We’re not in Melbourne anymore
DAY 4 – at sea – 3m swell in languid sea – cool
First challenge of day – laundromat. I hastened a few doors down the corridor from me, after the gym, to beat the early worms. Strangely, although the sign says open at 07:30, I found some washing already in progress. It is possible it had been left at lock-up at 21:30 and it’s equally possible I hadn’t checked the ship’s time. (We regularly lost hours as we travelled back through the latitudes.)
There’s nothing wrong with the laundromats per se. On deck 8, there were two machines, two dryers and one ironing board. On my deck 6, a small thin area held four washers and four driers against one wall and, here’s where it gets interesting, usually about three humans squashed in beside two ironing boards. Waiting. Watching. Arms folded across chests. Guarding. Judging.
There was palpable tension one day I visited when a young woman had been found guilty of emptying a finished machine into ‘dirty’, ‘greasy’ (not as far as I could tell) baskets. Bright and breezy, I liked to enter, check times on the machines, and engage the watchers with cheery chat, effectively clearing out ‘guests’ with my gusto, and then to engage remaining fellow ‘guests’ in fantasies about what we would like to see in improved laundrettes. Space, obviously. One passenger hoped for a kitchen table, where people could sit in comfort. There was a magazine rack in the gym – could that be replicated? Surely tea and coffee making facilities were possible? Why not take out a neighbouring cabin (oh, really, take out more potential income? What about one used as a wardrobe?)
One passenger surmised Cunard hoped folk would purchase the laundry service on offer from the staff (for extra money). I don’t want to repeat other rumours – other than to say it’s possible fellow ‘guests’ may not behave in a ‘guestly’ manner when their undies are threatened! Perhaps you might like to spill the tea in the comments? However, let us not dwell on dirty washing. Let’s go out on deck, breath in sea air, raise our eyes towards the horizon and think of the future. Where are we bound?
Every day the Captain gave us navigational updates in his noon broadcast. You could opt in if you were in your cabin, by tuning in to the correct tv channel, otherwise you could pop out on deck or into one of the public bars or spaces to listen to his dulcet English tones. He told us where we were, where we were heading, and the weather. He would add an intriguing piece of seafaring information, such as the origins of port and starboard, or the reasons a ship’s speed is measured in knots.
There were regular presentations in the Illuminations Cinema/Planetarium/Lecture Hall about upcoming destinations. After Melbourne, our next port of call was Kangaroo Island in South Australia. We were lucky to have a talk from Professor Dennis Foley (who did not look much like Professor Gary but maybe … ) He sped through a series of intriguing stories that only left me wanting more. Luckily each talk is replayed on the internal tv system so you can catch repeats at your leisure.
He told us the Aboriginal history of the island is unclear. The First Nation name is Karta Pintingga, ‘Island of the dead’. When white settlers, sealers and whalers, arrived two hundred plus years ago, they reported they never saw people there. Well, they would, wouldn’t they. But middens suggest there were people living on Karta Pintingga 16,000 years ago and later evidence suggests there might have been people there 2,000 years ago but no one knows why they left. There’s a dreaming story of a powerful man who mistreated his wives so badly they ran away. He was so powerful he was able to cause the waters to rise enough to split the island away from the mainland and turn the poor fleeing women to stone. You can still see them as islands named, ‘The Pages’, in 1802 by explorer Matthew Flinders.
Unfortunately, American and European sealers and whalers kidnapped indigenous women from the mainland. Apparently, many of the Kangaroo Island landmarks are named after those first women. Not Nobby’s Head, I’m guessing.
DAY 5 – sunny and gusty – we anchored off the island (KI) early
On ‘Shore Days’ the Kings Buffet opened early for toast and coffee type breakfasts. I was due to report for my Group 4 tour at 07:15. I ate as much as I could because Australia has strict Border Controls – especially regarding fruit flies – and I couldn’t take food off the ship.
