Thursday, February 24, 2011

Trip to Toowoomba

As I explained in an earlier post my brother's wedding was postponed due to the floods in Queensland. It finally went ahead on the 5th of February, only three weeks after the floods.As the wedding was in Toowoomba I was expecting the worst, but really, it wasn't that bad.

On the Thursday before the wedding Mum and I flew to Brisbane and drove from there to Toowoomba. We had also arranged to pick up my 14 year old niece at the airport, as she attends boarding school in Sydney (on a scholarship to a very, very exclusive school. Very proud of her we are). We found her at the baggage claim with a huge box of Krispy Kreme,that were apparently in her words "to share with everybody". The empty box was found hidden under a bed the day we checked out of the motel.

To get to Toowoomba we had to drive through Brisbane and out past Ipswich and up the Lockyer Valley. We had to take a road which I can honestly say is the single worst road I've ever been on. The Inner City Bypass (on a map, it's the orange road running diagonally across from top left to lower right), which bypasses the The Brisbane CBD. First of all the speed limit is constantly changing, and there are pretty much constant lane changes necessary to keep driving along without getting funnelled off it. It is twisty and turny, and quite scary, which has led me to dub it the Inner City Mad Mouse. Once we made it to the Western Motorway I was able to relax as the from here it was a much more straight forward and relaxing drive.

Along the was we passed through some areas of Brisbane that flooded including Milton (we went right past the XXXX brewery) and Goodna.

In the Lockyer Valley, the highway bypasses most of the towns that were devastated by the flood so the worst could not be seen. There were still some road works on the remaining damaged areas of road, although it seems they had been very quick to repair the road. We only encountered a few very minor delays while driving through the area.

The damage to property in Toowoomba itself didn't seem that bad. The flash flooding was confined to the creeks that run through the town. The only noticeable damage were the closed shops along one of the streets and a lot of debris in places it wouldn't normally be. Other things I saw include a water tank that had floated away during the flood and lodged itself on a fence, and perhaps most telling a large piece of steel girder bridge that had obviously floated down stream. The town city seemed to be getting on with life.

We met up with my brother and 9 year old niece latter that night at our Motel room, as they had driven up from NSW during the day.

Friday we met up for morning tea with the new in laws at the shopping centre. The girls went shopping for dresses and jewlery, while we men went looking at mens things...Actually we just walked around for a bit. That night we went to the brides place for Pizza and to meet the extended family.

The wedding itself was simple and quick. It was held in the Baptist church that my brother's new wife attends. As they have both been married before there was no need for the nonsense of bridal parties. I got to be a witness so now I know what happens during the boring bit of weddings.

There was a short reception held in the adjoining indoor basketball court at the church, before photos were taken in the garden of the church. Finally we had one giant group photo taken back in the basketball court. As it was a morning wedding, we all went out to lunch afterwards.

We had lunch at a restaurant called Angelo's House. I suspect it really was Angelo's House, because it was, well, a house. The food was delicious, I would go back for sure.

On Sunday, the day after the wedding we got to do a bit of sight seeing around the town, which was good.

On the Monday Mum and I drove back to Brisbane airport. On the way we stopped for an hour at Mt Coot-Tha and had lunch at the cafe overlooking Brisbane. My niece had been given a ride back to the airport the day before so we didn't need to worry about her. We arrived back in freezing cold Melbourne at 8 pm that night.

I completely forgot to take my camera to the wedding, so there are no photos of that, but I did snap a few on the day after the wedding, and on the way home.

The view from Picnic Point in Toowomba looking
out over the Lockyer Valley towards Brisbane.

And this is what the lookout looks like...

Looking towards Toowoomba
We found this tree while driving around. At first
we thought it may have been a Boab, but we have
since worked out that it is a Queensland Bottle Tree.

Another View of Toowoomba
Our hire car, a Mitsubishi Lancer, which has been
driven half way around Australia to be with us
judging by the Western Australian number plates.

View of the Brisbane CBD from the Mt Coot-Tha lookout
I love how all the buildings are squashed up close
together in the tiny Brisbane CBD. High density,
almost like a mini Manhattan.

A very dirty looking Brisbane River, it could give the
Yarra River a run for it's money in the brown department.
Our ride home, a Qantas Boeing 767.
We flew up there on a smaller Boeing 737.

We are number three for take off. We also waited
for a planeto land, before lining up on the runway.

The small one is a Beechcraft King Air, I'm pretty sure it belongs
to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The jet is a Boeing 737-800
No need to guess the airline...

Leaving Brisbane in golden light.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Taking a "smart" bus to the airport.

Yes I did it, I took the Smart Bus to the airport. I am of course talking about route 901 which goes all the way from Frankston to the airport via Dandenong, Ringwood and other places. I did not travel all the way to the airport from Frankston though. Even though the bus actually runs through my suburb (Greensborough) I did not just walk the 1.5km from home to catch it, because even from here it takes a circuitous route through Plenty, South Morang, Epping and Roxburgh Park. I could have, had I wanted to, caught the other Smart Bus route that runs through Greensborough (the 902 which runs from Chelsea to Airport West) to save some time, and changed over at Broadmeadows rail station, but I did not.

