AUSTRALIA: No worries, mate!

Click on images to enlarge them.


TOURED AUSTRALIA ALL MARCH AND PART OF APRIL.
STILL FINISHING THIS BLOG FROM CANADA IN JUNE --
WE'RE SO BUSY MOVING BACK HOME.
BUT IT'LL BE DONE SOON!

Ayers Rock + Kangaroo:
The two top Australian icons in one shot. Yessss!
OK, so one more ... Koala checks us out at Cape Otway

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Artist-friend Bill Anderson did it again!
Great slide show with music, of our Australia pics.
Click here for [link].
Thanks Bill: What a guy.

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How big is Australia? Very!
. . .– About the size of USA without Alaska; with 6% the population!
. . .– About the size of Europe & UK combined; 3% of the population.
. . .– About the size of all S-E Asia; 3%-4% of the population.
. . .– 75% the size of Canada; 20 mln vs 35 mln population = 60%.
. . . . Australia and Canada are very similar places, climate aside.
. . . . Both ex-Brit colonies, world-leading natural resource industries.
. . . . Both actively USA-&-UK-friendly liberal democracies.

The first stage of our itinerary is to ride from Darwin to Adelaide, right down the middle of the outback with a small detour for Ayers Rock.

. . .Road distances compared: N–>S Oz, versus Europe & USA:
. . .Darwin –> Adelaide Australia = 3,300 km (2,100 mi)
. . .New York –> Salt Lake City = 3,500 km (2,200 mi)
. . .Oslo Norway –> Palermo Italy = 3,100 km (1,900 mi)
. . .. . .thru 6 countries, the North-South length of Europe!
. . .London England –> Istanbul Turkey = 3,100 km (1,900 miles)
. . .. . .thru 7 countries, the East-West length of Europe!

. . .East –> West in Australia comparisons:
. . .Sydney –> Perth = 4,000 km (2,500 miles).
. . .New York –> Los Angeles = 4,500 km (2,800 mi.)
. . .St Johns Newfoundland –> Victoria BC = 7,500 km (4,660 mi)
. . .. . .Canada is about 67% wider than USA excluding Alaska.

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Economy: GDP per Capita (PPP = purchasing power adjusted) is $37,600 – ranking it #26 out of 225 in the world.

On this one economic measure, Australia is doing $2,000-$4,000 per capita better than the dominant European economies of Germany, France, UK, Italy; even better than Japan. Canada's GDP per capita is $2,000 higher, the USA's $10,000 more [source link.]

Unemployment is low at 4%-6% even during the current recession – which did not hit Australia very hard because its banks are well managed and so apparently is the economy: Public debt is brilliantly just 19% of Australia's GDP – versus Canada's much worse 72% and USA's 83%!

The bad news is that Aussies are living beyond their means even worse than we are. Personal debt per capita in Australia is 27% higher than credit-card-and-mortage-addicted USA, Canada trailing not far enough behind. Personal debt in Oz has risen to over 100% of GDP – dangerously high [source link] indeed among the world's highest. Extremely low personal savings in the western world are a most frightening long term issue.

Personal debt versus nation debt? Odds are far lower that a nation will actually go bankrupt versus millions of individuals; bailout band-aids do not solve the underlying 'beyond one's means' cancer that continues to fester/grow in the rich world. And not just among whites ...

Industry accounts for 25% of the Oz economy: Major industries are mining, industrial and transportation equipment, food processing, chemicals and steel. Agriculture is just 4% of the economy, while services account for 71%.

It's international trade balance is slightly to the positive.

It has just a 21 million population who occupy the 6th largest country in the world. Indeed it is by itself the world's smallest continent – a continent with just 6% arable land [world comparison list link] (Canada is 4.6%, USA 18%), but Oz has abundant minerals, including considerable oil and gas.

Australia is apparently in fine economic shape apart from the serious personal debt issue, and is growing at 2-4% in recent years.

It has a feeling of being much like 'at home' for us Canadians, especially in the cities, but even in the smaller towns. People apparently work quite hard, live well, in nice homes, with everything available to them.

A bit of a 'culture shock' for us, given the context and geography of our preceding year and a half of riding.

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Our travel time becomes tight. We had really wanted to explore the outback southeast of Darwin. Kakadu National Park [map and photos link] is evidently lovely, river rafting, waterfalls swimming, aboriginal towns to explore, wildlife galore and such.

But we've had unfortunate delays in the past few months: Most recently two weeks of waiting for a new tire, plus a couple more weeks lost between East Timor and the Oz transit. Add to that the mid-30's heat and daily monsoon downpours happening in the north – we were there during 'the Wet' (season) which is not the recommended one; plus the reality of having to be home in Toronto mid-May.

All combined to dictate hot-footing it to the South and start the arrangements to ship Black Bike home.

The original Plan A was to ride the circumference of Australia, but unfolding reality trumps Plan A.

One needs 2-4 months to explore these vast distances even superficially – time we simply don't have. June 1, 2010 we must move back into our house. But also frankly, after two years, it's time to get back to semi-normalcy for a while.

Flying back to Oz and NZ can happen any time when we are more refreshed.

Our two-year trip is drawing to a close, both psychologically and in terms of practical realities.

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Thao says: Oz a good buffer for re-entering North America. Thao went through more tangible culture shock than Wheezy after a year-plus in the Middle East and SE Asia. Although both of us felt it.

SE Asia is simply "more fun-ner." Edgier travel experience. Way more casual.

Suddenly gone are the ojeks (moto-taxis) cruising the streets and hustling $1 customers, replaced by normal taxi stands, cabbies with doing-you-a-favour ‘tude, a short hop being $10. Wide, empty, perfectly paved, clean, tidy streets. Kids are coddled, well-dressed, with shoes. White faces, too many of us overweight; SUVs; supermarkets packed with organic foods and factory brands; bottle (booze) shops everywhere with enormous selection; early and enforced 10 AM hotel checkouts at $100 a night; $250/day average living costs versus $50; gone is street hawker food, replaced by abundant trendy restos of every cuisine; modern functioning plumbing, good hot showers a given; safe drinking water from every tap. We're no longer stand-outs as foreigners, just two more average faces … and so on.

One gets re-accustomed to all the stuff we westerners take for granted, it takes time to re-adjust. Still the differences are a reminder and a shock – among the main reasons to travel perhaps.

Oz could not be more different from SE Asia. So near, 800 km by sea to Indonesia – yet so far. How totally, absolutely different the world is among immediate neighbours. A century apart. Day-night. Brown-white.

In our western world, stuff just works, we assume it – and stores have everything we've missed and often craved the last while. Roads are clean and perfectly paved, gone is the constant pothole vigilance; things are decently managed; people do their well-paid jobs.

But it's relatively homogenous, somewhat predictable, blancmange. It's edgier elsewhere, more of a daily challenge and adventure with a far greater amplitude of big and small experiences.

That extra edge and intensity is part of what makes an adventure traveller's life out there so much fun – conquering the various daily frustrations. Physical and cultural ones.

