North NZ, Sydney, Melbourne - Cyclones, Sails and the not so Snowy Mountains

The Pacific is so beguiling that for this and other reasons, we have
decided to spend another year here, cruising the Solomon Islands (+/- 100 miles E of Papua  NG, includes
WW2 Guadalcanal, diving, very basic way of life ) in late 3rd/4th Quarter
2006, before proceeding through Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand in 2007,
and to the Med in 2008. The full updated schedule, which also allows one of us to be
back in UK July 2006 for James graduation, is now on the website (with new photos of
NZ and Australia). Email if you are interested in joining Intrepid for any part of
all this adventure.

After a great time on Sue and Eric's farm, we decided to restrict ourselves
to the north island  NZ is about the size of UK, so this is like 'only' touring England!  New Zealand
lies from 46S  up to 34S (Sydney is also 34S), a far cry from
London's 52 degrees N up to 59N in Scotland, so in mid March in far north NZ
it was quite hot, although the cold fronts continued from
the SW.

Whilst on the farm, we learned an intriguing point about bulls.
It appears that the most common injury to a bull is to....well, his penis -
after all he has to service 50 cows..........so farmers when they buy a new
bull can get insurance on his ..penis, that it will last at least a year.
Because of this risk, farmers usually put young
bulls onto 'mature' cows who are more experienced and will be more patient
with a young bull. But when Paul, Eric's son suggested trying a
new bull on young heifers, Eric didn't want to rubbish the suggestion as he
is keen that Paul eventually runs the farm, so they tried it. And indeed
the young heifers were very flighty, and tended to move off downhill in mid
coitus and unfortunately Paul and Eric  now have a young bull whose ..penis is bent
and non operational and they are just hoping the insurance will pay if it
doesn't recover. Sorry, just a digression, I am sure there is a moral or two somewhere there......

Despite the differing latitudes, the climates and countryside of NZ and UK
appear similar, and the NZ culture seems
almost Thatcherite in a small town sense. We travelled north of Auckland up
the rugged East Coast to Waitingi, where the main treaty between the Maoris
and the British was signed. The Maoris had come west from Tahiti in about
1100AD, and seemed to have concentrated more on the north island, so this is
where most of the clashes occurred. The treaty was drafted by the newly
appointed British Resident whose role was to mediate with the local Maoris,
and essentially recognised the Maoris rights to their lands and customs,
made them British subjects, and in return gave the Crown the premption to buy land.
This was needed because settlers were creating confusion by giving gifts to
the Maoris who accepted them without realising that the settlers were trying
to buy land. Subsequently differing interpretations of the treaty (which
only has 3 short clauses) were to cause clashes which culminated in the
British flagpole at nearby Russell being chopped down 4 times. If only all
riots and clashes could be as symbolic. New Zealand is still working through
a legal process to settle disputes and claims arising from the Treat of
Waitingi.

We stayed at Russell, at one time a hell-hole of sin, drunkenness, and
prostitution, now apparently rather middle class chintzy - although who knows what NZ's
get up to beneath the surface?  It's opposite Waitingi on the
Bay of Islands, and the ferry between them gives a pleasant perspective of what could
almost be a Devon estuary. We stayed in cabins - NZ has lots of them, many
on camp sites, some on farms. They are always clean, NZ$50-70/night (+/-25
pounds) with 2-3 beds, communal kitchens and BBQ's.

Captain Cook named places
after whatever he thought most similar in UK, one of the few exceptions
being a cove he recorded as 'doubtless a bay' -  and 'Doubtless Bay' it has
been ever since - NE coast, just above the Bay of Islands. Real Estate
Agents have got to this part of the coast, and every 3rd property has garish
boards asking 'Don't miss this opportunity! Magnificent Investment. Is this
your new property?' or similar frenzy inducing questions. One of the reliefs
of travelling is that we don't see a lot of advertising, and what we do
usually washes over us like water off a
ducks back (we have seen lots of ducks and water),
but there is a critical mass where it starts to irritate and then stick. Our
solution is to move on, but if any other business tried to sell something so costly
with wording like this, they would be
reported to a regulating body I am sure. So maybe the property boom that
NZ has experienced in the last 2 years has been generated by agents bidding
up prices to get the seller to entrust the property to them? Both NZ and Aus have
strict limitations on ownership of land by foreigners by the way.

