I thought I would split my post between a travelogue summary and then a cycling report. The travelogue summarises my thoughts about Australia and my cycling report includes some statistics and detail about the riding.
For whatever reason I never took to Melbourne; every one tells me it’s marvellous. Its an impressive city on the Yarra river and both the buildings and the water are tall or imposing. Like all cities it belongs to the under 30’s. They populate its streets and the food, shops and spaces belong to them. Melbourne is ethnically diverse. I well recollect Australians at the next table chatting away in Mandarin or Cantonese and I later heard that Melbourne is the largest Greek town after Athens. Diversity is the reality and future but it wasn’t the Australia I came to see. I wanted to see how it made a living, the life it’s non-urban communities lived, its landscapes and foibles.
I eventually put the city behind me and got into the Victoria countryside. Here were fields and animals. Everything was parched but this was the vista I expected. Small towns with a pub, a few shops, a fire truck building and a community centre were the norm and I ploughed north. After Wangaratta I deviated off the beaten track and ended up in Walla Walla. This was small town Australia. Hard working, no frills, a little bit down on its luck and miles from anywhere. I started to get the feel for the country and its people. Leaving Victoria was by the direct Hume Freeway a large artery of a dual carriageway heading north and then east toward Canberra and Sydney.
My luck ran out with the weather. When it rains it isn’t drizzle but hours of heavy falls. Riding beside this road with its spray and unnerving drafts from 34 wheel trucks made me climb off and catch a bus from Gundagai to Sydney. I hate to do this but I saw no point in suffering for the sake of it. Sydney was magnificent. Lots of history, fine architecture, a staggering harbour and sunshine. From here the ride north, in New South Wales, was hard but early morning games of school boy cricket and joggers or recreational cyclists on outside seating drinking coffee made me think there might be something to this life. Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Epilogue→
After failing to eat properly the night before I was delighted to discover this seemingly ramshackle general store in Kin Kin was a top cafe.
When I turned up last night it seemed improbable that they could russle up this omelette:
This was a sight for sore eyes. I asked inside about my nocturnal American friend. Yes he was known. His name’s Jim Wonder. He lives about 4 miles out of town and has been caught stealing showers and water before. They knew of his conspiracy theories and pre-occupation with artefacts. I feel I may have ‘grassed him up’ after discussing his ablutions last night but he needs to stop creeping around like that.
Fortified I headed north. Within a few miles I spent 10 minutes pushing the bike up an 18% gradient. Whether a help or a worry my Garmin Sat Nav does provide guidance that these enormous climbs are coming:
Well in the first mile I had to push the bike twice up gradients too steep (to cycle) with a heavy bike. This was not a good start. The weather now seems hot and sunny, that was certainly more like it.
The town planners had cobbled together some routes for cyclists in the north of the city: the usual hotch potch of dedicated paths, park shortcuts and pavement riding. After a gazillion traffic lights I made it to the Gympie Road heading north. Up until this point I’d spent more times waiting on pavements or on the road for traffic lights to turn green.
After about 15 miles I was heading into the smaller suburban towns. I was not allowed on the Bruce Highway. This meant a very windy path north. Leaving my directions to my Sat Nav I could be going anywhere…
A routine on a rest day of sorting my laundry was followed by toasting some bagels I’d bought the night before. Hotels ‘work’ but they are mainly rooms. At a hostel there are more facilities at a better prices. The Kookaburra Inn rated highly on my Hostelworld App. It deserved it.
The bike’s been brilliant over the 1,000 miles but I needed some adjustment on the gears. I rang a bike shop and they said just ‘drop in’. This I duly did. The short distance from the hostel was balanced by the enormous short sharp hills I had to deal with. Parts of Brisbane remind me of San Francisco with the rises and falls. At the bike shop I got talking to another waiting customer, Brian. He was familiar with Cairns and was shortly to go back on holiday up there. As I left he stopped me. “Don’t forget to put on your helmet” or you’ll be “chipped” by the police. In Australia it’s compulsory to wear a helmet when cycling. I think you should always wear a helmet when cycling but I’m doubtful it’s a good use of police time.
