Valley Grrrls …

Sydney to Newcastle via the Hunter Valley

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Looking over the Hunter Valley

Dream on it. Let your mind take you to places you would like to go, and then think about it and plan it and celebrate the possibilities.

                                                                                             Liza M

It has been four weeks since we began this journey.  We are living our dream now, and it is  the most amazing experience of my life.  Recently I have realised that it’s the distractions that make a journey great.  Whether it be a place, side road, people or experience.  The road to Sydney had seemed familiar, our destination set. The road beyond, unknown.  We could take the most direct route, but what fun would that be?  As always – local knowledge is a great asset.  Our new route to Newcastle took us though ridge and valley country.  Yes, this meant more undulations, hills, ups and downs. Amazingly, we are now used to this.

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Sunrise over Bobin Head

We began with a beautiful afternoons ride with Glen (our local), through Bobin Head and a night’s camping on a ridge top overlooking the national park in the north of Sydney.  The next morning we had an unfortunate start, by riding through Galston Gorge during peak hour.  All Sydney-siders are by now staring at the computer screen in horror – you rode through Galston Gorge!!! during peak hour!!!! Yep, and it sucked.  Very narrow road, no shoulder, stone wall one side/steep drop the other, and obnoxious drivers.  Very unsatisfactory to the daughter of a civil engineer, no more needs to be said.  Luckily, the road from there on was fun.  The sun was shining, and we rode through fertile land full of flowers and vegetable gardens.  We stocked up on local produce from street side stalls and a little shop/shed that used an honesty system.  From here, we bought the best fig and ginger jam ever – and yes, we have almost finished the whole jar in 4 days!  Riding makes you develop a ferocious appetite, and Jude does believe that we will soon have consumed our weight in bread.

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The honesty shop

From the ridges, we descended via the River Road into the valley and along the edge of the Hawkesbury River.  With the river flowing along our left and the occasional cliff face to our right, we meandered our way through many sleepy towns to Wiseman’s Ferry.  The quick ferry ride took us to the other side, and after a large day of riding we sought the refuge of a forest to rest.  Unfortunately, the millions of mosquitos did not agree, and we were mauled before we were able to put up our home, and escape to an afternoon of reading and chocolate biscuits.

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The Hawkesbury River

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Overhangs on the River Road

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On the Wiseman’s Ferry

We awoke to a cacophony of bird songs and a misty morning in the valley.  After a cup of tea, we took a chance and found (with a little help from some locals) that we could cycle out of the little lane we had camped on, up the hill and on to the main road.  We continued to cycle through the valley, passed the St. Jude’s church for sale and crossed into the gorgeous town of St Albans.

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Scones at the pub St Albans

That evening, a major mountain bike race was to kick off in town and the organisers offered for us to stay and participate if we wanted to.  We seriously considered it, yet decided to move on.  But not before a coffee/tea and a serve of scones from the local pub.  The tavern is the most adorable pub I have ever been to – even at 9am.  And the scones were a secret gift from the motorcyclist we were chatting to.  If you ever meet a cycle tourist on your travels, a cheeky treat bought for them on the sly will be a kindness appreciated and remembered forever.

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The MacDonald River near St Albans

From St Albans we passed through the St Albans common, an open farmland based on the english commons.  The valley was stunning and the riding was divine. Eventually this lead to the gravel climb up to Bucketty.  Many of the mountain bike ride competitors stopped us and admired that we were cycling this road with our heavily laden bikes, and we still receive comments from locals who state that their cars can hardly make it up that road.  It does feel good.

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St Albans Common

From here we headed down into the next valley following the old convict route looking at the remnants of the original road, culverts and buildings.  A champagne at the Laguna wine bar was refreshing.  We would have stayed for the band, but we have become nannas and the thought of going to bed after 8pm was too much to cope with.  So we rode the extra few km’s to Wollombi where we put up our tent up in the tavern’s backyard (for free) and could go to bed when we wanted.  Later in the evening we did partake in the local delicacy of Dr Jerds Jungle Juice and had fifty different local opinions imparted to us about which road we should take the next day.

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Cheeky champagnes at the Laguna wine bar

The road to the Broke area won, and after 30kms a wine tasting at Krinklewood bio-dynamic winery was brilliant. I had the best Rose ever and then we were given free-range on the property’s veggie garden.  With an armful of organic produce, we cycled through the rest of the Hunter Valley and tasted the wares of another winery, distillery, chocolate shop and cheese shop.  That night, we ‘sneaky’ camped in the local national park and feasted on the gourmet produce we acquired that day.

