Newcastle to Taree: Day 4

No cycling. Train to Coffs Harbour

As I awoke the next morning from uneasy dreams I found it had turned into monstrous weather. It had rained 25mm overnight and my somewhat beautiful campsite had become waterlogged. I had gone to bed planning to do one more day of riding, aiming for Wauchope (pronounced “war-hope”) where I would catch the train and be in Coffs in time for Nats. However it was raining heavily and the forecast was for more rain, thunderstorms and flash floods up the coast.

Taree Campsite

Taree campsite

Since it was around 75km to the nearest useful station and I didn’t fancy a day of riding along the highway in heavy rain I piked and caught the train from Taree.

Still, it was a good introductory trip for me of two and a half days riding. The second day was the highlight, and I highly recommend a ride through Myall Lakes, although many might prefer to take the proper road rather than the shortcut along the closed road.

Things I learnt:
– Don’t skimp on panniers. My vaude bags are OK and not at all cheap shit, but the rain covers are a bit annoying. I would be happier to have paid the money for the fully waterproof ortlieb bags.
– Staying dry can be hard work. It’s easier if you just wear clothing that you can get wet but will keep you warm.

Newcastle to Taree: Day 3

Booti Booti to Taree
Date: 21 April 2008

I awoke after around twelve hours sleep to find a beautiful sunny morning. Since my plan was to visit relatives in Forster I let Tom go on his merry way and took it fairly easy in getting going. I spent a bit of time at the beach and gave my things a chance to dry. If you’re ever around Booti Booti I can recommend camping at The Ruins campground. It’s a nice NP campground with a beach and good facilities.

Forster was only about 15km away, but within Forster itself there are a number of hills. The people I was visiting lived right at the top of these, so I felt I deserved the tea and hot crossed buns that awaited me there. Their verandah had a lovely view of the beach and I would have been happy to stay, but the view became that of a dark imposing storm making it’s way towards me. In a bid to defeat it I jumped on the bike and headed towards Taree, but it wasn’t long before I was riding in steady rain. It was still a nice ride along the river though. I stopped in near a place called Darawank for lunch out of the rain.

Darawank rest stop

Lunch stop out of the rain at a rest stop near Darawank

I had a bit of trouble with the rain covers on my panniers, so riding along the highway was slow going. My vaude panniers keep everything dry, but raincovers can just be a pain in the arse in heavy rain. They fill up with water, fall off, and generally don’t always behave as they should. However Pacific Highway has a wide shoulder and it’s not a bad place for a cyclist. It’s little boring and had heavy traffic though.

Anyway I made it to just past Taree to a place called Cundletown and checked in to a Caravan Park on the Dawson River. It was one of the more scenic camping spots I’ve stayed at, even though it was in a Caravan Park.

Newcastle to Taree: Day 2

Bob’s Farm to The Ruins, Booti Booti
Date: 20 April 2008

My first full day of riding started early because I wasn’t particularly comfortably sleeping and felt a need for some water. I arose at around 4am and rode the rest of the way into Nelson Bay, stopping at a servo to refill my water bottles which I had foolishly neglected the day prior. In Nelson Bay I grabbed a big subway breakfast and chatted to a crazy old man about the floundering mullet in the water. There was also some time for more sleep before the ferry to Tea Gardens departed.

The ferry ride was not uneventful, with a stop to watch some dolphins partway. I also met a guy, Tom, who was riding to Byron Bay and had the same route planned for the day as myself through Myall Lakes and Booti Booti National Park. We got off at Tea Gardens and headed along Mungo Brush road. We stopped at Dark Point which was an aboriginal site, but looked like a whole heap of sand dunes on a beach.

Dark Point

Dark Point

At Mungo Brush we lunched and I had a kip, then left Mungo Brush road for some adventure. We had both planned to head down a road between Mungo Brush and Seal Rocks road which was marked as a walking track on some maps and a road on some others. It turned out to be an unsealed road which had been closed since 2005 and was in not a great condition. It was very rocky for the most part, and about 30cm deep in water for the rest, and we had to go about 10km at close to walking pace. I never fell in the drink, but Tom got a little wet. The rest of the way to Seal Rocks road it was good graded dirt road. My pannier rack broke at one stage, but I fixed it up with zip ties. Always keep some handy. Tom had some gear trouble, but otherwise it was a mishap free adventure.