With the gears adjusted (they removed two links and adjusted the rear mech) I returned to deposit the bike at the hostel and set off on foot to find a ferry. This I found…. it was free! I was intending to ride it all around the river but only managed one stop to South Bank. Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Brisbane Rest Day→
The first 30 miles came for free. I started with a breakfast muffin and a real cup of coffee at the local bakery. The barista was an Irish lass. I’d forgotten how nice proper coffee was. The miles were ‘free’ because on the Pacific Highway they were easily achieved. I stopped briefly on the motorway:
On entering Queensland I was kicked off the motorway. I’m not sure why but the level of traffic went up dramatically as I approached Brisbane, which may be a clue.
I’m quietly amazed that I have been allowed to ride this Highway. Unless you’re experienced and have resilience then it is not a good place to be. I’d hate many cyclists, I know, to be soldiering along it. This eviction coincided with my desire to look at the Gold Coast. I started at North Kirra Beach.
I went slowly on the beach cycle paths and gazed at the ocean. Even more attractive were the many apartments and houses built just behind the beach.
A chap, was wandering about near my tent doing some site maintenance/gardening. When asked, he said I might see kangaroos nibbling the grass the next morning. Excited, I arose next morning, with camera poised, to hopefully find Skippy having breakfast. As you have correctly deduced, Skippy was dining elsewhere.
My tent was not completely dry but it was better than having to endure torrential downpours. I had my porridge and packed everything away. Most mornings and nights I’ll catch up with Anna via a call on WhatsApp. As always I’m anxious to get off, I have a long way to go. So I hooked up the bluetooth headphones and set off cycling and talking to her. The road I was cycling on should have been quiet given that it was Sunday. It was, relatively, but it was only a two way road, due to roadworks, and the traffic was bunched. Our conversation was fine but I don’t think she was encouraged to join me on a future expedition as she heard the roar of the trucks or pick ups as they went past. However, this passed a pleasant 6 miles for me before we were done. It still seems more than odd that I’m starting the day and she’s finishing hers.
I added to my sustenance in Woodburn. The weather now was squally and a morale boosting pie seemed a good move. This chap below is a ‘breakfast pie’. So lots of eggs and bacon? Well of course but sat on top of minced beef and gravy. Australia’s culinary imagination, as always, to the fore.
Rolling out of Coffs Harbour was hard! For all the engineering delight of The Pacific Highway in making sure it was as flat over hundreds of miles I found myself spinning the granny gears to leave the town behind. Being Saturday the traffic was lighter, which was just as well as a bicycle doing 4mph up a hill with no hard shoulder with trucks is not a great combination.
However after this rude awakening the usual pattern emerged of a sunny day with a large road in front of me and my lonely place on the hard shoulder. It has to be said that there is little debris on the shoulder bar stones. Road kill has stopped and the only other comment is that the odd bits of metal are usually originating from truck bodies or the straps they use to secure their load. In this fairly easy fast rolling situation I put on my headphones and listened to another podcast. After a good start, when she took over the show, Laura Laverne on Desert Island Discs has lapsed into interviewing fairly dull ‘woke’ worthies. I think the production team who I expect find the guest and then see if they’ve got an autobiography (for research purposes) all live in London have never been further than Netflix out of the capital. The mindset of all these guests is wearily unrepresentative of the nation.
I felt virtuous because I had eaten grandly the day before and was benefitting from all this fuel intake. It works. The error is to mistake ‘good days’ when you don’t eat copiously for the norm. I seemed to cycle well when I rode across the USA but I lost one and a half stones (c10kg). When I once told another more informed cyclist he commented that I must have lost muscle mass? It made me think again. The other challenge is the loss of appetite. At home after a bike ride in winter I’ll return ravenous to empty the cupboards and fridge. Here, rather than feeling hungry, I just know I must eat.
That being said when I got to Grafton I pulled into McDonalds. In line with the Master’s instructions I just look for calories. I had large fries and a chocolate milk shake.
I’d left 30 miles (to go) as a brief saunter into Coffs Harbour for my day off. Some saunter! I thought I’d leave the soulless motorway and take the Old Pacific Highway. My reward for this decision was lots of climbing. It does go to show that there is only really one route around here.
