Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown is a tourist town with preference for tourists with money to burn. Nearly everything costs and is more dear than it should be, which is how it is in tourist towns. The town sits at the elbow of glacially-formed Lake Wakatipu, which has an interesting Z shape viewed from above. We may view it from above when we leave tomorrow from the Queenstown airport.

The main activities in addition to shopping, eating and hotels in Queenstown involve action sports such as skiing and bungie jumping. There’s a gondola car system to the top of the large hill behind the town where you can take in the views but also race around on a luge in a wooden cart. And there are theme tours such as Lord of the Ring tours. The town didn’t start this way. In 1860 a man named Rees and another named von Tunzelmann started sheep stations in the area. A few years later, there was the mid-60’s gold rush and Rees turned his sheering shed into a hotel, bending to twig that shaped the tree.

The town now boasts the most expensive real estate in New Zealand due to scarcity of land for development and appeal to foreign investors.

One of my fellow travelers and I went tramping (hiking) in the botanical garden called Queenstown Garden, with an additional excursion through the shopping areas. The Garden was established in 1867, with the usual intent to test which European and North American species of trees could be challenged to grow in the area for commercial purposes. Thus there are many very large non-native trees such as Douglas fir and Sitka pines. The setting is beautiful, on a peninsula extending into Lake Wakatipu, with views toward Cecil Peak, Walter Peak and the group of mountains where the ski hills are, called the Remarkables.

Cecil Peak from the Lake Wakatipu wharf, Queensland, New Zealand

The park trails are easy walking, surfaced partly in asphalt and partly in gravel. It is getting cool here in the South, with morning temperatures in the 40s F and highs of about 55F today, with sun and clouds. It’s colder when it’s raining, which it does often at this time of year.

Queenstown Garden pathway

Wellington Botanic Garden and the City to Sea bridge

The Wellington Botanic Garden and the City to Sea pedestrian bridge are two nearly free places to visit in Wellington. Actually, if you don’t care to walk up a very steep hill, then the best way to reach the Wellington Botanic Garden from the central business district is by cable car. It will cost you $5 one way, but hey, the view at the top of the hill is spectacular (well worth $5), and the hill is Really Steep.

Wellington Harbor from the terminus of the cable car

The walk down the hill on which the Botanic Garden is perched is steep, tranquil and very green. There are many sections to the garden, including a fern garden, a succulent garden, a rose garden, and sections devoted to native plants. And if you follow the Orange Path through the garden, you will go through the Old Burial Ground, which has some very interesting monuments, including a naked guy right at the top of the hill.

Harry was the leader of the New Zealand Labor party, and a businessman and the owner of a newspaper. Which explains nothing at all about this nude guy.

The original purpose of the garden when it was started in 1868 was to serve as a trial garden to test out imported plants to see whether they could be grown as crops in New Zealand. Thus the garden began with plantings of conifers.

I wish I could tell you the botanical or even common names of the plants above, but there are no labels or identifying signs.

The photo above is of the Peace Garden, with an eternal flame in the pagoda shaped ornament in the middle of the pond.

The City to Sea Bridge, seen across the Whairepo Lagoon, looks from some angles like a patched together bunch of old weathered wood. It is a sculpture acting as a platform for other sculptures and artworks, in addition to reconnecting people to their harbor.

Cairns Aquarium and Cairns Botanic Garden

It rained quite a bit yesterday and continued into the night. As a result, the ferry into the Daintree Rainforest was shut down due to high water. The Rainforest was to be today’s activity, and it had to be canceled. Instead we took a bus to Cairns (which is pronounced without an R in it, so it sounds like Cans or Canes, depending on the Aussie dialect of the speaker.) Cairns has a new aquarium, less than 2 years old, that focuses on the aquatic life of the Great Barrier Reef. This fit well with yesterday’s reef visit because it gave us a chance to see the corals and fish that we were not able to see when snorkeling in the murky water.  

The aquarium has two floors of large and small tanks, including on the ground floor an “oceanarium” which is a very large tank that the observer walks through into a circular atrium and through a tunnel where fish including sharks and rays can pass overhead. The dark purple fish at the top is a red tooth trigger fish. The purple color of the coral and fish in the bottom photo are the effects of artificial lighting in the aquarium.

