October 29, 2010 GMT
Week 29 - 34


September 17th – travelling South through Ayr, Mackay and Gladstone, we realized we hadn’t seen the Great Barrier Reef yet, and were in danger of going past it. So we stopped at the strangely-named Town Of 1770 and treated ourselves by booking a day-trip to Lady Musgrave Island.

September 18th – Up early and to the catamaran for our day-trip. The journey outwards (90 minutes) was interesting – a couple of hump-backed whales ‘breached’, which was very impressive. Then people started up-chucking for some reason – mostly children it has to be said, so that kept them quiet at the back of the boat. Once we got to the lagoon, we went for an island guided walk. They allow people to camp here, but they all looked a bit happy-clappy to us and a bit “getting back to nature, you know, OK, yah”. A spot of snorkeling in the afternoon around the reef (taking care not to touch it, of course), and then a trip in a semi-submersible to the bits they don’t want you diving around. We saw a few turtles and a stingray, and loads of brightly-coloured nemo’s, but the coral itself was a bit bland – not as colourful as we expected. But all very beautiful nonetheless. Another great experience.


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Lady Musgrave Island – a coral cay


September 20th – We’re in sugar-cane country now (which was a bit of a surprise), and they also have those Indian-style cattle with the floppy ears and humps (which was also a surprise). And then we’re back to civilization and a quick journey through Brisbane and onto the Gold Coast. Went through Surfers Paradise (which was a bit like Blackpool to be honest only tackier), and the towns are now proper towns. Much more developed on this east coast than the rest we’ve seen so far.

September 23rd – Finally in Sydney. Chose a campsite on the southside near to the Airport, to make it easier when we ship the bikes. After 3 days of continuous rain, we realized my panniers are not as waterproof as they could be. Consequently, all the paperwork is a bit soggy. So we had to try and carefully peel everything apart, and lay it all around the TV room at the campsite to try and dry it out. All the copies of things we’d made are now just pulp, but fortunately the important documents were in a waterproof case, so the carnet and passports and driving licences are all safe.

September 24th – Went to see the shipping agent, to arrange a bit more. And took the opportunity to sort out a box of stuff that we can return to the UK – things that we thought we’d need and haven’t touched; and clothes that haven’t been much used; and maps of countries that we’ve been to. Experience is a wonderful thing – when we were packing in February we felt really sure we were going to need a collapsible spade and bucket. All helps to lighten the load though, and saves us some space for food/drink. Also took a look at our finances, and realized we’re running out of money. So some serious decisions are going to have to be made again.

September 26th – Trying to work out which country is the cheapest to fly from, and cheapest to fly to seemed to stress the assistant in the Flight Centre shop – he wasn’t used to customers who had no fixed airports to go between. He couldn’t seem to get his head around “we don’t mind – just give us the cheapest options”. It wasted an hour though on an otherwise uneventful day.

September 27th – Having re-packed the panniers, re-filled our back-packing rucksacks, sent a load of stuff back home, and made the smallest neatest-ever packing of our tent, we rode our bikes to the packing place, which just happened to be a BMW dealer. We then got the train into Sydney, and eventually found our backpackers hostel in Balmain – basic, but at least it’s got free wi-fi.

September 28th – Tourist-thing again – well we couldn’t go to Sydney, and not, could we? A stunning day, visiting Central Quay, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. They really are as breath-taking as you think. Also tried to find Poste Restante place, to see if they’d got a parcel for us (our maps for the Americas from Bob’s brother).

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Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

September 29th – More tourist things – the Aquarium, Wildlife World and Oz Tower – another observation point over the city. Caught the ferry back to Birkenhead (yes, really), where the hostel is situated, to get a proper look at the bridge as we went under it.

September 30th – Up at 4:00 to get a taxi to the airport. We decided that since we’re unlikely ever to be this side of the planet again, that we’d better see New Zealand. Everyone keeps telling us its better than Australia, so we’ve chosen to hire a campervan for a couple of weeks, and save money by ‘freedom camping’. But we had a bit of a paddy at the airport when the check-in lady said we couldn’t go to New Zealand unless we could prove we were going to leave it as well. Since we’d only bought a one-way ticket, we had to fork out for another return journey. All a bit of a panic, and it meant we had to re-think our intended plans. We arrived in Auckland 3 hours later, and picked up the campervan. They were very apologetic and said they’d had to upgrade us from a Toyota Previa MPV to a Hiace van. What a result! The weather though is reminiscent of Manchester – wet, grey and very soggy.

