Cruising to nowhere

I can see the twinkling lights on the land. A cluster of  brightness surrounded by black. The wake being cast aside is fluorescent; although on closer inspection it could just be the lights from the ship reflecting off the white water.  A delicate, cold breeze ruffles my hair as I lean over the balcony and breath in the salted air.

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Perhaps the lights are Gosford? My smart phone, which still has a good signal, says we are somewhere north of Manly. We have been sailing for just on two hours and we are going nowhere. Well, nowhere in particular. This cruise; a 3-night comedy cruise; sails out the Sydney Heads on Friday afternoon around 3pm and turns left to head up the coast and then does a u-ey around Coffs Harbour and creeps home in time for work on a Monday morning.

They call it a Sea Break; I call it a rest. This is the sort of cruise I like. Some luxury. Some hedonism. Too much food. Too much drinking. Grand fun and it’s only three nights. Not long enough to get bored on board and no so long that all your New Year’s resolutions are thrown out the porthole. Long enough to let your hair down but not long enough to let yourself down.  You can even still go to the gym if you want!

The 3 or 4-day cruise to nowhere is a relatively new option in the cruise offerings. With port fees being too expensive for ships to stay in dock, they go out for short trips in between their longer voyages.

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Wine tasting

This is my fourth short cruise in three years. I have learnt not to bring my ‘big’ camera. There are no real photo opportunities that the phone can’t handle. Nothing beyond friends doing silly things, playing trivia; corny stage shows and maybe the occasional dolphin. I have learnt to pack a series of nice frocks, so you can get dressed-up for dinner and forget the diet for a little while.

Cruising has come back in vogue and it’s a huge business. According to Statistica[1] the global cruise industry was worth $US39.6 billion in 2015. This was a $US15 billion increase from the previous 5 years. Why is cruising so popular? I think it boils down to a few basic elements

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  1. 1. You don’t have to plan much. Book your cruise and away you go. No itinerary to work out. No deciding where you are going to eat other than choosing from the options on the ship. You don’t need to worry about connecting flights, hiring a car, booking hotels etc etc.

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  1. It’s good value for money. Cruising is an all-inclusive ticket. I am no millionaire so the cruises I have been on have been very reasonably priced. The ticket includes food, entertainment and accommodation. If you are canny, you can avoid paying for anything else, provided you drink water, coffee and tea and stick to the included food options. On P&O and Royal Caribbean the included food options are very acceptable. The alcoholic beverages are about the same as in a suburban pub. If you are planning on partying hard you can buy drinks packages at various levels. There is enough free entertainment to keep you amused but you’ll have to opt out of the spa treatments.

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  1. You can do as much or as little as you like. Go to the gym, attend all the trivia sessions, origami, dance lessons, play board games on deck, swim, sun bake, sleep, drink and eat. It’s up to you. You don’t even have to get off for the shore tours when you get to port if you don’t want to. You can spend your whole time in the spa, get botox, attend lectures on nutrition. On themed cruises you can try your hand at stand-up comedy, go to cooking lessons, or photography lessons among many other activities.
  1. You can find a cruise to suit your budget. On the Cruiseaway website the cheapest cruise leaving Sydney is $190 but you needed to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice for the 4-day comedy cruise to New Zealand. On the other end of the spectrum, you can spend a cool $40,000 on a 62 night round the world cruise.

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  1. Cruises are great for families. You can book your little nippers in to the kids’ clubs and be free to spend the day as you wish. You’ll know they’ll be entertained and they can’t get up to too much mischief.
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Sydney Harbour puts on a show

Cruising is not for everyone. If you are a serious adventurer, I would say that you’d find them a TAD boring. Some liken cruises to a floating RSL’s[2] on a Friday night with the roast meat buffet and jelly cups. Lots of kitschy glitz, rusty tinsel, feather boas and bingo. Cruise companies have tried to appeal to the adventure market with on-board rock climbing walls, zip lines and water slides. At the end of the day though, you are stuck in the one place, for a few days at least.

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You can even do your laundry!

