Wednesday, February 06, 2008

DAY 124: Day 1 off in Maclean

Weds 6th February 2008
Distance to date 7510 km (4694 miles)
Mostly dry; afternoon thunderstorm, humid

I was surprised to see the sun shining on the tent at 0730 when the forecast was for rain all week - so that was a bonus. After breakfast I walked the half-km into town to have a look around. Unlike many more modern towns Maclean is very compact with all the shops and cafes together, so that the town has a more apparent centre. I wanted to upload but as luck would have it Wednesday is the only day the library is closed, and even though several people told me there was no other public internet in town, I found a terminal at thecomputer shop, so was able to get up to date. I had an e-mail from an old friend I haven’t seen for years, Peter Haddow. He was chairman of Environmental Concern Orkney (ECO)when I was a member of that group in the early 90’s, so I look forward to catching up with what he’s been doing since, as I had lost touch with him.

As the Visitor Information Centre was 2km out of town I went back for the bike and rode down to have a look at what there was to see locally, and had lunch by the riverside whilst I was there. The cafe was very busy with a coach tour from Germany in there.
I found out lots about Maclean - it was mostly built in the late 19th century and many Scots people emigrated here, many of these due to the Highland clearances. Maclean is twinned with Portree in Skye. Every Easter for the past 102 years the Highland Gathering has been held, drawing Scottish bands and sportsmen from all over Australia for ‘an explosion of colour, light and sound’. The old buildings are very much in evidence still, and it lends a pleasant ambience to the town, aided by scores of tartan-painted lamposts and various banners. The lamposts were an idea to celebrate the Australian hosting of the Olympic Games (in 2000?) and the original handful of painted posts mushroomed as the idea took hold, and many visitors pay to have their family tartan included on a post if it is not there already. Practically every post in the town centre is painted now (see pic example). Also, many of the local signs, for parks etc., are named in Gaelic as well as English! The street names too reflect the Scottish connections.
Maclean is also home to a (mostly prawn) fishing fleet, and is additionally the soutern-most limit of the Australian sugar cane industry. So there! All in all it is a very pleasant place and I like it a lot; not just because of the Scottish links, but it has a lovely feel to it.
I spent an hour at the museum after lunch, but to be honest although it was very well done, it didn’t say much about Scottish ancestry, rather local memorabilia. I also visited (at the top of a very steep hill - the town is built on a series of very steep hills) the Scottish Cairn, which was built partly from Scottish stone, and which has Scottish clan coats of arms around the base.
There is a very nice catholic church from the same era too, but I was unable to get inside to have a look around.
All this sightseeing called for more food and drink, so it was back into town to the CoffeeArt Cafe and the best iced coffee I’ve had ever. When you order one of these in a cafe you get a latte in a tall glass or glass cup with a ball of ice cream dropped in, only this one also had a ball of cream dropped in as well as ice cream - mmmmmm! It was delicious, and went down a treat with a nice fresh blueberry muffin. Whilst I was in the cafe the sky blackened and people started pulling in shop blinds and pavement tables and generally scattering about everywhere, and a few minutes later the heavens opened. For a change I felt quite cosy and smug watching the scene from under the cafe verandah rather than from the exposed seat of a bicycle. I sat this out then, and within half an hour it had subsided and I headed back to camp.

this pic is not very good, but it's of some lorikeets tearing a tree to bits for the seed pod (or something).

sunset over the Clarence River

DAY 123: Darlington Bay Resort to Maclean

Tues 5th February 2008
84 km @ 14.6 km/hr
Distance to date 7510 km (4694 miles)
showers, warm

