April, 2001: Melbourne to Sydney, Australia
East from Melbourne to Lakes Entrance
Pulling ourselves away from the comfort of a penthouse apartment, we left on a quick hour's train ride out of the suburbs and into the countryside of the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, where we were met with some fantastic weather and beautiful, rolling countryside. Either these hills were easier than the Great Ocean Road, or we are getting used to this. (I think they were easier.)
We camped in a caravan park in Warragul, and found out a little too late that we were about 30m away from a rail line. Not your average passenger-only rail line with nice electric trains, but an all-night-long, diesel-powered lumber train line. Our next night at Taralgon we were not only close to the rail line (thankfully silent at night), but were also serenaded by the sound of a race car driving up to the park just past midnight (there was a rally in town that evening). We'll learn.
Our next day we explored the countryside irrigated by Lake Glenmaggie. The Lake, in contrast to the beautiful farmland, was depressingly low (a mere pond during this recent drought). Our ride finished with an amazing tailwind pushing us at over 40 km/h for about 15 minutes right into the tidy town of Maffra, where we got a dry, warm room above a pub for US$17.50/night (with breakfast or as they call it here "brekkie"). The favorable exchange rate to the USD helps! We expected a big rainstorm with the wind, but it blew over by morning without a drop.
We left Maffra for the town of Paynesville, on the coast, which was recommended to us by someone we met on the road. It turned out to be a great ride, allowing us to enjoy flat country lanes and lots of interesting animals: a wombat, a flock of wild turkeys, many large flocks of cockatoos, an ostrich, an echidna, and finally many Koalas on Raymond Island off Paynesville. Our longest day in over 2 years (103 km) seemed to fly by.
Leaving Paynesville for Bairnesdale, we had planned to cycle to Lakes Entrance (another recommendation). Before the trip, I had corresponded via the Internet with Kathy Rumball from Perth, exchanging route information (mostly in the direction of her information being passed to us). We knew we'd be in the same area during parts of the trip, but didn't make plans for a meeting. Of course, you know where this is heading - we rode up to the tourist information office in Bairnesdale, only to see a lady with a tandem bike. She greeted us with "Are you Steve?" We traveled with Kathy and her husband John for the next two days, taking a rail-trail (an abandoned rail line that has been converted for bikes and horses) into the 'bush' and free-camping with them in the forest. It was a great location - out in the middle of 'nowhere' (well, perhaps 15 km from a paved road or building), with more stars in the sky than I've seen in years. By night we were sipping some nice red wine provided by Kathy and John, eating risotto cooked on our little stove, and watching the sun set through the trees. We thank John and Kathy for helping us along with a few pointers for "bush camping" - we'll be doing it much more often, if only to avoid the trains and racecars that we seem to attract at the caravan parks.
After a night out in the forest without running water, we were ready for a shower, and rode down to Lakes Entrance (our original destination from the previous day) to storm clouds off the coast. We checked into a motel room just as the downpour hit - perfect timing!
North from Lakes Entrance to Jindabyne
Riding up from Lakes Entrance, we stopped for two nights in Buchan, taking time to explore the caves there, as well as to do some short hikes around the area. The Buchan Caves National Park has *lots* of kangaroos - our first good sighting since we've been here. At night we'd hear them hopping past our tent, conveniently pitched next to one of their runs.
After Buchan we rode for 3 days along the "Barry Way" without seeing a real town, most of it on dirt roads. We camped in a sheep pasture to greet Easter morning at beautiful place down a path from the main dirt road. Very quiet, great views of the stars unimpeded by the light pollution of city lights, and a flock of sheep to greet us in the morning at sunrise.
After another long day cycling on the dirt roads, we were finally at the Snowy River, enjoying the fine water and good views. It is amazing how much you take water for granted; we drank our fill, washing off the day's dust, in the Snowy and Jacob's River.
Finally, our last day in the wilderness, we climbed a very tough 17 km dirt road out from the Snowy River, up over a small pass and finally to a paved road at 30 km, our first in about 3 days. After 90 km of punishing washboard corrugations and dusty trail, the relatively smooth surface was like heaven. We were averaging only about 7.5 km/hr on the morning's uphill climb on dirt; downhill on a paved section saw our high speed for the trip of 70 km/hr. We rode into Jindabyne, the first town we'd seen in days, and a welcomed warm shower, comfortable bed, and a day off the bike.
Jindabyne to Canberra
From Lake Jindabyne we began a long, rolling-to-uphill trip to Adaminaby, the home of the Big Trout, a 2-story concrete trout heralding the fishing in the area. These big structures are a feature of much of the small towns around Australia.
From Adaminaby we would tackle another 2 day's ride on dirt roads through Namadgi National Park. By the time we were 30km into our first day's ride, we had lost one tire, two tubes, and (most importantly) our high pressure tire pump. Although reports had mentioned that this road was better than the one we had successfully negotiated back in Kosciuszko National Park, Namadgi's "road" proved to be in fact much worse. The road was so rough that we were getting pinch flats on the front tire, and had destroyed one tire already due to a broken belt. When the high pressure pump failed, we knew it would be a long day. A backup mini-pump, purchased a couple of days before, proved incapable of getting the tire up to the 110psi required to avoid some of these pinch-flats.
