Thursday, December 15, 2016

12 December - New shoes for the Honda

On Monday I was lucky that great weather co-incided with a ride to Bairnsdale (130km) to get the Honda serviced (36,000km) and new tyres fitted. There was still a fair bit of rubber on the tyres after 18,000 km but they wouldn't have lasted another 6,000 km when the next service would be due. This way I got everything done at once. As I've indicated in a previous post the level of service I have experienced with the Bairnsdale Honda dealer has been so superior to my local one, that I ride a 130km past it, confident that I'm being looked after by the professional crew at Shields and Doyle in Bairnsdale. I dropped the bike off just before 9 am and wandered into town for a leisurely breakfast in a nice cafe, then amused myself by a slow walk around the shops. The bike was ready around noon and on the way home I called into the excellent bakery in Maffra for a light lunch and a great coffee. Altogether a pleasant experience.

Total Distance 260 km.

Well, it is that time of the year when people are busy stressing their credit cards to bursting point for the Christmas season. I try to avoid as much of that as possible and try to catch up with friends and  pass on the usual Christmas and New Year wishes. Over the past year we have drastically cut back on sending actual cards (you know, the ones made from trees) and send electronic versions instead. We design a new one each year and they always get a good response. So, for any visitors to this site, what ever your views of Christmas are, may I wish you all the best for the season and success and safe riding in 2017.

Monday, November 21, 2016

19 November - Walhalla

The past few months here in Victoria, Australia have been quite discouraging for motorcyclist. Rain and wind and low temperatures have all conspired to keep the bikes in the garage. I braved the weather a couple of times out of sheer desperation for short trips and one more adventurous outing to Warburton through Noojee and Powelltown. Today the forecast was for fine weather with promised temperatures in the low 20's so it was time to fire up the Honda for a quick trip to Walhalla, one of my favourite short rides.

Those of you  who have visited Walhalla will know that the first sight to greet the visitor on entering the town is the railway station which these days is the terminus for the Goldfields Railway, a tourist train operating from the Thomson River station on the tracks of the original railway. Tucked into a hill right behind the station was the famous Walhalla Log Cabin, a beautiful and cozy structure which attracted many visitors to an overnight or weekend stay in Walhalla. Earlier this year, this wonderful old building burned to the ground, fortunately without loss of life or injury - it was unoccupied at the time. I hadn't been to Walhalla since that event and I wanted to see and photograph the site.
Sadly, the devastation is complete. By the time fire services arrived from Erica the structure was totally ablaze and as shown in the photo all that remains is the chimney, which is always the way. According to news reports there were no suspicious circumstances. The owners, who only took over the property around two years ago are hoping to rebuild but the cabin is situated on crown land and I think there is a lot of 'red tape' to be navigated before building can commence.

Anyway, apart from this melancholy experience, it was a fabulous day in Walhalla with lots of visitors enjoying the sunshine. After a great lunch I headed back home through the state forests.

Total distance 105 km.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

19 October - Cafe Riverstone

No ride today (weather is still discouraging) but a recommendation for a great cafe in Gippsland.
During a couple of recent visits to Briagolong in the past week or so, I've had the opportunity to eat at  Cafe Riverstone in Briagolong. For any riders visiting this part of Gippsland (Maffra, Sale) can I recommend first the ride through some pretty quaint villages such as Newry, Boisdale and of course Briagolong but also a great destination for light meals and great coffee. The cafe is  open every day and on the few occasions I've ridden or driven through there are alway a few motorbikes parked in the main street visiting either the Briagolong pub or this terrific cafe.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

15 October - Briagolong

On a beautiful morning I set off on the BMW to ride to Briagolong, a small farming community located about 80 km East of here. This little town has a very active art gallery, and one of my photographs is on exhibit there and I thought I would check it out
The photo (The Cocktail Hour) was accepted as part of an interclub competition and has been on display with entries from all Gippsland photography clubs, for some weeks. The exhibition standard was very high and it was quite exciting to see my entry alongside so many excellent photographs. The photo can be viewed by clicking here:
Followed up the gallery visit with a great coffee and muffin at the excellent cafe across the road before riding back via Stratford and Maffra.

