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|Cunard Queen Mary 2
World Cruise 2010 - Part 6
This chart shows the routing at the time of printing of the brochure.
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All the pictures on the pages provide details of where they were taken if you hover a cursor over them and they can all be clicked to open a larger version in an Overlay (Lightbox)
Guam is two days cruising south of Tokyo. The climate is warm, with sandy beaches, nice hotels and everything the American serviceman needs to enjoy his posting here. Don't misunderstand - it is not like Pattaya. There are large airconditioned shopping malls, with excellent shops - Cartier, Rolex, Louis Vuitton and even a branch of Macys as well as the largest K-Mart in the world for basic household goods. The Mariana Islands are perched on the edge of the famous Mariana's Trench, the deepest ocean trench of all. The island is mountainous and rugged and was a key strategic military base during the Vietnam War. The currency is US$ and the people all speak english. Tourism is an important part of the income for the island, and the principal industry. Guam was captured by the japanese on 8 December 1941 and was occupied for two and a half years; during which the people suffered terrible atrocities. American troups recaptured the island on 21 July 1944. It seemed strange to us that now most tourists are from Japan
After a very early start to report for US Immigration checks at 06.15, we eventually caught a shuttle bus at 10.00. The first group of shuttle buses had departed at 08.00 but the return journey takes over an hour. It was very hot and humid. Our destination was Tumon Bay, which was a few miles north beyond the capital Hagatana, along Marine Drive.
Shuttle buses went to the Hyatt Regency Hotel, where we got maps and then walked through the hotel grounds to the nice sandy beach. Every hotel has its private chapel for weddings, and we found there was going to be a wedding here later in the day. On the beach we hoped to find sunbeds and umbrellas for hire, but there was nothing so we settled under the shade of a palm tree, on our towels. The beach at Tumon Bay is beautiful and swimming is easy - the water is warm, shallow, and protected by a reef.
There are two choices in Tumon Bay: the first is shopping and the second is to take a shuttle to Two Lovers Point, the top of the cliff which is just visible at the far end of the bay. We decided to spend the day on the beach instead. Compared with other resorts it is unusual; there are few sunbeds and unbrellas, noone tries to sell cold beer or warm food, or even local souvenirs. Maybe there is a local law prohibiting hawkers on the beaches. The water was hot and shallow as it was within a reef. Pete wanted to test out our simple underwater camera/video so he spent a lot of time in the water. The camera seemed to work better underwater than above perhaps because of the fixed focus. The sea bed was covered with large sea slugs and one had to be careful where one put ones feet when standing - it was never more than 5 or 6 foot deep. There were quite a few outcrops of coral and what looked like sponges but was probably more coral. There were also some brightly coloured fish some of which were very territorial and aggressive - they could give quite a hard nip and several times drew blood.
Eventually we decided to see what was nearby, but it was just a few shops and shopping malls. We joined a very long queue for the shuttle bus and immediately thought the worst, but buses arrived and the queue moved steadily. Passing through Hagatana, and seated on the other side of the bus, we saw the cathedral.
The little row of stalls selling local goods were still on the quay, but it was all expensive and there was nothing interesting. As we waited to leave the local Coastguards got their boats out to look at us, and then it was time for a MaiTai at the Sailaway party. The warm weather makes such a difference, and we started to enjoy the departures in the warm evenings as the sun sets, and listening to the caribbean band.
Rabaul is in the East New Britain province of Papua New Guinea. The town was the provincial capital and most important settlement in the province until it was destroyed in 1994 by falling ash of a volcanic eruption in which 80% of the buildings in Rabaul were collapsed by rain and ash. After the eruption the capital was moved to Kokopo, about 20 kilometres (12 mi) away. Rabaul is continually threatened by volcanic activity from the volcanos round the edge of the Rabaul caldera, a flooded caldera of a large volcano which forms a huge, well protected natural harbour. The harbour, combined with its location in the pacific has given Rabaul a great strategic significance
Rabaul was the headquarters of German New Guinea until captured by the British Commonwealth during World War I, when it became the capital of the Australian mandated Territory of New Guinea until 1937. During World War II it was captured by the Japanese in 1942, and it became the main base of Japanese military and naval activity in the South Pacific. About 110,000 Japanese were stationed in Rabaul. Instead of attempting to capture Rabaul, the Allied forces bypassed it by establishing a ring of airfields and naval bases on the islands around it. Cut off from re-supply and under continual air attacks, the base became useless. The Japanese held Rabaul until they surrendered at the end of the war in August 1945.
