In the words of Willie Nelson, the final section of our trip has not disappointed:
“on the road again,
Goin’ places that I’ve never been,
Seein’ things that I may never see again,
And I can’t wait to get on the road again”
Never a truer word but I sincerely hope that we will see some of those things again – especially Will and Nicky: the main reason for this epic adventure in the first place. I write this on our train journey back to Cornwall from Paddington – a bit tired and jet lagged so please forgive any errors!
Scores on the doors:
Well, we’re home again in sunny (not) Cornwall – (actually it’s blinking freezing, please let me go back to the sunshine) after 10,420 Kms on the road, 25 fuel tank fill-ups and stays at 36 different campsites. Needless to say we became very proficient at setting up and packing away in a very short space of time. Aussie Dieter certainly provided an excellent home and mode of transport. I had wondered how we might find living out of it for 2 months, but it was fantastic. Not having to pack up your belongings each day like on the bike trip was a real bonus (please note though that I would definitely do that again in a flash!) Having a check list was excellent too – just to make sure you didn’t forget anything. There was only one ‘moment’ which involved a splash or two (well 20 litres) of unleaded petrol into the diesel tank but we managed to get away with it with some well-timed diesel top ups. Phew!
The last section of the trip was intended to be all about relaxation. We had scheduled shorter distances and thus less hours driving and more time just chilling. Well, not entirely ….
The wheels on the bike go round and round
First up for two wheel bicycle adventures was our visit to Brisbane. The best option for a fairly central campsite was one that was well outside the main city area but easy to access from the main highways. It was a bit weird to be honest. Decent facilities but we felt like we had landed in the middle of a housing estate. Most of the site was clearly lived in most of the time and it didn’t feel like a holiday site at all. Good job we didn’t intend to be there much! Having negotiated public transport into the city we found an excellent bike hire shop called Bike Obsession (we were in good company as just before us had been Michael Vaughan and other BBC commentators clearly out on a quick sightseeing tour prior to the first Ashes test – but the least said about that the better!). Bikes at the ready we were on our way – first around the city on some excellent shared purpose tracks and then at the end of the day on a dedicated cycle way all the way back to where we were staying – all 20KMs of it.
Brisbane is a really lovely city and it was a great way to explore it. One of many interesting highlights was the Regatta Hotel on the banks of the river. Famed for a protest staged there in 1965 by two women – Merle Thomson and Rosalie Bognor – who chained themselves to the floor rail of the bar to highlight the issue of women not being allowed in pubs!! Their actions certainly attracted lots of attention and actually resulted in a change in the laws which allowed women in public bars – hurrah and I should think so too.
The return trip to the city the following morning didn’t seem so hard as it was more familiar (and more downhill!) and we continued to explore the riverside tracks. A couple of points of interest to tell you about that we encountered along the way. One is Yungaba House at Kangaroo Point. Although now being turned into private residences, this beautiful building started life in 1887 as an Immigration Depot. New arrivals were provided with 14 days free accommodation and a pass to any part of the colony via rail. As immigration numbers rose, another more suitable site was located and Yungaba House found a new purpose. During the late 1800s it was a temporary reception centre for Australian troops returning from the Boer War and later, during the period of the two World Wars, it was a wartime hospital. It would have been a very elegant location – great for convalescing I’m sure – but is now dwarfed by high-rise development and the elevated highway. It still retains an air of days gone by and you just know that it has a multitude of stories to tell.
The second was a bit of a surprise around the corner in the shape of an old sugar refinery at New Farm. A white picket fence was the first thing you noticed as it was a bit out of place compared to a more modern precinct that had preceded it. It marks the frontage of the Colonial Sugar Refinery which ceased operations in 1998 but, built in 1893, it was fitted out with machinery mainly imported from Scotland. It was the fourth in a chain of refineries established by CSR in the late 19th century. Sugar cane would have been transported here from numerous locations in Queensland (we’d seen lots of them on our travels) and then exported around the world. Now, similar to Yungaba House, it has been converted into a number of loft-style apartments.
A great couple of days, nice bit of sightseeing and more than 60kms clocked up on the bikes!
Dipping a toe in the sea
Our second bicycle adventure was at Byron Bay. Again, the campsite was a little bit inland from the beach front, so hiring a bike was a sound choice to get us around. It took Tim some considerable time, however, to find one that was actually in working order from the 20 or so that were propped up outside the office. After he had tested and found a couple that were slightly better than the others, pumped up the tyres and checked them over, we had the privilege of paying 20 AUD each for them – cheeky beggars! Anyway it was a good way to get up to the lighthouse and see the surrounding bays and although the hill was a bit tough, when we got down to the bottom we were rewarded by a SWIM IN THE SEA. Yes, actually sea swimming without fear of salties, stingers or sharks. Never thought we’d see the day! It was very lovely too and the aches and pains soon melted away from the 20 kms or so we had cycled that day– or was that the wine/beer in the bar afterwards?!
Actually, we were able to swim in the sea more and more as we headed southwards back to Sydney: Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and Narabeen all provided nice stop offs and an opportunity to get into the surf and splash about.
