Sydney to Melbourne: A short tour

10th-16th January 2004



INTRODUCTION
When I was planning my winter trip, I knew I wanted to visit friends in Syndey and Melbourne whilst in Australia, so I figured it might be nice to ride between the two - it didn't look all that far on the map.... I did a quick check on mapquest and it looked like about 800 miles, so a nice distance for a little tour and a good chance to see more of the country. Whilst in Sydney I discovered that there is a Lonely Planet Cycling guidebook that gives a route for the East coast, so I didn't even have to worry about working out where to go too much, or where the campsites were. The only difference being that they reckoned 17 days for the trip, and I thought about a week.... So in my last couple of days in Sydney I fitted the rack to my Bike Friday, loaded the panniers, then mailed the bike case and my other gear ahead (a bargin at only AUS$22!), leaving me travelling light and ready to go! I've pretty much got my touring kit sorted now, after the TransAm last year. The only changes I made this time were using a new larger, waterproof barbag (in place of my smaller barbag and rear trunk), and not bothering with a stove. I also have a new lower and stiffer rear rack for the bike - I thought my old set up was stiff, but this is awesome, no wag in the back end at all. And the lack of the trunk this time left the top of the rack as a place to store my helmet - they are mandatory in Australia, so I thought I had better at least have it with me, even if I didn't wear it most of the time!

DAY 1: Sydney to Sanctuary Point
For fun I decided to start out with the big Coluzzi ride out of Sydney, and see how long I could keep up with them before the extra effort of riding a loaded bike saw me dropped! So Duncan and I headed out at 6:20am, and cruised along the route, waiting for the bunch to catch us up, which they did, just before the airport tunnel. We then hopped on the back, and with a little help from Duncan pacing me back on a few times, I managed to hold on for 30km, before I said enough was enough and let the group go on a draggy climb. For some reason there was a camera crew out filming the ride - it must have been pretty funny them shooting the big fast Sydney ride and to have this guy with panniers sitting in the bunch! I hadn't been riding on my own long before another rider caught me and I was able to take his wheel. After a few miles Joe and I got talking, and it was nice to have some company - and the benefit of his directions - all the way to Wollongong. Here he left me to head back, whilst I rode on to Shellharbour. I had only drunk one bottle over that first 50 miles, so started drinking lots to try and catch up - I didn't want to get dehydrated on the first day! The temperature was quite pleasant, starting at about 20 degrees and riding gradually, although it was pretty humid. Before long I saw another rider ahead of me, and caught him as he waited for a traffic light. A couple of junctions later we said hello, and Grant became my guide for the next section, taking me on back roads and bikepaths where possible to Gerringong, though he had to wait for me a couple of times on the hills! Since I had been intending to stop in Shellharbour to refuel, I was getting a little worried about food and drink. But Grant lives in Gerringong, and very kindly invited me in for a drink and snack. After refreshments and a nice visit with his family it was time to get back on the road, so I gave my thanks and headed off.

Up the road a ways I stopped and swapped my helmet for a cap - what a difference in comfort! 39 degrees is no time for a mostly black helmet! The seven mile beach road had an awful surface, and was very narrow with no shoulder, but it was only 30km before I got to Nowra and back onto the Princes Highway (which is the road I had started on in Sydney). I thought I would pause for food (and a break from the heat, which was now in the high 30's) in Nowra, but there was only a MacDonalds, so I rode on. Another 30km or so got me to my day's destination, Sanctuary Point, by 2pm - I considered going further, but decided I didn't want to overstretch myself on the first day, especially since the start had been a pretty hard effort! So I bought some lunch, then found the campsite. I ended up camped next to an English couple, now living in Sydney, and chatted to them for a while. It was quite nice finishing so early - I had plenty of time to chill out and for a nice long cold shower to cool off. For dinner I bought a huge foccacia loaf and cream cheese, then watched the sun go down over the water of George's Basin before retiring early to get a good night's rest.
121 miles in 7:06, 17mph av, 54mph max (forgot to record altitude!)

