May 2012

May 1 – Berri to Barmera & return, 36.31 klms, Avg speed 20.00 kph, Cycling time 1.48 hrs; Total kms 27,934

Could have sat on our bums for 5 days in Berri but, call it guilt, we really wanted to go for a ride, do some exercise!  Went the quiet, back road to Barmera (pop 4294), great location overlooking Lake Bonney.  Magnificent art deco building in the main street as well as a pretty decent cafe, with the sun warming our backs as we read the papers, could have sat there all day.

May 4 – Berri to Renmark, 25.94 klms, Avg speed 18.3 kph, Cycling time 1.25 hrs; Total kms 27,960

After being interviewed by Brad, the editor of one of the local papers The Riverland Weekly, about our trip around Australia (our first interview since leaving Sydney), we headed to our last Murray River town in South Australia, Renmark (pop 9892).  It’s named after an Aboriginal word meaning ‘red mud’ and is Australia’s oldest irrigation settlement, founded in 1887.  We’re only here for a couple of days staying in a Caravan Park that’s more like a resort so even the “budget” cabin accommodation is expensive & being a Fri & Sat night you’re hit with a $10 per night surcharge, cos they can.  Still the town of Renmark is really attractive with a fabulous Art Deco building in town, the Renmark Hotel.  With a 5km Riverfront Walk to cycle tomorrow & Rushton’s Rose Garden to visit, the largest in Australia, our visit to Renmark will quickly pass. 

May 7 – Renmark to Lake Cullulleraine, 85.14 klms, Avg speed 19.3 kph, Cycling time 4.24 hrs; Total kms 28,045

Today had a bit of excitement:

1) After 7 months & 4,400 klms later we finally said cheerio to South Australia and thanks for having us

2) We rode into our 5th State/Territory, Victoria at 9.57 EST

3) After 4 years we’re back on the same time zone as NSW—last time 13 May ‘08

4) We passed the 28,000 klm mark

5) And, we met another touring cyclist, Mike from Melbourne heading the other way

It was also a really enjoyable cycling day even though we were riding along the busy Sturt Highway, with a wide shoulder & the wind merrily pushing us along our 85 klms was a breeze, pardon the pun!  Picked up a cheap cabin at Lake Cullulleraine Camp which had wonderful lake views which in the past would only fill when the Murray River had a major flood, delivery channels now ensure it’s maintained at a minimum level.  Saw lots of sea eagles & purple swamp hens, what a pity we didn’t have time to walk around the lake.  Cullulleraine is one of 3 small remaining townships in the farming area known as the Millewa.  ‘Ol Alberto’s frozen spag bol was soon whizzing around in the microwave, we both vowed not to cook another spag bol for ages, 4 bowls over the past week has definitely curbed our desire!

May 8 – Lake Cullulleraine to Mildura, 55.12 klms, Avg speed 17.0 kph, Cycling time 3.14 hrs; Total kms 28,100

Must count how many times we’ve packed & unpacked our panniers over the past 4 years, it never seems to bother us though, must be the excitement/anticipation of riding into new pastures.  We arrived in Mildura a day earlier, we’re going to detour via Red Cliffs to avoid the Sturt Highway but the latter was fine & we found our Caravan Park with ease, something was wrong, normally riding into big cities with traffic lights & heavy traffic gets the blood pumping & tempers frayed.  It was only after we’d been here a couple of days that I declared the city population to be 30,000 not 80,000, oopps, the additional 50,000 covered the metropolitan area.  From what we’ve seen Mildura feels like a relaxed, country town  with wide tree-lined streets dotted with Art Deco buildings.  With the Murray River being a major attraction, having a Mediterranean climate, surrounding by vast areas of wineries & fruit growing farms no wonder its a popular tourist destination.  Hard to believe it was originally a rather lifeless area, the region around Mildura was transformed into a rich agricultural oasis thanks to the work of the Chaffey brothers from Canada in the late 1800s due to their experience with creating irrigation settlements.  We’re staying for 8 nights & have FINALLY found our first  decent cup of coffee in the Riverland at Cafe Ninety Four plus we’re going to celebrate Mother’s Day at Seasons, Greg had great delight in telling Robin (his Mum) where we were going to celebrate in her absence and what tasty morsels were on the menu, could hear something to the effect of “rotten buggar” coming down the line.

