Riverside meanders

 The common thread today was the floodplain of the Murray River, where the red gums towered majestically in unusual shapes, depending on the way the floodwaters had shaped them. Sunlight filtered and gleamed on the trunks.  
The township of Tocumwal had been bypassed by passenger trains but the Lions members served us a classic morning tea in the station staff room. Meanwhile, a modern diesel locomotive engine stood ready to cart containers across the river and down to Port Melbourne.   
Rainbow bee eaters fluttered high in the red gums, catching insects. Three paused briefly on a branch and I managed to zoom in on their vivid colours.

 

From a bird hide on Quinn Island, we observed a friar bird attending to its nest, suspended in the shape of a Viking ship and tastefully decorated with blue twine.

  
Further upstream, we came upon a narrow bridge with a three-tonne load limit. David assured me that the Prado weighs only two tonnes, so we were all right. We carefully eased the 4WD over the wobbly planks to the other side.

   
It was the first day of the fishing season and fishers in little tinnies were trying their luck for Murray cod.

 

Kookaburras kept an eye out for edible movement. A platypus wriggled its flat tail in the snags near the riverbank, but I wasn’t quick enough to capture them on record. All about was spring activity.

Foodies’ delight on Cobram Farm Gate Trail

A farm gate visit to three properties near Cobram provided some tasty Christmas presents. First stop was Cobrawonga Estate and Nursery, where we sampled Luke’s native plum jam and wild bush dukkah and toured a dry country garden with a creek running down the centre.

   
 
The owner’s wife had rag-doll cats, which were cute and laid back.

  
Next stop was Byramine Homestead, one of the oldest homesteads in Victoria, built by Elizabeth Hume (sister-in-law of the celebrated explorer) in about 1840.

  
They served a delicious lunch.

  
Then it was on to Rich Glen Olives, which gave us an insight into the diversity of products which can be made with olive oil, including beauty products. Being with Red Hill Probus, we admired the painting of Red Hill that hung behind the counter.

  
They also stocked other local produce including a delicious soft Boosey Creek cheese. What better way to finish the day than a Monday night two-for-one deal for Diamond Club members at The Top Pub, founded 1897.

  

Turtle and Koala by Murray River at Cobram

  
A short-necked turtle ignored us as we tootled by, heading upstream on the paddle boat Cobba.

Riverboats don’t need a wooden helm these days. The skipper of the Cobba uses a remote control. A diesel engine drives a generator that powers each paddle wheel separately, so each paddle can be controlled independently, at different speeds or direction.

   

The Cobba paddle boat moored at beach on River Murray, Cobram. The Murray is Australia’s longest river system, defining some of the boundary between the states of Victoria and New South Wales and finally emptying into Bass Strait in South Australia.
 
A pleasant cruise from Cobram up the Murray River took us under a historic drawbridge, past houseboats, then alongside an island sanctuary where koalas looked down at us from red gums above century old post-and-rail fences.

   
Disused drawbridge on River Murray, built in the days of paddle steamers and sailing boats.

 
Koala in red gum on Quinn Island, now a sanctuary.

   
Houseboats moored at the anabranch at the end of Quinn Island.

 
Post-and-rail fence from early twentieth Century stands above eroded bank of Murray River on Quinn Island.

Capetown photo montage

 
African penguin glistens as it emerges from the sea at Boulders, Table Mountain National Park.

  
Kirstenbosch national botanical garden lights up with spring protea  display.   
 

Street performers entertain bystanders at V&A Waterfront, Capetown.
 

To reach the Constantia wine region, take the Blue route of the City Sightseeing Tour then switch to the Purple route at this corner.

 

The cold Atlantic Ocean doesn’t discourage surfers on the beaches south of Capetown, under the watchful gaze of the Twelve Apostles (peaks).
   
The Cape of Good Hope is wild and windy!

 

Kirstenbosch gardens have developed the softly coloured Nelson Mandela Strelitzia.
  
Ostrich chicks parade along the cliff top near the Cape of Good Hope.

Life on the ocean wave tra-la

  
From the gym on the upper deck you can spin along on the exercise bike and feel as though you are riding over the sea. A petrel skims on the wake and someone claims to have sighted a whale spout, while below the shouts from those playing desk cricket.

