April 2008

April 1 Shoal Bay to Corlette return 14.3 kms, Avg speed 13.2 kph, Cycling time 1.04 hrs; Total kms 529.0

Shoal Bay sits in the shire of Port Stephens, known as “Dolphin Capital of Aust”, covering nearly 1000 square kilometres.  We’ve been in this area before however you forget how breathtakingly beautiful it is, could be the multitude of beaches, unspoilt waters, Tomaree National Park or the glorious sunshine we saw it in, didn’t see any dolphins though.  No time for us to enjoy this .  After discovering a broken spoke we rode to Corlette to pick up additional supplies even though we were already carrying a small amount.  The off-road cycle path from Nelson Bay to Corlette wound us around the coast line so we managed to see some sights after all.  That night we caught up with friends, Debbie and Barry, who generously entertained us with a BBQ at their house.  They made the sea change from Sydney to Nelson Bay a couple of years ago and haven’t stopped smiling since! Thanks guys for a great evening.

April 2 Shoal Bay to Hawks Nest 6.52 kms, Avg speed 12.3 kph, Cycling time 0.31 hrs; Total kms 535.6

We caught the midday Nelson Bay ferry over to Tea Gardens, our bikes atop the old style timber ferry for the 1 hour trip across Port Stephens and the Lower Myall River.  After a lunch in the beer garden of the Tea Gardens Hotel-Motel we rode over the “Singing Bridge” to Hawks Nest & set up camp in the Caravan Park for the night, it had been an exhausting day riding all that way.  The bridge got its name from the sound of strong SW winds which make a “singing’ sound.  There had been talks of possible gales but luckily they didn’t eventuate so we explored Hawks Nest and took photos of Bennett's Beach and the 3 islands in the distance—Cabbage Tree, Boondelbah & Broughton.  Hawks Nest is a great place to live, much quieter and less developed than Shoal/Nelson Bay with only a ferry ride away to as much action as you want.

April 3 Hawks Nest to Shelly Beach 36.12 klms, Avg speed 13.6 kph, Cycling time 2.39 hrs; Total kms 571.8

We’re now heading to the Myall Lakes National Park which is recognised as an internationally significant wetlands, a beautiful setting for a holiday.  The Myall Lakes are one of the largest brackish water systems in the Southern Hemisphere with the 4 main lakes covering an area 3 times the size of Sydney Harbour.  280 bird species are found within the lakes, the same number as Kakadu!  A tailwind pushed us along this wonderful quiet road stopping for a break at the Hole in the Wall picnic spot as we viewed the white caps being whipped up on the Tasman sea with grey clouds looming in the distance.  A couple of old ducks pulled up at the same time we did and we got talking, as you do. The most talkative of the three of them was an expert on everything and she was keen to give us the benefit of her expansive knowledge. It’s incredible how much advise we receive from all sorts of people, who in the main, look like they rarely leave the confines of a caravan or Jason Recliner Rocker. Still gives us people to poke fun at over dinner. We decided to ride to Shelly Beach along the Old Gibber Track, rather than take the hilly, busy, road to Bulahdelah.  This Track is an unsealed dirt/sandy walking track and after speaking to the NPWS (National Parks) about the condition of the road decided to go ahead.  Luckily it wasn’t as bad as we thought even though we had to push our bikes through sand for about 4 klms also carrying an additional 10 litres of water as the only facility at the camp is a toilet!  We arrived at lunchtime with no other campers around, it was such a beautiful spot surrounded by bushland, birdlife and the lake that we decided to stay an extra night to enjoy the peace and quiet.  We even managed to read our books for a few hours.

April 3 Shelly Beach—Rest Day

It’s a wildlife haven here—sea eagles, red bellied black snake, wallaby, butterflies, wrens, finches, bush rat—the latter being the huge man eating dinosaur that left scats (technical talk for shit) in our tent annexure during the night and made Kathy a little nervous!  However our peace was soon to be broken, firstly by the Williamstown fighter jets screaming overhead then the sound of a jet boat as it made numerous trips across the lake dropping 16 burly guys and about 20 eskies, over for a bonding session for the night.  Actually they were great guys who rocked us to sleep with the sounds of Aka Dakka—truly!

