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On arrival in New Zealand I was struck by how familiar the setting seemed; the barren mountain-sides, drizzle and sheep transported me back to days when I have cycled through Connemara. It was a shock as New South Wales (only three hours away) is so different in terms of its beaches, sunshine, droughts, bush, snakes and kangaroos. While I am very fond of Ireland’s natural beauty, New Zealand is a long way to travel to visit an over-sized version of Connemara. Naturally I would soon learn about the diversity of the landscape in New Zealand. It truly is a stunning piece of geography; not only have I cycled through parts of Connemara but the Swiss Alps and conceivably the Amazon too. I am typing this in Glacier Country and it’s very bizarre to see how the glaciers run into the rainforest and then into the Southern Pacific Ocean.

My first week in Queenstown was spent in a party hostel. This made the most sense as it is a party town ... certainly not a place fit for a Queen. It’s the kind of place where tourists spend a week to get their adrenaline kicks by day and to drink a few shots to settle their nerves by night. This made it easy to make some friends. Of course, it would have been very easy to spend a week, then a month and before you know it a year has passed and you are working behind a bar. I am old enough to recognise a slippery slope when I see one!

When you love descending Alpine passes on a bike for free the attraction of the ‘extreme’ stuff is diminished. Why do a thirty second bungy when you can throw your bike down a mountain at speeds of over 80kph for thirty minutes? Thus, I bungyed neither the ‘Ledge’ nor ‘Nevis’, I did not swing through a canyon, I did not sky-dive Queenstown and I did not jet the Shotover river. My feet stayed firmly on terra firma ... unless of course, they were on the pedals. I did manage to check out the mountain-biking and there are some really cool trails. I had plans to ride the long and steep Dewer Track but having descended 6k into Skipper’s Canyon I realised that it was one of those tracks that you would not want to start at 1pm in the day, you would definitely need a back-pack of food and gear and you would probably want a flare in case you needed to get choppered off the mountain. Thankfully, my experience of Connemara has taught me to respect a changeable climate - I do not plan on being the Irish kid making headlines back home for all the wrong reasons. I biked back out of the Canyon and just did a road ride up to Coronet Peak ski-station instead. They do have some dedicated trails for mountain-biking. The coolest is probably the ‘Vertigo’ track straight down through the trees beside the Gondola. Being a roadie I’m not used to descending long off-road sections of over twenty percent in gradient. Thus, I was happier slogging it up to the top on the access trail. This is a fire-trail that people would race and time themselves up ... needless to say I made sure to make time to stop and check that my brake pads weren’t rubbing on the way up ... Goddam 16 kilo mountain-bikes !

Having neither jumped off the ‘Ledge’ nor slipped down the proverbial slope, I hatched plans to get out of there. It’s a cool town but there is definitely a hint of Seahaven (the town in the Truman Show) to it. It’s all a bit surreal really. I didn’t have the time to peel off the layers of the onion to get to the heart of Queenstown. It seems a place over-run with tourists and we all know that tourists keep their head down and their minds closed so that they can visit a place to check the boxes. Of course, it didn’t help that the weather was shocking for the week I spent there. The scenery is stunning if the cloud isn’t so low-slung that you can see it. It was only while waiting for a pizza that I managed to see the Revolver DVD being played on the TV. This DVD showed people, base-jumping, down-hilling, hang-gliding, dirt-jumping etc. However, I recognised the faces as being those who worked in the shops as opposed to those of the token 23 year old tourist that one would see in the marketing DVDs for all the extreme stuff that happens here. I stayed to enjoy the whole DVD. The penny dropped that this is the real Queenstown; people who moved here so they could do the extreme sports they love on their days free from serving tourists in a piece of nature that we all know from the Lord of the Rings to be stunning.

Next port of call – Wanaka



Kia Ora

While I was out the Great Ocean Road in Victoria I met a 67 year old English guy who had spent five months biking New Zealand a few years ago. He is one of those people who doesn’t believe in marriage or kids. He does have a lady friend of 27 years although they live in separate houses in North Wales. The freedom he enjoys allows him to spend five months touring on a bike every other year and having biked all over both North and South Island I was happy to let him plan my route. My original intention was to go from Christchurch to Queenstown but he suggested going the other way as the winds along the West coast would be more favourable.  He told me that New Zealand is all good but the way he went it just got better and better. Thus, with the relatively short time I have here my route is as follows: Fly into Queenstown and do some mountain-biking, take a bus tour to Milford Sound, ride to Wanaka and chill out, bike out and back to the bottom of Mount Cook (NZ’s highest point but you can't bike up it), head out the west coast to Fox and Franz Josef Glacier and on up to Greymouth before finally biking over Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch for my flight back to Sydney.

