The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 44

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Forty-four

November 11 (Tuesday, Day 57, Apia, Upolu, Western Samoa – 2.80 Samoan tala to the dollar) –


We woke up early in order to snorkel right away. According to the Lonely Planet info on Apia (population 44,000) that Snookums brought with her, a great snorkeling spot was near the ship but it was shallow and high tide was the best time to enter the water. We had looked at the tide information and found out that high tide was at 4:56 AM and low tide was at 11:10 AM. So, we wanted to get off the ship right away.

More after the jump . . . Snookums got $15 worth of tala money from the ANZ bank desk that set up shop on deck 4 and then we left. Another couple was about 20 feet in front of us, but otherwise, we were the first ones off. We entered the gate of the Palolo Deep Marine Reserve and paid our $1 each using tala (so the entry fee was 3 tala). The couple in front of us didn’t have tala so we paid for them since the woman was going to charge them $3 each if they used US currency.

We got ready and decided to go for it. The water was very shallow (about 2 feet deep) for about 100 yards until the drop-off was reached. It was kind of weird swimming in water that shallow when there was coral and sea grass on the ocean floor as well as fish swimming all around. We stopped several times and stood up since it was so ‘strange’ and then decided that the dark water in the distance was where we needed to get to so we kept going. We finally found our way over the edge of the coral drop-off and were rewarded with a very deep ocean with a reef wall around us.

Apia snorkel pictures:

We saw lots of fish and a beautiful bright purple sea star. It was vivid, deep, royal purple and was just sitting on top of coral. It was probably two feet in diameter and the arms looked like large hot dogs. (We learned later that Filbert’s camera wasn’t working after the first bunch of photos in the shallow sea so we didn’t get the picture of the bright purple sea star.) After about 30 minutes in the warm, deep water we decided to head back to shore. Low tide was definitely approaching since the water was now about 1 foot deep. At one point Snookums panicked and stood up and waited for Filbert. He stood up and we decided to walk in. However, somehow Snookums tumbled back down and realized she was floating and everything was fine so she continued to swim in. Filbert, though, walked the rest of the way to shore since his knee, hands and stomach were getting coral scrapes.

We went back to the ship and showered and then walked the mile or so to ‘downtown’. Filbert went to the air-conditioned internet cafe and Snookums went in search of postcards. The weather was sunny, 88 degrees and probably 90% humidity and we were both soaked by the time we got to the internet cafe. Snookums finally found a store that sold postcards and also bought a bottle of Samoan beer (Vailima – $1.05) and a McDonald’s ice cream cone ($0.70) to use up the tala. (Yes, Apia had a McDonald’s. So far the only two ports that we’ve been to that didn’t have any fast food chains or anything like that were Da Nang in Vietnam and Padang Bai in Bali. A lot of the ports had Gloria Jean’s Coffee, if nothing else.)

Apia clock tower

Since our tala was all gone and we didn’t have any small US currency with us, we walked back to the ship rather than taking a $3 cab. It was still hot and humid and Snookums gave our last two tala ‘nickels’ to two 3rd grade girls walking home from school.

We showered again and Snookums got a sandwich (to go) and hustled to the 2:00 Samoan Folkloric Show. It was a children’s Methodist Choir and they put on a skit that was the legend of an eel and a girl and now every coconut looks like the head of an eel. At the end of the performance, Bruce (the cruise director) announced that the group was doing this on a volunteer basis and Holland America felt that it was important to thank them so he presented the choir director with a check for $1,500. That’s a lot of money in Samoa and the choir director was stunned. Snookums had been wondering about the other folkloric shows and whether they got paid or not. They must have been since no donation was ever presented at the end of their shows.

While we were out, the French Navy had pulled into the dock right behind the Amsterdam–the Vendemiaire.

The Vendemiaire

Next: Fishing for cruise ships!

