Monday, 18 May 2015

Nuts and Bolts of Travel in New South Wales (NSW)

Our visit to Australia was restricted to Sydney and the Greater Blue Mountains Region because much of our time was well spent on catching up with the girls.

We used both the family car, Land Cruiser, as well as, the public transport for our travels.

Public transport though expensive is very comfortable and convenient.

Roads – Most of the highways are broad and well-marked. The State roads could be narrower and two-laned, while the roads in the city and the residential areas could range from broad to narrow, most with very wide footpaths. Since Australia is a huge country with a low density of population, the roadways are not the best but most certainly much better than that of India.

Road works were a common sight, having said that, what stood out were the safety measures that were in place during the process.

Traffic is well regulated, with occasional miscreants breaking the rules. Honking is almost Nil. Peak hours could witness heavy traffic in the city, with moderate traffic in the towns and villages.
A couple of times, we spotted huge trucks tailgating cars; Don informed us that this was against the rules. We also witnessed a huge truck ahead of us travelling above its 20km/hr speed limit on a curvaceous downslope, which at a point veered much out its lane and missed crashing into an oncoming vehicle! Since much of the traffic is organized and under surveillance, a couple of these incidents really do stand out.

Taking the family car to the city was an expensive affair; the exorbitant parking charges ranging from $2 - $4 per hour, not to forget the limited parking spaces posing an even bigger problem! Also, when travelling in a private vehicle, arrangements need to be made for an e-TAG or a Visitor’s e-PASS as there are no toll booths like the ones we see in India. Ours was taken care of by the family.

Railways – Travelling in the trains of NSW has been a sheer joy. With elevators at every station that we came across, as well as, facilities for ramps such that the train is wheelchair accessible made us realise how friendly this nation is towards differently-abled people. Infact, we noticed a lovely lady in an electric wheel chair, all by herself, waiting for a downtown train to arrive. She seemed to have lost both her legs knees down, and yet, managed herself beautifully.

At stations where the platforms were curved, the gap between the train and the platform was not only bothersome but also dangerous. At a station called Katoomba, many of those in their golden years were pretty nervous to disembark the train because the gap between the train and the platform indeed seemed like a gaping chasm!

Having said that, the stations are kept very clean with good seating arrangements. Announcements about the trains arriving, departing and the stations at which they would halt at kept playing. The trains too are very clean, most of them being air-conditioned, however, we did travel on an older train which did not have an air-conditioner. We also travelled in a train which had reversible seats. Announcements about the upcoming stations keep running in the train too.

Ferries – It was a dizzy kind of feeling walking over their very well maintained wharfs. The ferries are wonderfully clean. Within the Ferry, there are comfortable seats on two decks, most of which are sheltered while the others are in the open. It was indeed a thrill sitting on the upper deck with the wind blowing hard and the sun beating down, both in completion as to who could strike harder! The sun won and we had to go inside!

Travel can be expensive, however, the “Opal Card” does help on saving some precious bucks. At the time of our travel, a maximum of $15 were deducted from the Opal card, per day per head, even if the cost of our journey totaled to about $45 per head. We were not charged more than $60 per week. This includes travel by public transport, that is, by local trains, light rail, public buses and Government operated ferry’s in NSW. On a Sunday, any or all of these services together are capped at $2.50 per head for the whole day.

Enthusiastic and warm staff made our journeys even more sprightly. On a couple of occasions, we were greeted with a “Namaste” and a broad smile. At the end of it all, we had got accustomed to the regular greeting, “Hey, how are you doing?” and “Have a good day mate.”

When it comes to driving within the National Parks, it is better to avail of a National Park Pass if one decides to travel to seven or more National parks or the vehicle entry fees would simply add up.
Leaving aside the travel part, it was only when we reached Australia that we realized that the sockets there use flat pins in a V shape unlike the round pins used in India. Thankfully, Alvi and Don had spare plug converters!

For our travels, we took the Lebara mobile facility which had free calling to India and within Australia, which also doubled up as a data card.

At the time of our travel, as a trial phase, Telstra was offering free Wi-Fi at certain hotspots, a 30 minute session.

When it came to accommodation, we were very fortunate to be living with Alvi and Don, else, accommodation could be very pricey, especially so, during the peak season which includes the School Holidays. Dining in Restaurants too is an expensive affair and hence, our eat outs were much restricted to take-away foods and cafes, except for, on two occasions, one, which was a treat from Don. Thank you Don!

Since Gluten Free foods were easily available, I managed to gobble up on loads of bread, pizzas and biscuits!

To sum up our core travel experience in a nutshell - it was great seeing such a mix of people of various nationalities living together in a given area. It really did widen our own concept of the meaning of brotherhood. At one point, geographical boundaries didn’t seem to hold any meaning. I not only began questioning myself about so called nationalism and its meaning in today’s context, but it also made me ponder on the truth behind the words, “Unity in Diversity”! Travel does opens up one’s mind and makes one question one’s own beliefs, it certainly has questioned many of mine….


P.S. : In NSW driving is permitted on Indian driving licence for three months, as long as the licence is in English. Hence I only had to brush up on the local rules, some test drives with Don and we were all set to go. -Delson

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