Monthly Archives: July 2019

Heart and Coal in Newcastle

Have you heard the saying, “It’s like carrying coal to Newcastle”? The saying which means to do something pointless or superfluous originated in Newcastle, England, where the expression dates back to the 1600s, but the Aussies in Newcastle, Australia, also claim it as their own. It turns out both cities have a legitimate claim. Newcastle, England, was the United Kingdom’s first coal exporting port and Newcastle, Australia, is currently the largest coal port in the world. (Newcastle, Australia, however, is currently trying to move away from a carbon-centered economy.)

Australia’s second-oldest city was permanently established in 1804 as a penal colony originally consisting of 34 convicts and a military guard. The convicts were treated harshly, working long days mining coal. By 1826, however, the Australian Agricultural Company took over management of all government mining and the penal colony moved to Port Macquarie.

I think of coal as an especially dirty commodity so I assumed the largest coal port in the world would be among the dirtiest, most unappealing ports ever but I was in for a big surprise! Shuttle buses picked us up at the pier and transported us immediately to the attractive town center. I took a photo of the sign below with a map of the town to help us find our way first to Fort Scratchley. As it turned out, the photo was the only map we had since we were told the town was out of tourist maps due to the recent large influx of cruise ships. Our walking route is enlarged below.

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You can find several other self-guided walks and maps on the Visit Newcastle website but our route, while not planned in advance, showed us a good sample of Newcastle’s sights.

We walked along the foreshore, then climbed the hill to the fort.

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Customs House in the background

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Looking back along the foreshore with a view of the cathedral high on the hill

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View as we climbed to the fort

Fort Scratchley was established in 1882 in response to hostilities between England and Russia resulting in fear of attack by Russian ships to obtain coal.  Colonel Peter Scratchley was put in charge of planning the fort which would subsequently be named for him.

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A Russian ship, His Imperial Royal Majesty’s Ship Rynda, did sail into the port in 1888 causing great consternation but the feared attack never materialized. Instead, an attack came from Japan in 1942 when a submarine, the I-21, shelled Newcastle with over 30 rounds. The troops at Ft. Scratchley returned fire but the sub escaped unharmed. Today, the fort is an interactive museum with many devoted volunteers who love to share these stories and more with visitors. As cruise ships depart Newcastle, they fire a three-gun salute from Ft. Scratchley but it’s rather a point of pride that they’ve never hit a ship.

 

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Quarters at the fort

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No. 1 and No. 2 guns 

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Jim and No. 2 gun

 

 

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View from Ft. Scratchley toward the Norwegian Jewel

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Jim and I enjoyed the view of Nobby’s Beach and Nobby’s Lighthouse

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A volunteer regaled Jim with stories about Ft. Scratchley

The walk down to Newcastle Beach was easier than our climb up to the fort. We had a chuckle over the sign at the beach announcing the nudie Australian Boardriders Battle but we missed the competition which was scheduled several days after our visit. My research on the internet revealed no surfers competed in the nude so I’m at a loss to explain the name. It is, however, the largest surfing competition in Australia.

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Newcastle Beach

After enjoying views of the beach, we climbed back up the hill to Christchurch Cathedral. The cathedral is the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle where the Bishop resides. Construction began in 1892 but was never completed. In 1974, the roof sustained major damage as the result of a terrible storm and the building was finally repaired and finished in 1979. Disaster struck again in 1989 when a serious earthquake occurred and restoration following the event was finally completed in 1997. Today, the cathedral is beautiful both inside and out.

 

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Cathedral Church of Christ the King

The banners on either side of the nave depict saints and angels

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Interior of Cathedral

I was fascinated by the beautiful needlepoint covers on the kneelers.

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Kneelers with needlepoint covers

When I asked an employee what the symbols were on the kneeler below, quite a discussion ensued.

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They finally determined the six symbols represent the six states in Australia.

