Tag Archives: travel

A few more Norfolk Island bits

I’ve been persuaded to write one more Norfolk article, on account of having forgotten a few things I’m told I should have mentioned <sigh>.

I mentioned the little trip in the horse-drawn cart, but said no more since I didn’t go. I love horses, but they have a very nasty effect on me which has become worse over the years. So I have to avoid being in their proximity. Pete went, though, and had a thoroughly nice time meandering slowly though the Norfolk Island countryside. Culla (that’s his nickname – you’ll find his number in the telephone directory nickname section) picked up his passengers from the hotel in a bus and took them to the stables where everybody watched him harness Sammy 2 and Buddy, ready for the Big Trip.

Culla bringing the boys out

They’re Clydesdales, imported at great expense from Australia. I read a wonderful article about Norfolk and horses in the local (free) colour magazine. It described how horses used to wander around in much the same way as the cows. If you couldn’t find your own horse you just used one of the others. Naturally, they bred, and created their own Norfolk variant – if I remember rightly, a pretty plain horse, great at negotiating Norfolk’s steep valleys, tough and resourceful. They’ve been replaced by motor vehicles these days, so Culla’s tour is a lovely reminder of how things used to be.

Culla clearly loves his horses. Although they thrive on work, he gives them a helping hand going up hill, with his brother in a ute taking the strain for the two horses.

After a picnic on a cliff overlooking the sea (what else is new – this is Norfolk Island) the horses went off home.

Picnic on the cliff

Before he drove his guests back to the hotel, Culla looked after his horses first. As it should be.

I also mentioned in passing that we’d gone to the St Barnabas Chapel, where John Christian told us about the building. Christianity came to Norfolk with the Pitcairn Islanders, who became a Christian flock under the guidance of Bounty mutineer, John Adams. The light was… confronting for photography, with parts too bright and parts too dark. But we could certainly admire the exquisite workmanship.

The ceiling is shaped like a ship’s keel, all built by the young people from the Melanesian mission set up not long after the Pitcairners settled on Norfolk. There’s not a nail in the building, all done with joinery. The decoration is a mix of Christian and Melanesian, done with mother of pearl. The stained-glass windows above the altar are priceless, arguably the only ones in the world where Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are shown beardless. John Christian told us the bishop hated them, but it was too late to change them. The outside of the windows have been covered with plain glass to protect them from the crimson rosellas, who have apparently taken to picking at the material holding the panels in place. This website will provide you with good pictures.

I also mentioned that we attended a progressive dinner. All of the hosts had interesting stories to tell. When the Pitcairners arrived on Norfolk they received fifty acres of land which was divided up over the generations. One of our hosts was given, by his mother, one acre of her thirteen acres, and three Norfolk Island pines. One of the local saw mills cut up the trees for him, retaining one as payment. The other two he used to build his house. Barter system, see?

Another host told us she came from Queensland and had no idea she had a relationship to anyone on Norfolk until she traced her family history. She made the point that if you’ve got convicts in the family, it’s all there in the trial records. Name, place of birth, crime, punishment, where they were sent, when… Whereas law abiding citizens just faded away into the mists of time. She came to Norfolk to follow her roots and met (and married) somebody else from Victoria doing the same thing. Norfolk seems to gather up its own.

So there you are. If you want anymore, better go and visit. Planes travel to Norfolk from Sydney, Brisbane, and Auckland.

 

How humans changed Norfolk Island

Emily Bay used to be called Turtle Bay

Norfolk Island is a stunningly beautiful place but it doesn’t take long before you realise what an enormous impact humans have made on its ecology. It’s a lesson to us all, I suppose. These days, importation of any animal or vegetable material to Norfolk is strictly controlled. We watched the cute little beagle sniffing everyone’s bags at the airport. But that wasn’t always the case.

When Captain Cook saw Norfolk in 1774 the massive Norfolk Island pines would have covered the entire island. There were no meadows or grasslands. There were no land animals. There are still no snakes. But there were birds which were specially adapted to the heavily-wooded conditions.

Then humans arrived.

They cut down the trees and planted grass, cane sugar, fruit trees, corn, rice, and other food crops. They brought in horses, cows, goats, pigs, and rabbits. And less popular creatures, like rats and no doubt mice, as well as cats and dogs that went feral. Beautiful Emily Bay was originally called Turtle Bay because of all the turtles there. In the usual thoughtless human manner, the population was soon wiped out by the hungry settlers.

Phillip Island, at back, is 6km from Norfolk. The other island is Nepean, where the convicts cut stone for building material

Pigs, goats and rabbits had been released on Phillip Island, and continued to thrive when the people left. Pigs and goats were removed by the early 20th century but the rabbits remained. Our guides told us that until relatively recently Phillip Island looked like Uluru, devoid of any green. An eradication program has been successful with the last rabbits removed in 1988, and Phillip Island is recovering. [1]

One of Norfolk’s more successful imports was the kentia palm, which is native to Lord Howe Island. Kentias are the parlour palms you see in hotel lobbies and the like, and during the nineteen nineties they would all have been grown from seed collected on Norfolk. For a while the seeds were worth a lot of money. But humans weren’t the only ones who valued them. Rats found them good to eat, so farmers had to fit rat guards on their palms to stop predation. The value of kentia seed dropped as soon as the buyers had enough to grow their own in hot houses.

Norfolk Island has two bird species endemic to the island – the green parrot and the morepork, a form of boobook owl. Both had thrived in those thick, dark forests. But as the trees were felled, their habitat shrank. At last, one sole female morepork was the only owl calling in the darkness, the last of her kind. The bird’s closest relative was a species living in New Zealand and scientists on Norfolk obtained two males from there, hoping she would mate with one of them. She did, and now there is a small colony of moreporks in Norfolk’s national park. But it is not quite the same as the original species, and it is severely inbred, so even this hybrid is threatened. It’s a sad tale. Read more about it here.