Coffs Harbour made me immediately think of the USA (except for the uniquely Australian brutally hilly entrance and exit). This town or should I say city, according to my hosts, is again a classic settlement that services the surrounding large area with a Law Court, specialist medical services including surgeons, a library, accountants, lawyers, local government offices etc. The city’s layout is a long straight affair either side of the Pacific Highway with shops and even a mall in the centre and your car dealerships, exhaust replacements, sanitary ware distributors, car washes etc on the long drags at each end of town. Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Nambucca Heads to Coffs Harbour 31 miles & Rest Day→
Firstly, an apology. It has been brought to my attention that I may have caused offence by using Anglo Saxon to describe my buttocks (and the incendiary condition to which they had temporarily progressed) in Blog 9. This coarse lapse has caused distress to parts of Manchester and I worry this contagion may have spread further (even around the globe).
Anyway, I woke slowly and planned to get an early start. As I am busying myself around the tent the Heaven’s opened. I managed to remove the tent pegs quickly and move my small tent under shelter. However my ‘drying’ laundry about 100 metres away got very wet (again) despite my sprinting to recover it. In the shelter I packed things slowly waiting for this sudden and serious downpour to pass. It was early and few Aussies were around (probably still avoiding giving me a drink).
Whilst waiting one of the site cleaners sat with me, also awaiting a cessation. He rides a Harley and commented that he wouldn’t ride it in this weather! He also noted that the Pacific Highway not only provided faster travel up the coast but it was the only link between many of these settlements. It wasn’t possible to access all these small coastal towns any other way. That set my mind at rest that I was pursuing the correct routing option.
When it did stop I left the campsite and found a cafe for a bit of cooked breakfast in Forster. From here to a modern Woolworths for sustenance. Woolies in Oz is a supermarket chain and not the former beloved UK mecca where I bought LP’s and pick n’ mix.
The route to the Pacific Highway revealed the first casualty of the bush fires. You can see the burnt bark on these trees but you’ll also note the new growth. Also all the countryside was greener as I progressed north. This was in stark contrast to the parched and scrubby farmlands of Victoria.
The skies opened and I got very wet again. I got maybe wetter than I need have. I’d taken off my rain jacket between showers as it was too hot to ride in. When the rain started again I was simply in the wrong situation to stop, find the jacket, put it on and proceed. One of the benefits of the rain is a fall in temperature from the late 20°s to the late teens. This made cycling much easier and my average speed was over 13mph. Another implication was the need to drink less water and the restoration of my appetite. Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Forster to Port Macquarie – 64 miles & Port Macquarie to Nambucca Heads – 75 miles→
Hawks Nest looked a beautiful spot when I rode in the night before. Slightly cut off on a peninsula but an attractive small community with shops and facilities. All single storey buildings and close to a coastline that was unspoilt and a little wild. This also applied to the other local settlement called Tea Gardens. This looked even more up market with its moorings for boats.
After waking the next morning I strolled to the beach. The sound of the waves crashing last night had been my lullaby. Not that I needed singing to sleep as I was in the ‘Land of Nod’ in next to no time and didn’t wake for over 9 hours. That morning there were few people about and I can imagine living here on retreat.
I packed my tent slowly and then went across the road from the campsite for breakfast. I sat a while writing a blog and then returned to Reception to announce myself and make reparations for last night’s stay. No aggravation or kerfuffle, just a calm catch up on my details, took the money and I was away.
I went onto WikiCamp and left a review:
“Just sublime. Arrived as a cycle toured. Tremendous cook area for sorting out panniers. Terrific pitches. Great cafe opposite the site for breakfast. I may ask to be buried here.”
The long straight minor road north gave me little other than a vista of trees but every once in a while I’d note signs on my right for the beach. This was one such openings and the view was remarkable. Surely Australia (so far) at its most pristine and intoxicating. However I had places to be and and pedalled on to find the road ended abruptly with water and a ferry mooring. The craft was a small one with no distance of a crossing to make. Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Hawks Nest to Forster, NSW – 54 miles→