Taking a trip down under diversions union-bulletin.com west la college programs

And once safely back home in walla walla, trying to recollect and organize all of the faces and places has been something akin to reconstructing the shattered, scattered fragments of a dream you can’t quite grasp.

We were part of a group of 90-plus tourists led by retired whitman college geology professor bob carson and his wife, clare, along with johnna brown-cardenas and holly schneidmiller of world wide travel service.

Roughly half of us were from walla walla and most of the others had some connection to whitman college, including some of bob’s former students.

We departed walla walla on jan. 28 and flew to sydney by way of seattle and los angeles. The 14-hour flight from LAX to australia was an ordeal, but classy quantus airways made it at least bearable.

After spending our first day in sydney recuperating from our time-machine trip into the future, we traveled by coach the second day deep into australia’s version of the blue mountains, where we explored the jenolan caves.Wellington harbour these are spectacular limestone caverns that scientists estimate at 340 million years old and are said to be the oldest of their kind anywhere in the world.

The next day, we boarded the holland america cruise ship noordam — but not before we had the opportunity to tour the multi-venue sydney opera house and were treated to an unexpected surprise.

When we entered the largest of the building’s three auditoriums, we were greeted to the rapid-fire tinkling of ivory as a pianist worked his way through a series of exercises in preparation for an afternoon rehearsal. He greeted us with a friendly smile and we soon learned that his name was emanuel ax, a grammy-winning american classical pianist and a teacher at the juilliard school.

While even I could recognize ax’s exceptional skill, his name meant nothing to me and I said as much.Wellington harbour so steve woolley, a member of our group, put it in proper perspective for me.

“to put it in your realm,” steve said, “imagine coming across somebody with the talents of yogi berra and roger maris combined. That’s what we just witnessed.”

Once comfortably on board the noordam, we set sail for our next destination, melbourne, which was down around the corner near the southern tip of the island continent. While there, margaret and I took a trip into the bush where we saw koalas and kangaroos in the wild.

Not so the eastern grey kangaroo, which is australia’s second largest marsupial and commonly weighs up to 145 pounds and stands more than 6 feet tall.

To get near them, we had to carefully walk in a circular pattern several hundred yards across a grassy, roo poo-littered meadow that aussies call a paddock.Whitman college the kangaroos — they’re called a mob when found in groups — were hunkered down in the mid-day shade of scrub trees, and once our cameras started clicking they retreated deeper into the bush.

From melbourne we sailed across bass strait to the island of tasmania, where we first docked in burnie on the island’s north shore and then in hobart on the southeast coast. Getting from one port to the other required a full day at sea as we skirted the tasmanian coastline.

It was monday in that part of the southern hemisphere, but back home it was super bowl sunday. So many of us gathered in the several hundred-seat auditorium or around our stateroom tvs to watch the game and celebrate the unofficial U.S. National holiday.

Since my team, the vikings, had been eliminated two weeks earlier in the conference finals, I didn’t really have a horse in the race.Walla walla but it didn’t take me long to side with philadelphia, the team that ousted my team.

The eagles’ 41-33 victory over the patriots was sweet, and many of us agreed that it was one of the best super bowl games ever. Maybe it was just the exotic surroundings.

We experienced more wildlife encounters while in tasmania, this time in a controlled environment. We met wallabies and wombats and fed kangaroos by hand.

We did not, however, hand-feed the fierce little tasmanian devils who are known for their razor-sharp teeth, steel-trap jaws and appetites for fingers.

Most memorable was our stop in port arthur some 60 miles south of hobart, where we toured the remnants of a penal colony established by the british empire in the 18th century.

Likewise, we soaked in the solemnity of a verdant, vine-tangled rainforest as we trekked a narrow path to view majestic russell falls as it spilled 190 feet in the mount field national park an hour’s drive northwest of hobart.Walla walla

Our first stop was actually not a stop at all as we explored fiordland national park on the island’s far southwestern coast. The noordam took us in and out of milford sound, doubtful sound and dusky sound on an all-day excursion of spectacular beauty.

Our ship captain had told us that sailing into milford sound would be like entering jurassic park. And with towering, vegetation-covered cliffs and sparkling waterfalls on both sides of the ship the captain did not lie, even though there was not a single T-rex to be spotted.

From there we hop-scotched northbound up new zealand’s east coast and made shore excursions in dunedin, akaroa, picton, wellington, napier, tauranga and finally auckland, where we said goodbye to the noordam and went our separate ways. Several of us flew from auckland to tahiti and mostly relaxed for two days before flying back across the pacific to los angeles, then to seattle and finally, after 24 grueling hours, home sweet home.Walla walla

We toured the historic larnach castle high on the hills above otaga peninsula during our time in dunedin, communed with dolphins and little blue penguins while aboard a sailing ketch off the shores of tiny akaroa (population 624), and twice we visited maori communities and took part in welcoming ceremonies.

The maori are the indigenous polynesian people of new zealand who arrived by canoe some time between 1250 and 1300, presumably sailing thousands of miles across the south pacific from the islands of east polynesia.

The seals were interesting, but little did we know that the farm we were to tour was a wind farm, a configuration of 62 wind turbines located high atop steep ridges overlooking the city of wellington.

New zealand, I discovered, is actually two islands — north and south — separated by cook strait that connects the tasman sea and the south pacific ocean.Whitman college the strait, which is no more than 14 miles wide at its narrowest point, is a natural wind tunnel and is considered one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the world.

So if your are going to build a wind farm there’s no better place than wellington, which sits on the south coast of the north island and is in close competition for being recognized as the windiest city on earth. And on the way back to the ship that day, I noticed that wellington harbour was afroth with whitecaps.

This was bad news for me, since my afternoon plans called for a jog on the noordam’s uppermost deck where it could be breezy on the best of days. And sure enough, when I began my workout the ship’s flags were as taut as guitar strings in what I later learned were 40-to-50 mph winds.Whitman college

But as uncomfortable as I was running against that wind — and with it at my back, for that matter — there were eight members of our group who were a whole lot more uncomfortable. Some of them, in fact, found themselves in a life-and-death situation.

The group of eight, which included our leader, bob carson, had signed up for a kayaking excursion in wellington harbour. The plan was to kayak from wellington to matiu/somes island in the morning and return that afternoon.

Going was not difficult since they paddled south in light prevailing winds during the morning hours. The opposite was true in the afternoon, however, as they attempted to kayak into powerful headwinds and a 1-meter swell.

Several members of the party capsized, some of them more than once, and eventually two of them had to be rescued by wellington police.Walla walla one was treated for hypothermia.

Carson, one of the two who had to be pulled from the water, said later that he was never worried for himself, but feared that others might be injured as they were forced to change course and head west toward rocky shores.

Carolyn nielsen of hingham, mass., who attended whitman college in the early 1970s, was the other rescued kayaker. She told me that she thought she was going to die that day in those cold waters.

Try as we might to remember our every encounter during our time down under, I suspect that afternoon in windy wellington harbour is one carson, nielsen and their kayaking companions would just as soon forget.