On reaching seventy

At the start of July I reached the Biblical threescore years and ten: Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away (Ps.90.10 NIV). Thankfully most people live beyond eighty but living a long life is a mixed blessing if our last years are marked by physical or mental impairment.

I kicked off my birthday dinner with a short speech reflecting on fifty years of adult life:

  • In my 20s I was a council building inspector and originally expected to be there until I retired. My holiday ambitions went no further than Southend-on-Sea, 40 miles (64 km) east of central London.
  • In my 30s one throwaway comment from a friend’s wife set me on the path of 37 years of self-employment. Another throwaway comment from another friend led to me making my first overseas trip as an adult. Since then I’ve made around 30 UK-USA trips, 15 trips to Australia as a British tourist and a similar number as an Australian visiting the UK, four trips to Africa and some other places too, and, in recent years, multiple cruises.
  • My early years of self-employment did not go well: the low point was reached around my 40th birthday when I was deep in debt and my bank threatened (metaphorically) ‘to send the boys round’. Yet another throwaway comment from yet another friend to me back to uni to study Business Studies and this was a key driver to my business coming good.
  • Five years later I was back in Melbourne enjoying the Christmas sunshine when the notion came to me, ‘you’re so happy here: you should move here’. Finally in 2008 I was able to do so – the best decision I’ve ever made.

Regrets – here’s just a few

If I could re-live my adult life knowing what I know now, what would I change?

Study: I took my first degree with University of Reading, the first year being based at the College of Estate Management in Kensington, then in the new FURS building at Reading Whiteknights. I commuted from home and the experience was an extension of school. Being then very introverted, going to a university that would have required me to live away from home would have been very challenging, but I see now that it would have been good for me.

Home: After leaving university I began to think about having a home of my own. At that time (mid 1970s) the general rule was that you could borrow three times your salary plus, where applicable, one times your fiancée’s/wife’s salary. As I was single this left me able to borrow around £6,000, not enough for the average house. My interest was taken by a house in Warwick Road, Twickenham, a rundown two-up, two-down terraced cottage. This didn’t worry me since I would have enjoyed renovating it but given its condition at that time the only mortgage available was from the council at 17½% interest! My dad’s opinion was ‘you’d be daft to spend £7,000 on a house like that’ and I followed his advice. A year later my salary had all but doubled and interest rates had fallen, so the pain would have been short-lived. Houses in Warwick Road now sell for £600K and more!

Exercise: In the UK once I became self-employed I ran my car as a company car. Under the tax rules then in force failure to do at least 2,500 miles a year resulted in a tax surcharge so I used my car whenever possible. In retrospect it would have been much better to walk to the post office each day but this was in an era long before your smartphone was checking on whether you walked 6,000 steps a day. I also justified using the car on the basis on time saved, but the walk would have been good for my mental as well as physical well-being.

People: I’ve always been guilty of trying to do much in the time available. When it came to church I was always the one walking into meetings a few minutes after they’d started, having tried to do one more thing before leaving home. On Sunday mornings I didn’t count myself late if I slipped into church before the first hymn finished. Now I so wish I’d made time to walk to church and get there ten minutes before the service started, giving myself time to talk to other members, especially the older ones. Those brief conversations might or might not have meant much to me, but many of the older folk might have appreciated a short friendly chat and I would have begun the service in a much more receptive frame of mind.

Cars: I bought my first car as soon as I could. It was old (11 years, which was old then) and an endless money pit. My dad had never held a licence (eyesight problems) and took the view that if he could manage without a car, I could too, so no help was forthcoming. And yet an offer (say) to match my £100 savings would have meant that I could buy a still modest much better car. Later it was me not being prepared to spend more: as a building inspector I drove a fair distance and mileage allowances depended on engine size. I put too much emphasis on choosing cars that would show a profit (a Chrysler Sunbeam 1.3 and Austin Maxi 1750) rather than some cars I might have enjoyed more. At one point I was seriously interested in buying a Saab 96 but let head rule heart.

Relationships: I won’t say too much here. I’m now 70, single, never married. Several times in my life there have been women who I hoped might be more than just friends but it was not to be. Do I regret not having children of my own? In the absence of a strong, stable marriage, no. I have though had the joy of ‘borrowing’ other people’s children as babysitter, twelve years as a Beaver (Joey) Scout leader, and thirteen years (so far) as a church creche helper.

No regrets

The last fifteen years have been the best years of my life and I have never once regretted making the move to Melbourne after 55 years in Twickenham. I’m not rich, but I have no financial concerns, no real health issues compared with many of my contemporaries, a rich varied life (read my other blog entries) and my birthday dinner reminded me of my rich circle of friends. Could anyone want for more?