The entry into Rabaul is well worth being on deck to watch - Pete was in the gym and did not realise we were early in until Pauline came and dragged him out at 0645, you have to get into the gym close to 0600 otherwise one ends up queuing. It is however working and he is still under 159 lbs, the upper range of his acceptable range after over six weeks on board having gained about 3 lbs which he claims must be muscle. The mountains came into sight and the volcanic origins are quickly visible; it reminded us of White Island in New Zealand. As the QM2 took a curved course into the natural harbour the shape of the Caldera become clear and there is a good view into the new active volcanic cone which is still belching smoke and dust. Many of the hillsides are now lifeless covered in the grey remains of the once lush forest. The town, once the regional capital has likewise been decimated as becomes clear from the deck. We arrived on a day with threatening cumulo nimbus storm clouds towering over the land adding to the dramatic atmosphere. Rabaul is rather like New York, the arrival and departure are the highlights.
We picked up the pilot and shortly afterwards a group of customs and immigration officials who rapidly found and settled in the King's Court. Shortly after the anchor rattled down and the tenders were dropped into the water. We were visited by a number of the small local outrigger canoes so typical of the polynesian islands. Tours were severely restricted as there seems to be little infrastructure left after the 1994 eruption and the buses were a mottley collection of people carriers driven by enthusiastic locals - air conditioning in the stiffling heat and high humidity was provided by the few windows which could be opened - the locals seemed to prefer to sit in the back of pick-ups. Most of the population seemed to gave gathered to welcome the Queen Mary 2 on her maiden visit.
We had not been able to secure one of the few tours - we had procrastinated too long as they seemed to offer poor value initially. We waited until the rush was over for tenders, but there was no rush. We put on long clothes and dosed ourselves with DEET as this is one of the worst areas left for malaria. We had stated taking malerone but hoped to keep free of mosquito bites and stop after we had carefully inspected each other for bites - the prevention is almost as bad as the disease. We had been warned that any remaining local transport would be very limited and not advised as everything that was insured and moved had been requisitioned so our plans were somewhat limited to a visit to the local 'museum' which was simple but had a lot of information on its boards when one looked carefully and had a few old rusty machine guns from ground defenses and aircraft. The entry fee was zero but one paid $5 to leave. We later learnt that $5 was enough for a local to live on for a month.
Another visitor told us that the bunker just across from the museum buildings which served as the officers mess was the bunker used by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was shot down and killed by United States aircraft over South Bougainville after taking off from Rabaul after his flight itinerary were decrypted by United States Navy cryptographers. P-38 Lightning fighters took off from Guadalcanal and destroyed the two bombers of the Yamamoto flight and the escorting Japanese fighters. One could only walk down a few steps into the bunker before reaching the level of the volcanic dust from the last eruption.
We continued our exploration into what remained of the town. The streets were still deep in black volcanic dust which had been turned into streams of mud by the recent 3 days of heavy rain - many were still soft underfoot. The Roman Catholic church seemed intact but there was a lot of water on the floors which had come in from the recent heavy rains and the badly rusted corrugated iron roof. Everything looked very run down on the outside but we went into one of the local stores and were amazed at its contents - it is a long time since I have seem spark plugs on sale and there were even spare pistons on the shelf, I assume for their outboard motors or generators as they looked small. There was little one might need which was not available. On our return to the 'port' area which was being used by the tenders we noted that many people seemed to be gathering in the open building marked as the Rabaul Yacht Club which was changing US$ into the local Kina, and had opened its bar and was selling local SP beers for $3.00. A cold beer was just what we needed.
After a quick walk round the stalls, actually mats on the ground, set up by the locals we found a couple of books covering some of the wartime exploits were on sale and bought "The School that fell from the Sky" - the story of a P38 pilot who was shot down over New Britain and survived thanks to the locals, missionaries and Australian Coastwatchers and repaid them by building them a school after the war was over.
