Sunday 12 February 2012

To The Fat Ladies House

2913 kms from Bradninch

Well, we had a great time staying in the Hunter valley with David and Sophie even though it rained every minute. This is a rolling hill area studded with horse farms, though the coal-mines are spreading like gangrene. Thanks guys for a great time.
The train back to Newcastle, well Hamilton really, was a pleasure and the sun came out as we set of for Lake Maquarie.  We camped by the water in Swansea (a little different to its Welsh counterpart) and then rode down the surfywild road to Matcham, a beautiful house in the woods, and a ‘welcome to Sydney’ banner hanging over the door.
We met Chris and Rita over breakfast in Bali, I was looking at a map of Australia as I remember, and hearing Chris’s  antipodean twang began pestering with questions about the land downunder. Coincidentally we ended up being neighbors for some days in Samur and they invited us to visit when (and if) we made it through Oz. We spent a great few days being lazy, climbing to the tree house, wrestling alpacas and going to the beach to watch the surf roll in and the experts on their boards. The surf was huge, sadly far too big for beginners like us but fun to watch.
Where the Fat Lady Sings (but it ain't over)
Thanks also Patsy and Julian for good food and good company. We used the time to organize ourselves for NZ, well for the flight anyway, which is always the stressful and boring with the bikes.
Finally we dragged ourselves away from this haven and headed for the big city and the final leg. By Bike to Sydney it has always been and Sydney the goal since you set up and named our blog Derek, and I was too technically retarded to change it. So to Sydney we headed and here we were getting closer with every turn of the pedals.
To avoid a lot of traffic and an unpleasant last day on the road we followed the coast to Manly and hopped on the commuter ferry to Circular key. I am not sure how many boats we have been on since leaving England but I guess over thirty, could be more. This trip was one of the finest. Sydney is a very beautiful city.
We pedaled the few hundred meters to the steps of the opera house and there were Rita and Chris and the Banner. In fact there was a small gathering as Rita, with her exuberant personality had collared a number of passing tourists, largely Chinese, to form a welcoming committee.
Matcham Barbie
We posed in true celebrity style for a photo shoot (Rita juggling four or five cameras) and caused a small amount of interest as people examined our bikes. The photos show us looking a little bewildered and slightly embarrassed but really quite flattered and pleased at such a reception.
Rita is originally from Hong Kong and is a one woman phenomenon. We were taken to a restaurant in Chinatown and had a real feast before she and Chris rushed off to the airport to catch a plane and spend six months in Hong Kong.  Very special people.
We stayed in a campsite on the edge of town, had a look round the next day and went to the airport.
Matcham Pier
I put on a good Mr Bean show for the security camera, putting one boxed bike in the lift, (they wouldn’t fit in sideways on the trolley, turning round for the other and letting the door shut. Pressing the button to no avail I got in the other lift and went up expecting alarms to go off as the cameras picked up a huge unattended box. I got to the top, no open lift. Frantically punching the button I intended to go down again when finally a door opened and an Indian floor cleaner came out with both boxes turned upright on a trolley. He handed it to me, shaking his head and went back down again. Finally Anja appeared with the bag trolley not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Never have I felt so stupid.
We are now in Auckland and have spent a great weekend with  family there, Wendy, Julia and Michael, and are being well fed and looked after. It is very sad that my uncle John died a few weeks ago. I was looking forward to seeing him.
Today we had a look round Auckland and tomorrow we catch a ferry to the Coromandel peninsular and begin our tour of the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

