Sunshine Coast, Thursday 9 to Saturday 18 May 2019

Grant was a flatmate of Ian’s brother, Alan, when Alan lived in Port Douglas. Alan and Grant became good friends, and used to go skiing years later. We got to know Grant when he visited Alan in hospital in 2004, shortly before Alan died of cancer. We have become close friends with Grant  and his parents, Margaret and Peter, and eventually also with Jacqui, who he married 10 years ago. Grant is a cabinet maker by trade, but he is also a highly skilled sculptor. He still works in cabinet making with his business partner and friend, Marty, who we also know, but renovating and building recreational vehicles also occupies a lot of his time. Grant has fixed our CUB camper trailer, twice!

Grant’s Jack Daniels bottle
Grant’s snake mirror, with part of a snake table in the reflection
Grant’s hammer letterbox

We had arranged to look after Grant and Jacqui’s place while they went away on an anniversary long weekend from Friday to Monday with their dogs, Pepper and Sully, to Woodgate Beach. We had agreed to arrive at Grant and Jacqui’s place at North Arm at 4:00 pm on the Thursday so that Grant could have a good day working on building a motor home.

It did not take long to drive from the Gold Coast to the Sunshine Coast, so we camped for a few hours at a shady spot near Aussie World and had Beefy pies, coffee and tea for lunch. Ian practised his ukulele at this very tranquil spot. We also bought a family apple pie to take to North Arm.

We arrived at North Arm at the agreed time, and Grant and Ian considered options for parking Matilda. There had been heavy rain over several weeks, and much of the ground on the property was soft. We eventually parked Matilda on a concrete slab behind Grant’s shed, and we were able to get 240V connected.

Jacqui came home with lots of shopping for their trip away. As all of us were very tired, Ian got some takeaway from a Thai restaurant at Yandina for dinner. He enjoyed driving Grant’s Pathfinder into Yandina. The Pathfinder was our first real 4WD vehicle, and we sold it to Grant, who took a liking for it when we first bought it and Grant was still living in Buderim.

Grant & Jacqui with their old truck in the background

We got up a bit later than usual on Friday morning and we had showers and breakfast in Matilda. Grant had put up a gate to keep the sheep (brother and sister) away from our camping spot and Dexter in. Grant and Jacqui then set off to Woodgate Beach with Pepper and Sully in the Pathfinder.

View of Grant & Jacqui’s property from our campsite. That is our grey water hose in the foreground, not a snake.

Marty, Grant’s workmate arrived to supervise the unloading of a truck full of cabinet making materials. Ian has known Marty almost as long as Grant, and they had a good chat. Marty had a bit of a go at Ian’s new travelling gitar. Ian took Dexter for a walk down side road, met an elderly woman with a red cattle dog that we met last time when we were in North Arm, about 16 months ago.

Ian took Grant’s ute into Yandina to shop at IGA. He bought a microwavable fish fillet pack and we had it for dinner with brown rice and quinoa. We watched some TV inside Matilda and hit the sack early. The weather had been humid with showers.

On Saturday we did some planning for the next week or so. We were keen to visit Australia Zoo, which is at the southern end of the Sunshine Coast, but we needed to find doggie daycare for Dexter. Ian also contacted Jenny, who we met on our Kimberley trip in 2015 and who lives at Tewantin. Jenny was very pleased to hear from us after all these years, and she and her husband invited us to their house for lunch on Friday. We also received an invitation for lunch on Sunday with Jamie and Denise.

As the afternoon’s sun was out, Ian and Katie could not resist the temptation of playing their ukuleles on the back of Grant’s old truck. This reminded us of a rock and roll scene in the 70s. We were very impressed with Grant’s creativity.

Katie practising the ukulele on the back of Grant’s truck

We had a Beefy’s chicken and veggie pie and barbecued pumpkin slices for dinner, and some apple pie for dessert.

On Sunday, we moved Matilda off of her concrete slab, across the damp ground and up the driveway with no problems. We were off to visit Jamie and Denise at Woombye. Jamie was Katie’s colleague when they both worked at Hornsby Council. Jamie married Denise and moved to Woombye, and they have twin sons, Luke and Ryan. Their boys have grown up so fast–we saw them as babies when Jamie and Denise visited us a few years ago. they have also adopted an 8 year-old dog called Arnie (or Arnold when is not a good dog).

Jamie prepared a tapas for lunch with haloumi, marinated prawns and lamb, asparagus, tomatoes, smoked salmon, toasted Turkish bread, dolmades, home grown parsleys, chillies, and sun-dried tomatoes. Starters were white and blue cheese and salami. It was a very tasty feast, enjoyed with Ian’s Cassegrain 2019 Verdelho.

Luke, Ryan & Arnie

Dexter spent a few hours inside Matilda while we were having lunch, but Ian took him out to socialise with Arnie and had a walk on lead around their property. He and Arnie were getting on okay. Dexter was given Arnie’s squeaky toy as a gift from Denise and Jamie., as Arnie doesn’t care about toys!

Jamie took us to a tour of his property, which used to be a bonsai nursery. It really is too big for Jamie to handle. We remember helping Jamie to clear away most of the unloved bonsai plants and weeds from the old nursery a year or so after he moved in.

Jamie, Ryan, Denise & Luke over lunch
Jamie & Ian with their dogs Arnie & Dexter

We came back to North Arm a little later than expected. It is to Ian’s credit that he managed to manoeuvre Matilda back onto the same parking spot on the concrete slab.

On Monday, we had intermittent showers all day. However, Katie managed to wash some clothes and hang them out, and we did get them dry.

It had become increasing urgent to replace our Tom Tom for this trip, as it was not picking up any GPS signals.  Ian rang JB HiFi Maroochydore to enquire about their GPS. It seems that the current models no longer fit the cradle we have in Matilda. He borrowed Grant’s ute to drive to Maroochydore and bought a Tom Tom GO 520. This appears to be a useful model for us, and it has hands free phone capability like our old one.

Ian later took the ute to Yandina and bought bolts to fix the foot of the awning leg that was damaged at Christmas in a storm. The fix was surprisingly easy for once. He also bought groceries, fish, salad and spuds to make dinner for us and Grant and Jacqui.

It was good to see that Grant and Jacqui had returned from Woodgate much refreshed. Grant also lowered our dining table in Matilda to a more comfortable height. He then swapped the cushions to even out the wear.

All of us enjoyed a delicious spicy fish dinner with a Cassegrain 2019 Semillon, and then Byron Bay cookies. Ian and Grant were allowed by their wives to sip port from port pipes—a rare treat!.

Ian & Grant enjoying port pipes

The rain continued all Tuesday morning! We filled our water tank using a couple of 9 litre watering cans and a flexible funnel. Katie’s important role was to hold the funnel steady while Ian poured fresh water into it. This was a tedious process involving two people. Grant then made Katie “redundant” by affixing a bracket to the side of Matilda to hold the funnel in place. Katie now has more time for her research on the Internet.

We then planned the rest of the week. We arranged to meet Peter and Margaret (Grant’s parents) at their house in Buderim tomorrow for morning tea, prior to travelling to Caloundra.

