Cruising the Coral Sea

Cruising the Coral Sea

Seeking sun and relaxation, pampering, a perfect getaway or the history of Australia’s connection to this exotic place? PNG is AOK!

Papua New Guinea is not often top of the holiday list but with the advent of cruising out of Australia to this exotic destination that’s pretty much undiscovered is a boon to people who like exploration without the hassle and with a dash of luxury.

Since P&O Cruises introduced its inaugural Papua New Guinea itinerary four years ago, departures for this special cruise now leave from Brisbane, Sydney and Cairns.

 

Leaving from Cairns was smooth sailing with a big wave to the mountains of the Great Dividing Range behind the sun-drenched city. We were headed into the Coral Sea.

Time before dinner to explore the Pacific Eden, with many of the public areas recently refurbished, the ship has a buzzy, modern ambience. It was towards the end of the season in November and the ship was full of excited cruisers, some new to the game and others – seasoned and ship-shape.

Our first stop was Alotau, capital of the Milne Bay Province where echoes of WWII can be heard. The Battle of Milne Bay took place here in 1942 and is one of the nostalgic stops along the way on war history tours.

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Over breakfast we marvel at the beauty of the sheer-walled cliffs that are close to the ship. The bay is so deep we can anchor a stone’s throw (almost) to the shore. We went ashore to be taken to an open field on the bay and were greeted by a sing sing and some traditional dancing. Excursions aren’t organised from the ship, they are just sincere welcomes by the locals.

After a couple of (hot) hours here it was back to the ship to cool off. (Take a wide-brimmed hat and water with you on any land excursion.)

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In the evening there’s a choice of two specialty restaurants that are free, Dragon Lady for fine Pan-Asian food and Angelo’s for frisky Italian fare (book early as they fill up fast). I went for Dragon Lady and it was full of tasty, spicy surprises.

Next stop as we sail through silky smooth waters is Kitava, a wee island off the side of the larger Trobriand Island of Kiriwana.

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We are greeted by shy, smiling islanders and we were directed to the village where there were mats laid out selling local basket ware and trinkets, Interesting, it was the men doing the selling. The school put on a dance and the fierce steps by eight-year olds was amusing as the kids liked the attention and lost the choreography plot several times.

There was a woman cooking outside in a makeshift kitchen and boiling up fat, succulent crabs – the queue was long!

While some of us gorged on crab others enjoyed a wild ride on a bamboo raft to a tiny island just offshore. The ride cost $AU2.50 and the participants said it was worth every Kina (5 kina).

Next stop was in the Conflict Islands. We paid for a walking tour of the island to see the dense and lush gardens. But after landing, and being crushed by the heat we spied brilliant white sand and crystal clear water in the distance so we skedaddled through the gardens to the beach on the north side of the island – and everyone else had discovered this exquisite place too.

There was a little bar set up for cold drinks and hot snacks. Cold beer, hot, salty chips and a gently breeze coming off the sea – not too shabby at all!

People wax lyrical about ‘paradise’ and ‘perfect island beaches’ and I now understand – this place is heaven to visit and having the luxury to stay here in this unspoilt treasure for most of the day was like winning the lottery. And it wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t come here on a cruise ship.

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As we reluctantly walked along the pier to pick up a tender, children were paddling little, very simple bamboo canoes in the cove and singing as we departed.

Such a simple and unaffected farewell but warm and sincere.

Back on board for our last dinner and concert in the bar we met with fellow passengers and related our day’s enjoyment, and they did the same.

Papua New Guinea is a special destination and offers wonderful opportunities to meet with and understand our neighbours.

Travel Tips

  • Take extra Kina (local currency) with you. Visitors pay for goods in Aussie dollars and give $$ to the kids but it’s hard for the locals to exchange the money and they often get ripped off. So, if someone sidles up to you and whispers ‘you have Kina’ – it’s OK to swap money.
  • Take some pens and notebooks with you for the kids, the schools are poor. And everyone has T-shirts at home they don’t wear – take kids sizes and men’s – as I have said, the villages are not flush!

Contact your travel agent for sailing dates and times for cruising to Papua New Guinea.

Bev Malzard was a guest of P&O cruises. Visit: www.pocruises.com.au

Writer Bev Malzard had visited PNG before and experienced the lock-in at her hotel in Port Moresby of a night due to the streets not being safe after dark. Visiting remote areas by ship was safe, sound and damn good fun. She thoroughly recommends a swim in the Coral Sea.

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Images by Bev Malzard and Fran O’Keefe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Three great Swiss dishes

Although it’s summer in Australia there are images coming through from Europe and England, and America of glorious snow blanketing the countryside and even dusting the cities. I love snow and have a little envy at this time of the year for the traditions and food that come with a snowy winter. Gluhwein, hot toddies, roasting chestnuts.

Who am I kidding, fresh prawns and oysters and glam-salads are what I really hanker for. But being a food lover (I love all food) I collect food memories on my travels and as I made a tuna salad yesterday, my mind went back to a fine, light lunch I had in Switzerland, as well as all the comfort food and the sweets . . .