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 43

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Forty-three

November 9 (Sunday, Day 54, At sea) –

Partly cloudy at sea

Snookums woke up since she had to go to the bathroom. When she realized that it was 9:32 AM, she threw on some clothes and walked up two decks for the Dam Dollars ring toss. She won both throws and walked away with three Dam Dollars before returning to the cabin and showering. Filbert woke up around 10:30 but didn’t go to the Dam Dollars Frisbee throw with Snookums who only managed to win one Dam Dollar. We spent the rest of the morning on the verandah enjoying the cool breeze and glass-like smooth ocean.

More after the jump . . . One thing that was not written in the journal regarding our days sailing near Vietnam and Thailand was that there were crewmembers on guard for pirates. On Deck 3 the fire hoses were unrolled and ready to be used to blast water at approaching ships. There was also a Long Range Acoustical Device (like a big circular speaker on a stand) at the very back of Deck 3 pointed towards the ocean. It was basically a huge speaker that would blast loud sound 100 meters away. The decibels would be at such a level that the pirates’ ear drums would burst and prevent them from coming closer to be able to board our ship. When a crewmember was asked about the fire hoses, the answer was that they were being dried! Also, a passenger was told that there were so many crew members on Deck 3 that night since that’s where they were taking their smoke breaks. Well, that wasn’t true. They were standing guard but the passengers weren’t supposed to realize that. We knew all about it since Gary had wandered down to Deck 3 (where there are lots of passenger cabins) and figured it all out from his Navy days. Today the lecturer spoke about pirates and so now people on our ship have figured out what was going on a week or two ago.

We decided to buy a Holland American shore excursion for $149 each to take us to The Pearl South Pacific Resort (a buffet lunch of local and Indian foods included) since the man at the Shore Excursion desk (who lives part of the year in Fiji) said that the closest snorkeling to where we docked in Fiji was at this resort.

Filbert was grumpy all day, partly from too much sun yesterday, and mostly from having to work on the journal all day long, rather than sitting out on the verandah listening to the radio and searching for sea life. After Snookums does the writing, Filbert picks the pictures, re-formats them (to make them smaller–this takes up less space in the Word document and the web page). Then he carves the Word document up into 10-photograph segments (more or less), copies all of those segments over to uploadable web page files, corrects the various characters coming out of Word that need to be replaced in order that they display correctly on the web page (such as quotation marks, apostrophes, dashes, ½ signs, and the like) and sets up the HTML formatting for the web page medium. (Note that the pages aren’t uploaded after all that . . . that comes later.) Anyway, he worked on web pages (with a break for lunch) from about 10:45 AM until after 5 PM, thinking that this was a whole lot like work, and wondering about staging a revolt against The Man–or at least against The Blog.

November 10 (Monday, Day 55, Suva, Viti Levu, Fiji Islands – 1.80 Fijian dollars to the dollar) –


Filbert set his alarm for 6 AM to watch us sail in but ended up sleeping in due to a poor night’s sleep. The Suva police band welcomed us in but our side of the ship looked out to sea so we didn’t see or hear it but everyone said it was a great marching band. Snookums saw a little of it since a suite guest was in Neptune Lounge and offered their suite to anyone on the ‘wrong’ side of the ship. Many Fiji men wear ‘skirts’ and this was true for the policeman. The policewoman in the band wore white skirts, too, but they were ‘real’ skirts and not the ‘sarong-type’ that the men wear.

Fiji is made up of 333 islands and the largest and most populated one is Viti Levu. Its capital city is Suva and that is where we docked. Viti Levu has around 350,000 people on it and 80,000 live in Suva. There is Dengue Fever in Fiji and we were warned to use Deet insect repellents and that people on shore excursion busses would be given Deet moist towelettes.

Snookums got off the ship at 8 AM and wandered around downtown looking for an ATM, postcards and a post office for stamps. She was successful in finding all three within five blocks of the ship. She walked through the produce market and although it is the largest in the South Pacific, it wasn’t a very good one. She had to ask what one of the vegetables was and it was casava (a root vegetable that tapioca comes from). She knew all of the other fruits and vegetables.

