The Last Leg
Sydney is a stunning city. It is a huge, sprawling mess across hundreds of different bays and hills. Having spent a relaxed night on Bondi Beach I made my way into to heart: Circular Quay, the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. These iconic monuments always cause me to look on in wonder. Having arrived by bike and travelled so far to get there was a great feeling. Rather than battle the traffic I took the ferry across the harbour to Manly, where I was lucky to be put up for a couple of nights by Ann, a friend-of-a-friend of my mum’s! Sydney’s Northern Beaches are beautiful and with their access to the city, a very popular and affluent area. It was certainly nice to put on a pair of trousers and feel civilised for once. Ann continued to the trend of staggering generosity shown to me right across Australia, but the final stretch awaited. It was time to head north for Brisbane. I had 1000 km to cover and two weeks until my flight to New Zealand. There was no rush, but I wanted to enjoy the east coast.I decided to make the most of another couple of ferries heading north to avoid the traffic and the main highway for as long as possible. The first of these was from the beautiful Palm Beach at the top of the Northern Beaches. It was a really stunning spot and the Barrenjoey Beach is famous as the setting for Home and Away. I would catch myself singing “hold me in your arms….” several times over the next few days. The ferry ride took me across the stunning Broken Bay with views over the Ku-Ring Gai Chase National Park. It is a complete wilderness just a short drive from the city centre; the natural wonders of Australia seem endless. I disembarked at Ettalong and was lucky enough to have a companion from the Central Coast cycling group to guide me along the lakeshore to Gosford and send me on my way further north. That night I camped at a lovely little spot near to Swansea and spent most of my evening enjoying the views and then the stars on Blacksmiths Beach.
The next morning I headed along a rail trail into the heart of Newcastle, passing by Gateshead and Jesmond, to get a ferry to Stockton. I don’t think many brain cells were wasted on coming up with those names. I didn’t come across Durham though! After a short hop across the river it was time to settle in for a long and rather dull ride along the highway to Bulahdelah. Unfortunately, much of the next few days would replicate this. The Pacific Highway isn’t the most picturesque of roads, but at least the shoulder is wide and safe in most places. I found a free spot to sleep in Bulahdelah – actively encouraged in order to bring tourism into the town – and cooled off with a refreshing swim in the river. It was starting to get hot very early in the day so I began bringing my alarm forward slightly. This meant that the following day, I was underway nice and early, and made it into the beautiful little town of Harrington by early afternoon. I spent the night here, yet again enjoying a good long walk along the town beach and breakwater. Away from the highway, this really is a beautiful stretch of coastline.
Port Macquarie was my next stop; a much larger tourist town on the east-coast backpacker route. I had booked into the hostel to give myself a night off from the heat of the tent. Port Macquarie is a large town and I enjoyed exploring the harbour front and beaches before settling in at the hostel for the evening. I met a few great people from The Netherlands and Switzerland so decided to stay a second night and enjoy the company. It would mean skipping Coffs Harbour but I had been there before and actually made splitting the distance to Brisbane into equal chunks much easier. My second day in Port Macquarie was steaming hot and sunny. We headed off on bikes to see the coast, enjoyed the great views from the lighthouse and then settled on the beach for the afternoon. It was a great way to spend a day off with some really awesome and interesting people and we finished the day with a game of cards. They were all younger than me though, with so much excitement to come in the next few years, and it did make me feel rather old!
The extra day in Port Macquarie meant I would be passing through the town of Macksville on the day of Phil Hughes’ funeral. For those that don’t know, Hughes was a cricketer who had represented Australia. He had been struck in the head by a bouncer a couple of weeks earlier and much to the shock and dismay of the whole country, had died, at the age of just 25. He was a big part of the Macksville community – owning a large cattle farm with his family – and thousands would be descending on the town for the funeral. I set off early, in the hope of making it in time for the service, but the northerly wind that I had been battling all week made progress difficult. I stopped briefly for some lunch and got chatting to a really cool guy from Indonesia. He was travelling around the east coast on a small motorbike, visiting friends and generally having a good time. On mentioning where in the UK I’m from, he said he had applied for a job at Jaguar-Land Rover, just minutes down the road. What a small world! Hopefully he gets the job and we can go for a beer in Warwickshire. I made it to Macksville partway through the service and watched on a screen with hundreds of others as tributes were paid and the funeral came to a close. A procession then passed through the town to allow all those that knew Phil to pay their respects. It was incredibly moving. He was just a normal guy following his dream. It just goes to show how fragile life is and made me even more determined to carry on pursuing mine. I got talking to a few people in the town and was offered a free coffee the next morning if I passed through Nambucca Heads. Even more remarkable, one lady said that her sister would put me up for the night. I had planned to head 10 km further north but the offer of a shower and a bed was incredible. Barbara cooked a glorious roast dinner and even washed a load of my clothes. I don’t know how I keep managing to meet such incredible people but I hope it continues! It changes your perspective on being precious about your time and space that’s for sure.
