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Surfers Paradise Holiday

Vanuatu Wedding

Our Holiday in Sydney and on the Hawkesbury River

'Twas 6 o'clock in the morning, June the 7th and we were off to see our Daughter Laura and her spouse Yuri.
See Vanuatu Wedding

Dianne had had the bags packed for several days. Our flights were booked on Virgin Blue a new low cost airline into and out of New Zealand. We would now be able to compare their service with Freedom Airlines another low cost airline we used when we went to Surfers Paradise last time.
See Surfers Paradise Holiday

The Duty Free Shop took a bashing as we found out that we were allowed to take twice as much booze into Oz as last time, so lashings of Tequila and Cointreau for Marguerita's - lovely.

One of the few benefits of being disabled meant we were first on the plane. We were allocated the second row of seats with plenty of legroom and a window seat to watch the clouds. As this is a super cheap airline no food or drinks, except water, are served on this 3 hour flight unless you pay for some. The usual announcements and safety regulations were liberally sprinkled with jokes and light hearted comments which were pleasant at first but a little wearing by the end of the flight. As one always hopes for, it was a smooth and uneventful flight, except for the crew banter, and after a short read, a snooze and a snack we brought with us, we arrived in Sydney.

Sydney is a huge airport, but as this airline was a new user of the airport it hadn't yet been given an air bridge to the terminal, only stairs to the runway then walk. We also because of my difficulties get off last, so we get the most for our money out of our flight being longest on the plane. However, this was a problem for me as the stairs were too steep for me to handle.

I suggested that the crew, 'Chuck me off'.

They had a better solution. They brought a fork-lift with a little cabin on the forks and lifted it up to the kitchen door of the plane. I got in and they let me down ever so gently to the ground where a wheelchair was waiting complete with pusher. Off we went, through the 'Aircrew' entrance, through the airport staff area which was a shortcut to the 'passport/customs' desks. An extremely brief check by the customs officer and we were through to the baggage carousel. We were first there, before all the other passengers, our bags were collected and loaded onto a trolley for us and we were whisked away to the agricultural check where we were waved through without stopping. Next the security stop, the bags were x-rayed, they ran an electronic thing over me and we were in the arrival hall - 5 minutes start to finish max. Amazing.

I stagger walked from the arrival hall, no wheelchair now, along the passages to the lift to the underground shuttle railway station from the airport to the Sydney Central railway station. From there after missing one connecting train, we boarded one of Sydney's silver double-decker trains to our destination a station called Merryland - sounded promising.

We disentrained at the station and after juggling our four bags set off down the long platform - Murphy's law of travelling states that 'Whichever end of the train you set off on it is always the furthest from the exit at your destination' - for the exit, and then commenced down the long slope to the roadway below. However, 'Fate' had stepped in and left a supermarket trolley at the bottom of the ramp. We gleefully filled it with our luggage and with me using it as a geriatrics 'walker', set off again like two elderly vagrants. We had arranged to meet my daughter at the local RSL (Returned Servicemen's League) club, an Australian institution with a clubhouse in most towns.

As we had no idea where it was we asked for directions from the first passer-by we met who was most helpful. Murphy's second law of travelling states that 'Whichever side of the station you alight from your destination is on the other side of the tracks'.

So we were off down another long slope, through the tunnel and up the other side. After a short walk we arrived at the RSL. A magnificent building for a small town, the façade was red, brown and white mottled polished marble. As we approached the entrance there was a memorial to soldiers lost in many wars mostly the Second World War. It consists of, at the base of the wall, a water trough, a rectangular container with one corner protruding at an angle into the narrow garden in front of the wall, also in the speckled marble. Above it was a slab of horizontal marble, flat with a curtain of water falling off it and above this, three 'Diggers', life size Australian foot soldiers in bronze charging out of the wall. Very impressive.

More impressive was the front entrance. Like an extremely expensive hotel it had a revolving glass door and steps with shiny - just polished look - brass rails and shiny brass trim everywhere. We entered via the slope with our shopping trolley into the plush reception area. Eyebrows were raised but with controlled hospitality they relieved us of our trolley and put it in storage complete with luggage and initiated us into the procedure for guests visiting their establishment. Once the identity formalities were over we were free to roam their club whilst waiting for Laura to arrive.

We went into the club and on the right there was a cafe which served coffee and tea and small snacks, the cafe bar carried right on down the building and became a liquor bar at the other end. On the left-hand side were so many poker machines that my mind boggled. The only goes to show how long it has been since I last went into a bar as at that time the machines had pull handles, now they are completely electronic and it was staggering the speed at which the players were pouring coins into them. I noticed that they also had a facility for taking bank notes as well. The speed at which they removed money from the clients was quite alarming.

Further in there was a lounge, which had a continuous keno or lotto style game running. For a non-gambler person like me it was quite an eye opener. We settled in the cafe and had a quick snack and drink, and then waited in the lounge until Laura arrived. She informed us that Yuri would be along later so we all had a beer and a chat until he arrived. We then went into the club restaurant, a very grand affair that served excellent meals at discount prices. They then took us to their brand new town house, where we talked for awhile but as we were exhausted we put ourselves to bed fairly early.

The following day as "our hosts" were at work all day, we took ourselves for a walk around the local attractions. There was an extremely nice Park for a playground and an exhibition of things suitable for children in an attractive modern building. Next to the park was an heritage site, the local brickworks. The site had a large lake in front of the remains of the buildings in which the majority of the bricks for early Sydney had been made (see pictures 1-3 and 37-41).
Here they are.


Map of our exploits

At last it was Thursday, 'embarkation day'. We were all up reasonably early -- for us. After a quick cup of coffee we started packing the car. It is surprising how much food four people need for five days on a boat, especially when you have to pack everything from the salt and pepper to the fresh vegetables and drinks. However, by late morning we were off on our trip to the Hawkesbury River. After a drive of about three-quarters of an hour we arrived at the Holidays Afloat office in Brooklyn.

I tottered along the wharf to the boat of course it was the one furthest away, the Lady Hawkesbury, carrying a couple of small bags. Then the rest of the family took the stuff we had loaded in the car so carefully earlier in the day and started putting it all into plastic trolleys and running them down the wharf to the back of the boat (stern - getting on bit) so we could unload them into the cupboards in the Cabins. This took quite a long time.

