Another fairly rough night at sea due to big swells and big winds (it’s getting old) had us arriving at another big city, Brisbane (pronounced Brisbin). The approach to the dock was long and slow, as it’s located several miles up the Brisbane River from where it meets the Coral Sea.
Brisbane Panorama Tour –
This was a 3-hour scenic motorcoach ride that showed off the downtown area, historic sights and the river before taking us to the top of Mount Coot-Tha for a panoramic view of Brisbane and its suburbs. From our perch at 755′, we saw the path of the Brisbane River which winds through the metropolitan area like a ribbon. It was evident that the city has worked hard to create contemporary architectural masterpieces that co-exist nicely alongside old heritage buildings.
With a population of close to 2.4 million people, we spent our time checking out the young and vibrant crowd that keep hundreds of restaurants and other businesses up and running. The number of huge high-rise apartment buildings here rivaled those we’ve seen in several major U.S. cities.
At the end of the tour we returned to the downtown area where folks could disembark for some shopping and dining, or stay on the bus for a ride back to the ship as we did.
We had our Valentine’s Day dinner out on the ship’s deck, where we watched a nice sunset in perfect weather. We had Blue Eye Cod for the first time, and it was excellent. Afterward I stayed up late with Mona Liza to attend a concert in the ship’s theater that featured a violinist (it was just OK), then off to bed for another night of rocking and rolling on the high seas – thankfully a bit more tame this time!
A Major Itinerary Change
Unfortunately, our dinner was interrupted by an important announcement from the captain (uh-oh). For the safety of passengers and crew, Viking was scrapping all of its Southeast Asia stops – Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Singapore – in addition to the already canceled ones at China and Hong Kong. Missing 14 great ports is obviously very disappointing not only for passengers but also for the many crew members who had made plans to meet with family and friends in those countries.
The Coronavirus mess is obviously beyond Viking’s control, and they are suffering a financial and logistical nightmare on this trip. So far the changes have added a stop at New Caledonia (Viking’s first time there), then a journey back to Cairns and Townsville, Australia. Several more stops will be moved around as well, in an attempt to get us to Bali, Indonesia on time for the hundreds of passengers originally scheduled to disembark in Hong Kong to do so in Bali.
A few days later passengers received a generous compensation package for all of the missed stops, and an offer to reimburse people who want to leave the cruise early. Even in this tough situation, the Viking Cruise line continues to come through, and for sure we’ll use the compensation to book a future cruise with them.
Since our departure from Hobart, Tasmania, the weather had wreaked havoc on us during the days at sea. In fact, it was so bad that our stop at Melbourne had to be canceled due to huge storms in the area. We were upset because we’d planned to meet up with our friends Stan and Gigi who live there, but at least we’d been able to visit them on our 2006 cruise. Many of our fellow passengers were looking forward to their first Melbourne experience, and we felt bad for them.
So with Melbourne a bust, our next journey was 2 sea days between Hobart and Sydney. The night before our arrival at Sydney was quite unpleasant, with the ship rolling in 20+ foot waves and vicious winds. The waves crashing against the ship caused it to shake, rattle and roll – not the recipe for a good night’s sleep!
We learned later that it was the worst storm Sydney had seen in 21 years, with a lot of property damage and flooding. On the positive side, this one storm refilled their water supply from its 30% drought level to 70%, and it put out several of the bushfires that were still burning!
As Captain Lars had correctly explained, even if we’d been able to dock at Melbourne there was no way we would have arrived at Sydney in time for the 400+ folks who were departing the ship to make their flights home. Such are the tribulations of a world cruise!
And speaking of tribulations, we got our first CoronaVirus related announcement later. We were informed that China and Hong Kong have closed their ports, as a result, the captain canceled our stops there, revised our itinerary and we’d have extra time in Singapore. Of course folks weren’t happy about that – especially the hundreds of passengers scheduled to disembark at Hong Kong. But Viking did the right thing, and they’re doing the best they can to assist departing passengers and re-schedule port stops and excursions the rest of us had booked. What a logistical mess!