Feral crimson rosells. It’s not quite the same as the ones we saw in Victoria

The green parrot has been rescued from the brink. Scientists in the national park set up nesting boxes for them. Apart from the reduction in habitat, the birds have also had to endure competition for the remaining nesting hollows from introduced crimson rosellas, no doubt brought in from Australia by some bird collector, who allowed them to escape, or let them go. They’re no longer exactly the same as their Australian cousins. The green parrot population is still relatively small and endangered. Read the whole story here.

We didn’t see, or hear, either the green parrot or the morepork, but then, we didn’t spend any time in their habitat.

A Tern chick in a Norfolk Island pine

We did see young terns, though. These birds don’t build nests. They lay their eggs directly on the branch of a Norfolk pine, selecting the same site every year. Someone told us the birds use an adhesive of some sort to keep the eggs in place, but the general consensus with the guides was that’s just one of those stories tour guides tell when they don’t know the answer [2]. Humans (of course) collected the eggs, with a subsequent impact on the population , but at least the birds used trees in some pretty inaccessible locations. These days the islanders are allowed to collect tern eggs on Phillip Island for just a few weeks every year. Tern parents will lay a second egg if the first one falls or disappears, so the loss of eggs doesn’t have a major impact. After the chick hatches it is a small ball of grey fluff hanging on to its branch. The parents keep an eye on it and come in with sprats caught in the sea to feed it until it can fly.

Norfolk is a haven for sea birds, with populations of several tern species, gannets, and mutton birds. There are also small wrens and kingfishers.

This is my last Norfolk Island post. I can’t help feeling there’s so much more – a telephone directory listing people by nickname, more about the food, and the language. So here are some websites for you to look at.

Norfolk Island Travel Centre Covers accommodation, tours and the like

Ten things you might not know about Norfolk Island This one is particularly interesting

Discover Norfolk Island This site covers the island’s history as well as other aspects

Since July 2016 Norfolk Island has reverted to Australian control. There are reasons, as explained in this article, and there is no denying the island’s council asked for Australian help. But as usual, the Powers That Be in Canberra and Sydney (NI comes under NSW state control) have no idea how people live their lives outside the big cities. Poor little Norfolk Island has been swamped with rules and regulations, and decisions made for them without consultation. For example, since July 2016 all milk has to be pasteurised. Never mind the fact that the locals have managed to survive for 150 years on raw milk. So no more milking cows along the verges – it would cost far to much to set up a pasteurising plant. Milk is imported from New Zealand. If you want to buy the fresh stuff it was $9.20 per litre in the local supermarket. The long-life stuff is $2.30 a litre. So now the cows you see grazing by the roadside are all beef cattle.

Remember the feral chooks? Somebody in Australia decided they needed to be culled, so someone came over to NI to shoot them. Nobody discussed the issue with the locals. Some of them told us the chooks help keep down the insect population. Others collect eggs, and I suspect there’s a bit of local culling for the table. But never mind. A Decision had been made somewhere. Orders were dispatched. I wonder what they’ll do about the feral rosellas?

These are just two examples of how the New Order has impacted the lives of Norfolk Islanders. There are others. The locals have created their own political group to fight for their rights. As far as they’re concerned, Queen Victoria gave them Norfolk Island for their own. I don’t believe that’s entirely true, but I assure you, if I lived on Norfolk I’d join that group in a heartbeat.

The sign says ‘Hands up for democracy’. NI’s flag is at half mast.

If you get a chance to visit Norfolk Island, do. It was honestly one of the best, most jam-packed holidays I’ve ever had.

And as a last hurrah, another sunset.

Peter’s sunset shot. Used with permission.

 

 

 

Norfolk Island’s convict past

The cemetery from the lookout

Norfolk Island’s early European history is entwined with the British penal system and the colonisation of Australia, so part of any visit to the island has to include the convict ruins, and the graveyard. There’s not much to show for the island’s first settlement in 1788. Here’s a short piece about those first colonists. When the colony finally closed down in 1814 all the buildings and livestock were destroyed before the settlers were returned to the Australian mainland. Although convicts were included amongst the first colonists, it was never a penal colony. That came later.

The original settlers who landed in 1788

In 1824 the government in NSW decided to send the worst of its prisoners to Norfolk Island, never to return. The prisoners were put to work quarrying stone and constructing the beautiful Georgian buildings gracing the area around Kingston. The stone was cut on nearby Nepean Island, and more than one man died in the treacherous channel there. The worst job the convicts could have was cutting the finer stone from below the high tide line. It meant they had to work waist-deep in water. The difference in quality is obvious, and the better stone was used for verandas to this day.

On our first introductory tour of Norfolk our driver took us across the bloody bridge. While the true reason for the name isn’t altogether settled, the story’s a good one. Seems the convicts working on the bridge didn’t much like the brutal overseer, so they killed him. To hide the crime, they put the body into the bridgework.  Next day the replacement overseer noticed blood seeping out in the mortar between the stones. The name (of course) has stuck.

John Christian with a headstone

John Christian took us on a tour of the convict ruins. The man is a mine of information, rattling off names, dates, and facts like a machine gun. There’s not much left of the interior of the jail – the stones were used by the new arrivals to construct new buildings. But the outlines are still there. John described the living conditions, with several men crammed into tiny cells. Prisoners worked in chains and flogging was a common punishment. John told us about one fellow who was flogged to death. When he fainted after 100 blows he was placed in a cell for three days then wheeled out for a second round, which killed him.

There are plenty of sources of information about the conditions in the prison. I’ve had a look and I do wonder about some of the stories we heard. Read a more balanced account of the penal system here. But the whole tour is about stories and family history. I’m sure the ghost tour would be well worth attending – maybe next time.