A trip to Hurstbridge

Yesterday I decided to do something different and took the train out to Hurstbridge, 28km NE of Melbourne CBD, 38km by rail.

The railway was extended to Eltham in 1902 and then to Hurstbridge in 1912. The Eltham-Hurstbridge section was electrified in 1926. Parts of the line are still single track though a number of these sections have recently been or are currently being duplicated. The last part of the line passes through native bushland. 

The area that is now Hurstbridge was first settled by Cornelius Haley in 1842. He engaged Henry Hurst as manager. In 1857 Henry and his family took over the estate. Significantly, he built the first log bridge across the Diamond Creek.

Sadly on 4th October 1866, Henry Hurst was fatally wounded by a bushranger, Robert Bourke. Bourke was tried, found guilty of murder and hanged.

The township was progressively known as Allwood, Upper Diamond Creek, Hurst’s Bridge, Hurst Bridge and, since 1954, Hurstbridge.

Although dry and sunny it was a cold day so I didn’t spend long there but am hoping to return for the Hurstbridge Wattle Festival (last Sunday in August). One of the promised attractions is that Steamrail will be running steam-hauled shuttle trains.

The excellently signed heritage trail (PDF) takes in thirty buildings and other places of interest; I got to see about half of them.

Of particular note was the Little Bank Building, constructed so that it could be pulled from site to site by a team of horses or bullocks, and Saunders Garage, built 1912 as an engineering workshop then used as a motor mechanics since 1952. In addition, the op (charity) shops could have engaged me for a good while.

Then back to the station for the city-bound train – during the day it’s a 40-minutes service.

I broke my journey at Eltham to take a look at the historic trestle bridge. It’s the only surviving timber trestle bridge on the Victorian rail network. In the 1980s a plan to replace it was strongly resisted by local residents. They won and the bridge survived. It is now heritage listed.

The bridge is 195m long, 38 spans, and roughly 120 trains pass over it each day. It’s 121 years old … well not really, since none of the original members remain. When members are replaced the installation date is chiselled into the new member.

Then home – a good trip.

Taitset YouTube videos:

The Hurstbridge line

Eltham trestle bridge

Hurstbridge line map showing duplication works in progress (Victoria’s big build)

On Coronations

According to the UK Daily Telegraph, “George III’s coronation took place on September 22, 1761, and was described by contemporary observers as “a complete shambles” and a “fiasco” after the heralds forgot their lines, the dean omitted to provide any chairs for the King, or Queen Charlotte and the canopy was mislaid along with the Sword of State. Meanwhile, the King removed the crown at the wrong moment and a large diamond fell from its setting, prompting a frantic search”. Queen Victoria’s 1838 five-hour coronation has been described as “the last of the botched coronations”. We may be thankful for this.

On May 6th King Charles III was crowned. I’m not a royalist but did take time out to watch the service – for us in eastern Australia, held at a very civilised 8.00p.m. AEST. It’s the first coronation to take place in my near seventy-year life and if King Charles lives as long as his father and I as long as mine, it will be the only one I witness. In contrast, my dad lived through four, not that he’d have been conscious of the first. The four:

Edward VII (and Queen Alexandra)

Like Charles III, Edward spent decades in waiting. As Queen Victoria’s eldest son, ‘Bertie’, he was heir apparent from birth (1841), succeeding to the throne, on 22nd January 1901. Although just 59, obesity and heavy smoking had aged him. His coronation was set for 26th June 1902. Two days before he was diagnosed with appendicitis so it had to be postponed. Many dignitaries returned home. The deferred coronation took place on 9th August.

Why was this coronation notable? At university we learned about this coronation … in contract law class. Many people with rooms overlooking the processional route rented them out for the occasion. When the coronation was postponed, the would-be spectators wanted their money back and a spate of law cases followed. Generally they succeeded if the contract implicitly or expressly stated that the room hire was for the purpose of viewing the proceedings, not otherwise.

George V (and Queen Mary)

George was not born to reign. He became the heir to the throne in 1892, aged 26, on the death of his older brother, Prince Albert. He became king on the death of his father, 6th May 1910, with his coronation taking place on 22nd June 1911. His 25-year reign was marked by the Great War and the Depression. He died on 20th January 1936 aged 70.

