World Wonders Cruise Diary – Day 53 – Thursday Island, Queensland, Australia

Cruise day 53 – Feb 26

This stop takes the cake as the shortest cruise stop we’ve ever experienced – four hours!  To make it even shorter the ship was anchored, meaning almost an hour of that time was spent going back and forth to the island on the tenders.  But on the plus side, we got in a good long walk around the small island as we checked it out.

A beautiful north Australian sunrise started our day
Thursday Island, colloquially known as TI, is noteworthy for being the most northerly town in Australia and is located between Wednesday Island and Friday Island.  I didn’t make this up!

The temperature was well into the 80’s with matching humidity numbers as we reached land, which brought on an immediate heavy sweat.  There were a couple of short optional excursions available, but we decided to just stretch our legs and look around for a couple of hours.

The water was a gorgeous teal color, and apparently quite shallow since the ship had to anchor a long way from the dock.  No swimming allowed, the crocodiles – nicknamed “salties” – are known to linger underwater here in far northern Queensland.

There’s crocs in them thar waters, maties!
For real!
She said her buns are toasted by the heated turtle

We followed a concrete walkway along the quiet main road that circled the island.  Between stretches of ocean views, we passed mangrove trees, saw and/or heard several wild birds and visited a historic cemetery.  But what really caught our eyes were the many huge and conspicuous cathedral termite mounds.

These mounds can grow as high as 22′ and last up to 80 years.  They are part of the ecosystem and improve soil quality by bringing subsoil up to the surface, while the deep subterranean tunnels help aerate lower soil layers:

One of many cathedral termite mounds in this area
Thursday Island Cemetery contains the graves of many different nationalities, including an old section for Japanese pearl divers
She just had to do it

About halfway around the island’s perimeter, we took another road across to the dock and our tender.  That’s all we had time for, and drenched in sweat we were ready for a cold beer and a shower (in that order).

 

How about that!

Typical of Viking, they thoughtfully handed out umbrellas to protect us from the scorching sun as we waited for the tenders…
…and this guy distributed cold towels for us to wipe ourselves down with – our hero!

I spent a while on deck and watched the process for removing the tenders from the water and securing them.  As that was happening I noticed several large sea turtles surfacing periodically for air – very cool!  I couldn’t get a picture of them because they disappeared almost right away, but it was fun watching their show from the 7th deck.

Even the pool area on the ship was humid
The last tender approached on a calm and beautiful sea
The main course was waiting for us at the World Cafe
Yes, she knows everyone!
The new Classical duo was very good
Another great performance by the Viking Sun Vocalists late night show

 



 

World Wonders Cruise Diary – Days 48,49 – Cairns, Australia

Cruise days 48,49 – Feb 21,22

We enjoyed our 2-day stay in the medium-sized city of Cairns (pronounced “kanz”), which has a population of around 150,000.  We took 2 excursions on this stop, the included Cairns Panorama Tour on the first day, and then an excellent optional full-day journey on the second day, the Great Barrier Reef Tour.

The weather was decent when we arrived…
A nice rainbow signaled rain in the area…
…followed a short time later by this on our bus tour – yuck!

Cairns Panorama Tour –

The heavy rain during most of this excursion put a damper on our schedule.  The guide tried to shift things around so we could make all of the planned stops, but the one at the Botanic Gardens was shortened to 20 minutes which was hardly worth getting off the bus for.

The other stop was at Palm Cove, a nice beach resort that would have been a pleasure to walk around if not for pounding rain just as we departed the bus.  We spent the time sitting in a bar having a drink as we looked at the beach through sheets of the wet stuff.  Can’t win them all!

What got our attention here were the tall Paperbark Melaleucas trees that are thought to be at least 400 years old.  The bartender told us the local council stipulated many years ago that buildings in Palm Cove could not be built taller than the Melaleucas…what a visionary decision!