 

New South Wales: the cross of St George with lion and stars

Western Australia: a black swan

Tasmania: a red walking lion

Queensland: a blue Maltese cross and crown

Victoria: the southern cross

South Australia: the Australian piping shrike

Following our visit to the cathedral, we walked downhill one last time and to our great delight, we discovered Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, the iconic pie cart. Established during the Depression by Harry Edwards to provide cheap food outside the Woolloomooloo naval dockyard in Sydney, Harry closed his business when he enlisted during WWII. He reopened after the war in 1945 and the business has operated ever since. This early version of a food truck became “de Wheels” because the city council required food caravans to move at least 12 inches each day so Harry’s became Harry’s Cafe de Wheels.

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Harry’s is known for pie and having pie in Australia was on my “must-do” list. This pie, however, is no ordinary pastry; it’s a meat pie. Lori and I decided to share the signature Harry’s Original Tiger pie made with beef, mushy peas, mash, and gravy. YUM!

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After our sustenance at Harry’s, we were ready to return to the Norwegian Jewel. We had reservations at the French restaurant, Le Bistro, to celebrate a romantic Valentine’s Day with our sweethearts that evening.

I know Jim looks either inebriated or totally smitten in the photo below but honestly, he was just hamming it up for Valentine’s Day.IMG_6448

Join us next time for fun at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

 

Based on events in February 2019.

 

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Leaving Sydney on the Norwegian Jewel

Our departure on the morning of day 5 in Sydney was bittersweet. Despite the heat-wave, no aircon, no window screens, blood-thirsty mosquitoes, a few other random unidentified insects, and a creature later identified by the landlord as a gecko that skittered through the apartment startling some and terrifying others, we enjoyed our stay in the Airbnb. The location, the kitchen, and the extra space were ideal. I think we all felt a little sad leaving Sydney, a city we agreed was delightful and offered many more experiences than we’d had time to enjoy.  On the other hand, we were excited to begin our 19-day cruise with 5 additional ports in Australia plus stops in Indonesia and Singapore.

So we trudged up the hill past our favorite pub, the Lord Nelson Brewery, one last time with our bags in tow. As we made our way down Argyle Street, I looked around fondly, taking a few last photos to remind me of our adopted home neighborhood.

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We arrived at Circular Quay too early to board the Norwegian Jewel, but joined the line which was already forming. Since our ship wouldn’t leave Sydney until 6 p.m., we had planned to go through the embarkation process, have lunch, then take in one last sight, the Australian National Maritime Museum, in nearby Darling Harbor.

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When we discovered we wouldn’t be allowed to leave the ship once we went through embarkation, we decided to cut the museum from our itinerary. We’ve all had nightmare experiences standing in line for hours to board the ship and right now we were at the front of the line so we decided to stay right there.

Happily, embarkation was one of the quickest we’ve experienced so we were soon on-board and made our way to the Garden Cafe for lunch. Although we couldn’t get into our staterooms for several hours, we contented ourselves with exploring the ship, purchasing our wine package, and perusing the Freestyle Daily which advises passengers of everything happening on-board.

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Sydney Harbour Bridge

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Sydney Opera House from the Norwegian Jewel

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View of CBD (Central Business District) from the ship

Our luggage arrived soon after the staterooms opened and we unpacked at a leisurely pace, grateful to think we wouldn’t need our suitcases for 19 days. The mandatory lifeboat drill was scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and sail-away at 6. As the four of us enjoyed a delicious dinner before the show, Aussie Boys in Motown, we watched from our table as Sydney receded on the horizon.

 

 

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Leaving Sydney

 

Come back next time to read about our first port-of-call at Newcastle.

 

Based on events from February 2019.

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Down Under in the Blue Mountains

Wanting to get out of Sydney to see more of the countryside of New South Wales, we researched our options for day trips. After flirting with the idea of a wine tour to the Hunter Valley, we decided instead on a trip to the Blue Mountains. We booked a small group guided tour with Anderson’s Tours for $160 per person. Although it seemed somewhat expensive, the 11-hour tour included several stops in the Blue Mountains, Scenic World, a guided walk, Featherdale Wildlife Park, a river cruise, lunch, and all entrance fees.

Our guide, Kunal, picked us up at the nearby Intercontinental Hotel at 7:20 a.m. on Day 4 of our trip down under.

