Turnaround day in Sydney following a sad farewell to new-found friends last night, but with the spectre of new friends being made over our next sector, a 10-day jaunt to New Caledonia and Vanuatu, apparently with a tropical cyclone (Frieda) thrown in. No worries, our path to these South Pacific jewels has been altered to include a bit more Australian eastern seaboard and less open sea sailing for tomorrow. A horizontal day may not be such a bad thing after a very busy New Zealand sector!
Checklist for the morning: order a DVD from the ship’s film library, make sure the Kindles are within reach, and just spend the day laying low, taking advantage of the fact that a cruise is whatever you want it to be.
Oh — before I go any further — a very Happy 2013 to everyone! We did our usual New Years thing, not making it to midnight, but had a great evening onboard nonetheless, flitting from this entertainment to that entertainment, having a champagne cocktail, talking to some great people and learning their stories … how cool is that for a New Years Eve! More of the same on New Years Day, albeit with the sad sound of suitcases being packed and left outside doorways.
Up at 5:15 a.m. this morning to herald our entrance into Sydney Harbour. No, not to see the Opera House or to breathe in deeply to make sure that the ship actually did clear the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but to meet and greet Australian immigration, at the pre-arranged time of 6:15. Yes, for those 6 or 8 of us who boarded in New Zealand (rather than in Sydney at the very start of the cruise), we had the early morning pleasure of an added immigration inspection. Except that the inspectors didn’t turn up until 7 a.m., preferring to come onboard when the ship docked rather than coming out with the pilot boat. We were first — the inspector checked that box, this box, the third one and the one in the fourth column, with the surreal over-sized haunting face at Luna Park coming into view as we proceeded with the formalites. As if our smiling friend were there to confirm our entry into Australia.
By 10 a.m., with the main disembarkation over, we took a leisurely saunter off the ship, walking towards Darling Harbour, a 10-minute walk from the open, spacious and welcoming cruise terminal at Wharf 5, Bangaroo. Most of the walk takes you along the building site which will eventually be Darling Harbour’s new world financial district. Soon, though, you find yourself at the busy, colourful, fun and always vibrant Darling Harbour. No need to really do anything, except sit on a bench and watch the world of people enjoying themselves walk by. Little road trains dodging amongst the pedestrians, teens with music players in their ears, families together for a cool day out, tourists snapping away at the tapestry of life that is Darling Harbour, locals enjoying an al fresco coffee or all-day breakfast — all amongst the restaurants, shops, Harbourside Mall, tourist attractions, and even a warship and submarine parked up in the harbour itself.
Soon, though, it was time to meet up with our friends at Chinta Ria, a popular, fun Malaysian restaurant sitting high above the Harbour promenade, at the start of the pedestrian bridge. Greeted by an oversized Buddha, we sat at a table next to the open doors of this eating pavilion, simply enjoying the food, the company, the unique surroundings of the restaurant, and the location.
Time to leave, but not without lighting an incense stick to secure the blessing of the smiling Buddha — a blessing that all my friends at sea or planning to be at sea have smooth sailing, and a safe, happy and healthy 2013.
No trip to Sydney would be complete without some shopping, though, so we bid adieu to our friends, and poked our noses into a couple of shops around the Queen Victoria Buildings and Westfield Mall, and soon found ourselves back at the ship, in the midst of close to 2,000 new friends checking in and coming onboard. Lifeboat drill soon followed, and now, we have just sailed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge (with oh-so-little clearance), waving to the bridge walkers high above us, feeling guilty that we are interrupting the ferry rides of people eager to get home, and passing the Sydney Opera House on our way out to sea … and dinner.
Wendy R. London is a HAL Mariner and corporate affairs manager and founder of CruiseBubble.com, sailing aboard Oosterdam.