Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Coffs Harbour - 30° 18' 15" S 153° 08' 49" E

Riding the EAC!

Remember in 'Finding Nemo' when Dory and Marlin used the EAC Superhighway with the turtles to get to Sydney?

We did it too - although perhaps not quite the same speed and minus the turtles!

The EAC is the East Australian Current that runs down the east coast of Australia.  Somewhat larger than the film portrayed, the EAC is a surface current that is up to 100km wide in places.  It is strongest in the Summer and runs up to 4kns.  We picked it up off the coast of Fraser Island and held on for the ride!

The East Australian Current

Steaming past Brisbane - 9.6kn over ground
 with a little help from the EAC!
We experienced its gentle nudge of between 2.5 and 3.5kn.  For a period, we has 4.1kn of current helping us along.  To put this in perspective, each knot of additional speed on a 24 hour passage saves around 3-4 hours.  So that's awfully nice!

4.1kns - thats a nice little nudge!

Weeeee - we love the EAC!

'You're ridin' it dude.'

Friday, October 5, 2018

Whitehaven Beach - 20° 17' 30" S 149° 03' 21" E

Whitehaven Beach

Beautiful Whitehaven Beach with sand like icing sugar and azure waters, it listed as one of the top ten beaches in the world by Lonely Planet.

Somewhat subjective, some will debate, but there is little argument that Whitehaven is stunning.

...and accessible.

Hoards of tourists flock to the southern end of the beach by helicopter, sea-plane, yacht and power boat, charter boat and fully-loaded day tour boats that purge tourists reminiscent to the wartime landings in Normandy.

Yet despite this, Whitehaven remains stunning.  Anchor a tad further north and all but the most intrepid tourist can be avoided.

The warm, clear waters invite swimming and the bright, white sand is perfect for lazing.

A wonderful place to spend a day or two!

...but Lonely Planet, did you really have to tell the whole world?!

Friday, September 28, 2018

Cid Harbour - 20° 15’ 43” S 148° 56’ 23” E

Paradise with sharp teeth

Cid Harbour

Cid Harbour in The Whitsunday Islands is picture perfect. The water is that stunning shade of turquoise that has you questioning; blue? green?  It is prime cruising season with dozens of yachts bobbing at anchor on the sparkling water.  The weather is sunny and warm.  Dinghies zip around the bay and the sounds of splashing and laughter carry across the water as people leap from their boats into the sparkling, warm turquoise.  

We swam off Popeye, floating and splashing and practicing the backward roll method of getting into the dinghy.  We took the dinghy ashore, wandered along the beach and hiked the track around the headland.  We watched the turtles frolic, completely nonplussed by our presence.  And then we jumped into that magical warm water to rid ourselves of the sweat of the tropical day.

We had just settled in for sundowners with a glass of wine in hand when a blood-curdling scream echoed across the water from the adjacent yacht.  The cries for help were answered by several dinghies racing towards the screams.  We stayed aboard Popeye and monitored the radio, not wanting to add to the confusion. 

Popeye in the media - this photo even
made the German papers

A woman, a shark, a bite to the thigh, an arterial bleed, stage three shock.  The news came through over the next few minutes.  The transom of the yacht was red with blood.  The rescue helicopter came flying in in a race against the fading light.  The woman lowered into a dinghy and moved to an area away from the tall masts so the helicopter could drop a winch line. And as the day faded away, we watched the tiny blinking light against the dark of the land be winched up to the helicopter.

Racing against the setting sun

We live in a country filled with all kinds of bitey and poisonous creatures, we have a healthy respect for them yet rarely give them a second thought.  We swim in the ocean despite the sharks, crocodiles and jellyfish, (except of course, in croc country or during stinger season, that would just be plain silly) we hike through the bush despite the snakes and even happily use the outdoor toilet with the red-backs that like to linger under the seat.  But we never expect those critters to actually harm us.  There, but for the grace of God, go I.  That nauseating, stomach-churning reality, it may very well have been one of us.  That poor, poor woman. 

The weather forecast was for a windy weekend so after a crew change at Hamilton Island, we headed back to Cid, one of the best anchorages in the islands in a strong south easterly. Just as we were coming in, the radio crackled to life.  The rescue helicopter was incoming and they were going to try for a beach landing. It’s got to be a heart attack or a broken bone, surely, surely not…  but yes, less than 24-hour later, a second shark attack. 

The victim, a 12-year old girl.  The shock, another shark attack.  The questions, what happened? who was attacked?  And the judgments, who would allow their child to go swimming after a shark attack?  didn’t they know a woman had been mauled? bad parenting, poor child.  Shark attacks are so rare that, even after witnessing one at close hand, I would likely have gone swimming again.  Lightening never strikes twice and all those adages. 

Fisheries and the police did the rounds of the anchorage, advising against swimming.  And the baying for blood commenced, with school holidays starting and two shark attacks, action must be taken.  Three drum lines were placed in the bay, two in roughly the locations of the attacks.  We watched as one, then two tiger sharks were trapped and shot in the space of a few minutes – 2m and 3.3m.  And the following day, the drum line not far from us caught another two, 2.6m and 3.7m.

