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.
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.
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.
It takes five nights and days to get to St Helena Island, in the South Atlantic Ocean. It is a retro reminder of what ship travel was like in the 1950s, with deck shuffle:
Swimming in the salt water pool:
And of course there are romantic tropical sunsets:
Five course meals are served in two sittings. This particular trip is special, with nearly thirty French pilgrims, travelling to St Helena for the bicentenary of Napoleon’s exile to the island:
Here they stand to attention to sing the Marseillaise. We also had to dress formally for drinks with the captain, and had the opportunity to dress up for a creative hat competition. Marijke is an ostrich!
With 130 passengers, you could usually find a spot to relax, or socialise, according to preference.
The highlight of the cruise is day five, when we wake to the sight of the volcanic cliffs of St Helena rising foreboding from the Atlantic ocean. We can begin to understand how Napoleon must have felt.
Yesterday afternoon we boarded the Royal Mail Ship St Helena, bound for this remote island in the South Atlantic Ocean. This is to be one of its last voyages, as the ship is to be decommissioned next August. The opening of St Helena’s airport in February means that the passenger part of the ship’s service will no longer be required.
After the usual safety briefing, we settled down to a five-course feast in the dining room. By the time we finished, the Atlantic was rolling the ship about and many of us retired discreetly to check out the effectiveness of our seasickness remedies.
This morning, after a cooked breakfast, a few lucky volunteers were treated to a tour of the ship’s bridge with its navigational equipment. Since the Costa Concordia rang aground in Italy, procedures on the bridge have been upgraded and now two ship’s officers are on duty at any time.
The passengers are a friendly bunch and include twenty-seven French Napoleonic enthusiasts making the journey for the bicentenary of Napoleon’s exile to St Helena. As are we. Others are coming to set up the essential requirements of the new airport and harbour: fuel, air traffic control and security. Then there are some St Helenians returning home and South African holiday-makers. It all makes for some interesting conversation in two languages.
Tonight we dress formally for a cocktail party hosted by the captain.
(Written 3 October but not posted till 21 October due to high data costs on RMS and St Helena!)
Our flight arrived at 4:15am and most services were closed. We’ve found our on-flight details but the check-in desk didn’t open till 6:30am. We had a second breakfast at the airport around 7am with a another couple who were also on their way to Kruger. Breakfast on the plane had been served around 2am South African time. The airport wifi doesn’t include enough free data to enable me to upload the phot, so this will be posted retrospectively. Waiting.