Cases of workplace ‘bullying’ are all over Oz TV news (yawn); some Oz cricket star losing his pretty starlet girlfriend is TV headlines for days. Tiger Woods ... oh please, stop already. Unions leading well-paid (and employed!) workers into strikes; sob stories on daytime television told by over-fed, taking-themselves-so-seriously, far-too-bored people – make us gag even worse than they do back home. TV is desperate for content, or so it seems. This is what interests westerners now? Maybe other westerners ... we rarely found anything worth watching.

Nothing profound. But one notices little things in another perspective, all the more acutely after living for a while on the other side of the tracks. But we'll readjust soon enough, likely in a few weeks.

However neither of us spoiled westerners wants to ignore, nor forget, just how good we all have it – even the bottom socio-economic tiers among us. Our spoiled-induced boredom has us looking for answers to relatively picayune problems in all the wrong places. But I guess humans everywhere need to complain about something.

How well our free enterprise system works, even for it's flaws! Just look at the visible superficial, it says almost everything. Compared to most places we've visited, we have no problems of great substance; but the majority of others sure do.

It's the good news and bad about other-side-of-tracks travel: Seeing everything afresh.

Comfort/convenience aside, we still miss the 'edge' we'd nearly become accustomed to. But Oz, for all its small differences, is a good buffer before going home.

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LEG ONE: Darwin –> Adelaide a straight shot down.

Darwin, the City. Arrived from East Timor Feb 24, 2010. Bike was cleared by Customs and Quarantine March 4. Nine days for bike to:
. . .(a) arrive when boat was delayed a couple days by weather;
. . .(b) clear Customs – easy, no charge with a required Carnet de Passage;
. . .(c) get through the very strict Quarantine dept. Australia has no-guff rules,
. . .. . .like a 2-3 business days wait after the boat leaves port.
. . .. . .Painful long wait in our case – almost a week.

A nice small town, very spiffy-clean. Very well maintained. The streets look cleaner than my kitchen counter when company's en route.

It was rebuilt twice: First time as the only city to be bombed by Japan during WWII. Second time in 1974 Cyclone Tracy levelled 70%-80% of the city [Cyclone Tracy link.]

Darwin is expensive, evidently much more than the south due to the distance and low population density. Plus, because business folks can get away with it I figure – remember I'm one of them too.

Canada and USA are cheap by comparison when buying things like groceries, restaurant meals or hotel rooms. A medium-size Coke is $4, a can of domestic beer $3, a small water $3 – all at a supermarket; boring fish 'n chips take-away for two is $30.

Four bucks for a Coke? Three for a bottle of water? It costs a few pennies to manufacture and ship this stuff; someone is making a few thousand percent profit – it's capitalism that makes New York look like a socialist haven. In USA/Canada the same products sell for 1/3 the price.

Gasoline ('petrol' to them) runs between $1.45 to $1.75 per litre in the Northern Territory – that's in the range of $5-$6 per US gallon, akin to Europe prices. In the south we learned later, it's around $1.30 per litre. Petrol is heavily taxed I'm sure, but it's still around 25% the price of Coke or water for the same volume.

Hotels in the northern territory, especially the outback, ditto. Far more costly and basic in the outback than in the very-developed south.

Recommended hotel in Darwin: Luma Luma Apartments [link] – at $85 based on a week's stay, it's half price due to being the rainy season. This was an exception to the 'high-priced' rule that typifies the North. Most semi-fancy places are in the $150 range and double that in dry season. We liked it because of a kitchenette in the room, a laundry down the hall and wi-fi in the room. After SE Asia, it's still relative paradise for us, we can cook our own favourite foods while blogging and watching English TV! For tired road warriors, that's bliss defined.

Internet access is very expensive in Oz, hence as a big user thereof, in Darwin I bought a month nation-wide contract with one provider for $70 – versus $5/hr. Trouble is, most hotels do not use that same company so once outside Darwin and a couple other places, I paid many times that price. Throughout Oz $5-$8 per hour was the typical range we paid – some places sell 12-hour contracts for $10-$15 on top of the hotel room. It's a pisser frankly.

Darwin has a couple supermarkets, plus in the suburbs one big shopping mall. Nothing very historic in town, it's all quite modern and recent in the most northerly city in Australia – with a large aboriginal population. It's a very clean functional small city we liked – good for a short visit.

But we did see Avatar in 3D – an even more mind-blowing experience in the context of being so long without thrilling entertainment. The town's wharf is pretty cool; Thao saw the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) which has fine aboriginal art, maritime and various archaeology goodies.

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The aboriginal integration thing: Something we aren't wise enough to get our heads around – but it is clearly not a non-issue. Many or most of the 'blacks' in Darwin walk the streets barefoot and look poor, most just hangin' around evidently. We were often stopped by beggars. On our one bus ride, the majority were aboriginal and some had obvious skin disorders and infections that were not getting attended to – most were quite unkempt. Alcohol and their biologically/socially poor tolerance thereof is an obvious national issue; there are many 'dry' towns and in some bottle shops even this older white guy had to provide ID for computer registration when buying a bottle of wine.

North America has its famed aboriginal issues as well; I've driven most regions of our continent including many native Canadian towns, even above the Arctic Circle. However Australia would seem on surface to face greater challenges in this department. We have no answers, just first-hand observations: The economic/social integration of aboriginals is not going well in Oz.

Aside from one remote small aboriginal town we accidentally detoured into – where we stopped for petrol and food, getting good food and meeting the charming helpful owner – we do not recall a single instance of being waited on by aboriginal staff. Not at a petrol station, a souvenir shop, a resto, nothing; even aboriginal art shops were staffed by whites. Why that is the case remains a question – there is otherwise low unemployment in Oz, the extra labour is needed.

. . .That said, I will never forget driving to Inuvik NWT Canada way
. . .above the Arctic Circle [map link] and being waited on at a burger
. . .joint by two Toronto guys, a white and a Chinese, flown in some 6,000
. . .km by the Government; subsidizing Torontonians to flip burgers there?
. . .A Ghanaian-born (African) fellow issued me a local fishing licence in
. . .Inuvik. They cannot get local guys/gals for such simple work? Nope.

. . .We're not just finger-pointing at Oz.

Far north Oz versus far north Canada.
Canada has its aboriginal issues too.



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Why is it named Darwin? We assumed wrongly: Mr. Origin of Species [book link] himself was never here, even though there is a Charles Darwin University on the outskirts. He visited the south end of Oz some 3,000 km away, but some contemporaries chose to name this distant city after him anyhow, 20 years before his landmark book was written.

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The best riding resource in Oz. Very fortunate to have encountered online a great biker dude on a BMW K1200 – a Brooklyn NY-er who lives in Sydney and travels this massive continent extensively on two wheels. Steve sent us a perfect riding itinerary and suggestions which we followed almost exactly, and which I will include below with our own comments added.

If going to Oz read Steven Peacock's excellent web site: Two Wheel Touring Australia [link]. We ended up riding with him for a few days in the South: He's not just a great fun guy, but also a walking encyclopedia about the entire country and where to go and stay – and is working diligently on the web site.