Popeye's new artwork 

Tiger sharks are very scary and look just like we expect a shark to look like.  There is obviously a decent population of them in and around Cid Harbour.  I will likely never swim here again nor in Nara Inlet nor in murky water nor at sunset nor after dark.  But I likely to continue to swim off a boat!

Friday, August 3, 2018

Cycling Alsace - 48° 27' 44" N 07° 28' 59" E

We first brought our bikes to Alsace in 2012 and immediately feel in love with the cycling here.  Head east, and you ride the flats of the Rhine Valley, through crops of corn, wheat, cabbages and barley and along canals dotted with locks and white swans.  Head west, and it is the hilly terrain of The Vosges Mountains with castle ruins, forests and steep climbs.  North and south, you can choose climbs, flats or the rolling hills through the vineyards of the Route des Vins.

The cycling infrastructure has improved over the last six years.  When we first came, the signage simply directed you to the next village so you had to know each and every small town along the route.  With the villages being only 3 - 4km apart, this was a challenge!  The signage has improved with the use of numbered cycling routes from local loops and the wine routes, up to the EuroVelo #5 which runs 3,300km from London, England to Brindisi, Italy!

The Tourist Offices in the region rent out e-bikes for 20 euro a day and provide fabulous rainproof route maps complete with elevation profiles and points of interest!  And for the times you are actually cycling on a road rather than a pathway, the cars are courteous and tolerant of cyclists and simply sit behind you until it is safe to pass with the legally required 1.5m gap.

Tourist Office Map
Showing each turn and the elevation profile
As we do not have a car, we use our bikes for transport - go grocery shopping, visit friends in nearby villages,  get to the pool etc.  It is a great way to get around and, as we live in the very centre of the village, we can easily get home regardless of the traffic, one-way streets and the frequent closures for summer festivals.

And now for the details of our rides:

We rode to Mutzig to visit a bike shop that rents tandem bikes.  With Mum and Wendy coming for a visit, we decided that popping Mum on a tandem behind Sean and Wendy on his bike was the best solution to our transport issues!  We made a few stops along the way to run a few errands - a great way to put some kilometres onto our leg whilst doing the day to day jobs!

The only elevation gains were going up over bridges.  The bulk of this ride is along the canals that run through acres and acres of crops.  The route drops you into Le Petit France district of Strasbourg which is a fabulous place for lunch.  It is flat, fast and fun down the canal before cutting back through the crops to Obernai.

The climb up to Mont-Sainte-Odile is super pretty through the forests of The Vosges Mountains.  And the view from the top is spectacular looking over the Rhine Valley to Strasbourg with its distinctive one-spire cathedral, red-roofed villages each with their church spire, the mountains of the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) in Germany and the endless grapes hugging the foothills along the mountain range. 

Where will we get to if we just keep going?  Mulhouse!  And we can jump on the train to get home rather than the 120km return ride...

With Mum on the back of the tandem and Wendy on her first major road-bike foray, we headed to the cafes and flowers of Strasbourg. And the train ride home (bikes travel free - even the tandem) ensured we ended before there were tears!

An amble through the ancient villages, complete with cobble stones, village walls and gates, half timbered houses and the ubiquitous flowers.

Wendy borrowed Sean's road bike to see if those spin classes were relevant to the open road ... and they are!  Both sisters scampered up to the top in no time at all.  Nancy and Sean drove the support car and met them at the top with snacks.

Sean went for a ride with "the boys" on a borrowed electric-assist mountain bike and had a great time!  It was almost too easy though, allowing him to climb hills he shouldn't have been able to.

A long, lovely ride out to the canals and back.  The first part of the ride (towards Strasbourg) was not very interesting, but getting onto the flats along the water more than made up for weaving through the industrial section at the start.

Riding to Germany?  No problem! A foray across the border and back.  If the bike computer had been on teh whole way, it likely would have been a 100 kilometre day.

Lots of riding ... and we are still not finished exploring this scenic area.  We will be back!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Running Norway - above 59° 54' 52" N east of 05° 19' 24" E

With Susan in training for a half marathon, running became part of our sightseeing plans! A fabulous way to see the cities of Oslo and Bergen in the quiet of the mornings before the hoards of tour buses arrived.  Running on our Hurtigruten stops helped burn off some of the food we were eating and allowed us greater range in the short time frames of the stops.  And, of course, running under the midnight sun (and the blood moon) at 12:30am in Trømso was very cool!

Add caption

Oslo - between 5-7km each morning exploring different parts of the city

Bergen - 5km most mornings with a hike up the hill one day

Ålesund - a speedy 5km along the river

Trondheim - 10km under picture perfect blue sky

Svolvær - 5km, or was that 3km?!

Kirkenes - 5km in the pouring rain.  Our only true rain day!

Trømso - 10km under the midnight sun and the blood moon (very cool!)

Brønnøysund - 5km with lots of groaning

Trondheim - 10km with aching legs

 Florø - short, gotta get off the boat and and burn off some of the food we've been eating!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Nordkapp (North Cape) - 71°10′21″N 25°47′04″E

Well this is a long way north...

