Thursday, January 31, 2008

DAY 117: Forster-Toncurry to Diamond Head campsite

Weds 30th January 2008

81 km @ 14.4 km/hr

Distance to date 7154 km (4471 miles)

Sunny, upper 20’s, pleasant

I awoke early despite the Brits making a racket until nearly midnight (I did ask them to quieten down and they did, a bit), and decided to get an early start - I was away at 0740. Traffic was pretty heavy and got worse as I was leaving F-T. There was little in the way of a shoulder and the road surface was in a poor state - why are the roads so bad in this part of NSW? A local guy said that the state government for NSW were rubbish?! I had a couple of close shaves with a lorry and bus who did little to keep away from me, and someone shouted out of a car something like “get off the road”. Me get off the road? - idiots like that should be off the road!

I would say that this stretch of road from Tuncurry north to the Pacific Highway (Highway 1) is probably as dangerous as the North road from Gawler to Adelaide, and I would advise any cyclist to avoid it if at all possible, or maybe do it on a Sunday, early. For the record there is no shoulder for about 6km of this 21km stretch. I was asking myself would I have taken this detour up the Lakes Highway if I had known about this road, and I would have to say probably not. The Lakes are very nice, but there are other nice places not as dangerous road-wise. Like where I finished up today.....mmmm

The last 7km of this first stretch, up to the Pacific Highway, was Toblerone territory again - steep drops and steep rises (around 9%), and where there was no shoulder it was pretty scary going up the hills. The road surface got worse with big holes, large uplifted areas, cracks, you name it - it’s a disgrace! I felt pretty angry about it this morning - what are the NSW RTA roads engineers thinking about?? Rant over...

The Pacific Highway felt like a refuge with it’s 2 or 3m shoulder, and I felt quite safe. Actually there was less traffic on this major route than on the last bit, not sure why that should be. I decided to take the detour through Taree rather than carry on on the Highway, but it wasn’t a good decision. Taree may well be loved by those who live there but to me it was just a modern town with loads of shops and traffic, and I was glad to get back onto the 'sanctuary' of the Pacific Highway with it's big wide shoulder (wonder if it's always as good?).

I was going well despite a slight headwind and probably got a pull from the traffic slipstream. Before long (around 28km) I reached the Coralville Road at Moorland. Fortunately there was a filling station / shop just before the turn and I was able to get an iced coffee and top up my water bottles, because where I was heading there is no drinking water available.

Once off the Highway there was only 2km of tarmac before the gravel section started, but no matter. I had plenty of time; gravel roads are not good for hurrying on because you will probably keep hitting corrugations and potholes more easily - by going slower it’s more comfortable and you get a chance to look around at the surroundings. And after a few km the scenery was very pleasant too - utterly devoid of traffic; eucalyptus trees right up to the edge of the road so plenty of shade - I was loving every minute of it. The surface wasn’t that bad actually; just about 1km was very badly corrugated and I was down to walking pace and still getting thrown about. But this was riding at it’s best for me - this is my favourite scenario - trafficless and shady on a warm sunny day, dappled splashes of sunlight filtering through the trees, birds singing. The Magpies have been even more populous than usual lately, and I love their complicated warbling song; it’s magical. The Kookaburra’s too are very often seen round here too.

By 1500 after 16km on gravel I was at my destination, Diamond Bay campsite in the Crowdy Bay NP. The setting is stunning, and I knew straight away this was a good decision to come here. It has been sunny all day, and this showed up the view to it’s best - blue sea, dark green bush right up to the sea, clear blue sky, white sand. The beach stretched for about 4km and was utterly deserted of course. The Pacific ocean crashed away onto the shore in surfer's style, and my first job was to get in there, still in cycling shorts. The sea was a perfect temperature and the big waves tossed me about like a piece of driftwood.

I set up camp in the ‘walk in’ area which one can’t drive into, so I had it to myself. I got chatting to a man collecting firewood (you can have camp fires here) and he told me a bit about the place, including this great walk over the headland and through the deep forest inland, so I decided to give it a go before dinner, even though it was 4.4km. It was well worthwhile - the path climbs slowly right up onto the headland some 100m of more up, with panoramic views up and down the coast; tree-covered mountains in the far distance beyond the blue sea; strange rock formations at the foot of the cliff below, and there were constant surprises as a new vista came into view. I don’t have the literary skills to adequately describe the beauty of this walk, but it was quite stunning. I recommend to anyone coming this way to come and see it, you won’t be disappointed I’m certain. The return section of the walk heads inland through bush and shrubbery, through dark green tunnels and seas of luminous green ferns dappled with late afternoon sun. I heard a rustle in the undergrowth and it was an Echidna - spiny ant eater - my first in the wild. I also saw some large orange-coloursed wasp-like flying insects that I haven’t seen before.

All over the camping area there are scores of wallabies grazing away on the short grass, within metres of humans, quite unconcerned. I tried to touch one gently but it pulled away and carried on grazing just a metre away.

I had another dip in the sea on my return from my walk, then lit a fire near the tent - my first starting this trip. The park staff advise against collecting natural wood but they sell firewood - offcuts etc. - And there was enough lying around that people had left without me having to buy any. The fee for camping here is $10.

I cooked dinner and sat on some wooden steps facing the sea, wallabies quietly grazing away behind me, a magpie watching for scraps at close quarters and the Pacific breakers noisily crashing onto the beach.

I typed this up by the campfire after dark (well sprayed with insect repellant).

I will post a pic of the tent setup at Diamond Beach - note the green shade cloth which is very effective at keeping the tent cool with the sun beating down on it - it was only $6 too. It’s held in place with bungee straps; different lengths allow you to adjust the position according to where the sun is. It’s also useful on stony ground to make sure nothing punctures the footprint and tent bottom.

A mixed day with a very good end.

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