When we were ready and packed - two boys from the office came and explained how everything worked on the boat; from how to start the gas cooker and barbeque (the most important thing) and the gas heater, finally to how to start the twin outboard motors (the least important). They then explained how to steer the boat and to read the map so that we would go on the correct side of the marker posts and not go into prohibited areas. Then one of the boys got off and the other one took control of the boat and after casting off, we slowly motored out into the centre the main river. He instructed us by letting each of us have a short drive, start the motors and other things to ensure we had each got the rudiments of the trip sorted. Then he left us to our own devices by jumping in a small motorboat and motoring away with a cheerful, 'have a good holiday', as we drifted about in the middle of the traffic.

After a short consultation on who would drive and where we would go and upon studying the map we decided to head for the nearest 'doughnut' - a bright yellow buoy about the same size and shape as a truck tyre with a rope attached floating in the bays at specific points. As it was already 2.00pm and we had only 2 ½ hours before sunset, as there is no twilight here and sunset was at 4.30pm with about fifteen minutes from fully light to fully dark, so we were taking no chances that we would be sailing around in the dark on our first day. Laura drove us at full speed (4 knots) under the railway bridge bearing starboard - right - along the coast past the river mouth to the sea into a side branch of the river called Jerusalem Bay. Woe is us and panic - all the moorings had been taken and it is heading rapidly towards dark - but joy as we left the bay because we espied tucked in at the entrance was Little Jerusalem Bay and lo there was a free buoy so we nudged up to it. Yuri wielded the boathook and hooked the rope, slid the loop over the small bollard on the bow and we were moored - easy peasy.

Whew - that was close. I negotiated the steep and narrow steps up to the top deck and we celebrated our arrival by making 'Marguerita's', one part Tequila, one part Cointreau, one part freshly squeezed lemon juice, shaken not stirred. After a couple of large ones I decided to go down stairs but someone had stolen my legs and I crumpled to the ground. It was only later that I realised that I hadn't eaten anything all day. The others managed to manhandle me downstairs and put me to bed - I knew nothing - as Shultz of 'Hogan's Heroes' would say - end of day one.

The following day I awoke fairly early at 7.00 and it was already light. Amazingly - no headache. As everyone else was fast sleep I took up a position on the stern, it was as still as still, not a breath of wind. The sun slanted in a multitude of thin light shafts through the mist hanging about 5 meters above the unrippled water. All was peaceful and there was a surprising lack of animal and bird noises in the bush predominantly various kinds of Eucalyptus trees which clung to the steep rock faces that dove into the water almost vertically. It was an ideal time to contemplate my error of the previous night. But it was too idyllic to dwell on the past, so I just sat there and enjoyed the solitude and quiet until the others showed signs of stirring.

After a hearty breakfast of cereal, I wasn't going to make the same mistake two days running, I was elected designated driver for the morning. Again, I seated myself at the stern in the mist and mellow quietude contemplating 'life and 42', waiting for the mist to lift. It wasn't until nearly 10.30am before the mist cleared sufficiently for cruising to be undertaken safely. I continued the 'right hand rule' as we continued South towards Bobbin Head hoping to moor there and visit the restaurant for a midday meal. When we arrived, as it was a holiday weekend, the moorings were all taken and there was barely room to anchor, an exercise we weren't prepared to do for the first time in such visually exposed and restricted circumstances. We wanted to practice our first anchoring out of public sight in case of minor disaster.

So we did a 'U' turn and continued North on the now for us right hand side of the Cowan Creek. We turned into the first side branch and moored on a deserted 'doughnut' at the far end of this inlet at around 2.00pm and decided to stay for the second night. This was just as sunny peaceful, quiet and windless as our first stop. Here we made our first attempt at fishing. In the clear water we could see big fish - about a meter long cruising about a couple of meters beneath the surface. We baited up with the prawns we had been advised to use by the locals and dangled them in. Whammo - the baits were eaten but nothing caught. We tried again and again but they proved too elusive for us. Eventually we fished deeper using worms for bait and caught two palm-sized perch, pretty little fish which we returned to their fishy domain. No fish for tea.

In the evening we decided to watch a DVD on the boats newly installed gear. However, after much fiddling with the TV and DVD unit we were unable to get it to work. So we spent the evening playing 'Tantrix', a game which consisted of hexagonal plastic tiles with coloured lines on them, it proved to be an interesting, enjoyable and complex strategic game well worth the effort of learning the rules. 'Marguerita's', of course, accompanied our game-play - and so to bed, day two.

Another beautiful day in paradise - well - bobbing on the Hawkesbury River, anyway. The mist again was late lifting and after some debate we cruised around and moored again at a buoy in the bay opposite the entrance to the Akuna Bay inlet on the other side of the river to Cottage Point to perfect our fishing skills, as we had proved a considerable lack of ability at catching anything big enough to be eatable. This was a poor move. We did get our lines in and fish for most of the afternoon with only a couple of small bream which we had to put back. The problem was that there was a lot of boat traffic past the bay and no protection from their wash. After being rocked gently for most of the afternoon, one boatie, whom I can only describe as a hoon, came past so fast and so close that stuff was thrown around the cabin and slid off benches. We quickly departed this site and carried on to the far end of Akuna Bay inlet where because there were no buoys available we practised our anchoring technique which went off perfectly first time so we were all rather chuffed about that.

More problems - the gas went out, we thought that it was just an error on our part in the lighting up routine and had stuffed up - but no - after trying for ages we came to the unlikely conclusion that we were out of gas - after only two and a half days - strange.

We cell-phoned base. As it was too late to come out to us, they told us to rendezvous with them at the starting place in the morning. So it was to be salad and no hot drinks or showers this night. Still we had plenty of 'Marguerita's' left so we bravely toughed it out. Our intrepid crew took to the dingy and rowed to the shore. It was steep and difficult for them to land, they both slipped and got wet. Yuri tried to climb around on the rocks but quickly gave up as he encountered a lot of spider webs blocking his way and as there are many deadly spiders here in OZ he wasn't game enough to push through them - a wise decision I think. - day three.

