Don’t go out in this storm! – Thursday 24th May 2012


We have to cross about 40 miles to get to Limnos, where we will take the plane home. When we were arranging this trip, Captain suggested that we might have to take the ferry if the weather was inclement. Much discussion has centred on the best day to undertake this five hour voyage and the conclusion was – ‘today’.
However, it has been a really stormy night. We could hear the thunder, see the lightning. It’s not over yet! We eat breakfast in the main cabin instead of on deck. A sense of dread fills the air: lumpy seas and poor visibility are reported by the harbour master. A Swiss yacht comes into harbour very early is morning, bedraggled. They left the same bay we had been in about 3 in the morning because the weather was so bad. They shake their heads and ‘tut’ at the idea of going anywhere today.
Captain says that he feels sure it will be ok. “What is the difference between the strong winds we had the other day in the sun and this rain?” he reasons. I silently think, “the rain and the ridiculous downpour we are witnessing!” but I am wise enough to say nothing. captain has never let us down yet. I trust him, but I take some sea sick tablets!
We are about to set off when another bout of rain begins, so instead we batten the hatches.

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It can get quite gloomy down below. Louise and I make sandwiches so we can eat during the voyage, cutting off the crusts from the old bread we scavenged from the restaurant last night.
Despite the portentous signs, we set off by 8.45. The sea chases us with boiling waves. We barrel along. I cannot decide whether to stay below and feel sick, or go above and get wet. Someone has to stay above. Captain has a stock of bright red sou’westers and leggings, which look a lot jollier than they feel. I notice he is wearing Wellington boots!
I am determined not to be sick. For while I stay on board with my IPhone music playing calm tunes like Satie and Chopin. I try something more upbeat and dance and sway to the music, trying to bend my legs to compensate for the rolling, keeping my eyes firmly fixed on the horizon.

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Below the cooker swings violently on it’s cradle, and even John has to hold on while he scrutinises the charts. Eventually the rain cascades down and I can no longer stand it. I go down below decks, and instantly regret it. Louise has no problem, she has always felt at home at sea and tries to persuade me that it feels like a mother rocking a cradle. This mother is very angry, I think!
I try dancing below decks but it just makes it worse, so I crawl off to my little bunk and lie, headphones firmly attached, listening to podcasts of A History of the World in 100 Objects. I had heard many of these at the time of their broadcast, but they are brilliant and I become absorbed. Louise lies on the sofa in the main saloon, listening to music. John and her husband take it in turns to assist Captain in the pouring rain and I have to say I think her husband was a true hero as he took more than his fair share.
Seven hours!
We motored all the way, but it took seven hours!
Just when I was truly sleepy, Captain roused us all to come on deck. The rain had finally stopped and he had spotted dolphins. Six dolphin chased our yacht, laughing in high spirits. They ran under the bow, jostling for pole position. There is no way you can feel sad when you encounter dolphin. We had seen them in the distance earlier in the week, but now they stayed with us for nearly 15 minutes and our excitement was wonderful. All the cold and wet, the rolling and cold was forgotten. As suddenly as they chose to stay with us, they decide to leave, dropping back and returning into deeper water. We are nearing the coast finally and we can see them for many minutes leaping away into the distance.
None of us need to stay below now. We hug the coast line for a while and decide not to finish the complete journey yet. Instead we pull into an inland waterway where we see monstrous solar panels which rotate to track the sun. Apart from that it is very pretty and very quiet.
I scrape the cupboards to produce an asparagus risotto, which seems to fill a hole. Thank goodness for tins! And tins of asparagus especially!
We are quick to sleep after the exhaustion of the day, even those of us who lay down for most of the time!

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Sperm whales and dusky dolphins – Monday 5th March 2012


Will we see whales today? Will we even get to go out on the boat? Yesterday, the office was empty, all trips were cancelled due to rough weather. But, this morning, from our verandah, the bay was totally calm, the trees still, and the snow on the mountain shone against a blue sky.

