TRAVEL TALES & ESCORTED TOURS – 2 Pacific Islands 3 – Alaska

 TRAVEL TALES

 PACIFIC ISLANDS – Hawaii, Fiji, Tahiti, Vanuatu, Lord Howe Island,  Norfolk Island, Samarai Island, Whitsundays, NZ,  Melbourne Cup tour, Easter Island, Tasmania (sort of a Pacific island!)

HAWAII

Hawaiin island of Maui from helicopter
Hawaiin island of Maui from helicopter

My very first educational trip was with Venture Holidays to Hawaii,what a dream of a place to go to,  led by “Wee Andy” McGinlay.  Hawaii is a beautiful destination and really a must, to stop for “a breather” on the way to America, sort of stopping in America before you get to America if you get my drift, but it does break the tedious 13 hour long non-stop flight from Australia to LA.

Polynesian Cultural centre "Wee Andy" on stage with David Pearce and Jim McNevin
Polynesian Cultural centre “Wee Andy” on stage with David Pearce and Jim McNevin

This trip we flew into Honolulu and stayed for a few nights visiting all the must sees, like round island of Oahu tour, Polynesian Cultural centre, Waimea falls, and of course when you are on an agent ‘familiarisation’ trip you visit endless numbers of hotels cramming into endless numbers of rooms seeing how many agents you can stack on one double bed and asking inane questions like do you have inter-connecting rooms, do you have high chairs, do you have late check-out etc.

Anyway “Wee Andy” reckoned my friend Jackie from Orange and I chalked up the record of the only agents that could shop for and buy a swimming costume between hotel inspections. It was’nt too hard really though for this avid shopper who can spot a bargain from three shops away!

Hang loose Hawaii with the divers at Waimea Falls Oahu
Hang loose Hawaii with the divers at Waimea Falls Oahu

I also taught “Wee Andy” to swim in Waikiki beach in front of the Pink Palace at 4.00am after a huge night at McGilacuddy’s bar.  Later that day we flew to one of the beautiful Hawaiian islands of Maui staying at the Kaanapali Hotel right on the beach surrounded by lush golf courses.

John actually did a cruise from Honolulu to all of the Hawaiian islands which he says is one of the best and most scenic trips he has done, sailing at night past the red hot spill of the Big Island’s lava flow and each day stopping to disembark at a different island to explore its natural wonders.

My friend Jackie from Orange HWT talked me into doing the helicopter flight, see knees knocking!
My friend Jackie from Orange HWT talked me into doing the helicopter flight, see knees knocking!

Funny thing was when that cruise educational was offered to the office I was next door at the hairdresser’s when John took the call and came to tell me it had a helicopter flight over Maui, and at that time I was scared of heights so I said well you had better go on that!  And regretted it ever since.

My unfocused feet hovering above the Maui coastline from the helicopter!
My unfocused feet hovering above the Maui coastline from the helicopter!
Maui coastline
Maui coastline

But meanwhile, now a year or so later back to Maui, and guess who did do the helicopter flight over the whole island of Maui including the extinct crater in its centre, and although my knees shook the whole hour trip as I was stuck in the front seat next to the pilot on protestation but was told it was because of weight disbursement, you can see how much I was shaking by the out of focus photo of my feet hovering above the glassed in vista of the Maui coastline!

FIJI

Fijian sunset over the lagoon
Fijian sunset over the lagoon

The very first stamp on my passport, was a master plan designed by myself as a travel agent, not having any idea about what lay beyond the shores of Australia. I was new at this game, so was a real learning curve. Check-in and customs procedures and all that sort of caper, were completely foreign to me then. But you only need to fill in that old “out-going-passenger card” once and you are “hooked” on overseas travel.

 I then found out why the Pope kisses the ground each time he arrives at a destination, it is sheer delight at arriving at a different country and a new experience at hand.

 Arriving in Fiji was a new and wonderful happening, from the first “Bula Bula” to me and my buddy and travelling companion Barbara.  However it was memorable standing in that queue with the inadequate over-head fans in the heat, waiting for the interminably slow Fijians to get around to putting that entry stamp in the passport. On three further trips to Fiji, this ritual never altered.  Time is something the Fijians have more of than any other race on earth. They can stretch it, use it, play with it, nauseously ignore it and then come up with a theory for it… “Fiji time”!  This term is meant to excuse their misuse of it and anyway, that is probably what other races travel to Fiji for, that lack of emphasis on time, which after all is the ingredient of a relaxing, lazy holiday.

On departure from Fiji, you have to laugh at the inadequacy of the Customs people at the airport, as they only have one stamp between three out-going clerks, so one has to pass the stamp from one to other to the other. And while there were still about 200 passengers in the queue for the scheduled flight, a call will come over the PA system “flight FJ910 is now departing for Sydney!!

Anyway, having arrived, and received the mandatory shell lei, and sickly sweet pink drink and documentation, you are led to the outer perimeters of the terminal to pick up the hire car.  Now every car in Fiji has a dent somewhere on every panel. I found even though a little daunting to pick up a dented vehicle right at dusk and not have a clue which direction to head in, and be very aware that the animal livestock have right of way, and in fact I started in the wrong direction towards Lautoka instead of south, but it is far better than to have a “chauffeur” driven vehicle. Although we did get a fright when being apprehended at the Sigatoka bridge by gun toting army personnel asking for our documentation as this was a few days after the military coup.

On another trip John, Adam and I did to Fiji,  when we arrived to meet the driver Moses.  We said “Hi, Moses, this is Adam who will sit in front with you”!  So we had Moses and Adam up front, a very biblical start to proceedings. When half way to our destination  “The Shangri-la Fijian Resort” . Moses suddenly pulled over to his side of the road  exclaiming “puncture”. He very adroitly changed the tyre in the dark in about ten minutes flat.  John had just pointed out to me with raised eye-brows in the half light the lack of tread on the tyre to be changed, when I remarked “Moses that is the fastest tyre change I have ever seen”  he retorted proudly “fifth one today”!

Anyway from that very first “Bula Bula”, the tourist is “hooked” and you can’t wait to get that first taste of resort living.  The coral coast is just fabulous for beach resorts, and long white sandy lagoons.  My favourites are “The Fijian”, “The Naiviti” and “The Warwick” and “The Regent of Fiji” Here they cannot make you welcome enough, and the relaxed warm feel of the locals is like nothing else you experience anywhere else in the world.

Tapa Tours 1993 Educational to FIJI - back row l.Adele Mitchell and Janet Hoffman
Tapa Tours 1993 Educational to FIJI – back row l. Adele Mitchell and Janet Hoffman

A Sunday in Fiji is really worth experiencing.  As they are intensely religious, this carries forth in their hymn singing and there is nothing more pleasant to the ears than a Sunday church choir singing and echoing across the water, or the golf course, which I add irreverently.  The children in particular have a lovely way of singing and entertaining tourist visitors, in a most unobtrusive and unaffected way.

Sunsets are just fabulous on Fiji, of course looking back toward Australia where day has not yet ended, but heralding the beginning of a traditional Fiji style evening,  partaking  in the native kava made from pepper plant rung through cloth with bare native hands is something not to be missed.  But, trust me, once bitten, twice shy, it is so strong much like the sting of the dentist’s needle, rendering numbness in the mouth for hours after-wards.

Each visit to Fiji is a relaxing excursion full of simple friendliness and magnificent white sand beaches .  Evenings are usually taken up with local entertainment consisting of such delights as betting on crab races and pass the golf ball through the trouser leg of your partner!  OK so that’s about it, so it is a great place for honeymooning.

FIJI uninhabited island called in on Blue Lagoon cruises
FIJI uninhabited island called in on Blue Lagoon cruises

The islands are extremely beautiful and a ‘Blue Lagoon Cruise’ takes you to visit these delights. Sailing through oily ink blue water, which is an indefinable blue quite different from other waters I have sailed in such as the blue of the Whitsundays Islands and Azure of the Aegean.

The staff on board these cruises are extremely friendly, and you find yourself looking forward every night to singing and doing a ‘tra-la-la’ dance on the back deck.  Every morning and afternoon you get the cake with the green icing with a cup of tea.  Dropping anchor at tiny uninhabited islands is the real magic of the cruise.  These, all fringed with palm trees, and white sand totally idyllic and unspoilt.

I have been to Fiji twice on holiday, once with a group and once on a Tapa Tours educational tour in 1993, and again in December 2007 with the whole family, and our friends the Tomlins and Bryants.

WOODY’S FAMILY FIJI HOLIDAY 2007 WITH TOMLINS & BRYANTS

Fiji is such a great place to take a family holiday as is so wholesome and so friendly, you would not wish to meet a nicer race of people than the Fijians. There are lots of things to do there to see the Fijian culture.

