Thursday, December 31, 2015

Honeymoon #3 (Australia) - The Map & Driving

On August 12, 2015, we hopped on a plane for Australia (honeymoon #3) and, on October 24, went over to New Zealand (honeymoon #4), and didn’t return until November 19, 2015.  It was a long trip (over 15,000 photos!), so I’ll attempt to give a bunch of little short stories over the next months (before we head off for more adventures!) about the travels.

Here is the map overview (click any picture to enlarge that picture):

With details visible here (for the interested: you can see all of the places we went, and our route – you can zoom in, and you can switch to a satellite mode).

What is pictured above turned into 13186 miles (21220 kilometers) of travel!

Fortunately, before we got into a rental car, we had a “soft landing”.  Friends, Peter and Elizabeth, who happened to live near Sydney, picked us up and took us to their house, which backs onto some park land.  This allowed us to recover from our flight, get used to having to drive on the left hand side of the road, without having to actually *do* the driving, get a wonderful introduction to the local birds (gorgeous cockatoos, galahs, parrots of all sorts) and plants, and hear about the local animals, most of which exist (in the wild) only in Australia.  This gave us a wonderful base of knowledge for the rest of our trip around Australia.

The above sign was mostly seen on the roads to and from Uluru (Ayers Rock).  Another park had painted arrows showing the direction of travel in a lane in front of pull-offs, or upon exiting a dirt road.

We actually had one timeline on our trip, and that was having to be in Darwin (where we also have friends) on August 26, to pick up Ed (travel buddy and friend from high school era) and Rebecca (wife of a high school friend who has joined us on a couple of occasions) who were flying in.  We were advised by many to fly to Darwin (extreme middle north of the country) from Sydney (south east of the country), because it’s so far, but Jay and I had been driving all over the US, and loved it, so, why not do that in Australia, as well?  When we rented a car, and told the rental agent our plans, he physically backed away from us, started to ask us “Do you know how far that is?” stopped mid-question, looked beseechingly at Peter, who’d accompanied us to get the car, and asked him if he’d explained to us just how far it is?  Peter nodded his head, and told him that we understood the task we were taking on.  And, away we went. . .  we started from Sydney late afternoon on August 17th, and made it to Darwin, going some 3000 miles ( 4828km), by the 24th.

That segment of the trip taught us many things about driving in Australia.  We noticed that Australia’s roads are, in general, narrower than those in the US, and, except for areas very close to the major cities (of which there are only a few), there are no major highways, like the interstate highway system in the US. We soon learned that the major roads, on which we would be spending the majority of our time, were these 2 lane roads, sometimes wide-ish and most of the time, narrow. We also learned that finding a place to stay by about 4 pm was the wisest move, for many reasons, but mainly because we didn’t want to be caught driving at dusk, when most of Australia’s wildlife wake up and start moving around, most notably, the kangaroos.  The first couple of days, we had some very close calls with kangaroos, and after that, we stuck to full daylight for driving:

Besides having to get used to which side to drive on, we also had to get used to where in the lane the car is, because, if you’re used to driving on the right side of the road, the car extends a little bit beyond you on the left, and a LOT on the right.  Well, if you drive on the left side of the road, the bulk of the car is to the LEFT of you, so positioning the car is a little different.  I believe that folks used to driving on the right tend to lose a lot of the left-hand car mirrors when driving on the left side of the road.  Fortunately, we never lost any pieces of the car, but the left tires did spend some time off of the left side of the narrow road. . .

Another detail is that the signal lever is on the right hand side of the steering wheel (unlike in the US), while the windshield wipers are on the left.  The windshield wipers were constantly going, whenever a turn was anticipated. . .  What I found even more amusing is that *after* we returned, Jay, having never really gotten used to the signals being activated by the right hand, was constantly reaching for the signal lever with the right hand after we returned!!! 

Neither of us had any difficulty returning to the right hand side of the road, upon returning to the USA, which actually surprised me for myself, as I’d gotten quite accustomed to being on the other side of the road, and being on the right hand side of the road would scare me, in Australia or New Zealand, and so I was afraid that I’d yell at Jay to get on the other side of the road, mistakenly, after returning.  Hasn’t happened, though (thankfully)!

I noticed that there are some things that I’ve internalized from living in the US for so long.  One thing that I’ve internalized is that yellow separates lanes going in different directions.  Well, in Australia, those clues do not exist.  White dash lines exist between lanes going in the same direction, as well as going in different directions, but it took a while for me to understand why the roads seemed so confusing to me.  Australia does use yellow, but usually to mean that there are parking restrictions, and that yellow is near the curb.  (Yellow on the curb is frequently used for a similar purpose, usually “no parking” in the US, but not quite in the same location on the road as it is in Australia.)  There was one National Park that had no lines on most of the roads, and then, instead of marking the middle of the road, it put in yellow lines on the side of the roads (don’t park!).  With the narrow roads, oncoming cars would frequently join us in our lane, which was quite nerve-wracking, so I thought that if at least the midpoint were marked, then they would KNOW that they were joining us. . .

In the Northern Territory (where Uluru/Ayers Rock and Darwin are located), there were stretches of road where there was no speed limit.  So, naturally, Jay had to see how fast he could go.  The car’s limit was 200km/hour, which is a little over 124miles/hour:

However, as the speedometer went up, the fuel indicator went down. . . rapidly.  We started to worry if we’d make it to the next gas station, usually quite distant, in those parts, like maybe 150kms(93miles) distant.  Fortunately, we didn’t out drive our capacity, ever.  But speaking of gas stations, we experienced anywhere from about $1.29/liter on the really cheap side, to more commonly $1.60/liter, to sometimes $2.00/liter, which is about $5, $6.5, and $8 per gallon in Australian money.  This translates to anywhere between $3 to $4.8 to $6/gallon in US dollars.

One other joy we had were the Road Trains.  They are kind of like semi trucks.  Here, in Oregon, we sometimes have triple trailer trucks, and they are definitely long – there is no doubt, but Australia wins the length award, with trucks sometimes hauling 4 railroad-sized train “cars” behind them (in this picture, there are only 2):
Note that the van in front is driving off to the side, and that the Road Train takes up most of the width of the lane.  Here is a sign warning about the Road Trains: 

53.5meters is 175ft!   For comparison, in Oregon, the maximum length for a semi with 2 trailers, without a special permit, is 60ft.  Passing a Road Train was exciting, in a nervous sort of way. . .

I got a kick out of this, when I saw it – a truck towing a 3-car Road Train:

At least, that’s what appeared to be happening, to us. . .

Regardless of any difficulties in driving, we still preferred it to flying internally, within the country.  The car became our traveling “home” even though we always either camped or found a place to stay, frequently in a hostel or backpacker place.  And, although we rented a darkish grey car in Perth, we wound up with a reddish tinged car:

before we took it to the car wash before returning it.  The red came from all of the red dirt roads:

May you always know which side of the road to drive on. . . (And which way to look when crossing the road!)