Now that we are chilling in Darwin, I thought I would use this opportunity to write about some of the logistics and highlights of cycling in Australia. When I was researching our trip, I always found these kind of posts useful and interesting.
Cycle touring in Australia has been overall awesome. Here are some of the pros and cons we have found while on the road.
Finding the small roads and having them almost to ourselves, especially places like the Bonang highway. Rail trails in Victoria. The variation in scenery and climate. The people; from cooked dinners, home invites, helping with directions, gifts of food, water and beer, Australians have been way more generous then I expected. Free camping is mostly really easy and this is what we did the vast majority of the time. Country pubs often let you camp for free, provided you buy a beer or two. The space and lack of people (even though it is high season) in the outback was brilliant.
The cost. Australia is expensive, even if you live here. Most of our daily budget was spent on food. In the north of the country, especially in remote areas the prices are extortionate at times with little variety. Wifi. Basically crap or non existent outside of major cities. I have found better wifi in Asia. The distances off the highway into places of interest can be quite large, especially in the north. So you really need time or be willing to hitchhike, take a bus or miss out.
Although there are obvious pros and cons of cycling in Australia, I would still recommend it to anyone. There are always going to be up and down sides to every country.
Maps and stuff: To find our way through Australia we have used a variety of different approaches. We have a big map of all the states, which we use as a rough guide. Through NSW we have picked up free Cartascope maps from different regions, which have more details. The google maps bike app can be useful too, although it’s a little unreliable and clunky at times. The i phone map app has actually been very helpful as we can see where we are and how far things are away. And for finding secret bush land we might be able to hide in. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the bike app and tends to choose main roads. By far the best navigational tool is local knowledge. This has been invaluable.
Staying the night: If we paid for every night in Australia we would be looking at double to triple of what our budget is now. Even an unpowered site can cost up to $30 in a caravan park and hostels around $25-30 each. So mostly we free camp. This is fairly simple in a big country like Australia and bikes are easy to hide. We use bush land at the outskirts of towns, national parks, state forests, recreational reserves. This is where the i phone map app is often helpful in navigating us to the green, which is usually a park or forest, sufficient for a hiding a tent. Often putting your tent up after dark and taking it down just before light avoids any busy bodies that might tell you off when you are stealth camping in a reserve or park. For washing we usually have a river or the ocean. When we need a break from the tent we use couchsurfing and warmshowers. Couchsurfing for those who don’t know is an international organization of people who offer up their ‘couches’ or spare rooms to other travellers, for free. It’s built on mutual trust, cultural exchange and a shared philosophy about travel and life. Everyone who is part of it has a profile on the internet and from this you choose who you want to stay with. Once you have stayed with someone or they have stayed with you, you leave them a positive or negative reference and this builds reputation and trust. We had several couchsurfers stay with us in Melbourne and met some truly awesome people. Now that we are on the other end of the experience we are having an amazing time surfing couches. To be invited to share someone’s life for the night, to cook food, drink wine and exchange stories is really a heart warming way to experience travel. We always feel revitalised after a night of couchsurfing. Warmshowers is the equivalent to couchsurfing but for touring cyclists. It’s smaller but equally as excellent with the added bonus of being able to get information from local cyclists.
Kakadu: This is like a theme park for nature lovers. We cycled along relatively quiet roads and the stayed in the most magnificent places. Think deep plunge pools, waterfalls, reflective lagoons, abundant bird life and rock art tens of thousand years old. I found Kakadu magical and we are planning a cycle tour dedicated just to it, sometime when we come back.
The savannah way: Yep, it was tough but worth it and great to get off the beaten track. The sections especially though the Limmen National park were stunningly beautiful. And we loved the alternate route we initially took through Einsleigh and Foresyth.
Eugella national park/Finch Hatten gorge: Beautiful tropical and sub-tropical rainforest, waterfalls and platypus. The bush camp near Finch Hatten gorge was a highlight too (even though it poured almost the whole time). We met great people and the place has a great vibe. The cycle in through the valley, filled with cane and the mountains in the distance is pretty stunning too.
Agnes water/1770: Still a small, low key town with stunning scenery, good surf and enough travellers to keep it vibrant. Not sure how long it will stay like this.
Bellingen: Mountains, rainforest and the coast 10km away. That in itself would be enough but add a vibrant community, good coffee and great food. Perhaps a bit like Castlemaine, but arguably in a better location.
Myall Lakes national park: Great cycling well made, quiet roads with the ocean on one side and gorgeous lakes on the other. I think nothing more needs to be said.
Bonang highway: It was just a really great route north out of Victoria. Old growth forest and basically no traffic. So much better than the Princes.
East Gippsland rail trail: You don’t get much better then this in Australia at least. One hundred kilometers of car free riding, through relatively remote forest in Victoria’s east, with enough quaint towns and a microbrewery to keep it easy and your thirst quenched!
Hopefully this has been helpful/interesting.