Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Vanuatu and Fiji

Our day ashore in Port Vila was like going back in time. We had first visited over 40 years ago and not a lot seems to have changed. The fact that several recent cyclones have devastated the island in recent years has not helped. The way of life is simple and the locals friendly, despite the almost daily invasion of cruise ships. The tourism sector is obviously of great significance to the local economy.
From the moment that we went ashore, there were people selling either their goods or their services everywhere that you looked. The wharf was covered in market stalls and when we went outside there were more drivers of both vans and boats than there were people spilling off the ship. We opted for a local van into the commercial centre.
The food market with its local fruits and vegetables, along with the handicraft stores, was a highlight. We really wanted to buy a few of the gigantic avocados that ranged from less than 50 cents to a little over a dollar. We consoled ourselves with the thought that the price might fall by the time we arrive home!

                                         Great fresh fruit and vegetables. We eat lots of meat on the ship!

                                     They have these large avocados. Some were even larger!

The backdrop to the shops is the pretty harbour with water that can only be that colour in the tropics. All very unspoilt but still with damage from the cyclones present.
We did make a few purchases and helped the economy a little!

We are now in Lautoka in Fiji but have no photos. The best days are the islands with great swimming. At least this is acceptable wifi! Will have no more wifi before our return on 28th!
Will go back to previous blog and add a few more photos

Monday, March 19, 2018

New Caledonia

We sailed from Sydney Cove a little later than advised with the beautiful sights of the Opera House and the bridge.

We had a good chance to relax as the next two days were sea days and we did relatively little but we did meet some very nice people.  We managed to fit in lots of meals, drinks, a cooking demonstration and plenty of reading and sleeping.

Our first stop was in Noumea but being Sunday, lots of things were closed, including all the shops.  We caught the HOHO bus out to Anse Vata beach which is family friendly with rolling lawns to the edge of the sand, ripples rather than waves and plenty of shade provided by the coconut trees.

From here we walked around the headland to Lemon Beach where we met up with some of our dinner companions so joined them for lunch.  Lemon Beach is also a great place for swimming but a little harder on the feet.

On the beach at Anse Vata. Thanks Alex for the great bag. We can take all our things ashore in it.

At our first attempt to swim, the lifeguard directed us to move further down.  We had not been in the water very long when he loomed up on his jet ski and directed us to get out of the water.  We think he told us the water was polluted.  The water looked fine but there had been heavy rains a few days previously.

                                         Rest your head to look at this one! Rob at Lemon beach.

Our next stop was at Easo on the island of Lifou.  We took our snorkelling gear ashore on the tender as the ship was moored out in the bay.  It was a 5 minute walk across the island to Jinek Bay.  This is a marine park and “coral garden”.  The coral was very good with lots of colour and there were 2 underwater trails to follow.  The fish were plentiful and came in every colour of the rainbow.

                                               Great swimming spot! Coral and tropical fish.

After a few hours, we retraced our steps over the hill back to the main beach.  There was no sand – just crushed coral so it was very hard on the feet.  It was a long way out to reach water deep enough to swim and it was half way out to where the ship was anchored before you could see coral and fish.  We had made the right choice to snorkel at Jinek Bay.

                                                     Gail with our ship out in the bay

We are posting from Port Vila, having arrived this morning but we still have to explore this part of Vanuatu. Have enjoyed a local Tusker beer but going backwards with the photos so may try at next port to add extras

Thursday, December 14, 2017


We have spent the past few days in Kerala staying in Cochin. On the way we went on very winding roads and down from 2,000 metres to sea level. We had crossed India and reached The Bay of Bengal.
On the way we broke the journey to watch tea pickers, purchase tea, visit a church and look at a rubber plantation. With the stops and refreshments along the way we made it to Cochin.

                                                                      Tea plantation.

That night we attended a demonstration and performance of Kathakali at the Cochin Cultural Centre. We watched the application of make up followed by a demonstration of Nava Rasa or the nine expressions. Students study for many years to master the art. It is performed by an all male cast using the eyes, face neck and hands. There are no spoken parts. We were given details of the scene and loved the performance.

                                                     Application of make up.

                                                         The Nava Rasa demonstration.

                                                        Scene from the performance
                                                         You should see the videos!

                                                                      Curtain call.

We spent a day looking around the city of Cochin. Highlights included The Dutch Palace...built by the Portuegese, The church where Vasco Da Garma was buried...before being dug up and removed to Lisbon, The oldest Synagogue in India, Chinese fishing nets with methods introduced by Ghengis Khan, The Basilica and the local laundry! One highlight was a cooking demonstration and lunch presented by Nimmy an Indian chef. Good meal.

 Gail and Rob at the Dhobi Khann, established in 1720 for the washing of the Dutch military uniforms. We should have taken along our dirty clothes!

On our final full day we drove to the Kerala Back Water to Aleppazha and went for a long trip on the waterways. It was a relaxing day with friends with lunch being served along the way. We had one short stop to buy "toddy" We shared it around!

                                            A pleasant relaxing final day.

