Monthly Archives: June 2015

Why I Like Cycle Touring on My Mountain Bike

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Cycling on a forest service road between Forster and Taree NSW

One of our goals cycling up the east coast of Australia has been to avoid the Pacific Coast Highway whenever possible. It’s been a bit of a challenge but, thanks to the fact that I’m riding my aluminum BMC Sport Elite (SE01) mountain bike mounted with the 1.9 inch wide road tires and four panniers* and Eric is riding the Surly Ogre(see earlier post) with road tires , road conditions and surfaces have not had any influence on the route we’ve taken. In the past two days we’ve cycled on washboarded gravel roads, rocky, steep, gutted 4WD roads, pot-holed paved surfaces with no shoulder and chunks of the edge missing, and chip-sealed roads with all the extra lose gravel covering the shoulders where we try to ride.

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The shoulder on The Lakes Way is narrow or missing and the traffic was heavy so this is where turned left onto a smaller, less-traveled road.

What my mountain bike lacks in speed on the smooth, paved surfaces, it more than makes up for in handling rough terrain which has been much of our trip for the past 8 months. The last two days are good examples of the varied and less than perfect terrain.
Forester to Taree (65 km)

Our intention was to ride from Forster to Taree on The Lakes Way. Unfortunately, The Lakes Way turned out to be a heavy-traffic, two-lane road with sections of little or no shoulder. After pulling into the gravel on the side of the road several times and bumping along the damaged road’s edge we took our first opportunity to exit this route and turned east on the road to Black Head, Red Head and Diamond Head Beaches. This “paved” in the loosest sense of the word road was better than The Lakes Way only in that it had much less traffic. But, my bike took care of the bumps so I could enjoy the view.

Entering Khappinghat National Park on Old Soldier Road.
Entering Khappinghat National Park on Old Soldier Road.

At North Diamond Beach we turned west onto Old Soldier’s Road which took us through Khappinghat National Park. Cycling through a canopy of trees on a dirt road was a welcome, peaceful change from the busy, tourist traffic of Lakes Way and the rough, pot-holed surface of the road to Diamond Beach.

Not sure if this car is the remnant of serious flooding  in May in NSW or a car accident. Either way, I would not take the dirt roads during heavy rain.
Not sure if this car is the remnant of serious flooding in May in NSW or a car accident. Either way, I would not take the dirt roads during heavy rain.

The final challenge for our bicycles and, at this point, our tired bodies, was the 4WD road at the end of the day just before Old Bar Road and the final approach to Taree. This dirt road would be challenging for the best of 4WD vehicles and dirt bikes. It was also a challenge for our tired legs, but our pack-laden mountain bikes came through with flying colors.

Taree to Laurieton (68 km)

Laurieton Road is one of the worst paved roads we’ve ridden on (except for all the roads in Laos). Our bikes were fine but  nerves from dodging pot-holes, steering off into the gravel so trucks could pass, and cars passing on blind curves or hills made me wonder if our goal of staying off the Pacific Coast Highway and staying on smaller roads was the best decision.

Cycling on the PCH was worth it to eat the delicious homemade scones at Moorland Cottages.
Cycling on the PCH was worth it to eat the delicious homemade scones at Moorland Cottages.

We did cycle for seven kilometers on the Pacific Coast Highway from Coopernook to Moorland to taste the “best homemade scones on the east coast.”  The large, smooth, well-paved six-foot wide shoulder on the PCH really got me to questioning our goal of staying off the highway. Now I’m wondering… Which is safer for cyclists: narrow, shoulderless roads or high-speed freeways with large shoulder? (Research for another post)

Anyway, back to the main reasons I like cycle touring on my mountain bike.  I can choose the roads less traveled like the last 20 kilometers of today’s ride on Diamond Head Road through Crowdy Bay National Park. I may not be fast but I can take the “less-traveled” road.

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A beautiful but bumpy ride…
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View of North Brother Mountain before entering Laurieton from Diamond Head Raod.

*I already owned this bike before we started the tour. In order to save money and get the most use of of this one-year old bike, we made a few modifications: Old Man Mountain Racks that mount to the axel and road tires. Luckily, I’ve been very happy with this set up.

