Total distance: 7778.5 km
Picking up from last time, I felt like adding a few of my own thoughts to Yana's recollection of our last night in Sydney, and the fantastic meal we had. At one point I found myself staring out of the restaurant window at the street below, and feeling very impressed that Australia had such wonderful things to offer, from food to natural beauty. And it felt in many ways like the rest of the world doesn't really get it. I was grateful that I live here. After so much time on the other side of the world, coming home to a place that's so familiar and yet so different from my reality of the recent past made me feel like a native of a fictional land, like Neverland or Oz, coming back to reexperience all that magical stuff I grew up with and had missed so much.
On Friday morning we got stuck into reattaching the remaining paraphernalia to our bikes - front panier racks, bottle cages, speedometers and so on. It took a little doing, but we managed to remember how most of it attached and make up what we couldn't remember. This (naturally) took longer than we'd hoped, but a little after lunchtime we bid farewell to Amanda and Eddy, and set off through Sydney. But first we stopped off for a bite of Thai food. Then we set off through Sydney, making our way eventually to the southern edge of town. We had a quick chat with a fellow at a 7-eleven who assured us we could camp in the nearby National Park, and made our way in that direction. It was after dark when we arrived and the park office was closed, but we found a ranger's house and asked where we could put up a tent - well apparently we were supposed to have pre-registered to stay in the park, and he gave us a bit of a talking-to about that, and eventually said we could pop up a tent out of the way in one of the picnic areas. So we found a spot, Yana popped up the tent, and I discovered that the stove was being temperamental. I fiddled with cleaning it a bit and trying to get it to work, but eventually Yana just made us some peanut butter sandwiches. Quite a contrast from the previous night's dinner!
We awoke the following morning just before the Sun peered over the hills, and took great delight in the light creeping through the treetops and the birds wandering around our campsite. After breakfast we took off to ride through the rest of the park, struggling up the hills and realising that we're a bit out of shape, and zooming down the other sides. We passed through the mix of eucalypts and palms thinking that it really gave Maui a run for it's money in terms of beauty, and eventually emerged at teh southern edge of the park to overlook the Pacific. A bit further on we rode into the town of Stanwell Park and grabbed some groceries to make lunch. We wandered down to the beach chatting with a fellow named Jim - who looked a bit dishevelled. We weren't sure if he was homeless or just a little lonely, but he seemed to enjoy having someone to talk with, and it made us feel good to obviously brighten someone's day. Stanwell Park turned out to be where Lawrence Hargraves did his experiments in the 1890s, being lifted off the ground by large box kites. These experiemnts helped him figure out how to stabilise an aircraft, and although he didn't fly any powered aircraft, his ideas certainly helped the Wright brothers design their machines.
Since it's winter in Australia, and very close to the shortest day of the year we wandered briefly onto the beach to have a look around, and then headed back onto the road, southwards once more. We passed numerous pretty vistas, and eventually found a bike path that promised to run all the way into Wollongong. Just short of there we checked at a caravan park on how much they charged for a tent site ($27! No thank you!) and headed further along. Not too much furtehr along we came upon a fellow walking his dog for the evening and asked him if there was somewhere cheaper to camp for teh night, and he offered us his backyard. Milton was his name, and Tasha was his very friendly German Shepard. Milton turned out to be renovating his house to make it a nice beach house for his kids to stay in when they visit, and despite his numerous apologies about the mess we had a very pleasant evening chatting with him - he even put on a video for us so we got to watch The Men Who Stare at Goats. That was an amusing film, and it reminded us of the place we rode past in Indiana that was selling fainting goats.
The next morning we headed off along the bike path, and after only about 400 meters wound up having an extended chat with a guy who'd done a bit of bike touring himself, including a ride from Alice Springs to Canberra. The path wound its way along the beach, past downtown Wollongong (which seemed pretty nice actually - we stopped off in the main street to get some toiletries and thought it was a nice little place) and then continued along a slightly circuitous but verdant path down to Shellharbour where we had lunch, and Kiama. The whole coast is just brimming over with beautiful little towns, and we couldn't help noticing that everything seems very new and vital compared to the USA. It was clear when we were there that a lot of American infrastructure needs a fair bit of re-investment and repair, whereas everything looks pretty modern and well-maintained in Australia. Although it was starting to get dark, we pressed on through Gerringong, eventually finding a place to ask for directions to a nice cheap campground or a spot to turf-surf. The couple who lived there offered us the spare accmodations where there kids stay when visiting, which included a bed, bathroom, and stove to make our dinner on. So we got a hot meal and an episode of Dr Who before turning in for the night. In the morning we chatted with Malcolm about his dairy farming and then took off along the bike path beside the road. We took a brief detour to look at and wander along the beach at seven-mile beach national park.
