Monday, January 28, 2008

DAT 116: Day off Forster-Tuncurry

Tues 29th January 2008

Distance to date 7073 km (4421 miles)

Sunny, upper 20’s, pleasant

I was still undecided on waking whether to stay here or move on, but decided to stay another day - great site and cheap; hot day in prospect with strong E wind; and needed to update blog for last 4 days. Leisurely breakfast then, and lingered in the early sunshine with the Sydney Herald. Last night was lovely and quiet and I hardly stirred.

I cycled to the library for opening time at 1000, and got on the free internet, which you can have for up to 2 hours if required. The connection was fast too, the images only taking a few minutes per 5 at a time uploaded. Afterwards I headed into Forster to have a look around, and it is somewhat of a nicer place than it seemed yesterday, certainly the blue sky and sea, and white sand can’t help but look attractive. The town lies at the exit from Wallis Lake to the sea, and on the other side of this ‘exit’ lies Tuncurry over a 500m bridge. Pelicans were everywhere there was a fish gutting station, waiting for a free meal. I read that these birds have had a disastrous breeding season this time, with no chicks at all surviving at their main breeding ground near Adelaide - due to predation by foxes and bad weather I understand. The town(s) are very modern and don’t have bags of character to my mind, but they’re pleasant enough, and very popular with anglers and the boating set. I couldn’t resist Subway again and couldn’t resist ordering the old meatballs again.

It was a hot afternoon and the pool was calling so the rest of the day was spent in and out of it, reading the paper and generally chilling out. I fancied something different for dinner, indeed I fancied a curry, so the big Woolworth’s Supermarket was duly raided and a Tandoori kit and some organic chook left with me, and it was delicious - I even got the yoghurt to make the proper sauce with.

It’s noisier tonight as there are a group of 4 blokes effing and blinding nearby, and showing off to the 2 Australian girls in the tent next door to me. I think they are Brits - I said hello to one of them and he ignored me so I could be right.

Definitely heading north tomorrow, probably to Crowdy Lake NP where there is a campsite on the beach. Everywhere should be getting a little quieter now the summer hols are over. There are a lot of Brits here though all the same - I keep hearing them all over the place.

DAY 115: Bulahdelah to Forster-Toncurry

Mon 28th January 2008
64 km @ 14.4 km/hr
Distance to date 7073 km (4421 miles)
Sunny, upper 20’s, nice

Peaceful night; luxury of toast for brekkie (done on camp kitchen grill), chat and photo with Kathleen and Scottie, then back on the road. Beautiful sunny day but getting hotter by the minute. 3km north on H1, then a right turn onto the Lakes Way. Silly me thought this would be flattish today, but I was very wrong - it’s just as hilly as the past few days for the first 30km at least. This week is proving a real work-out! Some short steep climbs and a couple of longer ones (2 to 3 km) thrown in for good measure. Again a case of changing from lowest to highest rapidly as the tops are crested.
The scenery was pleasant though, plenty of forest and consequent shade, though today there was more traffic, mostly heading south after the holidays. Note that between Bulahdelah and Forster there is very little shoulder and I was sharing the carriageway with all the other traffic, which happily was fairly courteous. I saw no lorries except for a bin lorry that kept passing me.
After about 20km I descended to Myall Lake, which looks very attractive indeed; idyllic scenery that you dream about seeing on holiday. There are several places where the lake can be accessed; plenty of picnic tables etc., and some good photo opportunities. There is a roadhouse at Bundwahl where I found a Dare Iced Double Espresso again - mmmmmm. I took the 6km ‘detour’ around Pacific Palms but wondered why I bothered actually - you hardly see the coast, it’s all hills and there’s lots of traffic. Couldn’t even find a toilet.
On returning to Lakes Way the 10km isthmus section starts, and this is very pleasant riding. It reminded me for all the world of Loch Lomond with palm trees - the size and shape, and the ‘A82’ running alongside. There’s a flat calm salty lake on the landward side and a surf beach on the seaward side (my first glimpse of the Pacific this time I think). This area is in the Booti Booti NP, and I would have liked time to explore it’s many walks, however I needed to replenish supplies at the supermarket in Forster.
A little further north in the Green Cathedral - an open-air church on the edge of Wallis Lake. There are hewn timber benches facing the pulpit and lake, and it is a really beautiful setting, with tall palms comprising the ‘walls’. There is a nice campsite there too.
After another 15km of flat roads through bush I entered the outskirts of Forster-Tuncurry. The Forster side is all new buildings with limited access to the sea. It seems to have no centre, and consequently no heart, and it’s not for me except for replenishing and somewhere to stay . The caravan park is nice though (Lani’s Holiday Island) and only $10 pp. It extends over 2 or 3km and reaches out into Wallis Lake - camping is possible out there if desired. The site is very well equipped with camper’s kitchen containing everything you need. I set off to explore the coastal area of the town but after several km gave up on finding an esplanade or coastal track - it just doesn’t appear to exist.
After dinner, as it went dark, I went to watch the sun setting over the lake, and it was stunning - orange sky over blue and orange water with the ghostly gum trees a dark green contrast. I took a few shots at slow shutter speed to try and catch the colours accurately (see pic).
I still haven’t uploaded to the blog - I couldn’t find anywhere open that had USB ports, and this is quite a big town too. As I say I couldn’t find the centre of the town to look for an internet cafe - it’s a weird place.