Ours was the last pickup point and seats were nearly full so Jim sat in the front with Kunal, beginning a thoroughly enjoyable ride. As he drove us through the countryside, Kunal shared his considerable knowledge about Australia, New South Wales, and the Blue Mountains with us.

The Blue Mountains received their name eponymously from the blue haze of the eucalyptus forests covering the mountains. The blue haze is caused by a phenomenon called Rayleigh Scattering, a molecular scattering of light. Incidentally, this Rayleigh Scattering also causes the sky to look blue.

After driving through Glenbrook and Katoomba, we stopped first at Scenic World. A privately owned tourist attraction, it offers several worthwhile experiences. As we entered, we were told to take the Scenic Skyway and meet our group on the other side before boarding the Scenic Railway. The Scenic Skyway, the largest aerial cablecar in the southern hemisphere, with 360-degree windows and a glass floor, provided some amazing views.

View from Scenic Skyway

As is sometimes the case, several of our tour group didn’t listen to the instructions and couldn’t be found at the meeting point so we wasted about 45 minutes waiting for them. This is why I’ve come to appreciate private tours whenever they are cost-effective.

Advertised as the steepest passenger railway in the world, the Scenic Railway with its 128% incline descends 310 meters (1017 ft.) to the floor of the Jamison Valley. Originally built to transport coal and miners, the incline railway began carrying tourists on weekends and holidays to supplement their income. When the coal mine closed, Harry Hammon and his sister bought the lease in 1945 and developed Scenic Railway as the centerpiece of Scenic World.

When we reached the bottom, we enjoyed the Scenic Walkway through several coal mining exhibits and an environmentally responsible 2.4 km trail through the Jurassic rainforest.

Sculpture of a coal miner and his pit pony
Scenic Walkway

The thick vines in the photo below supply water and nutrients to the foliage high above in the canopy.

Five Leaf Water Vines

Following our leisurely stroll through the rainforest, we boarded the Scenic Cableway for our return to the top of the cliff while enjoying more spectacular views of the Three Sisters, a rock formation created by erosion.

Three Sisters, Blue Mountains
One last photo at Scenic World

We stopped at several more lookouts with relatively short trails leading to them. Even in the mountains, the day was oppressively hot so we were grateful not to hike too far.

Cahills Lookout
Jim on the right in the red hat at Elysian Rock

Following a tasty lunch at the elegant Alexandra Hotel in Leura, we had a little free time to explore the town before continuing on to several more lookouts in the Blue Mountains.

Lunch at the Alexandra Hotel

The view from Sublime Point lived up to its name.

Featherdale Wildlife Park was like most zoos—a somewhat sad place to see wild animals in captivity. Because of the heat, we departed from the air-con in the van somewhat apathetically to visit the animals.

I was eager, however, to see native Australian wildlife and especially keen to see koalas up close. Koalas are nocturnal and sleep 18-20 hours a day and none of them were awake but it was fun, nonetheless. You can hold koalas only in the state of Queensland (we were in New South Wales) so we didn’t bother to stand in the short line to get a photo merely petting a koala. I would later regret that decision but more on that in a future post.

Koalas are endangered; there are currently estimated to be only 43,000-80,000 koalas left in Australia due to loss of habitat. The koala eats eucalyptus leaves and while there are 700 varieties of the plant in Australia, the koala eats only 60 of them. Efforts are underway to try to save and restore the habitat to ensure the survival of this adorable marsupial.

A couple from our group with a koala

Lori and I took turns taking photos of one another petting the kangaroos that roamed freely around the park.

Lori and a roo
Me and my roo

The park charges a fee to take photos of dingos but I captured this one as one of the staff walked it through.

Dingo at Featherdale Wildlife Park

These adorable little penguins are native to Australia and we enjoyed watching them clamor for food at feeding time.

Feeding time at the zoo

The echidna, also known as the spiny anteater, is native only to Australia and New Guinea. They and the platypus are the only mammals to lay eggs.

Echidna

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Following our visit at Featherdale Wildlife Park, Kunal delivered us to the marina on the Parramatta River where our ride soon arrived to deliver us back to Circular Quay.

Kunal and Jim

It was a long, sweltering, exhausting, but satisfying day.

 

Based on events from February 2019.

Categories: Australia, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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