AUSTRALIA: KANGAROOS AND MULLETS
For three days we suffered in the blistering Malaysian sun to get our motorbikes as clean as possible. Australia is particularly strict about anything that might possibly threaten their “bio-security,” and after the thousands of miles on sandy, rocky and muddy tracks, the dirt was pretty much everywhere on the bikes. A quick trip to the car wash definitely didn’t do the trick. On the parking lot of the hotel next to the customs office, we scrubbed all the nooks and crannies of the bike with a toothbrush. For a full day we worked with Nazli, an extremely friendly Malaysian who customized our crate with perfect accuracy. Our bikes got a final 24h gas treatment to give every hidden critter the final blow and after a swift customs inspection, they disappeared into the hold of the airplane to Australia.
Australia, The Belgian Way
We were dressed in shorts and T-shirt as we landed in Melbourne, on the Australian south coast. Given the cold temperatures, this turned out not to be the most thoughtful of outfits for the Australian winter. Rick, a Belgian who lived and worked in the city, had reached out to us through Instagram and kindly offered us a bed. We had decided to take him up on his offer last minute, although we absolutely didn’t know him. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but we soon realized that Rick was an amazing person.
We couldn’t believe our eyes as he showed us our bedroom. The entire side wall was made of glass from bottom to top, with a view over the city. “Just wait until you see my living room!” 180° view of the Docklands with its marina, one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the city. In the background, the Melbourne skyline. “Have you guys had dinner yet?” “Eh no, but don’t bother Rick, we can handle ourselves.” That was not what Rick was like. In no time he came up with crusty bread, a delicious cheese assortment and a deliciously homemade salad. It had been a very long time since we last had that, and it tasted divine! Rick opened a wonderful bottle of red wine, and as the conviviality swelled, another bottle followed.... and another. Our first night in Melbourne was one to remember.... the second night too, and the third. We truly enjoyed his company and hospitality, the stories among fellow countrymen, those little things we had missed for such a long time.
Time For The Bikes!
We almost forgot about picking up the Huskies. Australian customs didn’t quite excel in upfront communication, but after five days and many phone calls, our mission at the airport was finally about to start. Our cleaning effort in Malaysia was rewarded and the actual bio-security inspection took no more than 5 minutes. A few hours later customs also gave their blessing, but assembling our bikes in the warehouse at the airport was an absolute no-go. Australians are strict ... extremely strict. “The rules are the rules, mate.” It wouldn’t be the last time we were told so. We had no choice but to rent a small truck and pick up the entire crate, avoiding extra storage costs of USD600 a day. We have a budget to take care of after all. Suddenly we found ourselves in downtown Melbourne with an entire crate on the back of a pickup truck. How on earth do we get this thing off? With a couple of beers, we managed to convince an employee of a random DIY store to help us out with his forklift. We were allowed to assemble our bikes in a covered corner of their parking lot. “No worries mate, all good!”
The Great Ocean Road
We were so excited to be back on the road, at last. We quickly scored synthetic oil and chain lube, which we were not allowed to take on the plane, and then headed straight to the Great Ocean Road, a breathtaking 150-mile winding ride along the south coast of Australia. With Australian food prices twice as high as in our home country, the difference with Southeast Asia - where you dine for a dollar and a half - couldn’t have been greater. In Australia we would go camping again and cook for ourselves, two things we both love but hadn’t gotten around to for months due to the heat in Southeast Asia. At the end of the first riding day, we ended up on a soggy campground, cooking food from the discount supermarket on our trusted little petrol stove. The pit toilets had an awful smell and there were no showers around. It was 35°F outside. Some people would say we’re crazy, but we just absolutely loved it!
We rode on past villages with a handful of inhabitants and evocative names like Jamieson Creek, Sugarloaf and Warrnambool. We were amazed by all the natural shapes of the Tasman Sea: The Razorback, The Twelve Apostles, The London Bridge. Over and over again, we found ourselves chatting way too long with the few crazy cheerful Ozzies we bumped into. We got rid of our neat and correct English. “Rooooait behooooaind the staaaaition, just befooo’ Macca’s to the roooait” (Right behind the gas station, just before McDonalds to the right). We’ve become accustomed to the many mullets you see all over the place and even got to the point where we started appreciating them more and more, as part of authentic Australian culture. Not that I have any plans in that sense for myself, don’t get me wrong.