Nelson Bay to Forster – 100 km via Myall Lakes National Park

Nelson Bay to Tea Gardens Ferry
Nelson Bay to Tea Gardens Ferry

This is a lovely ride that is notable  for mirror-smooth lakes, large gum trees, magnificent sand dunes and the absence of traffic until just south of Forster. It could be done in one day, but we enjoyed a peaceful night of camping near Bombah Ferry.

Day 1 – Nelson Bay to Bombah Ferry (61 km) Take the ferry from Nelson Bay to Tea Gardens/Hawks Nest. This ferry ride is a great deal because they guarantee dolphin sightings 95% of the time – no need for an extra dolphin excursion.

We bought fresh New South Wales shrimp here for our dinner.
We bought fresh New South Wales shrimp here for our dinner.

After the approximately 1 hour ferry ride, follow the NSW Coastal track across the bridge to Hawks Bay and then follow the signs to Mungo Beach. The narrow road is paved, but quite bumpy.

Mungo Beach road.
Mungo Beach road.

These sand dunes were the site of aboriginal festivals.

Dark Point - Aborigine cultural heritage site.
Dark Point – Aborigine cultural heritage site.

We only saw a handful of cars the entire ride to Bombah Ferry.

Even the pelicans enjoy this ferry ride.
Even the pelicans enjoy this ferry ride.

Although there are plenty of campgrounds on the east side of the ferry, we rode the ferry across and opted for Myall Lakes Resort with hot showers and potable water on the west side. Aside from the mosquitoes and the birds, we were the only tent campers there so it felt a little eerie.

Our little tent was very lonely.
Our little tent was very lonely.

Day 2 – Bombah Ferry to Forster – (49 km) We owe a huge “thank you” to the Bombah ferry operator. He pointed us back across the ferry to some hiking tracks/fire roads through Myall Natioanl Park that he assured us are suitable for bicycles. We’d been told differently at 2 tourist information centers.

This is primarily a walking track but it has been maintained enough that it was fine for our bikes.
This is primarily a walking track but it has been maintained enough that it was fine for our bikes.

Based upon his first-hand advice, we took the turnoff to Old Gibbers Road which turns into Mining Road Trail. The 20 km of dirt road took us though magnificent brush and huge sand dunes and gave us a chance to chat while riding which we seldom do.

We could ride side-by-side and chat. We never saw another vehicle or person.
We could ride side-by-side and chat. We never saw another vehicle or person.

We had to lift our bikes over the gate to exit the dirt roads where we intersected and turned west onto Seal Rocks road.

This is the end of the dirt road for us traveling south to north.
This is the end of the dirt road for us traveling south to north.

 

Seal Rocks Road  had very little traffic but lots of great art work.
Seal Rocks Road had very little traffic but lots of great art work.

The remainder of the day was spent on The Lakes Way, a “tourist drive” that meandered around Myall Lake, Smiths Lake, Wallis Lake and Booti Booti National Park (got a big kick out of the name)  All three lakes had glass-like water that was just begging for a ski boat and water-skier to take advantage of the “glass.”

Wallis Lake
Wallis Lake

This section of the Australian Coast makes for a lovely bike ride.

Newcastle to the Hunter Valley (150 km)

Beautiful vineyards make a trip to Hunter Valley worthwhile.
Beautiful vineyards make a trip to Hunter Valley worthwhile.

Until we’d struck up a conversation with a group of cyclists in Newcastle, we’d never heard of the Hunter Valley. But, at the recommendation of some soon-to-be-retirees, we altered our plans. Instead of heading directly north along the coast, we headed inland towards Cessnock and the Hunter Valley, a scenic and popular wine making region of Australia. This ride is perfect for a 3 or 4 day cycle tour with plenty of scenery, wine tasting stops, and gourmet restaurants. There are plenty of Bed and Breakfasts and unique accommodations located on vineyards, but our budget directed us to a caravan park in Cessnock.

Day 1 – Newcastle to Cessnock – 69 km. We took a very circuitous route from New Castle to Cessnock avoiding all highways and major roads.

One of the cycle trails just outside of New Castle enroute to Cessnock.
One of the cycle trails just outside of Newcastle enroute to Cessnock.

We climbed and descended many hills. (992 meters ascended) but were rewarded with bucolic pastoral scenes.

