NEW ZEALAND AND AUSTRALIA
KATIE COLLECTS KIWIS, KOALAS & KANGAROOS
Sunday, January 20
With all the fuss about extra security measures because of the war, I figured it made sense to get out to JFK early. No good deed goes unpunished. I left the apartment at 9 a.m. (one of the guys at the desk asked if I was going to the Bahamas) and got a cab right outside. Zip to the airport and then, of course, a breeze checking in, no delays at all. The lady checking me in even complimented me on having the art of packing light figured out: one medium and one small duffel to check, and my small backpack to carry on all with all my toys. So I ended up in the club by 10 a.m. noodling through the Sunday Times while waiting for my 12-noon flight. Then, "LA Flight # 3 is expected to depart at 1:30 PM." Ugh, but the connection times were generous so no panic. I abandoned the crossword and read 1 Henry IV instead. The plane was actually ready a bit early and the only noticeable oddity was that they had the metal detectors set tight enough to catch fillings. When they X-rayed the pack, they told me to take out all batteries, including the ones in the camera! OK. They let me leave the one in the camera, but somewhere down in the hold is a checked box holding eight AA batteries. Fine... I don't even look Iraqi!
The flight itself was familiar and dull. Thank God to be in First Class! One pretty-boy (but very quiet and pleasant) newsreader trying to make a 5:30 news show in Hollywood. He may Just have squeaked in. I read 2 Henry IV. I also called Larry with whom I hadn't connected over the weekend. He was all excited about Citi priorities and said that Pei agreed with Larry on org ideas. (Also said that Pei was "very impressed by me" (how?) and that it was fine if Larry talked the org through with me.) Anyway, very much an up conversation, and left me with a clear conscience. Clearer and freer than I've felt for my last vacations! On to LA, for an hour and a half. Time enough to call the Philadelphians (I've now checked out with everyone!) and see a bit of news: Iraqi missiles fired at Saudi Arabia being blown up by our patriot missiles. Another crazy sequence of a reporter on tape pointing out an incoming missile and then showing it intercepted. This is a new kind of war. High tech and as someone pointed out, so far television has shown no blood. No wonder it seems weird.
The flight to Honolulu was the party express even up front. They make the flight attendants dress in muumuus and Hawaiian shirts. Not slick. It's getting late, I'm getting cranky. Time for a 21/2-hour nap before changing in Honolulu. I headed again for the club where I got to see the tag end of Raiders of the Lost Ark before boarding the next plane. This plane at least is fitted out for international -- leg rests and all. Fine for dreaming -- 6 hours worth. I'm now awake (feeling fine!) watching glorious sunrise colors come up in perfect stratospheric stripes. Black clouds, fiery orange melting through green to sapphire to black pierced with diamond stars on the other side. Oddity -- they spray for bugs on landing, just like in Kuwait.
Off the plane feeling good. Nice airport -- trolleys in the customs area -- then via transit desk and a long walk to the domestic terminal. Blazing 8 a.m. sun, maybe 70 degrees; snack bar breakfast and packed 737 to Christchurch. My bags came off quickly and I got a chatty female cabbie to the A von Hotel. What a mellow, pleasant town this is. In the sunshine the geography and suburbs looked liked Arizona. Not at all as arid, but similar simple suburbs. The A von River meanders through town and the A von Hotel is only ten minutes walk from "downtown". That's in quotes intentionally. When I walked down there wasn't a single street that needed a crossing light. (Except for "look right!" signs for the wandering American.) No hustle and bustle and lots of regular people sitting in the parks or by the river. Maybe it's all on a summer schedule. After lunch at the hotel in the bright sun I did the city tour on foot: Victoria Square, Town Hall, Cathedral Square, Canterbury Museum, etc. All lovely, small scale, and sweet. Even the cathedral is on a manageable scale like a large parish church. The Canterbury Museum was cute too. They have a big Antarctic exhibit that focuses on New Zealand's role in expedition (support) and clothing and equipment (replicas). It's set inside the boundaries of the Botanical Garden. Lovely. All in all I enjoyed town a lot, but what on earth would anyone do on the second day? Dinner at the hotel and sleepily to bed.
Good start this morning. I had breakfast then walked along the Avon and picked up my perky left-handed stick-shift car at the corner of Oxford Terrace and Lichfield Street. (Quick, what country am I in?) Got lost -- only slightly -- then picked up my bags and headed out on Route 1. I only had one or two driving goofs and, so far, no wrong side-of-the-road panics ... but I did start swearing when I hit a rotary just outside of Christchurch. The roads all seem to be straight-ish, two-lanes and easy to go 100 K on. Very comfortable. Nowhere did I meet any traffic to amount to anything. Often I was the only car in sight. (Where is everyone?) The first stretch was across flat plains with sheep. Off to the west, a line of blue hills with clouds. Very open. Then I turned west and headed through those hills. The road was very comfortable and still sheep-y on the sides. Bits and spritzes of rain showers.
On further to Lake Tekapo which is an absolutely gorgeous, opaque turquoise blue glacier run-off lake. There's a marvelous chapel called the Church of the Good Shepherd on the shore of the lake looking as though it landed from Cornwall. Behind the altar is a picture window with a view of the lake and snow-topped mountains beyond. I'd love go to mass there. Unfortunately a constant stream of tourist kids killed any pretence of reverence. I wanted to keep pressing so I didn't wait the ten minutes that would have cleared them out. Then on through more plains, wheat-yellow with greenish black trees and cloudy-blue sky above. The mountains were quite barren and dry-looking rising right out of the flats.
After the turnoff for Mt. Cook, you do 30 miles zipping along the edge of a lake/river, finally arriving at the little village. It's about the size of a not-yet-discovered ski area. A couple of hotels, park HQ, and utility buildings. I ended up at the Hermitage along with several Japanese groups from buses. In spite of that, it is very pleasant. My room has a balcony and view of: clouds and rain. There's a storm stuck up there on these mountain ridges of the South Island. Phooey! I then climbed-up to a lookout point to take a couple of waterproof snaps. Ah well, you can't demand good weather.
Dinner in the Panorama Room was delightful. I could gaze at steep, green slopes with streams bashing down and mists swirling around out of the mountain as if the mountain itself were sweating. Further off in the fog were slashes of snow up high on black shapes -- glaciers hanging off into space sort of like Chile. I hope there's some clear time tomorrow. I rather like this. It's a bit like being at Mohonk in wet weather.
Woke up early -- 6:30 a.m. Actually I've had no jet lag this trip and if waking up an hour early is the package price, well it's a bargain. Weather still socked in, but at least no rain. I watched war news (same old thing), ate breakfast, took a few pictures, then hit the road a bit after 10:00 a.m. -- no way the clouds would lift. Zipped off to Queenstown and got in around 1:30 p.m. The drive was fun: flat plains (movie- like) then a bit of a climb, and a long descent through a gorge. Hills barren and brown. Then into open, golden country again with green rivers that are (were) gold-rich. Another gorge, then Switzerland. Oops... Queenstown. Lovely lake, steep mountains, bright white town, and the smell of pine. I've been sneezing like crazy. I looked around town -- T -shirt and mountain gear shops -- before "checking in" with the Routeburn Walk people at Millie's Restaurant. "You can't miss it. There's a parrot out front." Looks like a nice crowd. Two promising couples one local 30-ish; the other American, mid-40s. One young girl and a non-English speaking Japanese lady. Two other ladies (Do men do anything alone? ) will join in the morning. My hotel/motel is a hoot. It's a 2-bedroom condo unit, up/downstairs, full kitchen, etc., Pour me! Queenstown is tiny, touristy , but not too honky. Bungee jumping from a crane in the town square doesn't count. Tiny though. I can't get over how few people are sprinkled around. Isn't this mid-summer? The temperature is in the 80's when the sun is out. After supper, though, I waded in the lake and it was icy cold.
January 25- 27
I didn't carry this notebook on my walk, so I've got three days of trekking to remember in a clump. We all gathered on the Queenstown pier at 7 a.m. and it turned out to be a lovely group: Jay and Angie from New Orleans were probably the most comfy, Sandy and Jamie taking a weekend away from the kids in Queenstown, Shirley and Alice of a certain spry and spirited age, Rowan the gorgeous 16 year old whose father had to cancel out, and Chiyoko who spoke no English. Our guides were Tina and Brenda, both enthusiastic mountain kids about college age. We had a long bus ride via Te Anau, then got dumped out at the side of the road at The Divide. (Along the way the bus driver -- identical to every driver I've run into anywhere -- made two pertinent comments. One was that we were at 45 degrees or half way between the equator and the South Pole. The other was that New Zealand is a wonderfully safe place to hike-- no lions, tigers, bears or SNAKES!) Close to perfect. First bit of hiking was uphill through forest. Everyone spread out, but the group seemed fairly well matched. The trail was obvious and well marked all the way. Mostly "paved" with gravel. After an hour or so, we dumped our packs and climbed up a more open slope to eat lunch on Key Summit. It's a wide-open space with panoramic views of snowy streaked mountains all around. Down again after lunch to the main track, then a quick walk to tea at Lake Howden. Actually, toilets, tea or Tang. The facilities all along the track, even the public national forest huts, are deluxe by any standards. And I didn't see a bit of litter or destruction in the whole walk.
After an icy wade at Lake Howden, it was on through the woods again to Earland Falls. Eighty meters of falling water and you can sit on the rocks at the foot and feel as though it's falling into your lap. Spray fills the air even when it's clear and sunny. In wet times you can't even cross over by the falls but have to go down and up on an "emergency detour." After the falls, it was straight on to Lake Makenzie. Sadly, the last half hour or 45 minutes is down. Hard on the legs and a bit frustrating when you've climbed up all afternoon. The hut at Lake Makenzie was a miracle. Flush toilets, hot showers, main kitchen, and dining room with tables and chairs, four-person bunkrooms. I hadn't expected such civilization at all. The guides even turned out to produce real meals from soup, to fresh vegetables, to chocolate pudding for dessert. Better than home. Day two started with an hour's slog up the Zigzag. Straight uphill switchbacks. The only saving grace was the views of Lake Makenzie below. Even from the top, the water was so clear you could see rocks on the lake bottom. "Gin-clear" to quote Angie. At the top was Ocean Peak point or lookout. A beautiful spot to sit and stare. Everyone gathered there to catch up -- with both breath and people -- then continued around the corner and balanced on an open slope face for quite a way. Track clear but very rocky and rough. After lunch by a stream, it was an ugly uphill rock scramble to Harris Saddle. Not very nice in perfect weather. I'd hate to see it in the rain; you'd slip and wobble all over. Although I was HOT and pooped, I did let myself be encouraged to do a side tour up conical Hill, another (pack-less) rock scramble. (Mohonk would be a good training ground.) The 360-degree view with the sea in sight was stupendous. Worth it, but that wasn't altogether clear until I'd safely scrambled down again.
The rest of the day seemed like hours and hours downhill, still rocky, though not as steep as the gully on the other side. It seemed endless, but really took about two hours to skirt around Lake Harris and then along the Routeburn river to the falls and another deluxe hut. I collapsed into tea and a hot shower, admired the not-very-nice Kea bird, and listened to Jay play flamenco guitar. He does it semi-professionally, and it was glorious on both nights to have music. Dinner was again sumptuous. We had picked up four more trampers and their guide Phil so we were quite the merry band. Fueled by several cartons of wine, then juicy steaks, we were in fine form for the traditional pancakes for dessert. The guides each flipped pan-sized pancakes, then tossed them over the shoulder, over the table, to the waiting diners. Only three clean catches, but the pancakes with whipped cream and peaches were as tasty as anything you could imagine, unconventional delivery and all. Pop them back in the pan to sterilize! Everyone was crashed by 9:30.
Our last day on the track was leisurely (but painful on stiff downhill legs and boot-battered tootsies). First to Routeburn Flats for tea, then through the woods, to "The Beach" for lunch and swimming (not me!) From there the trail was smoother and more lazy though woods, along roaring gorges, and finally to the shelter at the end of the road. Bus back, sneaked a quick off- hours beer, photo-op at Queenstown, then time for a shower. The day, and trek, ended with a pleasant group dinner back at Millie's. Side note: hay fever raging from tree line on down.
Nice sleep, a little war news (ugh), errands in Queenstown, then a power drive to Te Anau. I really enjoy a bit of driving. I didn't want to try anything strenuous -- like Milford Sound -- so I took the cruise and tour of the Manapouri power station. Very pleasant. And another GLORIOUS weather day. I'm really blessed. The power station is 600 feet underground and you drive down a long, spiraling rough rock tunnel to get to the main hall. Not a lot of action to see, sort of like a data center tour. Still it was plenty spooky to be way down there. Up above, all you see is beautiful fiords and forest of the national park. The station took eight years to build, 1963- 71, led by the tough condition pros, Bechtel. Toured around town a bit in the evening. Te Anau must have at least 2,000 people! But the lake is lovely. Dinner at the hotel.