April 4 Shelly Beach to Seal Rocks 20.78 kms, Avg speed 9.5 kph, Cycling time 2.10 hrs; Total kms 592.6

We again hit the Old Gibber Track, encountering more sand and more pushing of bikes, however we soon lost the sand and hit the gravel and met up with 12 or so members of the “Drunken Scum” cycling team who’d ridden for the past week from Newcastle and were heading to the Tea Garden Hotel-Motel to celebrate their last night.  They were a lively bunch and we chatted for a while before they rode down the Track where we’d come from—the reason for their ride?  Their cycling jerseys said it all!!  We were going to head to Yagon camping ground however as rain was forecast the next day we booked into Seal Rocks camping ground for 2 nights.  We walked along the surf beach at Seal Rocks and witnessed the most amazing double rainbow—a photo opportunity missed—the camera was back at the campsite.  That night Greg started hallucinating about the meal he’d have that night at one our of favourite pubs in Paddington—The Bellevue—together with accompanying wines.  He snapped back into action as he cooked a steak on the camp BBQ accompanied with no wine, no beer, no life, as the liquor shop was too far away!

April 6 Seal Rocks—Rest Day-End of Daylight Saving

Seal Rocks is an idyllic fishing village, a place to relax, surf and fish.  Whilst walking yesterday and also during the camping area we saw several dingos, the Myall Lakes National Park is one of the few places on the NSW coast where they can still be observed in their natural habitat and are a protected animal.  We walked to the local General Store, which as General stores go, this one is generally pretty ordinary. Things were plummeting fast as we endured a cup of International Roast Coffee and a Kit Kat while we sheltered from the rain for about 45 minutes. After the rain eased in the afternoon, we walked to Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse and saw some spectacular views.  After 4 years of planning and restoration, 3 Lighthouse cottages will be available for short term holiday accommodation during 2008. This looks like a great spot, particularly in summer or during some wild weather. Having just finished dinner and prepared for bed, all the fine cuisine Greg had been consuming ( International Roast instant coffee, Kit Kat, Deb mashed potato, Liquorice stick, soft drinks et all) his body finally succumbed and he had to make an emergency trek (sprint)  to the amenities block. There have been no repeats, which has been good for both of us. This is what four days without wine can do to you, please don’t try this at home.

April 7 Seal Rocks to Forster 46.18 kms, Avg speed 16.2 kph, Cycling time 2.50 hrs; Total kms 638.7

We had torrential rain during the night but were all still dry in the tent, not so another unlucky camper whose tent was sitting in a large muddy puddle.  We had to burst open our Netti rain jackets for the first time & we broke our journey to Forster by calling into the Lakeside Coffee Lounge at Pacific Palms. We had to ride down a dirt road to get to this place, and we were both wondering if this was going to be worth the effort, however we ended up at this magical place overlooking Wallis Lake and being served a great coffee by Scott, the owner and under the watchful eye of his cat Pepper.  We watched the storm clouds and rain crowd over the lake so decided to have another coffee and search for accommodation in Forster.  We’re booked into the Great Lakes Motor Inn for 2 nights to dry off and to update our website, and catch up on some lost, quality wine time. We spoilt ourselves with dinner at the Forster/Tuncurry Memorial Sports Club and once we wrestled our way through the poker machines, past the Club Keno Lounge, via the Sports Bar (why do they call them that, there’s no sport in watching telly?) and adjacent to the TAB betting desk, just next to the footy on the big screen, we both enjoyed our G & T’s and beer followed by the usual fare (i.e. Fried and with chips). Oh ‘aint life grand!

Our thanks to all our friends and family for all your good wishes, feedback on the website and offers of accommodations along the way.

April 8—9 Forster

Stayed in Forster for 3 days due to torrential rain, did give us chance to look round both Forster & Tuncurry.  These 2 coastal towns are now essentially one conglomerate urban mass separated by large concrete bridge spanning Wallis Lake.  With combined population of 24,000 they are typical holiday resorts with lots of apartment blocks and not much character.  Another fine meal at the local bowling club, $18 all you can eat, by the time we got there everything had been eaten. We didn’t eat much.

