Thursday, 31 December 2009

Relaxing in Sydney

We’ve spent the past five days taking it easy and doing a little “lite” sightseeing prior to our flight to Tasmania tomorrow.

It rained hard on Monday morning, but we needed some time to do laundry and reorganize after our week long bike trip, so spending a half day in the condo was not unwelcome. When we did venture out we went to Hyde Park to visit the Anzac Memorial and the Archibald Fountain before ending up at the Circular Quay and another look around the Opera House.

Tuesday was our day at the zoo; LB met us at the gate and gave us a quick tour of the zoo’s highlights before turning us loose. We took in the Free Flight Bird Show which is on par or better than a similar show we saw at Disney World a couple of years ago. As you can see from the picture, the view of Sydney Habour from the amphitheater is outstanding. We also enjoyed watching the elephant playtime; the six-month-old baby elephant was a hoot to watch as he tried to play soccer with the oversize soccer ball. The zoo grounds jut out into the harbor on Bradleys Head and have quite a bit of elevation change. We had taken the bus to the top to enter, so we took the Sky Safari cable car to the lower exit, then took a ferry back to Circular Quay and eventually the train back to St. Leonards.

Wednesday we wandered the grounds of the Royal Botanic Garden and its wealth of tropical plants, trees and birds. Scores of Sulphur-crested Cockattos, ibis and other birds we admired but could not identify, added to the enjoyment of the day. The view from Mrs. Macquaries Point gave us another perspective on the magnificent harbor.

New Year’s Eve day started a little rainy, but we didn’t care--we were staying in to rest up for the long night ahead. LB had furnished us with tickets to view the incredible fireworks display over the harbor from the zoo grounds (thanks LB--maybe we’ll take up residence in your kingdom). We left the condo a little before 1600, were on the zoo grounds by 1700, gates opened at 1800 and a few minutes later we had our blanket spread out on the grass with a great view of the harbor below. The zoo was closed, but we were allowed to wander around certain areas without the record setting crowds that we contended with on Tuesday. A band was playing in the amphitheater, the temps were in the high 70s and we were about to enjoy a premier event under a Blue Moon. At 2100 there was an eight minute tune-up for the big show at midnight. The midnight twelve minute fireworks display to welcome in 2010 was all we hoped it would be. It centered on the Harbour Bridge, but the action took place all over the harbor with barges, skyscrapers, and even the Sydney Tower as launch sites. There were many boats in the harbor dressed up with impressive light displays on the hulls, masts and sails. Once the excitement was over, we packed up, caught a shuttle to the a bus stop, then were swallowed up in a mass of humanity as we inched down the street to the rail station. We were home by 0140--an interesting ten hour experience that actually determined the timing of this trip Down Under.

The first day of 2010 has been spent relaxing, working on the blog and getting ready for Tasmania. We will have one night back in Sydney after the Tasmania trip and then off to New Zealand!!

Later, up over. Good New Year to you.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Leading Miss Piggy

This past week has flown by and if you were following SPOT, you know that we got back to Sydney on Sunday.

A couple of comments about some of our gear before describing our activities from the past week. We are using Cardo Scala Rider Q2 Bluetooth headsets for bike-bike communication. They have a range of about 500 meters which has been sufficient for our riding. We use them to talk about upcoming turns, traffic around us, road conditions, etc. They came in handy on our last leg into Sydney when I noticed that Miss Piggy’s low beam was no longer working; I was able to tell RA to turn her high beam on and we just kept rolling down the road.

The other handy device has been the Garmin Zumo 660 GPS. My bike already had a Ram ball mounted on the left handle bar so all I had to do was reach into my bag of tricks and dig out an arm and the GPS was installed on the bike. I purchased a Micro-SD card for Australia/New Zealand before we left so have good maps to work with. The Zumo also has Bluetooth capabilities so had Ken (the male Australian voice) telling me when and where to turn; between him and RA singing and making comments about the scenery and other drivers I was never lonely.

Wednesday 12-23-09

We left Hunter Valley in near 90 temps and humidity to match. After heading towards the coast we turned north and sped up Bucketts Way to Gloucester where the real fun began--Thunderbolts Way beckoned and we followed. Lots of up and down and round and round as we ascended to the New England Tablelands. Once on top we still were enjoying the ride--the 4000+ foot elevation brought cooler temps and scenery that reminded us of the White Highlands in Kenya. We took a break in Walcha and while sitting there met an older couple from the small farming community and had a very nice conversation with them for about 60 minutes; it is always fun to meet the locals and learn about the local area.

