Magnificent Birds of the Kimberley

An extremely geographically diverse region, twice as large as Victoria, many bird-watching enthusiasts would regard the Kimberley as an absolute bird paradise. Almost one-third of Australia’s 900 or so species of birds can be seen at some time of the year in The Kimberley. The area boasts a remarkable diversity of habitats, from coastal and inland salt-pans to wetlands, from inter-tidal mangroves to rugged sandstone escarpments, and from eucalypt woodland to seabird islands. 

The convoluted coastline with a tidal range approaching 10m in places provides feeding and roosting areas for migratory shorebirds that breed in Siberia and spend the Spring and Summer in the region, such as Common Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Far Eastern Curlew. The diverse habitats in combination with the annual wet and dry seasons allow a rich bird fauna present in a relatively small area throughout the year. 

Even in the dry season, there is plenty of food for birds throughout the Kimberley. The seabird islands support nationally and internationally, significant breeding populations of Brown Booby, Roseate and Bridled Tern, Lesser Frigatebird and Common Noddy. Resident shorebird species such as Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers nest above the tide line, with Crested and Caspian Terns nesting close by.

The mangroves and river systems provide rich feeding areas for fish-eating birds such as Osprey, Brahminy Kite and White-bellied Sea-eagle, Striated Heron and Eastern Reef Egret. Azure and Collared Kingfishers are readily seen in mangroves throughout the region. Comb-crested Jacanas can be seen walking on river plants whilst feeding. Black-necked Storks and Australian Pelicans, Intermediate and Little Egrets are frequently seen around river edges.

Woodland areas support populations of Little Corella, Black Kite, Brown and White-throated Honeyeaters, Red-winged Parrot, Yellow Oriole, Figbird, Rainbow Bee-eater and Silver-crowned Friarbird.  White-quilled Rock-pigeon and Spinifex Pigeon are seen in the drier areas, as are Zebra, Double-barred and Gouldian Finches.

While some are unique to certain areas, many species can be found throughout the Kimberley. One of these is the spectacular Eastern Osprey, the ultimate predator along the Kimberley Coast skyline. When you visit we also suggest you keep an eye and an ear out for the Sacred Kingfisher with their distinctive calls. This region is also home to the Eastern Reef Egret and if you are lucky you may spot a dancing Brolga!

Ashmore Reef

Located on Australia’s North West Shelf, 610 kilometres north of Broome is Ashmore Reef. This incredible life-sustaining reef provides several marine habitats and species in and out of the ocean.

It is here you will find around 50,000 breeding pairs of various kinds of seabirds, including colonies of Bridled Terns, Common Noddies, Brown, Red-footed and Masked Boobies, Eastern Reef Egrets, Frigate birds, Tropicbirds, Roseate, Crested and Lesser Crested Terns.

The Rowley Shoals

Another stunning destination to observe birds is The Rowley Shoals, about 260 km northwest of Broome. The Rowley Shoals is a group of three atoll-like coral reefs on the edge of one of the widest continental shelves in the world. It is home to many ocean bids as well as a nesting site for the Red-Tailed Tropicbird, home to one of only two of Western Australia’s colonies, and the rare, newly discovered White-tailed Tropicbirds.

Other beautiful species found at Rowley Shoals include the Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Brown Booby, Eastern Reef-egret, White-breasted Sea Eagle, Ruddy Turnstone, Large Sand Plover, Crested And Sooty Terns And The White-throated Needletail.

Browse Island

Browse Island also is a spectacular destination to observe breeding seabirds and migratory shorebirds including the Brown Booby, Frigate Bird And Eastern Reef Egret.

As the Kimberley is so extensive, it’s important to keep in mind that many species migrate or are nomadic and move with the seasons, so if you are really keen on spotting a particular species you may need to do a lot more in-depth research.

If you have extra time and are feathered friend keen then we recommend you take a look at the Broome Bird Observatory in Roebuck Bay, a super passionate organisation dedicated to educating visitors about the birds that live and visit the area. 

Click here to find out more about our life-changing journey in 2020 with Ponant and National Geographic.

Thank you to Dr Eric Woehler for his insight and incredible knowledge.

The Enchantments of Japan

 

For several years now Cruise Express has been traveling throughout Japan, escorting hundreds of clients who have returned with cameras full of stunning imagery and minds full of unforgettable memories.

While Japan has increasingly become a bucket-list travel destination, our travel specialists are asked what the key attractions are for this somewhat mystical island nation. In no particular order, outlined below are a few of the sights and sounds our clients time and time again treasure:

Shrines & Temples

Two of the most common historical buildings you will find in Japan are temples and shrines, with over 2,000 in Kyoto alone, there are literally millions of different sizes and significance scattered throughout. They are not the same but what is the difference between the two?

