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Sailing on Synergy II to the Great Barrier Reef

November 27, 2009

We selected Synergy as the company to take us to the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas.  We chose them because Synergy II is a sailboat, and because they book only 12 guests on each cruise.  Synergy is not the least expensive of the tours–their brochure rate is $260/person, but our reasoning is that we may never visit the Great Barrier Reef again, and we wanted our memories to be the best possible.

We sailed from Marina Mirage at 8:30 AM, after meeting our crew,  Captain Stephan and Serena, introducing ourselves to our fellow passengers, and enjoying morning tea, coffee, and pastries on board.

The passengers consisted of a group of 3 couples from Perth, Australia, a couple from Port Douglas, and their house guests from Cognac, France who also have a home in Sydney, Australia, and Jim and me from Kansas.  The group became well acquainted during our sail to the reef and was a very congenial and fun bunch to sail with.

I was glad that our fellow sailors were Australians.  It gave us an opportunity to talk to them about their country, and get their ideas of things that we should see and do while we were there.  One of the ladies from Perth, named Nadilla, is a pastry chef, and she was a wealth of information about Australian food.  Having met a fellow “foodie”, I realized that this is the person who could teach me about Vegemite.  I knew about Vegemite, and I had been eyeing it in the restaurants, but I had not got up the nerve to try it yet!  Nadilla answered all my questions–yes, Australians really like their Vegemite;  yes, they believe that it has a health benefit.  And, according to Nadilla the best way to eat it is on buttered toast, with just a small smear of Vegemite!

The ship captain selects the snorkeling site on the Great Barrier Reef each day based on weather conditions, tides, and the snorkeling skill level of the passengers.  We went to Tongue Reef, which was about a 2-hour power sail from Port Douglas.  There was absolutely no wind that day, so sailing was not possible.  It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the boat ride itself was pleasant.

As we motored out (on Autopilot), Captain Steph and Serena outfitted us with our gear, and gave us a brief refresher in snorkeling.  Five minutes after we arrived at our site and anchored, we were in the water!!

I can’t begin to describe everything that we saw underwater:  lovely colored corals, giant clams, hundreds of brightly colored fish.  No matter which direction you turned, you saw something else remarkable.  None of us had an underwater camera, so no photos were taken undersea.

I think that one of the top experiences of the trip for all the passengers was meeting, playing with, and petting “Ruby”, a 3-foot long Napoleon fish that is Synergy’s pet fish at Tongue Reef.  Ruby is just a juvenile, and will reach a size of 10 feet when fully mature.  One remarkable feature about Napoleon fish, is that during the first 10 years of their life, they may select their gender.  Ruby is a people lover–she would swim up to you, and let you pet her!

Ruby the Napoleon Fish

After our snorkel, we had a lovely lunch grilled on board that included breads, salads, chicken, shrimp, and my new favorite fish, Spanish Mackerel–YUM!  Then dessert…

After lunch, Steph took those in the group who wanted to snorkel some more out for a special guided snorkel.  Those that went with him commented that they really enjoyed seeing the things he pointed out. Those of us who had wine with lunch, stayed on the boat and socialized.  Either way, it was a great time.

Crew Member Serena

Enjoying the Ride

Sunset at Port Douglas, Australia

It was time to leave our mooring and head back to the Marina.  Steph put the jib (sail) up to provide shade to those on the front of the boat, but we still had no wind, and had to motor back.  Much as I love sailing, I could not complain–the ocean was beautiful, the sun felt lovely, and the company was good.  What a perfect day at the Great Barrier Reef.

Tips for Travelers to Port Douglas

  • Sea Temple is the major resort that is top drawer, and it has a golf course, but it is a long way from town (not walkable).  Choose it only if you have a car, or if being close to the action is not important to you.
  • Be careful about the outfitter you choose to take you to the Great Barrier Reef.  Find out how many people will travel on the boat with you, where they go, if they actually go to the reef or just to a pontoon station, and if they are a “snorkel only” trip or also take divers.  The snorkel/dive trips put the divers in the water before the snorkelers can leave the boat.  Don’t select your reef trip based on price alone–the old saying, “You get what you pay for”  is so true in this case!
  • The “Walk-Up” bottle shop on the main street has the best prices on wine.
  • Check out the menu at the Peninsula Boutique Hotel.  Their Thursday “Seafood Night” was spectacular.  Owner Sharyn is a wonderful hostess.
  • Have dinner at the “Tin Shed” (also known as the Combined Club).  It is on the water, is a great place to watch the sunset, and has live entertainment on Friday nights.  Try the Seafood Extravaganza for two, a bargain at $68.50, which includes a bottle of wine.

