Gold Coast to Lillifield Community Centre
Saying goodbye to our Australian home for the second time was harder, as this time we were leaving for a one-way trip to New South Wales and beyond – we can’t thank our Persian family enough and we welcome them to our homes when we eventually stop cycling.
With extra gear loaded onto our bikes, we felt very unbalanced. We were going to be cycling into winter and needed some warm layers. Though with the heat of the sun on our backs, and big hills ahead, we were sweating under the extra weight: did we really need all this winter gear? Does Australia really have a winter?! We are from the UK after all.
Crossing the border into New South Wales was quite undramatic, though Will and I amused each other with our best Welsh accents. Along the way, a road cyclist stopped us to tell us about his cycling expedition across Australia from West to East, aiming to be the first person to complete the challenge in under 50 days [heavyhiterz.org]. His parting advice was to steer clear of Nimbin and avoid the 24% climb to Kyogle…this reminded us of our first day cycle touring in Australia where we hit the 18% climb of Tamborine Mountain. We stopped at the information centre for bread, jam, and a new plan, and met an interesting man travelling around the East Coast with a very unusual companion: a metal detector, which he uses to find ‘ones and twos’ (dollar coins). He pointed to it, and exclaimed, “that just bought me a bus ticket” – he was quite a different character.
With the big climbs today came some nice descents, and while speeding down the hill after Will, I saw him point down to the ground: at a huge python crossing the road. Just in time, I swerved away to avoid cycling over its fat body, only to skim its tail. Luckily, it was a lazy python and no harm was done: besides the squished tail.
Later, when looking for a place to camp, we stopped at what looked like an abandoned community hall; with no one around, we started to devise a cunning plan to pitch our test on the veranda overlooking the countryside. Our plans were scuppered, however, when a couple of cars arrived. The not-so-abandoned community hall was being set up for its next event…while we helped shuffle some chairs and tables around, one of the ladies within the off-grid eco-community offered us some space on her land to pitch our tent. With wallabies hopping around in the garden, we enjoyed some wine and good chat on the veranda with our spontaneous hosts.
Lillifield to Lismore
We were in New South Wales or Wales? The hills were certainly reminiscent of the Welsh lands, and the countryside was just as beautiful. At the local post office (in the middle of nowhere), Will and I chatted to a cheerful older gent who laughed a lot and enjoyed hearing about our adventures. Once we signed the guestbook and cycled off, we heard him laughing at our note, signed from the ‘Pommies on pushies’.
Sitting outside of a café with some free Wi-Fi, we were very popular for the passers-by and met a mix of characters in the space of about 20 minutes: first, a dear old Hungarian lady who invited us to stay with her, then an old hippy with a hessian hat who encouraged us to visit Nimbin, a couple who were impressed with our journey and doubted they could ride 10km before giving up, an Aussie neuroscientist from Peru who couldn’t return until his lungs were suitable for the flight back, and a young fellow cycle tourist who had ridden from England and invited us to stay with him when we reached further south. An eclectic and interesting bunch of people to entertain us before we headed off to find our WarmShowers hosts.
Lismore to Whiporie
Our hosts in Lismore were friendly and funny, and with their house perched on top of a hill, we were able to enjoy some marvellous views and watch hot air balloons float over the valley. During our stay, our host also took us to a local spot where he promised we would see a koala. With the anticipation brewing, and the pressure of the promise building, we did in fact see a koala…
No, really, we did see some – 5 in fact!
On the morning we left, our host and his friend rode out with us, making us very envious with their super sleek road bikes. We said our goodbyes and continued our slow and steady pace to our campsite in the woods where the cycle tourist we had met in Lismore a couple of days before was staying. Tents and campervans made up a small community of backpackers who were planting trees for 12 cents per piece. As Will and I assembled our fancy camping chairs, we felt pretty relieved we had chosen to labour on the bike rather than labour in the fields.
Whiporie to Woolie Rest Area
Cycling into the fresh morning helped us to realise that the Australian winter might actually be quite cold. With each hill, we striped off a layer, but after each descent, wished we hadn’t. Still, we had to appreciate the quiet road that wound its way through the state forest to Grafton.
During our long coffee break, a lovely old man came over for a chat and seemed delighted at our adventure; he then invited Will to read something that would make us even happier and enjoy our journey even more.
Will: “Please don’t be a Bible, please don’t be a Bible, please don’t be a Bible.”
It wasn’t, though he held out a small book entitled, ‘What does the Bible really teach?’ Perhaps with genuine interest, perhaps for amusement, I have since seen Will read this book, and chuckle.
