Haere Mai

After something like 460 days on the road, I am back in New Zealand. Not quite home, but close enough. I flew in to Auckland yesterday, returning to NZ for the first time since last February. I was met at the airport by my parents, and my older brother Cameron. Being met by family I think did make it a proper homecoming, and I’m happy to be here. I realised over the last few weeks that I was ready to go home, and now I’m happy to be here. Don’t ask how long I’ll stay, I don’t know for sure – but I’ll settle down here for a little while. Sooner or later the road will call to me again, but for now, New Zealand is home.

Apart from the cold and rain, I had a nice time over the last few days on the road from Mt Gambier to Melbourne. I hit the Great Ocean Road for some stunning scenery and great riding along the coast. I also got a bit of a boost when Jackson came out to meet me at Port Campbell, along with Jen and Andre. It livened up what would otherwise have been just a quiet night in a nice little coastal town.

As I got closer to Melbourne, the towns changed noticeably. Once I got within a practical weekend home distance from Melbourne, the price and quality of homes went up dramatically. Suddenly everything was “architecturally designed” and prices were “on application” (i.e. too expensive for you). This was also reflected in the eating and drinking establishments. Gone were the schnitzel nights, and suddenly meals were available that didn’t come with gravy and chips. Bring in the nice cafes and meals you would be happy to get in Italy instead.

Navigating in to Melbourne didn’t prove too difficult, although it did requite four pages in my notebook. I more or less followed this route which followed nice country back roads, and then bike paths as I got closer to Melbourne. Quite a nice way to approach a city along the waterfront. It did get a bit messy with the construction happening around the Docklands area, but I was highly impressed by the interim bike paths put in around the construction area. Other places might have just shoved the cyclists onto the very busy road. And yes, for those doubters, the bike paths were being well used by cyclists.

I stayed with my brother Jackson, in Prahran, a nice suburb with fantastic eating options – although it seems that nearly every suburb in Melbourne has great eating options, the dining out scene in Melbourne really is sensational. Nice location though, and very easy for us to get up to the “G” via train. I ticked off another of the “things to do list” – I went and saw an AFL game at the MCG. Even if you don’t understand much about Aussie Rules – and very few non-Australians do – it is a classic Aussie sport, and the MCG is one of the great stadiums of the world.

I flew Air New Zealand, partly because they have a very nice setup in their new planes with on demand movies and TV you can watch the whole time you are on the plane (rather than waiting until after takeoff), and partly because it feels like you get home just that little bit sooner. The crew is usually fairly relaxed – here’s a few quotes from cabin announcements made during the flight:

“If your mobile phone does not have a flight mode, it’s probably time you bought a new one”

“Any passengers caught smoking will be asked to step outside”

And on arrival to NZ:

(Immediately after landing) “You may now switch on your mobile phone and receive text messages. If you wish to really annoy the person next to you, you can also make calls”

“For those of you who have been away from New Zealand for a long time, you will be pleased to know…that absolutely nothing has changed”

Not the sort of thing you’d expect to hear on a Singapore Airlines flight.

One other minor note – HSBC has promptly repaid the fraudulent debit card transactions. Just under a week after first reporting it, they repaid it. They didn’t even ring back to get any more information. My story, and the account history, were pretty solid though. Just have to get my replacement debit card. I’ve also ordered a replacement debit card through Kiwibank, to replace the one stolen last year, so hopefully I’ll get both of those shortly. Until then, I’m living on the credit card…

My bike is still in its box, and I’m not entirely confident that it will all come out OK, but I’ll deal with that if it is broken. A couple more days in Auckland, then I’ll head north. I’ll then try and do some wrap up posts over the next few weeks.

Robbed Again

Last time there was no physical confrontation. This time there was even less – the crime was happening on the other side of the world. I thought it was about time that I checked my HSBC account, to see if I needed to transfer some more money to my cheque account. Hmmm, that balance looks a bit low…let’s see what the transaction listing looks like…WTF? There’s twelve transactions over the last 3 days, all in the London area, at Tescos, Sainsburys, House of Fraser, etc. Total value £632. But hang on a minute – I’m here in Australia, and I’ve still got that card in my pocket. All of those transactions were ones that required the cardholder to be physically present. It’s not like someone has used my debit card number online somewhere – someone has created a copy of my card.

The UK now uses the Chip and PIN system, which makes me wonder a bit what’s going on. Older systems using only a magnetic stripe could be cloned, as my old university buddy Scott has found out. But the use of a microchip on the card should stop this happening. Did someone somewhere pick up a copy of my magnetic data and PIN, presumably from a tampered terminal I’ve used somewhere, and then create a cloned card, which was swiped on older terminals in the UK? The other thing is that I’m due to get a new card this month – has someone gotten hold of the new card, and the expiry/start dates overlap? Interestingly, most of the transactions took place at businesses not far from where I used to live in Croydon.

All pretty frustrating, especially when you’re trying to sort it out from the other side of the world. I used my UK mobile to call HSBC, hoping that I would have enough credit, and that I wouldn’t be on hold too long, and get cut off halfway through. Luckily I got it sorted out, and the account has been stopped, and they’ll be sending a new card out to me. That’s a bit of a pain, since they normally want you to go to your primary branch to pick it up. My home branch is on Oxford Street, London, so it’s a bit impractical. Apparently they’re going to send it to the branch, then get the branch to send it to an address I specify.

No word on when I’ll get my money back though. They’re going to open a disputed transactions ticket, and hopefully things will get sorted out. They’ll want to call me though, which will presumably be a middle of the night call (UK/Aus timezone difference thing). I figure that I’ve got a pretty rock solid case though – two days before the dodgy transactions started, I withdrew money in Adelaide, and I’ve got passport stamps to prove that I’ve been in Australia for this time period, so hopefully it will all be sorted out without too much pain.