Total Distance 160 km.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

8 October - Home in Traralgon

We left Apollo Bay this morning at 08:00. Our intention was to travel the Great Ocean Road back to Melbourne. We were aware that the GOR has been closed between Separation Creek and Wye River due to a landslide but the locals at Apollo Bay assured us that a bypass around that area was available and would not delay us much at all. This information was completely wrong - the roadblock was immediately east of Apollo Bay and our only option was to divert into the Otway ranges via Forrest and this diversion would take us all the way to the very beginning of the GOR in Torquay. At this point we abandoned the idea of riding the GOR (another ride when the road is fixed perhaps?) and we continued on through Winchelsea and Geelong and then on to Melbourne.
Although the morning had started off cool, it warmed through the day and we had brilliant sunshine throughout. Waved goodbye to Luke as we passed Moe and I arrived home just after 1:30 pm.

Seeing we delayed the trip to minimise the impact of severe storm weather along our route the availability to check rain radar all through the trip enabled us to minimise the impact of rain. While we experienced a couple of really windy days, in total we only had 60-90 minutes of actual rain. Everywhere we travelled we witnessed the impact of recent and serious flooding in the countryside but this only affected our route once when we had to divert around Shepparton.
Our accommodation plans didn't always work out due to unforeseen events, but we were always able to modify the plan and we enjoyed great accommodation and meals everywhere.
Both bikes performed perfectly with no issues at any time.
In summary, a great eight day ride covering some 2,700 km with a great many highlights, not the least of which was the opportunity to share it with my brother.

Total Distance today 362 km.

Friday, October 7, 2016

7 October - Apollo Bay

When we left Mount Gambier this morning the sky was overcast and it looked like it should have been raining - quite a change from yesterday. The intention was to ride to Port Fairy, a favourite destination for both of us. The ride turned out to be quite pleasant, no rain and not too cold. Our first stop was Portland for fuel and then on to Port Fairy. Port Fairy can be quite busy at times. The town hosts a range of music festival each year and with its historical buildings and great range of cafes and restaurants there is always a large number of visitors in the town. We were out of luck today, the Spring Music Festival was about to get underway and we were lucky to get a parking spot let alone a hotel room. We eventually managed to park the bikes and get some brunch, but no accommodation. As it was still early in the day and becoming quite overcast, we decided to put the rest of the day to good use and cover a few more km's. So, on to Warrnambool, Port Campbell and Apollo Bay via the Great Ocean Road.
We were lucky, the weather held out with just a few drops of rain as we passed through Lavers Hill. In Apollo Bay we found another great old pub with a cheap double room. A few of the local beers (Otway Pale Ale) whiled the afternoon away and soon it was time for an excellent dinner in the hotel. A short walk down the main street and we found excellent coffees. We returned to the hotel via the beach and the marina.
It was still quite mild and no wind whatsoever, so after a day in the saddle we were able to experience a beautiful evening to top off another excellent day. Because of the extra distance travelled today we expect to make it home by tomorrow evening.

Total Distance 371 km.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

6 October - Mount Gambier

Left Hahndorf this morning in brilliant sunshine. Our first run was straight down the highway to Tailem Bend for petrol and brunch. Our original intention was to travel to Robe today, but we changed our mind to go to Mt Gambier instead. This meant travelling to Keith and then leaving the highway to travel through some of Australia's most beautiful wine producing areas around Coonawarra. The countryside is just spectacular with vineyards as far as the eye can see. We saw lots of water still lying around, a sign of the massive rainfalls experienced here a few days ago. After a straight run of 230km we stopped at Naracoorte for fuel and to restore some feeling in various parts of the body. Then on to the final 95km to Mt Gambier. Once again we used the Visitor Information Centre to find cheap accommodation in the city. They pointed us to Mac's Hotel right in the middle of the city. This beautiful old hotel was first licensed in 1864 and has been beautifully restored. At $65/night for a twin room it is hard to beat. Once we unpacked our gear, it was time for a beer or two on the upstairs verandah overlooking the city.