Anyway, we then toured further northwards along the east coast - winding roads, superb
bays and estuaries to Kaitaia,the 'capital' of the far north, and a centre
for the Maoris. From here we took a tour bus (you'll see why in a minute) to
the Gumdiggers Camp. The whole of this north tip of NZ was covered in
ancient Kaori forests dating back to 20,000 years or more. It seems they
were destroyed by a huge Tsunami possibly caused by a meteor smashing
into the ocean, or a Krakatoa type explosion. These massive trees
produced gum, similar to amber, which ex-Croatian miners in the mid 1800's
exploited for use as an early varnish and 'wax' for violin strings etc. At
times it was more expensive than gold, and this is where we get the phrase
gumboots etc for the long boots the Croatians had to wear in the swamps.
Then we swung up the 70 miles or so to Cape Reinga, the north cape of NZ
where the Pacific meets the Tasman Sea in a whirlpool vortex, and continued
round onto the exposed west coast, where we tobogganed down massive
sanddunes, then drove back (in the tour bus) along the 90 mile Beach,
passing at least one Mercedes car that had been caught by the incoming
tide....

Its a shame the massive Kaori forests have almost all been cut down by
settlers, but there are a few patches remaining (they were only preserved from about
1990!) and we saw the 'Father of the Forest' about 18 metres round - huge
trees that started growing when Jesus (not George W) was in the Middle East. The Kaori
Museum is all that is left of the machinery used to fell and process these
huge trees - they needed 118 oxen to pull just one part of a Kaori trunk out
of the forest, until they were superseded by caterpillars.if you see what I
mean.

Then back south to Auckland where we stayed in the Auckland Top 10 cabins, just 10
minutes drive from the airport, and flew off to Brisbane to check up on
Intrepid and complete this round the world trip ..by air. The reason for this
5 months intermission was to avoid sailing during the southern cyclone
season (essentially the same but reversed as the northern hurricane season
which hits the USA from July to November - the southern cyclone season is
from December to April). I had wondered if we were not being unduly
cautious, so it was interesting to see as we flew over the Tasman Sea
Cyclone Larry north of us which crashed into Innisfail, just 10
miles south of the large city of Cairns in mid/northern Queensland as a
Category 5 cyclone with 120 mph winds a day
after we landed. Just as well we had put Intrepid into Brisbane and no
further north, even in Brisbane the winds were quite something. Then cyclone
Wattie started coming south, and Cyclone Glenda bashed all along the north
west shelf of Australia - all in a week. Australia's response  was to appoint
an ex-Army General to coordinate relief efforts - maybe learning from New
Orleans.

We missed the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, although we
did see plenty of superlatives about it in the Aus/Oz media - Australia is
about to take over the sporting world if you believed it all. They are
justifiably proud that Australia won 1 gold medal/340,000 population - v - England 1 per 2 million or so. It is
instructive just how much of what we receive is focused locally  - UK
is as parochial as the rest of course.

We last visited Australia in 1990 when we were working in Borneo, and like many visitors to Aus flew
from city to city on vacation. Australia is about 3000 miles across,
(155-115 degrees E, and 10-40 degrees S) and the
size of Europe or the lower 48 USA states, but with only 20 million
people (as compared to +/- 300 mn for each of USA and Europe) and
this time we wanted to see (some of) the bits in between cities. We rented a car from Thrifty - a new
3.8 litre Mitsubishi for A$48/day (20 pounds), and we drove the 1000
kilometres south to Sydney, on the New England Highway, just east of the
Great Dividing Range running north south and catching all the rain before it
gets to the bone dry interior of Australia. Australia has enough water for
many more inhabitants, but they use 85% of their water for agriculture, half
of that growing relatively small amounts of water intensive crops like rice
and cotton!

