*Antipodes, from Latin and Greek, literally means "feet opposite". The term rightly visualizes people on one side of the Earth's globe as having their feet facing in the opposite direction of those on the other side.
2:35 P.M. Wednesday, September 25:
The Adventure Begins...
As I stand in Newark airport on the verge of this journey, I'm glad that its account can begin with a bit of excitement. As Kathy, Jeanette and I entered the airport about twenty minutes ago, we saw a young man being held down by law enforcement officers, one of whom held a gun to his head. Several others were arriving at the scene with serious hardware. They ran across the roadway before and after our passing, shotguns and pistols bared and ready for action.
We have checked our four bags through to Los Angeles and have met Barry at the second level coffee shop near the US Air ticket counter. Soon we will board our first flight to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
6:40 P.M. (Daylight Savings Time): Cloud Bison
Cloud bison are creatures inhabiting the bright, puffy plains of the troposphere. As their terrestrial cousins would flee the rider and his drawn bow, cloud bison gallop away as jet aircraft roar past. Their gallop is silent; the presence of the herd ethereal. Perhaps I only imagined them as we cruised at 39,000 feet through the contemplative upper regions.
8 A.M. Thursday (DST), 12 A.M. Friday 9/27 Auckland time
We made the connections at Philadelphia and LAX without incident. We are approximately half way to New Zealand, hurtling over the Pacif ic Ocean. The accents, the US $40.00 which I changed to NZ $60.00, and the realization of the great distance we are travelling all contribute to the delightful anticipation of the foreign and new. In spite of overhearing a researcher carry on for a while about how animal rights activists "trashed" his establishment, I did get several hours' sleep.
7:40 A.M. Friday 9/27 Auckland, NZ (3:40 P.M. Thurs. DST)
As I sit in Ansett New Zealand's flight ZQ705 to Wellington and Christchurch, our first destination, I have pleasant first impressions of this twin-island nation. As we broke through the clouds from Los Angeles, the large northern island was preceded in view by a small archipelago. The northern island is the location of Auckland. All of the islands were very green and of a lush, foliated appearance.
The main island was quite mountainous. Walking from the international to domestic air terminals, I saw a pine tree of a variety new to me, as well as some other flora and birds that were unusual. The weather has changed from dreary and damp to sunny with a comfortable temperature.
215 P.M. Friday 9/27: Rugby
An unremarkable and brief stopover at Wellington and we arrived at Noah's Kingsgate Hotel in Christchurch, New Zealand (South Island) soon after our fifth airplane landing since boarding in Newark some 28 hours ago. While in Wellington, we met a New Zealander who told us about the Ansett New Zealand Airline "intramural" (my term, not his) rugby match - Australian vs. New Zealand teams, today in Christchurch. I invited Kathy, Jeanette, and myself to the match. So, after some sightseeing and purchase of postcards and stamps, we taxied to Rugby Park and are now watching the two adversaries warm up.
As this intense game of heavy physical contact continued, skirmishes occassionally erupted. At one point, a player loped to the sideline with his nose and mouth bleeding. A coach poured water on his mouth and he trotted back into play. A field goal was successfully kicked over the goal posts, two or three times as high as the American football version. The New Zealand team won the match with no visibly broken bones, final score 18 to 10.
Friday Evening September 27
Two New Zealander taxi drivers ("cabbie" is an unknown word here) did not know if New Jersey was "somewhere in California" or "what state it was in". An engagement to dine at a restaurant is a booking, not a reservation. I've secured two complete sets of New Zealand coins ($2 & $1; 50,20, 10, 5 and 1 cent) and an assortment of stamps. We have mailed several postcards.
On the way to the Lone Star Cafe, where we thought we were to meet our new Ansett Airline acquaintances from the rugby match (Steve, Denise, et. al.), we came upon two men in heated discussion. The first was apparently a vagabond or "homeless" man to use East coast USA politically correct parlance. The second man was apparently an itinerant preacher. As the preacher stood on a streetcorner pro claiming Christ to passersby, the first man mocked and reviled his message.
I listened for a few moments and entered in, volubly and fervently! We were joined by a third young man who introduced himself as Shane, an agnostic rationalist. I shared with him that, since the universe unequivocally declares God's glory, "agnosticism" is essentially identical with atheism - both forms of the same culpable denial of the true God; both but manifestations of rebellion against Him. I grieved that, as is too often the case, evolutionism was foundational to his error. He permitted Jeanette, Kathy and I to pray for him in his presence, emphasizing that he was not praying with us. The conver sation was cordial but animated. I never learned the preacher's name but knew that he was glad for the presence of fellow believers.
We walked to the Lone Star Cafe, found that a wait of one and one-half hours would precede service, and ended up eating a superb meal at the Sahara Restaurant (middle eastern cuisine). As it turned out, our Ansett acquaintance Denise had left a message that they were on their way to an eatery called the Lancaster. We called her there, she called back and we expressed regrets that a rendez-vous never took place.
Now for a much needed rest. Its off to tour the south island with "Great Sights Tours" at 7:30 A.M. tomorrow...
