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Melbourne

Feb 14, 2014

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Welcome to Melbourne

Melbourne is the second largest city in Australia with 4.2 million Melburnians. Although it is about the same distance from the equator as San Francisco, it is known for its changeable weather conditions due to its location on the boundary of very hot inland areas and the cold southern ocean. The day for us was in the low 20’s with a significant haze partially caused by the smoke from the massive bush fires they have been having further inland.

Melbourne was recently rated the world’s most livable city as well as the 5th most expensive city in the world to live in. Its initial growth and prosperity resulted from the gold rush of the mid-1800s. Since the mid-1990s it has maintained significant population and employment growth. It was the least affected of the Australian cities by the world financial crisis of 2008. Currently more new jobs are created here than in any other Australian city. Its property market remained strong resulting in historically high property prices and widespread rent increases. From what we could see housing prices are very similar to the sky high prices of Toronto as signs abounded offering “deals” on the latest new mini condo at $399,000 to $499,000.

Car prices are similar to Canada with a low end Suzuki sub compact being advertised for $14,999. A Toyota Camry look alike was advertised for $25,999. There are a good number of Nissans and Hondas as well. High end cars are popular with Mercedes probably being the most popular followed by Audi. There are also quite a few Lexus but BMW has not penetrated this market like it has in North America. Like Europe, smaller cars are the norm with Toyota clearly dominating the market. The only North American cars we have seen are Ford sedans that look like our Fusion. There are very very few SUVs and those that are here are mostly smaller Honda CRVs, Suzukis or at the high end the big Land Rovers or big Toyotas. Motorcycles are primarily scooters and mid size sport bikes. There are a few Honda or Yamaha cruisers and the very odd Harley Davidson cruiser. We have yet to see a full dress tourer of any brand. Fuel prices in Australia are a bit higher than Canada with regular grade fuel being advertised at $1.46 per liter. In New Zealand fuel was very expensive at $2.15 per liter.

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Solstice tucked behind 2 other ships at St. Kilda Pier

After breakfast we left the ship which was docked at the pier at St. Kilda, a beach dominated suburb of Melbourne. Melbourne city center is about a 20 minute drive but luckily the Hop On Hop Off bus has a stop just a short distance from the pier. We were able to catch the bus and take a double tour which took us all around Melbourne and then back along St. Kilda’s Beach to the pier.

Melbourne is big and bustling with lots of commercial activity going on and the ever present construction cranes dotting the skyline.

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Melbourne Sky Scrapers and cranes

Although there are lovely historical areas of the city much of the development in the city has taken place over the past 25 years so much of the city looks quite modern.

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Mixture of old and new buildings

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Towers and Condos

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The Eureka Building – Melbourne’s tallest tower

Planners have done a great job as streets are fairly wide and well laid out. Many streets are tree lined and often they have center boulevards which are also tree lined even in fairly busy commercial areas.

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Street – with trees from bus

There is an abundance of public transit infrastructure with many LRT lines running on their own right of ways or down the center of major street right of ways. There is also a tram system with old looking trams which may even use the same rails as the LRT, not sure about that as there are so many rail lines embedded in so many of the major streets. In addition there are a good number of diesel powered busses.

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Transit tracks from bus

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Electric tram

The only disadvantage of their transit system is that most of the vehicles are electric and they get their electric power from overhead wires so there is a spider web of overhead wires everywhere. You’ll see evidence of those wires in many of our pictures. The good side of all this transit is that even in the commercial core of Melbourne, although busy, it is not clogged bumper to bumper with cars creeping from traffic light to traffic light. Traffic planners here have also made generous use of traffic circles or roundabouts in the less densely populated parts of the city which are extremely efficient at keeping traffic moving. City planners also did a nice job of locating a number of lovely parks so there is a green feel to many parts of the city. Although with the recent heat and drought much of the ground cover is very brown.

Australians love their sports and there were a number of large sports complexes around the city – one for cricket, another for rugby, a large swimming complex and the Rod Laver Arena

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Rod Laver Arena

After a great overview of this lovely city, we returned to have a late lunch on the back deck of the ship.

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We cast off our multiple lines just as we sat down to dinner at 6:00 pm ship’s time. The Melbourne outer harbour is very large so we were still following marker lights and changing course three hours later as we headed out to the open southern ocean around 9:00 pm.