Basically, temples are Buddhist, while shrines are Shinto. Temples have monks and often many Buddhist statues and sometimes have a graveyard attached on the site. Buddhism was originally brought from India to China during the Heian era, then spread throughout Japan.

Shrines are easy to identify as they generally have a large, often vermilion red sacred gate, standing in front of them.  Unlike Buddhism, Shintoism is indigenous to Japan, and is as old as Japan itself. It is believed that everything has a spirit, even stones, trees and mountains. It is believed there are millions of gods throughout Japan. Spirits of nature and ancestors are highly revered above all else.

A large number of wedding ceremonies are held in Shinto style. Death, however, is considered a source of impurity and is left to Buddhism to deal with. Consequently, there are virtually no Shinto cemeteries, and most funerals are held in Buddhist style.

Mount Fuji

No trip to Japan is complete without a visit to the country’s most symbolic geographical landmark, revered since ancient times, culturally, spiritually and physically. At 3,776 metres high, Mt Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan and a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site since 2013.

It’s not always easy to see this dormant volcano (no eruptions since 1707) though, as the weather and seasons can sometimes keep the mountain shrouded in clouds for days or weeks. While it seems that on average, early morning is the best visibility from Tokyo on a clear day (approximately 100km away) typically from autumn to winter – in particular, December and January are usually the best months for visibility.

Undoubtedly, Mt Fuji is the most popular tourist site in Japan, for both foreigners and Japanese, particularly in springtime when cherry blossoms frame the snowy mountain in full bloom shades of pinks and whites.

Upwards of 300,000 people every year embark on what many call a gruelling eight-hour climb to the summit, but the achievement and stunning sunrises are well worth it. It is often regarded as a sacred pilgrimage to summit the mountain with thousands of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples along the way. Naturally, these climbs are usually done in the warmer months particularly between July and August, with lots of ‘huts’ to rest and refresh, so if a good hike is on your agenda then this may be the perfect destination for you!

Sumo Wrestling

Sumo is Japan’s national sport and the only country in the world where it is practiced professionally. Although many consider it a modern form of martial art, this unique style of wrestling (men only in competition and ceremonies) actually originated as a Shinto religious ritual over 1,500 years ago to ensure a bountiful harvest and to honour the spirits – known as kami.

It is considered a trial of strength in combat and the rules, although having changed throughout history, are relatively simple. The first wrestler who has any part of his body touching the ground (soles of feet excluded),  thrown to the ground or who steps out of the ring, is defeated – game over – many matches only last for a handful of seconds!

Most of us are curious as to why Sumo wrestlers are so ‘fat’ – can’t be healthy surely? In fact, the early wrestlers were more wiry and muscular than today. This has occurred only in the 20th century since there are no weight divisions in professional sumo, every wrestler wants to be as big as they can be to use their weight in the ring.

These tournaments really do sell out quickly so please ensure you buy your tickets before you leave home unless you are on a Cruise Express escorted tour as this will be managed for you.

Cherry Blossom Time

Every spring in Japan the country comes alive in clouds of delicate pink and white as cherry trees blossom with new life – The Sakura Season – a truly symbolic image of this island nation.

The cherry blossom season is undoubtedly the highlight of the Japanese calendar and has been celebrated for hundreds of years. In addition to innovation, neon lights and sushi, the Japanese have long been known as leaders of cherry blossom appreciation.

It is really hard to predict when they will open and be at full bloom as it really is weather dependent – that week fluctuation of earlier or later is impossible to guess. Fortunately, geographical location is a reliable factor in determining blossom-time. The south always begins a lot earlier, often in January, while in the very north, it can be as late as May!

At the end of the day, picking the exact time to see cherry blossoms is not easy or guaranteed, particularly on a short trip. To avoid disappointment, we recommend you plan your holiday around so many other fabulous things Japan has to offer, and if you happen to time the blossoms right then consider it a wonderful bonus!

Shinkansen Bullet Trains

Shinkansen, translated to “New Trunkline” and quickly dubbed globally as the “Bullet Train” for obvious reasons, was originally built and operated by government-owned Japanese National Railways in 1964 and has been part of the Japan Railways Group since 1987.

The first 515km section of the original line between Tokyo and Osaka was opened in 1964, just before the start of the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games. The many innovations including kilometre long welded sections of track and prestressed concrete ties were internationally acclaimed.

Although very expensive, one incredible invention has been ‘Maglev’, a railway based on magnetic levitation. Electromagnets levitate the train slightly above the tracks and without the friction of typical rail, it’s these magnets that create the thrust that moves the train.

Interestingly, the initial concept pre-WWII was to run lines to Beijing, a tunnel to Korea and Singapore, and build connections to the Trans-Siberian Railway and other lines throughout Asia. Due to the worsening of Japan’s position in 1943, these plans were abandoned.