You can see the size of the cells from the ruins

There is no doubt that Norfolk Island prison was a hell on earth, but the prisoners sometimes put up a fight. In 1846 William Westwood, known as Jacky-Jacky, led a revolt, killing four prison officials. This was a man who couldn’t be contained. He escaped in Sydney, was sent to van Diemen’s land (Tasmania) where he escaped more than once, then finally ended up on Norfolk. His story is worth reading. He and several others were hanged for their part in the revolt, and their remains placed in unconsecrated ground. The commandant at the time, a man named Childs, was replaced by John Price, who had a fearsome reputation. Our guide told us about a particularly awful punishment, being confined in the dark cell. The prisoner was lowered into a tiny cell without doors and windows. Then the cell was sealed at the top (although it must have been opened to provide food and water). One man was kept in these conditions for a year and when he was removed, he was insane. All these stories reminded me very much of Auschwitz and even more of the prison on Rottnest Island. We haven’t learnt too much over the centuries.

Of course, some of the stories had happy endings. John told us about a seamstress sentenced to transportation, accused of stealing a scrap of fabric. This woman had a very useful skill and soon started making clothes for the officers’ wives. John said she started dress shops in Sydney and Paramatta, and went back to Blighty a wealthy woman who bought the shop where she had been employed. I couldn’t find the story on the web, but I hope it’s true.

Women in those days were treated like breeding stock. When it was recognised that there were not enough women in Australia, all the women who had incurred the death penalty in England had their sentences commuted to transportation. The Lady Juliana sailed for Port Jackson and arrived in 1790 with more than two hundred women aboard. She carried only women – an interesting point in its own right, and well worth a look at this article. One hundred and twenty of the women were sent to Norfolk. One was just 11 years old, sentenced to death for highway robbery (stealing another child’s clothes). Mary Wade ended up being the mother of twenty-one children. Read her story here.

The cemetery is divided into two halves with the older remains from convict times closer to the sea, marked off by a line of pillars. The rest of the area is still used, and we noticed locals tending family graves. One famous writer is buried here – Colleen McCollough called this island home and her memory is much-loved. Her husband still lives here, and her house is open to the public.

There are quite a few stones marking the graves in the old cemetery, but there are a lot more graves than the stones suggest. Convict graves were usually marked with wooden crosses, which have disappeared over the years. Female convicts, and some who had been executed, were given a headstone. Of course, soldiers and freemen automatically qualified.

When the British finally realised the folly of transporting ‘criminals’ to the colonies, they closed the prison at Norfolk in 1855. When the British left I get the idea the place wasn’t completely abandoned, though, because the people from Pitcairn arrived in 1856, and were confronted with huge four-legged beasts they’d never seen before – cows and horses. [1]

The Commandant

Anyway, enough of this morbid stuff. The enterprising Norfolk Islanders also use their convict past to entertain. Our group attended a “night as a convict”, all of us dressed in glamorous convict clothes. It wasn’t just our group of twenty – there must have been around one hundred seated at bench tables. Our overseers were the (smartly dressed) Commandant, and the red-robed Private Arty Parts. Both men possessed large dongers. The Commandant’s can be seen on the table beside him. It was an absolutely hilarious evening, with some off-colour humour, games and dances, and so forth. We convicts provided the entertainment. One example was a version of pass the parcel. The women were asked to form a circle, and three hats were passed around clockwise. When the music stopped, if you had a hat, you were out. Simple enough. But the Commandant and Private Parts introduced a complication – they added a Very Large rolling pin which was to go counter-clockwise, and which was to be passed with the knees, not the hands. Remember, the hats are also being passed. Nobody was obliged to take part, and naturally some people didn’t. Yes, of course I did. I haven’t laughed so much in a long while, and I’d recommend the evening. Dinner was involved, a simple meal served buffet-style with staff putting the food on the plate for you, just as would have happened in the convict mess halls. I can assure you we ate far better than the real convicts did.

The costumes are provided, but you have to give them back – although you can purchase them for $30. I couldn’t quite imagine where I’d be wearing it again, so I passed. One more point – the Commandant and Private Parts are not professional actors, they’re just members of the community doing their part. Sometimes things don’t work out. The week before, several of the guys scheduled for the roles were sick, so the convicts didn’t get a show. I know they were disappointed, and I would have been, too. But that’s life, I guess.

Next time we’ll get on to the people from Pitcairn.

Quality row – beautifully restored Georgian cottages, some of which are lived in.

A tiny speck of an island

We just spent a week on Norfolk Island, a tiny speck of an island (~35 square kilometres) in the South Pacific a little over 1,600km North East of Sydney. What a fascinating place. The island is one of Australia’s territories, but even so, it had a high level of autonomy until July 2016, when it was brought much more tightly under Australian administration. You might say that Norfolk’s relationship with Australia is… complicated.

Let’s start at the beginning. In 1774 personnel from Captain Cook’s HMS Resolution were the first Europeans to land on Norfolk. Cook charted the island and made special note of both the towering Norfolk Island pines which grow in profusion there, and a plant that resembled the flax used in Britain to make sailcloth. The precipitous cliffs were daunting, but Cook sent out a party in a long boat which was able to make land and establish the island was uninhabited. Location and description duly noted, Cook sailed away. After that there were three waves of ‘immigrants’, each of which left their mark on the island and its present population.

In 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip, commanding a fleet of eleven ships carrying around 1300 marines, sailors, settlers, and convicts, established a colony on the shores of Port Jackson which was to become Sydney. [1] He also received Admiralty orders to send a party to Norfolk Island to claim the territory for the Crown. The group of twenty-three hand-picked convicts and soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Gidley King arrived in March 1788, just 6 weeks after the colony was established in New South Wales, and started up a settlement at what is now Kingston. There were two reasons why the island was important – those magnificent trees that Cook had believed could be used for ship’s masts, and associated with that, the need to keep them out of the hands of the French, who had an expedition in the Pacific at the time. As it happens, La Perouse encountered Norfolk Island on 13 January 1788, but high seas prevented a landing, and he moved on [2].