Another misty morning, today was Laura's turn at the helm. We discovered that we had dragged our anchor in the night and the stern was only a couple of meters from the shore and some rather nasty looking rocks. The mist hung on and on in the enclosed bay. We could see the sun trying to break through but we were getting frustrated as it was getting quite late in the morning and still it hadn't lifted. We upped anchor as soon as we could see far enough to avoid any other shipping and at a slow creep we slid out of the inlet with two direction pointers standing on the bow peering out for any other traffic or coastline. As we reached the main river the mist disappeared completely and all was well but for a while there it was a bit 'Hollywood' like, slipping quietly in the mist under the guns of the enemy battery up the Great Orinoco River. Exciting but a little risky.

We then motored at full speed for the rendezvous. When the serviceman arrived he confirmed that we were indeed out of gas - because the bottles had not been replaced with full ones. Smack on the wrist for the boys who were supposed to have checked this. The TV problem was not so easy to fix. We insisted it was mended as we had paid so much for the use of the vessel and it was part of the specification. Eventually it was traced to a broken wire and all was well but much of the day had been wasted.

We decided to carry on in a Northerly direction taking the main branch of the river up to Wiseman's Ferry which was way too far to reach but we thought we would try and get as far as we could. Laura set off at the helm under the motorway bridge and on up the river. This section although quite wide is a bit twisty and after a while Laura requested a break from the helm so I took over, all confidence.

This stretch is alluvial and on the inside of the bends there are mud banks and mangrove swamp, whereas on the outside of the bend it is deep and eroded. The scenery on the main branch of the Hawkesbury was drastically different from the scenery we encountered on the Cowan Creek section. Here on the inside of the bends it was mangrove trees right to the shore and nothing behind them. On the outside of the bends low bush clad hills, again Eucalyptus trees but on the shoreline the occasional holiday home and private boat jetties.

All was well for some time until I came across a red marker post, slap bang in the middle of the river. Everyone else was up on the top deck. I saw that there were two cruise boats to the left of the post and none on the right, I - silly me - assumed that was the side of the post to pass - wrong! (As it was, they were both aground on the mud.) When I approached them there were suddenly screams and a thunder of feet down the stairs. Alerted to the fact that I was doing wrong I did an extremely sharp turn to my right - disaster averted. As it turned out, just in time, as I stirred the mud and only avoided going aground by a small margin. I was relieved of the helm for the rest of the trip.

We continued upstream until it was nearly dark and anchored on the outside of a bend for the night - our intrepid crew again took to the dingy and beached on a small inlet. They were much more successful in exploring the less steep and less treed slopes above their landing. After fooling about for a while they climbed back into the dingy and inexpertly rowed around for a while visiting the mangrove side of the river. I simply watched them from the stern of our boat, basking in the late afternoon sunshine until dusk. Having been completely unsuccessful at catching fish on our entire trip we thought it appropriate to spend the evening watching 'Finding Nemo' on our mended DVD. - day four.

Misty again, so we spent the morning waiting for it to lift, by fishing. I don't think we are born fishermen as although we could see fish - big-uns - we were still unable to hook one. Still it passes the time away pleasantly enough. Finally it lifted and it was clear enough to see to avoid other shipping. Thus it was time to leave and head upriver until lunchtime. Permitting us time to return to our rendezvous point again by 3.00pm where we used the ship-to-shore and bobbed up and down in the shipping lanes for a while until one of the boys came out in a small powered dingy and piloted us back to the Holidays Afloat jetty. After removing all our remaining food and gear from the boat and packing it all back in the car we were off back to Sydney - end of boating holiday.

Dianne and I had the rest of the week to fill. Our "hosts" were back at work. So, because we are 'window-shopaholics', and I am a people watcher, when we had risen at our own pace and were ready for action each day we taxied to 'Westfield' shopping mall in Parramatta. This shopping complex is huge, five floors and uncountable shops. I use malls as a constitutional walking place as I am unable to walk for any great distance without resting so they are ideal having level floors, it is warm inside the building and regular seating positions. I managed to cover about a floor and a half each day so it lasted the rest of the working week without revisiting any shops.

On the Saturday before we returned Laura and Yuri had promised me that we would visit 'Doyles' a world famous fresh fish restaurant. This restaurant which is at the absolute tip of the southern shore of the Sydney Inlet is renowned for its gourmet fish dishes and lived up to its expectations. We had a delicious lunch of poached Barramundi with a 'Doyles' salad on the side - fantastic. The views of Sydney are from an unusual direction looking back from the point and are incredible - see pictures.

All good things come to an end - so they say - and all too soon it was Sunday morning and we were leaving for home. They dropped us at the airport and we made our way to the departures desk where we were first to check in. A wheelchair was arranged and with Dianne pushing me we commenced the long trek to the departure lounge - picking up our lunch on the way. After a short wait there I was whisked through the gate and pushed to the plane where I was fork-lifted again in a little one-person capsule up into the kitchen door and seated before the rest of the passengers were boarded. It is strange to leave mid-morning, fly for two and three-quarter hours and return home late afternoon, but such is the way with time zones, confusing to the body clock. We were exhausted, however, and slept for fourteen hours straight. What a great time we had. I look forward to our next trip.

See Holiday Pictures

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Surfers Paradise Holiday

So, I went away for 10 days. I went to the Gold Coast of Australia, Surfers Paradise seaside resort. I know you are all agog to know what I did while I was there.

But I must start at the beginning. Here in Christchurch New Zealand, the prettiest city in the world as voted in 2002, and the weather - our summer - over Christmas was dreadful. It was cold and damp and extremely windy not like our usual mild and sunny weather at all. As a cut price war with the local airlines was hotting up with 'really, really cheap' fares to Australia we decided to skip out there for some warmth and sun. So we booked and on the first of February we set off for sunnier climes on a cool drab and overcast day.

Our airline, Freedom Air, the cut price version of our National Airline, Air New Zealand, is a no frills airline, so to manage on our three hour flight we purchased some sandwiches and a couple of bottles of soft drink. The Freedom Air uniform is canary yellow jackets and black trousers or skirts for the cabin crew that makes them look like budgerigars, but they were pleasant, happy, efficient and helpful so it was a relaxing and comfortable flight.

