Touring OZ

Brisbane to Sydney by Bike


Brisbane to Sydney: No Hurry, No Worry

To start with we didn't really begin in Brisbane or end in Sydney. both points were suburbs outside the city , but it's easier to find on the atlas.

Trusty steeds: Cannondale T700, 22-32-42/13-30 gearing, 700x35 tires, Zefal fenders, Cateye computers, Cannondale rear racks and Blackburn front lowrider racks, Nashbar/C'dale front and rear panniers, Jandd h'bar bag

Laurence's load: Clothes, stove, cooking and eating stuff, HP Omnibook computer, tent, sleeping-bags (two singles zipped together). Camera, binoculars and snacks in handlebar bag. Riding weight: approx 95 lbs.

Yolanda's load: Clothes, eating utensils, tarp, sleeping pads and liners. Spices, seasonings and food for two days (usually). Riding weight: approx 60 lbs

We had been in Australia for six weeks and were hardly ready to begin our tour. While house-sitting for a friend in Brisbane (well, it was actually in Lawnton, a suburb north of the city) we had only completed one overnight trip and a few longer day rides to prepare for our two thousand mile ride to Adelaide. The overnighter was pretty intense though. About 90 miles overall including a grueling five kilometer climb up Mt Glorious to reach a secluded bush campsite. The sights of the rainforest kept us entertained as cars laboured past us up the mountain. Watching a meter long lizard scrambling up an embankment was a good excuse to stop, as was a "bush turkey" strutting across the road. The numerous parrots, cockatoos and kookaburras flew by too quickly to justify a break, but sheer exhaustion finally got us as we neared the top. Still, even as we lay there panting in the humid heat of mid-January, the heart of summer, the ride was deemed to be good preparation for the upcoming months of Aussie summer.

A couple weeks later we loaded up our Cannondale tourers, said our good-byes and rode (the train) to Ipswich which we planned as the kick-off point for the Down-Under leg of a twelve month US/Australia bike ride. It was a rainy opener, but we were snug under our new gore-tex jackets. Having decent rain gear is a major plus! When you're treading the fine line between comfort and cold calamity, a few extra dollars seem exceptionally well justified. These Performance jackets also have underarm vents and a tail flap to add a little extra bit of luxury.

The weather eventually cleared and, after passing through Boonah and Rathdowney, we were faced with the choice of riding over the McPherson mountain range on the Lions road (named after the club, not the animal) or taking the pass along the Lindesay highway, a route that runs from Brisbane to the New South Wales border at Woodenbong. Since we were still nursing sore muscles, unused to the strain of pedaling a loaded touring bike day after day, we opted for the less challenging although more trafficked route. So with a little trepidation we set off along the HIGHWAY, expecting logging trucks and goods vehicles to shower us with gravel and buffet us with their wake. The first few Km were quiet, no traffic. Then a truck roared by. Noisy but slow, he left us plenty of room. Fifteen minutes later another truck passed, followed by a car. Not exactly one of your busier roads by US standards. It started as a simple two lane road, but soon the paved area narrowed until it was a single track of bitumen with packed dirt shoulders. "This is a HIGHWAY?!"

When the big rigs came, we had to pull off onto the dirt and usually stop. Even so, the five or six vehicles an hour didn't really interfere with our enjoyment of the ride or scenery. Passing mainly thru sub-tropical rainforest, we had time to look up for koalas and peer into the undergrowth for a glimpse of a wallaby. This time though, our only sightings were birds and a few lizards. However, the racket of the cicadias was often enough to drown out even the most basic thought. A peaceful, but certainly not quiet ride!

(To maximize flexibility and route choice we decided to travel in a self-contained mode, carrying tent, sleeping-bag, stove, etc. As long as there is food and water along the way we can just about go anywhere. The price for this freedom is a lot of speed sapping weight. So we thrive on low gears, madly spinning our way up hills at 5mph.)

We crossed the border from Queensland into New South Wales near Woodenbong, eventually coming to the "cattle capital" of Casino, where we stopped for Australian National Day (26 Jan). The festivities included a few "great country" type speeches, the sausage sizzle, a bicycle decorating contest (we didn't enter) and then the sports. The foot races, divided by age groups, were followed by the uniquely Aussie event of thong-throwing". Tossing a flip-flop the greatest distance seemed to draw in all ages and abilities. Humorous to watch, the winner was actually some 13-year old girl whose combination of technique and timing (wait till the wind blows at your back) beat out a slew of less talented contenders. Athletically challenging though it may be, don't plan to see it in the next Olympics.