Kangaroos, Koalas and Whales
Camping sites were often little more than an open field full of kangaroo poop, an open kitchen, and a pit toilet. If we got lucky there was a hot shower. Those who know Australia from TV probably get the impression that all of the country has ideal surfing weather all year round. We got up in the morning and scratched a layer of ice off our motorbike seats. Imagine, they have winters here! A nighttime visit to the toilet can turn out to be quite surprising too. All of a sudden I realized I was surrounded by about fifty big kangaroos grazing happily in the meadow. Nobody ever told us that these animals live mainly at night and absolutely don’t care about a tent and two motorcycles. “Excuse me, could you maybe just let me pass, I have to go to the bathroom.” One leap is all it takes for them to be five meters away. “Cheers mate!”
Kangaroos were all over the place. We saw them every single day. Koalas however, were a different story. Many Ozzies admitted they had never seen any in the wild and kindly referred us to the zoo. But after some deep research, Caroline had discovered they lived on Raymond Island, just off the coast between Sydney and Melbourne. We merely got the kickstand out as we spotted our first fluffy friend in the eucalyptus tree right above us, and it wasn’t the only one around for sure. Half the island was infested with koalas, while the other half had been colonized by kangaroos.
This time of year, the great northern migration of whales is at its peak. These massive mammals have gorged themselves on krill and plankton in Antarctica before seeking warmer places for the winter. Caroline and I celebrated our 15-year anniversary - how quickly time goes by - and decided to treat ourselves to an afternoon of whale watching off the coast of Merimbula. Chances of seeing these huge marine animals were particularly high, the boat captain assured us. Some 400 had passed by every single day over the past few weeks. But that day, as it turned out, they were hiding particularly well. For an hour and a half we had been floating in the ocean and the captain got visibly annoyed. Until we suddenly spotted two humpback whales. Adrenaline rushed through our bodies as we admired a mother humpback whale with her young at play. We followed them for a full hour and were treated to an unforgettable experience!
Away From The Coast
We had seen enough ocean and animals for now and really wanted to go to the more remote areas, with endless roads leading to the horizon far away from the touristy areas, where life is hard and people are even more unintelligible. “There’s no snow in the mountains yet and that is quite exceptional for the time of year. You can ride the Snowy Mountains Highway if you want!” Snow? Do they have snow in Australia at all? We rode through Kosciuszko National Park past a string of closed ski resorts and ended up on that famous “highway,” no more than a remote two-lane road that is paved at best. But the views were phenomenal, and the gravel tracks further north were a welcome change. The evening sun turned the lakes along the road to Tumut into impressive mirrors, and emus, the Australian version of the ostrich, were added to our wildlife checklist.
eaving early is never an option here in Australia. It takes at least until 11AM for our tent to dry in these cold temperatures. At 5:30PM it gets dark and we stop driving, because that’s when the wombats come out. Except for the many dead ones knocked over along the road, we haven’t had the chance to see one alive. Australian body shops are all too familiar with them and cars here all have bull bars on the front bumper for a reason. These heavy short legged marsupials -weighing up to 35kg- don’t have the best reputation to say the least. A few times, it happened that we got the timings wrong and had to ride in the dark to reach our destination of the day. But usually the tent is up by dusk and we start cooking. It is not uncommon for us to be in our sleeping bags around eight o’clock. The cold is quite exhausting and the silence here is just blissful. It usually doesn’t take longer than fifteen minutes before we actually fall asleep.
Today we pitched our tent in Wollongong, about 30 km south of Sydney. We are close to the beach where many Ozzies walk their dogs. We have yet to spot the first dog turd or lost candy paper here. Everything is spotless and the locals greet us with a cheerful “How’s it going mate?” Life can be beautiful!
For the next few weeks, we will have visits from the home front so we won’t ride our bikes for a while. But after that, we will dive straight into the Australian Outback! The bikes won’t stay clean for long.