We arrived at Annie’s B&B in Armidale about 1600. As she was showing us to our bungalow, she veered off across the lawn to show us a “surprise.” About twenty feet up a eucalyptus tree was a koala looking very sleepy as he periodically chewed on his favorite snack. Seeing koalas in the wild is unusual so we felt blessed. We found a nice Indian restaurant in town and spent a few minutes talking with our waiter about bikes--he was looking past Miss Piggy and eying my F650GS as that was his dream bike. When we got back to the B&B we jumped into the pool and relaxed in the hot tub before falling into a deep sleep in our private quarters.

Christmas Eve Day

A veritable cacophony of bird songs woke us in the morning; another beautiful day dawned. We heard the koala’s purring/growling sound and soon found him nearby in a different tree, but still lazily snacking. RA got a garden tour from Annie’s sister-in-law and soon we were on the road down Waterfall Way. The Wollomombi Falls were dry, but both the Ebor Upper and Lower Falls had water flow. We did a short walk along the escarpment admiring the wild flowers and meeting a man who looked like a left-over hippie traveling by truck with his, as he put it, “well traveled rabbit!” Oh, yeah………………

Dorrigo was our destination for the night and our lodging was the wrought-iron balconied Heritage Hotel Motel Dorrigo; a tired old building circa 1925, but with remodeled, comfortable rooms. Before parking the bike we had to make the 30 km (one way) run to Bellingen and back. This was without a doubt the best road on our bike trip here in OZ. There is about a 3000’ elevation change in those 30 km and the road just begs you to get into a lean left/lean right rhythm; a Deals Gap with more open sweepers. RA reported that Miss Piggy even let her scrape her boots in some of the curves!

In Dorrigo we met Juan, from Argentina, who owns a small restaurant that houses “The World’s Smallest Motorcycle Museum”; check it out:

Our Christmas Eve dinner was in the busy pub at the hotel; a veggie pizza and fish and chips washed down with a cold lager filled the bill. We were not missing the cold and snow back home!

Christmas Day

Dorrigo was deadly silent Christmas morning as we sat on the balcony drinking tea and eating the incredible shrinking muffin that had been in one the saddle bags for a couple of days. No breakfast here this morning, so we packed up and headed up the road. We set a leisurely pace through the empty mountain roads to Grafton where we though we might put something in our empty stomachs. When we finished fueling the bikes (regular here has been costing us about US$4.05-4.10/gallon) we saw a big McDonalds and thought that might be the solution and would also allow us to get on line with our iPhones via their free wifi. Alas, it was not to be--they close one day a year--Christmas.

We were hungry and on the flat now so made a mad dash for the next town, Casino; our luck in finding food would have to change. We stopped at the first gas station to ask about open restaurants and were told that we would have to continue at least 20 minutes up the road before there might be something open. We decided that a Snickers bar would ease the pain and while nibbling on the iconic American chocolate bar engaged the lady attendant in conversation. We soon discovered that she had never seen snow, so I showed her a picture of our snow covered house in
De Pere and she was quite impressed. As we were ready to leave, her husband came out and asked us if we liked meat pies and of course we said yes. He disappeared into the station and soon reappeared with two hot meat pies that we could have. After first refusing we were told that it was a Christmas gift from them to us and then, of course, we said yes again and stowed them in the top box on my bike. About thirty minutes later when we ran into a heavy rain shower we pulled into a closed gas station and decided to eat our meat pies--still hot!

After our roadside dining experience, we continued to Byron Bay and the Lord Byron Resort. Reception was closed, but there was a phone by the door that we used to ring up reception (I think the manager lived on-site). We were given instructions on how to open a small lock box and inside was our key. The whole time we were at the hotel we never saw a hotel employee--very strange, even for Christmas Day!

Boxing Day

After a quick ride out to see the Light House on Cape Byron (the most easterly point in Australia)and a nice outdoor breakfast in Lennox Head, we started the 500+ mile slog back to Sydney. The ride down the Pacific Highway was uneventful--a few showers to wet the road and we arrived in good time at the Quality Resort Sails in Port Macquairie. We finally had a good internet connection and were able to post some pictures on this site.