Why was this coronation notable? The guest list saw an assemblage of European royalty that would never be replicated. Within ten years the map of Europe would be redrawn. The VIP list included the German Crown Prince (the King’s first cousin once removed), the Grand Duke of Hesse (the King’s first cousin), Prince Henry of Prussia (another first cousin), the Crown Prince of Denmark (another first cousin), the Crown Prince of Sweden (another first cousin), Archduke Karl of Austria, the Crown Prince of Romania (yet another first cousin), Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich of Russia, Infante Ferdinand of Spain, the Crown Prince of Serbia, the Prince of the Netherlands and many more

Edward VIII

Why was this coronation notable? Because it didn’t happen: Edward’s ten-month reign ended with his abdication on 10th December 1936. By then plans for his coronation, set for 12th May 1937 were well in hand. But they weren’t wasted …

George VI (and Queen Elizabeth)

On Edward VIII’s abdication the unready and reluctant Prince Albert found himself king, taking the name “George VI” to emphasise continuity with his father. With so many arrangements already made, his coronation took place on 12th May 1937. Just over two years later the country was again at war. “Cometh the hour, cometh the man” – certainly true of WW2 and George VI. The stress of wartime leadership coupled with the effects of heavy smoking led to his premature death on 6th February 1952.

Why was this coronation notable? The coronation procession (but not the ceremony inside the abbey) was broadcast on TV, the country’s first major outside broadcast – at the time there were probably no more than 1,000 TV sets in the UK perhaps watched by 10,000 people. It was also the first coronation to be filmed, and the first to be broadcast on radio.

Elizabeth II

For her first ten years there was little expectation that Elizabeth would in time become queen. Then the abdication of her uncle moved her up the line of succession, to become heir presumptive (presumptive because in theory her parents could have produced a son who would have become heir apparent). After years of war and the austerity that followed, the new Elizabethan age was greeted with enthusiasm.

Why was this coronation notable? The 2nd June 1953 coronation was televised with more than half the adult population (viewer estimates vary: 20-27 million) watching, many on sets obtained specifically for that purpose. It would be the last coronation for nearly seventy years.

And the only coronation that most of us have witnessed:

King Charles III (and Queen Camilla)

In contrast to Queen Elizabeth’s three hour ceremony watched by 8,000 guests, Charles’ coronation was a slimmed down affair, with the ceremony lasting about an hour with only 2,000 guests present. In spite of the much larger population, UK viewer figures are put at around 20 million, much lower than the 29 million who watched Queen Elizabeth’s funeral.

Why was this coronation notable? Those participating included Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, and Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh members of the House of Lords.

Anzac Day 2023

Today is Anzac Day (Anzac: Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). To quote the Victorian ANZAC Day Act 1958:

Anzac Day march 2023: Looking up the march route

Anzac Day march 2023: Looking up the march route

In commemoration of the part taken by Victorian troops in the Great War and in memory of those who gave their lives for the Empire, and in commemoration of the service of Australians for their country in subsequent conflicts and peacekeeping activities, the twenty-fifth day of April in each year (being the anniversary of the first landing on Gallipoli of troops from the United Kingdom Australia and New Zealand) shall be known as ANZAC Day.

If you know your WW1 history, you’ll know that the Gallipoli campaign was a disaster. After eight months the Allied forces were evacuated. Allied deaths included 8,709 from Australia and 2,721 from New Zealand. At that time Australia’s population was less than five million. To remember those who had died (and many more who were injured) Anzac Day was instituted.

This morning I set my alarm for 4.30 – not something I’ve done for many years. Why? I’ve been to watch our Melbourne Anzac parade on a number of occasions but to now have never made it to the 5.30a.m. Dawn Service, something I’ve felt I should do at least once. I was one of about 40,000 attending.

Anzac Day dawn service at the Shrine of Remembrance

Anzac Day dawn service at the Shrine of Remembrance

It was a moving occasion. In the darkness Master of Ceremonies Justin Smith reminded us that this year marks 70 years since the armistice of the Korean War, in which 339 Australian soldiers died. Those who returned weren’t given the recognition that they deserved, as was the fate of Vietnam vets twenty years later.

The Last Post was sounded, followed by a minute’s silence. The poem In Flanders Field was recited by Caitlin Fankhauser, the Shrine’s Young Ambassador. The MSO Chorus and Navy Band sang Abide with me and the New Zealand and Australian national anthems. The dignitaries moved to the Shrine sanctuary to lay wreaths.

Anzac Day march 2023: Melbourne High School band

Anzac Day march 2023: Melbourne High School band

Then home. I watched the parade on TV so the following pictures come courtesy of the ABC.

The march lasts for nearly three hours with representatives of around 370 units taking part. School and other bands provide the music. Here are the very impressively dressed members of the Melbourne High School band.

Here are a just a few of the more eye catching and interesting banners:

Anzac Day march 2023: 4th Light Horse banner

Anzac Day march 2023: 4th Light Horse banner

As can be seen from their banner, the 4th Light Horse saw service across the battlefields of WW1. Those marching behind the banner are descendants of those who fought.

Medals are worn on the left breast by those to whom they were awarded; descendants wear their ancestors medals on their right breast. According to the RSL rules photos of the person being commemorated are not to be carried but a good few people don’t comply.

