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.