Steve owns a high-end software-related business in Sydney, loves living in Oz – riding is his passion, as is helping other riders through his website. The latter is an item of passion (as is ours) versus one of business.

. . .Suggestion to any biking groups going to Oz: See if you can convince
. . .Steve to be your guide and tour arranger if he has the time and inclination.
. . .You'll save much research time, will avoid going to the wrong places,
. . .you'll save money and will have way more fun. He's good company too.
. . .(This was written without his permission.)

Below is the (edited) itinerary that Steve most kindly composed and emailed me while we were still in Indonesia – he hadn't even met us and did so much work to make our trip better. What a generous and helpful guy; sure hope we can reciprocate one of these days.

I've turned it into our travel report as far as Adelaide.

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We didn't do this but other travellers should (look up places on Google Maps):

Steve Said: "Hit Kakadu Park and go to Jabiru, check out the Croc shaped hotel there. Also go to Border Store and Ubirr – see the aboriginal art and the savannah as well as Arnhemland. It is aboriginal territory so you will need a pass to get in, is not always open to the public. No paved roads there – all red dirt.

Do Litchfield and go swimming in the water falls.Justify Full

Katherine is interesting. Do a helicopter trip over the Gorges and/or a boat trip in them."

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Tried a shortcut from Lonely Planet map; had to backtrack 100 km;
road becomes 4WD mud track. This part's easy but spots flooded.

Steve Said: "Mataranka has a great little motel with wild peacocks roaming around. They have their own Barramundi farm [fresh water fish, link] and an open air restaurant. Food is very good and simple. There are also natural bore baths in Mataranka."

We said: Recommended hotel in Mataranka [map link]: Stayed at Mataranka Homestead Resort [link] about $90 for a motel room in the midst of parkland a couple clicks off the main road. It's just 100 metres from a walk-to thermal pool in the rain forest, a tourist attraction that books the place up completely during dry season.

Nice outdoor resto, good food: If you order an excellent $25 steak 'n chips there, get one for two people, it's a ginormous pig-out. (Food servings in Oz are often huge!) Very friendly folks work the hotel and drop by, made local drinking buddies and chatted into late hours. Very outback local culture, some employees live in their motor homes. Lotsa beers went down. Liked it and the unpretentious folks very much and they were fascinated by us, many questions. High marks to the whole experience.

'Yes!' to peacocks and wallabys [wallaby Wikipedia link] roaming free, just great. Stay there, nowhere else in the region.

Pet wallaby at a bar hangs around my leg for more cashews.
Wallaby runs as we come to check out
one of the bar owners' 1945 (?) Triumph being restored.

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Steve Said: "Larrimah is a nothing old town with a real old Aussie pub. I had a great breakfast there once. The Pub is off the main road on the east side of the highway (if I recall correctly) and there is an old guy behind the bar who is a character."

"Daily Waters is a little tourist trap that I’d check out."

"Renner Springs is pretty much a roadhouse, nothing flash. I got nice and drunk with some of the staff there on one of my trips. They were refugees from University in Sydney checking out the country and searching for the meaning of life! Great fun along with a bottle of bourbon!"

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We Said: In Tennant Creek [map link] we stayed at our favourite motel en route – the Desert Sands Motel [link] [phone: 08-8-962-1346, email: manager@desertsands.com.au]. Do stop there! It's owned and managed by a charming friendly Geoff Scott and his sweet and very bright daughter Izzy who mutually befriended Thao. The reasonably priced $90 rooms are very clean, well done, modern efficiency apartments with every amenity including not just a full kitchen, but also a washing machine in-room! Major luxury for travellers we took full advantage of. If we could have, would have stayed a few days, but had to keep riding.

It's an even better respite after the many over-charging places en route. In the Stuart Highway context, it gets five stars. Our highest rating in Oz, all the way from Darwin to Adelaide.

Izzy, Geoff's daughter is a precocious sweetie.
He owns our favourite motel on the Stuart.

There is stuff to see in the area, but we didn't have time to explore unfortunately.

We chatted with Geoff: One interesting and rather familiar business/cultural observation he made, was how hard it is to get help in running his fine motel. Admittedly it's mid-outback, but in a neat little town. It could be a good quiet life out there, and not costly to live. He had a Korean employee who moved on, so he tried to get other Koreans through an agency, but no luck.

White Australians? I suppose they don't need the work. Unemployed aboriginals live nearby in the thousands – meanwhile Geoff does it all himself.

Not even one ambitious aboriginal, a female for example, with some secondary school education ...? Not even one local white? He's looking for Asians? Sounds a lot like home.

Devil's Marbles: Small detour 100k S of Tenant Creek;
huge round rocks pop out of nowhere.

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Steve Said: "Wycliffe Well – see if you find any aliens. I never have, so I think they might be fibbing!"

"Barrow Creek is a gas station, a pub, and a motel."

"Alice Springs – lot to do and lots to see in and around Alice. A trip into the McDonnell ranges or King Canyon would be great but take a tourist excursion and leave the bike locked up at a motel. There is also a great museum there that will explain the whole geological evolution of Australia over the millennium, real interesting. Population 30,000, about half are USA military and the rest 50/50 aboriginals and local Australians. Alice is the only place I was concerned for my safety: There was a gang of aboriginals outside the restaurant I was eating in and they had a knife fight. The tourists never get touched as the aboriginal communities benefit from sharing in the revenue from the fees charged at the tourists attractions you will visit along the way. The town centre as a pedestrian mall with great shops and food. Don’t buy any opal as you will be stopping in Coober Pedy where opal is mined further south."


We said: Decent hotel in Alice Springs. Toddy's Resort [link] is reasonable although backpacker-ish at $90. The kitchenette is nice to have. Nothing luxe but OK and you can roll your bike right to the sliding glass doors which is a bonus. Wi-fi in the room is extra.

A tad unsettling health interlude: Unfortunately one night turned into four as Wheezy became so dizzy he could barely walk without help; riding a motorcycle seemed a bad idea, eh? Heart and blood pressure thoughts concern guys my age when that stuff happens; luckily a hospital was a kilometre away – and what a fine place.

Good doctors, fast service, reasonably priced complete check-up at under $300 including drugs. Not just the fine Singapore intern, but also the Big Aussie Boss MD looked after me. After every electronic and blood test, Mr Boss Doc decided that it was an occasionally-heard-of inner ear virus; a 'seldom but sometimes' bug. No heart or circulation issues, whew.

A couple courses of pills did their job; on 5th day we were cautiously rolling again.

Once again, counted our lucky stars it happened here right next to fine Aussie medical care, versus ... well, look at our previous itinerary.

It's simply one of the risks of world travel one must accept, the fear of needing to be air lifted to first-world medicine. This entire trip has been bloody lucky from the health point of view.

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Steve Said: "Erldundra is where you make a right hand turn to go to Uluru (Ayers Rock, but don’t call it that out there) and The Olgas (Kata Tjuta) – check them both out. I like to stay at the Sheep Station at Curtain Springs. Good food, a small pub, petrol and you sleep in a donga. Don’t ask you will see when you get there."