A log of the Norfolk Island pine. The way the branches fit into the trunk is clearly visible

One of the new Norfolk Islanders was a carpenter who soon established that Norfolk Island pine was not suitable for masts. Despite its appearance – and name, the tree is a hardwood. Those lateral branches go deep into the tree’s core, which means there is a point of weakness with every branch. That said, it’s magnificent timber and the islanders still use it extensively as a building material. Norfolk was a rich and fertile land, and many people were transferred there during the early days of the New South Wales colony, when the settlers on the Big Island faced starvation.

But Norfolk is remote and does not have a real harbour. Having decided it was too expensive to maintain the colony, the Governor of NSW ended the first settlement in 1815, when the last of the settlers were moved back to Australia (many reluctantly). All their buildings and livestock were destroyed so that they would not fall into the hands of any other foreign power (aka France, although the French were busy in Europe at the time). The Island returned to nature for the next nine years until, in 1824, the Governor of NSW decided to open a new penal colony for the worst of the convicts. It was at this time that the beautiful stone buildings were constructed around the harbour at Kingston, using, of course, convict labour.

Military barracks, beautifully restored. Note the barracks wall.

This was the second wave of settlers. The penal colony had a reputation for being exceptionally harsh. We were told some stories when we visited the ruins, but I’ll refer to some of those later.  The prison was finally closed in 1855 when the last of the convicts were transferred to van Diemen’s land (Tasmania). Once again, Norfolk was uninhabited by humans.

On an even tinier speck of land in the South Pacific, 5 square kilometre Pitcairn Island, the descendants of Fletcher Christian and the mutineers who set Captain Bligh adrift in HMAV Bounty’s long boat were running out of room. They wrote a letter to Queen Victoria, asking for a place of refuge and she granted them the now-abandoned Norfolk Island. [3] The third wave of settlers – the descendants of the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian wives – arrived at Kingston in 1856.

Today’s Islanders are proud of their heritage. All of them can tell you their ancestry, citing ‘seventh generation Pitcairn’, or an association through a convict from the first settlement, or the much harsher second settlement. The surname Christian is common, along with Quintal and Young. There are many Baileys, descendants of a blacksmith who joined the community from outside. The Pitcairn descendants tend to be tall and obviously of mixed race, with darker skin than Europeans and high Polynesian cheekbones. Other new blood came to the island. Whales migrate nearby and American whaling ships used Norfolk as a base. Some of the sailors didn’t leave. Some people returned to Norfolk from Australia.

These days tourism is Norfolk’s main industry and everybody takes part. John Christian, who seems to be something of an oral historian, told us the history of St Barnabas’s chapel. He also took us through the remains of the prison at Kingston, telling us tales of convicts, and over the graveyard where he showed us the graves of some of the convicts he’d talked about – and the less disreputable people, too.

Sunset at the fish fry

One of the Buffets showed us George Bailey’s farm and his workshop. A descendant of a whaling sailor named Evans proudly displayed her forebear’s telescope before showing us what the islanders could do with bananas (they call them ‘plun’). Several Christians drove the buses we travelled on. Norfolk has its own language, a fusion between eighteenth century English and Polynesian, and we were taught some of it. They showed us how they used the local palms to weave hats, shared their food, and generally made us feel at home. One evening we attended a progressive dinner, where each course was served at an island home and the hosts talked about their lives on Norfolk. Another evening we attended a fish fry on a cliff facing west so we could admire the sunset while we ate morsels of trumpeter coated in a batter made with coconut milk and deep fried. Another day, Culla took our group on a cart drawn by a couple of Clydesdales.

Buddy and Sammy

Jane Evans described herself as growing up poor – but she didn’t know it. It’s a rich life, but it doesn’t involve money. Importing anything is wildly expensive, so there’s a philosophy of making do, of working with your neighbour, of barter. They don’t grow wheat, so they use arrowroot and maize, and other Polynesian foodstuffs. Chooks are feral on the island and domestic cattle roam around the roads (they have right of way). Each person on Norfolk can have up to ten cows roaming freely, at a cost of $145 pa. They all wear eartags so the owner can be identified.

There’s so much more to tell you, but this is getting long, so I’ll just share a few pictures of the gosh-wow, ooh-ahh scenery.

Next time we’ll get into a bit more history, and that complicated relationship with Australia.

Nepean Isl on the left, Phillip Isl on the right

Emily Bay where he locals swim

A view of Kingston and Emily Bay from up on the hill

Rugged coastline

Going down is easier than coming up

View across the golf course to Nepean Island and Phillip Island

The Pacific keeps on rolling in

A catalogue of travel

The bay reflects the clouds as the sun rises

The world’s something of a train-wreck at the moment isn’t it? You can see it happening but you can’t bring yourself to look away. I don’t have anything particularly cheerful to say, so I won’t say much. I’ve promised Himself I’d make a Dutch apple tart tomorrow. Fair’s fair, after all. He’s making Peter’s Famous Chicken Soup tonight. That’ll keep us going for a few days. We don’t waste food in this family. We haz a freezer!

Apart from that, for those who care I’ve started on a new story. And for those who don’t care, I’ve catalogued our travels so you (and I) can easily find a stop along the way. You’ll see a link at the very top of my website that says ‘TRAVEL’. If you click on that, you’ll get a table of journeys we have made. Click on one of those and you’ll get a list of where we went. You can opt to start at any point and journey along with us by clicking the links at the bottom of the post, or whatever scratches your itches.

I had a lot of fun reading my own posts as I put the catalogue pages together. (Don’t tell anyone, but I reckon I did a great job 🙂 ) I fact, I’m very sorry I deleted the posts from earlier trips.

