Australia - December 17,2005 - February 21, 2006
G'day Mates...'Ow Yer Goin'
January 1, 2006: Our overnight flight from Singapore to Melbourne just a couple of days before the southern hemisphere's summer solstice had us arriving in a state of fatigue and excitement. This is the first trip for both of us to this island continent which is the world's 6th largest country, and nearly the same size as the continental United States. Australia is comprised of 6 states and 2 territories. Victoria is the second smallest state, and has Melbourne, the country's second largest city as its capital. The vast majority of the country's nearly 20 million people live within close proximity to the coast from Adelaide (South Australia), to Melbourne (Victoria), Sidney (New South Wales) and Brisbane (Queensland).
We were picked up at the airport by Phil, a mate we had met 17 months earlier in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. We had a wonderful time over lunch with Phil and his wife Roz before being dropped off at John and Marjorie's house, our Melbourne Warm Showers contacts. Prior to leaving the U.S. in June we sent them our guide books from Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji along with a few other things. In addition, our new rear wheel, which was build and shipped by Mel at Tandem's East in New Jersey, was waiting for us. Opening these two packages felt elike we'd received the only holiday gifts we wanted. We continue to feel so fortunate to stay with such wonderful people and friends who have helped take care of us during our travels.
The next morning we built up the bike and walked it to Grand Prix Cycles, a shop recommended by John and only a kilometer from his house. We'd been in contact with Steven, the owner, a number of times since we'd developed both front and rear wheel problems. He assured us that all of our repair and maintenance needs could be repaired within two business days. We then took the tram into Melbourne city center and spent the day walking the downtown area obtaining information and doing some of the research and planning for our two months in Oz. When we stopped by Grand Prix on our way back we were all smiles when we heard that all of our tandem's needs had been attended to (with the exception of connecting the drum brake cable because we forgot to bring in the necessary part. With two wheels, tires, a rear hub, and a good cleaning to boot, our steed hadn't looked this good since he was wheeled off the showroom floor.
This early completion of the repairs afforded us the opportunity to go on a lengthy test ride the next day. We connected with a wonderful bike path, The Capital City trail, that circumnavigates the downtown area. Melbourne's cycling infrastructure is most certainly better than average, but it would benefit from improved signage. Having passed our test ride with flying colors we knew we were ready to begin our Oz cycle tour the next day.
The very rough itinerary for our two months in Oz was to do a three week loop from Melbourne, southwest along the Mornington Peninsula, to the Great Ocean Road (GOR), north throught the Grampians, and back to Melbourne. From there we plan to take the coastal route north to Brisbane. Sidney lies approximately halfway between the two aforementioned state capitals where a few days will be spent visiting a cousin of Aaron's in this host city of the 2000 summer olympics.
Our first few days from Melbourne along the Mornington Peninsul were beautiful, although what laid ahead in the week that followed as we cycled west along The Great Ocean Road was spectacular. While the roads in both areas are generally flat, there were enough rolling hills and a few solid climbs to keep us honest. Having not been on the bike for nearly 3 months, it was our glutes that whined the most the first couple of days. Other than that it felt euphoric to be back on tour again.
On the Mornington Peninsula we climbed up to Arthur's Seat, the high point, and had wonderful panoramic views of Port Phillip Bay to the north and Bass Straight to the south. Viewing the hook of the peninsula reminded us of Cape Cod, but with a left elbow bend instead of a right. Other sight seeing excursions brought us to some excellent vineyards, a pick your own strawberry farm, and swimming opportunities in the warm bay waters.
We took a ferry from Sorrento Queenscliff, and headed southwest to the GOR. Despite the predominent winds out of the southwest that made for headwinds for virtually the whole time we rode along the GOR, we were very glad we chose to ride it in this direction. Because Aussies drive on the left we were closer to the ocean we had views we wouldn't have had coming from the opposite direction.
Near Cape Otway we took a guided walk from The Center For Conservation Ecology. In the center they had two infant wallaby's they were rearing because their mothers got killed by cars. We were the only two signed up for the walk, so the personalized attention we got before, during, and after the walk was fantastic. We saw numerous koalas, and upon our return to the center a mob of Kangaroos were in close proximity as they dined on the open grasslands. That day was the first viewing of these indiginous animals...very cool indeed.
