Day 58 Sydney Australia

Our last morning aboard the ship began early as we made our way to the decks before dawn to watch the sun rise as we slipped through the heads into Sydney harbour. Greeted by a crisp morning we finally got a chance to wear the coats we have carted halfway around the world.

We have certainly seen some magnificent countries and harbours on our trip but we were sure that our home city would rival anything we had seen – it didn’t disappoint. As the sun came up over our city we slowly made our way up the harbour, under the bridge with what looked like barely a metre to spare, and up along side our berth next to King St Wharf.

 Mum and Brian had kindly come in convoy with two cars to handle the obscene amount of luggage we had acquired and were patiently waiting as we disembarked fro the final time and made our way through customs. The children were over the moon to see nana and Brian bombarding them with all their news.

It was a great surprise to drive up to our home to find all the gardens beautifully cared for thanks to Laurie and John from the factory. Inside fresh flowers, milk, bread and dinner ready for the oven thanks to mum and a spotless house thanks to Lynn greeted us.

Poppy and Lachie, our Border Collies, were happy to see us but understandably suspicious. As soon as we unloaded the luggage from the car Poppy jumped in and would not move. The girls ran squealing with delight through the house excited at having some room to spread out. David stood in the front doorway, hands on hips, and then strolled casually about surveying everything before diving into his Lego box.

We had only just put the kettle on when Jodie, Mick and the kids arrived to welcome us a home with a freshly baked cake. All the kids were madly swapping stories and showing souvenirs giving us all a chance to catch up over a cuppa.

After a leisurely afternoon of reminiscing over the trip and a greatly appreciated home cooked meal of Indonesian chicken and rice thanks to mum we were all in bed early for a change.

Coming back to reality after such a long and exciting break was never going to be easy but it has been good to have the weekend to get things in some sort of order before the real chaos of school and work begins.

The chooks, which were having a holiday with mum and Brian, were very happy to be home. They had turned their small, temporary enclosure at mums into a dust bowl and were pecking like crazy when we let them out into the lush green grass. The dogs are slowly starting to trust us again but spend most of their time sitting by the front door incase we try to leave. The kids have well and truly trashed the clean house. Sitting down with a wine in hand at night, overlooking the scene, we remember the benefit of living in such tight quarters for the last two months. Although our tiny cabin got pretty messy at times it only took two minutes to tidy and make it feel like home.

We all feel extremely privileged to have had this amazing holiday and experience and it has been great that we could share it with our family and friends as we went along through this blog. We hope all who followed our trip got some enjoyment or even inspiration from our adventure and we are looking forward to catching up with you all soon.

Luke, Louise, Johanna, Alison, Danielle and David Ommundson

Day 53-57 At Sea Heading Home

 Our last 5 days at sea, making our way to Sydney from Darwin, has been a fantastic way to finish off this amazing journey we have been on. We are all so familiar with the ship and the staff that it really has begun to feel like home. Apart from the many friends we have made we have also formed some special friendships with our cabin steward, our dining room waiters and especially the kid’s club staff. The children have become very popular with all the staff on board, especially David, who finds him self having to give ‘high fives’ to all sorts of ship staff and crew where ever he goes.

We decided to give the kids a break from the schoolwork for the last leg of the trip and they have made the most of the extra time with many hours again spent around the pool and heaps of kid’s club activities. A favourite was the dissecting of dead squids then the removal of the ink to do some drawings.

The adults haven’t had to look far for entertainment with one of the high lights being a show by the one and only ‘Ugly Dave Grey’. Apart from losing the cigar he hasn’t changed and either have his gags – they were gold.

A boat building competition was held pool side using whatever materials that could be scrounged, ranging from old milk cartons to empty cigarette packs.

Simone entered the passenger karaoke competition, ‘Princess Idol’, and made it through to the finals. She was up against some tough competition and did a great job with her rendition of Olivia Newton John’s totally devoted to you.

Pool side Luke entered a bloke versus girls cocktail making competition and although it ended up in a draw everyone got to drink the creations.

The scenery during the day has been spectacular as we rounded Cape York less than 1km from the coast and made our way through the reef and the Whitsunday Islands.

Our second last night a huge party was held in the atrium of the ship with the theme being New Years Eve. A huge net of balloons was released from the high ceiling on top of us all at midnight which the kids thought was fantastic followed by dancing into the early hours.