Pool at Shangri-la Fijian, even Johnno in the pool
Pool at Shangri-la Fijian, even Johnno in the pool
The kids at Fiji
The kids at Fiji

We stayed at The Shangri-la Fijian Resort which  is one of my favourites, as has a delightful nine hole golf course, where every year they have the Fijian Pro-Am.  Our son  Adam played in this one year. I have also stayed at Naviti, Regent, Pacific Harbour and Warwick, but Shangri-la my favourite for sure, the staff are so friendly.

Grandchildren Emily, Hudson, Cooper and Max at the Fijian
Grandchildren Emily, Hudson, Cooper and Max at the Fijian
All of the Woody family at the Fijian theme night
All of the Woody family at the Fijian theme night

We had a fun day taking the old sugar cane train from the station at Denaru Island up to lovely white-sand Natadola Beach, where the new Resort with 18 hole Jack Newton golf course.

Lovely NATADOLA BEACH IN FIJI
Lovely NATADOLA BEACH IN FIJI
Katrina and Robert at Natadola Beach Fiji
Katrina and Robert at Natadola Beach Fiji

  They provide a barbecue lunch at Natadola Beach and stop at a traditional Fijian Village to show how they live from day to day and they sell their crafts made from shells and palm leaves etc.

On the cute little sugar cane train to Natadola Beach Fiji
On the cute little sugar cane train to Natadola Beach Fiji
Train stopped at Fijian village
Train stopped at Fijian village

One funny night we were recommended to go for fine dining at the Tom Lu seafood restaurant just over the bridge from the Shangri-la, this was a real adventure but I have to say they do the best chilli crab.  Barbara Tomlin can verify this. We laughed so much, Lola was crying (see below)

Barb Tomlin enjoying her chillie crab at Tom Lu restaurant Fiji
Barb Tomlin enjoying her chillie crab at Tom Lu restaurant Fiji
Tomlins and Bryants  at the Tom Lu restaurant in the village near The Fijian
Tomlins and Bryants at the Tom Lu restaurant in the village near The Fijian

 So a great time was had by all, lots of swimming and eating at the fabulous different restaurants at The Fijian, and we had a package ‘kids eat free’ which was fabulous. Each night there is entertainment too.

At theme night Fijian
At theme night Fijian
Em with her braids, Katrina and Cooper
Em with her braids, Katrina and Cooper

Below the group from Cowra that we also stayed at the Shangri-la Fijian with

Fiji group
Fiji group

TAHITI

We went to Tahiti to stay at Club Med Moorea.  Arriving in Papeete, is quite an eye-opener, literally, as it is 4.30am after an overnight flight, and just as you are flying in over the French Polynesian islands, the dawn sky appears before you and is just magnificent.

Sam and me in Tahiti, a special time
Sam and me in Tahiti, a special time

We took our daughter Samantha there for her 25th birthday, and she shared a fare pote’e (meaning oval house) with a lovely American girl called Linda.

All of the Pacific Islanders are welcoming and the minute you land you feel this spirit of friendliness and their relaxed style of living.  It is the big white pearly toothed grins, and that melodic rhythm in their speech and gait, that engenders instant holiday mood.  My theory is that anyone living in these idyllic places like French Polynesia, Fiji, Vanuatu etc, would never have diseases like hypertension, or stress, as their life-styles are so relaxed.

SAM AT TAHITI CLUB MED 25
SAM AT TAHITI CLUB MED 25
SAM IN TAHITI 25
SAM IN TAHITI 25

Papeete is an unusual town, with its mixture of French and indigenous peoples.  It is a bit “ram-shackle”, and as you drive around in ‘le truck’, you realize how different it is.  The real draw-card though is to get out to the neighbouring islands of Moorea and Bora Bora where the sand is sooo white and the water is soooo clear and the people soooo laid-back.  Top-less is the way with the Tahitian women, so the French say, when in Tahiti, do as the Tahitians do.

So this is what we did, we flew from Papeete a short trip to Moorea for our Club Med first experience, which we really quite enjoyed, because everything is included, three meals per day, drinks, evening shows, and relaxing day tours etc.

I have a great need to go back to this place to research it some more! This not just in transit, which I did on one later jaunt to South America as it does not have the most beautiful air terminal in the world, just the most beautiful beaches, waters and islands.

Tahiti
Tahiti

 VANUATU

Vanuatu Le Meridien on the Lagoon
Vanuatu Le Meridien on the Lagoon

A lovely quiet little island in the Pacific, totally unspoiled as are its people.  The children look different from other Pacific islanders, they mainly have curly blond hair,which looks so unusual with their dark brown skin.

I went there on an agent ‘famil’, way back in 1992, 20 years ago, when I was only a spring chicken! We stayed at Le Meridien, Lagoon resort and casino, but this was not right on the ocean, so not as nice as Le Lagon or my favourite Erakor island resort.

Vanuatu Erakor Beach resort lovely white sands
Vanuatu Erakor Beach resort lovely white sands
Erakor Resort Vanuatu travel agents inspection
Erakor Resort Vanuatu travel agents inspection

Very rustic away from it all, a resort on its own tiny little island accessible only by boat from the Le Lagon.  The dining area had a sand floor and slab seats and tables, bungalows right on the beach.

LORD HOWE ISLAND

Me at Pinetrees boat shed Lord Howe Island
Me at Pinetrees boat shed Lord Howe Island
Group dining at Pinetrees including Bill Callaghan Orange, and Zita Coleman Waywind Travel
Group dining at Pinetrees including Bill Callaghan Orange, and Zita Coleman Waywind Travel

Pinetrees Travel arranged this educational trip to Lord Howe Island which was both informative as well as relaxing, and just plain enjoyable.

Lord Howe Island one of the most scenic places anywhere in the world
Lord Howe Island one of the most scenic places anywhere in the world

Well what a beautiful place this is. Only 2 hours flight from Sydney.  It is one of the most spectacular places in the world. It has pristine beaches, dramatic scenery, subtropical forests, lovely winding roads to roam along. It is a World Heritage site.

We stayed at Pinetrees Lodge, and best part was that it was their Jazz week, so could not have been better. ‘Pinetrees’ is one of the oldest family businesses on the island, and is instant relaxation on arrival and greeting by the two sisters Kerry McFadyen & Pixie Rourke two of the most delightful accommodating ladies I have ever met, running the place. They make you feel so welcome right from the outset. There are lovely cottages, plus a large family cottage, and bungalows surrounded by Norfolk island Pinetrees, lawns, tennis courts, and right on a gorgeous beach.

It saddens me to hear that Pixie Rourke passed away in 2010 from liver cancer.

Pixie Rourke & Kerry McFadyen sisters who run Pinetrees Lord Howe Island, born and bred there
Pixie Rourke & Kerry McFadyen sisters who run Pinetrees Lord Howe Island, born and bred there

You can be as busy there as you like, going swimming in the lagoon, lots of nice walks, fishing etc, or as relaxed doing totally nothing. They take you for lovely drives and picnics all over the island.

We were taken to Ned’s beach, voted cleanest beach in 2004, we had a barbecue here, you can swim among the fish and turtles on Blinkey beach, or go for solitude at Lover’s beach, or do a cruise right around the island. You can easily fill in a week doing different things.  There is the big climb to Mt. Gower the iconic peak at the southern end of the island, 875m above sea level, it is an 8 hour climb not for the faint hearted.

Mt Gower a difficult climb at Lord Howe Island
Mt Gower a difficult climb at Lord Howe Island
Jazz musicians at Pinetrees  boatshed Jazz week held twice a year
Jazz musicians at Pinetrees boatshed Jazz week held twice a year

There is no public transport on the island which is one of its main attractions, so you hire a bike to get from A to B

There are two general stores at Lord Howe Island. Joys Shop sells most grocery items, fresh fruit, vegetables and souvenirs. Thompsons Store sells grocery items, gifts, souvenirs and fishing gear. Both general stores sell fresh bread. The Top Shop sells meat, fruit and vegetables. The Liquor Store, located at the Lord Howe Island Board, also sells Kentia palm seedlings. Larrups, in “the CBD”, is a fantastic shop that sells surf wear and resort wear for all ages. Opposite Larrups is the Lord Howe Island Co-Op, which sells bulk dry goods and home-made treats.

