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Our 2018 Trip across the Pacific

Welcome to John's blog of our cruise across the Pacific Ocean in MS Noordam to Vancouver and Seattle, and return via air, stopping over in Kauai/Hawaii.

Navigating these pages: In the following itinerary, there are several columns describing the day. Clicking on a link in a column (where it exists) ...

Day(Cruise)
shows the ordinal number of the day of travel, and in parentheses, the day of the cruise.
Date
will take you to the corresponding photo album page for the day. Due to space considerations, the original photos are not stored here (only the "medium" and "large" sizes). If you want to see the originals, please visit one of my other servers at ajh.co
Track
will take you to the track for the day. This is a GPX file, which needs to be opened with Google Earth. Browsers such as Chrome and Firefox will do this automatically for you (email me if you have trouble setting them up). If you do have trouble, then try clicking on the (alt) link. This gives a direct browser-rendering of the track, but isn't as much fun to play with. Not all days were tracked, and these days will have no link to open.
Time
shows the hours of travel for the day (not a link).
Blog
will take you to the corresponding diary entry, which is recorded later on this page.

Within the diary entries, the date heading is a link to the photo page (as for the itinerary). The day of the week/ordinal number is a link back to the itinerary, and the day's title is a link to the track (as for the itinerary).

All dates and times are local times. This can give anomalous timings when travel across time zones is involved. Where a change of time zone is involved, offsets from UTC are given in parentheses. A single UTC offset indicates the local time for the day, and if multiple UTC offsets are given, these indicate the UTC zones travelled.

Note that the pages will change over time as I edit in travel progress. Note also that when the document refers to 'John', the author is assumed, unless stated otherwise.

Day(Cruise) Date
(Photos)
Time Activity (Blog) Locations (Track) Track No.
0 12 Apr 0630 (+10) all aboard! train Melbourne to Sydney NA
1(0) 13 Apr 1230; 1830 embark; depart on MS Noordam Sydney NA
2(1) 14 Apr all day (+11) rocking and rolling at sea NA
3(2) 15 Apr all day An Overflowing Church and other Distractions at sea NA
4(3) 16 Apr 1000-1800 Pining on the Isle of homophonic Pines Kuto, Ile des Pins, New Caledonia (TRNW) 332
5(4) 17 Apr 0800-1700 A Tale of Two Churches Easo, Lifou, New Caledonia (TRDHNW) 332
6(5) 18 Apr 0800-1700 Port Vila, Vanuatu Port Vila, Vanuatu 333
7(6) 19 Apr all day (+12) Bread and Circuses at sea NA
8(7) 20 Apr 0800-1700 As I walked out on the streets of Lautoka Lautoka, Fiji 334
9(8) 21a Apr 0800-1600 Dravuni Island, Fiji TRNW Dravuni Island, Fiji TRNW TBA
10(9) 21b Apr Cross International Dateline CO Cross International Dateline CO TBA
10(9) 21b Apr all day at sea at sea TBA
11(10) 22 Apr 1000-1800 Pago Pago, Tutuila, American Samoa Pago Pago, Tutuila, American Samoa TBA
12(10) 23 Apr all day at sea at sea TBA
13(11) 24 Apr TBA Crossing the Equator CO Crossing the Equator CO TBA
14(12) 25 Apr all day at sea at sea TBA
15(13) 26 Apr all day at sea at sea TBA
16(14) 27 Apr all day at sea at sea TBA
17(15) 28 Apr 0700-2300 Honolulu, Hawaii, US Honolulu, Hawaii, US TBA
18(16) 29 Apr 0800-1800 Lahaina, Hawaii, US TRNW Lahaina, Hawaii, US TRNW TBA
19(17) 30 Apr 0700-1400 Nawiliwili, Kauai, Hawaii, US Nawiliwili, Kauai, Hawaii, US TBA
20(18) 01 May all day at sea at sea TBA
21(19) 02 May all day at sea at sea TBA
22(20) 03 May all day at sea at sea TBA
23(21) 04 May all day at sea at sea TBA
24(22) 05 May all day at sea at sea TBA
25(23) 06 May 0700 (-7) disembark Vancouver Vancouver TBA
26 07 May TBA Vancouver TBA
27 08 May TBA Vancouver TBA
28 09 May TBA Vancouver TBA
29 10 May TBA Vancouver TBA

Trip Blog

12 Apr 2018, Thursday (Day 0), All Aboard!

(Sigh. Off to a bad start. I typed all of today's happenings in, only to have some glitch happen, I have no idea what, but it wiped out all of my typing. Here I am, an hour and a half later, starting again.)

