For me, I get to know an area by motorcycling. There’s something about traveling over land in seeing all of the parts of the environment up close that help me come to know a particular place. Last time I was in Australia I didn’t have the time (or the confidence) to hop on a bike and head off into the unknown.
Being here longer-term has helped me settle in a lot. I’m coming to know Australian customs and cultures and riding a bicycle has helped me become more comfortable on the left side of the road. As a side note, crossing the street still freaks me out. Some habits you learn as a kid truly never go away.
I found the bike hire option here in town and found they had an option of riding a bike back from Melbourne one way to Sydney. That seemed like a great option to see quite a bit of Australia and have an adventure. For about $600 US, I was able to hire a bike and ride through three Australian states: Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales.
I have to admit, I was overwhelmed by what I’d got myself into. Sure, I was riding a bike 1700km (1200ish miles). I’ve done that plenty of times. This time though so much was different and unknown. The bike was going to be different. The roads are different,. The terrain was different. Getting help would be different. In fact, just about everything would be different aside from one thing… I’d be on a bike. And even then, the bike was different.
When digging into route planning I wanted to spend some time on the coast and some time up in the hills. I have to admit I’m missing the fact that the Sierra Nevadas are a long way away. I want to see Australia’s mountains to check the area’s “soul”. Mountains have always been a restorative place for me. I needed to check the chemistry between Australia’s Alpine country and I.
It’s just about turning into the fall here. March 22 is the beginning of fall. Thredbo is the center of the mountain culture here. For the day I’m rolling through town, the forecast low is 0°C (32°F). No one expected that, especially me. I packed for summer. My planning then was totally screwed. If it was going to be that cold up there, I’d have to take the coast or the valley freeway a good chunk of the way. A lot of uncertainty crept in for me at that point. The fact that I don’t know the area was starting to haunt me. I ensured I had everything I needed and left detailed route plans with an emergency contact back in Sydney.
One of the biggest challenges for the day was packing. How do you pack for 5 days not using luggage? I couldn’t bring a suitcase as it wouldn’t fit on the bike for the ride back to Sydney. Plus, the bike had its own luggage down in Melbourne. I didn’t want to bring a bunch of little bags and then get screwed for baggage fees at the airport. As an added bonus, the trains weren’t running between my place and the city. This was going to be an adventure for sure.
I got to the airport in plenty of time. The replacement buses were actually awesome. Virgin checked my bags with no fees. My status on Delta carried over, and the Virgin sky club was awesome. You got a full lunch. Security was simple. You didn’t have to undress for the TSA. If only flying in the States was so easy. I hopped on the plane and we were off soon after.
I started working on one of my blogs and the girl sitting next to me asked a few questions on my photography. That’s how I met Caroline on the plane. She just got married and was headed down to Melbourne for a friend’s 30th birthday. Both of us didn’t like flying as it was a surprisingly bumpy trip. I flipped through the inflight magazine and found an article about none other than San Jose. San Jose was the featured city for travel. I’m 12,000km away from my former home and it’s featured right in front of me.
The bike rental agency in Sydney was less flexible than I would’ve hoped. I was supposed to fly down to Melbourne, stay the night downtown, somehow get back to pick up the bike, and be off. It turned out the “bike depot” was actually somebody’s personal garage. With a simple phone call and an explanation of the situation, I got the bike a day early directly from the airport.
Tim was the Melbourne arm of Bikescape. He had a number of bikes in his garage as a party of writers did a one-way trip from Sydney. Tim was newer to motorcycling and from the Bay Area as well. His wife was Australian and the two of them decided that Australia would be better for raising kids. In a number of ways I agree with him, but kids are a fairly far off part of my life right now.
I had two choices of motorcycle, the BMW F650 in the R1200GS. Having ridden the V-Strom 650 in Colorado and the BMW R 1200, and wanted to check out the F650. This particular bike I think was a 2008 model with about 40,000 miles on it. The tire looked a little more worn than typical for me, but towing was included in the package on their dime.
Luggage quickly became a problem. I packed my camera gear in one backpack, clothing in another backpack, and the motorcycle gear in a light duffel bag. The luggage on this bike was considerably smaller then on my own bike. The camera gear barely fit in the top case. One of the side cases was just luggage that I brought. The other side case was my actual stuff. I had to fold everything super neatly to maximize space and then lay on top of the side case with my body weight to close the bag.