You say goodbye, and I say hello
The day had finally come when we had to empty Aussie Dieter of all our belongings (new and old) ready for handing it back to Apollo. What an effort it was too. You forget just how much stuff you amass and take for granted on a long trip – especially when you find a convenient cupboard/hidey hole to put it in – in order to supplement the inventory to make life on the road easier. Unfortunately for Nicky and Will, they ‘inherited’ most of the extra stuff we bought – some will be useful (honest)– and the rest just needed to be binned. The drop off experience was a million times more straightforward and painless than the pick-up and it was actually quite sad to say goodbye after 10,000 + kms in light of all the many adventures we had been able to have. It still felt the best way to have experienced Australia and we would definitely do it again. Look out Western Australia!!!
But our sadness at the end of the road trip apart was soon replaced as it was super lovely to say hello again to Will and Nicky and to get reacquainted with Sydney and, more particularly, Tamarama. What better way to do that than to have a lovely walk around the harbour, lunch in a Sailing Club (even though it was tipping down with rain outside) and then a trip to the Opera??? Although a very different style of performance to that experienced in Verona, it was still amazing to be in the iconic venue listening to extracts from Bach, Brahms and Bartok’s Bluebeards Castle – accompanied by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Opera Australia Chorus. All quite heavy going for opera novices like us, but great all the same. Tim even stayed awake!! Definitely the way to see and experience this iconic venue.
But the highlight of the weekend had to be our Un-Christmas celebrations. Seeing Christmas decorations and hearing Christmas music had been part of our experience for some weeks at various shopping centres, but it hadn’t really sunk in. The fact that the wonderful Will and Nicky had bought a beautiful tree and decorated it, put up Christmas decorations on the balcony overlooking the beach (!) and arranged for a proper, full-on Christmas dinner was absolutely incredible and certainly got us well into the Christmas vibe. Sunday 3rd December was the appointed un-Christmas day with dinner, presents and everything (even mince pies!!) but not until they had both completed the Bondi to Bronte 2Km swim. I tell you these two are just awesome and if ever a lifestyle suits a place, theirs fits like a glove. It was an amazing day and just too perfect for words. I hope they realise how grateful we were for such a well thought-out treat.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and two days later we were heading back to the airport for our homeward bound trip. Saying farewell was difficult indeed…
A far Eastern Sojourn
Hong Kong was the destination for our 2-day stop off this time and it didn’t disappoint. So many high rise buildings crammed into such a small space but the energy is infectious. Day 1 saw us experience the true grandeur of the Peninsula Hotel on the waterfront in Kowloon. What a place. Hong Kong certainly does things to a very high standard and it was just incredible to see both the place and the beautiful Christmas decorations – all very festive. Then a trip on the famous Star Ferry over to Hong Kong island enabled us to take the tram up to Victoria Peak to see the city and bay in all its glory – well almost all of it as it seemed to have a haze (smog?) that just took the edge off it. However, it was still very impressive all the same.
After a couple of drinks at the Peninsula on the return trip to Kowloon (well it would have been rude not to) we were able to explore the sights and sounds at night – in particular the night markets (selling all sorts of tat) and the street restaurants (selling all sorts of parts of animals best not thought about too much!) It was a great experience and something that has to be done to get a proper sense of the place.
Day 2 was a much more serene affair with a trip northeast out to the suburbs of Kowloon to look at the Wong Tai Sin Temple and the Chi Lin Nunnery. Both so relaxing it makes you want to take up Buddism. Amazing to be able to see the architecture, experience the tranquillity of the gardens and observe the religion and fascinating to see their location – both surrounded by high-rise towers and huge government housing estates. Definitely a good way to wind down after the excitement of the previous day and the to prepare ourselves for the journey ahead.
Highlights from the Australia road trip and beyond?
I’ve covered all these before but some to repeat:
- The people. Open, direct, funny and welcoming – all the way around you never felt like you were in someone else’s back yard.
- The space. Wide open spaces, largely empty roads, ever changing scenery – it is just vast and it makes you realise just how insignificant we humans actually are on this fantastic planet.
- Transport. We’ve tried so many different types but one of many things that puts our country to shame is the ease, efficiency and costs of public transport. In Singapore you have the tourist pass, in Sydney the Opal card, in Melbourne the Myki card and in Hong Kong the Octopus card. All encourage and support travel on all forms of public transport – trains, ferries, trams, etc – at a very reasonable price. Compare that to UK train travel if you dare – we had a real wake up call on our return from London to Cornwall I can tell you!
- Outdoor living. Whether it’s the provision of good shared tracks, barbeques and picnic facilities everywhere for anyone to use (for free), or great quality free children’s playgrounds and water parks to get them out away from the TV. It’s an emphasis I really loved.
- Travel. All Aussies love to get about and explore – they are super keen to spend whatever free time they have on the road as a family, couple or as friends and love to talk to each other about what they/you are doing and where you’ve been.
- Roads. So many long, straight ones it blows your mind. Honest, it does.
- Seeing the wildlife. Great to see Kangaroos (finally) but amazed not to encounter any (or very few) spiders, snakes, koalas, crocs, sharks, stingers. Not that I’m complaining you understand, just saying….
- So many iconic adventures. So lucky to have experienced places and things we had only ever seen in movies, in books or on the TV. Can’t believe we actually have done it.
- 2 wheel adventures. The scooters around the Barossa were fantastic (as was the wine) and bicycles to explore those bits that Aussie Dieter would find hard to reach (bit like Heineken).
- Landscapes. It was like visiting a dozen different countries – sometimes several just in one day. Desert, rain forest, beach, mountains. Awesome.
Did I say how much we love Australia??? Well, we do and hope to be able to return sometime soon-ish. Watch this space!