Saturday we woke up to cool (17C) hazy skies and calm seas but there was a significant long rolling swell running at about 10 feet or three meters according to the morning announcement. For the boaters in the crowd the swell was catching us on the starboard aft quarter so induced a fair gentle roll on the ship making many of us walk down the corridors looking a bit drunk. A number of people had motion sickness patches on today and a few put on the arm bands. None of our hardy team of experienced cruisers felt it necessary to take precautionary measures against sea sickness although we brought patches with us. This was a sea day as we steamed towards Adelaide. It was a day of learning: we attend seminars on cooking, forensics and local sea life and more specifically on Shaaaks as they pronounce it in Australia. There are three Professors on board who give presentations on a variety of topics every day we are at sea. This is a nice feature that we have experienced on other Celebrity ships we have sailed on. Sea days are really just a series of pauses between wonderful meals. We are all getting pretty good at pacing ourselves with regard to food and drink which is a true challenge on these all inclusive cruises where all food and drink (except the most exotic alcohols and wines) is included in the fare.

Next post - Adelaide

Posted by DavidandHazel 18:05 Comments (0)

Adelaide

Feb 16, 2014

overcast 20 °C

Adelaide is Australia’s 5th largest city with a population of over 1.2 million Adelaideans and is located on the Gulf St Vincent in front of the low-lying Mount Lofty Ranges. It is about the same distance south of the equator as Los Angeles is north of the equator. It was founded as a freely settled British province rather than a penal colony.

We didn’t dock in Adelaide itself but rather at the Outer Harbour near Salisbury about 30 km out of town. Once we tied up a band started to play to welcome people walking across the gangplank.

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Again they had busses arranged for us to get into town and we took the commuter train back. Once on land we were greeted by a large number of friendly volunteers who helped us to find our way to the busses and into town.

Adelaide is a planned city on a grid layout with wide boulevards and large public squares and its city centre is entirely surrounded by parkland. It strikes you immediately as a beautiful city which is clean, friendly and seems to have excellent public transit infrastructure with both busses and LRT on their own right of way in many areas.

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Street scene showing wide streets, street cars and old and new buildings

After getting off the shuttle bus in front of the city center train station we walked along one of the main streets past the Parliament of South Australia
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A memorial to Soldiers who fought in WW1
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The Museum
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The Art Gallery
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We reached an area occupied by the Univeristy of Adelaide with many old and new campus buildings.
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Campus Map showing the large number of buildings in the area.

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We then came to the Botanic Gardens
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Dave in front of the Botanic Gardens

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Lotus Garden

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Water Lily Garden

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Museum of Economic Botany

Adelaide ranks highly in terms of liveability. Despite its very large and vibrant University, the average of its citizens is higher than other Australian cities with more than 27% of its population being 55 or older. It has generally lower average income and much lower housing costs than Sydney and Melbourne. Many of the houses we saw outside of the city centre were quite small by our standards and mostly bungalows on very small lots with fences being a common and prominent feature. Everything was neat and tidy. Most of the roofs were metal or concrete or clay tile – we have yet to see asphalt shingles on a roof in this country.

After our extended walk we returned back to the Library to download a couple of blog issues we had prepared earlier and to check our e-mail from home. We then walked back to the downtown train station to catch the commuter train back to the Outer Harbour area where our ship is tied up.

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Adelaide Train Station

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Hazel, Roy, Sue, Cal and Joan waiting for the train.

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Joan Hazel and Sue in a very crowded train car.

We had our usual cocktail before another wonderful dinner

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Hazel in the Ensemble Lounge with the first umbrella drink of the cruise

The next 2 days were sea days and therefore there were lots of activities offered on the ship to keep us busy and entertained. One outstanding one was a buffet brunch offered in the Grand Eperrnay Restaurant (main dining room).

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Brunch in the Grand Epernay Restaurant

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Ice Carvings with 2 spectacular vegetable carvings at each side

We sailed westwards (heading of 275 degrees for our sailing friends) all along the Great Australian Bight (a bend in the coast which forms a giant open bay) off the southern edge of the Australian continent. It is sometimes considered part of the Indian Ocean but the Australians consider it to be part of the Southern Ocean. The coastline is the longest ice-free east-west coastline in the Southern Hemisphere. Probably because the waters are relatively shallow, we sailed well south of land (probably 300-400 km off shore) and could not see the spectacular coastline which is characterized by cliff faces up to 60 m high, surfing beaches and rock platforms.