The gym has also been given a good workout by Luke, Louise and Marloesje and we celebrated all the hard work and tips the great instructors have passed on with a small party for the regulars after our last boot camp class.

Our last dinner in the dining room with our friends Rommel and Vangie who have looked after us everyday was sad for the children who have grown very close to them. They will really miss Irene, Merlene, Jesse and Amy who have looked after them all as if they were there own children.

Day 52 Darwin Australia

Sailing into Darwin Harbour, our last port before returning home was definitely one of mixed emotions. Being a Saturday and docked close to the heart of the CBD we had decided to take in some sights outside the city. Luke, Louise and the girls set off by bus to Litchfield National Park while Chris, Elisabeth, Simone, Marloesje and David headed off to the Adelaide River to see jumping crocodiles.

 After a mini bus ride to the river they were dropped at a rickety old wharf where they then negotiated a narrow gangplank over croc infested water into a small flat bottom boat for their journey down the river. It wasn’t long before they spotted the first of many huge wild crocodiles in the water. The guides dangle chunks of buffalo meat over the edge and coax the crocs to leap out of the water. David was mesmerized by the sheer size of them and how close they were able to get.

Meanwhile after an hour and a half bus trip Luke, Louise and the girls arrived at Litchfield National Park. The park is a huge raised area in an otherwise flat landscape and is predominately a sandstone plateau. In the monsoon season the plateau soaks up and catches a lot of water. This then slowly seeps out through many natural springs that flow all year round into the surrounding plains. Apart from various palms, shrubs, small trees and grasses large termite mounds are everywhere. The two main types are called cathedral and magnetic.

The magnetic mounds are named due to their orientation as they are flat and wing shaped and orientate from north to south to take advantage of the morning and afternoon sun while minimizing the direct heat of the midday sun. The cathedral type is up to 5 metres high and 1.5 meters in diameter. Like ice bergs these structures have only one third exposed with twice as much below the ground surface. The mixture of saliva and dirt that the insects use to build these is so strong that locals collect the disused mounds with tractors and crush them for use as driveways or tennis courts.

After a brief stop at one of the several waterfalls in the park we made our way to one of the biggest waterholes. Fed by a spring and a spectacular waterfall the swimming hole is about 150 metres wide. As well as being home to a population of large native perch which swim around your feet there are warning signs about the freshwater crocodiles that sometimes inhabit the hole. Fortunately local park rangers regularly check the area to make sure it is safe.

After one and a half hours of swimming and sitting under the waterfall we headed to a nearby campsite for a BBQ lunch.

We had been looking forward to a thick, juicy top end steak but unfortunately it was the toughest piece ever encountered and we had to settle for salad and bread.

From here we were back on the road toward the city and after a drive by tour of Darwin city we arrived back at the ship in time to enjoy a sunset over Darwin Harbour with a cold beer.

Day 48-51 At Sea

After four jam packed days ashore we have all been looking forward to a break we have all been looking forward to a break while we make our way to our next port of Darwin. Following a south easterly course we have travelled through the Java Sea coming out into the Indian Ocean between Lombok and Bali. Once into the Indian Ocean the seas were very calm, almost carpet like, making wildlife spotting easier. Often large schools of tiny flying fish spring from the water and fly like small birds darting between swells before diving in up to 80 meters from where they took off. Dolphins are also easy to spot in the silky water with huge pods of them sometimes surfing the wake of the ship.The main ships we pass out here are those carrying live animals from Australia for export to Asia and other countries.

During this leg of the voyage we crossed the equator. It is a tradition on ships that those who have not crossed the equator by sea previously, known as ‘pollywogs’, must undergo a ceremony to commemorate the occasion. On our ship this involved some staff dressing up as King Neptune and his servants and then smothering some selected pollywogs in a mixture of jelly, spaghetti, custard, chocolate sauce and flour. This quickly turned into an all in food fight.

The children have been catching up on homework which they do reluctantly but with the promise of the rest of the day at the pool. Along with the regular movies under the stars we have some new entertainers on board including a ventriloquist called Dean Atkinson. He recently came second on the TV show Australia’s got talent along with his dog puppet.

We had a celebratory dinner to mark the news of the safe arrival of Tim & Renata’s new daughter Sasha born 7th October in America thanks to the kindness of the surrogate mother.