Later in the morning, at Grant’s suggestion we borrowed the Pathfinder and visited the Ginger Factory at Yandina. We had a scrumptious lunch in the Ginger Café, with a bottle of Buderim non-alcoholic ginger beer (for Katie) and Buderim ginger beer with spiced rum (Dark and Stormy for Ian).

Better than average calamari

We had visited the Ginger Factory several times previously, and had toured the factory and attended a bee show, but had not ridden the Ginger Train. We decided to rectify this oversight, and Katie bought us tickets. The Ginger Train runs every half hour and the whole journey takes about 20 minutes. The train now runs on diesel rather than steam. The driver frequently blew the train whistle near intersections to warn pedestrians of our approach. It was quite an interesting train ride. After the ride, we visited a ginger biscuit shops on the premises and bought some delectable ginger biscuits and some fudge. We also bought some ginger beer for our journey.

Katie on the Ginger Train

The Macadamia Nut Factory was across the road from the Ginger Factory, so we took the opportunity to pay a visit there. We bought a bottle of macadamia oil for cooking, as well as a bag of macadamia nuts to share with Grant and Jacqui tonight.

Jacqui cooked us a delicious fried chicken and vegetable noodle dish for dinner, and we had a good chat before Katie and I trundled off down the yard to our camp behind the shed.

On our motorhoming travels, we are finding that it is best to plan our dog-friendly accommodation and main activities a few days in advance. We started with a spreadsheet of the whole six months trip around Australia, with all stays, activities, distances, and special needs of Dexter. However, it is becoming obvious that we need to be much more flexible. Our new Tom Tom combined with Google, Google Maps and CMCA’s GeoWiki proved to be extremely useful for our detailed planning.

We decided to base ourselves in the southern part of the Sunshine Coast from Wednesday for a visit to Australia Zoo. On the way, we wanted to drop in to see Peter and Margaret, Grant’s parents, in Buderim.

Due to continuous rain in the past few days, the paddock behind the shed where Matilda was parked had become very wet, and the red basalt soil was slippery. Matilda became stuck as we had no traction for the front wheels on the slippery soil, despite only the slightest of slopes. Grant used his Pathfinder to tow us out with the snatch strap, all the way to the bitumen road. As we were parked precariously near a corner, we had to say our goodbyes to Grant and Marty without delay, and we navigated with our new Tom Tom to Peter and Margaret’s house in Buderim.

It was wonderful to see Peter and Margaret as they had recently been involved in a serious road accident. They appeared to have recovered well. We had a good chat and enjoyed scrumptious carrot cake for morning tea. Peter and Margaret shared their experiences of interesting places to visit for our journey and their pitfalls such as mosquitoes and sand flies. Katie hates sandflies as her skin reacts badly to them.

Margaret and Peter with Katie
Peter and Margaret’s friendly butcher bird

We lingered a bit longer than expected, and so we were invited to stay for lunch. Margaret prepared a lovely spread of veggie rissoles, green salad and curried rice and nut salad which we enjoyed very much. In return we entertained them with the video of our ukulele concert performed on our recent Majestic Princess cruise. They were amazed!

Our Tom Tom navigated us to the Golden Beach Tourists Park. Ian and I both like the new Tom Tom. James, the narrator, is very funny and speaks with a broad Aussie accent! On arrival of every destination, he cheerfully announces, “Your have arrived at your destination. Windows down, grab your sunnies, and don’t let the seagulls steal your chips!”. When we get to an intersection where we go straight on, he says, “Go straight on, too easy!”. Occasionally, we are told to “Chuck a U-ee! Good on ya!” It keeps us amused for now.

It was quite late when we arrived at the Golden Beach Tourist Park, so Ian walked up the road and bought a pizza for dinner from Pan O Vino. We had an early night as we were both tired! We blamed it on the rainy weather. We hoped that it would be fine the next day, Thursday, as we had planned to visit Australia Zoo. We have made a separate post on that adventure.

Readers, by now you would have noticed we have religiously composed our travel blog like doing assignments on holidays, so that our friends and visitors can follow this journey and have a laugh or a sigh – it’s all good fun!

As mentioned above, we had arranged to catch up with Jenny (from our 2015 Kimberley trip) at Tewantin on Friday as we resumed our journey northwards. The arrangement was that we would provide wine and dessert for the lunch. After checking out of the caravan park at Golden Beach, we stopped at the local bakery to buy a decadently rich chocolate mud cake for dessert and a loaf of bread for us.

We decided to try the Cooroy RV Stopover on the Friday night. Cooroy is a gateway to the Noosa beaches and neighbouring hinterland towns such as Pomona and Eumundi. Prior to driving to Tewantin we checked out the RV Stopover and met Dillion, the caretaker. There were already a couple of caravans parked on site. It is a large grassy area within walking distance to town. However, Dillon said that the recent rain had made most of the area rather boggy, so only a relatively small area was available, but it should be large enough to accommodate everyone. There is a dump point, but no other facilities. RVs need to be self-contained to stay there, and Matilda was. It is run by volunteers of the Cooroy Chamber of Commerce with all profits going back to projects in the Cooroy community. In order to secure a spot, Ian paid Dillion the $10 fee. This was our first experience camping at such a place! We checked out the Cooroy IGA and bought a few essentials before setting off for Tewantin.

On arrival, we were pleased that Jenny and John had organised a parking spot opposite their house for Matilda. Dexter was welcome to have a run at their backyard while we had lunch in the enclosed alfresco. Their pet ginger cat stayed inside the house.

We had cheese and biscuits and Turkish bread as entrée. Jenny prepared a yummy tapas style salad with hem, olive, boiled egg, slices of roast beef and prosciutto. Ian’s Cassegrain 2019 Verdelho and a 2010 Peterson Sparkling Shiraz went down well. All enjoyed the rich chocolate mud cake and Jenny’s fruit and custard flan. Jenny’s friend, Suzie Brown, came over and we had a good chat.

Before we left, we amazed them with our Majestic Princess cruise ukulele concert.

Ian with Jenny and John

We had a lovely afternoon with Jenny and John. We drove back to the RV Stopover at Cooroy, watched some TV, and hit the sack early.

We survived our first night at a camping spot other than a caravan park, with no dramas. By the way, readers, just for your information–we had been travelling in a confined space in Matilda for two weeks now and the good news is that we hadn’t “killed” each other! We have learnt to be tolerant and patient!

Ian took Dexter for an early morning walk into the Cooroy CBD. After breakfast, we all walked into town for a morning coffee in a coffee and book shop called Little Shop of Soul in a laneway. Books displayed at this coffee shop are mostly directed to preserving healthy minds and bodies. We found Cooroy to bs a small but busy town, with interesting shops. Tourists and locals enjoy their morning coffees at sidewalk cafes–a very laid back lifestyle! We met a couple of ladies travelling from not that far away and exchanged travel stories while we enjoyed our coffee.

Little Shop of Soul coffee and bookshop in Cooroy

Prior to leaving the coffee shop, Katie bought a Cooroy eco handmade shoulder bag sewn by some ladies in the town to help raise money for charity. We also bought a 10 litre water container from Mitre 10 and some dog treats from a pet store set up in a garage. Katie also bought a collapsible step from a discount shop which enables her to reach all the overhead cupboards inside Matilda.

And so we left the Sunshine Coast, bound for Woodgate Beach on the recommendation of Grant and Jacqui.