DAY 114: Dungog to Bulahdelah

Sun 27th January 2008
67 km @ 13.0 km/hr
Distance to date 7009 km (4381 miles)
Sunny, upper 20’s, perfect

Slept well despite e or 4 long freight trains passing during the night only 50m away - but felt a little isolated with only myself in the caravan park. The sun was quickly heating up the tent by 0730 so I scurried out and got a sunshine breakfast. I’m having muesli every day now, having discovered little 125cc cartons of milk that are the ideal size; obviously I can’t carry opened milk cartons around on the bike.
Next stop Stroud then (next town up the road is Gloucester lol), but I shouldn’t have been surprised to find more big hills since I’m still in the Great Dividing Range. It was Toblerone territory allright - straight up 9% / straight down 9% - and a rapid shift from gear 1 to gear 14; no need for any gears in between. I was finding it hard to get into a rhythm so soon in the day, and I was relieved when I reached the end of a 3km climb, to mostly coast down into Stroud.
Stroud is a nice quiet rural centre; very peaceful and pleasant. Main attraction for me initially was a bottle of Dare Double Espresso Iced Coffee, which comes VERY close to FUIC for hitting the perfect spot.
There had been modest traffic between Dungog and Stroud, and a little bit more between Stroud and Bowral, but after turning left at Bowral onto the Bulahdelah road the traffic was very light indeed. Maybe it was the coffee, but more likely the enjoyment of this road improved my mood a great deal. The Bowral to Bulahdelah road was absolutely delightful - hardly any traffic, trees right up to the edge of the road offering plenty of shade on this warm sunny day, nice twisty bends, and mostly small hills. It was such a pleasure I actually slowed down to help it last longer. All that was missing was a nice spot to stop and put the billy on, so I made do with cold water thanks to Grace’s sock cooler system. There was one longish hill at around 7%, and as I was nearing the top a motorcyclist slowed down, said hello, and stopped, presumably expecting me to do the same; however I was at a steepish bit and would have had trouble getting started again had I stopped, so I hope he didn’t think I was being antisocial!
After the long uphill there was a long downhill, but the bumpy / potholed road prevented me getting any speed up and I had to ride the brakes instead, but that was a small thing compared to the enjoyment of this section. About halfway between Booral and Bulahdelah there is a YHA Youth Hostel which I hadn’t been aware of - it’s really in the back of beyond as there are very few settlements around there. I did stop to have a look but the place was deserted. It’s a very small building so wouldn’t house many guests but the location is beautiful. I used the facilities (outdoor drop dunny of course he he) and moved on.
A few km before Bulahdelah I met good old Highway 1 again for the first time in weeks (this road goes all the way around Australia) and although quite bust there was a good shoulder to ride in. Bulahdelah is a pleasant enough place that cashes in on the fairly heavy Highway 1 traffic and is dominated by Bulahdelah Mountain, half of which seems to be about to disappear to be replaced by a superhighway according to some protest posters I read. I parked at a riverside table and made tea and sandwiches since it was 1430 and I hadn’t had lunch. I got talking to a guy who is the main Australian importer of Ortlieb gear (panniers and such) whom I believe I e-mailed before coming to Oz about possibly buying panniers here. He was asking how I have got on with them, and I reported absolutely OK. They are indeed completely waterproof, no doubt about it after all the rain here lately.
I was in 2 minds whether to check into the CP here or carry on further, but as it was around 4 plumped for the former option. The CP is OK, nice and clean, campers kitchen etc. There’s also a nice little swimming pool, and after a hot afternoon I was soon in there splashing round and then lying in the sun to dry off. It was a beautiful evening - sunny, warm, and the birds were very active, with the most numerous and vociferous Kookaburra’s I’ve yet heard - they were laughing their socks off at something - probably the state of the old git in the pool.
I got chatting to a couple, Scottie and Kathleen, who were in a small caravan nearby, and it turned out they emigrated here from Perth, Scotland 40 years ago - they both still had strong Scottish accents. They are returning home to Coff’s Harbour, which is 150km north of here and where I will be passing through in a few days time - and they kindly invited me to give them a call when I’m there. I think they saw the Scottish flag I have stuck out at the back, so that’s another opening that’s helped bring about.
Tomorrow I have a few km on H1 then turn off left onto The Lakes Way which winds around the Great Lakes to Forster, and I am looking forward to seeing the sea again after a couple of weeks break. There are lots of places to camp and as this weekend is the last of the summer holiday season (the kids go back to school next week after their long summer holidays) it should be somewhat quieter. Only w or 3 weeks to go until Lyn flies out to Brisbane so I’m quite excited about that too!

