Here we are at the end of our 25000km ride around Australia...
It has been fantastic.
The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur of heaps of socialising, and increased beer, wine and food consumption (which explains why the four kilos we'd managed each to lose on our camping menus have come rudely back!) but I'll attempt to outline where we've been since I last wrote.
After watching five fantastic sunsets from our camping spot in Rawnsley Park, we left the Flinders Ranges and added it to the list of places to visit again when we come back with more time. With wonderful walks and beautiful bush camps, ancient rocks and loads to explore it's an area I'd definitely recommend.
We spent the next couple of days riding South towards Victoria through vineyards and orange orchards, the air heavily fragrant with blossom. We'd ridden into Spring. We rode along next to the Murray River, (through 'Riverland' named in the Australian way of being obvious!) stopping off at villages full of well-preserved old buildings and great campsites next to the river.
The nights were cold, we heard that the week before we'd arrived there had been a heavy frost which had wiped out the entire apricot crop for the year. Farmers here are up against so much, the ongoing drought, occasional floods, strange weather patterns, and China, which is taking over the production of so much stuff, and of course doing it more cheaply.
We visited a few wineries, with Hame at the handlebars I did the tasting for both of us (he was very patient as I got giggly by 10am) and discovered, amongst several other delicious wines, red champagne - another fab Aussie invention!
We called in to visit Kevin, the BMW enthusiast we'd met near Cairns months ago. He was really happy to see us and eager to show off his four restored old BMWs, they were pretty impressive. He had the most amazing tool collection I"d ever seen, I caught Hamish drooling over it when he thought no one was looking!
We'd been in touch with Gayle and Henry who we met on the Gibb River Road back in August. Gayle was away but Henry invited us for the night on the way to Sydney. And then we fell in love with yet another state, Victoria. Just when you think you've seen every kind of countryside there is to see in one country, Australia surprises you...
We rode thorugh green rolling hills, past distant snow-capped mountains (The Snowy Mountains, another imaginative name) and along windy roads until we reached Henry's farm tucked below the hills. Hame and I took one look and said, "We could live here!".
We could actually, within about 10 minutes of our arrival Henry asked us if we'd like to house-sit for him for a year from April. Although it was incredibly tempting we will be exploring South America by then... but what an offer!
We had a great night with Henry, he told us all about the area and his life there. In the morning Hame was up way earlier than me as is normal, rushing back in at 6.30am to tell me to come and watch a calf being born. Being an urban girl this was something I'd never seen so I ran off to watch Hame and Henry deliver a calf, who I named Hamish. I watched the cow softly lowing to him to get up in the early morning light and felt all full of country romance... then Henry said Hamish the calf would be ready to eat in a few months.
We admired Henry's merino sheep and alpacas - we'll be seeing a lot more of them in South America - before we had to go, somewhat reluctantly. We had a long journey to Sydney ahead of us, mostly on a highway which was a bit of a shock after all the months of outbackness.
It seemed to be ages before we were off the highway and I'd forgotten to charge the iPod - so no music - but finally we arrived in Gosford, to visit Steve and Rose (the camp-cake experts from Lawn Hill). Rose had prepared a fantastic meal (which accounts for at least one of the extra kilos) and we went for a lovely cliff top walk with the the following day.
It was great to catch up again. We feel very fortunate as we've been welcomed by so many people, too many in fact as we've had to turn down a few invites due to lack of time. But we'll be back, we're quite sure of it.
By chance old friends of ours, Bill and Jean, were holidaying in Gosford too so we spent the night staying with them in their caravan - which was more like a small house! We had a great night catching up and playing cards and laughing a lot.
After a Big Aussie Breakfast and more goodbyes it was time to hit the city...
We managed to navigate our way through Sydney (reminiscing about the time we were there together seven years ago, who'd have throught we'd be back on a bike!) to Andrew's house, a friend from bike days in Malaysia. An old mate of mine, Matt, who I'd not seen for ten years came too so we had an evening of lots of talking accompanied by lots of beer. I was fairly fragile the next morning.
It was a lovely drive down from Sydney to Kiama where my Dad and stepmum Sue live. Dad had called and told us to make sure we drove through Stanwell Park, it turned out to be a really stunning road built out over the sea next to the cliffs.
