On The Austral Plane

Brisbane, QLD. 6th May 2015.

This is what I came here to do.

This is what I came to Australia to do.

 

After a fabulous four weeks at home, it was time to move on. I loved seeing my family and friends, catching up on news and sharing hugs and fun. But there was always a part of me that looked forward to the next stage of my journey. To that end, I suffered another twenty four hour marathon across the globe, courtesy of Malaysia Airlines once more. Final destination – Brisbane.
I’m a lucky fella sometimes. This month’s good fortune was waiting for me at Brisbane airport in the personage of Phil. His sister is a friend in England (my former French teacher, in fact) and since she told Phil about this blog he has been a follower. When he knew I was coming to Australia he immediately volunteered his help. During our email communication I asked him how he’d recognise me at the airport. He suggested I wear my crash helmet as I walked out of arrivals. Not possible for me to do, so instead he wore his. And I walked straight past him! A quick double-take got my tired brain to understand what was happening and we greeted each other like old friends, which, via email, we were.
As we walked out to Phil’s car I couldn’t help but notice how much one airport car park looks like another, although I was impressed by the red and green lights over each parking bay. A handy way of helping drivers find a space. I discovered later this is quite a common feature in covered car parks.
It’s about fifty kilometres to Phil’s house but it didn’t take very long via the M1 motorway. Australia drives on the left of course and, once again, there was little that was unfamiliar with the view compared to most other main roads. Once off the highway I was impressed by the tidy suburbs, local shops and well laid out streets. First impressions – favourable.

Phil and his 'girls', making me feel at home.

Phil and his ‘girls’, making me feel at home.

Phil, Trish and their family live in a nice street in a gated community. On our way there we stopped to collect their daughter Sophie, and her boyfriend Jake. He also lives at Phil’s house and was kind enough to relinquish his room for me, moving into a smaller one pro-tem. Trish is a yoga instructor and has the figure to go with it. She’s a bit younger than Phil and is his second wife. They have another daughter, Hannah, now living with her fiancée. Phil has two other daughters from his first marriage. So that’s the Family Peacock, my hosts for the next several days. I immediately felt comfortable in their company and their house, exactly what this worn out traveller needed.
Do other long distance flyers suffer in the same way as me? I would have thought that after an exhausting journey sleep would have been easy. Not so. It took me at least two days to recover and I’d had the same problem when I flew back to London from NZ too. Oh well, at least I was in a comfortable house rather than a hostel or, even worse, a tent.
Phil used to work for the Federal Police and often liaised with customs. So he knew where to go to start the process of releasing my bike from their clutches. I had left London Monday lunchtime, arrived in Brisbane Wednesday evening and now, on Thursday morning, we were heading back to the airport area, to Customs House. Phil was my contact point in Australia for the shippers and they had already told him that my bike was in their warehouse. Its journey had taken a few days less than expected and it was there waiting for us. Although it took a couple of hours, the processes were straightforward. Once the Carnet had been checked and stamped I had to arrange and pay for an inspection, to be undertaken by the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS). As with New Zealand, Australia is very strict about avoiding unwanted organisms. They even make a TV programme about it.

Cockateels. Noisy and busy birds. Very common too.

Cockateels. Noisy and busy birds. Very common too.

Next we went round to the port area and found the warehouse. That’s were the so-far smooth journey was derailed. We discovered that an inspection for Friday would have had to be booked by 11am on Thursday, and we were too late. Beaten by bureaucracy, we arranged the inspection for 9am Monday and left. Before I left Auckland I had cleaned the bike a second time because I’d been forced to ride through muddy roadworks while travelling down from Whangerai. Failing the inspection would be expensive as I would have to pay for transportation to and from a cleaning place and then for the cleaning. So now I had the luxury of a whole weekend during which to worry. At about 5pm my mind and body hit a wall and I just had to go and lie down. Friday at 5am I woke up again. I think I must have been tired!

Relaxing with the Yogis of Beenleigh.

Relaxing with the Yogis of Beenleigh.

Trish runs a yoga class at the local community centre and she invited me to come along. Phil goes too and I was curious as to how I’d get on. Well, I did quite well. The other attendees were surprised to learn I’d never done yoga before so I couldn’t have been too bad. It’s hard work though. Coffee at a nearby McDonalds seems to be part of the post-class routine and it was good to sit and chat, always the best way to find out about people’s lives. Then to a Sushi place for lunch, another blast from the past for me. Phil and Trish run a Yoga Retreat in Bali, where Yoga, meditation and Indonesian cooking can be practised. It seems to be a fabulous place and I’m tempted to visit sometime.