The CBD is also home to the Lord Howe Island Post Office, the Community Hall, and Humpty Micks Cafe. Humpty Micks is open 7 days

The Pinetrees Jazz Program has been running for 20 years, and attracts some of the best bands in Australia. The Jazz Program is unique. During the day, you can discover Lord Howe’s world-class walking, snorkeling, fishing and diving, and have a gourmet BBQ lunch at one of the island’s idyllic beaches. In the evening, join us for an amazing sunset, fireside drinks, great music and an exceptional 4 course dinner. This year we have ‘The Moods’ playing from 29 June to 5 July, and ‘Fireworks’ playing from 21 to 27 August

There is no mobile  phone to worry about there is a bit scary at first, but then it is complete release from humdrum daily ritualistic living. But there is now broadband.

In many ways, Lord Howe Island is like a small country town in the Pacific Ocean and Islanders have a healthy disrespect for mainland authority. There are only about 350 permanent residents and visitor numbers are limited to 400. Visitors are always fascinated by day-to-day island living. It’s similar to any small town in NSW, except there are a few captivating differences.

History of Lord Howe Island, it was uninhabited when it was discovered in 1788. The first settlers were traders who supplied whaling ships with provisions and fresh water. The family Andrews-Nichols-Kirby arrived on the Island in 1842 and there are several others with histories that are just as long. When you talk to the locals, they’ll often volunteer that they are a fifth, sixth or seventh generation Lord Howe Islander. Elderly locals tell stories about their grandparents, and the faces in photos from the 1880’s suddenly come to life. Kerry and Pixie’s own Great Great Uncle Bertie stowed away from Lord Howe on a whaling boat and went down on the Titanic.

Group barbecue supplied by Pinetrees at Ned's beach
Group barbecue supplied by Pinetrees at Ned’s beach
Blinkeys beach cleanest beach award at Lord Howe Island, swim among the fish here
Blinkeys beach cleanest beach award at Lord Howe Island, swim among the fish here

If you’re interested in the local history, Lord Howe island Museum is a good place to start and it is one of the best museums I have ever seen. You might also enjoy Kerry McFadyen’s entertaining and informative book: Pinetrees Lord Howe Island 1842-1992. A Brief History of the Andrews-Nichols- Kirby families. You can spend an hour wandering around the Lord Howe Island cemetery at Neds Beach or the Pinetrees cemetery on Lagoon Road (opposite the Pinetrees boatshed). It doesn’t take long to draw some family trees (not pinetrees)!

NORFOLK ISLAND 1995

Norfolk Island landscape
Norfolk Island landscape
Educational to Norfolk Island tour escort Maree McClelland, 2nd left  Ray Livingstone left pic.
Educational to Norfolk Island tour escort Maree McClelland, 2nd left Ray Livingstone left pic.

You don’t have to be a convict to visit Norfolk Island now.  It used to be a mandatory requirement and one can sense the trials and tribulations that these poor “Bligh-ters” encountered.  Hard-ships and disdain that none of us today could even begin to comprehend.

Mera Martin grand daughter of Fletcher Christian
Mera Martin grand daughter of Fletcher Christian

As a tourist destination now it is just fabulous, and the locals are fiercely proud of their Pitcairn Island ancestry. One only has to meet a Fletcher Christian  grand daughter like Mera Martin from Highlands Lodge and H Martin estates to realize the passion depth of the genetic line. Mera was amazing, a sprightly 70 year old who shinned up a fruit tree to pick some fruit mid sentence whilst we were talking to her. Here seen below picking figs like a veritable Eve in the garden of Eden.

Mera Martin grand daughter of Fletcher Christian of Mutiny on the Bounty fame
Mera Martin grand daughter of Fletcher Christian of Mutiny on the Bounty fame
Mera Martin with Colleen at H Martin Estate Norfolk Island.
Mera Martin with Colleen at H Martin Estate Norfolk Island.

It is the greenest green island , and no wonder the other author by name Colleen (McCullough that it, slightly more famous) has chosen it as her home, not that that gorgeous hunk of a husband of hers wasn’t part of the reason.  Her house is in a very picturesque part of the island, but well away from prying eyes and the public behind a secluded hedge.  Very conducive to quiet writing and reflection.

Pretty Emily Bay Norfolk island
Pretty Emily Bay Norfolk island

From your very first “Yorlie walcom” on arrival and friendly greeting by a fourth or fifth generation Christian or Prentiss or Nobbs or Quintal you just get right into stride on the island.  There are so many things to see and do even though it is only about 13 square miles in area, rising from craggy coast, to high Mount Pitt 1,036 feet.  Dotted all over, strange as it may seem, are Norfolk Island pines.  The island was uninhabited until discovery by Captain Cook in 1774 and then becoming a convict settlement in 1788.

Best part about Norfolk Island, is they are not party political.  Their government is made up of members representing the people and the place to its general betterment.  Also there are no local taxes there, which makes it an idyllic place to live, so idyllic that to gain entrance to this Utopia requires marriage to an indigenous local or just a short contract of beneficial work.

Norfolk Island educational group (convicts again!)
Norfolk Island educational group (convicts again!)

The group above l. to r. Maree Tierney, Johnene Hobson, Maree McClelland (manager PITC) Ray Livingstone, Les Tonagh, Linda Brock, front Ria Schepers, myself, Ella Dykes.

We took a group there in February 1997 (see below), and to a person, they loved the place, still talk about it fondly, and swear they will one day go back.  That is the affect Norfolk Island has on people. See group photo above, mostly all from Cowra.

Norfolk island group
Norfolk island group
Norfolk Island group from Cowra
Norfolk Island group from Cowra

It is the sheer friendliness of the people and the place that is so infectious.  It is an unwritten law that you never pass anyone without smiling and waving and acknowledging.  There is a lot of back patting and because of the influence of Fletcher Christian, Christian names are “the go” and before you can say “BOO” or Boo Prentiss, you find everyone calling you by your given name, and you them by there’s.  Everyone on the island, is multi-talented and it was astounding to find wherever we went and encountered someone during the day maybe they were a bus driver, by evening an entertainer on the stage at an Olde Time Music Hall or taking place in the light and sound show and then as a customs officer at the airport.  They must all do three different “tricks” per day.  As the people really excel in entertaining and hospitality, an island progressive dinner is something not to be missed.  We went to Tess and Mitchell’s for entree, Biddy and Dids at their Watermill Valley home for fish fry, and David and Vanessa’s for the most delicious custard pie and coffee.

John and Culla from Culla & Coy Norfolk Island
John and Culla from Culla & Coy Norfolk Island

Another step back into time, is to join dear old Culla and his son Martin on a “Clip Clop down Memory Lane” with his characters of Clydesdale’s. John and Culla managed to “pinch” some watermelons. A morning cuppa’ out at Steele’s Point is really memorable and the wild coastal scenery there is unsurpassed.

The Duty Free Shopping on Norfolk Island is something to “write home about” with Italian made shoes and hand-bags by the hundreds.  Woollen goods, perfume etc, all help to make a hole in the plastic card.

The cemetery tour is very spooky and this photo appears to have a ghostly apparition!
The cemetery tour is very spooky and this photo appears to have a ghostly apparition!

Now, anywhere else in the world, a walk in a cemetery would not be termed one of life’s desirable journeys, but here in Norfolk Island it is an experience not to be missed, especially in the rain underneath an umbrella with Tatie Christian.  The tombstones reveal a staggering past history, not only of the Pitcairn islanders, but also of the early demise of the convicted dwellers.

Average age on these tomb-stones is about 32, which is the more convincing of just how torrid life was on this island which must have been hell on earth to the convicts, but now seems such the opposite, a paradise.  Whereas to us, the life-style looks relaxed and idyllic, with swimming and glass bottom boating in Emily and Slaughter Bay sublime, but like the name suggests there was no lazing or swimming or fishing, just drudgery behind thick walls in claustrophobic cells.  A complete anachronism.

Today’s islanders will never forget their history and origins, and are very mindful and respectful of this lineage.  Their re-enactments of the past in the form of the nightly light and sound show around the convict precincts and government buildings and Bloody Bridge and the Mutiny on the Bounty Spectacular are very realistic and moving and extremely well done.  A credit to their originator Michael “Boo” Prentiss and his amazing father, who seem to appear everywhere in the island, be it at a morning tea where father hands out the fresh scones and jam and cream, to the actor getting a nightly flogging at Kingston, to the Commandant at the Convict night, to all round entrepreneur. Then you might see them in the custom’s office checking arrival and departure documentation.

One Australian I know who has an admirable love of the island and its islanders is Marie McClelland who has made over 40 (lost count now) trips from Oz to Norfolk Island and knows and reveres every inhabitant dearly.  She has a great rapport with the island and its people and I know it is a mutual respect. She actually introduced me to “her island” through a PITC educational trip in February 1994, and I kept my promise to one day take a group back there to see the Island to see and love its beauty also.  I would love to return there.