DAY 113: Gresford to Dungog

Sat 26th January 2008
32 km @10.5 km/hr
Distance to date 6942 km (4339 miles)
Cloudy, sunny intervals

I woke early at 0600 despite getting to sleep late due to a lady nearby who loved the sound of her own loud voice, and it has stopped raining after last evening’s several hours of rain. The tent was mostly dry and I finished it off with a chamois before packing away
I knew today would be a short ride of 30km or so, although there is a climb from 100m to 450m to attend to. The road from Gresford to Dungog is rough, just as it was for the last 20km yesterday - almost entirely composed of patched-up potholes; someone told me it’s the local council’s doing (what a surprise!). The ride was very pleasant though - more winding and afforested than yeterday’s austere scenery from Singleton, with occasional vistas of the valley below and beyond. Again, the road never flattens out - up and down again for the first 14km, then a BIG ascent of at least 9% for around 3km. The road was pretty quiet though, and although I was puffing a bit on the ascent (down to under 4 km/hr for some distance!) I did enjoy it. Once again the Rohloff gearing came up trumps and I was never concerned about ‘stalling’ or having to get off and push. Because the road was quiet I sometimes zig-zagged up the hills to reduce the gradient. The early morning shadows cast over the fields and forest looked very pretty. This was still beef farming land, until the road became more mountainous.
The downhill was great - max speed 68 km/hr and over 60 for 2 or 3km - what is known (in my small world) as a screamer i.e. over 60 km/hr. The road was quite a bit smoother fortunately on the downhill, nevertheless I was still watching the road carefully in case of potholes, which could be disastrous carrying this weight at that speed. In just over 2 hours I was entering Dungog and heading for the VIC.
I was ‘accosted’ by a Sydney couple who bombarded me with questions about the ride, and we chatted about lots of interesting things - I gave them my website address as usual. The site is getting an increasing number of hits, and I hope this turns into some more donations to WaterAid. I am aware that some Australians have donated via the WaterAid Australia website which explains several ways to donate, but I do not get to know how much they donate - doesn’t matter - anything is welcome.
The caravan park in Dungog is council-owned again and I had to pay the $12 fee at the VIC, and I got the key for the showers etc. The site is located directly between the railway (main Brisbane to Sydney line) and road. After setting up I did a pile of washing and put it out to dry in the bright late-morning sunshine. Drying is rapid in these conditions of course. I did the bakery stop then wandered around the town museum for a while, which wildly exciting but passed an hour - I had a good natter with the custodian who told me quite a lot about the UK / Scottish links to this area. I explored a bit and fancied a dip in the pool but got lazy and couldn’t be bothered in the end. The caravan park is in quite a busy area and I don’t like to leave my stuff unattended for too long. That’s one drawback to travelling alone, though there are many pluses too like being free to set the agenda.
And it looks like I’ll be quite alone tonight as there is not another soul staying here tonight. Trouble is anyone coming late doesn’t have a key to the facilities including toilets, which isn’t very good planning on the council’s part if you ask me. There is power on here though, and I was able to get all my batteries charged up. I haven’t actually used the solar panels I brought with me, although they may come into their own in the Top End.
The Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tyres still have plenty of tread after 6500 km, although there is some cracking around the side - possibly caused by me having them underinflated for some time. I shall probably run them into the ground and collect the pair of Panaracer Tourguards that came with the bike in Brisbane where I sent them on to.
I had a slight leak in the tent (MSR Hubba Hubba) roof last night during the heavy rain, and i will have to get some waterp-roofer next chance I get and give it the treatment. The tent is great at keeping insects out - as long as I’m quick getting in and out nothing gets in.
The Garmin Edge 305 bike computer / GPS now seems to be holding it’s charge OK, and it is very handy for getting you to your chosen destination / indicating height etc., but I’m not sure it’s worth the £200 I paid for it, for my purposes at least. I haven’t used the heart rate and cadence functions at all.
Enough waffling - good night!