9 A.M. Saturday 9/28 On the Tour Bus
Sheep! Sheep! Sheep! And then we saw some sheep in the Canterbury Plains. Our knowledgeable tour guide/driver Russell said that the "kill" of New Zealand fat lambs was twenty million animals in an off year. (I would later find out that the human population of New Zealand is approximately three million, sheep approximately seventy million, and the rabbit/hare population approximately one hundred million!) It is a cool sunny day and the sights are beautiful and relaxing.
10:35 A.M. Just after Morning Tea stop
I've learned that the large black and white birds we have been noticing are magpies, as common to New Zealand and Australia as pigeons are to the American East. Russell has also advised that the only elderberry winery in the southern hemisphere is right here in the Canterbury Plains. Furthermore, the Japanese are big investors in New Zealand, which is currently in economic depression. The foreign language group with which we are touring are not Spanish speaking as our driver thought, but Brazilians speaking Portugese. As was the case on our 1989 Africa journey, the multinational element is spicing up the experience. It's a more friendly and sharing-oriented exchange than the strife over ethnic variation associated with the northern East coast USA.
Our cameras could not do justice to the icy, barren wintriness; the frosted beauty of the Mt. Cook region. There are mighty and foreboding gray glaciers, the stunningly turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo (caused by glacial mineral silt), and the pristine clouds. These last vie with the unmelting snows to make for magnificent viewing from our Nomad 16-seat propellor airplane. It is advertised as the "flight of a lifetime", and it may well have been. My thoughts went back to Zaire.
The Lord's Day - Mountain Parrots & September Flurries
Stepping onto the porch from our room at the luxurious Hermitage, Mt. Cook village, we found our neighbor in the adjoining room looking up at the rail on the overhanging porch. There was a very large, dull green parrot! It seemed quite incongruous with the snowy majesties in the background. Yet, these hardy true parrots are year-round denizens. As we stood there photographing and watching, a small snow flurry sprinkled us with mountain freshness. New Zealand is amazing!
It's on to Queenstown today, where we will spend three nights. We asked about worship services and found that Mt. Cook village had one monthly service, and this was not the right Sunday. We spent time praying, reading Scripture, and singing.
The tour bus ride from Mt. Cook village to Queenstown with our driver Barry was scenic. Highlights included a Bungy Jumping bridge, a dam building project horribly bungled by the New Zealand government, and Barry's explanation of New Zealand's latest effort to cut down the rabbit population. The pesty rodents consume food intended for sheep. Therefore, poisoned carrots are dropped from aircraft while sheep are kept from the targeted area. Rabbits and hares ingest the "death roots" and die. After a week, the bio-degradable poison is harmless and sheep may return to graze. New Zealand, like some Carribean isles, previously had no large mammals, snakes, or rabbits. These were purposefully or inadvertently introduced to the New Zealand ecosystem by the Europeans. No carnivorous predators large enough to harm sheep exist on the islands. The ferrets and stoats which were brought in to reduce the "cotton tail hordes" have proven inadequate for the task, even with New Zealand's birds of prey assisting. What's up, doc?
7:15 P.M. Evening Worship at St. Andrew's Presbyterian
At the request of the pastor, David Borne, I introduced Kathy, Jeanette and myself at the outset of the service. Other visitors introduced themselves to the small and older congregation. Ruling elder Bert Kittle gave us bulletins, escorted us to our old-fashioned "pew" and received the offering. One familiar hymn and several unfamiliar ones were sung. Evangelical doctrine was unfortunately missing, although Mr. Borne offered a good meditation on prayer. He mentioned that his denomination aligned confessionally with the American PCUSA.
Monday Morning, September 30
After breakfasting at Pepper's restaurant in our Kingsgate Vacation Inn Hotel, we walked into Queenstown. We strolled through a cemetary where Irish surnames dominated the tombstones. We made a "booking" for the restaurant atop a mountain accessible by the town's famous gondola.
We are now on board ship, awaiting the departure of the T.S.S. Earnslaw. T.S.S. stands for Twin Screw Steamer. The vessel will take us to a sheep farm (not ranch, here) and to other tourist attractions. A grand piano is on deck and the pianist has just begun playing.
Monday Afternoon: Mustering Sheep with Blake and King
They are the two sheep dogs at the Walter Peak sheep station. The station once had tens of thousands of acres. Now it is more a part of the tourism industry than that of sheep farming. The dogs' master commanded them to go and they would round up (muster) some of the few dozen sheep used in demonstrating New Zealand high country sheep farming. We watched the shearing of a merino sheep, the fine wool variety. The sheep live on the high, steep hillsides as far up as the snowline, sometimes for months without seeing a human being. Blake and King and their relatives are invaluable to the shepherds, who can also be away in the hills for very extended periods.
Tuesday, October 1 7:10 A.M: Singing in New Zealand
Yesterday on the return from Walter Peak to Queenstown on the T.S.S. Earnslaw, the pianist played some real old "favorites" while the passengers sang. Among the timeless hits were Waltzing Matilda, She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain, Clementine, etc. It gave the little voyage the flavor of the frontier or outback.
