Sunday, December 23, 2007

DAY 78: Cowes to Stony Point via French Island

Sat 22nd December 2007
8 km @ 13.0 km/hr
Cloudy, warm, thunderstorm, deluge!
Distance to date 5104 km (3190 miles)

NB\ I've just uploaded pics for last few days ......

Very poor sleep last night thanks to my snoring friend. The noise he makes is absolutely horrendous and I’ll think twice before sharing again after this experience.
I enjoyed a hearty breakfast again as provided by mein hosts, and made a late decision to get the 0910 boat across to French Island and spend the day there and camp tonight. It had rained on and off all night - heavy too (it’s badly needed here), but it was dry first thing today. It was pretty windy though and the little boat got a good battering from the waves, and from some frightful banging against the jetty while docked.
French Island is about the size of Hoy in Orkney - some 20x15 km; population 68; primary school with 6 pupils; no tarmac roads and some poor quality gravel roads. Most of the island is a National Park and it appears pretty much unspoilt apart from some areas cleared by Europeans during colonisation, which is used for livestock farming.
It was blowing a gale when I was dropped off at the FI jetty and I wondered if I’d done the right thing coming here. However it wasn’t raining, and I knew there was a NP campsite just 3km away, but I was unable to find any signs to tell me how to get there, and I had not seen a decent map of this island among the tourist brochures. After 3km of bumpy corrugations I came across the General Store where I was briefed on what was where. I was strongly advised not to choose the NP campsite as the 5km track out to it was in poor condition and sandy in parts, and told that I’d be better off at the campsite in the centre of the island - “it’s a lovely place!” The shop lady very kindly drew the directions on a map for me. So off I set off with high hopes of finding a little gem of a site that would dispel my growing unease about the weather, the roads, etc. The map was unfortunately the original map was not to scale, however I did arrive at the place she marked - but on arrival I saw nothing to indicate that this was a campsite. There was a settlement of some kind here; a large shed and other farm buildings along with a very large amount of scrap metal and abandoned machinery, but no sign of a house. I went around the place shouting “hello”; managed to spook a horse that subsequently cavorted all over the place, and eventually someone opened a door inside the large shed and a large dog ran towards me. I still wasn’t sure this was the right place of course so I could have dropped myself in it, however the lady that came out confirmed this was the right place.
The ladies name is Lois and she is the one who runs the campsite and operates the bus tours around the island that I had booked this morning, so OK so far!
Lois showed me where I could pitch the tent, and it was only $5/night too, so she left me to set up while she put the kettle on for me, after which we would go off in her minibus and collect some other people off the afternoon boat who were doing the tour too. As I started to set up the same horse was running all over the campsite apparently very upset at my presence, which was worrying. On top of that as soon as I laid down the groundsheet hordes of mozzies appeared and immediately covered everything in sight including myself. I don’t mind roughing it a bit but this was too much to take, and there and then I abandoned the idea of camping there. Probably the heavy rain and sheltered nature of the site increased the numbers of insects.
I decided then to leave the bike here and go on the afternoon tour, and Lois assured me we would be back for afternoon tea then in good time for me to cycle back to the jetty for the 1630 boat over to Stony Point. Lois obviously knows an awful lot about the island (she is fourth generation there) and lots about wildlife. She took us to several sites where there are Koalas,identified various birds including Cape Barren Geese and Marsh Harrier, showed us rare orchids, and generally entertained us for a couple of hours. Unfortunately the heavens opened for the whole afternoon and it was raining so hard we didn’t even venture out of the minibus - we would have been soaked in seconds (more than we already were!). It is evident that the island is very attractive and full of interesting fauna and flora, but today was probably the worst day we could have chosen to see it.
In view of the torrent of rain and gale-force winds I abandoned the idea of cycling the 8km back to the pier on flooded, rutted roads, and happily there was a bike rack on the minibus so the bike could be carried back to the jetty that way, although I was a bit concerned about the possible banging around on these poor roads, Lois was very careful - full marks to her for all her efforts in general. It can’t be easy to make a living on French Island and and she puts a lot of effort into what she does.
As the little boat docked it was harshly banged against the side of the jetty and I feared something might break, but 15 minutes later I was stepping off with all my bags, but while putting everything back together a big squall hit again just to make sure there were no dry bits left on me. There is a caravan park next to the jetty at stony Point so I didn’t have far to go, however the fact that it was still raining meant delaying erecting the tent, and there was nowhere to go to shelter either. Luckily there was a few minute break in the weather and i was able to get the tent up in that time and all was well. I also managed to cook a hot meal later on during another break in the weather - the MSR stove laughs at these squally conditioned; i don’t believe anything would stop the thing operating!
In summary, I had a somewhat depressing day; I maybe should have seen the funny side of all the negatives, but it all just annoyed me - possibly due to lack of sleep these last 2 nights due to the dreaded snorer. If you read this James I don’t care - you need to do something about that!! At least he did apologise after the first night of it.

