No Room at the Inn – additional

The “waterworks incident” perhaps requires a few extra words of explanation for those of you who do not know Christine. Stephen knew that she was feeling tired when we arrived at the campsite but was surprised that she was so far gone as to burst into tears as she is an arch feminist and not a “girlie girl”. He was even more stunned to find that it was largely an act as he cannot recall her playimg the damsel in distress before in more than 32 years together! She is just delighted that she can still surprise him!!

Wollongong and South

28&29/2/16. The next day was Sunday so Christine was up early to take her pill and get to the 9 o’clock service. Afterwards we took the bus into Wollongong using our Sydney “Oyster” cards which we were pleasantly surprised to find operated 80 km out of Sydney. And even better, they gave us free travel because we had already taken 8 journeys in the week. Not bad huh?

The centre of Wollongong was nothing special but we picked up some free wifi provided by the city (there was none available at the campsite) which pushed it up in our estimation. This was further enhanced when we found the beaches which were lovely and busy with surfers enjoying the swell generated by the aftermath of the cyclone which hit Fiji a week or so ago.

On Monday morning we were back on the cycle path which gave us an easy and extremely pleasant ride all the way into Wollongong and beyond. After we had passed the centre alongside the beaches we had seen the previous day we came to the industrial area with steel and cement works. It was not the prettiest part of the trip but obviously a key part of the local economy and at least there was still the separate cycle path keeping us off the 6 lane highway alongside.

We then passed through some uninspiring suburbs of Wollongong before heading back to the coast after passing Lake Illiwara (which we could not really see because of the main road, houses and trees between it and us). After lunch at Shellhaven the cycle path disappeared and we were on a road heading towards the motorway which was disconcerting. At the last minute there was road off to the left which appeared to be the old main road so we took it even though the NSW Coastal Cycleway signage had dried up. This turned out to be a good guess as, where this road headed straight into the embankment of the motorway there was a small gate leading to a cycle path.

The last 10 km into Kiama became quite hilly and, with Christine starting to feel a little under the weather we were grateful to arrive at the campsite and not be faced with the trauma and drama that we had experienced at the previous site.

Stephen went for a quick walk to see the must-see sight in Kiama – a blowhole from which spray spouts periodically when the waves hit the cliffs at the right angle and height. He saw some spray but was not overly impressed. However, Christine had seen on Facebook that Dan (our kind postbox in Sydney) had visited with his family the day before and posted a short video of the blowhole doing its “stuff” in a much more impressive manner.

No Room at the Inn

27/2/16. With showers forecast for later in the day, we decided to get going early. Bundeena village is a small enclave on the south side of the estuary that is not part of Royal National Park. As soon as you leave town you are in the park and there are signs by the side of the road warning of fines of up to $250,000 for dropping litter in the park. These are “honoured more in the breach, than in the observance” judging by what we saw on the roadside! Clearly people are not deterred by the size of the potential fines.

The view as we climbed was not particularly inspiring – just scrubby bushes 3-4 metres high with the only greenery at the top so most of what we could see was denuded twigs and branches.

After 10-12 km of this, things improved. We started heading down a steep twisty descent (which Stephen enjoyed very much) and the vegetation became “proper” trees which were much lovelier to look at and provided welcome shade (the cloud cover was only partial). The descent was over all too quickly and we started climbing again (albeit relatively gently) but the tree cover remained, as did the twistiness.

All morning we had been seeing keen cyclists out for a Saturday ride on their carbon fibre speed machines – just like round home in the Surrey Hills! – as well as groups of motorcyclists and petrolheads in their sports/muscle cars. It is obviously an area to where Sydneysiders (?) escape at the weekends to enjoy the adrenaline of speed.

Stephen was pleased to have one lady cyclist ring her bell at him several times “for being bare chested” (the uphill and the humidity had resulted in the zip on his cycling jersey being opened to the waist – thankfully no photos exist!). He restrained himself from offering to return the compliment!

Emerging from the trees suddenly, we found ourselves on the coast. The road became busier and the standard of consideration shown to two vulnerable touring cyclists by drivers deteriorated. Through the national park, we had been impressed and gratified by the safety consciousness displayed. The contrast to NZ was quite marked. On the busier road the standard was kiwi-esque albeit without heavy trucks.

The road undulated a bit but the steep ups were short and we had lovely views. There was a board saying that the Lawrence Hargrave Highway was one of the most beautiful in Australia. After a week in the country we haven’t seen anything to put the lie to that statement and it was rather lively.

Finding another cycle path along the coast we followed it to our target campsite in Corrimal (just north of Wollongong) where we found the receptionist in a real flap because the computer was down, or perhaps working slowly and she was really feeling the pressure. She claimed that the park was full and we couldn’t be accommodated. Earlier in the day Christine had seen a comment on Facebook from Julie in Southampton that she was shocked to see Christine uttering the words “beach”, “sun” and “cruise”. She now stunned Stephen by turning on the waterworks and sobbing that we had cycled all day and there must be a small space for our little tent and she was exhausted and…..! And it worked!!