Until visiting Micronesia we had not realised the magnitude and viciousness of the war in the Pacific and we learnt a lot from the on board lectures and during our visits. The concept of surrender did not seem to be known to the Japanese and when a battle was lost it was common for almost every Japanese soldier and associated civilians to commit suicide, they would retreat under ground and blow themselves up or leap off the cliffs. Prisoners in Europe had a 1% death rate whilst in the Pacific it was 37% of prisoners in Japanese hands and almost 57% died in captivity round Rabaul. Towards the the end of the war there were 3500 Kamikazi attacks by Zeros on shipping. Just before the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki an edict was intercept which specified that all children and old people should be killed if they hindered the final war efforts. Overall casualty rates in Pacific battles were also exceptionally high at an average of 15%. Not surprisingly many of the American servicemen were suffering stress disorders which prevented them from fighting.
By the time we left the afternoon rain storms had finished and there was an eyrie calm and silence - as we left past the volcano we could see groups of people and children on the shore. The ship is incredibly quiet and at 10 knots there was just the faintest of sounds as we cut through the water leaving a fascinating pattern of wash in the still waters - it was so quiet we could hear individuals on the shore which must have been half a mile away, it was so uncanny that Pete got out the GPS to check our speed. We watched until it was almost dark and then on a last look from the balcony we had an incdibly strong smell of Hydrogen Sulphide - we must have been directly downwind.
The final stop on our voyage was at the Whitsunday Islands which are a collection of continental islands of various sizes off the central coast of Queensland, Australia. There are a number of anchorages for cruise ships in the area, carefully sited so that no ship can see any other one. The area received about 700,000 visitors last year. We were anchored where there was also easy access by tender to Airlie Beach, a town of under 3000 which gains another 20,000 in the tourist season. Airlie Beach and the nearby anchorages are one of several departure points for the Great Barrier Reef - it usually takes about 2-3 hours to get out to the reef from Airlie Beach depending on ocean conditions. Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands are about latitude 20 degrees south and enjoy a tropical climate and lifestyle. The Whitsunday Islands, named by James Cook in 1770 are a sailors' paradise. Cook named the islands as he believed he passed through the area on the Christian festival day of Whit Sunday. It is now widely accepted that he didn't actually pass through on this date, as he had failed to take into account the yet to be brought into existence International Date Line à la Phileas Fogg.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 1,500 mi over an area of approximately 13,000 sq mi. The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland in northeast of Australia. The Great Barrier Reef is the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms. This reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. The Great Barrier Reef was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981 and is regarded as one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. Most of the reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which limits the impact of human use, such as overfishing and tourism. The reef is a very popular destination for tourists, especially in the Whitsundays and Cairns regions. Tourism is also an important economic activity for the region generating AU$ 5 billion to which must be added AU$ 1 billion per year from Fishing. The reef structures started to form 60,000 years ago and their growth has been determined by the change of the sea level heights and conditions which sustain growth of coral. The current living part is about 6000 years old. Many forms of reef can be found - fringing reefs are distributed widely, but are most common towards the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef, attached to high islands, for example, the Whitsunday Islands.
The Great Barrier Reef supports a diversity of life, including many vulnerable or endangered species, some of which may be endemic to the reef system with far more species than any other reef system in the world. The reef system is easily damaged physically and is oonly just below the surface - in fact on 11 June 1770, the HM Bark Endeavour, captained by explorer James Cook, ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef, sustaining considerable damage, the first of many modern ships to do so. Normal anchoring near the reef is now strictly controlled and most of the tourist visits are to floating platforms with underwater observatories from which diving and snorkelling can take place under strict control. Theyl act as mother ships for glass bottomed boat and semi-submersibles. They are accessed by fast catamaran, chopper and floatplane.
