Tag Archives: travel

Still using those travel sites?

I guess most of us have used one or other of the travel aggregators to find a tour, or a hotel when planning a trip. I certainly have – Expedia, Booking.com, Trip Advisor. And I thought they were pretty good – until I learned about the problems associated with them.

As you all know, I went to New Zealand for a one-week trip not so long ago. My friend and I started planning some time ago – as in before Christmas. She’s a very, very busy lady, so she was happy enough to leave the details to me, being as how I’m not a very busy lady. So I looked up a few things and booked an apartment in Christchurch via Booking.com. We didn’t have to pay a deposit and if things changed, we could cancel for free up to a few days before the trip. We could make changes, too.

Time passed (as it does) and circumstances changed just a little. A couple of weeks before the trip we needed to change the dates for our accommodation. Instead of Saturday to the following Sunday, we would do the same Saturday, but check out on Thursday. I went into the website and chose the option to modify my booking. I left the ‘from’ date unchanged, and modified the ‘to’ date. The hamsters ran around for a second, and then I got a message telling me the property had no rooms on those dates. But (hang on a sec) they had these others which might suit. One of them was the room I’d already booked. But what the hey, I’ll play your silly game. I picked the room, and the hamsters started running… and running… and running…

I aborted and tried again, several times. Having been a programmer, I know that very often the cause of errors is sitting at the keyboard. But I couldn’t get the change of dates to happen. So I contacted the proprietory, explaining the change I needed to make. I received a prompt reply, stating that I HAD to make the change through Booking.com.

So I cancelled the booking. The hotel lost a 5 night stay.

Peter booked the new apartment for us via Expedia. To start, he booked two separate rooms at the same hotel, not realising the property offered two-room apartments. The apartment was cheaper than two rooms, and more convenient, so he changed the booking. Once again, the website was a crock. So Peter rang the help line, once again a call centre in the Phillipines. The person taking the call had little knowledge and no authority. He was told he would have to cancel the first booking and book the other room. The payment he’d already made would be credited to his credit card in 7-10 days. Pete was not happy. It had taken a nanosecond for Expedia to accept the payment, and yet it would take over a week to process a refund? Especially since he’d explained he was effectively just changing the booking to a different room. A clerk at the property would have said, sure, we can change that. It was a simple request.

When pushed, Expedia refunded the original payment promptly. But why should we have to push?

Next, I booked a tour to Arthur’s Pass via Viator, which is a part of Trip Advisor. There was an option to include a ride on a jetboat, but, knowing my friend’s not all that keen on boats, I went with the trip without the jetboat option. When I told my friend about it, she asked me to add the jetboat. No problem. I found my booking on the website and tried to include the option. My experience was much the same as I’d had with Booking.com. After a couple of tries, I rang the ‘help’ line.

I waited on the line for at least forty minutes before a pleasant (but not very bright) young man from the Phillipines picked up the call. After several goes at getting him to understand I just wanted to add the jetboat option, and yes, I would pay by credit card etc etc the booking was finally changed. I tried to tell him about my issues with the website but he couldn’t get me off the phone fast enough.

I contacted the tour company when we arrived in New Zealand to confirm the booking, and confirm the change to pcickup location. Even that wasn’t as straight forward as it should have been, but never mind. All good.

We were duly picked up at the right time and place, and enjoyed our trip up to Arthur’s pass. But the jetboat ride didn’t happen. It was nobody’s fault, the river was too high to take the boat out. I received an email from Viator before we left New Zealand, acknowledging the jetboat had to be cancelled. A partial refund had been sent to my account.

Partial?

They’d refunded $55. What the hell? I’d paid rather more than that. So I sent an email stating that it wasn’t good enough. Why was this a partial refund?

A few days later, I received an update. They’d refunded another $15, making the refund $70. By this time I was livid. I’d paid $96 for the trip and I told them so, reiterating that we hadn’t cancelled, we’d showed up, and they had no right to retain any of the money. I have now received the full refund.

So… all these aggregators are great at taking your money, not so great at giving it back. I’m sure they use the excess funds on the short term money market (just like the banks). In the case of Viator, if I hadn’t complained, I’m sure they would have left the refund at $55. Quite a few people wouldn’t have noticed.

We have found that the aggregators are good at giving lists of properties. From there, take your pick and contact them direct. Hotels pay to be listed on these sites – you might find as Pete did recently that Booking.com offers a room at (say) $120 – but the hotel will ask for $110.

One thing’s for sure – I’ll never book anything through Booking.com, Expedia, or Viator ever again.

And on a positive vibe, here’s a couple more photos of lovely New Zealand.

 

B and G’s excellent adventure – getting there

I was off on my own (ie without Pete) for a short adventure with my oldest friend, B. She and I go back fifty years, when we first met at high school. We became firm friends at university and shared many a scrape and mistake and wonderful times back in Perth, where I grew up. These days, she still lives there with her large family and plenty of responsibilities, whereas I’m a retired layabout on the other side of the country. So we planned a short escape to give her time to refuel the engines, and give me a chance to see a small part of New Zealand’s South Island. And gossip and reminisce over a glass or two of good New Zealand wine. Of course.

