The last vlog saw us in a motel room in Port Augusta where we rested up for two nights and wait for the cooler weather. The owner of the motel actually came and knocked on our door later that first evening and said if we need to stay longer than we're very welcome to, if we need to, at no expense to us. That kind of generosity just warms your heart and makes you feel so welcome.
We also made an appearance on the local Southern Cross SA News:
In the day or two before arriving in Port Augusta, my family had flown from the UK into Melbourne for a holiday deliberately timed to coincide with meeting us. As we were, by this point, quite behind our original schedule they offered to drive over to Adelaide and help us out. So up they rocked in my uncle's car (who lives in Melbourne) and took us down to Adelaide to escape the heat and the exhaustion and recover for a day or two with them and our other friends who live in Adelaide. Some may call this cheating, others will realise that we'd completely hit our limit and needed assistance - more about that in another blog post!
Leaving Adelaide, we hit the hills and found a brilliant segregated bike path up next to the M1 which took us all the way to Crafers. I was almost to the top of the climb and a man, whom we later found out to be called Ian, started chatting to us and ended up taking us for a good bacon and egg roll in the local cafe. He then put us in contact with his friend in Canberra who had ridden the Indy Pac race last year and could give us some good advice about riding in that part of the world. This is something which we missed in Asia - the connections you make through people you meet and just get chatting to - but it's certainly been a theme throughout Australia!
The next few days passed without incident and with, on occasion, a storming tail wind at last! We had some of our biggest days on the road during this section along the A8 with some really enjoyable riding in a generous road shoulder and more giant animals to see:
The closer we got to Melbourne the more unsure we were about the best route in and even though we had caught up a few days by not going the Great Ocean Road route, we were still trying to push our schedule to meet my family again before they flew out of the country. In the end, to make sure we still spend another day or two with them, we got on the train at Melton on the outskirts of the city and went straight across to the Dandenong hills where my uncle lived. Seeing family who had either flown half way around the world, or who had moved away 15 years previously, was more important than saying we'd cycled through Melbourne!
Melbourne was certainly a time for catching up with people, even through our sleepy haze. Mike had a friend in the city whom he went to school with so we had a fantastic evening with Bob and Annabel before heading off out of the city again.
Our route up to Sydney wasn't ever really firmly laid in stone - actually most of our route has never been so - but that's generally part of the joy of cycle touring! We heard more about some of the rail trails which exist in Victoria and after being recommended them by our warm showers host, Tim, whilst staying with him in Warragul, we had to give them a go. We picked up the first rail trail at Traralgon and did an extremely pleasant, off road, 60km to Maffra the next day. The surface was compacted earth but never a worry with our bikes and in some places we got up a really good speed without having to worry about traffic. I don't think we saw another person on the whole trail...
The following morning we finished that trail at Stratford and joined the main road again for a long windy straight up to Bairnsdale where we thankfully joined the next trail heading for Johnsonville. We needed to get to Lake's Entrance before that evening to stay with Annabel's dad's friends who lived on the coast by Lake Tyers and we still made really great time. Frank and Raylee were extremely welcoming hosts to two damp strangers and we ate the best steak I've had in years and drank enough beer and wine to send us both straight to sleep for a very peaceful rest out of the rain.
The sun shone the next morning and we planned on picking the trail up again at Nowa Nowa before it ended at Orbost. We stopped for a cold drink at the roadhouse at Nowa Nowa and got chatting to the owner who introduced us to her semi-tame magpie. She'd rescued her as a young bird when she fell out of her nest and then broke her wing a short while later, and the magpie has become part of her family. She doesn't leave the safety of the roadhouse petrol lot too much and hangs out with the family dogs, so much so that she's learnt to bark alongside her normal singing. She doesn't get on with the other local magpies who try to chase her off, so she barks at them...
This section of trail was a little more rugged, a lot more hilly and a little more slippery as it was raining and perhaps has had less investment over the years. Nevertheless, we continued as it was better than the main road and actually very pleasant since we weren't in any major rush. The rain fell harder as the day wore on and we weren't going to make it anywhere near Cann River that day so we stopped early in Orbost at the local campsite to dry our sodden clothes and pig out on crisps and biscuits.
This part of Australia sits just south of the Great Dividing Range (Snowy Mountains) and maintains a substantial level of short sharp hills and longer gentler climbs. At this point between Orbost and Cann River the shoulder along the A1, which at times before now had occasionally disappeared for short sections, was almost non existant or full of branches and glass. If you're a cyclist wanting to head this way along the coast and plan to follow the A1, our very sure advice is DO NOT. The day from Orbost to Cann River was quite scary and made up our mind to head north into the mountains from Cann River. The Monaro Highway would take us all the way from Cann River to Canberra with a very generous shoulder which would sometimes narrow but rarely disappear altogether. So maybe if you can brave the road to Cann River (where there's a free campsite with pretty amazing cold water facilities) then it's still a nice route to do. Your alternative is to join the Great Alpine Road from Bairnsdale.
Cann River itself was a very pleasant village and during the evening we sat around a fire with some grey nomad friends who invited us over to talk about our trip and share some wine and crumpets. Who could want more than wine and crumpets?! However, the overwhelming positive of the day (which made up for the nasty road) was seeing a superb lyre bird fly down and hop across the road in front of us during a quiet section. We didn't see a platypus or brumby horses along the Monaro Highway, but the lyre bird made up for that!
The route up through the mountains from Cann River to Canberra is challenging and in some places very steep but actually a very nice ride. Compared to the A1 it's so much quieter but with enough small villages to keep your caffeine levels topped up. After Coomba the climbing reduces and you have a day with less than 1000m of total ascent which you may not have had since the day into Lake's Entrance! Also just a quick shout out to the Snow Season Motor Inn in Cooma for having us to stay!
Last year before we left on this trip the Indy-Pac Wheel Race came part way along the Monaro Highway and we passed the point in the road where the incredible Mike Hall passed away after being hit by a car. The inquest is currently ongoing in Canberra so there is an unofficial ride this year, but we stopped to pay our respects at the temporary ghost bike put in place at the site of the crash. RIP Mike Hall, you inspired us to ride.
Compared to other cities we've cycled in to in Australia, Canberra ranks right up there with Perth as being one of the most cycling friendly. We got chatting to a local (hi Tony!) who says there's still a long way to go, but it's a really good start. To me, it felt like London did when I first started cycling there and look at how far London has come.
So now we're just a few days outside of Sydney where we'll make up our mind whether we have enough time and energy to make it the whole way up to Brisbane. I think we have the time, but we're only 5 weeks away from our wedding and I don't want to be too exhausted for that!