     

    Seafood Extravaganza at the Tin Shed

  • Wear sunscreen at all times during daylight hours.

Planning 2009 Thanksgiving Dinner

November 21, 2009

 

I love cooking and hosting Thanksgiving Dinner–always have.  It is my favorite holiday–good food, good wine, good company, and you don’t have to buy or wrap a gift!  My two biggest challenges with the Thanksgiving meal are selecting the menu, and getting everything to come out at the same time, with the hot foods being hot, and the cold foods being cold.

I keep a Thanksgiving file, and throughout the year, I will throw recipes that I have cut out of magazines or newspapers  in the file as candidates for the big day.  A few days before, I will go through the file, pull out some cookbooks, and select the recipes that I will serve, and make the shopping list.

Many cooks will not serve a recipe to guests that they have never tried before.  Not me!  Jim and I were in a Cuisine Club for a few years, that assigned a dish to each club member for each Cuisine Club Dinner, and we never previewed the  recipe, and we never got burned.  I think the key is to thoroughly review the recipe, asking,  “Do the proportions seem reasonable?  Do the ingredients seem compatible?  Are the seasonings something that will enhance the flavor of the ingredients?  Do the cooking times seem appropriate?”  One can avoid a lot of kitchen mishaps by thinking through the recipe, instead of being romanced by the picture of the finished dish!

My menu is usually minimalist–if the group is large, I will add a second meat, salad, and vegetable, or if someone if coming that “must” have something (like Waldorf salad, Yankee Stuffing, or sweet potatoes) I will add that also.  But, my preference is to cook from scratch using  quality, fresh ingredients, and keep the number of items to a special few.  We are having Thanksgiving at the Farm this year, with a small group.

The Farm

Here is this year’s menu:

Thanksgiving Dinner at the Farm

Olive Tray with Stuffed Celery

Fresh Citrus and Cranberry Salad on Baby Greens

Bobby Flay’s Roast Turkey with Herbs

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Southern Style Herbed Cornbread Dressing & Turkey Gravy

Mashed Potatoes

Creamy Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Parker House Rolls

Apple Fruit Crisp with vanilla ice cream and warm caramel sauce

So, what do you think about the menu?  What are you having?  Are there any special traditions that you have for Thanksgiving?  Would you like a recipe?  Leave me a comment let me hear from you.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and your friends and family!

Jim and Peach’s Great South Pacific Adventure

November 13, 2009

 

DSC_0467 peach blogI am new to this blogging thing, and I am learning as I go.  If I had more experience, or if I had thought this out better, I would have introduced the idea of our Great South Pacific Adventure before I started uploading posts about the trip.  I did a post about our Bucket List–that we have made a plan, and written it down  to visit certain places and see certain things (including Australia and Fiji–New Zealand was included because it is convenient and worthwhile on its own), but I really have not set the stage for the posts that will appear in the future.

I have written a journal for a long time–on an intermittent basis.  There have been periods of time where I have been faithful to the journal, and times that other things have taken priority (like an early morning tee time, or raking leaves, or Christmas shopping) and I haven’t opened the journal for months.  Since my morning routine includes a little computer time anyway to check email and Facebook and Twitter, it seemed natural to me to give up the paper journal, and blog a little each morning. 

I am writing about the trip because it is a good way to share pictures and stories with friends and family, who are interested in knowing about where we went and what we saw, but not so much that they want to sift through piles of printed photographs, or (horrors!) be invited to watch a dvd of all the pictures that we took.  Also, by writing about the places we visited, it disciplines me to sort and label the photos we took, so we won’t forget what we saw where.

I have always said that half the fun of a trip is planning the trip, so hopefully our stories and experiences will help others who are thinking about their own Great South Pacific Adventure, plan a trip that will work for them.  That is why I am including “Tips for Travelers”, so others can know what I wish I had known before we left the states.  And, I hope that people who read these blogs who have been places we have been or thinking about going to those places will leave comments and questions.  Because it is really fun to talk to others who have been to the same place, but seen different things or had different experiences. 

I would also like to hear from other bloggers about your blogging experience.  What works for you, and what doesn’t?  Why does a picture sometimes load upside down, and then you edit it and straighten it up, update your changes, and then it posts upside down?  Does this frustrate you as much as it does me? 

Thanks for reading my posts.  Please keep coming back, think about subscribing, and most importantly let me hear from you by posting comments.

