Sunday, December 8, 2019

Australia - Back in Australia!

Happy to be back in Oz! Celebrating with Karen and Vince from 2UpAdventures
Our first home in Australia, 12 mtr of good old British
Steel with a cast iron anvil for an engine.
Landing in Oz was a great feeling. After roaming the world for 4 years on our own bikes we were back in the country where it all started. The country which had been good to us, had allowed us to live in a way that isn't possible anywhere in Europe and given us the freedom to live rather than just be part of the system. Mike had a childhood which wouldn't have been possible anywhere else either. Prior to us leaving on our around the world trip, we had lived on an iconic Australian Outback Cattle Station where Mike was doing Distance Education as the nearest school was 250 km away. We had lived in a 38ft motorhome which I had build myself from a 30 year old coach, pulling a 6.5 mtr long trailer that doubled as the shed. We worked and travelled around Australia from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Tasmania. 

Our home in Tasmania, right at the end of the Dial
Range in Tasmania 
In Tasmania we had lived in an 8x8 mtr shack, literally in the middle of nowhere. No power, no mains water, no phone, no internet and no mail box. Surrounded by hundreds of acres of forested land and an abundance of Wallabies, Possums, Tasmanian Devils and in the creek a Platypus plus a huge crayfish! It was pure heaven... when the idiot we had as a neighbour wasn't out shooting the wallabies for no reason that is... Before that we lived in the far north west Queensland outback, near the border with the Northern Territory, where Mike had experienced first hand what it is like to live on an iconic Australian Outback Station with 50,000 heads of cattle and 1.2 million acres of red dust. In between we had travelled in a lump of British steel with a long stroke 12 litre cast iron anvil as an engine, chugging along at a sedate pace through our great brown land.

Now, having been away for 4 years, we entered Down Under on the western side in Perth. With all we had experienced during this trip, the different climes, the cultures and amazing scenery, how would we perceive Australia? Would we still like it? How much of a culture shock would it be? With places like Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia just behind us the difference couldn't have been more profound. Yet, as we quickly found out, we loved it both. 

Contrary to many before us we had a good start at Customs and Quarantine. Bernd from Dietrich shipping had obviously done a very good job as all paperwork was in order. The bikes sailed through the Quarantine inspection as they were squeaky clean and within an hour from landing at the airport we were on the road, literally! It was as simple as walking from the airport terminal to Customs, where a very friendly lady welcomed us back to Australia and stamped our Carnets. From there it's a short walk to the Quarantine office, where once again we were received by very friendly and helpful people. The actual warehouse where the bikes were, was again just a short walk. The bikes had been left in their protective wrapping and after removal and inspection by the quarantine officer it was simply a matter of hooking up the battery and start the engines! How good is that! A big thanks, once again, to Bernd at Dietrich Shipping in Kuala Lumpur, it couldn't have been smoother!

Riding away from the airport was a strange feeling. It had all happened so quickly and easily that it somehow didn't feel like we had entered another country, let alone another continent. Yesterday we were in lush green Malaysia, just one day later we rode in a dry heat wave in the western world again. Weird. 

Filling up Paul's garage...
While riding away from the airport I was thinking about the previous shipments we had done. The first one had been Australia to New Zealand, which had gone via a so called vehicle specialist Taurus Logistics. As we didn't know what to look for at the time we had walked in their trap with our eyes wide open. A lot of extra money was needed to get our bikes released, we had been charged for services not performed, paperwork was a mess resulting in a lot of work from our side to fix it as Taurus couldn't be bothered to rectify their own errors and then we found a quarantine inspector who hates Australians… All in all it had taken almost 2 months and it would have been cheaper to sell our bikes in Oz and buy brand new ones in NZ. Not a good start and the backwards quarantine process alone was enough for me to vow never to go back there again.

The next one, New Zealand to Canada, had been a disaster as well. This time due to an absolute moron of a shipping agent in Vancouver (excuse the language but Gillespie-Munro in Vancouver was seriously that bad). At one stage we were looking at $6000 in inspection and trucking fees... as some clown at Canadian Customs in Montreal, Quebec had decided that the bikes needed to be fully inspected in a facility thousands of miles away... Gillespie did nothing! Had we not taken matters in our own hands, registered ourselves as shipping agents in order to find out online where the container was located and the nearest Customs office to it, then we would have had horrendous charges. Luckily the local Customs guy was great and very helpful and on Friday afternoon we got the call the bikes could be trucked away. 'Do it quickly to avoid an extra weekend in docking fees' said the Customs guy. I called Gillespie, told them the urgency and guess what they did? Yep, nothing. When I called on Monday they hadn't even given the order to remove the container from the docks yet... obviously we had to pay the extra weekend at the docks. Just like the Oz to NZ shipment, a lot of extra money was needed and it had all in all taken 7 weeks too. It could have been much worse though, had we not crated the bikes at Pope Packaging in Auckland. Their crates were strong enough to make the bikes survive a forklift attack. We were there when they took the seals off the container and saw the gaping big hole in the 18 mm solid plywood walls of the crate. The plywood had just been strong enough to lift the forks a little, which subsequently missed the fuel tanks by mm. Had we shipped them in factory crates, as we had planned, they would not have survived.

Happy to be able to do something back for Paul's hospitality
You can probably guess how apprehensive I was on shipping them to Europe from Costa Rica... Both shipments from the Western World had been horrors, surely this one was going to be worse? To the contrary, Costa Rica to The Netherlands went as smooth as butter. Seatrade comes highly recommended! Our own private container so no need for crates, loading them ourselves, sealing the door ourselves and despite being sea transport it took just two weeks... The paperwork was already processed before the boat even arrived in The Netherlands…(!) and there were no extra charges!!! Wow! 
We then had no more shipments until we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, but this time we literally rode away on our bikes less than 24 hrs later in Australia…! No hassles and no extra money needed. From the chaos of Asia, to which we had acclimatised by now, we were suddenly riding our bikes on sparsely congested roads with sedate and well behaving traffic. 

Vince and Karen from 2upAdventures with whom we had travelled so long through Asia and had become very good friends, had organised a very warm welcome for us. As they'd had to cut their own trip short due to a personal tragedy, finding the will to do this while they obviously had more important things on heir minds shows how deep our friendship had become and what a wonderful couple they are. We were a bit overwhelmed by it all.
They had organised a place for us to stay in Perth, had booked a welcome home dinner at a restaurant where a large number of the Perth sidecar group had turned up and was a very good night indeed. I couldn't help thinking back about the first and second shipments again. In New Zealand we had been stuck at a huge city campground for almost two months in between permanent residents. In Vancouver it was even worse, the campground was just as bad but it also rained for seemingly 7 weeks straight… I've honestly never seen as much rain as we experienced in British Columbia, and yes I have been in Wales too… Now we were warmly welcomed in Perth, were given a roof over our heads by Simon and later by Paul … It wasn't raining either, in fact we had a heatwave :-)

In Perth we did a little maintenance on the bikes and finally changed the Avon TrailRider fronts which had taken us through Europe, Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia. They still had a little life left in them but as we had outback Western Australia and the hot Nullarbor ahead of us, we figured it was best to replace them now. We could have rode from Perth in a virtually straight line to Melbourne, which would have been 5 long and boring days or so. Instead we took weeks, went north first to the Pinnacles, visited a man with 47 Vincents (more on which in the next post!) and then rode to the most south western point of Australia.