DAY 77: Day off on Philip Island

Fri 21st December 2007
53 km @ 16.6 km/hr
Cloudy, warm, thunderstorm, deluge!
Distance to date 5096 km (3185 miles)

Up around 8 and a little red-eyed, and enjoyed leisurely breakfast chatting to a guy from Broome in WA who has lived in Scotland and even knew someone at Dounreay! Small world. I do enjoy the more social atmosphere of hostels compared to caravan parks, but you can’t have everything.
The weather looked a little uncertain but soon after setting off the sun came blazing out and I regretted not bringing sun block. I needn’t have worried though because it was overcast again within the hour. The weather here in Victoria is so changeable - a bit like Caithness!
I cycled the 20km to Nobby’s Point, a protected seabird and seal colony near to Penguin’s Parade. The scenery was magnificent but the huge ultra-modern visitor centre seemed over the top and out of place. It didn’t have any info about the birds or wildlife either as far as I could see; it was all about selling tourist tat and overpriced food. Happily there was good info on display panels dotted around the cliff walks. Back down the road some 3km is Swan Lake, another restored wetland centre, which was very well planned out and constructed, and which offered a pleasant contrast to the commerciality of Nobby’s Point and Penguin’s Parade. There was 1 other visitor there, a middle-aged lady who was familiar with all the birds and helped me identify some including Grebe, Straw-necked Ibis and Cape Barren Geese.
My intention was to cycle around the famous island so I now headed east into the wind, past the motorcycle Grand Prix circuit, and stopped at Smith’s Beach, a rather ugly resort / town, for lunch of mediocre fish and chips. Nice coffee though.
The lady on the boat had recommended a nice walk near Rhyll, but as i approached this it started to rain, so i erred on the side of caution and turned back towards Cowes, some 7km away. The wind was on my left now and I was making good progress though with lightning and thunder occasionally reminding me of more weather to come. And it came - I noticed the wind was still feeling easterly but the clouds were blowing the other way, and all of a sudden a huge squall broke, and a sheet or torrential rain blown by westerly gale-force winds. I had trouble keeping the bike going straight and had to dive off to shelter in the dense bush on my right, which broke the wind but water was pouring all over me out of the trees, oh what fun. It wasn’t too cold though thankfully otherwise I would have been chilled to the bone in just a T-shirt and Gilet. I was soaked to the skin in seconds. As expected though the worst of it passed over after a few minutes, and I was able to continue progress over huge puddles and still heavy rain. Victoria really needs this rain to replenish lowered supplies, and the damping down should help prevent bush fires which can be common at this time of the year.
On arrival back at base I remembered that my towel was on the washing line, so I had to borrow one to get myself dry. Nice cup of tea and towel / clothes in the drier, and I was feeling OK again. Loafed around for the rest of the evening and had a Sub for dinner.
I was in bed and ready for sleep by 10 but my room-mate was already practicing for the loudest snorer i n the world competition, and it was hard to get to sleep despite being tired after last nights efforts. I finally fell asleep with mp3 player on the go to try and drown it out.

DAY 76: Blairgowrie to Cowes (Phillip Island)

Thurs 20th December 2007
73 km @ 14.8 km/hr
Cloudy, warm
Distance to date 5043 km (3152 miles)

Had a very peaceful night with the waves gently palling onto the beach just a few metres away. It was quite windy first thing but the MSR stove was up to the job and boiled water for tea ok. I didn’t notice the wind once underway though as there was plenty of shelter from the dense trees between thye coastal road and the foreshore. This strip of coastal land, between 100 and 300m appears to be publicly owned and is in effect one long park, stretching for some 10 km or more. This area is also extensively used for camping / caravans much as I used it last night. It is a wonder if developers have not got their eyes on it.
I have found that whenever I have a really enjoyable day, as was yesterday, I feel a bit jaded the next day, and today was no exception. However my mood improved as the day went on, and this was helped by the interesting scenery - plenty of trees, a winding road, and even plenty of hills - these all help break up the landscape and add interest. Some of the hills, for some 10km either side of Flinders, are very steep; 15% or more, and lowest gear was called for a few times. The road was pretty quiet with just the occasional vehicle, and the surface was good quality.
Flinders is a very nice little town with some beautiful old houses, well-kept gardens and lots of mature trees. It wasn’t obvious to me what the obvious wealth of the place wasw built on; there appeared to be no industry other than farming, and that not so intensively - perhaps it is the relative nearness of Melbourne some 80km away. There were several cafes to choose from, and the one I chose served me well (Vivo as I recall thye name). The Italian owner and staff were very friendly and the food delicious. I had a huge roll with ‘everything’ on - egg, bacon, tomato etc., but still had room for a cake, a home-made and very fresh vanilla slice.
Actually on setting off again I felt a little bloated and probably ate too much - there were somemore very steep hills to drag myself over though. Eventually the road levelled out but was still quite picturesque. I stopped for a while at a restored wetland reserve and enjoyed a peaceful half-hour watching feathered friends. Some signs warned to be on the lookout for Koala Bears. There was a school nearby and I noticed that at break time they played some motivational music for the youngsters - My Way and stuff like that. Interesting.
Before long I arrived at Crib Point and then Stony Point from where the ferry to Cowes leaves. Cowes is on Phillip Island, famous for Penguin parade - a daily spectacle whereby the colony of Little Penguins troop from the sea to their onshore breeding colony at dusk every evening. I wanted to see this in particular, though it was to be more commercialised than I thought.
I had thought that the boat would be a roll-on / roll-off ferry as was the Queenscliff one, but this was just a small passenger-only boat, and although it can take bicycles I would have to strip off all the panniers etc. and carry them on separately; no big deal though. It was $14 for me and the bike and the trip took around 40 minutes. I had a good chat with a local schoolteacher who gave me some good advice about what to see on the island (whose name I instantly forgot as is common with me!), which is about 25km by 10km. I sought out the yha hostel and checked in - it looks a decent place as they often seem to be judging by what I’ve seen so far. $30 (£13 / night including breakfast.
I shared a room with James, from US but living and working in Melbourne, and 2 German guys. THere was much snoring in the night and I slept badly - after these 2 nights here I may avoid sharing in future for this reason.