Gold Coast, Wednesday 8 to Friday 10 May 2019

The distance between Brunswick Heads and Gold Coast was only 77 kms. It was a quick run, but without a working GPS, it took us a little extra time to locate Rob and Donna’s house at Broadbeach Waters. Rob and Donna are friends we made on our tag-along Kimberley trip in 2015. We arrived all excited and had a good chat prior to setting off to a little Chinese yum cha restaurant in nearby Robina. Katie shouted, and ordered an extra dish of special fried rice to take away for our dinner tonight in the motorhome, wherever we may be.

A surprisingly good little yum cha restaurant in Robina
Enjoying yum cha with Rob & Donna

Rob was interested to know where we were going in the afternoon, but we honestly did not have any plans other than vague thoughts of heading north to either Brisbane or the southern end of the Sunshine Coast. We were offered the chance to stay for the night at Broadbeach Waters. We declined their offer of sleeping inside the house, as it is easier to stay in Matilda with Dexter while parked on the street. Rob passed us a 15 amp power lead over the front fence, we had a full water tank and an empty toilet, so we had everything we needed.

Our good friends Donna & Rob at their home

After lunch, Ian and Rob had a lovely afternoon strumming their guitars on the back patio. Rob is incredibly good with guitar and has been playing for 17 years, while Ian has been slowly “learning” for 14 years, with side tracks towards the ukulele and the flute. They enjoyed playing together while Donna and Katie relaxed with the music. Rob’s business partners and neighbours, Peter and Judy, dropped in to visit and gave us some tips for travelling in the Northern Territory.

The guitarists, with Donna

For dinner, Rob barbecued the best steaks we have had this year—so tender and juicy—even better than what we has at the Crown Bar and Grill on the Majestic Princess. They rivaled the mud crab we had on our last visit. Donna made a noodle salad, and with the special fried rice, we had a feast. During and after dinner, we had more guitar demos and tips from Rob.

Rob the BBQ King

Rob and friend, Sophie, went water-skiing at 7:00 am the next morning (Friday), and Rob invited Ian to be the spotter on the boat. Rob owns a 1992 ski boat that he is very proud of. Ian had never had anything to do with water skiing before, so this was quite an exciting opportunity. He took some action images and video, and was very impressed with Rob’s strength and stamina.

Rob and Sophie cutting up the Nerang River

After Rob’s ski run, Donna made toast with peanut butter sandwiches with coffee for breakfast. Donna then photocopied some music that Ian selected from Rob’s collection, and Ian promised to learn all the songs during our trip.

Dexter had a run and paddle at the private beach of Rob and Donna’s house beside the Nerang River. As usual, he thoroughly enjoyed his romp on the sand, but did not venture very far from the shore.

Dexter playing on Rob & Donna’s beach

We are very grateful for all the hospitality that Rob and Donna gave us. We disconnected the power lead, said our goodbyes, and continued our drive northwards.

Byron Bay, Monday 6 to Wednesday 8 May 2019

Ian contacted Robyn, who he worked with at Rockend and had retired to Byron Bay with her husband, Denis. Robyn invited us for lunch on Monday, so we left Arrawarra and headed north. It took nearly 3 hours to drive to Byron Bay, with a lot of roadworks between Grafton and Ballina. Neither of us had been to Byron Bay before, so this would be a new experience for us, as well as a chance to catch up with Robyn.

Byron Bay was best known as a hippie area many years ago, but this demographic has changed dramatically as many relatively affluent people have moved in, built beautiful houses, and adopted a carefree lifestyle in a tropical climate with trendy shops and cafes. We got stuck in traffic in the Byron Bay town centre. It was hard to believe how busy it was here. When we drove up to Robyn and Denis’ beautiful house, we saw many young people sunbathing on the grass outside one of the cafes! It has been many decades since we had done that sort of thing.

Robyn and Denis love Byron Bay, and had been visiting Byron for 26 years prior to buying their first house here a few years ago.

Robyn prepared delicious sandwiches for lunch, accompanied with a curried pumpkin soup. Dexter was a bit excited at first, but being a good boy, he laid down quietly on the front lawn while we had lunch on the front veranda. Robyn looked great, and both her and Denis lead a very healthy life.

It was good to catch up with Robyn, and to find her at home and available for us. We lamented that we didn’t take any photos of our lunch, as we were so busy chatting.

While at Robyn’s, we booked a powered site at the Ferry Reserve Caravan Park at Brunswick Heads for 2 nights. We had a little difficulty finding the place as our Tom Tom GPS was not receiving a GPS signal.

We like the symbol on the right indicating a dog friendly park

The Ferry Reserve Caravan Park had good facilities, although the cleaners closed the amenities near us at 9:00 am when we decided to have a shower. Not impressed. It is located next to the motorway, so it is a bit noisy, although this was not a problem inside Matilda. The location on the Brunswick River was picturesque.

The Brunswick River

On Tuesday morning, we decided to check out Brunswick Heads. We had been encouraged to visit the pub, which is owed by John Cornell (aka Strop) and David Gyngell. However, we could not find anywhere to park Matilda. We found several likely parking spots, but there were always signs nearby indicating that only vehicles less than 6 m were allowed. Matilda is 8 m long with the bike rack on the rear. Brunswick Heads is definitely not RV friendly.

We drove off in disgust to Byron Bay. Our Tom Tom had died, so navigation was challenging. We pulled up at one place to check where we were on Google Maps, and found that we were near the Stone and Wood Brewery, one of Ian’s targets for this trip. Parking was easy, so we went in. The courtyard was dog friendly, so Dexter came too. Ian had a tasting of 3 beers—Cloud Catcher, Jasper Ale and The Prequel—all great. As time was getting on, we decided to stay for lunch. Ian ordered a Korean chicken burger while Katie had a char siu bowl with noodles and vegies. Both dishes were yummy. Ian washed down his burger with Pacific Ale, but felt that it had been watered down from what he remembered it to be. Ian postulates that their Cloud Catcher pale ale is the new Pacific Ale, so he bought a carton. He also bought a 1 litre squealer of The Prequel to share with Grant. Stone and Wood was our first beverage producer of the trip, and we enjoyed it thoroughly.

The full offering from Stone & Wood
The brewery and the Cloud Catcher pale ale
The used beer department

Next door was Byron Bay Cookies, and Katie checked that out and bought some very Moorish biscuits. Katie enquired about the ugly tall silvery statue erected right at the nearby busy roundabout and was told that was supposed to be the Byron Bay Lighthouse. The statue is a bit controversial among the locals. Unfortunately, we could not visit the lighthouse with Dexter, as it is in a national parkl.

The statue of the lighthouse on a roundabout

Suitably fortified by Stone and Wood, we wanted to check out the Byron Bay town centre. Again, we found lots of parking signs allowing only vehicles under 6 m, but there is a nearby, large park for day use by RVs. Signs prohibited camping, but some vehicles appeared to be set up for an overnight stay.

The shops were much higher class than we expected. Katie was not attracted to any of the clothes on offer, so we headed to Belongil Beach, which is dog friendly and off-lead. Dexter enjoyed a swim and a frolic with other dogs at Belonjil Beach.

We decided on seafood for dinner, so we searched for a fishmonger. We found a shop called the Fishmonger, but it was a restaurant. We finally found a real fishmonger and bought locally caught mackerel for dinner to accompany a pumpkin, cranberry and macadamia salad!

