April 1 to 8 — Canberra
What an amazing place, it’s change so much since we were here 8 years ago, there’s now a lovely cosmopolitan, vibrant feel to the place set against a backdrop of stunning autumn hues. There’s been a muttering in the camp from Ol’ Alberto about “feeling cold”, “reminds me of Tassie”, “shouldn’t have sent my thermals home” .........it’s the usual whinging & moaning, luckily the skies are blue, the sun’s out so at least we can get out and about. He normally kicks in after a couple of cups of coffee and fortunately there’s no shortage of that in the nation’s Capital.
We’ve been invited to dinner at Denise and Mark’s place in Ngunnawal, a suburb of Canberra. We first met them in Queensland in 2009 as they circumnavigated the country by bicycle. We bumped into each other a couple of times on our way to Darwin and their web site Sprung Chicken has been a good research source for us as we’ve travelled the country. So it will be nice to sit down with them and swap a few yarns. We’re not often invited to dinner, probably because Ol’ Alberto has appalling manners, so it’s a real treat. I’ll have to hope that Ol’ Alberto is on his best behaviour, mmmm....
April 1 — Cycling around Lake Burley Griffin 30.60 klms, Avg speed 17.00 kph, Cycling time 1.50 hrs; Total kms 33,991
April 2 — Chifley to Canberra CBD 17.13 klms, Avg speed 17.3 kph, Cycling time 1.00 hrs; Total kms 34,008
April 8 — Canberra CBD to Bungendore 41.88 klms, Avg speed 13.8 kph, Cycling time 3.01 hrs; Total kms 34,049
Up down, up down, up down— & that’s just our legs working pretty hard this morning, haven’t mentioned THE HILL yet. It was pretty flat to Queanbeyan then a series of hills to reach the highest destination on our final leg home. Now we’d been warned about this hill exiting Queanbeyan by our good friend Mark and have to say when it came into view I heard a mutter from ‘Ol Alberto “think we’ll need oxygen for this one!”. It certainly did look daunting but as with most hills the climb wasn’t as bad as it looked. Bit of fanfare here for ‘Ol Alberto, I watched in amazement as he reached the top (felt like 2 klms) standing up, he’s so fit, I was very impressed. Weather wise, just glorious, cool to start then the sun broke the haze & caused a sweat, thank goodness for our slight head wind. Beautiful views and different trees—lots poplar trees forming bold, impressive avenues of golden hues, autumn has definitely arrived. Stayed at The Royal Hotel in Bungendore (pop 3500) for a couple of nights, it’s a friendly, historic village set in a pretty green valley in the NSW Southern Tablelands. Being close to Canberra & trainable from Sydney, folks flock here to visit the art, craft, antique shops & coffee shoppees, bit twee for us. Onto more important matters .. ‘Ol Alberto did the final fold in his map showing Sydney so we’re now on our final leg home, crikey!
April 10 — Bungendore to Tarago 31.80 klms, Avg speed 16.7 kph, Cycling time 1.54 hrs; Total kms 34,081
Left this morning in fog but once lifted it was another glorious riding day. Lots of fun riding the undulations, they were pretty small so could easily race up & down them, after all the ups & downs we arrived at Tarago at pretty much the same elevation as Bungendore, 703m. Passed through grazing & wind farm territory, lucky for us the wind wasn’t doing much today. Leaving the railway line this morning we finally rejoined it at Tarago, the town’s pretty small (pop 506) & quiet & has several historic buildings dotted about including our accommodation, The Loaded Dog Hotel C1848. If you ever want to stay in a typical country pub stay here, the rooms & bar are meticulously maintained by its welcoming owner, Nicole. Each weekend it’s chock a block especially on Sunday when live music’s on the agenda. The train from Sydney stops at Tarago, yippee, we’ll be back!
April 11 — Tarago to Goulburn 40.28 klms, Avg speed 17.8 kph, Cycling time 2.15 hrs; Total kms 34,121
Took off at 08:30, being dazzled by the beauty of the countryside—sheep, dairy & cropping- with the Great Dividing Range providing a backdrop. The sun shone, the birds sang, a slight headwind & more rolling undulations with a slight drop to Goulburn at 650m. Unfortunately after a couple of hours our peace was shattered as we crossed underneath the Hume Highway, the main arterial road between Sydney & Melbourne. Goulburn’s pretty big (pop 21,747) & was a major centre for wool & became Australia’s first inland city in 1863. You can still admire the lovingly-preserved architecture of the city that’s surrounded by grazing land. It’s a huge employment base provided by the NSW Police Academy, Abattoir & Goulburn Goal. But little sightseeing for us, poor ‘Ol Alberto is working hard on our return to Sydney & dealing with electricity and internet reconnections, car & motor scooter insurances and re-registrations and generally tying himself into knots trying to work out the easiest and fastest way for us both to get up and running back into what most people call “normal life”. He’s spoken to the Building Manager at The Connaught who has been a great help however he’s filled our hearts with trepidation when he mentioned the condition of our apartment which hasn’t been opened for over five years. We think we’ll need a good quantity of elbow grease when we finally get home ..... To compensate I filled our cabin with the aromas of a Shin Beef Ragout to be served with a mound of Alberto’s famous mashed potato laced with just a tiny knob of butter, he assures me .. Yummmmmmmmm.