DAY 2: Sanctuary Point to Narooma
I woke up at 5:36, without needing the alarm, and got up; the sun was already up and bright! There had been no noticeable bugs (except for a few annoying flies) last night, but this morning midge/mozzie type things arose from the grass and attacked my feet and legs as soon as I emerged from the tent! I got well and truly eaten whilst packing up the tent, which was not amusing. But after a quick breakfast of scones and honey I was rolling at 6:35. Clear skies and a beautiful morning - the thermometer only said 14 degrees, but it felt a lot warmer. After 12km I was back on the Princes Highway, which rolled for the next 30km or so to Ulladulla, where I stopped by the sea for a second breakfast of more of last night's foccacia. Then I pushed on another 50km to Batemans Bay - with a headwind now, and mostly overcast. It felt colder, even though the temperature was now in the 20's. I saw my first kangaroo (not counting the road kill yesterday....), a little guy in the trees beside the road. More rolling roads along with the headwind, so quite hard going - I was ready for a rest when I got to Batemans Bay. I found a bayside restaurant that did veggie lasagne, but not until 12, and it was only 11:20, doh! So I settled for porridge and hot chocolate, then filled my bottles and pushed on. The route took a break from the highway now, hugging the coast road round to Broulee - lots of steep little climbs, and cracking views over all the small bays. I managed to take a wrong turn at one point, due to getting confused trying to follow the directions in reverse....but realised soon enough and turned round. At Moruya I ate the final installment of the foccacia (it was a BIG loaf!), and then pedalled on the final 42km to Narooma. Once there I rode through town, looking for the supposed 'quieter' campsite, but only saw the one huge site, which had a funfair next to it. And since I had ridden up the hill on the South side of town, I decided to stay at the pub, since a single room was only $40. There was a lounge and a kitchen too - if I could have bought some food I would have cooked dinner myself, but this being Sunday night the supermarket was shut. I managed to buy some cereal for the morning from a garage, then found some veggie lasgne down the street for dinner. I watched a bit of TV before turning in early again.
120 miles in 7:59, 15mph av, 1666m climbed

DAY 3: Narooma to Nimmitabel
I didn't have a great night's sleep, considering I had the luxury of a bed! My alarm went off at 5:40 - I got up and had three bowls of cereal before being ready to leave at 6:30. An overcast start, with damp roads and not warm; I started with a thermal and arm and knee warmers on, and they stayed put for the first 80km. I got rained on a bit, but it was only a fine drizzle. It took a while for my legs to come round, but I did the first 35km to Bermagui and stopped for a hot chocolate and a muffin, then felt a bit better on the next 44km leg to Tathra. The book warned of stretches of dirt road here, but they had actually all been paved now - it was still hard going with plenty of climbing though. At least the rain had stopped, and the temperature had nudged up to 18 degrees. At Tathra I had an early lunch of a delicious baked potato with cheese and coleslaw and sour cream, then trundled on to Candelo. This was slow going, with hardly a flat road. Very little traffic though, which was nice. What wasn't so pleasant was the flies - I was in diary country now, and on the climbs I was going too slowly to shake the swarm of flies buzzing round my head. Even when I sped up I would take several with me, hitching a ride on the back of my jersey or on a pannier! Anyway, after a few outbursts of swearing and much violent head shaking, I made it to Candelo, and paused for yogurt and cake from the general store. The guide said the next 10km was a tough rolling section, and so it was, though the flies weren't quite as bad as I had feared. I stubbornly kept the bike in the middle chainring, with the climbs steep enough to have my cadence down in the 50's. As I rolled into Bemboka it started drizzling again, so I stopped for a banana shake and more cake before heading out for the big climb of the day - 1000m in 10km to get up into the Snowy Mountains. On the climb visibility was down to 50m or less, and the roads were soaking, and it was steeeeeep! I definitely needed the granny gear now.... But I kept going, and an hour or so later made the top, and stopped to put more clothes on. Turned out that there was still a fair bit of climbing to come in the last 15 miles, but thankfully not as steep. And amazingly, once well into the mountain plain, the cloud cleared and the sun came out - a nice way to end the day. The campsite in Nimmitabel was great, only cost $5 and practically empty. The shower was very welcome!
112 miles in 8:50, 12.6mph av, 50mph max, 3567m climbing