 

 

 

Hanging out with Honeymooners in Fiji

November 13, 2009

  We chose Fiji as our final destination of our Great South Pacific Adventure, because it was on my Bucket List, and because it would shorten the flight home by about 4 hours.  Great Decision!!  From Christchurch, New Zealand, getting to Fiji is a journey in itself–first a flight to Auckland, NZ, and then a flight to Nadi (pronounced nan-di) on the mainland of Fiji.  From there, we helicoptered to the island of Tokoriki, a quick 15 minute flight.  There are ferries that serve the islands, but they run only twice a day, and our flight arrived after the last ferry. 

There is no check in desk at the Tokoriki Island Resort.  A staff member seats you in the patio bar,and serves you a fruity drink, while you handle the paperwork and receive a briefing on the layout and facilities of the resort.  And, before they escort you to your “bure”, staff members assemble with their musical instruments and sing a welcome greeting to you.

The Fijian people who we met are friendly, happy, and outgoing.  They introduce themselves, quickly learn your name, and joke around with you.  The women were frequently found laughing, dancing, singing, and they giggle a lot!  The Fijian word for welcome is “Bula”, and it is used as a greeting every time you meet, even passing on the sidewalk.  Tourism is the major economic driver, and the Fijians are smart and natural marketers.  Most villagers earn their living by working at the resorts.  They have a lot to market–the islands are some of the prettiest that I have ever seen.

Fiji is a group of 330 islands spread over 250,000 km of ocean.  Tokoriki Island is in the Mamanuca Islands which are famous for their spectacular islands, pristine reefs, and deserted beaches.  Northwest of Tokoriki is a small group of islands which includes Camel Island, named for its shape, and the Sacred Islands where legend says the first Fijians originally landed.

From the front of Tokoriki Island Resort you can see Monuriki Island which is where the Tom Hanks movie “Cast Away” was filmed.  Monuriki is a deserted island with a beautiful sand beach.  Two endangered species make Monuriki their home:  the crested iguana, only found in Fiji, and the Hawksbill turtle. 

During our stay, the resort was filled mainly with honeymooners, which only enhanced the romantic feeling of the island.  We decided we would act like honeymooners too–drink Champagne and go to bed early! 

IMGP0709

Every time we visit a beach, we draw a heart in the sand, and have someone take our picture.  We have been doing this since we visited our first beach together in Naples, Florida.

We learned a few Fijian words while we were there:

  • Tokoriki:  Stay Here!
  • Sega na lega (seng-a-na-lenga):  No worries!
  • Sota tale (soh-tah-tah-lay):  See you later
  • Moce Mada:  Goodbye for now

The food at Tokoriki was excellent.  During the Melbourne Cup, we had a barbeque which included Spanish Mackerel, which became one of my favorite new foods when we had it in Port Douglas, Australia.  And I developed a new favorite, Kokoda (Ko-kun-da), a ceviche-type fish dish.  The chef gave me the recipe, which I will share with you.

 Kokoda Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg Fish Fillets
  • Half Cup Lime Juice
  • 1 Cup Coconut Cream
  • 1 Tbsp red capsicum
  • 1 Tbsp green capsicum
  • 1 Tbsp tomato
  • 1 Tbsp onion
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 red chili

Method:

  • Cut fish into small cubes 
  • Place fish pieces in a bowl and marinate with100ml lime juice and a little salt 
  • Store marinated fish in refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours (overnight is best) 
  • Wash fish and drain the water out
  • Mix with coconut cream, capsicum, tomato, onion, chili, remaining lime juice, salt and pepper
  • Garnish with capsicum strips
  • Serve chilled, immediately

The resort served it as an appetizer in a half coconut shell, which made a nice presentation.  Since I do not keep a chain saw in my kitchen to halve the coconut, I will probably serve it in a lettuce cup. 

It was hard to say goodbye to Fiji.  The ocean, the views, the natural beauty, the feel of sunshine on your skin, the pleasure of being with the Fijian people, and the joy of sharing the experience with someone you love made for a magical experience.  I had tears in my eyes as they seranaded us with the goodbye song.  Fiji was, by far, my favorite place on this great adventure.  Moce Mada, Fiji.  You never know, I may have to return to this perfect place.

