Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cruise on Pacific Jewel 18 March ~ 28 March -12

Queue's - who likes them.......

Our holiday started off wonderfully.  We left Mackay and arrived in Brisbane for Stuart to attend the Annual St Patricks Dinner with Doug being entertained by some good guest speakers and some not so good.  We, Kaye and I were off to see the musical Mary Poppins while the men (Doug and Stuart) did their thing.  The men were to meet at the Irish club at 6.15pm and at 5.15pm we hadn't left the plane.  A quick cab ride to the hotel and a 10 minute clothes turn around and Stuart was on his way to the Irish Club and I was enjoying a scotch and soda with Kaye in the hotel lounge.

After dinner we cabbed it to the theatre to find we got our times wrong and the show had started so we were locked out for 20 minutes and had to watch the show on a small screen in the foyer.  Soon we were escorted to our seats to watch one of the best live performances I have ever seen.  By the time Mary Poppins lifted off the stage and flew over our heads into the next performance the whole theatre was in tears - well we were any way.

We then ventured out to get a cab back to the hotel and after a lengthy walk we found a row of them and as we were climbing into it a theatre conceirge asked if we were looking for a cab.  "No" says Kaye "we have one thanks" to which he replied, "No you haven't you must go to the end of the line"  where there were about 15 couples all glaring at us.
The next night, Stuart and I went to see Daniel O'Donnell and saw another great show of Irish and other music.  Again when we exited the show we were back in a queue again waiting for a cab, but they didn't get me a second time we knew to go to the end of the line and wait - and wait - and wait.  50 minutes later we were on our way back to the hotel.  

P&O Pacific Jewel sailing into Sydney Harbour before our cruise

The four intrepid explorers

In Sydney we wandered around the Quey after depositing our luggage at the cruise centre and after meeting up with Peter and Sandy, Ben and Amanda we  did the markets, had lunch and wandered some more til we were asked to board at nearly 8pm.

While waiting to board we had coffee in a little German Coffee House on the Quey and were entertained by a friendly "Oomphah" Band
Our room on board was very comfortable and we really got down to enjoying our cruise.  It turned out that the floor we were on was the hub of the ship the Atrium which covered three floors in the heart of the ship  so we were very well situated. 
The three decks of the Atrium during the art auction

A laser light show in the Atrium one night

The stair case leading to the second floor of the Atrium
 Prices on board for all things (jewellery, alcohol, clothes, watches etc) was more than we expected but there seemed to be a lot sold.

Seasickness took its toll on a number of guests on the first day including Pete and Sandy who needed a needle to calm her stomach, fortunately it didn't affect Stuart or I.  The first couple of days were very bleak and rough with waves coming up over our window regularly and we had to be careful when walking along the corridors as every body seemed to have the "wobbly boot" on.  The shows were great each night and the hypnotist was especially entertaining.  There was so much to do that no matter what age you could find entertainment.
Peter on a deck chair but by the look on his face you would think he was on the Titanic!!

One of my bucket list items can be scratched off as we had a couple of dances to some nice music in one of the bars on our way to dinner one night.

Stuart tells me I appear to be working my way through the coctail list but what he hasn't realised is that I am back at the top again.......
 Coming into Noumea
The pilot climbing on board just outside of Noumea

The Yellow train which took us on the tour of the City
Our first port of call was Noumea which is situated on New Caledonia's main island and is a french overseas territory.  So loaded up with our French 1000 franc notes, sunscreen and our tour tickets  we took a tour around to see the city sights on a yellow train.  It appeared to be a little dirty and the buildings around the wharf were very old, dilapidated and run down and in a lot of cases abandoned.  Our city tour took in many of the local sights including a park full of the local indiginous population who were having a meeting (very much like home really)  As we were about 8 hours late leaving Sydney's shores the time spent in Noumea was also cut short and so it was a little bit of a letdown.

The Statue of Our Lady on top of
 a hill
on the Island of Noumea
The large gun placed on top of a hill to
ward off the Japanese during the
Second World War.
Fortunately it wasn't needed
Our second stopover was at Mystery Island which was an overnight run but as the weather was very rough still the Captain said it was too dangerous to lower the boats and ferry us ashore so consequently it still remains a mystery.
It is uninhabited and we were supposed to disembark for the day to swim, snorkle and purchase souveneers from the locals who actually live on another island and come over and set up their wares for sale.  Mystery island is a very small island to the south of the Vanuatu group.  It was named so for the fact that an airstrip was built by American allied forces during world war 2 to bomb the japanese and although all the islands in the group were occupied by the Japanese they couldn't find the airstrip even though the island is only 1.5 minute walk across and 20 minute walk around.  

Our destination the next day was Port Vila. 