Bad hotel near Uluru: We stayed at Curtain Springs at the 'sheep station' which is basically a motel-restaurant – as it was the last non-usurous place within a reasonable drive to Uluru. We really disliked this place, even though it's only $90 and there are no other choices. Why?:

. . .(a) The two Aussies with extremely rude, bad chip-on-
. . . . . .shoulder attitude who worked in the kitchen and out front.
. . . . . .All staff we met had been there less than a couple weeks, two
. . . . . .of them nice German backpackers. One Aussie guy was waaay
. . . . . .drunk, got 'physical' with me for no evident reason except he's
. . . . . .macho, sorely tempting me – but physical response would
. . . . . .have been a bad idea, plus nighttime revenge by him on Black
. . . . . .Bike crossed my mind. So I stuck with colourful verbage, even
. . . . . .got him.in trouble with a manager-esse, changing a 2-night
. . . . . .booking.into a 1-night, explaining I couldn't stay where that
. . . . . .bloody idiot worked.
. . .(b) For $90 you get a bed in a teensy room as part of a 'portable',
. . . . . .and that's it. Nowhere to put your clothes, cheap immitation-wood
. . . . . .panel walls, crummy bed, as 'backpacker' as it gets. Toilets are
. . . . . .communal; 1 for women and 1 for men, a waiting game at wrong
. . . . . .times for maybe a dozen people of each sex.

. . . . . .In our 2 years touring context, it stands out as a major rip-off!

Food however is decent, and they have pet peacocks running around in a well-groomed yard. Some other guests we met were fun folks, as were a couple staff members who had a cynical attitude about the owner's greed and competence. Like ours.

I suppose it's better than paying $200-$600 for a nicer hotel at Ayers Rock Resort 100 km away ... but we were really pissed with the owner, who unfortunately we did not get to meet; I asked after him but he was apparently in hiding. (One employee said he was in Adelaide – which was a fib; others told us he was in his room on the grounds; none seemed to like him!)

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Ayers Rock [Wikipedia link with more photos] is really quite stunning and a must-see once in the area. Ayers Rock Resort is the town where most people stay – it's a bit of a tourist-formula town but I suppose that's inevitable for likely the country's top destination attraction. Hotels are priced in the silliness stratosphere, look them up online [link.]

Busloads of tourists, camper vans, in a manicured tourist-geared village in the middle of vast emptiness – some 250 km away from the main north-south highway – a 500 km round trip detour. A short distance away is the Park entrance where they charge $25 a person to get in.

Click on map to change size and see context.

What is the Tropic of Capricorn? Ah, you weren't awake in Grade 8 when they taught that? Well, neither was I.
. . . .It is at latitude 23º 26′ 16″ south of the equator, marking the most
. . . .southerly latitude at which the sun can appear directly overhead at noon.
. . . .The equivalent north of the equator is the Tropic of Cancer.

Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn N of Alice Springs
(a) Worm's eye view
(b) Space station view.
Our road to Uluru = Ayers Rock, crossing Tropic of Capricorn
It is stunning, majestic; a magnificent geological anomaly.

We Said: The Olgas – or Kata Tjuta meaning 'many heads' to the aborigines [photos and explanation link and more photos link] – are to us an even prettier rock formations than Uluru. Not as big but lovely. Thao went for a walk exploring them, but the flies and heat were a bit much, Wheezy stayed in the shade.

40 km from Ayers are the Olgas or Kata Tjuta.
Thao films the Olgas while approaching.

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The southern half of our 3300 km ride across.

Steve Said: "Kulgera is the last town in Northern Territory before you hit the South Australia border. It is a roadhouse, simple, clean, and as most are out there – expensive for what you get. Be careful there, the last time I went through someone was murdered in a knife fight.

"I really like the change in the terrain as you get south of the Northern Territory border. Keep in mind that you are below sea level for most of your trip so the land around reflects this legacy."

We said: Stayed at the Kulgera Road House in a donga (teensy room with no bathroom) at $50, decent value – their normal rooms were all booked up by road construction workers. A recommended place especially if you can get an en suite bath.

While Wheezy was checking in, an older aboriginal woman approached Thao asking for money; Thao declined and no offence was taken – they chatted away amicably for quite a while. It was the only real conversation either of us had with an aboriginal person our entire time in Oz. Too bad about that.

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Steve Said: "Coober Pedy is an old mining town. Oz is a mineral rich continent and you will start to see the evidence of this here. Most of the town is underground so sleep in an underground motel and eat in underground restaurants and shop in underground shops. There are only a few restaurants there so you have a choice of Greek, Greek or Greek. All are good."

We said: Visited the Old Timers Museum in town which is highly recommended; an actual opal mine that has been turned into a do-it-yourself tour. Very well done!

They, like a few dozen other places in town sell various kinds of locally mined opals, both as loose stones and jewelry, but we're not in the market. We did get an explanation from the friendly Old Timers Museum owner of the various colours and grades of stones – which is actually interesting: The breadth of colours is pretty amazing, especially how beautifully they reflect light on one direction but not in the other. Before buying an expensive one however (the nicest ones can get up there in price) – I'd want to know way more about stone quality and prices. For gem lovers, it might be worth studying up before going to Coober Pedy. And what a name it has, eh? Aussies do come up with some great names.

There are some quarter-million mine shafts in the area! Major opal turf.

The town's highway 'art piece' says it all.
An actual opal miners bedroom below ground.
A mine shaft they dug by hand with a pick axe.
Opal mining in 2010: Miles of this!

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Good motel in Glendambo [map link]. 255 km (2 hrs at 130 kph cruise control) of monotonous flat red earth after Coober Pedy, Glendambo is 600 km north of Adelaide, so it's a perfect 6-hour ride to save for the next day. A fine motel room for $94, clean, modern, laundry facilities, acceptable take-away hamburgers at the BP station attached to it. You can't miss it, just go to the gas station. Good place, a logical stop, no internet.

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Steve Said: "Pimba [map link] is a roadhouse not far from Woomera (another USA military base and nuke testing place). It is also the main illegal immigrant detention centre in Australia. You will likely meet pilots who fly in detainees from all over the country or USA and UK scientists. Until a few years ago they used to drive USA cars there with USA license plates on them as it was USA land."

We said: Stop at Pimba for fuel, it's a cool redneck kind of place, maybe have a drink on the benches outside. Then drive through Port Augusta as a little detour. It's just industrial, not a destination. Stay there only if the timing works; keep going if you can.

Landscape in last few hundred kilometres is now truly desert, devoid of trees, shrubs, just flat earth. Suddenly enormous salt lakes appear on either side of the Stuart out of seemingly nowhere, white, silver, a surreal sight.

Spotted several herds of emus immediately roadside and far off .

South of Port Augusta it's suddenly industrial: Cars in numbers not seen for a week, steady traffic, farmland, agricultural. The desert is gone. It's the furthest suburbs of Adelaide.

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Recommended motel outside Adelaide. We stopped at Port Wakefield Motel [map link] [motel link] on the main strip of the small town, $80 with a very strong wonderful shower, a perfect motel room with toaster, squeaky clean, nice gardens.

