Monday 23 January 2017

Up North to Alice Springs

Happy to leave the stress of a big city airport behind it was a delight to land at Alice Springs. While waiting for the luggage to come through I asked about the shuttle which was right outside the door.  No problem with the bike. I happened to choose a wonky trolley and the shuttle driver got me a better one, loaded it and took it out to the bus  at the other end he couldn't park at the front door so carried the bike box round the corner for me.  You just don't get that help in big cities.

The downside to Alice Springs is that it is very hot and a long way from anywhere else. The temperature was 40c the day I arrived and felt like being wrapped in a heated duvet. I spent a couple of days cycling around Alice Springs to various museums and cultural centres but it was too hot to be enjoyable. I liked the Aboriginal art that was on display in several galleries and one artist in particular Albert Namatjira who painted landscapes in the rich but muted colours of the local area. Also very attractive is the more traditional paintings composed of dots in multiple colours and complex patterns. 

The delights of Alice Springs ran out pretty quickly and I wanted to go to the Macdonnell range and Uluru (Ayers Rock). It was too far and too hot to 🚴 so I hired a car. I spent a day going out to the West Macdonnells,  on the way I saw a small bush fire, coming back a few hours later it had spread somewhat and no sign of anyone dealing with it. I had no phone signal and was wondering if I should contact the fire brigade when I got back to Alice Springs, then saw heading for the fire were five fire engines,  problem solved.

 The next day was the drive to Uluru from Alice Springs. No Sat Nav needed, outside Alice Springs turn right and continue for 190km, turn right again and continue for 250km and you are there.  On the way the weather changed with heavy rain and thunderstorms.
My plan was to cycle round Uluru but the rain continued and it was impossible the next day. Also dissapointingly a trip to the Field of Light an art installation in the dessert was cancelled due to the bad weather.  Although I had a good look at Uluru driving round and getting out when the rain eased slightly it was too muddy to cycle. I had to drive back to Alice Springs the next day but it started bright and sunny so I decided to try the ride hoping the trail would dry out quickly.  
I started enthusiastically 

but after a couple of km it became impossible to avoid the mud  and it was getting to the point where there would be so much mud between the wheel and the mudguard that I wouldn't even be able to push it so had to make a hasty retreat

I then spent an hour getting enough of the mud off with bottled water so it wouldn't be too messy in the rental car.
The journey back seemed extremely tedious,  go for 250 km turn left,  go for 190km turn left and back at Alice Springs.  There was no radio reception, no CDs, the scenery barely changed, there was no traffic for the first 250km, the road was straight and I had cruise control. Just to have something to do I switched the cruise control off. It's surprisingly difficult to concentrate when there is nothing to do but steer in a straight line. The second half was a bit more entertaining as it's the road that goes from Alice Springs to Adelaide so has a steady supply of road trains. Some are as long as 4 trailers and the advice is to allow a km of clear road ahead before you try to overtake.  I didnt really like the sound of  that. When I got to the junction with that section of road there was one approaching so I got out pretty quickly to get ahead of  it. After about 20km I needed to use one of the road side rest stops and as I got back in the car the road train caught up and passed me so I stayed a bit longer so I wouldn't  catch it up and feel the need to overtake.
On arrival back in Alice Springs it took another 2 hours cleaning the glutinous red mud off the bike to make it clean enough to get through New Zealand customs. An inauspicious end to my Australia visit.

Monday 16 January 2017

Sydney Part 2 - Being a cycle commuter or maybe not

I decided to avoid the previous backpackers  and chose one that was nearer to the station for the return to the airport. As soon as l arrived I knew it was a bad choice. There was a tiny reception opening onto the street and next to it a doorway going up a narrow flight of stairs.  The only place for the bike was on the roof.  Helpfully the receptionist closed up and said she would help with the bike and luggage. As we started up the stairs one of the young men in residence arrived and disappeared up the stairs with the bike, I hate to ask for help but it's always gratefully received. It was just as well as apart from the initial flight of stairs it had to be negotiated through 2 short but steep set of steps, through a narrow kitchen  and out onto the roof. The whole place was narrow and poky and a bit grubby, how I longed for the previous Sydney hostel!
Anyway onwards and upwards and I had tasks to complete - cycling over the Sydney Harbour bridge, the opera house etc.
I had realised apart from a sighting on the Great Ocean Road I had been Koala-less. So although it wasn't the same I found that the city zoo did a close up Koala experience so that was my first stop,  pedalled round there and locked the bike with some trepidation and got sucked into the tourist experience and booked for the zoo,  sea life centre and tower.
I must say the sea life centre was excellent,  full of manta rays, sharks etc and a great penguin section  where you went on a little boat ride on icy waters in a specially   chilled atmosphere.

