Adelaide to Melbourne
Cycling into Adelaide was an incredible experience. Having set off from the world’s most remote city, here I was, battling serious traffic for the first time in weeks. I was heading into the city from Gawler 50km to the north of the CBD, through urban sprawl and seemingly endless shopping malls. I eventually hit the north Adelaide district and with it the Adelaide Oval and Cathedral. It was a remarkable feeling to have come so far and been through so much to get there. Not for the first time, or the last, I felt a little overwhelmed and wished I had someone to share the moment with. A few photos later and I was navigating through the city to get settled in with the people I was staying with. I was very lucky to have an offer of a bed from some relatives of a good friend and immediately felt very welcome. A few beers later, it was as if I had known them for years and my first evening in the city had been great!
Adelaide city centre is actually pretty small – about a mile square – and is surrounded by parks and sports grounds which are protected from development. It extends a long way north and south but for a tourist, the compact nature of the centre is great. I was able to explore on foot and took in the botanic gardens, the art gallery and the South Australian Museum. The latter was a fairly standard natural history museum but had a temporary nature photography exhibition that was just incredible. That evening I enjoyed another good night with yet more people that I had been told to get in touch with when I got to Adelaide. It was amazing to feel like a “real person” again. I had been through so many strange and crazy experiences, it was so good to switch off and not worry about where I was staying the next day or if I had enough food and water. My last day in the city brought the weekend and a day at the beach. Some of the people I was with warned me that the sea would be too cold to swim in without a wetsuit. I assured them that I had been in the North Sea in the UK in May and that this would be no problem. For once I was proven correct and Australia didn’t try to kill me. While they shivered and complained I splashed around like it was a heated swimming pool! A final night out followed and I met more great people but started to regret the late night and hangover the next morning. I have to thank Michael and Amanda for having me. To treat me so well having never met me before was wonderfully generous of them.
I was planning another few days off before properly hitting the road again, this time in the Adelaide Hills with a family friend. Australians love a literal name and the Adelaide Hills is no exception. To get there involved a climb of about 800m over 20 km past Mount Lofty and as I battled up, beer-flavoured sweat pouring off me, I was thankful that there was cloud cover for once. The region is absolutely beautiful though and once I got up there, I enjoyed some serious descents mixed in with the hills. A few relaxed, wonderful days in the small town of Nairne followed, with some truly wonderful people. I was again fortunate to be welcomed and treated in such a generous fashion by people that I really hadn’t met that many times before. One slight scar on my time in Adelaide was my experience with the bike shop in the nearby village of Woodside. With so many ongoing problems with my wheels, I had emailed with about two weeks notice to ask if they could order and build me a new set. I had even given an example of the standard that I was looking for. They assured me that they had previously built good touring wheels and would be able to sort something out for me. Despite some tardiness in their communication, I felt happy that they would be able to help me out. By the time I arrived, my wheels were truly on their last legs so I was happy to have a replacement waiting. While some of the features of the wheels I had suggested were missing, they assured me that the wheels they had built were of good quality and they used them on the bikes that they hired out. Unfortunately, over the course of the trip to Melbourne, these wheels would prove barely better than the ones they had replaced. On discussion with another bike shop in Melbourne, they didn’t even think that they were suitable for the type of brakes I am using. I was pretty gutted to be treated like this. It feels like they saw the chance to make some easy money without doing any work. It was of course partly my fault for not questioning them further, but there are times in life when you just have to trust people.
Leaving Adelaide was hard. I had been off the bike for nearly a week, settled in with a new family and had enjoyed all the security and comfort associated with “normal” life. I had seriously needed the break though. The first night back on the road I stayed in a beautiful campground in Wellington on the Murray River and woke the next morning to a brief ferry across and a roaring tail wind. I would be travelling towards Victoria, along a stretch called the Coorong. This is a National Park along the coast that comprises a lake hemmed in by dunes and the road runs just onshore of this. Harking back to the Nullarbor, it is a 146 km stretch with just a roadhouse halfway along. I was planning to stay at this point, but with the tailwind helping, covered the 105 km by early afternoon. There was nothing for 85 km further south and I needed somewhere I could buy some food so it was a hard decision to know whether to push on or not. I was loath to give up the helping wind so after a brief refresh, hit the road again, knowing that I would have to complete 190 km overall to make the next stop. At least I knew there was a free camp there. For 40 km I continued to fly. It seemed as though I would cover the distance easily. In the space of about 10 minutes however, the wind completely turned around. The last 45 km into Kingston SE (don’t ask me what the SE stands for) were horrendous. I resorted to listening to music – a treat reserved for only the worst days – and shouting at myself. I crawled in as night was falling. The free camp was little more than an open field in the middle of town and I battled the wind and rain to finally get my tent up in the little bit of shelter I could find. Reviewing my decision to push on to Kingston, I think I made the right one. With the facts I had, including the weather forecast from earlier in the day, I couldn’t have known that the wind would switch so disastrously.