And on a more appetizing note –
The rest of this post is dedicated to an over-the-top Australia/New Zealand brunch buffet that happened the day before we entered stormy seas. I almost missed it due to a scheduled appointment, but fortunately I had enough time to gorge myself while Mona Liza ran around taking dozens of pictures. If you’re not into food pictures you are excused now…
How’s this for an amazing fruit presentation?
Mona Liza posed with her new BFF’s (Best Filipino Friends) who work onboard:
This was definitely the most incredible food presentation we’ve seen on a cruise ship, or anywhere else for that matter. About an hour later the ship became very quiet, we suspect everyone was in their stateroom taking a nap! But by 6:00pm the regular restaurants were filling up for yet another feast. Holy cow, I think I’ve just about met my weight-gain goal for the cruise already!
Finally, it was time to hunker down for another night of rock and roll through torrential rain and wind. Can’t wait for the ground to stop moving when we get to Sydney!
After leaving Dunedin’s harbor we sailed around the southern tip of New Zealand and cruised through Doubtful Sound. After looking at the jaw-dropping landscapes there we continued on to Dusky Sound. These weren’t stops for the ship, but rather a day of sailing through some of the most gorgeous glacier-carved sounds in the world within New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park. These pristine waterways contain incredible steep and heavily-forested mountains with waterfalls measured not in hundreds of feet, but in thousands!
These pictures don’t do justice, but they’re all we can offer. Unfortunately, the third sound we were to explore, Milford Sound, was closed to marine traffic due to massive rains and mudslides that had made the waterway perilous. We were happy that we had previously traversed Milford sound – exactly 14 years ago to the day – on our last cruise here, but we would have loved to see it again and it was a pity that the rest of the passengers missed it.
Crossing the Tasman Sea from New Zealand to Australia was the roughest we’ve experienced so far – high waves and brutal winds kept everyone inside the ship, with many folks suffering varying degrees of either seasickness, dizziness or bad moods.
It was Mona Liza’s birthday and she wasn’t feeling very well, but amazingly she seemed to snap back to perfect health when presented with a delicious cake and a bottle of bubbly, courtesy of the Viking crew. I tell you it was a miracle, she was cured! Viking came through again with such a nice surprise.
Hobart Sights Excursion
An early morning arrival at Hobart, Tasmania, our first port of call in Australia, gave us a good view of the port-side city that we would spend a cloudy day touring. Although we were now in Australia, the situation of homes and businesses filling seemingly every square inch of land continues. However, the population of 220,000 has managed to keep everything accessible; many homes are within walking distance of downtown businesses, restaurants and shopping areas.
The same goes for the port – although we didn’t have much time here because of our multiple excursions, we could tell there was easy access from the port to several miles of pleasant walking to parks, historical sites and several overlooks:
Hobart is the capital city of the island state of Tasmania, and a lot has happened since our visit 14 years ago. The population has grown by over 50,000, and the city’s modernization is easy to see. Typical 2-3 bedroom homes with a view but not really fancy otherwise go for around a million bucks (I don’t know where the young people get that kind of money!). Traffic didn’t seem too bad, but our tour guide reminded us that most working people walk or use alternate ways to get around, since parking is at a premium.
As usual, the bus tour included a history lesson, and we learned that Tasmanians are proud of their rich convict history. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries about one-fifth of all convicts transported by the British Empire were brought here. They worked off their sentences by building roads and infrastructure, then were released to begin their lives of freedom. Many of the current residents are descendants of those convicts, and they’re proud of it.
We visited Australia’s oldest brewery – Cascade Brewery – for pictures of the buildings, but we didn’t get to tour their operation 😦 At least we were given an hour to enjoy the beautiful Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens:
This excursion was a good introduction and update covering the city and its outlying areas.