We also had 3 fantastic walks in temperate rain forrests. What a different world this is from the much more arid terrain that permeates most of this region. In Melba Gully State Park we walked passed a 300+ year old Otway Messmate tree that had a trunk circumference of more than 27 meters. It is aptly named "Big Tree".
The GOR's scenery is most spectacular the 20k between Princetown and Port Campbell. The famed 12 Apostles, of which 7 remain, are large limestone rocks that are separated from the mainland due to erosion and reach up to 65 mteres in height. Many have arches. Just as some of the Apostles and all will disappear over time, it is easy to see where new ones are being created. At a destructive rate of 2-3 cm per year, give it a few thousand, hundred thousand, or millions of years and who knows how many apostles there will be! One of the national park signs said it best: "There's nothing to break the wind from Antarctica to these headlands. That is why the waves are so large and strong. In a storm they may be 30 meters high. These conditions have shaped this spectacular coastline." Given the pounding of the waves we saw and the relative softness of the limestone it's amazing the carving and erosion of the coastline doesn't occur at a more rapid pace.
As spectacular as the 12 Apostles were, we actually consider more stunning the walks and viewpoints a few K down the road in the Loch Ard Gorge area of Port Campbell National Park. A number of shipwrecks, including the Loch Ard, predominately in the 1800's occured in this area. Once again the rock formations in conjunction with the explosive pounding of the huge surf had us meseirized with its beauty, so much so that we only cycled 19 k/12m on that day!!!
From Warrnambool, which is the unofficial start/finish of the GOR from the west we headed north to the Grampians, a range of hillsides and mountains at the western end of The Great Dividing Range. The sandstone and shale that comprise the range is over 600 million years old. Our only lament in being here now is not seeing the wildflower season in the spring which is said to be absolutely amazing.
As we write this update, we have had back to back days of incredible contrast to end 2005 and begin 2006. Yesterday, Dec 31, we rode from Warrnambool on the coast to Dunkeld at the southern end of the Grampians. The first 60k/37m we had warm weather and tailwinds. We took a lunch break in the small town of Penshurst where a town native initiated taking us on a driving tour. We drove up Rouse Hill which overlooks the town and the southern Grampian mountains of Mt. Sturgeon and Mt. Abrupt 30k in the distance. By the time we returned to the bike and hit the road the temperature had soared and the winds had done a 180 degree shift. For the next two hours we rode in at least 40c/104f heat with the hottest winds we'd ever felt. Thank goodness the road was flat or our average speed on that section would have been worse than the 15kph/9mph we barely managed to maintain. Despite copious amounts of liquid consumption, none of it alcoholic on this new years eve, we had virtually no urine output until the morning. Fortunately the evening cooled down a bit in relative terms, but we still crawled into our tent at 9:00 and slept under dampened sarongs to keep us cool. Yet another "party-down" New Years eve for the ARJO team!!
Todays ride, January 1st, was overcast and probably never got much above 30c/86f. A huge fire started yesterday afternoon about 10 to 15 km east of Halls Gap, our present location. Fortunately, it has rained throughout the afternoon with no lightening and the temps have also dropped. Hopefully this will help the firefighters. On a more selfish note, the road we intend to take out of here is presently closed due to the fire. Hopefully the current conditions will foster its opening by tomorrow.
While we have yet to take any hikes in the Grampians, that is on tomorrow's agenda and why we have scheduled an off day in this national park. We'll hope for continued cloudy and cooler condtions. The walking tracks in this region are reported to be stunning. An early evening walk south of town put us in the middle of literally hundreds of kangaroos.
On a final note, it is hard to believe that we have completed 7 months of our 14 month journey and have now started the back side of this trip. We hope everyone had a wonderful New Year and that it will prove to be a great year for one and all.
Our first 3 weeks of bike touring in Australia have brought us full circle as we now have a couple of nights with Phil and Roz in the Box hill suburb of Melbourne. While our cycling since leaving the Grampions was not as spectacular from a scenic perspective (to be fair, nothing we see in our remaining time in Australia may be as scenic as the Great Ocean Road), it was still very nice. It afforded us the opportunity to see some inland terrain in the countryside that undulated past Victoria's goldfields which were discovered in the last half of the 19th century. Much of the architecture of the towns had an "old west" feel, reminding us of Colorado, with flat faced storefronts, as well as more classical Victorian buildings. Several of the towns that we passed through boasted populations of 30,000 and 40,000+ during the gold rush days and now number anywhere from several hundred to several thousand.
