23 January, 2012 12 Comments
I recently wrote an article for Sidetracked Magazine about our journey through China – have a read here.
And while we’re at it, I don’t think I ever shared the links to the photos that Mark took whilst he & Hana cycled with us in Thailand and Malaysia. The 70-odd photos span three posts, here, here and here.
As we set off towards Melbourne we were excited about the cycling to come – we’d heard good things about the famous ‘Great Ocean Road’ running along part of the south coast. But first we had to pass through the Coorong, a national park with salt flats and more wide expanses similar to those seen on the Nullarbor. Once again my camera’s memory card started to fill up with photos of long, straight roads.
The wind always seems to be strong in Australia, which is either great or rubbish depending on the direction. Through the Coorong we had a tedious day of headwind followed by an easy day being blown along by a nice tailwind. Sometimes it feels like it’s pointless to even bother cycling when the wind is in our face – maybe we should just wait until the wind turns in our favour and then catch up the miles with a couple of long days.
We spent New Year’s Eve camped out in the bush on the side of the road and we fell asleep as it got dark at 9pm. We set the alarm for 11:58pm and woke up for approximately 4 minutes to see in the New Year. We’d left the fly sheet off the tent that night so we had a good view of the starry sky through the mesh tent skin.
The Great Ocean Road covers 250km of mostly winding coastal road in Victoria, from Warrnambool to Torquay. We’d been looking forward to this part of the ride and it didn’t disappoint – the road was spectacular in places, and gave us our first real hills in months (hills always make for interesting cycling).
We were in full tourist mode as we joined the campervans taking regular detours out to the various lookouts along the coast to see impressive rock formations under some moody skies.
The weather has been changing rapidly from hot sun to driving wind and rain straight off the Southern Ocean. I’d always assumed that Australian summers were guaranteed to be boiling, but it appears not.
“Hot enough for you yet, is it?” we get asked by Australians whenever the sun pops out.
“A nice change from the rain yesterday” I generally reply.
“Just you wait, it’ll be 46 degrees next week!”
Exaggeration of temperatures seems to be endemic, and although I’m sure there are plenty of savagely hot days in Australia, the fact is down on the south coast we’ve been cold more often than we’ve been hot this summer. After a 3 hour climb up to Lavers Hill on a particularly grim day we could even see our breath in the cold air and dived inside a pub to sit in front of the log fire!
Early January is peak time for the Australian summer holiday, so the little towns along the way were busy with tourists and very expensive. We usually raid the budget aisle of the supermarket and hang around for a rest in the town park (which always have shade, pinic benches, free electric BBQs and water – ideal for cyclists on a micro-budget).
Just after Kennet River we found what may be our best camp spot of the trip, a flat patch of grass high up over the road, overlooking the ocean. Infinitely better than a poo-infested tunnel under a Chinese road.
When we woke up we found another cyclist had pitched his tent nearby after we’d gone to bed, but as he was still sleeping we left quietly. He caught us up as we stopped to brew a mid-morning coffee in the next town and we cycled the rest of the day together. Ben, from New Zealand, had cycled 17,000km from Istanbul to London with an incredibly bendy route through Europe (we’d cycled 4,000km between London & Istanbul, and reached Bangkok before we’d covered the same mileage!) Two completely different mental approaches to cycle touring, and it was interesting to chat and swap stories.
For our final night before reaching Melbourne we’d been due to stay with Maxine (another great warmshowers.org host), but we felt bad to send Ben on his way to another campstove dinner and bush camp whilst we enjoyed showers and a bed. Fortunately Maxine kindly took Ben in as well, and the three of us enjoyed a tasty lasagne and beds. Thanks Maxine!
We’ve spent the last week in Melbourne (big thanks to both Alex and then Bethan for putting us up) and we’ve both decided that we really like it here. The CBD is compact with a nice mix of alleyways filled with coffee shops and graffiti, larger shopping streets, and the Yarra river flowing through the centre.
We’ve had an unusually busy social schedule here with lots of friends to meet, both old and new. In particular it was great to finally meet Tom and Jodie, an English couple who have moved to Melbourne just after cycling from England to New Zealand. They’ve always been about 4 months ahead of us on the road, and although we’ve been chatting regularly online for the last 18 months we’d never actually met each other.
Melbourne seems like a very sporty city – take a five minute walk along the Yarra and you’re guaranteed to see hoards of cyclists, runners, rowers, skateboarders and a whole host of sports arenas. The Australian Open is taking place in Melbourne at the moment and we spent last Thursday in the grounds watching a few matches..
Tomorrow we head off once more to start another 1,000km section that will take us to Sydney, and the end of our Australian cycling. It looks like we should get a few days of hot weather on the way out of Melbourne, maybe my jesting above will come back to bite me… Thankfully though our leisurely pace of late can continue – our flight to New Zealand doesn’t leave until 20th February.