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,  caf├ęs,  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

Tasmania

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

LORNE TO TORQUAY

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

LORNE

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!





APOLLO BAY TO LORNE

Apollo Bay to Lorne was another stunning section of road. Happily phone working again (why??). The joy of cycling means it is much easier to stop for photos or just to gaze and take it all in. It was a perfect ride,  undulating  with nothing too steep, weather dry and slightly cool and a cafe for latte in just the right place. Nothing more to to  be said,  the photos say it all.

 Koalas promised
 and delivered!



UP THE HILL

The day didn't start well, I'd noticed the night before that my shorts had a strange smell so put them in the laundry bag in the pannier but the next morning when I got things out the whole pannier was smelly. I checked the pockets of the shorts and found the offending item, a small blue shell that I'd picked up on the beach that had a bit of the creature still in it rotting away. Hurled it away and sealed up the smelly stuff. Then at the point of setting out my phone ceased to be, it was fully charged but the screen was completely blank,  felt strangely cut off.
I knew I had a big hill to deal with so thought I had better crack on. The initial section was undulating but spectacular, it included the famous 12 Apostles,  limestone pillars off the coast.  Alas as phone not working no photos. After trying for a latte at Princetown a 2 cafe town with neither open at 11am I had a choice of staying on the road for a  steep uphill and steep downhill  or follow a gravel trail on the Old Ocean Road,  the guy at the tourist office who was a cyclist had recommended the trail so off I went.  It was a great choice,  about 12 km more or less flat through the bush weaving alongside a river and lakes and swamps with only the sound of birds and the wind - delightful. I was then faced with 20km of uphill to finish the day. It turned out to be an angle that was doable and apart  from a roadworks section where there was loose gravel and a lot if dust  I didn't need to push. The views at the top were for miles in both directions as it was a ridge above the sea and and the countryside beyond. The night was extremely cold but benefitted from an electric blanket - scrumpy warm! Early morning woke to rain and hail and fog with no visibility across the road let alone for miles. Eventually it cleared for a run down to Apollo Bay.




Wednesday 9 November 2016

Actually on The Great Ocean Road

Leaving Warrnambool I set off for Port Campbell some 40 undulating miles away, I overslept so left somewhat late but the weather was glorious sunny but with a nice cool breeze. This was the best ride of the trip so far with lovely country sections with no traffic and good roads and then the Great Ocean road actually ran along the ocean with stunning views.




The limestone cliffs are easily eroded and create the fantastic structures out to sea. The one above is called London Bridge because it used to have 2 arches but the one joining it to the mainland collapsed into the sea leaving 2 people stranded to be later rescued by helicopter. 

The Most Liveable Place in the World

I decided to go further west from Warrnambool to Port Fairy along a rail trail. After the first few km the gravel trail turned to deep sand, impossible to cycle through but I ploughed along pushing the bike thinking not much of the trail and came across a car stuck in the sand at a very unfortunate angle with 2 trucks trying to pull him out. I complained about the trial and they said I had missed the turning, much relieved that this wasn't the trail I went back and found the gate for the board walk over the water. The water had lots of black swans which I didn't get a picture of in Perth though it was so windy the photos were a bit blurry.

I pushed on through the wind and eventually arrived in Port Fairy that claimed to be the 'Most Liveable Place on Earth 2012' It was certainly very pleasant but got no information about how it got the title except it was through a competition.

After a pleasant couple of nights there it was time to return to Warrnambool. I did the whole rail trail this time and at the mid-point came across Koroit came across a restored station and chatted to some of the local cycling group who had done the restoration and maintained the trail. I had seen the signs for the former stations that apparently they had put them up. One of them Colin was kind enough to give me his phone number if I had any problems while I was in the area. Back to Warrnambool then staying in the backpackers hostel.


