Ceduna to Clare – Into South Australia
It’s now been a month since I finished crossing the Nullarbor so I’ll try to bring you up to date with a series of posts. Rather than write a day by day update, I thought I’d pick the stand-out moments, both good and bad, from the past few weeks. I’ll work in a chronological order but hopefully just include the interesting bits!
Arriving in Ceduna, having spent 8 days in the desolate emptiness of the Nullarbor was a strange experience. I felt like I was returning to civilisation having been in the wild; but in some ways the Nullarbor was very easy. Finding free places to sleep wasn’t a problem; I never had to plan to arrive at a town or worry about finding somewhere sheltered and away from the road. There was always a spot if I wanted it. Living cheaply was also straightforward with nothing to buy. All I had to do was cycle. There were no distractions. I just got up, cycled and stopped when I got tired or it got dark. Suddenly I had to start worrying about money again, planning routes and making sure I could sleep somewhere safely. It was unnerving and took a while to get over. Psychologically, I also felt that I had to cover 150 km each day. It was almost as though I was on the run. Thankfully I was able to speak to my parents and this calmed me down slightly, but it would be a while before I could really relax and enjoy myself. My first day out of Ceduna was a good start at least, as I headed away from the shortest route to Adelaide and made my way down the coast to the wonderful Streaky Bay. I even got to camp on the beach!
A day later, after another relaxed cycle, I spent the evening in a free camp in a small town called Minnipa. The town is similar to many along the Eyre Highway, which runs across the top of the Eyre Peninsula to Port Augusta. In many ways it is a continuation of the Nullarbor, as it is hot, sparse and there are several long stretches between towns. The towns themselves really feel as though they are clinging on. Previously the region was thriving and there would be stops every 20 km, as grain was transported along the highway by horses. Now, with trucks covering nearly 1000 km a day, there is just no need for this concentration of towns, and many people have already left. One thing that does stand out is the Minnipa public toilet, known as the “Concrete Crappa”! It’s a strange building but it was the home of my first Redback Spider, one of the most venomous spiders in Australia. I got a stick and poked it so I could have a closer look. There was a slight adrenaline rush from being so close to something so dangerous. It’s like cycling down a steep hill just on the edge of control, a feeling I find worryingly addictive. Minnipa also turned out to be where I met Jean and Bryan, a lovely couple originally from the UK who have lived here for 44 years. I spent a great evening with them as they cooked me dinner. We exchanged contact details and they were the first people to give me their phone numbers. It would turn out to be an extraordinary twist of fate.
Having survived the Nullarbor, I felt that it would be no problem for my bike wheel to survive to Adelaide where I could get it replaced. Not for the first time, or the last I expect, I would prove to be horribly naive. A few kilometres into the next day there was a big crack and the wheel buckled completely. It was rubbing against the frame and would barely turn. I made it a few kilometres before I accepted that this was it. The run of luck was over. I was going to arrive somewhere not under my own steam. It was pretty gutting. After an initial panic I thought through my options and decided that the best plan would be to see where Bryan and Jean had got to. I gave them a call but was disappointed to hear they were already well down the road. It looked as though I would be hitch-hiking. But in what has to be the most generous act yet, Bryan and Jean insisted on coming to get me and taking me to Port Augusta. That someone would go so far out of their way to help me, having known me for less than a day, was quite incredible. I’m so lucky to have met and continue to meet such amazing people. There really is an awful lot of good out there if put yourself in a position to find it.
Port Augusta itself would turn out to be a bit of a disappointment. I managed to get my bike wheel fixed but many of the town’s shops and attractions seemed to be closed for the weekend. It was very odd. I had hoped to take a kayak out on the river but couldn’t even do this. I had to stay a couple of days to sort the wheel out and restock my supplies but was fairly glad to move on. There was also a continuation of the uneasy relationship with the aboriginal community that I first experienced on the Nullarbor. I did have a dilemma though. A big part of me felt that I should return to where the breakdown occurred and start again from there. I eventually rationalised not to do this by considering the amount of time it would cost me, with a slightly tight schedule moving forward, and by accepting that deep-down, I only have myself to answer to on this trip. If I could be ok with it, then that was enough. I don’t really feel that I have let myself down. A month on, it was definitely the right decision, but I am still a touch disappointed. It took a fair amount of agonising over that’s for sure.
