Wednesday 8th March 2017
Brisbane, and Koalas!
Yesterday, the passage from Sydney to Brisbane was a bit rocky. The wind was whipping up four metre waves and Sirena was sailing across them, rolling from side to side as well as pitching fore and aft. I woke at one point during the night and found that I was bracing myself to avoid falling out of bed ;o) Twice there were crashes from the bathroom as our toiletries fell into the sink – after the second time we left them where they were! This lasted all the way to Brisbane, although most of the time the motion was less pronounced.
In the Captain's midday update over the tannoy he apologised for our late departure from Sydney but said that he hoped to make this up as we sailed to Brisbane. He said that our longitude was 150 degrees east, meaning ten hours ahead of the UK. It therefore wasn't surprising that last night we had to put our clocks back one hour to fall into line. He also said that there were ten thousand feet of water under the ship! – I can't stand heights! :o)
We attended two 'enrichment lectures' during the day. The first was about the area we're in during the next few days and also touched on Uluru and aboriginal art. He also mentioned the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, of which more later! The second lecturer covered the Flora of Australia; he was dreadfully dull and kept talking about himself and making lame jokes rather than getting on with it, so we might skip his future lectures.
At lunchtime we'd been reading on deck, and rather than change to go to one of the restaurants we shared a Kobe Beefburger from the Grill – such luxury! By 4pm we were feeling a bit peckish, so, knowing that we wouldn't be eating again until 8pm, we abandoned our firm resolution not to have Afternoon Tea on this cruise – we're so weak! The waiting staff kept coming round offering little sandwiches and savouries, and it was really hard to keep turning them down after the first couple!
At 5.45pm it was time for the Captain's Cocktail Celebration in the Sirena Lounge. Free champagne again! It was the usual routine – line up to shake hands with the captain, accept a free drink and then applaud as each of the senior officers introduced him/herself. All very sociable.
In the hour up until 8pm we listened to the excellent string quartet again before heading for the 'Tuscan Steak' restaurant. This is one of the 'premium' restaurants. During the cruise we get three chances each to eat in either 'Tuscan Steak', which offers (obviously!) a range of steaks but also fish dishes, or 'Red Ginger', which offers oriental cuisine. We've already booked there for Sunday night.
Today we were an hour late arriving in Brisbane, due to continuing 'adverse weather conditions' and strong currents. We were off the ship before 10am and took the shuttle bus into the city centre. Gill's on-line research had revealed that there was a scheduled city bus service running out to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Google Maps got us to the bus station, and by 11.30pm we arrived at our destination.
Wow! What a place! There must have been hundreds of koalas there, in pens with walls about four feet high – they clearly can't climb walls ;o) This means that you get an unobstructed view and can take some excellent photos. Each pen has dead branches that the koalas can climb, and staff bring in huge quantities of fresh eucalyptus branches each day that they festoon around the dead ones, simulating the koalas' natural environment. Apparently, each koala can get through 750g of leaves a day, so the Sanctuary has four eucalyptus plantations around Brisbane from which they harvest tonnes of fresh leaves every day.
The absolute highlight of the visit was that Gill had the opportunity to hold a koala! The first three didn't want to play ball – we think that they objected to Gill's perfume. However, I good some got shots on her phone and my camera, and she also got an official photo to take away. The poor little things all look so sleepy. We were told that they sleep for over eighteen hours a day, because their diet, like that of pandas, is poor in nutrients and hard to digest, so it takes a long time for them to get any energy from it. They therefore conserve energy by sleeping. It seems a bit hard to wake them up for photos, but there are so very many koalas there that when it gets a bit too much for them they're returned to a eucalyptus-filled pen to recover.
There are also other Australian native species there, including kangaroos, platypus, Tasmanian Devils, echidna, kookaburra, cockatoos and dingos. We bought two bags of kangaroo food, but the midday sun was out as we wandered around the huge kangaroo enclosure, and most of the 130 kangaroos were resting in a restricted area that we couldn't enter. However, we did find a couple who were interested and got some nice photos of us both feeding them. It reminded us of a previous trip to an Australian animal sanctuary in Tasmania. The kangaroos there were much more interested in being fed and came to us eagerly. They had the touching habit of holding our hands with their paws as we offered them food, and their gentleness and tenderness was quite moving.
At 2pm we took a bus back into the city centre and were back on board Sirena by 3.30pm, in time for …. Afternoon Tea! We won't do this every day, though …. honestly! But we did miss lunch ;o)
We've been asked about our cabin, or, as Oceania call it, our stateroom. To be honest, the cabins on these Renaissance ships aren't terribly big, and the bathrooms are positively tiny. However, we've grown used to this, and see the very high quality of the food served on both Oceania and Azamara as more than outweighing this small disadvantage. The bed is disgracefully comfortable, with beautiful linen. There's a two-seater sofa and a small desk at which I type these updates. There's loads of clothes storage and a fridge that's kept stocked with complimentary soft drinks – we rarely touch 'pop', or as the Americans call it, soda'. We have a small balcony with room for two reclining chairs and a table, and on other cruises we've sometimes had breakfast delivered to us to eat there. The cabin's a good place to retreat to for peace and quiet, but the public areas, both above and below deck, are excellent places for quiet reading and live music, both classical and more modern.
This evening we sat in a quiet lounge with a glass of champagne listening to the excellent string quartet again, followed by another remarkable dinner then concert by a young, talented Scottish musician – all a million miles away from the view of cruises that gets shown on TV.