Monday, 4 October 2010

On the issues of biking in Oz

The problem I most feared is reality. I did some poking around on the 'Net today and was rather startled that a round trip ticket to Alice Springs is on the order of $3500 CAD or more, plus possible charges for bikes. Somehow, I didn't think it would be quite that expensive. When I went to New Zealand in 2002, the ticket was something like $2400 CAD, if I recall correctly. Of course in those days, I still used a travel agent!

It is also tricky to get logical routes as Air Canada and Quantas belong to different airline groups. Air Canada is Star Alliance whereas Quantas is One World. (Air New Zealand is in Star Alliance.) It also means that the routes generated aren't as short as they might be. For example, Air Canada proposes Montreal-Vancouver-Sydney-Alice Springs. This implies taking a great circle route North to Vancouver before heading South to Sydney then North again to Alice Springs. On the Sydney to Montreal leg, Quantas suggested LAX (ugh)-Chicago (eeek!)-Montreal on its American partner (aieee!!).

This is also important as you can't get an accurate quote out of Quantas for flying from Montreal, as my city isn't in their database. Or something.

I looked into using an around-the-world ticket to get a lower fare but found it was A. more expensive and B. took more time, on account of mandatory layovers, etc. (My sister used one to get to New Zealand, but now that I think of it, she also had brief visits to Switzerland, India, and Canada (she was living in Belfast at the time) on that trip.)

I also poked around a couple of third-country carriers in the region namely Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. I didn't even bother with Garuda ("Retro vadis, Satanico!") as I am not sure they are even allowed to fly into North America. (Though you have to hand it to the world's largest Muslim nation to name their airline after a Hindu deity!) to see if there was anything to be gained. Alas, none of them will admit to flying into Alice Springs (not surprising) or Darwin. The latter was somewhat surprising as it is the northern bit of Oz, and therefore closest to Asia. (So close that the Japanese bombed it repeatedly during the Second World War.) It took a lot of very direct probing of route maps before I found an actual international flight out of Darwin International Airport. Even then, it doesn't work.

Prevailing winds
From my research, the prevailing winds in the Northern Territory are pretty much East-South-East. This means that Alice Springs is better as a starting point from the wind perspective. It is also better from a psychological point of view as you are heading "towards the sea" rather than some "fly-speck" on a map. No offense to Alice Springs intended.

I'd had the mistaken idea that winter was the wet season in Oz. Not so, or at least in the Northern Territory. Summer is the rainy season, at least near Darwin. The average heat and humidity levels make the thought look like a very uncomfortable idea. Therefore, my take is that the good biking window is probably the fall and early winter (before it gets too dry). In practical terms, May, June, July.

The road
When I looked up the distance between Darwin and Alice Springs on Googlemaps, the directions amounted to "putz around on local roads in Darwin for 5 km. Get on the Stuart Highway. Drive 1350 kms. Take the Alice Springs exit!" There is effectively only one road between Darwin and Alice Springs. This means sharing it with all the traffic including road-trains. My mental image of Aussie highways is fairly good, but ultimately boring compared to, say, the back roads of Spain. I wonder if even Bikemoose the Montrealer could tolerate several weeks of being buzzed by trucks on the same damn road!

Potential biking companions
Margo and Chris are in the planning stages of biking in South America from January to June-ish. This will likely be taking up pretty much all of their biking resources for next year. Hence, I doubt I will have them along for the ride which makes camping less attractive and therefore the trip as a whole less attractive, especially given the price of the airplane tickets.

My financial situation
While I earn a very comfortable income as a librarian, what with various things I really don't have the cash lying around to spend on something like this. I haven't been saving, and I doubt I could have enough saved for a trip next year.*

In summary
Oz ain't in the cards for next year. Maybe the following.

(* Not unless the Union comes to a collective agreement with the City in the next few months and the retroactive is large enough.)


Margo and Chris said...

Very thorough research usual.
I think the end effects of a trip to OZ are such that it is best left to a time when you have negotiated an extra few weeks off so as to somewhat extend normal holidays. Yes, I know ...I am a bad influence!


Margo and Chris said...

What date did you use? I looked on, Montreal-Alice Springs, for 9th May for 2 weeks and got lots of options at $2580.

Bikemoose said...

Default date I was using was leaving on the 24th of June and coming home around July 15th. I hadn't used Expedia. With those dates, Expedia gave me roughly $3100. A bit more reasonable. Strangely enough, booking a multi-city trip of Montreal-Alice Springs and Darwin-Montreal, nets me $2800. Plus at least $400 worth of baggage fees for bikes. (Valid for both cases). One of the downsides of using Expedia is that the flights involve as many as 4 different airlines, each with its own bike policy!
Anyway, thanks for the tip.

Margo and Chris said...

Only the first flight of a set of flights counts for bike rules... So Margo paid an Air Canada fee going to Madrid and Lufthansa coming back. You only pay twice for the bike: once going the other coming back. In this case coming back maybe very expensive because the Australians tend to charge by weight.