After our long ride it was very relaxing to have this beautiful verandah all to ourselves. It was also great to experience some warm weather for a change.
After a couple of pale ales it was time to head down to the beautiful old dining room for an excellent meal. All that was needed now was some great coffee, and so we walked into the city in search of a good cafe and hit the jackpot - a Royal Copenhagen icecream parlour that served great coffee. That's finished the night's activities off nicely. Time to return to the hotel, and prepare for tomorrow's short ride to Port Fairy.

Total Distance 410 km

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

5 October - Hahndorf

Today was a rest day in the beautiful village of Hahndorf. This area of the Adelaide Hills was established in the 1830's by German farmers from Silesia and Prussia fleeing religious persecution at home. Today Hahndorf still retains some of the German culture and many of the original buildings established during the 19th century. We started the morning with coffee and apple strudl at the local German bakery cafe which I've been visiting regularly since my sisters introduced me to Hahndorf in the '70's.
We followed this up with a walk through the town which resulted in an appetite for a German hot dog with mustard and sauerkraut. After a bit of a rest it was time for a motorbike ride through the Adelaide hills in beautiful spring weather. Signs of the recent heavy rains and resultant flooding were everywhere, but the sun was shining and hardly any wind.
By then it was late afternoon and time for a bit more rest before tackling the onerous task of dinner. A couple of beers whetted our appetite and we were off to the German Arms hotel for steaks and a touch more German beer.
Our day in Hahndorf was certainly one to remember fondly, as it has been over the many years we've visited here. Tomorrow our planned destination is the coastal town of Robe, a ride of some 300km. The weather forecast looks good.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

4 October - Hahndorf

Woke up this morning and immediately checked the weather forecast and rain radar for Hahndorf our next destination. Lots of rain coming through and flood warnings for the Adelaide Hills. However the forecast also indicated that these conditions would ease during the day. So we went back to bed for a while and eventually left Mildura at around 9:45. Conditions around Mildura were clear but very windy, and the trip to Renmark was all into a strong headwind. We were glad to get into Renmark and filled the tanks and the tummies. Coffee and pastry at a very busy patisserie revived us a bit. A further check of the weather radar showed that we would encounter some rain so it was time to don the wet weather gear. Sure enough, ten km into the next leg and the sky got very dark and the rain started. For fifteen minutes or so we ploughed on through steady rain and the strongest wind I've ridden in, quite a combination. Then, as suddenly as it had started the rain petered out and a few minutes later we were riding under clear blue sky, it seems that we had just ridden through the very edge of a storm system which had passed through Adelaide. The strong wind persisted though and the rest of the trip became one of the toughest riding days I have experienced.
Finally, after a very tiring day we arrived in Hahndorf to the news that a major flood had gone through the town but had fortunately cleared. If we had arrived an hour earlier we would not have been able to get to our hotel as the bridge leading to the rooms was under water. Great timing as all that had abated when we arrived. It was with some relief we checked into our room at the Hahndorf Inn Motor Lodge.
After recovering for a couple of hours it was time for German beers at the Hahndorf Inn and to start thinking about dinner. Having dined here previously I was looking forward to the German cuisine and in the end we settled for a shared Wurst Platter.
German sausages, sauerkraut and potato salad certainly hit the spot. All that was left was a quick walk around the town before settling into our cosy rooms. The weather forecast for tomorrow looks good and as we are here for at least two nights we will organise a ride in the Adelaide Hills.

Total Distance 427 km

Monday, October 3, 2016

3 October - Mildura - Rest Day

Woke up this morning to a fine but chilly day. Walked into town for brunch and a look around. We found a beautiful old building dating back to 1907 which was originally a library but is now a historical museum of the region. In 1956, the year our family came to Australia, Mildura and the surrounding district suffered a catastrophic flood where the level of the Murray river rose by 36 feet. The Murray/Darling catchment area is larger than France and Italy combined, and that year saw massive rainfalls in Central Australia. Mildura had a few weeks warning that floods were on the way, but no-one foresaw the extent of the inundation which took place. We spent quite a bit of time in the museum viewing photos, maps and videos of this massive event, which was ignored by the rest of the state, because of the Melbourne Olympic Games. On the way home we strolled along the river and took a few photos before going back to our motel to check if our washing was dry. Tomorrow we ride to Hahndorf in South Australia where we will also spend a couple of days before once again pointing the bikes in the direction of home.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