We met our tour group at 9:45 and got on the air-conditioned bus with tinted windows (which meant there wasn’t any photography on the 50-minute scenic drive to the resort). It started raining halfway there but stopped as we were getting close. A trio of men singing the Bula song greeted us at The Pearl South Pacific Resort in Pacific Harbour. Bula is ‘hello’ in the Fiji language and we heard it a lot and from everyone. We took our snorkel stuff to the water activities desk and asked where the best spot to snorkel was and was told that no one really snorkels right there and instead a boat takes resort guests to Village Island at 9 AM every day. (It was around 11 AM when our bus got to the resort.) We put on our snorkel gear and waded in the ocean. We snorkeled for 30 minutes and saw lots of sand on the bottom of the ocean and not a single fish. The water was kind of choppy due to a storm and visibility was around 4 feet, but we still though we would have seen a fish or two. But, nope! Well, the water was warm and we weren’t in a cold, snowy place so we still had fun.

The Pearl South Pacific Resort
A little lizard

We got cleaned up and decided it was time for lunch. The resort didn’t have a buffet and instead we were provided with an entree and dessert of our choice. Filbert had the skewered prawns with a spicy salsa and substituted an onion, basil and tomato salad for dessert and Snookums had the nasi goreng and lemon tart. There was one local item on the menu but it wasn’t available. Filbert bought two different Fijian beers (Foster brews three different beers on Fiji).

After lunch we walked around the nice resort grounds. The beach was very beautiful (even if the water contained no fish) available. We found a large hammock and rested in it until it was time to get back on the bus.

A tough life
Warning: Gravity affected coconuts

We got back and Snookums immediately went to the shore excursion desk for a refund due to the various problems (no buffet, tinted windows didn’t allow much of a scenic drive, no bug repellent towelettes were available, snorkeling is not done at Pearl Resort). We were given a 25% refund due to the buffet issue and Snookums documented the issues and asked for a larger refund due to the other three problems. More to come.

We had 1.95 in Fiji coins that needed to be used since the ship won’t exchange local currency in coins. We also had paper money worth 2. Snookums went off the ship again (in the rain, but it was a warm rain) and went to a grocery store. She ended up buying a 2-liter bottle of Coke Zero (2.29), some chewy candies (.99) and a single-serving package of cookies (.60) and used 3.90 (about $2.15) and donated the extra ‘nickel’ to the cashier. It was interesting to see that Australia, New Caledonia and Fiji don’t have ‘pennies’ and instead round to the nearest ‘nickel’.

After dinner we went to see the comedian and juggler, Tyler Linkin. He was very funny and Filbert laughed a lot. We were sitting in the balcony and the comedian once commented (in a positive way) about the guy upstairs.

November 11 (Tuesday, Day 56, Crossing the International Date Line) –

Snookums woke up and put on workout clothes and went to Dam Dollars. She only won one and was very mad at herself. It was a football toss with an Australian Rules football (slightly bigger than an NFL football). It was outside on the sports deck and everyone was saying to throw it hard due to the wind. Well, she overthrew it. It had a perfect spiral (which was irrelevant) but was long. Arghhhhh. Only one Dam Dollar for her. She followed that by a punishing workout. Filbert went to the lecture on watching whales and dolphins from the ship since we should see some migrating whales and dolphins near Hawaii.

The sea was very calm (like glass) and the temperature was around 80. The sky was overcast and it was raining a little bit when we went to the outdoor ring toss. (The sports deck where a lot of the Dam Dollar events are held is literally two decks above our cabin since our cabin opens to the landing of the stairs and elevators so it’s very convenient to attend the Dam Dollar events that are outside. The indoor events are at the other end of the ship and down four decks.) Filbert won two Dam Dollars and Snookums won one. She now has a total of 50 which is enough for the jogging suit. Her next goal is a T-shirt or sweatshirt.

Around 2 PM there was a ‘Brightstar’ announcement on the PA. That is Holland America’s version of ‘Code Blue’ and the first one we’ve had during this entire cruise. We’ll keep our ears open to hear what happened.

Brightstar call instructions on the Bridge

We are scheduled to cross the dateline at 3:30 AM while we are sleeping tonight which is why we are having two November 11s. Today’s Daily Program lists the date and then in parentheses it says ‘first one’. The carpets in the elevators will say ‘Tuesday’ for two days in a row.

