Port Macquarie to Taree
June, July and August form Australia’s winter, where the popular trend along the East coast is to migrate north to the warmth, where the tropical Northern Territory becomes bearable and the southern state of Victoria experiences the fresh blast of Antarctic winds.
Fully aware of this, we were cycling south into the cold. We had experienced the hot-humid heat in Queensland and were now eager to see just what an Aussie winter would offer.
Staying with hosts is invaluable in terms of the local knowledge and recommendations that are shared. Sometimes, however, there’s only so many times you can heed the advice, and so many times you can listen to the constant phrase, “Oh, but it’ll be cold” and the warning that, “9 degrees – that’s cold!”. The insinuation that we hadn’t done our research, didn’t know that winter was coming, or that we had never experienced ‘The Cold’ before was a bit ridiculous. Ironically, they also tell us fairly often, “Oh, you’ll be used to the cold, you’re British”.
Saddled up and determined to continue south, the thermometer read 12°C – a bright and fresh 12°C with clear blue skies. This temperature I liked, and with the down jacket, jumper, hat, buff, and gloves tucked snugly away in the panniers, we knew we were equipped if the temperature did plummet to the unbearable 9°C.
We cycled along, hugging the coastline and took our break among the seagulls at Laurieton – a picturesque town on the river – and pedalled through Cundleton to Taree, where we found free coffee at the local information centre. Once we had finished off the supplies, we decided that was the time to leave and made our way to set up camp. We chose a beautiful spot with views down the river, along a track of lovely looking houses.
As we tucked into our gourmet meal of cous cous, tuna and sweetcorn, we sat waiting for the invite into one of these houses for a big roast dinner. Darkness came, and the invite didn’t.
Taree to Tarbuck Bay
We got out of the tent and were greeted by a beautiful sunrise over the river, and we were glad we didn’t get an invite. Being outside, enjoying breakfast with the sun slowly warming you up is a much better start to the day.
And more striking coastline to cycle along just made the morning better. We stopped in Forster, and while looking out across the ocean, Lindsay noticed something moving out in the sea close to the harbour entrance. We collected up our picnic bits quickly and cycled around to the harbour break wall to see if we could get nearer in time to see what it was. As we perched on big rocks, looking out, we saw dozens and dozens of dolphins jumping and playing. Time seemed to disappear as we sat there watching them diving out of the water.
We carried on along the coast, got a bit hot and sweaty cycling in this balmy winter weather and stopped at a sailing club to gather some water for cooking later…and the water looked amazing. We were entering the Great Lakes and stopped at a sailing club. The shallow water in the lake was still and looked very refreshing. We ran in, with the water only reaching our shins. It was definitely refreshing and a shock to the system, but we submerged ourselves and had a good wash before we got too cold – luckily the sun was still shining and we warmed up quickly.
The road took us up into forests and down to lakes, and there were so many beautiful places we thought we should pitch our tent, but continued to cycle to our designated ‘rest area’. We got there and looked at each other: there was no way we were going to spend the night here: it was a grotty, tarmacked area that looked like an overgrown parking space. Not fond of backtracking, especially up a hill we just sailed down, we found the small lake-side beach we had both noted along the way. We were glad to call this home for the night: another beautiful spot, and we really felt like we were being spoiled.
Tarbuck Bay to Hawks Nest
Another sunrise, another delightful place to have breakfast. The road wound it’s way up through dense rain forest and this climb was definitely making us feel like we were still in the tropics – apart from the sound of gasping for air as our legs fought their way uphill, the ony noises were from the screeching birds and croaking frogs. From overheating we were soon shivering as we reached the top and descended down with the cool air wicking away any heat our bodies had generated.
Today, we had a decision to make: to take a road that was sealed, where our tyres would kiss the smoothness, or a gravel road, where our tyres would chew on grit. Knowing how much Lindsay adores the bumpy, corrugated dirt tracks…ehem…I let her choose the way. Bravely, and in the spirit of adventure, she chose the gravel road, which meant she wasn’t allowed to complain about it! We kept smiles on our faces and we survived. We hopped on a ferry at Bombah Point, which took us across a stretch of water less than 50m wide, and rode the last 25km to Tea Gardens, where we hoped to find a garden living up to its name.
After scouting out a stealthy camping spot to keep our tent hidden away from the rangers imposing the ‘no camping’ rule, we watched the sun set as dolphins cruised lazily with the tide back out to sea.
Hawks nest to Newcastle
The thundering sound of rain wasn’t conducive for a good night’s sleep; however, there is nothing quite like the silencing qualities of a fresh new pair of ear plugs! The simple things are now bliss.