DAY 4: Nimmitabel to Geronpity
I had quite a lot of ground to cover today, so had the alarm set for 5:30. I was up and packed by 6:10, then rode down to the bakery for breakfast: hot chocolate, toasted cheese and tomato sandwich and a muffin. Nicely sated, I headed off at 6:40 - it was a bit chilly, only 12 degrees, but soon warmed up. It wasn't long before I hit the first section of dirt road - 17km of gravel - not too bad, but a bit sketchy in places where there were deeper patches of gravel! After a couple of hours I got to Dalgety, but the cafe wasn't open yet, so I just had a quick museli bar and carried on. There was a steep climb to get over - about 4km, and hitting 16%! Plus lots of flies, of course.... Once over that, and 50 miles done, I had to sidetrack a little to Jindabyne for lunch and provisions - the next section would have no services for (potentially) the rest of the day. I bought a big sandwich and a HUGE portion of chips; I didn't think I'd be able to eat them all, but sat and worked my way through them - proved to be just as well considering how long the day ended up being! After a good hour or so's break, I headed off again at midday. I was getting bored on the next section, as it was draggy and into a headwind - but it soon got interesting as I hit dirt again at 78 miles: I wouldn't see much sealed road for the next 40 miles.... The gravel road kicked off with a very long descent. An incredible road with great views, but demanding full concentration and lots of braking with the inconsistent surface and loose corners. The temperature was climbing as I went down - once down in the valley it reached 42 degrees, and stayed there the rest of the day! I was now down following the track alongside the Snowy Mountain River - fantastic road, but hard work, going up and down. And did I mention the flies? I had to stop for water, and so waded into the river to fill a bottle from mid-stream, which I then filtered with my little pump. Trouble was, that by the time I had filtered a bottle, I was ready to drink it, and had to start again! But after filtering about three litres I was underway again, and had a very steep dirt road climb to get over. Near the top I met another tourist - an Aussie doing a loop out from Melbourne. We compared notes and complained about the flies - he said he had never known anything like it, and this was from a native! I had a lovely (thankfully sealed) descent down to Suggan Buggan, where I had planned to camp. But it was still very hot, still lots of flies, and no chance of a shower, so I decided to push on. Which meant having to clear a 10km ascent - another fantastic road (dirt again), winding up the side of the mountains, but hard going. At least I started getting some shade as the sun was going down. I was glad to make the top, and figured I would just stay at the B&B that was supposed to be round the corner. But when I got there, the farm with the right name was there, but no sign to say it was open or anything. Hmmm. Well the guide book is three years old.... So I had another 30km to do to get to the hostel at Geronpity. I met three more tourists, all on their way to camp at Suggan Buggan - an American and two Canadians doing the Lonely Planet route. They all had net hoods over their heads to keep the flies off - very sensible! But I couldn't hang about as I wanted to get to the hostel before dark. A puncture lost me a few minutes, but I made a quick change, and pushed on, racing to beat the sun. Seeing kangaroos hopping across the road made it worthwhile! Very happy to find the hostel - I walked in to see a hall full of folk at dinner, and gratefully received a plate myself. I was then given a cabin all to myself, complete with a double bed, luxury!
136 miles in 11:03, 12.3mph av, 48mph max, 3233m climbing

DAY 5: Gerontipy to Barinsdale
After finishing so late last night, I thought I might need a bit of a lie-in this morning, but in the end woke up feeling refreshed at 6:30. After loading up on a breakfast of toast and cereal, I was ready to go just before 8am. It was only 8 degrees, overcast, and a persistent drizzle started soon after I left (Australia? Summer? Huh?), which didn't help my dead feeling legs perk up. Still, managed to trundle the 40km to Buchan - I had just rolled up to a phone box to call home when a passing cop called out that I should have my helmet on. Yes officer, will do.... After a quick call home, and a bit of map studying, I managed to summon enough motivation to get on with it - with my helmet on (it had warmed up to 18 degrees now, but not really hot enough to justify not wearing it). Good job I complied, since the police van came back past as I was leaving town, and I got a toot and a wave for my obediance. Still very slow going - with a headwind now as well as tired legs! I met some more tourists - first a Kiwi headed out to the bush, then a German couple on heavily laden Birdy folding bikes; they were on the Lonely Planet route and headed for Sydney. I warned them about the dirt roads to come, but they had already toured in Asia, so seemed to know what they were doing. After 55 miles done, I stopped for some lunch by the roadside, watched by an emu in the neighbouring field - I threw him my apple core to munch on. Then it was the last few miles on to Bairnsdale. I had hoped to get to Sale (another 77km), but I was just too bushed! After finding the campsite and pitching the tent, I took a spin round town and bought groceries. I fancied going to the cinema to chill out for a bit, so just had time to leave the bike at the campsite before catching the 4:40 showing of 'Something's gotta give' Only a handful of other viewers, and a nice lighthearted movie, just as required! On the way back I picked up some take-away pasta for dinner, after which I just had time to write my diary before going to bed.
75 miles in 5:47, 13mph av, 41mph max, 1006m climbing