Sunday 12-27-09

The Pacific Highway and State Route 1 were wet the whole way to Sydney--light to moderate rain,drizzle, mizzle and mist kept us company. Where the road was two lane there were many passing lanes so we moved right along. We arrived at Bikescape about an hour before our appointed drop-off time and all was well with the world. RA survived Miss Piggy and vice-versa; both bikes ran well and the 1300+ miles were in the memory bank. A quick taxi ride and we were back in LB's condo--seems like home now.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Sydney, At Last--And the Trip continues.....

It’s December 17, and we are in Sydney. Our Sydney guru, B.V.H. (Brian Vanden Hogen) kindly met us at the airport in the zebra zoo car and took us to his condo, showed us the ins and outs of St. Lennys (St. Leonards, his burb) and told us he and Jane would be back at 6:30 to take us for dinner at the Union Hotel--and we thought the Union was only in De Pere.
Like De Pere’s Union, Sydney’s has the same comfortable
feel, especially after some food and wine. It was a lovely summer eve, so, after dinner, Brian drove us to the harbor where we look at the beautiful Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, and Luna Park. After a quick tour of the local attractions in the Crow’s Nest, Brian and Jane left us at the condo to get our beauty sleep. Yes, we need lots!
Friday was overcast and rainy, but we took the train to the CBD (Central Business District) and toured the Opera House. The outside seems less impressive than the pictures, but the tour is fascinating and the guide tells us all manner of interesting historical facts: the construction began in 1959 and was completed in 1973, the cost was 15xs the original projected cost, but it was paid for in 18 months by a lottery. We walked through The Rocks, an area whose cultural and architectural significance has been preserved, and, unfortunately, turned into a kitschy tourist trap (I love it--there are all kinds of back stairs and alleys and interesting shops are all over the place--Uggs anyone?) We also booked a climb on the Harbour Bridge--Why do I do this stuff? Oh, I just remembered, it might be fun and I’d hate to miss any fun!
We’ve become denizens of the St.Lenny-Wynyard train, and Saturday was a perfect near-summer day. We “trained” for the bridge and arrived a little early, so they asked us to join an earlier group. That was fortunate because we were only seven instead of the usual 14. Distracted by the preparations of the climb, I did not have time to get downright scared. We signed papers which absolved everyone but us of responsibility, took a breathalyzer test, put on a kind of light-weight flight suit to which they attached everything: hat, glasses, radio, a ratchet-like ball that would attach to a line so we could not fall off or jump off, and even my clip-on sunnies were attached to my glasses with a tie wrap! We did some practice climbs and descents, then started out. We walked along a grating above a small park and then climbed around a pylon to walk over the road bed. I did not look down! The worst were the ladders that led to the walk on the arch. I climbed one ladder and skinnied to the next one and kept going. By the time I got to the fourth ladder, I wanted to turn back, but it was too late. Steve shouted encouragingly that I was almost there, but I was looking out at nothing--except a two-foot cat walk that shrunk in front of my eyes until it was only three inches wide! I screwed my courage to the sticking place and stepped out on the cat walk. That led to the arch walk which was wide and solid--and I was good. The views were fabulous: the Opera House, homes for politicos and royalty, container ships passing below, and John Travolta’s spread as well as the Kidman-Urban home. Back down was easy and getting the equipment off felt good. What felt even better was a plate of fish and chips washed down by a cold one at the Glenmore Hotel in The Rocks.
The perfect end to a perfect day was catching the Manly Ferry to Lady Jane’s and Lord Brian’s (hereafter known as LJ and LB) for a gathering/eating fest. Lots of delicacies like prawns, lamb chops, and delicious goat cheese. They also had friends over, so we met many people with interesting stories. Pieter and Kim were there also; that meant we had a good time talking about De Pere and the fact that we were all missing Jason’s graduation from law school celebration (way to go, Jason).
Deej Beads are now in the southern hemisphere! Thanks, David--they look great on everyone. As to the gardens, I’ve already seen parsley used as a border--will continue to check the veg gardens.
Sunday we caught the train for El Alamein Fountain for Geno’s picture. It’s a “relaxed” area with a small outdoor market and plenty of people to watch. From there we walked to the Woolloomooloo area (are there enough O’s in Scrabble to spell this?) and then to St. Mary’s Cathedral. LB texts us to come for dinner--no leftovers, he says (are you kidding? Of course there are no leftovers--LJ and LB have such good food that nothing would be left). We headed there and meet Sallie, a neighbor, and enjoyed small birds, (sorry, I can’t remember what you called them) asparagus, and a wonderful leek casserole.
At last, motorcycle day arrived. We took a taxi to the shop and our bikes were already in front of the shop. Mine, a Yamaha V-Star XVS 650 cruiser, looked good, seemed fairly simple to run, and I got my gear on. When I tried to get it up and turned around for a trial run, I died. It was all I expected and worse. After some tears and recriminations, I started on a practice run. It’s not good, this hog wanna be. I stopped and said I couldn’t do it, but Steve didn’t give up: Gosh, ra, you look really good on it and it really sounds good and just think of all the lives you are saving all over Australia with those loud pipes. A couple of left turns and a roundabout later, I headed back to the road out of town. Well, at least I can hold it up--thank you, XO Fitness: Angela, Lori, Karin, and Ryan--I don’t think I could have done the bridge climb either without you. We stopped for the traffic signal before the turn out of town. When the light changed, I waited for the oncoming traffic and then took off inspite of the amber light. After that, I settled. We stopped in Leura for lunch and then sought out the Three Sisters (a rock formation). So far, so good. But by four o’clock, I had butt lock--I couldn’t move. We stopped at a little tea place, and I managed to get off the pig. Refreshed by the tea, we continued to our bed and breakfast. Jenny, of Jerimudi B & B, greeted us and showed us around. What a great place high above the Hawkesbury River--a swell pool and a comfortable water bed. Kevin brought us cold drinks and we watched a DVD of the place. After dinner, we swam and then fell into bed.
Tuesday, we ate a delicious breakfast and started out for Hunter Valley. What a great ride: lots of twisting and up and down on a well-maintained two-lane road with not too much traffic. Again, butt lock set in and then my feet went to sleep--every small bump was excruciating. We stopped in a pull-off and rested. Then on to the motel and a refreshing swim. The pig and I have come to an agreement: I will refer to her as Miss Piggy, and she will be kinder to my derriere.
Jeanne, I love the Chico slax you directed me to in FL last winter. Thanks.
Jeannie, they use salt and not chlorine in the pools here--or at least in the two I’ve been in. M/C to you, Jo, Doug, and Linda. Tell Linda I don’t know where heifer fits in.
Jean C. Miss Piggy is no Royal Enfield, but maybe the RE wouldn’t have been so great if I had been riding it at 100
clicks instead of 30! By the way, LB is Moe’s (of the blog) son.
Okay, LB, we’re caught up!


