Saturday snippets: 3rd October 2015

By | Category: Travel news

This wetland is just 20 miles from the middle of Sydney. Too see it you need a four wheel drive vehicle so what is driving like?

This wetland is just 20 miles from the middle of Sydney. Too see it you need a four wheel drive vehicle so what is driving like?

This week, I am concentrating on some tips for travelling in Australia rather than my usual round-up of smaller stories, things that the tourist people don’t often mention or, if they do, need emphasising because people still don’t take it in.

A week is a long time in tourism! Last week I mentioned the price of petrol. Hardly had my fingers finished loading the story than it rose by between 10 and 30 cents a litre as spot prices rose, the Aussie dollar weakened and oil traders decided they needed to speculate. Nonetheless it is still cheaper than back home.

Fuel prices may explain why jumping in the car, 4 x 4, motorhome or extended ute (pick-up) is still a major way of travelling. Another is that trains are slow. Take a ride from the middle of the city of Sydney out to one of its major north western suburbs – Hornsby – and you travel just 20 kilometres. The train takes 40 minutes travelling at an average of 30kms per hour. Despite the fact that the Pacific Highway – the main thoroughfare goes through suburb after suburb and traffic lights galore, it can still be done faster except during the rush hour.

It is distances in Australia that many people still fail to take into account. If you plan on visiting more than state or place you can’t combine the two in a day. Getting from Melbourne to Sydney is an hour by plane (plus a couple to get to the airports and put up with the queues/ check-in times) but 16 by car. The ferry linking Victoria to Tasmania is an overnight one and even Tasmania (the smallest state) can’t be seen properly in a few days. I needed that just to see the south west corner including the capital, Hobart, Port Arthur, (the convict settlement) some of the local cheese producers and the Tasmanian Devil parks which are striving to curtail a hideous cancer outbreak amongst the animals. And as for trips to the centre at Alice Springs or up to Queensland for the Great Barrier Reef, then flights can nor only be pricey but are the only option for the overseas visitor unless you are holidaying in Oz for more than a month. If you contemplate something a bit different from the normal overseas packages like Parkes in western NSW where the zoo is one of the best in the southern hemisphere, Birdsville (an important bush settlement where the annual races attract Australians – that is unless flooding has happened when you can get trapped in the town for days until the waters recede) or the Kimberley’s in West Australia, then you need lots of time. Bite size Australia tours mean you tend to see what the holiday companies can show you in the least amount of time.    

This time I have been in just the state of NSW for three weeks and although I have seen places almost every day, I have hardly covered more than a tenth of the state. Driving a couple of hundred kilometres a day can be tiring day-in, day-out so I don’t recommend it. But if you want to see more than just Sydney you need to drive. Telling non-visitors to Australia that you spent 21 days in Oz and all you saw was Sydney will make them think you haven’t seen much but there is a lot to see in the outer suburbs that visitors rarely see as they stick near the very centre. Imagine all the sights inside the M25. Sydney is bigger than that.

this ferry is a continuation of the road network joining the main road together. As a "road" it is free to users

this ferry is a continuation of the road network joining the main road together. As a “road” it is free to users

Speed limits in urban areas are slower than we are used to. During school entrance and leaving times there is a speed of 40 kms, (25mph) the urban speed is 50kms in many residential areas and 60kms otherwise. This will also be the speed as you travel through towns on the major highways like the Pacific and Great Western. Outside the towns expect 70 or 80kms (50mph) an hour. It comes as a surprise to many novice drivers in Australia that highways do not equate to highways they have driven in the US, autobahns in Germany or our motorways. You even have area on highways where you will find parked cars as well as frequent sets of traffic lights. Only on the newer motorways will you see 110kms (and there are just a few) which is about 70 mph.

There are roadside cameras in places but they aren’t necessarily as obvious as our bright yellow ones are. There are also mobile cameras and they can be in all sorts of vehicles from vans to cars. If a driver flashes you check your speed. This shouldn’t be done but the camaraderie of fellow drivers exists and you’ll get a thumbs-up, a wave or a smile for letting them know if you spot a mobile camera van. One local driver got (done) for being just 2.5 kms over the limit.

If you decide to hire a caravan or a very long wheel based vehicle watch the road signs carefully. There are roads with very tight bends that you may not get though particularly in the mountain areas although I know of one black spot within 15 kms of the middle of Sydney which is regularly closed for a few hours as people disregard the signs and get stuck. The fine for being towed back out can be $A2,000 or about £1,000 plus the costs of the tow and motor insurance will not cover the costs.  

In Sydney there are a number of tolls on the motorways and the harbour bridge. In some cases you need an in-car gadget to pay as no toll booths exist. To get from the airport to the very north of Sydney expect to pay a number of different tolls which will amount to well over $A10 or £5.

an aluminium beer keg being used as a letterbox

an aluminium beer keg being used as a letterbox

Katoomba in the Blue Mountains and a major tourist destination is two hours away by train. By car you should save at least half an hour travelling on the Great Western Highway. Every motorist swears that roads are never maintained as they should be and Aussies are no different. There is the same deep distrust of politicians there as there currently seems to be in the UK and the USA. But, apart from Surrey roads which I think are some of the worst in the UK, stretches of the M1 motorway which connect the northernmost suburbs of Sydney with the north of NSW are pitted and bumpy having been repaired a few times but not given an overall upgrade. As the old joke goes, the road will make your dentures rattle in places! In the far outback where you drive on corrugated dirt tracks you expect this; on the major motorway in NSW, especially on the section from the Gosford turn-off to the Cessnock exit for the Hunter Valley vineyards, you don’t.

But wherever you go outside the inner Sydney region, one thing worth stopping for is morning tea. There are bakeries and cafes everywhere and many will offer large, freshly baked scones just out of the oven and laced with jam and cream for you to enjoy. Forget those little round things sold in supermarkets and Gregg’s, these are larger and less perfectly round because they are hand made without moulds. By late morning they will be sold and no more will be available until the following day.

Where Darrell Lea chocolates and sugar tests meet

Where Darrell Lea chocolates and sugar tests meet

Australians were known as being beer drinkers but that may not be as true as it was once portrayed. Wine drinking has been on the rise for the last few decades and now it is firmly established. But the beer culture remains strong and boutique breweries are popping up as fast as they are in the US. For ordinary Aussies, there seems to be another way to remember beer. They don’t have letter boxes in front doors but rather on poles at the entrance to their property. And those “letter boxes” can be made out of anything including aluminium beer kegs with just a slit cut out for the envelopes to be popped inside! I‘ll be returning to this topic in a few weeks’ time as I saw some strange ones as I travelled outside the city areas.

Finally this week, I leave you with another sight that caught my eye. This isn’t something most people would spot as it was inside a shopping mall. There, a chemist was promoting its services. Next to the agent for Diabetes Australia listing was one for Darrell Lea chocolates! Underneath was blood pressure and sugar testing! Just my sense of the quirky I suppose.





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