At this point in the Cruise we’re picking up quite a few passengers for relatively short stays within Australia and shuttling back and forth a bit. So we’ve had two separate days in Melbourne with a visit to Kangaroo Island (in South Australia) in between, and lots of Australians have joined us for just those four days, in some cases – Cunard must hope – as a taster for future cruises. A minority have been ill prepared for the relative formality of the QM2, including the gentleman spotted as we left Melbourne for the first time, who was in shorts at 10pm and wandering Kings Court with a glass and his own bottle of Mateus Rose.
It was great to have two days in Melbourne and, although an overnight stay might have been welcome, two separate days with a gap between them worked well and we had two long days off the ship. Our first day, the 18th was a Sunday and I was up early watching us negotiate a very slim channel which was some miles long. We docked opposite the Tasmanian Ferry and in beautiful sunshine. We skipped breakfast and we’re off the ship at nine. In the terminal we picked up passes for the Melbourne Trams (which were excellent). Known as Myki passes, they cost about Aus$30 for two and that provided us with enough credit for our two days.
We had been intending to take the tram to the centre but the morning was so lovely and instead we walked around Port Philip Bay, clinging to the beach the whole way to St Kilda. It was a walk of almost three miles and we stopped for breakfast half way at a pleasant – and on this Sunday morning – packed sea front restaurant. The Rough Guide had suggested there would be a Sunday market on the promenade in St Kilda, and there was and we had a pleasant wander amongst the stalls.
St Kilda was lovely, a bit worn around the edges, and the beach was very windy on this day so we retreated inland to Acland Street and had a drink in one of the numerous bars. Acland St has a reputation for sleaziness at night but it was very jolly on this Sunday lunchtime with lots of families about. St Kilda is best known for its wooden rollercoaster below (not my photo). But we thought the most impressive building was this beautifully restored Theatre.
After our lunchtime drink we got the tram to the riverside in the City, threaded our way through the stalls there, crossed the river, and wandered up to China Town. This was the weekend of Chinese New Year and the streets were full of dragons and fireworks, and the restaurants were very busy even after three on this Sunday afternoon. We got a table at one particularly busy one but the food didn’t quite live up to the atmosphere outside. We found a tram stop for the 109 back to the Port and were back onboard for about six. We skipped dinner for once and instead watched the very good resident Jazz Trio in the Chart Room before getting some supper from the midnight buffet in Kings Court.
We had two very rainy sea days and a visit to Kangaroo Island between our two visits to Melbourne. The poor weather on the Southern Ocean has been a consistent feature of our westward journey. Although on land – which we can generally see – the weather has been beautiful, cloud and rain have overwhelmed us for much of the time at sea. Fortunately, one of these sea days was enlivened by the arrival of another of these which, in our increasingly institutionalised state excited us greatly…
David Gower gave his second and third lectures on the sea days. He’s been good, if occasionally some of his anecdotes are a little tired. And he was disappointingly dismissive about apartheid, and evidently regretted the isolation of South African cricket until the arrival of democracy. I gave my second and final talk, this time about the forced migration of UK children to Australia before and after the Second World War. My sense that this second talk hadn’t been quite as successful as the first was confirmed by someone in the front row who rushed up to me at the end and said ‘that was an excellent lecture” and then went on to say: “you gave last week.” But it was fine and I talked at length afterward to a number of Australians who had relatives who’d experienced some of the hardship of this well intentioned but disastrous initiative and one or two passengers have subsequently stopped me and said nice things.
We had a pleasant visit to Kangaroo Island between our Melbourne days. But, in truth, it wasn’t really worth the effort and it’s a puzzle why we visited here rather than, say, Hobart. It’s quite a large island, about the size of Kent apparently, but with a population of just 4,000. It’s flat and windswept and the few low-rise buildings scattered along the shore remind one of the Falklands. There was no public transport and there were no taxis so although the main town, Kingscote, was just a few miles away it was inaccessible to us.
We anchored offshore in a stiff breeze and the Captain struggled to get the anchor to hold meaning that the tenders were delayed (and there must have been some anxiety about the consequences of the wind picking up further once people were ashore). We went ashore at about 11, and had a wander around the tiny and rather shabby town. The residents, as enthusiastic and welcoming as they have been everywhere in Australia, staged a craft market. But it was a surreal experience walking around that surrounded only by other passengers. Similarly, the pub, which might have been worth a visit, was full only of fellow cruisers. So, pausing only to buy some Fever Tree tonic at the bottle shop, we went back to the ship and sat on the balcony, in the sunshine but sheltered from the wind. It was a better option than remaining on the island (which to add insult to injury has no Kangaroos).
We had an exceptionally good, second day, in Melbourne. We took advantage of the shuttle to Federation Square and walked from there to Degraves St which the Melbourne Insight Guide had accurately told us would be a pleasant place for breakfast. We had toast and coffee at one of a number of packed and lively pavement cafes. We then walked up to Victoria Market. It really is an excellent market with food halls selling up market produce complemented by lots of stalls selling cheap clothes and souvenirs. I bought a couple of decent T-shirts at just £3 each and – rather to our own surprise – we bought a beautiful Kangaroo skin.
Later we walked back to the Bourke St Mall. Jan bought a pretty jacket before our finding an excellent food hall in the Emporium area. We had outstandingly good and very spicy curries from The Bombay Bar before making our final stops at the beautiful Royal and Block Arcades. We caught the tram back to the ship, Face Timed with one of the grandchildren, and again skipped dinner. Instead we sat on the balcony in the warmth of the evening and watched the lights sparkle over Port Philip, looking across the bows of The Seven Seas Voyager:
Later, joined by David from our table, we had a very enjoyable and funny time in the Pub watching and listening to the Karaoke, which was predictably, but wonderfully, awful.
As I write this, the rain has disappeared and we’re now travelling north up the coast of New South Wales and tomorrow morning, a Saturday, and one which promises to be sunny, we shall sail into Sydney Harbour, pass the Opera House on our (Port) side before berthing almost under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. What a privilege.