Next stop - Esperance

Posted by DavidandHazel 20:23 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Esperance

Feb 19, 2014 to Feb 20, 2014

sunny 21 °C

Esperance is located on the Great Australian Bight towards the western end of the south coast of Australia. Near the town itself are numerous beaches, offering surfing, scuba diving, and swimming. Esperance is most noted for its coastline and has been voted one of Australia's best beaches, Australia's whitest sand and Western Australia's most popular beach.

We had to tender in as the harbour and dock were far too small for a ship the size of the Solstice.

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2 of the 6 Tenders

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Solstice from the Esperance Pier

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Dave

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Shire Sign

Esperance is a very small (14,500 people) and quaint town which seems to have come to the world’s attention in 1979 when pieces of the space station, Skylab, crashed onto Esperance after the craft broke up over the Indian Ocean. (Skylab had been launched in May 1973.)
Skylab's demise was an international media event, with merchandising, wagering on time and place of re-entry and nightly news reports. The San Francisco Examiner offered a $10,000 prize for the first piece of Skylab to be delivered to their offices. 17-year-old Stan Thornton scooped a few pieces of Skylab off the roof of his home in Esperance and caught the first flight to San Francisco, where he collected his prize.

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Skylab model

The other interesting story concerns the fact that the municipality fined the United States $400 for littering when pieces of Skylab landed in their area. The fine was paid almost 30 years later in April 2009, when radio show host Scott Barley of Highway Radio in Barstow, California, raised the funds from his morning show listeners, travelled all the way to Esperance and paid the town leaders the $400 fine on behalf of NASA and the government of the people of the United States of America.

While we were in Esperance we learned that the best Wi Fi was at the Target store at a local shopping mall. We and a number of our fellow passengers and crew members headed over to what has to be the smallest Target store in the world and sat in the mall hallway downloading our messages from home and updating this blog. While picking up a T-Shirt in the Target store we struck up a conversation with a young sales clerk. She was fascinated that we were from Canada and told us that they loved our accent! At the end of our chat she looked at us very earnestly and discretely asked “how big is a moose?” Amazing what interests each of us about another country.

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Wi Fi hot spot in front of the Target store

We have one more sea day before landing in Perth which is the end of the first cruise and the start of the second one which will take us around the rest of Australia up to Indonesia and back to Sydney. Just over 800 of the passengers on this first cruise are doing the same as we are and combining the two back to back cruises into one long cruise. Many of the North Americans on board thought like we did that the offer on the combined cruise was too good to pass up and if we are going to come this far on the plane we might as well stay for the full 35 day cruise. There are a good many passengers on board from Ontario and we are all delighted to be missing the frigid weather back home. In fact there is a group of over 100 people on board who are with a travel group (Bradley Walters) from the Waterloo Region. We often stop by and check out their bulletin board as they usually have the weather report for Southern Ontario. The ship also publishes a daily 4 page Newsletter for a variety of regions such as Canada, US, Britain, France, Germany and Australia. The newsletter gives the weather, major news stories, financial markets and sports scores for each of the specific regions.

Posted by DavidandHazel 23:32 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Perth and Fremantle

Feb 21, 2014 to Feb 23, 2014

sunny 25 °C

Special thanks to all of you who have left comments on our blog site. It is great to hear from home and we appreciate your comments on various aspects of the blog. We are also open to all suggestions as to what you might like to see more or less of. As we have already mentioned we have to keep things fairly tight as Wi Fi speeds are painfully slow on board ship and we buy our internet time by the minute which can be as much as 75 cents a minute depending on what bulk package of minutes we choose to buy.

Perth in Western Australia is the fourth most populous city in Australia, with an estimated population of 1.9 million living in Greater Perth. It became known worldwide as the "City of Light" when city residents lit their house lights and streetlights as American astronaut John Glenn passed overhead while orbiting the earth on Friendship 7 in 1962. The city repeated the act as Glenn passed overhead on the Space Shuttle in 1998.