What did continue to develop was 2,765km of railway throughout Japan connecting distant towns, islands and cities to the capital to promote growth and development. Since inception, and now with speeds up to 320km per hour, the Shinkansen has carried over 10 billion passengers and there has never been a fatality due to a train accident such as a collision or derailment, despite all the typhoons and earthquakes Japan endures.

Sushi Making

Last but not least, what’s a visit to Japan without a class in how to make sushi. This is always a hit with Cruise Express clients, even those that don’t eat sushi have a great time, learn new skills to take home to impress family and friends, but most importantly have a lot of laughs. Ask about gold leaf painting classes too!

Click here to find out more about our 2020 escorted holiday to Japan that is selling fast!

A Little Rail with a Big History!

Spectacularly Australian

Although we are relatively young, Australia is full of rich diversity and intriguing history, and our railways are a testimony to that!

Here are some interesting facts about what was happening in Australia in 1907:

  • NSW Rugby Football League was formed in Sydney, introducing League to Australia for the first time
  • The first telephone call was made between Sydney and Melbourne
  • The first Australian exhibition of art by women was held in Melbourne
  • Edward VII was on the throne and Alfred Deakin was Prime Minister
  • The Bondi Surf Lifesaving Club was formed
  • Traveling to London took 5-6 weeks one way
  • And, the Victorian Railways A2 Class steam locomotive was introduced (see photo below)!

A few other key dates for Australian railway history buffs are outlined below:

1907 – ‘Yarra’ Parlor Car

Built in 1907 for the Sydney or Melbourne Express, this is one of two cars built for the service where first class passengers paid extra to be seated in the Parlor Car. The car has an observation balcony at one end, a large lounge and two compartments.

Placed in storage in 1937 until the late 60s this car is a rare and spectacular survivor.

 

1907 – Locomotive A2 986

Entering service in 1907, A2 986 is the sole operable survivor of 125 locomotives in the class. For over forty years, the A2 class was the main express passenger locomotive on the Victorian Railways, hauling intrastate and interstate services.  

A2 986, was withdrawn on 2 December 1963. Put on display in a park in Warragul it was rescued in the mid-80s and taken to Newport for restoration – a process that took nearly 30 years!

Today, this former express locomotive is back in top form and ready to take Cruise Express passengers travelling on The Rail Spectacular in July 2019, for a full day of steam hauled fun. On this tour, the A2 986 will become the first A2 class in over 56 years to haul by itself between Ballarat and Melbourne via Bacchus Marsh.

 

1912 – State Car 4

Built in 1912, State Car 4 was based on the then state of the art wooden E type carriage design. It features an observation balcony at one end, Governors and Ladies bedrooms, dining room, kitchen, Gents and Ladies bathrooms and accommodation for Ladies in Waiting and other support staff.

Ride in a car that has literally been used by royalty!

The Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth), on the balcony of State Car 4 in 1927.

1956 – Locomotive 4204

Based on an American design, the 42 class entered service in NSW in 1956 as the first ‘streamlined’ locomotives in the state. Hauling well-known passenger trains of the time including the ‘Brisbane Limited’ and ‘Intercapital Daylight’, by the late 70s they had been superseded by more modern and powerful locomotives.

The 4204 was withdrawn in 1983 and entered preservation with Lachlan Valley Railway. One of two remaining in service, this locomotive represents a long-gone era when style mattered and everyone travelled by train.

If you are interested in experiencing any and all of these locomotives and carriages, Cruise Express runs steam and diesel Heritage Rail (& Sail) journeys throughout Australia throughout the year. If you are lucky you will have the opportunity to visit heritage rail yards where you can go behind the scenes and meet the volunteers who dedicate countless hours to keep these remarkable trains going – for our pleasure!

Click here for more information about this tour.

 

Japan in Full Bloom

Lasting for only a week or two, every spring with clear blue skies, Japan comes alive in clouds of delicate pink and white as cherry trees blossom with new life – Sakura – a truly symbolic image of this island nation and a dream destination for any photographer. We love the cherry blossoms of Japan!

The cherry blossom season is undoubtedly the highlight of the Japanese calendar and has been celebrated for hundreds of years. In addition to innovation, neon lights and sushi, the Japanese have long been known as leaders of cherry blossom appreciation.

Japan Cherry Blossoms

Increasingly, the people of Japan celebrate this beautiful change of seasons with cherry blossom (and also pretty but to a lesser extent, plum blossoms) appreciation parties, picnics and even street festivals called ‘Hanami’ (flower viewing). Families and friends get together in these blossoming gardens to stop and reflect on the beauty of life and its changing nature. This is not a new tradition, there are records dating back to the eighth century of imperial courtiers celebrating with picnics and poetry.