Needless to say, we didn’t travel on the same plane. B booked a flight from Perth which would have her arriving in Christchurch well before me. I flew on a morning flight from Brisbane, which meant a 3-4 hour drive from Hervey Bay to the airport. Rather than get up at midnight to drive to Brisbane, Pete and I drove down the day before and stayed in a hotel overnight. It was pretty ordinary, but it was a bed for the night. Breakfast was pretty ordinary, too – we had a sort of Eggs Benedict, overcooked eggs on a slice of ham on a slice of bread, covered in rocket leaves, drowned in far too much (bought) sauce.

Hey ho. Pete dropped me off and headed for home while I worked out how to do the self-service check-in. Much as I poo-pooed the whole procedure when I first encountered it, I have to say it has speeded up the airport experience considerably. No more conga line of people and bags snaking around in front of the airline desks. I’m not sure what they can do about the security screening, though.

It has been many years since my only previous flight with Virgin, so it was going to be interesting. Although it’s no longer as cutprice as it was when it started in Australia, Virgin is still a bit spartan. I paid the extra to pick my own seat, and get a meal. But you use your own device to watch movies etc, having downloaded the Virgin app. There were no usb ports. The food was ordinary – penne in olive oil and breadcrumbs on top with gluggy potato salad. The chocolate mousse wasn’t bad.

We got off to a bad start when the flight was delayed for an hour. These things happen, of course, but when the pilot did the routine apology, he explained that the delay resulted from two factors; first, the crew had arrived from New Zealand that morning on another flight, which was late getting in. When they arrived, they had to go through transit security. NZ flights seem to leave from the gates furthest away from the main airport, so they had to go all the way in, then all the way out again. It must have taken 20 minutes. Bureaucracy gone mad, in my opinion.

It’s a boring flight most of the way. The plane crosses the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, known to us as ‘The Ditch’. I played Solitaire or dabbled in a book until we crossed the NZ coast. The alps were spectacular, with snow dusting the mountain peaks and turquoise rivers swirling through the valleys. Yes, the camera was up there in the overhead locker. I had more leg room in the row behind business class – but there was no seat in front of me to put my camera bag. But I did my best with the notebook.

I’d organised a super shuttle for the trip into the city. It’s a shared mini-bus service, costing $25 – much, much cheaper than a taxi. The driver was a refugee from North Carolina, a big, bluff woman who said she used to manage backpacker hostels in the city centre – until the earthquake (there will be more on that). Her job vanished with the buildings, so she bought into this franchise. She was the first and by no means the last person to tell me how frustrated she was with the lack of action in addressing the devastation caused in the earthquakes in 2010-11.

I arrived at the hotel (complete with 2 bottles of sav blanc from duty free) around 5pm, expecting my friend would have arrived well before me, around 10am.

She wasn’t there.

All sorts of things went through my head. Illness? Problems with the grand children? A sick dog? I sent her a text message. “You’re not here. What happened?”

The last thing I expected was aircraft dramas. The direct Perth – Christchurch flight she was supposed to take was cancelled due to maintenance problems. So she caught a Qantas flight to Sydney, which would connect with an Emirates flight to NZ. Except that after about two hours the cabin lost pressure. You know all that stuff they tell you in those safety briefings? Masks come down from above, put them on and breathe normally? Yep, all that.  She said there was a noise and all the lights went out, then a repeated announcement was made – ‘this is an emergency’. But the lights came back on, the pilots said a fault in the air conditioning caused the cabin to lose pressure. The plane descended rapidly to 10,000 ft, where oxygen is not required. B thought there was also a medical emergency in the cockpit, with a woman passenger she thought must have been a doctor running down to the cockpit. The cabin crew kept stressing that they were trained in dealing with the situation and to keep calm.  Since B flew business class, she would have been shielded a little from events in the rest of the cabin. It must have been heart-stoppingly scary, but B said after she accepted that there was nothing she could do, she watched the cabin crew, who wore masks attached to oxygen bottles they carried, doing their jobs calmly and efficiently. There were 297 people on the flight. It must have been a helluva job keeping all those people from panicking. Although I expect there would have been a few who panicked, anyway. Here’s the news report about it.

The plan had been to land at Adelaide, but Adelaide couldn’t accommodate the aircraft, so they flew on to Melbourne. There was no gate available there, either, so they stopped at a hard stand away from the terminal and waited until ground staff brought over a ladder for all the passengers to disembark. Then Qantas staff had to arrange new flights for everybody. My friend was put on an Emirates flight. But her luggage (and about 10 other people’s) hadn’t made it off the plane. Staff did their best, giving stranded passengers Qantas pyjamas and rudimentary toiletries. B spent 5 hours in the Qantas lounge and arrived in Christchurch around 6:30pm, suffering from lack of sleep – but with a great story to share. Just as well I bought that wine in duty-free.

B told me it was almost as if she had a premonition something might go wrong. Although she’s a great traveller, she doesn’t like flying. Apart from the usual hugs and kisses for the dogs (in case she doesn’t see them again) this time she packed an extra dose of her medication and a pair of knickers in her carry-on luggage – something she doesn’t normally do. At least I didn’t have to lend her a pair of knickers.

Dinner was a bottle of lovely NZ sav blanc, and a (delivered) gourmet pizza. Even that was a tale in itself, involving issues like how do you call an 0800 number from your roaming mobile, why won’t the online apps recognise the hotel address, and ringing pizza joints that no longer deliver. But with a bit of advice from the hotel staff, all was well. After that, both of us passed out for a much-needed sleep.

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.