Cruising in the Coral Sea

| March 9, 2011
The Voyager crew prepared the pool deck for an evening barbecue dinner with dancing.

The Voyager crew prepared the pool deck for an evening barbecue dinner with dancing.

We are on a wonderful journey aboard the Regent Seven Seas Voyager from Sydney to Beijing. After leaving Cairns, Australia, we spent a day at sea, which is always a little strange. There are lectures, classes, new friends to meet and shipboard gossip, but little direction.

Our day began with a cooking demonstration by two Australian chefs. It was so-so, but considering we had no place else to go, it did pass the time until lunch. Following lunch, we played Canasta all afternoon with our friends from Oregon.

The next day we were excited to be going to Thursday Island, referred to as “T.I.” The island is at the tip top of the right side of Australia. It is a very small town. The main industry is crayfishing. This tropical island is hot and wet. The island has a certain rural charm to it but remains fairly non-touristy, and the local Aboriginal people live a very simple stress-free life.

T.I. is the administrative center for the Torres Strait Islands, which have been part of Queensland, one of the Australian states, since 1872. It is the most popular of the islands and is about 3 square kilometers in area.

The charming Capt. Gianmario Sanguineti and his equally charming wife, Mariana, from Peru.

The charming Capt. Gianmario Sanguineti and his equally charming wife, Mariana, from Peru.

The strait’s population of 25,000 live on more than 20 islands, and they are engaged mostly in fishing and a declining pearling operation. It is a popular pause for passing yachts and boasts the northernmost pub in Australia.

In the evening after leaving Thursday Island, we attended a dinner hosted by John Gerber of the Gerber family, who own Australia’s Chateau Tanunda, featuring their wines. The winery was established in 1890 in the Barossa Valley in South Australia.

It was a fun evening and our table was delightful. The ship’s Capt. Gianmario Sanguineti from Italy and his adorable, charming, Peruvian-born wife, Mariana, the cruise consultant Gudrun Werner, our friends, Bruce and Andrea Michalski from Oregon and a strange couple from Canada were at our table. Gudrun was our hostess and friend from other voyages.

The Canadians were anxious to find some granola bars because they were going on to India and didn’t think they could eat the food. They are in the travel business but must have been raised under a rock. Indian food is delicious!

The next day we were cruising the Arafura Sea (I hadn’t heard of it either) on our way to Darwin, Australia, our last stop in this wonderful country. The day was spent playing cards, taking cooking classes, checking e-mails, napping, eating, drinking and napping.

When we arrived in Darwin we were astounded! It had been 10 years since we were last there, and it has grown into a rather large resort town. Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory in Australia. It is closer to Indonesia than to the next Australian town.

A wedgetail hawk at the Darwin Northern Territory Wildlife Park.

A wedgetail hawk at the Darwin Northern Territory Wildlife Park.

Darwin was destroyed by a surprise Japanese air raid during World War II, the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor. The city was devastated by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Thus it is a most modern town.

We took a bus tour out to the Territory Wildlife Park about 33 miles from Darwin. It rained a good bit, but we were hardy, undaunted folk. The park is 400 hectares of natural bushland and has more than 4 miles of walking trails that pass through abundant woodlands, lush wetlands and tropical forests.

We started out in the Nocturnal House where once your eyes grew accustomed to the dim light you saw all sorts of creatures. I passed by the snakes, but the small ground and tree critters were fun to search for and interesting to see.

There was an aquarium where you could get up close and personal with an enormous crocodile that was at least 12 feet long. This was only one of several hundred thousand crocs that live in the wild in this region. A whole safety campaign called “Crocsmart” warns adults and children about swimming in water anywhere that doesn’t have a sign that the waters are safe from crocs.

In addition, the park had kangaroos, wallabies, buffalo, tropical birds and dingoes. The wallabies (which look like baby kangaroos) were so adorable, and we could interact with them. You could pet them, just not on the head. The dingoes were interesting. Their species category has just been changed from dogs to wolves.

On the way back to town, we saw 5-foot-tall termite mounds. They are not as disliked there as here. They eat out the center of fallen tree limbs, and the Aborigines gather these for their didgeridoos or musical instruments.

This cutie is a barking owl. When you bark, it barks back.

This cutie is a barking owl. When you bark, it barks back.

Our arrival back in port was fun. The terminal was full of temporary shops – oh my! Native jewelry, leather goods and crocodile wallets, belts and handbags were for sale.

Before dinner, there was a show called “Viva La Vida” set in an exclusive Havana nightclub where Latin dance, pulsing rhythms and a percussive drive heats up the night. “Viva La Vida” was filled with sultry dance with a sensual vibe to the sounds and rhythms of the Latin Beat. It was fun.

We had dinner with friends, a member of the cast and the show manager. Obviously we had fun.

The next day we attended lectures on the Russian government and where Putin would fit in and another lecture on tea. I particularly enjoyed the tea lecture as it went from the beginning of the tea trade to today. The British West Indies Co. and the Dutch West Indies Co. were both founded because of the tea. The lecturer also pointed out and reinforced that “tea” is served on a low table and “high tea” is served on a tall table. Meaning that high tea is a meal, a working-class supper of leftovers served on the kitchen table. Tea is served in the living room to company and comprised of fancy delectables.

Next we sailed into Bali. You must be very precise when you take a big ship into the harbor at Bali. You must sail in at high tide and out at high tide because there is only one meter of water between the 5-mile-long sand bar and the bottom of the ship. That leaves little margin for error.

The Balinese people are descendants of a prehistoric race who migrated through mainland Asia to the Indonesian archipelago. To this day, they retain their own total individuality, having absorbed and adapted those parts of each dominating civilization, which best suited their own spiritual and creative values. They are 90 percent Hindu. More about Bali next week.

photos by CARLA SUE BROECKER | contributing photographer

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Category: Partyline

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Carla Sue
A fixture in Louisville society, Carla Sue Broecker has been writing her weekly column for more than two decades.

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