Coolangatta airport used to be Surfers Paradise's provincial airport and has only recently become an international destination, it was not really ready for overseas flights as it was still in the process of being modified. Because of this we had to descend from the aeroplane by stairs, a tricky operation for me. However, we achieved it with much humour and with a stewardess on each arm - lucky me!! Our apartment style hotel 'The Marrakesh' was 20 minutes away. (pictures of the hotel) I call it apartment style as each unit consists of a bedroom, en-suite, laundry, kitchen and living room or lounge and a balcony.

Surfers Paradise is halfway up the eastern bulge of Australia. Bordering on the 'wide blue wet stuff', known as the Tasman Sea, known to locals as the 'ditch' between NZ and Oz. There is a predominant easterly wind that produces the surf of which it is famous, not so famous are the sharks that take a couple of surfers every year. The golden sands run for many kilometres to the north and south of Surfers (Map provided in the picture section). There is a wide green swathe behind the beaches and a coastal road, then the centre of town that is composed of high-rise apartments and hotels. These diminish in height and numbers as you move away from the town. Behind this the main interstate highway and the residential area where there is a maze of rivers and canals. The mainly exotic and expensive houses front onto the road and back onto waterways. We took a cruise to see them from the water-side puttering slowly along admiring their gardens, patio's and floating docks with fabulous boats on them. (pictures provided of waterways) Further inland the country changes into native forest and rises to hills. The forests comprise mainly eucalyptus trees, which in the hot weather give off flammable oils that are regularly ignited by lightning from the frequent electrical storms causing enormous inaccessible fires.

Surfers Paradise is one of the playgrounds of the Australians and has many Disney-like theme parks; Wet-n-wild, Waterworld, Warner Brothers Movieworld and Dreamworld to name a few. It is also the home of Steve Irwin's Crocodile Zoo. Surfers is complete with casinos, innumerable excellent resturants of all ethnic varieties, cabaret shows, is not far from Bathurst the scene of one of the southern hemisphere's most prestigious car races and The Formula 1 Grand Prix is held in its streets.

I don't want to bore you with a minute by minute account of our holiday but we visited several 'shopping malls' which are about twice the size of the ones in Christchurch, part of the numbers game I suppose as NZ has only 4 million population and ¾ of them are in Auckland so our facilities are small but beautiful, whereas Surfers must have several million population itself. The shopping malls in Australia are in fancy buildings and many run to three stories. Most of the malls provide mobility scooters. So I scoot round behind while Dianne does the shopping, the shops are fabulous. We enjoyed an evening cruise, it included a smorgasbord meal and a south Pacific themed cabaret with hula girls dancing and island-style music as we cruised the canals. Later we hired a small car and visited the Tambourine Mountains. More like high hills but with steep roads as access. Here there were boutique wineries and a locally famous craft and artists town where we admired the arts and crafts, had an excellent Italian pasta meal, tasted the wines, enjoyed the buildings (pictures) and got lost in the lanes finding our way out.

Much to our chagrin while we were away Christchurch had a heat wave and blistered in the upper 30s degrees centigrade, what we went away to achieve. We weren't disappointed as the temperature was in the low thirties all the time we were in Surfers. The only problem was that the humidity was well up making it a high perspiration zone, fortunately we had air conditioning in the car, hotel and malls.

This was our second visit and I'm sure we will return again. Although I took pictures, I haven't yet mastered the art of taking them for a storyboard presentation. Now I have a digital camera I will have to remember to take more, especially of significant sights of note. However, those I took are at Surfers Paradise Holiday -- click on pictures to enlarge.

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This is an account of my holiday in Vanuatu and the wedding of my Daughter Laura to Yuri Smagin whilst we were there. ENJOY.

Pictures – my snapshots of the wedding and holiday - are available at the family’s website.------ Click here

This report is long - but interesting ! I think.

A wedding and a holiday in Vanuatu

For a people who as recently as 1968 would have eaten you rather than greeted you the Vanuatuans are remarkably friendly. Everyone smiles, everyone waves at you, everyone says ‘Hi’ to you, but not in one of the 120 plus indigenous dialects on these islands. It is in French, English or Bislama a rather quaint mixture of several languages a ‘pidgin English’ unique to Vanuatu. For the untrained ear it is hard to understand as it is spoken very fast.

Arriving at Efate Island’s airport in Port Vila after a 3-hour flight from New Zealand I think I can be forgiven for forgetting that this is an ex-French colony and after asking to sit in the passenger seat and trying to get in on the drivers side of the transfer bus. On the way to our accommodation we passed a shop which displayed a group of musicians - metal garden ornaments. Ants, in three sizes about 1 meter tall, 1 ½ meters tall and 2 meters tall. Dianne exclaimed, ‘look at those, we must come back and have a closer look’, as we swept past them at a great rate. We visited, briefly, a number of rather exotic hotels to drop off the other visitors, and, as usual we were the last to be deposited. Our ‘hotel’ consisted of five mini-houses – units - each one a large room. The room contained a kitchen, an en-suite, an open place for clothing, a double and a single bed, a dining table with room for three, a sofa and the usual TV. It was almost brand new. The windows were covered in fly mesh with wooden horizontal strip shutters behind, but no glass. This allowed a constant cooling draft of air through, a good arrangement. The outlook over an inlet and the jungle was magnificent. The temperature was a balmy 28 degrees and with a slight warm trade wind blowing was just what we needed having left Christchurch in the freezing cold and snow.

The manager explained a few of the hotel rules and showed us how to operate the various appliances. Then told us about the local customs, the main one being the transport system. There are two means of public transport, buses and taxis. Not unusual you might think. However, buses are 8-seater vans, with a B in the registration plate, they come in all states of repair from brand new to the rust barely holding them together, but they all run. These vehicles cruise the streets of Port Vila and can be hailed. The fare is 100 Vatu, about $1.50NZ in the local currency, per person per trip from anywhere in the town to anywhere in town. Taxis are saloon cars with either a taxi sign on the roof of the vehicle or a T in the registration; they also come in all states of decrepitude. They can be hailed as well, the fare is negotiable but a determined negotiator can beat them down to the same fare as the buses. We had to borrow a few hundred Vatu from the hotel manager to be able to get to the bank, as, because of the queue at the airport bank we hadn’t changed any money.