The most northern point in Europe!

 ...well, not quite. That would be an island well north of here.

The most northern point of mainland Europe?

Nope, as it is on an island it cannot be!  That honour goes to Kinnarodden (Cape Nordkinn) a little further to the east.  (We did sail around this so we can claim to have passed the northernmost point of mainland Europe!).  Kinnarodden is remote and difficult to get to, requiring a full day's hike each way over some fairly gnarly terrain

The most northern point of Europe accessible by road (read tourist bus)?


So we intrepidly rode the bus to the over touristy Nordkapp - the northernmost point of Europe accessible by road!  We were fortunate to arrive at a time when the weather was clear and the tourist buses few...

At 'The Top Of Europe'
We can almost see the North Pole from here!
Wild and windy
The Most Northermost Point in Europe (that can be accessed by road)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Polarserkel (The Arctic Circle) - 66 33' 00" N 13' 02.196" E

The Arctic Circle, that circle of latitude that marks the southern most point of the polar night of the winter solstice and the polar day of the summer.  Its actual latitude does vary due to the Earth's wobble but it is at roughly 66 33' N.  And we crossed it! We are close enough to the summer solstice to experience the 'midnight sun', the endless day that the Arctic enjoys.

Yay for our windowless cabins!

Crossing the Arctic Circle
Yep, midnight and it's still light
And the certificate to prove it!
The midnight sun
'Sunrise' in Trømso
Running at 1am!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Aboard the MS Lofoten - 66 04' 48" N 12 40' 44" E

The next leg of our trip is a voyage on the Hurtigrtuen Coastal Ferry, the MS Lofoten, from Bergen to Kirkenes and back to Bergen. Travelling through the famed fjords, across the Arctic Circle and over the top of Europe to the end of Norway and back! MS Lofoten is a grand old girl, the oldest and the smallest ferry in the Hurtigruten fleet. Along with the 100 'cruising' passengers, the ferry carries cargo and up to 300 day passengers stopping at 36 ports, towns and villages along the 2500nm journey.

Ruteplan - Bergen to Kirkenes and back!
Our cabins are on C-deck, in the bowels of the ship well away from the engine noise, the flushing of the shared toilets and the clatter of day passengers. Our inside cabins are wonderfully dark for sound sleeping during the endless daytime of the Arctic north.

Cabin 103 - remarkably roomy
The meals on board are plentiful and delicious. Breakfast and lunch are a buffet and, with a nod to its 1960s heritage, dinner is a set menu with assigned setting and full silver service. We gorge on salmon in all its forms, cheeses, home made ice-cream, caviar and reindeer. Hunger is definitely not an issue.

The dining room set for breakfast
Fancy - even down to the engraved silver napkin rings
We stop day and night.  Sometimes for several hours enabling a shore visits and at others just a quick 15 minutes to offload/onboard passengers and cargo. The cargo is craned on and off with the cargo stored on deck or in the cargo hold. The cargo ranges from roofing materials to small boats, agricultural equipment to unidentifiable pelleted and wrapped parcels.

Off-loading precious cargo
What on earth is that??
The crew is attentive and happily assist with any request from a fact about the area we are passing through to fixing the arm on my reading glasses. The restaurant staff are professional and hysterical. We are not drinking (gasp!), a decision made easy by the $20 glasses and $100 bottles. We told the waiter we were unable to drink because Wendy is an alcoholic and we cannot drink around her.  It has provided much mirth...

The lovely Heidi
Divide by 5.5 and that, my friends, is why we weren't drinking!
Our fellow passengers are a slightly older crowd from a wide range of countries.  Manfried from Germany is our 72 y-o walking buddy and GPS. He has an uncanny sense of direction and, between that and his brisk gait, we are never at risk of missing the boat! Etienne from Marseille is travelling with his parents and 97 y-o grandfather.  Grandpa is amazing negotiating the steps and rolling deck with his walking stick hung around his neck.  John and Pat from the Napa Valley, quick with a joke and an invite to view his slide show each evening. Galena (Galena, Galena vacuum cleaner - how else are we to remember?) from Holland is the uber participant in on-shore excursions.

The daily routine involves a lot of eating, lounging in the Panorama Lounge or on the Outdoor Explorer Deck ( how intrepid!) enjoying the stunning scenery and going ashore at every opportunity. Sometimes this is to do an organized shore excursion, sometimes a wander around the town and, most frequently, a run to burn off some of the calories consumed.  An hour stop means 5km, an hour and a half is 10km... Time is not an issue due to the 24hrs of daylight.

The Panorama Lounge
Enjoying the sun on the 'Explorer Deck'
Prime spot on the 'Explorer Deck'
Doing it tough on the 'Flag Deck'
A visit to The Bridge
The boat is well equipped for rough weather with the tables all bolted down and the chairs on chains thus limiting the damage by a bouncy sea. 'Stormy Weather Bags' are liberally sprinkled around the public spaces and each cabin well supplied.  And due to the chilly water, our life jackets are partial survival suits!

Sturdy chains to prevent chairs flying around!
How subtle...
Hope we don't have to deploy these babies!