I was very surprised to see this name, but it's Australia's biggest supermarket chain.

I was very surprised to see this name, but it’s Australia’s biggest supermarket chain.

On Saturday afternoon Phil loaded his and Trish’s bikes onto his car and we drove into the city for a cycle ride. Phil and Trish Live at Beenleigh, one of the many suburbs that make up the city. Sited on the Brisbane River, it used to be a penal colony. The city council controls most of the metropolitan areas around it, unusual for Australia, making it the third largest city. It is the state of Queensland’s capital and the city centre (CBD) lies on the site of the former penal colony.

One of the City Cat taxi boats.

One of the City Cat taxi boats.

A tribute to the settlers.

A tribute to the settlers.

Having been built by a river the city has several bridges and we crossed over a couple of them as we cycled along each side of the river. Most cities are built by rivers, for fairly obvious reasons, and most of the city authorities attempt to make something of the location by way of providing riverside walks, rides and public spaces. Brisbane has a nice Botanic Garden, a very pleasant swimming area, some great, plant covered walkways and a maritime museum too. It’s not all wine and roses though. Two years ago the city suffered badly in the severe floods that hit the region, losing a bridge in the process. We rode past these areas but also went into the central area to look around a bit and find a coffee. The weather was warm and sunny, even for late autumn, and I definitely enjoyed the exercise.

Story Bridge, opened in 1940.

Story Bridge, opened in 1940.

Old fashioned river cruising.

Old fashioned river cruising.

Sunday was Mothers’ Day (same date as the US rather than the UK) and we all went out to Tamborine Mountain for breakfast. The Cedar Creek Winery provided a very nice buffet meal and I met Phil’s other daughters too. A nearby village is a renowned craft centre – read ‘Tourist Attraction’ – and we wandered around there a bit. It was very warm and I was happy to be in the sunshine and enjoying good company and conversation.

The Peacock family, plus boyfriends.

The Peacock family, plus boyfriends.

Girls just like to have fun!

Girls just like to have fun!

Monday was Get Doris Day. Perhaps that should read: ‘Get Doris’ day. Either way, Phil and I set off for Fisherman’s Island, where the warehouse is located, to meet the AQIS Inspector. We were a bit early, but so was he, and we were taken through to the bonded area. The Harley Davidson cover was taken off and there was Doris plus my luggage. He had a good look around, under the mudguards etc., and declared Doris to be clean and himself to be satisfied. He had some other goods to check, then he’d go back to the office and email the clearance to the warehouse office. So Phil and I went round there to wait. I took the bike with me and got thoroughly told off by the warehouse supervisor for doing so. It seems I shouldn’t have moved it until the clearance came through. I offered to take it back but he said not to bother.
So we waited for the email to arrive. And waited. And waited. We kept asking about it but no joy. Eventually we went for a coffee at a nearby truck garage and when we came back – still no email. The woman in the office called her contact at AQIS who finally found it and sent it through. It seems the inspector had forgotten it or had sent it somewhere else. We were lucky as her contact wasn’t normally there. I had to pay $77 to the shipping company for the inspection, although I’m not quite sure what they did to earn it, on top of the $148 I’d already paid to AQIS. Nothing is for nothing it seems.
While the inspection was under way we’d been parked outside the warehouse office and when we came out Phil noticed a new scratch on his car. He spoke to the staff about it, they said there wasn’t a CCTV camera covering that area but it may have been the milkman. Phil wasn’t happy! He decided to ride back there next morning to ‘have words’ with him. More on that later.

A Cockateel eats lunch.

A Cockateel eats lunch.

I undertook my first journey on Aussie roads as I followed Phil back home. I was a bit worried about being stopped by the police as I had no insurance at that time, something that is compulsory. I spent the afternoon on the phone getting the insurance, which covers injuries to third parties. It seems to be government controlled as there are a limited number of approved companies and they all charge the same price, $279 for 12 months. I also made enquiries about more extensive cover but that was proving to be a bit more difficult.

Brisbane's open air maritime museum.

Brisbane’s open air maritime museum.