Japan Cherry Blossoms

So, when is the best time to see Sakura in full-bloom? While the temperatures coming out of winter is a factor, the geographical location is key to determining blossom-time.  In the north, this can be as late as May while in the south of Okinawa, it can open as early as January! Typically for the rest of the country including Osaka, Hiroshima and Kyoto, very late March to early April is a safe bet to see mother nature at her utmost prettiest!

We love ‘Hanami’ (flower viewing) in so many areas of Japan including Tokyo and Osaka, as well as Mt Fuji and her Five Lakes, yet one of the most outstanding has to be Hiroshima, a city that quietly demands reflection and appreciation. With hundreds of shrines and temples, Kyoto is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and is also a truly magical destination during the cherry blossom season.

Japan Cherry Blossoms

Truly steeped in culture and tradition, Japan is increasingly a popular tourist destination. If you are planning on visiting this stunning nation, there is of course much more to see and do other than the cherry blossoms, depending on what time of the year you plan to visit. We love the ski fields of Hokkaido or Honshu, Onsens, snow monkeys in Nagano, sumo wrestlers, sushi making classes, tea ceremonies, Shinkansen bullet trains and of course the countless shrines and palaces.

To join one of our fully escorted tours to Japan please call 1300 766 537 or click here.

To see more photos of one of our recent 2019 tours, please click here.

Japan Cherry Blossoms

Benefits of Cruising with Friends

As the old saying goes, we can’t choose our family but we can choose our friends – and let’s face it, everything’s better with friends – they get us (and forgive us)!

On a cruise holiday, your friends are there to share when you order everything on the main menu, they are on your team for trivia, your dance and silent disco partners, as well as backup singers for karaoke.

Cruising with friends is not just the basis for a wonderful time, they keep us in a holiday mindset and together, you’ll create memories to talk about for decades to come.

The Best of Everything

The best thing about cruising is that it offers something for everyone, and you don’t have to do everything together all the time. On your days at sea, or in port you could go in different directions, and still meet up for a cocktail and dinner in the evening, and then explore the shows and nightlife.

Less Organising

Depending on the type of cruise, duration and number of friends you are travelling with, a cruise holiday overall requires less organising, so no-one has to be the coordinator!

Although specialty dining, dining times, and shore or self-tours are something you may want to consider planning before you go so as to avoid any issues onboard, particularly if you are with a large group, numbers may be tricky to book for at the last minute. Your trusty cruise specialist travel agent (i.e. us!) can help with this.

You have a Security Blanket if Cruising Makes you Nervous

Having a friend to help keep you calm or make you laugh when the waves are rocking the boat a little too much is priceless.

If you are away on a longer trip, having a friend or two can help feelings of being homesick. Not only do they get you, but they’ll also get your ‘Aussieness’, and most importantly, understand why you miss Vegemite!

Your Kids have BYO Friends

If you are traveling with other families, the kids usually know each other and are hopefully on good terms. Depending on the age of the children and your need for a little time-out, there can often be no need for kids clubs when they have friends from home to hang out with.

Ring in the Holiday Festivities

A cruise with friends can be so much more than a relaxing (or partying) trip to the islands. Festivities from across many cultures and continents are celebrated onboard most cruise lines, including Valentine’s Day, Sunday Super Bowl, Dr Suess’ Birthday, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and even Cinco de Mayo.

Don’t forget your fancy dress outfit if you are really planning on getting into it!

Love of Themed Cruising

Increasingly popular are an almost countless number of ‘themed’ cruises being offered on the high seas. If you have friends who have the same interest as you, this may be a great option for you to consider.

Themed cruise holidays range from food and wine appreciation to rock, operatic and country music cruises, holistic/wellness, yoga, astronomy, political, religious, LGBT, golf, history, gardening, poker, crochet, fashion, fitness, and sci-fi themed (to name a few). There are even nude cruises!

Plan Well to Avoid Pitfalls

While travelling with friends (or family) with no one having to cook, clean or think too much, can seem like a great idea, we do recommend a few things so that this isn’t the first or last one you have together. Before you go, please consider:

  • Differences – interests, budgets, travel style, ability and fitness/energy levels.
  • Be True to You – don’t feel you have to do what everyone in your group is doing, it is your holiday so if you want to sleep, dance, be lazy, hit the gym – just do it! Perhaps discuss this up front.
  • Appointing a Leader – it’s great to appoint someone who is happy to wear the co-ordinator hat, research pricing for the cruise and shore tours and basically communicate it all to the group. Use What’s App!
  • Planning Ahead – we mentioned this earlier if it is a large group you will have a hard time getting the ship or cabin you may want, dinner reservations, shore tours etc.
  • Staying an Extra Night – if you are traveling from interstate or overseas, don’t book your flight to or from the ship on the same day as embarkation/disembarkation, anything can and does happen with travel and you may literally miss the boat!