I hurried up to wait in a Cruise Queue for the tender to the beach. The island itself looked green and flat and far away. The sea looked sparkly and big. When you see a picture of Queen Mary 2, the small orange ships tied up neatly between Deck 7 and Deck 8 are the tenders. Apparently they can hold over a hundred people each. Gulp. (NB they are not the lifeboats.) There is a 1.5m mark on the floor as the passengers approach the portal to the tender. Staff are assigned to make sure each ‘guest’ can easily step over this space as the gap between wharf and tender can be problematic for those with mobility issues. Safety is a serious business for ‘guests’ and staff. Bonus, if you can’t get to shore, great time to get your washing done.
There was a technical hitch even at that early stage but finally we were loaded onto the boats and began to putter away from our Mother ship, The Queen. Straightaway, we sideswiped the landing deck, and no one was laughing, especially not the crew or the observing officers. But we got under way, and I was up on the roof, hanging onto a guard rail and enjoying myself immensely in the rolling waters. The young skipper had to make a large circle around the beach to avoid the swells.
We eventually landed at the wharf, piled onto our jolly tour bus, and headed off for a very long drive to see The Remarkable Rocks. The driver pointed to his two reserved front seats and asked if anyone wanted to move forward? Of course, I wanted to sit in the front.
As did, let’s call her Callie from California, a woman who warned, when she came to sit beside me, she had a chronic cough, and she did. She assured me she did not have Covid. She’d had this cough for years and she’d seen hundreds of doctors. Over time she’d discovered drinking carbonated drinks helped. The poor woman spent the entire trip drinking litres of the stuff. If she wasn’t coughing her lungs out, wracking her body into exhaustion, she was drinking, or eating chips, ice-cream, chewing gum … She was reasonably thin for the amount of cola and ginger beer she put away – an indication of the energy taken by her coughing. It wasn’t restful for either of us.
After a long and winding road, we saw them. Beautiful, twisted rocks carved out over thousands of years stood at the edge of the island. Remarkable. I wonder if Dame Barbara Hepworth ever visited? She probably would have gone even bigger if she had! Paying attention to Gary’s severe safety warnings, Group 4 wandered through these elemental sculptures and the air became redolent with some sweet succulent from this coastal world.
We were then driven by jolly Gary ‘boom-boom’ to Admiral Arch, another natural wonder, a gateway for seals to enjoy a series of flat bathing rocks. The sun glinted from sea and seal alike. The smooth beasts relaxed and flapped and splashed in ideal landscapes. One large fellow flung his head back as he lounged on an outcrop in the middle of one of these pools, looking as carved and solid as a feature fountain.
As we made our way to the camping ground for our lunch stop, Gary, in more serious mode, related some of the awful fire tales of 2020, with extreme wild-life disappearances and injuries, and extensive bush damage. Over half the island burned. Most of the Flinders Chase National Park, 96%, was affected. The fire burned for weeks. The evidence grim, obvious all around us, the abundant new growth in stark contrast to the ghostly remaining stick gums.
I wandered into the camping shop for a decent coffee as Gary handed out the lunch packs, for I suspected there would be nothing there for me. When he too came in for a cappuccino, I plucked up the courage to remind him how, at the start of our trip, he’d interrogated the bus about the gluten free ‘guest’ – acknowledged with a squeaky yes – and he’d nodded, said, ‘That’s all I need to know’ – and ducked off before there was any mention of the only vegan in the village? Yes, he remembered and once more I experienced that sinking feeling as I realised that telling the booking office when I initially bought my fare, the Maitre d’, Richard, my Head Waiter, Arnold and Chester, the excellent waiters at my table, and assorted chefs in the King’s Court was not enough. (There’s 157 chefs on board as well as all the other kitchen staff). I’d assumed that there’d be a ‘V’ on my name come up on a screen where-ever I was, especially when Cunard say all dietary requirements would be catered for. BUT. You just have to keep telling people. NB: Once I got back on board, I was able to visit the ‘Shore Experience’ Tour Office to put suitable notes on my future bookings. However, here and now at the Kangaroo Island Camping Shop, we were faced with an embarrassing situation.