I needed to obtain an Overseas Visitors Vehicle Permit (OVV permit), which would be issued by Queenslend’s Roads Department. The poor woman there had never done one before but a colleague had, and between them they got it sorted out. I think she enjoyed the challenge. I had to present my insurance certificate and British registration document, then complete some forms. Phil also had to sign to confirm I was resident at his house. In the same way as New Zealand, Aussie’s have to pay an annual registration fee for their vehicles so the woman struggled a bit with the idea that we don’t do have ‘Reggo’ in the UK. The rules say that I can only get an OVV permit if my registration is current in my country of residence. I chose not to explain about our annual VED system and how I didn’t have it on my bike any more, just in case it caused a problem, so she fudged the expiry date on her form to show 2017, stamped everything up and sent me on my way. No fee to pay and the permit is recognised in all other states apart from New South Wales. That might present a problem further down the line but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. There didn’t appear to be any requirement for an MOT, as far as I could tell.

Brisbane's Boris Bikes, in Lib Dem rather than Tory colours.

Brisbane’s Boris Bikes, in Lib Dem rather than Tory colours.

Phil had been back to the warehouse to talk to the milkman about his car but seems to have missed him. He eventually got the matter resolved, in a way, by going back there on the following Monday to see who turned up that might have parked next to him and caused the damage. No-one did. This time he managed to see some CCTV footage which showed that no vehicles had parked next to him at all. So his suspicions turned to the other people who drive his car, but no confessions from any of them so far. Good detective work on Phil’s part though.

Over the next week or so I enjoyed more yoga sessions with Trish, some great ride outs with Phil and got used to life Aussie style. Our first ride was to Green Mountain and Lammington National Park. On the way there we rode down Mountain Goat Road, steep and winding, living up to its name. The road up to the national park is narrow, steep and winding but runs through very nice temperate rain forest. The road was a dead end and up the top is a restaurant and hotel called O’Reillys.

Statue to Bernard O'Reilly.

Statue to Bernard O’Reilly.

This family were famed for their bushcraft and there’s a memorial outside to one of them. In the 1930’s the Stinson air disaster occurred. One of their planes went missing in the region but it was a week before the news reached the O’Reilly farm. Bernard decided to search for it and spent the night out in the bush. Next day he spotted a burnt tree and pushed his way through 8kms of jungle to reach it. He found two victimss, still alive ten days after the crash. Four men had died and another had gone for help. O’Reilly went for help, found the body of the other man who had fallen down a waterfall, but came back with a doctor and various others. A great rescue, all due to the skilled bushcraft and determination of one man.

Looking out over the forest canopy.

Looking out over the forest canopy.

Phil and I went for a stroll along the forest track, checking out the giant fig trees, gum trees and various others. Creepers abound too and can actually strangle a living tree.Phil could name many of them and we learnt about others from the signs provided. One thing I was learning was that, like NZ, Australia likes to keep its national park visitors informed. A walk along a forest boardwalk proved fascinating and I was able to climb up a high ladder which led to a viewing platform, overlooking the forest canopy.

About thirty metres up but worth the climb to get the view.

About thirty metres up but worth the climb to get the view.

Back at the restaurant we enjoyed saying hello to the birds that seemed happy to fly down to us, no doubt looking for food. King Parrots, Great Rosellas and the ubiquitous Scrub Turkey were plentiful as well as colourful.

King Parrot.

King Parrot.

Great Rosella.

Great Rosella.

We needed feeding too so we enjoyed a nice lunch from the café in the company of some ‘Mexicans’, the name used by Queenslanders to refer to those from New South Wales. Why? Well, because they’re from south of the border! Logical really. I’ve yet to discover how it works in the opposite direction.

Close encounter of the idiot kind.

Close encounter of the idiot kind.

We’d had a great ride out so it was a shame that a stupid old codger in a car decided to unmake our day. On the way back down the narrow forest road, almost on the last bend, he came round it in his car and ran wide. Phil was forced right over to his left, almost off the road, but still the car collided with his bike. The speed was very slow so the impact was, thankfully, gentle but both of Phil’s panniers lost some paint; one to the car, the other to the ground. No injuries, not even a bruise. While Phil got busy dealing with the driver I took photos of the scene. Eventually we carried on our way and made it safely home. But I was beginning to question my effect on Phil’s luck.

Just how much room does one car driver need?

Just how much room does one car driver need?

