The last two days we’ve seen a lot of rain. Yesterday, we had our bikes fully loaded and were ready to push off when the skies started dropping buckets. Eric wanted to push forth. I wanted to take a day off and window shop the cute boutique stores in Byron Bay. Luckily, I won!
But today with the rain still pouring and my panniers a bit heavier from the two (not one but TWO) cute feminine wardrobe additions that are as different from cycling clothes on the fashion scale as is humanly possible. With my new, cute, utterly impractical dresses squished firmly into my rear pannier, I agreed we should ride.
It’s not that I really enjoy riding in the rain. It just that I knew, in the long run, it would be much less expensive if we left the hippie-vibe, artsy-farsty, I-missed-this-kind-of funky, town of Byron Bay.
We both put on our rain gear and pulled the velcro straps tight against our ankles and wrists. As for shoes, I opted to wear my pink Croc flip-flop because I hate cycling in squishy socks while Eric, in trying to keep his shoes and socks dry, wore the cut-off sleeves of his old rain jacket pulled tightly over his shoes and socks.
Yes, we got rained on, and yes, we stayed relatively warm and dry…on the outside that is…my rain gear always makes me sweat a LOT on the inside.
Putting all the rain gear/rain discomfort aside, the ride itself was a pleasant surprise with a little rewards around almost every corner. Here are the “rewards”…
1. There was a cycle path from Byron Bay most of the way to Brunswick Heads. It’s not well marked and not the easiest to find, but I think we spent less than 5 km on the Pacific Coast Highway.
2. Tourist Drive #38 through Wooyung had almost no tourists (or other vehicles for that matter.)
3. There is a cycle path from Pottsville to Hastings Point.
4. There is a BEAUTIFUL, fairly new cycle path from Hastings Point to Kingscliff.
What these cycle paths meant is that we could enjoy the view and not worry about being splattered with highway water from passing trucks.
What they also meant is I could ride through puddles on the paths with my feet splayed to each side giggling like a child.
This segment of our ride up the east coast of Australia was a combination of some of the most scenic and enjoyable parts of our trip in Australia interspersed with some of the worst roads we’ve had in Australia. Luckily, the bad stretches of road are tiny in comparison to the amazing scenery and off-road options.
Yamba to Evans Head – 76 km – Yamba is a lovely fishing town located where the Clarence River meets the Coral Sea. It’s know for its delicious prawns so we bought a kilo and carried them on ice and wrapped in paper for our picnic.
We then rode the 9:30 am ferry along with about 60 first graders dressed in pirate costumes who were on a field trip to “Pirate Park” in Iluka. One-eyed pirates with aluminum foil hook arms, foam swords, pirate hats, and a few ballet slippers and tutus made the ferry ride a joyous, happy, loud event.
The road through Bundjalung National Park through the bush was shady and quiet until it intersects with the Pacific Coast Highway.
The next 20 kilometers on the highway to Woodburn were noisy but had a fairly good shoulder. Turning east at Woodburn, the road is very narrow with no shoulder and heavy truck traffic. The cycle path about 2 km west of town was a welcome improvement.
We found a cabin at the caravan park on the river and enjoyed a walk along the sandy beach watching pelicans and the sunset.
Evans Head to Ballina – (56 km) Evans head is a very small, sleepy beach town with lots of fishing and surfing and peace and quiet.
The ride from Evans Head to Broadwater through Broadwater National Park runs through more Australian bush.
The 7 km from Broadwater to Wardell on the Pacific Coast Highway was the scariest highway we’ve ridden in Australia.
It we had it to do this ride again, I might choose a long detour…
…but then we would miss one of the most beautiful parts of the ride, the road from Wardell to Ballina that follows on the south banks of the Clarence River.
Another ferry ride across the river, (did I mention I love ferries?) and cycle paths all around Ballina made it one of our favorite seaside towns in this part of Australia.