These trees are protected, and the buildings, paths, and people fit seamlessly around them

At our short Botanic Gardens stop the skies opened up again 😦

We learned some things about Cairns, including the fact that it’s a gateway to two natural wonders of the world that meet near here; the Great Barrier Reef and the world’s largest wet tropics rainforest.  Cairns is also a huge grower of sugar cane, of which over 80% is exported as bulk raw sugar.

On the way back to the ship we drove through the downtown area and got a good feel for what it would be like to live and work here.  The main shopping area that covered an entire city block had a farmer’s market-like atmosphere that we would have loved to check out, if we’d had more time.

Great Barrier Reef Tour –

The 22nd was my birthday, and the 5:30am alarm had me jumping out of bed in anticipation of exploring the Great Barrier Reef.  I’ve done quite a bit of diving and snorkeling in some beautiful places, but this part of “The Reef” is supposed to be among the best.  The entire reef is by far the largest living structure on the planet, stretching 1,429 miles.

Our super-early room service birthday breakfast
Off we go to the reef on a second rainy day

After a 90-minute boat ride to a large covered pontoon structure, most of the 150 or so folks began donning wetsuits and snorkeling gear.  Although I’m a certified diver, it’s been so long since my last dive that I needed a refresher session, which was not available.  So I decided to just snorkel with my lovely wife for a while:

Our anchored pontoon/rain shelter for the day
Ready to go!
ML photobombs her new friends from the ship
This was later in the day, and the water remained choppy

The rain and wind created quite choppy waves, so Mona Liza didn’t last long – being the timid water person that she is.  I stayed out for a while, but between the waves, currents and no sun to show off the beauty below I was a bit disappointed.  Still, the variety of coral was excellent and although there wasn’t a huge variety of fish it was a worthwhile trip.

Mona Liza joined a glass-bottomed boat ride so she could get another look at the coral while staying dry.  We spent about 4 hours on the pontoon, and a good buffet-style lunch was included.  The 90-minute boat ride back to the ship in somewhat better weather capped off a fun day on and in the Coral Sea.

Back aboard the ship, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner with our new friends Ryan and Jean.  We ordered some high-end caviar to celebrate my birthday, and it was better than I had imagined it would be:

Ryan sang Happy Birthday top me (in Mandarin!) at full volume in the restaurant, much to my embarrassment

The evening’s show was a very entertaining and talented piano player, Ashley Carruthers:

He was one heck of an entertainer!

We enjoyed this bustling port city and our adventures there.  Although we’re not city people, we appreciated the fact that literally hundreds of restaurants and shops were so easily accessible to residents and tourists alike, and it was a nice clean place.

It turns out that Cairns is a resort destination for folks living in other major cities like Sydney and Brisbane.  We can understand why!

 



 

World Wonders Cruise Diary – Days 46-47 – Birdies at Sea!

Mona Liza wanted a post about our unexpected four days cruising the Coral Sea, two on our way to Noumea, New Caledonia and two back to Australia.  They were her favorite sea days so far because the ocean was almost mirror-smooth with calm winds – perfect!  They were also the days when we saw a lot of things flying around.

This is how cruising should be!

Robin Petch, a Viking guest wildlife lecturer, conducts wildlife watches every day we are at sea.  He gives scheduled and spontaneous lectures about the sightings of any birds or mammals we see along the way, and he also documents them for wildlife study groups:

This juvenile Booby didn’t seem to mind the humans all around it.  Mr. Petch said it was unheard of to get this close to one
This bird whisperer seemed to have quite a conversation going, perhaps they were discussing boobies?
I don’t think he’s so cute in the close-up shots

One afternoon Mr Petch counted about 40 Red-footed Boobies riding the air currents around the front of the ship as they swooped down to catch flying fish.  With the ocean being so smooth, we went down to deck 2 for a front-row show – birdies vs. flying fish!