 

 

The aftermath

ex-tropical cyclone Debbie wreaks havoc down the east coast

Cyclone Debbie has certainly cut a swathe through the holiday islands of the Whitsundays and their gateway, Airlie Beach. Bowen and Ayr bore the brunt of the storm and that takes nothing away from all the smaller places in the way. Cane fields, vegetable crops, and banana fields were flattened, destroying farmers’ incomes for at least one season – to say nothing about destruction of infrastructure and homes, loss of power, stock losses and the like. And then there’s the native wildlife who have to hunker down just like we humans. She was a massive storm. Here she is from the ISS.

Cyclones travel in a clockwise direction, and this was a huge storm, so after Debbie crossed the coast anything within eight hundred kilometres or so to the south was going to get wet. Mackay and Rockhampton were well in the zone and suffered substantial wind and water damage. With rainfall of hundreds of millimetres the rivers rose and roads were flooded. Even Hervey Bay copped the end of an outlying cloud band, although 80mm of rain without gale-force winds was actually welcome. As a side note, while Pete and I would have been quite safe at Cairns, we wouldn’t have been able to drive home. And that is why we hurried home when we did.

After they cross the coast cyclones rapidly downgrade to a tropical low, and the clean-up starts in their wake. It doesn’t mean the danger is over, though. The models suggested three tracks after Debbie crossed the coast, all tracking south. We expected her to come down through the interior, but the lady had other plans. I’ve never seen anything like it. Gale-force winds and very heavy rain all the way down the east coast of Australia from Mackay. Inland from Mackay, over a metre of rain fell in two days. The cyclone made landfall on Tuesday lunchtime. On Thursday the State Government closed all schools from just north of Bundaberg to the Queensland border for two days. Businesses followed suit. Our local bank closed its doors at 10am to give staff the chance to get home and off potentially flooding roads. Falls of five hundred millimetres were expected around the Southeast corner of the state, along with gale force winds. It was unprecedented. Australia is used to cyclones – but not one that does a left-hand turn, taking it down into heavily populated areas.

As usual, Hervey Bay fared well enough. Although rainfall this March (396mm or roughly 16″) is the third highest monthly rainfall we have experience in our time here, the previous two months were so dry that the rainfall is still well below the average for this time of year. I’m sure residents further south won’t be saying the same thing.

I thought I’d finish this clean-up post with a few things from our trip I hadn’t mentioned.

The view over Townsville from Castle Hill

Driving up to Cairns, we stayed overnight in Townsville, where Pete had his very first Mexican meal in a busy restaurant in Palmer Street. I love Mexican food, but Pete has never been interested. However, it was his suggestion – and he enjoyed it. Next morning before we moved on we drove up to Castle Hill, overlooking the town and with views to Magnetic Island just across the water, and to the hills surrounding the town.

Castle Hill from the city

From Palm Cove we drove up to Port Douglas. It’s only about forty km following the Captain Cook Highway along the coast. The road seems to have been built on a ledge between the sea and the mountains, twisting and turning with every cove and inlet. Port Douglas is mainly a resort town, with golf courses and hotels. One hotel (the Mirage) was famously built by Christopher Skase before he fled his debtors and went to live on Majorca. For us, the place didn’t have much to offer. It seems to be a jumping-off point for the Daintree and the reef. But I took some pictures.

Looking south from Port Douglas. The longest of those sandbars is where we stopped to take a picture (see below)

There’s no doubt the coastline is picturesque. I’d asked Pete to stop (on the way back) at a stopping place where I’d noticed a great photo opportunity, which he did, safely. I’d hardly got out of the car when a car horn honked. Some idiot had seen the view and decided to stop, with a car right behind him. The driver of the offending car pulled to one side to let the other driver pass. This is all happening just near a curve, too. The offending car moves back out into the road. For a minute I think it’s going to turn around, doing a three-point-turn, but another car comes along and our mate drives off, with the person in the passenger seat holding their phone out the window. It was a great picture, but really, people, I wouldn’t have thought it was to die for her. Or even sustain an injury.

A storm is gathering over Port Douglas – not Debbie, just a normal tropical storm

On our way back from Hartley’s croc park we stopped to take pictures of these weird rock sculptures. I have no idea what they are for, but I’d guess they’re a bit like the padlock fad, where lovers attach a padlock to the wires on a bridge. However, just as the authorities have been forced to cut away the padlocks, which in those quantities can weigh a great deal, sometime a storm will hit these piled up stones and scatter them back on the beach.

No idea what these ‘sculptures’ are meant to signify

That’s it for this journey. Be sure to join us next time we venture away from home. If you want to go back to the start of this trip, here’s the link. Say hello to Cyclone Debbie

A day tour of Macao

Extravagant, flamboyant, over the top. Casino

It’s hard to imagine how anyone could run a day tour of 28 sq km of Macao, but it was done. Our guide, Mario, picked us up from the Grand Emperor at 10am. He’s Portuguese, originally from a diplomatic family and he has lived in Macao (the Portuguese spell it Macau) for 33 years, so he knows his stuff. Macao is the tip of a peninsula, and was leased to the Portuguese in 1557. It was returned to China in 1999, but, like Hong Kong, it will retain its semi-autonomous status for fifty years. What will happen after that, nobody knows. Especially what will happen to the casinos. They are illegal in China, but the Chinese are known to love their gambling. It’s also a lucrative business. Somebody shall see what happens. It won’t be me.

We joined another 28 people who had come over to Macao for a day trip from Hong Kong. Pete and I waited on the bus while Mario collected them from the ferry terminal and herded them on board. Not only were there a few Caucasians amongst them – there were a couple of Australians!

First stop was the reason for the existence of Macao these days. It may have been the gateway to Guangzhou in the past, but now it’s a place to build casinos. It’s how Stanley Ho made his fortune. He still has a large investment. James Pcker is currently pulling out of Macao after some of his staff were arrested in China for trying to entice high-rollers to his casino, and a few of the Las Vegas establishments also have buildings here. There are currently 36 casinos on Macao, and six more will be completed this year. Each new building has to be bigger and better than its predecessor. There’s not room in Macao proper for more buildings, so the powers-that-be have filled in the sea between what had been two islands. That’s where all the new construction is happening.