Anzac Day march 2023: Usher's Mob

Anzac Day march 2023: Usher’s Mob

The march reminds us that every military force relies on all sorts of support operations, supplies, fuel, medical care, communications, engineers and here transport in the shape of the 118th Australian General Transport, aka ‘Usher’s Mob’.

I have no idea as to who Usher was, but his mob keep his name alive. The entire resources of the internet have failed to answer this question. If you find an answer please let me know via the comments.

Anzac Day march 2023: Catalina flying boats banner

Anzac Day march 2023: Catalina flying boats banner

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) operated Catalina flying boats as night raiders, laying mines in the southwest Pacific deep in Japanese-held waters.

In late 1944, mining missions sometimes exceeded 20 hours in duration and were carried out from as low as 200 ft (61 m) in the dark. Catalinas also regularly mounted nuisance night bombing raids on Japanese bases, with the RAAF claiming the slogan “The First and the Furthest”.

Anzac Day march 2023: Odd Bods banner

Anzac Day march 2023: Odd Bods banner

The Odd Bods Association was formed by ex-RAAF. and Allied Air Force members who had served in the UK, Europe and the Middle East in non-RAAF. units, mostly Royal Air Force units.

Once back in Australia they wanted an association of their own so that they could hold reunions and remember those who had lost their lives in the many conflicts during the war. Thus the formation of the Odd Bods Association in 1947.

Anzac Day march 2023: Wellington bomber banner

Anzac Day march 2023: Wellington bomber banner

458 and 460 Squadrons operated Wellington bombers.  458 Squadron was formed in 1941 and was soon sent  to RAF Holme-on-Spalding, Yorkshire before being sent to Egypt, Italy, France and Gibraltar.

460 Squadron was formed from members of 458 Squadron and operated from RAF Breighton flew the most sorties of any Australian bomber squadron and dropped more bomb tonnage than any squadron in the whole of Bomber Command.

Anzac Day march 2023: Scout and Guide banners

Anzac Day march 2023: Scout and Guide banners

And lastly, a thank-you to the Scouts and Guides who acted as marshals.

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2023 cruise #3: Barrier Reef

My third 2023 cruise started off as a March 2022 Barrier Reef cruise booked in March 2020 then unsurprisingly cancelled in July 2021. In this case deciding what to do next was easy: I rebooked on the same cruise a year later. I visited the Barrier Reef on my first visit to Australia in 1986 but not since then.

This was my first Celebrity cruise and my first cruise from Sydney. For the first time I took the XPT daylight train to and from Sydney, spending the nights before and after the cruise in the Great Southern and Holiday Inn, Darling Harbour hotels respectively, both of which I was very happy with. This was the first time I’d overnighted in Sydney since 2011.

The ship

Celebrity Eclipse is the third of Celebrity’s Solstice class ships, launched in 2010. Her rated capacity is 2,850 passengers and 1,271 crew. At 121,878 GT she doesn’t make Wikipedia’s top 60! I was booked into stateroom (cabin) 8254, defined as a Deluxe Ocean View Stateroom with Veranda – by my measuring (using a piece of A4 paper as a ruler!), the room was a spacious 225ft2 and the balcony a very generous 95ft2, both much larger than the quoted size for this cabin class.

Internally Eclipse is a beautiful ship. I’d specially commend Celebrity for the clear signage everywhere, far better than on the Grand Princess or Queen Elizabeth.

The cruise

I was given a late embarkation time which at first disappointed me, but it did mean that from arriving at the terminal to boarding took no more than ten minutes.

On board the crew were without exception excellent. The food was good and on sea days there was a wide range of activities – one, unique to Celebrity (not tried by me), was glassblowing classes. I went to the theatre shows nearly every night – NZ pianist/singer Will Martin was undoubtedly the standout. Several shows included very impressive high wire acrobatics.

One thing that stood out was the passenger mix. Around 1,500 had stayed on board following the preceding cruise around New Zealand and it seemed like the majority were from UK. There were very few solo travellers and most nights for dinner I ended up on a six-seat table with two couples; all good company but it would have been nice not to be the odd one out.

Day 2: Eden

One might have expected our first port call to be Brisbane, but not so perhaps because of wharf availability. Instead, on leaving Sydney we headed south to Eden for our first port day. Most of my time went on visiting the Killer Whale Museum and Mary MacKillop Museum. Two days at sea bound for Queensland followed.

Day 5: Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach was the first of our three Barrier Reef port calls. In each case water depth dictated that the ship had to be anchored a long way off shore with passengers being ferried to shore on tenders. The trip took 30-40 minutes. Here the organisation of the tendering was abysmal; by the time we got to Port Douglas things improved significantly.

I didn’t sign up for any excursions, instead just looking round the town and visiting the seafront market. The huge seawater lagoon was being well used: in these parts no one with any sense goes in the sea during the summer months: marine stingers (box jellyfish) are active and in extreme cases their stings can be fatal.

Day 6: Cairns/Kuranda

The next day we anchored at Yorkey’s Knob, just north of Cairns. After taking the tender to shore I joined a group tour going to Kuranda by bus. After spending the morning in town I made my way to the station for the Kuranda Scenic Railway two-hour trip down to Freshwater. The railway was built in the 1880s and is an extraordinary feat of railway engineering.

The train stops at Barron Falls overlook, where we were able to disembark for several minutes and further down passes just in front of the Stoney Creek Falls.

Then back on the bus to catch the tender back to the ship.

Day 7: Port Douglas

Port Douglas was our last port of call. As before we anchored in deeper water, tenders providing access to the town.

After looking round the main street I climbed up to the lookout, passing a wedding chapel, formerly the 1914 St Mary’s by the Sea RC church, rebuilt here 1988.

The last tender was timetabled for 5.15p.m. but long before this the heat and humidity had got to me, and I was glad to go back to the ship.

Day 8: Willis Island

Our last ‘stop’ wasn’t a stop, rather a sail-by. Willis Island (450 km/280mi east of Cairns) is home to a weather observation station, population 4. Cruise passengers on ‘journeys to nowhere’ (voyages that depart from an Australian port and return to Australia without making landfall at an overseas port) do not qualify for duty-free purchases. Under a longstanding concession, a ship that making a notional stop in Willis Island waters is treated as having visited an international port, thus allowing cruise passengers to purchase duty free goods.

No Barrier Reef?

You may be wondering as to why I haven’t mentioned visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Special excursions were available for those who wanted to spend a day at the reef. Instead of taking a tender to the shore, those going on the reef tours ($$$) were collected from the ship by large catamarans which took them out to the reef. I’ve pencilled in a winter  holiday to these parts for 2025 and if this happens will revisit the reef then.

Day 9: Behind the Scenes tour

Expensive (A$186=~£100) but I enjoyed it. This small group tour took us round parts of the ship that passengers usually don’t see: the galley, stores, laundry, engine control room and bridge. A similar tour on the Queen Elizabeth also took in the theatre backstage, print shop, anchor room and medical centre – that was pre-Covid, so perhaps all or some of these were omitted as a safety measure.

Day 11: Sydney

Up super early to watch our final approach to Sydney. I was one of the last to disembark but this didn’t matter as I wasn’t in a hurry.

As if ten days cruising wasn’t enough, I dropped my case at the hotel and spent the day riding Sydney ferries to Parramatta and Manly!

Then up early next morning to get the XPT back to Melbourne and reality.

My favourite YouTube cruising channels

Emma Cruises
Tips for Travellers
Paul and Carole love to travel
Life Well Cruised

2023 cruise #2: Burnie, Tasmania

My second 2023 cruise started off as a 2021 cruise on the Queen Mary 2 from Fremantle to Melbourne, booked in  May 2019 – I like to book as soon as cruises go on sale. With Covid it was just a matter of time before it was cancelled: I was given the option of getting a full refund or carrying forward 125% of the deposit paid as a future cruise credit (FCC). I chose the latter course and booked a similar cruise for March 2022. This in turn got cancelled, with the FCC rolled forward again.

With two longer cruises already booked I settled on a three-night cruise from Melbourne to Burnie and back on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, treating myself to a Princess Grill suite. I’d previously enjoyed an upgrade to PG so knew what to expect. Burnie is on the north coast of Tasmania, approximately 500km/310mil from Melbourne by sea.

The day before the cruise I was surprised to get an email from Cunard saying that although the cruise would be going ahead, we might need to skip visiting Burnie as further hull cleaning was required before the QE’s New Zealand cruise which was to follow ours; if this was to happen we would each receive 100% FCC and $150 onboard credit (spending money), a more than generous offer.

What happened? The hull cleaning had to be abandoned because of rough seas, we did go to Burnie (to the regret of those hoping for the FCC) and those who joined the ship on Feb 14th expecting to go round New Zealand found themselves on a cruise to Queensland and back! If you’re interested, read the story on Cruise Critic.

Back to my cruise: I won’t say much about the ship since I’ve done this before. Day one was spent at sea. Plenty to do, including the Sunday church service conducted by the captain – a Cunard tradition – and a superb lecture given by Julie Bishop, Australia’s Foreign Secretary 2013-18 and now Chancellor of Australia National University – lots of great stories about her meetings with many world leaders.

At the end of day one I fell into bed not knowing what was to happen on day two. I’d assumed that the messaging was to prepare us for missing Burnie so it was a big surprise to wake up, draw back the curtains, and see that we were docked with a huge woodchip mountain in front of my balcony.