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The early snow contrasts beautifully with the green in the valley. Even though it is two months early, I am thrilled it has come. There is no change in temperature, just exquisite wonder when you look up.

The “Whale Watch” building is located next to the railway, which runs along side the beach. The road is called Whale Way! Great joke!

In contrast to yesterday the office is buzzing. Yes! The boats are going out. We are entertained by a DVD narrated by David Attenborough on the life of albatross and then another on whales. I miss much of the second DVD as a lady tells me all about her merino possum jumper, which, on the advice of her husband, she has left in Brisbane, and she hopes she will see whales today, because she does not want to come again tomorrow, because she would like to keep any boat trips to a minimum…

It is going to be rough today, they warn, lazy swells of 1.5 m. The gift shops does a good trade in sea sickness pills.

As soon as the catamaran leaves its moorings, you know they are right, but after five minutes I become used to the movement.

It takes a little finding, our first Sperm whale, but when it comes to the surface, everyone is excited. An airplane and a helicopter join us for aerial views.

There’s a chasm, thousands of meters deep, just off shore. Sperm whales can live in this area all year round on the rich marine life. They eat giant squid. Remember the giant squid specimen in Te Papa Wellington? It’s a monster and Sperm Whales eat them! They eat sharks too! They spend an hour deep in the ocean, hunting. Then return to the surface to breathe for five minutes before diving back for a further hour! The trick is to find a whale who has just surfaced and get the boat close enough for clients to get out and take their photos, safely, in that 5 minute window.

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As it rests on the surface you can see its square nose and just about the length from this nose to its hump. The tail remain hidden from view. They breath every 15-20 seconds, blowing a slight puff of water. At times the waves are so tall, I lose sight of the whale completely. How can you lose something that is 50 feet (15 or even 20 meters) long? Other times, our boat rides high and we get a fabulous view of the whale low in the water.

The highlight of our viewing is his dive, for dive he must! After one last breath, he arches his back and begins the vertical descent. For us, the magnificent tail now rears out of the water, a horizontal platform flipping to a vertical flag and down he goes.
Magnificent!

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We are quick to find whale number two. It seems ages that he floats, breathing. A sea lion swims nearby hoping the whale might drop a tidbit. But inevitably, he has to dive, raising his massive tail in salute.
Our third whale was already diving as the first passengers (including me) get on deck. We are lucky enough to see his dark tail signal his return to the deep, dark chasm.

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We cruise on for some minutes because Dusky dolphin are in the area. Around 200 dolphin leap and swim in an incredible display of fishing! The sheer number of them, made even more remarkable because Hector’s dolphin and even bottle nose are mixed in the crowd. Honestly, I only identified the dusky ones.

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At times they leap clear of the water, intent on making the biggest splash, perhaps to frighten the fish. John captures an incredible display on video which I cannot upload, sorry. An individual dolphin leaps 10 times before retracing his steps, still leaping high from the water. Youngsters practice this move too.

It’s an incredible show.

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Dolphins and the hole in the wall – Monday 23rd January 2012


As part of our motel deal at Triton Suite Motel, we have a tour to see the famous Hole in the Rock. The company, Fullers Dolphin Cruises seem to have cornered the market and offer a wide range of tours including swimming with dolphins.
We leave Russell in a large catamaran and sail towards Motuarohia. The crew already know where the dolphin are today, so that is where we go.
I’ve seen dolphin before, miles off from a boat in the Greek Islands and freshwater pink dolphin in the Amazon but, I’ve always wanted a close encounter with the bottlenose.
We saw some swim round the corner of Mornington Peninsular near Melbourne, as readers of this blog may remember, leaping the strong currents with strength, making good speed.
But I wanted to get closer.
Today, a huge pod of dolphins were playing with a group of tourists who were to swim in the sea with them. When the dolphin saw our boat approach they leapt clear out of the water in 2s and 3s, and swam right up, and under, the boat.

