Friday, 20 February 2009

Day Forty One: Half way point…

It is amazing to look back and to realise that we are literally half the way round the world from England and also at the half way point of our holiday, it has been one heckuva ride so far and if the second half is anywhere near as good we will be having a great time. Hilary said today, “I can’t believe that we are in Australia, it is nothing like I expected, it is so much more tropical, I expected dry and dusty and instead we have hot, humid and beautiful.” The day started strangely actually, we stopped inside the group of islands known as Whitsunday but we are actually moored just off the coastline of Australia, “The largest island in the Whitsunday group,” as our coach driver wittily said. Our first thought, well mine actually, was to have a good breakfast, ‘just in case’ and we went to the Peninsular where we were directed to a table that had one lady on it and she was keeping the chair next to her for her husband. Now I like to sit opposite Hilary when I can so that I can see her when we are talking, just a fad of mine, and so I asked the lady if she minded if her husband would sit opposite her and there was much confusion and I don’t think that she knew what I was talking about. In the meantime Hilary had sat down and then stood up as I tried to direct traffic and then another couple came along and she sat down opposite the already seated lady and wanted her husband next to her while he sat at the far end of the table away from her. At that she stormed out, never to be seen again and left her husband on his own saying, “She’s gone, when she makes her mind up to go she never comes back,” and he proceeded to sit and have breakfast on his own, not making conversation or eye contact with anyone else on the table. It ended up with the original couple sitting side by side, Hilary and I sitting side by side and the man on his lonesome and all of us feeling awkward. Trust me to cock things up! All I wanted to do was to look at my wife….

Breakfast over we joined the enormously long queue that wound itself around Tiffany’s Restaurant to get our passes for the tender that would take us ashore, we were allocated Tender 5 and waited to be called and it was quite quick, we were on the tender by 9.30am and heading to Airlie Bay. We sat up on the top deck of the tender for the short crossing and it was very pleasant, temperatures in the low 80’s, a nice cool breeze and plenty of opportunity to take snaps as we entered into the harbour. Airlie Bay is tiny, not often visited by cruise ships but it is trying to make a name for itself as a tourist attraction, it mostly appeals to back packers and those who have come to stay on one of the 74 islands that dot the Coral Sea or who want to go out to the Great Barrier Reef. We had an air conditioned coach to take us from the landing point to the Golf Course Car Park and from there we could walk into town and see the beaches and do some shopping. Naturally there were a number of tents set up by locals hawking their goods and souvenirs but we passed them by until we got to one selling opals. We had learned a bit about them at the Opal Museum in Sydney and even bought Hilary a small necklace using what is called the triplet process where a sliver of opal is sandwiched between crystal and a base but we really wanted a true opal and this guy had some beautiful pieces some mounted and some not. He talked to us for about 30 minutes and showed us pieces ranging from $100Aus to $3000Aus and we nodded and smiled and said ‘Thank you, we will come back,’ then we continued down into the street looking for postcards. However the idea of buying a decent opal stayed with us and we talked about as we walked and eventually found ourselves at Airlie Lagoon. Before you wonder why they need a lagoon when they have these magnificent beaches just feet away let me explain. At certain periods of the year, and we are in the middle of one of them, the local beaches become infested with stinging jellyfish and the only safe way to swim in the sea is to wear a wetsuit, so to make sure that their kids and the tourists are safe the townsfolk of Airlie built an artificial lagoon that is stinger free right in the centre of the town. For me it was a welcome change from swimming in the Oriana’s pools which are shallow and small and a lot cooler than the Airlie Lagoon. I spent a good 30 minutes going backwards and forwards while Hilary sat in the shade talking to some Australian immigrants and I am sure that she will tell you all about them.
Swim over and having used their rather grungy changing rooms it was time to grab a bite to eat in another shady place as Hilary was wilting somewhat as the temperature climbed into the high 80’s so we settled for a backpacker’s paradise that offered cheap breakfasts with a free cup of tea right next door to one of their hostels. Grilled cheese sandwich, bowl of chips, cup of tea and an orange juice and we were good to go again, ready to hit the bargain shopping outlets (2 tops for $15Aus – guess who bought 4). Then it was time to go and see the opal man again where after much deliberation Hilary chose a mounted piece that is double sided and will look magnificent when she gets a gold chain for it. One snag, they had no facilities to take credit so muggins had to walk back into town to find an ATM to get cash and then walk back to the stall again. As is turned out it wasn’t too bad, most of the walking was in the shade, there was a little breeze and the only mistake that I made was in not leaving the bag containing my wet swimming things and a quite heavy Patricia Cornwell book which I bought in a second hand book shop, with Hilary. Deal done, we knocked him down $50Aus, and we headed back to the coach stop to reverse the earlier process for getting back on board Oriana and here we are now just after 5.00pm, still at anchor and getting ready to set sail at 6.00pm. The ride back was on a bigger tender and this one had an inside cabin with air conditioning that no one at first seemed to want so we grabbed a couple of seats near a window and stayed in the cool all the way back and we were virtually the last off the tender as we didn’t want to leave the nice cool surroundings. Hilary is now in the shower and as soon as she is out I will jump in myself to get rid of my sunscreen and sweat and while I am doing that she will entertain you with her version of today’s events. Tomorrow we are back in port again for our great adventure at Yorkey’s Knob where we get to ride a train and a DUKW. We will tell you all about it tomorrow night.