Two other rides took us to the shore at Moreton Bay and to Mount Coot-Tha lookout, which sits on a hill above the city centre. As well as being enjoyable trips in themselves, they also gave Phil and I time to sit and chat. We’re of a similar age, with similar outlooks on life, and it was good to sit and talk about this and that. Nice, relaxed, no-pressure ride-outs, coffee and conversation.

Pretty bird, up at Mount Coot-Tha.

Pretty bird, up at Mount Coot-Tha.

Phil is very friendly with Glenn, his father-in-law, and we went with him to one of the regular lunch meetings he has with some of his former work colleagues. A nice bunch of guys and among them was Jim and his son Andrew. They have both spent many holidays exploring the Australian outback in their 4×4’s, a common pastime among this group, and Australians generally. It wasn’t long before we were talking about my plans, which led to them giving me plenty of suggestions for places to visit. I was keen to get information on conditions in the outback and most of the group had tales to tell and advice to share. The upshot was an invitation from Jim to visit him before I went north, needless to say gratefully accepted.

Glenn, on the right, and friends.

Glenn, on the right, and friends.

I had a maintenance day too. The rear wheel required new bearings and the rear brake needed some work. Phil helped me, especially by supplying the tools I didn’t have with me. The new bearing seemed a bit slack where it fitted in the hub but when it was all bolted up, it seemed to be fine. The worn one had been fitted in Kazakhstan and had lasted 35,000kms. The original one had managed 28,000kms, so I had no cause for complaint really. Kazakh and Mongol roads aren’t kind to fully laden bikes. The front wheel and steering head bearings were all OK but I’d brought spares back from home just in case. Some other minor jobs were completed too, a productive and enjoyable day. Phil makes a  very good spannering companion.
Over the next couple of days I managed to organise an Australian SIM card for my new smarter-than-me smart phone, visit RAC Queensland for plenty of free maps, and go to see Mad Max Four in 3D. Good fun to watch and a nice Mexican chilli meal afterwards with Phil, Trish and family.

Some Aussie trees have a voracious appetite.

Some Aussie trees have a voracious appetite.

A Strangler Fig.

A Strangler Fig.

While in Brisbane I had made contact with Hans, the cyclist I’d met at the hostel in Vladivostok, and with whom I’d enjoyed the delights of the two day ferry crossing to Japan. He’d asked that I visit him when I got to Australia and as he only lives 80kms away, on the Gold Coast, I was happy to oblige. We were going to help each other out. He and Elisabeth, his wife, were going down to Melbourne for five days to see their son invested as a lawyer, and wondered if I’d look after their dog while they were away. I was more than happy to do this in return for a bed, food and enough peace and quiet to enable me to catch up an my blog and make some travel plans. A good deal as far as I was concerned. MoMo is a Jack Russell Terrier/Pug cross, only about eighteen months old. She is well trained and just needed feeding, walking and stroking. No big deal. For any cyclists among you, the blog that Hans wrote is well worth a read and, you’ll be pleased to hear, is nothing like as comprehensive (long) as mine! Find it here: http://tinyurl.com/qfspwgg

Hans and MoMo.

Hans and MoMo.

On Friday morning I went to Yoga – I still can’t stand on one leg while I stretch out the other, nor become a tree – and then I headed south. Aussie road manners are pretty good, although phone usage by drivers is a bit of a problem. So no dramas on the motorway or on the ordinary roads that lead to Robina, the Gold Coast town where Hans and Elisabeth live. I spent a very pleasant weekend with them chatting about our respective experiences, and on Monday I used their car to take them to the airport.

Five days of dog sitting to get through and it all went very well. There was only one fraught moment. She likes to sleep in with a human, not really to my taste. So on the second night I shut her out of the bedroom. Oddly, she didn’t make a fuss and the next morning I discovered why. She’d found a bag of nuts I’d left on the table and scoffed the lot. We had a severe falling out. Bad Doggie! She didn’t even get any benefit from them as they went straight through her and came out the other end whole. But she slept in my room after that. MoMo 1-0 Geoff.

I'm not sure if it's the yoghurt or the pot she enjoys most.

I’m not sure if it’s the yoghurt or the pot she enjoys most.