For those who suffer sea sickness the thought of getting on a big white ship is terrifying. With all those decks towering above the water you might also worry about the risk of tipping over in big waves. Modern technology has it covered – to some extent. Stabilizers, which act like big under water wings, reduce the side to side rocking of the ship. They can reduce movement by up to 90%[3]. The forward and back rocking can be reduced by sailing parallel to the waves. There is less movement in the core of the ship so you will do better in an inside cabin on a lower deck. Another benefit of inside cabins is that they are a cheaper. On the downside, they don’t get any natural light. This is great for sleeping in, but it will mess with your body clock. The view can get monotonous especially after several “at sea” days.

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P&O Pacific Eden

I would recommend cruising with a group of friends. Around 6 – 10 would be ideal. Decide from the start that you won’t get precious if you want to do different things and not spend every minute of the day with each other and only go for a few days. Be prepared to relax and party. Pack your dancing shoes and your slippers!

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The Pacific Eden moored off the town of Eden in NSW, Australia.

[1] https://www.statista.com/topics/1004/cruise-industry/

[2] RSL clubs or Returned Services League Clubs are usually large, brightly lit clubs with cheap drinks, cheap food and lots of poker machines. The entertainment is often provided by 1970’s has-beens or rip offs of has-beens. Some are very nice, but they can be bland.

[3] https://cruisedeals.expert/how-cruise-ship-stabilisers-work/

Critters in Bellingen, NSW.

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Goanna

My mum lives on a 2.8 hectare (7 acre) rural-residential property near Bellingen on the Mid-north coast of NSW, Australia. Perched on a hill, her home for last 31 years, is surrounded by beef and dairy farms and lots of hobby farmers growing “herbs” of various kinds. Mum’s property is not much use as a farm as it is essentially just a big hill but it makes a damn fine place to visit for lazy holidays and to live a relatively peaceful life in the country.

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It is certainly not a “pristine” environment as the area has been farmed for well over a hundred years after being cleared of cedar back in the 1840’s. Despite this, I am always amazed at the amount of wildlife that turns up in her “backyard”. Mum has allowed the bush to grow back over the years and the critters love it. These photos show some of the wildlife you can see from her verandahs.

Not seen here are the eagles and hawks which soar overhead, black cockatoos signaling the coming of rain and kookaburras sharing their jokes with the warbling magpies.

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Regent Bowerbird

Frogs live in the toilet, lurking under the rim of the bowl. Snakes hibernate in the roof space. Spiders take over the smoke detector rousing the whole house with false alarms. And cicadas send us deaf in the summer time.

Summer in Australia – The Cicada’s Symphony.

As I dragged my bag from the airport carousel my Mum said “I will warn you now the cicadas are really bad this year”

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Despite Mum’s warning I was not prepared for the deafening, throbbing assault to my senses. Mum told me she had taken ill with vertigo for a few days as her eardrums rattled and reverberated due to the dreadful din. You could feel the rising crescendo as your whole brain is engulfed by solid sound.

 

Starting at 4:30 AM and eventually quietening down around 10:30 PM there is little rest from the cacophony. As a grand finale, frogs chime in just after dark adding a melodic bass note to the whining irritating insects.

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Spiders lurking in the shell
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Ants and other smaller insects feed on the remnants of the cicadas shells

Cicada shells festoon almost every vertical surface with trees and fence posts laden down with the grotesque dried-out  exuvia that support their own tiny ecosystem of smaller bugs.

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Rather than grumble, I decided to make the most of their presence and photograph these abundant subjects. So here is a photo essay about cicadas in Gordonville, NSW in the days leading up to Christmas.

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The Cherrynose was the most abundant species visible

Where did they all come from?

The life cycle of cicadas is still not fully understood. Females lay eggs in slits in  tree bark they make with a scythe-like appendage on their abdomen called an ovipositor.  The eggs hatch  after 2 – 7 months and the little nymph hatchling falls to the ground before burrowing in for a long wait.  The nymphs grow underground for an unknown period depending on the species. Same say four years, others seven and in the North America there is a species which apparently remains underground for 17 years. However long it is, some years are better cicada years than others.

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Razor Grinder – The rough slits in the bark may be where females have been laying eggs.

