Sunday, 22 November 2015

Keep on rolling baby. . .

Finally. . .After all the delays and bureaucracy. . . 

Thursday I departed Darwin and headed south on the Stuart highway. Passing Litchfield, Adelaide River and getting as far as Katherine. 300km was far enough under blazing 40° skies to ease me back into the rhythm of travelling after the enforced break.

If you read this looking up at freezing dark winter skies in the UK you might have little sympathy, but trust me riding on open stretches of road with super heated air blowing in your face at nearly 50 degrees C is pretty tough. Several rest stops to take on water and I got through three litres during the day. The bike over heated slightly with the water temperature warning light illuminating until I stopped the engine whilst still rolling. Then going out when I restarted.But the air flowing through the radiator was doing little to cool the water flowing around its internals

Day Two on the road. Leaving Katherine at 8am was probably an hour too late. . Temperature already at 30° that's comfortable to ride in. Not thinking straight I fuelled up and refilled my water carriers, but completely forgot to investigate the mesh tent in the camping shop until I was on my way - not turning around! 

Through Mataranka station where groups of aboriginal people sit out the heat under the shade of a tree. . One asks me the time, whilst waving his iPhone at me. . . Hang on, I thought you were supposed to know all this by the bark of the old gum tree or the quality of the wichetee grubs or something? - Guess that was in the dreamtime before "bottle shops"

During a stop for fuel and a cooling rest at Daly Waters I meet Josh riding his KTM 690 supermoto to Alice Springs. Our paths crossed a couple more times during the day. Everyone takes their rest stops where they can on this route.

 After reaching the "town" of Elliott on the Stuart highway I decide it seemed prudent to move on. Not a place you'd choose to stop. moving on through Renner Springs and Banka Banka to the Threeways Roadhouse at the junction with the Barkly Highway. A mix of truck stop, camp ground. motel and a place to rest once the sun goes down. 

An early start at 06:30 under cloudless skies at about 24° nice! 180 easy km laters and a breakfast stop at Barkly homestead roadhouse. . Probably the nicest place I've seen on this part of the journey.  

The temperature goes over 30 at 9am. . Horrible hot side winds blight the journey across a flat land of stunted vegetation. Two twisters follow me for a while, a black dust cloud being dragged into the sky on a tube of rotating hot air. The tarmac blisters in the sun as the temperature rises to a  steady 48° after a lunch stop at Camooweal roadhouse just over the Queensland border where a sign proclaims "welcome to Queensland. Set your watch 5 years and 30 minutes ahead" : it wasn't exactly the height of 21st century technology in Camooweal either!

One thing most people won't experience in the pollen filtered, air conditioned atmosphere of a car is the pungent waft of the numerous large animal road kills that litter the Barkly highway as they slowly desiccate on the hot tarmac. . Buzzards and harriers it seems prefer their meat well done. . About 2 days in the sun tenderised by a few road trains thanks. 

Is there any "wet" at all involved in the wet season? After the last two days I would hate to see the dry!

Sunday. I slept late. . Too late to move today. . Late decision to make Sunday a day of rest. I know what you're thinking right now. . But two fairly tough days after six weeks off the bike drained my energies, fried my senses and dehydration dulled my sensibility. No point taking unnecessary risks or pushing too hard to make up lost time. There's still enough days in the month. 

The east coast is almost within reach, but I also need to speak to the local Transport and Motoring service centre about the Overseas Visiting Vehicle [Aus acronym time] (OVV) and they aren't open until Monday so it feels like the right thing to do. 

Monday morning I'll call in obtain the permit and move on... After a chat with a couple of blokes in the bar (its hard not to fall into a really bad Aussie accent with some of these phrases!) it seems my original route via Normanton is probably not the best idea. Certainly a place to pass right on by. So I think I'll now travel on towards Townsville to get me to the coast quicker then make my way towards Port Douglas for a couple of days. 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Blog Supplemental. . .

Quick update on the fly. .

I managed to prize the bike from the vice like grip of the quarantine man and escaped to freedom! 