 

SAMARAI ISLAND PNG.

There is a tiny little island in the Coral Sea that had enormous significance in the battle of the same name, in the defence of Milne Bay area, and consequently protection for Australia from Japanese invasion, that is Samarai Island.

Today it is a lazy little third world seaside village, with the most delightful shy people.  We had reason to visit there on a Pacific Cruise aboard the Cunard’s Crown Monarch.

We felt privileged to be asked by Harvey World Travel head office to assist Barry Matheson in looking after a large group of 80 passengers, and because the designated cocktail party with the Captain promised to our group, had not been registered on board, an urgent phone call back to Sydney to rectify the situation had to be made.  All contact and lines back to Australia on board had been down, so a visit to the local post office and the only phone on Samarai Island was recommended to speak to Harvey World Travel Head Office. 

Meanwhile I had to type up a message to 80 people in the pursers office that the proposed Captain’s cocktail party for the first night had been cancelled, and run all over the ship and leave under the cabin doors of the group.

Sounded easy enough. Not so. First, one had to get in the long queue at Samarai Island of both villagers and visitors to access this phone behind a wire fence in the tin shed which was the post office.  Then, having made it to the front of the queue the fun started, one was not allowed to dial the number but this had to be written down, and called by the local operator, then the timing devise, the sand-in-the-glass egg timer set.  Three minutes later, hard-boiled, decision made, we had lift-off, approval to go ahead with the long-awaited cocktail party that night making 80 odd people very happy.

It was a strange cruise, the Cruise Director got locked in his cabin for the last two days because he had had an affair d’ heart with a passenger (unforgivable sin and I am sure he was no Robinson Crusoe) but he paid the price.

The woman passenger, one of our group, was lost for two whole days, incognito, which explains why poor Larry got locked up.  Her cabin-mate kept ringing my cabin asking where is so and so, and short of banging on every state room door and searching under every bunk bed which I thought highly unreasonable and above and beyond the normal call of duty, I just had to trust that she would turn up again, which she did, with a smile on her face. Not poor Larry though.

The waters in the Samarai Island area are a very deep green, reflecting the lush vegetation which abounds on this and the surrounding islands. Locals survive on their own instincts of growing things and catching fish.

WHITSUNDAY ISLAND GROUP AND ISLANDS

These islands just off the North East Australian coast, have to be some of the most beautiful anywhere in the world.  South Molle, Daydream, Hamilton, Brampton, Lindeman.  To the south is Great Keppel (which I now gaze happily at every day) and north Hinchinbrook, to Dunk and Bedarra Islands.  Hence Australia has no shortage of the best island resorts anywhere in the world.

My very first visit was my very first educational on an Ansett Holidays cruise out of Mackay on the “Elizabeth EII” which called in for lunch at the honeymooners paradise of Brampton Island, docked by Lindeman Island which is now Club Med Lindeman, barbecue lunched on pristine Whitehaven Beach which boasts and has the whitest sand imaginable. We discoed on Hamilton Island, dawdled around Daydream, and actually were allowed to “day-trip” Hayman Island and do an inspection there which I am told was a “one off”.  This was just as I had imagined it, a very desirable place to stay with its marbled environs, delicious pool areas, and very tasteful art-works and accoutrement’s.  Expensive, but beautiful.

Woodies and Teagles on boat to South Molle Island
Woodies and Teagles on boat to South Molle Island

One really fond memory I have of these islands, is after our son Robert’s wedding all the rest of the family gathered on South Molle Island for post-wedding frivolities, and being a great Karaoke fan from way back, on entering the said contest with my sister, daughter and nieces, and having the male members of the family all leave in despair, to miss the champagne winning quintet’s version of “Girls Just Gotta Have Fun”  We managed to beat a well known Rugby footballer who thought he was just wonderful.

Woody family at Great Keppel Island
Woody family at Great Keppel Island
GREAT KEPPEL ISLAND LOOKING TO NORTH KEPPEL
GREAT KEPPEL ISLAND LOOKING TO NORTH KEPPEL

Also a family visit to Great Keppel was a buzz, as this was grandson Max’s first holiday visit and the veritable “wetting of the head”.  We all had a super time and when daughter Samantha and I were entrusted to Max, and we did a “Patsy and Eddy” whirlwind tour of the island with Max in his stroller, through the sprinklers spraying the gardens and lawns, just getting a bit wet, up to the top of the resort block, impromptu resort inspection, down through the shops, ‘Stollies’ in the lounge, then an ingenious idea to make Max a Legend.

Max the Legend of Great Keppel island, tired after all of his activities!
Max the Legend of Great Keppel island, tired after all of his activities!
Absolutely Fabulous day Patsy and Eddy on Great Keppel Island with Max the legend
Absolutely Fabulous day Patsy and Eddy on Great Keppel Island with Max the legend

Yes, it had to be, this great little guy at the ripe old age of three months became one of Great Keppel’s youngest Legends.  In one afternoon that gutsy little bloke sky-dived, wind-surfed, golfed, played tennis, swam and finally won the milk-drinking competition for downing the most glasses, without even using a glass, so was destined to take out the prestigious award.

SUNSET FROM GKI TOWARD YEPPOON
SUNSET FROM GKI TOWARD YEPPOON
SUNSET AT GREAT KEPPEL ISLAND
SUNSET AT GREAT KEPPEL ISLAND

STOP PRESS: GREAT KEPPEL ISLAND RESORT REVITALISATION APPROVAL TO GO AHEAD.

Great Keppel Island did have a Resort originally one of Australian Airlines TAA resorts, then Mercure then Contiki, then Accor before closing down a few years ago.  Now there is great excitement as approvement has been given to the Tower group to begin building a 5 star fantastic complex there.

GREAT KEPPEL ISLAND PLANNED DEVELOPMENT NOW APPROVED
GREAT KEPPEL ISLAND PLANNED DEVELOPMENT NOW APPROVED

Then we have the magnificent Barrier Reef that is one of the wonders of the world.  Just snorkeling around the waters there is an unparalleled experience, along with scuba diving to really explore the coral and fish in abundance.  You do get a bit of a fright when you are quietly snorkeling away and this enormous apparition stares in your goggles, first thought is shark, so one’s aspirations to become an Olympic gold medal swimmer suddenly reach fruition with the fastest sprint back to the ramp.  Only to be greeted with loud laughter and “it’s only George the Groper”.  Well anyway I think gropers are rather ugly and not to be dallied with at any time. I met quite a few in my teens, and the declined seat of a Porsche never did build my esteem for that variety of sea creature.

 Actually I think George the Groper is now resident in the Burj el Arab’s submarine restaurant in Dubai. Serves him right for giving me such a scare.

 A trip out to the Reef, can be a bit “harem-scar em” if the weather and seas are not calm.  I have had two experiences where the crockery and everything scattered all around the cabin floor with ups and downs like you wouldn’t find in a honeymoon suite.  Passengers faces are interesting to watch in these heavy seas, they vary from green to purple to glazed to that I’m never going to do this again look.  Anyway it is all worth it, when you anchor out in the sheltered calm waters that await you inside the reef.

A glass bottom submarine vessel is the best and safest way to see the best of the reef.

 

NEW ZEALAND

Col and John in NZ for HWT Conference
Col and John in NZ for HWT Conference

We visited NZ several times for HWT conferences at Rotorua and Christchurch memorable for winning the Golf tournament at Royal Christchurch with Jim Cooper from Queanbeyan,(golfer extraordinaire even though his wife Jennifer who doesn’t play golf  got to play with Greg Norman instead)  Kevin Longford, Nowra, and Nic Zaferis, Hertz.

NZ GROUP TOUR ESCORTED BY JOHN IN APRIL 1994

JOHN'S N.Z GROUP APRIL 2004
JOHN’S N.Z GROUP APRIL 2004

The group of 30 flew into Auckland starting 14 day APT tour. First stop was in the Bay of Islands. Here they had a traditional Maori Hangi and concert, John and several of the group were invited up on stage to do tradiional dances.

John on stage at the Maori hungi and concert north island NZ
John on stage at the Maori hungi and concert north island NZ

 

Then back via Auckland visiting the Waitomo Glow worm caves, before heading down to Rotorua in the Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve,  and stayed a night before going to Rainbow Springs,  and a cruise on Lake Taupo.   They visited the Agrodome sheep show. Then down to Wellington to overnight before catching the Inter island ferry to Napier on the south island.

Greener than green NZ Lord of the Rings country
Greener than green NZ Lord of the Rings country

They visited the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo, some took a helicopter ride over Franz Josef Glacier and staying there for the night.  They panned for gold at Greymouth , stayed at Franz Josef, then headed to Arrowtown and the ski resort town of Wanaka.