April 10 Forster to Old Bar 49.44 kms, Avg speed 12.8 kph, Cycling time 3.51 hrs; Total kms 688.2

After being couped up in a motel room for 3 days it was great to be back on the bikes.  To escape the busy Lakes Way, we rode on some great bike trails through Darawank & Khappinghat Nature Reserves. A little more sand, but we’re getting better at riding through that. We came of the track at Blackhead beach and had a cuppa coffee at the local store overlooking the beach. We were making reasonable progress, so we didn’t stop for lunch until we reached Old Bar. Storms were predicated that night so we’re again staying in a cabin for 2 nights at Old Bar Caravan Park, great position though close to the beach. This cabin was in better shape than the one we stayed in at Redhead in Newcastle and even had a front deck. We went for a walk along the beach before heading to the local supermarket and very well stocked bottle shop. Some of the wine labels bought back memories of some of the wine Kathy and I have in our cellar. All that wine, so many kilometres away.... Anyway I bought some and we enjoyed a nice meal while we watched a bit of telly. The News was nothing new so we switched it off after a while.

April 11—Old Bar

Saw something strange in the sky—sunshine!  Went on a discovery tour of Old Bar which sits 15 klms SE of Taree, another laid back fishing village at the end of a winding road, population 3,500, graced with more uncrowded surf beaches & coupled with Manning River provides excellent fishing.  Behind the camp site sat Old Bar Historic Airstrip, c 1925, which is heritage listed.  It was reopened in 2000 & historical significance is that Charles Kingsford Smith & Nancy Bird Walton used strip during early pioneering flights. There’s also a walk to Mudbishops Point Reserve with beautiful eucalypts a real feature. We’ve turned a bit simple on our travels so we couldn't think of anything better to cook for dinner than spaghetti Bolognese and made a big batch and froze some for tomorrow night dinner as well.    

April 12 Old Bar to North Taree 51.10 kms, Avg speed 14.6 kph, Cycling time 3.28 hrs; Total kms 739

To avoid further rain we headed inland to North Taree on a really pretty ride through Tinonee and Wingham, both heritage towns.  The Terrace Cinema at Tinonee was the smallest commercially operating cinema in the world with just 22 seats and is now a museum. We stopped here for a cuppa coffee and were accosted by Doug and his dogs. Doug, about 65 I’d say, likes a chat. He cycles and was very keen to tell us about and show us his boot full of helmets, visibility flags, lights etc. He was a nice bloke but we had to move on after what seemed like an hour but was probably closer to half that.  Wingham began as a classic river town when the Manning River was a key transportation link between timber and its markets.  The town is centred on a village green surrounded by Federation era buildings and Wingham Brush is NSW’s last 10 hectares of sub-tropical floodplain rainforest dominated by giant Moreton Bay figs, flying foxes and native birds.  We had lunch by the Manning river which was nice, before heading on to Taree. My memories of Taree, or rather travelling through it, are almost non existent.  We cycled into town about 1.30p.m and while there were a few people around, not much other than food shops appeared open.  Camping tonight in a great location, right next to the Dawson River. Greg cycled back into town to get some grog and at the local hotel here was a sign saying “Drive through bottle shop” which is very convenient for cyclists. However, it had been bricked up and turned into a poker machine and gambling den. No guessing where Pubs in New South Wales make their money. Pre dinner drinks by the river, followed by aforementioned Spag Bol, bloody marvellous! Slept well too.