Coming over from Capetown, the five day cruise was preliminary training for St Helenian life. The return journey serves as a debrief. Time seems to alternatively drag and fly. There are more Napoleonic lectures in French:

  
These concerned Cuba which Napoleon’s doctor, Antonmarchi visited after the Emperor’s death, a talk comparing the Zulu leader Shaka, Louise of Prussia and the life of Napoleon’s stepdaughter, Hortense, Queen of Holland. Prof Hicks gave a talk on Napoleon in English, which was appreciated by many passengers.

A countdown clock recorded the days until the RMS St Helena will be decommissioned.

  
On the last evening, in the lounge, the officer who had shared our table showed us his guitar which was made in Melbourne.

  
Finally we gathered on deck to watch Table Cape and our own shadows lined up on the wharf. We gathered our backpacks and waited with mixed feelings for our number group to be called so we could escape to the wider world. We will remember fondly one of the last voyages of the Royal Mail Ship St Helena.

  

St Helena farewell

  
We seven band of brothers gathered for the last time for our last cup of St Helenian coffee outside the Coffee Shop on the wharf. The five Aussies leaving and the Saint and adoptive Saint staying on another month were all sad. We had gradually bonded over the five days at sea, and that had strengthened as we discovered and rediscovered St Helena.

Even Napoleon came down to see us, the French and other passengers off.

  
The French were grieving for their Emperor’s exile and carried a wreath which they cast into the sea when they sailed out of the harbour.

  
As we passed through emigration, we farewelled Patsy and Philip one last time through the gate. Perhaps we’ll catch up with them in London one day – who knows?

  
From the RMS St Helena the daunting cliffs faded gradually and we rounded the Island. 

  
This time, as we rounded the island, we recognised the features, which have become familiar: Half Tree Hollow, Lot, Lots Wife, Diana’s Peak, the airport. Then Atlantic Ocean, two kilometres of it below us and one or two thousands of kilometres around. Yet emotionally we are still on St Helenian territory. The crew are mostly Saints and we have five days of Island discussions in two languages to look forward to.

Coffee with blogger – virtual world becomes reality

  
For a year I have been following Two years in the Atlantic, a blog by Paul Tyson. This morning he stepped out of the screen and met us for St Helenian coffee at the wharf, as usual, when the RMS is in port, the place was buzzing. We enjoyed a good chat and arranged to catch up that evening at Tasty Bites restaurant up on Half Tree Hollow.

Naval officers were wandering in white garb, having returned from a service at Napoleon’s Tomb. Disappointly, a naval march through town had been cancelled. Something to do with the scouts being unavailable. Everybody seemed to know except us. The bush telegraph works well on St Helena but you need to keep updating info by talking to locals.

As this is our last full day on St Helena, David and I climbed Jacob’s Ladder. If we were stiff the next day it wouldn’t matter as we could rest on the ship. The day was still and we had good views of the two naval ships and RMS St Helena anchored offshore. I carefully (it’s so steep) sat on a step halfway up to take a photo and on the way down, even dared to bend down to retrieve a beer bottle that someone had left behind the night before. I put it in my little backpack and put it in the bin at the bottom.

  
We then drove up Ladder Hill for some more sightseeing at High Knoll Fort, one of the many historic defence set-ups on the island, perched high on the hilltop.

  
I wanted to buy a commemorative T-shirt from Longwood House, so we dropped by. The French were hanging out on the back terrace but the gift shop was shut. Michel saw me and miraculously, Angela, the shop manager appeared and opened specially. 

We bought take-away hamburgers at Reggies and proceeded to Millenium Forest to meet Harry from the National Trust. We had agreed to help dig holes as the French were going to plant 200 endemic gumwoods for the Bicentenary. We managed quite a lot of holes and worked up a good sweat, when who should arrive but two minibuses of sailors from the naval ships to lend a hand. We retired to the visitors centre for a well-earned cuppa and the navy had almost finished planting by the time the French arrived!

   

That evening, Peter collected us as we’d returned the car, and drove us up Ladder Hill one last time. The gang of seven gathered for one last meal on the island. We met Paul Tyson and his family who were just leaving and had a cheery meal of island fish and chips.Peter and Bill left for the long drive to Farm Lodge and Philip drove we three from Fowlers plus Patsy back to his apartment, The Forge, where we chatted over coffee, sitting out on his verandah over.ooking a pretty moonlit garden where impatiens flourished.

Philip and Patsy walked us home as Philip does his emails after midnight at Patsy’s mother’s house. The internet is free after midnight for those with an account. It was the end of a good evening.