Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cruising Again, on MS Volendam

"Nothing to blog about" is a well-worn excuse, but I really can't use it now. Sorry for the gap in postings.

I'm just back from 14 days on the Holland America Line ship MS Volendam, having cruised all the way from Sydney to Fremantle. Once again, the reason was to give lectures on wildlife and conservation to the passengers, and to promote our Bookend Trust, and I was sharing the lectures (and a cabin) with Niall Doran.

The Volendam
All the Holland America ships are "Dams"

Our cabin on Deck 3.
Just like last year. The ships are almost identical.

The cruise this year is a circum-navigation of Australia, starting and finishing in Sydney, so while we were sailing the same route as last year, this time we had several more port visits. We joined the ship at Darling Harbour, which meant that we had to sail under the Harbour Bridge on our way out, which made a spectacular start to the cruise. It seemed a tight fit under the bridge, and we were waved a away by several parties of climbers on the structure.

Approaching the coat hanger.
It made a great start to the cruise.

A tight squeeze.
And you can just pick out groups of climbers, waving madly.

Strangely, since the circum-navigation was clockwise, we turned left out of Sydney Heads and made for our first port at Newcastle. Nobody seemed to know why we started this way, but Newcastle turned out to be a pleasant stop. Like it's UK namesake, Newcastle has a reputation as an industrial town, but also like it's namesake, it was much nicer than I had been led to believe. The port and industrial areas are well upstream from the city, leaving the river mouth, it's beaches and parks quite untouched.

No, it's Newcastle, NSW

The walk out to "Nobbys".
Almost an island at the Hunter rivermouth, with lighthouse.

Fort Scratchley, Newcastle.
Built to keep out the Russians, apparently.

Newcastle rock.
It seemed to be trying to tell me something, but I couldn't quite make it out.

Nobbys, again.
As we sailed out.

Fort Scratchley.
And yes, that is a puff of smoke: they fired a three gun salute as we sailed past.

Bulk carriers outside Newcastle.
Huge amounts of coal are shipped from here.

Our second call was supposed to be at Batemans Bay, allowing access by road to Canberra, but apparently the port authorities there hadn't done all that they were supposed to to make the harbour suitable, and so the captain decided (at only a couple of days notice) to call at Eden instead. This was a disappointment to those who had wanted to see the national capital (been there, done that), but Eden was delightful. Here (and at Newcastle and Port Arthur) access to the shore was via the ship's tenders, but they came right into the little harbour among the fishing boast and Sammy the Seal.

The Volendam.
From the rear window of a tender.

Tender unloading at Eden.
Nice day!

Young fur seal in Eden Harbour.
It was hanging around a couple of fishers, waiting for any cast-offs.

Returning to the ship.
Very big from the waterline.

Welcome home!
The crew are very friendly.

After two overnight sailings (gently rocked to sleep) we now had an "at-sea" day on our way to Tasmania, which meant we actually had to work! Niall gave the first lecture to 300+ passengers in the Frans Hals cabaret room (he was into cabaret, old Frans). Our talks have been very well-received and the clientele is slightly different from our round-the-world cruisers last year. Still dominated by Americans (600+ out of the 1200-odd passengers), but more Australians, and perhaps more people inclined to come and talk about our subjects. We had dinner with a new group each night and a number of interesting conversations.

Maybe I will leave Tasmania for the next post.