   

Tips for travelers to Fiji

  • Take advantage of the extensive Duty Free shopping at the Nadi Airport before you go to your island.  Shopping on the resort islands is minimal, and you may wish to take wine or other beverages with you, as drinks are expensive on the islands.  If you are helicoptering over, be mindful of your luggage weight limit.
  • Take plenty of sunscreen. 
  •  Choose your island and resort carefully.  Some are better suited for families with children; others cater to couples and/or adult groups of friends.  Some have bigger/better beaches than others.  Some are better suited for swimming/snorkeling than others.  Make sure you get what you want.

Living Like Royalty at the Crown Towers

November 11, 2009

 I think everyone will agree that travel is full of surprises–some great, some good, some not so much.  Our hotel room at the Crown Towers in Melbourne was a jaw-dropping  surprise.  It was not one room, but 3!  A living room with a sectional sofa and chaise, a comfy chair, a desk with chair, a marble-topped bar lit by a crystal chandelier, a coffee table filled with current magazines, and a huge flat screen TV.  The floor to ceiling windows were dressed with lovely drapes and light-filtering Roman shades, both electronically operated by a remote control.

The bedroom had a king size bed with exquisite linens, another flat screen TV and the same remote control window scheme.  A dressing/closet area connected the bedroom to the bath, and what a bath it was!  Marble floors, a jacuzzi tub, separate water closet, dual vanities with a crystal chandelier over each, a large marble shower with multiple shower heads, and another flat screen TV.  What a pleasant place to relax and recover from jet lag. 

The public spaces were lovely also.  This sculpture was in the main lobby

Crown Towers Lobby Sculpture Melbourne Australia

Tips for Travelers to Melbourne

  • Try to avoid Friday flights from LA.  It is the most crowded day to fly, and it brings you into your Melbourne hotel at a very busy time–all the weekend guests are checking out
  • Early in your visit, take the free city trolley to get acclimated to the layout of the City.  The tour is narrated, and provides great information about the buildings, parks, neighborhoods you are passing by.  Ride the whole circuit–it is a great way to get your bearings; then you can go back to the things you want to see.

Why I don’t like B & B’s

November 10, 2009

  On our recent trip to Dunedin, New Zealand, I was reminded why I don’t like B & B’s.  We were driving from Queenstown, and entered the address of our hotel, Fletcher Lodge, into the GPS.  We had never been to Dunedin; we didn’t know where we were going, and we were having a difficult time just reading the road signs because we were driving on the left hand side of the road!  The GPS voice said, “approaching destination on left.”  We did not see any hotels–it was a residential neighborhood–and then we saw the sign–Fletcher Lodge.  “Oh, No!”  I said– “it’s  a B & B.”  

The property itself was really lovely–a large historic home that had been lovingly renovated, and charmingly furnished, so as far as B & B’s are concerned, it was really nice.  But, it was a B & B!  Some travelers love to stay in this type of accommodation, but we’re  just not B & B people. 

B & B’s seem to be located in quiet residential areas.  Give me a lobby bar for an after dinner drink, and a location that has a coffee shop on the corner, and restaurants within walking distance!  B & B’s tend to be in older buildings, with dim lighting and floors that creak, and I feel that I am disturbing the other guests just walking to my room–creak, creak goes the floor.  And then, there is the problem with morning coffee–Breakfast begins at 8 AM–there is no way I can wait until 8 AM for my first cup of coffee.  And, have you ever noticed how the owners hover as you move through the public rooms?  Like they are making sure that you don’t steal the silver coffee service. 

So, fellow travelers, what do you think?  What is your preference–downtown hotel or B & B?

My Bucket List

November 9, 2009

DSC_0467 edited small pic

  Jim and I, along with our good friends and traveling buddies, Tom and Sue,  were sitting on the beach at Grand Case in St. Martin talking about where we wanted to go for our next trip.  Lots of ideas and locations were mentioned.  Most of them sounded pretty good, when the thought came to me–we need a plan!  We need to thoughtfully make a list of the places that we want to go, and then work from that list.  And that is the way our “Bucket List” came about.  We agreed to individually come up with 10 places that we really wanted to visit.  Here is what we came up with:

  • Fiji
  • Bali
  • Paris
  • Niagara Falls
  • Venice
  • Cap Jaluca
  • Belize
  • Australia
  • Play golf in all 50 States
  • Cruise on one of the Sea Dream Yacht Club boats
  • Rent a sailboat and sail for a year
  • Antarctica
  • Brazil
  • Turkey
  • Baltic Sea
  • Russia
  • The Nile and Egypt
  • Alaska
  • Peru
  • South Korea
  • China

Do you have a bucket list?  What’s on it?  Have you been to some of our choices?  Let me hear from you.  As we work on our Bucket List, I will write about it and share the stories.