I spent rather too long there  and after a  quick lunch in their cafeteria  - fish and chips which seemed inappropriate - I went to the zoo which was next door. The get-up close Koala experience was at the end so I went at a leisurely pace  and there were some Koalas in the trees but not easy to see. Then there was a get up close kangaroo experience  but after the talk here was a queue and time was moving on and by the time I got to the Koala experience they had closed it early for a private party, very disappointing.
By this time it was nearly 5pm and still had the Sydney Harbour bridge to cross. After finding my way through the Sydney traffic I arrived at the bike ramp just when it started raining heavily and when half of Sydney was wanting to go home. The cycleway was completely rammed with cycle commuters in both directions,  I was beginning to think it wasn't the best time  as it was raining too much for photos and I couldn't stop as I would have been in the way.  As this thought crossed my mind there was a terrific bang  and jolting as someone had crashed into the back of me.  I felt a bit shook up but was more worried about the bike. It was only later that I realised he had badly dented the pannier rack. He apologised but sped off pretty quickly and I decided to go back and try again the next day.
Arrived at the bridge around 10am when cycle commuters were hopefully at work and it was very quiet. There is the main road bridge, a rail line, a pedestrian path and the cycle only path, to prevent pedestrians using the cycle path there is a security guard at each end just stood there all day in case a pedestrian might sneak across. The one at the south end at least has shade but the north end guy is stuck in the sun. This time riding across was a pleasure with only 3 or 4 other cyclists the whole time all tourists ambling across like me.

I didn't go off the other end as there are a lot of steps to go up and down. Coming back off I realised I was next to the observatory that had a free museum and a time ball you could watch falling at a set time. Then rapidly on to the opera house,  botanic gardens and big tower.

Went to the airport by train and can't bear to describe what a hassle the whole experience was from the roof of the hostel to arriving at the gate for the flight with only 20 minutes to spare but that's cities for you though I did on the whole like Sydney.

Monday 26 December 2016

The Blue Mountains

I was leaving Sydney on a Sunday  and it turns out that with an Opal card (like an Oyster card) I could get to the Blue Mountains for 2.5 dollars  and no charge if I returned the same day. It was th best transport bargain I'd had the whole trip. The train was a double decker so that was very exciting,  the downside was that the bike storage was the type where you have to hang it up which I find strangely difficult. Once done time to relax and plenty of time for it as the train stopped at about a zillion small stations.  Some of them were having extensive work done and the transport information centre guy had told me the story behind it. Apparently a disabled man in a wheelchair had got the last train home but it ran late and when he arrived at his station all the staff had gone home so the poor man was stuck on the platform all night. He successfully sued the railway company to make a point about accessibility.  He gave the money to charity but it meant his point was made and all stations were being made wheelchair accessible.
Arrived in Katoomba and rode through the town to the youth hostel.  It was immediately clear that this was the Keswick of the Blue Mountains.  It was full of outdoor shops,  cafés,  gift shops and hotels. It was a similar size and even had a Penrith a few miles east.
The youth hostel was wondetful,  converted from a hotel and was an ocean of tranquility compared to the Sydney hostel.
The towns in the area are on the edge of the plateau overlooking the mountains and forest below.  I decided to walk down to see the view as the hill looked steep to cycle back up.  The view certainly is lovely.