(We pitched our tent mostly in Caravan Parks (CP) with the occasional roadside picnic area or rest stop thrown in. The CP's are common in many towns providing camping sites for travelers or "permanent residents". Toilets, showers and laundry are the basic amenities, but free gas BBQ's, rec rooms or even camper kitchens are offered at some places. Usually near the town center, they have US campsites beat for price, convenience and cleanliness)

From Grafton we struck east for the coast. During one long riding day, where towns could be counted on the thumbs of one hand, we met an Austrian cyclist who was working his way north, mostly along the Pacific Highway. He had spent the past week bouying his bank account by picking bananas (Daayo, daaaayo...). Although he was traveling a little lighter than we were (with the exception of a bushel of green bananas in every spare pocket), his cut-off jeans and backpack lashed to the rear rack didn't really promote an image of comfortable touring. We admired his stamina, but decided to stick to our "luxury" mode of travel.

The plains gave way to steep hills, which dropped through huge banana plantations into Coffs Harbour. We cavorted in the pacific surf for a few days before continuing along the coast thru Nambucca Heads, South West Rocks and 32 km's of corrugated dirt road to Port Macquarie. "Port" is a nice little coastal town, and as soon as the Harley Davidson "Nomads" convention left, it became a great place to catch up on some chores, sit in a cafe and enjoy the beach 50 meters from our front vestibule.

(If you plan on cycling in Australia, you are almost guaranteed to ride on some "unsealed" roads. They are recognized thoroughfares that show up even on large-scale motoring maps, but the volume of traffic doesn't really justify a bitumen surface. So even though it may be a little slower and rougher, it will be much quieter and you can use the entire road to find a smooth path. Any passing vehicles will usually be seen or heard long before they come close, giving you plenty of time to get to a safe spot on your side of the road (the left side, by the way). Of course your bike will soon look like something out of a "Mad Max" movie, but that will just give you an excuse to stop for a day, clean it up and nose about the town.)

A couple days later, down another 30km of dirt road, we were in Diamond Head State Recreation area. It was there that, aside from the occasional glimpse of a tail bounding off through the trees, we saw our first kangaroo. Kangaroos are basically broken down into two species, those that hop around and eat grass, and those that lie beside the road and smell. Well, it was a bunch of the first variety that had decided to make this nicely kept sanctuary their home. Great for entertainment of the campers, but like any field used for grazing, you have to be verrrry careful of where you pitch your tent...

(We were lucky to have missed the Christmas peak season when most Australians seem to go on holiday with a great percentage heading to the beach regions north of Sydney. Between about the first of Dec to mid Jan rates go up for accommodation and everything becomes busier. Best to avoid if at all possible.)

We turned inland after Forster-Tuncurry, about 80 miles north of Newcastle, and had to ride along a section of the Pacific Highway. This, unfortunately, was not the single lane track of the Lindesay Hwy. At various stretches along the way we had to do battle with the traffic and trucks transiting between Sydney and Brisbane. Even though it is one of the busiest roads in the country, it is not a wide limited-access freeway as befits its status. Instead it went from a single lane in either direction with a three inch shoulder that dropped off into the forest, to a divided three lane thoroughfare with a full width glass free shoulder... and back again. Not the most pleasant riding, but often the only choice without a 4WD or a boat.

We reached Buladelah after one such stretch of highway, not really tired, but fed up with the noise and constant strain of eyeing our rear view mirrors (Mine is still mounted US style on the left side of the helmet, Yolanda's came unglued once so we stuck it back on the right side, saves her from looking across her shoulders all the time). The CP didn't look too hot so we rolled on into town where a few inquiries led us to the local showground. After chatting with the grizzly-bearded caretaker he pointed us to a nice sheltered spot, then unlocked the showers and toilets for us. A clean, free campsite for the price of a question. We've found that many folks are much more willing to help out when you arrive under your own power. It seems to provide an instant converstion starter and non-threatening atmosphere.