That evening we rode the gondola almost vertically to the Skyline restaurant for a sumptuous five course meal with an incredible view of Queenstown. Afterwards, we sat in the lounge while Kevin Lynch, a talented one-man band entertainer, sang more recent popular music. He accepted dedications and interacted with the multi-national audience by humourously changing lyrics according to what he saw or heard them do or say. Throughout our touring of New Zealand, we had seen the ubiquitous wire fences used in sheep control. These are so much a part of New Zealand life that Kevin wrote a song in honor thereof. It was called "Number Eight Wire", and celebrated the "Kiwi's" clever use of the stuff not only for fences but in other ingenious ways. "Kiwi" is the New Zealanders' nickname for themselves as well as the name of the fruit and the bird, which are both found in New Zealand.
We are about to leave for our Milford Sound tour, touted as a "must" by the tour folk. The weather is foreboding, being quite chilly and blustery. In fact, in the wee hours of the morning, a terrific gust of wind shook our room so that we awoke. It was similar to a blast of thunder - not in quality of sound but in impact and suddenness. The wind is blowing snow down from the surrounding mountains and making a nearby tree take on the appearance of a giant approaching with many arms flailing.
4:45 P.M. 10/1/1991 "Opium Bob"
The Milford Sound trip was cancelled on account of the danger of avalanche on the road through the mountains which had been hit with an overnight snowstorm. Instead, Jeanette, Kathy and I took an afternoon tour to the 19th century gold mining community of Macetown. European and then Chinese miners at one time had panned several ounces of gold per day per miner from the Arrow River. The Chinese miners used opium medicinally, it was reported. Opium Bob was a white miner who became addicted to the substance. We saw his old shack perched on the mountainside by the river.
We travelled to Macetown on the same road that was built during the gold rush. It was bumpy and we forded the river fifteen or twenty times, with the water two feet deep or more in places. Our transportation was a land rover jeep, the sort of combustion engine "mule" many old miners would have doubtless coveted. Of course, we panned for gold and our tour guide Dave, who actually knew how to do this properly, retrieved a tiny sparkle or two. At Macetown "proper", now even less than a ghost town with almost no buildings left, Dave served afternoon tea which he had stashed in the land rover, unbeknown to us and our fellow tourists. Here in New Zealand, morning and afternoon tea are added to the regular three meals. Both teatimes usually consist of the hot beverage itself (or coffee) and a "savourie" (sweet snack) or the like.
4 P.M. Wednesday 10/2 (written as 2/10/1991 here)
Today has been taken up with travel by coach (tour bus) back to Christchurch from Queenstown. the scenery was very similar to the trip to Queenstown, though the route was a little different.
7:15 A.M. Thursday 10/3/1991 Surfin' Santa
Last night we arrived back at the Noah's hotel where we arranged for a five A.M. wake-up call to make our seven A.M. flight to Auckland and on to Brisbane, Australia. Now aboard that flight, I see an ad in the Christchurch Press which features Ol' St. Nick hangin' ten. Here in the Antipodes, Yuletide is an early summer event! We are cruising through smooth, sunny skies. I certainly recommend New Zealand to anyone interested in an ideal vacation. Australia was our original heart's desire with New Zealand as an aside. At this point, I feel that Australia has a tough act to follow. What a delightful nation where we saw little evidence of many of the social blights of home and where even quadruped predators do not exist!
5 P.M. Thursday 10/3/1991: Almost Towed Away
Our first day in Australia almost cost us our bright red Ford Falcon. After spending an hour or so at a travel agency, we walked back to where we had parked the rented vehicle in downtown Brisbane. A flatbed truck was about to load the car while two men attempted to jimmy the lock on the door. I ran over and asked if this was what I got for allowing the meter to go overtime!? "No", replied the Queensland police officer, "but for blocking the CLEARWAY". Evidently, I had blocked a rush hour traffic lane. $30 CASH Australian had to be paid on the spot for the flatbed's service call. TWO tickets totalling $90 were on the windshield. (Windscreen, as the Aussies say). Thank God we arrived when we did, or our car would have been impounded. Welcome to Australia!!! Undaunted, we drove away. Chalk one up for experience.
8:30 P.M. Thursday, October 3 (Deduct 14 hours for DST)
We have met up with the Burches and this is being written from the lovely home with which they have been provided. Brisbane is reminiscent of Miami, but wallabees and even kangaroos occassionally make it into town. We have not yet seen any of either. Driving on the the left with the steering wheel on the right has not been a problem.
7 P.M. 10/4 (5 A.M. in NJ): Our First Kangaroo
Before I get to that, let me tell of the first morning downunder. Kookaburra birds with their distinctive ape-like territorial call, blended with other Aussie feathered friends' voices. Sue Burch showed us some of the ornithological specimens later that morning, among them brightly colored lorikeets.
John, Sue, Rebekah, and Ruthanne Burch have oriented themselves nicely to *"Oz", the latter member of the family having picked up quite a noticeable accent. When we arrived yesterday, John was in volved in a pastor's meeting at his house. We have had some opportuni ty to converse with the Burches regarding their missionary activities. Australia as we've seen it so far is a nation like ours, in need of turning to God. The Burches clearly have an attitude of faith and expectance toward God regarding their labors.
As far as that 'roo, he was a dead one, seen stiff and prostrate on the shoulder of Australia federal route 1, southbound from Brisbane (toward Sydney). It was quite a uniquely Australian event anyway - the large animal just lying there as would a dead dog in NY or NJ.
