Day 63: A Road to Ourselves

Distance: 33.5km Total Distance: 1888.0km

 

Wow, what a great way to cycle!

We started off with threatening clouds and humidity. We biked through Urunga and over the river on the highway cycle/pedestrian bridge.  We then cycled a short and easy stretch on the highway to the intersection with the old highway.  Cars can’t turn into the old highway because of the new highway layout but we easily managed to cross and then cycle along the very quiet road.  We then came to a road block where part of the road has collapsed.  Many cyclists had gone around the block so we continued and it was fine.  It was surreal to cycle on a road that is completely deserted and has been abandoned.  Even after the road blocked section, there were very few cars.  Parts looked like America where a service station has been bypassed by the highway and has closed then fallen into disrepair.  We cycled up a passing lane with all the signs and barriers but no traffic.  Presumably the new highway is better and houses next to the old highway are happy.  They now have a rather grand but empty road.

After Bonville we crossed the motorway and were surprised to find a wonderful cycle path that took us all the way into Coffs Harbour.  As we cycled into Coffs Harbour the clouds looked very threatening.  We got to a park and could see it was raining on the other side of the park.  We sheltered under a baseball outbuilding as the rain hit.  It poured down.  After 15 minutes we decided to call the caravan park and we were lucky to get the last available cabin.  We waited another 30 minutes for the rain to ease and set off to bike the last 7km on cycle paths.  Luckily we didn’t get too wet although we had to go slowly through the flooding.  The caravan park staff were friendly and said they had been worried about us when the downpour got hard.

It cleared later and we went for a walk to the supermarket.  We are yet to find the CDB of Coffs Harbour but we are in a nice area by the beach.  Coffs Harbour has great cycle paths and information online.  Well done Coffs!!

Highlight of today:  Having roads and cycle paths to ourselves.

Coffs Harbour has great cycle paths

Coffs Harbour has great cycle paths

Rain (before the flooding)

Rain (before the flooding)

Day 62: Nice cycling to Urunga

Distance: 55km Total Distance: 1854.5km

 

Today was a nice day cycling on quiet back roads plus an unavoidable stretch on the highway.  It poured down during the night but by this morning it had stopped.  It looked like it could rain again but luckily it didn’t and it became hot as the day cleared.  We started off dressed for rain but soon stripped off clothes as we cycled.  The first part of the route today continued along the pretty Grassy Head Road.  There was very little traffic and the scenery was nice.  After we joined the Scotts Head Road there was a little more traffic but still very nice riding conditions.  We met the highway and cycled the short distance into Macksville.  We stopped at a café next to the river and sat at a table in the sun.  It was hot and we started to melt, a nice change from yesterday.

After morning tea we cycled along the back road between Macksville and Nambucca Heads.  Thanks to the Coffs Harbour Council for providing great cycling info on their website.  The road was quiet and pretty and we enjoyed the cycling under the shady trees.  We arrived just north of Nambucca Heads and sat on a park bench and ate lunch.  We didn’t go down into Nambucca Heads as we decided we’d continue north to Urunga.  Urunga had been recommended to us by some grey nomads and we thought it best to make progress while the sun shines.  The forecast for the next few days is for 100% chance of rain.  We had no choice but to cycle 13km on the highway which was OK with a reasonable verge.  It was nice to turn off onto another quiet back road that took us back to the beach and along to Urunga.  As soon as we cycled into Urunga we knew we liked it as it has a great feel and nice cycle paths.  We checked into the caravan park then went to the lively pub for a beer.

Today has been a nice day cycling and we feel we made good progress after stopping early yesterday.

Highlight of today: Nice quiet roads.

Stuarts Point this morning

Stuarts Point this morning

View from the highway most cars don't get to appreciate.

View from the highway most cars don’t get to appreciate.

