Archive for March 3, 2016

Townsville, Australia

     On the morning of February 15 we docked in Townsville, Australia.  “What’s that?” you are asking.  “I have never heard of Townsville & it wasn’t on the itinerary” (which I know you studied carefully in reading the first post of this voyage).  Well, of course you are correct & we hadn’t heard of Townsville before either.  We were scheduled to stop in the unlikely named Mooloolaba, but that is a tender port & the seas were rough & it was gray & raining, so the harbor master closed the port.  Just as well, since it is a beach community and about the only thing to do would have been to walk on the beach, which wouldn’t have been much fun in the rain.  So now, the next time a HAL ship stops there it will be HAL’s maiden visit, again.

     To compensate for the missed port they arranged for us to stop for a day in Townsville, where it was not rainy but was extremely hot & humid.  But before we get to Townsville, there were the days at sea getting there.  From Sydney to Cairns we were joined on board by several top executives of HAL and its parent corporation, Carnival.  They were ostensibly here to meet the World Cruise passengers, explain their plans for the future & respond to questions and complaints.  While they were on board the alcohol flowed, free of charge, beginning with the Sydney sail-away party & including several receptions and parties the next few days.  HAL President Orlando Ashford had a presentation (really mostly a commercial for their newest ship, Koningsdam) and a Q & A, during which the answer to most questions was “We are working on that.”  Among the good news, however, he announced that the Asia & Pacific Grand Voyage will be reinstated next year & that a pilot program has begun on Noordam toward eliminating smoking on cabin balconies.  He invited people to approach him at dinner with any further issues, but the HAL contingent mostly dined in a separate room by themselves, with about 15 staff who normally waited on passengers culled out so each of them could have an individual server (Downton Abbey style, I guess).  Despite their generosity with alcohol, it was somewhat of a relief when they left & the ship could get back to normal.

     The night after we left Sydney there was a “beach party” by the Lido pool.  We had taken on board some of the famous lifeguards from Bondi beach in Sydney, apparently just to give this party more flavor.  The pool was filled with beach balls & there was a very good Australian band called “Hipnosis.”  There was a lot of dancing & drinking, and there was even a conga line at one point.  But really, it was just a party on deck and not the Major Event that the HAL execs seemed to think it was.

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     On February 14 there was a Valentines Ball.  First there was a reception in the Queen’s Lounge, then a formal dinner, then the Ball, all with free drinks.  They really went all out in decorating & Debbie Bacon serenaded us from the piano on the first floor.

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     At the ball the excellent 5 piece “Amsterdam Orchestra” played along with two very good young singers brought aboard for the occasion, Liam John Burrows & Darcy Jones.  Liam was in the Sinatra mold & did it very well.  We saw him sit in with the Neptunes in the Ocean Bar a few days later & he was particularly enjoyable in this more informal setting (many of the featured acts are).

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     Since it was a last minute replacement port, we had little information about Townsville.  It dates to the early 19th Century & has about 200,000 residents.  In the second half of the 19th century it was the port for several gold mines during the gold rush.  We know that today it is a port for, among other things, cattle because there was a cattle ship being loaded next to us in the commercial dock area where we were moored. 

     We took the mandatory shuttle into town & walked down Flinders Street to the Reef Headquarters & Aquarium.  Flinders Street has a lot of small buildings from the 1800’s but most of them seemed to be closed up.  This is near the beginning of the Great Barrier Reef & the Reef administration seems to be situated here.  The Aquarium in the same building was wonderful: the largest living coral reef aquarium in the world.

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     A very large “predator tank” contained several different kinds of sharks along with other fish & even a giant clam.  There was a talk here by a diver inside the tank.  To keep the coral alive these tanks are open to the sun & air outside.  This means they have to constantly replenish the water that evaporates & also must constantly clean the inside of the tanks.

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     For fans of Finding Nemo, we are in Australia so both Nemo & Dorrie were here.  Clownfish are born male & when the dominant female dies one of the males becomes female (no operation needed).  We learned that there are several kinds of fish that can change sex & the giant clam above can change on a yearly basis, emitting sperm one year & eggs the next.

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     The Crown of Thorns starfish has become a menace to the Great Barrier Reef.  They eat the coral polyps & have spread alarmingly in recent decades, partly because they can regenerate like worms so that when machetes were used in early eradication efforts the pieces would each become a new starfish.  Today the inject a toxic solution into them, which ensures they are truly dead.  There were other more benign (and prettier) starfish as well.  We learned that starfish have eyes at the end of each of their arms.

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     We saw a creepy Moray Eel & a Bluespot Lagoon Ray that looked like something from outer space. There was a Lionfish – beautiful but deadly – and some Razorfish, which swim vertically. Also a beautiful Semicircle Angelfish (which looks more blue than the purple color in the picture).

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     In the background there were many types of living coral & some stationary animals, like anemonies & sea urchins.

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     Finally, we visited the turtle hospital.  Wounded or disabled sea turtles are bought here and nursed back to health, then released back into the ocean.  There were a couple of hawksbill turtles here, a couple of flatback turtles, and one huge 200 pound green turtle.  “Green turtles” are actually brown, not green, as you can see below.  Turtles are sea animals with flippers instead of legs, while tortoises are land animals with legs & feet.

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     Leaving the Aquarium, we walked along the Strand, a road that borders the waterfront ANZAC Park.  Known as Strand Park since the 1880’s, it was renamed in the 1930’s to memorialize the soldiers from Townsville killed in World War I.  It is a lovely, very long park with banyan trees and many flowers in addition to the ANZAC memorial & another memorial with a fountain commemorating the WWII Battle of the Coral Sea fought near here.  Townsville had the largest allied naval base in the South Pacific & played an important support role in this battle.

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     In the park and elsewhere in town we saw a number of interesting public sculptures.  Most, but not all, were of wildlife.

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     There is a lot of seashore in northeastern Australia, but you can’t swim in the ocean.  Some places there are crocodiles & most places there are Box Jellyfish, which are blue and about the size of your thumb with tentacles that can reach 20 feet in length.  Both are deadly.  As Bill Bryson pointed out in his book about Australia: of the ten most toxic animals in the world, ten live in Australia.  This includes spiders and snakes as well as jellyfish, so Australia can be a dangerous place if you are not on your toes.  A few places along the waterfront in the park have been enclosed in jellyfish-proof netting to allow some swimming.  We saw some genuine wildlife in the park too, including black cockatoos & a little red-beaked gull that looked like it was laughing.

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     We ended our walk along the park at the end of the shore, where we climbed up a hill to a lookout point called Kissing Point.  This area had been fortified since the 1880’s.  In July, 1942, a couple of Japanese planes bombed Townsville, but most of the bombs fell into the water or the bush outside the town. Only one caused any damage, and that was to the racetrack.  Today this is a park that provides a nice view over the harbor & of the reddish colored mountain that overlooks the town.  We walked back to the ship.  It was a couple of miles & it was VERY hot & humid, so we wilted pretty badly before making it back.  Later we learned that there was a free shuttle bus going back & forth to Kissing Point.  We wished we had known about it, as that would have made a big difference for us. 

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     And so we sailed on up the eastern coast of Australia, into the Great Barrier Reef area.  But that’s a story for another day.  For now we will leave you with a couple of towel animals (I have lost track, so if you have already seen these, never mind).

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