2 October - Mildura

Left Kerang at 10:45 this morning. Daylight savings started overnight and so we lost one hour. No rain but plenty of wind most of it head on. We stopped for breakfast at McDonalds in Swan Hill before continuing on to Mildura. After leaving Kerang the temperature increased gradually and when we stopped for fuel in Robinvale, it was actually getting quite warm. We reached Mildura just after 3:30 and headed straight to the Visitor Information Centre to find accommodation. A helpful lady there found us a motel close to the city centre. We were lucky that the Mildura Country Music festival which had been running all of last week finished today and so we were quickly settled into the City Gate Motel. This evening we walked into town for a very nice Italian meal. We’re in Mildura for a couple of nights and then we ride to Hahndorf in South Australia.

Total Distance 283 km

Saturday, October 1, 2016

1 October - Kerang

After a very late night and a great cooked breakfast this morning it was time to hit the road again. The view out of the window was not encouraging - windy and a steady drizzle of rain. By 10:30 we had said our goodbyes and were on our way after refueling in Porepunkah. It had rained steadily during the night and just past Oxley we struck long stretches of road covered in water. We forged ahead with plumes of water enveloping the bikes and in my case filling the boots. By then the rain had actually stopped, and as we headed South towards Benalla, the road was actually dry. Things were looking a lot more positive as we turned towards Shepparton. This was short lived - as we approached Shepparton we encountered a road block due to flooding. The men manning the roadblock advised us to head towards Tocumwal to bypass all the flooding. We eventually reached Echuca at 2:30 and were very happy to grab a coffee and some lunch at the Beechworth Bakery. Our next setback came when we tried to find accommodation. Not a room to be had - it seems there is a Ute Muster in progress and because of the rain many would be campers retreated to hotels and motels instead. No choice but to carry on to Kerang, another 100 km. Arrived here at 4:30 and very glad to get off the bikes and out of the clammy motorcycle gear. Had a nice dinner and a few beers at the local Chinese restaurant. Tomorrow we carry on to Mildura.

Total distance 383 km

30 September - Porepunkah

Started our MC trip this morning leaving Traralgon under a fairly clear blue sky. Due to meet brother Luke in Trafalgar at 09:00 so left home around 8:10. Got to Traf a bit early which gave me time to fill up with fuel. Luke arrived at 8:50 and we were off. Experienced a few drops of rain as we travelled along the Princes Highway towards Pakenham but it was mostly fine until we reached Healesville. When we looked in the direction of the Black Spur and the mountains north of Healesville the sky was very dark and promised lots of rain. So we took time to don our wet weather gear and sure enough as soon as we left Healesville we were in pretty steady rain up a very winding mountain road. We took it nice and easy and by the time we got halfway up the rain started to ease and virtually disappeared by the time we got to Narbethong. We stopped in Alexandra for lunch and fuel and then continued on to Mansfield, Whitfield, Myrtleford and then Porepunkah where it had just stopped raining. Judging by the amount of water on either side of the road we were lucky to have dodged fairly serious rain for most of the day. We arrived at the Thomas' at 3:30 and glad to get off the bikes after a 460km run. Had a nice dinner at the refurbished Porepunkah pub and then caught up on family news the rest of the evening. The plan for tomorrow is to ride to Echuca.

Total Distance 466 km

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

27 September - All packed for the next big ride

The Honda is all packed for a planned 7-8 day ride starting tomorrow morning, to include Warrnambool (Vic), Robe (SA), Hahndorf (SA), Mildura (Vic), Echuca (Vic), Bright (Vic) and then home. Unfortunately the weather forecast promises record rainfall in SA over the next few day and so we've delayed the departure until Friday. The probability of significant rain in the next couple of days, along our route is 100% which does not sound like motorcycling fun. So watch this space from Friday as we hope for better weather.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

