G’day from Down Under!

Ok, so it’s got nothing to do with motorbiking this time (yet…) but it’s such an adventure, I need to tell you about it.  I should have changed the blog name to HelenandTimsexcellentRVadventures, but frankly I couldn’t be arsed so you will have to allow a bit of poetic licence.

Anyway, here we are in Australia after the longest flight ever for me even though we did it in 2 stages.  For FS1 (flight stage one) we were upstairs – not that upstairs you understand and they make you walk past the posh seats to get to your own – and, although it was a bit uncomfortable, the movies were a God-send to help pass the time – oh and the free booze.

It’s getting hot in here…..

FS1 ended in a beautifully toasty Singapore – what a place.  A beautiful, eclectic mix of old and new.  The old is slightly marginalised these days but dominated by Raffles (lovely man, great bar, fantastic cocktail) and the new, largely the result of Lee Kuan Yew (Prime Minister 1959-1990), a tight collection of buildings that soar into the sky enough to make you dizzy just looking at them (more on that later)

Jet lag was pushed aside to have a taste of China Town and we were not disappointed – a crazy fusion of colours, noise, smells and an awards night for all the most commendable citizens which culminated in an impressive firework display.  There was an ad-hoc gig with a slightly dodgy lady singer but the tunes were catchy enough for me to nearly break out the Aunty Dance (for those not aware, it is quite something and you must ply me drink to exact a performance, but it’s sometimes worth it).  Not bad for a first night and certainly set the scene for some other very exciting experiences:

  • ‘re-discovering’ Tim’s old home-ground at Pasir Panjang. Although a completely remodelled area as part of the many massive modernisation schemes, our exploration of the Kent Ridge Park area revealed a road which is most likely the one that led to where he lived.  He was only 7 when he was there so not a lot to go on but certainly felt familiar…
  • Vertigo – now I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before but I’m not a great fan of heights. I’m better with ‘natural’ heights eg coastal cliffs etc, but man-made structures are a bit more of a challenge. Why then, I asked myself as we were zooming up in an elevator to the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel to the Sands Sky Park, would I allow myself to be talked into standing on 200m high observation deck??
  • Absolutely an engineering wonder, and affording some of the best views you could ask for of Singapore, but I had a real problem with walking let alone looking.  After giving myself a stern talking to, it got better and although still not able to go to the glass edge, did manage closer inspection of the city.
  • The Botanic Gardens were beautiful – very much an Eden without the Biomes – but the crowning glory were the collection within the National Orchid garden. Difficult to believe they were real.
  • No insects!! Tim remembers having to sleep in mosquito nets but there were non to be had – nor flies – just the occasional ant.  Mind you, true to form I still managed to be bitten by something on the ankle – maybe it was a passing very small snake that I failed to notice


FS2 – countdown to Will & Nicky

FS2 resulted in no sleep but two amazing films (and more free booze) but, boy was it worth it.  Arriving at 5am, we were still far more awake than the taxi driver who I swear kept shutting his eyes.  You have never heard so much inane chatter from me (well perhaps you have) in order to keep him alert!!  Anyway,  in no time at all we had arrived in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and our new home for a week or so in Tamarama – just round the corner from Bondi Beach (just saying) – and the fabulous apartment belonging to Will & Nicky.  What a beauty and how very exciting to see them both – couldn’t hardly believe it.  We managed to squeeze in a bit of brekkie, a coffee from the local café and a walk around the coast path all before they had to leave for work!  How sorted are they?  Fab.

Before I share some highlights of Sydney and our first week or so, let me share some stuff about Australia generally in case you need me to set the scene of our trip.

Australia is the world’s largest island and the only island that’s also a continent and the only continent that’s also a country.  It is bloody BIG.  Size really does matter here.  It’s home to the largest living thing on earth (Great Barrier Reef – bigger than Italy or the UK) and has probably the most famous monolith in Ayres Rock (or Uluru).  It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else – all 10 of the world’s 10 most poisonous snakes are Australian – and 5 of its creatures are the most lethal of their type in the world.  They do not mess about here either.  Also, 80% of all that lives in Australia (plant and animal) exits nowhere else.  What a fabulous place this is – hence why we need to have a good look at it.