I am conscious that this is my last bit of travel in the land of familiar white-folk for a while (maybe colonisation by the crown isn’t so bad ... oops, how could I forget the 700 years yadda yadda yadda) and so my main priority in New Zealand is just to slow things right down to absolute holiday mode and relax as much as possible. The only effort I intend to make is in trying to learn some Latin American Spanish in advance of the next leg of the trip. At some point I will have to engage the brain and check over all my gear and equipment to make some deletions and additions in light of the potential challenges of the Andes. New Zealand provides few headaches in this department as they have good outdoor and bike shops in case you are short. They also have heaps of cheap hostels, which means that there is no point in carting my camping gear. Thus, I am travelling relatively light here.

Go-Go-Gadget holiday mode




I have transited from New South Wales to New Zealand. Thus, this post concludes my Ozzie adventures.

In the 'Best Brewski' competition; my favourite ale was James Boags - A Tasmanian brew with a bit of bite.

In the 'Trans-VIC/NSW Rocky Road Challenge' the winner was Fernando's Fudge in Milton - The soft creamy texture of the chocolate fudge blended really well with the smooth goo of the marshmallows.

In the 'Fantasy Female' contest the hottest chick was found on Bondi - Either a Spanish or Latin American backpacker who sent the imagination into overdrive before her boyfriend came along and ruined my day.

Some impressions of New South Wales are in the gallery ... I had plans for a bikini gallery but I'm creepy enough already! These turned out to be simple point-and-shoots to give people an impression. Hopefully I will fare better in NZ.

Mind how you go




Having spent a week in Sydney I thought I would bail to explore the coast up to Byron Bay. This would mean spending New Year’s Eve in Byron. Leaving everything until the last minute meant that the only chance of getting accommodation was to take a surf camp up the coast and have them arrange a hostel for me. This worked a treat and I looked forward to the opportunity to spend time in the water as opposed to on the road. Being a nomad makes conversation quite tiresome at times. While it’s great to have the ‘where are you from?’ card to pull from the back pocket as a conversation starter, a lot of people are simply travelling and so it’s often a case of same conversation different person. Naturally you meet some cool characters along the way but in the main backpackers are a very polite bunch unless they are travelling with a large group of mates. Thus, the surf camp would provide me with a new scenario; same people and the possibility of a different conversation after a couple of days.

Stormy weather had blown in from the West Coast making the swell pretty big. Normally this is a good thing for surfing but for novices the waves were too big, had too much energy and crashed too early. Thus, paddling out beyond the break took a lot of work. Inevitably the power of the waves against a 9ft foam board meant that the effort to get behind the break made you think twice about catching a wave back into the impact zone. Five days of non-stop rain made for tricky learning and left little opportunity to chill on the beach, catch some rays and wait for better conditions. Often it was just easiest to float on the board out the back and pretend that you were waiting for the perfect barrel to come to shore. Still, one session was awesome and like learning anything new it’s a case of paying attention and letting the pennies drop. If you have the patience then you will pretty much figure most things out. Surfing is great fun and there is no need to master it as the fun is in trying. From what I can make out even experienced surfers get very little return for their time in the water and so it’s just a game of patience ... something I have lots of.  It’s cool to think that whenever I visit Manly, Malibu or Mayo that I can rent a board for a couple of hours and have some fun with it.