On Wednesday of that week I watched the Origin One AFL game on the TV. This needs some explaining. The Australian Football League (Rugby League) has one of the highest spectator attendances in Australia.It is particularly popular in New South Wales and Queensland and there is a huge rivalry between the states. Interstate games had been played for many decades but in the 1980’s the State of Origin series was set up. Players are allied to the state in which they played their first professional game and consider it a great honour to be chosen. It is a best-of-three competition and each game is three weeks apart. The NSW team is known as the Blues, or Cockroaches and the Queensland team as the Maroons (pronounced Marons for some reason), also known as the Cane Toads. The Maroons won game one, and I have to say it was a thrilling game to watch. Rugby League is much simpler and faster paced than Rugby Union, a game which I don’t enjoy because it keeps stopping for reasons that no-one seems to be able to understand, including the players. At the time of writing the second game is three days away and I hope I’m somewhere near a TV at the time.

Methodist church from the top of Brisbane City Hall.

Methodist church from the top of Brisbane City Hall.

From Robina I was able to take a train into Brisbane city centre and I enjoyed a day walking around seeing the sights. There are some fine old buildings, fitting for a state capital, and I learned about the city’s beginnings. First as a penal colony then, as settlers arrived, as a commercial port. It’s the only Australian city to be named after the river on which it sits and it enjoyed huge growth during the 19th century. In the CBD the streets are all named after female royals, which makes a change. Queensland was part of NSW until 6th June 1859 when it became a separate colony with Brisbane as its capital.

Riverside beach area, installed for the pleasure of the city dwellers.

Riverside beach area, installed for the pleasure of the city dwellers.

When Hans and Elisabeth came back I picked them up from the airport. They have plans to move to Melbourne in about a year so they enjoyed visiting the city. They used to own a bakery but have sold it now. Elisabeth works in an old peoples’ home and Hans has just got a similar job. He starts on Monday. To that end another relaxing weekend took place before we all returned to our respective activities. They were going to work, I was off for a ride on my bike. Some people have all the luck.

Flower covered walkway, very pleasant to stroll through.

Flower covered walkway, very pleasant to stroll through.

Barry is the Aussie guy I met at the campsite near Dansys Pass, NZ. He lives in Byron Bay, which is down the coast in New South Wales. It would have been a relatively short ride but I decided to explore the hinterland on the way down, feeling the need to escape from the tower blocks and tourists that are the main feature of the Gold Coast. I rode up to Springbrook, an area of lookouts and waterfalls up in the mountains. There is a range of hills, almost circular, which were once the ridges of an ancient volcano. They have dramatic slopes which fall down into the crater below, which is populated by native Gondwanaland style sub-tropical forest. The climb up was steep and twisty, reminding me of similar roads in NZ. No surprise considering the landscape was formed in the same way. When I stopped to look at one of the waterfalls the access road was closed off. It seems someone had committed suicide there. So just to help me feel empathetic, a stupid car driver tried to wipe me out on one of the bends further up the road. Fist shaking ensued. Another driver had pulled over earlier to let me go by and when we both parked at the top of the hill I told him about what had happened. Being a biker himself, he sympathised. Steve and his wife, Linda, come from Melbourne and pretty soon they were inviting me to come and stay when I got down there. I was discovering that Aussies are just as hospitable as Kiwis.

The volcanic ridge, with rainforest below. Springbrook National Park.

The volcanic ridge, with rain forest below. Springbrook National Park.

I had a really nice ride through small towns, including Nimbin. This place was something of a Hippie Heaven back in the day, and still carries that aura. The buildings are decorated in a style that suits their history and many of the people adopt a variety of ‘alternative’ sartorial styles. I knew I’d be coming back this way and decided to explore further when I did.
Eventually I got to Byron Bay and found Barry’s farm, just outside of town. He shares the farm with his mother, brother and two sisters, each of them having houses of their own at various locations. Barry runs the farm and concentrates on producing beef cattle. He is just about to build some Glamping units on one of his more level fields. He will buy in pre-made, wooden framed ‘tents’, which he says will bring in a high rent, over two hundred dollars per night. Byron Bay is a very popular tourist destination so there’s clearly money to be made.

A very nice bike to have in your garage.

A very nice bike to have in your garage.

Next morning I used Barry’s welder to lengthen my propstand, using a spare that I’d brought back with me, and then enjoyed admiring his collection of bikes, which included a Hailwood Ducati Replica and a Moto Guzzi Ambassador from 1972. On his 50th birthday he decided to treat himself to a bike that was the same age as him and he bought a Honda 300cc Twin. I quite like that idea and if anyone wants to do it for me, I’ll have a 1951 Vincent Rapide please.

An old Moto Guzzi, probably ex US police.