Had I the time I most likely would have done the final option above. Not having as much time as I would have liked, instead I drove to Coolaroo station and parked the car and continued by bus to the airport from there. Part of the reason for this is to try and see if it is possible to avoid car park charges for one day trips.

Back at good old Coolaroo station

As I was walking from my car to the stop two more passengers turned up, a pair of Indian students.

While waiting for the bus a very large plume of brown smoke erupted from the housing area across the road, on checking google maps later I am fairly sure it was in a park. Those kids with matches caused a number of fire engines and police cars to go speeding past.

All of a sudden there was a lot of smoke

Then the fire trucks and police cars came.
All within a few minutes of the smoke.

Ten minutes or more passed before a bus arrived at the stop. The bus was either really late or really early as it did not arrive at the timetabled time, and there were no real time info screens at this stop for this direction.

This was the first time I have used my myki on a bus so I was apprehensive as to whether it would work or not. I had no problems although it seemed a little slow to scan on and off. There were probably only 8 or 9 people on the bus including the Indian guys and myself. One of the passengers was clearly going to the airport sitting with a large suitcase in the low floor part of the bus.

On the bus.

From there the trip was rather quick. What slowed us down though was a shortish but time consuming detour taken to serve the Broadmeadows shopping centre. The bus also stopped at the Broadmeadows station. I would rather the bus just stop at the station. From there we headed towards Gladstone Park, where in Mickleham Road we stopped to change over drivers. The new driver also brought his wife along for the ride.

Having just gone through the shopping centre we are
waiting to turn into Broadmeadows station.

By this stage there were fewer people on board, perhaps four or five including myself, the suitcase guy, one or two airport workers, and the drivers wife.

From here the bus turned on to the Tullamarine Freeway and sped towards the airport. We took the first exit which takes traffic to the taxi holding area and freight handling areas of the airport. I use this exit myself when going to watch aircraft from operations road on the western side of the airport as you avoid most of the terminal traffic. The bus went past the long term car park and then proceeded into the freight handling areas of the airport. As we got close to the Tiger Airways Terminal, T4, things literally took an unexpected turn when we did a u-turn and stopped next to a grassy nature strip far from even T4. The guy with the suitcase didn't even realise this was the end of the line, in fact I wasn't even sure if it was, but I got off anyway and headed up the road towards the Tiger water tower.

The stop had no signage that I could see, and certainly no timetable information or realtime info display. In fact if it wasn't for the pair of silver and orange buses, you wouldn't know it was the stop for the major regular public transport access to the airport. I am fairly certain that the buses existence is not even acknowledged at the main terminals. So if you didn't know about it before hand, you wouldn't use it. The whole situation is very poor.

Somewhere in the distance you can see two Smart buses waiting.
Not very inviting...

As I couldn't see where the path ended up on the side of the road the buses stop on I decided to cross the road early before reaching T4. I walked along the freight terminals and after a few minutes I came to T4. This proved to be the right thing to do as there is no pedestrian crossing closer to T4.

T4 itself seemed to be overflowing with many people sitting outside at the outdoor cafe on the concrete in the blazing hot sun (it was new years eve, which as I recall was a quite a hot day in the mid 30's). As per the Airways TV show, there was a Federal Police car parked out the front, with the officers no doubt settling some dispute between passengers and staff.

Beware the Tiger that bites you back...

I decided to take a look in the main terminal before heading back, so continued on the path to T3. I actually went upstairs and through security to the gates. I finally got through the security checkpoint after being held up by the unprepared traveller in front of me dealing with the metal detector.

I just headed straight to the end of the pier to the seats that face the runway and watched all the comings and goings for about twenty minutes. As time was getting on so I began the walk back to the bus stop. Before leaving the terminal I bought a paper (it was a Thursday therefore I needed a Green Guide!) and a drink. I just made it to the stop in time for the next bus and about half an hour later I was back at my car at Coolaroo station.

Overall the journey itself was fine. Bus frequency is pretty good by Melbourne standards and seems a reasonably reliable service. The whole thing is undone by the terminus at the airport. Is in a remote location (as in a good 10 minute walk from the Qantas terminal, as far or further than the nearest bus stop for the long term car park shuttle bus) with no facilities other than the single seat at the stop and little or no signage or other information that I could see.

The disgrace is that the service is not at all acknowledged by the airport directional signage for ground transport options for arriving passengers. The service does get a mention on the airport's website, hoswever it is near the bottom of a long list of airport shuttle style buse. Presumably the reason the route is not acknowledged or provided with a decent or convenient terminus is that the route does not pay an access fee or provide any revenue to the airport operators (and is probably forced on the airport by the Department of Transport)

The location and amenities of the stop has been touched on in articles in the papers over the last few days about ACCC investigations into airport parking. I am hopeful, but doubtful that there is enough in this to get the stop moved to a more convenient location. (I've been writing this review for a while now, since before the articles)

Gratuitous plane pics...

Virgin Blue Boeing 737-700.
Not going anywhere soon...

A 737-800 pulling into the gate.

Stops right on the mark.

Ready to unload...