Highlights of Australia

  • Sydney Opera House
  • Cycle paths out of Sydney and into Melbourne
  • Kangaroos in camp
  • Koalas on Raymond Island
  • The seaside towns south of Sydney
  • Canberra
  • Cycling through the Rainforest
  • The Botanic Gardens
  • Camping on Cockatoo Island
  • Campsite and morning walk in Mathoura
  • Getting excellent formal clothes in the Op Shops for £18
  • Roast chickens for $8 (there is a price war between 2 supermarket chains!)

We Are Going On A Cruise!

Did we mention that??!!

We still cannot quite believe it. Us? On a cruise? Unreal!

We will be offline while on board as wifi costs about £22 per day (unbelievable!) We may get the chance to grab a quick download in McDonald’s or a library when we stop in Brisbane, Darwin or KL but otherwise there will be little news from us until we arrive in Singapore on 30 April. Hopefully Leicester will have secured the title and Torquat will be safe by then!

Sojourn in Sydney

12-16/4/16. The last few days have been quiet with periods of preparation for Asia interspersed with short spells of budget sightseeing.

On Tuesday we went on a “poorman’s cruise” on the ferry up to Parramatta, where the best map shop in Sydney is located, to get coverage of South East Asia. Conveniently there is a travel clinic there too and we hit lucky with a cancelled appointment, giving us the chance to blow almost a full week’s budget on vaccinations and malaria treatments!

After the success of leaving our winter clothing in Sydney we decided to get rid of it altogether by posting it back to our son, Alaric, in the UK. A reasonably large box weighed 4 kg, which was good from a cost of posting perspective ($65 by sea taking 2-3 months) but was a slightly disappointing reduction in the load on the bikes! We also posted 2 penknives to Stephen’s ex-work colleague, Hanny, in Singapore as they are not allowed on the ship.

Contacting potential Warmshowers hosts in Singapore has so far proved unsuccessful in locating accommodation but the response of one of them set Christine planning! It being a public holiday weekend when we arrive in Singapore, he is going cycling in Indonesia. Christine twigged that this must mean there is a part that is easily accessible and she found that the island of Batam is close by so giving her a chance to chalk up another country on her list!

The highlight of the sightseeing was walking over the Harbour Bridge with the spectacular views – so much better on foot than from a car.

Our Trip So Far – A Few Numbers

(We are accountants after all, so please indulge us!)

It is now almost exactly a year since we set out across Europe although, of course, we did return home for 5 months for orthopaedic reasons in the middle. Excluding this time at home, we have been away for 211 nights of which 160 (76%) were spent in our tent. We have covered 6,700 km (almost 4,200 miles) of which 3,200 were in Europe and 3,500 were in Oceania.

Of the 211 days, 133 (63%) were “cycling days” (loosely defined as a day on which we used the bikes to go “somewhere” – not just to the shops or into town), 45 were “rest days” (short stops between cycling days) and 33 were longer stops such as waiting for flights and the Christmas break with Jay, Tim and Eleri.

This means the average distance covered on a cycling day was just over 50 km – 55 km per day in Europe and 45 in Oceania, reflecting the flatness of the route across Europe and Stephen’s growing acceptance that distance covered is not the prime purpose of our travels.

(This may be tempting providence.) In cycling 13,400 km between us, we have suffered only one puncture – thanks to the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres the originals of which are still going strong. We have replaced both chains once and are about to move to the third set of brake blocks. Other than these items of routine maintenance, there has been one rear wheel failure and a replacement bottom bracket (still not convinced that this was strictly necessary).

We have not kept a record of how many tonnes of pasta or gallons of tomato sauce we have consumed!

Christine’s Love Letter to Australia

Australia! Wonderful! Amazing! Incredible! I had no big desire to visit, but we thought that as we were in New Zealand, it would be silly not to. I have been completely blown away by the country. It is easy, so easy, with everything in English, and the locals being generally relaxed and friendly. Why had I never heard about the magnificent coast south of Sydney? Yes, I had heard of the Queensland resorts, but the coast we cycled seems to be a hidden gem, known only to Aussies! At times, I felt as though we were on safari, as the wildlife was great; koalas, emus, kangaroos, wallabies, wonderful birds and birds on to accompany us, and even penguins! The forests, and the bit of rain forest we cycled through were fabulous. The campsites were generally of high quality and well-kitted out. Every town or village had good public toilets. Where there were cycle paths, they were usually high quality. The size is huge, so there is so much more to come back and explore another time.

What were the downsides? The road trains and occasionally aggressive drivers were not good. I did feel frightened at times.
Australia, I fell in love with you and am looking forward to returning before too long!

Cockatoo Island

11/4/16. The campsite near the airport is not the smartest of places but was convenient for dropping off the hire car, so it was always the plan to move to a place nearer the centre after one night.