4 August - Pakistan's First Female Biker

Like most of us, I am sometimes guilty of taking the ability to ride a motorcycle anywhere, whenever I want, a bit for granted. Today, on a local news site I read the story of Zenith Irfan, a 21 year old Pakistani woman riding a 125cc motorcycle alone, throughout Pakistan. I encourage you to read the story yourself here

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

2 August - A Flight Over Glenmaggie Dam

We are experiencing the worst winter for motorcycling since I bought my bike. Day after day a look out the window confirms the worst - wind and rain - again. It was a nice change this morning to open the curtains to be greeted by a clear and relatively still day. An opportunity to combine two pleasures, a motorbike ride and an opportunity to fly the Phantom IV. After a bit of fiddling around I figured out how to mount the Phantom in its carry case on to the Beemer so that it was secure and I could still get on it. I had already mounted it on the Honda but then found that the Honda had a flat battery - a result of the lack of use. Finally I was on my way bound for Glenmaggie Weir, which I featured in my previous post but was only able to photograph from a distance. Now, with the Phantom, I was hoping to fly up close and personal and get a great view. Flying the drone over water is quite a scary proposition and I had a practice run a few days ago over another dam called the Cowarr Weir. That flight was on a still and sunny day and I was very happy with the resulting video.

Here is the Cowarr Weir flight.

Encouraged by the success of this flight I felt reasonably confident to undertake a flight over the Glenmaggie dam structure which is much bigger and much more risky. When I arrived at Glenmaggie it was quite windy and there was a bus full of schoolchildren running around, and so I decided to wait awhile. Soon the children had departed and the wind died down a bit so it was time to launch.
Here's the video.

Due to the still relatively strong winds I was quite happy to make this a short flight and felt quite relieved when the little Phantom landed at my feet ready to resume its place on the BMW.
Altogether a successful day out.

Total Distance 100 km.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

18 July - A Ride at Last

After some of the worst riding weather in a long time today promised to be a reasonably mild and most importantly, dry day. Joined my brother Luke (Kawasaki Vulcan S) on a roughly circular route through the Gippsland countryside. I rode the Beemer mainly because the Honda wouldn't start due to a flat battery after such a long period of inactivity. Our ride took us past Loy Yang Power Station and through Gormandale. After climbing Powers Hill we took a left turn toward the coast at Woodside. Very little traffic and mild conditions and an interesting road - it doesn't get any better than that. At Woodside we joined the South Gippsland Highway which in turn took us to Sale, but not before visiting the famous swing bridge on the Latrobe River. The high level of the river was a clear indicator of the amount of rain we've had in the past weeks. In Sale we enjoyed a nice lunch and coffee at a great bakery before climbing on our bikes again and then on to Maffra. By now it was becoming a bit overcast and the temperature was dropping but we drove on for a visit to the dam wall at Glenmaggie Weir. There seemed to be major release of irrigation water going on, we could hear the roar of the escaping water from some distance. Took a few photos before heading off on the last leg, for me anyway, back to Traralgon. Great to be back on the bike again especially with my brother.

Total Distance 215 km.

Friday, July 8, 2016

8 July - Walhalla Video

Since acquiring the Phantom 4 Drone I've been working on two challenges. How to edit the 4K video footage that comes out of the camera. and how to safely transport the system on a motorbike. The second issue is a work in progress but the editing issue is done and dusted. So for now I'll just post the video of our recent flight over Walhalla. Hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

2 July - Walhalla from the air

Spent the afternoon in Walhalla today but not on the motorbike. Last week I took delivery of my Phantom 4 Camera Drone and I felt confident enough (after three flights from my front lawn) to take it to Walhalla, a 19th century mining town near here, which I often visit on the bike (see my last post). The first stop was at the Thompson River Bridge to photograph the Goldfields tourist train, the only existing remnant of a line built 100 years ago to bring goods into and gold out of Walhalla, crossing the railway bridge.
Many of the passengers on the train had watched me prepare the Phantom for flight so as the train passed there was lots of waving and photos being taken. The video of the event is absolutely spectacular.
Then on to Walhalla for a birds eye view.
Being a Saturday the town was quite crowded and as I didn't want to fly the drone directly over people I restricted myself to a five minute flight to get some good aerial views of the town.
These shots were all taken from about 50m. I will go back on a quieter day and get higher altitude shots of the whole town.
The drone provides a video feed to my iPad and it is quite exciting to get a live view - it's almost like being up there yourself. Some people are using Virtual Reality goggles to fly their drones and the experience is almost like being in the drone. At this early stage of my flying career the focus is mainly on acquiring good flying skills and to get some confidence in the drone itself. My next challenge now is to find a way of transporting the drone on a motorbike so that I can combine flying and motorcycling so watch out for more aerial views. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