Our hotel was half way up to the top of a hill and on the other side of the road was a local village. It was a block about 100 meters square containing a rabbit warren of small corrugated iron or coconut leaf clad structures in which one tribe lived. Many small wood fires were maintained on a constant basis to be built up and used for cooking at the appropriate time. The buildings opposite our unit were; a shop (a concrete shed) filled with shelves containing the most used and needed requirements mainly in tins from Australia; a Kava house frequented mostly by the males of the tribe on all nights, except from dawn on Friday through to Monday. Thursday night was kava night, a noisy affair with much singing until early morning on Friday; and a wash house where the women started clothes washing from early each morning with the sound of water poured into a tin bath like container from a single standpipe. The nights were also punctuated with the barking of the many mangy guard dogs, which set off a chain reaction with the dogs in other tribal groups and the crowing of the numerous multi-coloured roosters, so it wasn’t the quietest of locations for a hotel. After a couple of nights, however, we got used to the general cacophony and slept quite well in the comfortable beds.

The first of many trips into town in a bus was interesting as the first thing our driver did was go to the petrol station and use our fare to fill up his tank, presumably he wouldn’t have made it without our contribution. The roads are fairly numerous in the town with many intersections many still sport their French names as the town side of the island was mainly French before independence. The other side was British and because of the Anglo/French enmity each side of the island had its own jail, hospital, police force, currency and road rules, which now leads to some local oddities in regulations. Both the French – who abandoned the islands on independence and give no support - and the British who do give some small amounts of aid, do not help the islands much, which means that the Islands are poor in economy - money wise. The westernised areas are in a poor state and as an example the roads that were paved now have many and deep potholes in them. The native areas however are as they have been since before occupation and they live in the forested areas as they always have growing and catching their own food so they are not really in need of westernised funding at the moment. The problem now is that with exposure through television reality shows of the islands and large tourist companies and airlines moving in is that previously untouched areas will be spoilt and the primitive nature of the islands that they came for will be destroyed by the requirement for facilities that those tourists want and insist upon, even though the islands need the economic benefits. A ‘Catch 22’ type problem.

I digress. Over the entire holiday - trips in to and back from Port Vila on these ‘buses’ were a regular and frequent necessity. The first trip was for breakfast, most days we didn’t want to do our own catering in the chalet, so we went to ‘Jill’s All American’ and had an ‘American’ breakfast of fried or poached eggs, hash browns, crispy bacon, bread and jam, coffee – just the thing to set you up for the day. Then we browsed the town – the first day it was looking for ‘ants’ – garden ornaments. We quickly located the shop and after much negotiation and decisions we decided on a two meter tall one playing the trumpet and two about one meter tall, one playing the drums the other a guitar. Then we discovered they only accepted Vanuatu cash money. However the boss walked in at that point and offered to take Dianne to the bank to get the money. So off they went, I waited in the shop and had a long conversation about the island with a Vanuatuan called Hapia. They returned after about half an hour and the transaction was made. They were delivered, wrapped for shipping in bubble wrap and packed with shredded paper, that afternoon to our chalet. The rest of the first day was spent exploring the town.

Port Vila is nestled in the curve of a bay that is cupped around the Island of Iririki that is about 100 meters from the shore. The bay is deep enough to take seagoing ships but is scattered with coral heads about 1 – 2 meters below the surface so care and a knowledge of the deep channels is required for users of the port. The seafront is a concrete wall topped with old and rusty rails, some missing, so care in walking behind them on an uneven concrete pathway about 5 meters wide is needed. Behind it is a grassed park with concrete benches and coconut trees. At one end, finishing the park is a walled exclusive restaurant built right up to the sea wall, one of approximately 35 restaurants in this small town. At the other end of the park is the ferry terminal (all the ferries are free and are called by banging an iron pipe with a stick – provided). Beyond which were a multitude of small docks, a hotel whose shell is finished but abandoned as the builders went bankrupt, a couple more restaurants and expensive residential housing right down to the shore. At that end of the park there is also the covered vegetable market built with an elegantly curved island style roof, which bustles with activity and loud conversation day and night, as the vendors stay at their sites until all their produce is sold. Every day except Sunday when it is emptied of all its tables and swept clean, a sad and desolate almost eerie place when deserted.

Next moving inland from the sea is a service access road and the backs of the shops of the main street. Then there are the shops in the main street. The majority are of old not very attractive flat fronted construction and peeling paintwork on the outside but are considerably more attractive and interesting inside, but built higgledy-piggledy along an up and down footpath all the entrances are on different levels. They did, however, have window glass. Those that are not in such a poor state have vibrantly coloured island style murals on their facades. Apart from the many restaurants, and the usual butcher, baker, grocery shops, post offices, police station and banks there are a multitude of souvenir shops containing possibly pirated DVD’s, brightly coloured and patterned shirts and dresses in the distinctive patterns of these islands, imported watches, and other mass produced small trivia by the thousand.

Behind this, with frequent often one way interconnecting streets, is the other main street in the town. Behind the town the land rises fairly steeply a couple of hundred meters, at this point the island is about 1 kilometre wide and falls sharply on both sides. Our hotel quaintly in the “Seashore” district was on the top of the hill on the other side of the island.

On Sunday we decided to go to Iririki Island to find out what was happening for the wedding on Monday. The ferries were great as they were flat fronted and it was a fairly simple task to walk straight on to the front deck from the steps. The short trip was pleasantly relaxing and getting off was harder as there were no rails, so I had to be helped off. It was a steep walk of about 100 meters to the reception through manicured tropical gardens and I had to stop halfway up for a ‘puff’ break. We found out that had we known we could have requested a ‘buggy’ to drive us up. We remembered this for future visits.

The Iririki Resort is an exclusive resort and does not allow children less than fourteen years of age (unless there are special reasons for them to visit – but not stay) in the resort. The resort consists of the major building that contains most of the resort facilities, reception and management. Grouped around it are small chalets with saunas, hairdressers and spas. Within are the more usual bar and dining facilities and the ubiquitous pool and deck with sun loungers and bright umbrellas. Private manicured and landscaped gardens surround it within which is the guest accommodation in small chalets called ‘Fares’, each overlooking the sea with their own balcony.