The road to Cessnock.
The road to Cessnock.

After pitching our tent at the Big 4 Campground, we had just enough daylight to cycle the 1.5 km to the Sadler Winery where we tasted some delicious wines and brought a bottle home for dinner.

Sadler Winery just before dusk.
Sadler Winery just before dusk.
The view from the wine cellar door.
The late afternoon view from the Sadler wine cellar door.

Day 2 – Loop around Hunter Valley – 50 km. We loaded our bikes with the intention of cycling through Hunter Valley and on to Nelson Bay. Little did we know that the lure of the tasting rooms, the pleasure of a gourmet lunch, and an afternoon beer tasting would compel us to change our plans.

As a matter of fact, when Eric first broached the idea of actually “tasting” wine at 10:30 am, I was less than supportive.

Eric: I’ve been thinking….since we’ve come all this way, why don’t we stop and taste some wine.
Me: I’m NOT going to drink wine at 10:30 in the morning. That will ruin me for the day. You go ahead.
Eric: Forget it. It was a bad idea.

I was feeling pretty guilty as we cycled another kilometer down the road. I pulled up in front of a tiny winery.

Me: Sorry. I just shot down your idea. You’re right. We’re here. Let’s taste some wine.
Eric: Not here. I was thinking of a bigger name winery. One that might actually sell wine in a store. You know..So we could learn something.

One of the larger winemakers in Australia.
One of the larger winemakers in Australia.

We cycled a few more kilometers. Just ahead was Lindeman. I’d remembered that label from the “three bottles for 99 ringits” (about $30) at Aeon in Lumut, Malaysia. I’d also remembered not liking it very much. So I was curious to see if the wine from the source was better.

Me: How about Lindeman?
Eric: Looks great.

We walked inside and had a wonderful tasting experience. (Eric had ANOTHER good idea!)  We’d learned that Lindeman is probably the 2nd largest exporter of wine in Australia. It’s been around since the late 1800s. (I had no idea). And the wines we sampled were delicious.
Thank goodness we stopped as we have a much better appreciation for Lindeman.

I enjoy seeing some of the promotional bicycles here in Australia.
I enjoy seeing some of the promotional bicycles here in Australia.

Our next destination a recommended restaurant called Leaves and Fishes. By the time we finally arrived we were more than starving, Unfortunately, the restaurant was NOT open on Tuesdays. Luckily, the Deck Cafe’ located nearby was a delicious alternative in a beautiful, outdoor setting.

The picture of this bird is on the side of the Deck Cafe. These are one of the birds that sing to me in the morning.
The picture of this bird is on the side of the Deck Cafe. These are one of the birds that sing to me in the morning.

To cap off a really great day, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Blue Thai located adjacent to the Big 4 campground. The restaurant came highly recommended by the hostess at the Sadler Winery and we agree it was some of the best Thai food we’ve eaten since Thailand.

Day 3 – Cessnock to East Maitland (34 km) – We awoke to a the sounds of at least three different species of songbirds beginning just before sunrise. The birds in Australia have surprised and delighted me with their beautiful, loud sounds.

After breakfast we took the Old Maitland Road towards Maitland. I was a bit disappointed with this trail due to the amount of trash and broken bottles lining both sides of the road.

Old Maitland Road goes through a National Park.
Old Maitland Road goes through Werakata National Park.

A good potion of the road is unpaved and potholed making it unsuitable for road bikes.

This road is fine for sturdy bikes.
This road is fine for sturdy bikes.

Rain starting around 11:00 am made us stop in a cafe in Maitland. As the rain did not let up we decided to call it a day and spend the afternoon relaxing at the Molly Morgan Motor Inn making tentative plans for the next several months of our cycle.

In spite of today’s rain, this brief detour to the Hunter Valley has been a very enjoyable part of our tour in Australia.

Ocean Grove to Melbourne (170 Km)

View from the bay looking to our coastal walk coffee destination.
View from the bay looking to our coastal walk coffee destination.

This part of our journey could easily be done in 2 days. We even came across road bike riders who were cycling the entire Phillips Bay (over 200 km) in one day. But, we chose to take it slow, took lots of pictures, chatted with strangers, and enjoyed the ride.

