Total distance: 8545.9 km
Once again it's been far too long since we have updated the blog. Email access has taken backstage to getting camp set up in the evening and making dinner. And with it being winter in Australia the days have been short - so hours of daylight tend to be spent riding rather than getting online.
Anyway, excuses over. We're now almost in Melbourne, at my Dad's place in Healesville, taking our first actual rest days since we left Sydney. And that means we can at least update the blog!
We spent the first part of our day in Narooma restocking our supplies, washing clothes, and relaxing a bit. There's a nice new bike/pedestrian path along the inlet which we cruised along as we headed off after lunch, and wound our way past a caravan park I nostalgically remembered camping in as a very little kid. After grabbing an afternoon snack in town we headed out along the highway, making it to the campground at Mystery Bay in time for sunset. Another spot I recalled fondly from years gone by and camping trips with my Mum. It hasn't changed appreciably in twenty years. Yana and I cooked dinner and sat on the beach chatting, before crawling into our tent. The following morning it was overcast and threatened to rain, but I spent a little while climbing on the rock outcrops at the end of the beach. Eventually the clouds opened upon us (just as we finished packing up camp) and we sheltered under the roof of a toilet block before deciding to don our wet weather gear and ride off to the highway, along a winding dirt road fringed by cows in paddocks, wondering who these strange flourescent two-wheeled things panting past them were.
We grabbed an extremely nice gourmet pizza in Bermagui, and pushed on to a little north of Tathra, where we sought a turf-surf. The house we knocked on turned out to be an excellent choice. Peter and Danya who lived there with their three kids told us they'd come home one day to find a female cyclist sheltering from the rain on their front porch one day, and were glad to host more travellers. They fed us cous-cous, let us sleep in a caravan they had in the yard, and I put on my physicist hat, answering questions for their kids about light and mirrors and stuff. And by a stroke of luck, as I stepped outside at one point I noticed that there was a lunar eclipse happening. In the morning we got up and were fed some delicious five-grain porridge before the kids were driven off to Eden to play soccer, and we got back on the bikes. We rode into Tathra (another place I fondly remember camping in as a kid) and on through Merimbula (where we stopped for groceries) before pushing on out of town along a very nice off-road bike path, eventually reaching Eden that evening. We had a chat with a local council worked who pointed us towards a park behind the local sports grounds where we could put our tent up, and nobody would mind.
Eden used to be a whaling town, and has an interesting history with Orcas herding the whales into harbour to assist the humans with hunting them (in exchange for the humans throwing the whale's tongues back for the Orcas to eat) but our principal interest was hunting for a screw to replace one which had fallen out of our gas camping stove. We spent the morning looking in hardware stores, then a jewellery store, who directed us to a fishing store, who directed us to a camping store, who directed us back to the fishing store, and finally we were in luck. Confident that our cooking equipment wasn't going to dismantle itself mid-meal, we set off through some very daunting hills, but beautiful countryside. We got close to the state border by evening but decided to camp at a roadside rest area. It was a bitterly cold night, and we made a fire in the barbeque area before making dinner. The morning was also icy, and we had to rekindle the fire before we could face making breakfast, but we did get to cross the state border in Victoria in daylight.
We had used up all our lunch supplies, and expected to get more food in Genoa, but discovered that the general store had closed, and there was no food to be had, save for a few packets of potato chips. We decided there as nothing for it but to press onwards to the next town, passing through the annoyingly mountainous Alfred National Park in the process. In the evening we reached Cann River, where we inhaled a couple of pizzas and settled into the local council-run campground for the night, seduced by the prospect of warm showers. In the morning we climbed out of the tent, and the first thing I noticed was an overpowering smell of eucalyptus - whch really drove home the fact that we're back in Australia. We stopped for lunch at a little hotel/tea room in Bellbird Creek where the friendly staff (and friends/relatives) listened to tales of our journey and advised us to avoid the highway on the way to Orbost due to hills and winding roads with logging trucks. They recommended that we take the longer but flatter detour past the mouth of the Snowy River at Marlo. We rode to the appropriate turn-off, tried to make up our minds about which route to take, tossed a coin, and headed to the coast. And very glad we were that we did - the road opened up into coastal grassland, we saw our first non-roadkilled kangaroos since getting back to Oz, and made it to the coast road running between Cape Conran and Marlo. In Marlo we settled into the local pub for a counter-meal, warmed ourselves by the fire, discovered that Hey Hey It's Saturday has returned to Australian TV, and had a delicious sticky-date pudding for dessert. The pub owner even allowed us to put our tent up out the back.
The next day we rode back inland along the Snowy River to Orbost, where we stopped to consider the option of moving onto the East Gippsland Rail Trail, to get off the highway. While the trail was quite pretty, it was also gravelly, so we ended up deciding to stick to the highway for the most part. At dusk, we stopped in the locality of Tostaree, where we knocked on the door of Glen and Jen, asking for tent advice. They pointed us to a spot along the path where we could put it up, and invited us in for a cup of tea, and dinner to boot. Some very good conversations were had before we trundled off to put up our tent and turn in for the night.
