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Post 16 - Sunday March 9, 2014

sunny 25 °C

Newcastle, Australia Town clock welcomes us on Sunday morning

We arrived at the outer harbour of Newcastle around 7:00 am and watched from our bed as the captain executed several delicate maneuvers to get the ship docked by 8:00 am. We later discovered that this was the Solstices’ first ever visit to Newcastle. Further this was the longest ship ever to dock in Newcastle harbour. By coincidence we had the pleasure to meet the recently retired Habour Master who had worked on the project to get Celebrity to make a stop here. He told us that our ship was about 15 meters (50 feet) longer than the maximum length that the harbour was designed for but they had run simulations and done other work to ensure that the harbour was indeed capable of handling the Solstice. The local authorities clearly were anxious to get our business and many people lined the shoreline as our huge ship slipped into the very pretty harbour. There were dozens of volunteers at the dock area to give us assistance and the local port authority had arranged to have shuttle busses at the dock area to shuttle us all the 10 minute ride to the city center.

Lord Mayor of Newcastle welcoming Solstice passengers on the occasion of the ships’ first visit to Newcastle

Solstice dominating the downtown skyline of Newcastle.

Newcastle is 160 km north of Sydney and is famous for its coal – it is the largest coal exporting harbor in the world. Most of the coal is mined about 100 km Northwest of Newcastle and brought to the port by rail. The port ships roughly 150 million tonnes (yes metric tonnes) of coal a year out of the port. That is a staggering volume of coal and ore-loading facilities line the harbour and ships are moving in and out of the harbour all the time. A little bit of the coal is used domestically but the vast majority is shipped to Japan, China and South Korea. We were told that with the advent of gas fracking in North America natural gas is replacing coal as a fuel in many industrial applications because the gas is much cheaper and much cleaner burning than coal. Therefore North American coal producers have been flooding the international markets with their surplus coal thusly dropping the prices of coal to a level where it barely pays to keep mining the product.

Large ore carrier being escorted into Newcastle to take on a load of coal for China or Japan.

Newcastle like so many Australian cities originated as a penal colony with convicts mining coal and also burning oyster shells for making lime. It remained a penal settlement until 1822 when it was opened to farming. In 1885 the largest soap factory in the southern hemisphere was built. (It is likely that soap manufacture was supported by the locally available lime.) Its products became famous winning international medals. The factory was sold after WW1 to Messrs. Lever & Kitchen – today known as Unilever and subsequently closed in the mid 1930’s.
Newcastle is roughly the same distance from the equator as Atlanta 33.4N. Our day was perfectly clear and the temperature a comfortable 25C which is dead on the average for March.

A beautiful Sunday morning in Newcastle, Australia

We were very pleasantly surprised by Newcastle. With a population of under 500,000 in the whole general area and only 150,000 in the city itself we anticipated a bit of a dingy coal town. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no evidence of coal anywhere except for the massive loading facilities that line the inner harbour. The city is bright, clean and vibrant with a beautifully restored waterfront lined with pedestrian friendly walkways and small cafés. The streets are tree lined and wide and the whole area looks quite prosperous. Unfortunately Newcastle suffered a serious earthquake in 1989 virtually destroying much of the industrial harbour area and leaving 13 people dead. But this destruction allowed them to rebuild the area in a much more people friendly way and today it is a model of people friendly urban development and industry living side by side. The waterfront has a large walkway that extends for several kilometers and was clearly a popular place as Sunday morning walkers and joggers jostled for position with the large number of tourists. The central business district is on a rising peninsula that sticks out into the ocean the sides of which are lined with spectacular beaches. Interestingly the old historic city centre did not suffer a as much damage as the port lands in the earthquake and it has a lovely collection of older 19th and 20th century buildings.

Spit of land extending out from the city center with Newcastle lighthouse at the end.

Another beach no more than 300 meters from central business district and 500 meters from previous beach

Christ Church Anglican Cathedral

On a hill overlooking the city and the Harbour entrance is historic Fort Scratchley. This Fort is the only coastal fort in Australia to have returned enemy fire during a war. In 1942 a German sub surfaced just outside the harbour and fired 20 shells into the port area. Fortunately the ammunition that the sub was carrying was very old ordinance and only 4 of the shells exploded causing only minor damage. The sub was located just behind a small coastal island and so close that it was difficult to return fire but they eventually did return fire and the sub fled never to return.

Historic Fort Scratchley

Historic Fort Scratchley and a WW II gun placement

Sadly our cruise portion of this trip is drawing to an end after 35 days of amazing weather, relatively calm seas and fascinating ports. We pulled out of Newcastle just as we sat down to dinner. Tonight the main stage theatre will feature the main singing and dance troupe as well as one of the visiting guests. We will get back to our cabins early as we have to place our checked luggage outside our cabins by 11:00 pm. The crew will take them to a lower deck where they will be taken ashore in the morning once we land in Sydney.
Tomorrow and the next day we plan on exploring the sights of Sydney before heading for home on the 12th. We’ll probably do one more blog post before heading home.

Our wonderful group of 8 Canadians (includes 2 Kiwi transplants) and 2 Kiwis. Last pre-dinner drink as we depart our last port – Newcastle, Australia.

Departing Newcastle harbour.

Posted by DavidandHazel 03:58 Archived in Australia

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David & Hazel,

We have followed these travel logs with great interest. I believe their may be a career awaiting as a writer of travel books for all of us who wish we were there with you.
We hope you continue both to enjoy your travels as well as sharing them so graciously with all of us!

by Doug Stewart

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