 

Spectacular view from the cable car statiion on top of the world at Queenstown, south island NZ
Spectacular view from the cable car statiion on top of the world at Queenstown, south island NZ

Then headed for Queenstown to stay several nights. From here they did a day cruise on the TSS Earnslaw to Walter Peak for lunch.

IMG_0006

John with some of the young ladies of the group l to r. Gail Blowes, Kerry Fisher, Lyn Dowd, Maureen
John with some of the young ladies of the group l to r. Gail Blowes, Kerry Fisher, Lyn Dowd, Maureen

From here they went to Milford Sound doing the very picturesque cruise there. In Queenstown going up in the Cable car to the top with the most magnificent view anywhere in the world.

Coach to Dunedin on the east coast of the south island staying and visiting Larnach castle, more Scottish than Scotland.  Up to Christchurch for two nights before returning home.

John arranging bags for the NZ Group tour he escorted
John arranging bags for the NZ Group tour he escorted

 On my first group trip to NZ an educational with a Horizon Tours to the South Island staying at Christchurch, where I saw snow for the first time, which fell like cotton balls slowly from the heavens, like magic.  We saw the ski fields at Coronet Peak and on a beautiful day cruise of Milford Sound I came face to face with this very familiar gorgeous looking guy.  I couldn’t think of his name but bowled up to him and said “I went to school with you didn’t I, but I can’t remember your name”. To which he replied in a very American accent “I don’t think so ma’am”. It was in fact Peter Strauss from the TV series “Rich man, poor man” who kindly let me photograph him with a very bemused quizzical look!

Actor Peter Strauss on Milford Sound cruise
Actor Peter Strauss on Milford Sound cruise

 

Colleen on NZ Educational, Milford sound
Colleen on NZ Educational, Milford sound

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Island

 AhuTongariki

This was only a few hours duration visit as a fuel stopover en-route to Santiago in Chile but left a lasting impression flying in over those magic Giant stone statues, a relic of a bygone time that nobody knows the origin of. Except they were carved around 1250AC in quarries in Rano Raraku which appeared to be abandoned abruptly and inexplicably with a litter of stone tools and many completed moai outside the quarry awaiting transport.

Easter Island (Rapa Nui) commonly known as the “belly button of the world” is only very tiny, the north-south air strip runs the entire width of the island, guarded by the strategically positioned stone heads.  The transit lounge consisted of a large fig tree at the front of the terminal.  One of my clients was actually on the same flight as me coming back through Easter Island and all the locals flock to the departure gates to entice and whisk the tourist to their homes, and to show them their island with a great deal of warm hospitality.

 

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TASMANIA

Cradle Mountain lake walk
Cradle Mountain lake walk
Cradle Mountain Lodge waterfall
Cradle Mountain Lodge waterfall
Cradle Mountain Lodge Tasmania in a heavy winter frost
Cradle Mountain Lodge Tasmania in a heavy winter frost

Tasmania is quite often the first ‘overseas’ holiday that Australians take, although part of Australia of course you need to either fly or catch the ferry from Melbourne, or row your boat an awful long way.

It is a very pretty island, and although you could drive right around it in a day, you would not want to, as there is so much to see.  I like the idea of flying into Launceston picking up hire car or motor home and driving in a clockwise direction. After looking around Launceston drive north to Georgetown and see the rows of lavender at Bridport, down through the lovely valley to Scottsdale.  Then head for the east coast,  St. Helens and Bicheno good place to stay.  Then down to Coles Bay and Freycinet peninsular where there is a very pretty beach called Wine Goblet bay.  Further south through Eaglehawk neck to the Penal Colony of Port Arthur.  The convict buildings here are worth a look but it is quite a depressing place I find, quite ghostly as are the evening tours through the ruins.

Val and her sister at Richmond Bridge Tasmania
Val and her sister Joyce at Richmond Bridge Tasmania

It is not far on to the capital of Tasmania, Hobart which is a very picturesque city, with nice views down to Sandy Bay, and fun along the waterfront where the Sydney to Hobart yacht race finishes at each year end. Our friends the Mudges live in Hobart.  From Hobart it is worth taking short drives up to see the convict built Richmond bridge, up to Oatlands, nice little shops there and at Bothwell where our friends the Ramseys live on a property which was originally the first golf course in Australia.

After a few days in Hobart I suggest drive to Strathgordon, gateway to Lake Pedder and Franklin and Gordon River National Park which feels like being on the moon, it is so isolated.  We took a boat out on the black tea coloured lake and did not see another boat or human the whole time, and ran into a storm, it was a bit scary, but memorable. It is real wilderness.

Strahan West Coast Wilderness Railway
Strahan West Coast Wilderness Railway
Strahan rugged coastline
Strahan rugged coastline

Which is all the West coast really from the mining town of Queenstown up to Strahan and Zeehan.  The West Coast Wilderness railway journey from Strahan to the national park is fun to go on.  Strahan is a very pretty costal town.

Then of course you must go into Cradle Mountain national park and stay at the lovely lodge there.  On our AAT Kings educational escorted by Roz Antico it was freezing cold, but very rewarding to walk around challenging Cradle mountain narrow path about 5km distance.

AAT KINGS educational group, driver Tom
AAT KINGS educational group, driver Tom
We found ourselves a nice Tassie bloke to take home.
We found ourselves a nice Tassie bloke to take home.

You must see Stanley (the Nut) at the North West of Tasmania and pretty Devonport where the Tasmania ferry leaves for Melbourne back to Launceston

NORTHERN TERRITORY WITH AUSTRALIAN PACIFIC TOURS

In 1991 I did an Australian Pacific Tours tour flying into Alice Springs with Simon Clark as our host. It is the first and only camping holiday I have done.  Pitching your own tent each night out in howling winds whipping up red dust is not my idea of an ideal holiday.  But must say it was certainly different.

Australian Pacific Tours coach at base of Uluru
Australian Pacific Tours coach at base of Uluru
Camping in Kings Canyon in red dust
Camping in Kings Canyon in red dust

I have to say that climbing King’s Canyon was quite a buzz as it is very steep and you really feel you have accomplished something when you reach the top and look way back down at the now minute coaches lined up.  The views from the Canyon are fabulous.

Also I do think every self respecting Australian must see Uluru rock once in their life time as it is iconic.  Although we see thousands of images of people climbing up ‘The Rock’ when you come to begin the climb personally, it is very daunting and I could not pluck up the courage, hence stopping at the place aptly called “chicken rock”.

Colleen on Harley Davidson ride around Uluru
Colleen on Harley Davidson ride around Uluru
Climbing Uluru, to Chicken rock anyway.
Climbing Uluru, to Chicken rock anyway.

Instead I opted to do the ride around the rock on the back of a Harley Davidson which was fabulous, and also to walk the 9km distance right around the rock which was quite an accomplishment in itself I thought.

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CHAPTER 3 – ALASKA – “NORTH TO ALASKA” – “The dream catcher”

On Spirit of Glacier Bay cruise Alaska
On Spirit of Glacier Bay cruise Alaska

If ever you get the chance to go to Alaska, do not think twice jump at the chance.  This is a state of the United States of America that is so different with its virtually untouched wilderness and from the moment you board your flight north, and realize that at 9.00pm the golden sun is still quite high in the sky, reflected on the waters below punctuated only by a thousand islands dressing “The Inside Passage”.  The light reflected through the clouds has myriads of rainbow reflections giving promise of the Aurora Borealis that can be seen in the northern evening skies (best  in the Spring and Fall solstice).

It is the land of the mid-night sun in mid-summer and one felt if you just kept flying north you would eventually catch up with that “ball of fire” and find never-ending day.

ADVENTURE WORLD EDUCATIONAL TRIP TO ALASKA MAY 1997

ADVENTURE WORLD EDUCATIONAL TO ALASKA AT TOTEM POLES
ADVENTURE WORLD EDUCATIONAL TO ALASKA AT TOTEM POLES

On this educational trip to Alaska hosted by Adventure World were Fiona Axford (escort) Rebecca Fedrick, Anthea (Ant) Ross, Kim Klug, Sam Newton, Raynor Heron, Tanya Stephens, Saskia Peters-Snow, Joanna Swallow, Lorraine Malcolm and myslelf.

We had spent a few days in Seattle prior to flying north to Alaska, which were fascinating and interesting.  Seattle is a beautiful city, always voted by the Americans as being the nicest one to live in, in the whole country.  It has more English looking trees than England, is very green, with leafy avenues, beautiful gardens especially at Magnolia Bluff, which is just as it sounds, on the northern side of the city affording stunning views over the city skyline and of course that ‘Space Needle’.  Then on the southern side is the University of Washington and campus spread out over 680 acres of parkland.