DAY 75: Torquay to Blairgowrie

Weds 19th December 2007
66 km @ 16.0 km/hr
Cloudy, warm
Distance to date 4970 km (3106 miles)

I was awake just after 5 despite not getting to sleep easily last night. Decided to get up earlier and got going before 8. There was plenty of traffic heading to and from Geelong but I turned off this main road at the Queenscliff junction. Traffic was much lighter now and there was still a good 1.5m shoulder. I was glad to see signs saying “Watch out for cyclists”.
Nothing much to report about the journey to Queenscliff; it’s quite a nice little town and has some good bakeries, and although I got to use the TIC internet it wasn’t working properly and they didn’t charge me. After lunch I headed straight for the ferry across to Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsular - officially the sea is the Bass Straight between Melbourne and Tasmania.
Just to explain - Melbourne is at the north end of a large natural harbour, called Port Phillip Bay, whilst Sorrento is at the southern end some 40km away - it’s a big bay. There’s quite a narrow entrance at the south and the ferry I took cuts across this, and is mainly used by people travelling east to west who don’t want to go through Melbourne. I took this route to take in Phillip Island and see the penguin colony there, then head back to Melbourne up the east side of Phillip Bay.
The ferry took 40 minutes and cost $11 (£3.75) including a free copy of the Melbourne broadsheet The Age, enough time for a large piece of hedgehog (kind of biscuity chocolate bar) and an iced coffee. I popped in the TIC to see what was where but the young woman was unusually rather unhelpful - she kept referring to local road names which of course mean nothing to me, and I got little eye contact. By and large the TIC folk have been excellent here - usually go out of their way to help. I eventually found out where the YHA Hostel was but it was unmanned with a phone no. to ring, which I did 3 times, and there was no answer. I figured it might be like Apollo Bay where you couldn’t check in until 1700, and that was no good to me at 1300.
I kind of gave up on YHA and went to the nearest CP - $40 for an unpowered site for 1 person - what a rip-off! I told the manager this and I don’t think she liked it. I’ll sleep on the beach before paying that much! I decided then to cycle out of town towards the other ferry terminal for Phillip Island as I had noticed on the map there were some camping sites marked thereon, and sure enough some 6km away there was a nice site operated by the local community (or some similar arrangement that I haven’t worked out yet. Well, the caretaker was really pleasant and helpful and found me a pristine site atop the dunes right on the beach - perfect - and the charge waqs negligible. I fell lucky again when things looked bleak. I’m learning to just trust that things will be ok, because it usually works out that way.
Just as I was setting up the sun came out - hurrah - and it stayed out all afternoon. It was a pleasant 25 or so and I popped on my swimming trunks and bounded down the 10 steps down to the beach with towel, paper and wine, and spent the next 2 hours alternating between reading, swimming in a lovely warm blue ocean, and sipping red. (I would apologise to those Scottish readers currently suffering the usual foul weather up there (he he!). Sufficient to say I had a blissful afternoon undertaking such activities.
At 7 I cooked the usual spaghetti for dinner; I nened to work on something new as it’s getting a bit samey.
The beach nearby has a row of pretty wooden beach huts, and I got talking to a group of around 6 who were stationed in one of these next door to me, and the owner was telling me they sell for around $100,000, despite being no larger than a garage. They are very nice though, and the sea comes to within a few metres. They were asking about my trip, and I was finding out where to go to. One man was talking about the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, and I hadn’t thought about that possibility I must admit.
I left them as it was going dark (2030) and lightning had been flashing away for a while, and by 2200 we had heavy rain - God knows the land and reservoirs need it badly though.