In fact it transpired that there were plenty of empty spaces but presumably the problems meant that these were not showing up on the computer.

And We’re Off Again!

26/2/16. We woke on Friday morning to the sound of the wind blowing strongly. Of course it was coming from the south – the direction in which we were heading – but that was why it was forecast to be much cooler! So we braced ourselves for a tough battle into the headwind and with some hills in the second half of the day.

The campsite was just off a cycle route that went right along Botany Bay and which was flat and shared with pedestrians rather than cars, so we had a very happy Christine! It would have been absolutely glorious if it was not for the wind. Instead, we had to make do with merely wonderful! Botany Bay is very sheltered from the waves from Pacific, at least compared to Bondi and Manly beaches which we had visited during our time in Sydney. The surf was pretty spectacular at both of those – so much so that, at Manly, it was announced over the “tannoy” that the beach was closed to swimmers due to the ferocious currents and big waves.

As we made our way along the cycle track, we kept on passing and then being passed by a group of about gentlemen “of a certain age” on mountain bikes obviously out for a group ride. After about 3 times we stopped for a chat about what we were doing. When we told them we were heading for the campsite at Coledale there were some impressed looks – and some worried ones! They told us that it was quite a long (60+ km) way and the section through the national park was quite hilly. Had we thought about the campsite at Bonnie Vale in Bundeena, just over the ferry from Cronulla? We hadn’t – because we didn’t know it existed and we had been expecting to make it to Coledale.

Their advice was very sound as it turned out – but more of that in a minute!

The path led us all the way round the bay to Captain Cook Bridge over the George’s River. This was our biggest climb if the day (as it turned out) and the headwind made it doubly difficult. Over the bridge, the cycle path fizzled out and we were on relatively quiet roads through a residential area and then an uninspiring commercial area for a while following mostly good signage to Cronulla.

The cyclepath resumed and passed through woodland right by the coast which provided some welcome shelter from the wind. Soon we were in Cronulla where we bought supplies for lunch and dinner as, once over the ferry, we were about to enter the Royal National Park. Making our way to the wharf we discovered that we had just missed the hourly ferry by 10 minutes and also hit the ferrymen’s lunch hour so we had an hour and 50 minutes to wait! This was the catalyst for following our fellow cyclists’ advice and staying at the campsite just over the water.

The ferry ride from Cronulla to Bundeena took the best part of 30 minutes (for $6.10 + $3.05 for a bike – very reasonable we thought) and had lovely views of the Port Hacking harbour/estuary which was very sheltered and calm apart from a couple of minutes exposure to the channel through to the Pacific.

The campsite was in a beautiful location on the estuary with a lovely sandy beach (see the photo of where we had dinner when posted). The only drawback was the cost – $36 for a site with no kitchen facilities or “lounge”. After 3 months of being very impressed by NZ campsites this seemed to be a reversion to the European model! We were grateful that we had bought some gas for the stove in Sydney (having had to leave the NZ canister before boarding the plane).

 

Sydney. What Have We Been Up To?

23-25/2/16. Taking it easy to be perfectly honest. We will have some time here before we embark on our cruise (it still cracks us up to think that we are actually going on a cruise!) so we are in no great rush to see everything and it is bloody hot! Especially today (Thursday) with it forecast to reach 38° in the city centre and 41 in a suburb called Parramatta. We had been intending to start cycling today but have delayed until tomorrow when it should be cooler.

In the meantime we have been enjoying ourselves. Sydney certainly has some wonderful sights and Christine is still blown away by the Opera House!

We combined a trip to the best map shop in town, which is in Parramatta, with a ferry ride up the river which gave us a cheap harbour cruise. Then we just missed the boat (literally) for the return journey because we had been held up by the slowest Subway sandwich maker in existence and pedestrian lights at major road crossings. So we had take the train back – quicker and cheaper but much less scenic.

We eventually hooked up with Dan, despite him being ill and not at work on the day we had arranged to meet, through him driving to ths campsite after the children had been put to bed. As a result Stephen is now much happier that he is in possession of a functioning Kindle with his “library” of 100 or so books. Thanks, Dan!

One place that is, perhaps, not on a normal “must do” list is the New South Wales State Library which has a most wonderful reading room with the added bonus of free wifi and desks with power points. We have spent time there most days.

We also saw a sister ship of the one we will be going on (which is the Voyager of the Seas in case anyone is interested) tied up at the Passenger Terminal on Circular Quay right opposite the Opera House and in the shadow of the Bridge. This sent Stephen scurrying off to look at the Sydney Harbour website to find if we would also be leaving from this spectacular spot. We will! So we will be boarding as early as we can to grab pole position on deck. (Our cabin is an inside one without windows, being in the super cheapo category.)