The camp itself was carnage; just like being back in college. Like any group tour the people can be hit and miss; in this case it was about 50/50. I got on well with a bunch of people but the most fun were a group of kiwi girls who took me under their wing for some more partying by the time we got to Byron Bay. It was great being back in that zone again as it was exactly what I needed. We had a very cool bunch of instructors who invited everybody on tour to their beach party on New Year’s Eve even though we were no longer on camp. I still can’t understand a word they say but they are effectively professional degenerates buzzing off a cocktail of surf and weed by day and booze and coke by night. Fun people to be around until their wheels inevitably fall off as they float to a more mind-altering buzz. I had originally feared that the surfer-set would be particularly flaky and annoyingly vain. Team Billabong, who stayed with us on camp, were exactly that. They were very into their bodies and overly ladish. Our instructors weren’t like that at all; cool for me is when you can naturally transcend the box people put you into and these guys did it well even if they were wasted half the time.

Of course, if kids need any convincing that smoking lots and lots of pot is bad for you then they should take a trip to Nimbin. This is a town not too far from Byron Bay where a bunch of travelling hippies decided to stop and stick around for a while. I could see why they did as the scenery is pretty cool. In 1973 they organised Aquarius; a festival which sounds a bit like it might have been a Woodstock of sorts. The hippies remained and attracted a whole bunch of people like them.  Interestingly they didn’t attract too many as it is still a one-street town. While they flouted the law they were left pretty much left to their own devices.

Unfortunately Nimbin has the highest rates of bi-polar and schizophrenia in Australia and so the government put two and two together and called in the law; much to the angst of the backpacker who blows in to buy some ‘cookies’. Police presence has increased meaningfully to such an extent that street dealing has been driven down the lanes much like anywhere else. This doesn’t stop signage pointing out that there can’t be anything illegal about nature but for sure something has changed. I’m all into peace, love and happiness but I’m a little suspicious of hippies who think that love means sex and that peace and happiness means getting stoned. The original hippy message is inevitably ‘wasted’ and Nimbin seems such a place. Still, it’s funny seeing a shrivelled up aul’ lad sitting on an armchair in the middle of the street high as a kite. He laughed at absolutely nothing and could barely walk. The shame is that he is probably forty.

Byron Bay itself is a pretty cool place. The week between Christmas and New Year is always pandemonium as it is over-run with tourists, both Australian and international. It’s annoying having to queue half an hour for a burrito but such is the damage curious blow-ins like me do to the local area. The old chilled out alternative surfing town of Byron Bay is what everybody wants to see but the arrival of tourism makes it now look and feel like any other modern beach town with its weekenders and consumers. I’m sure it quietens down again but once an area has given in to the temptation of the tourist dollar it is never the same again. Probably best to visit when no-one else is there but by all accounts a good party town with a hint of the original arty and surfer vibe to make it a beach town with a difference.

Will talk soon.



The Great Debate – Melbourne vs. Sydney – Conclusion

Unbelievably I am struggling to decide on which city I prefer. It is not a case of one being better than the other because they both have totally different vibes. For sure the familiar energy of Sydney made it seem safe and homely. Overlay this with the very cool beach scene, a very hospitable climate and a lot of very beautiful girls and it’s a very appealing prospect. I’m not even a beach person (let’s be honest - sand is literally a pain in the ass) but the entertaining muscle-beach of Bondi full of beautiful people was as much fun as the family-friendly beach of Manly where everybody gets along. Of course, there are a string of other beaches which I didn’t get a chance to check out. On the other-hand the prospect of having to rise very early just to do a few laps of Centennial Park so that I can enjoy my bike is hardly enticing. The park itself is choc-a-bloc with cyclists doing laps which makes it almost as stressful as the roads and so hardly worth getting out of bed for. I ride to switch off not to switch on. I save that for racing.


Melbourne has a great alternative vibe and having lived in Ranelagh for the last six years also seems kind of familiar. However, I’m starting to see myself more and more as an outsider, which makes the prospect of finding a place where I feel I belong very challenging. Ultimately I want to feel that I’m contributing to the energy of a place as opposed to consuming it. As much as I love organic markets, fixed-gear bikes, retro clothes and a healthy cultural scene I really just consume these products. This is much like an Irish kid who buys Quiksilver tees; he wants to be associated with the surfer set even though he can’t surf. I am ultimately a consumer of the alternative vibe. I’m not overly comfortable with this and it is interesting to note that I don’t really have friends who are grungy, play in bands, work behind falafel stalls on weekends and as bike messengers during the week. As Mrs Hope would tell me; “show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.” Still, it is more positive to be surrounded by the things you like rather than the things you don’t like and with Melbourne having a pretty active cycling fraternity and a stronger cafe and cake scene it is a very appealing town. But there is the weather to think about and while I never really think much about the weather I can’t quite put it out of mind when it comes to Melbourne and Victoria.