On leaving Port Augusta, I decided to move away from the coast and make my way to Adelaide via the South Flinders Mountains and the Clare Valley wine region. This meant I would have to cycle over the Horrocks Pass, an 18 km climb that increased in gradient towards the top. I set off early to avoid the high temperatures predicted later in the day and loved every minute of the climb. It was tough going, but a great test of my growing fitness and the scenery was just wonderful. It made all the effort worth it. Then there was that incredible feeling that every cyclist knows. Your legs are burning; sweat is pouring down you face; but the excitement begins to build and you can suddenly drive that bit harder. You can see the top of the climb. You are always a little cautious. Too often you reach the crest only to realise it’s a false dawn, but on this occasion it marked the start of 8 km of fast downhill. The plains stretched out ahead of me as I raced down through the mountain passes. I reached Wilmington, the first of a series of great towns in the South Flinders, and treated myself to a sausage roll and a coke!
The few days spent cycling through the South Flinders mountains and into the Clare Valley were easily the best of the trip, at least up until that point. The first town I stayed in was called Melrose. I arrived early in the afternoon so had plenty of time to explore and my first stop was the bike shop. It is an amazing mountain bike store called Over The Edge which has a few branches in the USA as well. In addition to the great bike gear and services on offer, they also had fantastic coffee, free WiFi and a sign outside reading “If you risk nothing, then you risk everything”. This was my kind of place. The town is thriving, based around this store and over 100 km of single-track mountain biking. The coffee shops were all busy and I enjoyed a Kangaroo Schnitzel in the newly refurbished hotel at the head of the main street that evening. I even had some company from a couple of girls who are in the middle of their own awesome tour of Australia. Looming over the town, is the imposing Mount Remarkable and with some spare time in the afternoon, I decided to hike and run my way to the top. It was a great chance to stretch my legs away from the bike and the views over the plains were wonderful. With the sun setting, there was also a great array of animal life on show. There were hundreds of small lizards in a wide variety of colours, a couple of kangaroos and my first snake. It literally fell on to the path in front of me when it curled up in fear. It was only about half a metre long but could still be dangerous so I found a very long stick and carefully moved it off the path rather than risk stepping over it. My day cycling to Melrose and in the town itself was just awesome and everything that this trip is about.
Heading south from Melrose were a few other lovely towns. Laura is famous for it’s ice cream and we were in the middle of a spring heatwave – temperatures were in the high-thirties – so it seemed rude not to try some. It really was excellent. In particular, the mint choc chip was wonderfully fresh and tasted very natural. it was too early in the day to stay there though so that night’s stop was in Gladstone. The lady in the tourist information was extremely helpful and I was able to try all the flavors of the locally made independent soft drinks. I hate to say it, but they weren’t a patch on a bottle of coke. The town has a community campsite which means they don’t look to make a profit so for just $10 I was able to stay at a camp with great facilities and the extremely helpful lady in the office allowed me to use her internet. It was very impressive, especially compared to some of the “big brand” caravan parks that really don’t seem to care about tent based campers.
From Gladstone I headed in to the large town of Clare, at the heart of the Clare Valley wine region. I covered the 75 km by lunch time having started very early, as the temperatures were expected to peak at 40 degrees that day. I planned to take a rest day the next day to explore some of the wineries so I used the afternoon to catch up on emails, get some jobs done and go for a swim. The only campsite in town charged me $28 for the night and the facilities weren’t a patch on Gladstone. I really do find it frustrating when a campsite doesn’t distinguish me – on my own, with a small tent and no requirements for power – from some of the large vans that pull up with two or three people in. Unfortunately, in such a busy tourist area it is difficult to find any free, bush alternatives and I wanted somewhere safe to leave my things while I investigated the area. Clare itself was lovely at least, and the wineries would prove to be fantastic. For my rest day, I would be staying with Louise, just south of Clare. This would be my first experience using Warmshowers, a reciprocal hosting website similar to couch surfing but specifically for cycling tourists. I had messaged Louise a few days earlier and despite the fact that she would be working an afternoon and evening shift that day and her partner was away in Switzerland, she was still happy for me to stay. I dropped my stuff off in the morning so I could meet her before she left for work and then hit the Riesling Trail. This is a tourist bike trail that takes you directly to many of the vineyards and I enjoyed bombing along on an unloaded bike for once. It’s fair to say, that this was one of the easier days on my trip! I called into the Sevenhills and Mr Mick’s wineries and tried an excellent selection of reds and whites. I just had to be careful to make sure I was able to get home without falling off! I had a relaxed evening cooking dinner and waiting for Louise to get home and had a good chat with her before heading to bed feeling very refreshed. The next morning I set off early after a great cooked breakfast. Warmshowers has proved already to be a great resource, and an excellent way of meeting some like-minded people. My first host was certainly very generous and I really enjoyed my stay.
I left Clare and hit the road; next stop Adelaide! It would be my first city since leaving Perth. I had survived the wilderness and was heading for the city lights. It would prove to just be the start of another eventful period of the trip. As if you would expect anything else!