A Week In Photos

While I really enjoyed my time in New Zealand – six weeks on several buses with 35-40 other backpackers – I was definitely ready for some solo travel by the time I got off the last bus. With the 2015 World Driving Championship being contested in Australia over the past 10 days, I had a perfect excuse to rent a car, hit the open highway, and do things on my own schedule for a change.

The ‘WDC’ got underway on Saturday, February 21 at Tabcorp Menangle Park, which is about 70km southwest of Sydney. As I mentioned in my post about Saturday #34, I had a long talk with a retired Australian longshoreman who loves nothing more than traveling and talking about traveling. I also made my first bet with a legal bookmaker. I didn’t win but I did learn a few things about odds-shopping and why “what you see” isn’t always “what you get.”

IMG_6303
.
IMG_6225
.
IMG_6290
.
I returned to Sydney in pouring rain that first night and spent the night back at Wake Up hostel. (I had to check-out in the morning and check-in later that evening as I had two separate reservations.)

On Sunday, February 22 I drove 160km north to the beach town of Newcastle where I checked into the Newcastle Beach YHA. This slightly run-down Tudor style heritage building is huge and unlike the hostels in Sydney, it wasn’t anywhere close to full. The dorm room and common areas were particularly spacious but with less than full occupancy it seemed almost deserted.

IMG_6334
.
IMG_6356
.
IMG_6353
.
On Monday morning I checked out the rather Bohemian section of Newcastle. It was nice to see independent cafes, dozens of mom and pop stores, a vibrant arts scene, rep cinema, and street art. From what I could see, there was more street art in this city of 300,000 than in all of Sydney.

IMG_6593
.
IMG_6620
.
IMG_6646
.
IMG_6638
.
After breakfast at a charming open-air cafe, I took a stroll down the main drag. My first stop was an ATM. It was cool to see Sydney’s Mardi Gras advertised on the ATM screen.

IMG_7083
.
IMG_7080
.
I noticed a very cool bike in a bike / avant-garde clothing store that was adjacent to the bank. When I showed the shopkeeper a photo of the bike I got for my 10th birthday in 1972, he insisted on taking my photo with his custom-made creation. Its a combination of at least three other bikes and some new and retro parts, he said, Considering the work and materials that went into it, I think it was a steal at $400.

IMG_6655
.
IMG_6656
.
IMG_6602

I may have inadvertently stumbled upon the shop where Don Cherry gets his suits!
.
Later that evening I found my way to the Newcastle racetrack. The grandstand sits back-to-back with a much larger rugby stadium. I made my way to the dining room and found a group of Canadians who were traveling on the WDC bus. It was great to catch up with Carl and Deborah Jamieson (parents of Canada’s rep Jody Jamieson), Jody’s wife Stephanie, and Jim Whelan (President of OHHA) and his wife Dr. Angela Whelan.
.
IMG_6371
.
IMG_6473
.
IMG_6467
.
IMG_6466

Thankfully none of us were wearing our thongs and everyone was admitted to the clubhouse. (In Australia and New Zealand they refer to flip-flops as thongs or jandals. Bathing suits are togs.)
.
I left Newcastle before noon and drove right past Sydney on my way to Wagga Wagga. The WDC was supposed to stop in the town of Goulburn but that leg was cancelled on short notice when they failed to rustle up enough horses to fill a card. Instead we had a free day – and it came in handy with 610 km to cover between Newcastle and Wagga Wagga.

IMG_7096
.
There are no hostels in Wagga Wagga and many of the hotels were fully booked, but I did get a very nice room at the International Hotel. It was downright luxurious and very cheap by Aussie standards at $129. I decided to stay two nights.

IMG_6674
.
There are two tracks in Wagga Wagga, and of course Google Maps will lead you to the little-used thoroughbred track when you search for Wagga Wagga Harness Racing Club. The grandstand at the Murrumbidgee Turf Club was neat and tidy and appeared to be about 50 years old. Some of the other buildings on the property suggested that the club has been hosting racing for well over a century.

IMG_6749
.
IMG_6760
.
I made my way across town and checked out the harness track before the crowds showed up for the races later than night. There is nothing luxurious about the old track in Wagga Wagga but to be honest, I liked it best of the five tracks I visited. Perhaps it took me back to my roots.