Saturday, 19 December 2009

Trans-Pacific on Air Pacific

If you checked SPOT you already know that we arrived in Australia Thursday afternoon; I wasn’t able to get a good clear view of the sky at the Fiji airport so SPOT shows a straight line from LAX to SYD.

We were the first in line when the check-in counters at LAX opened up at 1630 on Tuesday. We then hauled our checked baggage to the big x-ray machine and headed up-stairs for dinner. After dinner, I returned to the check-in counter to see if we could get a seat in “the bubble” on our 747-400. Unlike most airlines that fly the 747, Air Pacific uses the upstairs cabin for coach passengers, but does not assign seats there, you must ask for them when you check in. I asked and we got; the bubble was not full and as soon as boarding was completed there was a scramble for the empty seats in the back of the cabin. Several passengers were able to secure three seats for themselves so they could stretch out and sleep during the 10 ½ flight to Fiji. We got seats in the first row behind the emergency exit so were able to stretch our legs out--nice!

The flight attendants were pleasant, seats comfy enough, no lines for the lav, and two nice meals were served. On landing in Fiji we were surprised to find that we had to go through security screening again--one machine for approximately 200 passengers--took over an hour. We did have a very upsetting experience during this process, however. We had purchased a nice bottle of Jack Daniels Silver Select Whiskey for Brian Vanden Hogen, our host in Sydney, and were looking forward to presenting it to him. Unfortunately, the bottle was confiscated even though it was still in its sealed duty free bag from LAX! Needless to say we were in no mood to even look around the duty-free shops that surrounded our waiting area.

The flight from Fiji was fine, smooth and on-time. We got a little anxious when getting our luggage as our bags were among that last off the plane. Immigration and customs went well and Brian was waiting to take us to his nicely located and appointed condo that will be home during our time in Sydney.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Sputtering Start

On Sunday it was all going well, on time flight from GRB-ORD, push back only five minutes late, then we stopped. After about 15 minutes, we were informed that there was pneumatic problem with the aircraft and the mechanics were on the way. After a few updates, it was announced that the a/c would be taken out of service and we would have to transfer to another plane (767 to 757). My pessimism immediately kicked in and I predicted that it might be hard to make our connection at LAX. About 20 names were called and these people were told to de-plane immediately and run to another concourse where they could get on another flight to LAX.