Venice in a building

The casinos are huge, flamboyant, and ostentatious, designed to attract the Chinese high-rollers. Mario took us to the Venetian, one of the more recent casinos. Like its namesake in Vegas, it has a replica of St Marks square in Venice inside, complete with canals.

Pete managed to snap a shot of the gaming floor as we went up to St Marks on an escalator. As you can see, they’re big enough for people to get lost, which is precisely what happened to a couple of our Americans. Mario managed to find them and they were most apologetic. I cast no aspersions. Been there, done that, have the T-shirt hidden away.

After that we went back to Macao’s beginnings, a temple at the waterside dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea from whom the city gained its name. It is on multiple levels, built against the massive boulders. Worship requires incense.

 

 

From the past we went to the future, Macao’s Skytower, home of the world’s highest bungy jump. I got a few pictures of someone taking the plunge, and four of us (not Peter) paid extra to go up the tower to admire the view. This is where I took the photo at the top of my previous post. Mario told us this was simply normal Macao weather. He pointed out the point on the Pearl river where people swam across to escape Mao’s cultural revolution. Not all of them made it – which meant death. Those that did were shipped off quickly to Hong Kong, where they could escape to the West.

That tower with its head in the clouds is in CHINA!

Next we visited the old town with its European style buildings and the inevitable town square complete with fountain. The old parts of town were paved in tiny blue and white Portuguese tiles, fresco style. As well as casinos this part of Macao has churches and temples. We visited one Dominican church, and admired the remains of St Paul’s at the top of the city steps which resemble the Spanish Steps in Rome. The church burnt down in 1835, leaving just the façade. It’s a popular tourist attraction and a place to take photos.

We asked Mario to recommend a Portuguese restaurant for our last evening overseas. It was, as they always are, down an narrow street off the square, opposite the fountain with the Madonna. (Well… maybe not that bit) The waiter – and I suspect owner – might not have been born Australian, but he had an Aussie accent. He mentioned he’d grown up in St Albans in Melbourne. It’s a small world. We picked the set menu – carrot soup, shared the two mains of steak and chips with salad, and fish patties with salad and rice, followed by sweets and thick, strong coffee. Our new mate threw in a glass of port each. It was a lovely way to end the day and we meandered off to the hotel for a good nights’ sleep.

The next day we were off home, catching the ferry to the airport at Lantau. You check in your baggage and get your boarding pass when you leave the ferry. By far the longest queue in the large hall was for Qantas, which shared a desk with an Asian airline. Time was pushing on. When we were about three people from the front of the line, somebody grabbed a brain and picked out the people flying to Brisbane. We were first, but unfortunately for the people behind us, the girl had trouble finding my name It’s the spaces/no spaces thing. My name is van der Rol, but on an airline ticket it’s vanderrol. Anyway, we got there eventually. When we left to go to the terminal, the queue at QF’s counter was almost back to the exit from the ferry. Not a good look.

We got to Brisbane at around eight, collected our car from the long term car park as close to 9am as we could manage, and headed home to the clean air and spacious living at Hervey Bay. Neither of us are anxious to go back to Hong Kong.

A lazy Sunday in Hong Kong

Sunday was our last full day in Hong Kong. We hadn’t quite given up on the shopping yet, but this time we headed towards the city centre on the island, with Causeway Bay on the way. The hotel’s shuttle bus dropped us off at Hong Kong’s World Trade Centre, which is an enormous shopping building. Hong Kong cranks up late (as far as we’re concerned). Arrive before 12 and you won’t find too many shops open – even the big ones. So it took a while for the crowds to build. We were surprised at the number of women around wearing Muslim dress – there may have been lots of men, too, but they don’t stand out so much. Some women wore really lovely, flowing dresses and hijabs in pastel colours, and a number wore bright red. A few wore face coverings, but I saw only one wearing the full, black burqa. We decided there must have been some cultural event happening, because we hadn’t seen such a concentration of Muslim women anywhere else.

As always in Hong Kong, the modern rubs up against the old. Here’s the bamboo scaffolding on one of the buildings. OH&S inspectors would have a coronary. The picture below is what those poles on the left are supporting.

The main streets were crowded, as was every one of the Macdonalds restaurants we passed. The franchise is clearly doing a roaring trade in Honk Kong. If you ducked down the side streets, though, they weren’t so packed. We walked along a street where market stalls were being opened up for the afternoon and evening trade. Just around the corner the street signs indicated a row of guest houses.

Guest houses and down-market accommodation. One signs offers rooms by the hour, with a discount rate after midnight.

We went into a computer shop looking for a cover for my new tablet. It’s too new – they are not out there yet. But the young man behind the counter mapped a route for us on our Maps.Me to a computer centre further up the road. It was fun pottering around in this building full of tiny, independent computer and camera shops, but we had no joy with the camera lens, or with the tablet cover.

It seemed to us the easiest way to get back to the hotel was on the tram, but they were all packed. Even the Chinese couldn’t push their way on. Eventually, we gave up and went down to the nearest metro station. The trains are fast, cheap and clean – after you’ve worked out the ticketing system. It’s fairly simple, but we had the added complication of being entitled to a concession fare on account of being old. We got there in the end.

High tea set with dessert. It’s a stock photo, not as nice as what we were served.

Today seemed to be an excellent time to enjoy that quintessentially English meal, our complimentary High Tea in the hotel’s lobby bar. It was delicious. We had a pot of tea of our choice each, and the staff delivered one of those three-tier serving towers filled with goodies. I’m sorry I didn’t take pictures. The stock photo at left doesn’t do our spread justice. We had a couple of savoury items, cake, scones, moulds, and a wonderful peach custard. That was lunch sorted. We ordered a club sandwich in our room for dinner.