There is a bright orange hermit-type crab in the upper left that has taken over an empty shell. Several kinds of lobsters were on exhibit, multi-colored and oddly well camouflaged given their size. There were a number of Nemos (clownfish) in the flowing arms of the anemone, mesmerizing to watch as the fish swirled in and out and the current played across the anemone.

Lionfish are native to this area, and there’s a tank of at least 10 of the spotted tail type. Also there is a tank containing a couple of saltwater crocodiles. These are found in the river estuaries and can be fairly dangerous to people and other animals if you get into their territory.

Cairns Botanic Garden, Parasol palm and bird’s nest fern

After the aquarium, we visited the Cairns Botanic Garden for lunch and then walked in the gardens. The plants that are growing outdoors in this garden are the same plants as those growing indoors in the conservatory houses of my local botanical garden, Brookside Gardens. The conservatory in the Cairns garden included orchids, carnivorous plants, exotic ferns and butterflies.

The orchids in the conservatory are grown in small hanging planters with exposed roots. The carnivorous pitcher plant is also being grown as a hanging specimen.

There is a ‘river’ water feature, a ‘forest’ of tall trees, and a pond of water lilies:

What’s not to like about a water lily?

I’m closing with a picture of a heliconia, just because it is pretty.

Melbourne: Royal Botanic Gardens, a Welcome to Country smoking ceremony, and Hosier Lane graffiti

Today we met to board our bus shortly before 8:30AM. We went to the Royal Botanic Gardens and met a guide named Jakobi who took us on an Aboriginal Heritage Walk and had us participate in a Welcome to Country smoking ceremony, which involved burning leaves and herbs. Jakobi explained the First Peoples’ use of several trees, flowers, seed pods, and plants. Then our guide took us off to the side and discussed the history of persecution of the Aboriginal peoples by the British, and the legal status problems and prejudice that are present now. This will be a theme of the tour.

When Captain Cook grounded his ship on the Great Barrier Reef, the Aboriginal people living in the area helped him fix the ship so he could return to Britain. When he reached Britain, he reported that Australia was uninhabited by any people. The Aboriginal people were classified under the Flora and Fauna Act until 1967. That’s not a typo.

The flag of the First People

I realize there are a lot of “but’s”, and “wait’s” and “however’s” and that I am a North American, and we treated our First Peoples horrifically as well. That’s not the point. I am telling you about this because there is a lot of palpable tension in Australia about this issue, and because I hear about it as well as other issues of racism and xenophobia frequently. The murders in the mosques in New Zealand have added tinder to these tensions.

The Botanic Gardens are beautiful, with an interesting mix of native and imported specimens. There were some spectacular beds of succulents. The Aboriginal guide showed us an interesting variety of banksia that has seedpods that are used for transporting fire. The inner core of the pod smolders for hours while the outer case of the seedpod remains uncharred. There is a picture of one of those seedpods above, and several succulents below.

We had lunch at the Abbotsford Convent Bakery, which has woodfired ovens build in 1901 for the Good Shepherd sisters whose convent it was, and who started a finishing school for girls because the bishop told them to, even though they were not an “education order”.  The food was very good and there was far too much of it.

After lunch and a short walk, we were taken to Hosier Lane in the central business district. Hosier Lane is a side street painted with graffiti from Wellington Parade to Collins Street. It is legal graffiti, encouraged by the city council, which paints the lane dark grey every so often so the graffiti artists can begin anew. This is not the only graffiti street in Melbourne but is the most well-known. Melbourne has a reputation for interesting street art including not just graffiti but sculpture, carvings, and yarn-bombings. We walked back to the hotel from Hosier Lane (via a pub) and for dinner, 8 of us went to the Duke of Wellington, walking down to the CDB again. I walked back to the hotel from the Duke and came out with a total of 17,500 steps for the day.

One of our members is leaving the group on Monday. He misjudged how much activity he could handle. There is a lot of walking every day, 3 to 5 miles, and lots of travel within each country.