Up early and tent packed away before anyone could catch us, it was probably the quickest we’ve got ready for another day on the road…yet we had to wait til 9:30 to catch a ferry across to Nelson Bay, and by mid-morning, we had clocked up a mighty 7km on the bike.
The clouds were grey and gloomy, filled with rain, and as we got closer to Newcastle, it just got worse, the air filled with smog drifting from the coal factory that swallowed up the entire landscape. The roads were busy, and tankers gave us no space while overtaking. An agitated older gent stopped us in the street and assured us we would be fined because we didn’t have bike bells, and an angry lady cycling towards us on the wrong side of the road looked dazed into oblivion. This place seemed unfriendly, and within the first five minute, we had started to dislike Newcastle.
This all changed as soon as we cycled closer to our hosts with their amazing little beach house perched on top of the hill overlooking the ocean. We were greeted with tea and digestive biscuits, enough said.
The next day was our rest day, so started with a 10km run along the coast. One of the reasons we took the coastal route was because the humpback whale migration was beginning. Our chances of seeing any from the shore at this time of year were fairly slim, however, according to a lady at the Information Centre, who told us that the whales tend to bring their calves nearer to the coast on their way back in September.
After spotting some dolphins during our run, something else caught my eye. It looked a lot like waves crashing on rocks. We paused, took another look, and sure enough there was a hump breaking the surface. Without hesitation, Lindsay ran off faster than normal, and headed closer to the water, ducking under a barrier to get even closer. Spraying up jets of water, there was a group of humpback whales powering north!
As if it were a race, we ran parallel with the whales and to the end of a break wall, where we would be even closer to them. In true Free Willy style, we ran to the end, wondering if they might take the cue and jump over us (not that they needed to be set free, and they weren’t Orcas, so it was unlikely). Instead they glided by like gentle giants, and Lindsay could not have been happier. I have spent many hours near the coast with Lindsay, and she spends all that time looking out for whales, and now she had seen some!
Newcastle to Wamberal
The hills cycling out of the city woke us up instantly, but made us wonder whether another rest day would have been better! After stopping in a lovely little park overlooking the sea, drinking coffee and watching more dolphins playing around a fisherman’s boat, we were very happy.
On the way to our hosts, however, the roads starter to get busier, the cycle lanes became narrower, and the skies were becoming darker: there was a storm approaching. In the comfort and great company of our entertaining hosts, we thought nothing more of it…
Wamberal to Manly
The route to Sydney was short; however, the ferry that would take us from Ettalong to Palm Beach was cancelled today and tomorrow due to rough seas and an impending storm. We were advised that maybe a rest day would be good until the storm passed. Eager to get to the city, and unwilling to be hindered by the weather, we took a long detour, inland along an old, empty highway. Empty apart from a police patrol car who, to our disbelief, drove past us a lot closer than the 1-metre rule despite there being nothing else on the road.
Still, we kept in good spirits, and although wet, it was a great ride, twisting through forests and carving through mountainous terrain. The rain got heavier, and as we approached Hornsby we sheltered outside a library. An older gent chatted to us and was enthusiastic to learn about our adventure; he seemed very impressed and said he was glad to see us so happy even though we were soaked and tired. He popped into the library, and on his way out told us that, as a gesture, he wanted us to have a drink on him….he then got out $20! We refused the money and asked him instead to read our blog (kudos to you who do!), but he was adamant, dropped the note into my lap, and made a speedy getaway – he must have known it would be an awful read!
The closer we got to Manly, the heavier the rain got, and the stronger the wind felt. Soon, we were riding through streets full of branches, and trees bent double with sideways rain pummelling us. It was all very sketchy, and when we realised our brakes were also failing, we walked our bikes the final kilometre.
We woke up the next day, looked out of the window and decided to stay inside watching the weather on the news instead of cycling through it. Yes, this storm was a news headline. Our hosts were extremely kind and let us shelter for another night. We were able to share our cycle touring experience with this brilliant English couple who were planning their first adventure, and they cooked us a feast where had our first taste of ‘roo!
Manly to Sydney
The ride into the city couldn’t be easier; 1km to the ferry port, and a short ferry ride into the city – we got a glimpse of the storm battering the coast, then cruised into Sydney Harbour, getting our first look of the Opera House – this seemed like an iconic moment in our travels. I was slightly underwhelmed by it though, the famous building looked amazing, but I was a bit disappointed it wasn’t a brighter white, it just looked a bit dirty!
Our days in Sydney wouldn’t have been complete without a run through the Botanic Gardens, and a visit to all the outdoor shops in town! Plus, we were able to enjoy the Vivid Festival, where snakes slid over the Opera House and paint trickled down the face of the Museum in some impressive visual animations.
Posted by Will