The following day we kicked tyres for an hour or two in the morning before boarding the ferry for Macao. Instead of going in the direction of Causeway Bay we caught the shuttle bus to ‘Central Plaza’, a shopping and residential area further north. Central plaza turned out to be four huge buildings with acres of glittering shopping below and apartments for the well-heeled above. This certainly wasn’t a cheap area, but we scored breakfast at a fraction of the hotel’s prices.

A glittering shopping centre full of dress shops

This is an ice skating rink in Central Plaza. A teacher is working with a few kids

So there are plenty of people in Hong Kong earning more than a subsistence wage. And good luck to them. We wished them well as we made our way to catch the ferry to Macao.

 

Hong Kong shopping

City crowds. This was taken at Causeway Bay. We didn’t take pictures in Kowloon

Years ago what attracted Australians to stay a day or two or three in Hong Kong was the shopping. Sure, it was an accessible way to get a look at the Orient, but mixed with that was the great exchange rate, and the quality goods for sale at substantially less than the prices in Australia. Even when the sales taxes were altered back in the Keating years, you could still snap up a bargain in Hongkers. With that in mind, Pete and I set out after our lunch escapade in search of bargains.

I’ll interrupt that story with a small side arc. The cost of ‘roaming’ on mobile phone plans in Australia is outrageous, but it’s possible to buy ‘roaming’ plans that charge just the cost of a local phone call. Using Travelsim, we put $5 on such a sim and inserted it into a cheap phone, then told a few close friends the number so they could contact us in case of emergency at home. I also downloaded an app called Maps.Me. It’s free and lets you download a functioning map for overseas travel. Yes, Google does this, too, but Google has upset the powers that be in China, and you can’t download Google’s China maps. We put the app on Pete’s tablet, which he always has with him to take photos. Pete fell in love with Maps.Me. You don’t need access to Wifi, and of course the GPS function will locate you on the map. It certainly helps with navigating in foreign parts.

Back on the streets of Hong Kong, we made our way towards the electronics street. We had already discovered that our mate Andy (tour guide) had given us a bum steer as far as directions went. But Pete is quite happy to ask for help, and managed to find an Aussie working in a shop to tell us where to go. So we worked our way across Nathan Road, which runs up the middle of Kowloon, and into the back roads where the shops line the streets.

Hong Kong was always a busy place, and this was the weekend, but the throng of humanity was extraordinary. The streets were sardine packed everywhere. For Aussies, think sideshow alley at the Royal Show on steroids. The demographics had changed, too. Not so many years ago, the crowd would have been mostly Asian, but there would have been a good number of European people. Now, people like us were a rarity. I hate crowds at the best of times. I don’t get anxious or claustrophobic, but I hate the press of people invading my space, brushing their bodies against me as they pass. When I find myself in a crowd I start to move faster, ducking and weaving my way between the people. Where there’s rudeness, pushing, shoving and the like, the nostrils flare, the elbows come out, and although I won’t push first, I’ll shove second. We were both struck by the rudeness and total lack of consideration for anyone else on the street. And we discovered we weren’t the only ones with that perception.

We were looking for a camera lens. We had done our homework at home and knew what we wanted, and what it should cost. I leave all negotiations about price to Peter, who enjoys the cut and thrust, and is very good at it. But while he would have had a lovely time haggling in years gone by, it doesn’t happen anymore. For a start, far fewer Hong Kongers speak English. We would go into a shop, they would wheel out their English speaker, we would tell them what we wanted, and they would give us a price. That was it. No negotiation. Take it or leave it. You can get it for that in Australia? Shrug. In days gone by, they wouldn’t have let you out of the shop, at least trying to sell you something else. That’s how it still is in Singapore. But not here.

What was happening? What had changed? The answers came from our tour guide in Macao, a Portuguese gentleman who had lived in Macao for 33 years. The vast majority of tourists in Hong Kong (and Macao) now are mainland Chinese. They require less personal space and have a different perception about how to behave in a crowd. And they pay whatever the vendors ask. They have money, and they know they will get a quality product in Hong Kong. I have never seen so many stores selling up-market merchandise like Gucci, Armani, Yves St Laurent, and all the other big-name designer brands. Every fifth car (that wasn’t a taxi) was a Mercedes. I must have seen half a dozen Maseratis (I’ve never seen one on the street before) one red one being driven by a kid with P plates, doing his best to hoon around a packed Hong Kong block.  The best-selling item for the Chinese? Tins of powdered baby milk. There is a ration of two tins per person. They also love to gamble. But I’ll leave that to my Macao post.

After a fruitless few hours fighting our way through Kowloon, we gave up and caught a taxi to the star ferry which plies the waters between Kowloon and the Island. It’s a short ride, and not very crowded on this Saturday afternoon. The ride in a lift made up for it, though. The last fellow to insinuate himself in could only just lean out of the way of the closing doors. Now that WAS claustrophobic. I keep on wondering how it would be if the lift failed…

That evening we decided to go out for dinner. I’m not a great lover of Chinese food – I hasten to add that there are very many excellent Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong, I just wasn’t in the mood. I love Indian, though, and on the concierge’s recommendation we went to a restaurant tucked away in an arcade in an alley less than 10 minutes from the hotel. We spent a lovely evening there. The menu listed a vast array of dishes, but since the owners were Hindu, not beef. Peter asked the Indian waiter where he came from, which was greeted with a big grin. “I was born here, sir.” Turned out his ancestors had been in the British army stationed in Hong Kong, and had decided to stay. The barman was from Indian, though. He didn’t speak much English, but that was okay. We tried a shot of Indian whisky (better than Johnny Walker IMO) and Pete had Indian beer. I had a glass of house white, which arrived in a bucket (not really – just a very generous serve). The menu included standard combinations, so we picked the ‘Happy Meal’ – tandoori chicken for starters, then lamb tikka marsala served with naan and condiments, sweets and coffee.

