My experience of sustainable travel was not fast. It was not cheap. It was not convenient. But it was the trip of my lifetime!
Some of you may have already seen some of my photos, experiences and reflections. Here’s a chance to catch up with all the missing pieces! Please comment along the way, share your own sustainable travel journeys and CHANGE!
In the middle of the city, I passed a dishevelled man. He crouched by the wall of a big, inner-city shop, holding out his cap. He called out, ‘Change?’ He had no expression on his face. He did not look at anyone. His gaze was straight ahead. ‘Change?’ He did not sound hopeful.
Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I disembarked from container ship MV Ontario II on the 22 February 2020 at The Port of Brisbane and caught a train to the centre of town. Brisbane, the third biggest city in Australia, has good bus/rail/ferry links for city travellers. The local Translink system – together with nifty app – works well. You get a GO card and set your course. Thank you, dear friends, who looked after me during my stay in Brissie! (We all kept our distance.)
Well, then. If it was going to be a slow trip, then I would make the most of the experience and try to visit places I had not seen and catch up with friends, old and new, in their native habitats. First stop, a small town near Mullimbimby. Now, all I had to do was buy a ticket.
As I strolled around the brutal public buildings by the river, GOMA, Gallery and Library, trying to negotiate pedestrian travel, seeking out hopelessly inadequate signage, getting tangled with motorways right beside parkland (who designed this city?) my dear friend Louiselle researched how best to buy my ticket. She went to a great deal of trouble, getting incorrect telephone numbers from Brisbane City Council and bum steers from Roma Street Station (under construction) itself.
Finally, we met at the Gallery and she delivered her report. ‘Buy it online.’
I must have seemed ungrateful for I shunned this technological answer, preferring to do it the old way, the international way, go to the central place and get experts to help you. I wanted to visit the place where there’s leaflets and information and they print out tickets, you check the times and dates and everyone is happy. This is what I did in all the countries I’ve been to (UK, Spain and France, Denmark, Germany and Russia, China, Taiwan and NZ). I could talk to a real person, get relevant up-to-date advice and organise my ongoing travel. Let’s go!
Much to Louiselle’s credit she pandered to my arrogant international-traveller-uppityness and helped me to seek a nonexistent central Tourist Information spot, question a helpless ticket officer in a local train station window, make enquiries with a couple of train officials at Queensland Rail (they only go North and West), approach three fed-up representatives from three different bus companies in three different temporary booths where they all expected to work separately for the next five to nine years who eventually directed us to two tired Information/Parking Officers in high viz jackets who gave us false information. So I found out later. They did admit to ignorance on a number of points which made me wonder why they had not been given some technology to enable them to look things up? I mean, technology worked for Louiselle! All these people were completely flummoxed to have to deal with questing public wanting travel advice.
Admittedly I’d been spoilt by the wonderful I-site system in NZ, where bookings can be made not only for transport but also tours and accomodation. Perhaps Brisbane City Council officials could organise an online Tiki Tour with I-site developers for a few tips and hints?
As an English-speaking Australian citizen, with a local beside me, I felt completely out of my depth. I could not begin to imagine the experience if you couldn’t understand the language or read the signs. Would not Brisbane and indeed, Queensland, why even Australia, wish to offer tourists a pleasant trip? Is not Tourism a valuable part of the Australian economy? Remember, I was able to negotiate my way, thanks to helpful people and obvious signage, across China and Taiwan without having a common alphabet much less language, and there, helplessly, I could only say ‘thank you’. Xie xie, Louiselle!
I bought the ticket online. And I rang to check the whereabouts of the bus stop. Which turned out to be a good thing for they would have dropped me at Uncle Tom’s roadhouse – in the middle of nowhere. Better for my friend to pick me up at Brunswick Heads. ‘Just tell the driver, love.’
Now in New South Wales, I found the Northern Rivers area peaceful, verdant, with changeable weather. But then, I suppose, so is everywhere these days.
Remarkably, I’d never visited Byron Bay, not for yoga nor writers’ nor blues festival or sunny beaches but I concur, it is a wonderful environment. It’s easy to see why it got so popular.
Byron Bay is no longer connected to the rest of Australia by train. BUT, exciting news, Bryron Bay does have a solar train running 3km of restored track to the Northern Beaches. Please drop a comment if you’ve experienced a solar train!
