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Published: February 6th 2011
The obligatory picture of Sydney Harbour Bridge
...aaaand you're back in the east
We reached Sydney by mid morning on the 5th Jan, gathered all our scattered possessions from the various luggage vans, loaded up the bike and tried to find a way out that didn't include steps. After several false starts involving steps, an escalator, tram tracks and numerous pedestrians who couldn't see a bright orange five barred gate when it was right in front of them, we found our way to a Gloria Jean's (coffee shop) for a very late breakfast. Vernon was immediately accosted by a bloke who wanted to know all about the bike and our journey, when we told him that we'd cheated badly and taken the train across the Nullabor he said "Don't blame you, don't blame you at all, there's drivers had to leave their cars after a breakdown and when they go back it's been nicked, it's them thievin' Abos." So, less than one hour off the train and the casual racism is in full swing.
Just a brief note for those who didn't follow our last journey, we got this kind of rubbish all the time in the NSW and QLD mainly from white, male Australians, yet the
only drivers who ever stopped to check up on us when we were stopped by the side of the road were Aborigines - always the same questions, were we OK? Did we have all the tools we needed? Did we need a lift anywhere? Were we OK for water? Did we need directions? Fellow cycle tourists have told us similar stories, so it was really galling to hear the same old paranoid tripe repeated again this time around.
We disentangled ourselves tactfully; well actually that's not totally accurate, I escaped by going to get coffee and muffins, leaving Vernon to tactfully escape Mr Scare Story and his charming lady friend who was wearing a very short skirt and sat in such a way as to display a set of thankfully sturdy but terrifyingly turquoise undergarments.
We were having difficulty finding somewhere to stay so headed up to the big info centre at The Rocks to use their accommodation booking service. Brace yourselves for a shock here, we got on the tandem, yes we actually rode somewhere! First time in a while and we chose central Sydney as our starting point, it wasn't that bad really, a lot of stop-starting
because of all the traffic lights but we were doing the same speed as the other traffic, the main problem was pedestrians who would see Vernon, then me and assume they could walk between us when crossing the road. I was less panicky than I'd been before in traffic and managed to stay clipped in to my pedals when we stopped, Vernon was doing a good piloting role, not stopping too sharply (sharp stops result in me sliding off my saddle and headbutting the pilot, so not good for either of us) and keeping the bike upright when stationary. We mistakenly headed up Pitt Street on the way to The Rocks and had to do a quick rethink when we reached the pedestrianised zone, a short push to George Street soon got us moving again and we reached the info centre in a few minutes.
The booking service gave us the shocking news that all the backpacker's in the city were full so we opted for a cheap hotel in Chinatown where we were assured the tandem could be safely stored. A short trip back down George Street and we reached our destination, checked in and asked where the tandem
would be stored, the receptionist looked a bit worried, then disappeared into the office and said "Umm, it's that bike..." another person appeared, opened the luggage storage door, pointed at the top shelf and said "Will it go up there?" "Yeah, if we break it down first." So a combination of dismantled tandem, us lifting from below and the second hotel worker climbing up the luggage shelves and hauling it up from above got the Jaffanaut safely out of the way. We forgot to check whether the acrobat would be about in the morning to help us get it back down again. Thankfully when I said "We need to get the bike out" and pointed at the door of the luggage room the next morning, the receptionist immediately disappeared into the back office and found the staff acrobat to help.
We set off across the city again, this time to Circular Quay for the ferry to Manly. Whenever there is mention of Circular Quay I get the Pogues song Waltzing Matilda in my head and this time was no exception, I had to stop myself singing it out loud as we sat in traffic queues at every junction on
George Street, although a poor rendition of a drunk Irish bloke burbling "and the band played Waltzing Matilda as we sailed away from the quay..." may have made a few of the more intrepid road crossers look twice before they blundered into my stoker bars. There was more fun to be had at the Quay as Vernon tried to manouevre the Jaffanaut around in a crowded arena, I acted as banksman at first but quickly realised that a more strident
approach was needed as people couldn't see me blocking a route and guiding a large orange bike, nor could they see Vernon manouevering said bike, so I adopted a filling the entire space with arms approach which worked until one particularly important woman barged past me, knocking me sideways at which point I yelled at Vernon "Ah, sod it, drop the b****y thing on her." Funnily enough she suddenly found a reason to not be where we were then.
We stood back and let the throng rush to get the best seats on the ferry, barging past the infirm, unstable and chair bound in the process, before we wheeled the Jaffanaut in and blocked the exit nicely - Ha, none
The Three Sisters, Katoomba
They were very shy and hid behind cloud for a number of days
shall pass on the way out! In reality we stood meekly aside as the throng jostled for a quick exit and first choice of beach sites, before getting the bike shoreside and finding a beachside cafe to watch the entertainment from. We were followed off the ferry by a couple of pushchairs and a wheelchair, like a cyborg mother hen and her charges. The pushers very sensibly stayed behind us, letting Vernon cut a swath through the milling pedestrians at the jetty and just followed in his wake, I gave up trying to get people to move as it became abundantly clear that "Excuse me please?" was completely foreign and only "Get out of the b****y way!" in stentorian tones seemed to have any effect, that effect being they would stare at us then look away again while remaining rooted to the spot.