October 1st – Found a picnic area to camp in, right by the sea. Early on, a rather large bloke (looking like a Sumo wrestler and wearing a sarong) knocked on our door, scaring the living daylights out of us, and making us wonder if we were doing something wrong. He gave us 2 sizeable fish that he’d just caught – a mullet and a groper. It’s wonderful what a random act of kindness can do for you. I quickly thought back to my Home Economics classes (with Mrs Baines in 1975 I think!), when we covered ‘how to gut a fish’. I think I did it alright and to be fair it tasted fantastic, and I didn’t poison us, which is always a blessing.

October 2nd – Finally a bit of sun – we can now see what we’re driving through – the mountains had been totally invisible through the fog and mist, and now they were unveiled in all their glory. Everything is very green, and rain-foresty.

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Incredible mountains and scenery.

Stopped at Cathedral Cove, and then Hot Water Beach - so-called because you can dig a hole in the sand and it fills with hot water from the underground springs.


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Cathedral Cove.

October 3rd – We’re on the North Island, and the journey to the South Island is expensive, so we’ve decided not to go there. And to be honest, it can’t be any more scenic and jaw-dropping than here, can it?! We’ve followed some of the Pacific Coast Highway around the top, and are now heading to the middle on the Thermal Explorer Highway – very descriptive these Kiwis. We visited a place where they had mudpools, thermal pools and geysers – just an incredible place, and the forces of nature that drive these geothermal thingies are just mind-blowing.

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Pohutu geyser, Te Puia.


October 4th – Started off relatively quietly with a trip to Huka Falls, but then Robert decided he’s not had an adrenalin rush in a while, so we had a visit to Taupo, where we found Taupo Bungy and Taupo Tandem Skydive Centre. So guess what he did next.



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Bob on a Bungy.


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Bob on his Tandem Skydive.

Robert’s succinct summary of the day was “incredible”.

October 5th – Driving on the Forgotten World Highway now, and they seemed to have forgotten to put Tarmac down. I knew my off-road experiences in Mongolia would come in useful one day! The scenery is just amazing, green and lush. Sheep and cattle are everywhere, and it seems that those animals and trees are New Zealand’s only source of income. There doesn’t seem to be any manufacturing or heavy industry anywhere. We went through a very narrow tunnel at one point, which had the name ”Hobbit’s Hole” – bet it only recently got that name! Lots of places where they filmed “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy are trying to cash in on the popularity of the films. So the recent story about “The Hobbit” being filmed in Ireland is causing a furore over here. Anyway we treated ourselves to a campsite right on the summit of one of the mountain passes – what a view.

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Incredible view from Back Country campground.

October 7th – a quick run into the capital Wellington (far south of the North Island). It’s small, clean and relatively quiet for a capital – it has a similar feel to Perth. Decided not to stay though, and instead had a trip to Cape Palliser, where there’s a lighthouse and a colony of fur seals, both of which were impressive. The lighthouse is the last thing on the North Island, so we’ll probably not be any further south than this.
The seals were just at the side of the track, and although they were aware we were there, we did our best David Attenborough impressions, and tried not to disturb them.

October 8th – We’re on our way North again, and the scenery has changed somewhat – we’ve hit orchard country – apples, vineyards, oranges and kiwifruit, with the occasional olive grove thrown in.

October 10th – New Zealand is just spectacular – it’s the best bits of the Lake District, Scotland and Cornwall all rolled into one. The geothermal areas are definitely a bit unique though. Steam rising from holes in the ground everywhere.

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Geothermal bits, not cloud.

October 11th – Yet another lighthouse, but this one is a bit special. It’s the most easterly point – it’s the first place in the Southern Hemisphere to catch the sunrise. Predictably, we couldn’t bring ourselves to get up and watch the sunrise – but we knew it had been there first! If you drew a line straight through the Earth from England, then you would end up in New Zealand, near as dammit. So we’re as far away as we can possibly get from home (GPS says 178.32 degrees – I believe 180 degrees is a spot in the South Pacific!), and it’s taken us 255 days to get there. We decided to crack open a bottle of vodka and celebrate.