On the way back up the steep road I was somewhat hobbling in my usual fashion when a car stopped and offered me a lift because they said I looked as though I was in pain (which I was). It turned out the couple in the car had got engaged a few minutes earlier on the skyway which was a sort of horizontal chair lift.  She was incredibly excited and talking on the phone and to me at the same time. Later on the way to the shop someone else stopped to offer a lift as I looked in pain but I was only going across the road but thanked her. I was beginning to feel old being offered lifts due to my decrepitude. 
It was time to get on the bike the next day where I feel a lot less decrepit.  In any case I discovered on leaving Sydney that I had lost one of my brake blocks and the nearest bike shop was a couple of towns away. It wasn't the best ride as road was very busy but brake fixed and views viewed.
On the last day I decided to cycle down the steep hill and do a short route round the area  but got sucked into the tourist experience of the skyway, funicular railway etc experience.  The railway was originally for the mines then was used for tourists  and later rebuilt. it is the steepest in the world. The main virtue is that it gives you the opportunity to go down to the rain forest although it is all highly controlled with walkways. 

The route back up was made less steep by taking a longer gentler  route then collected my luggage and returned to Sydney part two. 

Thursday 22 December 2016

Sydney Part 1

After leaving the tranquillity of Tasmania I wasn't really looking forward to Sydney and the hassle of getting in and out of big cities.  It didn't start well as there was some problem with the shuttle buses all running late so I ended up sharing a taxi with a couple staying roughly in the same area.  They were a different category of traveller to me staying in one of the best hotels compared to my backpackers hostel. They had flown in from Perth and after a week of  visiting relatives would be returning home on a luxury train, a snip at 4,000 dollars  for the two of them. Safely deposited at the hostel I used their automated check-in system which to say the least needed development. The room was the usual chaos that young people seem to live in, their huge suitcases /backpacks covering every surface. It's all I can do to not tell them to tidy up! I have to say that the female dormitories are worse than the mixed,  the young women seem to have so much more stuff.  I set off for tourist information  the next day and was caught up with the atmosphere in Darling harbour  and felt it was my duty to have a latte and watch the world go by. Wandering further along I found the Maritime museum and they had several ships to look round including a submarine. My dad was on submarines during the war and I remembered him being in Australia part of the time. The one that was on show was  of more recent active service,  I think around the 70s to the 90s but was interesting to look round. He had told me that the British subs were tiny and each man shared his bunk with 2 others on a shift system,  he said the American subs were much bigger with each man having their own bunk and locker.
The other ship was a replica of Captain Cook's ship Endeavour which I hadn't known had been originally  commissioned to go to Tahiti to measure the transit of Venus across the sun.

By the time I had seen everything and generally ambled it was time to return to the hostel, on getting to my room all my stuff had disappeared, hoping it was the staff who had moved it I went to reception  to retrieve it.  No sooner settled in my new room someone burnt the toast or something 5 floors down so we were all evacuated. The bonus was seeing the Aussie firemen.

 The evening before I had seen that the Christmas lights were going to be switched on so I went up to the equivalent of Oxford Street  and called my younger children via WhatsApp and shared the switching on with them.  I rather liked that Santa's sleigh was pulled by bicycles.

Two nights at that hostel was enough so the next day I set of for the Blue Mountains. 

Sunday 11 December 2016


The stay in the backpackers at Geelong is probably best not described in detail suffice to say it was the dirtiest place  I have ever stayed  and that includes the hotel in Tibet where the toilets smelled so strongly of ammonia you had to hold your nose and close your eyes.  It was also full of very drunk people being above a pub,  one in particular who wanted to know who had stolen the table from his room.  It wasn't clear  if it was the hotel table or from the way he was ranting his own personal table.
So moving on swiftly to Tasmania I arrived and had booked two nights in Hobart with no grand plan.  Had a gentle day wandering around the harbour  and Salamanca market.  The market is enormous with every type of craft, artisan food etc.
As I only had a week in total I decided to get a bus up the East coast and cycle back. Waiting at the bus stop a young man turned up with his bike and asked me to keep an eye on it while he got some cash.  When I looked at the bike I saw it had  a little fuel tank and was  the greasiest rustiest bike I had ever seen.
I asked him why he had an engine instead of an ordinary bike and he explained that he was from the west coast of Tassie and "like all the boys there I messed up my licence when I was 18 and this is the only thing I can use unlicensed".  He looked to be in his late twenties but I didn't like to ask what he had done to lose his licence for such a long time along with all the other boys in West Tassie.
Arriving in Bicheno I headed for the campsite for my first night camping. Went to investigate the kitchen facilities mid-afternoon and saw 3 young men sat in a row in armchairs eyes glued to laptops.  After a ride round the area I returned mid-evening to cook and they were still there,  no conversation between them and having entirely missed a pleasant afternoon/evening outside.
I had decided that I didn't want to cycle back to Hobart, I had seen the scenery on the way up and the road had lots of bends and no shoulder to cycle on for a lot of the way.  Next day I cycled to the coastal walk  and left the bike to walk round that part of the coast,  didn't see anyone else until I got to the blowhole which is the main point of interest.  Itshh took a lot of attempts to catch it in action but never got the really big spouts.