April 13 — Goulburn to Bundanoon 68.28 klms, Avg speed 16.9 kph, Cycling time 4.02 hrs; Total kms 34,190
Climbed out of Goulburn through early morning fog to join the busy & noisy Hume Highway. The ride itself was very smooth along a wide 30 klms shoulder all the way to Marulan where we ducked off to have a very good cuppa at Meridian Cafe, recommended to us by Mark, our cycle friend from Canberra. Luckily the noise of the highway became a faint hum as we disappeared down the Highland Way following the railway line as we wound our way through the picturesque towns of Tallong, Wingello & Penrose finally arriving at our destination, Bundanoon. We’ve been here several times in the past always staying at the only pub in town, The Bundanoon Hotel which is again where we’re staying for the next 2 nights. This Southern Highlands village (pop 2000) has retained its old world charm & has been popular as a tourist destination since the 1920s with its fine old guesthouses, health spa, antique shops & many coffee shoppees. As we munched on our chicken sandwiches we watched the weekend crowds stroll along the high street, gazing into the real many estate windows probably dreaming of that tree change they most likely couldn’t afford. Apart from the crowds, seeing Bundanoon bathed in autumn sunshine is picture postcard perfect.
April 15 — Bundanoon to Moss Vale 20.28 klms, Avg speed 16.9 kph, Cycling time 1.12 hrs; Total kms 34,210
On waking this morning Ol ‘Alberto told me about his dream—”I was driving a forklift working in a big fruit & veg shed. He was wearing bright yellow & white striped socks, a yellow & white floral dress, very large headphones, very large sunglasses & was towing a small trailer, behind that towing a large yacht, oh, and he was also wearing roller skates!” Mmmmm, me thinks his brain’s gone to mush .. Anyway on our bikes we hopped for a quick trip to Moss Vale via typically English countryside-large stately homes with imposing fences & gates overlooking green rolling fields. We don’t think we’ve been to Moss Vale before, it’s another Southern Highlands pretty village (pop 7,700) peppered with historic buildings with tree-lined streets & gardens thriving on the volcanic soils. Our camping site was switched to a Deluxe Cabin after checking out the weather forecast, had to sell the idea to Alberto but snuggling up in his warm bed hearing the rain pound on the roof he probably agreed it was a good idea despite the cost.
April 17 — Moss Vale to Kiama 63.06 klms, Avg speed 16.5 kph, Cycling time 3.48 hrs; Total kms 34,273
Rode down the Great Dividing Range for the last time, we’ve lost count how many times we’ve zig zagged across this range over the last 5 years but today it was one hell of a 23 klms decent dropping 730 metres. I hate asking Speedy Gonzales what speed he reached on the downhill ‘cos it gives me the heebie jeebies how fast he goes, anyway he zoomed down reaching 59 klms & that was with brakes on!! It was a really nice ride today, up hill & down dale through dairy country, looking so very green. Signs directing us to Sydney have been a rarity for the last 5 years but now they’ve become common place as we continue to wrestled with our feelings as we get closer to home. As it’s school holidays & as we’re travelling along the coast & as cabins cost a fortune during & as there’s usually a minimum stay during these times we’re back in the tent until we get home. We’re staying in the coastal town of Kiama for 3 days, besides being very hilly we like the place, it’s got a nice laid back feel despite it being chock a block with families. It’s got great beaches, rivers, rock pools, 2 harbours so you can fish, surf, dive, swim, kayak or windsurf to your heart’s content. We’re doing none of those things but we will visit the famous Kiama Blowhole which shoots spectacular plumes of water high into the air through an ancient rock tunnel.
April 20 — Kiama to Coledale 62.95 klms, Avg speed 15.7 kph, Cycling time 4.00 hrs; Total kms 34,336
Left 11am waiting for the rain to ease. On cycle path most of the way, the wild seas a mixture of white froth & brown due to the strong winds, lucky for us we had a tail wind, no rain but lots of up & downs. By the time we rolled down to the Coledale camping ground the weather was miserable, overcast & wet, it’s our last but one camp but it’s pretty depressing camping in this weather. On the up side the location was fantastic—we’re camping in a council owned caravan park virtually on Coledale beach, it’s pretty basic but has the luxury of hot showers, a laundry & tiny camp kitchen which we made great use of sheltering from the pouring rain, stuffing our faces with hummous & beer listening to our clothes tumble around in the dryer next door. All done we trotted up the hill to the Coledale RSL Club, it was 1 of 2 choices in town but a good one as we devoured a huge calamari salad followed by ... 2 chicken parmiagiannas ... well, we had to, they might not feature in our lives ever again once we get home.