We arranged to meet up with friends Rob and Donna from our Kimberley trip in 2015 at their home on the Gold Coast. Rob suggested yum cha, and after careful consideration for a microsecond, Katie responded with YES.

On Wednesday morning, Ian took the Trek mountain bike off the rack for the first time since we left home, and rode into Brunswick Heads. There is parking for longer vehicles, Ian found, not too far from the town centre on the Old Pacific Highway. However, we were off to the Gold Coast today, so Brunswick Heads was not going to benefit further from our visit.

Back at the caravan park, we emptied our toilet and filled our fresh water tank, and set off for Queensland.

Arrawarra, Sunday 5 to Monday 6 May 2019

We wanted to get to Byron Bay on Sunday, but we lingered a bit longer at Old Bar than we intended. We had twice stayed at a caravan park north of Woolgoolga on returning from the Sunshine Coast, so we decided to stay there again this time on our way north. We remembered it had the word Lorikeet in the name, but we were unsure exactly where it was. We found one caravan park in the approximate area, but it was not the one, and there were no powered sites available. However, we took a wrong turn on the way out, and ended up in a cul-de-sac after going down a steep hill. The road was sealed, but the Fiat Ducato struggled to get traction on the way back up the hill. This was the first indication that we will have to be very careful about where we go, as the motorhome is front-wheel-drive which is not ideal for a truck where most of the weight is over the rear axle.

We eventually found the Gateway Lifestyle Lorikeet Park at Arrawarra, and we booked an ensuite site as we have done on both previous occasions. The record keeping of both Lani’s On the Beach and Lorikeet was impressive as they had our details already registered in their system from when we stayed previously.

After driving 273 kilometres since Old Bar, Ian was very tired. We had leftovers of spag bol, watched a bit of TV, and hit the sack early.

The next morning, the three of us took a walk along the beach adjacent to the caravan park. For the second day in a row, Dexter had the beach to himself.

Dexter had the beach to himself
Katie came for a beach walk too

Start of our lap of Australia, home to Old Bar, Saturday 4 to Sunday 5 May 2019

We delayed leaving home for our lap of Australia by about a week to let Ian get over a bug he brought back from Hong Kong, and to come down from our big cruise and family reunion. We also had to finish a few jobs around the house before handing it over to our house sitter, Isaac.

So, the is the first post of our travel blog on the third, and largest component of our travel in 2019. It is posted two weeks after the event, but we have been flat out in the first two weeks of our Australian lap.

We planned our trip on an Excel spreadsheet, but we felt far from organised! The general idea is to drive anticlockwise around the island, keeping as close to the coastline as we can with a front-wheel-drive motorhome. This means we need to go inland after Normanton, through Mount Isa to the Stuart Highway, then north to Darwin to avoid some rough unsealed roads. We will also head north after Melbourne and attend the CMCA annual rally in Elmore, and then head home via Canberra.

It is an awesome trip over 6 months. We have the option of coming home early after Cooktown, or after Darwin and the Top End, if we feel we have had enough, and then we can complete the trip next year. Once we are in the Kimberly region we will be committed to the full lap.

Matilda, our motorhome, finally left the Anambah Sanctuary (our home) at 1:00 pm on Saturday with Katie, Ian and Dexter on board, as well as Ian’s Trek mountain bike secured on a new bike rack. We finally started our long-anticipated adventure, and drove north under a cloudy sky with drizzling rain!

Our first destination was Lani’s On the Beach Caravan Park in Old Bar for a night. We planned to catch up with Ian’s auntie, Audrey, and cousin, Avril, next morning. We could choose our spot, as it was not that busy. It is really on the beach, and is in a top location.

Ian’s signature dish for the first night of every trip—spaghetti bolognaise—was again created and enjoyed, with some leftovers for tomorrow night.

Dexter had a wonderful run along Old Bar beach early in the morning. We checked out of Lani’s, brought bread and apple slices at the Old Bar bakery, then had delicious morning tea of apple slice and cream with Audrey and Avril. Even though we had been to Old Bar with Matilda a couple of times previously, this was the first time that Audrey had a chance to come inside and see how we are going to spend the next half a year.

Ian writing up his diary in Matilda the Motorhome, with Dexter on the bed
Audrey, Dexter, Ian & Avril in Matilda the Motorhome

Hong Kong, Sunday 14 to Monday 22 April 2019

Time is the most precious gift one can give to others. Spending time with family is therefore very important to Katie and Ian, especially now that most of our families live a long way away, including overseas. Family reunions in Singapore and Hong Kong were especially valued parts of our travels in 2019. Ian and Katie were therefore excited when the Majestic Princess docked at the new Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Hong Kong, as we were going to catch up with a lot of Katie’s family. We disembarked in a very smooth process, which has been typical of Princess, found our luggage without hassle, and caught the free shuttle bus from the cruise terminal to Hollywood Plaza at Diamond Hill MTR station while most passengers were still waiting on the long taxi queues.

We met Katie’s brother Cecil who lives at Galaxia, a set of residential towers adjacent to Hollywood Plaza, and Agatha (Katie’s sister), who was visiting Hong Kong from Manchester. Agatha treated us to a very delicious yum cha breakfast at one of the restaurants in Hollywood Plaza. Back at the apartment we watched the Princess Cruises Reflections DVD, especially the section on our ukulele concert. We think both Agatha and Cecil were amazed with our performing talent.

Cecil drove us to The Salisbury YMCA Hotel where we checked in and unpacked. We were exhausted and slept for two hours before getting burgers and fries for dinner from trusty old McDonalds. Ian started to read A Dog’s Journey by W. Bruce Cameron, which he bought at Hollywood Plaza. This is a sequel to the No. 1 New York Times and USA Today Best-Selling novel—A Dog’s Purpose—which we read last year.

During our stay, the weather in Hong Kong was not great, but very murky, grey and humid, and at times, very stormy.

Hong Kong is famous for shopping and eating. It is very congested, and the population is still growing. There is not a lot of open space in the city. A favourite past time of the residents is meeting and eating. In contrast to Australia, however, you do not see a lot of overweight people in Hong Kong apart from visitors from Australia, north America or the UK.

Besides Maccas, we enjoyed a couple of inexpensive meals at a local Food Republic food court in Tsim Sha Tsui. These eating outlets are frequented by locals and offer a variety of delicious dishes, just like some food courts in Australia—inexpensive and quick. Katie loves congee (rice porridge), and was so disappointed that Maccas in Hong Kong does not have McCongee!…….

During this trip Katie bought a new pair of prescription glasses with red frames, and closed her inactive Hong Kong bank account.

Early in our trip, at Cecil’s suggestion, we took a ferry trip with Cecil to Cheung Chau, an outlying island of Hong Kong. The ferry ride from Hong Kong took half an hour. The weather was very murky and not conducive to photography.

Fast ferry to Cheung Chau

Small fishing boats

Cheung Chau is a small outlying island with a quaint fishing village. It is popular with both Hong Kong residents and tourists. It is an ideal destination for school outings and for family campers, and we shared the ferry with a large group of school campers. Katie remembers when she was young, one of her school outings was to camp at Cheung Chau where her tent was blown away.