October 12th – Decided to check-in to a caravan park, as all our electrical things need charging, we’ve had no Internet access for a while, and we’re both feeling a bit ‘rundown’ after last night’s vodka. Found out we had a load of paperwork that needed doing before the bikes get to America. They’ve allegedly left Sydney and are now on a container ship bound for Long Beach, California. So we had to do lots of running around Rotorua, looking for Internet cafes, and scanners, and fax machines.

October 14th – passed through Auckland, this time heading north, to the Northland part of the Island. We visited the “Top of New Zealand”, the Cape Reinga Lighthouse, so we’ve gone as far north in this country as we can go. And we’ve gone back to sheep and cattle, and the hills are a bit smaller, but still as green. Bought a Lotto ticket to try and win the 27million dollar prize on offer this week. You never know.

October 18th – After a few days touring north of Auckland, we headed back in to it to see if our maps had arrived. Bob’s brother had sent the maps to Poste Restante (a Post Office service for saving mail abroad) in Sydney, and as they weren’t there by the time we left Sydney, we requested they be forwarded to Auckland. We didn’t have the address of Poste Restante in Auckland, so called the Oz version of Yellow Pages. As we eventually stood in front of the address they’d given us, we realized there had been a miscommunication somewhere along the line – we were stood in front of the Da Post Restaurante in Auckland. An easy mistake to make. Don’t you just hate it when that happens.

October 19th – Another day in Auckland, and checked our emails to see where bikes are. No news is good news I suppose. The former capital is pleasant enough, but there’s not a lot to see that doesn’t involve Maori culture and/or dance.



October 20th – Visited Mount Eden which looks over Auckland and is an extinct volcano. Probably a better view from here than the Sky Tower in the middle of the city, and certainly cheaper. We’ve covered around 2600 miles we reckon in New Zealand, and nearly all of them have been spectacular.

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View of Mount Eden and Auckland.

October 21st – Up at 3:30 and back to the airport and a flight back to Sydney. Picked up another campervan, this time a Mitsubishi Express. We’d sent our Australia maps back to the UK, and thrown away all our local city maps when we left Sydney the first time (not thinking we would be coming back). Was a really long day, and we tried to go into Sydney to look for our parcels again – big mistake. They obviously don’t want vehicles in the city, and so parking is difficult to find and very expensive. So we suddenly found ourselves going North over the Harbour Bridge when we really wanted to be going South and nowhere to turn around. We ended up struggling to get back round Sydney (with no maps) without getting on a Toll road. Not stressed at all by the time we’d left the suburbs.

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View from Mount Keira over Wollongong.

October 22nd – This part of Oz could easily be a different country compared to the other parts we’ve seen. There are lots of Lookout Points with fantastic views. And we visited Kiama to see their blowhole which was nice.

October 23rd – Into Canberra. Stopped at the War Memorial Museum but it was still closed, so we went for a walk down Anzac Parade, which had about a dozen different memorials to different campaigns, or to particular sets of services (i.e. nurses, Navy). A very sobering day and some of the memorials were just spectacular.

October 25th – Loads of miles to get south. We decided since we’re in the area we ought to go and visit Phillip Island (a GP race circuit). It’s fairly impressive but smaller than we thought, but the tour was good. Bob was itching to get out there.

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Wishful thinking…


October 28th – Back to the west of Sydney, to the area called the Blue Mountains. Which aren’t blue, and aren’t strictly mountains – more like a gorge. But today it could be anything – the fog stopped us seeing anything. There are loads of waterfalls, and lookout points, but you can’t see more than 10 metres in front us you. So we went to Eastern Creek (another GP race circuit). But this time there was a private Porsche day and they wouldn’t let us in. We told the security man we’d come all the way from England and couldn’t they let us in for 10 minutes to take some photos, blah,blah,blah and eventually he relented. So we’ve now run out of race-circuits in Australia and we’d better go elsewhere.


Posted by Sheila Oldfield at October 29, 2010 10:00 AM GMT
 
 

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