When I first saw a lion in the Rhuaha, in Tanzania, tears came to my eyes for the magnificence of the beast and the honor of being able to see him in the wild. Exactly the same thing happened now! All I wanted to do was look! The thought of glimpsing this from behind a camera lens seemed too awful. I wanted to drink it in! Those lithe, playful dolphin were so aware of us. Totally wonderful!

All too soon we moved on, swept off to the hole in the rock. This massive tunnel just allowed our huge vessel to crawl through leaving just 2 meters each side for maneuver. I was impressed. Neat driving!

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We stopped off on Urupukapuka island, the only one in the Bay of Islands where you can send the night, if you wish. Up one hill, see the view, up the next hill – more views. But what views they were! Spectacular!

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For the afternoon we were dropped off at Paiha, toured the shops And bought John a new baseball cap. Then had fish and chips at Vinnies Takeaway out of plain newspaper. (massive portions and very good) Yes, I know that is fish and chips, two days in a row, but I have been told that this is the place to eat them, so its now or never!

We walked along the beach front and crossed the bridge to Waitangi to visit the Treaty Grounds.
Following the outrageous behaviour of the Brits in New Zealand, Busby was sent out to ‘sort it out’ and worked on a treaty between the original Maori settlers and the British. Captain William Hobson came to sign on behalf of his Majesty in 1840. This treaty holds good still, although it offers a point of disagreement for some Maori descendants even today.
It’s well worth a visit and makes an aspect of history that I had not been aware of, very clear. I especially liked the introductory film.

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I was surprised how small Busby’s original house was, but he certainly chose a fantastic location

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The most beautiful Moari canoe was housed here, apparently in the Guinness book of records as being the longest! The meeting house was really interesting as the carving represented all the tribes and areas around New Zealand
We ended our day with a walk to Long Beach with the idea of a swim, but as we approached the shore we saw two large Sting Ray cruising along looking for left over bait. We decided it was wise not to go in, just in case!

Mornington Peninsular – Wednesday 21st December 2011


Our selection of maps originated from the Federation Square information office. Whilst they give you loads of ideas about WHERE to go, the maps are dreadful. We have several versions of the East of Melbourne and our journey takes longer than necessary because of the several mistakes we make.
Melbourne lies high up in the arms of Port Philip Bay which is almost entirely surrounded by land apart from the turbulent roar of The Bass Strait. We travel right down to the tip of the crab-like claw of Portsea, where there is a National Park and bring a Barbie of spare ribs. These public barbecues are brilliant.

After lunch we made our way to the Quarantine Station.

20120105-151401.jpg It’s both moving and fascinating to learn about the precautions taken to prevent disease entering the fragile new colony, Australia in the 1880s.
Tragic to learn of the hardships endured on the migration. The babies born on board; the measles, influenza and dysentery which ripped through the migrant population on board, often before they had even left European waters.

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There was a determination to balance the rigour of scourging out these diseases and respecting the newly arrived human beings. Fumigating their luggage, clothes, mail, bathing them and waiting to see if a new disease developed in them. We could have spent longer here but…
We wanted to walk to the end of the peninsular and back before dark.

And I’m so pleased we did. We were rewarded by splendid views which surpassed the WWII fort relics. An Australian Prime Minister, walked into ferocious surf and was never seen again. Not surprising when you saw the currents and the rocks. A whole TV series was based on this Reggie Perrin.

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But best if all we saw 10-12 dolphin, leaping through the waves at Bass Strait. We could follow them for a good 15 minutes and were astounded by their speed. At times 90%of their body left the water. At other times you could see groups of 5 or 6 leap in synchronization. Sights like this don’t photograph well without a massive lens, which I do not posses. By they are magnificent and live in your memory for years.

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As compensation we did get to photograph a lovely lizard and here he is for you!

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