We did not get much sleep last night, somewhat to be expected, because of the stress and excitement over the last few days (weeks) (months). At least we can relax, knowing that all of our stuff has been moved out of number 7, since that is to be handed back to the landlord while we are away. Number 5 is now full of boxes, but they can wait until our return.

So we were awake and had time for our usual cup of tea before getting dressed and packing the last few essential items, like tootbrushes, etc.. David was sufficiently awake to drive us to the station, so we said our goodbyes to Beth and the girls and bundled ourselves and luggage into the car. Tabitha did her usual "bye-bye", but would have been quite oblivious to the length of time before we would see her again.

A quick hug from David at the station, and we caught the 0655 train into Flinders Street, where we crossed the platform to catch the next loop train on to Spencer Street. We were in plenty of time for the "egg-spitty" on platform 1, so Barb went to buy some coffee while John took a few photos of Y class shunting carriages. Indeed, the carriages were not ready to board, so there was no hurry. Barb found seats B15 and B16 in the first class car 'B', while John took a photo of the "engine". Then we were off, pretty well on the dot of 0830.

The pace of the train was fairly slow until we were well out of the inners suburbs, and we slowly picked up speed as the landscape broadened out into grasslands. The morning passed fairly quickly, aided by first the coffee, the two "breakky pies" from the buffet car. The passing landscape brought back many memories of past train trips, of steam trains, photo stops, and all the sundry happenings that go to make such trips memorable.

The Victorian North East standard gauge is notoriously unstable, and we had lost 10 minutes by the time we arrived in Albury, just on midday. The buffet car closed for a crew change, and a half hour out from Albury, a waiter came through our car, asking for hot lunch orders. We ordered a Vegetarian Curry (Barb) and a Morrocan Lamb (John), and then had to wait another hour for them to be "cooked", before we were called to the buffet car to collect our orders. Not exactly the same level of service that you get in first class on European trains, I must say. But the fare was significantly cheaper, so I guess we cannot complain too much!

The afternoon was a little more tedious than the morning, but John was sufficiently alert to know when we were approaching Bethungra Spiral, and managed to take a video of our trip around that interesting engineering feat. No Academy Awards for this one, mind, but for afficionados it is interesting enough.

Quite a few passengers alighted at Yass Junction, presumably bound for Canberra. This was the scene for sister Elinor's unfortunate missing of the old Intercapital Daylight, when she put one of her bags down at the door to the carriage, went back to get her other one, and meanwhile was dismayed to see the train pull out without her or her bags. Poor management on the part of the railway staff, in my view, but perhaps they have not learnt from that experience, as our train also started to pull out while the guard was still on the platform! Fortunately he had the powers that Elinor did not, and flagged for the train to stop, to allow him to reboard! I guess there would have been a few more questions asked if that mishap had come to pass.

We arrived on time in Sydney, having made up the missing 10 minutes, and found our way to the Mercure Hotel without any drama. Having checked in, we ate at the in-house restaurant "Four Elements", which I remembered from a previous accreditation visit to UTS in 2009 (?). John had duck confit, Barb had grilled salmon. John celebrated the first day out with a raspberry creme brulee as well. Then exhausted, we collapsed into bed, after a very not-doing-much but sitting sort of a day.

Original Version

Here follows my original version, which was not lost. See day 2 for an explanation.

Of course, we did not sleep much last night - too much excitement and stress over the last few days, but we have at least finished our part of the moving, and can relax (we think) on that front.

So we had time to get up and make our usual cup of tea before getting dressed and organizing the last few things into the suitcases. David was awake enough to drive us to the station, so we said our goodbyes to the children - Tabitha knew enough about saying "bye-bye", but she would not yet understand how much longer this absence was to be. A quick hug from David at the station, and then we caught the 6:55 train into Flinders Street, where we walked across the platform to catch the next loop train on to Spencer Street, and found the "egg-spitty" in platform 1, not quite ready for us to board car B, first class.

So Barb had time to find some coffee from the "in a Rush" coffee shop, while John took a few photos of Y class shunting. The train left promptly at 0830, but of course it barely gets above a crawl until well out in the suburbs, when it picked up a bit. Lots of memories were triggered as we made our way northward, past scenes of old railway journeys, steam trains, and photo stops.