It’s begining to get rather cool here with 3°C in the morning although the days are normally sunny. The wind if there is any is just bloody cold and Greg has started mumbling things about it being inhumane to live in such an environment blah blah blah.  I think we’ll go shopping in Mildura and get some warm gear....

They’re obviously short of news around here as we’ve been approached by the Mildura Weekly to have an interview.  Alan the Journalist and his trusty side kick the photographer arrived and we all squeezed into our iddy bitty cabin while ‘Ol Alberto poured out pearls of wisdom and a variety on bon mots.  Fortunately it was quickly realised the man’s an idiot and they turned their attention to me.  When we figure out how to put the article/s and photos on our web site we’ll do so.  As Greg is want to say “stand by”..... Can’t wait more like it.

May 11 – Mildura to Wentworth return 76.83 klms, Avg speed 18.9 kph, Cycling time 4.03 hrs; Total kms 28,177

Couldn’t resist a ride out to Wentworth, 32 klms NW of Mildura & home to the spectacular junction of Australia’s two largest rivers, the Murray & the Darling.  It was a pretty charming village brimming with history & with a quirky arts scene.  With good coffee and a piece of cake and a wee bit of “kultcha” we really enjoyed Wentworth.  On our way back to Mildura on the NSW side of the river we rode past fields & fields of dormant grape vines, trees drooping with juicy mandarins & bright autumnal colours blazing across the countryside.  After a late lunch at the Australian Inland Botanic Gardens we made our way back to our warm cabin, it was a super day out.

May 15 – Mildura to Robinvale 90.91 klms, Avg speed 16.1 kph, Cycling time 5.38 hrs; Total kms 28,268

Another photo shoot for the local paper, any more of these and we’ll have to employ Harry M.  Unusual for me but didn’t take one photo along our ride today,  could have been the monotonous scenery or concentrating not getting killed by the trucks as we approached Robinvale, no shoulder on the busy road.  Didn’t open the door to our cabin until 3.30pm, after setting off at 8am we had a long day’s ride, my knees told me so too.  Still after a cup of tea all was forgotten.  Robinvale’s a picturesque holiday spot, situated on a peninsula of land surrounded on three sides by the Murray River.  We found good coffee and loitered in the beautiful sunshine outside the cafe before strolling around and checking the place out.  We found a great Asian food shop and bought up big.  Beef Rendang for dinner, yummy.  South of the town centre are large irrigated fruit and vegetable farms and vineyards.  2 years ago while in the Kimberley we met Michi, from Germany, travelling around on her own in a ute, brave gal that one.  She fell passionately in love with Australia & is back here for 3 months.  We were lucky to catch up with her in Robinvale as she headed back to Adelaide for her flight.  We sat in the sunshine on the banks of the Murray swapping travel stories, with her peripatetic spirit we know we’ll see her again one day.

May 18 – Robinvale to Balranald 81.98 klms, Avg speed 18.7 kph, Cycling time 4.22 hrs; Total kms 28,350

“Succumb to the quiet country pace of Balranald, on the Murrumbidgee River in far north-west New South Wales” the info said and so we did.  We love these country towns especially of this size (pop 3000) that offer everything—a bakery, butcher, pub, several motels, worker’s club, 2 supermarkets & a Caravan Park, described as a riverside oasis on the banks of the Murrumbidgee.  We couldn’t resist the $18 Chinese buffet at the club & stuffed our faces with all sorts of unhealthy looking things but it tasted great.  The river is chockers at the moment, but receding before our eyes.  All the river gums look so healthy after what must have been a decade of drought.  Again we strolled the streets in the by now quite weak but very welcome sunshine before trying both cafes and spending the morning ploughing through the weekend paper, a rare treat as we usually catch our news on the radio or online.  It hasn’t rained but the forecast looks ominous....dark clouds are already appearing over ‘Ol Alberto, now he can be not only cold, but wet as well.  “Bloody Ripper” he says.  Still we’re in cabins now and mostly they’re nice and warm. 