My hypothesis would be that cicada bumper years would be coincident with previous hot, wet summers. Given they have to burrow in the ground, wet soil would make it easier for the nymphs and more would survive to subsequently emerge and drive us batty. (I haven’t found anything to back up my hypothesis!)

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A Double Drummer

The nymphs feed by tapping into the fleshy roots of trees with their straw-like mouthpieces and suck the fluids from xylem and phloem tubes. During their time underground they moult several times. Returning to the surface in a distant summer, cicadas climb up any convenient vertical structure before splitting their shells to emerge as adults. Their soft wings need to air dry and stiffen before they can fly making them vulnerable to their predators, mainly birds, bats and reptiles like goannas.

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I only saw one of these Green Grocers – looking a bit worse for wear and fending off marauding ants.

The males are the chirpers and produce the  noise by vibrating thin membranes over hollow slits on either side of their abdomen. The volume is amplified by air filled cavities. Females remain silent. One wonders how one male can be distinguished from the thousands of others with so much noise all around. How can they tell a Tom from a Dick or Harry?

 

 

To us humans,  the 86dB 15-16 kHz love song is simply noise, unwanted and enervating on a hot summer day. Double drummers have been recorded at 120 dB!

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This graph showing a peak at 76dB with the highest reading at 91 dB

There’s an estimated 700-1000 species of cicadas in Australia, these photos show four that were in the trees around Mum’s place in Gordonville, inland from Coffs Harbour, NSW in the week before Christmas.

Want to know more about cicadas? Have a look here – http://www.cicadamania.com/cicadas/category/locations/australia/  these people are cicada crazy!

 

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Razor Grinders

Old Chook’s (Interrupted) World Tour

So what’s the deal with the Old Chooks I hear you ask? Well you know, I ain’t no spring chicken anymore and as someone on the other side of fifty, I thought old chook was a fitting moniker. But the old chooks didn’t start with this blog. No; they have a rich and varied past.

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I found them in an op shop (thrift store) in Wollongong. They were originally wine bottle stoppers with  corks attached to their bottoms. I fell in love, paid the $2 asking price and brought them home. I did some surgery to remove the corks and Ruby and Esmeralda went into the camera bag.

They were considerably smaller than the garden gnomes you see some people take on holidays and it was my intention to take them on my travels and have them do fun and interesting things. I didn’t matter that they weren’t really chickens; they were close enough.

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Their first big outing, “Old Chook’s World Tour Part 1” was to the Australian outback in 2013. They flew with me to Adelaide from Sydney and then came on a road trip through parts of the River Land of Victoria and then up to Broken Hill. Nearly 2000 km all up. They had a great time. Cracking jokes on Facebook and generally amusing my friends. (Maybe they only amused me but I was having fun!)

 

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I don’t know why there is a tea pot glued to a cement pile near Broken Hill – there used to be a whole tea setting there

 

Unfortunately they  languished in the bottom of the camera bag for a while. They came everywhere but they had developed  stage fright. When I got a  larger camera, there was no room for them and they got put aside.

Ruby and Esmeralda did not make any more appearances until 2016 when they went on a cruise to Kangaroo Island. Once again, they joined in on the fun, had a few too many cocktails and on their first shore tour in Eden, ended up going overboard, literally. (I left the zip of my bag undone….)

I was genuinely upset and searched for a new photo mascot. First, I found Penny, the grey seal in Mornington Peninsula.  She had plenty of personality but failed her audition because her supine stance meant she couldn’t pose very elegantly.

Later that same year, I found Spark and Button in Bright, Victoria (think about it!) They have made limited (i.e no) appearances other than their debut performance on FacebookBright spark 2

Chooks, however, have been the inspiration for my souvenir purchases.  A few times I have had to deviate from the theme and get other avian species like ducks, canaries, kiwis and once, a polar bear (Yes…. I know, I know but at least it was an animal!) It has also given my family and friends a rich source for gift giving ideas and I have an impressive collection of garden chickens.

Chooks also are a favourite subject to photograph.

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Chooks on Show – Planning an escape?

 

From now on, I am going to make a serious effort to take Spark and Button with me on my next journey but if any fishermen down near Eden finds Ruby and Esmeralda; let me know; there is a reward!