We had a "breaky pie" for breakfast, a variant on the usual egg and bacon pie. It was not bad for railway fare. The morning passed otherwise uneventfully, and we were at Albury right on 12 noon, where there was a change of crew. After Albury, a waiter came around taking orders for lunch, so we ordered a vegetarian curry (Barb) and Moroccan lamb (John). Then we had to wait an hour while they were "cooked", i.e., reheated in the microwave, before being called to collect them from the buffet car. Hmmm, not quite the same level of service that you get in first class on European trains!

The afternoon section of the journey was a little more tedious. Again, there were the memories to be invoked, and John remembered enough to be ready to take a movie as we travelled around the Bethungra Spiral. I doubt that it will win any Academy Awards, though.

Quite a few passengers alighted at Yass Junction, scene of Elinor's unfortunate missing of the train. It must be the place, because the conductor chappie was still standing on the platform as the train started to move off, but fortunately, he had the power (and the flag) to stop the train and let him (re)join.

We arrived in Sydney via the East Hills line, a line not built when we lived in Sydney, so that was a first. We had made up some 10 minutes of lateness incurred over the substandard Victorian track, so we were right on time at 2000, and detrained quickly enough to find our way to the Mercure, where we ate dinner (John a nice confit of duck, Barb a grilled salmon; John also had dessert of a raspberry brulee). Then we retired, quite exhausted after a not-doing-much day!

13 Apr 2018, Friday (Day 1), embark; depart on MS Noordam

A somewhat more restful night, only to be blinded by the morning sun as it arose at 0630! John thought our room faced north, so we did not draw the blinds, but it was more north-east than north, and the morning sun came in with a vengeance!

Once dressed, we wandered (south!) down George St to find the new Central Mall, opposite UTS, as we needed a) breakfast, b) power adapters, and c) a pharmacy. Not much was open in Central Mall, but there was a small coffee bar, so we had a "combo" coffee and ham and cheese croissant each. Coffee was good, croissant a bit tired. We then checked out the mall, but there was nothing remotely approaching a pharmacy, and the one place that looked like it maight have power adapters (since they had some suitcases on display) was not open.

So back up to Railway Square, where we did find shops to meet both needs. Barb had a small cold sore developing, and the discount chemist had the medicine she wanted, and a small 7x11 sort of shop had the requisite power adapters. So we were all set. Back to the hotel to repack the bags, which we left with the concierge while we had some more coffees, then collected the bags, and caught a taxi to White Bay Cruise Terminal.

We thought we might be a little early, as the ticket said 1230 embarkation, but boarding procedures were well in place when we arrived at about noon, so we prioritised our check-in (thanks to being 4-star Mariners!) and were on board by 1230, where we made ourselves familiar with the ship. We had an invitation to a 4+-start Mariners Lunch, so down to the Dining Room for that, and sat at a table with Carl and Sherry from Calgary, Canada - with whom we swapped stories over lunch and kicked off our cruising with a very positive note.

At 2 we wandered into the showroom for a "welcome reception", which was basically a few free drinks and nibbles. I was expecting some sort of talking, but when it became obvious that there was none, we left. The showroom was not really the ideal place for a "reception", since everyone was sitting in rows, and it was very hard to mingle, let alone talk to anyone else around you.

We had not caught up with the MacMillans or Porters, so John rang the front desk and asked that a message be sent to the Porters (it was easier to spell their name!). Rachel replied very promptly, puzzled by the fact that an "Mr Angas" was trying to contact her! so after allaying her fears that she was not being accosted by a stranger, we arranged to meet at the wine tasting later.

At 1630 there was the mandatory muster and roll call, and after that, the wine tasting in the Pinnacle Bar, where we caught up with the Porters and MacMillans, and two of their friends, Caroline and Marcia. We had a great time catching up, with lots of laughter and wine tasting, so much so that we were the last ones to leave. We suspected that all the others had been driven away by the noise we were making.

There was a slightly sour note - literally. One of the wines we tasted was off, and we complained, particularly as it was one of the more expensive wines. A replacement glass confirmed our suspicions, as it was clearly not flawed, and tasted so much better. It went by the unfortunate name of "Boom Boom Shiraz", so there was much joking about the name, focussing on the choice between "boom boom" or "bust" - clearly in this case, the latter! We also heard a bit about the wine packages on offer, but that got a bit lost in the noise.

Barb managed to change our dinner booking, which had been open sitting, to sit at the same table with the others, and at 1930, we returned to the dining room and table 50 to continue the fun. John had Burrata Salad, French Onion Soup, Prawn Diablo (only they called it "Shrimp Diablo"), and Creme Brulee, while Barb had Burrata Salad, Salad Nicoise, and a cheese plate. We elected to go with the Cellar 1 package (renamed from the old Navigator package), and chose not to pursue options with Cellar 2 (the old Admiral package) or Cellar 3 (a new package). Many of the wines were South America, and we recognized them from our South America cruise in 2015.