We got up and knocked the ice off our tent the next morning, then headed onwards through Lakes Entrance (where we had lunch), and on to just before Bairnsdale. We thought about pushing on, but came to the edge of the fruitfly-control zone, where we would have had to dispose of any fruit we were carrying. So instead we opted to find a place to camp for the night, use our fruit making dinner and breakfast the following morning, and then push on.
Quite close to where the fruit fly zone ended, we found a driveway into a property. The house was empty, but there was a caravan with its lights on a little further in. When we investigated, we came across Peter, who turned out to be the owner of the land. Instead of having us put up the tent, he invited us into his spare bunk room, which we accepted. He refused our offer to share our dinner with him, and we ended up having a very nice chat, comparatively late into the night, by our standards. Early the following morning his partner arrived, and they took us along on an errand of buying some rams. If we had ever felt bad about eating sheep, we came away thoroughly cured of that. They're not exactly the sharpest tools in the shed.
We got going on our bikes a little before noon, and headed into Bairnsdale for lunch and a quick mechanical check of our bikes. Sundance's bottom bracket was starting to make some noises, but the local bike mechanic had nothing useful to say on the matter before closing time. During lunch, we came to the conclusion that we might deviate off the highway and pass through Maffra after all, so I called my rellies from Briagolong to ask if they wanted to catch up. As I had suspected, they were somewhat out of the loop, and had no idea about my trip, so we accepted their invitation to drop past Briag. We pushed our way a little bit past dark, and made it at a not too obscene hour. While Gill and Kline were busy with dinner guests, Frieda took us in very warmly - it was wonderful to catch up again, as it had been a while. It reminded me of the fact that I really want to set some time aside to bond with my extended family.
The next morning, we stuck around for a little bit to socialise, and Gill showed us her printing studio, which had been built since the last time we had been there. After some hugs and a group photo, we set off again, through the back roads. It turned out to be a bit of a short travel day, but we made it a little bit past Heyfield, where we ended up turf surfing on a dairy farm. While we were making dinner, the owner, Nick, came out for a chat. He trundled back inside when we were ready to eat, but invited us to come in once we were done. We did so, and ended up bonding with the entire household and a bunch of people who had dropped past. Definitely one of the more sociable groups we have dropped in on, and we left the next morning, feeling that we definitely should drop past to say hi again when we're in the area.
We got past Moe and Trafalgar, and turf surfed in the front yard of an elderly couple just off the highway. It was set to be a bit of a cold and damp night, but we did alright. The couple in the house invited us in for a cup of tea in the morning, and we warmed ourself while waiting for the fog that had come down to lift. It stayed pretty dense, so we ended up just riding off, and finding ourselves out of the fog pretty quickly. We agreed to make it to Healesville in the next two days, and that this day would be for getting a little bit north of Pakenham, and into the Dandenongs. We got off the highway a little past Warragul, and rode through the town of Drouin with a sense of deja vu - turns out we had stopped there last time we had been in that neck of the woods, to get petrol. We continued parallel to the highway, stopped in Bunyip for lunch, and finally got to go through the cutely named towns of Garfield and Nar Nar Goon, which was nice. Not that the towns themselves were necessarily that interesting, but we had both wanted to go through on account of the names.
We made it to Pakenham pretty much exactly at sunset, and pushed north a little bit. Things got pretty dicey after dark, as there was no shoulder, the road was winding and unlit, and there were some reasonably fast trucks going along it, so we decided it was time to stop for the night. We were just about to ride into someone's driveway when a car beat us to it - it happened to contain Paul, the owner, who happily gave us permission to put up our tent. He also remarked that it was going to be a bloody cold night, but we assured him that we had almost certainly camped through worse. As it was, we did take the opportunity to warm ourselves for a while at the fire he lit outside, and Sundance explained physics-related concepts which Paul was curious about.
It did turn out to be a fairly cold night, but nothing we couldn't handle. We did wake up to rain pattering on our tent, so we had to roll it up soggy again. Not to worry - we got ourselves ready to go before Paul and family were up, so we left them a thank you note, put on our wet weather gear, and got going. We rode through the rain for a little while, grinding up a few respectable hills before the weather cleared and the road flattened somewhat. It was a real relief - we had expected crossing the Dandenongs to be a lot worse than it actually turned out to be. We made it to Woori Yallock for lunch, at which point we were only another 16km from Healesville. We bypassed the town itself, and took the back way to Gary's place. We pushed our way up the steep rise of our last hundred metres or so, and were greeted by Gary and Teena.
Teena spotted us coming up the street, and Dad was waiting in the driveway to take a few happy snaps as we rolled in the front gate. It was a true delight to back at my Dad's place, settling into familiar surrounds, and sharing the company of my father and Teena again. From here on, everything will be familiar ground, and perhaps for the first time in the entire journey I feel physically connected to Adelaide, and the culmination of our trek. But for now, we get a couple of rest days. Today we relaxed, ate well, and went shopping for dinner and breakfast ingredients after talking travel, politics, and life. I've even got a few of my old clothes to wear that I'd left behind last time I was here. It makes the person in the mirror seem just a little more like a long-lost friend.