Thus, to bring this to a conclusion I am going to employ a little tool that I learnt from Kirsty while watching ‘Relocation, Relocation’ on TV in Sydney. Yes, I am guilty of watching a property show over a late breakfast while my gracious hosts are busy at work. Such British shows run on a loop here on the Lifestyle Channel starting with Property Ladder, then Relocation, Relocation followed by A New Life in the Country and capped off with Grand Designs before going back to Property Ladder and so on. Pretty unbelievable and surely confirmation of the fact that there is something unsustainable about the Australian property market. I can’t quite put my finger on it but there is definitely something in the air that smells odd. Anyway, where house-hunters can’t decide between two properties Kirsty encourages them to make a list of the various rooms and amenities and rate them. The property that tallies the highest wins. The tool is supposed to convince you to make a decision to make an offer on the property.


Perhaps making a simple list off the top of my head in relation to cities will help decide whether I prefer Sydney or Melbourne. Marks are out of 10 and in no particular order of preference. This is based on the assumption that the necessary A$100k salary required to live centrally and enjoy the place properly is attainable.



Ladies - 6

Bike Friendliness - 10

Bike route options - 5

Alternative Scene - 9

Things to do - 8

Cafe Scene - 8

Restaurants - 8

Music scene - 8

Arts scene - 8

Parks to read in - 8

Space to breathe in - 8

Neighbourhood appeal - 7

Convenience - 7

Distance from countryside - 4

Stress-free vibe - 7

Expense - 5

Beauty - 8

Dry weather - 4

Sunshine - 5

Cakes - 7

Beach scene - 5

Friendliness – 7

Accessibility to Mountains – 1

Eurosport - 10



Ladies - 8

Bike friendliness - 1

Bike route options - 2

Alternative Scene - 4

Things to do - 6

Cafe Scene - 6

Restaurants - 7

Music scene - 7

Arts scene - 5

Parks to read in - 7

Space to breathe in - 7

Neighbourhood appeal - 6

Convenience - 7

Distance from countryside - 5

Stress-free vibe - 7

Expense - 6

Beauty - 6

Dry weather - 8

Sunshine - 9

Cakes - 6

Beach scene - 9

Friendliness - 7

Accessibility to Mountains - 2

Eurosport - 10


And the winner is ... MELBOURNE ... 163 pts to 149. That’s that I guess.


Take care



Ps: My photos of Sydney are in the gallery if you want to have a goo.


The Great Debate – Melbourne vs Sydney – part 2 of 3

Sydney created a terrible first impression. It is very unfriendly for cyclists as there is no road-margin to cycle in due to the narrow car lanes. Bike lanes disappear into nowhere leaving cyclists totally stranded on busy highways with cars hurtling past at 100kph. Getting on the pavement often doesn’t help as they too can disappear or be very narrow in the outer-suburbs. It is not a good thing in this more environmentally sensitive age if cyclists have to commute in packs in the early hours of the morning just to be road-safe. If I was a dad with responsibilities I’m not sure that I would consider the chances worth taking. I was aware of these issues but it was pretty shocking to experience them. Then, I saw the women and my attitude to the place totally changed; they are stunning. I was definitely looking forward to people-watching.


My very generous hosts Eoin and Eilish made my life in Sydney quite simple. They live beside Darling Harbour which is a major tourist hang-out and is right on the door-step of the CBD. Within 24 hours I had pretty much seen everything there is to see in Sydney; the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the skyline, Bondi and the Royal National Park. Variety for the tourist is achieved by seeing the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and the skyline from different vantage points such as Bradley Heads, Waverton and the Royal Botanic Gardens. The Harbour Bridge is just a bridge and the skyline seems to be made up of a fairly standard bunch on buildings. However, the longer I stayed in Sydney the more I started to realise how pretty the whole place is. The tranquility of the centrally located Royal Botanic Gardens is something special. Intially it seemd that the skyscrapers were dominating the period architecture, however, individually there are some really fine buildings here. The Opera House is the most impressive but the gold Sydney Tower perched like a nest atop the skyline is my favourite with the period QV being stunning both inside and out.