We skipped the show, and headed back to our cabin for an "early" night. But it wasn't really, as the clocks go forward one hour, and it was well after (new) 11 by the time we nodded off.

14 Apr 2018, Saturday (Day 2), rocking and rolling

We started with our usual morning cup of tea, courtesy of the in-room service, BUT! there was a difference from all the other times. No bread. We had to settle for the continental breakfast, which was pastries, yoghurt and fruit. Not my ideal, but it was the closest thing to a slice of bread.

The day was a pretty windy one, with lots of rocking and rolling, so it was a good day to do very little. I took the opportunity to start this blog, but that turned out to be a bit of a disaster. I gaily typed the first day's events (on the train, Thursday) and got to the end happily enough. But when I went to view what I had typed on the web page, it was nowhere to be seen! Much frantic investigation, which was compounded by the fact that the XSLT translator did not seem to be functioning correctly. By 1230 I had had enough, and gave it all away as a bad deal, and just started again. It was though I had been working on two separate files, one editable but not visible, the other visible, but not editable. I saved the file and reloaded it, and low and behold, I could now see and edit the file - BUT! all my edits had gone . I even checked the i-node numbers but that was now inconclusive, as I realized that saving the file had ensured that the files were now the same. Rats! So I just started again, and retyped the whole morning's effort.

(Postscript: I did later discover what had happened. I had changed the name of a higher level directory from Cruises to travels, and then at some point resynchronized from the server - which still had the original Cruises directory. So I did have two copies, one which I mistakenly started editing (the Cruises one, the other which was visible on the web page (the travels one)!! So lucky you, dear reader, you now have the joy of reading two versions of the same day - see above )

Lunch was by the Lido Pool at the Dive In hamburger bar, John with his usual "Dog Paddle" (frankfurt and mustard) and Barb with her "Freestyle" hanburger (mushroom). Barb went to the talk on the next three stops at 1400, about what to expect at each place. She made notes for future reference. John on the other hand tried to salvage things from the morning's disaster, and was only partly successful (but see Postscript above). Then "Sip and Savour" at 1700 with a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and a Beaujolais Village (not the Nouvelle), both quite pleasant.

We went to the Captain's Welcome Toast at 1915, but apart from the free champagne (which was crummy), it was a bit of a waste of time. The Captain did not say much, and he mumbled anyway in a Dutch accent, so we didn't really listen. But then it was dinner soon enough.

Dinner with the Porters, McMillans, Caroline and Marcia, and John had Seared Ahi Tuna Carpaccio, French Onion Soup, Roast Prime Rib, and then Creme Brulee, while Barb had the tuna carpaccio, Pork Medallions and Mango Blueberry Crisp.

15 Apr 2018, Sunday (Day 3), An Overflowing Church and other Distractions

John decided to check out the "non-denominal church service led by the congregation" at 0900 this morning. Unfortunately, by delaying over breakfast, he was a little late to the Stuyvesant Room, which was packed to overflowing! But a little bit of reorganizing found him a seat in the front row. The service was led by a lay person (he never did say his name, at least in the time that I was there), and he called upon varius (pre-arranged) people to do readings, prayers and reflections. The music started off unaccompanied, using hymns from the supplied hymn books - although in inadequate numbers.

But then a pianist appeared, who rather took over the music, launching into an upbeat version of Amazing Grace, much to the delight of the majority of the congregation. The service went a bit downhill towards the fundamentalist end of the spectrum from there, finishing up with The Old Rugged Cross, which much standing up of the congregation, and waving hands in the air. I'm afraid I was rather "lost" at this stage, and the end could not come soon enough!

Barb was waiting in the Explorers' Cafe when the end did come, and so we joined in a cup of coffee, before heading to the Vista Showroom to hear Bill Crews talk about the history of New Caledonia - all very interesting. Then a walk around the deck (3 times, equal to one mile) before lunch in the Lido. Barb went to the cooking class, while John checked out the first half of a talk by Phil Creaser (of UNSW) about World Heritage sites at 1400. Unfortunately, he had to leave at 1430 to go to another activity, "Learn Samoan" - which was quite interesting, and he learnt to say "hello" in Samoan: "Tofalu lava", as well as learn the Samoan alphabet.