We slept well that night. Join me tomorrow for our last day in Hong Kong, pottering around in a different part of the city.

Hong Kong – the cheap seats

The Yuen Yuen Institute with cauldron for burning incense

After our tour of the gallery parts of Hong Kong it was time to take a look at the cheap seats. We signed up for a tour called ‘the land between’ – meaning the parts of the territory between the teeming streets of Kowloon and the border with China. It’s more generally known as the New Territories. We spent the day with three other people, all elderly folk from UK, who had just completed a holiday in Australia. I was the youngest passenger on the bus, and Pete was a pretty distant second-last. The tour guide, Andy, came across as having a chip on his shoulder the size of a tree. Before we reached our first visit stop, we’d learned he worked three jobs – tour guide, pizza delivery guy, and bartender – 6 days a week, 18 hours a day. Even so, he earned around HK$19k a month – which I thought wasn’t too bad, but he seemed to think was a bit off. The Government collects 15% tax, and then he explained he lived in one room, around 140 sq ft, which had a bunk bed, a place to cook noodles, and a recess for washing. For that he paid a fifth of his net income. I forbore to tell him that although apartments in Australia are generally larger, people pay a much greater percentage of their net earnings in rent, as well as a MUCH larger slice of tax. Hong Kong actually has pretty good social security for those in real need, but the Chinese way is always for people to support themselves. At the moment Hong Kong is kind of independent – although, as we know, the Chinese Government keeps a close eye on who is in charge. The territory will maintain its status as a separate entity for fifty years from 1997 – that is, until 2047. After that? Who knows.

First stop on the fringes of the city proper was the Yuen Yuen Institute, a religious complex incorporating the Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist faiths. The place was packed with people practising their faiths, lighting incense and praying.

Offerings for a funeral plane, house, furniture…

Funerals take place here. Mourners buy or bring paper offerings to burn for the dead to use. Items include whole paper houses – complete with servants, cars, and (especially) money. Our guide told us his grandmother, who was obsessed with mah jong, had recently died, and he and his sister had created a paper mah jong set for her as their offering. The temple complex doesn’t have a crematorium – the bodies are taken elsewhere. But people can buy wall niches here where they place the ashes, with a black and white photo of the deceased to mark their place. We were asked not to take pictures of the niches, or of people participating in a funeral. Fair enough. Andy also explained the Chinese zodiac that plays a large part in the temple.

I particularly admired the beautiful koi pond at the temple.

Back in the bus we drove on to Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s tallest mountain, with views back to the city. I was shocked at the murk down there, much more apparent from this distance. Tai Mo Shan is in a park with hiking and cycling trails, and is very popular on weekends and holidays.

Our next stop was the fortified village of Fanling, owned by the Pangs, one of the five clans in the area. The houses are only three stories high, and packed close together. Each house is owned by a Mister Pang, and there are only 99 houses in the village. There is a spill-over zone away from the village – and I think I’d prefer to live there.

The walled village of Fanling. The pool contains fish and tortoises, and you can glimpse a couple of cannon.

The entrance to the village. All the sreets inside are as narrow as this.

Just inside the entrance is a shrine to the ancestors, and a pair of protective warriors

The spill-over area outside Fanling

The rest of the tour was kind of a country drive. We saw the fish farming villages as we drove past, and the smog-enshrouded towers of the nearest Chinese city just over the border, we stopped briefly at Bridal Falls, a permanent waterfall that’s in need of rain.

Bridal Falls. The story goes that a bride was being carried across the top of the falls in a sedan chair. One of her porters slipped, and the porters and bride all fell to their deaths

On the way back to the city we spied a runway in the valley that looked in excellent condition. It was part of a British military base vacated in 1997. These days it belongs to the People’s Liberation Army. Despite Hong Kong’s need for housing, the accommodation buildings are empty. Andy clearly had a poor opinion of the PLA, muttering comments about 1989.

Fish farms on the Hong Kong side, Chinese Shenzhen on the other

We finished our tour in Mong Kok, heart of Kowloon’s shopping district, where we left our fellow tourists and went off shopping. But first, we needed lunch. We found a row of eateries in a narrow, crowded, street – tiny shops with a few tables and chairs. They say eat where the locals eat, and there were plenty of them everywhere. Menus consisted of pictures of the food with a name in Chinese and if you were lucky, in English – very few people here spoke English. We grabbed a table and perused the menu, looking for something familiar like a stir fry, or fried rice. I don’t remember much on the card, but one offering was beef tendons. Well, they do say Chinese food is famine food. Nothing goes to waste. Eventually we picked out the most expensive dish – a three-beef curry. One of the people at another table recognised our inability to make the lady serving us understand we didn’t want any of the colourful beverages on her chart, just Chinese tea, and translated for us. We expected a nice pot with jasmine tea and little china cups like we get in Australia. We got large mugs of very black tea, but it was drinkable.

The food arrived – a large mound of rice on a plate, and the curry in a side dish, all substantial helpings. The curry had potatoes, so that was okay. The beef… some of it look like well-stewed gravy beef. But some was obviously tripe, and the third component I couldn’t even guess. I ate the potato, and the gravy beef, then settled for rice with gravy. Pete did the same. I’m sure the locals thought we were very odd, and I have no doubt added our leavings back to the pot.

Peter was brave enough to use the toilet at this place. He told me the floor was covered with water, which he didn’t understand until he’d finished. The flush was broken, but there was a bucket of water in the ‘courtyard’ to do the job. Hence the wet floor. Fortunately, I wasn’t in need. Even if I was, I think I would have crossed my legs a bit tighter.

That was lunch done. Now to go shopping. But that deserves a post all its own. Join me next time, won’t you? Oh – and if you like my writing style, why not take a look at my books? None of them will set you back for more than the cost of a decent cup of coffee.