Ocean Grove
Cold but sunny weather greeted us this day. We had been staying with a lovely couple Barrie and Jenny who we’d met at a highway rest area north near Goulburn several weeks before. To say we “hit it off” was an understatement. From the moment we said “hello” at the rest area we clicked chatting for over an hour. Barrie and Jenny had invited us to their home and sure enough, two weeks later, we gave them a call..

Me: Barrie, I don’t know if you remember me. This is Penny from….
Barrie: Of course, from the rest stop. How are you?
Me: Great! We’re heading back towards Geelong and just realized that you live nearby.
Barrie: Have you got plans for accommodation tonight?
Me: Not confirmed but we have some ideas.
Barrie: We’re heading to Geelong now for dinner. We’ll just stop and pick you up. You can stay with us. What time does your train arrive?

An hour and a half later when we hopped off the train there were our new friends waiting with their “ute” (pickup truck) to take us to their home.

We met these friends Barrie and Jenny at a highway rest stop near Goulburn.
We met these friends Barrie and Jenny at a highway rest stop near Goulburn.

We had a blast! Great conversation, delicious food, beautiful coastal walk, sightseeing in Queenscliff, and relaxation in a home..

Ocean Grove to Rye: (47 km)
After eating a leisurely breakfast, Barrie, Eric and I cycled to Queenscliff. As I’ve mentioned before, Eric and I love having a fellow cyclist lead us out of town. With a tail wind, a cycle lane and a cycling path the entire way, it was easy to appreciate the scenery.

Just before cycling to Queenscliff.
Just before cycling to Queenscliff.

We missed the 11:00 am Queenscliff to Sorento ferry by several minutes so we had a good excuse to linger over a coffee at the ferry cafe overlooking the harbour.

After boarding the ferry we found a large table in the lounge area to lay out our maps and plan the next few days of our journey. After learning that it was Food and Wine festival weekend in Sorento, we decided to ride north along Phillip Bay to secure lodging before we got too cold that afternoon. (It’s consistent that the days turn cold around 3:00 pm.

After checking into motel and buying food for dinner, we hopped back on our bikes and cycled north about 5 km to watch the many kite surfers (wake board + kite) taking advantage of the strong winds. Many of the surfers were amazing to watch: jumps, 360s, tacking, switching feet.

Kite surfing near Rye.
Kite surfing near Rye.

Rye to Frankston (57 km)

This was a very cold, windy day with the threat of rain always at our backs. As soon as we stopped into the Information center (I-stie) in Frankston the sky let loose. The freezing rain reminded us why we were choosing to head back up north.

When the rain let up a bit, we cycled 5 km east of town to the Frankston Motel. With plenty of daylight to spare and the rain subsiding a bit, we rode back to town and found a movie theater where we watched “Spy” with Melissa McCarthy. The movie was a little slow, but the theater was warm and dry.

Frankston to St. Kilda (55 km)

This was a great riding day, sunny and dry. We found the Long Beach Trail which took us north about 20 km.

This seems like a new trail and sure beats the Napean Hwy.
This seems like a new trail and sure beats the Napean Hwy.

We then headed west and found a coastal trial that took us the entire way into St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne. The route included many nice photo opportunities and no stress because we weren’t on a highway.

Sailboats taking advantage of the wind.
Sailboats taking advantage of the wind.

I loved this ride and could see doing this often if I lived here.

Looking across Phillips Bay to Melbourne
Looking across Phillips Bay to Melbourne.
Love these colorful, summer beach cottages.
Love these colorful, summer beach cottages.

We found the reasonably-priced Cosmopolitan apartment hotel in St. Kilda where we decided to stay for four days to rest, catch up on personal business, and do general planning for the rest of our time here in Australia.

St. Kilda to Melbourne (12 km)

View of Mellbourne from the Capital City Trail.
View of Mellbourne from the Capital City Trail.

The ride into Melbourne from St. Kilda is so easy that we did it many times over the four days we were there. Aside from business items like topping up sim cards, banking, writing emails, and calling family, we did lots of sightseeing: riding the tram to the end of the line, visiting the National Gallery, attending an organ/tenor recital at St. Michael’s Unifying Church (my favorite), cycling the Capital City Trail in both directions, listening to many great street musicians, taking advantage of the “coffee culture”, seeing the movie “Aloha” which we both enjoyed, and eating some tasty pizza (our only restaurant meal this visit to Melbourne)

The Thursday organ concert at St Michael's Unifying Church was fantastic. (and free!)
The Thursday organ concert at St Michael’s Unifying Church was fantastic. (and free!)

