SIM cards and set up my iPhone as well as our travel companions with data and calling. This allowed us to stay in touch easily and to use mapping programs as we travelled.
The weather stayed lovely with warm days and cool nights. Some of the highlights of our week – beautiful long beaches, kangaroos jumping in fields, koalas seen in the wild on Raymond Island, flocks of cockatoos flying at dusk, bellbirds calling with their ‘ding’, rainbow lorikeets! Plus a sighting of a humpback whale leaping out of the water time after time.
Eventually, it was time to leave Australia and start our journey home. We had booked flights to Honolulu through Cheap-O Air and were slightly concerned as to how things might go. But, the flight was full, the cabin crew were attentive and all went well.
The hostel in Honolulu was one block from Waikiki Beach! The manager was excellent and led us down the road to our rooms – a studio apartment in another building. We had a full kitchen and bath with two queen beds. The one bed was set up in the kitchen but that worked just fine. We shared this space with our friends but each couple went their own way in the daytime.
On November 19tht, we departed Hawaii and landed in Toronto on the 20th. Awesome friends met us at the airport and drove us home where we crumpled into our own bed.
This was an adventure to be remembered for many years to come. If you are nearby, we can bore you with the slideshow.
Heather & Murray