So after a quick breakfast I set off on my booked cruise ship excursion, to the Don Valley Railway excursion, Bass Strait Maritime Centre and Home Hill.

The Don River Railway is a volunteer-run preserved railway that runs trains on a 3.1km stretch of track that was once part of the Tasmanian railway system. We rode on a two-carriage train hauled by V2, a 1947 diesel built in UK by Vulcan Foundry, Lancs. Trains are steam-hauled on Sundays and public holidays. I rode in their 1908 ex-Hobart suburban carriage. After the train ride we were given a tour of the impressive workshops. Excellent friendly volunteers – I hope we do as well at Newport.

On to the Bass Strait Maritime Centre, Devonport. Not huge but lots to look at.

Our excellent tour guide, Colleen, had promised us that she’d saved the best till last. And so it was. We drove to Home Hill, the home of Joseph Lyons (1879-1939), Australia’s only (so far) Tasmanian Prime Minister (1932-39) and his wife Enid (1897-1981) who became a notable public figure in her own right after her husband’s early death – she was the first woman elected to federal parliament. After Dame Enid’s death the house was preserved and open to the public. As elsewhere, the volunteer guides were excellent.

The house was built in 1916 when the Lyons married and extended as the family (12 children!) grew. It remains largely as it was when Dame Enid last lived there in 1981, complete with her original furnishings and memorabilia. It was interesting to see these, and I came away with my knowledge of Australian history significantly enhanced.

Then back to the ship for dinner. On my New Zealand cruise solo travellers like me were assigned individual tables at dinner as an anti-Covid precaution; this time I was glad to be put on a shared table with seven other solos who were very good company and we were more than well looked after by our table steward, Thando. Then back to Melbourne. All too soon the cruise was over.

Prev: 2023 cruise #1; Next: 2023 cruise #3.

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2023 cruise #1: New Zealand

Finally I’m back on a cruise ship!

I tend to book cruises as soon as they go on sale, so at when Covid first surfaced I had three booked. After multiple cruise cancellations and rebooks over the last three years, 2023 begins with three cruises in ten weeks.

My first post-Covid (or should this be ‘Covid-era’?) cruise on the Grand Princess and my longest (13 nights, 5 sea days) so far, was from Melbourne, round New Zealand and home again.

Here’s a quick summary: I won’t try and give a detailed guide to each place since lots of other people have done this already. Apart from Napier, I didn’t take any of the ship tours, choosing to do my own thing.


After two sea days we reached Fiordland at the far south west of NZ’s South Island. Several cruise ships have recently been refused entry to these waters because of hull contamination issues; fortunately we were fine.

The highlight of the day (arguably of the cruise) was the early morning cruise around Milford Sound, nominated by Rudyard Kipling as his eighth wonder of the world.

The weather was perfect; friends who have been to the Sound experienced rain and fog. Then on to Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound before sailing for Port Chalmers, the nearest port to Dunedin.

Port Chalmers (Dunedin)

At Port Chalmers I stepped onto foreign soil for the first time since my mid-2019 UK trip. A NZ$35 (return) shuttle bus ran from the dock into Dunedin, conveniently (for me), stopping near the railway station. The station is a spectacular building, unfortunately half-shrouded in scaffolding when we were there.

Then up to the Octagon at the heart of the city, St Paul’s Cathedral, Otago Museum, then back to the Toitu Settlers Museum, before getting the shuttle back to the ship.

Lyttleton (Christchurch)

The overnight sail took us to Lyttleton, the port for Christchurch, 12km away. Another NZ$35 shuttle.

Christchurch has been, sadly, totally reshaped by the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes which killed 185 people and destroyed thousands of buildings, including the iconic cathedral spire.

After walking round the city centre I went on to the Quake Museum where I spent a couple of hours taking in the horror that Christchurch residents lived through (and still do to a degree). Then a walk through the Botanic Gardens and past the Arts Centre buildings to get the shuttle back to the ship.

At Christchurch my one and only credit card stopped being accepted by card readers which left me with a just small amount of cash – I know to be better prepared next time!


On to North Island. Our third port day, Sunday Jan 15th, was spent in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. The shuttle bus was free this time. Yet another beautiful sunny day.

Before it got too hot I climbed to the Mount Victoria lookout (196m) with its stunning views over the city then back down to the Te Papa Museum of New Zealand. The Gallipoli gallery reminded me of the huge sacrifices made by NZ troops in WW1. In total I walked more than 22,500 steps.


Another, day, another port: Napier. This was the only place where I took a ship tour, and I am glad I did: an hour’s coach tour followed by a visit to the Art Deco Centre then an excellent guided walk around the city centre.