Well partial freedom. The final piece of the jigsaw being the MVR compliance check and the compulsory third party insurance scheduled for Wednesday. .

After all the compliance check was little more than a formality. A brief check of the lights and the engine and frame numbers provided a signed certificate and ctp insurance was purchased giving me the freedom of Australia's northern territory.

Don't know what all the fuss was about !!!!
More updates to follow as I'm moving on. . . .

Monday, 16 November 2015

Wet season cometh. . .

Well the whole point of getting here when I did was to avoid the wet season but seeing as I've been here a month and "the wet" is late, it seems I've ridden my luck too far and a passing thunder storm this afternoon was a warm up act to the main event this evening. 

With biblical rain illuminated by brilliant flashes of lighting backed up by the staccato beat of thunder claps. The tropical heatwave has been brought to a sudden end.

No biggie. . As they say here, but might make travel and possibly camping an interesting experience once I get moving.

After a weekend of no progress, as expected an early call to the warehouse and yet more delays.  .The bike was allegedly cleaned on Friday but failed a further check by another inspector and rather than sort it out there and then it was left over the weekend and will be booked in for another clean and inspection  "maybe today maybe tomorrow" . . .  . . . . .  (Deleted swear words)

This comedy act continues . .

With the news reports calming Australian's after the events in Paris by saying the border controls are "the best in the world" I have to say in my experience they couldn't organise the proverbial. 

Brief diversion. . Order lunch in a cafe .  Food delivered to the table, .waitress asks. .

"Do I want any crack with that"

Oh! the pepper mill. .

English really is a strange language

The rain storms continue on the north east coast. . But Darwin has returned to its hot and sunny state after the weekend storm. I think something is aligning to make me avoid the worst of the weather in Queensland.

At least I know I'm not the only one going through this experience as Scottish couple Norman and Elaine travelling the world on their Triumph Scramblers are going through their own drama's.

Future advice for anyone wanting to ride in Aus? . . . . Rent a bike when you get here! Not cheap but far easier. . .
but then. . . Where's the challenge in that?

A day of non returned phone calls, follow up chaser calls. . 
Being told the guy I'm dealing with is not in the office. . etc. etc.

Enough is enough. . A personal visit proves he is. . I don't wait for an update. . Another call and another half an hour later until I get a call back. . I've to be at the shipping agent at 07:30 tomorrow to sort it out . . Whatever it takes . .its getting sprung from their clutches. 

With the rest of the stuff - A combination of Compulsory Third Party insurance, Overseas Visiting Vehicles permits, Compliance checks and interstate legality to be dealt with after I re-enact the great escape leaping the wire scene ! 

Friday, 13 November 2015

Yes worries mate...

Bike unloaded. Quarantine man says a partial yes. .

Until he looks at the front sprocket cover. . Grease around the chain and sprocket needs cleaning out. .

He's just doing his job.

But might delay release and will cost again. . Not that I have much choice.

In touch with a local biker, guy who knows the system.
Bus journey to see if he can expedite the process at all. . modern clean air conditioned bus . But piped muzak and loud aboriginal chatter. "Walkabout" means catching the bus in 2015 I guess.

No progress again. Quarantine clean up taking as long as it takes. No amount of pestering makes any difference.

Another phone call tells me it won't be done in time for the scheduled compliance check. . Another delay. Next available slot is Wednesday. Stone walled when I call to try to get it in. "You have to book online"

Nearly one month in Darwin. I've got the patience of a saint but I've had enough now. 

There's a lot more to see than Darwin but I'm stuck. Pushing to get things done makes no difference. Trying to make things happen just ends in frustration. I've sat back and thought there's no point stressing but still nothing gets sorted.

Once I get legal in northern territory. I will head for Queensland. A journey of a maximum of 4 days where the legality becomes void and I have to obtain permits and  cover to ride on Queensland road. So another separate system.

It's a minefield of bureaucracy and conflicting legal systems.

I'm just weary of it now. Not feeling very positive. Sure I'll get the feeling back but it's tough to remain in a good state of mind.

post script

So seeing if I can make any headway with Queensland department of transport. . 