DAY 6: Bairnsdale to Foster
I had a lot of ground to cover today - over 200km, and some of that tough-looking dirt, so the alarm went off at 5am, and I got up in the dark. I breakfasted on museli in the tent to keep warm, during which the sun came up, then after packing up I was off at 6:30. Only 8 degrees, but bright and sunny. It was slow going on flat dull roads to Sale - not much wind yet, just heavy going for some reason. But I put some tunes on and plodded on. Finally I rolled into Sale, and saw another tourist outside the supermarket, so pulled a u-turn to stop and say hello. He was from Sydney, taking a scenic route to Melbourne before flying back. With my usual poor memory for names, I can't recall his, but he was carrying far too much kit - looked like about double mine! But looking at his map and comparing notes gave me an alternative route for the day, one that would miss out the unsealed ridge ride and follow the flat route round the coast instead. At the junction out of town I stood in indecision for a few minutes, but in the end decided to take the easier option - I'd had enough of dirt roads and flies coming through the Snowys! I'm sure it would have been spectacular on the Great Ridge road, but 30km less and all paved won over! My new route was a nice quiet road; for the next 20 miles or so I was really motoring - it was either slightly downhill or my legs had just woken up! But after that it became a bit of a drag, with the headwind getting pretty strong. I saw another couple of dead kangaroos (and it just occured to me that the Winnie-the-pooh characters Kanga and Roo make kangaroo when put together! Strange what the mind comes up with when you are touring....), and my first wombat - sadly also dead in the middle of the road. Bigger than I expected though. Along the way I grabbed a Gatorade and Snickers bar to keep me going, before stopping in Yarram for lunch. Then it was a final 50km into the wind to Foster. I arrived at about 4:30, which is a nice civilised time to finish! The campsite was very nice, with a communal kitchen area - I used the microwave to make porridge for dinner. Two other tourists arrived just after me - an older Sydney couple who'd spent a few days exploring Wilson's Promentory. We chatted over dinner, and I may have convinced them to buy a Bike Friday!
127 miles in 8:12, 15.4mph av, 32.5mph max, 519m climbing

DAY 7: Foster to Melbourne
A lazy start today, since I was heading into Melbourne, and didn't need to get there until the evening, when Kate would be home. So after a leisurely breakfast, I eventually set off at 8:40. Things kicked off with a 4 mile climb, which was a good warm up. I was feeling alright to start with, but was ready for a break when I stopped after 34 miles - found a cafe that was run by a dutch chap (he'd only been open for ten months), had a nice chat with him and some great Belgium waffles. So nicely fueled for the next leg. I was off the guidebook route now, and didn't have a map, so was just following the signs to Melbourne. Up until now the road had been pretty good, but unfortunately it turned into quite a big highway. At least it had a decent shoulder, and at times I was flying along, broken up with stretches of trudging into the wind. I managed to get to Cranbourne at 78 miles before stopping again, then after visiting the supermarket, sat in the park and feasted on hummus and tomato sandwiches. There was a very bizarre fully automatic toilet in the park, with everything motorized, even the toilet paper dispenser! After a pleasant break I was back on the road for the last 30 miles to Melbourne. I only had some not particularly useful internet maps with which to find Kate's house, so after a couple of laps of the city centre, I called into a florists to ask for directions, then was easily able to ride straight there. Not a bad week's effort considering I didn't have much training in my legs beforehand - 810 miles in 7 days. Plenty of time to relax and recuperate in the next week or so!
116 miles in 7:39, 15.1mph av, 44mph max, 1094m climbing

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