The next day out of Kingston SE sticks in the mind as one of the worst on my trip. The headwind was truly spectacular with squally showers thrown in. I had initially hoped to cover 110 km but this swiftly evaporated. I couldn’t take a day off as I had a bed waiting for me in Mount Gambier, 190 km away, the next night so had to at least get a bit closer. Nevertheless, just 10 km out of Kingston I had a moment that is about as close as I have come to breaking. The wind was so strong I was struggling to hit half my normal average speed a I just lost it for a couple of minutes. I stood at the side of the road and stared at my map in despair. There was no alternative route that would be any easier. I composed myself and resolved to keep going. As far as I could see there would be a turn after about 40 km that would mean the wind was across me rather than into my face so I focussed on reaching this point. I battled on and came to the turning. As expected, I turned out of the wind and 45 km later made it to the beautiful spot of Beachport. I learnt a valuable lesson about myself that day. When disaster strikes, it is important to take a deep breath, calm down, and “keep f***ing going”. The number of times I have said that phrase to myself now must be into the thousands!
The next few days were considerably less eventful. I stayed with Sandy – another fantastic Warmshowers host – in Mount Gambier. The town is the second biggest in South Australia and quite unremarkable except for a couple of spectacularly blue lakes in the remnant craters of a couple of dormant volcanoes. The views were lovely, especially of the Blue Lake. (I told you Australians love literal place names!) The next day I made Victoria and Portland (guess what is there?!) and then headed on to the very lovely Port Fairy (less literal I think/hope). I needed a day off after six consecutive days cycling and this happily coincided with the day of the Melbourne Cup. For those not familiar, this is the most prestigious horse race in Australia and it is known as the “race that stops the nation”. Melbourne itself gets a bank holiday on Melbourne Cup day and for ten minutes either side of the race, the streets completely emptied. It was a very odd phenomenon. The race was excellent with a superb performance from a German horse and British Jockey to take the win. With a good day of rest under my belt, it was time to push on to the final stretch to Melbourne, along the world famous Great Ocean Road.
The Great Ocean Road runs from Warrnambool in the west to Torquay, just to the south of Melbourne. It is over 200 km along the cliff tops, through the Otway ranges and built against the cliff face itself. The original Great Ocean Road was constructed as a war memorial to fallen comrades by returning servicemen from the First World War and is the largest war memorial in the world. It is safe to say that my time on the Great Ocean Road is up there with my best in Australia. The first stretch is the cliff top section from Warrnambool to Princetown. This takes in some quite stunning cliff formations including the Bay of Islands, London Bridge and the world famous Twelve Apostles. The views are remarkable, although I did get frustrated by the huge numbers of tourists being bussed in for a quick photo and then moving on again. I spent a night at a good campground in Princetown but the highlight was the hidden beach. Down a small walking track there is a sign to the mouth of the river and as you round the corner a glorious expanse of beach opens up in front of you. The cliffs were beautiful, the waves huge and with the sun setting, this was a place all to myself. I far preferred it to the busy and more commercial, well-known sites.
From Princetown to Apollo Bay is only about 80 km but there are two huge hills. It would be by far my biggest day of climbing to date. I hit the road with plenty of food and energy drinks and headed straight up Lavers Hill from sea-level to 450 m. It was a good battle but I had some great views to keep me going, plenty of sugary sweets and made the top ready for a late morning snack. The descent was pure joy. I hit 67.3 km/h flying downhill and regularly having to brake to make it round bends. The road goes right down to sea-level, heads along a river valley and then head straight up again. The first two kilometres were hellish. It was like cycling up a wall. I refused to get off and push so ground my way up at just 5 km/h. It was slow, painful progress but eventually levelled out and then dropped back down to the coast at Apollo Bay where I would spend the night. The last part of the Great Ocean Road is built out from the cliff face and really feels like it is clinging on in places. The 70 km to Anglesea were truly spectacular with constant views of the ocean, lovely towns and beaches and rainforest right down to the waters edge in places. It was the culmination of three terrific days. It is for those magical days that I’m doing this trip. I stayed in Anglesea with Bob, a guy I had met in Princetown. We had chatted a while and he just said he had a spare room and if you are passing through come stay the night. It was so cool of him to offer, but he said he had travelled through Europe a few years before and was looking for a chance to pay back some of the generosity he had received. I am looking forward to being able to pass the favour forward one day.
From Anglesea it was an easy ride to Queenscliffe, a ferry across to the Mornington Peninsula and then a great cycle right along the shore in to Melbourne. I had decided to take the long route and avoid the freeway from Geelong and it was definitely the right decision. It had been another incredible two weeks. There are so many great experiences and people that I haven’t had space to include. Reaching Melbourne was a great feeling and a major milestone, but that’s the start of another chapter in this story!