Internet connection will be intermittent and definitely expensive for the duration of our expedition, so posts will be rather random.
Day 4. Wednesday 8 August.
With the airport on the close horizon, we were treated to a mostly sound display of noisy Air Force fighters and heavy transport planes taking off and landing in the dusk and dark. Fortunately the pilots had been given a curfew (probably by their mums) and were snug back in their beds at a reasonable hour. This slight distraction by the brave warriors training for our defence did not in any way detract from the meal, which was indeed as delicious as expected – or perhaps even better.
So today is in large part waiting to board, which is from 1530. A late check out and access to the baggage room allowed us a wander into the CBD. While there, a couple of ladies checking in as we checked out assured us the journey would be fantastic. The Ramada Zen Quarter hotel has been good to us – friendly staff throughout, good bed and pillows, good facilities and close proximity to the city centre by foot. T managed to slip a quick swim in before we got our taxi to the Fort Hill Wharf – a nice touch given the music played at SWUC a couple of times.
Needless to say, the process of boarding L’Austral was drawn out, but painless. We have joined 221 others on this trip, mostly Aussies, but some Kiwis, French, Japanese, Danish, English and British. Staff number 155, so a good ratio – better than at our schools! Once on board, we received the mandatory briefings on where everything is, security and safety, delivered in both French and English, introduced (aaargh) by the theme from The Love Boat. Departed Darwin at around 7 PM with a glorious sunset.
Dined a la carte and both chose the barramundi – three nights in a row! This version had a mussel sauce over it, which slightly overwhelmed the fish, but in a pleasant way. After dinner, some soloists provided music- while voices were good, they were unfortunately passed through a karaoke system, so were over whelmed by digital accompaniment.
The ship rocked and rolled a bit like we do these day – a gentle motion to each side and a bit of a sigh. Unlike us, it did it all night. D slept soundly, T less so.
Day 5. Thursday 9 August.
Headed into Indonesian waters for some bizarre requirement to make this an ‘international’ journey, with two Indonesian Customs officials on board, and our passports handed over for inspection, along with visa applications (the information supposedly copied from ours onto the form was incorrect, but we decided not to make a fuss). Interestingly, the two officials were still aboard when we left Indonesian waters and entered Australian ones.
Th morning was mostly taken up with briefings on safety, zodiac operations, and optional & included tours and then a lecture on the geology of the Kimberley, which was more geology 101 than specifically about this area. It was more interesting than the gentle snores of the elderly chap sitting next to us.
Lunch was a seafood buffet outside on the 6th deck, followed by a quiet snooze.
Our fellow expeditioners are an interesting demographic (average age 70?) and it seems from the few we’ve spoken to so far that quite a number might be regular cruisers. There have been some interesting life stories and experiences: but more interesting are the young staff members who have in their relatively short lives done such adventurous things. Danni is a scuba diver now living in Port Lincoln (born in Canberra, raised in Adelaide) whose main job is on a research ship investigating Great White sharks – having had stints in places like the Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic, & in South Georgia involved in feral animal eradication. Ri (Rebecca) is also a naturalist who has worked around Australia and in Mexico. They are both 30-something, at a guess. Lachie (or was it Toby?) is from Sydney and has taken off three weeks from his Honours year to be a staff member on this trip. There are 14 Expedition staff members, 13 of whom are youngish (compared to the guests) and with similarly interesting lives. Their brief introduction induced a slight feeling of envy for their lifestyle choices and opportunities. As our dining companion later commented’In our day, it was more like get a job and who cares about choice?’
The day was all blue…sky, sea, no land, no birds, no visible sea life, no other vessels and a different coloring at sunset.
Tonight was the Captain’s Gala Reception on the top deck. We stood around sipping Veuve Cliquot waiting for his welcome address, and introduction to key staff. The ship was rolling sideways through about 10 degrees (estimate – it might have been 2 degrees!) and quite a few folk needed to make an early exit. The pomp parade was reminiscent of the military lifestyle of our former life.
Dinner was a la carte in both restaurants for all tonight – there is a buffet most evenings in one. We were invited to join a table for 6 by a couple we’d met the night before – very surprised on getting there to discover that one of the others on the table was Dave Carpenter, who had been on the staff of Staff College at Queenscliff in 1985 when D was a student.
So we sailed on through the night, heading for Wyndham and a day of adventures – ours to fly over Purnululu NP and the Ord River. The briefing on Wyndham tells us it’s seriously dying; 11years ago we had experienced a very sad hamlet, perched on a muddy coastline , with the confluence of 5 big rivers. The rivers are still doing their thing, but since the demise of the live cattle export trade, there is nothing happening in the town. The port remains open for the two or three cruise ships, otherwise it’s a port for receiving diesel and ammonium nitrate.