April 13 North Taree to Harrington 40 kms, Avg speed 16.6 kph, Cycling time 2.26 hrs; Total kms 779.7

Rode a loop through the pretty country towns of Lansdowne & Coopernook heading to Harrington on the coast.  Perfect riding conditions, blue skies, slight chill in the air and quiet roads.  Could smell the sausage sizzle as we rode through Lansdowne, it smelt so good! We stopped at the only store in town and had morning tea in the sun. Then continued on our way to Harrington via Coopernook. The town of Harrington became a port for cedar, maize & farm produce and a huge breakwater was built in 1894 which is now a great walking track.  Harrington, like most coastal towns, has been discovered by the developers. We dined at the local Pub which was pretty ordinary. Wellsy found a small boulder in her soup that was described by the kitchen as being a dumpling. My steak had obviously followed us from Sydney and walked all the way, tough as old boots. We thought we had lucked out with the only day in the last two weeks not to have rained on us, but... When we left the Pub to go back to the camp site it bucketed down. Bring back El Nino! I think Wellsy was suffering cabin fever (can you get that in a tent?) as she had a minor “tizzy attack” when we got back to the tent. She’s a strong lass and soon regained control, and I blew a sigh of relief. Wellsy on the rampage is a frightening thing.

April 14 Harrington to North Haven 45 kms, Avg speed 14.0 kph, Cycling time 3.14 hrs; Total kms 825

Another perfect riding day!  Rode to Crowdy Bay lighthouse, spectacular views all around.  To avoid the Pacific Highway we rode 24 klms on an unsealed road through the Crowdy Bay National Park heading for Laurieton.  The road was bumpier than we thought but worth it to get away from the traffic.  At one point Greg thought his leather saddle was trying on an internal examination, but this soon passed. Along the way we checked out Crowdy Head & Diamond Head camp sites, definitely worth a camp in the future especially the latter that had lots of kangaroos lazing about.  Had lunch at Laurieton, scenically located at the base of North Brother Mountain at the mouth of Camden Haven River before camping at North Haven for the night. Yes more rain at night! We’re really plummeting the depths for evening entertainment. While we were enjoying a pre dinner drink in the camp sites “camp kitchen” some idiot thought it would be great to turn on the telly (really, why do these people go away), anyway, they wanted to watch The Biggest Loser. This is a programme we’ve never seen before, and now I know why. What’s worse, they were obviously deaf, as the poor telly really wasn’t built to have the volume thing cranked right up and was struggling to produce anything other than static. Peaceful dinner ruined. More wine please....

April 15 North Haven to Port Macquarie 38.7 kms, Avg speed 17.6 kph, Cycling time 2.11 hrs; Total kms 863.9

Went for early morning walk along the breakwall at North Haven before heading off to Port Macquarie where we’re staying for the next 3 days.  This was our fastest average speed, could be due to a) road relatively flat & were being pushed along by a tail wind or b) couldn’t get off the road fast enough to avoid the crazy drivers, several times we had to ride in the middle of the road forcing them not to overtake on a blind corner.  Greg refers to this tactic as “risk transference” (always the Financial Planner) as he says that this way the driver actually needs to place themselves at risk by going over the other side of the road to pass us, rather than just sneaking around us on the other side of the road. We’ll see... We stopped at a cafe at the Surf Club at Lighthouse Beach for several cups of delicious coffee & carrot cake before riding up “Cardiac Hill” (as the locals call it) to our campsite about 3 klms out of the town.  This hill is apparently used in triathlons, Wellsy obviously needs to do more training, had to push her bike up the hill!! The caravan park Melaleuca, was O.K  and was littered with bunny rabbits. We decided to stay there a couple of nights as the weather forecast was not looking good, again...

April 16—17 Port Macquarie

A sign coming into Port Macquarie said “idyllic climate”, if you’re a duck, perfect, it’s been raining on and off since we arrived.  Port, like most cities and towns in Australia has many walking/cycling paths, that leads you to believe they’re really trying to cater for all modes of transport. However like most cities and towns, the cycle paths stop abruptly with no sign of what you’re supposed to do. Anyway, we’ve had a walk and cycle around town and the environs when the weather has given us a break. It’s halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, population of over 65,500, with glorious beaches, national parks, rainforest and rolling hinterland as well as some great walking tracks around headlands and beaches. They’re working on Port Macquarie airport at the moment, which is great. Trouble is they start work when the sun goes down and finish when the sun rises. Our camp site is not far from the airport, so the noise is just like home. The rain has given us a chance to check emails, work on website and of course lunch!  Wellsy took  advantage of the camp kitchen & cooked a great lamb & spinach curry, some we froze before we hit the road again tomorrow.