There is a small island (rather romantically named Cockatoo Island although there don’t seem to be many of the noisy blighters there) in the middle of Sydney Harbour that was the site for the Australian Navy’s ship building and repair yards (having originally been a supplementary jail!). These closed in the 1980s and, about 15 years ago, the island was reopened to the public. It is now both a museum for some of the country’s industrial heritage and a place for people to go glamping in the pre-erected, fully equipped tents. The riff raff with their own tents are also allowed to stay!

It is not cheap ($45 per night, $50 at weekends, if you bring your own tent) but is in a wonderful position, inland from the Bridge which is visible from the eastern end of the island. It is reached using public ferries which run from Circular Quay levery half hour. The only drawback is that it is not easy to pop to the shop if you have forgotten something!

Stephen returned the car on Monday morning and (wonder of wonders!) the lady who checked it in missed the result of his faux pas. Result!! The rest of the day just seemed to disappear in the “excitement” of packing up, moving to the island, finding that we needed to return to the mainland to buy some supplies and cooking. It was just one of those days when you feel as though you have been busy but seem to achieve very little.

We now have to work our way through the To Do list for the next leg of our travels. This is going to make for pretty dull blogging so there is likely to be only one more missive this week before we get on the ship on Saturday (you may have read somewhere that we are going on a cruise!).

The Road Trip Pt 2 – A Capital Idea

8-10/4/16. Arriving in Canberra mid-afternoon, we checked into the campsite (brilliant facilities, slightly ropey site, only $25 – a good one!) and then headed into the centre.

In some ways it has the feel of a new town (not surprising since it is only about 100 years since it was decided to make a small town between Melbourne and Sydney into the capital) but in others it is really impressive. The river running through the centre has been dammed to form a large lake which provides a focal point.

Our first visit was to the new parliament building which has been incorporated into Capitol Hill with the biggest flagpole we have ever seen – a really serious piece of kit!. We only had an hour and a half to look round before it closed but that served to focus the mind and we had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

The next morning we headed for the Australian War Memorial, based on the recommendation of the Lonely Planet guide, and were among the first visitors when it opened at 10. We immediately joined a free guided tour which was given by a guy who was a bit of an odd fish but who made the whole thing fascinating. We started in the section that remembers the dead where the names of all the 102,000 Australians killed in action since the country was founded are listed. It was moving as such places often are.

The Memorial is unusual for combining the “memorial bit” with a military museum, which was where the tour went next. The guide gave us a flavour for the place by speaking in some depth about a small number of the exhibits. There were some very impressive dioramas of battles in WW1 which he brought to life by explaining the context in which they were fought.

The tour lasted just over 90 minutes and was brilliant. Thoroughly recommended.

In the afternoon we had a lovely walk around the lake, enjoying the views and listening to the National Carillon while enjoying the autumn sunshine. The seasons are definitely changing with many trees turning colour. It is also noticeable in the overnight temperatures in Canberra, which is at about 2,000 feet, as they fell to 6 or 7° – really chilly compared to what we have been living in for the last 5 months. If the sun is shining things warm up quickly to a very pleasant low to mid 20’s.

After Christine attended an early church service we set off on the 350 km drive to Sydney along the highway/motorway. While the scenery was nice it was a fairly unremarkable journey apart from us both getting increasingly fraught as we approached the Big Smoke and the much busier traffic. We made our way to Botany Bay for a late picnic lunch before heasing for the campsite near the airport where we had stayed a few weeks earlier.

The Road Trip Pt 1 – The Outback

We woke to the sound of rain drumming on the tent and a much colder morning – which made us grateful to be in a warm, dry car rather than out in the elements on bikes!

We carried on northwards heading for the NSW-Victoria border which follows the Murray River – hence why it is wiggly and not a straight line like many state boundaries. We drove 150 km to Echuca which was a major port for the timber industry on the river in Victorian times and is now a tourist attraction with many hotels and 5 or 6 paddle steamers offering cruises. The port area has been rebuilt to how it would have appeared in its heyday, including Victoria’s only licensed brothel (sadly no longer in operation!) we had a very pleasant time wandering around as the rain had just about stopped in between online sessions in Echuca’s impressive new library. (Australia, like NZ, has a fine network of public libraries that appear to be are well used by both to locals and tourists – the latter availing themselves of the free wifi.)

In early afternoon we crossed over the river into NSW to a small town called Mathoura a further 40 km on attracted by the reviews and low cost of its campsite. And it was a little gem! It was on the banks of a small river called Gulpas Creek, well away from the main road. It lacked a kitchen but made up for tjis with a very friendly manager and a cost of only $15 (about £8).

The clouds cleared overnight so the temperature dropped sharply which meant that there was a heavy dew and a lot of condensation on the inside of the outer tent. While the tent dried in the sun we went for a walk along a bush trail by the creek. It was glorious! And made even better by close encounters with two large groups of kangaroos. (What is the collective noun for kangaroos? A leap? A jump? A bounce?) This was the best view we have had of these animals, apart from the dead (and usually very smelly) ones beside the roads.