During our off day in the Grampians we did a beautiful hike called the Wonderland Loop that brought us up to Pinnacle Point. The views overlooking the valley below and toward the south, east, and north were fantastic. On this totally clear day it was hard to believe we could not see any evidence of the bush fire that was so out of control only 48 hours before.
As we left the Grampians we rode through the bushfire burn area, a mere 10 kilometers to the east, that had started on the blistering hot last day of 2005. The rains and cooler temps on the 1st were obviously a great assist to those fighting the blaze. As we rode through on the 3rd, firefighters were still present as were smoldering hot spots. We'd heard that 7 homes were destroyed. We didn't see those remnants from the road we were on, but we were amazed to see several homes still standing that had burned trees all around them. One house had an immediately adjacent large shed and car completely destroyed while their home just meters away looked completely unaffected. The smell of the burn stayed with us the entire rest of the day.
It took a couple of days to get from the Grampions to where we started the "Central Gold and Spa Country" route. Those days were flat and not overly interesting, but visiting a couple of wineries enhanced the interest level! Our time table allowed us to do 4 of the 5 days designed in this circular route and the terrain and experiences got better and better as the route progressed. Each of the towns visited (Maryborough, Maldon, Bendigo, Castlemaine, and Daylesford) as the days final destination points had character and charm. It was easy to engage in stimulating conversations with the locals as they were as interested in our travels as we were in their town's history. On a few of the days we were able to swim in a lake, stream, and/or pool which really helped break up the day and mitigate the heat.
Most of the caravan parks we have stayed in have had "camper's kitchens" which include a fridge, microwave, BBQ etc. and the caravan park's proximity to town has typically been very good. Their ammenities and locations have allowed us to buy a lot of food stuffs for the night and following morning that have enhanced our culinary options. This, along with a nightly shower when we do stay in these parks, have been an assist when we've felt a tad travel weary.
Because of our time allotment in Australia, our flight logistics, and the time and distance it will take to bike from Melbourne to Brisbane (more than a month and 2300+k/1400+m), we decided to avoid cycling into and out of Melbourne. By taking the train into the city to end this part of our tour as well as using rail service to leave the city and start the route to Brisbane, we gain a day or two. This will no doubt prove beneficial later on during our travels as well as help us avoid cycling in car dominated terrain. Getting our loaded tandem on the train can be difficult at times, and it raises a lot of eyebrows from the passengers, but it is wonderful that it is an option. As of the 1st, the trains no longer charge an additional fee for bringing a bicycle aboard. We wish U.S. airlines were so progressive!
Australia and the USA are the only countries we are cycling where we are doing a point to point route rather than a large loop. Because of the way our tandem comes apart and fits into 2 airline compatable hardsided suitcases it has made logistical sense to store our luggage with friends/Warm Showers contacts, do a large circular route, and fly to our next destination. Knowing that we wanted to bike from Melbourne to Brisbane via Sydney has forced us to have our luggage transported north. We were amazed at the price varieation when we called freight companies as the range went from $200 to more than $600 (about $150-$450 US). It made us wonder if we could do a round trip flight while dropping off the luggage in Brisbane for about the same cost as ground shipping!!
Our luggage leaves tomorrow and will be sent to Valerie and Dennis who we met in Bali and look forward to seeing again in a month. We are planning on setting off a few hours later, or the next morning at the latest to start the "East Coast Explorer" route as it is called in our guidebook. Hopefully we will be able to provide an update about halfway through when we get to Aaron's cousin's in Sydney.