The New England Highway is about 40 miles
inland from the developed Gold coast, which is full of theme parks and high
rises, and best avoided unless you like this. The scenery inland is
reminiscent of ....New England perhaps, but they are in the middle of a 5
year drought, so the cattle were all gathered under big shade trees, and the
fields were yellow rather than green. The highway was fast, but every 5
miles we would meet a small village of perhaps 20 houses, and the speed
limit would plummet to 50 kms/hour and we would crawl through, (Nicky got
flashed by one of the many speed cameras when she did 70...) so 500 kms on
the first day took almost 8 hours, and it was dark as we arrived at the Top
Pub in Uralla, a quirky cattle town in north NSW. The bathrooms were
decorated in a shearing shed motif if you can imagine that, and the pub
itself was full of groups of men including a construction gang,  a Rugby
League training squad, an ATM, screens of greyhound racing, and about 40
pokies (slot machines). Oh and mixed grill dinners that were close to
perfect. Nicky was the only woman, (apart from one woman with the
construction gang).

Tamworth about 100 kms further south is the country music capital of
Australia, akin to Nashville, we had missed the main festival (late January),
when it is all but impossible to get into the town, but we went to the Country
Fair, where cattle were being judged. Interestingly, they were getting
trainee judges to grade 4 or 5 cattle or sheep, describe why, then
getting a senior professional cattle or sheep grader to judge the same
animals, and give feedback, with the young judge who came closest getting
the top prize. So the judges were actually the ones being judged. It seemed
an excellent way to get people to appreciate what to look for in cattle and
sheep, and help improve the breeds. Much better than the UK where the judges
usually don't give any feedback on why they awarded top marks to this sheep
and not that one etc.

And finally to Sydney where thank heavens we were going into the city on
Friday evening, and not (like the 5 miles of traffic jams) going out. The
traffic lanes in Sydney are very narrow, so it was tight, but we
eventually made it to Narenburn where Chris ad Jill live, just a 15 minute
bus ride from the Sydney CBD (Central Business District). They had a party
for us on Saturday, which was elegant and very pleasant to meet their many
friends, then Sunday we .....sailed under Sydney Harbour Bridge in blissful
weather, within 20 metres of Sydney Opera House, and had lunch anchored in
one of the many bays of Sydney Harbour with views of the Opera House and
Bridge, then ventured out to the Heads (the
entrance of the Harbour), before wafting back in a light wind as the sun
started to set. Perfect.

During the week we explored Sydney, trying to concentrate on the further
bays and inlets once we had toured the Rocks (the southern end of the Bridge
and the Fish Market in Darling Harbour west of the Bridge, (Lobster and chips
for A$15 (6 pounds)), and a night at the Opera House. We drove south to Botany Bay, which Captain Cook
suggested for the first settlement, and is now the main container port, and from there
north along the coast through Coogee, where the race riots flashed up a month ago.
Its a strange place, slightly 'down market', edgy when I asked about the
riots, but with lovely beaches. Sydney is vibrant in almost every sense,
there were 4 gang related killings in the week we were there. Then further
north to the Heads, the dramatic cliff top entrance to Sydney Harbour, with
superb 360 views, then viewed the Harbour from Jill's office on top of the
AMP building, looking down on the bridge and the tiny figures walking along
it.

Wednesday we raced Chris and Jill's 30ft Aquadisiac in an end of season race
at the Greenwich Flying Squadron, with a float plane just round the corner.
And later, north, a picnic at the even more dramatic North Heads, then through
Terry Hills to Palm Beach and the bays north of Sydney, still mostly forest
thanks to tough planning laws.. And on Sunday we drove west to the Blue
Mountains just 1.5 hours drive away for a stunning scramble down into
Wentworth Falls along the canyon as dramatic as the Grand Canyon but 1/4
size (which is still pretty good!).