We had afternoon tea in the dining room, and then to Sip and Savour with Margaret and Brian (from Queensland), and Christine (a bridge instructor). Incidentally, there are many bridge players on board, all travelling to Hawaii where apparently there is a big bridge tournament. There are several bridge sessions a day, and even a private bridge player meeting every day! We both enjoyed a riesling, with a tuna savoury.

Before dinner, Ian and Ann had invited us to their room for pre-dinner champagne to celebrate their wedding anniversary. We took along our free bottle of champers, and joined with Bruce and Rachel, Caroline and Marcia in toasting to Ian and Ann's marriage. We had a few laughs along the way too (surprise, surprise).

Then to dinner, a gala night, with a special 5-course menu.

After dinner, we all trooped off to the showroom to hear Sara Moir, a violinist, who entertained us with a very varied programme (including dancing on a floor piano while playing her violin). Barb and I both thought that getting a floor piano for the grand daughters might be a good idea?

16 Apr 2018, Monday (Day 4), Pining on the Isle of homophonic Pines

Awake at 0635 and had some minutes to fully wake up before the 0700 knock on the door. Actually, he was a bit late this morning, and did not turn up until 4 minutes past. Meanwhile, we were entertained by the southern tip of the Grande Terre island of New Caledonia sliding past on our port side.

Showered and dressed by 0830, we headed to the Lido for breakfast, and dined with a couple from Port Stephens, Margie and Steve, who were heading off on a round the world trip using as many cruises as they could string together. Steve had a rather severe case of Parkinson's, and we were impressed by Margie's determination to do the trip, given that she was going to be effectively caring for Steve on the way, and that she confessed to not being a good sailor herself!

Explorer's Cafe coffee afterwards, and then we collected our belongings to head off on one of the tenders to Ile des Pins. As 4 star mariners, we now get priority for the tenders, which means we do not have to queue for tender tickets, but just go straight to join the tender line.

Once ashore, we bumped into the MacMillans and Porters who just happened to be on the tender behind us, and we all set off walking for the beach. The Ms and Ps had been here before, and knew where things were, so we were happy to just follow them. The water was initially cold, but we quickly adapted, and spent about 40 minutes just relaxing in the water, floating about, and just chatting. Then we got out, dried ourselves, and headed along the beach to a resort, where we bought ice creams. Unfortunately, neither of us had brought money, so Bruce shouted us our ice creams.

Then back along the beach to the tender wharf, caught the tender back, and reassembled at the Dive In hamburger stall for lunch. The was some glitch in the delivery of our hamburgers, as the MacMillans who ordered after us got theirs first, but apart from a bit of banter, all was OK in the end. John queued up to get Barb, rachel and himself a serve of bread and butter pudding, which all three participants rated very highly.

The others the elected to go to afternoon tea (it was by then just on 1500), but John elected to go and do some work. (He didn't - he fell asleep while reading Sally's thesis!) The rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully and sleepily, until it was time for dinner.

Dinner was somewhat faster than usual, whether this was because we ate faster because we were hungry, or whether it was because there were fewer people in the dining room, I don't know, but we were finished before 2100. John had Green Chile (sic) and Corn chowder, followed by Coq au Vin, then Coconut Panna Cotta with one scoop of Rocky Road Ice Cream, while Barb had Quinoa and Pomegranate Salad (but it was not Quinoa, it was Cous Cous!), then Coq au Vin, then Peach Crisp with two ice cream scoops.

Then everyone bar John went to the show to hear Catherine Alcorn, a cabaret singer, while John retired to write blog and read thesis. John's misgivings proved well founded when Barb returned with a brief report: "a bit screechy", which confirmed John's foreboding. You, dear reader, get the benefit of that foreboding - you are reading it right now.

17 Apr 2018, Tuesday (Day 5), A Tale of Two Churches

We took morning tea at 0630 because of the planned stretch class at 0730, but we elected to have tea only, and no breakfast, continental or otherwise. It just was not the same. Then we went to the "stretch and release" class, and stretched and released our bodies. We were invited to have our feet profiled, and a rather handsome negro chappie gave us a little talk on how those profiles revealed our body postures. He even did a couple of exercises to show how some orthopaedic gadgets improved those postures. Before too long, we had signed up for these gadgets - $200 each! Barb said that regular orthotics were a lot more expensive, but I could not help the feeling that it was much a "stretch and release" of our wallets as of our bodies!! But the PS is that they are comfortable, and they do seem to effectively "take a weight off your feet".

Then to breakfast at 0830, followed by the tender ashore at 0930. We went separate ways to the McMillans and Porters, and headed off to find the cute little church on the headland that we had seen as we came into the bay. But we did not get far. A cahin across the path, with a sign "No Church. Private" gave a clear message that we were not on the right path. So we headed down to the beach.