* ("Oz" and "Ozzie" are nicknames for Australia and its folk. Other than to suggest that this is by alliteration with the word "Aussie", no one could say why.)
Our trip south from Brisbane also included lunch at a cafe off the beaten path. "Town of McClean - Australia's Scottish Town", a sign said, and it gave us the flavor of rural Australia. We've seen river gum trees and wondered which of the other varieties, if any, are coolabah trees. We spent a couple of hours at The Big Banana, a theme park in the beach town of Coff's Harbor. We've been hugging the eastern coastline of the mini-continent, and also stopped for a quick look at Byron Bay. We are presently at the All Nations Motel in Kempsey; Sydney is five or six hours' drive further south. As far as koalas and crocs, we've seen roadsigns alerting motorists to the possibility of the presence of the former but no actual evidence of either.
12:20 P.M. An Australian Home and lunch at Kurri Kurri
After leaving the All Nations at 7:30 A.M., we realized at about 8 o'clock that Jeanette's jacket was still there. We pulled off the main highway to an apparently inhabited pottery shop. It didn't open until 10, but, seeing cars, I continued into the compound. We drove around the sprawling establishment and soon a young woman appeared. I explained our desire to phone the hotel to ask them to send the jacket to the Burches. She allowed me in and I successfully made the call. The home was not unusual except for the abundance of flies.
We continued on through the countryside, saw another road-killed 'roo and passed through a hilly area, most of our trip having been over flat terrain. For lunch in the town of Kurri Kurri I bypassed the curried chicken (having had that last night) and ordered lemon chicken from the oriental short order cook in the bistro who spoke English with an Aussie accent!
10 P.M. Saturday, October 5: Sydney
The concept of being "on the other side of the world" impacted my mind forcefully as we sat dockside at an outdoor Sydney harbor cafe. Here was a city of 3.7 million; 3.7 million people similar to me, with similar hopes, plans, troubles and blessings. Yet how utterly separated are they from me and mine! It could as easily be another planet. We were the aliens, the visitors to this thriving metropolis of busy streets, bright lights and distictively urban expressions on human faces.
The famous opera house is truly an architectural wonder. I learned that one of the New York City bridges is longer by only two feet and an inch than Sydney's "coathanger" ( the harbor bridge named for its appearance). The guide on the ferry ride comparable to Manhat tan's "Circle Line" did not say which New York bridge. The ethnic make-up of Sydneysiders could be described as predominantly white and Asian, as I see it so far.
The Lord's Day, October 6, 1991
I met a Finnish man over breakfast at the Southern Cross hotel where we are staying. He told me that September was the best time for picking the mushrooms he loves in Finland. We talked about the northern Finlandish summer with its midnight sun, and winters without any sun at all for months. He mentioned that tourism is currently low in Finland on account of high prices.
Today's breakfast has been the granola-like cereal called mueslix of which I've become fond. Many Australians have toast with a yeast extract based condiment called vegemite in place of jam. I've tried it and find it quite good.
New Life Presbyterian, South Penrith, New South Wales
The church meets in a school about one hour west of Sydney. As the worship service began, a gigantic black bird muttered, warbled and howled on a branch just outside a window. The service was much like home. Cloth banners filled the worship room. Variations on our services included greater informality and a question and answer time following the sermon. The sermon dealt with the Sixth Commandment, and the preacher discussed the idea of the value of human life. To illustrate a point, he told of an experience he had in the northern African nation of Tunisia. It seems that he was made a quite serious offer of $2,000.00 for his wife and children! The hymns were all familiar. After church one of the members directed us to a local military base where grazing kangaroos were used as living lawn mowers. Sure enough we drove by and saw our first semi-wild kangaroos reclining or munch ing grass in a big field.
At the Opera House
The show was "The Best of British and the Best of Broadway", and our seats were not bad for a last minute purchase. The opera house has three theatre sections; I'm not certain in which we were. Although much of the best of British was unfamiliar, I enjoyed some Broadway remembrances from Camelot and The Man of La Mancha among others.
We returned to the hotel by cab and enjoyed a late dinner, probably the most extravagant one to date on this "holiday". It included a chocolate lover's dessert. This consisted of a chocolate covered strawberry, a dollop of chocolate mousse, chocolate glazing on the plate, and a few other incredibly delicious chocolate morsels.
Monday, 10/7: Australian Railroad Trip
Our destination was the western plains town of Dubbo, seven hours west of Sydney by train, and home of the Western Plains Zoo which Kathy, Jeanette and I planned to visit. The first class RR service approximated American coach. The countryside scenery was tranquil and communicated a sense of a slow pace of life. We met Alison Donald on the train, a bright ten year old. We discussed Australian versus American idiom and terminology with her. Jeanette asked Alison if she would like an American pen pal of her age and gender. Alison and her mother liked the idea, and we hope to arrange it upon our return home.