But before we do that and hopefully live to tell the tale, here are some of my highlights of Sydney so far

  • Will & Nicky – I know I’m biased, but they are amazing and have boundless energy and enthusiasm – no wonder they are fitting in so well in this larger-than-life place.
  • Famous sights – so familiar but so unbelievable when you encounter them in real life. The Opera House is beautiful and looks different at different times of day as the light changes.  The Bridge is just, well, there and stands almost like a bodyguard watching over the harbour and city.
  • The Opal Card. Like the Oyster card but so much better.  You can use it on buses, trains (local and intercity) and on ferries.  For old farts like us, it saves all kind of hassle and queuing/confusion/panic
  • The easy mix of city and surf. One minute you’re indulging yourself in the city sights and sounds – dinner at the Opera House was very swanky indeed but the Rocks area is lovely to explore too – and the next you’re on the beach.  Both the dinner and having a surf (well, body board) on Manly Beach were definite pinch-yourself moments.
  • Shopping in Woollies – no, not that one where we used to get cheap pants but in Oz it’s a supermarket but still worth a giggle at the thought of shopping there again.
  • The size of the harbour – it’s massive (told you everything is big here) and so much to explore. No wonder Cook missed it first time around.  The real treat is that you can explore most of it via lovely harbour walks.  A mix of walks and boat trips give a really great perspective of the place.
  • Much excitement at the two major sporting finals in our first weekend – the Aussie Rules and Rugby League finals. Couldn’t tell you much about either except we watched them from a pub….
  • Bowls Clubs – Clovelly Bowls club was a real unexpected pleasure. Barefoot bowls (as you do) with rink-side jugs of beer resulted in a very enjoyable afternoon – lovely to meet up with a couple of friends of Will & Nicky’s too.

King of the Mountain

No, not the Isle of Man for a change but Mount Panorama and the Bathurst 1000 event.   Now, before we went, there were a number of raised eyebrows – some out of surprise for knowing about it at all (although it is one of the biggest motoring events) but most out of a concern for our health and well-being as it has a bit of a reputation for being a lawless, drunken, loose living kind of event.  Sounds right up our street so we weren’t worried at all!

Things what we have learnt at Bathurst:

  • Bathurst only had Mount Panorama from 1934 – before then it was called the Bald Hills (not quite the same ring) and only renamed as part of a competition held by Bathurst City Council and won by Kathleen Green with the princely prize of 10 shillings!
  • The motor racing circuit was proposed in 1935 altering a new mountain tourist road to do so.
  • Completion in 1938 brought 20,000 spectators who emptied the town of Bathurst of food, alcohol and accommodation (clearly setting out the stall early doors!) The track started by hosting the Australian TT (bikes and also sidecar units) and the Australian Grand Prix (cars) in that year
  • Bikes stopped racing in 1988 because it was considered too dangerous due to narrow roads bordered by walls. They tried bikes again in 2000 using airbags on the concrete walls but that was the last time they were raced there.
  • Cars have continued ever since and the V8s continue to be the main attraction.

We managed to maintain some sense of decorum by staying at the Harness Racing Club site.  A bit further away than the more rowdy sites, it was enhanced by some great banter with our neighbours and some actual harness racing on two of the nights we were there – great fun but we realise we are rubbish at picking winners there as well as at Cheltenham Gold Cup.  Two lots of racing for the price of won – excellent!  From the 20,000 spectators of 1938, we were just 4 of a massive 250,000 spectators this year.  What a spectacle!  The noisy buggers at the top of the mountain were fantastic though.  Even had one fella ask for a cheeky selfie with Nicky and me (well, mostly Nicky actually) and all his mates found it hilarious – as did we.  All the camp sites are epic.  Big gatherings of people in small enclaves with real fires, flags, bars, music, noise and laughter – most of whom will have done it year on year for decades.  Australians really know how to live life to the full.  Love it.

Who the hell is Dick?

I couldn’t finish this (large) instalment without a final mention of a story mostly featuring Tim – or Timmo as he is now called.

Deciding he wanted a nice new green tea mug and t-shirt, off he went to the trade stalls to seek them out.  Passing a line of keen fans waiting for driver autographs, he made his way to the counter to order his goods – both of which featured Dick Johnson, past champion and legend of the Bathurst 1000 race.  Keenly lifting out his t-shirt from the bag after purchase to inspect it and check the sizing, an old fella just buts in asking if he’d like it signed.  Thinking there was no point as he didn’t really know any of the current drivers, he replied with a ‘no thanks’ and walked on.  It was only whilst walking back to join the bosom of his fellow beer drinkers (us) did it begin to become a bit clearer that the ‘old fella’ was actually THE Dick Johnson…..  How rude.  It made for a great story to share with fellow Aussies around us and later back at the camp site who were in absolute stitches at the whole thing.  It’s a good job we are doing this in a two-man team trip….

Next stop Jervis Bay (we hope)


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