On the morning of 3 February 1931 Napier city centre was destroyed by a massive earthquake and ensuing fires. Within a few years it was largely rebuilt and now has one of the world’s greatest concentrations of Art Deco buildings.

After the walk we were left to explore on our own. The seafront with its beautiful floral displays brought back memories of happy childhood seaside holidays.


Port five, Mount Maunganui/Tauranga, was a bit different: no sightseeing, rather a chance to meet up with friends of 40+ years, who emigrated to NZ in 1996. Tugs pulled us off the quay: large ships aren’t allowed to use bow thrusters as they could damage the quays.

Soon after departure the captain made a somewhat opaque announcement re increasing respiratory infections (carefully not using the ‘C’ word), warned us that the programme might need to be changed, and reiterated that we were required (not requested) to wear masks in public areas except when eating and drinking.


Last stop before sailing home. Just six hours in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city: we had to sail at 1500 so as to leave the harbour clear for commuter ferries.

I enjoyed more sunshine walking round the city centre, finishing up at the New Zealand Maritime Museum. Nine days later Auckland experienced unprecedented rain and massive floods.

The unexpected

The voyage back from Auckland to Melbourne took three full sea days. It was a little choppy along the way which upset my system – so sad not to be able to enjoy all the good food on offer.

Not on the schedule was a helicopter medivac on the last full day. The helicopter was at the end of its range so after dropping two paramedics had to return to the mainland to refuel, then returning to the ship to collect the paramedics and patient. Hopefully he/she has made a full recovery and had travel insurance.

Life on board

With the veiled Covid warnings I decided to play safe and gave most of the mass entertainment a miss. I did though go to the sea day Bible studies – it’s left to those attending to decide how these are run and the ones on this voyage were not as good as some I’ve engaged in previously.

What gave me particular joy was listening to the recitals given by the Amethyst Duo, two young women from Ukraine, Varvara (piano) and Valeriia (violin). For them, a world away from home in more senses than one.

The pre-destination lectures given by tour manager Sue Beard were truly excellent. I had a Club Class cabin so ate in a reserved area of the Da Vinci dining room. My waiters Rommel and Nishi were outstanding. Across the board, the crew members I met could be not be faulted.

In summary, since I was a solo travelled and opted for a mini-suite it wasn’t a cheap cruise, but for me the experience more than justified the cost. But currently two people sharing an interior cabin can do an identical 12-night cruise for just A$1198 (~£700) – cheaper than staying in a cheap hotel and that’s before you factor in meals, entertainment etc.

Now to 2023 cruise number two!

* * *

Cruise map (from Princess Cruises)

Grand Princess

Grand Princess

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Maori canoe, Toitu Museum, Dunedin

Maori canoe, Toitu Museum, Dunedin

Picture of Christchurch Cathedral after the earthquake

Picture of Christchurch Cathedral after the earthquake

Christchurch Arts Centre

One of the Christchurch Arts Centre buildings

View over Wellington from Mount Victoria

View over Wellington from Mount Victoria

Te Papa Museum, Wellington

Te Papa Museum, Wellington

Art Deco Centre, Napier

Art Deco Centre, Napier

Daily Telegraph building, Napier

Daily Telegraph building, Napier

Making a new friend in Tauranga

Making a new friend in Tauranga



Auckland Ferry Terminal

Auckland Ferry Terminal, 1912

Medivac helicopter

The sight you don’t want to see

Beautiful music from the Amethyst Duo

Beautiful music from the Amethyst Duo

Melbourne from Station Pier



Election Reflections – Now What?

'Victory secured', The Age, 28 Nov 2022

‘Victory secured’, The Age, 28 Nov 2022

So now we look forward to another four years of Labor government. Covid was hugely divisive – Dan Andrews attracting a lot of support for what many saw as his decisive if unpopular leadership in an effort to keep us safe whilst the opposition and the usual media suspects were doing their best to undermine him and the measures he implemented. His strategy has been vindicated. As a regular correspondent put it in a letter to The Age:

Daniel Andrews won because he builds things you can see: roads, railways, hospitals. When COVID-19 arrived he ignored the complaining and did that “making the hard decisions” thing people talk about. He got on my nerves but he got on with the job.  PJ Bear, Mitcham

On the other side – from the Herald Sun and Sky News journos – there was lots of noise. But arguably all they were doing was talking to the converted whilst repelling those they should have been converting to their cause. When yet another letter gets printed in the HS saying “I don’t know anyone who would vote for Dan Andrews“, all the writer is doing is displaying the limited circles in which they move.