May 20 – Balranald to Tooleybuc 52.87 klms, Avg speed 17.2 kph, Cycling time 3.03 hrs; Total kms 28,403

‘Ol Alberto declared “if everyday was like today I could ride for ever”.  He was talking about the nice riding conditions we encountered-relatively flat, quiet back road, small headwind, the countryside littered with small broad acre farms & the sun beaming down trying to warm our bodies.  He was a very happy fella.  And on arriving into Tooleybuc he shouted “we’ve been here before” and we had, 6 years ago driving to McLaren Vale for Xmas.  We were so excited that day we left Griffith at 5am and by the time we got to Tooleybuc were starving so sat in the park overlooking the Murray devouring our toasted ham & cheese sandwiches.  Never in our wildest dreams did we think we’d be back this time by bike.  Tooleybuc’s small, pop 180 & tranquil riverside town in New South Wales, we’ll ride over the bridge tomorrow and ride back into Victoria.

May 21 – Tooleybuc to Swan Hill 50.70 klms, Avg speed 20.4 kph, Cycling time 2.28 hrs; Total kms 28,454

Woke to a -2.5C morning, brrrr it was cold, layered up we’re not hitting the road until 9am now, the suns up but emits no heat, hurry up!  Once we start to feel our fingers & toes & some warmth in our bodies it’s yet again another perfect riding day but there’s so many trucks along the Murray Valley Highway that we take a quieter route via Woorinen South a prosperous & diverse agricultural area which produces wine, stone fruit, vegetables, wool & cereal crops.  The trees are changing colour, leaves cover the ground, it’s autumn and the scenery is beautiful.  Swan Hill’s pretty big, pop 10,000 & a pioneer town on the Murray River.  As is normal we circled the town looking for a decent coffee, it was fair & expensive, we could do better so off we went & purchase our own coffee machine.  We’d delayed doing this as we love going to cafes, reading the papers, chatting to the locals but we have the choice now.  Greg has also sent the short wave radio he’s been carrying for a while back home, so that’s freed up some space in his pannier.  We walked the camping and cooking shops of Swan Hill looking for just the right espresso pot.  Not too heavy, not too big, not too small and eventually we found what we think we wanted.  We’ll experiment with this and see how we go but anything has to be better that being served poor coffee in what can only be described as a bucket. We think country folks confuse quantity with value, mmmm.  We cycled the Murray River walk trail and generally dawdled the streets.  Swan Hill is a nice town but boy the wind there is freezing at this time of the year, bbbrrrrr.  

May 24 – Swan Hill to Kerang 60.86 klms, Avg speed 17.4 kph, Cycling time 3.28 hrs; Total kms 28,515

Woke with dread thinking about riding 60 klms along the Murray Valley Highway with little shoulder & a constant stream of thundering, fast moving trucks.  I think we were both surprised how busy the road was & unless we wanted to add another 20 klms to our route we had no choice.  To avoid being a pain to ‘Ol Alberto riding behind me, I told him to ride ahead so I could dart onto the gravel side bank whenever 2 trucks were going to meet, I didn’t relish being flattened just yet.  I see ‘Ol Alberto’s yellow hi-viz top in the distance & hope he’s seen the trucks thundering down on him & me, an unheard voice yelling “watch out”!  Thankfully 15 klms out from Swan Hill the traffic lessened, a shoulder appeared spasmodically & 3.5 hours later we arrived alive in Kerang a smallish town of some 4400 people situated on the Loddon River.  It is the commercial centre to an irrigation district given over to dairying, horticulture, lucerne and grain.  Kerang's symbol is a flying ibis. The reason for this is that the area around Kerang - which is dotted with over 50 lagoons and lakes - has the most populous ibis rookeries in the world with an estimated 200 000 ibis using the area for breeding purposes each year. They are also home to thousands of other waterbirds and are popular recreational destinations.  Would you believe it?  Having bought an espresso pot and good quality coffee, on arrival in Kerang we rode straight to the nearest Cafe to warm up.  Yep, more horrid coffee so we packed up and found our cabin in the Ibis Caravan Park just 3 k’s south of town.  Spotlessly clean and quiet we managed to get our clothes and ourselves washed, dried and warm before the rain came.  The following morning we were trying to have breakfast when the power went off.  We could feel the cabin cooling and a great rate which sent “Mr Fixit” outside to find the switch.  He didn’t so we sat in the dark while I ate my cooked porridge while his stayed cold and uncooked in the microwave.  Eventually he dashed across the park, porridge bowl in hand, to the camp kitchen, before we realised that everyone else had power.  Fortunately the owner of the park knew what he was doing and we soon had some normalcy return to our cabin. 

