After resting on Kauaui it was time to get moving again. To avoid an epic day I’d booked the flight back to Honolulu for the Saturday, with the long flight to Sydney on the Sunday. This meant a stop at the Ohana Honolulu Airport Hotel. I figured I’d just get a taxi but the woman wouldn’t let me in the taxi line:
“There’s a free shuttle bus, comes by every five minutes”
So I hang around for ten minutes, thinking this is going to be a waste of time, when a bus with Ohana on the side, but Great Western on the front shows up. I ask the driver and he says:
“Oh no, the shuttle won’t come unless you phone up”
But he’s a typically helpful Hawaiian and calls the other shuttle bus for me and the assembling group. When I reach the hotel I’m oddly excited. It’s a dull hotel, just a useful spot for a stopover and an early start, but I’m travelling again. I have a clear purpose.
Five am start to catch the 8.15 Jetstar flight. The shuttle bus driver drops me off and directs me to:
“That great big line over there”
But I’m travelling business class – Jet star is Australia’s low cost airline so it’s more like premium economy, but it means I get to waltz past the queue! Gold Lane means I’m through security so fast I almost get busted for forgetting to ditch my highly dangerous water bottle!
Normally I wait ‘til last to board the plane, but with a comfy seat awaiting I was happy to board first and not have to wait for dozens of people to cram their armfuls of carry-on into the overheads. However the seat is not that great, the legroom’s good, but the seat must have been designed by a person with the legs of a child. Fortunately I’m sat next to an interesting guy, though I didn’t get his name. Originally from London he moved to Sydney eight years ago and sells medical equipment. Hawaii is apparently a convenient place for their conferences!
I watch Battle LA and Paul, then the pilot episode of Magnum PI as my last Hawaiian Hurrah. The pilot gives a time check, but fails to mention that we’ve crossed the date line and it’s now Monday!
First off the plane, straight through customs, I’ve just time to grab some Aussie dollars out of the machine before turning round to see my bag emerge on the carousel! No queue at the Hertz desk and my car’s parked across the road. Now that’s a good trip!
It’s weird climbing in the right hand side of a car. This is rental car number ten, but the first right hand drive. I also have a new GPS unit to get my head around, although it does have a sexy Aussie accent. So I plunge into the Sydney traffic, and hope to end up somewhere near the big bridge.
Thanks to my devotion to Holiday Inn, I’ve managed to earn two free nights at their place on George Street. There’s a nice atrium, triangular and open through six floors, it’s like being inside the Luxor pyramid. The girl on reception looks like Hannah from S-Club, and the room has the usual Holiday Inn trimmings. Oh yeah, and the hotel has a rooftop area and pool, overlooking the harbour, midway between the Bridge and the Royal Opera House!!
After taking in the view I need to check something with Hertz but I’m not paying 30 bucks a day for internet so I pull out the 1026 page phonebook and open it on exactly the page with Hertz’s number!
Perhaps I should buy a lottery ticket as I’m going to need a fortune down under if Sydney’s anything to go by. 2.40 for a Fruit and Nut bar, 5.50 for a 1.5 litre bottle of water, 24 bucks for brekkie and the Aussie dollar is about 66p at the moment!
Hannah, aka Jess, suggests some pubs so I wander down George Street to the CBD. (“Central Business District” – Aussie equivalent of “downtown”, or “The City”). There’s lots of young people filing out of the offices so I’m hopeful for a good night out. Hope soon fades when I discover the usual city problem. It’s not that people are unfriendly, they’re just not excited by meeting people from elsewhere because it’s nothing new. The bars are more like English pubs than American bars, which means not many places have a line of bar stools, and the chance to sit with other individuals. I’m happy to find an Irish pub serving steak and guiness pie, and showing a rugby league match, but there’s nobody to talk to except the barman, who’s not very chatty, though he does give me a pair of socks.
Four hour’s time difference from Hawaii, so it’s early to bed and early to rise. I visited Sydney in 2003 and we climbed the bridge and sailed the harbour, so this time I want to tour the Opera House. I find a discount token in a guidebook, and remember to take it to the ticket office:
“Tickets are 29 dollars”
“A-ha! I have a 20 percent off token”
“OK with that the ticket is 28 dollars”
“The tickets are normally 35 dollars, they’re on special at 29 but you can’t double discount”
Bargain. Still the tour guide is another pretty Aussie girl and we start the tour by walking past some bloke with a horse. (Reading the paper the next day it turns out it was the winner of last year’s Melbourne cup, there to show off the trophy – yawn – and later joined by two former Miss Australias – D’oh!)