As we arrived just after midday we decided that a beer and a pizza by the pool would be a good idea - so we ordered. The island waitress, Betty, came and holding the dish up high so we couldn’t see what she had brought announced that she had ‘our coconut crab’ pizza for us. I protested that we had ordered a different ‘flavour’. She laughed as it was a joke and she had really brought the correct one. From then on each time we met her we exchanged ‘crab’ jokes. You had to be there – as they say.

After our snack we found out which chalet or ‘fare’ (pronounced - farray) was the one provided for our wedding couple and went and saw them. Laura informed us that she wanted us back on the island on Monday at 10.00 am so that both her and Dianne could be ‘made-over’ make up – hair etc. for the ceremony at 3.00pm. We also arranged a meal for us all at Mangoes a ‘posh’ restaurant for that evening. We left the island with me on the ‘golf trolley’ they provided to transport me back to the ferry terminal.

On Monday we were up early, dressed in our wedding clothes and ready to return to the island at the ferry terminal in good time, on the way over the ferryman radioed ahead for the transport only to be told that the trolley had ‘conked out’ and was being fixed. The replacement ‘back up’ trolley was duly dispatched and we were taken to the reception area where the ‘back up’ trolley duly ‘conked out’ too. Engineers were fetched and repairs were initiated.

Meanwhile, Dianne and I had spotted some local art in the foyer. We were impressed by the paintings but they were all much too small for our requirements so when the artist lady appeared we asked her if she could produce for us something larger. ‘Yes’, she said, ‘but you will have to give me the money for the canvas, first’. Taking her word on trust we explained what we wanted and gave her sufficient local cash (Vanu) to buy a canvas. She told us to come back on Friday when it would be done. Not expecting too much we left it at that and went for a coffee.

Shortly after this Sarah – the wedding co-ordinator – came to see us. She took Dianne away to get prepared and told me that the workers were working hard on both the trolleys and one would be ready in time to take me to the top of the island to the wedding venue. I settled down with a book to wait.

Meanwhile, Yuri, as tradition demands in western society, was removed from the chalet he was sharing with Laura, so that he didn’t see the bride on the wedding day before the ceremony. As he wasn’t familiar with this practise he was not a little upset with developments until it was explained to him. He joined me in reception and we talked, drank coffee, read and just generally waited around. Sarah periodically came to us and reported progress on the preparations of the ladies and the trolleys.

Shortly before three o’clock, Yuri left me to get ready and by then the other guests had arrived in the reception, Larisa a Russian Lady friend of Yuri and Craig an ex-workmate of Laura. At three o’clock Sarah came and informed us that the trolley was nearly ready. At quarter past the hour we, the guests and Yuri, in his mustard coloured shirt the traditional wedding colour from the part of Russia he comes from, were ushered out the door and were duly taken to the top of the island on the trolley to wait in the ‘Wedding Bower’ for the bride. At the top of the island the trolley again broke down so our bride had to walk up the entire route uphill from the reception in her wedding gown. A traditional white satin dress, off the shoulder with thin straps and on the bodice a flower pattern embroidery in tiny crystal tube beads which was repeated in a 10 centimetre strip down the seam, hem of the skirt as it was wrapped around with the edge just off centre to the left of the front. The entire way up the hill in high heels accompanied by conch blower, wedding co-ordinator Sarah and guitarist. She was quite tired, but happy, by the time she joined us but we were about half an hour late to start.

A traditional ‘Church of England’ type of ceremony was performed by a Pastor Giddeon, an appropriate name I thought, with much laughter as Yuri was nervous and having trouble with language, his English vows. After the signing of the register and a couple of glasses of ‘Champers’, the photographer took some casual photographs of the group and the bride and groom – complete with three person musical band of islanders in traditional Vanuatu dress. The bride and groom were then whisked away for their ‘official’ photo shoot.

The rest of us then had to make our way to the ferry wharf to meet the evening ‘Sunset’ cruise ship. As the transport was still out of service we had to make the long walk, in our wedding finery complete with floral ‘lei’s’, all the way down the steep twisty path. Sarah, who was a slight, small lady, supported me on one side in my wobbly progress and Dianne was on the other side. It was a lop-sided and slow motion affair with many stumbles and laughs but fortunately we made it all the way down with no disasters.

As we waited for the ship, we could see in the distance along the beach, Laura and Yuri being photographed. The ship arrived and our couple had still not returned from their photo shoot. Sarah was getting quite frantic and dispatched a ‘runner‘ to hurry them up. All was resolved and off we set on our ‘sunset’ cruise. Apart from bobbing about in a classy ship and drinking more champagne and eating nibbles whilst we waited for the sunset in clear blue coral encrusted water, not much happened except everyone’s cameras decided to give up as we had all run their batteries flat. This is the only real problem with digital cameras, however, we had already taken many more pictures than we could have taken had we been using film. We just had enough power for a couple of picturesque shots against the sunset.

We then returned to the resort for the ‘wedding breakfast’ - why it is called that I don’t know, as it was held late in the evening. Laura had arranged for each couple to have their own special ‘wedding seafood platter’ – it was enormous – an oval plate all of half a meter long and loaded with food. Oysters, giant mussels, prawns in heaps, piles of scampi, whole scalloped butterfish all topped off with a lobster cut in half, interspersed with a tropical salad, amazing and beautifully presented. There were four of these platters, enough food for an army and there were only eight of us. The meal was finished off with a piece of traditional French wedding cake. The cake was made from a coned stack of cream filled profiterolls topped off with a crown of spun caramelised sugar all golden colour in the candlelight. Much champagne was drunk – and so were we by the end. Everyone then made his or her happy if hazy way home. It was a fun, happy, laughter filled event, a most enjoyable day.

With the exception of our two special trips, the rest of the holiday was taken up visiting the other large resorts and ‘relaxing’ in usual holiday fashion. Lying on ‘loungers’ under a shady and brightly coloured umbrella, drinking a succession of exotic juices, assorted beers and wines and eating snacks. Taking the occasional dip in the water, reading and just generally blobbing out was also part of the deal. Not a bad way to spend your time on a tropical island.