Woolie Rest Area to Woolgoogla
The air felt crisp and clean and good for the lungs as we cycled through the forest. Despite passing through some dusty roadworks, we made it to back to the coast. Being by the sea is comforting as you can’t get as lost…you’re at the edge of somewhere.
A picnic bench overlooking the rock pools seemed like an ideal spot to have a break and appreciate the beauty of the glistening ocean. Looking in the Easterly direction out to sea, it was difficult to comprehend just how far away you would have to paddle before touching land again.
Bare-chested and brave, Will even went for a swim.
Woolgoola has a magnificent jagged coastline with high headlands and cliff edges, as well as sandy horseshoe bays. On our day of exploration, we decided that a trail run was the best way to fully appreciate the contours and fresh sea air.
While staying here, we also had the pleasure of hanging out with a fellow Surly-cycle tourist, 2 weeks into his cycling adventure, and talked bikes, routes, and religion with him and the lovely family we stayed with.
Woolgoola to Macksville
We rode away with our new friend but soon parted ways as he cycled north while we cycled south.
One of the great things about the amount of space in Australia is that when something needs to be improved or renovated, it’s often more logical to build a new one from scratch right next it. This has happened with big sections of the highway. With a brand spanking new highway for the cars to enjoy, we relished the emptiness of the old highway all to ourselves!
We stopped off at Coffs Harbour for a lovely stop by the estuary, took a wrong turn (Will assures me we don’t get lost, we’re just exploring), and pedalled high up a hill to the Rotary Lookout in Nambucca Heads. We had the most awesome view (featured at the top of the post!) and made friends with a lovely little Willy Wagtail, who flirted with her tail until Will fed her dried noodle.
In Macksville, a lovely lady from England, married to a lovely Aussie, took us in for the night, where we ate and chatted in front of the fire – they disclosed their secret love of orchid hunting and the dog enjoyed Will’s company so much that it kept hugging his leg.
Macksville to Crescent Head
We set off with a packed lunch of cookies and cake! Off the highway, we rode to South West Rocks and along the coast to Trial Bay Gaol – a nice view for a convict!
Once we had ridden out of the woodland, we cycled parallel with the river, but had a headwind to slow us down and force us to appreciate the glistening water for longer than necessary.
While sitting in the grass for our break, we realised how brave we had become – our fear of snakes and spiders and all things deadly was disappearing the longer we stayed alive in Australia (plus we didn’t have to be on guard against crocs down south).
But a toilet stop reminded me never to put my guard down. A lady occupying the next cubicle screamed once she had flushed the toilet – when I went to see if she was alright, we burst out laughing nervously when a huge toad started to climb back up inside the loo!
With only 7 km to go, we were feeling weary…I looked up to see a sign indicating gravel road. Noooooo. This wasn’t just edge-of-the-road, couple-of-loose-stones-type gravel, this was rutty corrugated dirt road, that shook our bikes so much it felt like our bags would fall off. My poor Surly (christened Shirley-George). Eventually, we made it. Though I think Will wished he was wearing earplugs considering the number of times I told him how much I was enjoying myself!
Once we arrived at the beach, Will went for a cathartic swim – very fresh. He described it as invigorating, as he quickly wrapped himself in his down jacket.
That night we sat in the dark watching the stars, hoping the ranger wouldn’t come to charge us for camping. Instead we had another unwanted visitor. In the shadows…on top of my silk liner…inside the tent…stood a big, thick, hairy, if-I-stand-still-maybe-they-won’t-see-me spider.
Crescent Heads to Port Macquarie
No ranger turned up, and our stealth camping was a success! We packed up quickly and cycled to the headland where we could enjoy our breakfast overlooking the coast.
The 7 km corrugated gravel road didn’t seem quite as bad this morning, and even when we turned down Maria River Road and saw gravel again, we kept in high spirits…for the first 20 km.
And then Will wished he had earplugs again while I spent the last 5 km describing my emotions. Still, nothing a coffee and a bench by the sea to make everything all right again.
We took a short ferry to Pelican island (retirement-worthy area, where every house comes with a mooring), and arrived in Port Macquarie.
Sat by the river in the sun, we were approached by many locals to speak about our adventure. A comment we found particularly baffling was how rich we must be – wearing the same t-shirt for 8 months, not showering in a couple of days, eating instant noodles and looking wonderfully straggly, I can see how she came to that conclusion.
Posted by Lindsay