We received a follow-up letter from the shore excursion manager about our comments regarding the Fiji tour. We were not given a larger refund than the previous one of 25%, but were satisfied with the response.

None of us had dessert tonight (well, Gary had the sundae since it was made with his favorite kind of ice cream – coconut) since we were saving up for the 10:30 PM Chocolate Extravaganza. We went up a little early to take some pictures. The event wasn’t planned very well since it was held in the un-airconditioned pool area and the roof was open about half way. Many of the desserts were melting and the ice sculptures were making streams of water on the floor. We didn’t slip, but it’s possible others did. We got some desserts and took them to our cabin.

The Chocolate Extravaganza:

Ice dolphin
Ron the bar guy
Photo Title

Next: Apia, Western Samoa!

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 42

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Forty-two

November 8 (Saturday, Day 53, Noumea, New Caledonia – Continued) –

The snorkeling was so good that it’s overflowed into three posts!

We took the public bus back to the city and walked to the grocery store which was across the street from the ship. We bought post cards and Filbert bought two 6-packs of local beer (Number One and Manta) for about $1 per can.

Snookums was impressed with New Caledonia. It was a small island, but was cleaner and “wealthier” than the Caribbean islands. The bus system was nice and the buses even had working flat screen video screens in them. The grocery store was pretty normal and its prices weren’t as high as expected considering everything is shipped in.

We took $50 out of the ATM (in French Pacific francs) and had $5 left at the end of the day and changed that back to US currency at the front desk. We were pretty happy about our New Caledonia money situation. It’s always a guess as to how much foreign currency to take from the ATM since you don’t want to be stuck with too much at the end of the day since you lose a little bit when changing it back to US currency due to the “handling fee”.

We showered and went to lunch around 3 PM. While at lunch Snookums yelled, “It’s a bird” and pointed to the water. She saw this large thing skim over the water (and then touch the water like a bird diving for a fish) 4 or 5 times before permanently disappearing into the water. Filbert saw it, too, and realized it was a ray of some kind that had jumped out of the water to either get away from a predator or to shake off fish that ride on its back. It was pretty neat and now we can see how a ray can jump out of the water, land on a little boat and kill someone with its tail!

We had a nice dinner and Alice and Yvan were there for the first time in 4 or 5 days so we all got caught up. Ron gave Alice a free glass of champagne with some strawberry sorbet in it and she loved it. Ron was all set to give Gary, Charlotte and Snookums Diet Cokes but no one wanted them. At the end of dinner we were told that we were going to lose an hour so we all hustled to our cabins to get to sleep.

Next: Headed for Fiji!

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 41

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Forty-one

(Remember to click “read more” if you’re looking at this from the main page to get the whole article!)

November 8 (Saturday, Day 53, Noumea, New Caledonia – Continued) –

We stayed in the water for probably an hour before Snookums got cold. We got out and warmed up and got back in and saw more of the same (but it was awesome!). We took the water taxi back at 12:30 and decided that it was the best snorkeling ever. The water was clear, the fish and coral were beautiful and there were no other snorkelers around. (Well, there were other people snorkeling, but we rarely encountered them since the snorkel area was so large and only about 20 people were snorkeling.) It was great.

Check out snorkeling pictures after the jump . . . More snorkeling pictures:

Next: Even more snorkel pictures, and goodbye to New Caledonia!

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 40

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Forty

(November 8 (Saturday, Day 53, Noumea, New Caledonia – Continued) –

One of the first things we saw was a black sea snake. All of a sudden this “ribbon” that was about 2 inches wide floated up (vertically) to the water surface and took a quick breath of air. Then it floated back down (also vertically) and crawled under some coral. We had never seen a sea snake before and this one certainly took us by surprise. We saw several more during our snorkels and later found out that New Caledonia is famous for its sea snakes since there are so many varieties of them and a lot of them there.