The fish were jumpin’ at the Hiram Chittenden Locks, where thousands of salmon travel upstream to spawn or whatever salmon do that just knocks them dead.  We passed the huge sprawling home that Bill Gates has built, a bit of hardware from the software.

We also embarked on one of those tours I had always thought would be boring, but instead got an amazing surprise, like Boeing Boeing surprised.  There were 747’s, 767’s and the new 777’s, which are not as big as the former.  This massive plant at Everett, just out of Seattle is an eye-opener with its sheer size of cubic capacity, the largest in the world.  You actually see the aircraft being assembled from a lofty platform even 747’s look small down below.  The finished products are lined up on the runway of Paine Field, all being decked out in their corporate colours and logos.

It promised to be a great trip, opening up a whole new frontier not previously covered by this avid traveller. New scenery and new cultures. When flying north in late afternoon, there is a mighty lot of water up there both frozen and liquid, I think God must have just kept pouring up there and forgot to stop.  There are also a mighty lot of islands. The sun’s reflections exemplify the extent of the water.

The Alaskan people are made up of such diverse cultural backgrounds, really concentrated in particular areas – Norwegians in Petersburg, Russians in Sitka and Juneau.  Over the years this blending of different bloods with the original Tlingit Indians has produced a very pleasant unique breed of people.

Alaska is the largest state in USA.  It was bought from Russia in 1867 for a mere $7.2m which initially the rest of America derided as wasted money not realizing the wealth held under its icy, watery terrain.

CAPITAL OF ALASKA JUNEAU AN INTERESTING CITY
CAPITAL OF ALASKA JUNEAU AN INTERESTING CITY

Still today, communication is difficult owing to lack of accessibility, many areas  are only approachable by air or sea.  For instance the political state capital  Juneau has no roads leading in or out of it. Perhaps Australians would like to have a political capital with no roads in or out to keep our politicians “locked in”!

Alaska’s wealth comes from mainly oil and natural gas (one of the largest reserves in the world) also timber from Tongass and Chugach National Forests, gold (in the 1890’s a gold rush attracted a rush of miners to Nome and Fairbanks and even though today it is not found in such quantities is still an important resource).  Of course tourism has now become a big source of income for Alaska.

Two-thirds of the state is Federal land, protected as National Parks, which are unequalled in the world by size and inaccessibility.  Some parts have never been crossed by man.

We flew Alaskan Airlines into Ketchikan named “Alaska’s first city” because it is the first Alaskan port of call for travellers north along the Inside Passage, it is famous for its abundance of salmon runs.  It is the rain capital of Alaska.  Rainfall  is measured in feet rather than inches, it receives about 13ft. annually, and rains for 270 odd days per year.  Its original inhabitants were the Tlingit Indians (they may have had webbed feet) and in 1883 the first white settlers went to Ketchikan for the salmon fishing.  Tourism and timber are now the main back stay of the local economy.  Ketchikan is located on Revillagigedo Island and accessed by a 5 minute ferry ride from the international airport which is actually on Gravina Island. It is a vibrant port community with a population of 15,000. It is a city on stilts built over tidal flats and a very colourful dock-front past. along Creek Street’s wooden boardwalk where the old “red light” area is now quaint little shops.

KETCHIKAN WHERE THE SALMON COME UPSTREAM
KETCHIKAN WHERE THE SALMON COME UPSTREAM
KETCHIKAN
KETCHIKAN

One gets the feeling that, Creek Street is not too far from the present local culture, because on our evening out on the town, we ventured into the recommended local, called ’49ers’, where we were the only women in the bar, along with a lot of rather large lumber-jacks, which was a bit of a worry. On announcing that we were heading back to our hotel, one burly local  was heard to utter “we ain’t done dancin’, and we ain’t done drinkin’ ” which saw all of us bolt for the front door and up Creek Street and the funicular to the Westmark as fast as our legs would carry us.

Ketchikan is the departure point for small boats or float planes to enter into Misty Fjords National Monument. A must to see, but on our way out on a ‘Sheltered Seas’ motor yacht, first cruise for the year, a good half way out,  a thudding noise erupted below and the boat stopped dead.  Because of the engine breakdown, the cruise director, declared the bar open and free drinks, consequently as we limped back to Ketchikan, it ended up as wet on board as off. So what  were we to do now, big question with this motor lauch broken down.  As often turns out with travel plans when you think it is a negative, it turns out being a positive, which it did. Read on. Also at Ketchikan are the Totem Bight houses a huge collection of totem poles showing the legends of the Tlingit clans which we went to see, whilst waiting for our alternative travel arrangements.

Our next flight, which was nearly a ‘Claytons’, as two of our team were last to check in, told to board immediately, one being me, and as the plane started to taxi out of Ketchikan, the two of us were still standing at the rear of the aircraft without a seat, with very worried looks on our faces hanging on to the seat-backs either side of the aisle for stability. Fortunately just before take-off a father nursed his daughter availing one seat, and a flight attendant on holiday, relinquished her seat for the jump seat. We made it, even though the pilot told a story about how a fish landed in the cockpit on one of their flights!  Not quite as bad as it sounded, as evidently a bald eagle.  

PETERSBURG THE NORWAY OF ALASKA
PETERSBURG THE NORWAY OF ALASKA
RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH SITKA ALASKA
RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH SITKA ALASKA

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 The flight took us via Wrangell an old Russian trading port and lumber milling town, and Petersburg known as “Little Norway” and famous for its LeConte Glacier, (two stops)then on to Sitka which is a small seaside town located on Baranof Island, which is a unique blend of Russian and Tlingit cultures.  We were given a city tour which took in the raven and eagle rehabilitation sanctuary, and main street with its distinctive  Russian Orthodox cathedral. There we boarded Alaska Sightseeing Cruise West’s overnight cruising programme on the ‘Spirit of Discovery’, which was our surprise alternative arrangement which worked out beautifully.

Spirit of Glacier Bay small ship cruising experienc
Cruise West “Spirit of Glacier Bay” small ship cruising experience

Small boat cruising of the Inside Passage, is a great alternative to the luxury liners that transport thousands of tourists, mainly from other American states.  It is much more intimate, only carrying 60 passengers, whom you all get to know in the space of a few days, mainly up on the top decks viewing the vast amount of wild-life, spotting for whales, and just generally taking in the crystal clear scenery, untouched by man.  The intense cold, and chill factor, does not bother, because you become so engrossed with the abounding beauty.

We spotted a school of porpoise, gliding gracefully by our vessel, the occasional sea lion, but nothing excites like that call on the loud speaker of whales ahead. These magnificent sea mammals, who give the preamble of a water spout, before breaching and flapping their tail fin, are so exciting to watch.  We saw some black and brown bear, a moose and lots of mountain goats as we sailed not far from the various shore-lines.

We headed for what I considered the highlight of our trip, Glacier Bay.  A Park Service Naturalist, Laura,  came aboard for the day to describe the formation and history of the glaciers and point out things of interest both of wildlife, vegetation, and of a geographical nature.

SMALL CRUISE SHIPS LIKE "SPIRIT OF GLACIER  BAY" GET RIGHT UP CLOSE TO GLACIERS
SMALL CRUISE SHIPS LIKE “SPIRIT OF GLACIER BAY” GET RIGHT UP CLOSE TO GLACIERS

One feels like they are standing next to God, as you try to take-in the awe-inspiring vision before you of the Margerie Glacier’s glistening blue-green-white-grey (the colour is actually indefinable) wall of conglomerate loaded ice.  The strength of this compacted icy mass is amplified by the sounds made by this monster.  I had previously thought glaciers to be of a silent nature, but in actual fact they groan and bang and sound off like shot gun blasts.

Colleen swimming in Zandaam's pool at Glacier Bay
Colleen swimming in Zandaam’s pool at Glacier Bay

Each glacier has its own appeal and terrain, and is quite different when you see them “in the flesh” not at all like in photographs that just do not do them justice.  One has to be close to a glacier to appreciate it, through its beauty and the icy cold feel upon your face tells you just how close you are to one of nature’s most magnificent entities.  We were privileged to see many glaciers the main ones being Margerie, Grand Pacific,  Mendenhall, and Knik.                                                                                                                                     Knik glacier, we actually flew over in a float plane, which gave an entirely different dimension looking down on its cracks and crevices, and pools of blue, blue water like light ink.  The flight is a bit ‘airy scary’ up over rugged terrain, of tundra, but more civilized than one would have thought, with houses appearing in the most unlikely places,  some of our members were sick thanks to the thermals.  Landing back in a channel alongside the airport seems really peculiar in these float planes.  Alaskans own sea planes for transportation just like other people own motor cars, and it has the most number of aircraft per capita, anywhere in the world.