We got off the plane and as we came into the waiting area, we were told that we would soon reboard the original a/c and I sighed in relief. Soon the thundering herd that had been sent off to the O’Hare netherworld returned; there were no seats for them on the other flight and the inter-desk telephones were turning red hot with back-and-forth verbal frustrations. Soon we were informed that we would indeed have to change planes and my pessimism level again went to Code Red. After getting new boarding passes, I went down the concourse to talk to American Airlines. There was nothing they could do for us connecting to Air Pacific, so out came the after hour numbers for our travel agent and trip insurance company. I was on the phone until we finally got on the smaller plane (some first class pax were bumped back to coach). We had been told that there would be almost no food for purchase on board so if we wanted to assuage our hunger, we had to get something to eat in the terminal--RA made a mercy run to McDonalds.

We finally landed about 2200 PST--30 minutes after our Air Pacific was to have left. We had been informed that the flight had been cancelled due to weather in Fiji, but later discovered it left about two hours late--but had loaded and was sitting on the tarmac, so no way we could have gotten on it. We had no idea where our luggage was, but were able to retrieve our bags by noon on Monday.

So the next flight is tonight (Tuesday) and we will arrive in Sydney 48 hours later than originally planned. We have been camped out at the Four Points by Sheraton on hotel row here at LAX. We’ve been catching up on some reading and playing with our i-Phones.

The next hit on SPOT will either be in Fiji or Sydney--hopefully. Maybe we have the worst of our woes behind us.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Down Under Dream Takes Flight

We are about to embark on a journey that we had planned to do a year ago; a subcontinent called India presented itself last fall and we went east instead of west. This overseas foray promises to be much tamer and more relaxing than the India Butt Buster 2008.

We will be gone for two months with the time being divided pretty evenly between Oz and New Zealand with four days in Fiji at the end of the trip to relax and prepare ourselves for our return to the cold and snowy upper mid-west.

We are flying across the water from LAX on an Air Pacific (the national airline of Fiji) 747-400. After a short layover in Fiji we will continue to Sydney and will be staying with Brian Vanden Hogen there. Brian is a De Pere native whose parents lived down the street when we moved here in 1984. Brian works at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney and we are looking forward to visiting him and tapping his extensive knowledge of the Sydney area.

After five days in Sydney we will pick up our rental bikes for a week-long trip west and north of Sydney. Byron Bay will be our Christmas Day stop--the temps have been running in the 80s there this past week! The next five days will find us in Sydney again in order to see the magnificent fireworks display on New Year's Eve. We will be up at the zoo to look down on the harbor for all the action.

January 2nd will find us winging our way south to Tasmania for a few days of exploring that island on four wheels. We are not worried about riding the bikes on the left side of the road, but have not driven a right-hand drive vehicle since our Peace Corps days in the late 70s in Kenya. I've got the GPS (Zumo 660) loaded up with Oz and New Zealand maps so navigation should not be a problem.

We will leave the island continent and fly to Auckland on the 7th in order to start the motorcycle trip that many before us have raved about. We will start our four week two wheeled experience there on the 11th. The bikes will be dropped off in Christchurch prior to flying to Fiji and the beginning of the long trip home.

In addition to the contacts in Sydney we have four in New Zealand so that should add to the intimacy of the trip. After all of the planning we are getting excited about this journey.

We did a trial packing yesterday and everything seems to fit; after moving a few things from my duffel bag to RA's have the weight distribution just about right. We wear our motorcycle boots and jackets and our helmets are our carry on bags, each in a tail-pack that will go on the bikes.

Follow along with the blog and the SPOT satellie tracker. The link to SPOT will be to the left at the top of any pictures we may post. When we are moving it will send out a signal every ten minutes so you can track us pretty closely (unless I turn in off!). The little numbered tracking flags will be orange in color; when you see a green one, that is where we spent the night. If you switch from the map to the satellite view you can even zoom in to see where we are staying. On the left of the SPOT map will be a control that allows you look at the current day or you can choose to look at multiple days. Just follow the little motorcycle...........(actually it will be an airplane icon for our flights).

Feel free to comment and become a follower--hearing from people back home on these long trips is a welcome thing. You can also e-mail us: or

Talk to you again in about 9500 air miles............