Hello from Sydney

21&22/2/16. We have made it to Australia intact!

When checking us in on the Air NZ website Christine noticed that there was no mention of our extra bags (i.e. the bikes) despite this being clearly stated on the confirmations received earlier. To address any difficulties we headed for the airport well in advance. As it turned out there were no issues so we had plenty of time to make our few remaining NZ dollars go as far as possible.

The flight was uneventful (always a good thing in our opinion!) although Christine did get excellent views of the Southern Alps and Sydney from her window. (Stephen being in his preferred aisle seat, three seats away (!), did not.)

Clearing the airport was surprisingly easy with the bags waiting for us on the carousels, none the worse for wear thankfully,and the immigration officer only asking if our bikes were clean without requiring proof or being concerned about our camping equipment. A short taxi ride deposited us at the campsite – not the best we have stayed at but perfectly adequate and very reasonable at $35 a night for 2 in a major city like Sydney.

Monday morning was spent repacking the panniers (Air New Zealand allow only one bag each in the hold before charging extra so we have those lightweight blue IKEA bags in the photo below into which we decant most of our stuff including all bar one of our panniers which we take as a cabin bag.) and reconstructing the bikes. This latter task was performed in the full sun and, Sydney being considerably warmer than Christchurch (low 30’s). Stephen was soon bathed in sweat with drops falling off his nose and chin in a continuous stream. Yuk!

By lunchtime we were sorted and so we wandered slowly to Rockdale (the suburb where the campsite is located) station and, having bought ourselves the local equivalent of Oyster Cards, caught the train to Circular Quay. Emerging from the station, Christine’s breath was taken away by the sight of the opera house across the water. It really is stunning to see it “in the flesh” for the first time.

We have a couple of days here to meet up with Dan, the son of friend Jim from home, who has kindly been acting as a postbox for a few things sent from home. Then we are heading south towards Melbourne. We are not sure if we will make it all the way in this heat – we’ll see how we get on.

Big Excitement!

We have booked our “escape” from Australia even before we have arrived there! And it’s a bit different!!

We’re going on a cruise!

Being cheapskate accountants we have booked ourselves on a repositioning (and therefore cheap, no frills!) cruise from Sydney to Singapore. Full board (but only drinks included are water, tea and coffee – yikes!) for two weeks for two for under £1,000! It stops in Brisbane, Darwin and Kuala Lumpur.

We’ve never been cruising before and so this sounded like (a) a cheap way of trying it out and (b) an alternative (green? Hmm, not sure about that!) form of accomodation combined with travel costs. Given Christine’s susceptibility to seasickness, this may be a false economy because of the cost of tablets!! But we’re going for it.

This all happens in the second half of April so we will have almost 8 weeks in Oz. Now to see how to spend that time.

A Quiet Week in Christchurch

16-21/2/16. We had a number of things to do before flying to Australia. These included cleaning the tent, sourcing bikes boxes and packing bikes and luggage. None of these ought to take much time in themselves but each was potentially time consuming if things didn’t go our way – for example bad weather preventing us getting the tent dry.

As it turned out all went swimmingly with the first bike shop tried having boxes available (in return for a very reasonable $5 donation to charity – obviously we were not the first to ask and good on them for their altruism) and hot, sunny weather at the beginning of the week.

This left us with “spare” days in the second half of the week. Christchurch is an interesting place but I’m not sure it has enough to offer to fill a week of full-on tourist stuff if you are restricted to the city itself. However, we are in the very privileged position of being “time-rich” compared to normal tourists while being “cash-poor” (relative to what we are used, but still very lucky to many, many people). So we have been taking a very relaxed stance of doing some “work”, some touristy stuff, some reading, some “chillaxing” – basically just living.

And it has been very pleasant! We really are blessed in being able to do this! The only real excitement has been the continuation of aftershocks. These have been occurring pretty much every couple of hours since last Sunday according to a website that monitors these things (www.geonet.org.nz). We have not generally noticed these, other than two in the last couple of days which measured 4.4 and 3.8. In themselves, they were OK but the experience of the larger one less than a week ago has made us slightly nervous. To be perfectly honest, we will be somewhat relieved to be away from the uncertainty. I guess if you live here you become philosophical about this risk but, as a visitor, it is certainly disconcerting!

Tomorrow (Sunday) we fly to Sydney which will be a new country for Christine. She is both excited about the prospect of exploring somewhere new and apprehensive about the heat and distances between places. Stephen is looking forward to sharing with her what little he has seen of the country in 4 or 5 business trips as well as seeing a little more of the vastness.