Early in the morning and pretty empty, the Translink bus turned up at the Tourist Info Centre in Bryon Bay, ironically in the Old Stationmaster’s Cottage. This is a creditable institution which does have the power to sell and print tickets. The train at Casino would take me further south to Maitland to visit a cousin.
The land around Lismore/Casino was beautiful. I could see tantalising glimpses of coast from the bus and relished a stop at Lennox Heads to get out and stretch my legs. Stunning beach, brilliant morning light, young woman standing still, silent, silhouetted, and I thought, how lovely, she’s been meditating or watching the sunrise but no, she was engrossed in her phone. A lone fisher, two people swimming but no surfers. It looked to me the waves were passable but I couldn’t tell – apart from the fact presumably there would have been surfers if it had been good enough to surf! Gorgeous pale mist spray hovering over the distant curves. It was all faintly pink and grey like the colours of a magic galah goddess in her filmy finery.
From there the bus went through Ballina and Lismore before reaching Casino with plenty of time before the 0820 train arrived.
There were a lot of staff crushed into the Buffet Car. I was glad to be their first customer and paid Aus $3.60 for a cardboard cup of hot water and a Robert Timms dipping bag. Better than nothing. (Ah, for the days of Kiwi Rail baristas!)
The train was divided into different classes and, on my perambulations, I found sleeper berths and showers in the first class section. It’s difficult to discover how to book this – it appears Brisbane to Casino is by coach so I don’t know how much sleeping you’d get done.
The XPT travelled through Grafton and then to Coff’s Harbour. As I wandered through the train I couldn’t find a charging point for my phone. When they announced our arrival at Warhope I pondered the name. Did they have many young men survive the Great Wars? Or lose too many? But I saw the sign said Wauchope which is different. I had hope in ‘watch-ing’?
The guy serving in the Buffet Car told me he’d watched The Game Changers and was trying to eat less meat. He really liked the fresh vegan pizza from Coles, plus, he told me encouragingly, their ‘chik’n Thai Green curry is worth a try. Plus, he got a couple more colleagues to watch the film and they’re also converted. Brilliant work, Cameron, Arnie and Jackie! Bonus, I got a vegan sandwich.
Maitland is another beautiful part of New South Wales and I enjoyed my trip around the township with my cousin. Back on the train again and thence to Sydney the next day. Sydney. I’m sorry, Hamburg. It really is the most beautiful harbour I’ve seen in the world.
Another city where I used to live. I have memories in many addresses, many suburbs, different times … But it’s no longer my home. I arrived in at Wynyard, a place where I used to work and didn’t recognise it at all. There were squillions of bus stops. I had to ask 3 high viz peeps before I found the right way to go.
There seems to have been an explosion in different types of transport you can catch around Sydney. At a minimum, you will need an Opal Card and a matching app. (As usual other city travel apps are available.) A local person to explain things would also be good.
I was sad to leave my friends in Sydney. I am so grateful for all their kindness, good humour and upholstery stories. I urge you all to examine a most interesting blog from my friend in Redfern, mainly because you will find my own humble contributions therein.
And so, further south. Another train to Bombaderry where my friend came to pick me up in a car! My friend recommended sitting on the left side of the train, upstairs, to see the lovely glimpses of coast and beach on the way. Although the nearby fire destruction was horrible and the tales of my friends experiences frightening, it was heartening to see the resilience of the bush, and the people. Click here to see a dramatic timeline of the fires from the Sydney Morning Herald.
Once again, I was lucky to share memories and friendship with locals from Bowral and Moss Vale before I went on my merry way by train and then bus to Melbourne.
I don’t know. Am I home? What is home? Can you get there without burning a lot of carbon? Join me in my next post, where I will explore my conclusions. Is sustainable travel possible?
All in all I spent three months in New Zealand, seeing friends, family and reinforcing memories. I found the experience, although unplanned, grounding. As a person in transition it was helpful to look back and see the schools and the university I attended, plus workplaces where I’d wielded rakes and scythes, mixed mercury into lead for fillings and shelved books into the evening. I was a passenger in buses, private cars and taxis, ferries and I drove my own 15 ton digger. Still digesting my Kiwi experience, it was time to head back to Australia to see my son in his native habitat. And, OF COURSE, I would not be flying!