Gary left me in the capable hands of the couple who ran the place – they’d charge any food to the ship. I tried to avoid being a burden, shrinking behind the shelves as the lovely woman marched around, reading labels – so sorry, deliveries would be coming tomorrow – while in self-conscious panic I grabbed a packet of seaweed flavoured rice-cakes, a tomato, and an avocado – easy once the food discussions stopped.
Gary did not have a trusty assistant to help him look after the needs of forty-four ‘guests’. He was driver and tour guide, first aider, comedian, and he had to do all the dishes. I’m not sure why Cunard can’t supply electronic ‘guest’ lists including any special notes for each bus but that would make it too easy, I suppose.
For the Americans (Yanks or Septic Tanks to us Aussies) and the British (Brits or Poms), there was a lone koala up a slender gum tree in the middle of the caravan park common area. Soft, fluffy, and backlit, it looked very pretty against the bright new growth of the tree. Koalas are contentious on Kangaroo Island, regarded as introduced pests before the disaster, the locals feel their greatly reduced numbers after the fires are now sustainable. The camping ground facilities had been totally rebuilt with insurance money resulting from the fires. Gary pointed out dark patches on the road where the fire had been hot enough to melt the metal. He also pointed out ample roadkill. Could they invest in some wildlife bridges or tunnels, especially as they’re currently digging up the place for piping from the new desalination plant?
After lunch we visited dreamy Vivonne Bay, a lagoon with gorgeous turquoise water softly lapping white sands, right next to the surf beach and, over in the distance, Nobby’s Head where we were headed next. Honestly, Nobby’s?
The logistics around forty-four tourists visiting Seal Bay Conservation Park were intense. The humans needed to stay obediently clustered together ten metres away from the animals. The sea lions were ivory white, hairy, stretched out equidistantly along the perfect soft sand beach, completely ignoring the snapping cameras. The humanity stood in full sun and watched a sea lion bodysurf to shore, slide out of the water, and then galumph up the beach. Some did that yoga head-flung-back digestion pose when they arrived, while another, smaller, plopped on top of a parent.
As the guide spoke to one half of the group, and Gary, driver/guide/biologist, to the other half, a woman reached out and tapped her (presumably) partner on the arm and said, ‘Don’t you ever do that to me again.’ And instead of just saying, ‘Sorry, dear, of course not, what was I thinking,’ he came back at her in a belligerent tone. I backed away, thinking further than ten metres away from any animal is a fine idea. And, because I’d distanced myself from the scene, I can’t be sure if it was the same woman who then sank to the sand, gripping a man firmly enough to pull him off balance. I would make a poor witness. The lady stayed on the ground even as two men heaved on her arms to get her to stand. It became clear she was down and not because she’d fallen or twisted her ankle but for some more serious reason. Her head was visible through her hair parting and appeared red. Many of our Group 4 ‘guests’ had eschewed hats. Gary snapped into first aider mode and assistants were radio/walkie-talkied to help her up the boardwalk stairs to the shade of the information centre. I noticed the Defibrillator on the way back. With tours like ours, I bet it gets regular use. I don’t know how she was delivered back to the Mother ship, but I hope she recovered quickly.
Next stop was the Eucalyptus Distillery where we could watch an informative video about a plucky Australian family who pulled themselves up by the gum leaves and Gary could get another cappuccino while the ‘guests’ bought soap, oil, and other eucalyptus trinkets on sale.
By the time we’d seen our last surf beach, and arrived back at the wharf, the sea was undoubtedly rough. I waited back and watched two weighed-down tenders, one with eighty-four and the next with eighty-six, go up and down. And then there was us. I noticed the empty tenders rocked and rolled on the top of the choppy swell, any which way they were thrown, and yet the sea stayed blue and sparkly and cheerful, that deceptive sea. No-one was riding on the roof.
