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CRUISE PLUS: UNUSUAL JOURNEYS
Words Ooi Cheng Hock
Station at the Kollenkeril Plantation
takes five and a half hours by narrow,
winding road. We stop for chicken curry and
vegetables, but by Indian road trip standards,
the drive is relatively uneventful.
It is the waters we are seeking – and the
extraordinary straw-roofed river ships of the
backwaters that have become the enduring
image of this region of India.
Kerala is something of an oddity in this
most populous country. It is the state with
the lowest population growth, the highest
literacy rate, the highest life expectancy and
the lowest homicide rate.
Yet one fifth of its economic wealth comes
from workers it sends to the United Arab
Emirates sending money home.
Water plays a critical part in Kerala’s way
of life. There are 400,000 hectares
of inland waterways and
lakes, and about 220,000
active fishermen. The state
is one of the leading
producers of fish in India,
and 11 million people earn
a living from fishing.
But we are not here to
fish. We are here to try the
Kerala backwater cruise,
and a luxury houseboat is
awaiting us at Alleppey. We have only a
few hours to navigate the backwaters from
noon to 5.30pm. After that, our vessel must
anchor along the banks of the river for safety.
There is no power here. It’s pitch
black – so going further would
Our wooden houseboat
is modern and fully
airconditioned. It has three
double cabins, each with
an ensuite, and comfortable
dining and sitting areas.
The crew consists of the
captain, a cook and a kitchen helper.
All meals are provided and the food is
basic but delicious. The menu consists of
curried fish, vegetables, mutton, fruits and
Our boat docks next to a supermarket in
a fishing village where fresh fish and prawns
are bought for the cook to prepare. Perhaps
supermarket is too grand a word for it –
there is no Coles or Woolworths here. It is
just a local shop house filled with groceries
But the food is important. There is little
to do in the evening except
eat and sleep. There is no
movie channel or CNN.
We decide to go
for a walk to see how
the villagers live. The
backwaters flow into Lake
Vembanad, which covers
an area of 2,000 square
kilometres. The rivers are
higher than the land, and
the water is surprisingly
clean. The villagers use
it for drinking, washing
Everyone is welcoming – particularly the
children, who shake our hands relentlessly
and are keen to practise their English.
We do not venture into the inner parts of
the villages because of mosquitoes. We douse
ourselves in mosquito repellant, but these
insects are made of sterner stuff and have the
scent of blood.
Finally, the vessel reaches our
disembarkation point at Kumarakum. We’ve
enjoyed the trip, our only complaint is that it
was too short – we want to know more about
the life of the villagers.
The peak cruise season is the cooler
months of December and January. But to
avoid the crowds, a mid-November cruise is
Ooi Cheng Hock is a Cruise Passenger reader.
3-night Kerala deluxe houseboat package (2
nights in hotel, 1 night on board) costs about
$400pp. See keralahouseboatreservation.com.
A cruise on a traditional Indian
houseboat offers a rare glimpse of
life in the fishing villages of Kerala.
High: Amazingly friendly people.
Low: Night-time entertainment
is non-existent. A pack of cards
would have been gold!
Best suited to: Adventurous
types – staying in your cabin is
not an option.
From top: Deluxe Kerala
houseboat; one of the
comfortable cabins; fish curry
Pacific Pearl entering Sydney Harbour
at dawn. Inset: The extended and
upgraded Overseas Passenger Terminal
Cruise ships calling in at Australia and New Zealand
OVERSEAS PASSENGER TERMINAL
It’s dawn and, as the sun rises, a
cruise ship slips past the Opera
House to one of the most picturesque
moorings in the world. Docking under
Sydney Harbour Bridge in the heart of the
city is the biggest bonus sailing into Sydney
So imagine the frustration of cruise lines
with larger ships that have been forced to
either drop anchor in the harbour or take
the best viewing spot in Australia out of
Which is why Sydney Ports has spent
more than $22 million rebuilding the
Overseas Passenger Terminal.
The berth has been extended by 60 metres
at the northern end to allow bigger ships to
dock, taking the length to a whopping 300
metres, and an innovative new anchor point
has been buried on the harbour floor.
after our visitors,” Roads and Ports Minister
Duncan Gay told Cruise Passenger.
“ We haven’t had such a major upgrade to
shipping and passenger infrastructure since
the OPT opened in 1960.
“As booming as our cruise industry is right
now, I’m looking forward to welcoming more
and more cruises and passengers to our great
harbour in the future.
“ Very few harbours in the world boast a
cruise terminal in the heart of the city and
that ’s largely why Sydney has again been
voted best cruise destination in the world for
the ninth consecutive year.”
In 2013/14 the cruise industry generated
$1.024 billion in economic activity from
Among the mega liners scheduled to
berth at the OPT in March are Cunard’s
Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2 as part of
their world voyages.
Construction started on the wharf in
May 2014 and the new facilities, originally
due to be finished by September in time
for the start of the wave season, are now
By the end of Februar y travellers and
locals were getting their first glimpses of the
new expanded terminal and now, at last, an
opening party is in the diary.
As well as making room for bigger
vessels, the renovations promise to bring
increased efficiency, better handling of
large luxurious cruise ships and smoother
Key changes have been made to
improve passenger flow at the terminal.
The size of the passenger hall has been
increased and a new waiting area added to
allow passengers to simultaneously disembark
“Sydney is the best harbour city in the
world and we take pride in how we look
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