We had a great final dinner at Vivanta, A Taj hotel. Pure class!
We fly out tomorrow at about 11.00pm so packing and possibly a little shopping before the two hour trip to the airport.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Periyar Elephant Camp

With no elephants in the nature reserve, we stopped off at the elephant camp for a ride. The mahouts were kind and the elephants enjoyed the banana treats. We found it rather difficult but an enjoyable experience.

                                           Gail and Rob on Larda. She was very beautiful.

At the end of the ride we gave Larda some treats and the four of us posed for photos.

Larda brought her trunk down to rest on our heads. Gail purchased extra elephant pants for the occasion.

We tried to put on a video but it is too large.

In the afternoon we went for a walk in the Nature Reserve. We had a guide who said that he had not seen a tiger in 5 years. There are only about 40 and the National Park covers about 1000 sq. Kilometres. A pleasant walk with trees, orchids, birds and animals.

The male Bee Catcher.

The beautiful Teak Forest. They don't need guards for the elephants but they do have armed guards at night to protect the Sandalwood Trees.

Gail and Rob with a forest giant with character. We are both wearing our anti leech socks.

Samba deer.

Water buffalo. We did see one at the lake along with wild boar.


Periyar National Park

It was a long drive through the Western Ghats and around the hairpin bends of the Cardamon Hills to reach The Periyar National Park.

We had a few brief stops along the way. This one was so that the bus driver could purchase a talisman to ward off the "evil eye" for the front of the bus.

This pretty stop was a "Dhobi Wallah" camp. Great spot to do the washing just below a waterfall.

Crossing into Kerala we went tbrough the busy border and were soon into  Idukki, our base for a visit to The Periyar National Park. It is home to tigers, elephants and many animals and birds.
We managed to fit in a visit to a spice garden and do some shopping in the local markets.

                                                    Jackfruit. These are just small ones!



I*n the morning we had an early start to ride on a boat around the shores of Lake Periyar.  We did see monkeys before departing and beautiful birds but except for a distant wild boar and water buffalo that was it! No tigers drinking at the edge of the lake and no elephants bathing in the morning light. It was nice scenery!

We were on the boat on the far left. The morning mist did lift but not till the wildlife had resumed hiding.

                                      We watched the monkeys as we waited for the boat.

With no elephants or tigers we will move to birds! They were very interesting but not as good as the earlier sightings that we have shared.

                                               The beautiful White Breasted Kingfisher.

                                                     A Snake Necked Cormorant.

                                                           An eagle with young.

                                                    Cormorant drying its wings.

                                                             Another kingfisher.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Chettinad's Palaces and Madurai's Shiva Temple

We set out for Madurai one of the most significant places we would visit. We went first to Chettinad, land of the Chettiars that dates back to the Chola period. We saw old palaces and mansions but the place had known better days!

Along the way we drove on many minor roads. At times the road had been taken over as a good spot to dry the maize crop. We also had a stop at a coconut fibre rope maker. We have seen this still in use!
Yet another stop was at a tiny plant manufacturing tiles in a "backyard" factory.

This was the best preserved of the mansions and palaces in this forgotten city. We drove along tiny narrow streets and lanes to explore the old houses.

Lunch was welcome as the area is well known for its food. We were at the Bangala and had a banana leaf lunch.

                                                          Saves on the washing up!

                       The hotel was delightful and would be a very pleasant place to stay.

Our final visit for the day was the Ghandi Museum. This was a lot of information boards but also some interesting artifacts including his dhoti from when he was killed and sandals. No photos allowed.

The next morning we first visited the Thirumalainaicker Royal Palace. Built in 1636 with Italian architects, only one quarter remains today.

Influences from the Arab and British as well as the Italians and Indians.

Our main visit was to Meenakshi Temple or Madurai or Mother Temple. This is a Shiva Temple and is believed to be where Shiva married his wife Sree Meenakshi. It is 2000 years old and is a city within a city.

The main gate as you approach. It is very strict and you cannot take cameras, bags or lots more and have a body search prior to entry.

                                                       Close up of detail.

                                                    Taken from a rooftop nearby.

The temple is excellent. We may try to add some internal photos at a later point as you were allowed to use cameras in mobiles. Lots of the rules don't make much sense! We spent hours at the temple before shopping in the local bazaar and then returning to our hotel for a late lunch.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Chola Bronzes and the Brihadisvara Temple

We had seen some super early bronzes but no photos. Often you pay an extra fee to take photos. At the Maratha Palace we saw another priceless collection of Chola bronzes and stone carvings.

                                                                 A stone carving.

                                                         More works in stone.

                     This Shiva figure dates from the 11th century, Each part has a special meaning.

                                                  A 14th century bronze. Excellent detail.

At the Brihadisvara Temple, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, we had another great visit. At this temple they are not as strict with the dress code.

                                                     The wonderful entry gate.

                                                      A friendly group of pilgrims.

                                                        Sun sets over the temple.

The figure looks like an European but the temple was built long before the Portuguese arrived.

                                     We departed as the gate glowed under the setting sun.