Barlings Beach, the South Coast Beaches, Kangaroos

This is the catch-up posting for the weekend, covered by several Daily Emails. There was not enough bandwidth available to write a blog.

On Friday, March 8th, we left Goulburn for Barlings Beach on the South Coast, south of Sydney, about directly east of Canberra. Ron and Jenny have a caravan permanently parked at a holiday park there.

The caravan park, which includes about 200 lots for permanently parked caravans, temporary rentals, and some cabins, is a relaxed, easy-going setting where children race up and down the gravel streets on their bikes and multiple generations of families have caravan lots and share Easter and Christmas holidays. The beaches are beautiful, too.

Saturday morning (March 9th) it rained, and we went for a drive from Barlings Beach to other beaches on the South Coast. There are many holiday parks for permanent and temporary caravans (RVs and camper trailers, in US terminology), time-shares, rentals, cabins/cottages (some very elaborate), retirement homes and nursing care facilities. The area attracts people who like to fish, surf, and sail as well as to simply relax, on and off the beach. The scenery along the shorelines and river mouths is spectacular. The beaches we visited were Mossy Point, South Broulee, Moruya and Moruya Heads.

On the way home from Moruya we visited a friend, Alice, who is a charming, energetic Moruya gardener. We drove up to find her wheeling about a barrow full of prunings; she was putting the garden to bed after a difficult (unusually dry) season. She has a fish pond populated with beautify orange and black koi;  beds of succulents and pink lady lilies; lemon and other citrus trees; beds of delicious smelling nasturtiums; lovely weed-free lawns; and those are just a few highlights.

Sunday (today, March 10) we headed back to Goulburn, but by driving along the South Coast, seeing more beaches and a small communities. The major highlights of the day were the kangaroos at Murramarang National Park, and the blowhole at Kiama bay, and with many beautiful beaches between.

These kangaroos are probably the Eastern Grey variety. We found them resting in the shade of some pine trees, some nibbling on grass, some sleeping, most not particularly interested in the people looking at them or the young children approaching them. I found them fascinating and would have watched them for hours. To see an animal use its tail as a leg – what could be cooler?

Among other bays, lakes and beaches, we stopped at Huskisson, Jervis Bay, and Kiama Bay, and saw promenades of Norfolk Island pines, huge white pelicans, and flocks of cockatiels.

The blowhole at Kiama was very busy with tourists since this weekend is a long weekend for people from the Canberra area. They have Monday as a holiday because it is Canberra Day.

The blowhole is within a lava field of basalt, and when the sea conditions are correct, can blow a geyser-like fountain as high as 25 meters. We didn’t witness those extreme conditions today, but it was still quite impressive.

St Vincent and the Grenadines

Kingston Bay, St Vincent

We arrived at about 7:30 AM, Wednesday, January 9, 2019, at Kingston, St Vincent, on the Celebrity Summit, docking at the Kingston Cruise Terminal next to the Grenadines ferry docks.

St Vincent is an island in the Windward Islands archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. It is the largest island in the country of St Vincent and the Grenadines and has a population of about 100,000 people. All the Vincentians we met were friendly, kind and helpful – especially those who had us figured as having lost our way as we hiked around.

The island consists of the tops of volcanoes, one of which, La Soufriere, is active, most recently erupting in 1979. The entire island is very rugged, with little flat terrain. Kingston is built up into rocky valleys, with colorful houses and shops clinging to the hillsides.

Christopher Columbus and his gang “discovered” St Vincent in 1498, naming it for St Vincent of Sarragossa, on whose feast day he reportedly “conquered” the island for Spain. Before that, the indigenous Caribs called the island Hairouna. The Spanish didn’t settle the island but did engage in human trafficking of the Caribs to be used as slave labor.

Understandably, the Caribs actively discouraged Europeans from settling on their island and were successful in that endeavor until the 18th century when the French established plantations to grow coffee, tobacco, indigo, corn, and sugar, using African slaves as manpower. The first French colony was established in 1719.