Dad and Sue had moved since we last saw them to a great house with a pool, despite the fact it was winter I managed to get in it every day! We had an excellent week exploring the area and eating lots, going for walks and chatting. We all had a lot of fun and it was really hard to leave.
But leave we had to, with only two days to get to Melbourne. Hame didn't want to miss the Australian Bike Show on the 6th and 7th October but we had to get there to allow at least a week to sort out some bike issues and details for flying the bike to Chile.
On the way we stopped off with Ron and Liz at Lakes Entrance and shared another hangover (the last one was shared up on the Gibb River Road where we met them when I asked if we could buy a six pack from them! Their answer was "No! But you can have one, come and drink it with us...") Another fun night - even Bertha got into the party spirit!
I got quite sad on the way to Melbourne thinking that this was our last big ride in Australia...
We're staying with my cousins Martin and Fiona who've very kindly given us a key and let us use their house as a base - this is a real blessing as we've so much to do this week. It was good to meet up with relatives I'd not seen for ages and catching up on all the news.
Hamish gave Bertha a total service yesterday at a workshop whose owner, Keith, let him work outside at the back (usually people are too scared to do this because of insurance issues.) Keith was a top bloke and we were ever so grateful. It took Hame most of the day as there were one or two things to sort out. Today he's off getting the shock rebuilt. It has been leaking gently for weeks and is still under warranty, luckily the agent is here in Melbourne. Then we'll have to get new tyres, tighten a few nuts and bolts, give her a good wash and generally get her ready to be freighted.
We've also met our shipping agent, Margaret. The whole process seems pretty straightforward (famous last words?!). We've been fortunate to aquire a steel crate from BMW in exchange for a crate of VB, and we'll be allowed to crate her up ourselves, which has saved us quite a bit of money.
We've got a pretty fantastic schedule for the next few weeks. In a few days we fly home for a family wedding in Scotland, then back here to Melbourne via Dubai - the plane stops there anyway but we're visiting old friends from Malaysia. We've another week here in Melbourne to get the last bits sorted for South America, crate the bike, catch up with a few more of my rellies and friends of Hamish, then we fly off to Chile on November 17th, via Tahiti and Easter Island. It's tough, this travelling thing...
When we booked the flights back in June we got pretty good deals, and as the agent was finding out about the Chile flight she asked me if I wanted to stop off at Easter Island as well as Tahiti for the same price as flying direct. Hmm, tough choice. Took me about 0.2 second to say yes. We finally arrive in Santiago on November 28th, and the bike should arrive a day or so later. We are very very excited!
So, Australia as a place to live?
Definitely. Australia has so much to offer, you could live here in any climate or environment you chose simply because of the size of the country. You could choose not to have seasons at all, or only very mild ones. You could choose dry or wet, hills or plains, mountains and snow or rolling green hills, desert or lakes... the list goes on. It's all here, if you have the skills Australia needs. Talking to people who've emigrated here has been interesting, and it seems as if Hamish and I would qualify - we've been offered jobs several times already and apparently there is a bit of a shortage of teachers and engineers, in fact there's a bit of a shortage of most skills.
Australia has much to offer everyone and it would be a great place to bring up children, there is just so much more for them here - more opportunites, more space, more freedom. The cost of living is cheaper and house prices are cheaper. There seem to be so many advantages, and we've yet to meet anyone who's emigrated and regretted it.
Australia is many times bigger than the UK but has a third of the population... it is healthier, friendlier and more relaxed. Culturally there are some similarities to the UK, it is 'Same-same but different' as they say in Thailand. Coming here we really have the feeling it is a land of opportunity, as cliched as it sounds. I could go on and on.
Of course there are negative points too; nowhere is perfect. But the positive points far outweigh them, as far as I can see.
I came here having been on short visits before, and not thinking of it as a place to live, mainly because it is so far away. Now though, I can't see any reasons why NOT to try and emigrate - after all it is only a plane ride away from the UK... However, we've a whole new continent to explore yet, so who knows where we could end up!
Next time I write in here it will be from South America...Must go and get on with those Spanish lessons. So far I think we know enough to order a beer and say thank you. What else do you need I wonder?
Adios for now and muchas gracias for reading our blog.
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