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Riding in the Krinklewood winery

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The Krinklewood winery

It was exciting to wake up on the morning of our four week leaving anniversary.  To answer our number one bike touring question – yes, my bum still does hurt after four weeks. Not every day, but I’d say every three days.  I recently purchased some lycra which has helped, but a daily inspection by Jude and paw paw cream works wonders.  Jude, on the other hand, rarely has any issues and believes that the ‘skins’ she rides in have a great effect.

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A cup of tea and a triple cream brie sandwich to start the day

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Arriving in Newcastle

We stuck to the back roads into Newcastle and covered the 50km’s to Riki’s house by lunchtime.  It was great to stay with a friend again, and their house is just lovely.  We had our shower for the week and washed our clothes.  Then we had a driving tour of the history and suburbs of Newcastle.  This town is awesome by car or by bike, and last night we sampled wonderful micro-brewery beers at the Albion hotel – Riki’s favourite watering hotel.  Here we met Evan and Susan, and were invited into their lives.  To our delight we shared a wonderful evening sharing stories, food, wine, Australian music and their scenic view of Newcastle harbour.  It seems I end this blog with the story of a great night having dinner with amazing people, but that is the truth about cycle touring life.

Hope that your life is as joyous and wonderful, with all my love, Astrid xx

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With Riki in her home town

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Newcastle Ocean Baths

Over the mountains and along the coast

Orbost, Victoria to Tuross Head, NSW.

 

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Jude riding through the South East National Park

We are sitting in Jen and Lei’s kitchen cooking curry and home made naan bread and drinking wine.  It feels like we have been friends forever.  This is a beauty about life on the road.  We have been on the receiving end of such amazing kindness and hospitality everyday in both big and small ways.  From local knowledge about the best place to stop and have lunch, to random offers of a bed for the night to avoid sleeping in a tent during the biggest storm to hit the east coast in years.  These two experiences bookended the second week of our journey.

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The road to Goongurrah

Sardine Creek Track is the best place to have lunch and an afternoon nudie swim on the road to Goongurrah.  Yes a nudie swim.  It is the way to go when cycle touring (and lazy) as you don’t have to get into/out of your bathers or dry them.  I may one day write an ode to the nudie swim (which I will post) but I will continue now with the story of the road out of Orbost.

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Jude on the Bonang HIghway

The day before we had made the choice to cycle the Bonang Highway to NSW, avoiding the crazy drivers on the Princes Highway.  It was the best choice.  That first afternoon we covered 70km along the river and valley north of Orbost.  It was easy riding and a good way to distract ourselves from the sadness of leaving dad and Misch that morning.  Goongurrah is described on the map as a “town of greenie types” (read activists for anti-logging of native/old growth forests) and the free campground is one of the best we have stayed at.  If you’re ever in the area stay there and make dinner from the organic produce that the locals sell from the old fridges and ovens they use as letterboxes.

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Happy to have arrived in Goongurrah after 70kms in half a day.

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Graham plies us with beer at the Commercial Hotel in Bendoc

The next day was a bum and leg breaker – literally.  20 kilometres of uphill riding through some of the most beautiful old growth forests in Victoria.  We had the Snowy River National Park to our left and the Errinundra National Park on our right and I was in rainforest heaven.  We had been advised that the town of Bonang no longer had any facilities, but that Bendoc had a pub.  So being the beer lovers we are, we took a right off the Bonang Highway, cycled for another 20km up a dirt road and arrived at the Commercial Hotel.  Margaret and Graham plied us with beer and stories of the local area and then sent us on our way to cross the NSW border.  We couldn’t believe that we had cycled across our state and into the next.  We would have posted a ‘Welcome to NSW’ sign, except there wasn’t one!

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We made it to the border!

We have read many lamentations from cycle tourists about the undulating roads in NSW.  So we were ready for the constant ups and downs that we have experienced since crossing the border.  We cycled through the high plains of the South Coast Range, admired the quirkiness of the town of Cathcart that still has the original houses built in the late 1800’s, were gifted bunches of flowers by a random stranger and had a campfire in the beautiful surrounds of the Six Mile Creek campground.

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Having a campfire at the Six Mile Creek campground.

The next morning we were expecting more uphill as the road out of the campground was straight up.  Our legs and bums were afraid.  But within a few kilometres the road started going down.  And down, and down and down!  It was fast, crazy fun and we were enjoying the first bit of serious downhill for days.  Near the base came the first close call for the trip.  Luckily for us the car was going slowly as the road was steep and made of dirt.  We all swerved and thanked our lucky stars that the journey did not end less than two weeks in.