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For a tiny, alpine country, Switzerland makes the most of every corner’s cuisine. The Swiss love their tucker and on my last visit I joined the food fan throng.

Switzerland’s neighbours are the influence for the table here – France, Germany and Italy press the flesh and have infiltrated Swiss kitchens for centuries. Historically, Switzerland was a farming country – and still is in many parts and the most popular crops were potatoes and dairy products from happy cows. Chocolate has been top of the food chain too.
Much of what is popular and served up in homes and indeed restaurants are regional dishes. In modern Switzerland, Italian food is common including the staples of pasta and pizza. Swiss cheese dishes include Emmental cheese, Vacherin and Appenzeller. And the aromatic cheeses from the various regions in the mountain areas have their special flavours from the mountain herbs growing in the lush pastures that the cows love.

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A typical Swiss breakfast (and my favourite meal in European countries) might display good, artisan breads, butter, honey, cheese, cereal, milk, hot or cold chocolate, coffee and tea. (Except in some of the hotels in the Italian region – especially Lugano where I stayed in Hotel Lugano Dante – and had the most splendid brekkie – check out the picture for cake. Any country that serves cake for breakfast gets  my vote as a winner.)
Lunch in Switzerland is usually a meal of pasta, potatoes, meat, fish, seafood and veggies – see my lovely tuna salad, served in a mountain top cafe above Lugano.
Dinner can range from a full meal to a snack.
Fondue is still on the radar, as is Aloplermagronen – a nostalgic dish of macaroni, caramelised onions, potatoes, melted cheese and served with a dish of apple sauce. Basically macaroni cheese but with the added potatoes – pretty heavy.
Another favourite edging towards the German tradition is Zurcher Geschnetzeltes – sliced veal in cream sauce and mushrooms, served with rosti.

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I’m not saying I returned from Switzerland four kilos heavier than when I left – but I’m not denying it either.
I did manage to have a green salad every day! And a Swiss chocolate too.
The writer, Bev Malzard was hosted by Swiss Tourism www.infoswiss.info
Hotel Lugano Dante
Zunfthaus zur Waag (for veal dish)

4513EBC6-2D5F-41E9-A1FD-B25660C4988A (1).JPGYou could do worse that eating a wurst on top of a Swiss Alp!

Neck and neck, a tale of three scarves

They keep our necks warm, they are lovely companions, they can be roiled up into a little ball as a pillow, they accessorise the plainest outfit, they’ll cover up a bad hair day, their colours can enhance your looks, they are beautiful gifts, they can be worn as a sarong, a sash or a stole and can become objects of obsession . . . in fact not to have one on hand can be quite anxiety making.

Silk, pashmina, cotton, merino wool, cashmere, hand-knotted, woven by angels – any which way a scarf comes into being makes the world a better place.

I have far too many scarves to even put on a post, but I’ll start my tale with three old friends who have travelled the globe with me.

The first is a beautiful blue and black fringed scarf from India. I purchased it in Chennai – no bargaining, it came from a boutique that didn’t play hard and fast with tight fists. This is a one-off,  and when it is folded in a drawer near its market cousins, it remains expensive and haughty.
A few days before I purchased the scarf I was in a bus trundling through the southern part of India. The bus had made frequent ‘comfort’ stops – let’s call them toilet stops at places that I couldn’t quite cope with – and I have a high tolerance for shitty toilets.
At one stop I said to my lady companions that perhaps it would be more hygienic if we just went into the bushes. All agreed with me.
As we were squatting in easy silence I looked behind me and there was a holy man wandering through the bush and starring at us. We all turned to wave and the poor skinny fellow took off like a rocket – don’t think he’d quite seen that many white bums lined up ever.

This next, soft, pretty confection came from the markets in Istanbul. I had just finished a cruise from Athens with my sister and we were stockpiling scarves. They only cost about $5 each but were comely and colourful. We wore them draped around our shoulders back to our hotel.
In a café near the hotel a young, pushy fella called us every night with true Turkish hospitality to come and have apple tea with him. We did, but he was starting to get annoying and we were trying to find ways to avoid him.
One night I said, ‘why are you flirting with us, we are old, there are lots of young, gorgeous girls around. ‘Ï don’t care’,  he said,  I just want a little bit of kissing and   . . .’- yep, he wanted more. I just starred at him and said ‘you’re a lunatic’. He laughed hysterically and attracted the attention of his boss. The boss came out and shooed him away. ‘Why did you do that,’ I said – ‘he doesn’t work here, so why not?’ he said. So a strange man had been flirting with us and making us apple tea from the café . . . ah, Istanbul.