Native guide showing how they mashed green bananas for preserving for lean times

Guards as we enter the village
More guards

Entering the roots of a Banyan Tree where the tribe shelters during cyclones

Looking up into the Banyan Tree root system

 We disembarked at about 9am where we went to a village by mini bus and were greeted by a tribal elder who took us on a journey through his village showing us how his people live even in this present day.  He pointed out the lack of modern amenities, catching and cooking their food in the same manner as their forefathers and showed us how they caught fish using a forked stick and spider webs and the juice of a vine smashed up to bring the fish to the surface to be scooped up.  We walked inside the roots of a huge banyan tree where the entire village hid from the cyclones that ravage the islands in the area each year.  This was a most interesting  tour. 

The next day we went to the Island of Lifou where we had our first swim.

Me, Peter and Sandy in the clear blue water of Lifou
But first we went on another tour to the head mans hut where we were all made to take our shoes off before entering the large meeting hut.  
The Chieftans hut where stuart is adjusting his hat, Sandy adjusting her headpiece
and Peter adjusting his stride
We were then entertained by the women of the village who showed us how they make their version of a hungi using chicken and vegetables in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves and placed on hot stones with hot stones placed on top and around the package.  After an hour it is lifted out, opened up and served to the great aroma of earthy flavors.  This bought back some happy memories of hungis in Blackwater at the Moores house.  The only thing missing was the cabbage, corned beef and coconut mix that Val used to make.
Cutting the tops off coconuts to give us all a very refreshing drink

The meat and vegetables are prepared, coconut milk (straight from the shell) poured onto it and wrappd in blanched banana leaves.
this is then wrapped in more leaves and tied up with vines and placed on white hot coals with more coals placed all around and on top.

this is all then covered with leaves and then covered with soil and left for about an hour (note they have been working in thongs).

After an hour the aromas are fantastic and it tasted just as good as it smelt.

A feast fit for a king.  (Note the Sollys warehouse platters in the middle of the forrest)
Each night after we returned to our cabin our purser would have been and turned down the bed and placed a surprise in our room.  sometimes a couple of chocolates on the bed and sometimes an animal either hanging or sitting on the bed.  She had found a pair of Stuart's glasses for the dog.

Really on the downhill run of our cruise and we called in to our last port of call Isle of Pines.  This picturesque corner of earth is a very religous community and as it was Sunday the entire community were in church til 11.30am when they bought out the market stalls to seperate those of us who still have them from the French francs we acquired upon entering this group of French Islands.   We said goodby to the French Islands and were greeted with some wonderful scenery as we sailed past Noumea at about 7-8pm as we got a view of a great sunset and the cliffs of Nickle which is mined in abundance in Noumea.  (I wonder if they have a fly-in-fly-out workforce.)
The large nickle deposits on the island of Noumea reflected in the dying sun as we sailed past on our way home

The sun setting behind Noumea gave us lasting memories

We boarded at about 2.00pm and after showers and a bit of a rest we headed to the hub of existence on board - The Atrium.  This area was great to meet up, have a cup of tea, a cocktail,  a game of cards or purchase anything from a massage to a bottle of alcohol or a souveneer to a bottle of Sun screen.

We had dinner in "steerage" as I called it.  It was the area where all meals were included in the cost in a buffet style.  There was also an a la carte restaurant also included which served 4 course meals also included which we went to most nights. We had  2 nights at an Asian restaurant for 8 courses for $20 a head.  The first one was Chinese and then Thai.

On the second last  day we did a tour of the galley which was the size of a football fiels and was a real eye opener considering what I have been doing for a living for the last 20 odd years.

The area spanned about 2-3 basketball courts and processed the following:  2900 kg flour,
9800 ltrs milk
110 kg expresso beans
1250 kg french fries
2800 dz eggs
3200 kg chicken
1209 kg  vegemite
250 pallets of food items loaded on the ship each cruise.
32,000 plates, 13,000 glasses, 30,000 pieces of cutlery cleaned every DAY!!

The second last night on board was a dress up night in the Waterfront  Restaurant (included).  Unfortunately by then we were back in open sea and quite rough again and so Sandy was back in sick bay for another injection and tablets and unfortunately Stuart left the table just as our meal arrived feeling unwell also.  However Peter and I enjoyed our meal immensely.

Following a trip to the doctors and coming away with tablets he started to improve also and by the last night out we were in the Atrium drinking coctails, tea, coffee and another coctail.  
On the Stairs in the Atrium

Pete and Sandy on the stairs
Coming into Noumea and just enough time for one more cup of tea

The alarm went off at 6.00 am so that we could watch the sunrise and the ship come in under the Sydney Harbour Bridge which seemed from the 14th deck to have about 2 mitres clearance but the Captain assured us there was a lot more.
The Opera House at 6.00am coming into Sydney Harbour

After disembarking, going through security and customs and cabbing it to Sydney Airport we all realised we had reached the end of a really great holiday with lots of new experiences and a possiblity of a holiday on Norfolk Island down the track in the future.

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