Sydney buses were great but sometimes a car better enabled us
to explore the outer places. But Canberra called, 106 miles inland SW of Sydney.
When the Australian Colonies federated in 1901, the competition between
Melbourne and Sydney was so great that it was written into the constitution
that the capital had to be at least 100 miles from Sydney. So Canberra was
created, designed in 1906 by American architect Burley Griffin, damming a  small river to form a
lake around which the capital is laid out.

And it has taken a century to even half fill the plan, and Canberra still
has vast open spaces, so that it lacks the
'buzz' of Sydney's crowded streets. But the vista from the War Memorial which
is directly opposite the New Parliament Building is superb, and it cannot be
bad for politicians to view the War Memorial (a major war museum actually)
before voting to commit Australian military to war. The impact of 10,000
dead at Gallipoli in 1915 still
is felt vividly in Australia, ANZAC (Aus-NZ Army Corps) day is on 25th
April, the day of the abortive landings at Gallipoli to
seize the Dardanelles passage to the Black Sea, and no work will be done on
Intrepid as its a public holiday. . In WW2 the Japanese came as close as
Papua New Guinea, about 100 miles from the northern tip of Queensland and
Australia was fighting for her life, not just for the British Empire, 1
million volunteers out of 7 million Australians were in the military in 1945,
and Japanese submarines sank a ship in Sydney harbour.

Australia's Parliament is similar to USA with a senate (12 members for each
of the 5 states, with 2 for Canberra and the Northern Territory which aren't
states) and a House of Representatives (1 member for each 80,000 population)
so balancing bigger and smaller states representation. Australia's states
have similar powers to USA states, and I cant think why the
EU doesn't adopt a similar constitution. But Canberra feels insular and we
drove south to the Snowy Mountains, passing the grand Snowy Mountains Hydro
Electric scheme, a grand vision in the 1950s to divert the Snowy River west
to flow into the westward flowing Murray River, providing irrigation for Victoria and
the plains north of Adelaide, and greenhouse gas free power from 8 huge
power stations. Nicky studied the scheme at school, and its probably one reason why
she ended up as a hydrogeologist. Who says teachers don't influence careers?

Australia's highest mountain is 2280 metres Mount Kosciuszko (named after a
Polish patriot by the explorer who first reached it in 1840). We stayed
right below this at Thredbo, which does a reasonable imitation of an Alpine
ski resort - except that we were there in early April and there was only a light sprinkling of snow
the day we left. But there were wonderful walks through Alpine like meadows even if
the ski lift was closed because of 80 kms/hour winds, and our twilight search
produced nil wombats.

Then SW to Melbourne - about 700 kms from Canberra. This is gold field and
Ned Kelly country, and we stopped off at Glenrowan where Ned was shot and
captured during his gang's abortive attempt to ambush a police train from
Melbourne and establish the 'Republic of the NW'. There are replicas of his
armour (weighing 40 kgs) and his homestead, and every town seemed to have
either had a bank robbed there or have a piece of his gaol door/bed/shackle
etc. Not quite on the same scale of crime, I was wafting along the Hume
Highway at ....well, 130 kph (the speed limit is 110) and was 'done' by an
unmarked police car. Having no fixed address and being polite and contrite
sometimes works, and the efficient policeman let me off with a warning, so
now I engage cruise control and stay at 110. Ned wasn't so lucky - he was
hanged in Old Melbourne Jail.

On the way we met a number of people from Aus who had worked in UK -
salaries in UK appear to be 1.5-2x that in Aus, which itself is 1.5x
those of NZ. Which may be why Aus has a labour shortage, (unemployment is a
low 5%),and encourages EU people to work on farms for board and lodging.
From people we spoke to, its best to be in NSW, Victoria or SA, Queensland
farmers are reputed to demand high work rates for little or no money. But
Aus and NZ have big trade deficits which may be why Aus is
trying hard to sell Uranium from its 3 big mines to China, India,
Taiwan.....all down wind of Aus of course. Woomera nuclear testing ground
(now an exclusion zone) is only a
few hundred miles NW of Adelaide.