Sea Snake!
Snake on the way down

More after the jump . . . A snorkeling photo sampler:

We saw lots of fish of all shapes and sizes and colors. The colorful fish were anywhere from 2 inches to 3 feet long and we saw some gray, long skinny ones with about 4 inches of teeth. They weren’t trumpet fish or gar but were more like barracudas. They were about 4inches in diameter and 3 feet long and then had a snout that was 4 inches long with ½ inch teeth. We saw a starfish on the bottom of the sea, too, and a bunch of sea cucumbers. The coral was gorgeous, too, and was red, green, blue and yellow. The green coral reminded Snookums of evergreens that grown low to the ground (and the kind that we have in our front yard on our berm). There were just huge clumps of it and it was light green.

Blue coral

Next: More great snorkeling photos!

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 39

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Thirty-nine

November 6 (Thursday, Day 51, Cruising Coral Sea) –

Flowers on the Amsterdam

More after the jump . . . We were exhausted from two days in Sydney (or maybe just from the whale watching tour). Filbert planned on doing nothing but that was interrupted early on. His alarm went off at 8 AM from yesterday and then again around 8:15 AM. (Oops.) Then the phone rang a little before 10. Then an announcement concerning a staff fire drill was piped into the cabin around 10:30 AM. That’s when he decided to get up.

Snookums had already showered and attended the 9:30 and 10:30 Dam Dollar events.

We went to lunch and Charlotte sat with us. Charlotte commented on the fact that Filbert said about 3 words during the 45-minute period he was sitting there. He was pooped. He went back to the room for nap and Snookums continued to sit at lunch for another hour or so. It was just a slow day.

We were invited to join Captain vanZanne and his wife for drinks and then dinner so we put on our formal outfits and went to the Piano Bar. Everyone in a suite gets invited to the Captain’s table once during the cruise. This was our night. The menu in the normal dining room was featuring kangaroo and ostrich so Snookums arranged to have that saved for our dinner tomorrow night.

After drinks we went to the Pinnacle Grill for the Captain’s table. It sat 16 and included the Captain, his wife, the Hotel Manager (Snookums sat next to him) and the First Officer. They split up the husbands and the wives so Snookums was at one end and Filbert was at the other end between the Captain and the First Officer. Snookums’s end was definitely made up of the extroverts since we were loud and having a good time. Filbert’s end of the table was much quieter! The Captain was pretty subdued the whole time, too, and seemed to be almost ticked off at one of the men on Snookums’s end due to his jokes. Oh well, we were having a good time.

The food was superb although Snookums didn’t appreciate the fancy caviar first course or the second course made up of ahi tuna (kind of like sashimi). She liked the Thai lemongrass chicken soup and watermelon sorbet and filet mignon with a lamb chop (everyone else got a filet and a lobster tail). The dessert of three chocolate items was a real treat, too. Filbert said that the red and white wines were very good, too.

The Hotel Manager, Villem somebody, said that he had just come from a welcome aboard party for the 100 guests that came aboard in Sydney. Anyway, he said that he had just kicked a party crasher out of the party. There is a man onboard that attends all of the parties to get the free drinks. Villem finally had enough and called him out and said “You are not invited”. Then he saw the man sitting at the bar in the welcome aboard party room and so Villem finally told the bartenders that the man is never to be served free drinks on this cruise again! That was pretty funny since it had just happened. We were asking him about pesky guests and he had a real-life story to tell that had just occurred.

Villem also said that we almost didn’t dock in Fremantle due to the strong winds. We knew it was windy but Snookums had no idea that strong winds could affect the control of a big ship like this. But, the entrance to Fremantle is kind of tricky and the Captain wasn’t sure it was safe. For some reason, though, he decided he could do it. Snookums learned that the harbor pilots that come onboard really don’t do anything and don’t even have much advice to offer. They don’t know the cruise ship at all so they can’t really offer any help.

The First Officer told Filbert’s end of the table that the horn that we had heard around 7 AM on our day of docking was aimed at a canoeist who was trying to get himself run over by our ship! Filbert and I remembered hearing the ship’s horn blast and Filbert immediately went outside to see what it was all about but he didn’t notice anything. Now we know the story.

We got back to our room to find two large stuffed koala bears as the Australian gift. We sure hope that one of the gifts is going to be a large suitcase to send the free items home.