But that was not entirely successful either. This beach was full of broken coral, very unpleasant to walk on in bare feet, and not much better with our Tevas on, either. Add to that the fact that it was all very shallow, and certainly not suitable for swimming. So we did not stay long in the water.

We headed back to the tender, returned to the ship, where we showered and changed to walking clothes, and then returned to the island, headed up the "main" road, where we found a fork in the road, one way which went to the church we wanted to see, the other way which went to the other church we had also seen from the ship. So we walked to the headland church first.

It did involve a bit of climbing - it was on a headland, after all - but it did not take too long. A couple we taking of photo of themselves on the headland, and I stopped to offer to take the photo of them both. The woman was quite grateful, and got quite chatty. Their names were Mary and Joseph - "How appropriate!" I exclaimed, as we were right outside the Church of Saint Mary of Lourdes. But they were not from Nazareth, but rather Slovakia, and were doing a round the world trip, not for any census purposes.

The church itself was quite small and plain, but with a distinct sense of reverence. We spent a few minutes there, before heading down the hill again, and towards the other church. There were a lot of people doing the same thing, and it was a pleasant walking day.

But when we got to the Francis Xavier church, it was locked! So I am unable to comment on its frigality, sparseness, or otherwise. We walked a little further to the cemetery, where there was a recent burial of a child, to judge from the collection of toys placed on the grave. Few of the tombs had any personal identification, and I wondered whether the New Caledonian (i.e., Kanak) customs were similar to the Australian Aborigines - once dead, all traces of the person should be removed or hidden?

Then back to the ship, where we had lunch in the Lido around 1300. Some spare time, then Barb went off for afternoon tea at 1500, while John stayed in the cabin catching up on his blog. Then 1700 rolled around, and we went off to Sip and Savour, with a pumpkin pannacotta accompanied by a Barossa Pinot Grigio (Barb) and a Chilean (Decero) 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon for John. We chatted with Leslie, with whom we have struck up a regular sip and savour dalliance. At 1745 She said she wanted to go and hear the piano quintet in the Lincoln Centre, so we trotted along too. That was very pleasant - they played hits from the movies, like the Forest Gump theme, the Psycho screech music, and others.

Then dinner at 1930 with the gng: John had Baba Ganoush, Bourbon Street Chicken Gumbo Soup, Yankee Beef Pot Roast, and Creme Brulee; while Barb had Baba Ganoush, Cobb Salad, and Mango Mousse. After dinner, we retired, but the others went to the show (which did not sound attractive to us).

18 Apr 2018, Wednesday (Day 6), Zip on de Doo-Dah

Up bright and early to have a quick cup of tea, then off to 0700 total body conditioning, a set of stretches and exercises that Barb said was a cross between Yoga and Pilates. Suitably conditioned, we then zoomed off for a quick breakfast, before heading to the showroom to await our tour call. Today we were going zip-lining!

At 0830 we were off. As we left the showroom, the tour organiser said what the tour was, and commented that it was a small tour (only 9 of us), and perhaps the reason for this was the adventuresome nature of the tour. There were a few gasps from the remaining audience!

A small bus fitted us all, and we spent about 45 minutes getting out of Port Vila and into the countryside. We turned off up a dirt road, where we were met by a 4WD troop carrier, the reason for which soon became obvious, as the road started going straight up! (Well, it felt like it ...) We soon reached the summit, where we were given a quick safety drill, and then started kitting up with full safety harnesses, and lots of carabeenas, not to mention the leather gloves which we all had to wear. Rather trepidaciously, we then followed our guides (there were at least 3) into the forest.

Rather too quickly for some of us, we were at the first stage. Somehow or other, Barb got to be first in line, and her zip cradle was the first to be attached to the wire. As the guide said "Once you are attached, there is no turning back", because everyone was attached, in order, with no shunting possible. Up the 10 flights of steps or so, and there we were, high above the jungle, with bugger-all but a wire, two roller wheels, and a string attached to our harnesses to stop us plunging to the forest floor below.

Two of the guides then showed us how to do it - one the right way, the other the wrong way! If you did it the wrong way, you got stranded half way, and had to hand-over-hand pull yourself along the wire to reach the other side. The other tricky thing to master was the braking. We were told that to brake, you kept one hand just behind the roller wheels, and pulled down on it to brake, NOT to grab the wire itself. Grabbing the wire, as some discovered, simply jerked your hand and arm backwards, and gave your shoulder a painful wrench, whereas pulling down on the wire transferred some of your weight to the leather, and increased its friction, thereby achieving the desired braking effect.