Our first trip was the ‘Around the island’ trip. It was an, ‘up early’, start as it takes over seven hours to complete the circuit of the island. We set off at a good pace as in spite of the potholes in the town the road was in a fairly good state of repair. It deteriorated as we proceeded from rough dirt road to deeply rutted dried mud, very rough on the bones, to slick rock surface with no discernable roadway further around.

The party consisted of the wedding group of six, two others, a guide and a driver in an almost new Toyota eight-seater van. The first stop, a crushed coral beach, here one of the guides explained how important the coconut tree was to the natives and how every part of the tree is utilised. There are a huge number of varieties of coconut tree, from very small, producing nuts just bigger than the size of grapes, to huge tall trees that produce nuts the size of footballs. He explained their usefulness starting at the top. The fronds are used mainly as a thatch for their huts. The head of the tree where the nuts are also house the coconut crabs, now endangered but once a prime source of food. The nuts provide the raw materials for clothing, with the fibre used for weaving and ropes. The fibre is also spun as a thread for sewing and for fishing line and nets. The liquid inside is used for everything from a fresh drink to hair shampoo and body lotion varying on how old the nut is in its seven stages of ripening. The coconut flesh is a staple food, the husk is broken down and used as mulch and fertiliser. When the tree is about 75 years old it ceases to bear fruit and turns into a fine timber that is milled and used to construct their huts. Thin trees or square milled poles are used as the framework and planking is used to cover the frame, quite a sophisticated construction.

We then moved on to a grove of trees where the ‘national’ tree, which is sacred, grows. It is a form of ‘Cordyline’, or cabbage tree as we know it, but it grows out of the ground about one meter then turns horizontally for about ten meters and finally the head of the tree turns upward again. It was unprotected in a small grove of other trees and surrounded with cows. Hardly appearing to be revered but nevertheless the guide was extremely proud of it.

Further on we were shown the largest tree on the island, a multi stemmed local tree, again just a tree in a grove of trees beside the road, but it was certainly a big tree probably thirty meters high and ten or more meters around the base. It was draped with hundreds of strands of the encroaching vine that was brought here by the westerners as an ornamental plant and is now smothering almost all the jungle as a real weed pest. It was here we saw between the trees on an enormous web the largest spider I have ever seen, it appeared to be floating in the air. It was approximately 20cm across.

Our next stop was at one of the few bridges beside which was a rough formed landing and two frangipani flower ornamented outrigger native canoes, each fashioned from a single tree trunk, hollowed out, were waiting for us to board. All the seats and other attachments were fixed with coconut fibre ropes inserted through holes drilled in the sides of the canoe. Most of the holes were above the waterline but a couple of holes where the outrigger floats were attached, were not, and they were not sealed either, so we slowly shipped water as we proceeded. A bright blue plastic bucket (not very tropical) attached to the seat with a fibre rope was used to bail out. The wood construction ensured that even full of water, there was not much chance of sinking.

With much help from the natives, the chief, the paddler and the tour guide and driver we were all installed on the boats. With much vigourous paddling and encouragement from all and sundry we set off for the coast and the mouth of the river where the native village was located. There was a shudder throughout the boat and we stopped. We were aground on a sandbank in the middle of the river and on a falling tide no less. The ‘engine’, our native paddler was paddling furiously and we slowly backed off and proceeded to make progress down river again. We were now behind schedule so our paddler redoubled his efforts to increase his speed; we turned a bend in the river and saw our reception group standing on a promontory at the river mouth. We were being greeted with blasts on a conch. Our progress again shuddered to a halt on another sandbank. This time we were stuck fast. Even after distributing spare paddles and a concerted effort by all we were not moving. Help was called and a couple of natives waded in to help, our man hopped off the back and together they pushed. No luck. One of our tour party, a well built Australian, who was sitting in the bow joined them in the water. With the boat now two people lighter and the additional manpower we slowly ground over the restraining sand and eventually were released.

Our next hurdle was for the group including myself was to disembark as the tide was now on full ebb and the prow of the boat was a meter below the docking area. We were going to have to scale the volcanic and sharp rock up to the level area of the dock. For most, two helpers were necessary, but when my turn came, four helpers were needed and with much grunting and grazed knees later, I was successfully ashore.

Our way off this small rocky isthmus was along a path through a narrow gap in the rocks. Our passage was obstructed by a native in full ceremonial dress holding a large palm leaf as big as he was, and an extremely cute and tiny female child also in full regalia complete with a woven headband of palm leaf strips with a stalk of leaf and a frangipani flower sticking up straight out of the back of the headband. She looked as stern and as fierce as her companion. A conch was blown repeatedly and our ‘greeter’ said some words in the native tongue. He then stepped to the side and a horde of members of his tribe ‘attacked’ us. It was frightening as they came at us whooping and hollering with their intricately decorated clubbing sticks raised in fighting posture and proceeded to pretend to hit us over the head only stopping centimetres from our heads with karate like precision. I think that for an instant we all thought, for these recent ex-cannibals, we were going to be lunch.

They then escorted us to Epule, their village where we were all head banded with woven leaves like the small girl, and presented with green coconuts with a straw in them. A native speaker explained the ritual of the wedding proceedings and dances required by their tribes and then the tribe split into two halves at each end of the village and performed the dances.

First a representative from one tribe is sent to another requesting the hand of a certain girl in marriage to one of the eligible boys in theirs. Traditionally the messenger’s request is refused. He returns to his village and reports the refusal. Whereupon the chief gets angry and insists that the messenger returns and puts their case more forcefully. Which he does, threatening all kinds of misfortune if he is refused again. His proposal is accepted and the two tribes have a gathering to decide the bride price. This usually includes at least one pig, as pigs are highly prized and are a currency amongst the tribes. The tribe sends a party of men with the dowry and they return with the bride. A ceremony is performed and they are married. Then the wife’s two front teeth are knocked out with a large stone and the marriage is settled.