This silk organza lovely was found at Stanley Markets, Hong Kong. I had bought an embroidered silk coat that I was thrilled with, and not cheap either. While the coat was being packed up I saw the edge of this scarf poking out from under a pile of sweaters. As I gently tugged it out I saw it was silk organza with fine cotton tufts sprouting – it was intriguing and quickly attached itself to me. I bargained for a while then put my foot down and said I should have it for free, as the coat had no bargaining attached to the deal . . . shopkeeper was bemused and said – ‘why not’.
That trip to Hong Kong I was invited on a helicopter ride too see that amazing city and surrounding islands from on high – what a flight! And the scarf playfully tickled my neck as the helicopter swooped through the mighty canyons of the vertical city.
Tell me about your scarves . . . where did you buy them, what do they mean to you, and do they tell a story?

Down and out in Berlin – or a night to remember

Down and out in Berlin – or a night to remember

I was happily listening to someone at a travel function recently about the new routes for Rail Europe and the new timetables and new trains for Germany. Back in the day, I travelled on trains a lot through Germany, they were always on time, efficient and clean.

And I’ve always been fond of the architectural beauties of the European railway stations, great caverns with iron as the constructing base for every shape and grand curve.

In the early 80s I had not such a grand experience at the old Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main railway station).

I was staying in Munich in the dead of winter with friends and decided to go to Berlin (which I had never been to before) and surprise a ‘holiday’ boyfriend. How hard could it be.

In those days there was an agency in Munich call the Mitfahrzentrale ( I think it still exists). It was kind of like safe and legal hitch hiking, which wasn’t easy out of major European cities because of the Autobahns. I digress.

I signed onto the agency list – you say where you are going, where your pick up point is, pay a few Deutschmarks (pre Euro) for insurance and Bob’s mein Onkel!

I got a lift in the smallest car I’ve ever built, and there were two in the front and two of us in the back for the long, long, windy and snowy drive to Berlin.

They were pseudo hippies and played cassettes of reggae music all the way. We all smoked cigarettes and a little weed along the way and the air was stinking! We were stopped at the border between East and West Germany and a youthful soldier carrying a big gun was dealing with us through the window. The nationals were OK but in my limited understanding of the language I thought he was asking me for 50 (funfzig) marks for a visa and no way was I paying that and started to get stroppy. My travelling companions told me to ‘shut ze up’ and as I shut up I got the gist that it was only funf (five) marks. ‘Well, OK then.”

So on we trundled and my fellow travellers looked shaken and told me they had ‘contraband’ in the car and I could have had us all in ‘the gaol’. I never did ask what the contraband was – best not to know.

We arrived in Berlin mid evening and I had to unfold my creaky limbs out of the chariot. Nice folks but that ‘beschissen’ reggae music . . .

I had not really thought this venture through. I arrived with the equivalent of about 10 bucks in my wallet, a small backpack with a few items and that was it. I phoned my friend several times and there was no answer. But, always the eternal optimist I sat in a cafe in the middle of town (the middle of the half of Berlin then), bought a large beer, a sausage and fries. How cool was I? And lucky I had the big scark, gloves, beanie and the parka. Soooo cold.

The night dragged on and Berlin in the early 80s was a darker place that today. Lots of shady folk coming out at night as the club scene was dangerously good! I moved to a park bench, well-lit and in the middle of a lot of seedy action – and felt secure. But still had to go back and forth to a phone box. This was the olden days, no mobiles, no credit cards, no atm, in fact I had nuthin’

After a thousand phone calls I tried to curl up and sleep under the park bench (hidden for safety) and as I snoozed I was kicked sharply in the kidneys by the Politzei. They moved me on and I strolled around the town feeling less than optimistic about my survival til morning.

Back to the phone box to call the police and found a nice bloke with good English to tell my tale of woe to. He told me I was a stupid girl and he could not help me but . . .there was a christian charity set up at German railway stations that helps travellers (old people, sick people – and idiots like me) in trouble when they arrive off the train. He gave me the address and it was inside the Hauptbahnhof.

I can’t remember the name of the charity but roughly translated to ‘Travellers Aid offices. So around 2am I walk in the dimly lit, empty station and to my left is a doorway at the end of a corridor with a light above it. And before I can make the journey to that door I have to run the gauntlet for about 20 metres of groaning, fighting, vomiting and even singing junkies and drunks. Now is the time to gird my loins – if I can’t beat ’em, join ’em. So, I took off at a healthy pace, backpack bumping along with me as I sang very loudly and slightly madly “Waltzing Matilda’. Piece of cake!

As I bashed on the door a fresh-faced young man opened it to a blubbering, stupid girl. He was so kind, and I explained I had no money til I could find a bank on Monday (it was still only Sunday morning). He told me to sleep on the office couch. No nightmares, nothing and I woke to the aroma of filtered coffee and hot rolls.

Such kindness and he got me into a hostel (with hostile wardens) for the next night. Still phoning and leaving my new address in case someone could come and fetch me.

My ‘holiday’ boyfriend had been across to East Germany for the weekend and was rather shocked at my exploits. After he picked me up he warned me about hanging around the centre of the city late at night and going to the railway station. OK, warning taken.

When some money came through I took a donation to the Travellers Aid and gave it with great thanks.

It was a night to remember.

Writer Bev Malzard returned to  Berlin several times but has not been there since the Wall came down. She likes things a little dangerous.