A North Dakotan/Australian taxi driver drove us from the Dubbo RR station to the Ashwood Country Club Inn. He had relocated for career reasons, married a local girl and had been in Dubbo for twelve years. It was amusing to think of someone from North Dakota as someone from home
Tuesday, 10/8 The Western Plains Zoo
Wading spiker monkeys were the first animals I saw upon entering it. Their movements in the shallow water were comically human-like. We walked through the zoo for about three hours and saw red and gray kangaroos, wallabees, koalas and dingoes as well as capybaras and other animals from all over the world
It's 3:10 P.M. and we are now on the train "home" to Sydney, where we'll pick up our car and head for tomorrow's adventure, hot air ballooning. As the iron horse stops between stations, I see a boy playing with his dog. The dog seems all or part dingo, based on what I saw of the wild Aussie canine at the zoo. Australia's ethos makes me think about the American Old West.
Twentieth century technology has arrived downunder, but some of the sociological consequences of the modern age - the neuroses, stresses; the longing to escape all seem absent. Australia is certainly far less densely populated than the USA, perhaps that is a factor. Then again, perhaps I'm just a vacationer enjoying myself as I see the tourist's view of this land of marsupials, gum trees, and friendly people. They smile at my accent even as I take pleasure listening to their peculiar inflection of our common English language.
9 A.M. Wednesday 10/9: Our Balloon is "Burst"
After arriving at the Sydney RR station at 10 P.M. last night, we retrieved our rented car from the Southern Cross hotel. We drove on Australia route 1 to route 82 to the Hunter Country Lodge, located on 82 between the towns of Cessnock and Braxton in the Hunter Valley region. The night driving was not too different from the USA; fewer street lamps are used. We pulled into the very bucolic lodge about 12:40 A.M. Our balloon ride was scheduled for 5:30 A.M. We would later learn that, on account of "thermals", unpredictable wind phenomena caused by the sun warming the morning air, very early morning is the optimum time for ballooning.
We arrived on time at the "Balloon Aloft" headquarters just across route 82 from the lodge. We three, along with a young couple, David and Denise, and two young girls, Leanne and Katrina, piled into a van with the balloon equipment in tow. We drove about a half hour to the launch site, the property of another Hunter Valley recreational establishment called Leith's. The aforementioned David and I helped pilot Machiel Pronk, a native of Holland, and his assistant (ground crew) Peter, a native of Ireland, to unload and prepare.
First, we slid the heavy wicker basket in which we would ride off of the trailer and tilted it onto one side. This was after Machiel showed us how to hop into the basket and how to position our bodies for landing, holding on to handles provided and crouching. Next the thirty meter long "envelope" (the balloon itself) was removed from its huge canvas bag and unraveled. The envelope must have weighed several hundred pounds. Machiel said that the balloon could carry a payload of 1,500 kilograms, including the weight of the equipment. Many strong metal cables attached the envelope to the basket.
Machiel checked the burners, the propane fueled source of the hot air. Imagine four fabulously giant sized wok flames and you have the idea. One of the four is a special one called liquid fire, used for trimming. I got the impression that its function was similar to a spaceship's retro-rockets. The flames were quite loud and the heat could be felt in the cool morning air from ten yards away. 150 liters of propane would be consumed on the flight. The burners are mounted on struts above the basket. A huge fan, also carried on the trailer, was wheeled over to the balloon and the men began to fill it, with cold air first.
It was near the conclusion of this step that trouble in the form of wind arose. Machiel occasionally filled an ordinary 11-inch latex balloon from a helium tank and turned it loose to test the wind. He indicated that wind conditions at a higher altitude were OK, but surface winds were endangering lift off.
Until hot air was added, the balloon assembly would remain on its side, the envelope partly distended. If the burners were ignited, strong surface winds could blow the flames too close to the wall of the envelope and damage it. We waited tensely, hoping those winds would subside. I silently asked it of the One Whom they obeyed in the days of His earthly life.
The answer was no, which is not as bitter a disappointment when one knows that his heavenly Father ordains all things in love toward His own.
Pilot Machiel (say "Mahch-heel", guttural emphasis on the end of the first syllable) canceled the flight. His third test balloon confirmed his sad and financially costly decision. (It is costly to Balloon Aloft, Ltd. since passengers pay only if they fly)! The little green test balloon evidenced that the wind was now picking up at the higher altitudes as well.
The set-up procedure was reversed and we would-be balloonists piled into the van and returned to HQ, where we saw our first live, non humanly confined, bona fide 'roo! Kathy, Jeanette, and I immediately made plans to try again tomorrow if places were available. Hunter Valley is an area of vineyards and wineries. We plan to visit one or more of the latter, sample their wares, and see what other earthbound adventure might avail today. We still have a week in Australia!
10:15 A.M. 10/9: Jeanette's 'Roos - Or Were They Wallabees?
She saw two, one big and one small. Now that we've discovered that there are several varieties of both kangaroos and wallabees, as well as another similar creature called the walleroo, who can say which they were? They were not zoo 'roos, but dwellers in the austral wilderness. They were on the property of the Hunter Country Lodge, one of the "homier" places at which we stayed. It is centrally located for Hunter Valley activities. A trip into Braxton was rewarded with finding an Australian who said her brother-in-law loves barbecued "wicheti grubs". They are the insect larva delicacy I yearn to try.