Barilla Bay Oyster Farm and Winery Excursion
This 4-hour excursion with 2 fun stops was a blast! It started as another bus sightseeing drive through the city on the way to our first stop, the Barilla Bay Oyster Farm. We both like fresh oysters, and we got a short overview about oyster farming and grading, and how this place grows millions of them every year:
There’s a huge oyster farm out there
Oysters right out of the water – very salty before they wash them
We next visited another operation on the same property. Gillespie’s Ginger Beer is bottled and shipped from a building right here. We thought it tasted just so-so, but knowing that ginger is helpful for seasickness we bought some of the non-alcoholic variety for you-know-who…
Yet another enterprise here is catching and processing abalone. We knew nothing about that, but our guide schooled us in how it’s caught in the deep waters of Tasmania, then shucked, washed and dried for several weeks to several months. It’s a cultural delicacy that’s exported mainly to China and Japan, and wow is it expensive! She explained that the Tasmanian abalone industry is the world’s largest sustainable wild abalone resource, providing around 25% of the annual global harvest.
Finally, it was time to go back to the main building and enjoy a half-dozen freshly shucked oysters, and we weren’t disappointed!
Another fun stop, with the energetic winery owners guiding our group through the story of how their enterprise came about, using the area’s favorable weather to produce good wines. I’m not much of a Riesling guy, but we both liked theirs so we bought a bottle of it plus one of their higher-end Pinot Noirs.
We’ve been on countless winery tours and tastings over the past 20 years, and we never get tired of them. Making wine is the kind of endeavor I could see myself getting involved in if we lived in the right place. Those were my thoughts as we left this beautiful appellation for the scenic drive back to our beautiful ship.
That evening we had a Tomahawk Steak dinner. It was huge, and we felt so guilty that we couldn’t finish it 😦
Finally, the Viking Vocalists along with the cruise director and assistant director put on a great show:
We pulled into the bay of this mountainous seaside city around 7:30am and set anchor. This is the New Zealand we remembered from our honeymoon cruise in 2006 – gorgeous mountains surrounding small towns spread around a massive crater that created the terrain millions of years ago. Last time we had stopped at bustling Christchurch up the coast about an hour and a half by road, and coming to a quiet and charming new place this time was fine with us.
With a busy day ahead, we first took the optional “Harbor Cruise” excursion followed by the included “Dramatic Coastlines Along the Banks Peninsula” bus tour. It was an unseasonably hot day in the ’90s, but we enjoyed both tours and spending some time in this beautiful place.
Harbor Cruise Excursion –
We tendered ashore for our first adventure, a catamaran cruise out of the harbor and along a mountainous shoreline, ending at some caves where we explored rock formations that created the area. At the caves we were told that we’d likely see some Hector’s dolphins, but so far we were dolphin-less. There was also a chance of seeing Blue Penguins, the smallest of the species that have been sighted here on occasion. We’d never seen a penguin in the wild before!
We departed the caves and began crossing the bay toward cliffs on the other side of the entrance to the Pacific Ocean. In a few minutes we saw several cute little dolphins jumping out of the water and heading right toward us. Everyone was super-excited as they circled the boat several times. Very cool!
We continued across the bay, and I could swear I saw a Blue Penguin in the water. We went by too quickly for a picture, but when I compared it to a stuffed one they had on the boat it was a match. Oh well, no picture, no proof! I’ll always wonder though…
While I was busy searching for the seals that looked like rocks until they moved, Mona Liza captured gulls fighting over a fish, which ended up getting away:
Two gulls got into a major fight
The guide said they sometimes fight to the death
These two gave up, exhausted, and flew off
Our final stop on this fun tour was at the base of a large rock face protruding from the water, another part of the volcano’s gigantic rim. There we saw many fur seals along the coast, doing what seals do – swimming, sunning, just taking it easy. I decided right then that I want to be a fur seal in my next life.
Dramatic Coastlines Along the Banks Peninsula –
This excursion was a winner as well. The bus ride over the incredibly steep and beautiful mountains to the tiny town of Little River was full of expansive views of the entire area, again showing the outline of the massive volcanic rim that formed this place. We spent 40 minutes walking around the tiny town.
We really enjoyed our quick stop at this charming little town, and realized we’re now in the heart of New Zealand’s natural wilderness area.