RED DOG SALLOON BAR JUNEAU ALASKA sawdust floor
RED DOG SALLOON BAR JUNEAU ALASKA sawdust floor

The cruise ended in Juneau, Alaska’s capital, a fascinating city which had all the advantages of a modern city, mixed with the ‘old western’ feeling of a frontiers-ville.  Downtown Juneau has the famous dock-side ‘Red Dog Saloon’ complete with sawdust floor and tons of atmosphere, boasting the biggest hamburgers in Alaska, and one sits in there anticipating that any minute John Wayne will just come bursting through the swinging saloon doors with six guns blazing. RED DOG SALOON MENU READS Alaskan beers on Tap….Guinness Draught….LIQUOR – Cheap Shit (pretty good stuff), Expensive shit, Really expensive shit….. SALOON FAVOURITES Duck Fart, Glacier Margarita, Draft Rootbeer, O’Douls Amber

The Mount Roberts Tramway takes you 2,000 ft. above the Inside Passage for one of the most fabulous views anywhere in the world, especially right on sun set.  You step from the Tramway onto a snow covered walking trail.

Juneau from Mt Roberts tramway
Juneau from Mt Roberts tramway
SUNSET AT MT ROBERT'S TRAMWAY JUNEAU
SUNSET AT MT ROBERT’S TRAMWAY JUNEAU

A young tour leader in Juneau named Kimberley, told us, whilst walking around Mendenhall Glacier, and collecting pieces of jade from a stony creek bed, the delightful story of how her grand-mother gave her a “dream catcher” as a child to hang over her bed.  Now, the legend of the Dream Catcher is centuries old, passed down from the native Indians, of which she had Sioux, Cherokee, and Tlingit origins, and varies across North America.  It is a web, made with Alaskan willow, deer skin, etc, and woven to help its owner reach goals and make good use of dreams and visions.  It is hung over the bed to sift through dreams, the good ones clinging and staying always and the bad ones sifting through the centre flying away on the feather attached, never to return.  The owner adds to the web, turquoise stones representing truth, a piece of silver for wealth, an arrowhead for strength, a bone for purity, and a snow white feather for spiritual transcendence.

After the cruise we flew up to Anchorage which is a large modern city, population of 258,000 with wide well planned streets, high rise hotels and good shopping facilities. Its streets are sometimes invaded by moose and other wild life which is perhaps hard to imagine.  Even though a modern city which on first sight, looks fairly American, it has a heart, which is reflected by the love of it by the inhabitants, most of whom have come up from southern States to find a whole new life-style. Most of these tend to stay on because of the endearing nature of that frontier city.

We had the coldest beer, in the hottest beer garden in an Anchorage pub, on the coldest night – fact was the outside areas that the young people prefer, have mobile heating elements which really throw out some warmth.  Jimmy and Denise were our hosts, and even though it gets mighty cold up there, even in May, the hospitality is always warm.  They really like their beer, and one of the best restaurants is The Brewery, where you can do a guided tour of the beer making process prior to eating.  And eat they do, they served up the biggest steaks I have ever seen, and I ordered Alaskan Crab Sticks, getting just two huge ones that spanned about 40cm’s.

DENISE BELKOWSKI ANCHORAGE TOURISM AND HUSBAND JIMMY with our group at THE BREWERY
DENISE BELKOWSKI ANCHORAGE TOURISM AND HUSBAND JIMMY with our group at THE BREWERY

The Anchorage Museum of History and Art was a real eye-opener , as is such a “living museum” with  well documented and presented artefacts from many eras both of modern (last 200 years) and pre-historic.  The Gold Rush era is well presented.  Denise Belkoski the Director of Tourism in Anchorage reflects her love of the place by verbalising with great enthusiasm and high regard doing tours of the Museum and the city, really bringing it alive.

A day tour took us out on the road to Seward, past Cook Inlet, a really scenic route, toward Portage Lake.  Our venture out to see Portage Glacier aboard the mv Ptamigan was the first for the year, so it was pretty scary, nudging our way through the icebergs which were just about solid on the lake.  Just as well we had not seen the film ‘Titanic’.  Having pierced our way right up in front of the glacier, to give a magnificent view of this wonderful gift of nature, we all stood in awe in the freezing cold on the open top deck.

Group of travel agents at Portage glacier Alaska
Group of travel agents at Portage glacier Alaska

As travel agents, we quite often get treated to some delightful surprises, and on our way back to Anchorage with a short designated stop at Alyeska Ski Resort, we were pleased to find, we were to be taken on the Tramway right to the top of North Face where lunch was provided.  Clam chowder and Chile Con Carne in large bread buns was the perfect answer to the cold, after we had all been out and had a ‘romp’ in the snow.  Skiing is very popular in Alaska from mid November to April.  The tramway that we travelled on covers a vertical rise of 2,028 ft. in 4 minutes, taking 800 skiers an hour up to the ski slopes, and they are mighty steep, compared with what I saw in Austria at Stubai Glacier.  You can virtually ski, just a few hundred feet above sea level, which is most unusual, owing to the climate.

WESTIN ALYESKA SKI RESORT NEAR ANCHORAGE ALASKA Where we experienced a 5.2 richter  earthquake
WESTIN ALYESKA SKI RESORT NEAR ANCHORAGE ALASKA Where we experienced a 5.2 richter earthquake

We had a little time to spare to do some shopping at the Westin Alyeska Prince Hotel which had immense international appeal with its many restaurants, pool turned into skating rink, with lights and music, and delightful shopping arcade.  I thought it strange as I was browsing, and the floor rattled beneath me that an underground train station should run right underneath the Hotel right out in the wilderness, and didn’t think anymore about it till I heard on the radio and read in the newspaper next day there had been a 5.2 on the Richter scale, earthquake that had shook the floor of the hotel shop!

Earthquakes are still a worry to the Alaskan people, who will never really forget that disastrous day in 1964 when an 8.4 earthquake which nearly flattened Anchorage and caused loss of lives.  There are still photos on display over there, of cars disappearing down cracks in the sealed roadways.  And at Portage Lake, the captain said how there were people out on it in a boat, when the earthquake struck, of course they had no concept of what was happening, apart from seeing large sheets of ice splitting away and plunging into the lake, and a huge swell manifesting itself, and it was not until they tried to get home and all the bridges and roads were down that they realized what had really happened.

There are so many wonderful, different things one can do in Alaska, different from the norm.  It is still a vast frontier to be discovered by the  adventurous.

I picked up a brochure entitled “Alaska Native Journeys which details specialised limited itineraries which really are a draw-card.  For instance the “Top of the World”  Tundra tours to Barrow where visitors can join in a traditional blanket toss right on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. “Beachmaster Bulls” at St Paul Island, The Pribilofs where you see bull sea lions showing their superiority. “A tour within the sight of Siberia” at Gambell Village, St. Lawrence Island. “Aleut culture making a comeback” travel to the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea. “Tsimshian Native Village founded by a Scot” etc.

From Anchorage we took a coach trip up to Denali National Park.  We passed through the small township of Wasilla that everyone “pokes fun at” and sneers at, and now infamous for being the home of  Sarah Palin, runner for US President, so the tragi comedy still goes on! From there on we kept looking out for Mt. McKinley, and at 6,194m is the highest peak in North America it is a magnificent mountain, or so they say, because we struck it on one of the 300 odd days it is covered in cloud. I did see it once and it is huge.

MCKINLEY CHALET NEAR MT MCKINLEY ALASKA
MCKINLEY CHALET NEAR MT MCKINLEY ALASKA
MCKINLEY CHALET DINING ROOM DENALI NP
MCKINLEY CHALET DINING ROOM DENALI NP

We stayed in cabin type accommodation in the National Park which was very comfortable and did a Tundra Wildlife Tour, but let me tell you we saw more wildlife back in that Ketchikan bar, than out there on the range.  Even binoculars could not pick up the moose or the deer that the Americans from down south, ooh-ed and ah-ed at so loudly from the coach.  They get so excited just a the mere mention of a wild animal.  The Tundra is pretty spectacular though, spreading out towards Mt. Mc Kinley, once again shrouded in cloud.

Although the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) was not visible at the time of year we were there, an enterprising gentleman by the name of Leroy Zimmerman has put together a theatre synchronisation of slide photography and symphony on a giant screen,  called “Sky Fire” which is nearly as good as the real thing.  Auroras really conjure up a mystical element, and these beautiful colours come from ‘high vacuum electrical discharges’. Once again sometimes you have to return to a place to see everything because on a later trip to Alaska with a group we witnessed the very memorable “northern lights”.

