For us the USA was sadly relegated to the status of stepping
stone to Australia after having spent much longer than we intended in
Latin America. This is a real shame because I loved the place. Sure it
had its frustrations - I found it easier to get large quantities of US
dollars out of ATM's in Peru than the good ole US of A - but it is amazing
how neat and precise everything seems to be. Mind you, we were coming
to it after a fair amount of time in poorer countries (about 35 years,
I reckon). I definitely want to go back. It would be a fascinating place
to tour for about 6 months by bike.
After 10 days in San Diego we had successfully managed
to arrange air freighting the bike to Sydney from LA for a very reasonable
sum courtesy of ETC International. See the shipping section of www.horizonsunlimited.com
for details. We managed to get a very good deal for getting ourselves
to Sydney as well. Initially all the prices cargo companies and airlines
were quoting were outrageous and we were seriously considering the possibility
of spending the rest of the trip in North America.
Our flight to Sydney took us via Fiji where we had a 5-hour
layover experiencing a tropical heat for the first time since Honduras.
It may have been sunny when we left the USA but it was winter and it was
cool and dry, especially at night. I'd never considered stopping in Fiji
and when we took off for Sydney and had a magnificent view of part of
the country I thought it would be great to spend time island hopping in
the Pacific. This is not a sensible proposition for a motorcycle trip
Sydney was hot and sunny the morning we arrived. It was
amazing to think we'd just come a greater distance in less than 24 hours
than we had in the past four and a half months of riding. More fascinating,
we had just gone from late winter in the northern hemisphere to late summer
in the southern hemisphere, a hemisphere we had last been in at the beginning
of December in Ecuador, a huge distance away on the other side of the
Pacific Ocean. The world is certainly a big old place and flying is an
impressively quick way of getting around it.
The bike should have arrived the previous day and be waiting
for us in a warehouse in the cargo area of the airport. We went into our
now familiar routine of leaving our luggage and catching a taxi to take
us there via a petrol station to get oil and a few litres of petrol. Warehouse
fees paid we collected a customs officer from a nearby office and partially
opened the crate containing the bike so she could verify it was what the
carnet said it was. Had we cleaned the bike and especially the wheels?
Yes, of course we had so no need to fumigate it.
We were then left to get on with uncrating and setting
up the bike. The crate ETC had built was by far the strongest the bike
had ever been in. That and a damaged crowbar which was all the warehouse
had to lend us meant it took a while to unpack the bike. I was tired and
hot and at one point slipped and hit myself on the head with the crowbar.
Ouch! At least I didn't hit a part of my body I used a lot.
Collecting bike at Sydney Airport
Eventually everything was ready and after a well
earned rest in a beautifully air conditioned McDonalds back at
the airport we fitted the luggage on to the bike and headed off
to Sydney to find the parents of our friend Michelle who I used
to work with. We rode right through the centre of the city over
the harbour bridge with a view of the Opera House to our right.
Fantastic! Here we were with our bike from the UK riding across
Sydney Harbour Bridge looking at Sydney Opera House, two of the
strongest visual images of not just Sydney but Australia, which
we had seen on TV or in photos dozens of times throughout our
lives. Now we were part of that world famous image! That moment
It was rush hour but were in no great hurry and it turned out
we didn't have far to go to the inner suburb of Northwood. Michelle's
parents, Jeff and Judy, her sister Kerry together with her boyfriend
Glen gave us a really warm welcome despite us for some reason
being unable to call them from the airport and let them know we
had arrived. Beer? Wine? Steak done on the barbie? Shower?? Yes
Please! It was only a shame we had missed Michelle and her boyfriend
Tim who only a few days previously had flown back to the UK after
a 3-week holiday there.
We stayed for a week enjoying wonderful hospitality and just
being among friends. It turned out that Kerry had only recently
left her job with a company, which, amongst other things, was
a visa-finding agency. She arranged for Travcour to get us visas
for India and Pakistan while we travelled around Australia for
no charge other than the visa fee required by the embassies. We
had really landed on our feet!