Called their customer centre and was referred to their website. . 
Extract follows:


To drive a vehicle in Queensland that has been imported either using a temporary import approval or a CDP, you will need an overseas visiting vehicle (OVV) permit.

An OVV permit recognises your overseas registration and allows you to drive the vehicle in Queensland during your visit. There is no fee for an OVV permit.

Your vehicle is only eligible for an overseas visiting vehicle permit while its overseas registration is current. We cannot issue a permit if you aren’t able to renew your overseas registration.

How to apply for a permit

To apply for an OVV permit, you need:

your current passport
a Queensland compulsory third party (CTP) certificate—see this list of licensed insurers
your overseas vehicle registration documents
your vehicle import approval or your CPD.
Bring all of these documents and your vehicle to a transport and motoring customer service centre. Your vehicle’s details will need to be checked and recorded on your permit

. . . 


So next stop. . One of the "list of licensed insurers"

"No mate you need to go to the department of transport. We only issue CTP for Australian registered vehicles"

Yeah been there . .They say I need to talk to you. , 
"Sorry can't help"

Do you ever get one of those days???

Not moving on!

Monday, 9 November 2015

And the beat goes on. . .

S'funny. . .

Being in a place long enough to peek behind the curtain. Like seeing a stage play. Out front it's bright lights, scenery, actors in character. But take a glance out back and the scenery is propped up on wooded frames and the characters are just costumes.

Darwin on the surface is a buzzing little town. Lots of shops aimed at tourists and backpackers. But the population actually appears quite small. . The travellers are by nature transient. And there's lots of empty shops. Fast food joints competing for the same dollar as their neighbours.

This far out, the "territory" actually appears to be a fairly tough existence, unless you're earning the government dollar.

There's a dark subculture of drunken Aboriginals. Barefoot and seemingly living on another plane. Angry with society ..maybe with good reason. . The white colonists have only been here a couple of hundred years. Short enough for long memories.
Modern white guilt over past conquests won't ease the situation . Things move on. You can't buy forgiveness. . Just live with it. .

Applying pressure on Monday. Is there anything I need to do to ease my bike out of the port?

And so it goes. . .

Some progress on compulsory third party insurance. Finally someone who seems to know the full SP. .

Once my bike clears customs/quarantine I need a compliance check and can apply for temporary ctp insurance. I will need to carnet as well . .which is with the import company in Victoria. .

Soooo. . . .
I've got to get an appointment for the check . . Book online . . . Sort collection once I'm given the go and get the rear tyre fitted (en route from the port to the test)
Get the carnet delivered to me in Darwin asap. And . . . Then . . Maybe . . I can leave. .

More time in Darwin yet.

(scrolling breaking news banner)
I've visited the import agent that has my bike today. Actually seen the unopened crate. Its cleared customs and is sat in the shipping agents warehouse waiting for the visit from the "quarantine man". What's not helping the situation is industrial action by Australia's border control staff. - just what I don't need!. However with a bit of luck the inspection will happen very soon. 

I've also registered with the local Motor Vehicle Registration(MVR) office and booked an inspection slot online, which will allow me to obtain the required Compulsory Third Part (CTP) insurance. Not sure how easy that will turn out to be and the next available slot with the MVR is not until Friday... 

Are you keeping up with this soap opera? 
I might actually get to see a bit more of Australia than Darwin yet! 

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Hometown Darwin

I've been here that long it's starting to feel like home! 

Lazy summer days in Darwin!

days. . Days of palm trees, sunshine, swimming. Reading in the park. Days of acclimatising. Of getting to feel at home. Understanding how Australia works. Familiarity of the town, the bird chirp from the pedestrian crossing, the amusing abbreviated English.

The "wet" hasn't come yet. . It's early November. . I heard the locals expect it to be late this year.  Bonfire night back home. . No fireworks here. .

Bike arrived Thursday. . I want to unravel it from the port authorities. have it back.  Customs fees, port charges, quarantine inspections. Compulsory insurance. Paperwork. . Paperwork. . And more. . Paperwork.