Today is a month since we started on our ride and I think we’ve settled into a bit of a routine and beginning to get a bit sorted. No sign of stiff legs, sore bums, or other aches and pains at this stage, so far, so good.

April 18 Port Macquarie to Wauchope 24.88 kms, Avg speed 17.0 kph, Cycling time 1.31 hrs; Total kms 888.7

We could have skipped Wauchope however as we haven’t been before we thought we’d go and check out the place.  We’re also staying in the Star Hotel for the night, no airport night noises here, just the toot of the XPT as it pulls out of the station and the chime of the church clock.  Wauchope, pop 6000, is a lively rural town surrounded by rich dairy and cattle country.  We skipped one of the main attractions, Timbertown (re-created village, not for us!) and visited the Museum next door and learnt all about the impact the timber industry had on the town as well as their contribution to the construction of the Sydney Opera House  - the town supplied the veneer for the lining of the seats and wall panel.  This information was enthusiastically given to us by the old bloke who ran the Hysterical Society, who also used to be the Mayor of Wauchope.  We dined on the balcony of the Star with more lamb and spinach curry washed down with a 05 Jacobs Creek Reserve Riesling, one of the better choices from the pub!, before heading across the road to the other Pub to watch the locals try out their dancing skills at the disco. Woeful, I think to be kind.

April 19 Wauchope to Crescent Head 55.15 kms, Avg speed 15.3 kph, Cycling time 3.35 hrs; Total kms 943.9

Back to Port Macquarie to catch the car ferry over the Hastings River to ride 32 klms down the Maria River Road to Crescent Head.  Another unsealed track but worth it to ride through Limeburners Creek Nature Reserve & after the heavy rain last night we had fun riding through some huge puddles and wash outs along the way—photos proof!.  We had lunch beside the road when we hit the tar, and just in the nick of time too, as just as we packed up we had to rush our rain jackets on for another downpour. Crescent Head camp site has been the busiest we’ve stayed at so far, mind you it’s the w/end, still school hols + the site overlooks a fantastic surf beach, the Malibu Classic has been held there since 1989 and is now “the” event on Long board Surfing Calendar and is the biggest amateur long board event in Aust.  Pity we missed the next one being held 24th May.  We’ve camped not far from Crescent Head about 20 years ago with a whole group of friends, but stopped coming because it always seemed to rain when we were there. Nothing has changed in the 20 years since. It bucketed down and with wind to spice it up. Wellsy and I went to the local RSL Club for a pre dinner. A very democratic club it is too. In one room the rugby league was showing on a very big plasma, and in the other room the rugby union was show on an even bigger plasma. Hence, we enjoyed dinner at the local pub washed down with a McGuigan Sauvignon Blanc, this was one of two choices, a McGuigan wine a first for us! Bloody awful wine, and confirms our opinions about McGuigan wines.

April 20 Crescent Head to South West Rocks 61.71 kms, Avg speed 18.5 kph, Cycling time 3.19 hrs; Total kms 1005.6

Windy & wet conditions during the night.  We’re still dry thanks to our great tent and water proof panniers.

After an early morning walk to the headland to watch the surfers (we heard later that afternoon a surfer was attacked by a shark, luckily OK) & sheltering in the campsite cafe from a downpour we headed off on an almost traffic free road riding past dairy farms and following the Belmore River for about 35 klms, a great ride and with only one downpour along the route! This is dairy and beef country, with some very fat and contented cattle giving us funny looks as we rode past them bidding them good morning. We passed through Gladstone on the Belmore river, a vey pretty town too, and worth a trip, particularly as it seems to have a very fine Pub. We didn’t go in, because it was early, but had it been lunch time I’m sure I could have persuaded Wellsy to stop. We’re now camping at Trial Bay Eco Tourist Park at South West Rocks for 3 nights. The park is surrounded by Hat Head National Park & 7 beaches within 5 mins so lots to explore. We had lunch in the caravan park, Kraft Cheese (liars) wedges, cuppa soup and an apple. Jeez, this is living. Then to escape the rain, we waited in the laundry for half an hour, where we read the annual report of Guyra, a town about 50 kilometres away, which someone had thoughtfully left behind for us. Did you know that Guyra’s main employer is a tomato grower? I bet you didn’t. Dinner, bangers, mash (Deb), peas, salad, onions, and gravy that came in a plastic bag you microwave. No wonder we’re losing weight!