We had to spend a little time doing things on the bike. I checked
the valve clearances - no adjustment was necessary which considering
the purely touring riding we had been doing wasn't surprising.
The engine had hardly been worked hard. A new back tyre was required
and the carburetors needed balancing, which was all sorted for
a very reasonable sum. Australia is a good place to buy tyres
with a wide choice at very low prices in comparison with the UK.
Being in a modern country governed according to the rule of law
we decided it would be best to buy third party insurance so we
went down to the Australian AA. No luck unfortunately. It turns
out that the compulsory element of third party insurance in Australia
is rolled into one with their equivalent of road tax and is called
Registration. All vehicles, including foreign ones, are therefore
required to be registered. This is completely different to the
UK where registration just means informing the Driver Vehicle
Licensing Agency who is the keeper of the vehicle and what their
address is. We went along to the Road Transport Authority offices
to find out how we could register the bike. Hmmm. We were told,
"You need to present your passport, carnet and a recent bank
statement after the bike has passed a safety inspection. Didn't
Customs tell you any of this?" Also, it would cost us Aus$250
and the Registration wouldn't be valid in Western Australia.
This was not good. I'm sure it wouldn't have really been necessary
to present a bank statement but we had given our passports to
Travcour a few days previously so this was going to be really
complicated. Also, we did intend to go to Western Australia and
we also wanted to leave Sydney the following morning. We'd already
been riding around Sydney for about a week so in the circumstances
we decided to not bother with Registration, ride very carefully
and be lucky. We did and we were so in the end it wasn't a problem.
It wasn't all work in Sydney though. We did lots of touristy
things like going on a harbour cruise, seeing the Opera House,
the Botanical Gardens, The Rocks area and going for a fish and
chip supper at Bondi Beach. Sydney has got to be our favourite
City anywhere. It has a beautiful centre set around a magnificent
harbour with little pollution and a comfortable to hot climate.
There are first class beaches all along the city's long coastline
and public transport isn't too bad. One of the downsides is that
it has become such a popular place to live that prices for accommodation
in the city centre have rocketed and the city is sprawling out
in every direction where there is dry land. Of course, that didn't
affect us at all and after being taken to some of the northern
beaches by Jeff and Judy I can understand why the beach lifestyle
is so popular there.
There is one very important improvement which could be made to
the centre of Sydney though. It badly needs more designated motorcycle
parking places. Those that are provided are almost always full
to overflowing and if you park anywhere else, including in a car
parking space, you are very likely to be fined. After San Diego
which had lots of spaces, and everywhere else we'd been where
you just park anywhere you don't cause an obstruction it was odd
to have difficulties parking.
It was the wet season up north and we wanted to go to Melbourne,
Uluru, Perth, Darwin and everywhere in between. We also had around
8-10 weeks, which we knew, wasn't enough. Jeff gave us lots of
detailed information on where to go between Sydney and Melbourne
and a few pointers for Melbourne to Adelaide so with that off
we went following the coast south along the Princes Highway. It
wasn't a great start. After half an hour we realised we'd left
our swimming costumes at Jeff and Judys. Luckily there is no shortage
of shops selling swimming costumes in that part of the world.
We rode through the Royal National Park and got no further than
about 120kms south of Sydney when we decided we'd found a good
campsite by a beach to spend the night. Although we'd been riding
in Sydney for a week I still felt a bit weird riding on the left
and really didn't feel like going too far that day.
We continued southwards the next morning passing through small
towns like Shellharbour and Ulladulla taking in lots of picturesque
views out to sea and getting used to the Australian landscape.
Out of town it was predominantly eucalyptus forest, which seemed
just wrong to my northern European eye. Forests are supposed to
be full of oak, birch and plane trees and the trees themselves
are supposed to shed their leaves not their bark aren't they?
The roads of course were very good although not perhaps as perfect
as those few I'd seen in the States.