Thursday, January 31, 2008

DAY 119: Diamond Head to Point Plomer Campsite

Fri 1st February 2008
66 km @ 12.4 km/hr
Distance to date 7220 km (4512 miles)
Cloudy, humid, upper 20’s

Up fairly early and no Skippy to greet me today - the wallabies are all down on the beach beachcombing. One of them is gazing out across the Pacific, thoughtfully - what is he thinking? “I wonder what’s out there?” The grass is always greener on the other side son....
After muesli I quickly packed up and Steve came to see me off with a lump of fruit cake his wife had made for him (he was here on his own for a few days), which was a nice gesture. I gave him my card so he may keep in touch; I’ve met so many friendly Australians so far, and it’s made this trip all the more enjoyable. Steve reckons I’ll enjoy Plomer Head and that’s where I’ve decided to go today all being well.

I said goodbye to the wallabies and hit the (gravel) road again. Only for 5km though and it changed back to tarmac. 10km from the start I was entering the small town of Laurieton where I stopped for an iced coffee. It was 0830 and hot and humid. Traffic was heavy at this time, probably due to the school run - can’t let the little darlings walk you know! That reminds me of a very large lady I saw at Diamond Head - she was taking what looked like her grandaughter to the loo with the latter (also porky already at 2 years old) driving herself on a little battery-powered car, saying “good girl, you are clever”. Hmmmmm! ....Habits set for a lifetime maybe? God, I sound like a Grumpy Old Man (guess I am too!).

Traffic eased a little as I left Laurieton but there was no shoulder for at least 10km, however there were no lorries and the car drivers were behaving well. In Lake Cathie I spotted an internet place so got the blog up to date, and also caught Lyn online so we had a nice googlechat. The road was pretty flat for the first 30km but the nearer I got to Port Macquarie the more Tobleroning there was. Steep and short mostly. PM itself is a nice-looking place but VERY hilly - from passing the “Welcome to PM” sign it was fully 8km of steep hills and descents before arriving in the town proper.

I had a very good salad for lunch, not spoilt by the assistant giving me change from $10 when I’d given her a $50 note, and I ate Steve’s fruitcake, which was delicious - cheers Mrs.Steve, you're a cracker! I had a struggle finding the VIC as the office had recently moved, and finished up going to the police station to ask. I also asked about the state of the Plomer track as it is marked on my map as “4WD only”, and the policeman confirmed itr was indeed rough. At the VIC the guy there said the same, but siad that it was ‘doable’ as his son recently rode it as a challenge with the scouts or something. He said to go for it, which I already thought I would do.
There’s a ‘punt’ cable-driven ferry across the esturial Maria River from Settlement Point to North Shore (only takes 4 minutes and pedestrians / cyclists are free, and I only had to wait a few minutes as it runs to and fro all day).

On the north side there’s a tar road for 2km then it turns to decent gravel, then it changes to badly corrugated gravel, then after 7km it turns to loose sand. The latter was extremely testing, and for fully 1km I had to get off and push with the heavy load on board making it very difficult to keep the bike upright. It was very hot and humid in this late afternoon and I was pouring with sweat and effort; I drank a litre and a half in less than 1 hour.
It was very difficult to ride even after the sand, once it had firmed up a bit, and it called for good bike handling skills to stay upright. The silly riding in deep snow a couple of winters ago maybe had value after all. You have to constantly scan the track in front of you - much as you do when mountain biking in difficult terrain - and seek out firmer ground. Usually where there are stones it’s firmer - you worry when all you can see is bare sand, firm or not. Anyhow I managed to keep the bike upright, and counted off the kms one by one. The 59th km of the day was the worst, and seemed to take ages to complete.
Joy oh joy - there was the sign for the campsite and the gravel road immediately improved. The 12km bad section is apparently privately owned and is not maintained at all - normal gravel roads at least get graded every so often depending on level of use.
The campsite (it’s in Limeburner’s Creek Nature Reserve) was nice but busier than Diamond Head these last 2 days. I found a decent pitch and set up, took a dip in the briny to cool off, had a (cold) shower, had a chat to another camper, cooked dinner, and was just finishing eating when 8 very noisy youngsters arrived just before dark and started to set up 2 tents right next to me - why? Just to annoy me? I went for a walk along the shore, which was much more pleasant than listening to their racket, and after this I made tea and took it, biscuits, PDA and keyboard over to a table on the ocean edge where all I can hear is the sea crashing onto the rocks beside me. It is pitch dark, so I have my trusty Petzyl head torch on (what a great thing that is).