Katie’s school camping trip before the tent blew away. Katie is wearing her beret which she still owns.
Welcome to Cheung Chau
More welcome to Cheung Chau

There is a variety of street seafood restaurants along the waterfront. A Bun Festival is held annually, but it was later in the year. The winner is the one who collects most buns from the top of a Bun tree (buns are tied together to form the shape similar to a Christmas tree).

Ian and Katie were amazed to see an open area for fish drying and a large food market

Laying sardines out for drying
Fish drying
Fish drying
Prawns drying

On Cheung Chau there are many tricycles by the roadside for hire. Tricycles and small tractors seem to be the main transport in the village. Seeing rows and rows of tricycles idle on the roadside and waiting to be hired, Cecil and Ian couldn’t help themselves but to hire two tricycles at HK$40 each for an hour.  Katie spread herself between these 2 tricycles as passenger. As the bikes are not set up for tall people, Ian found it a bit uncomfortable to ride. We had a great time riding around the waterfront. Cecil admitted that it had been 40 years since he had ridden a bike.

Ian on trike
Cecil on trike
Pick your seafood for dinner
Get your fish balls here
Street market

We also tasted some gong cha (a strong black tea) which can be drunk with some honey or sugar. Katie tried some bubble tea (tea with tapioca pearls, like sago). We devoured steamy freshly baked Portuguese tarts from a food vendor.

Gong cha
Blue Girl Pilsener, which is strongly promoted on Cheung Chau

After returning from Cheung Chau, we took the MTR to Wong Tai Sin in the hope of seeing the Wong Tai Sin Temple and having a vegetarian meal there. Unfortunately, the temple was closed, but instead we had a delicious dinner at the Shanghaiteng 1930 restaurant in the Temple Mall.

Wong Tai Sin Temple
Ma po tofu and sweet & sour fish
Buns with banana and red bean paste

During most nights Ian wrote up summaries for the day, sorted and resized photos, and posted them to our travel blog. He has been extremely diligent while Katie was a bit slack!

As we missed our vegetarian meal at the Wong Tai Sin Temple, we aimed to have a vegetarian meal at the Chi Lin Nunnery next to Hollywood Plaza. The vegetarian lunch was lovely, and Ian tried his first beer in Hong Kong at Cecil’s place. We also bought some Chinese tea for our friends Norm and Lee who were so generous with their time by minding our dog Dexter. The tea was the same as that we had at the vegetarian lunch.

Gai lan with ginger and broccoli with abalone mushrooms
Vegetarian spring rolls
Tofu and porcini mushroom casserole
Noodles with mushrooms

The next evening, Agatha took us to the Empire City Roasted Duck Restaurant in K11 where we enjoyed a first course of the Peking Duck dish—duck skin with a little flesh, wrapped in crepes and dipped in hoisin sauce.

Before Agatha returned to Manchester, Katie went to iSQUARE shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui to buy two USB drives for copying the Majestic Princess Reflections DVDs—one for Agatha and Michael in Manchester, and one for Cecil in Hong Kong. Of course, the highlight on the DVDs is the ukulele concert. Ian then did the copying from his laptop computer.

Katie was very grateful when Agatha bought her a scarf (because of her cold), a gift of two bracelets, and a handy travelling hot water flask to ease her throat in the hot, dusty and sometimes smoky Hong Kong atmosphere.

We are very grateful that both Agatha and Philomena changed their business plans to be in Hong Kong while we were there. Philomena arrived the day that Agatha flew home, but they overlapped for a couple of hours at The Salisbury, where Philomena was staying.

Siblings Agatha, Cecil, Philomena and Katie (wearing her new scarf) at The Salisbury

On Philomena’s first full day in Hong Kong, Katie, Philomena, Cecil, Jon and Flora went to the Tseung Kwan O Columbarium to pay respects to Katie, Philomena and Cecil’s parents, and Jon’s maternal grandparents. As it was the Easter public holiday period, the columbarium had many people paying their respects. The columbarium is on the side of a hill and has a panoramic water view. Ian stayed behind as he developed a head cold and was feeling crook. After paying our respects, the family lunched at a nearby shopping mall.

Tseung Kwan O Columbarium and the view

Back at The Salisbury that day, Ian slept in and eventually walked the short distance to Starbucks for a heart-starting black coffee. Ian walked around a while, ending up at the Ocean Terminal. He discovered a large food hall, and he was surprised that all the fresh food was wrapped in plastic, except for a lot of seafood. He counted 12 different types of oysters, all huge. He found the wine area, but you would need at least A$60 for a reasonable bottle of Australian or NZ wine. Eventually he came across the beer department, and he spent a pleasant half an hour selecting some samples to take back to the hotel. Two IPAs brewed in Hong Kong—Yardley Brothers Hong Kong Bastard Imperial IPA, Gwei-lo American IPA—were beautifully hopped with a tropical and citrus flavour. The Wilderness IPA and Bodinton’s were from the UK, while Tsingtao is probably the most well known Chinese lager. The Tsingtao had to be consumed immediately on Ian’s return to The Salisbury, as the 600 ml bottle was too tall to fit in the small bar fridge. Tsingtao is one of Ian’s favourite lagers, and it made him feel a little better.

A sample of 5 beers

While at The Salisbury, we had breakfast with Philomena twice in the dining room on level 4.

It was rewarding on this trip to Hong Kong to catch up with Philomena’s son, Jon, and his wife, Flora, and their beautiful daughter, Olivia. Jon was born in Hong Kong and migrated to Australia with his parents in 1990. He moved back to Hong Kong for work, met and married Flora, and Olivia was born five years ago. On Philomena’s first night in Hong Kong, we all shared a banquet at a Thai restaurant at Admiralty, near where Joh and Flora live.

Ian, Katie, Philomena, Cecil and Flora at the Thai restaurant

We also enjoyed the company of Jon, Flora and Olivia at the Golden Palace Seaview Banquet Hall on Level 26 at iSQUARE for yum cha, a Chiu Chow dinner in the Chiu Chow Garden in Star House (near the Star Ferry), and afternoon tea at The Peninsula, which is next to The Salisbury. The most interesting dish of the trip was Chiu Chow fried noodles—a pancake of yellow noodles eaten with a sprinkling of vinegar and sugar. Jon said that they could really only have this dish at special occasions when there were enough people to share it.

The Peninsula is a long-established hotel and is acclaimed for its afternoon tea (sometimes called high tea) served daily in The Lobby. This is a very British tradition! The Lobby in Peninsula is an elegant meeting place. You can listen to the beautiful live, string music by acclaimed musicians while having afternoon tea. This is a MUST DO activity for visitors to Hong Kong.

We were treated by Jon and Philomena to enjoy this unforgettable experience! The Peninsula does not take table bookings for afternoon tea—it is strictly run on a first-come, first served basis from 3:30 pm, and there is always a long queue of guests waiting for a table. Indeed, the queue put us off when we were in Hong Kong last year. However, this time we were with Philomena, who secured a table between lunch and afternoon tea for a quick snack! Philomena ordered a charcuterie plate, and Ian took the opportunity to have a Tsingtao or two. We simply took our time and continued into afternoon tea at the same table. Good to be with people in the know.