My “home” whirlwind tour continued south, zooming from Picton to Stewart Island. (Well. It took two months. Is that zooming?) I visited familiar landscapes, discovered new beauty spots and felt honoured to be among my hosts, beloved friends and family. Tena kotu! We were able to reminisce (with much tears and laughter) about those who have gone from this land and celebrate fresh youth, chubby babies, surrounded by hope and love.
I hope you enjoy reading through my journey, finding places that might interest you and become reassured it is more than possible to make your way around NZ by public transport. As you will see, it really is a relaxing way to travel.
And again, as I revisited places known as an adolescent, I considered the possibility of returning to this place to live. Where was my ‘home’? What was the attraction that might make it so again? What could the future hold?
That was the view from MV Ontario II, my second container ship, as we farewelled the Northern tip of New Zealand in February 2020. It spelled the end of my journey to reconnect with ancestors and elders, friends and Aotearoa herself, the land of the long white cloud.
“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
I am a person in transition, from one status to another, and checking places where I grew up has been restorative. During the three months I travelled between Auckland to Stewart Island I not only revisited my past but also contemplated the future. As I watched landscapes roll past bus or train windows, I asked myself: Is NZ my home? Could I return here to live? Where? Is it possible for a soul have a connection to any one place?
Please note this is a multi-page post recording a 14 day sea voyage. I was the only passenger on CC Coral, a container ship travelling between Taiwan and New Zealand, in November 2019. It was an alternative to flying. But was it any more sustainable?
First night at sea. Mr Wang, my driver, had been a shipping agent for 25 years. He couldn’t understand why this giant of a company, CMA CGM, wanted to take passengers. Why? Other freight companies did not bother.
Well, Monsieur Wang, I was glad they did for they offered exactly what I wanted; a no-fuss way to travel without flying. I also felt comfortable that CMA CGM wore their environmental aspirations on their website. Mr Wang swooped the car around the grand driveway of the Excalibur hotel, lined with a small city’s worth of sparkly blue and white lights, and parked. We were there to pick up the new ship’s reever-electrician. (Whatever a reever is – it’s super important – I’ll find out later.)
From October to November 2019 I travelled from England to New Zealand to join a family reunion in the South Island. This blog series details my thinking, decisions and then the stages of the actual trip. It took much more money, probably more emissions, and a lot more time than flying. I hope you enjoy looking at the pictures, perhaps reading some of the account, and researching your own train/ferry/ship journey!
For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!
FERRY TO TAIPEI
I had no idea how long I clung to my potentially slidy bench in the CSF ferry to Taiwan. Given my overheated and nauseous position, clinging like a limpet, I was going nowhere. Flat hands, straight arms, I was stuck with all my spidey force to that window seat. I stared down at the heaving sea. The horizon, and watching the rising spray as the prow smashed through the waves, kept me anchored against the giddy sickness that threatened to swamp me.
The horizon behind us, because we were moving into darkness and stronger forces, was tinged with light beams over the surface far away as the cloud cleared. I kept hoping it would light up ahead but there it was only getting darker. The past horizon was a line of misty magic with constantly moving gleaming, as though a spotlight played upon a shining stage. It was disconcerting when that steady thing to pin hopes upon, that faint, distant horizontal line, kept shifting and then, horrifyingly, disappeared entirely into the dark.
Soon enough lights of habitation appeared on the coast. My arms began to ache with their suction work upon the bench surface. I leaned on the cool glass. Presumably, as we neared the coast, the swell worsened for there were some hefty bangs and heaves that reminded the ship was man-made and would not last for ever.
Ningbo had only just built a subway system. Very easy to use, clean and straight out of the train station, I soon found myself walking unfamiliar roads toward my hostel, thank you, maps.me. I’d chosen the hostel for its proximity to the Ningbo port. Now I no longer needed that connection it was far from Ningbo proper. Began to have misgivings as I walked in the busy highway to get around the construction zones. When finally broached, the hostel was better than many I’ve met (particularly on the Camino!) and had lovely pods in which to shut yourself away. The common-room was filled with young people intent on their devices, the boys mainly playing League of Legends on screens that varied from huge to tiny. Couldn’t see the kettle.
I need not worry about my onward travel. Real Russia had sorted my ticket to Fuzhou and it would leave from where I’d just come from. I’d collected both paper tickets at Beijing South Railway Station. So I could relax in the slightly grubby shower and prepare to find food.