An airport day. Last night I got a call at the hotel. "Katharine? You're on our 9:00 am flight to Queenstown. Is it all right if we pick you up at 8:45 to go out to the airport?" "Why, certainly". So I turned in the car early, just down the block, and was packed and waiting in the lobby on time. A pleasant young man named Mark arrived at about 8:55, popped me and my bags into a standard black car and off we toddled to the airport. Or whatever. One shed, lots of grass, and one (count 'em) plane. Mark was, of course, also my pilot and all-purpose do everything person. In the middle of the field he took my undecipherable computer air ticket, ripped it out, folded up in his pocket and announced that I was now checked in. He said, "Since it's just the two of us, would you like to sit up front?" "Yes." So I scrambled over the pilot's seat to the co-pilot spot of our deluxe 6-seat Cessna 206. We taxied to the end of the field, looked both ways and took off for Queenstown. Clear sky all over. Flying through the valleys. Taking detours -- "Would you like a picture?" -- into Queenstown's paved runway. A total hoot. I looked down the runway for the nearest taxiway. Mark pulled off and went cross-country to the parking area. "All nice things must come to an end." The rest of the day was pretty much dull transit. On to Christchurch. Hang around. On to Melbourne. One hour out, a brief announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, you may have noticed that we've turned back to New Zealand." Apparently a wildcat strike by re-fueling crews in Australia. Once on the ground in Melbourne, a plane wouldn't be able to get a refill to take off again. Four hours late. Sarah had waited doing work reading and was right there as I came off. Lots of fun. We stayed up way too late gossiping. Nice to be here.
Slept late and then we did some dithering around the apartment before dropping in at Sarah's office for a last minute errand. Then we headed for the beach and sat eating lunch on a pier surrounded by sailboats with the buildings of downtown Melbourne beyond. The sun is absolutely blazing, whiter and more direct than home. And though the sky is very big, it's the clear force of the sun that you notice. In New Zealand, it was tempered by green hills and mountains so you noticed heat (and sunburn). Here it is the light pushing at you. Quite nice, really, but a force. We finished lunch with one of the best chocolate milk shakes I've ever had -- not too sweet, then did a couple of errands, ran home, and popped into bathing suits for a run to the beach. Melbourne is a sprawling city not a high rise one. Suburbs of tiny little brick houses close together or twinned, all with fenced-off small, overgrown front yards. It makes everything look a bit run down with the bushes and all, but when you look at many of the houses they are quite exquisite. The residential streets go right up to the beach like LA. We settled in on the sand and had a wonderful bake. The water was reasonably warm (well, after cooking in the sun it felt icy!) small waves, very clean.
When we came out from our dip there was a boy hunk being photographed right (20 feet) by our spot. Very strange and probably for a gay magazine. The photographer and the art director were nerdy, Bert - the - Vert types in black pants and shoes, and cheap white shirts. The model was a real hunk with red bikini undies and unzipped denim shorts. Very coy. We kept on watching, commenting, and giggling. This went on for a couple of hours. They never moved. If anything, they moved in closer to where we were. Funny haha, as well as funny peculiar. Eventually we pried ourselves out of the sand, did some marketing, showered, and headed out for Indian food. It all made for a deliciously relaxing day. A good break from the tourist fuss.