Middle of next week before I grasp it from the official clutches. I'm being processed.

Big rumbles of thunder. .maybe I spoke too soon

But it came to nothing. unlike the east coast that being battered by storms. Maybe the delay was meant to be.

One day after the container ships arrival and not unexpectedly no update from the port authorities. It's going to be next week. I'm resigned to that. I hope to be on the road before the weekend. It will be good to do so. It seems like a long long time since I had to travel.
The "break" in the bay of Thailand was planned. . This stationary time in Darwin . . Though not unpleasant, wasn't.

I feel the call of the wild. . The escape from civilisation. Gazing at uninterrupted stars with nothing to do except ride. Rest. Experience the distance. Feel the isolation and perhaps share an understanding with like minded travellers.

It's what has made this whole venture worthwhile. Adventure. Experience. Outside of normal understanding. . .

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.

My mind is set to apply that feeling to day to day life. It's what makes me feel alive. It makes normality worthwhile and common concerns trivial.

We all have a whole world to visit. To explore and to see and yet so many of us choose take the safe option. Plan for a future that none of us actually know is actually there.
I've said it before but human life is short with no guarantees. If you live to healthy old age to spend your pension then that safe option was the right one. But . . .

The red light is stale. The amber light is about to illuminate. The starting blocks are calling ..  .

Aussies do like a joke !

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Doing time in Darwin

The world over. . Friday night. . The start of the weekend. . And everybody is out for a beer. . 
Darwin is no different. Apart from the dress code (strictly summer attire) and the budgies in the tree across the road from the "irish bar"

And Cruising v8 "utes"

It's not freezing cold downtown Sheffield. . But on the flip side it's not party city Spain either. . Just a few beers with all the pubs with open outdoor seating and beer by the jug. Nice place, no worries!

Tracking the slow progress of the ship that has my bike doesn't improve the situation. . Not that it's bad. . I'm just restless and ready to move on.  Nothing I can do about it.

I've got to just relax and enjoy the ride. .

Sunday morning and sitting in the park reading under a lightly clouded sky with temperature still in the 30s just letting the day drift by.

An Aussie rules "footy" pitch barks into life. Local small stadium that I can see from the road. While I'm no football fan it's an intriguing mix of sports. . football/Rugby/American football all rolled into one with what appears to be fairly easy to understand rules.  It passes 20 minutes of one quarter of the match.

Tuesday is Melbourne cup day. I'm told the country stops for that particular horse race. . Might be worth seeking out a bar with TV to dip into the atmosphere. Not that horse racing lights my fire either! Might even put a little random bet on. . You never know your luck!
...or maybe you do! $5 bet on the winning horse pays me $130 . . Nice!

Lots of them. Perfect clear water. Fabulous sandy stretches. Clear blue skies and not a single person on any of them. Anywhere else there would be swimmers, surfers, divers. . But no one uses them. I know why but it's a crying shame. Swimming is limited to lakes and pools. I suppose that means the shoreline is a place for nature to live undisturbed. It's a strange situation though.

I've spent a bit of time trying to sort out insurance. It's nigh on impossible to get cover for the bike . There is a compulsory third party insurance that I will have to obtain somehow from somewhere but other than that it's the same as Georgia and Kazakhstan . . I'm stuck with it. . Surprisingly Australia appears to be a paper trail nightmare of bureaucracy. Not all states recognising the same documentation and from replies I've had no one seemingly fully understanding the system. c'mon Australia. sort it out! one country shouldn't have such a confusing system. . I've passed through far less civilised countries that manage to be far less complicated.

The ship with my bike is due to dock late on Thursday . I've been told it could take five working days to clear customs and quarantine. Too long but beyond my control.

Darwin is draining my resources and I'm getting no benefit from it. It's a good place but I need to move. To travel, to make progress. its frustrating. I know that sounds frivolous. I'm in a tropical summer in November. stop complaining, but this wasn't the plan. Then again what was?

At the starting gate . . . I'm just keen to go.

Waiting is the hardest part. Guess its time for another beer!