Unlike Melbourne Sydney is weak when it comes to town-planning. Of course, the large network of waterways between the heads does not make urban planning easy but getting around the place in a car makes planning seem an after-thought. As the harbour is visible from so many different places it must make a large number of districts desirable and so spread the cost of housing. Still, Sydney is a money-centre and feels very much like any other city where money is king. Restaurants and retailers rely heavily on the spending power of bankers, accountants, lawyers and insurers and so there is certainly a London feel to the place as the city-buzz is a function of the success of the Australian economy. Thus, Sydney caters more for mainstream interests and is really just a regular international city built on an interesting network of wharves and quays with superb weather and great beaches. Certainly Sydney in the sunshine is a pretty place with its shimmering waterways. Is it fair to say that it is London in the sun? Like Melbourne, the longer I stayed the more I started to love the place.


To be continued ...


The Great Debate – Melbourne vs Sydney – part 1 of 3

My first impression of Melbourne was that it was the least dysfunctional city I have ever seen. Cities are dysfunctional by nature and so it was quite impressive to find one where rush-hour was calm and there were plenty of open-spaces to breathe. Of course, Melbourne has its mean streets like anywhere else governed predominantly by Asian gangs with knives. In addition all the tenements are pretty much gone and so I am making the assumption that the less well off were transplanted further out. While such actions are common in major cities the natural consequence of is that a natural part of the community is alienated. A trip to Pakenham may have burst the bubble somewhat but for the tourist Melbourne seems a perfectly planned city with modern skyscrapers existing in harmony alongside more period Victorian buildings. The architecture is very strong making the city quite photogenic. The uncongested grid of the Central Business District (CBD) was easy to navigate and beyond that boundary lay all the inner-suburban precincts of Carlton, Collingwood, Richmond, South Yarra and St Kilda that one might want to live in. All of which were served by trams making the stresses of modern living seem minimal. Of course, a rising population creates its own problems and herein lies the rub. To the tourist Melbourne seems like a city of about a million people, however, it has in fact almost 4 million and will overtake Sydney in a couple of years if immigration continues the way it has. The urban planners (who have done a tremendous job) have recently agreed to sanction development outside the city boundary line which they have been defending for a long time. Suburbia must extend well over 50 kilometres in radius from the CBD. Naturally outer-suburbia is less well served by trams and rail and so the reality is that unless you are living in the more desirable and expensive central locations that Melbourne faces challenges like any other city. A rising population brings rising property prices and the town planners will have a difficult job trying to contain the sprawl as young people seek to move to more affordable locations further out. If I were to say that Australians have more household debt than at any time in history then one starts to wonder if Melbourne is fool’s paradise. When one pays over four bucks for a croissant then one quickly understands that either rents are expensive or there is some wage-price spiral occurring or more likely both. When you realise how big Melbourne is then you understand how it can support so many eateries and bars in such a concentrated area.


The longer I stayed in Melbourne the more I found to do there; there was little chance of ever getting bored. I enjoyed the alternative vibe to certain parts of the city and the fact that it was so bike friendly. What amazed me was the sporting infrastructure. Melbourne could host an Olympics tomorrow. It’s incredible to see their passion for sport. In fact they are a little obsessive; it can’t be healthy to know more about European sport than the Europeans. I still can’t fathom how they contemplate getting out of bed in the middle of the night to watch Liverpool in the Premiership. Liverpool is not exactly playing the sort of football that is worth getting out of bed for but they still do or else they hit record. For sports fans, be they active or armchair, Melbourne is an incredible place. It also has a very strong arts scene and a pretty healthy cafe scene. They love bikes and there is plenty of racing over the summer and so I can definitely feel the allure of the place. However, Victoria does experience more changeable weather than we do although it does cut both ways. Indeed the prospect of stable weather made me look forward to Sydney.


To be continued ...


Australia – the land of hope and glory? 

The most striking thing about Australia is that if feels a lot like America. This was apparent the first moment I arrived into Melbourne with its yellow taxis, grid system, skyscrapers and fast food joints. Like America it was a colony and so its people are mostly immigrants with a once self-sufficient indigenous population cast adrift to the margins of society and a life of government hand-outs. Unless they got with the ‘programme’ of course. The history of both countries seems relatively recent, marked by the arrival of maritime explorers Columbus and Cook. Now that colonisation is considered a dirty word the history of Native Americans and Aboriginal people has retrospectively been included in each country’s identity.