We continued on our way to Nowra, where we made a quick stop at the tourist information centre, mostly for a few minutes using the internet, for some of our basic and necessary bits of communication. That done, we headed to the supermarket to top up our food supplies, then found a nearby park to have our lunch. Taking into account the rate at which we were going, we decided to aim to do 70km that day. We reached the town of Wandandian around sunset, at a little bit shy of 60km. The plan was to ride on to the other side of the Conjola National Park, and then find somewhere to pitch our tent, but that didn't eventuate. We had made a small stop at the local general store, and while we were making various phone calls, the guy running the place offered us the spot next to the shop to set ourselves up for the night. We ended up accepting. The guy, Mick, was actually very generous, and wouldn't take payment for a few items of canned fare we planned to use to supplement our dinner. Of course we always appreciate that kind of kindness, though it is also a slightly embarrassing thing when it happens, as there are times when you do want to pay. We got ourselves fed and bed ready fairly quickly, and turned in at a reasonable hour.
The following morning, we packed ourselves up only just before it started to rain lightly, which was a bit of luck. Mick arrived shortly before we were done, so we said our goodbyes, and left a few dollars and a note explaining that this was us buying him a beer - we didn't give it to him directly, as we suspected he wouldn't accept, but we wanted to give something.
We set off through the National Park, and found that as time went on, the rain slowly got heavier, until we were quite damp and cold when we reached Yatte Yattah, on the other side of the National Park. As there wasn't much going on there, we ended up pressing on to Milton, where we had a really nice lunch at a local vegetarian cafe, followed by some fish and chips, as we were also craving some hot greasy protein. At least it warmed us and dried us a bit, but the rain continued, so we got ourselves more properly decked out in our wet weather gear and pressed on despite the ickiness of it all. We headed through Ulladulla, and stayed cautiously hopeful that we might be able to make it to Batemans Bay that day. We ended up falling a little bit short, but achieving a little over 70km for the day, and stopped in a tiny little place called East Lynne for the night. It seems to be little more than a servo, but it does boast some apparently award-winning home-made pies. We arrived in time for some sausage rolls and Bundy ginger beer, then got ourselves set up in the back paddock. The owner of the servo even helped us light a fire to warm ourselves a bit, which was a bit of luxury before we crawled into our increasingly soggy tent.
The morning dawned foggy and a bit damp, and we had to accept that we'd have to roll our tent up wet. We got ourselves packed up, tried the award-winning pies fresh out of the oven, had our usual muesli breakfast as well, and rode the last 19km or so to Batemans Bay. We made a quick internet stop at the library, then took the more coastal tourist route towards Moruya. It ended up taking the better part of the day. The weather was decent, although it briefly bucketed down on us while we were having lunch, luckily sheltered under a pavilion. We waited out that squall of rain, then headed off again, and managed to stay dry. It was already getting dark when we got to Moruya, and we decided to head down the road a little further, as we weren't terribly enamoured with the idea of passing the night in an overpriced caravan park, which our map indicated was nine kilometres out of our way. We ended up going another 8km or so onwards, then stopped at a pair of houses a little off the side of the road. Stewart, the owner of the property, was happy enough for us to put up our tent, and came out for a quick chat before it started to rain again. Luckily, by then, the tent was up and there was a roof we could shelter under while making dinner. We said our goodnights when we came up to use the toilet. One of Stewart's kids was having a sticky beak under his arm, heaved a theatrical sigh, then wandered off, which made us chuckle. Apparently he wanted to ask us about our trip, but was a bit shy to talk to us.
We woke up to the sound of rain pattering on our tent, which meant that we'd be rolling it up soggy yet again. Oh well. When we were almost fully packed up and Stewart and family left for their various daytime pursuits, Stewart's mum Jan came up from the other house and offered us a shower. We gladly accepted, as we hadn't showered since Gerroa. As it happened, the TV was running, and we learned that just then, there was a Leadership Challenge happening. The upshot was that apart from having a shower and a cup of tea, we got to watch Julia Gillard become the new PM of Australia. Very cool. This did mean that we didn't get going until the early afternoon, but luckily, we were only heading for Narooma. The weather had turned sunny by then, so it was quite a pleasant day to be riding. We arrived in Bodalla for lunch, and figured it was only right to consume cheese in some way, shape or form. We decided to go for a very tasty piece of cheesecake, as well as another excellent lunch. Once we were done with that, it was past 4pm, so we had less than an hour before sundown, so we headed off on our last stretch to Narooma. We got there a little bit after dark, and found the house of some friends of Sundance's family. It's a nice change to sleep in a bed rather than the tent, I guess.