Oz 8

At 5.30am it was still dark enough to clearly see the Southern Cross directly overhead as I climbed out of the camper van. I noticed it first from its reflection through the gum trees in the little pool that we were parked next to. How apt I thought as this is the start of our return journey to more familiar star speckled skies.

After a ‘dunny’ visit and coffees made from now surplus milk, we finished quietly packing the camper van, so as not to disturb the other campers nearby. It is now a nearly deserted camp-site apart from the permanent static caravans that I figure are the permanent residences of the poorer Aussies in Byron Bay, the other morning I saw school children departing them in their smart ‘western’ uniforms.

We were driving out of through the security gates  for the last time at 6am, no need to remember ‘685501’ anymore!

We pounded the same tarmac and concrete on the Pacific Highway up to the point where last week we had joined it from the Blue Mountains, this time we stayed on it all the way into the centre of Sydney. The sights along the way seemed familiar, it was such a shame we hadn’t the time to explore them further, perhaps some other time. We stopped around every three hours or so to refuel both bodies and engine, sharing the driving duties equally. As before, we made sure that Jamie started and ended in the driving seat on our journey.

The final part of our driving adventure was not without incident. We had arrived in Sydney during rush hour, our route took us through the city centre to the other side where our intended camp site was. We travelled through three very long tunnels , under hills, Botany Bay and the city itself , and had a chance to marvel at the glimpses of skyline flashing by when we eventually emerged into daylight each time. Our first sight of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Leaving the last tunnel on a slip road off the Highway we annoyed an Aussie. I guess that as we merged onto the slipway we cut-up a pick-up truck that was reluctant to let us in. Jamie indicated our manoeuvre, yet the driver refused to allow us in  but had to give way as we were in front. He flashed his lights and hooted his annoyance as the traffic came to a standstill, queuing at the intersection ahead. Looking through the rear view mirrors we could see that he was very animated indeed. We were discussing his action and considering whether he had hit us at the back, but we hadn’t seen, heard or felt any contact, when the traffic ahead moved away. Before we could move the truck raced around the side, slewed to a stop in front and came reversing back at us fast. As it was rush hour, how he managed the manoeuvre was a blur, the other cars witnessing this hooted his action and thankfully he stopped cm’s away from hitting us, turned to face us and gesturing rudely, before shooting off down the road. I suspect if this was a quiet country road he would have rammed us then driven off, but there were too many witnesses around honking their horns. Very frightening, Aussie ‘road rage’ certainly does exist. When we arrived at the camp site we checked the van for any ‘contact’ marks, but found none.  We had so far driven over 2000km  and our opinion on Aussie drivers were that they are good, courteous and extremely law-abiding on the road, but we now know there are exceptions.

It was lashing it down when we checked into the site. We had tried to book ahead but the site hadn’t answered any of our emails so we were concerned that we would not get a plot. As it was, there were two left and we had the one next to the toilet and shower block, Spot on.

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After coffee the rain stopped so we set off to explore and find somewhere to eat. After a little detour to get lost we eventually found the main shopping area of Brighton-Le-Sand across Botany Bay opposite the airport runway. We walked down to the shore and watched the aircraft land and take-off with the Sydney skyscrapers twinkling in the distance. The bridge was lit up in ever-changing colours.  We found a Thai restaurant and as usual the meals we ordered came with ridiculous amounts of meat. Fully satisfied we retraced our steps back to the site and bed.

The following morning after showers we set about cleaning the van and packing our bags for the return flight. I gave our surplus food to a permanent resident at the  site, who had the caravan across the road from us. He was a diabetic recovering alcoholic, they are very friendly these Australians and very easy to talk to.

Just after 9am I drove us to the Camper Van Rental Company (Britz) which was just a few miles away. We got there without incident and parked in their lot. They didn’t open until 10am but they were there and processed our vehicle straight away. With all the paperwork completed and van checked we asked if we could leave our rucksacks there as we didn’t fly until the evening and wanted to see the sights. We promise to pick them up before 4pm, when they shut.