January 31, 2006:
"Sydney Harbour...one of the finest, most beautiful, vast, and safe bays the sun had ever shone upon". Mirror of the Sea 1906" Joseph Conrad 1857-1924
Our ride from Melbourne to Sydney took us 15 days, including one off day at the midpoint. In general we are following the Lonely Planet Cycling Australia East Coast Explorer route. Our most significant deviation from the suggested itinerary was to follow the major roads which stayed within 30 km or so of the coast and regain rejoin the route in Tathra rather than go inland through the Snowy River Mountains. If our intent was to avoid the hills in the Snowys, which it was not, then we failed miserably! The route into the Snowys had 78k/49m of dirt road, and while it was purported to be in good condition, our previous wheel difficulties made us hesitant to undertake that kind of road over that distance. In addition to riding sealed roads, or bitumen as the Aussies call it; the other advantage of our route was it took us 2 fewer days, which will be beneficial to us as we make our way to Brisbane.
Our route along the Gippsland and Princess Highways covered extremes over our first week after departing Melbourne. The road from Yarran to Bairnsdale via Ninety Mile Beach was likely the longest flat stretch of road we'd ever covered. Ninety Mile Beach is said to be one of the longest straightest beaches in the world and is in fact 146km long. We suppose "One Hundred Forty Six Kilometer Beach" just doesn't roll off the tongue as easily. After two plus days of flat straight roads we longed for some diversity in our cycling terrain. We got that and much more over the next 4 days to Tathra as the road undulated incessantly. We ventured to guess that our total elevation gain and loss far exceeded that of the route into the Snowys. During one 60km section, not one flat stretch was noted. Fortunately, on our two most difficult days the weather was relatively cool and overcast.
The day before arriving in Tathra we crossed into New South Wales. While the state itself is less than 10% of Australia's landmass, it is larger than Texas and the country's most populous state. We'd heard that the weather would become hotter and more humid as we headed north than what we'd experienced in Victoria, and it didn't take long after crossing the border to feel the change.
Our experiences with Aussies to date, as with every other country we've visited, have been an absolute highlight. People have warned us that "here the car is king" and drivers don't have much respect for cyclists. In fact, other than in Melbourne, we've seen far fewer cyclists than we'd anticipated. But our experiences have been that we've received more positive honks and people waving when they've passed than any other place we've cycled. Therefore, it came as quite a reality check when we had our 2 most negative incidents to date within a few hours of each other.
As we packed up to leave Eden, an aptly named beach resort town, we had put our "cool ties" in the bathroom sink to absorb water (cool ties are tied around your neck to help keep you cool on hot days). When we returned a half hour later to retrieve them they were gone. These were the first things we've had stolen and, as with all thefts, gave us a feeling of being violated. However, as Janet said, "if this is the worst thing to happen to us then that's a small price to pay". Three hours later that theft was bumped to #2 on the "worst things" list.
Nearing Merimbula on a bike path we met up with Crissy and Bill. Crissy led us into town and we were stopped at a traffic light talking. When the light changed, the car behind us immediately honked. We looked back and realized we were impeding his ability to go left (the equivalent of a right turn for you right side of the road drivers in the reading audience). Before we had the chance to move out of his way he swung out, intentionally hit our pannier (saddle bag) on the right rear of the bike and drove on. Bill chased after him on his bike as Crissy and the two of us gathered the pannier off the road and moved our bikes onto the sidewalk. As we tried to recollect ourselves people approached and asked if we were OK as they were in shock themselves at what they had just witnessed. Janet had a red mark on her thigh where the pannier had been pushed into her, but other than that no physical damage was noted to her, the bike or our gear. When Bill returned he said he talked with the driver who stated that we "had no business being on the road and that we deserved what we got". Bill also got his license plate number. By the time the lone policeman on duty was able to meet with us at least 2 other people had called in as witnesses. In addition to our report, Bill also gave a report and we had a card from another witness. Despite this, because the cop didn't witness the incident himself, there is little he could do unless we wanted to press charges and come back for a court date. Well, neither one of us would mind coming back to this wonderful section of Australia again, but it's unlikely any outcome would cover our expenses of such a journey! The cop did say he'd "have a stern talking with the bloke and tell him that charges were going to be pressed so he'd stew for a few days". At days end, what was as notable as anything to both of us about the 2 negative incidents was that we still had a great day. The weather was beautiful, the sights were wonderful, the people we met were great, and the most importantly we were safe and unhurt. We say it to each other often that attitude and perspective have an incredible impact on how we experience life.