We’ve just completed our first 1000klms in 5 weeks!   Considering the wet conditions over the past 2 weeks we’re feeling pretty upbeat and with no physical stiffness or soreness, bikes still working a treat + we’re still talking to each other it can only get better + it sure beats working!! Yes, less rain would be a bonus and warmer nights so we’re heading north fast to keep the thermals at bay.

April 21-22 South West Rocks (SWR)

Day 2, our good intentions of checking out SWR were taken up with laundry, website, emails, bike washing and spoke replacing, this time on my bike.  Whilst it did not rain much during the day, it certainly poured down at night. Again, our tent is holding up well, but we’re really getting a bit tired of the rain as it is now beginning to affect our plans. We can still ride, walk etc, but sitting out in this weather is not a lot of fun. Still the sun must shine soon.

Day 3, Clad in our wet weather gear, we walked to Gap Beach through the Hat Head National Park, through all the mist and dampness, it worth it though to see some magnificent old-growth eucalypts in the higher grounds and rainforest plants in gullies.  Wellsy even learnt how to pick off leeches (yuk) looking for lunch on my feet, luckily they had only got to the entree so weren’t that big!

A visit to historic Trial Bay Gaol, re-opened in 1915 during the First World War, it was used as an internment camp for citizens of German decent until 1918.  Australian residents of such decent were also interned and shipped back to Germany at the end of the war, their wives having the choice of either staying in Aus or joining them back in Germany!  Our trip around the Gaol was cut short by another downpour so we had to take shelter in the Trial Bay Gaol Kiosk that served great food and wine too, how lucky it was so close!! During the meal a lone kangaroo hopped down the road in front of the kiosk and a kookaburra flew in and helped himself to a meal that had just been served at a nearby table. I think he was going for the chips, which looked pretty good. We were both so wet, at least from the waist down, that it took a good slug or two of a quite nice Durif from Rutherglen in Victoria to get us warm and dry again. On the way back to the camp site we walked along the beach, where once again, it rained on us. Did I mention the bloody rain yet?

April 23—25 South West Rocks to Macksvillle 68.46 kms, Avg speed 19.0 kph, Cycling time 3.35 hrs; Total kms 1080.70

This was the first time we had to pack everything in the rain, most packing done in the tent which was soon to be washed away.  The other campers thought we were mad leaving in the rain however we wanted to move on and head to Macksville.  The tent seemed to weight a ton by the time we had it all folded, but there’s nothing for it, you’ve just got to go with the flow, and boy wasn’t it flowing. We didn’t have the best of mornings, we back tracked our previous ride part of the way trying to find a part that had fallen off my front pannier, to no avail, then Greg broke another spoke, which he replaced on the side of the road while I rode on looking for my pannier bit. Then some of our ride had to take us on the Pacific Highway, it was now torrential rain, so when we pulled into a BP roadhouse for a cuppa coffee and a Kit Kt we left puddles wherever we walked. However we finally arrived in Macksville like drowned rats a few hours later and booked into the Macksville Nambucca Hotel for 2 nights, a beauty, full of character.  For $45 we got a room that would sleep 7 soon looking like a Chinese Laundry as we hung everything out to dry, including the tent on the front veranda.  After a welcoming warm shower we ate in the pub bistro, Wellsy roast pork, veges and gravy, Greg fillet steak with roast veges, all hearty fare before trying to sleep as the  Mack trucks rattling by all night. The hotel is on one of the main transport links between Sydney and Brisbane and the trucks (B Doubles) go non stop, day and night. The whole hotel (it’s a shiplap timber two storey building) vibrates as these two trailer goliaths rumble past.