We stayed in Knightsbridge serviced apartments in East Melbourne, about 10
minutes walk from both the centre and the MCG - well appointed for
A$99/night (40 pounds) including free off street parking. Last week was
Formula 1, next week the Comedy
Festival, so we saw the previews, and rode the free tram (as featured flying in
the Commonwealth Games). I hadn't fully appreciated just how much of a gold
rush Melbourne experienced in 1850/60 - it must have financed much of the
economic boom of the British Empire at the time- Melbourne went from 4000 to
500,000 people in a decade, and at one time 120 ships were stranded in
Melbourne harbour because all their sailors had gone to dig for gold. But by
1880 Melbourne had over-stretched itself, and the cost of deep mining and
the grand constructions in progress drove their owners into bankruptcy!
Melbourne MCG is home to Australian Rules Football (a variant to Gaelic
Football), the comedy shows seemed limited to racist jokes and swear words,
and the well attended theatres radical and muddled -
interesting, Sydney is younger and more multi ethnic than Melbourne, but
Melbourne seems to be trying too hard to be young and hip and a real neighbour, whereas it has
everything going for it to be a pleasant cultured city.

But Nicky wanted to stroke a wombat and see duck billed platypi(?) so on
Sunday we headed 50 kms east through an almost 100% Vietnamese suburbs then
through townships called Dorking, Mitcham, all very English to Healesville
Sanctuary where ......she was able to do exactly that - a baby wombat,and
several platypuses(?) (they have 15 living wild in the sanctuary) plus lots
of very naturally housed Aussie native animals.

Melbourne was great, but I wanted to see the great coastal cliff road SW
where 80 ships sailing great circle routes past Antarctica with gold fever
in their sails were wrecked in 10 years from 1860-1870. Cape Otway's lighthouse is
furthest south, but the 12 Apostles are best known, huge sandstone pillars
in the sea, much photographed. And we even found our own private wild-life -
cruising round the bend Nicky squeaked and jammed on the brakes - there
sitting in the exact centre of the road with a silly tired grin on his face
was an elderly koala, who looked as though the world was just too much for
him. I gave him some gentle koala kounselling, and managed to persuade him with an
un-koala sense of urgency that a eucalyptus tree was a better place for a
snooze. Finally to Port Fairy (really - its very Irish round here) an old
whaling station now a delightful leisure port where we stayed in
the YHA which in general in Aus is very establishment, many double rooms en
suite (not just dorms), perhaps 40% of the occupants justifying the Y word.

Tower Hill is an extinct volcano with a park in the centre. We found a koala
family up 3 gum trees, and 2 grey kangaroos in an oasis of Aus natural life,
then drove north up the coast towards Adelaide past a part of Australia's
grain bowl and sea bird sanctuaries. This is where you start to see the
extent of Australia's vastness - straight roads running for miles through
level wheat fields. The Aus Wheat Board paid bribes ($300m) to Saddam Hussein to get
huge contracts to sell wheat to Iraq as part of the UN oil for food plan.
Shame how often well meaning ideas turn into corruption and do more harm
than good. The Foreign Minister and Deputy PM have already been grilled at a
Royal Commission, PM John Howard is today. The tip off about the bribes came
from the US wheat exporters annoyed that they didn't get the contract - and
it worked - the US now sells 80% of the wheat sold to Iraq.

Strange - TV programs in South Australia run in a time warp 30 minutes later than
scheduled - until we realised that SA time is GMT +9.5 hours ie half an hour
behind Sydney and Melbourne.

We are now in Adelaide, capital of South Australia, and home to 1mn
Australians and Don Bradman, the Babe Ruth of cricket, bon viveur wine
growers a slower pace of life city with trees, wide streets, and fields at  the end
of them. They are all proud that SA was the first non-convict Aus colony.
But even as the colonies were being founded, there was vicious in-fighting
between the early Governors and their deputies .

 Next the sheep station of friends Ivan and Glenny, then the
outback...........we will take plenty of water...........Happy Easter!

Andy and Nicky Gibb.
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