15 June - Back on the bike - Walhalla, Cowes - Phillip Island

Since returning from our trip to Hong Kong, a number of factors have conspired to keep me away from motorcycling. First of all some personal health issues needed me to focus elsewhere for a few weeks and this was followed by a recent family bereavement which occupied all our thoughts recently. On top of that, it is winter here and while this is not as big a deal here in Australia as it is elsewhere, a run of cold wet weather has combined with the other issues has made motorcycling seem less than attractive or even appropriate, for a while.

I did manage a few small outings just to ensure the batteries on both bikes were charged, including one very nice but short trip to Walhalla, the nearby gold mining ghost town.
On a rare sunny day the little town looked beautiful as the autumn colours were just starting to emerge.

Finally though, today broke the drought. The weather bureau promised a chilly but sunny day so on with the thermal underwear and out on the Honda by 9:30 enroute to Cowes, Philip Island. With the grip heaters blasting away the sunny and still conditions more than compensated for the near zero temperature and by the time I reached the south coast it even started to feel pleasant. It was great to find that the long break in no way diminished either my riding skills or my enjoyment of being on a bike.
Crossed the San Remo bridge in perfectly still conditions and cruising on to the island was an almost Zen like experience which was quickly brought to a halt by a police roadblock carrying out random breath tests. This spoilt the mood for a while but it was quickly restored as I continued across the island.
The usual bustling town of Cowes was fairly quiet at this time of the year and I spent an hour or so having lunch at the local bakery followed by a walk down to the town jetty which was almost deserted.

All very relaxing and enjoyable but soon it was time to head for home along the coast and the continuing sunshine. Got home at about 3:30 just as the air started turning chilly again. It was great to get back into it again and what a perfect day it was.

Total Distance 330km

Monday, May 2, 2016

2 April - leaving Hong Kong

It is just after 7pm local time and we are in the departure lounge waiting for flight QF30 back to Melbourne, where we arrive at 8am. Then all that's left is a trip into the city and the 2.5 hour train ride home and will have come full circle after a great trip.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

1 May - Hong Kong

This morning of our last full day in Hong Kong we were determined to take the tramway up Victoria Peak but it didn't look good. First of all we couldn't see the peak for cloud cover which meant we wouldn't see much when we got up there. Nevertheless we took a Star Ferry to the island and then the 15C bus to the lower tramway terminal. As we approached the terminal though we were confronted by enormous queues. When we checked it turned out that the queue equated to a 3 hour wait to board the peak tram and at that point we decided it wasn't to be. It turns out that not only was it the weekend but also a long weekend for the Labour Day celebration. So instead we walked into the CBD to get a look at the double decker trams which form the public transport system here.
The rest of the day was very quiet and this evening we started the process of repacking our suitcases to get ready for tomorrow. We have an 8:30pm flight which means we need to be at the airport by 5:30. Trying to fit in all the stuff we've bought in the last four weeks is a bit of challenge. We're all amazed at how quickly the time has past but we are also looking forward to being home and resting after the holiday.