Nice back roads

Nice back roads

Day 61: Pouring with Rain

Distance: 38.2km Total Distance: 1799.5km

 

Today didn’t go to plan but turned out OK.  We planned to bike from South West Rocks to Nambucca Heads, a distance of 61km.  We packed up a wet tent and set off in cloudy weather.  After 30 minutes of cycling it started to rain.  The rain got heavier and heavier and when we got to a petrol station we pulled over as it wasn’t safe cycling in a downpour.  Going at the speed of a bicycle we observed torrents of water flowing over the road and not all drivers were slowing down.  It would have been very easy for a car to hydroplane on a corner with so much water on the road.

We waited for 15 minutes then set off again once the heaviest rain had past.  The highway was busy but the verge was OK.  It was still a pleasure to reach the turnoff to the quiet Stuarts Point road.  About this time the rain seemed to ease to a steady drizzle and the cycling was good.  We passed through pretty rural scenery with roadside stalls selling bananas and tropical fruit.  We’ve noticed a change in the scenery in the last 100km.  There are banana groves, flowering trees, hedges and bushes, more palms and the nights are warmer.  We feel we’ve crossed some frost free line and are now in a more tropical region.

After 38km we reached the town of Stuarts Point.  It was still drizzling and occasionally raining so we decided to call it a day at 11:30am.  We could have carried on cycling but we thought it better to stop while we still felt good rather than push on and get cold.  All the things cyclists need also fell into place in Stuarts Point, a warm cabin, laundry, and a small supermarket next to the caravan park.  Everyone we met in Stuarts Point has been very friendly and we are pleased we’ve stopped here.  We spent the afternoon drying out and our decision to stop has been good as it’s continued to rain all day.

Highlight of today:  The unplanned stop at Stuarts Point.

Day 60: One of the best

Distance: 0km Total Distance: 1761.3km

 

South West Rocks is one of the nicest towns we’ve visited.  We had the day off here today and we are really pleased we came to South West Rocks.

Last night we joined a collection of grey nomads (what is the collective noun for grey nomads?) in the TV room and watched the political coup unfold.  I told the group the BBC called Australia the ‘coup capital of the world’.  Most were gathered in the TV room to watch the State of Origin match and all but one supported Queensland although none of them were from QLD.  It was a fun night.

South West Rocks (SWR) is 15km off the highway which makes a 30km round trip for us to visit this town.  Probably the fact it is 15km off the main road has saved the town from the rampant development we’ve seen in other towns.  There are no obvious apartment blocks or shabby 1980s retail developments that have spoilt other towns.  There are no fast food chains and we like the fact the town has held onto its character.  SWR is a popular destination for downshifters (Australians call them sea changers) which in our experience means good coffee.

This morning we did some laundry and watched the political TV coverage.  There was a light shower of rain and the weather didn’t look great.  Once the laundry was finished we dressed up in rain coats and walked through town and along the beautiful 4km beach to the Trial Bay Gaol.  After five minutes walking we stripped off the jackets and walked in shorts and t-shirts.  On the beach it got warmer and warmer and we were quite hot by the time we arrived at the gaol.  Visiting an attraction like the gaol is not normally our ‘cup of tea’ but so many people had recommended it so we felt we had to see it.  We are pleased we did as it was interesting.  The Gaol was built in the 1880s to house prisoners but was abandoned then reinstated to house Germans of Australian heritage during WW1.

After walking back to town, we had lunch then relaxed for what was left of the afternoon.

It’s been a nice day off in this great wee town.  It was worth cycling the extra kilometres to visit South West Rocks.

Highlight of the day:  Walking along the beautiful beach to the gaol.

 

One of the best beaches

One of the best beaches

Will in the gaol

Will in the gaol

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South West Rocks Trial Bay

South West Rocks Trial Bay

Day 59: South West Rocks

Distance: 38.1km Total Distance: 1761.3km

 

We’ve been looking forward to visiting South West Rocks as many people say it’s one of the nicest towns on this coast.