5:10 P.M. 10/9: Australian Vinification
It took a trip to Australia for me to find out that a sauterne is a sweet dessert wine. We sampled one as well as some chardonnay, sparkling red ( an Ozzie specialty per our winery tour guide), a Pinot Noir and a couple of others.
We toured the McWilliam Mount Pleasant winery and saw the oaken barriques, puncheons, and hogsheads of aging wine. The modern vintaging process also includes metal tanks, vats, crushers, strainers, filters and mixers that bring the fruit of the vine to imbibable maturity. We drove on (fear not, the samples were miniscule!) and enjoyed Devonshire tea at the Butterfly tea room and art gallery.
Wednesday evening, October 9
We walked around the lodge grounds and spied several more wild 'roos and photographed them, dined at the hotel and retired early. We have been contacted by balloon pilot Machiel who advised that he would like us to report for our second flight attempt at 5:10 A.M!
Thursday, 10/10 Balloon Aloft Indeed!
Patricia and Herman were a couple from Columbia with whom I would exchange a little banter in Spanish. They urged us to visit their continent, and came equipped with a video cam. Diana was a Canadian bridal/wedding magazine writer on assignment downunder, and had the greenest eyes I've ever seen. Ed was a Queenslander (Aussie state) who told of the requirement for a "roo bar" on his car. This was due to the great numbers of kangaroos being killed on the highways in his area on account of the current draught. The draught has made our trip free of rain, but it is not good for the Australian 'roos or economy!
Ed reported that the kangaroos flocked to the roadsides to find green grass which they would not do in lusher seasons. The 'roo bar prevented damage to vehicles upon impact with one of the big jumpers. Ed said that in some spots, the roadway actually reeked with dozens of dead 'roos. Camera failure on his first trip had sent Ed back for a second with the above folk, Katya, Netty, pilot Machiel, and me. We were all ready for a sojourn of suspension in the sky!
The preliminaries of yesterday's aborted flight behind, Machiel brought the equipment to the point of firing the burners to add hot air. It attains a temperature of 100 o C or more. I heard the giant gas jets roar with ignition. I stood with Ed and flight engineer Peter, holding a tether line at the opposite end of the envelope. It would become the top, and I could see there a flap which Machiel called the "parachute". It was used as a valve to create descent by vacuating hot air. Blasts on the burners during flight created ascent. The envelope, which became the tremendously huge balloon, also had side flaps which made it possible for the pilot to rotate the balloon clockwise or * anti-clockwise. (* sic Machiel).
All of these flaps were operated by tether lines down to the basket. No control of compass direction of flight is possible! The basket has a two-way radio, and Machiel had to be in communication with air traffic control authorities as would an airplane or chopper. He also needed to be in touch with flight engineer Peter on the ground. Peter would meet the landed balloon with the off-road van and trailer. Equipment and passengers would then be transported back to Balloon Aloft HQ from whatever landing spot Provi dence ordained. This was, in the Hunter Valley area, most often a farmer's field, but more on that momentarily.
A common dream is that of flying. For me, this "dream flying" is not like that of a conventional aircraft, but an effortless floating. Unlike in dreams, this sense of flying did not begin to vanish as waking consciousness displaced it. On the contrary, the mind thrilled as the act of an hundred dreams and innumerable fantasies became gently but firmly real with lift off. The raw power of the simple truth that hot air rises left no room for anxiety. The mighty round bubble with payload fought its way upwards in the sea of air that is our atmosphere.
The still silence allowed us to look down on our own shadow, on kangaroos and other animal life, and on people oblivious to us, with their minds on terrestrial affairs. The slowness of travel, our only rudder the capricious winds, allowed the unusual opportunity to look directly from above upon objects rushed by so quickly in airplanes. Passing a still creek, the balloon was reflected perfectly in the water, as if in a mirror. Looking into the bright yellow and green "cavern" directly overhead, one could see the simmering ripple of the hot air. The occasional blazing roar of Machiel's burners kept it hot and us soaring for about one magical hour. A drop of condensation was felt from time to time. Looking around, I had an amazingly unique perspective on the world.
It all ended too soon. Firing a burner as necessary to assure a slow descent, Machiel brought the basket to an almost imperceptible touch down just beyond a fence in a field easily accessible by Peter's van. The "parachute" was more fully opened and the envelope gently sagged and finally lay stretched out on terra firma again. Peter arrived in a few minutes. We reversed the set-up procedure and were soon on our way back to the lodge where we would celebrate with a champagne breakfast.
En route, Peter stopped the van at the homestead of the farm upon which we had landed. Machiel rang the doorbell with a bottle of champagne in hand for the landowner. From the van we saw a brief, friendly discussion take place. Later Machiel told us that the farmer had said he "could land there anytime". The men did inform us that receptions were not necessarily always cordial, and that in some cases, permission to land was denied.
The champagne breakfast included many fascinating and animated conversations with an extraordinary group of people from six nations, all with tales to tell of travel and adventure. Soon thereafter, we checked out of the lodge and headed for Armidale, about four hours north. It is an Oxford/Cambridge like university town and will offer yet another side of Australia for us to investigate.