30 April - Hong Kong

Another day in Hong Kong and still waiting for better conditions to visit Victoria Peak. This morning we all hopped on the MTR to travel to Mong Kok which is about 1.5 km from our hotel. John, Sandra and Rosa were off to the Ladies Market and I wanted to visit Sim City which is a three story building full of camera shops selling the latest and greatest as well as loads of second hand equipment. I've been looking for a longer telephoto lens for my Panasonic Lumix GH4 and this morning I found the Panasonic 100-300mm at a significantly lower price than what's available in Melbourne. After returning from the market I immediately took my new purchase to Kowloon Park to get some better shots of those magnificent flamingoes.
Although this lens has had some mixed reviews (hence the lower price) I'm very happy with my purchase particularly as the light was marginal and the shots were taken hand held at the full 300mm.
Later in the afternoon we walked down to the Ocean Terminal to check out the best spot to view the laser Light and Sound show which is performed on and by the high rise buildings of Hong Kong Island. 
By now the weather was quite overcast and turning somewhat chilly and we were glad we didn't venture on to Victoria Peak - maybe tomorrow.
After dinner in Harbour Town we returned to the foreshore to join thousands of other locals and tourist to wait for the 8pm light show. The harbour at night is a fascinating sight. The colourful cityscape provides a marvellous backdrop to the abundant water traffic of Star ferries, tour boats on dinner cruises and junks and the occasional cruise ship. Just as the light show was about to start the Star Cruise Line's Pisces sailed right past us.
The hazy conditions detracted a little from the experience of the laser lights but it was still a magnificent sight to behold. 
Just as the show finished the rain started and we joined the general rush to find cover and get out of the rain. Tomorrow is our last full day in Hong Kong and our activities will be dictated by the weather.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

29 April - Hong Kong

We are now in the last few days of our holiday, and the toughest issue each day is deciding a program for the day - there is so much to see and do here. We decided today to visit Victoria Peak in the afternoon if the visibility was OK. John took Rosa and Sandra shopping while I chased down a few of the recommended camera stores here in Hong Kong to see if there were any bargains to be had. There weren't, most gear here is more expensive than in Australia even though they do not apply any sales tax. Sometimes you need to travel to find out how well off you are. We regrouped early in the afternoon and decided to defer the Peak visit to tomorrow. Instead we visited the wonderful Kowloon Park. It is an oasis of peace and beauty in the middle of the incredible hustle and bustle which is Hong Kong. The park is home to a large number of Greater Flamingoes and these are absolutely fabulous birds to watch. I'll go back tomorrow with a telephoto lens to get some better photos.
After our visit we carried on to Temple Street which turns into an incredible night market every day at 4pm, and continues until 10 pm.
This area, located about 1 km from our hotel is much more the authentic Hong Kong/Kowloon experience, far away from the endless expensive international brand name shops which I find quite boring. This market is for the locals and the occasional tourist and it features everything imaginable at quite competitive prices. 
By the time we had wandered up and down the market a few times it was time for a drink and we sat down in an open air local restaurant to enjoy a couple of large bottles of the local beer.

While food and alcohol is incredibly expensive in the more fashionable part of town, when you venture into the areas where the locals live and eat and drink prices are a lot more reasonable. Here, drinks for 4 came to HK$60 which is about AUD12. The local beer here which comes in large bottles is terrific. After all our wandering we decided to use the MTR (Subway) to get back to our hotel.
So altogether a busy, tiring but very enjoyable day. Hopefully we can do the Peak tomorrow.

Friday, April 29, 2016

28 April - Hong Kong

We woke this morning to a warm but very hazy Hong Kong. Air pollution, caused mainly by motor vehicles is a major problem in Hong Kong and this morning it was bad enough to postpone our plans to visit Victoria Peak to get some panoramic views of the area. Instead we caught the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island before catching a bus to Stanley which is a tourist area on the southern most point of Hong Kong.
This involved a 40 minute bus ride initially through some of the busiest city roads I've ever seen and then along the very steep and winding coastal road. Stanley is a great tourist attraction mainly because of its market, coastal scenery and restaurants.
After an extensive visit to the market by the ladies we then strolled along the waterfront. There were a few groups of school children who had been given the project of approaching tourists and asking them to participate in a short survey. John volunteered twice and everyone seemed to enjoy the experience.
By late afternoon we decided to take a break and have a drink and a meal at the Pickled Pelican. The meal consisted of Australian Black Angus steaks and a pint of draft Carlsberg. Very enjoyable.
Finally it was time to get back to the bus for the return trip to the ferry terminal and then back to The Prince hotel. Tomorrow we are hoping some of the pollution will clear so that we can go up Victoria Peak for a good view and photos of Hong Kong and Kowloon.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