We were reluctant to leave but we had a long drive of 300 km to our destination of Wagga Wagga (another place they named twice!). The map showed an area very different to northern Victoria with far fewer roads and towns but criss-crossed with many creeks and seasonal rivers. It was pan flat and yellowy-brown apart from trees along the banks of the creeks glimpsed in the distance. This was a real taste of how we imagined the interior would be, although it probably gets even more remote, rugged and sparsely populated in the ”real” centre.

Eventually we reached Wagga Wagga, a place we had both heard of. The name conjured up visions of a one horse town for us but nothing could be further from the truth. It was the biggest place we have seen in Australia apart from Sydney, Melbourne and Wollongong. On reflection this was not really surprising if we had heard of it.

As we had arrived in town not long before it got dark, we went for a look around on Friday morning. We wandered along the main street and, seeing a couple of op shops (Australian for charity shops), we decided to see if we could buy our formal dinner wear here rather than wait until we got to Sydney. Success! A mid calf black dress and a pair of gold strappy shoes for $13 meant that Stephen is sorted while a hardly worn dinner suit for $20 will do nicely for Christine. (Or is it the other way round?!)

It was about 11 o’clock before we got on the road again. The countryside had started to change as we approached Wagga Wagga the previous evening and now the undulations became real hills while the Sturt Highway turned into motorway. We were approaching civilisation again as we neared our destination of the nation’s capital, Canberra.

Oh Dear!

5/4/16. This is why Stephen is better off on 2 wheels than four!

What an idiot!
What an idiot!

At the campsite this evening he reversed, without looking, straight into a parked “ute”. The owner was standing close by talking to his mates and was completely unphased by it – “Oh, it’ll be OK” without even looking (and he was right!) – but we now face a (doubtless outrageous) bill from the hire car company when we return the vehicle.

Christine kept commendably quiet about events while Stephen feels like a complete muppet!

The day had started well with a leisurely breakfast before checking out of the hostel. We then made our way to the airport to pick up the car using the train and local bus rather than the much publicised SkyBus – at a cost of $3.90 each rather than $19!

When picking up the car we spent a long time inspecting it and noting minor scratches and chips on the condition sheet – ironic in view of what happened later!!! We then drove back to the station, leaving the car in a shopping centre car park, to hop back into town by train to collect the bikes (which could not be taken on either of the bus options and Christine refused to cycle to the airport!). The Melbourne equivalent of the Oyster card which we were using has a daily cap of $7.80 so the third journey was free.

Back at the car, Stephen collapsed the bikes using the special couplings built into the frames and they then both fitted into the boot, barring two wheels (photo to follow) and then we were off.

Taking it easy, we headed north we were soon out of the city and into small town Victoria stopping at Kilmore.

Made it to Melbourne

4/4/16. Today we cycled the last 65 km into the centre of the city.

And glorious it was too! The weather was perfect at about 25° with barely a cloud in the sky – a lovely autumn day. We found a route that was along excellent shared paths almost all the way apart from the first km or so from the campsite. We could not ask for more.

Getting from Sydney has taken us 39 days and we have cycled a whisker over 1,300 km – so a very leisurely 33km per day on average including rest days – and we did actually ride all the way apart from 15-20 km into Ulladulla when Chris and Sharon took pity on us in the heat. It has given us a real sense of achievement (although if you look at it on a map of Australia it doesn’t look that impressive!) and we have seen some gorgeous and varied scenery on the way.

The first part of the day was along the Peninsula Link Trail which is a two lane concrete path for cyclists and pedestrians parallel to a motorway. After the aggressive driving we experienced on the day into Frankston, this was a blessed relief which more than compensated for the inevitable traffic noise.

There then followed a section on a hard packed gravel path to the coast of Port Phillip Bay at Mordialloc where we stopped for a coffee and cake. We shared a table with two ladies, Caroline and Nicole, who had very professional looking bikes and kit. Nicole was training for a triathlon and had already ridden 120 km that morning and had another 60 to go! Caroline was an expat Pom who used to live in Romsey and whose threes sons went to Stephen’s old school there. What a small world it is at times.

From Mordialloc we followed the Bay Trail which, as the name implies, goes all along the coast into the heart of the city through what must be among the most desirable parts of Melbourne in which to live. There were some fabulous houses looking out over the bay which must get wonderful sunset views.

Before we checked into the hostel which we had booked the previous day, we headed to the harbour area for a celebratory glass of bubbly. The self-congratulations continued when we treated ourselves to a beef stroganoff, rather than the usual pasta and tomato sauce, for dinner cooked by Stephen in the hostel kitchen.

That brings our cycling in Australia to an end, for this trip at least, as tomorrow we pick up the hire car to drive back to Sydney.