The tour’s not particularly revelatory, you can see most of the good stuff from outside, but the highlight is another element of chance. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra are practicing in the main concert hall and we’re allowed to sit in for 10 minutes and listen to them play. It’s fantastic to hear a full orchestra play without amplification in a silent hall and a shame they haven’t a show before I leave town.
My feet and legs have an aversion to standing still, and after an hour I’m in more pain than if I’d run for the same time so I hobble back to the hotel. After recovering I go for another wander around the CBD in search of a good pub. On the streets I find painted blokes playing didgeridoos, a trio singing daft songs like “it’s fun to dance with a kangaroo”, and a bloke giving a solo rendition on his sax, but no great sports bar.
I settle for an English pub and get Shepherds’ Pie. But it’s also English levels of service, so the barmaid doesn’t return to ask:
“How are you enjoying that pie, sweetie?”
I enjoy a chat with a charity worker in the street, and an older guy in the newsagent helps me get a map and gives me tips on my trip up the coast. But in the pubs nobody wants to talk to a strange English bloke on his own.
Time to hit the road.
I’ve got a Ford Falcon and in a shock move I’ve gone for the swanky G6E over the sporty XR6. It seems unlikely I’m growing up, but I did choose the comfy seat and ipod control over a “sporty” setup. I’m heading for the Blue Mountains, but as I pass through Parramatta I can’t resist a stop-off at one of only three Hooters in Australia, though it’s too early to eat.
Disastrously, the crappy Aussie GPS doesn’t know anything about Hooters and I only know that it’s somewhere in Parramatta. I pull in to a petrol station to think what to do next when something orange catches the corner of my eye. Of all the petrol stations…
Another unlikely result is spoiled when I find they haven’t opened yet! Oh well, it’s not quite the same popping in for a coke.
On to the Blue mountains, but the weather’s terrible. August is mid winter, but it’s like a typical English day in April. 16 degrees C and wet, wet, wet. I arrive at the Three Sisters view point but thanks to the deep fog the only way to see them is to close my eyes and remember back 8 years. As I drive off Mark Knopfler sings:
“These mist covered mountains, are home now for me…”
I’m back amongst my road trip Nemesis: Trees. What little view they afford is blocked by the mist. But I’ve found a winding road, and enjoy spells without traffic. I’m amazed at the pace of an eighteen wheeler, and I only manage to pass him with the use of a hairy overtaking lane, snaking it’s way up a hill. The reason the lorry can keep up with me is that he doesn’t have to worry about encountering wildlife, as it won’t make a dent in his front end. So when I round a corner to find a kangaroo in the road I’m pleased to stop easily in time with no drama. However, as I watch it hop out of the road I wonder whether the truck driver has considered if a Ford Falcon will make a dent!!
In the forest I spy a roadside café and stop for a bite. There’s just one old codger in the place, and the two old ladies working there, so it seems odd that the TV is blaring out the equivalent of Cbeebies, with two shouty women in gaudy dresses singing songs about fairies. I decide to be very English and order tea and scones, and she agrees to bring the scones over. But she forgets when another customer returns his ham sandwich
“This has cheese in it, I’m allergic to cheese, you could have killed me!” He says with a straight face.
I finish my tea with no scone in sight and have to remind the old dear, and acquire a free cuppa. Meanwhile the singing fairies are “doing my head in”. Thankfully, the scones are lovely.
Glad to escape the twilight café I drive on to Singleton. In the gathering gloom I don’t want to mess around with finding the best hotel so I pull up to the first one I see, and figure I’ll take a room, so long as it’s not over, say, 180 dollars.
“We’ve one room, and it’s 180 dollars” (I’m not making this up!)
I pull a sad face and put on my best puppy dog eyes.
“I can do it for 156”
At least the Aussies include tax, so that’s like 140 US. Not cheap, but at least there’s no more messing around today
“I’ll take it”
“OK. To get to the room, you have to drive back out to the street. Turn left. Across the roundabout. Turn right up George Street. Do a U-turn. Turn left. Unload here. Here’s the remote fob for the alarm. Then you can drive back round and park on George street.”
It’s a nice big apartment with a reclining sofa, and I’m in town so I can walk to the pub. But once again I’m stumped. There’s three pubs, but none of them have seats at the bar so I’m just pleased to find a Subway and return to my sofa, TV and blog.