We got up and fixed yet another flat tire on Jen’s bike.  It turns out she must of cycled over shredded truck tire wire which punctured the tire and tube in multiple places.  We’d fixed the obvious leak but failed to notice all the other holes.  Yesterday we’d seen a sign for a bike shop so first thing we did was cycle to the shop.  We didn’t have great hopes as we’ve visited numerous cycle shops looking for a tire.  Well what a surprise!  Crescent Head Cycles is the best stocked shop we’ve ever seen on this trip.  They had panniers, trailers, heaps of cycle touring gear, and most important of all, dozens and dozens of tires.  The owner was chatty and presented Will with a selection of 700x32C tires to choose from.  He suggested a tire he uses on his own cycle touring bike which has done 7000km without a puncture.  So now Jen has a new inner tube and new back tire that should be bomb proof.  That was a good start to the day.

We then biked on quiet back roads from Kempsey to South West Rocks.  It was great riding through rural countryside and it was nice to have a screaming tail wind.  Clouds started to threaten and just when it looked like raining we got to the pretty little town of Gladstone.  We stopped for a Devonshire Tea let the shower pass.  After our stop we continued to South West Rocks and arrived at lunchtime.  We checked into the nice caravan park with friendly staff and other campers.  We then walked into town and went to the pub.  It then started to pour with rain so we sat on the verandah and watched the rain.  It rained so much we were forced to have another beer while we waited for the weather to clear enough to walk back to the caravan park.

Tomorrow we are having a day off in South West Rocks and plan to have more of a look around this pretty town.  Leo is still in hospital and Michael says he is stable though still in ICU and sedated on a ventilator.  We know he’s getting the best care and it sounds like Michael and Sally are being looked after at Ronald McDonald House which is accommodation for families of sick children.

Sorry there are no photos today.  We’ll hopefully get lots tomorrow when we look around more than the pub in the rain.

Highlight of today:  A great bike shop, nice cycling and arriving in South West Rocks.

Day 58: Mistakes

Distance: 47km Total Distance: 1723.2km

 

Today we biked from Port Macquarie to Kempsey.  Will was 50/50 over which route we should take.  One option was to catch a ferry then bike the Maria River Road to Crescent Head.  The Maria River Road is a dirt road with mixed reviews so we opted for the other option, the highway.  We thought the highway would be the same as further south which was dual carriageway with a huge verge.  Instead we biked on the highway which was single lane and a modest to non-existent verge.  It wasn’t a pleasant days biking and in hindsight we should have taken the dirt road.  It was a lesson to spend more time researching and checking the status of the highway before opting for the main road.

The second mistake for the day was choosing the caravan park.  When looking at the different caravan parks on our WikiCamps phone app, none appeared to have a camp kitchen.  A camp kitchen is important to us as it gives us somewhere to cook and hang out after dark.  Most caravan parks have BBQs but a kitchen allows us to boil a kettle, cook toast, and cook dinner without getting out our gas stove.  Looking on Google we found that one caravan park did have a kitchen and we opted to stay at the Kempsey Tourist Village.  After checking in and being given a key to kitchen, we were then told it would be an extra $20 per person to use the kitchen.  We’ve never been charged before to use a kitchen so we refused to pay and instead used the BBQ area.  We would never have stayed in this caravan park if we’d known there was a pay kitchen as the park is a long 5km walk to town.

That said, we did enjoy the pub in Kempsey which was one of the nicest old pubs we’ve been in.  It had tile floors, no pokies or dog racing, comfy 1950’s style bar stools, a friendly bar lady, and was decorated for the State of Origin match.

The other thing that put a real dampener on the day was news our nephew Leo is in hospital.  He has chicken pox which spread to his throat and lungs.  He was admitted to Nelson Hospital then transferred to Starship Hospital in Auckland.  Starship is the best children’s hospital in NZ. Leo is currently in ICU, sedated and on a ventilator.  It doesn’t get much more serious than this.  Who knew chicken pox could be so serious?