Here we celebrated our 20-month anniversary on the road at a hotel pub nearby, good grub. At 8pm we were last diners in the joint – Aussies are not late-night diners!

And the outback was behind us.

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Sunset on Stuart Highway
Straight, straight, straight. And flat. For days.

Do not ride/drive at night! We had been warned by everyone. It's likely to turn fatal. Many large animal carcasses are seen roadside; there must be badly bent cars for each of them. If the kangaroos do not jump in front of you out of nowhere, the enormous emus will.

We encountered a couple kangaroo crossings and emus roadside. But at night your lights blind them, they get confused and it's game over for both humans and wildlife.

Emus by the highway – Oz's biggest bird [more photos link]
Saw kangaroos too but they were too fast.
. . .Steve warned us/you:
. . "Kangaroos and emus they are motorcycle killers. Do not under any
. . .circumstances ride at night. They are nocturnal and it is like a zoo out
. . .there after dark. Do not leave too early in the morning. Shoot for 0800
. . .boots-up as they are often still out by 6 or 7am! Slow down where the
. . .vegetation is close to the road edge and if you encounter an emu
. . .tracking you (running alongside parallel) stop and let him puff out.
. . .They will track you then shoot right across in front of you and the
. . .next thing you will remember is being airlifted by helicopter to the
. . .nearest hospital – but only after lying there until the next vehicle
. . .drives by, which can be a long, long time in some places out there!"

---------------

Stuart Highway, world's longest straight empty road? A long, long time between cars: Driving down A87 for a few days, encountering another vehicle happens sporadically; sometimes five minutes apart, other times a half-hour.

On a first-world, principal north-south national highway – it's empty. Flawless road. Perfectly maintained. Straight, straight, straight. Flat, narry a hillock. Fast, 130 kph (= 80 mph) speed limit most of the way – with an alleged 10% extra permissible before the cops nail you.

Set the cruise control, aim the wheel. Snooze for a few days. Stop for gas and water every few hours. Repeat.

And the flies. The swarms of godawful little flies. They don't bite, but descend on you aggressively and instantly wherever you stop, going after your face first; they are everywhere, a zillion of them immediately. You must wear a hat and bug net over it and your face immediately, or else. It's the worst I've ever encountered.

In Tennant Creekfor some reason it was an infestation of little locust-type grasshoppers. Enormous swarms of them all over the building walls, bike, streets – and you.

Harmless insects, and the flies or grasshoppers are likely seasonal, but a dry season run would be our better suggestion.

Thao self-portrait in Olga's Gorge.
Heat and fly swarms très major

I never managed to swat even one of the flies, they're too fast; even used a bug killer spray when packing or unpacking the bike, just to kill a few hundred and give me a couple minutes to work.

Thao took this of Wheezy riding before Ayers Rock.
But check out the swarming flies at the beginning.


---------------

Highway trains: Back to the traffic: Mostly you meet those remarkable road trains – an 800 horsepower tractor truck pulling 3-4 trailers (at home they are in the 400 HP range.) Never have we seen this elsewhere.

So you'd think the drivers would get proportionately rich pulling all that cargo, right? Apparently not. We met one trucker who told us they get maybe 10%-20% more for these trains, and they get to drive in a straight line for days with no traffic. But aside from that, it's not big money – I think he said something like $25 an hour? Not much for hauling four trailers of fuel or other goods for days at a time.

Road train: Four trailers of fuel behind one tractor!
Ya, I was passing on solid lines – who's gonna complain?

Tony Mearns of Ulysses Club we rode with, sent these amazing shots.
(BTW I was told Ulysses is biggest MC club in the world.)
Road Trains at the Helen Springs [map link] cattle station!

----------------

3,000 km of endurance driving. Not to dis' this excellently-maintained paved road, and the landscape down the middle is not Australia's fault – but at least the Canadian prairies (also a boring endurance crossing) from Winnipeg to Calgary, and USA towns just to the south, have a couple days wheat fields to look at – broken up by miles of yellow mustard plants and some corn.

On the Stuart? Not much but vastness and occasional trees and shrubs. No agriculture, sometimes a few cows. A gas station that charges $1.70 a litre, sells so-so food and some basic packaged things. Like $4 for a bottle of (necessary) cold water. Then a couple hundred kilometers of nothingness again.

Including rest stops, one can do 1,000 km in a ten-hour day. So at minimum it's three days to cross the Stuart. If you stop a bit to look round, turn off for Uluru – it becomes a week.

If you have an AWD vehicle there are aboriginal villages and outback wilderness stuff to explore. That could be fun.

We encountered a Swiss couple who had rented a camper van for I believe $2,500 for 40 days – which is both a good deal and a smart way to explore Australia's vastness. One can camp virtually anywhere, drive a kilometre off the highway and call it home; there are many enormous empty areas to choose from. We can only imagine the fabulous wildlife one would encounter at night, sitting around a campfire, in total quiet, with a blanket of stars.

The stars at night in this vast pollution-free, clear-skied emptiness – a breathtaking perspective on our smallness. Insects here seem to sleep at night, so it would likely entail superb campfire nights of silence. Total silence. The stillness of the desert at night must be experienced to be understood, it's one of my finest lifetime memories.

However in our specific biking circumstance making miles was the current priority; still, glad we did the north-south Oz crossing. 'Twas memorable and interesting as a one-time trip. Next time, given a looser calendar, we'd do one or two of the coasts; regret we couldn't.

Southern Stuart Highway is days of 80 mph boring.
How much flatter & straighter can roads get?


----------------

Then we hit Adelaide.

LEG TWO: Adelaide ––> Sydney.

Great in almost every way! Such a refreshing change for us after a year and a half in 2nd-3rd worlds.
. . .• Superb riding - including some of the best twisty mountain roads.
. . .• Fine scenery.
. . .• Roads are perfect.
. . .• Nice friendly people without attitude.
. . .• Motels and restaurants of any calibre you seek.
. . .• Melbourne is among of the nicest modern cities we know. Ditto Sydney.

Adelaide to Melbourne about 1,000 km

Adelaide: Three days in a modern, clean, handsome city with some Victorian architecture. Surrounded by parks, big suburban hilly sections. We had unfortunately just missed the Adelaide Festival – one of the world's finest famed fests.

There's an impressive gourmet and lively Central Market, the Glenelg district and beach [link], Adelaide Hills, Museum of South Australia, Flagstaff Hill. Thao visited all these with her family while Wheezy stayed in the hotel to solve the transportation problem to USA (see separate blog topic.)

Thao has Vietnamese former-refugee relatives that have been here for a few decades; she visited, toured the town with them – extremely hospitable folks very happy to see her. Wheezy visited with them also and can attest it's a very bright and industrious group; they are living well in what could be good upper-middle homes in North America. One engineer cousin was visiting from Germany.

What else would Vietnamese family do in Oz? Eat pho, natch!
(It's still one of the best meals, for whites too.)
Auntie.
Uncle.
Next generation.