The Peninsula Hotel (image from Trip Advisor)

It was a perfect afternoon tea, with tea in a silver service, and scones, savouries and sweet delicacies presented in a triple decker stack, just as it should be. We lingered for several hours. We enjoyed the live music from a four piece band behind us on the next level up.

Flora and Olivia enjoying afternoon tea
Everyone at afternoon tea enjoying scones, savoury sandwiches, and sweets
Delicate sweets

Earlier in the year, Ian bought a new pair of ASICS runners, and he found them to be very comfortable and hard wearing. He hoped to pick up another pair in Vietnam where they are made, expecting to pay much less for them, but we did not get the chance to do any shopping in Saigon. He found an ASICS shop in Tsim Sha Tsui, but most running shoes in the shop were for skinny little feet. He eventually found a size 10 shoe with a wide fitting, but the only colour available was bright orange-red. He was really trying to keep a low profile in Hong Kong, but it was difficult…

Ian in red runners with Olivia

On our last day in Hong Kong on 22 April, the long-awaited sun finally shone which was a welcome relief to both Katie and Ian. Ian started the day with an early walk along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, which has recently been developed around the foreshore.

Tsim Sha Tui Promenade before the sun came out–Victoria Peak is obscured by cloud

We decided to go up to Victoria Peak on Hong Kong island before catching our flight home at 7:30 pm. We checked our luggage in at Hong Kong MTR station at the Qantas counter in the morning. We had a small hiccup when the name for Katie’s booking did not match the name on her passport, but the guy at the counter said it would be OK, and issued our boarding passes. I wish we had checked them. Relieved of our luggage, we took a No. 15 bus to the Peak. The place was packed and looked like half the population of Hong Kong had decided to do the same as us!

By the time we arrived at the Peak, the sun was out, and we got some magnificent views, especially back down to Tsim Sha Tsui, where we had spent most of the past week. Ian took some nice scenic photos. We bumped into a couple of characters that had escaped from Madame Tussauds. Feeling peckish, we had lunch at Hungry Jacks. Back at Hong Kong Station, we caught an express train to the airport.

View to Tsim Sha Tui from Victoria Peak
Ian with Albert Einstein
Katie with Nicole Kidman

We had plenty of time when we arrived at the airport. This is just as well, because the mistake on Katie’s boarding pass, where her name was printed as Mrs Clarke Clarke, was caught at the first immigration check. Officers said that we could have the mistake rectified for only $250HK, but Ian maintained this was Qantas’ mistake, which should have been caught when Katie’s Frequent Flyer number was provided for the booking. Eventually they caved in, issued us with a new boarding pass for Katie in her correct name, and all was good thereafter. We bought some pasties to take home, and then waited a short while to board. On the plane, we were pleasantly surprised to find our seats behind a bulkhead, so we had extra legroom without having to pay for it.

We landed at Sydney at 6:30 am on Tuesday 23 April. We took another 6.5 hours using three trains and a taxi to get home. Top holiday, but it was great to be back home! Our dog, Dexter, almost ate us when we drove around to collect him from our friend, Norman. The third part of our grey nomad adventure is to travel around Australia with Dexter in our motorhome, Matilda. But first, we needed to unwind from a brilliant ukulele cruise where we met new friends Peter and Krystyna and John and Joy, and from a lovely time in Hong Kong catching up with family and immersing ourselves in Chinese gastronomy.

Fried Chiu Chow noodles (image from Trip Advisor, Pak Loh Chiu Chow Restaurant)


On Board the Majestic Princess: Singapore to Hong Kong

This stage of the cruise is the last 6 days, with 4 days at sea and stops at Phy My (Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon) in Vietnam and Kaohsiung in Taiwan. The days at sea are pretty much the same routine that we developed earlier.

Ukulele practice in the Crown Bar and Grill

Our ukulele concert on the day before Singapore was a success on the basis of the crowd and the applause we received. Eric Ripper, our ukulele leader, invited anyone else who wanted to play the ukulele to join up after Singapore. The first day at sea after Singapore, we were flooded with enthusiastic new people who wanted to join up. All the borrowed soprano ukuleles were returned, and the new people were issued with ukuleles before the older hands could get their ukuleles back. Of course, Ian was pleased to hang onto his own tenor ukulele. In the end, I don’t think anyone missed out. We were given new music to learn, and Eric said that we would do a second concert on the day before we arrived at Hong Kong. However, this time we would only have half the number of sea days to prepare, which apparently worried a lot of people.

Numbers at ukulele classes, which again were only held on sea days, quickly dropped off, but Katie and Ian managed to hold onto a core of people, including John from Bowen. At the final concert, a smaller ukulele group played You Are my Sunshine again, as well as Hey Jude and Stand by Me. Again, we came across well. Much relieved, several of us enjoyed a celebratory drink afterwards.

Some of the ukulele group after the second concert. Eric is 4th from the right in the back.

John, Karen and Ian enjoying a celebratory drink

On the evening after our day trip to Ho Chi Minh City, we helped John and Joy from Bowen celebrate John’s 72nd birthday. The crew came out with a small chocolate cake with one candle, and surrounding diners joined in with a chorus of Happy Birthday. We got to know John and Joy a bit better at the dinner. John is a retired dragline operator at a coal mine. They have a caravan, and enjoy travelling around Australia. They also like Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and we had two bottles of Nobilo 2017 with dinner. We agreed to try and catch up as we travel around Australia during the rest of the year.

Nobilo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Our third and last formal night (on the second last sea day) saw Katie wear her Indian silk dress from Philomena. She looked stunning. The dining room had lobster tail on the menu for the special occasion, and we enjoyed a production show after dinner. Top night, although we did not see anyone we knew.

Katie at dinner on the third formal night
Lobster tail and jumbo prawns for dinner on our third formal night
Katie in her Indian silk dress

We returned to the ship relatively early after our shore excursion in Kaohsiung, in time for afternoon tea. We enjoyed afternoon tea several times last year on the Sun Princess cruise, so we wanted to attend at least once on this cruise. We had a table to ourselves, as usual for afternoon tea, and sampled the savoury and sweet delicacies over a pot of tea. Lovely!

Afternoon tea

We were invited to join Peter and Krystyna and David and Trish for dinner at the Crown Grill and Bar to celebrate Peter and Krystyna’s 39th wedding anniversary. This was on the evening after the day in Kaohsiung, and therefore after a big Taiwanese curry lunch and afternoon tea. It was a tough job, but we felt up to the gastronomic challenge. The steaks were great, and a rendition of Happy Anniversary (very similar to Happy Birthday) was sung by staff and surrounding diners.

Krystyna and Peter
Trish and David

One of the dessert items that we all went for was a dessert sampler—what a great idea after a big meal!

Grown Grill dessert sampler

That night, it was a bit cooler outside, and Ian enjoyed sitting on our balcony with a Boddington Pub Ale while watching the cargo ships pass. We were in a very busy shipping channel.

On the last evening of the cruise we had dinner with John and Joy, although Joy was not feeling well. We finished off another bottle of Nobilo Sav Blanc. After dinner, John joined us for a show put on by some of the non-entertainment crew. John shouted Ian a Scotch, the only one on this cruise for Ian, and it went down very nicely. The crew show was well done, and included Eric Ripper on his guitar singing The Who’s Baba O’Reilly.