So all in all, it hasn’t been the best day, either biking, camping or for family.  Our thoughts are with Michael, Sally and Leo.

Highlight of the day:  Seems trivial while Leo is in hospital, but the highlight was the nice old pub in Kempsey.

The nice bar

The nice bar

Macleay River

Macleay River

Kempsey Tourist Park with pay kitchen.

Kempsey Tourist Park with pay kitchen.

Days 56 & 57: Relaxing in Port Macquarie

Distance: 0km Total Distance: 1676.2km

 

As the title says, we spent a couple of days relaxing in Port Macquarie.  After arriving nice and early on Saturday, it seems like we got an extra day off here.  We spent the morning of day 56 relaxing at the cabin.  The caravan park is right by the water and really close to the CBD and our cabin has a nice view of the water and people walking along the breakwater.  We spent almost the whole day chillaxing other than popping to the supermarket to top-up the food.  With all the exercise we seem to eat a lot on days off restocking the reserves.  The weather forecast was for 100% chance of 20mm of rain.  It was gloriously sunny the entire time we were in Port Macquarie except for a rouge spectacular thunder storm one evening.

On Day 57, again a nice day, we went for a walk around town and visited two bike shops looking for a replacement tire for Jen.  Her back tire has had so many bits of wire and glass and been taken off lots of times.  This means the bead is lose and it pops on without the need to use tire levers.  Also it’s wearing thin.  We didn’t manage to find a tire as it seems most shops don’t stock 700x32C tires.  We also went for a walk along the breakwater and watched the throngs of body boarders.  It seems Port Macquarie is the Australian home of body boarding.

Other than that, we listened to Triple J and relaxed on the deck.

Highlight of Port Macquarie:  Relaxing

Port Macquarie

Port Macquarie

Breakwater art or graffiti?  We think graffiti art.

Breakwater art or graffiti? We think graffiti art.

Body boarders

Body boarders

Day 55: Port Macquarie

Distance: 31.3km Total Distance: 1676.2km

 

Today we only had 30km to cycle to Port Macquarie.  We packed up and left the caravan park after chatting to the cleaner who has cycled most of the east coast of Australia, much of NZ and used to live in Wanaka.  He told Will about the road north and discussed the route we’d taken.  Will was pleased he also thought the road south of Forster is dangerous.

The road from North Haven to Port Macquarie was mostly OK although it was very bumpy with a degraded edge and lots of smashed bottles.  A man outside the supermarket yesterday told Jen to be careful on this road as there had been bad feelings between motorists and cyclists training for the recent Port Macquarie Ironman.  We can see both sides as cyclists on road bikes would have real difficulty on the bumpy edges with glass and so would cycle in the left tire marks of cars causing friction.  We had no problems with cars and everyone gave us lots of room.  Will pondered whether the local councillors and roading people had ever biked this road and seen the state of the seal or the amount of glass.

We arrived in Port Macquarie and cycled through the surprisingly hilly suburbs to the nice downtown waterside Caravan Park.  We arrived not long after 11am and decided to treat ourselves with a cabin.  It’s great arriving that early as we checked in then sat on the deck in the sun and had lunch.  Later we went for a walk around the pretty CBD of Port Macquarie then had a beer at the lively Beach House Bar on the waterfront.  There was an acoustic musician playing with lots of people sitting on the grassy foreshore listening to the music and relaxing on the sunny Saturday afternoon.

Later we did a big heap of grocery shopping and went back to the cabin where we again sat on the deck and watched the sun set.  Hundreds of parrots then flew in and landed in the trees and roof of the cabin.  They squawked, played, fought and made lots of noise.  Then just on sunset, they all flew away.  We spent the evening watching the Lions vs Australia rugby match.

We plan to have a few days off here before heading north.  The last few days seem like a blur of biking, eating and sleeping and making progress north.  It’ll be nice to relax in Port Macquarie knowing we are ahead of schedule, not that we really have a schedule.