Macksville is an attractive town of 3000 people located on the bank of the Nambucca River.  It is a fishing & oyster centre also servicing a productive area of bananas & other tropical fruit as well as vegs & dairy.  We really like it, it’s uncrowded, unspoilt & has a warmth to the place, only downside is that the Pacific Highway does run through its centre.   It has a couple of good coffee shops too and as we sat down at the Short Order Cafe, we realised we’d been there before. This cafe was featured in the 2007 SMH Good Food Guide and we stopped there on our way to Byron the previous year and yes, the coffee is still good too.  Greg went to the Laundromat to get dizzy while the clothes washed and dried, while Wellsy checked out the charity shops for books. There’s lots of charity in Macksville as there’s 3 shops all chockers with dead peoples clothes. After walking around Macksville we discovered Bert at Macksville Bike Shop, a bike shop overlooking the car park right next door to where we were staying, he’s well hidden!  He’s now hopefully fixed our problems with our spokes, added some thread to some spokes that Greg had bought, tightened, lubed and generally checked things over, all for 20 bucks cash, a great guy, thanks Bert.

That night we had a drink at The Star, c1885, delightful old historical pub (also two storey timber shiplap) that doesn’t seem to have changed for the last 50 years before eating at the local Pizza joint next door. In case you’re wondering...yes more rain.

Friday morning—Anzac Day—woke to more torrential rain so we’re not leaving today as planned and are staying another night.  The Nambucca Hotel only had 1 room left, as it’s Anzac Day, so we have to move to Room 1 which is even more luxurious, for $50 we get a tele, ensuite & own sitting room although this one only sleeps 3. I’m going to miss going down the hall in the middle of the night. Wellsy attended the dawn Anzac Service at the local RSL club and then we watched the 11am parade before attending the service, inside the club due to the rain! We’ve been giving the weather bureau’s rain radar web site a hammering over the last three weeks, but, and it’s a big but, we think the rain is going to clear overnight, so we can resume our travels. It’s great not having a timetable to work to, it does allow a significant level of flexibility and, dare I say it, spontaneity. As I write this I can hear “Come in spinner” from the Diggers down stairs as they play Two Up in the lounge.

April 26 Macksvillle to Bellingen 49.31 kms, Avg speed 11.6 kph, Cycling time 4.14 hrs; Total kms 1130.10

Sunshine & clear blue skies—at last!  Both said after arriving at Bellingen this was probably the best day’s riding yet thru beautiful, green & lush countryside followed by a gravel track ride for about 20 klms through the Bowraville Nature Reserve , with only one car passing us along the way, perfect! Winding and climbing our way thru the Reserve it was deadly quiet in parts, not even the birds were singing! This ride was also our hilliest, as is evidence by our average speed, & it took us longer than we thought so our plans of continuing onto Sawtell were shelved and we camped the night in Bellingen.  There is always something happening in Bellingen as it’s well known for its arts & crafts, galleries & cafes & available accommodation was limited, we could either camp at the Showground for $15 + 5 per shower or stay at the Backpackers in for $50, but wait there’s more, for $50 you get to stay in a mixed dorm for 4!!  As we expected the Showground to be muddy we thought the shared dorm was more exciting, our room mates were a young couple from Canberra squeezing into one bunk bed with the resident cat having a good snooze on their top bunk.  After a $12.50 YHA meal deal at the Federal Hotel we were in bed by 9.00pm not even staying to listen to the local band which everyone was raving about.  In spite of the cozy arrangement & we all slept well.  This was my first experience of Youth Hostels and it’s been 20 years since Greg has stayed in one. Greg thought that we might be the oldest guests by about 25 yrs, but there were other old farts there as well. The guy in our room had a bongo drum. I don’t know what it is about hostels, but some idiot always has a bongo drum, and they always think they’ve got rhythm. They don’t and he didn’t.  We had travelled thru Bellingen the year before, staying at The Federal and eating at No 2 Oak Street, great restaurant owned & run by Toni & Ray Urquart, awarded SMH Chef’s Hats from 05-08 & Toni winning the SMH Silver Service Award for NSW in 2007, definitely worth a visit but not for us this time.  Still our schnitzel & chips were pretty good too, and the beer went down a treat!

