A Travellerspoint blog

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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 Comments (1)


Post 17 - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

sunny 27 °C

Sydney Opera House – only commercial photo of the entire blog.

On Monday morning around 6:00 am another chapter of our trip wrapped up. Our beautiful ship that we have called home for the past 35 days sailed into the spectacular Sydney harbour. As dawn broke we slipped by the beautiful Sydney Opera House and slowly came to a stop between the Opera House and the magnificent Sydney Harbour Bridge. We then ever so slowly backed into the berth that we had left 17 days ago. We have now completed part 2 of our trip, the circumnavigation of the continent of Australia. Lord this is a big country, since boarding the Solstice more than a month ago we have now sailed just over 18,000 km on this ship, the equivalent of several trips across the Atlantic. We still have two days of exploring Sydney before our trip home.

Solstice backed into her berth in Sydney Harbour between the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House

Solstice backed into her berth in Sydney Harbour between the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House – picture taken on our first visit to Sydney 17 days ago.

Like any big city Sydney was already buzzing with activity by the time we were tied up at 7:00 am. We were up early and doing last minute packing of our luggage and then we went up to Deck 14 to the Ocean view Café for our usual breakfast and one final look around from this outdoor deck where we had had our breakfast almost every day for the past 5 weeks. Our group of passengers were scheduled to get off at 8:00 am so we gathered up our carry-on luggage and headed for the gangplank around 7:45 am. As usual the ship’s crew had the massive logistics well under control and we quickly exited the ship and picked up our luggage.

After a little confusion getting the remaining 6 of our group together we grabbed a cab and headed off to the Sydney Boulevard Hotel. After dropping off our luggage at the hotel we decided to spend our first day in Sydney exploring the Manly Beach area. Manly Beach is one of Sydney’s more famous beach areas and is located in a resort style suburb a fair distance from the city center. Sydney’s marvelous public transit system also has a number of large passenger ferries that take thousands of commuters from the suburbs to the city center. Sydney and the surrounding area is built around a series of bays and inlets all connecting to the main Sydney harbour. Commuting from a number of these suburbs is much better by ferry boat. The system is large and very efficient so we jumped on one of the ferries and headed off to Manley Beach. It was a glorious day with everything you would expect at a beach resort area.

The 30 minute ferry trip back to the city center was again a lovely boat ride on a nice warm sunny day. How can you beat that! The scenery along the ride was breathtaking. We spent the rest of the day sight-seeing around the downtown area and near our hotel. Dinner was at a nice little café near our hotel and for the first time in over a month we did not have evening entertainment..

Manly Island Ferry

Manly Beach

School group out on a field trip learning to surf

Sail training vessel near Manly Beach

Sydney Harbour from the Manly Island ferry

Sydney Harbour from the Manly Island ferry

Sydney skyline from the Manly Island ferry

Sydney Opera House from the Manly Island Ferry

Sydney skyline from the Manly Island ferry

View of downtown area of Sydney from our hotel room at the Sydney Boulevard Hotel. Note the Opera House in the upper left.

For our last day in Sydney we managed to get in two major sights, a guided tour of the Sydney Opera House complex and then across town to the Marine Museum. The Opera House Tour was a tremendous experience conducted by a very knowledgeable tour guide. The complex is massive and houses the Sydney Symphony, the Sydney Theatre, the Sydney Opera plus it houses many, many functions. There are 11 separate performing venues in the complex plus many meeting rooms. The story of the initial concept is one of vision and daring from both a political standpoint and an engineering standpoint. From original concept to finished product it took nearly 25 years. The inside structure is as equally impressive as the outside. Just over 8 million people visit the site every year making it one of the most visited buildings in the world.

Our intrepid group of 6 remaining Canadians outside the Sydney Opera House

Our group on one of the balconies outside the Opera House looking at Sydney Harbour Bridge

Inside the Opera House

Inside the Opera House

Inside the Opera House, looking out Sydney Harbour

Home of Sydney Symphony inside the Opera House

The white roof of the Opera House is made up of thousands and thousands of ceramic tiles

After a leisurely lunch we headed out on public transit for the Australian Marine Museum where we spent the rest of the afternoon going through several ships on display as well as a lighthouse and a square rigger working replica of Captain Cook’s original ship which charted many of the waters around Australia and New Zealand.

Our group having lunch on a patio near the Opera House

Australian Maritime Museum

Outdoor display area with 2 ships, a sub, a square rigger and a lighthouse

Working replica of Cook’s ship

Engine room (diesel generators) of the Oberon Class sub on display in the water outside the museum

On the deck of the submarine

After a long day of walking we made our way back to our hotel for our final dinner in Australia. During dinner we tried to pin down what was the highlight of the 43 days that we have spent in Australia and New Zealand? Everyone had their own special highlights. Some especially enjoyed the first few days of touring the coves and beaches of New Zealand’s North Island with our wonderful Kiwi hosts; others thought the day we spent on the ship touring the spectacular fiords and sounds of New Zealand’s south west coast; others enjoyed the beautiful city of Adelaide. Everyone agreed that the trip to Bali was instructional even if it did not live up to all the resort style pictures that we have seen in travel brochures. The Great Barrier Reef is truly a wonder of nature although our diving experience was less than ideal due to several days of heavy seas in the area which clouded the water and made the 50 mile tour boat ride out to the reef an unpleasantly rough experience for many. Everyone agreed that the port of Newcastle was the surprise of our voyage with the dozens of volunteers who greeted us at the landing port and at the city center. As we departed the port hundreds and hundreds of people lined the shoreline to toot their horns and wave good bye as our huge ship glided out of their lovely little city. Finally, there was Sydney, the beautiful cosmopolitan and diverse city on such a beautiful harbour. We also have to credit the weather for enhancing our experience greatly. Although we had a few showers overnight a couple of times only once did we actually get rained on for a few minutes while on a shore excursion. For the vast majority of our trip we had glorious sunshine day after day after day. We consumed more sun screen than the past few years combined. The true stars of our trip were the tremendously friendly and helpful people of Australia and New Zealand. Everywhere we went people were quick to identify that we were tourists and went out of their way to be helpful and friendly. We also experienced exceptional service and friendliness from the crew on the Celebrity Solstice. They truly went out of their way to make our trip more enjoyable.

We would like to thank our 8 travelling companions who provided many laughs and lots of good times with never an angry word exchanged. First Jan and Terry our expat Kiwis now living in Canada got the ball rolling by inviting their relatives Lee and Larry from New Zealand plus their Canadian friends Cal and Joan who in turn invited their friends Roy and Sue who we have cruised with in the past and who invited us. Also, thanks to everyone who read this blog and a special thanks to those who commented on the blog site or sent us emails.

Truly a trip of a lifetime, may all of you get a similar opportunity at some time. Until next time,

David & Hazel

Posted by DavidandHazel 00:44 Archived in Australia Comments (3)

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