8 P.M. October 10: Italian Australian
Although I have not yet had an opportunity to try wicheti grubs, the big insect larva treat, I did try wild hare tonight. This was at Luigi's, an Italian restaurant in Armidale. Jeanette and Kathy had traditional dishes. It was amusing to see several patrons of Italian appearance speaking with Aussie accents. It reminded me of the little girl I saw in Kenya. She was black and Italian was her mother tongue.
Armidale was as expected, but on account of the onset of a minor cold, I retired early again. Tomorrow we will drive back to Brisbane.
3 P.M. Friday 10/11
We arrived at the Burches after an uneventful drive north through the brown, parched and draught-stricken northern New South Wales/southern Queensland area. In addition to being the indirect cause of kangaroo highway deaths, cattle and sheep farming is being affected. Some farmers have had to shoot their animals. Sue Burch says the draught has been going on since January.
Friday Evening 10/11: The Road to Bundaberg
This trip featured a view of the Glass House Mountains. They were reputedly so named by Captain Cook, the principal European explorer of these parts. They are very steep, jagged, pyramid-like formations.
Speaking of glass, here is some colorful Aussie idiom I've heard: "Enough to make a glass eye weep", self-explanatory. "Ta" is the equivalent of "you're welcome". Of course, "G'day mate" you've heard. "Tucker" is food. "How ya goin'" substitutes for the American "how ya doin'", and "Are you right?" for "May I help you?". "Dinkum" means true or right, "the fair dinkum" translates as the plain and simple truth of it. The slang of the song Waltzing Matilda is really not currently in the vernacular; I didn't see any true swagmen. Perhaps this is due to their elusiveness? In any case, we arrived at the resort town of Bundaberg late this evening. In the morning we will take a ship to Musgrave Island and the south end of the Great Barrier Reef. We are staying at the Reef Gateway Motor Inn, the Burches also.
Saturday, October 12: The Great Barrier Reef and Musgrave Island
Many familiar friends from Bermuda, the Caribbean, and Mombasa, Kenya were to be found there. The fan, plate, brain, and stag horn coral provided a labyrinthian home for the brightly colored fish. By way of glass bottom boat and snorkeling, we saw these as well as sea anemone, sea urchins, large clams, one green sea tortoise, a manta ray, and several varieties of "sea cucumbers". I learned that the latter are eaten by the Japanese. They are essentially sea slugs, and I remember putting them in the Bermuda sun to melt when I was twelve.
We got to the island by way of the catamaran the Lady Musgrave. It sailed from Bundaberg on the mainland at 8:45 A.M. and we arrived at the sand, shell and coral island at 11:15 A.M. The snorkeling and glass bottom boating takes place in the lagoon west of the actual island. The breakers of the barrier reef itself are easily visible in the background a little further west. The boat docks at a pontoon, where the glass bottom boats are also moored, and on which are picnic tables, bins of snorkeling equipment, and viewing chambers which offer yet another view of the world below the surface.
The Lady Musgrave carried about 120 people to the lagoon. She remained at the pontoon wharf until about 2:45 P.M. During the after noon, the glass bottom boats ferried anyone interested to the island itself at ten minute intervals.
The shore of the island is predominantly fragments of sun bleached coral and shells. The strange Pandanus trees grow profusely quite close to the water. They have a large fruit that looks like a pineapple, and roots that look like struts or props growing down from the lower branches. What seemed to be thousands and thousands of birds filled these and the other trees. One of the early uses of the island was as a source of guano, bird dung, used as fertilizer.
Kathy, Jeanette, and I caught the last boat off of the island back to the pontoon and the Lady Musgrave. The trip back to Bundaberg created several victims of mal de mer as the first trip did, a couple of them in our party. We met some permanent resident Americans who told of their life in Darwin, a principal city in the Northern Territory, a state of Oz. They were part of a 500,000 acre cattle station. They claimed that big red kangaroos can attain heights of seven or eight feet. We later confirmed this. They also told us that kangaroos can swim, which they do in flooding times to access grazing land beyond watery barriers. Such was our trip to the Great Barrier Reef.
We headed back to the Burches' in their van upon our return to Bundaberg. The drive's only occurrence of note was the loss of one of my shoes when we made a pit stop. Enough to make a glass eye weep.
The Lord's Day, October 13, 1991
Westminster Fellowship at Yeronga was where we worshipped this morning. Like last Sunday at Penrith near Sydney, this mission church met at a school. Tony Cooke preached on Ephesians 6:1-4, children and parents. John Burch led in prayer for an urgent need in the middle of the service. There was an even lengthier sermon discussion time than at Penrith, and the congregation was divided into two groups for this purpose. The lyrics for the hymns and songs were projected overhead and an electric keyboard provided accompaniment. Lunch prepared by Sue Burch was served after worship, and we left at the beginning of the congregational meeting which followed the meal.
Sunday Afternoon: Cuddling Danny
He was a lovable bear-like marsupial at the Bunya Park Koala Sanctuary. Here we also saw more kangaroos, wallabees, walleroos, and a fourth animal with a 'roo appearance, the pandeman. This one does not use its tail as the others. Flying foxes being fed, wombats, crocodiles, lizards, cockatoos, galahs and other Aussie birds completed the pleasant afternoon.
