I’m getting a little behind! We’ve been to Cairns, Hamilton Island, and Darwin—my, how time flies!
Cairns was a good news, bad news city. The weather was wonderful, we still hadn’t gotten to the really hot weather (coming in Darwin and Bali!), so our trip on the gondola to Kuranda was pretty good. We took a Holland America tour rather than doing an independent tour. Should have done an independent tour! The gondolas held six but there were so few visitors that they were putting just two people in each gondola. Except for the Holland tours when they put four in a gondola (we asked and were told that was the “policy.” Still not crowded, but Randy and I ended up riding backwards the whole way. But it was a very beautiful trip of about an hour plus some time to walk in the woods.
Kuranda was a nice artsy village where we had lunch and did a bit of window shopping and then on to the train back to Cairns. An awesomely bad experience. Four to a bench seat facing four people, our knees about an inch apart, extremely hot train car (it had been sitting in the sun for several hours), only the ones next to the window got any airflow, riding backwards for an hour and a half closer to the person facing us than one wants to be with anyone but your spouse. Suffice it to say, we were very glad to get back to the ship.
After two sea days, Hamilton Island was a nice break. Didn’t do much but have a nice lunch and a (free!) shuttle ride around the island. A very pretty island that obviously caters to the extremely wealthy—at least to judge by the boats in the harbor.
Two more sea days and we got to one of the many cities we really look forward to: Darwin. We have been to Darwin about four or five times before so I was looking for something a little different. I don’t care if I never see another jumping crocodile (that seems to be the main draw for tourists in Darwin). The Bombing of Darwin tour (www.bombingofdarwin.com.au) really fit the bill. Originally we were going to be the only two, but it became a tour for us and seven more of our cruise friends by the time we got to Darwin, and Garry gave us a wonderful experience.
Even Australians mostly don’t know the story of Darwin during the war (wartime censorship to avoid panicking the general population). It was decimated on February 16, 1942—just ten weeks after Pearl Harbor and the Japanese pilots were led by the same man who lead the bombing of Pearl Harbor! All the Australian newspapers downplayed the bombings of Darwin (they were bombed 66 times) and the utter destruction wreaked on the city. Garry, whose father and uncles fought in WWII, gave a brilliant tour showing us the buildings that remain (very few) and telling stories he knows from hearing from the survivors and, in some cases, their children.
One thing of interest to the group of us (eight Americans and a Canadian) is how much the Americans helped the Australians and how much the Aussies appreciate what the American airmen and sailors did for them. There is a memorial in the city park to the destroyer USS Peary, destroyed by Japanese bombers, whose rear gunner was still firing as it slipped beneath the waves.
We ended with a visit to the Military Museum, a museum that blends the best of old world displays and state of the art technology. All in all, a wonderful day. We even got to experience a full-blown tropical storm which we rode out drinking beer in downtown Darwin!
On to Komodo Island tomorrow!