Once again, ML kicked herself for not having her super-zoom lens, but I think it would have been more difficult to get good pictures with it because of all the action.  We’d never seen flying fish before, and it was amazing to watch the birds doing strafing runs after them as the fish popped out of the water and glided along to get away from the ship:

Believe me, it’s not easy to get a good picture of a flying fish from a moving ship
She caught this one just as it exited the water
A feeding frenzy – the birds looked like fighter jets as they dove after the fish

Flying fish don’t actually fly – they come out of the water at high speed and use their large pectoral fins to help them glide up to several hundred feet at speeds up to 40mph:

The track behind the fish is created by its tail vibrating to help keep it above water longer
The birds were quite successful and had a high “kill rate”
Go fish, go!
Score one for the birdie!
Or sometimes a bust…

The Red-footed booby is a large seabird of the booby family, Sulidae.  Adults always have red feet, but the color of the plumage varies.  They’re powerful and agile fliers, but clumsy during takeoffs and landings.  Found widely in the tropics, they are uncommon in the mainland U.S.

Red-footed Booby
Oh look, they tell fish stories too!
Just like us – resting after another big fish dinner 🙂

That evening we found them roosting all around the top of the ship.  The crew wasn’t very happy about the mess they had to clean up the next morning!

By the end of the next day they were gone.  Maybe a new cruise ship came along to stir up another meal?

And another day has ended beautifully!

We have not seen a radiating sunset like this before, fabulous!

 



 

World Wonders Cruise Diary – Days 44,45 – New Caledonia, France

Cruise days 44,45 – Feb 17,18

Our visit here in Noumea, New Caledonia was not on our original itinerary and became a first time stop for Viking.  The ship apparently re-routed here (two days of out-of-the-way sailing east from Brisbane) to allow Viking time to plan further revisions on the way to Bali, and the following segment to Mumbai.  The Mumbai to London segment remains unchanged at this time.  We learned after boarding in January that this Ultimate World Cruise actually includes several segments along the way for folks wanting shorter cruises.

Anyway,  New Caledonia is a cool French island with a population of about 300,000.  We were here for two days, enough time to get a feel for the place:

Yes, they love their boats here!

During our bus tour the first morning, we learned that about 10% of the population live on boats, many tied up at the harbor.  We saw hundreds of them sittin’ pretty on the beautiful azure waters.

Continuing past Lemon Bay Beach, we arrived at a high point where we could look down on the medium-sized city and most of the island.  After driving through the main part of the city, we returned to the harbor and boarded an “on and off” bus which took us back for more time at Lemon Bay Beach.  We had a craft beer there, and then crossed the highway to the beach where we took a walk and then just sat in the shade for a while enjoying some “island time”.

 

These structures at the harbor look cool at night (see the last photo)
These are called Flame Trees, and they were showing off their red/orange blooms all around the city
Flame Tree bloom

We finally got to ride on a double-decker bus
Mona Liza had a bit of a coughing fit, and everyone in this part of the bus left immediately (I’m not kidding!)

This island is quite wealthy, with much of that wealth coming from its main export – nickel.  About 20% of the world’s nickel is mined here; it’s the major source of income followed by tourism.  We learned that about 50,000 American soldiers were stationed here during WWII, along with a smaller contingent of Australian troops, to ward off any attacks by the Japanese (there weren’t any).

Lemon Bay Beach was quite nice, with lots of huge shade trees
This time the water caught her
Spotted Dove taking a walk
The brewery right across the street provided the desired beverages

We liked the small coastal city atmosphere here, and the fact that they were happy to accept our U.S. dollars for things we purchased.  The main language is French of course, but we were able to communicate OK with the people that we came across.  Maybe Viking should add this place to its regular itinerary!

A nearby luxury vacation island accessible only by boat

The ship sailed around noon on the second day, and since it was raining in the morning our plans to go back to the beach didn’t happen.  But we felt we’d covered the small town and beach pretty well, and it had a vibe that we really liked!

Back on the ship:

Roasted New Zealand Lamb was what’s for dinner at the World Cafe…
or a huge piece of T-Bone steak at the Aquavit Terrace
Dinner al fresco at the port