Regardless of the past there is definitely a West Coast of America vibe to present-day Australia and the theme of immigration remains constant. Melbourne is adding two thousand people a weeks as an ever increasing stream of Asians and Indians join the flow of Irish, British and Germans wishing to sample the more relaxed lifestyle, better weather and greater opportunity. It is worth saying at this point that it does rain in Australia. I suffered nothing but rain for five days of a surf camp up the coast to Byron Bay and I almost drowned in the wettest November on record in Melbourne.


Population in Australia pretty much only occurs near the coast, this means that the people have a very close relationship with the ocean and this is ultimately what differentiates Australia and gives it its own identity. Fish-bait, dolphins, whale-watching, sting-rays, beaches, surfing, boating, snorkelling, diving, lighthouses and fish ‘n’ chips pretty much sums up a tourist’s impression of Australia. While I have not been to the outback, the desert or the Snowy Mountains, the bush and rolling hills are pretty monotonous only made interesting by trees shedding bark instead of leaves and kangaroos for road-kill. Having said all that, the real purpose of my trip to Australia was to visit Melbourne and Sydney as so many people over the years have told me that these are places I should be living in. Consequently the great debate over which city I preferred would prove to be intriguing (for me at least).


Happy New Year



Happy Christmas

Just a post to wish you all a beautiful Christmas. I’m not quite sure what I will do for it yet but there is plenty of British TV over here so it might not feel totally alien even if the sunshine and beaches makes it seem so. I will start a surf camp on St Stephen’s day, which will take me up to Byron Bay over five days. This means that I may skip Sydney for New Year’s Eve but I’m not much of a New Year’s Eve person anyway so no big deal ... bah humbug! Maybe I’ll just record the fireworks on TV and watch them when I come back, we’ll see.


Christmas in the sunshine is a very odd feeling, I tried to eat some Christmas pudding ice-cream to get me in the mood but that didn’t work ... some family and pints down the local with friends would go down a treat but a selection box will just have to do.


I wish you a wheelie great Christmas and a fun and adventurous 2010.


Much love



Nice to finally meet you Sydney

I arrived into Sydney on Friday as originally planned to conclude the Australian leg of my bike-tour from Melbourne. I hugged every inch of coast where possible to accumulate 1,365k of loaded touring over 12 bike days. This figure does not include any unloaded exploring I may do along the way. I have ridden a total of 3,515 loaded kilometres so far. The last 3,215 of which were in a pair of flip flops I bought for five bucks ... but hey, who's counting? 

The NSW coast from Eden to Sydney has some spectacular beaches. I arrived into the beautiful town of Huskisson on Monday and just had to spend more time there. Jervis Bay on which its sits has some of the whitest sandy beaches in the world and is a place where one could spend the whole summer fishing, snorkeling, exploring the beaches, hiking the national park, boating the lake, dolphin watching etc etc. It was my favourite place of the whole ride and so I spent two full days off checking it out. The penultimate day took me past Seven Mile Beach where I managed to ride through 48 degrees of heat coming through Nowra, The consequence of such heat was thunderstorms on the ride into Sydney. It was a very damp and rainy day but I managed to ride over the sea-cliff bridge and through the Royal National Park before navigating the least bike-friendly city I have ever come across. The local cyclists know their way around but cyclists tend to ride in packs for safety. There is just no space on the road for motorists to share with cyclists as they have crammed three lanes where we would have two. The rainy day made for more cars on the road and riding the pavements doesn't really work either as they are barely two foot wide in places and disappear onto the opposite side of road also. I was aware that Sydney has issues for cyclists so it was interesting to experience them first-hand even if it didn't create a positive first impression.

Within 24 hours of arriving I had ridden through the Royal National Park, had pints at the Opera Bar, had traveled over the Harbour Bridge and had chilled out on Bondi Beach. In addition my friends Eoin and Eilish showed me several cool places where the views of the harbour have been stunning. People I met on the way up all told me how pretty Sydney is; I can confirm that the women are incredible.

Chat soon