Our return to Anchorage, was by one of the most memorable forms of transport, The McKinley Explorer which is an experience not to be missed with its dome car views of the National Park scenery. Once you have glimpsed a little of Alaska, be it by air, or dome-car train, or coach, or cruise ship, you feel a magnetic pull to see more of it, most especially to venture up into the Arctic circle, the real Alaska, and to see these extra-ordinary people in their day to day lives.  The people of Nome and Kodiak, Barrow and Prudhoe Bay.  Even places south like Whitehorse, Beaver Creek, Haines Junction, stir the imagination.  Perhaps one day…………try dream catching.

We returned to Alaska later on another trip where we escorted a lovely group of 20.

HWT COWRA ALASKA GROUP 2002

Alaska group escorts Colleen and John
Alaska group escorts Colleen and John

 In front left of the above photo of Alaskan group are John, Big John, Sue Davidson’s parents, June and Ron Fisher, Rhonda and Lindsay Scott, Jack Green, Mr and Mrs Col Fisher, Drs Edwin and Janet Carr, Front rowe,  Gail Blowes and Caroline Foster, Moira and Jeffrey Stephenson, myself, all very happy travellers.

AT THE BREWERY ANCHORAGE GROUP DINNER
AT THE BREWERY ANCHORAGE GROUP DINNER
Eating Arctic Giant Crab claws at THE BREWERY ANCHORAGE
Eating Arctic Giant Crab claws at THE BREWERY ANCHORAGE

We flew into San Francisco spending 2 nights there staying at the Holiday Inn Fisherman’s Wharf, and then flew up to Anchorage where we spent 2 nights, visiting all the local sights, chasing reindeer, and dining at THE BREWERY, where we met Denise Belkowski who gave us all some lovely gifts from Anchorage Tourism. The Brewery is a fabulous place to dine, and they take you for a tour below where the beer is brewed in giant stainless steel vats and piped icy cold upstairs for diners.  They have about 6 different beers from light to dark.

Jeff and John best mates
Jeff and John best mates
Jeff Stephenson and John on Denali Explorer Dome Car
Jeff Stephenson and John on Denali Explorer Dome Car

We then caught the  Dome train Wilderness Express  to Denali National park spending one night there and doing the Tundra Wilderness tour to the foot of Mt. McKinley.  We saw brown bear in the wild here, and moose and

DOME CAR FROM DENALI NP TO FAIRBANKS Even tour leaders get tired sometimes
DOME CAR FROM DENALI NP TO FAIRBANKS Even tour leaders get tired sometimes
FAIRBANKS PADDLE BOAT John Jeff and Moira Stephenson
FAIRBANKS PADDLE BOAT John Jeff and Moira Stephenson

We then went on to Fairbanks staying one night and doing a day cruise-tour on the Riverboat Discovery Sternwheeler on the Chena river, which was quite lovely looking into the backyards of Fairbanks homes, all with their float planes parked like cars.

FROM FAIRBANKS PADDLEBOAT YOU SEE EVERY HOME HAS A FLOAT PLANE IN THE BACKYARD
FROM FAIRBANKS PADDLEBOAT YOU SEE EVERY HOME HAS A FLOAT PLANE IN THE BACKYARD
FUR TRADER ON THE FAIRBANKS RIVER CRUISE
FUR TRADER ON THE FAIRBANKS RIVER CRUISE

From the triple decker, with rooftop viewing  sternwheeler you watched the day to day occurences along the river like training huskies from puppies, growing vegetables, fur traders etc, and you could disembark and walk around these various different places, including Gold Dredge No.8 which was interesting.

CHICKEN ALASKA Population once 1 now 17. Has store, pub, cafe and giant sized cinnamon rolls
CHICKEN ALASKA Population once 1 now 17. Has store, pub, cafe and giant sized cinnamon rolls

From Fairbanks we coached to Dawson via little town of Chicken (Population 1 once, now 17)  gold was found there in the 1880’s  famous for something edible, but I have forgotten exactly what.  How could you forget, it was huge cinnamon rolls, yum one of my favourites, they were as big as dinner plates, so now instead of people queuing to dig for gold now they queue for cinnamon rolls! There’s gold in them there rolls!.

Dawson was hilarious.  Just like you imagine it to be, dusty main streets when dry weather, but had been raining whilst we were there hence we had to walk through mud to get from one side of the street to the other.

Most memorable there was the pub with the miner’s toe in a glass where tourists had to show their courage by throwing down an alcoholic drink with the toe in it and it had to touch your lips. Yuk, imagine how many lips that dirty toe had touched (not this little black ducks’)

Dawson city street
Dawson city street
GROUP LINED UP FOR THE WILDERNESS EXPRESS DENALI TO FAIRBANKS
GROUP LINED UP FOR THE WILDERNESS EXPRESS DENALI TO FAIRBANKS

From Dawson more coach and then a river cruise down the Yukon to Whitehorse, and then the train down to the port of Skagway on the single gauge ‘Whitehorse to Yukon’ line which was built to accommodate the 1897 Klondike gold rush.

YUKON RIVER CRUISE IN ALASKA
YUKON RIVER CRUISE IN ALASKA
ON THE WHITEHORSE TO SKAGWAY TRAIN a very enjoyable journey
ON THE WHITEHORSE TO SKAGWAY TRAIN a very enjoyable journey

We then boarded the Holland America line ship “Zandaam” for a 4 night cruise from Skagway to Glacier Bay and Ketchikan back to Vancouver.

This was a fabulous cruise starting from the quaint port of Skagway then southward first place to visit was Glacier Bay which was mind-blowing this is where I had my special swim in a heated pool with a backdrop of Glaciers. It was wonderful with steam pouring off the water. It was unforgettable. There were statues of milking cows around the pool, and John wanted to know which one was the”silly old moo” them or me.

GLACIER BAY
GLACIER BAY
SKAGWAY PORT CRUISE SHIPS LINED UP INCLUDING OURS THE ZANDAAM
SKAGWAY PORT CRUISE SHIPS LINED UP INCLUDING OURS THE ZANDAAM

Then down passed all the literally thousands of islands on the way seeing lots of birdlife, the occasional whale breaching, caribou grazing nonchalently, lovely light surrounding this pristine area.

Each night we had cocktails and danced together as a group before dinner and the evening show which were each night extremely entertaining. The maybe some after dinner drinks and more dancing.  Cruising is a fabulous way to travel.

Our next port of call Ketchikan is a fascinating place and of course we had to go up Creek street and check out where the girls entertained the fella’s some time back.  This area all raised above the river steaming with salmon in their pathetic death throws as they head upstream now very close to the place where they were spawned and began their life’s journey. Sad really, who’d be a salmon, either end up on a plate or here?

Creek Street Ketchikan girls at Dolly's
Creek Street Ketchikan girls at Dolly’s

Apart from that Ketchikan in quite a pretty little town, so it was sad to have to leave and to enjoy the beautiful scenery all the way down the inside passage. This is where I was so enthralled by the light and rugged pristine beauty that a hymn sprang to mind, see below. We then ended the  cruise by sailing into the beautiful port of Vancouver. Vancouver and Venice (the two V’s) are really the  most spectacular to cruise into anywhere in the world.

THIS IS WHERE I RECEIVED DIVINE INSPIRATION TO WRITE MY "HYMN TO LIFE"
THIS IS WHERE I RECEIVED DIVINE INSPIRATION TO WRITE MY “HYMN TO LIFE”

This hymn came to me with divine inspiration on the back of a cruise ship cruising down the Inside Passage from Alaska in 2001. The air was clear, the moon and sun were both shining together high in the zenith of the northern summer sky, and “all was right with the world” but, is it?  If only man could live in peace

A HYMN TO LIFE…

 All the people on the earth, stand up and praise Him

All the trees on mountains wide, stand tall and praise Him

Sun and moon, hold hands and praise Him.

All the creatures of the world roam free and praise Him

Fishes of the deep swim wide and praise Him

Sun and moon, hold hands and praise Him.

All the stars up in the sky shine bright and praise Him

Planets of the universe, revolve and praise Him

Sun and moon, hold hands and praise Him.

All the leaders of the world stop war and praise Him

All the nations of the world unite and praise Him

Sun and moon, hold hands and praise Him.

                                           C.Woodward  © copyright.

 

"A Hymn to life" inspiration in Alaska where the sun and moon were so close in the northern hemisphere
“A Hymn to life” inspiration in Alaska where the sun and moon were so close in the northern hemisphere COPYRIGHT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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