With only one day allotted as an "off day" from Melbourne to Sydney we took it in Tathra at the midway point. There have been many places we'd like to have had an extra day, but this was a good spot for hiking along the coast and into Bournda National Park on the Kangarutha Track. It felt amazing to us that we saw virtually no one on the track and when we got to beautiful Boulder Bay there was but one lone fisherman. Here it is, the height of holiday season and travel and it felt like a coastal wilderness experience!
As the days passed and we progressed closer to Sydney the traffic on the roads seemed to increase, particularly when we were forced back onto the Princess Highway, the major coastal north/south route from Sydney to Melbourne. On some of our hotter days we were fortunate to find some absolutely fantastic places to swim in both salt and fresh water, which kept us refreshed and cool as well as added to our days delights. The day we arrived in Sydney as well as the day before had us cycling on some wonderful bike paths along the coast. It's always a joy to ride these, to see other people utilizing them, and to feel that communities see the value of creating this type of infrastructure.
Arriving in Sydney, as it is arriving by bike in any big city, was a mix between excitement & anticipation versus negotiating the traffic & high intensity riding. When we got to Centennial Park we did a full loop of the park following the blue line that was part of the cycling road race and marathon couse during the 2000 summer olympics. After leaving the park we quickly gained speed on the last kilometer's descent toward the Sydney Harbour, and the Opera House came into view just as we approached the road's end. What a fitting way to arrive in this fantastic city. We took a ferry across the harbour to Mosman where Aaron's cousin Mike, his wife Nancy, and their 8-year-old daughter Barclay live. Aaron hadn't seen Mike in more than 14 years, but the reconnection felt immediate and wonderful. After 15 days on the road and 14 nights camping it has been great to again be in a beautiful home environment with family and to have a few days off the bike.
During our time in Sydney we visited some of the world famous beaches (Manly, Bondi, & Bonte), took the ferry across the harbour numerous times, went to an opera in the park, walked across the Harbour bridge at night to soak in the incredible night views, and had a wonderful time with Mike, Nancy, and Barclay. It is with a heavy heart that we leave Sydney, but we need to start making progress toward Brisbane. It is from there that we hope to write our last Australian update. It is hard to believe how quickly the time is passing. It seems like only a few days ago that we told people we were at the half way point, and now it is 8 months down and 6 to go.
February 22, 2006
Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. Meriam Beard
Nothing compares to the simple pleasures of a bike ride. John F. Kennedy
As has consistently been the case when we get back on the road after having spent several days with friends we experience mixed feelings. When it comes time to leave, on one hand we feel very ready to get back on the bike and continue our travels. On the other hand we feel a sense of melancholy wondering when we will be able to see again the people that have had such a profound impact on us throughout our now 8 plus months of travel. And then we joke that maybe we wouldn't feel that level of melancholy if only we could take the bed, real pillows, and some other luxuries with us!
This was very much how we felt when we left Sydney to continue our travels north to Brisbane. We had a wonderful time with Aaron's cousin Mike, his wife Nancy and their daughter Barkley. We enjoyed going into the city via the ferry and walking some of the central business district both at day and night. Mike and Nancy took us to a few different 'hot spots', we saw a variety of water sporting events and competitions we've never seen, and ate at a few restaurants ' a rare treat.
The morning after we left Sydney we awoke to find that Aaron's rear pannier (saddle bag) had been stolen. It was not only the loss of the bag and its contents, but also how we were going to balance the bike appropriately and safely. We searched around the campground and then Janet walked up to a maintenance worker she saw far off in a park. He'd seen the bag and put it in a trash bin. We were able to recover nearly everything with the exception of one cycling jersey, one pair of cycling gloves, and the battery recharger for our camera (the biggest loss). It's amazing how one's emotions can go from exceedingly low to very high even after feeling the violation of a theft!
The evening of that same day made us reflect on how truly fortunate we've been. A few days before arriving in Sydney we were in Batemans Bay. At the caravan park we talked with Luke and Casey who, when they heard about our travels to date, kept on telling us how 'crazy' we were. When they found out that we were heading north and saw our targeted route Luke said, 'You'll be going right through Salt Ash. That's where my parents live. You can stay with them and Mum will fix you a good feed.' Not ones to pass up such a generous invitation we arrived that afternoon and were welcomed into Kay and Glen's home with a refreshing swim in the pool after a hot days ride, a wonderful meal, great conversations, and a renewed spirit that there is truly so much more positive than negative in the world. Luke and Casey were also staying there. It was an infrequent opportunity on this trip to see new friends a second time.