DAY 118: Day off at Diamond Head campsite

Thurs 31st January 2008

Distance to date 7154 km (4471 miles)

Sunny, upper 20’s

I was lulled into another day in paradise by another warm, sunny morning. It’s only about 500km to Brisbane and I’ve 18 days in hand yet. As I was lying in my sleeping bag thinking about getting out, Skippy the bush wallaby popped his head in the tent to see where I was and we were eyeball to eyeball for a few seconds. OK Skippy, I get the message! There are 7 or 8 of these animals in the small area around the tent grazing, all day, but they don’t seem to be there at night - and I thought they were nocturnal - certainly night-time is when they get slaughtered on the road; you hardly ever see them in daytime.

After brekkie I walked a mile or so down the beach then splashed around in the sea awhile, then did some naughty sunbathing - not nude sunbathing, I mean because you’re warned not to due to the risk of skin cancer, but I couldn’t resist it. I was so warm and relaxed I almost fell asleep - now that would be very silly, so I got back in the sea again to refresh before wandering back to a cuppa and yesterdays paper. Apparently Sydney is grinding to a halt due to too much traffic, and the local government are taking a lot of criticism for making a mess of the transport system for the city, which appears to be run on 1940’s lines. Another big issue is the rising level of obesity among Australians, which admittedly seems high to me, although there are very more many skinny girls here than in the UK.

I chatted to a guy from further south (Steve from Mid-Coast) who is here for a few days fishing and peace and quiet, and he promised me a couple of fish he’s caught this morning, which will make a change from my usual rather samey diet. I think I need to start cooking something different rather than pasta / tomato / tabasco / meat combinations. I’m certainly enjoying muesli for breakfast having ‘found’ little cartons of milk that are just the right size. I’m right out of bread now so will have to stock up in the first town I come to tomorrow.

I lazed around all afternoon, reading (another Xavier Herbert novel “Soldier’s Women”). I reckon he’s one of the best Oz authors and I’ve read quite a few Oz-written books to date. His “Capricornia” is a great book, all about the impossibly hard lives of early settlers in Australia. Later on I did the headland walk again that I did yesterday, only the other way round this time - still as beautiful, though I was feeling rather tired for some reason. I also stood on a thorn for the second time today, and it looked like one of the tiny Jackthorns that I think caused the puncture a couple of weeks ago. Both times I got an intense stinging pain initially, and I’m not sure if the thorn’s are out or not; they are too tiny to get hold of with my big fingers and I can’t see under my foot very well anyway. Better slap some antiseptic on and hope for the best.

I have been meaning to ring Patrick and Lindsay, my hosts in Canberra, since I left, but just can’t seem to get around to it - sorry guys, I will try harder when I get a signal, or at worst call you during my 2 weeks ‘off’ in Brisbane in the middle of February.

I duly received the 2 fish from my new friend and have just cooked on the gas barbie - delicious and a nice treat. I then had my usual meal just to top up my (large) appetite requirements.

There are quite a few Horseflies here, and they are a real pest - they land ever so surreptitiously, usually when you're doing something and preoccupied; and sometimes before you see them they’re already sticking something into you - whether it’s to get blood, eat you or just sting you for the sheer hell of it I’m not sure, but I hate the things. The bush flies that have plagued everyone for months have all but disappeared - amazing but nice. Still on the insect theme, I walked through a few giant cobwebs during the headland walk today; judging by the thickness of the web strands a big spider must have made them, but I didn’t see any. The stuff is so hard to get off, it sticks all over your hands, arms, clothes - yeuchh. Some of the webs are several metres in diameter, and I saw one the other day about 6 metres long strung between trees - what are they trying to catch, birds, or koalas?! I see all kinds of insects above the tent inner liner when they get between the inner and outer, and sometimes spend the first 10 minutes of the day seeing what's there, but they haven’t got inside the inner yet as it is too fine-meshed.

Time to move on again tomorrow, but not sure where to yet.

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.