Good hotel in Adelaide: Regal Park Motor Inn [link] we stayed three nights, a $90 good value in north Adelaide, with swimming pool and wi-fi.

----------------

After Adelaide visited the gorgeous seaside historic town of Robe [map link] [photos link.]

The Guichen Bay Motel [link] in town is highly recommended, well worth the $80. Wheezy had the best peppercorn steak 'n fries at the motel's resto, with real dijon mustard – it was merely the best he can recall, ever. Asked for it (a seldom-heeded request) with "heavy peppercorn" and was it ever. The chef knows how, fantastic, and I got to tell him so. Other things ditto: This chef there is seriously good, the steak is a reason in itself to stay in this motel. Warning: One serving there is worthy of two people.

---------------

Great Ocean Road Coastal Route [map link.] Famed among Oz bikers, it's wonderfully scenic on perfect roads, many of them fun-twisty.

Passed through Mt. Gambier Blue Lakes [map link] farmland, grazing cattle.

At Port Campbell [map link] one begins to see lovely coastline. Stayed at the South Ocean Motel, best place in town for location, right at the end of the main strip, across from the beach at $90.

Following day, continued along the Great Ocean Road, visited the famed Twelve Apostles – enormous rocks jutting from the cliff-lined sea.

The Twelve Apostles rocks on the Great Ocean Road
Oz might be world champion of great coasts/beaches.

Hilly winding roads, forests. Stopped at Cape Otway the southernmost tip of the region [map link.]

From Apollo Bay to Anglesea [route link] north along the coast, stunning empty beaches, rugged coasts and cliffs, blinds bends, excellent camping riverside, crowded with bikes and motor homes – we did not have this stretch to ourselves! In Anglesea posh modern homes with fantastic sea views, surfing and the sky was full of paragliders taking advantage of onshore sea breezes.

Charming spiffy towns reminded us of New England's eastern seaboard towns in the USA. The Charm Committee has definitely been at work in many of these places, but not obnoxiously so – although it is clear target marketing at vacationers seeking new-old tradition.

The Great Ocean Roads ends around
Geelong [map link] just 80 km from Melbourne if you take the short route, which (at Steve's good suggestion) we fortunately didn't.

A motel to avoid: We stayed at – but earnestly suggest you don't – the Geelong Hacienda Motel at $100. It recently joined the Quality Inn chain, but the USA franchisor better re-read the contract carefully on customer service! The owner has terminal attitude problems; his Gestapo gentility stands out in one's memory after some 650 hotels in a row. Just as a final example, we were a half-hour late on his 10 AM check-out deadline; he was banging on our door and stomping around like an ill-mannered child – even though there were many other rooms to clean. Such a bad-tempered man needs to find a job that does not involve human interaction.

Leaving Mr. Hacienda in our dust, we took the ferry from
Queenscliff to Sorrento, then rode on to Melbourne [route map link.] It was a perfect day for a Sunday ride, hence some Hells Angels were aboard the ferry in their colours, plus a big bunch of other extremely loud bikes (Harleys and Yamaharleys) each trying to look/sound tougher than the next. The revving competition on the low-ceilinging ferry deck was deafening.

It is notable how the American wannabe-tough-guy biking culture by which Harley has done so brilliantly well, has shown up in this RTW ride as far apart as Europe, Malaysia and Oz. Mostly they're weekenders with bandanas. And here we are, amidst them on a wimpy GL1800 on a 90,000 km RTW ride – but our sound and 'look' isn't quite tough enough; some regarded us askance cuz our scooter is just too quiet and comfy. The Easy Rider [Wikipedia link] & The Wild One [link] culture hangs in fifty years later; Wheezy Rider however will not likely last quite so long ...

The coast road to Melbourne passing such pleasant surfside towns, gorgeous beaches, Mornington [map link] and Frankston [map link] thinking that Oz may rule the world for sun, sand and surf seekers. In these departments, just gorgeous.

----------------

Melbourne: One of our favourite big cities of this trip. Possibly it gets our highest 'fav' ranking since Cairo – of course they are totally different cities in every possible respect but Melbourne has this feeling as an extremely liveable and visitable city, both culturally and for business.

It's great-looking almost everywhere; plenty of superb architecture new and oldish (Australia itself was first settled by whites just 220 years ago). Melbourne street art is abundant and truly of high quality all over, they value and celebrate their artists here; a dynamic diverse population; every food imaginable and also of high quality; cozy café culture; ace beaches nearby; multicultural; abundant alternative lifestyles available.

Good hotel in Melbourne, with qualifications: We stayed a couple nights at Victoria Hotel [link] a restored 1880 place, now part of the French Accor chain. It's perfectly central, within walking distance of all sights, a short taxi hop to neighbourhoods, has parking, comfortable rooms. Basically a good deal at $110 in a first class city.

However they 'neglect to mention' with no signage, when quoting prices they will add 10% GST to the hotel price; in the Oz context, where it has been included every other of our 40 nights here, it's transparently Accor Hotels just pulling a sneaky on its customers. The internet is also a rip-off at $8 an hour – and you cannot log out, so if you use 10 minutes to check email, too bad for you – you get to buy another hour! That is gross black-white cheating on something that should be included free, especially when all other internet services in Oz allow log-off-on. That kind of stuff turns me off – as did charging the same $15 for a motorcycle as a car in the parking lot. Shame on Accor and the hotel's management for this dishonest, greedy stuff.

We walked for hours, taking in the many elegant shopping arcades, many of them Victorian restorations that are all very well done. Narrow alleyways with packed hole-in-the wall cafés. The river winds through town and is lovely. Federation Square. The fine street art. High quality street buskers – one guitarist who played a 6' didgeridoo [
Wikipedia definition link] at the same time, was superb! Designer shops. Chinatown. Much more. Loved it!

Melbourne skyscrapers on Yarra River.
New & old in Melbourne, both beautiful.
Best artistic lamp pole on earth?
Conical glass ceiling over historical tower at Melbourne Central.
Interesting huge art piece on dividing island downtown.
A city that invests considerably in public art.
Flinders Street corner, Melbourne.
Gorgeous modern buildings, true works of art.

----------------

Our route to Sydney in detail. Described below.
Click to get detailed Google map.

Leaving Melbourne toward the 'Australian Alps' we rode to Healesville, passing thru gum tree forests; a bush fire prone region had seen many disasters. Stopped in Alexandra village for lunch at the fine local bakery, visited Eildon and saw the dam, and stopped at Mansfield. Nice day's riding.

Recommended motel: Mansfield Valley Motor Inn [link], friendly owner, $90 nicer than average furnishings, pool. No internet.

Following morning off to Wangaratta gateway to the Great Alpine Road passed thru Myrtleford, stopped at Mt. Buffalo Chalet which is closed due to fire. Then on to Bright, and entered Alpine National Park, enormous mountain forests without leaves, mountain views, great riding of twisties.

A bush fire en route to Mt. Buffalo Chalet
Gum trees (Eucalyptus family) shed bark and leaves – quite white.
Mountainous acres of white leafless gum trees.
Naw, stay right? ... You have to be kidding!
Versus down the cliff?
On Mount Hotham, Great Alpine Road.
More breathtaking coastline, yawn.