The Great Ocean Road

Arrived in Melbourne early morning after 9 hour bus ride (the joys of travel) and booked in at the YHA. A much more vibrant city than Adelaide and of course much older. As per normal I went to tourist information but minimal information about cycling the Great Ocean Road ( I realised that every tourist information office only knows about their immediate area and definitely nothing out of state). Established that the best plan would be to get the train to Warrnambool and cycle back. Arriving at the station the next day it was full of people dressed up to go to the races with the women all in their hats, posh frocks and high heels.

I felt pretty scruffy. It was at the conductors discretion if there was room for the bike but all was well and wheeled it on with luggage attached and no fuss.
Warrnambool was a nice town and decided to stay for 2 nights in another cheap hotel with same drinkers and gamblers as before. Sign below seemed to be true.


Warrnambool has a fantastic trail through the dunes either along board walks or tarmac paths with brilliant views. A really enjoyable day and a nice lunch.




The island with the purple flowers is called Middle Island and is closed to the public. It is home to a group of miniature penguins, sometimes known as Fairy penguins. During the breeding season they are protected by 2 Maremma dogs who stop foxes eating them. The man whose job it is to look after the dogs swims or wades to the island each day to feed them and check they are ok.

Fawlty Towers and not the Murray River Trail.

I arrived into Adelaide hoping to get information about the Murray river trail but tourist information and the local bike shop knew nothing. Had an amble through Adelaide which had a vibrant main shopping street but all the side roads were like ghost towns with most of the shops closed down.
I decided to stay another night to find out about trains and buses to go elsewhere if the trail didn't work out. The main station didn't deal with trains outside the local area and sent me to one out of town. By the time I found it close to 1pm it had closed for the day and no information.
I was rather dreading a lengthy very steep climb to get out of Adelaide and discovered there was a bus that went to the top of the hill but bikes were taken at driver's discretion. I went to the bus stop for the last bus to ask the driver direct if he would allow a bike on (I was asking for the next day) but he said it depended on the mood of the driver but to smile nicely.
Feeling a bit fed up I had seen there was a stage performance of Fawlty Towers and decided to go to that. I was pleased when the lady selling the tickets said my timing was good as the price was reduced as last minute except that it was still 78 dollars! It was a stage play not a big musical and the original price had been 115 dollars. Still it was an excellent performance and the main characters looked very like the original cast.
I turned up at the bus stop the next morning and smiled and asked nicely and after he phoned headquarters I was let on. Much relieved as the uphill was about 12 miles on busy roads and raining steadily. Got out at Mount Barker and had a nice 30 mile ride to Murray Bridge which was one third uphill and two thirds downhill, a correct combination in my view.
On the way met Johnny a touring cyclist going the other way and we had a good natter about all things cycle touring. He was cycling from Hobart across Tasmania, then from Melbourne to Darwin, therefore right across the country. I envied the sense of achievement he will have for an end to end trip whilst knowing I wouldn't want that endless middle of nowhere cycling not to mention amount of water and food to carry.  He had come along the Great Ocean Road which he highly recommended but wasn't on my itinerary.

I arrived in Murray Bridge too late for tourist information and went straight to the hotel, it was very cheap and showed it.  At 5pm there were already people who had clearly been in the bar for some time and a whole lot of others sat at the slot machines. Same at 8am
Anyway turned up at tourist information first thing hoping for detailed information about the Murray river trail. The two ladies there were completely baffled and had never heard of it (even though we were right next to the Murray river) a third lady was summonsed from the council offices who was equally baffled. Phone calls were made back and forth and it turned out not to exist in that part of the Murray river or at least not for several years to come. There weren't really any good alternatives so I asked how I could get to the Great Ocean Road (as recommended by Johnny). It would have taken a while to ride here across not very interesting terrain so they suggested getting the night bus to Melbourne and booked it for me.
I spent a pleasant enough day cycling round the area and went to the local social club for dinner. After killing time all evening I ended up leaving late and realising I hadn't connected the dynamo for the light and needed to move the wheel position so instead cycled on the pavements to the bus stop. So another trail not done.