Sunday, December 19, 2004

The train ride from Central to Newcastle takes about 2 and a half hours. The journey takes us past the spectacular landscape of New South Wales. So much to see of forests, mountains, rivers and trees. Human development and habitation has only touched the land at the edges and it's really nice to see that the majority of the natural world is still left intact.

Slept on and off in the train, then closer to Newcastle this little kid started reading aloud from his joke book to his family group and try as we could we could ignore him no longer. The jokes were so terribly (as in bad, corny, lame, inane) that they kept us awake and groaning at each punchline. Please, if you value your sanity, do NOT ever buy The Incredibles Joke Book for any little kid you know this Christmas.

Newcastle is a small town with lots of historic colonial buildings. The town is very well maintained for its antiquity and takes great pride in its appearance. But we weren't there to tour the town. We took a short walk (assisted by the amiable locals) to the ferry terminal where we boarded the ferry for a 5 minute cruise into Stockton across the harbour.

What's in Stockton? Blazing heat, heat like we've not felt before. The sun shining brightly down, the air warm, reflecting off the sidewalk. If not for the breezy coastal winds, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have made it far up the main road to find the water we had foolishly neglected to purchase when we were on the Newcastle side.

Shops in Stockton close early on Sunday -- the newsagent closed at 1000hrs! Fortunately, June spotted an IGA supermarket so we cooled off and bought a 1.5 litre bottle of spring water for later use.

We walked back to the Stockton terminal refreshed and before long, our guide pulled up in his sister's Tucson and we joined 2 of our fellow adventurers on the afternoon Sand Safari tour.

There were 12 of us and 3 guides. 1st, the helmet fitting, then the mandatory waiver signing, then the Land Cruiser ride taking us to our much anticipated dune eating 4x4 Honda quad bikes!

After a short handling and safety briefing, we hopped on our bikes and Indian-file rode out into the desert. Actually, the location is a 2km wide beach with huge sand dunes drifting at the mercy of the wind, so it is practically a desert until the water's edge. We had a couple of photo-ops, one in front of a 30-year old shipwreck that has been left to rot 'cos it isn't worth the trouble to salvage.

Our course was a relatively simple one for beginners and it took most of the afternoon to get around the dunes. The ride was thoroughly satisfying; sometimes revving our bikes to 50kph and lots of ups and downs and arounds to keep it challenging without it being too dangerous.

Not that our guides were blase about the dangers. In fact, they kept recounting horror stories about people who flipped their bikes and got squashed underneath, or that they went up the wrong rise and plummetted unexpectedly down a great height to disaster. The stories were enought to keep us meekly following the bike immediately in front of us to ensure that everyone kept to the same safe paths.

And so the afternoon went in a rush of sweat, adrenaline and diesel. At the end of our ride, our guides provided us with ice-cold tetra-paks of juice. Yeah!

When we got back to the Stockton terminal, the weather took a sudden turn. The wind howled and the rain poured in torrents on our heads. It got cold. Our ferry ride was bumpy, but no danger though.

Arrived in Central after another 2 and a half hour ride. It was dry here, but blustery and cold. We hurried back to our hotel after a quick dinner. No point hanging around in bad weather.

Notice I haven't mentioned much about meals today? Too much of a deja vous from yesterday. Boring.

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