W e made today an ordinary city sort of the day. After general dithering around the apartment, we went downtown to pick up the airline and theater tickets. Downtown Melbourne seems a comfortable place, sort of a sunny San Francisco. Everyone looks quite up to date and all, but there is no sense of pressure or crowds. We were right in the center where they have the usual pedestrian malls and so on. you could be anywhere. Then we headed to the Dandenong Mountains to ride Puffing Billy -- a narrow gauge steam railroad. Well, we missed by about five minutes and so had lunch in a gothic-y, overgrown carriage house run by refugees from Woodstock and filled, with classic 70s music. Great lunch and great fun. From there we drove to the scenic view lookout. The drive goes through giant ferns -- almost like palm trees -- and spooky , vertical gum tree forests. But to be truthful, the afternoon's highlight was a devastatingly good Devonshire tea at Miss Marples. Scones to die for, pies of whipped cream and perfect tea. Ahhhh. Back to the apartment, then on to rally with friends Meredith, Mary and Fiona for a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Botanical Gardens. Apparently the outdoor performance has become a summer-time institution over the last three years. It was just fine. First (Athenian) act was set on an open hillside looking over a lake to a facing hill with huge trees and ferns and the city lights beyond. A flock of bats wheeled overhead for the perfect touch of eeriness. As the play moved into the forest, so did we, squeezing into a little clearing a few hundred yards off. Lights and action moving all around the clearing added to the feeling of fairyland. The actors doubled many of the roles, from Theseus /Oberon, Hipployta/Titania, lovers/bumpkins, etc.. It worked very well. Back at the hillside for the last act with the rustics play, bows, and mini-fireworks. Home late but very much worth it.
Back again to catch Puffing Billy , this time successfully. It's a fun, hour-long ride through the forests ending at a picnic ground. There's little to describe about the ride itself except to say it's simple fun. Like The Little Engine That Could. Home to prepare for the barbecue Sarah's arranged. She coerced her closest friends Meredith and Leon into doing it at their home. It turned out to be six or eight of us; some left early. Just like an American barbecue. Aside from the accent, there's little different from home. I thoroughly enjoyed it as a party though. There was more chitchat going on than at the play the night before.
Up with the birds this morning. The cab came at 6 am to take us to the airport. Amazing how I seem to see sunrises only when I'm traveling! Flights to Adelaide, then Alice Springs, and finally Ayers Rock/Yulara. Alice Springs is a town, I guess, but it looks like a very small one sitting in the back of nowhere. I couldn't tell from the airplane if anything was paved or if there's a main road of any sort into or out of town. It seems more natural to see a natural landmark and attendant resort out in the middle of nowhere than it does a scruffy , dusty town. The flight on to Ayers Rock was quick -- 45 minutes -- and interesting. The earth is intensely brick red, and all the bushes and even grasses are in separate clumps so, with their shadows they look like unfocussed 3D stereopticon pictures. The rock truly does just appear from the earth in a single unit. Surprisingly the Olgas are close in, a 90-degree turn from the resort. All very reminiscent of Arizona desert. The Sheraton is nice with an exquisite pool, flush to the ground, large, soft clean. The only possible flaw is a lack of shade. We ended up under an umbrella in the cafe section. No issue. And it is blazingly hot. Must be around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But to suit the climate, the whirlpool attached to the main pool is cold. The facilities suit the place.
We ate on early dinner at 5:30 p.m. and then bussed out to see sunset on the rock. Again, the rock seems to float in another world; it's disconnected from the ground it springs from because it is so extravagantly abrupt. There's a limited viewing area, but plenty of room for folks to spread around through the brush. The flies are awful. Even with bug dope, they swarm around your face, land on your glasses, fly into your nose and mouth and generally are horrendous. I'm not talking about the sunset ... it was not wildly dramatic. The color changes are quite gradually from baked brownish, to warmer red, to gray blue when the lights go out. From the video sense there might be a bit of disappointment, but there was a huge sense of stillness and awe.
Bus back by 8:00 pm so we got into bed early, ordered milk shakes for nightcaps, and went to sleep.
Early to bed was in a good cause. The pick-up for sunrise and climb was 5:00 a.m. The hotel can't manage breakfast that early (neither can 1!) but they put together a little pack of Evian water, juice and fruit that just fits the bill. Sunrise was lovely, but when the light came up, so did the bugs. It was still quite cool, comparatively. We started the climb at 6:45 a.m. on the shady west side. The first stretch is unbelievable (for a tourist thing). You step onto the rock -- and there is a line between plain and the rock -- then walk up a steep slope past "chicken rock" About 50 yards up, a chain begins about 2 feet off the ground. Between the chain and your feet you walk up a slope that ranges from 35 degrees to 70 degrees. The surface is basically smooth except for little pockmarks that might be foot-sized but only half an inch deep. Seems very hard to get traction but isn't a problem in reality. It is, however steep enough so that it's hard to use your whole foot, you tend to work from the ball of the foot forward. This first stretch is about a third of the whole climb and I -- and most everyone -- stopped for a proper sit down rest at least four or five times. It's even a bit scary to step away from the chain by four or five feet to sit down because you have the sense that you' II just slide down. At the top of the chain there's a good sized resting shelf, then a stretch of maybe ten feet of vertical rock that you sort of rappel up using another bit of chain. From here on it's free waling following a painted white line. The next third continues to move up with quite steep stretches and some flat bits where you cross baby knife-edge ridges. (Okay , the drop is only eight or ten feet on either side to ledges or waterholes, but it's all rock and who'd want to do it?) When you cross onto the top of the Rock, the sun and the wind both hit with force. Too much wind to keep on a hat, or stand without listing. Enough sun to be VERY grateful it's still early morning. Walking across the top following the dotted line is like walking across rolling ocean waves of rock. Up and down. Short steep bursts. At the highest point there is, of course, a guest book and post box. Sign in, rest, drink water, admire the view. The climb up took just over an hour.