As the Age observes, “Victory secured, now the hard part“. We are currently facing major issues arising from Covid, the Ukraine war, a possible slump in the housing market and/or recession. The only certainty is that in four years’ time things will be very different. Although Dan Andrews says that he will serve a full term (which would be unwise IMO: too many politicians fall into the trap of failing to quit whilst they’re ahead) I suspect that he will step down once the metro tunnel opens in 2025, rightly seeing this as his legacy and the culmination of his government’s massive investment in infrastructure.

Should Dan stand down, his likely replacement, Jacinta Allen, would then be up against the Libs newly-elected leader, John Pesutto who, unlike his predecessor, comes across well in the media. In the meantime Labor needs to note the large swings against them in some areas and address well-founded concerns re poor governance. During the election it was reported that the Labor administration employs 250+ special advisors, political appointments. What’s happened to the independent civil servants who gave unbiased advice to ministers, then implementing the agreed policy? If our ministers are open to frank and fearless advice from public servants who have long experience of their subject area we might get better decisions.

Election Reflections – The Media

Election prediction, Herald Sun letters, 19 Feb 2021

Election prediction, Herald Sun letters, 19 Feb 2021

Compulsory voting arguably makes for a more democratic result. In the 2018 Victoria state election just over 90% of those on the roll voted (it will never be 100% since people die, move away etc as well as failing to vote), compared with 67.3% in the UK’s 2019 General Election. The downside of compulsory voting is that as everyone has (in theory) to vote, if you can get mud to stick on your opponent you may reap the benefit.

Plenty of mud was thrown in our recent election; thankfully it didn’t stick. Sky News and the Murdoch press carried on a relentless vendetta against Premier Dan Andrews, the Herald Sun reportedly carrying 150+ anti-Dan stories during the campaign. Will they ever learn that such mudslinging achieves nothing? I doubt it.

Back in February 2021, in the middle of Covid lockdowns and other restrictions, Herald Sun reader John Moore of Wangaratta forecast that “in the 2022 state election, I believe that the ALP [Labor] will be lucky to win one lower house seat”. He’d better stick to his day job: in Dan Andrews’ 2018 ‘unrepeatable’ landslide victory, Labor won 55 of the 88 lower house seats. In 2022, 56!

The Daniel Andrews paradox: the enduring appeal of Australia’s most divisive premier (the Guardian)

'Guy closing gap', The Age, 22 Nov 2022

‘Guy closing gap’, The Age, 22 Nov 2022

In the lead up to 2022’s vote the press was claiming that a minority government was a real possibility. Check out this nonsense published by Sky News:

“… a survey by bi-partisan RedBridge Group earlier this week that suggested Mr Andrews will be forced to form a minority government. The analysis had implied that Labor will fall two seats short of the 45 needed to form a majority government on its own. Labor currently holds 55 seats to the Liberals’ 27 – but aside from the opposition it is also under threat from various Greens, teal and regional independent candidates. There is also a suggestion Mr Andrews could lose his seat of Mulgrave, where he is being challenged by independent Ian Cook.

The actual result: Labor increased its lower house representation to 56. As for Mr Cook, he got a respectable 18%, but Dan Andrews’ 51% saw him re-elected on an absolute majority.

Opposition leader Matthew Guy was well and truly humiliated, his concession speech claim that “What we can see is that with a swing of around four per cent to us and many pre-poll votes to come, we will finish … with more seats in the parliament in both the lower house and the upper house,” proving to be untrue. The next day he resigned, having led his party to two disastrous defeats.

What next?

Election Reflections – The Count

The UK’s first past the post (FPTP) voting system has several key problems. It can be ‘dangerous’ to vote for your most favoured candidate you since by doing so you may hand victory to a candidate you really don’t like. For example, in the UK if you vote for a UKIP candidate, your vote might let a Labour candidate win whilst you’d rather be represented by a Conservative. With preference voting, as used to elect Victoria’s lower house, you could vote UKIP:1, Con:2, your vote going to a candidate you can live with, if not the one you prefer. Informed voters understand this and so may change the way they vote (tactical voting), thus the number of votes cast for each party is not necessarily a true reflection of popular opinion. FPTP may mean that a third or less of those voting voted for the successful candidate.

FPTP vote counting is quick and easy. In UK each constituency’s count is done in one place behind locked doors. After a few hours (in most cases) a moment of theatre follows where the Returning Officer and candidates mount the stage to hear “I, John Smith, being the Returning Officer for xxxx do hereby declare that the number of votes cast for each candidate was ….”, speeches from the victor and other candidates following.

Here interim results are released as the count progresses, from which TV pundits predict the result. At some point Antony Green, the ABC’s election guru, will often ‘call’ a seat/the election for a particular candidate/party even though many votes remain uncounted. Unlike UK, postal votes only need to be posted by the close of poll and will be counted if received with six days, so in a few closely contested seats it took more than a week for the result to be finalised.