Earlier in the blog I mentioned the  fairy penguins on the island near Warrnambool that were protected by dogs, the same type are also at the coast  near Bicheno but you have to book a tour to see them.  They are at sea most of the day so the best time is after dark.  It was the breeding season so we had the bonus of seeing lots of babies although they looked as big as the parents,  one parent stays with the babies while the other gets food for themselves and the babies but not the other parent and then they swap over.  We weren't allowed to take pictures as the flash damages their eyes. A short while after we arrived we started to see flashes of lightning and as we were by the beach there was an unimpeded view of dramatic forked and sheet lightening  soon joined by rumbling thunder  and luckily not until the penguin viewing was over torrential rain which soaked me to the skin in about 10 seconds.  It was well worth it though for the drama of the lightening  and a bonus to the wonderful penguin viewing. 
In full tourist mode now I cycled out to the wildlife centre to see the Tasmanian Devils.  They look quite cute but have seriously sharp teeth and use them to tear apart and eat every part of what they have killed or found freshly dead, including bones,  hair etc. Their eyesight is very poor but they can smell lunch up to 2 km away.  Sadly the population is in serious decline due to a face cancer.  They fight each other over food and if one with the cancer bites another in the face it passes on the cancer.

The next day was a return to Hobart and my last full day in Tasmania was a trip to Bruny Island off the coast from Hobart. it is one island in two parts joined by a thin strip of land called the neck which us quite spectacular. 
White wallaby on Bruny Island  
 The Neck  joining the two parts of Bruny Island

I left Tassie reluctantly for Sydney and would have liked a lot more time there  

Thursday 17 November 2016


Reluctantly leaving the peace of my little Hut in the woods I was straight onto the last stretch of the Great Ocean Road.
For a while there was a trail along the beach. It makes a lovely peaceful start to the day.

The road continued in the familiar spectacular way until arriving at the memorial bridge to the road. The road was originally built to give work to returning soldiers from WW1. It has been updated if course many times since then and and currently undergoing a 50 million dollar improvement. Some of it I think to reduce the landslides that sometimes block it.

The sculpture of the two road builders includes the jacket you see in front of them which has war medals on it, a nice touch. 

The road meandered happily until Aireys Inlet  where a picnic lunch and nap on the grass were much enjoyed. 

Thete was one further stop at a memorial to an escaped convict who had lived in the bush for a while, the road turned away from the coast and that was really the end of the Great Ocean Road. Next stop Tasmania. 

Wednesday 16 November 2016


The backpackers  in Lorne was delightful, individual huts scattered through the woods.  I was in a dormitory for 4 but no one else both nights. Had a slow start to the day and decided against a near vertical climb to a waterfall and went to have lunch on the beach choosing unintentionally a health food cafe. The resulting golden latte and green superfood bowl were 'intetesting', the bowl mostly green foam with seeds.
 golden latte no coffee included!
Although not feeling particularly keen to mobilise I had run out of excuses for sitting watching the waves crash on the beach so decided to go to a recommended lookout point. I didnt realise that it was up the same vertical road that I'd avoided earlier. even in my 'granny gear' (lowest gear cycling not twinset and pearls) I couldn't manage more than 100m. I had to keep choosing aiming points to keep going towards before I had a rest. ofcourse I eventually got there cycling the last part and was rewarded with a great view of the sea and inlet and showing the line of the road as I came in the day before.  Several people congratulated me on my fitness in getting up there,  I didn't like to say that I was completely knackered,  just looked nonchalant  as if it was really no effort at all!