27 April - Hong Kong, Day 1

After 23 nights at sea our cruise finally came to an end this morning when we arrived at the Kai Tak Ocean Terminal in Hong Kong. As a sharp contrast to the near perfect weather we've enjoyed since we left Melbourne, the weather here, while still warm, was overcast, quite hazy with a light drizzle. We had opted for a late departure from the ship as hotel rooms are generally not ready till 2-3 pm, and so, after a leisurely and final breakfast we made ourselves comfortable in the Explorer's Bar, our designated holding area for disembarkation. At 10:20 it was our turn to walk off the Golden Princess for the last time, through HK Immigration to join the longest taxi queue any of us had ever seen. However the departure organisation was ultra efficient and 45 minutes later we were packed into a medium size taxi (all four of us + luggage) on our way to downtown Kowloon and the The Prince Marco Polo hotel. We had booked our rooms here more than 6 months ago through and it is always a bit surprising, and quite a relief, when you arrive and they are expecting you. This was certainly the case here - the staff were terrific and although we had to wait for our rooms to be ready, by 2pm we were settled into the biggest hotel rooms we've been in after a while. Certainly, after 23 nights in a very compact ship's stateroom it was nice to be able to spread out and settle in for the next five days. After unpacking and a bit of rest we walked down Canton Rd to find a liquor store to buy a few essentials and a bit to eat. Our hotel is located right in Harbour Town which is the largest shopping centre (3 levels) we've ever encountered. Tonight we opted for an early night so that we can be fresh and ready to explore Hong Kong tomorrow. It was also nice to find that our rooms provided free high speed internet access, which meant I could finally catch up on all the updates on all my devices and to finally download all my email.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

25 April - Nah Trang - Vietnam

As we dined and slept last night the Golden Princess sailed to our next port in Vietnam - Nha Trang. This is one of Vietnam’s premier beach resort cities and the modern high rise hotels are springing up every where. This was another ‘tender’ port which meant we were ferried ashore using the ship’s lifeboats. Although this process takes a bit longer than simply walking down a gang plank, it is an interesting experience and provides a unique view of the Golden Princess close up. 

Once ashore complimentary shuttle buses had been provided to take us into town.
Our main focus was the local market which is astounding in the sheer range of items for sale and the very low prices. At first the prices look high in the local currency (Dong) but once you divide them by 17,000 to convert to AUD (or 20,000 for USD) then things look remarkable cheap. Of course no one pays the asking price, and after some good natured haggling we generally arrived at half price - good fun. 

Tomorrow is our last full day at sea as we arrive in Hong Kong, and the end of our cruise on Wednesday. So, lots of paperwork to fill in and the process of packing will occupy some of the day.

24 April - Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) - Vietnam

Once again we woke this morning to find the captain had quietly parked the Golden Princess in a busy port which serves as the main import/export hub for Ho Chi Minh City formerly known as Saigon. I was really looking forward to visiting this city for a couple of reasons. First I wanted to see the development that has taken place since the Vietnam War (called the American War here) ended in 1975, and second because of the long occupation of the area and the city of Saigon by the French, the city was renowned for its tree lined boulevards and elegant buildings. So, we signed up for a tour “The Best of Ho Chi Minh City” to see as much as possible as we could in a single day. And what an amazing day it was. HCM City is still an elegant and beautiful place and the new development going on is turning it quickly into a high rise citadel which will one day rival Hong Kong or Shanghai. It already has a population exceeding 10 million. For a nominally Communist country, capitalism appears to be rampant and I’m not sure it is benefiting the average Vietnamese very much. Our visit included the Presidential Palace which was the scene on 30 April, 1975, captured as an unforgettable image, of a lone North Vietnam tank driving up the boulevard and knocking down the iron gates. We also visited a lacquer work factory, the Opera House, Notre Dame cathedral and a beautiful Chinese temple. 

Lunch was provided on the tour and accompanied by a fantastic performance of an ensemble of Vietnamese dancers and musicians. After the performance we were encouraged to join the performers on stage for photo opportunities and to play tambourines and castanets. Almost a party atmosphere and very enjoyable.