We docked in Fremantle which is in the greater Perth area. When we docked we experienced the first really warm weather of this cruise. Here, summers are generally hot and dry, lasting from December to late March, with February generally being the hottest month of the year. By the look of the grasses this summer has been especially dry as everything looks brown and sun burned. Perth is about the same distance from the equator (although south of it rather than north) as El Paso, Texas. On most summer afternoons a sea breeze, known as the "Fremantle doctor", blows from the southwest, providing relief from the hot north-easterly winds. Perth is the sunniest of the major cities with an average of 3,000 hours of sunshine a year. The nearest city to Perth with a population of more than 100,000 is Adelaide, South Australia, which is 2,104 kilometers (1,307 mi) away. Author Bill Bryson states that Perth is the most remote city on earth. It is about 5 hours of flying time from Sydney to Perth.

Perth was the official end of the first cruise and the start of our second. Although there are over 800 of us who are doing this as one cruise it is officially treated as two cruises by the cruise line. This meant that about 2000 passengers would be leaving the ship today and another 2000 would be boarding to join us. The ship had done an excellent job of having the 800 of us “continuing cruisers” clear Customs & Immigration a couple of days ago while at sea. They have Australian Customs and Immigration officials stay on board the ship and while we are at sea they process our passports. If there are any issues they just call us on the PA system. What a great idea, far superior to what we have experienced in the US when doing back to back cruises where they require us to get off the ship, be processed all at one time by Customs and Immigration and then go through Customs & Immigration and re-board the ship again.

For us “continuing cruisers” we just had to close out our onboard accounts for the first cruise and open a new account for the second cruise. This required that we also had to be issued new “sea passes” – the plastic credit style card which acts as everything from door key to charge card while on board. The ship is a totally cash less operation. Anything you purchase on board from drinks to clothing is charged to your sea pass card. $12.50 per person per day is automatically added to your bill every day for tips, which you are free to reduce or increase by going to the front desk. At the end of the cruise everything is totaled up and a statement is sent to your room on the last day. Unless there is a dispute the total amount is then charged to the credit card which you gave them at the start of the cruise. You can also check your account any time on your interactive TV in your room.

After breakfast the 800 of us “continuing cruisers” were quickly processed on one of the top decks of the ship to keep us clear of the 2000 newbies who were being processed in the cruise terminal and who would be allowed to start loading around 11:00 am. Our own situation was complicated a bit as we also had to move rooms between the two cruises. This was because when we booked the cruise 8 months ago there were no staterooms left that were clear for both cruises. Rooms are immediately assigned when the booking is made. This allows early bookers to pick and choose their favourite rooms as some rooms in each class are preferred by experienced cruisers. We are finding that the cruising veterans often book more than a year and even longer in advance. The cruise lines also offer some pretty attractive perqs for those who book a year or more in advance.

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After a leisurely breakfast on the aft deck on a beautiful sunny morning we returned to our old rooms to await moving assistance from our cabin steward. We only had to pack what was in the drawers and then our cabin steward simply took everything out of our closets on hangers, hung them on a trolley and moved them to the new room and hung them up in the new closet in the new stateroom. By 10:00 am we were unpacked and settled in our new stateroom and ready to head ashore to explore Fremantle and Perth. We departed through a large and well organized passenger terminal.

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Stateroom

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Port of Fremantle Passenger Terminal

Once outside of the air conditioned building the heat settled on us and we thought of all of that snow back home and had a “Finally – Heat!” reaction. All too soon we were looking for shade from the blistering sun and the 30C temperature. Right outside the terminal we found an “hop on hop off” bus and proceeded to explore Fremantle which is an interesting old city.

We saw

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The Fremantle Railway Station

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A lovely old church

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The Fremantle Jail

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Jail walls

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Typical Fremantle street scene

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Western Australia Museum Shipwreck Galleries

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The National Hotel

We stopped at the Monument Hill Memorial Reserve
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Which recognized those who served in both of the great wars.

After a stop in the center of town to have a look in some of the shops, we decided it was too hot to spend much more time outside, so found the hop on hop off bus and returned to the ship for a late lunch.