I made it to Mt Gambier, roughly halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne. The weather was packing up, so I decided to take a day off here, and hole up a bit. Given that I’ve been trying to sort this stuff out, and that the weather was still poor today, and not least of all that it was a very busy night out in town last night with the Cup Carnival…I decided to take another day off. Looks like strong westerlies for the next few days, so I should be able to get to Melbourne by Thursday.

Hopefully it doesn’t stay cold though – I had to wear the full-finger gloves, jacket, skullcap and Buff all day, with that sartorial crime, socks and sandals. I realised that part of my problem is that I’ve gone too far south – I am now further south than home. I need to head slightly north of east to get home. That’s the first time I’ve had to go north since I started.

Slowly moving back towards normality

Well sort of – I have just purchased a pair of shoes. I had to go and find socks too. The temperatures have been dropping, and now that I’m in bigger towns, more places frown at the wearing of jandals when going out for the evening. It’s a bit strange seeing/feeling my feet encased again. I think maybe my toes were starting to spread out from not being contained in shoes. I came very close to buying bike shoes too, but I’ve resisted that – I’ll just do the sexy socks and sandals look if it gets a bit cold.

From Port Augusta I had an easy three days of riding down to Adelaide. Easy because there were short distances, plenty of places to get food/drink, and no need to carry 5L of water and food supplies. I stopped at a motel in Port Wakefield, run by a guy who grew up in Whangarei only a few blocks away from where I did. He’d been over here a long time though.

I’ve then had a great few days staying in Adelaide with my Uncle Barry and his wife Liz. A few bottles of red wine, a few pints at the local Gaslight Tavern, and a good time had by all. A half-day tour around the Barossa Valley was nice too, sampling some rather good (and expensive) red wines. The Penfolds RWT is nice, but at something like $140/bottle, perhaps I’ll give it a miss. I don’t think I could cellar it in the bottom of my panniers anyway.

Something that you don’t get a lot of out on the road is a classic roast dinner, sitting around a table with friends and family. So I was pretty happy that while I was in Adelaide, things worked out for a great roast cooked by Baz, with the company of cousins that I have had little contact with over the years. Perhaps I could settle back into domestic life after all then.

From here I’ve only got around 1,000km to Melbourne, as I’ll follow the Great Ocean Road, rather than taking the more direct inland route. After a long time on the road, the end is looking very very near. But it’s only the end of one stage, and the start of something else. Whatever that turns out to be.

Oh and one thing I forgot to mention last time – someone asked me if I was an escaped convict or something, they were sure they’d seen my picture in the local newspaper. I thought maybe it was the haircut, as I got it shaved off a few weeks ago, and now it looks like someone who’s gotten out of jail or the army recently. But he said no, it’s the eyes. Guess I must have gotten my thousand yard stare back again, after those long days on the road.

From Sea to Shining Sea…redux

I’ve done it again – I’ve crossed a continent, this time travelling from Darwin on the northern coast of Australia to Port Augusta, on the southern coast. Nearly four weeks, and a little under 3,000km of riding across some of the most inhospitable country yet. The distances between places have been long – and then the dots on the map were just roadhouses. You could say that I was somewhat relieved to see the sea once more, and enter an area crowded with proper dots on the map.

But I will miss the desert. There is an incredible sense of vastness to it, when you can see empty plains stretching off to the horizon in every direction, with the road the only sign of human influence. The night skies, when you are camped out, with no moon, are of course sublime.

I do have to admit starting the last long leg with somewhat of a hangover. My trip to the Italian club in Coober Pedy, as mentioned last time, turned out rather successfully. Indeed it was probably the best night out that I’ve had at a ‘club’ in Australia. When I went in the place was dead, but it slowly filled up with an odd cast of characters – the cop, the dog catcher, the meter-reader, the Greek millionaire, the hard old woman “educating” the twenty year old guy…they were all there. Everyone was very friendly and made me feel more than welcome. They all wanted me to stay until Thursday night, payday, and the biggest night of the week apparently. I was seriously considering it, but when I woke up the wind was blowing from the north. The wind never seems to blow from the north in this country, so I took it as a sign. I practically flew down 180km that day, which was what I needed since I had to make inroads into the 252km to Glendambo. You can enjoy dull scenery when you’ve got a tailwind. The scenery later picked up some more when I started going through an area of dried up salt lakes.

I didn’t see any rockets being fired at Woomera, nor did I come across any unexploded ordinance. Probably just as well. Instead I cranked out the distance to Port Augusta, the crossroads of Australia, and the end of the Stuart Highway. From here it’s just three easy days to Adelaide, and another rest.

It’s quite a nice town here, with a lovely waterfront area of grass, seating and walking/cycling paths. Yet at 6:00 on Saturday night, it was like the Village of the Damned – completely deserted. Perhaps the alcohol restrictions in place had something to do with that. There weren’t many bars in town, but eventually people started showing up. I am seriously considering buying a pair of shoes though, as I’m not quite sure how I managed to get into the Flinders with jandals on. Plus it’s getting cold now. Of course, wearing shoes again would be a big step back towards normality. Best not hurry it.

In other news, I’ve been devoting time to trying to watch and understand Aussie Rules. A typical newspaper here will have 46 pages
on AFL, and only a token page or two on other sports, so it’s hard to avoid. TV coverage is pretty much wall to wall AFL. The thing is that I’m actually starting to quite like it. The players tend to be taller and leaner than rugby players too, more like my build. Perhaps if I’d grown up here, I would have played it, and/or been one of the 76,000 people at the MCG yesterday for a regular game.