At Mt. Hotham views become panoramic ranges on either side 1650 metres altitude, very pretty. Stopped at Omeo.

Highly recommended motel: Omeo Caravan Park [link] is by far the best deal in town, or more accurately on the riverside edge of town, $80 for a cabin by Livingston Creek – with ensuite bath, separate living room with TV and kitchenette, cute, cozy, but spacious. It's living in nature. We liked it so much we decided to spend two nights. You might consider it a possible few days' vacation base for doing local run-outs. However there is no internet or cell phone reception in the area.

Next day, leaving our bags in the cabin, we rode around the region looking for lunch in a café with wi-fi; great riding in splendid countryside!

Passing Anglers’ Rest, we rode to Falls Creek at 1780 metres, skiing country, where the road is challenging even in summer, roughly paved, cliff drops, narrow, and steeply climbing at times. Gorgeous upmarket ski chalets, but most of town closed in off-season, no wi-fi in town (!), therefore cont’d to Mt. Beauty 30 km downhill, endless winding twisties.

Passing lakes dams, and then marshland, heather a lot like the Scottish Highlands, great trekking.

We finally found internet at a bicycle shop (!) shop outside Bright. Why is it often so hard to find internet in Australia? It was getting kate by time we got home – none too soon, we spotted a kangaroo coming out for the dusk.

Next day, set off to meet Steve Peacock, for a few days of riding. Took the Omeo Hwy, which appeared fine on map, but it was only half paved. The other half is big gravel rocks, the kind that are really hard to ride on, exhausting in fact, and can damage tires. Strenuous few hours to drive to Mitta Mitta from where it is perfectly paved.

Hotel recommendation: Rode the Hume Hwy stopped for the nite at Albury Wodonga, Cottage Motor Inn [link] at $85 plus wi-fi.

Next morning rode Hume Hwy to Tumut, where we finally met Steve for the first time in person after many emails, had lunch there and rode toward Cooma via Snowy Mountain Hwy, 180 km away, stopped en route at Adaminaby, home of the world’s largest trout statue.

Good Motel: Stayed at the Cooma Sovereign Inn Motel [link] $100 for smallish but good rooms, dined at the quite decent Lebanese resto in town.

Rode through nice mountains to oceanside Bermagui, nice driving up the coast, stopped at Bateman’s Bay.

Steve took us to an amazing woodworking outlet, one of the finest we have ever seen, where we left quite a bit of money! In fact we bought our only Australian souvenirs and gifts. Bungendore Woodworks Gallery [link] in an eponymous small village; a destination for any tourists. It was founded by a New Yorker 27 yrs ago, is now an award-winning place that sells superb crafts by the country’s best, who in our view challenge any country's best. They ship worldwide and one can order online. Trust us, it is better than it even looks in the web site's photos.

This chair won 1st prize in a competition at the time of our visit.
$16,000 and worth it: Detail and technique unsurpassed.
By sculptor S F Johnston.

Later that day on to the nation's capital Canberra, saw the new & old parliament houses and wanted to spend another day exploring the town. However every room in town and the surroundings was booked solid because Lady Gaga was in town.

Good motel: Rode on to Goulburn, stopped at the Bakehouse Motel [link] just off the highway, it's nicer than the average modern motel, next to a bakery and the giant merino sculpture, $99 for a big room with all amenities. Very friendly owner.

Then on to Sydney.

American free enterprise is doing well here.
On the ferry to Sorrento.
USA biz cont'd: Subway, 7-Eleven, McD's ... the works.
Hungry Jacks? Burger King's name was already taken here.
Interesting legal/biz history, $46 mln lawsuit [link]; 300 Australia stores!

Great place to stay in Sydney, especially if you have wheels and/or if you're a backpacker: Billabong Gardens [link]. We ended up staying over a week and liked it very much. Got a room with balcony and private bath for $90 which is cheap in a costly town; free Black Bike parking indoors behind a locked gate (important), cars are $5 a night. Wi-fi internet is fast and cheap, like $2 a day for heavy use when blogging away! On a quiet street away from traffic noise, it also has cheaper backpackers rooms and do-it-yourself kitchen, swimming pool – the works. Unpretentious, but a spotlessly clean and well-maintained place. Very nice staff in Billabong and other guests are cool international Oz explorers – from many European countries and USA. Touring Steve recommended it and he was again spot-on.

It's in a funky part of town, Newtown, with abundant fine restos including excellent ethnic like Mexican, Nepalese and everything else a half block away. We really liked the street scene in the area, many younger and older 'alternative lifestyles' types, some pink hair, tattoos, goth outfits, etc. but it's totally safe and we prefer to be away from business suits and fashionistas – of which there are many in Sydney and abundant $500 hotels where you can share the $100 white tablecloth bistro with them.

----------------

Stuff you perhaps didn't know about koalas?
. . .They're cute but kinda dumb and slow, the sole mammal whose
. . .brain does not fill the skull (it's 40% just fluid in there!)
. . ."The Koala has decided that a brain is an extravagance." They eat
. . .solely eucalyptus leaves, never come to ground, spend about 80%
. . .of the day sleeping, 10% eating and the remaining 10% just sitting
. . .[source link.] Oh, and it's a marsupial, not a bear! [Wikipedia link.]

Many Koalas encountered on a 12 km detour to Cape Otway
Movie of baby Koala backing down a limb
to mommy's protection.
Larry the Giant Lobster in Kingston SE coast.
World's biggest, maybe 50' high?
Many Oz towns identify themselves with giant
statues of the local specialty. World's biggest trout?
Following Steve through nice hilly terrain.
Yellow lines are so you can see them in snow. Smart!
(Yes it snows here, some big ski resorts.)
Riding some fine hills on perfect roads.
(Turn down sound to kill wind noise)

---------------

Sydney: What a great city! At 4.5 million it's both Australia's largest city and the largest in the entire Oceania region. So much has already been written there's no point repeating it here, so if you plan to go to Oz, allow a few days to soak it in. Wikipedia has a good selection of topics covered, tourist sites included [link.]


Three-story stunning Apple store downtown Sydney.
(Makes me eat my former Apple dealer heart out, it's retail genius.)
Flawless '57 Chevvy at a Mobil station.
(Right hand drive old Chev's have to be rare!)

Sydney Harbour: Possibly the prettiest harbour of any city we have seen – it's perhaps the nicest of any big world city. And evidently spotlessly clean. Abundant tourist boats many with their own character. Spectacular bridges. Superb modern downtown with some old buildings preserved. Great walking-jogging and shopping areas, parkland all along the water. People-friendly, family-oriented. Fine and sometimes spectacular varied architecture.

We did a harbour cruise on their brilliant ferries, which definitely warrant a day's outing. Like boarding buses, you just buy a ticket, pick one and take a ride, stopping off where you feel like it.

There are many sections of town quickly and most scenically accessible on the incredibly fast, comfortable and quiet boats. I've been on a lot of boats in my life but have never been so impressed with a flat water ferry like this one.