Just before 1000, Barb was the first away, and I have to say, she handled it with aplomb, the only thing that she got wrong was to grab the wire instead of pulling down, as discussed. Then it was my turn. Fortunately, there was not much time to think about it, and I did NOT look down, so stepping off was an effort, but not a delaying one, and before I knew it, I was across the other side with Barb. It was only about 20m long, but the sheer euphoria of having done it changed our whole approach, and we became quite keen to tackle the next one - but had to wait for the other 7 zippers to cross the first one.

By the third one, slightly longer, about 40m, we had become quite adept at stepping off, zipping across, and braking at the right time. Which was just as well, as the 4th one was much longer, about 100m, and this time, the braking was done for us by the guides, so we could wave our arms and legs, take photos, twirl around, and just generally enjoy the whole experience. This one too, being across a much wider and deeper valley, really started the adrenalin pumping (as if it wasn't already), and I think everyone was really into the sheer exhuberation of it all. 1045 last zip 1200 back on board, lunch with Porters and McMillans 1245 card games and snooze 1500 afternoon tea Paul and Jenny from Brisbane 1700 S and S with Leslie, Chateau Michelle Riesling 1930 dinner: John: Chilled Sour Cherry Soup, Mustard Crusted Tuna with Onion Ring, Rhubarb Crisp; Barb: Smoked Trout with Lentils and Apple-Horseradish, Curry Coconut Chicken, Rhubarb Crisp. nicked some bread for tomorrow, with Mafud's help. 2130 Patrick Murray and Matilda

19 Apr 2018, Thursday (Day 7), Bread and Circuses

Our tea arrived at 0700, and at last we had some bread to eat with it, thanks to last night's abstractions from the dining room. Even though the clocks went forward, it was A relative slow start to the day, thanks to it being a sea day. Found our way to the Lido for breakfast, but Barb did not hang around long, as she wanted to go to the stretch and release session at 0930. John shared his breakfast session with Caroline and Marcia.

Then our usual coffee in the Explorations Cafe, and a bit of photo downloading and catch up. At 1100 we trooped off to the showroom to hear Bill Crews talk about the turbulent political scene in Fiji over the last 50 years, which was interesting, although hard to keep track of all the key players in the drama. He ended on a fairly positive note, and said that he believed that the worst was behind them. His talk was entitled "Fiji on the Rollercoaster: The Best Days are Yet to Come", after all.

Then lunch in the Lido, just a bowl of soup and a sandwich for John, salad for Barb - which was good, but then we did drop our guard a bit with bread and butter pudding to follow. Naughty!

Then We went straight back to the showroom for a double session: firstly, Phil Creaser on the Geology of the Pacific Ocean, then and EXC talk on the next three ports of call: Lautoka, Dravuni Island (Fiji), then Pago Pago (American Samoa). Barb took copious notes.

That took us almost up to 1500 and afternoon tea time in the dining room. John said that he was just going to have tea, and no food, but when the savouries waiter came past, he saw food and ate it. Just like the diet.

A bit of blogging and snoozing afterwards saw 1700 lob up very quickly, when Barb exclaimed that it was Sip and Savour time, so we dutifully headed down to the Pinnacle Bar, only to find that it was not on today! So we meandered back to the Ocean Bar, where we found the others, and joined them for a not-quite-so-happy-hour (translation: we were 10 minutes late!) Never mind, we had an enjoyable chat until 1800, then back to cabin until 1900.

A special invitation to the Officers' reception at 1900 saw us mingling with other guests in the Ocean Bar. We met Mike and Angela, from near Toronto, and Katarine and Beart (as in "beatus vir") and had pleasant chatting with them until it was time for dinner with the mob. John had Soft Shell Crab, Pork Buco and Butterscotch Panna Cotta, while Barb had Grilled Asparagus and Artichoke, Three Cheese Enchilada, and Mango Sorbet.

Then to the showroom to see/hear a reprise of Patrick Murray and Matilda, Catharine Alcorn, and Sara Moya. Alcorn was not to my taste, but the other two were good. Then to bed, and lots of coughing. This blessed cough does not seem to be improving, darn it!

20 Apr 2018, Friday (Day 8), As I walked out on the streets of Lautoka ...

Ahhh! tea with a slice of bread again! Well, no, actually, it was a bread roll this time but still very welcome. Docked in Lautoka as we were enjoying the tea, but still settled for a leisurely morning, and did not strike out for the Lido until after 0900. We each had an "egg Oscar" (eggs benedict, but with asparagus and crab meat instead of ham), then got ourselves equipped before departing via the gangway.