The ship sailed with its new set of passengers which now includes Jan and Terry, friends of Joan and Cal who flew in from Toronto and joined us in Perth. We were able to arrange a table for 10 for dinner with the original 6 along with Jan and Terry and a New Zealand couple, Lee and Larry. (Lee is Terry’s sister for those of you who are trying to keep track of this diverse group!)

At 10:00 pm sharp we moved away from the big pier and made our way out of the Fremantle harbour.

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View from our balcony as we move out of Fremantle harbour

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View of the mid ship open air pool deck first night out from Perth

The next two days were spent at sea as we moved northward towards the equator up along the west coast of Australia. Our next port of call, Port Headland, is roughly 800 km away on Australia’s northwest coast so the captain applies a little bit more speed and we are now travelling at an average speed of 17 knots which is roughly 25 km/h. Again we have calm seas (3-5 feet and no chop) and sunny skies both days with mid-day temperatures of 30+. In order for the ship to be allowed to operate the Casino and the Duty Free Shops we are travelling just outside the 12 mile limit so we can frequently see the outline of the coast line in the distance. As we move further north from Perth the population density declines rapidly and we see unusual place names on the map such as “Useless Loop.” Unlike the first half of the cruise the weather has rapidly warmed up and the humidity is rising making it a bit of a cooker on deck. We have also lost the strong cool breezes which we have had for the previous two weeks. The wind is now directly behind us at the same velocity as the ship is travelling so it is hot and calm on deck so we find ourselves spending more time on the inside of the ship attending various events and seminars and even catching the odd afternoon nap. Our first sea day ends with a formal night in the main dining room, one of three formal nights on this second phase of the cruise. Formal nights are a hotly debated feature on most of the cruise lines with advocates both for and against making their points vigorously in various cruise related publications. The rest of us just pack a few dressy items and comply. I must admit it does look nice with everyone dressed up on the evenings. Dress code for the dining room on the remaining evenings is dressy casual so everything from dressy spots wear to elegant cruise wear.

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Seven of our travelling group ready for our first of three formal nights on phase 2 of the cruise

FOR THE SECOND TIME THIS TRIP WE HAVE TO STOP THE PRESSES FOR EVENTS FROM SOCHI

The Canadian men’s hockey team was playing for Gold this evening and the word was out that the game would be carried live on the multi-screen TVs in the Casino Bar. So right after dinner a group of about 20 Canadians showed up at the Casino Bar to watch Canada take gold with a shutout victory. It was a great evening with loud cheers every time Canada scored and groans when the opponents took shots on the Canadian goal. One couple had the foresight to bring two Canadian jerseys and a big Canadian flag which the bar staff quickly decorated the bar with. Then the couple insisted that the bar tenders wear the Canadian jerseys for the evening. The ship’s HR Manager, Shannon, is a big hockey fan from the Halifax area (home to Sydney Crosby) and she treated everyone in the bar to a round of drinks as the game got started. That set the mood for a wonderful fun filled evening of Canadian camaraderie culminating in the win to wild cheering and a boisterous singing of the national anthem while other passengers looked on or joined in on the celebration. What a great way to wrap up the Sochi games, watching the Canadians win hockey gold on this beautiful ship cruising through the Indian Ocean at the Northwest corner of Australia. We will remember this wonderful trip for many reasons, this evening of fun and camaraderie with our fellow Canadians will certainly be one of them.

A special shout out to our friend Michael Landsbury who is a freelance TV Director and who was the TV Director of the television feed from Sochi for the Olympic Figure Skating. Great job Michael, congratulations to you and your crew for wonderful coverage. Once again you have shown the world how great figure skating TV coverage is done.

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Hockey Night on the Indian Ocean on the Celebrity Solstice

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Our bartender in a Canada jersey – honourary Canadian for the evening

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A bottle of Canadian Club holding up the Canadian flag in our bar.