At this point, we'd resigned ourselves to pushing the bike through most of the rougher sections of the dirt roads, as it was faster than trying to fix a flat with a bad mini-pump every few kilometers. While pushing the bike uphill, our salvation arrived in the form of Rob, a park ranger. He had a flat-bed truck, pulling a trailer with all-terrain vehicles, and was looking forward to returning home after 4 days working in the park. When he offered a lift to Canberra, we gladly accepted. A tough 2 day's ride/hike with deteriorating roads and inadequate tire pressure quickly became a 2 hour bouncy ride at 60km/hr into Australia's capital city.
Canberra was a fun city to visit. We originally had planned to stay for perhaps 2-3 days. As each day would come and go, we'd extend our stay, eventually staying for a week here. In that time we were able to visit many museums, the old and new Parliament buildings, and the War Memorial. One day we rented a small car and drove out to the Tidbinbilla NASA Deep Space Tracking Station, as well as the now abandoned Honeysuckle Creek site which was used to relay Neil Armstrong's famous first steps and words "One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for Mankind" on the moon in 1969. Tidbinbilla station is used to track and communicate with interplanetary probes (such as the successful Mars Pathfinder mission), and is also used to communicate with the Space Shuttle.
One day we went to the War Memorial, planning to spend about 1/2 a day looking at the exhibits. Here we joined tour guide Dr. Barbara Orchard for a tour that she mentioned "was supposed to stop after 1.5 hours", and we could leave whenever we wanted. 3.5 hours later the memorial was closing for the night, and Barbara was still going strong (as were we). She was a school girl during WWII, putting her age somewhere in the 60's, and she had non-stop energy. It was noted that the teenagers on the tour were sitting down on benches at all opportunities, while the more "mature" adults were still standing. I suspect Dr. Orchard could have continued for many more hours, well after the youngsters had passed out due to exhaustion!
When it was time to leave, we spoke with Barbara for a few minutes. As we were the only Americans on the tour, Barbara often involved us in points of Australian-American interaction. When she found that we were cycling through the country, and hadn't seen some parts of Canberra yet, she told us to jump in her car for a trip to the top of Mt. Ainslie for a view of the fall colors down in the city. Then, after a driving tour of Duntroon, the military academy, she dropped us off at our place in the city center. Although she couldn't join us for dinner (she needed to get ready for an Anzac Day address in a small town a few days later), we hope that some day we may visit with this remarkable lady again.
Another reason we extended our stay in Canberra was the arrival of Anzac Day on April 25. This day celebrates the Australia/New Zealand armed force's real birth on this day in 1915 at Gallipoli in Turkey, as well as later battles. The start was to get up at 4:30am for a moving sunrise service at the War Memorial. Later in the morning we watched the parade, including one gentleman from WWI and many WWII, Korea, and Vietnam veterans.
Canberra to Sydney
We left Canberra by riding north on main roads to Goulburn. The main highway wasn't too busy, and had a good shoulder that allowed us to cruise along at one of the fastest paces of the trip. Once the big rig is up to speed on the flats, it really seems to cruise!
Goulburn turned out to be a gem. Lots of railway and wool money about 100 years ago brought the building of many fine buildings, including several churches, a town hall, war memorial at the top of a hill, and (coincidentally) an old brewery. We elected to stay in an historic old hotel that was a bargain at US$24. (Camping sometimes isn't very attractive when there is a hot shower and warm bed for this price!)
We took side roads from Goulburn up to Bundanoon over flat to rolling countryside, seeing lots of new animals (an Alpaca farm as well as a fox running across our path). In the morning we caught a CountryLink train back to Melbourne, rather than heading in closer to Sydney and the suburban traffic. Riding the train back through the countryside at up to 160 km/hr gives us a different view of the areas we'd seen at closer to 16 km/hr.
Some questions have been asked by our friends through email and on the road:
Q: How many kilometers do you ride per day?
A: Usually about 80-100 km/day on paved roads, although we only did about 60-65 km/day on the dirt.
Q: How much does your bike and gear weigh?
A: After weighing it at a highway weigh station, we found the entire rig (bike and gear without riders) to be about 90kg (200 lbs). Some breakdown estimates:
- Bike: 1988 Santana Elan, Approx. 23 kg with racks, fenders, hub brake and pedals.
- Panniers, front and rear, front bag, rear trunk: approx. 30 kg, mostly clothes, spare parts, tools and repair kits, some books, maps, camera.
- BOB rear trailer, approx. 6 kg empty
- Camping gear in trailer: tent, sleeping bags, cooking gear, rain gear, computer and some other electronic gear, and most of the food: 26 kg
- Water - up to 6 liters, or 6 kg.
Of what we have brought, we've found that we could do without a few articles of clothes, and we haven't read as much as we thought we would, maybe due to lack of light at night at campsites. Obviously riding a 200 lb bike is quite different from riding a 20 lb racing bike - think about that next time you tackle your favorite hill on your flashy new ultralight racing wonder bike!
Rolling Hills near Emerald, VIC
Wombat near Maffra, VIC
Kathy and John Rumball
Bush Camping with John and Kathy
Bush Camp site near Bruthen, VIC
Camp Site at Buchan Caves
Kangaroo at Buchan Caves
Easter Morning Campsite
Near Suggan Buggan, VIC
The Snowy River
Kosciuszko National Park, NSW
The Big Trout, Adaminaby, NSW
"I once caught a fish this big!"
NASA Deep Space Listening Station
View of Canberra from the Telstra Tower
The Big Merino, Goulburn, NSW
April, 2001: Melbourne to Sydney, Australia