Sunset, November 6

November 7 (Friday, Day 52, Cruising Coral Sea) –

Snookums woke up at 8:30 and immediately went to work out and then went to shuffle quoits and got one Dam Dollar. When she got back to the room, Filbert was showered and on the internet. She showered and then we went to the 10:30 soccer kick Dam Dollar event and each earned one Dam Dollar.

Suite guests were invited to a special Cabaret Lunch in the Queen’s Lounge (the big showroom) so we went to it. Kiwi champagne cocktails were served right away and we passed on them. Then a first course of a mussel, a shrimp and a lobster medallion was served and Filbert ate both of ours. The soup course was jellied consomme (cold) and by then we decided to find out what the main course was. It was going to be Dover sole and veal tenderloin so we decided to go to the Lido buffet. The cabaret entertainment consisted of the showgirls giving a fashion show of the Bob Mackie costumes and of one of the singers singing a song. We left before we saw anything else and enjoyed Japanese food from Lido.

For those people not following NCAA basketball: Today our version of USA Today International had the women’s preseason poll in it. UConn is ranked #1 and last year’s National Champion, University of Tennessee, is ranked #6. UT lost all five starters (and all five starters played in the WNBA this past season which is incredible) but is still ranked #6. Head coach Pat Sumitt is 16 victories shy of 1,000. Having a great coach and no starters certainly helps when the preseason polls come out!

Snookums attended the English High Tea at 3:30 but was disappointed in the raisin scones. She hoped that Cunard shared its recipe with Holland America, but that wasn’t the case. It was a nice spread, though. They have tea at 3:00 every day but she hasn’t been to any of the “normal” ones. She saw this one advertised as the English High Tea so she went.

Filbert enjoyed most of the day on the verandah and Snookums stayed inside where it was warmer. We went to the free throw contest and won Dam Dollars. Snookums found a dime on the ship. That means she has now found money in every country except Vietnam! Each coin was worth less than $0.10, but she has a knack for finding money on the ground and that continues to be the case on this cruise.

Dinner was a normal dinner in the dining room but last night’s formal menu had kangaroo and ostrich on it. Since we were at the Captain’s dinner and had to eat from his set menu, we had arranged to have our kangaroo and ostrich tonight. Snookums thought that both of them were remarkably similar and that they tasted like beef. Filbert thought the kangaroo was tenderer than the ostrich. We both managed to eat both servings of meat.

November 8 (Saturday, Day 53, Noumea, New Caledonia – 100 French Pacific francs to the dollar) –

Surf on the reef
Sailing in

We docked around 7:30 AM and our view was of the 2-story port terminal and city so we had a great view. Noumea is populated with around 90,000 people and is the capital of New Caledonia. It is French speaking. It is an island and it’s completely surrounded by a coral reef so we were really looking forward to snorkeling (although the ship didn’t offer any snorkeling excursions). There was a wood drum band and singers/dancers wearing grass skirts (men) and flowered long muumuus (women) to welcome us and we watched them from our balcony. They were singing in French so we couldn’t understand them, but it was very pleasant.

New Caledonia greeting

We got off the ship pretty early in order to start our snorkel quest. We hit an ATM and found the city bus ($2 each) to take us to Anse Vata which was the best beach area and that is where the water taxis where. Prior to the cruise, Snookums copied the relevant pages from Fodor’s for each of our ports and the one for Noumea said that the best snorkeling was at Duck Island so that’s where we wanted to go. By mistake we stayed on the bus for two extra stops and walked back to the water taxis. It was no big deal since it was a pleasant walk along the beach. We found the water taxi and bought our $10 round trip tickets and headed to Duck Island (or Île aux Canards in French).

Duck Island
Departing the taxi stand

There was a restaurant and some chaise lounges for rent but we decided to dump our stuff on the washed up coral and attack the water. Chairs are for sissies! The beach was made up of some sand, but most of it was dried coral and shells that meant it hurt to walk on. Luckily the water was only about 15 feet from where we put our stuff.