Posted by DavidandHazel 19:17 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Port Hedland

Feb 24, 2014 to Feb 25, 2014

sunny 35 °C

Port Hedland is barely a dot on even a local map but it has a natural deep anchorage harbour and is the closest port to Australia’s giant iron ore mines which are about 200 km inland from Pt. Hedland. These two features have resulted in Pt. Hedland being the highest tonnage port in Australia as there is a non-stop line of huge ore carrier ships moving in and out of the port. The entire port is just a series of giant automated ore loading facilities. Of the eleven ships in port when we tied up nine were ore carriers. We were the only cruise ship and there was a small self-loading freighter behind us. . The nine ore carriers in the inner harbour area were all being loaded with giant movable conveyors. The inner harbour was a busy place with multiple tugs always moving an ore carrier into place or guiding one out. The local Pilot boats were constantly going back and forth and in the larger outer harbour area we counted 30+ ore carriers at anchor waiting to be guided into the inner harbour and loaded with ore. These are not the small ore carriers that we see on the Great Lakes but giant ocean going carriers that they load so full you would think that even a small wave would wash right up and over their decks.

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Tugs moving bulk carrier

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Tug docks

This entire area is built around the shipping of iron ore. The mine site is actually some 200 km inland and the ore is brought in by massive purpose built trains that are 2 to 3 km long. Each train consists of roughly 200 rail cars which travel on dedicated rail lines. They are powered by 2 to 4 locomotives which are located in the centre of each train. Once they arrive in Pt. Headland the trains move through giant unloading sheds where the entire car is tipped dumping its load onto giant conveyors which transfer the ore onto other conveyors which in turn dump the ore into the holds of the ships. Once the ship is loaded it is quickly moved out and is on its way to China, India, Indonesia and other industrial countries.

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Multiple automated iron ore loading facilities

We also noted that there was some salt being stockpiled. In the past there was a fair sized industry here flooding areas with sea water, allowing it to evaporate and collecting the resulting salt. Although still present it appears that this is now a very small part of the local economy.

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Salt piles

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Salt in front of iron ore loading facilities

By the time we were able to get off the ship just before 11:00 it was already blisteringly hot at 31C or 91F. Since we were docked in a very active industrial port area security was fairly tight and we were not permitted to walk around the pier as we have done in other ports where the pier is built for passenger traffic. The cruise line had arranged large air conditioned busses to take us into the town of Port Hedland – population 14,000. Although it was not a great distance, the temperatures were not something you wanted to experience for too long.

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Busses waiting for ship’s passengers

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Sue and Roy on the Bus

We disembarked in town and walked around to try to find some Wi Fi to check in with family and friends at home. The 2 suggested places – the town Visitors’ Centre and the Seafarers’ Centre were both hopeless and crowded with dozens of people all trying to log into a woefully inadequate wireless hotspot. We have found this to be fairly typical in the smaller centers. So we continued to explore the village. Very shortly we found a beautiful old building – the Esplanade Hotel which had a large, cool, empty lobby and a friendly receptionist who gladly gave us the passwords to excellent, free, Wi Fi. What a find! So we not only checked email and uploaded our previous blog and pictures but we did all sorts of things like check our home thermostat (it tells us the inside house temperature), check Facebook and read the Toronto news to discover that John Tory has announced that he will be running for Mayor. We were also able to check our home security cameras to see what is happening at home. By the looks of all the snow we think we need to stay here for a few more weeks.

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Esplanade Hotel

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Joan, Sue and Cal in the Lobby of the Esplanade Hotel

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Dave checking his e-mail

After our session on the internet we did a bit more exploring of the village and finally headed back to the busses which would ferry us back to the ship. By now it was early afternoon and the temperature had risen to 100F (39C). While exploring the village we noticed some unusual overhead structures and quickly discovered that they were intended as sun shades. This area is clearly geared to almost constant very hot and sunny weather year round.

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Shade structure built over the sidewalk on the sunny side of the main street

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Solstice at dock from Port Hedley

We noted a tallish structure which is visible from most places in town. It is the Leslie and Airey Rear Navigational Aids Tower, commonly (and humourously) called the “Tower of Dreams”. Because the port is so busy all of the ship traffic is handled very similar to an airport control tower.

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Leslie and Airey Real Navigational Aids Tower

We returned to our ship to cool off. We saw these very proud fishermen from our upper deck

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Catch of the day

As we gathered for a pre-dinner drink in the Ocean View Bar

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Terry, Dave, Jan, Joan, Cal, Sue and Roy

We saw ore carriers at anchor in the outer harbour waiting their turn to be escorted in to a berth and be loaded.

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Posted by DavidandHazel 22:07 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

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