Next stop heading north was Corindi Beach. I had popped into Nambucca and true to his word, Gavin from the Surfeit Cafe shouted me a coffee. In the cafe, I also met Andrew Rule, a renowned journalist from Melbourne. He offered some incredible advice and suggestions of journalists to follow and learn from. Other than this, it was a fairly uneventful day. The sole interesting feature was the increasing humidity heading north and the promise of afternoon storms. Would I make to to the campground right on the beach before the rain started? On this occasion I scraped in by the skin of my teeth. Within minutes of arriving the sky was pierced by lightening and and the beach was pounded by rain. I sheltered until the rain eased and I was able to get my tent up. By morning, the sky was clear again and the intense heat returned. This continued through the morning. It was pretty draining and the rain came again as I passed through Grafton. I spent the night in the woods at Woombah and was up very early for the journey to Byron Bay where I would have another day off.
The cycle to Byron Bay followed the trend of the previous days with staggering humidity building up until a storm broke. I got absolutely soaked for a while, then just a few minutes later was pouring with sweat as I climbed a major hill. The road was suddenly steaming it was that hot! I descended into Byron Bay, hitting my top speed in Australia of 69.6 km/h as I went. Byron Bay is an awesome place. I checked into my hostel and hit the wonderful beach for a couple of hours before cooking an awesome dinner. My next day was spent writing, shopping and enjoying more time on the beach before heading out to Cape Byron, the easternmost point of mainland Australia, for sunset. It felt like the end of my Australian adventure. I still had 200 km to cover but it was mostly through cities and urban areas. It was a final spectacular moment. The sun set behind the distant hills and a bright, full moon let up the Pacific. For an added bonus, I finally had some company for one of these magical memories. I sat chatting to Claire, I cool Canadian girl who had been travelling in Australia as part of her work with the National Parks around Lake Superior. She has a really great outlook on life that is similar mine so it was fantastic to enjoy the views with someone that appreciated them as much as me. And her accent sounded just like every Canadian impression you have ever heard!
I left Byron Bay heading for the Gold Coast. The humidity was around 80% and the temperature into the high thirties. I sweat a lot at the best of times so in these conditions I was essentially a walking swimming pool. It was a long cycle through a lot of traffic, hot winds and a series of skyscrapers. I was heading to see Karen and Paul who I had met in Shellharbour and as I reached Surfers Paradise, the most monumental storm of all broke. I have never seen anything like it. I put my lights on a ploughed through the rain, arriving at their place just as the lightning started. According to official records, the Gold Coast was struck 26,000 times that afternoon. I was so wet I might as well have cycled into the sea. It was great to see them again at least. The next day I set off for Brisbane. My last 80 km in Australia. It was along to V1 cycleway, turning off at the end to stay with Merv and Norma. The V1 cycleway is a great idea, linking the Gold Coast and Brisbane without having to travel on the road. For the vast majority of the way it was well maintained and signposted and my only issue was trying not to melt or drown in my own sweat. Unfortunately, in the outskirts of Brisbane, the signs simply stop and the cycleway ends. It’s not yet finished! I worked out my route and arrived at Merv and Norma’s fairly exhausted. I jumped in their pool in my full cycle kit! I’d done it. I was elated. I was beginning to get used to travelling solo and the associated feelings. Step one done. In some ways the most challenging. I couldn’t believe I had come so far, but was also acutely aware of how far their was still to go. The next day I went for a tour of Brisbane along the river with Merv and then packed for the airport. New Zealand, the stunning scenery and hills awaited, unfortunately via a 17 hour delay!