The restaurant
Information stand

We got our snorkel stuff on and waded in. The water was much colder than Bali but Snookums had her wet suit so she survived. Even in the water that was about 2 feet deep there were big colorful fish. We finally got set and took the plunge and swam out to the reef about 20 feet away.

Closeup of a fish

Next: The snorkel continues!

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 38

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Thirty-eight

November 5 (Wednesday, Day 50, Sydney, Australia) – Continued

We hustled back to the ship for a 15-minute lunch before packing up our cold weather gear and walking to the other side of the Sydney Cove for Ocean Dreaming to pick us up for our whale watching tour. The 115-foot, three-deck catamaran picked us up and away we went. The seas were a little choppy but the wind was fierce and we were both glad to have taken seasick pills. One guy didn’t and his full bag of vomit was overflowing and then being blown by the wind! Filbert was using his camera so he only had one hand to hang on with while it was all Snookums could do to keep steady using two hands. It was very rocky and very windy and everyone really hung on. No one was in any danger of falling overboard, although we were surprised that no one ever fell down on the deck. Anyway, we got out to the ocean and since the boat had some kind of tracking equipment, it knew where to go.

Sure enough, we found ourselves watching a pod of four humpback whales. We learned that whales surface and then go back down for 5-10 minutes before re-surfacing so we just stayed in that spot for about 45 minutes and watched the whales. These whales seemed to stay submerged for about 8 minutes or so. They weren’t too active when they surfaced and just used their blowholes and did some fluke up dives to go back down. We saw a lot of their backs, but that was about it. The captain wanted to find a pod of whales that had been more active and breaching earlier in the day so we went to another spot.

Whale 1

More after the jump: We got to the spot and found a pod of two whales. They entertained us for awhile and seemed to only stay submerged for 5 minutes or so which meant we got to see them more often. We also had about 40 dolphins buzzing around the catamaran riding the bow wave so we followed them for about 5 minutes. That meant that we “lost” the pod of two whales so now the captain continued to look for the pod of four whales that had been so active earlier in the day.

Dolphin leap
Dolphin under water

He found them and we were given a great show. We saw some tail slaps and some tail swipes and probably 20 pectoral slaps by at least two whales at the same time. (The pectoral fin is about 15 feet long.) At one point the pod of two and the pod of four joined and we saw all six whales together. We noticed a car carrier steaming out of Sydney, and the captain said that often the humpbacks would get more active when a really big ship went by. It turns out, he was right.

Car carrier–a very big ship indeed

After the whales had been submerged for 5 minutes or so everyone kept looking to the starboard side and all of a sudden a whale breached which is where the whale leaps its whole body out of the water. No one was ready for it since it was the first sign of any surfacing whales. We hoped to see another one breach since the captain said that usually when there is one breaching whale, it will either repeat it or another whale will breach, but that was the only one we saw. By now our cruise time was almost over so it was time to head the boat back to Sydney Cove.

Three whales
Tail flip
Synchronized flippers
The last whale tail

On the way back two Australian Air Force trainer jets decided to fly right over our heads. They were loud, fast and low and seemed to come out of nowhere (so no one got any pictures). It was the perfect ending to a most excellent whale watching cruise.

We got off the boat and Snookums took off her cold weather gear. We were the only ones on the whale watching cruise that had the appropriate clothing. Snookums had a ski cap and gloves and everything. The wind was so fierce that it really made it quite cool but we were warm with our winter coats. Some people came onboard with just shirts and blouses and no jackets or coats at all!

Snookums took a shower and then a one-hour nap and was shocked by how sore she was when she got up. Standing with bent knees and arms clenched onto railings for four hours on a boat that is flopping around is a hard workout.

We went to dinner and Gary and Charlotte were there and everyone was tired from their days in Sydney. It was a quiet dinner. We learned from the assistant dining room manager that 21 passengers disembarked unexpectedly from the time we left Seattle. That number surprised all of us since we had only heard of a few medical incidents. The assistant dining room manager was kind of surprised that no one had died on board yet.

Filbert stayed up until midnight to watch us leave Sydney. Snookums didn’t.

Filbert, Snookums, the Dutch flag and the Sydney Bridge