Impressions of Oz; the First Few Miles

It took only a short ride through Sydney to work out that I’m not in New Zealand anymore.  The volume of traffic was a clue; I think I’ve seen more cars in the last three days than in the whole six weeks in NZ.  Also, someone had built a fairly famous bridge and opera house in the middle of town.  There may well be bridges and opera houses which are famous in NZ, but probably not in this league.

But the real giveaway was the cyclist I met while taking hero pictures of the Beast, which was quite pleased with itself after cruising across Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Where Kiwis just tended to ask where I was going, and commiserated about the weather, this guy really gave me the inside track on Australia.

Depending on how it goes, I’m going to die of thirst in the outback, get hit by a road-train (or just a truck with an amphetamine-crazed driver), be attacked by spiders, snakes and crocodiles (possibly all at once, by the sound of it), or be abducted and murdered by one or more of the myriad desert weirdos who haunt the Northern Territory.  This was all imparted to me in a slightly hysterical voice, and with the earnestness of a man who clearly believed I was entirely nuts to be even considering riding to Darwin.

I’m still not sure whether he was trying to wind me up, or whether he actually believed all this, erm, stuff.  I’ve checked with a couple of other (saner-seeming) Aussies, one of whom thankfully came along immediately afterwards.  The general consensus seems to be that he was probably being serious, but was clearly an institutionalised townie, and not a Proper Aussie Bloke.  The general consensus also seems to be that I’d be very unlucky to have more than one of these disasters befall me.  Which, of course, is a massive relief.  I think.

The most dangerous wildlife I’ve seen so far were some giant pelicans, which were parked up by the side of the road between Swansea and Newcastle.  OK, OK.  By a lake near the road.  They didn’t seem especially interested in attacking me, so I’m taking a fairly relaxed view of Australian dangerous creatures so far.  And, much though I hate to admit it, Aussie drivers seem to be less spooked by bikes, and keener to give cyclists space than in NZ, so I’m not over-worried about the traffic either.

There are still a few concerns, mainly to do with time.  I’ve only got three months to get to Darwin before my visa expires (when did Brits suddenly start needing visas anyway?).  And Australia is enormous.  Sydney to Darwin is a significantly longer ride than Toronto to San Diego, which took me just over two months.

The weather may play a role in slowing me down, too.  I’m back in the all-too-familiar hostel window / rain scenario again today (Thursday), stuck in Newcastle.  Too many rain days (and I’m very much in storm season at the moment) would quickly push me behind schedule, but there are worse places to be stuck, I suppose.

I’m also likely to lose a bit of time in the next few weeks, with my birthday, Christmas and New Year to fit in.  Any (or more likely, all) of these will probably cause a fairly slow start to the riding here to turn into a very slow start.  So there will be some time to catch up somewhere along the way.

It might be raining today, but it’s not cold like it was in NZ, which is a big plus.  But the heat will build as I head north towards the tropics, and may cause problems in the outback.  I’ve spoken to a few people (not of the hysterical persuasion), who say that it’s a tough ask on a bike.  Although I’ve also now met four bikers who have ridden it (albeit in the opposite direction), so it clearly can be done.

So.  Australia.  Well, so far, it’s big, and not especially dangerous.  It has fish and chips, pies and cake.  It has decent drivers.  And it has lots of pretty spots along the coastline.

How long it will remain so benign, I don’t know.  How long it will be before I’m flapping about time and / or the weather also remains to be seen.  And how many of the many potential catastrophes outlined above will actually happen is yet another unknown.

I’m looking forward to finding out.

Except for the catastrophes.

What a bummer if he’s right…


Bye, bye, New Zealand. Hello, Australia!

It’s summer again.  After the cool, damp and beautiful interlude of New Zealand, I’ve landed in Sydney.  Back into high 20s – early 30s C (though at least I’ve missed the 40C temperatures of a couple of weeks ago).  Back into humidity.  And back into thunderstorm season.  It feels a bit like a flashback to the American mid-west.  Though it looks a little different.  And just like NZ, there are pies here.

The last few days to Christchurch were fairly uneventful.  I found probably the busiest and flattest road in the country, and ploughed along it for a couple of hundred kms.  Apart from a few raindrops and a few more brushes (not quite literally, thankfully) with NZ drivers, nothing too exciting occurred.

I did meet yet another cyclist who put my trip in perspective; a Frenchman in (I guess) his sixties, who’s been on the road for five years, across four continents.  Pretty remarkable.  More surprising, is that he’s planning to stop in a few months.  I guess that’ll be a difficult transition for him; I worry a bit about what I’m going to do when I finish, so it’s hard to imagine what it’d be like after five-plus years.

Christchurch is still a city in transition, rebuilding itself after severe earthquake damage.  It feels a bit odd, as the city centre is essentially a massive building site, with the heavily damaged cathedral surrounded by empty lots, diggers and cranes.  A few hundred metres away, there’s a temporary shopping centre built out of shipping containers; an ingenious solution to the devastation caused to the city.

And then another few hundred metres takes you to the older area of town, which looks almost quintessentially English.  There are a bunch of Victorian buildings, which seem to have escaped the earthquake damage almost completely (along with most of the suburbs).  There’s the River Avon running through parkland, and there are punts on the river, just as you see at Oxford or Cambridge.  The contrast with the central district is astonishing.  Hopefully, as time and rebuilding go on, the city will reintegrate itself, but I suspect it’ll be a few years still until it all fits together seamlessly again.

On Sunday, I was outside Christchurch airport trying to pack the Beast into a slightly-too-small box, which was continually trying to blow away in the blustery wind.  Eventually, I managed to squeeze it in, and only had to pay 90% of the cost of my own ticket to get it on the plane.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend flying with a bike as a stress-free experience.

In the end, the Beast did get on the plane, and the plane performed as expected.  We arrived in Australia on Sunday evening, stepping out of the air-conditioned airport into the muggy summer night.  A day spent rebuilding the bike on Monday, as well as patching a damaged pannier (exploded mosquito repellent, plus Ortlieb pannier, equals chemically-melted plastic – ouch!).

And this morning (Tuesday), I’ll be on the road in country number nine.  Back on with the sunscreen and shorts for a while, though the rain jacket looks like it’ll still be useful, too, on occasions.  More from Oz soon, as I begin the long, long trundle to Darwin…