There was definitely anxiety around this trip. Some of it was excitement and wonder. Other parts of it were doing the “worst case scenario.” I knew once I got on the bike and let out the clutch, I’d be just fine, I just had to let out the clutch.
Once I got the bike, I was surprised how easy it was to adapt to left handed driving. The bike is nimble enough that it is easy to pilot in traffic. All the worries there began to fade away. I think my sister was right. Being on a motorcycle allows you to float in the lane more so than being in a car. Having a looser perspective on traffic made things easier.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the dreaded hook turn. Unique to Melbourne, it’s a traffic flow paradigm that makes no sense to me (and many westerners). A coworker warned me about them. It’s a very different traffic control method from anything I’ve seen. I’ll explain it as it would be done in the States as most of my readers are American.
Imagine you’re coming to an intersection where both roads have two lanes going each direction. Normally, cars turning left would be in the left lane allowing cars turning right or going straight to pass on the right. When it’s clear to turn left that car can just turn.
Hook turns are just the opposite. A car turning left would be as far right in the intersection as they could possibly go. Cars going straight pass on the left. Cars turning right could turned behind the car waiting to go left. When the light turns yellow, the left turning car crosses all lanes and clears the intersection.
I circled the block a number of times before I really got what the hook turn really was. I found the hotel with minimal troubles and was pleasantly surprised how nice it was.
I needed some downtime in the afternoon. Yes I know that Melbourne is a new city. Yes I know I should go out and see it. But I needed the downtime to just be mellow. Having so much “new” around me all the time is awesome. I just have to learn to say no sometimes to allow life to catch up.
I began to wander around after dark to see what the town had to offer. The Her Majesty’s Theater had a version of Grease playing that looked fun to see.
I was starving and places were beginning to shut down between nine and 10 o’clock. I remember Nando’s from my time in South Africa and figured I’d swing in for a bite to eat. Nando’s is a fast food chain that specializes in chicken sandwiches with Peri Peri sauce. It seems to have a bit of a Polynesian flare.
I was totally “that guy” who strolls and right before closing time and orders food. Needless to say, I was served quickly.
The front desk at the hotel recommended going to see Federation Square. Federation Square was down by the river which is one of Melbourne’s main attractions. Federation Square was full as the carnival was in town. It was fun to walk around and see all of the different rides and be challenged with night photography.
The Sky Flier
The Sky Flyer looked like one of the most fun rides. You get into a small seat and be swung at medium speed about 30 m (100 feet) above the ground. Aside from the height, it seems like a fairly gentle ride.
I was hoping to capture the cab going at full speed through the gate in a long exposure setting. Unfortunately, without a tripod I was only able to get a touch of blur as the cage went by. Nonetheless, I still like the photo.
This is my favorite ride to photograph. About 12 people pack into the pendulum as the ride spins and rotates on the vertical axis. This one was sure to challenge those without an iron stomach. Not being a hard-core amusement park guy, being upside down and spun to death doesn’t seem like fun.
It was fun to see all of the carnival stuff, games, gifts, and food. Melbourne had plenty to offer for kids, parents, and random dudes on motorcycle trips.
Walking around Melbourne, you could see the mix of old and new buildings. A number of ornate, old churches dotted the streets as well as one of Melbourne’s most controversial new buildings. The bizarre architecture and reflective exterior challenges even the most liberal of tastes.
Flinders Street was where all the action was in town. I had to laugh when I saw the guitar playing rabbit. It’s only in downtown areas with tourists you see such frivolity.
I was surprised to see the number of carriages pulled by horses in town. I know it’s totally a luxury, but I must have seen at least 10 in the small area I was in.
As huge exporters of culture, it comes as no surprise that American corporations can be found overseas. Subway was open 24 hours a day and Target had a big store right in the center of town. I’m not sure about Subway, but Target was slightly different than it was in the United States. The logo looked a little different but the experience inside was a lot the same.
It was nearing midnight as I wandered back to the hotel and decided it was time for bed. Melbourne is the only capital city in Australia that lets you park motorcycles on the sidewalk. When I got back to the hotel I realized I was in a handicap zone. Fortunately I didn’t get a ticket. :-). The question though, was where was I going to park?
After a few minutes, a spot opened up just down the way and it was time for bed.