Four days later we arrived in Port Macquarie, a town that gave us a very positive feel as we rode through it in the middle of the day. Our bike hadn't been shifting as well the previous couple of days, but on this day it was shifting really poorly. A local directed us to 'Graham Seers Cyclery, the best bike shop in town'. When the mechanic came out of the store to look at our bike he said 'Oh wow, Malcolm loves tandems, bring it around back and he'll work on it.' No words could have sounded sweeter. Sure enough, in no time he had our bike shifting beautifully. Talking with Malcolm while he was doing the repair we learned that he and his wife Kay ride tandem and were leaving in a few days for a bike tour in Tasmania. By the time we took care of other things in town a couple of hours had slipped away and it had become really hot. In addition we had a slow leak in our rear tire. We decided to stay the night in Port rather than move on, and went back to the bike shop to by a tube. When Malcolm found out we were planning to stay in town he said 'Let me think'let me think. Why don't you guys stay with me and my wife, we'll have dinner, you can wash clothes, and we'll talk about riding and touring.' Obviously it wasn't an offer we had to contemplate. This was yet another unforgettable evening with new friends. These two experiences of being invited into people's homes are symbolic of so many of the wonderful things and the incredible people we have met during our travels.
It took us 18 days to ride from Sydney to just south of Brisbane. The riding was much easier during this section than from Melbourne to Sydney as the terrain was generally flat, with easier rolling hills. Virtually every day we stayed at campsites along the beach, where a post ride swim and a nice ocean breeze was the ultimate way to cool off after a days ride in the heat and humidity. That said, the weather was much more favourable during this stretch than we'd anticipated. We would also typically stop at beaches along the way for a swim. It's common in New South Wales to have outdoor showers at the beach to rinse off the salt water, and this made our post swim riding much more comfortable. So often a midday ocean swim seemed to bring our core body temperature back to normal and give us positive energy for the rest of the day's ride.
We spent an extra day in South West Rocks and two extra days in Byron Bay. These 'off days' were quite welcome not because of fatigue from the bike, but rather an opportunity to better explore 2 beautiful oceanside communities and to have a break from the daily routine of 'pack up and go'. We rented body boards in Byron Bay and had a wonderfully fun time catching the waves and riding them to shore.
A few days prior to arriving in Sydney we met 2 touring cyclists from Melbourne, Jacqui and Christophe, and over the next three weeks we passed each other numerous times. We stayed at the same campground in Byron Bay and coordinated 2 dinners together. Given that they both work in restaurants and that Christophe is of French origin and works in an upscale French restaurant, these were 2 of the best meals we've had on the road. This was their first major loaded bike tour and the swapping of stories between us made for great conversations. We were all surprised that during our month plus long travels from Melbourne up to Byron Bay that collectively we'd seen only about a half dozen bike tourists.
On our last day of touring in Australia we crossed the Queensland boarder and arrived in Surfers Paradise, a town of huge high rises and a tourist mecca. The building landscape was such a contrast to all the other beachside communities we've passed during our two months here. We met up with Frank, a former college roommate of Aaron's cousin Mike, and had a fun lunch together. We parted with him still not fully convinced that we didn't have a big truck parked down the street hauling us from point to point!
From Surfers Paradise it was a quick ride to the station at Nerang where we caught the train, with 15 seconds to spare, that brought us into Brisbane. We were met at the station by Dennis and Valerie, a couple we'd befriended during our week in Bali. What an incredible way to end this part of our tour, to see new friends again, have a beautiful place to stay, and time to prepare for the next phase of our journey.
We had a day taking the City Cat up the Brisbane River and back, stopping off at selected points, and walking part of the city including the Botanical Gardens. We even got our own personal tour of the Parliament Building as Dennis works there. The interior woodwork, furnishings, and designs are beautiful.
After cycling 3599k/2231m (there must have been an extra kilometre in there somewhere!) in Australia, we depart with very positive feelings and memories. We are already talking about when we can return to this island continent to explore further and reconnect with friends that we've made.