We had to run the gauntlet of taxi drivers and tour spruikers before emerging on the right side of the port, and we started walking into the town centre. There was an interesting annotated pictorial history of Lautoka at the entrance to the port, and I thought as we strolled along reading each one that we would not have had the opportunity to read that had we caught any motorised transport.

The walk into town took us 26 minutes, including the time to read the history, and our first stop was the Chillie Tree Cafe. We were debating as to whether to go in, since it did look, in the words of the ship guide book, to have "a homely atmosphere", but some other passengers coming out said there was free wifi inside, so we went in and ordered two iced coffees - which were very pleasant, in between the map downloads.

Then we headed south towards the Botantical Gardens, which we found without too much difficulty. They were a little sparse, but there was a delightful little pond, teeming with fish, and a slightly ricketty bridge over it, called "The Lovers Bridge". There was an rock arrangement by the entrance which I can only describe as an encouragement to lovers, and then leave the rest to your imagination, dear readers! (But you can cheat and look at the photos for the day.)

We spent a few minutes reflecting by the cool of the pool, then wandered around the gardens briefly, before heading back to the Lautoka Market. That was bustling! Although limited in its diversity, it certainly had quantity, as befitted the huge sprawling canopy, and the stalls even spilled onto the streets outside. There was a craft market, with similar lack of diversity, but very little quantity, and certainly nothing much that we could take back into Australia, so we did not spend much time there.

Then back along the shopping stretch of the main drag, where we looked in a couple of shops, but saw nothing much to excite us (certainly not Barb, for whom we were really looking), and so at the end of the drag, we just kept walking back to the ship.

Back to the ship by 1300, so we had lunch on the Lido deck at the "Dive-In" hamburger bar, and washed that down with a well-earnt beer. Then Barb retired to the cabin, while John took a lemonade out onto the rear Lido deck to relax in the open air and enjoy (?) the views of Lautoka. Then he joined Barb in the cabin for a quiet afternoon.

Sip and Savour at 1700, where we were joined by Colin and Joan, then later Paul and Jenny (whom we met at afternoon tea two days ago). Barb had a natural champagne method fizzy white, while John had a SteepleJack Merlot. The savour part was a fried prawn with a corn and mango sauce, but unfortunately, the sauce was at the bottom of the shot glass in which it was served, so those who didn't think ahead, and ate the prawn first, did not have anything to fish (sorry!) out the sauce once the prawn was eaten. It went well with the white, but not so much with the red!

Back to the room for an hour or so, then to the Pinnacle Bar for drinks with the officers before going into dinner. We met the chief security officer, chief hospitality manager, chief shop operations, and finally, at our table, one of the shop staff, Rosemary (called Rose). We had a great time, with lots of banter and repartee. Rose is starting a B and B house in Columbia, where she lives, and invited us all to come and stay with her! Bruce was very keen on this idea, and I suspect we might hear more of it at some stage.

John had DAM Bacon and Cabbage Soup, Flat Iron Steak, and Banana Crisp, while Barb had Pancetta and Capronata, Rigatoni, then Raspberry Sundae. The wine of course was on the house, and it was two Footprint wines, a red merlot nd a white chardonnay. Barb had special dispensation to have a glass of sav blanc, because she doesn't like chardonnay.

Rachel had a surprise - she said she wanted "nothing", so when Mafud brought out all the desserts, there was a covered plate for Rachel. When she lifted the lid, it was an empty plate with just the word "nothing" stencilled in yellow piping! We were all very impressed with Mafud's little joke!

Then to the showroom to see and hear "This Frozen Planet", a BBC documentary comissioned by HAL, with live accompaniment. It was most impressive and moving, with beautiful photography, and mood music to match. Best show to date, IMHO!

21a Apr 2018, Saturday (Day 9), High on a Hill stood a ...

0700 tea with bread 0900 breakfast 1000 tender 1020 boat round island 1040 walk to the beach 1130 walk to the hill 1200 hilltop views 1220 descend 1240 swimming 1320 tender 1400 lunch Lido Dive In 1500-1745 snooze 1800 Pinnacle Bar and Restaurant for Cellar Master's Dinner. service was a let down at table 21. 2100 dining room o catch up with gang 2130 showroom Ralph ? with lots of spinning tricks and jokes

21b Apr 2018, Saturday (Day 10), title

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