Due to the Queen’s Birthday filling up all the hotel rooms, we had to change hotels on our last night. The Duty Manager Andrew at the Seasons Hotel Melbourne, is my new best friend. He upgraded our room to a beautiful one bedroom apartment with a beautiful kitchen, balcony, washer/dryer, and king sized bed. We really relaxed but also found it hard to leave the comfort of our first “real” apartment since starting this trip.

This hotel apartment is the nicest we've had in ages.
This hotel apartment is the nicest we’ve had in ages.

Although this segment of our trip was quite short, the slower pace and the variety of activities was just what we needed to mentally charge up for the next couple of months.

Train to Warmer Weather – Melbourne to New Castle

These are the boxes and bags we dragged through Sydney Central
These are the boxes and bags we dragged through Sydney Central

Last night we took the night train from Melbourne to Sydney. We’d always known coming into Australia that we would be here in winter and the colder weather might “dictate” our plans. And sure enough, it was getting too cold down south.

So, after a lovely four day rest in Melbourne, we boarded the evening train for the 11-hour ride to Sydney where we would transfer to a suburban train to our final destination of New Castle.

The train ride was better than I had expected. Once the lights were dimmed about 10:00 pm everyone in our car fell asleep. Well almost everyone.  The Eastern European couple sitting across the aisle from us speaking a foreign language loud enough to hear through our headphones didn’t get the “hint” that “lights out” is synonymous with “hush”. Finally, about 11:30pm Eric tersely said “Stop Talking!” Which they understood. And, they did. And we slept. And the next thing we knew we were pulling into Sydney Central Station.

After two Krispy Creme donuts (they compliment that greasy “I’ve been on a train all night” feeling), a bacon and egg muffin, and a large black coffee each, we felt sugared and caffeinated enough to hold our heads high through the numerous stares of fellow backpackers, people who’d slept all night on the floor at the train station, and Queen’s birthday revelers. Here we were: two middle aged cyclists – dragging our bike boxes and panniers a few feet – a 100 pounds of stuff, stopping for breaths and then continuing the spectacle down one elevator, underneath 15 train platforms, up another elevator and along the sidewalk to the bus stop.

I know you’re wondering why we didn’t just reassemble our bikes and ride them. I was wondering the same thing, too. But I was trusting the expertise of the New South Wales (NSW) Train Ticket Agent.

Me: Should we leave our bikes in the box or can we assemble them for the train to New Castle.
NSW: There is no train to New Castle. You’ll have to take the bus.
Me: What about our bikes!?
NSW: I don’t know. You probably can’t put your bikes on the bus.
Me: Here’s our ticket to New Castle that shows we have bikes. We bought this in Melbourne.
NSW: I don’t know. You should probably leave them in the box and talk to the driver.
Me: Where is the driver?
NSW: Just down that hall and turn. It’s not more than a 15-minute walk.

As disgruntled duo, we continued on our awkward, stare-inducing, slow-paced slog to the bus stop.

During this walk, I was mentally writing the CEO of NSW Trains to
a. complain
b. offer suggestions about communication regarding train service disruptions to ALL stations
c. demand a refund for our $12.00 ticket plus a pre-booked hotel in New Castle
d. put our bikes together and ride two days to New Castle.
e. all of the above

Lucky for me, Eric could sense that I was about to open a flood gate of tears. Lack of sleep and dealing with bureaucracies can do this to me. He pointed to the sign that said “train/coach” to NewCastle. The bus driver got the hint and rearranged some suitcases creating a space for our boxes and bags.

I think the driver declared the bus "full" once we were loaded.
I think the driver declared the bus “full” once we were loaded.

And….the best part of the day…..warmer weather and sunshine. New Castle is a beautiful place!

Families celebrating the Queen's birthday long weekend in the warmer weather of New Castle.
Families celebrating the Queen’s birthday long weekend in the warmer weather of New Castle.