April 21 — Coledale to Bundeena 45.79 klms, Avg speed 14.4 kph, Cycling time 3.10 hrs; Total kms 34,382
We woke to sunshine, yippee, what a beautiful spot this place is, we’re definitely coming back to camp but only if it’s warm & not blowing a gale. Did a fair bit of climbing today from sea level to Stanwell Tops along the Sea Cliff Bridge that dangles out over the ocean, luckily had a helpful tailwind but boy, the first 30 klms were very slow. Apparently the elevation of Stanwell Tops, which rests on the Illawarra escarpment overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is only 275m, surely that’s wrong cos it felt like 1275m. At the top we fired up Little Red Devil (the Coffee Pot), chomped on a peanut butter sandwich & watched the hand gliders do their stuff. Arrived in Bundeena just after 1pm & felt we’d certainly worked off our fried feast from last night. Being warm & sunny we spent the afternoon airing & drying our gear after almost 2 inches of rain & strong winds the previous 48 hours. From the Royal National Park we got our first glimpses of Sydney in more than 5 years, we think it was exciting, still feeling quite numb about the whole thing of returning. Another great camping spot at Bundeena, council owned yet again & even though it was school holidays didn’t feel cramped at all & . Another one to return to out of school hollies & in the warmer months.
April 23 — Bundeena to Sydney 39.61 klms, Avg speed 15.8 kph, Cycling time 2.20 hrs; Total kms 34,421
Waited for the tent to dry from the heavy dew last night, but could wait no more, we wanted to catch the 9am ferry over to Cronulla. A ferry ride bookends this cycling adventure as we caught a ferry to Patonga from Palm Beach on exiting Sydney on the 17th March 2008 and what a civilised mode of transport it is. We must have looked desperate as the ferryman didn’t charge us for our heavily laden steeds. We followed the cycle paths to Brighton & had a cuppa & was reintroduced to Sydney service eg. No service, no smile! Continued following the cycle path through somewhat familiar territory around the airport where we bumped into 2 Poms starting their cycle adventure around Australia. They had a flat tyre after their flight to Australia from Thailand, but ’Ol Alberto soon had his pump out and we sent them on their way. Continuing along a cycle route we’d ridden many times before all seemed very strange and we both kept gawping at all the changes along the way. Old cafes and restaurants gone, new ones in their place. Dedicated cycle paths installed and more cycle lanes painted on roads. Buildings had been demolished and built in the time we’d been away and the throngs of residents and tourists alike went about their business. We weren't sure if we were either as we rolled down Oxford Street.... Caught a couple of strange looks as we wheeled to our final destination as fully loaded touring bikes are not a normal part of the streetscape in this part of the world. At 12.44pm we both kicked down our stands outside what we’ve been calling home for the last 5 years and 1 month even though we’d never graced the threshold once over that time. It was a strange feeling and we both felt both excited at what might lie ahead of us and sad to be leaving, at least for the time being, our explorative and nomadic way of life. It’s very addictive living as we have and we’re sure we’ll both miss it, but we always knew that one day we’d arrive “home” and today is that day. After a couple of quick photos taken outside the entrance to our building ’Ol Alberto dashed up the stairs and into the Foyer. New Concierge queries his request for the keys with a “and you are?” to which the reply “I am the owner” elicited our house keys and security swipes. We rolled into the lift and up to our floor, opened the door hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. A little mould, less dust that we thought, and two of the three electric blinds opened on command. We’re home....fit, well and happy (and together!).
61 months and over 34, 421 klms ago, we rolled out of the same building and into a completely new way of life for us. We’ve seen places we never thought we would and met a huge number of people that also call Australia home and many, like us, were just havin’ a look around. We’ve made friends with many of these folks and they’ve been unbelievably generous and welcoming to us. There is no doubt that our lives have changed but we think it will be a while before we can distil that into emotions and words. We’ve been the recipients of derision by some, and curiosity by others, but we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. To those interstate and overseas friends, with whose path we have crossed, a big thank you for the kindness and consideration you have shown us and may we return the same to you when our paths cross again, perhaps nearer our neck of the woods. To our families and friends closer to what we call home, thanks for your support and encouragement, particularly to those who visited us in various parts of the country, it was incredibly important to us and very much appreciated. We’ve plenty of work to do to get our lives back to what most people call “normal”, however after all the roads we’ve ridden on and bods we’ve bumped into, it’ll never be the same.....