We spent a few nights at Manly, in a second floor apartment which we had to carry the bike up the stairs to so we could secure it. We were entertained by a surf rescue boat contest one day which we just happened upon, the crews were rowing out to a marker, turning and rowing back
in to shore, the winner of each race being the team that didn't tip their boat over getting through the breakers, kept all the crew in the vessel and caught a good wave on the ride back in - or at least that's how it seemed to us! Unfortunately neither of us had a camera at the time so you'll have to imagine all the excitement. We also found a rather good brewery (4 Pines) who make a particularly nice wheat beer and a bike hire place which stocked Schwinn tandems, we didn't hire one ourselves but watched a number of couples trying to ride them after almost no advice on how to ride two-up, I wondered whether they had a cruiser brake, Vernon winced at the idea!
Heading for the hills
We soon got bored of the surf life and headed inland to the Blue Mountains for a spot of track walking and a little less heat; basing ourselves at the lovely Blue Mountains YHA in Katoomba, a spectacular Art Deco building from the 1930s which is listed and retains most of it's original features. We walked the Grand Canyon from Blackheath, numerous walks around Katoomba
and Leura and took a day trip to the Jenolan Caves.
We started off with flat walks around Katoomba, the Prince Henry Track, the walk to Leura Falls and such like, all on even surfaces with steps on any slopes. After our first walk we were crossing our names off the "We've gone walking" list at the hostel when on of the staff said "No leeches then?" We looked at each other, surprised and rather grossed out by the question, then check our lower legs and said "Nope". After his shower Vernon wandered into the bedroom and said "I think I spoke too soon" showing me what looked like a slug attached to his ankle. We then discovered that the way to get rid of a leech is to put salt on it (mouth end), so it's vinegar for sea jelly stings and salt for leeches, if you're travelling around Aus just make sure you are prepared for fish and chips and you should be OK!!
Once we'd got the hang of this tramping lark we headed out to Blackheath for the Grand Canyon Track, this is a stepped descent into a river gorge (The Grand Canyon), then a
"medium level" walk along the river before a stepped ascent back up the gorge. The river walk was a combination of low overhanging rocks on the riverside path, boulders and stepping stones to regularly cross and re-cross the river and damp undergrowth ideal for leeches to lurk, waiting for a bit of bare flesh. Vernon did the sensible thing and slipped off a rock into the river at the first crossing and after that just waded through everything, I, on the other hand, was very wimpy about the whole thing and dithered a lot trying to stay dry (which I did manage, but it slowed us down massively). We were further delayed by our speed up the steps back out of the gorge which can only be attributed to us being lardy and unfit, we arrived at the viewpoint gasping for breath and were greeted by a couple who had just got out of their car to take photos of the view, "Was it worth it?" they asked sarcastically, "Yes" we said, "definitely."
After a short recovery we continued along the cliff path to Govett's Leap, an "easy grade" walk including a couple of hundred steps and some very uneven
surfaces and, to my total terror, a tiger snake basking on one of the steps. Thankfully it slid off into the undergrowth and I remembered to move backwards down the path rather than jumping over the cliff edge.
We were considering cycling to the Jenolan Caves but decided to take a tour bus (cave tours included in the price) and suss out the roads for future trips. As it was, having seen how narrow the road into the caves is and the driving style of some of the coach drivers, we both decided to avoid cycling the route! The caves were quite stunning with the most amazing limestone formations and some pretty scary rock falls as well. Although the area had been know to local Aboriginal tribes for thousands of years as Binoomea (dark places), they were "discovered" in the 1800s and are still being explored now, earlier caves have romantic or statement names such as the Orient Cave, Imperial Cave, Temple of Baal Cave, more recent discoveries have more prosaic names - Bloodsucker Cave is named for all the leeches the first person in collected on the way.
Change of plan
On the 17th Jan I
was sat in a doctors surgery discussing an annoying medical issue, by the following day I'd had a scan and blood tests and was referred to a specialist. The earliest appointment I could get was 8th Feb and we were due to fly out to Thailand on 2nd Feb as our 3 month stay ended that day. A quick bit of planning and damage to the credit card got us flights to New Zealand and back, we changed our flight date to Thailand e-mailed Julie in NZ to arrange a very short notice visit then took the tandem for a quick ride around the area before locking it in the store room at the YHA.
On the 21st we took off from Kingsford Smith Airport at about 10:00 and landed again 45 minutes later, having developed a fault with the landing gear (it wouldn't retract) and dumped a full load of fuel in the Tasman Sea. Back in the Qantas lounge we waited and waited before finally boarding again at 14:30.
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