April 27 Bellingen to Sawtell 39.77 kms, Avg speed 13.5 kph, Cycling time 2.55 hrs; Total kms 1169.8

We thought we’d have an easy day, not too far to ride, however Greg had to fix his flat front tyre first, luckily spoke problem OK.  After a good coffee at Riverstone Cafe we set off on another glorious day and again had the most perfect, quiet ride towards Hydes Creek then thru to Sawtell.  It wasn’t as hilly as the previous day however the gravel road was quite sticky in some parts from the rain and we both checked to actually see if we were in our lowest gear, unfortunately we were!  After stopping to take a photo, Greg shot off down the hill and I discovered my front tyre was now flat.  Knowing that “Lance Armstrong” would be way ahead I flagged down a car asking them to tell “Lance” to turn around.  Huffing and puffing back up the hill he eventually appeared (definitely no Lance!) did a quick fix with me looking on thinking, that looks quite easy really!!  After rewarding him with half a cheese roll, a left over from yesterday, we were then joined on the ride by another cyclist on holiday from Sydney, chatting away as he was about to disappear to Vancouver on a cycling trip so was interested in all our gear.  After saying goodbye we rolled into Sawtell Beach Caravan Park and booked in for 2 nights.  Great Park, well set out and quiet as most campers have now left as school hols have finished.  

“Sunny Sawtell”, as the welcome sign says and it didn’t let us down, was one of Coffs Coast’s best kept secrets until a few years ago, you can understand why, great beaches, cafes, 10 klms from Coffs Harbour & the airport, on the main train line, close to Bellingen etc.  Unfortunately the secret is out as is evidenced by the new housing estates on the outskirts of the town.

April 28—Sawtell

The crazy birds usually wake us around 5.30am, not that we’re complaining though, it’s something we missed living in the city.  We were on our bikes before 9.00am and rode up the headland then onto the Surf Club for our coffee fix.  We then rode even higher for more great views before heading back to our campsite—rest of the day taken up with bike maintenance, laundry, emails etc.

April 29 Sawtell to Coffs Harbour 29 kms, Avg speed 15.2 kph, Cycling time 1.54 hrs; Total kms 1207.7

Coffs is only a short distance from Sawtell and we rode most of the way along a cycle path.  We booked into the Park Beach Caravan Park for 2 nights to give us a chance to look around.  The excellent all year round climate obviously attributes to a population of 62,000 & the airport alone brings in 300,000 passengers each year to enjoy the surf beaches, whale watching, hiking, diving and of course to visit the famous icon, The Big Banana.  We rode to and climbed Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve, providing great views of the coast & hoping to see the thousand of birds who migrate to breed from South East Asia in August, we just missed them, they’d all left 2 weeks ago! We then rode into the city to purchase more detailed maps for our forest trails, bad move, at 3.30pm the city was busy with school buses & cars so we made our purchases and raced out of the city to the safety of our camp site devouring a huge pot of chilli con carne for dinner perhaps not a great dish to serve whilst inhabiting a small tent, but hey, we love each other .  It’s always interesting to see what other campers are cooking in the kitchen for dinner, ranging from canned baked beans to Japanese noodles with a plate of chips. 

April 30—Coffs Harbour

Hopped on our bikes again to ride The Coffs Creek Circuit, a 10-12 kilometre loop which took us via The Botanical Gardens where we wandered around in the beautiful sunshine before deciding where we were going to have lunch.  We ended up at the Yacht Club, great position, pity about the food.....as usual, it didn’t take us long though to decide how we would run the place .  Back to camp for an afternoon nap then into the camp kitchen again for more Chilli con Carne. As it’s dark around 6pm & getting quite chilly at night, we’re usually wrapped up in our sleeping bags around 9pm listening to the radio or reading.