We had a final cocktail of the cruise, and retired after a huge day. We kept the balcony door open to hear the water against the ship as we sailed on to Hong Kong.

The ship entered Hong Kong Harbour very early, and we did not wake until we were almost at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. We crawled out of bed to get our first glimpse of the Hong Kong skyline, a bit tired after our last day on board. We had mixed emotions. We had thoroughly enjoyed our cruise, and we were sorry that it was over. However, Katie was eagerly looking forward to catching up with more of her family in Hong Kong. The next leg of our big trip had begun.

First glimpse of Hong Kong skyline from Kai Tak Cruise Terminal
Docked at Kai Tak

Kaohsiung, Friday 12 April 2019

Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan, next to Taipei, which is about 300 km to the north and joined by a very fast train line. Like Singapore, it handles a lot of shipping. However, we understand that when the Majestic Princess visited on this cruise, it was the largest ship handled by the port to date. The harbour has a very narrow entrance, but we squeezed through OK. Taiwan is rarely on the must see list of travellers, and we also understand that this is the first time that Princess Cruises visited this city—it usually stops at Taipei.

Princess was very late in promoting tours from Kaohsiung, and had nothing available when we first looked. After attending an information session on the setting, we decided that $20 per head shuttle bus tickets to the centre of town was the best deal. Again, disembarking was easy, and we were welcomed to Kaohsiung by jolly dragons and drummers.

The shuttle buses had two stops—firstly Central Park and then San Duo shopping area. We rode the shuttle to the second stop, but at 9:30 am, it was very quiet. The major shops do not open until 11:00 am. We wandered around a bit aimlessly at first through some back streets.

A quiet Kaohsiung back street in the early morning

We walked up the main road back to Central Park. There was lots of traffic, especially scooters, but very little evidence of economic activity. However, when the doors opened onto a building that we were walking past, we saw into a room of poker machines with quite a lot of people playing them. We thought it funny that you could not buy a bottle of milk at 10:00 am, but that the pokies were doing a roaring trade at that time.

Motor scooters taking off at the lights

Another interesting thing we noticed was that the traffic lights indicated how many seconds you had to cross the road. What an obvious improvement to pedestrian traffic—why don’t we have this at home?

We walked around Central Park, and found interestingly sculptured trees, and a group of senior citizens enjoying a dancing session. There were also squirrels, which are probably regarded as normal in Taiwan, but like useful pedestrian traffic lights, we don’t have them in Australia.

Sculptured trees
Morning senior citizen dance class in Central Park
A squirrel eating a nut

Having exhausted the range of attractions of Central Park, we walked down to the Love River, which flows through Kaohsiung. On the way we tried Gong Cha, which was promoted on the Majestic Princess. This was new to us, and we understand that it is a typically Taiwanese idea. It is a variety of teas, including a bubble tea with tapioca pearls. We tried a cold tea without sugar—interesting and drinkable, and quite refreshing on what was becoming a warm morning. We also tried some sweet tofu milk, with which we were familiar from Asian supermarkets in Australia. This was wonderful!

We were told that there were cafes along the Love River, like along the Seine in Paris. It was certainly pleasant to walk both sides of the river between two bridges. It was clean, with gardens and a clear love theme, but the cafes had not yet opened.

Love River between the two bridges
Can’t help feeling the love here
Bean tree
Dragon on guard over the Love River
This must have a deep meaning

At the second bridge, we sat down to compose ourselves—it was now hot, there had been very little shade, and so we decided to walk back to the ship. However, the map showed that it was shorter to walk back to Central Park and then catch the shuttle. Back to Central Park we went, and we came across a Catholic cathedral. Katie went inside and said a prayer (that Central Park was not far away)!

Minor Basilica-Cathedral of the Holy Rosary
Inside the cathedral

We had a chance to sit on a grassy knoll in the shade while waiting for the shuttle at Central Park. When it came, we felt much refreshed, and decided to alight at San Duo and find a place for lunch in the large shopping mall there.

On our entry to the food court, we were welcomed by staff of the first restaurant we came to. However, we decided to check it all out, so went for a walk to get a comprehensive look at what was on offer. The food court was characterised by very little writing, but we could tell that some places were clearly offering Japanese cuisine. We settled on the first place we encountered. A couple in the neighbouring table had some interesting food, and they identified it for us on a pictorial menu. We ordered the same, and was surprised by two varieties of tasty, but not too spicy, chicken curry. Ian was also successful in buying a Taiwan beer from a local takeaway shop.

Yuen Hey Currey restaurant
Two types of chicken with mild but tasty curry

When we had finished our lunch, another couple from the cruise came up to the restaurant and asked us what the food was like. We raved about it, and said it was curry, but tasty and very mild. However, they were looking for something very spicy, so they kept on looking.

We caught the shuttle from San Duo back to the Majestic Princess, and arrived back in time for afternoon tea.

That evening, we had dinner at the Crown Grill and Bar to celebrate Peter and Krystyna’s 39th wedding anniversary. More on that later.

Our day in Kaohsiung was an experiment to see how we would go on our own, exploring a potentially strange new place without a detailed plan, and taking advantage of opportunities that presented themselves. It was a complete success! We saw the heart of Kaohsiung’s central business district and the Love River, and experienced some tasty food.

Ho Chi Minh City, Tuesday 9 April 2019

Ian did his morning walk just after sunrise as the Majestic Princess docked at a container wharf at Phu My. Our good friend, Felicia, comes from Ho Chi Minh City, and we hosted her, her husband Nick, and her parents on the night before we left on the cruise. We were eagerly looking forward to experiencing this interesting place, including trying some of its distinctive cuisine.

Berth in sight
Our berth
The buses are ready for us

We had booked the “Do Ho Chi Minh City On Your Own” tour, which involved a 90 minute coach ride into the city, and the return trip in the afternoon. Meanwhile, Peter and Krystyna had arranged a guide to take them around the main attractions in the city, and they invited us to join them and shared the cost.

Arrangements for leaving the ship and getting onto our coach were not as smooth as we had experienced on the Sun Princess. We had tickets that required us to meet at the Princess Theatre at 8:25 am, with instructions not to get there early. However, when we got there only a couple of minutes early, we were directed to the end of a long queue that delayed us for 10 minutes. We then had to wait in the theatre until 9:00 am, so we did not get away until over two hours after docking.

Our city guide, Tin Tin, was also on one of the coaches. However, we were not able to get on the same coach. The trip from Phu My to Ho Chi Minh City involved several tollgates, but the traffic was not too bad. We passed lots of small businesses, including cafes, that were on the main road. We also passed dry rice fields and wet rice paddies. Presumably the wet paddies are being affected by saltwater, which prevents rice from growing. Some of them are presumably now being used for aquaculture. We were told that where we see water palms, it is too salty for rice.

Street scene on way to Ho Chi Minh City

We ended up being dropped off outside the Grand Hotel in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City, which is still commonly called Saigon. After using the hotel’s rest rooms, we were met by Tin Tin, who had been dropped off at the Rex Hotel nearby.