The view is impressive in its plainness. Just endless brush out to the horizon broken only by the domes of the Olgas and, way off, Mt. Conner. Otherwise just heat and light. Going down was a scary prospect, but turned out to be very easy. One reason is that although it's very steep, there's no loose rock or sand. The surface is just unitary rock. Even the last stretch with the chain could be walked down very slowly and with deep braking action in the knees and thighs, but walked all the same. The descent was a bit faster, about 45 minutes. Back at the bottom at 9:05 a.m., the heat and the bugs were both a noticeable irritant. We sat swatting on the bus until going back to Yulara at 9:30, official UIuru climbers. So how do you celebrate a mountaineering victory of this magnitude? You go to sleep, of course, and what a difference a couple of hours can make. Around one we roused ourselves for lunch and lounging by the pool. Again the heat and sun were so intense as to be repellant. You actually feel pushed back onto the shade. We sat under an umbrella slathered in a revolting mixture of sun block and bug dope. The pool was again magnificent. A little after three, we headed out for a tour of the Olgas. I was sorely tempted to plop by the pool, but Sarah chivied me on and I rallied. Bus ride followed by a very hot walk up Olga Gorge. Dramatic. I expected Indiana Jones. (Wouldn't that be nice?) Temperature around 40 degrees Celsius. A bit wearing. Just a bit. We went back out for another Ayers sunset viewing and it seemed even more serenely and subtly dramatic from baked to red to chocolate brown. Once again, a sudden "put out the lights." Back to Yulara for dinner and bed. One note: the $4.00 Australian, spend on bug nets was the best money we could have spent. Really a help.
Up late (6:30 a.m.) for breakfast and an 18-seater prop flight to Alice Springs. We hit clouds, etc. that slowed us down, but the great moment was when the vents over the seats, those little nozzles, began to spew clouds into the cabin. Cute. On landing we had a mad dash to make our connection in ten minutes, but all worked out fine. Next flight was comfy 737 to Cairns ("cans") and a more leisurely connection: 20 minutes. We ended up on a Short 360 -- a 35-seat puddle jumper stopping at Townsvillle, Rockhampton and then Gladstone. Fine flight, but long and cramped. All stops were tropically humid and lush, dense green with thick vegetation and signs of recent floods. Gladstone is about as lively as Palmer at night. We ate at the hotel, a blend of Wisconsin decor and English food and layout, before crashing.
I'm unstuck in time. We got up, breakfasted, then took a cab to our 8:00 a.m. catamaran. Beautiful sunshine, fun trip for me. Sarah was seasick. Apparently big boats are ok, small boats are fine, medium sized boats are trouble. I rather liked the bumping. Once on the island, we adjourned to our row-cabin for a rest. Lunch was sumptuous resort buffet, then the afternoon basking on the beach watching rainstorms along the horizon. Beach walking note: it really is a twenty-minute circuit around the island.
Dinner with a nice honeymoon couple Dawn and Peter from NY. The mutton-birds were loud enough with their moaning to make earplugs a good investment.
O Fabulous day' . Tropical downpour to wake up to, but blazing sun by 8:30 a.m. We rented our snorkel gear and paddled around happily during the morning. The coral is right off the beach in quite shallow water, like four feet. Very varied and elaborate, but not as colorful as I expected. The fish are fantastic in the proper sense. Zebra stripes, yellow pearl- white with day glow pink, sting rays (ugh) and more and more. I love the sensation and process of snorkeling, too. It's been too long. In the afternoon we took an hour-long ride on the semi-submersible, sort of a Captain Nemo ride. You're only six feet or so underwater, but it feels like much, much more and you get a great view of coral and fish plus commentary. The rest of the day was devoted to beach sitting, more snorkeling, dinner and crash time.