DAY 112: Bush camp to Gresford

Fri 25th January 2008
80 km @14.9 km/hr
Distance to date 6910 km (4319 miles)
Cloudy, rain showers

I awoke with a start last night at around 3 - something had woke me up even though the creek was absolutely silent now. All I could hear was my heartbeat. A few minutes later I stiffened when there was a thumping - 2 or 3 thumps as if caused by someone banging a log into the ground. It happened again a few minutes later, and nearer. When I thought about it I figured it wasn’t a human noise, and I guessed it was a kangaroo. They are heavy animals and the sound they make when landing on their big rear legs would be substantial? Later on today someone said they thought it would have been the ‘roos tail slapping down on the ground after each hop - so there you go! Sounds silly to be concerned in the cold light of day but at that hour in the otherwise eerie silence it was a bit scary. But hey - I’m a bushman - scared? Me? Ahem....
Anyway I must have got to sleep again OK because next thing it was 7 and the Bellbirds were my alarm clock, ably supported by their friends the screechy parrots (probably Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos, which are very common. I managed to keep the giant ants at bay while having breakfast - they are very amusing in the way they seem to panic when you challenge them by going for them; they run one way, then the other, jumping up and down and eventually running away, only to return for another go 3 seconds later! One must have managed to get in my food pannier because I was to see it in there later on. I have a feeling these may be bull ants which have a rather nasty sting. Bull ants apparently rear up at you in a threatening way too. I’ve also started checking my stuff more closely before I pick it up as an evil-looking spider jumped off my bag when I picked it up a few mornings ago. I could do with a book on insects but have to watch my baggage weight.
So once again (apart from the supposed ‘roo) I had found a good campsite, and I don’t think I was seen by anyone. I was away by 0730 for the last 5km gradual downhill beside Darkey Creek - more interesting bends around craggy rocks, with a bit less shoulder than previously, before emerging onto the plain where the landscape changed considerably. The pure bush turned to mostly-cleared arable land stocked with beef cattle, and quite a few small farms and homesteads. There was a very good shoulder again though, and as has been the case all the way from Windsor (the Putty Road it’s called), the surface is very good indeed. It seems as if a lot of money has been spent upgrading this road, possibly to provide an alternative to the busy coastal highway?
I stopped at Bulga for raisin toast and tea and a paper, and continued on to Singleton, passing a large open cast mine where the traffic increased considerably, and where it started to rain. I sheltered under a bridge for a while and then carried on when it eased somewhat.
Singleton is a largish, busy town with a good range of shops and the world’s largest sundial. And a Subway - hurray! I tried a toasted chicken and bacon ranch (12” of course) which was OK. I found that the library had free internet, but at a price - lethargic and unpredictable performance - twice I waited 15 minutes while 4 images uploaded and both times I got the maddening “Page not found” before I could publish. I did a quick shop at IGA and thought about staying at the CP here, but it was too early and had stopped raining, so on it was towards Dungog (lovely name!).
Of course after a few minutes it was raining again, and there was aa steady upward drag, and there was no shelter as everywhere’s been cleared for pasture, and I felt as if I was getting nowhere. I stopped at a cemetery to use the toilet, got chased by an angry dog who seemed to be looking after the place (council savings no doubt) and ploughed on feeling a little depressed. Oh, and did I mention the SE headwind? Well, light headwind at least. It all conspired to feel as if I was not going well. For the next 40km there was no shelter from the on-off-on-off rain, no shelter from the wind, nowhere to sit, and no interesting scenery, and the steady drag up was wearing me out. I had no idea where I was relative to the next town, Gresford as there were no signposts, and was delighted when it suddenly appeared.
First thing I saw was a cafe so I took my wet self in for a while and had a nice chiat to the very friendly owners and their young son Gus. They told me all about the town, including where there was a municipal campsite withs showers (yessss!) while I had a very welcome latte (followed by a second which comes free!). Funny how something / someone comes along to cheer me up when feeling under the cosh - I certainly felt better when i went out compared to going in. The lady owner (forgive me forgetting the owners names) also gave me a boxed collector’s spoon engraved with Gresford, which was a lovely gesture! I gave her my card with web details.
It was raining quite hard still when I left the cafe, but it was only 2km to the campsite, and I had the tent up in another 10, outside in again so’s to keep the inner dry. Off for a welcome shower, then waited a while for the rain to ease, whereupon I quickly threw some food together under a huge tree nearby which was mostly dry but starting to drip. A couple of folk came chatting - the man on the bike provokes plenty of interest as usual, but I strive to ask about their trip as well so it isn’t all one way. I had planned to eat at the hotel as the cafe lady said they do a good curry, but it was a good walk, and I’d just changed into (practically my last) dry clothes, so it wasn’t a good option as it was still wet.
Incidentally there’s a bridge I crossed just before entering Gresford that is apparently the largest laminated wood bridge in the world - so there! Gresford looks like a nice little place (pop ~1000) and I hope to have a look around before I leave tomorrow (if it’s still raining I might stay another day). I understand there’s a comminity ‘do’ for Australia Day tomorrow in Dungog, which is only 30km east and enatailing a big ascent I’m told.