I will always remember Ballina as the place I saw my first whale (or at least it’s spout.)
It’s also the place where we received some great Aussie hospitality from strangers-who-became-friends, Gary and Leann.
Ballina to Byrons Bay – 50 km
We had been dreading this segment of the trip because of the busy, narrow roads. We’d even considered taking an inland route and avoiding Byron Bay altogether. Luckily a chance encounter with a cyclist let to “insider information” which meant we completely avoided the highway today AND had one of the most beautiful days of this trip.
Here’s how to do it..
First, ride the cycle path to Skennars Head. Stay on the path as it leaves the coast and heads inland following the old road to Lennox Head. At Lennox Head, if the tide is out, push your bike down to the beach until you find the hard-packed sand near the surf and cycle north for about 7 km.
At the rocky outcroppings, look to the shore and take the one-land, dirt fire road up the hills and through Broken Head National Park.
At the end of the road, turn west until the road intersects with the highway. Head north on the Pacific Coast Highway (about 1 km) and turn east to Suffolk Park. Follow the beach road north until it ends.
Follow the cycle path the rest of the way to Byron Bay.
The sunset was a beautiful way to end the past three days.
We decided to take the direct route to Grafton along the Omara Way rather than hug the coast on the Pacific Coast Highway. We’re very happy with our decision as the two- day ride was a change of scenery and terrain with wide-open vistas, hills and valleys, and small towns catering to Sunday tourists with cafes, brick oven pizzas, cold beers and plenty of sunshine.
The climb out of Coffs Harbour is fairly steep but after that climb, the rest of the day is filled with gentle rolling hills and lots of flats. If you’re lucky, like we were, you’ll also have a nice tail wind to push you along.
A great lunch stop is the small town of Glennreagh. We enjoyed a picnic along the river at the Lion’s Club Park but the tavern was hopping with motorcycles and other Sunday tourists.
After Glennreagh, the road degenerated but the traffic was also less so it didn’t seem too bad.
The bridge across the Clarence River is VERY narrow but just before the bridge (it’s unmarked) we found a pedestrian/cycle path on the left path attached to the railroad bridge below the car bridge.
Grafton is known for it’s Jacaranda Festival in the spring with lots of tree-lined streets in full purple bloom. It also hosts the July Racing Carnival where women wear fancy hats just like Ascot in England.
We were pleasantly surprised with Tourist Drive #22 leaving Grafton. Although the road is in poor condition, it is flat with little traffic which gave us ample opportunity to appreciate the grazing cattle, sugar cane farms and widest river in Australia, the Clarence.
On this road we cycled past a farm selling macadamia nuts so we stopped and bought a kilogram.
After lunch at the Lawrence Tavern, we headed north to catch the ferry.
My favorite part of the ride were the 10 kilometers between the ferry and McLean. The road meanders along the river with great views.
Everything about this town appears to be Scottish from the store fronts, to the banners to the plaid patterns painted on all the telephone poles. A picnicking family even used a plaid wool blanket for their tablecloth.
The last 10 kilometers into Yamba were nerve-wracking due to tiny roads and lots of traffic. But, the scene from our campground took all the stress away.
Several readers have asked how we spend a typical day. So…here’s it is….
I wake up when the birds start singing, usually between 6:15 and 7:00 am, make a pot of coffee, respond to emails, read some news on my laptop, or read my book until Eric wakes up. I then make breakfast.
What I make for breakfast depends on the type of accommodation we’re in and the distance we have to travel. For example, if we have a small kitchen with a stove-top and microwave like most campgrounds and we’ll be cycling less than 80 kilometers (50 miles) I’ll make eggs or pancakes. If we have only a toaster like most motels or we have a long ride ahead, we’ll have a quick breakfast of muesli and toast. I also make a couple of sandwiches for our picnic lunch.
In addition, I often use the mornings between about 8 and 9 am to make calls to the States as needed.