What a thrill -- we went on a snorkeling boat trip this morning over a main piece of The Reef. We spend about an hour in the water, drifting and swimming quite a considerable distance. (The group stayed more or less together and arrived, with no particular effort on my part, directly at the pick-up point.) We were in deeper water than we'd seen off the beach, maybe 12-15 feet, and the reef coral was far more extensive and elaborate. The fishies are like McElligott's Pool come to life. In fact, the snorkeling is not like swimming with the fish, it is like being a fish. There was no point in trying to top it. I spent the afternoon sitting under a tree reading and scribbling out postcards. Sarah joined me and we did some snorkeling off the beach. Our sighting was a sting ray (batman) with a six-foot tail that roiled up the sand and generally did a rippling nightmare act. It actually seemed to circle around us wanting to play. Later on we could see the ray sailing over a shallow sand beach looking like a shadow on wheels. It seemed to approach a couple in the water, but they seemed exclusively interested in each other so it sailed away.
The last travel day. Small boat to Gladstone, bus to airport (all passengers were on the Heron Island shuttle, so they held the (small) plane to Brisbane, etc. By the flight to Sydney, I was acting out the safety briefing much to the irritation of the flight attendants. I couldn't help it; they looked like a class of aerobics instructors all in unison. I got ensconced in my hotel then we took a stroll around the harbor. It includes The Rocks, a yuppie complex very similar to South Street, et al. We walked out to the opera house which turns out to be a full arts center, and saw that the QE2 is in town. Wowed, what a ship. Dinner in the Rocks, than collapse.
Rendezvous with Sarah -- she stayed at her cousin's -- and on to a street market in Paddington. Fun. Also met Dawn and Peter from NY by way of Heron Island so we had a cozy, sidewalk, street food lunch.
Then we did the Captain Cook tour around the harbor which was a perfect thing to do on a 90 plus degree-day. Beautiful views of the city as well as the predictable pleasures of being on the water. Late afternoon I spent prowling through the galleries, shops and cafes of The Rocks. Sarah's cousin Fiona pointed us to Darlinghurst for an Indian meal at Oh Calcutta (what else?). I like her a lot. She's also only 31 or so, but she's quite polished and corporately sensible by our U.S. standards. (She does sales for a Cosmo-like Australian magazine.) The final and quite special treat of the day came at the very end. I went down at 11:30 pm to watch the QE2 sail. What a thrill. The ship pulls up parallel to the edge of the harbor and there was quite a crowd gathered around the whole "U" of the main harbor. The ship just looms there, as clean and pure and elegant as can be. The lines are thrown off one by one, then the tugs push it back from the dockside ... and it's moving. Everyone cheered and waved and the ship sounded three blasts of the horn in farewell. Then the tugs pushed it straight back, faster than seems likely. The tugs then turned her into the channel, three more blasts were heard, and suddenly she was under her own power heading cleanly and silently past the Opera House towards the sea. Like something out of the movies and all of the gathered crowd seemed to agree.
Today is the only day since Mt. Cook where the weather has been anything other than blazing hot and gorgeous. So today it rained, showered really, off and on. Nothing to complain about and certainly nothing to get in the way. After the sailing festivities, I slept in then took the ferry to the zoo. We had some minor mix- ups on the timing, but Sarah turned up by noon and off we went. Taronga is a nice zoo, not earthshaking, but the setting is great. It spills down the hillside right about the harbor with a panoramic view of central Sydney. And they have lions (not really) and tigers and bears too. You take a gondola to the top then walk down through all the animals. W e spent the better part of the afternoon meandering around.
Then I ferried back to town for a bit of strolling around The Rocks, a quick beer, and back on the ferry to Cremorne Point to meet Sarah and Fiona for dinner. We went to a super Thai restaurant in Mosman. When I got back to the hotel, I went up on the roof to gaze at the city and try to hold onto a piece of it in my mind. It's impossible of course. The more you drink in the moment, the less chance there is of remembering just how it was. So be it. I hate to leave.
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