This evening we will go with John to S.N.U.F. - Sunday Night University Fellowship. By the way, unless you are particularly fond of eucalyptus in various stages of digestion, you would find Danny the koala and his relatives quite a malodorous lot, however cute and huggable-looking!
6:30 P.M. 10/13: The Church Militant
At many prestigious American colleges which began as theological seminaries, the God of the Bible has been completely "kicked off campus". At Queensland University, Brisbane, Australia the pretext of "separation of church and state" has not yet been the excuse for His peremptory expulsion.
Rather, the S.N.U.F. group had the use of a large hall with attendance by about 80 or 90 "Uni" students without persecution or bureaucratic interference. There was a time of singing hymns and gospel choruses, followed by announcements about Christian ministries for college kids. Coffee houses, beach sports, and dramatic presentations were included in their ways of sharing the message of Christ. The group was animated and friendly.
Ross Farley, a director of Scripture Union, an Australian para- church organization, spoke on the 103rd Psalm. His message dealt with the Christian's view of self as created in God's image and established as a person of value and dignity by God's redeeming love. Lively groups of 6 - 10 discussed the sermon and this in turn was followed by a few more songs and a time of refreshments and socializing.
Only two full days of our adventures in the Antipodes remain! Tomorrow's plan is to see and shop the city of Brisbane.
3:45 P.M. Monday 10/14: Jacarandas and an Akubra in Brisbane
The former are trees blooming in a rich pastel lavender as spring moves on in Queensland, Australia. They are gorgeous and grow all around and in Brisbane.
Our shopping trip included an initial stop at the Greg Grant's shop for Kathy's classic style Australian Akubra hat. She chose a blue one with a brown leather band and a feather. She and Jeanette purchased more T-shirts and other souvenirs; even I bought ten small jars of vegemite and a boomerang of Aboriginal origin. Is that redundant?
A bus tour brought many of downtown Brisbane's highlights to our attention. The tallest building was 43 stories. The city is clean and attractive. This evening, Sue has promised to "whack a few snags on the barbie" for us. This means to cook sausages on the barbecue grill.
7 P.M. 10/14 Lorikeet Headquarters and Mt. Gravatt
Underwood and Logan Roads intersect in Logan city, the municipality south of Brisbane where the Burches live. It must also be the general assembly place for all Logan lorikeets. We drove to the cite at dusk to find hundreds, perhaps thousands of the brightly colored birds gathering in a copse of gum trees. The sound of their chirping was a din that drowned our voices. According to John, this is a daily ornithological wonder.
Mt. Gravatt, south of Brisbane, provides a panoramic view of the city. The ocean is visible on a clear day which this was not. We drove up the winding road off of Logan Road after the lorikeet watch.
Tuesday 10/15: Our Last Full Day
It was spent at the Gold Coast, the beach area south of Logan and Brisbane. The section where we spent the late morning and early after noon was called Surfer's Paradise. Several surfers were paddling around, but we witnessed no impressive wave riding action. I did swim in spite of the blue jellyfish which a fellow beachcomber advised Kathy might be dangerous. It was a warm, sunny day, perfect for the shore. Jeanette and I walked along it slowly. She wrote her Zairian (Babembe) name, 'Ngena, in the sand. I was reminded of our last weekend in Africa, spent on another fantastic beach, Mombasa, Kenya.
This evening we will go to a Mexican restaurant in Brisbane with John and Sue, and the long trip home begins at 10:00 A.M. tomorrow.
9:30 P.M. 10/15: No Wichetti Grubs
They are the large white insect larva considered a delicacy by some aboriginals. I had hoped for an opportunity to try them. We three have just returned from our last restaurant meal for this vacation, and I have not had my grubs yet. The prospect of doing so seems bleak at this point! However, dining at Kate's Compadres Mexican Restaurant did enable me to approximate the pusillanimous goal.
This came about through ordering and drinking a genuine tequila with two worms or grubs at the bottom of the glass. Should you care to try one, sprinkle salt on the back of your hand. Next, "scull" (Aussie for sudden downing of a drink) the liquor and worms. Finally, bite into a nice wedge of lemon or lime, and Bob's your uncle! At least, this is how the bartender described the proper way of drinking a tequila. That final phrase is another Aussie-ism, translated, "Well, there you have it!"
A few generalities seem suitable to close. New Zealand was picturesque and tranquil. Australia was a bit of adventure, modern city high life and beach paradise all in one. Unfriendly people were not found in either place. We spent a great deal of money! Our little group of three had fun together with occasional spats as would any three people together so much every day for twenty days. We all tried new foods, had new experiences and broadened our horizons to the South Pacific Seas.
On the way home, we crossed the International Date Line only 22 miles south of the Equator, per my request for that information from the crew by way of one of the flight attendants. I thought the fact that we came so close to the intersection of those two imaginary lines was fascinating. What an example of the potency of an idea - these lines have existence only as concepts, but what important concepts! Think about what it would be like without them...
We met Barry Graham at LaGuardia Airport in New York on time at about 9:20 P.M. DST on Wednesday, October 16, but our bags did not. They arrived via Indianapolis about 29 hours later, delivered to our house at 2 A.M. Friday, October 18, 1991. Everything was in them.