Cunard had arranged for use of an entire platform and nearly 500 people were transported to it by a 2 hour journey by two catamarans. This was an extremely expensive trip costing over US$ 200 per person for only 3 hours on the platform. Trips from the shore seem to be closer to half that when available but need to be booked well in advance. The cats collected directly from the ship and we had a checkin time of 0610 which meant an alarm for breakfast at 0500 and no chance of getting to the gym which open at the usual 0600. As soon as we cleared the shelter of the Whitsunday Island group it became obvious the seas were not going to be calm. Pete booked a 30 minute guided snorkelling trip with a marine biologist on the cat as time was going to be short and he hoped it would maximise what he saw. When we got to the platform it was then a rush to collect equipment including a 'stinger suit' which covered every part of the body apart from the face and parts of the feet. Some of the jellyfish can be quite dangerous and stinger suits or wet suits are virtually manditory. They are a stretch fabric and you end up looking like a teletubby.
The sea had quite a chop and the guide for our group of 6 was towing a couple of life rings to which most of the others clung - one gave up before entering the water and another shortly afterwards - the others were wearing life jackets meaning diving was out - in fact Pete was virtually the only person snorkelling without one other than staff. The sea state made any explanation impossible to hear if you kept a mask and snorkell in use and keeping station was impossible with four frightened people clinging to a ring and thrashing around with fins and life jackets. The sea was sufficiently rough that visibility was low. Pete also had the underwater video/camera so just hanging on was not possible. It led to interesting times and eventually he became separated after which it ws much easier to get some film and all the fish were not frightened away. Even so he was quite glad to get out of the water after only a little over half and hour. The guide quietly refunded the $30 as it was obviously not what had been expected and she had her hands full with 4 newcomers to snorkelling in rough seas. Only a small percentage of the 500 people went in by themselves, other than those with scuba experience or doing the expensive scuba 'resort' dives.
The underwater observatory was not within viewing distance of the reef in those conditions but we did see quite a lot from the semi-submersible - a fancy sort of enclosed glass bottomed boat with 45 degree viewing panels down the side. We saw more of the coral than whilst swimming but no significant numbers of fish. Overlall: Would we do it again? No - ticked box and would look for a better way to see the reef - Pauline is against scuba diving but training in the UK for PADA qualifications so one could dive onto the reef is probably the way to go. Would we recommend the trip to others? Open question as we do not know how typical the conditions were - with still water and clear water it would be great.
On the way back we were told we were being diverted to Airlie Beach and would have to use the tenders to return to the ship. We had intended to take a tender ashore after picking up items we were warned should not be taken to the platform but others were not so happy especially when a huge storm hit with torrential rain just as we moored - we had waterproofs but few others had brough them as they expected a door to door service. They were allowed to wait for the rain to reduce before sprinting to the tenders, two of which were waiting. We took a shuttle bus into town whilst the rain abaited a little. By the time we arrived the local Sunday market was re-emerging from under tarpaulins, they are obviously used to it and it was the rainy season! Pauline bought a bargain evening bag and the locals were happy to give a sensible exchange rate for $US whilst on the platform it was $US for $AU. We then walked back to the ship on the coastal board walk which had many shelters from the rain. Airlie Beach's beach is small and the sea is inhabited by marine stingers, the Irukandji jellyfish from November to May. We walked past and photographed the lagoon which has been provided to allow the visitoring tourists to swim.The Airlie Beach Lagoon is 4,300sqm and holds 4.5 million litres of fresh, self chlorinated water and was very popular despite the threatening weather.
On our return to the tender pier there were significant queues and we had time to watch the technical department wheel two huge wheely bins full of there extra stores down to a spare tender - it took four people to move each one and then the contents had to be hand loaded. What had seemed a long line was rapidly cleared by use of a local large trip boat as a ferry to augment our own tenders. We were glad as the tenders were getting a rough ride with white water almost over the top on the return trips.
Note - parts of the text of two paragraphs above forming the introduction to Rabaum and the paragraphs on the Great Barrier reef, the Whitsunday islands and Airlie Beach have drawn on Wikipedia articles which are an invaluable source of information on all matters. The Wikipedia sourced text is subject to The Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License . See Copyright for more general conditions of use of our pages.
Just a pleasant and relaxing time with the inevitable packing at the end!
| Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Layout revised: 13th July, 2015