East Coast Australia

My favorite book has always been Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. It has been since I was a boy and I
Ingo and a clean-shaven Tom
allow myself to read it again every decade, to reacquaint myself with Doc of course but mainly with Mack and the boys. I never expected to meet these hard drinking philosophers in the flesh but when we pulled into a campsite in Poona, they invited us to share their wine and set the world to rights.
Mack and the boys live in an old Shack called the Palace Flophouse and spend their days seeking enough cash to buy enough whisky or wine to see them through the day. Occasionally they reluctantly resort to working to achieve this. Geoff, Ian and Ronnie appeared to have reached this same level of Nirvana, living in caravans and fishing whenever they could or just walking up the beach with the dog. More happy and generous folks one rarely meets. Thanks guys for a great time and thanks Ian for teaching me how to pump yabbies.
Maybe I should take this opportunity to talk about the people we have encountered in Australia which has been a lot, far more than we met in Europe. A gruff down-to-earthness, particularly in the outbackers, only thinly veils a good sense of humor, and and a genuine kindness. So many people ask us if there is anything we need in way of food or water or fresh fruit and vegetables. So many people here are themselves on the move; the Grey Nomads in their giant off-road caravans and Winnabagoes, the Backpackers in little white vans, the migrating workforces in their Utes with a swag bag strapped on the back.
Riding in the rain
People in the towns we pass through stop to ask us how far we have come and are going. They often tell us of good places to visit or to camp and make us feel welcome. Many people are in no hurry and spend some time talking to us; one guy, Jim, with a vacuum repair shop in Ballina, decided he wanted to oil up all the moving parts on our bikes with a special kind of oil he used for bearings. Martin just out of Broadwater found me in a petrol station looking for a spare tube (I won’t bore you with why we needed one), drove me to the next town where he knew a friend of his would have one, and brought me back again to where we were camped by the river.
We reached the Sunshine coast and spent a great few days with Ingo and Karen. Ingo is some kind of second cousin to Anja, though they had never met. Thanks for everething guys and thanks to Guido for taking us sailing.
The Gold Coast
From here we rode south in the rain through Brisbane and on to the Gold Coast where the sun came out again. Surfers Paradise. Bike repairs. Millionaires Playground. Wild Rocky Headlands. Byron Bay. Rainforest and Rain Rain Rain. An old man in a middle-aged landcruiser stops to ask where we are going and why are we on this backroad. “Heading for Coffs harbor” I reply and he shakes his head at the foolishness of foreigners and informs us that the bridge is 30 feet under water at the Bluff. Amused at our wide-eyed disbelief, he told of how he had seen cows stuck 60 feet up trees along here after the rains receded. The radio later reported the river was 10.6m above normal levels so he was no fibber. I could not see if this guys tongue was in his cheek or not but he proudly told us he had worked at the same bench at the same saw-mill for 50 years and had never travelled more than a hundred miles North or South in his whole life. Some traveller had told him as a boy that there was no more beautiful place on earth than the valley where he lived and he had decided there was therefore little point in him leaving it. Would that we all were so wise. He recounted a day in his youth when he went to Coffs harbor and back in the same day and didn’t get back till after midnight. An experience it seemed had never been repeated. We reached coffs harbor that evening despite detours around the floods.
A car coming the other way pulls up and a woman and her daughter roll down the window to talk to two drowning rats on bicycles. “You should make it to the Highway if you hurry but the water is up over the road already, if you don’t make it through come back and stay with us, we are the blue house at the crossroads back a few miles we’ll dry you out and cook you up some dinner”.
Not Photoshop, honest!!
We made it through to the oxymoronic Pacific highway and draped ourselves in fluorescent roadwork warning flags so we could be seen it the rain by the traffic. Third day of rain, camping in the forest with the leeches and giant spiders. Nambucca heads to Kempsey. We are told the backroads we wanted to ride to Port Maquarie would be under water so we should stick to the highway. Damn highway is dangerous especially in the rain but it seems like we have no other choice. Micky and katriona think we do and pull over in their converted school bus. They are going exactly where we wanted to go that day and we weigh up the options; a day on the highway in the rain, shotblasted by trucks or sitting in a warm bus looking out the window. I am reluctant a little not to cycle every inch of the way to Sydney but find saying yes in such situations leads to interesting situations. Anja needs no convincing. We throw the bikes in the bus and get a ride to Lauriton, perhaps the prettiest place on the coast so far, a small town on a creek between a lake and the sea and lying at the foot of the North brother mountain. We stay for a few days to dry out and be fed and entertained by our new friends.
Mickey and Katriona have been on the move for years in one form of vehicle or another and know all the best free park-ups from Tazmania to the tip of Cape York.  We ride the bikes down a great dirt track and meet them again at Crowdy Head where we camp on a wild peninsular and Anja fishes from the rocks while I drink and chat with Mick.
Old Gibber Road
With reluctance we ride on south because we now have a deadline. We fly from Sydney to Auckland on the 10th and have some friends to visit on the way. It is not far now but as with the whole of this coast of Australia, there is so much to see.
From Tuncurry to Tea Tardens past the Great lakes is one of the best days rides on our whole trip. If you are ever this way ride the Old Gibber Track to Mungo Bush and camp on the shore of Myall Lake.
From Nelson Bay the road is busy and the rain starts again. David and Sophie meet us in Stockton, wring us out and stick us in the car. After a great meal is Newcastle they take us back to where they live near Scone in the upper Hunter valley. We met these guys in Nepal one day not far from Kathmandu. They were on a 7 month cycle tour in the Himalayan regions and we spent some time there together. Nice to see them again in their native habitat.
It is still raining, unusual apparently for this area in summer but strange weather seems now to be the norm the world over. Tomorrow we will get the train back to Newcastle and ride down to Matcham to see Chris and Rita who we met in Bali. Then we must involve ourselves with airports, passports and bike-boxes. All the stuff we hate. We are glad happy to be going to New Zealand to string out the journey for a few more months because the idea of stopping and returning to Europe is a bit frightening. We have failed to devise a plan for our future and don’t even know which country we should settle in. Sometimes we joke that we should fly to South America and keep on cycling. We laugh but I think we would both like to do this if we could spend a few months earning some money in Australia or NZ. After almost two years on the road, cycle-tramping has become our way of life and it is hard now to imagine not doing it.
Anja studies the menu
The bikes are a bit worn out. The moving parts I mean. We thought everything would make it a few more thousand kms but were wrong. Anja needed a new chainset back on the Gold Coast which cost a small fortune as everything to do with bicycles is here three times the price it is in Europe. I spent the day yesterday in David’s garage doing some long overdue maintenance with good tools and a bike stand which was a pleasure, so we should be set up for New Zealand, but our rims and even our bullet-proof tyres are looking a bit worn out after almost 27 thousand kms.
So, Sydney almost in sight but I feel not the elation of reaching the finish-line of some arduous ordeal, or even of achieving what we set out to do. The all the way overland idea was given way back in Tehran. What we set out to do was to be out and about in the world on our bicycles, heading a little further east each day and seeing what we could see. Always riding into the unknown. This great feeling we achieved way back in Europe, I think before we even got the ferry to France. The Big Tramp. A lifelong dream made real.
We have encountered a number of things on this trip which I never counted on. A too-close proximity to landslides, floods and fires was not something I expected but neither was the amount of people we have met. I have made more friends in the last two years than in the forty that preceded them. Unpleasant encounters with people is what was talked about, worried about I guess, before we left but we can honestly count these on one hand, pleasant encounters are countless.
It is a wondrous planet that we cling to; I would swap it for no other, but from what we have seen the world over, we are not looking after it properly. We need to maintain it more like Saint Exuperie’s Little Prince who regularly cleaned out his tiny planets volcanoes. Individually we are mostly caring souls but en-masse we are a scourge. The world is wide but it is finite. In Asia the crap is thrown all over the carpet, in the West we shove it under but the end result will be the same. The answer:
The Bus
….of course.