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


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