Another deck party was held with the theme being ‘wear what you bought’. Simone and Elisabeth dressed up in outfits bought in India and Egypt and entered the fashion parade competition only to be outdone by some guy wearing a latex mask of the Queen.

Luke headed to the on board casino with a friend to take advantage of the free lessons (and gaming chips) in the finer points of some of the games. Three card poker proved to be the most successful but he quickly bailed out when the free gaming chips dried up.

Afternoons are generally spent on the balconies of our rooms with a cold beverage and nibblies watching the sun disappear into the mist over the ocean before heading off to dinner. There is a pizzeria on board and the kid’s favourite nights involve a DVD and home delivered pizza in the room.

Day 47 Singapore

We arrived at our next port of Singapore and had decided once again to stay away from monuments, mosques and museums. Luke had pre booked a maxi taxi for an early pick up and by some miracle we were the first people off the ship. We were setting off for Singapore Zoo and had pre booked a special jungle breakfast and needed to get across the city pronto so the driver, who may have had an Indian background, did a great job in getting us there in time.

We arrived in time to see the elephants having there morning bath before we seated in a rainforest restaurant. This area is part of the orangutan display and these friendly animals joined us for a sumptuous breakfast. With the handlers standing by to resolve the odd dispute over fruit between the orangutans we were able to amongst them. After a very entertaining and informative start to the day we were ready to set off and explore the zoo.

Like many Sydney residents we wondered how any zoo could be much better than Taronga and were keen to see for ourselves. Its reputation didn’t let this zoo down and although the animals are pretty much the same as other zoos the environment is amazing. Set in a rainforest there is virtually no sign of fencing or cages and for most exhibits only water separates the animals from the public.

The scheduled shows were really well done with a play about deforestation involving about 10 actors and many animals starting off the day. The seal and penguin splash show was also good but the working elephant show was the highlight. Sitting in small huts around a small island the mahouts used their elephants to maneuver huge logs in and out of the water.

After visiting all the shows and taking the train around we set off on foot to explore the zoo. After making our way through most of the areas we made our way to a huge water park and play area located within the zoo. With water slides and pools galore the kids quickly wore off any remaining energy they had left. The timing for a massive rain down pour was perfect as we could supervise the kids from under cover with a coffee.

The zoo is situated on the banks of a man made reservoir used to supply the city with water and from the water park we caught a zoo boat back to the front of the zoo to meet our taxi.

We were hoping to visit the botanic gardens of Singapore but as we emerged into the afternoon peak traffic we quickly realized it would not be possible. Fortunately with the ship not leaving until late there was time to deposit the kids back at the ship and make a quick trip ashore on foot to a local eatery for dinner. Although the food on the ship is great it still doesn’t beat authentic fresh cooked local cuisine.

Day 46 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

Another early docking meant we could head off early to make the one hour journey from Port Kelang to the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Although it is a large city with heaps to see and do we decided not to travel far from one of the biggest attractions in the city – Petronas Twin Towers.

These 2 identical buildings joined by a walkway mid way up were feature in the Bond film Gold finger and are second in height to a tower in Dubai. At the base of the towers is a huge parkland with play equipment and water areas for children.

 So with the weather forecast not looking great for the afternoon we took advantage of the clear skies and let the kids go crazy in the park while we supervised from the shade with a coffee.

The kids only managed to get in trouble once from the uniformed “playground police” who patrol the area blowing their whistles if any one too big gets on the swings or in our case ate a lolly near the water. The police are also armed with large wooden battens which did get us wondering why many of the local children were playing so quietly.

Inside the huge shopping centre at the base of the towers is a science discovery centre with interactive displays, simulators and games. It was really well done and our entry started with a ghost train type ride into the start of the activities.

The kids didn’t know where to run first with exciting interactive games around every corner we came to. It was also aimed at adults with many physics type interactive puzzles and experiments. After nearly 3 hours of exploring we emerged again on the train ride back to where we started.

By this time the kids and adults were starving so we didn’t have to travel far inside this mega centre to find food from every corner of the globe.

With time getting away we only a short time before we had to meet the cab to get back to the ship so after a flying visit to a couple of shops we were on our way. It sound shocking to say it but we actually had a really good day inside a shopping centre.