An old Moto Guzzi, probably ex US police.

I rode into town for a look around. Similar to Nimbin, Byron Bay also had an alternative culture, back in the past, as a surfing destination. The surfers lifestyle held sway for a long time until popularity led to investment and it went the way of the money makers. Tourists visit for the beach life and sunshine, shopkeepers sell them overpriced goods, hoteliers rent them expensive rooms. And so it goes on and on. But the town still has a nice feel to it and I enjoyed a long walk up to the lighthouse on Cape Byron. Australia’s eastern most point is there too. A school of Dolphins were having fun down below, much to the delight of the kayakers out in the bay. Whales often pass through too, but not this time, sadly. The walk up there took me over a high ridge from where hang gliders throw themselves to their doom. It looked like fun and I was offered a tandem flight but I declined. I was only wearing shorts and T-shirt, flip-flops (Jandals, Thongs, depending where you come from), the walk back up from the beach didn’t appeal and the $145 price took the wind out of my sails. Instead I enjoyed the walk out to the lighthouse, engaged in conversation with some friendly youngsters out on a school trip, and drank a coffee. Much more my style.

Throwing yourself off a cliff. It's reckoned to be fun.

Throwing yourself off a cliff. It’s reckoned to be fun.

The lighthouse at Cape Byron, Australia's most easterly point.

The lighthouse at Cape Byron, Australia’s most easterly point.

Back down on the beach I sat around chatting to a woman who was on holiday from Redditch and we watched the surfers. There is a wreck a little way offshore and its presence helps start off the surf. There was always a little crowd waiting by it for that ridable wave to break. I enjoyed the view as the sun set over the beach and then walked back to my bike.

Waiting for THAT wave.

Waiting for THAT wave.

There was a group of guys just starting a jam session by the water, with drums and similar instruments. A couple of guitarists were walking over to join them and one guy was tuning up his trumpet. The rhythm was funky and I knew a good session was about to start. But it was getting chilly so I headed back to the farm. Barry and I went down to a local micro brewery, which sold cheap meals, and we ate well there for the second night in a row.

Jam session gets under way.

Jam session gets under way.

Sunset each.

Sunset each.

Barry is about to fly out to Japan where he’ll join a couple of friends. One of them lives there and has bought and kitted out three bikes, two Suzuki DRZ400’s and a BMW 650 GS. They plan to get the ferry to Russia and then explore Siberia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and on into Europe and Turkey. I’d already given him my map of Mongolia and was happy to answer all the questions he had about the places I’d been to. He told me about a VOIP programme, called Viber, which I’ve now downloaded to my phone. It means we can keep in touch at no cost and regardless of what SIM card we’re using. After installing it I found several people in my contacts list had it too. This could be useful.
Although it was quite cold at night, things warmed up quickly in the morning and it was a curious thought that that the weather in Byron Bay and London were likely to be very similar. But winter was approaching and this area can get quite cold and wet. Time to head back to Beenleigh, then start my journey north, to where the sun would be warmer. I didn’t travel all this way to get cold!

Nimbin's more colourful approach to life.

Nimbin’s more colourful approach to life.

I left Barry and headed back inland to Nimbin. From there I planned to explore more of that volcanic ridge via the Border Region National Park. I walked around the town, connecting some of the stories Barry had told me to the brightly decorated wooden buildings and new age/rastafarian type people in the streets. There is a very strong marijuana culture here. In the past it made a good living for growers and suppliers. Needless to say, the authorities clamped down on many of the activities but the culture is still strong and I was offered some weed four or five times, quite openly. Even had I been tempted I would have said no. It is not unknown for the police to entrap tourists, just to show they’re doing something, although they will generally leave locals alone.

Making the political point about marijuana.

Making the political point about marijuana.

There is a shop that openly sells hemp smoking paraphernalia and promotes all related activities and Barry told me there used to be a hemp museum at one time. Displaying it rather than built from it, I’m guessing. There were definitely more people with long hair, sandals, ethnic bracelets and hand made beads than there were shirt and tie wearers. It was slightly strange to be sitting with my coffee, watching a woman on the phone talking to someone about a high powered business deal, while dressed to suit the surroundings. In truth, Australia is quite a relaxed country in these matters anyway, and all the better for it. Nimbin is home to many environmental groups; self help groups; alternative culture groups; radical political groups and so on. All born out of the counter-days of the late sixties and early seventies. A fascinating place, up in the hills and far away, in more ways than one.