We caught the train from Mascot into Circular Quay. On arrival you cold gauge that this was THE tourist spot as there was a large numbers of school parties milling around outside the station located right next to the many ferry terminals. As we stood on the quay right there in front of us berthed to the side was the ‘Legend of the Seas’, the ship that Sue and I had been on in our  cruise to Japan,  Korea and China. She hadn’t changed.

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We first walked to the Opera House and took quite a few photos, just opposite was the Harbour Bridge and that got photographed too. The Opera house had very fast free WiFi so we took the opportunity to surf a little on our phones. It was then that I discovered that I had cracked the screen on my tablet and it wouldn’t work. I had been carrying it in my small rucksack and some how it had got crushed, I guess. I had carried it all the way around Vietnam and Cambodia the other week like this without harm. I shall see if Suraj can do anything with it when I get back.

We booked a water taxi to take us around the harbour. As we got on board it started to drizzle, but luckily it stopped while we had our little trip. We went around the Opera House, over to the Botanical gardens, around the old fort set on a small island (now a restaurant) in the bay, passed the Prime Minister’s summer-house under the Harbour bridge. While we were doing this, tourist helicopters were forever circling the bay (perhaps next time). We could see groups of little people, like ants in a line climbing the arch of the Bridge. We had planned to do this but time was not on our side as it would have taken 3 hours. Though on reflection the views would be tremendous and cheaper and as good as the helicopter (perhaps next time).

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Returning to the quay, we walked around the bay for a closer look at the cruise ship and a smaller sailing ship used in the 1700’s, that first one to circumnavigate the continent. We next walked under the bridge to the regular rumblings of the trains tracking across its length. Jamie was bemused by the size of the nuts and bolts used in its structure. The security around the bridge was phenomenal, every section had at least a couple of constables idly standing by waiting for? I guess it would take a 747 strike to bring that structure down.

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We next had a short wander into the city itself before boarding our return train to Mascot where we picked up our  rucksacks  and then caught another train into the International Airport Terminal.

We had a long wait before the check in desks opened so we had a bite to eat window shopped in the duty-free shops. Check-in , security and passport control went without a hitch, though I did ask at the check-in desk if they would not send our luggage for another holiday as on the outward journey, she promised it would go with us to Heathrow.

The flight took off on time and this time we were in economy class and had to mix with the hoi poloi. Just over eight hours  and two meals later we arrived in Kuala Lumpur. No rush this time, we had a five-hour transit window. When we were at the departure gate for our 9.40 am flight when it was announced that the flight wouldn’t depart until noon and from a different gate due to operational problems. We found out later that the next flight after ours from Sydney had caught fire and this contributed to our delay. We were given a voucher for a meal and we took ours at a restaurant called Nooodles, which you can guess served mainly noodles. It was a good choice as the other option was a KFC and the queue for meals here was 50m long. We didn’t queue.

Stomachs full we did indeed fly at noon. Just under 13 hours and three meals, two lots of snacks, two films, three TV mini-series of something called ‘Longmire’, and a long sleep, we landed at Heathrow in the rain. Quite apt really as during the whole time we were in Malaysia, there had been thunderstorms and torrential rain which prevented us from visiting the airport tropical rainforest (I kid you not).

With our e-passports we were soon waiting for our luggage. As you could predict, mine came out straight away, but we had to wait, the tension rising, to the very last batch for Jamie’s to arrive. Rucksacks and all we found our transfer to Purple Parking and returned to my little Fiesta. It is funny how when you hire a vehicle abroad you become locked into its way of operating. For the first few miles I had relearn where the indicators, lights and wipers were. One good thing about our delayed flight was that we had now missed the Friday night London rush hour.

Jamie slept on the way and I dropped him off at his apartment for 9.30pm. After a quick chat with Sue I made a drink and went to a bed that I didn’t have to construct of boards and mats. Heaven!

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