Mungo Brush to Seal Rocks Road

Tom getting wet on Hawksnest to Seal Rocks Road

After that it was Seal Rocks Road then onto Lakes Way and a bottlo. I was getting fairly tired towards the end of the day and Tom, who was a stronger rider, wanted to push on to the campsite at Booti Booti. He left me as it started to rain and made it to the campsite ahead of the coming storm, but I managed to get caught in a huge deluge. I was very glad when I finally pulled into The Ruins campground at Booti Booti and got out of the cold rain.

Newcastle to Taree: Day 1

Newcastle to Bob’s Farm
Date: 19 April 2008

I had just finished my job at Qantas after 5 years, and had no plans to work again for a few months in order to get a reasonably long holiday, including a planned month long bike trip in Europe. To celebrate my unemployment and to get a bit of riding practice in I thought it might be a good idea to ride from Newcastle to Coffs Harbour, arriving in time for the Australian Ultimate Championships. I had a time limit of a few days, so the plan was to get to somewhere between Taree and Wauchope (apparently pronounced “war-hope”) and catch a train.

On Saturday afternoon, still with somewhat of a hangover, I caught a train to Newcastle, the ferry to Stockton, and started pedalling towards Nelson Bay.  I made it most of the way but was pedalling in the dark for a while so camped next to some grape vines.  I was too lazy to set up the tent, and just covered myself with my hoochie thinking the weather to be fine, but it rained a little so wasn’t completely comfortable.

The train is part of the Sydney CityRail system so is not particularly expensive and you can take your bike on it easily. The ferry is pretty much just a river crossing and it’s a very regular service.


Getting a camping card international

After reading around it seemed a good idea to get a Camping Card International (CCI). A CCI gets you discounts at a number of campgrounds in Europe, has some insurance associated with it, and (apparently) can be handed in in lieu of a passport at dodgy Balkan campgrounds that want to hold your ID hostage. To quote the  CCI website, it “has the same value as a passport for the campsite owner.” It seems to be a fairly common thing in Europe, but not so well known in Australia. You can get them from your local automobile association, so I went into NRMA and hung around for an hour and a half while they found the form. They required me to get NRMA membership, which doubled the cost of the card, but I only needed to get one between Millerine and myself.

Anyway, same value as a passport? My arse! I’m not sure if it will be accepted anywhere we try to use it. $50 for a card with my details (handwritten), laminated to look pretty. Dodgy!

Edit: It was a little troublesome, but sometimes necessary. You’re better to just get one at the first place you need to use it.

Airline tickets and planning routes

For my entire travelling life I’ve had access to airline staff benefits. This means access to cheap flights on many airlines around the world. Staff tickets are also standby tickets, which means I’ve been able to plan dates and buy tickets within a week of flying. This time it’s different. For the coming trip to Europe I’ll only have limited access to the benefits, so any flights in Europe, North America, or between the two continents, are commercial. To and from Australia will be on standby.

The biggest expense is of course getting between Europe and Vancouver. Air Berlin had a fantastic deal of €650 from Berlin to Vancouver, so we’ve locked that in.

The next issue is getting to South Eastern Europe. We’ve decided we want to see Budapest, Croatia, perhaps Montenegro, and everything else is a bonus. We’re picking up our bikes from Tallinn, Estonia, from where there are no direct cheap flights to any of these places. Doing two flights with bikes is both difficult and expensive. Easyjet charge €22 or so per bike per flight. Estonian Air had fairly cheap flights to Vienna which end up about AUD200 each including the bikes. This is reasonable, so now the plan is to take the train to Slovenia, then travel down through Croatia to Montenegro, then train back up to Budapest. That will probably take up three of the four available weeks (even covering large boring distances by train or ferry), so we’ll be train travelling tourists on the way back to Tallinn.

Currently I’m excited about the thought of Slovenia and a little apprehensive about Croatia and Montenegro. The former seems a lot more cyclist friendly, although the latter are supposedly more visually stunning.

As the greater part of the trip will be in the Balkans, I’ve found Balkanology particularly useful.

A new blog with old posts

For a while most of these posts will be from an old blog that I’m transferring across to this new blogging platform. Rather than just post them in directly I’ll be updating the posts with further information such as route maps to make them more useful.

The route maps may not be entirely accurate due to time that has passed since the trips, but I do as much as I can to get them right.

Once all the old posts are added I’ll unsticky this post, and new posts will come a lot less frequently – probably whenever I go on a trip, which is about once or twice a year.