Update 22nd May 2008
Our time in Sydney passed by with numerous calls to agencies, sending out CV’s & spending time with Alex & Liv. Unfortunately Alex was snowed under with the workload from his company so we rarely saw him before 10pm. We did the usual tourist things like visit the opera house & walk over the harbour bridge, plus we did our usual yamaroundtheworld thing & found all the interesting old pubs & breweries around the place, often returning to the Lord Nelson in the old part of town known as “The Rocks”.
Alex & Liv were heading out to the Blue Mountains, about 70kms West of Sydney, for the Easter Weekend so we rode out to meet them on Sunday. A glorious blast around the local countryside with Alex ended with a visit to the amazingly picturesque Jenolan Valley & (alas) the need to huddle round a heater with hot cuppas, it had gone cold! AARGHH! We’d set off in glorious sunshine so hadn’t worn sweatshirts & were seriously regretting it. It got colder as the night went on until we finally dropped to the low level of Sydney & the temperature thankfully climbed once again.
We had a few other visits to make while we were in the area. One was to reunite with Vic & Lyn, a couple we’d met in the Argentinean pampas! They’d seen us on the Ulysses website, courtesy of Steve who we’d met in a campsite on our way South.
For those who don’t know Ulysses is a motorcycle club (started in Australia & now international) for riders 40 & up.& has some outstandingly friendly people in it such as our dear friends Dave & Barb, Digger & Karen & Ted & Marge in NZ. It’s enormous in Oz with 25,000 paid up members. Steve was another great guy who couldn’t be more friendly & helpful.
Vic & Lyn were great when we met them in Argentina so it was no surprise to find out they were Ulysseans, what was a surprise was that Vic was the national treasurer. We had a great night swapping yarns with them & made sure we saw them again before we left. The following morning as they rode with us to Campbelltown they took us past the head office for Ulysses, so we had to put our money where our mouths were & join up!
The reason we were going to Campbelltown was to meet another long lost friend, Fulham Ian. A long time Grandfather (as in the UK bike group) he moved to Oz just before we set off travelling in ‘04 & is now married to Sue & settled here. Unfortunately he’d got some unexpected work the next morning so we couldn’t have the expected beer sesh, but catching up on old times & meeting Sue was just as good. We managed to meet up with them once more before heading off South.
Actually we went East, to revisit the Blue Mountains. The main tourist stop there is Katoomba to view the amazing cliff views, waterfalls & the iconic stone formation called the Three Sisters. The dream-time legend is that three aboriginal sisters got petrified by their witchdoctor to protect them during a tribal battle, but he then got killed so no-one could turn them back. Looked like bloody great rocks to me though.....
Our stay was marred by meeting the 11th Global Arsehole Award winner. The grumpy old woman at the Katoomba Falls Caravan Park where we were staying made a big fuss about the fact we were leaving an hour after checkout (on a campsite! They didn’t clean the scrubby grass we’d been using, you could tell by the amount of litter & fag butts the previous campers had left us). I merely smiled & shrugged. She then got awkward about returning the key deposit & left us with the immortal words “ Have a nice day, ride fast & dont come back” WHAT??? She wished us harm for the sake of a hour on a patch of grass!! I called her a number of unpleasant things at that point & have lodged an official complaint with the council that runs the campsite.
Our next stop was Sofala, one of many towns in Oz that boomed during the gold rush years & are now sleepy remnants of the sprawling shanty towns that once were. There we met Diane, a lady who has done many things & now runs the Old Sofala Gaol as a B&B. It dates from 1898, so is almost as old as white Australia gets & has a real period feel, down to the dining room in the old exercise yard! It was a very pleasant stay & Diane even offered to use her contacts to se if she could help us with our work quest. She did this - we got a phone call from her and one of her friends some time after, thanks Diane If you’re in the area go & have a meal or stay the night! The phone number is 02 6337 7064.
The area we were travelling through is called the Hinterland & goes out to the edge of the real outback. It’s a dry but fertile region & produces wine in places like Mudgee, where we sampled the wines & viewed the vintage motorcycle collection of Robert Stein, a now deceased Ulyssian who’s son now runs the vineyard. There’s also a large wildlife park in the town of Dubbo (they call it a zoo but it’s much better than that) where we saw all kinds of wildlife from around the world, they run an extensive breed & release program for endangered species so we felt our money was well spent. We stopped in Orange to try our luck fossicking in the nearby Ophir gold fields, sadly we didn’t get a speck of gold for our troubles, perhaps because of the 150 years of people trying it before us?
We returned to the Jenolan Caves & had time to take a cave tour before taking the freezing cold wet run back towards the coast again, of course as the weather was so bad we had a real problem getting accommodation - we ended up in an expensive chain motel for the night! We wanted to be near Falconbridge, a tiny town on the edge of the Blue Mountains, as there was a computer shop dealing in reconditioned laptops. After 4 years of heat, cold, humidity, dust & vibration our trusty HP laptop had ruptured every internal organ in a laptop version of MODS. We were trying to conserve the last of our dwindling funds so it was not a good time to buy expensive electronic equipment, but without one we could not update the website, keep the budget up to date, download our photo’s, send off updated CV’s, etc etc so a replacement had to be bought. The laptops they had were not pretty but, being ex govt, were built like a brick & cheap - just what we wanted! The other attraction in Falconbridge is the Norman Lindsay Gallery. He was a bohemian artist with a passion for female nudes, the gallery is in the grounds of his former home & studio with many of his sculptures dotted round the place, very pleasant for a walk round.