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Camels outside Candelo and the road we road in on.

This was soon forgotten as we rode along the creek edge listening to the bell birds singing and watching the dairy cows chew cudd.  As we climbed into the town of Candelo I looked up to the right and saw the oddest sight of camels on the hilltop.  We are not in Melbourne anymore Toto.  While drinking coffee we met John the caretaker and tour guide of the old township of Kameruka.  He regaled us with stories of the Tooth family and when we cycled passed we took a detour to see the property.  Another beauty of cycle touring, speaking with many local people who are the custodians of a rarely known history of their own areas.

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The church at the old town of Kameruka.

From here we passed into the cheese capital of the area – Bega.  Stocking up on food is a daily necessity of cycle touring and our aim is to buy as much nutritious food for the lowest price.  The reduced price section of the supermarket is our favourite.  From here we cycled over the Doctor George mountain range, playing tag with a couple of backpackers in a hippy van, until we reached our destination – Mimosa Rocks National Park.  The last few undulations along the dirt road to Middle Beach almost had me in tears as it had been a physically and emotionally tiring day.  We washed the days stresses away with a nudie swim in the ocean, a dinner of hand picked pine mushrooms and a fire.  We were joined during the night by a bandicoot that loved to eat chocolate.

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Middle Beach, ready for a nudie swim.

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The chocolate loving bandicoot and Ella.

The next day we had one goal – to find some drinking water.  We have been filling up our drink bottles and water bladders at every town and stream when needed.  We did not think that a national park would a/ not provide water and b/ not sign post this information before you drove into the site.  When touring, you can’t just pop down to the next town 35km away as this will take 4 hours.  Enter Vincent, another lovely local with loads of information and most importantly water!  He suggested a move from Middle Beach to Blithey Inlet for more spectacular views.  There we spent the day swimming, reading, eating, walking and meditating.  Our campsite was at an old windmill site on the cliff edge protected by bushes and long grass.

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A relaxing day at Mimosa Rocks National Park

We needed it that night as a storm started brewing, and the next day a strong southerly blew us and the occasional rain storm towards Bermagui.  There on the headland we looked out over the ocean and had a toast for Rose.  Feeling sad and with the weather being so bad, we had dragged out our time in Bermagui.  Things happen for a reason. As we were about to leave Steve drove up and informed us about the huge storm heading our way and offered us a warm bed and a hot shower that night.  We needed no further convincing.  In their lovely home with the open fire burning, Steve regaled us with stories of cycle touring the world back in the 1980’s, Monita chatted with us like an old friend over numerous cups of tea and coffee, Jason entertained us after a few beers at the pub and the menagerie of animals gave us affection.  As we lay in bed that night with 100km/hr winds and violent rain pounding the house, we were thankful we had again been on the receiving end of such kindness.

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Our protectors from the storm

The bad weather continued on into the next day, and so that we didn’t lose the kilometres that we needed to cover to get to Sydney in time, that afternoon Steve and Monita drove us up the coast to Narooma.  On the way we made a tour of the coast line and watched the seas pounding and white foam covering everything.

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The pounding seas during the storm – Bermagui

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Jude in Australia Rock – Narooma

We wished our new friends a fond farewell and headed along the new cycle path from Narooma to Dalmeny.  Views of the ocean were occasionally obscured by the heavy rain that fell, yet by the time we had cycled to Bodalla the sun was shining and the hill riding had dried our clothes.  It was a cute town and we stopped at the local cheese factory and sampled their amazing wares.  I was also excited to discover “the big cheese” as we cycled out of town.

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The Big Cheese in Bodalla

We made it punctually to Tuross Head that evening and entered the lovely home of Lei and Jen.  Great conversation, travel stories and laughter filled the evening.  Homemade pizza and wine were on the menu.  Their dogs and cat plied us with/for affection. Before bed that night we were offered the opportunity to stay the next day, explore the beautiful town of Tuross Head, and Lei would the following day drive us further up the coast so that we would again not loose the kilometres.  It’s a hard decision to make at the beginning of a cycle tour, and after some extensive consideration we accepted their kind offer.

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A view of Tuross Head from the Princes Highway.

We spent today exploring the beautiful beaches, lakes and gardens of Tuross Head by foot and bike.  Lei has a great love for his town and provided us with a wealth of information about the area.  And now the story ends where it began – curry, naan bread, wine and great people.

With love, Astrid

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Lunch at the Boathouse Cafe

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Coastline of Tuross Head