I came in with security staff and crew. Sitting up the front, with presumably more elbow room than the previous ‘guests’, managed to chat with one of the deck crew. He told me they eat well, he liked the fried chicken best, and the salary was good. His English was impeccable. He told me there’s a good industry program in the Philipines. I hope he gets to train as an officer.
Made it in time for dinner to hear some of our passengers had not made it to shore at all, the tenders having ceased running by mid-day because of rough conditions. The crew wisely saved their strength to bring home all the ‘guests’ out on tours.
DAY SIX – Adelaide. Sister! Family! Civilisation! Proper coffee!
I woke early and, after visiting the gym, messaged my sister hows, wheres and whyfores of our family day. I had plenty of time to breakfast and get ready.
Caught the Cunard-supplied shuttle bus into town, met my sister and went about seeing relatives and catching up with more last-minute Things to Do. It was lovely and relaxing with minimal tourism.
Jane supplied me with a coffee plunger and decent coffee and looked at the QM2 daily bulletin I’d brought to show her. She challenged me to try to do all the activities on offer in one day. My eyes ran down the formidable list with a sinking feeling. From Zumba to choir, to learning bridge, cha cha and French conversation, water colours and informative talks – that’s just the morning – I blinked hard. It was impossible. But I did report the challenge to my table-mates and they LOVED it! Accepted! Much debate ensued. One person could not do everything. But could we each take on a task and share the challenge? Or could we try each thing across our weeks at sea?
It is lovely to have conversation slide easily around the big round table. No-one keen to impress or show off and there’s a nice line in teasing banter developing. We agreed we could continue this activity challenge debate at Afternoon Tea the next day.
DAY 7 – at sea – blustery conditions
I clung to Deck 7 handrails to get to the gym entrance at the bow. The wind caused many of the main doors to be closed and I had to duck under a warning barrier belt to get inside. Normally quiet first thing, the gym is quite a pleasant place to be unless everyone else wants to be there.
Today I sat outside the laundrette waiting for it to be unlocked. I managed to start a load before heading off to the Britannia for a bowl of porridge. When I returned, Callie from California had moved my stuff to a ‘greasy’ basket! Then a helpful mansplainer came to tell me how to use the drier. I took advice from a steward who told me shore days were best to use the laundrettes, and failing that, afternoons – now you know.
My activity level needed lifting, so I attended the informative talk by Professor Dennis Foley about Busselton, another tender port, but apparently more sheltered waters. The Aboriginal name for Busselton is Undalup, after the warrior and leader, Undal. It is in Wadandi Boodja, the country of the Wadandi, saltwater people, who have been there for at least 40,000 years. The suffix, ‘– up’, means place: place of Undal-up, Yallingup, where we’d be visiting a cave, is place of holes, Meelup is place of eyes.
Later in the day, I met my tablemates for the important Queen Mary 2 afternoon tea. Together with the Gala Nights, this ceremony rates highly on the reasons passengers book time and time again to cruise with Cunard. We sat up nicely in the ballroom, with a skilled pianist colouring the atmosphere, and suddenly there was a burst of applause. Tradition demands the waiters are greeted with thunderous clapping as they process into the room with the hot teapots. It happens every sea day. I didn’t ask if the sandwiches and cakes had any vegan options. Nice cuppa, though.
During this social event, our table formed a Committee. We nicknamed ourselves 680dotcom (because our table number was 680 if you must know) and I was named head of HR. We enjoyed a long debate about the additional fees for gratuities which are added to our bill. In Australian money it’s about $11 a day and adds up quickly. One of our 680dotcom thought the money was a ruse and went straight to the corporation (Carnival). Later I asked one of the pursers who told me the total is shared out equally with the crew and staff at the end of the cruise section. Another reason I wouldn’t get much change out of my total of Aust $20,000. Some people request the fee be removed, preferring to give their stewards and waiters tips personally. At the end of my six weeks, I did provide my favourites a small sum inside a priceless hand-painted card (made in art class!) but I kept paying the fee. What would you do?