There is much dancing in the style of group circling and foot stamping which is quite noisy as they perform with a chanting song and they all have large rattles of small nuts strapped to their ankles. After the dance they allowed us to mingle with the warriors and have pictures taken. Some of the women had prepared some native food and we were given a sample on a leaf, it consisted of potato like cubes and some unattractive boiled leaves. Surprisingly in spite of its unappetising look it was quite tasty. The cubes were sweet potato and the leaves tasted a mild spinage or silverbeet flavour. It had all been cooked in an earth oven similar to a ‘Hangi’ oven. A small shallow pit filled with wood and rocks had been burning for some time then a wire basket of the food wrapped in leaves was put on top, covered with wet cloth and leaves alternately then closed with a metal lid. The whole was allowed to simmer for a couple of hours.

We thanked them all for their performance and the food and bade them all farewell and then proceeded in the van to our next stop - a typical tropical beach – golden – crushed coral, crystal clear pale azure blue water, scattered with coral clumps. This was our snorkelling and swimming stop. Several of our group took up the challenge and using the offered mask and tube equipment and the important reef shoes or flippers, as there are stone fish on the bottom which can inflict a nasty poisonous wound if you tread on one in bare feet, swam about happily. Unfortunately as we were running late their swims were cut short and we hurried on to the lunch venue.

This meal was a smorgasbord of assorted salads, cooked stews and rice. Again we were serenaded with island rhythms, but for us the tunes were ‘Po cari cari ara’, ‘Waltzing Matilda’, and other assorted Australian and New Zealand melodies.

We were still running late, so for the rest of the trip the sights and stops were described as we passed them rather than stopping. Our final destination on the tour was the ‘Klems Hill Lookout’. This is the top of a high bluff overlooking the Mele bay, the town of Port Vila and the small ‘Hideaway Island’. ‘Hideaway Island Resort’ is one of the main destinations for serious ‘Scuba’ divers as the reef has a magnificent multitude of colourful fish to see – they also have an underwater Post office and Letterbox for marine mail. At this stop some long-lived bright lime green gecko’s were displayed and we all had an opportunity to handle them. They were quite big about 30 centimetres long, tip of nose to tip of tail.

The picturesque waterfalls, the cascade, we could only see as we were slowly driven past, the light was fading and we were long past time to return. We were delivered back to our respective hotels, exhausted but happy.

The only other trip of note was our cruise on the ‘glass-bottomed’ boat. What a misnomer that was, the boat was an ordinary holiday type cruise boat but set in the hull were two black-lined boxes with ply-board lids about a meter square in the centre of the cabin with thick glass in the bottom. Whilst we cruised out to the viewing location when the lids were removed all one could see was a stream of bubbles but on stopping the glass cleared. Although the green of the glass tinted slightly the view the colours of the reef coral and the myriad multi-coloured fish it was fascinating to see the interaction of so many creatures. It was also a surprise to see how close to the bottom of the boat the tops of the coral heads were, not more than half a meter. Careful navigation was needed to ensure no scrapes on the hull. The other members of the trip were given snorkelling gear and swam around the boat being nibbled by the fish while we watched through the glass. One of the crew swam under the boat and placed small pieces of bread on the underside of the glass to attract the fish closer for us to see.

That was just about the whole holiday and a ‘bus’ picked us up for our return to the airport to leave. Bringing three bubble-pack wrapped and decorated, as we had drawn faces on the packaging, large garden ornaments with us, enhanced our return home experience both getting them on the ‘bus’ and through the airports. The airport security, customs and agricultural protection people were amused and interested as they manhandled the ‘ants’ through the x-ray machines. Just checking that we weren’t importing any ‘naughty stuff’ inside them. Nothing untoward was found, so we proceeded home with our trophies. A thoroughly enjoyable and absorbing, event filled holiday and wedding experience on an attractive and unspoiled tropical venue. There are lots more exciting things to see and do on this group of islands but they will all have to wait for another opportunity on our next visit. I hope that it will be reasonably soon.

Postscript:

Before I finish I thought you would be interested in some details and a bit of translation on ‘Bislama’ the pigeon English language that is the universal language of the Islanders. As I said at the start it is spoken extremely rapidly and is hard to follow but there are many instances where it is written down, in street advertising, as instructional notices and on cards in shops windows for private sales, work requests and other personal notices.

Here are a few examples. ‘Yew wantum ferry, you kilim gong’, this is fairly obviously - ‘If you want the ferry you hit or bang the metal tube with the stick provided’. Other ones are not so obvious. A few words in Bislama - Smol tok tok blong Bislama. Bislama is said to be the easiest language in the world. Some see it as a possible world language: wolwontok - world one talk.... The grammar, idioms, and some of the vocabulary come from the local Vanuatu languages.

Blong is one of the most used words in Bislama meaning ownership. The word blong is related to the English word belong. In Bislama, however, it is one syllable with no vowel after the b. In everyday conversation, blong is often shortened to blo (pronounced blow), and one would say, for example, "Mi kam blo harem nuis" (I've come to hear the news). In formal speech or in writing, however, the whole word blong is used.

“haos blong jif" (the chief's house)
"sora blong mi" (my ear)
"pispis blong rat" (rat's piddle - very light rain)
"haos blong longtaem" (house of long time - an old house)
"man blong giaman" (person of lies, a liar)
"traoses blong naentin wan" (trousers of 1901 - old fashioned trousers)
"kakae blong lafet" (food for the party)
"sidaon blong wokem mat" (sit down to weave a mat)
"go long stoa finis blong karem bred" (went to the shop to get bread)
"kam blong luk yu" (come to see you)
"yu kilim mi blong wanem?" (you hit me for what? - why did you hit me?)
"tanku tumas blong advaes blong yu" (Thanks very much for your advice).
A pretty simple language, but it's simplicity is also what gives it its eccentricity and charm… for example: His Royal Highness, Prince Charles is known as - nambawan pikinini blong Missus Kwin… a super supreme pizza will come with evri samting…a bra is - basket blong titi…a piano is - black fala box we igat black teeth, hemi gat white teeth you faetem hard I singout…a violin - wan smol box blong white man, oli scratchem beli I singout gudfala…A saw - Pulem I kam, pushem I go, wood I fall down…A helicopter - mixmaster blong Jesus Christ

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