I enjoyed a nice comfy bed for a change, and I was in no rush to get up. We 3 had breakfast together then Scottie made me my ‘piece’ for lunch, bless him - a substantial piece too! It wasn’t raining early on, but a few minutes before I was due to leave it started again, quite heavy too. It was expected though as per last night’s forecast. Not to worry, you can only get so wet, so I said my goodbyes to a lovely couple that I won’t forget in a hurry, and off I went at around 9.
It was only 1km back onto the Pacific Highway (this place is near Arrawarra in case you’re wondering) and then 46 km or so to Grafton, however I’d decided to get off the Highway asap even though this (the Pillar Valley road) was 34km from today's starting point. It chucked it down the whole 34km but stopped just as I turned off - a good sign! The smaller road was very quiet with hardly any traffic, and it was utter joy to get away from the noisy spray-splashing and aggressive lorries and what in parts was hardly any shoulder. I now know why I wanted to avoid the Highway, but I will continue to take every detour I can within reason now I'm committed.
This whole 40km detour has no serious hills and is mostly gently undulating farmland - mostly beef and dairy. After all the heavy rain there has been a lot of flooding in this area and huge areas were under water. I stopped at Tucabia general store for an iced coffee (this is the only shop on the detour I think) but then when departing on the road signposted to Maclean there was a ‘Road Closed’ sign - drat! To detour back through Ulmarra would have added 15km or so, but a van driver coming from the direction of Maclean saw me scratching my head and stopped to tell me the road was flooded for about 200m, but that I should be OK as it was only up to the middle of his wheels, so I decided to give it a go. Even though front panniers (Ortlieb’s) might be too low to clear the water I wasn’t worried about them taking in water - they have been completely waterproof through all the long hours in torrential rain. The flood was just 3km on, and indeed the water was about 250mm deep, so on I went and everything was fine. No drama really as expected.
On I went past little farms, scaring the animals to death as it seemed they don’t see many people in this remote area, let alone bicycles, and eventually onto my favourite highway again, which was busy as ever and the shoulder was regularly down to 300mm or less. Again several lorry drivers refused to move over to give me room even though there was nothing in the outside lane. There were no signs pointing to Maclean, but I knew it was ahead - they just referred to Ballina. The road parallels the Clarence River, the biggest river on the east coast of Oz. A few km ahead I could see a small settlement which must have been Maclean, with a huge black cloud and misty rain around it. After this mornings soaking I had completely dried out in the afternoon, and now it started to rain with onlt 10 minutes riding left! Anyway as I was entering the caravan park it eased and I was able to get set up without getting any wetter. The park is very small but seems quiet enough and is $12. I may stay another night and explore Maclean tomorrow. It’s supposed to be a ‘Scottish’ town, and certainly I’ve already noted that all the lamposts are painted in a different tartan with the name of the clan. There is an annual Scottish "gathering' every Easter, with Highland Games etc.
I couldn’t be bothered cooking tonight so went down the road to the pub and had a great meal of whiting and chips and salad; quite a plateful. Nevertheless I couldn’t resist the baked caramel cheesecake which also came with ice cream and cream - delicious.

DAY 122: Coff’s Harbour to Scottie and Kathleen's, Darlington Bay Resort

Mon 4th February 2008
35 km @ 15.5 km/hr
Distance to date 7426 km (4641 miles)
Heavy showers, warm

It rained all evening and most of the night as far as I can make out. There are a few tiny leaks in the tent which I hope will be fixed with some waterproofing stuff when I can get hold of some, but everything is still fairly dry all the same (miraculously). I couldn’t sleep after 7 so faffed about over breakfast and sorting things out, but at 11 it was still raining so options were very limited. Even if I stayed in Coff’s Harbour I wouldn’t be able to get around much without getting wet so what’s the point? I rang Scottie whom I met last week at Bulahdelah to see if he and Kathleen were home, and they were, and said to come on down. They live about 35km north of Coff’s, and felt that this was my best option in the time left today.
Firstly I went to the library but could only get half an hour to upload, which was OK but there wasn’t time to include all the pics. I finally left Coff’s at 1300 - pity I hadn’t even seen the sea or any of it’s apparent attributes. Can’t be helped!
After a quick steak pie I hit the road in steady rain and was quickly soaked again. There was a good shoulder for the first 15km or so but it reduced in width considerably later, down to only a foot (300mm), which felt dangerous with articulated lorries passing at 100 km/hr throwing tons of spray up. There are a few places, such as at little bridges over creeks, where there’s no shoulder, and one has to check here that there’s nothing big coming from behind. After an hour the heavens utterly opened and it teemed down in torrents for a solid hour, water running all over the road, huge clouds of spray etc. Thankfully it still wasn’t cold - the main negative aspect for me is the large volume of traffic passing - this is a very busy section of the Pacific Highway.
I was relieved when I reached the turn off to Scotty and Kathleen’s - they live just 2km off the Highway - and the rain eased for the last few minutes.
Scotty and Kathleen (they are originally from Perth in Scotland and emigrated here about 40 years ago) welcomed me and showed me the shower straight away, and it was lovely to get cleaned up and put dry clothes on. I must look like the wild man of Borneo after a ride like this, but felt more human now. We sat on the verandah and watched the birds for a while - plenty of colourful Lorikeets and other birds pecking away in the bird feeder, and eating from Scottie’s hands. Kathleen busied herself with putting plenty of food out for us and we had a good blather over the table. It it felt very nice to be in a proper house for a change, it makes you see the value of a home, although I do like life on the road very much. This wet weather makes it less enjoyable of course, not least because the scenery does not look as nice as in sunny weather, and of course you can’t linger and enjoy places; it’s just a case of getting the riding done and getting there. As I understand it there may be more rain yet, but as I type (at 2200) it hasn’t rained for a few hours.
Scotty let me use the internet for a while, mainly to check 3 or 4 days e-mails, and then we were eating again - I have had a really good time here which cheered me up no end.
As I type as 2210 it’s pouring rain again - hmmm! Oh well, it won’t last forever!
I didn't take many pics today as it was too wet to get the camera out.