Wonderful encounter with Ulysses Club [link]. It's the largest bike club in Oz, intended mainly for over-50 riders, although we met some riders among them under that; anyhow we were contacted by wonderfully friendly and hospitable Tony Mearns a member of The Hills Club [club link], a branch of Ulysses. Cannot recall how he found us ... but he went far out of his way to be friendly and hospitable to these far-away strangers, we're sure glad he did. Rare exceptional hospitality, making our Oz trip far more memorable and fun.

He was setting an example of how one ought to treat foreign travellers in your land – something I hope we can show other travellers in Canada/USA. (If ever passing through our corner of the earth, you know how to find us! Please do.)

And if riding in Oz be sure to hook up with this fun and civilized bunch of boyz 'n girlz; go for some fine riding led by local experts and have a few beers and grub with them. You'll experience another slice of their magnificent country.

Why is it named Ulysses? Wheezy finds it appropriate, so quoting from their web site:
. . .
The name comes from a poem of the same title by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
. . .
It tells how the great Greek hero Ulysses, now middle-aged and securely
. . .
in charge of his kingdom of Ithaca, is getting bored with things around
. . .
him and longs to go adventuring again with his shipmates of old.
. . .
It describes very well indeed the sort of person who still has enough spark
. . .
to go on riding into middle and later years.

See why it works on your author here? If I spent any regular time in Oz, I'd certainly join.

In any event Tony very kindly did a big detour, came to our hotel to help us find the place where the club meets Saturdays for a coffee and a ride – Pirate Pete's Café in Dural [route link.] Socializing with wide variety of folks from all walks of life and all kinds of bikes, even a few Wings, Bimmers, Harleys various flavours of crotch rockets and touring bikes. Then a group of us rode the countryside, through great twisties, stopped for some refreshments, then homewards to Sydney. We just followed so do not know the route, but it was fine riding on roads that we'd have never found without locals.

As a postscript, Touring Steve organized a 'shown 'n tell' show for his favourite charity the following week; Thao and Wheezy did a slide show of our circumnavigation and a Q&A talk. A bunch of Ulysses folks showed up; touching and flattering they came.

Steve did a great job and hopefully the not-for-profit radio station made a few bucks. We had a ball in any case, and made some Oz friends with whom I hope we can reciprocate one day.

We cannot over-thank Steve Peacock of Two Wheel Touring [link]; Tony Mearns and his buddies at
The Hills Club [club link] and the Ulysses Club. In various ways they individually and collectively made our trip in Oz.

Bikers: You simply must not go to Australia without contacting them.

A few Ulysses biker club members took us for a ride & meal outside Sydney.
Huge national club, 120 chapters, tens of thousands of members ...
Ya gotta be over 50! (For me they made an exception.)

---------------

Sydney Opera House: It exceeds it's billing. Merely one of the world's great buildings, a bold, gorgeous, stunning symbol for not just a city, but a whole proud nation. One cannot overstate how stunning it is, especially when the light hits those 1 million Swedish tiles just right.

Completed in 1973 for $100 million (originally budgeted at $7 million) – it's now a UNESCO world heritage site. Six theatres inside including the 2,600-seat concert hall, 1,500-seat opera house, with attendance of 1.2 million/annum at 1,500 shows – making it one of the busiest arts venues in the world.

It was designed by brilliant Danish architect Jorn Utzon (died in 2008) – with painful political interference by a succession of governments that became cleverly known as "Malice in Blunderland." The actual construction of it was evidently a horror show of mismanagement and politics. The cherry on icing was, the great architect himself was not invited to the opening attended by Queen Elizabeth, nor was his name even mentioned. [Source link.] Unbelievable idiocy by some, but credit where due – it got built and what a masterpiece.

We attended a show in the big concert hall: Banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck and Mali's (Africa) Oumou Sangare & Band [YouTube link.] Let's leave it with: We left at intermission, even though I used to play banjo and we both know and love Africa. We weren't alone either. Bo-ring. It was hard to tell about the hall's acoustics because of major amplification, but the house is simple, modern, tasteful with comfortable seating. Clearly a great hall(s).

The real thing overlooking stunning Sydney harbour.
"Malice in Blunderland" turns into major art.
Not the same but ... Baha'i temple seen in Delhi a few months back,
the cross-pollinization is obvious.
How did they do that?
Click for close view of tiles and concrete castings.
Viewed from the water
The City operates brilliantly designed fast ferries within the harbour.
This is one of them. So fast (guessing 30 knots), while so smooth and quiet.
Aussie-made catamarans are famous in the boating world.
Cute walk-in spiral fountain, at very people-friendly Sydney harbour.
Water spirals down, kids love it.
Just pretty 'morning glories' growing wild.
South Oz marks the 1st time Wheezy has worn
riding jacket & jeans in many months, due to serious heat!

---------------

Katoomba & Blue Mountains National Park: [Map link.] [Panoramio photo link.] [Wikipedia link.] Also known as Three Sisters Park due to three giant rocks of that name. Katoomba is about 100 km from Sydney.

The Blue Mountains Park is an enormous tree-lined canyon, allegedly bigger than the Grand Canyon (I have no hard evidence) with 1-hour to 3-hour boardwalk hikes through dense heavy forest. It's a rare natural wonder to see and well-explained by signage along the way.

You take the world's steepest funicular railway down, then a series of cable cars back up. Great views, nature hikes and a few thrills, especially on that scary-steep railway.

How the world's steepest railway looked in 1800's.
It was a coal mining railway then
but gives an idea of the steepness.
Steepest railway in the world (Guinness Book) takes you down.
Feels like 80˚ but is only 52˚; a safe thrill.
Australia's Grand Canyon but tree-lined.
Click to enlarge and see the Three Sisters rocks at left.
Three Sisters from cable car across the void.

Recommended motel in Katoomba: Stay at 3 Sisters Motel [link]; it's a short hike to the cable car so you don't pay for parking. Nice US-quality motel rooms for $110 and free wi-fi (they ask $10 extra but will cheerfully negotiate.) Very friendly staff. We stayed two nights because we liked the motel and the tourist-oriented town. (BTW, UK's Sunday Times rated it Oz's best value motel in 2009!)
. . .Easy error advice: Avoid accidentally staying next door at the
. . ."3 Explorers" which we almost did due to the close names.
. . .The Explorers' owner is rude and unbelievably small-minded.
. . .His place is relatively old and run down but our capper was, he
. . .intentionally pointed us 180˚ in the opposite direction when I
. . .asked about 3 Sisters, explaining I truly needed internet he didn't
. . .have. He said "up that road" so we wouldn't find 3 Sisters
. . .slightly hidden by some trees, but right next door! What a jerk.
. . .He clearly hates his far better competition. Price almost the same
. . .but no wi-fi and much lower general quality.




LOVE THE TITLE: "A Wing and a Prayer." Dead on.
Nice Honda Oz newsletter about our trip, to dealers/owners.
Click to enlarge and read.
Honda Canada/USA has not even acknowledged our existence.
(They truly care less. I'll bet BMW cares more!)







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