Grand Hotel Saigon

We viewed Times Square Saigon, a 6-star hotel across the road with lovely polished blueschist facies metamorphic rocks in the foyer, and then walked up to the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office. We learned to walk slowly, but confidently across the roads. Somehow, the taxis, motor scooters and bicycles allow for pedestrians who follow this approach, and we did not see any accidents. Unfortunately for Katie, the cathedral was closed for renovation. Peter and Krystyna bought T-shirts and purses from street vendors, and they seemed to enjoy the bargaining process (which Ian detests).

Opera House
Notre Dame Cathedral
Post Office
Street vendors

In the above photo of street vendors, look closely at the old building in front of the new building in the background. This is the subject of a very famous photograph taken on 29 April 1975 of a helicopter on top of the Pittman Apartments evacuating refugees. The iconic photograph (from is reproduced below:

The Vinasun taxis were reliable and clean, but Peter and Ian had to shoehorn their way into the third row of seats, which were designed for children. Scooters were everywhere.

One of our taxis with driver
Scooters galore!

We all got into a taxi and drove to the War Remnant Museum. This museum was amazing and told the stories of the struggles with the French occupation of Vietnam, and the 17-year war with the USA. The latter war was portrayed by the Australian Government at the time as an honourable attempt to keep the communist regime in the north from taking over the southern part of the country. It appears, however, that the regime in the south was far from a competent and benevolent government, despite being anti-communist and backed by the USA and its allies. Of course, history knows that the USA lost, despite the widespread use of dioxin on the local people, or agent orange, and the communists took over the whole country. Vietnam has done relatively well since then, especially since President Clinton removed sanctions imposed by the USA. We were fortunate to have Tin Tin introduce us to one of her friends who is a third-generation victim of agent orange. Presumably, many US servicemen were also affected by this poison. It appears that the last Vietnam war was a disastrous mistake made be the Americans, and Australia perpetuated the mistake. History repeated itself several decades later when the USA, aided again by Australia, invaded Iraq on the pretence of the need to destroy weapons of mass destruction.

We could have easily spent the best part of the day in the war museum, but we had specifically asked Tin Tin for an opportunity to eat some local food. We took a taxi to the Quan Bui restaurant, which is very close to Tin Tin’s university. Tin Tin ordered soup, pork, chicken, vegie dishes and salad. A passionfruit with warm custard was an interesting dessert. Peter and Ian enjoyed a couple of Saigon beers.

Saigon Beer (its special)
Quan Bui restaurant
Enjoying a Vietnamese lunch

After lunch, we took another taxi to the Bitexco Financial Tower, which is distinguished by a helicopter pad and is one of the world’s iconic buildings. There is a 360-degree observation deck around the 49th floor called Skydeck. Peter and Ian were the only ones interested in venturing upwards, and we had a good view of most of Ho Chi Minh City, especially of the Saigon River.

Tin Tin left us while Peter and Ian were on the Skydeck, as she had to get back to her rendezvous with her coach. We walked back to the Grand Hotel, and Ian and Peter managed to have another Saigon beer before our coach arrived. The drive back to our ship at Phu My was smooth, and we arrived back on deck right at 5:30 pm, which was the time for all passengers to be back on board.

Krystyna, Tin Tin and Katie waiting for the boys to return from Skydeck

We were exhausted but elated after a fabulous experience in Ho Chi Minh City. We finished the day with a birthday dinner with new friends John and Joy from Bowen in Queensland. John was 72 today.

Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, was incredibly fascinating, but we only tasted a tiny sample of Vietnam. We want to understand more of the history of turmoil in this country. It would also be good to see more of the countryside away from the urban pollution. John and Joy, and others that we met on the ship, went on an enjoyable tour of the Mekong Delta where a huge range of tropical fruit is grown, as well as the ubiquitous rice. As Vietnam has a long coast, fishing is also a major industry here. Hopefully we can come back and see some other aspects of Vietnamese culture, maybe with our friend, Felicia.

Singapore, Sunday April 7 2019

Katie was so excited the night before that she couldn’t sleep. It has been a long time since Katie saw her sister, Lucy, and we have not been to Singapore since 1994.

The cruise ship docked at Marina Bay Cruise Terminal. Unsurprisingly, we passed many ships on the way to port as Singapore is one of the largest container ports in the world. We appreciated the smooth immigration process that Princess Cruise had facilitated, and we were able to disembark the ship with no delay.

Disembarkation at Singapore

Lucy and her partner, Eric, met us at the cruise terminal, where they had parked their car. We had a short drive around, and our first impression was that Singapore is an exceptionally clean and modern city. We did not recognise the place as it had changed so much in 25 years. There are several major new attractions, and Lucy had arranged for us to experience two of them–Marina Bay Sands and the Gardens by the Bay.

We had a quick breakfast of coffee and milk tea with sandwiches and toast at one of the food malls at the Marina Bay Sands. Milk tea is tea infused with condensed milk – very sweet and typically Singaporean.


Next, we visited the Sands SkyPark, which is the observation deck on the “ship” that sits on top of the three Marina Bay Sands towers. The “ship” is mostly a hotel. It has an infinity pool, but access is only given to guests. The observation deck is at one end of the “ship”. From it, visitors can get about a 270 degrees view of Singapore. It was very popular when we went up there on a clear Sunday morning. Lucy had also arranged for us to have a souvenir professional photo of our group, and we will treasure this.

Marina Bay Sands in early morning
Lucy & Katie on SkyWalk observation deck
View from SkyWalk of Gardens By the Bay, including the Flower Dome, Cloud Forest Dome and Supertrees, with waiting cargo ships in background
Katie, Lucy and Eric on SkyWalk observation deck

Eric drove us to China Town, where we enjoyed lunch at the Peach Garden Chinese Restaurant. We had dim sum, flat rice noodles with mushrooms, yummy soup with scallops, and interesting sticky rice desserts served in young coconuts. Ian and Eric enjoyed their Tiger beers.

Peach Garden Chinese Restaurant
Signature dish of roast and BBQ pork
Sticky rice in young coconuts
Singaporean Tiger Beer

Our next stop was the Gardens by the Bay on 101 hectares of reclaimed land and opened in 2012. Lucy bought tickets for the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest Dome. These are huge, air-conditioned structures that house plants ranging from cool, temperate climates to tropical rain forests, including Australian plants and olive trees. It is difficult to explain these in words, so we took lots of photos. They have cost billions of dollars, and there is some controversy about whether it is money well spent. An interesting feature of the Flower Dome is the numerous sculptures made from pieces of wood.

Mushroom sculpture
Dragon sculpture
Its cactus
Still cactus
Ian among the olive trees in Flower Dome
Queensland bottle trees in Flower Dome
Waterfall in Cloud Forest Dome
Carnivorous plants in Cloud Forest Dome

To finish off we enjoyed a cool drink and snacks at McDonalds. Lucy and Eric had given us a very full and thoroughly enjoyable tour of some of the best of Singapore in the short time we were ashore. Eric drove the short distance back to the cruise terminal where we said our “goodbyes”. We thanked Lucy and Eric for their time and the generous gift of the Marina Sands SkyWalk photo. We insisted to them that they visit us in the Hunter Valley next year.

We were so tired after our hectic but very enjoyable tour of Singapore and catch-up with Lucy and Eric, that once on board, Katie immediately hit the sack and missed dinner, and Ian had to refresh himself with a Bodington so he could enjoy the Singapore sailaway sunset.

Post Singapore Bodington
Singapore sailaway sunset