IMG_6852
.
IMG_6894
.
IMG_6930
.
IMG_6805
.
IMG_7043
.
IMG_7056
.
I had lunch at The Sportsman Tavern. Like every small-town pub in Australia, I suspect they make more money from a few pokies (slot machines) than they do from selling food and drink. There was one other patron over the noon hour. We watched a few races in the OTB area. They didn’t have programs for any of the tracks but a high definition TV displayed a free copy of the form for all tracks. My lunch partner, Larry, didn’t consult the program and instead bet a few bucks here and there on horses that he liked the look of. He wasn’t a very good judge of horseflesh as not only did he not cash a ticket, I don’t think any of his five selections managed to beat a single horse. That must be some sort of a record!

IMG_6870
.
IMG_6871
.
If I learned anything from Larry, it’s that you NEVER call Wagga Wagga ‘Wagga’.
.
IMG_6681
.
IMG_6707
.
IMG_6713
.
I was up bright and early on Wednesday, February 25 and on the road to Bathurst before the traffic got too bad. I’m joking. Australian roads seem to be deserted. I haven’t had to overtake a single car and rarely do cars overtake me, even when I’m taking my time and checking out the scenery.

IMG_7071
.
According to the road signs, there is a real danger of hitting a kangaroo in many parts of New South Wales. I actually got out and checked this sign for authenticity. A certain portion of it was a black decal. Creative vandals are alive and well in NSW.

IMG_7129

I was a little skeptical about the danger posed by kangaroos until came across no fewer than five of them in one 10 km stretch of road near the town of Bathurst. I can see why every small town in this area has at least one ‘Smash Repair’ business. For what it’s worth, auto-body shops in New Zealand are called Panel Beaters.

IMG_7107
.
There are two tracks in Bathurst, and of course Google Maps will lead you to the one that is now a stabling facility and not the actual racetrack. It took a while to find the new track on the outskirts of town but once I got there I decided to turn around an secure a hotel room in town rather than wait until late at night.

IMG_7173

On the way back into town I came across the Railway Hotel and decided to check it out. I asked the pub manager if I could see a room. “What for?” he replied. “Well, I might stay for the night,” I said. “Fifty dollars, then. They’re better than most pub rooms. Take it or leave it.”

I took his word, forked over $50, and rushed off to the races with a room key but not having seen the room. The place turned out to be comfortable yet lacking any semblance of character thanks to a 1990s renovation. I’m not complaining over $50 but it wasn’t what I was expecting. For some reason I thought I’d run into Miss Kitty on the grand stairway, or be visited by a ghost in the middle of the night. Instead I was the only person in the 12 room hotel and no ghosts made themselves known.

IMG_7163
.
IMG_7185
.
IMG_7209

I had better luck with my second bet with the Australian bookies. A $20 win ticket on Fours Enuf Tas in the third at Bathurst returned $100. I decided to quit while I was ahead. How many people can say they made two bets with a bookie, won one, and came out with a 300% profit?
.
IMG_7375
.
IMG_7154
.
The racing on Friday was in Penrith which is about 60km west of Sydney. I made it back to Penrith by mid-afternoon and started looking for a room. Four hours later and it was clear there were no rooms to be had in Penrith and only a handful in Sydney for that matter. There were no hostel rooms within 70km. Around midnight I located one hostel bed in Sydney and made the 45 minute drive in from Penrith. The Sydney Central Hostel was kitty-corner to Wake Up hostel so I didn’t have far to go in the morning. And as a bonus, the place had a lot more character than the Railway Hotel.

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 11.25.39 PM
.
IMG_7451
.
IMG_7434
.
IMG_7425
.
IMG_7335
.
The final heat of the World Driver Championship was held at Menangle on Sunday, March 1. New Zealand’s Dexter Dunn had an insurmountable lead in the point standings, leaving about five others to battle it out for second.

I decided to skip Menangle (been there, done that) and instead enjoyed my last full day in Sydney. It was bright and sunny all day, with a high of 34C, but it rained heavily just in time for me to return the rental to the airport.

If I’ve learned anything about my taste in travel it’s that I enjoy a mix of being with larger groups, smaller groups, and traveling solo. I enjoyed my time in New South Wales, especially long stretches on the road and frequent stops in “one horse” farming communities, but I don’t know how much more Australian public radio I can take. Over five days of driving I have listened to everything from 10 hours of ‘Question Period’ from the national assembly to a few hours during which two elderly women read the local newspaper for the benefit of the blind and presumably anyone without access to a newspaper. The Prime Minister of Australia is under serious pressure to resign after apparently offering an inducement to the head of the Australian Human Rights Commission if she quietly resigned. Tony Abbott is not handling the pressure as well as Kathleen Wynne! If I could find a bookie to take my bet, and that may not be too hard, I’d put money on Abbott resigning in the next week.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: