In Newcastle we took an excursion to Hunter Valley to see the area’s wine country. We learned a lot about Newcastle along the way which was the second settlement created after Sydney in Australia. It also got its start as a prison settlement but it has grown into a major exporter of coal. Massive amounts of coal are shipped daily out of this port and they are continuing to increase their production levels. We also were shown one of the oldest cemeteries in Australia where they actually brought in the people by train who were to be buried. The Hunter Valley wine region got started when a store owner received a large lot of property in the area as a debt owed and decided to grow grapes on the property. The region has turned into one of Australia’s biggest wine producing areas with many different growers and wine producers in the area. During our visit there we had two wine tastings and one cheese tasting. The tastings were all enjoyable and each was very different from each other. It was an enjoyable morning excursion.
When we got back we decided to take the shuttle into Newcastle to see what was there. Initially we walked along the harbor walkway and park area. There appeared to be a trail that ran along the shore for some time. Instead of taking the trail we headed into town where we saw a few hang gliders. As we walked up a tall hill we got to a park which was the takeoff and landing area for about 10 hang gliders. The park was on a cliff that overlooked the ocean. The air thermals were very strong and must make this an ideal area for hang gliding. It was amazing how much control these pilots had with these gliders. They actually carry the gliders in a large backpack which turns into the seat they sit in while flying in these hang gliders. It was quite interesting to watch them and we viewed them for about an hour before heading over to a large church we had seen. The church turned out to be Christ Church Cathedral. It was built back in the early 1800’s and had gone through many renovations over the years. It is a very large and impressive looking church built out of red brick. It is certainly worth walking inside and taking a few pictures if you get in the area. From there we headed back to the shuttle and our ship.
In Brisbane we took an excursion to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary which included a short city tour of Brisbane. The Koala Sanctuary was similar to the other wildlife sanctuaries and reserves we had previously visited on this trip but obviously had many more koala bears there. We went there primarily because Chris, who joined us on this cruise, had not seen any of this native Australian wildlife up close. One thing offered at this sanctuary was the ability to hold a koala bear and have your picture taken with it. Unfortunately they only allow the koala bears to be held for a short period of time and by the time we got there, they were not allowing anyone to hold the bears any more. We were able to take pictures next to one of the koala bears with a sanctuary person holding the bear. There were many koala bears at Lone Pine and we took many pictures of them and watched them for a long time. They are really adorable little animals!
Besides the Koala Bears we also spent a long time in the kangaroo area so that Chris could pet them and take as many pictures as he wanted. Although they had 50 or 60 kangaroos, most of them were in an area that people could not go into to touch or feed them. There were several out roaming around and we were able to get close to them. Wallabies were also mixed in with the kangaroos. Even though we have seen kangaroos at many of our stops in Australia, they still are very fun to watch and we never seem to get tired of taking a few more pictures. Besides koala bears and kangaroos, we also saw some Tasmanian devils, a dingo, a platypus, a wombat, several types of snakes and many species of birds including a few emus walking around.
On our way back to the ship we were driven around Brisbane which is the third largest city in Australia. We made a stop along the river/ocean inlet where you had a great view of Brisbane which looks to be a very modern city with many tall skyscrapers. We were shown many of the 100 year old houses that have been updated and now cost over a million dollars to buy. We visited the South Bank which had many shops and some nice places to walk. When we were taken downtown we were shown some of the watermarks from some of the many floods they have had in the city. We were also told that Brisbane has some great beaches along the ocean. Next time we come we will explore the city or perhaps make it a beach day.
We arrived at Airlie Beach which is at the south end of the Great Barrier Reef. This was one of the items on our bucket list we did not want to miss. We are also going to Cairns for an overnight stop next and that is another place to go see the reef. Unfortunately the ships arrival and departure times made it almost impossible to arrange a 3rd party excursion outside of the ship to the reef at either of these ports. During the hour and a half boat ride out to the reef we were provided a lot of information about the reef and were told how we would be snorkeling there. We did rent an underwater GoPro camera that was available in order to capture the great pictures we were expecting.
When we got to the reef the water was beautiful and the day was sunny. What a great day to see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World! Our boat docked at a pontoon platform that was outfitted with all of our snorkeling equipment and nice semi submerged platforms to put on your fins and get into the water.