May 26 – Kerang to Barham 30.27 klms, Avg speed 18.9 kph, Cycling time 1.36 hrs; Total kms 28,545

As often happens when we ride out of a town, you get a different glimpse of life down the side streets & wished you’d explored more whilst there.  Kerang’s side streets were littered with old houses with wrap around verandas, the sort you’d die for, we’ll return one day to check them out. The air smelt of smoke from the house fires, lucky things not being out in the cold & rain, it was a yucky day but we can’t complain, it’s been ages since we had to ride in the rain.  With a short distance, beautiful scenery, tail wind, quiet road & a good coffee at Koondrook (yes at another Cafe, maybe we’re addicted) we rode another 2 klms, crossed the Murray & into NSW & arrived at The Royal Hotel in Barham, our accommodation for the night.  It was interesting to see the Arbuthnot Sawmill in action in Koondrook, established in 1889 its been supplying quality timber from the red gum forests for over 100 years.  It was bitterly cold and I can see the life draining away from Ol’ Alberto and tears in his eyes as he peruses the weather map with Darwin’s temperatures a long lost memory.... Despite his whingeing we went for a walk around the back streets.  Again, lovely timber houses with their chimneys slowly releasing sighs of smoke as they warm the occupants inside.  Evidence of beautiful gardens lie littered on the ground as autumn closes its grip.  We see flowering Jonquils for the first time in a long while and the beginnings of life in a Magnolia, but it’s just too cold so we head for the fire in the bar of the Royal.  Our luck changes too as we win a prize in a the local raffle, a six pack of beer, which the publican happily exchanges for a warming bottle of red, mmmm he’s happy now.

May 27 – Barham to Gunbower 53.21 klms, Avg speed 19.1 kph, Cycling time 2.47 hrs; Total kms 28,598

I rode up to ‘Ol Alberto who’d stopped ahead of me who said “Isn’t it beautiful”.  It was, the scenery had changed from harsh Mallee scrub to lush, green dairy country lined with towering red gum trees.  On another quiet back road we rode in silence taking in the beautiful surrounds.  “There’s nothing at Gunbower” the friendly Kerang butcher told me when he knew we were staying for 2 days.  Good, I thought, we love these quiet, country towns.  We rode past the Gunbower sign indicating a pop of 263 and another sign proudly boasting “The Gunbower Cup”, the only meeting of the year, bummer we’d missed it by 5 months.  The only other tourist  info I could find was that the Post Office opened on 8 March 1876 & there was a horse racing club but you dig further to find out this town is a gateway to possibly Australia’s largest inland island, 50 klms in length, and a significant wildlife sanctuary protecting populations of kangaroos, emus, goannas, possums, snakes (YUK) & 160 different species of birds.  When you find out this info you know you’ll be back.  Our Caravan Park is spotless & even supplies a pile of bath mats to avoid frostbite in the bathrooms, blue wrens chirp away in the gardens & we hear whistling kites in the distance.  We unload Horsey & Crazy Ruby, packed to the brim with supplies (limited supplies here) & open the door to our cute cabin, just the perfect place to be for the next 2 days.  After a reconnaissance on the town and the Pub, we decide a Sunday lunch at the Gunbower Hotel is in order.  With roaring fires and soft lounges scattered with today’s paper we make ourselves comfortable.  The food is good and the wine selection quite impressive and so we spend our rest day happily stuffing our faces with both food and wine.  Sleep was not going to be a problem...

May 28 – Gunbower to Echuca 45.04 klms, Avg speed 17.2 kph, Cycling time 2.36 hrs; Total kms 28,643

COLD!  That was the feedback from ‘Ol Alberto from today’s ride, will say no more!  Wasn’t particularly looking forward to Echuca, expected an awful, touristy town but it’s really nice with some beautiful old homes.  With its twin town of Moama they’re the closest point of the Murray to Melbourne, only 2.5 hours drive, hard to believe we’re that close.  From the 1860’s to 1900 these towns were the hub of Australia’s riverboat trade.  Paddle steamers chugged along the Murray River & brought their cargos of wool for transport to Port Melbourne, much of it being exported to London.  At the peak in 1872 more than 240 paddle teamers travelled regularly into the bustling Port of Echuca.  Today you’ll see the world’s largest fleet of operating riverboats, many restored.  With this & more sunny days than Qld’s Gold Coast no wonder tourists flock here in their 1000s.  Lucky for us we’re here in the low season!