Tiz I. Sitting here with wet hair which I cannot dry until I have blogged – only one outlet to use and the computer is plugged into that because Sam almost ran the battery out! Hey ho here we go. The opal is a boulder opal and I know exactly where it was mined in Queensland. The man who sold the opal to us is a cutter of opals and takes them whilst still in the rock. He cuts for several miners so is well aware of the location of origin of each of his opals. He explained how the base rocks were formed back in the days of the dinosaurs and how different they are if they come from a later volcanic region. He was very interesting to talk too and as Sam left me sitting in this guys tent (in the shade) while he went off to find the bank – we talked quite a lot! Great stuff. The day has been very hot and sticky but absolutely super. I never imagined Australia to be so tropical. Live and learn they say! (Sam has just taken a shirt out of the cupboard and it matches my dress – talk about bobsie twins!) While Sam was swimming in the lagoon I sat and talked to a couple from Martin’s home town. They live in Adelaide now and absolutely love living in Australia. They were pensioners when they arrived over here and say it was the best decision they ever made. They live next door to their daughter and share gardens so that they could fit a full size swimming pool into the back yards. They take a cruise every year and many shorter trips too – can’t be bad can it? Well my hair is drying and becoming very Wurzle Gummage so I had better stop and sort it out. Don’t want to frighten the other diners at dinner do I? Take care, God bless.


jeff said...

Sounds like you are having much fun. Keep it up. I just booked airfare for Sam, Kelly, and myself to the UK in August, so prepare for house guests!

samw7 said...

Sounds like you are really enjoying Australia. can't wait to see the opal, your pictures and hear all the stories. As Jeff mentioned, he booked tickets for us to come over this summer. I really do have the best boyfriend in the world! I had a triumph yesterday when we received word that the big community grant that I coordinated and worked on last summer was funded and that we received a $1 million more than in the previous year. Yeah, should help some homeless folks get into permanent housing.
Love you both, Sam

Sharon and Georgia said...

Hi you two,

Just caught up on three days of blog reading! Austrailia sounds amazing. I also wouldn't have expected it to have been so tropical. The photographs are beautiful.

I am so pleased you went to the zoo. It seems sureal that Steve Irwin is not with us any longer, but at least millons of people will be able to enjoy his and his colleagues hard work for many years to come. I am sure his energy is still around the zoo and felt by those close to him. What a great place to visit and a brilliant day out for you both. Georgia loved the picture of the Koala. I told her Uncle Sam said they were stinky, but she found that hard to believe. Surely a cute cuddly koala can't be stinky!

Really good to hear Woolworths are alive and kicking down under. Such a bizarre experience walking through and empty,closing Plymouth store.

Keep up the dancing! Sounds fun. I took Georgia Ice skating yesterday and let me tell you... Torville and Dean have got nothing to worry about! Great fun though!

I am so happy that you were able to experience dolphins again and whales. I hope there will be more chances to enjoy their company. That must have been magical for you both. Georgia has a message for you.

Enjoy the whales and dolphins. Lots of love from Georgia xx

Sam, Look forward to seeing you in August! x

Have fun, stay well and sending you both love from the other side of the globe... xxxx