What a disappointment! They should call it the Great Reef Scam. All we saw was dead or dying coral and a few fish swimming around. We have seen better snorkeling in the Bahamas and certainly all over the Caribbean. We were shown all these colorful pictures of the reef and coral prior to the excursion but as we quickly learned the reef has drastically changed over the last several years. We heard various reasons on what caused these changes but the biggest problem seems to be several cyclones that have come through the area causing drastic damage, the abundance of ship traffic as well as the global heating. We finished snorkeling the whole area in about 45 minutes and came out of the water disappointed.
After a little buffet lunch on the boat we jumped into a glass bottom boat/submarine they had. The viewing from the glass wasn’t much different than what we saw while snorkeling. We did see a large resident grouper that made the underside of the pontoon platform its home. That was the most exciting thing we saw all day. If we had to do again, we probably would have taken the helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef as the water colors were beautiful and you could view the tops of the reef from the water that goes on for over 1,200 miles.
We arrived at Cairns the next day and decided not to do any further snorkeling since we heard the reef wasn’t any better up north from where we had snorkeled yesterday. Instead Chris had found a fishing excursion that we decided to try out. This was inland fishing and not out in the ocean. We caught several small fish and a couple of bigger catfish. It would have been a more enjoyable afternoon if we hadn’t been hit by a sudden storm that had rain flying at us horizontally with the strong winds.
After our fishing trip we spent a few hours walking through town and checking out the shops and restaurants. We then took a taxi to get back to our ship. Our ship was actually moored at Yorky Knob where tenders took the passengers on to shore. Cairns is about 10 miles from Yorky Knob which makes it a little inconvenient to moor there as we understand a new Cairns cruise docking area will be available soon for the incoming cruise ships.
On our second day in Cairns we took another fishing trip but this time it was to fish on the Great Barrier Reef. Chris had found a boat that took us out on a full day charter for a very reasonable price. It turned out to be a private charter as the boat was unable to get any more people for the day. After about an hour going out to the reef in 3 to 5 foot waves, we dropped our fishing lines out at the reef. Almost instantly Chris caught a fish and shortly after Sharon caught a fish. Chris then caught a good sized Chinaman Fish which gave him a pretty good fight. It was certainly the prettiest fish we caught that day. After catching a few more fish here we moved on to the next location. This turned out to be Greg’s favorite spot where he caught 6 straight fish on 6 casts. One of the fish turned out to be a nice sized Cobia King Fish. We stopped at a few more spots and caught many more fish throughout the day. Most of these fish were species we had never caught or seen before. We did catch a lot of snapper that the crew fileted for their dinner later that night. The two biggest fish never made it into the boat. Sharon hooked a massive shark and fought it for about 10 minutes before turning her rod over to the captain who fought it for another couple of minutes when it finally broke the line. Chris caught something of similar size (assuming a shark) while they were fighting that fish and his line broke too. Greg had a knack to catch small Remora Fish which had suction cups below their heads that allowed them to attach themselves to other fish. You will sometimes see them attached to sharks. Everyone caught some great fish and we all had a fun time. It certainly was our best time on the Great Barrier Reef.
After a sea day we arrived in Darwin, our last port stop in Australia. We had no excursions planned and we were staying overnight at this port. We thought we would just walk around the first day and organize something for the second day. Unfortunately there was a medical emergency on the ship that caused us to turn back to Cairns on our way to Darwin which delayed our arrival by several hours. We didn’t get to Darwin until around 5PM and by then there wasn’t anything open to arrange a tour for the following day.
On the next morning we got up to see what we could do but all the tours to the Wilderness Parks were not available. Chris wanted to see some crocodiles so we went to a place called Crocosaurus Cove. Crocosaurus Cove was basically a crocodile zoo or aquarium where you could view many crocodiles and other fish and turtles from the area. If you wanted to spend some extra money you could even go into a plexiglass cage in the water with the 15 foot crocodiles. We saw a few people who did this and although you certainly get some good close up pictures of the crocs, it really didn’t look that exciting. We also watched the crocodile feeding of chickens to these large monsters. Their jaws are really powerful when they clamped down but in general most of these animals seemed a little lazy. It was interesting though to learn about the crocodiles and Chris even had the opportunity to feed some of the smaller crocodiles. Darwin is known as the crocodile capital of the world. There are more crocodiles in the Northern Territory of Australia, where Darwin is located, than any place else in the world!
Next stop Indonesia – Komodo Dragons and Bali!
Greg and Sharon