The British received St Vincent in the Treaty of Paris in 1763, and immediately got into conflicts with the Caribs, leading first to the First Carib War and second to the building of Fort Charlotte. The French took the island back in 1779 in a series of island-grabbing actions related to the American War for Independence from Britain. The French held St Vincent until the British got it back in 1783 through the Treaty of Versailles. Enslaved Africans escaped from both French and British plantations or from shipwrecks into the interiors of St Vincent. The African were welcomed into the Carib communities, at least until the mostly-male Africans started stealing Carib women for wives. African Carib communities were established.

Following the Treaty of Versailles, the Black Carib community, encouraged by the French, fought back against British control, but were defeated several times. The British exiled 5000 Black Caribs (now known as Garifuna) to a tiny island off Bequia called Baliceaux, and later another 5000 to Roatan, an island near Honduras. The British built a military installation on St Vincent called Fort Charlotte having the primary purpose to protect British holdings against the Black Caribs, but also to keep back the French by holding the island until the British Navy could respond.

This was our first visit to St Vincent, so our introductory excursion was a self-guided hike to the Botanical Garden followed by a taxi ride to Fort Charlotte. The island topography consists of volcano tops so the walk to the gardens was completely uphill, through neighborhoods with meager but colorful housing and services. The photo below is a street scene from Kingston.

Kingston street scene

The Botanical Gardens of St Vincent and the Grenadines were established in 1765 by General Robert Melville, who was the (British) Governor-in-Chief of the Windward Federation at that time. In the 18th century, introducing collected plants from other parts of the world was a competitive sport, with prizes and fame offered by the Royal Society of London. George Young, the Principal Medical Officer on St Vincent, became the first curator of the Garden, and remained the curator even under the intermittent French rule. The building called the Curator’s house is a curious gingerbread structure with signs that praise the wonders of breadfruit.

Botanical Gardens, Curator’s House

The garden’s collection has been extended over the years by such notables as Captain William Bligh, who brought the breadfruit plant and something called the breadnut. Nutmeg and black pepper plants were introduced to the gardens by other British naval officers.

Workers and Visitors

The garden is cared for but there are few labels on specimens and no map. The garden’s tour guides don’t know a lot about its history but make an effort to show you the wedding venue and let you know which tree is the banyan. There is a glass house called the nursery that has a few plants, mostly begonias, sansevieria (mother-in-law tongue or snake plant), and some euphorbia milii (crown of thorns) being rooted in rough conditions. Near the nursery building there are several open air cages where the island’s special variety of parrot is being bred in captivity. The begonia cutting rooted in a bag below has a very attractive weed growing with it.

Begonia cutting with weed

There are two cannonball trees in the Garden, which have quite interesting flowers. These trees are native to South America and related to Brazil nut trees. The tree was in flower at the time we visited, and no seeds were on display. Reportedly, they look like rusty cannonballs 8 inches in diameter. The shell of the seed is used to make things, but the pulp, although edible, is smelly, so not eaten by people but fed to livestock.

Cannonball tree, flower and buds

Leaving the garden, we took a taxi to Fort Charlotte. This fort was built by the British, as noted above, started in 1763 and completed in 1806. It was defended by as many as 600 troops and 34 cannons against the French, the Caribs, and slave in rebellion. The fort was named after Queen Charlotte of Britain and Ireland (1744-1818), the wife of King George III.

To reach the entrance to the fort you climb a steep drive. The blue building seen above the gate shown below is the Fort Charlotte Light, currently in operation, watching over traffic in Kingston harbor.

Fort Charlotte, entrance

The walls of the fort consist of blocks cut from pyroclastic volcanic rock.

Volcanic blocks

In recent times the fort was used as a leper colony, a poor house, a mental hospital, and a prison. The fort’s dry moat (shown below) was used as an exercise yard. One of the old barracks is set up as a rather general display about the history of the Black Caribs.

Fort Charlotte, dry moat

The photo below was taken beside the Fort Charlotte Light overlooking the harbor, which flashes a white light every 20 seconds. The Coastguard radio station is also housed in the lighthouse. The island of Bequia is in the background.