DAY 8 – at sea – tried to set my routine
Gym, shower, breakfast, Italian practice, tapestry, lunch, reading, typing, dinner …
Began to notice … not much wildlife. Lots of sky. Lots of sea. No birds. Although, one of my table-mates reported seeing a distant whale and another had seen a gang of dolphins and two flying fish.
DAY 9 – Busselton – anchored very far away
The Captain announced the winds would rise after 15:00, in fact, I told my neighbour to remember that as we bounced on our way to the long Busselton Jetty. It was once the longest jetty in the world. We didn’t hang around there but piled into tour buses.
We drove to Cape Naturaliste, the point where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian with a swirl of currents and shipwrecks. There was not one wreck after they built the lighthouse. We then proceeded to Ngilgi Cave: still, twisty and curvy. Lit with natural colours, thankfully. Don’t you hate caves lit with lime green and pink spots? This isn’t one of those. Enjoyable apart from the other people. I’ve got enough inanity of my own running through my head without having to listen to more!
On our own Free Time, back in town, made my way to seek food. Not one mention on Happy Cow but found a café with salad and chips. The waiter told me to go and sit near the couch. Just as I arrived to the chair next to the couch, a man put his paper and keys on the table. I asked if I could share the table? I thought there was plenty of room and he muttered something so I sat down and began to get comfy. Wrong. He gave me a serve. Swearing unhappy. Wouldn’t listen to me at all. I’m apologising, getting up, backing away, but no, he leaves the café entirely. So I look around and think, okay, he’s gone, coast’s clear, that’s where the waiter told me to be … so I sit down. And he’s back, barking at me like a wounded terrier! I’m the reason everything is gone to shit in this country, it’s people like me who ruin it for everyone else. I can only stare at him, my fork halfway to my open mouth. Lots of troubles in his house. Ate all the salad and chips.
Back to long jetty. I looked at the enormous line of people baking in the full sun along the long jetty at 15:00, wandered away for a cold ginger ale in a pub – forgot the Captain’s warning – and the wind rose. Got back at 17:00 and we all got a splashed in the half an hour ride back to the Mother ship. Lucky it was a warm day.
One of 680dotcom had been on the Back of House tour (US$120 – limited numbers) and, over dinner, he gave us a detailed report, speaking clearly from excellent notes. Apart from a tour of the kitchens (which would happen again – see upcoming installment) he also visited the medical centre, and the waste department where recycling is separated and crushed (more soon), the staff quarters and the actual bridge plus a photo op and champagne. Another of our party was about to leave us in Perth the next day so we had speeches and I’d made a card in art class! We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and went off to see the show. It was split between the Royal Court Ensemble – sort of energetic Kenny Everett dancers and some enthusiastic young singers – plus cheerful headliner, Belinda Adams – fun in a frock – with some old time crowd-pleasing melodies. Best show I’d seen so far.
DAY 10 – Actual docking alongside Fremantle (Freo to the locals)
Instead of sightseeing, it was a personal, magic day of three meetings, one after the other, in three different locations from Freo to Perth and back again, catching up with three inspirational women, each with very different lives. Thank you for a brilliant send off!
One of our 680dotcom, Andrew, reminded me that the Captain interrupted our dinner to make a little speech. He referred to to the significance of leaving that port almost exactly three years to the day after the abrupt cancellation of the QM2’s 2020 cruise due to Covid. Andrew and his wife were among the passengers turned away. This the first time the QM2 had retraced the intended 2020 route. For reasons Andrew couldn’t really understand, he felt a curious compulsion to complete it. Unfinished business. So, for Andrew, the departure that night was very moving – and made more so by all the people along the shoreline waving their mobile phone lights in the growing dark. Andrew was surprised to encounter many other passengers who were in the same situation and felt the same way.
And later, we watched the coast of Australia disappear. Cheerio, Oz.