Inside a Nimbin art gallery.

Inside a Nimbin art gallery.

97% of the residents of Eureka are against gas field drilling in their area.

97% of the residents of Eureka are against gas field drilling in their area.

I had planned to ride up through the Border Region National Park but when I turned onto the approach road a sign said it was closed for roadworks. I rode up to the entrance anyway, just in case, but the sign didn’t lie. A great shame because I could see it would have been a good ride. So I turned round and headed for the Lions Road. A strange name perhaps but nothing to do with the King of the Jungle. Once the railway had been pushed through these hills the local people decided a road was needed too. Faced with a lack of funds from the government the Lions Groups from the two towns on each side of the NSW/QLD border got together to raise the money. As well as cash, people provided labour, materials and machinery to get the job done. At the border on the top of the hill there is a collection box to provide funds for the upkeep of the road. I was happy to drop in a couple of dollars.

Very disappointing sign.

Very disappointing sign.

People power built this road.

People power built this road.

On the way up the hill I pulled in at a lookout and met Noel and Troy, a couple of bikers. Troy had a brand new Hyonsung 650 which was leaking water. There was nothing that could be done to repair it so they topped it up and carried on, once I’d taken a photo of course. Aussie bikers are friendly but I’d found very few of them prepared to return my waves. Sometimes I got a nod of the head, but very often not even that. Barry told me that they tend to stick to their own groups – sports bike riders, Harley riders etc. – and don’t acknowledge the others. But individually all is fine.

Troy and Noel, happy to chat.

Troy and Noel, happy to chat.

Back at Phil and Trish’s I was on Face Book and I spotted a selfie that one of my Aussie FB friends had put on there. Johnnie Depp had been filming Pirates of the Caribbean on the coast nearby and had taken a walk, in costume, among his crowd of admirers. Craig happened to be riding past, wondered what all the fuss was about, and stopped. Hence the photo. So I contacted him to tell him where I was and we arranged to meet in Beenleigh a couple of days later. That was one of those lucky moments as I was going to be leaving the area.

Craig. A lucky meeting thanks to Johnny Depp.

Craig. A lucky meeting thanks to Johnny Depp.

My bike had sprung a leak! Petrol was dripping out of the carburettor overflow, clearly a problem with the float needle valve. That accounted for the poor starting I’d been suffering lately. Being well prepared I had brought a spare and Phil and I set to and replaced the leaking one. It took a couple of goes to get it right, there’s not much room inside those carbs, but all was sorted eventually.I was moaning about how my newly welded up and lengthened prop stand would soon be rusty so Phil produced a tin of heavy duty metal paint, a brush and a wire brush for his drill. We decided to do a proper job while we were at it so off came the pannier racks too. The Russian welding had gone rusty and the racks were generally looking a bit shabby. In the process of cleaning them we noticed a crack in one of the mounting brackets. That was a bit of luck because it would have worsened and failed somewhere further down the line. We didn’t bother painting that section but the rest was soon done and we hung them up to dry.

Phil and Trish.

Phil and Trish.

I took Phil and Trish out to their favourite Indian Restaurant on our last evening together. The food was fantastic and we had a great time chatting about our respective future plans. They intend to make some changes to their situation in Bali and must say that I’m quite keen to try a week of yoga, meditation, cooking and sightseeing out there. They run their retreats in September and October so I have a while to think about it.

Phil and me.

Phil and me.

Back at home Phil and I fitted the racks back on the bike so I was all good to go next morning.
By now I’d been in Australia a month and had enjoyed wonderful hospitality from Phil, Trish and family. I’d have really struggled without Phil’s help in getting the bike out of the warehouse and we’d had some great rides out too. His help with my maintenance jobs was much appreciated. Being introduced to Yoga by Trish was fun as well as challenging and I’ll try to attend some classes in other places as I travel around. Seeing Hans and Barry again, and meeting Elisabeth, had been great. But the time to move on always comes  and I wanted to head north to start my Australian adventure proper. I expect to be back up the east coast before I leave the country so I’m looking forward to seeing all my friends once again. Thanks everyone, for the fantastic help and hospitality, and I’ll see you on the back flip.

Travelling bikes can be very different, but the riders all have something in common.

Travelling bikes can be very different, but the riders all have something in common.

Sophie, Lilly and yours truly.

Sophie, Lilly and yours truly.