We load up our bicycles which takes 30-40 minutes with a goal of starting to pedal around 9 am or earlier if we have a longer or difficult (lots of hills) ride ahead. (In SE Asia we often started cycling about 7:30 am to avoid the heat of the mid-day.)
After our bikes are loaded but before we start riding we ALWAYS have a “safety talk” where we review the day’s ride and discuss things that can be potential hazards; e.g. heavy truck traffic, strong side winds, crazy Australian traffic circles, narrow shoulders, use your review mirror…it’s amazing the new things we can think of.
We cycle anywhere from 20-30km and hope to find a cute cafe’ where we stop for our morning coffee break: an espresso (Eric) or a long black (me).The coffee culture and quality of coffee here in Australia is fantastic!
Noonish, or when Eric is hungry, or when we find a good picnic spot, or a “famous pie or scone place” appears, we stop for lunch. In reality, I like to have at least half of our daily distance cycled before we stop for lunch. Having completed half of our distance gives us a good judge of our time and speed for the day so we’ll have a pretty good idea if we’ll make our destination before it gets dark or how long we’ll have to dawdle over lunch.
Around 3 – 3:30pm, hopefully, we’re at or near our destination so we can find accommodation- cabin, tent, or motel – and get settled before it gets too cold. Because it’s winter here, once 3:00 pm hits, the temperature drops and our sweaty clothes turn very cold. Often our first stop in town is the Tourist Information Center where we get good, free local maps, ideas about “must see’s” in the area, and help with accommodation.
Unloading our bikes is faster than packing and we have a pretty good routine. I put perishable foods in the fridge, scan the kitchen for supplies so I’ll know what I have to cook with, plug in one of my electronic devices (the shortage of outlets means were always scrambling to get all devices charged before morning), ( see post about what we bring) and place my panniers on my side of the bed. We’ve found that by keeping our things on the same side of the room or tent in each different accommodation, really helps us NOT to lose things.
After our bikes are unloaded we often cycle to the grocery store. Or, I’ll go to the store and Eric will do maintenance on his bicycle. We I return from the store, he’ll clean my bicycle while I shower. Then, I cook dinner while he showers.
Of course, just like living at home we need a “weekend” or change in routine so we 1) go out for dinner 2) go to or rent a movie 3) stop by a pub for a pint 4) play cards or a game.
Socialization and meeting new people usually occurs during the day, especially when we stop for coffee or lunch. Now that it’s colder, we tend to stay in at night unless we’re going out for dinner.
Sightseeing is done throughout the day but especially leaving a town in the morning, entering a town in the afternoon, or when someone at the Tourist Information center tells us we “must do” something.
I think the important thing to keep in mind is that we are not really “on vacation” everyday. This cycle tour “is” our daily life. Days were similar in New Zealand but in SE Asia, we never cooked a meal and the days were warmer and longer so we rode more kilometers each day.
10. There is no alternate route.
9. You’re feeling too lazy to ride an extra 40 km to Stuarts Point and Scotts Head.
8. You want the mind-numbing noise from traffic to drown out your thoughts.
7. You’re bored with beautiful scenery.
6. You’re tired of taking pictures and the danger of passing traffic gives you an excuse not to.
5. The sounds of song birds is getting on your nerves.
4. You love the feel of sticky tar and gravel on your tires.
3. You enjoy bracing yourself against the draft of a passing truck.
2. You prefer trash-filled rest areas to remote picnic spots.
But the number one reason for riding on the highway……(drum roll please)…..
You find all kinds of great junk lying on the side of the road that your “mechanic” husband can put to good use.
Today’s finds: a piece of rubber hose and a “BadBoy” flip-flop that he’ll use on his bike racks to protect them from abrasive wear from his panniers!!
And, in spite of all my joking about today’s ride, the end was beautiful: cabin overlooking the river, beautiful sunset, gas heat and a real oven to cook dinner.