Highlight of today:  Port Macquarie on a relaxed Saturday afternoon.

 

Lunching on the cabin deck

Lunching on the cabin deck

Port Macquarie

Port Macquarie

Grand old cinema in Port Macquarie

Grand old cinema in Port Macquarie

Later on the deck again.

Later on the deck again.

Sunset

Sunset

Day 54: Speeding along the highway

Distance: 60.8km Total Distance: 1644.9km

 

Today we cycled from Taree to North Haven near Laurieton.  There was not much option but to bike along the Pacific Highway or take a lot of dirt road.  Surprisingly, we enjoyed biking on the highway.  We left the motel just after 9am and quickly joined the highway.  There was a huge 2m verge with rumble strip between us and the two lanes of 110km/hr traffic.  This meant we had no interaction with the traffic (other than friendly toots).  Although the scenery is not that inspiring and traffic can noisy, it was a good way to make fast progress north and we powered along in high gear with a slight tail wind.

We stopped at a nice rest area just off the highway for lunch at only 11am then continued at pace along the highway.  Just short of the Kew turn-off Jennie got another rear flat, again on wire from shredded steel belted tires.  We found a spot off the highway to fix the flat and got going again only to have the tire go flat a few km up the road.  We pulled more wire out of the tire (maybe missed it when looking earlier) and replaced the tube.  We then cycled the last few km into the nice town of Laurieton.  We did some groceries then had a beer on the deck of the busy pub.  After that we cycled through quiet streets and along a fantastic breakwater path to the caravan park.

After setting up the tent, showering and repairing 3 inner tubes, we went for a walk along the breakwater to the mouth of the river with great views of the surf, surfers and coastline.  We also saw dolphins in the river mouth which are really hard to photograph but were great to watch as such close quarters.

After our walk we cooked dinner and chatted to the friendly grey nomads.  The Jacaranda Tourist Park has lots of nice little features like wine glasses, pots and pans, kitchen décor, a bath in the amenities block, etc.

Highlight of today:  North Haven

Not far to go now!!

Not far to go now!!

Lunch in a nice rest area

Lunch in a nice rest area

North Haven Breakwater

North Haven Breakwater

Snow at home in Wanaka!  Not like that here in sunny northern NSW.

Snow at home in Wanaka! Not like that here in sunny northern NSW.

Day 53: Forster to Taree

Distance: 38km Total Distance: 1584.1km

 

Today dawned clear, well at least clearing.  We packed as if it might rain but luckily the weather got better as day progressed and we ended up in shorts and t-shirts.  We left Forster still unimpressed by the drivers and town.  We cycled on a cycle path then on The Lakes Way north out of town.

We stopped after 10km to have a drink and remarked how many cars there were on the road.  Forster is in a loop off the highway and yesterday had been very quiet until we reached the local traffic around Forster.  Literally 100m down the road it all became obvious as we met the turnoff heading south to Newcastle.  It seems most drivers avoid the hilly stretch and when travelling from the south enter Forster via this northern road.  After passing this turnoff, the traffic became lighter.  We were pleased to be free of the traffic and enjoyed the cycle to Taree.  Just short of Taree Jennie got a puncture on her back wheel, puncture number 3.  We’ve been lucky as the last puncture was way back on the Victoria/NSW border.

Taree is a nice wee town which looks to be thriving despite, or maybe because of the large bypass.  Having the Pacific Highway bypass the town means only local traffic and people wanting to visit are there rather than people simply passing though.  We checked into a motel (caravan park too far out of town), chatted to the friendly motel lady then did some groceries.  Later we headed down the road to the Indian Restaurant and had a nice chat to owner from Delhi.

As we are now in a window of nice weather before forecasted rain this coming weekend, we’ve decided to make some progress while the sun shines.

Again we’ve been remiss in not taking any photos.  We’ll try harder tomorrow :-)

Highlight of today:  Taree is a nice wee town.