By this time the terrain had changed a fair bit, no more flat pedaling with the Pacific breeze cooling the sun on our backs. Instead we were in the foothills of the great dividing range, heading for the wine producing region of the Hunter Valley.

In addition to the excellent maps provided by the local auto club (free if you're a member of the American Automobile Assoc.) we were using a Brisbane to Sydney cycling guide. It was about ten years old and the route description wasn't very informative but it led us through Weismans Ferry on the way to Windsor, the finishing point. Once you cross the little cable ferry you are faced with an 11.7 percent climb to get out of town. The town was practically truck free since few could manage the switchbacks and gradients of the mile and a half climb. Well, we weren't too thrilled about the prospect either and camped along the river to contemplate our options. We perused the maps that evening over our one pot meal and decided to adhere to the popular body-builder anti-slogan "No pain". There was a little road that snaked along the Webb river, mostly dirt, in the direction we wanted to go. A few extra miles was a small price to pay for longevity of our joints or an uphill walk, which seems harder than trying to ascend in the saddle. The gods of cycling, seeing our vertical cowardice, sent down a day long drizzle that spoiled what would have been an superbly scenic ride along the old convict road overlooking the river.

The weather eventually eased and we pedaled into Cessnock, gateway to the Hunter valley, under a cloudy but dry sky. We took a day off in Cessnock to visit a few of the wineries and taste their product. It was harvest season so there was plenty going on in the area and a couple of the grape-pickers stayed in our CP. Since most of the harvesting is still done manually, it's a popular seasonal job for those youthful travelers seeing Oz on a budget. Very few of the vineyards offered tours of their establishment, instead there was a sampling room where you could try whatever they had on offer. Samples were free and generally generous. You better plan on a big lunch and/or siesta somewhere in the day or the ride back into town could be a little hazy!

Feeling a little lazy that night we sought out a local drinking establishment for dinner. For sheer quantity and simplicity a hotel counter meal can't be beat. We've eaten in the pubs a few times, I ordered a "mixed grill" once and got a steak, couple sausages, lamb chop, bacon and eggs along with a heaping pile of vegetable and potatoes. I got change back from US$8 and a cholesterol high for a week and a half. A recommended experience for those visiting the country.

It was raining again as we pulled into the quaint little town of Windsor a few days later. For the last seven miles or so we rode on the shoulder of the Putty road, getting showered by passing trucks and cut off by cars turning in front of us. We were relieved to finally get into Windsor, only to discover that the closest camping was the CP we passed four miles back! But first we felt like a break and a snack. There were no sheltered benches or dry tables so we ended up in a little coffee shop along the pedestrian mall. A couple caffeine laden espresso's later we trudged out into the rain looking decidedly unhappy. A nearby shopkeeper called after us "Don't worry, it's only rain." An easy comment for a guy who's been warm and dry in his store all day! Anyway, after narrowly avoiding being squashed by a schoolbus, we reached the CP and booked an "on-site van" for the night. A decent compromise between camping and a hotel, most CP's have permanent trailers that rent for A$25-35 a night. Stove fridge, table and beds for six, it was an ideal place for us to dry out and read or write until the wee hours (electric light bulbs are a severely under-appreciated luxury). Of course, as soon as we got unpacked, the rain stopped and the wind died. Oh well, we still felt deserving of our small pleasures.

From Windsor we rode to Penrith, visited the Museum of Fire, and camped across the Nepean River in Emu Plains. Penrith sits on the eastern border of the Blue mountains, an hour by train from Sydney. An interesting place by itself, Penrith would be a good spot to do mountain hikes, city excursions or bike rides thru the surrounding rolling countryside. For us it was a maintenance day, signaling the end of our "Brisbane to Sydney" leg and the opener for further excursions to Canberra, Bendigo and Adelaide.

Useless statistics: Dates: 19 Jan 95 - 16 Feb 95 , 28 days
Distance: 772 miles
Getting there: Air New Zealand Los Angeles to Sydney, XPT train Sydney to Brisbane. Bikes were packed in reinforced bike boxes which arrived battered but undamaged after two flights, two taxi rides and a train trip. I saved the various padding and strengthening bits to be reused with new boxes for the journey back.

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