Winter had really set in by this point & it was damn cold, no-one told us Oz had winter! We shivered our way into Goulburn & discovered a historic brewery with accommodation! Although it was way outside our budget we threw caution to the wind & blew days worth of cash on a bed, dinner & many pleasant brews! As an added bonus the brewery was designed by Francis Greenway, an Architect from Bristol who got transported to Oz in 1814 & became the Govt architect, responsible for 49 buildings in Sydney & elsewhere. The brewery has unique Greenway roofs which the owner was happy to give me a personal tour round (it was a quiet night).
From there it’s a short run to Canberra, the capital. It’s unusual as it was purpose built as a capital & is relatively small. It is the only capital city we’ve been happy to ride around on the bikes! Canberra seemed pleased to see us- the streets were lined with crowds waving red flags & a lady came past with a barbeque lighter so valuable she needed 873 Aussie & Chinese special security guards to protect her. Someone said she was on her way to Beijing for a sporting tournament but we reckon she was a representative from the Asian Food Council, why else would the Chinese Govt have bussed in so many of their people? If that is the case Tibetans really seem to hate their food!
We took a tour round the Oz parliament (2 terms & you’re pensioned for life, seems they’ve learnt from our UK fat cats quite well) & had a quick tour of the war memorial, spoilt by the screaming carpet monkeys that parents seemed to think were there to use it as a playground.
Our next plan was to head over Mt Kosciuszko in the Snowy Mountains, the highest Oz mountain. Luckily we saw a weather forecast as a cold snap was coming in & the temperatures were forecast to drop to -8 C (which they did). We sidetracked to the coast for a wet but much warmer few days then returned to the mountains, which lived up to their name after the cold snap. Unfortunately the cold turned wet as we rode West into Victoria so we took shelter in a fairly well known biker friendly pub at Tintaldra. There was a roaring fire to greet us & we settled in for an evening of dry, warm beer drinking! The weather improved some as we wandered into Victoria, unfortunately it turned grim again as we got to Melbourne. Whether it was the weather that affected us or not we’re not sure, but Melbourne didn’t grab us. We tried a few days there & a couple of nights out, but nothing wowed us.
Being suckers for punishment we stayed on the high ground & rode to Ballarat, famous for it’s gold rush days. They have a tacky but entertaining re-creation of a gold rush town with actors in period costumes.
From there we headed for the the most Southerly point of mainland Australia (we decided against visiting Tasmania as the weather was so bad) and one of the classic rides, the Great Ocean Road. Luckily the weather gods took pity on us & we had a few glorious warm days to ride the twisty cliff top road & see the landmark rock formations called the 12 apostles. There’s 8 of them..... We also had the entertainment of staying at the very pleasant campsite at Cape Otway where the trees are full of Koalas. It was mating season & the normally shy, peaceful bears were in full throat, they sound like wild pigs!
We turned North & inland to the Grampians, a small attractive range of hills. The main tourist centre there is Halls Gap, a pleasant alpiney place. We camped up & took an ambitious (for us) 10 km hike into the surrounding hills, well it was steeply uphill (for the first half) with stony difficult trails! Just as we puffed our way back into town the grey skies opened and it poured down. The drought ridden locals were delighted (all the Aussies talk about how many millimeters they got last night & what percentage their dams are at) but us camping pikey bikeys have a very personal, selfish point of view - it can rain all it likes once we’ve left! We got utterly, completely soaked, our useless OzTrails tent proving pathetically inadequate. The next morning we packed our soaking gear in our soaking boxes, donned our soaking riding gear & shivered our way out of the hills to the town of Nhill. It’s pronounced ‘Nil’, quite appropriately. Amazingly it has a tourist info (why?) & a nice old lady running it, unfortunately she couldn’t let us know the prices of the local accommodation. Eventually we opted for a cabin in the caravan park. A roof, a heater, a kettle & a bed. Luxury!
Tearing ourselves away from the fleshpots of Nhill we rode East into the state of South Australia (ironically North of Victoria) . We were heading for a small town called Willunga where another lovely Ulyssean couple,Graham & Julie (G&J), had invited us to stay. On the way we stopped at the town of Goolwa on the estuary of the Murray River (3rd largest river in the world, about to be declared dead due to the incessant draining of the waters by industry, mining & the growing population. Needless to say the Govt & the industry big boys are sitting around debating it & watching it die) & almost missed the Steam Exchange Brewery, hidden away on the docks behind the tourist information. Without doubt they make the best beer we’ve tasted in Oz.YUM, YUM! Their big challenge is trying to keep flavour in their beer at the hideously low temp the locals insist on! Really! The only bad point is that the brewery is only open 10am-5pm.
The weather gods turned nasty on us the next day & we arrived at G&J’s like drowned rats. What a joy it was to be welcomed into a warm dry house! We were made extremely welcome & Julie cooked us a wonderful meal while we got to know each other. They have run several businesses, rode across the USA on a Ural sidecar & now run a mobile franchise of Kettle Corn, the most addictive pop-corn we’ve ever eaten. It’s almost like being a drug pusher selling that stuff, once some-one buys it they have to follow G&J around the local shows to get more! In fact we’ve got withdrawal symptoms now we’ve had to go ‘cold corny’ since we left....
The next day G&J drove us all over the Fleurieu Peninsula, where they live, even though Graham was recovering from an operation on his tongue. Not that we’d have known apart from a slight slurring of his speech & the fact he couldn’t drink the wine we’d brought as a gift. Later we had more of that popcorn! The next day they took us off towards Adelaide sight-seeing again, but Graham started feeling bad so we headed back, stopping to buy an ice cream (more of that next episode). The evening came to a sudden end when Graham was rushed to hospital, blood gushing from his mouth.